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Archive for September, 2014

“Here I am, a cowboy author in a town of 25 [Ucross] in northern Wyoming. And all of sudden, my character is on Sunset Boulevard 20 stories high. It’s a little odd.”
Writer Craig Johnson
Author of the Walt Longmire mystery series
LA Times interview by Liesl Bradner

“ I’m of the belief that everybody has a writer in them, but they also have an editor that strangles the writer to death before the writer gets anything down on paper.”
Craig Johnson

Ucross, Wyoming is unlikely place. At least from the perspective of being a novelist whose work ends up being a popular TV show. But that’s the short version of Craig Johnson’s life whose Walt Longmire novels (The Cold Dish) were the basis of Longmire which aired on A&E for the past three seasons.

Recently the show, despite being its most viewed scripted program, was cancelled and is currently looking for a new home. Johnson is also credited as executive/creative consultant on the show.

So how did Johnson pull that off while writing from a town with a population of just 25? Before I answer that, first I’d like to share a quote that I read on excellent blog Go Into the Story that always bugged me a little:

“I am not that interested in representing people who want to write for CSI North Dakota.”
Manager/producer Dan Halsted
2012 Q&A with Scott Myers

Now Halsted has both a film and TV background so it’s not a feature film verses TV for him. He did admit that he’s bored by police procedurals that proliferate TV. But since he dropped in North Dakota—let me ask, “What of interest can come from North Dakota?” I labour the point because Longmire has been called CSI Wyoming—without the team of investigators and high-tech equipment. (And while Wyoming isn’t North Dakota—it shares some “unlikely places” DNA.)

A phrase I’m fond of is “embrace your limitations” and I think what Johnson did was embrace the surrounding area of rural Wyoming and mesh it with some Native America Indian culture found more along Montana-Wyoming border and create some interesting characters and drama.

“[Johnson] got his big break when an agent from Creative Artists Agency walked into his literary agent’s office in New York City. The CAA is an agency that puts promising stories and characters with producers and studios, and the CAA agent asked whether Johnson’s agent had any strong characters. Johnson’s agent gave her a copy of The Cold Dish and refused to give her anything else until she read it.”
Tom Milstead
Buffalo Bulletin

Johnson became a New York Times best selling author, and had the image of his character Sheriff Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) “20 stories high” on Sunset Blvd. in L.A., by writing.

Eventually Hunt Baldwin and John Coveny wrote the Longmire pilot resulting in a viewership averaging more than five million people per episode (from 2012-1014).  That’s actually a higher viewership than even Mad Men, so why would A&E cancel Longmire. Ah, money? Exactly. Longmire attracted an older audience which didn’t meet the necessary advertising revenue that made the numbers work for A&E. Plus scripted shows cost a lot more per episode to produce than the reality shows.

According to Deadline.com Warner Bros. owns the Longmire TV rights and is working on finding a home for season 4 of Longmire.

P.S. Apparently Ucross, Wyoming isn’t a one writer town. I found this on the website for the Ucross Foundation:
“Founded in 1981 by Raymond Plank, the Ucross Foundation provides a rare gift in today’s world – uninterrupted time– along with work space and living accommodations, to competitively selected visual artists, writers, and composers.  Nearly 1,300 individuals have spent time at Ucross since we first opened our doors.  They have come from every state in the U.S. as well as from many countries including Germany, France, Scotland, England, Poland, Egypt, the Netherlands, Canada, Thailand and others. Ucross extends invitations to approximately 80 individuals each year, selected by an outside panel of professionals.”

Annie Proulx wrote part of her Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Shipping News on the Ucross Foundation ranch, and now lives on her own 640 acre ranch in the area. In fact, the movie Brokeback Mountain flowed from one of Proulx’s short stories published in Close Range: Wyoming Stories.

Here’s part of the New York Times 1999 review of Close Range:
“The strength of this collection is Proulx’s feeling for place and the shape into which it twists her characters. Wyoming is harsh spaces, unyielding soil, deadly winters, blistering summers and the brute effort of wresting a living out of a land as poor as it is beautiful.”
Richard Deer

Related post:
Movie Making in Marfa (Texas)
Screenwriting from Nebraska “Of course Nebraska is a storehouse for literary material. Everywhere is a storehouse of literary material. If a true artist were born in a pigpen and raised in a sty, he would still find plenty of inspiration for work. The only need is the eye to see.” Author Willa Cather (My Antonia)
The 99% Focus Rule (Tip #70) Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt suggests where your efforts should be placed.

My guess is Oscar-winning writer/director Alexander Payne would agree with Cather. Craig Johnson, too.

 Scott W. Smith

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#LongLiveLongmire

“In terms of its wide-open, rural Wyoming setting and characters, Longmire marks a rare and welcome departure from the tired New York, DC, and LA locales where far too many such series are both set and filmed. It’s a big country out there with interesting people in it. It’s nice to see their lives portrayed once in a while, and that’s something else Longmire accomplishes.”
Terry Ponick
Communities Digital News

Part of this blog is about a sense of place. For the past three season the Wyoming-centered (New Mexico shot) TV program  Longmire has posted solid numbers from its loyal fan base. But despite it being called “A&E Network’s most-watched original dramaseries of all time,” the show was cancelled last month.

One of the actors on the show, Lou Diamond Phillips (yes, the Lou Diamond Phillips of La Bamaba, Courage Under Fire, Stand and Deliver) is part of a push called #LongLiveLongmire to help Longmire find life via another outlet. Another cable station or perhaps Twitter or Amazon.

Tomorrow we’ll look at how the Wyoming-based writer of the novels (Craig Johnson) for which the show is based ended up seeing his characters on a Sunset Blvd. billboard in LA.

Scott W. Smith

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Turn out the lights, the party’s over
They say that all good things must end…
The Party’s Over/Willie Nelson

Over the weekend Disney World closed its Studio Backlot Tour. It was a tram ride through the backlot and into a studio where tourists could be given a glimpse into the world of filmmaking—and if they were lucky they might even see animators working and a feature film being shot.

Back when Disney’s Hollywood Studios (then called Disney MGM) opened in 1989 it was kind of the first part of a bookend to Universal Studios Florida (that opened in 1990) for what was touted as a part of  “Hollywood East.” And while there was actually about a ten-year run of films and  TV programs being shot in the Orlando area— Passenger 57 with Wesley Snipes and The New Mickey Mouse Club both shot on the Disney sound stages, and Nickelodeon Studios and Parenthood with Steve Martin shot at Universal— “Hollywood East” it wasn’t.

Nickelodeon Studios ended its partnership with Universal Studios Florida in 2005.  For a variety of reasons, including a lack of film incentives, neither Disney or Universal in Florida lived up to the hype in terms of  feature film and TV production.

“The whole romance of seeing where movies are made really began to die as people got the ability to make movies themselves. The only movie production that’s happening in there are people holding up their iPhones and uploading to YouTube.”
Robert Niles, editor of the Theme Park Insider website
Orlando Sentinel article by Dewayne Bevel

The side benefit for local crews that worked on projects like From the Earth to the Moon is they got valuable experience that eventually led some of them to greater opportunities in LA, New York City, Atlanta, and Louisiana. (Certainly true of some of the Mickey Mouse cast; Britney Spears, Ryan Gosling, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake.)

I actually moved back to Orlando from Los Angeles partly with the hopes of getting on the ground floor of Hollywood East. And while I didn’t work on the features or TV programs shot here, it did lead me to working for a non-profit educational group were I gained valuable experience producing multi-camera productions and learning non-linear video editing  (AVID/Final Cut).

Experience that when coupled with my film school background eventually led to video productions I’ve done from Aspen, to Berlin, to Cape Town.

Disney hasn’t announced plans yet with what they’re going to do with the studio tram ride. But I imagine it will be something like when Universal got rid of the JAWS ride in favor of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  So even though they’re turning out the lights on the Disney backlot ride, I don’t think the party’s over. There are still plenty of films to be made in Florida, but no one here really uses the term “Hollywood East” anymore.

Related post: Screenwriting from Florida

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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“Don’t go through the system. Do it yourself. Do something you believe in.”
Oscar-nominated  writer/director John Singleton (Boyz in the Hood)
2013 Filmmaker Magazine article by Allan Tong

Some of you weren’t even born in 1991 when John Singleton’s Boyz in the Hood hit the theaters. It’s a different kind of coming of age story than Boyhood that I wrote about yesterday. Singleton was fresh out of USC film school when at the age of 23 he directed his first featured from his screenplay and received two Oscar-nominations.

P.S. Singleton’s quote is reminiscent of the Edwards Burns quote, “Don’t try and compete with Hollywood.”

Related posts:
25 Links Related to Blacks and Filmmaking
The First Black Feature Filmmaker

Scott W. Smith

 

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‘Boyhood’

“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 on April 27,2013
Conclusion to his State of Cinema talk
San Francisco International Film Festival

For the last month I’ve tried to find an angle to write about Richard Linklater’s film Boyhood. After writing the last two posts about Steven Soderbergh I decided that Soderbergh’s State of Cinema  talk last year was my anchor. I don’t know if Soderbergh loved Boyhood, but I think it fits his criteria from last year that “somebody out there somewhere is making something cool.”

Linklater shot the Boyhood over 12 years with the same actors in Austin, Texas. That’s pretty cool just by itself. Linklater said that he’d been compelled to make a film about childhood, but was having trouble finding the moment he wanted to explore so he’d given up on the idea of a feature film on the topic. But he sat down to write something and that’s where he captured the magic.

“I was just going to write an experimental novel or something, and the hands go to hit the keyboard and this idea comes fully formed. Like, ‘What if you filmed a little bit every year? And the kids just grew up, and everyone just aged—why can’t you make a move like that?’ So that’s the fun part. The tough part was it’s such an impractical crazy idea—the mechanics of it. Not to mentioned getting it financed.”
Writer/director Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Flim4video interview

And even if Soderbergh didn’t love (or even see) Boyhood, plenty of people did. It received 100% from the top critic on Rottentomatos.com.  On boxofficemojo.com they have the $4 million film making over $37 million worldwide since its July release.

Boyhood wraps up today a more than a month-long run (often to sold out crowds) at the Enzian Theater here in Orlando, so obviously the film struck a chord beyond the art house crowd.

There’s an Amy Hempel quote I read in an article by Blake Butler a while back that sums up part of what I think fascinates viewers of Boyhood, “The more literal you are, the more metaphorical people will think you are being.”

P.S. I was producing and shooting a video project after I saw Boyhood that required using a young talent hitting a baseball off a tee and blowing out birthday candles and decided to take a still photo of the talent that captured the spirit of boyhood and what it means to be seven years old.

DSC_8685web

© 2014 Scott W. Smith

Related posts:

Screenwriting from Texas
The Day the Field of Dreams Burned
Difficult + Changing Times = Whiplash

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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“We now live in a time of endless possibility. More has been learned about the treatment of the human body in the last five years than was learned in the previous five hundred.”
Dr. John W. Thackery (Clive Owen) referencing the year 1900
The Knick, The Eulogy from episode 1

“I think it’s not so much about the format of the stories that we’re going to tell, as filmmakers — it’s about the way it’s going to be consumed. That’s what’s going to be changed.”
Michael Sugar of Anonymous Content and Steven Soderbergh’s manager
IndieWire interview by Anne Thompson

The Knick

When Steven Soderbergh announced his retirement a while back it was just from making feature films that were theatrically released—and maybe paint a little bit. Last month Cinemax began airing The Knick directed by Soderbergh who is also one of the executive producers.

Set in New York City in 1900, The Knick stars Clive Owen and is a look at the early (dramatic and bloody) days of modern medicine. Soderbergh was going for anti-nostagic in tone. (Keep in mind that human life expectancy back then was 47 years.)

“At no point do you look at this and go, ‘Wow, it must have been really great to live in 1900.'”
Steven Soderbergh
Wall Street Journal interview by John Jurgensen

Jack Amiel and Michael Begler wrote the wrote the initial episode (and are the show’s main writers) that pulled Soderbergh away from his painting to jump back in the directing chair.

Related post:
‘State of Cinema’ (Soderbergh)

Scott W. Smith

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“I’m not saying I’m like, ALLOWED to do this.”
Steven Soderbergh (on going Jack Sparrow with a Spielberg classic) 

IndianaB&W

Can you spot what’s different about Indiana Jones?

I know it’s now officially Fall, but the Screenwriting Summer School is still in session on this blog. Today’s class with be led by Professor (producer, writer, director) Steven Soderbergh (whose dad really was a professor at LSU in Baton Rouge). And now Soderbergh can add pirate (for “educational purposes only”) to his resume—and the results are fabulous.

In fact, I’ll go as far as saying what Soderbergh did is my favorite film related article/video I’ve seen all year.

Yesterday on his website Extension 765 he posted an edit of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) where he shifting the color to black and white (it looks great) and replaced the sound with a music track, rumor has it, done by Trent Reznor.

Now why would Soderbergh go to all the trouble? Why would Soderbergh mess with a classic? Why nix the John Williams Oscar-nominated score?

Simply to explore the old film school truism (at least that’s where I learned it many years ago) that you should be able to watch a film without the sound and still know what’s going on simply by the visual storytelling.

Visual conflict & key light via hot poker pulled from a fire.

Visual conflict & key light via a hot poker pulled from a fire.

According to Soderbergh the new score “is designed to aid you in your quest to just study the visual staging aspect.” Worked for me. I watched the whole new Raiders version by the other Steven S. last night from 10PM to midnight and think it’s an instant classic. (And I’m guessing will be instantly abhorred by others.)

Raiders does hold up well without dialogue, but then again I’ve seen it a few times so I’m not the best judge.

Speaking of judges… It’s a little ironic Soderbergh just lifted an entire Paramount film since on his website under Privacy and Terms it states; “Unauthorized use of the Contents is expressly prohibited by law, and may result in severe civil and criminal penalties. You might want to look up the word SEVERE, if you’re thinking about screwing with us.”

I’ve wondered if Tony Zhou’s excellent Vimeo account would be taken down because he makes his filmmaking points using many movie clips. I’m not a copyright lawyer, but my understanding is You Tube and Vimeo is a little beyond the means of educational purposes in a classroom. Often times I link to movie scenes found on You Tube that hit on points I’m trying to make, only to find out later that they’ve been pulled because of a copyright violation. I welcome any lawyers to clarify this area, because it is a direction I’d like to head for this blog in 2015.  Regardless, better catch Soderbergh’s Raiders ASAP in case Paramount makes him take it down soon.

Related posts:
‘Story Telling Without Dialogue’ (Tip #82) “IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA.”—David Mamet
Show, Don’t Tell (Tip #46)
Writing “The Artist” (Part 1) “I thought making a silent film would be a magnificent challenge.”
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 7) “The reaction to the action is critical.”—Blake Edwards via Marshall
Directing Tips from Peter Bogdanovich  “Silent looks between people—to me, that’s what movies are about.”—Peter Bogdanovich

Soderbergh Related Posts:
Steven Soderbergh is Platformagnostic
Fast & Furious—Steven Soderbergh
“State of Cinema” —Soderbergh
Sex, Lies, & Mr. Bill (Screenwriting from Louisiana) 

Raiders Related Posts:
Movie Cloning (“Raiders”)
Raiders Revisited (part 1)
Raiders Revisited (part 2)
Raiders Revisited (part 3)
Raiders Revisited (part 4)
Scriptnotes’ 100th Podcast

P.S. I’ve been getting a few hits from a Malibu Screenwriting group that’s having a meet-up tonight (9/23/14) in Westlake Village. The were following a link to my 2008 post Screenwriting & Exposition. For what it’s worth, Indiana Jones saying, “I hate snakes” at the start of Raiders is exposition. Plus a nice set-up that will have a bigger payoff later in the movie. For that group here’s another post you may find useful, “Exposition is BORING unless…”

Scott W. Smith

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