By Steven Pressfield | Published: October 29, 2014
When I was first starting out in Hollywood, a screenwriter friend gave me some advice that has served me well in all subsequent incarnations.
“Steve, you and I, whether we realize it or not, are competing against Warners Bros. We’re competing against Twentieth-Century Fox and SONY and Paramount—and we have to think like they do. We have to be as professional as they are, and we have to think of ourselves in the same terms that they do.”
My friend showed me his “to do” list. It wasn’t a smudged-up scrap of cocktail napkin like mine; it was a full-on pro printout like something from NASA.
Studios have their production slates, right? I’ve got mine too. Here’s my development slate. I’m working on Script #1 now, but I’ve got #2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 lined up and in various stages of development. If I get a few days, I’ll go to work on them.
My friend showed me the books he was reading, seeking out new ideas and fresh material, and the foreign flicks and exploitation movies and oldies but goodies, films noir and so forth that he had at his bedside and beside his TV. “Fox and Warners have producers on the lot who are always trolling for new material. I do the same. I’ll find it in Mongolia or Zamboanga if I have to.”
When I first got out here to L.A., I’d go into meetings at the studios and as we were wrapping up, one of the execs would say to me, “What else have you got, Jack?” And I’d stare at him and go blank.
You can’t do that. We’re going up against A-listers. When a guy in an office asks you what else you’re working on, you’ve gotta be ready with it right then, ready to pitch it, and ready with Idea #3 and Concept #4 after that.
It’s not that you’re being mercenary or greedy. It’s just being a pro. Buyers wanna know you’re in business. They wanna know you’ve got ideas, that you never stop thinking. You’re a resource to them. Their jobs depend on you and people like you. You gotta be a pro.
One time this same friend and I were sitting in a deli called Brent’s in the Valley when a certain very successful screenwriter came in, accompanied by three gorgeous young women. We both knew the guy. He was a good writer (he had had two hits in a row and had another in the pipeline, so we had heard) who had been a lawyer in a previous professional incarnation.
“Three months ago,” my friend said, “I was pitching a project to MGM at the same time this guy was. He came in with these same three long-stemmed Stanford-educated blondes. His ‘researchers.’ Apparently he doesn’t leave the house without ‘em. But I gotta give him credit. He’s a business. He’s larger than life. He’s got more stuff in the works on his own than half the studios in town, and they know it.” (more…)
By Steven Pressfield | Published: October 22, 2014
I learned this from Randall Wallace (Braveheart), who learned it from Steve Cannell, the maestro of a million plotlines from The Rockford Files to Baretta to 21 Jump Street:
Keep this dude up front.
Keep the antagonist front-and-center in the middle of your story.
Why does this work? Because it energizes the narrative. Think about these all-time mega-hits—Jaws, Alien, the first Terminator. The villains were everywhere in those movies and, more importantly, the protagonists were aware of and terrified of them at every moment. Still don’t believe me? Four words: Star Wars, Darth Vader.
I was watching a movie called A Single Shot on TV the other night. Sam Rockwell was the star. I’m a huge Sam Rockwell fan so I vowed to stick with it all the way.
It wasn’t easy.
Why? Because the villains disappeared in Act Two.
A Single Shot is about a hunter (Sam R.) who discovers a stash of money in the woods. The Bad Guys are the dudes who lost the cash and now want it back. They should be coming after Sam big-time. But they don’t. Or they don’t come scarily enough or often enough. The result is the air goes out of the movie.
Compare this to No Country For Old Men, a book and film with a very similar premise. But in No Country, the villain Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) turns up everywhere, making corpses out of half the population of Texas as he pursues the hunter Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) who has his money. The result: the movie (at least the middle part) nails you to your seat.
This principle—The Second Act Belongs to the Villain—works for abstract villains as well, like the looming market crash in Margin Call. The filmmakers go back to this monster again and again and every time the story gets tauter and the audience gets sucked in deeper.
Or if you believe that the real villain of Margin Call is the impending moral catastrophe embodied in the decision by the company executives to blow up the world economy in order to save themselves and their company (yes, I believe that too), then the filmmakers have answered that as well. Every scene in the second act vibrates with this looming decision and the moral calamity it implies.
The villain in Silver Linings Playbook is not a person or an abstraction. It’s Bradley Cooper’s obsession with getting back together with his wife Nikki.
In other words, it’s an interior antagonist.
David O. Russell, the film’s writer and director, keeps this villain up front throughout Act Two, and it works like gangbusters.
Let’s take a minute and examine how he does it. (more…)
By Steven Pressfield | Published: October 15, 2014
Readers who follow this blog will have already guessed what today’s post is going to be about:
Jon Gruden. Could Chucky turn Al Davis' franchise around?
The Oakland Raiders are an example of an institutional culture. The Raiders are the poster child for a losing culture. No matter what players the Raiders draft or acquire in free agency, no matter what coach they hire or what new quarterback they install, they still stink. (Yes, I am a Raiders fan.) The losing culture is so entrenched and so powerful that it cannot be overcome. At least not yet. (Jon Gruden, are you listening?)
But let’s get back to ourselves as artists and entrepreneurs. We too have cultures.
Internal personal cultures.
These cultures are identical to institutional cultures except they’re one-person versions, and they exist entirely within our own heads.
Like institutional cultures these personal cultures consist of our histories; our records of success or failure; our assumptions about ourselves and the world; our expectations, fears, and hopes; our methodologies, our skills, and so forth.
One element is common however to all cultures, personal and institutional.
That element is Resistance.
Cultures evolve in response to Resistance.
Successful cultures overcome Resistance. Unsuccessful cultures are overcome by Resistance.
Where do cultures come from?
We breathe them in from birth—our national culture, our religious culture, our ethnic culture. These form our baseline. Over these, specific and unique organizational and personal cultures become overlain.
If you were born and raised in the American consumer society you have already, whether you realize it or not, imbibed and internalized an extremely insidious, pernicious, and toxic personal culture.
Where did this Toxic Culture come from? From well-meaning parents and positively-intentioned teachers, from traditional role models such as Congress, the President, the Supreme Court (stop me if you’ve heard this before). This toxic culture consists of consumerism, conformity, faux “liberation” and the affectation of self-conscious “irony,” from the values implicit in the prescription of Adderal and Ritalin; from political correctness; gangsta and wannabe-gangsta self-conception and presentation; from “self-esteem;” narcissism, shallowness, laziness, lack of work ethic, pursuit of external stimulation; from entitlement, worship of celebrity, instant gratification, nerd culture, self-indulgence, flight from adversity, pursuit of third-party validation, etc.
This is the mass culture that you and I inhale from movies, TV, pop music, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Keeping Up with the Kardashians. It’s the sea we swim in. We can see it no more than a flounder can see the Pacific Ocean.
This culture has to go. It must be eradicated by you and me and replaced, component by component, by an internally-originated, self-generated and self-approved personal culture. (more…)