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Posts Tagged ‘Kentucky’

“I did not believe it was possible to be a woman playwright from Kentucky. The reason I thought this, was that in the early seventies,  there weren’t any. There were writers, all right, wonderful writers, a few of them women, but those writers were all from the mountains. So naturally, I thought being an artist was a matter of where you were born. If you were born in the mountains, you could be an artist.  If you were born in Louisville, you had to go into advertising.”
Marsha Norman 

I don’t know how many writers have won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award, but it can’t be a long list—and Marsha Norman is on that list. Norman was born in Louisville, Kentucky and was inspired early attending performances at the Actors Theatre of Louisville. After she graduated from Agnes Scott College in Decatur,GA her first play was produced at the Actors Theatre of Louisville. According to Wikipedia she also worked as a journalist for The Louisville Times and taught at the J. Graham Brown School in Louisville.

She moved to New York City and in the 80s her play ‘night, Mother had a successful run on Broadway and won the 1983 Pulitzer in Drama.  Norman also wrote the screenplay for the 1986 film version of ‘night, Mother which starred Sissy Spacek and Anne Bancroft. Then in 1991 she won a Tony Award for her writing the musical version of The Secret Garden. Her work has also brought Emmy, Grammy & WGA nominations. In 2009 she wrote scripts for HBO’s The Treatment:

“Television does such a great job with social issues, with personal family drama, the kinds of things that were the mainstay of a certain segment of theater writers; Arthur Miller, for example.”
Marsha Norman

You can get an overview of her work as a playwright, screenwriter, author and teacher at her website marshanorman.com. Currently she is the Vice-President of the Dramatists Guild of America and on the faculty at Julliard. And here’s a mini-lesson from her professor side:

“In our culture, the main story we like to tell is THE SEARCH FOR X.  Someone wants something, there is something in their way, and we watch as they try to find it.  The Wizard of Oz is a good example of this.  Treasure of the Sierra Madre, All the President’s MenMillion Dollar Baby.  Even all the Indiana Jones stories are of this family.  Harry Potter is the search for peace and justice.  All love stories are of this type actually.  And oddly enough, the thing that most characters are searching for, whatever they decide to call it, peace, justice, truth, love, the holy grail, glory – the thing we’re all really looking for is home.  Lovers are looking for each other not just for sex or fun, but they are looking for the safety and the sense of belonging that home gives people.  Etc.  There is something we cannot resist about the story of a search.  Maybe it’s because we’re all looking for stuff all the time, but something in us, is always searching.  So if you’re looking for a good subject for a story – start with a search.  Organize it like a search, and end it with the finding of the thing.”
Marsha Norman
Story Lecture at Wesleyan University in 2006

P.S. If you’re a young writer (grades 6-12) living in Kentucky or the 812 area of Southern Indiana the Actors Theatre of Louisville has a NEW VOICES TEN-MINUTE PLAY CONTEST you can enter. And for other writers, between September 1 and November 1 the Actors Theatre has a  National Ten-Minute Play Contest which is limited to the first 500 scripts received.

Related posts: Louisville Sluggers 4X

Scott W. Smith


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“No town, no industry, no profession, no art form owes so much to a single man.”
Orson Welles on D.W. Griffith & Griffith’s relationship to Hollywood

The Father of Film was born in Kentucky. Surprised? Don’t be.

After all, Johnny Depp—recently named by GQ as the world’s coolest actor—is from Owensboro, Kentucky. And in a 2010 post, I pointed out how not only Depp, but George Clooney, Jerry Bruckheimer, and Tom Cruise all have roots in the Bluegrass State. That’s some serious box-office mojo.*

The story of D.W. Griffith is a quintessential Hollywood story—and it all started before Hollywood was really Hollywood.

Back in 1875 motion pictures as we know them had not even been invented when D. W. Griffith was born on a family farm near La Grange/Crestwood, Kentucky. The silent movie star Lillian Gish is the one who called Griffith “the father of film,” and Charlie Chaplin called him “the teacher of us all,” so who are we to disagree? And just because he’s the father of film doesn’t mean that he was universally liked then or now.

Griffith’s own tragedy began early when the family farm never recovered the downward spiral that occurred  after the Civil War (1861-1865) His father, who was a colonel in the Confederate Army, died when Griffith was seven years old. When Griffith was 14, his family was forced to sell the farm and he went to live in Louisville. (No surprise that Griffith was a fan of the writings of Charles Dickens.)

At the age of 20 he joined a traveling theater group and eventually went to New York in hopes of becoming a playwright and then a screenwriter, but instead got work as an actor. His first film was in 1907 when he played the Woodsman in Rescued from an Eagle’s Nest—a five minute short where the cameraman was Edwin S. Porter— famous for his work on The Great Train Robbery.

The next year Griffith made his own film with the Biograph Company, The Adventures Of Dollie (1908)—a 12-minute black and white silent film.  (It’s interesting to note that both Dollie and Rescued from the Eagles Nest center around a child being abducted. Meaningful conflict right out of the gate. Never forget when writing your script the important question “What’s at Stake? Also, a good example of emotional filmmaking.)

Griffith made 29 films in 1908, and that was just a warm up for 1909 when he would make 141 films. Albeit one and two-reelers, but still 141 films in one year is stunning. Here’s one of Griffith’s most famous films of 1909—basically the equivalent of “no cell phones/texting” commercial in theaters today (and a good example of a film done with one shot—embrace your limitations).

Another well-known Griffith film from 1909 was the more ambitious A Corner of Wheat.

Griffith would go on to make over 400 film in five years including this landmark 17-minute film Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912), which was not only one of the first gangster films, but united him with two talented people who would help Griffith with his greatest successes—actress Lillian Gish and cameraman Billy Bitzer.

How was Griffith able to make so many pictures?

“The records of the Biograph Company, (Griffith’s) employer from 1908 through 1913, give some sense of his early pace. On Tuesday, July 21, 1908—to take one random date—he managed to shoot all For Love of Gold (adapted from a Jack London story), with time left over for interiors on the more complexly The Fatal Hour. The astonishing fact about this output, however, is its survival rate. From an era in which no more than perhaps a fifth of the films produced survive, Griffith’s work comes down to us essentially complete. Currently only 10 of those 495 titles are lost.”
Scott Simmon
The Films of D. W. Griffith 

So if Griffith really is the Father of Film, a good deal of that is due to so many of his babies are still alive.

Feature films in the early days were said to be over 40 minutes long and were made in Europe beginning in 1906. And though Griffith make the first film in Hollywood, In Old California (1910), it was Cecil B. DeMille who made the the first feature The Squaw Man (1912). Griffith not to be outdone shot Judith of Bethulia in 1913 and it was released in 1914. (Though the film was 100 percent over budget and ended Griffith’s relationship with Biograph.)

Before he would be laid to rest in Kentucky after he died in 1948, Griffith was credited with not only film phrases such as “Lights, camera, action!” but a whole lexicon of filmmaking that is used today. In his lifetime he would be exalted, forgotten, struggle with alcoholism, and fight claims of racism, but his landmark work that can not be disputed was the 1915 epic, Birth of a Nation, which we’ll look at in Part 2.

P.S. My grandmother was from Cynthiana, Kentucky where her father was a horse trainer, so I have a soft spot in my heart for Kentucky. (Cynthiana also happens to be where most of the Post-It Notes in the world are made.)

* Part of Kentucky’s legacy is the famous Hatfield and McCoys family field. (Like a mountain version of Bloods and Crips.) The story has been told many times (or at least inspired other stories) including A Kentucky Feud (1905) and the Buster Keaton film Our Hospitality (1923), and more recently there has been talk of Scott Cooper (Get Low) directing Brad Pitt and Robert Duvall in The Hatfields and the McCoys from a script written by Eric Roth (Forrest Gump).

Related posts:

The Founder of Hollywood

Scott W. Smith

 

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My grandmother was born in Cythinana, Kentucky back in 1900 and died in 1995, and I always marvel and the changes she saw in her lifetime. She saw the advent of cars, airplanes and television, lived through the depression, watched world wars unfold, experienced the 60s, the Civil Rights movement,  the landing on the moon, the fall of communism, and the beginning of the Internet.

I was reminded of all those changes yesterday when on shooting footage at a college and I came across a book by Dr. Jeff Stein, a professor at Wartburg College that puts in prospective what life was like about 100 years ago;

“As the 20th century began, people in rural areas such as Iowa were quite isolated. Automobiles were still uncommon, and travel from the farm to the nearest town—or even the nearest neighbor— meant hitching a horse to a wagon. In most areas, even electricity  was still a far-off notion. The only form of ‘mass media’ that existed was newspapers, and the most common form of entertainment was an evening with friends at home by the light of a kerosene.”
Jeff Stein
Making Waves: The People and Places of Iowa Broadcasting
page 4

I think it was C.S. Lewis who once said that progress is not just moving forward, but moving forward for a greater good. An evening of entertainment “with friends at home by the light of a kerosene” is something I’ve never experienced, but it sounds pretty good—much better than sitting around the glow of the latest reality program.

Scott W. Smith


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Pearl Harbor is a two-hour movie squeezed into three hours, about how on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese staged a surprise attack on an American love triangle.”
Roger Ebert
Chicago Sun-Times

“I’ve always said that you should have different critics like in the music press – you don’t have an expert on opera reviewing Kid Rock.”
Jerry Bruckheimer
Producer, Pearl Harbor (domestic gross $198 million)


What is it about Jerry Bruckheimer that has allowed him to tap into films and TV programs that people want to see? Here’s just a partial list of some of the films that he has produced:

Beverly Hills Cop
Top Gun
Flashdance
Crimson Tide
Bad Boys
Black Hawk Down
National Treasure
Pirates of the Caribbean
(All of them)

And just this past weekend Bruckheimer’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time opened with $37.8 milion. (And his soon to be released The Sorcerer’s Apprentice will probably make a dollar or two this summer.)

Which means he’s been able to work with some of the biggest names in Hollywood; Tom Cruise, Will Smith, Eddie Murphy, Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Sean Connery, and Johnny Depp. And for good measure he produces for TV as well. (CSI, CSI Miami, Cold Case, The Amazing Race)

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s box office secret is really no secret at all, he simply says, “I just make movies I want to see.” Simple, right?

CSI creator Anthony Zuiker says Bruckeimer is “ferociously commercial.” He makes the kinds of films that a large group of people want to see on any given Friday and Saturday night. Of course, it’s his ferociously commercial spirit that brings more than a few critics to his work. But he is called Mr. Blockbuster not Mr. Small Contemplative Art House Producer.

“If I made films for the critics, or for someone else, I’d probably be living in some small Hollywood studio apartment.”
Jerry Bruckheimer

And here are two more quotes that some would scoff at if Bruckheimer himself would have said them.

“No artist—notably no film or television writer—need apologize for entertaining an assembled mass of people.”
Richard Walter (UCLA screenwriting professor)
Screenwriting, page 12

“I like (audiences) to enjoy the film. It’s an arcade amusement; it’s not penicillin. It’s an arcade amuesment—take people’s minds off their troubles and give’em a little bit of fun. And sell some popcorn.”
David Mamet
Conversations with Screenwriters
Interview with Susan Bullington Katz, page 200

And while Bruckheimer’s films have allowed him to own nice digs (slightly nicer than a studio apartment) in Los Angeles and Ojai, California, as well as a horse ranch in Kentucky, he grew up in humble circumstances with Jewish-German immigrant parents in Detroit, Michigan. At a young age Bruckheimer developed a love for photography and movies.

“I’m a big fan of David Lean. Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, and Doctor Zhivago are movies that were seminal films for me when I was growing up. I admire the filmmaking and the storytelling ability of Lean and [screenwriter] Robert Bolt, so that’s what I look toward for inspiration.”
Jerry Bruckheimer
Barnes & Noble Interview

Many people also overlook that Bruckheimer has also produced the more down-to-earth and inspirational films Glory Road, Remember the Titans, and Dangerous Minds.

He went to college at the University of Arizona where he didn’t major in film but psychology. He returned to Detroit where he began making automotive commercials. He did that well enough to take his talents to New York while still in his early and mid-twenties, but left the lucrative world of commercial work to try to make his mark in Hollywood.

And for the last 30 years that’s what Bruckheimer has done. To the tune of four billion plus box office dollars. (Yes, $4 billion.) An average $110 million per picture on over 40 films. A couple of weeks ago Bruckheimer got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Tom Cruise was on hand to add his sentiments:

“We’re here to celebrate the greatest producer in modern history. He certainly stands very tall in the pantheon of producers in Hollywood. He’s not only a hard-working, dedicated filmmaker but he’s a loyal friend to everyone within our industry and to all the fans around the world.”

And even though Bruckheimer is as connected to Hollywood as you can get, he’s still connected to the world outside of Hollywood.

Bruckheimer’s wife Linda (who is a novelist and producer) has bought and restored several buildings in her hometown of Bloomfield, Kentucky where she and her husband own a house. Last year Jerry & Linda gave the commencement address to Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. Jerry told the class, “God has given everybody a gift, and your task is to find yours, develop it, and dream beyond your ability. Look to your past and preserve what’s most valuable for your future…just as the next generation will look to you for guidance.”

Tomorrow I’ll look at two screenwriters also from Detroit that Bruckheimer has recently worked with.

PS. Interesting Kentucky connection—Johnny Depp (who Bruckheimer has made a film or two with) is from Owensboro, Kentucky. Tom Cruise, who moved a lot as a youth, lived (and was a paperboy) in Louisville, Kentucky for a short time, not far from Bloomfield. (Toss in that George Clooney was born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky and it’s fun to think that at one time in the late sixties or early seventies Depp, Cruise, and Clooney all lived— at the same time— in the state of Kentucky.)

Related post: Screenwriting from Michigan

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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Johnny Depp is in Wisconsin this month shooting a John Dillinger film based on the book Public Enemies by Bryan Burrough. While in Wisconsin the Michael Mann directed film will be shooting in Columbus, Darlington, Madison and Milwaukee.

(You can view photos of the film at www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=21981)

Wisconsin is just over the Mississippi River from Iowa and has had a three-year legislative wrestling match for the final passage of a state incentive package to attract filmmakers. Film Wisconsin’s executive director Scott Robbe reports of an interim measure for qualified producers and should be encouraged by Depp filming in the state.

While Wisconsin’s film related history is often overlooked, it does have some legendary connections. Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Thorton Wilder (Our Town) was from Madison and the man named by the British Film Institute as the greatest director of all time, Orson Welles (Citizen Kane) was born in Kenosha. Nicolas Ray, who directed Rebel Without a Cause, was from the small town of Galesville.

Actor/writer Gene Wilder (Young Frankenstein) is a Wisconsin-Iowa combo having been born in Milwaukee and was a theater major at the University of Iowa. Wilder-Depp connection: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and the remake.

Milwaukee was also the setting of one of the most popular all-time TV programs, Happy Days. (I had said Kenosha in an earlier post, but only “Al the Grocer”–Al Molinaro– was from there.) The setting for the TV program Laverne & Shirley was also Milwaukee.

One of the most well-known film characters of all time, Jack from Titanic (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) was from Chippewa Falls. And I have to add that his love interest Rose when we find her as an elderly woman is living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

DiCapario and Depp both starred in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape that was set in Iowa and written by Des Moines native Peter Hedges.

Wisconsin news is usually overshadowed by the Green Bay Packers football team and their cheese head fans. (I once did a shoot with Packer Hall-of-Famer Reggie White, the minister of defense, and found him to be a friendly and kind man.) Wisconsin is also where Land’s End clothing, Oshkosh B’Gosh, Kohler, Harley-Davidson, and Trek Bicycle Corporation, have their headquarters, but it does have its artistic bent.

In fact, check out the work Madison interactive group Planet Propaganda is doing — not only with Trek but companies in Chicago, Minneapolis and on both coasts. And just for the record its creative director John Besmer is a screenwriter as well. He was one of the writers of the recently completed Winter of Frozen Dreams starring Keith Carradine.

The creative heartbeat of Wisconsin is Madison. It’s the Midwest equivalent of Austin, Texas. Free spirited college town, state capital, thriving businesses, and plenty of live music. (Nearby Middleton was recently voted the #1 place to live in the country by Money Magazine.CNN.)

Madison is also just two hours away from Chicago by train. And about an hour away from hidden (to people outside the area) jewel of a town called Lake Geneva, which has been called “The Newport of the West” and “The Hamptons of the Midwest” for its mansions on the lake.

The University of Wisconsin, Madison is where “America’s Finest News Source” and satire The Onion began and where Oscar-winning writer/director Michael Moore (Bowling for Columbine) went to school. Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker (David, Jim & Jerry) grew up in Shorewood, Wisconsin and attended UW Madison together before hitting it big with Airplane! in 1980, and other hit films that followed. Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line) and producer Walter Mirisch (The Apartment) also graduated from UW-Madison.

I know this will be hard to believe but with a Ph.D. from UW-Madison is screenwriter/director Andrew Bergman, whose work includes Blazing Saddles, Fletch, Honeymoon in Vegas, and Striptease. Woody Allen’s co-writer on Manhattan, Sleeper, and Annie Hall is Academy Award winner writer Marshall Brickman –who, yes, attended UW-Madison.

Those also attending UW-Madison include screenwriter/director David Koepp who wrote the upcoming script for the new Indiana Jones film (as well as Spider-Man and the Depp thriller Secret Window) and Michael Mann (Miami Vice) himself. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings graduated from UW-Madison in 1918 twenty years before her book The Yearling was published. Recent Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) wanted to attend UW Madison but says she went to University of Iowa was because she couldn’t get into Madison.

Madison has a chapter of the Wisconsin Screenwriters Forum which offers writing workshops and seminars. (There are also chapters in Milwaukee and Los Angeles.)

Elsewhere in the state many memorable movies have been shot in Wisconsin including A Simple Plan (from a novel by the other Scott Smith), Blues Brothers, Mr. 3000, Meet the Applegates, Uncle Buck, Major League, and parts of Hoop Dreams.

And don’t forget the classic scene in Wayne’s World when Wayne and Garth meet Alice Cooper in the “we’re not worthy” scene backstage at Cooper’s Milwaukee show:

Wayne: So, do you come to Milwaukee often?

Alice Cooper: Well, I’m a regular visitor here, but Milwaukee has certainly had its share of visitors. The French missionaries and explorers were coming here in the late sixteen hundreds to trade with the native Americans.

Pete (Band member): In fact, isn’t Milwaukee an Indian name?

Alice: Yes, Pete, it is. Actually, it’s pronounced mill-e-wah-kee, which is Algonquin for “the good land.”

Wayne: I was not aware of that.

Alice: I think one of the most interesting aspects of Milwaukee is the fact that it’s the only major American city to have ever elected three socialist mayors.

Wayne: Does this guy know how to party or what?

To watch the Alice Cooper scene fast forward past Wisconsin native Chris Farley’s cameo to the 3:00 mark.) 

When I was 19 I went to an Alice Cooper concert in Tampa and about 15 years later met him at a conference I was working in San Diego. Like Reggie White he too appeared to be a friendly and gentle man. (Though quite a bit smaller than White.) He’s quite the golfer and joked that his garage looked like Nevada Bob’s (a chain of golf wholesale stores).

And to come full circle if ever there was a film done on Cooper’s life I can’t think of anyone better to play him than Johnny Depp. (Though he might need to work on his golf game. For some reason Depp strikes me as the kind of guy who like sharp things in his hands versus a golf club.)

As we pull away from our little road trip to Wisconsin let me say that Depp is originally from Owensboro, Kentucky and once driving back to Iowa from a shoot in Charlotte I spent the night in Owensboro. I’m a sucker for shooting neon signs and took this photo near Depp’s childhood house.

owensboroneon2109.jpg

Who knows, maybe long before he was Jack Sparrow, Edward Sizzorhands or John Dillinger he hung out at this place. Just another reminder that talent comes from everywhere. (For what it’s worth George Clooney is also from Kentucky.)

Did you know that writer Hunter S. Thompson was also from Owensboro? The same guy Depp played in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Here’s a quote from Thompson for all those itching to leave home and run off to LA: “The TV business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

Just wanted to pass that along – just in case you were not aware of that. (Good thing for Depp that he fled the TV business early, huh?)

Oh, and back home in Iowa I received a call Saturday to work on a feature film shooting in Des Moines in April and May staring Ellen Page, the star of Juno. That’s really coming full circle for this blog since I started Screenwriting from Iowa after seeing Juno. Schedule-wise I don’t think I’m going to be able to work on that film but it’s good to see that Iowa’s film incentives are working as well.

Actors interested in auditioning for the Ellen Page thriller send pictures, resume, and contact info to PMS Casting, 2018 Hwy G28, PO Box 122, Pella, IA 50219. More info can be found on Iowa casting director Ann Wilkinson’s website www.pmscasting.com .

P.S. Anyone looking for a different place to vacation this summer? One of the great travel surprises of my life was visiting Door County in Wisconsin years ago. I was blown away by how much it reminded me of the Florida Keys. (Good place for actors to find summer stock work as well.) And if you want more of a taste of Florida in Wisconsin, Jimmy Buffett will be playing in Apple Valley on July 19.

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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