Archive for May, 2012

The Hatfields & McCoys

“This successful life we’re livin’s got us feudin’
Like the Hatfields and McCoys…”

Luckenbach Texas
Lyrics by Waylon Jennings

The History Channel’s miniseries Hatfields & McCoys pulled in some big numbers in the last few days—more than 13 million viewers each night. As AP television writer David Bauder pointed out, “Those are huge numbers in the cable television world. No scripted series on the broadcast networks last week came close. By contrast, Fox’s series finale of “House” last week reached 8.7 million people.”

The famous family feud that occurred on the Kentucky/West Virginia border just after the Civil War wasn’t the safest bet for The History Channel but a nice vote of confidence for those interested in writing narrative drama. And maybe in the timeline of history as well as dramatically the Hatfields and the McCoys fall comfortably between the worlds of Shakespeare and The Real Housewives of Atlanta.

As I wrote in one of my very first posts (Everything I learned in Film School) it all comes down to conflict doesn’t it? (It also comes down to budgets. The History Channel’s version of the Hatfields & McCoys was filmed not in Kentucky or West Virginia—but in Romania). The mini-series was written by Bill Kerby, Ted Mann and Ronald Parker.

I’m not sure how many times that family feud has been filmed as a feature or TV movie, but back in 1975 Jack Palance starred as Devil Anse Hatfield in The Hatfields and the McCoys, and next week the feature Bad Blood: The Hatfields and McCoys written and directed by Fred Olen Ray will be released. The earliest version depiction of the family feud appears to be the 1923 Buster Keaton film Our Hospitality. (Technically an Appalachian clash between the Canfields and McKay.)

Opening title card to Our Hospitality: “Men of one family grew up killing men of another family for no other reason except that their fathers had done so.” Here’s the entire film on You Tube if you haven’t got your family feud quota in this week:

P.S. A couple of years ago there was talk of a Eric Roth script titled The Hatfields and the Mccoys that would star Brad Pitt and Robert Duvall (and a sound track by T-Bone Burnett). I don’t know if that film’s going to get made, but I don’t think we’ve seen the last of the Hatfields or the McCoys.

Scott W. Smith

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“I did not believe it was possible to be a woman playwright from Kentucky. The reason I thought this, was that in the early seventies,  there weren’t any. There were writers, all right, wonderful writers, a few of them women, but those writers were all from the mountains. So naturally, I thought being an artist was a matter of where you were born. If you were born in the mountains, you could be an artist.  If you were born in Louisville, you had to go into advertising.”
Marsha Norman 

I don’t know how many writers have won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award, but it can’t be a long list—and Marsha Norman is on that list. Norman was born in Louisville, Kentucky and was inspired early attending performances at the Actors Theatre of Louisville. After she graduated from Agnes Scott College in Decatur,GA her first play was produced at the Actors Theatre of Louisville. According to Wikipedia she also worked as a journalist for The Louisville Times and taught at the J. Graham Brown School in Louisville.

She moved to New York City and in the 80s her play ‘night, Mother had a successful run on Broadway and won the 1983 Pulitzer in Drama.  Norman also wrote the screenplay for the 1986 film version of ‘night, Mother which starred Sissy Spacek and Anne Bancroft. Then in 1991 she won a Tony Award for her writing the musical version of The Secret Garden. Her work has also brought Emmy, Grammy & WGA nominations. In 2009 she wrote scripts for HBO’s The Treatment:

“Television does such a great job with social issues, with personal family drama, the kinds of things that were the mainstay of a certain segment of theater writers; Arthur Miller, for example.”
Marsha Norman

You can get an overview of her work as a playwright, screenwriter, author and teacher at her website marshanorman.com. Currently she is the Vice-President of the Dramatists Guild of America and on the faculty at Julliard. And here’s a mini-lesson from her professor side:

“In our culture, the main story we like to tell is THE SEARCH FOR X.  Someone wants something, there is something in their way, and we watch as they try to find it.  The Wizard of Oz is a good example of this.  Treasure of the Sierra Madre, All the President’s MenMillion Dollar Baby.  Even all the Indiana Jones stories are of this family.  Harry Potter is the search for peace and justice.  All love stories are of this type actually.  And oddly enough, the thing that most characters are searching for, whatever they decide to call it, peace, justice, truth, love, the holy grail, glory – the thing we’re all really looking for is home.  Lovers are looking for each other not just for sex or fun, but they are looking for the safety and the sense of belonging that home gives people.  Etc.  There is something we cannot resist about the story of a search.  Maybe it’s because we’re all looking for stuff all the time, but something in us, is always searching.  So if you’re looking for a good subject for a story – start with a search.  Organize it like a search, and end it with the finding of the thing.”
Marsha Norman
Story Lecture at Wesleyan University in 2006

P.S. If you’re a young writer (grades 6-12) living in Kentucky or the 812 area of Southern Indiana the Actors Theatre of Louisville has a NEW VOICES TEN-MINUTE PLAY CONTEST you can enter. And for other writers, between September 1 and November 1 the Actors Theatre has a  National Ten-Minute Play Contest which is limited to the first 500 scripts received.

Related posts: Louisville Sluggers 4X

Scott W. Smith

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Louisville Sluggers 4X

Last week I spent the majority of my time on a video shoot in Louisville, Kentucky and it gave me the opportunity to learn about some heavy hitters from the area. Of course, Louisville Slugger baseball bats have been made in the area since the late 1800s and are a great icon of American craftsmanship. And while Louisville Sluggers were the bats that Babe Ruth & Ty Cobb used in the early days of professional baseball, they are still used by 60% of MLB players today.

But did you know it all started when 17-year-old Budd Hillerich asked his father who owned a woodworking shop in Louisville to make a bat for a local professional ball player. When the player, Pete Browning, got three hits the next day word spread.

Another heavy hitter from Louisville is heavyweight boxing great Muhammad Ali who was born there in 1942 and won six Golden Glove titles in Kentucky before going on to win an Olympic gold medal, on his road to becoming the professional heavyweight champ and being named by Sports Illustrated in 1999, as Sportsman of the Century. Before his nickname was “The Greatest” he was known as the “Louisville Lip.”

Yet another heavy hitter from the Louisville area is filmmaker D.W. Griffith, who has been called “The Father of Film.” He was born in Crestwood, Kentucky (about 15 miles from Louisville) but moved into town as a teenager after his father died and his mother sold their family farm. Griffith eventually made his way to New York and then Los Angeles on the way to making the first blockbuster film The Birth of a Nation.

As a writer and director of both feature and short films he made more than 200 films. (One and two reelers—usually between 3 and  20 minutes of running time where when Griffith started his career.)  He briefly bridged the silent era into the talkies, but never reached his early success. Later in his life he bought a home in La Grange, Kentucky (about 20 miles from Louisville) though he died while living at The Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood in 1948.

But did you know that three years prior to his death Griffith was awarded an honorary doctorate  from the University of Louisville?  He’s buried at the Mt. Tabor Methodist Church cemetery in Crestwood, KY. I stopped by last Friday before hitting the road back to Iowa.

But the latest big hitter from Louisville is 21-year-old actress Jennifer Lawrence who was born and raised in Louisville before earning an Academy Award nomination for her role in Winter’s Bone. This year she’s the lead in The Hunger Games which made almost $400 million domestic and, I believe, is the only film in the box office top 20 this year that is a female driven story. Ms. Lawrence is carrying a big bat these days—and she’s just getting started.

Related post:

Writer Marsha Norman
The Father of Film (Part 1)
The Father of Film (Part 2)
The Father of Film (Part 3)

Scott W. Smith

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Take these broken wings and learn to fly
Blackbird (Lyrics by Lennon/McCartney)

Today I was on the road after a three day video shoot in Louisville, Kentucky and found myself driving through Seymour, Indiana for the second time this week. Today I decided to drive through town instead of just taking the Interstate bypass, and hunted for a photo I could post today. I found the above shot at the St. Paul United Church of Christ cemetery in Seymour which was established in 1863.

Like neon lights, statues of angels have a way of catching my photographic eye. The funny thing is I spent about 10 minutes taking photos in front of this angel before I walked around the back of the statue and noticed the broken wing. Nothing fancy here, taken with an iPhone and tweaked in Chase Jarvis’ Best Picture App.

I also have a long and lasting affection for Seymour, Indiana as it’s John Mellencamp’s hometown and the well spring of his song Small Town:

Well I was born in a small town
And I can breath in a small town
Gonna die in a small town
Ah, that’s prob’ly where they’ll bury me
Small Town
Performed & lyrics by John Mellencamp

When Mellencamp dies he’ll probably be buried not too far from where this photo was taken. (And anyone in Seymour with connections to Mr. Mellencamp—tell him I’d be honored if he used this photo on his next CD.)

And while Mellencamp is known as a singer and songwriter (and more recently as a painter) don’t forget that he is a produced feature film director as well.  He directed and starred with Mariel Hemingway in the 1992 film Falling from Grace which was written by Oscar-winner Larry McMurtry.

Mellencamp, who was born in Seymour in 1951—and graduated from Seymour High School in 1970—returned to Seymour to shoot Falling from Grace. And now as I wrap up being on the road for two weeks for various productions (and logging over 2,600 miles) it seems fitting to end with this Mellencamp song from back in the day:

P.S. As I’ve been driving, I’ve been thinking about that angel’s broken wing. Maybe the artist made it that way. Maybe it’s the angel that Jacob wrestled all night with from Genesis. The book says that Jacob walked away a crippled man, but we weren’t told what the angel looked like after the battle. (Can’t you hear Jacob telling his friends the next day, “You should’ve seen the other guy.”) Some great artwork has been done over the ages from that epic wrestling match including those by Rembrandt, Delacroix and Chagall.

Scott W. Smith

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Writer/Historian Edward Eggleston

Most of you have probably never heard of writer Edward Eggleston or his most known novel The Hoosier Schoolmaster. Mostly because it was written in 1871. But how many writers have had a novel of their’s made into a movie three times? The Hoosier Schoolmaster films were produced in 1914, 1924 & 1935.  Not bad for a book about “a story of backwoods life in Indiana.” (And the number may be four if you include the 1937 Mickey Rooney film Hoosier Schoolboy which seems to have the same plotline, but where Mr. Eggleston is uncredited.)

Eggleston has long been on my radar because one of the family names on my mother’s side of the family is Eggleston. And though a direct connection has not been made with Edward, my sister has traced our family heritage back to the Vevay, Indiana area—which just happens to be where Edward was born. (Can you see the family resemblance in the above picture? Well, at least we both like to wear hats.)

Edward had 19 books published. He died in Lake George, New York in 1902 and according to Wikipedia his summer home there, Owl’s Nest was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1971.

The entire book can be found online for free, part of Project Guttenberg.

In fact, one of the entire movies can be found on You Tube. He’s the first of eight parts:

Once again proving writers come from everywhere—including places like Vevay, Indiana.

Scott W. Smith

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Fly Over States

“Who’d want to live down there in the middle of nowhere?”
Fly Over States/ Lyrics by Michael William Dulaney and Neil Thrasher 

It seemed more than fitting that on a brief lunch stop Monday in New Richmond, Indiana that when I walked into the Corner Cafe—where one of the scenes from Hoosiers was filmed—Jason Aldean’s song Fly Over States music video came on the TV. The song is currently Billboard’s number one country song.

Scott W. Smith

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Okay, there really isn’t a Hickory, Indiana. But for those who have seen the 1986 movie Hoosiers, there will always be a Hickory, Indiana. Yesterday as I was heading south on Interstate 74 heading toward Indianapolis I realized I was deep in Hoosier territory. A quick search of the Internet showed there were several towns in the surrounding area where the movie was shot. I make a short detour to New Richmond because that was where the exteriors for the town of Hickory were shot. And from the above picture, you can see a lasting remnant from the movie shot there more than 25 years ago.

Here’s the opening credit sequence of Hoosiers:

From a screenwriting perspective check out Jeff Merron’s ESPN article Hoosiers’ in reel life to see how the real life events were changed in the movie for dramatic purposes by the screenwriter Angelo Pizzo.

Related Posts:

Hoops, Hoosiers, & Hollywood
Dennis Hopper (1936-2010)
Storytellers from Indiana

Scott W. Smith

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New Hope

“Hope is a dangerous thing.”
Red (Morgan Freeman) The Shawshank Redemption

Do you ever have days that just seem magical and full of odd connections?

Yesterday was one of those days for me. After my video shoot in Willmar, Minnesota on Saturday I drove to Minneapolis to stay the night before heading back to Iowa. When I woke up Sunday morning I realized I was only a few miles from New Hope, Minnesota. What interesting could be happening in New Hope on a Sunday morning?

Well, usually there are only a few people who are game-changers in your life and for me that happens to a fellow named Steve Goold who happens to be a preacher in New Hope. I met him when I was 24-years old in Burbank, California just two years out of film school and after a series of situations wandered into the church he pastored there.

So before driving home I stopped by New Hope Church and heard Steve preach.

Later in the day I turned on the TV to catch the NBA playoffs and came upon a documentary on Johnny Carson. (Who just happened to be born in Corning, Iowa.) I never made it to the game. And I had never connected Steve Goold and Johnny Carson before. But the reason I chose to live in Burbank when I moved to California from Florida was it was familiar to me. God works in mysterious ways.

Burbank was familiar to me because I grew up hearing Carson joke about “beautiful downtown Burbank”—which back in the day had no where near the shops, restaurants and theaters as it has today. So I rented an apartment on Riverside Drive just a couple of miles from where Carson recorded the show at NBC. It was always my fantasy to not just attend The Late Show with Johnny Carson, but to be a guest on it.

One of my jobs in film school was delivering video equipment for a company called BERC and one day I went to NBC and the guard allowed me to step into the studio where Carson taped the show. I was taken back on how small it was. But that was as close as I got to getting on the show.

But Burbank served me well. I met my wife in an elevator in Burbank (Can you get any more romantic?) and I have lots of fond memories of people and events there. My wife and I have kept in touch with Pastor Steve and his wife Pam over the years and have had the opportunity to have dinner as our paths have crossed in Florida, Iowa, and Minnesota.

And just to come full circle with this blog, less that four miles from that church in New Hope is the Starbucks in Crystal, Minnesota where Diablo Cody wrote much of Juno. She also wrote at her home in Robbinsdale which is right next to Crystal and New Hope.

Many people are surprised to learn that screenwriter Diablo Cody went to a Presbyterian church when she lived in Minneapolis. But don’t forget that she spent 12 years attending Catholic school. Earlier this year it was announced that Cody would be directing her first film. Brian Brooks of Deadline said it’s based on her script and, “Lamb Of God centers on a young evangelical woman who denounces God after a tragic plane crash that left one-third of her body severely burned. Angry, she leaves her parents and church in Washington, D.C. for Las Vegas, where she attempts to re-discover herself. ”

Characters in movies, characters in real life—relationships, writing, careers— it all kind of boils down to two words: new hope.

P.S. While in film school I was an intern on the cable TV show Alive and Well that taped daily in Marina Del Rey. For those of you outside LA, the drive from Burbank to LA is a long drive—especially when that call time I believe was 7AM. One of the host on the show was Joanne Carson (Johnny’s ex-wife). They didn’t have a teleprompter, so it was up to the intern (me) to hold and flip the cue cards. I remember being told that I was flipping the cards too fast or too slow by Joanne.  I felt bad, until one of the crew members told me, “Don’t worry. Whenever she screws up, you’ll get the blame.” That internship was where I began to learn about psychology. Wherever you are Joanne, I hope you’re alive and well.

Scott W. Smith

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“The auction industry pushes almost twice the revenue through every year as the fast food industry does. It’s close to half a trillion dollars of merchandise that is sold at auctions…It’s a huge chunk of our economy.”
Rich Penn

Speaking of Jessica Lange (see yesterday’s post) have you ever seen the movie Country? Lange was nominated for an Academy Award for her role as a wife of a farmer during the farming crisis of the 80s. That film was shot in Waterloo, Iowa and the most memorable scene to me was the auction of a farm family that, well, loses the farm.

Today I was a cameraman for a TV program that is being shot in Willmar, Minnesota through the weekend featuring Rich Penn Auctions—a company that just happens to be based in Waterloo, Iowa. They are auctioning the Mikkelson Collection which features more than 50 vintage boats including many boats known as the Falls Flyer. It’s interesting to see and interview people coming from Canada, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and California and to know that people will be bidding online from Spain, Germany, and Thailand. (You can watch and bid online from wherever you are in the world.)

It’s not only nice to experience seeing a once in a lifetime collection, but to witness how Rich Penn and his team team pull off a full blown auction of more than 900 items. Something I’ve never seen before. And it’s also great to meet and work with a crew that I’ve never worked with before, including the producer of this program (Bid America!) Glenn Avent of Icon Television Music and director Darren Mann of Mann-made Pictures based in Santa Monica.

Can you think of any other movies that feature an auction?

P.S. Last weekend I was shooting some b-roll in Willmar I came upon a soccor game between Somalia and Mexico. I was told there were 3,500 Somalians living in the area and a large hispanic population as well. (At half-time the score was 1-1.) Tell me there aren’t some interesting stories to tell in Willmar about Somalians and Mexicans living in Willmar. Call it The Midwest Melting Pot.

P.P.S. Did you know that the History Channel TV show American Pickers got it’s start in Iowa? Check out Wikipedia to learn the story and if your ever in LeClaire, Iowa check out the home base of Mike Wolfe, Frank Fritz and Danielle Colby-Cushman at Antique Archeology.

Scott W. Smith

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On Monday I did a shoot in Little Falls, Minnesota and met a fellow who said he gave a bike ride to future actress Jessica Lange when she lived there in ninth grade. But the two-time Oscar-winning actress is not the most famous resident to have ever lived in Little Falls. That honor would go to Charles Lindbergh who grew up in the small town on the Mississippi River. (Jimmy Stewart played Lindbergh in the 1957 film The Spirit of St. Louis.)

Above is where he spent his boyhood summers long before he became the first person to fly solo from North America to Europe in 1927—less than ten years after he graduated from Little Falls High School. (The Charles A. Lindbergh House is now part of a Minnesota State Park.)

Scott W. Smith

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