Article by Scott Morgan

WRITING FOR ACADEMY AWARD WINNERS

As the Academy Awards approach, many people are curious how screenwriters make it, what goes on a page, and who makes a script better. There are so many questions I can only describe some real life situations, and also add some facts in film history. Working for years as a Screenwriter for Hire, and also as a Spec Script writer, my stories are sometimes wild, sometimes sad, but always entertaining and informative.

I’ve mentioned in other blogs how rare it is to find Producers that know how to improve a script nowadays. This was mandatory a few decades ago. I think that the digital age and expansion of film schools allowed more Producers to rush ahead to production. In my mind, hey, it’s great that they get to produce a film. But steps along the way – steps learning the elements of better storytelling – are often skipped. That is why you hear so many bizarre comments in studio meetings about rewrites on your scripts. Here you are a writer that toiled away at writing s solid story, and suddenly a Producer asks if you can make the death of the midget drowning in the toilet more glorious for midgets (this is an actual note from Warner Brothers on a comedy assassin movie.)

I have been lucky enough to work with several Academy Award winners. I would be either a Screenwriter for Hire or I would have written a script they wanted to set up.

Here is a list of the infamous Producers or Directors I worked with, learned from, or set up projects with:

Freddie Fields: GloryJerome Hellman: Midnight CowboyJohn Badham: Saturday Night FeverBarry London: Head of Paramount/Titanic, Forrest Gump, Braveheart, Top GunCort/Madden: Mr. Holland’s OpusAlbert Magnoli: Purple Rain (early guidance in film making/writing)Sydney Pollack: Tootsie, Out of Africa, countless others (seminar mentoring)Tony Scott: Top Gun, Man on Fire, Unstoppable, A-Team, countless others.

Joel Silver (Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, etc.) didn’t really do script improvement or mentor/advise me in any way. Though he is a big name.

My experiences with the big days of New Line were interesting, and I learned a lot.

But the three most influential are Freddie Fields/Jerome Hellman, and Barry London. John Marsh at Tri-Star was fantastic at showing me how to improve a script. As was Justin Dardess. I’ll concentrate on Fields, Hellman, and London, since I credit them with advancing my talents far beyond most writers, especially when it comes to Marketing, Funding, and Distribution savvy.

Freddie Fields. Wow, what a legend. I met him through Cary Selig, a fantastic female producer. She was a D-Girl for him before moving to create Bel-Air Pictures (Collateral Damage, Message in a Bottle, The Replacements, Pay It Forward, and more.)

Freddie Fields was the Producer or Executive Producer on: American Gigolo, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Poltergeist, American Anthem, Glory, Milennium, Fever Pitch, Crimes of the Heart, andVictory. But before that – get this – he was one of the heads of ICM (then called CMA) and was credited as instrumental in the careers of Judy Garland, Woody Allen, Henry Fonda, Marilyn Monroe, Robert Redford, Peter Sellers, Steve McQueen, and married a Miss Universe. He set up Butch Cassidy and the Sundance KKid, American Graffiti, and Star Wars.

And I was mentored by him for a year. Unbelievable. I learned more than I could ever put into a blog – about the energy and the deal making behind closed doors. (Only Barry London taught me more.) Here is how it all happened.

Keri is a stunning brunette with a perfect body, the type you would imagine came to L.A. to be a star. But she was only interested in production. I met her out at a bar, through friends, and she gave me her number for business. We met a few times for drinks, then sort of vanished from each-other’s lives.

I started writing an action script called Hard Knox. It is the story of the stealing of the gold out of Fort Knox during a tornado. The tornado ends up being the bad guy. It had some unique plot twists in it. I knew it was a hot idea. I was on page 80 when I ran into her and she told me she moved to Fields/Hellman. I went in for a talk, and she had me pitch her three ideas. Since Hard Knox was not finished, I pitched that one last, but she knew this was the one. She asked me for a sneak copy. I went home and touched up what I had written and, unfinished, delivered it to her.

In the meantime, I had met a small time Producer that had a film deal at I think Millenium Pictures, plus an open door at some studios. He needed a screenwriter for hire. I don’t even remember his name for sure but think it was Jacque. I only remember his attitude toward the film he was directing in a month. It was a million film, shooting in Vancouver. He called it shit, a waste of time, etc., and something that he wanted to do and flush in the toilet but he needed the money. I felt so sorry for the actors. The story and writing was very watered-down and anemic. He had read Blood, Sweat, and Gold after a lawyer told him I was the best undiscovered (cheap and willing to do ghost writing is how he saw it) writer in Hollywood. He wanted me to do a ghost writing fix on his dream project for a few thousand dollars, so I took it. I was working on that at the same time as Hard Knox, but had not told him about it.

She wasn’t even finished with it when she called me and said, ‘My boss wants to meet you.” At that time, I did not know who the legendary Freddie Fields was, or what would happen to me if he did a film for/with me.

I walked into his office and there was this 70 year young man, Freddie. We had a fairly formal meeting. He talked about his accomplishments, and was generally seeing me as who I was – a na

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