On this week's 3rd and Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, the guest is screenwriter and multiple Oscar & WGA nominee, David Magee, who wrote Mary Poppins Returns, as well as such films as Life of Pi and Finding Neverland.
On this episode of 3rd and Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, we have an interview with screenwriter Daniel Stiepleman who talks about his screenplay for the feature film, On the Basis of Sex, about the early career of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
We have a double-header for you today. On this week's 3rd and Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, Barry Jenkins (who wrote and directed the acclaimed film, If Beale Street Could Talk) and Adam McKay (who wrote and directed the acclaimed film, Vice) discuss their acclaimed movies and careers.
On this week's episode of 3rd and Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, screenwriter Daniel Stiepleman talks about his film, On the Basis of Sex, that deals with the early career of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The guests on this week's 3rd & Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America are actors Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano -- who wrote the upcoming film, Wildlife, based on the novel by Richard Ford. Previously, Kazan -- whose parents are both acclaimed screenwriters, Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord -- wrote the screenplay for the movie, Ruby Sparks. This is Dano's first screenplay, and he directs the film, as well.
Very sorry to read about the passing of screenwriter William Goldman at the age of 87. His list of screenplays is voluminous, just touching on them includes Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President's Men, (which both won Oscars for Best Screenplay), The Princess Bride (based on his novel), Misery, A Bridge Too Far, Marathon Man, Absolute Power, The Hot Rock, Maverick, Chaplin, The Great Waldo Pepper -- and remarkably much more. He also wrote more than a dozen novels, including the book No Way to Treat a Lady (written under a pseudonym, Harry Longbaugh -- oddly enough, the real name of the Sundance Kid -- on which the wonderful movie was based, written before his screenwriting career. And among his non-fiction work, he most-famously wrote the classic book about screenwriting and Hollywood, Adventures in the Screen Trade, which included the now-famous, regularly-quoted line, "No one knows anything." Its sequel is pretty good, too, with the great title, Which Lie Did I Tell? (That's a quote from a movie producer he was in a meeting with, when the guy put a phone caller on holder, buzzed his secretary and asked her the question.) And a great book on Broadway, The Season.
His brother James was an extremely talented writer, as well, with works that include the play and movie, A Lion in Winter, for which he too won a Best Screenplay Oscar, and the the book for the Stephen Sondheim musical, Follies.
This may now seem like a pointless digression, but trust me, it's not.
I've mentioned on these pages attending a summer camp in Wisconsin, Camp Nebagamon, for many years, as a very young family-camper, doctor's son, camper and counselor. Many decades ago, during my counselor phase, some friends picked me up after camp ended one year and we all went on a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota. That winter, I was talking with one of them on the phone when we both away at college, and he mentioned he'd just finished reading a novel, Your Turn to Curtsy, My Turn to Bow, which takes place at a summer camp, and he said that it reminded him so much of Camp Nebagamon, which he had seen for about a total of 90 minutes, especially the drive in along the lake front. After I noted that the book was by William Goldman, I asked him to guess what summer camp Goldman had gone to. Yes, Camp Nebagamon. In fact, when I went to the library shortly after and found the book the passage where the main character enters the camp is a near-exact description of the lakefront path into the camp.
Little known fun-fact. There was an unsuccessful musical written in the early 1960s, A Family Affair, that nonetheless had quite a wonderful pedigree. It was written by three young mn near the beginnings of their respective careers -- William Goldman, James Goldman and composer John Kander, (who went on to write Cabaret and Chicago, among a great many others, but with a different partner, Fred Ebb). What most people wouldn't know, though, is that the three all met at Camp Nebagamon. (Well, okay, Bill and Jim knew each other before...)
Other than that tangential overlap with Goldman, I actually had a couple of real-life overlaps.
The Goldman family was from Highland Park, Illinois, which is the town that borders Glencoe, where I grew up, and where my dad had his medical office. I think possibly my grandparents may have slightly known William Goldman's parents, though I know that my parents did, since they both belonged to Northmoor Country Club there. One summer, after getting my Masters degree in screenwriting my UCLA, I was home, and stopped by the pool where my mother was sitting with Goldman's mother. My mom introduced us and explained I had just got my post-graduated degree in screenwriting, and Mrs. Goldman said that I "should write Billy" and gave me his address in New York City.
After returning to Los Angeles, I did write him, and got back one of my most cherished letters, which I still have. It was a one-page typed note, complete with cross-outs that was as thoughtful, interesting and bluntly curmudgeonly as was William Goldman's reputation. (See photo above...) It also was virtually a one-page version of Adventures in the Screen Trade many years before that book was written -- and even includes the line, "No one knows anything." There are two other favorite passages in the letter. One is when he writes that he can be of absolutely no help to me in any way, shape or form, not even with a contact to his agent who is getting on in years and not taking on new clients, but that "You should use all the contacts you have (like my mother)". I still laugh when I think of that line. And the letter concludes with, "It is a mean, nasty, brutish business, but no one made you go into it." About as Goldmanesque as you can get. The very end of the letter says that with any luck I'll be in hock on a house and car and he wishes me luck.
The other path-crossing came when I was a very minor executive at Universal Pictures. I had read the novel of The Princess Bride a few years before, and loved it, recommended by my friend Adam Bezark, but it was still a lesser-known work, the movie not having been made yet, nor would be for years. I was curious though if a screenplay had ever been written and it turns out that Goldman had indeed done so, and I tracked down a copy. Not shockingly, it was very good, though being a movie it only could tell the story on two levels (the main adventure and the one with the young boy with his grandfather, which in the book is his father) -- the third level, with Goldman talking directly to the reader about him supposedly adapting the "original book" by S. Morgenstern (which is not real) is hilarious, but totally literally and not something you could do in a movie. Anyway, I had my secretary find Goldman himself, and I called him to discuss making a movie of the book. (What can I say, I was years ahead of my time. Again...)
It was a fascinating, and odd conversation. He was crusty (see photo above...), and had dealt with far too many studio executives at that point to care deeply about one more, let alone a punk kid. Out of semi-desperation I broke the ice a bit by noting that I'd written to him years before through his mother, and our Camp Nebagamon connection. That helped, though only a small bit. What what did break through was when I mentioned I was friends with another Nebagamonite, Adam Bezark (also like the Goldmans from Highland Park), whose father Bud had gone to camp with the Goldman brothers, and I knew they had stayed friends. That helped with a connection being made. But then the memorable exchange occurred.
One of the reasons why I wanted to talk with him before pitching the project to my direct boss, who was the head of the studio, was that "third level" which wasn't in the screenplay, the author talking to the reader. I wanted to know anything about it being left out, or if he'd ever done something with that in any other draft? But being young, and a little in awe, I didn't phrase it well, and any goodwill I'd built up was instantly gone. Instantly. He got immediately snarky and said something like, "No, when I wrote the script, I decided not to do the best job I could and didn't include what would I knew would make it even better." As I began to panic, though, The Miracle occurred, and the gods stepped in and saved me. The phone line actually went dead in mid-sentence. I had my secretary reconnect us, but during that interim of relief I quickly tried desperately to figure out what I could say to save myself. And I came up with something. When we got connected again, I profusely apologized for my lack of clarity and said that what I really was trying to ask was whether or not he'd written other versions of the script for another medium -- like the theater or as a TV mini-series -- where he could use the narrator that was so wonderful in the book? (Okay, that wasn't precisely what I really had been asking, only tangentially, but I figured it was close enough and a far better explanation than how I had bumbled through.) The explanation happily placated him, he even seemed to appreciate it, and said no, he'd only written it as a screenplay. The call concluded well, but unfortunately my bosses did not follow-up and make a movie of The Princess Bride. And about five years later, someone else did.
Fun side note: About five years ago, I read an article that Goldman was involved with adapting The Princess Bride for...the theater!!!! Perhaps as a musical. Nothing came of it -- yet at least, so who knows? -- but once again: years ahead of my time.
Very sorry to read about William Goldman's passing. Very happy for all the great work he left behind.
On this week's 3rd & Fairfax, the official podcast from the Writers Guild of America, the guest is Seth Meyers, who talks about writing for late night television -- how he moved from being a performer on Saturday Night Live without an official writing credit for his first six years on the show to becoming its head writer, and then developing his own show, Late Night with Seth Meyers, along with a closer look at "A Closer Look."
On this episode of 3rd & Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, Moon Zappa interviews Drew Goddard about his new film Bad Times at the El Royale, which he wrote and directed. His other work including writing the screenplays for The Martian and World War Z, as well as writing and directing, The Cabin in the Woods.
On this edition of the 3rd & Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, the guest is Rawson Marshall Thurber. He discusses his move from writing and directing comedies like Dodgeball and Central Intelligence (as well as directing We're the Millers) to writing and directing the big-budget action movie, Skyscraper.
Putting all the crassness of the weekend aside, I prefer to honor the memory of Neil Simon who passed away on Sunday at the age of 91. While I understand the wall-to-wall news coverage of John McCain, I find it unfortunate that when I saw Simon's death brought up on MSNBC, they gave it about 45 seconds. I'm absolutely fine with great attention being given to John McCain, and much of his work was far more substantive than a playwright's. But I might suggest that the joy and laughter and thoughtfulness that Neil Simon brought to the American culture over 50 years -- and which will continue for generations -- was no small matter.
I never met him, but I was lucky enough to be in the audience when the Writers Guild of America presented an evening of "Caesar's Writers" -- a panel discussion of the legendary writers on the TV series, Your Show of Shows and Caesar's Hours -- and Neil Simon was among them, along with his brother Danny, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart, Mel Tolkien (head writer for All in the Family), Aaron Ruben (who created Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.), Gary Belkin (longtime writer on The Carol Burnett Show and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson), Sheldon Keller (who co-wrote, Movie, Movie with Larry Gelbart), and Sid Caesar. (Woody Allen was also one of the writers, but he didn't participate in the even in Los Angeles, but was at a similar one held in New York. It was one of the funniest evenings I've had in the theater, in large part because they were all not only trying to live up to one another, but the audience of their fellow-writers in the audience. An edited-down version of the evening is available on DVD here and highly recommended.
I also saw Neil Simon speak when I was UCLA grad school, and they gave him some award -- as if he needed another one, given that he has four Tony Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, the Kennedy Center Honor, four Writers Guild Awards -- along with the WGA Laurel Award for screenwriting -- and the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. And a Broadway theater is named for him. But he was gracious enough to come to UCLA for the award. One thing I recall him saying was how relentlessly he rewrote, and that whenever he saw a production of The Odd Couple, he'd see things that he could fix.
(Side note: The Odd Couple was inspired by the living condition of Simon's brother Danny who moved in with a divorced male friend.)
Simon wrote two autobiographies. The first, Rewrites, goes into his early life growing up, his starting out in TV comedy with his brother Danny, and his earliest and many of his biggest successes on Broadway, up through the death of his first and adored wife, Joan. The book is insightful, funny, open and rich. If you're interested in such things, you can get it here. The sequel, The Play Goes On, picks up with his subsequent plays, his Hollywood years, back to New York and numerous other marriages. It's not that it's bitter -- it's not -- but there's a lot of confusion and dissatisfaction that overwhelm the many positive areas of his life. It's admirably open and thoughtful, but I kept the first book for my shelves, and gave the second away.
Rather than recap his career, this article in the Washington Post does a solid job of it, along with expressing what was substantive and meaningful about it.
And here are 45 seconds when Neil Simon appeared on the TV series of The Odd Couple.
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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