Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Courtney Meznarich

This Month in Filmmaking History - December 2020 Roundup

  • On this day in history


    screenplay by

    • Steven Zaillian

    Schindler’s List -

    “Schindler’s List,” written by screenwriter Steven Zaillian based on the novel “Schindler’s Ark,” debuted in New York City on this day in history in 1993. Steven Spielberg directed the film, which he chose to shoot entirely in black and white to create a sense of timelessness and a documentary feel. The script is based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, who saved more than 1,000 Jewish people during the Holocaust by giving them work at his factories. Spielberg at first tried to hand the job of directing off to several people because he felt he wasn’t ready to take on such a heavy topic. During that time, the screenplay went through several rewrites with several screenwriters, extending from 220 pages to 115 pages and back again to 195. The film is considered one of the best movies ever made, and it won seven Oscars.

  • On this day in history


    • Happy 90th Birthday!

    Jean-Luc Godard -

    French-Swiss filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard is one of the fathers of the French New Wave film movement, which went against traditional movie-making in favor of experimenting with visuals, editing techniques, and narratives. He got his start as a film critic for the French magazine “Cahiers du Cinema,” where he was outspoken against French and Hollywood film conventions, and eventually inspired to start making his own movies with challenged those ideas. Godard’s films include “Breathless,” “The Little Soldier,” and “My Life to Live.”  He turns 90 years old today.

  • On this day in history


    • Born 119 years ago

    Walt Disney -

    Walt Disney was born on this day in history in 1901. He was just 27 years old when he developed Mickey Mouse, who is probably the most famous cartoon character on the planet all these years later. Disney got his first illustrator job when he was just 18, and he’d go on to be a pioneer in animated film. He founded Disney Brothers Studios with his brother Roy in the early 1920s, producing films including “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Dumbo,” and “Bambi,” before getting the idea for Disneyland in the 1950s. He still holds the record for the most Oscars won by a single person, and while his brand now spans the globe, it has maintained its image of wholesome entertainment for the past 100 years.

  • On this day in history


    • Born 130 years ago

    Fritz Lang -

    Austrian and German filmmaker Fritz Lang was born on this day in history in 1890 in Vienna, Austria, and he passed away at the age of 85 in Beverly Hills, California after becoming a naturalized American citizen. Initially, he studied civil engineering in school, but later made the switch to study art. It wasn’t until after fighting in World War I for the Austrian Army that he tried his hand at writing for film. He had been shot in the eye, and was recovering from shell shock when he came up with some of his earliest ideas for films. He’d later become one of the pioneers of the Expressionist movement, combining art cinema with more popular genres for a unique take on entertainment that helped launch the Hollywood film noir. His most famous films include “Human Desire” and “Manhunt,” and the British Film Institute nicknamed him the “Master of Darkness.”

  • On this day in history


    screenplay by

    • Larry McMurtry
    • Diana Ossana

    Brokeback Mountain -

    Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana wrote the screenplay for “Brokeback Mountain,” a film that brought queer cinema to mainstream audiences on this day in history in 2005. The romantic drama is about the decades-long complicated relationship between two men in the American West. It’s based on a short story by Annie Proulx. Proulx was incredibly happy with the adaptation, saying McMurtry and Ossana were faithful to her original story and wrote “an exceptionally fine screenplay.” The pair won Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars, and the film was a commercial success despite its distribution being blocked by several countries for its subject matter.

  • On this day in history


    screenplay by

    • Harry Brown
    • Charles Lederer
    • Ted Griffin

    Ocean’s Eleven -

    The remake of “Ocean’s Eleven” debuted on this day in history in 2001, 40 years after the original “Ocean’s 11,” starring Frank Sinatra. Harry Brown and Charles Lederer wrote the 1960s screenplay, and Ted Griffin used it as inspiration for his 21st-century script. The modern version of the movie was praised for its quick wit, high energy, and incredible heist, which relied on “the pinch” to black out power in Las Vegas using a Z machine housed in a van. Though the way Griffin depicted it is unrealistically small, the Sandia z-pinch is a real high-frequency electromagnetic wave generator that is housed in New Mexico. It’s over 100 feet wide and 20 feet tall.

  • On this day in history

    A Charlie Brown

    screenplay by

    • Charles M. Schulz

    A Charlie Brown Christmas -

    For Americans who celebrate Christmas, watching Charles M. Shulz’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is a beloved annual tradition. The made-for-TV movie debuted on this day in history in 1965. While Shulz’s “Peanuts” comic strip had already become a household name around the world by the 60s, this was the first time his stories had been turned into a TV special. He developed the script over several weeks, and CBS produced it in just six months. But the network was sure the cartoon would be a flop, saying it was too slow, its tone was weak, and the jazz score wasn’t a good fit. Audiences disagreed, though, and the TV special has aired every single Christmas season since. It established the style for several “Peanuts” movies after it.  

  • On this day in history

      The Movie

    screenplay by

    • Mario Puzo
    • David Newman, Leslie Newman
    • Robert Benton

    Superman: The Movie -

    “Superman: The Movie” premiered on this day in history in 1978, and led the way for all superhero films after it, both in storytelling style and cutting-edge special effects. Screenwriters Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, and Robert Benton based the origin story of Superman on the DC Comics character and wrote the sequel to the film at the same time, anticipating that production would take place for both movies simultaneously. By the time the shooting scripts were finished, the story totaled 550 pages, so Director Richard Donner brought in screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz to revise it, calling the long-form version “well written, but still a ridiculous script. You can’t shoot this screenplay because you’ll be shooting for five years.” The WGA refused to give screenplay credit to Mankiewicz, so Donner gave him a creative consultant credit instead. At the time, it was the most expensive movie ever made at $55 million.

  • On this day in history

    Let the Right
      One In

    screenplay by

    • John Ajvide Lindqvist

    Let the Right One In -

    Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist adapted his novel “Let the Right One In” to a romantic horror screenplay with the same name, and it debuted on this day in 2008. The story follows a young boy who becomes friends with a vampire child in Stockholm. Director Tomas Alfredson wasn’t convinced that Lindqvist could do a good job on the script, but Lindqvist insisted he write it himself. The move was a hit with critics, who liked that the film wasn’t just another vampire movie but instead relied on great storytelling. The film’s success was widespread. It earned awards worldwide, including Best Narrative Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival, the Saturn Award for Best International Film, and the European Fantastic Film Festival’s Golden Méliès.

  • On this day in history

    The Jerk

    screenplay by

    • Steve Martin
    • Carl Gottlieb
    • Michael Elias

    The Jerk -

    Steve Martin both starred in and co-wrote “The Jerk,” along with screenwriters Carl Gottlieb and Michael Elias, which premiered on this day in history in 1979. It was Martin’s first starring role in a movie, though he was already a very popular comedian. He used some of his standup in the script, and the trio worked hard to make sure there was at least one laugh on every page of the screenplay. Martin’s naïve character, named Navin, is an adopted white son to black parents, who decides on his 18th birthday that he wants to leave home and discover the big city. He has no idea he is adopted, and hilarity ensues. The comedy was a big success, earning $100 million against a $4 million budget.  

  • On this day in history

    Gone With
       the Wind

    screenplay by

    • Sidney Howard

    Gone With the Wind -

    Adjusted for inflation, Sidney Howard’s “Gone With the Wind” is the highest-grossing film in history. It debuted on this day in history in 1939. Howard’s adapted screenplay is based on Margaret Mitchell’s novel published just a few years before the film’s release. Howard’s first draft would have equaled a six-hour-long movie, so he was asked to work on set to revise it. But, he refused to leave New England, so several writers were hired to fix the script. One of those writers, Ben Hecht, was given just five days to rewrite the screenplay, but he was only able to get through half. Producer David Selznick finished it. Howard died before the movie premiered, and he was ultimately awarded full screenplay credit.

  • On this day in history

    Saturday Night

    screenplay by

    • Norman Wexler

    Saturday Night Fever -

    Did you know that “Saturday Night Fever,” which premiered on this day in 1977, was based on a real New York Magazine article that was later found to be fake? Norman Wexler wrote the screenplay about lead character Tony Manero after reading Nik Cohn’s article titled “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night.” The report supposedly details disco subculture in the 70s, centered around a man named Vincent, but 20 years later, Cohn admitted that he had made it all up. He did, in fact, visit a disco as research for his article, but when he arrived, someone threw up on his pants, and he quickly left. He combined his memory of a man outside the disco with various characters from his childhood to create Vincent. The resulting dance drama launched John Travolta into stardom, and the soundtrack featuring the Bee Gees is still one of the best-selling of all time.

  • On this day in history


    • Happy 74th Birthday!

    Steven Spielberg -

    Happy birthday, Steven Spielberg! The 74-year-old filmmaker was born on this day in Cincinnati, Ohio. He grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family, and he said he was bullied terribly for it. So, Spielberg retreated to his creativity, making his first movie at the age of 12. When he was 16, he made a 140-minute science fiction feature called “Firelight,” which was shown at a local theater. He later became the youngest director ever to earn a long-term contract with a Hollywood studio, when he was hired on for seven years following an unpaid internship with the editing department at Universal Studios. He’s now one of the most influential directors of all time, making movies about characters who experience extraordinary circumstances, with themes of optimism threaded throughout. His most famous films include “Jaws,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “ET the Extra-Terrestrial,” “Indiana Jones,” “Jurassic Park,” and “Saving Private Ryan.”

  • On this day in history

    Snow White
    and the Seven Dwarfs

    • 8 Storyboard Artists

    Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs -

    “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was the first Disney animated feature film, debuting on this day in history in 1937. It is also the first feature-length traditionally animated movie, in which each frame is drawn by hand. Production involved at least eight storyboard artists and six directors, who each took on a sequence in the story based on the Brothers Grimm fairytale. The film was a huge commercial success for Disney, and it remains the highest-grossing animated film of all time adjusted for inflation. Disney reportedly mortgaged his house to pay for the production, which ended up costing nearly $1.5 million, which was an unheard-of production budget in the 30s.

  • On this day in history

      The Mummy

    screenplay by

    • John L. Balderston

    The Mummy -

    Producer Carl Laemmle Jr. was inspired to make the original “The Mummy,” which debuted on this day in 1932, after the opening of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in the early 20s. Following in the footsteps of “Dracula” and “Frankenstein,” Laemmle enlisted the help of a story editor Richard Schayer to find a novel upon which he could base his new movie. Schayer didn’t find anything that worked, so he and Nina Putnam wrote their own treatment about a 3,000-year-old magician who survived by injecting himself with nitrates. Laemmle liked the idea and hired on screenwriter John L. Balderston to write the script. Balderston coincidentally had covered the opening of King Tut’s tomb for the New York World newspaper. He changed the story to occur in Egypt, and Karl Freund (“Dracula” Cinematographer) was hired to direct. The 1999 remake of the film has a different storyline but features similar characters.

  • On this day in history

      As Good As
       It Gets

    screenplay by

    • Mark Andrus
    • James L. Brooks

    As Good As It Gets -

    James L. Brooks directed and co-wrote the 1997 romantic comedy “As Good as It Gets” with screenwriter Mark Andrus. The original story follows the unlikely friendship that develops between an obsessive-compulsive romance novelist, a gay artist, and a single mother and waitress. Andrus and Brooks earned the Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen nomination from the Academy Awards, and Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt won Best Actor and Actress Oscars for their leading roles. The screenplay was praised for its smart dialogue but criticized for being overly sentimental. Audiences loved it, however, and the film grossed $314 million against its $50 million budget.

  • On this day in history

       Of Mice
            and Men

    screenplay by

    • Eugene Solow

    Of Mice and Men -

    First came the novella by John Steinbeck, then the stage play, and finally the film “Of Mice and Men,” which debuted on this day in history in 1939. Eugene Solow adapted the story for the screen, which follows two men – the intelligent George and the mentally disabled Lennie – who set out to own a ranch instead of working for other ranch owners during the Great Depression. Salow’s screenplay was praised for its adaptation of Steinbeck’s original work and for retaining the strength of the characters, despite having to remove some of the strong language and profanity due to the Hays Code, which disallowed certain content on the basis of morality.

  • On this day in history


    screenplay by

    • Donald Ogden Stewart

    Philadelphia Story -

    Screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart wrote the screenplay for “Philadelphia Story” based on a Broadway play of the same name by Philip Barry, and it debuted on this day in 1940. The script is a unique example of a subgenre of romantic comedy films called “comedy of remarriage,” developed as a workaround to the Hays Code. The Hays Code, also called the Production Code, was a guidebook on how the film industry should treat and self-censor specific issues of morality, including extramarital affairs. In the script, a socialite’s wedding plans are interrupted by her ex-husband and a tabloid writer. The script won Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars.

  • On this day in history


    screenplay by

    • William M. Conselman

    Bright Eyes -

    Screenwriter William M. Conselman wrote the screenplay for “Bright Eyes” specifically for Shirley Temple, and the film premiered on this day in history in 1934. The story about the custody battle for Temple’s character was initially conceived by director David Butler and Edwin J. Burke. Temple’s mother, Gertrude, tried to force Fox Film into revising the script because she didn’t like the character Joy Smyth, who would act alongside her daughter. She felt Smyth’s snobbish character would dampen her daughter’s personality, which audiences had come to love. But, Fox refused. Actor Jane Withers ultimately played Smyth despite being hesitant to play a role that was so “mean” to Temple for fear audiences would hate her for it.

  • On this day in history

    Sons of the

    screenplay by

    • Frank Craven

    Sons of the Desert -

    “Sons of the Desert” is an American comedy written by screenwriter Frank Craven. It premiered in the US on this day in history in 1933, and later released in the UK under the title “Fraternally Yours.” The movie is considered one of the best from comedy pair Laurel and Hardy, a British and an American duo who had developed a big reputation for hilarious slapstick over the course of more than 100 films together. The story follows their misadventures as they journey to a Sons of the Desert fraternal society convention, after lying to their wives about being on a medicinal cruise. Sons of the Desert is now the name of the international fan group of Laurel and Hardy.

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