Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Cary Grant’

The photo that’s been at the top of this blog all these years is a quintessential farm shot I took one morning outside of Decorah, Iowa where I was shooting a short film.  The anchor in the shot is the barn and silo in the left part of the photo.

That’s classic Iowa. And I hadn’t thought about that photo in years until today when I read this quote about the silo used in A Quiet Place. 

“Where we grew up [in Iowa] was a healthy mixture of city life and farm life. We lived in the city, but you would hear about grain silos being one of the most dangerous things you can fall into. It’s basically like drowning, but in dry grain. It was terrifying to drive by them on country roads. Early in the writing process we said, ‘That has to be part of the setpieces.’”
Screenwriter Scott Beck (A Quiet Place)
Filmmaker Magazine interview with Matt Mulcahey 

Here’s a clip where the young actors Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jope discuss shooting that scene inside a silo surrounded by corn.

Here’s what part of that scene looked like on the page of the original screenplay.

Screen Shot 2018-06-14 at 11.49.08 PM.png

That silo scene reminds me a little of the Mt. Rushmore scene in Hitchcock’s North By Northwest. 

P.S. You want to know an odd connection between North By Northwest and A Quiet Place. Cary Grant, who starred in North By Northwest, died in Davenport, Iowa.  Where did A Quiet Place screenwriters  (Beck and Bryan Woods) grow up and begin making movies? Davenport/Bettendorf, Iowa. (Part of what’s known as the Quad Cities.) Check out my 2010 post Cary Grant and T. Bone…”somewhere in Iowa.” I don’t just make this stuff up. Check out Cary Grant’s IMDB page and see where he died. Then look up Bryan Woods IMDB page and see where he was born.

It’s a small, small world.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“Primary exposition is telling and showing to the audience the time and place of the story, the names and relationships of the characters, and the nature of the conflict.”
Irwin R. Blacker
The Elements of Screenwriting

A lot of time, there’s no excitement under the exposition. It’s just something you have to get past.”
William Goldman

When I was watching the Cary Grant film Charade last week I heard a phrase on the audio commentary that I don’t recall hearing before. It was attributed to Cary Grant; “Stars don’t do exposition.”

I wrote a post two years ago called Screenwriting & Exposition and covered how exposition is best handled. It’s stuff that has to be said so the audience knows what’s going on.   But I’ve never once thought in terms of who actually gives the exposition.  I wondered how common a phrase “stars don’t do exposition” was so I Googled it and only came up with one single match (but it’s a good one):

Blogs, like movie stars, don’t do exposition.  The first rule of screenwriting is that the star never gets stuck giving background information.  The star doesn’t explain that the cavalry is massing because Billy Bob over the hill kidnapped the Platt twins from over t’ Abilene.  Some bit player gets that boring job, and when he’s done he usually gets shot and killed because he’s not needed anymore. Stars, in movies, do action.  The star waves his sword and shouts, “Charge!”
Functional Ambivalent blog

So if you’re writing a script for a movie star, you might want to go through your script and double-check those places when he or she is dishing out exposition.  And if you don’t believe me (or Cary Grant) here’s what William Goldman has to say about the matter. “Stars without exception, hate carrying the plot…If you can give the exposition to a secondary character, do it. It’s just another way of protecting the star.”


Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

In all of the many books I’ve read on screenwriting and screenwriters I don’t recall the name Peter Stone being mentioned once. Perhaps that’s because his films, mostly written in the 60s and 70s, aren’t the most timeless classics from his era—but he did win an Oscar for co-writing Father Goose (1965). In fact, I believe Stone was the first writer to win an Oscar, and Emmy and a Tony. (Even today that’s a small list.) One of the most popular and enduring films that he worked on was Charade (1963) starring Cary Grant. And the script for Sweet Charity (starring Shirley MacLaine and directed by Bob Fossee) was written by Stone, and still has a fan base.

Contemporary writers may know Stone as the screenwriter of the original movie The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 (1976). Stone had a solid background not only having a father (John Stone) who was a screenwriter and producer of more than 100 films, but he earned a Master’s degree from Yale. He died in 2003, but fortunately we have a glimpse of some of his views on writing from his audio commentary on the Charade DVD. There the Oscar, Tony and Emmy winning writer talks about one form of writing that didn’t mesh with his skill set.

“When I couldn’t sell the original screenplay (for Charade) I was advised by my wife, and my agent concurred, to turn it into a novel. I had never written a novel and it was in the course of writing the novel that I came to realized that I had no ability for writing novels at all. It’s a different set of muscles. There are very, very few people who can write dramatic material and narrative prose. Very few. Chekhov could do it. There are some today who can do it. Richard Price can do it. Crichton. They just call on a different set of muscles. One is descriptive and uses language in a way that dramatic material does not.

Dramatic material—everything has to be revealed through behavior, that’s all you have to reveal it with. And description plays such a small part in it. It’s just a different set of muscles at work and I don’t have them, or I never developed them, or I wasn’t interested in them or something. But I sure discovered it immediately. So it was a rotten novel.”
Peter Stone
Charade DVD commentary

That in part explains why Hemingway, Faulkner and Steinbeck never thrived in Hollywood. Is there sufficient proof to say that novelist trying to become screenwriters or screenwriters trying to become novelist leads to excessive drinking? Stone boils it all down for us: It’s simply “a different set of muscles.”

Related Post (as someone who has done well writing novels and screenplays); William Goldman Stands Alone

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“My philosophy is that if you do something good, it’s got a shot. If you want to do something that’s down the middle, the line forms on the right.”
T Bone Burnett

In a Los Angeles Times article titled The true saga behind ‘Crazy Heart,’, Randy Lewis writes about the relationship between T Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton who both provided original music on the film Crazy Heart.

Burnett toured with Bob Dylan in the 70s and is a 10-time Grammy winner including his work on the soundtrack for the Coen brothers film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? The L.A. Times article mentions how both Burnett and Bruton spent time on the road as musicians often do. Part of what is said to give authenticity to the singer Jeff Bridges plays in Crazy Heart is the music that Bruton and Burnett bring to the soundtrack. Burnett recounts a memory from life on the road:

“I was in a motel once called, I think, the Blackhawk Inn, somewhere in Iowa, and it turned out it was the motel that Cary Grant had died in. It was like, wait a minute — Cary Grant didn’t die in this motel, there’s no possible way he ever even saw this motel. Nevertheless, apparently that’s what happened. . . .”

That did in fact happen. And that some place is in Davenport, Iowa. The Hotel Blackhawk closed in 2006 after a fire, but I have read that the hotel built in 1915 is currently being restored.  Film legend Cary Grant was far removed from his starring roles in movies like North by Northwest (1959) and Penny Serenade (1941) and Bringing Up Baby (1938) when the 82-year-old died of a heart attack in Davenport on November 29, 1986. (Though technically, according to the Quad City Times, Grant was taken from the hotel and died at St. Luke’s Hospital.)

So with John Wayne & Johnny Carson being born in Iowa and  Cary Grant & Buddy Holly dying in Iowa those are pretty good icons to have as bookends to this interesting state where seemingly nothing happens related to the entertainment industry. Mix that with the enduring love for Field of Dreams, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, screenwriter Diablo Cody going to college in Iowa City, and the fictitious Captain Kirk being from Iowa and you know why I’ve been able to write about this middle-of-nowhere place for the past two years.

Obviously, Grant’s death here left a mark on Burnett. And my guess is that experience had an impact on Crazy Heart or he wouldn’t still be talking about it. If you follow the trajectory of older (or dead) actors, musicians, writers, etc.  you usually find an arc where their popularity peaked at a certain point in time. After that peak is fertile ground to explore. There’s a great line in the movie Tender Mercies where the once popular country & western singer is asked , “Didn’t you used to be Max Sledge?”

Check out T Bone Burnett’s website and see how his creative journey has unfolded over the years. Born in St.. Louis and raised in Texas on his way to working with the likes of B.B. King, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Sam Sheperd, John Mellencamp, Elvis Costello, Tony Bennett as well as on the films Cold Mountain and Walk the Line.

“I always wanted whatever I was doing to be art, so I was always fighting for those records to measure up to a standard of how I felt when I heard The Kinks for the first time or Ray Charles for the first time. From an early age, I knew I wasn’t as good as the other things I was hearing, but I was always trying to get there. David Hidalgo [of Los Lobos] is incredibly talented, and I thought, ‘David Hidalgo can get to that point; he can be as good in his own way as Miles Davis or Ray Charles.’ So what I was willing to do was wait until the record sounded as good to me in its own way as the first time I heard ‘Lonely Avenue’ by Ray Charles. I would try to be true to that feeling — the effect that music had on me.”
T Bone Burnett
Looking Back, Looking Forward
Mix Magazine article by Blair Jackson

I’m fond of mentioning Iowa artist Grant Wood’s call for regionalism in painting. Burnett is as good as anyone touching on the grassroots of music in this country. Below is the Robert Plant & Alison Krauss version of the John Prine song Killing the Blues. Burnett produced the song on the 2009 Grammy winning album of the year, Raising Sand.

Scott W. Smith




Read Full Post »

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”
                                                
John F. Kennedy 
                                                 Rice University
                                                 September 12, 1962 

 

Ever heard of Wapakoneta, Ohio? 

It happens to be where screenwriter Dudley Nichols was born. He wrote over 70 screenplays including Bringing Up Baby which is a classic Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant film.  He also served as the Screen Guild President in 1937-38.

His first film credit was in 1930 which just happens to be the same year that another fellow was born in Wapakoneta, Ohio who would go on to eclipse Nicholas’ fame.

Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, was born on August 5, 1930 in Wapakoneta, a small town just 59 miles north of where the Wright Brothers designed the first airplane (that would fly) in Dayton, Ohio around the turn of the 20th Century century.

If an Eagle Scout from a small town in Ohio becoming the first person to walk on the moon isn’t inspiration for you to pursue your dreams from wherever you live, then nothing I write can help.

I was eight years old when Armstrong uttered those famous words as he walked on the moon, “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.” Big moment. One of the greatest achievements in modern history. If it was symbolic as some have said, then it was symbolism at its finest. 

I have the original New York Times front page–MEN WALK ON MOON– hanging on my office at work (along with the Sebiscuit movie poster and Don McLean album I’ve mentioned in the past).

Along with wanting to be a fireman and a professional baseball player I added astronaut to things I wanted to be when I grew-up. Growing up in Central Florida in the 60s was a fascinating place to be for the single reason that it in an age before cable TV,  Disney World, and video games (heck, pong wasn’t even invented until 1971)  you could watch a lift off on TV and then run outside and see this small glow rising into the sky on its way to space.

Today is the 40th anniversary of man landing on the moon. And while I remember sitting around the TV watching the event on a fuzzy screen it is the years leading up to it that I remember more. It was a feat that many thought could not be done. And there was plenty of evidence that it was not going to be an easy effort. At one point it is estimated that 400,000 people were working on President Kennedy’s dream to put a man on the moon by the end of the 60s.

It was an endeavor where there would be years of failure and the loss of lives.

Beyond making history the events remembered today are textbook storytelling that has a clear goal at the start, full of interesting characters, plenty of conflict and a fully developed and satisfactory ending. I’m not sure anyone born from 1969 on didn’t grow up thinking that technology could do just about anything. But that wasn’t always the case.

The space program as a whole has resulted in many great books, movies, and television programs on the subject. One of the best is Apollo 13 which was based on a book Lost Moon; The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 by astronaut James Lovell and Jeffery Kluger.  Kluger  wrote the recent Time magazine article on the historic event and touched on one of my favorite themes; what happens after you’ve been to the top of the mountain. Once you have the t-shirt that says, “Walking on the moon –been there done that” then what?

Kluger remembers Lovell’s warning when their book was a best seller and Apollo 13 was in theaters; “Remember where you’re standing when the spotlight goes off, you’ll have to find your own way off the stage.”

That’s wise advice for anyone.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: