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“I have an overall kind of approach to cinematography— that it should be as simple and submissive to the script as possible.”
Roger Deakins
Nine-time Oscar-nominated Director of Photography

Here is the list of films that cinematographer Roger Deakins has shot that have been nominated for Oscars in cinematography:
True Grit
The Reader
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
No Country for Old Men
The Man Who Wasn’t There
O Brother, Where Art Thou
Kundun
Fargo
The Shawshank Redemption

And if that doesn’t impress you he was also the director of photography on Fargo, Doubt, Jarhead, House of Sand and Fog, Barton Fink, and A Beautiful Mind. Watching films multiple times and  sometimes with the sound off is a habit I learned in film school, and any of Deakins films above are worth studying.

Deakins has been a major supporter of shooting on film and has shot all of his movies on film…except the one he just shot. Now (written and directed by Andrew Niccoi) was shot digitally on the Arri Alexa. One more sign of the changing of the guard.

“Am I nostalgic for film? I mean, it’s had a good run, hasn’t it? You know, I’m not nostalgic for a technology. I’m nostalgic for the kind of films that used to be made that aren’t being made now.”
Roger Deakins
Slashfilm interview with David Chen

If you’re a writer who would like to direct (and maybe even shoot) your work, Deakin’s has a website where he has an informative forum where people ask him questions about lighting and his work. Between his forum and studying a film or two of his in depth you can take major strides in better understanding the filmmaking process.

It’s also worth mentioning that Deakins grew up far from Hollywood in Torquey, Devon, England and while he had an interest in still photography as a youth, working on Hollywood films was way off his radar.

BEGINNER LESSON: LEARNING TO LIGHT

“You should get a simple lamp, some diffusion, some bounce materials and practice lighting a face. Just experiment with the light and see what variations you can achieve with limited means. You might also start taking photographs of a face under natural lighting conditions, perhaps augmented by some bounce material. Experiment with the way that the face reacts to differing conditions of back light, front light etc.. Find what it is about light that excites you and don’t try to copy what someone else sees.” (Note: You can start doing this without even having a video camera—just whatever still photo camera you can use.)
Roger Deakins
Learning to Light post
INTERMEDIATE LESSON: DIGITAL VIDEO CAMERAS
“If I were starting out, quite frankly, I would concentrate on digital capture. The possibilities now on offer and the new work flows that are available seem to me to have tipped the equation. I have yet to shoot a film digitally but I am seriously beginning to doubt that I will shoot film again – other than on my Leica M6 that is. On the one hand I find that a little sad, just as I find it sad that Du Art in New York has processed its last roll of film, but on the other hand I am really excited by all the creative opportunities that digital capture can offer and which will only expand to ‘who knows where’ in the future.”
Roger Deakins
August 17,2010

ADVANCED LESSON: CINEMATOGRAPHER LANGUAGE
“The courtroom (in True Grit) was primarily lit by the light coming through the windows, which was created using three 18K HMI par lamps. When we were looking away from the windows I augmented the light with a couple of 2K Blondes bouncing off some muslin, which was hung between the windows.”
Roger Deakins

A fitting end to this post is to show some photos highlighting the work of Deakins from one of the many films that he’s made with a couple of Minneapolis natives, the Coen brothers, and featuring the song Leaning on the Everlasting Arms sung by Iris DeMent , who lives right here in Iowa. (If you were a Northern Exposure fan you may remember her song Our Town at the closing of the final show.)

Scott W. Smith




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“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




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I saw where highly regarded screenwriting teacher Michael Hauge will be teaching a one-day workshop in Minneapolis Saturday (9/26/09) and this offers a good chance for Midwest writers to get a taste of whom Shane Black (Lethal Weapon) said, “When I pick up the phone for help, Michael Hauge is the call I make.” He’s taught screenwriting at UCLA, USC and AFI.

Two of Hauge’s books that I’ve read are Writing Screenplay that Sell and Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds. So in light of him coming to this neck of the woods I thought I’d pull some quotes the next couple of days.

“‘Lack of originality’ is consistently a stated reason for the rejection by producers and studios of screenplays and story concepts. And it is true that while audiences seem to support ‘more of the same’ in TV and theaters, people still want to see something they’ve never seen before when they go to the movie theater.”
                                                                         Michael Hauge 
                                                                         Writing the Screenplays That Sell
                                                                         page 26 

(Something that’s never been a problem from Minneapolis-raised Coen Brothers.)

 

The Michael Hauge workshop is sponsored by the Midwest Fiction Writers

Fee for non-members is $109.

Location: Crowne Plaza Hotel, Bloomington, MN

 

Scott W. Smith

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Juno delivers uproarious laughs, fully fleshed personalities, honest uplift and tender moments when the throat goes dry and the eyes grow moist. Much of the credit goes to the deservedly acclaimed script by former Twin Cities scribe Diablo Cody, whose blogs-to-riches story seems destined to culminate in a spotlight solo at the next Academy Awards.”
                                                                         Colin Covert 

                                                                         Star Tribune movie review of Juno
                                                                         December 17, 2007 

 

As soon as I discovered Rotten Tomatoes I discovered movie critic Colin Covert of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. I found his reviews intelligent and insightful. And that he could turn a phrase with the best of them as he did in his review of the Russian mob drama Eastern Promises; “It’s a mouthful of blood with a vodka chaser.”

With the fairly recent success of screenwriters from Minnesota, Diablo Cody (Juno) & Nick Schenk (Gran Torino), it seemed logical to throw a few questions Covert’s way to get a pulse on the creative scene in the Twin Cities. 

Q: Do you have a favorite film that has come out the state of Minnesota? 

Colin: “A Simple Plan,” a superbly realized story of heartland values and creeping corruption from Sam Raimi. It’s topnotch filmmaking from the depth of the script to the elegance of the direction to the evocative use of snow and shadows to suggest the stark moral choices facing the characters when they discover a downed plane containing $4 million in drug money. 

Q: At the 2008 Academy Awards Diablo Cody and the Coen Brothers represented Minneapolis well by winning Oscars. What in the world makes Minneapolis a special place for writers? 

Colin: It’s a bit like Vienna, 1900. Creative people gravitate here, cross-pollinate with folks from other disciplines, and sharpen their talents with debate and collaboration. Add to that the can-do work ethic of the place and you have a real petri dish for artistic growth. 

Q: When do you mark the beginning of this literary movement in the Twin Cities? 

Colin: That’s like one of those “when does human life begin?” questions. 

Q: When you first saw “Juno” did you think it would have universal appeal, be a box-offer winner, and win an Academy Award for its screenwriter Diablo Cody? 

Colin: I can honestly answer, yes. She’s scary-smart and hit a solid home run with the story, which gets deeper and smarter every time you watch it. Her hipster dialog is just one small facet of her skill as a writer. She creates flesh-and-blood characters who surprise you at every turn, yet remain consistent and truthful. 

Q: Right now there are two films in the theaters written by writers from Minnesota, Gran Torino (Schenk) & New in Town (Ken Rance) is this a fad or a part of a growing trend? 

Colin: It’s the steady pulse of creativity. There is a critical mass of bright, engaged people here who will continue to make a mark on the film industry. 

Q: Who do you see as the next screenwriter or filmmaker from the Twin Cities that’s we’re going to be hearing about in the coming months or years? 

Colin: That’s a tough call. It could be Bill True, whose psychological drama “Runaway” (with Melissa Leo and Robin Tunney) is scheduled to go into release this year. It’s a strong piece of work. 

Q: Artist Grant Wood spoke about regionalism in that painters would we true to where they live. Do you think regionalism is beginning to occur in movies or are creative decisions being made to shoot outside L.A. simply because of tax incentives by various states and countries? 

Colin: If painters got tax incentives from New Mexico, they’d paint a lot more cow skulls and cacti. 

Q: What does it mean for the Twin Cities that the Coen Brothers returned to the Minneaplois-St. Paul area to shoot their most recent film “A Serious Man”? 

Colin: Long term, not too much. But it was a lovely gesture that really energized all the local folks who appeared as bit players and extras. We almost lost that ultra-regional Minnesota-set film to Wisconsin because they offer richer production rebates, you know! 

Q: They say every film critic dreams of being a screenwriter or a filmmaker. Do you have a script hidden in a drawer? 

Colin: I don’t kid myself that I have that kind of talent. 

Q: Tell me about the screenwriting seminar you are putting together in the Minneapolis area. What’s the goal you hope to accomplish? 

Colin: The first week in October, we’ll convene a conference of notable local and national screenwriters, present sessions on the professional rewards and challenges of the movie writer’s life, and schmooze at parties and have a lot of fun. I hope to see you there. Anyone who wants more information, please email me at colincovert@gmail.com!

The Star Tribune is also producing videos with Covert’s movie reviews and to see a sample with reviews from The Wrestler and Gran Torino go to startribune.com.

Cedar Falls, Iowa is only 3 1/2 hours south of Minneapolis so I hope to be at the screenwriting conference in October. 

Related Posts: Juno Has Another Baby (Emmy)

                            The Oscars Minnesota-Style

                            Screenwriting Quote of the Day #19 (Nick Schenk)

Side notes: For what it’s worth, it was Covert who I learned that Cody wrote Juno at the Starbucks inside the Target Superstore in Crystal, Minnesota. And lastly, the movie  “A Simple Plan” was based on the book by that other Scott Smith, Scott B. Smith.


Scott W. Smith
 

 


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And the winner is… Minnesota.

Minneapolis Convention Center

If someone wanted to make a point about talent coming from outside Hollywood the 80th Academy Awards would be a great place to start. (The above photo is not from the Oscars but gave me an excuse to highlight the Minneapolis Convention Center from a production I worked on a couple years ago.)

I can’t recall a more eclectic (and foreign) group of winners than this year’s Oscar winners. Has Hollywood has caught on to outsourcing? And as far as screenwriting is concerned this year’s Oscar’s were distinctly Midwestern, specifically Minneapolis, Minnesota.

First Joel and Ethan Coen who began making films in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park won for best adapted screenplay for No Country for Old Men.  And then Diablo Cody won best original screenplay for Juno. Congrats to all three.

I couldn’t be more happy for them because they are at the core of what Screenwriting from Iowa is all about. True it’s not called Screenwriting from Minnesota, but that wouldn’t cause any snickers or even raise any eyebrows would it? But both Iowa and its connected neighbor to the north represent a place far from Hollywood.

For the curious, the drive from my office in Cedar Falls, Iowa to downtown Minneapolis takes 3 ½ hours, unless you stop at the Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota near the border. (If you stop in Forest City for the Winnebago tour as well it’s a full day trip.)

When the Minneapolis Star Tribune picked Cody as “Artist of the Year” last year they said that, “she became a professional writer for City Pages and banged out Juno in the Starbucks annex at the Crystal Super Target.” Though raised in the Chicago area and a graduate of Iowa Cody said, “I became a writer in Minneapolis; that’s why I call myself a Minnesota-based writer.”

The Coen Brothers gave a nod to Minneapolis when they won their third Oscar for the night for Best Picture (they also picked up best director). Joel talked about when they were running around as kids making 8mm films like Henry Kissinger; Man on the Go then said. “What we do now doesn’t feel that much different from what we were doing then.”

They have slowly built a wider and wider audience with their quirky film style beginning with Blood Simple in 1984, through Raising Arizona, Fargo and O Brother Where Art Thou? Their Oscar sweep was impressive but they also made the only film to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes along with the Best Director and Best Actor awards for Barton Fink. They are American originals.

Speaking of America, I think JC Penny’s creative team hit a home run with their Oscar commercials introducing the American Living brand featuring the song “Killing the Blues” by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss. I’m not sure I’ve been in a JC Penny since I was nine but I’m ready to go back. (And they get bonus points for the barn shot. Everyone knows you can’t show/sell Americana without a barn shot.)

juno-1.jpeg

Another American original is Cody who has been mentioned on just about every blog I’ve written. There’s a good reason. This blog began as a response after seeing Juno in January. In fact over the weekend Screenwriting from Iowa turned one month old and I must thank Cody for the nudge.

My notes on film had been collected over a 20-year period and were just looking for a place to blossom. I began giving screenwriting workshops in 2004 and approached a publisher at the end of ’07 about the concept of Screenwriting from Iowa.  A chapter was requested, then another until I had sent him four chapters. Ultimately the deal didn’t happen but I spent a good deal of last December continuing to write the book.

Then in mid-January I saw Juno and was blow away by the movie. I read that Cody had attended the University of Iowa and was discovered while blogging and I just kind of put two and two together and jumped into the blogging world.

May all you bloggers be encouraged by what Cody told Wired magazine about her unusual rise to fame, “It’s been fun, and I’m enjoying it while I can. I think there’s room for more talented bloggers to break into Hollywood. It seemed like a fluke when I did it, but I won’t be the last blogger to have a film produced. There are so many talented people that exist in the marketplace. So don’t look for a plan. Put your blog into the world and hope that your talent will speak for itself.”

The response based on the  Word Press stats chart and links to this site have kept me pumping these out and I hope the comments have been helpful. I also hope the  contents can be in book form by this summer.

So I not only thank Cody for the inspiration but to everyone for stopping by. My goal all along is to inspire screenwriters and filmmakers who feel like they are in the middle of nowhere. Now that Cody has an Oscar on her shelf (along with the indy award she received the night before) she can get back to her day job working on The United States of Tara for Steven Spielberg.

“I feel like I’m living The Wizard of Oz,” Cody said. “There was a day when I cracked a door open and everything was Technicolor. It was a very frightening place but a very beautiful place, too, as Dorothy says.”

I’m glad she mentioned The Wizard of Oz because when you come up I-35 from the south and begin approaching downtown Minneapolis about an hour past the Iowa border you’ll see downtown appearing on the horizon like the Emerald City.

I’ve always wondered if Minneapolis was the inspiration for Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz book series. Baum spent time in Aberdeen, Dakota Territory (now South Dakota) and that’s said to be the inspiration for Dorothy’s Kansas. So it’s possible he came off the flat prairie land into Minneapolis on his way to Chicago where he would eventually write his wizard books. Regardless The Wizard of Oz movie– many people’s favorite all-time film, has its roots in the  Midwest.

Minneapolis’ twin city St. Paul is where Charles Schulz was raised created Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang, and where Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion is recorded when he’s not on the road.

Over the last couple years I’ve been able to do several video productions in the Twin Cities and they have a solid production base of rental equipment houses, studios, talent as well as a thriving music scene. It’s always fun to work with people who’ve been involved with shooting Prince’s music videos at his studio Paisley Park or on the films Grumpy Old Men, The Mighty Ducks, and Fargo.

Creativity flows from the music scene in Minneapolis as well as the more than 100 theater venues (in fact, they have more seats per capita than any other U.S. city outside New York. “Cutting edge museums, arty hotels and edginess expand Minnapolis’ cool culture reputation..over the past two-year Minneapolis has taken its underground cultural destination status to a new level. (USA Today Dec. ’06)

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

(I took the photo of The Spoonbridge and Cherry artwork by Clas Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen  at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden)

In The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook (Genevieve Jolliffe & Chris Jones) Gail Silva mentions the production scene in New York and San Francisco but adds, “If I had to go anywhere else I’d go to Minneapolis & St. Paul. There is a chapter there of the IFP (Independent Feature Project) where they’re more like the Fine Arts than anywhere else and they’ve been able to do incredible things, including funding films. They have a fund that they got  through the State Legislature fund features.”

Let’s not forget that The Mary Tyler Moore show was based in Minneapolis. It also has long history in advertising and I’m told where the Jolly Green Giant and  Betty Crocker were created.  Rocky & Bullwinkle and Paul Buyan also have a Minnesota roots as does Academy Award winning actress Jessica Lange, Winona Ryder, Josh Harnett and iconic figures  J. Paul Getty and Charles Lindbergh.

I don’t know if there is something in the water in Minnesota but I have to conclude that long streches of cold weather warp the mind and are fertile ground for screenwriters, musicians, actors and filmmakers. Terry Gilliam who co-wrote Monty Python and the Holy Grail as well as co-wrote and directed Brazil was born in Minneapolis.

And concluding our connecting the Oscars with Minneapolis let’s not forget to mention Cate Blanchett’s nomination for Best Supporting actress for playing Bob Dylan in “I’m Not There.” Dylan was raised in Duluth and  the small mining town Hibbing, Minnesota, but began his rise on the music scene in the Dinkytown area of Minneapolis.

I don’t think the spotlight on Minneapolis is going to fade anytime soon. In fact, right now I’m sure there are screenwriters fighting to write in the exact spot at Starbuck’s where Cody wrote Juno.

Photo & Text Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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jdpps.gif VS.      VeggieTales Pirate Do you think when Johnny Depp is home in France with his kids they sit around and watch VeggieTales videos? It’s possible. He may even like the videos more than the rest of his family.

But the real question is in a swashbuckling ultimate fight could Depp’s pirate character Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies take on Bob the Tomato of the recent release The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie?
That could remain one of life’s great mysteries –like could Rocky Graziano beat Ali? Or how did Marilyn Monroe really die?
Where better to find out how Bob the Tomato would fare against Jack Sparrow than to ask Phil Vischer, the creator of the animated VeggieTales and voice of Bob the Tomato? “Bob’s lack of hands certainly doesn’t help much in hand-to-hand combat situations, but I believe Bob could outwit Jack and confuse him using only his wit superior intellect,” said Vischer.
Vischer was raised in Muscatine, Iowa. Known as the former button capital of America. It’s the town that Mark Twain wrote about in Life on the Mississippi, “I remember Muscatine —still more pleasantly—for its summer sunsets. I have never seen any, on either side of the ocean, that equaled them.”
That quote alone should make you take stock of your perceptions of fly-over country in general and Iowa specifically. I’m serious when I say I hope to encourage writers and filmmakers outside of L.A. and I thought it would be good to talk to Vischer about his work and to plug his new film in theaters.
If you are not familiar with VeggieTales it’s important to know that Vischer lead a team that created the most successful direct-to-video series in history. More than 50 million units have been sold since 1993. In its prime Vischer turned down a $20 million offer for the animated vegetable franchise.
Vischer has had an amazing career since launching what would become Big Idea Productions at age 22. He’s been an actor, writer, composer and/or producer on more than 30 VeggieTales videos including the 2002 feature released nationally Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie.
Jonah’s box-office numbers surprised some in a Hollywood because it was a faith-based kids film. Marketing guru Seth Godin wrote in his book Purple Cow, “As I write this…the number-two movie in America is a low-budget animated movie in which talking vegetables act out Bible stories.” (In Godin lingo Bob the Tomato is a good example of a purple cow, i.e. something different that gets people’s attention.)
Unfortunately, the film didn’t do well enough to offset some problems that would eventually lead to the bankruptcy of the company. You can read Vischer’s account in his book, Me, Myself, & Bob – A True Story About Dreams, God, and Talking Vegetables.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Vischer Book
(Does anyone else think Vischer looks a little like Steven Jobs’ younger brother?)
Remember that not all your screenwriting has to be for the big screen. There are many avenues for your writing. Vischer started small and just got bigger and bigger and was well on his way to realizing his dream of becoming the next Walt Disney.
But like a scene out of a VH1 Behind the Scene special, (cue the music) “Then one day….”And just like that his dream was gone.
In his book he lists as the #5 thing he learned from that experience, “Bigger is no longer better.” Didn’t Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire say the same thing in his mission statement? Vischer had a painful front row seat to watch his dream fade away and the company eventually changed hands.
But when dreams die (as they are prone to do), new ones spring up from the ashes.
Vischer still lives in the Chicago area and continues to work on VeggieTales productions as well as having a multiple-vegetable personality doing the voices of several characters. He’s also started a new company Jellyfish and keeps a blog at PhilVischer.com.
I’ve had the privilege to talk with Phil at gatherings in Denver and Chicago and have even had the opportunity to work on a couple small projects for him. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for Screenwriting from Iowa.
Q. There used to be a Heinz ketchup factory in Muscatine, Iowa while you where growing up. Is there any connection there between that fact and your creating Bob the Tomato?
Vischer: “No, I don’t think so. I actually came up with Larry the Cucumber first, then was looking for a complimentary shape for a sidekick. Tomatoes and cucumbers seemed to go together like Laurel and Hardy.”
Q. Have you gone online to Rotten Tomatoes and seen how the film has done on the tomatometer?
Vischer: “But of course!”
Q. One tomatometer critic wrote: “I have to admit that this animated VeggieTales endeavor is far more entertaining and artistically competent than anything offered in the last two Pirates of the Caribbean movies.”
Vischer: “Yeah, that quote kind of surprised me. Overall, the reviews are pretty mixed, which is certainly more than you can say for the Alvin & the Chipmunks. Of course, most filmmakers would give up good reviews for $200 million at the box office!”
Q. Screenwriter/novelist Max Allan Collins (The Road to Perdition) lives in Muscatine, Iowa. What’s in the water there that would inspire Bob the Tomato’s creator and foster another writer known for pulp fiction and crime noir?
Vischer: “Um… I think it’s the tomato residue from the Heinz plant. Or perhaps the corn residue from the Kent Feed plant.”
Q. Any advice or encouragement for screenwriters living outside L.A.?
Vischer: “Screenwriting is a beautiful thing, in that you can live anywhere, and work on a project anywhere. And living in a non-Hollywood locale gives you the benefit of being able to write stories outside the Hollywood norm. The Coen brothers channeling their Minnesota childhoods into their film Fargo is a great example. It’s very hard to imagine a Los Angeleno writing that film with anywhere near the authenticity. Interesting stories come from interesting places!”
In the coming years you’ll hear a lot from Vischer. Support a fellow writer and take your little band of pirates to see The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie. And don’t forget to catch one of those Mississippi River sunsets in Muscatine.
© Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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juno.jpeg

Yesterday the Oscar nominations were announced and Diablo Cody and her script Juno were nominated for best original screenplay and the film was also nominated for best picture.  I recently pointed out her Iowa connection as having graduated from the University of Iowa.

If you’re not familiar with the creative talent that has come out of the University of Iowa hold on for what I’m about to tell you.  You’ll be hard pressed to find a university that has educated and attracted more novelist, poets, essayist, screenwriters and short story writers at such a high level of proficiency and acclaim.

The campus is located just off Interstate 80 in Iowa City. Head west on 80 from New York City and you’ll run right into it. Head east on 80 from San Francisco (or via Park City if you’re coming from Sundance) and you’ll be heading toward the promise land of creative talent.  And if you happen to be in Cedar Falls where I’m typing this, it’s just a little over an hour drive south.

Its famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop is the oldest and most prestigious MFA writing program in the country. The program has produced thirteen Pulitzer Prize winners, and has had professors such as Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse-Five), Robert Penn Warren (All the King’s Men) and Philip Roth (The Human Stain).

Its notable MFA alumni whose writings have become movies include John Irving (The World According to Garp), W.P.Kinsella (Shoeless Joe, which became the movie Field of Dreams), Leonard Schrader (screenplay, Kiss of the Spider Woman), Ethan Canin (The Palace Thief that became the movie The Emperor’s Club), Michael Cunningham (The Hours), Nicholas Meyer (Oscar-nominated The-Seven-Percent-Solution), Robert Nelson Jacobs (screenplay, Chocolat), Max Allan Collins (The Road to Perdition) and Anthony Swofford (Jarhead).

Most recently two Iowa grads have had books listed in The New York Times 10 best books of 2007; Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson and Then We Came to an End by Joshua Ferris.

Those educated at the University of Iowa (though not in the writing program) include Stewart Stern (Rebel Without a Cause), Barry Kemp (Coach), actor/writer Gene Wilder (Young Frankenstein), producer Mark Johnson (Rain Man), Richard Maibaum (12 James Bond films including From Russia with Love), and the great playwright Tennessee Williams (A Streetcar Named Desire).  I’m sure I’ve missed many people, but I think you get the point.

So Diablo Cody joins a distinguished list of honored writers from Iowa. Congratulations on her success. I’m sure her 12 years of Catholic schooling in the Chicago area also played a part in developing her talent. The list of Catholic influenced (some positive, some negative) writers is too long to address now but may be worth a future blog. (I’m neither Catholic nor did I attend the University of Iowa, but I do like to notice trends.)

But make no mistake, Cody’s quirky mix of Midwest roots (she wrote Juno while living in Minneapolis) are what make her writing original. (Ditto that for the Minneapolis raised Coen brothers who just received writing and directing Oscar nominations for No Country for Old Men.) And that originality is what makes Cody attractive to Hollywood, both as a writer and as a person. Stick to your dreams and more importantly keep writing.

And paste this quote from Ohio screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (Basic Instinct) above your writing area: “If you write a good, commercial script and start sending it out – someone will recognize that it is good and commercial…If they think your script will make them money, they will option or buy your script.”

May 2008 Addition: The Juno-Iowa Connection Part 2. Ellen Page the talented lead actress in Juno is in Des Moines this month shooting Peacock with Cillian Murphy.

For more about Iowa and Diablo Cody read the post Life Beyond Hollywood. To read more about University of Iowa graduate John Irving read John Irving, Iowa & Writing.

© Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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