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Posts Tagged ‘A Simple Plan’

“There are an awful lot of Scott Smiths running around the world.”
                                                                          Scott B. Smith
                                                                          Writer, A Simple Plan, The Ruins 

Years ago when I lived in Burbank I received a phone call asking if I was “the editor Scott Smith.”  Now I was working at a production company as an editor (as well as director, 16mm cameraman, and writer) but I knew the person was talking about the other Scott Smith. In this case, M. Scott Smith the one who edited To Live and Die in L.A.

 

There’s always another Scott Smith. In fact. if you look on IMDB there are 55 Scott Smiths listed working on various productions. (At least at this point I’m the only Scott W. Smith.)  If the stars lined up someday I could make a film with an entire crew members named Scott Smith. Really I could—and it would be a nice marketing angle. And it really would be “A Scott Smith film.”  

There are Scott Smiths as producer, director, cinematographer, sound recordist, boom operator, actor, visual effects, editor, production assistant, composer, grip, set dresser, and make-up. There is even a character named Scott Smith in Milk. (And another Scott Smith has written a book on film called The Film 100.)

And, of course, there is the screenwriter Scott B. Smith. Armed with an MFA from the writing program at Columbia University the Sylvania, Ohio native came on the scene as a 28-year-old bestselling novelist with his first book A Simple Plan. Then Hollywood came calling and he not only sold the rights to the book but wrote the screenplay for the movie as well (making a lot of money along the way). The film version directed by Sam Raimi was shot in Wisconsin and Minnesota and released in 1998. The reviews were good and it would earn Smith an Academy Award nomination. 

But it did not find an audience making less than its $17 million budget.  It would be another 10 years before he would have another movie produced—The Ruins which was based on his only other published novel. Though the novel and the movie were hailed by Stephen King the movie version failed to find box office success. Who knows if we’ll hear from Smith for another 10-12 years?

But according to various reports and interviews Smith has been writing all along, on a novel he abandoned and on scripts that have either gone unproduced or he didn’t do enough script doctoring to receive a credit. He’s a talented writer with a following and he’ll pop up again. Given the nature of his success in writing thrillers you may be surprised who he credits with teaching him how to write screenplays:

“Ben (Stiller) really taught me how to write a script. I don’t know that he ever explicitly said it, but by imagining the script as a verbal description of a movie, the movie that I wanted the book to be. That’s very simple, but it really was the key to everything for me—just imagining what was on the page. I was shortchanging the visual in my script (A Simple Plan), concentrating on dialogue, which I imagine is a very common first-time screenwriter’s mistake, and to suddenly just do it visually opened up everything for me.”
                                       Scott B. Smith
                                       screenwriter, A Simple Plan, The Ruins
                                      
Quoted in Screen Plays by David S. Cohen
                                       page 273-274 

 
Scott W. Smith 

 

 

 

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Juno delivers uproarious laughs, fully fleshed personalities, honest uplift and tender moments when the throat goes dry and the eyes grow moist. Much of the credit goes to the deservedly acclaimed script by former Twin Cities scribe Diablo Cody, whose blogs-to-riches story seems destined to culminate in a spotlight solo at the next Academy Awards.”
                                                                         Colin Covert 

                                                                         Star Tribune movie review of Juno
                                                                         December 17, 2007 

 

As soon as I discovered Rotten Tomatoes I discovered movie critic Colin Covert of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. I found his reviews intelligent and insightful. And that he could turn a phrase with the best of them as he did in his review of the Russian mob drama Eastern Promises; “It’s a mouthful of blood with a vodka chaser.”

With the fairly recent success of screenwriters from Minnesota, Diablo Cody (Juno) & Nick Schenk (Gran Torino), it seemed logical to throw a few questions Covert’s way to get a pulse on the creative scene in the Twin Cities. 

Q: Do you have a favorite film that has come out the state of Minnesota? 

Colin: “A Simple Plan,” a superbly realized story of heartland values and creeping corruption from Sam Raimi. It’s topnotch filmmaking from the depth of the script to the elegance of the direction to the evocative use of snow and shadows to suggest the stark moral choices facing the characters when they discover a downed plane containing $4 million in drug money. 

Q: At the 2008 Academy Awards Diablo Cody and the Coen Brothers represented Minneapolis well by winning Oscars. What in the world makes Minneapolis a special place for writers? 

Colin: It’s a bit like Vienna, 1900. Creative people gravitate here, cross-pollinate with folks from other disciplines, and sharpen their talents with debate and collaboration. Add to that the can-do work ethic of the place and you have a real petri dish for artistic growth. 

Q: When do you mark the beginning of this literary movement in the Twin Cities? 

Colin: That’s like one of those “when does human life begin?” questions. 

Q: When you first saw “Juno” did you think it would have universal appeal, be a box-offer winner, and win an Academy Award for its screenwriter Diablo Cody? 

Colin: I can honestly answer, yes. She’s scary-smart and hit a solid home run with the story, which gets deeper and smarter every time you watch it. Her hipster dialog is just one small facet of her skill as a writer. She creates flesh-and-blood characters who surprise you at every turn, yet remain consistent and truthful. 

Q: Right now there are two films in the theaters written by writers from Minnesota, Gran Torino (Schenk) & New in Town (Ken Rance) is this a fad or a part of a growing trend? 

Colin: It’s the steady pulse of creativity. There is a critical mass of bright, engaged people here who will continue to make a mark on the film industry. 

Q: Who do you see as the next screenwriter or filmmaker from the Twin Cities that’s we’re going to be hearing about in the coming months or years? 

Colin: That’s a tough call. It could be Bill True, whose psychological drama “Runaway” (with Melissa Leo and Robin Tunney) is scheduled to go into release this year. It’s a strong piece of work. 

Q: Artist Grant Wood spoke about regionalism in that painters would we true to where they live. Do you think regionalism is beginning to occur in movies or are creative decisions being made to shoot outside L.A. simply because of tax incentives by various states and countries? 

Colin: If painters got tax incentives from New Mexico, they’d paint a lot more cow skulls and cacti. 

Q: What does it mean for the Twin Cities that the Coen Brothers returned to the Minneaplois-St. Paul area to shoot their most recent film “A Serious Man”? 

Colin: Long term, not too much. But it was a lovely gesture that really energized all the local folks who appeared as bit players and extras. We almost lost that ultra-regional Minnesota-set film to Wisconsin because they offer richer production rebates, you know! 

Q: They say every film critic dreams of being a screenwriter or a filmmaker. Do you have a script hidden in a drawer? 

Colin: I don’t kid myself that I have that kind of talent. 

Q: Tell me about the screenwriting seminar you are putting together in the Minneapolis area. What’s the goal you hope to accomplish? 

Colin: The first week in October, we’ll convene a conference of notable local and national screenwriters, present sessions on the professional rewards and challenges of the movie writer’s life, and schmooze at parties and have a lot of fun. I hope to see you there. Anyone who wants more information, please email me at colincovert@gmail.com!

The Star Tribune is also producing videos with Covert’s movie reviews and to see a sample with reviews from The Wrestler and Gran Torino go to startribune.com.

Cedar Falls, Iowa is only 3 1/2 hours south of Minneapolis so I hope to be at the screenwriting conference in October. 

Related Posts: Juno Has Another Baby (Emmy)

                            The Oscars Minnesota-Style

                            Screenwriting Quote of the Day #19 (Nick Schenk)

Side notes: For what it’s worth, it was Covert who I learned that Cody wrote Juno at the Starbucks inside the Target Superstore in Crystal, Minnesota. And lastly, the movie  “A Simple Plan” was based on the book by that other Scott Smith, Scott B. Smith.


Scott W. Smith
 

 


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Johnny Depp is in Wisconsin this month shooting a John Dillinger film based on the book Public Enemies by Bryan Burrough. While in Wisconsin the Michael Mann directed film will be shooting in Columbus, Darlington, Madison and Milwaukee.

(You can view photos of the film at www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=21981)

Wisconsin is just over the Mississippi River from Iowa and has had a three-year legislative wrestling match for the final passage of a state incentive package to attract filmmakers. Film Wisconsin’s executive director Scott Robbe reports of an interim measure for qualified producers and should be encouraged by Depp filming in the state.

While Wisconsin’s film related history is often overlooked, it does have some legendary connections. Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Thorton Wilder (Our Town) was from Madison and the man named by the British Film Institute as the greatest director of all time, Orson Welles (Citizen Kane) was born in Kenosha. Nicolas Ray, who directed Rebel Without a Cause, was from the small town of Galesville.

Actor/writer Gene Wilder (Young Frankenstein) is a Wisconsin-Iowa combo having been born in Milwaukee and was a theater major at the University of Iowa. Wilder-Depp connection: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and the remake.

Milwaukee was also the setting of one of the most popular all-time TV programs, Happy Days. (I had said Kenosha in an earlier post, but only “Al the Grocer”–Al Molinaro– was from there.) The setting for the TV program Laverne & Shirley was also Milwaukee.

One of the most well-known film characters of all time, Jack from Titanic (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) was from Chippewa Falls. And I have to add that his love interest Rose when we find her as an elderly woman is living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

DiCapario and Depp both starred in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape that was set in Iowa and written by Des Moines native Peter Hedges.

Wisconsin news is usually overshadowed by the Green Bay Packers football team and their cheese head fans. (I once did a shoot with Packer Hall-of-Famer Reggie White, the minister of defense, and found him to be a friendly and kind man.) Wisconsin is also where Land’s End clothing, Oshkosh B’Gosh, Kohler, Harley-Davidson, and Trek Bicycle Corporation, have their headquarters, but it does have its artistic bent.

In fact, check out the work Madison interactive group Planet Propaganda is doing — not only with Trek but companies in Chicago, Minneapolis and on both coasts. And just for the record its creative director John Besmer is a screenwriter as well. He was one of the writers of the recently completed Winter of Frozen Dreams starring Keith Carradine.

The creative heartbeat of Wisconsin is Madison. It’s the Midwest equivalent of Austin, Texas. Free spirited college town, state capital, thriving businesses, and plenty of live music. (Nearby Middleton was recently voted the #1 place to live in the country by Money Magazine.CNN.)

Madison is also just two hours away from Chicago by train. And about an hour away from hidden (to people outside the area) jewel of a town called Lake Geneva, which has been called “The Newport of the West” and “The Hamptons of the Midwest” for its mansions on the lake.

The University of Wisconsin, Madison is where “America’s Finest News Source” and satire The Onion began and where Oscar-winning writer/director Michael Moore (Bowling for Columbine) went to school. Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker (David, Jim & Jerry) grew up in Shorewood, Wisconsin and attended UW Madison together before hitting it big with Airplane! in 1980, and other hit films that followed. Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line) and producer Walter Mirisch (The Apartment) also graduated from UW-Madison.

I know this will be hard to believe but with a Ph.D. from UW-Madison is screenwriter/director Andrew Bergman, whose work includes Blazing Saddles, Fletch, Honeymoon in Vegas, and Striptease. Woody Allen’s co-writer on Manhattan, Sleeper, and Annie Hall is Academy Award winner writer Marshall Brickman –who, yes, attended UW-Madison.

Those also attending UW-Madison include screenwriter/director David Koepp who wrote the upcoming script for the new Indiana Jones film (as well as Spider-Man and the Depp thriller Secret Window) and Michael Mann (Miami Vice) himself. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings graduated from UW-Madison in 1918 twenty years before her book The Yearling was published. Recent Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) wanted to attend UW Madison but says she went to University of Iowa was because she couldn’t get into Madison.

Madison has a chapter of the Wisconsin Screenwriters Forum which offers writing workshops and seminars. (There are also chapters in Milwaukee and Los Angeles.)

Elsewhere in the state many memorable movies have been shot in Wisconsin including A Simple Plan (from a novel by the other Scott Smith), Blues Brothers, Mr. 3000, Meet the Applegates, Uncle Buck, Major League, and parts of Hoop Dreams.

And don’t forget the classic scene in Wayne’s World when Wayne and Garth meet Alice Cooper in the “we’re not worthy” scene backstage at Cooper’s Milwaukee show:

Wayne: So, do you come to Milwaukee often?

Alice Cooper: Well, I’m a regular visitor here, but Milwaukee has certainly had its share of visitors. The French missionaries and explorers were coming here in the late sixteen hundreds to trade with the native Americans.

Pete (Band member): In fact, isn’t Milwaukee an Indian name?

Alice: Yes, Pete, it is. Actually, it’s pronounced mill-e-wah-kee, which is Algonquin for “the good land.”

Wayne: I was not aware of that.

Alice: I think one of the most interesting aspects of Milwaukee is the fact that it’s the only major American city to have ever elected three socialist mayors.

Wayne: Does this guy know how to party or what?

To watch the Alice Cooper scene fast forward past Wisconsin native Chris Farley’s cameo to the 3:00 mark.) 

When I was 19 I went to an Alice Cooper concert in Tampa and about 15 years later met him at a conference I was working in San Diego. Like Reggie White he too appeared to be a friendly and gentle man. (Though quite a bit smaller than White.) He’s quite the golfer and joked that his garage looked like Nevada Bob’s (a chain of golf wholesale stores).

And to come full circle if ever there was a film done on Cooper’s life I can’t think of anyone better to play him than Johnny Depp. (Though he might need to work on his golf game. For some reason Depp strikes me as the kind of guy who like sharp things in his hands versus a golf club.)

As we pull away from our little road trip to Wisconsin let me say that Depp is originally from Owensboro, Kentucky and once driving back to Iowa from a shoot in Charlotte I spent the night in Owensboro. I’m a sucker for shooting neon signs and took this photo near Depp’s childhood house.

owensboroneon2109.jpg

Who knows, maybe long before he was Jack Sparrow, Edward Sizzorhands or John Dillinger he hung out at this place. Just another reminder that talent comes from everywhere. (For what it’s worth George Clooney is also from Kentucky.)

Did you know that writer Hunter S. Thompson was also from Owensboro? The same guy Depp played in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Here’s a quote from Thompson for all those itching to leave home and run off to LA: “The TV business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

Just wanted to pass that along – just in case you were not aware of that. (Good thing for Depp that he fled the TV business early, huh?)

Oh, and back home in Iowa I received a call Saturday to work on a feature film shooting in Des Moines in April and May staring Ellen Page, the star of Juno. That’s really coming full circle for this blog since I started Screenwriting from Iowa after seeing Juno. Schedule-wise I don’t think I’m going to be able to work on that film but it’s good to see that Iowa’s film incentives are working as well.

Actors interested in auditioning for the Ellen Page thriller send pictures, resume, and contact info to PMS Casting, 2018 Hwy G28, PO Box 122, Pella, IA 50219. More info can be found on Iowa casting director Ann Wilkinson’s website www.pmscasting.com .

P.S. Anyone looking for a different place to vacation this summer? One of the great travel surprises of my life was visiting Door County in Wisconsin years ago. I was blown away by how much it reminded me of the Florida Keys. (Good place for actors to find summer stock work as well.) And if you want more of a taste of Florida in Wisconsin, Jimmy Buffett will be playing in Apple Valley on July 19.

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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