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Posts Tagged ‘Courtney Hunt’

“I never studied writing. I never studied screenwriting. I just hear voices and I see visions, and instead of being locked up I’m a screenwriter.”
Nick Kazan
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters (Part 1) interview with Mike De Luca

“I don’t like roller coasters.”
Kevin Hart

In the first part of screenwriter Nick Kazan’s interview on The Dialogue he mentioned he liked roller coasters. Kazan’s latest script set to be produced is a good example of how much of a roller coaster the film business can be. The Whole Truth was set to be shot earlier this year in Boston starring Daniel Craig, but The Hollywood Reporter said Craig pulled out at the 11th hour—”days before filming.” Part of what that means is an entire crew who had blocked out x-amount of months for work on that project now had to scramble for new opportunities. It also means a loss of millions of dollars in hotels, meals, rentals, etc. in the Boston area.

Fast forward a few months and I’ve read reports that instead of the story being about a lawyer in Boston, it will now be a southern lawyer as production has shifted to New Orleans. Keanu Reeves to replace Craig with Renee Zellweger co-starring and Courtney Hunt (Frozen River) directing. While one article said the changing of locations was a “slight shift in the story” think about what that means from Kazan’s perspective.

Boston and New Orleans are two different cultures. Perhaps the plot stays the same, you could even change the setting of a historic building in Copley Square to a historic building in the French Quarter. A downtown waterfront scene set in Boston Harbor can be shot on the Mississippi River.  But the whole background and mindset of a lawyer from New Orleans and a lawyer from Boston can be as different as their accents. Worlds apart.

I guess they could cheat and make it a Boston lawyer in New Orleans. I’m sure there’s more than one Harvard-educated lawyer kicking around Louisiana. Kind of a fun contrast to think about. Image a lawyer from a wealthy  Boston family who when thinking of heading south, thinks of Martha’s Vineyard. Give that man a shrimp po’boy and toss him into the mix of a post-Katrina New Orleans.

But Kazan’s a writer and so he’ll make it work–new visions and new voices.

And just in case you’re wondering why producers would make such a major shift in locations so late in the game the answer is simple—money. Louisiana has been aggressive in the last few years in courting film production via film incentives. In fact, at this year’s Oscar awards “four of the six highest-profile Academy Awards went to New Orleans-shot films.” (Including the Best Picture, 12 Years a Slave.)  You may be surprised that one report said that in 2013 Louisiana overtook California in film production.

“We have been on a steady upward trajectory since Louisiana adopted its incentive program in 2002… 2013 was our biggest year.”
Chris Stelly, executive director of Louisiana Entertainment
Move over Hollywood! Louisiana is top for film production, CNN Money

When I started this blog Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places in 2008 it was meant to have built-in irony. My Purple Cow to borrow Seth Godin’s phrase. But with the change in the economy since ’08—plus changes in digital filmmaking— and seeing Louisiana become a major player and Atlanta being called The New Hollywood—somehow filmmaking outside New York and L.A. seems less ironic.

I’ll write more about that later, but it would be interesting to read an interview where Kazan unpacked how his voices and visions changed as he had to transpose his script from Boston to New Orleans.

BTW—That roller coaster of change happens at every level of production. I have a DP friend who was booked on a big broadcast shoot recently who invested $3,000 in new equipment for the shoot only to have it cancel. That roller coaster effect is probably one of the top five reasons crew people leave the production business. It’s hard enough if you live in LA and are booked on a 2 or 3 month shoot away from your family, but harder when that shoot cancels and you end up not landing another gig quickly. The whole truth is roller coasters can be fun, you just don’t want to live on one.

Related post:
Nick Kazan’s Chainsaw Inspiration
Sex, Lies & Mr. Bill (Screenwriting from Louisiana)
Shrimp, Giants & Tyler Perry

Scott W. Smith

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“I’m just glad I don’t live in a trailer…”
                               Jimmy Buffett 
                              Son of a Son of Sailor 

Just about everything about writer/director Courtney Hunt’s debut feature film, Frozen River,  goes against the grain. You don’t hear much about women writers & directors over forty launching a career by shooting a movie in sub-zero temperatures and telling a story about the working poor. (Actually, you don’t hear about anyone trying that — any age, male or female.) Maybe this is a new niche market.
 
Hunt tells the story of woman in upstate New York who is trying to better her life. Her goal is a simple — a new double wide trailer for her family by Christmas. Well, it would have been been simple if her wayward husband didn’t have a gambling problem. When he takes off with the deposit installment  payment for the trailer it leads her  into another world. A world of illegal immigrants. And she takes us along for the ride.
 
In one sense it is a world far from Los Angeles. Along the Canadian boarder where the St. Lawrence River divides Massena, New York and the Mowhawk nation of Akwesasne. Yet in another sense, it is a world related to California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Florida. Places that have a long tradition in dealing with illegal immigrants.
 
When raising funds to make this film no one considered this a high concept film. Which is one of the reasons it took years to make. She actually made a short film of the subject first and that helped open some doors. The lesson here from a screenwriting perspective is Hunt was persistent. And she not only got her film made, it got distributed and she was honored with an Oscar nomination (as did Melissa Leo for her fine performance as the main character).
 
“Frozen River does what too many independent American movies only pretend to do: Takes you to an unnoticed corner of our country and shows what it’s like to actually live there.”
                             Ty Burr
                             Globe Staff

That really captures the essence of what Screenwriting from Iowa…or wherever you live outside L.A. is all about.

Updated 4/12/09: Just learned that Courtney Hunt will be a part of  Roger Ebert’s Eberfest April 22-26,2009 in Champaign, Illinois. Read more about it on Ebert’s blog.

 

Scott W. Smith

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Since it’s the middle of winter as I look at the Oscar nominations today, one title stands out—Frozen River. I don’t know much about that film other than it was a Sundance Film Festival winner. So I dug around a little and found out about the screenwriter, Courtney Hunt, who has been nominated for Best Original Screenplay.

I found out she represents well a writer coming from outside L.A. She was raised in Memphis and Nashville before going on to film school in New York. And at age 43 she is too old by traditional Hollywood standards to be launching a writer/director career, but there she is with an Oscar nomination to go along with her 2008 Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.

And she did it with a film about working class women. One of the things I like about the 1982 film An Officer and a Gentleman is the depiction of Debra Winger and Lisa Blount as factory workers. Though young and attractive they do represent working class women who were looking for a better life and those kind of characters don’t get a lot of screen time.  From what I’ve read Hunt’s characters are more gritty and worn down—and wear less make-up.

Hunt took ten years researching and developing the story and even produced the story as a short film which helped raise money for the feature. And if all that wasn’t enough endurance she and her crew spent several nights shooting outside in upstate New York while the temperature was in the teens getting the needed exteriors for the feature version.

Congratulations to Hunt for showing us how far you can go with perseverance, a good story and a heavy jacket.

“We didn’t have hardly any preproduction, we didn’t have favorable conditions. We had very little funding. What we had was a good script, and people fell back on that. We kind of knew we were onto a good story, and as soon as we saw [actors] Melissa Leo and Misty Upham in action, people said, ‘Ooh, we’re onto something here! This is good.’ That story kind of warmed us all up in a funny way so we didn’t feel so out in the middle of nowhere.”
                                                       Courtney Hunt
                                                       
Interview in The Reeler

BTW-Glad to see Debra Winger still at it picking up an Independent Spirit Award nomination in Rachel Getting Married and Lisa Blount not only still acting but producing as well, winning an Academy Award in 2001 for Best Short Film, Live Action (The Accountant).

 

Scott W. Smith
 

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