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Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

“When I decided to stop writing about five years ago I did, as you say, sit down to reread the 31 books I’d published between 1959 and 2010. I wanted to see whether I’d wasted my time. You never can be sure, you know. My conclusion, after I’d finished, echoes the words spoken by an American boxing hero of mine, Joe Louis. He was world heavyweight champion from the time I was 4 until I was 16. He had been born in the Deep South, an impoverished black kid with no education to speak of, and even during the glory of the undefeated 12 years, when he defended his championship an astonishing 26 times, he stood aloof from language. So when he was asked upon his retirement about his long career, Joe sweetly summed it up in just 10 words. ‘I did the best I could with what I had.’”
Philip Roth
My Life as a Writer
2014 New York Times interview by Daniel Sandstrom 

 

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“The idea for The Glass Menagerie came very slowly, much more slowly than Streetcar, for example. I think I worked on Menagerie longer than any other play. I didn’t think it’d ever be produced. I wasn’t writing it for that purpose. I wrote it first as a short story called ‘Portrait of a Girl in Glass,’ which is, I believe, one of my best stories. I guess Menagerie grew out of the intense emotions I felt seeing my sister’s mind begin to go.”
Tennessee Williams
The Paris Review interview 

Watching actors perform Tennessee Williams’ words on stage, TV, and in movies—or even on the Internet—may not make you a better writer, but I believe they can make you more human.  If you’re tired of, or need a break from special effect extravaganzas or high-concept schlock that, to borrow Shakespeare’s phrase, are “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” get a copy of The Glass Menagerie and read it slowly.

When I was driving through Mississippi last month I picked up a used copy of the printed play The Glass Menagerie for under five dollars at Square Books in Oxford. The pages had fallen out of my old original copy of the book and there was something poetic about buying the play again by the Mississippi born Tennessee Williams in the town square where Mississippi born William Faulkner used to wander. (And for what it’s worth Faulkner wrote a book titled The Sound and the Fury.)

The Glass Menagerie, a four character play, premiered in Chicago in 1944 and it debuted on Broadway the following year where it won the  New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play of that year. Critics championed the play from the very beginning. Even today when critics question a revival performance it tends to be in casting choices and stage direction.  I recall one reviewer who once wrote something to the effect that poorly performed Williams was better than no Williams at all.

One of the greatest creative opportunities of my life was doing a three month acting workshop with Arthur Mendoza working on The Glass Menagerie. This was back in the ’80s in Los Angeles shortly after Williams died and just before the Paul Newman directed version was released in 1987.  Mendoza had studied with Stella Adler for ten years before turning to teaching himself, and embraced the view that it was worth it for the actor to study the playwright as well as the play. (Some acting teachers stress importance only on the written word.)

Believe it or not we only worked on the opening monologue of Tom. Three months of working on a long monologue which begins:

“Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.”

I didn’t know much about acting, writing—or life—back then, but I knew that both Tennessee Williams and The Glass Menagerie were special. Beyond Williams’ poetic style of writing is a primal story. A story of loss and broken dreams. It’s an emotional story full of external and internal conflict that touches on basic human relationships between mother and son,  father and son, mother and daughter, husband and wife, brother and sister—can you get any more universal? Mix in themes of love, hope, and dreams and it’s no surprise that the play still has life today.

In fact, just two months ago The Glass Menagerie once again opened on Broadway (for a limited run through February) and the reviews have been outstanding.

“This production makes clear that ‘The Glass Menagerie’ belongs on the same exclusive shelf as ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night,’ ‘Death of a Salesman’ and Williams’s own ‘Streetcar Named Desire.’ It is not a lovely little memory play; it’s a great memory tragedy.”
Wounded by Broken Memories
NY Times, September 26, 2013

Below are some links to past productions of The Glass Menagerie, including the full 1973 version starring Katharine Hepburn.  Another thing that keeps The Glass Menagerie in circulation is there is never a lack of great actors who would like their shot at playing one of the four roles.

Scott W. Smith

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“Most parts in comedy, they’re not written for men. They’re written for, like, boy-men. So it’s cool to play a man-man. They don’t make adult movies anymore. Go to a multiplex. If Sydney Pollack was around today, he’d be directing episodes of True Blood.
Chris Rock on the film 2 Days in New York
New York Times Q & A with Dave Itzkoff
August 5, 2012

If you’d like to emulate  Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa, Absence of Malice) , Sidney Lumet (The Verdict, 12 Angry Men) , or even Sydney Greenstreet (Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon)—those kinds of “adult movies”— and you’re not an A-list screenwriter or director getting ofters to write or direct movies like Moneyball then small independent films is your haven—or cable TV.

Related Posts:
Writing and Directing “Out of Africa”
Screenwriting Quote #162 (Billy Ray)

Scott W. Smith

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“Unless you’re trapped on an airplane or enjoying movie night at the penitentiary, you have no excuse for watching Killers.”
Jeanette Catsoulis
New York Times

Reading the reviews of the new Ashton Kutcher/Kathrine Heigl film Killers is a little like watching a boxing match where one boxer is delivering one punishing blow after another and you just want the defenseless boxer to drop and end the bloodbath. I’m sure Killers is not the first film on Rotten Tomatoes to get a 0% from top critics…but it’s the first I’ve ever seen.

No need to rehash the reviews except to say they all generally agree with the New York Times evaluation; “A brain-deadening collision of high concept and low standards. The Consensus: “Dull, formulaic, and chemistry-free, Killers is an action/comedy that’s largely bereft of thrills or laughs.”

Here’s the good news for screenwriters—it got made. And it got made with two name actors. I know that may not be inspirational to you at first glance, but trust me it is good news. And it’s good news for a few reasons.(Beyond the salaries that were covered in the $75 million budget.)

#1) Everyone knows how the statistics are stacked against screenwriters. There are upwards of 50,000 scripts written every year and only about 500 feature films produced. (And keep in mind that means that there are 49,500 scripts rolling over into the slush pile every year.) So the screenwriting gurus tell you that your film has to be perfect to get made. No it doesn’t. It just needs to be as good as Killers.

Sure, everyone wants to write the next Chinatown. Sure, it’s good to study Chinatown. But the gold is in Killers. That’s the poster you should have above your computer where you write. That’s the film that should give you hope for the screenplay you are currently writing. Killers is the film that should take your mind off of oil currently pumping into the Gulf of Mexico, it’s the film that keeps you up late writing your script–and makes you wake up early to continue writing.

Because Killers is the film that makes you scream, “Dammit, I can do better than that!”

#2) Killers is also an example of a screenwriter who just keeps plugging away. The original story and script was written by Bob DeRosa who comes from my old stomping grounds in Florida. I’ve never met DeRosa but he comes from Orlando and is one of the survivors of Hollywood East back in the 90s. He wrote his first short story when he was 6, made videos and wrote scripts as a student at the University of Florida. He spent ten years working with an improv group, worked on commercials and corporate projects, and as an assistant programmer for the Florida Film Festival (during The Blair Witch Project glory days).  All the while writing scripts, watching films, meeting people and learning the business.

When he was 31 he moved to L.A. and basically started over with the help of manager/producer Christopher S. Pratt (also from Orlando).

“There were some pretty lean times. There were those big gaps between the jobs, and I was floating myself on credit cards. Then I’d get the next job, but I’d be scared to pay off the credit cards because I needed the money to live for the next eight months. It was a very precarious six years.”
Bob DeRosa
Interview with Jim Cirile

DeRosa ended up landing some studio writing gigs based on some spec scripts and eventually had the script The Air I Breath produced (written along with director Jieho Lee). In 2006, he wrote the script Five Killers and with the help of Pratt landed a big studio deal just before the writer’s strike. Credit cards finally paid off.

DeRosa was stoked when Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat came out and made some revisions based on it.  A top comic director (Robert Luketic/Legally Blonde) was attached to the script, and a top screenwriter (Ted Griffin/Oceans 11) was brought in to amp up the movie that became Killers. And yet here we are staring down the barrel of a big fat 0%.

At least, DeRosa can say (not that he has) “they took me off the picture and ruined my script.” (But that wouldn’t be the first time or last time that happens to a writer.) I will vote DeRosa’s title Five Killers is more intriguing than Killers. (And even with that 0% it still came in third this weekend at the box office pulling in almost $16 million. It doesn’t hurt that the Iowa born and raised Kutcher has over 5 million Twitter followers. But that film still has a long way to go to recoup its costs.)

All that to say that DeRosa’s long and winding road to paying off his bills and getting a studio script made should be of inspiration to you. On his blog he has a post written back in January of ’09 called How I Write a Spec Screenplay that’s a good read. And just to keep this all in perspective, despite the reviews, DeRosa is living the dream.

#3) Lastly, maybe, just maybe, Killers will be the film that makes some Hollywood studio executive reflect on the kind of films studios are making. Just long enough for him or her to walk over to a window in their office, open it and, in the tradition of Howard Beale in Network, yell out— “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

And, just maybe, we’ll all look back as that being the day that changed the kind of movies that got made. Don’t hold your breath. But do keep writing that killer screenplay you’ve been working on.

Related posts:
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic
Screenwriting from Florida
Jack Kerouac in Orlando
St. Pete Screenwriter (Michael France)
Screenwriting & Florida Surfing

Scott W. Smith

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“The truth is – our way of doing things – not only the way we gather our content, but also the way we package, deliver and the way we expect to be remunerated for that work – is being shattered by a variety of internal and external forces that simply aren’t going to go away.”
Photographer/Filmmaker  Vincent Laforet

If you’ve never heard the name Vincent Laforet—welcome to the future. Three years ago Laforet walked away from a staff photographer position at the New York Times. He says that, “One colleague actually called me ‘stupid.’” But he walked away because he saw the writing on the wall. The newspaper and magazine business was being forever changed. As newspapers began to fold and downsize jobs, Laforet decided the answer was to diversify.

“There is ABSOLUTELY no doubt that every photographer out there should be actively developing their video shooting and editing skills today and learning it at their schools/universities.”
Vincent Laforet

Laforet continued to do contract work with the New York times, but was also able to begin doing commercial work. With one advertising agency he was working with as a photographer, he wanted to be considered for some interactive content they were producing, but he had no film or video demo reel. Having connections at Canon he was able to borrow a prototypes of the Canon 5D Mark II for a weekend in hopes of creating a demo reel. He had 12 hours to shoot what became Reverie. (What he later called, “a bad cologne commercial.” )

He posted the Reverie video online and within 3 days passed the million view mark and by the end of the first week it had passed the 2 million mark. He not only got his demo reel, but it spun his whole career into a new direction.

PDN magazine said, “Seven hours after he posted Reverie, a representative from photo sharing site SmugMug offered to sponsor his next video. Two days later the manager for surfer Jamie O’Brien contacted Lafort about shooting a project together.” Calls from Disney, Industrial Light & Magic, and other big names followed.

In the coming days, I’ll unpack what this means to writers and filmmakers. The video to Reverie is linked below, but the important thing to remember here is this video was made on a 35 mm digital camera that shoots still photos as well as HD video. It was shot in less than a day by a photographer who was hoping to build a video demo reel. (To watch an HD version of the video check out Vincent Laforet’s website. You can also connect to his blog there.)


Scott W. Smith


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Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called honah lee
                                                           Puff the Magic Dragon 
                                                            Performed by Peter, Paul & Mary 

 

While the song Puff the Magic Dragon peaked on the Billboard charts at #2 in 1963 it’s remained in people’s hearts all these years later. I’m not sure when I first heard the song, but it was the first song I remember memorizing. And my love for stories flowed from folk songs before movies. So it was sad news to learn that  Mary Travers of Peter, Paul & Mary died yesterday. (If 1969 was the summer of love, I think 2009 is going to go down as the summer of death.)

You may remember the Ben Stiller line in Meet the Parents; “Well some people think that ‘to puff the magic dragon’ means to… puff… smoke… a marijuana cigarette.” That’s been several decade old debate about the true meaning of Puff the Magic Dragon. Snoopes reports the original writer of the poem, Leonard Lipton, as saying the song is about the “loss of innocence, and having to face an adult world. It’s surely not about drugs, I can tell you at Cornell in 1959 , no one smoked grass. I find the fact that people interpret it as a drug song annoying. It would be insidious to propagandize about drugs in a song for little kids.” (Lipton’s inspiration was the Ogden Nash poem The Tale of Custard the Dragon).

Peter Yarrow (the Peter in Peter, Paul & Mary) was a classmate of Lipton’s at Cornell University  and wrote the melody and additional lyrics.  Peter, Paul & Mary formed in 1961 and began performing live. I found the clip below on You Tube that was recorded in 1966. Like American Pie, it’s one of those songs that seems created to sing along with. 

Though Peter, Paul & Mary look tame (even quaint) on that video one must remember that this was 1966 and the group had its roots in the bohemian influence of Greenwich Village where Peter, Paul & Mary was formed. Goatees at that time were the tattoos and piercings of the day–part of the beat generation that rose up in the 50s. Producer and arranger Milt Okun, who worked with Peter, Paul & Mary, is quoted in the New York Times saying about the group, “They looked like Greenwich Village to the rest of America. They were the first to go mainstream with an artistic, intellectual, beat image.”

And despite the cheery lyrics of Puff the Magic Dragon it really is a sad story.  Ever since I was six years old I’ve felt sorry for the dragon and been drawn to stories of once mighty dragons who’ve seemed to lost the magic and  have slipped into their caves.

A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.

His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain,
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his life-long friend, puff could not be brave,
So puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave. oh!

 

Scott W. Smith


 


 



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The life and death of Patrick Swayze will get plenty of press the next couple days. Movie stars get that kind of publicity. But let me get in a plug for a man who was said to be “one of the greatest people of the 20th century” and another called him the “greatest human being that ever lived” and of who it was asked of three years ago, “”Is Norman E. Borlaug the greatest living American?” You might be asking–”Norman,who?” 

That’s probably what I’d be saying if I hadn’t of moved to Iowa and had the good fortune or meeting him when I shot a video interview with him last year. Borlaug was born near Cresco, Iowa in 1914 and after seeing people in need of food during the great depression dedicated his life to fighting famine via developing high yield crops. Granted not as sexy as making pottery with Demi Moore, but he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 and is credited with saving hundreds of millions of lives in developing countries.

Borlaug died Saturday night in Dallas and the New York Times had a front page article on him Monday (Sept 14, 2009). In 2007 he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. To learn more about Borlaug Google his name or simply check out the New York Times blog by John Tierney title “Greast Human Being, R.I.P.

Here is what United State Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack wrote about Borlaug:

“Dr. Norman Borlaug was simply one of the world’s best. A determined, dedicated, but humble man who believed we had the collective duty and knowledge to eradicate hunger worldwide. His efforts saved millions of lives and inspired thousands to dedicate their lives to doing the same. The World Food Prize, which he founded, will continue to acknowledge those who carry on the work of providing food to feed the world. Dr. Borlaug will be missed.”

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said this:

“Thanks to Dr. Borlaug’s pioneering work in the 1960s to develop varieties of high-yielding wheat, countless millions of men, women and children, who will never know his name, will never go to bed hungry. Dr. Borlaug’s scientific breakthroughs have eased needless suffering and saved countless lives. Dr. Borlaug has been an inspiration to new generations across the globe who have taken up the fight against hunger.” 

And to somewhat keep in line with this blog about great things coming from small places comes this quote from U. S. senator Tom Harkin:

“Because of his vision and tireless work, upwards of one billion lives have been saved. Not bad for a farm boy from Cresco, Iowa.” 

 

Scott W. Smith


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“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”
                                                
John F. Kennedy 
                                                 Rice University
                                                 September 12, 1962 

 

Ever heard of Wapakoneta, Ohio? 

It happens to be where screenwriter Dudley Nichols was born. He wrote over 70 screenplays including Bringing Up Baby which is a classic Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant film.  He also served as the Screen Guild President in 1937-38.

His first film credit was in 1930 which just happens to be the same year that another fellow was born in Wapakoneta, Ohio who would go on to eclipse Nicholas’ fame.

Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, was born on August 5, 1930 in Wapakoneta, a small town just 59 miles north of where the Wright Brothers designed the first airplane (that would fly) in Dayton, Ohio around the turn of the 20th Century century.

If an Eagle Scout from a small town in Ohio becoming the first person to walk on the moon isn’t inspiration for you to pursue your dreams from wherever you live, then nothing I write can help.

I was eight years old when Armstrong uttered those famous words as he walked on the moon, “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.” Big moment. One of the greatest achievements in modern history. If it was symbolic as some have said, then it was symbolism at its finest. 

I have the original New York Times front page–MEN WALK ON MOON– hanging on my office at work (along with the Sebiscuit movie poster and Don McLean album I’ve mentioned in the past).

Along with wanting to be a fireman and a professional baseball player I added astronaut to things I wanted to be when I grew-up. Growing up in Central Florida in the 60s was a fascinating place to be for the single reason that it in an age before cable TV,  Disney World, and video games (heck, pong wasn’t even invented until 1971)  you could watch a lift off on TV and then run outside and see this small glow rising into the sky on its way to space.

Today is the 40th anniversary of man landing on the moon. And while I remember sitting around the TV watching the event on a fuzzy screen it is the years leading up to it that I remember more. It was a feat that many thought could not be done. And there was plenty of evidence that it was not going to be an easy effort. At one point it is estimated that 400,000 people were working on President Kennedy’s dream to put a man on the moon by the end of the 60s.

It was an endeavor where there would be years of failure and the loss of lives.

Beyond making history the events remembered today are textbook storytelling that has a clear goal at the start, full of interesting characters, plenty of conflict and a fully developed and satisfactory ending. I’m not sure anyone born from 1969 on didn’t grow up thinking that technology could do just about anything. But that wasn’t always the case.

The space program as a whole has resulted in many great books, movies, and television programs on the subject. One of the best is Apollo 13 which was based on a book Lost Moon; The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 by astronaut James Lovell and Jeffery Kluger.  Kluger  wrote the recent Time magazine article on the historic event and touched on one of my favorite themes; what happens after you’ve been to the top of the mountain. Once you have the t-shirt that says, “Walking on the moon –been there done that” then what?

Kluger remembers Lovell’s warning when their book was a best seller and Apollo 13 was in theaters; “Remember where you’re standing when the spotlight goes off, you’ll have to find your own way off the stage.”

That’s wise advice for anyone.

Scott W. Smith

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“Twitter is on its way to becoming the next killer app.”
                                                                         Time Magazine 

 

I’m so behind the times (and Time magazine). Yesterday I mentioned something about screenwriting and Twitter and now I find out that just last month Southwest Airlines asked Twitter followers to help them write the first Southwest Airlines Script. Here are the results. (It’s not art, but remember that one of the first images caught on film in 1894 was Fred Ott’s Sneeze. That’s the kind of stuff you learn in film school.)

But now I’m catching up; http://twitter.com/scottwsmith_com

For a list of Hollywood producers, directors, screenwriters and actors using twitter go to /Film.

And congrats to actor/director (an Iowa-native) Ashton Kutcher  on just last week being the first Twitter member to have 1 million followers. (And for pledging $100,000 if he won to fight Malaria. “I’m calling to have a check made out for $100,000 to the Malaria No More Fund,” wrote Kutcher. Second place was media giant CNN. I don’t know how much a threat swine flu is to North America (and, yes, in Iowa we don’t care for that name), but I do know the foundations are shifting in how we are processing our news and entertainment. 

And just to totally try to keep up with the changes, I know The New York Times called Twitter “One of the fastest-growing phenomena on the Internet,.” but just yesterday Michael Liedtke at Yahoo announced that Twitter quitters outnumber those flocking to Twitter. 

 

Scott W. Smith

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“Why does New York have a monopoly on theater?”…I have no vested interest in New York, I don’t live there anymore. It’s all the same to me. But that is where the talent is collected, and if it doesn’t happen there, generally it doesn’t happen anywhere else. I wish it would happen in Ann Arbor, when you get a new theater.
Arthur Miller
February 28, 1967
The University of Michigan

Writing is core to everything we do. Yet good writing is becoming a lost art, and a lost value. I am looking forward to watching Michigan invest in what it takes to create the best writing program in the country.
Helen Zell

As I’ve said many times before Screenwriting from Iowa is not limited to screenwriting or Iowa — but it represents movies and people coming from a place beyond Los Angeles. Today we’re going to take a look at talent from another Midwest state as I turn the spotlight on Michigan.

It was no mistake that the great New York born writer Arthur Miller got his college education at the University of Michigan. Even in the 1930s UM was already know for its high literary output and in the 1920s playwright Avery Hopwood created an endowment for UM writers. Miller was an early recipient of the Avery Hopwood Award award in 1937. It was just the first step of recognition for the writer that would go on and write Death of Salesman and The Crucible as well as many other plays, screenplays, short stories and novels in a career that would span 70 years until his death in 2005.

He is considered one of the greatest American dramatists and supported the University of Michigan his entire life. Last year the Arthur Miller Theater opened on the UM campus keeping his wishes as being the only theater bearing his name. That was a tribute to the education he received in Ann Arbor.

But even before Miller became famous the University of Michigan had tradition in Hollywood. Dudley Nichols, a UM alumni  wrote the 1939 John Ford and John Wayne classic Stagecoach. The long train that followed include:
Valentine Davies (Miracle on 34th Street)
John Briley’s (Ghandi)
David Newman’s (SupermanBonnie & Clyde)
Kurt Luedtke (Absence of Malice, Out of Africa),
Richard Friedenberg (A River Runs Through It)
Adam Herz (American Pie)
Josh Greenfield, (Harry and Tonto)
Roger Lowenstein (TV’s L.A. Law)
Judith Guest (Ordinary People)
Lawrence Kasdan (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Grand Canyon, Body Heat)
Laura Kaisischke (
The Life Before Her Eyes)
Jim Burnstein
(D3: The Mighty Ducks)

Burnstein who also wrote Ruffian starring Sam Shepherd has taught at the University of Michigan and gave a presentation this year titled “Wolverines in Hollywood.”

I’m not sure where this Michigan writing legacy started but chances are famed Hollywood screenwriting teacher (and Detroit native) Robert McKee does know. He also attended the University of Michigan where he earned his undergraduate, masters and Ph.D. degrees.  Studying under Kenneth Thorpe Rowe where he learned a good deal about story structure that he promotes in his famed three-day screenwriting seminar and book Story.

Rowe wrote Write that Play and also hooked former student Arthur Miller up in New York that helped Miller start his career.

And though not a writer where would Hollywood be without the talent of former UM pre-med student James Earl Jones? A big voice (“Luke, I am your father”) who was born in a small town of Arkabutla, Mississippi, raised in a couple small towns in Michigan where he overcame a stuttering problem that caused him to be a functionally mute from grade school until high school.

In an interview with Michael J. Bandler Jones mentions Donald Crouch as the teacher that helped him overcome stuttering and find his voice. “I credit him with being the father of my voice. He said, ‘You have a man’s voice now, an impressive bass, but don’t let that impress you. If you start listening to your voice, no one else will.’ It was a good lesson in general. I [try] to be devoid of self-consciousness.”

According to Wikipedia his career in theater began at the Ramsdell Theatre in Manistee, Michigan where he was a stage carpenter before his role in Shakespeare’s Othello. Again to quote to old expression; “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” (And no, I won’t pass up the opportunity to mention that Jones brought his booming voice to Iowa in Field of Dreams.)

And just so we don’t leave out UM rival Michigan St. — that’s where Top Gun screenwriters Jack Epps Jr. and Jim Cash first teamed up. The academy-award nominated screenwriter of Finding Neverland and 48 hr director Walter Hill also graduated from Michigan State. Peter Gent was an athlete at MSU and went on to write the novel & screenplay for North Dallas Forty which impacted me greatly when I saw it as a high school football player. Spiderman director Sam Raimi also attended the school in East Lansing. And lastly writer/director David S. Goyer (Batman Begins) is also a Spartan.

Grand Rapids is where Paul Schrader was raised and attended Calvin College to become a minister before eventually writing Taxi Driver and having a long career in Hollywood.

Flint, Michigan native and current resident of Traverse City, Michigan is Academy-Award winning filmmaker Michael Moore who has made three of the top five grossing documentaries of all time. In 2005 he started the annual Traverse City Film Festival.

Michigan native Mike Binder was the writer/director of The Upside of Anger. In a talk he gave in Ann Arbor Binder told students, “If you’re looking for respect don’t become a screenwriter.”

And batting clean-up is a writer who has been called “the Dickens of Detroit” – Elmore Leonard. His novels and short stories often find their way to the big screen with big talent: Get Shorty (John Travolta), Jackie Brown (Robert De Niro) 3:10 to Yuma (Russell Crowe), Hombre (Paul Newman), and the upcoming Killshot starring Diane Lane. He graduated from University of Detroit Jesuit High School and the University of Detroit.

Back in 2001 Leonard had an essay published in The New York Times called Writers on Writing where he offered ten rules for writing. It’s well worth a read. Though geared toward writing novels most apply to screenwriting such as rule number 9: “Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.”

“Oh, I love Elmore Leonard. In fact, to me True Romance is basically like an Elmore Leonard movie… I actually owe a big debt to like kind of figuring out my style from Elmore Leonard because, you know, he was the first writer I’d ever read.
Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction)
The Charlie Rose Show 1994

Leonard lives in Michigan these days, and though in his 80s has a website (www.elmoreleonard.com) complete with a blog and podcasts. From the man who inspired Tarantino, here’s Leonard’s advice on how to get an agent: “My advice is to learn how to write and the agent will find you.”

Of course, Michigan also has a long history of real life characters who were interesting enough to have movies made about their lives (Ty Cobb, Jimmy Hoffa, Eminem, and most recently the intermittent windshield wiper guy Robert Kearns).  Then there is the storytelling history through music from Michigan which is way too long to list but covers probably every form of American music; Jazz, blues, soul, gospel, rock, country, hip hop, rap, punk, techno.)

The rock and roll hall of fame has a little space taken up with artists from Michigan including Aretha Franklin, Bill Haley, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Glenn Frey, and Bob Seger.

I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to connect Michigan’s creative success to one man — Henry Ford. With his cars and factory line he brought prosperity to the area. Some of the people coming to Detroit were from the Mississippi Delta and they brought their music with them. That’s the short history of the Model T to Motown. But again you can’t ignore the part economics plays in its connection to the arts.

These days are lean times for those in Detroit. (Heck, these days they are even lean times for Toyota and Honda.) As the Michigan prophet Kid Rock sings; “Now nothing seems as strange as when leaves began to change, or how we thought those days would never end.” (All Summer Long)

One thing Michigan has recently done to rejuvenate the area economically is to pass one of the largest tax incentives for the film industry. Late this past spring I did some location scouting for Mandate Pictures for Whip It!, Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut. But Iowa lost out to Michigan and I’m sure the incentives played a part. The roller derby film staring Ellen Page and Juliette Lewis began shooting in Southeast Michigan in July.

The WNEM TV station reported this on their website: In April, Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed legislation aimed at giving Michigan a bigger role in the film industry. The key bill in the package gave film studios a refundable credit of up to 42 percent on production expenses in the state. The bills also cover commercials, TV shows, documentaries, video games and other film work.

Landing the Barrymore film is a nice start out of the gate for Michigan and there is talk of three film studios being built. It would seem like a good time to be writing Michigan-centered screenplays. If you don’t have any ideas you can start here: A popular mayor in Detroit has an affair…

P.S. If you are interesting in shooting in Michigan or in learning more about their incentives contact Janet Lockwood at the Film in Michigan office.

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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