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Archive for November, 2017

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by…
Sea Fever by John Masefield

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I have a few more days of posts related to The Florida Project movie, and today’s is semi-related.  The Magic Castle hotel featured in The Florida Project is a real hotel located on Route 192 in Kissimmee, Florida. Head west on 192 and within 10 miles you’ll be at any Disney park. But if you head east on Route 192 and drive 80 miles you’ll drive directly to the boardwalk at Indiatlantic, Florida.

And if you drive two miles to the south on A1A you’ll be at Melbourne Beach where I took the above photo yesterday. I’ve been going to the beaches in this area since I was a child.

One of my fondest childhood memories was a vacation at Sebastian Inlet just south of Melbourne Beach where at 12-years-old my Uncle Jack took me fishing and let me drive a boat for the first time. I’m not sure there’s a more idyllic memory from my childhood.  Sebatian_2824.jpg

Uncle Jack was known to others as Jack Wilson, and he died earlier this month. He was the captain of the 1949 Ohio State football team that won the Big Ten Conference and then beat Cal in the Rose Bowl before 100,963 people packed into the stadium in Pasadena. He was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1950, but back then a career in professional football wasn’t a lucrative as it is today. He ended up in Melbourne, Florida spending his career with the Harris Corporation. 

Related post:
Postcard #115 (Sebastian Inlet)
Postcard #116 (Space Coast Sunrise)
Postcard #34 (Sea Turtle)

Scott W. Smith

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“Most of us have some old pain or hurt that we don’t think about all the time, but which is always vulnerable on some level of awareness…To humanize a hero or any character, give her a wound, a visible, physical injury or deep emotional wound.”
Christopher Volger
The Writer’s Journey

Katie Holmes in “Pieces of April”

Since it’s Thanksgiving Day and I’ve been writing a string of posts the last couple of weeks on The Florida Project, I thought it would be fitting to repost some thoughts on Pieces of April That 2003 low-budget indie film set entirely on Thanksgiving Day could be a cousin of The Florida Project.

Both are simple yet complex films. Pieces of April starred Katie Holmes who played April, a different version of the Halley character (Bria Vinaite) in The Florida Project. 

Yesterday I stopped at a connivence store here in the Orlando area and saw a real life April/Halley. She looked around the same age as the girls those movies, but looked more tired, worn, and dirty. She sat leaning against a wall next to a large backpack.

Since I was stopping in the store for a protein bar I bought an extra one I was going to  give to her. A clerk came in from outside as I was checking out and said to the other clerk, “If she’s not gone in ten minutes, I’m calling the police. She’s been asked to leave three times.”

When I got outside she was still there and I gave her the protein bar and a dollar and she thanked me. It wasn’t a Thanksgiving dinner or the promise of a better life. But it was something. Sean Baker’s The Florida Project (co-written with Chris Begosh) may not change the world, but the words of playwright Tom Stoppard come to mind:

“I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you might nudge the world a little or make a poem that children will speak for you when you are dead.” 
Oscar-winning screenwriter Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love)
Above quote spoken by character Henry in The Real Thing: A Play

Pieces of April was written and directed by Peter Hedges who was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa. A fact I didn’t learn until years after falling in love with the movie.

In December of 1998, I received a phone call from my mother in Iowa. She had bad news. She’d been diagnosed with cancer. I went to her as soon as I could. She underwent radiation and chemotherapy. Over the next fifteen months, my sisters, my brothers, and I traveled back and forth to take care of her.

“During this time, my mother urged me to keep writing, but it was difficult. One day in my office in Brooklyn, I started opening files on my computer and came across notes I’d written a year earlier for a story about  girl with a broken oven trying to get her turkey cooked.

“In my notes, I had named the girl April after the moody, unpredictable month. The month when it is sunny one moment and rainy the next. In my notes, she was cooking Thanksgiving dinner for her family. Most surprising was the reason why I’d decided April was making the meal: She was attempting to bridge an estranged relationship with her mother who was sick with cancer. 

“That’s when I knew this was a story I had to write.”
Writer/director Peter Hedges
Pieces of April; The Shooting Script—Introduction

May you all write stories that “nudge the world a little.”

Happy Thanksgiving.

P.S. So after I wrote this post I saw the trailer for the Katie Homes directed the film All We Had about a mother-daughter relationship where “everything around us is collapsing.”

Related posts:
Goal. Stakes. Urgency. (Tip #60)
Protagonist= Struggle
Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B+C)

Scott W. Smith

 

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When I was 21-years-old film school student in Los Angeles I was an intern for a cable TV show called Alive & Well that was taped in Marina del Rey, California.  Once the guest on the show was Los Angeles Dodger great Steve Yeager who I knew went to high school in Dayton, Ohio. I asked him how he liked L.A. and he told me, “If you live in a plastic town long enough, you don’t even notice the plastic.”

It was a just a comment in passing, but it’s really quite profound. Something that’s stuck with me for a few decades.

Growing up in central Florida in many ways meant growing up in a plastic, tourist-centric world.  One of the things I enjoyed about The Florida Project is how they visually captured a part of Florida that is pure kitsch. 

Yesterday I actually had a video shoot in Kissimmee, Florida where director Sean Baker and his crew shot The Florida Project and took the photos on this post of a couple of places featured in the movie. (I did drive by The Magic Castle, but didn’t take any photos because I didn’t want to be that guy looking to photograph the hidden homeless.)

“I had eye candy to work with [while making The Florida Project]. I was given eye candy just by shooting in the location we were shooting. And then, of course, having an amazing cinematographer Alexis Zabe to capture that. And my production designer Stephonik Youth who was able to help us enhance it by just a hair. Shooting along Route 192 was actually very easy because it was giving me so much to work with. You have essentially these small businesses that were at one time focused and targeted towards tourists, so they used the Disney mythology and themes and basically ripped them off to attract tourists. So you have brightly colored motels that have themes such as The Magic Castle or The Alligator Motel—there were a lot that we didn’t use. And a lot that had been shut down over the last ten years. The situation going on there is that the local government and the city are trying to beautify the section to bring it back. So if we’d have shot this film five years ago we’d actually have had more to work with. It’s in a transitional place right now.”
Filmmaker Sean Baker 
Filmspotting podcast interview

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P.S. In the post Screenwriting Quote #54 I touch on the Midwestern roots of Walt Disney and his own Main St. childhood in Marceline, Missouri. Walt Disney died in 1966 so he never saw Walt Disney World (which opened in 1971) come to life. I semi-joke that before Disney came to town, Orlando barely had indoor plumbing and air-conditioning. Despite the urban sprawl here many good things followed in the wake of the success of Disney World. And many family memories made with people passing through town. (A record 88 million visitors have visited Florida this year so far.) But The Florida Project reflects the law of unintended consequences in the lives of a group of people for who life is not a vacation.  But the struggles and mental issues of the character Halley in The Florida Project are far deeper than to simply blame a tourist economy. But the contrast and visual candy that Baker used in The Florida Project made the pill a little easier to swallow than if he’d set the story in Dayton, Ohio. (Where there are quite a few Halleys thanks to Dayton/Montgomery County currently being known as the “overdose capital of America.”)

Scott W. Smith

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“What [documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple] does is she really immerses herself— you really feel like with her films you’re on the strike line, you’re getting close to her subjects. That’s what we wanted to do [with The Florida Project]. We basically wanted to—very similar to they way I approached Tangerine—though  laughter, and through simple entertainment of being around these characters, I’m hoping audiences will embrace little Moonee. Love her so much that at the end when the credits are rolling and they’re going home they’re discussing the real Moonees that are out there. And perhaps what they can do to help the real Moonees. My number one goal with this movie to shine a light, because education is always the first step towards removing the stigma of homelessness. So that’s really the first goal, to have people interested enough to at least talk about it and look into it. For example, I didn’t know that there was even a term the hidden homeless. I didn’t know there was a hidden homeless population. It wasn’t until [co-screenwriter] Chris Bergosh brought this to my attention. And from there on it’s really about how much the audience wants to get involved. …I’m in a privileged place. I have this platform. I’m lucky enough to be given money to tell stories. …My hope is to use this entertainment medium that I’ve been trained to do to help the world a bit. To perhaps have people think a different way.”
Sean Baker
Filmspotting podcast interview

P.S. Barbara Kopple’s Harlan Country USA (1976) and American Dream (1990) gave slices of American life in Kentucky and Minnesota and both also won best feature film documentary Oscars.

Scott W. Smith

 

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In a semi-related connection to The Florida Project movie is Busch Gardens in Tampa Florida. Long before tourists started flocking to Orlando for Disney World vacations,  Busch Gardens in Tampa was one of central Florida’s major attractions. (Disney World was called The Florida Project back in the sixties as it was being developed.)

When Busch Gardens opened in 1959 it was more of a zoo than a theme park with an emphasis on animals, gardens, and free beer. With Walt Disney World opening in 1971, the architecture eventually gravitated toward the African continent with touches of Nairobi, Morocco, Egypt, and the Congo and more thrilling rides were introduced as a way to compete with Disney. Busch Gardens captivated me when I first visited as a young teenager because my world then did not really expand beyond Florida.

I went there yesterday for the first time I’m guessing 20 years. Things have changed quite a bit since the Anheuser-Busch sold the park in 2009. There is no longer free beer, but there are more rollercoaster rides than ever. The Serengeti Plain area is still there where giraffes, rhinos, and elephants roam free. There is an old, quaint nod to the early days Busch Gardens (the skyride), but it’s obvious that they’ve also retooled it to compete with family tourism today.

Here are two videos that shows the contrast of the older Busch Gardens and what it’s like today.

Scott W. Smith

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I’m back to livin’ Floridays
Blue skies and ultra-violet rays
Lookin’ for better days
Jimmy Buffett/Floridays

I still have a few more days of posts in me about The Florida Project, but today is a nod to my own childhood in Central Florida. I took the photos below this week on one of those ideal Florida days that don’t come around as often as people think—sunny, blue skies, 70 degrees.

I’ve been going to Lake Eola in downtown Orlando as far back as I can remember and it features one of the few iconic landmarks in the city (the water fountain), and is the longtime home of swans and swan boats.

 

 

Walking around Lake Eola was one of the things people did for fun before Disney World came to town. It was a simpler place. I’m not one that agrees that low wage tourism jobs is totally to blame for the homeless situation featured in The Florida Project. 

Sure it factors into the equation. But a wide variety of people have been drawn to Florida for over 100 years looking for a great vacation or a better life. Some find one or the other, fewer find both, and unfortunately some like Halley in The Florida Project find neither. (There’s a lot of truth in the t-shirt sloan that says, “Wherever you go, there you are.”)

The Florida Projects helps continue the conversation of how we’re going to address the hidden homeless that is a nationwide dilemma. (Read this article regarding the homeless “crisis” in Silicon Valley.)

P.S. I don’t know anything about the organization Hope 192/Hope Community Center, except their stated goal/emphasis “is to assist those living homeless or in motels and hotels along Osceola County’s 192 Corridor.” The real life Halley and Moonies. And the provided some research assistant to co-screenwriters Sean Baker and Chris Bergosh while writing The Florida Project. Check out their site and consider making a Thanksgiving donation.

Scott W. Smith

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[Brooklynn Prince] is just so incredible and she worked very closely with Sam [acting coach Samantha Quan], but to tell you the truth with her in particular she is a born thespian. I mean she is really acting. There is a true performance there, a true character that she found. She is wise beyond her years. I just can’t speak more highly of her, and just love her. She just brought so much to the table and I can’t even imagine [The Florida Project] without her. …For the three kids, Brooklyn,  Christopher Rivera, Valeria Cotto,  [Sam] made it a really fun summer camp environment for the kids. It was shot over their summer, so we were taking their summer away from them, so we wanted to give them the best experience possible. And at the end of every day—you have a limited number of hours you can work with children because of child labor laws, so you get to that six hour mark and you have to let them go. And [Brooklynn] would never want to go. Well it’s the law, get out of here [laughs]. I think because it was so much like a family unit. the kids were having fun, they were having workshops, experimenting, that by the time we actually got them in front of the camera they understood their characters enough where if I did have the audacity to ask little six year old to improvise it was fine. They would actually be able to pull it off. And especially Brooklynn. Brooklynn has that innate, genius ability to comedically improvise. Which is incredible at that age.  Near the end of the film, we just spend time eating with her brunch at a higher end hotel that her mother brings her to. And I just wanted to document her eating. Just a series of jump cuts of her eating. What I did was just roll two, thousand foot mags on a 35mm camera so it’s like 20 minutes. And we just watch this girl eat for 20 minutes. And Chris [Bergoch] and I have scripted lines,—we do have a full screenplay— but I encourage improvisation on top of it. So she got through her 15 scripted lines in a minute and a half and we had 18 minutes to burn. So we just ask her questions, what do you think that taste like? What do you wish that tasted like. And sometimes I’m feeding lines to her, or taking her lines—like if she gives me something that’s almost there, I can quickly figure something out with Chris, and deliver the line back to her and she’ll feed it to us. It was wonderful to see her do that. It was like stand-up comedy night. We had 40 cast and crew just watching this little girl eat.”
Sean Baker , director, editor, co-writer on The Florida Project
Filmspotting
 podcast interview #652

I think my favorite line in the movie is when Brooklynn says while eating the she wishes her fork was made of candy so she could eat it when she was done with her meal. Maybe that was a scripted line that she just delivered real, but it felt improvised, fresh, in character and totally something a six year old would say.

Scott W. Smith

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