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“Here I am, a cowboy author in a town of 25 [Ucross] in northern Wyoming. And all of sudden, my character is on Sunset Boulevard 20 stories high. It’s a little odd.”
Writer Craig Johnson
Author of the Walt Longmire mystery series
LA Times interview by Liesl Bradner

“ I’m of the belief that everybody has a writer in them, but they also have an editor that strangles the writer to death before the writer gets anything down on paper.”
Craig Johnson

Ucross, Wyoming is unlikely place. At least from the perspective of being a novelist whose work ends up being a popular TV show. But that’s the short version of Craig Johnson’s life whose Walt Longmire novels (The Cold Dish) were the basis of Longmire which aired on A&E for the past three seasons.

Recently the show, despite being its most viewed scripted program, was cancelled and is currently looking for a new home. Johnson is also credited as executive/creative consultant on the show.

So how did Johnson pull that off while writing from a town with a population of just 25? Before I answer that, first I’d like to share a quote that I read on excellent blog Go Into the Story that always bugged me a little:

“I am not that interested in representing people who want to write for CSI North Dakota.”
Manager/producer Dan Halsted
2012 Q&A with Scott Myers

Now Halsted has both a film and TV background so it’s not a feature film verses TV for him. He did admit that he’s bored by police procedurals that proliferate TV. But since he dropped in North Dakota—let me ask, “What of interest can come from North Dakota?” I labour the point because Longmire has been called CSI Wyoming—without the team of investigators and high-tech equipment. (And while Wyoming isn’t North Dakota—it shares some “unlikely places” DNA.)

A phrase I’m fond of is “embrace your limitations” and I think what Johnson did was embrace the surrounding area of rural Wyoming and mesh it with some Native America Indian culture found more along Montana-Wyoming border and create some interesting characters and drama.

“[Johnson] got his big break when an agent from Creative Artists Agency walked into his literary agent’s office in New York City. The CAA is an agency that puts promising stories and characters with producers and studios, and the CAA agent asked whether Johnson’s agent had any strong characters. Johnson’s agent gave her a copy of The Cold Dish and refused to give her anything else until she read it.”
Tom Milstead
Buffalo Bulletin

Johnson became a New York Times best selling author, and had the image of his character Sheriff Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) “20 stories high” on Sunset Blvd. in L.A., by writing.

Eventually Hunt Baldwin and John Coveny wrote the Longmire pilot resulting in a viewership averaging more than five million people per episode (from 2012-1014).  That’s actually a higher viewership than even Mad Men, so why would A&E cancel Longmire. Ah, money? Exactly. Longmire attracted an older audience which didn’t meet the necessary advertising revenue that made the numbers work for A&E. Plus scripted shows cost a lot more per episode to produce than the reality shows.

According to Deadline.com Warner Bros. owns the Longmire TV rights and is working on finding a home for season 4 of Longmire.

P.S. Apparently Ucross, Wyoming isn’t a one writer town. I found this on the website for the Ucross Foundation:
“Founded in 1981 by Raymond Plank, the Ucross Foundation provides a rare gift in today’s world – uninterrupted time– along with work space and living accommodations, to competitively selected visual artists, writers, and composers.  Nearly 1,300 individuals have spent time at Ucross since we first opened our doors.  They have come from every state in the U.S. as well as from many countries including Germany, France, Scotland, England, Poland, Egypt, the Netherlands, Canada, Thailand and others. Ucross extends invitations to approximately 80 individuals each year, selected by an outside panel of professionals.”

Annie Proulx wrote part of her Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Shipping News on the Ucross Foundation ranch, and now lives on her own 640 acre ranch in the area. In fact, the movie Brokeback Mountain flowed from one of Proulx’s short stories published in Close Range: Wyoming Stories.

Here’s part of the New York Times 1999 review of Close Range:
“The strength of this collection is Proulx’s feeling for place and the shape into which it twists her characters. Wyoming is harsh spaces, unyielding soil, deadly winters, blistering summers and the brute effort of wresting a living out of a land as poor as it is beautiful.”
Richard Deer

Related post:
Movie Making in Marfa (Texas)
Screenwriting from Nebraska “Of course Nebraska is a storehouse for literary material. Everywhere is a storehouse of literary material. If a true artist were born in a pigpen and raised in a sty, he would still find plenty of inspiration for work. The only need is the eye to see.” Author Willa Cather (My Antonia)
The 99% Focus Rule (Tip #70) Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt suggests where your efforts should be placed.

My guess is Oscar-winning writer/director Alexander Payne would agree with Cather. Craig Johnson, too.

 Scott W. Smith

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Turn out the lights, the party’s over
They say that all good things must end…
The Party’s Over/Willie Nelson

Over the weekend Disney World closed its Studio Backlot Tour. It was a tram ride through the backlot and into a studio where tourists could be given a glimpse into the world of filmmaking—and if they were lucky they might even see animators working and a feature film being shot.

Back when Disney’s Hollywood Studios (then called Disney MGM) opened in 1989 it was kind of the first part of a bookend to Universal Studios Florida (that opened in 1990) for what was touted as a part of  “Hollywood East.” And while there was actually about a ten-year run of films and  TV programs being shot in the Orlando area— Passenger 57 with Wesley Snipes and The New Mickey Mouse Club both shot on the Disney sound stages, and Nickelodeon Studios and Parenthood with Steve Martin shot at Universal— “Hollywood East” it wasn’t.

Nickelodeon Studios ended its partnership with Universal Studios Florida in 2005.  For a variety of reasons, including a lack of film incentives, neither Disney or Universal in Florida lived up to the hype in terms of  feature film and TV production.

“The whole romance of seeing where movies are made really began to die as people got the ability to make movies themselves. The only movie production that’s happening in there are people holding up their iPhones and uploading to YouTube.”
Robert Niles, editor of the Theme Park Insider website
Orlando Sentinel article by Dewayne Bevel

The side benefit for local crews that worked on projects like From the Earth to the Moon is they got valuable experience that eventually led some of them to greater opportunities in LA, New York City, Atlanta, and Louisiana. (Certainly true of some of the Mickey Mouse cast; Britney Spears, Ryan Gosling, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake.)

I actually moved back to Orlando from Los Angeles partly with the hopes of getting on the ground floor of Hollywood East. And while I didn’t work on the features or TV programs shot here, it did lead me to working for a non-profit educational group were I gained valuable experience producing multi-camera productions and learning non-linear video editing  (AVID/Final Cut).

Experience that when coupled with my film school background eventually led to video productions I’ve done from Aspen, to Berlin, to Cape Town.

Disney hasn’t announced plans yet with what they’re going to do with the studio tram ride. But I imagine it will be something like when Universal got rid of the JAWS ride in favor of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  So even though they’re turning out the lights on the Disney backlot ride, I don’t think the party’s over. There are still plenty of films to be made in Florida, but no one here really uses the term “Hollywood East” anymore.

Related post: Screenwriting from Florida

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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This has been a good week for hip-hop artist Lecrae as his new album Anomaly sits at number 1 on the Billboard album charts. Thursday night he was on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon performing with the band The Roots, and on Monday Lecrae was featured in the Washington Times.

While less known than Maroon 5 and its lead sing Adam Levine, who Lecrea replaced at the top of the Billboard Album charts,  the 34-year-old  is not a newcomer. Now based in Atlanta, he’s actually sold over a million albums. The former drug dealer turned Christian has been outspoken against how some rappers and hip-hop artist glamorize the gangsta lifestyle with references to drugs, gangs, and guns.

It just so happens that a few years ago I was a cameraman on a video production in Chicago that featured Lecrae. Perhaps that will give me some street cred the next time I give a talk to high school and college students. (Perhaps I can bookend it with that certificate I showed in yesterday’s post for helping shoot some interviews for Spielberg’s Shoah project. )

Below is a clip from the Jimmy Fallon website where Lecrae talks about how the song Nuthin’ came to be, followed by the song  itself from the Anomaly album.

P.S. Oregon filmmaker Edd Blott who I’ve featured a few times on this blog, directed the Lecrae music video Don’t Waste Your Life which currently has 7 million views on You Tube. Related Post: Don’t Waste Your Life (2.0) Scott W. Smith

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Here’s my 9/11 post a couple of days late. It’s the Anchormen from the United States Naval Academy covering the Eagles song Hole in the World. The song was written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey after the events surrounding September 11, 2001.

Scott W. Smith

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“Nearly every moment of every day we have the opportunity to give something to someone else— out time, our love, our resources —and I have always found more joy in giving when I did not expect anything in return.”
Truett Cathy

I had the opportunity to hear Truett Cathy speak probably 20 years ago when I was running audio where he was speaking. I only remember one thing from that talk; he said that he learned as a kid selling magazines in kind of a newsstand/street style (think the Newsies—without the singing and dancing)  and he learned that some people would always pay more for a magazine, even if it was essentially the same magazine, just because it was more expensive.

Cathy moved on from selling magazines to selling chicken sandwiches. Lots of them. The New York Times reported that in 2013 the company he founded, Chick-fil-A, had “1,800 restaurants and sales of more than $5 billion.” Cathy died this week at the age of 93.

“Rising to prominence between Robert Woodruff, who took over Coca-Cola in the 1920s, and Sam Walton, who began the Walmart chain with a small store in Bentonville, Ark., in 1950, Mr. Cathy was one of a handful of Southern entrepreneurs who in one lifetime took small, hometown companies to a global level.”
Kim Severson
New York Times 

As of March 2014 Forbes listed Cathy’s net worth at $6.2 billion. That put him on the list of the top 250 wealthiest Americans. Not bad for a man born in a small town in Georgia with a high school education, who started working as a youth during The Great Depression. But more impressive is his philanthropic work. In 2008 he won the William E. Simon Prize for his charity work that included work with foster children and awarding more than $23 million in scholarship funding.

And while the man who spent 50 years as a Sunday School teacher may not seem like a candidate for having a hand in movie business but he did that as well. He helped finance the faith-based film on basketball great Pete Maravich, The Pistol, The Birth of a Legend (1991). Maravich was an undersized player as a youth who would go on to be named as one of the 50 Greatest Basketball Players in NBA History. 

More recently Cathy. via the Cathy Family Trust, helped with financing Pinewood Atlanta Studio.

Georgia’s film tax incentives make it one of the top five production destinations in the US.  (The Frank Darabont created TV program The Walking Dead films in Georgia.) Pinewood’s newly opened studio just south of downtown Atlanta has 288 acres and six sound stages up to 30,000 square feet.

“Pinewood Atlanta’s location will contribute significantly to Georgia’s growing reputation as a top draw for movie and television productions. We welcome the business this world-renowned company will bring to the state and the jobs it will create for our crew base and supporting companies.”
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal

A couple of months ago I read that Marvel’s Ant-Man with be shot at Pinewood Atlanta.

So when you read articles about Atlanta the New Hollywood, you can give Cathy some of the credit (or, if you’re in L.A., some of the blame). He earned his wealth (to borrow that title from the great Anne Lamott book on writing) bird by bird—and cow by cow.

‘Put two Cows on a billboard with a bucket of paint and a brush, and they’ll create some unexpected opportunities…The Cows still haven’t learned to spell, but five years after they painted their first billboard, Chick-fil-A had doubled our sales volume. The lesson from the Cows is the lesson of my life: Take advantage of unexpected opportunities.”
S. Trutte Cathy
Eat Mor Chikin:Inspire More People

P.S. Pinewood Studios is not the only game in Atlanta either. EUE/Screen Gems Studio Atlanta has 10 stages, Atlanta Filmworks Studio and Stages has 57,000 square feet of production space, Raleigh Studios in Atlanta has four sound stages, and there’s Tyler Perry Studio. There are others—but you get the idea.

Related Posts:
Martin Luther King Jr. and Screenwriting (Includes a photo I took in Atlanta on the weekend after Coretta Scott King died.)
“Super-Serving Your Niche” Includes a photo of Tyler Perry’s studio I took when I drove through Atlanta last year.
Creativity and Milking Cows

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

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Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.
What Labor Day Means, US Department of Labor

“When is everything going to get back to normal?”
Roger Sterling (John Slattery) in the Mad Men episode Tea Leaves

photo-2

 

Let me start with the good news—and then I’ll get to my car wreck. Yesterday Red Shark News posted Seven Must Read Blogs for Screenwriters and Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places was the first blog mentioned. That nudge at the end of August helped this blog have its most viewed month in a year and a half.  Welcome to the new readers, and I appreciate the shout-out by Patrick Jong Taylor.

“Screenwriting From Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places reads as a travelogue to the vast world of screenwriting beyond the borders of Los Angeles. Although never stated in so many words, the blog progresses two inter-related messages: learning and practicing the craft of screenwriting is not dependent on geographic proximity to major industry towns (like LA); and your own environs, no matter where you are, can be an enormous source for inspiration and discovery.”
Patrick Jong Taylor

The origins of physically starting this blog go back to January 2008 after I saw Juno when I was living in Iowa and realizing that it was written by an outsider to the film industry. Diablo Cody followed her Catholic prep school education in the Chicago area by getting an undergraduate degree in Media Studies from the University of Iowa, then writing Juno at her home and a Starbucks in the suburbs of Minneapolis. (Synergy in action: That year Cody won an Oscar for her screenplay and I won a Regional Emmy in Minneapolis for my blog.)

If you want to read one post that sums up what I’m after here check out; The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously). No snake oil being sold there. Free advice that follows where Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3) says 99% of your efforts should go to becoming a better screenwriter.

Now, the bad news. (And for new readers; I usually use weekends and Holidays to re-post, not post, or go off the topic of screenwriting and filmmaking just for a change of pace. And on weekday post I aim for  200 words or less.)

My Labor Day weekend started with a bang. While stopped at red light, the above car slammed into the back of my vehicle going between 30-40 mph. Thankfully I was driving a full-sized SUV that appears to have suffered only a mangled bumper. Though I had some pain in my back and neck I was able to drive home from the accident.

The next day x-rays showed there appears to be a hairline fracture in my neck. I was given a couple prescriptions for pain killers and muscle relaxers, and supposed to see a specialist tomorrow. I’m sure many readers have been in worse accidents. Car wrecks where some involved didn’t walk away— or if they did had to use a cain or a wheelchair.

I haven’t been in an accident in over 25 years, and while thankful it wasn’t worse it still shakes you up. You’re suddenly  more sensitive to the tail-gaters, and how many small cars are on the road. I don’t see buying (or even renting) a compact car in my near future.

Last week I did a solo video shoot that wrapped late at night so I lined up all my gear at the door so I could back my SUV up and load everything at once. It was such a ridiculous amount of gear that I stopped and took a picture. And I don’t think my 72 pound Arri IV light kit is even in this shot. I’ll see what the specialist says tomorrow about my neck, but thankfully I’m in post production this week so no heavy lifting scheduled.

photo-3

Who knows, maybe that accident will cause me to embrace some of the smaller cameras some are already using. A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed by the Orlando Sentinel because of my micro-doc on Tinker Field, and was interested at the simple small camera set-up the one-man reporter/cameraman/editor used. That followed by my renting the mirrorless Lumex GH4 camera that shoots stills and 4K video and feels like it weighs as much as a box of Animal Crackers.  And seeing footage of the newest GoPro shot with the Steadicam Smoothee is impressive. The technology—and high quality— available in small packages these days is stunning.  (And everything I listed above will be relatively outdated in two years.)

All that to say, have a happy Labor Day—and drive safely.

P.S. Just to keep it movie related; car crashes are such a major part of American movies because cars are such a integral part of American culture and they also fit the bill for conflict on many levels. The car crash scene I thought about after my accident was the one in Sweet Dreams (1985) written by Robert Getchell and starring Jessica Lange as county singer Patsy Cline.

Related posts:

Everything I Learned in Film School (tip #1)
Neil Simon on Conflict
Screenwriting’s One Unbreakable Rule
Screenwriting Quote of the Day #16 (Richard Walter)  “Planes that land safely do not make the headlines and nobody goes to the theater, or switches on the tube, to view a movie entitled The Village of the Happy Nice People.”
Juno Has Another Baby  “I guess when you’re coming from the middle of the country and you’re not part of the industry and you’re just telling your own story, I think it’s easy to be more original.”—Diablo Cody

Scott W. Smith   

 

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“[Robin Williams] was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit.”
President Obama on the death of Williams whose first starring role was as an alien on the TV show Mork & Mindy

“Robin signing on definitely was the linchpin for [Good Will Hunting] getting made.”
Producer Chris Moore
Good Will Hunting: An Oral History
Boston Magazine article by Janelle Nanos, January 2013

“We are food for worms lads. Because, believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold and die…Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
English teacher John Keating (Robin Williams) in Dead Poets Society (1989)
Screenplay by Tom Schulman

Related posts:

Jonathan Winters (1925-2013)
Where Do Ideas Come From (A+B=C) Whenever I give a talk on creativity I always mention Robin Williams.
“The Greatest Gift” How the much loved movie It’s a Wonderful Life is a story rooted in depression, disillusionment, alcoholism and attempted suicide. 
Don’t Waste Your Life Screenwriting (2.0)

P.S. When comedian and actor Freddie Prinze (Chico and the Man) shot and killed himself at age 22 in 1977 I started to understand a connection between creative talent and depression, and sometimes depression mixed substance abuse.  And that even comedic ability didn’t not make one immune to suffering from depression and/or substance abuse problems. Johnny Carson, Jim Carrey, and Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody have all talked about their struggles with depression. Not all who suffer from depression take their lives as Ernest Hemingway, Vincent Van Gogh, or (apparently) Robin Williams—but I really believe there is something going on in the brains of some (many, all?) artists that helps them reach great heights, but also causes them to experience tremendous— even debilitating— lows.

Final thought: “All humor is rooted in pain.” —Commedian Richard Pryor

Scott W. Smith

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