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Posts Tagged ‘Austin’

“I wanted to make a skyrocket big enough that I could shoot the damn thing in the air and they could see me in Los Angeles. So that’s what I did.”
Austin-based filmmaker Tobe Hooper on making The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Tobe Hooper made documentaries and commercials in Texas before making a hippy/psychedelic feature film called Eggshells in 1969. When only a few people outside of students at the University of Texas in Austin saw the movie, Hooper put aside his European art house film sensitivities and made this to turn heads—

It worked. He went on to direct Lifeforce in 1985 (which is said to be a favorite of Quentin Tarantino) and Poltergeist (which was produced by Steven Spielberg).  The line from Poltergeist “They’re here” was a “Show me the money”-type line that became was often quoted throughout the 80s.

P.S. Eggshells has been called “the first feature shot in Austin” and I don’t know if that’s true, but Hooper has to be considered a founding member of what’s turned Austin into one of the great film communities in the world.

H/T Brad Apling for sending me some Tobe Hooper links that give me a track to run on.

Scott W. Smith

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On the heals of writing yesterday’s post about a filmmaker from Austin, Texas, I thought it was fitting to write about a filmmaker from New Jersey talking about being inspired decades ago by a filmmaker from Austin.

“I was awed by (Richard Linklater’s film) Slacker, that it existed. And Richard’s story was kind of compelling too. This guy from Austin, Texas—not from Hollywood, not from New York—had made a film that’s playing in New York and look at all these people here to see it! And he’d made it for such a low amount of money. But by the end of the film I was thinking, I could definitely do this! And oddly enough it was the reaction that Clerks would have a few years later…Anyway we’re driving back to New Jersey and I say, ‘You Know, Vincent, I think that’s what I want to do. I think I want to make a film.”
Kevin Smith
My First Movie
20 Directors Talk About Their First Film
Page 74
Edited by Stephen Lowenstein

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Note: This is not a repost from 2008—despite the camera referenced—it’s a brand new post on April 2, 2017.

“Buy a camera and start shooting. It’s that simple.”
Advice from a filmmaker whose first feature just played at SXSW

Let’s say you work at a taco joint and think to yourself, “Man, I’d sure like to make a feature film,”—where would you start? Oh, and the problem is you have little money and no real film experience. Were would you start?

There are many options including going to film school, working as a PA and learning as much as you can on the set and working your way up, or you could go the Parker Smith route.

Parker who? What? (Yes, the guy who gave that simple advice to buy a camera and start shooting.)

Parker Smith’s film Ramblin’ Freak debuted at the SXSW film festival just a few weeks ago. In a No Film School podcast interview with Joe Fusco, Smith said he basically binge watched documentary after documentary, bought two DVX 100B cameras, and hit the road with his cat and learned to be a filmmaker by shooting 55 hours of tape.

Yes, tape. Kickin’ it old school with DV tape.  I bought the Panasonic DVX 100 camera around 2003 shortly after it first came out. I was on a shoot with Orlando DP Ben Mesker and he was raving about the 24p film look of the DVX. This was in the days when high-end video shoots were done using DigiBeta cameras.

The standard rate in the early 2000s for a two person DigiBeta shoot was $1,300-1,500 per day. The DVX sold for around $3,500. I’ll never forget running into Randy Baker, another producer/cameraman friend, at a bookstore in Orlando and him encouraging me to buy the DVX 100 telling me it’d pay for itself after a couple of freelance shoots.

That’s what I did. Changed my life in some ways. (Much as the Canon 5D did later for others.) That DVX camera helped me as I went out on on own in what ended up being a 13-year self-employment production run. Over time I moved up the Panasonic food chain (HVX 200, AF 100), but that DVX not only paid a lot of bills, but opened doors for me shoot documentaries in Russia, Jamaica, South Africa, and Brazil.

Screen Shot 2017-04-02 at 3.04.21 PM

With my trusty (now classic) DVX 100 camera in 2006/Cape Town, South Africa

When I flew in a seaplane over the Amazon River, in one of my coolest production experiences ever, I was shooting with a DVX100. And part of the DVX legacy is DP Nancy Schreiber won a best cinematography at Sundance for shooting November (2004) shot on the DVX, and the Duplass brothers shot The Puffy Chair (2005) also with the DVX.

But today, a DVX is only worth around $200. It’s a stand def camera. Why shoot in a digital world today on standard def on cameras 10 years old? Because you have a goal to be a feature filmmaker (and you have little money).

Embrace your limitations. That’s what Parker Smith did.

“I’ll actually have a shift delivering tacos the morning of my premiere. I will be off in time to attend though.”
Parker Smith
Interview with Jason Whyte/@jasonwhyte before the Rambin’ Freak premiere at SXSW

Now I don’t know if Smith has a distribution deal or not, but from the buzz I’ve heard, I’d say his documentary is worth a minimum of $100,000 in a Netflix deal. Not bad for a guy working at a taco joint who had a dream, an idea, a cat (people love cats, never forget that), and the willingness to shoot with cameras that most 16-year-olds living in McMansions wouldn’t even use for a web camera.

I doubt Smith will be shooting on a DVX again, but like many of us former DVX users, it will always hold a special place in his heart.

P.S. The DVX 100 now has a big brother, the DVX 200 that shoots in 4K. I’ve been to a demo for it, but haven’t shot with it yet. Writing this post has made me all nostalgic again for the DVX which I think when I stopped using it had logged around 900 hours.

Scott W. Smith

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“Without a network, creative work does not endure…without Paris, there is no Hemingway.”
Jeff Goins
The Unfair Truth About How Creative People Really Succeed

Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez has his filmmaking network of people down in Austin, but he also has a literal network—El Rey Network. And when you own a network you can line up interviews with your director friends, which is exactly what The Director’s Chair with Robert Rodriguez is all about.

“It was a thrill to be able to feel that I was a director from a studio at 24 or 25, but when I came out to Hollywood and was making Finian’s Rainbow…everything I wanted to do wasn’t somehow permitted. I wanted to make the film on location—it was about sharecroppers in Kentucky and I go, ‘Can I go to Kentucky and have dancers dancing around with tobacco?’, ‘Oh no, no, we gotta do it on the sets from Camelot.’ I used to sit there with George Lucas, who was about 19, and we would just grump about we couldn’t do this and we can’t do that. And we started to fantasize, let’s go make a film driving across the country. And we’ll make a truck that has all the necessary equipment and we won’t even know exactly what we’re going to shoot. If we hear there’s mine disaster we’ll all go to the mine disaster and incorporate that into the movie. We made The Rain People that way. And then we were so mobile that we said, well gee, we have a whole studio in a truck, we don’t have to go back to L.A., we can go to San Francisco and be close enough to L.A. to have the access to the actors and the prop houses, and the resources, and not be in the center of it. I essentially combined the culture of a theater club with the reality of filmmaking as we learned at USC and UCLA and that was Zoetrope.”
Oscar-Winning writer/producer/director Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, Patton)
Interview with Robert Rodriguez
The Director’s Chair, Episode 5

The Coppola family, food & film model is much of what Rodriguez has created in Austin, Texas—which has an entrenched film community that’s avoided being in the center of the film business. This is what Rodriguez told Coppola in the above interview:

“Family and food and film kind of all seem to go together for you, and it inspired me to do that. I started my own studio [Troublemaker Studios]. I work with my family, and I’ve had other filmmakers come to my sets and see that I’m working with my kids—they’ve gone off and worked with their kids and have done fantastic work. You’ve kind of started this little revolution.”

P.S. If you want to add faith to family, food & film outside L.A., look at what the writer/director team of Alex and Stephen Kendrick of Kendrick Brothers Productions are doing in (an unlikely place) Albany, Georgia. This past weekend their film War Room ended up #1 at the domestic box office, ending Straight Outta Compton‘s three week run in the top spot. Produced by Sony Pictures for $3 million War Room hasn’t even been out two weeks and has passed $30 million at the box office. I think it’s the first time a specifically Christian faith based film has finished #1 at the box office. Back in 2008 I wrote the post Shrimp, Giants & Tyler Perry and talked about the niche that Perry and the Kendrick Brothers were cooking down in Georgia.

Related posts:
‘Who said art had to cost money?’—Coppola
‘Take a Risk’—Coppola
Coppola & Roger Corman
The Francis Ford Coppola Way
Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl from Ohio
‘Super-Serving Your Niche’

Scott W. Smith

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‘Boyhood’

“Whenever I despair I think, OK, somebody out there somewhere, while we’re sitting right here, somebody out there somewhere is making something cool that we’re going to love, and that keeps me going. “
Steve Soderbergh on April 27,2013
Conclusion to his State of Cinema talk
San Francisco International Film Festival

For the last month I’ve tried to find an angle to write about Richard Linklater’s film Boyhood. After writing the last two posts about Steven Soderbergh I decided that Soderbergh’s State of Cinema  talk last year was my anchor. I don’t know if Soderbergh loved Boyhood, but I think it fits his criteria from last year that “somebody out there somewhere is making something cool.”

Linklater shot the Boyhood over 12 years with the same actors in Austin, Texas. That’s pretty cool just by itself. Linklater said that he’d been compelled to make a film about childhood, but was having trouble finding the moment he wanted to explore so he’d given up on the idea of a feature film on the topic. But he sat down to write something and that’s where he captured the magic.

“I was just going to write an experimental novel or something, and the hands go to hit the keyboard and this idea comes fully formed. Like, ‘What if you filmed a little bit every year? And the kids just grew up, and everyone just aged—why can’t you make a move like that?’ So that’s the fun part. The tough part was it’s such an impractical crazy idea—the mechanics of it. Not to mentioned getting it financed.”
Writer/director Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Flim4video interview

And even if Soderbergh didn’t love (or even see) Boyhood, plenty of people did. It received 100% from the top critic on Rottentomatos.com.  On boxofficemojo.com they have the $4 million film making over $37 million worldwide since its July release.

Boyhood wraps up today a more than a month-long run (often to sold out crowds) at the Enzian Theater here in Orlando, so obviously the film struck a chord beyond the art house crowd.

There’s an Amy Hempel quote I read in an article by Blake Butler a while back that sums up part of what I think fascinates viewers of Boyhood, “The more literal you are, the more metaphorical people will think you are being.”

P.S. I was producing and shooting a video project after I saw Boyhood that required using a young talent hitting a baseball off a tee and blowing out birthday candles and decided to take a still photo of the talent that captured the spirit of boyhood and what it means to be seven years old.

DSC_8685web

© 2014 Scott W. Smith

Related posts:

Screenwriting from Texas
The Day the Field of Dreams Burned
Difficult + Changing Times = Whiplash

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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“Cinema has always been marriage of technology and human talent.”
Francis Ford Coppola (older filmmaker based in Napa Valley)

“I think every filmmaker needs to make 20 awful films before they can make one good one. And I made my share of totally awful films with my friends.”
Bradley Jackson (younger filmmaker based in Austin)
Interview with Ron Dawson

Screenwriter John August has a post on his blog titled Writing for Hollywood without living there where he has a first person account written by 26-year-old writer/director Bradley Jackson from Austin, Texas. Jackson recently earned more than $100,000 by winning The Doorpost Film Project (best film, best director, best script) and optioning a screenplay.

What separates Jackson from the traditional way of thinking about a career in production is he has no intentions of moving to Los Angeles. His plan right now is to stay in Austin where he has friends and family and to commute to L.A. as needed.

August’s readers made various comments on whether this is a wise thing to do and speculated if Jackson can really pull off a career writing and making films in Austin. Because my focus is encouraging writers and filmmakers who live in unusual places (and that includes some places even within the 30 mile zone in LA) three thoughts quickly came to mind;

1) It’s not like Bradley Jackson lives in a small town in Iowa. He lives in Austin, Texas which is one of the most interesting places in the United States. It’s a giant college town, has a solid tech and political base, and an intense creative culture. It’s home to the Austin Film Festival, SXSW and the last time I was in Austin I was told there are more live musical acts in a given night in Austin than any city in the USA. (Yes, that includes NY, LA and Chicago.)

2) Most people writing screenplays and making films make no money writing screenplays and making films. (Heck, even a good chunk of writers in the WGA, make little or no money in a given year.) Jackson just made over $100,000 in just the first two months of 2011 by winning The Doorpost Film Project and optioning a script. I’m not sure if that money is his, but whatever he takes home will go a lot further in Austin that it would in Los Angeles.

Jackson represents a new breed of filmmakers. He’s been making films since high school and by his own admission spent several years making bad films before he learned what he was doing. He got a film degree from UT—Austin where he was mentored by filmmaker/teacher Scott Rice.  He’s surrounded himself with other talented filmmakers in Austin and became Kickstarter savvy which helped him fund his recent film. He’s busting his butt, writing scripts, and willing to fly in to L.A. as needed.

3) Robert Rodriguez. While screenwriters and filmmakers have traditionally moved to Hollywood after they’ve gotten their first break, Rodriguez is the poster child for bucking that trend. Here’s part of what Austin-based Rodriguez told a group of filmmakers in LA back in 2003:

“One of the benefits of being outside of Hollywood—one of the reasons I think like this (shooting digitally) has to do with the fact that I don’t live here. Because (in Texas) you’re so removed you get to examine (how films are made) and say, ‘That doesn’t really make sense for us out here. Let’s do what makes sense.’ And you find a whole other way of shooting.  And that’s one of the best things you can do for yourself even if you work here (LA). Try to get a birds-eye view of things and really question it and you’ll start coming up with different ways of doing things that work.”

As I’ve said before, when I was in film school many years ago students were encouraged to not be a jack-of-all trade, and a master-of-none. But the new kind of filmmakers coming up (who may be in  middle school or retirement homes—and everywhere in between) are jack-of-all trades. And some of them are on their way to becoming master-of-all trades.

They  can not only write, but they know their way around cameras and non-linear editing systems, they are aware of various fundraising methods, they devour DVDs directors commentaries & online tutorials at lynda.com,  and they are keeping on track of new distribution trends and get exciting about the success that Edward Burns has had  self-distributing his films and the things that Kevin Smith said at Sundance ’11:

“The piece of advice that Walter Gretzky gave (his son) Wayne Gretzky was this…’don’t go where the puck’s been, go where it’s gonna to be.’ The philosophy was simple, if you puck chase you’re always going to be behind the game…You want to be the person that’s where the puck’s going to be.”

These new kind of filmmakers are reminiscent of those rebel filmmakers like Lucas and Coppola who back in their youth were embracing new technologies and pursuing a life beyond LA.

Today this new kind of filmmaker is going where the puck isn’t and they’re not afraid to make a bad film or two in their quest to make good films.

And, of course, they read Screenwriting from Iowa daily.

To view Jackson’s winning short film go to the film’s website, TheManWhoNeverCried.com

Related posts:

One of the Benefits of Being Outside of Hollywood

Screenwriting from Texas

The 10-Minute Film School (Robert Rodriguez)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Ten parts)

New Cinema Screenwriting (Part 1)

New Cinema Screenwriting (Part 2)

Scott W. Smith


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This blog is not really about Iowa or the Midwest. It’s focus is on screenwriting. But I do put an emphasis on Iowa and the Midwest as it is a fitting metaphor to discuss the process of growing your creative career from unlikely places. Filmmaking in general, and screenwriting specifically, are both usually thought of in terms of L.A. and New York City.

That’s because that is where the honey is stored. It’s the end of the rainbow. It’s the climax found somewhere in the third act. Perhaps it’s best to think of Screenwriting from Iowa…or wherever you live outside L.A. as a good look at Act 1. The set-up of the story. How writers (and sometimes others) prepare for their moment in the spotlight. (Though I do think that new opportunities are popping all over the place outside of traditional Hollywood circles.)

Which leads me to Super Bowl XLIV. The Indianapolis Colts verses the New Orléans Saints.  The obvious Midwest angle to the 2010 game is quarterback Payton Manning and entire Indianapolis Colts team are from the Midwest. A little less know is Colts tight end Dallas Clark (who had seven catches in the game) is from Livermore, Iowa. (pop. 431 ). But those aren’t my focus.

The key three people in this year’s Super Bowl with a Midwest connection are Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Saints defensive back Tracy Porter , and the Saints coach Sean Payton.

Drew Brees— After Brees finished his high school career in Austin, Texas undefeated as starting quarterback, he chose to attend Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. I’m not sure why he ended up in Indiana, but I imagine it had something to do with him being relatively short (six-foot) and known for not having the strongest arm. But he left Purdue with several Big Ten passing records and was twice a Heisman Trophy finalist.  Two days ago he lead the Saints in their first Super Bowl victory and was named the Super Bowl MVP.

Tracy Porter–Late in the fourth quarter, with Peyton Manning appearing to lead a game tying drive, Porter intercepted Manning and ran it back for a touchdown sealing the victory for the Saints. (Just happens to be the same guy who intercepted Brett Favre in the NFC title game just a couple weeks ago that sealed that victory.) Porter played college ball at Indiana University.  How did a kid from Louisiana end up playing for a college not known as a football powerhouse? Probably because he was undersized and just started playing football in his junior year in high school. But his time in Indiana served him well. The school in Bloomington is less than an hours drive to Indianapolis. Porter said after the game, “I’ve been watching (Manning) since my time at Indiana put up points on the scoreboard.”

Sean Peyton— Payton was born in California but raised in Naperville, Illinois (just outside Chicago) and played quarterback at Naperville Central High School and Eastern Illinois University in  Charleston, IL. When his playing days were over he began assistant coaching and gained experience at various schools including Indiana State, Miami University (in Ohio), and at the University of Illinois. He eventually made his way to become an NFL head coach in 2005 with the New Orleans Saints. The team was long known as the “aints” and in the year before he took over had a record of 3-13. In his first season the Saints were 10-6 and first in the NFC South and Payton was voted NFL Coach of the Year by AP. This season the Saints finished 13-3 and are now Super Bowl champs for the first time.

So there you have it, three men originally from outside the Midwest, who were shaped by their experiences in the Midwest and who would all go on to achieved the highest level of success in the biggest game of their chosen field.

Be faithful in the little things.

Related Post: Beatles, Cody King & 10,000 Hours

Sex, Lies & Mr. Bill (Screenwriting from Louisiana)

P.S. You may never have heard of Eastern Illinois University, but it has more than one tie to the NFL as Brad Childress, head coach of Minnesota Vikings, Mike Shanahan, head coach of Washington Redskins (and who just happened to be the head coach when John Elway and the Denver Broncos won back to back Super Bowls), and Dallas Cowboy quarterback Tony Romo are all alumni of the school. Hollywood? Actor (and Juno producer) John Malkovich attended Eastern Illinois before transferring to Illinois State and going on to help found the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago.

Scott W. Smith

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