Feeds:
Posts
Comments

“Getting a movie made is very hard to make happen.”
Screenwriter Greg DePaul

Even if you don’t care for romantic comedies, who doesn’t like screenplay origin stories? Part 2 of my interview with screenwriter Greg DePaul (and author of Bring the Funny) covers how came up with the original idea for Bride Wars, how he pitched and sold the idea, and how he thought the project was dead in the water after the studio developing the movie died.

Throughout this part of the interview Greg also reveals the business aspects (and frustrations) involved in working in Hollywood. And he tells what he did after botching a pitch in front of Kate Hudson.

(To support this blog and more interviews like this please become a patron at Patreon. Brad’s getting lonely over there.)

BW_B_Eng1sht (Page 1)

Scott W. Smith: Bride Wars has a universal concept and a title that has built-in conflict where you can see the poster in your head even if you haven’t read the script. It’s primal. The original script you wrote attracted Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway. It made over $100 million. The concept looks so easy, but I’m guessing the journey from idea to released movie in theaters was a difficult one.

Greg DePaul: Getting a movie made is very hard to make happen. Bride Wars was based on a real thing that happened. About 12 years ago I was working on my own in Santa Monica and my wife and I got engaged. And I’d pitched lots of things. I’ve sold or co-sold eight or nine feature film scripts based on pitches. However that’s 1% of all the things I’ve ever pitched. You have to pitch like a machine gun. And you have to pitch over and over again. And you have to write really well before you get noticed and before anyone will listen to your pitch.

People think, incorrectly, that you can go someplace and pitch an idea and they’ll pay you to write the script. That simply does not happen. It’s almost impossible. It’s like a supernova occurring on the same day as you’re holding the ace of spades—and a royal flush. Basically the way it works in Hollywood—actually, it’s harder to do now than when I did it then. They’re buying less and less pitches like Bride Wars. And Bride Wars itself was an anomaly.

The way it works is you write a spec that gets you noticed. People say, “I think Scott’s a great writer, I love his spec. It made me laugh or was really great.” And they don’t buy it because that may not be what they need at that moment to buy. But they remember you because you wrote something that made them laugh. And they say, “Scott, my door is now open.” And that’s when you start coming in every couple of months with new pitches. And I did that for years in Hollywood. In fact, my old partner, Hank Nelken and I would say “We’re the sandwich guys.” Remember in offices 10-20 years ago they’d have these guys walking around with a cooler? They had pre-made sandwiches for offices that didn’t have a cafeteria and they’d go door to door, knock on some lawyer’s door and say Hey you want ham and cheese? Great, five bucks. We’d say we were the sandwich guys.

Once you develop fans, a lot of people in town who like your scripts and think you’re good, the door can be left open for years. You’re on the list of funny or talented people. You can’t waste the opportunity. You can’t call them every week. You might go every two or three months. If you have an agent or manager, they’re the ones that schedule that. If you have 20, 30, or 40 fans. You’re going to their offices 2,3,4 times a week to various people and you’re just pitching everything you’re churning out when you’re home writing 10 hours a day coming up with stuff.

So that’s where I was when I pitched Bride Wars. I’d broken up with my writing partner and I’d gotten engaged to my wife. I was at a point where I had a heist comedy script out there called Fur Crazy. People liked it, but nobody bought it. And so people thought I was funny on my own. I had distinguished myself from my partner in that way. And now the time had come where I was asked to do myself what my partner and I had done when we sold Saving Silverman and other movies.

It is by the way, much harder to pitch by yourself. Especially with comedy. Because I didn’t have him there to work with me. And so I was going into a room everyday at ten with a pot of coffee and a computer screen and a note pad and just trying to come up with one-liner ideas. And every couple of weeks I come up with them and review them with my manager, and he’d say “That sucks,” “That doesn’t suck,” and maybe he’d say those three or four are good. He’d set up meeting and I’d go pitch them.

And a lot of times what happens is you pitch them and they’d say, “That sounds pretty good Greg, why don’t you come back in two weeks with more on it?” So you have pitches you’re working on, pitches that are original, pitches that are getting stale, and it’s like your working at a diner flipping lots of burgers trying to find one that’s hot, or just tasty for someone to buy. They’re only going to buy a perfect burger. So you make a lot of burgers before they buy the one that is perfect.

So at some point Dvora [a credited writer on Married with Children] and I were getting engaged. Her sister had gotten engaged first. And they had been setting up plans to get married. My in-laws had laid out money for what was going to be a wedding in 9 months or a year. And Dvora and myself  got engaged, so suddenly my in-laws were facing the prospects of two weddings within six months that they’d have to pay for and deal with and it seemed like an act of cruelty. So my wife said, “We’ll make it a double wedding.” So then you had two sisters trying to plan a wedding. My wife and her sister have very different tastes and they may not have argued that much, but they argued a little over the style and the band, and the food, and the this and the that, and who to invite, and that’s when I got the idea of two women fighting over weddings in some manor.

And then I thought, “Wouldn’t it be easier if it was two friends and not sisters and they had mistakenly planned it for the same day?” So I changed the set-up to get the same second act tension that the real life wedding was actually causing.

So ironically as I worked on my pitch, my sister in-law broke up with her boyfriend and my wife and I sort of had their wedding. It was funny. So it was the band we had not picked, the shrimp we had not ordered, etc. But the long and short of it was the idea came through my wife and her sister.

And the first thing I did was try and work on it as a one-liner. I think I called a writer friend of my named Elizabeth Rogers and her friend Julie Forman because they were both woman and both screenwriters, and comedy writers. And I thought they’ll tell me if it’s good. And they said,”That sounds funny, we can relate to that.”  And so I embarked upon an idea that I normally would never write because it’s an idea for a young woman and teenage girls. But it was the money that kept me going.

So I worked on it for months. I ran it by my manager and he liked it. And eventually I took it to different producer. I think I took it to Mark Gordon, and various people. A lot of people passed. I took it to Bob Simonds who does a lot of Adam Sandler movies, and he was attached for a while. But he wanted them to be socialites from Houston, because he was from Houston. So I was working on it with him on one hand. In the meantime I was working on a whole ‘nother version with Alan Riche who was a producer who did Starsky and Hutch and Mousehunt, who’s now doing Tarzan that’s coming out.  I’d sit down with Alan, I’d give him my ideas and he’d give me notes and I’d keep working on it. And eventually Alan and my manager Matt Luber took it to some studios and the studios passed. I think maybe they passed because I’m a guy. They were like, “Can this guy write this?” Because they only knew me from Saving Silverman and other things.

Scott: When you took it to the studios what form was it in?

Greg: Once you start pitching it, it grows. And you grow it with the producer it grows. My pitches are very simple. I write things down. I come with a clipboard . I have maybe a page or two of what you call a beat sheet and I’ve basically memorized it, but truly memorizing your pitch is the dumbest thing you can do. And the reason you don’t memorize it is people will keep changing it. Are you going to keep changing what you memorize? Every time you pitch they’ll say, great, how about this, how about that? “Can you make him from Sumatra? Come back next month with that version.”

So you’ll have different version for different producers and different studios. Because you want to tweak it to serve their needs. If you try to memorize all those things you’re going to drive yourself crazy. And in fact, you’re not auditioning for the job of an actor, you’re auditioning for the job of writer. You don’t need to memorize anything. So I write stuff down, I have a pad, I have a clipboard that I refer to. By the time I pitch it I know it off the top of my head. But you’re not there to show you can memorize.

And so eventually, after many studios had passed, Alex or Matt said, “Let’s pitch it to Kate Hudson’s manager Jay Cohen.” We sat down with Jay and I pitched it and he liked it. And then he called back in a week and had notes and I had to make changes.  And he said, “Why don’t you come pitch it to Kate Hudson?” So at that point my manager, another producer who’d gotten involved, Tony Ludwig, Alan Riche, and Jay Cohen, all these middle age men showed up in a room and waited for Kate. And she showed up and sat down. And we sat in a big circle around her and pulled up my chair and pitched it.

And the first time I pitched it to Kate Hudson, I stumbled. And that almost never happened because I’m very good at pitching. But I was a little nervous because I was with a star. And I got a third of the way through and I said, “Wait I made a mistake.” And Kate said, “Well, why don’t you just start over.” And I started back from the beginning. And she was very nice. She laughed at curtain places and she thought certain places were funny and say, “I like this” and “I like that.” And when we were done she said, “I like this, I can see it as a movie. It would be me and another woman,” which at that point was undetermined.

And she gave me some notes, and I left the room knowing she really liked it. And I verbally got back with her or one of her people on the phone and they said, “Okay, we’re going to run with this.” And they got on the phone with Miramax and they re-considered because she was attached and they said, “Let’s make a deal.” My manager negotiated and we made a money deal for two drafts and probably some rewrites as I recall.

From that point it took a couple of years to write because I did one draft and there was a lot of waiting, and then I did another draft, and there were some producer polishes, and there’s always sits and stalls when that happens. And then when I finished my duties writing Miramax died as a studio. So it was sitting on their shelf and they owned it, but they weren’t going to make it.

Come back tomorrow and learn how the project got resurrected and eventually produced. You can find Greg on Twitter @GregDePaul and more info on him at the Bring the Funny website. He also teaches screenwriting at NYU and The New School.

Scott W. Smith

 

“If the current rates of growth keep up in China, the country will surpass North America as the world’s largest film market in early 2017.”
The Hollywood Reporter/3.1.16

Back in June, screenwriter/playwright and NYU instructor Greg DePaul took the time with me to have an hour and a half conversation that ended up being quite a sweeping overview of the ups and downs of being a working screenwriter. We talked abut his movies (Saving Silverman, Bride Wars), about his book Bring the Funny:The Essential Commpanion for the Comedy Screenwriter, and what it’s like to sit in front of Kate Hutson and pitch your idea. I will chunk out the interview here over the next week or two. We started off taking about the Chinese version of his original idea that was first produced in the United States.

bride_wars_2015_film_poster

Scott W. Smith: Do you have a Chinese poster of Bride Wars?

Greg DePaul: I wish I did. I’m going to do that. I’m going to buy one and frame it.

Scott : Have you ever seen that version?

Greg: I have. It’s just funny that it even exists. I’m credited on the poster and in the film.

Scott: And you got paid, correct?

Greg: I got paid. I had to tell them to pay me, but I did get it. I have a friend Scott Abramovitch (The Calling), a writer/director, and he contacted me and said, “I see your movie is getting made in China.”

A handful of years before that I got contacted through my lawyer at the time and the studios said they wanted to make Bride Wars in India. They had two Indian stars lined up. I said, “Great, my contract says I get a pretty large amount for a remake—foreign or domestic. And they said, “Okay, but we’re not going to make it unless you cut your rate and make that change to the contract. Agree to take five cents on the dollar.” So they were going to cut out 95% to what they’d agreed to in my contract. And I told my lawyer, “No, don’t do it.” I sent my lawyer an email saying this is insulting and that they’re a bunch of jerks or something. And he was a terrible lawyer. He kicked that email to them, because he just wanted me to sign. They walked and we never made a deal. And I didn’t hear about it for five years. And I didn’t want to tell my wife because I thought she’d say “fine, take the small amount of money, we need the money.”

Scott: And it would have had a great Bollywood musical ending.

Greg: Exactly, that would have been awesome. The studio was all upset with me and they yelled at my lawyer, and blah, blah, blah. And then two or three years ago Abramovitch contacted me again and said, “I see your movie is getting made in China.” And I go to Variety online and there it was saying they were making Bride Wars in China with director Tony Chan. So I called a different lawyer, a friend of mine and an excellent attorney in L.A., Ron Levin, and I said, “Ron can you handle this for me?” And he called them up and sent them an old contract I had and told them, “You owe Greg this money”; and they paid the full amount.

Scott: Maybe Bride Wars will end up being your Grease. I read that everyday somewhere in the world Grease is playing and the writers are getting residuals.

P.S. Author and futurist Kevin Kelly has said in light of China’s 1.367 billion (2013) population verses 316 million people in the United States that the U.S. is “statistically insignificant.” The largest film studio in the world, Hengdian World Studios, located in the Zhejiang Province is the largest film studio in the world. When you add to the mix that both India and Nollywood (Cinema of Nigeria) now produce more films than Hollywood you can see there is an interesting shift happening in global cinema. (A topic I will explore on this blog throughout 2017.)

To support this blog, and further interviews, please become a patron at Patreon.

Screenwriter Greg DePaul Q&A (Part 2)

Link:
Bring the Funny website

Related article:
Is ‘Chinawood’ the New Hollywood?/BBC 

Scott W. Smith

Are You an Anomaly?

“It’s good not to follow the herd. Go the other way.”
Robert Rodriguez

What do screenwriter Diablo Cody and golfer Tiger Woods have in common? I know it sounds like a setup for a bad joke, but the word I’m looking for is anomaly. They’re both anomalies.

a·nom·a·ly
1. something that deviates from what is standard, normal, or expected.

When Woods won the 1997 Master’s Tournament by the greatest margin ever is was apparent to all that there was a new domanant force on the PGA tour that the world had never seen before.

From 1999 to 2010, except for a few months, Woods was was the top ranked golfer in the world. Because of his African-American heritage it was often predicated that he world inspire a wave of black golfers that would follow in his footsteps.

That didn’t happen.

Almost 20 years after his Master’s win there not only hasn’t been a wave, there hasn’t even been a trickle that’s followed in his footsteps professionally. In fact, it wasn’t until 2010 when Joseph Bramlet became “first player of African-American descent to make the PGA Tour since Tiger Woods.” (In his time on the PGA tour he’s had no top ten finishes, making it doubtful he’s the next Tiger Woods.)

Tiger Woods was an anomaly.

And in the world of Hollywood screenwriters, Diablo Cody is an anomaly. Her rise from graduating from the University of Iowa, to Minneapolis blogger, to Oscar-winning screenwriter before she turning 30 was remarkable.

I made that Wood-Cody connection recently after I did an interview with screenwriter Greg DePaul (Bride Wars) who, along with still writing, is now teaching at NYU. (Starting tomorrow I’ll begin running posts of the interview with DePaul over the next week or so.) DePaul is clear that his goal is to teach screenwriters only (not director/writers or filmmakers) what it takes to be a Hollywood screenwriter. He told me “you don’t teach the exception” and that makes sense at NYU, UCLA, USC, and AFI—because those routes are a tried and true path.  (But, of course, there are no guarantees there.)

But my blog is titled Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places, so do I seek to inspire the anomalies?—Absolutely. And that almost always means wearing at least two or three hats: producer/director/writer/actor/cameraman/editor/filmmaker.

The odds are against you any way you cut it, but if you’re going to be anomaly—embrace it. Be a purple cow, as Seth Godin calls it. Find a way to stand out.

Just yesterday I read about two young guys who started making films as kids in Durham, North Carolina and eventually graduated from Chapman College just five years ago. A film they made after graduating got the attention of M. Night Shyamalan which eventually led them to an opportunity for Matt and Ross to write and direct Stranger Things for Netflix, using their professional name The Duffer Brothers.

The real life brothers are anomalies. I spent nine years writing blog post pulling quotes from some of the best screenwriters and filmmakers in U.S. & European history, but I’ve also written a good deal about the exceptions—the anomalies. I love anomalies.

But on the other hand, Tiger Woods, Diablo Cody, and the Brothers Duffer really aren’t anomalies. Woods’ father introduced his son at an early age to golf and coached him and brought him up playing on golf courses, just like many a champion golfer. Cody said she wrote every day (poems, shorts stories) from the age of 12 on and majored in media studies so she had around 15 years of writing when Mason Novak discovered the then Minneapolis blogger online, and The Duffer Brothers were encouraged by their parents to make films at a young age and went to school in Southern California which put them in close proximity to Shyamalan.

We can argue over the technicalities of what makes someone an anomaly, but here are a few people—some anomalies— that come to mind who’ve found a way to get a film or two made taking a less than traditional route:

Filmmaker Tyler Perry in Atlanta
‘Super-Serving Your Niche’

Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez in Austin
Freedom of Limitations

Filmmaker Jeff Nichols (Mud) went to college in North Carolina, wrote his first script at home in Arkansas, and moved to Austin to make his first film (Shotgun Stories). Peter Travers wrote in Rolling Stone magazine earlier this year that Nicholas “already ranks with the best American directors of his generation.”

Screenwriter Mike Rich (Finding Forrester) in Portland
Mike Rich & Hobby Screenwriting. While screenwriters like Cody often move to L.A. after their initial success I don’t believe Rich ever has. He also wrote The Rookie, The Nativity Story, and Secretariat.

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns in Haydenville, Massachusetts
Ken Burns on 1+1=3

Filmmaker Joe Swanberg in Chicago
Shooting a FIlm in 4 Days

Screenwriter Rick Ramage (Stigmata) in Denver
Screenwriting Quote #197 (Rick Ramage)

And while it’s hard to argue with Greg DePaul that if you want to be a Hollywood screenwriter you have to live in L.A. That’s where you’ll find the studios, connections, and assignments.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t be like screenwriter Nick Schenk who wrote Gran Tornio in a bar in Minneapolis.
Screenwriting Quote of the Day #10 (Nick Schenk)

While Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan eventually moved to L.A. (and graduated from NYU) he got his break back in his home state of Virginia when he won the Virginia Governor’s Screenwriting Competition. One of the judges was Oscar-winning producer Mark Johnson (Rain Man), who introduced Gilligan to The X-Files creator Chris Carter, who offered Gilligan a freelance opportunity to write for the The X-Files and eventually hired him as a full-time writer on the show.

Check out the article in MovieMaker online by Steve Balderson who’s made 16 feature films based in Wamego, Kansas. And the following documentary on making movies anywhere:

9/14/16 Update: In the way that these kinds of things line up sometimes, the day after I wrote this post John August and Craig Mazin spent the first 20 minutes of the Scriptnotes 267 podcast talking about launching and/or maintaining a film or Tv writing from outside Los Angeles. They played back phone messages or read emails of various writers including Chris Sparling (Buried) who now lives in Rhode Island. Check out the podcast for to further your understanding of what it means to start or maintain a dramatic writing career outside of L.A. What I Greg DePaul calls an exception, and I call an anomaly, Mazin called an outlier. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success  touches on why the outliers sometimes comes at things from a fresh new perspective that the insiders don’t see..

Thanks to Brad my Pateron launch was only slightly better than the last Space X launch. Yeah, the one that exploded. One million views=1 Patron, it’s a start. Please consider helping to keep these blog post going and growing by becoming a patron—even if it’s $1 or $3 a month. Thank you.]

Related posts:
‘Don’t Try and Compete with Hollywood’—Edward Burns
‘The Best Film School’
A New Kind of Filmmaker
Bob Dylan & Your Filmmaking Career

Scott W. Smith

So now that I passed a million views on this blog…now what?  Good question. I’ve been wrestling with that answer. (If you’re short on time check out a Patreon account I just set up.)

theres-no-finish-line

Jon Krakauer touches on the theme of how fleeting mountain top experience can be in his book Into Thin Air as he explores the quest to reach the summit of  Mount Everest. His says behind most mountain climbers desire to reach the highest peak in the world are years of dreaming, training, and a lot of money for travel, gear, and sherpas to assist in the climb.

A climb in which people have died. One that if you are fortunate to accomplish that feat (as Krakauer did in ’96) when you finally arrive at the top of the world you are light headed from the altitude and are sleep and food deprived. As Krakauer stood “28,028 feet up in the troposphere” he didn’t have much time to take in the view due to needing to descend for survival purposes.

“I’d been fantasizing about this moment, and the release of emotion that would accompany it, for many months. But I was finally here, actually standing on the summit of Mount Everest, I just couldn’t summon the energy to care….I snapped four quick photos…then turned and headed down. My watch read 1:17 P.M. All told, I’d spent less than five minutes on the roof of the world.”
John Krakauer
Into Thin Air

Back in college I used to have a Nike poster with the tagline “THERE IS NO FINISH LINE.” Looking back I see it as inspirational, but with a twist of futility. Finish lines are good. They let us know how good someone like nine-time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt is in the world of sprinting.

Speaking of Olympic gold medals…as an athlete I never came close to winning a Olympic medal—well, I did win a first place blue ribbon in a potato sack hop during the English Estates Elementary School Olympics when I was ten, though I don’t think that counts—but I can imagine the let down after the real Olympic games are over. A lifetime of dreaming and training for an actual moment that, in some cases, lasted less than a minute of actual competition. Then what?

Well, after nine years of posts, I can see the finish line.

January 21, 2018 to be exact. (About 15 months away.)

That would complete 10 years of writing Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places blog posts. My goal was never to blog for ten years, or to get 1 million views, it was to blog about 50,000 words—enough for a book. (In case you’re wondering, I’m finally within striking distance of completing the book. More on that in coming weeks.)

Then what?

Crossing a finish line doesn’t mean the end. To switch metaphors, I’m not quite sure how I’ll land this plane, but I will continue to create content in some form. And while blogging will be an element it will evolve into something much broader than just screenwriting and include video essays—and possibly a podcast, infographics, ebooks, and whatever ever new technology seems fitting.

But those things are going to take even more time and resources, and probably more help from others to help pull off. For the 2,323 blog post that I’ve written I would say I invested an average two hours of time per post, meaning I poured into this blog at least  4,646 hours. And that doesn’t include all the books read, movies watched, commentaries listened to, internet searches, interviews recorded, transcriptions written & edited, and research in general.

A little crazy, I know. But that’s why they call passion projects, passion projects. There was no business plan written, no accounting books kept, no marketing plan prepared. No army of people gathered to study analytics. Just a strong desire to write informative posts and curate the best screenwriting and filmmaking advice for you and the next generation.

But as I attempt to climb the next mountain I need some assistance, so I’ve set up a Patreon account to see if readers like yourself will assist me. Please check out the website and thank you for consideration. And since this is a new venture it’s bound to have a few kinks to work out so I welcome all your input. As always, I can be reached at info@scottwsmith.com.

P.S. If you’re familiar with Patreon and support others already, I’m especially interested in hearing about your experiences.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

“Even the smallest voice can be heard by millions.”
Jay Z

2016Global

Screenwriting from Iowa Global Reach

Around 10:30 last night this blog hit a plateau that honesty wasn’t even close to being on my radar when I started this blog in 2008—one million all-time views. (And I don’t even know who the person was who hit the magic number.)

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 10.40.28 PM

Now I know there are blogs that get a million views a year, and others that do that in a month or a week and there are videos that get that in a day or an even in an hour. But this is a screenwriting blog (that’s not even Los Angeles-centric) so I’m pretty excited about it.

If you blog or ever tried blogging you remember that first post hoping that someone would read it. The first week I had days that hit double digits and was pretty excited. From there there was steady growth—but it was slow and steady growth. After the first year—which was almost a full 12 months—the total views on this site were only 12,624. The second year was better but still only totaled 40,858 views.

“We tend to overestimate what we can do in one year, and underestimate what we can do in ten.”
Richard Foster

I’m not even sure what hitting one million views means, but I do think it’s time to pivot. I don’t know what that looks like yet, but next week I’ll reflect for a moment about the direction of this blog for the future.

Then Tuesday will begin a string of posts with screenwriter Greg DePaul (Bride Wars)  that is based on an enjoyable and informative interview I did with him recently. (He also recently released the book Bring the Funny: The Essential Companion for the Comedy Screenwriter.

I do want to thank all of you who were part of those 1 million views, especially those of you who came on board way back in 2008-09 and are still reading posts. Some of my favorite notes are from people who discovered the blog more recently and said I kept them up half the night reading back posts.

There are also a few people that were influential in me stepping into (and staying in) the blogging world. Marc J Reifenrath of Spinutech (back when I lived in Cedar Falls, Iowa) who was the first person to encourage me to blog, Nathan Wright pointed me in the direction of WordPress, and Stephen King (via his book On Writing) set forth the goal to write 1,000 words everyday which is the inspiration I used to keep feeding the content monster.

Actually one of the few goals I had was to write 50,000 words, and earlier this year I crossed a million words written as well. Bird by bird as Anne Lamott would say. All of this started began in Cedar Falls (population 39,260).

“I’m telling you Iowa is incredible. We should all move to Iowa and start the revolution.”
Hannah (Lena Dunham) in Girls

If Diablo Cody hadn’t have gone to the University of Iowa on the way to writing her Oscar Award winning screenplay Juno I’m not sure this blog would exist. And I still get a kick recalling the time when I started getting views via the link at TomCruise.com—thanks team Tom Cruise.

And thanks again to you for taking the time to visit this blog. I hope you’ve found a quote or two that helps you tell story wherever you are in the world.

“As far as I’m concerned, what you create in a 30-seat, hole-in-the-wall improv theater in Phoenix can be far more meaningful than a mediocre sitcom being half-watched by seven million people. America doesn’t need more stuff. We need more great stuff. You could make that.”
Mike Birbiglia
Mike Birbiglia’s 6 Tips for Making it Small in Hollywood. Or Anywhere.

I’m going to celebrate passing the 1 million views mark this weekend by seeing Birbiglia’s movie Don’t Think Twice playing here in Central Florida at the Enzian Theater.

P.S. To support this blog please visit  Patreon (“crowdfunding for artists and creators”).

Cheers—

Scott W. Smith

 

Well, the wind is blowin’ harder now
Fifty knots or there abouts,
There’s white caps on the ocean.
And I’m watching for water spouts
Jimmy Buffett/Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 8.07.37 PM.png


As I type this post, residents here in Florida are waiting for a hurricane to make landfall in the state for the first time in ten years. Hurricane Hermine is predicted to make landfall near Tallahasse in a couple of hours. The Weather Channel warns of damaging winds, life-threatening storm surge flooding, as well as the threat of tornadoes.

So the day will end just as rough as it started when the Space X unmanned rocket launch exploded this morning on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral. Once again a reminder of how fragile we are despite our command of advanced technology, as well nature’s power to wreck havoc.

Dere is trouble all over dis world
Children, dere is trouble all over dis world
Traditional Negro Spiritual
(What was sung before Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech)

Let’s hope tomorrow is a better day.

And despite the negative news, a personal bright spot is later tonight or early tomorrow morning this blog will hit a milestone that I never dreamed about when I started this blog almost nine years ago. I’ve actually been waiting for it for about a year and a half.

Come tomorrow and see what I’ve been waiting for and how this plateau will potentially change the future of this blog. If you’re new to this blog, or a long time reader, thanks for taking the time to visit Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places. For me it’s been a little like trying to surf in a hurricane—a pretty crazy ride.

Everyone in the greater Florida panhandle area take care, and I’ll see ya tomorrow.

P.S. And if you personally need a little pick up today, check out the Rich Roll podcast interview with George Raveling. I listen to a lot of podcasts these days and this one one was one of the most inspirational ones I’ve heard all year. The story of how Martin Luther King Jr. handed Raveling his speaking notes from what is now known as King’s 1963  I Have a Dream Speech in Washington D.C. is outstanding. (King, by the way, was only allotted 5 minutes to speak at the Civil Rights March, but Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson keep telling King—in the middle of his speech— to tell the people about his dream. King ended up speaking for 16 minutes, and history was made. But Raveling tells the story much better than I can so check it out.

Related posts:
Shelter from the Storm (Bob Dylan)
Shelter from the Storm (Dorothy)
Postcard #21 (Hurricane Isaac)
Postcard #83 (Kennedy Space Center)
Postcard #104 (Space X)
Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting

Scott W. Smith

 

“In life I wasn’t funny. I felt on stage or in movies I could do whatever I wanted. I was free.”
Gene Wilder

WillyWonka

It’s hard to write something about Gene Wilder that hasn’t been written since he passed away two years ago. But I’d like to touch on his Midwestern roots and how he found small victories on his way to greater success. After all, that is a key aspect of this blog all these years.

Wilder was born Jerome Silberman in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As a youth, he entertained his mother with humor to try and help ease the pressure of her bad health. He began studying acting at 13, his older actress sister got him a spot doing summer stock when he was 16, and when he was 18 he followed her theatrical path and attended the University of Iowa because of its reputable theater program.

He was in four plays his freshman year alone (Note: It’s not easy to get stage time as a freshman in top drama programs), and graduated in 1955. Kim Howard Johnson’s book The Funniest One in the Room: The Lives and Legends of Del Close mentions that Del Close claimed to have been a roommate of Wilder’s at Iowa. Wilder didn’t mention that in his autobiography, but they were within a year of each other age wise and did both attend Iowa so it’s possible.

If true, it certainly would have made for an incubator of creativity. While Wilder would go on to Broadway and Hollywood success, Close would make his impact mostly in Chicago being a early part of improv (Second City/Upright Citizens Brigade) and whose students included; Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Chris Farley,  Mike Myers, John Candy, Jon Favreau, Tina Fey,  Harold Ramis, John Belushi, and Gilda Radner (who would eventually marry Gene Wilder).

“Many have called Del Close the most important comedy figure of the last fifty years whom you’ve never hear of.”
Kim Howard Johnson

Close was only at Iowa one semester, but I’d like to believe that he and Wilder had some late night discussions in Iowa City about “pure imagination,” in the Willy Wonka sense.

The first time I saw Wilder was in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when I was ten years old. Watching Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, Silver Steak and Stir Crazy are like entertaining sign posts through my middle school and high school years. In a time before cable and the Internet—and back when hit movies had lines to get in—Wilder was memorable because he made me laugh.

But he wasn’t Steve Martin funny. And when you look at the path he took after Iowa and you seem to see a disconnect—until you learn that Wilder said seeing Lee J. Cobb in Death of a Salesman was what made him want to become an actor. Wilder went to New York and studied with Lee Strasberg (where Wilder said he was only two actors out of 1,200 accepted into the actors studio when he applied).

He yearned to be a serious actor.

Opportunities in off-Broadway and Broadway plays brought him into contact with the person he claimed would change the direction of his career.

“I was miscast in that production [of Mother Courage and Her Children] … but it was with Anne Bancroft, whose boyfriend at the time was Mel Brooks, and that made my — I can’t say my day, it made my life, in a way.”
Gene Wilder
NPR/Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross 

Wilder co-starred in The Producers (1967) which Mel Brooks produced and directed. They team up again on Young Frankenstein (written by Wilder) and on Blazing Saddles (where Wilder was The Waco Kid).

The disconnect: Wilder was seriously funny.

So while Wilder was influenced by the seriousness of playwright Arthur Miller, he also wrote in his autobiography that another giant influence was Charlie Chaplin. He specifically points out the brilliance Chaplin in the hot dog scene from The Circus (1928).

“The acting lesson from this film seems so simple, yet inspired me for the rest of my career: if the thing you’re doing is really funny, you don’t need to ‘act funny’ while doing it.”
Gene Wilder
Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art

Wilder wrote, directed, and starred in movies through the 80s, but seemed to walk away from Hollywood after his wife, Gilda Radner, died in 1989. But he had a great over ten year run that included his best work with Brooks and Richard Pryor, and as Willy Wonka, and that brought me some of the greatest joys of childhood and teenage years.

P.S. The University of Iowa is home to the The Gene Wilder Papers. And a nice Iowa tie-in is Cloris Leachman, who plays Frau Blücher in Young Frankenstein, was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa.

Scott W. Smith

%d bloggers like this: