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I couldn’t help but smile yesterday when I saw The Hollywood Reporter headline:

‘Holland, Michigan’ Tops 2013 Black List 

The Holland, Michigan script written by Andrew Sodroski received 46 mentions from film executives placing it at the top of the pile of the best unproduced scripts kicking around Hollywood.

While I know more about the town of Holland, Michigan (it’s a lovely place in Western Michigan with heated sidewalks downtown) than the script of the same name, here’s the story’s logline:

When a traditional Midwestern woman suspects her husband of infidelity, an amateur investigation unravels. 

Not a killer logline, so the script must be killer.

Collider reported that Holland, Michigan “will be directed by Errol Morris and stars Naomi Watts.” Deadline stated that the screenwriter Sodroski is a Boston native who has a MFA in screenwriting from Columbia University and repped by CAA And the LA Times added Sodroski is “a former Harvard medieval history major who now lives in Kosovo.”

Kosovo? Talk about screenwriting in unlikely places….

(Though honestly, both Harvard and Columbia are well-traveled paths to Hollywood—see update below. Having degrees from both is a good sign that Sodroski is a smart cookie. But that Kosovo is a curveball.)

On days like this it’s really fun to have this little niche in the screenwriting world. Cheers to Sodroski, and all the screenwriters who made the 2013 Black List.

I’m sure we’ll all be learning more about Holland, Michigan the movie and Andrew Sordroski in coming months. Until them feel free to learn more about the town Holland, Michigan via the Internet and enjoy the Sufjan Stevens song Holland from his album Michigan. Brooklyn-based Stevens was born in Detroit and attended Hope College in Holland, MI. (H/T to Indiewire for pointing out the Holland song.)

P.S. Holland, Michigan’s Tulip Time Festival held each year in May has been called by Readers Digest as the “Best Small Town Festival.”  A couple of years ago the town of 35,000  was listed as the second (behind Boulder, CO) Healthiest and Happiest Places in America.  And you may be surprised to know that Holland, Michigan (which sits across Lake Michigan from Chicago) is known for sailing. My Holland, Michigan based production friend John Grooters directed the documentary American Sailors.

Update: Found a link to the 2011 Harvardwood Writers’ Competition where Sodroski, along with co-writer Raven Burnett, were runner-ups for their feature script Dark Ops. Here’s the logline for the action thriller that reads better than the logline for Holland, Michigan:

When a team of American soldiers occupies a mysterious Afghani monastery, they suddenly find themselves battling enemies beyond their comprehension. 

Harvardwood helps connect Harvard Alumni and students to those established in the arts, media and entertainment. A nice perk if you’re connected to Harvard. Hollywood may be a small town (or a big high school) but it has more than a few Ivy Leaguers in general, and former Harvard students specifically; Darren Aronofsky, Matt Damon, Ron Bass and Terrence Malick just to name a few. Here’s a list of Darthmouth Alumni in Entertianment in Media, and you can follow the Yalies in entertainment at Yale in Hollywood. Oh, and Princeton University (Ethan Coen, David E. Kelly, Bo Goldman) has Princeton in Hollywood. 

Even if you can’t or didn’t attend an Ivy League school, if you live near Cambridge, New Haven, Hanover or Princeton you can still make friends at those schools. Work on student films, go see guest lectures they bring in, and get creative being a part of the culture there. In the case of Harvard, you can become a Friend of Harvardwood if referred by a current member.

Related posts (Note; Michigan and Boston come up time and time again on this blog):

Michigan related posts:

Screenwriting from Michigan
Michigan’s Sam Raimi & the Guy with Greasy Hair
Rejection Before Raiders
Saul Bellow & Unlikely Places
Start Small…But Start Somewhere
Elmore Leonard
From Ann Arbor to Smallville (David S. Goyer)
“Life of Pi” Screenwriter David Magee
Kalamafrickin’zoo’s Talent Pool
Screenwriting from Grand Rapids (near Holland)
Writer/Director Paul Schrader

Boston related posts:

Screenwriting from Massachusetts
Will Simmons’ Road to Hollywood
Writing “Good Will Hunting”
Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg
(Yawn)…Another Pulitzer Prize
Don’t Quit Your Day Job
Screenwriting Quote #42 (Brad Anderson)
Screenwriting Quote #3 (Charlie Kaufman)
Screenwriting Quote #179 (Chris Terrio)
Screenwriting Quote #148 (Edward Zwick)
Writing “Edward Scissorhands”
Writer Michael Crichton (1942-2008)

Scott W. Smith

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“At first I wasn’t sure at all where to begin.”
Opening line in the novel Hombre, written by Elmore Leonard

“When I wrote 3:10 to Yuma. I sold the original [short] story for $90, and then got $4,000 for the movie rights.”
Elmore Leonard
(Leonard did add that “a 5,000 word story was a hundred bucks. And in the early ’50s, that wasn’t bad.”)

“Bewteen 1951 and 1961, Elmore wrote 30 western short-stories and five western novels, even as he made his main living with advertising work.”
Tom Nolan
 WGAW Written by article Dutch Landscape 

“In 1961, Leonard quit his job at the ad agency to write full time. The western fiction market had dried up because of a plethora of westerns on television and he wanted to write contemporary stories. But the demands of a growing family required him to take freelance advertising jobs instead. After five years away from writing fiction, Leonard finished his first non-Western novel, The Big Bounce, buoyed by the sale of film rights to his novel Hombre. His Hollywood agent, the legendary H. N. Swanson read it and told him, ‘Kiddo, I’m going to make you rich.’”
Biography on ElmoreLeonard.com

“Elmore’s first crime book, The Big Bounce, was rejected 84 times.”
Ann O’Neill, The CNN Profile

But The Big Bounce got published and eventually made into a movie in 1969 which Leonard said ,”Was probably the second worse movie ever made.” The worst movie? According to Leonard, the 2004 version of The Big Bounce. But artists aren’t defined by their failures, but by their successes.

“One remarkable thing about Leonard’s talent is how long it took the world to notice. He didn’t have a best-seller until his 60th year, and few critics took him seriously before the 1990s.”
Mike Householder, Time Magazine

P.S. Since I’m into regionalism, it’s worth noting that two writers that Leonard admired both had ties to Leonard’s Michigan:
Writer Jim Harrison (Part 1) The writer of Legends of the Fall was born in Grayling, MI and partly raised in Reed City, MI.
Writing Quite #24 (Elmore Leonard) Hemingway much spent time in Michigan and one of his first published stories was Up in Michigan.
Starting Your Screenplay (Tip #6)
The Breakfast Club for Writers (Starting early in the morning before a day job didn’t hurt Leonard.)

Scott W. Smith

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“Nowadays with the internet and all these other tools I don’t know that it’s entirely necessary to go to film school.”
Screenwriter and USC grad David S. Goyer (Man of Steel)
The Dialogue interview with Mike De Luca

Photo by Wilhem Joys Andersen/CC

Pyramids at Giza (Photo by Wilhem Joys Anderson/CC)

Screenwriter David S. Goyer was born in 1965 in Ann Arbor, Michigan and (I think) attended Michigan State before going to film school at USC. His first produced feature screenplay was Death Warrant in 1990 and since then he’s written more than 15 produced screenplays including Blade, Batman Begins, and Man of Steel. He’s also written three novels, several TV programs, and worked as a consultant on the video game Call of Duty. He has a website and blog at davidsgoyer.com. Last year he was asked if he had any advice on how to prepare for a career in writing/filmmaking:

“There’s no one tried and true path into film.  There are a number of good film schools — USC, UCLA, NYU, Columbia, Pasadena’s Art Center (Zack Snyder went there, among others).  But film school isn’t a requirement. There are tons of good books about writing and film.  Screenwriting programs like Final Draft.  And a host of screenplays available for download on the web.  Digital film-making is relatively cheap. In the end, there’s no substitute for doing the work.  Just know that the top of the pyramid is tiny.  Depressingly, only a small percentage of WGA members actually make a good living as screen or television writers.  And that number is dwindling.  So if you want to pursue this career, make sure you’ve got the fortitude for it!”
Producer/writer/director David S. Goyer
Questions and Answers

I’m on the tail end of writing three ebooks (beginning, middle, and end) culled from the best of the 1,500 posts on this blog. Goyer is a great example of someone who rose out of the Midwest and made his mark in Hollywood. And while he’s absolutely correct that the top of the pyramid is tiny, the pyramid is much bigger than it used to be. (And actually, there are multiple pyramids now. Can’t play in the NFL or the NBA? That’s okay there are other professional leagues around the world. ) This blog celebrates the various nooks and crannies of the world where screenwriters come from, but it’s also a voice for telling people there is room below the top of the pyramid to work in production and have your stories told—improve your skills—and make a living.

Filmmakers in days of old learned their trade making B-movies, today we have You Tube and webisodes. Go create knowing that everyone who is at that top of the pyramid started out at the bottom of the pyramid—no, they started not even on the pyramid. They just stared at it from afar.   When Goyer was a high school student had his eyes set on a career as a homicide investigator. But like that adopted kid from Smallville, Kansas that he wrote about in Man Of Steel they were both destined for Hollywood.

P.S. Speaking of alternative ways of getting your film made, I thought I’d tell you about a Kickstarter project by a reader of this blog. Right now writer/director Jonathan Ade has 241 backers and $27,107 raised but needs to hit $33,000 in the next 59 hours or he gets nothing. (Sounds like a log line right?) The film Lay in Wait has an intriguing log line:

A married woman in an extramarital affair must find her wedding ring in the woods before the sun sets.

The film will star Elizabeth Olin (Killing Season) and is being executive produced by actor Lucas Neff (Raising Hope). Check out Ade’s project at Kickstarter.

Related posts:

Screenwriting from Michigan
How Much Do Screenwriters Make?
How to Get Started Working in Production
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (Tip #2)
The 99% Focus Rule (Tip #70)
“Don’t try and compete with Hollywood.”—Ed Burns

Scott W. Smith

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“I found myself seeking shelter against the wind.”
Bob Seger/Against the Wind

“Run, Forrest! Run!
Jenny in Forrest Gump

Many of you weren’t even born when Bob Seger’s album Against the Wind was released in February of 1980. Some of you have never heard the title song on the album. And since this blog has a global audience, there are others who have never even heard of Bob Seger—or his Silver Bullett Band. But I don’t think there’s been a human being anywhere in the world, anytime in the history of mankind, whose heart would not resonate —to one degree or another—with the core experience of running against the wind.

If Adam and Eve heard this song—once they were banished east of Eden—they’d have been just as moved as I was when I first heard it as a high school senior the year it was released. And every decade of my life this song has taken on new meaning. And if I make it to age 80 in a retirement home, I’ll be the one in the corner listening to this song cranked up in my ear buds on my retro iPhone 14  (just like I did with those jumbo Koss headphones at age 18) and I’ll still be seeking—probably more than ever— shelter against the wind.

The kid in the inner city Chicago, the businessman in Singapore, the factory worker in China, the mother in the favilla in Rio, the president of Pakistan, the actress in Hollywood, the computer programmer in India, and the farmer in Iowa—all know what it’s like to run against the wind. It’s a universal and primal.

In fact that screenplay you’re currently writing should have a protagonist who’s running against the wind. Indiana Jones, Jason Bourne, Erin Brockovich, Luke Skywalker, Ellen Ripley, Rocky, Superman, Batman, Bambi, Nemo, Dorothy, and more recently Django all spend a lot of movie time running against the wind. No conflict, no drama.

And since this blog celebrates storytelling and regionalism, this song and Seger’s Michigan roots (Lincoln Park, Ann Arbor, Detroit) fit right in. Seger spent fifteen years on the Midwest club circuit—with limited national success—before hitting it big nationally in 1976 with the song and album Night Moves. Seger is a study in persistence. And here we are fifty years after he first hit the Detroit music scene and he’s getting ready to tour again this month performing in many of the Midwest cities where he honed his act in the early years; Toledo, Grand Rapids, Dayton, Green Bay, St. Paul, Fargo, and of course, Detroit.

Againstthewin

I saw Seger in concert the summer of ’78 at what’s now The Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida. Few things were as magical and captivating in my teenage years as sitting in the dark with around 60,000 other people watching the flickering glow of lighters throughout the outdoor stadium and listening to the raspy voice of Seger.

Happy Valentine’s Day—in a melancholy sort of way.

Against the Wind
Bob Seger

Seems like yesterday
But it was long ago
Janey was lovely she was the queen of my nights
There in darkness with the radio playin low
And the secrets that we shared, mountains that we moved
Caught like a wildfire out of control
Til there was nothin left to burn and nothin left to prove
And I remember what she said to me
How she swore that it never would end
I remember how she held me oh so tight
Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then
Against the wind
We were runnin against the wind
We were young and strong we were runnin
Against the wind
And the years rolled slowly past
And I found myself alone
Surrounded by strangers I thought were my friends
Found myself further and further from my home and I
Guess I lost my way
There were oh so many roads
I was livin to run and runnin to live
Never worried about payin or even how much I owe
Movin’ eight miles a minute and for months at a time
Breakin all of the rules that would bend
I began to find myself searchin
Searchin for shelter again and again
Against the wind
Little somethin against the wind
I found myself seekin shelter against the wind
Well those drifting days are past me now
I’ve got so much more to think about
Deadlines and commitments
What to leave in, what to leave out
Against the wind
I’m still runnin against the wind
I’m older now but still runnin against the wind
Well I’m older now but still runnin against the wind
Against the wind
Against the wind
Still runnin
Against the wind
Against the wind
Against the wind…
P.S. Against the Wind did appeared in the movies For Love of the Game and Forrest Gump. Other Seger songs have been featured in movies over the years, but one of the most iconic scenes in modern American films is when Tom Cruise slides across the floor in Risky Business and dances to Seger’s Old Time Rock and Roll.
P.P.S. Against the Wind is Seger’s only number one album on the Billboard 2oo charts, and knocked Pink Floyd’s The Wall album out of the top slot after it topped the charts for 15 weeks.

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Since I’ve been kicking around Michigan recently on this blog I thought I’d find a quote from a Detroit son. Producer/director/actor/writer Scott Spiegal went to Wylie E. Groves High School in Birmingham, MI with Sam Raimi.  He and Raimi wrote Evil Dead II, he directed Hostel: Part III, and acted in both Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2. The lesson: Chose your high school friends carefully.

“Detroit is not for sissies, you better have your act together when you’re in Detroit. Detroit is a tough city, very very tough. There are great people there & there are some not so great people there. The movie industry has been incredible for the economy of Detroit. To see people working there was pretty awesome. There was some stuff happening there but I think they cut the incentive for the studios. Still it was cool to see some dough coming to the local economy but if they can’t get the crime problem under control…you can’t let your guard down for a moment and that’s whats really frustrating…Sometimes you just get lazy here in L.A. because the climate is so easy. There is some crime but it’s in pockets spread out all over. I don’t know, I guess I just really love the warm weather out here. Even the crime out here seems not as tough as in Detroit!”
Scott Spiegel
2011 Interview by The Black Saint at Horrornews.net 

Though both Spiegel and Ramai live in L.A. these days they have returned to Michigan to shoot films. Last year Ramai shot Oz: The Great and Powerful at Raleigh Michigan Studios in Pontiac. The film stars James Franco, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz and the script was written by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire. It will be released next year.

P.S. Back in 2009 I spoke at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI  and afterwards was asked by a reporter if I thought if the idea to turn old car factories into movie studios would work to attract feature film production. My reply was that it wasn’t wise to try to build an industry around film incentives—because incentives come and go. And that the only jobs guaranteed with the studios being built was actually construction workers building the studios.  What do I know? I just a court jester in Iowa. Well, maybe you can add prophet to my title, because the Michigan great film incentives went away and in March of this year AP reported that Raleigh Studios has “defaulted on a $630,000 interest payment and could do so on another payment after failing to attract enough feature films.”

Maybe we’ve taken those inspiring words from the cornfields of Iowa in the movie Field of Dream—”If you build it, he will come”—too far. Where does the money come from if Raleigh Studios defaults?  AP reports, “If the studio can’t make the payment, the State of Michigan Retirement Systems is obligated to cover it. The retirement systems invested in the $80 million project.”

Related Post: Michigan’s Sam Raimi & the Guy with Greasy Hair

Scott W. Smith

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“Who is this Ben Foster guy? And where did he come from?” That’s how my search started.

Every once in a while an actor comes around and kind of stops you in your tracks. It happens when you’ve never seen them in a film before and they don’t even appear to be acting. To use a directors phrase, they are in the moment. They make you ask, “Where did this actor come from?” I’ve only experienced that a half-dozen times in my life. A few performances I can think of are Denzel Washington in Glory, Scott Glenn in Urban Cowboy, Brad Pitt in Thema & Lousie, and Edward Norton in Primal Fear. And it happened last week when I saw Ben Foster in The Messenger.

So I wanted to know where Ben Foster came from and I was surprised to find that he was raised in a Fairfield, Iowa. (A town Mother Earth in 2006 listed first of “great places you’ve never heard of.”)  I was also surprised that, though Foster’s only 29, he’s been acting in films and TV for the past 14 years. I don’t recall ever seeing him before. Never saw him in Six Feet Under, 3:10 to Yuma, or Alpha Dog. And before he started acting in films and TV he was doing community theater in Iowa. And doing it well.

One article said he started doing theater when he was eight. According to IMBD he, “wrote, directed, and starred in his own play at the age of 12, a play that won second place in an international competition.As an actor friend once told me the important thing for an actor to do is “get stage time.” Apparently, Foster got a lot of that in Fairfield, a small town of less than 10,000 people that had four community theaters in it.* Fairfield is an unusual small town that I’ve called the San Francisco of Iowa. There is no shortage of art galleries and vegetarian restaurants thanks in part to Maharishi University that is based there. (I saw David Lynch speak there a couple of years ago.) Interesting place.

Foster attended the Interlochen Theater Arts Summer program in Interlochen, Michigan when he was 14, and at 16 dropped out of high school and moved to Los Angeles and began working on TV and movies right away. But keep in mind, by that time he had already been acting for eight years. I imagine he had more stage time that most 16 year olds in L.A.

In 2003 he won a Daytime Emmy for his role in Bang Bang You’re Dead. And before that break through performance in The Messenger he had been in over 80 TV episodes or movies, and in total, acting for 2o years. It all kinda goes back to the 10,000 rule again, doesn’t it?

As a related side note, last week here in Iowa I happened to go a community theater performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It was an entertaining and great performance by at the Waterloo Community Playhouse. I’ve been to theaters of all kinds all over this country and one thing that impressed me about this performance was the worked showed. I mean that in a good way. The work they did showed in the set and costume design, the blocking, the performances, the lighting, the music, everything.

At the dress rehearsal I saw the director, Chuck Stiwill, said before the show that there was a cast of just over 50 people and twice that working behind the scenes. (Who knew it sometimes takes 150 people to put on a show in community theater?) Some of the people had been working on the show for two months. Rehearsals were nightly, and yes, there were several children in the show. Perhaps future Ben Foster’s getting in their stage time.

Dream big, but always remember to be faithful in the small things that come your way. And keep in mind that there are also writing opportunites in community and regional theaters around the country as well as summer stock shows.

P.S. And if you know of an 8-12 year olds who are interested in learning filmmaking check out Apple Camp.

*Today Fairfield is home to the 522-seat Stephen Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts.

Scott W. Smith

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“It still boggles my mind that people went to movie theaters to go see a movie about corn.”
Aaron Woolf (on his film King Corn)

On Saturday, while on a flight from Des Moines to Detroit, I met documentary filmmaker Aaron Woolf. He was in Iowa to show one of his films at The Fleur Cinema & Cafe. (The Fleur is a funky little theater that is supportive of the arts and helping develop local talent. Over the years I’ve had several short films shown there.)

This wasn’t Woolf’s first trip to Iowa. Before he moved to New York, he received an MFA in Film from the University of Iowa. He also produced & directed the 2007 Peabody Award-winning documentary King Corn which was shot in Greene, Iowa. King Corn played in theaters and on PBS. Woolf gave me a DVD of Big River which he produced as companion to King Corn. Big River also features Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, who were the two young men in King Corn who set out to see what happens when one tries to farm one arce of corn.

King Corn is still off many people’s radar but  it did receive a 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Michael Phillips at the Chicago Tribune wrote that the film was,  “A breezy diary from a pair of first-time farmers, as well as a wry rebuke to a nation devoted to eating cheaply but not necessarily well.” After seeing the film, you may never hear or read about high-fructose corn syrup without thinking about Iowa.

Woolf’s narrow focus on making a film about corn is part of a strategy that Woolf thinks is good advice for documentary filmmakers:

“Find the smallest focus possible for your film…In our case, it turned out that even the story of one acre of corn was a colossal topic, and we were still left with dozens of storylines that died a lonely death on the cutting room floor.”
Aaron Woolf
Independent Lens

Woolf’s latest documentary is Beyond Motor City, a 90-minute look at the rise, fall & future of Detroit. The film will air on PBS February 8, 2010.

Scott W. Smith

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