New Video: THE WRITER SPEAKS with Frank Pierson

Frank Pierson’s capacity for plumbing the emotional and motivational depths of society’s outsiders seems boundless. In his early days as a writer, he gave voice to Paladin, the iconoclastic gentleman gunfighter of HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL. Later, he made a name for himself with COOL HAND LUKE, featuring Paul Newman as an outsider among outsiders. As his career progressed, he tackled that same isolation in many incarnations, from Bruce Willis’s Vietnam vet (IN COUNTRY) to Harrison Ford’s wrongfully accused officer of the court (PRESUMED INNOCENT) to Barbara Streisand’s feminist trailblazer (A STAR IS BORN), and, perhaps most famously, Al Pacino’s uniquely motivated bank robber in DOG DAY AFTERNOON.

(Of Pacino’s character – and really, could a movie like that ever get made today? – Pierson notes that, basically, “this was a guy who was always trying to do good things for people.”)

His ability to appreciate and express such remarkable characters may come from his family life. In our exclusive interview with Pierson, he describes an odd process his mother – herself a professional writer – employed to invoke her own muse: She’d remove all her clothing, go into an empty room, shut the door and turn off all the lights, and wait until her hand began to write. Watch the video, and note how he describes the process. He clearly recognizes its oddity, but at the same time it was a completely normal aspect of his upbringing. Plus, hey, it’s his mom.

He describes his whole life as a writer, including his battle with dyslexia (before it was recognized as a learning disability), his time as a TIME and LIFE writer (during which time he witnessed an atom bomb test in the Nevada desert), his beginnings on HAVE GUN, and his experiences as a writer operating in the late days of the Hollywood Blacklist (which he would research further when he directed TRUMAN in 1995).

Most recently, in the years before his death in 2012, Pierson worked on two critically-acclaimed TV shows: MAD MEN and THE GOOD WIFE.

The interview has a lot of wonderful moments, but my favorite was Pierson’s description of the fascination he feels working on a movie set:

“It’s pretend reality, but it also has the seed of truth, and there’s a little magic in it. And it’s something that we make up, Something we create ourselves. And it was absolutely so mesmerizing and fascinating.”

Check out the video – posted in two parts – below.

New Video: Story & Structure with Lem Dobbs, Stephen Gaghan and David Seidler

A quick post today: A few years ago we were joined by three superb writers, who answered questions about screenplay structure fielded by a fourth superb writer.

In this video, recorded on October 4, 2012, Dan Petrie, Jr. (BEVERLY HILLS COP) interviews Lem Dobbs (DARK CITY), Stephen Gaghan (TRAFFIC) and David Seidler (THE KING’S SPEECH) as part of our old NOTES ON CRAFT series.


We’ll Be There For You: A Video Interlude

Just in case you guys don’t have time to come in and read every FRIENDS script, or watch every episode on Netflix, enterprising YouTube user Benjamin Roberts – who does a lot of this sort of thing – has overlaid every episode on top of one another, so you can watch them all at once.

It’s both horrifying and beautiful. When you stare into Central Perk, Central Perk stares back.

Check out some of our other FRIENDS posts:
A page from the original pitch
Pages from the “apartment quiz” scene in “The One With The Embryos”

New Video: ANATOMY OF A SCRIPT with Shonda Rhimes

Spring of 2008 was a magical time. Danica Patrick had just become the first woman to win an Indy car race. IRON MAN was released in theaters, ushering in a new era of movies about super-powered white dudes, many of whom would be named Chris. And a young upstart congressman named John McCain watched in amusement as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fought bitterly over the Democratic nomination, practically assuring his victory.

Oh, and one other thing happened: We recorded this fabulous interview with Shonda Rhimes, whose show GREY’S ANATOMY was getting ready to finish up its fourth season. It was part of our ANATOMY OF A SCRIPT series, hosted by the inimitable Winnie Holzman (WICKED, MY SO-CALLED LIFE) and Robin Schiff (ROMY & MICHELE’S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION).

Here’s the interview in two parts – note particularly one point (in part one) at which Shonda mentions the value of having created the best product you can, and the good feeling that gives you as a creator. And please note: Winnie and Robin reference pitch documents and other materials from the show. These are available in the library, and you can come in and read them whenever we’re open! However, they’re not currently available on PDF (as Robin mentions at least once) and we can’t distribute them digitally.

Part 1:

Part 2:

The Writer Speaks: David Swift

Sure, maybe some of you saw TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION this weekend (and statistically, the numbers bear that out). Or maybe you’re saving your movie-going dollars for a screening of RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES later in July. Because there’s nothing better in the middle of summer than hanging out in an air-conditioned movie theater to see the latest developments in visual effects.

But imagine it’s 53 years ago this week, and you want to see a special effects spectacular. What would you see?


That’s the one – written and directed by David Swift – where child star Hayley Mills played identical twins, using a series of in-camera techniques to make it look as though there were two Hayleys in one scene. The movie was remade in 1998 with a pre-DIU Linsay Lohan and a variety of more advanced approaches.

But in the original, Swift and his team didn’t have things like digital compositing and motion-control cameras to get the job done. Here’s Swift telling the story of his career as part of our series, THE WRITER SPEAKS, chronicling the lives of prominent film and television writers whose work permeated the 20th and 21st Centuries.

New Video: ANATOMY OF A SCRIPT with Jenji Kohan

I know all you guys are watching ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK because you won’t stop talking about it on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and Megatweet and Tinderpoke and whatever the heck other social media whatsits you Silicon Valley types keep inventing to make me feel old. And many of you seemingly managed to have watched the entire second season only 73 minutes after it was released on Netflix, in clear violation of something in that Stephen Hawking book I have on my bookshelf to make visitors think I’m smart.

And because you all love OITNB so much, you’re sure to love this hilarious and insightful interview with its creator, Jenji Kohan, back when she was making WEEDS. It’s part of our old ANATOMY OF A SCRIPT series, in which Winnie Holzman and Robin Schiff interviewed  the writers and creators that helped continue to inspire their own work.

The video is in two parts: The main interview and the audience Q&A. Enjoy!

Part 1:

Part 2: