http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/doug_moe/doug-moe-anecdotes-illustrate-film-s-fickle-nature/article_a83770f6-6142-11e1-b93b-0019bb2963f4.htmlFrom the Wisconsin State Journal:
By DOUG MOE
One of these years the Wisconsin Film Festival should invite Joe McBride back to town to tell stories of the glory days of film on the UW-Madison campus, as well as what happened to him later when he went Hollywood.
In fact, why not this year?
McBride, 64, who teaches screenwriting and film history at San Francisco State University, has a new book, “Writing in Pictures: Screenwriting Made (Mostly) Painless,” published this week. It is filled with practical advice and the kind of colorful anecdotes a festival audience would devour.
One of my favorites in the book, from a chapter on adapting works of fiction for the screen — and securing the film rights — concerns a night of drinking tequila with director Sam Peckinpah and famed author Ray Bradbury at a Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles.
Peckinpah’s legendary thirst left him face down on the table. McBride turned to Bradbury and told the author how much he loved one of his short stories. McBride said he would like to make it into a film, though he had no money to buy the rights.
“I have many short stories and very few lovers,” Bradbury replied, adding he would charge nothing for the rights.
McBride was stunned. He didn’t make the film — rights aside, there was no money for that either — but includes the story to illustrate how with a little chutzpah, there’s no telling whose head you might turn.
And don’t even get him started on Orson Welles.
Actually, Welles might be just the place to start, for it was the “Citizen Kane” director who made McBride fall in love with movies in the first place.
Originally from Wauwatosa, in September 1966 McBride was taking a beginning film class taught by charismatic UW-Madison professor Richard Byrne. “Kane” was screened one day in class, and the young McBride was blown away.
In the manner of young dreamers everywhere, McBride decided to write a book about Welles’ films. He secured a print of “Kane” and watched it 60 times over the next four years. McBride discovered there were 35 film societies on the Madison campus and eventually ran one himself.
By summer 1970, McBride finished his Welles manuscript and was working as a reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. He was trying to reach Welles through the director’s New York attorney. The Great Man did not respond.
McBride gave up on reaching Welles and headed for Los Angeles. He and Mike Wilmington were researching a book on the director John Ford.
Once in California, McBride called Peter Bogdanovich, a young director and film writer he admired. Bogdanovich answered and said, “I’m on the other line with Orson.”
It led to an introduction for McBride, which led to a friendship. Welles eventually put McBride in his film “The Other Side of the Wind.” Though the unfinished film was never released, its legend is such that a Northwestern professor is writing a book on its making. McBride was cast as an earnest film enthusiast.
In all, McBride published three books on Welles, the most recent in 2006. During his Hollywood years he worked as a screenwriter (the cult classic “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” is among his credits) and authored other film biographies (Frank Capra and Steven Spielberg among them).
In 2000, McBride moved north to San Francisco, and a teaching career. It was while searching for a textbook for his screenwriting class that the idea for the new book first surfaced.
“I wasn’t impressed with any of the books,” McBride said last week, by phone from California.
So he wrote his own. The new book is cautionary. McBride quotes his screenwriter friend, Sam Hamm, telling film students, “If you can do anything else, do it.” The odds are that long.
But those who won’t be dissuaded will find tremendous practical value in McBride’s book. He uses a Jack London short story to outline the entire creative process of adapting fiction for film. He encourages budding filmmakers to develop their original ideas into low- (or no-) budget films using new technologies.
Finally, McBride encourages new screenwriters to be leery of advice. He recalls his first agent in Hollywood telling him in 1973 not to write comedies about teenagers. They don’t sell.
One week later, “American Graffiti” was released. It grossed $115 million in the U.S. alone.