The last couple of days I’ve been shooting a TV Travel project at Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast, Florida. Here’s a screen grab one of the lifestyle sunrise shots yesterday of Orlando talent Alison Skipper (@ProPretty) from the penthouse balcony overlooking the Atlantic. (And yes, I’m still holding on to editing with FCP7—but I have upgraded to the MacBook Pro Retina. Still looking to make the jump to FCP X, Premiere, or back to AVID. Any suggestions?)
Posts Tagged ‘Florida’
Posted in Miscellaneous, tagged Ashkenazi Jews, Asperger’s syndrome, Bambi vs. Godzilla, Central Florida, Florida, Goldwyn, How to Train Your Alligator., Lake Jesup, Mayer, Nadia Bloom, Orlando, Poland, Spielberg, swamp land, Warsaw, Where the Wild Things Are on April 14, 2010 | 2 Comments »
The story of the missing little girl who was found yesterday in Florida has caused quite a stir in the news the last few days. Eleven year old Nadia Bloom has Asperger’s syndrome and wandered off into the woods alone and wasn’t rescued until four days later.
Having grown-up in Central Florida, the area she was rescued is very familiar to me. And this is one time when the press has not given to hyperbole. Calling it the woods doesn’t do it justice—there is a reason why this area is not just another Orlando area subdivison. It is rugged swampland complete with dense foliage, muck and snakes. While I don’t know the exact area where she was rescued, I do know nearby Lake Jesup in Winter Springs is estimated to have an alligator population of over 10,000.
Bloom was thankfully carried out alive with just bug bites and dehydration and I bet one heck of a story to tell. Her father said she, “is a nature lover. She went on a bike ride and stopped and went off to take some pictures.”
The first time I ever heard of Asperger’s syndrome was in a book by playwright/screenwriter David Mamet, Bambi vs. Godzilla;
“I think it is not impossible that Asperger’s syndrome helped make the movies. The symptoms of this developmental disorder include early precocity, a great ability to maintain masses of information a lack of ability to mix with groups in age-appropriate ways, ignorance of or indifference to social norms, high intelligence, and difficulty with transitions, married to a preternatural ability to concentrate on the minutia of the task at hand. This sounds like a movie director to me.”
Mamet goes on to say that the highest prevalence of Asperger’s syndrome is among Ashkenazi Jews and their descendants, which historically just happens to make up the bulk of American movie directors and studio heads. (The Jewish lineage, of course, is not a requirement to be in film industry Mamet points out, but one that includes Goldwyn, Mayer, Spielberg, Mamet himself, and a long list of others.)
While Nadia’s Asperger syndrome may have lead her into the woods to take some pictures, it is probably what helped her survive as she did not appear to panic, but was concentrating on the minutia of the swampland.
I hope her camera and pictures and/or video survived the journey as well. Don’t tell me some Hollywood producers aren’t already working an angle on this story. Nadia’s story is the real life Where the Wild Things Are.* She spent four days (and don’t forget the nights) alone in an area few of us would want to spend four minutes.
Can I get an associate producer credit for my suggested title?: How to Train Your Alligator.
And lastly, Nadia’s story is one reason why happy endings are so popular in movies. Because in real life we are used to seeing so many heart breaking stories when young boys and girls disappear.
*Where the Wild Things Are writer/illustrator Maurice Sendak’s parents were Jewish immigrants to the United States from a small village outside Warsaw, Poland. Mamet points out (via Neal Gabler’s book An Empire all Their Own), that Warsaw (and the surrounding 200 mile radius) was ground central for those that would lay the foundation for Hollywood storytelling. Perhaps I should have called this blog Screenwriting from Warsaw.
Posted in Miscellaneous, tagged Croatia., Drew Barrymore, Florida, Iowa film incentives, Iowa Film Office, Iowa stops film incentives, Iowa sued over halt to film tax credits, KCRG, Louisiana Office of Entertainment Industry, Montana, North Carolina, Quad City Times, The Jay Leno Show, Tom Wheeler, Whip It on September 18, 2009 | 4 Comments »
”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
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
Posted in screenwriting, tagged Association of Surfing Professional, C.J. Hobgood, Cocoa Beach, Florida, Florida Surf Champions, Hurricane Bill, I dream of Jeanie, Iowa Writers' Workshop, Jack Johnson, Kelly Slater, Lance Armstrong, Lisa Andersen, Michael Jordan, New Smyrna Beach, Ormond Beach, Ron DiMenna, Ron Jon's, Sebastian Inlet, Small Wave Capital of the World, The Right Stuff, Thicker than Water on August 23, 2009 | 1 Comment »
If you follow hurricanes at all you may know that Hurricane Bill kicked up some pretty nice waves along Florida’s east coast the past few days. Florida is not usually known for large waves. Most days the surf pales compared to the best surf spots in California & Hawaii. So one could make the mistake of thinking that small wave Florida wouldn’t produce world champion surfers.
But the pro surf version of Lance Armstrong/Michael Jordan/Tiger Woods is in fact from Florida. Kelly Slater was born in Cocoa Beach, Florida in 1972 and has won the ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals) World Championship a record nine times. He holds the record for being both the youngest (20) and the oldest (36) to win the title. He is also the all-time leader in career event wins. Pretty amazing stats for anyone but more amazing since he came from an area nicknamed the “Small Wave Capital of the World.”
TV buffs may recall that Cocoa Beach is the setting for the 60s classic show I Dream of Jeannie. (Though according to Wikipedia the cast and crew only visited the area twice for filming). As part of the Space Coast, Cocoa Beach is where parades were held for astronauts when they would return from the Apollo missions. (As featured in The Right Stuff.) Though only six miles long, about a mile wide, this little town of 12,000 has had its brushes with greatness. So maybe it’s a fitting place for the greatest competitive ever to be from.
And Slater is not the only surf champion from Florida. Both Lisa Andersen (Ormond Beach) and Freida Zamba (Daytona Beach) both hold four ASP titles, and C.J. Hobgood (from Melborune, FL) won the 2001 ASP World Championship and last year’s O’Neil Cup of World Surfing. I could go on about accomplished surfers from basically a 100 mile path on the coast of Florida from Ormond Beach to Sebastian Inlet, but I think you get the point.
Having spent most of my life in Central Florida it’s an area I’m fond of as I’ve gotten to spend my share time in the water there over the years. In fact, just two weeks ago I got several hours in of bodybording and longboard surfing in New Smyrna Beach/Cape Canaveral. But the reason I think champion surfers have risen from that area is it’s a great place to get in your 10,000 hours learning the craft and there is a history of surfing there that goes back for decades. That’s a great combination. And Slater working his magic on the smaller waves everyday as a kid is actually what set him up to change the face of surfing when he had an opportunity to perform on larger waves on the world stage.
I bring that up on a blog about screenwriting because it once again shows that something great can come from outside Southern California. Looking at surfers coming from the east coast of Florida is like looking at why so many writers come from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and why world class sprinters come from Jamaica. Vision, hard work, and the right ground work years (decades?) in the making seem to be what set a part places like Iowa City, Kingston, and Cocoa Beach to produce amazing results.
Part of Cocoa Beach’s ground work was Ron DiMenna opening Ron Jon’s surf shop in 1959 in Cocoa Beach. That helped create the surf culture that is there until this day. That’s 13 years before Slater was even born. Though Ron Jon’s today resembles Walt Disney World more than traditional surf culture, I have to think that back in the day Slater’s dad bought a board or two at Ron Jon’s. (Or at least at least a Hang Ten/Lighting Bolt/OP shirt.)
Once again in an era of digital filmmaking the doors are being blown open for filmmakers to rise up from unusual places. And if you need a little more inspiration read my post about Coppola’s “fat little girl from Ohio” comment.
Lastly, I should mention that there is another deep connection to films and surfing as the two seem to go hand in hand. From Gidget, Big Wednesday, and Warren Miller’s classic surf films, to Blue Crush, Jack Johnson’s Thicker Than Water, and Endless Summer II (which featured Slater) there has never been a shortage of finding great footage to put on screen—finding a great script with a surf angle has been proven a little more difficult to find.
Posted in Screenwriting Quotes, tagged chicago, Florida, Hannibal, Main Street USA, Marceline, Mark Twain, Missouri, Orlando, The Three Little Pigs, Walt Disney, Walt Disney Studios on March 6, 2009 | 1 Comment »
Walt Disney was a little like Moses. He never made it to the promised land. Disney died a few years before his dream project, Walt Disney World, opened in Florida in 1971.
I remember going to Disney World that opening year and it was magical. Central Florida was not the sprawling Central Florida that it is today. No, for better or worse, that sprawl is the after effects of Walt Disney World. Before Disney took a rural area and transformed it into one of the top destinations in the world, Central Florida was lucky to have air conditioning and indoor plumbing.
And in those pre-Disney days in the Orlando area, other than putt-putt golf courses, go-kart rides, and Gatorland there wasn’t a whole lot of competition for a place like Disney World.
Now Orlando has plenty of theme parks, as well as places with indoor plumbing, air-conditioning, and more than its share of strip malls. Ah, the power of imagination.
There is no question that Walt Disney is a product of the Midwest, having been born in Chicago and raised in Missouri. But few realize the huge impact little Marceline, MO had on Walt’s imagination and in effect on the world. For Marceline’s Main Street is the inspiration for Main Street USA.
When you drive down Marceline’s Main St. today it doesn’t really seem magical. There’s no indication that there is anything special about this place. It’s not one of those quaint main streets you stumble upon while traveling that makes you say, “I’d like to live here.”
But that’s the place where young Walt Disney watched the parades go by on his way to becoming the filmmaker who has won more Oscars than any one else (32).
The farm Disney lived on (and worked on at a young age) in Marceline was also no doubt furtile ground for young Walt as observering animals played such a large part of his enduring success.
Wade Sampson at mouseplanet.com unearthed an interview Disney did back in 1933 following the success of his newest film The Three Little Pigs:
“All this talk about my making a lot of money is bunk. After 10 years of pretty tough sledding, I am now making a moderate profit on my products, but every dime I take in is immediately put back into the business. I’m building for the future. And my goal isn’t millions; it’s better pictures. I’m not interested in money, except for what I can do with it to advance my work. The idea of piling up a fortune for the sake of wealth seems silly to me. Work is the real adventure in life. Money is merely a means to make more work possible….The secret of success if there is any, is liking what you do. I like my work better than my play. I play polo, when I have time, and I enjoy it, but it can’t equal work!”
And work in 1933, during the Great Depression, was not always easy to come by. Disney provided not only entertainment in a difficult time but also a lot of jobs. Today Walt Disney Studios still entertains and The Walt Disney Company has annual revenues around $35 Billion.
Side note: I think it’s worth mentioning that Mark Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, Missouri (and his inspiration for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) is only about an hour and a half away from Marceline, MO.
photos & text copyright 2009 Scott W. Smith
Posted in screenwriting, tagged Alec Greven, Anne Lamott, Class, Claude McKnight, Florida, Fotomat, high school screenwriters, How to talk to girls, Jason Street, Lake Howell High School, middle school screenwriting, Nikki Reed, Scott Porter, Screenwriting in high school, Take 6, Thirteen, Winter Park on December 19, 2008 | 1 Comment »
Yesterday I returned to Lake Howell High School in Winter Park, Florida where I graduated from years ago to talk to five classes and around 350 students total. The groups were a mix of students in video and TV production, radio, graphic design, journalism and entrepreneurship. Since Lake Howell was where I took my first photography class and wrote and directed my first videos I was thrilled with the opportunity to speak to them about much of what I write about on this blog.
I believe that high school students today who are interested in various forms of production are in a great position. And so this post will be an abridged version and recount of my talk yesterday.
When I was 18 years old there was a place called Fotomat where I used to take my still photography film (Not one student could tell me what Fotomat did). It was cutting edge for that time period. You would drop your film off and the next day you’d get it back. (Lots of mock “oohs” and “ahhs” from the students.) At its peak there were over 4,000 Fotomat booths throughout the United States.
I asked them why all of those Fotomat booths if they still existed were no longer Fotomats and they correctly pointed to one-hour developing and digital photography. That is the technology changed the game.
A photographer friend from San Diego tells me that in 1980 the president of Fotomat gave the keynote address at a big convention in Las Vegas where he basically said that Fotomat had nothing to fear from the new “mini lab” industry. The next year they lost 50% of their business to mini labs.
Technology is a two edged sword in that it opens news opportunities while at the same time closing the door on older ways of doing things (usually resulting in jobs loses…like the whaling industry in days of old, and more recently the newspaper business).
Today digital technology offers amazing opportunities for high school students. It is common today for students to be editing video projects on non-linear editing systems. And not unheard of for students to be editing on Final Cut Pro which is the same editing system that the Coen Brothers edited “No Country for Old Men” on which won an Academy Award for Best Picture last year.
There are also DVD and Internet tutorials available to ambitious students. (Sometimes for free in the case of tv.adobe.com) Movies can also be studied on DVDs and there are filmmaker commentaries for additional insights. There are plenty of instructional books and magazines on screenwriting and other areas of production. The quality of even consumer cameras has improved greatly. There are free versions of screenwriting software kicking around and even the top of the line programs only cost around $200. And there are places on the Internet where you can pitch your ideas and scripts and try to connect with producers.
Years ago when I made my video projects they were watched by a class and then eventually lost or the master tapes recycled for another class. Today a young person can make a video that can be watched by hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions of people via You Tube or other places on the Internet. (Speaking of You Tube, I just discovered some Rod Serling interviews of him talking about writing.)
It is crazy and stunning what a teenager can learn today before they even graduate from high school. (And most of it probably outside the classroom.) Stuff that even graduate students just a few years ago were not exposed to.
And all of this is not limited to high school students. Not long ago I had an eighth grader show me a documentary he did on Buddy Holly. Nikki Reed was 13 when she co-wrote the movie Thirteen. The Hollywood Reporter recently announced that 9-year-old Alec Greven’s book How to Talk to Girls was recently picked up by Fox to become a movie.
Of course, those are the exceptions. And as it’s been said, while it only takes a few hours to learn how to play chess it takes many years to learn to play the game well. Alfred Hitchcock said it only takes about two days to learn what you need to know about the technical aspects of making films, but making good films is obviously a different story.
I told the students yesterday about one of my favorite quotes, “We tend to overestimate what we can do in one year, and underestimate what we can do in ten” (Richard Foster). And that while I had traveled to all 50 of the United States and over 15 countries that, in fact, when I graduated from high school I had only been to a total of 3 states in my life. (Only if you included the Atlanta, Georgia airport.) With that said I told them to dream big, but take little steps in working toward their goal. To borrow from a phrase from Anne Lamott, the way I traveled to all 50 states was state by state over several decades. And the way you build a career in production is script by script, film by film, short story by short story, photograph by photograph, video by video, and/or blog by blog.
So if you’re in high school (or even middle school) student know that there is no better time to be learning these skills. So keep writing scripts and making films and getting better at what you do. Use all that youthful energy to work those long hours needed to hone your skills. I do believe that today you are better position than any group that has gone before you to have a career in production.
And for the teachers out there my challenge to you is to take you most talented and focused students and make a feature film over the school year. You have a huge set full of props (the school), you have actors (students, teachers, parents, school workers), you have the time of the school year, all you need is a script. Maybe one semester students write the script and the second semester have some students shoot the script and some edit it and then have a big screening the last week of school. It doesn’t have to be that good, the learning comes in the doing.
I would like to thank the teachers, administration, tech crew and students for giving me the opportunity to speak yesterday and I hope some of it sticks.
*LAKE HOWELL TRIVA…After speaking I was given a tour of the school and saw for the first time my name listed on a wall as some kind of special mention for playing wide receiver back in the day. Actor Scott Porter who plays injured quarterback Jason Street in the tv program Friday Night Lights also played wide receiver at Lake Howell. And I graduated with Claude McKnight who is the Grammy winning founder of the group Take 6. Go Silver Hawks!
copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith
Posted in screenwriting, screenwriting tips, tagged A Place in the Sun, Cedar Falls, Cold Manor Creek, CONTRAST=CONFLICT, Donnie & Marie, Elizabeth Taylor, Fatal Attraction, Florida, Hitchcock, Iowa, James Cameron, Jaws, Jim Suthers, Legally Blonde, New Smyrna Beach, screenwriting and contrasts, Shelly Winters, The Godfather, Titanic on December 13, 2008 | 2 Comments »
“With the exception of My Dinner with Andre, very few films can sustain interest in one type of location for too long. Mix it up with day and night scenes, interiors and exteriors. Too many scenes in one type of location will hypnotize a reader like the centerlines on a highway.
Common Screenwriting Mistakes
“I’m a little bit country…I’m a little bit rock-n-roll”
Donnie & Marie
On Tuesday morning in Cedar Falls, Iowa I got tired of trying to scrape the ice off my SUV windows and ended up riding my bike to work on the snow packed roads. (My office is only a few blocks away.) Three days later I was riding a bike on the beach in a much warmer and sunnier New Smyrna Beach, Florida. That’s quite a contrast.
And that got me thinking of how contrast is used in screenwriting and in film/video/TV production.
It may only be something you become aware of in the rewriting stage or editing stage but how you handle contrast effects the flow of your story. If you’ve ever seen a production board of a feature film you’ve seen that there are different color strips for interior or exterior locations. Also listed are characters needed for certain scenes.
It helps producers and production managers get an overall feel of what is needed each day to bring a film in on time and on budget. It also helps a producer who is running over budget to know where to cut. And some contrasts begin to emerge in the story.
Some writers find it helpful to lay out their story in a similar way to see if there are any problems that jump out. Laid out in sequence you can see if there are x-amount of pages where your protagonist isn’t on screen ( a common problem).
Are there too many scenes in a row inside the same house? (Granted this works in a movie like Halloween, but is best to mix it up and move it around.) Let me give you another visual contrast from New Smyrna Beach of a sign a took yesterday.
The mostly white sign pops against the deep blue sky. Contrasts are used across the board in production from the script, to the way the script is shot and edited.
By contrast I mean things like:
As basic as this is many writers neglect addressing contrast favoring a more intuitive approach. But if we look over at our fellow creatives in the painting field they understand contrast very well. They are deliberate in their approach to color and composition.
Films are a visual medium and audiences enjoy seeing a contrast on screen. This can be seen in the biggest blockbuster of all time in how James Cameron deals with the world of the upper class wealthy and working class represented by Leonardo Dicaprio in Titanic.
It also contrast the arrogance of those who thought they had built a ship that couldn’t be sunk with the realities of hitting an iceberg. The film deals with a contrast between life & death as the unsinkable ship begins to sink. Another way to look at contrast in this story is wet/dry.
On the Legally Blonde DVD commentary the production designers talk how they designed Reese Witherspoon’s California sorority lifestyle to be a pastel and playful world to contrast the serious world of East Coast Harvard law school..
In both Jaws and Cold Manor Creek there is a contrast between families leaving the mean evil big cities seeking calm small town living –only to have those small town utopias turn into dangerous places. (Just for the record New Smyrna Beach with all its charm is the shark bite capital of the the US if not the world.)
Romeo & Juliet is the contrasts between two families.
In Fatal Attraction & The Godfather the calm demeanor of the Glenn Close and Marlon Brando characters are just one side of who they are.
Hitchcock built suspense in many a scene and movie using contrasts.
You get the picture. And of course the reasons for the contrast goes back to conflict. (If you a haven’t read the post Everything I learned in Film School (tip #1), that covers much of this ground.)
So the equation looks like this: CONTRAST=CONFLICT
Look for it everywhere in your script.
And look for it when you watch film and TV shows. Watch how they handle contrasts.
When you watch A Place in the Sun look see how Elizabeth Taylor is dressed compared to Shelly Winters, both of whom are of interest to Montgomery Clift. Listen to the music and sounds associated with each character. Great writers and directors are intentional in their choices.
Watch how directors and directors of photography and editors use wide shots, medium, and close-ups (and some times ultra wide & extreme close-ups) in making a scene effective.
In the circles I travel in we call this shooting a sequence, other people call it coverage. Where you are shooting the same action in wide, medium, and close up shots. Without that coverage you have no contrast and it can make it difficult for an editor to make a scene work.
If photographers don’t have contrasts in their photos they talk about the photo being flat. While at times you can use that to your advantage, it is best to avoid writing flat characters. And the way you do that is adding contrasts to every scene.
Extra Credit: Since the opening quote mentioned My Dinner with Andre, I’d like to know if anyone has heard the rumor that it was written by Wally Shawn in the Black Hawk Hotel in Cedar Fall, IA–not a half a block from my office. Several people have said that Shawn lived at the Black Hawk Hotel for a time in the 70′s and performed with the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony. I’d like to read some confirmation of that.
Update: The day before I flew back to Iowa it was 80 degree in Orlando and a windchill of minus 20 in Cedar Falls, that’s a 100 degree difference. Quite a contrast indeed.
Copyright ©2008 Scott W. Smith˙
Posted in screenwriting, Screenwriting Road Trips, tagged AFI, American Graffiti, Andie MacDowell, Andres Duany, Bill Murray, Cars, Cedar Falls, Courtyard Grill, Danny Rubin, Denton, Don Henley, Dr. Tony Grant, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberkit, Florida, Groundhog Day, Harold Ramis, Hoosiers, Illinois, Iowa, It's a wonderful life, Main St, Making Groundhog Day, My Dog Skip, Northern Exposure, Pennsylvania, Pennsyvania, Places in the Heart, Punxsutawney, Richard Karlgaard, Rod Serling. Twlight Zone, screenwriting, Seaside, Sinclair Lewis, small towns, Texas, The Andy Griffith Show, The Last Picture Show, The Painter of Light, The Truman Show, Thomas Kinkade, To Kill a Mockingbird, University of Miami, Walt Disney, Woodstock on October 23, 2008 | 1 Comment »
“Small town people are more real, more down to earth.”
Phil (Bill Murray)
“A growing number of Americans are seeking a larger life in a smaller place. Many are finding it.”
You hear a lot about Main St. these days and I thought I’d explore what that means from a screenwriting & filmmaking perspective. A couple days ago my travels took me to northern Illinois and to the town of Woodstock which happens to be where much of the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray was filmed.
The above photo is the corner where Ned confronts Bill Murray’s character again and again and where Murray steps off the curb into the puddle of water. The town, which is about an hour north east of Chicago, has improved much over the last 15 years and continues to embrace the fact that Groundhog Day was filmed there.
That’s right, Woodstock doubled for Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Director Harold Ramis thought the town square there worked better as a location than the real deal. I wonder how many people go out of their way to go to Punxutawney and are disappointed that it doesn’t look like the town in the movie? That’s showbiz.
In fact, the town even has a life-imitating-art groundhog day celebration and a nice map you can follow to see the various filming locations of the Danny Rubin and Ramos screenplay. The bar scene where Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell drink to world peace is now the Courtyard Grill and has a signed script on the wall by where they sat.
Certainly, if you’re in the area it’s worth it to stop to see where one of the great comedy films (#34 on the AFI Greatest American Comedy list) was filmed. If you’re there at the beginning of February you can even take part in the groundhog days celebration.
From my home where I am typing this I can see Main St. here in Cedar Falls, Iowa. It’s just a block to the west and is quite a lively Main St. USA. Shops, a playhouse, art galleries, several bars and restaurants (a new one opening next month will feature a respected Chicago chef) and even a comedy club. It’s also worth a stop if you are ever driving the Avenue of the Saints between St. Louis and St. Paul.
There’s something endearing about Main Streets in general. Of course, sometimes they aren’t even called Main St., but they are the historic main road through the heart of smaller towns. It’s not hard for me to think back at some of my favorite main drags (Telluride, Colorado, Winter Park, Florida., Franklin, Tennessee,, Holland, Michigan, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Seal Beach, California, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and Galena, Illinois).
Places that for the most part that have been around for 100 years. Places with history and character. Perhaps in a response to sprawling suburbs there has been an architectural movement to design areas that look a little like small towns complete with a Main St. (Some even have a small movie theaters.)
I first became aware of this while a student at the University of Miami in the ’80s when two Miami architects (Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk) began to design the beach community of Seaside, Florida. (Seaside is so idyllic, it is where they filmed The Truman Show.) The success of Seaside has been well documented.
On the Seaside website you’ll find the history and the philosophy of what they set out to create after doing extensive research:
“Most of the buildings were studied in the context of small towns, and gradually the idea evolved that the small town was the appropriate model to use in thinking about laying out streets and squares and locating the various elements of the community.
Seaside is a great place and today you can go throughout the country and find other areas that were designed in its wake; Celebration, FL, Baldwin Park, FL, Harmony, FL, Prospect New Town in Boulder County, Colorado, and Kentlands in Gaitherburg, Maryland.
That is not to say that this new urbanist master planned communities idea doesn’t have its critics. The most common charge is they say the towns are more like film sets or some kind of fantasyland — sentimental and far removed from reality. Some felt it a little strange when Thomas Kinkade (The Painter of Light) got into the act outside the San Francisco Bay area by inspiring a development called The Village at Hiddenbrook that feature homes that would be at home in one of his glowing paintings. Where are the Rod Serling/Twight Zone inspired writers on that one?
But for many (including Walt Disney, and perhaps Kinkade) small towns represent the ideal. (Community, honesty, fullness of life, etc.) The way life ought to be, or the way it was. Many movies and TV programs tap into this mystique: It’s a Wonderful Life, American Graffiti, The Last Picture Show, My Dog Skip, The Andy Griffith Show, Cars, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Truman Show, Northern Exposure, Places in the Heart, and Hoosiers.
(And some books, films and songs are critiques and satires of small town living such as Pleasantville, Harper Valley PTA, and Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street.
Either way Main St. (and all that it represents) is a part of Americanna and will continue to be probably forever and is fertile ground for you to explore in your screenwriting, and perhaps even in your life. As Don Henley (who was raised in the small town of Linden, Texas) sings in The End of the Innocence:
Who know how long this will last
Now we’ve come so far so fast
But somewhere back there in the dust,
that same small town in each of us
On a closing note, I remember when I lived in L.A. there was a popular radio host named Dr. Toni Grant who used to encourage her callers/listeners to write the script of their life. I always thought that was an interesting concept and worth exploring as you take a few more trips around the sun.
Come to think of it, isn’t that what Bill Murray’s character did in Groundhog Day? He rewrote the script of his life and became a better person — and got the girl to boot. It is a wonderful life…
Photos and text 2008 copyright Scott W. Smith
Posted in screenwriting, tagged 1972 Miami Dolphins, Bill Belichick, Blake Snyder, David Tyree, Eli Manning, Florida, Iowa, Kawika Mitchell, Lake Howell High School, New York Giants, NFL, Paul Warfield, Plaxico Burress, Remember the Titans, screenwriting, sports cliches, sports movies, Super Bowl, The Final Season, The Shawshank Redemtion, Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Winter Park on February 4, 2008 | Leave a Comment »
If yesterday’s Super Bowl football game were a movie, the critics would have walked out because of all the sports clichés. An underdog team that started the season with two losses goes up against the undefeated powerhouse team in the championship game and in the last-minute scores the winning touchdown. They become the first NFC Wildcard team to win the Super Bowl.
Before we fade to black, the winning quarterback wins the Super Bowl MVP, the same award his older brother last year. Their father who was an NFL quarterback but never had a winning season is redeemed by having two Super Bowl MVP sons.
An announcer called the New York Giants victory over the New England Patriots, “One of the greatest upsets in Super Bowl History.”
The receiver who caught the winning touchdown cried on camera and the soft-spoken quarterback said, “You can’t write a better script.”
What can screenwriters can learn from Super Bowl XLII?
DRAMA: Drama is defined as exciting, tense, and gripping events and actions. This game had plenty of drama. You had no idea what was going to happen next.
A GREAT OPENING: First the New York Giants took a 3-0 lead and the New England Patriots came back and took the lead 7-3. The scoring then cooled down until the fourth quarter.
TWISTS & TURNS: There were fumbles and interceptions that changed the ebb and flow of the game. The lead changed hands several times.
WHAT’S AT STAKE?: This wasn’t just another football game. The Patriots were vying to make history by becoming only the second team in NFL history to go undefeated, and having a better record than the 1972 Miami Dolphins they would have laid claim to being the greatest football team in history. As it turned out they weren’t even the best team of the night.
SUBPLOTS: For the Super Bowl I would say that the subplots were all the commercials in between the game. Little dramas that offer a change of pace and something that some people look forward to more than the game.
STRONG VISUALS: Not only were there great plays on the field, but there were static visuals in the stands like the sign held up that simply read 18-1. That one shot was the game in a nutshell. Under a game ending photo of dejected New England coach Bill Belichick that caption could read, “The mighty have fallen.”
BACKSTORY: There are too many to list here, but here are some:
-Before Eli Manning became the Super Bowl MVP he endured much criticism about his soft-spoken leadership.
-Winning coach Tom Laughlin’s job was on the line last year after finishing 8-8.
-Kawika Mitchell became a free agent last year and some thought he’d sign a multi-year contract for up to $25 million. The phone was quiet for 27 days and he signed a relatively low one year deal with the Giants to prove himself. In New York he had to change positions to play. He started the Super Bowl game and had three tackles including one sack. (As a fun sidebar, the month and year Mitchell was born I was a high school football player at Lake Howell High School in Winter Park, Florida where he would become an All-Florida football player. I wore #42 because my hero was Paul Warfield of the undefeated Dolphins team. )
-Wes Welker was so short in high school he was passed up by most colleges for a scholarship, later cut by the San Diego Chargers, under used at Miami but there he was, a 5’9″ receiver playing in the land of giants and in the biggest game in pro football. (His eleven receptions in the game tied a Super Bowl record.)
-Doug Williams handed off the winning trophy to the New York Giant owners after the game in honor of his winning the Super Bowl MVP 20 years ago. Williams endured many hard years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before taking the Washington Redskins to the Super Bowl. He was also the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl. (Fun side bar 2, when I was a 19-year-old sports reporter/photographer for the Sanford Evening Herald in Florida I interviewed Williams before a charity basketball game. I still remember his quote when I asked him how he dealt with fans booing him. “It’s not always important how the fans be when they be there, it’s that they be there.”)
FORESHADOWING: Overconfident New England quarterback Tom Brady laughed when told of a predictions that his team would lose 23-17. He said, “We’re only going to score 17?” Little did Brady know that he would be limited to one touchdown pass or that he would be sacked five times…and only score 13 points.
REDEMPTION: From the underrated NY Giants team to the individual stories there was much redemption which is at the core of many a successful movie. Redemption is one of those primal needs that screenwriter Blake Snyder is always talking about. Something every audience understands. It’s what makes us keep going back to sports movies again and again even though we often know the ending, because deep down we are looking for various kinds of redemption in our own lives. It gives us hope. And “Hope is a dangerous thing,” said Morgan Freeman’s character in “The Shawshank Redemption.”
STRUCTURE: There is a traditional beginning-middle-end to all football games just because playing time is limited. The rules of the game as well as the width and length of the field also offer structure. Creativity comes when you embrace the limitations. Most feature scripts fall between 90-120 pages so why fight that?
THEME: This one is as basic as they get; sometimes little underrated guys win as hard work and perseverance pay off in the end. (Hoosiers, Breaking Away, The Natural, Seabiscuit, Remember the Titans, and most recently the baseball film shot in Iowa The Final Season. ) Even the Budweiser commercial featured during the Super Bowl reflected this common sports movie theme. After one of the horses doesn’t make the team he trains hard for a year with a dalmatian and makes the cut the next year.
A GREAT ENDING: Throughout the day today people will be talking about Manning’s last touchdown drive. About David Tyree’s spectacular helmet catch that helped set up the winning touchdown. About Plaxico Burress’ game winning catch with 35 seconds left in the game. Great ending are satisfying. And this one was for the Giants and their fans. And those that root for the underdog.
That would include the teammates of the 1972 Miami Dolphin team who probably stayed up later than the Giant players as they popped another bottle of champagne (or two) as they have been doing over the last 35 years, celebrating their place in history one more year as the only Super Bowl team to finish the year undefeated.
© Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith