Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How They Write A Script: Alvin Sargent

Scott Myers has recently posted some terrific stuff on his excellent blog, Go Into The Story: thoughts of top screenwriters in his series: How They Write A Script.

Here's one on one of the legends:

How They Write A Script: Alvin Sargent

Alvin Sargent is one of the most well-respected screenwriters in Hollywood. He's the brother of Herb Sargent who up until his death in 2005 was president of the WGA, East and is married to long-time Hwood producer Laura Ziskin. One look at his screenwriting credits -- Paper Moon (1973), Julia (1977), Ordinary People (1980), Nuts (1987), Spiderman 2 (2004), and Spiderman 3 (2007), among many more -- and you know you are dealing with a top-flight professional.

When I first broke into screenwriting as a profession in 1987, I read everything I could on every screenwriter -- and to this day, some of the best advice I found during that time was from Alvin Sargent. Beyond everything else, Sargent challenges writers to leap before they look, take risks, get messy. That, he insists, is how we find the magic in our characters and stories. And so, here are some choice quotes from Alvin Sargent, gathered from books and articles over the years.


"I do a great deal of free-associating. Talk, for pages and pages, I don't know what's going on. Then I find something alive--I hope. I think too many people are too organized; they've got it all worked out, instead of hearing their characters first. Get the goop out first, then organize."


"Over a period of time, I begin to understand them, to think about them not only in terms of where they are in the story. I think about where these people are today, even when I'm not writing. Sometimes they never come back, and so sometimes I fire them."


"Rigidity is the mother of rigidity. It's very exciting to be ridiculous. I wish I could be even more so than I am. Jump! Jumping is a lifeline, not the suicide or the predictable. It brings you to life. Take the character and put him where he least wants to be. If it's honest, it'll be worth exploring."


"My confidence grows or dissolves with each day's work. As I work and start to see 'it' happening and realize that I'm moving somewhere, that there's some kind of real life, then it's a good day.

"But when it doesn't seem to be working for a long time, or you just can't find the truth, then the terror sets in. You must not stop. You cannot give in to anxiety. Maintain energy. Drive. Rage. Whatever it takes to keep writing.

"Even though you can't immediately solve problems, that doesn't mean the work isn't alive. You go back. Back to the beginning. The process is to move into it, come up to it, step by step, find out where you've hit it wrong, what's dishonest. Where you've gone wrong usually involves a matter of honesty. You've been dishonest either to the character or to the structure of the piece."


"You must write everyday. Free yourself. Free association. An hour alone a day. Blind writing. Write in the dark. Don't think about what it is you're writing. Just put a piece of paper in the typewriter, take your clothes off and go! No destination... pay it no attention... it's pure unconscious exercise. Pages of it. Keep it up until embarrassment disappears. Eliminate resistance. Look at it in the morning. Amazing sometimes. Most of it won't make any sense. But there'll always be a small kernel of truth that relates to what you're working on at the time. You won't even know you created it. It will appear, and it is yours. Pure gold, a product of that pure part of you that does not know how to resist."

How They Write A Script: Alvin Sargent

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Must-See: Pixar President's The Economist Interview

Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar talks about how the organization works. On feedback, self-censorship, creativity, audience, team dynamics, crisis...

Lessons for any business enterprise:
Tea with Ed Catmull
(11.27 mins)

Rosenbaum on Trailers & Product Plugs

Jonathan Rosenbaum opined this in 1990:

If my paranoid suspicions are correct, Hollywood has embarked on a 12-year plan regarding the public consumption of trailers. The plan, which has become fully apparent to me over the past year, will come to fruition in the year 2000, and its basic goal, as I see it, is to turn movies themselves into full-fledged commercials that people will pay money to see.

Once we start thinking about subliminal or near-subliminal messages in trailers, it's also worth considering ads for nonmovie products within movies, which are perhaps even more indicative of what's to come.

Perhaps if the multinational marketers eventually have their way, we will have feature-length trailers, packed with product placements for items that can be sold in the lobby on our way out of the theaters.

With such a system firmly in place, all the movies we'll see in theaters and on video will be separate feature-length trailers for a single blockbuster that's perpetually in production — a blockbuster that will never be completed because the economic advisers will soon realize that after years of such hoopla, no movie could possibly live up to so much buildup and hype. By then, however, it won't matter, because people will be perfectly happy with these enticing trailers.

(Unkept promises are always the sweetest.)

Full article:
Movies: The Big Shill [on trailers & product plugs]

Friday, June 4, 2010

Must Read: Pixar Revealed!

Perhaps the greatest film company in history considering it's 100% blockbuster strike-rate and super films, Pixar also works with a different model. Not 'freelancing' based but as a corporate where film-makers and crew are employees. Of course it helps when most of the them are amongst the smartest dudes in the game.

Check out this blog:
Pixar Revealed!



"You have to remember," he continues, "I spent 10 years sitting alone in Brooklyn working on my own scripts and getting dribs and drabs of feedback every couple of weeks. And suddenly, it's like you're crawling through the desert and one day you drill down and hit a geyser. Sitting in on those Brain Trust meetings have been some of the most exhilarating moments of my creative life."


"People say that writing is re-writing," he [Arndt] continues, "but that leaves out a crucial part of the equation: the feedback you get prior to your re-write. Pixar stories work because of the robustness of the story feedback system."


Arndt's observations on his time at Pixar only confirm what many film pundits and fans have long suspected: Pixar's films are such rousing successes because of the attention each individual at the studio dedicates to the screenplays.


"Andrew Stanton's rule of thumb is that it takes 10 man-years of labor to make a good screenplay,"

Well the link is to a blog; the complete article would be in the magazine, Creative Screenwriting. Here's Scott Myers' blog with a lot of dope:

Pixar Revealed!