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Swimming With Sharks: Sweet Talk

By Karel Segers

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Need an actor to portray a psychopath? Hire Kevin Spacey.  I’m not just thinking of SEVEN or THE USUAL SUSPECTS. His career-defining performance as studio boss Buddy Ackerman in SWIMMING WITH SHARKS is still one of Spacey’s finest performances. When you watch our movie moment, you may agree that it contains the seed of ENTOURAGE’s Ari Gold, as well as Spacey’s own Dave Harken in HORRIBLE BOSSES.

If you’re unfortunate, you may even detect something of a character you’ve met in the real movie world. I certainly did.


Too often I get to see movies with inane budgets and poor screenplays. Not this fine, lean picture from 1994, from Santa Monica indie outfit Cineville (who later also produced HURLYBURLY, another movie-about-the-movies with Spacey starring). USC Producing graduate George Huang directed his screenplay for SWIMMING WITH SHARKS after Roberto Rodriguez told him to simply ‘go out and make a movie.’ He was right. I know a handful of people personally who did the same, and it seems the best way to enter the industry with a chance to learn enough, so you just might survive in the long run. As long as you don’t bet the house, of course.

The production was tight, and I believe the film was mostly shot at the Cineville offices. Here and there you can see the editor struggle for coverage, but overall it doesn’t hurt the story. In fact, if you want to break into movies and you need to get inspired, watch this film. Fun cinema doesn’t need to have Hobbits - or cost a quarter billion.


“In Hollywood, one of the fastest way to the top is to work for someone who is already there. There are stories of love inspiring success over the most insurmountable of odds. This is not one of those stories.” The opening voice over in this film sets the tone: comedic, but dark. Some people, like Robert McKee, hate voice-over, but when it is done well, it works.
Immediately in the first few scenes, our hero is berated by a woman who claims he took her spot — in an empty car park. Just like the voice over foreshadowed the movie’s tone, this scene promises us the type of insanity that is yet to come for Guy, our unassuming hero. He has landed a job as an assistant for Keystone Pictures boss Buddy Ackerman, who for the sake of honour not only humiliates his minions - but hurts them, annihilates them…


Buddy finds his ideal victim in Guy, played by a perfectly cast Frank Whaley. Guy’s predecessor is leaving to become VP at Paramount. So Guy’s new job appears to be the ultimate jumping board, well worth copping some insults along the way. If Guy has no idea just how far the insults will go, this movie moment will clue him in. The scene sits about fifteen minutes into the film. Oh, and yes there is a difference between Sweet’N Low and Equal.

About Karel Segers

Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst, script editor and producer with experience in rights acquisition, script development and production. His screenwriting classes have trained writers in Australia, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and his clients include international award-winning filmmakers as well as three Academy Award nominees. Karel is the founder of The Story Department and!, and he ranks in the world's Top 10 of most influential people for screenwriting on Twitter.


Screenwriting Article by Karel Segers

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