A 10-minute featurette about the making of All the President’s Men:
Via The Playlist.
A 10-minute featurette about the making of All the President’s Men:
Via The Playlist.
[Note: This was originally posted February 10, 2011.]
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.
Written by Mike Leigh
A look at the life of British artist J.M.W Turner.
Release Date: 31 October 2014 (UK)
As noted in this recent post:
Can you see where I’m going for July? That’s right: Write pages!
July is Scene-Writing Month here at Go Into The Story. Every Monday-Friday at noon Eastern / 9AM Pacific, I will upload a post with a prompt for writing a script scene. Each day, write a scene per those guidelines. If you really want to get in the spirit of things, upload your scene here in the comments section of the original post. That way you can critique others’ pages and receive feedback on your scene as well.
Why scene-writing? Think about it: If the average scene is 1 1/2 to 2 pages long and a script is 100-120 pages, then a screenwriter writes between 50-80 scenes per screenplay. Thus in a very real way, screenwriting is scene-writing. The better we get at writing scenes, it stands to reason the better we get as a screenwriter.
Plus there’s this: To provide extra motivation for this series — to get people to WRITE PAGES — I am giving away some of my Core classes to Scene-Writing Challenge participants. That’s right: For free!
The Core curriculum provides a comprehensive, coherent, character-based approach to screenwriting theory, eight 1-week online classes. I only teach them once per year. Here is the schedule:
July 7 – Core I: Plot
July 21 – Core II: Concept
August 4 – Core III: Character
September 1 – Core IV: Style
September 15 – Core V: Dialogue
October 27 – Core VI: Scene
November 10 – Core VII: Theme
December 2 – Core VIII: Time
To qualify to take one Core class for free, write and submit ten  Scene-Writing Challenge posts. If you complete all twenty  Scene-Writing Challenge exercises, you get two Core classes for free.
You can choose any of the Core classes as your free gift.
That’s what I’m prepared to do to encourage you to write pages.
[Note: If you want to take Core I or Core II, which are scheduled for this month, I will hold those course sites open into August to allow you access to all of that content.]
A couple of logistical notes:
* Limit your scenes to 2 pages. First, most scenes are 2 pages or less in length. Second, out of fairness to everyone participating in the public scene-writing workshop, let’s not abuse anyone’s patience or time with really long scenes.
* Don’t be concerned about proper script format when you copy/paste your scene, rather the content and execution are the important thing. So as a default mode, do this: (1) Don’t worry about right-hand margins on scene description or dialogue, just keep typing until it manually shifts each line. (2) Don’t worry about character name position, rather do this:
SCARLETT: Rhett, Rhett... Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do? RHETT: Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.
Remember: If you are interested in qualifying for 1 or 2 free Core classes with me, please note the number of scenes you have written. If today is your first effort, note that it is Scene 1. The next one, Scene 2. If today is Scene 20, please note that. And so forth.
You are on an honor system, as I don’t have time to check every post, so do the right thing!
NOTE: If you have completed and posted 10 scenes, just email me to let me know which of the eight Core classes you’d like to take as my gift to you for your hard work!
NOTE: The Challenge ends on July 31st, meaning today is the last day I will accept scenes for credit toward free Core classes.
NOTE: There are no more scene-writing prompts. This is it. You may see all 20 prompts by going here.
GOOD NEWS: To date, 38 writers have qualified for free Core courses and I have enrolled each of them. Here are some reactions from participants:
“I want to thank you for this Scene Challenge. I didn’t know if I would finish it… it was a blast. It helped me to sharpen my ordinary scenes into entertaining scenes. I’ve been able to use these in a couple of rewrites I’m working on. Again thanks.” — George Hiddleston
“I found through your challenge that one of my weakest areas as a writer is having a goal already in motion when I approach a scene. Luckily, it often works out, but I would like to have a more constructed approach to each scene I tackle.” — Brooke Buffington
“The challenge was so inspiring for me to do. I actually got a whole short film script out of the idea for one of the prompts!” — Kara Wexler
“I really enjoyed this challenge and wrote scenes I probably never would have attempted given the genres I focus on. Getting out of one’s creative comfort zone is always very useful.” — Nick Dykal
What was your experience with the Scene Writing Challenge? Hop to comments or email me and let me know.
REMEMBER: The challenge ends today: Thursday, July 31st. Midnight Pacific Daylight Time. No exceptions!
NOTE: I am on the road today, so it may not be until tonight that I get back to you when you email me about completing the Challenge. Don’t worry: I will contact each of you who qualifies for a free Core class.
I recently interviewed Jason Mark Hellerman, a young screenwriter who had a major breakthrough when his original screenplay “Shovel Buddies” placed high on the 2013 Black List. As a result of that, Jason has signed with a major agency and management company, and been busy with meetings across Hollywood.
My final question to Jason was this: What advice can you offer to aspiring screenwriters about learning the craft and breaking into Hollywood? Jason’s response was immediate. He said:
Get a mentor. Get someone who knows more than you and trust that person. If you can get that, you’re ahead of the game.
In Jason’s case, he found several mentors: teachers from his graduate film school education, movie producers in Hollywood, even a group of fellow writers who critique each others’ writing.
However what if you can’t move to Los Angeles? What if you don’t have the means to go to film school? How do you go about finding mentors then, especially professionals who know the business and know the craft, and are willing to share their insights with aspiring writers?
Well, there’s this lil’ ol’ thing known as the Internet and that is a fine place to start. Consider some of these blogs:
John August: “A ton of useful information about screenwriting from screenwriter John August.” The granddaddy of screenwriting blogs by one of Hollywood’s top writers.
The Bitter Script Reader: “The advice and rantings of a Hollywood script reader tired of seeing screenwriters make the same mistakes, saving the world from bad writing one screenplay at a time. Learn what it takes to get your script past one of these mythical Gatekeepers.”
Ken Levine: “Named one of the BEST 25 BLOGS OF 2011 by TIME Magazine. Ken Levine is an Emmy winning writer/director/producer/major league baseball announcer. In a career that has spanned over 30 years Ken has worked on MASH, CHEERS, FRASIER, THE SIMPSONS, WINGS, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, BECKER, DHARMA & GREG, and has co-created his own series including ALMOST PERFECT starring Nancy Travis. He and his partner wrote the feature VOLUNTEERS.”
Steven Pressfield: “Steven Pressfield is a screenwriter who is also known as an author of fiction (Gates Of Fire, Legend of Bagger Vance, The Last Amazon, The Profession) and, most especially, as an author of books about writing (The War Of Art, Turning Pro, The Authentic Swing).”
Doug Richardson: “Doug Richardson (Die Harder, Bad Boys, Money Train, Welcome To Mooseport, Hostage) is a well-regarded studio screenwriter. His blog chronicles the screenwriting process in a way that’s both entertaining and educational – it’s a rare glimpse into the creative process and lifestyle of a top screenwriter. His movies have grossed more than $800M and he just published his third novel, Blood Money.”
WordPlay: Site started many years ago by prolific screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (Shrek, Aladdin, Godzilla, The Mask Of Zorro, Antz, Pirates Of The Carribean). The columns archive is worth the price of admission by itself.
Then there are podcasts:
Nerdist Writer’s Panel: “I am Chris Hardwick. I am on TV a lot and have a blog at nerdist.com. This podcast is basically just me talking about stuff and things with my two nerdy friends Jonah Ray and Matt Mira, and usually someone more famous than all of us. Occasionally we swear because that is fun. I hope you like it, but if you don’t I’m sure you will not hesitate to unfurl your rage in the ‘reviews’ section because that’s how the Internet works.”
Scriptnotes: Hosted by John August and Craig Mazin.
Broken Projector: Hosted by movie journalist Scott Beggs and screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe.
Chicks Who Script: Hosted by Emily Blake, Maggie F. Levin, and Lauren Schecher.
Each of these offer wisdom on a weekly, even daily basis. Quality advice and insight from professional writers. For free.
If you want your wisdom in small sound bites, check out the series of Vines by screenwriter-director Brian Koppelman.
And that brings to mind perhaps the best resource of all: Twitter. There are so many screenwriters, TV writers and filmmakers who are active tweeters. The great thing is you can actually communicate with pro writers on this platform. Well, at least send tweets their way. They may or may not respond. But if you’ve given yourself enough time (several months) to discvern the ins and outs of what is proper Twitter etiquette and you show yourself to be smart, creative and – this is helpful – have a sense of humor in your 140 character tweets, you can actually interface with a pro. What’s more, it seems like every other day, one or more of them goes off on a rant about the craft or business. Who to follow? A good place to start is my follow list: @GoIntoTheStory. You can check it here. And if you aren’t following, do it now!
Finally, there’s Go Into The Story. In August, I’ll be doing a month-long daily series spotlighting 31 resources this blog has which you can use to find all sorts of wisdom about the craft. With 15K+ posts, there’s a lot here.
Moreover if you need advice, you can email me as I do my best to respond to everyone. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I’ve never been more well-connected to Hollywood than I am now, even compared to when I was living in Los Angeles. Plus I do have the benefit of approaching three decades in the business.
Bottom line: If you’re looking for wisdom, go first to professional writers who have worked in Hollywood and know what they’re talking about. Beware of so-called experts and gurus who mainly shill books, seminars, DVDs, software programs, consulting services, and the like. Simple test: If they’ve never written and sold something to a notable Hollywood buyer or gotten a movie produced, why trust their judgment?
Besides with all of the legitimate professional writers and filmmakers interfacing with the public online offering all of that free wisdom, it just makes sense to go there first.
Who knows. You might find yourself a mentor.
Writing and the Creative Life is a weekly series in which we explore creativity from the practical to the psychological, the latest in brain science to a spiritual take on the subject. Hopefully the more we understand about our creative self, the better we will become as writers. If you have any good reading material in this vein, please post in comments. If you have a particular observation you think readers will benefit from and you would like to explore in a guest post, email me.
Yoda: Always with you it cannot be done. Hear you nothing that I say? You must unlearn what you have learned.
Luke: Awright, I’ll give it a try.
Yoda: No. Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.
– Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back (1980), screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, story by George Lucas
The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Teaching. Today’s suggestion by David Proenza.
Trivia: Security surrounding this movie was so intense that George Lucas had regular reports about “leaks” from actors. George Lucas was so determined that the ending be kept secret that he had David Prowse (Darth Vader) say “Obi-Wan killed your father”, and dubbed it later to be “I am your father”. In fact, only five people eventually knew about the ending before the film’s release: George Lucas (came up with the idea in his second draft, after the death of Leigh Brackett), director Irvin Kershner (informed of such during story conferences), writer Lawrence Kasdan (also informed during story and script conferences), Mark Hamill (informed shortly before the shooting of the infamous scene), and James Earl Jones (told during the recording sessions for the final dub, and whom himself believed that Vader was lying).
Dialogue On Dialogue: Commentary by David: “The ultimate lesson.”
Here is a terrific, new resource for the online writing community: A weekly podcast called Chicks Who Script, featuring a trio of ‘chicks’: Emily Blake, Maggie F. Levin, and Lauren Schacher. You may check out their website here.
I asked Emily if they would be willing to do a Q&A and they agreed. It’s an interview in two parts. Today in Part 1, we learn about the genesis of the podcast and delve into the substantial issue of gender inequality up and down the work force in the Hollywood entertainment business, specifically movies and television.
Scott: What’s the one-line high concept description of Chicks Who Script?
Maggie: Three girls, two microphones, and a half-cup of revolution – just add Hollywood. Kidding. Kidding. Real talk: This world is ready for women to make movies and to talk about the movies they make. Chicks Who Script is here to help kick that conversation into the spotlight.
Lauren: Yes, I love that. Nothing to add here.
Scott: Hit me up with the particulars: Website, when and how often each podcast drops, how to access the podcasts, Twitter handles, the whole thing.
Emily: You can find us on Twitter (@CWSpodcast) and Facebook. We have a website – www.chickswhoscript.com, and if you click on “Podcast” at the top of the page, it takes you to our episodes, but we’ll have the show in Itunes as well by the end of the week. We post one every Monday. We’ve done two so far.
Lauren: There it is. That’s all our stuff.
Scott: What was the inspiration for CWS and how many margaritas at El Coyote did it require for you to actually say, “We’re gonna do this!”
Emily: This is all Twitter’s fault. I was complaining about the lack of women’s voices on a recent podcast about screenwriting and somebody said someone should start a podcast about women in screenwriting, and then suddenly Lauren was in and then I was in and then Maggie was in. It happened in the span of 15 minutes or something, and we never really questioned it. We just all enthusiastically wanted to do it from minute one. It made the work easier knowing everybody was 100% in.
Lauren: Switch that margarita for a glass of Bulleit Rye and I’m there. … to be fair, it was Republic of Pie in North Hollywood. Wah wah.
Hey Em, guess who that person was who was like, “why aren’t there chick writing podcasts?” …it was me. Haha. But yes, then all of a sudden, Emily and I had volunteered ourselves for something we were simply complaining didn’t exist, and then Maggie was in too, and BAM. We had it.
Emily: Well there you go. It was Lauren all along.
Scott: You crowd-sourced possible names for the podcast. What were some of the other finalists?
Lauren: Chicks With Scripts was the initial winner, along with The Female Protagonist, and Words With Femmes were our top. Girls on Film and briefly Script Chicks were also contenders. Our good friends Miranda Sajdak and Sandra Leviton run the fabulous Script Chix site, so Chicks Who Script it is!
Scott: For any stray Luddites out there, what would be your pitch to get them to tune in to Chicks Who Script and in general, the ineffable beauty of podcasts?
Maggie: Podcasts are a perfect example of how everything old is new again. It’s radio with pinpoint specificity, completely customizable (or curatable) to your tastes and interests – the perfect medium to learn a new skill or tap directly into a community you’re curious about. This is what makes it the perfect format to discuss screenwriting and screencraft. If movies are what move you – or better yet, if you’re the sort that’s moved to make movies – Chicks Who Script is for you.
Lauren: I would add that it makes our community even smaller. For those of us on Twitter (aka everyone reading this), you have perhaps felt the comfort of community thanks to our 140 character addictions. Especially for people glued to their computers in solace all day, this is an exciting development. Well, podcasts are a dynamic extension of this. We’re discussing topics relevant to our field while very often touching back to the Twitter community. I’d say that it breaks down confidence barriers for newbie writers. So much information and presented in a fun way!
Scott: Name five guests you would absolutely love to have on your podcast and why?
Emily: Amy Schumer. She is not only hilarious, but she does such a completely honest portrayal of women on her show in a way I’ve never seen. On just about every episode I get excited because it’s like she pulled scenes straight out of my life. And where a lot of women try to avoid calling attention to their feminism, when #YesAllWomen was blowing up, she joined in.
Lauren: OMG YES 1000x AMY SCHUMER.
Diablo Cody is pretty damn high on my list. I’ve probably read the Juno script 20 times and count it among my favorites. One of my favorite things about that script is the tone, aside from the character work of course, which is also genius. I also just find her to be a rad, admirable human. She’s also someone who’s actively sharing her voice and refuses to back away from it. I recently went to a writer’s chat with Writing Pad at We Work in Hollywood with Diablo and Nia Valdaros, both powerhouses, both on my list. The way they talked about being women in Hollywood… I know they’re fighting.
Lexi Alexander, who will be on the show, is one of my heroes. I feel like she’s going to call me out for saying that about her, but she’s an exceptional human. Green Street Hooligans is one of my all time favorite films despite the fact that I rarely watch violent movies. Talk about someone who’s actively fighting for better representation for women in this business.
And if we’re talking heroes… which we are… Emma Thompson, Ava DuVernay, and Mindy Kaling. I would lose my shit (in the best way) if they came anywhere near this podcast.
Emily: I’m so excited about Lexi. I’m excited about all of this. We record the episodes in my house, so all of these amazing people come into my home and it makes me clean things more often and dust my DVD collection because I want to impress them.
Know who else I want? Shane Black, although the greatest struggle in a Shane Black interview would be to not turn it into The Chris Farley Show. “You remember how the original script for Lethal Weapon is the most amazing read ever? Yeah that was cool.”
Maggie: We’re way past our five person quota, but I’m just gonna leave this here…Katie Dippold, Caroline Thompson & Shonda Rhimes.
Lauren: Dude. All those. YESSSSS.
Scott: In a post on her blog Bamboo Killers announcing CWS, Emily wrote this: “We’ll be discussing screenwriting from a female perspective, and we will have a guest each week. It won’t always be woman-centric, but it will always include the female voice in the conversation.” Putting on my producer’s hat here, let me ask you a basic question: Who is your target audience?
Lauren: I think it’s important to note that while we’re women discussing films, this podcast is not only for female listeners. We embrace ALL listeners! Male-led podcasts aren’t just for men and ours isn’t just for women. There simply wasn’t a Scriptnotes-esque podcast run by women and we wanted to fill that void. We wanted to listen to something like that! It didn’t exist, and so we made it. I’d also say that our target audience is people looking to get into screenwriting and those at the beginning of their careers. The three of us are all relatively early on in our writing careers. We’re not pretending to be veterans. We’re somewhat new with a few cool things under our belts: rep, water bottle tours, indie film production, scripts in development, script options, film festivals, fellowships, getting your short made and out there to the world, competitions, writing in general, etc.
Emily: And the fact that we’re all pretty early in our careers is one of the main reasons we decided to center the episodes around guests. We’re learning from the people who visit us the same way we hope our audience is.
Maggie: Absolutely. Our target is probably more early-career and aspiring writers, but I do hope that anyone wishing to be a part of the larger “Women in Film” conversation will drop in from time to time. Especially to hear from our incredible guests. Our guest lineup is out of control. I can’t wait to do our next batch of recordings.
Scott: The institutionalized gender inequity in the film and TV business is longstanding and extreme. For example, some of my blog readers did an analysis of spec script sales from 1991-2013 and discovered that only 1 our of every 8 scripts that sold was written by a woman. What’s your analysis on why that is?
Lauren: You’re in the belly of it, Scott. Ok, here goes.
Emily and I touched on this today and I think about it a lot when I work with kids (among the day jobs I’ve worked, tutoring kids/teens has been the most rewarding). I think there are a few things at play. First of all, the number of women putting themselves out there. Even at a young age, girls tend to exhibit more apologetic behavior, while boys display their work proudly, regardless of whether it’s right or wrong. This mindset, as you can imagine, bleeds into adulthood.
I want to be clear about two things: 1) The problem is not that there are not enough women who want to write. If I never hear that argument again, I’ll be happy. 2) It’s also not that women don’t have the tenacity required to have a writing career. That shit makes me some kind of furious. I do wonder, however, if women simply aren’t putting their work out there in the kinds of numbers that men are because of some irrational fear about it not being good enough. I almost wish that were the case because then we wouldn’t have to talk about discrimination…which is the real issue.
The more women I meet within this industry in increasingly higher rankings, the more I discover what I had always imagined to be true: as with directors, there’s a stigma against women writers. I wish I could ask every woman who comes on the podcast about her experience with this, but I know there will be those who don’t want to talk about it.
Emily: One of our great hopes for the podcast is that maybe in some tiny way we can help with that. I think when women hear stories of other women succeeding, it will encourage them to take the risk and put their work out there.
Lauren: Exactly. Also, Maggie said something really smart in episode one of CWS, which was that so often the conversation about the lack of women in film and lack of women writing is a conversation had without women. To be fair, we do need both male and female voices on the matter, but we also need action. The more we actually move in that direction, aka the more we just MAKE our work, get our work out there, the better our chances for a shift to occur. I think it’s happening. I do.
Scott: What is it going to take to significantly increase the number of women writers, directors, and film crew members getting hired?
Maggie: I think it’ll take a whole sea change. It’s been said in article after article – women AND men have to advocate for women. Girls who are just starting out in the business have to accept that they’re in for an uphill battle and refuse to quit – then turn around and help others up the ladder. But something everyone has the power to do right this instant is talk about it. Take it from a trending topic to the center of industry discourse. The louder the conversation gets, the harder it is for the powers-that-be to ignore.
Lauren: It’s going to have to be a conscious effort on all of our parts for a while, but then, after the shift, we won’t have to work so hard to support women. Often I hear people say, “yeah, but you don’t want to be hired just because you’re a woman, do you?” And to that I say, it’s not just about me. It’s not just about us. It’s about future generations. It’s about all women. The more of us who succeed in this business, the better. PERIOD. If you hire me because you need a diversity hire, will I take that job? Hell yes I will! And I will bust my ass to keep it and excel at it so that other women can see one woman’s success and keep pushing themselves to do better.
…so basically what Maggie said.
Tomorrow in Part 2, Lauren, Maggie and Emily share advice to both women and men writers, and reflect on what the success of movies with female leads like Lucy may mean in terms of Hollywood’s conventional wisdom.
Emily Blake enjoys writing fight scenes with accurate tactics. She’s written more screenplays than she can remember, all action or action comedy. She was a finalist in the TrackingB contest in 2011 and is currently repped at APA. She cowrote and is executive producing a short film about Doctor Who fans called Tenspotting, which will star Chloe Dykstra. She’s a message board moderator, an amateur dog trainer, a former high school teacher, and an experienced Twitterer. In a zombie apocalypse, she’d probably be okay. She believes Terminator 2 is the finest movie ever made, although Galaxy Quest is a close second.
Maggie F. Levin
Maggie F. Levin is a film & theatre artist with rock n’ roll roots. Since arriving in Los Angeles, she has worked as a director & concept artist for music videos, a script doctor for indie producers, and a pop music reviewer for MXDWN.com – in addition to her ‘regular’ work as a screenwriter, fit model and script reader. Maggie writes fractured fairy tales in movie form – so obviously she thinks Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the greatest thing ever. Besides Prince. Prince is actually the greatest thing ever.
Lauren Schacher is an actor/writer combo. …don’t worry if you haven’t heard of that. It’s a totally new thing. Yup. She’s got degrees in Biochemistry and Italian Literature, has performed on stage at Lincoln Center and on screen opposite some of the world’s greatest movie stars, has seen the inside of the human body (dude. it’s SO BEAUTIFUL) and is in development on her first feature film. She was one of three (all female) Big Vision Empty Wallet Screenwriting Fellows in 2013 in addition to having been a semi-finalist for the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab with her psychological thriller, Dream Catcher. Lauren’s focus as a writer is on human relationships, most often in terms of sexuality. Films like Short Term 12 and Rachel Getting Married make her coo. …then cry.
The Chicks Who Script podcast is also available on iTunes.
It’s folks like Maggie, Lauren and Emily, along with each of us, who are going to drag Hollywood kicking and screaming into the 21st century. As @MysteryExec would say: “Be the change.” I hope Chicks Who Script can become a leading voice in that movement, as well as providing insight, information and entertainment for all creatives, regardless of gender, along the way.
So check out the podcast and spread the word, folks!
Question via Twitter from @JoshHoltCity
Scott, if I’m fortunate/unfortunate enough to have never seen a number of great films, should I read or watch first?
First off, you are both fortunate and unfortunate not to have seen a “number of great films.” Unfortunate because you do not have the collective experience — yet — of having seen all those great cinematic stories to have fed your mind, body and soul. Besides on a practical level, you absolutely need to watch as many movies as you can, especially great ones, because every conversation about story development in Hollywood references movies over and over and over again. A studio executive trying to make a point says, “Like that scene with the horse head in The Godfather,” instead of nodding your head limply because you haven’t seen the film, much better to be able to get the reference because you have screened it.
That said, you are fortunate because you have virgin eyes. My God, the thought of seeing some of my favorite movies for the very first time: The Apartment, To Kill a Mockingbird, Dr. Strangelove, Casablanca, Annie Hall, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Back to the Future, Alien, Psycho, The Exorcist, Jean de Florette / Manon des Sources, Tampopo, Fanny and Alexander, Wings of Desire and on and on…
You have a great gift: You get to experience these classics and more for the first time. In that respect, I envy you.
Advice: Print out the IMDB Top 250 list and make it your goal to watch every single one of those movies. That may be the most important thing you do as a budding screenwriter and filmmaker. There is a Gestalt type of learning you can attain in no other way than immersing yourself in a bunch of movies.
Now to your actual question: Read the script or watch the movie first? I am curious what readers will say, but if we are talking great movies like Citizen Kane, The Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction, Fight Club, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Lawrence of Arabia, I’d say watch the movie first.
You want to take in that whole film experience knowing as little as possible about the story so you can be swept up in the narrative. On your first screening of a great film, you don’t want to be sitting there comparing the movie to a script and going deep into story analysis, rather you should allow yourself the chance to become immersed in that universe.
After you see the movie, then you can bust out the script and re-watch it, comparing script to screen. By the way, that’s a great exercise.
I will say there are a bunch of movies I’ve seen after reading the script, but I’m nearly three decades into this. It’s hard for me to watch movies without having one track of my mind in analysis mode. So knowing the story before I watch a movie isn’t such a big deal to me. With certain exceptions, of course, movies I just absolutely have to watch knowing as little as possible about the story in advance.
But you’re young! You still deserve the chance to experience the awe and wonder of seeing movies fresh.
So my bottom line advice is watch the movies first. Then read the scripts.
Readers, what do you say? I suspect most of you will agree with me, but maybe not. I’d be especially curious to hear from folks who work in Hollywood development circles whose job requires them to read scripts before the movies get produced. How do you deal with that? Do you find that hinders your experience of watching a movie? Or not?
See you in comments for your thoughts.
And Josh, enjoy the classics!
[Note: This was originally posted February 9, 2011.]
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.