Oscar Moguls: Harvey Weinstein (The Weinstein Company) Q&A

February 18th, 2011 by
Deadline is running an interesting series of interviews with the heads of production at major Hollywood Studios. The focus of the Q&A’s is on the current Oscars race, but I’ve drilled down into each conversation to highlight information relevant to screenwriters.

As I have said before, it’s important for writers to learn as much as possible about studio execs and producers — how their minds operate.

This interview is with Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman (along with his brother Bob) of The Weinstein Company.

DEADLINE: You and Scott Rudin (producer of The Social Network) are the faces of this Oscar race. How is it you two always end up adversaries?

WEINSTEIN: I’m revealing this to Deadline: Scott and I have worked this whole thing out. I’ve gone to dinner with him three times this week, and I’ve got to tell you, he makes the greatest Baked Tagliolini I’ve ever had, better than Cipriani. We sit around the campfire, me and Scott, and go, ‘How can those writers be such suckers and believe this about us?’ Because we’ve worked it out. I said, ‘Scott, you win the critics’ awards. I’ll win the big one.’ Do you realize the publicity value Scott brought The Reader when he withdrew? I could never have afforded that P&A. We secretly work these things out. And I’m helping him on The Social Network. I’m the classic case of that guy who can’t even figure out the Blackberry standing as a symbol for all those ignorant people.

DEADLINE: There’s a famous story that when you clashed on The Hours over whether to hide Nicole Kidman’s prosthetic nose in the ads, Scott sent you cartons of cigarettes after you’d quit smoking.

WEINSTEIN: The nose thing on The Hours was definitely a source of contention with Scott. But listen, the movie worked. It won. Scott left me out of the Golden Globe acceptance speech that year, but I’m sure that was unintentional. At least, I’d like to think so. I’m hoping. He told me it was. Maybe he got nervous. I guess the implication of the cigarettes was that he wanted me to smoke again after three years or not smoking. But I take it in the spirit in which it was intended. Scott has a great sense of humor. I think he was kidding. He’s a tremendous producer, and I have a lot of respect for him. And a fierce competitor. But we’ve worked it out, like I said. I’m not doing a movie next year, he is, and I will take the following year. We’re going to alternate because this is just too much.

Key takeaway:

Competition: If you’ve read each of the interviews this week, you will have noticed how glowingly each studio exec speaks of their rivals’ movies. So it’s nice to read about Weinstein who is infamous for many reasons, including some of the campaigns he has allegedly been behind to promote his movies for the Oscars. Here is an excerpt from Weinstein’s Wikipedia page:

Weinstein’s efforts to campaign for Oscars for his films during Oscar season led to the a ban on such campaigns by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

In a 2004 piece in New York magazine, Weinstein appeared somewhat repentant for his often aggressive discussions with directors and producers. However, an October 13, 2008 Newsweek story criticized Weinstein, who was accused of “hassling Sydney Pollack on his deathbed” about the release of the film The Reader. After Weinstein offered $1 million to charity if the accusation could be proven, journalist Nikki Finke published an August 22 email by Scott Rudin asserting that Weinstein “harassed” Anthony Minghella’s widow and a bedridden Pollack until Pollack’s family asked him to stop.

I seriously doubt someone could be a successful movie studio executive if they weren’t in some fashion a competitive person. This pertains not only to box office success, but also who sits at what table at which hot eatery, whose car gets parked where by valets when they stack the lot, whose move premiere is splashier, whose kids get into what private super in-demand elementary school, and so on.

This can pay off for a screenwriter if they write a hot spec script because there’s nothing like the competitive fires of rival studios to jack up the price of that script in a bidding war. If you write something multiple studios want, you are gold. And if say Warner Bros. buys your script, beating Sony and Universal, you can be sure the first two calls to your reps about meetings will be Sony and Universal, so they can get in on the ground floor of your next project.

For more of the Deadline interview with Harvery Weinstein, go here.

What drives screenwriters crazy!

February 11th, 2011 by
Press pieces like this: The 5 Secrets of Tom Hooper’s ‘King’s Speech’ Success:
So how did Hooper do it? What are the secrets of his success?

1. Fail as a Child Actor Directed by Roger Mortimer. His ex-Royal Shakespeare Company drama teacher when he was 10 to 12 taught him well. “I’m a failed actor,” confesses Hooper. “But I was a very strategic 11-year-old and I said, ‘Hold on, if I’m not getting the lead in a school of 300, I probably shouldn’t be an actor.’” So he “nicked” (stole) a book on filmmaking and became a director instead. And he never forgot the acting lessons Mortimer drummed into his Oxford-bound skull.

2. Listen to Helen Mirren, Don’t Be an Actor Manipulator Like Howard Hawks. Hawks once got a startled reaction he wanted from Rita Hayworth in Only Angels Have Wings by feeding her ego with compliments all morning, then having Cary Grant dump a pitcher of water on her head on camera. Mirren would not respond well to this technique. “Working with Helen Mirren, you don’t want to go, ‘Right, Helen, on this line you’ve gotta be here, because I’ve got this shot lined up.’” says Hooper. “She’ll just give you one of those looks that only Helen Mirren can give you and go, ‘Well, that’s great, but for these reasons I think my character would do this.’ I learned from her to love that moment of rehearsal — you’ve got your plan, but what does she bring to it?”

“So I became good in a very quickfooted way in reconsidering how I was gonna shoot to take advantage of the spontaneity of that rehearsal. In King’s Speech we had three weeks.”

3. Listen to Geoffrey Rush. Out of the rehearsal came a crucial King’s Speech montage of speech lessons. “That was Geoffrey Rush’s idea, because the risk was you’d have a film where these guys meet six times and he’s fine, you wouldn’t understand the frequency and intensity of the relationship.”

4. Listen to Geoffrey’s Body Talk. “Geoffrey was trained at Lecoq Mime School in Paris, and is consequently brilliant in the way he carries his body. His Exit the King on Broadway was a master class in physical acting. So I’d start out with a closeup and — oh God, he’s doing something amazing with his hand which I’m missing. Then we’d go a bit wider. Then I’d go, God, I love that, but I’m missing the silhouette his body’s making, so I’d go wider still, to explore his body language.”

“So it made me think about Colin’s body language. Was there a way he could create a silhouette specific to Bertie? Was there a way of deconstructing the confidence with which Colin naturally stands, ’cause he’s a big strapping lad of six foot three and, and, and, and [Hooper sometimes repeats words rapidly, a bit like stuttering] creating a sense of a man who folds into himself, crumples into himself? Who on a sofa will sit in the corner as if to use the arm of the sofa as a kind of friend, as a security blanket?”

“In some ways there’s this process of transference that goes on, where you see what one actor is bringing and could I bring the other into the language of the first so there’s an equilibrium going on in the style of both. And managing those exchanges of action, of, of, of their, of their, of their essences, is kind of very interesting.”

5. Be a Bit of an Actor Manipulator Like Howard Hawks. “The other thing I thought was really interesting on The King’s Speech was how placement of the camera affects the psychology of the actors. People said I shot with fisheye lenses, which is complete nonsense, but I definitely shot on wider lenses than is typical. The camera was maybe 18 inches from Colin’s face in the closeup on the very first day, a 10-minute scene where the characters first meet. I wanted the nervousness of the first day to percolate into his performances.”

“I thought, well, stammering is like living with performance pressure. So I want to do everything to rather counterintuitively increase the pressure on Colin. He’s about to shoot ten percent of the movie on the first day in the first scene. And I mean this was really rather ballsy, ’cause it could’ve backfired. But my instinct was that he could use that pressure, that sense of being hunted, and I think that’s what happened.”

“Then I turned around to Geoffrey, and he thought, Ah! I’ve gotta be more minimalist than I’ve ever been before because Tom’s shooting it so close. I could’ve been 12 feet away and just as close, but it’s the psychology of where you put the camera.”

“Actors are so highly attuned that just walking out onto the set they’ll start picking up all these clues. I was at the roundtable with Ethan Coen and he said to me, ‘I’ve never directed an actor in my life,’ and I thought, well — I wonder if that’s true. Because I’m sure if you walk into a Coen brothers setup, a good actor will immediately read so much from the locations, the art direction, where the camera’s placed, from the casting of the other person — that is all directing as well, just because it’s not saying, ‘Now do it this way, now do it that!’”

The bottom line on actors, which may earn Tom Hooper an Oscar or two: “Make them partners in the storytelling process.”

Not one word about screenwriter David Seidler. The person without whom the story as written would not exist. Go here and learn about how he had to wait 28 years for Queen Elizabeth to give him approval to go forward with the story. Go here to learn about how Seidler was drawn to the story in large part due to the fact that he had been a stutterer when he was a youth.

He writes The King’s Speech as a play. Then as a screenplay. His idea. His vision. His story.

Yet not one bloody word in the article above about Tom Hooper’s “secrets of his success.”

Movies are a director’s medium, fine. But when you don’t even mention the screenwriter, the words Hooper used to work with the actors in the film, that is just flat-out bull shit.

So from a parallel universe, here is an addition to the article:

6. Know when you’re dealing with a brilliant script. “Of course, it all starts with the written word,” Hooper said. “And what David [Seidler] did was remarkable. I often thought as I drove to the set every morning if it hadn’t been for his vision, his persistence, his creativity and that wonderful script which so captured the souls of these two remarkable characters and that story universe, I wouldn’t have this job. None of us would.” 
“I mean when you’re dealing with a brilliant script like the one David wrote, it excites you as a director to see what you can do with it visually… and of course the chance to work with the actors and all that delicious dialogue. I was just so… I guess you could say inspired by the opportunity to work on such a project. But let’s just be clear… what you see in the movie, every last frame of it, it’s all there in the screenplay really. David created and captured the story. And I was fortunate enough to be able to translate that into onto the screen.”

In our dreams, right?

I know this won’t come anywhere near rectifying THR’s editorial choices in their article (I have to imagined that Hooper did acknowledge Seidler in the discussion), but here goes:

David Seidler’s IMDB page here.

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_dro7PqAdEiE/TPNDXoikSyI/AAAAAAAAB30/8DcE88FT8aM/s1600/David%252BSeidler%252BAFI%252BFEST%252B2010%252BPresented%252BAudi%252BW2F2ZCZaG9Fl.jpg

David Seidler’s Wikipedia page here.

http://www.masterthecraft.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/David-Seidler.jpg

Script Magazine podcast interview with David Seidler here.

http://img.allvoices.com/thumbs/event/609/480/70666192-david-seidler.jpg
LAT’s Q&A with David Seidler here.

David Seidler: Screenwriter, The King’s Speech.

Screenwriting Lessons: "The King’s Speech" — Part 5: Moments

February 11th, 2011 by

As I watched The King’s Speech recently, I was struck by how many screenwriting lessons could be gleaned from the movie. So I decided this week and next to analyze The King’s Speech and The Social Network, the most likely winners of this year’s Academy Awards for Best Screenplay (Speech for original, Network for adapted) to see what takeaway we could derive from both movies and their excellent screenplays.

Today: The King’s Speech — Moments.

I think it was Hollywood’s first great movie producer Irving Thalberg who said [paraphrased]: “You give me five great moments, I’ll give you a hit movie.” There is truth to those words. How do we remember movies but by key moments — scenes, exchanges, revelations, interactions, something which is both entertaining and compelling.

In David Seidler’s script for The King’s Speech, there are numerous movie moments. In the four previous posts this week, we have examined several of them:

* The opening speech at which Bertie fails miserably, a set-up for the glorious payoff scene at the end where Bertie gives The King’s Speech.

* The intimate but telling scene where Bertie responds to his daughter’s request by telling a silly story about penguins.

* The moment where Bertie works on Lionel’s son’s model airplanes and proceeds to recount one painful secret after another about his upbringing.

* The scene where Bertie and Lionel go for a walk and Lionel dares to suggest that Bertie has what it takes to be king, which so scares Bertie, he spews some terribly hurtful invectives at Lionel, then stalks off, presumably never to see Lionel again.

And then there is this notable moment which gave the movie its R-rating:

               LIONEL
You could’ve refused. Don’t you know any
rude words?

               BERTIE
What a bloody stupid question! I just said
one. Bloody. Bloodybloodybloody!

               LIONEL
Perhaps a touch more vulgar?

               BERTIE
Certainly not.

               LIONEL
To prove you know how.

               BERTIE
Bugger!

               LIONEL
A public school prig could do better.

               BERTIE
Well bloody bugger to you, you beastly
bastard!

               LIONEL
Hardly robust.

               BERTIE
Shit then. Shit, shit, shit!

               LIONEL
See how defecation flows trippingly from
the tongue? You don’t stutter when you
swear.

               BERTIE
Because I’m angry!

               LIONEL
Get angry more often. Do you know the f-
word?

               BERTIE
Fornication?

               LIONEL
Oh Bertie...

               BERTIE
Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck!

               LIONEL
Bravissimo! Now a resounding chorus of...

               BERTIE
Bloody, bloody. bloody! Shit, shit, shit!
Bugger, bugger, bugger! Fuck, fuck, fuck!

A pounding on the wall.

               MYRTLE (O.S.)
We have children...!

               BERTIE
          (whispers)
This is your fault!

               LIONEL
Sorry, pet! Won’t happen again!

               MYRTLE (O.S.)
I should hope not!

               BERTIE
Apologies, Mrs. Logue.

               LIONEL
First time I’ve heard you laugh.

               BERTIE
Royals aren’t allowed emotions in public.

               LIONEL
Which explains a lot.

Structurally this scene signifies a key transition in Bertie’s psychological journey, a clear sign of his Deconstruction as he breaks free of the emotional straight-jacket of his royal upbringing and taps in directly to the seething frustration, bitterness, and anger that has been roiling around in his psyche for years, just waiting to emerge — which is by the way why it’s such a stupid idea to even think about re-editing the movie, as the Weinsteins have threatened, in order to get the film a PG-13 rating.

But beyond being an important scene, it is also a hugely entertaining moment — seeing a King-to-be swearing like a sailor, then apologizing to Lionel’s wife! I took my 10 year-old son to see the movie, explaining to him beforehand about the scene and why the movie had an R-rating. Well, this scene was his absolute favorite moment of all. While Bertie was dropping F-bombs, my son was convulsed with laughter, literally doubling over and collapsing into my arms, that’s how hysterical he thought it was.

By the way, my son told me afterward The King’s Speech is his favorite movie — ever. In part because he so empathized with Bertie’s character. In part because of all the movie’s memorable moments.

How about that script you’re working on? Go through and count how many movie moments you have. Why do you think they are memorable? Can you do something to make them more entertaining, more compelling, more cinematic?

If you have missed any of this week’s series of Screenwriting Lessons, here are the other posts:

Part 1: Sympathetic Protagonist

Part 2: Metamorphosis

Part 3: Talismans

Part 4: Shadow

Next week another series of Screenwriting Lessons drawn from the movie The Social Network written by Aaron Sorkin.

Did you like this series? If you’d like me to do more of this in the future, let me know in comments.

Screenwriting Lessons: "The King’s Speech" — Part 4: Shadow

February 10th, 2011 by

As I watched The King’s Speech recently, I was struck by how many screenwriting lessons could be gleaned from the movie. So I decided this week and next to analyze The King’s Speech and The Social Network, the most likely winners of this year’s Academy Awards for Best Screenplay (Speech for original, Network for adapted) to see what takeaway we could derive from both movies and their excellent screenplays.

Today: The King’s Speech –  Shadow.

In almost all movies, key characters — especially the Protagonist — have a Shadow looming over them, some aspect of their personal past, psyche, or attachments. They can try to ignore it, repress it, fight it, but it will not go away. Indeed no matter how much of the character’s conscious life they have constructed acting like the Shadow doesn’t exist, in fact they have created defenses precisely to avoid confronting the Shadow — which means of course even though they might not admit it, they have been deeply influenced by their Shadow nonetheless.

In The King’s Speech, David Seidler makes great use of the Shadow hanging over the story’s Protagonist Bertie (Colin Firth): his father King George V (Michael Gambon).

We get an inkling of the father’s role in Bertie’s life in the opening scene where the Prince tries to make a public speech:

The King, growing impatient, hisses:

               KING GEORGE V
Get on with it. Show what you’re made of!

Bertie moves forward diffidently, without an ounce of
confidence, knowing deep within he’s doomed. His stomach knots,
chest muscles contract, constricting his breath.

The pressure his father — the King — puts on Bertie can only contribute to the anxiety Bertie feels about speaking in public, thereby making his stutter worse. In a way, the father’s pressure on Bertie is a form of mockery:

               LIONEL
Did David tease you?

               BERTIE
They all did. “Buh-buh-buh-Bertie”. Father
encouraged it. “Spit it out, boy!” Thought
it would make me stop.

And a more direct example of the father’s communication regarding Bertie’s condition:

               KING GEORGE V
Show who’s in command. If you don’t, this
devilish device will change everything.
Used to be, all a King had to do was look
reasonable in uniform and not fall off his
horse. Now we must creep cap in hand into
people’s homes that smell of boiled
cabbage, and speak nicely to them. We’re
reduced to that lowest, basest of all
creatures...we’ve become...actors! Don’t
give me a look of defeated pathos. This is
a family crisis!

So the pressure Bertie’s father puts on him in terms of his stuttering comes off as shame, personal failure, royal responsibility, and a “family crisis.” That’s a huge emotional and psychological weight on Bertie.

But then Bertie’s father dies, so the Shadow should be gone, yes? Not so because Bertie’s Shadow is not just the father’s persona, it is also – and perhaps more critically – his position: Being a King. That is the ultimate fear Bertie has looming over him his entire post-stuttering life — the possibility that one day he would have to become King:

He exits quickly. Cosmo continues nervously as they walk
through the Abbey, the Archbishop pointing out the preparations
in progress, particularly a booth for broadcasters.

               BERTIE
Is this the scene of the crime?

That throwaway line as Bertie prepares for the crowning ceremony — Is this the scene of the crime — has so many levels of meaning. On the surface a joke, but reflective of the inner turmoil Bertie feels about ascending to the throne — a crime that he of all people, who can’t speak well in public, should be forced to assume the mantel of monarchical responsibility. How downright criminal!

It’s interesting to see how powerful the actual King’s throne is to Bertie. Note how he reacts when Lionel sits in it:

               BERTIE (CONT’D)
What’re you doing? Get up!

               LIONEL
I’m tired.

               BERTIE
You can’t sit there!

               LIONEL
Why not? It’s a chair.

               BERTIE
It’s the Chair of Edward The Confessor! The
throne upon which every King for six and a
half centuries has been crowned.

               LIONEL
It’s falling apart. People have carved
their initials into it. Needs a stone to
keep from blowing away.

               BERTIE
That’s the Stone of Scone! The Stone of
Destiny that was once Jacob’s pillow.

By sitting on the throne, Lionel is attempting to demystify Bertie’s Shadow — his father / King / throne. Note where Lionel takes the conversation immediately following Bertie’s previous line:

               LIONEL
You believe such ballocks I don’t care how
many royal backsides have sat on it, it’s a
building block with handles attached.
You’re just like me, an actor with tawdry
stage props you choose to believe are real.

               BERTIE
Listen to me... !

               LIONEL
Listen to you?! By what right?

               BERTIE
Divine right, if you must! I’m your King!!!

               LIONEL
Noooo you’re not! Told me so yourself. Said
you didn’t want it. So why should I listen
to a poor stuttering bloke who can’t put
one word after another? Why waste my time
listening to you?

               BERTIE
Because I have a right to be heard!

               LIONEL
Heard as what?!

               BERTIE
A man! I HAVE A VOICE!!!

               LIONEL
          (quietly)
Well then...you’re cured.

               BERTIE
Stop trying to squirm off the hook.

               LIONEL
Bertie, you’ll make a bloody good king. And
you know it.

And there you have it — the truth behind the Shadow. Bertie has been caught up in the power of his Shadow for so many years, he has been unable to see or unwilling to admit a reality that exists deep within his soul: that he could be a good king. So while on the surface Bertie’s journey has been about overcoming his stutter, in the story’s Internal World, it’s fundamentally about confronting his Shadow and ‘defeating’ it — symbolically by making it through his big speech at the end (Final Struggle) in order to claim a deeper reality: He is a king.

What about that story you’re working on? Your Protagonist? Do they have a Shadow? I am willing to bet — a shilling if you like — they do have one. Your story will be made all that richer if you explore your Protagonist’s psychological journey as they take on their Shadow.

Tomorrow: Moments.

Screenwriting Lessons: "The King’s Speech" — Part 3: Talismans

February 9th, 2011 by

As I watched The King’s Speech recently, I was struck by how many screenwriting lessons could be gleaned from the movie. So I decided this week and next to analyze The King’s Speech and The Social Network, the most likely winners of this year’s Academy Awards for Best Screenplay (Speech for original, Networkfor adapted) to see what takeaway we could derive from both movies and their excellent screenplays.Today: The King’s Speech — Talismans.

It’s interesting to ponder the importance of objects in movies: Andy’s Bible in The Shawshank Redemption, Cobb’s spinning top in Inception, the box of chocolates in Forrest Gump. When an object takes on some sort of emotional or symbolic meaning, we call that a talisman. As storytellers, talismans are powerful tools at our disposal — to track a character’s metamorphosis, change the plot, signify the passing of a visual message from one character to another, and much more.

There is a terrific example of a talisman in David Seidler’s script for The King’s Speech. And it is the most mundane of items: a shilling. But as is often the case with talismans, the events of the story can take an ordinary object and imbue it with extraordinary meaning.

Frustrated beyond all measure by his stuttering, Bertie (Colin Firth) reluctantly goes to see Lionel (Geoffrey Rush) who has a reputation for helping people with speech impediments. In their very first meeting, Lionel lays down this challenge:

               LIONEL
Bet you a bob you can read flawlessly,
right here, right now.

               BERTIE
(bitterly)
Easy money. You’re on.

               LIONEL
See your shilling then.

               BERTIE
Royals don’t carry money.

               LIONEL
How convenient.

Logue fishes a coin from his pocket and puts it on the table.

               LIONEL (CONT’D)
I’ll stake you. Pay me back next time.

Lionel wins the bet, but loses a client as Bertie vows not to return:

               BERTIE
The bloody man did parlour tricks and
cheated me out of a shilling.

What does the shilling represent at this point? As far as Bertie is concerned, nothing more than Lionel’s fakery when it comes to his speech pathology practices.

The shilling comes up again in one of the best scenes in the movie: Continuing to be challenged by political events and his stuttering, Bertie visits Lionel to request further of his services. Interested in one of Lionel’s son’s model airplanes and encouraged by Lionel to go ahead and build one — so as to distract Bertie’s self-control — the Prince shares secret after secret about his upbringing, helping us to understand much of what lies at the source of Bertie’s stuttering. Then this:

               BERTIE
I made a smudge!

               LIONEL
Touch it up.

               BERTIE
You want me to beg for help?

               LIONEL
I advise you never to beg. Especially if
you might be King.

               BERTIE
Don’t say that!

               LIONEL
I see. For reasons you cannot disclose,
fearing ramifications you will not explain,
you feel sufficiently anxious to embark
upon a course of therapy in which you have
no faith? You already owe me a shilling.

Bertie takes a coin out of his pocket, hesitates, then offers it
to Logue.

               BERTIE
I brought it along. You won, fair and
square. I’ll pay you generously.

Lionel pockets the coin.

               LIONEL
I’ll continue to ask questions.

               BERTIE
That’s what I was afraid of.

What does the shilling represent now? A sign of Bertie coming around to Lionel’s approach and payment to seal their ‘contract’ to be fully engaged in the process together.

Later according to the fits-and-starts nature of their relationship, Bertie blows up again at Lionel. And again finds himself forced back to Lionel for help:

               BERTIE
         (gathering resolve)
I was frightened and took refuge in being
‘Royal’. What I said was unforgivable.
And...

               LIONEL
And?

               BERTIE
          (blurts out)
What’s the one essential thing a King must
do? He must believe he is King. How can I
possibly do that? For pity sake, Lionel, I
beg you: get me through! I’ll pay you
another shilling.

               LIONEL
What’re friends for?

Here the shilling demonstrates how far Bertie has come — from looking at Lionel’s ways as “parlour tricks” to an admission that they just might be the only way through the crisis confronting Bertie, now that he is ascending to the throne.

The shilling emerges yet again on the eve of Bertie’s big speech:

               BERTIE
“For the second time... in the lives of
most of us... we are at war.” One-two
three. (continues on)
“Over and over again... we have tried to
find a peaceful way... out of the
differences... between ourselves... and
those who are now our enemies.” Bugger,
bugger, bugger! Fuck, fuck, fuck!

               LIONEL
You’ll be ready.

               BERTIE
         (pause)
The shilling you won... still have it?

               LIONEL
Of course.

Bertie holds out his hand, demandingly. Somewhat hurt, Lionel
hands it over.

               BERTIE
I’ll return it.

Bertie leaves with the shilling, exiting the back way.

Now what does the shilling represent? A token of good luck. A reminder to Bertie of how far he’s come in his training with Lionel. This moment sets up a final bit of business the day of The King’s Speech [in a prior draft]:

Bertie takes something from his pocket.

               BERTIE
Your shilling. Told you I’d give it back.

               LIONEL
Keep it for good luck.

               BERTIE
No, you won this, fair and square.

The object is a silver medal. Bertie pins it to Logue’s jacket.

               BERTIE (CONT’D)
Made from the melted coin. Designed it
myself, hope you like it, Lionel old
friend. May I call you that?

In the end, the shilling represents more than an acknowledgment of Lionel’s hard work. It represents their friendship.

As you brainstorm your story universe, be on the look-out for objects that pop to mind. They may become the basis of a subplot and a key one at that… one that carries with it much of the emotional meaning of your story.

Tomorrow: Shadow.

Screenwriting Lessons: "The King’s Speech" — Part 2: Metamorphosis

February 8th, 2011 by

As I watched The King’s Speech recently, I was struck by how many screenwriting lessons could be gleaned from the movie. So I decided this week and next to analyze The King’s Speech and The Social Network, the most likely winners of this year’s Academy Awards for Best Screenplay (Speech for original, Network for adapted) to see what takeaway we could derive from both movies and their excellent screenplays.

Today: The King’s Speech — Metamorphosis.

It’s perhaps the single most universal narrative archetype of all and at the heart of The Hero’s Journey: Metamorphosis. A character begins a story in one state of being and ends up in a different one. A significant reason for its ubiquity: We all want to believe we can change. Stories that feature metamorphosis reinforce that belief, hence we are drawn to them.

In The King’s Speech, screenwriter David Seidler works this dynamic of metamorphosis on two levels: The External World dealing with Bertie’s actual stuttering and the Internal World delving into Bertie’s psychological state as he struggles to deal with that to which he is eventually called — to become the King of England. The two are separate issues and yet ultimately inseparable given the public nature of Bertie’s position of high-standing.

While the entire movie does a superlative job tracking the arduous process of Bertie’s work with Lionel, both as therapist (stuttering) and mentor (psychology), we can see most clearly the scope of Bertie’s metamorphosis by comparing a few key scenes.

The first scene, which I featured in yesterday’s post, demonstrates the power Bertie’s stuttering holds over his tongue.

Bertie stands frozen, his mouth agape, jaw muscles locked.

But the second part of that paragraph of scene description takes us into the Protagonist’s Internal World:

He knows he’s considered by all, especially himself, unfit for
public life.

From the very beginning of the story, Bertie does not feel he is fit for public life, let alone to be King. Later when his older brother David (Guy Pearce) is having second thoughts about ascending to the throne following their father’s death, Bertie and Lionel have a heated discussion:

               LIONEL
Your brother knew perfectly well by giving
you a document without warning...

               BERTIE
Are you saying he wanted me to fail?

               LIONEL
Are you insisting he didn’t? In the future
we can parse any document into manageable
phrases. You can sing them, swear them,
rehearse them til you get the rhythm and
flow; that, combined with your growing
confidence...

Bertie doesn’t want to hear.

               BERTIE
Growing confidence? Growing dread!!! You’re
a wicked man, Lionel Logue, trying to get
me to thrust myself forward as an
alternative to my brother. Trying to get me
to commit treason!

               LIONEL
Trying to get you to realize you need not
be governed by fear. Again, why did you
seek me out? To take polite elocution
lessons so you could attend posh tea
parties?!

               BERTIE
How dare you! I’m the brother of a
King...the son of a King...back through
untold centuries. You presume to instruct
me on my duty? A jumped-up jackeroo from
the outback? The disappointing son of an
embittered clerk! You’re a monster, Doctor
Logue. I’m going to Balmoral to spend a
pleasant country weekend with my beloved
brother. And these sessions are over!

The text of the dialogue is outrage at Lionel’s intimation that Bertie consider himself a worthy successor to the throne, but the subtext is one of fear — a gnawing sense of inevitability confronting Bertie that he will have to assume the monarchical responsibilities and his own overwhelming sense of his inability to handle the job.

When that possibility becomes the reality, Bertie returns to Lionel, a chastened King-to-be:

               BERTIE
(blurts out)
What’s the one essential thing a King must
do? He must believe he is King. How can I
possibly do that? For pity sake, Lionel, I
beg you: get me through! I’ll pay you
another shilling.

So the two story realms meet headlong: The External World (stuttering) and the Internal World (Bertie’s fear that he does not have the strength to be King). And they are both paid off in the movie’s Final Struggle — when Bertie delivers a radio speech to the nation, indeed, the whole world, responding to Germany’s declaration of war.

For those who have seen the movie, you will remember at least the tone, if not the words of Bertie’s speech. We can see and hear how he manages his stuttering. But it is the power behind the words and the sheer willfulness Bertie demonstrates in the moment that signifies his true ascension to the throne. Seidler writes in scene description as his daughters listen to Bertie over the radio:

Lilibet’s expression tells it all - she can hear it, her father
is truly King.

From a beginning state of this — He knows he’s considered by all, especially himself, unfit for public life — to an ending state of this — she can hear it, her father is truly King — Bertie’s metamorphosis is complete on both levels, overcoming both his stuttering and his fear of royal responsibilities.

Tomorrow: Talismans.

Screenwriting Lessons: "The King’s Speech" — Part 1: Sympathetic Protagonist

February 7th, 2011 by

As I watched The King’s Speech recently, I was struck by how many screenwriting lessons could be gleaned from the movie. So I decided this week and next to analyze The King’s Speech and The Social Network, the most likely winners of this year’s Academy Awards for Best Screenplay (Speech for original, Network for adapted) to see what takeaway we could derive from both movies and their excellent screenplays.

Today: The King’s Speech — Sympathetic Protagonist.

To be sure, you do not need to write a screenplay with a sympathetic Protagonist — witness Zuckerberg’s character in The Social Network (more on that next week). However any writer who has worked in Hollywood has doubtless heard this note from development execs countless time in script meetings: Can’t you do something to make the Protagonist more sympathetic? 

Why is this such a big deal?

To fully understand this mindset, we have to step back and consider the movie-watching experience. To create a successful movie, one goal the filmmakers should have is to lure the viewer into the movie — make them stop thinking about their job, their popcorn, the people around them, and instead get their heads and hearts immersed in what’s going on inside the story universe. If a movie can transport us from this world into that world, it increases the movie’s chances of being experienced in a positive way. After all, isn’t that the point of movies as escapist fare — to take us away from our ordinary world and entertain us for a few hours in the story’s extraordinary world?

The most direct and perhaps best way to accomplish that is via the Protagonist character. From a psychological standpoint, there is a way in which it’s not the Protagonist alone going through what they experience in the movie universe, it’s the Protagonist and us sharing it. Indeed at some heightened points in a movie, it’s possible the Protagonist disappears entirely from our consciousness and it is just us experiencing what’s going on in the story.

We can call this phenomenon audience identification and it is one key to the success of most Protagonist characters, how we identify with that pivotal character in some fundamental and powerful way which in turn transports us into the story universe.

Hollywood is not stupid. They know the simplest, easiest way to accomplish audience identification is by telling stories with sympathetic Protagonists. The fact is we are much more likely to identify with a Protagonist if we sympathize with them. So as far as the studios are concerned, screenwriters should accept that as a given and go write them a hit script.

In The King’s Speech, written by David Seidler, the story’s Protagonist is “Bertie” (Colin Firth), Prince George, a member of British royalty, second in line to the throne of England. Unless you or I are part of a monarchical family, on the face of it we would have little in common with Bertie, thus making our identification with him a challenge for the screenwriter. What did Seidler do to create a sympathetic Protagonist? Several things. Here are just a few:

* The process begins in the opening sequence where George is to give a speech:

INT. BBC BROADCASTING STUDIO - DAY 5

A gentleman in a tuxedo, carnation in boutonniere, is gargling
while a TECHNICIAN holds a porcelain bowl and a towel at the
ready. The man in the tuxedo is a BBC NEWS READER. He
expectorates discreetly into the bowl, wipes his mouth
fastidiously, and signals to ANOTHER TECHNICIAN who produces an
atomizer. The Reader opens his mouth, squeezes the rubber bulb,
and sprays his inner throat. Now, he’s ready. He looks to the
control room.

The FLOOR MANAGER begins a count-down: five... four... three...
two...

               BBC NEWS READER
Ladies and Gentlemen: good afternoon. This
is the BBC National and World Programmes
taking you to Wembley Stadium.

He speaks in flawless pear-shaped tones. There’s no higher
creature in the vocal world.

There’s no higher creature in the vocal world. Talk about setting the bar high! Then we shift to George as he begins his speech:

Bertie moves forward diffidently, without an ounce of
confidence, knowing deep within he’s doomed. His stomach knots,
chest muscles contract, constricting his breath.

              BERTIE
Luh-luh-lords, la-la-ladies, gen-tell-men.

It is a shock to realize this is a man with a profound stutter.
A man who cannot speak in public.

Within a few moments of the movie’s beginning, we learn that Bertie is a stutterer, the contrast heightened by the comparison to the BBC announcer. And immediately we feel sorry for him, this emotion driven deeper and deeper by how long we endure Bertie’s suffering at the public event:

Bertie stands frozen, his mouth agape, jaw muscles locked. He
knows he’s considered by all, especially himself, unfit for
public life.

Our sympathy for Bertie increases as we realize, he is not only a stutterer, but a man whose very birthright forces him to be a public figure, thus putting his vocal condition on stage over and over again.

* Later Seidler includes a scene where Bertie’s two children, Lilibet and Margaret Rose, ask their father to tell them a story:

Called upon to perform, the stutter returns slightly. But the
two girls listen raptly, ignoring their father’s minor
impediment, and it fades.

               BERTIE (CONT’D)
Once upon a time there were two horsies. A
white horse that went clip clop clip clop
through Hyde Park. And a black horse that
went clip clop clip clop through Hyde Park.
They met in the middle of Hyde Park. The
white horse said "neigh”. The black horse
said, "neigh”. The white horse continued
on, clip clop clip clop through Hyde Park.
The black horse continued on, clip clop
clip clop through Hyde Park. And that’s the
end of the story. Now off to bed.

The scene accomplishes at least two things: (1) It establishes that Bertie is a loving father and devoted family man. (2) It demonstrates that Bertie’s stuttering ebbs and flows depending upon circumstances, suggesting it is not strictly a physical condition, but a psychological one. Both dynamics engender more sympathy.

* Shortly thereafter, Bertie has a humiliating experience at the hands of his father, the King:

In the presence of his father, Bertie’s stuttering returns in
full form, his breathing short and shallow, the muscles in
spasms.

We begin to sense the roots of Bertie’s stuttering are tied to his upbringing and in part the unforgiving demeanor of his father. This shrinks the emotional distance between us and this member of the royal family since it’s only natural for each of us to have at least some misgivings about our own childhood experiences.

* When Bertie meets Lionel (Geoffrey Rush) for the first time, it is an extremely awkward moment for the Prince:

               LIONEL
What can we talk about?

               BERTIE
That’s better. When speaking with a Royal
one waits for the Royal to start the
conversation and chose the topic.

               LIONEL
You're joking. That won’t work here.

               BERTIE
I admit if one waits for me to start a
conversation one can wait a rather long
time.

Here Bertie is man enough to be able to make fun of himself and his condition — a small thing, but again increases our sympathy for the Protagonist.

These are just a few examples taken from the story’s set-up, but it demonstrates the lengths to which Seidler went to establish a sympathetic Protagonist in The King’s Speech.

How about you? That story you’re currently writing? How is your Protagonist sympathetic? Have you dug deep enough into the character to discover all the ways in which you can create a sense of audience (reader) identification with the character?

And for those of you who have seen The King’s Speech, what other ways did Seidler treat Bertie’s character to create a sympathetic Protagonist?

Tomorrow: Metamorphosis.

Audio Interview: David Seidler ("The King’s Speech")

February 3rd, 2011 by
This month, I’ll be posting an audio interview with a notable screenwriter each day. Today: David Seidler who wrote The King’s Speech. You can access the Creative Screenwriting podcast here.

While we’re talking about interviews, don’t forget about these:

Interviews – Video

Interviews – Written

Probably over 300 interviews there meaning a lot of great insight and wisdom into the craft — and it’s all free!

Video Interview: David Seidler ("The King’s Speech")

January 30th, 2011 by
The journey of how The King’s Speech got made is an amazing one. Screenwriter David Seidler talks about that and the film in this 17-minute interview:

For more background on the movie, here is an informative article.

The Screenwriter’s Art: "The King’s Speech"

January 5th, 2011 by

On Sunday, January 2nd, the NYT had a special section called The Oscars.  It’s got some excellent articles and I highly recommend it.

One of the features they ran was excerpts from four screenplays, each likely to be nominated for this year’s Academy Awards.  Today: The King’s Speech, written by David Seidler.

Int. Logue’s consultation room — day

A different universe from the spartan waiting area. A world of books — piles of them spilling everywhere. Two slightly shabby, but comfortable armchairs. Well-worn Turkish rug.

Hot plate and two chipped mugs. Recording apparatus. Model airplanes.

Bertie sits uneasily on an armchair. Lionel goes to sit at a distance.

LIONEL: I was told not to sit too close.

Bertie remains silent.

I was also told, speaking with a royal, one waits for the royal to choose the topic.

BERTIE: Waiting for me to commence a conversation, one can wait a rather long wait.

LIONEL: Know any jokes?

BERTIE: Timing isn’t my strong suit.

Silence. They stare at each other.

LIONEL: Cuppa tea?

BERTIE: No, thank you.

LIONEL: I think I’ll have one.

Turns on the hot plate.

BERTIE: Aren’t you going to start treating me, Dr. Logue?

LIONEL: Only if you’re interested in being treated. Please, call me Lionel.

BERTIE: I prefer Doctor.

LIONEL: I prefer Lionel. What’ll I call you?

BERTIE: Your Royal Highness, then Sir after that.

LIONEL: A bit formal for here. What about your name?

BERTIE: Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George?

LIONEL: How about Bertie?

BERTIE: (flushes) Only my family uses that.

LIONEL: Perfect. In here, it’s better if we’re equals.

BERTIE: If we were equal I wouldn’t be here. I’d be at home with my wife and no one would give a damn.

Bertie starts to light a cigarette from a silver case.

LIONEL: Don’t do that.

Bertie gives him an astonished look.

BERTIE: I’m sorry?

LIONEL: Sucking smoke into your lungs will kill you.

BERTIE: My physicians say it relaxes the throat.

LIONEL: They’re idiots.

BERTIE: They’ve all been knighted.

LIONEL: Makes it official then. My “castle,” my rules. What was your earliest memory?

BERTIE: What an earth do you mean?

LIONEL: First recollection.

BERTIE: (stammer growing in intensity) I’m not here to discuss personal matters.

LIONEL: Why’re you here then?

BERTIE (exploding — stammer free) Because I bloody well stammer!

LIONEL: Temper.

BERTIE: One of my many faults.

I already posted about the remarkable story behind the story of The King’s Speech, how one of Hollywood’s hot writers who just signed with UTA is the screenwriter David Seidler, who happens to be 73 years old.  

Here is an interesting article about how the movie came into being.  As usual, it all started with a writer’s vision…

HT to @eacion for the link.

Those of you who have seen The King’s Speech, what did you think?