Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

“I think people trying to get into the spotlight are much more interesting than people in the spotlight. That’s why I think Tin Cup is a really well conceived and executed movie, because it’s about a guy who’s trying to get there. And when he gets there, he doesn’t know how to stay there. I think stories about movie stars or great athletes are almost always boring.”
Ron Shelton
Interview with Jon Zelazny

There’s more than one golf scene in Tin Cup (1996) because the movie is about a golf pro. Also thrown into the mix is not only competition on the golf course between Kevin Costner and Don Johnson, but they compete for the affections of Rene Russo.

Directed by Ron Shelton (Bull Durham) from a script by John Norville and  Shelton.

Scott W. Smith

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“There’s kind of a sports world and a filmmaking world and there’s not too much overlap in there.”
Maclain Way 
Co-director, The Battered Bastards of Baseball

 “[Baseball is] the greatest game that’s ever been invented, period, full stop.”
Filmmaker Ken Burns
Orlando Sentinel interview by Alicia DelGallo

The Battered Bastards of Baseball documentary debuted to an enthusiastic audience at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.  I haven’t see the film yet, but I believe the main character is Bing Russell, the head coach of the rouge Portland Mavericks —who was also actor Kurt Russell’s father, and the grandfather of the film’s directors Chapman and Maclain Way.

“There’s a direct correlation between what the Mavericks were and what Sundance is. The system ain’t going to finance or distribute your movie unless you’re connected to a major studio. You might make your movie, but no one’s going to see it. What Robert Redford has done is give people a place to play. And that’s exactly what my dad did with independent baseball. He gave all these outsiders the opportunity to play.”
Actor Kurt Russell (who played minor league baseball in El Paso, Texas and briefly for the Portland Mavericks)
The Guardian article by Xan Brooks7785920_orig

I couldn’t find a trailer of the movie, but I did find this Q&A with the filmmakers at Sundance.

Related post: “Don’t try to compete with Hollywood”—Ed Burns

P.S. Kurt Russell’s nephew, Matt Franco, not only played in the Major Leagues from 1995-2003, but he also played for the minor league team the Orlando Cubs— who played their games at Tinker Field. And for those of you who missed it a couple of weeks ago I featured Tinker Field in a micro doc I finished last month.

Scott W. Smith


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Harold Ramis & ‘Ghostbusters’

“More than anyone else, Harold Ramis has shaped this generation’s ideas of what is funny.”
Paul Weingarten
The Chicago Tribune Magazine in 1983

When it was announced a few days ago that Harold Ramis died I wondered how many people first thought of Ghostbusters which he co-wrote and co-starred in. The film came in second at the box office in 1984 just behind Beverly Hills Cop, but ahead of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Gremlins, and The Karate Kid.

Ramis earned an English degree from Washington University in St. Louis, but was born and raised in Chicago and cut his improv/comedy teeth at Chicago’s Second City along with John Belushi and Bill Murray. This is what he said about the characters he specialized in at Second City TV:

“I played a lot of weasels, a lot of cowards; sweating cowards was my thing. I used to play like hippies and, like, counterculture guys, and [John] Belushi kind of took that over, so I moved into the coward role. … The other thing I would always play was the character called “specs” or “the professor.” I’d play the brainy guy, which I ended up doing, of course, in Ghostbusters.”
Writer/Director/Actor Harold Ramis 
NPR Interview

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Scott W. Smith

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“I like to say a prayer and drink to world peace.”
Phil (Bill Murray) in Groundhog Day
Written by Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin

If you’ve never seen Groundhog Day, all you need to know to appreciate the scene above is Bill Murray’s character is an unhappy SOB who magically is reliving the same day over and over again until he can get it his life together. The story fits the concepts I’ve touched on in past posts of “transformation,” “slavery to freedom”“cheap therapy” and the Garry Marshall’s idea that, “Most good stories are Cinderella. Audiences like to watch characters whose lives change for the better.”

“I remembered an idea I had about a guy repeating the same day and I realized that having a person repeat the same day turns an eternity into a circle and that’s when all the dramatic possibilities came and the comedic possibilities and all the resonances with repetition… The very first thing I thought of was the date scene, being able to use your superior knowledge to pick up women.  As soon as I thought of that I knew I had a movie.”
Screenwriter Danny Rubin on coming up with the idea for Groundhog Day
Big Think Interview 

Groundhog Day was directed by Harold Ramis and listed as the #8 fantasy film by AFI, and #34 of AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs.

“Frank Capra said a great thing, he said if you’re gonna have the privilege of talking to an audience for two hours in the dark you have to take it as a great responsibility. And I take it that way whether it’s comedy, or tragedy, or anything. So I think there is a responsible kind of comedy that enlightens us to some extent, makes us think, exposes real hypocrisy, and the real contrictions in society.”
Harold Ramis speaking at Columbia College Chicago 

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Before ‘Groundhog Day’
Movies from Main Street

Scott W. Smith

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Harold Ramis on ‘Caddyshack’

“I can barely watch [Caddyshack]. All I see are a bunch of compromises and things that could have been better. Like, it bothers me that nobody except Michael O’Keefe can swing a golf club. A movie about golf with the worst bunch of golf swings you’ve ever seen! It doesn’t bother golfers, though.”
Caddyshack director and co-writer Harold Ramis
GQ/Harold Ramis Gets the Last Laugh

When I heard the news that writer/director/actor Harold Ramis died in Chicago this morning there was a cacophony of movie quotes that went off in my head from some of his most watched films.   It was like a party for the characters from Ghoastbusters, Goundhog’s Day, Animal House, Back to School, Stripes and Caddyshack.

So this week I thought I’d take time to explore Ramis and his work. Today will be Caddyshack’s moment in the spotlight.

Scott W. Smith

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“Entertainment is not frivolous; through entertainment you can actually make people aware of things. And throughout the ages art has always had a huge influence on history… It seemed to me like a kind of an obvious thing to do, to make a film about slavery—just like it’s an obvious thing to make a film about the Second World War or the Holocaust…There really aren’t too many films about slavery.”
Writer/director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)
Combined from interviews with Danielle Berrin and  Elvis Mitchell

Jeremy Kleiner at Plan B knew me and he knew Steve [McQueen]and he said, ‘look, we don’t really have any development money, we can’t really help you.’ This was not a standard development situation. It became a spec script. But he said, ‘if you guys can work out what you want to do and if you’re willing to go write a script and do it on spec and turn it into something that works and Steve is happy with it, we’ll find a way to put it together.’ At that point, Jeremy was one of those producers where if he says that we’ll put it together, you believe that he means it.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Ridley (12 years a Slave)
BuzzFeed interview with Adam B. Vary

12 Years a Slave received 9 Oscar nominations including Best Picture for producers Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen and Anthony Katagas. Pitt is the sole owner of Plan B Productions and it was just announced a few days ago that his group would be partnering with Oprah Winfrey on a film about Martin Luther King called Selma.

Related Posts:
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Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriitng (Tip #7)

Scott W. Smith

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“Now witness if you will a man’s mind and body shrivelling in the sun, a man dying of loneliness.”
The Twilight Zone, The Lonely  (1959)
Season 1, Episode 7 written by Rod Serling

We all need a little tenderness
How can love survive in such a graceless age
The Heart of the Matter
Lyrics by Don Henley, J.D. Souther, Mike Campbell

There’s has to be a part of Spike Jonze that hates all of the comparisons being made about his film HerHere’s the short list I’ve read online; Weird Science, The Stepford Wives, Cherry 2000, Blade Runner, Pinocchio, S1M0ne, and of course, Electric Dreams. But as far as I can find, there is only one film that Jonze has publicly referenced and it’s a Woody Allen film.

“One of the movies I watched when I was writing ['Her'] was ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors,’ because that script is so incredibly written. …There’s a lot of talking about the idea of what the movie is about, but mostly the characters are plowing through the story, and taking you through the story, with their decisions. That was really inspiring.”
Spike Jonze
7 Things To Know About Spike Jonze Directing Her

I imagine there’s another part of Jonze that’s glad people are talking about his film. It’s engaging audiences. It’s starting conversations about what love looks like in the future. What it looks like today. And makes us wonder where all this technology is leading us.

“I think that the movie, to me, is more about our relationship to each other, and our need for intimacy and connection, and the difficulties within ourselves that make that challenging — and the limitations within ourselves that prevent intimacy or connection; when it’s that thing we need, maybe the most. And I think those are timeless things. That kind of loneliness and longing and need for connection, and what connection means and what intimacy means to us. So I think that the parts that are about technology and the parts that are about the way we’re living in this modern world are sort of just the modern set of complications.”
Spike Jonze
Interview with Luke Goodsell

So let me thrown in one more story echo to Her, and it’s one that aired on TV (The Twilight Zone) ten years on before Jonze was born. Written by Rod Serling, The Lonely is about a man sentenced to solitary confinement on an asteroid. As an act of compassion to fight his loneliness, a supply ship leaves the inmate a robot named Alicia. At first he rejects Alicia because she’s fake, but as time goes on he develops feelings towards her. (The whole 24 minute program is below and stars Jack Warden.)

Scott W. Smith

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“You’re taking over my life!” 
Electric Dreams (1984)
(Miles in conversation with Edger—his personal computer with a life of its own.)

“This summer comes a story about the illusion of reality…and the lies that have a life of their own.”
Trailer for S1m0ne (2002)

Over the weekend I saw the movie Her written and directed by Spike Jonze. It’s one of those simple, yet complex movies that sticks with you in a way that most movies don’t. Congrats to Jonze for winning best screenplay at the Golden Globe awards last night.

I couldn’t help but think how original Her was, yet how familiar it was at the same time. It’s a long way from Westword,  Jurassic Park (1993) but its warning of the dangers of technology make them movie cousins. But there are other older films which I think are brothers and sisters to Her.  Movies that go beyond sharing theme, but where the characters, a love story angle, computers, and/or story beats are similar to one degree or another. 

Back in 2009 I read a great post on the Mystery Man on Film blog called The “Raiders” Story Conference which was about a then recently discovered 125 transcript of a 1978 story conference between Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Lawrence Kasden as they discussed what Raiders of the Lost Ark would be. (I’m still surprised these days when filmmakers tell me they’ve never heard of the Raiders transcript.)

You may have to hunt for the actual  transcript, but I still think it’s the greatest link to the behind the scenes creative filmmaking process you’ll find.  And one of the big take aways is how even great filmmakers talk in terms of how other films (and TV shows) influence their new movies.

So when they talk about Steve McQueen in the 1966 film Nevada Smith, you learn some of the roots of Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford). The originality of the Raiders gang is they took all of their influences and created something new. I don’t know what movies influenced Jonze in writing the Her script, but two that come to mind are Electric Dreams and S1m0ne. (Of course, he may have never seen either film.) This doesn’t take away anything from Jonze and his team that crafted together a fine film including a tremendous performance by Joaquin Phoenix.

But as a filmmaker and/or screenwriter it’s worth your looking at those movies (and scripts if you can find them) because both screenwriter Rusty Lemorande (Electric Dreams) and writer/director Andrew Niccoi (S1mOne) wrote story echos to Her.  (Niccoi I should note wrote The Truman Show, which I would also call a cousin to Her.) All of those films show various shades of how technology affects culture.

 “I think of art, at its most significant, as a DEW line, a Distant Early Warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it.”
Marshall McLuhan
Understanding Media (1964)

But it’s important while looking at similarities, to look at differences as well. If Electric Dreams is at places the cheesy ’80s music video version of boy meets computer, then Her is more the existenital, mediatative, art house version. In many ways the two movies are further a part than, say, a PC and a Mac. (And while the computer in Electric Dreams does have a mind of its own, it is a guy rather than the female in Her.)

And from a filmmaker perspective, Her could have been made as an extremely low-budegt film. It’s a highly stylized movie, shot by a very experienced cinematographer—Hoyte Van Hoytema (The Fighter)– with name actors, but there were even times when Jonze says he limited the crew on the set to just six people. That doesn’t mean there weren’t dozens of people behind the set, but Jonze worked keeping the intimate scenes intimate.

But Her is a film that could have been shot with a six person crew—total— with less set-ups than Edward Burns used on Nice Guy Johnny. The emphasis there being on could—as in the realm of possibility. Not the film Jonze made, but a low budget version. Check out the post How to Shoot a Feature In 10 Days and The 10 Film Commandments of Edward Burns. 

Don’t worry about being original. Shakespeare and Chaplin understood there was nothing new under the sun, yet are known for their originality. What gives any screenplay you write its freshness is the influences kicking around in your head, the places you’ve lived, the people you’ve met, and the way that you tell the story. The post Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B=C) goes into this in more detail.

Jonze spent three years of his life making Her. Go see it because films about something are hard to get made. Hard to get people to go see. Watch it from the perspective of what’s possible by embracing your limitations. (Notice,  Phoenix is in every single scene I believe—and often alone in the scene). And see it because it’s a well made, well told story that stands on its own.

Tomorrow we’ll look at two more unlikely similarities that are also in the same family with Her—Woody Allen and the Twilight Zone.   

Related Posts:
(While in the past I have used the word cloning to talk of similar films, I think I now prefer the word “sampling” from the music industry —though I’m still looking for a better phrase.)

Movie Cloning (“Raiders”)
Movie Cloning (Pirates)
Movie Cloning (Aaron Sorkin)
Movie Cloning (Blake Snyder)
Movie Cloning (Part 1) Follow the links for six parts

Update: In an interview with Luke Goodsell Jonze is told that a friend of Goodsell’s  said upon hearing about the movie Her, “So, basically Spike Jonze has ripped off Electric Dreams.” Jonze gets Goodsell’s friend—Phoebe— on the phone:

Jonze: Hey, Phoebe?
Phoebe: Hey, what’s up.
Jonze: Ah, nothing. This is Spike Jonze. I’m sitting here with Luke and we’re doing an interview for a movie. [Beat of silence.] This is Spike. I’m here with your friend.
Phoebe: [Laughs.] Hi… how are you!
Jonze: We’re calling you to give you a hard time because you compared my movie to Electric Dreams.
Phoebe: [Laughs.] I can’t believe you’re doing this!
Jonze: I know! Luke threw you under the bus.
Phoebe: I was giving you a really big compliment, because that’s one of my favorite movies.
Jonze: Oh, he left that part out. Conveniently. I haven’t seen that movie, but Luke just described it to me and it sounds great. I just had to defend myself.

What a smooth move by Jonze to hear the movie comparison during the interview and take it where I’ve never seen an interview go. If there’s a recording of that phone conversation Jonze should put it on the DVD commentary.

Related links:

Philip Martin at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in his review Modern romance also makes the connection to HerS1m0ne and Electric Dreams. Scott Foundas at Variety called Her a “radical retelling of the ‘Pinocchio’ story (by way of 1984’s techno-romance ‘Electric Dreams”).’ Pinocchio (1940) was Walt Disney’s second feature film and based on a children’s novel The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi published back in 1883. If you recall it’s about a wood-carver who makes a toy puppet, and the puppet dreams of becoming to a boy. And I’m sure we could just follow that train further and further back hundreds and even thousands of years back and find other story echos to Her. 

P.S. Did anybody ever learn who wrote the blog Mystery Man on Film? It was a great run while it lasted. Miss that voice.

Scott W. Smith

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“Now that all the decay is over, things are going to get better.”
Adam (Brendan Frazier) in Blast from the Past
Written by Billy Kelly and Hugh Wilson

Who knows how long this will last
Now we’ve come so far, so fast
The End of the Innocence
Bruce Hornsby/Don Henley

Watching It’s a Wonderful Life and The Wolf of Wall Street back to back made me think of the 1999 film Blast from the PastKind of what would happen if George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) of the 1940s showed up in Martin Scorsese’s modern version of Pottersville? (Pottersville is the Girls-Girls-Girls flip side nightmare world to the Norman Rockwell—like Bedford Falls in the Frank Capra classic.)

But Pottersville in Scorsese’s hands comes across like a perpetual party paradise.  An echo of Gary Kamiya’s All hail Pottersville! article— “Pottersville rocks!” Boring vs. Fun.

Perhaps the Wolf of Wall Street himself had a clearer view of the world he created at the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont:

“It should have been Sodom and Gomorrah. After all, it wasn’t every firm that sported hookers in the basement, drug dealers in the parking lot, exotic animals in the boardroom, and midget-tossing competitions on Fridays.”
Jordan Belfort

Earlier this month, a former worker at Stratton Oakmont who once idolized Belfort gave his perspective:

“But eventually, the blindness from the drugs, the girls and the cars, the clothes and the money, wore off. These people were some of the worst people that I have ever met in my life — they would sell their own grandmother in a second….I’m still going to see the [The Wolf of Wall Street]. My parents want to go with me. I would hope people would try to keep some morality while still trying to achieve success — but I’m not sure the movie is going to show that. Just the wild ride.”
Josh Shapiro
My life working for the real life ‘Wolf of Wall Street’

The movie is a three-hour fantasy wild ride that—well, I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it—but it’s an upside down world. One that Scorsese celebrates more than he condemns. Actress Hope Holiday was quoted in The Wrap saying a screen writer at an Academy screening for The Wolf of Wall Street screamed at Scorsese “Shame on you.” But if you’ve seen Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, or GoodFellas you know the director has a fondness for depravity over redemption.

The Wolf of Wall Street is not Billy Wilder’s classic The Apartment (1960) on steroids…or cocaine, quaaludes or even viagra. The stated theme seems to want to be “When the chickens come home to roost,” but comes across more like “Crime pays, and it pays well.” Maybe Scorsese and screenwriter Terence Winter (Boradwalk Empire, The Sopranos) were just being faithful to Belfort’s book that the movie was based on.

It’s hard to say the 3 hour movie (okay, technically 2 hours and 59 minutes) is missing anything but constraints, but I think TIME’s Richard Corliss says it best—”What’s missing is the broker’s acknowledgement of a wasted life — if not his, then his victims.”

Scorsese said he knows the The Wolf of Wall Street is not for “everyone’s taste” and added, “It’s not made for 14 year olds.”

But I believe that 14-year-olds are going to see this film. And for some The Wolf of Wall Street will be their ideal—their goal. Just as young Jordan Belfort said Gordon Gekko in Wall Street became his ideal, his goal after watching Wall Street. (And Wall Street was not the upside down, amoral world of The Wolf of Wall Street.)

Gordon (“Greed… is good”) Gekko is the #24 Villain on AFI’s 100 Year…100 Heroes & Villains. Ranked just ahead of Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining (Here’s Johnny!). But the Gekko character may rank as the #1 villain that most people want to be like. Actor Michael Douglas said he was surprised at how many people over the years have told him they became stock brokers because of his Oscar-winning performance of what he called “the bad guy.” (And how many of those Gekko followers became players in the banking collapse of 2008? Movies reflect the culture they help produce.)

“As the years have gone by, it’s heartening to see how popular the film has remained. But what I find strange and oddly disturbing is that Gordon Gekko has been mythologized and elevated from the role of villain to that of hero.”
Wall Street co-screenwriter Stanley Weiser
Repeat After Me: Greed Is Not Good, 2008 LA Times

“I’d just say anyone who took away that greed is good has missed the point. The movie speaks for itself. People who walk out of the movie and think ‘[Gekko's] such a great guy,’ they need to think and ask themselves on what terms am I willing to do that?”
Oliver Stone, Wall Street director and co-screenwriter
Oliver Stone: Life after Wall Street by Telos Demos/ CNNMoney

Wall Street was closer in ideals to It’s a Wonderful Life than The Wolf of Wall Street. More Bedford Falls than Pottersville. More the ’80s Miami of Scarface than the ancient Roman orgies of Caligula.

Perhaps the ongoing battle is the way the world is versus the way we want it to be. But what do I know? Well, I do know one thing—that Jordan Belfort’s speaking fee just went up.

P.S. A movie that’s said to have influenced Stone’s Wall Street was Executive Suite (1954) directed by Robert Wise from a script by Ernest Lehman from a novel by Cameron Hawley.

Related Posts:

Raging Bull vs. Martin Scorsese
“Study the Old Master.”—Martin  Scorsese
The Heart of “Hugo” (Part 1)
The Heart of “Hugo” (Part 2)
Hugo & The Artist
Writing Good Bad Guys (Tip #85)

Scott W. Smith


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Ooh, Superman where are you now
When everything’s gone wrong somehow
Land of Confusion

Money, Money, Money—across film genres as diverse as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,  Pretty Woman, Toostie, Babette’s Feast, The Gold Rush, A Perfect Storm,  Some Like It Hot, The Verdict, Double Indemnity, JAWS and, of course, Wall Street, money plays a key role. That should be no surprise since money plays such a key role in civilization—in survival.

As I watched It’s a Wonderful Life again late Christmas Eve, with an eye toward seeing The Wolf of Wall Street this week it didn’t take much to make an economic connection between the two. Then I saw how Chicago-based filmmaker Owen Weber took that connection up a notch by actually making a trailer mash-up of It’s a Wonderful Life and The Wolf of Wall Street. Very well done.

P.S. As several people have pointed out over the years, the United States today represents—for better or worse—  Pottersville much more than Bedford Falls. I think Richard Walter’s is right, “No audience wants to see The Villiage of the Happy Nice Peoplebut I’d sure like to live there someday.

Related links: All Hail Pottersville!  Gary Kamiya’s 2001 pro-Pottersville article

Scott W. Smith

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