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Posts Tagged ‘Don Henley’

Here’s my 9/11 post a couple of days late. It’s the Anchormen from the United States Naval Academy covering the Eagles song Hole in the World. The song was written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey after the events surrounding September 11, 2001.

Scott W. Smith

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“When I write a script, I am telling a story that comes from my heart.”
Matthew Weiner, 9-time Emmy winning writer/producer (The Sopranos, Mad Men)

“He had a home,
The love of a girl,
But men get lost sometimes,
As years unfurl”
New York Minute
Lyrics by Don Henley, Danny Korthchmar, Jai L. Winding

I’m on a steady Mad Men diet. No, I didn’t see the season premiere of the Emmy-winning AMC TV program earlier this week. Not being a regular TV watcher it takes me a little time to commit to watching a show. But once I’m in, I’m all in. This week alone I’ve watched 9 episodes. (All which aired originally in 2007.)

It’s really more of a workout—literally. At the gym I set either a stationary bike or an elliptical machine for 47 minutes. (The length of an episode.) And I’ve even switched machines and watched shows back to back. So if you had a sedate winter give that Mad Men diet and workout a try. (Results vary.)

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living”— but it sure can make for good drama. It worked for Arthur Miller in Death of a Salesman and it works for Matthew Weiner and his writing team for Mad Men. In fact, the subtitle of Man Men could borrow words from Thoreau; “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Mad Men is everything that television usually isn’t; intelligent, philosophical, contemplative, and even spiritual. (Along with a good deal of smoking, drinking, and philandering.) And its use of subtext and visual storytelling* exceeds what you’ll find in the typical Hollywood feature film.

So I thought I’d find a little inspiration today for you from the Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner.

“Writers were idolized in my home. My parents had a big poster picture of Ernest Hemingway on a wall in a hallway in our house. I thought I was going to be a poet and that I would find some other profession, teaching or something, to support me. After I graduated from film school at the University of Southern California, it was about 10 years before I got a paying job in the industry, but I never gave myself a time limit. I wrote the pilot episode for Mad Men in 1999 at night while I already had a job, and finally got it produced in 2006.”
Matthew Weiner
A Conversation with Matthew Weiner by Bob Fisher 

Don’t gloss over that 10 year deal. It was 10 years after Weiner earned his MFA from USC that he got “a paying job in the industry.” He also did his undergraduate work at Wesleyan University where he was in “a Great Books program with philosophy, literature and history mixed together.” Smart cookie, with educated and affluent parents, but it still took him 10 years to get a paying job in the industry. Say he’s 24 when he gets his Master’s degree, that puts him at 34 before his career started to take off.

I don’t know what he did in that ten-year period, but I bet he was cranking out pages. (He did have some scripts optioned for free.)

“I’ve learned that tenacity is a common part of the personalities of successful writers whom I have met. Now, maybe because I have had some success, I can say that the struggling  for the 10 years or so before I got a paying  job, made me a better writer.”
Matthew Weiner

Looking for a word today to put on a 3X5 card to place on the wall behind your computer? Try tenacity. Meaning persistent, relentless—like a dog on a bone.

P.S. From the quirky connection category. Weiner is four years younger than me an attended the all-boys prep school Harvard in Los Angeles (Now the co-ed Harvard-Westlake School). When I was in film school I worked for Yary Photography taking pictures of sports groups throughout Southern California. I did several shoots at the Harvard School when I was 21/22-years-old. Weiner would have been a 17/18-year-old student meaning if he played sports our paths could have crossed for a fleeting moment.

And for what it’s worth, writer-director Jason Reitman (Up in the Air) is also an alumni of the Harvard-Westlake School where the tuition for this school year is $30,000.

P.P.S. Care for a Midwest angle on Mad Men? Jon Hamm, who plays creative director Don Draper was born in St. Louis, Missouri and graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Missouri. Same school Brad Pitt attended. Ironically, neither of the future stars and Sexist Men Alive were theater majors at the Columbia, MO college. And January Jones (who plays Don’s wife Betty) was born and raised in Sioux Falls, South Dakota (about 10 miles from the Iowa border).

* Visual storytelling Mad Men example: In the episode Long Weekend, the number #2 man at the advertising agency Sterling-Cooper calls a secretary into his office (who is having an affair with) and just before she closes the door to his office she decides to leave it ajar about a foot. Nothing said, but so much implied. As the scene plays on it turns out she has seen Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960), and  sympathizes with the Shirley MacLaine character and wonders if she herself is just being used.

Related posts:

Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
“Unstoppable” Wesleyan University
Screenwriting Quote #32 (Mad Men)
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously) John Logan’s (Hugo, Rango) 10 year struggle as a writer.

Scott W. Smith

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“The wolf is always at the door.”
Don Henley
New York Minute

I don’t remember when I first asked myself, “How is Blockbuster going to survive?”—but it was a few years ago. Now with a debt load of over a billion dollars and stocks currently selling at 11 cents, everyone is wondering, “How is Blockbuster going to survive?”

“After dominating the home video rental business for more than a decade and struggling to survive in recent years against upstarts Netflix and Redbox, Blockbuster Inc. is preparing to file for bankruptcy next month, according to people who have been briefed on the matter.”
L.A. Times

August 26, 2010

The first Blockbuster video store opened in 1985 just as the VCR movie rental business was taking off. If I recall correctly, the video rental market at that time consisted of mostly mom and pop type stores. By the early 90s Blockbuster stores were everywhere and they became the largest movie rental company in the United States.

For a long time its major competition was Hollywood Videos (also known as Movie Gallery) which at its peak had over 4,500 stores in North America. Early this year Hollywood Video/Movie Gallery filed for bankruptcy and the last of its stores just closed within the last month.

Whether Blockbuster  finds a way to reorganize and survive or becomes the new Fotomat is unknown at this point.  But either way, they had a great 20 plus year run and filled a niche between Hollywood and consumers. I wish I could hit a button and look at how many movies I’ve rented from them over the years. And the list of movies itself would probably a few good memories.

I know there are more efficient and convenient ways to rent movies these days, but if all the large video rental houses fade away I will miss just being able to wander through the store and stumbling on a movie I had never seen before or hadn’t seen in a while.

But I’ll never miss those dang late fees.

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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“I guess every form of refuge has its price.”
Lying Eyes/Eagles
Written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey

“This idea of possession seemed to be organic to both the foreground story, and all of Karen’s relationships, and this background story of Colonialism.”
Director Sydney Pollack on the spine of Out of Africa

There are movies like Erin Brockovich and An Officer and a Gentleman that in the hands of different filmmakers would be soap operas and not films that receive Academy Award nominations.  Out of Africa belongs in the same category. A woman is attracted to a man, but since the feeling is not mutual, she settles for marrying the brother of the man she loves. As an older single woman (for the times) it was a form of refuge. And from there the story unfolds.

The line between a classic tragic love story and a melodramatic soap opera is often very thin. But in the hands of director Sydney Pollack and his talented team the 1985 movie Out of Africa was nominated for eleven Oscars and won a total of seven. On the DVD director’s commentary Pollack explains the difficulties of bringing the story to the screen;

“I’d known about this book Out of Africa for years, as almost everyone in Hollywood had, and I was not the first director to try make it. Several directors had attempted it and there were several screenplays. When I first went and looked into the vaults at the studio there were at least five other screenplays that had been attempted. The difference we had was we had Judith Thurman’s extraordinary biography, Isak Dinesen The Life of a Storyteller to work with.  And that gave us something that none of the other filmmakers had the use of.

Kurt Luedtke who wrote the screenplay had written Absence of Malice, a film the two of us did earlier, and he always wanted to try this and I warned him that it had been attempted before. I think part of what helped him to lick it was the fact that he was new to the form and absolutely not intimidated by the fact that it had been tried so many times before.

And the combination of his grasp of the material and his perceptions and then the insights into her life that Judith Thurman gave us at least allowed us to get  a screenplay out of it.

The big problem in getting this book to the screen was the fact that there was no conventional narrative in her book. It’s really a pastoral.* A beautiful formed memoir that relies on her prose style and her sense of poetry and her ability to discover large truths in very small, specific details. So it’s very difficult and illusive material to base a screenplay on.”

To keep track of all of the writers and literary influences on Out of Africa here is an overview:

1) Karen Blixen, Lived the story and wrote the books (as Isak Dinesen) Out of Africa, Shadow’s on the Grass and Letters from Africa
2) Judith Thurman spent seven years writing and researching her book, Isak Dinesen The Life of a Storyteller
3) Erol Trzebinski, Silence Will Speak
4) Kurt Luedtke, Out of Africa script (working with Pollack), several screenplay drafts over several years
5) David Rayfiel, Who did credited screenwriting on Pollack’s
Three Days of the Condor, and uncredited work on Pollack’s The Electric Horseman and Absence of Malice, also did uncredited writing on Out of Africa

There were a lot of cooks in the kitchen, but the solo screenplay title card and the Oscar (Best Writing, Screenplay Based from Another Medium) went to Luedtke.

“We spent about two years trying to find what I always call a spine or an armature** of this piece. Sort of trying to distill the idea  down to one or two clear sentences that could be a guidepost. What is it really about? And we finally settled on possession. Freedom versus obligation. If I say I love you, what price am I expected to pay?… How much of myself do I have to give up? It’s always important for me to be able describe the heart of a film in some simple and evocative way so that I can sort of test each scene and character and development against that idea.”
Director Sydney Pollack

* Pastoral; Of, relating to, or being a literary or other artistic work that portrays or evokes rural life, usually in an idealized way
** Armature; framework


Scott W. Smith

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“I need to know two people can stay together forever.”
Juno

(Winning an Oscar) doesn’t mean anything. It’s like winning class president.”
Diablo Cody

Someone once said that in America we love to cheer victors as they enter the triumphal arches and then throw rocks at them as the pass through the other side. If you’re older than 15 you’ve seen the cycle repeated a time or two with athletes, political leaders, and especially movie and pop music stars.

Welcome to the jungle Diablo Cody. The first negative thing I remember hearing about Cody was the day after she won her Oscar for Juno and some critics decided they had had enough of the Cody love fest and mocked her choice of dress for the Oscars.

Now is when things get ugly. Cody’s second film Jennifer’s Body was released Friday and the reviews are mixed, but with a heavy dose of criticism:

Jennifer’s Body is never scary and it’s only sporadically amusing.” Christy Lemire. AP

“It’s a serviceable premise, but the execution fails on almost every level.” Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“An unoriginal and mostly unscary horror-comedy from, surprisingly, the pen of Diablo Cody.” Kirk Honeycomb, Hollywood Reporter

Diablo Cody called unoriginal? Ouch.

But I’m not really interesting in talking about Jennifer’s Body, I’m more interested in Diablo’s body. Her arm actually. I want to talk about what happens after you’ve been to the top of the mountain because they don’t generally have a class for this kind of thing.

A few months ago I was doing a shoot in Minneapolis and went to eat at Al’s Breakfast in Dinkytown. (A must-do eating experience if you’re ever in the Twin Cities.) I sat next to a guy who looked like a rock star (as a lot of people do in Minneapolis). I asked him if he was in a band and he said he used to be. We talked about the music scene in Minneapolis and then about Diablo Cody. He said years ago he met her once (when she went by the name Brook) at a bar across the street when she was there to watch her boyfriend/husband, Jonny Hunt, play in a band. (A good musician I was told.)

The same Jonny that Steve Marsh at Mpls St. Paul Magazine asked Diablo Cody about in October 2007 just as her career was taking off:

Marsh: Let’s say $100 million gross, little gold man—does that mean, bye, bye Jonny?
Cody: WHAT? Are you kidding? That’s a ridiculous question. Like, he’s sitting right here. He’s not going anywhere. Everything we do we do side by side. I’ve got him tattooed on my arm for god’s sakes.

Jonny responded to the question on his blog a week after the question was asked and wrote about he and Diablo’s relationship, “We’re doing just fine. Out here in Hollywood, despite what you have heard, people don’t always ditch each other randomly when they get successful, okay?”

But by the time the article hit the stands two months later (Dec. ’07) the tattoo “Jonny’s girl” was inked over with roses. ( News of their split hit the press the day the film opened , and I’m not sure if the divorce was final before or after Juno passed the $100 million mark.)

Cody has basically lived the whole Hollywood life cycle in just two or three years (write script in Minneapolis—sell script to Hollywood—move to Hollywood—movie gets rave reviews and is a box office hit—hired by Steven Spielberg—talk show circuit—win an Oscar—nude photos circulated—next movie gets some stinging reviews and stumbles at the box office—talk of her demise). In a year or two everyone will be talking about her comeback film.

Diablo’s body of work is not that large but the University of Iowa grad does have an Oscar and the TV show she created (The United States of Tara) landed the lead actress, Toni Collette, an Emmy Monday night. She’s doing fine, thank you.

Even if Jennifer’s Body doesn’t make another dime, Cody will. And she’ll continue to develop as a writer and will have hits and misses in the future (just like all working writers, directors, producers, and actors). Winning the Oscar really will be a burden for her as everything she does will be compared to Juno, and she may never be on that mountaintop again. (But what would most writers give to have that burden?)

There were many factors that made Juno a success. And one of those factors I believe is the one who gave Cody a lot of early support and inspiration— Jonny Hunt (the one covered in roses on Cody’s arm). Cody once said of him, “My now-ex-husband convinced me to use our last $200 to buy Final Draft, so I just sat down and started writing a movie. It’s that simple.”

It’s too bad their marriage didn’t survive.

I think two people can stay together forever. But it isn’t easy for any couple. As Don Henley sings in New York Minute: “If you find someone to love in this world/You better hang on tooth and nail/The wolf is always at the door.”

Related Posts: Juno has Another Baby (Emmy)

The Juno-Iowa Connection

Scott W. Smith

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“Are you something else I’m going to have to live through?”
        
                                                             
Erin Brockovich 
                                                            Written by Susannah Grant 

 

Yesterday while making the 3+ hour drive to Minneapolis where I have a video shoot today I listened to Don Henley’s CD Inside Job and there is one particular song I tend to listen to over and over again — My Thanksgiving (written by Henley along with Stan Lynch and Jai Winding):

For every moment of joy
For every hour of fear
For every winding road that brought me here 
For every breath, for every day of living
This is my Thanksgiving 

For  everyone who helped me start
And for everything that broke my heart
For every breath, for every day of living
This is my Thanksgiving

Henley’s songs often have a spiritual element and this song is no different as it takes an angle to be thankful for the winding roads and things that have broken your heart. That album came out in 2000, the same year as the movie Erin Brockovich which featured Julie Roberts in the lead roll playing a character who had her share of winding roads and heart breaking experiences.

It was written by Susannah Grant who also wrote Pocahontas, 28 Days, and The Soloist which is currently in theaters. In David S. Cohen’s book Screen Plays he dedicates a chapter to Erin Brockovich that ended up with a worldwide gross of $259 million and earned Grant an Oscar nomination.  Cohen asks Grant, “What’s the hardest thing about having a life and being a screenwriter at the same time?”

Grant: Maintaining concentration. Maintaining your focus. And protecting the creative part of your brain. When you have a baby and a husband and an extended family and friends, not letting those aspects of your brain overwhelm the part of your brain that writes. Just getting some mental privacy.
        I run—that helps a lot. I don’t let light in my office. I think that just cuts out the outside world. I just have a big blank wall in front of me. I just try to get rid of the things that will make me think of something else. I don’t have very good concentration. If I had a desk in front of a window, there’s no way I could work.”  

I think Erin Brockovich strikes a cord with audience because it does give meaning and purpose to a life full of winding roads and broken heart or two. That the difficult things in your life can be steps toward the opportunities you’ve always dreamed about. Isn’t that the hope we all have? So be thankful, keep writing, and it wouldn’t hurt to read Cohen’s book Screen Plays, How 25 Screen Plays Made It To A Theater Near You — For Better Or Worse.


Scott W. Smith
                                                                            

 

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Tender Mercies was filmed in Texas in the Waxahachie area with mainly Texas crews.

                                                               Horton Foote, Texas-born screenwriter
                                                               Tender Mercies, A Trip to Bountiful

I was born and raised in Texas in a family with 10 brothers and sisters. I was a daydreamer and bored at school, so I’d draw and doodle and make little flip cartoon movies. When I was 12, I decided to start making actual movies rather than just cartoons using my dad’s Super 8 camera.

                                                               Robert Rodriguez, Filmmaker
                                                               His movies have earned over $600 million 


There was an Austin breeze in Iowa last night as Willie Nelson was in town for a concert. The good seats costs $69.50 to hear the 75-year-old, and Sling Blade writer/director Billy Bob Thornton (The Boxmasters) was on the bill as well. I didn’t go but it did make me think it would be a fitting time to look at screenwriting from Texas.

While Willie is not a screenwriter, he is a legend. And he is a Texan (which I think is bigger than being a legend). And he certainly is a proven storyteller, a prolific songwriter and believe it or not has over 300 film and TV credits as actor, sound track music, composer, producer, and playing himself.

I’ve been hooked on Willie’s music ever since I first heard “Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow-Up to be Cowboys” and have heard him play live a couple times. And I remember fondly his starring roll in Barbarosa back in the day. (And just for the record, the Barbarosa screenplay was written by Texas born Bill Wittliff who would go on to write the scripts for Legends of the Fall and The Perfect Storm.)

I don’t have time to write about all the talent that has come from Texas because it is a big state. But when I think of movies and Texas one name stands tall;

Horton Foote. 

That pretty much sums up screenwriting from Texas. Of course, he’s not the only writer from Texas — he just embodies the essence of fine writing from the longhorn state. He is best known for his screenplays Tender Mercies and To Kill a Mockingbird both of which earned him Academy Awards.

But he has had a long distinguished career that includes the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for his play The Man from Atlanta, A Trip to Bountiful (for which Geraldine Page would win an Oscar for Best Actress), and the script for the Gary Sinise & John Malkovich version of Of Mice and Men.  

Foote was a trained actor born in 1916 in Wharton, Texas and made his broadway debut in 1944. But it was writing for the theater and in the early days of TV where he earned a living and made a name for himself eventually being called the “American Chekhov.”

But standing next to Horton Foote on the right is Larry McMurty.

McMurty, born in Wichita Falls, Texas in 1936 is yet another giant literary talent from the state. He was nominated for an Oscar in 1972 for The Last Picture Show and shared an Oscar win with Diana Ossana for the script for Brokeback Mountain.

He won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel Lonesome Dove that was also turned into a popular TV mini-series. (Wittliff, if you’re keeping a scorecard, also won a WGA Award for adapting part one of Lonesome Dove.)  And way back in 1963 McMurty’s novel Horseman Pass By was made into the Mitt Ritt directed Hud staring Paul Newman and Patricia Neal (who won the Oscar for Best Actress in a leading role).

Two quirky things about the prolific McMurty is he still writes on a typewriter and he owns a large antiquarian bookstore, Booked Up, in Archer City Texas where The Last Picture Show was shot and where he now lives.

And standing next to Horton Foote on the left I’ll put  three time Oscar winner writer/director Robert Benton who was born in Waxahachie. Huh? The same place Tender Mercies was filmed in — interesting. I don’t know what’s in the water there, but once coming back from a gig in Austin I went out of my way to drive through Waxahachie just to breath the air.

Benton’s screenwriting career began with Bonnie & Clyde and he  wrote and directed Places in the Heart which is just a beautiful film. Ellen McCathy of the Washington Post wrote this about Benton; “His most noteworthy films of the past three decades — 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer, 1984’s Places in the Heart and 1994’s Nobody’s Fool — present familiar characters, ordinary lives and the full range of love’s twisted complexities.”

Maybe instead of calling my blog Screenwriting from Iowa I should of called it Screenwriting from Waxahachie. Then again, how many people can spell Waxahachie? I think it’s an Native Indian word that means land of sacred storytellers.

I’m not sure where to put Robert Rodriguez. But then again he stands out from the pack because he does a little of everything and is one of the greatest overall creative forces in cinematic history.

Born in Texas in 1968, Rodriguez has done a remarkable job of making the low budget El Mariachi (on a reported $7,000 budget) as well as big Hollywood mega hits including Spy Kids which made over $100 million. Personally I like what Rodriguez is doing more than what he has done. That is I don’t revisit his films but I love that he is a producer, director, camera operator, Steadicam operator, director of photography, actor, writer, editor, sound mixer, visual effects supervisor and composer who not only pushes the envelop in the digital world but he is free to tell you what he’s doing so you can get in on the show.

Rodriguez is based in Austin which is its own filmmaking mecca that has inspired  Matthew McConaughey (by the way, love the Airstream in Malibu concept), Richard Linklater, Wes Anderson, Mike Judge, Owen Wilson and is home to The Austin Film Festival. Austin as a whole is one of the most interesting cities in the country. The have the state capitol, a major college in the heart of the city, there are plenty of old hippies, rednecks, computer geeks, business people, artists and musicians of all kinds thrown into the mix for a great overall creative vibe. 

And since at the time of this post the number one box office movie is Twilight (with a $70 million opening weekend) I must mention that the director Catherine Hardwicke was born and raised in McAllen, Texas. She was also the writer/director of Thirteen. (Making a case for speed writing, Thirteen was co-written in six days with 14-year old Nikki Reed.)

And the newcomer from Texas is Chris Eska who comes from Ottine, Texas (pop 98) whose film debut Evening August  was the winner of the 2008 Spirit Awards’ John Cassavetes Award and the Best Film Awards at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Like those oil wells, Texas just keeps producing.

And Texas as a whole is a full of a wonderful wacky history and mix of characters and talent Mark Cuban, Don Henley, Lance Armstrong and you fill-in-the-rest. Here is a short list of some of the films made in Texas that I haven’t mentioned:

Red River (1948)
Giant (1956)
Urban Cowboy (1980)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
North Dallas Forty (1979) 
Southern Comfort (1981)
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982)
Waltz Across Texas (1982) 
Fandango (1985)
Scary Movie (1989)
Rushmore (1998)
Office Space (1999)
Miss Congeniality (2000)
The Alamo (2004) 
Friday Night Lights (2004)
No Country for Old Men (2007) 
There Will Be Blood (2007) 

North Dallas Forty writer Peter Gent played wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys and is an excellent writer and who for whatever reason only has one film credit to his name. Now living in Michigan I hope it’s not his last and that he hook-ups with one of those Michigan filmmakers and knocks our socks off once again. (How about a look into the heart of the auto industry like you did with professional football?)

As I said I’m sure I missed a few people and great films but feel free to send your comments. But a fitting place to end this tour of Texas is back in Austin with William Broyles Jr. the Oscar-nominated screenwriter from Houston (who now lives in Austin) who wrote the screenplays for Apollo 13, Cast Away, and Flags of Our Fathers

“This movie (Cast Away) begins and ends in Texas. And that’s not an accident. This is where my heart is.” 
                                                                    William  Broyles Jr.
                                                                     The Austin Chronicle (Dec. 2000)

Apparently he’s not alone there.


2008 Copyright Scott W. Smith

 

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“Small town people are more real, more down to earth.”
                                                             Groundhog Day 
                                                             Phil (Bill Murray) 

 

“A growing number of Americans are seeking a larger life in a smaller place. Many are finding it.” 
                                                                                      Life 2.0
                                                                                      Richard Karlgaard 

You hear a lot about Main St. these days and I thought I’d explore what that means from a screenwriting & filmmaking  perspective. A couple days ago my travels took me to northern Illinois and to the town of Woodstock which happens to be where much of the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray was filmed.

The above photo is the corner where Ned confronts Bill Murray’s character again and again and where Murray steps off the curb into the puddle of water. The town, which is about an hour north east of Chicago, has improved much over the last 15 years and continues to embrace the fact that Groundhog Day was filmed there.

 

That’s right, Woodstock doubled for Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Director Harold Ramis thought the town square there worked better as a location than the real deal. I wonder how many people go out of their way to go to Punxutawney and are disappointed that it doesn’t look like the town in the movie? That’s showbiz.

In fact, the town even has a life-imitating-art groundhog day celebration and a nice map you can follow to see the various filming locations of the Danny Rubin and Ramos screenplay. The bar scene where Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell drink to world peace is now the Courtyard Grill and has a signed script on the wall by where they sat.

 

Certainly, if you’re in the area it’s worth it to stop to see where one of the great comedy films (#34 on the AFI Greatest American Comedy list) was filmed. If you’re there at the beginning of February you can even take part in the groundhog days celebration. 

From my home where I am typing this I can see Main St. here in Cedar Falls, Iowa. It’s just a block to the west and is quite a lively Main St. USA. Shops, a playhouse, art galleries, several bars and restaurants (a new one opening next month will feature a respected Chicago chef) and even a comedy club. It’s also worth a stop if you are ever driving the Avenue of the Saints between St. Louis and St. Paul.

There’s something endearing about Main Streets in general. Of course, sometimes they aren’t even called Main St., but they are the historic main road through the heart of smaller towns. It’s not hard for me to think back at some of my favorite main drags (Telluride, Colorado, Winter Park, Florida., Franklin, Tennessee,, Holland, Michigan, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Seal Beach, California, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania  and Galena, Illinois).

Places that for the most part that have been around for 100 years. Places with history and character. Perhaps in a response to sprawling suburbs there has been an architectural movement to design areas that look a little like small towns complete with a Main St. (Some even have a small movie theaters.)

I first became aware of this while a student at the University of Miami in the ’80s when two Miami architects (Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk) began to design the beach community of Seaside, Florida. (Seaside is so idyllic, it is where they filmed The Truman Show.) The success of Seaside has been well documented.

On the Seaside website you’ll find the history and the philosophy of what they set out to create after doing extensive research:
“Most of the buildings were studied in the context of small towns, and gradually the idea evolved that the small town was the appropriate model to use in thinking about laying out streets and squares and locating the various elements of the community. 

Seaside is a great place and today you can go throughout the country and find other areas that were designed in its wake; Celebration, FL,  Baldwin Park, FL, Harmony, FL, Prospect New Town in Boulder County, Colorado, and Kentlands in Gaitherburg, Maryland. 

That is not to say that this new urbanist master planned communities idea doesn’t have its critics. The most common charge is they say the towns are more like film sets or some kind of fantasyland — sentimental and far removed from reality.  Some felt it a little strange when Thomas Kinkade (The Painter of Light) got into the act outside the San Francisco Bay area by inspiring a development called The Village at Hiddenbrook that feature homes that would be at home in one of his glowing paintings. Where are the Rod Serling/Twight Zone inspired writers on that one?

But for many (including Walt Disney, and perhaps Kinkade) small towns represent the ideal. (Community, honesty, fullness of life, etc.) The way life ought to be, or the way it was.  Many movies and TV programs tap into this mystique: It’s a Wonderful Life, American Graffiti, The Last Picture Show, My Dog Skip, The Andy Griffith Show, Cars, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Truman Show, Northern Exposure, Places in the Heart, and Hoosiers.

(And some books, films and songs are critiques and satires of small town living such as Pleasantville, Harper Valley PTA, and Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street.

Either way Main St. (and all that it represents) is a part of Americanna and will continue to be probably forever and is fertile ground for you to explore in your screenwriting, and perhaps even in your life. As Don Henley (who was raised in the small town of Linden, Texas) sings in The End of the Innocence:
Who know how long this will last
Now we’ve come so far so fast
But somewhere back there in the dust,
that same small town in each of us

On a closing note, I remember when I lived in L.A. there was a popular radio host named Dr. Toni Grant who used to encourage her callers/listeners to write the script of their life. I always thought that was an interesting concept and worth exploring as you take a few more trips around the sun. 

Come to think of it, isn’t that what Bill Murray’s character did in Groundhog Day? He rewrote the script of his life and became a better person — and got the girl to boot. It is a wonderful life…

 

Photos and text 2008 copyright Scott W. Smith

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