“Here’s my unsolicited advice to any aspiring screenwriters who might be reading this: Don’t ever agonize about the hordes of other writers who are ostensibly your competition. No one else is capable of doing what you do.”
Diablo Cody (Oscar-winning screenwriter—and Univ. of Iowa grad—who gave me the inspirational jolt to start this blog.)
Introduction/Juno: The Shooting Script
Yesterday marked the fourth anniversary of this Screenwriting from Iowa blog. If you’ve followed this blog much, you may know that I started in 2008 with what I thought was a fairly ambitious goal to write 50,000 words in a year. The first year I surpassed that goal easily and by the end of 2011 I had written over 500,000 words.
The full title of this blog is Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places. Specifically Iowa because it happens to be where I live and it generally is seen as a mythically middle-of-nowhere kind of place. Of course, over the past four years I’ve highlighted a lot of work and writers from many unlikely places.
And for the fourth anniversary, I wanted to point out four recent inspirational stories from more unlikely places.
1) Kalamazoo, Michigan definitely qualifies as an unlikely place to find filmmaking success, yet just a couple of weeks ago Cindy Gustafson finished shooting most of her first feature film there in her home state. She completed the script A Chance of Rain last year and it turned into her directorial debut. Cindy is not only a frequent commenter on this blog, but credits it with encouraging her to continue pursuing her screenwriting career even though she lives far from Los Angeles. I will be doing an interview with Cindy this week.
2) James Erwin from Des Moines, Iowa is not only a two-time “Jeopardy!” champ, but in the Fall of 2011 he sold a high-concept pitch via the website Reddit.com. According to Variety, His pitch Rome, Sweet Rome caught the attention of Madhouse Entertainment’s Adam Kolbrenner who helped develop the concept and sell it to WB. Last week I was in Des Moines for an edit session and traded emails with James and plan on doing an interview with him this week as well for this blog.
3) On the website for Warner Bros. Writers’ Workshop agent Tom Wellingtom (WME) was asked ,”What is the most interesting way you’ve signed a client?”
Tom: “I campaigned for Obama in Iowa and every night we’d hang out in this bar in Des Moines. It was sort of the hot spot for reporters and upper level staff so I made a lot of relationships that way. There I met and became good friends with a young filmmaker named Amy Rice who was working on a documentary. Out of our friendship and getting to know her work, I ended up signing her as a client. Edward Norton ended up producing her documentary (By the People) and we sold it to HBO for quite a bit of money. She’s now developing new projects outside of that. So for me that would be the most interesting way I’ve signed a client.”
4) LA. The other LA. Louisiana. In a swampwater place called ‘The Bathtub.’ The film Beasts of the Southern Wild was written by Benh Zeitlin (who also directed the film) and Lucy Alibar (based on her play Juicy and Delicious) and is part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival where it’s gather a lot of buzz in the last couple of days.
“One of the most striking films ever to debut at the Sundance Film Festival, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a poetic evocation of an endangered way of life and a surging paean to human resilence and self-reliance. Shot along the southern most fringes of Louisiana, cast with nonactors and absolutley teeming with creativity in ever aspect of his being, Benh Zeitlin’s directorial debut could serve as a poster child for everything American independent cinema aspires to be but so seldom is.”
The Hollywood Reporter 1/21/12
According to the THR, as of yesterday, there were “five distributors vying for the pic; Fox Searchlight, the Weinstein Co., Sony Pictures Classics, Oscillocope Films and IFC Films.”
And since I’m now technically in the fifth year of this blog I’ll toss in a bonus story:
5) Snohomish, Washington. Oscar-winning Alexander Payne (Sideways) is fresh of his latest film The Desecendants (which is soon to be nominated for an Oscar) and the next film he is planning on directing is Nebraska. He told Film School Rejects that, “It’s a father/son road trip from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska. but gets waylaid at a crappy town in central Nebraska where the father grew up and where he has some old scores to settle.” When Collider.com asked Payne if it was an original script he said, “Nebraska is an original script, by some guy Snobomish, Washington.” That some guy is screenwriter Robert Nelson. Robert was born in Yankton, South Dakota and back in 2006 Variety named him as on of the top 10 screenwriters to watch.
Steve Kotler at Variety wrote, “For Nelson, much of that craft was honed during the decade he spent working on Seattle-based sketch comedy show ‘Almost Live’ It was there that he turned his early childhood love of Bob Newhart, Woody Allen and Billy Wilder into his own brand of humor. It was through ‘Almost Live!’ that he met Bill Nye (who developed his Science Guy persona for that show). Through a roundabout series of steps, it was Nye who helped launch the scribes’s big screen career.”
So there you have it everywhere from Kalamazoo to Des Moines, from Snohomish to central Nebraska, all the way down to the backwaters of Louisiana prove there are still many stories to be told in unlikely places.
Thanks again for reading these posts and I look forward to hearing more stories from readers like Cindy who were inspired enough by something I wrote her to make her own feature. Thanks again to TomCruise.com for that plug back in 2010—still getting hits from that site. (Congrats as well for Ghost Protocol crossing the $500 million mark recently.)
And thanks to Adam Levenberg (author of The Starter Screenplay) —someone I met through doing this blog—for his taking the time to give me detailed notes on one of my scripts at the end of last year. Because views tend to go way down during the holidays, if you missed my post Screenwriter Gift Ideas check it out because Adam gave me the most detailed notes I’d ever received. (I’ll write more about what I learned about this process in the coming weeks.)
Another post that may have gotten lost at the end of the year was Edward Burns’ “Newlyweds” (Part 5) on his lates feature that he shot for $9,000. And my favorite theme for in the last year was on emotion in screenwriting. Starting with Filmmaking Quote #25 (David Fincher) all the way thorough the post 40 Days of Emotions almost a month later.
And thanks especially to the people who have signed up to recieve this blog post via a WordPress feed or email. That really does keep my feet to the fire to strive to write posts that will be worth your time.
Here’s to another year…may I finally get those 500,000 words into a concise book form in that 50,000 word range I was originally seeking when I started this blog.
H/T to Scott Myers and his blog Go Into the Story where I first learned about James Erwin’s sale and the Sundance buzz around Beasts of the Southern Wild.
P.S. Here’s the first post back on January 22, 2008—Life Beyond Hollywood.