Archive for May, 2013

“I don’t want to bring this to a conclusion on a down note. A few years back, I got a call from an agent, he said look ‘Will you come see this film? It’s a small, independent film a client made. It’s been making the festival circuit and it’s getting a really good response, but no distributor will pick it up, and I really want you to take a look at it and tell me what you think.’ The film was called Memento. So the lights come up and I go alright, ‘It’s over. It’s over. Nobody will buy this film? This is just insane. The movie business is over.’ It was really upsetting. Well fortunately, the people who financed the movie loved the movie so much they formed their own distribution company and put the movie out and made 25 million dollars. So, whenever I despair I think, OK, somebody out there somewhere, while we’re sitting right here, somebody out there somewhere is making something cool that we’re going to love, and that keeps me going. ”
Steve Soderbergh
Conclusion to his State of Cinema talk
San Francisco International Film Festival
April 27,2013

To encourage somebody, somewhere to make something cool that we’re all going to love is what this Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places is all about. Thanks for reading.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“A few months ago I was on this Jet Blue flight going from New York to Burbank…I’m getting comfortable in my seat—You know, I spent the 60 bucks to get the extra the legroom— so I’m starting to get a little comfortable and we make altitude. And there’s a guy who is in the other side of the aisle in front of me and he pulls out his iPad— he’s about to start watching stuff. I’m curious to see what he’s going to watch—he’s a white guy in his mid thirties— and I begin to realize that what he’s done is he’s loaded in half a dozen sort of action extravaganzas and he’s watching each of the action sequences. He’s skipping over all the dialogue and the narrative. So this guy’s flight is going to be five and a half hours of just like mayhem porn. And I get this wave of —not panic,  it’s not like my heart started fluttering—but I had this sense of ‘Am I going insane?’ or ‘Is the world going insane?’ Or both?
Writer/director Steven Soderbergh
State of Cinema 2013 talk at the San Francisco Film Society

Odds are pretty good that that guy Steven Soderbergh mentioned seeing on that Jet Blue flight was in the audience this weekend for Fast & Furious 6 as it hauled in over $300 millon worldwide in just four days.

Fast & Furious 6 was written by Chris Morgan and directed by Justin Lin and though film number six in the franchise even some critics had some favorable things to say about the action packed film:

‘Fast and Furious 6’ is the fastest, funniest and most outlandishly entertaining chapter yet. I’m not kidding, I kinda loved this insanely stupid movie.”
Richard Roeper

“True, the movie doesn’t know when or how to put the brakes on. It does, however, understand precisely what it is.”
Betsy Sharkey
Los Angeles Times

The odds are also pretty good that Steven Soderbergh didn’t spend his money this past weekend on Fast & Furious 6.  It’s safe to say that Soderbergh is not in the intended demographics of the movie. But Soderbergh does understand the economics of why Universal Studios would shell out $160 million to produce that film and who knows how many tens of millions advertising the film.

“Well, how does a studio decide what movies get made? One thing they take into consideration is the foreign market, obviously. It’s become very big. So that means, you know, things that travel best are going to be action-adventure, science fiction, fantasy, spectacle, some animation thrown in there. Obviously the bigger the budget, the more people this thing is going to have to appeal to—the more homogenized it’s got to be, the more simplified it’s got to be. So things like cultural specificity and narrative complexity, and, god forbid, ambiguity, those become real obstacles to the success of the film here and abroad.”
Steven Soderbergh
State of Cinema

The middle-class of filmmaking is not just shrinking, it’s disappearing. As Soderbergh points out in his State of Cinema talk, the real problem for many filmmakers today is a $30 million film needs $30 million in advertising, and since the movie theaters take 50% of the gross that $30 million dollar film has to make $120 million just to break even. So the studios will focus on tentpole movies and many screenwriters and filmmakers will focus on opportunities in the indie world of no-budget to $10 million—or cable television.

The reports of Soderbergh retiring are greatly exaggerated. But, like Kevin Smith, you will more than likely see his name popping up on projects less and less in movie theaters. His Behind the Candelabra airs on HBO Sunday and there is talk that he is executive producing a ten-episode drama with Cinemax.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“Most of the stuff that I’m looking forward to seeing is on TV now. Almost exclusively due to The Sopranos, there’s been a resurgence in long-form television. That’s great for someone like me, the ability to play out a narrative with a very long arc and explore complicated characters and have the audience be happy about that, it’s very enticing…We, the filmmakers, have got to start thinking differently….I never said I was done directing. I said I was going to stop making movies. I’m hopefully going to be doing a play this fall that Scott Burns wrote.”
Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh(Traffic)
May 2013 LA Times Article by Meredith Blake

P.S. Soderbergh’s film Behind the Candelabra starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon premieres Sunday on HBO, and he’s also exploring a whole different creative platform—painting.

Related posts:
Filmmaking Quote #36 (Being Platformagnostic)
Kevin Smith is Platformagnostic
Sex, Lies, & Mr. Bill (Screenwriting from Louisiana)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Following the recent Morgan Spurlock post about Being Platform Agnostic, this weekend I came across a Q&A with filmmaker Kevin Smith:

Q: When you’ve said in the past that you will retire after Clerks 3 what did you exactly mean?

Kevin Smith: It’s not just me walking away. It’s just not me doing movies for movie theaters anymore. The kind of stories I like to tell aren’t cost prohibitive—people talking to each other. I’m able to control the costs now. Clerks 2 cost $5 million to make and had a $10 million advertising budget. I wish it was the other way around. How do I get away not spending so much on advertising? By not taking the movie to the movie theater. It’s that simple. There are so many places to tell stories. I want to tell cool stories and not have to ask for permission.
Interview: Kevin Smith isn’t the silent type
Luis Gomex, Chicago Tribune

P.S. One of the platforms Smith has the fan base for— and desire/talent to d0— is tour events where he shows his film in various cities and speaks live afterwards. He did that with Red State and is currently doing with Super Groovy Movie. He says it’s “great financially” and “Nothing feels better than standing in front of hundreds of people who love what you do.” Next up in June are Charlotte, NC, Columbus, OH, and Covington, KY. Check this link for the tour through July.

Related Posts:
Sputnik, Sundance & Kevin Smith
Screenwriting Quote #62 (Kevin Smith)
Screenwriting Quote #63 (Kevin Smith part 2)
Screenwriting Quote #63a (Kevin Smith part 3)
Screenwriting Quote #64 (Kevin Smith part 4)
Filmmaker as Artist/Entrepreneur

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“You need to be very ‘platform agnostic.’ You want to find an audience wherever that audience is. So think about the web, TV, and theaters. Open yourself to as many possibilities as you can imagine. Today you cannot be just a filmmaker; you have to be a marketer, accountant, publicist, writer, and businessman. You have to understand the economics of making a movie and what it takes for you to continue to make movies. Only the jack of all trades are ultimately successful…Do whatever you can to get your film made and to tell the truth. I was in film school with people far more talented than me, and today they’re in the insurance or banking business. I was successful because I refused to give up.”
Producer/director/writer Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold)
Making a Living as a Documentarian
by Oliver W. Tuthill Jr
MovieMaker magazine Issue 103 Vol 20, page 23

Related Posts:
A New Kind of Filmmaker
Screenwriter/Salesman Pete Jones
Flipping Pancakes, Screenwriting & Emmys 

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“I get to say the thing that all writers must tell themselves to start writing—which is nobody has to see this thing. I can throw it away. I’m alone with it. No one has to know what an idiot I really am. And I can burn it. And if it don’t work, if it really sucks, I can pretend that it never really happened. “
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Tony Kushner (Lincoln, Munich) and Tony Award/Pulitzer Prize-winner
Tony Kushner interview at Dallas Art Museum

Read Full Post »

“The most ordinary conversation in the south has a theological basis.”
Novelist Harry Crews

“There are fierce powers at work in the world boys. Good. Evil.
Mud (Matthew McConaughey)
Mud written by Jeff Nichols

One of the reasons I’ve been blogging in and around the movie Mud for the past week is because screenwriter Jeff Nichols has done what I think the best writers do. He’s told a story rooted in place.  And the reason he set the story in Arkansas is because that’s a place he knows well.

Back in 1988 Georgia-born novelist Harry Crews explained in an interview with Terry Gross how embracing his own roots led him to the writings that would lead to his literary success.

“I wrote four novels and short stories before I even published anything, and the reason I didn’t publish any of those things was because it wasn’t any good. And the reason it wasn’t any good was because I was trying to write about a world I did not know. One night it occurred to me that whatever strength I had was all back in there in Bacon County, Ga., with all that sickness and hookworm and rickets and ignorance and beauty and loveliness. But that’s where it was. It wasn’t somewhere else.”
Harry Crews
Harry Crews On Writing And Feeling Like A ‘Freak’/NPR

Granted being from the South does have its literary traditions. (Flannery O’Connor, Pat Conroy, James Dickey, Harper Lee, Ernest Gaines is just a sweeping overview.) But just in the last two days this blog has had readers from Canada, Australia, Germany, Philippines, Russia, Ireland, Croatia, Japan, Sweden, Portugal, UK, Finland, Spain and Venezuela. And there are stories to be told in all those places.

“Truth of the matter was stories was everything, and everything was stories.  Everybody told stories, it was a way of saying who they were in the world.”
Harry Crews

Because Jeff Nichols mentioned Harry Crews as an influence to his writing Mud it caused me to kick around online and see what I could find of interest about Crews. Found this documentary called Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus —a film by Andrew Douglas. One of the people the doc features is Harry Crews. Watching the trailer above and the clip below, you can see that it is a real world where Matthew McConaughey’s character Mud would feel at home.

Related Post: Screenwriting Quote #70 (James Dickey)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“Writing fiction or plays or poetry seems to me to be a very messy business. To be a writer requires an enormous tolerance for frustration, for anxiety, for self-doubt.”
Harry Crews

When writer/director Jeff Nichols mentioned in a recent interview that one of the books that influenced the writing of his film Mud was the Harry Crews book of essays A Childhood: The Biography of a Place, I knew it would be the perfect time to introduce some people to Crews and his writing. Since I grew up in Central Florida I became aware of the writer and University of Florida creative writing professor when I was about 20.

Crews, who died last year, was known back in the ’80s when I was in college as sort of a living Hemingway type character—with a dash of Hunter S. Thompson.  He was a Marine, a boxer, and a heavy drinker. Add in he was raised in a dirt poor, dysfunctional Southern family and Crews had all the ingredients of a character in a Flannery O’Connor story. Dennis Miller called him a “different breed of cat.”

“Part of my job as a teacher is first to try to help my students determine what’s worth writing and what is not. If they want to write science fiction or detective stories, that’s fine with me; I just want to make sure they know what they’re doing, to make sure they realize they are not writing the kind of fiction that can crush the heart of the living memory. I want to show them that they are writing nothing but entertainment. It is not that the greatest fiction, the kind I want them to spend their energies on, is not entertaining. It is. But it is so much more than that. It is the ‘more than entertainment’ that I want the writers who work with me to know about, be concerned with, even consumed by.”
Harry Crews
Essay Teaching and Writing in the University
From the book Florida Frenzy

Crews was born in Alma, Georgia—not far from the Okefenokee Swamp— in 1935 and his novels include A Feast of Snakes, The Gospel Singer and The Mulching of America. You can learn more about Crews and his work at harrycrews.org.

Related Post:
Writing Quote #1 (Flannery O’Connor)
Jeff Nichols’ Other Roots

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“I can remember very vividly in high school getting my heart-broken and it was like a physical pain. I was physically nauseous. And anytime there is an emotion that is that strong, or that I can remember or feel that strongly in the present day, it’s worth hanging a movie around.”
Writer/Director Jeff Nichols

While the overall cast of Mud is convincing and believable, the acting between Matthew McConaughey and Tye Sheridan is unusually remarkable. Part of that credit goes to the actors themselves, but also to the writer/director Jeff Nichols. So I thought it would be beneficial to look at how Nichols approached the directing side of Mud.

“I give actors a fairly clear blueprint. And I’m happy to talk things out with them, but if they have big character questions then something’s wrong. Either I didn’t do my job or they’re not paying attention. We don’t really rehearse very much. If you don’t understand something I’ll walk you through it a little bit, but that’s really not the case. And I like to roll on the first take ’cause you never know what’s going to happen. And then I don’t shoot very much beyond that. We do four or five takes and we move on. And we don’t do very much improvisation or anything else….I read John Sayles’ book and I think we’re pretty similar in that we shoot constructive coverage. We shoot puzzle pieces that hinge and fit together. I don’t shoot standard coverage and I know the pieces that are going to be going together to make the whole thing.  And in order to do that I lean really heavily on the script. It’s my safety-net. “
Writer/Director Jeff Nichols (Mud)
Dp/30 Mud Interview

P.S. John Sayles directed McConaughy in Lone Star. I think the Sayles book that Nichols is referring to is Thinking in Pictures. A few years ago I wrote the post Thinking in Pictures (John Sayles).

Related posts:
Writing “Mud”
Screenwriting Quote #183 (Jeff Nichols)
Screenwriting Quote #60 (John Sayles) A warning about movies going over a 2 hour run time. (Advice that Nichols didn’t follow. Mud runs 130 minutes.)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Writing “Mud”

“I just write character first. I put plot second.”
Writer/Director Jeff Nichols (Mud)

Mud Banner Poster

The reason I’ve spent all week writing about Jeff Nichols and/or his film Mud is not just because he is currently a screenwriter/filmmaker based outside of Los Angeles—but because I think Mud will end up with Oscar-nominations for Best Picture and best original screenplay. In various interviews Nichols has said that the Arkansas-centered story had been kicking around his head for ten years.

“It started with a book in the Little Rock (Ark.) library that was a collection of photographs of people who made their living off the river. Then, the idea of a man hiding on an island in the Mississippi River just struck me.”
Jeff Nichols
The Fresno Bee

That book is The Last River: Life along Arkansas Lower White by Turner Browne.

Then as I pointed out in the post Screenwriting Via Index Cards, Nichols turned to that simple, cheap, tried and truth method of many screenwriters over the years:

“I stumbled backward in my approach to structure. I was trying to hold these stories in my head, and then I started writing them down on note cards to keep it all organized. But what I realized was that’s a great way to break the linear structure of a story. If you have a note pad and you’re writing what happens first, you’re writing what happens next and it’s really hard to jump around. I develop a system where I think about a story for a very long time, writing is the last step. I carry it around for a long time, and then I’ll ambush my friends… You put [note cards] on the floor first, so there’s no linear nature to them. Then they go up on a giant corkboard in my office, and then they start taking form. I think in terms of script days and each column on the board is that day. Some might have three cards and some might have twenty. Then I start to build a story and a card will have the word ‘shoot out’ on it or have one or two lines. By the time I’m done, and I’ve done this for all three of my films, I can just sit and watch the whole movie on the note cards. You get to think about the balance, the shape, and the pace. Then I’m ready to sit down and start writing.”
Jeff Nichols
The Script Lab article by Meredith Alloway 

Related posts:

Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B=C)
Starting Your Screenplay
Screenwriting from Arkansas
Jeff Nicholas’ Other Roots
Directing “Mud”

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: