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Posts Tagged ‘Citizen Kane’

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The most famous film set on the Gulf Coast of Florida is Citizen Kane. The Orson Welles masterpiece many, including the AFI, consider the greatest American film of all time.

“Here, on the deserts of the Gulf Coast, a private mountain was commissioned and successfully built. One hundred thousand trees, twenty thousand tons of marble are the ingredients of Xanadu’s mountain.”
Citizen Kane written by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles

And while Citizen Kane was actually shot in Southern California and on Long Island, there are plenty of other films shot on the other west coast—in Florida. And since I took the above photo on St. Pete Beach last weekend I thought I’d focus on a few films shot in the greater Tampa Bay area.

Just a couple of miles north of where I took that photo on Pass-A-Grille sits the historic Loews Don CeSar Beach Resort where just last month The Infiltrator (starring Brian Cranston) shot some scenes.  The same place Robert Altman shot part of HealtH (1980).

Director Ron Howard shot Cocoon (1985) in and around St. Petersburg, Florida.  Steven Soderbergh shot part of Magic Mike (2012) on Treasure Island—starring Channing Tatum who graduated from high school in Tampa. Harmony Korine shot Spring Breakers in several locations in the area.

The pastel neighborhood featured in Edward Scissorhands, starring Johnny Depp, was shot a few miles north of Tampa in Lutz, Florida.  Dolphin Tale starring Morgan Freeman was primarily in and around Clearwater, Florida and  Oceans 11 spent a couple of days shooting at the Derby Lane Greyhound Track in St. Petersburg.

I’m sure there is a much longer list, but those are some of the higher profile productions and/or production people connected with projects shot in the area. If you’re interested in shooting there contact the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Film Commission and/or the Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission.

This is a fitting place to mention that in 2007 screenwriter (and St. Pete Beach resident) Mike France (Cliffhanger, Hulk) bought the historic Beach Theatre on St. Pete Beach. It was probably more of a romantic and nostalgic choice than a profit-making business decision and the theatre closed a few months before he died in 2013. But Kudos to France for keeping the art deco theatre—which first opened in 1940—alive a few more years.

And for what it’s worth, I was doing a little research last weekend for a new script I’m writing and on the same day I took that sunset shot I caught the sunrise at Melbourne Beach on Florida’s east coast. Melbourne Beach is where Jim Jarmusch shot part of his classic indie film Stranger Than Paradise (1984)— A must see black and white film shot using only master shots.

Here’s a photo of mine from sunrise at Melbourne Beach. (To inquire about shooting on Florida’s space coast (including Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, Melbourne) contact the Space Coast Film Commission.)

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P.S. Congrats to the Tampa Bay Lightning for their victory last night against the New York Rangers to advance to the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Related posts:
‘The Greatest Film Ever Made’
Orson Welles at USC in 1981 (part 1)
‘State of Cinema’ (Soderbergh)
Fueling Your Imagination (Jarmusch Style)

Scott W. Smith

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“I haven’t seen too many films since Blade Runner (1982) to be honest with you.”
Director William Friedkin in a 2012 interview

William Friedkin tells of something he did on the road to becoming an Oscar-winning director (The French Connection) that I imagine a small percentage of people who want to be filmmakers have ever done—watch one movie five times in a single day. That one film changed his life. But before I tell you which film that is, let me give you a quick recap of the skills he acquired before he directed his first feature film in his early thirties.

Friedkin was the son of Russian immigrants and grew up in a one-room apartment in the north side of Chicago, but “didn’t know we were poor until I left high school.” He left high school without a degree, and got a job in the mail room at a local television station. He made his way into production and worked on 2,000 local tv programs. His Tv work included even thing from kids programs to the documentary The People vs. Paul Crump (1962).

Citizen Kane is the film that made me want to become a filmmaker. I saw it when I was 20-years-old. I had no idea what I wanted to do. And somebody told me there was this really interesting old film playing at the Surf Theatre in Chicago on Dearborn and Division. And I trusted this guy’s opinion so I went there on a Saturday at noon, and I left the theater at midnight. I saw it five straight times. Whatever that was, that was what I wanted to do. To me it’s the greatest film ever made, because it synthesizes everything that was found in the past, and it points the way to the future.”
William Friedkin
Fade In/William Friedkin’s Favorite Films of all Time

P.S. While I don’t know how many times Friedkin has seen Citizen Kane, I imagine it’s over 50 times. I saw a list recently where he talked about 10 of his favorite films—all of which he’d seen at least 50 times each. Oscar-winning director Mike Nichols (The Graduate) once commented that anyone wanting to be a film director should watch the George Stevens’ classic A Place in the Sun 50 times.

Related posts:

Orson Welles at USC in 1981 (part 1)
Study the old masters.’—Martin Scorsese
Orphan Characters (Tip #31)
‘Stagecoach’ Revisited  “[Citizen Kane director Orson] Welles not only watched the film 40 times, but when once asked who his favorite three film directors where said, ‘John Ford, John Ford, John Ford.'”
Screenwriting Quote #38 (Orson Welles) And the early roots of Welles who also had a connection to the greater Chicago area.
Screenwriting da Chicago Way (2.0)

Scott W. Smith

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This week I picked up the just published book Writing in Pictures: Screenwriting Made (Mostly) Painless by Joseph McBride. He’s the perfect person to pull a quote from on this blog because he’s had an interesting career, which actually got a kickstart start here in the Midwest.

As a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison he first saw Citizen Kane, and then went on to watch it a total of 60 times as a student.* He spent six years working alongside Orson Welles, produced a documentary on John Ford, wrote the screenplay for Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, has written and published several books on filmmakers, and now teaches at San Francisco State University where he’s been able to have top screenwriters visit his classroom.

Writer/director Peter Bogdanovivh says of Writing in Pictures, “Joe McBride’s comprehensive yet very succinct work should become a standard text.”

Now I don’t know how painless the quote I’ve pulled from McBride’s book is, but is a common thread that I have found over the four years of writing this blog:

“I didn’t sell my first screenplay until 1977, the seventh feature-length script I had written (I also had written dozens of short film scripts and filmed several of them myself). That’s one of the first lessons I will pass along to you. Don’t ever stop writing…So I had served a ten-year apprenticeship teaching myself how to write scripts before I became a professional.”
Joseph McBride 

Maybe painless, but certainly time-consuming.

* Because, as a student in the ’60s, McBride couldn’t afford to photocopy the script for Citizen Kane he hauled a manual typewriter to the reading room at the now Wisconsin Historical Society and typed an exact copy of the script. A great exercise in learning. Something McBride points out that a young David Mamet did with the Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire.

Related Posts:
Screenwriting Quote #38 (Orson Welles)/He was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin
Screenwriting from Wisconsin
It Takes a Little Time Sometimes
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,ooo Hours
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously) 

Scott W. Smith

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What in the hell is an “objective correlative”? And why do so many movies and plays have one?

There are things in your life that you’ve attached meaning to. When you see them they conjure up memories of people, places and events. If I give my wife Toblerone chocolate it’s a fond reminder of a train trip we took in Switzerland years ago. My office is full of things that remind me of special productions I’ve worked on over the years—a soccer shirt from Brazil, a bottle of wine from South Africa, a poster from Aspen. Just glancing at those objects reminds me of positive life experiences.

I have an emotional connection to those items that is not intrinsic to their being. And it’s not materialistic (total cost of those items was under $50.) but rather symbolic. The chocolate, the shirt, the wine, the poster all point to something beyond the common material itself. (Sometimes items of meaning are free. I have a matchbook from a place called the Beehive, a coffeehouse in Pittsburgh, where I did a video shoot 20 years ago.* I smile everytime I see that matchbook.)

Writers of books, plays and movies tap into that emotion when they give meaning to certain places and objects. It’s what T.S. Eliot called the “objective correlative.”

“The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an ‘objective correlative’; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.”
T.S. Eliot/Hamlet and His Problems

In the movie Forrest Gump, when the older Jenny comes upon her childhood home an emotion is immediately evoked—upset, she begins throwing rocks at the house. And in the voice-over Forrest says, “Sometimes I guess they’re just aren’t enough rocks.” The double whammy there is Jenny not only feels that emotion of remembering an abusive childhood, but the audience feels it as well. There’s a connection. An emotion that we feel for Jenny, but also an emotion that we personally know that, “Sometimes I guess they’re just aren’t enough rocks.”

One of my favorite examples of an objective correlative is the volleyball in (another Tom Hanks movie) Cast Away. Hanks’ character, stranded on a deserted island, befriends a volleyball, paints a face on it, names it Wilson and it becomes his companion. Screenwriter William Broyles Jr. and director Robert Zemeckis knew exactly the emotional impact it would have when Wilson is tragically lost at sea. (Another tragedy is Wilson the Volleyball is uncredited in the film.)

Now audiences don’t look at Jenny’s childhood house or Wilson and say, “Oh, look, an objective correlative.” It’s an emotional reaction. Objective correlative is just the technical phrase of something that’s useful to have in your writer’s tool kit.

“Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie. Objective correlative: the glass unicorn whose horn gets broken in the second act by the gentleman caller. Yes, a fragile sensitive little glass unicorn figurine. Fanciful? Beautiful? Tragic? Poignant? Phallic? Call it what you will, but baby, it brings with it a host of emotions. When it happens on stage, it’s damn powerful.”
Richard W. Krevolin
Screenwriting from the Soul
page 71

The more a writer is fond of symbolism (as Tennessee Williams was) the more likely you are to find a objective correlatives in their work. I’m sure there are other writers who’ve gone their entire career without giving a second thought to the concept of  a objective correlative. (Though they probably instinctively had them sprinkled throughout their work.) But if even the basic concept of an objective correlative turns you off as a writer, consider that one of the mostly highly regarded movies in the history of cinema, Citizen Kane, is filled with objective correlatives; the puzzle, the snow globe, and, of course, Rosebud.

It’s the cherry orchard in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, it’s the Ferrari in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, it’s the compressed air and cattle gun in No Country for Old Men, and the list goes on and on and on. You get the point. Now if you really dig this kind of thing here are some additional thoughts and quotes on the matter:

“I had never understood what Eliot meant by the curious phrase ‘objective correlative’ until the scene in Gatsby where the almost comically sinister Meyer Wolfshiem, who has just been introduced, displays his cuff links and explains that they are ‘the finest specimens of human molars.’ Get it? Got it. That’s what Eliot meant.”
Richard Yate
Some Very Good Masters
New York Times Book Review, April 19,1981

“I borrow the term Objective Correlative from T. S. Eliot and adapt it to mean an external object that represents a character or a state of mind. Rocky’s locker is Rocky’s manhood. When it is taken from him, it is like a castration. In Truly Madly Deeply, the cello is Jamie. In About Schmidt (by Louis Begley and Alexander Payne), when he sees his carefully prepared reports in the garbage, it represents the entirety of his life’s work.”
Hal Ackerman
Write Screenplays That Sell
Page 207

In one episode of the great TV program Northern Exposure Chris (John Corbett) defends his master’s thesis and actually uses the term  ‘objective correlative’ and identifies T. S. Eliot as the source. Which led David Lavery to write,  “Though I cannot be absolutely certain, I would venture to say that this may have been the first, and perhaps the only, time ‘objective correlative’ was ever discussed in prime-time.”

*Quirky fact: The cameraman for that shoot I did in Pittsburgh 20 years ago was related to Geroge Romero who directed the original Night of the Living Dead.
Quirky fact 2: Just went to the Beehive website and learned that according to one of the owners Scott Kramer, “The name Beehive came from a place in France where all the artists were living in the 1930s. Artists can come here and ideas can flow.” Check it out if you’re in Pittsburgh, or the next time you go there.

Update 5/15/13: According to the The Writing Barn post Craft Talk Tuesday with Carol Brender, “Term [objective  correlative] first coined prior to 1850 by Washington Allston , but later given its more literary meaning by T.S. Eliot in an essay about why Hamlet is a failed play.”

Scott W. Smith

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Two years ago I wrote a post called Can Screenwriting Be Taught? and I just found another quote to toss into that mix:

“It is possible to examine how certain dramatists have constructed material in a way that at times has seized the interest of the audience. If they have also succeeded in seizing and retaining your interest, you should take a closer look at just how they did this. Though drama cannot be taught as such, it can definitely be learned the way most skills are learned: by examination of others whose work you admire.”
Screenwriter/ Director Alexander Mackendrick
(Sweet Smell of Success, The Ladykillers & Oscar-nominated screenplay The Man in The White Suit)

If that doesn’t convince you would it help if I told you that, according to the book Orson Welles: Hello Americans, Welles watched John Ford’s Stagecoach 40 times before and during the making of Citizen Kane? Frank Darabont says that while making The Shawshank Redemption he watched Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellows every weekend for inspiration.

Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) said of the movie Blade Runner “It’s a film I’ve seen hundreds of times. I’m one of those people that knows every single detail of that movie.”

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Orson Welles was only 25-years-old when he made his first film Citizen Kane. It is considered one of the greatest films ever made. He won his sole Oscar on that film. He was 43 when he directed his last significant film Touch of Evil. Welles died in 1985 at age 70. Though he worked as an actor, voice-over talent, director, and even had his own TV show in his later years,  he was most well known to the general public for his Paul Masson commercials; “We will sell no wine before its time.”

When Clint Eastwood was 25-years-old he was digging swimming pools in Los Angeles.  While in his thirties he started to build a name for himself as an actor, but it was not until he was in his forties when he turned his hand to directing. And that was a 12 minute film called The Beguiled: The Storyteller. He followed that with the feature Play Misty for Me and has gone on to direct more that 30 films. He’s won four Academy Awards (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby) the last one at age 74. He was 78 when he directed and starred in Gran Torino, which to date (according to Box Office Mojo) is the highest grossing film that he’s ever starred in or directed.

“Some people glow really early, in their twenties and thirties, then in their fifties they are not doing as much. but I feel that growing up and maturing, constantly maturing—aging is the impolite way of saying it-—I like to think there is an expansion going on philosophically.”
Clint Eastwood
Devil’s Guide to Hollywood
Joe Eszterhas
Page 361

Scott W. Smith

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“A good title should be like a good metaphor: It should intrigue without being too baffling or two obvious.”
Walker Percy

I’m staying on the Up in the Air gravy train (gravy plane?)  just a little bit longer. Not only did I love the film but I love the title. It’s a title that has a literal meaning since it’s a film that deals with traveling via airplanes. But it’s also a common phrase in our culture meaning undecided or uncertain.

Up in the Air is a pretty good description of the Up in the Air main character Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney.  A character whose only real purpose appears to collecting frequent flyer miles. Everything else is up in the air.

Many writers talk about starting with a title and build from there and others say they can’t even decide on a title even after they’ve written the script or book.  Can a movie succeed without a great title? Sure, look at Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Looking at the AFI list of top 100 films and you’ll see a mixture of great, good, and bland titles. A title doesn’t make a film, but in a day and age of the importance of the opening weekend, a great title is desired to help attract an audience.

The most common titles seem to focus a main character or being, place or thing, or an event.

Character or being:
Citizen Kane
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
King Kong
Rocky
Forrest Gump
Spartacus
Bonnie and Clyde
The Godfather
Tootsie
Jaws
Psycho
Raging Bull

A place or thing:
Titanic
The African Queen
Bridge on the River Kwai
Treasure of the Sierra Madre
On the Waterfront
Chinatown
Sunset Blvd.
The Maltese Falcon
The Apartment
Casablanca

An event:
High Noon
Apocalypse Now
Star Wars
2001: A Space Odyssey
Saving Private Ryan
Bringing Up Baby
Sophie’s Choice

And while not a hard and fast rule, great titles tend to be short (three words or less). Just look at the above list.  And my favorites of those listed are Jaws and Psycho. Each one a simple word, but both hit you at a gut level.

Titles like Avatar, Batman, The Matrix are easier to discuss around the water cooler.  Even longer titles (especially sequels) tend to get edited around the water cooler and just called  Harry Potter, Narnia, Pirates, Star Wars, Twilight, Spider-Man.

Up in the Air falls into that minority category of a title that’s a little more obtuse, in line with The Last Picture Show, A Streetcar Named Desire, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Silence of the Lambs, or Gone with the Wind. (All of which happened to have been books or plays first which tend to favor a more intellectual audience.) If you go with a metaphor, it doesn’t hurt to have a movie star in the lead role. As I talk up the film Up in the Air, I find myself calling it “The George Clooney Film.”

What are some of your favorite titles (even if they aren’t one of your favorite films)? Or some of your favorite bad titles.
I love the title of the lesser known 50s film Them. And I like titles such as Black Hawk Down, Meet the Parents, Witness, The Hunt for Red October, Collateral and The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly because they all have built in conflict, mystery and intrigue. And the worst titles off the top of my head goes to Ishtar and Valkyrie, neither of which leave me with a visceral reaction.

Of course, the most bland title ever might just be…Movie Titles (tip #32). (But at least it’s twitter friendly.)

Update: I decided to do a Google search to see what others thought were the best and worst movie titles ever and found one blogger who had a post called Top 10 Worst Movie Titles Ever and the writer put Surf Nazis Must Die at #10. That film was written and directed by Peter George who I happened to go to film school with. (I was always a little upset I didn’t get a small role in the film.) If anyone knows where Mr. George is these days tell him I want my watch back. The one that I left at his Hollywood apartment after I crashed on his sofa one night back before he was making top ten lists.

Scott W. Smith


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