Posts Tagged ‘Des Moines’

“People who have nothing to do with Des Moines drive in off the interstate, looking for gas or hamburgers, and stay forever.”
Bill Bryson
The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America

Not every kid who grew up in Iowa would one day have Robert Redford portray them in a movie. In fact, there’s only one person in history I think that applies to—writer Bill Bryson.

Last night I heard Bill Bryson speak at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. His humorous writings were matched by his humorous speaking abilities. His observational style reminded me of Garrison Keillor and Mark Twain, two other writer/speakers with Midwestern roots.

Bryson spoke fondly of growing up in Des Moines during the ‘50s, of his father who was a sports writer for the Des Moines Register, of his adopted county of England, and said that the community of Winter Park was enchanting. (While I did spend an enchanting decade living in Iowa, I have lived in enchanting Winter Park more than any other place.)  Bryson now lives with his family in enchanting Hanover, New Hampshire.

He spoke to the estimated a thousand or so in attendance that there was a certain anonymity of being a writer. That in 30 years of being a published writer no one had ever recognized him on the street. He reflected that he would not recognize some of his favorite writers on the street. He read some short passages from his books and about what a pleasure it was to attend the Sundance Film Festival last year and watching A Walk in the Woods based on his book. At the movie’s premiere, his wife sat on one side of him and on the other side was Redford.

I’ll leave you a one simple practical bit of wisdom from last night’s Q&A:

“What inspires me to write? Bills.”
Bill Bryson

P.S. Des Moines is a much different town today than when Bryson grew up there over 50 years ago and recounted so well in his book The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memior.

In Colin Woodward’s recent article  How America’s Dullest City Got Cool, he unpacks how a place once known as Des Boring reinvented itself:

In recent years Des Moines has been named the nation’s richest (by U.S. News) and economically strongest city (Policom), its best for young professionals (Forbes), families (Kiplinger), home renters (Time), businesses and careers (Forbes). It has the highest community pride in the nation, according to a Gallup poll last year, and in October topped a Bloomberg analysis of which cities in the United States were doing the best at attracting millennials to buy housing. “Never mind California or New York,” Fast Company declared two years back. “By some important measures, Des Moines is way ahead of its cooler coastal cousins.”

That’s one reason why I’ve set my recent spec TV pilot in Des Moines, Iowa. Another enchanting place.

P.P.S. Screenwriters Jim Uhls (Fight Club) and John August (Big Fish, Scriptnotes) both went to college at Drake University in Des Moines.

Related posts:
Postcard #11 (Des Moines)
Postcard #77 (Iowa State Capital)
San Francisco Vs. Des Moines
2010 48 Hour Film Festival/ Des Moines 

Scott W. Smith


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“I think ultimately, when broadband comes. that there’s going to be a lot of entertainment that will be run through the Internet, and I think that’s going to be a big factor in the near future.”
George Lucas in April 2001
Interview with Joe Rice

Over the weekend I was preparing to pare down my film library and flipped through the book Digital Cinema: The Revolution in Cinematography, Post Production, and Distribution by Brian McKeran and found that Lucas quote.  It’s amazing what’s happened in less than ten years since that book was published in 2005.  In fact, when Lucas made that comment about entertainment running through the Internet You Tube was still a few years away from being launched, there were Blockbuster video stores all over the United States, and Netflix was still a decade away from announcing it was getting into the original content business with House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey.

Makes me wonder what what the world will look like in ten years. Just maybe it will look a little like this nugget I used in Screenwriting Outside L.A. 101:

“I think that the Internet is going to effect the most profound change on the entertainment industries combined. And we’re all gonna be tuning into the most popular Internet show in the world, which will be coming from some place in Des Moines.”
Steven Spielberg to Katie Couric on the NBC today show in 1999

We’re not there yet, but there are things happening in unlikely places all over the world. I’ve been saying for years that an unlikely place could be West Des Moines, West Africa, or just east of the Hollywood sign in West Covina. But since Spielberg mentioned Des Moines let me give you two examples of what I’ve seen happening there.

When I lived in Iowa I was DP on a short film where I worked with actor Brendan Dunphy. One of the sharpest, smartest, most talented, nicest and best looking people I’ve ever worked with. Check out his website if you looking an actor who looks like Tom Cruise did around age 30.  And if his looks and my praise don’t intrigue you, how about knowing that he’s a trained entomologist who when not acting or writing plays works with bugs at Iowa State University in Ames. (See article Acting Bug by Carole Gieseke.) You’re going to see more of Dunphy in the future either in Hollywood or on the Science Channel—if not from some Internet show in Des Moines that Steven Spielberg produces. (Never bet against a guy from a small town in Iowa, with Hollywood looks,  who’s also performed Hamlet on stage.)

Brendan Dunphy

Brendan Dunphy

Dunphy was also part of the team (along with Paul David Benedict, Scott Siepker) that produced Iowa Nice that received over a million views on You Tube. (It also helped them land gigs with ESPN producing videos with the same snarky–but less profane– humor.)

And back in 2005, a group of filmmakers in Des Moines did win in 2005 Best Film at the 48 House Film Festival for their short Mimes of the Prairie. (Second place was a film from San Francisco and third place was a film from Paris.)

P.S. Greatest missed opportunity in Internet entertainment?  “ [In 2000] We offered to sell a forty-nine-per-cent stake and take the name Blockbuster.com. We’d be their online service.”  Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix in The New Yorker article Outside the Box, Netflix and the Future of Television by Ken Auletta. At peak in 2004 Blockbuster had 9,000 stores, at the end of last year closed all but 50 franchisee owned stores (in Texas and Alaska), and shut down their mail-order service. The reason ?

“Blockbuster ran through a series of owners, investors and managers as it struggled to compete with Netflix’s mail-order DVDs, cable’s video-on-demand, Redbox’s vending machines and streaming services online. Blockbuster not only failed to reinvent itself; it also neglected its stores, which grew shabby and increasingly reliant upon sneaky late fees.”
Al Lewis, Wall Street Journal 2013 

Recommended reading at least once a year: Who Moved the Cheese? by Spencer Johnson. Especially for anyone in the film/video/photography business.

Related Posts:

The Prophet Ben Hecht
New Cinema screenwriting (part 2)
Putting the Bust in Blockbuster (written in 2010)
Screenwriting and the Little Fat Girl in Ohio (2.0) The prophet Francis Ford Coppola

Related Links:
Des Moines, where regular folks can live the rich life, NBC Today
The Best Places for Business and Careers, Forbes
(Des Moines tops the list in 2013)

Scott W. Smith

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“To have the president of the United States join us in discussing the issues of our time is a special honor.”
University of Iowa President Sally Mason
Iowa City, Iowa
April 25, 2012

Iowa has been a popular state this week. First Lady Michelle Obama was here on Tuesday and President Obama was here yesterday. It appears from the interviews I was hired to shoot for a D.C. group on Tuesday and Wednesday in Des Moines, that these days Michelle is more popular than her husband.

From what I (a registered non-party voter) can gather from the African-American, the Romanian immigrant, the retired Marine, and the transgender college student we interviewed—all who voted for Obama in ’08—I think you might hear a lot about hope and change (and “It’s the economy stupid”) in the next presidential election. But those slogans will be coming from a different corner.

(It’s fun to be paid to be a fly on the wall. This should be should an interesting election year.)

Three 15 hour+ days have me running to keep up on the blog, so here are a couple of photos I took in passing during my shoots this week that I’ll include in my “Postcards from the Road” category. (Bonus points if anyone can tell me who the pro bowler is from our meal stop yesterday at the hipster-60s style High Life Lounge. “Isn’t it time you lived the High Life?”)

To do my job to help the economy I made it 3 for 1 postcard day.

P.S. On my midnight drive home last night I kept awake listening to Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine: How Creativity Works CD book. I’m was enjoying the content so much I could have just kept driving north on I-35 past Minneapolis, and even Duluth, and just gone all the way to Winnipeg. If you haven’t heard of the book, check out my post Bob Dylan’s Brain.

Scott W. Smith

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Reading departures signs in some big airport
Reminds me of the places I’ve been…
Jimmy Buffett
Changes in Lattitudes, Changes in Attitudes 

If you ever wonder why you ride the carousel,
You do it for the stories you can tell…
Jimmy Buffett
Stories You Can Tell 

Jimmy Buffett has said when he was a youth in Mobile, Alabama he once saw a live performance of the musical South Pacific and started to dream about far away lands. He learned how to play the guitar and tell stories and that was his ticket to far away places. Somewhere in my youth I picked up Jimmy Buffett’s albums and started to dream about far away lands. I learned how to use a camera and tell stories and that’s been my ticket.

Last night I listened to the Buffett concert in Des Moines over the live feed on Radio Margaritaville. Brought back a few memories from the far side of the world. Whenever I speak at colleges I show various shot from my adventures, I always tell them that when I graduated from high school I had only been to three states in my life—only if you count the Atlanta airport on my way from Florida to visit my grandma in Dayton, Ohio.

And Buffett himself has a line in one of his songs that goes, “Never been west of New Orleans, or east of Pensacola. My only contact with the outside world was an RCA Victorla.” So if you have a drop of wanderlust in your blood, and haven’t traveled as much as you’d like, memorize one of my favorite quotes:

“We tend to over estimate what we can do in one year, and underestimate what we can do in ten.”
Richard Foster

And if you need some musical inspiration for your dream, here’s Buffett’s song Some Day I Will.

Thanks to Jimmy Buffett for giving me a jump start to dream of far away places. And thanks to God for providing opportunities to work in this great big beautiful and mixed up world. BTW—If you have some stories you need to tell, contact me at RiverRun.tv (Have camera, will travel).

Best wishes on your own adventures—and send me a postcard. Here are some of mine from over the years:

Samaria, Russia

Samaria, Russia

Kindston, Jamacia

Kingston, Jamacia

Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa

Denali National Park, Alaska

Sea Plane in Brazil

Sea Plane in Brazil

A taste of Florida in Waterloo, Iowa
(Some adventures are close to home.)

 Scott W. Smith

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As a dreamer of dreams and a travelin’ man
I have chalked up many a mile
Read dozens of books about heroes and crooks
And I learned much from both of their styles
Jimmy Buffett
Son of a Son of a Sailor 

Jimmy Buffett will be playing in Iowa Tuesday night. The Des Moines Register reported that it’s Buffett’s first concert in Des Moines since 1985.

Without Buffett there probably wouldn’t be a blog called Screenwriting from Iowa. No blog, no Emmy. No blog, no shout-out from Tom Cruise’s website, etc, etc.

Buffett’s first hit was Come Monday back in 1974. I was 13-years old— peak time for discovering music. By the time I was sixteen I was well versed in his albums A1A, Living & Dying in 3/4 TimeHavana Daydreamin’, and Changes in Attitudes, Changes in Latitudes. By the time I left the University of Miami for film school in California I was already indoctrinated into Son of a Son of  a Sailor, Volcano, and Coconut Telegraph and had already been to the Conch Republic and taken my first big road trip—to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.

I’m not sure the first time I saw Buffett in concert, but I dug up an old file over the weekend and the first ticket stub goes back to ’78 at the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando. Probably seen him in concert at least 15 times. I took the concert photos above my senior year of high school in 1980 when Buffett opened for the Eagles at Tampa Stadium. (Back when we both had more hair, as you can see what I looked like back in the day with my hat and Buffett t-shirt.)

Lots of memories from outdoor concerts in Colorado (Red Rocks), California (The Greek Theater), Hawaii (Waikiki Shell) , and the most unusual indoor venue—the Jai-Alai Fronton in Casselberry, Florida during his Coconut Telegraph tour in ’81.

While his concerts are known to be quite a party, it was always the lyrics that drew me to Buffett. The stories. The people. The places.

He went to Paris, looking for answers
To questions that bothered him so
He was impressive young and aggresive
Saving the world on his own
Jimmy Buffett
He went to Paris 

For a kid that grew up on a dead-end street in Central Florida, Buffett opened up a world of curiosity, travel and adventure.

A world of Tony Lama boots, Carmen Miranda hats, Hemingway, John D. MacDonald, Key West, Aspen, Livingston, Montana, expatriates, Patsy Cline, Steve Goodman, Irma Thomas, manatees, sailing, steel drums, Paris, the Cafe Du Monde, Austin City Limits and a quest for paradise.

And there’s that one particular harbour
Sheltered from the wind
Where the children play on the shore each day
And all are safe within
Jimmy Buffett (written with Bobby Holcomb)
One Particular Harbour 

If you only know of Buffett’s music by Margaritaville or It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere, check out this song of his that Bob Dylan once said he liked (Highway 61 Meets A1A);

P.S. Did you know that there is actually a Key West, Iowa.

Related posts:

Sing Along with Mitch in Margaritaville

Euphoria (for 5 Minutes)

Days in the Sun

Writing Quote #31 (Hemingway)

Scott W. Smith

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What do you do when your work gets overlooked? You suck it up and you move on.

Last night in Des Moines the 2010 48 Hour Film Festival/Des Moines was held at the Fleur Cinema before a sold out crowd. For the last five years I’ve headed up teams that have been fortunate to have been chosen for at least one award each year. This year there were a record 49 teams signed up which meant greater competition. Just to add to the challenge this year I decided we’d do two films in one 48 hour period. The goal was to make two good enough to make it into the top 12 films that show at the Best of the City screening.

For whatever reason the judges did not find favor with our film No Day at the Spa.* That’s the nature of the beast. I personally thought that No Day at the Spa was not only better than our other film that was selected for this year’s festival, but is the single best 48 Hour film I’ve worked on in the last five years. But it was absent at last night’s screening. Obviously, I can’t look at it objectively, but I thought the lighting, camerawork, direction, editing, acting, and writing of No Day at the Spa was solid enough to be included in The Best of the City.

So it’s time for me to suck it up and move on. And it’s not like we got shut out. We did get one film in and won an award which is more than most of the other 49 productions teams walked away with. Shut up, say thank you, and be grateful, right?  (What’s the old expression, “How much is enough? Just a little bit more.”) Sure I would have liked them to sound the trumpet and extol how one team actually made two films in one 48 period. How brilliant it was that the two films actually worked in tandem, but also separately. How does the saying go? “All disappointment comes from unmet expectations.”

We fell short of our goal, that’s all. To put it all in perspective, there are people in Ames right now dealing flooding in their homes and business that will effect them for years to come.

But the best thing about the subjective nature of film festivals and the politicking behind the scene is it gives you a taste of Hollywood.  Hollywood has long been called the biggest high school in the world, and if you remember your high school days you may recall a clique or two that controlled things like which pictures got into the yearbook.

To show just a couple of examples of how this plays out in the real world:
1) The Shawshank Redemption—It did not win a single Oscar after it was released, but can be found in more than one list as being one of the best films in the history of American cinema.

2) Amele which did not win an Oscar for cinematography was recently named in an American Cinematography poll as the best film shot between 1998-2008.

That how subjectivity works. One person likes chocolate ice cream and another like vanilla ice cream. Somebody at a studio owes a favor to somebody’s agent. The Oscars are full of those kinds of battles.

Despite our disappointment of not having two films in the top 12, it was a fun time. We got a short (very short) limo ride to the red carpet where we had our picture taken and were briefly interviewed.

And we did win an award that I can put on the crowded shelf at River Run Productions.

But prehaps the best thing on working on such a project is watching a diverse group of people come together in a short time and create something from scratch. If your big goal is to make features don’t forget to be faithful in the little opportunities that come your way.

And congrats to Paul Hickey and his team for taking home the best film award last night.

I still don’t have our recent award-winning film The Masks We Were online yet. (Long story there that I’ll cover in a later post.) But, in case you missed the earlier post, here is our film that got shut out. In retrospect, this film would have been a refreshing film for the audience to see last night because it would have been the only film to have a female ensemble cast.

* Update: Found out the problem with No Day at the Spa, was we only had one coin as the prop and the requirement was coins. So in a sense we fell a penny short. We just needed one more coin.

Scott W. Smith

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Tonight the film, The Masks We Wear, which I produced, shot, and co-directed (with Josh McCabe) for River Run Productions will be one of films shown tonight at  The Best of the City screening in Des Moines as part of The 48 Hour Film Project. But there is a little more real life drama happening in Iowa right now.

Tuesday night I was returning from a trip to Florida and my connecting flight from Minneapolis to Des Moines was delayed in taking off because of lightning. We were told that all flights were delayed from taking off until lightning had not been spotted for 15 minutes. Eventually we took off and were told the ride made take a little longer than 45 minutes as they were trying to fly around a big storm. Somewhere over Iowa around 9PM the sun was setting and casting a golden glow on the storm clouds below us.

For about 15 minutes the view from seat 16A was the one of the most glorious views I’ve ever had in all my years of flying. (I took the above picture with my iPhone with a slight enhancement using the Chase Jarvis iPhone app The Best Camera.) By the time I landed, got to my vehicle, and made a Starbucks stop to prepare for my two-hour drive to Cedar Falls it was 10 PM. I was about 15 miles north of Des Moines and about 15 minutes south of Ames on I-35 when I saw a storm in front of me that looked like the kind you see in the end of the world movies. A dark and foreboding wall with a lot of lightning.  As the rain started to fall I actually made the decision to re-route my trip and turned around, back-tracked where I just came from and headed  east on I-80.

The storm eventually caught up with me and I had to pull over twice because visibility was so limited. It made a two-hour trip take three and a half hours. It wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon and this morning when I saw how bad the damage was in Ames and Des Moines. Currently I-35 (the major trucking road between Minneapolis and Des Moines) is closed, Ames is experiencing one of their worse flooding ever —leaving residents without drinking water, and tragically a 16-year old girl was killed outside Des Moines when her car was sweep away by flood waters just a mile away from I-80.

Kinda of puts things in perspective. While I was in Florida I showed a video I produced for my high school reunion. Among the fun songs and pictures I had a segment where I used Don Henley’s song The End of the Innocence (co-written by Bruce Hornsby) to recap things that had happened since we had graduated. It’s a bittersweet song that has always been one of my favorites. And the perfect song to evoke emotions for a group of people who had collectively witnessed the Challenger exploding and events surrounding 911.

Remember when the days were long
And rolled beneth a deep blue sky
Didn’t have a care in the world
With mommy and daddy standin’ by
But “happily ever after” fails
And we’ve been poisoned by these fairy tales
The lawyers dwell in small details
Since daddy had to fly

So tonight when I’m walking the red carpet Hollywood-style in Des Moines I’ll enjoy the moment. But I’ll also be aware of the people suffering nearby from the recent storms and my prayers go out to the friends and family of the 16-year-old who was killed.

Keep in mind while you’re writing that death and suffering are never far from your door. May you create stories that that not only entertain, but those that engage and enlighten the world we live in. (Aren’t those the kinds that last through the years?) To borrow writer Flannery O’Connor’s phrase, we need a few “prophetic poets.” They help us through the storms of life.

P.S. And if you happen to be at the screening tonight or the Des Moines Social Club afterwards stop by and say hello. I’ll be the one in a tux jacket, jeans, and black Converse high-tops.

Scott W. Smith

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