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.

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?

Update: "The King’s Speech"

November 3rd, 2010 by

I noted a rather remarkable bit of business about the new movie The King’s Speech in this post:

After the Tom Hooper-directed Colin Firth-Geoffrey Rush film The King’s Speech came out of Toronto with strong Oscar buzz, United Talent Agency swooped in to sign the pic’s writer, David Seidler. It’s not unusual for the scribes of Oscar-bait film to get snapped up by major agencies. But Seidler is no flash in the pan. He’s 73 years old, and the effort to make the film dates back to before many of today’s top screenwriters were born. His script –covering King George VI’s race to overcome a stutter so he could rally his subjects in radio broadcasts as England fought Hitler’s invading forces in WWII–was subject matter that is woven through Seidler’s own life. While an eloquent speaker now, Seidler developed a debilitating childhood stutter he attributes to the shock of those early days of WWII. “I was a profound stutterer as a kid, and though we relocated to the US after the Battle of Dunkirk, it was the trauma of hearing the guns and bombs from that battle that triggered it. I could barely talk at times, but as the war progressed, we were allowed to listen to the radio and the King of England. He spoke badly, but I thought my goodness, if a king can be brave enough to speak like that on the radio, maybe there’s hope for me. He was always a hero to me.”

As if a 73 year-old screenwriter signing with a major agency like UTA isn’t enough, the story behind the story of The King’s Speech gets even better as this LA Times feature points out:

Seidler went on to overcome his stutter and become a screenwriter but never forgot about the king. He was particularly interested in how the king was treated by Logue, an Australian who earlier had counseled World War I soldiers suffering from shell shock, a version of what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder. Logue, who was not a trained speech pathologist, would briefly surface in biographies — “Blips on the radar screen,” Seidler says — but details of his treatments remained secret. “The royal family does not like talking about the royal stutterer,” Seidler says. “It was swept under the carpet.”

In the mid-1970s, Seidler wrote the king’s widow, Queen Elizabeth, asking permission to tell the story. She wrote back saying that “The memory of these events are still too painful” and that she wouldn’t accede in her lifetime. “I thought, ‘How long am I going to have to wait? One or two years?’ She wasn’t that young,” Seidler says. But the Queen Mother famously lived until age 101, 28 years after Seidler had made his inquiry.

In the intervening years, Seidler had cowritten Francis Ford Coppola’s “Tucker: The Man and His Dream,” but his credits in television had slowed to a trickle. What’s more, he had lost contact with Logue’s son, who had his father’s papers. Rather than write “The King’s Speech” as a movie, he penned it as a play — and that’s when his luck took a dramatic turn for the better.

A staged reading of the play was presented in the London borough of Islington, and in the audience was Hooper’s mother, Meredith, who is Australian. “She’d never been to a play reading in her life and didn’t expect it to be much good,” Hooper says. But as soon as she left the theater, she rang her son, who was finishing the HBO miniseries ” John Adams.” “I’ve found your next movie,” she told him. It took Hooper several months to read the play, but when he did, he called his mother back to say, “You were right.” Says Hooper: “I thought it was one of the most personal films I could make.”

Around the same time, producer Joan Lane, who had helped organize the Islington reading, decided the part of Logue would be perfect for Rush, who had won the lead actor Oscar for 1996’s “Shine.” Seidler says he had been rebuffed by the actor’s Australian agent, so Lane dispatched an Australian associate to get the actor the script through any means possible.

“It was literally in a brown paper bag on my doormat,” Rush recalls. He read it and called his Los Angeles agent. He didn’t want to be in the play, but if it were turned into a movie, Rush was in. The film’s producers flirted with casting Robert Downey Jr., Ralph Fiennes or Paul Bettany as the king before Firth jumped in and started learning how not to speak. Then, just weeks before production was set to start, art director Leon McCarthy located Logue’s diaries, notes and letters — “Like the Dead Sea Scrolls,” Firth says.

It took three decades, but “The King’s Speech” finally had found its voice.

The King’s Speech has gotten a terrific response from critics and audiences at Toronto, Telluride, and other festivals, and looks to be an Oscar contender, likely for Seidler and his script. 

Colin Firth talks about the movie:

The movie’s trailer:

The movie’s IMDB site.

The King’s Speech opens in the U.S. and Canada on November 26.