Archive for the ‘Screenwriting Road Trips’ Category

“I was originally a student of literature and philosophy in London. That’s where I started. I was also a keen photographer and I wrote stories. Poetry was what excited me most when I was in my late teens and early 20s. I loved going to films, but filmmaking didn’t seem like something I could do. The way films were made was very mysterious. I couldn’t imagine what it took to make one.

“Eventually I learned by trial and error. I started making documentaries. That was a great way to learn because they weren’t ‘real’ documentaries. I was always slightly contriving things, shaping things, being a little bit metaphorical with the truth. [laughter] Although mine weren’t classical documentaries, I think they’re by far the most interesting things I’ve ever done, but by far. After I’ve made a feature film, I can’t watch it. But one day, if someone digs them out, I wouldn’t mind seeing those documentaries again and again.

“At the time, you could get money from television for documentaries that didn’t have any particular formula. You could freewheel. In 1995, that all changed and I stopped…Now that I teach, I realize that while it lasted, that was a blessing. I taught a lot at the National Film School in England. Now I teach at the Andrzej Wajda Warsaw Film School in Poland. When I’m not making a film, I spend time teaching. I supervise student projects from inception to final cut. If there are six film students one year, three work with me and three with the other tutor. The students choose the tutor who’s right for them; that way, they want the kind of input I can give. I act as their guide.

“The Wajda Film School is a one-year, project-based program where the students aren’t required to have any film experience. They simply must be interesting artists in their own right with a really good, original project. In a way, it’s more exciting that way: they could be visual artists or novelists who have a project with strong potential.”
Writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski (Ida)
Filmmaker Magazine article by Livia Bloom

Read Full Post »

“I’ve done a lot of crazy things in my career. I’ve been invited to be with emperors, kings and prime ministers, but I can tell you right now from the bottom of my heart, being here in Iowa Falls is something I will never, ever forget.”
Actor Hugh Jackman
September 21, 2013

Would you pay $100 for a movie ticket? And one that’s not even in 3-D? (Isn’t this what earlier in the year George Lucas and Steven Spielberg predicated what would happen?) Well just a few days ago people in Iowa did pay $100 and sold out the theater in 35 minutes. What would make people pay $100 to see a movie in the small town of Iowa Falls?

Answer: Hugh Jackman.  Not just a Hugh Jackman movie, but Hugh Jackman the person. The actor fresh off of starring roles in Les Miserable and The Wolverine was in Iowa Falls for the rural premiere of his newest movie Prisoners.  Now you may wonder why what ended up being the top box office movie this past weekend had a red carpet premiere in a town of under 6,000 people.

Answer: Patrick Whitesell. A guy who grew up in Iowa Falls who just happens to be Hugh Jackman’s agent—and co-CEO (with Ari Emanuel) of William Morris Endeavor (WME). Some of the talent represented by WME includes Denzel Washington, Robert Redford, Oprah Winfrey, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarnatino, Christopher Nolan, Lady Gaga, and Charilize Theron.  Now for a guy who writes a blog titled Screenwriting from Iowa I find that pretty darn interesting.

Interesting that one of the world’s largest & oldest talent agencies with headquarters in Beverly Hills has a co-CEO from Iowa Falls. And according to Jackman, Whitesell is one of the good guys in Hollywood.

“I met [Patrick Whitesell] about 15 years ago. Patrick became my agent. I’ve only had one agent, and that’s him. And I would not be where I am in my career today without this man. To you guys, someone with a good sense of humor, who tells the truth, who works hard, and is genuinely a good guy who understands ethics—that’s a normal thing, right? In Hollywood—not so normal.”
Hugh Jackman speaking to the audience at Prisoners premiere in Iowa Falls

Patricks father, Jack Whitesell, is a retired attorney in Iowa Falls and recently bought (along with Patrick I believe) and spent $500,000 to upgrade the Metropolitan Opera House (movie theater) in Iowa Falls. It’s a beautiful building that according to Wikipedia opened in1899 as the Metropolitan Opera House with 800 in attendance and the event proclaimed as “biggest social event in the history of Iowa Falls.” The other film playing last week at the theater’s reopening was The Wolverine. That’s right it was double feature Hugh Jackman night in Iowa Falls.

Now if you’re new to this blog check out my WME-related post centered around WME Story Editor Christopher Lockhart.

Screenwriting Quote #172 (Christopher Lockhart)
Christopher Lockhart Q&A (Part 1)
Christopher Lockhart Q&A (Part 2)
Christopher Lockhart Q&A (Part 3)
Christopher Lockhart Q&A (Part 4)
Christopher Lockhart Q&A (Part 5)
Writing “Flight”

A few days after the premiere, Jackman was photographed riding a bike in France. Iowa Falls one day, Paris the next—the glamorous life of a movie star. BTW—I learned a new phrase doing this post; “rural premiere.” Never read those two words together until I read Kyle Munson’s article in his Des Moines Register blog on Jackman’s visit to Iowa. Kind of has a nice ring to it doesn’t it? Maybe rural premiere’s will be the next fad for Hollywood to reconnect with audiences. It fits right in with the old Hollywood marketing question, “Will it play in Peroria?”

P.S. I used to live in Cedar Falls about an hour from Iowa Falls and once shot part of a video there for a regional economic development group. One of the things I learned while producing that video is many companies like that area because it is at the crossroads of Interstate 35 and Interstate 20 (and not far from Interstate 80) with direct routes to Minneapolis, Chicago, St. Louis, Omaha and Kansas City. Food, tractors, and Hollywood agents are made or grown in Iowa and shipped all over the world.

Related Posts:

Screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski (“Prisoners”)
Nobody Reads Query Letter —Myth (Tip #82)
Query Letter Strikeout  (2011 post about me contacting WME)
Query Letter Strikeout (Part 2)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“Me sitting down for dinner with Ingmar Bergman felt like a house painter sitting down with Picasso.”
Woody Allen
Esquire Magazine Woody Allen: What I’ve Learned by Cal Fussman

“If you were alive in the 50s and the 60s and of a certain age, a teenager on your way to becoming an adult, and you wanted to make movies, I don’t see how you couldn’t be influenced by Bergman.”
Martin Scorsese

“Bergman in his era was an undisputed colossus of the ‘art’ cinema. In his native Sweden he also dominated as a director in the live theatre where he was prolific and, from 1963, the head of the Royal Dramatic Theatre, Stockholm.”
Brian Baxter, theguardian.com

“Bergman died in July 2007, leaving behind one of the richest bodies of work in the history of cinema.”
The Criterion Collection website

P.S. Director Mike Nichols (The Graduate) once said if you wanted to be a filmmaker watch the George Stevens’ classic A Place in the Sun 50 times, and Bergman’s Persona 50 times.  Persona, like much of Bergman’s work is a study in minimalism. (And, of course, that along with the work of cinematographer Sven Nykist—also from Sweden— has much to offer the young filmmaker today.)

Scott W. Smith


Read Full Post »

Since yesterday’s post was on the Lincoln Highway I was looking for a fresh angle for re-post Saturday and I hit the jackpot. I realized that the Lincoln Highway passed through Chicago and Route 66 originated in Chicago so there was a good chance that the two classic American roads intersected.

So I just Googled it and they did intersect at one time in the Chicago suburb of Plainfield. (I think over the years some of the roadways have been renamed from that era, but I believe a historical marker in Plainfield marks where the two roads once came together.)

One more reason why the Chicago area is special. This gives me an opportunity to re-post Screenwriting da Chicago Way that I first ran back in 2008:

“I adore Chicago. It is the pulse of America.”
Sarah Bernhardt

“You’re Abe Froman… the sausage king of Chicago?”
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

“I give you Chicago. It is not London and Harvard. It is not Paris and buttermilk. It is American in every chitling and sparerib. It is alive from snout to tail.
H. L. Mencken

“They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way, and that’s how you get Capone!”
The Untouchables

Last week a 5.4 earthquake hit Illinois and was felt in Indiana and as far away as Iowa. Just one more way the Midwest is following those California trends. You know, I’m doing my part to export screenwriting from the Midwest and other unlikely places where people are writing so it makes sense to make another road trip and head over the Iowa state line to the east and travel into Illinois.

The epicenter of last week’s earthquake was West Salem, but from a screenwriting and filmmaking perspective the epicenter for the Midwest is Chicago. It’s the third largest city in the United States and sits with a commanding view of Lake Michigan and can rightly be called The Third Coast.

Everyone should have the opportunity once in their life to have their own version of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in the windy city. Here’s my perfect Chicago day: The Art Institute in the morning, a walk and lunch at the Navy Pier, see the Cubs play at Wrigley Field, ride an architectural boat tour, a sunset dinner at the Signature Room high atop the John Hancock Center , a play at one of the zillions of theater options, a carriage ride around the Chicago Water Tower downtown and a nice room at The Drake Hotel on the Magnificent Mile with a room overlooking the Gold Coast (where even dogs are given special treatment).

And if you have the weekend you can fit in a concert at Millennium Park and a list that just gets longer and longer. Chicago is a great city. And it alone has produced a wealth of creative talent that shines as bright as the city. (Maybe that’s why Dan Quayle once said, “It is wonderful to be in the great state of Chicago…”)  Here’s a list of writers from Illinois though I’m sure to leave out many people. (Feel free to email me additional writers with connections there.)

Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding)
Sam Shepard (True West)
David Mamet (The Verdict)
Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451)
Preston Sturges (Sullivan’s Travels)
Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan)
Ernest Hemingway (The Old Man and the Sea)
John Hughes (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)
Andy and Larry Wachowski (The Matrix)
Harold Ramis  (Groundhog Day)
Bill Murray (The Razor’s Edge)
Greg Glienna (Meet the Parents)
Steve Conrad (The Pursuit of Happyness)
Melvin Van Peebles (Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song)
John Logan (Gladiator)
Jon Favreau (Swingers)
Tina Fey (Mean Girls)
Michael Mann (The Insider)
Pete Jones (Hall Pass)
Phil Vischer (VeggieTales movies)
Roger Rueff (The Big Kahuna)
Vince Vaughn (The Internship)
Robert Zemeckis  (Back to the Future)
Edward Zwick  (The Last Samurai)
Diablo Cody (Juno)
John Logan (Hugo)
Garry Marshall (The Odd Couple-TV)
Walt Disney (Did you know Walt won more Oscars than anyone?—22)

From the odd connections category, Evangelist Billy Graham (who used to have a film studio in Burbank) and horror specialist Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street) both graduated from Wheaton College about 30 miles from downtown Chicago. Blues Brother, and writer/actor John Belushi graduated from Wheaton High School.

Film critic and produced screenwriter Roger Ebert (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) and screenwriter/Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee (Eat Drink Man Woman) both graduated of the University of Illinois system.

Filmmaker and book publisher Michael Wiese is originally from Illinois. I have at least a dozen production books that Michael Wiese Productions has produced. If you’re not familiar with their books three to check out are Save the Cat (Blake Snyder) , Shot by Shot (Steven D. Katz) and The Hero’s Journey (Christopher Vogler).

A special mention must be made to two pillars of writing from Chicago: Pulitzer Prize winner Saul Bellow (Humboldt’s Gift) and Studs Terkel (Hard Times).

The list of well-known actors with Chicago ties is too long to list but here are a few;  Harrison Ford, Vince Vaugh, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, John and Joan Cusack, Virgina Madsen, Kim Novak, Bill Murray, Terrance Howard, Red Foxx, Bonnie Hunt, Patricia Arquette, Karl Malden and Gary Sinise.

Chicago is the kind of place where probably every night of the week you could attend a film related function between the various school, colleges and professional groups. There are plenty of ways to avoid writing if you live in the Chicago area.

But, of course, your goal is probably to write while living outside L.A., get sold and get produced. (I’ve said before you could live in West Africa or West Covina and feel like you’re far from the Hollywood system.)

Let me tell you about a fellow I just found out (remember this was back in 2008) about via the DVXuser.com forum. Kyle is a radiologists living in the suburbs of Chicago. He owns a DV camera package and writes screenplays. In other words he was like every other writer with a dream…until a couple weeks ago.

He wrote a screenplay called The Lemon Tree and had a lawyer he met in Chicago rep him in L.A. and earlier this month sold the script for $300,000 against $600,000. He has no plans to quit his job and move to L.A. The next step is seeing if the film gets made and then if it finds an audience. But as far as a writer outside the system Kyle has hit the jackpot, and proves it can be done.

(You can read the entire thread and download a well-informed screenwriting document Kyle has put together at DVXuser.com. Look under filmmaking–screenplay/writing/Sold it! The DVXuser forum is a wealth of info for the independent filmmaker and a supportive community. Here’s a little poseur shot of me with my DVX camera back in ’06 when I was shooting a documentary in Chicago.)

If you want further proof that screenplays can be sold by screenwriters outside L.A. here is a quote that screenwriter and author of Save the Cat! Blake Snyder sent me when I asked him about writers living outside L.A. selling their work:

“I have said often that geography is no longer an impediment to a career in screenwriting. I know of one woman who decided to be a screenwriter in Chicago, wrote 5 scripts, sold 2 and got an agent and manager, all while never leaving the confines of her condo.  It starts with a great concept! You have a great idea and a great poster, if you execute that well, you will get phone calls — and deals.  The key is: the great script!  And that starts with the step by step process I outline in Cat!  Go get ‘em!”

On the footsteps of The Dark Knight (Batman) being filmed last summer in Illinois, the current big movie being shot there is Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant starting Matt Damon with a funky mustache. The story takes place in Decatur and is based on Kurt Eichenwald’s book about a scandal at Archer Daniels Midland’s Company (ADM) that involved the FBI. Ultimately ADM was fined $100 million for a conspiracy involving replacing sugar with high fructose corn syrup. Shades of Soderbergh’s other film about corporate greed, Erin Brockovich?

Other helpful sites about the filmmaking scene in Illinois here are a few recommended sites:

Reel Chicago
Midwest FIlm
Chicago Screenwriters
Illinois Film Biz

So come on, if Abraham Lincoln can go from a one room log cabin to become the 16th President of the United States (via Illinois) certainly that should give you some motivation to overcome a few obstacles in your life to get your scripts written and sold. Or maybe to buy a camera and make your own films. Even if you live in Springfield or Kankakee.

Speaking of Kankakee, if Screenwriting from Iowa had a theme song it might be Chicago native Stevie Goodman’s City of New Orleans because it captures a flavor of a life beyond Hollywood:

Riding on the City of New Orleans
Illinois Central Monday morning rail
Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders
Three conductors and twenty-five sacks of mail
All along the southbound odyssey
The train pulls out at Kankakee
Rolls along past houses, farms and fields
Passin’ towns that have no names
Freight yards full of old black men
And the graveyards of the rusted automobiles

Good morning, America, how are you
Don’t you know me, I’m your native son
I’m the train they call The City of New Orleans
I’ll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done

And if I can pick a B-side song I’ll go with, Jim Croce’s tribute to the South Side of ‘ole Chicago — Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.

2013 Update:  I talked to Kyle (the radiologists who sold his script The Lemon Tree) a few years after I originally wrote this post and while he got paid for optioning his script it turned into a bad experience and the film never got produced. He said the next time he would aim to self produce his own script. I’ll have to track him down and see if he ever pulled that off.

Related Posts:
Second City at 50
Postcard #20 (The Heart of Chicago)
Screenwriter Pete Jones

Photographs & Text Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“Since I was running into a little trouble in getting other people to go along with my desires and publish my stuff, I began publishing it myself….In the third issue of our fanzine I wrote a story called “The Reign of the Superman.”
Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel


O.K., we all know that Superman was born on the planet Krypton and raised on a farm in Kansas, but did you know he was actually created in Cleveland, Ohio—by a couple of high school students?

Writer Jerry Siegel (1914-1996) and artist Joe Shuster (1914-1992) came up with the concept for the concept of Superman while students at Glenville High School. The biggest change in Superman as we know him now from was when he was first created is he was bald and on the side of evil.

“A couple of months after I published this story, it occurred to me that a Superman as a hero rather than a villain might make a great comic strip character in the vein of Tarzan, only more super and sensational than that great character. Joe and I drew it up as a comic book – this was in early 1933. We interested a publisher in putting it out, but then he changed his mind, and that was the end of that particular version of Superman – called The Superman. Practically all of it was torn up, by the way. Joe got very upset and tore up and threw away most of it…Obviously, having him a hero would be infinitely more commercial than having him a villain. I understand that the comic strip Dr. Fu Manchu ran into all sorts of difficulties because the main character was a villain. And with the example before us of Tarzan and other action heroes of fiction who were very successful, mainly because people admired them and looked up to them, it seemed the sensible thing to do to make The Superman a hero. The first piece was a short story, and that’s one thing; but creating a successful comic strip with a character you’ll hope will continue for many years, it would definitely be going in the wrong direction to make him a villain.”
Jerry Siegel

It took a few more years before Superman would fully evolve and have his dual-identity of Clark Kent.

“That occurred to me in late 1934, when I decided that I’d like to do Superman as a newspaper strip. I approached Joe about it, and he was enthusiastic about the possibility. I was up late one night, and more and more ideas kept coming to me, and I kept writing out several weeks of syndicate scripts for the proposed newspaper strip. When morning came, I had written several weeks of material, and I dashed over to Joe’s place and showed it to him. (This was the story that appeared in Action Comics 01, June, 1938, the first published appearance of Superman.)  Of course, Joe had worked on that earlier version of Superman, and when I came to him with this new version of it, he was immediately sold. And when I saw the drawings that were emerging from his pencil I almost flipped. I knew he had matured a great deal since he had done The Superman, and I thought he was doing a great job on the new art.”
Jerry Siegel

If two teenage students growing up in the Midwest during the depression who create one of the great superheroes doesn’t inspire you to write stories wherever you live I’m not sure what will.

P.S. All of the above quotes came from a 1983 interview with Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.  Tony-winning playwright  Willie Gilbert (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) was a student at Glenville High School, as was playwright Jerome Lawrence (Inherit the Wind). They all worked on the school newspaper together.

Related Posts:
Toy Story 3’s Ohio Connection
The Lucky Slob from Ohio
Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl in Ohio (2.0)
Screenwriter Dudley Nichols  (1895-1960)
Content Creators=Content Distributors (A post written about 80 years after Jerry Siegel was his own content creator/distributor.)

 Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

On this repeat Saturday, I going back to a post I wrote back in 2008. (Back when I regularly wrote posts that were between 1,000-2,000 words.) This one keeps with the Ohio-centered theme this past week. But a few changes have occurred  in the five years since I wrote this post. First LeBron James and I both moved to Florida. (Though I’m pretty sure the square footage of his place is bigger than mine.)  And there has been a shifting of seats at the table of some of the people I mentioned.

Tarantino and Soderbergh have talked about no longer making feature films. One of the people I left out of those on working on The All New Mickey Mouse Club, Ryan Gosling, was a little off the radar in 2008—but at the end of the day may be considered the most talented one in the bunch. And the most talented guy I went to film school with at the University of Miami, Primetime Emmy-winning director  David Nutter (Band of Brothers), directed last Monday’s season 3’s premiere of Game of Thrones—and next Monday’s as well episode I’m told.

The following was originally posted on February 23, 2008:


“One day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart.”
Francis Ford Coppola

It’s hard to mark the beginning of the modern independent film movement. Certainly one could make the cases for the films of John Sayles, Steven Soderbergh, Spike Lee, and Quentin Tarantino, but I mark the year of 1999 as the point when things really changed in the film industry.

That’s when a group of young guys in Orlando, Florida, created The Blair Witch Project. The graduates from the University of Central Florida shot with a mixture of 16mm film and consumer video cameras and made history. It is still the film with the highest ratio of profit to production cost of any film ever made.

One huge reason is that the filmmakers used the Internet to market their concept in a way that Hollywood easily could have afforded to do if they only had the vision. (They weren’t the only ones to miss the early boat. Bill Gates was not a cheerleader of the Internet at the start.) Hollywood caught the vision soon after the success of The Blair Witch Project, but they’ve been playing catch-up ever since.

I moved back to Orlando from L.A. at the end of 1988 just as the marketing campaign for Hollywood East was heating up. Disney and Universal were building production studios and Chapman-Leonard would follow suit.

Britney, Justin and Christina began doing their thing at Disney, and Nickelodeon found a new use for slime at Universal. Ron Howard’s Parenthood, Wesley Snipes in Passenger 57, and the building that blew up in the opening of Lethal Weapon III– were all shot in Orlando.

I wrote and directed a national radio drama at Century III (known as C-III) at Universal and received my first paycheck writing from Rick Eldridge who would go on to produce Bobby Jones Story; Stroke of Genius. I once was editing a video project at one of the suites at C-III while David Nutter (who I went to school with at the University of Miami) was editing a Super Boy episode he directed in the edit bay next to me. (Nutter went on to direct a Band of Brothers episode as well as some X-Files and has had quite a career in TV.)

Matchbox Twenty, Creed, and yes, The Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync were on the Orlando music scene in the 90’s, Shaq was in command for the Orlando Magic, and Tiger Woods moved to town.

It was an exciting time to be in Orlando. But perhaps the biggest underrated event in that era was under most people’s radar. Valencia Community College lured film professor Ralph Clemente away from the University of Miami. (He still runs the film program at VCC that Steven Spielberg once said was, “One of the best film schools in the country.” 2013 Note: I traded emails with Ralph this week and he said the school was wrapping up shooting its 47 feature film.)

I had an editing class with Clemente at Miami and once got a good grade in part because I edited a montage of found rodeo footage with a Willie Nelson song. Who knew the German born Clemente whose accent sounds remarkably like Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s would be a Willie Nelson fan? Clemente enjoyed telling student to try new things.

Years later a couple of students would be inspired by Clemente to make a mockumentary that hit the Sundance Jackpot. Most people forget that The Blair Witch Project wasn’t even an official entrant. It was a special midnight showing that created the buzz that hasn’t really gone away.

Granted none of the team was a fat girl from Ohio, but it was as a giant step toward to prophetic words that Francis Ford Coppola said on the 1991 documentary Heart of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse:

“To me the great hope is that now that these little 8mm video recorder and stuff now, some–just people who normally wouldn’t make movies are going to be making them. And, you know, suddenly one day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart, and you know, and make a beautiful film with her father’s little camera-corder and for once this whole professionalism about movies will be destroyed forever and it will become an art form. That’s my opinion.”

I hope you’ve never been exposed to that quote before. It’s legendary in the micro-budget film world. If I was a fat girl in Ohio who wanted to make films I’d have that quote gold-plated and framed above my iMac.

I don’t know why Coppola picked Ohio as his frame of reference. Maybe he chose it for the same reason I titled this blog Screenwriting from Iowa. Ohio, like Iowa, represents the heartland of America and is more known for farms and football than film. And since I’m throwing around f-words, Ohio is quintessential flyover country.

But Ohio rocks. In part because the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland. LeBron James does his magic in Cleveland. The kings of high-flying dreams, Orville and Wilber Wright worked out of a bicycle shop in Dayton. The list goes on. (Did you know that the Wright Brothers lived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa at one time?)

And Ohio, like Iowa, has some interesting history connected to screenwriting and movie making: Sundance winner American Splendor, Major League, and the classic family film A Christmas Story. At the time of this writing the ever resourceful Internet Movie Date Base (IMDb) lists a tie for the top rated film ever by its voters as Coppola’s The Godfather and Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption. The later having been shot in Mansfield, Ohio. That site is a character in the film. And you can still take tours there during the summer. (Mansfield State Reformatory in Ohio)

Antioch College in funky Yellow Springs can lay claim to helping to educate Rod Serling before he became an advertising copywriter in Cincinnati before becoming the famous writer & host of The Twilight Zone.

Speaking of Cincinnati, though its influence is probably small, it’s worth nothing that Tom Cruise (who Premiere Mag ranked as the #3 Greatest Movie Star of All Time) attended school briefly in Cincinnati and the highest box office money-making director of all-time (over $3.5 Billion) Steven Spielberg was born in Cincinnati. (And just to pile on George Clooney was raised just over the river in Kentucky.)

The former reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Joe Eszterhas, has returned to his Ohio roots but not before making his mark in Hollywood where he made as much as four million dollars a script. While no one would accuse the writer of Basic Instinct and Showgirls with writing regional Midwestern stories that doesn’t mean he hasn’t written any. In his book Hollywood Animal, Eszterhas mentions a distinctly Midwestern film he wrote that never got made because he was told, “Dirt don’t sell.” Most of the film F.I.S.T. written by Eszterhas (directed by Norman Jewison and starring Sylvester Stallone) was filmed in Dubuque, Iowa.

In his book “The Devils Guide to Hollywood,” Eszterhas offers advice to screenwriters such as “Move to the Midwest.” Talk about counter-culture? (And from a guy who once owed homes in Malibu, the San Francisco Bay area, and Hawaii—at the same time.)

Why would he give such advice? “You won’t be able to write real people if you stay in L.A. too long. L.A. has nothing to do with the rest of America. It is a place whose values are shaped by the movie business. It is my contention that it is not just a separate city, or even a separate state, but a separate country located within America. Real people live in Bainbridge Township, Ohio.”

(Perhaps that’s part of the success of Diablo Cody’s Minnesota-based Juno? Maybe she should write a tell all book and call it, Diablo’s Guide to Hollywood.)

But what does Mr. Eszterhas think about what that does for your odds of selling a screenplay? Glad you asked. These are the words every writer outside L.A. wants to hear:

If you write a script anywhere and send it to an agent in Chicago or Detroit or Cleveland or wherever…and if that agent sends it to an agent in Hollywood who loves it…you can sell your script. You don’t need to have any connections, you don’t need to have an agent, you don’t need to live in L.A. All you have to do is send your finished script to an agent anywhere. That agent will know another agent in Hollywood and you’ll be in business.”
Joe Eszterhas

Keep in mind Eszterhas is talking about the conventional Hollywood agent route, not the additional opportunities wherever you live by various production people who will be attracted to your script.

While not being fat or from Ohio, Zana Briski took a giant step toward Coppola’s vision when the English photographer picked up a handheld DV camera for the first time and made a film in Calcutta’s red light district. Co-directed and shot with Ross Kauman, Born into Brothels, won Best Documentary Feature at the 2005 Academy Awards.

Some people have been asking “Where’s that little fat girl in Ohio?” I think he may have meant Iowa. People get those confused a lot, you know?

But wherever she is she’s on her way. Although she may not make her film using her father’s camera-corder as Coppola suggested, but using her cell phone camera and posting it on the Internet.

Rewind back to 1999 when Steven Spielberg told Katie Couric on the NBC today show, “I think that the Internet is going to effect the most profound change on the entertainment industries combined. And we’re all gonna be tuning into the most popular Internet show in the world, which will be coming from some place in Des Moines.”

As in Des Moines, I-O-W-A. I don’t just make this stuff up, you know? When Couric remarked, “Great, I’m gonna lose my job,” ” Spielberg interjected, “We’re all gonna lose our jobs. We’re all gonna be on the Internet trying to find an audience.” (Speaking of the Internet, to see a fun and original five-minute film actually made in Des Moines view Mimes of the Prairie, which won the 2005 National 48 Hour Film Project.

As Morgan Freeman’s famous character Red says, “Hope is a dangerous thing.”

Cheers to the new Mozarts in Ohio and beyond.

Copyright ©2008 Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Live. Learn. Lead.
Motto of Oberlin, Ohio

Oberlin, Ohio map

Last year Oberlin was voted the “Best Hometown” in northeast Ohio by Ohio Magazine.  The city of just under 10,000 people was founded in 1833 by two Presbyterian ministers, and just happens to also be the place that helped develop two top Hollywood screenwriters. And while the city sits between Cleveland and Toledo it’s interesting to head over to Europe to see the original roots that links Oberlin to the Oscars.

Oberlin, Ohio was named after Jean-Frederic Oberlin (1740-1826) who was a German minister who worked to build a better community in the Le Ban de la Roche region in France.  (Known for his work in medicine, agricultural, helping to build roads, bridges and oraphanages—along with his spiritual teachings.)  The J.-F Oberlin Museum in Waldersbach is dedicated to celebrating his 59 years of ministry work in the remote valley.


Oberlin College was established in 1833 by the same two ministers who founded the town. According to Wikipedia, Oberlin was a key stop for the Underground Railroad in assisting escaped slaves and  the college  “was the first college in the United States to regularly admit African-American students, beginning in 1835.” And while Oberlin College is strong in the arts, and today has a Cinema Studies program, the school’s most successful screenwriters majored in different disciplines.

Two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman was an English major at Oberlin before he wrote the novel Harper which led to a career in Hollywood. His best known films are Marathon Man, The Princess Bride, Misery, All the Presidents Men and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Goldman also wrote the insightful book Adventures in the Screen Trade:  A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting. That book includes the entire screenplay to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Though first published in 1982, it’s the first book any inspiring screenwriter should read. Here’s how Goldman introduced Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) in the screenplay.

A MAN idly walking around the building. He is BUTCH CASSIDY and hard to pin down. Thirty-five and bright, he has brown hair, but most people, if asked to describe him, would remember him as blond. He speaks well and quickly, and has been all his life a leader of men, but if you asked him, he would be damned if he could tell you why.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Written by William Goldman

The other screenwriter from Oberlin is Mark Boal who majored in philosophy. While the much respected Goldman is on the tail-end of his career, Boal who graduated from Oberlin in ’95 is at the front end of his career but already has four Oscar nominations for his work writing and producing Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker, resulting in two-Oscar wins. Here’s how Boal introduced Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) in The Hurt Locker:

Working the joystick on the laptop is SERGEANT J.T. SANDBORN, a type-A jock, high school football star, cocky, outgoing, ready with a smile and quick with a joke…or, if you prefer , a jab to the chin. Think Muhammad Ali with a rifle.

I couldn’t tell you another connection between Goldman and Boal, but for the sake of this blog, two great screenwriters passing through the same small city decades apart makes it a city of interest. And a reminder that talent comes from everywhere.

Related posts:

William Goldman Stands Alone
Screenwriting Quote #118 (William Goldman)
Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl in Ohio
Toy Story 3’s Ohio Connections
Screenwriter Ernest R. Tidyman
Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany
Descriptive Writing—Pt 3, Characters

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Love my ma, love my pa
But I just love ole Arkansas
Arkansas lyrics from the musical Big River

“I remember I was in junior high school and I was going to write a short story about mobsters, or New York mobsters. I think I had just seen a Scorsese film. And I told my dad that. And he was like, ‘You haven’t ever been to New York.’ And I said, ‘Nah, but that’s where mobsters live.’ And he basically said, ‘Why don’t you write something about Arkansas?’ And a window in my mind opened, and I realized all of a sudden that I had access to something that was interesting, that the rest of the world couldn’t write about, because I was the one there.

And it just seems like, you have an idea, and it feels kind of fake or false or movie-ish, but when I drag it down to Arkansas and place it there, it starts to feel realistic and grounded and I’m accountable for the realism, because I know these people and these places and I have to get it right. And that’s a good thing, because so many southern films are affectations that it’s good to feel accountable to some kind of realism.”
Writer/Director Jeff Nichols (Mud
Hollywood Reporter 4/26/13
Jeff Nichols, “Mud: Director” Eschews Hollywood for the South by Jordan Zakarin

Though Jeff Nichols currently lives in Austin, Texas (and recieved his educated at the North Carolina School for the Arts) two of his first three feature films (Shotgun Stories,  Mud) take place in Arkansas where Nicholas was born and raised. (The third, Take Shelter, is set in a small town in Ohio.) I finally saw Mud over the weekend and it reminded me a little of Tender Mercies, a little of Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn, a little of A Perfect World, and even a little of Stand By Me. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Nichols getting an Oscar-nomination for his script. And if he ever wins an Oscar he’ll join fellow Arkansas native Billy Bob Thornton who won an Oscar for his Slingblade (1996) script.

And considering that Winter’s Bone (Mud’s country cousin) was set in a world on the Missouri/Arkansas border and the 2011 Oscar-nominated doc & Arkansas-centered Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory documentary there is some excellent (and gritty) work coming out of that region.

P.S. Other film related artists with roots to Arkansas and in the Arkansas Hall of Fame include Johnny Cash, Academy-Award wining actress Mary  Steenburgen, and actress Lisa Blout (An Officer and a Gentleman) who won an Oscar in 2001 for her role in producing the short film The Accountant. And to top it all off one of the most financially successful writers in history—John Grisham—was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Now that I think of it, there are traces of Grisham’s The Firm in Mud.  (The movie version of The Firm was shot mostly in Memphis, but some in Arkansas)

Related Posts:
Winter’s Bone (Daniel Woodrell)
Winter’s Bone (How it got made)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“Portland is a city where young people go to retire.”Portlandia
(TV series created by Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein. Johnathan Krisel)

P.S. Still looking for the perfect quote from Portland filmmaker Gus Van Sant to finish out my Oregon focused week, so I’m open to any quotes you have from him—or links to interviews with him. I’ve read a lot so far but nothing has struck the right cord yet.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“Somebody who worked as a crime reporter for two years in Raleigh-Durham is gonna have a lot more interesting things to talk about than some 22-year-old kid who grew up in Brentwood, who wants to be a writer because he likes the way the life looks.”
Writer/Director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, The Bourne Legacy)
Deadline Hollywood interview with Mike Fleming

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: