A Lesson in the Power of One Line – Leigh Brackett [Essay]

Watching a rerun of The Rockford Files the other day I noted 2 interesting things – things that came up in conversations with writers, producers and development execs who gave guest lectures at our Stephens College MFA in Screenwriting over our last workshop session. Particularly, what came up was the idea of what execs and showrunners look for when they read a spec script. Several producers and show runners said they look for solid scenes and one or two spectacular lines of dialogue – lines that stood out as well-written and never strayed away from character.

So watching a first season Rockford episode called “The Four Pound Brick” I noted a line of dialogue that stuck with me over a few days. An older woman was walking away from the cemetery plot for her 26 year old son. She was commenting on the (then new) policy of not allowing headstones in favor of flat stones that allowed lawnmowers to ride over and therefore keep the whole area neater. She said, “I think cemeteries ought to be a bit messy. Like lives.” A very nice line that struck me as something that would make me want to read more of that writer.

Then I used IMDB to get the writer’s name: Leigh Brackett. You might (or so I say you should) recognize her name from a number of successful hard-boiled, manly-man detective and western films such as The Big Sleep, El Dorado, and Rio Bravo. She also wrote a slew of science-fiction/fantasy books and often collaborated with Ray Bradbury.

Brackett 2 Brackett 1

I don’t like the fact that this is a compliment, but it was then and still is: Director Howard Hawks thought Leigh Brackett was a good writer because – according to him – she wrote “like a man”.

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For my fellow Star Wars fans, you will recognize Brackett for her co-screenwriting credit (shared with Lawrence Kasdan) for Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Long-time fan of her writing, George Lucas, wanted her and only her to write the sequel to his blockbuster film once he’d figured out he liked directing and world-building more than the nuts and bolts of executing those big dreams on the big screen. He wanted Han Solo to be a combination of Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne – a manly man with a sensitive side – and hired the woman who could do that. But she died of cancer after writing the first version of the script so Lucas did some work on her draft before asking Lawrence Kasdan to finish the screenplay. Both men respected and admired Brackett so much – and kept so much of her characterizations and structure – that her name remains on the final script. Apparently, there was only one copy of her version at an archive but eventually it made its way onto the internet where you can read it:

The Empire Strikes Back – Brackett Draft (PDF)

Empire strikes back style a

I like Han Solo’s line about Hoth: “I doubt if God even remembers where he hung this star.” I wonder how many rewrite drafts it survived until either Lucas or Kasdan decided not to mention gods of any kind in their alternate universe…

But it was interesting to see that the advice of current showrunners helped me pick out a quality writer in the midst of her career. I haven’t researched how she came to write a Rockford episode but many screenwriters of the 40s and 50s turned to television for a while since it was such a lucrative market.

As a final note, the IMDB trivia page tells us that the character “Sheriff Leigh Brackett” in John Carpenter’s independent horror film Halloween (1978) was named after her. It’s a nice tribute, but a nicer one would be that more of us recognize her name more often.

Leigh Brackett on Wikipedia

Leigh Brackett on IMDB

Books by Leigh Brackett at Amazon.com

Women Who Run the Room: A Conversation with Showrunners at the WGAw and co-sponsored by the Stephens MFA in Screenwriting Program [Photo]

Women Who Run the Room: A Conversation with Showrunners at the WGAw and co-sponsored by the Stephens MFA in Screenwriting Program [Photo]

Women Who Run the Room: A Conversation with Showrunners at the WGAw and co-sponsored by the Stephens MFA in Screenwriting Program. 

Photos of the panel and the full house/sold out audience from Women Who Run the Room: A Conversation with Showrunners. The Stephens MFA in Screenwriting co-sponsored this event with the Writers Guild Foundation. (from left to right: Dr. Rosanne Welch, moderator; Alexa Junge from Grace and Frankie; Dee Johnson from Nashville; Laurie McCarthy from Reign; Lizzy Weiss from Switched at Birth; SJ Hodges from Guidance)


Do you want to be a screenwriter? Check out these books!

More books on screenwriting from Amazon.com

Save the Date: Rosanne Hosts “Women Who Run The Room: A Conversation with Showrunners” – Sat. Aug. 6, 2015

Dr. Rosanne Welch will be hosting this WGA panel discussion sponsored by Stephens College MFA in Television and Screenwriting, where she teaches The History of Screenwriting and Writing the One-Hour Drama.

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Women Who Run The Room: A Conversation with Showrunners

Sat, August 6, 2016
2:00 PM – 3:30 PM

On this special Saturday event, a panel of female showrunners discusses their experiences of running a room and the impact of increasing female voices in television.

Panelists:

Alexa Junge – GRACE AND FRANKIE, UNITED STATES OF TARA, FRIENDS
Check back for more panelist announcements.

StephensCollege_PeformingArtsSponsored by Stephens College MFA in Television and Screenwriting.

Doors open at 1:30pm. Event starts at 2:00pm.

All events advertised on our “Events” page are open to anyone who wants to buy a ticket – not just WGA members!

Proceeds benefit the Foundation’s library and archive and other outreach programs.

 

Tickets:

General Admission Ticket $20.00
WGA Member / Student Ticket $15.00
with Membership card or Student Identification

Panel: Increasing the Power of Women’s Voices in Hollywood from the Stephens College MFA in Screenwriting Program [Video]

Increasing the Power of Women’s Voices in Hollywood
Moderated by Dr. Rosanne Welch with Kate Powers, Minoti Vaishnav, Allison Schroeder, Elizabeth Martin, and Niceole Levy.

I’m happy to announce that a panel discussion I moderated (in my role as a professor of the History of Screenwriting for the Stephens College MFA in Screenwriting) has been posted to the students’ YouTube Channel:  Reel Dream Squad

For the discussion titled “Increasing the Power of Women’s Voices in Hollywood”, I was joined by five up and coming writers in Hollywood with projects ranging from the live-action Mulan to The Mysteries of Laura.

These women tell stories of how they trained to be writers, how they obtained managers and agents and the joy of their first script sales, while constantly considering one of my major themes: How important it is to have a female voice in the room.

Increasing the Power of Women's Voices in Hollywood from the Stephens College MFA in Screenwriting Program

Subscribe to Real Dream Squad on YouTube

A Female Voice in the Room | Dr. Rosanne Welch | TEDxCPP [Video] (12:56)

I’m happy to announce that the TEDx talk I gave at TEDxCPP was chosen for posting to the main TEDx page on YouTube!

I want to thank the entire TEDxCPP team for all their hard work in preparing the event on our campus.

I hope all the women — and men — who watch it remember how important it is to listen to “the female voice in the room.”

A Female Voice in the Room | Rosanne Welch | TEDxCPP [Video] (12:56)

When people collaborate, there is a greater chance of success. Collaboration works best when there is diversity within the people. Making sure to speak up on behalf on your identities and make sure they are being represented is important.

Dr. Rosanne Welch teaches Humanities courses in the IGE Department at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona; screenwriting in the California State University, Fullerton RTVF Department; and film history and screenwriting courses for the MFA in Screenwriting program of Stephens College.

Welch began her professional life as a television writer/producer on Beverly Hills 90210, Picket Fences and Touched by an Angel. In 1998 she researched, wrote and co-produced Bill Clinton and the Boys Nation Class of 1963 for ABC NEWS/Nightline. Welch has done presentations based on previously published works including a chapter in Torchwood Declassified: Investigating Mainstream Cult Television; an essay in Doctor Who and Race: An Anthology; and her forthcoming book Why The Monkees Matter (2016 McFarland Publishing).

In April she will publish the 4-volume Women in American History: A Social, Political, and Cultural Encyclopedia and Document Collection (ABC-CLIO) a project she co-edited with fellow Cal Poly Pomona Professor, Dr. Peg Lamphier.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx

News: Professors Give American Women Their Own Historic Focus | PolyCentric

It is always fun to work with student journalists – this is a story written by one from CalPoly Pomona about the 4 volume encyclopedia my colleague Peg Lamphier and I co-edited for ABC-CLIO over the last three years – it is now available for pre-order by high school and college libraries (and any individuals who like to college encyclopedias or books about cool women!)

Professors Give American Women Their Own Historic Focus | PolyCentric | Carly Owens

Welch-and-Lemphier

There’s a proverb that says “women hold up half the sky,” a centuries-old homage to the vital role women play.

Cal Poly Pomona Professors Rosanne Welch and Peg Lamphier have compiled those historic feats in a new encyclopedia titled “Women in American History.”

The four-volume set covers pre-colonial history to modern-day feminism.

“It’s women in American history and culture, so we thought about what kind of women don’t normally get into encyclopedias to ensure there was a great diversity expressed,” says Welch, who holds a doctorate in American social history of the 21st century.

Some women who are included in the compilation are ones people may not expect to see in an encyclopedia.

“Lady Gaga hasn’t made many encyclopedias, but her philanthropy and influence on media earned her a place in the book,” Welch says.

Read the entire article

Who Wrote The Monkees? – “I’ve Got a Little Song Here” written by Treva Silverman

Who Wrote The Monkees? – “I’ve Got a Little Song Here” written by Treva Silverman Part 4 of an on-going series

This weekend Antenna TV airs “I’ve Got a Little Song Here” written by Treva Silverman. One of several staff writers for The Monkees who went on to win Emmy Awards for her later work in television (Her Emmy came from The Mary Tyler Moore Show). Treva was the only woman writer on the The Monkees.

Who Wrote The Monkees? –

Little song monkees

 

If you’re interested in learning more about Treva’s post Monkees work, the blog “…by Ken Levine” did a nice coverage of her work on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, complete with some script pages and a whole page of biography noting that Valerie Harper (Rhoda) called Treva the “Feminist conscience of the show”. In my book, I write that Treva brought that same feminist conscience to The Monkees where viewers can note that none of the young women the Monkees dated were ever ditzy – they were always women of substance – serious about their schoolwork or with careers already in place or otherwise involved in the world. Not bad for a show about four band members. I believe that attitude came to The Monkees from Treva – the only female writer on staff.

 



More information on The Monkees:

Previously in Who Wrote The Monkees?:

The Vagina Monologues 2016 – Rosanne performs “The Flood”

The Vagina Monologues 2016 – Rosanne performs “The Flood”

Rmw vagina monologues 2016

On Tuesday February 16th the Women’s Resource Center of CalPoly Pomona presented their 15th annual performance of Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues“.

My colleague Peg Lamphier and I joined a cadre of talented students in performing one monologue together.  Then a student dropped out and the director asked me to cover for her so this is my rendition of a monologue entitled “The Flood”.  It came from Ensler’s extensive interviews with women over the age of 65, many of whom were not able to say the word ‘vagina’ out loud.  

The best thing about the evening (besides ‘acting’ on stage again!) was watching all the students create a bond over the material – and watching those who had sat shyly in the back of some of my classroom discussions suddenly shouting “Vagina!” or impersonate moaning… We had to stifle our laughter backstage during most of the show.  But seeing all these female students become sisters through theatre was the best.

Link: Cal Poly Pomona Women’s Resource Center

Finding Diversity in Television History in the David Dortort Archive at the Autry Museum

Today we thank Shonda Rhimes for bringing color blind casting to television when she casts a diverse array of ethnicities in lead roles on her shows.  But she didn’t invent the idea.  On our visit to the Autry Museum of the American West I was reminded of a show I used to watch on television but that disappeared too quickly (I didn’t then know why) and didn’t reappear in reruns as much as the more successful, longer-running program also created by the same writer (Bonanza).

1968-TV-099-TheHighChaparral

 

The show I only vaguely remembered was The High Chaparral – the story of a Mexican woman married to a man of European descent (then controversially considered an inter-racial marriage) who owned a rancho in the West post the Civil War.  I remembered it for its diverse cast and honest portrayal of the discrimination played out against minorities in the West.

Special Projects Archivist Mallory Furnier wrote the blog post, “Casting Actors as People” highlighting the archives of The High Chaparral in the David Dortort Archive, where she noted:

“Though The High Chaparral faced untimely cancellation, its four seasons embodied a step away from tired, inaccurate stereotypes and a movement toward greater respect for actors and characters, regardless of race. As a June 16, 1970 NBC memo instructed, “let’s cast actors to play people and, in so doing, give the ‘minorities’ a break.”

hc-cast

In a second blog post, “Finding Aids and Places”,  Furnier discussed her trip to the Old Tuscon Studios in Arizona, site of some of the exterior filming of the show.

As always, I found it fascinating to wander around in the papers (old, handwritten first drafts of scripts, typed rewrites ready for production meetings, cast lists, shooting schedules, etc) and see the inside ideas of a show I had only seen from the outside all those years ago.

One of the papers was even a 1971 letter to Dortort from then U.N. Representative George H. W. Bush saying he sympathized with the producer over the cancellation of such a quality show and would do what he could to communicate that to those who had made that decision.  Fascinating.

Listen to the High Chapparal Theme Song.

High Chapparel script cover

High Chaparral Script Cover

 

Please tell your local librarian about my book, Women in American History: A Social, Political, and Cultural Encyclopedia and Document Collection

We know our new 4-volume encyclopedia Women in American History: A Social, Political, and Cultural Encyclopedia and Document Collection is not the kind of thing an average person purchases based on size and cost (though I remember a pre-internet time when door-to-door salesmen still hawked the Encyclopedia Britannica and my mom bought a copy to help me do well in school and get to college).

In this modern world, if you want to help Peg and I (and all the students who can benefit from learning about all these wonderful women who helped shape American culture) consider passing a copy of the attached flyer out to your local public or university librarians (in print and/or via email) and ask if they will order a set for their branch.

Thanks!

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Click to download the PDF flyer, ready for printing or attaching to an email

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