Monday, August 9, 2010

Hail Hail Rock ‘n’ Roll--Screenwriting and the End of Adversity - Guest Blog by Richard Walter

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.

FADE IN:

INT. TIBETAN MONASTERY – MORNING

GURU RICHARD WALTER meditates, facing the sunrise on the Monastery’s eastern promenade.

After a moment, he opens his eyes and notices the young visitor, the WRITER, who has come to write his screenplay, waiting in the shadows. The writer steps forward.

                  GURU RICHARD WALTER
             How is the re-write coming?

                  WRITER
             Well, I’ve cut a full 29 1/2 pages.
             The entire opening setting up the
             origin of humanity is gone. Now it
             just starts on the dark and stormy
             night. But your note about the
             dialogue confused me.

                  GURU RICHARD WALTER
             How, my son?

                  WRITER
             Well, you said it was “talky”.
             Isn’t that what dialogue is
             supposed to be? And what is
             “O.T.N.”?

                   GURU RICHARD WALTER
             Perhaps you should read my book.
             It’s all in there. Oh, and check
             out my guest blog at The Last Reveal.
             There’s a special offer at the end!


I thank Richard Walter for his consent to sit for our interview. Today he leaves us with a guest blog post that is a particularly important reminder to screenwriters. Here's Richard:


My new book Essentials of Screenwriting wallows in every corner of the subject, but its central thesis shouts that I’m sick to tears of the writer-as-crybaby, screenscribes carping and complaining about how agents betrayed them, and especially how directors/actors/producers screwed up their scripts by not following every detail and instruction.

Wouldn’t writers prefer to have their scripts ‘screwed up’ rather than not produced at all? As I’ve said too many times, in Hollywood it’s a privilege even merely to be mistreated.

My longtime pal and UCLA partner Prof. Hal Ackerman tells of running into Julius Epstein years ago at a Hollywood party. Among Epstein’s credits is Casablanca. Hal said to Epstein something on the order of, “Oh, what a thrill to meet you. All I or any of my film-phony friends ever hoped for is just once to touch something that’s timeless and eternal as you did with Casablanca.”

It would be nice to report that Epstein responded with something on the order of, “How kind of you to say so. Thank you very much.”

Epstein said nothing of the kind. Instead he said, “Casablanca, Schmasablanca. They screwed that up. You know the part where Bogart tells Claude Raines blah, blah, blah…,” and he went on to wax  bitter about how the studio and director and actors ruined his (and his brother Phillip’s and their collaborator Howard Koch’s) script.

Precisely what script? Casablanca!

All Hal could think was: I wish someone would ruin my script like they ruined Casablanca.


I recently read a biography of rock guitar master Chuck Berry. Many people forget that his classic rock records, for all their incomparable guitar genius, contain also substantial piano breaks. The keyboard work was performed for the most part by an ivory-tickling phenomenon named Johnnie Johnson.

Berry describes the first time he met Johnson. It was perhaps 1950 or 1951, and the Johnnie Johnson Trio had a New Years Eve gig in his and Chuck’s hometown, St. Louis. At the last minute prior to the job, Johnson’s guitar man fell ill, and he had to scratch around for a substitute. The then-youthful Charles Berry got the nod.

The sweetly incorrigible Berry could not resist from time to time improvising outrageous licks and riffs that were to become part of the signature style that would mark him as one of the genre’s authentic icons. At the time, however, these represented poor musical etiquette. It was the piano man’s trio and the piano man’s gig, and for Berry to show off and call attention to himself by marinating in his signature instrumental flamboyance was considered poor performance manners.

During these departures from the charts he dared not even look at Johnson, for fear of reading the leader’s reprimand.

At long last, midst a particularly energetic foray into fingerboard mastery, he managed to peek over at Johnson. Instead of a glare of disapproval, the leader smiled brightly, clearly encouraging Berry to keep on keeping on.

The two started to swap flourishes and lightning-quick configurations. Soon they were dueling with each other, each trying to outdo the other’s acrobatics. Johnson was so brilliant that Berry finally resorted to using a technique available to guitarists but not to pianists: he bent the strings.

Somehow Johnson managed to bend the strings too! He didn’t exactly reach into the piano and bend the strings, but instead played around the melody, implying the bending, causing the bent effect to play out where all art should occur, inside the mind of the listener.

As I argue in my books and in lectures around the world, it’s not only video games and computer games but all art that is interactive.

The point here is that one collaborator, in this case Johnson, saw in Berry’s contributions not a threat to his own ego and narcissism but the potential for a greater overall sound.

What does this offer screenwriters? Simply that they should forget about protecting their territory and turf and not merely tolerate but encourage their collaborators to contribute freely and lovingly to the whole picture. In practical terms this means letting go of preconceived notions and inviting their fellow artists and craftspeople to lend their own invention to the project. They are not automatons and robots but artists. It means writers should avoid offering parenthetical instructions, pauses, beats, gestures and the like in their scripts.

Yes, it’s true, now and again the actors and directors and producers may screw up the scene, or even the whole movie, but much more likely they will make it better than the writer ever imagined it could be. The important thing for the writer is not merely to let them do so but actually to welcome their doing so.  #

Is your screenplay ready to sell? Enter the Richard Walter Online Review Program to win a chance to find out!

UCLA Professor Richard Walter asserts that one of the biggest mistakes writers make is to market their scripts before they’re truly ready. If you read Richard’s new book, Essentials of Screenwriting, and post an online review of it on Amazon.com, your own blog, Facebook page or favorite user review site (and send the full review and the link to where it appears online to richardwalterreviews@yahoo.com ), you will be entered into a weekly drawing to win a free read of your script by Richard. If he deems it ready, he’ll refer it to a potential representative or directly to a production company. If he feels it is not ready, he’ll send you a letter in which he cites its essential strengths and identifies those issues that in his view require further consideration.

About the Author: Richard Walter

Richard Walter is a celebrated storytelling guru, movie industry expert, and longtime chairman of UCLA’s legendary graduate program in screenwriting. A screenwriter and published novelist, his latest book, Essentials of Screenwriting, is available in stores now. Professor Walter lectures throughout North America and the world and serves as a court authorized expert in intellectual property litigation.  For more information and to order the new Essentials of Screenwriting, visit www.richardwalter.com.

FADE OUT

Lee A. Matthias

Quote of the Post:

Film is collaboration. That is not its misfortune but its joy. Other artists may mess it up, but. far more likely, they'll make it even better than the writer imagined it could be. The trick is not merely to tolerate this but to encourage them to do so. There are many influences in a movie, but the most important one is the writer.
---Richard Walter

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