Posts Tagged ‘Ang Lee’

From the Life of Pi movie trailer

[David]Magee struggled to find the right voice and tone for the screenplay. The book [Life of Pi], after all, ranged in content from philosophical musings on religion and zoology to the slapstick silliness of a young schoolboy. How to encompass both in one screenplay? It wasn’t until late June of 2009, during a trip to South India that Magee, [and director Ang] Lee, and the researcher took to gather ideas and images for shooting locations, that the screenwriter found the answer. He was sitting in the back of a van, bouncing along a dusty road in Tamil Nadu, struggling to keep his laptop from sliding off his sweaty knees, when Lee told him that Life of Pi was like a children’s story. Lee said, ‘It’s got to have that wonder of adventure and fun…’ Hearing that, Magee thought of the novel’s zoo and imagined Pi telling the story to kids about its wonders….’That’s when I finally understood what the tone should be,’ Magee recalls, ‘charming and light, like an old fashioned fable, while carrying a deeper, more serious message that wold come out as the story progressed.’ This approach ‘would allow you to get philosophical without sounding too heavy.'”
Jean-Christophe Castelli
The Making of Life of Pi; A Film, A Journey

Scott W. Smith

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“A deep part of us continues to yearn for some direct access to the unknown.”
Life of Pi director Ang Lee


“My track record as a writer didn’t show much promise. My first effort, a collection of short stories, sold all of eight hundred copies in Canada. My first novel only did a little better, barley breaking the threshold of a thousand copies sold. Welcome to the world of literary fiction. Still, I wrote. The artist creates out of necessity—I had to get Life of Pi onto the page—and so I isolated myself in my office, not only because I needed the time and the quiet to write, but also to shelter myself from the indifference of the world, a world that would have told me, ‘Listen we dont’ need another novel, or poem, or play, or anything like that. There’s plenty out there already that’s very good, so stop dreaming, grow up, and get a real job. I wrote the story in a state of constant jubilation. It came together nicely. After four years it was done. My third book, this weird story I’d concocted mixing religion and zoology, was ready to be shown to the world.”
Yann Martel
Forward to The Making of Life of Pi; A Film/ A Journey by Jean-Christophe Castelli

Not much I can add to that except when Life of Pi was finally published it came out on September 11, 2001. Martel writes, “If there ever was a novel that was fated to end up quickly in the remainder pile, it was Life of Pi.” And while sales of the book were slow at the start, when the novel was awarded the Man Booker Prize in 2002 it would change Martel’s life just before he turned 40-years old. Now ten years later the story is finding a new audience via the film directed by Ang Lee from a script by David Magee. In its first ten days in theaters Life of Pi has grossed over $100 million worldwide. It’s an extraordinary film. A welcomed addition to the cinema of the fantastic that my last post I quoted Frank Darabont speaking about.

I started out 2012 not being a fan of 3-D movies. But after seeing Hugo in January and now Life of Pi in November I’m becoming a convert. I will see the movie again before I read the book, and am enjoying the well-crafted and documented The Making of Pi published by HarperCollinsIf you’re looking for a holiday gift for a lover of movies than check out Jean-Christophe Castelli’s book. It’s packed with interviews, quotes, designs, facts, and photographs of the making of Life of Pi.

Scott W. Smith


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“I won a competition with the first (short story) I ever wrote. Which gave me an unrealistic notion of how easy this was going to be.”
Daniel Woodrell

The movie Winter’s Bone is one of those movies that hits you in the mouth. And if you’ve ever been hit hard in the mouth, you recall that nothing really prepares you for the distinct bitter taste of your own blood.

Winter’s Bone is not a date movie. Nothing really prepares you for what you’re about to see—though a good start would be reading Flannery O’Conner’s short story, A Good Man is Hard to Find. (Followed by reading Faulkner unpack the Snopes family and watching Deliverance.)

Before I actually talk about the finely crafted movie by director Debra Granik, I want to go back to the roots of the novel Winter’s Bone and its writer Daniel Woodrell. Because without those roots you could be tempted into thinking that Granik was just slumming. At first glance Granik, who was educated at Brandeis University and NYU film school, seems primed to look for art in the plight of the rural poor and downtrodden.

And that’s where Woodrell comes in. Woodrell was not only born and raised in Missouri, but today lives in the small town of West Plaines near the Missouri/Arkansas border. While I imagine the meth and poverty world depicted in Winter’s Bone is foreign to many (most?) people in Missouri, Woodrell in an interview with The Southeast Review said,  “I honestly live among some of the people I’ve written about… All of my research, as far as that goes, just comes from the world around me. I see people who live that kind of life every day.”

That’s what regional writing is all about.

Woodrell, like Flannery O’Conner, is a product of The Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Since receiving his MFA he has published eight novels—and gone through his share of hard times. But in 1999, his novel Tomato Red won the PEN USA award for fiction and his novel Woe to Live On became the Ang Lee film Ride with the Devil.

In an article titled The Least Governable Region of America you’ll find this exchange between Dustin Atkinson and Woodrell in regard to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop:

DA: Did Iowa prepare you well?

DW: “Yeah. Probably did. It’s a rough racket, trying to be a writer. I have a nephew who kind of wants to be a writer, but he’s heard the stories about me and my wife (writer Kate Estill) after we got our MFAs. We lived way below the poverty level for most of our years together. It didn’t bother me. I’ve never really had money, so life was normal. And my nephew, who’s grown up very comfortably, has said, “I want to be a writer, but I don’t want to make those sacrifices.” Well, for many writers, being willing to make the sacrifices is the first requirement.”

Tomorrow we’ll look at the film Winter’s Bone, based on Woodrell’s book and which was the winner of the 2010 Sundance Grand Jury Prize.

P.S. If you’re curious, I didn’t even realize there was an Iowa connection to Winter’s Bone until after I saw the movie and thought to myself, “Who writes this stuff?”  I started digging around and discovered Woodrell. So as you can see from one of my earliest posts (over 750 posts ago) The Juno-Iowa Connection, I often haven’t had to travel very far for material.

Related posts: Screenwriting from Missouri

Scott W. Smith

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“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 (and where they welcome my golden retriever).

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 a 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)
Mark Brown (Barbershop)
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)
John Logan (Gladiator)
Jon Favreau (Swingers)
Tina Fey (Mean Girls)
Michael Mann (The Insider)
Phil Vischer (VeggieTales movies)
Roger Rueff (The Big Kahuna)
Robert Zemeckis,  (Back to the Future)
Edward Zwick, (The Last Samurai)
Diablo Cody (Juno)
John Logan (Hugo
Garry Marshall (The Odd Couple-TV)

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) are both are both graduates 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 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 poser 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

Chicago Script Works

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.

Photographs & Text Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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