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Posts Tagged ‘USA Today’

 “In high school I’d get out of doing papers by asking if I could do videos instead. I was one of those weird kids in high school who figured out that I wanted to make videos for the rest of my life.”
Kevin T. Willson
Director of Sling Baby
USA Today 

The Sling Baby now has a new name—Million Dollar Baby.*

Yesterday, Sling Baby beat out 54 other Super Bowl commercials to be the winner in the USA Today/Facebook Super Bowl Ad Meter.  Which means director Kevin T. Willson gets a nice little million dollar bonus. It also mean a clean sweep for Doritos as its other Super Bowl Ad, Man’s Best Friend, won the panelist Best Ad on Sunday. Think about that for a second….two consumer-created spots beating all the giants of advertising in the biggest game of the year.

Sure the big game was one by the New York Giants, but the great upset was scored by Doritos. To have two different films win in two different polls is amazing. The fact that they were both consumer-created is off the charts. It gives real meaning to the whole Crash the Super Bowl contest.

Of course, the big winner is Kevin Willson. Big as in one million dollars. That’s his bonus for Sling Baby landing in the top spot. On Sunday’s poll he came in fourth which meant he just missed out on the third place $400,000 bonus. That had to be frustrating to get that close. But he made up for in a couple of days later in the fan poll (aided by a nice social marketing push) and now he has a greater platform to make the features he wants to produce. Heck, if he does them Edward Burns-style, he could be making films for the next decade.

Congrats to Willson and his fellow Slingers.

But one thing to realize with Willson is just because Sling Baby was part of what’s called a consumer-created ad that doesn’t mean his win was a fluke. If you visit his Compass Films website you’ll see that he’s been at this a few years—actually, since his elementary school days in Southern California:

“After graduating from Biola University he taught Special Education for years. He left teaching to purse his dream of filmmaking and directing and directed numerous documentaries for humanitarian organizations; including Aces of Love, Habitat for Humanity, and Free Wheelchair Mission, where his film took 1st place and received a standing ovation at The White House. Kevin has filmed in 14 different countries including Peru, Cambodia, and Afghanistan.”

And this year was actually the third time he’s been a top five finalist in the Crash the Super Bowl Contest. So I don’t know if Willson has put in his 10,000 hours , but he definitely knows what he’s doing. And since he’s 34-years old, I’m estimating that he’s been at this for 20 years.

Though Willson lives in Los Angeles, he’s exactly the kind of person I write this blog for and love featuring. The full title of this blog is Screenwriitng from Iowa…and Other Unlikley Places, and I’ve often said that that unlikely place could very well be West Covina (in California) as well as West Des Moines.  La Mirada, where Willson went to school, is 15 miles south of West Covina.

Best wishes Kevin T. Willson on your filmmaking journey.

*Sling Baby’s title riffs on the movie Sling Blade (for which Billy Bob Thorton won an Oscar for his script) and Million Dollar Baby was the four-time Oscar-winner directed by Clint Eastwood.

Scott W. Smith

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“You don’t have to be a professional filmmaker or a professional ad agency to compete with the best (ad makers) in the world and take home the biggest prize (a top spot on AdMeter.)”
Tony Matta, Vice-President. Marketing, Frito-Lay North America
USA TODAY

Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Loyd would have enjoyed the three commercials vying for the #1 spot in the 2012 USA Today Facebook Super Bowl Ad Meter. Lots of physical comedy. As I write this the Monday after the Super Bowl, the commercials Doritos: Man’s Best Friend,  Doritos: Sling Baby, and Bud Light Weego are all in a dead heat for the top spot and a million dollars.

But in the spirit of Chaplin’s character The Little Tramp, I’ll focus on the two Doritos spots that were consumer created on spec and submitted in the Crash the Super Bowl contest Doritos has done the last several years.

“I work out of my garage and my passion is to direct meaningful stories through films that inspires and bring people laughter. My dream is to direct mainstream comedy commercials and family friendly movies.”
Kevin T. Willson
Director of Sling Baby 

According to Willson’s  Compass Films website Sling Baby is actually his third time in a row being a Top Five Finalist in Crash The Super Bowl. The amazing thing about that is the contest usually averages around 6,000 commercials submitted. So he’s beaten the odds not only once, but three times. You may recall his Casket spot two years ago where a man is buried in a casket full of Doritos.

I aways enjoy finding loose connections, and I just learned yesterday that a writer friend I’ve known for more than fifteen years, Clare Sera, was part of Willson Idea Team. Clare was kind enough to read a feature script I wrote last year and give me some helpful notes. She’s also an actress and used to be part of the Orlando Improv group SAK Theater. I’m pulling for Sling Baby because at the end of the day the other two spots—while funny—are a little mean-spirited (what would the Save the Cat people think?), while Sling Baby fights mean-spiritedness. (Plus if someone takes the time to read a script of mine and give me notes for free, why wouldn’t I pull for their team?)

Clare is just one of the more than 50 talented people Willson brought together for Sling Baby. The entire crew is listed on the impressive website campaign they’ve put together— Vote for Sling Baby! 

 “I am a freelance graphic designer, filmmaker, photographer, and musician from Virginia Beach, VA…I shot the commercial for about $20 using a Canon 7D (which I already own). I had to buy some Doritos, a few props, and some dog treats. I originally thought the commercial would only cost $13 to produce, so I went way over budget. The most difficult part about the production was getting “Huff the Great Dane” to cooperate.
Jon Friedman
Director of Man’s Best Friend
Video contest news

I’m pulling for Friedman too, because I love seeing a guy in Virginia spend $20 on a commercial and having it beat out spots that cost millions of dollars to produce. Friedman’s company is Frame 25 Productions.

If Sling Baby and Man’s Best Friend can both hold on to one of the top three spots they will both get a sizable payout.

Update: Friedman was awarded the top spot in USA Today panel and won the $1 million prize. (A nice return on his $20. investment.) The USA Today/Facebook Ad Meter poll continues until tomorrow, still giving Sling Baby a chance at a payout.

Update: Another reason to pull for Sling Baby—One of the writers of the spot, Sean Gaffney, is a reader of this blog (and has commented in the comment section).  At this moment 5:55 CST, Sling Baby is in the lead slot with a 4.34 rating just .04 ahead of Weego and Man’s Best Friend. The USA Today/Facebook poll closes on Tuesday, 6pm EST.

Here’s the money breakdown if Sling Baby finishes in the top three slots:

BTW—Great game. Congrats to the New York Giants on the win. And just to close on an inspirational fitness note, if you want a body like David Beckham’s, avoid the Doritos and Bud Light.

Related post: Harold Loyd Vs. Buster Keaton (Super Bowl Special)

Scott W. Smith

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“There’s a difference between drama and melodrama; evoking genuine emotion, or manipulating emotion. It’s a very fine eye-of-the-needle to thread. And it’s very rare that it works. That’s why I tend to dominate this particular genre. There is this fine line. And I do not verge into melodrama. It’s all drama. I try to generate authentic emotional power.”
Nicholas Sparks

Nicholas Sparks is on a roll. A new movie that he and is in theaters now made its money back in its first week and he has the number one slot on the New York Times best seller list for Paperback Mass-Market Fiction (and the #5 slot as well).

If you’re not a 12 years old girl you may not have read or seen The Last Song or Dear John, or be aware that  most of his stories are set in the Carolinas. But Sparks spent a good deal of his youth in the Midwest and an event that happened right here in Iowa helped give him a start as a writer.

Sparks was born in Nebraska, and lived for a time in Minnesota, and eventually landed in Indiana where he received a track scholarship to Notre Dame. While running in the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa he was injured and this is what he wrote on his website:

I spent the summer icing my Achilles tendon. During those three months, in which I was instructed not to run at all, I moped around the house until my mom got tired of it.

“Don’t just pout,” she said, “Do something”

“What?” I asked, not bothering to hide my sulking.

“I don’t know. Write a book.”

I looked at her. “Okay,” I said.

He completed that first novel between his freshman and sophomore years but it didn’t get published.  A few years later he wrote another novel that also didn’t get published. He worked various jobs including waiting tables and wrote a third novel. The third time was a charm as The Notebook got him an advance of $1 million.

He since has had more than fifteen books published and, beginning with Message in a Bottle starring Kevin Costner and Robin Wright Penn, six of his novels have been made into movies. (I wonder if Sean Penn, Robin’s wife at the time, watched Message in a Bottle. And if so, did the words “authentic emotional power” come to his mind?)

Though often thought of and called a romance writer Sparks prefers to think of himself as a writer of tragic love stories. In a recent article in USA Today he stresses the differences. That’s the article that also created a little controversy when film critic Roger Ebert took Sparks to task for some of his comments about Cormac McCarthy, but he still gave the new Miley Cyrus movie two and a half stars.

And if you’re keeping score. put Sparks down as another writer who grew up poor (at least until his father finished his Ph.D.) and Catholic.

BTW—The Drake Relays (where Sparks hurt his Achilles tendon) are later this month and a big deal in these parts as it attracts some of the finest athletes in track in field including former and future Olympians.

Scott W. Smith

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Do you have an idea bank? A file or notebook full of articles and ideas that you’d like to explore and develop further? I have several notebooks and one of them I stumbled upon yesterday happens to tie in directly with the last couple posts on Youngstown, Ohio.

It was an article on a guy named Reece.  He’s an Ohio legend. He rushed for over 4,000 yards and scored 52 touchdowns playing high school football. His senior year he was named Ohio’s Mr. Football and USA Today’s national offensive player of the year.

He received a scholarship to Ohio St. University where he helped the team to an undefeated season and scored the winning touchdown in a national championship game to give Ohio State its first title in 35 years.

Reece gave a little pride to a part of the Rust Belt that has struggled for years. According to Nancy Armour in an AP article back in ’06 Reece, “grew up in gritty Youngstown, in a neighborhood on the hard and unforgiving south side. The steel mills and factories that once provided jobs for generations of families are long gone, and little good has replaced them.”

The area sounded like a lot of inner cities in the United States. By the time Reece graduated from high school he had already been to 10 funerals of his classmates. There are reports that he avoid the gangs, didn’t go to parties, and didn’t drink or do drugs. He had a gift and he was protecting it from the elements of the streets.

But Reece had no sooner finished celebrating being part of a national championship team when he fell off the mountaintop. Reece dreamed of playing in the NFL and at one time it looked like a sure bet, but as of this writing he sits in a prison in Ohio for a string of crimes.

It’s a familiar story. From King David, to Macbeth, to Bernie Madoff the story looks the same. The rise and fall of the powerful never fails to grab our imaginations.

If the name Reece doesn’t ring a bell maybe his given name does—Maurice Clarett.

The best thing about Clarett’s story is he’s still young.  He’s working on his college degree in prison. He’s only 26 so the story hasn’t ended yet. I’m pulling for him because I love stories of redemption. When I look at my favorite films the majority have redemptive themes.

In fact, Clarett is imprisoned in Toledo, Ohio just about 100 miles away from the Mansfield, Ohio prison used in the movie The Shawshank Redemption. “Hope is a dangerous thing.”

And I also have a sentimental tie-in to Clarett in that my mom and dad met at Ohio State, and I have an uncle who played football there back in the day. I grew up watching Woody Hayes coached teams. And I have a soft spot in my heart for Youngstown because it’s where my father grew-up.

I want to see some films set in Youngstown.  From the historic rise of the steel mills to their bitter closing, to the rebuilding process and the thriving arts community, there are stories to be told from there. Any town that’s lived through an unemployment rate of almost 25% has learned lessons that could help the rest of America at this time.

Any town that has had the influence of English, German, Irish, Scottish, Welch, Polish, Italian, Hungarians, etc. has to have some gripping stories. I’ve read that Youngstown was called the “melting pot that never melted,” and that it was common for steel mills to be divided into ethnic groups. There are stories to tell.

Youngstown is a fascinating town that at one time or another was known for pawnshops, a mafia presence, and a breeding ground for some of the greatest coaches in college football. (Florida’s Urban Myers, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, and OSU’s Jim Tressel are just a few from in and around the area.)  It’s an area surrounded by beautiful gentle rolling hills that at one time in the 90s was called the “murder capital of America” with the highest per capita rate in the country.

Conflict is one of the main ingredients of drama and Youngstown is no stranger to conflict.

My grandfather earned a Zippo lighter for spending 30 years working at Youngstown Sheet and Tube before he died of a heart attack. I’m sure there are a lot of Zippo lighters floating around Youngstown. What I’ve never seen is a movie that captures that era.

So the time is ripe for a son of a son of a steelworker (or a daughter) to rise up and write some screenplays and make some documentaries on the area. Watch Gran Tornio (about Michigan in transition) and Country (about the farm crisis here in Iowa in the 80s) and start adding notes into your idea bank.

That’s what regional screenwriting is all about and there is still some magic to tap into down by Yellow Creek…there in Youngstown.

By the way, if you’d like to write Maurice Clarett the address I found online is:

Maurice Clarett 529-720
2001 E. Central Ave.
Toledo, OH 43608

He’s also a fellow WordPress blogger whose account from prison is called The Mind of Maurice Clarett (though it’s been a few months since his last post).  Reece, I hope you write your own story and that it has a happy ending.

Scott W. Smith

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Hollywood has a problem and it’s not my fault. Really it isn’t. But if you’re a screenwriter living outside L.A., L.A.’s problem is your opportunity.

Don’t blame me if Hollywood is the new Detroit. I just started “Screenwriting from Iowa” last year. L.A.’s runaway problem has been going on for the last decade. Runaway production is the term used to describe movies not being filmed in L.A.

The Directors Guild of America (DGA) breaks this down into two catagories; Creative Runaway and Economic Runaway. The first being those movies that are filmed outside L.A. because the story actually takes place outside L.A. and the second is movies that are filmed outside L.A. because for whatever reason it is cheaper to shoot on location.

This is where the window of opportunity comes for writers outside L.A. I think production companies are combining creative and economic reasons to film outside L.A. That is they are looking for scripts that take place outside L.A. because they are cheaper to producer there, a large part due to tax incentives given by such states as Iowa and Michigan. (Not to mention the dent already made by Canada.)

There is a lot of finger pointing going on right now in L.A. as people are watching jobs disappear (unions, traffic and hassle of filming on location in L.A., cost of living, etc.),  There is even talk about a L.A. film czar that will help reign business back to L.A. and time will tell how effective that will be. But how bad is it? Let’s look at the numbers.

According to The Wrap, back in 1996 there were 71 major film permits given in L.A. for shooting in L.A. county. (Films budgeted over $80 million.)  In 2008 the number was down to 21. This year there have only been 3 major films that have applied for film permits.

Of course, one way in which Hollywood is not like Detroit is that people still want American movies. And I think the  USA still makes the best movies. So movies are still being made and there is still an audience. It’s just that they are being made less and less in L.A.

But some even in L.A. see the positive aspects of this trend. John Nolte writes on his blog, “While people losing their livelihood is not something to cheer about, there is a silver lining. Anything that helps the film industry become less L.A.-centric will only be a positive. Maybe you have to live out here to feel this strong about it, but Los Angeles as a shooting location is played. The downtown skyline, Santa Monica Pier, Griffith Observatory, same freeways, same bridges, same Miracle Mile, etc… There’s only so much you can do with a sprawling one-story ghetto. Every once in a while a director comes along and shoots the city in a unique and imaginative way, but this is happening less and less.” 

Films have always been made outside L.A. and if you go to the section here called “Screenwriting Road Trips” you’ll see how I’ve covered many states and how many wonderful films have been made outside California. And Alexandyr Kent of USA TODAY has an excellent overview of films made in other states in his article 50 niffty filmmaking states.

L.A. and New York are the core of the industry and that won’t change.  But like almost everything else in this new economic shift people are reinventing how things are done. Will big Hollywood productions return to the streets of L.A.? Who knows? But I think this is the greatest time in the history of the film business to be a creative person living outside L.A. So keep writing those off-Hollywood stories because Hollywood is starting to land in the fly-over zone. (As of this writing four features are crewing-up in Iowa alone. And while they’re not $80 million + films, I see it as a good sign.)

And while the auto industry in the USA is in trouble I do want to say my 2004 Dodge Durango has been the best (and most dependable) vehicle I have ever owned. And I’ve had Toyotas, Nissans, and Hondas.  It’s got 82,000 miles and hasn’t had a single repair. I just load it with equipment, put gas in it, change the oil now and then. Thanks to all the good people at Chrysler Corp. who designed and built my Durango.

 

copyright 2009 Scott W. Smith

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“I work in a business that is run by middle age men who make films for teenage boy fantasies.”
Meg Ryan
In Style magazine
October 2008

“In 2005, (Tyler) Perry said, a Hollywood Pooh-Bah told him that ‘black folk who go to church don’t go to movies.’ Yet from that group he’s carved out a strong niche fan base.”
Perry Hagopain
Time Magazine
March 20, 2008 


shrimtruck0866 

About once a month (in season) a shrimp truck comes to my area in northeast Iowa and parks at a strip mall and sells shrimp and other seafood that were in the waters off Texas a just a few days prior. The truck is only in town for half a day before it moves on to the next town. And the same company has been doing this for over 30 years. 

That’s what I’d call a niche market. What a great idea to load up shrimp and make a little route where you go each month and build a steady market base for seafood lovers in the Midwest. I’m sure things like this happen all over the world. Niche markets are the result of supply and demand.

According to the World Dictionary the word niche means:

1.a position or activity that particularly suits somebody’s talents and personality or that somebody can make his or her own

2.an area of the market specializing in a particular type of product

The feature film Facing the Giants was made for only $100,000 yet opened in over 400 theaters in 2006. It was funded by members of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia who wanted to make a Christian film. Made with largely amateur actors and a mostly inexperienced crew the film went on to  gross over $10 million dollars.  A niche market with a faithful audience.

The church people made their first feature film Flywheel in 2003 and rented a local theater to show the film one weekend. The first night the film sold out and ended up having a six-week run and then got picked up by Blockbuster Video stores, aired on several Christian TV stations and went on to sell 85,000 DVDs.  Not bad for a virtually no-budget film.

But to prove that those first two films weren’t a fluke the writers (brothers Alex, who also directs, and Stephen Kendrick) recently produced Fireproof starring Kirk Cameron that is still in the theaters and was made for $500,000. and so far has grossed over $25 million. It’s safe to say that they have tapped into a niche market and done well.

(To put this in perspective Lions for Lambs released earlier this year starring Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep and Robert Redford only had a domestic gross of $15 million. It cost $36 million to make. Though it did better worldwide, with marketing costs marketing included it is estimated that the film lost $50 million.)

And also in Georgia  Tyler Perry has his own niche market. Last month the former New Orleans native who grew up in poverty recently built the 200,000 square foot Tyler Perry Studio on 30 acres in Atlanta. Guests in a attendance at the grand opening included  Will Smith, Sidney Portier and Oprah Winfrey.

According to Wikipedia, Tyler’s “best-known character is Madea who is a physically imposing and overbearing, but well-intentioned, woman who serves both as comic relief and as the loud voice of conscience for the protagonists of Perry’s works.”

The former high school dropout was inspired one day watching The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1992 and wrote a musical dealing with child abuse. While working as a car salesman he staged his first play which was not a success but he continued to hone his writing over the next six years. He began finding success in 1998 with a solid African-American audience and since then has made over $150 million with his plays, DVDs, and feature film releases.

Perry is also producing for TV (Tyler Perry’s House of Payne) and also has written a novel (Don’t Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings: Madea’s Uninhibited Commentaries on Love and Life) that was number one on the New York Times Best seller list in 2006. Many in Hollywood are reportedly confused by Perry’s success.

Perry told Scott Bowles at USA Today, “I’m not sure why no one wants to admit there’s a viable audience out there that believes in God and wants to see a movie with their family. The demand is there. The supply is not.”

 

You may not have seen any of Tyler Perry’s movies (or have even heard of him) but he has had four number one box office movies and this year he was named in Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. 

What niche markets do you think you could tap into? What niche markets could Meg Ryan tap into if she shifted her focus around? (Time magazine March 14,2008-suggests we are living in “The Post-Movie-Star Era.”)

It’s one reason why screenwriters and filmmakers are embracing social marketing like My Space and Facebook to build a base of people interested in their work. (Join me at Facebook under Scott W. Smith in the Waterloo, IA network and please mention Screenwriting from Iowa as a reference.)

I first learned about social marketing from Nathan T. Wright at Lava Row not that long ago and now see it everywhere. It’s a natural fit for those wanting to tap into a niche market. (Did you know there is a website just for people interested in people with Mullets? Mullet Passions.) Screenwriter Diablo Cody has more than 18,000 friends on My Space. Do you think that might help her post Juno career?

Both Perry and the Kendrick brothers are once again proof that you can have success in the film industry outside of the traditional Hollywood route –out there in fly-over county. And that it doesn’t hurt to not only have faith in your screenwriting, but faith in your movies.

Side note: Back when Kirk Cameron was on Growing Pains I did a shoot with him on the Warner Brothers lot in Burbank for a show called Bridges. It was a three screen multi-media program sponsored by Pepsi and shown to hundreds of thousands of high school students across the county. If I can find a clip I’ll post it later. Kirk seemed like a one of the good guys and I’m glad to see him still making films verses being in the news as another example of a child actor gone bad.

Side note 2: If you live in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Oklahoma, Illinois, Indiana, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas or Texas and would like to know if the shrimp truck comes to your area contact Fabian Seafood or call 409.765.9522 in Galveston. (They are fully licensed and inspected and the food tastes great.)

Photo & text copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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“From Iowa to Pennsylvania, the presidential campaign has provided its share of made-for-Hollywood moments.”
                                                                                  All Things Considered
                                                                                  April 18, 2008


“It’s not until Iowa when people say this is how the American people are feeling. … So it ends up shaping how people view the race in subsequent states.”
                                                                                  Barack Obama
                                                                                  USA Today
                                                                                  July 17,2007 

obama300

Did you catch the Texas–Texas Tech game last Saturday? That was high drama. And everything I love about college football. A close game down to the last second.

Did you happen to follow the 2008 presidential election results last night? Not quite as close a game. But there was still plenty of drama in the last year and a half race to the White House including a full lineup of sideshows acts; Joe the plumber, The Obama girl (not to be confused with the John Edward’s girl), Super Tuesday, Sarah “Barracuda” Palin’s troopergate, Biden’s blunders, Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s preaching, Huckabee’s humor, Hillary Clinton and her 18 million cracks in the ceiling, and even Oprah coming to Iowa.

Congratulations to President elect Barack Obama. I was able to see 13 presidential candidates as they came through Iowa and I really never thought Obama would get past Hillary. But there he was last night showing that Dylan, Springsteen, Louis Farrakhan, Pamala Anderson, Colin Powell, Jimmy Buffett and Warren Buffett were all on the eclectic winning team.

Obama overcame his lack of experience with his message of change along with the storytelling abilities of Ronald Reagan and the inspirational chants (“Fired Up–Ready to Go!”) of a motivational speaker. So 40 years after Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed we have an moment in history that represents symbolic healing. 

Congratulations to John McCain and his team for their hard fought battle. He’s served his country well and had over 55 million people pulling for him. And like many politicians who face defeat, the chances are good that Palin will do her homework and be back stronger with many lessons learned and popularity gained. (Though she’d have more fun and make more money doing the speaker/author circuit and having her own TV talk show.)

It really has been amazing to be a part of democracy in action at such an in-depth level. Who knew Iowa would play such an important role in history?

 

Never did I think when I moved to Iowa from Central Florida five years ago that I’d be close to such a dynamic election. So close in fact that I was within a couple feet of the future president of the United States of America several times in 2007 taking photos and shooting video on assignment.    

I took the photos on this blog at gatherings in Iowa a wee bit smaller than the huge crowd that showed up in Chicago last night to hear Obama’s acceptance speech. (I haven’t seen a celebration like last night’s since…well, Saturday when the Texas Tech students and fans stormed the field after upsetting the number one team in the country.)

Watching the gazed faces on TV at Grant Park kinda looked like that old footage you see of when The Beatles played at Shea Stadium. But America didn’t elected a rock star.  No, from the looks on the faces he’s bigger than that. More like a mix of Bono/JFK/MLK/Michael Jordon/Muhammad Ali/Billy Graham/Tiger Woods and Oprah –all in their prime.

Why is this man smiling?

Iowa State Fair August 2007

Last night I couldn’t help but think back to my creative writing teacher in high school where I wrote my first scripts and directed my first videos. Dr. Annye Refoe, who happens to be African-American, took this sports and girl obsessed teenager and added color to his world beyond the athletic endeavors of Paul Warfield and Joe Morgan. All these years later, she was one of the first people I contacted when I won the Emmy last week.

I also thought back to when I was a 19-year-old journalist and photographer and I interviewed then Tampa Bay Buccaneer quarterback Doug Williams for the Sanford Evening Herald. Williams went on to become the first African-American to be a winning Super Bowl quarterback (while playing for the Washington Redskins).

Obama was born a month after I was and the arc of racial change that has occurred since then is stunning. But we have a long way to go to realize Martin Luther King’s dream that one day the color of our skin won’t matter.  This election gets us over one hump but I am reminded of the saying that every problem has a solution and every solution has a problem.  We have not reached the finish line.

Anyway — speaking of Washington D.C. –this is a blog about screenwriting so let’s look at the inspiration and movies that has come out of that rather small area of land. The political scene and the drama surrounding it is a natural fit for Hollywood. The quintessential Washington film is Frank Capria’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington starring Jimmy Stewart. The film earned an Oscar nomination for screenwriter Sidney Buchman who happened to be born in Duluth, Minnesota.

Between 1941-42 he served as the president of the Writers Guild of America, but was later backlisted for his refusal to name names of those in the American Communist Party to the House Committee on Un-American Activities.  

Washington D.C. is also home to Georgetown University that has educated some fine talent:
Jonathan Nolan (Memento and co-writer The Dark Knight.) 
Carl Reiner (Writer/director/actor and seven time primetime Emmy winner)
Michael J. Winship (current president, Writers Guild of America East)
William Peter Blatty (writer of The Exorcist)  
John Guare (screenwriter of Atlantic City and Tony Winning playwright)
Blake Snyder (screenwriter and author of the screenwriting book Save the Cat)
 

And coming out of the historically black Howard University in D.C. are writers Zora Hurston Neal (Their Eyes Were Watching God), screenwriter and Oscar-nominated director Dianne Houston, director Ernest Dickerson who has also been the cinematographer on many Spike Lee films, Richard Wesley (Let’s Do It Again, which was directed by Sidney Poitier), Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Margaret Edson (Wit), poet Paul Laurence Dunbar as well as a host of actors and actresses including Ossie Davis, Phylicia Rashad, and Sean (P. Diddy) Combs. 

And American University is not only home to one of the best film programs in the country, but where the top box-office female film director, Nancy  Shyer, graduated from college. Shyer not only directed Mel Gibson in What Women Want  but also co-wrote Father of the Bride, Baby Boom  along with being nominated for an Academy Award back in 1981 for co-writing Private Benjamin.

“I remember driving on the Ventura Freeway when I was about 27, to run an errand, when I thought, ‘What if a girl joined the Army to escape her problems?’”
                                                              Nancy Shyer
                                                              (On the inspiration for Private Benjamin
                                                              Hollywood Reporter 

The Oscar winning director of Rain Man and screenwriter of Diner Barry Levinson also attended Washington University. As did actors Jude law and Jack Black. 

The Washington D.C. political scene itself has provided an compelling background for many excellent films. Mainly because films work on conflict and that never seems to be in short supply there. In fact The White House may be the single most popular home featured in movies and TV shows. Here is a partial list of movies that feature Washington D.C.:

A Few Good Me
Air Force One
All the President’s Men
An American President
Being There 
Dave
Enemy of the State
First Kid
Forrest Gump
The Hunt for Red October
Independence Day
JFK
Minority Report
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington 
Nixon
No Way Out
Three Days of the Condor
Thirteen Days
Traffic
Wag the Dog
West Wing
W.

 

There are also probably a few screenplays in the works on Obama’s life. (I bet Spike Lee and Tyler Perry are racing each other to be first.) Even if you didn’t vote for Obama you have to appreciate the journey–or at least the narrative or the significance. 

Of course there will be plenty of conflict in President Obama’s office. (Probably beginning day one at three in the morning — if not before he even takes office.) I’m sure before the final ballot was cast that Iran, Russia, and North Korea were moving chess pieces around preparing to welcome our new president. January of ’09 will be a hard time to take over the role as president  and Obama’s leadership skills will be tested early.

We quickly forget the pattern of almost every election, hope on the promise of change, harsh realities followed by blame of prior administration, and a plea for four more years to finally get things on track. Obama simply cannot do all the things he’s promised and people tend to become disillusioned quickly.

I just hope the criticism (and the joking from comedians) is not confused with racism or it’s one step forward and two steps back. If Powell is right about Obama being a transformational candidate, I just hope that transformation is for the good.  

I personally enjoy college football more than Washington politics and look forward to the Alabama-LSU game this weekend. Of course there are politics in college football, but at the end of the year the match-up for the title is usually the two best qualified, winning and prepared teams in the national. (Okay, maybe two out of the best three.)

And college football teaches us lessons in perspective.  Like the much hyped Matt Leinhart who had a stacked resume when he was the Arizona Cardinals’ first round draft pick in the 2006 NFL draft: Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback of two national championship teams at USC, and AP All-American.  Stats half-way through the 2008 season: 1 completed pass. (Only five more years on his 7 year 50 million dollar contract.)

Meanwhile the thought to be washed-up old-timer (and Iowa native) Kurt Warner is the starting QB for the Cardinals and who Sports Illustrated said is the clear choice for MVP at this point in the season.

Related Post: Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting (tip #7)

 

photos and text copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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once250.jpg
Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

I recommend that along with your pint of Guinness or green beer as you celebrate today that you add watching the movie Once if you haven’t seen it (or again if you have seen it). This independent film made in Ireland won the recent Academy Award for Best Song “Falling Slowly.”

It also won the Best Foreign Film at Film Independents Spirit Awards. Shot mostly handheld with a couple Sony HDV cameras for a little over $100,000., this little film has gathered quite a following.

It made many Top 10 film lists for 2007 including the LA Times and USA Today.  Steven Spielberg was quoted as saying “A little movie called Once gave me enough inspiration to last the rest of the year.”

I think it exemplifies the ideals I write about in Screenwriting from Iowa.  And that is people hunger for stories told outside of LA and you can make these films anywhere without spending a lot of money.

Here’s the story in a nutshell from the Fox Searchlight website;

A modern-day musical set on the streets of Dublin featuring Glen Hansard from the Irish band “The Frames.” The film tells the story of a street musician and a Czech immigrant (played by Marketa Irglova) during an eventful week as they write, rehearse and record songs that reveal their unique love story.

Writer/director Jim Carney said that he didn’t want to spend a year and a half writing the script so he wrote 60 pages and shot the film with a mix of the script and improv. (One of the funniest lines in the film “I’m a broken-hearted-Hoover-fixer-sucker guy” was an improv line.) The film is made up of approximately 60% of music.

“Camcorders are a small thing. You don’t need huge arc lights and 35 mill. If you have some way of getting a bit of sound on your picture and syncing them up — go off and make you bleeding movie. It doesn’t matter where it’s made or how it’s made. At the end of the day an audience just wants to see a director’s vision.”

Carney says he was inspired by the John Cassavetes’ film Faces. In that you could make a film “with four characters in your parents home.” Once was shot in 17 days.

If you want to make it an independent Irish double feature night throw in The Brothers McMullen. A film made for $25,000 in 1995 and which launched writer/director Edwards Burns’ career.

Finish the night with a little U2, Van Morrison and Enya and you’ve had quite a proper St. Patrick’s Day celebration.

And let’s not forget Ireland’s great literary past that includes Jonathan Swift, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and William Butler Yeats.

In closing let me mention that Carney says on the DVD that he titled his film Once because people always have an excuse and say “Once….”

As in “”Once I get some money saved…”

“Once I get a camera…”

“Once I move to LA…”

…then we’re going to do something special. We miss many opportunities.

As the old saying goes, “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.”

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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