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Posts Tagged ‘Diablo Cody’

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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“I’m telling you Iowa is incredible. We should all move to Iowa and start the revolution.”
Hannah (Lena Dunham) in Girls, Season 4 episode 2

It’s been a busy month for Lena Dunham as she’s been prominently featured in the press near the center of the film & political world in January 2016. She’s been at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah where her documentary Suited premiers tonight and she’s been stumping in Iowa for Hillary Clinton’s presidential run.   

“This is my second time in Iowa, but before I came to Iowa, I was pretending to be in Iowa. We filmed all our Girls stuff not in Iowa. I had seen tons of pictures of Iowa City, we had a location scout from Iowa and a writer from Iowa, so we had our experts in check, but I hadn’t, myself, had an opportunity to come. It was amazing when I came to Iowa City last year on my book tour because I had already had the experience of existing in fake Iowa and I was like, wow, we didn’t do that bad a job.”
Lena Dunham
The Des Moines Register 
January 11, 2016

Dunham, the creator of the HBO show Girls, is the perfect person to follow up my last post (Diablo Cody Day) about Diablo Cody winning an Oscar in 2008 for writing the Juno screenplay.  (And since I was living in Iowa at the time, the fact that Cody graduated from the University of Iowa served as inspiration for me starting this blog.)

Well, back in 2008 Dunham graduated with a degree in creative writing from Oberlin College in Ohio. While in college, in the infant days of You Tube, she was also creating short films that went viral.

“I didn’t go to film school. Instead I went to liberal arts school and self-imposed a curriculum of creating tiny flawed video sketches, brief meditations on comic conundrums, and slapping them on the Internet.”
Lena Dunham

In 2010, just two years out of college she won the SXSW Award in Narrative Fiction for her film Tiny Furniture. The film made for just $45,000 also earned Dunham Best First Screenplay at the Independent Spirit Awards. (The same award Cody won back in 2008.)

That led to the opportunity to create Girls which has been on the air since 2012, and has won two Golden Globe Awards (Best Television Series—Comedy or Musical, and Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series—Comedy or Musical).

That’s right, she acts, too. And she was paid $3.6 million to write her 2014 memoir Not That Kind of Girl. I don’t exactly fit the demographics of watching/reading Dunham’s work, and haven’t actually never seen a full episode of Girls, and have been out of the loop of the controversies of her work.  But I enjoyed the quirkiness of Tiny Furniture (which is currently available on Netflix), and it’s hard not to appreciate what she’s achieved creatively and financially before she’s even turned 30. 

And I was curious what Cody thought of Dunham and found this quote:

“I absolutely love Lena Dunham. I don’t know her personally, but I’m completely obsessed with the show. I cannot believe what she has accomplished at 26. I think she is like our new Woody Allen.”
Diablo Cody
Huffington Post interview with Lori Fradkin

P.S. Last year, Dunham’s character in Girls began attending the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in Iowa City so I thought I’d give some links that give a glimpse to the real place.

BTW—Diablo Cody got her undergraduate degree in Media Studies from the University of Iowa and when asked why she didn’t attend the Iowa Writers’ Workshop she said it was easier to win an Oscar than to get into Iowa’s competitive graduate program.

Related Posts:
John Irving, Iowa & Writing (My visit to the Iowa Workshop)
(Yawn) Another Pulitzer Prize (for a Workshop graduate)
Postcard #55 (Iowa Writers’ Workshop)
The Making of Woody Allen in 10 Simple Steps
The Juno-Iowa Connection
Oberlin to Oscars (Screenwriters William Goldman and Mark Boal also both graduated from Oberlin.)

Scott W. Smith

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Screenwriter Diablo Cody said after she was more or less discovered by Mason Novick via her blog she wrote while living in Minneapolis, “Just put your stuff out there and see what happens.” Here are two success stories from the book Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today’s Top Comedy Writers by Mike Sacks (via Stephanie Palmer’s Good in a Room blog):

“I didn’t know anyone who worked in the industry, but as it happens, there are some people who are really into trolling Twitter for new talent…. I kept tweeting for a few months. I was really [working] hard at writing jokes. And then, in maybe one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to me, I had this meeting with writer and comic Jordan Rubin, who had emailed me. He told me, ‘I have a thing that I’m working on. I might want you as a writer.’ He was the head writer of the Oscars.”
Megan Amram Parks And Recreation, Ant Farm
@meganamram

“No one cares how you dress in the interview. It’s like a comedian who hands you their business card. If you’re a comedian, be a comedian. Start a blog and write monologue jokes every day. People don’t want to hear that [because] to them, it just seems like you’re just throwing stuff in the air. But I know Josh Comers got hired on Conan that way. He had a blog where he’d write monologue jokes every day, and they hired him off that.”
Anthony Jeselnik, Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, The Jeselnik Offensive
@anthonyjeselnik

Related post: Start Small…But Start Somewhere

Scott W. Smith

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“A warmth radiates through Ricki and the Flash like a song sung true.”
NPR review/Meryl Streep Shines in ‘Ricki And The Flash’

“When I wrote [Ricki and the Flash] I was thinking micro-indie, honestly. I just wrote it on spec and I did not think there would be any interest in it. I still believe the only reason this movie got made was because Meryl Streep attached herself to it.  The fact that this is [my] biggest release in terms of screens—it’s scary.
Screenwriter Diablo Cody
DP/30 Interview

“I do know the appetite for the kind of movie I write has changed. Like Juno came out at a really great time, because it was Little Miss Sunshine—those Searchlight movies were making bank. If Juno came out this year, I don’t think it would be a hit. I feel like it’s harder right now. I feel like what people are looking for now is more of a spectacle…I feel like movies that are getting people out to the theater are movies that require you to be in an immersive experience with a huge screen and 3-D glasses. But Ricki and the Flash is a musical movie, tons of performances—you want to be in it. I think this is a theatrical movie and I hope people get that.”
Diablo Cody
DP/30 Interview

“That’s the weird thing about having an extraordinary success right out of the gate [with Juno], and like winning an Oscar and all that weirdness. Like you know that’s not going to happen again. That was truly a career high. For anybody that would be a career high. And mine happened bizarrely right away. So I never sit around thinking, ‘Oh, that’s going to happen again.’ I was like, ‘I’m going to enjoy this moment, and maybe I’ll go back to Minnesota when this is all over.’ I didn’t know if I was going to keep writing. It was a crazy experience. It’s like a hit of crack. Oh, it’d be great to feel that again. But at the same time you have to say, like, what’s the terrible Facebook cliche— ‘Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.'”
Diablo Cody
DP/ 30 Interview

P.S. So how did Cody get Streep interested in the script?

“I had originally brought this project to [producer] Marc Platt and he happened to be shooting Into the Woods at that exact moment in time. So he was in England with her and he was able to maneuver the script into [Streep’s] hands, which is not an easy thing to do. An A-list star has so many gatekeepers.”
Diablo Cody
The Hollywood Reporter article by Rebecca Ford 

P.P.S. If you’re new to this blog you may not beware that I started this blog in January 2008 just days after seeing Juno and learning that Diablo Cody went to the University of Iowa and wrote the Juno script while living in the suburbs of Minneapolis. At the time I was living in Cedar Falls, Iowa (between Iowa City and the Twin Cities) and decided that I could come at screenwriting and filmmaking from a different perspective. In the post Juno Has Another Baby (Emmy) I wrote about how Cody and Juno helped pave the wave for me to earn a Regional Emmy—in Minneapolis to boot.

Cody’s early success—and flair— made her a polarizing character in Hollywood and beyond. I feel like Cody’s big brother here, but before anyone in any part of the greater screenwriting community has a bad word to say about Cody please check out the Scriptnotes podcast How to Not Be a Jerk (Epidode:209). Or as writer/director Garry Marshall said, “Kindness is free.”


Related posts:
‘Emotional Catharsis’—Diablo Cody
Screenwriting Quote #1 (Diablo Cody)
Diablo Cody on Theme
Cody on Expo
‘Keep Your Head Down’ “Keep your head down and work as much as you can.”—Diablo Cody
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
Screenwriting’s Biggest Flirt “The fact is, when I wrote Juno—and I think this is part of its charm and appeal—I didn’t know how to write a movie.”—Diablo Cody
The Juno—Iowa Connection

Scott W. Smith

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“I remember when we were doing the press for The Brothers McMullen somebody in Fox Searchlight’s press department kept talking about the thing that’s going to help this movie—it’s the movie, but it’s [also] the story of the movie. They said any time you make a movie you should think about that—the other story you can tell. That way you can get two articles in the New York Times. You can get the review of the film, but then the ‘oh, Brothers McMullen—he made it for $25,000.’ There the other story so you can maybe end up in the business section, or the fashion section, or the sports section.”
Filmmaker Edward Burns
Podcast interview on The Moment with Brian Koppelman 3/17/15

Example of indie movies over the years with other stories include:

Hollywood Shuffle (1987) where Robert Townsend said he used credit cards to fund his movie.
El mariachi (1992) where Robert Rodriguez was said to sell his blood and/or undergo medical experiments to fund his film.
Clerks (1994) Kevin Smith sold a chunk of his comic book collection to fund his first film.
The Blair Witch Project (1999) Here the filmmakers had story after story that helped the movie become the biggest box office hit to date for what it cost to make.
Purple Violets (2007) The first film to be released exclusively on iTunes.
Paranormal Activity (2007) The story of Oren Peli’s self-funded almost no-budget thriller was the film that dethroned Blair Witch at the top movie in the ratio of cost to make and profits.

Oscar-winning screenwriters Quentin Tarantino and Diablo Cody both brought interesting personal backstories to their debut films.

I’m sure there are many other examples, but keep in mind your story’s story as you work on your movie. And you can work on your story’s story before you finish making your film.  While it worked out for him, Burns made the mistake of not arranging any still photos during the filming of The Brothers McMullen. (Maybe because he was acting and directing and the 3 to 5 person crew had their hands full.)

Related links:
The 10 Film Commandments of Edward Burns
“Don’t try and compete with Hollywood”—Ed Burns
Earn Your Ending (Tip #76)
A New Kind of Filmmaker 

Scott W. Smith 

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