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Producer/screenwriter Brian Koppelman on his podcast asked indie producer Christine Vachon about what advice she had for young people today making their way into the entertainment world.

Christine Vachon: Stop calling yourself a filmmaker. Call yourself a storyteller. Call yourself a content maker. Start looking at everything as all the different ways, all the different platforms, all the different methodologies of telling your story and getting it out of there. And don’t confine yourself to one almost archaic form. Now young storytellers will come in and say, ‘This is my series idea,’ ‘This is my long form series,’ ‘This is my episodic series,’ ‘This is my web series’—

Brian: And you’re open to all that stuff?

Christine: Absolutely. A good example is Z: The Beginning of Everything— the series we did for Amazon—Christina Ricci brought us the book and said I want to partner with you. I want to play this role, but I’m open to what it could be. So we talked through what’s the film version, what’s the mini series version?

Brian: How do we tell this story in a way that we actually get the money for it and then sell it in the right way that finds some kind of an audience for it?

Christine: That’s right.

P.S. Speaking of Amazon, here’s a link to their submissions guidelines. Next week I’ll run some posts on indie producer Ted Hope (The Brothers McMullen) who is now the head of motion picture production for Amazon Studios.

Related Posts:

Filmmaking Quote #36 (Being Platformagostic)
Kevin Smith is Platformagnostic
Steven Soderbergh is Platformagnostic
Don’t Wait for Hollywood

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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“If you are an aspiring filmmaker, in this day of inflating budgets and runaway production, the truth is you can make a movie for no money in New York… and have a blast.”
Edward Burns

Back in 1995 Edward Burns showed the world a little film that he produced, directed, and was also the lead actor. That little film, The Brothers McMullen, had a big impact on his career. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January of ’95 and won the Grand Jury Prize. The $25,000. film was released later that summer and grossed over $10 million.

“For my first film, basically what I did was I wrote a list of locations I knew I could get for free. I live in New York, and I knew you don’t need permits to shoot in Central Park. So I put five scenes in Central Park. Part of indie filmmaking is that you have to believe in compromise.  And that isn’t necessarily a dirty word.”
Edward Burns
Indiewire article by Peter Knegt

And though he has gone on to earn big paychecks as an actor on large Hollywood films as varied as Saving Private Ryan and 27 Dresses, he’s never lost his desire to write and direct smaller pictures. Among the nine features he’s directed, in 2004 he made Looking for Kitty using a $3,500 Panasonic DVX 100 camera. In 2009 he made some Webisodes called The Lynch Pin using the Red Camera.

One thing Burns has resisted doing is the Hollywood offers to direct big budget productions that he doesn’t have the heart to make.

“The minute someone writes you a check, there’s artistic compromise… You’re not able to cast the people you want to cast. They’re offering and sometimes making changes they feel the film needs. That’s frustrating. On a low budget film, there are also compromises. You need to find free locations to film. There are no special effects. Nobody is going to look at your film and say ‘Wow, that’s a cool shot.’ You have to be OK with telling smaller character stories. But that’s all I’ve wanted to do anyhow.”
Edward Burns
Chicago Tribune

And just a couple weeks ago he released his latest smaller story, Nice Guy Johnny, that he pulled off making for $25,000. using a three man crew and just a ten day shooting schedule. The movie was released iTunes, Video on Demand, and Netflix. And Burns still owns the copyright to the film. Could this really be Hollywood 2.0?

“Distribution models are starting to dismantle.”
Edward Burns

“My stuff is low concept. Usually character driven, and usually born out of a type of character I either know or come across that I get excited about exploring who they are, and a lot of times where they come from. So I try and look at environment, their community, their family, and they are mostly born out of that. Periodically I’ve tried to find a little bit of a plot just to drive the story forward in order to explore who these people are.”—That’s how Burns summed up the smaller stories he tells during a Q&A session at the Tribeca Film Festival this year. It’s a model that I think works in whatever unlikely place you find yourself writing screenplays.

Tomorrow we’ll flash 15 years forward from Burns’ success at Sundance and look at a different kind of film by different filmmakers that in 2010 won the best picture award at Sundance, Winter’s Bone. A small story set in the Missouri Ozarks. (And one that just happens to have an Iowa connection.)

Screenwriting Quote #146 (Edward Burns)

You can purchase the Nice Guy Johnny script with Burns’ notes at Amazon.

Scott W. Smith

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“I kept saying to over and over to myself that God would probably lead me home.”
Nadia Bloom
(11-year-old girl who was found in swampy woods after missing for several days)

“We’re looking forward to the whole story. It’s got to be awesome.”
Jeff Bloom (Nadia’s father)

The story of Nadia Bloom’s rescue from the swampy woods in Florida gets more interesting the more we learn. It’s a little in the great adventure tradition of Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway mixed with Alice in Wonderland.  A mixture of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Robinson Crusoe,  Tarzan, Rain Man, Dorothy, and a little less known but much more contemporary literary character named Lanie. (“She’s an energetic girl who discovers the world in her own back yard.”)

Nadia’s story is also a story of faith, hope and a lot of determination by a large team of people. It’s the stuff of great stories.

It turns out that she had been missing for 90 hours and the Winter Springs Police Chief said that six more hours of searching was the point where it would have turned from a rescue mission to a recovery mission.

And though there were 150 searchers in the area, the foliage is so thick that machetes are needed to proceed and visibly at times was only 20 feet.

There were 30 dog search team that couldn’t find a trail due to knee deep and waist deep water —that at times dropped to fifteen feet of murky water.

ATV, horses, divers, side scan sonar machines, helicopters and a few days time turned up nothing. It had to be discouraging.

Then early Tuesday morning James King, a church going man with five children of his own, set out at sunrise believing that God would lead him to the girl. (Granted, when the press and many people hear that— the soundtrack to Deliverance kicks in, but in this case it appears to be just a real deal person of faith. The Blind Side kind of person who is just trying to do the right thing.)

King found Nadia near the shoreline of Lake Jesup. The lake that I mentioned yesterday that is estimated to have 10,000 alligators.  It took a team of 15 men to daisy chain carrying her out of the swampy woods.

The 85-pound girl was reported to be shoeless and covered from head to toe with mosquito bites, but otherwise doing “remarkably fine.”

Nadia said she prayed to be rescued and recalled the Bible verse,  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

The sheriff’s office has her camera and those pictures will be sought after in the coming days as people will want to know what Nadia saw in her own version of Wonderland with skunks, snakes and such.

In many ways Nadia is an average elementary school girl who likes Webkinz. She or her younger sister was reading the American Girl book Lanie. (Either way I bet the story was familiar to her.) I found this description of the book at Amazon:

Ten-year-old Lanie loves science and nature, but she has a problem: she’s an “outside” girl with an “inside” family. She longs get out and go camping, but they all want to stay home. It wouldn’t be so bad if her best friend was around, but she’s halfway around the world, living out their dream of studying wildlife. Lanie feels she never gets to have any adventures-anywhere. But when her favorite aunt comes to stay, Lanie discovers that the wonders of nature are everywhere-even in her own backyard.

An adventure in her own backyard? Sound kinda familiar? Nadia’s younger sister and father at the time of her disappearance were actually on a camping trip with a Brownies troop in the Everglades.

Lanie was written by Jane Kurtz and just published at the end of 2009. Kurtz has a website and a blog and it sounds like she has had an interesting and adventurous  life as well. She was born in Portland, Oregon but moved to Ethiopia with her parents when she was just two. Speaking engagements have taken her to Uganda, Nigeria, Romania, Indonesia and many other places, and she lives in Lawrence, Kansas. (Here in the adventurous Midwest.) She also helped start Ethiopia Reads, a nonprofit group that is “planting the first libraries for children in Ethiopia.”

But what may have led Nadia into the woods more than anything was her mild Asperger syndrome. Something that can lead to a preoccupation with one subject of interest. A simple desire to take a picture on the edge of the swampland could have led to another step, and another photo, and another step until she was deep in the woods.

Nadia is not the first child for this to happen to in Florida.  Back in 1996 the NY Times reported a 10-year-old autistic boy named Taylor Touchstone disappeared four days in a black water swamp area in the Florida panhandle. That search included “Army Rangers, Green Berets, marines, deputies with the Okaloosa Country Sheriff’s Department and volunteers.”

The NY Times article said the boy went for a swim and “just felt compelled to keep moving” and was found unharmed four days later by a fisherman farther down the river than search teams imagined was possible. One thing that both Taylor and Nadia have in common other than great adventures is they both share mild forms of autism which has been reported can make them hyper-focus and times and be fearless. Perhaps the things that both led them into their adventures and helped them survive.

I’m glad James King didn’t do the sensible thing Tuesday morning and sleep in or perhaps Nadia wouldn’t have been found in the dense brush. But know from the public’s fascination to this story, as well as the literary output of the “lost in the woods/stranded on an island/on the yellow brick road” themes that it is fertile ground for writers to explore.

P.S. To add to the odd connection file, I just saw online a video at CBS News with Rev. Jeff Dixon who is the pastor at Covenant Community Church where Nadia and her family attend church. I know Rev. Dixon from my days in Central Florida and once used him as a cameraman for a video I was producing.

One last thing, if you’re ever in Central Florida and want to get a taste of Florida before Disney, visit the Black Hammock Restaurant located just a couple of miles from where Nadia was rescued.

Scott W. Smith

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The Craft of the Screenwriter was one of the first books I ever bought on screenwriting. It’s older than some of the readers of this blog. I picked it up when I was in film school in 1982 when screenwriting resources were limited. (The Craft of the Screenwriter is worth having in your library and you can pick it up for a few cents on Amazon—plus $3.99 for shipping, of course.)

It has been amazing to watch the cottage industry related to screenwriting pop up over the years. Books, seminars, DVDs, blogs, etc. make this the golden age of learning. Has that translated into the golden age of screenwriting? You tell me.

“The whole point of theater is, to paraphrase Arthur Miller, to bring one shred of meaning or insight into the otherwise meaningless life of the audience.”

Paddy Chayefsky (Three time Oscar-winning screenwriter; Network, Hospital, Marty)
The Craft of the Screenwriter
Interview with John Brady
page 53

Who am I to disagree with Miller and Chayefsky, but I’m wouldn’t go as far as to say the lives of the audience are meaningless. (And I’m not sure Hitchcock would agree with them.) Though I do agree with the provocative statement that theater (and movies and TV programs) at their best can shed a ray of light in the dark.

Scott W. Smith


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Last Thursday on the way home from a shoot I stopped at the Barnes & Noble in Iowa City. In the film/theater section I saw the book version of Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Ruined. It’s a play I saw last Saturday in New York and it seems like I’ve been blogging about it ever since. The Iowa City Barnes & Noble happens to be where I bought the printed version of Diablo Cody’s Juno script. (And until I bought the only copy they had of Ruined it sat just one shelf away from the Newmarket Press publication of the Juno script.)

It seemed to be a fitting way to bookend an Pulitzer Prize-winning play and an Oscar-winning screenplay. And I should point out another intersection for the two works is right here in the heartland. Ruined was commissioned and originally staged by the Goodman Theater in Chicago and Diablo Cody was born and raised in the Chicago area.

Though one story is set in the Midwest and one in the Belgian Congo they both feature strong female roles, they both use humor to deal with serious situations, music plays a key role in both stories, and they both come in at almost the same page count (Juno at 101 pages and Ruined at 97 pages).

Of course there are differences in the stories but perhaps the most encouraging thing (especially for the female writers out there) is how these two original works have been so well received. And while you can run down to a store today and get a DVD of Juno, seeing a performance of Ruined is a little more difficult. So do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Ruined at a local bookstore or at Amazon.

And just so you know Iowa isn’t out of touch (and you’re new to this blog), Diablo Cody got her B.A. in Media Studies at the University of Iowa and just a few months ago the theater group at UI performed Nottages’ play Intimate Apparel.

Related post:

The Juno-Iowa Connection

Lynn Nottage & Her Play “Ruined”

Scott W. Smith

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