Favorite film directors are part of the story. Kubrick’s direction of Dr. Strangelove was brilliant, the terrific Terry Southern script might have had as much to do with the film’s success as Kubrick’s direction.
Some Like it Hot, Billy Wilder directed with stars Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Marilyn Monroe. The next year Wilder directs The Apartment with Lemmon and Shirley McClaine. Two all-time great films completed in just two years.
Blake Edwards is a huge influence. Not all his films dazzle, but Victor/Victoria does. Here he has a veteran blend of talented actors, slapstick, and show business know-how. The director pulls out some of the actors’ all-time best performances. Julie Andrews, Robert Preston, James Garner and Leslie Ann Warren all kill it.
Nancy Meyers has had an enormous impact. Something’s Gotta Give, The Holiday and It’s Complicated are all three well-constructed female point of view romantic comedies. Still, compared to Billy Wilder’s brisk filmmaking pace Meyers three here took most of a decade to complete.
Vicki Cristina Barcelona is my favorite Woody Allen film. This film makes me laugh out loud and that counts for everything. There is an off-handed style to an Allen film, there is a sense of flow, films do not seem over-engineered, the actors are given a chance to let their acting influence and pull the audience along. Plot turns help, but so many times it is his actors that pull off a scene and make the greatest impressions.
The Professionals, written, directed, and produced by Richard Brooks is a masterpiece. A year later he finishes In Cold Blood another stunning cinematic achievement. The Brooks script is tight with some of the best yet not easy to deliver lines, Lee Marvin proves several times that use of the long rolling your eyes pause followed by a matter-of-fact delivery to be near pitch perfect means of keeping his character from getting caught acting in front of a camera.
The Last Drop is the title of my screenplay. This is a first try, my other experiences with narrative have been the novel, there are four to my credit. The novels development and completion resemble a Nancy Meyers filmmaking pacing. I need about two and a half years to finish a manuscript, and that’s going at it full time.
A screenplay requires a smaller number of words. My novels run about 90 thousand in length where the screenplay should come in somewhere around 25 thousand.
Visualizing scenes for the screen, this is its own imagination muscle. There is nothing comparable when writing long fiction. Specific objects, color, acoustical transitions, character schtick, and the variety of pacing all come into play.
I want my main characters to be more fully realized, that takes some building blocks, I want the experience anchored by people. I use montage in several places, but by then we know the characters well enough and can push the plot forward at a pace that supports the films’ primary purpose.
Perhaps it is a little late in my career, chances are not large to get a script sold, but like all screenplays they start somewhere and are written by someone, and you never will know unless you try.
And what I am getting to know about writing a screenplay is how difficult a good script is to create. There is a lot of talent out there. Some write cracking funny lines, some have brilliant visual talent, others a knack for turning a good plot. Writing delicious characters that an actor can inhabit is a crucial skill. Then, of course there is a story, do you have a good one to tell.
I don’t know that playing hide the ball, trying to get an audience all wrapped up in whether they can or cannot predict what will happen next is my best skill. I tend to drive stories by character. Since this is a comedy, I’ve been surprised at how I have spent so little time writing funny lines, instead devoting my energy to putting characters in situations that I see as funny, hoping an audience will get caught up in the situations too.
To test if my script is up to snuff, I watch the beginning of any favorite film using a stopwatch. I’ll screen the first 25 minutes, while looking for the first turn that comes early in a film when we find out what the story is going to be about. Is my script as efficient? Is the script clear about what the rest of the film is going to be about? Is it entertaining? How well a job am I doing at holding an audience’s attention?
I find if I go back over an opening that is not as well constructed as any of the great films I admire that I can usually identify a missing element I’ve overlooked and not used. This can be excruciating process because they are hidden in our own blind spots, but they are there, and with some effort will be revealed.
Once I finish this script, I’ll start another. After a long variety show career, I’ll stick with writing another comedy. I’m not confident, but I am satisfied with having given writing a water war comedy a shot. Remember Chinatown by Polanski looked to be a water war film, but buried deeper into the script is the twisted shameful sexual relationship between a father and daughter, and in the end, it was the taboos between family members that was the central purpose of the film.
I’m very close to finishing now. Not a matter of days or anything, but there are only a few more scenes to polish and the crucial ending to dial in until it lands just so. That’s what we are doing over here for fun—