Last week, the world of screenwriting lost a legend. William Goldman, who won two Oscars for BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID and ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, died on 16 November at the age of 87. Now, WriteMovies takes a look at his legacy and what we can learn from it…
If there’s one thing that it’s easy to agree on, it’s that William Goldman was a phenomenal writer. His incredible wit made his films infinitely quotable, and no more so than THE PRINCESS BRIDE, which was based upon his own book of the same name. In fact, his talent with words was so great that one of the most memorable lines in the film is a single word: “Inconceivable!” (Although, immediately followed by the remark: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”)
But wit alone isn’t enough to make a great story. Throughout his career, William Goldman showed a profound understanding of what stories are really about; THE PRINCESS BRIDE gives us everything we could possibly want from an adventure film, with romance, action, dashing heroes, evil villains, and daring feats of bravery. Yet it also defies our expectations enough to give us something new. It feels simultaneously like something very familiar and like something we’ve never seen before.
This is a kind of balance that it’s hard to pull off, but you can see it again in BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. When the script was first written, only one studio showed any interest, and even then they wanted it changed so that the main characters wouldn’t flee to South America. After all, the heroes in Westerns at the time didn’t flee – no matter what the real Butch and Sundance did! In the end, it survived in the script, as did plenty of other genre-defying elements, most notably the famous bicycle-riding scene set to the song “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head“.
William Goldman wasn’t just great with words, he was great with stories too. He understood structure, character, pacing, tone, and all the other things that keep an audience captivated – and then he strung them all together with wit and charm. In his own words:
“Screenplays are structure, and that’s all they are. The quality of writing—which is crucial in almost every other form of literature—is not what makes a screenplay work. Structure isn’t anything else but telling the story, starting as late as possible, starting each scene as late as possible. You don’t want to begin with “Once upon a time,” because the audience gets antsy.”
The stories that William Goldman gave us will probably last as long as film itself. His book “Adventures in the Screen Trade” is a fantastic way to learn from the master himself – and after all, what could be a better tribute to him than giving it a read?
The world of film lost another great last week with the death of comic book legend Stan Lee. You can read our tribute to him by clicking here.
In Part One of our exclusive article in conversation with Steven Knight, the writer-director spoke about how he began his career and about the rise of TV drama. Now, in Part Two, we find out about some of his influences and future plans…
Steven explained that PEAKY BLINDERS is based on stories of his parents and uncles, many of which he heard while around his blacksmith father while he was young. Once the BBC took an interest, things moved quickly. With series 1 complete, Steven was looking at potentially making 4 or 5 series of PEAKY BLINDERS.
PEAKY BLINDERS uses some CGI, but mostly uses derelict locations that aren’t about to be knocked down (one key location is the street where Ringo Starr was born!). There was resistance to setting PEAKY BLINDERS in Birmingham (UK) because of the unglamorous accent, but Knight insisted on retaining that authenticity – he believed that we should be telling our own stories of places like Birmingham.
The basic premise of LOCKE (starring Tom Hardy) was a journey from Birmingham to London, where someone starts out with everything and ends up with nothing – exploring how that could happen. If the cost is low enough, you can get creative freedom to run a project your way. LOCKE knocked CAPTAIN AMERICA off number 1 in terms of revenue per screen! It was on vastly less screens of course, but that was still very promising. Knight was determined that the character in that film should be the most ordinary person possible.
He explained that you have to write a three page outline for studios, however unlikely the script was to end up that way. Knight prefers not knowing where a story is gonna go. He writes, then goes back to the start every day and works through from there.
Knight has accidentally become the poster-boy for Birmingham’s drives to move to the next level in its drive to become a major player in global culture. He intends to build a major sound stage in Birmingham as London’s major studios are fully booked, with a ‘halo effect’ of businesses based around it, and from this to also create a scene where live theatre can lead to movies being made.
Ian Kennedy’s conversation with Steven Knight turned out lots of interesting information about the inner working of the industry. If you haven’t read it yet, why not take a look at Part One by clicking here?
Our Ian Kennedy was lucky enough to share a table for an evening with Steven Knight, the writer of SERENITY, PEAKY BLINDERS, TABOO, DIRTY PRETTY THINGS, LOCKE, and much more…
Steven Knight says that we’re entering a golden age of TV and film. He explained that the US system is great for writers – it’s unionized and you can make a proper living just from writing. He actually felt that there seems to be a good mystery to you if you DON’T live in LA, as long as you’re prepared to fly out every 6 weeks and do late-night conference calls.
But he explained that the Hollywood system is slow! It takes many years of gestation most of the time. If you persuade a star to be in your project, the studios know they’ll make back a certain many million dollars from it – his film HUMMINGBIRD (with Jason Statham) was in profit before it even got to the cinema. He felt that distributors often underestimate their audience and focus on young males.
Screens are better nowadays so TV drama has risen a lot. Actors like TV and it’s a writer’s medium – writers have control there, unlike other formats. Too many people are involved in making films, telling you something’s not good enough in order to justify their presence and pay. But getting actors to commit beyond series 1 of your TV series is hard because they may get film offers.
Show runners write episode 1 in the US and their team of writers – who’ve developed it with them – do other episodes. Writers rise up through the ranks in the US. British TV writing is more eccentric and individualistic – the US system is more corporate. Theatre writers are good for TV due to their ability with dialogue and are often overlooked.
Steven Knight explained that he had begun his career in the UK by writing plenty for radio, and for comedians including particularly Jasper Carrott, and writing 31 episodes of Carrott’s sitcom with Robert Powell, THE DETECTIVES. Steven was one of the 3 founders of WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE. He also wrote novels for Penguin, and presented DIRTY PRETTY THINGS to the BBC which led to that commission.
Then came AMAZING GRACE, for the 200th anniversary of the end of the slave trade, and EASTERN PROMISES which led from DIRTY PRETTY THINGS. The award nominations that came as a result of these put him into the US system, which he found to be great for writers. He got to direct HUMMINGBIRD which he had also written, and after that wanted to get total control of a project – and he feels that LOCKE vindicated him becoming a director.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our conversation with Steven Knight, in which he discusses the influences behind PEAKY BLINDERS, his writing process, and his plans for the future…
The book with the best screen potential is… A SHADOW IN SPACE by Bryan Reilly! We’re delighted to announce Bryan as just the second ever winner of this special award and we can’t wait for Bryan to claim his prize! Bryan now receives FREE Development Notes to help him adapt his book to a screenplay, or we’ll help him find a screenwriter who can. This could be an exciting breakthrough for Bryan!
Oh, but there’s more… In second place is THE LOCKSMITH by Jeffrey Ryan Morales– congrats Jeffrey! We will also be providing Jeffrey free Development Notes to guide him in the process of adapting his book to a screenplay.
Hopefully, this is the first chapter of many for these two talented writers!
The Third Placed Winning writer to our Summer 2017 Screenwriting Contest, Evan Cooper, is making waves in the industry with his upcoming film THE WILL O WISP.
Evan, who came third with his script BALLERINA GIRL, is both directing and writing the psychological horror-thriller that has been described as SIGNS meets MISERY. Actor Chrissy Metz (THIS IS US, AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAKSHOW) is attached to the film to play a nurse with a chequered past… Evan tells us he hopes to head home to Canada for the shoot which would be great for him.
While it’s been exciting times for Evan, we’ve been deferring our usual free year of script development for BALLERINA GIRL, which he can resume with us anytime in the future. We’re keen to see that script progress as we believe it’s got strong potential too, and any success for THE WILL O THE WISP can only help that.
Click here for a reminder about Evan’s script BALLERINA GIRL and a little bit on the man himself…
You can check out Evan’s IMDB page here: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3442948/?ref_=nmnw_hd
Check out the headlines Evan’s project is making here: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/is-us-star-chrissy-metz-joins-horror-movie-will-o-wisp-1053916