Saturday, May 16, 2009

Talent, guts, luck, and fame

Cole Hauser, Casey Affleck, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in “Good Will Hunting.” Photo from Yahoo! Movies.

By Pat Browning

TUESDAY: I read that actor Ben Affleck and his actress wife Jennifer Garner just bought the old Gregory Peck estate in Pacific Palisades. They paid $17.55 million for an 8,800 square foot home on a 3-acre cliffside location. According to the news article, the place had been listed at $27.5 million, so the Afflecks got a real bargain when $10 million was lopped off the price.

Affleck is only 36. How does someone make that much money in so short a time? It has been only 11 years since he and his buddy, Matt Damon, burst onto the scene with their movie “Good Will Hunting.” One movie, but it opened the door.

WEDNESDAY: I’ve never seen the movie. I spotted a VHS tape of “Good Will Hunting” in the Goodwill store, and bought it for 99 cents

THURSDAY: I got out my loose leaf notebook with notes and handouts from a workshop, Discovering Story Magic, led by Robin L. Perini and Laura Baker of Writers Online. I enrolled in the class in 2007 and the only requirement was that we prep for it by watching the movie, “Good Will Hunting.”

My local library didn’t have the movie on CD or VHS tape, but it had the screenplay, which was even better for study purposes. The screenplay was a revelation. With only dialogue and a few stage instructions, the structure was laid bare.

An introduction by Gus Van Zant, who directed the movie, included conversations with Affleck and Damon about the writing of the screenplay. It was … so … darn … easy …

Two best friends driving across deserts, faxing each other between remote locations, and hanging out in hotels trying to make each other laugh and cry over a three-year period is how they managed to put this amazing screenplay together ...

“When we say that we drove across the country, we mean that I drive and Matt rides along,” Ben informs me.

“Fifty-five hours is fast, too,” I say.

“Fifty-seven …

“Not a lot of sightseeing,” Matt says.

But Matt still doesn’t take a turn at the wheel; he just makes up stories with Ben to keep him from falling asleep.

“A lot of Good Will was written on such cross-country road trips. We tell each other stories while in a particular character, usually to make each other laugh or to make sure that Ben doesn’t fall asleep at the wheel.”

“The stories have to be good or I start to nod off.”

“So it sort of ups the ante as far as story quality goes. When we get into an improve that we both like, that we both think is going well and dialogue that we are relatively excited by, I will open up the glove compartment where I keep my notebook and write down a few notes that we will use later to recall the entire improvisation,” Matt says.

“When we do finally stop the car I’ll unpack a laptop computer and we’ll write down the new pages by reinventing it,” Ben says. …

“And let it be said,” Ben adds, “that when we are doing this, most of the time we are trying to make ourselves laugh. We are going for a shared reaction. We are going for a good time.”

“Or cry. We might make ourselves cry, too,” Matt says.

“Yes, and also a lot of the time we’ll have a few beers while we are writing. We’re just hanging out with each other trying to entertain ourselves.”
End Quote.
Van Zant says that it took about 10 rewrites to get the screenplay ready for filming. Perhaps the most telling comment of all comes as Van Zant describes news of the original sale:

(Quote) Not only did the press announcement cheerfully praise the prestigious and lucrative sale but also pointed out that it was very clever of Ben and Matt to have cast themselves in the lead parts – this was a secret plan of theirs, to be cast in parts that interested each of them, by writing the parts themselves. (End Quote)

Lessons to be drawn:
1) Write something that keeps the reader awake.
2) Write something that pleases you.
3) Rewrite as often as it takes.
4) Have fun doing it. (Have a few beers. Or chocolate bars.)
And the most thought-provoking idea of all:
5) Put yourself in the book as a character that interests you. It gives you a stake in the book.

A screenplay and a novel are two different things. The screenplay is dialogue and bare bones. The novel brings in scenery, weather, colors, physical attributes of the characters, body language, the senses. It puts flesh on the bones, making it a complete experience.

Two different things, screenplay and novel, but both depend on a solid structure. One other thing they have in common is dialogue to move the story along. When I get bogged down in a scene or chapter, I dash it off in dialogue. Once the characters start talking to each other, the story takes off again.


Mark W. Danielson said...

Good wisdom, Pat. As for the money, all it takes is timing, and the right connections. From there, anything is possible.

Helen Ginger said...

Solid structure, compelling characters, captivating dialogue, suspense... you're right, they have a lot in common.

Straight From Hel

Chester Campbell said...

Your advice is right on, Pat. And Mark's take on success hits the nail, too. Just what lack, timing and connections. Some call it luck.