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Posts Tagged ‘Colin Covert’

“I always felt like when we got the script right that idea would sell itself, and that’s more or less what happened.”
Tony Wilson, producer The Final Season

“For once, here’s a sports movie that doesn’t feature players who are expected to lose.”
Colin Covert
Minneapolis Star Tribune (Review of the 2007 movie The Final Season)

Yesterday, I mentioned hearing Kent Stock talk about his life and how it led to being portrayed in the movie The Final Season. Today I have an interview with Tony Wilson who was the central figure in bringing that story to the big screen. When Wilson started pursing the rights to the story he didn’t know that it would take 16 years to fulfill his dream. But his desire to make films began long before that journey started.

Wilson began making films at Hoover High School in Des Moines, Iowa where he won the high school film festival. He told me he decided to study film in college because he didn’t think he’d have to read many books. After college he started a video production company in Colorado, but eventually felt to the pull to return to Iowa.

But it was way back in 1976 after seeing the movie Rocky that he began to crystallize his dreams. Wilson told me, “That’s the movie I always wanted to make, I just didn’t know it. I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to make a feature film and I was always on the lookout for some kind of a sports story.”

It was 15 years after seeing Rocky when he came across a July 14, 1991 article in the Des Moines Register* which inspired him to pursue the rights to the story. So he borrowed a Mercedes ( a touch of Hollywood) and met with Kent Stock and for $1,000. secured a two-year agreement to tell the story of how Stock led Norway High School into the state playoffs in the school’s final year before it would merge with another school. (Stock now jokes that the Mercedes did impress him.)

DEVELOPING THE SCRIPT

Wilson originally began developing the script, but in 1993 he also started a new video production company, Applied Art & Technology in Des  Moines, which took much of his time and focus away from writing the script himself.

“The first couple drafts were pretty much a documentary. I was use to working in 30 seconds for commercials and 10 minutes for corporate videos so this 100 page screenplay thing was totally new to me. So I had to learn how to write scripts and the three act play and the fact that we did’t have an inciting incident—there’s a big problem. I had no clue what that was all about.”

But getting the film made never faded. He said, “In the year 2000 I decided if I was ever going to get this script made I’ll need to find a script writer so I interviewed a couple of guys and found Art D’Alessandro down in Florida. He had knowledge of baseball and I knew he could write.”

They wrote eight drafts in four years and when the script finally went out in 2005 director David Mickey Evans (Sandlot) was the first to sign on to the project followed by actor Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings). Writer James Grayford shares final screenwriting credit on the movie.

RAISING MONEY

SS: How did you go about raising the money to produce the film?

TW: We raised money as a development fund and when we sent the script out we had a pay or play with some of these people to get their names attached. We had some L.A. producers who were going to provide some funding as we came down to the wire and that didn’t happen and we wound up raising most of the money ourselves which was quite miraculous.

SS: When did you know that The Final Season was actually going to get made?

TW: December 31, 2005 was when we completed our funding, or knew we were going to complete it, so then it was a matter of starting the preproduction process. The first day of shooting was the first day after Memorial Day 2006.

PRODUCTION

SS: What was that like that first day finally see what basically had started 30 years prior when you first were inspired by Rocky?

TW: It was a very big reality moment. We actually shot a scene that was in the very first draft of the script —there weren’t a lot of those (laugh) that actually made it from the first draft.  That was actually a pretty emotional day for Kent Stock and I to see that scene get filmed.


DISTRIBUTION

SS: People talk about finding distribution being just as hard as getting the film made. Was that your case?

TW: Oh yeah, that was a real learning time. Every step of the way has been a learning process. We were fortunate in that we had good representation, Carl Borlack was executive producer and produced the Shiloh series and his partner Jim Cardwell who was the former head of Warner Home Video so they understood the industry very well and had the Rolodex to get the deals done.

SS: When was the first time you saw the film with an audience?

TW: We had a distributor’s screening out in LA at the end of ’07, and a couple of nights later we had a cast and crew screening out in LA, and the next time after that would have been at the world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The Final Season didn’t become the next Rocky or Hoosiers, but I will say that you won’t find a better film that depicts high school players playing baseball. (In fact, that team could compete with any movie semi-pro/pro team.)  But when you step back and look at the bigger picture The Final Season is a prime example of finding a regional story, developing it into a screenplay, and having the perseverance to take that sometimes long journey of fulfilling a dream to see your movie produced and playing in theaters.

Thirty years may seem like a long time to see a dream fulfilled, but there are many lessons we can learn from the game of baseball. After all, how many years did it take the San Francisco Giants to win the World Series Tuesday night? A mere 52 years.

Tony Wilson is now developing his second feature film that he hopes won’t take 16 years to produced.

* Reporter Ken Fuson of the Des Moines Register  was the writer who followed Norway’s final season (along with Pulitzer Prize winning photographer David Peterson) documenting the season in the style of Pulitzer Prize winning reporter H.G. Bissinger who moved to Odessa, Texas to write about Periman High School football (Friday Night Lights). Fuson also co-wrote Kent Stock’s biography Heading for Home, My Journey from Little League to Hollywood!

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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Juno delivers uproarious laughs, fully fleshed personalities, honest uplift and tender moments when the throat goes dry and the eyes grow moist. Much of the credit goes to the deservedly acclaimed script by former Twin Cities scribe Diablo Cody, whose blogs-to-riches story seems destined to culminate in a spotlight solo at the next Academy Awards.”
                                                                         Colin Covert 

                                                                         Star Tribune movie review of Juno
                                                                         December 17, 2007 

 

As soon as I discovered Rotten Tomatoes I discovered movie critic Colin Covert of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. I found his reviews intelligent and insightful. And that he could turn a phrase with the best of them as he did in his review of the Russian mob drama Eastern Promises; “It’s a mouthful of blood with a vodka chaser.”

With the fairly recent success of screenwriters from Minnesota, Diablo Cody (Juno) & Nick Schenk (Gran Torino), it seemed logical to throw a few questions Covert’s way to get a pulse on the creative scene in the Twin Cities. 

Q: Do you have a favorite film that has come out the state of Minnesota? 

Colin: “A Simple Plan,” a superbly realized story of heartland values and creeping corruption from Sam Raimi. It’s topnotch filmmaking from the depth of the script to the elegance of the direction to the evocative use of snow and shadows to suggest the stark moral choices facing the characters when they discover a downed plane containing $4 million in drug money. 

Q: At the 2008 Academy Awards Diablo Cody and the Coen Brothers represented Minneapolis well by winning Oscars. What in the world makes Minneapolis a special place for writers? 

Colin: It’s a bit like Vienna, 1900. Creative people gravitate here, cross-pollinate with folks from other disciplines, and sharpen their talents with debate and collaboration. Add to that the can-do work ethic of the place and you have a real petri dish for artistic growth. 

Q: When do you mark the beginning of this literary movement in the Twin Cities? 

Colin: That’s like one of those “when does human life begin?” questions. 

Q: When you first saw “Juno” did you think it would have universal appeal, be a box-offer winner, and win an Academy Award for its screenwriter Diablo Cody? 

Colin: I can honestly answer, yes. She’s scary-smart and hit a solid home run with the story, which gets deeper and smarter every time you watch it. Her hipster dialog is just one small facet of her skill as a writer. She creates flesh-and-blood characters who surprise you at every turn, yet remain consistent and truthful. 

Q: Right now there are two films in the theaters written by writers from Minnesota, Gran Torino (Schenk) & New in Town (Ken Rance) is this a fad or a part of a growing trend? 

Colin: It’s the steady pulse of creativity. There is a critical mass of bright, engaged people here who will continue to make a mark on the film industry. 

Q: Who do you see as the next screenwriter or filmmaker from the Twin Cities that’s we’re going to be hearing about in the coming months or years? 

Colin: That’s a tough call. It could be Bill True, whose psychological drama “Runaway” (with Melissa Leo and Robin Tunney) is scheduled to go into release this year. It’s a strong piece of work. 

Q: Artist Grant Wood spoke about regionalism in that painters would we true to where they live. Do you think regionalism is beginning to occur in movies or are creative decisions being made to shoot outside L.A. simply because of tax incentives by various states and countries? 

Colin: If painters got tax incentives from New Mexico, they’d paint a lot more cow skulls and cacti. 

Q: What does it mean for the Twin Cities that the Coen Brothers returned to the Minneaplois-St. Paul area to shoot their most recent film “A Serious Man”? 

Colin: Long term, not too much. But it was a lovely gesture that really energized all the local folks who appeared as bit players and extras. We almost lost that ultra-regional Minnesota-set film to Wisconsin because they offer richer production rebates, you know! 

Q: They say every film critic dreams of being a screenwriter or a filmmaker. Do you have a script hidden in a drawer? 

Colin: I don’t kid myself that I have that kind of talent. 

Q: Tell me about the screenwriting seminar you are putting together in the Minneapolis area. What’s the goal you hope to accomplish? 

Colin: The first week in October, we’ll convene a conference of notable local and national screenwriters, present sessions on the professional rewards and challenges of the movie writer’s life, and schmooze at parties and have a lot of fun. I hope to see you there. Anyone who wants more information, please email me at colincovert@gmail.com!

The Star Tribune is also producing videos with Covert’s movie reviews and to see a sample with reviews from The Wrestler and Gran Torino go to startribune.com.

Cedar Falls, Iowa is only 3 1/2 hours south of Minneapolis so I hope to be at the screenwriting conference in October. 

Related Posts: Juno Has Another Baby (Emmy)

                            The Oscars Minnesota-Style

                            Screenwriting Quote of the Day #19 (Nick Schenk)

Side notes: For what it’s worth, it was Covert who I learned that Cody wrote Juno at the Starbucks inside the Target Superstore in Crystal, Minnesota. And lastly, the movie  “A Simple Plan” was based on the book by that other Scott Smith, Scott B. Smith.


Scott W. Smith
 

 


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If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling books The Tipping Point and Blink then you are familiar with his interesting way of looking at the world. You may not always agree with his conclusions, but his observations are always thought provoking. His recent book Outilers is no different. In fact, it is the perfect book for this blog and I will write about it more in the coming days.

But if you are not familiar with Outliers, or even Galdwell, I wanted to make sure they both got on your radar. The subtitle to Outliers is The Story of Success. Galdwell looks at why an usually high number of the top hockey players are born in January, February, and March. Why Hamberg, Germany played a key role in developing the talent of the Beatles. And why being born on or around 1955 was important to be a computer wiz like Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and Steve Jobs. 

“People don’t rise from nothing. We do owe something to parentage and patronage. The people who stand before kings may look like they did it themselves. But the fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot. It makes a difference where and when we grew up. The culture we belong to and the legacies passed down by our forebears shape the patterns of our achievment in ways we cannot begin to imagine. It’s not enough to ask what successful people are like, in other words. It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t.”

We’ll look more into this beginning tomorrow with a special Q&A with Colin Covert, the film critic for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. One cannot ignore the fact that two films in the that two years that  have made over $100 million at the box office (Juno & Gran Torino) were written by writers in the Minneapolis area.

Related post: Screenwriting Jamaican-Olympic Style

Update: I just decided at random  to see when three of the top all-time pro hockey players (off the time of my head) were born and Gladwell’s research was on the money;  Wayne Gretzky (January), Bobby Orr (March), Gordie Howe (March).  I think Gladwell, and those whose he reports on who have done research in this area, are on to something. 

 

Scott W. Smith

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“Here’s my unsolicited advice to any aspiring screenwriters who might be reading this: Don’t ever agonize about the hordes of other writers who are ostensibly your competition.  No one else is capable of doing what you do.”

Diablo Cody
Introduction/Juno
The Shooting Script
“The internet is a miraculous things. Just share as much as you can, self-publish, blog, podcast whatever you need to do. Just make sure you are not withholding your gifts from the world. Because you have so many opportunities now….We’re in a new frontier.”
Diablo Cody

I woke up this morning with a strange lady next to me. We just met last night and I was glad to see her still sitting on the night stand this morning. She’s gold, has wings and seems to be holding some kind of science project. I won her last night at the regional Emmy Awards in Minneapolis. It was a great way to end a good week.

The Emmy is for the Screenwriting from Iowa blog that I started earlier this year just a few days after seeing Juno. Of course, I didn’t know back in January that Cody would win an Oscar, but I thought her story was a great example of a writer emerging from fly-over country.

Nor did I think back in January when I started my first blog that it would lead to an Emmy 9 months later. (But that is good timing since this Emmy is an sort of an offspring of Juno.) So thanks to Ms. Cody for the inspiration and thanks to all the readers and friends who’ve encouraged me to keep chipping away at this concept.

Yesterday as I drove up from Cedar Falls to Minneapolis I thought about how this thing had come full circle.

Cody lived in Minneapolis when she wrote Juno just a few years after graduating from the University of Iowa. So to fully complete the circle this afternoon I visited the Starbucks inside the Target in Crystal, Minnesota where much of Juno was written. (Reportedly in just seven weeks.)

Adam Vanderlinder was working this afternoon when I walked in with my Emmy award (in a backpack, thank you) and ordered a chai latte and he confirmed that I was at the right Starbucks. He remembered Cody and even pointed out the table she sat while writing. I asked how he remembered the exact table and he said it is the only place with an electrical outlet.

This may not be a news flash, but I haven’t seen any newspaper, magazine or blogs showing any pictures of this part of the Juno back story. So in all its glory here are a couple photographs of my new angelic lady friend at the spot where Cody spent a little time before she made her way to the red carpet at the Academy Awards. (Complete with the soon to be famous electric outlet that somebody will probably steal and sell on ebay.)

So for all those screenwriters outside L.A. who think they could jump start their career if they could only move to L.A., I offer this photograph of Cody’s exotic former office (not to be confused with her former exotic job) far from Hollywood as a practical and inexpensive example of where your ideas and dreams can grow. (Just substitute your town or suburb.)

Vanderlinder also said he remembers Cody also drinking chai lattes. This symmetry is starting to move beyond full circle and into The Twight Zone…oh, while we’re speaking of classic TV — I wonder if Cody will ever get a statue like spunky Mary Tyler Moore (seven time Primetime Emmy Award-winner) has at the Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis.

If you’ve never seen The Mary Tyler Moore Show (the story was set in Minneapolis) do yourself a favor and hunt down some episodes and watch the program that was ranked #11 in “TV Guide’s 50 Best Shows of All Time.”

The Coen Brothers are currently back in the Minneapolis–St. Paul area shooting a new movie (A Serious Man) on their home turf. I was pleased to hear all the Minnesota-rooted boys (Dylan, Prince and Garrison Keillor) on the radio during my short trip to the twin cities. I also learned that the current film Quarantine is the product of two St. Paul filmmakers (and, yes, brothers) Drew and John Erick Dowdle.

In an interview with Colin Covert in this Sunday’s Star Tribune, John explains their horror fixation, “We blame the long winters sitting home wishing we could get out. We’re the latest in a long list of Midwestern filmmakers and artists with a very dark side.”

So the Minneapolis–St. Paul area continues to show serious creative clout to go along with their serious cold weather. (Yes, it did snow in Minneapolis yesterday –a week before Halloween!)

This is as fitting a place to give you the link for Diablo Cody’s Tips for Blogging Your Way to Hollywood Success as written by John Scott Lewinski. And if you haven’t read The Juno-Iowa Connection it is still the number one read post on Screenwriting from Iowa.

And here are two little bonus Cody Q&A’s, the first with Steve Marsh I found at mspmag.com and the other with Oprah Winfrey:

What inspired Juno? 
”I was kinda sitting in my kitchen in Robbinsdale, and thinking about the image of a teenage girl sitting across from these uptight yuppies in their living room. They’re basically auditioning to be the parents of her unborn child. And I was like, that’s possibly the most awkward thing I could imagine, and it is therefore hilarious. And I wound up building the film around that image. And then I just based the character of Juno on myself as a teenager, although I was never that cool.”

Oprah Winfrey: How did you get it (Juno) to be so fresh? “I don’t know, I guess, you know, 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.”

text & photos 2008 Copyright Scott W. Smith

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