Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for December, 2009

“Anything that comes to me from the Los Angeles zip code is subjected to a 99% skepticism test.”
Walter Kirn
author Up in the Air

My third look at the film Up in the Air involves a closer look at the original writer of the book (Walter Kirn) that inspired director Jason Reitman to make the film. Kirn has solid Midwest roots being born in Ohio and raised in Minnesota. Though a jock in school he was also aware of the talents of the St. Paul writer F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby). And he was smart enough to go to Princeton University where Fitzgerald attended for a while.

Kirn graduated from college in 1983 and moved to New York and ended up writing for a variety of magazines and published his first of several books in 1990.  His book Thumbsucker was made into a movie in 2005 starring Keanu Reeves and Vince Vaughn. Along the way he moved west to Livingston, Montana and married the daughter of actress Margot Kidder and writer Thomas McGuane. Kidder is most known for her role in Superman and McGuane for his book Ninety-Two in the Shade. Though now divorced from his wife, it would be interesting to know how the relationship with Thomas McGuane influenced Kirn’s writing development over the years.

I remember become aware of McGuane in the 70s from stories about his hanging out in Key West with the likes of Jimmy Buffett and Tennessee Williams.  In fact, Buffett has a song on the soundtrack of the 1975 film Rancho Deluxe that starred Jeff Bridges and was written by McGuane. It’s not a surprise that Kirn lives in Montana as it has a rich tradition of literary talent.  I grew up on Buffett’s early music which often had references to places in Montana like Missoula, Livingston, and Ringling, and was taken by the place and I finally got to visit the place in 1984. It’s a state built for reflecting on life. Something Kirn seems to have a knack for.

(If my facts are correct, Thomas McGuane married Jimmy Buffett’s sister in the 70s, so while Kirn was married to McGuane’s daughter he and Buffett were related.)

One thing is for sure, if Up in the Air, is nominated for an Academy Award then Kirn will have fared better in dealing with Hollywood than both Fitzgerald and McGuane. And much of that credit goes to director Reitman.

Up in the Air was first published in 2001 and was selling well until September 11, 2001 when like a lot of things the sales just dropped off. Though Kirn’s book was optioned and he had written a script based on the book it seemed doomed to never be made. But after a few years of laying dormant the book’s stock was back on the rise. Kirn writes;

“The ascent commenced with a brief email from Jason Reitman, a thirtyish film director who, at the time he wrote me, was not well known, but would soon become famous for his first two movies: Thank You for Smoking and Juno. He was writing a script from my novel, he informed me, and would get back in touch when he was finished. Right. Heard that one. Though another one of my novels, Thumbsucker, had by then become an indie, I knew from experience—my own and others’—that when Hollywood promises to get back to you, it’s best not to wait by the phone. You’ll starve to death.”

It would still be a few years before Reitman would finish the script and then several months after that when George Clooney came on board to star in the film. Kirn was starting to believe the film might actually get made. And once the film finally did get made he had a simple prayer request before he viewed the film for the first time, “Please let this not be crap.”

His prayer seems to be answered. The film is not crap, and has garnered solid reviews across the board. (91% from the top critics at Rotten Tomatoes.)

“Up in the Air is a defining movie for these perilous times.”
Peter Travers
Rolling Stone

And while the film is different from the book in many ways Kirn is glad that the DNA of the book is intact.

“(Up in the Air), which I started writing at the peak of the dot-com mania, was conceived, in part, as a morality tale about the spiritual distortions forced upon people by techno-capitalism. It was also a satirical treatment of the drive to pile up useless wealth. But mostly it was a character study of someone (or a class of someones) who I felt was invisible in literature despite being all around me in real life: the pretzel-eating, mini-bar-raiding nomad, his existence pared down to a single carry-on, but his soul the same size as everyone else’s.”
Jason Reitman
George Clooney Saved My Novel
The Daily Beast

Perhaps the film resonates with me because Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham is a character I recognize from my travels—perhaps even in myself. I flown enough over the years to earn enough frequent flyer miles to fly free to Alaska, Hawaii and Europe. On one trip to the west coast I remember being gone from home for three weeks for productions in San Diego/Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. A friend said to me on that trip, “Don’t you hate traveling?” I remember thinking, “I could live my whole life on the road.” Up in the Air is an exploration of one such character who does just that and it ends up being a reflection on our culture.

Of course, once Reitman finally got the script to the point where it could actually get made, he had to make the film and did a super job of guiding the solid cast that included Clooney, Vera Farming, Anna Kendick, and Jason Bateman.

It’s a fitting end to 2009 to be talking about another Jason Reitman film. For it was his movie Juno, based on Diablo Cody’s script (as well as her life’s story that included a stint here in Iowa) that inspired this blog in the first place. (See post Juno Has Another Baby.) Kirn sounds a lot like Cody when he talks about the Reitman’s film based on his story, “Sometimes miracles happen and this was one of them.”

Happy New Year.

Scott W. Smith


Read Full Post »

Two days ago I saw Jason Reitman’s film Up in the Air for a second time.  That’s just a well crafted film and obviously I’m not the only one who thinks so. On top of being named best screenplay by the National Board of Review & it picked up Best Screenplay from the Los Angles Film Critics Association Award and also Best Screenplay, Adapted from the Austin Film Critics Award as well as several other nominations including the Golden Globes.

An Academy Award nomination appears a sure thing, with many calling it a front-runner to win for best adapted script.

I’ve already  mentioned director/co-writer Jason Reitman in the post Up in the Air Over Iowa, but I thought I find out a little more about the co-writer of the script,  Sheldon Turner.

Turner went to NYU but in an interesting twist was not a film major, but graduated with a law degree. Then he had a passion to write screenplays.

“I never took a (screenwriting) course, what I did was read every screenplay I could get my hands on. And I tell people go find the crappy screenplays because they are abundant man. And that was what my inspiration was to a degree. So I wrote 12 screenplays before I gave one to anybody. Literally I was writing a like script a month–editing was not a huge priority at that point, and I just put them on the shelf. And then the 12th one–actually the 13th one I finally felt like I hit it. I felt good enough about it to give it out to people and that was, of course, the one I went out and sold. But I knew I had to get that training.”
Sheldon Turner
The Dialogue interview with Mike de Luca

Up in the Air is only his third produced screenplay credit with the first two being The Longest Yard and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. But he’s a hot ticket now with at least ten films in development. But don’t forget the 12 screenplays he wrote in order to become a writer in demand.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“I rode a school bus for an hour each way… so I had two hours a day on the bus and I tried to read a book a day.
James Cameron

They should have a special room for James Cameron over at Box Office Mojo. Titantic, which he wrote and directed, sits atop every film ever made in terms of box office gross ($600. million domestic/$ 1.8 billion worldwide). And for the last two weeks his newest film Avatar has been #1 at the box office already bringing in $600. worldwide.

And, of course, those aren’t the only films he’s ever made. Aliens, The Terminator,  Terminator 2:Judgment Day also found quite large audiences. But how many saw his first two films Xenogenesis and Piranha Part Two; The Spawning? It’s easy to get lost in the big numbers Cameron puts up and forget that he had to jump-start his career just like anyone else who’s made it.

So where did he come from?

Cameron was born in Kapuskasing, Ontario, Canada and raised in a town of 2,000. He was inspired by the movie 2001:A Space Odyssey and said he read The Making of 2001 book eighteen times and dreamed of Hollywood all before his family moved from Canada to Los Angeles when he was 17. And before he ever won an Oscar he drove a truck to pay the bills until his screenwriting career took off. I’ve pieced together a few of his quotes from various places to give a succinct overview of his views on filmmaking.

“The film industry is about saying ‘no’ to people, and inherently you cannot take ‘no’ for an answer…You never really ‘get’ an opportunity. You take an opportunity. You know, in the film making business no one ever gives you anything…If you wait until the right time to have a child you’ll die childless, and I think film making is very much the same thing. You just have to take the plunge and just start shooting something even if it’s bad…Pick up a camera. Shoot something. No matter how small, no matter how cheesy, no matter whether your friends and your sister star in it. Put your name on it as director. Now you’re a director. Everything after that you’re just negotiating your budget and your fee…I think it’s, the old adage: ‘The harder I work, the luckier I get.’ I think chance is not a big factor in the long run…There are many talented people who haven’t fulfilled their dreams because they over thought it, or they were too cautious, and were unwilling to make the leap of faith.”
James Cameron

Most of these quotes were pulled from an interview found on the Academy of Achievement website.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“Although I have only a small driblet of fame and fortune, it’s enough. My life has gone very well in all spheres except for my physical health.”
Dan O’Bannon

Screenwriter Dan O’Bannon died earlier this month after a 30 battle with Crohn’s disease. He’ll be most remembered in film history for writing Alien.

O’Bannon was born in St. Louis and stated that his early creative influences were comic books, monster movies of the 1950s, and H.P. Lovecraft novels. He would go to Washington University in St. Louis and MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois, before going on to USC where he earned an MFA.

William Froug, in his book The New Screenwriter Looks at The New Screenwriter, had this to say about O’Bannon, “Looking back over twenty years of teaching at both USC and UCLA, I single out Dan O’Bannon as the most original, unique student I encountered. Dan was a quiet, modest young man, quite a bit undernourished, gentle, and soft-spoken. Dan was also something of a loner. It was clear he had his own vision, and it was the vision of an iconoclast. I was fond of him from the first time we met in one of my non-writing classes.”

O’Bannon met director John Carpenter in film school at USC and they made a student film together called Dark Star that they later expanded into their first feature film. After Alien O’Bannon went on to make several other films including The Return of the Living Dead, Total Recall, and Blue Thunder.

In an interview that he did with Froug I’ve pieced together what O’Bannon said was his way of working;

“I’m a structuralist myself. We believe in discipline, hard work, and architecture. Writing a script is like carpentry…In my early days of writing, I was afraid that working it all out in advance would destroy the creative impulse. Now I don’t even start seriously writing until it’s all worked out on paper…I keep retyping from the beginning. I list all my scenes. Then I rearrange them into three acts. I just keep working on it until I run dry of stuff that should go into an outline, and then I start on the script. I don’t start writing the script until it’s completely working in an outline. Until all the pieces are there…So the first big thrust is to get the structure first and then the script goes fairly quickly.”

O’Bannon was part of solid list of writers & filmmakers from Missouri. (See post Screenwriting from Missouri.)

There is a Dan O’Bannon website that is up and running as well as being in the process of being further developed and is sure to be a wealth of info on his writings.

Scott W. Smith


Read Full Post »

Today is show and tell at Screenwriting from Iowa and I brought one of my Christmas gifts—a signed picture of Mark Steines from Entertainment Tonight. It was given to me by an editor I work with, Josh McCabe, who did an internship with Entertainment Tonight over the summer.

Having just mentioned that Jason Reitman’s new film Up in the Air features Dubuque, Iowa in a key scene you may be interested to know that Steines was born and raised in Dubuque. But before he became the co-anchor of Entertainment Tonight and started hanging out with Hollywood celebrities, he got his on-camera start in the Cedar Falls/Waterloo area. A football scholarship brought him to the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) where he graduated with a degree in Radio and Television.

He started as a cameraman here at KWWL and eventually found his in front of the camera as a sports reporter. That lead to opportunities at KSPR-TV is Springfield, Missouri and then to KCAL-TV in Los Angeles where he picked up two Emmy Awards. In 1995 he began work as a correspondent on Entertainment Tonight and since 2004 has been the host of the show along with Mary Hart.

While Steines paid his dues, learned his craft, and worked his way up the ladder like everyone else—it didn’t hurt that when he was starting out that he looked like Tom Cruise.

After Steines arrived in LA he also began studying acting that has provided various acting opportunities on TV programs. He also has a photography book out from pictures he took on a trip to Sierra Leone with Lighthouse Medical Missions earlier this year. Steines is one more example that even if you come from a place far from Hollywood (like Dubuque, Iowa) you can still make an impact in Hollywood. But like all that have gone down that road before, he was faithful in doing the little things.

Visit www.marksteines.com to learn more about his photobook, work & life.

Thanks Josh and Mark for the photo.

Scott W. Smith


Read Full Post »

“I just happen to find life funny. Everywhere I look I see comedy…often where it’s inappropriate. “
Jason Reitman
Director Juno/Up in the Air

After the success of Juno Jason Reitman’s had the clout to make a film like Avatar. A big budget extravaganza. Instead he made Up in the Air. A film that not only works on many levels, but that was also shot in an area dear to my heart—flyover country. Granted some of it is literally  in the air in the vast stretch of land between New York and L.A., but the are plenty of Midwest moments including George Clooney’s business headquarters and what he has of a home both being located in Omaha, Nebraska.

And this won’t be a spoiler, but there is even a nice little moment tied into Dubuque, Iowa.

Somehow Reitman directed a film (co-written with Sheldon Turner) that deals with contemporary issues of the economy and yet gave it a timeless feel of a classic film. Somehow he made a film that touches on psychology, sociology, and even the meaning of life and along the way entertains us and makes us laugh.

I don’t know specifically which states the movie was actually shot in but I do know that Reitman did location scouting in Michigan and Missouri that impacted the making of the film:

“At a certain point during scouting, I realized that the scenes that I had written of people getting fired were just inauthentic. We needed something that spoke to the times and what was really happening. I cut out all the firing scenes in the movie and we put ads out in the paper, both in Detroit and St. Louis, saying that we were making a documentary about job loss.”
Jason Reitman
Free Press article by Julie Hinds

Twenty of those people where chosen to be film. To paraphrase Clooney’s character who fires people for a living, being fired brings new opportunities.

But the authentic ground work for the movie is rooted in the book Up in the Air written by Walter Kirn. And though there are many differences to the movie, the heart of the story came from Kirn’s own travel experiences:

I wrote this book in [Earl], Montana of all places, in a snowbound winter on a ranch thinking about airports and airplanes and thinking about a particular conversation I’d had that had startled me. I sat down in a first class cabin – somebody else must have been paying – and you know, I’m the guy you don’t want to sit next to on an airplane because I want to know your story and want to tell you mine and I asked him where he was from this line is in the movie. He said, “I’m from right here” and I said, “What do you mean by that?” He said, “Well, I used to have an apartment in Atlanta but I never used it. It just collected dust and then I got a storage locker, I stay in hotels and am on the road 300 days a year. So this is where I’m from and this is my family.” He pointed to a flight attendant and said, “I know her. I know her name. I know her kids’ names.” And I thought, this is a new creature. I felt like an ornithologist discovering a new bird and when you’re a novelist and you discover a new creature and you discover a sort of new environment in which this creature is possible, you have to write the book.
Walter Kirn
CinemaBlend. com article by Perru Nemiroff

So far Up in the Air has been named the best picture of 2009 by the National Board of Review and the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association. Personally, it will be the only film in 2009 I will see multiple times in the theaters. Actually, the first one since Juno. In case I’ve understated myself—if you like fine writing, go see this film.

12/28 Update: Found out that Walter Kirn was born in Akron, Ohio and raised in Marine on Saint Croix, Minnesota (just outside the greater suburbs of Minneapolis/St. Paul). For some reason that doesn’t surprise me. How many times have writers from Minnesota come up in this blog?

Related posts: Filmmaking Quote #6 (Jason Reitman)
Screenwriting Quote of the Day #117 (Jason Reitman)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

One things movies often lack is actually showing people working. I think there is a few reasons for this ranging from work is seen as uninteresting and writers lacking knowledge of work outside of writing. But it has been said that every job you’ve ever had should provide you with ample material for one book or screenplay.  Yet time after time it seems like few characters really have  a job or they have the ever present interesting job in advertising.

One writer who has delighted in showing every day jobs is Mike Judge who is best known for his film Office Space. Judge’s most recent film is Extract that takes place in an extract factory. Judge told Carl Cortez of iFmagazine that he’d worked a variety of regular jobs and that he remembers thinking that Hollywood “sometimes out of touch” with the workplace.

“I also used to feel like a lot of characters in movies and TV seemed to have endless cash and free time and you either didn’t know much about their job or they didn’t seem to have to have one. Finding the humor, while still having some dignity to the characters is something that is also important to me. I don’t think about it that much. I’d like to think it comes naturally. To me it’s just like when I would sit around with my friends telling stories about people I work with and doing imitations of them and that sort of thing.”
Mike Judge
iFMagazine.com

Scott W. Smith


Read Full Post »

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. “
Charles Dickens

“God bless us everyone.”
Tiny Tim
(A Christmas Carol)

A Cedar Falls white Christmas day in the great tradition of Bedford Falls in It’s a Wonderful Life and Dickens’ London in A Christmas Carol. Merry Christmas.

*Our Redeemer Lutheran Church located near my home.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“Reflect on your present blessings, of which every man has many; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”
Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens has been dead for 139 years but that didn’t stop him from having a $132 million film this year. Dickens first wrote A Christmas Carol in just six weeks back in 1843. The book sold well from the start and also received good reviews from critics. I’m not sure how many versions of A Christmas Carol have been made into feature films and TV programs, but I believe the story first appeared in 1910 during the silent film era.

The Robert Zemeckis animated version featuring the voice of  Jim Carrey shows the lasting value (and box office value) of a good story well told.

“He went to the church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and for, and patted the children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of homes, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed of any walk, that anything, could give him so much happiness.”
Charles Dickens
A Christmas Carol

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Following a couple posts of Jack Kerouac and touching on his book On the Road, I found an extended passage that connects writing with traveling. I was reading this into my iPhone so I tried to stay word for word but may be off a little. It comes from screenwriter Nicholas Meyer who was asked by Ray Morton in Script magazine, “Your scripts are so well structured, how much do you think about structure when writing?”

“Structure is the most important thing to me in drama. For me to get going, I really have to have an over-arching concept of how the thing’s supposed to work and the details of it, and I suspect, are much less important to me because I think if I get that big thing right…then I’m inclined to be much more comfortable doing what I’m doing, ….once I’m know where I’m starting and where I’m going to end, the middle is going to take care of itself. I think there ought to be room…for a kind of spontaneity.  When I was at the University of Iowa,  Max Shulman,who was a very well-known humorist at the time,  came to visit the (Iowa) Writer’s Workshop. He’d written some novels and I remember somebody asking him, “Do you always have an outline when you write a novel?” And he said, “Of course!…I would no more start a novel without an outline then I would a car trip without a road map.” I remember thinking… it sounds like a boring trip, because if you’re completely  bound to the road map, you would seem to deny yourself the possibility of spontaneity, of spontaneous meaningful detours.

The analogy I give myself–-about outlining is that –-once I have the over-arching thing, the rest of it is a little to me like the headlights on a car at night, which is–-that the outline— illuminates the next stretch of the road,  but does not illuminate the whole thing. You just make the assumption by the time you catch up with where the headlights are, they’ll illuminate the next stretch of the road of the road. You try to strike a balance between a structure that seems to accommodate the overall purpose of the story in one hand on the other gives yourself room latitude to wander, to be spontaneous, and to fold all that stuff into the larger skeletal support.
Nicholas Meyer

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: