Love them or hate them, mushy films about love are here to stay. Whether you love love or can’t stand the site of heart-shaped candy, there’s something special to be said about the screenwriters who tug at our heartstrings with stories of finally meeting our someone. The following romance writers have found a place in the hearts of millions of viewers around the globe.
“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”
What’s a love story without a great ending? Casablanca, one of the greatest romance movies of all time, almost didn’t have one.
“When we began, we didn’t have a finished script,” said screenwriter Howard Koch. “Ingrid Bergman (Isla Lund) came to me and said, ‘which man should I love more?’ I said to her, ‘I don’t know … play them both evenly.’ You see, we didn’t have an ending, so we didn’t know what was going to happen!” (Hollywood Hotline, May 1995).
Along with screenwriters and twin brothers Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein, the three did eventually settle on an ending. In the story, a weary expat who runs a nightclub in Morocco decides to protect a former lover and her husband from Nazis when the couple shows up at his establishment. In the end, he must make an excruciating decision.
Amazingly, the Epsteins and Koch never worked on the script in the same room together. The script is based on the never-produced play “Everybody Comes to Rick’s” by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison.
“I’ll never let go, Jack. I’ll never let go.”
Though tragic, Titanic is a love story of epic proportions. Analogous to Romeo and Juliet, a young aristocrat falls for an impoverished artist aboard the doomed cruise liner on its maiden voyage. But there are less obvious storylines in this 1997 James Cameron masterpiece that initially drew Paramount executives to the screenplay.
“It was a great love story, with an underlying message about female empowerment,” said Sherry Lansing, CEO of Paramount Pictures at the time, in past interviews about the film. “Rose [Kate Winslet] was strong and feisty from the beginning – she’s an independent woman who breaks with her class to be with the man she loves [Leonardo DiCaprio]. People underestimated the strength of those characters and how unconventional they were.”
Cameron, who wrote and directed the film, broke box office records and earned 11 Academy Awards for the film – a far cry from his flailing early years as a screenwriter and director. After dropping out of college, Cameron was a truck driver to support his screenwriting ambition. He was fired from his first job as a director in 1981 and didn’t find much success until he wrote and directed The Terminator in 1984.
Sleepless in Seattle
“You make a million decisions that mean nothing, and then one day, you order take-out, and it changes your life.”
Not unlike his characters in his romantic film Sleepless in Seattle, screenwriter Jeff Arch had all but given up on destiny working in his favor. He thought he was to be a professional screenwriter, but after four unsold scripts and a failed off-Broadway attempt, he was downtrodden. It wasn’t until several years later that he had a lightbulb moment.
“Virginia. 1990. I’m thirty-five years old, married with two very young kids. No one’s asking, but I get an idea for a love story where the two main characters don’t even meet until the very last scene – but that when they do, it’s on top of the Empire State Building, on Valentine’s Day,” he said in an interview with Go Into the Story. “I call it Sleepless in Seattle, and I know it’s going to be a monster. I can feel it.”
Along with Nora Ephron and David Ward, Arch finished the screenplay, and it debuted to critical acclaim. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen in 1994, and again for Best Actor, Actress, and Motion Picture at the Golden Globes the same year.
What’s brilliant about the screenplay for WALL-E, a Pixar Animation Studios production, is that it features relatively no dialogue between the two main characters. WALL-E is a melancholy love story about a lonely robot left to pick up trash on future Earth, whose only friend is a cockroach until EVE shows up. The story comes to life through the characters’ interactions, and the viewer soon finds themselves in a robot love story that’s both heartwarming and sad.
Screenwriter and Director Andrew Stanton (A Bug’s Life, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Monster’s Inc.), along with Peter Docter (Up, Inside Out) and Jim Reardon (Wreck-It Ralph, Zootopia), dreamed up the story-line, which some say has an underlying theme of environmentalism. But Stanton said the love story didn’t originate there.
“Hey! We could do a sci-fi,” Stanton said of his brainstorming sessions with Docter and Reardon. “What about the last robot on Earth? … there wasn’t a name of the character. We didn’t even know what it would look like. But it was the loneliest scenario I had ever heard, and I just sort of loved it.”
WALL-E won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2009.
The Shape of Water
“If I told you about her, what would I say? That they lived happily ever after? I believe they did. That they were in love? … I’m sure that’s true. But when I think of her – of Elisa – the only thing that comes to mind is a poem, whispered by someone in love, hundreds of years ago: “Unable to perceive the shape of You, I find You all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with Your love, It humbles my heart, For You are everywhere.”
In another beautiful love story where dialogue from the main characters is nonexistent, the screenplay for the Shape of Water centers around a mute cleaning lady and a sea creature who fall in love without ever saying a word.
Similarly, screenwriters Guillermo del Toro (writer on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey; Hellboy) and Vanessa Taylor (Game of Thrones, Divergent, Everwood, Alias) also didn’t speak while writing the film, except for some emails back and forth.
“I think that 50 percent of the narrative is in the audio/visual storytelling,” Guillermo del Toro said in past interviews. “I happen to think the screenplay is the basis of it all … but definitely doesn’t tell the whole movie. A lot of the narrative is in the details.”
Taylor said in an interview that once she realized del Toro’s vision, she fell in love with the concept.
“When I got to the part where I realized it was a fairytale, I was like, ‘Oh, fantastic!’ They’re really primal and there’s a reason why we keep telling the same ones over and over and over again,” she said. “I think children have a reaction to them and adults have a reaction to them. They get in deep in terms of the profound emotion they evoke. I like the ‘What if?’ of it all.”
Taylor and del Toro have both referred to the story of Beauty and the Beast – without the transformation element – as inspiration for The Shape of Water.
Beauty and the Beast
“I want adventure in the great wide somewhere! I want it more than I can tell!”
In this Disney classic, a selfish prince is cursed to be a monster for the rest of his days, unless he can learn to fall in love. But other than the beautiful young woman locked away in his castle, this love story was less damsel in distress than Disney princess movies before it.
Screenwriter Linda Woolverton wanted to break the mold on fairytale love stories of years past, and she took her chance on her screenplay for Disney’s animated film, Beauty and the Beast. She said she had to fight with execs during the writing process to tell the story the way she envisioned.
“I think you can take on current issues of today through fairytales or the mythic,” She said in a past interview. “And so that was my fight, always saying ‘the audience is just not gonna buy this anymore.’ Look at all the Disney princesses before [Belle]. Beauty and the Beast is a fairytale, but she has an independent, open mind. She loves to read and explore the outdoors,” Woolverton said (Entertainment Weekly).
Woolverton started writing for Disney (Maleficent, The Lion King, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Alice in Wonderland) after a studio executive discovered one of her novels. She had written two while also running a children’s theater company.
Additional writer credits on Beauty and the Beast include Brenda Chapman, Chris Sanders, Burny Mattinson, Kevin Harkey, Brian Pimental, Bruce Woodside, Joe Ranft, Tom Ellery, Kelly Asbury, Robert Lence.
In the greatest films about love, one thing is certain: screenwriters were at the center of them all. And for that, we say Happy Valentine’s Day to writers near and far!
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