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Archive for November, 2013

“In just a moment we’ll see how thin a line separates that which we assume to be real, with that manufactured inside of a mind.”
Rod Serling
Introduction to The Twilight Zone: Season 1, Episode 23
A World of Difference
GraytonBeach

Since it’s Thanksgiving weekend and many people are watching football games, shopping, or working (at football stadiums and malls), I thought I’d expose you to another part of the United States you may not be familiar with—as well as give you a little trivia about The Truman Show that I think screenwriters will find interesting. (This post is also a good example of what happens when you poke around in unlikely places.)

A short drive—or bike ride—from beautiful Seaside, Florida (where they shot much of The Truman Show) is Grayton Beach State Park that back in 1994 was named the number 1 beach in the US by Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman (known as Dr. Beach).

I took the photo at Grayton Beach State Park by a lagoon near the beach.  If you’re looking for a classic white sandy beach complete with sand dunes and not spoiled by condos and hotels, yet has nearby hotels and restaurants for cast and crew then Grayton in  Santa Rosa Beach, Florida fits the bill. As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on Seaside, if you’re interested in shooting a film in that area contact  The Emerald Coast Film Commission.

I also found a link at The Wall Street Journal where Don Steinberg pointing out how two Twilight Zone episodes are similar (perhaps story influences or story echoes) to The Truman Show. In Special Service from the 1989 season, “A man and his wife discover that their lives are secretly being videotaped and is a huge hit on a network television show.” Here’s the entire episode written by J. Michael Straczynski.

The other is from the 1960 Twilight Zone episode A World of Difference where, “A businessman sitting in his office inexplicably finds that he is on a production set and in a world where he is a movie star. Uninterested in the newfound fame, he fights to get back to his home and family.” Here’s the entire episode written by Richard Matheson. (Note the great inciting incident at the 2:04 mark.)

Remember the saying, “Producers want similar, only different.” Here a a couple qualified creative sources that I found over at Brain Pickings to help explain why there is nothing new under the sun:

“All ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources.”
Mark Twain
Mark Twain’s Letters, Vol. 2 of 2

“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”
Salvador Dalí
Letters of Note

Shakespeare was not only a master dramatist, but a master of sampling stories by other dramatists.

Related posts:
Screenwriting Quote #24 (J. Michael Straczynski) ““It doesn’t matter if you didn’t go to the best schools, if you’re a kid or in your 50s….”
Starting Your Screenplay (Tip #6)
Where Do Ideas Come From (A+B=C)
Movie Cloning (Part 2) “I think it’s fine for young (filmmakers) to out and out rip off people who come before them because you always make it your own.”Francis Ford Coppola

Scott W. Smith

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“Meet Seaside, the idyllic town on the Florida Panhandle known for its perfect beaches, pastel cottages, and the kind of laid-back vacations we Southerners adore.”
Jennifer Mckenzie Frazier
Southern Living

“As the Bard says, ‘all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.’ The only difference between Truman and ourselves is that his life is more throughly documented.”
Christof (Ed Harris)
The Truman Show

SeasideFence

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…even in Seaside, Florida. I took the photos on this post earlier this month when driving through the panhandle of Florida. I’m a long-time fan of the Seaside community, and since it’s the day after Thanksgiving I am thankful that I’ve been able to visit the area a handful of times since it was established in 1981.

But even if you’d never even heard of Seaside, you may be familiar with the Jim Carrey movie that was shot there—The Truman Show (1998). If you’re college age or younger it may be hard to realize what made the Andrew Niccol script for The Truman Show so prophetic. But once upon a time there wasn’t Facebook, You Tube, and reality TV programing to give us a close up on the lives of everyday people.

The Truman Show—and its perfect town of Seahaven—was a look of where we might be headed as a culture. I’ll leave it up to scholars, sociologists, and you to decide if the future is here or not.

In the meantime, here’s a couple of buildings in Seaside that at least give you a hint of the fruit of developer Robert S. Davis and his wife Cathy, and the architectural firm Duany Plater—and Zyberk & Company have had in shaping a unique spot in the United States. The goal was to make a seaside community (the unincorporated community sits on the Gulf of Mexico west of Panama City Beach) that was beautiful in design, regionally centered, as well as being pedestrian and eco-friendly. Seaside was on the ground floor of what is now known as New Urbanism.

SeasideHouseSeasideBookstore 

If there’s one downside to Seaside it’s that it worked. Idealism has its price. Most of the homes I saw listed for sale in Seaside fell in the range of 1 million to 6 million dollars.  If you ever happen to be looking for an idyllic place for a destination wedding check out the tallest building in Seaside—the nondenominational Seaside Interfaith Chapel.

SeasideChapel

P.S. In The Newmaket Shooting Script Series of The Truman Show, Peter Weir (Dead Poet’s Society, Witness) talked  about writing a backstory of how The Truman Show can into existence to prepare him for directing the film. I think Peter Weir is brilliant and it’s worth your time to read or watch anything he’s touched.

Related post: Postcard #70 (Greyton Beach) With two complete episodes said to be similar in essence to The Truman Show.

Scott W. Smith

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“I’m saying you are stuck in Wichita.”
Del Griffith (John Candy)
Planes, Trains and Automobiles

On Thanksgiving Day 2013 I decided to challenge myself to a movie mash-up. Could I take a classic 26 year old Thanksgiving story (Planes, Trains and Automobiles) and somehow connect it with a movie that is currently number one in the box office this Thanksgiving (Hunger Games: Catching Fire). According to Box Office Mojo Planes had a total gross of just under $50 million—Catching Fire made more than that its opening day and has gone on to make more than $300 million worldwide in the first six days of its theatrical release. 

Granted Planes was released in 1987 so you’d have to adjust those numbers to be an equal comparison, but the truth is that John Hughes written and directed film starring Steve Martin and John Candy was far below the box office winner (Three Men and a Baby) the year it was release. But when was the last time you heard anybody talking about Three Men and a Baby or quoting lines from that movie?

Like every year, 1987 had its share of memorable films that have endured. Some did well at the box office (Fatal Attraction) and others didn’t find their audience until later (The Princess Bride). But what makes Planes, Trains and Automobiles continue to entertain and please audiences today?

“Some movies are obviously great. Others gradually thrust their greatness upon us. When ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ was released in 1987, I enjoyed it immensely, gave it a favorable review and moved on. But the movie continued to live in my memory. Like certain other popular entertainments (‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ ‘E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,’ ‘Casablanca’) it not only contained a universal theme, but also matched it with the right actors and story, so that it shrugged off the other movies of its kind and stood above them in a kind of perfection. This is the only movie our family watches as a custom, most every Thanksgiving….The buried story engine of ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ is not slowly growing friendship or odd-couple hostility (devices a lesser film might have employed), but empathy. It is about understanding how the other guy feels.”
Roger Ebert
Review for Planes, Trains and Automobiles

What Ebert called a “buried story engine” I would call theme and emotion. Here are two of my favorite questions on those subjects:

“I think what makes a film stick to the brain is the theme.”
Screenwriter Bill Martell

“The goal of every screenplay, every movie, every novel, every story of any kind (and ultimately, every work of art) is identical: to elicit emotion.
Michael Hague
Selling Your Story in 60 seconds

Call it “an understanding how the other guy feels” or “empathy,” but 26 years from now people will still be watching Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I’m not sure the same can be said for Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The studios don’t care about that now, they’re making money. The reviews are good. They’ve done their jobMe? I’ll watch anything with Jennifer Lawrence in it (she had me at Winters Bone), but Catching Fire didn’t warm my bones. I felt like I was watching a middle program in an episodic TV show that was a cross between Survivor, LOST, and The Truman Show. (Please don’t tell me I need to read the books to appreciate the movie. That was never said of The Godfather—or The Wizard of Oz.) 

At first I thought maybe it was just me coming off a long road trip before I saw Catching Fire until I read ScriptShadow’s review of the film.

“The Hunger Games, and movies like it, represents one of the most thankless screenwriting jobs in Hollywood. Sure, you get to write one of the biggest movies of the year, but all the credit will go to the two people who sandwiched you in the process – the author of the original book, and the director who put the movie on the big screen.

To that end, that middle cog, the screenwriter who adapts these huge books, is allowed little to no creativity. His job amounts to that of a translator. Maybe that’s why Catching Fire feels so empty inside. Its two talented screenwriters, Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt, weren’t allowed to do anything but translate. And it’s left this movie without a soul.”
Carson Reeves/ScriptShadow
Movie Review—Catching Fire

Even if you really enjoyed the film (which many of its intended audience did) you have to admit it didn’t have what Arndt calls an “insanely great ending”—the credits just come up and you go, “I guess it’s over.” Just one of the problem of sequels.

BTW—Scriptshadow also had a good post this week on 10 Screenwriting Tips from Thanksgiving favorite: Plane Trains and Automobiles! 

P.S. Films released in 1987 worth going back and watching or re-watching include Empire of the Sun (Christian Bale’s first major film), Wall St. (Michael Douglas won an Oscar for his role created by Oliver Stone and Stanley Weiser), Moonstruck, the third Coen Brother film—Raising Arizona, and my personal favorite of that year Broadcast News written and directed by James L. Brooks.

Related Posts:
40 Days of Emotions
Theme: What Your Movie is Really About
Writing from Theme (Tip #20)
Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik)
“The Artists” 3— “Hunger Games” 0
Before John Hughes Became John Hughes (And how Planes was inspired by his day job.)

Scott W. Smith

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“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire
Written by Tennessee Williams

New York actress Tory Flack in front of the house Grant Wood used for his painting "American Gothic." Eldon, Iowa (2009)

New York actress Tory Flack in front of the house Grant Wood used for his painting “American Gothic.” Eldon, Iowa (2009)

Yesterday we went global big, today we’re going local small. Well, at least small scale in the big city. In one of the many posts I did on playwright Tennessee Williams this month I mentioned that his worked continues to gain in popularity since his death in 1983. So I wanted to tell you about an opportunity you have to support Bedlam Ensemble in their Kickstarter campaign for The Tennessee Williams Project.

They have three days remaining to raise an additional $1,000 to meet their goal and I’d love to have a few Screenwriting from Iowa angels help push them toward their goal of presenting “A unique twist on the one-act plays of Tennessee Williams” directed by Daniella Caggiano.

Bedlam Ensemble didn’t contact me, but I do have a connection with them. About five years ago I worked with one of the Bedlam actors, Tory Flack. First on a video project I produced for an economic development group and then on a short film I wrote and directed. Tory graduated with a theater degree from the University of Iowa—the same college where Tennessee Williams himself earned his college degree.

I took the above photo of Tory in front of the house in Eldon, Iowa Grant Wood used in his painting “American Gothic”—one of the most recognizable paintings in the history of art. It was zero degrees when I took that photo. Consider giving to The Tennessee Williams Project just because Tory not only gave her lines when it was zero degrees—but could smile as well. Here’s an updated photo of Tory by Chicago photographer Johnny Knight. (Throw Johnny a little kindness if you need some photography work done in Chicago, and consider Tory for that film you’re casting.)

1093791_10201755872881331_639476731_o

Tory’s a very talented actress and I’m glad she’s found her way to New York where her acting gigs include the Brooklyn Shakespeare Festival. So while I’m not familiar with the Bedlam Ensemble, my hunch is Tory has connected with some like-minded actors. I saw the Bedlam Kickstarter campaign on a  Facebook post last night. Bedlam Ensemble is in its fourth season and according to their Kickstarter page:

“We chose to present the one act plays of Tennessee Williams because of their beautifully poetic language, striking characters, and the great potential for ensemble work. However, these wonderful plays are not in the public canon, which means we have to pay for the right to perform them. Your support will help us pay for those rights, as well as the cost of renting The Gene Frankel Theatre—an appropriate venue since Gene Frankel in fact knew Tennessee Williams. We also need to cover the expense of putting together the lights, costumes,set, and sound design that bring the world of the play to life; and the funds for advertising our show to the world so we can get the word out and have the best possible audience.”

Lastly, I heard an interview with Tennessee Williams last week (probably from the ’60s or ’70s) where he talked about the importance of smaller regional theaters around the country as being very important for the development of writers. So seek out and support groups like Bedlam Ensemble. And if you have some plays, contact Bedlam’s literary manager Daniella Caggiano (dcaggiano@gm.slc.edu) about submitting your script.

P.S. Performance is scehduled for January 15th-26th 2014 at the Gene Frankel Theatre in NYC.

Related posts:
Postcard #65 (Tennessee Williams) Tennessee is buried in St. Louis.
Postcard #66 (Sewanee) Where Williams’ willed his literary works.
The Catastrophe of Success (Part 1)
The Catastrophe of Success (Part 2)
Don’t Quit Your Day Jon (2.0) One of the great characters in theater came from a job Williams hated.
Postcard #64 (Columbus, MS) Where Tennessee Williams was born.

Scott W. Smith

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“[Franklin] Leonard grew up in Columbus, Ga., as one of a handful of black students in his high school, which he says has always helped him identify with outsiders.”
Rachel Dodes
The Wall Street Journal

"Screenwriting from Iowa...and Other Unlikely Places" readers in 2013 represent 116 Countries

“Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places” readers in 2013 represent 116 Countries

It always seems to come back to Juno.

Yesterday I came across the The Black List Annual Report for 2013 and it’s fun to look at just because it’s so well designed by Glen Charbonneau. I also learned that the first script on The Black List to win an Oscar was Diablo Cody’s Juno. The same movie that inspired the launching of this blog because it was written by an outsider. Cody was Chicago born and raised, received her college education in Iowa, and lived and worked in Minneapolis when her writing on the side got the attention of a Hollywood insider.

But beyond the design and glance at the history of launching the first Black List in 2006 the report also gives a sweeping overview of the work they are doing. If you are unfamiliar with The Black List check out The Wall Street Journal article, For Budding Screenwriters, a Way Past the Studio Gates

Franklin Leonard’s had an interesting journey on his way to being the founder of The Black List; Raised in small town Georgia, degree from Harvard, analyst at McKinsey in New York, agent assistant at CAA, and creative executive at Will Smith’s company is Los Angeles.

The Black List has morphed and grown over the years and now includes Scott Myers’ Go Into The Story as its official blog and a forums section, The Black Board, with Shaula Evans as the Keymaster. I see The Black List as a place that celebrates talent, fosters community, and is doing its part in providing a pathway for screenwriters and producers to connect.

And while the bulk of the screenwriters connected with The Black List are in the Los Angeles area it’s also nice to see that they are providing a door to people in unlikely places all over the world.

P.S. On a similar note check out the Reddit poster “profound_whatever” who is a script reader who has also put together a nice screenwriting graphic that offers some insights into where scripts come from and some “recurring problems”the ones he reads has—such as “The story begins too late in the script.” That’s the most common problem I see when people ask me to read a script. Many times I’ve told writers the same thing, “I read ten pages and nothing happened.” And the most common answer I get back  is, “Well, I’m setting up the story.” Go watch Kramer Vs. Kramer and then Winter’s Bone and see how long the filmmakers take in setting up the story. (Spoiler: They both come out of the gate like horses at the Kentucky Derby. Granted ever script doesn’t need to have a scene one inciting incident, but I think the less established you are the sooner your story should start.)

ScreenwritingGraph

P.P.S. Going back to a quote by CodyI first read in ’08, “Just put your stuff out there and see what happens,” I get a kick that since its inception this blog has been read in more than 85% of the countries , regions, and dependent areas of the world, including BurndiMacau, Suriname, and Yemen. Thanks for reading wherever you are in the world and best wishes on your writing finding an audience.

Related Posts:

The Outsider Advantage
The First Black Feature Filmmaker
Screenwriting Quote #180 (Justin Kremer)
The World Outside of Hollywood (Buck Henry quote)
One of the Benefits of Being an Outsider ( Robert Rodriguez quote)

Scott W. Smith

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“Actually the really cool thing about being more and more gimpy is I really don’t care about my hair loss at all.”
Screenwriter Scott Lew
(Who has ALS, known as Lou Gehrig Disease)

Today on Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places we’ll learn about an unlikely place not tied to geography.

My last post was on Franklin, Tennessee so it makes a nice segue today to have a Franklin Leonard inspired post.  It helps that I just read this Retweet from @franklinleonard (originally from @theblcklst) :

Next time you even think about complaining about how hard it is to be a screenwriter, watch this. Watch it now too. http://buff.ly/1aKU9n8 

The link is for an artcle at The Atlantic with a video about Scott Lew who wrote the Sexy Evil Genius (2013) screenplay.

“Lew has ALS, a degenerative disease that causes gradual loss of movement, and he can currently control only a few facial and eye muscles. He depends on infrared technology and an assistant to put his words to paper.”
Katherine Wells
The Atlantic/ The Creative Process of a Paralyzed Screenwriter

Scott W. Smith

@franklinleonard

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”Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
Ben Franklin

Fall in Franklin2

After traveling around the county over the years for various productions there are a few cities and towns that I find special—Franklin, Tennessee is one of those places. Located just south of Nashville the town was founded in 1799 and named after Ben Franklin. I took the photo of the late fall leaves yesterday when I had the opportunity to walk around the shops in the historic downtown area.

If you’ve never heard of Franklin you may be surprised to learn of some the people who have (or had) homes in and around the Franklin area; Academy Award-winning actress Nicole Kidman and her Grammy-winning country star husband Keith Urban, five-time CMA Male Vocalist of the Year Brad Paisley (who had two songs on the Cars soundtrack) and his actress wife Kimberly Williams-Paisley (Father of the Bride, Nashville), actress Ashely Judd (Heat) and her champion race car driving husband Dario Franchitti, and Carrie Underwood and her pro hockey husband Mike Fisher have 400 acres there with plans to build.

If that sounds like neighbors you’d like to have (and there are 60,000 or so regular folks living there as well), the uber talented couple Tim McGraw and Faith Hill are selling their 753 acres (complete with four houses and once owed by Hank Williams Sr.) in Franklin for $20 million.  (They bulit a new house betwen Franklin and downtown Nashville.)

McGraw has not only had more than 30 number one songs, but has popped up as an actor in Friday Night Lights and The Blind Side.  Earlier this month McGraw’s latest single Southern Girl (written by Jaren Johnston, Rodney Clawson, and Lee Thomas Miller) became a #1 hit. Even if you don’t like county music, perhaps you can appreciate the geography covered in the song.

Related Posts:
Muscle Shoals Music & Movie
The Advantage of Being from ______ (“I know one writer, believe it or not, who launders his scripts through a phony address he has in Murfreesboro, Tennessee,  outside of Nashville, because it’s just more exciting than one more writer from the San Fernando Valley.”–UCLA’s Richard Walter)

Scott W. Smith

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