Archive for February, 2012

“This is awesome for Louisiana.”
Julie Bordelon
Lafayette Entertainment Initiative

“This is the first Academy Award ever received by a Shreveport artist and a strong affirmation of the role arts in brining international recognition, employment and a culturally generated economy to Shreveport.”
Shreveport, La. Mayor Cedric Glover

The other LA, of course, is Louisiana. At the 2012 Academy Awards author/illustrator William Joyce and co-Director Brandon Oldenburg won an Oscar (Best Achievement in Animated Short Film) for their film The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.

My favorite lines from the entire 2012 Academy Awards:

“Look, we’re just these two swamp rats from Louisiana. We love the movies more than anything. It’s been a part of our lives since we were both kids.”
William Joyce

Oldenburg added, “It’s been a part of our DNA since we were children, and it’s made us storytellers.
Of course, their acceptance speech was almost as long as their 14-minute film, but you have to cut them some slack because Oscars aren’t common for swamp rats.

They’ve already received a shout-out from Governor Jindal, “”Tonight, Louisiana celebrates this Oscar win with the exceptionally talented and creative staff of Moonbot Studios” and a parade is planned for them next Monday. That’s what happens when filmmakers breakthrough from “unlikely places.”

But as I wrote back in 2008 in a post titled Sex, Lies & Mr. Bill (Screenwriting from Louisiana, there’s been some mojo kicking around in Louisiana for quite some time.  And just last month in the post Four Year Anniversary I mentioned how Benh Zeitlin’s film Beasts of the Southern Wild (shot in Louisiana) was creating buzz at this year’s Sundance.

Here’s the trailer for The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.

Notice that it taps into a little bit of both The Artist and Hugo in being inspired by books and Buster Keaton. On their Vimeo account it says “Morris Lessmore” is old fashioned and cutting edge at the same time.

Related posts:
Hugo & The Artist
Harold Loyd & Buster Keaton (Super Bowl Special)
Comedy, Cruelty & Chaplin
Taking a Bath in New York City
Old Fashioned & Cutting Edge (A look inside Moonbot Studios)

Scott W. Smith

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“The people of Northern Ireland, Protestant and Catholic, who after 30 years of war sat down, negotiated a peace and proved to the world that the Irish are great talkers.”
Terry George in his Academy Award acceptance speech

“Hundreds of thousands of short films are produced every year around the world and for Northern Ireland to win one really underlines the world class talent we have working in the industry here.”
Richard Williams, chief executive Northern Ireland Screen 

After watching the 2012 Oscars the film that I hadn’t seen that I walked away with wanting to see the most was the Irish film The Shore.  Writer, producer, and director Terry George said the movie is, “the story of one small act of reconciliation which mirrors the courageous achievement of the people who after 800 years of division and blooodshed came together to talk and make their peace with one another.”

George and his producer-daughter Oorlagh also became the first father/daughter combination to win an Oscar together. The film was shot at George’s family cottage at Coney Island near Ardglass in Northern Ireland. (That qualifies as an “unlikely place” referred to in this blogs subtitle.)

“We basically shot this story right outside my front door in Northern Ireland over five days last summer. And it was maybe the best experience in filmmaking I’ve had. It got me back to that thing of communicating with actors and the crew, just focusing both telling the story and having fun.”
Terry George
(On making The Shore)

“There’s the ability to go out an make a film with very little equipment now.”
Terry George

Though this is George’s first Oscar, he had been nominated two before for his screenplays Hotel Rwanda and In the Name of the Father.

The 30-minute film is now available for $6.99 on iTunes as a set with the other Academy Award-nominated live-action short films.

For information on filming in Northern Ireland and other related information visit Northern Ireland Screen.

P.S. The cinematographer for The Shore was Michael McDonough who just happened to shoot Winter’s Bone. I believe he used the RED camera on both Winter’s Bone and The Shore.

P.P.S. For filmmakers, here’s a link to the press kit used by The Shore.

Related Posts: Screenwriting from Ireland

Scott W. Smith

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Neon Prophecy?

It seems like the first two months of 2012 I’ve been writing a lot about Hugo and The Artist so I was pleased they both did so well at the Academy Awards last night.  I’ll reflect on the Oscars later this week.

I shot the above photo Elkader, Iowa on Saturday at the day end of a 15 hour shooting day. I’m a sucker for neon movie signs, but this one had a nice third element to it—a wink to the viewers. Or maybe its secret message was unintentional. Like the church I once went to in Hawaii that met in a movie theater that where Sin City was on the marquee. 

Elkader, Iowa was featured on CNN last week bringing a little attention to the town. A producer from Colorado contacted me on Thursday to do camerawork for a documentary that will be showm in Algeria. Really? Really.

Turns out that the town of Elkader, Iowa was named in 1848 after Algeria leader Abd al-Qadir-Jaza iri. Which I believe makes Elkader, Iowa the only city in the United States named after a Muslim. That tends to be a twist that interests people. Hence, why I’m going back out there to shoot today.

By the way, if you ever find yourself going through Elkader in north east Iowa, make sure to stop and eat Schera’s Algerian-American Restaurant. Great food. (Look for the Red Sox flag flying out front.) One of the owners graduated from MIT and has an IT background.  Yeah, Iowa is full of surprises.

Related Post: Hugo & The Artist

Scott W. Smith

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Today on NPR, Susan Stamberg had this exchange with Alexander Payne, the screenwriter, producer, and director of The Descendants:

In [The Decendants’] powerful final scene, the 10-year-old daughter watches TV on the couch, wrapped in a quilt. Her father enters with two bowls of ice cream. He sits, and pulls the quilt over to cover his legs, too. The older daughter wanders in, and Dad moves over for her, covers her with the quilt, and hands her the ice cream as the credits begin. It’s a coda, Payne calls it, a landing strip, to bring the film in.

“When writing the screenplay, I thought rhythmically the film would need one more scene,” Payne says. “I had no idea if it would work or not.”

Payne wasn’t sure until they actually shot the scene — but it does work. In this almost wordless, two-minute scene, you finally see them become a family through the most ordinary gestures — adjusting a quilt, passing bowls of strawberry and mocha chip ice cream.

“Well, that’s what life is — this collection of extraordinarily ordinary moments,” Payne says. “We just need to pay attention to them all. Wake up and pay attention to how beautiful it all is.”

The interview is titled The Extraordinary, Ordinary Life of Alexander Payne.. Though Payne could be on the winning end of three Academy Awards Sunday (producer, director, screenwriter), he spends much of his time in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. Pretty ordinary, huh?

Scott W. Smith

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Living Out Loud

“If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I will tell you, I came to live out LOUD.”
Émile Zola


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Think I can segue from two previous posts about Bridesmaids to one about Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close?

No problem. In Bridesmaids there is a scene where the lead character’s life is falling a part and her mother tells her to watch the movie Cast Away saying, “It’s like Forrest Gump on a deserted island.” Forrest Gump was written by Eric Roth, the same writer as Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

I think I’ve written something about every Academy Award-nominated Best Picture and/or its writers except for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. So I’m cramming for finals before the Oscars Sunday night. Here’s an exchange found in the article, ‘Extremely Loud’ Screenwriter On Turning The Novel Into A Film;

Eric Herschthal: A common trope is that no one can capture the tragedy of the Holocaust in art. Do you see something similar happening with Sept. 11 works of art?

Eric Roth: “First off, I don’t like to compare anything to the Holocaust. [Director Stanley] Kubrick. said you can’t make a movie out of the Holocaust; it’s too visceral to capture on film. I think he’s right. But I think you can make stories about grief, about loss, and how you deal with them. That’s what I tried to do.”

Roth received and Oscar-nominated for his script. He’s had a three other screenplay Oscar-nominations:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (shared with Robin Swicord)
Munich (shared with Tony Kushner)
The Insider (Shared with Michael Mann)
Forrest Gump (Sole screenwriting credit and an his sole Oscar win)

A few days ago Roth received the 2012 Laurel Award for Screen, lifetime achievement in outstanding writing for motion pictures, from the  Writers Guild of America, West.

“In a career that spans over four decades, Eric Roth’s work – from Forrest Gump to The Insider, Ali, The Good Shepard, Benjamin Button, and this year’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – has traced the larger span of our history and the smaller, individual arcs of the human life. With poetry and humor, he has illuminated time and love and moral responsibility. He has made going to the movies both a stirring emotional education and a true joy.”
WGAW President Christopher Keyser

Quirky facts about Roth: According to IMDB, he wrote one of Kurosawa‘s last films (Rhapsody in August), and his daughter, Vanessa Roth, won an Academy Award (Best Documentary Short) in 2008 for her film Freeheld.

Related posts:
Eric Roth on Theme & Loneliness
Change the Weather (Tip #44)

Scott W. Smith

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“My token advice (to aspiring filmmakers) is do it—make your own stuff. Whether it’s short films or whatever you can do, my advice is make your own stuff. I’m a real believer in preparation meets opportunity. When this opportunity (to write Bridesmaids) came along I really had been at this a long time…I was really prepared when this came along. I’m just a firm believer in ‘just do it.’ If you build it, he will come.”
Annie Mumolo 
Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Bridesmaids
Script Mag Podcast with Jenna Milly 

P.S. About that “If you build it…”/Field of Dreams reference, all roads may not lead through Iowa— it just seems like it sometimes.

Related post: Filmmaking Quote #29 (Marc Maurino)

Another First Script = Oscar Nomination

Scott W. Smith

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“We basically pounded out our first draft in six days.”
Annie Mumolo, co-writer of Bridesmaids

Because I write so much about screenwriters who wrote 6-13 screenplays before they sold a script, it’s always nice to point out the anomalies. (It’s much more encouraging to new writers, right?) Here’s the story of a first screenplay that was good enough to get an Oscar-nomination:

Bridesmaids was our first screenplay. I knew how scripts worked, but I didn’t know what should generally happen on page 30, or in three acts, so we bought one of Syd Field‘s book on screenwriting. When Annie and I turned in our original draft, she was seven months pregnant—and then she was seven months pregnant again when we shot the movie. We joked that when her babies came out, their first words were going to be ‘Judd’ [Apatow, who produced the movie] and ‘rewrite.’ There are a lot of sad moments in the film, which we really wanted. In the end, the story is the most important thing, It’s a story first and funny second.”
Kristen Wiig
Co-writer, Bridesmaids
The Hollywood Reporter; How Top Screenwriters Hone Their Craft 

Of course, to be totally fair, I should point that while Wiig says they pounded out the first draft in just under a week, it was really a five year process to get script polished and the movie on the big screen. (And that’s with Judd Apatow in their corner.) Plus the 38-year-old actress/writer began taking acting classes in college at the University of Arizona, moved to L.A. where she was joined the improv group The Groundlings (where she met Mumolo), joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 2005 (and would later win a Primetime Emmy), and she got her first feature film role in the 2007 Judd Apatow film Knocked Up.

So like Diablo Cody (who also had Oscar success with her first script) Wiig had been at the creative game fifteen plus years before her Oscar success. (Cody said she’d been writing everyday since she was 12-years-old, had a Media Studies degree from the University of Iowa, had a book published, had been a guest on David Letterman, and a good enough blogger to interest a Hollywood manager before winning an Oscar for her first script—Juno.)

Mumolo took her own long road to screenwriting success. According to IMDB, she performed her first comedy in seventh grade, got a degree in history from U.C. Berkeley, trained at the South Coast Rep in Cosa Mesa, is a Groundling member, and has been working steadily in TV as an actress for almost a decade.

Oh, and about that script written in six days— just the first draft. It went through many layers before its Oscar-nomination. There we just a few notes from producers and the studio on how to improve the script.

“Since we’ve been in this since 2006, the amount of notes that we’ve gotten over the years, on so many different subjects, and on so many levels—it is overwhelming and it is hard to sift through…It’s a hard thing to swallow because you get excited that you sold something, and then you turn in your first draft, and they go ‘great, we love it—here’s 25,000 page of notes.'”
Annie Mumolo
Script Mag podcast with Jenna Milly

And also factor in that there was not only a heavy dose of improv on the set, but Mumolo pointed out that the improv carried over into the ADR session, which is dubbing lines of dialogue in the post-production end of the process. So the other actors and actresses had a hand in the dialogue, and director Paul Feig, along with editors William Kerr and Michael L. Sale (and their editorial team), all had a hand in going through the mound of footage crafting together a cohesive story.

So call it basically a six days “plus” script, before the equation leads to the Oscar nomination and a worldwide box office gross of $288 million.

P.S. Similarities between Bridesmaids and Juno? Both are female-driven comedies set in the Midwest (one Minnesota and the other Wisconsin/Chicago) — and both are one word titles.

Related post: First Screenplay, Oscar—Precious

Scott W. Smith

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Star Wars is one of those films — old films — that was designed for the big screen. It makes a big difference to see it on the big screen with the overwhelming sound, the picture and now 3D. We’ve had two generations be able to see it on the big screen and it was great. Now kids who have never seen it on the big screen, who have no idea how powerful it was — because all they had was DVD — have that chance.”
George Lucas
The Hollywood Reporter article by Alex Ben Rock

It’s been a Star Wars week for me. Wednesday night I had to drive two hours to pick-up a crew member flying into Des Moines Airport from Los Angeles. Because he was coming in around midnight I decided to make a stop at the Apple Store and catch a late showing of Star Wars: Episode 1 -The Phantom Menace 3D at the West Jordan Mall. I know this will be heresy to diehard Star Wars fans, but I had never seen the film. I was a teenager when the first Star Wars came out and eventually when I found out who Darth Vader was I was satisfied with the series.

Which means I hadn’t seen a Star Wars movie in the theaters since seeing Return of the Jedi in 1983. That’s almost 30 years! But I remember that night well, because I was in film school where about 70% of the people were there because of the original Star Wars. A bunch of us went to a midnight showing in Hollywood and it was great.

So there I was Wednesday night (with just one other person in a massive theater) hitting the reset button experiencing Star Wars again like I was seven years old. And remembering that through all of the pros and cons that’s been said of various Star Wars characters and movies over the years—that George Lucas is a genius. Forget almost everything else he’s done and just judge him Star Wars, American Graffiti and the story for Indiana Jones is proof enough.

Yesterday (the day after seeing The Phantom Menace) I went to a shoot at a company here in Cedar Falls called Phantom EFX where among others things in their creative environment was a handmade R2D2 so I couldn’t pass up having my picture taken with the little fellow. I was interviewing Aaron Schurman, Phantom EFX CEO and designer of the Darkest of Days video game. It turns out that Aaron has been out to LA to meet with CAA and develop one of his games into a feature film.) Boy, you never know what’s going on in the outskirts of the cornfields here in Iowa.

All of this reminds me of an opportunity I had back in 2006 to visit ILM in San Francisco where I was greeted by the statue below of Yoda before entering the building.

Good memories, and great movie memories. Thanks Mr. George Lucas.

Maybe the force still be with you—and all of us—all the of days of our lives.

Scott W. Smith

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“I’m often asked by younger filmmakers, ‘Why do I need to look at old movies?’ I’ve made a number of pictures in the last 20 years and the response I have to give them is that I still consider myself a student. The more pictures I’ve made in 20 years, the more I realize I really don’t know. And I’m always looking for something or someone that I could learn from.  I tell the younger filmmakers, and the young students, that do it like painters used to do—that painters do—study the old masters, enrich your palette, expand the canvas. There’s always so much more to learn.”
Martin Scorsese
A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese through American Movies (1995)

Part 1 on You Tube

Part 2 on You Tube

Part 3 on You Tube

Keep in mind that Scorsese’s comment about “always looking for something or someone that I could learn from” was said 30 years after he recieved an MFA from NYU.

Scott W. Smith

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