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

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“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

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“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

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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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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