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We tried to keep our crew small enough [on The Florida Project] where we weren’t a big presence that would suddenly bring artifice to the scene that we were shooting…they were ready to go and improvise behind the camera, and sometimes throw the schedule away. As long as I was proving to production and my financiers we were going to make it. [Meaning avoiding overtime or adding additional shooting days, and getting the film shot within the budget.}

…One of the scenes that kind of goes with this sometimes documentary style way of filmmaking is the scene with the cranes that a lot of people actually think might be one of the best scenes in the film. I wanted to shoot Willem interacting with the cranes and we were going to workshop a scene right there one morning. It was one of his last days I believe, and I wanted to make sure we had enough of the Bobby character before he left to go on to another show.

So these three cranes lived on the property. They would come up every morning and tap on the window of the lobby and the real clerks of The Magic Castle would come out and feed them Cheetos—they were addicted to junk food. The morning of my Steadicam artist is setting up rig and suddenly we all get emails and we look at it’s like ‘Do not shoot the cranes. They are an endangered species, if anything goes wrong this is a federal crime and this will shut us down our whole production.’ And I look over and the production offices are on the other side of the The Magic Castle—I knew it was going to take a while to get to me, so I said ‘Guys roll camera, Willem go inside the lobby, come out and do something, I don’t know what to tell ya.’

So he comes out and he has that wonderful interaction with the cranes, and he comes up with that line ‘No harm, no fowl.’ And my great Steadicam artists Mike McGowan, who worked on Moonlight, did that really nice move into him and suddenly it was like ‘Cut—alright, sorry.’ They made us move on, and that was the one take we got.”
Writer/Director Sean Baker
DGA podcast #98 The Director’s Cut

 

“Well, as a rule about 50% you have in your mind before you start the picture, and the rest you develop as you’re making it.”
Writer/Director/Actor (and silent film comic genius)  Buster Keaton 

“Going into a day we were 70% structured, 30% was left up to the film gods to give us happy accidents.”
Writer/Director/Editor Sean Baker on shooting The Florida Project

Yesterday I read the New York Times list of The Best Movies of 2017 and since the writers (Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott) put The Florida Project at #4 I feel justified in continuing to blog on that movie that I’ve been doing for the past month.

“We actually scripted a rainbow. The kids were supposed to have seen the cows and then look up and see a rainbow. We were going to have a CGI rainbow where they chase a rainbow through a field, but two weeks earlier we were shooting at The Magic Castle and suddenly everyone goes there is a real rainbow over the motel and I thought if we shot that it would save the production 50 grand. ‘Get the camera down there. ’ You know it’s a 35mm camera— it took seven whole minutes to get it down there and when we did we only had moments to capture it because it was fading. Those two little girls knew what to do. They just jumped right into that little talk about the leprechaun and ran off into the parking lot. So there are happy accidents and also moments of desperate improvisation in front of and behind the camera. That’s just the way I like to work sometimes.”
Sean Baker (who co-wrote The Florida Project with Chris Bergoch)
The Director’s Cut podcast interview with Paul Schrader

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Valeria Cotto and Brooklynn Prince in The Florida Project

Speaking of rainbows, here’s a scene that I think the young character Moonee in The Florida Project would enjoy. Where Judy Garland ponders if there is such a place where there isn’t any trouble.

Related posts: The Journalistic and Cinematic Roots of The Florida Project

Scott W. Smith

“Of course Nebraska is a storehouse for literary material. Everywhere is a storehouse of literary material. If a true artist were born in a pigpen and raised in a sty, he would still find plenty of inspiration for work. The only need is the eye to see.”
Willa Cather
My Antonia

The Central Florida Project (CFP) was a success. Not to be confused with the movie The Florida Project, what I’m calling the CFP is in regard to the University of Central Florida football team. Two years ago they finished the season 0-12 and this season they finished 12-0 with an invitation to play Auburn in the Peach Bowl.

It was a remarkable turn around and much of the credit goes to coach Scott Frost. But Saturday in the roller coaster world of sports, shortly after Frost led UCF to an American Conference championship victory it was announced that he was taking the head football coach position at the University of Nebraska. Which is not only his Alma mater, and where he was the QB when Nebraska won a national championship in ’97, but also comes with a $35 million contract.

When someone asked me why Frost would leave sunny Orlando for the often cold midwest, I said I could think of 35 million reasons why. But first he’s going home. And second he has the chance to now work on The Nebraska Project.

A chance to restore the Nebraska football program.  One that’s been playing football since 1890 and was back to back national champions in the 70s and in the 90s. But also one that finished this season unranked at 4-8, and hasn’t had a top 10 finish in over 15 years.

Frost returning to Lincoln is ripped from the pages of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  Frost’s ordinary world started in Wood River, Nebraska (population 1325) where he had a mentors, and he went through various tests and trails,  faced enemies, crossed thresholds, hit a wall, found a new direction, found redemption in taking a team from worst to first, and now he’s taking the elixir back home to Nebraska where his mentors proudly wait for him to restore an area to its former glory.  That’s the Hero’s Journey. It may not be a movie, but’s it dramatic and cinematic.  An ESPN 30 by 30 on it is probably already in the works, and the movie rights being negotiated.

But some wonder if top players these days can be drawn to a school in Lincoln, Nebraska. But I fall on the side that great players follow great coaches. I wouldn’t be surprised if Frost helped the Nebraska team finish in the top 25 next season, and in the top ten within four. Time will tell.

Back in 2008 Scott Frost and Nebraska’s new defensive coordinator Erik Chinander were assistance on the University of Northern Iowa football team in Cedar Falls, Iowa. That’s the same year and town where I started this blog.

Congrats to both Frost and Chinander—it’s good to see people rise up from somewhat smaller pockets of the country and get their moment in the spotlight on a national stage.

Related Posts:

“My Nebraska”
Screenwriting from Nebraska

Scott W. Smith

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The past week has been crazier that most which explain the largest gap between posts in maybe a couple of years. Trying to get back in the saddle with a photo I took at  the end of November. It’s at the Vero Beach Museum of Art . They have a current exhibit of Master of American Photography which includes the work of many that have inspired me since I was a teenager; Ansel Adams, Arnold , Margaret Bourke-White,  Edward Weston. But the piece I really wanted to see was was Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, taken in 1936.

It’s one of the most well-known photos in American history. And it’s a photo that’s not far from The Florida Project that I’ve been writing about since that movie came out last month.

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Here’s a little history on the photo.

Scott W. Smith

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by…
Sea Fever by John Masefield

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I have a few more days of posts related to The Florida Project movie, and today’s is semi-related.  The Magic Castle hotel featured in The Florida Project is a real hotel located on Route 192 in Kissimmee, Florida. Head west on 192 and within 10 miles you’ll be at any Disney park. But if you head east on Route 192 and drive 80 miles you’ll drive directly to the boardwalk at Indiatlantic, Florida.

And if you drive two miles to the south on A1A you’ll be at Melbourne Beach where I took the above photo yesterday. I’ve been going to the beaches in this area since I was a child.

One of my fondest childhood memories was a vacation at Sebastian Inlet just south of Melbourne Beach where at 12-years-old my Uncle Jack took me fishing and let me drive a boat for the first time. I’m not sure there’s a more idyllic memory from my childhood.  Sebatian_2824.jpg

Uncle Jack was known to others as Jack Wilson, and he died earlier this month. He was the captain of the 1949 Ohio State football team that won the Big Ten Conference and then beat Cal in the Rose Bowl before 100,963 people packed into the stadium in Pasadena. He was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1950, but back then a career in professional football wasn’t a lucrative as it is today. He ended up in Melbourne, Florida spending his career with the Harris Corporation. 

Related post:
Postcard #115 (Sebastian Inlet)
Postcard #116 (Space Coast Sunrise)
Postcard #34 (Sea Turtle)

Scott W. Smith

“Most of us have some old pain or hurt that we don’t think about all the time, but which is always vulnerable on some level of awareness…To humanize a hero or any character, give her a wound, a visible, physical injury or deep emotional wound.”
Christopher Volger
The Writer’s Journey

Katie Holmes in “Pieces of April”

Since it’s Thanksgiving Day and I’ve been writing a string of posts the last couple of weeks on The Florida Project, I thought it would be fitting to repost some thoughts on Pieces of April That 2003 low-budget indie film set entirely on Thanksgiving Day could be a cousin of The Florida Project.

Both are simple yet complex films. Pieces of April starred Katie Holmes who played April, a different version of the Halley character (Bria Vinaite) in The Florida Project. 

Yesterday I stopped at a connivence store here in the Orlando area and saw a real life April/Halley. She looked around the same age as the girls those movies, but looked more tired, worn, and dirty. She sat leaning against a wall next to a large backpack.

Since I was stopping in the store for a protein bar I bought an extra one I was going to  give to her. A clerk came in from outside as I was checking out and said to the other clerk, “If she’s not gone in ten minutes, I’m calling the police. She’s been asked to leave three times.”

When I got outside she was still there and I gave her the protein bar and a dollar and she thanked me. It wasn’t a Thanksgiving dinner or the promise of a better life. But it was something. Sean Baker’s The Florida Project (co-written with Chris Begosh) may not change the world, but the words of playwright Tom Stoppard come to mind:

“I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you might nudge the world a little or make a poem that children will speak for you when you are dead.” 
Oscar-winning screenwriter Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love)
Above quote spoken by character Henry in The Real Thing: A Play

Pieces of April was written and directed by Peter Hedges who was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa. A fact I didn’t learn until years after falling in love with the movie.

In December of 1998, I received a phone call from my mother in Iowa. She had bad news. She’d been diagnosed with cancer. I went to her as soon as I could. She underwent radiation and chemotherapy. Over the next fifteen months, my sisters, my brothers, and I traveled back and forth to take care of her.

“During this time, my mother urged me to keep writing, but it was difficult. One day in my office in Brooklyn, I started opening files on my computer and came across notes I’d written a year earlier for a story about  girl with a broken oven trying to get her turkey cooked.

“In my notes, I had named the girl April after the moody, unpredictable month. The month when it is sunny one moment and rainy the next. In my notes, she was cooking Thanksgiving dinner for her family. Most surprising was the reason why I’d decided April was making the meal: She was attempting to bridge an estranged relationship with her mother who was sick with cancer. 

“That’s when I knew this was a story I had to write.”
Writer/director Peter Hedges
Pieces of April; The Shooting Script—Introduction

May you all write stories that “nudge the world a little.”

Happy Thanksgiving.

P.S. So after I wrote this post I saw the trailer for the Katie Homes directed the film All We Had about a mother-daughter relationship where “everything around us is collapsing.”

Related posts:
Goal. Stakes. Urgency. (Tip #60)
Protagonist= Struggle
Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B+C)

Scott W. Smith

 

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When I was 21-years-old film school student in Los Angeles I was an intern for a cable TV show called Alive & Well that was taped in Marina del Rey, California.  Once the guest on the show was Los Angeles Dodger great Steve Yeager who I knew went to high school in Dayton, Ohio. I asked him how he liked L.A. and he told me, “If you live in a plastic town long enough, you don’t even notice the plastic.”

It was a just a comment in passing, but it’s really quite profound. Something that’s stuck with me for a few decades.

Growing up in central Florida in many ways meant growing up in a plastic, tourist-centric world.  One of the things I enjoyed about The Florida Project is how they visually captured a part of Florida that is pure kitsch. 

Yesterday I actually had a video shoot in Kissimmee, Florida where director Sean Baker and his crew shot The Florida Project and took the photos on this post of a couple of places featured in the movie. (I did drive by The Magic Castle, but didn’t take any photos because I didn’t want to be that guy looking to photograph the hidden homeless.)

“I had eye candy to work with [while making The Florida Project]. I was given eye candy just by shooting in the location we were shooting. And then, of course, having an amazing cinematographer Alexis Zabe to capture that. And my production designer Stephonik Youth who was able to help us enhance it by just a hair. Shooting along Route 192 was actually very easy because it was giving me so much to work with. You have essentially these small businesses that were at one time focused and targeted towards tourists, so they used the Disney mythology and themes and basically ripped them off to attract tourists. So you have brightly colored motels that have themes such as The Magic Castle or The Alligator Motel—there were a lot that we didn’t use. And a lot that had been shut down over the last ten years. The situation going on there is that the local government and the city are trying to beautify the section to bring it back. So if we’d have shot this film five years ago we’d actually have had more to work with. It’s in a transitional place right now.”
Filmmaker Sean Baker 
Filmspotting podcast interview

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P.S. In the post Screenwriting Quote #54 I touch on the Midwestern roots of Walt Disney and his own Main St. childhood in Marceline, Missouri. Walt Disney died in 1966 so he never saw Walt Disney World (which opened in 1971) come to life. I semi-joke that before Disney came to town, Orlando barely had indoor plumbing and air-conditioning. Despite the urban sprawl here many good things followed in the wake of the success of Disney World. And many family memories made with people passing through town. (A record 88 million visitors have visited Florida this year so far.) But The Florida Project reflects the law of unintended consequences in the lives of a group of people for who life is not a vacation.  But the struggles and mental issues of the character Halley in The Florida Project are far deeper than to simply blame a tourist economy. But the contrast and visual candy that Baker used in The Florida Project made the pill a little easier to swallow than if he’d set the story in Dayton, Ohio. (Where there are quite a few Halleys thanks to Dayton/Montgomery County currently being known as the “overdose capital of America.”)

Scott W. Smith

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