Category Archives: Life Lesson

Partners for “Life” – Blake Snyder and Me…

ONCE UPON A TIME…

I was asked to post remembrances of my late, great partner, Blake Snyder – the young man who taught me to write, a young man I was blessed to call “partner” when we first started out – on his website.

After spending the week with you, my students at ASU, and being asked about my writing career, and writing partners in particular, I humbly share it with you now.

If, after hearing me sing his praises this past week, you still don’t “know” Blake, go here now…

Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat website!

…and learn about him, about his wonderful series of “Save The Cat” books on screenwriting, then get his books, study them, and join the “Cat Club” of writers, producers, directors and filmmakers making a living in Hollywood thanks to his brilliant insider guide to storytelling.

Thanks, HB

Old friends, old friends
Sat on their park bench like bookends
A newspaper blown through the grass
Falls on the round toes
Of the high shoes of the old friends

Old Friends, music and lyrics by Paul Simon

Ever since I was kindly asked to start (or is it end?) the Save the Cat! year of 2012-13, Simon and Garfunkel’s tune has been running through my head, a song Blake and I referenced in a script long ago. Only then we were new friends, well, new co-workers anyway, as true friendship came later. At that time, we were all-work-and-no-play-“writing partners,” and all our togetherness was strictly work related.

It’s fitting, then, than after much thought, I have decided to make the focus of my visit to Blake’s site the dynamic of working as writing partners, or a “writing team” as defined by the MBA via the WGA website:

  • The MBA defines a team as two writers who have been assigned at about the same time to the same material and who work together for approximately the same length of time on the material. When it comes to credit, writing partners cannot divide their joint work into separate material written alone. The MBA does not permit more than two writers to work as a team unless the Guild has granted a waiver prior to commencement of writing services, or certain economic minimums are increased in cases of bona fide 3-person teams. If one member of the team is a production executive (director or producer), then there must be a collaboration agreement under terms approved by the Guild. In addition, the production executive may be required to fill out certain forms with the Guild. Please note that a production executive who gives instructions, suggestions or directions, whether oral or written, to a writer regarding the literary material generally does not fall under the MBA definition of a writer.

  • You should recognize that you have a choice in accepting work as part of a writing team. If you question the validity of the team collaboration, it is strongly recommended that you do so by contacting the Guild’s Credits Department at the time the writing is being performed. The Guild will not divulge your objection to the other person in the claimed team, or to the employer, without your consent. Do not wait until the time when the Guild is determining the credits to raise your objection.

Whew! Who knew? Certainly not Blake! Certainly not me! Because like most couples who jump headlong into a relationship, we did not give a second of thought to the rules and regs of teaming up. No, we just started writing, happy to have another voice in the room — a living, breathing human being to help us stave off the fear of failure we also never acknowledged, terror lurking just beyond the next “Fade Out.”

And for a long time, it was good. Hell, for me it was great, a true blessing. Blake was a real writer: trained, polished, brilliant, talented. I was the imposter: a sometime actor who talked a good game and through happenstance, would learn his craft at a true master’s side.

Specs followed. Dramas. Comedies. Action & Adventure. Even half-hour pilots spilled from our IBM Selectric. No sales, lots of bites. Pitches came next. Every genre, every market, and still no payday, but we remained undeterred, optimistic even, Annie-confident that the “sun would come out tomorrow,” that our time was near.

How, you ask? We had each other. And that’s the real secret sauce of being on a team for me: the comfort of knowing you are not alone.

Then we got some work; assignments long and short, funny and not; even landed a “video game” gig for a new VHS based platform from Hasbro and Warner Brothers; writing “interactive scripts” based on the Police Academy franchise we smartly titled: Police Academy 4.0

And one day, the sense that we were in this fight for fame together just wasn’t enough and we were done. Too much struggle + too much ego + too much face time = get out before I start to hate you.

Blake, having a rough time with the WGA strike and his father’s death, knowing that I would likely try to stay our inevitable divorce if for no other reason than I was more of a hanger-on type than he, left a “Dear Howard” note on my door and fled Los Angeles for the beaches of Santa Barbara, where he would regroup and come back strong.

I sulked for a while, cursed him for “leaving me,” then refocused on my producing persona, turning to production work as my way of avoiding the reality of facing the blank page without my partner, Blake, at my side.

Time passed. Blake became the “King of the Spec Sales,” with features his domain, while I ended up slugging it out in the world of the MFT, a career choice that has lasted, miraculously, to this day. Every few years we would reconnect; once for an assignment to reboot an old spec for a chunk of change, and several more times when someone who knew us when wanted the team back together again. And every time, almost like magic, as if we had never parted ways, the rhythm and dynamism of our relationship would surface and take hold. Yes, “crazy wonderful” is the best way I can describe my time with Blake.

Of course as loyal followers of Blake, you know that he worked with other writing partners, too, some enjoying great success, others not so much. And based on the conversations I’ve had with these lucky few, I’d say they all feel the same way: Writing with Blake was a gift!

Post-Blake, when it came to writing, I found I wanted – hell, needed – the security and energy of a partnership. Sadly, other than Blake, only two partners in a half-dozen profited from our time together. Not the best odds. But for me, well worth the effort, as writing is not the “most fun” one can have with a keyboard. I like(d) being on a team.

And you have to if you are going to take on such a close relationship, because you will likely spend more time per week with your writing partner, than you will with your life partner. Which takes commitment.

In return, beyond the comfort and support that comes with knowing someone has your back, you also get the benefit of another writer’s talent, vision, humor, experience, and their skill at creating, selling, and marketing yourselves and your content — a true win-win if you are winning. Of course, you also get to share in their dating adventures, divorces, childcare issues, substance abuse troubles, etc., a price you must be prepared to pay for letting someone else into your life.

All in all, the bottom line that I have found, both among other writing teams I know, as well as the majority of my former partners, is the overriding consensus that being half of a writing team doesn’t suck if you are making money together, and quickly sours when you are not.

So there you have it – an unscientific, totally anecdotal look at one of the oddest oddity’s of show business known as the “writing team.” If it suits your personality, I heartily recommend the habit. However, if you are a brooding, must have silence or blaring music, lock me in a room and leave me alone type, then please disregard the preceding.

Lastly, if you will allow me one small indulgence, I leave you with the rest of Old Friends – shared with love for my dear partner Blake…

Old friends, winter companions, the old men
Lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sun
The sounds of the city sifting through trees
Settle like dust on the shoulders of the old friends

Can you imagine us years from today?
Sharing a park bench quietly
How terribly strange to be seventy

Old friends, memory brushes the same years
Silently sharing the same fears

Time it was and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you

 

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WILLIAM GOLDMAN “ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE” EXCEPT ON MEETINGS”

When asked what “one” book I would recommend to a student of film, I find myself, time and again, going back to…

 “ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE”

A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting.

By William Goldman. 418 pp. New York: Warner Books.

Written in 1982 his book has stood the test of time.  Sadly, many students today don’t know the works of this great, two-time Academy Award winning screenwriter; some of his many produced screen credits include:

The General’s Daughter (1999)
Absolute Power (1997)
The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)
The Chamber (1996)
Maverick (1994)
Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992)
Chaplin (1992)
Year of the Comet (1992)
Misery (1990)
Heat (1987)
The Princess Bride (1987) based on his novel
Mr. Horn (1979)
Magic (1978)
A Bridge Too Far (1977)
All the President’s Men (1976) Academy Award
Marathon Man (1976) based on his novel
The Great Waldo Pepper (1975)
The Stepford Wives (1975)
The Hot Rock (1972)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) Academy Award
Harper (1966)
Masquerade (1965)

EVEN THOUGH I’M ONLY SHARING A LINK TO THE PART OF  “ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE” BELOW THAT RELATES TO TAKING A “MEETING,” YOU ALL SHOULD READ HIS ENTIRE BOOK.

FOR AN IDEA WHY, HERE IS A NYT REVIEW FROM ’83:

“INSIDE HOLLYWOOD”

By Janet Maslin; Janet Maslin is a film critic for The New York Times.

Published: March 20, 1983

WHEN, after several ventures in playwriting, William Goldman wrote ”The Season,” his shrewd and entertaining 1969 book about the Broadway theater, he was considerably less experienced than he is today. Now, with nearly 20 years of screenwriting behind him, Mr. Goldman has undertaken a similar study of Hollywood, and to this he brings the cheerfully pragmatic wisdom of those years. So one of his chief conclusions, printed in capital letters in ”Adventures in the Screen Trade” and well supported by any number of amusing anecdotes, is that ”NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING” about whether a film will succeed. Nevertheless, Mr. Goldman knows a thing or two about how the movie business operates, and he reveals plenty of it here.

It isn’t hard to understand, reading Mr. Goldman’s animated if overly snappy prose, why he has become one of Hollywood’s best paid writers. (The economics of screenwriting, incidentally, is one of the few aspects of that craft not discussed here.) He’s a lively if ungrammatical writer, a colorful storyteller and someone who knows the importance of good organization (although this book itself is surprisingly slapdash, in view of the strict organizational rules its author propounds). If Mr. Goldman’s is not the most complex or sophisticated analysis of movie-making, it does take a nuts-and-bolts approach very like Hollywood’s own. This is a savvy, gossipy book by someone with considerable insight into the tricks of the trade.

‘In terms of authority, screenwriters rank somewhere between the man who guards the studio gate and the man who runs the studio (this week),” Mr. Goldman begins. That would not seem to afford any screenwriter much overall perspective on how Hollywood works, but Mr. Goldman makes a first-rate fly on the wall. On his first trip to Hollywood, he heard some of Paul Newman’s representatives discuss the scheduling of ”Harper,” saying ”Someday Paul will be Glenn Ford, but right now they’ll wait for him.” He watched Dustin Hoffman waste an hour of shooting time on ”Marathon Man” arguing about whether or not his character ought to have a flashlight on his bedside table. He traveled to Utah to consult with Robert Redford on ”All The President’s Men,” only to discover that Mr. Redford, a longtime acquaintance, wouldn’t give Mr. Goldman his phone number. Working on the same film, he recalls asking the director Alan Pakula which of several ways he might rewrite a sequence and being told, ”Don’t deprive me of any riches.” He notes: ”What I didn’t know then, of course, was this: Alan is notorious for not being able to make up his mind.”

In addition to describing such behavior, Mr. Goldman tries to account for its effects on film-making. He offers pointers, for instance, on why it’s legitimate and necessary to give all the best lines to a star, why the screenwriter should not describe the star in too much detail (”make your description like stretch socks – one size fits all”), and how the star can be made to look good under any circumstances. To illustrate this, he rewrites the basketball game scene from ”The Great Santini,” showing how Robert Duvall, the character actor who plays the sometimes mean-spirited father who loses the game to his son, can be made to seem bighearted and selfsacrificing in the role.

He explains why the mere casting of Barbra Streisand turned ”All Night Long” from a small flop into a large one; then he explains why a large flop may be preferable. He offers helpful hints on how to behave at meetings, imagining the series of conferences it would take to generate a Clint Eastwood version of ”The Little Engine That Could.” He envisions this all the way up to a meeting during which an executive declares, ”Well, God knows it’s a classic, I wonder what sales might say.”

Most of these rather disjointed tidbits turn up in the first section of the book, which contains random observations of a perspicacity that approaches, though never equals, that on display in ”The Season.” His new book’s second section is more specific than its first, concentrating on the films Mr. Goldman has written or tried to write. He tells why he thinks audiences rejected ”The Great Waldo Pepper,” why the Stepford Wives wore brimmed hats and long dresses and how it was possible, on ”The Right Stuff,” to find only six pages of his 148-page screenplay being used. (At this, Mr. Goldman left the picture.) He also tells of a pet project that never left the drawing board, a remake of ”Grand Hotel” that he hoped could be filmed at the M-G-M Grand in Las Vegas. The idea hit a snag when the hotel made it difficult to film there – and hit additional snags when Francis Coppola shot ”One From The Heart” on a set suggesting Las Vegas, and the makers of ”Lookin’ To Get Out”and ”Jinxed” somehow managed to use the Las Vegas Grand Hotel itself, while ”All The Marbles” featured the very similar-looking Grand Hotel in Reno.

THE last part of the book is Mr. Goldman’s slightly overlong attempt to provide practical illustrations of the points he has made, though most of them are quite practical to begin with. He takes ”Da Vinci,” an early story of his own and reprints it here. Then he analyzes it in terms of subject, characters, setting and so on, and turns it into a screenplay. Finally, he invites the opinions of such experts as designer Tony Walton, cinematographer Gordon Willis, editor Dede Allen, composer David Grusin and director George Roy Hill, asking each one how they might treat this story on the screen. The first four treat the assignment gingerly, while Mr. Hill declares, ”This script as written has things in it that set a director’s teeth on edge,” and explains why. Much of the action in ”Da Vinci” is set in a barber shop and revolves around haircuts, prompting Mr. Hill to remark, ”You’re on very thin ground when you start accepting a haircut as a work of art.”

The same might be said for movie-making, or at least for the behind-the-scenes aspects that are illuminated here. But Mr. Goldman makes fewer claims for screenwriting, as it is most commonly practiced in Hollywood, than he does for the art of the barber.

”In the world of the screenplay,” he writes, ”not only are you terribly limited as to what subject matter is viable; your treatment of the subject matter is infinitely more restricted by the power of the star.

”Which is why I truly believe that if all you do with your life is write screenplays, it ultimately has to denigrate the soul. You may get lucky and get rich, but you sure won’t get happy. Because you will spend your always decreasing days doing the following: writing Perfect Parts for Perfect People.

”And there’s got to be more to the human condition than that.

 

NOW, FOR THE LINK

Adventures in the Screen Trade 92-99

READ. LEARN. READ AGAIN.   

 

HB
 

Advice So Bad It’s Good…

As I have often said when offering “advice,” take it with a grain of salt.  

Heck, my wife, bless her heart, has a “do the opposite of what he says” policy that she finds works very well for her (and our marriage).

But seriously, we all get advice, solicited or not, almost everyday of our lives – especially in the age of social nakedness where all we do is up for an opinion to be shared, commented on, or ignored – which is a kind of advice.

Curious, I googled “best advice I ever got” – and as soon as I started to  poke around the top hits, shrugged, muttered aloud “they know this stuff” and googled “worst advice I ever got” and found this below article.

I am going to expect that you (and I) will never look at “bad advice” the same way again…

8 successful entrepreneurs share the worst advice they ever received (Business Insider 3/27/16)

by RICHARD FELONI

Bad advice is easy to ignore. But sometimes the worst advice can stick with you, as a reminder of what matters most to your personal and professional fulfillment.

Entrepreneurs by definition have to go against the grain, and so conventional, albeit terrible, advice can be used as a motivational tool.

We’ve collected the worst advice successful entrepreneurs like Mark Cuban and Barbara Corcoran ever received.

Here’s what it taught them.

1) “Shark Tank” star and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is firmly against the idea of following your passion.  Cuban has said repeatedly that the worst advice he’s ever received or heard others receive is “Follow your passion.”

“What a bunch of BS,” he wrote in a blog post from 2012. Everyone has multiple passions, Cuban says, but those don’t lead to career success. What does, however, is finding something to work hard at.

By “following your effort” instead of your passion, you can develop a skill and learn to appreciate it. Your passion for growing tomatoes in your garden can remain a hobby. Continue reading Advice So Bad It’s Good…

So, you can be the new Coen Brothers…

The other day I had the pleasure of meeting Andric L. Queen-Booker, Class of 2012 – a wonderfully talented and smart young man – and he mentioned that he enjoyed the HBO series, Togetherness, and was a big fan of the Duplass brothers.  As am I.  And my wife.  This is a win-win as it means she enjoys watching a show I enjoying watching, and when you’re in your 4th decade together, and TV wasteland time is limited, that’s a HUGE deal.

When I asked Andric why he liked the brothers, and Togetherness, he said: “It’s real. Truthful.”

So it is.  HBO worth paying for.

Imagine my surprise when the LA Weekly (a paper like the New Times for all my AZ friends) published today – did a wonderful story on the Duplass brothers that is perfectly timed to share with you.

Read this.

I did, twice.  And their story has ME pumped to do more, my way, now.

Go out there and be the STORYTELLER (actor, producer, director, writer, executive, agent, human being) that you want to be!

How the Duplass Brothers Changed Hollywood by Refusing to Change at All

MONDAY, MARCH 21, 2016 AT 6:30 A.M.

by Gwynedd Stuart

It’s an irresistibly warm weekday in late January, and Jay and Mark Duplass are in their office at Sunset Gower Studios in Hollywood preparing to write the third season of their HBO series, Togetherness. I note the timing because it happens to be Sundance week, and they’re here rather than there (I note the weather because, goddamn, we’re lucky) — and it’s the rare year they don’t have a pony to show. Last year, Sean S. Baker’s iPhone-filmed, Hollywood-set dramedy Tangerine, which the Duplasses executive produced, was one of the festival’s most talked-about films. They also executive produced Melissa Rauch’s The Bronze, another 2015 Sundance selection.

And all of 11 years ago, their first full-length feature, the low-budget relationship drama–slash–road-trip comedy The Puffy Chair, was among the festival’s breakout hits, winning the Audience Choice Award and making their mutual inclusion in conversations about young filmmakers-to-watch almost instantaneous. They were among a handful of auteurs whose work was being lumped together to constitute what was called the “mumblecore” movement. Major record labels were fixating on all things indie rock, and major film studios were fixating on quiet, quirky dramas being made for $15,000 rather than $15 million.

After the 2005 fest, Mark and his now-wife, director-actress Katie Aselton, packed up and moved from New York to L.A.; Jay headed West that December. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s safe to say these were good decisions. Continue reading So, you can be the new Coen Brothers…

A Life Lived Well…

Having had the pleasure of meeting with so many of you, of focusing on and trying to help you gain entry into the career you have worked so hard to prepare for and are determined to achieve, I have been given a surprising gift by you – and that is to ask what’s really mattered in my life BEYOND “career.”

Actor?  Production Crew Member?  Producers Personal Assistant?  Writer?  Producer?   Executive Producer?  I have been all of these things, and have – like you – an ever evolving resume and bio that tells this tale.

But who am I other than my work history?  More to the point, what part of that journey is always left out by the studio or network publicists who post the requisite blurbs whenever I am fortune enough to get a movie made?  

 “…The father of two and a proud grandfather, Howard is married to Studio Executive, Disney Imagineer, and Film and Television Producer, Donna Burkons…”

Even though this reference’s Donna’s professional credits, my “people” find my marriage and children and grandkids too personal, off point, and thus inappropriate.  Heck, I even left this out in my “About” page for this blog.

But what I am, what matters most, is that Donna has blessedly been “with” me for 44 years and counting.  Our friends, extended family, and most of all our adult “kids” and now grandkids, are our life.  

So it came as a pleasant surprise that I stumbled on this TED talk to share with you this AM, one with a message I hope you will file away and take with you as you pursue and achieve all of your career “dreams and aspirations.”

What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness | Robert Waldinger | TED Talks

Published on Jan 25, 2016

What keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life? If you think it’s fame and money, you’re not alone – but, according to psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, you’re mistaken. As the director of 75-year-old study on adult development, Waldinger has unprecedented access to data on true happiness and satisfaction. In this talk, he shares three important lessons learned from the study as well as some practical, old-as-the-hills wisdom on how to build a fulfilling, long life.