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Superman

Did you know there’s actually a city named Metropolis in the United States? It sits on the Ohio River in the southern part of Illinois.   And if you expect a real life town of Metropolis to embrace Superman and build a giant replica of the fictional character, you will not be disappointed.

I took the above photo of Superman this morning back on my way up to a few productions in the Midwest this week. It was hard to show the scale of this  giant statue until a couple Superman admirers stepped into the frame.  While one of the creators of Superman said he based the fictional Metropolis on Toronto, back in 1972 DC Comics declared Metropolis, IL the “Hometown of Superman”.

Just around the corner from the Statue is the Massac Theater which hasn’t aged as well as Superman. The art deco building opened in 1938 just in time for that great year in movies—1939. There is currently an effort to restore the theater at savethemassac.org 

DSC_2165

Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux (see the post The First Black Feature Filmmaker) was born in Metropolis in 1884.  When they have a grand reopening of the Massac I suggest they show a couple Superman films in the day, and a double feature at night with one of Micheaux’s films with the classic Fritz Lang directed film Metropolis (1927) written by Thea von Harbou. (Anybody have any memories of the Massac Theater in its glory days?)

Related Posts:

The Superman from Cleveland
Putting the $ in Superman

Scott W. Smith

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Putting the $ in Superman

“Jerry and I discussed it in detail. We said, “Let’s put something on the front.” I think initially we wanted to use the first letter of the character’s name. We thought S was perfect. After we came up with it, we kiddingly said, “Well, it’s the first letter of Siegel and Shuster.” Progressively, as the strip evolved, the emblem became larger and larger; you’ll notice at the beginning it was quite small.”
Joe Shuster on Superman’s iconic emblem
Co-creator of Superman

“It’s not an “S”—in my world it means hope.”
Clark Kent/ Kal-Kl/Superman (Henry Cavill)
Man of Steel (2013) written by David S. Goyer

Before there was a $ attached to Superman, and even before there was an “S” on his chest, Superman started out as an idea by two high school students in Cleveland. Keep in mind that in the late 1920s and early 30s there was no television, cable TV or Internet and sync sound was new to movie theaters. In fact, silent pictures continued to be made into the 30s.

Superman creators Joe Shuster and Jerry  Siegel say they were influenced by H.G. Wells, Tarzan, Hercules, Samson, the comic strip Little Nemo by Winsor McCay, Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Dr. Fu Manchu, Detective Dan, Popeye, Lil Abner, Alex Raymond, Burne Hogarth, Milt Caniff, Hal Foster, Roy Crane, Zorro, Robin Hood, and Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik. Here’s an exchange from a 1983 interview: 

SHUSTER: But the movies were the greatest influence on our imagination: especially the films of Douglas Fairbanks Senior.
SIEGEL: I read tremendous amounts of pulps; and Joe and I, we practically lived in movie theaters
SHUSTER: Jerry picked up the technique of visualizing the story as a movie scenario; and whenever he gave me a script, I would see it as a screenplay. That was the technique that Jerry used, and I just picked it up.
Q: Had you had a chance to see professionally written screenplays?
SIEGEL: Not at all
And while Shuster said Superman was modeled after many “heroes in fiction and the classics” it was the “agile and athletic” Douglas Fairbanks Senior who Siegel said was the single greatest influence in creating Superman according, adding “Clark Kent, I suppose, had a little bit of Harold Lloyd in him.”
Siegel and Shuster weren’t reinventing the wheel, just putting a new twist on good fighting evil and tapping into some universal themes:
SIEGEL: If you’re interested in what made Superman what it is, here’s one of the keys to what made it universally acceptable. Joe and I had certain inhibitions…which led to wish-fulfillment which we expressed through our interest in science fiction and our comic strip. That’s where the dual-identity concept came from, and Clark Kent’s problems with Lois. I imagine there are a lot of people in this world who are similarly frustrated. Joe and I both felt that way in high school, and he was able to put the feeling into sketches.
JOANNE SIEGEL: Most teenage boys have disappointments with girls…
SHUSTER: True! That’s why I say it’s a universal theme, and that’s why so many people could relate to it.
And, of course, in Superman’s case fighting crime (and dealing with relationship issues) turned out to be quite profitable. Siegel and Shuster recognized that early on.
SIEGEL: “One day, I read an article in some leading magazine of the time about how Tarzan was merchandised by Stephen Slesinger so successfully. And I thought: Wow! Superman is even more super than Tarzan; the same thing could happen with Superman. And I mentioned it to Joe, he got real enthused, and I walked in a day to two later, and he had made a big drawing of Superman showing how the character could be merchandised on boxtops, T-shirts, and everything.”
We put this merchandising business into one of the very early Superman stories. The publisher looked at it and thought it was a good idea, and Superman has been a terrific earner from character merchandising ever since.
SHUSTER: “We just let our imagination run wild. We visualized Superman toys, games, and a radio show – that was before TV – and Superman movies. We even visualized Superman billboards. And it’s all come true.”
Unfortunately, I’m not sure how much Siegal and Shuster made off of creating Superman. Various reports have the two selling the rights for Superman to DC Comics back in the 30s for between $130-150. No typo, for less than $200 they cost their estate tens of millions of dollars. They did have a 10 year contract to create stories but attempts to sue and get back the rights to the Superman character failed.  And though frustrated with not being involved with various film and Tv versions of Superman, at least in 1983 they seemed content when Siegel said, “We are grateful that, in our senior years – we’re both almost 69 – that the corporation which owns Superman is treating us well.”
 

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Coming off a couple of posts on Super Bowl commercials, I thought I’d point out that making commercials is not an uncommon place for writers and directors to hone their skills. Today I’ll highlight one such person who made the commercial below that aired during the 2003 Super Bowl and who has since built a career making feature films:

It’s fitting in light of the Green Bay Packers winning  Super Bowl XLV to mention that the director of that commercial, Zack Snyder, was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  He didn’t live there long, but he was born there in 1966. He went to art school in London and also attended the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He spent many years making music videos and high end commercials.

One of his best known commercials is this 1997 Jeep spot called Frisbee which was a Clio winner.

His first feature film Dawn of the Dead, was released  2004, and in 2007 he wrote and directed 300. Two years later he released Watchmen and in 2010 he produced and directed Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga ‘Hoole. Next month his latest film, Sucker Punch (it’s been called “Alice in Wonderland with machine guns”), will be released which he co-wrote (with Steve Shibuya), produced and directed.


And he is on board to make the next Superman movie, The Man of Steel.

“In the pantheon of superheroes, Superman is the most recognized and revered character of all time, and I am honored to be a part of his return to the big screen. I also join Warner Bros. and the producers in saying how excited we are about the casting of Henry (Cavill) . He is the perfect choice to don the cape and S shield.”
Zack Snyder

Snyder and his wife, Deborah, have a production company in Pasadena called Cruel and Unusual Films.

According to Box Office Mojo, the first four moives Zack has made have a phenomenal box office average of $100 million a film.

Scott W. Smith

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“Many careers have been launched by new media that was discovered on the web.”
Shelly Mellott
Editor in Chief, Script magazine

Were you one of the first people to get rid of your landline in favor of just having a cell phone? If so then you may have already cut your cable TV cord in favor of getting your traditional television entertainment not on a television, but via the Internet.  “Is television dead?” ask Robert Gustafson & Alec McNayer in an article in Script magazine (Sept./Oct. 2010) titled The Branding of Online Entertainment.

But it’s not only that you can watch your favorite TV shows on the Internet with sponsors  putting a tag and the beginning and end of the show, now sponsors are creating their own shows. The brand produces the entertainment, hence the phrase branding entertainment.  If you aren’t familiar with what that looks like check out the Ikea sponsored show Easy to Assemble.

“(Branding Entertainment) has to become about the actual experience with the brand. It’s not about trying to sell a product, it’s about making the audience feel good about the brand and its message.”
Dominik Rauch
Producer, Easy to Assemble

I’m not sure when this all started but in its modern form I’d point to the Superman webisodes that Jerry Seinfeld did for American Express in 2004-2005 that were directed by Barry Levinson (Rain Man, The Natural).

Of course, if actors, writers and filmmakers are uncomfortable with product placement they sure aren’t going to like branding entertainment. But it is a trend that is going to grow and provide a lot of creative opportunities for actors, writers and filmmakers. And since the majority of actors, writers and filmmakers are unemployed at any given time it seems like a positive thing. Sure it’s a dance between art and commerce, but what isn’t?

Two weeks ago I shot my first project that I would call branding entertainment. It’s for an economic development group and has been a great opportunity to work on the project as a producer, director, cameraman, editor as well as write the script and work with the actors. Even if the idea of branding entertainment doesn’t thrill you think of the experience you can gain. Writing words one week, and seeing actors say those words the next week, and people watching them  online soon afterwards has its own benefits in a field where you can go years without seeing any fruit to your work.

“Like with television, we’re always looking for strong writers with a point of view and fresh concepts that offer some sort of ‘wow’ factor.”
Ryan Noggle
Supervising producer, NBC’s In Gayle We Trust (sponsored by American Family Trust)

In the article by Gusafson and McNayer they point out a Orbit gum sponsored online show called “Orbit Dirty Shoes” featuring Jason Bateman; “The writing is superb, the acting is excellent, and the gum itself was successfully incorporated in the story.”

Not every writer’s cup of tea, but as I think of all the businesses and groups out there and the potential for branding entertainment— for the first time in my life I can honestly say I don’t think there are enough qualified producers and writers to handle all the work that I see coming down the pike.

Scott W. Smith



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“Trouble, oh we got trouble, Right here in River City!”
                                                  Music Man, written by Iowa native Meredith Willson

How high’s the water, mama? 
Five feet high and risin’ 
                                                   Johnny Cash
                                                   Five Feet High and Risin’ 

 

I was supposed to get my haircut today…that didn’t happen.

When the morning begins with a segment of the NBC Today Show in Cedar Falls, Iowa you know there’s trouble in River City. Just two blocks from my office the Cedar River flows. In fact, we chose the name River Run Productions for our company because we saw the river as a metaphor that runs though Iowa and eventually into the Mississippi which eventually runs into the Gulf of Mexico and around the world.

Little did we know when we launched in January of ‘07 that just four months later I would be doing a shoot in Brazil including flying in a seaplane over the meeting of the waters where the Amazon and Rio Negro Rivers meet. 

But back in Cedar Falls today it was a long day of partaking along with hundreds (thousands?) of volunteers (including my partner who lost his home in the Parkersburg tornado two weeks ago) filling and placing sandbags trying to keep the river at bay. So far it’s been working to protect the downtown area, though many people in the low lying areas have evacuated and much of their homes underwater.  And the river is not supposed to crest until sometime tomorrow. 

 

Somewhere between moving boxes of photographs and memories to the basement Saturday night due to a tornado warning and taking the same boxes upstairs this morning in case of flooding, one can’t help but examine what you really need in your life.

I took all of these photos today and will give updates in coming days and then bring it full circle in regard to screenwriting and life.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday June 11, 2008 Update

The sandbagging on Tuesday paid off in Cedar Falls as the river crested at 2 AM with the downtown being spared from any flooding despite a record level of 102 feet. I drove over to Waterloo to help artist & friend Paco Rosic with his battle to hold back the flooding there from his restaurant/studio. Without much sleep in the last two night he and his father are winning the battle when most have given up.  Here are some shots of the front, inside (the multiple cords going to several water pumps), and view from the back of Galleria De Paco (voted this year as the #1 attraction in Iowa).

 

Thursday June 12, 2008 Update

Where’d all the good people go?
I’ve been changin’ channels
I don’t see them on the tv shows
Where’d all the good people go?
                                                                                                 Jack Johnson
                                                                                                 Good People

The secret’s out, Jack. A lot of those good people are in Iowa. They’re even on tv. NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams showed some of them in last night’s broadcast, including a nurse who volunteered in the morning after working an all-night shift in an intensive care unit. All told, I heard 5,000 people and 250,000 sandbags filled and placed on the levee helped keep the river back in downtown Cedar Falls. (Not that I put myself in the good people category, but I did make a brief cameo on the NBC segment in a non-speaking role as “Volunteer passing sandbag in white long sleeve t-shirt and camera strap around front.”)

It appears the worst is over in Cedar Falls but problems continue to mount in Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, and Iowa City and in other cites across Iowa and the Midwest. All of this reminds me of a quote from Steve Brown who I produced a video for in Nashville a couple years ago:

“The one thing I’ve learned is every day the world rolls over on top of someone who was just sitting on top of it yesterday.”

I don’t think a week goes by when I don’t think of that quote. I used to keep a list I called the roll over club. It contained names like John Kennedy Jr., Princess Diana, Mike Tyson, Kenneth Lay (Enron), Michael Vick, Britney Spears, Barry Bonds…you get the picture.

The point is things change quickly when your sitting on top of the world. I’m fond of pointing to Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air where after reaching the peak of Mount Everest exhausted he took a few pictures and then began his decent. Krakauer writes, “All told, I’d spent less than five minutes on the roof of the world.”

Over the years I’ve seen many people who were at the top of the world before it began to roll: Muhammad Ali, Christopher Reeves, and Michael J. Fox come to mind. Ali continually reminded us that he was “the greatest” though he had to recant that later, when Reeves died due to complications from a horse riding accident that had left him paralyzed one headline read, “Superman Dies,” and Fox had an amazing dream year in his early 20’s when he was the star of the top rated TV program that he shot in the day and then went to his night job shooting “Back to the Future” that would become a #1 box office hit long before his career and life took a blow as he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

And in 1990 The New York Times  ran an article on The Man Who Own Prime Time about Brandon Tartikoff who had become the youngest person ever to be chosen the head programmer of a network at 31 and rose to become president of NBC Entertainment. Under his leadership NBC flourished with a string of successes including Cheers, The Cosby Show, LA Law, Family Ties and Seinfeld and for one incredible five year run NBC was the No. 1 Network for five consecutive seasons. Seven years after that article appeared Tartiloff died at age 48 from Hodgkin’s disease. 

Despite human’s great accomplishments, the above stories and this recent flood are reminders of how fragile we are. 

Whatever mountain top you are reaching for know that if you are one of the fortunate ones who gets to the summit you don’t get to stay up there very long. An acting teaching once told me “When your feet hit the ground in the morning if you don’t want to be an actor more than anything then don’t pursue it because it’s too hard to make it and too hard to stay if you do make it. So unless you love acting it’s not worth it.” That’s great advise for the screenwriter as well.  

In the June 5 issues of Time magazine there is an article called “How to Live Live With Just 100 Things.” Lisa Mclaughlin writes, ‘Excess consumption is practically an American religion. But as anyone with a filled-to-the-gills closet knows, the things we accumulate can become oppressive.” Dave Bruno started what he calls “the 100 Thing Challenge,  a grass-roots movement in which otherwise seemingly normal folks are pledging to whittle down their possessions to a mere 100 items.”

Maybe trading in your multiple piece spoon, fork and knife set for a spork won’t bring the Jewish concept of Shalom or peace (what Cornelius Plantinga Jr. calls “universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight…Shalom, in other words is the way things ought to be.”)  But maybe it’s a step in the direction of that happy ending we all seek.

I think that is the single greatest reasons why movie audiences yearn for (in some cases demand) a happy ending. Because one of the deepest longings in life is to find shalom. Look at many of the films people return to again and again (The Shawshank Redemption, Titanic, The Princess Bride, Star Wars, Finding Nemo, Rocky, The Wizard of Oz) and you will find this concept over and over again. Most (all?) films at least show a small corner of shalom or it’s opposite, a world lived outside the garden.

Who doesn’t want to have that moment of clarity that Tom Cruise as Jerry Maguire has as he writes his mission statement and says, “It was the me I’d always wanted to be”? 

Often it takes an event like a flood, 9-11 or a death in the family, or a personal illness to get our attention. Out of difficult times we need to have hope that there is a purpose and meaning to our suffering. Let’s not forget those who have lost greatly in the recent tornadoes and floods and pitch in where we can. And in time we’ll hear stories from this flood about how good things came out of the calamity.

Just like the Johnny Cash song Five Feet High and Risin':

My mama always taught me that good things come from adversity if we put our faith in the Lord.
We couldn’t see much good in the flood waters when they were causing us to have to leave home, 
But when the water went down, we found that it had washed a load of rich black bottom dirt across our land. The following year we had the best cotton crop we’d ever had.

Sunday June 15, 2008 Update

This morning’s early morning lightening storm was kind of an exclamation point to two weeks of strange weather for the area.

And all the flooding in Iowa proves one thing: Jay Leno was wrong. Back in the first week January just before the Iowa caucuses he said that the word caucus was an Indian word meaning the only day of the year anyone pays attention to Iowa.

From two weeks ago when Parkersburg and other towns where hit by a tornado to the flooding of last week has provided the national press with lots of dramatic images.

Things began to return back to normal in Cedar Falls on Friday when the downtown ban was lifted and the national guard moved on. By Friday night hundreds of people had gathered in Overman Park to watch a movie in the park. Late Saturday afternoon I rode my bike downtown and saw Cup ‘O Joe was open on Main St. and the distinct sound of a Bob Marley song was being performed live at The Hub: 

Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.
Singin': “Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right!

                                            Bob Marley
                                            Three Little Birds

 

 

Wednesday June 18, 2008 Update

It’s tough out there
High Water Everywhere
                                                                              
Bob Dylan   
                                                                               High Water (For Charlie Patton)
 

It’s hard to believe that is less than a week that flooding in Iowa alone as displaced tens of thousands of people and caused over $1.5 billion in damage. It’s a classic man vs. nature battle that will also have long a term economic impact.

Just about a month ago I did a couple days location scouting for Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut Whip It in the very areas being hit by flood waters; Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Vinton and Cedar Rapids. Probably a good choice by Mandate Pictures to shoot their roller derby film later this summer in other states. 

But those areas will rebound because that’s what good Midwestern people do. And I thought I’d share with you some photos from this part of Iowa that I hope will be a refreshing break from the images you are seeing on the TV day after day. 

Vinton, Iowa Library

Vinton, Iowa Courthouse

 Cedar Rapids, Iowa 

Cedar Rapids Historic Theater

 

 

Photos and text copyright ©2008 Scott W. Smith

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