Archive for August, 2010

“It was kind of a Cinderella night.”
Emmy-Winning Producer Cherylanne Martin
August 29, 2010

Why should you move to L.A.?—You might win an Emmy and get your picture taken with Tom Hanks. I’ll explain producer Cherylanne Martin’s journey in a moment.

Yesterday, I wrote a post titled Why You Shouldn’t Move to L.A. which was geared toward screenwriters starting out and based on a quote from an interview with the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Rain Man, Barry Morrow. And even as I wrote that post I was thinking about the opposite view, which is why you should move to L.A.

And soon after I published my post a Hollywood assistant made this comment:

I moved to LA with no money or connections and got a low-paying job which barely pays my rent (granted, I’m not waiting tables – I’m working in development for a production company). Between my job, my girlfriend, and life in general, I don’t have very much time to write.

But you know what? Being in this town and in my particular line of work has allowed me to meet agents, managers, producers, and many many friends in very high places.

The main reason to move to Hollywood is simple….that’s where the film industry is based. That’s where the majority of jobs are located.  And there will always be room in Hollywood for interns and entry-level assistants who are willing to work long hours (12-16 on regular basis) for little or no pay. And every once in a while one of those interns or assistants finds a way to turn that opportunity and those contacts into a successful career.

Enter Cherylanne Martin. Before she collected a Primetime Emmy Sunday night along with Tom Hanks for producing the HBO drama The Pacific, she grew up in Maitland, Florida about two miles from where I grew-up. She is a year older than me and we both graduated from different high schools in Winter Park, Florida. She went to Florida State and I went to film school at the University of Miami. (I believe her major was advertising and she didn’t originally have her sights set on the film industry at all.)

In the early 80s I moved to L.A. and she worked as a production assistant in Orlando on Jaws 3-D (her first IMDB credit). I forget all the details but she ended up in L.A. working on features including being a second second assistant director (no not a typo) on Rain Man. (You knew I’d work in a Tom Cruise angle, right?) She also worked as a second assistant director on Far and Away which also starred Cruise.

By pure coincidence I met Cherylanne’s father after I moved back to Central Florida. He told me he was proud of his daughter because she worked as an assistant director on Forrest Gump. I was kind of stunned by this revelation because our meeting was not an industry meeting and this was 1994 when Forrest Gump was the biggest thing around.

He gave me Cherylanne’s address and she read a script of mine and wrote a nice note back. Since that time I’ve followed her career as she’s work with an amazing group of people including Rob Reiner, Michael Douglas, Michael J. Fox, Martin Sheen, Robert Zemeckis, Jodie Foster, Robin Williams, Matthew McConaughey, Michelle Pfeiffer, and several times with Tom Hanks.  She worked her way up from production assistant, to assistant director, to unit production manager, to associate producer, and then to producer working on films like Cast Away, Road to Perdition, and Nancy Drew.

So if you are looking for a reason why you should move to L.A. Cherylanne’s story is a pretty sweet one. She’s had opportunities in L.A. that she never would have had staying in Orlando. Perhaps not the norm for PA’s, but it’s nice to read a “Once Upon a Time…” story every now and again. Congrats on her success. I’m sure her dad is more proud than ever.

But Morrow’s comments yesterday were geared for screenwriters and really a charge for writers to get five scripts written so you have a command of the craft of screenwriting before you set your sights on moving to Los Angeles. Just remember that nothing magical happens when you first arrive in California. Whatever talents you have back home or acquired where you went to school are all you have. Earlier this summer I wrote a post where I mentioned that starting out Tom Hanks got serious stage experience working for a couple years in Cleveland, Ohio and has said,  “[I have] an artistic bent, almost a philosophy, which I learned for the first time onstage in Cleveland.”

The bottom line is both Tom Hanks and Cherylanne Martin (pictured above) are talented people who came from outside L.A., worked very hard at their craft, and found great success.

P.S.— Los Angeles will always will a great place to bump into people. Heck there are around 10 million more people in L.A. than live in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Check out my posts The Bump-In FactorThe Bump-In Factor (Part 2). But with that said, the Internet these days can change how you bump into people. How else did Screenwriting from Iowa pop up a few days ago on TomCruise.com in a post titled Guide for Aspiring Screenwriters?

Related post from other blogs: WHAT DO I NEED TO MOVE TO LA? YOU TELL ME RIGHT NOW! by Geloff LaTulippe

Scott W. Smith

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In light of the blog on TomCruise.com giving a nice mention to Screenwriting from Iowa, I posted that Mark Johnson, one of the producers of the Oscar winning- best film Rain Man, graduated from the University of Iowa. Then a friend reminded me of another Iowa connection to Rain Man and that is the original story and co-writer of that Oscar-winning script was Barry Morrow, who also graduated from the University of Iowa.

That lead me to a You Tube interview with Barry Morrow where the Oscar & Emmy-winning Morrow was asked this question:

Stephen Jennings: What advise would you offer to beginning screenwriters who want to get started in the industry? Who don’t have an agent, don’t have any contacts, and maybe don’t even live in Southern California.

Barry Morrow: I would say, stay where you are. Don’t come here (Los Angeles) yet. Unless you want to be a professional waiter. I would say live with your parents, save your money, and don’t write one script—write five scripts. Then pick the best one. And never fall into the trap of believing you’re going to sell your first screenplay, you won’t. It hasn’t happened, I don’t care what you’ve read…You might have it optioned— for about a buck, over and over and over. But someday you’ll look back and say, “I wasn’t the writer I needed to be.” So just write a few more scripts and that will serve you the best. And then you won’t have to be living in an apartment paying all the money you’re earning from this waitress or waiter job you have in West Hollywood to pay for your apartment and not have the time to write the scripts from mom and dad’s basement.”

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A few months ago Diablo Cody gave Screenwriting from Iowa a shout out on her Twitter account and I thought that was pretty cool.

Today I just learned that the blog on TomCruise.com just gave a nice plug to my blog Screenwriting from Iowa. It took me about 15 minutes to be convinced that TomCruise.com/blog really was “The Official Blog” from “The Official Site” of the real Tom Cruise.  Then it took another 15 minutes to let it all sink in.

I’m not saying that Tom Cruise writes his own blog (it states there is a team), but since it is his blog, I’d like to at least think that means Cruise is a part of the team and I’m somehow in his radar. And that’s pretty amazing, considering I’m typing these posts 1816.03 miles from Hollywood. It’s up there with getting my an Emmy for the Screenwriting from Iowa blog. I definitely think it will change the dynamics a bit.

The post on Cruise’s blog (August 26, 2010) called Guide for Aspiring Screenwriters Part 1: Story Matters Most When Writing a Screenplay! is a well thought out post that talks about Syd Field, Robert McKee, Blake Snyder, Script & Creative Screenwriting magazines, the Austin Film Festival, Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, NYU, UCLA, USC, and John August’s blog. Pretty much a who’s who in screenwriting. And in there is a mention for this blog;

For a more off-beat look at writing, the Screenwriting from Iowa blog provides screenwriters with a slightly removed take from the Hollywood norm. Scott Smith blogs about how people outside of Los Angeles can have their stories told and sold for production in TinselTown. It’s inspiring for those of us around the world who aspire to Hollywood magic without having to live in Hollywood itself.

Thanks for the plug TomCruise.com.

I’m not saying I have a lunch date planned with Tom Cruise, but this could turn into the biggest thing to happen to this blog. Time will tell.

Now if I were to have lunch with Tom Cruise I would tell him about the conversation I had a couple of years ago on a video shoot with  the great college & Olympic wrestler and coach Dan Gable. Cruise, who was a wrestler in high school, has mentioned that Gable was a hero of his. Writer John Irving was/is developing a script on Gable’s life, and I told Gable that Cruise would be perfect to help them develop the project. Gable said, that it’s impossible to get through Cruise’s people.

Gable is as Iowan as Iowa gets. (He was raised just a few miles from where I’m typing this post.) And as a collegiate and Olympic champ as well as head coach of 10 National Championship teams (at the University of Iowa) he has been called the greatest player and coach in the history of sports. If Screenwriting from Iowa can help make steps in bringing Gables story to the big screen via Cruise that would make two and a half years of blogging very worthwhile.

Cruise and I graduated from high school the same year and I’d like to think we’d have a lot in common and that he’d enjoy my coming of age script. I’d joke with him that in 1983 when All the Right Moves came out (which he starred in) I was in film school at the time, studying acting, and only two years removed from 11 years of playing organized football and wondered why I wasn’t in the film.

I’d also tell him that my all-time favorite low-budget digital film is Pieces of April, starring his wife Katie Holmes. And that movie just happened to be written and directed by Iowan—turned New Yorker,  Peter Hedges.

But for now let me just thank Tom Cruise and his team for the plug. (And I think I could fit in a lunch meeting sometime in September.)

P.S. Just for the record, the other blog mentioned by TomCruise.com is by screenwriter John August who just happened to do his undergraduate work at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. And one of the producers of my favorite Tom Cruise film, Rain Man, is Mark Johnson who earned an MA in Film at the University of Iowa. Johnson won a Best Picture Oscar for his work on Rain Man. I think Tom Cruise and his team understand that talent often comes from seemingly unlikely places.

Scott W. Smith

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“In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even hostile act. You can disguise its aggressiveness all you want with veils of subordinate clauses and qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions—with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating—but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.”
Joan Didion
Why I Write
Published in The Writer and Her Work,
edited by Janet Sternburg

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“I write in time to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
Joan Didion
Essay Why I Write (adapted from Lecture at UC Berkeley)
The Writer on Her Work, edited by Janet Sternburg

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“The wolf is always at the door.”
Don Henley
New York Minute

I don’t remember when I first asked myself, “How is Blockbuster going to survive?”—but it was a few years ago. Now with a debt load of over a billion dollars and stocks currently selling at 11 cents, everyone is wondering, “How is Blockbuster going to survive?”

“After dominating the home video rental business for more than a decade and struggling to survive in recent years against upstarts Netflix and Redbox, Blockbuster Inc. is preparing to file for bankruptcy next month, according to people who have been briefed on the matter.”
L.A. Times

August 26, 2010

The first Blockbuster video store opened in 1985 just as the VCR movie rental business was taking off. If I recall correctly, the video rental market at that time consisted of mostly mom and pop type stores. By the early 90s Blockbuster stores were everywhere and they became the largest movie rental company in the United States.

For a long time its major competition was Hollywood Videos (also known as Movie Gallery) which at its peak had over 4,500 stores in North America. Early this year Hollywood Video/Movie Gallery filed for bankruptcy and the last of its stores just closed within the last month.

Whether Blockbuster  finds a way to reorganize and survive or becomes the new Fotomat is unknown at this point.  But either way, they had a great 20 plus year run and filled a niche between Hollywood and consumers. I wish I could hit a button and look at how many movies I’ve rented from them over the years. And the list of movies itself would probably a few good memories.

I know there are more efficient and convenient ways to rent movies these days, but if all the large video rental houses fade away I will miss just being able to wander through the store and stumbling on a movie I had never seen before or hadn’t seen in a while.

But I’ll never miss those dang late fees.

Scott W. Smith

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I picked up the book The Technique of Screen Writing (published in 1944) about ten years ago at a used book store in Baltimore, Maryland. Not to take anything from any screenwrtiting gurus, but contrary to belief screenwriting books did not begin with Syd Field’s classic book Screenplay, The Foundations of Screenwriting. Was Syd Field even born in 1944? Screenwriting books didn’t even begin with Eugene Vale’s The Technique of Screen Writing, but since we admire many movies from the 30s & 40s, it’s good every now and then to find the kind of thinking that was kicking around Hollywood during that golden era.

“It is necessary to understand that a story is nothing but a series of items of information. The story teller informs the listener about persons and events….The best approach is to ask: what is essential? In reducing the total information to that which is important, the good writer can tell a story in a smaller amount of space than the writer who is not capable of picking out the essential facts. Since the space of the motion picture is limited, the writer who knows how to select essential information can tell about more events and happenings than the writer who has mixed essential and non-essential information…While the means of expression must be handled in the most economical way, the amount of information must not be sparse but adequate.”
The Technique of Screenplay Writing (1944)
Eugene Vale
Page 69-71

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An article by Julie Washington in The Plain Dealer says that before screenwriter 38-year-old Abdul Williams wrote the script for Lottery Ticket that the East Cleveland native was writing short stories as an eight year old. As a teenager he was in theater at Shaker Heights High School and went on to graduate from Ohio University. He eventually headed to L.A. and got work as a script reader until he was fired in 2003. He worked on writing various projects which for one reason or another fell through.

Until Lottery Ticket, which is stars Bow Wow and Ice Cube Williams, he had only had close calls in getting one of his scripts produced. The film which opened Friday is Williams’ first produced feature and he was on the project from start to finish.

“It didn’t occur to me that a kid from Cleveland could have a career in movies.”
Abdul Williams

Lottery Ticket came in fourth at the box office last weekend pulling in $10 million, but playing in only 1.973 theaters it was tops in in average per theater. A solid start for a film that only cost $17 million to make. But keep in mind that it was a 30 year journey from writing short stories to his first produced feature film.

Related posts:
Toy Story 3’s Ohio Connections
Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany
Screenwriting and the Little Fat Girl in Ohio

Scott W. Smith

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This past Sunday night I turned on a preseason pro football game between Minnesota and San Francisco. My first thought was, “good I’ll get my first look at the great quarterback Bret Favre, in what is likely to be his last season.” But Favre was already out of the game and I quickly lost interest and turned off the TV. That seems like a good lead into a screenwriting thought that is so old it was published in a book long before Brett Favre was even born:

“If we attempt to write interesting stories, we cannot search for interest in the story itself, but must look for qualities in the story which are more or less universally interesting.

Let us imagine you watch a football game between two teams, both of which are unknown to you. No matter how exciting the game, you will not feel interested—at least not until you know something about the teams. The very game or even a less exciting game, if played by your home team, will become intensely interesting. The interest cannot lie in the quality of the game, but in the relation which you have to the game. The interest of the story depends upon the relation which the spectator has to the facts of narration.”
Eugene Vale
The Technique of Screenplay Writing (published in 1944)
page 207

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“Writing should be an adventure, shrouded in mystery and uncertainty, blessed with amazing grace. In theory, of course”
Syd Field
The Screenwriter’s Workbook
page 43

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