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Posts Tagged ‘Diablo Cody’

“The internet is a miraculous things. Just share as much as you can, self-publish, blog, podcast whatever you need to do. Just make sure you are not withholding your gifts from the world. Because you have so many opportunities now….We’re in a new frontier.”
Diablo Cody

Today marks the 12th anniversary of Screenwriting from Iowa … and Other Unlikely Places.  The original goal was to take a year and blog a book. I failed that task—but there’s still hope. And at least in the first year the blog won a regional Emmy so that was a nice tradeoff. (See the post Juno Has a Baby.)

And I got a nice shout-out from screenwriter Diablo Cody when she was on Twitter back in the day. Her Oscar-winning  Juno script and Midwest background were a large part of starting this blog, and she’s been featured in many posts over the years. I think her tweet was a response to my 2010 post Screenwriting’s Biggest Flirt.)

Diablo Cody Twitter copy copy

After chipping away at the book for a decade I thought I was close to finishing it about a year ago. I turned it over to an editor who did what good editors do. His suggested changes and comments totaled 3,000. One of his biggest challenges to me was not to copout saying it was a book cobbled together from random blog posts, but to make a book that stands on its own. So that’s what I’ve tried to do the past six months and believe the finished product is elevated greatly because of the changes. More in coming weeks about the book’s release.

change

But seeing those edit notes was a blow. Like thinking you at the end of running a marathon only to be told, “Oh, this isn’t the finish line, you still have 10 miles to go.” It took me three months just to wrap my head around doing a deep pass on the 225 pages. Now I’m down to a dozen changes so I’m hopeful that I will finally get the completed version of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles out by March of this year.  At least, that’s the new goal.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share my introduction to the book which happens to mention actor Dwayne Johnson’s father—the former pro wrestler Rocky Johnson— who died last week.

Screen Shot 2020-01-23 at 4.37.21 PM

 

PREFACE
(For the book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles  by Scott W. Smith)

“I wasn’t born knowing how to write a play.”
—Sam Shepard, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright

“How did I learn screenwriting? It was a matter of years of trying to develop my writing in the same way that some people spend years learning to play the violin.”
—Screenwriter Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption)

In the ten years of writing the blog Screenwriting from Iowa . . . and Other Unlikely Places, I’ve found advice and insight on the creative process from more than 700 gifted screenwriters, filmmakers, and teachers. I realized that I could consolidate some of this material as a book, revising and reorganizing it in ways that I thought would be most helpful to people’s creative journeys. I want these ideas to function like brass knuckles in an old-school professional wrestling match.

I don’t know if Aristotle ever used brass knuckles, but they are said to have been around since the ancient Greeks. Abraham Lincoln’s secret service men carried brass knuckles. And legend has it that brass knuckles were Al Capone’s favorite weapon.

The term “loaded fist” in Japanese martial arts refers to a martial arts version of brass knuckles that can turn a punch into a sledgehammer. As a troubled youth in Hong Kong, Bruce Lee carried brass knuckles, giving a twist of meaning to his trademark movie Fist of Fury.

Today brass knuckles are brandished in popular video games and music videos. Spike Lee even wore brass knuckles to the 2019 Academy Awards.

My introduction to brass knuckles was watching professional wrestling on TV as a kid. This was not the high-dollar spectacle of today but the low-budget version, usually taped in a small studio in Tampa, Florida.

Actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s father, Rocky Johnson,* was a wrestler in the pre-WWE era when professional wrestling was more regionally orientated and the bag of tricks (and storylines) was more limited.

This was at a time in my youth when I didn’t know if professional wrestling was real or not. What I did know was that professional wrestling had a cast of characters with colorful names like Abdullah the Butcher, Dusty “The American Dream” Rhodes, and Andre the Giant, and it was flat out entertaining.

Inevitably, when one wrestler was getting beat up and close to losing a match, brass knuckles would magically appear (and oftentimes un-magically when he reached into his wrestling trunks and pulled out brass knuckles).

The announcer Gordon Solie would say something like, Wait a minute, what’s he have in his right hand? It looks like a foreign object. Oh no, it looks like a pair of brass knuckles!

At the last minute, this would give the almost beaten wrestler an upper hand in the match. It would result in not only a victory for the trickster but also in a bloody mess. For a ten-year-old boy this was as good as a vampire movie.

My goal with this book is not to create a bloody mess, but to offer the equivalent of brass knuckles for writers — screenwriters in particular. Ideas found in this book can serve as powerful resources in urgent moments of desperation—or to avoid those moments altogether.

By “screenwriting” I mean any screen: the big screen, TV, computers, tablets, mobile devices, virtual reality, video games, and even some non-screen dramatic writing such as theater and podcasts.

This book will not substitute for a good writing teacher or mentor, but it can give you some valuable ideas to hang on to, “foreign objects” thrown into the ring as you struggle to craft and sell your own stories.

*Rocky Johnson was actually the 1976 NWA Brass Knuckles Champion.

Related post:
Hitting Rock Botton with The Rock (And my very loose University of Miami football connection with The Rock.)

Scott W. Smith

 

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“Being in Iowa gives you a unique point of view inherently. Embrace that.”
Bryan Woods
Alumni filmmakers Scott Beck, Bryan Woods strike deal with Paramount Pictures

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Screenwriters Scott Beck & Bryan Woods

Box Office Mojo had A Quiet Place stepping back into the top of the box office over the weekend and crossing the $200 million mark worldwide. Pretty amazing for a non-franchise that cost $17 million to make.

Congrats to both Scott Beck and Bryan Woods who originally wrote the script, and to John Kransinki who directed the film and honed the script.

Because Beck and Woods are from Bettendorf, Iowa (and are familiar with this blog) this is as good a time as any to make them the poster boys for “Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places” (even if they’re in their 30s now). They join Oscar-winning Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody who I named years ago as the poster girl for the blog.

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It just so happens that Beck, Woods, and Cody are all graduates of the University of Iowa. I’ve been asked if I teach at U-Iowa (or was when I lived in Iowa) or was a student there and the answer is no and no. I have no connection at all to the University of Iowa.

I simply started this little blog in 2008 after seeing Juno and here we are a decade later. It just so happens that the University of Iowa turns out some talented people.

Related posts:

The Juno-Iowa Connection
Postcard #55 (Iowa Writers’ Workshop Library)
David Lynch in Iowa
John Irving, Iowa & Writing
Yawn…Another Pulitzer Prize (University of Iowa grads)

 

Scott W. Smith

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“Growing up in Ohio was just planning to get out.”
Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch (who grew up in Akron)

At the end of Ted Hope’s book Hope  for Film he has an appendix that lists 141 Problems and Opportunities for the Independent World. The list flowed from a blog post he wrote back in 2010.  You can find the entire list here, but I’m just going to highlight one problem today.

124. Artists cannot afford to live in our cultural centers. It’s a real Catch-22. Artists make cultural centers, but these places become too pricey for their creators to live in. If you are in the middle class, you can only afford 14 percent of the currently available homes in San Francisco. The number drops to only 2.5 percent in New York City. I love both cities, but can’t see my future in either of them as a result. And I don’t really want to move to Akron, Ohio, either (no offense intended, Akron!).
Ted Hope
Hope for Film: From the Frontline of the Independent Cinema Revolutions (p. 285)

If you don’t have wealthy parents or a trust fund to support you for a few years until you get some traction in New York or L.A. what is one to do? Many articles over the years have talked about the struggle of creative people trying to pay their bills in the big cities. And if you tack on a large film school debt, forgetaboutit.

It makes me wonder where people like Jim Jarmusch (Stranger than Paradise) would go today if they were starting out in 2018 instead of the 1970s.

I started writing this blog in 2008 after seeing Diablo Cody’s Juno and learning that she went to school in Iowa City and wrote the Juno screenplay in the suburbs of Minneapolis. She went on to move to L.A. and win an Oscar for that script. A Midwest success story.

As of this weekend, we have another Midwest success story. And, yes, one also with Iowa roots.

‘A Quiet Place’ Delivers a Not So Quiet $50 Million Opening
Box Office Mojo headline
April 8, 2018

The original screenplay for The Quiet Place was written by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods. After the script sold to Paramount in 2016,  John Kraninski came on board to further develop the script, and direct and star in the finished version that this past weekend finished at top of the box office.

So which “cultural center” did these guys develop their filmmaking chops? I’m glad you asked.

“Scott Beck and Bryan Woods are two screenwriters you may not have heard of yet but surely will very soon. Scott and Bryan first met as sixth-graders in their hometown of Bettendorf, Iowa. After discovering a shared interest in cinema, the duo began making stop-motion movies together with their Star Wars action figures. This collaboration continued into high school, where they directed numerous shorts and their first feature films.”
Mike Sargent
Script mag

Like Diablo Cody they also attended the University of Iowa, which is where they first came up with the idea for The Quiet Place. Just this morning both Woods and Beck were back in Iowa City giving a talk on “Exploring Careers in Cinema.” 

They’re based in L.A. now but made their first short films and Nightlight (2015) back in Iowa.

Of course, this doesn’t exactly address Ted Hope’s question that I started off this blog addressing. But the drum I’ve been hitting for the past decade is there are filmmakers rising up all over the world finding support and inspiration from their communities.

Scott W. Smith 

John

 

 

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Here’s a quote from back in 2013—a few years before Greta Gerwig made her directorial debut with Lady Bird. (A film that just won Golden Globe awards for Best Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy, and Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture.)

“[Directing] was never something I realized I could do for a long time, and I don’t know why exactly, but I just never thought that I would be able to or that I’d never be any good at it, and I think I no longer believe that. …To be honest it’s a lame excuse, but it just seems very male, and it seems like it was just something that men said they wanted to do in college. I didn’t really know any women who said they wanted to do it. It wasn’t until really being out in the world and meeting filmmakers like Lynn Shelton and Lena Dunham and Liz Meriwether, who’s a writer, and Diablo Cody, and there’s so many of them that I didn’t know them. And it wasn’t until meeting them that I think, in my 20s, that I had built up a reserve of confidence and a feeling like it’s not just a boy’s club.”
Greta Gerwig
Miami NewTimes interview with

Related post:
The Fox, the Farm, & the Fempire
Woman of Steel
Lena Dunham, Sundance, & Iowa
Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik)

Scott W. Smith

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I got my own way of talkin’
But everything gets done
With a southern accent
Where I come from
Tom Petty/ Southern Accents

“The reason to make it in Florida was to make it out of Florida.”
Warren Zanes
Petty: The Biography 

The Beatles had Hamburg to refine their sound, Tom Petty had Gainesville.

When Petty died earlier this week a few places mentioned that he was born and raised in Gainesville, Florida before his success as a musician on the world stage. But since a part of this blog is about a sense of place, I’d like to spotlight just what it meant that Petty was from Gainesville.

The first time I visited Gainesville I was struck how it was unlike any place I’d ever been. I was 17 years old and hadn’t ventured far from the Orlando suburbs where I was raised. I was part of a high school football team that made the two hour drive north to play a game on the same field where the University of Florida played their games.

That was 1978 before cable Tv and the internet so I didn’t really have a frame of reference of what a college town looked like. We pulled into Gainesville and it was magical. The late afternoon sun hitting historic brick buidings that seemed more at home at an Ivy League school than in Florida. We drove down fraternity row where some guys were drinking beer next to a firetruck parked on a frat house lawn, and it seemed as if every coed was jogging around campus. (Jogging was big in the ‘70s.)

This was not the part of Gainesville where Petty came from, but it helped pave the way for his success.

I was in the redneck, hillbilly part [of Gainesville]. I wasn’t part of the academic circle, but it’s an interesting place because you can meet almost any kind of person from many walks of life because of the university. But it’s really surrounded by this kind of very rural kind of people that are — you know, they’re farmers or tractor drivers or just all kinds of — game wardens, you name it. So it’s an interesting blend. 

My family wasn’t involved in the college. They were more of ‘white trash’ kind of family. And so I have that kind of background, but I always kind of aspired to be something else, and I made a lot of different friends over the years that were passing through.”
Tom Petty
NPR interview with Terry Gross

The closet Petty got be a student at the University of Florida was working as a groundskeeper at the University of Florida. But the large campus, and the Lipham Music store where students and local muscians hung out, did help him get his musical education.

“Gainesville, Florida [in 1972] had become fully hippie, with a lot of mushroom-potion drinking going on.”
Jeff Calder

(To get a taste of the kind of interesting people connected with the University of Florida during Petty’s time there, check out the post Writing Quote #40 about author and professor Harry Crews.)

Gainesville has long had a reputation as a party school, and in Petty’s day that gave bands nightly musical opportunities to play. A step up from the teen dances and Moose Lodges he started doing when he was 14.

A lesser know fact is Petty took guitar lessons for 18 months as a teenager from Don Felder—as in Don Felder, member of the Eagles (1974-2001)—and co-writer of the song Hotel California. Felder himself took slide guitar lessons from Duane Alman. That’s the kind of musical talent kicking around Gainesville in the 60s and 70s.

“Tom Petty came in [the music store where I taught] one day, gosh, he must’ve been 12 or 13. He had been playing bass in a band called the Epics that I knew as the Rucker Brothers Band and he wanted to play guitar… so I started teaching him to play and went over to his house a couple of times and hung out and heard him play and went over to two or three of the Rucker Brothers’ shows ’cause it was a bit of a train wreck. I kind of helped put them together in the sense that one of them would play rhythm and one of them would play lead while Tommy was playing bass and just help sort through their band to help these kids put their garage band together…. Growing up together in Gainesville and seeing one of my students blossom as an incredibly gifted musician and songwriter has been one of my most fulfilling experiences in this life.
Don Felder
Billboard article by Gary Graff 

Both Petty and Felder would both go on to become more than local legends. And they weren’t alone.

“Eight musicians with musical roots in Gainesville in the ’60s and ’70s have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Stephen Stills (Crosby, Stills and Nash; Buffalo Springfield), Don Felder and Bernie Leadon (the Eagles), and the original lineup of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers — Tom, Mike Campbell, Stan Lynch, Benmont Tench and Ron Blair. That’s a remarkable showing for a small college town.”
How One Sleepy Southern college town changed the history of rock ‘n’roll

”An unusual number of people came out of that small little north central Florida town that went on to become platinum-selling recording artists and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees. The closest thing I can draw it to is the same sort of phenomenon that happened at Motown or around Memphis or in Nashville, where in certain areas there were so many people that kind of influenced each other or developed a similar style and that same group of people went on to stay involved in music because of that love and excitement in music.”
Don Felder

As Petty and third band Mudcrutch (after the Sundowners and Epic) became a popular regional band playing clubs and large music festivals (“mini-Woodstocks”) and they even opened for the Jacksonvile-based band Lynyrd Skynyrd. By the time Petty headed to Los Angeles in 1974 the 24-year-old had a solid ten years of playing and performing experience. He would go on to sell 80 million albums.  But the seeds were planted and nurtured right there in Gainesville, Florida.

“However long it had been since he’d run away from Gainesville, Florida, from the rednecks and college boys calling out for ‘Satisfaction,’ however long it had been since that town had both loved him and kicked him down its main streets, he knew it was the place that made him. He didn’t find rock and roll in Malibu. He’d brought it with him.”
Warren Zanes, Petty: The Biography

In the world of film outside of Los Angeles, Austin and Portland have an excellent track record of having that kind of iron sharpens iron vibe that Gainesville had musically back in the day. And over the years I’ve tried to show little pockets around the world where people come from on their way to bigger success.

Yes, screenwriters can even have roots in Iowa. Three solid examples are Fight Club screenwriter Jim Uhls and screenwriter/podcaster John August (Big Fish), who both studied journalism and/or theater at Drake University in Des Moines, and Oscar-winning Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody (who was media studies student at the University of Iowa in Iowa City).

Related Posts:
Start Small…But Start Somewhere
Aiming for Small Scale Success First 
Aaron Sorkin in Jasper, Alabama
Start Your Own Writers/Actors Workshop

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

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“You have so many opportunities now….We’re in a new frontier.”
Screenwriter Diablo Cody
Juno Has Another Baby (Emmy)

“You absolutely can make movies. The idea of having a career in the movie business is very, very different ”
Writer/director John Sayles (Lone Star, Sunshine State)

Diablo Cody poses backstage after winning an Oscar for best original screenplay for Juno at the 80th annual Academy Awards in Hollywood

Apparently it’s Mike Birbiglia week. After three days of pulling quotes from Mike Birbiglia’s interview with Tim Ferriss, I was surprised yesterday to hear Birbiglia interviewed by Craig Mazin on Scriptnotes.

What jumped out to me on his interview with Mazin was a brief exchange that hits at the the core of what I’ve been blogging about since 2008 after former University of Iowa grad Diablo Cody hit the screenwriting scene with Juno.

Mike Birbiglia: I’ve been traveling around the country with Liz Allen who coached our improv team in [Don’t Think Twice] and she does these free improv workshops at these [indie film] theaters, and I speak about how improv is related to my process as a director, writer and actor. And the thing I say is I would highly recommend people make something. If they’re living in Austin, or Iowa City, or Chicago or anywhere, and feel like you have something to say or a story to tell—we’re in an era where you can shoot something for nothing. And if you don’t believe me, go on Netflix and watch Tangerine [a film shot on a iphone that played at Sundance] and you’ll go, “Oh, that can be a movie? Holy cow. ”

Craig Mazin: You’re 100% right. But I wouldn’t suggest necessarily for people to start making things so that you can become famous and sell those things. Make them as part of your education. You don’t have to show them to anybody. If you make something of your own thing and hate it, you’ve learned so much.

MB:I did that in college. I shot a short film called Waiting to Be Great.

CM: —It’s still waiting?

MB: Yeah, it’s still waiting. It’s really not done. In the edit we kind of gave up on it at a certain point. We showed it to friends. It was just terrible. They said, “Nice try.”

So while you’re waiting to be great—just make something. It doesn’t even have to be good.  Have you ever seen Quentin Tarantino‘s first feature film? There’s a good chance you haven’t. I’m not talking about Reservoir Dogs, but the lesser known My Best Friend’s Birthday. A film that reportedly took four years to shoot and of which only 36 minutes survive due to a fire. (The first cut was 70 minutes and never released.)

I can’t recall Tarantino even talking about My Best Friend’s Birthday, but I imagine friends at some point told him, “Nice try.”And I’m pretty sure it played a key part of his education in becoming two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter Quentin Tarantino.

As you’re waiting to be great, just make something. It won’t be Juno, and it won’t be My Best Friend’s Birthday, but it will be a heck of an education. And it will be your vision that you helped create with a small team of people.

P.S.. And to round out yesterday’s post Bad Script, Good Pizza, Great Feedback you can add Frank Oz, Nicole Holofcener, Greta Gerwig and Mazin to the list of people Birbiglia had over to his place for script readings of Don’t Think Twice.

Note: Liz Allen coauthored the book Improvising Better: A Guide for the Working Improviser.

Related posts:
How to Shoot a Feature in 10 Days
Shooting a Feature Film in 4 Days
Shooting a Feature Film in 2 Days
Shooting a Feature Film in 1 Day
Shooting a Feature Film Over Dinner
The 10 Film Commandments of Edwards Burns
Writing for Low Budget Films
Filmmaking Quote #44 (John Sayles)
Filmmaker/Entrepreneur Robert Rodriguez
Start Small…But Start Somewhere

Diablo Cody related posts:
The Diablo Cody–Damien Chapelle Connection
Diablo Cody Day
The Juno-Iowa Connection
“Keep Your Head Down” “You will be a big deal for about ten seconds.”-Cody

Quentin Tarantino related posts:
Tarantino Gumbo Soup Film School
“When you have a big flop…”
“What I’m really here to do…”
“The way I write…”

Scott W. Smith

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Today I interviewed screenwriter Rick Ramage (Stigmata) and his 25 year journey has been an interesting one. If I told you he optioned his first screenplay for only $5,000 you may not be impressed—until you learned that it was while he was still a student at AFI. And that it quickly led him to working on projects with Sydney Pollack and Steven Spielberg.

And if that doesn’t impress you, what if I told you he once sold a spec script for 2.5 million dollars? If none of the above impresses you I’ll have to result to playing my “unlikely places” card and tell you that he was born in Fargo, North Dakota and raised—and mostly remained— in Denver, Colorado through all the highs and lows of working in the Hollywood film business.

I’ll unpack his journey more next month, but for now here’s a sample of our Q&A earlier today.

SWS Question: What encouragement do you have for a screenwriter who doesn’t want to uproot and move to L.A.—can they succeed from North Dakota or South Africa?

Rick Ramage: “I believe they can. From the bottom of my heart, I believe they can. Because it’s all about great stories. The one thing that’s worth a lot of money in Hollywood is a story. And if you have a good one they’ll find you. Agents will find you, because word will get out. I have this thing [I teach], ‘Don’t be afraid of rejection, be afraid of not being read.’ At least if it’s a rejection you’ll know. I still have a lot of phobias. One is after I start a script is, ‘Will I be able to do it again?’ And, ‘How will it be read. How will it be received? Will I be read?’ Those insecurities are normal. They’re indicative of our profession. I want other writers to know we all go through that.”

Related Quote:
“I believe as long as you have a compelling story and talent, you could be on a farm in Iowa and start your screenwriting career. Although I now live and work in New York City, I originally got my start in Orlando, Florida.”
Amanda Caswell
How I Started My Screenwriting Career From Outside LA

Related posts:
Blake Snyder Revisited “I have said often that geography is no longer an impediment to a career in screenwriting.”
Christopher Lockhart Q&A (Part 1) The WME Story Editor says you don’t need a great script, but the right script.
‘You can write from anywhere’
Why You Shouldn’t Move to L.A. 
Why You Should Move to L.A.
‘Keep Your Head Down’
The 99% Focus Rule
Juno Has Another Baby (Emmy) Diablo Cody is the poster child for the “Screenwriting from Iowa” blog, and while she had no problem moving to L.A. after selling her first screenplay, the fact is she found her initial success writing in Minneapolis. (You know, in the state next door to North Dakota.)

P.S. Any produced screenwriters who are interesting in being interviewed and passing on their knowledge and insights to other writers send me an email at info@scottwsmith.com.

Scott W. Smith

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