Posts Tagged ‘Disney’

I am not throwin’ away my shot!
I am not throwin’ away my shot!
Hey yo, I’m just like my country
I’m young scrappy and hungry
Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)

Singer/songwriter Paul Simon preceded Hamilton—the play, not the person. And I sure hope he knows it. I just learned over the weekend how Simon’s biggest musical failure planted the seeds for the off the chart success of Hamilton: An American Musical.  

Simon & Garfunkel had their first number one hit back in 1966, with a song Simon wrote when he was just 21-years-old (The Sound of Silence).  Their greatest hits include the classics Mrs. Robinson, Homeward Bound, and Bridge Over Troubled Water. That alone represents a solid music career.

In the 1970s, Simon’s solo career included the hits Kodachrome, Loves Me Like a Rock, and 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.  At the 1976 Grammy Awards his album Still Crazy After All These Years was named album of the year, and he was also named Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male. Simon could have called it a day and rode off into the sunset knowing he’d reached the height of success that few get to experience.

But Simon reached into the well in the 1980s and released his most successful solo album, Graceland. The album scored more hit songs and more Grammys. But it was in the late ’80s that he began working on a passion project, the musical The Capeman. Written with Derek Walcott, Simon said it was “a New York Puerto Rican story based on events that happened in 1959—events that I remembered.” The controversial musical ruffled many feathers on Broadway and closed after just 68 performance and personally cost Simon millions.

But one of the people who saw the play was a high school senior named Lin-Manuel Miranda, who would later write Hamilton. Miranda knew the play didn’t totally work, but he thought it had a “gorgeous score” and it planted seeds on how he could carve his own path. Being of Puerto Rican descent he wasn’t sure if there was a place in the spotlight for him in theater. Plus in school he knew there were better singers, dancers, and musicians than him. Two years after seeing the The Capeman he began working on In the Heights. 

To make a long story short, he stumbled on the 2004 book Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow while on vacation and the rest is history (ba dam tss).  The twist was he told  the story “America then, as told by America now.” That meant using hip hop, rap and other music not usually associated with the American Revolution. And he cast people of color as founding fathers of the United States, and a nice lead role for himself as Alexander Hamilton. That’s how you turn the world upside down.

The show eventually found its way to Broadway in 2015 and the following year won a Best Musical Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. But . . . before all of that, way back in 2009, Miranda had the opportunity to sing the opening song of his work in progress at a White House event. (I think the laughter is because the audience thinks he’s joking about working on a musical about the first United States Secretary of the Treasury.  Which is a reminder that there’s a good chance that people will laugh at your crazy ideas before the applause and awards come.)

Hamilton has toured around the world since then and a month ago a filmed version of the Broadway play was released on Disney+ for a whole new audience to discover.

P.S. Three other successful musicals that influenced Miranda before his Hamilton; West Side Story, 1776, and Amadeus.  More on that in a future post, but I have a friend whose mother calls herself a Nuyorican (born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York City). She couldn’t tell you how many times she’s watched the film version of West Side Story. Miranda can look forward to day when writers start approaching him with how seeing Hamilton as a youth inspired them to create their own stories.

P.P.S. I have a vision that late one night 78-year-old Paul Simon is home surrounded by his 12 Grammy Awards (including one for Life Achievement) and he watches Hamilton and smiles knowing that his expensive Broadway failure sparked a phenomenon.

Here are a couple of songs from The Capeman and a insightful video of Simon walking Dick Cavett through his process of wrtiting Bridge Over Troubled Water.

Scott W. Smith 


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“We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness” 
― Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

“Hello darkness, my old friend…”
—Simon & Garfunkel
The Sounds of Silence (written by Paul Simon and sung by Simon & Garfunkel)

The last two movies I happened to see in theaters were Joker and The Lighthouse. Thankfully, I didn’t see them on the same night. If I had of seen Joker and The Lighthouse back-to-back on the same day I would have gone home and immediately signed up for the newly launched Disney+  and planned to exclusively stream Disney films for the next year.

A Joker/The Lighthouse double feature would have had me rewatching Taxi Driver just for a ray of light. (I find nihilism as a worldview depressing, but I can handle it in two hour movie chunks.) The truth is both Joker and The Lighthouse are highly crafted films that will find favor at Oscar time. I expect actors Joaquin Phoenix and Willem Dafoe, directors Todd Phillips and Robert Eggers, along with the writing and production design teams to get Oscar-nominations.

But I think The Lighthouse black and white cinematography of Jarin Blaschke is the single most remarkable element of not only those two films, but of any film I’ve seen this year. And I should mention that both Robert Pattinson’s character in The Lighthouse and the Joker himself belong in what I call “The End of the Rope Club.”

“I would never write about someone who was not at the end of his rope.”
—Stanley Elkin

Here’s a little glimpse into how Joker and The Lighthouse were made.

P.S. As of this writing, the screenplay for The Lighthouse is available from A/24 at their “For Your Consideration” page (as well as the screenplays for The Farewell and Waves).

Scott W. Smith 

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Those directing tips I promised yesterday from Garry Marshall will have to wait until Monday. I just came across an interview with Garry Marshall and loved the simplicity of the following quote so much I snuck it into the post Writing & Rewriting Pretty Woman (Part 2). But I also thought it needed its own post:

“It is true that I look for the Cinderella aspect when I am making a film. Most good stories are Cinderella. Audiences like to watch characters whose lives change for the better.”
Garry Marshall
Interview with Leslie Elizabeth Kreiner

Today I learned that just two days ago Disney released for the first time a Blu-ray of their 1950 version of Cinderella.

P.S. According to Wikipedia,  “Thousands of variants [of Cinderella] are known throughout the world. The title character is a young woman living in unfortunate circumstances that are suddenly changed to remarkable fortune. The story was first published by Charles Perrault in Histoires ou contes du temps passe in 1697.” Anothers say that the fairy tale collection The Penranerone—which included the story Cenerentola—by Italian Giambattista Basile was published in 1634.

But regardless if its published origins are from France or Italy, the folk story itself I imagine is much older than 400 years old.

Scott W. Smith

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“I think it’s important to know you don’t necessarily have to have any connections (to Hollywood). It’s all about your desire. It’s about pursuing your passion and following your dreams.”
Joseph Kosinski (Director of TRON: Legacy)
The building of a Legacy

“We can’t say enough about Joe Kosinski. He’s a visionary. That’s the only way to describe him. We always say he’s come from the future to show us how to use technology.”
TRON: Legacy screenwriter Edward Kitsis (speaking on behalf of he and his writing partner Adam Horowitz)

When director Joseph Kosinski was starting out he may not have had any connections to Hollywood—but he sure has a few now. His debut feature film TRON: Legacy begins showing at midnight tonight across the country. It took a few people to make a movie based on the 1982 movie TRON and the expectations are high to see how the computer generated world of the movie has improved with 28 years of technology.

When the original movie about a boy looking for his father came out where do you think Kosinski lived? If you guessed Iowa, you would be correct. (I don’t go out of my way to find these connections, but for some strange reason they find me.)

“I have really fond memories of growing up in (Marshalltown, Iowa). I miss those wide open spaces and as a kid you just had so much freedom. I got to spend so much time outside with my BB gun and riding my moped.”
Joseph Kosinski (Director of TRON: Legacy)
The building of a Legacy

He lived in Iowa from 1979 until 1992 when he graduated from Marshalltown High School. Perhaps Marshalltown is not totally off the grid, but maybe not that unusual a place to be from and to grow up and make a movie about The Grid. Tron is a story of a boy looking for his father. (Kind of a technological version of Winter’s Bone? Wasn’t there a missing father in Star Wars?) Wide open areas have fueled an imagination or two including Avatar/Titanic’s director James Cameron who raised in rural Canada.

So how did Kosinski go from shooting BB guns in Iowa to shooting a $170 million Disney film? (A film that also has a monster advertising budget to boot.) First he’s a computer graphic/visual effects rock star. His commercial reel includes the “Starry Night” spot for Halo 3 and he won the Best Visual Effects award at 2007 AICP for the Gears of the War 2 commercial “Mad World.”

You can find samples of his work at his website josephkosinski.com.

The 36-year old moved to Los Angeles in 2005 and I haven’t found out in detail yet about those missing years between Marshalltown and L.A., but I do know Kosinski has a diverse background of architecture, engineering, product design. He graduated from Columbia University was an assistant professor in Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Sounds like the prefect guy to create the digital world of Tron.

Maybe architecture school is the new film school. I found this interview where Kosinski talks about the role of architecture in TRON: Legacy.

I’m not saying that Kosinski is starting a trend but I am 15 pages into a new script I am co-writing with a graduate of Marshalltown High School and who has a graphic arts background.

Related Post: Filmmaking Quote #7 (James Cameron) Who was raised in a town of 2,000.

Scott W. Smith

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“There’s enough land here (Florida) to hold all the ideas and plans we can possibly imagine.”
Walt Disney

Florida has had an awkward dance with movies for the past 100 years. While it’s had its share of feature films and TV programs filmed there over the years it’s almost as if the industry there is a façade. (Just like the above New York façade I shot on the Universal Studios Florida back lot last week.)

It looks real, but upon further investigation you see that it’s not–but stick with me there is a silver lining. You may recall in the 80s & 90s when Florida was calling itself “Hollywood East” as Disney and Universal were building studios. Some believe the studios were built for tourism from the start and word was that Disney even once hired people to push movie lights around when a tram went by.

But for a while it seemed to be working. Ron Howard and Steve Martin came to Orlando to make Parenthood, Wesley Snipes made Passenger 57, Nickelodeon was busy on the Universal lot, TV programs The Mickey Mouse Club, Superboy and Sea Quest were also shooting around Orlando.

Adam Sandler went to Central Florida to make The Waterboy, Director John Singleton to make Rosewood, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp to make Edward Scissorhands, Michael J. Fox to become Doc Hollywood, and Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro to make Marvin’s Room. Then it seemed like every other state and country got into the tax incentives for filmmakers game.

And then like a crew wrapping a production on location and returning home “Hollywood East” disappeared.  Around the same time a handful of filmmakers educated in Orlando colleges made one of the biggest splashes in independent film history making The Blair Witch Project landing two of the filmmakers on the cover of Time Magazine. Then they all but disappeared as well.

Perhaps the greatest illusion of Florida is the fact that two of the greatest films ever made are set in Florida but neither were shot in the Sunshine State. Both Citizen Kane (listed as AFI’s top film) and Some Like it Hot (AFI’s top comedy film) were shot in California adding to the irony of the Florida film industry.

And most of Scarface, with a story set in Miami, was shot in California. But if you want to see what Miami’s South Beach looked like 25 years ago (gritty) then Scarface is the film to see because they captured well those great art deco exteriors. Even the classic Lauren Bacall & Humphrey Bogart film Key Largo was filmed mostly in California. See what I mean about Florida’s strange dance with the movie industry? But while movies about Florida are not always shot in Florida, Florida did doubled for the Amazon underwater scenes in the cult favorite Creature from the Black Lagoon.

The film industry first came to Florida at the turn of twentieth century and it looked like Jacksonville in North Florida would be a major player in film production. Dozens of films were made there and studios began to pop up to take advantage of the warm sunny days. But eventually the film industry chose Hollywood as it’s go to place to film around the year.

The greater Ft. Lauderdale-Miami -Palm Beach area has seemed positioned over the years to be a leader in the film industry and some fine films and TV programs have been made down there: Body HeatThe Jackie Gleanson Show, Flipper, Gentle Ben, Miami Vice, and most recently CSI Miami, Burn Notice, and Marley & Me written by South Florida reporter and author John Grogan.

And some iconic stars and well know have made films in Florida including Elvis Presley (Follow that Dream), Gary Cooper (Distant Drums), Frank Sinatra (Lady in Cement) and Paul Newman (Absence of Malice). Not to mention a cast of more recent movie stars including John Travolta, Will Smith, Tom Cruise, Jim Carrey, and Demi Moore, as well as Florida’s own legend Burt Reynolds have made movies in Florida.

On the surface when  you step back from the picture what you see emerge in Florida’s 100 year movie history is that Florida doesn’t so much have a unified film industry –it’s one giant back lot. A great place for New York & California filmmakers to come and make movies and commercials. And they have made a lot of them over the years.

But when you look beyond the smoke and mirrors of “Hollywood East” you begin to a deeper foundation.  Since I like to talk about screenwriting and regionalism you can’t get any more regional in Florida than The Yearling written by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize Novel in 1939 and it became a great  film in 1947 and also was made as a TV film in 1994.

In a similar vein is Minneapolis born writer Theodore Pratt who after a time freelancing in New York spent most of the last 35 years of his life living in Florida and writing more than thirty novels that were set in Florida. His most well-known novel The Barefoot Mailman was made into a movie in 1951.

Zora Neale Hurtson was part of the Harlem Renaissance movement  in the 20s & 30s and used her hometown of Eatonville, Florida as the backdrop for her most well-known novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Oprah Windfrey produced the TV version of that book in 2005 starring Halle Berry.

As a quirky side note my high school and college creative writing/English teacher  (and Zora Neale Hurston scholar) Annye Refore got me interested in Hurston’s work back in the early 80s and when I was in film school in California I talked to an actress named Cyndi James-Reece who I was taking an acting class with saying she’d be great in the role that Berry eventually played. (Reece went on to win Star Search one year and married Lou Gossett Jr.)

And of course there are a whole list of writers who have called Florida home over the years some whose work has become movies; Ernest Hemingway, James Michener, E.B. White, Harry Crews, John D. McDonald, Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry to name a few.

But what about…screenwriters from Florida? Yes. Let’s see what we can find. Let’s start with writer/director Victor Nunez who though a UCLA film school graduate is known for his un-Hollywood films. In fact, he could be the poster child for regional filmmakers. The first film I saw of his was A Flash of Green that not only introduced me to his talent but also that of a young actor named Ed Harris. His next film Ruby in Paradise was Ashely Judd’s first film as a lead actress.

Nunez’s Ulee’s Gold starred Peter Fonda (who received an Oscar nomination) and was just the second film for a young actress named Jessica Biel. Nunez continues to make films but his day job is currently teaching film at Florida State University.

Which leads us to Tallahassee where FSU is and where screenwriter Robin Swicord graduated from. She recently got a screen story credit on The Curious Case of Behjamin Button, the David Fincher and Brad Pitt film that just opened yesterday. She also wrote the scripts for The Jane Austen Book Club, Memiors of a Geisha, and Little Women.

We are Marshall screenwriter Jamie Linden is also an FSU grad and Fort Lauderdale native Steve Conrad briefly attended FSU before going to Northwestern and eventually writing the script The Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith.

And while famed FSU football coach Bobby Bowden may not be a screenwriter I heard or read many memorable one liners come from him while growing up in Orlando. My favorite was when he talked about one player, “He doesn’t know the meaning of the word fear, in fact, looking at his grades he doesn’t know the meaning of a lot of words.

Screenwriter Melissa Carter who wrote Little Black Book starring Brittany Murphey and Kathy Bates is an FSU alum.

And while not a screenwriter (and who actually was an advertising-marketing major at FSU)  I must give Cherylanne Martin a special mention because she has worked on a magic carpet ride list of feature films (about 30 total). Beginning as a production assistant in 1983 on Jaws 3-D (shot in Orlando), she worked her way up to second assistant director on Rain Man, first assistant director on Forrest Gump, unit production manager on Castaway, and more recently was one of the producers of Nancy Drew. Quite a career, right?  (Years ago I crossed paths with Cherylanne when in a happy accident I met her father and he kindly past a script of mine on to her.)

And lastly (but the most  highly rewarded FSU grad) is Alan Ball, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of American Beauty. (From the theater school where Burt Reynolds graduated from back in the day.)

I know there are many colleges in Florida doing media and theater training but none that have the fruit of the FSU program. (This coming from a Miami Hurricane mind you. Though it is worth mentioning that Sylvester Stallone did attend a few semesters at the University of Miami and later went back using his script for Rocky to finally earn his degree. It’s good to see that writing a film that wins an Academy Award for best picture is worth a few college credits.)

Native Floridian writer Connie May Fowler wrote the book and script Before Women Had Wings (BTW–I love that title) that became an Emmy winning movie starring Oprah Winfrey and Ellen Barkin.

Florida will always be place to shoot films and TV programs like the classic Sea Hunt starring Loyd Bridges, because of the local and weather. But I also believe there is a remnant left over from “Hollywood East” made up of actors and production people who will keep turning out independent features from time to time.

While I was in Orlando last week I stopped by and visited some old haunts; Building 22-A at Universal, Panavison Florida and some friends who now work at Full Sail (which does have the most amazing sound stages I’ve ever seen for students). The good news is Universal has had a solid run of booking their sound stages for the past 18 months with a variety of productions and we’ll have to see what this new economy brings.

The talent, studios, desire, film commission offices, and other infrastructures are in place for things to take off in Florida. But for whatever reason it seems like Florida as a whole as been in rehearsals for 100 years. I believe Florida is ready for its close-up beyond just attractive people running around on the beach. And that’s where screenwriters from Florida come into the picture.

Producer's Building-22A Producer’s Building-22A
Panavision Florida

Panavision Florida

Full Sail Stage

Full Sail Stage

Florida is fertile ground for writers. It has an eclectic multi-cultural mix of characters and a large transient culture. (Heck, Jimmy Buffett’s had a long career writing songs about such people. And if you haven’t seen Errol Morris’ early documentary Vernon, Florida I’d recommend checking that out.)   There are stories to be told from there and there  just needs to be some screenwriters who can tap into the real Florida rather than Hollywood’s version of Florida.

Sidenotes: Orlando-based editor Oliver Peters who has edited features and documentaries (and a heck of a lot of corporate and commercials) has a helpful and informative blog called Digitalfilms for those of you interested in filmmaking. And to find out  about production news in Florida (including tax incentives) contact Film in Florida. Florida also has over 50 film festivals including the Florida Film Festival hosted by the wonderful Enzian Theater in Maitland, Florida.

Text & Photos Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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