Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The indians attack the fort...

That's a famous line of direction from a John Ford screenplay. Which one, I'm not sure; maybe Drums along the Mohawk. But it led to a 10 minute action sequence indian attack on a fort. And that's what Ford liked in his scripts -- the minimum necessary to set up the story, with the details left up to him.

John Ford was infamous for exercising control over his scripts and his films. Producers tried to run him; they couldn't. Actors were no match for his viciousness; he's reported to be the only man who made John Wayne cry. But he also directed Shirley Temple, more than once, and she thought he was a lovely man; four actors got supporting Oscars under his direction.

A couple of stories come to mind about John Ford, specifically dealing with screenplays. The first was when Dudley Nichols was writing what would be Stagecoach. Ford was finishing up Submarine Patrol and had no time to waste, so when Nichols showed him the pages he'd written, Ford would go through with a china marker and "X" out huge sections of some carefully-crafted dialogue, saying, "You don't need this" and "This should go here" as he read through it. So what might be 10 pages wound up being 2. And Dudley would slink off and make the changes.

Another is when some producer came up to Ford in the middle of a shoot to complain that he was behind schedule. Ford asked him how far behind was he? "Ten pages of script," said the producer. So Ford grabbed help up his own copy of the script, tore out 10 pages at random and said, "Now we're back on schedule." The producer was horrified but Ford refused to put those pages back in. I have no idea which film this supposedly happened to.

When I think of something like either of those actions being taken against one of my scripts, I think about getting a gun and an open carry permit and double-dog-daring anybody to even try it. Which may be part of the reason I didn't get very far in screenwriting; deep down I was afraid I might've killed a director...because I came damned close to doing that on the one script of mine that was shot as a feature. But now I'm trying to do it, myself, by stripping out everything not absolutely necessary to Carli's Kills to tell the story.

I am not succeeding...thank god.

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