How To Write For The Talking Pictures

Are you a writer? Do you have access to a time machine? If so, then boy oh boy have we got the resource for you.

Recently we received a truly great donation from retired DGA director Doug Cornish: A pamphlet (published in 1931 or thereabouts) titled HOW TO WRITE FOR THE TALKING PICTURES, written by Charles Klein (not the writer Charles Klein, who – as it turns out – died on the RMS Lusitania when it was torpedoed by Germans in World War I, but the director Charles Klein). Klein was a director for the Fox Film Corporation – what we know today as 20th Century Fox.

The pamphlet is a how-to for anyone who wanted to get into the the then-burgeoning art of screenwriting, and how the demands of the writer had changed with the advent of sound. Here’s the cover:

how.to.write.cover

Klein talks about the industry in terms of the then-relatively-new technological advancement, and notes the struggle for producers to find good material. And some things never change! Writes Klein: “Naturally, a picture cannot be better than the story upon which it is based.”

possibilities

Regarding suspense, Klein disparages visceral thrills in favor of emotional ones. He characterizes “old” suspense in terms of the hero rescuing “the girl from the hands of the villain bent on ravaging her.” Which was maybe a powerful blow against sexism? In 1931? Maybe? We’ll take what we can get.

supense

How many of you have taken screenwriting classes where the teacher tells you to think of your characters in terms of the actors who might play them? Klein does the same thing. I don’t know what a “sex yarn” is, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to Google it here at the office.

definite.types

Finally, he offers a piece of advice that’s still incredibly valuable today!

confident

This pamphlet is available to view in our archive. Want to see it? Drop our archivist a line.

Bonus! Here’s a review from the Long Island Daily Press of one of Klein’s films, BLINDFOLD, which opened on January 21, 1939. The plot is a little… circuitous. Thanks to Fulton History for saving the image!

Long Island Daily Press BLINDFOLD review 1929

Austin Was A Blast

You might be wondering why our posting schedule has been a bit off lately. Apparently this is what happens when your entire staff visits the biggest writer-focused film festival in the country and gets – maybe – three hours of sleep per night the whole time you’re there.

Yeah, we can’t recommend the Austin Film Festival highly enough.

No promises yet, but we’re hoping to return next year with another great selection of items from our library and archive.

What we’re doing in Austin

As I write this, we’re in final preparations to head to the Austin Film Fest and present our SCRIBBLE TO SCREEN panel and exhibit. If you’ve explored our website before, you know a little about S2S; it’s a collection of early notes and handwritten drafts to classics like A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN and MY SO-CALLED LIFE. You can check it out online here.

But this is the first time we’ve ever made a live event out of it, and we’re so thrilled about it that we haven’t slept in days, and occasionally just stare at ourselves in the mirror and laugh until the memory centers of our brains stop working and we wake up hours later on the bathroom floor with the dog on our chest begging to be fed. OK, maybe we’ve been working a little too hard.

Either way, S2S is going to be, as the kids say, off the chain. We’re going to have hella screenwriters there (“OK, Kevin,” you’re saying. “We get it.”) and they’re all coming armed with their old drafts and notes. Like these note cards from MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA that Robin Swicord is bringing with her:

MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA note cards

 

When writing the script, Robin was careful to account for varying possibilities later in the screenwriting process, as well as anticipate studio notes. So she jotted down multiple iterations of the opening scene to use in the actual first draft.

We’re also hosting David Shore, who’ll talk about HOUSE M.D. David was kind enough to share his master list of possible titles for the show.

HOUSE - possible titlesI’m a fan of “House Rules,” which has a more sitcom-on-TBS feel to it, and “Med Squad,” which sounds like an awesome 70s-style action series with Erik Estrada as a street-smart paramedic who solves mysteries. (David, these are hints.)

These documents and more will be on view at the S2S exhibit at the Austin Film Fest. And if we’re lucky, we’ll have time to make more of them available in this space as well. Keep watching.

The Coochie-Coochie Heard ‘Round The World

It’s time: Put on your best polyester zippered jumpsuit. Put some Vicki Sue Robinson on your old hi-fi. And have Isaac the Bartender mix you a Harvey Wallbanger. Because we’re hopping in our fluxcapacitor-equipped Gremlin and setting the time circuits to the 1970s!

OK, sorry. That got a little silly. BUT GUYS WE’RE JUST SO EXCITED because we recently found THIS tucked away in our archive:

Charo. Charo!

Yeah – that’s a gold lamé script with the word “Charo” on it. And yeah – it’s the script for a variety show featuring Charo.

Written by Bob Booker, the Charo special aired on ABC in 1976 and starred the woman herself – and if you don’t remember Charo, you’ve probably never really been exposed to her. Born María del Rosario Mercedes Pilar Martínez Molina Baeza in 1951, Charo rose to fame in the 70s on the strength of her vocal and comedic skills, her sex appeal and her married life (according to legend, she married famed Havana bandleader Xavier Cugat when she was a teenager and he was 66). But she’s also a really, really, really good guitarist:

Booker was charged with writing the special by power exec Fred Silverman, who he credits with helping give it broad audience appeal.

“Silverman was your average home viewer,” Booker told us. “He sits there like a madman, just laughing his ass off. He was the perfect audience.”

For much of the 70s, Booker was the go-to guy when the networks needed a script for a variety show. Along with the Charo special, he also scripted amazingly titled shows like THE PAUL LYNDE HALLOWEEN SPECIAL (we’ll have more on this in a later post) and THE WAYNE NEWTON SPECIAL (more on this later too).

But this Charo special, man. It’s great. Full of cool stuff like this:

Poo Poo Pee Dupe

And this:

America the booty-ful

The centerpiece of the half-hour special was a Revolutionary War-themed comedy sketch featuring Charo as Martha Washington and Mannix star Mike Connors as George, bookended by Charo telling the story of the revolution to her local paperboy. Loaded with topical humor and double-entendres spawned by Charo’s poor command of English (“Every Friday I take a class in adultery education!”), the scene is 70s network comedy at its silly best. The show also get a lot of mileage out of Xavier Cugat, which is surprising considering Charo’s memory in the broader popular culture is arguably much stronger.

The script itself is in amazing condition; Booker bound it in the gold lamé himself (it matches perfectly one of the costumes Charo wears in the show). A former album-cover artisan, Booker made it a point to creatively bind every script he produced (the Paul Lynde script is soft and puffy enough to take a nap on). Preserving cool stuff like this is part of the reason we started the archive.

As I mentioned earlier, we’ll be detailing more of the scripts in the booker collection in the future. But for now, courtesy of YouTube channel CharoTV (where you could do a lot worse than watching this amazing video), here is the special in its entirety:

“Certain writers have become very lax in the hours they keep.”

When writers are at their best, they’re in a more-or-less constant state of flow, where ideas and connections and whole paragraphs pour forth from heretofore hidden recesses in the brain. When they’re not at their best – a much commoner state of being for most writers – the material still comes, but it’s stilted and unfinished, and the truly worthwhile stuff has to be sought and plucked from piles and piles of absolute crap.

Neither of these states is particularly responsive to scheduling. Notions arise in the shower, on the drive to work, on the verge of sleep. And sometimes our best writing moments come at unexpected – but always welcome – moments. One of the more amusing items in the WGF archive details one exec’s (probably futile) attempt to impose order on the chaos of creativity.

Apparently, Jack Warner didn’t really understand the unpredictable nature of creativity when he sent a memorandum to all writers on the Warner Brothers lot demanding that they work regular hours. Warner, who was known for having an aggressive management style, would never have been called popular among the studio’s creative staff (he reportedly banned actors from the studio’s dining room because the hell with actors, man).

“Certain writers have become very lax in the hours they keep at the studio, coming in late in the morning and leaving early in the afternoon” he wrote. “This is not true of all the writers, but it unfortunately makes it necessary for me to send out a general note of this nature.”

Not cool, Jack Warner. Not cool.

He goes on to demand that writers be stationed at their desks by 9:45 AM at the latest. “Even the elite in any other businesses come to work earlier than that,” he asserted.

The rest of this story is apocryphal, but it’s told in writerly circles often enough to feed our hopes that it’s true. If anyone out there has any confirmation, please share it with us.

After receiving the letter, Julius and Philip Epstein – they of the Casablanca script – asked Warner for a meeting to discuss a writing assignment they’d been given. Warner agreed to the meeting, and the twins visited his office.

“We have great news,” they told the studio chief. “We finally cracked the nut and figured out an ending for this screenplay we’re working on.”

“Great!” said Warner. “What is it?”

“We can’t tell you,” they said. “Because we came up with it at 8:30 this morning.

At this point we like to imagine Warner turning red and spewing steam from his ears.