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Posts Tagged ‘Bill Romanowski’

“You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me?”
                                         Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro)
                                         Taxi Driver
                                         Written by Paul Schrader 

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No Bobby, I’m not talkin’ to you. But I did spend a couple days talking to students (and a few visitors) at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan the last couple days and the above photo was one of the movie posters hanging outside the video theater where I spoke.  Calvin’s most famous film alumni is Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader.

I would like to thank Prof. Bill Romanowski for the invite and and all the support staff, other professors, and students for the opportunity to speak, as well as the sponsorship by the Gainey Institute and Communication Arts & Sciences department. It sure is more fun to talk about this stuff than write about it.

I not only got to meet a lot of eager students, but had lunch yesterday with a New York actor who’s recently been on Law and Order and had a director from L.A. sit in on one of my seminars. (He was in town raising funds for a film that would take advantage of Michigan’s 40%-42% tax incentives.)

Those tax incentives are bringing a film called The Genesis Code not only to Michigan, but they will be shooting part of the film at the Calvin College campus. But Michigan is learning quickly about Hollywood’s ways as people have gotten excited about films starring people like Samuel L. Jackson, Joe Mantegna and Robert Duvall scheduled to shoot in Michigan only to see them postponed for one reason or another.

It was an interesting time to be in Michigan because not only is Detroit hurting because of the decline in auto sales, but the whole economy of the state is effected because many of the smaller cities are made up of manufacturing plants that produce parts for the  automobiles that people aren’t buying.

So people are both excited and skeptical about the possibilities of a film industry bringing jobs. Enrollment at schools and colleges that teach film and video is up. I saw people shooting footage around the Calvin campus including this young fellow that I snapped a picture of as he was in action. This kind of thing is happening all over the country. 

calvinstedicam1858

While at Calvin College I learned that they have a few other grads who are working in the film industry, but the most impressive to me is Jeannie Claudia Oppewall. She’s is a four time Oscar nominated production designer/art director who’s worked on two of my favorite films, Seabiscuit and Tender Mercies.

And for what it’s worth, she’s worked in Iowa twice on The Bridges of Madison County and the yet to be release Ellen Page film Peacock. And just to come full circle she was once married to Paul Schrader.

Schrader’s divorce played a part of his state of mind before writing Taxi Driver, as did Jean-Paul Sartre, “Before I sat down to write Taxi Driver, I reread Sartre’s Nausea, because I saw the script as an attempt to take the European existential hero…and put him in an American context.” Schrader has also said that part of the inspiration for picking a taxi driver to represent loneliness was based on the  Harry Chapin song Taxi about a taxi driver who used to dream of being a pilot and one night gives a lift to his old girlfriend.

…And me, I’m flying in my taxi, 
Taking tips, and getting stoned, 
I go flying so high, when I’m stoned.

                                          Taxi
                                          Harry Chapin 

Before that song was a hit in 1972, Chapin had actually written and directed a documentary called Legendary Champions which was nominated for an Oscar in 1969.

And lastly, AFI lists “Are you talking to me?” as the 10th most popular movie quote of the last 100 years. So yes, it is possible to be born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan and to write a screenplay that leaves an imprint on film history. (Though it’s okay to start out with slightly lower aspirations.) 

Scott W. Smith

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The 2008  Sundance Film Festival ended Sunday with Josh Tickell’s Fields of Fuel winning The Audience Award: Documentary.  I haven’t seen the film so I don’t know if Tickell shot or wrote any of the film in Iowa, but anybody who drives a Veggie Van around the country has to have an Iowa connection. The vehicle looks like it should be a permanent fixture at the Iowa State Fair.

Even the title itself, Fields of Fuel, appears to be a play on the quintessential Iowa film Fields of Dreams. On Tickell’s personal website he does offer a link to Biodiesel Education at Iowa State University in Ames.

I drove three hours across Iowa Monday (and past at least one ethanol plant)  for a week of video production in Sioux City. Though the cornfields are barren this time of year, you just sense those farmers are ready to grow some ethanol and make some money… and, of course, bring down gas prices and lower our dependency on terrorist filled countries for oil.

The Field of Fuel website (www.fieldsoffuel.com) does list the co-editor of the documentary as Sarah Rose who graduated with honors from the University of Iowa. She was in the same media studies program that also produced recent Oscar-nominated screenwriter Diablo Cody. Last person to head to Iowa City please turn out the lights.

Congrats to Tickell, Rose and the entire Fields of Fuel production team on their award. I look forward to seeing the film.

Another film at Sundance that received good buzz this year and definitely has an Iowa connection is the film Sugar directed by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden. It’s a story of a baseball player from a small town in the Dominican Republic who comes to the United States to play baseball and among other places ends up playing ball in a small town in Iowa.

Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman wrote, “There hasn’t been a sports movie this original in a while, as Sugar journeys to the strange land of Iowa, where he joins a single-A team and moves in with a genial farm family.”

The movie is also reported to have a Field of Dreams dream as the lead character named Sugar is motivated to play baseball in Iowa after seeing the movie staring Kevin Costner. That reminds me of a great quote by Bill Romanowski of Calvin College who said that “Movies reflect the culture they help produce.” A great example of this is the movie Top Gun which was inspired by a magazine article about a real life, small group of pilots in training. When the film was released the Navy had record number of young men joining to become jet pilots.

“Movies reflect the culture they help produce.” Sometimes the results are positive and sometimes they are negative. But make no mistake, movies make a powerful impact on our lives and culture.

The filmmakers of Sugar shot much of the film in Davenport, Iowa and the surrounding Quad Cities and were one of the first to take advantage of recent tax incentives for filmmakers who spend over $100,000 in the state.

Earlier this month Iowa Governor Chet Culver in speaking about Iowa’s commitment to helping filmmakers said, “Iowa has a lot to offer the film industry and, quite frankly, we want more movies filmed in our state. As a television or motion picture producer with the greatest of expectations, in Iowa, you can find it all. The new film tax credit and training award send a clear signal to Hollywood: Iowa is camera-ready and open for business.”

To learn about the The Iowa Film Office visit www.traveliowa.com/film.

One a closing note on the Sundance Film Festival, I spoke with a production friend from Iowa, Jon Van Allen, yesterday and he was brave enough to drive his grip truck into Park City a couple days ago. He was on his way to California for a shoot and just couldn’t pass the opportunity to make a slight detour off I-80 to catch part of the festival.

He said it was cold and snowing with some famous people walking around. That sounds just like Iowa – except for the famous people walking around.

© Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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