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Posts Tagged ‘Cedar Rapids’

“Let me try to state the basic idea of the regional movement. Each section [of the United States] has a personality of its own,  in physiography, industry, psychology. Thinking painters and writers who have passed their formative years in these regions will, by care-taking analysis, work out and interpret in their productions these varying personalities.
Grant Wood
1935 essay Revolt Against the City

Lion-CR

A little touch of Europe in the Midwest. I’m back in Iowa this week for a video shoot and stopped in Cedar Rapids on Monday and took this photo of a lion statue on the 16th Avenue bridge connecting the New Bohemia District and Czech Village.

Maybe a reader can help fill in the facts about why the lion statues are there.

Less than a month ago, the Lion Bridge Brewing Company opened just down the street from this statue. Cedar Rapids native Quinton McClain—who used to work at a brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado—opened the brewery with the help of some tax credits, and it’s part of the renovation of an area that was hammered by the flood of 2008.

“I see Cedar Rapids and its Creative Corridor as a thriving market for craft beer. Small breweries are succeeding because people want to know, more and more, where their products come from. I see it in our farmer’s markets and our local restaurants, and the ever-increasing knowledge of the customer. People want more flavor and variety and honesty. They want to have some connection to the guys and gals and businesses that make the products they enjoy. I saw the Historic Main Street District in Cedar Rapids’ Czech Village as the place for Lion Bridge Brewing because I see the preservation of our architectural and cultural history as the gateway to our city’s future success.”
Quinton McClain

McClain is connecting with an area in the way that another former artist Grant Wood (American Gothic)—a former Cedar Rapids resident—expounded in his discussions about regionalism in the arts.

From the start of this blog in 2008, I’ve always tipped my hat to Wood and his regionalism as an influence.

Related posts:
One Benefit of Being Outside of Hollywood (Robert Rodriguez)
Creativity and Milking Cows
The Rise of the Creative Class
Roadkill Ghost Choir (Folk/Indie band called part of neo-Americana)
Don’t Try to Compete with Hollywood (Edward Burns)
Screenwriting Quote #15 (Terry Rossio) ““If there are two writers, one living in Toronto obsessively focused on quality and craft, and another in Hollywood, looking to make contacts — my money’s on the out of town writer all the way.”—Screenwriter Terry Rossio (Pirates of the Caribbean)

Scott W. Smith

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“I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”
Steve Jobs

Enough about all these Indiana Jones posts I’ve been writing lately, today I’m pulling a quote from Iowa’s Ashton Kutcher.  The one that when I last checked was the highest paid TV star. Forbes estimated his May 2011 to May 2012 earnings were $24 million dollars. The actor who not only stars in Two and A Half Men, but plays Steve Jobs in the just released feature Jobs (2013). And another of his side jobs (no pun intended) is as a spokesman for Nikon cameras.

Busy guy. Successful guy. Here’s what the Iowa born and raised Kutcher had to say the other night at the Teen Choice Awards:

“In Hollywood and in the industry and the stuff we do there are a lot of insider secrets to keeping your career going. And a lot of insider secrets to making things tick…I believe that opportunity looks a lot like hard work. When I was 13 I had my first job with my dad carrying shingles up to the roof. And then I got a job washing dishes at a restaurant. And then I got a job in a grocery store deli. And then I got a job in a factory sweeping Cheerios dust off the ground. And I’ve never had a job in my life that I was better than. I was always just lucky to have a job. And every job I had was a stepping stone to my next job. And  I never quit my job until I had my next job. And so opportunities look a lot like work.”
Ashton Kutcher

A few years ago I did a video shoot for Ogilvy Public Relations at the PEPSICO/Quaker Oats factory in Cedar Rapids where Kutcher swept the floors. One worker there told me, “All I do at my job is watch Life go by.” (As in Life cereal.) Great line.

P.S. Opportunity looked a lot like work to Steve Jobs as well. Here’s the trailer for Jobs (where Ashton Kutcher looks a lot like Steve Jobs) :

Related Quotes:
Steve Jobs (1955-2011)
Making A Name For Yourself 101
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (Tip #2)
Sneaky Long Screenwriting “I’m Zack Johnson and I’m from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. That’s about it, I’m a normal guy.”
Kurt Warner…What a Story (Super Bowl MVP from Cedar Rapids.)
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
The Juno-Iowa Connection (Kutcher attended the same college as Diablo Cody—The University of Iowa)

Scott W. Smith

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Finally, Hollywood has titled a movie after a city in Iowa. The film Cedar Rapids premiered this week at the Sundance Film Festival.

Though not too many people in Cedar Rapids are going to recognize many locations. The majority of the film Cedar Rapids was shot in tax-incentive friendly Michigan. And actually from the little I know about the film, the title Grand Rapids would have probably been more fitting. (And it is in Michigan.)

The movie Cedar Rapids is centered around an insurance convention and stars Ed Helms (The Office), John C. Reilly, Anne Heche and Sigourney Weaver.  It’s said to be in the ballpark of The Hangover so don’t look for heart warming stories about the flood of ’08. But one reviewer wrote, “It’s one of the most fun movies of Sundance.”

Phil Johnston wrote the Cedar Rapids script. I haven’t read any interviews yet on why he chose to set his story in Iowa. But his Cedar Rapids script was on the 2009 Black List (ranked 5th in a list of 97 scripts). If you’re not familiar with The Black List, it’s a good resource to show trends in the film industry as Hollywood insiders list their favorite unproduced screenplays of the year. Some of which eventually become movies. Cedar Rapids joins these films from  the ’09 Black List which did become films:  The Social Network, Buried, Due Date, The King’s Speech, Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps.

What’s somewhat depressing about The Black List is the majority of the well regarded scripts, the cream of the crop, don’t get produced. Nobody said this was an easy business. Perhaps that’s why The Angry Filmmaker keeps telling people—”Make your own damn film.” Good advice, especially if you live in Cedar Rapids—or Grand Rapids. Or wherever you live.

For the record, there are other Hollywood connections to Cedar Rapids.  It’s the town where the older Rose lives in James Cameron’s Titanic. It’s where actor Ashton Kutcher (whose latest film has been at the top of the box office this past week) once swept the floor at the General Mills plant. Actors Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings) and Ron Livingston (Office Space) were born in Cedar Rapids.

Scott W. Smith

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I am strong (strong)
I am invincible (invincible)
I am women

I Am Women
Written by Helen Reddy & Ray Burton

“I couldn’t find any songs that said what I thought being a woman was about. I thought about all these strong women in my family who had gotten through the Depression and world wars and drunken, abusive husbands. But there was nothing in music that reflected that.”
Helen Reddy

The movie Whip It owes a lot to the 1970s. Not only were Whip It screenwriter Shauna Cross, director Drew Barrymore and supporting actress Juliette Lewis born in the 70s— the movie’s theme of girl power rises from the Gloria Steinem version of feminism that came to fruition in the early 70s. (The National Women’s Political Caucus and Ms. Magazine were both founded in 1971 with Steinem’s guidance. A year before Helen Reddy sang I Am Woman in which would become a catchy powerful feminist anthem.)

And while there are probably a zillion different views of feminism today (and plenty of strong women who don’t care for that label) most would look at the role women have in culture today and agree with the popular 70s Virginia Slims ad champaign, “You’ve come a long way baby.”  (Of course, not everyone would agree on the interpretation of that phrase. Some would say a long way good and others a long way bad.) In the 1970s there was a shift in the roles that women would play in business, education, politics, military and sports. I was raised in the 60s-70s by a single mother and two of the best athletes on my street were girls, so I can’t say I felt the shift and only knew the traditional world by watching old reruns of Leave it to Beaver.

(Growing up in Central Florida I have burned into my memory the blarring 70s radio ads for drag racing events, “Big Daddy Don Garlits, and Shirley ‘Cha-Cha’ Muldowney this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Gainesville International Speedway. BE THERE ! BE THERE! BE THERE!” I never did get there but I remember being amazed that there was a female drag racer. Muldowney was the first women to receive a NHRA licence and won NHRA top fuel championships in 1977, 1980 and 1982. Her story was made into the excellent 1983 film Heart Like a Wheel starring Bonnie Bedelia.)

Of course, as women sought more independence, freedom and accomplishments outside the home this would impact how children were raised and as a result our entire culture effected.  Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979) was one of the first films to deal with this changing world. And The Fight Club (1999) dealt with the lingering effects. But honestly, things haven’t exactly been a picnic ever since that incident with the fruit in the garden of Eden. We live in a broken, fallen world and everyday the news confirms this. We go to movies for the hope of a little sliver of restoration.

Which brings us back to Whip It. The movie’s poster with a great shot of star Ellen Page says, “Find your tribe.” It’s about finding your place in this world even if you live in a little town like Bodeen, Texas. I became aware of the story when Cedar Falls, Iowa had a shot at becoming both Bodeen and Austin when I received a call from Mandate Pictures to do some location scouting in the Cedar Falls, Waterloo and Cedar Rapids area here in Iowa.

Iowa’s film incentives were the main reason they considered shooting a story set in Texas. (It would have been a nice payback since the Johnny Depp/Leonardo DiCaprio/Juliette Lewis film What’s Eating Gilbert Grape was set in Iowa but shot in Texas.) When I got the call last spring, Ellen Page was already in Iowa making another Mandate Picture called Peacock which was shooting in the Des Moines area.

I ended up doing two days of scouting and thought we had a good shot. One of the biggest problems though was they were really looking for a 50s style ranch home made of brick. We had a good deal of 50s ranch homes in the area but brick for whatever reason was not commonly used. They also wanted the yards to be a little worn down. Maybe it’s because the soil is good in Iowa or the neat German heritage, but there aren’t many lawns in disrepair in this part of the county.

I took hundreds of pictures for the various locations they needed including the Oink Joint where Page’s character worked. My best find was the town of Vinton, Iowa (between Cedar Falls & Cedar Rapids) that I thought made a fitting small Texas town like the ones I’ve driven through before. But at the end of the day they shot most of the film in Michigan. (Apparently, they don’t take care of their lawns as well as Iowans.) I was bummed when I found out they weren’t shooting in Iowa because it would have meant a lot to the community and I would have loved having a small part in bringing the first Hollywood film here since they shot Country in Black Hawk County back in the mid-80s.

But I’m glad the film got made and will write specifically about it tomorrow. The script was written by Cross based on her youth book Derby Girl. Since I write a blog that’s focused on writing or writers that come from outside of L.A. I enjoyed reading an interview where Cross stated, “It’s easier to be more original writing about Texas than New York or L.A.” But it should be noted that while Cross went to film school at the University of Texas at Austin, she did get her breakthough while living in L.A. and bumping into film people.

Whip It (Part 2)

Scott W. Smith



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This week I called one of the most respected make-up artists in Iowa for an upcoming shoot and I found out she’s booked into August. Turns out she’s working in Des Moines on a feature with Forrest Whitaker (Oscar winner for The Last King of Scotland) and Adrian Brody (Oscar winner for The Pianist).

That’s some major talent hanging out in the state. Think I can get them to do a cameo in a short film I making next week? The film they are starring in is called The Experiment and also features Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings). Wood happens to originally be from Cedar Rapids. One of the fellows helping me on my film next week went pre-school with Wood so I’m kind of in the ballpark.

And speaking of Cedar Rapids, I just read in Variety  yesterday that Alexander Payne (Oscar -winning screenwriter of Sideways) will produce a film called Cedar Rapids that will begin filming in October. The script was written by Phil Johnston and Ed Helms. Helms who also plays Andy on The Office (and co-stars in The Hangover) will also be among the comedy cast for Cedar Rapids.

No word on whether Cedar Rapids will be filmed in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (and the script probably wasn’t written in Iowa), but I thought it was worth a mention.  (And I’ll throw in a little Cedar Rapids trivia for you…Orville and Wilbur Wright went to elementary school there, as did professional golfer Zack Johnson and Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner. And American Gothic painter Grant Wood was a teacher in Cedar Rapids.)

No one is going to confuse Cedar Rapids for Hollywood, or Iowa for California, but it’s nice to know we’re a blip on the radar. And this is a growing trend.  Susan Sarandon (Oscar winner for Dead Man Walking) was in Iowa last summer filming the yet to be released Peacock, which stars Ellen Page of Juno. And Ray Liotta (no Oscar, but he did win an Emmy) was in the Des Moines area a few months ago filming a movie called Ticket-Out (a film that actually takes place in Kentucky).

If you’re writing screenplays set in Iowa that has to give you a little hope. And if you’re writing screenplays set in Kentucky our film incentives can help you out as well. The key thing wherever you are is to keep writing. The incentives and the Oscar winning talent only follow a script that is so good that people are willing to invest their time and money.

 

Scott W. Smith


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“What kind of man would live where there is no danger? I don’t believe in taking foolish chances. But nothing can be accomplished by not taking a chance at all.”
                         Charles Lindbergh 
                         As quoted in Lindbergh: Flight’s Enigmatic Hero by Von Hardesty


Last night I watched for the first time the old Billy Wilder film The Spirit of St. Louis which starred Jimmy Stewart as Charles Lindbergh. I’m not sure why I hadn’t connected it to this blog earlier. After all Screenwriting from Iowa is all about the fly-over states. About great stories coming from unusual places. (The kind of places Lindbergh used to fly-over and deliver mail to in the early days of flight.) 

It’s worth noting that the Orville and Wilbur Wright Wright lived for a time in Cedar Rapids, Iowa during their childhood before their 1903 historic flight in North Carolina. Just a year prior to that Lindbergh was born in Detroit and raised on a farm in Little Falls, Minnesota where he would graduate from high school in 1918 (though he also spent time in Washington, D.C. because his father was a congressman from Minnesota). He studied for a time at the University of Wisconsin-Madison before dropping out of the engineering program and heading to Lincoln, Nebraska to learn how to fly and become a barnstorming performer.

He didn’t fly solo until 1923 and it was just four years later that he accomplished the first solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927.

The film The Spirit of St. Louis didn’t do well in the box office back in 1957, but it did launch the feature film writing career of Wendell Mayes. Mayes was an actor turned writer when Billy Wilder liked an episode he wrote for Kraft Television Theatre and hired him to co-write the Lindbergh picture with him. 

Mayes was born in the small town of Hayti, Missouri and would go on to have a career as a screenwriter until he died in 1992. He was nominated for an Oscar in 1959 for his script Anatomy of a Murder. 

Mayes and Lindbergh once again prove that great things can be accomplished even if you come from a small town in fly-over county. 

 

Scott W. Smith


 



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“From Iowa to Pennsylvania, the presidential campaign has provided its share of made-for-Hollywood moments.”
                                                                                  All Things Considered
                                                                                  April 18, 2008


“It’s not until Iowa when people say this is how the American people are feeling. … So it ends up shaping how people view the race in subsequent states.”
                                                                                  Barack Obama
                                                                                  USA Today
                                                                                  July 17,2007 

obama300

Did you catch the Texas–Texas Tech game last Saturday? That was high drama. And everything I love about college football. A close game down to the last second.

Did you happen to follow the 2008 presidential election results last night? Not quite as close a game. But there was still plenty of drama in the last year and a half race to the White House including a full lineup of sideshows acts; Joe the plumber, The Obama girl (not to be confused with the John Edward’s girl), Super Tuesday, Sarah “Barracuda” Palin’s troopergate, Biden’s blunders, Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s preaching, Huckabee’s humor, Hillary Clinton and her 18 million cracks in the ceiling, and even Oprah coming to Iowa.

Congratulations to President elect Barack Obama. I was able to see 13 presidential candidates as they came through Iowa and I really never thought Obama would get past Hillary. But there he was last night showing that Dylan, Springsteen, Louis Farrakhan, Pamala Anderson, Colin Powell, Jimmy Buffett and Warren Buffett were all on the eclectic winning team.

Obama overcame his lack of experience with his message of change along with the storytelling abilities of Ronald Reagan and the inspirational chants (“Fired Up–Ready to Go!”) of a motivational speaker. So 40 years after Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed we have an moment in history that represents symbolic healing. 

Congratulations to John McCain and his team for their hard fought battle. He’s served his country well and had over 55 million people pulling for him. And like many politicians who face defeat, the chances are good that Palin will do her homework and be back stronger with many lessons learned and popularity gained. (Though she’d have more fun and make more money doing the speaker/author circuit and having her own TV talk show.)

It really has been amazing to be a part of democracy in action at such an in-depth level. Who knew Iowa would play such an important role in history?

 

Never did I think when I moved to Iowa from Central Florida five years ago that I’d be close to such a dynamic election. So close in fact that I was within a couple feet of the future president of the United States of America several times in 2007 taking photos and shooting video on assignment.    

I took the photos on this blog at gatherings in Iowa a wee bit smaller than the huge crowd that showed up in Chicago last night to hear Obama’s acceptance speech. (I haven’t seen a celebration like last night’s since…well, Saturday when the Texas Tech students and fans stormed the field after upsetting the number one team in the country.)

Watching the gazed faces on TV at Grant Park kinda looked like that old footage you see of when The Beatles played at Shea Stadium. But America didn’t elected a rock star.  No, from the looks on the faces he’s bigger than that. More like a mix of Bono/JFK/MLK/Michael Jordon/Muhammad Ali/Billy Graham/Tiger Woods and Oprah –all in their prime.

Why is this man smiling?

Iowa State Fair August 2007

Last night I couldn’t help but think back to my creative writing teacher in high school where I wrote my first scripts and directed my first videos. Dr. Annye Refoe, who happens to be African-American, took this sports and girl obsessed teenager and added color to his world beyond the athletic endeavors of Paul Warfield and Joe Morgan. All these years later, she was one of the first people I contacted when I won the Emmy last week.

I also thought back to when I was a 19-year-old journalist and photographer and I interviewed then Tampa Bay Buccaneer quarterback Doug Williams for the Sanford Evening Herald. Williams went on to become the first African-American to be a winning Super Bowl quarterback (while playing for the Washington Redskins).

Obama was born a month after I was and the arc of racial change that has occurred since then is stunning. But we have a long way to go to realize Martin Luther King’s dream that one day the color of our skin won’t matter.  This election gets us over one hump but I am reminded of the saying that every problem has a solution and every solution has a problem.  We have not reached the finish line.

Anyway — speaking of Washington D.C. –this is a blog about screenwriting so let’s look at the inspiration and movies that has come out of that rather small area of land. The political scene and the drama surrounding it is a natural fit for Hollywood. The quintessential Washington film is Frank Capria’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington starring Jimmy Stewart. The film earned an Oscar nomination for screenwriter Sidney Buchman who happened to be born in Duluth, Minnesota.

Between 1941-42 he served as the president of the Writers Guild of America, but was later backlisted for his refusal to name names of those in the American Communist Party to the House Committee on Un-American Activities.  

Washington D.C. is also home to Georgetown University that has educated some fine talent:
Jonathan Nolan (Memento and co-writer The Dark Knight.) 
Carl Reiner (Writer/director/actor and seven time primetime Emmy winner)
Michael J. Winship (current president, Writers Guild of America East)
William Peter Blatty (writer of The Exorcist)  
John Guare (screenwriter of Atlantic City and Tony Winning playwright)
Blake Snyder (screenwriter and author of the screenwriting book Save the Cat)
 

And coming out of the historically black Howard University in D.C. are writers Zora Hurston Neal (Their Eyes Were Watching God), screenwriter and Oscar-nominated director Dianne Houston, director Ernest Dickerson who has also been the cinematographer on many Spike Lee films, Richard Wesley (Let’s Do It Again, which was directed by Sidney Poitier), Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Margaret Edson (Wit), poet Paul Laurence Dunbar as well as a host of actors and actresses including Ossie Davis, Phylicia Rashad, and Sean (P. Diddy) Combs. 

And American University is not only home to one of the best film programs in the country, but where the top box-office female film director, Nancy  Shyer, graduated from college. Shyer not only directed Mel Gibson in What Women Want  but also co-wrote Father of the Bride, Baby Boom  along with being nominated for an Academy Award back in 1981 for co-writing Private Benjamin.

“I remember driving on the Ventura Freeway when I was about 27, to run an errand, when I thought, ‘What if a girl joined the Army to escape her problems?'”
                                                              Nancy Shyer
                                                              (On the inspiration for Private Benjamin
                                                              Hollywood Reporter 

The Oscar winning director of Rain Man and screenwriter of Diner Barry Levinson also attended Washington University. As did actors Jude law and Jack Black. 

The Washington D.C. political scene itself has provided an compelling background for many excellent films. Mainly because films work on conflict and that never seems to be in short supply there. In fact The White House may be the single most popular home featured in movies and TV shows. Here is a partial list of movies that feature Washington D.C.:

A Few Good Me
Air Force One
All the President’s Men
An American President
Being There 
Dave
Enemy of the State
First Kid
Forrest Gump
The Hunt for Red October
Independence Day
JFK
Minority Report
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington 
Nixon
No Way Out
Three Days of the Condor
Thirteen Days
Traffic
Wag the Dog
West Wing
W.

 

There are also probably a few screenplays in the works on Obama’s life. (I bet Spike Lee and Tyler Perry are racing each other to be first.) Even if you didn’t vote for Obama you have to appreciate the journey–or at least the narrative or the significance. 

Of course there will be plenty of conflict in President Obama’s office. (Probably beginning day one at three in the morning — if not before he even takes office.) I’m sure before the final ballot was cast that Iran, Russia, and North Korea were moving chess pieces around preparing to welcome our new president. January of ’09 will be a hard time to take over the role as president  and Obama’s leadership skills will be tested early.

We quickly forget the pattern of almost every election, hope on the promise of change, harsh realities followed by blame of prior administration, and a plea for four more years to finally get things on track. Obama simply cannot do all the things he’s promised and people tend to become disillusioned quickly.

I just hope the criticism (and the joking from comedians) is not confused with racism or it’s one step forward and two steps back. If Powell is right about Obama being a transformational candidate, I just hope that transformation is for the good.  

I personally enjoy college football more than Washington politics and look forward to the Alabama-LSU game this weekend. Of course there are politics in college football, but at the end of the year the match-up for the title is usually the two best qualified, winning and prepared teams in the national. (Okay, maybe two out of the best three.)

And college football teaches us lessons in perspective.  Like the much hyped Matt Leinhart who had a stacked resume when he was the Arizona Cardinals’ first round draft pick in the 2006 NFL draft: Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback of two national championship teams at USC, and AP All-American.  Stats half-way through the 2008 season: 1 completed pass. (Only five more years on his 7 year 50 million dollar contract.)

Meanwhile the thought to be washed-up old-timer (and Iowa native) Kurt Warner is the starting QB for the Cardinals and who Sports Illustrated said is the clear choice for MVP at this point in the season.

Related Post: Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting (tip #7)

 

photos and text copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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