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Posts Tagged ‘Burt Renyolds’

“My ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but they met the boat.”
Cowboy, humorist, actor, Cherokee Will Rogers

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among those are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
1776 USA Declaration of Independence


Chief Kandiyohi 17-foot tall statue by artist Eben E. Lawson 
Shot while on location in Willmar, Minnesota

What do the following U.S. cities and states have in common?

Minnesota, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Michigan, North & South Dakota, Utah, Kentucky, Connecticut, Cheyenne, Oklahoma City, Omaha, Tallahassee, Lake Tahoe, Roanoke, Saratoga, Seattle, Chicago, Malibu and Manhattan.

Those are just a few places whose names are rooted (or believed to be rooted) in American Indian culture.  It was in in the movie Wayne’s World that many learned from the great historian (and rocker) Alice Cooper that the city of Milwaukee was an Indian word; “It’s pronounced ‘mill-e-wah-que’ which is Algonquin for ‘the good land.’”(I even don’t know if that’s true, but if it’s in the movies it must be, correct?)

What I do know is one of the great things about America is it is indeed a melting pot of cultures and traditions.  And Native American Indian culture is a huge part of that melting pot.

In some ways, if you grew up in America—black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Indian, whatever—your story is probably similar to mine in some ways. Today I live in Black Hawk County in Iowa, the town I grew up in the South was Seminole County, one of the colleges I attended was the University of Miami, I was born in Ohio—again all names rooted in American Indian culture. You can’t escape it and the mythology that surrounds it.

I grew up seeing old cowboy and Indian westerns on TV and enjoyed playing the Indian as much as the cowboy. What little boy doesn’t want their face painted? (One American Indian actor said he like pretending he was Gary Cooper in old West. Two way street, I guess.)  I liked Tonto as much as the Lone Ranger. But the big American Indian event of my youth was seeing Billy Jack when I was 12.

Forget John Wayne oe Bruce Wayne. I wanted to be Billy Jack. Tom Laughlin played a kind of a peace loving half-Cherokee Indian who could kick ass if needed. And if you couldn’t be Billy Jack you at least wanted him to show up when you were in dire straits, because you knew he could take care of business. Then as Bob Marley sang in Three Little Birds, “every little thing gonna be all right.”

I watched Billy Jack a couple of nights ago to see if it holds up. It does. Low budget to be sure—message driven with some meandering improv scenes— but the emotional theme of standing up to injustice is there along with a Messianic-like Billy Jack to lay down his life for his people. (Like America, the movie is isn’t perfect, but Billy Jack is definitely worth looking today from a filmmaking perspective asking the question why it was such a tremendous box office success and still resonates with people today. I’ll do a post on this later because long before The Blair Witch Project that little indie film helped change the industry.)

I started to put together a list of movies featuring American Indians, but those waters are too deep for me to navigate at this time. (But I welcome you listing your favorite American Indian related films in the comment section—especially if you’re an American Indian. And please tell me what you think is good about the film.) Let me just make this blanket statement for now— that on this land, some incredibly moving pictures have been made. (I feel like I’m running for some political office.)

Since this is a blog on screenwriting let me end this week-long run on about American Indians talking about some high-profile screenwriters with at least some Indian blood.

Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Inglorius Basterds) was reportedly not only named after the Indian character Quint on the TV show Gunsmoke (played by Burt Renyold’s (how perfect is that in Tarantino’s legacy?), but Tarantino himself has Cherokee blood on his mother’s side.

Billy Bob Thorton (Sling Blade) is quoted as saying, “Ethically, I was screwed from the beginning, being Italian, Cherokee, and Irish.”

Even this blog as some Cherokee blood running through it. When I did a video shoot last year of a Cherokee artist in Okalahoma (Bill Rabbit, who just past away this year), I told him my grandmother’s grandmother from Kentucky was part-Cherokee, (“way down the line” as Johnny Deep says of his Cherokee roots) the Indian artist told me I was Indian and it didn’t matter what percent or what they looked like. He said he was half-Indian but he knew a blond lady who was more Indian than him. (James Earl Jones is said to be African, Irish, Cherokee.) I have a friend in Florida who also has Cherokee roots in Kentucky whose last name is Rainwater. I told him that Rainwater was a much cooler name than Smith and joked about changing my name to Scott Rainwater, He said “welcome to the Rainwater tribe.”

So there you go— a couple Academy Award winning-screenwriters, a couple of the finest American Actors (Depp & Jones), and the great Will Roger (and even the writer of an Emmy-Award winning screenwriting blog) all with at least a little Cherokee blood.

It may be an unlikely place to end this post, but I just get a kick out of imagining a ten-year old Quentin Tarantino sitting in a movie theater watching the following scene from Billy Jack where he stands up for some American Indian kids from the local reservation who’ve just been bullied trying to buy some ice cream in town. ( A scene that I also believe influenced the “I do not want to fight you” scene in An Officer and a Gentleman.) If Tarantino never saw Billy Jack, I don’t want to know it—it’d ruin my mythology.

P.S. I have a sudden urge to track down one of those hats Billy Jack wore and finally visit Monument Valley in Navajo Indian Nation. (Ouch, just learned those replica Billy Jack hats cost over $500—better start saving for that. Caliqo.com says the hatbands are handmade on a loom at the Kahnawake Indian Reservation and take 30 hours to reproduce.)

P.P.S. By the way, if you’re in the Santa Fe area this week (though August 19, 2012) you can catch the Native Cinema Showcase at the Santa Fe Market which is showing shorts, features, and documentaries that are dedicated “towards advancing knowledge and understanding of the Native cultures in the Western Hemisphere.

Scott W. Smith

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“Subtext is what the character is really saying beneath and between the lines. Often characters don’t understand themselves. They’re often not direct and don’t say what they mean. We might say that subtext is all about underlying drives and meanings that are not apparent to the character, but that are apparent to the audience or reader.”
Linda Seger
Creating Unforgettable Characters
page 148

“If two characters say  ‘I love you’ and mean it, the scene is over. In other words, a story must have a subtext. Subtext is what lies beneath the text. It can be the underlying meaning of a story, the subconscious motives of a character, or what is really going on moment by moment in the scene.”
Linda Stuart
Getting Your Script Through the Hollywood Maze
Page 90

By adding the prefix sub (under, below) to a word changes the meaning of the root word.  A submarine is able to go under the water—sometimes deep under water. Writing good subtext in a screenplay is writing dialogue and scenes that are beneath the surface. Sometimes deep below the surface. Sometimes it takes multiple viewings of a film for you to catch the subtext.

I first heard the term subtext in an acting class years ago. Actors love to play the subtext of a scene. You can give an actor a line like, “I’m going to miss you,” and they can play it ten different ways.

A very simple example of subtext is in the movie Juno when Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) are contemplating what color they’re going to paint their nursery for the baby they are adopting. At the end of the page and a half scene Mark says, “I think it’s too early to paint. That’s what I think.” On the surface he seems to me saying, “Let’s wait until we know if it’s a boy or a girl and then decide on the color.”

But it’s really two short sentences packed with subtext. And as you read the Diablo Cody script. or watch the movie, the story unfolds a little more and you know exactly what was really going through Mark’s mind.

Sometimes, like in that case from Juno, the subtext isn’t recognized until later in the film. And sometimes the subtext is instantly recognized by the audience like the 70s guilty pleasure Smokey and the Bandit when Burt Reynolds says, “I only take my hat off for one thing….”

One of my favorite scene of subtext is in Cast Away, written by William Broyles, Jr. (Technically it’s two or three scenes, but one just spills over from the house to the garage to the jeep.) It’s toward the end of the movie when Tom Hanks has returned after years of being stranded on an island and is going to meet his old love (Helen Hunt).  Like most people she believed he was killed in the plane crash and is now married with children.

It’s a tender scene that in the script goes on for six pages as they talk about everything but their relationship; The weather, her kids, the Tennessee Titans almost winning the Super Bowl, where the search parties looked for him—everything but their relationship. Finally Hank’s says, “I should have never got on that plane.” That revelation is too powerful for Hunt to deal with so she changes the subject to take him to the garage where she still has his old jeep.

He says, “You kept the car? She says, “I kept everything.” The scene plays on and no one is talking about the elephant in the room; they still love each other. At one point they pause and look into each other’s eyes and it’s subtext without any text. Finally, Hunt says “Right back. You said you’d be right back.” They open up and proclaim their love for each other which is all the more agonizing because she has another family she is committed to. Great writing full of conflict, and full of subtext.

Scott W. Smith

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In the past week I watched two modern classic films (Deliverance & Scent of a Women) and read the script again for Juno. Though these movies are different in genre and were made in three different decades they have at least one thing in common – they are simple stories.

Four guys go take a boating trip, a prep school kid takes a caretaker job to make a little money over the Thanksgiving weekend, and a teenage girl gets pregnant. Simple.

“The story line idea (of In the Line of Fire) involves a Secret Service agent who survived the Kennedy assassination in Dallas and who must now prevent an assassin from killing the current president. That situation is complicated by the intensity of both the hero and the villain as they conflict over who will prevail. This brief statement summaries the movie. Many films are equally simple when reduced to a sentence or two in this way. Let this be our first lesson: Movie stories are usually simple…..Write simple stories and complex characters.”
Paul Lucey
Story Sense
Page 5

So while Deliverance, Scent of a Woman and Juno are simple stories certainly Burt Renyolds, Al Pacino, and Ellen Page played complex characters. Revisit the scripts of those films written by James Dickey, Bo Goldman, and Diablo Cody to see how they weaved their magic. And don’t confuse simplicity with being simple.

Robert McKee is fond of pointing out the complexity of the simple french toast scene in Kramer Vs. Kramer. While on the surface it’s a scene simply about a father making breakfast for his son. But it’s really a complex scene as the Dustin Hoffman character is in conflict with himself (inner-conflict), his son who is telling him he’s doing it wrong (personal conflict), he’s at conflict with the kitchen (enviroment/extra-personal), and he’s even at conflcit with his wife who isn’t even there but the main reason he is having all these other conflicts.

McKee writes in is book Story, “My advice to most writers is to design relatively simple but complex stories. ‘Relatively simple,’ doesn’t mean simplistic. It means beautifully turned and told stories restrained by these two principles: Do not proliferate characters; Do not not multiply locations. Rather than hopscotching through time, space, and people, discipline yourself to a reasonably contained cast and world, while you concentrate on creating a rich complexity.”

Related Post: Screenwriting & Time
(Notice the time lock on the first three films I mentioned? Deliverance & Scent of a Woman basically take place over a weekend and Juno takes place over the term of her pregnancy.)

Scott W. Smith

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