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09/14/2005 - Larry Turman's Thoughts (No. 5)
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As I stress in my book "So You Want To Be a Producer," though it's stating the obvious, the key to any project is the kick-off idea. "What story do you want to tell?" However, a story may not, isn't always, the same as the plot. Mike Nichols characterized The Graduate to me as, "The story of a boy who saves himself through madness." The plot to serve that story, as many of you well know, is a decision by a boy to not only go after a girl who loathes him for sleeping with her mother, but also to track her down to a church where, to his dismay, she has just legally married someone else. I myself viewed the story of The Graduate as that of a boy who is stultified and dead inside who, through the power of love, finds life and purpose again. Similarly, the great screenwriter William Rose (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) told me, "The Flim-Flam Man is the story of a charming old con man who takes up with a young neophyte and teaches him the tricks of the trade. What the script needs is for the audience to see that this kid learns everything there is to learn about con from the old man, but turns his back on that kind of life, even tough he admires, respects, and even loves, the old flim-flam man."

Each writer has his own pace, his own rhythm and method for solving problems. I produced The Flim-Flam Man and Pretty Poison almost back-to-back. William Rose, a penetrating, thoughtful writer, took one year to deliver the script for The Flim-Flam Man. Lorenzo Semple knocked out a superb draft of Pretty Poison in six weeks. Both were book adaptations. Pretty Poison was voted the best screenplay of 1968 by the New York Film Critics. The Flim-Flam Man got reviews as good, if not better than, those for The Graduate. Some producers push for delivery of a script. Whichever writer first said, "Do you want it fast or do you want it good?" said it right. In William Rose's case, I hired him because he had such perceptive clarity about what the story needed. Although it took him one whole year to solve that problem, solve it he did, brilliantly. Though I don't get a penny from the residuals, go rent the film to see a master screenwriter plot out that one. It was directed, by the way, by Irv Kershner, who did one of the best Star Wars for George Lucas, The Empire Strikes Back.

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