13 August, 2009

Learning How To Type

If I’m a good writer at all, it’s because of three people.

The first is my late father, Dave Holland, a Published Author and once Journalist & Theatrical Press Agent. (If you recognize his name, it might be because he was Director of The Lone Pine Film Festival for its first fifteen years, including writing a book and producing & hosting documentaries on the area, all aptly titled On Location In Lone Pine.) Not only did he encourage my creative writing, but he always pushed me to write better. The same can be said of my schoolwork; English papers, History papers and the like. He’d suggest and nudge and nurture late into the evening right along with me (frustrating when you’re ten, invaluable – and missed terribly – now). He taught me how to tell a story, be it an Errol Flynn adventure or a Mockingbird book report. Fiction or non-fiction, it’s the same altruism (and tattoo this behind your eyeballs): know your audience, and entertain them. Good writing is good writing – informative, entertaining, both of those a must – so long as you tailor WHAT you’re writing TO WHOM you’re writing it. ‘Cause, let’s be honest, Errol Flynn and Boo Radley may not be the same audience, but the writer CAN write both, so long as he or she is doing it well. After all, none of it’s worth a damn if they’re not turning pages. (Not an exact quote, but one with which I whole-heartedly agree.)

The second is William Goldman, Academy Award-winning Screenwriter of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid and All The President’s Men. Sadly, I’ve never met Mr. Goldman, but that doesn’t diminish the effect he’s had on me; rather, one of his books on Screenwriting that I’ve read six or seven times (no exaggeration), Which Lie Did I Tell? It’s so good, so invaluable, that I’ve bought it for several people, telling them, “If you’re a writer, have ever wanted to be a writer, can spell the word writer, read this book.” It’s great for a couple of reasons. One, so many books on Screenwriting are by Professors of this, or Doctors of that, and are perhaps perfectly valid and usable information, but what test is it put to? Well, Goldman talks about his movies, what worked, what didn’t (he’s brutally honest, especially with himself) AND THEN YOU CAN WATCH THE MOVIE. Do you agree? Did it work? Did it not? Did it live it up to what he intended? Or surpass it? He talks about other movies too, other writers too, what works, what doesn’t, but all very hands-on and personal. The other reason it’s great? He writes about fifty pages of a totally original screenplay, sends it to friends to critique, AND THEN PRINTS WHAT THEY WROTE. Read that again, if you need to. He sends it to his friends to critique, and prints what they wrote. Here’s a writer, an artist, wanting desperately to be accepted – yes, even Academy Award-winning artists want desperately to be accepted – putting original material out for people to praise or rip to shit, and then he publishes what they wrote. And how many artists will do that?

The third is Terry Rossio, Screenwriter (along with his partner Ted Elliot) of Shrek, the Zorro movies, the Pirate movies, and others. Many others. Really good and really profitable others (both of which all writers strive for, and these two hit again and again). But a word of warning, fellow writers. Pull up his resume with caution. Either you’ll be as impressed as you should be, or you’ll be as depressed that you haven’t done an eighth of his work as I am. The reason I don’t say Ted & Terry (as they’re known) are the third and FOURTH people that have molded yours truly is because Terry, in his spare time, writes a blog about Screenwriting. Sorry, just to say that sounds admittedly blah. How about this? He writes the most informative and most entertaining blog about Screenwriting in the history of the written word (and I’ll stand by that). At your leisure, please visit Wordplayer. It’s a series of Columns ranging from “A Foot In The Door” to “The One Hundred Million Dollar Mistake.” And when you get to “The Off-Screen Movie” you’ll enjoy one of the best written tutorials I’ve ever seen. But why is Wordplayer so good? Because it follows suit with what I appreciate from my father and Mr. Goldman: it’s entertaining and informative, sure, but it’s also from someone who works in the business. “Remember that scene in Raiders Of The Lost Ark? Here’s why it works.” Or, as honestly as Mr. Goldman, “Remember that scene in Treasure Planet? Here’s why it didn’t work.” It’s a wealth of information, delivered by someone who feels like he’s just sitting on the couch next to you, drinking soda, eating popcorn. And God bless him for it.

For the past twenty-five years (a benchmark, given that I really dove into writing when I was ten or so), I’ve emulated Chandler and Conan Doyle and Hemingway and Sorkin and Whedon. And if there’s a semblance of my following in their footsteps whatsoever – though MY GOD what footsteps to traverse – I have to tip my hat to my father, Mr. Goldman and Mr. Rossio. Without them I’d never have enjoyed learning so much about how to type as much as I do.

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