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Posts Tagged ‘E.L. Doctorow’

“If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the movies. Don’t even mention them to me.”
Holden Caulfield
Catcher in the Rye
Written by J.D. Salinger

How did J.D. Salinger become one of the most wanted writers in Hollywood? By not wanting Hollywood.  Perhaps it would be better said that it was not the reclusive Salinger who was wanted but his work, Catcher in the Rye. When Salinger died a few days ago I imagine producers were excited about the possibility of finally bringing the book to the screen.

Selling the film rights to Catcher in the Rye would be very lucrative for the Salinger estate.

The story goes that Salinger was so upset with the adaption of Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut (made into the 1949 film My Foolish Heart) that he was done with Hollywood. (Though I did notice on IMDB that he is credited a couple times in the last 30 years.)

I don’t know if Salinger ever stepped foot in Iowa but his spirit was drawn here. In the Field of Dreams, the character that James Earl Jones plays (Terrance Mann) was based on Salinger. In the W.P Kinsella book (Shoeless Joe) that the movie is based on the character actually is  J.D. Salinger himself, but he did not allow his name to be used in the film so changes were made. Good thing, too. It would be hard to imagine that film without James Earl Jones, a fine actor but one who doesn’t quite look like Salinger.

Not much is known about Salinger and that’s the way that he wanted it. But that will all change since his death.  Screenwriter Shane Salerno (Shaft, Armageddon) has spent five years working on a self-funded documentary on Salinger. One in which he interviewed over 150 people who “had contact with him otherwise, or were greatly influenced by him.”  (Robert Towne, Tom Wolfe, E.L. Doctorow, Philip Seymour Hoffman) The documentary is based on Salinger: A Biography, written by Paul Alexander.

Salerno told Mike Fleming at Deadline Hollywood;

“I loved (Salinger’s) work, and how he had the world at his doorstep, and said no thanks. He somehow understood in 1951 the corrosive effect that fame and money could have on his writing. He was singular, and in this Internet age where people pursue their 15 minutes of fame, nobody did what Salinger did: living in the woods in New Hampshire, writing to please only himself.”

Maybe in the future it will be hip to pursue 15 minutes of reclusiveness. I think it was Blaise Pascal who said a few centuries ago that the chief problem of man was that he could not stand to be in room by himself. (I might update that to “by himself—without a TV, a computer and the Internet.”)

Scott W. Smith

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Last Friday I learned that Screenwriting from Iowa was nominated for an Emmy. Who knew you could even win an Emmy for a blog?

A couple months ago I entered a couple of my productions for regional Emmys in the Upper Midwest Chapter of the National Television Academy. I saw where there was a catagory for blogs on the arts and decided to give that a shot as well. 

While I’ll find out in October if I’ve won I really have to thank (one more time) Diablo Cody. Her inspirational story of blogging that eventually lead to her writing Juno (which of course, led to her winning an Academy Award) is what gave me nudge to jump into the blogging game.

She single handedly changed my perception of blogging. (Well, Ken Lee of Michael Weise Productions also had a role.) As I’ve said before, I began blogging Screenwriting from Iowa just a few days after seeing Juno and discovering Ms. Cody went to college at the University of Iowa. (The Juno-Iowa Connection.) 

It’s fitting that the Emmy Awards Gala next month will be held in downtown Minneapolis…just a few miles from where Ms. Cody wrote Juno. Don’t you just love those circle of life moments? I may never win an Oscar, but an Emmy (even a regional one) would be pretty cool.

Which brings me to the topic of screenwriting contests and awards. Are they a waste of time and money or something you should do? First let me say the writing lifestyle is hard. Writing is hard in and of itself, and finding time to actually write can be difficult between paying bills and juggling relationships. And then add on top of that it’s difficult to get much encouragement along the way. And the money thing? Forgetaboutit.

Most writers that make a living at writing could measure their work not in pages but in feet before they were discovered and the money began to flow. (Cody is no different in that while Juno was her first screenplay she had been writing since she was 12.)

One thing contests and awards provide is a little encouragement along the way. I know I have pushed more than once to make a deadline for a screenwriting contest. And I’ll never forget the person from the first Project Greenlight who commented that my script reminded then of the movie An Officer and a Gentleman. So if entering a competition forces you to write that’s a good thing. And if you win a reputable contest it could lead to getting an agent and/or getting produced. Some even offer feedback on your script.

On the other hand…I’m not a big fan of screenwriting contests in general. I think they are cash cows for many people and groups and a good deal are a waste of your time and money. Why not spend your time (and money) sending your scripts and notes to various people who can actually get your script bought and hopefully made? 

Any salesperson will tell you sales is a numbers game. It’s a matter of knocking on doors, making phone calls, sending emails and shaking hands. When screenwriter/director Gary Ross contacted Seabiscuit: An American Legend author Laura Hillenbrand to tell her why she should chose him to make her film he had on his salesman hat.  

(Allow me to add a little Midwest trivia. Hillenbrand attended Kenyon College in central Ohio whose notable alumni include actor Paul Newman, Calvin & Hobbs cartoonist Bill Watterson and writer E.L. Doctorow.)  

Before you send your script and money into a contest check it out online and see what other people are saying. I’m sure there are some good ones out there so check around. Of course, the grand daddy of screenwriting contests is The Don and Gee Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting

Lots and lots of competition but they offer up to five $30,000. fellowships. Age range of past winners range between 21 and 64 years old. And winners have gone on to have a role in writing 60 produced feature films. Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) was a fellow. 

The only produced screenwriter (Love Liza) I know who has his own screenwriting contest is Gordy Hoffman of Blue Cat Screenplay. In fact, Hoffman has an insightful article on screenwriting contests called The Rouge Knight: Why Screenwriting Contests Matter.

I think there are some exciting things developing with online screenwriting contests that will be refined over the coming years and I think will have some real opportunities to not only win awards but have a direct hand in getting winning scripts produced.

Let me end with a closing story on how a screenwriting contest indirectly landed my first paid dramatic writing gig. I was producing a radio program in Orlando and had missed a contest deadline for some reason (like not enough postage) and I was complaining about it at this studio where I was working on the radio program and this guy said, “I didn’t know you wrote scripts. I have a radio drama that I’m producing, do you want to write the scripts?”  (Sometimes it’s not who you know or what you know, but where you are when opportunity knocks.)

And over the next several months I wrote 12 one hour long scripts that aired nationally on the USA radio network. The producer who wrote those checks has gone on to produce several feature films so who knows if my missed opportunity many years ago could lead to other opportunities?

So keep writing and keep telling people what you do. 

 

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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