article appeared in Written By magazine, the magazine
of the Writers Guild of America, west. In it, I discuss the
ad campaign I created for the WGA. See all the ads here.
by Scott Roeben
the "Somebody Wrote That" image campaign has always been the
most enjoyable part of my job at the WGA. Since the series
began, there have been 10 ads, all intended to connect the
images on our movie and television screens with the words
that gave them life. Choosing the moments to feature in the
ads has been a challenge because there are just so many to
choose from. Here's how the most recent ad was born.
came across an Esquire magazine article in which the
writer, Tom Carson, revisited The Great Escape [screenplay
by James Clavell and W.R. Burnett, based on the novel by Paul
Brickhill]. He praised The Great Escape for all the
reasons I love the film: the gadgets, the action, the triumph
of will over insurmountable odds. Carson focused on the famous
bit of business Steve McQueen (as the Cooler King) does whenever
he's thrown into solitary confinementhis baseball becomes
a symbol of his defiance of his Nazi captors: "When you think
of all the tiresome speeches about man's indomitable spirit
that the sound of [the baseball] going ca-thunk makes unnecessary,"
Carson wrote, "you're helplessly grateful to whoever thought
it up. For all I know, McQueen did; he could be shrewd about
what worked for him."
That comment definitely got my attention. After all, I spent
five years in the Guild's Public Affairs department as part
of the team charged with "fighting the good fight" on behalf
of writers. In that capacity, it becomes second nature to
keep an eye out for slights to writers, and unfortunately
there's no scarcity of those.
I decided to investigate Carson's comments further and sought
out the script for The Great Escape. As I began to
page through, I was overcome with a nagging sensation I didn't
care for too muchthe sensation that perhaps this time
I'd be wrong. That business of throwing the baseball against
the cell wall was just too natural, too spontaneous, to be
Even though I'd been surprised to find visual sequences spelled
out with great exactness in the past, the sequence in The
Great Escape was just too perfect and organic to have
been detailed by the writers. Surely this was one of those
moments improvised on the set, right? After a few minutes
of scanning the script, I found the page that contained these
IN IVES' CELL--IVES
paces restlessly. Over comes a strange SOUND. A maddening,
constant plin-plank-plonk-smack. Ives looks at the wall in
exasperation, controls himself, resumes his pacing.
IN HILTS' CELL--HILTS
is sitting on the floor of the concrete walled cubicle playing
a complicated game of rebound with his ball and glove. He
is extremely skillful with the various ricochets, which
set up a regular rhythm.
On the following page, that sound was repeated, with a slightly
different spelling, but nevertheless it was there, "Plink-plank-plonk-smack."
It's hard to express how utterly exhilarating it was to read
those words. The writers not only described the business with
the baseball but actually wrote out the sound.
The experience was a jarring (and humbling) reminder of why
the "Somebody Wrote That" campaign inspired me in the first
place. It came from a place of admiration and astonishment
about the art and craft of scriptwriting. Somebody actually
wrote thateven the part without words. Sure, dialogue is
moving, and stories are wonderful, but there's something else
writers don't get enough credit for.
create pictures. (And, yes, sounds as well.)
Those sounds and images reverberate throughout our culture,
and in cultures around the world, in the same way we want
the tagline of the Guild's ads to echo in the halls of film
schools, in production companies and networks, at film festivals,
and in American homes.
Somebody wrote that.
to the Words Page