Screenwriting: Writing Your No-Budget Feature

I wrote this article back in 1999, but when I recently re-read it I realized there is a lot of valuable information for no-budget screenwriters to consider. So without further adieu…


Fade In:  The bus flies over the cliff. The airplane misses the runway. The stadium is packed with screaming fans. These are scenes you do not want to find anywhere near the script for your no-budget feature. Why? Because you have no budget and these scenes require money… and often quite a bit of money.

The first screenplay I ever completed was a thrilling adventure of a young U.S. serviceman who had to escape from Russia with top secret documents and, of course, he fell in love along the way. Russian Skies included location shooting in Russia, Norway, and the United States. It also required a high-altitude hydrogen balloon, a submarine, and to top it off, it was a period piece set in 1956.

This screenplay was obviously written for a Hollywood-type and has collected far more dust than I ever thought it would. Over the next few years I continued writing for big, juicy budgets and along the way I discovered something… my screenplays were not getting produced! Yikes! So I decided to do something about it and I set out to produce my own no-budget feature.

When I started writing When Love Walks In (my no-budget project) I was forced to look at things very differently. I knew from the beginning that filming in my living room would cost far less than filming in some foreign country. So I decided on a modern day love story, cast myself as the lead, and begged my wife to let a film crew take over our house.

Filming a scene in the dining room into the living room of my duplex where we shot When Love Walks In. Notice our flatbed garden dolly which we bought for $99. It wasn’t perfect, but it did the job for this low-budget feature.

Writing no-budget films is very different than writing your average Hollywood feature. For starters, with a no-budget project you most likely will be using no-name talent. This means many things, but most importantly it means that you had better have a very good story to tell. It is your story and your story alone which will keep the audience watching. Make it the best it can be.

Your story also must be shootable. What does this mean? It means don’t include a bus careening over a cliff unless you have someone willing to donate a bus, a cliff, and a stunt man to your cause.

Carefully consider the locations you will need. As I got further into my script, I started exploring what locations I might have or realistically be able to get access to. I knew I could use my living room… and my bedroom, guest room, and bathroom… not to mention kitchen, dining room, basement, deck and yard. These locations would not add much production value, but they would be very functional for a good chunk of the film.

My house was the only location I could guarantee use of, and to tell the story of When Love Walks In, I would need two more houses, a park, an outdoor mall, a couple fields, a daycare center, a vineyard, an art gallery, and a train station. For these I would have to rely on the generous people of my community (and a few insane friends). In remarkable fashion, they all came through for me.

Prepping to film the climatic scene at the train station where John Redgrave catches up to Annelise and begs her not to leave. At the time the old train depot was a library so we coordinated with our local librarian to secure the location for this scene.

Here are several other areas to consider when writing your no-budget feature:

  • Characters – Will you find actors who can play your roles? For free? For points?
  • Number of Locations – The more locations required, the more complicated and costly production will be.
  • Props – Can you get everything you need? Can you afford to buy them? What do you have sitting around the house? Who can you borrow from? (I needed an urn to hold the dead wife’s ashes, so I asked the minister of my church. He pointed me to a man in our congregation who owns a funeral home. This man was thrilled to help.)
  • Vehicles – Can cast members drive their own cars in the movie? For example, if the person playing the part of John owns a 1985 Mazda with three hubcaps and no paint, then in the movie John drives the Mazda… unless he can talk the soundman into lending his car.
  • Wardrobe – Be prepared to raid your actor’s closets and visit Goodwill.
  • Stunts – Keep them to a minimum if you need them at all.
  • Extras – Watch out for scenes requiring a lot of extras.

Be practical as you write your no-budget feature. Write it shootable… but most importantly just write it. If you don’t get the script finished you’ll never make the film. And if you never make the film, you will never experience the thrill of no-budget filmmaking.

Some of the cast & crew from When Love Walks In. Left to right: David Oulashian, Brad Embree, Karen Williamson, Savannah Williamson, Ahmad Russell, Terri Moore, Nick Bovee, Chase Williamson, Kent C. Williamson, Ardath Williamson, Ed Williamson, Brad Williamson, and Morris Priddy

2017 UPDATE: A couple of items of interest… Russian Skies the high-budget screenplay mentioned in this article still has not been produced (which means it’s still available or still collecting dust depending on your take). When Love Walks In wasn’t released until 2005. It won a number of awards at festivals and is still finding audiences today.

The Curtain Has Closed On My Forties…

Well, last night the curtain closed on my forties, which means that today it opens on my fifties. For the last few years I’ve had a sinking feeling about the arrival of this day. Mainly because from 47 though 49 I thought of myself as “late forties”, but at 50 it’s really hard to think of yourself as anything more than “middle aged”. Of course, if we’re lucky enough to get 70 years, then I guess 35 is really the middle, so welcome to “middle age” my 35 year old friends.

Last night I celebrated my last day of 49 by watching the opening night performance of the Arthur Miller classic Death of a Salesman at Live Arts here in Charlottesville. The Pulitzer Prize winning play tells the story of Willie Loman, a washed up traveling salesman who has a hard time recognizing the emptiness and ordinariness of his life and whose desire to make the necessary changes is just not quite strong enough. It’s a brilliantly written story that some find depressing, but in it there is a painful hope as Willie’s son Biff comes to terms with his own emptiness and takes charge of his life to begin the process of change; to pull out of the downward spiral that consumes his father.

In many ways Willie Loman is “everyman”. His emptiness is our emptiness. His ordinariness is our ordinariness. His struggle to make a better life is our struggle. Even in hard circumstances we see glimmers of hope of how life could be better. Sometimes we pursue that hope and the doors open, but like Willie, sometimes those doors close.

I don’t believe in happenstance — I believe in design. Which is why I had to be in the audience of Death of a Salesman on my last night of my forties (an audience who, by the way, gave a standing ovation to the cast of the show — Bravo!). Over the last week as my turning 50 drew nearer I began to have an amazing (even surprising) sense of peace about this big day. And guess what I realized? It’s you, my friends, who will make “middle age” so wonderful.

When I was in my 30’s I didn’t have many friends in their 60’s and 70’s, but now in my 50’s I do. I also now have many friends in their 20’s and 30’s. This alone is going to make my middle age 50’s an enormous joy; the wisdom of those ahead of me, and the crazy adventure of those coming into their own behind me. In many ways I feel like I’m perfectly balanced on one of those old school teeter-totters; my older friends on one side and my younger friends on the other… perfectly balanced.

So as I stand on the edge of a new decade of life allow me to make a declaration (my anti Willie Loman declaration). As long as God allows me to stand on this great green earth I intend to do the following: to create out loud (films, art, beauty), to emote out loud (tears, laughter, joy), and mostly, to love out loud (family, friends, even enemies). I hope you will help keep me accountable to these passions and that you may even be inspired to pursue your own.

Making Up Books

I believe it was in the seventh grade when I first recall intentionally using my gift of creativity for deceitful purposes. In my English Literature class at Lincoln Junior High in El Paso we received an assignment: go to the library, pick out a novel, read it, write a report on it, and lastly, give an oral report about the book. If I recall correctly, the only requirement was a minimum page length of the book we would choose. I remember going to the school library with my classmates, I remember goofing off with some of my friends, I remember wandering the aisles, I remember searching for just the right book, I remember my friends checking out their books, and I remember leaving empty-handed.

I guess I thought I would return to the the library the next day at lunch, or perhaps I thought that my friends had checked out all of the “good” books, but somewhere along the way I had the idea to just “makeup” a book. Not “write” a book, but just simply “make up” a book out of thin air. Not only would I get the chance to be creative, but I would be able to deceive my teacher along with my entire class! I don’t know if I had balls the size of coconuts or if I was just being a silly (yet creative) junior high boy. Regardless, I committed to my criminal ways and began daydreaming, developing plot & characters, action & subplots, etc. etc.

I’m fairly confident that I wrote the greatest book report ever written about a book that didn’t exist. Unfortunately the title and the plot of my masterpiece have been lost to history, perhaps trapped deep in dark cognitive space inside my brain, or in the mind of my teacher or perhaps one of my classmates that heard my brilliant oral report. Oh, how I wish I had that paper today! I would love to read what my seventh grade self delivered.

I think most of us would agree that it takes an enormous amount of guts to try and pass off a “make-believe book” on a teacher of English Literature. I remember thinking that if I was going to be able to pull this off, I needed to have details. A title, plot, and authors name we’re essential, but a Dewey Decimal number was icing on the cake, so I made up one of those, too. I like to think that one detail helped sell the whole thing.

I may have been crazy or stupid (or probably both), but I pulled it off. I turned in my paper and I stood up in front of the class and gave my oral report on a book that didn’t exist. When I received my grades and realized I aced the assignments I felt like a creative genius, like a hero, and I guess, a little bit like a fraud. I tried to focus on the amazing creative accomplishment, so I didn’t spend too much time dwelling on the deceitful nature of my actions.

So for a few days around that event back in the seventh grade, I was a little cooler, a little less dorky—a young teenage boy who walked a little taller around Lincoln Junior High on Mulberry Avenue… even if it was only in my mind.

Not Just Another Podcast

On March 8th another podcast will launch and in doing so it will become part of the enormous heap of podcast material that is available for consumption. So why is this new one significant? I’ll get to that in a moment, but first a few stats. Podcasting has seen enormous growth since it’s inception in 2003. So why do we need another one? In 2015 it was estimated that between 180,000 and 206,000 podcasts had been created and those numbers have only grown since. Again, why do we need more?

There are podcasts on pretty much every conceivable topic that reach out to a wide variety of demographics, which means that if you create a new one, it needs to be unique. This new one is. The way I look at is that it should have broad topic appeal, and yet be tailored to a specific audience. Yep! The infographic at the end of this article (courtesy of Jon Nastor & Copyblogger) gives a great summary of the history and state of the podcast industry.

So let’s talk a little about this new podcast that will launch on March 8th. It’s called the By War & By God Podcast. Although not at all preachy, it has a Christian angle to it, which places it right into the largest podcast segment that exists (see the infographic below). Potential broad appeal. The podcast is based on the EMMY® nominated film By War & By God, which also places it into the 4th largest podcast segment “TV and Film” (see the infographic). More potential broad appeal. The series will focus on the Vietnam war veterans who appear in the film, but in the podcast we have room to go much deeper into their stories than the film was able to. So there is a war element to this series. Big deal, there are a lot of other war podcasts out there. But what makes the By War & By God Podcast unique is that this group of Veterans goes back to Vietnam to love and serve the people of that beautiful land. Whoa… That is unique! That aspect of the podcast will help us stand out from the crowd.

With the success of major recent films like Last Days In Vietnam there has been a renewed interest in the Vietnam War. It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 40 years since that war ended which means there is a huge potential audience of people that didn’t watch that war on the news every night. Many of these have never heard the personal stories from the soldiers themselves and that’s a part of what this new podcast will do. But the podcast is much bigger than merely sharing stories of the war. It’s a podcast about reconciliation. That’s a big word. Most of the men in the film and the podcast came home from that war wondering why they survived when many of their friends didn’t. They felt the survivors guilt. Some self-medicated to try to cope. Others tried to blend into society, but couldn’t. And each of them felt the need inside for some type of reconciliation. Some felt they had destroyed the country of Vietnam. Others felt they had destroyed the people of Vietnam. And most of them sensed this magnetic pull to go back to the land of the war. They sensed a need for reconciliation between themselves and the land, the people of Vietnam, their enemies, and ultimately between their souls and God. Since 1989 these Vets With A Mission have taken nearly 1400 veterans back to Vietnam as part of this ministry of reconciliation. Who knew this type of work was taking place?

So on Wednesday March 8th, we launch this very unique podcast. I hope you’ll join us as we share the stories of these great men and women who fought in a war, but who became heroes many years after that war was over by going back and serving some of the poorest of the poor in Vietnam. Take a few minutes and listen to the preview episode of the By War & By God Podcast right now. You can find it on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts, so check it out and please subscribe.

Here’s the infographic that shows the history and details of podcasting…

From 2003 to 2016: The Astounding Growth of Podcasting [Infographic]

The Election – Two Wings of the Same Bird

Well folks… the election is looming large. And for the majority of us, we just want to get it behind us. I think most of us agree that this has been an ugly election cycle. For as much as the Cubs and the Indians brought so many of us together around a game of baseball, Trump and Hillary have divided America into a very polarizing “us” and “them”. Of course most of us hope that “our candidate” will win, but for about half of us that won’t be the case.

At nearly 49 and a half I’ve lived through enough presidency’s of both political parties to know that we as a nation will survive regardless of who wins on Tuesday. If you asked either candidate about the other taking the oval office they will talk doom and gloom and despair and the end of America… and guess what, they’d both be lying to you.

As a filmmaker and a small business owner I often look at the strengths and weaknesses of each of crew members or my employees. And you know what I see? I see a diverse group of people that compliment each other in amazing ways. And as a country we are no different. The passions of the left and the passions of the right are very distinct. But guess what? Together they make us an even greater nation. They really are two wings of the same bird.

As I’ve scrolled through my Facebook feed over the past few months I’ve noticed something interesting. I have some really level-headed, sincere, honorable, passionate friends on both sides. These are people I would trust with my children. I have friends I respect and admire who are voting for Hillary and I have friends I respect and admire who are voting for Trump. And I guess this is why I really believe we as a nation are going to be okay.

If you are reading this and are of voting age then the outcome of this election is in your hands. Its up to all of us—two wings of the same bird. Go vote! And remember this… regardless of which candidate you choose I won’t unfriend you on Facebook.

Does Grace Live Here?

About 10:40 tonight the kids saw headlights pulling down our 600 foot driveway; a very rare thing out in the middle of nowhere. The vehicle proceeded to turn around to leave and then stopped. I watched from the window for a moment not recognizing the car. Flipping a couple of exterior lights on I stepped out into the cold night air.

A 40-something African-American opened the car door and started up the flight of steps. “Does Grace live here?” he asked, as he stopped at the landing. “No, no one named Grace,” I replied. He looked down at something in his hand. “Williamson? I think it’s… Savannah Grace,” he said and he held up a drivers license and a wallet. “I found this in the road out by Food Lion.”

She didn’t know it, but my daughter had left her wallet on top of her car after filling up with gas. I took the items from the stranger as he held them out and then I sat down on the step. I asked him his name, stared at him as he told me, thanked him several times, and had my faith in humanity restored.

“Does Grace live here?” What a powerful sentence. I sure hope it does.


This true story occurred on February 11th, 2014. This autobiographical post is part of my series of short articles called “Events That Shaped A Life”. Keep your eye out for more posts from this series.

Thoughts About Down Syndrome… or Encountering God Through Zoe

My wife Karen and I were recently asked to share some thoughts with our church about how we have encountered God recently. We decided to approach it through the life-changing experience of raising a girl with Down syndrome. I’ve included video from of our talk, plus the written version which contains a few more details. We give this in hopes to encourage other families who may be just beginning down this path. We’re eight years in at this point and it’s been a pretty good ride overall, but it certainly hasn’t been without its trials, doubts, and fears…

Oh, and the photo above is of Zoe, me, and a little too much of my leg… sorry about that!


 

KENT: Good morning! I’m Kent Williamson and this is my wife Karen and we are going to share our Encounter with God through the life of our daughter Zoe.

KAREN: We love to talk about Zoe! But Zoe is not a short term experience or even a season of life. Just in her being, she represents a change from one path to another, from one destination to a very different one than we had planned. But we can certainly testify to God’s goodness and grace through what was a major life adjustment and transition.

Zoe is our sixth child and she was born with Down syndrome. We weren’t actually expecting to have a sixth child. If you’ve seen our family together, you might have noticed a rather large gap between Zoe and the other five. So that part was a surprise—the week of my 40th birthday, I might add. And we didn’t learn about her Down syndrome until she was born, so that was yet another surprise.

KENT: I will never forget, looking into her eyes for the very first time, thinking I’ve “seen those eyes  before” and then I realize, “Oh my gosh, my little girl has Down syndrome”…. That moment felt like someone had swung a baseball bat as hard as they could square across my chest.  I’ve never felt so very alone as in those first few minutes of Zoe’s life when I knew about the Down syndrome, but Karen didn’t know yet.

KAREN: And nothing prepares you for that moment. Nothing prepares you for the time when you were expecting one thing in life, and are then handed something completely different. I’m not sure I can describe in words how it feels when that “thing” is handed to you by a stranger, wrapped up in a receiving blanket. It could have been the scene at an ordinary restaurant when I might have said, Oh no, I’m sorry, this is not what I ordered. Please take this back, and bring me what I ordered. But we all know, life doesn’t work that way, does it?

KENT: We had five other kids who were anxious to meet their new little sister. So what do you do? For the kids sake, do you just ignore the Down syndrome diagnosis and pretend it doesn’t exist? We’ve never been that kind of family, so instead we sat them all down on the end of the bed in that hospital room at the old Martha Jefferson and I told them, as best I could, about Zoe’s 21st chromosome.  What I thought I was doing was explaining that Zoe has Down syndrome. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was really explaining that our family has Down syndrome.

KAREN: I regret to say now that those first days and weeks were for me full of sadness and anguish. And I wish I could say that it was only a short time before things turned brighter in my heart. In reality, it was a couple years before these unexpected circumstances felt kindof normal. And in that time, I did an awful lot of soul-searching, trying to understand my grief, and understand God in the midst of it. I had to ask the hard questions of myself like, Why is this so hard for me? What are my beliefs about what my family should look like, and what are those actually based on? And down deep below the surface, I was discovering a lot of pride and misplaced values. I was seeing in myself a flawed view of myself and the world around me. I was taking pride in things that I had no part in making a reality, and I had been placing merit and value on things that were superficial and temporal.

I read a quote recently by Charles Spurgeon that hits right on my guilt. “Be not proud of race, face, place, or grace.” In some rather subtle ways, I had been valuing things like status, intellect, appearance, correct behavior. But now alongside my grief, I had this child who I was falling in love with. I was beginning to embrace a child who wouldn’t be able to meet these expectations. So something in me would need to change in order to make a place for Zoe in my heart.

I am here to tell you, God did do a work in my heart. It was incredibly painful in the beginning, and humbling. But somewhere along the way, when your values and standards shift, you find beauty in things that once were not beautiful. And joy in things that once were not joyful. Even in the earliest days after Zoe’s birth, I was filled with an enormous measure of grace for almost everyone I encountered. I was nearly overcome with the realization that we are all given a place in this life, a color, status, genetic makeup, even a faith, that has nothing to do with our own will or determination. All we can do is build on what we’ve been given. That realization invoked in me a care about people I would previously have overlooked.

KENT: It didn’t take long for me to bond with Zoe. She makes me smile, laugh. and cry… just like my kids without Down syndrome. Kids with Down syndrome will skin their knees. pinch their fingers, bump their heads. They will also learn to climb stairs one big step at a time, ride their bike with training wheels, and love to jump on trampolines. And Zoe loves to read. As a matter of fact she just finished first grade as one of the top readers in her class. And they will steal your heart and never give it back.

KAREN: So I was given this child. She was a gift I didn’t know I needed. She was a gift I didn’t easily receive. But the gift has never been the problem—my own fears, uncertainties, and misplaced values were the problem. It turns out that Zoe has been a blessing beyond our wildest imaginings. There are still hard places, and challenges, and sometimes we grieve about various things. But I think I can honestly say we never grieve over what Zoe is not, or what she is lacking.

KENT: My little girl doesn’t care that she has Down syndrome. She just wants to be loved like the rest of us. Our family has Down syndrome and that diagnosis is okay with me. I’ve realized over the last 8 years that I am a better person with Down syndrome than I was without. It has made me more compassionate; more accepting of others; more in love with people and all their complex issues. I am a better man with Zoe in my life. God has given me such a wonderful gift—a gift that in my ignorance I would have rejected if I could have.

KAREN: So what have I learned, what do I value now? I value laughter, because Zoe is hilarious and constantly makes us laugh. I value music, because every since she first found her voice, the first sound I hear from her room in the morning is her singing. I value innocence and purity, because though I know she has a sinful nature, she really is not naughty or mischievous, she is kind and generous. I value authenticity, because Zoe is completely who she is without pretense or concern for image. I value connectedness in relationship, because these kids, our other five kids, have the most beautiful relationships with Zoe I have ever seen among siblings.

To quote another mom who’s further along the journey with Down syndrome, “Can she live a full life without ever solving a quadratic equation? Without reading Dostoyevsky? I’m pretty sure she can. Can I live a full life without learning to cherish and welcome those in this world who are different from me? I’m pretty sure I can’t.”

KENT: “Zoe” means “life” in Greek—both physical and spiritual. It was the name Karen and I decided on before she was born. And as we see her as the gift of God she is, her name couldn’t be more fitting.

How many “F****” are too many in a film?

WARNING: This post contains a few words some readers may find offensive!

Motion Pictures have not always been saturated with vulgarities. And before you click away thinking my argument is one for purity of language within cinema, please don’t… two of my recent films contain the F-word. I’m writing instead to show how much the industry has changed since 1939 when the world first heard the word “damn” from the silver screen.

In the early days of Hollywood there was much more concern and respect for what audiences saw and heard. Filmmakers and studio heads were not quick to alienate the movie-going public. There were a few attempts at codifying some principals and guidelines for filmmakers that culminated in 1930 with the introduction of the Motion Picture Production Code or the Hays Code as some call it, in reference to it’s author William H. Hays.

The Production Code provided a list of Don’ts and Be Carefuls that helped guide filmmakers and the industry from 1934, when it was enforced, to 1968 when the rating system was introduced. Some of the Dont’s on the list included “pointed profanity,” “licentious or suggestive nudity,” and the “ridicule of the clergy,” while some of the Be Carefuls were “the use of firearms,” “sympathy for criminals,” and “man and woman in bed together.” This list obviously speaks to the sensitivities of the general public of the time, but also to the responsibility that filmmakers took, realizing that their films were cultural influencers.

In October of 1939, producer & studio executive, David O. Selznick wrote a letter to the overseer of the production code, Mr. Will Hays. Selznick requested special permission to use the word “damn” in the now immortalized line, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” in his film Gone With the Wind. Think about that… a Producer requesting permission to use the D-word! And he did it with such elegance and conviction that only a genius from 1939 could have pulled off (see the full letter below). The film itself would go on to win 10 Academy Awards.

In the letter Selznick tried to convince Hays that this one exception of “damn” wouldn’t lead to more.

“I do not feel that your giving me permission to use “damn” in this one sentence,” Selznick wrote, “will open up the floodgates and allow every gangster picture to be peppered with “damns” from end to end.”

Selznick was right and unfortunately he was wrong. In 1990 Martin Scorsese’s gangster film Goodfellas was not peppered with “damns”, but instead with “fucks”. As Michael Medved pointed out in his book Hollywood vs. America, the 146 minute Goodfellas contained 246 F-words… peppered from end to end.

Do audiences really want more F-words? Medved included a quote in his book by Richard Pine, a respected literary agent in the business, who said, “Nobody ever walked out of a movie and said, ‘Gee, that was a great picture, but the only problem was they didn’t say “Fuck” enough.’ Who thinks like that?”

So how many “F****” are too many? I, personally, would think that perhaps 246 should probably be considered a tad “excessive”. But that’s just me. In 2013, Martin Scorsese would go on to break his own record in his film The Wolf of Wall Street. His new personal best over doubled his previous high with more than 500 uses of the F-word.

My films, on the other hand, pale in comparison. Rebellion of Thought and Stained Glass Rainbows each use the F-word only once and both times it occurs in spontaneous man-on-the-street interviews where I felt it made sense to leave it in the picture based on the context and content. In both cases it gives insight into the characters, the environment, and is not used in a gratuitous manner.

We’ve come long, long way since 1939. I wonder what a Martin Scorsese picture would look like if he would make one under the guidelines of Motion Picture Production Code of 1930. My guess is that he would do a brilliant job with it and that most audiences would not consider it puritan. Today, many filmmakers no longer consider the weight of their role and their responsibility to the movie-going public. And unfortunately, if you complain about it, I’m afraid they might just say, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a f***”.


 

I’ve included Selznick’s letter in its entirety below. It’s well worth the read.

Selznick Pleads to Retain Famous Line

October 29, 1939
Hollywood. California

Dear Mr. Hays—

As you probably know. the punch line of Gone With the Wind, the one bit of dialogue which forever establishes the future relationship between Scarlett and Rhett, is, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Naturally I am most desirous of keeping this line and, to judge from the reactions of two preview audiences, this line ls remembered, loved, and looked forward to by the millions who have read this new American classic.

Under the code, Joe Breen is unable to give me permission to use this sentence because it contains the word “damn,” a word specifically forbidden by the code.

As you know from my previous work with such pictures as David Copperfield. Little Lord Fauntleroy, A Tale of Two Cities, etc., I have always attempted to live up to the spirit as well as the exact letter of the producer’s code. Therefore. my asking you to review the case, to look at the strip of film in which this forbidden word is contained, is not motivated by a whim. A great deal of the force and drama of Gone With the Wind, a project to which we have given three years of hard work and hard thought, is dependent upon that word.

It is my contention that this word as used in the picture is not an oath or a curse. The worst that could be said against it is that it is a vulgarism, and it is so described in the Oxford English Dictionary. Nor do i feel that in asking you to make an exception in this case, I am asking for the use of a word which Is considered reprehensible by the great majority of American people and institutions. A canvass of the popular magazines shows that even such moral publications as Woman’s Home Companion, Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s and The Atlantic Monthly, use this word freely. i understand the difference, as outlined in the code, between the written word and the word spoken from the screen, but at the same time l think the attitude of these magazines toward “damn” gives an indication that the word itself is not considered abhorrent or shocking to audiences.

I do not feel that your giving me permission to use “damn” in this one sentence will open up the floodgates and allow every gangster picture to be peppered with “damns” from end to end. I do believe, however, that if you were to permit our using this dramatic word in its rightfully dramatic place, in a line that is known and remembered by millions of renders, it would establish a helpful precedent, a precedent which would give to Joe Breen discretionary powers to allow the use of certain harmless oaths and ejaculations whenever. in his opinion, they are not prejudicial to public morals.

David O. Selznick2

2 Letter from David O. Selznick to Will Hays, from David O. Selznick Collection. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center. The University of Texas at Austin.