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Posts Tagged ‘Ohio’

“Somehow, some way, incredibly enough, good writing ultimately gets recognized. I don’t know how that happens but it does. If you’re really a good writer and deserve that honored position, then by God, you’ll write, and you’ll be read, and you’ll be produced somehow. It just works that way.”
Playwright/screenwriter Rod Serling (Requiem for a Heavyweight, Planet of the Apes)
1975 interview with Linda Brevelle

In the post Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany I wrote about the time when Serling was 27 or 28 years old and working as an advertising writer for a Cincinnati, Ohio  television station. If you met Serling at that point in his life—when he was “making up testimonial letters”—you might not think he was destined for greatness as the creator of The Twilight Zone. 

But if you happen to be writing screenplays in some unlikely place—in between “making up testimonial letter”—memorize Serling’s words, “Somehow, some way.” But that only happens when you’re cranking out scripts and sending them out—or making your own films.

That Ohio Epiphany  post was written four years ago and in the comments section there was a reply by “Loyd” which I said at the time officially put him in the “Screenwriting from Iowa” Comment Hall of Fame.  Loyd was Loyd Boldman and he died last month. I’d known him for probably 15 years and he was a true Renaissance man, and one of the most creative people I’d ever met.

He also happened to be from Cincinnati. I didn’t learn until Loyd’s memorial service that he inspired his younger brother Craig Boldman to became a cartoonist. Craig’s worked on the DC Comic’s Superman and Bazooka Joe.

Here’s Loyd’s comment written in 2010 after the Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany post:

“I remember Serling as a striking presence, a ghost that haunted each Twilight Zone episode. His wry sense of humor, rugged good looks and cool demeanor were an odd idea for the host of a fantasy/sci-fi series, but in a strange way, perfect.

When is the last time TV had a writer who could command such attention? Harlan Ellison has tried it and come close, but he lacks the temperament–you always feel his rage. Serling exuded a sense of control. Ellison is always one turn from flying off the rails.

Serling was a great moralistic writer, something he shared with Mark Twain, O. Henry and Nathaniel Hawthorn. Each Twilight Zone episode was a fable with a moral twist at the end. Serling also connected with so-called “common men” and understood their ambitions. He also had a hatred for the pettiness of small dictators clutching for power that always slips through their fingers.

The only name that even comes close to the output, consistency and supervisory skill that Serling demonstrated is Aaron Sorkin, who wrote The American President, A Few Good Men, The West Wing and Sports Night, and even the well-written but doomed Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Sorkin lacks the range and imagination of Serling, however. In the arena that Serling created, he is still the champion.”

–Loyd

Related links:
Writers Breaking In
Writers Not Breaking In (Part 1)
Writers Not Breaking In (Part 2)
The Myth of “Breaking-In” (Tip #58)
There are no rules, but… (Tip #93+)
Keep Your Head Down

Scott W. Smith

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“Odd lead performances be damned, [Bubble] is not only an underrated gem, but yet another masterpiece found within Soderbergh’s historic filmography.”
Joshua Brunsting, Criterioncast 

Today on re-post Saturday I decided on one where Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) talked about directing non-professional actors because it’s a nice match for the post earlier this month where Alexander Payne’s talked about working with non-professional actors in all his films—“Nebraska”—Take 1 (Casting Farmers)— and because I finally got around to seeing Bubble last night—the movie Soderbergh referenced. (The 2005 offbeat film has never been easy to find, but it’s currently available on Netflix.)

Here’s the original post from October 2011 on one of the early HD features released in theaters:

It’s not usual for directors to use non-professional actors from time to time, but Steven Soderbergh took it to extreme for his 2006 film Bubble—the entire cast was non-professionals actors. I was reminded of that film today when I drove through Parkerburgh, West Virginia & Belpre, Ohio were Soderbergh shot Bubble. Soderbergh, who directed and shot the film, said that he found that non-professionals tend to do their best work in the first or second take before they start becoming self-conscience of their performance. Here are some other thoughts he had on the experience to help you in working with non-professional actors:

“I didn’t ever want to be in a situation of giving non-professional actors marks, you know, and be in a situation where they had to repeat a precise physical activity to accommodate where the camera was.

“So I was always working from the performance out and making sure that I had the camera in a place that could capture what they were doing without me having to tell them, ‘Hey, don’t lean over here. I need you to walk up to this mark. Don’t sit in that chair.’ I wanted them to do whatever they were going to do, and then I would find a way to have it play out in the frame.

“One of the things I like in the film is this guy, this detective, who’s a real detective who works in Ohio, he just had a quality that I thought was really fascinating, you know. It’s just impossible to fake, and especially in the interrogation scene, that was a single take, two cameras running, and watching the two of them as this scene developed was really interesting, watching his cadence slowly start to shift as, you know, the wheel starts to turn a little bit and watching her start to get more and more upset and more nervous. It was really fascinating.

“What we did was we just gave him the factual information that he would have from that alleged murder scene. I didn’t tell him what to say. I didn’t tell him how to question her. I didn’t tell him when to, you know, pull the trump card. I just said, ‘Do this the way you would do it,’ and she had no idea of what he was going to do, and so it was really interesting to watch.”
Steven Soderbergh
ABC Interview  

Colemon Hough wrote the screenplay for Bubble (with a large amount of improv from the non-professional actors).

Scott W. Smith

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“Since I was running into a little trouble in getting other people to go along with my desires and publish my stuff, I began publishing it myself….In the third issue of our fanzine I wrote a story called “The Reign of the Superman.”
Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel

Reign_of_the_Superman

O.K., we all know that Superman was born on the planet Krypton and raised on a farm in Kansas, but did you know he was actually created in Cleveland, Ohio—by a couple of high school students?

Writer Jerry Siegel (1914-1996) and artist Joe Shuster (1914-1992) came up with the concept for the concept of Superman while students at Glenville High School. The biggest change in Superman as we know him now from was when he was first created is he was bald and on the side of evil.

“A couple of months after I published this story, it occurred to me that a Superman as a hero rather than a villain might make a great comic strip character in the vein of Tarzan, only more super and sensational than that great character. Joe and I drew it up as a comic book – this was in early 1933. We interested a publisher in putting it out, but then he changed his mind, and that was the end of that particular version of Superman – called The Superman. Practically all of it was torn up, by the way. Joe got very upset and tore up and threw away most of it…Obviously, having him a hero would be infinitely more commercial than having him a villain. I understand that the comic strip Dr. Fu Manchu ran into all sorts of difficulties because the main character was a villain. And with the example before us of Tarzan and other action heroes of fiction who were very successful, mainly because people admired them and looked up to them, it seemed the sensible thing to do to make The Superman a hero. The first piece was a short story, and that’s one thing; but creating a successful comic strip with a character you’ll hope will continue for many years, it would definitely be going in the wrong direction to make him a villain.”
Jerry Siegel

It took a few more years before Superman would fully evolve and have his dual-identity of Clark Kent.

“That occurred to me in late 1934, when I decided that I’d like to do Superman as a newspaper strip. I approached Joe about it, and he was enthusiastic about the possibility. I was up late one night, and more and more ideas kept coming to me, and I kept writing out several weeks of syndicate scripts for the proposed newspaper strip. When morning came, I had written several weeks of material, and I dashed over to Joe’s place and showed it to him. (This was the story that appeared in Action Comics 01, June, 1938, the first published appearance of Superman.)  Of course, Joe had worked on that earlier version of Superman, and when I came to him with this new version of it, he was immediately sold. And when I saw the drawings that were emerging from his pencil I almost flipped. I knew he had matured a great deal since he had done The Superman, and I thought he was doing a great job on the new art.”
Jerry Siegel

If two teenage students growing up in the Midwest during the depression who create one of the great superheroes doesn’t inspire you to write stories wherever you live I’m not sure what will.

P.S. All of the above quotes came from a 1983 interview with Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.  Tony-winning playwright  Willie Gilbert (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) was a student at Glenville High School, as was playwright Jerome Lawrence (Inherit the Wind). They all worked on the school newspaper together.

Related Posts:
Toy Story 3′s Ohio Connection
The Lucky Slob from Ohio
Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl in Ohio (2.0)
Screenwriter Dudley Nichols  (1895-1960)
Content Creators=Content Distributors (A post written about 80 years after Jerry Siegel was his own content creator/distributor.)

 Scott W. Smith

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Live. Learn. Lead.
Motto of Oberlin, Ohio

Oberlin, Ohio map

Last year Oberlin was voted the “Best Hometown” in northeast Ohio by Ohio Magazine.  The city of just under 10,000 people was founded in 1833 by two Presbyterian ministers, and just happens to also be the place that helped develop two top Hollywood screenwriters. And while the city sits between Cleveland and Toledo it’s interesting to head over to Europe to see the original roots that links Oberlin to the Oscars.

Oberlin, Ohio was named after Jean-Frederic Oberlin (1740-1826) who was a German minister who worked to build a better community in the Le Ban de la Roche region in France.  (Known for his work in medicine, agricultural, helping to build roads, bridges and oraphanages—along with his spiritual teachings.)  The J.-F Oberlin Museum in Waldersbach is dedicated to celebrating his 59 years of ministry work in the remote valley.

Oberlin-Hollywood

Oberlin College was established in 1833 by the same two ministers who founded the town. According to Wikipedia, Oberlin was a key stop for the Underground Railroad in assisting escaped slaves and  the college  “was the first college in the United States to regularly admit African-American students, beginning in 1835.” And while Oberlin College is strong in the arts, and today has a Cinema Studies program, the school’s most successful screenwriters majored in different disciplines.

Two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman was an English major at Oberlin before he wrote the novel Harper which led to a career in Hollywood. His best known films are Marathon Man, The Princess Bride, Misery, All the Presidents Men and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Goldman also wrote the insightful book Adventures in the Screen Trade:  A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting. That book includes the entire screenplay to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Though first published in 1982, it’s the first book any inspiring screenwriter should read. Here’s how Goldman introduced Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) in the screenplay.

A MAN idly walking around the building. He is BUTCH CASSIDY and hard to pin down. Thirty-five and bright, he has brown hair, but most people, if asked to describe him, would remember him as blond. He speaks well and quickly, and has been all his life a leader of men, but if you asked him, he would be damned if he could tell you why.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Written by William Goldman

The other screenwriter from Oberlin is Mark Boal who majored in philosophy. While the much respected Goldman is on the tail-end of his career, Boal who graduated from Oberlin in ’95 is at the front end of his career but already has four Oscar nominations for his work writing and producing Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker, resulting in two-Oscar wins. Here’s how Boal introduced Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) in The Hurt Locker:

Working the joystick on the laptop is SERGEANT J.T. SANDBORN, a type-A jock, high school football star, cocky, outgoing, ready with a smile and quick with a joke…or, if you prefer , a jab to the chin. Think Muhammad Ali with a rifle.

I couldn’t tell you another connection between Goldman and Boal, but for the sake of this blog, two great screenwriters passing through the same small city decades apart makes it a city of interest. And a reminder that talent comes from everywhere.

Related posts:

William Goldman Stands Alone
Screenwriting Quote #118 (William Goldman)
Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl in Ohio
Toy Story 3′s Ohio Connections
Screenwriter Ernest R. Tidyman
Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany
Descriptive Writing—Pt 3, Characters

Scott W. Smith

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 “The Eagle has landed.”
Neil Armstrong

Before Neil Armstrong took that historic step of being the first person to walk on the moon, he took his first steps in the small town of Wapakoneta, Ohio where he was born in 1930. It was reported that as teenager he worked in a pharmacy there, ‘saving money for flying lessons.” A reminder that before you shoot for the moon, start small.

Small steps before giant leaps.

Because one of the themes of this blog is people rising up from small (seemingly unlikely places) and doing great things, I think—though not a screenwriter— Neil Armstrong’s life story qualifies.

I was eight years old living in Central Florida when I saw Apollo 11 lift into the sky, and I remember on July 20, 1969 watching a small, fuzzy TV broadcast of Armstrong landing the lunar module on the moon and later taking those first steps on the moon and uttering, “That’s one small small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

That line was not improvised, but following a great literary tradition—it is unknown who actually wrote that line. Nor was it properly delivered. It was supposed to be, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” (Armstrong would say later that the word “a” was lost in transmission.)

Regardless, putting a man on the moon was one of the great technological and symbolic acts of modern history. (It was also one built on years of failures and an immeasurable amount of man hours.) I’m old enough to remember all the debates about how it was impossible to put a man on the moon. So on July 20, 1969—suddenly everything seemed possible.

When I heard news that Armstrong died two days ago quite a few memories came to mind, including how “The Eagle has landed” became a catch phrase for “mission completed.” There is a poster in my office of the front page of the New York Times that proclaims “MEN LAND ON MOON.” (One time where all caps is fitting.)

I thought it also fitting that Armstrong died in Cincinnati, just about an hour away from where Orville and Wilbur Wright designed and built the first successful airplane and where both also died.

It’s also worth noting that while Armstrong will be forever linked to walking on the moon, that of his 82 years of life, he only spend 2 hours and 31 minutes walking on the moon and a total of less than 24 hours on the moon. (His total time in space was just 8 days.)

“I believe that every human has a finite number of heartbeats and I don’t intend to waste any of mine.”
Neil Armstrong

So wherever you live, shoot for the moon—but keep the rest of your life in perspective.

P.S. As far as I can tell, the city of Wapakonita was named after a Shawnee Indian Chief. And Oscar-winning screenwriter Dudley Nichols (The Informer) was also born in Wapakonita in 1895 and wrote for more than sixty movies including Stagecoach, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and Bringing up Baby. He was also the president of the Screen Writers Guild in 1937 & 1938. I bet when he died in Hollywood in 1964 he thought that no one more more accomplished then him would ever be born in Wapakonita .

Related posts:
Don’t Waste Your Life
Don’t Waste Your Life (Part 2)

Scott W. Smith

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“Literature abounds with stories about meteoric rises followed by catastrophic falls. There are very few stories, much less true stories, with a genuine third act. But John Nash’s life had such a third act. In fact, it was that amazing third act that drew me to his story in the first place.”
Sylvia Nasar

On the DVD commentary of A Beautiful Mind director Ron Howard mentions that mathematicians on the level of John Nash don’t think it terms of numbers but of patterns.  I’m no mathematician (and certainly no genius), but in doing this blog for the past three years I’ve seen a number of patterns emerge. Today it happens to be journalists and Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Just as there was a great trail of talented people that led to the making of the classic film On the Waterfront , there was also a lot of talented people who were behind the success of A Beautiful Mind. And though both of those films were made over 45 years apart there are some common denominators between them.

Important parts of both stories take place in New Jersey. On the Waterfront in Hoboken and A Beautiful Mind in Princeton. I have been to both places, and though they are only 50 miles apart, culturally they are a worlds away from each other. (At least they were years ago.) Both stories center around a man facing great odds with a strong woman helping them endure. Both movies won Best Picture Oscars: On the Waterfront (1955), A Beautiful Mind (2002). Wait, both titles also have three words—this is getting scary.

And both stories were first brought to light by journalists. On the Waterfront flowed from 26 front page articles written by Malcolm Johnson. They first appeared in 1947-48 in The New York Sun and later in book form. For his work in exposing organized crime Johnson won the Pulitzer Prize.

A Beautiful Mind was the brainchild of Sylvia Nasar.  She was working as an economics reporter for the New York Times when she heard that John Nash would be sharing the Nobel Prize for his doctoral dissertation that was over 40 years old.

What had become of John Nash? Was he even still alive? He was alive, but he didn’t  understand why anyone would want to write a story on his life and did not give Nasar a formal interview. His friends and peers also were reluctant to speak to Nasar. She knows why, “There had not been a paragraph written on Nash, and no one who knew him wanted to put schizophrenia on the record because he had already suffered so much.” In 1994, The New York Times published Nasar’s article, The Lost Years of a Nobel Laureate.

One person who did talk to Nasar was Nash’s sister and that was enough to get started going deeper into the story. Nasar was also able to interview and talk with John’s wife, Alicia.

“In many ways these were the first prints in the snow, and the greatest thing that could happen to a reporter. It was an extremely rewarding experience not just telling a rise and fall story, but the fall and rise of an intellectual giant.”
Sylvia Nasar

Nasar took leave from the Times and spent two and a half years writing the book A Beautiful Mind: The Life of Mathematical Genius and Nobel Laureate John Nash. In 1998 the book won the National Book Critics Award for Biography and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Nash had a great (though not perfect) first act as a rising academic in the cold war era when some mathematicians were rock stars. He earned his Ph.D. at the age of 21. He married a physics major who also happened to be a cheerleader and was said to resembled Elizabeth Taylor in the movie Butterfield 8

Act 2 is when things got rough. He failed to accomplish the great things he thought he would in his field. He began hearing voices and having delusions. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia in an era where the treatment was brutal. He ended up divorced, living in poverty and obscurity.

Five years after their divorce John called Alicia from a mental hospital  in West Virginia and asked her to help him. She did. And a mere 25-years-later he was honored with the Nobel Prize, and later the film A Beautiful Mind. He had finally found the success and fame that he hungered for as a young man.

“I dedicated my biography of John Nash to his wife Alicia. A Beautiful Mind is a drama about the mystery of the human mind, but it’s also very much a love story. It is very much an exploration of what Wordsworth called “the tenderness, joys, and fears of the human heart”...Without Alicia, Nash would have perished. There would be no recovery, no Nobel, no second take on life or the marriage.
Sylvia Nasar
Talk at MIT & Interview

So what does all of this have to do with Yellow Springs, Ohio? That is where Sylvia Nasar received her undergraduate degree in literature at Anitoch College. A place I have mentioned before since it is where Rod Serling graduated from on the road to creating The Twilight Zone.

We’ve all heard the horror stories from authors of books who’ve been less than pleased with the movie results based on their writings. Nasar’s Hollywood experience is on the other end of the spectrum.

“Was I happy with the movie? Well, look….when Ron Howard screened the movie for us I had read many drafts of the screenplay. I visited the set, I talked with Ron Howard—nothing prepared me for how good it was. I was really blown away. To me this movie captured what was truley— yes, in a fictional way— what was truly unique and meaningful about this story, and did something that I have never seen any movie do by this very cleaver device it put the audience in the shoes of someone who can’t distinguish between delusion and reality…To be able to translate a story about two states of mind, mathematics and schizophrenia, that are pretty remote from most people’s experience and to communicate that to audiences in many different cultures  and countries around the world I think is extraordinary. So, I was very happy with it.”
Sylvia Nasar
MIT Talk

Nasar is the John S. and James L. Knight Professor of Business Journalism at Columbia Journalism School.

Related Posts:
Writing “A Beautiful Mind”
A Beautiful Heart
Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany

Scott W. Smith

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Two months ago the official blog of TomCruise.com had a post called Guide for Aspiring Screenwriters Part 1: Story Matters Most When Writing a Screenplay! and I was pleased that one of the two screenwriting blogs that was mentioned was Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places.

Now a post called 60 Best Blogs for Aspiring Screenwriters has listed Screenwriting from Iowa #7 saying, “Scott W. Smith philosophically peers into screenwriting and the creative process that goes into the craft.” Thanks for the shout out.

The saying goes that a number without a context is meaningless, but when I look at some of the blogs listed on there I am honored to be in such good company. The list  appears to have some kind of connection to the University of Phoenix and Kaplan University. But whoever came up with the list really did their homework.

Scott Myers’ blog Go Into The Story is well deserving in the top slot as is Big Fish screenwriter John August’s blog at #2. Ken Levine who wrote on the TV show Mash has his blog listed at #5 so I have no problem at all coming in at #7. (And just for the record, as far as I can tell, none of the other blogs have won an Emmy.)

As I wrap up the third year of this blog (and the second year of daily posts) it’s been a thrill to get some recognition. And it will also give me some added inspiration to get the content into book form.

On Sunday, I’ll be giving an introduction to the 1939 John Ford classic Stagecoach as part of the 100th celebration of the Oster-Regent Theater here in Cedar Falls. I look forward to that because it’s kind of encapsulates what this blog is all about. Not only does the film star John Wayne who was born here in Iowa (Winterset) but the script was written by Dudley Nichols* who was born in Wapakoneta, Ohio. How many could find either of those places without Mapquest or Google Maps?

* I mentioned Dudley Nichols back in October of ’08 in the post Screenwriting from Michigan as he was one of the first, if not the first, to graduate from the University of Michigan and have a screenwriting career in Hollywood. According to IMDB he was also the first artist to turn down the Oscar. (For his screenplay that became the 1935 film The Informer.)

Scott W. Smith

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“His ears are too big and he looks like an ape.”
Darryl Zanuck on Clark Gable’s screen test

“He was to the American motion picture what Ernest Hemingway is to American Literature.”
1960 Time magazine on Gable’s death

Before he was called “The King of Hollywood,” and long before he uttered the famous words in Gone with the Wind, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” Clark Gable was born in Cadiz, Ohio and raised about 80 miles northwest of there in Akron, Ohio.

Though not a writer, I thought that was an interesting find while doing some research on writer/director Jim Jarmusch also being from the Akron area. Gable even worked at B.F. Goodrich where Jarmusch’s father also worked, though in different eras.

Gable became interested in theater after seeing a play performed as a teenager in Akron. He later worked with a traveling theater group, did manual labor, worked on oil fields in Oklahoma, eventually finding his way to Portland, Oregon where he was a tie salesman and theater actor. After a few years he went to Los Angeles working on his craft on his way to becoming the star of It Happened One Night,  Mutiny on the Bounty, and Gone with the Wind. He was in 65 films and was nominated for three Oscars and won one.

In Premiere magazine’s list of The 100 Sexiest Movie Stars of All Time they listed Gable at #13 and  AFI’s 100 Years…100 Stars listed Gable as the #7 male legend. Not bad for a kid from Cadiz, Ohio.

“There’s no special light that shines inside me and makes me a big star. I’m just a lucky slob from Ohio who happened to be in the right place at the right time. I had a lot of smart guys helping me that’s all.”
Clark Cable

Gable also won the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal when he was in the Army during World War II.

Tomorrow marks the two and a half anniversary of “Screenwriting from Iowa” and I’ll explain tomorrow why Clark Gable would have been attracted to screenwriting Diablo Cody.

P.S. Just to show you how times have changed in Akron, Ohio. Chrissie Hynde wrote about Akron in her 1982 song, “My City is Gone” (Pretenders):

I went back to Ohio,
but my city was gone.
There was no train station.
There was no downtown.

Akron was founded in 1825 and I’m sure there have been many changes over the years. Because of the advent of rubber, and Akron being a place where rubber was produced made it once the fastest growing city in America. Its wealth also brought the arts and fostered artists to one degree or another. The New Yorker says that poet Hart Crane “once worked behind a candy counter of a drug store in Akron, Ohio.” (Maybe Akron is what Francis Coppola had in mind when he made his famous comment about the future of filmmaking: “One day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart.”)

The city being gone that Hynde refers to is I believe after some plants and buildings were torn down in the 80s due to economic change.

I went through Akron about 10 years ago and found a great minor league baseball field there (Canal Park) right off Main St. in the downtown area. These days many older buildings have been restored and there is even a Biomedical Corridor downtown.

In 2007, Hynde even opened a vegan restaurant called The VegiTerranean just north of downtown Akron. And I’ve read that she keeps an apartment in her old hometown in an urban renewal area known as Highland Square. This is the same Akron that basketball great LeBron James (the other “King”) said of just this weekend, “Akron is my home, it’s my life. Everything I do is for this city. I’m going to continue to do great things. I love every last one of you all. Akron is home.”

Clark Gable, Jim Jarmusch, Chrissie Hynde, Hart Crane, James LeBron, Benjamin Franklin Goodrich—what a country.

Scott W. Smith


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“Growing up in Ohio was just planning to get out.”
Jim Jarmusch

Have you ever put together a top ten list of films that you’ve walked away from feeling stunned? I haven’t but one film that I think would be on that list is Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger than Paradise. The 1984 film is credited with giving a fresh take on independent filmmaking. The low-budget, black and white film is still the only movie I’ve ever watched where each scene is done in single master shots.

Stranger than Paradise won Camera d’Or for best first feature at the Cannes Film Festival. Empire magazine’s The 50 Greatest Independent Films listed the film #14, just ahead of Memento.

I haven’t seen the film is a long time. Actually, because it has a special place in my memory I’m a little hesitant to watch it again for fear it won’t measure up to the fondness I have it. But I’m sure I’ll check out The Criterion Collection version in the near future.

Most filmmakers struggle to one degree or another with a balance between artistic freedom and commercial success.   A look at Jarmusch’s career shows how one filmmaker has walked that balance. Even if you haven’t seen his films (Broken Flowers, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Dead Man, Down by Law) know that any writer/director who can attract the acting talents of Forest Whitaker, Bill Murray, Roberto Benigni, and Johnny Depp, on top of a 25-year career is doing something right.

Born in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio (just north of Akron)  in 1953 Jarmusch went to New York and received his undergraduate degree from Columbia University and worked on an MFA in film at NYU where Spike Lee was a fellow student. He also gained valuable experience working as an assistant for directors Wim Wenders and Nicholas Ray.

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: ‘It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to.’”
Jim Jarmusch’s Golden Rules
MovieMaker 2004

The Akron-Cleveland has changed a lot since Jarmusch was a kid (and even when he shot part of Stranger in Paradise there in the 80s) and I’d like to think that the next Jim Jarmuschs from the area, like current NBA MVP LeBron James, stay in their hometown and do their thing for the world to see.

Scott W. Smith

 

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“I think the moment you try to make something for kids, you are making something really cruddy that even kids don’t want to watch most of the time.”
Lee Unkrich, Toy Story 3 director

Chagrin Falls, Ohio has actually popped up a few times on my posts. Mostly because that’s the area where screenwriter Joe Eszterhas moved to in part because he believed it was a better place than Malibu to raise his family.

I’ve been to Chagrin Falls a couple of times and the Cleveland suburb appears to be an idyllic place to grow up. Newsweek has named Chagrin Falls High School several times as one of the top 100 high schools in the country. And grow up in Chagrin Falls and graduate from Chagrin Falls High School is exactly what Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich did.

Long before Unkrich co-directed the Pixar films Finding NemoMonsters, Inc. and Toy Story 2, he joined the Cleveland Play House as an 11-year-old and spent four years working on children’s shows.Unkrich told Clint O’Connor of The Plain Dealer of his four years of performing children’s plays and musicals in Cleveland,  “I loved it. We got to put on our shows on the big sets and on the big stages.”

An interesting (and Toy Story-connected) side note is since Lee Unkrich was born in 1967 and began doing theater in Cleveland when he was 11, that means he started in 1978. In 1978-79 there was a young actor in Cleveland cutting his chops performing Shakespeare (and moving sets) with the Great Lakes Theater Festival, where artistic director Vincent Dowling had lured the student away from California.

That student was Tom Hanks who would go on to win two Best Actor  Academy Awards as well as be in a few other films, including providing the voice for Woody in the Toy Story movies. That’s right, before he starred in the TV show Bosom Buddies in 1980, Hanks was performing Hamlet night after night in Cleveland, Ohio.

“[I have] an artistic bent, almost a philosophy, which I learned for the first time onstage in Cleveland.”
Tom Hanks

Unkrich graduated from high school in 1985 and headed to USC to attend film school where he graduated in 1990. He won some awards for his short films, edited some TV programs, and eventually joined Pixar in 1994.

In an article in The Columbus Dispatch Unkrich was interviewed by Nick Chordas:

Chordas: Does it feel as if you’ve come a long way from Chagrin Falls?

Unkrich: It does. I headed off from Chagrin Falls with dreams of making movies, although I don’t think I really understood what that meant then. But, yes, I do have to pinch myself that I’m here doing this now.

My mom still lives in Chagrin Falls, and she’ll be at the premiere on Hollywood Boulevard. I’m sure it will be a thrill for both of us.

You can follow Unkrich on Twitter @leeunkrich .

P.S. Pixar’s Bob Peterson (who directed Up) is from Wooster, Ohio. And next door in Michigan, they can claim the voice of Buzz Lightyear provided by Tim Allen.  Allen went to high school in Birmingham, Michigan, earned a degree in TV from Western Michigan University, and started his stand up comedy routine in Detroit.

Some of the “Screenwriting from Iowa” related posts on Ohio:

Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl in Ohio
Screenwriting Quote #129 (Bob Peterson)
Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany
First Screenplay=9 Oscar Nominations
Youngstown’s Hollywood Connection
Screenwriting Quote #116 (Chris Colunbus)
William Goldman Stands Alone
Screenwriting Quote #72 (Michael Eisner)
Screenwriting from Sunset Blvd.

And though I haven’t written about him yet, writer/director Jim Jarmusch is from the Akron, Ohio area. For what it’s worth, Jarmusch’sfascinating film Stranger Than Paradise was released in 1984—the same year that basketball’s “King James,” LeBron James, was born in Akron.

Scott W. Smith

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