New Hollywood is Old Hollywood

New Hollywood is Old Hollywood

I am a hardcore movie fan. I love old movies, new movies, good movies, and bad movies. All genres except horror (I’m a scaredy cat.) Though paradoxically I do love a juicy true crime. I am also a Hollywood fan, the old Hollywood of the studio system, big glamorous stars and big intriguing stories for the big screen. No matter what kind of stories you write: novels, screenplays, comics, and even non-fiction, I encourage you to be inspired by old movies. These films built our cultural story sense and understanding of genre. Knowing a bit of old Hollywood history helps your story foundation.

Past is Present: Old Hollywood Relevance

In one of my favorite stories, a starlet was making the audition rounds. Everyone (agents, casting directors, and directors) kept telling her she looked like a young  Natalie Wood . Not only did she not know who Natalie Wood was, she didn’t bother to watch any of her movies. Yikes! Did you know that  Robert Redford  named the Sundance Film Festival after one of his favorite roles, in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)? Or that Adam Sandler’s Just Go With It (2011) was a remake of the much funnier Cactus Flower (1969) for which  Goldie Hawn  won an Academy Award?

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

I have 1969 Hollywood history on the brain because I finally watched Quentin Tarantino’s latest film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), which is set in 1969 and follows an actor whose career is fading (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his best friend and stunt double (Brad Pitt). And Leo just happens to be living next to  Sharon Tate , an actress who is most famous for being murdered by four members of the  Charles Manson  Family in 1969. Despite touching on a terrible event, the movie is a love letter to 1960s Hollywood when TV had come into its own and the movies were going through big growing pains as the studio system finally died and hippie counterculture became mainstream.

Just like in 1969, the entertainment industry is going through another transition. Movie attendance continues to dwindle and the studios are making fewer and fewer movies that they’re releasing theatrically. Streamers are fighting to see which ones will survive and less and less people are watching broadcast television.

The only constant in life is change. It’s a cliché because it’s true. As creative people, it is easy to hunker down and try to hold on to the systems of the past that have worked for us. But part of creativity is innovation, and as storytellers we should always be ready to adapt and pivot. Because the one thing that never changes is people’s hunger for a well told, entertaining story.

Don’t worry. Story is not going away. Just like books didn’t replace campfire stories, movies didn’t replace live theater. And TV didn’t kill the movies. Remember when we thought radio plays were dead? Podcasting is just radio on demand. The more things change, the more they stay the same. In fact, the streaming wars have made audiences even hungrier for good stories and good content. Now people regularly binge stories hours at a time.

Old Hollywood: Watch, Listen, & Learn

If you would like to watch more old movies, the American Film Institute has a bunch of  “greatest” lists  in every genre.

A good place to start is  Singing in the Rain , which is about the panic in Hollywood when talking movies started and how stars and studios adapted. As modern creators, it is fun and inspiring to see people freaking out about new storytelling technology. Singing in the Rain is also considered one of the best musicals ever made.

 You Must Remember This  is a wonderful podcast dedicated to exploring the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century. The podcast is written and narrated by film critic/historian Karina Longworth. I’m hooked on this Hollywood history podcast! I stumbled on it when I was looking up some information about the Manson murders after watching Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I binged in two days the 12 part season Charles Manson’s Hollywood. Karina is a wonderful writer and speaker, really bringing the stories to life. Other seasons cover things like Famous Dead Blondes and the history of MGM. I can’t wait to listen to the rest of the backlist.

Another Movie About Writing

Last weekend I watched  See How the Run  which came out earlier this year. All I knew about it was it was a period British murder mystery set around a stage play. I was pleased to find out it is a fictional murder mystery set around the real  Agatha Christie  play The Mousetrap. Even though it takes place in 1953 London, it is feels like a movie about old Hollywood because we see all the drama around turning a hit play into a movie, including the writer fighting with the director about the script. Even more fun, the murder mystery is full of Agatha Christie tropes that connect to the play. Fun fact:  The Mousetrap  has been playing in the West End of London without interruption (with the exception of the lockdowns) since 1953.


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Oops!  Learning in Public

Oops! Learning in Public

Last week I sent out the newsletter missing a paragraph! Oops! You can read the correction here. That mistake didn’t feel great because it was in public. But it got me thinking that as creatives the only way we learn is in public. Whether you’re writer, an actor, visual artist, or a filmmaker, you put your work out into the world and learn from each experience. The next time you and your project are even better. Every week I feel a twinge when I hit publish.

The people I think are the bravest are stand up comics. They tell stories about their own life on stage by themselves. It is the rawest kind of performance and writing combined. And stand up is created in public. Comics tell jokes, seeing what works and what flops. Constantly refining their act before it is “official” and they go on tour. The serious ones go on stage almost every night. If you live in Los Angeles or New York, you can see well known comedians working on their new acts. When I was going to a lot of stand up, I would see the same people over and over. It was fascinating how their bits changed over time.

Like stand up, this newsletter is a constant work in progress as I learn from my experience, my research, and your feedback. I really appreciate your patience when there is a mistake like last week. And I love hearing from you about what you like and don’t like.

When something doesn’t go quite right in your life or in your career, do your best to react with grace. Laugh at yourself. Pick yourself up and move on. Remember everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes they lead to a breakthrough. Penicillin was famously discovered when mold accidentally grew in a dirty Petri dish. Mistakes can fuel your creativity. One time in high school, I turned in a two part creative writing piece with the wrong part as the first page. My teacher went on and on about what a great choice that was and how it made the piece work so effectively emotionally.

Do you have any stories of mistakes that turned out to be for the best? Comment below and let me know.


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2 Things About the Creator Mindset

2 Things About the Creator Mindset

I have been sick for two weeks and my foggy brain and the forced rest has made philosophical. For me there are two things I always relearn from listening to other creative people. From established writers, to newbies, my clients, and myself, it seems like these are universal struggles.

1. Don’t judge yourself by other people’s careers or other people’s work. There are no overnight successes. You don’t know how hard someone worked to get where they are. You don’t know if they have 25 unsold screenplays in their drawer before they’re suddenly the hot screenwriter. You don’t know if someone wrote their novel 15 minutes at a time over five years or in 5 weeks. Just keep your head down and keep creating. The more you do, the better you’ll get, and the bigger your body of work will get. There is no I should be where she is or I should have done X by now. Everybody’s life unfolds at their own pace. Which lead me to…

2. It is never too late. Some people have been creators their whole life, making movies in their basement when they were seven. Some people start writing at 25; some people start writing at 55. You can be a YouTube star at 25 or you can be a YouTube star at 75. Just start.


One final bit of advice, as a creator, always be consuming the kind of content you want to create.

Read at the level at which you want to write. Reading is the nourishment that feeds the kind of writing you want to do.

Jennifer Egan, novelist

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Procrastination can be good!

Procrastination can be good!

Creative people are known procrastinators. We will spend three hours on the Internet researching, walk the dog, and organize our desk drawer all before we start working. Interestingly, that procrastination often serves a purpose. While we are doing other things, our brains are working on our creative problems. So when we finally sit down to work, the solutions appear like magic. This process is called creative procrastination.

The Shower Principle

Activities where you can let your mind wander like driving, walking, or showing work best. So many people get ideas when they take a shower that it is a real psychological phenomenon called the shower principle. Scott Barry Kaufman, a cognitive scientist and coauthor of Wired to Create, did a study that showed 72% of people get creative ideas in the shower. I know one writer who keeps a white board marker in his shower so that he can jot his ideas on the tile. Another writer friend of mine made a sale pitching over the phone an idea straight from the shower with soap still in his hair. For me, I get my ideas walking my dog or in the shower. Bestselling novelist Tess Gerritsen goes for a long boring drive whenever she gets stuck in a story. (She calls being stuck plot blocked, which is my new favorite story term.)

When you are stuck on a creative problem, the best thing to do is to get up from your computer. By focusing on something else you let your subconscious mind work on the problem. This is often when our greatest ideas come to us.

You call it procrastination. I call it thinking.

Aaron Sorkin

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright dodged a client for nine months, until the man drove 140 miles to confront him about his missed deadlines. Knowing his patron was on his way, Wright sketched his masterpiece Fallingwater in two hours.

Sleep On It

Just like mindless tasks help your unconscious brain solve problems, sleep can do the same thing. The phrase let’s sleep on it, exists for a reason; it really works. Thomas Edison was a famous napper. He would often take a nap during the day and wake up with a solution for whatever project he was working on. Early on in my career, I figured out that this is one of the ways my creative brain likes to solve problems. When I am reacting to written material, I read it once, make notes, sleep on it, and come up with more solutions. In fact, I ask my clients to turn in their projects for feedback 48 hours in advance of our meetings so that I can sleep on it.

A Caveat

Both the shower principal and sleeping on it only work if you have given some conscious thought and conscious work to your project. You need to have wrestled with the problem a bit before you disconnect. In other words, you have given your unconscious brain direction about what to think about when you’re not thinking about it. If I am really struggling with a story problem, I will tell myself to think about it right before I go to sleep. I almost always wake up with a solution.

Non-procrastination

Ironically, not practicing creative procrastination can be a problem. People that compulsively finish things early are called precrastinators. And while being organized is wonderful, never allowing things to percolate means you’re missing a big step of the creative process. I encourage you when you finish projects, whether you are a precrastinator or a procrastinator, to let them lie fallow. Put them in a drawer for a little while and come back and look at them with fresh eyes. If you can take a couple of weeks, that’s ideal. But even a couple of hours can be helpful. It’s just another way to let your unconscious brain work its magic.

What is your favorite way to creatively procrastinate? Comment and let me know.


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My Favorite Movies About Writing

My Favorite Movies About Writing

Writing is, as all of you know, a solitary, cerebral occupation. Even when you’re actually pounding on your keyboard, you’re in your head. The process of writing, the blood, sweat, and tears of it, is difficult to dramatize. Lots of characters in movies are writers, but very few films are about writing itself. Here are my favorites that capture what a writer goes through as he tries to get the story in his head down on paper.

Bullets Over Broadway (1994) comedy written by Woody Allen – A wunderkind playwright (John Cusak) is interested in creating deep Art, but he doesn’t care about entertaining an audience. The backer of the play, a gangster, wants to give his mistress a part. John is having to compromise his art to get his project made. Meanwhile, the gangster’s henchman (Chazz Palmentari) has a flare for story and starts making suggestions. It turns out he’s the real talent, and he’s willing to kill a bad actress save his play. This movie points out two creative truths. 1) Writers can be pretentious and untalented. 2) Anyone can have good ideas.

Wonder Boys (2000) comedy written by Steve Kloves, based on the book by Michael Chabon – Once promising novelist Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) doesn’t do a lot of writing in this movie, but he captures perfectly the mania of trying to live up to the reputation of your own book, and the despair and fear at being eclipsed by a younger, more talented writer.

Shakespeare in Love (1998) comedy written by Marc Norman & Tom Stoppard – Shakespeare falls in love with Viola, who is pretending to be a man so she can act. This relationship gives him inspiration to revise his latest play and turn it into Romeo & Juliet. It’s fun to see the fictional story of how he came up with one of his most famous plays.

Sweet Liberty (1986) comedy written by Alan Alda – Follows the experience of an author (Alan Alda) whose book is being made into a movie. Even though it’s non-fiction, the Hollywood folks are changing it left and right. Alan Alda struggles to keep the integrity of his book and make the screenplay good. This is an overlooked gem of a movie with great performances from Michael Cain and Michelle Pfeiffer as temperamental movie stars.

Adaption (2002) black comedy written by Charlie Kaufman – Writer Charlie Kaufman had such a difficult time figuring out how to turn the book The Orchid Thief into a movie that he wrote the screenplay about his struggle. This movie perfectly captures the turmoil when you just can’t crack the story and everyone else you know seems to be sailing along.

The Muse (1999) comedy written by Albert Brooks & Monica Johnson – Blocked screenwriter Albert Brooks hires kooky professional muse Sharon Stone to help him. She may be crazy, but there’s a method to her madness. She helps him come up with a new idea and gives his wife the confidence to start a business. If only we could all have a muse for hire on call.

Sunset Boulevard (1950) film noir written by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, & D.M. Marshman Jr. – Desperate and destitute screenwriter meets desperate and unhinged movie star while a sweet assistant writes her first screenplay. Sometimes being a writer is deadly.

Stranger Than Fiction (2006) comedy written by Zach Helm – IRS Agent Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) suddenly starts hearing narration and realizes he is a character in someone’s novel. What will happen if he tries to break out of the plot and falls in love?

Author’s Anonymous (2014) comedy written by David Congalton – When several dysfunctional and unpublished writers accept inexperienced Hannah (Kaley Cuoco) into their writers group, they don’t expect her overnight success. A comedy about competition and creativity.

Something’s Gotta Give (2003) romantic comedy written by Nancy Myers – Diane Keaton is a playwright who uses the heartbreak of falling in love with her daughter’s boyfriend (who is her age) to write her next hit play. The scenes of her crying her eyes out as she types are hysterical and relatable .

Paris When It Sizzles (1964) comedy written by George Axelrod – This is a mediocre movie. The fun is seeing secretary Audrey Hepburn act out all of screenwriter William Holden’s different scenarios as he tries to figure out what kind of movie to write.

Bonus: The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) romance written by Woody Allen – is not about writing, but the fantasy of living your favorite movie. Downtrodden Depression era waitress Mia Farrow’s life is turned upside down when the romantic lead from her favorite movie steps out of the screen.

What does it say about the writing life that most of these are comedies? Comment to let me know if I left one of your favorite writing movies off the list!


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I Don’t Want to Grow Up

I Don’t Want to Grow Up

This weekend I saw the Houston ballet production of Peter Pan. It was magical. The dancing was gorgeous and the flying sequences otherworldly. It was my first time seeing this ballet and there was a big chunk of the story that I didn’t remember. It was so odd that I had to read the synopsis during one of the intermissions to figure out exactly what was going on and reassure myself that I was not misremembering Peter Pan.

In the ballet, which was created in 2004, Captain Hook shows Wendy a movie of his childhood. He is beaten by a mean teacher which misshapes his hand into this weird skeleton hook. In this version there was no Tigerlily and Tinkerbelle made a brief appearance. Those two strong sassy girls were always my favorite characters and I missed them. These strange story choices lead me to a deep dive into Peter Pan.

Neverland

Peter Pan in Neverland: a Never-ending Story

Did you know that the story of Peter Pan is over a hundred years old? He really is the boy that never grew up. Peter Pan first appeared in 1902 the novel The Little White Bird by J. M. Barrie. In 1904, Barrie’s play Peter Pan debuted and was a huge hit both in London and New York. Barrie expanded his play’s story into the book Peter and Wendy, published in 1911.

Peter Pan and his adventures in Neverland has been told many ways in many mediums from live action and animated movies to plays, musicals and even an award-winning web series. Disney’s latest live action version of their animated classics, Peter Pan & Wendy is slated to come out next year with Jude Law as Captain Hook. There is the grown up Peter Pan movie (Hook). The true story behind Peter Pan, Finding Neverland, which begin as a play, then a movie, and finally a musical. There are scores of books that reimagine the story including Peter & the Starcatchers, which became a play.

Peter Pan List

Movies & TV Specials

  1. Peter Pan & Wendy (2023) live action version of Disney cartoon with Jude Law as Captain Hook
  2. Pan (2016) Warner Brothers
  3. Peter & Wendy (2015) British movie
  4. The New Adventures of Peter & Wendy (2014-16) web series set in the present with the characters in their 20s
  5. Peter Pan Live! NBC musical TV special (2014) Allison Williams as Peter
  6. Neverland SyFy mini-series (2011)
  7. Finding Neverland (2004)
  8. Peter Pan (2003) Universal
  9. Return to Neverland (2002) Disney animated
  10. Peter Pan musical TV special (2000) Cathy Rigby as Peter
  11. Hook (1991)
  12. Peter Pan musical TV special (1960) NBC Mary Martin as Peter
  13. Walt Disney’s Peter Pan (1953) animated
  14. Peter Pan (1924) Paramount, silent

Peter Pan book list

Musicals

  1. Peter Pan (1954)
  2. Finding Neverland (2012)

Plays

  1. Wendy & Peter Pan by Ella Hickson 2013, 2015 Royal Shakespeare Company
  2. Peter & the Starcatcher by Rick Elice based on the book series by Dave Barry &  Ridley Pearson (2009)
  3. The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee (1998)
  4. Peter Pan (1904) original

Ballet

Peter Pan (2004)

The Magic of Peter Pan

Why has the story of Peter Pan not only endured, but been expanded and reimagined over and over again through out the years?  Why does this story continue to resonate with new generations of parents and children?  I believe it is that magical combination of concept, characters, setting and theme that every writer dreams of creating.   The bittersweet dream of never growing up and remaining a child forever.  A magical land full of fairies, mermaids, pirates, a native American princess, and a group of best friends.  And the lure of a lovely family waiting for you.  Just like Dorothy said in another timeless magical adventure – there is no place like home. 

What is your favorite Peter Pan version?  Maybe you have an idea for a new one.  Do you have a favorite childhood story? 


More Peter Pan Fun Facts

Peter Pan was played by a woman in the original play because child actors had limited working hours. This tradition continued through the many iterations of the stage musical which debuted in 1954.

The Dark Side of Peter Pan. Maybe one of the reasons for Peter Pan’s longevity is the story has a dark side, giving the reimaginings grit and angst. Neverland is a violent place with the boys fighting adult pirates. The Lost Boys are alone in this hostile place without a family.

Peter Pan is a pop psychology term. Coined in 1983 by psychologist Dan Kiley in his book The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up, calling a man a Peter Pan has come to mean a man who doesn’t want to live a grown up life including marriage and fatherhood.

Don’t forget The Lost Boys (1987) my favorite vampire movie. There is not Peter Pan, but the Lost Boys are a group of teenage vampires.


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