I’m so excited to bring this episode to the BPS Tribe. Today we have legendary screenwriter James V. Hart. James is the screenwriter behind some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters like HOOK, directed by Steven Spielberg based on an idea by Hart’s then 6-year-old son, Jake, BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND, directed by Brian Henson, and CONTACT, directed by Robert Zemeckis. MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN, TUCK EVERLASTING, AUGUST RUSH, SAHARA, LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER: THE CRADLE OF LIFE, AUGUST RUSH and many more.
“No one has a job in our business until you type ‘the end’.” — James V. Hart
Dracula has a special place in my heart as it is one of the major influences that made me become a filmmaker.
James has served on the faculty of the Columbia University Graduate Film program. Served as mentor and advisor at the Austin Writer’s Ranch, Sundance Film Labs, and the Equinoxe-Europe Writing Workshops for over 20 years in 11 countries. Hart has also conducted the Puglia Experience for writers and producers held in the Puglia region in Italy.
During the making of Dracula Francis Ford Coppola called James up and told him he hated everything about the story and the movie they had shot. James sat down with Francis and beat up the film and story. Frustrated that this happened, James set out to develop a tool that could help him map out the screenplay’s emotion before they ever start shooting. The HART CHART was born.
Originally launched online at the 2015 Austin Film Festival, James has developed a proven story mapping tool for serious writers working in television, film, novels, plays, and other literary forms, with a guarantee you will never face a blank page again.
James and I discuss THE HARTCHART, his journeys in Hollywood, how he became a 20-year overnight success, what it was like working with master filmmakers like Coppola, Speilberg, and Zemeckis, and how he breakdowns a blockbuster story idea.
This is one episode for the record books. Enjoy my conversation with James V. Hart.
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Alex Ferrari 0:48
I'd like to welcome to the show James V. Hart. How you doing James?
James V. Hart 4:55
So far, so good.
Alex Ferrari 4:56
Thank you so much for coming on the show. I am We were talking a little bit before we started recording. I am a huge fan of many, many of the movies you've done you, you kind of were there at the beginning of my journey as a filmmaker with with hook and Dracula specifically and we'll we'll get into all of those as well. But I mean, you've you've done a lot, sir. In your in your, your, your tenure in Hollywood.
James V. Hart 5:23
I did have a little help. Along with substantial help.
Alex Ferrari 5:28
Yes, exactly. And it's and of course, everyone always looks at you know, your careers like yours like Oh, God, he you know, he just started off with Spielberg but now he's, he was hustling a little bit prior to hook.
James V. Hart 5:41
I was 44 years old I was the overnight sensation has been standing in the corner for 20 years.
Alex Ferrari 5:47
So let's let's get into that. How did you get started in the business?
James V. Hart 5:51
Well, I grew up in the in the 60s, went to film school at a nondescript film school in Texas and and I had always my dad was a big driving movie guy. So he was always throwing us in the car and popping popcorn and going to the movies and, and we had a place in Fort Worth called the gateway theater. So on Saturdays, my mom would dump us there. 25 cents. We got two features, five cereals, 100 cartoons, and we spent the whole day at the movies. And then we go home and reenact the film's I didn't know you could I didn't know how to how to get in the movie business. And then and then we started going as teenagers on Friday night, we got really interesting. But I became obsessed with films and from very early stage and my parents were their credit never talked me out of it. And we didn't know. So I went to SMU which had no very little known film school but a gentleman named William Jones. Are the head of our department brought in some of the hidden relationships all over him all over the country. I mean, George Roy Hill came to you in 1969 with a wet gate answer print but you don't know what that is a way to answer.
Alex Ferrari 7:08
I actually didn't answer but I actually I actually shot film back in the day so I I'm aware I am a wet gate answer print of Butch and Sundance.
James V. Hart 7:17
Nobody seen it. There were just 30 of us. We spent five hours of George Roy Hill after watching the movie discussing Alan pakula brought still cuckoo Dennis Hopper hidden and and jack showed up with EZ rider. And I watched you know every co ed in the room sign jack Nicholson's arm with their phone number. So we didn't have you know, we could text in those days. Right. Right. So and so and we didn't know and we weren't we weren't UCLA we weren't, you know, NYU, or neither of us in the big film schools. But we had this amazing access. I mean, Robert armour brought mash the screen, oh my god, that's at SMU and it saved the film. They were gonna dump it because the they were doing Torah Torah or some big. They were just letters. And the reaction in Texas at the at our film festival changed the course of that film. So I was I didn't know how blessed we were. I thought everybody you know,
Alex Ferrari 8:16
Robert Altman and jack nicholson and Dennis Hopper walk and
James V. Hart 8:19
you're hanging out with him and stuff, you know, and and so and we made films, we made narrative, you know, 30 minute color films and at SMU and just nondescript film school and decided that, you know, I didn't go to Vietnam, I got lucky. And I just told my mom and dad I wanted to make a movie business.
Alex Ferrari 8:41
They said, okay, and this is what the time and this is a time when the movie business. That wasn't even a considered a career.
James V. Hart 8:48
Like that's not a thing. To the 60s and 70s were exploding in the indie film world national address. I have to point to lm Kit Carson, who came to kit was one of the leaders of the indie film movement. And David Holtzman diaries sort of set the standard the Jim McBride film, changed everything. kit was a journalist and also wrote criticism and everything was he was a an amazing person he got Wes Anderson started art BB was part of nobody starts with Andersen business. And he was part of that. So he came and lectured at our class that we only had 15 students in our film class. There were 30 in the department. Right? We were lined up bolex. As you know, I remember. And Kip came to show us David Holtzman diary, which if you haven't seen is an incredible first kind of mockumentary or first kind of documentary that wasn't really a documentary. And I asked a few questions during the session. And afterwards, he said, Come on, let's go have coffee. And he took me to the on the campus there and we went to the student center had coffee and he basically was saying, This is what you're going to do. You're going to Right. And in those days you didn't think about being a writer you thought about being a director, the director a superstar, you know, and, and it was right he was sort of outed me and got me thinking about the possibility and associate Coppola had started zoetrope there was independent film and didn't Dennis change the world with easy writer? Five Easy Pieces. Bob mapleson them in the in the money Helman. You know, were these groundbreaking directors that were doing stuff their way. So my friend and I got in our van. We sent our movie to Francis Coppola, American zoetrope and we drove to California in our van. And we went to Los Angeles and knocked on the door there at TPC at the rave, Wilson's production company, met with him. And then we drove up to San Francisco and set in San Francisco, his office reception room for a week. Really, every day we were the guys from Texas. We came here to see Mr. Coppola. We sent him our film, you know. And the dragon lady, of course said well, you know, he's really busy. And this was a British at the very beginning of zoetrope. This was like this was I mean,
Alex Ferrari 11:18
it had THX been released yet had THX been released yet or
James V. Hart 11:21
not yet. There's just just just released. He was doing rain people, right. And so George Lucas would come in and out, you know, there was a God who did the thing, the director who did write stuff,
Alex Ferrari 11:37
which was Oh, yeah, I know. He's talking about yeah, I forgot his
James V. Hart 11:40
San Francisco directors. That whole crew was brilliant. Brilliant. cinematographers cable Deschanel, Caleb Deschanel, you know, in and out. And we sat there all week long. We're back. You know, she will, you know, he's really busy. I've told him, you're here, you know. And finally, on Friday, we didn't get the hint. You know, it's like, finally she said, you know, he's leaving for the weekend. He's really not going to be able to see you. And we said, well, we'll come back Monday. She said, Well, he's going to be gone for a very long time. So about this time I see through the little glass hallway portal window, you know, your comms Copeland, he had Jerry Garcia hair in those days. Yeah. And he opens the door and walks into the reception room, we get Mr. Copeland Mr. Kabila where the guys from Texas, and I know the dragon ladies behind us going, you know, and Francis didn't say a word. He just wheels pivots and heads right back through the door and waved at us over his shoulder and says, keep making movies. And Steven and I went, Wow, Francis Coppola just told us to keep making movies. Wow. Not knowing of course, we were being really blown off. And Francis did get Steven, my my partner then in filmmaking, a drama, or Roger Corman kill that we're shooting in Texas. So he, he did come through, but years later, when we were doing Dracula, I told him the story. And he said, You know how many guys like you showed up my office? I have no idea. I can't remember a thing about this. Thank you, sir.
Alex Ferrari 13:13
Thank you. Mr. Coppola. Thank you.
James V. Hart 13:15
That gave us the bug. We went back to Texas at Princeton Kobo said for us to keep making movies, which wasn't a lot, which was a lie,
Alex Ferrari 13:22
which wasn't a lie.
James V. Hart 13:24
So we raised money in Texas and shot a film in Europe that Leon Capitan has directed who if you google him, you'll find out who he worked with the great directors and committee directors got in a lot of festivals. Ken brought it out to LA to sell it. It was it was when Dirty Harry was popular. We were doing a European style movie about two hitchhikers from North Carolina hitchhiking around Europe during the summer. And what was happening is we're more like Truffaut, we didn't have any killings or car chases or right but it got it got us It won a lot of awards at festivals and even Peter guber saw it said, I hope my first movie is this good. So we kept being encouraged. We kept being killed with kindness. You know, and, and I didn't start writing until I wrote in high school, but I never did know it was a job. And we were raising money for another couple of other bad Texas films that were nightmares. And the scripts kept coming in and I kept going, I don't, this is not good. So my friend Bill Kirby, William Chamberlain, Kirby, the Name of the Rose, that he wrote, he did Halla he wrote how he wrote stunt man a bunch of stuff, he was my mentor. And we started writing together and wrote several scripts and never got made but they they gave us a profile. And the first script I wrote by myself, I put my put another name on it. I was embarrassed. Anybody would think that I was raving about it was called frat rats, it was basically Animal House before Animal House became a big lawsuit. But I put a name of a person on it I hated in college. So you know, they're suddenly my disguise. And then people would give me criticism, not knowing it was me, which is a huge help. And also, it also taught me to be touched with developing a thick skin. Okay, and not react. But I started writing and got some I got a couple of blessing. I got hired to write my male cheerleader story, my Texas experience, which is a terrible film, but gave me a chance to get produced and find out what it was like to get paid to write. Because that's when it changes. So So paper, right, that's when it changes.
Alex Ferrari 15:51
You'll absolutely then it becomes Siri like, Oh my god, this is real. Yeah, I remember when I got paid to direct I was like, Ah, oh my god, this is this is a thing. I can actually do this. I'm not just do I'm not actually paying for the privilege of doing that somebody actually is paying me to do it. So okay, so from your male cheerleader, Texas movie, which I'm assuming that was the one that
James V. Hart 16:11
You give me an F
Alex Ferrari 16:13
Yeah, give me that's what I thought it was. Give me an FM assuming that give me an F. From Oh god, what was the covers like something from beaver?
James V. Hart 16:22
Alex Ferrari 16:24
beaver view or something like that? Like, oh, wow, I saw that. I was like, Yeah. Hey, you know, hey,
James V. Hart 16:30
we also when I wrote it, I wrote mash for girls. Yeah. The producers got a hold of them. Wait, we can't do that. We can't make this movie we'd have to do to an ass and you know. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 16:39
of course. So
James V. Hart 16:40
I watched the movie and I just go That was my last. My last comedy. Yeah, exactly. What I wrote was really Savage. And and and the way the girls talked and the way they thought. So more, it would be more
Alex Ferrari 16:53
kind of like, like Fast Times at ridgemont High because that was actually that was a more It was funny, but it was actually really raw and really authentic. But the producer Slap Shot slap shot.
James V. Hart 17:04
Shot. That's when I saw that. I went Hey, there it is. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 17:08
yeah. So Alright, so you go from, from your male cheerleader movie. How do you go from there to working on hook? Because this is a big jump there. There's a because in the IMDb the your IMDb. There's a big gap from 1984 to 1991. And there's I'm sure some stuff happened there. But I'm really curious on you know, that doesn't have to be the whole story. But just how did you get into the office? And how did you get that gig because I'm assuming in 91. This is pre Jurassic Park. So I know during that time, because my time my timeframe, I was working in the video store from 8788 to about 93.
James V. Hart 17:48
Alex Ferrari 17:49
yeah, it can't turn to Kevin Smith. All that. Yeah, I was that time period. So in that time period, I'm pretty much excellent in trivia, like I know, all the movies got released during that time, and you made a bunch of them in that time. And I know from my recollection, Spielberg had already Stephen had already had a couple of, he was always Steven, and he was always a hit. But a lot of people were saying, Oh, it's over for Steven, you know, it's great. He hasn't really had a big hit in a while. This is pre special in this list and pre Jurassic Park. And a butt butt hook was a big deal when it was being produced. It was like, everybody wanted to be on the set. It was huge. How did you get that gig?
James V. Hart 18:28
Well, it wasn't a gig. I created it. My son, my son at age six at the dinner table, who's now my writing partner said what a Peter Pan grew up. It was a game we played this game. I was a very successful development deal writer who wasn't getting anything made. But making a living, making living in the development. Right, you know, made a living, put kids through private school, and my son would come home and say, dad, everybody wants to know what movies you've made. And I couldn't point to give me an app. Because when you said I showed him the wall of scripts I'd written I had written for Spielberg, I'd written for Frank Marshall, I'd written for Robert Redford and Paul Newman to reunite. I mean, it had some very prestigious gigs. None of them got made. So when it came time for I decided that there were two films that I had to make Dracula and hook. And I was actually fired by CAA and let go because I hadn't had anything made and I was in my 40s while I was writing hook and Dracula. Yeah, Dracula Dracula was set up as a USA movie for television with a budget of two and a half million dollars. And dear sweet Karen Moore, who were still friends today, paid me to write that script. At the same time, I was working with Craig, Craig Baumgarten and Adelson, Greg, Greg Thompson, on a development deal at Sony and they came to me and said, What do you have that nobody wants to do? I had tried I pitched hook all over again. When my son gave me the idea that my daughter now was part of that she just read her fourth film. When we came up with hook. It was blasphemy. You know, you were treading on sacred ground. You couldn't have been have a grown up Peter Pan. Steven was trying to do Peter Pan But Michael Jackson Coppola had tried to do Peter Pan Jose for a bunch of people had wanted, but john Hughes wanted to do Peter Pan. They all kept coming up with the same idea. The darlings, go back to Neverland are the darlings children go back in there. So there's always the same story. And it wasn't until Jake said in the doing our What if game, you know, dad did Peter Pan or up and I said of course he didn't. You know, that's stupid question being a good parent that I was. And Jake said yeah, but what if Peter Pan grew up and boom, the bells and whistles went off? we pitched it all over town. Everybody passed on it. Finally Craig Baumgarten said what do you have, that nobody wants to do? And I gave my 10 pages on Huck brought in Nick castle who I adored his film. Boy, you could fly we did. We made a lowball development deal with Jess against he had at TriStar Sony TriStar as a favor. Nobody gave a shit about what we were doing. So Nick and I went off for a year and smoke cigars and, and drink single malt and, and and took this took the idea of the story. From you know, what was the worst thing I could do to Peter Pan Europe making be a lawyer? You know? So we spent a year on the script just having a ball against he leaves Sony and Robert and Mike medavoy comes in. And usually whenever you know the drill, the studio head changes everything.
Alex Ferrari 21:42
Oh, yeah. It's all painted. It's tainted.
James V. Hart 21:44
Yes. The painted it didn't work with Mike medavoy reads the script goes, wait a minute. This is huge. I don't know this is going on. I mean, I'm trying to pay the light bill. You know. And so, Mehta boy got together with CAA, and they went out to five directors over one weekend. And I still don't know who all was on that list, but I know most of them. Stephen was the one who said yes. And and my wife always knew that if Stephen found out about hope that he would do it. Because it it lay it was a it was a it hit all of us, right. In our guts. This is we were all fathers, we were you know, Dustin was older. He had kids, Robin was was turning 40 he had kids and Steven was having a new family, you know, everybody who suddenly had that Father thing going on that responsibility of what happens when you grow up and and you've forgotten your childhood. So we were actually in Wyoming. Staying with friends, we'd rent and we rented out both of our apartments. We had the kids, you know, I was trying to help with my credit card work to pay the lunch bill, Cadillac jacks. And in those days, we didn't have cell phones. I had to go downstairs to the payphone, hope my credit card work and check my answering machine remember answering?
Alex Ferrari 23:07
I do sir.
James V. Hart 23:13
And there was a entry machine from john. And the message from john Levin has been mine was my agency a and it still isn't in my representative were like 35, almost 40 years. He said, call me. There's a very big director that that wants to do hook. So I called him and we spoke and I said, if it's not Spielberg, we're not having a conversation. Anyway, that's who it is. So I went back upstairs to my kids and to Judy, and we've all been there, you know, trying to figure out where we're gonna go next. And gave him the news. And it was, you know, it was it was a tremendous, it was like it, you know, it's one of those Hollywood stories, you know, you just it happened. And so, I and I had written the script long before Spielberg was involved. Right. Just still an issue, you know, that the so much creativity? I mean, I created roofie Yeah. You know, I created that whole multi racial last white thing we could, we had Wendy grow up with it be old and we did all the stuff we'd actually there's a lot more bury in the script. And that there isn't in in the, the Disney version, you know, so if suddenly the world everything changed. And, Nick, you know, Nick, it was difficult to watch Nick be replaced because we both worked so hard on it. That's why I insist and you get story credit, but within the same period of time, I turned in Dracula, six weeks later. Now this is an agency that fired me
Alex Ferrari 24:49
and you and but were they representing you at this point,
James V. Hart 24:51
I asked him to please stay us and I'm writing these two scripts. Well, nobody's gonna do those. Just represent me until I get to that point where I'm done. And then you can cut me loose. And my lawyers tried all over town to give you nobody wanted to represent me. While I was writing these scripts, Dracula had done 100 times, nobody was going to do Dracula. Nobody want to do grown up Peter Pan, and to john lemons credit john live and took cook, to Dustin and Robin. And they went, Stephen.
Alex Ferrari 25:22
Oh, that's how it went. So it was it was through the day went apple.
James V. Hart 25:27
Smart. Exactly. And john Levin went to Winona Ryder. And nobody could believe she wanted to do Dracula and she's the one who called Francis and said, will you read this script for me? Because I needed to know if somebody wanted to play a grown up, you know? Plus, you've stuck it to him on godfather three by walking out the door. And then we got to meet Sophia. Yes, I remember. Of course. So. So in a matter of two months, I went from the Abyss to the two biggest directors and in my world wanted to do two scripts that nobody wanted to do it that everybody everybody passed on. So I didn't handle it very well, I was, you know, all these agents, and they call you back and go, Hey, we were just kidding. You know, we didn't. I didn't make decisions, but somebody else's decision, and I'm just going you're on the same writer I was when you were gonna represent me. So I'll stick with john lemon. Yeah, that's a man. And that's, that's how I got the gig. And I watched I watched two of the greatest directors in the world struggle. I have such admiration for what they had to go through to get those movies man.
Alex Ferrari 26:41
Spielberg was dope. Yeah. Cuz hook was took was a challenging film to make, technically and creatively. And I mean, that's those sets. I remember hearing stories of everybody in Hollywood had to make a trip to the set because it says was so amazing. And it was a tough sell to I personally loved hook. And I thought it was amazing. And I and it gives me warm feelings inside every time I watch it. And now more than more than ever, because now I'm that 40 something with kids. And I loved it when I was 20 something but now it completely has a completely different connotation now, like, oh, wow, shoot, it's a completely different
James V. Hart 27:22
No, you know, your kids here.
Alex Ferrari 27:24
And now my kids seating and all that kind of stuff. But then with Dracula, Dracula was that first film, I remember seeing Dracula in the theater opening, it was a huge opening, I remember was
James V. Hart 27:36
at St. Francis his life and say, and set records, nobody could believe how big
Alex Ferrari 27:41
it was. And it was, if I remember correctly, one of the best trailers I had ever seen.
James V. Hart 27:48
It again is again, it's Oh, my God,
Alex Ferrari 27:50
whatever, a lot of trailer editor I mean, because that trailer sold the movie so beautifully. And the Witcher and then went in the way Francis went about it with this old kind of like turn of the century style filmmaking and using older technologies and reversing the film, and it was just so rich and the transitions and how he was able to do it. But you were telling me a story before we started recording that Francis made a phone call to you. Can you talk a little bit about that?
James V. Hart 28:19
grant, drat when Dracula sets for being built when hook was coming down, so it's kind of a heady time for me. But we'd had we'd had we were deep in post production and had a release date right around Halloween in 1992. And Francis had been in the editing room nonstop. And we've had two or three disastrous previews. I mean, just disastrous. And I watched this courageous man go, Oh, well, it's another rewrite. Let's go back, you know, and just the studio is panicking in there, want to shut it down and come and take over and what have you. So it was about mid, late summer. We're opening in October, mid December. I get a phone call at midnight in New York, from Francis. And when you know, Mr. Coppola calls you? You? Don't you wake up? And he says, Well, okay, Jim, I want you to get on a plane in the morning and come out here as fast as you can. To the I hate the film. I hate the script. I hate you. I hate the fact you ever wrote it. I hate the actors. I hate the studio. I hate the whole idea that I ever got involved in this piece of shit. I want to show you that movie.
Alex Ferrari 29:28
Wow. That's great sales pitch. Yay. I can't wait.
James V. Hart 29:34
So the next night on there and I'm in San Francisco and to God, I don't know how long I'm gone. I don't know what's happening. I don't know. The day trip. If I'm being fired the movies you know, I don't know what's happening. So, the next evening I'm down in The Godfather screening room there zoetrope is Francis called the Bohemian amblin you know, the big, big godfather couches and cigars and wine and liquor. And two women that spoke Romanian. I don't know why. They were there. But they were these two women. I think they were, you know, bite my throat. And Francis did even come down. He called me from the penthouse. Okay, good. You're here. You're fine. Yeah. Okay. So I want you to call me after you screen the movie, and I'll come down and we'll talk. This is about 10 o'clock at night. So, by 1030, I'm drunk. By the time the film is over, I'm kidding. I'm so angry. I'm so pissed. I mean, he was right. He was a piece of shit. You know, and I had been to all the dailies that we rehearsed, when we did this incredible prep that he prepped all the prep he did. I saw the storyboards we did. The screenplay was loaded by the actors, you know, there wasn't a bunch of people saying this sucks, throw it out, they wanted to add more. And then God, how did this happen? So then Francis comes down, and is dapper, you know, you were smoking robe and a Corvette and stuff, little pointed Turkish shoes, and, you know, and all happy and said, You didn't call me? I said, Yeah, I hate you, too. So he said, let me tell you that let me like a big kid, let me tell you the film I wanted to make. And I'm glad Didn't we just make this movie, you know, and he pitched me what I thought we'd shot. But what I begin to recognize is that during the shooting we had we set in the next two weeks and went through every footage, all the footage we had and went through the existing cut. And we begin to identify pieces of narrative that the film needed not whole scenes to be reshot. But pieces, transitions, piece of narration, and insert here, you know, and I kept saying, difference, there's got to be a way to head this off in the past. So you don't want to get the editing room, you fix some of this in the script, there's got to be a way to measure that script. And, and, and manage that script. So it's telling you a whole lot more than because we had we were thought we were golden. I had the greatest record in the world. And here we are in the interview and panicked. You know, especially indie filmmakers don't have the money to bring back, you know, when owner writer and, and Gary Ali, and everything, you know, they don't have that kind of money. They they're in the editor and going, we're pumped. Right. So this is where the heart chart came from. I'll just give you an example of the we didn't shoot any new scenes, we shot pieces, we realized that we had never seen Dracula and Mina together, I mean, his wife together before he went to battle. So when she hands him the helmet, you know, and he goes off to battle. The ending was the big controversy, because the ending didn't work. The ending, she stabs him and, and, and punches the knife into him, and she's redeemed and he dies at peace, and he's redeemed. And then she walks out the door and walks into the arms of Keanu Reeves. And the audience was like booing now, and I kept saying to Francis, that's not who they want to see. They want to see when they want to see when Ana and Gary stay together somehow, forever. Yeah, forever. So he had George Lucas and Mike. Ming, Ming Gala. Yeah. Hellboy. Watch the film, to see, yeah, we've done a cut we done, we spruce it up. And we told him where we were going to fill in these blanks and that sort of thing. We got to the end, and George said, You broke your rules, you you you don't have the right ending. She has to cut off his head, which is the rules you set up in the film, to totally redeem him. She's got to complete the mission, and then not walk out the door. Any kind of reasons aren't. So I'm here, Francis calling me and he said, okay, George saw the film. And he thinks that, you know, we got to do this. And he said, and he said, Do you think we can? I think Wynonna would, you know, come back and work with Gary, if she could cut off his head. And I said, I think that's the only way you would get her back. In law, you know,
Alex Ferrari 34:12
yeah, they had a rough a rough time on that set from what I heard legendary.
James V. Hart 34:17
So we came back and put that chapel scene backup together, he had built all those sets like theater sets, so we could just fold them out. That's incredible. Wow. Save the gargoyles. So in that last scene, where you see that all of that seamless work, some of the close ups and some of the shots are shot a year apart. And you've seen what they had to do wigs they had to do all this stuff, you know, and she cuts off his head and then Roman came up with the idea of the beautiful mosaic and the sealing of them together, you know, blend together. But I kept saying there has to be a way to in the screenplay form while you're doing the script to make Are these emotional journeys, your characters are going on in their head some of those off of the path, we should have caught the fact that she had to cut off his head. You know, we'd follow the emotional journey of what Kerry always had to do to say it by cutting off her head and taking out her heart, you know, if we, if I if I had been measuring that emotional journey instead of just admit a great scene, you know? So he said, Well, why don't you start with these three questions. And he gave me three journalist questions, which was the beginning of the heart chart. And the question were very simple. And I figured if I he said, Just answer those three questions before you start anything, again, before you start a story. And so I started using the questions. And then I expanded into 10 questions. And I started drawing these charts, these actual hand drawing charts to measure the heartbeat and the emotional journey of the characters. Not an outline, not cards on the wall, because even cars on the wall I get lost. Am I emotionally where am I pace wise? Where How important is this? So the chart? The chart was like your your EKG when you get your heart? Yeah, those of you who are old enough to do that. And I saw, so we started out by drawing them. That's the Austin Film Festival, one of the very early on. Yes,
Alex Ferrari 36:17
yes. Yeah, that's it.
James V. Hart 36:19
And then in 2015, guy, Goldstein came to me who did writers do it? And he said, I can do an app. But now we're an online app. Right? That is, that is the Dracula chart. The very first chart I ever did. Okay, there, there's the drawn one. So and I started doing it at the Austin film festival every year, but doing my films. And then people said, Well, do you wrote those films? Your your, you, you know, you did that on purpose. And so we started doing other people's films I've done Jordan Peele, get out. I've done Jamie, this is eels. lala land. Bo Burnham, eighth grade, the Wedding Crashers, you know, Batman, I mean, suddenly, you start applying these principles to it. And if you just follow this, you'll never face a blank page. You'll never be you'll never be writer's block. It does. I don't believe in writer's block. But my daughter just said it yesterday on her podcast, she doesn't believe in writer's block, either. That there are ways if you know crap, you're always jumpstarting, you're always writing and answering questions and solving problems. So the heart chart is this is my booklet. It used to be printed up and given away. That's how thick it is. How thick is Robert, Mickey's book? A bit thicker. And how much dust is it collecting on your show?
Alex Ferrari 37:45
James V. Hart 37:47
Christopher Oliver has the only book that's as thick as makitas that should be used and listened Makita to great, did a lot for the screenwriting Training Unit. This is all you need. And it says right there and never face a blank page again. You have some shitty ones, you know, but you won't be blank. So this they finally begged me to put this together at Austin. And we just started it about three or four years ago, and it's caught on. And the app, the chart you saw is now available online. And it's an opt in opt out as a monthly subscription. And you can save everything in the cloud, every conversion you make every every change you make. And if you go to the website, you can see the examples. And you can see it come to life, I needed it because it showed me an emotional journey. What was pulling my characters through the narrative is that of being pushed. And that's what I've been doing all up until Dracula, you've been pushed, pushed everything. And even even hook I learned a lot on hook a finding character. If you do this, you will be writing character driven narratives as opposed to plot driven. And it's even now being used in some by some showrunners and TV to where they can take the chart and do a whole season. You know, really lets you see on one page, the emotional journey your characters go through, instead of an outline. You know, now there's a lot of work you do before that I mean, there's a lot of writing you do before you put it on the chart. But those three questions that Francis gave me is where where this all started, I went oh my god. And then people go, Oh, that's easy. You know, what does my character want? What do they need? What are they afraid of? What do you know? What what what what is their visible tangible goal? What is you know, is it a satisfying ending to the biggest one for me is do you have a satisfying ending? Not happy, not sad, not good or bad. But have you satisfied your audience with a journey you've taken? And I know everybody's got plenty of movies and TV series where they didn't like the ending of the series or like the end of the season. They didn't like the end of the you know, like last or so last is the battle or, you know,
Alex Ferrari 39:54
a good example of a movie that a show that did had a horrible ending that people hated was lost, but another Great one I feel is breaking bad. Like brick breaking badly ending was perfect and satisfying. And like, Vince did a perfect job. And that was a heavy, that was a lot of weight to carry, because he was so good. Almost every episode of that series was amazing. And it just kind of kept growing and growing. And if he if he missed the landing, the whole thing.
James V. Hart 40:29
Right Sopranos urban the last episode of Sopranos, you know, people like are the last even the last episode of Game of Thrones, like people pulling their hair out. So these are all things that I think you can vote on. I both agree on this, there's certain storytelling principles in the ether of the universe, you can't fuck with. Yeah, you can try and they're going to get you, right, or you could learn to manage them and use them to your benefit, like structure for me isn't is not a formula structure for me is like putting in a model. It'll actually liberate you, if you know structure. So my whole thing is about structure and about character driven narratives. And it's the only way I've survived it. You know, it's not one of those things where I'm a working writer, I use this every single day in my in my craft, I'm adapting a book right now for Scott Weiner. That's how I adapt. I actually do notes. Every day, I'm using this I use these principles, these questions, these signposts in every single thing I do. And you'll see some quotes from from some pretty big writers that that didn't want to know about it until they saw what I did with the chart. They went, Oh, my God, you know more about the movie than I do. Yeah. And I directed her I wrote it. So. So it's great for threshold writers, a lot of writers that are struggling to try to figure out how to how do I get to be that they I've seen him stop in the middle of my sessions and go and solve a problem and come back and say, I just solved it. I know what I'm missing. Now. And it's, I want it to be mechanical, not some, you know, spiritual guided talent that you can only half if you're special. It really, there really is a mechanical process to what we do. as writers.
Alex Ferrari 42:13
The one thing the one thing I and I just literally just had Chris on a couple of weeks ago, again, because it was 25th anniversary of writers.
James V. Hart 42:22
And I was on the trip. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 42:23
Yeah. And he and he's, I mean, I love Chris to death. And the one thing I was talking to him about in regards to plot and character plot and character because that's always a lot of people like on plot first only it's all only character based or um, or, you know, theme and all that. And people just try to pigeonhole themselves. But the one thing I think it was him or I think it was another guest that I spoke to, but this concept of all the great movies. What do you remember? Do you remember the plot? Or do you remember the character? Like I vaguely remember, I know I mean, I've seen all the Indiana Jones's. I remember Indiana Jones, I and I do remember some parts of Raiders of the Lost Ark plot like quote, unquote, plot, but I remember Indiana Jones. So characters are what we we don't identify with plot as a as a species. We identify with other human beings, other characters. And that's what you connect with, like you connect with Andy dufrane. In Shawshank. You know, the plot is the plot is fantastic. And but it's all about his experience in that. Did you ever heart chart Shawshank? Yes, I
James V. Hart 43:31
did. Frank. Frank, and I go way back. We did Frankenstein together. That was the last film he didn't direct. Frank talks about Shawshank in a very interesting way because a lot of writers don't want to know about structure and don't want to know about they want to be taught. They don't need any they don't have to learn anything. And Frank says will tell you that hey, I wrote Shawshank in five weeks. But he thought about it for eight years. Yes. When he sat down to write he had figured all of this out in his head structurally, character wise, where he needed a scene and why you know, he made so he did his chart in his head. Frank doesn't need my help. There's a lot of writers who do need this help. It helps a lot of threshold writers get off the dime. And I have I have writers from my Columbia classes that are now on directing and running companies and stuff and they still teach the heart chart, you know, to their incoming to their incoming writers. Shawshank Shawshank is probably one of the top 10 movies ever on anybody's list. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 44:34
it's my number one. I
James V. Hart 44:35
mean, everyone in this industry, looked at it his character, but it's also incredibly well structured. I mean, he'll be like yo bellows get shot. You know, you had to be you had to structure that character up to that point where you could not afford to lose him. And that's the point of no return. When he's dead. all bets are off. Right? Right, cuz you were like he's gonna get out. There's hope. Oh, Gotta hope there's hope and bang, pulls you right down the chart, you're up here, going, Okay, he's got there's news he's got he's gonna outrun you right down here.
Alex Ferrari 45:10
And then of course makes the villain even the the villain, even that much more villainous and like it completely just cements him as the absolute pure personification of evil. And by the way, that move that the end and by the way, anyone who hasn't seen Shawshank, sorry, spoiler alert on all this, but if he does that, and you will talk about satisfying endings. Yeah. I mean, that is that is a satisfying ending, seeing him do what he did the the, what's his name, Clancy, Clancy Browns character, get taken off, and then he's going to basically deal with whatever he was dishing out for the last 20 years himself as a prisoner. And then just that beautiful ending and from Roma, please tell me if this is true or not. The original ending wasn't what Frank had in mind, from my understanding that the studio executive said, No, they need to see meet each other on the beach. And that was added after Is that true?
James V. Hart 46:02
Yeah, that's true. Because I do think well, and that's, that's when the foot is, I don't know, where they where they came up with that where they came up with the ending part scripts days, if my my, my whole theory is you should be able to figure that out in the script stage, you're always going to learn something new from the footage. But if you track that emotional journey of those two characters, they have to meet on the beach. They have to
Alex Ferrari 46:27
and know when you say a match, so can I just kind of dive in a little bit deeper into the heart chart, because when you're saying you're tracking the emotional journey, what is exactly the heart chart doing to the character's emotional journey? Like how are you tracking this? Because it's, it sounds fantastic, but physically, like, physically, how is it working?
James V. Hart 46:45
I wonder, but they're gonna try to call up, call up one and show you. But by answering the questions, you get a series of pluses and minuses. This is good for the character. This is bad for the character, this progresses the character. This is an obstacle that stops the character, this decision that character makes is going to have a consequence is that consequence good or bad? So you begin to measure ups and downs, got it? setbacks, successes I have, I have a signpost I call the top of the mountain. And I have another one called the Cinderella moment, I have another one called resurrection opportunity. These are terms that nobody's heard before. I have veteran writers go I've never heard of a resurrection opportunity. What a great you know, and then where it goes and why on top of the mountain what I began to learn through fairy tales and really good narrative was that there's a top of the mountain dead center in your narrative. Where's as good as you're gonna get? Your it's the success that your main characters have had or something they've accomplished, where you're going. Yes, they've done it. Is it and where is it Chris Vogler. His center is the ordeal. Right? Oh, my ordeal is over here a little deeper in the top of the mountain. is is is become a term now. And how you structure the first half of your story. But this
Alex Ferrari 48:07
is the mountain but as the top of the mountain in the first act, second act, third act.
James V. Hart 48:12
Memories dead center, middle of a second. Okay. Even if you do five acts that matter. It's the dead center of your narrative. And I begin to measure certain films and look at them and go wow, I'm right. Indeed, they're good. The first one the good. Indiana Jones, the Primo
Alex Ferrari 48:31
Raiders of Lost Ark. Yeah,
James V. Hart 48:32
literally one hour into that film. He's got the ark. He's in the truck. He's got the girl he's on the boat. He's about to get a backrub you know, and, and boom, the movie is not over. everything after that is a serious complication to whether or not he's going to make it or not, or whether he and Marian are going to survive or how they're going to get to the end of the movie. Yeah. And I and Cindy and Dracula. I went back and looked at Francis cut and I timed the rules cafe scene where he gives you the diamonds and the tears and they actually meet. He takes her back and connects with her one hour and four minutes into the two hour and seven minute film. And that's as good as it gets for them. Everything else after that is complicated. And everybody's trying to pull you down the mountain Cinderella, which is where this started. Cinderella. She goes to the ball. Everybody has her phone number. You know the prince goes I'm not dancing with the sissy Edwards anymore. Mo Who were you? You know, she achieved her goal, which was in the real story was to get to the ball and plead to the prince for her father's estate to be given back to her. The Disney paid version and made it you know, I want to get married to a handsome prince. But that's the top of the mountain that's dead center in the narrative. And what happens Oh, damn, she stays too long at the ball point of no return can't be undone. You know consequences. Plan falls apart. You know the end of the second act. She's back home to change the toilets again. You know she'd never gonna get out. resurrection Oh, there's this glass slipper that she doesn't know about circulating town looking for resurrection opportunity. It gives your it gives your character that second hope and for the third act, so and I begin to measure really good filmmaking and really good even Tarantino is heavily structured.
Alex Ferrari 50:19
Oh, see, that's the genius that's the genius of quitting is because he's his films look like they were throwing together. But even Pulp Fiction you watch Pulp Fiction
James V. Hart 50:29
is perfectly perfectly perfectly structured. No, it's insane begin to be and begin to give me the feeling that structure and character go together. They're not. They're not competing with each other they are they are complementing each other. And if you, you learn this skill, mechanically, it teaches you how to do this. I don't think we're toward teachers, right? I don't like saying teach. It gives you strategies on how you're going to compensate for your work. In our chart also tells you how long it's been since you saw a character when they entered Oh, my God, I haven't had that character in 30 pages, or 15 pages or you know, so it begins to measure a pacing for you about when your exit stage left interstage right. You know, when, when a character shows up, and what their what the impact is they have one the other characters, sometimes your characters are going in opposite directions.
Alex Ferrari 51:18
But what I love, but what I love about your book, what you're with the heart, charm, love. And trust me, I'm doing this show, I've interviewed everybody. I've talked to everybody about all their different types of structures. I'm always fascinated when I hear something new that gets me excited. Because at the end of the day, we're all trying to get to the same place and we're all it's just different maps to the same place and some people might like Vogler better or true, be better or heart better. It's all relative. But what I love about what you're talking about is that you can see visually, the entire blueprint of your story. In a good word. Oh, yeah, a map or a blueprint of the whole thing, because the cards are one thing, but you can't physically you got to go into a graded. Yeah. But visually to be able to see how the emotion of your characters and the emotion of your store is being charted. Each one along the way, is fairly powerful. And when you see like there's a, there's a dip, oh, wait a minute, there's, there's no, there's a problem here. They're flat. They're flatlining. Well, you
James V. Hart 52:21
don't want to do Yeah, right. You're flatlining, you're dead. So that means there's something wrong over here. I
Alex Ferrari 52:26
haven't seen this character for a while. Maybe we should bring this back in. That is really fascinating. Can you tell me just the resurrection moment or opportunity in Shawshank? I'm trying to think in my head. I'm like, Well, where is that? Because he's lost? Oh,
James V. Hart 52:41
yes. Yes. When the restaurateur opportunity is when he was when Morgan goes into the goes into the the, the the review that he goes through all the time, and is he's been through all of this shit. And you know, they always turn him down. And this time he goes and tells the truth. He finally stops lying. And he tells the truth to the committee.
Alex Ferrari 53:05
But that's a resurrection for red but how about for Andy? Or is there an end?
James V. Hart 53:10
I gotta go back remember the movie?
Alex Ferrari 53:11
Because because i i agree with you. I think that the main character of the movie is red. It's not it's red. Red's the storyteller. It's his point of view. Everything's coming from reds point of view. But Andy, you don't see His resurrection moment because his resurrection moment is kind of shown to us.
James V. Hart 53:28
Let me think about that. Because it could be because when Gil bellows wood character gets killed, that's that's like disaster. It's all falling apart. So it's going to come after that whatever that resurrection. Opportunity is brandies and to come after that. And it may be it may be his that may be what prompts his brilliant escape. You know, his when he when he decided to get out. So in a way what he's facing in prison after Bella's is killed and he knows he knows that he's next that you know he'd the poster is the posters his fucking resurrection opportunity.
Alex Ferrari 54:07
When the one that when he when he clicks off in that first piece of plastic comes on?
James V. Hart 54:11
Yeah, but that was years before he puts the poster up. Right? Yeah. I don't remember when he did that. But the poster. It comes after guild's death. So whatever it is, it comes after Gil's death where he gets the impetus I'm getting out of here.
Alex Ferrari 54:31
Yeah, and it's it's difficult to kind of narrow it down because red is the main character and Andy's look and Andy's the back but but we actually the the resurrection moment for Andy is actually revealed to us at the end, when his entire story is kind of laid out. You're like, Oh, that's when it happened. So it's actually shown to us, but read you're absolutely right. And it's tracked so beautifully when he just goes you just tell the truth. Oh, it's people, the people who listened to the show know my affection for Shawshank Rita Frank efra and Green Mile I love Green Mile, love, love Green Mile as well. Now what is the biggest mistake You see? screenwriters make because you work with a lot of first time screenwriters. What is the one thing that you see like, Oh, god, this is the one thing?
James V. Hart 55:14
Well, again, that's why I did the toolkit. They don't understand structure. at all, they think that they think it's, it's really not your enemy. It's your, it's your friend. And once you discover the structure doesn't make every single film the same. Even though the signposts are in my work are the same. You can rearrange them can't change, appointed, overturn, can't change, plan falls apart, can't change, resurrection opportunity can't change top in the middle. You know, if you have those four things you can write, back, you go by I try to I try to unsatisfying ending. If you if you haven't know what those are, you can write backwards, you know what your first sight has to accomplish to set you on that journey. The other thing too, is I think that they're they overwrite dialog, and they say, they're not able to write behavior into their scripts, they say everything on the on the, on the nose dialogue, or acquisition all being being verbal. So I miss behavior. And executives don't like to read behavior. They like to read dialogue with a lot of white on the page. So tell me what's going on. But good writers who can write behavior into their characters. So the plan for indie, it's being afraid of snakes? You know, there's a phobia, you know, that that you know, is going to show up again, you know, that that snakes going to show up again, it's just when so that structure is anticipation structure. Maybe it should make you anticipate not go Okay, well, here comes the part where, you know, the monster is not really dead. Yeah, we know that. He's right. It's how it's delivered. And I get the my favorite example is always tell I've worked, I watched I've worked with Robin Williams, who was he and his family were great friends. And we
Alex Ferrari 57:03
know, I can imagine, here,
James V. Hart 57:05
but I watch Robin, the best structuralists I ever saw at work was run whims. Interesting. I just think that all this stuff came out of his mind he was pulled in from everywhere, you know, and all India, he did have a great database. But I watched him film live his stand up show for HBO three nights in a row. And at the end of in, at the end of each night, he would take the card out of his back pocket and start making notes and scratch things out and move, you know, and he would he would talk to you maybe maybe had dinner before or something, he would pick your brain on something and he would show up in the show. But I watched him rearrange his his cards every night. You know, to find to try to find that smooth ride that he wanted one thing led to another but it seemed like it came out of nowhere. You know? And the for those that don't believe me if you've ever seen the history of golf? My Robin Williams
Alex Ferrari 57:57
Oh, that was an amazing I love that doesn't matter how many times you watch it? How
James V. Hart 58:01
many times you see him do it. Same fucking punch line every time. Yeah. And you're laughing at all the same players that you've heard it for the first time, that structure, you know, and all your friends that do improv and dazzle you with Oh, how do you do that? It's structure. They have a set of circumstances and a set of Givens and a set of sign posts and a set of circumstances that they always resort to, to then invent inside that box.
Alex Ferrari 58:25
And and that's the interesting because I know exactly the bit you're talking about because I pissed myself every single time I saw him play do that. And and it was so and I you know what thinking back when I when I heard him doing that bit, which is like why did the Scottish create golf, and how and then the story of the dude that actually creates it, and how he builds stages sections and it's plotting and I never thought about that in joke writing because I'm not a joke writer or stand up. But he actually structured that so beautifully. Because when you think he's done, he's like, no, wait a minute, we're gonna do this, this this 18 die, and then we're gonna do Oh, yeah, we'll throw it sand in it. We'll do this. And then hey, let's do it. Eight to 10 you're just like, oh my god, this is amazing. We're gonna throw this little ball of 1000 you're gonna feel like it's a string. We'll call it a stroke. That's right. Because every time you miss you feel like you have a heart attack.
James V. Hart 59:20
You can't you can't you can't argue that he makes that up as he goes along, but it feels like it. That was his brilliance. That was it. And also anybody knows where they say about a comedian. He has good timing or she has good time he or she really knows how to land a line or that structure.
Alex Ferrari 59:35
Interesting. Interesting. So that yeah, it was it was and i and i had a short interaction with Robin, about three months before he passed and I he was such a gentle soul. And I just, I don't know, but because you were really good friends with him. There was something I felt off when I met him. I felt this kinetic thing that was coming off of him, even though he was quiet and calm that day. But you could feel that that was just the energy. I don't know, maybe it's just me, but he's just like this, this energy that just kept going on like, Oh my god, I must be insane to deal with because he was that thing that you saw on stage.
James V. Hart 1:00:11
Yeah, he's actually very shy, right? Very common, very quiet and reserved and, but but if you threw the match in the haystack, he felt obligation to he felt that obligation to perform and entertain and make everybody feel good. But I mean, when we dinner with his kids, I mean, the kids dominate the conversation and Robin would just sit, listen, but he, he was very attentive that way. And, and it was the side of him that you don't expect to see. And also just that he had a hit a lot of things going on in his life in himself anyway. I'll do a robin story is sure, please, it's my wife and I were there with them and happened to you know, what did never show up in a routine. But, and Marsha is good, his incredible life with kids. We're still very close. We were at we went to San Francisco and I introduced him to Albert do up until the very famous French comedian who he loved. And we all went to dinner at one of their cool restaurants in San Francisco, big high ceilings, and we have a long table, you know, and everybody's looking at Robin, you know, and, and on the wall, there's a group that are from Texas, or I can say this because I'm from Texas. And when I've had big hair, you know, and they're loud and having a good time. And all of a sudden we I see Robin Robin, would you do this a lot, you know, and I watched him looking up and he was starting to get kind of nervous and like he kept looking up and it was above his woman and sitting across from us and kept looking up the ceiling. And we were going and we all sort of took sneaky peeks and and there's this giant Roach climbing the wall in this super held in ritzy high in San Francisco with this giant rush the rush is that big. It is climbing up the wall to the ceiling directly above this woman's head.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:18
And Robin she's going Oh god, no.
James V. Hart 1:02:22
Yeah, and we're all going oh my god, is it gonna fall? And she starts looking at like, looking at the table, roll it and he didn't want to call the manager over Hey, there's a fucking Russian. And finally it happened. fall right up with her hair. No, Robin falls out he cannot control his laughter any longer. He is on the floor. He is guffawing you know he is sitting with the whole replaces lit up and she's like
Alex Ferrari 1:02:52
oh my god.
James V. Hart 1:02:55
And he's like I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to you. And she stands up and announces to the whole restaurant she points writer at writer Robin says Robin Williams. You're not funny. And of course then the whole Yeah. And he bought dinner and everything else but it was it was a you couldn't It was like a guest kitchen a skit a sketch out of center nightlife. paranoid calm no sound like an old old like Charlie Chaplin, you know, BIT bit, you know, and we're all we watched it play out in real time. And it was hysterical. And also fishy. They left the restaurant but he bought dinner and the manager came out and combined and a big fucking Roach in her hair. To get it out. You don't step on it.
Alex Ferrari 1:03:41
Oh my god, I must have been amazed.
James V. Hart 1:03:45
I'm so sorry. You know, you're not funny.
Alex Ferrari 1:03:48
First of which, of course, which of course everybody knows he is
James V. Hart 1:03:52
and was quiet. When she when she said that? He started laughing Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 1:03:56
because he's like, Oh, this is brilliant. This is I can't write this you can't write that you can't write.
James V. Hart 1:04:02
And to have sat there and witnessed it. It was even like I can't believe it's gonna fall it's gonna land right on her head.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:10
We're just waiting. You know that I could just as you're telling the story my director mind is like shot here. Shout out shout of the close up eyes like you could just you're just like it's a Hitchcock scene.
James V. Hart 1:04:22
It is it is very Hitchcock you know and and of course what what we all says was a roach went up there to commit suicide it had it I'm going to dive into a bowl of spraying it you know and suffocate brooch I'm done with this world. I'm we're out of here. We're Gone. And if I'm
Alex Ferrari 1:04:41
gonna I'm gonna do this right. Let's go all the way to
James V. Hart 1:04:47
whatever if you get tired, you couldn't hold on here with you. He give up
Alex Ferrari 1:04:51
on I'm sure Robin kept going. I'm sure he kept building up a
James V. Hart 1:04:53
backstory on top of the mountain and then put into return and disaster. That's amazing. A resurrection opportunity you're not funding changes. Anyway.
Alex Ferrari 1:05:05
James V. Hart 1:05:05
that's that now I can work that into a structure lesson. Okay?
Alex Ferrari 1:05:09
Yeah, absolutely. You should absolutely work that into a structure lesson. No question.
James V. Hart 1:05:12
I have a story. I'm sorry if I digress.
Alex Ferrari 1:05:15
No, no, no, I think it's, we it's an amazing story. And it actually works about structure, you actually turned it into a structure lesson as well. Now, I wanted to ask you, well, first of all, I mean, you've written all these amazing movies and and worked with amazing people. But I mean, obviously, the top of your mountain was writing for The Muppets. Obviously.
James V. Hart 1:05:37
They were my favorite experience. I did just under Brian Henson, I just exchanged notes recently on any birthday. Yeah. That was the that was the I guess that's the cat's pajamas or the bee's knees or, you know? That's, I mean, it was totally unexpected. Brian, Brian and I had met during hook. And another book that we wanted to do the Calico was a mandamus magic, which is a Gallico. novolin. Deputy now. And they, he, we've met and like each other. And he came to me, Disney was going to pull the plug on about the dirt around. It didn't like where it was going. And they came to me and Brent said, will you read the script? We're about that we're about to lose this project. You know, and we're having problems. Can you just read it? Give me some feedback. And I read it and there was no human beings in the script. There was no Jim Hawkins there was no lunch on sir. We were all met.
Alex Ferrari 1:06:37
Bob By the way, for people who are not catching up. You wrote Treasure Island, Muppet Treasure Island. Yeah, people might not know
James V. Hart 1:06:44
I mean, I came in and put my orange water with great people like Jerry Jewell and sir bill bought a lot of stuff later, but um, and I read it and said there's no humans you can't make this movie with no humans. You can't have Jim Hawkins be a puppet and, and and Robin long john silver via puppet you can't do it. It's like Lucas when he first did star wars are all robots. You know, you got to have the human being element. You know?
Alex Ferrari 1:07:12
Is that is that true is when Star Wars when he wrote first wrote it everybody
James V. Hart 1:07:16
was CPU Ember CPU and our 2d two they were the heroes.
Alex Ferrari 1:07:19
Okay, right. And then look showed up afterwards. Got it.
James V. Hart 1:07:22
So we would shut it up at my house in the Hudson River, which and and actually Brian's brother lived nearby and we snowstorms and piles of snow. So we spent three days working on the script. And and the reason there were no humans in the script is that Frank Oz did not like to work with children. He's got 12 of his own, but it isn't my work. And so I said, Well, let me write some scenes and see if we can convince Frank. differently. So we wrote some scenes, and they were they loved the scenes because I brought some some humanity back into the story, especially the relationship between Jim and London silver has been a seminal relationship in my my upbringing about villains. I mean, I have a whole thing on villains. why they're the good guys. You know? And so it was a you're able, we were able to do that emotional connection between Jim and john. Keep all the jokes and keep all the stuff in you know, but the funny part was casting the Muppets in their various roles because they are like movie stars. Yeah, I mean, I would, I would never suggest we they are having a hard time casting Kermit. So I would suggest and Brian was it now Kermit won't play that role? He's not he won't be good in that kind of part. Oh, okay. And, you know, what do we do with Miss Piggy? You know, but she had to have just the right role where she wouldn't do the film. But a bigger trailer or something. So you begin to understand that this that this, this world of Muppets is like an archeological dig. They have a history of the way movie stars have a history. Yeah. Oh, absolutely. Incredible. And and the people that created the character are the only ones that could do them. There was a big controversy when Jim died if they were going to continue to Kerman. Oh, wow. So and that's what's interesting. I mean, when Frank has his hand goes up Miss Piggy skirt. He's Miss Piggy. Nobody else is Miss Piggy, but Frank Oz. You know. And so that was interesting to see that that the guy JOHN RIZZO, you know, I can't remember the performers name but they were created by the puppet here by the puppeteer. So as long as they were alive, they did the characters. Did you had other puppeteers who came in and did this sort of characters but casting Kermit and casting Miss Piggy was the most difficult part of the of the show. And we missed we may Miss Piggy Benjamin again. We've been marooned on the island and had a string of pirate lovers including London silver, And actually it was fun to watch Frank work on set because he had he was staying character in between takes
Alex Ferrari 1:10:07
did he read it you see
James V. Hart 1:10:09
yes that's a terrible line. Brian Let's shoot it again you know about the ship and and so and Brian and Miss Piggy would have a dialogue you know between takes with Frank because Miss Piggy Same thing with Steve Whitmire, who did Kerman they would normally stay in character between takes unless they took a break and right should that you know shift the shadow. And then when my kids were with me on the set in London and we had that in your they're alive I mean they don't have eyes that don't their eyes. eyes don't move they don't have you know, they're not marionettes, right? No, No, they don't. And we're leaving the set and we let x etc think about a Brian, the end of the day and there's a whole trolley full of all the Muppets hanging and payable on their on their spikes, you know? Oh my god and Julia, who just arrived just to register for film? She was I think 10 then she free tested. Oh my god, they're dead. Yeah, I don't want to see this. I mean, their eyes are suddenly there is of course. Right? So it was and getting to work with juries rule and the whole Muppet Henson team was extraordinary.
Alex Ferrari 1:11:32
Wow, it must have been so much fun working with them
James V. Hart 1:11:34
such a culture such it's such a culture of caring and concern about character. You know, those characters don't change they're like movie stars. No absolutely themselves.
Alex Ferrari 1:11:48
My my my Kermit the Frog I grew up which was Jim and the Kermit the Frog that lives today. The character is the same. His all his principles as him as piggies is the same. gonzos is the same. It bazis is the same. It's they are they're movie stars. But they it's they're they're actually it's fascinating. I just wanted to touch really quickly. You said something very interesting. You believe villains are heroes. Yep. Can you touch on that? Because that's fascinating. I'd love to hear your take on that real quick.
James V. Hart 1:12:17
Yeah, well, villains are how I made my career. And it all started with as a kid when I again, why is why is longines over the bad guy. Why is why is Captain NEEMO the bad guy. You know, I started as a kid I'm gonna wait to make Captain even wants to end slavery. He wants to abolish weapons of mass destruction. He wants to end war. You know, I'm voting for President. You know, my guy is and then you are in any any advanced nuclear energy. So so far I'm getting people's going good, good, good nuclear energy. Well, no, no. And then he destroyed nuclear energy because he knew what we do whether we got our hands on it. I cried. When? When James Mason goes down with a Nautilus. I wanted to kill nedlands and Kirk Douglas for throwing the bottles and having him blow up his stuff. I couldn't figure out why he was the bad guy. Right? Same thing with lunch on silver lunch. And so we're taught so taught Jim Hawkins so much about being a man and being loyal and being a mate. You know, when Jim had a chance to kill, to shoot blown John's team and he's stealing the treasure he let him go. He learned so much from lunch. Same thing with with with Dracula. When I finally started researching Dracula, Dracula was a fallen angel. He wasn't a guy in a tuxedo just wants to suck your throat there was a story. So villains to me are the villains, advanced history, villains, forced society to change. You know, they force us to advance and to achieve new and also they're visionaries. We may not always agree every one of us, Jules burns. The man who conquered the world, you know, the all these guys were visionaries. JOHN, john Galt in, in atlas shrugged. The visionary didn't agree with his politics, but he was a visionary. Yeah, so the villains sort of come jumping out to me like, wait a minute, why why am Why is the villain so misunderstood? And so you know, and then suddenly, we don't have all these are all villains from literature. You know, for me, Jekyll and Hyde is a big one for me that what Robert Louis Stevenson intended? His wife burned his first manuscript. That's the one I wanted to read. Yeah, yeah, she burned it twice. Sure, it reveal too much about them, you know? He but he led it, he led a double life in real in real life. He led a double life with his mates, he would take him to London, give them nicknames, give them identities. They'd horn winch around. Then you come back up to his little Calvinists, you know, so, suddenly, the villain was more interesting to me than the hero. The least interesting character in Star Wars Luke till he finds out he was Father is in. Something's interesting.
Alex Ferrari 1:15:03
You're absolutely right.
James V. Hart 1:15:07
Harry Potter is another kid who's gonna learn bad magic for bar mitzvahs until he finds out who his father is. Right? Yeah. So it the villain is also what makes you special. And I think Bob and I both agree on this is what it's what? It's what forces the call to action which forces a hero to emerge the villain. So the hero, the hero is really indebted to the villain and I don't call them villains anymore as much as a nemesis. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 1:15:32
James V. Hart 1:15:33
The villains me sound like a cartoon cardboard thing in a video game or, you know, tort mustache twirling.
Alex Ferrari 1:15:40
And that's what and that's one of the things about villains that even without a good villain, that the story doesn't go forward. Like you could have that you could have Hercules. But without, you know, all of the the like, well, perfect example in today's age Marvel movies. I mean, Thanos was an amazing villain, and that they built it up over a decade of films and how they built that up to the point where at endgame when everybody literally the entire universe Marvel Universe has to, has to come to fight him all at the same. That's why it's that's such a cathartic moment. But that without that knows, it's just, if it's a weekly and he's not as you know, it's, it's a balance, too, because when you have when you have a villain that's so powerful, that there's no hope that he could ever be beaten, then it's like, why are we watching this? Yeah.
James V. Hart 1:16:29
And that's why Darth Vader when you get Darth Vader's backstory, and that's why Georgia there brilliant job in Jedi of actually getting to see anniken as that gentle old elder man who you can see as being Luke's father, you know, and even anniken I mean, I I do this is just to my students. Why is why is Darth Vader bad? But did he do so terrible? Well, then you go back to the lore and he went to the dark side to save his wife. Yeah, he chose, he chose the dark side, he saved his wife's life. That's love. So that also gives you some redemptive quality of this worse, the script I'm writing right now, another Gallico novel, The love of seven dolls as a horrible, terrible Nemesis in it. And, and slowly began to reveal what it why he's like this. Why he can't stand it or be anything pure and uncut. He has to corrupt everything. There's a reason why. And when you find out that reason why when you find out what that villains Achilles heel is, it's not just a way to kill them, it's a way to understand them, and empathize with them.
Alex Ferrari 1:17:34
Well, like in perfect example. Thanos he just wants to know, he is overpopulation. It's too much overpopulation in the world. My solution is wrong, which is wrong, he's not wrong, how he approaches it is wrong and that's where the villainous aspect is to these characters. But it's not like the olden twisting the mustache to be bad just to be bad there's no depth there and that's what drives a good story. I mean, James I can keep talking to you for at least two or three more hours, but I'm just gonna I'm going to ask you a few questions I asked all my guests and and and then I will leave you on to write more more things.
James V. Hart 1:18:07
All the answers are in here. Okay, www bit hard. chart.com us is a 20 inch or discount code.
Alex Ferrari 1:18:16
So what three threes? What three screenplay should every screenwriter read?
James V. Hart 1:18:22
Alex Ferrari 1:18:24
Oh man after my own heart. I'm
James V. Hart 1:18:28
probably godfather one. Great. And not just a transcript of the movie, but you get you know, get the get to publish the public screenplay. I'm trying to think probably Bonnie and Clyde.
Alex Ferrari 1:18:50
Another great one.
James V. Hart 1:18:54
It's me again, with the characters, not the plot, two characters. And I would I mean, I'm proud of some of the stuff I've written. But if someone someone's read, I actually read. Actually, we'll actually have George's first American RPG script. We were supposed to try to finance it for him. Godfather one, Shawshank. I would read some TV episodes too. I'd read some I read some events, his episodes of Breaking Bad. Let's see to show you what you can do in 45 to 50 pages.
Alex Ferrari 1:19:32
That pilot is a genius.
James V. Hart 1:19:34
Alex Ferrari 1:19:40
If someone was going to read wonders, if someone's going to read one of your screenplays, if you're like he could only read one of my scripts. Which one is it?
James V. Hart 1:19:48
100 I read Dracula.
Alex Ferrari 1:19:49
Yeah. That would agree with you. Yeah. Yeah.
James V. Hart 1:19:52
I don't know how it exists in some form or not because we we did all that extra work. Also the August restaurant I'm real proud of August 1 of the last time I worked with Robin. I thought Pearson does such a good job directing reading that film. And it didn't get the acknowledgement that it should have, because I should have put once upon a time. It's a really it's a screenplay, right? I used everything I knew about the heart chart, everything I knew about character, everything I knew about structures in that film. And to me, there's a talk about a satisfying ending. Some people are not satisfied because they don't see them together. But for me, is credibly satisfying. He, he accomplished his goal. He brought his parents together. Now I can watch it 100 times and it still gets me every time I get to that part.
Alex Ferrari 1:20:39
Now what now What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?
James V. Hart 1:20:44
Well, the business has completely changed and it's wide open for for writers that way it wasn't for me when I started out. blacklist, inc, inc. Inc. Well, Austin Film Festival, screenplay contest, all of the fellowships that are being offered through Nichols and through Warner Brothers and Disney and if the international screenwriter Association, I think are wonderful. Yep, they've done a lot of I've done a lot of work for them. screencraft, stage 32 these are all platforms that didn't exist when we were trying to start out there was no helping hand. The Austin Film Festival is worth submitting to keep submitting your and your scripts are now being read. They're not just going into the black hole, they're actually being read. You know, you've got 200 readers on the on the on the blacklist that are there to find scripts, that's their job for their for their, their producers, their studios, their networks. They're they're looking that's how my daughter got her first film made was his blacklist. She just read her fourth film and Amazon I'm I'm your woman is Julia Hart. Star girl is Julia Hart. And the n plus the business is looking for the new threshold writers. There, they had it with me, you know, when they don't want to put up with us anymore. They want the new fresh voices who are coming out of not necessarily film schools, but you're coming out of workshops and masterclasses and we didn't have that access. You've also got 100 more buyers than we had.
Alex Ferrari 1:22:19
Oh 1000 probably Yeah, yeah.
James V. Hart 1:22:22
And then it'll change the COVID COVID thing will come and go, not nothing is going to go. But we'll find a way to live with it. And we're already trying to get into production. As soon as production starts. And some of that development moves off the shelf. They're looking, okay. And I think it's a great time to be a writer, especially in TV, we're finally that it is true. The writer has the power and television. You know, they used to say that and then but now it's true.
Alex Ferrari 1:22:50
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?
James V. Hart 1:22:56
To listen? Okay? No, that's I learned that from Francis and a few other people to never be, never speak first in the meeting. And, and listen, and listen to everything they have to say. And nod your head a lot. And go, that's a good idea. Well think about that. make notes. And then go back and press two said whatever. Even if you disagree with everything they said. You know, you go back and you take you look at your notes, and the ones that keep haunting you the ones that keep coming back and bite you in the ass. Those are the ones you have to address. No, but I think listening is the listen and collaborate.
Alex Ferrari 1:23:37
And work can work.
James V. Hart 1:23:38
You don't want it you don't want to collaborate, go sculpt or you know, go do a painting. You know, we're if you if you're not able to collaborate, you're gonna have a hard time. And where can people find more about the heart chart and everything you do Heart, heart heart. chart.com is the website you'll find there. We just put up our for masterclasses that we filmed in Austin last year, they were available for a special bundle. The toolkit is there for download which I'm going to send you one good sir.
Alex Ferrari 1:24:04
Thank you. Sorry, I look forward to that.
James V. Hart 1:24:06
And the chart is a monthly subscription. You can get in and out anytime you want to it's 899 a month. But I recommend that everybody sort of spend time with the toolkit before they try the heart chart. It's a great tool I've just had just in this last week, we had like another 30 or 40 subscriptions based on the last masterclass that I did. And we're updating the we're updating the the story mapping tool all the time. You get a two week free trial, you can go in and play with the examples and see what the other films that we have there. Like us on Facebook, like us on Twitter, and I will be doing some more classes in some online classes in in 2021
Alex Ferrari 1:24:45
Sounds good. James, thank you so much for taking the time out to to share your story, share your information, and talking talking to our tribe. So I truly appreciate it and thank you for all the good work you've done through your career and continuing
James V. Hart 1:25:00
Now you've got to do what you told me you're gonna do now you know about the heart chart so yeah, I'll be talking about it Don't worry about it said you know this is a great I think what you guys are doing a great the podcast is a whole nother network that we never had access to so I appreciate the exposure. Last thing. Just remember when you're down and out on yourself that nobody no director no writer no no actor no producer no costume designer no dp nobody has a job in his business until a writer types the end so as the advice I can give you is go type the end.
Alex Ferrari 1:25:38
Thank you, James.
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