Writers' Boot Cramp
There's a scene in Sleepless in Seattle where Meg Ryan's character, having flown to Seattle to meet Tom Hanks' character, sees him across the road but does not go up to him. Is it because he's with a woman (who turns out to be his sister)? Is it the fear of rejection and looking silly that holds her back? Whatever the reason, she stands there for a moment trapped in indecision with hair and makeup perfect in the perfect money shot. It is a lovely little moment in a film constructed of milk toast moments.
Last week, I went to the Writers Boot Camp in Santa Monica to see a Q&A with David S. Ward, one of the writers of Sleepless in Seattle. David S. Ward also wrote The Sting, a great con game Redford/Newman picture from the early seventies. Hailing from Cleveland, he wrote and directed Major League as well. I attended the world premiere of Major League at the State Theatre in downtown Cleveland back in the day, but it didn't change my life forever although I did get Bob Uecker's autograph.
According to IMDB, David S. Ward is either sixty years old or getting close to it. His hair is blonde and spiky, and his hairline is receding similar to Tom Hanks---slowly on each side. In fact, in the movie version of this scene, I would like Tom Hanks to play David S. Ward. Their mannerisms are so similar, it's scary.
So the discussion was happening, everyone was eating finger sandwiches (classy touch), and some of us were eating tiny cupcakes (because they rocked!). During the audience Q&A, a woman told David S. Ward that the Sleepless in Seattle scene I described above 'worked for her'.
Worked for her? Couldn't she just say she loved it? She enjoyed it? She liked it a lot? Worked for her? Glad to hear that because my guess is that that scene worked for a lot of people. Millions of people---except for Ethyl in the third row.
'Why doesn't she just go over to him, Stanley?' Ethyl shouted in the dark movie theatre.
'Because the movie would have to end then, Ethyl!' Stanley shouted right back at her.
'Shhhhh' hissed the two single women sharing a tub of popcorn (no butter) in front of them on the verge of weeping because the scene just worked so well. It works, ohhhh, it so works, pass the tissue.
I think the phrase 'it works for me' is the most obnoxiously overused phrase among wannabe screenwriters. Tell me, young hacks in the making, does Casablanca work for you? How about Citizen Kane? Hamlet? How about that opening helicopter shot from the Sound of Music when Julie Andrews spins around with her arms open wide about the sing 'the hills are alive!' I think that shot works for Julie Andrews who didn't get knocked down by the helicopter. And what about that scene in Empire Strikes Back when Yoda lifts Luke's X-Wing out of the mucky swamp? I mean, he's a puppet, yet the scene 'works' because the Force is real.
Illusions and fantasies played out on a giant screen in a dark room bring me such delight. I think taking pleasure in such things is important and helps us imagine. Not every movie is cathartic. Not every movie is a challenge and a call to dream. Still, I think it's important to be open to such things.
In her struggles to toughen up and be a real fighting screenwriting soldier, the 'working' woman had forgotten the pleasure of it all. Perhaps, the scene is good not because it works but because it's magical. Somehow, a look came across Meg Ryan's face, and the camera caught it, and they were smart enough to not edit it out.
After the 'working' woman and questions about 'advice to writers starting out' and what colored index cards do you use, I had had enough. When the formal Q&A ended and the serious ass kissing started, I went over to the drinks table and asked the barely 21 year old how much a plastic cup of wine was.
'Ten dollars a cup.' He said.
I stared him down. He was bullshitting.
'Just kidding, just kidding, it's free.' He said. Maybe he was afraid I might hit him, but you never joke about the price of wine. And he didn't have a tip jar on his table.
I realized that the Writers Boot Camp was not for me. I can cross it off of my list of potential places to hang my writing hat (I don't really have a writing hat, it's a metaphor).
When I was there, I felt too much like Bill Murray in Stripes. Who saw Old Yeller? Who cried when Old Yeller got shot in the end? I cried my eyes out.