Friday, July 13, 2007

WRITING TIPS FROM PRESTON STURGES


I assume every one here knows Preston Sturges (above, click to enlarge), the writer/director of literate 30s and 40s comedies like "Sullivan's Travels", "Unfaithfully Yours", and "Palm Beach Story." Here's Sturges on the art of writing:



ELEVEN RULES FOR WRITING A HIT MOVIE

1) A pretty girl is better than an ugly one.

2) A leg is better than an arm.

3) A bedroom is better than a living room.

4)An arrival is better than a departure.

5) A birth is better than a death.

6) A chase is better than a chat.

7) A dog is better than a landscape.

8) A kitten is better than a dog.


9) A baby is better than a kitten.

10) A kiss is better than a baby.

11) A pratfall is better than anything.

Nifty, huh?


22 comments:

katzenjammer studios said...

I didn't know who this was. I'm going to check out some of these movies. Thanks Eddie!

warren said...

12) An Uncle Eddie is better than a nothing.

Emmett said...

I haven't seen any of these movies yet, so here's my question:

Are these to be taken literally, or can they be interpreted some other way?

Anonymous said...

Oh, god!

Just...just...rent the movies, people. If you're here and you like this blog and you like good films you owe it to yourself.

No excuses!

Anonymous said...

Interesting, I agree with most of these points...BUT:

-I don't agree that a birth is better than a death. Dramatic deaths are far more exciting than new babies (taking the phrase in a literal sense, unless they mean "birth" metaphorically)

-I like kittens better than babies. And I like dogs better than kittens.

JohnK said...

That reminds me of the kind of humor cartoon writers write.

Chip Butty said...

These tips ought to be combined with Bob McKimson's asshole commandments.

Jenny said...

See any Sturges movie first and the list might make more sense. Might.

It isn't really serious, anyway-he's probably making fun of such rules with a tinge of sincerity.

He was a complicated man: goofy, erudite, randy, dry, intensely serious, sentimental, fatalistic, depressive, manic...all that stuff.
He was a good writer whose only flaw as a director was perhaps falling in love with his own words a little too much, to excesses that he could have done without. His movies are fascinating (apart from how entertaining they are) for combining really broad slapstick and noisy nonsense with deeply introspective speechifying.
I love him.

Kent B said...

I WISH there was a cartoon writer today who could write dialog half as well as Preston Sturges! Sullivan's Travels, The Great MacGinty, Lady Eve, Miracle of Morgan's Creek - all have great dialogs!

The Lady Eve starts with some nice cartoon animation - it looks like warner Bros style - anyone know who animated it?

John A said...

The Lady Eve was a Paramount Film, so more than likely it was done by someone from Fleischer or Famous.

warren said...

Oi! Unca Eddie!

more theories! Mebbe you can submit yourself fer an interview with eggheads!

ps Typo! I meant better 'than nothing'...not 'a nothing'. Youse a sumthin', Eddie F.

casey said...

Eddie, I'm glad you posted about Sturges. It can't be reiterated enough how great is Sturge's dialog. Nobody can write like that guy.

UNFAITHFULLY YOURS, SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS and THE LADY EVE are all available from Criterion on DVD. Good prints with lots of relevant supplements. For those that haven't seen his films do what Anon says and rent them or, even better if you can afford it, buy them. Impress your friends with some classy films in your movie library.

SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS has a really memorable and incredibly hilarious intro. Also, Barbara Stanwyck is smoking hot in THE LADY EVE. A real sock knocker offer.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

John: Cartoon writers probably do watch Preston Sturges. I imagine that after a hard day wresting the animation industry away from artists, cartoon writers like to connect with something more pure and idealistic.

Warren: Wow! A whole site of free philosophy downloads! Thanks for the tip!

Jenny: As you said, he's probably kidding partly, but there's a lot sense in it. Audiences want to see sex and slapstick, no doubt about it.

I.D.R.C. said...

You never fail to provide something to think about.

This time I think that Preston's list is a little dated. It's pithy, though, which proves he had good taste.

I prepared some do's and don't for the modern Screenwriter interested in making a hit:

1) A love interest is necessary, even in a story about chasing and blowing up stuff, because (you hope) girls will be in the audience, too, even though they hate chasing and blowing up stuff.

2) Don’t make your comedy too funny. Some people may enjoy it more, but critics will call it “slapstick”. Then it can’t be taken seriously, and you won’t get more prestigious serious work. Balance the jokes with obvious pap about following your dreams. Make liberal use of obvious pap. Modern audiences and critics understand that a comedy can’t just be funny. Embrace this trend, since it’s harder to be funny, anyway.

3) Time your jokes so that people have almost forgotten they are watching a comedy before the next one. Jokes are valuable. Don’t spend them all at once. What if you can’t think of anything funny ever again? You’ll be glad you saved some for later.

4) Don’t put anything in your movie that is over most people’s heads. It wastes footage. You want to waste footage that the most people understand.

5) Don’t worry about entertaining smart people. They are in the minority and it’s harder, anyway.

6) Don’t try to satisfy yourself. Satisfy your deadline. There is great satisfaction in paying your house note.

7) Don’t make your film without a shopworn, hackneyed, important message. Use the importance of family, friendship, teamwork, or perseverance. DO NOT look for a subtle way to weave the message into your story. This wastes valuable writer’s time that could have been more finished pages. Don't be afraid to club your audience like a baby seal. More finished pages = more time on the back nine.

8) Don’t make your movie about pure manliness. Critics hate pure men. Sissy them up at least a little in thoughts or deeds. Example: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY could not sell today. THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY MEET A WOMAN WITH CHARACTER AND DETERMINATION WHO CHANGES THEM FOR THE BETTER, is a winner!

9) Aim low. You are bound to hit something.

10) Don’t think about trying to create something beautiful or lasting. Not until films are carved in marble.

Anonymous said...

Jerry Lewis remade "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek" a decade or so later as "Rock-A-Bye Baby" and introduced the world to his discovery, Connie Stevens. Two very different directors can make the same story into two entirely different motion pictures.

Tisher said...

Kent B and Jon A:

The imdb credits the opening titles of Lady Eve to Schlesinger:
imdb credits

Watch it here.

That seems plausible to me, especially the annoyed hat adjustment at the end. Can any of the experts here give a positive ID on the animator?

Kali Fontecchio said...

I like bacon as much as I like ice cream. And I like Eddie as much as I like babies.

Anonymous said...

Could've been one of the secondary units. Neither Chuck nor Bob nor Tashlin nor Friz ever wrote about having done it in their units. Maybe one of Ray Katz's people. "The Lady Eve" was, after all, shot in black and white.

Anonymous said...

That Lady Eve animation looks like Bob Clampett's Katz cartoons.

Micah said...

I think I'll toss one of these on my Net Flix. I can't remember ever hearing his name, but it's so familiar.

Jenny said...

Must-sees-written and directed by Sturges:
Christmas in July
The Great McGinty
Sullivan's Travels(every film buff and person working in film or TV should watch this)
The Lady Eve
The Palm Beach Story
The Miracle of Morgan's Creek(last two among his funniest ever-sheer insanity)
Hail the Conquering Hero-some lovely speeches here...
and much later, "Unfaithfully Yours". A bit too bitter to be one of my Sturges favorites, but still a great movie.
He also wrote some fantastic screenplays for other directors beffore he started directing on his own. Supposedly Sturges offered to direct his first film for $1(but he was paid his usual high salary for the screenplay, of course). Anyway, his screenplays make for some wonderful films even if he didn't direct: "Easy Living" and "Remember the Night"; Mitchell Leisen, despite what some fans say, was a superlative director who did justice to Preston's writing(he did the above mentioned two films). There's also "if I Were King" which is worth seeing.
All these films are on TCM all the time.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jenny: Yeah, Sturges is great! I'm often surprised to see that cartoon writers like him, but I think they like him for the wrong reason. They think it's great that a writer could also direct and get all his words through unchanged. I like him because the words are often beautiful.