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Posts Tagged ‘Drew Barrymore’

“What if your script doesn’t sell?  Most of them don’t.  Doesn’t mean you should give up.  Writing involves a long learning curve.  Most scripts or early novels suck.  Usually, it takes three or four tries before some kind of talent and structure begins to emerge.  It’s frustrating to think that your initial efforts might be just that — early, learning efforts.  But the truth is, most of the time, that’s what they will turn out to be.  That said, scripts can have a long shelf life.  I’ve had at least three scripts sell years and years after I initially wrote them.  In one case, I sold a script a decade after I wrote it.  Sometimes, it’s just a question of timing — the area you’ve chosen to write about isn’t in vogue, but becomes so at a later date.  Or sometimes, your particular stock goes up and a producer will ask if you have anything else in the drawer.  The other thing about scripts is that they can be wonderful calling cards — even if they don’t sell or don’t get made.  It took 4 years from the time I wrote Blade until the day the cameras rolled.  During that time, that un-produced script probably netted me a half-dozen jobs because it worked as a writing sample.”
Screenwriter David S. Goyer (Man of Steel)
On Screenwriting

P.S. As an example of scripts having “a long shelf life”— A writer friend of mine Clare Sera recently sold a script that was completed six years ago with her writing partner Ivan Menchell. Their script Blended is currently being filmed in South Africa with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore in the lead roles.

Related Posts:
Don’t Waste Your Life
 (“I spent 18 years doing stand up comedy. Ten years learning, four years refining, and four years of wild success.”—Steve Martin)
What it’s Like Being a Struggling Writer in L.A.?
Bob DeRosa’s “Shortcuts”(“There are no shortcuts. There is only hard work.—Bob DeRosa)
Commitment in the Face if Failure (“I wrote five scripts, then I wrote Little Miss Sunshine and then I wrote four more before I finally sold Little Miss Sunshine. It’s an endurance race.” —Michael Arndt)

If your script doesn’t sell…you can always make it yourself:
“It’s a good time to be a filmmaker” (“The field has been completely leveled. You can go and make your movies. There’s tons of ways to get your movies out there now.”—Edward Burns)

Scott W. Smith

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Ellen Page can skate. Really skate. Roller derby-style to boot. That alone makes Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut Whip It worth seeing. But wait, there’s more….

Most people know Page for her Juno role, but the 22-year-old Oscar nominated actress from Nova Scotia already has a decade old career having been in over 25 films and TV programs. We know Page can act but it’s special to watch the actress continue to blossom. Special in that way you see Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun or Paul Newman in The Hustler where you see great talent being revealed.

Many actors have stumbled in trying to play convincing roles as an athlete so I appreciate it when it’s done well. It was not a safe choice for Page or Barrymore, but they pulled it off.

Now I remember the roller derby in its 1970s incarnation.  Not that I was really a fan, but back then the roller derby was hard to miss because in a pre-cable TV and Internet world you only had three main channels to chose from. So on weekends somewhere between bowling, fishing and wrestling you had the roller derby. The roller derby was popular enough in the 70s to have a few films made about it including Unholy Rollers (1972), the documentary Derby (1972) and Raquel Welch in Kansas City Bomber (1972)–and let’s throw in the futuristic Rollerball (1975) for good measure.

Today the revival in roller derby is relatively small in comparison which may account for the soft opening this weekend at the box office. (That and people can’t seem to get enough of zombies.) But Barrymore and screenwriter Shauna Cross have put together a fine and entertaining film that also has a layer of wisdom in it, so I think it will continue to gather a following for years to come.

There is one scene, one line in particular (and this gives nothing away) that I thought was brilliant. It’s when Page’s character simply says, “I don’t want to be that girl.” It’s a moment that I don’t remember ever seeing in a film before and would benefit every teenage girl who is feed a steady diet of pop culture in regard to relationships. (Also part of that relationship plotline involves a t-shirt from the 80s Christian heavy metal band Stryper. I got a kick out of that as back in my L.A. days as a 16mm director and cameraman I shot an interview with Stryper’s lead singer Michael Sweet. If I find some photos from that shoot I’ll post them.)

At its core, Whip It is a coming-of-age story. Or as Save the Cat screenwriting teacher Blake Snyder calls it a rite of passage (ROP);

The ROP yarn…has three telling indicator: (1) The Problem, (2) the ‘wrong way’ to fix it, and (3) the solution to the problem: acceptance.'”

There are trampings involved with any genre and it’s hard to be original when you are dealing with a story that centers around sports, but I think Barrymore and Cross bring some subtle nuances to the film. One being the role of the parents played by Marica Gay Harden and Daniel Stern. Stern of course brings clout not only with his Wonder Years background, but as being in one of the greatest coming-of-age films/sports films ever—Breaking Away. Great casting choice. And way to go in not making the parents total dorks. (Took a page from Juno there.)

From a screenwriting perspective I do think they missed a huge opportunity to show some three dimensionality by at least giving a nod to the fact that the tribe some girls may want to be in is being in beauty pageants. What if Page’s best friend in the film would have really been gung-ho for doing the pageant thing? That’s the kind of dynamic that made John Hughes films like The Breakfast Club stand out. We’re all different and we’re all in this together.

Recently actress Sela Ward, who was raised in Mississippi, said this in an interview with Parade magazine;  “Growing up in the South, it’s all about manners and propriety. Every weekend, I went to charm school at the Sears department store, where I learned such fabulous tidbits as how to blot your face with a damp cloth to remove some of the powder and give yourself a little glow.” Not every girl is going to grow up and be dignified, refined and as graceful as Sela Ward. But those traits haven’t hurt her career any and there is still a man or two who finds that more attractive than blood and tattoos.

Two other missed opportunities were on the sound track. The dry opening to the film would have benefitted from a jump start montage of the roller derby girls intercut with shots of Page’s character getting ready for a beauty pageant with the song Roller Derby Saved My Soul by Uncle Leon and the Alibis playing. And on the credits Devo’s Whit It would have been a fitting tribute and left audiences with a big smile.

Whip It may not be as insightful as the classic Texas movie  The Last Picture Show, but you could put it on the shelf with the old John Travolta/Debra Winger film Urban Cowboy. It’s a fun film with a few life lessons thrown in, and a wonderful start for Barrymore. And she can really skate, too.

Whip It (Part 3)

Scott W. Smith

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I am strong (strong)
I am invincible (invincible)
I am women

I Am Women
Written by Helen Reddy & Ray Burton

“I couldn’t find any songs that said what I thought being a woman was about. I thought about all these strong women in my family who had gotten through the Depression and world wars and drunken, abusive husbands. But there was nothing in music that reflected that.”
Helen Reddy

The movie Whip It owes a lot to the 1970s. Not only were Whip It screenwriter Shauna Cross, director Drew Barrymore and supporting actress Juliette Lewis born in the 70s— the movie’s theme of girl power rises from the Gloria Steinem version of feminism that came to fruition in the early 70s. (The National Women’s Political Caucus and Ms. Magazine were both founded in 1971 with Steinem’s guidance. A year before Helen Reddy sang I Am Woman in which would become a catchy powerful feminist anthem.)

And while there are probably a zillion different views of feminism today (and plenty of strong women who don’t care for that label) most would look at the role women have in culture today and agree with the popular 70s Virginia Slims ad champaign, “You’ve come a long way baby.”  (Of course, not everyone would agree on the interpretation of that phrase. Some would say a long way good and others a long way bad.) In the 1970s there was a shift in the roles that women would play in business, education, politics, military and sports. I was raised in the 60s-70s by a single mother and two of the best athletes on my street were girls, so I can’t say I felt the shift and only knew the traditional world by watching old reruns of Leave it to Beaver.

(Growing up in Central Florida I have burned into my memory the blarring 70s radio ads for drag racing events, “Big Daddy Don Garlits, and Shirley ‘Cha-Cha’ Muldowney this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Gainesville International Speedway. BE THERE ! BE THERE! BE THERE!” I never did get there but I remember being amazed that there was a female drag racer. Muldowney was the first women to receive a NHRA licence and won NHRA top fuel championships in 1977, 1980 and 1982. Her story was made into the excellent 1983 film Heart Like a Wheel starring Bonnie Bedelia.)

Of course, as women sought more independence, freedom and accomplishments outside the home this would impact how children were raised and as a result our entire culture effected.  Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979) was one of the first films to deal with this changing world. And The Fight Club (1999) dealt with the lingering effects. But honestly, things haven’t exactly been a picnic ever since that incident with the fruit in the garden of Eden. We live in a broken, fallen world and everyday the news confirms this. We go to movies for the hope of a little sliver of restoration.

Which brings us back to Whip It. The movie’s poster with a great shot of star Ellen Page says, “Find your tribe.” It’s about finding your place in this world even if you live in a little town like Bodeen, Texas. I became aware of the story when Cedar Falls, Iowa had a shot at becoming both Bodeen and Austin when I received a call from Mandate Pictures to do some location scouting in the Cedar Falls, Waterloo and Cedar Rapids area here in Iowa.

Iowa’s film incentives were the main reason they considered shooting a story set in Texas. (It would have been a nice payback since the Johnny Depp/Leonardo DiCaprio/Juliette Lewis film What’s Eating Gilbert Grape was set in Iowa but shot in Texas.) When I got the call last spring, Ellen Page was already in Iowa making another Mandate Picture called Peacock which was shooting in the Des Moines area.

I ended up doing two days of scouting and thought we had a good shot. One of the biggest problems though was they were really looking for a 50s style ranch home made of brick. We had a good deal of 50s ranch homes in the area but brick for whatever reason was not commonly used. They also wanted the yards to be a little worn down. Maybe it’s because the soil is good in Iowa or the neat German heritage, but there aren’t many lawns in disrepair in this part of the county.

I took hundreds of pictures for the various locations they needed including the Oink Joint where Page’s character worked. My best find was the town of Vinton, Iowa (between Cedar Falls & Cedar Rapids) that I thought made a fitting small Texas town like the ones I’ve driven through before. But at the end of the day they shot most of the film in Michigan. (Apparently, they don’t take care of their lawns as well as Iowans.) I was bummed when I found out they weren’t shooting in Iowa because it would have meant a lot to the community and I would have loved having a small part in bringing the first Hollywood film here since they shot Country in Black Hawk County back in the mid-80s.

But I’m glad the film got made and will write specifically about it tomorrow. The script was written by Cross based on her youth book Derby Girl. Since I write a blog that’s focused on writing or writers that come from outside of L.A. I enjoyed reading an interview where Cross stated, “It’s easier to be more original writing about Texas than New York or L.A.” But it should be noted that while Cross went to film school at the University of Texas at Austin, she did get her breakthough while living in L.A. and bumping into film people.

Whip It (Part 2)

Scott W. Smith



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Last night I just caught a few minutes of the Primetime Emmy awards and glad to see Jessica Lange and Ken Howard win Emmys for their roles in Grey Gardens. The HBO movie also picked up the Emmy for Made-for-TV Movie. (The movie won a total of six Emmys.) It’s always great to see someone like Howard who has been nominated for 10 Emmys finally pick up an Emmy after a long career.

Someone who hasn’t had a long career is the writer/director of Grey Gardens, Michael Sucsy. I didn’t really know much about him so I poked around and here is what I found. I think it’s important to see the path that talented people take to see what it takes to succeed at the highest level. Sucsy was born in 1973 and received his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and an MFA from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.

He worked various below the line jobs on some features and made an award-winning short film after school. But he really made a name for himself directing commercials and in 2002 according to IMDB he was “nominated for the Young Director of the Year Award in conjunction with the 2002 Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.”

He began to work on the script for Grey Gardens in 2003 after seeing the documentary by the same name. So we’re talking six years from idea to award. He was working as an assistant to a entertainment lawyer while doing research and writing for Grey Gardens meaning he had to get much of his writing in in the early morning hours before going to work. (The Breakfast Club for Writers.)

Eventually his script found its way to HBO where Sucsy directed Lange, Drew Barrymore and others in that would go on tie for the most Emmy nominations ever for a TV movie.

Dream big dreams, but keep plugging away on smaller projects.

(I’m preaching to myself here and look forward to going up to Minneapolis Saturday for the Midwest Regional Emmy Awards where I’m nominated for two Emmys—one for editing and one for lighting.)

Dec. 6, 2009 Update. I did pick up a Regional Emmy for location lighting for a spot I shot film noir style. But much more impressive is Grey Gardens which I finally saw a couple weeks ago. Just an extraordinary, moving and insightful film.

Related posts: Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours

Screenwriters Work Ethic

Scott W. Smith

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”This is not about harming the growing film and television industry in Iowa, but about protecting public funds and the best interest of Iowans.”
Gov. Chet Culver

Okay, most people don’t think of Iowa as paradise. Not in the traditional sense. But as people wander into the state they’re often surprised to find a kind of paradise that could be described as a quality of life paradise. Blue skies, friendly people, safe neighborhoods, affordable housing, little traffic and the list goes on. But from a filmmaker’s perspective the last couple years Iowa have been seen as a film incentive paradise.

That could be changing. It was announced today that the governor of Iowa was halting Iowa’s well-known film incentives. This is what I found on KCRG TV’s website:

Apparent problems have prompted the Governor to step in. In a late email announcing the resignation of the state’s economic development director, The governor stated that, quote, “there have been insufficient procedures…to assure a full and accurate accounting of expenditures.”

He goes on to ask that “no further schedules of qualified expenditures be approved nor tax credit certificates be issued.”

Films are getting made here and according to a FORTUNE Small Business article called Hollywood on the Plains one company moved here from California saying, “These incentives really sealed the deal.” Tom Wheeler who had a key role in helping films get made in Iowa as the manager of the Iowa Film Office is on paid administrative leave.

Now there is some hope that once these problems are sorted out that the incentive program will continue. But the fear is that the momentum that has been built the last couple years will suffer. Welcome to the world of film incentives. I warned about all of this because of what I saw in Florida back in the 80s. If you try to build an industry on film incentives you must realize that sooner or later someone will offer better incentives than you.

Back in the day Florida lost out to North Carolina and Canada. More recently, just two years ago the Louisiana Office of Entertainment Industry was advertising that it was the #3 place in the country to shoot films. Then Michigan came on the scene with film incentives as a remedy to help replace jobs and money lost in the ailing auto industry. (Link to Michigan’s incentive debate.)  All of this competition has been a part of L.A.’s problem with runaway production as groups look for cheaper ways to make their films.

I was reminded of all of this when I saw Drew Barrymore on The Jay Leno Show talking about her new film Whip It! that opens in a couple weeks. I did some location scouting for the film here in Iowa for Mandate Pictures who produced the film. Iowa’s incentives were a draw but they ended up shooting most of the story (that takes place in Texas) in Michigan. Follow the money, right?

The effectiveness of the incentives is debated and that’s when they are run properly. Iowa’s situation appears to be an administrative issue. Time will tell if it was just sloppy accounting & paper work or something more fraudulent. (Rumors of films being totally funded by the Iowa film incentive program via sketchy billing methods and not employing Iowa residents as per the incentives agreement have been kicking around for months.) The film industry has always attracted its share of Bernie Madoffs. There’s a line from the movie Wall St. that says something to the effect of, “Money makes people do things they don’t want to do.” Perhaps in line with, “Money is the roots of all sorts of evil.” The film industry has it’s share of scam artists/investors who I’ve seen go to jail over the years as well.

If you’re a writer you can’t really get caught up in all of this or you’ll go crazy. (Okay, crazier.) Focus on writing great stories that others will fight to get made. Even if that means your story set in Montana ends up getting shot in Croatia.

Related article at Quad-City Times: Iowa official resigns amid tax incentive probe

State of Iowa Press Release with Gov. Culver’s letter

Related L.A. Times Article: Filmmaking incentives losing glamour in cash-strapped states

Nov. 3, 2009 Update: Iowa sued over halt to film tax credits

Scott W. Smith

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Sometimes I think about the only way
That I’ll ever see life beyond L.A. is dying

                                                  Ambrosia 
                                                  (David Pack/ Burleigh Drummond) 

 

Today marks a year and a half since I started the Screenwriting from Iowa…or wherever you live outside L.A. blog. That first post (Life Beyond Hollywood) on January 22, 2007 featured a picture of a cold winter day in Iowa. If you’d like to see what Iowa looks like in the summer then turn on ABC”s Good Morning America tomorrow morning (July 23, 2009) as they will be doing four remote segments from downtown Cedar Falls.

How about that? Good Morning America is coming to Cedar Falls, Iowa. Maybe not life changing, but this hidden gem of a town really is starting to be less hidden. 

If you’re new to this blog let me recap how it all started. After seeing the movie Juno on January 19, 2007 and reading that the screenwriter of the movie, Diablo Cody, was a University of Iowa graduate (The Juno-Iowa Connection) I decided to start a blog focusing on screenwriters outside L.A. (or who at least come from outside L.A.).

Writers that have a little different perspective just by coming from a different geographical part of the country from the movie making capitol. Because of the Internet writers like Cody with her Chicago-Iowa City-Minneapolis background have a chance to have their writing discovered in a way that wasn’t possible in the past. That’s good for both writers and audiences.

So I’m doing my part to help those writers out. Right here from my headquarters in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Too bad we didn’t land that Drew Barrymore directed film Whip It that I did some location scouting for last year.  Then maybe we’d really be on the map. But it will be fun to have Good Morning America in town. Then again we really are on the map, conveniently located between New York and San Francisco.

By the way, they ended up shooting much of Whip It in Michigan to take advantage of their film incentives.) Just saw the first promo of Whip It that features Juno star Ellen Page in a story that takes place in Texas.

There’s a great big world out there beyond L.A. and stories from those parts that need to be told — so I hope you’re doing your part to write those screenplays.

Scott W. Smith

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Kevin Williamson failed. But at least he failed to the tune of $103 million at the box office when his script Scream became his first screenwriting credit in 1996. And that launched a career for the New Bern, North Carolina native who studied film and theater at East Carolina University. A career that includes being the creator of the Tv show Dawson’s Creek.

But once upon a time after acting gigs in New York didn’t pan out he moved to L.A. and took a screenwriting class at UCLA extension and began writing his first script. That script got optioned and paid enough to quit his day job. But the film never got made and he found himself unemployed and low on cash. He found inspiration for a new script in one of his favorite films, Halloween, and set out to to write a scary movie (which happened to be the original title). 

“I wanted to have a kick-ass opening, because I wanted to write one of the scariest movies ever. And then I thought, ‘Well, you know what? I may not be able to do that, but I may be able to write one scary scene.’ So I set out to write the opening telephone scene with the Drew Barrymore character. I knew that if I could capture just the terror of that situation—in an empty house with windows, a girl on the phone—right away you have the necessary ingredients. And then when I added the horror movie quiz game game on top of it, that brought the fun into it….But it’s a simple three act structure. The lead character is in peril. At the end of act one, she meets her attacker, who is trying to kill her; she barley escapes with her life, and then you’re thrust into the second act. It’s by-the-book, really. The only thing I did differently was I disclosed the conventions of the horror genre while doing it, and I let the breaking of the rules tell the story.”
                                                   Kevin Williamson
                                                   Creative Screenwriting magazine 
                                                   An Interview with: Kevin Williamson
                                                   by Laura Schiff 

So Williamson failed to write the scariest movie ever, but I think he wrote the funniest scary movie ever. By the way, that little twist Williamson gave the horror genre is called originality. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Just tweak it a little and make it yours. Or as Blake Snyder likes to say that what Hollywood is looking for is — “The same thing, only different.”

 

Scott W. Smith

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