Eleven years ago today, David Foster Wallace delivered this commencement address to the graduating class at Kenyon College. If you’ve never listened to it, do it right now. It is brilliant.
Eleven years ago today, David Foster Wallace delivered this commencement address to the graduating class at Kenyon College. If you’ve never listened to it, do it right now. It is brilliant.
Paul Rowlands has a site called Money Into Light and he’s recently run a two-part interview with Daniel Waters, screenwriters of such movies as The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, Hudson Hawk, Batman Returns, Demolition Man, and the cult hit Heathers. In the conversation, Waters reflects back on Heathers providing an interesting look at the movie’s gestation, creation, and influence.
What made you decide that you wanted to make ‘The greatest ever teen film’?
It was almost exactly like that. I’ve learned that naivete is one of the strongest forces in the world. The sad thing about becoming an old, grizzled screenwriter is that you lose your naivete and you start to think about what can be done and what can get made. Back then, after I had just moved out to L.A. and I was sitting writing my first screenplay, it was a case of ”What do I want to see?” I see so many movies and what I wanted to see was a high school film with Stanley Kubrick’s satire from DR. STRANGELOVE (1964) and the narration from Terrence Malick’s BADLANDS (1973). The high school films that I was seeing lacked a certain something. The parents were always to blame. The kids were always innocent. Even when they weren’t innocent, they were never to blame. I didn’t want to make a documentary saying ”This is the way teenagers really are. ” I wanted to take a step back and take a darker, more epic, cynical, satirical approach. Stanley Kubrick did his science fiction movie. He did his horror movie. He did his war movie. Well, what if he did his teen film? So I wrote this three-hour script. Screenwriters today they read Variety, and they read the trades in order to find what is hot right now, instead of just writing. I’ve always found it ridiculous. It’s like the light of a star of a planet that blew up two hundred years ago. By the time you write what’s hot, it won’t be hot anymore. I just went in headlong and wrote this three hour teen film. It was silly and insane of me but in this case it worked out.
You’re a fan of John Hughes but the film is often described as an ‘anti-John Hughes’ film. Do you think of it that way?
In a way it is, yes. That doesn’t mean I hate his films though. Looking back now, the thing that I didn’t like about them, the quaintness and silliness of them, is even more endearing today. They’re time-capsule fun. Even at the time I enjoyed them -it was just certain elements of them I always had problems with. In THE BREAKFAST CLUB (1985) a character says ”When you grow up, your heart dies. ” HEATHERS is saying ”When you’re 14, your heart dies. ” Evil and bad behaviour can happen at a much younger age than just when you’re becoming an adult.
Did you ever think it might have been possible to get Kubrick to do the film?
I honestly did think that somehow he would see the script and say ”Yeah, I’ll do it.” I thought I would have to go to England and work with him, and he would probably take a screenwriting credit with me. That was me being realistic!
Here is the original trailer for Heathers:
Woody: Buzz? Buzz Lightyear? You’re not worried, are you?
Buzz: Me? No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Are you?
Woody: Now Buzz, what could Andy possibly get that is worse than you?
Andy: [from downstairs] Oh, oh, what is it? What is it? Wow, a puppy!
— Toy Story (1995), screenplay by Joss Whedon and Andrew Stanton and Joel Cohen & Alec Sokolow, original story by John Lasseter & Pete Docter & Andrew Stanton & Joe Ranft
The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Celebration.
Trivia: What attracted Tom Hanks to the role of Woody was the fact that, during his childhood, he would always wonder if his toys were alive and moved around when nobody was in his room. What attracted Tim Allen to the role of Buzz Lightyear was the fact that, before him, they offered the role to his biggest influence in his career, Chevy Chase, who turned it down.
Dialogue On Dialogue: Ah! Christmas morning! A wonderful celebration! Andy’s toys filled with excitement until they hear… “Arf! Arf!”
A reader question via email from Mark:
I can write pretty good loglines. As a result, a number of producers request material. At lease half or more require signing release and agreement forms. While I’ve signed them in the past, I now try to avoid doing so, which has eliminated many opportunities to get my material read. In such a competitive business, that makes it much tougher.
What’s your advice regarding signing these forms, and did you routinely sign them before having a rep?
First off, good for you, Mark, that you have a knack for writing loglines. That’s note every writer’s forte.
Re release forms, let me state for the record: I am not a lawyer (but later I’ll provide a link to someone who is and his thoughts on the subject).
Here’s my understanding: Most producers and managers, after receiving a solicitation from a writer, almost always via email, will require the writer to sign some sort of form in which the writer waives all rights to sue them in case the writer contends the producer or manager ripped off the writer’s script.
The language can vary from form to form, but that is pretty much the gist of it.
Example of a release form
When I broke into the business back in the Dark Ages — although I don’t know this from personal experience because I was never in a position where I needed to solicit anyone for potential representation — it was easier to get unsolicited material to agents and producers (there was no such thing as a manager in the late 80s). So what happened?
Two words: Nuisance suits. They still happen to this day wherein a writer with barely any merit to their claim will sue a manager, agent, studio, or producer asserting somebody had access to and stole their story.
That’s a discussion for another time. In response to the original question, if you are unwilling to sign a release form, the chances a manager or producer will request your script are basically zilch.
However let me say this: If the entity you’re dealing with is a legitimate Hollywood player, the chances of you getting ripped off are negligible, so bear that in mind when considering if you should sign a release form or not.
The reality is it’s a buyer’s market and if you don’t sign, they’re off to the next writer who will toe the line and agree to sign a release form.
For a comprehensive legal take on the matter, go here.
How about you, GITS readers? What’s your take on submission release forms? Do you sign them? And if not, how do you get your material to potential reps and buyers?
One of the best ways to learn the craft is read what professional screenwriters have to say about it. To that end for the next few weeks, I will be featuring interviews I have conducted with Black List screenwriters.
Today: Daniel Kunka wrote the 2009 movie 12 Rounds, two Black List scripts (Yellowstone Falls, Battle of New Orleans), sold the spec scripts Agent Ox and The Bermuda Triangle, and has several high profile projects in development including Space Invaders.
Here are links to the six installments of my June 203 interview with Daniel:
Part 1: “If you just want to write for yourself and don’t care about finding financial success, you can… But to try and find success and make it a career, it’s impossible to not know the game you’re playing. It’s like trying to be an electrical engineer and never taking a physics class.”
Part 2: “It’s literally one phone call and I go from sitting on my couch eating Cheetos to being on set in New Orleans with the producer of Saving Private Ryan and Speed and the director of Cliffhanger while a trolley car plows through trucks on Canal Street.
Part 3: “No matter what the concept is, no matter what spectacle you put out there, nobody cares if there’s not an empathetic way into the story and you only get that with the characters you tell the story through.”
Part 4: “You get the call, the script sells, you’re totally euphoric and then you hang up the phone and your kid is crying and you need to make dinner and it’s ‘all right, I get to be a professional screenwriter for another year.’”
Part 5: “My thinking is, if you’re going to take the time to write a spec, aim high. You want it to sell. And if it’s going to sell, the concept is key. It has to be a movie. To me that’s the path of least resistance to making screenwriting your career, by giving the buyers scripts they have to buy.”
Part 6: “What I try to do is paint a picture with as few brush strokes as possible. So instead of writing out an entire fight sequence between two guys, I’ll keep it very general except for two or three key moments that make the fight unique.”
Daniel is repped by ICM Partners and Madhouse Entertainment.
A guest post from Waka Brown:
Hi, GITS readers! It’s me, Waka Brown from Scott’s 2013 Quest Initiative. I’ve been having a great time keeping up with you, participating in Zero Draft 30 (um, more like Zero Draft 84 for me, give or take a few), and continuing on my writing journey. My most recent labor of love has been our local writing conference, The 47th Annual Willamette Writers Conference (WWC), which will take place Aug. 12-14, 2016 at the Portland Airport Sheraton. Approximately 700 writers of every form and style are expected to participate.
Many years ago, a friend pointed me toward the WWC after I had been writing (bad) screenplays for a few years. At my first conference, I was shocked at how much I didn’t know—How to pitch, how to follow up, what’s The Black List? Agent v. manager?—you name it, I didn’t know it. I attended for several years, learned more about the craft and the business (which actually led me to Scott and GITS), made contacts, obtained reads, and received enough encouragement to fuel the dream. The best aspect of the conference, though, is the community of writers. It’s your dreams and enthusiasm and your love of story. It’s being in an environment where one can say, “I’m a writer” and no one thinks you’re crazy. Or, if they do, it’s because they’re crazy, too (and proud of it!). In many ways, it’s a physical GITS-like community, but in the land of Voodoo Doughnuts. And Blue Star Donuts. And Pip’s Original Doughnuts. (AFF may have the BBQ, but PDX has got the doughnuts).
For some time, I’ve thought, “It would be really cool to have…” and this past year when my writing group friend was appointed Conference Director, he handed a large part of the Film & TV organizing to me. Let me just say, I’m really proud of the lineup we’ve put together. We have another Quester, Sandy Leviton leading sessions on TV and short films AND taking pitches. We have our Austin connection Tom Willett leading workshops on structure and the Rewrite. We have multi-dimensional story-telling, Act II Blues, the Antagonist’s Journey, pitching workshops, the business of Hollywood, and much, much more. We have managers such as Lee Stobby (who represents the writer with the #1 script on the 2015 Black List) and Kailey Marsh (founder of The Bloodlist) hearing pitches, as well as a number of other great reps and executives actively seeking out new voices.
And that’s just the Film & TV side. There’s a whole literary section of the conference covering fiction/non-fiction/sci-fi/fantasy/essays/short stories/magazines/poetry/young readers/graphic novels/self-publishing/agent/editor/publisher offerings.
If any of this interests you, please check out our conference site. Registration and pitch sales are now open and if you’re a GITS reader, we’re offering a $25 discount (code: GITSDiscount).
Finally, many thanks to Scott for letting me hijack his blog to promote the conference. If you have any questions, you can find me at @wakatb on Twitter. Hope to see you there!
For all you writers up in the Pacific Northwest, this is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the craft and do some networking. Be sure to take advantage of the special Go Into The Story discount!
May is classic 30s movie month. Today’s guest post comes from Michael Waters.
Movie: All Quiet on the Western Front
Writers: Erich Maria Remarque (book), Maxwell Anderson, George Abbott, Del Andrews
Lead Actors: Lew Ayres (Paul), Louis Wolheim (Kat)
Director: Lewis Milestone, Won the Oscar for best Director and Best Film in 1930
Plot Summary: A young soldier learns the realities of the front line in World War One.
Why I Think This Is A Classic 30s Movie
When I was a young teen this was one of two books to leave a great impression on me. I was delighted to later learn of the 1930 movie, and that it was true to the book. Both film and book work because they put the front line soldier at the centre of the story. Their day to day struggles and their small victories – stealing a pig or a double ration of food – are the things that matter. You spend time with the characters, you get to know them and that’s why you care about them. They can be funny, resourceful, engaging. This is what gives the tragedy of the cast’s death maximum meaning. Forty million deaths in WW1 is just a statistic. When you get to know the characters involved, you feel the loss when they become one of the statistics.
My Favorite Moment In The Movie
The bombardment scene where Paul is trapped in a shell hole with a dead soldier and starts talking to him. Paul’s true feelings of shame are exposed. The scene is a simple and effective piece of construction. Trap the Protagonist with what they’re doing and they are forced to confront the consequences.
My Favorite Dialogue In the Movie
The scene where Paul returns to school during his leave.
Professor Kantorek: Paul. How are you, Paul?
Paul: [somber] Glad to see you, Professor.
Professor Kantorek: You’ve come at the right moment, Baumer. Just at the right moment. And as if to prove all I have said, here is one of the first to go. A lad who sat before me on these very benches, who gave up all to serve in the first year of the war. One of the iron youth who have made Germany invincible in the field! Look at him. Sturdy and bronze and clear-eyed! The kind of soldier every one of you should envy! Paul, lad, you must speak to them. You must tell them what it means to serve your fatherland.
Paul: No, no, I can’t tell them anything.
Professor Kantorek: You must, Paul. Just a word. Just tell them how much they’re needed out there. Tell them why you went, and what it meant to you.
Paul: I can’t say anything.
Professor Kantorek: If you remember some deed of heroism, some touch of humility, tell about it.
Paul: I can’t tell you anything you don’t know. We live in the trenches out there, we fight, we try not to be killed; and sometimes we are. That’s all.
Professor Kantorek: No, no Paul.
Paul: I’ve been there. I know what it’s like.
Professor Kantorek: That’s not what one dwells on, Paul.
Paul: I heard you in here, reciting that same old stuff. Making more iron men, more young heroes. You still think it’s beautiful and sweet to die for your country, don’t you? We used to think you knew. The first bombardment taught us better. It’s dirty and painful to die for your country. When it comes to dying for your country it’s better not to die at all. There are millions out there dying for their countries, and what good is it?
Professor Kantorek: [shocked] Paul!
Paul: You asked me to tell them how much they’re needed out there. He tells you, “Go out and die” Oh, but if you’ll pardon me, it’s easier to say go out and die than it is to do it.
Paul: And it’s easier to say it, than to watch it happen.
Students: Coward. You’re a coward. Coward.
Professor Kantorek: No! No, boys, boys. I’m sorry, Baumer, but I must say…
Paul: We’ve no use talking like this. You won’t know what I mean. Only, it’s been a long while since we enlisted out of this classroom. So long, I thought maybe the whole world had learned by this time. Only now they’re sending babies, and they won’t last a week. I shouldn’t have come on leave. Up at the front you’re alive or you’re dead and that’s all. You can’t fool anybody about that very long. And up there we know we’re lost and done for whether we’re dead or alive. Three years we’ve had of it, four years. And every day a year, and every night a century. And our bodies are earth, and our thoughts are clay, and we sleep and eat with death. And we’re done for because you can’t live that way and keep anything inside you. I shouldn’t have come on leave. I’ll go back tomorrow. I’ve got four days more, but I can’t stand it here. I’ll go back tomorrow. I’m sorry.
Key Things You Should Look For When Watching This Movie
Paul’s journey is a fantastic example of a character arc.
To show our gratitude for your guest post, here’s a dash of creative juju for you. Whoosh!
We already have a set of classic 40s movies, 5os movies, 60s Movies, 70s movies, 80s Movies and 90s Movies. This month, we’re working on 30s movies. And thanks to the GITS community, we’ve got at least 22 movies in the works and hopefully!
Those who I put in bold have already sent me their posts. If you haven’t sent yours to me, please do so as soon as you can!!!
All Quiet on the Western Front – Michael Waters
Bride of Frankenstein – Marija Nielsen
Bringing Up Baby – Melinda Mahaffey
Captain Blood – John Arends
City Girl – Adam Westbrook
Dracula – Sheila Seaclearr
Duck Soup – David Joyner
Gone With The Wind – W. H. Morris
Gunga Din – Steve Huerta
It Happened One Night – Joni Brainerd
Make Way for Tomorrow – Susan Winchell
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – Amber Watt
Rebecca – Katha
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves – Will King
Sabotage – Jeff Xilon
Stagecoach – Thenewlight
The 39 Steps – Felicity Flesher
The Adventures of Robin Hood – Clay Mitchell
The Petrified Forest – Rachel Sheridan
The Women – Liz Clarke
Topper – Wayne Kline
Trouble in Paradise – Vincenzo
Vampyr – Megaen Kelly
I am still looking for volunteers. If there’s a 30s movie you’d like to write about, please post your suggestion in comments or contact me via email.
From Psychology Today:
1. You are creative.
2. Creative thinking is work.
3. You must go through the motions of being creative.
4. Your brain is not a computer.
5. There is no right answer.
6. Never stop with your first good idea.
7. Expect the experts to be negative.
8. Trust your instincts.
9. There is no such thing as failure.
10. You do not see things as they are; you see them as you are.
11. Always approach a problem on its own terms.
12. Learn to think unconventionally.
I think my two favorites are this:
There is no such thing as failure. Whenever you try to do something and do not succeed, you do not fail. You have learned something that does not work. Always ask “What have I learned about what doesn’t work?”, “Can this explain something that I didn’t set out to explain?”, and “What have I discovered that I didn’t set out to discover?” Whenever someone tells you that they have never made a mistake, you are talking to someone who has never tried anything new.
Learn to think unconventionally. Creative geniuses do not think analytically and logically. Conventional, logical, analytical thinkers are exclusive thinkers which means they exclude all information that is not related to the problem. They look for ways to eliminate possibilities. Creative geniuses are inclusive thinkers which mean they look for ways to include everything, including things that are dissimilar and totally unrelated. Generating associations and connections between unrelated or dissimilar subjects is how they provoke different thinking patterns in their brain. These new patterns lead to new connections which give them a different way to focus on the information and different ways to interpret what they are focusing on. This is how original and truly novel ideas are created. Albert Einstein once famously remarked “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
And then this summary:
Creativity is paradoxical. To create, a person must have knowledge but forget the knowledge, must see unexpected connections in things but not have a mental disorder, must work hard but spend time doing nothing as information incubates, must create many ideas yet most of them are useless, must look at the same thing as everyone else, yet see something different, must desire success but embrace failure, must be persistent but not stubborn, and must listen to experts but know how to disregard them.
The thing about creative writing: We’re not dealing with widgets, rather we’re pilgrims in a universe infused with mystery. As desperately as we may want to believe there is some foolproof routine or all-knowing system to write a great story, the truth is writers are wranglers of magic.
And that’s the way it should be, at least in terms of being authentically creative, perhaps nowhere more than screenwriting. Anybody can write a formulaic script. It’s only writers who go into their story and engage their characters within the context of their story universe as organic, alive and real entities with their own back-stories, personalities, wants, needs, fears and so forth that we tap into the magic.
And so a toast, fellow pilgrim. May we commit ourselves each day to the ever-challenging task of engaging our Creative Self in order to Wrangle the Magic!
For more of the Psychology Today article, go here.
[Originally posted February 20, 2014]
“Zion, hear me! It is true what many of you have heard. The machines have gathered an army, and as I speak, that army is drawing nearer to our home. Believe me when I say we have a difficult time ahead of us. But if we are to be prepared for it we must first shed our fear of it. I stand here before you now truthfully unafraid. Why? Because I believe something you do not? No. I stand here without fear because I remember. I remember that I am here not because of the path that lies before me, but because of the path that lies behind me. I remember that for one hundred years we have fought these machines. I remember that for one hundred years they have sent their armies to destroy us, and after a century of war I remember that which matters most: WE ARE STILL HERE! Tonight let us send a message to that army. Tonight let us shake this cave. Tonight let us tremble these halls of earth, steel and stone. Let us be heard from red core to black sky! Tonight, let us make them remember. This is Zion and we are not afraid!”
— The Matrix Revolutions (2003), written by Lilly Wachowski and Lana Wachowski (as The Wachowski Brothers)
The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Celebration. Today’s suggestion by Will King.
Trivia: The name of the station between the Machine World and The Matrix is called Mobil Ave. Mobil is an anagram of Limbo, the traditional station between Heaven and Earth.
Dialogue On Dialogue: Commentary by Will: “Morpheus’ rousing inspirational speech in the final chapter of the Matrix trilogy starts a night of celebration as Zion prepares for the final onslaught by the machines.”
I was flying home from a business trip yesterday when this happened [actual text message I sent to my family, slightly edited to correct some typos]:
So I am at O’Hare and I figure I will grab a quick drink before my flight. Find a seat at a crowded bar (Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Terminal 3, K2). End up sitting next to Jackie whose iPhone is at 3% power. I offer to let him plug in to my laptop to charge up. We talk. Nice young man. Takes a sip from his glass of beer. Tells me he is going to fly non-stop 18 hours to Bejing, then Mongolia where he is from. I keep checking to make sure his phone is powering up, which it is.
Then as appreciation to my kindness and that of Jeremy, the dude next to me from Portland, who offers to let Jackie use his portable battery power unit to charge his phone, Jackie buys 3 shots of Grey Goose vodka.
Jeremy says no can do, but Jackie insists with me. Not wanting to be impolite, I take a sip. He downs his in one slug.
I get to talking with Jeremy, then a few minutes Jackie taps me on the shoulder and he is suddenly drunk. Don’t know if he took an Ambien or what, but he is a mess. And he is clinking the 3rd shot glass of vodka, the one Jeremy turned down, against my just-sipped glass: Let’s toast.
I say, “No, not a good idea.” But he slams back his shot.
“Jackie, no more for you, okay.”
I catch the eye of the bartender Pedro. He scoops away Jackie’s beer. Replaces with a glass of water.
“Here, drink some water, Jackie.”
I hold the glass for him. He takes a sip. Thumbs his phone. Hands it to me. On the screen, I’m staring at the face of Jackie’s friend. From Mongolia.
“What’s wrong with Jackie?”
“He’s had too much to drink.”
“He must come home. Family needs him. He must get on plane.”
“Okay, okay, I understand.”
Jackie is lolling from side to side.
“Jackie, when is your flight.”
“Yes, I know you’re flying to Bejing. When does the plane take off?”
He fumbles through his pants pockets. Drops the phone. I pick it up. Cash spills onto the floor. I retrieve it.
The bartender Pedro enlists the help of an airline dude: “Where’s his boarding pass?”
I dig through Jackie’s pants pockets because he is unable to function. More cash. Baggage claim check. Passport.
Finally his boarding pass.
Oops. This is for his flight from an earlier flight.
Phone rings. It’s Jackie’s friend. Hands me the phone.
“How’s he doing?”
“We’re working on it.”
“Must get home, must get on flight…”
Now several people including myself and Jeremy from Portland have marshaled forces: We are single-minded to help Jackie, who we have known for all of 20 minutes.
Finally I find his boarding pass. Jackie wobbling. Shit! His flight leaves in 20 minutes!
I jam his cash, passport, phone, charger cable (his phone now at 38% power) into his pocket as Jackie’s friend keeps calling (“We’ll get him there, we’ll get him there,” I keep saying).
By now, there are a half-dozen people at work to get this virtual stranger onto his plane. The airline representative is a freaking hero, steers a wobbling Jackie onto an electric cart to head off to another terminal (Jackie is in the wrong place).
“Thank you, thank you, good friend, good friend,” Jackie slurs, patting people on the back as they pull away.
And he is gone.
Jeremy and I shake our heads: What the hell just happened? Jeremy has to leave for his flight. We shake hands. He gives me his card. If I ever become a big corporation and need IT help, I know who to call.
While I resume sitting at the bar, several people come up to shake my hand. “That was wonderful what you did,” a guy says. He was seated at a table right next to the whole thing. “Nobody does that for people anymore.”
I say, “We’re all human beings. What else could we do?”
He embraces me.
“Yeah, what else.”
Then the whole scene is over, as if it never happened. A guy slides into the seat Jackie occupied.
He lives in Philadelphia. He and his partner want to move to Palm Springs. “It’s a big gay community there,” he tells me.
“You don’t say.”
I have kept thinking about Jackie last night and today. I hope he made it home on time. My interaction with him reminded me of two basic facts of life: First, empathy is one of the most important capabilities we have as human beings. Second, as writers, stories exist everywhere.
In both respects, we do well to keep our eyes and ears open.