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Archive for February, 2017

“We’re two boys from Liberty City representing the 305.”
Tarrell Alvin McCraney
(305 is the area code in Miami)

“Liberty City, one of the poorest sections of Miami and almost entirely black, is geographically tiny, little more than the housing projects and the blocks surrounding them.”
Nikole Hannah-Jones/ New York Times


liberty-city

What’s more unlikely than an Oscar-winning screenwriter being from the Liberty City section of Miami? That’s easy— how about two Oscar-winning writers being from there. Barry Jenkins and Tarrell Alvin McCraney collected the Best Adapted Screenplay Award Sunday for their Moonlight script. Both are from the same housing project in Liberty City.

And to top it off, Moonlight had a surprise upset of La La Land to win Best Picture Oscar.

Allow me take you on a quick tour of greater Miami to explain what’s so special about being from Liberty City.

Less than ten miles east of Liberty City is Miami Beach with its beautiful Art Deco hotels, glamorous night clubs, and high-end cars. Here’s a map of homes in the South Beach and surrounding islands listed on Zillow that are listed for three million or more. (Make note of one listing for $65 million.)

Homes for sale .png

A little over 10 miles to the south of Liberty City you’ll find Coral Gables. It’s home to the Miracle Mile, the University of Miami, and the beautiful and historic Biltmore Hotel.

And lastly on our little tour, just 10 miles to the west of Liberty City you’ll find the Trump National Hotel Miami, a country club where PGA tournaments have been held every year since 1962. Tiger Woods won four times there.

You get the picture. Liberty City is surrounded by some of the finest and upscale places in the United States. I won’t speak for Liberty City (or its next door neighbor, Overtown) in terms of today, but back in 1979 when Barry Jenkins was born Liberty City was  a just under six square miles low income and high crime zone.  (Tough but not as many guns on the street as there are today according to Jenkins.) In 1980 riots broke out there amidst racial tension over a police shooting and acquittal.

This is how Time magazine wrote of the area in 1981 article titled Paradise Lost?:

“Even in Liberty City, the black enclave in North Miami where 18 people died in last year’s riot, the Latin influence is apparent. White store owners who abandoned their businesses are being replaced by Latin landlords. ‘The only things blacks have in Miami are several hundred churches and funeral homes,” says Johnny Jones, a former Dade County school superintendent. ‘After a generation of being Southern slaves, blacks now face a future as Latin slaves. ’”

This is how this New York Times explains the Liberty City journey of both Jenkins and McCraney:

Both men were born to mothers who had their first children when they were teenagers. Both saw their mothers become H.I.V. positive after falling victim to the crack epidemic that overtook their community. Both were taken away from their mothers and bounced around; caregivers, related and not, took them in. They both knew what it was like to have the water turned off for lack of payment, to go to school without deodorant because there was no money to buy it.”

So, yeah, it’s an unlikely place for two Oscar-winners to be raised. And in a nutshell, that’s what the Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places blog is all about. To give a little hope to the creative Outliers in unlikely places around the world.

Related links:
A Liberty City Oscar Watch Party Reacts to Moonlight win/ Miami Herald
Watch Moonlight Director Barry Jenkins Revisit His Hometown/Vanity Fair

Related posts:
The First Black Feature Filmmaker
Postcard #24 (Coral Gables)
Postcard #25 (Miami Beach)
Cocaine Cowboys & the Future of Film (Doc on Miami in the 70s & 80s)
25 Links Related to Black & Filmmaking (2017 Oscar-Edition)

Scott W. Smith

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“My first student film, written/directed shortly after 9/11. A reminder to myself to channel this energy, to create.”
Barry Jenkins (@BandryBarry)
11/10/2016 Tweet

Before Barry Jenkins wrote (with Tarell Alvin McCraney) and directed Moonlightwhich won the Oscar last night for Best Picture and for Best Adapted Screenplay—he was a film school student at Florida State University. My Josephine was his first short film. (A good example of Start Small…But Start Somewhere.)

According to The Guardian, while at Florida State his tastes turned toward art house films listing fimmakers from France, China, and Scotland as influences;  Claire Denis (Vendredi Soir),  Hsiao-Hsien Hou (Three Times), and Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher).

According to Florida State News, a total of seven FSU graduates worked on Moonlight.

Four days after graduating from FSU, Jenkins moved to Los Angeles to pursue a filmmaking career. He spent two years working as a production assistant on various projects, then quit to concentrate on his own movies. His first feature, 2008’s ‘Medicine for Melancholy,’ was shot for $13,000 in San Francisco, where Jenkins was living.”
Rene Rodriguez/Miami Herald

 

Florida State’s film program has a long legacy of turning out talent. So it’s not a total surprise to have an Oscar-winner emerge from that program. (Not sure if that’s the first or not for FSU.) But where Jenkins was before FSU is a little unusual and we’ll look at that tomorrow.

Scott W. Smith

 

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“There’s no one working in television or theater today who’s not influenced by…the fountainhead of this whole thing, which is Death of a Salesman.”
Mad Men creator & 9-time Primetime Emmy winner Matthew Weiner

“Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman was like a mirror to the story I had written.”
Asgahar Farhadi on The Salesman
Empire
Q&A

Iranian filmmaker Asgahar Farhadi wrote and directed The Salesman which is up for an Oscar tonight. (The film under its original tile, Forushande, won Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival last year. A film he wrote and directed (A Speparation) won an Best Foreign Language Oscar Film back in 2012. Also in 2012, he was named on the Time 100:The List by Time magazine.

In an interview with the Film Experience he talks about his starting point as a screenwriter:

Q. When you’re first starting a screenplay,  do you start with character studies, or a germ of a story and extrapolate from there?

Ashar Faradi: It never begins with a character. It never begins with a theme or the plot. I never start by saying ‘There’s this important thing I want to say and so know I have to look for a story for it!’  For me it always starts with a spark that leads to a succcinct story. For instance in A Separation the image I began with was a man bathing his elderly father. Little by little I expanded it and it became a story. And the story dictated to me how the characters would be. I am never able to have a character before the story because it’s the turbulent circumstances of these stories that reveal the characters. Once I’ve written ten pages of the story I reread it and I ask myself “What is this story talking about?” Prior to that I don’t really know what the subject or theme are.  For instance with The Salesman, once I’d written I realized the story was about humiliation and privacy. In the continuation of my writing I strive to create a harmony within the themes.

P.S. I’ve said this year that I’d like to do more posts about screenwriting/filmmaking outside the United States so if you have some suggests send them my way. Ideally, they’d be films where there is a decent about written about the filmmakers. I love Q&As.

Related Post:
Arthur Miller on Writing
Volcanic Emotions & Arthur Miller
Screenwriting Quote #175 Arthur Miller
What Would Miller Do?

Scott W. Smith

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“It took years of struggle. Years of not having anything happen, not even getting meetings, not knowing what I was really doing…Things have turned a corner.  I was really a starving artist for lot of years.  I moved to LA nine years ago, and the first five were really difficult.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Luke Davies (Lion)
Combined from PopEntertainment interview & Spook Magazine article

Note: Davies didn’t arrive in L.A. from Australia until he was in his mid-40s. His first book of poetry was published in 1982 when he was 20 years old. In his mid-30s his first novel was published, and the next year he was named Young Writer of the Year by The Sydney Morning Herald. That novel was made into the film Candy in 2006 with Davies as co-screenwriter. The opportunity to write Lion came about from a “working relationship with See-Saw Films [in Sydney]that went back ten years.”

P.S. Lion is based on the book The Long Way Home by Saroo Brieley.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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“We were actually writing the screenplay at the same time as Margot [Lee Shetterly], the author, was writing the book – all we had was the book proposal. A few years ago, the producers were looking for a writer, and they read my script on Agatha Christie, actually, and they sent me the book proposal – having no idea that I had grown up near Cape Canaveral in Florida, that my grandmother had worked at NASA, and that my grandfather and I had worked at NASA.

“So I got it, and called the producer ‘Please, I have to be a part of this, I was born to write’, or something equally cheesy, and the producer probably rolled her eyes and thought ‘Oh, those Hollywood writers will say anything.’ But when I told her my background – that I’d studied math a lot in college and so on – that was it, I was hired. ”
Oscar nominated screenwriter Allison Schroeder (Hidden Figures 
Alex Moreland Interview

Note: Schroeder did her undergraduate work in economics at Stanford and earned an MFA in film at USC. Check out Juggling paid work and spec scripts at JohnAugust.com to read a first hand account of what Schroeder’s life was like just a few years ago—“Before my big break, I worked, and worked hard as a PA, an assistant, and writer-for-free.”

P.S. Schroeder graduated from Melbourne High School, here on the Space Coast of Florida, in 1997 and said in a Florida Today interview,  “Mrs. Steady was my English teacher. She was always an extreme advocate for my writing. She really pushed me to go out and see the world. She urged me at 18, it’s OK, fly across the country. Go experience something new and have an adventure. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

Scott W. Smith

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Lesson from a Legend

Since I’ve been writing about work this week, it seem like a fitting time to repost this one from seven years ago originally titled Stephen J. Cannell’s Work Ethic:

Primetime Emmy-winning writer Stephen J. Cannell overcame severe learning disabilities (and flunking three grades) to become one of modern televisions most prolific writers. He wrote more than 400 episodes including some of the most popular TV shows of their day; Adam-12, Baretta, The Rockford Files, 21 Jump Street, and The A Team.

Dennis McLellan in the Los Angeles Times wrote that “in the spring of 1986, (Cannell) had six hourlong shows on in primetime.” The LA Times also quoted writer David Chase (The Sopranos), who worked with Cannell back in the 70s,  as saying that Cannell’s characters displayed “weaknesses — they were fallible human beings. That was the beginning of viewers seeing a TV protagonist as someone like themselves.”

Cannell, who did not even know he was dyslexic until he was in his 30s, also wrote 15 novels.

“When I was 13-years-old (my father) said to me, ‘you’re going to work,’ and I said, ‘Dad, it’s summer all my friends are going to the tennis club and the golf club and down at the beach’—and he said, ‘No, no you’re going to work.’ So I had to get a work permit—because at 13 you had to have a work permit to work—and I went to work at his wallpaper company. It was about four acres under a roof in Burbank and I was down there working on a screenprinting machine…and I used to come home and think, ‘What am I doing this for?’…(My father) said, ‘This is what people do to feed their family. You’re going to see what this is all about.’ And I was really angry about that, but you know what, he instilled in me a work ethic…and one of the reasons I’ve been so successful is that work ethic.”
Stephen J. Cannell
Interview on TV Legends

 

Scott W. Smith

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When Emmy-winner Stephen J. Cannell died in 2010 his IMDB credits were extensive. I can’t image many others who wrote 450 TV episodes or produced more than 1,500 episodes. But there’s really no secret to how he did it—it’s basic math. He began his days at 3:30 AM:

“You know, when you say, ‘He created 42 primetime television series—how’d he do that?’ Well, you’d be surprised at what you can do if you get up and write for five hours a day everyday for 35 years.”
Stephen J. Cannell
Script magazine interview with Ray Morton

How did he get into that position where he was getting paid well to write for five hours? Again no secret—more basic math.

After Cannell graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Oregon he worked for his father. After work he went home and wrote for five hours every night. And he did that for more than five years without seeing anything he wrote get produced.

“I was like a machine. I swear I had a stack of material you could sit on.”
Stephen J. Cannell

That’s a great image to leave you with today. I’m not sure how big that stack of paper was, but if you measure the height of a 100 page stack of paper and multiple it by the height of an average chair you’ll come up with a pretty accurate number. Basic math.

P.S. And Cannell’s IMDB credit list continues to grow after his death. Most recently he was credited for the 2012 movie version of 21 Jump Street and the 2014 sequel 22 Jump Street because he was co-creator of the original TV series starring Johnny Depp.

Scott W. Smith 

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