Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for January, 2010

“My philosophy is that if you do something good, it’s got a shot. If you want to do something that’s down the middle, the line forms on the right.”
T Bone Burnett

In a Los Angeles Times article titled The true saga behind ‘Crazy Heart,’, Randy Lewis writes about the relationship between T Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton who both provided original music on the film Crazy Heart.

Burnett toured with Bob Dylan in the 70s and is a 10-time Grammy winner including his work on the soundtrack for the Coen brothers film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? The L.A. Times article mentions how both Burnett and Bruton spent time on the road as musicians often do. Part of what is said to give authenticity to the singer Jeff Bridges plays in Crazy Heart is the music that Bruton and Burnett bring to the soundtrack. Burnett recounts a memory from life on the road:

“I was in a motel once called, I think, the Blackhawk Inn, somewhere in Iowa, and it turned out it was the motel that Cary Grant had died in. It was like, wait a minute — Cary Grant didn’t die in this motel, there’s no possible way he ever even saw this motel. Nevertheless, apparently that’s what happened. . . .”

That did in fact happen. And that some place is in Davenport, Iowa. The Hotel Blackhawk closed in 2006 after a fire, but I have read that the hotel built in 1915 is currently being restored.  Film legend Cary Grant was far removed from his starring roles in movies like North by Northwest (1959) and Penny Serenade (1941) and Bringing Up Baby (1938) when the 82-year-old died of a heart attack in Davenport on November 29, 1986. (Though technically, according to the Quad City Times, Grant was taken from the hotel and died at St. Luke’s Hospital.)

So with John Wayne & Johnny Carson being born in Iowa and  Cary Grant & Buddy Holly dying in Iowa those are pretty good icons to have as bookends to this interesting state where seemingly nothing happens related to the entertainment industry. Mix that with the enduring love for Field of Dreams, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, screenwriter Diablo Cody going to college in Iowa City, and the fictitious Captain Kirk being from Iowa and you know why I’ve been able to write about this middle-of-nowhere place for the past two years.

Obviously, Grant’s death here left a mark on Burnett. And my guess is that experience had an impact on Crazy Heart or he wouldn’t still be talking about it. If you follow the trajectory of older (or dead) actors, musicians, writers, etc.  you usually find an arc where their popularity peaked at a certain point in time. After that peak is fertile ground to explore. There’s a great line in the movie Tender Mercies where the once popular country & western singer is asked , “Didn’t you used to be Max Sledge?”

Check out T Bone Burnett’s website and see how his creative journey has unfolded over the years. Born in St.. Louis and raised in Texas on his way to working with the likes of B.B. King, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Sam Sheperd, John Mellencamp, Elvis Costello, Tony Bennett as well as on the films Cold Mountain and Walk the Line.

“I always wanted whatever I was doing to be art, so I was always fighting for those records to measure up to a standard of how I felt when I heard The Kinks for the first time or Ray Charles for the first time. From an early age, I knew I wasn’t as good as the other things I was hearing, but I was always trying to get there. David Hidalgo [of Los Lobos] is incredibly talented, and I thought, ‘David Hidalgo can get to that point; he can be as good in his own way as Miles Davis or Ray Charles.’ So what I was willing to do was wait until the record sounded as good to me in its own way as the first time I heard ‘Lonely Avenue’ by Ray Charles. I would try to be true to that feeling — the effect that music had on me.”
T Bone Burnett
Looking Back, Looking Forward
Mix Magazine article by Blair Jackson

I’m fond of mentioning Iowa artist Grant Wood’s call for regionalism in painting. Burnett is as good as anyone touching on the grassroots of music in this country. Below is the Robert Plant & Alison Krauss version of the John Prine song Killing the Blues. Burnett produced the song on the 2009 Grammy winning album of the year, Raising Sand.

Scott W. Smith




Read Full Post »

“Pick-up your crazy heart and give it one more try.”
From the Crazy Heart theme song

Since one of my favorite films of all times is Tender Mercies, the Horton Foote-written story of a fading country & western singer (played by Robert Duvall, who won an Oscar for his role in the 1983 movie), I look forward to seeing Crazy Heart which stars Jeff Bridges as a down and almost out country singer.

I noticed that the title track to Crazy Heart (The Weary Kind) was written & performed by singer Ryan Bingham. I was unfamiliar with his work but the name Ryan Bingham sounded familiar. Wasn’t the main character in Up in the Air named Bingham? I doubled checked and sure enough the character  George Clooney plays in the recent Jason Reitman film is in fact named Ryan Bingham. (And I thought Scott Smith was a common name.)

Earlier this week Ryan Bingham (the singer) won a Golden Globe award for Best Original Song (along with T. Bone Burnett), and Reitman and Sheldon Turner won Best Screenplay for Up in the Air (featuring the character Ryan Bingham). Small world, huh?

Here is an interview that Crazy Heart director Scott Cooper has with the singer Ryan Bingham & T. Bone Burnett as they talk about writing their Golden Globe winning song. (Followed by the song itself performed by the real life 28-year-old, former bull rider, Ryan Bingham.)

Read Full Post »

Screenwriting from Iowa, huh?

That’s how I started my first blog two years ago today. The first time I had ever posted anything anywhere. I started out in 2008 writing two or three times a week with posts between 1,000-2,000 words. Really, mini essays. In 2009 I shifted over to daily post usually under 500 words and sometimes just a quote.

The results of the shorter daily post were a double number of views. Now for 2010 how can I fine tune it a little to be more helpful? I welcome any suggestions, but on Monday I’m planning at least one new twist.

Looking back on the last two years there have been a lot of changes. Just in the original 2008 post I see where I quote Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. He left that gig, but is now on his way back. I mentioned Kevin Bacon & John Edwards who have both had significant reversal. Bacon losing a sizable amount of money in the Madoff scam, and Edwards–who was a presidential candidate in ’08–has since fathered a baby with a woman who is not his wife.

And for a couple years there was actually a relative boom in features being made in Iowa due to Film Incentives which were recently discontinued because of mismanagement and accusations of fraud by recipients. The economy has gone into a deeper recession and the US is still in Iraq (and now back in Afghanistan). The Internet continues to change the life in general, and the media specifically. Most noticeably the decline of newspapers and magazines as readers look elsewhere for their news and information.

And just has Hollywood box office seemed in decline, James Cameron lead the charge for ’09 to be the best ever dollar intake in movie history. But from a production side, perhaps the biggest change in the past two years is the rise of people everywhere making films and videos. Fifteen years ago secretaries became graphic designers as Photoshop became a common tool. Now Final Cut Pro, digital cameras, and You Tube have opened the door for the production pyramid to be much bigger.

But there is still a pyramid with the best talent at the top and the beginners at the bottom. There are still fine films being made and a larger crop of junk being produced. All in all, it’s an exciting time to be in production. One thing I’m sure about more than when I started this blog two years ago is more and more people outside of the L.A. and the Hollywood system with continue to find ways to make better and better films and will continue to find distribution means to get people to watch there films (and hopefully recoup their funds and ideally make a little money to keep the train moving forward).

In the meantime, keep writing, networking and learning–because once the economy kicks back in there are going to be some crazy opportunities out there. Thanks for stopping by the blog. As the views continue to grow that is an encouragement to me to keep encouraging you in your creative journey. And just for nostalgia here is the very first post for “Screenwriting from Iowa…or wherever you live outside L.A,”

Life Beyond Hollywood (Original post on January 22, 2008)

Screenwriting from Iowa, huh?

No, it’s not a joke or an oxymoron.

Screenwriting from Iowa isn’t really just about Iowa or limited to screenwriting. But that is the starting point. And I hope this on-going blog encourages writers who feel like they live in the middle of nowhere. And if you hold on a moment you’ll learn that the hippest and hottest screenwriter in Hollywood today has some Iowa roots.

It’s ten degrees below zero and snowing as I begin this first blog compounding the barren wasteland fears people have about the state of Iowa. But I think you’ll be surprised at the creative talent growing beyond them there cornfields.

On January 3, 2008 all eyes were on Iowa (at least for a quick glance) as the first presidential caucuses took place. Jay Leno joked on The Tonight Show, “Many people don’t know this, but the word caucus is Indian for the one day anyone pays attention to Iowa.”

Iowa may not be New York or LA but where else can you see 13 presidential candidates up close within a ten-mile drive of your home as I did in the last couple months? There was plenty of drama, and enough material for a couple screenplays.

Iowa is a metaphor for any place that represents life beyond Hollywood. (That could be West Virginia, West Africa, or even West Covina.)   Iowa is where I live and write and is also a state that most people in the United States would have trouble pinpointing on a map. Quintessential “fly-over country.”  What good can come from Iowa? Can you get any further from Hollywood? You’d be surprised.

Forget that six degrees of separation to Kevin Bacon thing. Bacon was right here in Cedar Falls earlier this month stumping for presidential hopeful John Edwards.  Cedar Falls is also where Nancy Price wrote the novel that became the Julia Roberts’ film Sleeping with the Enemy, and where Robert Waller wrote the book that became the Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep film The Bridges of Madison County.

And since this is the first blog let me also mention that entertainment icons Johnny Carson & John Wayne were both born in Iowa. This site is dedicated seeing the depth of talent that can from a remote place and will provide you with practical advice on screenwriting and digital filmmaking.

As I write this, the independent film Juno continues its strong box office run and has already won the Critics’ Choice Award for screenwriter Diablo Cody.  (And I don’t think that will be the last award she wins.) Film critic Tom Long of the Detroit News wrote, “Juno’s the best movie of the year. It’s the best screenplay of the year, and it features the best actress of the year working in the best acted ensemble of the year.” Roger Ebert wrote, “The screenplay by first-timer Diablo Cody is a subtle masterpiece of construction…The Film has no wrong scenes and no extra scenes, and flows like running water.”

The 29-year-old Cody’s own life story of spending a year as a less than exotic dance in Minneapolis is well documented, bit to learn where she honed her writing skills we must go back a couple years to when she was a college student in…you guessed it, Iowa. The University of Iowa  in Iowa City has long been sacred writing grounds and home to one of the richest traditions in creative writing. Tennessee Williams and John Irving are among its alma mater.

“They have the writer’s workshop there. They have an undergraduate workshop, and I got in,” Cody said in this month’s Written By. “I focused mainly on poetry. I laugh about that now. I actually think it wound up helpful because as a poet you develop a certain efficiency with language that I think you use as a screenwriter.” (The entire article by Matt Hoey can be found at the Writer’s Guide of America’s website: www.wga.org/writtenby/writtenbysub.aspx?id=2693)

Though Cody couldn’t wait to get out of college she did earn a degree in media studies and was known for her excellent writing. And I believe that excellent writing will always be discovered wherever you live.

So over the course of this blog I will offer insights gleaned from my film school days, various workshops I attended and given, over 100 books read on writing and the creative process, as well as more than 20 years of experience as a video producer/director/writer (www.scottwsmith.com), and most importantly quotes from successful screenwriters.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“Part of a songwriter’s job is to be a scout… to go ahead and come back with a report of the good or the danger that lies ahead.”
Charlie Peacock

If you can avoid Farmville and Mafia Wars on Facebook you can occasionally stumble upon some good stuff on the social network.

About fifteen years ago I met musician and record producer Charlie Peacock at a conference and have followed his career ever since. He’s had an interesting and diverse creative career producing, writing and recording everything from pop & jazz, to gospel & Christian.

Perhaps his biggest pop success was as one of the writers of the Amy Grant song Every Heartbeat, which peaked at #2 on the Billboard Charts back in the 90s.  Arc of The Circle that he produced was #2 on the CMJ Jazz Charts a few years ago. As a producer, he is a Grammy-winner and is listed by Billboard’s Encyclopedia of Record Producers as one of the 500 most important record producers in music history.

Most recently Peacock, who is based in Nashville, has worked on a couple films. Last year he was executive producer of the feature-length documentary Any Day Now. He was also a music supervisor on the film To Save a Life that is being released in a few days.He also produced The Civil Wars’ (Joy Williams/John Paul White) song Poison & Wine that was featured last year on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

If you spend five minutes with him you’ll know he has an artist’s soul. He’s concerned about the good, the true, and the beautiful. Somewhere in the last year or so I reconnected with him on Facebook, and last night I followed a thread he had posted about his new blog (recordproducer.typepad.com)  and that led me to a use a Christmas gift card to buy all the songs on an iTunes iMix of songs produced by Charlie Peacock.

It features the song Poison & Wine as well nine other songs that are simply beautiful songs that somehow transform you to that otherworldly place that music can sometimes take you.

Good writing and producing can do that.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“For me the act of taking a picture, and the making of pictures … it’s about telling stories, sharing stories.”
Vincent Laforet

Photographer /Filmmaker Vincent Laforet may have been born in Switzerland, cut his photography chops in New York, and currently live in L.A., but where do you think he went to college to lay the foundation for the work he’s doing now? That’s right, he headed to the good ole’ Midwest and got his degree in print  journalism  from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern in Chicago.

So before you think he just picked up a camera and became famous, think again. He started out like everyone else knocking on doors. “As a freshman in college, I was rejected by about eight or nine internships in a row.” But he finally landed an internship at Reuters the summer after his freshman year. He says that opened the door for an internship the next year at the L.A. Times, and the next year with the Miami Herald.

During the school year, back in Chicago he had an opportunity to shoot for AP where he was encouraged to get images “that not everyone else had.” He took full advantage of those opportunities,”I was skipping out on finals and midterms to photograph Jordan’s final game with the Chicago Bulls.”  Seeing how he’s a leader in the HD-DSLR revolution Laforet appears to me a little like Neo in The Matrix. The chosen one.  (Is it just coincidence that The Matrix writers & directors, the Wachowski brothers, are from Chicago?)

So Laforet  has been on the fast track, but he’s also paid he’s dues.  He learned to take pictures from his professional photographer father, entered his first photography contest when he was 15 and 12 years later shared in the 2002 Pulitzer Prize (Feature Photography) as part of The New York Times staff.

“The one reason I did succeed early on in my career was that I was so technical.  I was 16, 17 years old with very little experience and knowledge, but all of my images were tack-sharp and perfectly exposed.   I used to give my father my 30 best slides for the month and he would sort them out, 10 on one side and 20 on the other, pull his scissors out of his drawer and hammer through the 20.  ‘They’re poorly exposed; they’re out of focus.  I don’t want to see them.’  He’s a very, very nice person.  He was just adamant about certain things, so I came from that background.”
Vincent Laforet

You can follow his blog as he helps build the bridge between photographers and filmmakers at blog.vicentlaforet.com. Just a few days ago he wrote about a film contest sponsored by Canon & Viemo called The Story Beyond the Still and I challenge any screenwriter who has never made a short film to submit a video. (February 11, 2010 deadline.) You can read Laforet commets about the contest on his post Canon & Vimeo Contest is Open. I look foward to seeing more of his work in the future.

But keep in mind as you look at equipment, that as the saying goes—‘it’s the violinist, not the violin.” Laforet is one more example of The 10,000 Hour Rule.

(As another Chicago sidenote, check out the webisodes called FilmFellas that Steve Weiss and the gang at Zacuto are producing. Good stuff that I’ll write about later.)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“The next few years will see photography and filmmaking redefined by technology.   While there is no substitute for exquisite lighting – artists will now be able to explore areas once thought impossible to photograph.”
Vincent Laforet (writing in 2008)

Modern technology, with the Internet leading the charge, has in recent years forever changed the music business, the photography business, the newspaper business and the movie business. This, as I and many other people have written before, has and will cost people jobs—but at the same time it has, and will continue, to offer many creative opportunities for those willing to make the leap.

One of the more recent changes is the advent of HD video being able to be shot on HD-DSLR cameras. (Just think in terms of the old 35mm film camera like the Canon AE-1 on steroids.) These are relatively  inexpensive with the lower end Nikon and Canon cameras coming in between $900.—2,000. without lenses. (Even the high end ones are only in the $5,000-6,000. range, which is in the ballpark of a lot of HDDV cameras out there.) They are still not in a place to replace traditional film and video cameras altogether, but they are producing some pretty high end results as Vincent Laforet and others are showing.

Last year I began to implement select footage from my Nikon D90 into my video productions and I think that will continue to increase in the future. Since this is a blog on screenwriting I won’t get too technical, but a couple things that makes these cameras special is that they are small and portable, have a larger sensor than most sub-$10,000. video cameras, and can record at high ISO speeds. Which basically means they don’t need a large crew and lots of lights to create amazing images. (The RED camera can’t touch these cameras in low-light conditions.)

Below is a short film that was directed by Vincent Laforet, Stu Maschwitz, David Nelson which they shot with a Canon 1D MKIV. Here is what Laforet wrote a couple months ago about the production on a post entitled Lights, Camera, Action:

“Here is the main point that I hope you take into account: the short film you are about to watch was shot in pretty much the very worst light that I could possibly find in an evening urban landscape.  I did not chose ‘pretty lighting’ in a mall or under neon signs.  That would have been cheating in my book.

The short was shot near East 6th and Mateo St. in Los Angeles – in an industrial part of the city.   If you live in the area – go check out the area – you won’t believe the video you see below came from the poor lighting in that area.   Sodium and mercury vapor lights.   That’s it.  Really awful lighting.

Not a single external light source was used / added.  In other words I did not use a single flashlight, LightPanel, flood light – nothing.”

If you’re a writer think of the possibilities. If you’re not interested in picking up a camera, fine–I understand–but at least start aligning yourself with shooters and editors out there who can help bring your words to life in new and exciting ways.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Scott W. Smith


Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: