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Posts Tagged ‘Grant Wood’

“Let me try to state the basic idea of the regional movement. Each section [of the United States] has a personality of its own,  in physiography, industry, psychology. Thinking painters and writers who have passed their formative years in these regions will, by care-taking analysis, work out and interpret in their productions these varying personalities.
Grant Wood
1935 essay Revolt Against the City

Lion-CR

A little touch of Europe in the Midwest. I’m back in Iowa this week for a video shoot and stopped in Cedar Rapids on Monday and took this photo of a lion statue on the 16th Avenue bridge connecting the New Bohemia District and Czech Village.

Maybe a reader can help fill in the facts about why the lion statues are there.

Less than a month ago, the Lion Bridge Brewing Company opened just down the street from this statue. Cedar Rapids native Quinton McClain—who used to work at a brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado—opened the brewery with the help of some tax credits, and it’s part of the renovation of an area that was hammered by the flood of 2008.

“I see Cedar Rapids and its Creative Corridor as a thriving market for craft beer. Small breweries are succeeding because people want to know, more and more, where their products come from. I see it in our farmer’s markets and our local restaurants, and the ever-increasing knowledge of the customer. People want more flavor and variety and honesty. They want to have some connection to the guys and gals and businesses that make the products they enjoy. I saw the Historic Main Street District in Cedar Rapids’ Czech Village as the place for Lion Bridge Brewing because I see the preservation of our architectural and cultural history as the gateway to our city’s future success.”
Quinton McClain

McClain is connecting with an area in the way that another former artist Grant Wood (American Gothic)—a former Cedar Rapids resident—expounded in his discussions about regionalism in the arts.

From the start of this blog in 2008, I’ve always tipped my hat to Wood and his regionalism as an influence.

Related posts:
One Benefit of Being Outside of Hollywood (Robert Rodriguez)
Creativity and Milking Cows
The Rise of the Creative Class
Roadkill Ghost Choir (Folk/Indie band called part of neo-Americana)
Don’t Try to Compete with Hollywood (Edward Burns)
Screenwriting Quote #15 (Terry Rossio) ““If there are two writers, one living in Toronto obsessively focused on quality and craft, and another in Hollywood, looking to make contacts — my money’s on the out of town writer all the way.”—Screenwriter Terry Rossio (Pirates of the Caribbean)

Scott W. Smith

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“My philosophy is that if you do something good, it’s got a shot. If you want to do something that’s down the middle, the line forms on the right.”
T Bone Burnett

In a Los Angeles Times article titled The true saga behind ‘Crazy Heart,’, Randy Lewis writes about the relationship between T Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton who both provided original music on the film Crazy Heart.

Burnett toured with Bob Dylan in the 70s and is a 10-time Grammy winner including his work on the soundtrack for the Coen brothers film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? The L.A. Times article mentions how both Burnett and Bruton spent time on the road as musicians often do. Part of what is said to give authenticity to the singer Jeff Bridges plays in Crazy Heart is the music that Bruton and Burnett bring to the soundtrack. Burnett recounts a memory from life on the road:

“I was in a motel once called, I think, the Blackhawk Inn, somewhere in Iowa, and it turned out it was the motel that Cary Grant had died in. It was like, wait a minute — Cary Grant didn’t die in this motel, there’s no possible way he ever even saw this motel. Nevertheless, apparently that’s what happened. . . .”

That did in fact happen. And that some place is in Davenport, Iowa. The Hotel Blackhawk closed in 2006 after a fire, but I have read that the hotel built in 1915 is currently being restored.  Film legend Cary Grant was far removed from his starring roles in movies like North by Northwest (1959) and Penny Serenade (1941) and Bringing Up Baby (1938) when the 82-year-old died of a heart attack in Davenport on November 29, 1986. (Though technically, according to the Quad City Times, Grant was taken from the hotel and died at St. Luke’s Hospital.)

So with John Wayne & Johnny Carson being born in Iowa and  Cary Grant & Buddy Holly dying in Iowa those are pretty good icons to have as bookends to this interesting state where seemingly nothing happens related to the entertainment industry. Mix that with the enduring love for Field of Dreams, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, screenwriter Diablo Cody going to college in Iowa City, and the fictitious Captain Kirk being from Iowa and you know why I’ve been able to write about this middle-of-nowhere place for the past two years.

Obviously, Grant’s death here left a mark on Burnett. And my guess is that experience had an impact on Crazy Heart or he wouldn’t still be talking about it. If you follow the trajectory of older (or dead) actors, musicians, writers, etc.  you usually find an arc where their popularity peaked at a certain point in time. After that peak is fertile ground to explore. There’s a great line in the movie Tender Mercies where the once popular country & western singer is asked , “Didn’t you used to be Max Sledge?”

Check out T Bone Burnett’s website and see how his creative journey has unfolded over the years. Born in St.. Louis and raised in Texas on his way to working with the likes of B.B. King, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Sam Sheperd, John Mellencamp, Elvis Costello, Tony Bennett as well as on the films Cold Mountain and Walk the Line.

“I always wanted whatever I was doing to be art, so I was always fighting for those records to measure up to a standard of how I felt when I heard The Kinks for the first time or Ray Charles for the first time. From an early age, I knew I wasn’t as good as the other things I was hearing, but I was always trying to get there. David Hidalgo [of Los Lobos] is incredibly talented, and I thought, ‘David Hidalgo can get to that point; he can be as good in his own way as Miles Davis or Ray Charles.’ So what I was willing to do was wait until the record sounded as good to me in its own way as the first time I heard ‘Lonely Avenue’ by Ray Charles. I would try to be true to that feeling — the effect that music had on me.”
T Bone Burnett
Looking Back, Looking Forward
Mix Magazine article by Blair Jackson

I’m fond of mentioning Iowa artist Grant Wood’s call for regionalism in painting. Burnett is as good as anyone touching on the grassroots of music in this country. Below is the Robert Plant & Alison Krauss version of the John Prine song Killing the Blues. Burnett produced the song on the 2009 Grammy winning album of the year, Raising Sand.

Scott W. Smith




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This week I called one of the most respected make-up artists in Iowa for an upcoming shoot and I found out she’s booked into August. Turns out she’s working in Des Moines on a feature with Forrest Whitaker (Oscar winner for The Last King of Scotland) and Adrian Brody (Oscar winner for The Pianist).

That’s some major talent hanging out in the state. Think I can get them to do a cameo in a short film I making next week? The film they are starring in is called The Experiment and also features Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings). Wood happens to originally be from Cedar Rapids. One of the fellows helping me on my film next week went pre-school with Wood so I’m kind of in the ballpark.

And speaking of Cedar Rapids, I just read in Variety  yesterday that Alexander Payne (Oscar -winning screenwriter of Sideways) will produce a film called Cedar Rapids that will begin filming in October. The script was written by Phil Johnston and Ed Helms. Helms who also plays Andy on The Office (and co-stars in The Hangover) will also be among the comedy cast for Cedar Rapids.

No word on whether Cedar Rapids will be filmed in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (and the script probably wasn’t written in Iowa), but I thought it was worth a mention.  (And I’ll throw in a little Cedar Rapids trivia for you…Orville and Wilbur Wright went to elementary school there, as did professional golfer Zack Johnson and Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner. And American Gothic painter Grant Wood was a teacher in Cedar Rapids.)

No one is going to confuse Cedar Rapids for Hollywood, or Iowa for California, but it’s nice to know we’re a blip on the radar. And this is a growing trend.  Susan Sarandon (Oscar winner for Dead Man Walking) was in Iowa last summer filming the yet to be released Peacock, which stars Ellen Page of Juno. And Ray Liotta (no Oscar, but he did win an Emmy) was in the Des Moines area a few months ago filming a movie called Ticket-Out (a film that actually takes place in Kentucky).

If you’re writing screenplays set in Iowa that has to give you a little hope. And if you’re writing screenplays set in Kentucky our film incentives can help you out as well. The key thing wherever you are is to keep writing. The incentives and the Oscar winning talent only follow a script that is so good that people are willing to invest their time and money.

 

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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eldoniowajan092

Yeah, it’s kinda cold throughout the Midwest these days.  According to the weather channel’s website as I type this it’s -13 and feels like -35 here in Iowa. Is that legal? 

The cold weather is one of the reasons that half the people in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin drink so much and why the other half are screenwriters. Visit the various posts I’ve written on those states and you’ll know I’m only half kidding.

Yesterday I was shooting video all day in Tom Arnold’s old stomping grounds of Ottumwa, Iowa. Even shot some footage at his old school, Indian Hills Community College, and was told he was kicked out of the dorms there for rowdy behavior. (If you ever find yourself in Ottumwa make sure to eat a loose meat sandwich at the Canteen Lunch in the Alley which was the inspiration for The Lunchbox in the Roseanne Barr sitcom Roseanne.)

The last shot of the day was a short shot (a very short shot because it was zero outside) in Eldon, Iowa where the house sits that was the inspiration for the house in Grant Wood’s painting American Gothic.

But nothing quite warms my bones like the news of Nick Schenk’s Gran Torino script (that he wrote in Minneapolis) being the number one movie at the box office this week. 

But when I think of cold weather now I think of Canada, and of course they have there fair share of creatives up there so I found  a screenwriting quote that I dedicate to the them. It’s from the excellent Wordplayer website by writers Terry Russio and  Ted Ellott (whose writing credits include Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl).

“If there are two writers, one living in Toronto obsessively focused on quality and craft, and another in Hollywood, looking to make contacts — my money’s on the out of town writer all the way.”
                                                           Terry Rossio
                                                            I Love LA
                                                            Wordplayer Screenwriting Column 33

american_gothic

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“If you follow your passion, the money will follow. Success, in my opinion, involves sheer luck, hard work and humility.”
                                                           Anthony Zuiker, creator CSI TV programs

 

“I’m Zack Johnson and I’m from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. That’s about it, I’m a normal guy.”

                                                           Zach Johnson, professional golfer

Last year at this time Zach Johnson’s above quote caused laughter from the press corp in Augusta, Georgia as he spoke those words before a national TV audience after winning the prestigious Masters at Augusta National golf tournament.

But do normal guys come from seemingly nowhere to win their first major tournament against the greatest golfers in the world? Do normal guys fend off Tiger Woods, one of the greatest golfers in the history of the game?

Zach Johnson was sneaky long.

Sneaky long is a golf phrase which describes a golfer, a golf shot, or a particular hole that looks deceptively underrated. Think of it like an Adam Sandler/Bill Murray-like fellow in his goofiest outfit coming up to some serious golfers and saying, “You guys want to put a little money on who can hit the next ball the longest?” They take the bet thinking the guy doesn’t have a chance and he ends up taking their money.

Sneaky long is the underdog that causes snickers. Rocky, Seabiscuit, and Erin Brockovich were all sneaky long. Audiences love an underdog mainly because the underdog represents us and our deepest wishes.

When a 36-year-old writer broke into the TV business (in a business where 30 is old) with a script for an episode for the TV show Hunter (followed by scripts for even lesser remembered TV shows) few probably thought that within ten years this guy was going to write a movie that would win five Oscars. But that’s what happened after Randell Wallace wrote Braveheart.

Johnson’s hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa has had it’s share of sneaky long characters. NFL quarterback Kurt Warner not only grew up in Cedar Rapids but went to the same high school as Johnson. When no large schools offered him a football scholarship, he signed with the University of Northern Iowa, a Division II college right here in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

It wasn’t the big-time college football that he’d hoped for, but at least he thought he’d start all four years. However, he sat the bench for three years before making his marking mark his senior year by becoming the Gateway Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.

Following graduation, he worked as a grocery stocker at HyVee (where I shop these days to pick up the vibe) and then played arena football in Des Moines. Next was pro ball in Europe before joining the St. Louis Rams where he was booed in his first game. He went on to be twice voted the top player in the NFL and Super Bowl XXXIV MVP. Someday they’ll do a movie about his life.

One could even say that artist Grant Wood was sneaky long. He was a schoolteacher and artist who lived in a small apartment above a carriage house in (you guessed it) Cedar Rapids, where he eventually painted one of the most recognizable (and copied and parodied) paintings in the history of art—American Gothic.

Wood once said, “I had to go to France to appreciate Iowa.” He also coined the term regionalism to define his belief that an artist should “paint out of the land and the people he knows best.”

Isn’t that what Van Gogh did in Arles? Isn’t that what Winslow Homer did in Maine? Isn’t that what Faulkner did in Oxford, what Steinbeck did in Monterey, what O’Connor in Georgia, what Ibsen did in Norway, what Willa Cather did in Nebraska, and what Horton Foote (Tender Mercies) has done in Texas?

This is the heartbeat of Screenwriting from Iowa. Hollywood will always make its tent pole movies. Movies will always have a LA/New York thrust because that’s where the majority of studios, crews, and talent are located.

But if the writer’s strike signaled one thing it’s the times are changing. As the founder of The Geek Squad said recently, “What people don’t understand is the internet hasn’t yet started.” I believe new forms of distribution will fuel a revival in regionalism.

“What regional filmmaking means to me is not only utilizing the actors of your area, the musicians and the artists, but probing what it means to that region. And for me, the thing about Memphis that I’ve always responded to is its music scene, from Sam Phillips recording Howlin’ Wolf, Rudus Thomas, Elvis Presely, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Charlie Rich.”
Craig Brewer, writer/director Hustle & Flow

Audiences for years have been complaining about the lack of originality and seemingly endless repetition of remakes and sequels. (And again that’s why they flocked to Juno.) And writers have struggled with the pressure to write what they think will sell to the masses rather than writing what they know and really want to write.

While advertising dollars are shrinking along with the writing dollars for TV jobs, the advertising dollars are not going away. They’re heading to the internet. And audiences are no longer satisfied the the TV limitations they’ve had in the past. They like being their own Internet programers.

We don’t know what it will look like yet, but the writing jobs (and acting, producing, directing, editing, and shooting jobs) will follow. Like the era from silent movies to sound pictures the industry is shifting.

Hollywood is stocked with talent from all across the United States and Canada. We enjoy hearing stories of Katie Holmes being from Toledo, Ohio and Julia Roberts from Smyrna, Georgia. Even the greater Cedar Rapids area alone has its share of actors in recent films and TV programs.

Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings)
Eric Rouse (Superman Returns)
Michele Monaghan (Mission Impossible III)
Tom Arnold (The Final Season)
Michele Emerson (Lost)
Ron Livingston (Office Space)
Ashton Kutcher (The Guardian)

Did you know that Kutcher grew up in rural Homestead, Iowa and once had a job sweeping up Cheerio dust at the General Mills factory in Cedar Rapids? That was before he became a biochemical engineering student at the University of Iowa, New York model, film and TV actor, and husband of Demi Moore.

Kutcher had the looks, drive, talent, and quirky good fortune to make a name for himself that thousands of small town actors, writers, directors will never find in Hollywood. And what happens to those actors, writers and directors who don’t find fame or fortune in L.A.?

Do they embrace that hotel manager job? Have a career in sales for a health club or a real estate company in the valley? Move back home and unpack their suitcase full of broken dreams? Probably a little of all of that, but it’s going to become less necessary for talent to have to be in New York and LA.

This trend has already been seen in the advertising world as Crispin Porter in Miami was chosen to launch the Mini Cooper campaign years ago. (More recently they revamped VW’s image.) And Virginia’s Martin Agency has been doing the UPS Brown and quirky Geico cavemen & gecko ads. (At Martin they used to have a sign in the creative department that read, “Nobody comes to Richmond for the restaurants.”) Creativity Magazine has called Martin the “Third most creative agency in the world.” And they’re in Virginia! Changing times indeed.

But wherever the sneaky long actor, writer, or director lives they need to keep plugging away at the craft. Keep learning and keep creating.

I’ve said before in workshops I’ve given, “Don’t quit your day job, because you never know how that can serve your work.” (Not to mention it pays the biils.) Johnny Depp says he used to use different voices in the telemarketing job he had when he first moved to L.A. from Florida.

Then there is Anthony Zuiker’s story. After the show he created, CSI, became the top rated scripted show he told Creative Screenwriting magazine, “Three years ago I was living in Vegas as the night manager of the Mirage Hotel tram line.” (Zuiker whose creation has since grown into the hit shows CSI:New York and CSI:Miami has Chicago roots. How many years until CSI: Cedar Falls?)

But when Zuilker was a night manger he was also writing. It was while working at a motel when he actually found the inspiration for his first TV script. “The police and I are in this motel room searching for evidence when an officer lifts up the bed skirt. All I see is a pair of eyes before she leaps from beneath the bed clawing at my face. And I thought, ‘There’s a show here.’” (By the way if you’re interested in having Zuilker speak to a group of yours contact the Greater Talent Network.)

Certainly golfer Zach Johnson has followed Zuilker’s advice: “If you follow your passion, the money will follow. Success, in my opinion, involves sheer luck, hard work and humility.” Johnson was not the top golfer on his college team at Drake. (Congrats, by the way, to Drake men’s basketball coach Keno Davis for getting AP Coach of the Year last week.) Johnson even wasn’t the #1 golfer on his high school team.

But he had passion and kept improving his game until he got to slip on the famed green jacket at Augusta on his way to making $4 million dollars last year.

Whether you’re making music videos in Minneapolis, turning out B-grade cable scripts, teaching high school theater in Tulsa, a grocery store stock boy, a night tram manager in Vegas, a daytime tram operator in Orlando,  or someone sweeping up Cheerio dust in a factory you have to believe that you’re sneaky long and can surprise a lot of people with what you write. But you have to be writing to get there.

 

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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