Richard Walter was born on July 11, 1944, in New York City, New York, USA. He is a writer known for Group Marriage (1972), The Cinematographer (1969), and The Production Manager (1969). He has been married to Patricia Sandgrund since 1967.
In 1988, he released his first instructional book Screenwriting: The Art, Craft, and Business of Film and Television Writing (Plume). This was followed a decade later (2000) by his debut novel Escape from Film School, which tells the sprightly tale of a young man who makes it in Hollywood without ever leaving film school.
Richard is one of the few OG writers who have studied and taught through the evolutive eras of screenplays and screenwriting in Hollywood. With his wealth of knowledge, he released his third and most recent book, Essentials of Screenwriting: The Art, Craft, and Business of Film and Television Writing. In this one, he shares the secrets of writing and selling successful screenplays for aspiring screenwriters.
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- Episode 120: The Essentials of Screenwriting with Richard Walter
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Alex Ferrari 1:34
Enjoy today's episode with guest host Dave Bullis.
Richard Walter 1:39
This concluding academic year July 1 is the new academic year of course, is the this is the concluding 38th year. So I've seen a lot. But I'm recalling years and years ago and one of the things I've seen is all about 25 years ago, actually probably a little longer than that. The Arts at UCLA all across the campus were reconfigured. And the film school, which was part of the theater arts department was turned into a long I was turned into a separate two separate departments. Film TV, digital media on one hand, that's my department, and our sister department, the theatre department and we are together in the School of theater, film and television. And years ago, when we were still a theater department, there was a retreat up to Lake Arrowhead. There's a very beautiful upscale and gorgeous conference center up in the mountains, just about an hour, hour and a half on the campus. And the whole subject that was discussed up there for the weekend was the spelling of the word theater. There were some people who wanted to change it from the ER to the ar e. It's terribly unimportant, but I am on the side of the ER people. Well, there was this right after two days of robust and vigorous and eager discussion. It was decided without any equivocation without any hesitancy to discuss this further at another retreat. Yeah, I mean, it's like it's been said of the universities, that universities is like a corporation, except if there's no bottom line, and there's no calendar. Now both of those things are completely untrue. Today, you know, there are universities, especially here in California, but all across the country are very much in touch with the notion of the bottom line as we really you know, support for public education retreats and not only university level, but much more grievously, I think at the K through 12 lead level, and calendar is very much attached to budget issues and so on. So fascinating place to spend a life that said there's no escaping the you know, these bureaucratic issues, they're not your may unique to public universities or private it's the universities but all institutions, corporations, nonprofits, governmental agencies, you know, nothing ever runs real smoothly and people should stop expecting it to you know, and, and kind of make do because what else can you do? So, in any event there I am very sympathetic with the organizing principle of my life has always been no meetings. I don't do lunch as much as I can avoid it. For example, yesterday I was at an awards luncheon, how to be there. I am also the Associate Dean now of the School of theater, film and television and I have to be there for the awards ceremony, you know, to give out scholarships and stuff like that and celebrate the students But I'm reminded of a line and one of my favorite lines in all of movies. And Oliver Stone's Wall Street, there's a line. There's a moment where Gekko, you know, Michael Douglas, I'm sure you've seen the I expect you've seen the movie. He's on, he's feeling like 11 phone calls at the same time. At one point. He says lunch, you know, clearly, somebody's invited him to lunch, in his lunch. And he's got his his lunches for wimps. And he hangs up, you know, and I say lunches for wimps, I believe, you know, my first obligation to the university as a professor in a research institution like the University of California. The first the second obligation is teaching, the first obligation is what they call in the traditional disciplines, research. And in the arts, they call it creative activity. But that's the first obligation that I have. And I can't do that and that all the faculty have. But we can't do that if we don't have the time to do that. So you One doesn't need to be a warrior for one's writing time. If you follow what I'm saying. I'm just responding to your meetings. Our previous chair, she had a sign I loved it, because because she had a sign on her desk on a little table at her in her office that said, this meeting is costing and then there was a blank, you know, filling, filling the number up next to $1 sign. So I'm very sympathetic with what you're talking about.
Dave Bullis 6:33
You know, there was a book I was just reading Richard, it was called The Power of No. And basically, it's that one word you could use to just sort of the crux of the book is if you say the word yes. You inherit all that person's problems. So like, if I asked you, Richard, what would you like to go to lunch? And you say yes, well?
Richard Walter 6:51
Well, you know, it's funny because the there's a self help guru who died I think last year as a very well known Stephen Covey wrote a book that is translated into like 167 languages, you know, several of which are not even identifiable. I mean, he sold millions and millions of copies of this book, and it's called something like the seven habits of highly effective people or something like that. And in that book, he says, at one point, he has a he has something called six words, for serenity. And he they are on less, do less, saying no. And that's what you're talking about. I have had to learn how to say no. You know, it's a necessary condition. When I'm asked to do things that I just can't do, rather than sort of play along, go along, and so on, you know, there's all kinds of ways to say it to a student, I just got a request, for example, for the summer student, and you know, the rifle. I love the greatest thing about UCLA, and the greatest thing about teaching is the students. And I love I love our students, but there is among young people and, and maybe college students in particular, maybe especially prestige students in glamour programs like UCLA, I mean, it is the, you know, those major film schools, like my own alma mater, USC, like NYU, like, like, certainly, like UCLA, we are the glamour corner of higher learning. So the people who do get in, it's very competitive. They, you know, they they're very gifted, and they used to get getting their own way. And I think maybe they're uniquely entitled, you know, they have a sense of unique entitlement. So somebody just announced to me, and this is somebody I really rather fond of in a very fine writer student in a program that he's decided to take an independent study with me this summer. I don't get paid for that, by the way. He will. And of course, I have to consent to it. He can't just announce it, although he thought that he could, that he's just entitled to it. And he's going to, if he has his way, you know, meet with me this summer and discuss his outline for a screenplay after I look it over and then we'll meet several times, I'll review the pages and give them notes and, and so on. I do that, you know, for eight writers every quarter. We're on the quarter system at UCLA routinely. But I'm not gonna do that this summer. You know, I'm working on my own stuff. I have all kinds of things planned, rather than just saying no, what I told them was that I wished I could do that, which is only partly true. And however, that I would not be able to give him and his screenplay, the time and the attention to the consideration, that they both merit so that's a polite way to say no, you
Alex Ferrari 10:00
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Richard Walter 10:09
But you do need to learn how to say, No. And I've also said in Hollywood, dealing in the movie business, you're a hard No, no, this is not for us. As painful as that is, it's not as painful as one usually here is when one submits a project, either to potential representatives or to a production company, one usually hears is this. Know what I mean?
Dave Bullis 10:40
The silence is deafening,
Richard Walter 10:42
Very shrill, very shrill silence. So I'm sympathetic with what you're talking about. You do need to I mean, I consider it actually part of my life, my pedagogy, if I could call it that my teaching philosophy is to teach students. We are a professional program or graduate program, we offer the Master of Fine Arts. I tried to teach them by example, how they need to be warriors for their own writing time. I once had a definition, I used to clown around about a definition of a writer. A writer is somebody who's always available to pick up relatives at the airport. And I preach to writers that if they when they complain, you know, like, I can't get anything done into the family, he wants me to, you know, they think I'm available because people say, Well, you are available. I mean, you did you pick them up, I didn't do so why, you know, if you don't get it, you're gonna get it, you know, you why it's one of my principles in which is if you want to be treated as a professional writer, you have to treat yourself as a professional. And the fact is people who are going to pick up relevance at the airport, what they don't realize is they actually glad to do that. Because it allows them to avoid doing what every writer wants to avoid doing. And that is writing. And not only that they get to do to feel virtuous about it. And to get the gripe and catch and carp and complain about everybody impinging on their time when in fact, they're terrified to sit alone in front of that word processor, you know, and their relatives coming in from out of town has given them the excuse not to do that, if you follow me.
Dave Bullis 12:24
Yeah, I absolutely follow you. Because there's a book that I read the The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Richard Walter 12:32
He's a genius. Pressfield he's just I love that book.
Dave Bullis 12:37
Absolutely. And, you know, I was fortunate enough to be able to speak with him briefly. And I told him, you know, reading that book was an epiphany for me,
Richard Walter 12:44
Oh, absolutely. I just love the book. In fact, I was just quoting and somebody, I do a lot of consulting off campus, I give notes to writers who have deals at studios, you know, it's becoming more and more routine in Hollywood. Now, even when you have a deal. You know, typical writing assignment is what they call and it's whatever is negotiable, you know, as long as the guild minimums are being observed, the typical assignment is what they call a draft and a set a draft is a draft of a screenplay. And a set usually consists of what somebody will call a rewrite and somebody else and then we will be haunted by what somebody calls a Polish, but of course, the guy doing the polish and the guy doing the rewrite have different views of you know, what, what it should be, let it be called, but often between such such stages, smart writers will go to somebody like me, a script doctor, a script consultant, and say, listen, they owe me You know, I owe I owe them this draft beforehand and and asked me, you know, I want you to ask me the hard questions because the studio asks them and, and so on. So I was talking to and but I also work with writers who, you know, who are independent and who can afford my very, very high fees to give those kinds of notes. You know, it's easier for a writer who's getting a quarter of a million dollar fee from Paramount Pictures, that didn't happen, then somebody's out of out of their own pocket. But I do work with writers off campus, as I say, who can get in if I'm attracted to the script? I think it's something that I want to you know, if you feel merits encouragement and then of course, it costs a lot of money so I was working with somebody I'm working with with a particular writer was in the Midwest and she I just sent her back a second raft of notes. Oh, it's about a 15 page document going through her her script and talking about it in general but also going through the pages note, you know, page by page and and indicating we have certain issues that are arise some of them as trivial as typos and some of them you know, fundamental issues about kind I returned story structure and whatever. And she she complained to me that she was really disappointed that there's more work to do that she thought she had the whole thing set up. And that she's kind of sorry that things aren't proceeding according to schedule, you know, in the way that she predicted, and I immediately thought of Pressfield, who I know what he would say Stephen would say that her only amateurs and dilettantes think that it goes, you know, in a steady, predictable, reliable way that it's not Herky jerky and frustrating, every inch of the way, you know, Pressfield would say stop trying to feel good about it, you know, feel good about having done it. But don't feel good about doing it. Nobody does. No writer does it. One of my first principles is all writers hate to write. We love having written, but actually sitting down and addressing the pages. That's what Pressfield calls resistance, there's always resistance sitting there. And I have a lot of experience as a writer. Over my my years, I've been writing professionally for more than 40 years. But my own experience is leveraged by the experience I've had with other writers working very, very closely very intimately with writers on campus and off campus. And so my, you know, I have the experience also of of all of those writers. And that's the way it is for everybody, for everybody, including the highest handed, you know, highest minded, most successful, richest practitioners. It's always that way. And people have to, you know, stop trying to feel good about it.
Dave Bullis 16:45
You know, it's like Stephen said one time, he said, you know, if you can beat resistance, inch by inch, and you can actually get something made. And you can actually, you know, you sit there and there's a polished manuscript, and he says, Congratulations. Now move on to the next one.
Richard Walter 16:59
Exactly. I quote a student of mine, he wrote two scripts in class that became gigantically successful films. They became franchises. One is Highlander. Maybe they called it the Highlander, and the other one is Backdraft. I mean, Backdraft became a meant amusement park ride. I mean, it's gigantic success. And so here was this 26 year old rider, multimillionaire already. I was reading an interview with him in the press, this is some years ago. And he was again, just like writers complaining and you think you'd be jumping for joy and you know, whistling a happy tune. Now, he was talking about how they had betrayed him at Fox, how they had discovered NBC and burned him at Warner Brothers and lied to him with Paramount and on and on, you know, all of these dramas and you know, lakhs of these crimes that have been visited upon him, this poor poor guy, this poor multimillionaire 26 year old screenwriter. And then he pauses in the interview, and I swear, if you held the interview, this was a press print piece. If you held the news page close to your face, you could have felt the waft of his thigh if you felt the breeze on his cheek. It was at that level in the context and what he was saying, was quoting me he was in awe, but I can just hear after he's griping and complaining he says, ah, but I can just hear my professor Richard wolf of UCLA saying that Greg don't even know it's a privilege in Hollywood even merely to be mistreated this way. Again, what Hollywood will do do the worst thing Hollywood will do is not mistreat you but ignore you. I had an experience I met with Restless oil, Julius Epstein. He's he and his brother. And another writer wrote Casablanca and among many other things, that the Julius was involved in he lived he was working well into his 80s the past a few years ago now rest his soul he when I first time I met him I said, Oh, Mr. Epstein. I'm so excited immediately only you know all I hope all of all I or any my film phony pounds, when we hope for it is once in our lives, we should touch something as you did with Casablanca that's timeless that's eternal. That is going to, you know, touch the hearts and minds of generations. Something like that. Yeah. I wouldn't be nice if I could report to you that he said, all thanks very much kind of you to say so. I mean, courtesy 101 You know, he's a writer. You're gonna understand he grew up in Brooklyn, but he spent 70 years in LA, but he never lost his the Brooklyn drawl that he had
Alex Ferrari 20:00
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Richard Walter 20:09
And his reply to me was at Casablanca schmetzer Blanca they flipped that up. You know what apart with fluid rain says such and such a day to day, but oh no, they weren't with my brother Philip me we had a thing with and here he is complaining, you know, more than a half century later, like 6070 later about how they messed up his movie what movie Casablanca and all I could think is my God, I wish somebody would mess up my movie like they mess up Casablanca. So, you know, again, only amateurs in dilettantes Thank you just settled in eagerly in front of the word processor. And, you know, you take a deep breath, and you kind of just get into your creative zone, and it just kind of flows out of you magically, you know, just think that way. Think that way. And the other thing is, people are never you can't get no satisfaction, if a MakerBot the Rolling Stones, it's never as good as people think that it should, as the writer, herself or himself thinks it ought to be. It's always better in the mind. You know, when it's not an actual tangible thing, holding your hand, it's always more perfect than when it's a real thing. And so there is a quality of frustration and disappointment that walks hand in hand with creativity. And professionals know that they accept that they tolerate that they endure it, they don't like it. And amateurs deny it.
Dave Bullis 21:41
You know, it's amazing that the scream out of Casablanca, actually, at a Feb problems with it. Because, you know, that's the movie, that's the go to movie that, you know, almost every screenwriting professor I've ever had, or, you know, book I've ever read. That's one of the go to movies that they use as a paradigm for listeners that this is what a great movie or I'm sorry, this is what an excellent movie is, you know?
Richard Walter 22:05
Yes. Well, it's what a great screenplay is. And it is a great movie. And it's beautifully acted and beautifully directed. I quite agree with you. And yet the actual writer of that is, you know, think fast. So, so, but then there is also a trend that kind of, that I've detected among writers where if you talk to a really successful writer, and you have to go, what's the favorite thing that you've read, they're gonna pick their most obscure, least successful project, you know, while most to make up for the disappointment that they experienced, when it was, was released, as I say, one prays for disappointment when well, because you'll never be disappointed if something isn't released, you know what I mean? So, again, I tell my writers, and I tell my colleagues around the table from time to time at UCLA, on the faculty, that fantasy is for your screenplay, for your life. Reality.
Dave Bullis 23:04
So, you know, as we we talked about, you know, just about writing and, you know, some disappointments, you know, in your classes, what I wanted to ask, you know, was, whenever a student comes to you, you know, how do you know, what's a good concept and what's not?
Richard Walter 23:20
Well, you're not you don't you never know, what's a good concept? You never know, I'm going to tell you two concepts right now. That are the stupidest concepts for movies, you will never hear a stupid or common concept for movie than, than either these ready? I mean, let me let me let me before I say that when he let me mention, Blake Snyder and save the cat, he argues that if you're a writer, and you have a concept, you should run that concept past some, some other people, he actually says you should stop people in the streets, and especially young people, and tell them, Hey, can I talk to you for a minute, I'm a writer, and I have a notion for an eye, you know, for a screenplay of a concept. And I'm wondering, I'd love to, you know, talk you through it for a minute or two and, and see what you think of it. Wherever, wherever you think I'm like, you know, the mistake to move forward? Or is this a worthy thing? Imagine you're walking down the street and somebody comes up to you, and wants to run a concept fast you and you and you're generous enough? Most people probably would say, all right, all right. You know, let's see where it goes. And you did that. And the guy gave you the following concept. You're ready. I'm ready. A man stutters, but he has to give a speech. So he hires a speech therapist, and they work on the speech and then he gives the speech. What if somebody, what have you said to the guy well, I gotta tell you, honestly, you know, you seem like a really good guy. And, you know, that's just, I mean, who could possibly care about what you just described? What if he then said He will Oh, well, you know, thanks just the same but respectfully, let me tell you that I happen to think this this when it's all done, it's going to win the screenplay, you know, Best Screenplay Oscar, and Best Movie. You'd figure crank up the lithium on this guy's drip. It's madness, you know. And yet, I don't have to tell you what movie that is, I'm sure. I'll tell about this. Somebody comes up and says, I want to do I have an idea for a cable series, I think it's going to be 62 hours, it's going to run for, you know, five seasons or six seasons gonna be 62 hours of programming. And here's the idea. A here's the concept. A high school chemistry teacher gets a cancer diagnosis. And he, he decides in order to provide for his family to partner with a former incorrigible students go into the meth trade to manufacture and sell methamphetamine. One of these will have certainly much of a concept that would wear one of these they live and it's going to turn into 62 hours of unparalleled genius. I don't mind telling you, I am one of those people who regards Breaking Bad as one of the greatest achievements in the history of civilization. In fact, last Saturday, I was at just a week ago, today, I was at the pitch Fest in Burbank biggest screenwriting festival they have every year, and I'm actually met. Tom's now is Peter Gould, who are the forces behind Better Call Saul, which of course grew out of Breaking Bad. And I just trembled to meet them, you know, as I have to have to shake the hand that wrote those one of those beautiful Breaking Bad episodes, they were prominent writers, producers, and I occasionally I think directed some of the Breaking Bad episodes. So it's not about ideas. It's not about concepts, it's about story. Story is all it's about stories, everything. And that's what we preach at UCLA. And, you know, the proof is in the tasting. We've we've, you know, there's a lot of evidence that we were wrong about that.
Dave Bullis 27:14
Yeah, I, you know, I saw the some of the accomplishments, you know, they, some of your students have done, and that is just phenomenal. And, you know, that's why, you know, you were the guy that I wanted to talk to you or, you know, when I was, in the early stage of this podcast, you were one of the people that I actually marked down to talk to, and I'm so happy that we actually got to talk now.
Richard Walter 27:35
And I'm flattered by what you're saying. And I thank you kindly.
Dave Bullis 27:39
Oh, completely. My pleasure. And, you know, just to continue talking about your class, you know, you mentioned before an outline. So do you have your students actually, you know, sort of, flush it out, flush out their stories to an outline or, and how, if so, how detailed? Do they have to go with that outline?
Richard Walter 27:57
Well, the first answer is, yes, I do have them do an outline. But I also tell them to throw away the outline, once I get started writing. It's not terribly detailed. When we have our each quarter, we have 310 week quarters at UCLA, where most institutions have two semesters, you know, 15 week semesters. And at the big I work each quarter, I've taught the course now over 100 times, with students, eight students around the table writing a feature length screenplay. And each one has to, we meet once a week for three hours, the whole group, but while I do meet with them, multiple times during the quarter independently, individually, and auditorially, one on one where we review the pages together, you know, I read their pages, having read the pages I meet and give them my notes. We I have everybody has to bring the second week of that class, they have to bring in a maximum two page, kind of a beat sheet, sort of a scene list. It's not really an outline, but it's sort of document that that helps the writer have a general direction that the script is going but then I tell everybody to stay open to the surprises. The last thing you want to do is drag something back to you know, an earlier notion that you had if it's working better in a new fashion, you know, I never knew a writer who wasn't surprised by lines of dialogue that our characters spoke. You don't seem to invent by themselves, you know, by twists and turns in the story that they didn't they weren't even aware of even though they are creating the whole thing. There is a kind of a magic to it. I had Neil Simon come to class to talk about comedy.
Alex Ferrari 29:56
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Richard Walter 30:05
Imagine being in a writing class and having you know, Neil's comedy, it's like being in seminary. And you know, there's an answer. And at two o'clock in room nine, the Lord will be doing a q&a, you know. And I asked Mr. Simon, I said, Do you laugh at your own jokes? And he said, sure I do the first time I hear them. And I think that's a great line. It's as if his jokes are not made up by him, but but told to him by the characters that he creates. I don't know any writer who hasn't had that experience. So, yes, I do think you have to have an outline. But I think you have to then sort of throw away the outline and expect the script to unfold in a way that will surprise not only people who read it, but the person who wrote it.
Dave Bullis 30:55
Very true. And there was a book and I can't remember the name of it off top my head, I think maybe in the artists way. But the the author of that book, Julia Cameron, yes, I Yes. And one of the methods that she described in that book was basically, you know, just sort of starting and just going and don't worry about the, you know, having a plan, you know, meaning like, you know, what a detailed outline mean?
Richard Walter 31:18
Well, there's something there's something to be said for that the El Dr. Rao, who's not a screenwriter, to my knowledge, but a very, very successful novelist who some substantial number of his novels have been made into movies. He's probably best known for Ragtime. He, he says driving, he compares riding to driving at night. You can only see as far as the headlights reveal. But that's long enough. That's far enough to drive. You know, the whole journey. He also describes Ragtime how he came up with Ragtime. Which is that he was in his he lived in New Rochelle. I think he still does number show, which is in Westchester County. It's a suburb of New York City. And he lives in a home with kind of a early 2020 century home. And he was just stuck. He was in his writing room. And he just didn't know what to write about. And he was in deep, deep dark depression and despair, the way writers get. And he finally just wandered around his study, and could think of nothing to write about. So he put his head against the wall, he started to like bang his head, literally bang his head against the wall. And finally he decided, Well, hell with it. He's just going to write about the wall. And he thought about the wall that he was, you know, pushing his forehead up against. And when it went up when the house was built, and that happened to be around, you know, in the period that Ragtime is built what was going on in New Rochelle at that time, and there was a parade, and this one Fraternal Order of something and rather and, and suddenly out of out of banging his head against one random ebook comes Ragtime, which is a gigantic number one New York Times bestseller. And it's insanely successful film directed by Milosz foreman. And one of this came about by you know, banging his head against the wall. So, so, again, the you were asking about, Oh, yes. But getting started. There's a writer. Do you know the name? Anne Lamott? Yeah, and Annie Lamott, she's best known. She's a wonderful novelist, but she she's probably best known for the books she's written about writing. The best known is called Bird by Bird. And she Annie preaches that every writer should allow themselves what she calls a shitty first draft. You got to get it down on the page and stop. You know, being disappointed that it's not genius yet. There's another book I think is very interesting. It wasn't written about writing. About 30 years ago, there was a best seller by a writer named Mark McCormack Mark McCormack actually was a sports. He invented modern day sports management. He really started in golf, and he's the guy who, you know, got multimillion dollar contracts for ballplayers and really went a long way towards getting rights for ballplayers that they, you know, used to not have. I remember, almost a half a century ago, I was working on a Jerry Lewis picture. I was the dialogue director on a journalist picture of Warner Brothers and on the Hill Jerry likes to slum with ballplayers. And so he had the star of the Dodgers at that time Willie Davis on the movie. And Willie was a holdout that went there. You know, it was pretty free agency. And all you could do is refuse to play so he had held out for this country and finally he is driving over to the studio one day. We were shooting in December in January, you know, offseason for baseball. I heard on the radio that Willie had he signed his contract. So I asked him when I got to the studio, I had no right to ask them how much What the What do you think he got for the 1970 season? He was 29 years old, he had hit almost 400. The previous season. He was in his prime. He's one of the best players in baseball, what do you think was his salary? For the 1970? Season? Take a guess.
Dave Bullis 35:23
I'm gonna take a guess at 30,000 for the year,
Richard Walter 35:27
That's a really good guess that was not as bad as that it was actually 50,000 Well, people will guess oh, you know, quarter million, half a million, you know, million dollars, and so on. When I mentioned this, it had to do with Oh, yeah, Mark McCormack writing about sports management. He wrote a book called, he went to Harvard Business School. And he wrote a book called, what they don't teach you in the Harvard Business School and was kind of street savvy, you know, wisdom for MBAs, and CEOs, you know, and CFOs, and CEOs, and CEOs and whatever, you know, major executives. And we were saying at one of his rules, is, it's quite wonderful. I believe that and works very well for people in the arts, including writers and here it is, don't let excellent stand in the way of good. You got something that sort of works, go with it, you know, at least for the time being. And then you come back and rewrite. But I think that's what slows people down. Sometimes they and stops them cold, you know, is it's not excellent, every inch of the way as they go, it's merely good. And I'm saying if you can be merely good. Give thanks to God and move on.
Dave Bullis 36:50
You mentioned Bird by Bird, though it's funny you mention that because I was actually talking to people about, you know, books on writing. And you know, and I and you know, usually the book, if we just talked about writing as a whole the number one book I always hear about Stephen King's on writing.
Richard Walter 37:04
That is my favorite book by Stephen. It's a brilliant book. And by the way, you'll recall what he has to say about ideas he launched his whole career with carry that was his big success. His breakthrough and by the way, you may remember from the book that he'd gotten some distance into it, many despaired of it, he threw it away, and Tabitha, his wife, Tabitha King, found it in the garbage and took it out and read it. What's this? And she said, What's this? That's one of the garbage she said, that's just not we're gonna have them the band name she's wanting to get it was great. You should keep going. That's how carry came about. But do you remember how it started? Stephen was living in Maine where he still lives. And it was a high school teacher and he always wondered what the he knew what the boys room and the boys lockers looked like. But he was curious what the girls bathrooms in the girls lockers looked like so one day when the after school hours when school was closed, but some of the teachers were still there. And the lockers in the bathrooms were were deserted. He went into the women's you know, the girls bathroom and the girls lockers. And he discovered guess what they're just exactly like the boys lockers except for two differences. One is that in the showers, the boys lockers had gang showers. You know, just a great big room of novels, you know, on the wall. And the girls had curtains they had you know, modesty curtains, they were they would tracks on the on the ceiling of the shower room. And that provided for curtains so that they had, you know, more modest experience when they showered. The other difference was that was that in the girls? locker rooms and bathrooms there were these little vending machines. You know what I mean? And look at Carrie it's all about this girl who comes into menstruation and doesn't know what it is. Is mocked and ridiculed by the other girls who see her in the shower and they can see blood running under the curtain if you saw the movie for remembered or if you read the book, just looking at the locker room leads to a thing which he sold back then 40 years ago for $400,000 adjusted for inflation to be about $3 million today. And it all came down from curtains and tampons gazing amazing.
Dave Bullis 39:41
Yeah, I remember the opening to that movie and it did heavily involve that and I you know and you know even the remake, which I remember pieces I don't remember as much as the original but you know that had I think that it's a similar similar beginning.
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Richard Walter 40:07
So open Yeah, well, I don't see the remake. But I remember since he's basic in the beginning as she's very beautiful now she's, you know, the movie, she's in the shower, at school. And there were other girls on the showers and suddenly blood is running. And she clearly does not know what this is about. He's never been taught by her parents or anybody else about menstruation. And she thinks there's something horribly wrong with her that, you know, she's evil and, and, and then the other girls see the blood and they see that she's upset about it. And you know, there's this terrible bullying attitude that emerges among adolescents, men and women, and they start to attack her and so on. I mean, that's what drives the whole movie. Anyway, this movie about revenge isn't dead. And she ultimately, you know, Avengers them at the end of the the movie, but it all derives from from that very, very simple premise. And if you describe that to somebody, superficially, they would think it's pretty helpless. So again, I think that the one of the biggest mistakes that writers make is to assign too much value. Too much credit to the idea. I like to tell writers, when you have a great idea, if you have a really great idea for a movie, that's all you got. I mean, what remains after that. The, you know, the incidents, the anecdotes, the events, the characters, the dialogues, a disgrace, I mean, everything remains after that. The idea is really rather useless, what what has value is the story and think about it, you can tell the idea for a movie in a in a, you know, a minute is about 40 seconds more than you need to tell an idea. But to tell the story takes you you know, as long as the moving. For example, I was talking I was saying to somebody the other day, what I had just said to you a little while ago about talking about The King's Speech, I was describing to you a man, a man stutters. He has given speech, he hires a speech therapist and gives a speech. So somebody's like, Yeah, well, you left out that the man who stutters is the king of England. And man, it's the 1930s and war clouds are gathering in, you know, on the continent, and that he's having a romance with Wallace Simpson, a, you know, an American commoner, and so on until that well, that's the story that isn't that the story, that's not the idea any longer. It's the story. And that's where the value is.
Dave Bullis 42:40
You know, somebody wants to told me that ideas are a dime a dozen. But at that, at that point, you're overpaying for the idea.
Richard Walter 42:49
Yeah. Well, I'll tell you something, I have a sideline I have, you know, well, I am. If you ask me what I do, I would say I'm a writer, if I if, if I were in the elevator, what's your response respond, you know, but the truth is, I also am a an educator, pretty well known educator. But that's not the end of it. That's just the beginning. But I'm also a consultant. And I consult in, you know, I'm a public speaker. And I'm a media commentator, I do a lot of appearances on talk shows, television, radio. And as a consultant, I do two kinds of consulting. One is, I've already told you about where I work with writers. I consult with writers as a script doctor, I give them support in working out their, their scripts. And the other kind of consulting that I do is in the courts. I am a court authorized expert in intellectual property law, particularly copyright infringement and plagiarism, who wrote the movie. And I have testified and I've been an expert witness in all between 30 and 40. court cases over the years, where there's litigation over, you know, who wrote the movie, somebody thinks the movie was stolen from them. And over my over the years I've on occasion been retained as a witness by plaintiffs but also by defendants. I was a witness, for example, in the very legendary case at Paramount, involving Art Buchwald, the famous humorist, and the Paramount the producer of the movie coming to America and any movie Eddie Murphy movie, and any movie Murphy were Buchwald sued claiming they'd stolen it from him and so on. I testified that you know, they didn't steal it from him that it was a different movie, but I only mentioned it because it is the MIS appropriation of value regarding ideas that has if I could put it this way put orthodontia on my children's teeth and paid for their fancy ass nosebleed costly private school education. My wife and I looked like it's a grown up now God bless him. But we used to joke that we saved up enough money to send their kids to college, but we spent it all on high school, you know. And what I mean by that is people attach too much value to the idea, they had an idea for a movie, they see another movie that has a similar idea, and they think it must have been stolen from them. When they don't get that it's just an idea. Ideas are not protectable it's the expression of the idea over the length and breadth of a narrative. where the value is, you know, you have to show what the courts call substantial and ideally, strikingly similar examples from one to the other, you know, not just that the boy and a girl fall in love, they break up and then they get back together again, you know, so So this misunderstanding of ideas has put a lot of money in my pocket.
Dave Bullis 46:03
You know, it's, it's funny, you mentioned that, because about, maybe two summers ago, I actually met a professor who teaches at Yale, and he actually also does, you know, does copyright and things like that. And he was actually involved in the avatar case, because some some writers came and said, James Cameron stole their idea for Avatar. And they wanted, you know, they wanted a couple million actually, you know, more than a couple of million dollars, but, and he was involved in that whole litigation.
Richard Walter 46:33
Interesting. I don't mind bragging that it's just a student of ours, named Lita, Kellogg Ritas. Very successful writer, she wrote much of Avatar, Jim gives her credit not as writer but she does have a producer credit and it's her own card, her name, stands all alone on the screen. But the fact of the matter is, she really wrote a lot of that mo she's not suing a complaining, you understand she idolizes Jim Cameron, and I think he's great. I know him too. He's been very good to us and our students in a program and, you know, Lita was paid millions and millions of dollars for her work on Avatar and she's she's not not complaining. But yeah, I believe that any any big movie? You know, a lot of people know about the the Buchwald case it was covered. You know, the coming to America case that I mentioned earlier. It was covered gavel to gavel It was held live gavel to gavel on the trial on on CNN, I remember. And a lot of people don't know that. That particular litigation was one among seven or eight cases where people had claimed, you know, other people that claimed they'd written the movie, you know, independently. There's an expression that every success has many parents, but failure is an orphan. In other words, if a movie makes no money and nobody hears about it, no one will sue. But if you have a great big hit like Avatar, there's going to be bunches of lawsuits. I know that my old classmate, George Lucas, from USC film school, we were Film School students together all those years ago. There have been multiple suits and Star Wars was stolen from him, you know, from them, I I remember that he went up to Canada to it would have been easier for him to just settle, which is what they usually do. But he's a very funky, feisty guy, George. And nobody's going to say that, you know, he's not going to going to consent to anybody. You know, he's never going to agree with me that he ever ripped anybody off. And so he actually went to the trial, and somebody had come claim that he the plaintiff had had invented the Wookiee, and George has stolen that from him, you know? So it's like when my son was little If he couldn't find his baseball, maybe they stole my glove. You know, it couldn't be that he misplaced it, you know? So people always think that there's something similar it must have been stolen from them. Occasionally it happens but it's most exceptional. And when you mistake the exception for the rule, you fall on your face every time
Dave Bullis 49:22
Very true. You know, and the more I hear about you know, cases like that, you know, Richard the more I hear that it is either you know, a hey, you know what, two people you know, great minds think alike as they say so, you know, it is possible if you know, two people that live in you know, maybe the opposite ends of the earth came up with a similar idea, you know, I mean, I mean, you know, you and I could go to the video store with their video stores are still around, you're not gonna go to Netflix, and we could see there are there's, there's a plethora of movies that maybe share maybe the same scene or maybe share like the same plot points or maybe share the same, you know, character characteristics. Beautiful!
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Dave Bullis 50:11
Along those lines
Richard Walter 50:13
Again the only thing I totally I totally agree theme many movies have the same theme Jaws I happen to know now one blank record about lead who who wrote yours Of course he was adapting to Peter Benchley book was was telling me that the conversations with Bentley Joe Jaws is based on a play by the great Norwegian playwright Enric Gibson. And the play is called an enemy of the people. It's a very well known, you know, sort of a classic play I guess it's 150 years old or something. And it's set in a health resort health spa that's famous for its waters, that there are healing waters people come from, you know, 1000 miles you know, to have their their maladies healed in the waters, the magical waters of this particular health spa. And the protagonist in the movie is dr. Stockman, he's the Medical Director of the baths. Now this doesn't sound at all like Jaws. But consider this, at the beginning of the movie, he discovers the doctor does that the waters are actually polluted. And that making people ill. And this is a really important discovery, when he announces that he thinks people will honor him, because he's saving a lot of people a lot of illness and even death, you know, because they'll stay out of that bad water. And it'll also get the resort to do whatever it needs to do. If it can be done to you know, repair that right. So that doesn't sound terribly like us. And yet it is because we the reaction of the health spa and the community around it that lives off the income brought in from tourists coming in to be guests at the spa. They instead of honoring Him, they they, you know, degrade and they deride him and they declare him an enemy of the people. And that's exactly the deal with Richard Dreyfus. And as the sheriff in Jaws, and John's, if you remember that, that he realizes it's the start of the season, it's a beach town, and suddenly, there's a dangerous shock. And if word gets out that there's all of that danger, and people aren't supposed to use the beach, well, they're not gonna do a beach vacation, at least not there, you know. So instead of honoring him for making this really important, lifesaving discovery, they, they degrade him, they humiliate him, they scorned him, they mock Him, they love him. And so the theme is, history hates a truth teller, something like that. And that's the same theme for JAWS and for the enemy of the people, even though they are. So what's the difference between them, the difference is the story. Totally different story, the setting, the dialogue, the characters, everything's different, though they have the same theme. Quite, quite true. So you're going to see movies that have similar themes, but you can't protect a theme, all you can protect is a story and has to be substantive. This happens, that happens, this happens, that happens, the same stuff happens in both and then you're starting to get onto a you know, an enterprise that is protectable. It just a very yet very crazy arena. The truth of the matter is, studios, producers, production companies, networks, cable companies, they have no selfish interest in stealing material. They don't want to risk the 10s of millions of dollars that it takes to put together a series or a movie. Indeed that a billion dollars the nobody's gonna make that kind of investment and try to cut somebody out of 1/10 of 1% of that, which would be you know, hundreds and hundreds of 1000s of dollars or even millions of dollars for the script and put the whole rest of the project into jeopardy just trying to shave off a point or even two from the budget by stealing the script. You follow what I'm saying? Oh, yeah. You know, there's a not a lawyer, that I've spent a lot of time around lawyers doing this kind of kind of work and there's a there's a Latin phrase, I forget what it is or something like Cui bono. You know, who benefits from this? If you're you're looking at a legal case and you want to people Who's in? You suddenly discovering somebody dies, and you suddenly discover that they had a huge insurance policy. And it all goes to this particular beneficiary? Well, that beneficiary had a substantial stake and a great reward and this person dying, maybe, maybe she or he killed him, right. So, movie companies have a stake in not stealing material. Nobody benefits by that. And, indeed, they suffer greatly. So I think it does happen, but I believe it's vastly, vastly exaggerated.
Dave Bullis 55:37
You know, you mentioned you know, your classmate was George Lucas, do you have any other you know, interesting stories or any other funny stories about you and George?
Richard Walter 55:47
Well, you know, I am the uncredited writer of the first two drafts of American Graffiti. This there's no controversy about it. GEORGE doesn't tell it any differently. The there's nothing unusual in Hollywood about a substantial number of writers being paid for the services on a particular picture. And not all of them getting credit credit as a judgment that is rendered by the Writers Guild. So I yeah, I worked fine to George pretty well, we weren't very close friends in film school. But we knew each other and we were at parties together, we were in classes together, I was in awe of his achievements as a film student, as we all were back then at USC, his legendary student film Thx 11384 Ed, which became a feature length film ultimately not as good as the shorter version. But it was his first movie was done at Warner Brothers with Francis Ford Coppola producing I was, you know, in awe of his talent as a graphic artist as a filmmaker when I was in film school. When we work together on graffiti, I didn't really work closely with him. He had he was out of the country actually had the the long version of FX we called the FX Thx. He was bringing back to Cam, the festival he was traveling with his then wife, Marcia, they were backpacking around Europe, and they were going to end up at Cannes, and they needed a draft of graffiti in a hurry, and I was asked to write it in a couple of weeks, which I did on that first draft. And it did not he was not pleased with it, for he complimented it for me, he has over the years, complimented for its professionalism and all of that. But he was bothered by two aspects of it. One was the sex in it, you know, I saw it as a, a tale of, you know, adolescence, coming of age and all of that. And that's a time of sexual awakening. And, you know, if you look at George's films that kind of like clinical saran wrap, as far as sexuality is concerned, that sort of isn't any, you know, the sexual pervert, not really as kidding. But, but I think that you know, in my own but I've written at length about adolescence, my first novel was a coming of age, in New York City, and there's a lot of sexuality in it. Young people, flirting and more, and George didn't like that he's kind of uptight about those sorts of things. And the other thing he didn't like was that it wasn't close enough his own experience, you know, growing up in Modesto, Hey, um, you know, I'm a New York kid, I grew up in Queens and went to school, with high school in Manhattan, you know, and I didn't know anything about cars and, and stuff like that. So we never really worked together on it, except after the first draft, it was a two draft deal. We did, we did meet at my house. And then we met I remember, we had another meeting at a restaurant in Hollywood. And we spoke at length on the phone, after the, you know, during the process of writing the second draft and, and so on, I was well paid for the work that I did, and I'm not complaining. You know, again, the the credit decision is something that is rendered by the Writers Guild. And the, so it's really their judgment, not the studio's judgment, not George's judgment, and so on and so on. He's a powerhouse, you know, he's a kind of a gruff, nerdy, scratchy voice little guy, but I mean, he's, he's just the greatest genius I've ever known. I mean, the impact of that his work has had across I mean, who on the world who around the world doesn't know some aspect of the front of the Star Wars franchise hasn't been touched by some aspect of it, right. I mean, you know, don't you think it's realistic to suggest that millions of people have Who doesn't at least
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Richard Walter 1:00:11
Who do you know in all of human history who touched so many people have run into the consciousness and the awareness of so many people all around across the globe in so little time? As George did, I also believe that the influence that he's had the influence of Star Wars, I'm not really crazy about the movies. John Neely is our film, school alumni, you know, a fellow alumni, alumnus, you know, call them pap. I watch all of them. I've seen the first one, which is, I guess, the fourth one, by a certain measure and part of the second one and so on. But the the lesson that they put out there, I think, is a really, really affirmative feeling. positive message across the world. A very Judeo Christian message, which is that the power of love is greater than the power of hate the power of God is stronger than the power of Satan, the power of, of construction is bigger than the power of destruction. I mean, you know, you have a fairy tale. And so again, again, going back to the idea as we were talking before, what's the idea behind Star Wars? I'll tell you what it is. And you already know what it is. It's a fairy tale and space. The bad guys have ducked the princess and you know, the good guys rescue her. That Star Wars, isn't it? Yeah. What makes those two special in the answer is the frame by frame, moment by moment, scene by scene, action in it and the dialogue that the characters speak and so on. So, you know, George is a very, you know, he's not a very available kind of a guy. I don't think a lot of it, people would describe him as warm and cuddly. But when I worked with him, both on campus and off campus, that was certainly a professional arrangement and agreement and, you know, whatever disagreements that that were had were, you know, our experience, we're not unusual among artists working on a movie together.
Dave Bullis 1:02:31
Yeah, very, very understandable.
Richard Walter 1:02:33
And I was actually I, his house guest, I remember my wife and I, in August of 1969, he had already left LA, he was living up in Marin. And I love to say that my class at USC, we were the first to move on. When we came to film school, there was no tradition of moving from film school into the professional community. It's like I have an article right now. It's just come out, like, yesterday or the day before in the current issue, the most recent issue, which is just come out, excuse me, I've written by, which is the Writers Guild, monthly journal. And it's called Film School Haven or hoax. And I'm arguing that, you know, in and I'm arguing, because I have a vested interest in it. But I still believe it's observably, verifiably, empirically true that film school is not a hoax. You know, but very, very helpful in in getting, you know, people into the movie business. I stated in the article 1111 titles of movies, written I'm sorry, directed or Purdue and or produced by Steven Spielberg, that were written by, at least in part, by UCLA, trained writers who have on screen credits for those movies. 11 of them. Jurassic Park 123, Indiana Jones, two and three. That's five right there. The terminal Munich, Lincoln, one of the world's EagleEye EagleEye was produced by Steven Travis Wright was the writer our student a few years ago, what am I leaving out the Oh, the TV series amazing stories. Our students in the last six or seven years of a five, just in the last six or seven years five Academy Award, Best Screenplay nominations and have won three Oscars for Best Screenplay in the last five years. So scrape between now and then now being today and then being the time now almost half a century ago that I was going to film school in classes with George Lucas. The big difference is that film school has gone from being a dead end professionally to being the single most advantageous way to enter the film industry. So I like to say that our class at USC we were the first one As to go on to own Hollywood, except for Georgia loans Marin County. So, in any event, my wife and I in 1969 in August we took a motor trip just to vacation holiday up the west coast and we drove all the way up ultimately to the Oregon border. California Oregon border of the quad dunes. There are some beautiful sand dunes along the northern California Southern Oregon coast. Just exquisite. We camped along there and so but on the way we stopped the San Francisco and I remember I had we had brunch one Sunday morning in Sausalito with some old film close pals including Georgia and Marcia. Also John nearly as if you know that name. I referred to him earlier. John, you know, invented Schwarzenegger, you know, he did call Conan and bunches of other movies, he wrote John Salley, best known for his script of Apocalypse Apocalypse Now. There was my wife and I and George and Marcia and Amelia is also Caleb Deschanel who's probably famous, being the father of very famous actors, daughters. But Caleb is of course himself a multi nominated cinematographer. He is one of the most respected the most successful cameramen in the history of the industry. And they were so other people there was Walter Murcia is very famous, Walter actually won two Oscars for sound design and something else in the same year and money gotta come twice, to the stage to pick up his Oscars. He was there with his wife, Aggie, a British woman. And then there's also Caleb, as I mentioned, and a producer, and now a well known producer, David Lester, who produced all of Ron Shelton's film, you know, Bull Durham, and on and on and on. And I remember Marcia invited us to, to be their their house guests. We said, well, we're, we're moving on up the coast tonight, you know, I mean, right after this meal, we're driving north. She said, but on the way down if you want to stay with us, feel free. So we did, we were actually the house guests overnight, when he was living in Mill Valley, in Marina was before his gigantic success with live graffiti, graffiti wouldn't come out yet for about three years. I think it was in 72 71, or 72 73. It came out it was released in 73. So we were alone, you know, when a film school pals when I look back. At the time, we weren't really aware of it. You kind of look back to see it, but talk about Right Place Right Time, you know, I had come out to California for three weeks from New York. And at the last moment, I just fell into film school that I see on kind of a whim. And, you know, somebody turned around it was 10 years later, you know, had never really planned to settle in California, much less to become a screenwriter and much, much, much less to be a tenured professor, you know, and legal experts and so on. He has a great example of staying open to the surprises in a life narrative. I think, you know, I'm always telling writers in your dramatic narrative in your life narrative. Stay open to the surprises that all of the people I know who were enjoying what they're doing, are also surprised by what they're doing. They're not doing what they planned to do. People who do what they plan to do, are people I know a lot of such people and they offer the most what doctors I grew up in New York City and the big thing to be was a doctor. So I know a lot of medical professionals and they're very successful. They're very, you know, they're well paid and so on, but not a lot. Some of them are very happy, but not all of them, many of them are unhappy. This one wishes he was an oceanographer that one wishes he was a anthropologist, and all of them seem to wish they were also screenwriters. Sometimes it seems like the point is that, you know, there's a Chinese person or your dreams come true. It's a little scary when when you accomplish what you set out to accomplish an ended doesn't really feel right. I have a friend who just retired from medicine. He's done very, very well. He's respected. He's made a good living, but he's always been lukewarm at best about about his career. Never really enjoyed it. On the other hand, I know another doctor, a friend of mine who went to film went to medical school.
Alex Ferrari 1:09:53
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Richard Walter 1:10:02
But just didn't like practicing medicine when he liked was computers. And very early in the computer revolution, he got into the the writing of software for computerizing pathology labs, he was a pathologist, his specialty was pathology. And that branched on out to general medical, medical record keeping in general, they were computerizing all of that, you know, previously, a doctor would see a symptom and sort of think about it. Now, you can, you know, really search the databases. And this has resulted not just in convenience, but in the savings of countless lives, if you think about it. So my friend is we were visiting with him, he lives in Seattle, we, we were visiting with him and his wife, oh, dear old pounds of lawn some months ago. And his house is on Lake Washington, there's a dock behind it. And on one side is his power boat. And on the other side is his sailboat across the lake. And a little to the south is the Bill Gates compound. I mean, this guy has done really well my friend and he loves his work, and he didn't jettison his medical education. He very much exploited it. And that's not a dirty word. It just means make the most of it. He integrated it into his career, his very successful career, a career that he loves, that he just enjoys enormously. My point is, he's not doing what he expected to do. And he's loving it. And what I'm, what the point that I'm making is, it's possible to over plan, kind of outsmart yourself in life.
Dave Bullis 1:11:52
And also, you mentioned, Richard, you know, sometimes wants to be a screenwriter, you know, it's kind of like everyone, I think it was Joe Esther house, the the screenwriter of Basic Instinct, one said, you know, it used to be everyone wants to write the great American novel. Now, what's the great American screenplay?
Richard Walter 1:12:09
Yeah, no, Joe is a friend of mine. I know him well over a number of number of years. And I'm aware, aware that he said that and it seems to be true. It seems to be true people people want to, you know, there are more people who years ago would have been writing novels than writing screenplays. I do both. I've just finished a novel. And I've had modest success in both areas, and it's interesting, the guy was just lecturing on this. This is my subject. We could go at the pitch fest. We were talking about how it's funny. Let me put it this way. There's a there's a political figure. You've heard of Governor Christie from New Jersey. He's running for president. And he was I saw him sometime last week. Early in the week he was bitterly denying that he was what somebody had accused him of somebody could accuse him called him and characterize him as a particular word. Very, very evil word, the most evil word that you can use to characterize a political figure that these days in this country, can you guess what the word was? I'll tell you. Somebody called him a moderate. They said that he was moderate. That used to be like a compliment. You know? He was denying these the moderate and Why do I bother you about that? Because there's a word in Hollywood that Hollywood seems to have come to hate. Are you ready? Original. They don't want to do anything original. In fact, it's the disappointing release of Tomorrowland. Is that what it's called? Yeah, tomorrow. Yeah, with Clooney. That kind of disappointed. They say that they're not gonna do any more original movies. You know, because of Tomorrowland is originally there only want to do 10 photos, remakes, reboots, prequels and sequels, adaptations of material from other media. They don't want to do original screenplays. I think that's a real pity because what they're trying to do is play it safe. And playing it safe is the most hazardous course you can follow in an arc. You have to take the risks you have to embrace the risks invites the listening courage, the risks, it seems to me And nevertheless, it if you're a writer, and you have an original screenplay, what are you gonna do with that nobody's making original screenplays or certainly the studios are not. They're not buying spec scripts and turning them into movies. They're developing projects inside I had a writer who wants to. He's a huge fan of Batman and he wants to Does the Batman franchise and he wanted to pay me a substantial sum? To give him notes on that manuscript that he ran, I said that you, you can't do anything with Warner Brothers on the right. You know, Batman. So he said, well after what the Warner Brothers, but Warner Brothers isn't going to look at the Batman script, they're not going to buy it speculated that manuscript, they're gonna develop it with writers, they know who worked with producers, they know, those writers may very well be former students of mine, mind you, and I'm happy to brag about that. But they're not going to do this guy script, not only are they going to make it, they're not even going to read it, they're going to make a point not to read it. For reasons that go back to what we were talking about earlier having to do with litigation, if it's Batman, it's certainly going to be similar. It's going to have certain similarities to that doesn't happen to have franchise, don't you think? And then there'll be there'll be their lawyers at Warner Brothers will be telling you, you mustn't look at this. And you must notify him or send this back to him and tell him we haven't looked at it. We don't accept that until this material and so on, because he's gonna claim when the new Batman came up that we that we really used it. And we didn't, you know, that we just stole it from. So, we talked about originality. So how do you get around that as a writer? And the answer is, and I've had modest success with this repeatedly in my career. I don't consider myself to be any kind of superstar. But the The Wall Street Journal calls me they What did they say about me, they said, I am a writer of substantial, professional experience, you know, there's no literary laundry I haven't taken and I've written feature assignments, feature length, movie assignments, were all of the studios, almost every studio. And I've sold material to all three major broadcast networks. And I have had almost half a dozen books published by by all of them by major New York publishers, I've had bestsellers in nonfiction, my screenwriting books in print, you know, what, for 30 years, my last novel, read made the Times list. Best Seller was only for a week and only at number 13. But the you know, the Times list, it's not a not a small thing. And the reason I mentioned it to you is that my very first novel I had written as a screenplay, and I just couldn't. It's been said Hollywood is the one place on earth where you could die of encouragement. I had so much encouragement over that scribble of when he didn't have was a nickel for it. And finally, there was a strike and you couldn't market the Hollywood anyway. And so naively, I turned it into I use it as an outline for a novel and wrote a novel, I was naive about how cruel the fiction market is, especially the first fiction market. And that naivete served me very well, because I sold the thing right away. And, you know, had I been more savvy about the business, maybe I wouldn't have, you know, invested the time and effort it would take to turn that into a novel, knowing how grim the chances were, so you understand how ignorance is your friend. Now you say, is your pal. Now as soon as it was sold as a novel, it was sold as a movie. Warner Brothers, or somebody that had turned it down when it was a screenplay, bought the same screenplay, as soon as it had been published as a novel because was no longer original. It was now an adaptation. It had been tested in another market, the executives have every every day in Hollywood that an executive doesn't have to make a decision about anything is a victory for her. She hasn't put her neck out. She hasn't risked anything, you know, if you don't do anything, you'll never do anything wrong, right? So, and every movie that does get made starts with the anticipation by the executives who are responsible for spending the money to produce it. It starts with their expectation that it will fail. And they're trying to figure out how to explain away the anticipated failure of the movie. I don't see how that can do anything other than to suppress creativity and imagination and so on. But you understand how somebody could say if if, if the movie comes out, and it bombs, for example, Bonfire of the Vanities, which is reduced by a friend of mine and a colleague of mine, he's also a professor at UCLA Peter Guber, very successful producer. He was the head of Warner Brothers. He was at Columbia he's produced a lot of major major movies. Well, one of the movies that he produced it was a terrible mom. There's even a book written about about it was Bonfire of the Vanities. And when people said in theater, how could you invest so much money in this turkey?
Alex Ferrari 1:20:01
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Richard Walter 1:20:10
He can, I mean, you must be some lousy executive, we should get rid of you. He has a defense and the defense is Wait a minute. This was a best selling novel by Tom Wolfe. I also had Bruce Willis and Tom Hanks in the movie. The screenplay was adapted by Michael Cristofer, a very, very distinguished, respected writer, the director was Brian De Palma. It's not my fault. It's not my fault. You understand what I'm saying? So suddenly, because the with my own novel when it was sold as a movie, the producer who bought it could say if anybody asked him how to get to get by this, because they want any more books published this, you know, major publisher in New York published this. So I'm not the only one crazy enough to think that there's merit in this. So I've been recommending to writers. That's a contemplate. Write a Screenplay, but instead of showing the screenplay, writing original screenplay, certainly you don't want to do an adaptation of material that you don't own. I mean, they're like dragons. What are you going to do with something if you don't have the underlying rights? So so what I'm recommending is they write an original screenplay, but then instead of mocking the screenplay, at first, they use it as an elaborate outline for their novel, and write it as a novel, and then try to sell the work as a novel. And once it's sold as a novel, they can get action as a screenplay. I've done that multiple times now. And right now I'm working on just finished a novel that's based on a screenplay. I wrote the screenplay last summer. And now I'm finished a draft of the novel, it's just the draft, I still have to do a bunch of work on it. But once you've got the screenplay, most of the heavy list lifting has been done I regard just like we were talking earlier about the the most valuable part of the equation is the story. Once you've got the story or work down, you've got the characters, the dialogue, I mean, most of that's there in the screenplay, isn't it? The turn that into a novel is relatively easy underscore relative. There's, you know, relatively there's not a you know, no, no, writing is easy. But for me, the hardest part of writing is the heavy lifting is in devising, creating the plot because the Plot The story really involves everybody else. Story is character. Story is dialogue. Story is description. It's everything. I mean, it was the richest character. I mean, imagine somebody say, Well, wait a minute, Richie, what about character? isn't that important? Well, who's the greatest character? In all of English language Romantic literature is a hamlet. Certainly, Hamlet would be a good candidate, don't you think? So? What's the description? Have you ever read Hamlet? Do you remember the playwrights description of Hamlet? Here it is. It's three words Prince of Denmark. That's it. There's nothing about melancholy. So where does this hamlet come from? And the answer is from the story, the stuff he does, and the stuff he says inside the context of the story. So it's really, really all about the love of that story. So once the story is worth down, you have the opportunity to retell that story is a novel and it's just easier to write a novel it's easier because you're not stuck with just sight and sound like you are in a movie. You're not. You know, we mentioned George Clooney a moment ago. I read a screenplay called the American I didn't see the movie, the dreadful screenplay. Clooney was in it. I think the only reason George was in it because it was shot near his where he lives in Northern Italy and I lived in Lake Como at the edge of the Swiss border up there and he was shot it up there. That's the only reason I can imagine that. George would have been you know, had anything to do with this movie would be because it was convenient was in the neighborhood. So it's an area that there's a scene in the movie where the main character is sitting is at a cafe, ordering a bottle of wine, he's with a girl, and the waiter comes up and offers a taste of the wine and he samples the wine and it actually says in the script and he takes a sip of the wine. It takes slightly flinty with notes of chestnuts and cinnamon. Wait a minute. It's kind of new. I haven't anybody knows sitting in a movie theater watching them on screen with what something tastes like. You follow what I'm saying?
Dave Bullis 1:24:54
Yeah, I knew exactly what you mean.
Speaker 2 1:24:56
This guy this writer doesn't understand the most fundamental aspects of screenwriting, which is you stuck with sight and sound, it's just sight and sound. It's easier to write another because you're not stuck with you can say what somebody remembers what they think how they feel, you know, the greatest compliment that's ever been paid me is that final draft the software I'm sure you know of it. The screenwriting software has actually created, I don't know if it's available yet. We are creating, they are creating for me in consultation with me the Richard Walter templates, you know, like if you want to write a if you want to write a Simpsons script, for example, you can you can punch up symptoms, you know, there's a pulldown window in final draft, and you can go to Simpsons, and you click that and it'll immediately give you the formatting that that the you know, The Simpsons likes that the Simpsons uses. And I don't mind telling you that colleague of mine has won several Emmys for The Simpsons and a bunch of our students have written for The Simpsons and one of them this makes me sad because he died young in his 40s, a wonderful writer, wonderful guy very successful. In not just in TV, but also in features he wrote Thor, he wrote Supergirl, very, very fine writer. He he was a the the old producer, one of the colleagues, a producer of The Simpsons and a writer for The Simpsons. So final draft has a Simpsons template, they now have a Richard Walter templates. If you if you punch up me, you'll get format that conforms to my particular desires. For example, I don't, when if you write x e x, t, for exterior, you know, it's like x or int, I was taught that you don't put and I, I preach it, you should not put a period after that. And in Final Draft, if you go to the rich Walter template, it'll get rid of the theory that comes after exp. Now somebody might say, Gee, that seems like a pretty petty point. But actually, I think it's the most important the most profound point in almost creative expression. And the point is simply this there shouldn't be anything in the script that doesn't serve this script. That is to say, it doesn't move the story forward. And if you learn if you get into the kind of mindset that leaves out even the period after exterior, then you'll leave out lines of dialogue that you don't need, you leave that whole characters you they don't leave, you leave that whole scenes that you don't need. If you follow what I'm what I'm saying. So in any way, the only reason I'm telling about this is that in the Richard Walter template for final draft, they are now having, we're tweaking it and in the wide margin description of a word like realizes feels, remembers, thinks, appears it's gonna get highlighted. A little zigzaggy line underneath is some attention will be called to it. To ask the writer Do you really want to say this? Is this something that the audience can see or hear? Because if it's an internal, interior mental thing, it has no place in the movie. But in a novel, I mean, everything in it, that's interior, a mental movie has to come out of sight and sound. You know, the Maryland's eyes widen in what can only be the realization that Harry left the gun in the nightstand at the motel, you understand what I'm saying? It's gonna be told from a visual standpoint, answering the question, nevermind the reader of this ink on the page, I want to know how the viewer in the movie theater watching it on the screen is going to know this information. And but in a novel, you can just spill it out. And you can also write in the past tense, or in the future tense, I wrote a novel. Instead in the past, in the present in the future, and in the past, I tell it in the past. And in the future, I tell him in the future tense and in the present, I tell it in the in the present tense, she goes to the door, she opens if he stands, you know what I'm saying. So you don't have to worry about that in a novel you can get you can do anything you want. Also, novels are longer, and it's easier to write longer than shorter. Not everybody gets that. There's a it's like it's easier to ride a bike fast and slow. You know what I'm saying?
Dave Bullis 1:29:39
It's very true. You're absolutely right.
Speaker 2 1:29:41
The the there's a letter from Hemingway, there's a very famous letter from Ernest Hemingway. He was in Cuba. I think he was working on the old man in the sea. And he wrote a letter to his legendary editor Maxwell Bergens.
Alex Ferrari 1:29:59
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Richard Walter 1:30:09
It was nine pages long on and on and on, and on and on about this and that the other thing of aspects of the script of the manuscript attack script for old men to see and this and then finally, halfway down the middle of page nine, he says, Well, that's about it for now, Max. He says, Please forgive me for writing such a long letter, I didn't have the time to read a short one. It takes longer to be quick and to the point and to call and select and do the things that artists have to do. So I think it's really something to be said for writers taking another tack, trying their script out as a novel, trying to get some traction there. And if they do, suddenly, it becomes viable as a movie project, because it's no longer original, they've taken the quotes, curse, bones, quote, off of it, by removing its originality and making it an adaptation. So just some thoughts. Since once, you know,
Speaker 3 1:31:11
It's funny, you mentioned Richard, because I'm actually a final draft, not only affiliate, but I also am part of their, their program where we like beta testing. So whose program I missed? Oh, I'm sorry. I'm actually a part of final drafts. Final Draft? Yeah, not only their affiliate program, but also their Beta testing. So like, I get the new stuff before anybody else, you know, and give feedback. I haven't had a chance to actually check that template out. But went, but I'm going to keep my eye out. Because
Speaker 2 1:31:39
Yeah, you know, I've been working with all 100 series, who was one of their guys a great guy. And I don't know if it's available or not yet, I think it's an a, you know, like, you can sort of upload it if, depending what, you know, what version you have, and so on.
Speaker 3 1:31:55
Yeah, and because right now, the latest thing that I've been beta testing is, they have a new app out for the iPhone. And that's what I've been beta testing a lot of just, you know, giving them feedback. And, you know, Hey, I like to see this feature, I wouldn't like to see this feature, you know, stuff like that. And I'm gonna keep an eye out for that template. I'm going to execute, because if it's available, I will definitely upload that as well.
Speaker 2 1:32:20
Thank you. I'm honored that you would, it's not radically different. But I am a big believer in lessons more, no continued. Absolutely nothing. I've argued for years and years and years, that if you can embrace this very, very fundamental precept, which is what we were just saying earlier, that it's just sight and sound. And if you can add to that, just one thing, and that is that every sight, every sound must move the story forward, some palpable way, some identifiable way. It doesn't matter what you write, that doesn't matter what the so called genre is, it doesn't matter what happens, people will be drawn to you can even have nothing happened. And if somehow nothing happening, can move the story forward. People will pay very, very rapt attention to nothing happening. And I'll give you an example of that in a student of mine. God bless him he blurbs my book, very prominently Alexander Payne in one of his best movies, I think about Schmidt, starring Jack Nicholson, I think it's Nicholson's best work. The movie opens with Jack just sitting alone. He's an insurance salesman, it's it's clearly his last moment, literally his last minute on the job before he retires. And he just sits at the desk, and absolutely nothing happens. But the camera kind of wanders around the room. And you can see the only motion in the room is the the sweep second hand of the wall clock, and it's ticking off the seconds, it's like 40 seconds before five o'clock. And when it hits five, he gets up and he leaves, you know, that's the scene. But it tells you so much about that man, and how punctual he is and how afraid he is and how this he is and how bad he is and so on that you get it, you get really, really drawn in into that. So that's why my template if you can get into it, if you can find it, you'll see that it's it really preaches minimalism, that you should keep everything off the page that you can keep off the page. You know, if you look at my books, you see the front page of a screenplay, I have a model of a front plate of strings, and then I have a model of what not to do. And the model of the what you should do is just the title of the script. The name of the writer, it shouldn't say written by, or even the lead by much less than original screenplay written by in case you think you're worried somebody might think it's a chicken sandwich sandwich or a bowling ball or something. Well, what if it just says by a written, written by, what does that tell you, it tells you nothing. It simply says, bottom dollar. You know, Sam Smith, we're gonna show you this script is called Buck bound dollar. And this guy, Sam Smith probably wrote it, you know, and then on, the only other thing you should have on that page is a phone number and an email address, your contact info, now if you have an agent, she's going to be sending out on her own, you know, she's not going to want potential buyers to contact the client, she's going to want them to contact her. And by the way, they also should not want to be contacted directly be suspicious of anybody contacted directly, whoever representative, if they're legitimate. If the producer was legitimate, they should be willing to and eager to call the producer, you know what I'm saying? So, so it's different if the thing is so that if it's a speculative script, it you just have the name of the script, the title of the script and the name of the writer. And as I say, a phone number one phone number, only one phone number, I have a bunch of phone numbers, I have my UCLA number, I have my home number, I have a cell number, I have a special number, my home office, they don't want all of that they don't want my mother's number, they don't want to my lawyers, I'm going to just one number, and one email address so that you can be found if people people are interested. And as I say, if it even simply says by somebody who puts that on the script on the front page doesn't get it that right on the cover of the script, there's information that serves no purpose at all, what is the likelihood that somebody's going to miss that, but get character and story and dialogue and all of the sophisticated and heady and provocative precepts and principles that apply to the autograph in the business of screenwriting? You know, it's, you know, not encouraging. So, again, that's what you'll see is very, very minimal. Anything that that can be lost, you should lose. And if you're in doubt about something, you sort of feel well, maybe you need this, but maybe then you lose it. If you're in doubt, throw it out. Just have stuff that absolutely must be there. And it's so easy to figure out what must be there. You just ask yourself, What if it was there? Does it still make sense? If it makes sense. Without it being given wasn't needed? If the whole thing falls apart? Without, you know, when it's not there, then it was needed? You follow what I'm saying? It's like there's a there's a joke. guy goes into a library. And he steps up to the desk and he says to the librarian, I'll have a hotdog and a coke. And french fries, please. And the librarian system, sir. This is a library. It's just Oh, I'm sorry. I have a ham. I have a hot dog. whispers it. You get the joke. It's like you're not supposed to talk loud in the library. He thinks that she's reprimanding him for talking too loudly rather than for ordering food at a library desk. You follow the joke? Yeah, absolutely. So the reason I tell you that joke is you can imagine if that were a screenplay, unfortunately, screenplay. You absolutely have to have the parenthetical direction whispers sure this is a library carry. whispering and then the line again, you with me? If if, if you don't have it, the person who's going isn't going to whisper and the whole joke is lost. So you needed the parenthetical. But that's the exception. One of my great battles is against parents medicals. It's a sure sign of amateurism when there are a lot of parents medicals. Riley drolly angrily smiling. You know, sadly, Shakespeare got through 36 or 37 plays. Not a single parenthetical, you know, Hamlet, melancholic, never. So you want the least. And you can figure out what the least is by asking yourself, What if this word here? Does it still make sense, then we didn't need it. So that answers the question that every artist is confronted with, which is what needs to be in the work and what doesn't. And why doesn't everybody do that? And the answer is it takes time to do that. And that's what people won't give it. They just won't give it the time that it takes.
Speaker 3 1:39:52
You know, one of my, one of my mentors, Bill Boyle, he actually wrote a book called The visual MindScape of the screenplay,
Alex Ferrari 1:40:01
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Dave Bullis 1:40:11
Many and he goes into that in depth that you have to take out anything that is not, you know, it's always about what's on the screen all. And it always and he's in that way. Because he says he always would see people hand in screenplays and they would say things that, like, you know what someone is thinking in a screenplay and he's like, show that stuff.
Richard Walter 1:40:35
Exactly. Exactly. You know, Evelyn remembers that the she left the car idling. Well, what does that look like on the screen? Somebody's remembering something, you know? And how are you going to know? Let's say the actor looks up remembering enacting for Dummies if there is such a thing, and is able to put on the remembering face if there is such a thing. Then how do we know what they remember it? Again, it's so simple. It's it's really very simple. Very simple to know what to do to succeed. Why doesn't everybody see because it's hard to do it. It's even though I get to it, but I know exactly what to do to hit a home run. I'm sitting here about two miles from Dodger Stadium. And I know exactly what you have to do. You have to get to bat around in the right place at the right time. The difference between me and you know, Babe Ruth is that he could do it. He didn't merely know how to do but actually could do it. I know how to do it, but I can't do it. I don't have the equipment to do it. So it's really you know, that's really all there is to it. And again, the reason people don't do it is they get in too much of a hurry. I had a writer just tell me it's already. This is already a third draft. Well, come on David cap. I bet you know the name K Oh, EPP, a former student of mine, a writer director he wrote, you know, Mission Impossible. Jurassic Park one and two. He right now he's a writing of the second chapter of the Ron Howard of the Davinci Code. I mean, he's a gigantic successful writer, also a very, very sweet man. He says the secret of his success is 17 drafts, he knows he can get through 17 drafts, he says it takes 17 drafts, to hear somebody complaining to me about their third draft, you know, they don't like hearing me telling them, you're just getting started, you're gonna if you could get one more draft out of this. And you'll only need about 30 more after that, you know, and that stops a lot of people. They just don't have the what some people call the zits flesh, you know, the ability to sit there. The flesh, tolerate just sitting there, reworking it, reworking it, reworking it,
Speaker 3 1:43:11
You know, in my own experience, you know, Richard, I wrote a, it was a comedy horror movie. And it was at a at a summer camp, and summer camp. It's a made up summer camp that I had. And the the, I'm about seven or eight drifts in now. And some people feel that the stress, some people have said, who read it, they said this in these drafts are better. Some are saying, you're starting to get maybe a little too far away from the original concept. And you know, and now, you know, I sort of judge for myself, I sort of have to say, you know, what, who's right in this situation? Well, you know, and I sort of go back and, and there was a one point I'm going to be honest with you, I was so burned out for rewriting this thing. I was like, I was fearing opening up final draft and looking at this thing again.
Speaker 2 1:44:02
Well, that's every runner has that experience, it's actually a good sign, but do go on.
Speaker 3 1:44:09
And at that point, I actually, you know, I printed it out. And then my favorite thing to do was actually just print it out. And I make marks with just a pen, you know, sort of I cut myself off from all technology. Just me and you know, 90 are
Speaker 2 1:44:23
Excellent, excellent thing to do. I also think it really makes a lot of sense to write something else, put it aside, work on something else, and then you'll be able to come back to to it with fresh eyes. You know, over the last number of years, I've become a fanatic crossword puzzle guy. I do the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle, every Sunday. And one thing that I learned doing crossword puzzles is you know, you go through, you get what you can get and then there's stuff you just can't get. And finally just reading all the clues and you fill them maybe a little Less than half the thing and you're just stuck, you can't get another freaking thing. You just can't. And you feel defeated and stupid and so on, you put it aside, just go and do something else come back to it later you sit down and suddenly, wham, wham, wham, wham, wham, this thing, guy thing, this thing. It all leaps, you know, into relief that you can write in and almost run your hand over and feel it like a freeze on a temple, you know, a carved marble freeze. And it teaches me that just like the body gets tired, the muscles get tired, the mind gets tired. And when you rest the muscles and they recover. So also can you rest the mind and it recovers and you look away from something. You look at something too careful, you really can't see it. You kind of look away. And then you look back there. It's suddenly as I'm reminded of when I was a undergraduate student in Binghamton, New York. As a you know, history major in college. Binghamton is in Broome County, New York. And I remember going through some original letters that had to do with Broome County history. And they had been written in like the early 1800s. And there was a, you know, they were concluded in some state archives and kind of the archive or something like that they were contained there. They were housed there. And they're written in this ancient kind of script, you know, handwriting. And sometimes I just can't read what it says, I remember my teacher telling me you're looking at it through hard look away from it, then kind of sneak up on it. And, and suddenly, suddenly, in context, it all leaps out, you know. So if you take time away from you, you really stuck with your script. You don't let your eighth draft and when I say you, I mean any writer. What about putting it aside for a while and work on something else, and then come back to it. And as far as you're getting too far away from your original concept, maybe there's something better than your original concept, maybe you've taken it to a place. That's even better for it to be one more thing on this on this subject. And it goes back to David kept in the 17 draft. He says very often, the latest drafts mimic the earliest drafts, you sort of get back to the beginning of it. And you get back to that context. That original love concept that you had. And that might seem like a ferocious waste of time. But it wasn't you needed to go through all of that to see that this is the way it really ought to be. I was talking to writer only the other week, a few weeks ago who was I ran advanced seen him in a long time a guy I know pretty well. But I'm seeing a long time. And he says well, much better now. What do you mean? He said, Well, I was stuck. For 10 months, this year, I was struggling with this script. And I just felt pressured and hesitated and stumbled and just couldn't make any progress with it at all. And it haunted me and tortured me. And then finally, two weeks ago, I just settled in and said, Screw this, I'm gonna do this. And I went right through it. And I got it, you know, and nailed it. And it's just great. You know, and that's why I'm upset. I don't understand why. Why is that upsetting? It sounds like, like a nice thing. He said, Well, I struggled with this thing for nine or 10 months. Why don't I just do this 10 months ago, you know, and I wouldn't have had all of the darkness and all of the pain that I had. And I said to him, you couldn't have done this 10 months ago, you need it to struggle and suffer, and have all of this pain and live all of this life of the last nine to 10 months to become the person that you are that could you know who's also the person that could finish the script to write the script. So that's the way it goes, you know, nothing new about writers beating up on themselves.
Dave Bullis 1:48:50
So what I ended up doing was I ended up actually, I did work on something else. I just at that point, I said, You know what, I think I should just take a break from this. And, and I'm thinking about coming back to it very soon. And cuz it's been about probably a month or more for him. And I think now it's probably better if you can come around full circle now. And I just again, start draft nine see where that takes me.
Richard Walter 1:49:14
Look, my first novel was, I told you about it earlier, I had written it as a screenplay and couldn't get any action on the road as a novel and then sold it as a screenplay. years later. I, by the way, taught me a lot of work, you know, it was an adolescent coming of age story. And given that in my drafts of American Graffiti, which is, you know, an adolescent loss of innocence rite of passage.
Alex Ferrari 1:49:50
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Richard Walter 1:49:59
Coming your way extraor I was able to get a lot of work I was kind of the go to guy for adolescent coming of age stories, loss of innocence stories in Hollywood. That novel after I saw and it's a kind of a, I grew up in New York City and I sang do up in the streets with friends of mine. And so it's just about the screw up group that never really succeeds. But they learned that if you sing in harmony, you live in harmony, you know. And after I saw it, I started thinking about it as a stage play. You know, some musical, but I, I needed a songwriter. And then after I saw Jersey Boys, I've seen it several times on Broadway. I realized no, it could be a jukebox musical. And so I, I rewrote it as I adapted it for the musical theater using existing tunes, you know, just like the Carole King Show and the Motown music musical. And Jersey Boys, you know, are just examples. There are a lot of them now that are not using original music. But that's why they call jukebox musical because they use existing tunes. I suddenly realized I could do it as a jukebox musical. So I rewrote it as a jukebox musical. Two years ago, it was a workshop at UCLA. There was a humble read through sing through, directed by one of the professors in the musical theater program in our sister department theater was the most satisfying, fulfilling creative experience I've ever had in my career. This humble little read through. Now there's a there's somebody eagerly showing the play around trying to get a production for it. Probably nothing will come of it. But but it might, you know, the crazier things have happened. But the point is, and the reason I bother you with it, telling you about it is Look how long I've been in business with this thing. It goes back over 40 years. Between the time that I first started outlining what became the screenplay, which ultimately became the novel and so on my most recent novel, which which I brag to you made the Times list. I also wrote originally as a screenplay. i And I'm talking about over 30 years ago, probably 31 or 32 years ago, I wrote it as a screenplay. It was optioned and dropped an option and dropped I made some money on it. It was optioned by, you know, an Oscar winning multi Oscar winning independent company, very prestigious companies. I made some money on it, but I never got anywhere with it and never got produced. So eventually a student of mine at UCLA, I was talking about the project, he said, he'd love to read it. So I convinced me to let him read it. And he came to me and he said, You should use this as an outline for a novel, A comic novel. So I did. And when that was done, I showed it around to the publishing business, and I couldn't get any interest in it at all. All I had with it was frustration and heartache. And they say disappointment, then, I mean, I'd made some money on it, you know, in the early days when it was a film script, and I got those options, but generally, it had been a pretty big disappointment. Then I met an editor in I'm sorry, I met a very powerful agent. I have been so privileged in my life. To do the things that I've done. One of them is, for five summers, I would take the whole family to Maui for the Writers Conference late in the summer. And if it had been in a Motel Six, that'd be okay. It's Maui, but it wasn't in the Motel Six it was in the Grand Wailea, five diamond luxury spa, hotel resort, you know, just an incredible place where I would meet all of these heavyweights from both literature and film. We mentioned Stephen King earlier, Stephen was there. And I mean, they had world class writers both in the movie business and in the literature business. And I remember I met an agent there and she said to me, I very powerful New York agent. And she agreed to I pitched the project to her and she agreed to read it on the mainland when she got back to the mainland. So I sent it to her in New York. And she called me up and she said, and this is like 20 this is 20 years after I had first written in and about 15 years ago, if you with me. She said, I have to tell you, I read your your TypeScript. And I think it's great. And I want to represent it and I'll represent it exactly as it is if you want me to. I'll send it out exactly as you've written it. However, I have an editor here in the office that I work with And I think you should get notes from Miriam. And if you don't like the notes you know, then how would that, you know, Rama lay off and I feel the book as is. But I have to tell you, Richard, she said to me that when my office work with Miriam, I sell this stuff right away. Now I charge 1000s and 1000s and 1000s of dollars for notes, and they're not charging me a nickel for this, you understand? Now, I want you to say to them, please, I'm not interested in rewrite had nothing but grief from this project. And I'm depressed and lost. At the moment, this moment in my life, and I hardly feel like going into some old you know, thing that's been nothing but disappointment all the way. And you've already said you'd show it as this or just show it as it is. I didn't say this mind you, David, I just was this was my thinking you understand? So I said to myself, don't tell her how much you hate the notes until you see the notes. In other words, wait for the notes. And then tell them that yeah, you know, you really appreciate Miriam doing what she did. But no, you want to stick with what you have and the hell with it. So you don't have to do any more work, right? And by the way, who the fuck is this Miriam, some 23 year old who just got out of you know, creative writing major from Swarthmore, or Bryn Mawr one of them Moore's, you know, don't they know who I am, and on and on, you know, that kind of insulated view of self that a writer can get become his own worst enemy. Of course, I said, none of that was that was my thinking. So finally, the notes come from Miriam. By the way, it's Marian go to rich, she's now a partner in the agency. It's good. This'll go to rich now. And I read Miriam's notes. And you know what, David, the notes, my heart sinks like a stone when I read these notes, because they have such good notes. And I know I'm looking at my worst enemy. And when I brush my teeth, and then I shave, if you follow me, if I don't get my butt in the chair, my hands on the keys and find the old files and get get back into it, right. So I certainly didn't want to do that. But I did. And by the way, the moment I started, I've written two three sentences, I suddenly was born again, the fog lifted, the depression was gone, I was healed by the wonderful nurturing juices that flowed through the system when you when you, you know, get involved in creative expression. And it took me a couple of months, you know, to get the, the the script attended to in the way that had been recommended. And then I got it back to the agency. And bingo, they sold it right away. As I told you, it's made the Times list. bestseller, you know, it's a Times bestseller. And there was a lot of movie action around it. But nothing ever came of it as a movie. Now, if all that ever comes of it as it was a best selling novel. That's such a bad thing, isn't it? But guess what? I'm going to London, I'm going to be at the London screenwriters festival in October. And a British producer called me. He said that he's he's actually American producer, but he's British based. He's London base. And he said he has. This was a few years ago, this was three or four years ago, he come upon the novel, and he thought it make a great movie. And he wanted to option the rights to it. Well, nothing ever came of that more frustration and disappointment. Now suddenly, he calls me, just coincidentally, I'm going to be in London in the fall. And he says Guess what he made a movie. With a he produced a movie that was directed by a new director, a short film. And on the strength of that short film, that director has been signed by a very, very prominent agency. And they have asked him to bring projects to them that he would like to do. So he asked this producer and producer called me and said, Is your novel still available? And it is. So right now, as we're talking, it's being shown not by me, but by a an artist who has been signed by a major agency who have asked him to show them stuff that he wants to do. Do you understand how much better that is for the material to be exposed to them that way then for me, the author to call their attention to it. You follow what I'm saying? Yeah. Oh, yeah, absolutely. And on top of that, it's, it's conceivable that they will be showing it to producers and production companies. I would rather be represented if anything comes of it by a lawyer, rather than an agent, but if they want to go out with this thing, and they approached me, they want to want me to let them represent them on and I'll do that enough in a heartbeat.
Alex Ferrari 1:59:58
We'll be right back after a word from Our sponsor. And now back to the show.
Richard Walter 2:00:07
It's better for me to have them motivated, you know, extra motivated, you follow my reasoning there. If they can represent me, as well as the director, they're going to be that much more motivated to sell the thing. So the likelihood is nothing will come of it. But here we are. We're talking in 2015. midway through the year, just about, and I'm still in business on this thing that I started writing in, like 1980. So you see what a mistake it is for writers to do what they often do, which is a write a script that doesn't sell, that's the end of it, they think it was a fair, mistake, mistake, mistake, mistake mistake.
Speaker 3 2:00:44
Yeah, and you know, that that's very true. I have a friend of mine, also who he's in his 40s or 50s, but he wrote a screenplay, you know, in his 20s. And then suddenly, you know, that's becoming a light again, and you know, you know, again, like you were saying, you know, it's, it's amazing how these things, get new life, you know, you're good
Speaker 2 2:01:07
With people's, you know, he won the Oscar for unforgiven. It was the best, best movie that year, Clint hung onto that script for 20 years. And Clint made another movie that was very successful, didn't win the Oscar, but it was very successful about the, the Secret Service guy takes the bullet for the President and in the line of fire. And that's another script that was hanging around for 1516 years, the writer of that script was packing his the trunk of his car and getting ready to go back into feet with his tail between his legs. Back to New Hampshire, when the phone rings, it's not possible oaklins company. And, you know, they want to know that they want him to know that they wanted to come in for some meetings about brushing up the script there, they now have a schedule, they're gonna go ahead and you know, produce it for 88 million hours, or something like that. You just never know, people don't understand that when a script doesn't sell, it's not the end, it's just the beginning, that script might sell eventually. But even if it doesn't, it's a sample of your craft, it could lead to representation, it could lead to a development deal on another notion that you have in mind, it could lead to a rewrite assignment. I've seen all of these things happen. They've happened to me they've happened to writers that I know. And that is why it is a terrible, self defeating mistake. To imagine that a script that doesn't sell that's the end of it. It's a failure. The very first script I ever wrote, I wrote in a class at USC, it was in the legendary. The instructor was the legendary Erwin on blacker was George's the teacher and John mulia is his teacher and on and on. The that script never sold. But I got top flight representation as a result of it, I got a onto staff that universal here I was a young kid, I wasn't. I was in my 20s. And I had an office at Universal with my name on the door to a parking place next to Paul Newman's parking place, I noticed a ridiculously generous salary, at least it seemed that way at the time actually adjusted for inflation was pretty generous. And it all came about from a script that has been sold, you know, to this day. So to consider that script to be a failure is noticing. Yeah, and very, very much business. The business is hard enough on writers writers don't need to be hard on themselves, is the point that I'm making?
Dave Bullis 2:03:49
Yeah. And that's that's an excellent point. And that sort of leads me into my last questions. I know, we've been talking about two hours, I haven't taken up a lot.
Speaker 2 2:03:58
Yet. We want to make sure we do cover we I do. Talk a little bit about the summer session that we offer. So go ahead and ask me a question. And then I'll talk a little bit about that.
Speaker 3 2:04:07
That's actually the question I was gonna ask you was, you know, I know you have an upcoming summer session. And this is the only time of the year where non UCLA students can sign up. And I wondered if you could just, you know, talk a little bit about the class and and you know, for anyone listening who's interested in signing up?
Richard Walter 2:04:23
Well, the first thing I'll say is just the housekeeping. If you want to find out official information about it. You can do that by simply going to my website, Richard walker.com. There is no asset at the end of my name, Richard walter.com. And I think the very first thing on the site is a link that will take you to the UCLA site that describes enrollment procedures and tells you a little bit of class it also tells you something wrong about this class, which is that there are certain prerequisites for the summer session, all prerequisites are waived. And the class is open to other classes is spent actually designed for the summer session, I've taught it for 30, over 30 years now. It meets starting on June 22, Monday, June 22. Monday afternoon for the and for the next five, that is a total of six, Monday afternoon sessions. It's not electrical, it's it's hands on writing course, where you get the main activity of the classes, the in class examination of in progress scripts being written by students in the class. So you get not only the support of the teacher, and the teaching assistants, but also your fellow writers around the table. And one thing that has touched me very deeply all these years easily is how generous everyone is all the writers are with everybody else, how much support that the writers give each other. I feel like I've learned much more than I've ever taught, you know, being at UCLA, and my students or my teachers. So you get all of that alive, it's not online, it's alive in a classroom. And it is a rare course in that. It's very difficult to get into it. Even if you're a registered matriculated UCLA student is very hard to get into an advanced film class, with senior faculty like me. So this is an opportunity to do that not only for UCLA students, but even for students who are not enrolled at UCLA. And by the way, everybody gets eight credits for it. Those credits are useful at anybody, for anybody at any university of California campus, but also that transferrable depending upon the attitude of the institution that transferable to other institutions. Though, I would say most people taking the class really aren't interested in the credits, they're interested in getting the attention and consideration that, you know, our regular students get when they write their screenplays. So it's a really upbeat, six weeks together, and it's limited enrollment, it's almost sold out. But there is still some room for some people I want, you know that I don't get paid per student, I don't get paid on a per student fee. I rather I get a flat fee. And the only thing I tell you that is that I'm not trying to self aggrandize. Here, I'm not against self promotion. And I'm not against making money. But I'm not I don't get any extra money if, you know, extra students enroll or anything like I just want anything like that. I just want your readers and listeners, the people that you reach, I want them to know that this is a rare opportunity. It's not that widely known, it is available to them. And we we crank up two weeks from Monday. It's not too late to register. people commute by the way. It's obviously most convenient for people in Southern California region, but they want people who commute from all across the country. I had somebody last summer commuting from Illinois, the previous summer, I had a couple of labor, a doctor and his wife coming commuting every Monday, they would fly in to LA from El Paso and take the plants and then fly back, you know, either late that night or the following morning. That's how motivated people want to take the class and I would commend it to you know, one of the people that you reach.
Dave Bullis 2:08:25
And, you know, I've actually I've known people who have actually taken the course. And you know, I'll probably I'll mention the names when we get off Richard Cooper, I know you probably remember a few of them. And they spoke very, very highly of the course. Oh, thank you. And, you know, and again, I mean, to work with someone who has actually been in the field has been in the trenches, it's just, you know, it's unbelievable. And, you know, I again, I will link to your your upcoming class in the show notes, you know, and everyone else who were coming to check out Richards book, essentials of screenwriting. I have a copy behind me, I swear, Richard, you can't see it. But it's on the the massive bookshelf behind me. But I've taken up so much of your time today, I want to say thank you very much.
Richard Walter 2:09:10
I enjoyed chatting with you. I really, truly did. David, I would love to have you back on if you ever wanted to. Absolutely. You know how to reach Kathy, she kind of handles my calendar. And I'd love to come back. It'd be a pleasure to do that.
Dave Bullis 2:09:23
Excellent. Because there's a ton of questions that we never got a chance to. I never got a chance to ask you because I mean, there's so many and there's so many things we could talk about.
Richard Walter 2:09:31
Well, one thing I've learned about the questions and answers, and that is really good answers just leave lead to more questions, you know, so and there's nothing wrong with that. That is the nature of learning.
Dave Bullis 2:09:40
Absolutely. You know, everyone you could check with Richard at Richard walter.com. And Rich exactly right. And I wish I want to say one more time. Thank you again for coming on. And I will thanks for having me, David. Thank you. Oh, it's my pleasure. I still look forward to chatting with you again.
Richard Walter 2:09:56
We will do it for sure.
Speaker 3 2:09:58
Amazing. Everyone, thanks again for listening. And Richard, I wish you have a great day. And, you know best of luck with all your projects.
Richard Walter 2:10:06
Back to you. And thank you so kindly Thanks. Take care now. Bye bye bye.
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