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“People will come to Iowa, for reasons they can’t even fathom.”
—Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) in Field of Dreams

All eyes in the baseball world were on Iowa on Thursday night for MLB’s Field of Dreams game between the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees. And Iowa did not disappoint.”
—Aaron Marner
Des Moines Register

There are a lot of grand movie entrances. Two that come to mind are Rose (Kate Winslet) and her giant hat in Titanic and the Ringo Kid (John Wayne) twirling his rifle in Stagecoach. But on some list of 100 great film entrances has to be the entrance of the baseball players emerging from a cornfield in Iowa in Field of Dreams.

Last night in Dyersville, Iowa, Kevin Costner got to make his own grand entrance emerging from an Iowa corn field—followed by the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees. As a lifestyle baseball fan, I can’t say that Major League Baseball ever fully recovered from the double black eye of the strike back in the 90s, followed by the MLB steroid scandal.

But they took steps yesterday to add to baseball folklore by having the Yankees and the White Sox play a game near where they shot Field of Dreams movies back in the 1980s. (I think it was the first MLB game ever played in Iowa.) The TV announcers keep talking about a magical vibe the place had.

I’ve visited the Field of Dreams site a couple of times when I lived in Iowa. When I started the Screenwriting from Iowa … and Other Unlikely Places in Ceder Falls, Iowa 13 years ago, the mythology of Field of Dreams (screenplay by writer/director Phil Alden Robinson from a book by W.P. Kinsella) was definitely on my mind. What may get lost in the backstory of Field of Dreams is that Kinsella had an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. A pretty good foundation for Robinson, Costner and the others to build upon.

Screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) and Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (A Quiet Place) also graduated from Iowa and it’s been fun all these years to go back to that well from time to time. People may forget that in 2008 just the idea of screenwriting (and filmmaking) from Iowa and other unlikely places was a radical (or tongue in cheek) concept. But fast forward to 2021 in a post-COVID world and you see that it’s no longer so bizarre. Your favorite movie or streaming show is more likely to come from the state of Georgia than Los Angeles.

The cost of living and quality of life in LA is causing more than a few creatives to trade LA for Austin, Texas. Which, of course, has its own established film community. Vancouver has proven to be a film hot spot. Zoom calls have allowed established writers to retreat to states throughout the US. If I wanted to call it a day for this blog and say “my work is done” this would be a good day to do it.

But … I think I have a few more posts in me. And I still have to get on the ball and get my podcast rolling. I don’t know what the future of movies will be—or how many movie theaters will survive these odd times—or if people even will return to the movie going business as we once knew it—but I’m pretty sure people will still want to be entertained as they have throughout the history of civilization.

In recent posts, I’ve been recounting some places I visited on my vacation back in June and July. It’s fitting that my next post will be about going to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY on my birthday. It was a trip I’d been planning since I was 10 years old.

For those of you who missed the game last night, here’s all the drama of the final dream ending (at least for Tim Anderson). Hollywood couldn’t have done it better.

P.S. Whoever came up with that idea to play the game in Iowa last night deserves a nice bonus.

P.P.S. Just realized after I wrote this post the Iowa-connection of two of the movies I referenced. Rose in Titanic (as a 103 woman) lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and John Wayne was born in Winterset, Iowa.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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In Stephen King’s short story The Body (on which the 1986 movie Stand By Me was based) the protagonist in the story is reminiscing a trip to New York he took after he sold his first novel. Toward the end of a grand three day tour of the city given by Keith, his editor, there is an awkward moment between the two men and King writes:

“[I wanted to tell Keith]: The only reason anyone writes stories is so they can understand the past and get ready for some future mortality; that’s why all the verbs in stories have -ed endings, Keith my good man, even the ones that sell millions of paperbacks. The only two useful art forms are religion and stories.

I was pretty drunk that night, as you may have guessed.

What I did tell him was: ‘I was thinking of something else, that’s all.’ The most important things are the hardest things to say.”

The Body is available as a stand alone book or part of the original collection of short stories called Different Seasons. In that book you’ll also find the story Rita Hayworth and the Shank Redemption, which became the movie The Shawshank Redemption. And the short story Apt Pulpil became the 1998 movie Apt Pupil.

P.S. If you’ve never seen Stand By Me put it on your list to watch this week. And for extra credit read the Stephen King short story then the script by Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans. And then watch with Rob Reiner director’s commentary, and then the movie one more time. (The 25th anniversary Blu-Ray of the movie has a commentary by Reiner, Corey Feldman, and Wil Wheaton and I imagine that’s solid as well.) There’s a whole film school worthy class you could build around King’s short story becoming a modern day classic movie.

Scott W. Smith wrote the book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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“One day in August a man disappeared. He had simply set out for the seashore on a holiday, scarcely half a day by train, and nothing more was ever heard of him.”
The opening words from the novel The Woman in the Dunes by Kôbô Abe

Last night I was able to close the gap one more notch in my knowledge of global cinema by watching the 1964 Japanese film Woman in the Dunes. (I saw it on the The Criterion Channel, but you can also rent it through Amazon.) I’ve watched a lot of movies this year because of the pandemic, and Woman in the Dunes is my favorite—perhaps because I saw it during a pandemic.

It’s that rare film that transports you to another world, then when it’s over it returns you to your world with fresh eyes and a lot to ponder. When I started to explain the film to someone today I realized it sounded like an extended episode from The Twilight Zone.

That Rod Serling classic TV program ran from 1959—1964, and the novel The Woman in the Dunes by Kôbô Abe was published in 1962 and according to Wikipedia won the 1962 Yomiuri Prize for literature. Abe wrote the screenplay (with Eiko Yoshida credited as scriptor, though I am not sure what that means) and was directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara.

This is not a review of the film, just a few words to say that it is a great film to watch during a pandemic—especially if you’re in any kind of lockdown. The basic set up is the protagonist of the story is so caught up collecting and photographing bugs and insects that he misses the last bus back into town where he is staying.

Arrangements are made by local villagers for him to stay the night in a home that’s basically in a sandpit. Conflict ensues. As the Eagles sing in Hotel California, “You can check out, but you can never leave.” I’ll leave it at that. But when the movie was over I didn’t feel as confined by my world where much of my freedoms have been removed for the past seven or eight months.

Woman in the Dunes received two Oscar nominations (Best Foreign picture, Best Director), and was on filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky‘s handwritten list of his ten favorite movies.

P.S. This film is mostly a two actors in one location. It’s a fascinating study for low-budget filmmakers because of it embraces its limitations. But it packs in much of the stuff I’ve covered over and over again on this blog and in my book.
Inciting incident√
Major Dramatic Question √
Goals—Stakes—Urgency√
Clear intentions and obstacles√
Conflict (on multiple levels)√
Compelling characters√
Active protagonist√
You want to know “what happens next?”√
Builds toward a climax√
Change and transformation√
The ending is surprising and inevitable√

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
—Langston Hughes
Harlem 

 

When playwright/screenwriter Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965) was a 17-year-old student at the University of Wisconsin—Madison she walked into a rehearsal of Sean O’Casey’s play Juno and the Paycock, and the struggles she saw onstage in the tenements of Dublin, Ireland resonated with the struggles she saw growing up in the rougher parts of South Side of Chicago.

And a scene where a mother laments the loss of her son in the Irish Civil War left Hannsberry stunned. That theatrical experience combined with her childhood experience of moving into an unwelcomed white neighborhood (that started with windows being broken, and ended in the landmark Hansberry v. Lee lawsuit) provided the seeds for her play A Raisin in the Sun (1959). The film version was released in 1961.

 

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Here’s a Vanity Fair clip of director Randel Kleiser walking through a scene from the timeless Grease featuring the song You’re the One That I Want sung by Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta.

You’re the One That I Want is one of the top 20 selling singles of all time. 

Back in 1978 Travolta was over-the-top successful. He’d just come off an Oscar-nomination for Saturday Night Fever, was starring in the hit TV show Welcome Back Kotter, and had a hot song with Let Her In. Lesser remembered is a TV movie he did in 1976.

The Boy in the Plastic Bubble  was also directed by Randel Kleiser from a script by Douglas Day Stewart (screenwriter of An Officer and a Gentleman). I remember being a teenager and seeing The Boy in the Plastic Bubble when it came out on TV. I never saw it again and haven’t thought about it in a decade—or two. Until recently,  when the coronavirus started to take over the news.

And speaking of the coronavirus— and the other half of singing You’re the One That I Want…

Olivia Newton-John may have been my first celebrity crush. I bought her If you love me , let me know album when I was 13. That was 1974, a couple of years before the Farrah Fawsett poster came out. (Maureen McCormick, Marcia on The Brady Bunch, was in the mix around that time.)  I spent a lot of time listening to Olivia Newton-John’s music.

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Olivia Newton-John’s battle with cancerhave been well documented over the years, and she recently relayed a stay at home message on her Instagram from some of the staff at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre in Australia.

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If you need a smile today to break through the global news, here’s a video of Olivia Newton-John singing Bob Dylan’s If Not For You when she was in her early 20s.  That smile. That voice. Those eyes.

Scott W. Smith

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“Our stories, our books, our films are how we cope with the random trauma-inducing chaos of life as it plays out.”
—Bruce Springsteen

The antithesis of social distancing for me was the Bruce Springsteen concert I attended on October 2, 1985 at the Los Angeles Coliseum. It was also the best concert I ever attended.

It was the final night of the Born in the U.S.A. tour and, if I recall correctly. there were around 100.000 people in attendance. It was not only biggest crowd I’ve ever been a part of, but it was the longest one, too.

I think it was a soild 3 1/2 hours. I found the setlist of that night online, and the encore itself was 10 songs. The encore! Apparently Springteen  played 33 songs total. And he did a lot of talking between songs.

Yesterday I came across the above quote of Springsteen’s, that I think I pulled from his Broadway show that I saw on Netflix last year. This seems as good as any to point out to reflect on that quote. And to look at the three films from three different places around the globe (Los Angeles, Japan, and Denmark) that I think deal well with “trauma-inducing chaos.”

That includes loss of job, broken relationships, shipwreck, and terminal cancer. Jerry Maguire is such an timeless film that instead of posting the trailer, I’ve included the Springsteen song featured in Jerry Maguire.

Scott W. Smith 

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“Overnight, we went from an industry that makes $15 billion a year — $11 billion in ticket sales and $4 billion in concessions — to one that is not going to make a penny for three or four months,”
—John Fithian, president and CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO).
Variety, March 21, 2020

Two weekends ago,  I was in Mt. Dora, Florida (just outside of Orlando) and I heard  that a group had plans in nearby Eustis to build the largest drive-in theater in the world. My first thought was it was a joke. But it wasn’t, and now the idea seems at least plausible.

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The proposed Lighthouse 5. — a five theater drive-in

Two weeks ago life was relatively normal in the United States as the Coronavirus was spreading around the world. Now restaurants and bars are closed. Both the NBA and MLB has suspended their seasons. Both New York and California on lock down as efforts are made to stop the spread of this pandemic. So, of course, movie theaters in the entire country are mostly closed. (Deadline reported that drive-ins did the most business.)

Since this is a screenwriting/filmmaking blog the question is not when when movie theaters open, but will they open? First there’s the billion dollar of box office revenue already lost, and the billions they will continue to lose as it appears that this virus will impact the world for months rather than days or weeks.

Movie theaters were already on shaky ground before this unprecedented in my lifetime occurred. Back in 1952, when the polio epidemic closed movie theaters,  going to a movie in a theater was still a thing. Not only was that long before the internet, it was a time when most people didn’t even have televisions.

Today video games are a bigger business than the movie industry, the internet (Facebook, YouTube, googling) occupy plenty of people’s free time, and cheap streaming services (Amazon, Netflix, Disney+, etc.) allow people to watch movies and TV shows on large screen TVs in their home.

Regardless of how this virus plays out, any business that’s dependent on large indoor crowds is going to have to rethink their business plan.  How long can concert promoters, sporting teams, and convention planners stay in business without business? I take a middle ground approach between hysteria (the sky is falling) and those that think this is overblown. It will forever change the way we do somethings. At least we have history on our side that we can bounce back.

But people have already been laid off, business are closing, and bankruptcies will follow. If the country heads into a recession, Florida can face a depression because it’s so dependent on tourism.  And like The Great Depression, some business will thrive. I’m sure Amazon, Walmart and most grocery stores have seen a boost in business. Domino’s pizza’s stock has gone up in this crisis and they’ve announcement that are hiring 10,000 people.  A FedEx guy told me Saturday that it was busier than Christmas for them.

But what’s going to happen to movie theaters? For those wondering how they’re going to pay their mortgage or rent, that question isn’t even on their radar?

“When this crisis passes, the need for collective human engagement, the need to live and love and laugh and cry together, will be more powerful than ever.”
—Director Chris Nolan

I’ve been a regular movie attender ever since I got my driver’s license at age 16. But I know 16-year-olds today who are not only in no hurry to get a driver’s license, but rarely got to movie theaters.

Are drive in movie theaters going to make a comeback. I wouldn’t bet my money it will. I haven’t been to a drive-in theater in 20 or 30 years. Occasionally, when I drive by one now and then I get nostalgic. But I don’t see it ever being a regular part of my life again.

As a novelty, the theater in Eustis could work. They work a deal out to get the land discounted with the promise that it will be good for the town’s economy. In Florida, you can operate a drive-in year around. It’s not far from Disney World. I could see it work as a glorified RV park, with shopping and restaurants, and  a safe and fun place for people to hangout. And, of course, to watch a movie in the comfort of their own car.

But it’s not going to be the future of theatrical distribution. My hope is that when the dust settles from this virus—and the economic fallout—that there is a still a thing as a wide theatrical distribution.

P.S. Back in the early ’80s, I lived in an apartment complex just a couple of blocks from the Pickwick Drive-In theater in Burbank, California. It was famous for being where the shot part of Greece. It was torn down in 1989. That may have been the last drive-in theater where I watched a movie. According to this website there are still over 300 operating drive-ins in the United States.

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Scott W. Smith 

 

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“I believe science might offer the answer to the Curse of the Bambino.”
Billy Beane (Brad Pitt)
Moneyball

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Babe Ruth when he played for the Boston Red Sox

My love for traveling is rooted in not traveling much until I was 19-years-old, and following baseball as a kid. Cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Boston were linked in my mind to baseball teams. Over the years I’ve been fortunate to go to baseball games in all of those cities.

On a flight to Boston yesterday, I starting reading the novel Shoeless Joe which the movie  Field of Dreams is based on. It didn’t occur to me until then that two of my top ten sports movies have scenes in Boston’s Fenway Park.

Field of Dreams came out in 1989 and Moneyball in 2011, and though I’ve watched them both many times over the years I just never aligned them like I did on my flight to Boston. I’ll give an asset to The Rewatchables podcast for putting them on my radar again.

If you don’t know either film, the following scenes will be out of context. But both scenes at Fenway Park play an important role in the stories they are telling.

And as a Fenway Park bonus track—from a non-sports movie—here’s Sean (Robin Williams) talking about his Red Sox memory in Good Will Hunting.

P.S. Aaron Sorkin who co-wrote the screenplay for Moneyball says that he is drawn to stories about key times of transition and Moneyball qualifies. Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane embraced Sabermetrics based on the work of statistician Bill James.  A new way of mining data on ball players to evaluate talent and productivity. It’s credited with helping the Boston Red Sox winning four World Series titles since 2004. “The curse of Bambino” was what some called the effect of the Boston Red Sox trading Babe Ruth to New York Yankee back in the day.

Scott W. Smith 

 

 

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“The setting of [Field of Dreams] is just so inspired, and so perfect. You look at the movie, and the cinematography has aged really well. What’s more American than apple pie? Well, literally, nothing is more American than a cornfield in Iowa, right? And so many times in the movie someone talks about the smell—the smell of the glove by your face, or the feel of the grass on your feet. And that visceral physicality to the thing that allows you to connect with it—that has aged well. There’s almost a nostalgia for it in an era when digitally, we’re just removed from everything.”
Mallory Rubin (Editor-in-Chief, The Ringer)
The Rewatchables, ‘Field of Dreams’ with Bill Simmons, Chris Ryan, and Mallory Rubin

Since the tile of this blog is Screenwriting from Iowa … and Other Unlikely places (and features a cornfield in Iowa photo), I couldn’t pass up on posting the above quote after hearing it on The Rewatchables podcast. I actually didn’t love Field of Dreams when it came out in 1989. But after my dad died September 6, 1995—the same night Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gerhrig’s recordField of Dreams was the first movie I watched. Since then I’ve been a fan.

In 2014,  I shot and produced the micro-doc Tinker Field: A Love Letter, and recalled a baseball memory with my father:

P.S. Tinker Field was named after Joe Tinker who played for the Chicago Cubs, and is perhaps best remembered as part of the double play combination mentioned in the 1910 poem Baseball’s Sad Lexicon by Franklin Pierce Adams :

These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

Related posts:
Field of Dreams—25th Anniversary
Field of Dreams Turns 20
Dreams for Sale 
‘What could be make on a farm in Iowa for $50K?’—A Quiet Place 
Sam Shepard on a Farm in Iowa 
Burns, Baseball & Character Flaws 
Screenwriting, Baseball, and Underdogs (2.0)

Scott W. Smith

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If you want to get caught up on world cinema, contemporary indie films, tap into some of the Criterion Collection, documentaries, and/or educational videos—all for free–then check out Kanopy.com, which hopefully you can access into through your college/university or public library. (Availability and selection of movies depends on your library/school.)

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Here’s a wide assortment of topics you can sort through.

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Between this post and yesterday’s post on links to recently Oscar nominated screenplays, it is simply amazing what is available these days for no cost.

Scott W. Smith

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