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Archive for June, 2010

Unk was my inspiration to blog. So blame him.”
Mystery Man on Film

Way back in June of 2006 I’m not even sure I had indoor plumbing yet. My cell phone looked like Gordo Gekko’s. Some of you weren’t even born yet. Yes, four years is a long time in this new digital world. But that’s when UNK went online with his screenwriting blog, Unknownscreenwriter.

I didn’t start looking at screenwriting blogs until late ’07 and there were three that stood out to me; Mystery Man on Film, Blake Snyder, and UNK. Blake died last year, and there are recent reports that Mystery Man is no longer with us making UNK one of the longest continual blogs on screenwriting. He doesn’t blog daily like Scott Myers over at Go Into The Story (or yours truly) but over the past four years he as amassed quite a collection of solid and informative posts.

I’m personally thankful for UNK and all those early blogging pioneers who paved the way starting back in the good ole’ days of  ’05 & ’06. (I think in 2010 there are more screenwritng blogs than Elvis sightings. The goal isn’t to read them all, but find a couple that inspire you to improve your writing. )

And like Mystery Man, UNK’s true identity is unknown. We don’t know where he comes from, what’s his background, or what he’s written. I personally like to think he’s from Nebraska because it fits my angle here. Google UNK and first up is the University of Nebraska Kearney’s because their website is http://www.unk.edu —and you know how screenwriters like to sneak stuff in. Just look at what those commie screenwriters did in the 30s-40s-50s. Not that UNK is a communist, of course, just looking for clues.

What we do know about UNK though is he spent some time in California, but now lives a quick plane ride outside L.A. in either New Mexico or Arizona. UNK is rather blunt and has a fondness for dropping f-bombs, but it’s all part of his gruff charm.  It’s easy for me to imagine UNK, Blake and Mystery Man all sitting at a table playing poker. There’s refined and cultured Mystery Man in a suit looking like Tom Wolf and smoking a Cuban with a brandy snifter in his right hand, there’s Blake in his trademark blue button down Oxford shirt drinking a Pepsi, and there’s UNK drinking a 24 ounce can of beer, looking a little like an aging surfer crossed with Oscar Madison, and cussing up a storm as he rants about some recent exchange he had with a 16-year-old Hollywood executive.

I could be wrong, but that’s how Unk comes across to me. Either way, he’s an interesting character to throw into your mix of screenwriting blogs if you are unfamiliar with him. You can learn a lot there. His posts on transformational arc are gold. Back in Dec. ’09 UNK wrote a post called  You Don’t Make Me Feel and addressed the majority of scripts he reads these days, “Did you get so caught up in creating some kind of WHAMMO every ten pages that you forgot to elicit some kind of emotion from me?”

Unfortunately, that applies to not only many unproduced scripts but to too many films that jump through all the hoops to get produced and distributed.

Happy anniversary UNK.

Scott W. Smith

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”If you don’t have any real feeling for the suburban middle-class life, and if you didn’t have any sense of that time, (The Wonder Years) wouldn’t make sense.”‘
Neal Marlens
Co-creator of The Wonder Years (set in the late 60s/early 70s)

I’ve finally decided what I’d like for my birthday this year—a complete Blu-Ray set of the TV program The Wonder Years. There’s one problem, it doesn’t exist. I have no idea why, but that’s what my research tells me. (Correct me if I’m wrong.) I image it has to do with ancillary music rights which weren’t covered when the show was created in the 80s. Couldn’t find much online  either about the co-creators of the program, husband and wife writing team, Neal Marlens & Carol Black.

Marlens and Black not only created The Wonder Years but Growing Pains and Ellen so it’s surprising there isn’t more about them online. The quote below is from  The New York Times and is just about the only thing I could find about the show from one of the creators.

”We’re caught inside the sensibilities that we grew up in, so we come by it honestly and without judgment as to whether it’s good, or it’s bad, or it’s yuppie, whatever. To write from our experience and to write our experience is to write to the audience that’s out there…. we’re writing what we enjoy and what’s interesting to us, and that’s what the audience is liable to like.”
Neal Marlens
NY Times interview in 1988 with Peter J. Boyer

Marlens’ predication came true. The first show aired right after the 1988 Super Bowl. After only six shows it found its way into the top ten. It won an Emmy for Best Comedy that season. For whatever reason Black and Marlens left the program after writing 19 programs. But The Wonder Years held on to its audience and ended up running for six years and lived in TV’s top ten programs the entire time.

Here’s the last voiceover of the older Kevin (Daniel Stern) from the final episode of The Wonder Years;

“Things never turn out exactly the way you planned. Growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day you’re in diapers, the next you’re gone, but the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul. I remember a place, a house like a lot of houses, a yard like a lot of yards, on a street like a lot of other streets. And the thing is, after all these years I still look back in wonder.”

I’m not sure who wrote those words, but I always believed that the producers, directors, writers on The Wonder Years always did an excellent job of capturing an era. Of a sense of time and place. A time of dreams fulfilled and opportunities missed. They captured simply growing up, which resonates even if you didn’t grow up in a the suburbs.They captured what one of my producers friends says is the most important thing to capture in a movie, documentary, or TV program; “Life.”

I image half the writers out there have at least written a coming-of-age story, I know I have. It was actually the first (and only) script I ever wrote where someone told me it made them cry. An interesting side note to that is an agent once told me that script would never get made because I didn’t have an adult lead. I had never thought about that, but I did realize that similar  stories all had some adult leads (Stand by Me, Sandlot, Bad News Bears, Big, My Dog Skip). Maybe the next re-write I’ll include a role for a now grown-up Fred Savage and tap into the whole Wonder Years vibe—and audience.

P.S. If anybody has any links on how the producers/writers approached writing each show please send them my way.

Scott W. Smith


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The origins of the classic hand game “Rock, Paper, Scissors” are unknown. But what is known is its popularity is undisputed and universal. There are even RPS contests and leagues around the world.  In fact, the World RPS Society has cash prizes and a world champion every year. Online you can find all kinds of websites, t-shirts, and tips on improving your game.

And, yes, there is a documentary on the subject called Rock Paper Scissors; a geek tragedy.

Though there are variations of the game, the basic rules are the same;
—Paper covers rock
—Rock smashes Scissors
—Scissors cut paper

You gotta love the simplicity. For the sake of this post on screenwriting, let’s explore three popular ways that accomplished writers say they have used as starting points for writing screenplays;

—Story
—Characters
—Theme

But we’re not really pitting them against each other, just showing three examples of writers who use one as their starting point.

STORY

“I always start with story rather than characters. When I write I try to write from the point of view of defining a character through action. That way having the narrative shifts define what we think of the characters. That’s why I love film noir crime fiction because double-crosses, twists and turns… you’re constantly readdressing your opinion of the characters and you’re reassessing who you think those people are. I find that a really interesting and very strong form of characterization, but it means putting story first and then just seeing where that leads the characters.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Christopher Nolan
Memento
(And writer/director of the #3 all-time (domestic) box office film The Dark Knight)

CHARACTER

“I DETEST the word plot. I never, never think of plot. I think only and solely of character. Give me the characters; I’ll tell you a story–maybe a thousand stories. The interaction between and among human beings is the only story worth telling.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Stirling Silliphant
In the Heat of the Night

THEME

“The best thing that can happen is for the theme to be nice and clear from the beginning. Doesn’t always happen. You think you have a theme and you then start telling the story. Pretty soon the characters take over and the story takes over and you realize your theme isn’t being executed by the story, so you start changing the theme.”
Three time Oscar-winning screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky
Network, The Hospital, Marty

Three different writers with three different starting points, but each with successful results. The important thing isn’t to argue or worry over your starting point, but pick which works best for you and start (and, yes, there are other starting points). But just as important, finish what you start. And if you really want to have a hand up on most screenplays write one with a solid story, solid characters, and a solid theme.

Scott W. Smith

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“I really do believe that chance favours a prepared mind. Wallace Stegner, who was one of my teachers when I was at Stanford, preached that writing a novel is not something that can be done in a sprint. That it’s a marathon. You have to pace yourself. He himself wrote two pages every day and gave himself a day off at Christmas. His argument was at the end of a year, no matter what, you’d got 700 pages and that there’s got to be something worth keeping.”
Scott Turow
Writer of Presumed Innocent interview with Robert McCrum

“Much of Stegner’s writing grew out of his itinerant upbringing, a self-described ‘wandering childhood’ that took him to North Dakota, Washington, Saskatchewan, Montana, Utah, Nevada, and California.”
Honor Jones and Andrew Shelden
Wallace Stegner inVQR


Wallace Stegner (1909-1993) won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1972 (Angle of Repose) and has been called “The Dean of Western Writers.”  Though born on a farm in Iowa (and earned his Master’s and Doctorate degrees at the Iowa Writers Workshop) he really was a man of the country having lived in 20 different places (including Canada).

He taught at the University of Utah (where he did his undergraduate work), the University of Iowa, the University of Wisconsin and Harvard University before being the founder of the creative writing program at Stanford University. His students over the years included Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove), Thomas McGuane (Ninety-Two in the Shade), Ernest Gaines (A Lesson Before Dying),  Wendell Berry (The Unsettling of America), and Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest).

Here is part of Stegner’s advice to a talented writer who had studied with him:

“I imagine you will always be pinched for money, for time, for a place to work. But I think you will do it. And believe me, it is not a new problem. You are in good company…Your touch is the uncommon touch; you will speak only to the thoughtful reader. And more times than once you will ask yourself whether such readers really exist at all and why you should go on projecting your words into silence like an old crazy actor playing the part of himself to an empty theater.”
Wallace Stegner
the Atlantic, To a Young Writer

And in case you are intimidated by Stegner’s academic pedigree, it may help you to know that Stegner spent part of his youth in an orphanage and once said that he didn’t grow up with any art, music (except for some folk music), or literature.  The only architecture around him was a grain elevator. In fact, he never saw a city of any kind until he was 12 years old. He once said, “Coming from nowhere. you have lots of places to go.”

In one talk, he also stressed the importance of having a sense of place and continuity, “You are members of a community—most of you. You are a members of a region, of a country, of a culture, of an ecology, a species, and if you find it as I do a ‘weed species,’ that isn’t any reason to belong to it less, or love it less, it’s only an excuse to mitigate its weediness.”

Robert Redford narrated the documentary Wallace Stegner: A Writer’s Life.

The Papers of Wallace Stegner can be found at the University of Iowa and are open for research.

*Back in the day, spending time in an orphanage didn’t always mean that your parents were dead, but perhaps they weren’t able to afford to raise and care for you properly. I’m not an expert on the subject, but I’m guessing that wasn’t too uncommon throughout the depression. By the way, orphanages find their way into stories because the place is so rich to explore from a perspective of the universal themes of home and belonging. And as I’ve pointed out before, orphans make for great protagonists. (See the post Orphan Characters.)

Scott W. Smith


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“People who succeed in the arts most often are the people who get up again after getting knocked down. Persistence is critical.”
Scott Turow

“I used to write on the morning commuter train. It was sometimes no more than a paragraph a day, but it kept the candle burning.”
Scott Turow

It took Scott Turow a “six to seven year period” to write his first published novel Presumed Innocent. But if that alone doesn’t show his persistence, he had written four unpublished novels before that. Though he was a practicing lawyer and had published a memoir (One L), his childhood dream of being a novelist wasn’t faring so well. In an interview with Jason Boog, Turow said, “My life as a writer was carried on against the odds… as a writer of fiction I hadn’t gotten very far.”

Presumed Innocent
was published in 1987 and he has now had eight fiction books published (along with two non-fiction books) and has sold more than 25 million books.

“There have always been books about trials going back to the trial of Socrates, or the Merchant of Venice, or Billy Budd. But Presumed Innocent depended upon a change in public attitude: lawyers were no longer idealized figures.

The overwhelmingly successful trial book of my early adolescence had been To Kill A Mockingbird. Atticus Finch is so perfect it’s beyond belief. He’s a widower caring in a loving fashion for two wonderful children. He is a man of courage, principle, deep intellect – and the best shot in the county!

Presumed Innocent challenged that view of lawyers. I wrote it saying to myself: ‘To hell with Perry Mason, I’m gonna show it as it is.’ It turned out people were intensely curious about what actually goes on in courtrooms, and that Americans were deeply interested in law.”
Scott Turow
Interview with Robert McCrum

It would be interesting to compare courtroom dramas before the movies The Verdict (1982) and Presumed Innocent (1990) with courtroom films and TV programs of the last 20 years.

Scott W. Smith

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“The ‘if-I-had-time’ lie is a convenient way to ignore the fact that novels require being written and that writing happens a sentence at a time. Sentences can happen in a moment. Enough stolen moments, enough stolen sentences, and a novel is born—without the luxury of time. Lawyer Scott Turow wrote his riveting novel Presumed Innocent* on his daily commuter train.”
Julia Cameron
The Right to Write
page 14

*The 1990 movie Presumed Innocent starring Harrison Ford was based on Turow’s international best-selling book with the screenplay being written by Frank Pierson and Alan J. Pakula. According to Box Office Mojo it made $221,303,188. worldwide. It’s probably worth mentioning that before Turow got on that commuter train he had graduated from not only Harvard Law School but had a Master’s in Creative Writing from Stanford University. He has written a total of eight books, has a website,  and is currently a partner at Sonnernschein Nath & Rosenthal in Chicago.

Update: Just read where Turow studied with Pulitzer-Prize winning author Wallace Stegner, the founder of the writing program at Stanford. Because I can’t seem to escape this theme, Stegner was born in Lake Mills, Iowa and educated (master’s degree, doctorate) at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. More on Turow & Stegner in coming days.

Related posts: The Breakfast Club for Writers
Filmmaking Quote of the Day #4 (Will Smith)
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (tip#2)
Screenwriting from Massachusetts
Screenwriting da Chicago Way

Scott W. Smith

 

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“One of the greatest tasks of my life has been to teach that the colored man can be anything,”
Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux (1884-1951)

On Tuesday, the United States Postal Service released a stamp of producer, director, screenwriter Oscar Micheaux. This is significant for several reasons. First it shows that long before Tyler Perry and Spike Lee, and before even Melvin Van Peebles and Gordon Parks, there was Micheaux. Though probably less known than those other filmmakers, according to The Miami Herald, “Micheaux, who died in 1951, was the first African American to produce a feature-length film – The Homesteader, in 1920 — and a sound feature-length film – The Exile — in 1931.”

In all he is said to have made 40 films, though only all or part of 15 survive.

The USPS press release says, “Micheaux thrived at a time when African-American filmmakers were rare, venues for their work were scarce, and support from the industry did not exist. Micheaux’s entrepreneurial spirit and independent vision continue to inspire new generations of filmmakers and artists.”

On Wednesday, Film Life’s 14th Annual American Black Film Festival began (June 23-26, 2010) in Miami. (I’m not sure if honoring Oscar Micheaux is on the list this year, but if you’re in that area Spike Lee will be doing a Master Class on The Art of Filmmaking Saturday, June 26 at the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach.)

The second thing about Micheaux of significance to this Screenwriting from Iowa blog is that I like to point out writers and filmmakers who come from outside Los Angeles and Micheaux was born in 1884 in Metropolis, Illinois, grew up in Great Bend, Kansas and had a farm in South Dakota. It was in South Dakota when he began writing short stories. According to IMDB, “Micheaux lost his homestead in 1915 due to financial losses caused by a drought. He moved to Sioux City, Iowa, where he established the Western Book and Supply Co. He continued to write novels, selling them himself, door-to-door.”

In case you missed that, Micheaux lived in Iowa for spell. Wrote books and sold them himself.  (My new hero.) Micheaux moved to Chicago with hopes of making one of his novels a book. Again IMDB, fills in what happened;”Micheaux returned to the white businessmen and farmers around Sioux City, Iowa, where he still maintained an office, and sold them stock in his new company. In this way he was able to raise enough capital to begin filming his novel in Chicago, which was then a major film production center.” (I swear, I couldn’t make all this stuff up if I tried.)

His first feature, The Homesteader, was made in 1919. IMDB states, “His next film, Within Our Gates (1920), was his response to D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915), a film that had glorified the Ku Klux Klan.” These films were known as “Race Films” or “Race Movies” intended for black audiences. Wikipedia says, “During the height of their popularity, race films were shown in as many as 1,100 theaters around the country.”  It would not be until the 50s and the modern civil rights movement when Race Films were faded out.

And the third significance to Micheaux’s stamp is the artwork was created right here in Cedar Falls, Iowa by artist Gary Kelley. The same Gary Kelley I’ve mentioned many times on this blog and who I did a multi-media project with earlier this year (Kelley’s Blues).

Anyway to honor Oscar Micheaux, Gary Kelley, and my high school creative writing teacher Annye Refoe (who just happens to be black) I am going to give away one new copy of Seattle writer/teacher Brian McDonald’s screenwriting book Invisible Ink; A Practical Guide to Building Stories that Resonate. I own way too many books on screenwriting than I’d like to admit, but I believe that Invisible Ink is the first and only screenwriting book I own written by an African-American. Perhaps not something that needs mentioning, but in the context of Micheaux, I thought it was worth pointing out.

Anyway, I’ll send the book via the USPS with Micheaux/Kelley stamps. But here’s how I’ll pick one winner. In the spirit of Micheaux, I am working on publishing parts of this blog as a book (or two or three) and what I need are some blurbs from people who can say two or three positive sentences about me and/or Screenwriting from Iowa. (Could be longer, but doesn’t need to be.)  Put them in the comment section or email to me at info@scottwsmith.com. I’ll print the names and put them in a hat and choose a winner on next Friday (July 2, 2010).

Related Posts:
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (tip #2)
Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B=C)
Off-Screen Quote #15 (Edgar Degas)

Scott W. Smith

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“Subtext is what the character is really saying beneath and between the lines. Often characters don’t understand themselves. They’re often not direct and don’t say what they mean. We might say that subtext is all about underlying drives and meanings that are not apparent to the character, but that are apparent to the audience or reader.”
Linda Seger
Creating Unforgettable Characters
page 148

“If two characters say  ‘I love you’ and mean it, the scene is over. In other words, a story must have a subtext. Subtext is what lies beneath the text. It can be the underlying meaning of a story, the subconscious motives of a character, or what is really going on moment by moment in the scene.”
Linda Stuart
Getting Your Script Through the Hollywood Maze
Page 90

By adding the prefix sub (under, below) to a word changes the meaning of the root word.  A submarine is able to go under the water—sometimes deep under water. Writing good subtext in a screenplay is writing dialogue and scenes that are beneath the surface. Sometimes deep below the surface. Sometimes it takes multiple viewings of a film for you to catch the subtext.

I first heard the term subtext in an acting class years ago. Actors love to play the subtext of a scene. You can give an actor a line like, “I’m going to miss you,” and they can play it ten different ways.

A very simple example of subtext is in the movie Juno when Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) are contemplating what color they’re going to paint their nursery for the baby they are adopting. At the end of the page and a half scene Mark says, “I think it’s too early to paint. That’s what I think.” On the surface he seems to me saying, “Let’s wait until we know if it’s a boy or a girl and then decide on the color.”

But it’s really two short sentences packed with subtext. And as you read the Diablo Cody script. or watch the movie, the story unfolds a little more and you know exactly what was really going through Mark’s mind.

Sometimes, like in that case from Juno, the subtext isn’t recognized until later in the film. And sometimes the subtext is instantly recognized by the audience like the 70s guilty pleasure Smokey and the Bandit when Burt Reynolds says, “I only take my hat off for one thing….”

One of my favorite scene of subtext is in Cast Away, written by William Broyles, Jr. (Technically it’s two or three scenes, but one just spills over from the house to the garage to the jeep.) It’s toward the end of the movie when Tom Hanks has returned after years of being stranded on an island and is going to meet his old love (Helen Hunt).  Like most people she believed he was killed in the plane crash and is now married with children.

It’s a tender scene that in the script goes on for six pages as they talk about everything but their relationship; The weather, her kids, the Tennessee Titans almost winning the Super Bowl, where the search parties looked for him—everything but their relationship. Finally Hank’s says, “I should have never got on that plane.” That revelation is too powerful for Hunt to deal with so she changes the subject to take him to the garage where she still has his old jeep.

He says, “You kept the car? She says, “I kept everything.” The scene plays on and no one is talking about the elephant in the room; they still love each other. At one point they pause and look into each other’s eyes and it’s subtext without any text. Finally, Hunt says “Right back. You said you’d be right back.” They open up and proclaim their love for each other which is all the more agonizing because she has another family she is committed to. Great writing full of conflict, and full of subtext.

What are some of your favorite scenes or lines of subtext?

Scott W. Smith

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“The fact is, when I wrote Juno—and I think this is part of its charm and appeal—I didn’t know how to write a movie.”
Diablo Cody

Today marks the two and a half-year anniversary of starting this blog— Screenwriting from Iowa. A blog that got its start after seeing the movie Juno and reading the articles about screenwriter and University of Iowa grad Diablo Cody who jump started her career by blogging. Two and a half years ago blogging was still pretty much a mystery to the masses. Just put your stuff out there and see what happens was Cody’s encouragement to anyone who would listen.

She walked away with an Oscar in 2008 and later that year I won a Regional Emmy in Advanced Media for Screenwriting from Iowa. (Juno Has Another Baby.) It was all the sweeter that I received the Emmy in Minneapolis where Cody happened to write Juno.

My goal with this blog from the start has been to encourage and inspire writers and filmmakers around the country to hone their craft as they pursue writing for Hollywood, ultra low-budget filmmaking, or something in between. Along the way I’ve also shown writers in Los Angeles who write stories that take place far from the shadow of the Hollywood sign. (Usually, because they came from outside L.A. originally, or they are adapting a novelist who set a story in their neck of the woods.)

Cody was not the first writer outside L.A. to breakthrough, nor will she be the last. But I believe she is the poster child for screenwriters originally from outside L.A. who desire to write something so original that it leap frog’s the zillions of other more experienced screenwriters. Really, how many screenwriters does the public know by name?

That doesn’t mean that she is loved and adored by everyone. I’m sure she even understands some of the Cody backlash, because how many people walk away with an Oscar on a first script that they were just flirting around writing?

“I think I went into (writing Juno) as an experiment; I didn’t really have a whole lot invested in it. It was more something I just wanted to try. I had no idea throughout the whole process that this would ever wind up being a produced screenplay or that this would ever end up being cast with these amazing actors. There was absolutely no pressure on me because I was just sitting in Minnesota writing for my own edification. So I think that was freeing in a lot of ways.”
Diablo Cody
Filmmaker magazine Fall 2007

That has to make all of those screenwriting gurus cringe. And tick off a few writers who have been at it five, 10, 20 years. And if that doesn’t, this will:

“I guess ignorance is bliss is the best way of putting it. [laughs] The only thing I did was I went to Barnes & Noble and bought the shooting scripts for a couple of movies that I liked so I could see how they looked on the page and that gave me a little structural guidance. but that was all I did. “
Diablo Cody
Filmmaker magazine Fall 2007

But what about all those screenwriting classes and workshops you’re supposed to take and all those books on screenwriting you’re supposed to read, on top of the years of writing screenplays? Nah, remember Cody was just flirting with screenwriting. Juno was her first attempt and she cranked it out in six weeks at a Starbucks inside a Target store in the Minneapolis suburb of Crystal. Was it a flawless, script? Perfectly tuned like the screenwriting gurus tell you it has to be? Not according to Cody.

“When we sent that screenplay out it was riddled with typos and formatting errors because I had no idea what I was doing. [laughs] My manager was so stunned that I had turned out something vaguely coherent that he just said, ‘Let’s just throw it out there and see if anybody likes it.’ We didn’t really obsess; I think it was just a case of expectations being so low that there was not a lot of polishing and spit-shinning going on.”
Diablo Cody
Filmmaker magazine Fall 2007

It would be easy to just say Cody got lucky. That would be a mistake. How did she get a manager in the first place? Because her manager-to-be (Mason Novick) came across her blog and saw talent and originality. Perhaps a freshness that’s not easy to find in L.A. when everyone is going to the same screenwriting workshops, reading the same screenwriting books, going to the same screenwriting expos, and hanging out at the same L.A. restaurants or sitting on the same L.A. freeway.

Thanks in part to the plethora of new books and seminars on screenwriting, a new phenomenon is taking over Hollywood: Major scripts are skillfully, seductively shaped, yet they are soulless. They tend to be shiny but superficial.”
Richard Walter
UCLA Screenwriting Professor

Part of what sets Cody apart is, to use Colin Covert’s phrase, she is “scary-smart.” She had 12 years of Catholic school, was raised in the Chicago suburb of Lemont, and has a Bachelor’s degree in Media Studies from the University of Iowa. While not in the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate program, that was part of what attracted her to Iowa. While she had never written a screenplay before Juno, she thought of herself as a writer and had been writing on a regular basis (poems, short stories, etc.) for 15 years before she turned her hand to screenwriting. (Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours)

And I love the fact that not three miles from where Cody wrote Juno is a Minneapolis bar called Grumpy’s where screenwriter Nick Schenk wrote much of Gran Torino that in 2009 would become Clint Eastwood’s highest grossing film that he’s ever starred in. (Screenwriting Postcard from Minneapolis.) If Cody and Schenk don’t inspire you nothing will.

“Aspiring screenwriters always ask what’s the best way to break into the Hollywood? I say move to Minnesota.”
Writer Ken Levine (Frasier, MASH, Cheers)
How to sell a screenplay by drinking in a bar

Thanks again to Ms. Cody for the nudge to jump into the blogging world. And thanks to everyone for stopping by to read what I post, because without readers it would be hard to have written the 600+ posts I’ve written so far.

P.S. In yesterday’s post I mentioned that I’d explain why Clark Gable would be attracted to Diablo Cody and here’s my reasoning. A Time magazine article said, “Gable liked his women to be both sacred and profane.” It doesn’t take much reading about Cody to realize she is both scared and profane. While the profane aspects get more press, Cody’s sacred side is more fascinating to me. And it certainly doesn’t hurt her originality.

Read her 2005 post Finding My Religion to see a theological side to Cody that probably can only be matched in Hollywood by the Calvinist-raised Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver). One thing Cody says she’s never flirted with is atheism. Here’s a sample of her pre-Juno writing;

“I’ve had my share of core-rattling Touched By an Angel moments–brief instances in which God seemed to be standing right beside me, tousling my overprocessed hair like a kind scoutmaster–but most of the spiritual epiphanies I’ve had in my life were far earthier, borne of personal reflection, diverging beliefs, and the admission that I can’t ever fully grasp the sacred.”

Related Post: The Juno-Iowa Connection
Juno Vs. Walt
The Oscars Minnesota Style
The Fox, the Farm, & the Fempire
Life Beyond L.A. (The first blog on January 22, 2008)

Update June 23, 2010: Here is what Diablo Cody (@diablocody) wrote on Twitter: “@scottwsmith_com Thank you for writing that kind and lovely piece. I truly appreciate it.” Yeah, that’s a good way to start your day.

Scott W. Smith

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“His ears are too big and he looks like an ape.”
Darryl Zanuck on Clark Gable’s screen test

“He was to the American motion picture what Ernest Hemingway is to American Literature.”
1960 Time magazine on Gable’s death

Before he was called “The King of Hollywood,” and long before he uttered the famous words in Gone with the Wind, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” Clark Gable was born in Cadiz, Ohio and raised about 80 miles northwest of there in Akron, Ohio.

Though not a writer, I thought that was an interesting find while doing some research on writer/director Jim Jarmusch also being from the Akron area. Gable even worked at B.F. Goodrich where Jarmusch’s father also worked, though in different eras.

Gable became interested in theater after seeing a play performed as a teenager in Akron. He later worked with a traveling theater group, did manual labor, worked on oil fields in Oklahoma, eventually finding his way to Portland, Oregon where he was a tie salesman and theater actor. After a few years he went to Los Angeles working on his craft on his way to becoming the star of It Happened One Night,  Mutiny on the Bounty, and Gone with the Wind. He was in 65 films and was nominated for three Oscars and won one.

In Premiere magazine’s list of The 100 Sexiest Movie Stars of All Time they listed Gable at #13 and  AFI’s 100 Years…100 Stars listed Gable as the #7 male legend. Not bad for a kid from Cadiz, Ohio.

“There’s no special light that shines inside me and makes me a big star. I’m just a lucky slob from Ohio who happened to be in the right place at the right time. I had a lot of smart guys helping me that’s all.”
Clark Cable

Gable also won the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal when he was in the Army during World War II.

Tomorrow marks the two and a half anniversary of “Screenwriting from Iowa” and I’ll explain tomorrow why Clark Gable would have been attracted to screenwriting Diablo Cody.

P.S. Just to show you how times have changed in Akron, Ohio. Chrissie Hynde wrote about Akron in her 1982 song, “My City is Gone” (Pretenders):

I went back to Ohio,
but my city was gone.
There was no train station.
There was no downtown.

Akron was founded in 1825 and I’m sure there have been many changes over the years. Because of the advent of rubber, and Akron being a place where rubber was produced made it once the fastest growing city in America. Its wealth also brought the arts and fostered artists to one degree or another. The New Yorker says that poet Hart Crane “once worked behind a candy counter of a drug store in Akron, Ohio.” (Maybe Akron is what Francis Coppola had in mind when he made his famous comment about the future of filmmaking: “One day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart.”)

The city being gone that Hynde refers to is I believe after some plants and buildings were torn down in the 80s due to economic change.

I went through Akron about 10 years ago and found a great minor league baseball field there (Canal Park) right off Main St. in the downtown area. These days many older buildings have been restored and there is even a Biomedical Corridor downtown.

In 2007, Hynde even opened a vegan restaurant called The VegiTerranean just north of downtown Akron. And I’ve read that she keeps an apartment in her old hometown in an urban renewal area known as Highland Square. This is the same Akron that basketball great LeBron James (the other “King”) said of just this weekend, “Akron is my home, it’s my life. Everything I do is for this city. I’m going to continue to do great things. I love every last one of you all. Akron is home.”

Clark Gable, Jim Jarmusch, Chrissie Hynde, Hart Crane, James LeBron, Benjamin Franklin Goodrich—what a country.

Scott W. Smith


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