Frank Marshall: Writing From The Heart
Frank Marshall on Starting Out
Looking back, you don’t realize it at the time, but you know, Billy Friedkin, Francis Coppola, Steven, George, all starting their careers as well, and it was one big, exciting time with sort of, the sky’s the limit on the stories that you could tell, and, what was important was it was a business, and people weren’t just going off and, and making movies at all costs. So, I mean, our target was sort of to find the story, and again, story, story, story. Peter [Bogdanovich] was always interested in the story, and, and that sort of became my mantra as well. Tell a good story. It’s all in the story, it’s all in the script. But it was exciting. We had a little company called ‘The Director’s Company’ for a while, which was Coppola, Friedkin, and Peter, and we were just allowed to green-light our own movies, as long as they were under two million dollars. So a couple of movies came out of there, THE CONVERSATION, PAPER MOON, and DAISY MILLER. But it was, again, an exciting time was also the time that I got to meet Orson Welles, and that was, again, another gift from Polly. And I went down to start working on this little movie called THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, which as recently as two hours ago, I just sent another email about it, about getting it finished. So, you know. Maybe in my lifetime, we’ll get this movie finished.
On The Last Waltz
I did about eight movies in a row with Peter, because why not? It was going well, and it was, it was exciting, and then, towards the middle of the seventies, let’s say ‘76, ‘77, I had met Steven early in the seventies. In 1972, we were doing DAISY MILLER in Rome, and were in a little studio called Safapolitino, and I got a call from a publicity guy who said, “I’m touring Europe with a young director, and he’s a little bit homesick and he’d like to see some Americans. Could I bring him by for lunch?” And I said, “Sure, come by the studio.” So the way we had it set up was that every day, we’d have a long table for lunch in the cafeteria. The studio, amazingly enough, you could see the Coliseum outside the, it was kind of, really cool, and so it was right downtown Rome, it wasn’t out of town or anything. So anyway, this one day, this publicist brought this young director, and there was a long table and it was, Peter was there, and Verna Fields, who was our editor, who, a wonderful, wonderful woman. A couple of the actors, a couple of the English actors, Sybil and there was always a plate of pasta at the end of the table for me. So I came rolling in. They were all at lunch, and I came in and there was this guy named Jerry, who was, brought this young director in, and the young director was Steven Spielberg. So I said, “Oh, nice to meet you.” I went over, I had two bites of pasta, I asked Peter a question, and I went back to the stage, and a couple of days later, Verna Fields told me that Steven turned to her and said, “That’s the kind of guy I need, the guy who’s more interested in the next shot than lunch.” [audience laughs] And five years later, this is a story about, you know, always do your best. Five years later, Steven was sitting on the beach in Hawaii with George, and George asked him, they were talking about RAIDERS. He said, “Who would you like to produce this?” And Steven said, “Let’s see if we can find that guy Frank Marshall.” Five years later. So that’s a story about, “Always do your best,” because you never know who’s looking.
Advice for Writers
I tell a story about, there was a young man who lived in Philadelphia who was the youngest of six children. His five brothers and sisters were doctors, and his parents were doctors, but he wanted to be a filmmaker, and so he went to NYU to be a filmmaker, and he dropped out after one semester, and he went back to Philadelphia, and he wrote a script, and he didn’t have anybody in the business in his family, and somehow, that script made its way all the way to California and onto Kathy and I’s desks, and that was THE SIXTH SENSE. So my advice there is write a good script. And, and it was. It was the best spec script I’ve ever read to this day, but he was passionate about it, he was driven, and somehow, and I still don’t know, he gave it to somebody who gave it to somebody who got it to New York who got it to an agent who got it out to L.A. who got it to all of us, and there’s… there’s no path. So don’t think that there’s some magic path to get it into the ether, and to get it. A lot of it’s luck, being in the right place at the right time, but write that story and write it and make it emotional, passionate, unusual, spend a lot of time on it. It’s so much different today than even during THE SIXTH SENSE times. But you just find that story that you love, write about things that you know about, that you love, that you’ve experienced or seen. You can go into sci-fi and things like that, too, which is good, and be imaginative, but make up those great characters.
There was also, there’s also a story about when Kathy was, took a screenwriting class at San Diego State, she was a freshman or a sophomore, and it was being taught by a fellow named Nate Monaster, who was the head of the Writer’s Guild at that time up in L.A., and he was teaching this class on screenwriting down in San Diego State. And so his first speech on the opening day was, “I want you to all go home and I want you to write every day- I want you to write about something. Write about your cornflakes, write about your car, write about what you did last night, but write every day, and then turn it in and I’ll evaluate it, and we’ll go from there.” So about a month later, Nate Monaster got up in front of the class and said, “Well, I want to tell you all that you’re doing very well and some of you are writing very nicely about your cornflakes and things, but there is one fellow in here who shouldn’t be here, because he’s writing sitcoms, and he’s turning in some really good ones, and his name is Gary David Goldberg.” And Gary was older, about ten years older than Kathy, and he was writing, and Nate said, “Now, I’m gonna get him a job,” made him stand up in the room, and said, “Next week, you’re gonna be writing on the TONY RANDALL SHOW in Los Angeles,” and as many of you know, Gary went onto, to be an incredible comedy writer and sitcom writer, and one of the greatest people I’ve ever known, but he wrote with passion, you know. He just wrote experiences about his family, and FAMILY TIES is really based on his family, his girls and his relationship with his wife, and that was from the heart. So my advice is write from the heart.
On Finding Oscar
A fellow I went to high school with is a human rights lawyer now in New York, and he had done some, a lot of work for, for Central and South American causes, and he started telling me this story about two and a half years ago about a young man he was representing named Oscar, who lived up in Boston. And one day, he called me and said, “Oscar and I are coming out to Los Angeles. You want to have dinner?” And I said, “Sure.” So we went to dinner, Scott is his name, and Scott brought Oscar and this other fellow, Freddy who were both from Guatemala, but Oscar lived in Boston now, and we had this dinner, and at the dinner, they told me the most incredible story about Oscar, and I didn’t know what to do with it, but I knew it was a story that was compelling and somehow we should tell this story. So luckily, I had a documentary division in place, and I, and we had our own cameras. So that night I went home and I called Ryan. I said, “I don’t know what to say, but get the camera,”and Oscar was going to a little city outside of San Bernardino called Riverside, California, where he was testifying in the penalty phase of someone who had been prosecuted, and so I said, I know what it is, but take the camera and go and see what you can get, and that was the start of our journey, and, and two and a half years later, we’re here to show you what we came up with. So I encourage you to come see it. It’s an amazing, horrifying, but at the end, uplifting human story.
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