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Archive for May, 2015

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The most famous film set on the Gulf Coast of Florida is Citizen Kane. The Orson Welles masterpiece many, including the AFI, consider the greatest American film of all time.

“Here, on the deserts of the Gulf Coast, a private mountain was commissioned and successfully built. One hundred thousand trees, twenty thousand tons of marble are the ingredients of Xanadu’s mountain.”
Citizen Kane written by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles

And while Citizen Kane was actually shot in Southern California and on Long Island, there are plenty of other films shot on the other west coast—in Florida. And since I took the above photo on St. Pete Beach last weekend I thought I’d focus on a few films shot in the greater Tampa Bay area.

Just a couple of miles north of where I took that photo on Pass-A-Grille sits the historic Loews Don CeSar Beach Resort where just last month The Infiltrator (starring Brian Cranston) shot some scenes.  The same place Robert Altman shot part of HealtH (1980).

Director Ron Howard shot Cocoon (1985) in and around St. Petersburg, Florida.  Steven Soderbergh shot part of Magic Mike (2012) on Treasure Island—starring Channing Tatum who graduated from high school in Tampa. Harmony Korine shot Spring Breakers in several locations in the area.

The pastel neighborhood featured in Edward Scissorhands, starring Johnny Depp, was shot a few miles north of Tampa in Lutz, Florida.  Dolphin Tale starring Morgan Freeman was primarily in and around Clearwater, Florida and  Oceans 11 spent a couple of days shooting at the Derby Lane Greyhound Track in St. Petersburg.

I’m sure there is a much longer list, but those are some of the higher profile productions and/or production people connected with projects shot in the area. If you’re interested in shooting there contact the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Film Commission and/or the Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission.

This is a fitting place to mention that in 2007 screenwriter (and St. Pete Beach resident) Mike France (Cliffhanger, Hulk) bought the historic Beach Theatre on St. Pete Beach. It was probably more of a romantic and nostalgic choice than a profit-making business decision and the theatre closed a few months before he died in 2013. But Kudos to France for keeping the art deco theatre—which first opened in 1940—alive a few more years.

And for what it’s worth, I was doing a little research last weekend for a new script I’m writing and on the same day I took that sunset shot I caught the sunrise at Melbourne Beach on Florida’s east coast. Melbourne Beach is where Jim Jarmusch shot part of his classic indie film Stranger Than Paradise (1984)— A must see black and white film shot using only master shots.

Here’s a photo of mine from sunrise at Melbourne Beach. (To inquire about shooting on Florida’s space coast (including Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, Melbourne) contact the Space Coast Film Commission.)

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P.S. Congrats to the Tampa Bay Lightning for their victory last night against the New York Rangers to advance to the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Related posts:
‘The Greatest Film Ever Made’
Orson Welles at USC in 1981 (part 1)
‘State of Cinema’ (Soderbergh)
Fueling Your Imagination (Jarmusch Style)

Scott W. Smith

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DSC_1801Tampa

Over the weekend I was finally able to see a movie at the Tampa Theatre (in downtown Tampa, Florida) which is one of the most beautiful settings to watch a movie in the United States—maybe in the world. I say finally because the theater was built in 1926, and while I’m not quite that old—it had been on my to-do list for well over a decade. I arrived early because I wanted to look around and was not disappointed.

Keep in mind that it was built in the era long before the internet, television, and even before the Great Depression. So this is a grand and ornate building complete with peacock statues, gargoyles, and twinkling stars. And I had the great thrill of hearing their Wurlitzer organ not only being played live before the movie started, but the organ and the organist unexpectedly coming up out of the grand on a moving platform. Before the movie even started I had my money’s worth of entertainment.

Keep in mind that back when the theater first opened that movies were the main form of entertainment, so every week as the Tampa Theatre website points out, “more than 90 million Americans were going to the movies every week.” If you’d ever like to be transported back in time to connect to early cinematic history the Tampa Theatre is the ideal place to go. In fact if you live in the greater Tampa Bay area—or will be visiting the area in the coming months—you have the opportunity to see The Wizard of Oz (June 7), Key Largo (June 14), Back to the Future (July 5) and/or a contemporary art house film in grand style.

Here’s what the outside of the Tampa Theatre looks like.

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P.S. My father moved to Tampa in the 1970s and ran Smith Advertising in the area until he died in 1995. So over the weekend I was able to retrace some of the places where I have many fond memories. If you’d like my Ferris Bueller’s Day Off—version of how to do Tampa Bay in a day or two here’s my list:
Eat at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, drive along Bayshore Boulevard and explore the Hyde Park Village area full of craftsman homes and a small shopping area.

Saint Petersburg which used to be the shuffleboard capital of Florida is turning into the Austin of Florida—hipster heaven. And why not, writer Jack Kerouac (On the Road) not only lived there for a spell, but died there in 1969. You can go sailing in the morning, visit the Dali Museum in the afternoon, get a tattoo, and catch the sunset in St. Pete Beach while eating at Hurricane Seafood Restaurant on Pass-A-Grille.

And, lastly I should mention, if the Tampa Bay Lighting win tonight they will be in the Stanley Cup Final. So you could always fit that into your schedule if you can get tickets.

Scott W. Smith

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Yesterday I visited the Bay Pines National Cemetery in St. Petersburg, Florida. My father was a pilot in the Air Force and while he did not die in combat I made a trip to the cemetery where he is buried on Sunday. I had not been there in over a decade and this Memorial Day weekend seemed a fitting time to make the trip.

I planned my visit hoping to take advantage of the soft late afternoon light for photography, but had not planned on the estimated thousands of American flags placed throughout the military cemetery.  It’s hard not to have your emotions stirred at the sight in person— I tried to capture it in this photograph. Many thanks to those who planned and executed the beautiful and symbolic tribute. And, of course, many thanks those men and women who died serving in the United States armed forces.

Bay Pines National Cemetery — 2015 Memorial Day Weekend

Bay Pines National Cemetery — 2015 Memorial Day Weekend

Related Posts:
Screenwriting Quote #84 (Lt. Colonel Jack Lewis)
Flags of Our Fathers 

Scott W. Smith

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Postcard #84 (Lucy)

Lucy

Yesterday was one of the saddest yet sweetest days of my life. Had to say goodbye to our 15-year-old golden retriever Lucy. Can’t remember when I’ve cried so hard. But also very thankful to have her in our life for so long.

Back in January 2000 my wife and I weren’t looking for a dog when we were driving home one day and saw a simple hand-painted sign that I think is the most effective advertising line ever written: “Golden Retriever Puppies 4 Sale.” We stopped and our hearts were captivated by this one dog that was hiding in the bushes.

So today’s postcard comes from not being on the road, but close to home. Actually in our backyard a few years ago when we lived in Iowa. It’s my favorite photo of Lucy, followed closely the photo below soon after we brought her into our life.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Scott W. Smith

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“[John Maclean] told me the idea, showed me the script, and then told me he wanted to shoot it on a mobile phone. I thought, ‘Hm, this guy, he’s an original.’ And so that experience went well, and then it was like okay, let’s shoot another short with the aim of getting financing for a feature film.”
Actor Michael Fassbender (X-Men, Inglourious Basterds) on making the short film Man on a Motorcycle (2009)

“I studied Drawing and Painting at Edinburgh Art School and The Royal College of Art in London. After graduating I formed The Beta Band with a couple of friends. I made many of the music videos, which were very DIY and tried to be short films in style and a great training ground for film making with little to no budget.”
Writer/director John Maclean
Indiewire/Meet the 2015 Sundance Filmmakers

Since my last post (Bob Dylan & Your Filmmaking Career) was a mixture of music, filmmaking, and being from places far outside the Hollywood system I thought I’d point out a great example of someone from Scotland who’s making a great go of it recently.

Scottish filmmaker John Maclean’s IMDB credits actually begin in 2000 for a song on the soundtrack of the well regarded film High Fidelity.  He made some videos with a couple of bands he was in through the 2000s (what he calls his film school), and in 2008/09 he wrote and directed a short film called Man on a Motorcycle using a smartphone to shoot with four actors. (One of those actors happened to be Michael Fassbender who gave Maclean one day of shooting.)

That went well enough that Maclean and Fassbender made a second short film, Pitch Black Heist, which won a BAFTA award.

That led to writing and directing his first feature film Slow West (again with Fassbender) which  was the Grand Jury World Cinema Prize winner at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. Back when I started this blog, Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places, in ’08 who would have bet that there would be a filmmaker from Scotland that year who would make his first short film using a cell phone and just six years later end up a Sundance winner? (And to make those odds worse that that film would be a historical western set in Colorado and shot in New Zealand)

If you want to get a glimpse what shaped Maclean into a filmmaker beyond studying drawing and painting in college and being in bands for a decade here’s the answer when asked what filmmakers inspired him :

“The work of Carl Theodor Dreyer, Bresson, Brunuel, Carpenter, Allen , Spielberg, Scorsese, Bergman, Hughes, Kurosawa, Denis, Herzog, Wilder, Altman, Cassavetes, Hitchcock, Lynch , Polanski, Leone, Tarkovsky, Lumet.”

P.S. Since Maclean mentioned Bresson it trigger a memory that I think it was either an interview with screenwriter Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) or in his book Transcendental Style in Film where he mentioned watching Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest once a year. It’s not only where you’re from that gives you a unique voice, but the kinds of movies you ingest.

Scott W. Smith

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“Try to disconnect the idea of cinema with the idea of making a living and money.”
Francis Ford Coppola 
Who said art has to cost money? 

“At this moment, anyone who dreams of becoming a filmmaker is lucky indeed. For the first time in the history of cinema, filmmaking does not need to be a capitalist enterprise. You no longer need millions of dollars or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. You are no longer beholden to someone writing a check. It no longer needs to be a business. it can be your artistic expression…Now you can buy a consumer-model digital camera and the image looks great…You can even shoot a pretty good-looking movie on your smartphone and then edit it on a laptop…You can post your film on YouTube, Vimeo, and any number of digital platforms and slowly build your audience.”
Edward Burns
Independent Ed

As I write this post both Mad Max: Fury Road and Avengers: Age of Ulton are currently in theaters so why have I spent two weeks writing posts about indie filmmaker Edward Burns? It’s because my focus has always been on the outsider. To use a well traveled line, it’s about those who’ve “taken the road less traveled.”

And if you succeed that road may take you to the larger production hubs of Los Angeles or New York City, but I’m really interested inspiring people anywhere in the world in telling their stories. As I’ve said before, that could be a filmmaker in West Des Moines, West Africa or someone just east of the Hollywood sign in West Covina.

I love reading blogs & books, and listening to podcasts, from those on the inside of Hollywood. There are many great insights from those people and over the years I’ve tried to find the most helpful ones and pass them on here.

If you dream of winning the spec script lottery by writing one of the under 200 spec scripts that will be sold in Hollywood this year—great. Dream of being a LA screenwriter on assignment—go for it. There are many talented writers doing that very thing and making a very good living. (Though fewer than you probably think.)

But there is a tertium quid—just to drop what little Latin I know.  A third option if you will. And that’s where Edward Burns comes in to point the way for the outsiders out there—wherever you live. (Burns launched his filmmaking career by shooting parts of his first feature in parents house on Long Island—and he relaunched his career my making three micro budget features. )

“You can learn how to make movies and tell stories by making movies and telling stories. Please don’t listen to the naysayers who complain that we have a glut of movies, that there are too many people making movies and telling stories. Has anyone ever complained about too many poems, songs, or paintings? Because of these technological advances, you are now no different from the kids who keep writing songs on their guitars until they figure out what makes a good song, or the painters who keep throwing colors against a canvas until they realize their vision. Think about that kid from Hibbing, Minnesota, who picked up an acoustic guitar and changed the way we look at the world. Do you think this songs could have been written if Bob Dylan needed to please a money man? Not very likely. That could be you and your camera.”
Writer/director/actor Edward Burns
Independent Ed; Inside a Career of Big Dreams. Little Movies, and the Twelve Best Days of My Life
page 220

Burns’ TV program Public Morals is scheduled to debut Aug 25 on TNT. The executive producer is Steven Spielberg (can’t get much more inside Hollywood than that) and has been a dream project that Burns has had for at least 20 years. It takes a little time sometimes—even if your first film cleans up at Sundance as Burns did with The Brothers McMullen back in 1995.

P.S. I’m not the biggest gear head out there but when you have cameras like the Blackmagic URSA Mini camera hitting the market—a 4K camera for under $3k—it’s kind of astounding to think where production has come in just the last 10 years. If you don’t shoot or edit yourself, I’m sure with a little creativity you can meet some shooters and editors in your area to help get your short films, indie features, experimental films, and long and short form documentaries made. And remember what Austin-based filmmaker Robert Rodriguez said in a post about The Total Filmmaker;  “If you are technical and creative you will be unstoppable.”

Related Posts:

How to Shoot a Film in Ten Days
Off Screen Quote #22 (Bob Dylan)
‘Shelter from the Storm’ (Dylan)
Screenwriting from Duluth
The Outsider Advantage
The 10 Minute Film School
The 10 Film Commandments of Edward Burns
“Don’t try and compete with Hollywood.”—Ed Burns
Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl in Ohio (2.0)
A New Kind of Filmmaker   “One of the benefits of being outside of Hollywood…”
Revisiting ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ (2.0) Which includes this passage:

Dylan spent most of his youth in the mining town of Hibbing in northern Minnesota. A group of close-knit Jewish people from Eastern Europe drawn to opportunities in the area known as the Mesabi Iron Range. (See David Mamet’s connection to storytelling and Eastern European Jews.) The ore from the area once made the small town of Hibbing very wealthy. But by the time Dylan (then known as Robert /Bobby Zimmerman) was a teenager in the 1950s the mining town’s heyday was over. But it was fertile ground to listen to blues and country on the radio and learn to play the piano and guitar. Dylan graduated from Hibbing High School in 1959.

Scott W. Smith

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“In this screenplay, I imagined a deadbeat father who had bailed on his kids years earlier, looking to return home to make amends.”
Writer/director Edward Burns on The Fitzgerald Family Christmas 

“It’s a good thing our father left—we needed the space.”
Sharon (Kerry Bishe) one of nine Fitzgerald children raised in a 3 bedroom house in The Fitzgerald Family Christmas 

One of the things most (all?) Catholic and Protestant theologians agree on in is that Jesus was not born on December 25. Some scholars even speculate that Christ’s birth account 2000 years ago wasn’t even during wintertime, but in the springtime because that’s when shepherds watch over their fields. (“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.” Luke 2:8)

So it’s actually not that bizarre to talk about Christmas in May.  And I’ll do so by mentioning what I think is Edward Burns’ tightest script and best film, The Fitzgerald Family Christmas. (It’s currently on Netflix if you’d like to get in the Christmas spirit this spring day.)

“I knew I didn’t want to make the sappy, goofy, funny Christmas comedy. My favorite Christmas film has always been It’s a Wonderful Life, another film that has the perfect blend of light and dark, comedy and drama. George Baily has to cover a lot of tough ground to get that payoff. I also wanted my characters to go on a tough journey so that when the Fitzgerald family got together in the end, it felt earned. As I started to work on the screenplay, a theme of forgiveness started to present itself. Given that it’s one of the themes of Christmas, it tied together nicely. The script poured out of me and within four weeks, I had a first draft.”
Filmmaker Edward Burns (Sidewalks of New York)
Independent Ed; Inside a Career of Big Dreams, Little Movies, and the Twelve Best Days of My Life
page 212

If you just happen to be in the mood for Christmas music today, check out The Fitzgerald Family Christmas Album largely featuring the music of long-time Burns collaborator P.T. Walkley.

P.S. And if you want to add an indie companion Thanksgiving film to your May viewing watch Peter Hedges’ Pieces of April starring Katie Holmes. Fitzmas (2012) and Pieces (2003) cost less than $600,000 to produce—combined. And one connection between both films that I know of is John Sloss was an executive producer on Pieces and received a special thanks credit on Fitzmas (Sloss, a University of Michigan law school grad, also provided legal service on Burns’ first film The Brothers McMullen.)

P.P.S. Yes, that is the talented Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights, American Crime Story) in the screen grab above. She fit in time between shooting the Nashville TV series for the small (but wonderful performance) in Fitzmas as nod/thank you to Burns for casting her in her debut movie The Brothers McMullen (1995).

Related Posts:
The Making of It’s a Wonderful Life
It’s a Wonderful Prison “Shawshank is basically It’s a Wonderful Life in a prison.”—Frank Darabont
Merry Silver Linings Christmas
Christmas & Cancer (Connected because the father in Fitzmas has cancer.)
Bedford Falls vs. Pottersville
Earn Your Ending (Tip #76)
Merry Christmas (2012) Same year as Fitzmas release and my last Christmas in Iowa.
Writing from Theme
Hope & Redemption
Filmmaking Quote #27 (Frank Capra)
Filmmaking Quote # 15 (Edward Burns)

Scott W. Smith

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