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Posts Tagged ‘California’

“I have a theatrical temperament…. I think it comes out of being a ‘daughter of the Golden West.’ A lot of the stories I was brought up on had to do with extreme actions-leaving everything behind, crossing the trackless wastes, and in those stories the people who stayed behind and had their settled ways-those people were not the people who got the prize. The prize was California.”
Joan Didion
NY Times/Staking Out California

Congrats to writer/director Greta Gerwig on he Best Director Oscar nomination this morning for her work on Lady Bird.  I don’t think Gerwig wrote the screenplay for Lady Bird in literally Sacramento (she’s based in New York these days), but Sacramento is where she emotionally wrote this movie.

And that’s central to what I’ve been trying to convey for the past decade on this blog.  A sense of place. That’s what I’ve tried to encourage. The same way Horton Foote wrote about the Texas he knew, and Tennessee Williams wrote about the South he knew.

After reading and listening to interviews with Gerwig there were many things that informed the look and feel of her story set an partially shot in Sacramento, California.

Besides growing up there there is the writing of Joan Didion (who also was raised in Sacramento), there was the John Huston film movie Fat City about two boxers heading in different direction in their lives (Which was shot in Stockton, CA), the paintings of William Eggleston, Greg Kondos, and Wayne Thiebaud (who once taught at Sacramento City College).

“I think California in general in terms of ghosts, it’s got some lost dreams. And the quality of lost dreams is different depending on what place your in. Los Angeles has a lot of lots dreams of a certain kind, but so does northern California, so San Francisco definitely. And Sacramento does, too. Sacramento is a place that came up because of the gold rush and later the dust bowl. There’s got to be a better life, and maybe I will strike it rich. Maybe I will be a gentleman farmer, or get gold. And I think these mythologies about places actually seep into how people think about themselves and their lives. And it’s an different kind of mythology that California has than say Connecticut has…. When we were working on figuring out how to shoot [Lady Bird] there was a whole discussion ‘Can you write it as a different city?’—just because of tax breaks. It would be cheaper to shoot it in Ohio, and I was like, ‘But I don’t know the mythology of Ohio the way that I know the mythology of California. This is a California story in its bones and if I shift it it’ll just feel arbitrary.’ And I feel like the more specific something can be the more universal it can be.”
Writer/Director Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird)
Crew Call 18/The Deadline Podcast

P.S. If you’re not familiar with Joan Didion’s work check out her collection of essays at We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live, and the Netflix documentary Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold.

Scott W. Smith

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“I grew up in the Compton/Lynwood area of Los Angeles. My family has no connection with the entertainment industry at all except that I had a very beloved aunt named Denise who was a lover of the arts, of film and music and theater and literature. She gifted me with an appreciation for it all. But she was truly a ferocious movie watcher and fan with an encyclopedic knowledge of film. How she got it is really just through the atmosphere, because there was no one ahead of her to introduce her to the arts, but luckily she was there for me. I spent many an afternoon, getting picked up from school going straight to a movie. Long conversations about film and books and art. It was really all a gift from my aunt to me.”
Director Ava DuVernay (Selma)
Interview with Scott Myers/Go Into The Story

P.S. I’ve said before that you can live not far from the Hollywood sign in West Covina, California and feel like you’re in West Des Moines, Iowa. The Compton/Lynwood area only about 20 miles south of the Hollywood sign would be low on the list for places in Los Angeles County where you’d bet on someone rising to a filmmaking career in Hollywood. (Though an abundance of rappers and professional athletes are from the area. NWA/Straight Outta Compton.  NFL great Richard Sherman playing for Seattle in the Super Bowl this Sunday was born in Compton.)  I spent some time in and around Compton/Lynwood in the early 80s while working as a photographer in nearby Cerritos. Gritty would be a word to describe it then. At least back then—and when DuVernay was in high school— the area was known for it’s heavy presence of African-American and Hispanic gangs.

I’m guessing the area was different in the 1940-50s from what I saw in the 1980s, because actor/director Kevin Costner was born in Lynwood in 1955 and future Presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush lived in Compton briefly in 1949.

I hope Ava DuVernay’s (@AVAETCfilmmaking success is an inspiration to all of you who come from or live in “unlikely places.” But make sure you read the full interview at the Go Into the Story blog  (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) to see the many steps she took to write and direct movies.

Related posts:
Postcard #82 (Selma)
25 Links Related to Blacks & Filmmaking
Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting 

Related LA Times Article: WME talent agents go from A-List to ABCs in Compton mentors program. Very cool.

Scott W. Smith

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‘I love the script I wrote for Erin Brockovich. But even more, I love the movie. I love what it started as, and I love everything that was added to it by all the bright, talented people who came onto the project after me.”
Susannah Grant
Erin Brockovich: The Shooting Script (Newmarket Press)

“Film is, of course, a collaborative art and yes, sometimes those collaborations are like shotgun weddings of mismatched souls; the whole thing goes awry and everyone walks off in a huff vowing never to talk to each other. That can definitely happen.

“But what can also happen is that you end up working with enormously gifted collaborators whose input elevates your writing above and beyond what it would have been had you just been working on your own. Nora Ephron had a great analogy for this, and since I wouldn’t dream of trying to improve on Nora Ephron I’ll simply paraphrase her. She likened it to making a pizza.

“She said the screenwriter makes the dough, the sauce and the cheese and says ‘look I made a pizza’. The director comes along and says ‘hey that’s a great pizza, I wonder what it would be like if we added some pepperoni’. And you add the pepperoni. And then a couple of actors come along and they say ‘you know what else would be really good – some tomatoes and maybe some peppers’. And it goes on like that.

“I have been very lucky to have had some great condiments added to my pizza over the years. I want to share with you one of my favorites, it’s a scene from Erin Brockovich.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich)
2013 BAFTA and BFI Screenwriters’ Lecture Series
(Below is the scene–from 0:00 to 2:21— Grant showed at her lecture. And the quote below is how she drove home her point.)

“Okay, arguably not a poorly written scene. However Aaron Eckhart’s falling to his knees and then on his face at the end, to me, is my favorite moment in the [movie] and that was all him. That is what you get when you work with [talented] people.”

I don’t know if the idea to have Eckhart fall forward came from Eckhart, the director Steven Soderbergh , Richard LaGravense who did uncredited work on the script, or someone else on the crew—but it was a super way to visually show how he’d been shot down by the no nonsense Brockovich. And a nice way to tie up the scene with a touch of humor.

BTW—I found this article where Nora Ephron talks about collaborating and pizza making and gives the flip side of the story, which is sometimes the ingredients added make the pizza worse.

P.S. Last year George Johnson writing in Slate reflected back on the now 20 year old events surrounding PG&E and Hinkley, California stating:

“The Erin Brockovich incident, one of the most famous, is among the many [environmental contaminants] that have been debunked. Hexavalent chromium in the water supply of a small California town was blamed for causing cancer, resulting in a $333 million legal settlement and a movie starring Julia Roberts. But an epidemiological study ultimately showed that the cancer rate was no greater than that of the general population. The rate was actually slightly less.”

The truth is out there somewhere.

Related posts:
David O. Russell on Characters & Theme “I always look for amazing characters who I find are fascinating, charming, flawed, romantic and in trouble.”
Writing ‘Erin Brockovich’
Emotional Autobiography (2.0)
Scriptshadow Secrets Touches on character introductions with Erin Brockovich as a good example.

Scott W. Smith

 

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“Two american kids growin up in the heartland…”
Jack & Diane
John Mellencamp

Steve McQueen has been dead for thirty years now, but they still call him the king of cool. Last night I watched The Sand Pebbles which was McQueen’s only Oscar-nominated role.

After the film I did some checking to see where the king of cool came from and guess what I found out? He was born seventy years ago this month in Beech Grove, Indiana. The interesting thing about that is he was born just a year earlier, and about an hour and a half drive from another cool guy, James Dean who was born in Marion, Indiana.

That’s a lot of cool for one part of the country–especially at the same time. (Can’t believe John Mellencamp from Seymour, Indiana hasn’t written a song about that.)

McQueen’s family life wasn’t so cool as his father abandoned his family, leaving him with an alcoholic mother. As a youngster he went to live with family in another Midwest town, this time outside of Kansas City on a farm in Slater, Missouri. Later in life he would settle in Santa Paula, California and say that it reminded him of his hometown of Slater. As a teenager he was back with his mother and now living in Los Angeles but he got into various trouble and ended up living in what is now known as the Boy’s Republic, a home for at risk boys in Chino Hills, California.

He left the Boy’s Republic when he was 16 and ended up wandering the country working at various odd jobs until he joined the Marines when he was 17. He was honorably discharged a couple year later and used his G.I. Bill to study acting. After a decade of smaller roles he became a star in The Great Escape (1963), followed by Bullitt, The Cincinnati Kid and The Sand Pebbles. In 1974 he was the highest paid actor in Hollywood. But it’s almost a cliché to say that didn’t mean he was happy. Cool but not content.

He went through a couple divorces and tangled with more than one director. His co-stars have said he was personable and charismatic, but also an unpredicable, angry troubled man, who was distrustful of people and insecure due to his upbringing. Perhaps that’s where his cool came from.  A sort of carefree aloofness. But there is no doubt that part of his cool factor was not only that he was a good-looking movie star, but that he raced cars and motorcycles and flew planes. That’s the image that even today sells watches, cars and khaki pants and pours money into his estate.

McQueen was a contradiction in many ways; for a while he worked out for two-hours a day, but he also smoked, drank heavily and used drugs. He was worth millions but sometimes slept in an airport hanger. He didn’t trust people and was said to be a loner who played by his own rules (much like his character Jake in The Sand Pebbles), but at the end of his life he put his trust in God. Struggling with an aggressive cancer has a way of putting into perspective fame, money and even being cool. McQueen died of cardiac arrest after a radical surgery in Mexico to remove a large tumor.

McQueen did have some advice for screenwriters saying they ruined too much with dialogue. He believed that actors could often convey more with just a look. Keep that in mind when you watch the next McQueen movie— and when you write. And if you ever question his coolness, remember that Steve McQueen is the one who encouraged Chuck Norris to study acting. That’s right, no Steve McQueen, no legend of Chuck Norris.(Found on the Internet: Chuck Norris has never won an Academy Award for acting… because he’s not acting.)

The one McQueen film I’d love to see is the one that some could say was a result of “sudden serious actor syndrome” where the cool action movie star took on the lead in Ibsen’s Enemy of the People. That’s always been one of my favorite plays and it would be interesting to see how he did playing the role of a doctor who knew what was wrong with the town, though the townspeople didn’t care to listen.

“I’m out of the Midwest. It was a good place to come from. It give you a sense of right or wrong and fairness, which I think is lacking in our society.”
Steve McQueen

Scott W. Smith

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“I just felt like I didn’t come to Vancouver not to pull out the big guns.”
Shaun White

Watching Shaun White win a gold medal last night at the Olympics in Vancouver brought back memories of Tiger Woods’ first big win at Augusta National back in ’97 when he won by a margin of 12 shots–the most in the tournament’s history. Woods was in uncharted territory. And so it is with White and his “Double McTwist 1260.”

You don’t have to know a lot about snowboarding to know that White is way ahead of the competition. And actually the comparison to Woods at this point in his career is fitting.  White began skiing with his family at age four which is around the time Woods began playing golf. Both were mentored by their fathers. And while White’s mother was also an avid skier, it was White’s father who would literally carry White on his back at times because White was so small that he would sink into the snow walking back up to get his runs on the halfpipe. White entered his first amateur snowboard contest at seven and won. He soon had his first sponsor.

White’s dedication and  talents stood out early and by the age of 12 he turned pro and soon began winning events and gaining more sponsors. By the time he was 16 he owned three cars and three homes. These days he earns $10 million a year. And after his gold last night those earning are just going to–like him on a snowboard–soar.

It’s easy to look at 23-year-old Shaun White with his casual smile and long red hair and forget that it’s taken him 19-years of work to put him in the position where he is now. It all goes back to the 10,000 rule–which White probably hit with snowboarding before he hit puberty. But along the way he also had a few major set-backs. The first came just after he was born when he had to have two major surgeries to correct a heart defect. About ten years later as a rising star skateboarder he collided on a doubles skateboarding run with Bob Burnquis that knocked him out and left him with broken bones and fractured skull. And a desire to quit. But his mom wouldn’t let him.

Then in 2002 he missed earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic team by three tenths of a point. All of those things set the stage for him to win the gold medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics. His money and fame haven’t seemed to diminish his passion for the sport.  But keep in mind that before he was cruising around in a Lamborghini he was cruising in a converted van/motorhome improving his skills far from his San Diego home.

“It was insane because we’d all just camp out in the motorhome. It would be my brother Jesse, myself, my sister Kerri, my dad and my mom all in a van. We’d take trips up to Mammoth and all over the place. It is funny now to fly first-class out to a mountain and stay in a nice hotel. It means so much more because of that.”
Shane White
Snowboarding Magazine

I wish White the best. But one thing we can learn from Tiger Woods (and quite a few other atheletes) is an early success does not mean there won’t be some bumps ahead in the road professionally and personally. Since this is a screenwriting blog I came across a fitting quote on that topic by Shane Black:

“I sort of slid off the map a little bit after Long Kiss Goodnight was such a failure back in the nineties, and I don’t know quite how I got back on the map. Because the turnover in these offices, the executives at the studios are now twenty-five, and they saw Lethal Weapon when they were eight—so there’s a sense of being an old-timer before I’m even an old-timer. I had to reinvent my career at age forty. That’s the disadvantage of succeeding early.”
Shane Black
Tales from the Script
Page 292

P.S. It’s funny to think that when I first started skiing in Colorado in the 80s snowboarding wasn’t allowed on some of the mountains. Times change. I’ve read in some places that snowboarders now make up more than half of the ticket sales. After watching Shaun White last night I wonder if any kids starting out want put on a set of skis.

Scott W. Smith

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When I was in film school I heard that producer/director Tony Bill was known to provide up and coming people opportunities to get a start in the movie business. He had won an Oscar for producing The Sting, and at this time and had offices in Venice, California. So I gathered some courage and dropped a resume off at the front desk and waited for Mr. Bill to call. 

Never got that call.

I had not yet been told that I needed to add persistence to my resume. (If you want to practice persistence I recommend blogging daily.)  Over the years whenever I have seen Tony Bill’s name on the credits I always remember my timid approach to the film industry.

So yesterday when I saw that Bill has a book out called Movie Speak I bought it. The subtitle of the book is How to Talk Like You Belong on a Film Set. It’s a helpful little book for anybody who wants to work (or does work) on film, TV and video production sets. Some of the code words are common  (C-stand, room tone, C47), some less common (cardellini, butterfly lighting, redhead), and some I had never heard used (seagull, pull the plug, rhubarb).

As I’ve worked on productions around the country it’s funny to hear how each region has even more production words and phrases than are listed in Bill’s book. But Movie Speak is an excellent little book to give you a foundation (or to fill in some holes) that will help you know what’s going on on the set.

And Bill also offers a little insight into the business as well and I’ll share some of these over the next couple days. The first bit of advice is geared for screenwriters in what I’d file under, “I thought you were creative…”;

“I have scant patience with the lament of writers who claim they cannot get someone to read their script. Instead, I’d offer that a clever-enough submission can get anyone to read (or rather start reading) a script… In fact, I’m opinion enough to say that anyone who can’t figure an original, imaginative , and fresh way of submitting a script probably doesn’t have what it takes to write one.”
Tony Bill
Movie Speak
page 124-125 

Hint from personal experience; finding out where Tony Bill’s office is and simply dropping off a resume is not considered imaginative. But I am working on a script that would be perfect for Bill who directed My Bodyguard. Better late than never, right?

If anyone has a success story of how they used a creative way to get a producer to read a script I’d love to hear it. (Especially if it resulted in a deal.)

Scott W. Smith

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I want to feel, sunlight on my face
See that dust cloud disappear without a trace
I want to take shelter from the poison rain
Where the streets have no name
Bono/U2

I’m going to break up my posts on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to point out the significance of the U2 concert last night that was live-streamed via You Tube to seven continents.

I’m sure we’ll hear in the coming days how many people participated in watching the concert online, but I’m guessing into the milions. I started just watching to see and hear the quality and to see if they could pull it off technologically. They did and I stuck around for the entire concert. It was a late night here in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

For the last four days I’ve been posting a mini history of the Hollywood film industry. They film industry is in a lull now connected to the economy and I wanted to show how it’s always been an industry in flux.

But there are new technologies emerging that will provide many opportunities related to how we shoot and view movies and other forms of entertainment. Last night’s concert was a tour de force of current technologies mixed with great talent and creative energies giving us a foretaste of what is to come.
As a personal side note the concert brought back a few memories of my L.A. days back in the 80s when I did several photography, film and video shoots at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena where the concert was held last night. The concert itself reminded me of Bruce Springsteen’s last Born in the U.S.A. concert at the L.A. Coliseum back in ’85 which I attended with around 100,000 other people.

And as Bono started into The Streets Have No Name I couldn’t help but recall a missed opportunity. I was a writer/director/cameraman and editor with a Burbank production company when their Joshua Tree album came out. On the morning of March 27, 1987 we got wind that U2 was going to be playing on a rooftop in downtown L.A. and thought that would be pretty cool to shoot and experience. Then we decided we didn’t want to deal with all the traffic and the crowd. Watch the You Tube video below to see the security risks involved. The police were doing their job, and the rockers were doing theirs. (Also this was back in MTV’s heyday when record labels dropped a lot of money producing music videos. One more example of how things change.)

Sure wish I would have gone. Life is full of regret and missed opportunities and what I’ve been trying to show in the last couple days and will show in the days to come is that the film industry has been through many bumpy roads in the past but there are new opportunities coming— but it’s going to require you embracing a new way of doing things.

Just keep in mind that five years ago You Tube hadn’t even launched. Can you even imagine what kinds of distribution channels there will be five years from now?

Scott W. Smith

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