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Archive for January, 2010

“If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the movies. Don’t even mention them to me.”
Holden Caulfield
Catcher in the Rye
Written by J.D. Salinger

How did J.D. Salinger become one of the most wanted writers in Hollywood? By not wanting Hollywood.  Perhaps it would be better said that it was not the reclusive Salinger who was wanted but his work, Catcher in the Rye. When Salinger died a few days ago I imagine producers were excited about the possibility of finally bringing the book to the screen.

Selling the film rights to Catcher in the Rye would be very lucrative for the Salinger estate.

The story goes that Salinger was so upset with the adaption of Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut (made into the 1949 film My Foolish Heart) that he was done with Hollywood. (Though I did notice on IMDB that he is credited a couple times in the last 30 years.)

I don’t know if Salinger ever stepped foot in Iowa but his spirit was drawn here. In the Field of Dreams, the character that James Earl Jones plays (Terrance Mann) was based on Salinger. In the W.P Kinsella book (Shoeless Joe) that the movie is based on the character actually is  J.D. Salinger himself, but he did not allow his name to be used in the film so changes were made. Good thing, too. It would be hard to imagine that film without James Earl Jones, a fine actor but one who doesn’t quite look like Salinger.

Not much is known about Salinger and that’s the way that he wanted it. But that will all change since his death.  Screenwriter Shane Salerno (Shaft, Armageddon) has spent five years working on a self-funded documentary on Salinger. One in which he interviewed over 150 people who “had contact with him otherwise, or were greatly influenced by him.”  (Robert Towne, Tom Wolfe, E.L. Doctorow, Philip Seymour Hoffman) The documentary is based on Salinger: A Biography, written by Paul Alexander.

Salerno told Mike Fleming at Deadline Hollywood;

“I loved (Salinger’s) work, and how he had the world at his doorstep, and said no thanks. He somehow understood in 1951 the corrosive effect that fame and money could have on his writing. He was singular, and in this Internet age where people pursue their 15 minutes of fame, nobody did what Salinger did: living in the woods in New Hampshire, writing to please only himself.”

Maybe in the future it will be hip to pursue 15 minutes of reclusiveness. I think it was Blaise Pascal who said a few centuries ago that the chief problem of man was that he could not stand to be in room by himself. (I might update that to “by himself—without a TV, a computer and the Internet.”)

Scott W. Smith

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“The story of Kurt Warner, who announced his retirement after a 12-year NFL career on Jan. 29, always starts with the chapter in that grocery store in Iowa.”
Sean Gregory
Time Magazine

This week’s Sports Illustrated (January 25, 2010) contains an article titled, Iowa’s Got a Secret. SI writer Albert Chen says of the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) basketball team that it, “remains the best kept secret in college basketball.” (The men’s NCAA basketball team is 17-2 and currently ranked #25 in ESPN/USA Today poll right after the much larger & established programs such as Ohio St., Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech.)

UNI happens to also be where quarterback Kurt Warner played college football before going on to have a career worthy of landing him in the NFL Hall of Fame when eligible. Warner retired yesterday from the NFL after a 12 year career which included playing in three Super Bowls (winning the MVP in one of them) as well as being the most accurate quarterback in NFL history.

I’ve written about Warner before and I really think his story symbolizes everything that I’ve been writting about for the past two years. That you can come from a small place and really accomplish some good things—sometimes even great things at the highest level. But, as with Warner’s case, persistance is equally as important as talent.

After Warner’s high school career in Cedar Rapids, Iowa he was disappointed to not win a scholarship to a Division 1 school. Then he changed his perspective by accepting a scholarship  to Division I-AA UNI back in the 90s.. He would play only an hour away from home so friends and family could see him play, and being a smaller school he figured he could maybe start playing as a freshman. He figured wrong and ended up not winning the starting QB position until his senior year. He got hurt in his second game that year but stuck it out and ended up earning the Gateway Conference player of the year.

He figured he played well enough to be drafted into the NFL. He figured wrong once again, but was given a chance as a free agent to make the Green Bay Packers. But they had a young quarterback named Bert Favre so thing didn’t work out too well in Green Bay. The story is well-known in sports circles and will make a fine movie some day. He worked at Hy-Vee Grocery Store for a little over five dollars and hour, worked as an assistant football coach at UNI, became a QB in Des Moines in the arena football league, moved up to playing pro ball in Europe, before becoming the ringleader in “The Greatest Show on Turf” as quarterback for the St. Louis Rams earning the NFL MVP award twice (1999, 2001). He not only holds the record for top passing yards in a Super Bowl game—he hold the #2 and #3 spots as well.

Not bad for a kid from Cedar Rapids who didn’t even earn a Division 1 scholarship and sat the bench for his first three years of college here in Cedar Falls. Time and time when asked what’s kept him going through the dark times, his answer always involves faith. Faith in his talent, and faith in God.

You don’t have to be a football fan (or even a sports fan)  to appreciate the Kurt Warner story. And it’s a nice bonus that his work on the field is matched by his charity work off the field. Kurt Warner is simply one of the good guys.

“Since those days chucking candy in the grocery store in Cedar Falls, Kurt Warner has been an inspiration.”
Sean Gregory
Time magazine

Kurt Warner is retiring, but don’t expect him to disappear. You’ll see more of him, just not in a football uniform. He’ll probably be leading the way in something like building homes in Haiti for Habitat for Humanity, just like he did last year after the floods destroyed over 5,000 homes in his hometown of Cedar Rapids.

Scott W. Smith

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Last night I finished the last episode of season five of LOST, so now I’m ready for the final season which starts next week. And for whatever reason the TV show Northern Exposure crossed my mind. Probably because that’s one of my top five TV programs of all time. Loved the small town and the interesting characters. Loved the writing.

I’ve always said I wanted to live in the fictitious town Cicely Alaska and I imagine it played into my psyche when I moved to Iowa almost seven years ago. (Though in real life my experience has been that if you want to visit a real life Cicely-like place try Ely, Minnesota or Talkeentna, Alaska.) But I find there are traces of Cicely, Alaska everywhere.

It’s hard to believe that Northern Exposure started airing 20 years ago. Can 1990 really be 20 years ago?  It was a simpler time before people were blogging, text messaging while driving, nor was there even the Internet as we know it. A time when part of the nation leaned on a DJ at KBHR for a little prime time philosophy.

Even if you didn’t agree with all his philosophy, you had to appreciate the words and the thought process (as well as John Corbett’s voice).

Goethe’s final words: “More light.” Ever since we crawled out of that primordial slime, that’s been our unifying cry: “More light.” Sunlight. Torchlight. Candelight. Neon. Incandescent. Lights that banish the darkness from our caves, to illuminate our roads, the insides of our refrigerators. Big floods for the night games at Soldier’s field. Little tiny flashlight for those books we read under the covers when we’re supposed to be asleep. Light is more than watts and footcandles. Light is metaphor. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet. “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” “Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, Lead Thou me on!” “The night is dark, and I am far from home.” “Lead Thou me on! Arise, shine, for thy light has come.” Light is knowledge. Light is life. Light is light.
Chris in the morning (John Corbett)
Northern Exposure
Written by Diane Frolov & Andrew Schneider

Scott W. Smith

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“I have not failed. I have just found 1,000 ways that did not work.”
Thomas Edison (And one of screenwriter Chris Sparling’s favorite quotes.)

Los Angles is full of screenwriters who came from outside L.A.

Of course, most of them broke in the old-fashioned way. They moved there. That’s been going on for 100 years ever since L.A. replaced New York and Chicago as the go to place to make movies.

And that may be true for the next 100 years, because that is still the heart of the film industry. It’s where the majority of studios, executives and film talent are based. It’s the main place for deals to happen and for movies to be made.

But what keeps that heart pumping is the fresh talent that movies through it. And that talent often comes from outside L.A.

And I’ve spent two years giving accounts of talented writers who come from all over the U.S. (and sometimes other countries) to make an impact on the film business. Occasionally, writers have enough clout to stay in their hometowns (John Hughes/ Chicago) and sometimes they move back to their hometown (Mike France/St. Pete Beach) or move to their ideal creative place (George Lucas/Skywalker Ranch). But those are exceptions to the rule.

The big question now is has the technology and the business evolved to the point where it is becoming more common for screenwriters and filmmakers to not only launch a career outside L.A., but sustain one from wherever they want live? In the 70s & 80s Francis Ford Coppola & Lucas fled to Northern California to do their thing. In the 90s & 2000s, we’ve see places like Austin, Atlanta & Portland become places where filmmakers live and work. I think that is a trend that is going to continue to spread throughout the country.

Let me throw out a quote that point to where things are heading:

“I think that the Internet is going to effect the most profound change on the entertainment industries combined. And we’re all gonna be tuning into the most popular Internet show in the world, which will be coming from some place in Des Moines. We’re all gonna be on the Internet trying to find an audience.”
(Steven Spielberg in interview with Katie Couric on the NBC Today Show in 1999)

Have you noticed that the phrase “I think that the Internet…” has become a very popular? As in I think that the Internet…helped Diablo Cody become a screenwriting rock star.

But I think that it is fair to point out that Diablo Cody moved from Minneapolis to L.A. soon after her script for Juno sold. My guess is newcomer Chris Sparling will be moving from Rhode Island to L.A. soon (if he hasn’t already done so). I think Sparling is a recent and great example of how to launch a screenwriting career from outside L.A.

At this point he’s just a few days removed from the stir that was created at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival where the film he wrote, Buried, sold for $3 million plus. So there is not a lot written about him, but I’ve pieced together a few things I could from the internet.

Since he’s said he is roughly the same age as Ryan Reynolds (who stars in Buried), I’m guessing that he has been writing for ten years (maybe even 15 if he started as a teenager). He made some short films and in 2005 made a low-budget feature called An Uzi at the Alamo where he was the producer, director, writer and lead actor. The film can be viewed on Netflicks.

But as is often pointed out, getting a film made and paying the bills are not always the same thing. In one interview he said he recently “started applying for police jobs.”

From what I can gather Sparling earned money as a personal trainer and a freelance writer for magazines and blogs such as Maximum Fitness Magazine, Sunrise Helpers, Indie Slate and Imagine Magazine,The Diabetes Blog, The Cardio Blog, FitBuff,  America Online’s That’s Fit and Exist Magazine. He also taught screenwriting at Emerson College and I found an ad from just a year ago where he would read scripts for people and help them write query letters for extra money.

In an interview with Emerson College, Sparling was asked how one gets an agent and he said,“You have to cultivate relationships. You have to nurture them. You may meet an agent and send him a script. Odds are it will be a pass if he or she reads it at all, but you keep that relationship open and get recommended to others, and maybe on the fourth or fifth script you send to an agent…that’s the one they love and want to rep.”

Did you catch that? He said “maybe the fourth of fifth script.” Good writing is a process. It takes time. Sparling has said that it took him seven scripts before it “clicked” for him and that he wrote 9 or 10 scripts before Buried sold. Then he was on the fast track as it went into production, was edited, and shown and sold at Sundance all within the last year. It will be released in the spring of 2010. He’s a hot writer in Hollywood now as he’s sold other scripts and picked up other assignments. But don’t forget the many years and many scripts that paved the way for his recent success.

Living in Providence, Rhode Island he would also make occasional trips to L.A. to make contacts in the film industry.

“The first time I flew into LA, I had 15 meetings in five days. The next time it was 20 meetings.”
Chris Sparling

So did Chris Sparling just get lucky? I don’t think so. His is not the only way to break into Hollywood, but it follows a pretty common path that I would condense as:

1) Read a lot of scripts
2) Write a lot of scripts
3) Meet a lot of people

And if you want to read most of the good, logical reasons on why you should live in L.A., check out Ashley Scott Meyers’ post Do you have to live in Los Angeles to be a screenwriter?

© 2010 Scott W. Smith 
 

 

 

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“The idea (for the script Buried) was born out of financial necessity. It had been several years since I directed a feature (2005’s An Uzi at the Alamo), and I wanted to write something I could afford to shoot with almost no budget. This meant cutting back on cast, crew, lighting, locations, props, wardrobe and just about everything else—which basically left me with nothing. And then one day I came up with a very challenging conceit: A guy buried alive for an entire movie. No other actors appearing on screen, no cutting away from this one location.”
Screenwriter Chris Sparling (Buried)
MovieMaker
interview with Kyle Rupprecht

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“It was a brilliant script.”
Director Rodrigo Cortes on Chris Sparling’s script Buried
(And why he didn’t change the one location/one on-screen actor concept.)

So here’s my latest angle to give “Screenwriting from Iowa” a new perspective. My first video blog. Since shifting to daily posts was burying me why not add video into the mix? Right now, I’m going to try doing one video a month for now and see how it goes. (Of course,  the shooting style of this video is best understood if you’ve seen the original trailer for Buried.)

Buried was purchased by Lionsgate for between $3 & 4 million after the film was shown at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival just a few days ago. The entire movie is said to feature one person (Ryan Reynolds) held captive in a coffin for the entire length of the film as he tries to call people on his cell phone to secure his $1 million ransom.

Buried alive? There’s no app for that.

Scott W. Smith

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“I was really beginning to question if I’d ever catch my proverbial big break. I drifted away from film work and started applying for police jobs.”
Chris Sparling, Buried screenwriter

“(Chris Sparling) went directly from struggling indie director to successful Hollywood scribe when the screenplay for his horror thriller Buried was picked up, cast with a major up-and-coming star, and thrown before the cameras in just six months. And now it’s receiving its U.S. première at the Sundance Film Festival.
Melissa Silvstri
Filmmaker Magazine Winter 2010

Until this morning I had never seen or heard the name Chris Sparling. Then I read on Scott Myers’ screenwriting blog (Go Into The Story) about a movie Sparling wrote called Buried that sold at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival for between $3 & $4 million. Sparling is from Providence, Rhode Island and has made short films and one low-budget independent feature five years ago that had little distribution.

He was looking to write a movie that could be shot quickly and cheaply when he stumbled upon the idea for Buried.

“Stealing a page from Hitchcock’s playbook, I decided on writing a story that takes place entirely in one small location. In my case, this was inside an old, wooden coffin.”
Chris Sparling

While his sudden rise is rare, the process that he took to be a screenwriter in demand is a familiar story. One of dedication and hard work.

Sparling was asked in an interview with Carson Reeves at Script Shadow, “How many scripts had you written before Buried? Which script did you realize that maybe you were getting the hang of it?” Sparling said, “Before Buried, I think I’d written about nine or ten features and two TV specs. Truth be told, it didn’t start to click for me until about my seventh feature script.”

I think to pull off writing a 90 minute story in a coffin one has to have a solid handle on the craft of screenwriting. You have to think that having a story set in a coffin would cut down on crew, cast, wardrobe,  lighting, etc.. The film was directed by Rodrigo Cortes and shot in 21 days in Barcelona, Spain. With Ryan Reynolds in the lead role it couldn’t have be too low a budget film.

Renyolds plays a  U.S.  contract driver in Iraq who is attacked and placed in a coffin with a flashlight, a cell phone and a lighter and must find someone to pay a million dollar ransom or he’ll soon die. A primal survival story reminscent of low-budget success stories of past years; The Blair Witch Project, Open Water and Paranormal Activity.

Is there a Midwest angle? Of course.  The character Renyolds plays says that he’s from Hastings, Michigan. Below is the promo for the movie that is said to being released this spring. If you do a little homework you can find a version of the script online.

Scott W. Smith

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“My philosophy is that if you do something good, it’s got a shot. If you want to do something that’s down the middle, the line forms on the right.”
T Bone Burnett

In a Los Angeles Times article titled The true saga behind ‘Crazy Heart,’, Randy Lewis writes about the relationship between T Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton who both provided original music on the film Crazy Heart.

Burnett toured with Bob Dylan in the 70s and is a 10-time Grammy winner including his work on the soundtrack for the Coen brothers film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? The L.A. Times article mentions how both Burnett and Bruton spent time on the road as musicians often do. Part of what is said to give authenticity to the singer Jeff Bridges plays in Crazy Heart is the music that Bruton and Burnett bring to the soundtrack. Burnett recounts a memory from life on the road:

“I was in a motel once called, I think, the Blackhawk Inn, somewhere in Iowa, and it turned out it was the motel that Cary Grant had died in. It was like, wait a minute — Cary Grant didn’t die in this motel, there’s no possible way he ever even saw this motel. Nevertheless, apparently that’s what happened. . . .”

That did in fact happen. And that some place is in Davenport, Iowa. The Hotel Blackhawk closed in 2006 after a fire, but I have read that the hotel built in 1915 is currently being restored.  Film legend Cary Grant was far removed from his starring roles in movies like North by Northwest (1959) and Penny Serenade (1941) and Bringing Up Baby (1938) when the 82-year-old died of a heart attack in Davenport on November 29, 1986. (Though technically, according to the Quad City Times, Grant was taken from the hotel and died at St. Luke’s Hospital.)

So with John Wayne & Johnny Carson being born in Iowa and  Cary Grant & Buddy Holly dying in Iowa those are pretty good icons to have as bookends to this interesting state where seemingly nothing happens related to the entertainment industry. Mix that with the enduring love for Field of Dreams, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, screenwriter Diablo Cody going to college in Iowa City, and the fictitious Captain Kirk being from Iowa and you know why I’ve been able to write about this middle-of-nowhere place for the past two years.

Obviously, Grant’s death here left a mark on Burnett. And my guess is that experience had an impact on Crazy Heart or he wouldn’t still be talking about it. If you follow the trajectory of older (or dead) actors, musicians, writers, etc.  you usually find an arc where their popularity peaked at a certain point in time. After that peak is fertile ground to explore. There’s a great line in the movie Tender Mercies where the once popular country & western singer is asked , “Didn’t you used to be Max Sledge?”

Check out T Bone Burnett’s website and see how his creative journey has unfolded over the years. Born in St.. Louis and raised in Texas on his way to working with the likes of B.B. King, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Sam Sheperd, John Mellencamp, Elvis Costello, Tony Bennett as well as on the films Cold Mountain and Walk the Line.

“I always wanted whatever I was doing to be art, so I was always fighting for those records to measure up to a standard of how I felt when I heard The Kinks for the first time or Ray Charles for the first time. From an early age, I knew I wasn’t as good as the other things I was hearing, but I was always trying to get there. David Hidalgo [of Los Lobos] is incredibly talented, and I thought, ‘David Hidalgo can get to that point; he can be as good in his own way as Miles Davis or Ray Charles.’ So what I was willing to do was wait until the record sounded as good to me in its own way as the first time I heard ‘Lonely Avenue’ by Ray Charles. I would try to be true to that feeling — the effect that music had on me.”
T Bone Burnett
Looking Back, Looking Forward
Mix Magazine article by Blair Jackson

I’m fond of mentioning Iowa artist Grant Wood’s call for regionalism in painting. Burnett is as good as anyone touching on the grassroots of music in this country. Below is the Robert Plant & Alison Krauss version of the John Prine song Killing the Blues. Burnett produced the song on the 2009 Grammy winning album of the year, Raising Sand.

Scott W. Smith




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“Pick-up your crazy heart and give it one more try.”
From the Crazy Heart theme song

Since one of my favorite films of all times is Tender Mercies, the Horton Foote-written story of a fading country & western singer (played by Robert Duvall, who won an Oscar for his role in the 1983 movie), I look forward to seeing Crazy Heart which stars Jeff Bridges as a down and almost out country singer.

I noticed that the title track to Crazy Heart (The Weary Kind) was written & performed by singer Ryan Bingham. I was unfamiliar with his work but the name Ryan Bingham sounded familiar. Wasn’t the main character in Up in the Air named Bingham? I doubled checked and sure enough the character  George Clooney plays in the recent Jason Reitman film is in fact named Ryan Bingham. (And I thought Scott Smith was a common name.)

Earlier this week Ryan Bingham (the singer) won a Golden Globe award for Best Original Song (along with T. Bone Burnett), and Reitman and Sheldon Turner won Best Screenplay for Up in the Air (featuring the character Ryan Bingham). Small world, huh?

Here is an interview that Crazy Heart director Scott Cooper has with the singer Ryan Bingham & T. Bone Burnett as they talk about writing their Golden Globe winning song. (Followed by the song itself performed by the real life 28-year-old, former bull rider, Ryan Bingham.)

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Screenwriting from Iowa, huh?

That’s how I started my first blog two years ago today. The first time I had ever posted anything anywhere. I started out in 2008 writing two or three times a week with posts between 1,000-2,000 words. Really, mini essays. In 2009 I shifted over to daily post usually under 500 words and sometimes just a quote.

The results of the shorter daily post were a double number of views. Now for 2010 how can I fine tune it a little to be more helpful? I welcome any suggestions, but on Monday I’m planning at least one new twist.

Looking back on the last two years there have been a lot of changes. Just in the original 2008 post I see where I quote Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. He left that gig, but is now on his way back. I mentioned Kevin Bacon & John Edwards who have both had significant reversal. Bacon losing a sizable amount of money in the Madoff scam, and Edwards–who was a presidential candidate in ’08–has since fathered a baby with a woman who is not his wife.

And for a couple years there was actually a relative boom in features being made in Iowa due to Film Incentives which were recently discontinued because of mismanagement and accusations of fraud by recipients. The economy has gone into a deeper recession and the US is still in Iraq (and now back in Afghanistan). The Internet continues to change the life in general, and the media specifically. Most noticeably the decline of newspapers and magazines as readers look elsewhere for their news and information.

And just has Hollywood box office seemed in decline, James Cameron lead the charge for ’09 to be the best ever dollar intake in movie history. But from a production side, perhaps the biggest change in the past two years is the rise of people everywhere making films and videos. Fifteen years ago secretaries became graphic designers as Photoshop became a common tool. Now Final Cut Pro, digital cameras, and You Tube have opened the door for the production pyramid to be much bigger.

But there is still a pyramid with the best talent at the top and the beginners at the bottom. There are still fine films being made and a larger crop of junk being produced. All in all, it’s an exciting time to be in production. One thing I’m sure about more than when I started this blog two years ago is more and more people outside of the L.A. and the Hollywood system with continue to find ways to make better and better films and will continue to find distribution means to get people to watch there films (and hopefully recoup their funds and ideally make a little money to keep the train moving forward).

In the meantime, keep writing, networking and learning–because once the economy kicks back in there are going to be some crazy opportunities out there. Thanks for stopping by the blog. As the views continue to grow that is an encouragement to me to keep encouraging you in your creative journey. And just for nostalgia here is the very first post for “Screenwriting from Iowa…or wherever you live outside L.A,”

Life Beyond Hollywood (Original post on January 22, 2008)

Screenwriting from Iowa, huh?

No, it’s not a joke or an oxymoron.

Screenwriting from Iowa isn’t really just about Iowa or limited to screenwriting. But that is the starting point. And I hope this on-going blog encourages writers who feel like they live in the middle of nowhere. And if you hold on a moment you’ll learn that the hippest and hottest screenwriter in Hollywood today has some Iowa roots.

It’s ten degrees below zero and snowing as I begin this first blog compounding the barren wasteland fears people have about the state of Iowa. But I think you’ll be surprised at the creative talent growing beyond them there cornfields.

On January 3, 2008 all eyes were on Iowa (at least for a quick glance) as the first presidential caucuses took place. Jay Leno joked on The Tonight Show, “Many people don’t know this, but the word caucus is Indian for the one day anyone pays attention to Iowa.”

Iowa may not be New York or LA but where else can you see 13 presidential candidates up close within a ten-mile drive of your home as I did in the last couple months? There was plenty of drama, and enough material for a couple screenplays.

Iowa is a metaphor for any place that represents life beyond Hollywood. (That could be West Virginia, West Africa, or even West Covina.)   Iowa is where I live and write and is also a state that most people in the United States would have trouble pinpointing on a map. Quintessential “fly-over country.”  What good can come from Iowa? Can you get any further from Hollywood? You’d be surprised.

Forget that six degrees of separation to Kevin Bacon thing. Bacon was right here in Cedar Falls earlier this month stumping for presidential hopeful John Edwards.  Cedar Falls is also where Nancy Price wrote the novel that became the Julia Roberts’ film Sleeping with the Enemy, and where Robert Waller wrote the book that became the Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep film The Bridges of Madison County.

And since this is the first blog let me also mention that entertainment icons Johnny Carson & John Wayne were both born in Iowa. This site is dedicated seeing the depth of talent that can from a remote place and will provide you with practical advice on screenwriting and digital filmmaking.

As I write this, the independent film Juno continues its strong box office run and has already won the Critics’ Choice Award for screenwriter Diablo Cody.  (And I don’t think that will be the last award she wins.) Film critic Tom Long of the Detroit News wrote, “Juno’s the best movie of the year. It’s the best screenplay of the year, and it features the best actress of the year working in the best acted ensemble of the year.” Roger Ebert wrote, “The screenplay by first-timer Diablo Cody is a subtle masterpiece of construction…The Film has no wrong scenes and no extra scenes, and flows like running water.”

The 29-year-old Cody’s own life story of spending a year as a less than exotic dance in Minneapolis is well documented, bit to learn where she honed her writing skills we must go back a couple years to when she was a college student in…you guessed it, Iowa. The University of Iowa  in Iowa City has long been sacred writing grounds and home to one of the richest traditions in creative writing. Tennessee Williams and John Irving are among its alma mater.

“They have the writer’s workshop there. They have an undergraduate workshop, and I got in,” Cody said in this month’s Written By. “I focused mainly on poetry. I laugh about that now. I actually think it wound up helpful because as a poet you develop a certain efficiency with language that I think you use as a screenwriter.” (The entire article by Matt Hoey can be found at the Writer’s Guide of America’s website: www.wga.org/writtenby/writtenbysub.aspx?id=2693)

Though Cody couldn’t wait to get out of college she did earn a degree in media studies and was known for her excellent writing. And I believe that excellent writing will always be discovered wherever you live.

So over the course of this blog I will offer insights gleaned from my film school days, various workshops I attended and given, over 100 books read on writing and the creative process, as well as more than 20 years of experience as a video producer/director/writer (www.scottwsmith.com), and most importantly quotes from successful screenwriters.

Scott W. Smith

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