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“I formed my notions of America in Yugoslavia by watching films. And most of the films were westerns so therefore when I landed [in the USA] I honestly expected—maybe if not John Wayne, a close friend of his to be there on a horse.”
Screenwriter Steve Tesich (The World According to Garp, American Flyers)

I don’t know how many screenwriters David Letterman has had on his show over the years but on that short list is Oscar winning screenwriter Steve Tesich (1942-1996).

Tesich was born in Yugoslavia but immigrated to the United States when he was 14. His family settled in East Chicago, Indiana (the Hoosier state) back in its heavy industrial days when soot filled the skies daily.

He did his undergraduate work at Indiana University, and according to Wikipedia he was actually an alternate rider for the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity team that rode in the Little 500 bike race that is featured in the movie Breaking Away, which was based on his screenplay.

And because I’m always interested in story origins, this is the beginning of the creative process that lead Tesich to his first produced film—an eight year journey from script to screen—and his only Oscar Award:

“I ran into a guy [in Bloomington] who was doing his Italian fantasy. I was riding a bike— I hear an Italian opera being sung behind me and I turn around and there’s this guy climbing a hill singing. He starts talking Italian to me, and being Yugoslavian and knowing how tough it is on foreigners I really have pity on the guy. For a week I try to tell him what America is like, what it’s like to be in Indiana and all this and I find out he’s from Indianapolis [Indiana]. He grew up there and this whole fantasy was just kind of a daydream.” 

Yes, inspiration and story ideas can be found in unusual places all over the world. Like Stephen King says, you have to be like a paleontologist looking for bone fragments in the ground.

Related Posts:
Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B=C)
Where Are The Wild Men?
Stagecoach Revisited 2.0
‘Breaking Away’—Like a Rock
Screenwriting Quote #55 (Stephen King) “Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”
The King of Cool’s Roots Steve McQueen was from Indiana. James Dean, too. (John Wayne, now he was from Iowa.)

Scott W. Smith

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“When I look out and I see people, who most likely have no idea who we are, responding to our music, it’s pretty damn rewarding.”
Roadkill Ghost Choir frontman Andrew Shepard
Band on the Rise article by Donovan Farley

For the past year or so I’ve been using Saturday’s to repost some of the screenwriting posts going back as far as 2008—the start date of this blog. But because music is such a major part of films, I think from time to time I’ll mention more musicians, bands and composers—so for the first time in a long time I’m starting a new category simply called music.

And today’s band is the Roadkill Ghost Choir (@RoadkillGhosts). They’re from Central Florida and made their national TV debut earlier this year on the Late Show with David Letterman. I don’t think their music has been featured in any movies yet, but it’s just a matter of time.

Having a banjo and a trumpet mixed in with guitars, keyboards, and drums puts a little extra independence into this indie band.

The band formed in 2011 in DeLand, Florida and profiled this month in the Orlando Weekly and interviewed on WPRK.

P.S. Roadkill Ghost Choir’s folk-rock music has been called neo-Americana, and for whatever reason their song Beggars’ Guild reminds me of the Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash duet of Girl from the North County from The Johnny Cash Show in 1969. (A  TV show, by the way that U2’s Bono watched as a kid. Bono later helped Cash have a musical resurgence in his later years.)

P.P.S . A nice tie-in to a blog called Screenwriting from Iowa is Roadkill Ghost Choir played last year in Iowa City. Screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) —an inspiration for starting this blog went to college at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

Americana-related posts:
The Civil Wars
Off Screen Quote #22 (Bob Dylan)
Postcard # #38 (Lincoln Highway)
The Tennessee Williams Project
Creativity & Milking Cows “All the good ideas I ever had came to me while I was milking a cow.” Grant Wood (Iowa painter, American Gothic)
Postcard #61 (Hannibal, MO)
Postcard #62 (Beale Street)
Postcard #63 (Graceland)
Postcard #52 (Pascagoula)

Scott W. Smith

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“I write everyday for at least two hours and I spend the rest of my time largely in the society of ducks.”
Novelist Flannery O’Connor (and Iowa Writers’ Workshop MFA grad)
DSC_2242Sometimes it takes years—even decades— to build a name for yourself, and sometimes infamy can come from just an email that takes a second to send. I just Googled “University of Iowa” as a test, and sure enough the first result (out of 125 million) was this USA Today headline: “College teaching assistant e-mailed nude pics to class.”

First was not about the school founded in 1847, not the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop, not the winning Hawkeye wrestling program, not the Princeton Review naming the University of Iowa the number one party school for 2013-14.  Not even a mention of the Iowa college student who was arrested at a football game in September with a blood-alcohol content reading of 0.341. Nope all those took a back seat to a teaching assistant who university officials said sent, “inappropriate content to her students.”

Reports are the email from the math teaching assistant stated, “Hi Class, I attach the solutions for number 76 and 78 in this email.” (New math? Nude math?) I don’t think the nude photos of the TA (you know, teaching assistant) were the solutions, but I’m sure they will provide David Letterman, Jay Leno and others at least enough material for one night. And I don’t know if the TA will become a professor, but I imagine an LA agent and realty show are already in the works.

I happened to be in the Iowa City area the last couple of days. I was doing a video shoot close to the University of Iowa yesterday and the client graciously reserved a room for me at the Coralville Marriott.  The hotel has one of the best features I’ve ever seen at a hotel. (And I’ve seen the ducks at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, and dolphins at The Kahala Hotel on Oahu.) They have a library that features only books from writers associated with the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

IowaWritersWorkshop

Last night I spent a little time there reading the book The Iowa Writers’ Workshop by Stephen Wilbers. The book was first published in 1980 so it doesn’t include writers from the workshop over the last three decades, but it does a super job of telling the early history of the workshop.

While I have no connection to the University of Iowa, this blog and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop do share a connection in that regionalism played a part in starting both. (And there’s a Diablo Cody connection, of course.)

“As Wallace Stegner proclaimed in an article for the Saturday Review of Literature, the regionalist were convinced that Iowa had ‘definitely come of age.’ In sum, the twentieth century was imbued with the spirit of regionalism and charged with the special energy that emanates from sense of place and pride of locale. In addition to the stimulus of the University itself, two other factors—the Midland and the tradition of the writers’ clubs—reflected and contributed to this spirit.”
Stephen Wilbers
The Iowa Writers’ Workshop

The Iowa Writers’ Workshop began in 1936 and to date faculty and graduates affiliated with the Iowa Writers’ Workshop have won twenty-eight Pulitzer Prizes. The library at the Marriott has a special section of just those books.

What I also learned from Wilbers’ book was that fundraising and publicity for the Writers’ Workshop program took many years to establish.

P.S. Screenwriter Diablo Cody did not attend the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (she jokes that it’s easier to win an Oscar than to get accepted) but she attended the University of Iowa because it was known as producing writers and she wanted to be a writer. So she joins Tennessee Williams as being an accomplished writer who graduated from the University of Iowa without attending the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Related Posts: The Juno—Iowa Connection

Scott W. Smith

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