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Posts Tagged ‘Boston’

“There are only two possible stories: a man goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town.”
Unknown (Though often attributed to Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky)

I’ve always been fond of the above quote, and over the weekend I realized that the last two Best Picture Oscars were examples of each.  Moonlight being “a man goes on a journey,” and Spotlight representing “a stranger comes to town.”

Moonlight and Spotlight are not only one word titles with nine letters that end with “light,” but there is a Miami connection as well. Moonlight is about a boy raised and Miami, and the stranger coming to town in Spotlight is when the Boston Globe hires Marty Baron (Liev Schreiberwho was the executive editor at The Miami Herald.

As the editor at the Boston Globe, Baron oversaw the investigative team that earned a Pulitzer for their coverage of sexual abuse in the Catholic church. If the movie version is true, it was Baron’s being a stranger to Boston culture that helped him pursue truth at whatever the cost.

“Over the course of 2002, we probably did almost 1,000 stories on the topic. We went to the court to have documents unsealed that the church had hoped to keep secret, documents that addressed the fact that the church knew these priests had abused and continued to abuse children. It forced the church to address issues that had essentially been swept under the rug for 40 or 50 years.” 
Marty Baron
Leigh University / Department of Journalism & Communication

P.S. Baron is currently the editor of The Washington Post and says, “I see a lot of people getting out of law school who can’t get jobs, but the ones with journalism majors still can. The people who have learned the tools and who are open to working in a variety of different media will find opportunities, and they will succeed.”

Journalism may have hit a wall around 2008, but it’s being revamped offering opportunities for storytellers with multimedia skills. So if you’re a film school grad looking for work, don’t ignore the chance to use your producing, shooting, writing, and/or editing skills in journalism.

Scott W. Smith

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“I never studied writing. I never studied screenwriting. I just hear voices and I see visions, and instead of being locked up I’m a screenwriter.”
Nick Kazan
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters (Part 1) interview with Mike De Luca

“I don’t like roller coasters.”
Kevin Hart

In the first part of screenwriter Nick Kazan’s interview on The Dialogue he mentioned he liked roller coasters. Kazan’s latest script set to be produced is a good example of how much of a roller coaster the film business can be. The Whole Truth was set to be shot earlier this year in Boston starring Daniel Craig, but The Hollywood Reporter said Craig pulled out at the 11th hour—”days before filming.” Part of what that means is an entire crew who had blocked out x-amount of months for work on that project now had to scramble for new opportunities. It also means a loss of millions of dollars in hotels, meals, rentals, etc. in the Boston area.

Fast forward a few months and I’ve read reports that instead of the story being about a lawyer in Boston, it will now be a southern lawyer as production has shifted to New Orleans. Keanu Reeves to replace Craig with Renee Zellweger co-starring and Courtney Hunt (Frozen River) directing. While one article said the changing of locations was a “slight shift in the story” think about what that means from Kazan’s perspective.

Boston and New Orleans are two different cultures. Perhaps the plot stays the same, you could even change the setting of a historic building in Copley Square to a historic building in the French Quarter. A downtown waterfront scene set in Boston Harbor can be shot on the Mississippi River.  But the whole background and mindset of a lawyer from New Orleans and a lawyer from Boston can be as different as their accents. Worlds apart.

I guess they could cheat and make it a Boston lawyer in New Orleans. I’m sure there’s more than one Harvard-educated lawyer kicking around Louisiana. Kind of a fun contrast to think about. Image a lawyer from a wealthy  Boston family who when thinking of heading south, thinks of Martha’s Vineyard. Give that man a shrimp po’boy and toss him into the mix of a post-Katrina New Orleans.

But Kazan’s a writer and so he’ll make it work–new visions and new voices.

And just in case you’re wondering why producers would make such a major shift in locations so late in the game the answer is simple—money. Louisiana has been aggressive in the last few years in courting film production via film incentives. In fact, at this year’s Oscar awards “four of the six highest-profile Academy Awards went to New Orleans-shot films.” (Including the Best Picture, 12 Years a Slave.)  You may be surprised that one report said that in 2013 Louisiana overtook California in film production.

“We have been on a steady upward trajectory since Louisiana adopted its incentive program in 2002… 2013 was our biggest year.”
Chris Stelly, executive director of Louisiana Entertainment
Move over Hollywood! Louisiana is top for film production, CNN Money

When I started this blog Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places in 2008 it was meant to have built-in irony. My Purple Cow to borrow Seth Godin’s phrase. But with the change in the economy since ’08—plus changes in digital filmmaking— and seeing Louisiana become a major player and Atlanta being called The New Hollywood—somehow filmmaking outside New York and L.A. seems less ironic.

I’ll write more about that later, but it would be interesting to read an interview where Kazan unpacked how his voices and visions changed as he had to transpose his script from Boston to New Orleans.

BTW—That roller coaster of change happens at every level of production. I have a DP friend who was booked on a big broadcast shoot recently who invested $3,000 in new equipment for the shoot only to have it cancel. That roller coaster effect is probably one of the top five reasons crew people leave the production business. It’s hard enough if you live in LA and are booked on a 2 or 3 month shoot away from your family, but harder when that shoot cancels and you end up not landing another gig quickly. The whole truth is roller coasters can be fun, you just don’t want to live on one.

Related post:
Nick Kazan’s Chainsaw Inspiration
Sex, Lies & Mr. Bill (Screenwriting from Louisiana)
Shrimp, Giants & Tyler Perry

Scott W. Smith

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I couldn’t help but smile yesterday when I saw The Hollywood Reporter headline:

‘Holland, Michigan’ Tops 2013 Black List 

The Holland, Michigan script written by Andrew Sodroski received 46 mentions from film executives placing it at the top of the pile of the best unproduced scripts kicking around Hollywood.

While I know more about the town of Holland, Michigan (it’s a lovely place in Western Michigan with heated sidewalks downtown) than the script of the same name, here’s the story’s logline:

When a traditional Midwestern woman suspects her husband of infidelity, an amateur investigation unravels. 

Not a killer logline, so the script must be killer.

Collider reported that Holland, Michigan “will be directed by Errol Morris and stars Naomi Watts.” Deadline stated that the screenwriter Sodroski is a Boston native who has a MFA in screenwriting from Columbia University and repped by CAA And the LA Times added Sodroski is “a former Harvard medieval history major who now lives in Kosovo.”

Kosovo? Talk about screenwriting in unlikely places….

(Though honestly, both Harvard and Columbia are well-traveled paths to Hollywood—see update below. Having degrees from both is a good sign that Sodroski is a smart cookie. But that Kosovo is a curveball.)

On days like this it’s really fun to have this little niche in the screenwriting world. Cheers to Sodroski, and all the screenwriters who made the 2013 Black List.

I’m sure we’ll all be learning more about Holland, Michigan the movie and Andrew Sordroski in coming months. Until them feel free to learn more about the town Holland, Michigan via the Internet and enjoy the Sufjan Stevens song Holland from his album Michigan. Brooklyn-based Stevens was born in Detroit and attended Hope College in Holland, MI. (H/T to Indiewire for pointing out the Holland song.)

P.S. Holland, Michigan’s Tulip Time Festival held each year in May has been called by Readers Digest as the “Best Small Town Festival.”  A couple of years ago the town of 35,000  was listed as the second (behind Boulder, CO) Healthiest and Happiest Places in America.  And you may be surprised to know that Holland, Michigan (which sits across Lake Michigan from Chicago) is known for sailing. My Holland, Michigan based production friend John Grooters directed the documentary American Sailors.

Update: Found a link to the 2011 Harvardwood Writers’ Competition where Sodroski, along with co-writer Raven Burnett, were runner-ups for their feature script Dark Ops. Here’s the logline for the action thriller that reads better than the logline for Holland, Michigan:

When a team of American soldiers occupies a mysterious Afghani monastery, they suddenly find themselves battling enemies beyond their comprehension. 

Harvardwood helps connect Harvard Alumni and students to those established in the arts, media and entertainment. A nice perk if you’re connected to Harvard. Hollywood may be a small town (or a big high school) but it has more than a few Ivy Leaguers in general, and former Harvard students specifically; Darren Aronofsky, Matt Damon, Ron Bass and Terrence Malick just to name a few. Here’s a list of Darthmouth Alumni in Entertianment in Media, and you can follow the Yalies in entertainment at Yale in Hollywood. Oh, and Princeton University (Ethan Coen, David E. Kelly, Bo Goldman) has Princeton in Hollywood. 

Even if you can’t or didn’t attend an Ivy League school, if you live near Cambridge, New Haven, Hanover or Princeton you can still make friends at those schools. Work on student films, go see guest lectures they bring in, and get creative being a part of the culture there. In the case of Harvard, you can become a Friend of Harvardwood if referred by a current member.

Related posts (Note; Michigan and Boston come up time and time again on this blog):

Michigan related posts:

Screenwriting from Michigan
Michigan’s Sam Raimi & the Guy with Greasy Hair
Rejection Before Raiders
Saul Bellow & Unlikely Places
Start Small…But Start Somewhere
Elmore Leonard
From Ann Arbor to Smallville (David S. Goyer)
“Life of Pi” Screenwriter David Magee
Kalamafrickin’zoo’s Talent Pool
Screenwriting from Grand Rapids (near Holland)
Writer/Director Paul Schrader

Boston related posts:

Screenwriting from Massachusetts
Will Simmons’ Road to Hollywood
Writing “Good Will Hunting”
Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg
(Yawn)…Another Pulitzer Prize
Don’t Quit Your Day Job
Screenwriting Quote #42 (Brad Anderson)
Screenwriting Quote #3 (Charlie Kaufman)
Screenwriting Quote #179 (Chris Terrio)
Screenwriting Quote #148 (Edward Zwick)
Writing “Edward Scissorhands”
Writer Michael Crichton (1942-2008)

Scott W. Smith

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“After graduating in 2007 [University of Miami], I knew I wasn’t ready to move to LA. My chops as a writer weren’t sharp enough to survive the Hollywood meat grinder. I needed time to hone my craft, so I moved back to Boston and worked at an Italian restaurant delivering pizzas. The best part about living at home was that my expenses were minimal, so every cent I earned went toward my wagons-west-fund. I wanted to make the most of this interim period, so I dove headfirst into writing feature specs. I wrote nonstop. Most of the scripts never saw the light of day, but my skills evolved with each completed draft. I was finding my voice.

During this time, I also made five short films. It was startling how much my directorial endeavors informed my writing. Listening to actors breathe life into your dialogue is a humbling and instructional experience. You start to understand how conversations translate from the page to the set, and how to craft dialogue with a naturalistic ear, while still retaining the narrative thrust essential to story progression.”
Screenwriter Will Simmons (His script Murder City made The Black List in 2012)
Go Into the Story interview with Scott Myers

P.S. Often we only read interviews of writers after they’ve received a measure of success in the films they’ve made or after their first film has been a box office hit. What’s great about the six-part interview Will Simmons did with Scott Myers is it shows us a screenwriter in mid-step. Though none of Simmon’s feature scripts have been produced, he does have deals in the works at Warner Bros.  and is repped by UTA and Energy Entertainment. It’s important to point out that Simmons made a couple short films in college, and five short films after graduating. And his early writing in school led him to an independent study in screenwriting during his senior year of high school. So while he’s a hot young writer now, keep in mind that his writing journey so far has taken 10+ years. As screenwriter Bob DeRosa wrote, “There are no shortcuts. There is only hard work. Perseverance. Luck. Craft. Failure. Success. Mistakes. And yes, dreams that come true.”

In his Go Into The Story interview Simmons said, “I have sort of an old-school, blue-collar mentality when it comes to work ethic, so instead of making excuses I just write nonstop.”

Will Simmons on Twitter @willsimmons_

Related Posts:

The 99% Focus Rule (Tip #70) “99% of your effort should go to writing a good script. “—Michael Arndt
Screenwriting from Massachusetts
Don’t Quit You Day Job
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
Writing “Good Will Hunting”
Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg
Why You Should Move to L.A.
Why You Shouldn’t Move to L.A.
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (Tip #2)

Scott W. Smith

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“I was just a guy with a pen and paper and an idea for a book.”
Sebastian Junger
Author of The Perfect Storm

“Writing is sweat and drudgery most of the time. And you have to love it in order to endure the solitude and the discipline.”
Peter Benchley
Author of Jaws

Yesterday I had a video shoot in Cedar Rapids and ate lunch the Irish Democrat Pub & Grille which is the kind of local, non-chain restaurant many people hope to find when they stop in a new town. I’m not sure if their cheese wontons are Irish but they were good.  The place has been around for more than 20 years and taps into that whole John F. Kennedy thing for their theme.

Somehow Kennedy, a Harvard grad, got me thinking about screenwriters from Massachusetts. A lot of talent has flowed through that state because of the colleges.  In fact, look at this list of writers who’ve attended Harvard alone and have had their books and screenplays made into movies:

Frank Pierson  (Dog Day Afternoon) 1976 Oscar winner
James Agee (The African Queen) 1952 Oscar nomination
James Torback (Bugsy), 1991 Oscar nomination
Whit Stillman (Metropolitan) 1991 Oscar nomination
Ron Bass (Rain Man) 1988 Oscar winner (shared with Barry Morrow)
Philip Kaufman (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) 1989 Oscar Nomination
Erich Segal (Love Story) 1971 Oscar Nomination
Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line) 1999 Oscar Nomination
Douglas Kenney (co-writer Animal House, Caddyshack) Co-founder of National Lampoon magazine
Norman Mailer (The Executioner’s Song) 1983 Primetime Emmy Nomination
Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream)
Sooni Taraporevala (Salaam Bombay!)
William S. Burroughs (Naked Lunch)
John Updike (Rabbit, Run)
George Plimpton (Paper Lion)
Ben Mezrich (21)
Ethan Canin (The Emperor’s Club)
Scott Turow (Presumed Innocent)
Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park)
Peter Benchley (Jaws) Novel and co-wrote script that became the first film to make over $100 million
Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting) 1998 Oscar winner
Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan) Oscar-nomination

Eugene O’Neill (Long Day’s Journey Into Night) winner of four Pulitzer Prizes for drama studied playwriting at Harvard and honed his craft writing one-act melodramas for the Provincetown Players on the northern tip of Cape Cod.  From there he became one of a handful of giants in American theater.

While he was born in New York and found his greatest success on Broadway, O’Neil is one more example of someone developing their talent in smaller towns.

But not all writers from Massachusetts have had the benefit of a Harvard connection. In fact, there is one writer from Belmont, Massachusetts who is a nice role model for this entire blog. Sebastian Junger was armed with a degree in cultural anthropology (from Wesleyan College in Connecticut) when he kicked around as a freelance writer until he had an accident while working as a tree cutter in 1991.

In just so happened that at the same time a six fishermen who had left Gloucester on the Andrea Gale died at sea. Junger became fascinated by what happened and used his down time recovering from his injury to write an article, that became a book, that inspired the movie The Perfect Storm.

Junger writes in the introduction of The Perfect Storm:

“My own experience in the storm was limited to standing on Gloucester’s Back Shore watching thirty-foot swells advance on Cape Ann, but that was all it took. The next day I read in the paper that a Gloucester boat was feared lost at sea, and I clipped the article and stuck it in a drawer. Without even knowing it, I had begun to write The Perfect Storm.”

But what really separates him from everyone else who heard about that story is he followed his curiosity and eventually did the research, wrote the article, then the book that became a #1 New York Times Bestseller and a George Clooney movie. He ended up on Oprah, with a career as a writer, and even part owner of The Half King bar and restaurant in New York.

Of course, Massachusetts has a long literary tradition going way back to the Puritans founding the Massachusetts Bay in Colony in 1630, and then with Thoreau, Hawthorne and Emerson that I won’t touch on here. I’m not as interested in an exhaustive history lesson as much as encouraging you to write.

But the well does appear deep in Massachusetts. And here’s one more example for you to focus on your writing not where you live:

“New York’s playwright find of the year (Eugene O’Neill) lives obscurely in a clean little cottage, miles from nowhere on Cape Cod.”
Olin Downs
Boston Sunday Post (August 1920)

Update November 2008: Screenwriters from Boston may be interested in the Screenwriting Certificate Program at Emerson College and the group that calls itself New England’s oldest screenwriters network is the Harvard Square Scriptwriters. If you are interested is shooting in Massachusetts contact the Massachusetts Film Office. Paul Sherman has a book out called Big Screen Boston that goes into detail about some of the many movies that have been made in the Boston area.

Update June 2010: Just learned that two-time Oscar winner Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) is from Rockport, Massachusetts.

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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