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Posts Tagged ‘Ellen Page’

One of the great things about watching films over and over again is you begin to notice little details and see patterns emerge.  Ideally the first time you watch a movie you are simply engaged in the story.  Then you go back as a screenwriter looking for clues as to what made the films work, and more importantly what will make you a better screenwriter and filmmaker. One things you’ll notice in many films—off the top of my head The Verdict, A Beautiful Mind, Erin Brockovich and Juno come to mind—is in those films the main characters (Paul Newman, Russell Crowe, Julia Roberts and Ellen Page) are in almost every scene in the movie. There’s a reason for that.

Stay with the money. The audience came because you advertised the star. Shoot the star. (NB: Howard Lindsay,* coauthor of the plays Arsenic and Old Lace, Life with Father, State of the Union, et cetera, once privately printed a small volume of stage wisdom. One of his axioms was: take the great lines from the secondary characters and give them to the lead. This works like gangbusters in film and on stage).”
David Mamet
Bambi VS. Godzilla
page 112

*Lindsay (1889-1969) along with writing partner Russel Crouse won the Pulitzer Prize for their 1946 play State of the Union, but they are better known for their work on the Tony Award-winning The Sound of Music. Lindsay’s had more than 25 films made from his work and was the co-screenwriter of the Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers movie Swing Time. That movie features the Oscar-winning song The Way You Look Tonight, which has been covered by many people including Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. The song was also featured in the 1991 film Father of the Bride and sung by Steve Tyrell. Today many people are most familiar with the Rod Stewart rendition.

Related Post: Screenwriting Quote #143 (Elia Kazan)” ‘Have your central character in every scene.’ This is a way of ensuring unity to the work and keeping the focus sharp.”

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Quiz time. This is a two-part question.

Quick—name a movie that is a few years old that is about a teenage girl who becomes pregnant? Need a hint? One of the key character’s name in the film is Juno. Anyone? If you guessed the 2007 film Juno starring Ellen Page you got the first part of the question correct. The second part is a little trickier. Name another movie about a teenage girl who becomes pregnant and one of the key character’s name in the film is Juno?

That would be the 2005 South Korean film Jenny, Juno. (Or Jeni, Juno depending on translation.) Written and directed by Ho-joon Kim it’s story about a 15-year-old girl named Jenny who becomes pregnant by a boy she meets in school named Juno. The young couple decides not to have an abortion. Interesting, no?

It was exactly three years ago today that I first saw Juno written by Diablo Cody. I was so inspired by Diablo Cody’s back story—raised in Chicago, college at University of Iowa, blogging in Minneapolis—that a few days after seeing the movie I launched the blog Screenwriting from Iowa as a way to focus on writers coming from unusual places. (It’s grown into a daily blog on screenwriting and filmmaking.)

The fact that Cody would go on to win an Oscar for her Juno screenplay and my blog would win a Regional Emmy in Minneapolis (both in 2008) was nice symmetry.  I never heard about the movie Jenny, Juno until recently. But now that I’ve been tracking movies that are like other movies this is hard to miss. I’ve read that Cody says that she had not heard of Jenny, Juno until after Juno was made and called the film a “spiritual cousin.”

I’ll take her at her word on that but it is an amazing coincidence.  The two stories do end up heading in different directions. Juno’s director Jason Reitman has also said that he was unaware of the film  Jenny, Juno before making Juno. Which is also interesting since they both have a similar look and feel.  (Would it not seem weird if there was a South Korean film about a female boxer named Rocky (or Rocki) that came out in, say, 1978?)

I haven’t seen all of Jenny, Juno but one post has a list of 15 similarities of the films starting that they both begin with a pregnancy test. Perhaps it’s all just one big coincidence. Or maybe it was just something in the air, like when the Wright Brothers were working on being the first in flight along with a few other people around the world. All those flying contraptions were similar but different—spiritual cousins.

I’ll let you decide how similar the films are based on their movie trailers. But if you’re interested, you can find the entire film of Jenny, Juno online.


Scott W. Smith

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I’m certainly not an expert on movies that feature architecture but the topic does interest me and I did find an interesting article called Ten films that every architect must watch. Half of the films on the list I have not only not seen but have never heard of before. Films from Poland, UK, Italy, Japan, France, Germany. I see a new world opening up.

1. The Fountainhead
2. Metropolis
3. Blade Runner
4. Mon Oncle
5. Playtime
6. My Architect
7. Tango
8. Castle in the Sky
9. Belly of an Architect
10. Star Wars series

Architects and architecture are often fitting metaphors for screenwriters and filmmakers because it exposes the world we build or want to build.

As far back as the Bible there is this question asked: “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?”

Harrison Ford longed to build his uptopia in The Mosquito Coast (screenplay by Paul Schrader from Paul Theroux’s book). Adam Sandler is an architect in the movie Click and faces a life that he has built. Henry Ford’s character in 12 Angry Men was an architect. Over 100 years ago Ibsen wrote the tragic play The Master Builder. And most recently Inception written and directed by Christopher Nolan that features some mindbending architecture and stars Leonardo DiCaprio as features Ellen Page as architect/grad student who creates subconscious dreamscapes. (For what it’s worth, I have read that females architects are only in the 10-13% range of all architects in North America.)

I’m sure there are many other noteworthy films that feature architects and architecture and fell free to comment on some of your favorites.

Scott W. Smith

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Ellen Page can skate. Really skate. Roller derby-style to boot. That alone makes Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut Whip It worth seeing. But wait, there’s more….

Most people know Page for her Juno role, but the 22-year-old Oscar nominated actress from Nova Scotia already has a decade old career having been in over 25 films and TV programs. We know Page can act but it’s special to watch the actress continue to blossom. Special in that way you see Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun or Paul Newman in The Hustler where you see great talent being revealed.

Many actors have stumbled in trying to play convincing roles as an athlete so I appreciate it when it’s done well. It was not a safe choice for Page or Barrymore, but they pulled it off.

Now I remember the roller derby in its 1970s incarnation.  Not that I was really a fan, but back then the roller derby was hard to miss because in a pre-cable TV and Internet world you only had three main channels to chose from. So on weekends somewhere between bowling, fishing and wrestling you had the roller derby. The roller derby was popular enough in the 70s to have a few films made about it including Unholy Rollers (1972), the documentary Derby (1972) and Raquel Welch in Kansas City Bomber (1972)–and let’s throw in the futuristic Rollerball (1975) for good measure.

Today the revival in roller derby is relatively small in comparison which may account for the soft opening this weekend at the box office. (That and people can’t seem to get enough of zombies.) But Barrymore and screenwriter Shauna Cross have put together a fine and entertaining film that also has a layer of wisdom in it, so I think it will continue to gather a following for years to come.

There is one scene, one line in particular (and this gives nothing away) that I thought was brilliant. It’s when Page’s character simply says, “I don’t want to be that girl.” It’s a moment that I don’t remember ever seeing in a film before and would benefit every teenage girl who is feed a steady diet of pop culture in regard to relationships. (Also part of that relationship plotline involves a t-shirt from the 80s Christian heavy metal band Stryper. I got a kick out of that as back in my L.A. days as a 16mm director and cameraman I shot an interview with Stryper’s lead singer Michael Sweet. If I find some photos from that shoot I’ll post them.)

At its core, Whip It is a coming-of-age story. Or as Save the Cat screenwriting teacher Blake Snyder calls it a rite of passage (ROP);

The ROP yarn…has three telling indicator: (1) The Problem, (2) the ‘wrong way’ to fix it, and (3) the solution to the problem: acceptance.'”

There are trampings involved with any genre and it’s hard to be original when you are dealing with a story that centers around sports, but I think Barrymore and Cross bring some subtle nuances to the film. One being the role of the parents played by Marica Gay Harden and Daniel Stern. Stern of course brings clout not only with his Wonder Years background, but as being in one of the greatest coming-of-age films/sports films ever—Breaking Away. Great casting choice. And way to go in not making the parents total dorks. (Took a page from Juno there.)

From a screenwriting perspective I do think they missed a huge opportunity to show some three dimensionality by at least giving a nod to the fact that the tribe some girls may want to be in is being in beauty pageants. What if Page’s best friend in the film would have really been gung-ho for doing the pageant thing? That’s the kind of dynamic that made John Hughes films like The Breakfast Club stand out. We’re all different and we’re all in this together.

Recently actress Sela Ward, who was raised in Mississippi, said this in an interview with Parade magazine;  “Growing up in the South, it’s all about manners and propriety. Every weekend, I went to charm school at the Sears department store, where I learned such fabulous tidbits as how to blot your face with a damp cloth to remove some of the powder and give yourself a little glow.” Not every girl is going to grow up and be dignified, refined and as graceful as Sela Ward. But those traits haven’t hurt her career any and there is still a man or two who finds that more attractive than blood and tattoos.

Two other missed opportunities were on the sound track. The dry opening to the film would have benefitted from a jump start montage of the roller derby girls intercut with shots of Page’s character getting ready for a beauty pageant with the song Roller Derby Saved My Soul by Uncle Leon and the Alibis playing. And on the credits Devo’s Whit It would have been a fitting tribute and left audiences with a big smile.

Whip It may not be as insightful as the classic Texas movie  The Last Picture Show, but you could put it on the shelf with the old John Travolta/Debra Winger film Urban Cowboy. It’s a fun film with a few life lessons thrown in, and a wonderful start for Barrymore. And she can really skate, too.

Whip It (Part 3)

Scott W. Smith

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Sometimes I think about the only way
That I’ll ever see life beyond L.A. is dying

                                                  Ambrosia 
                                                  (David Pack/ Burleigh Drummond) 

 

Today marks a year and a half since I started the Screenwriting from Iowa…or wherever you live outside L.A. blog. That first post (Life Beyond Hollywood) on January 22, 2007 featured a picture of a cold winter day in Iowa. If you’d like to see what Iowa looks like in the summer then turn on ABC”s Good Morning America tomorrow morning (July 23, 2009) as they will be doing four remote segments from downtown Cedar Falls.

How about that? Good Morning America is coming to Cedar Falls, Iowa. Maybe not life changing, but this hidden gem of a town really is starting to be less hidden. 

If you’re new to this blog let me recap how it all started. After seeing the movie Juno on January 19, 2007 and reading that the screenwriter of the movie, Diablo Cody, was a University of Iowa graduate (The Juno-Iowa Connection) I decided to start a blog focusing on screenwriters outside L.A. (or who at least come from outside L.A.).

Writers that have a little different perspective just by coming from a different geographical part of the country from the movie making capitol. Because of the Internet writers like Cody with her Chicago-Iowa City-Minneapolis background have a chance to have their writing discovered in a way that wasn’t possible in the past. That’s good for both writers and audiences.

So I’m doing my part to help those writers out. Right here from my headquarters in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Too bad we didn’t land that Drew Barrymore directed film Whip It that I did some location scouting for last year.  Then maybe we’d really be on the map. But it will be fun to have Good Morning America in town. Then again we really are on the map, conveniently located between New York and San Francisco.

By the way, they ended up shooting much of Whip It in Michigan to take advantage of their film incentives.) Just saw the first promo of Whip It that features Juno star Ellen Page in a story that takes place in Texas.

There’s a great big world out there beyond L.A. and stories from those parts that need to be told — so I hope you’re doing your part to write those screenplays.

Scott W. Smith

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This week I called one of the most respected make-up artists in Iowa for an upcoming shoot and I found out she’s booked into August. Turns out she’s working in Des Moines on a feature with Forrest Whitaker (Oscar winner for The Last King of Scotland) and Adrian Brody (Oscar winner for The Pianist).

That’s some major talent hanging out in the state. Think I can get them to do a cameo in a short film I making next week? The film they are starring in is called The Experiment and also features Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings). Wood happens to originally be from Cedar Rapids. One of the fellows helping me on my film next week went pre-school with Wood so I’m kind of in the ballpark.

And speaking of Cedar Rapids, I just read in Variety  yesterday that Alexander Payne (Oscar -winning screenwriter of Sideways) will produce a film called Cedar Rapids that will begin filming in October. The script was written by Phil Johnston and Ed Helms. Helms who also plays Andy on The Office (and co-stars in The Hangover) will also be among the comedy cast for Cedar Rapids.

No word on whether Cedar Rapids will be filmed in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (and the script probably wasn’t written in Iowa), but I thought it was worth a mention.  (And I’ll throw in a little Cedar Rapids trivia for you…Orville and Wilbur Wright went to elementary school there, as did professional golfer Zack Johnson and Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner. And American Gothic painter Grant Wood was a teacher in Cedar Rapids.)

No one is going to confuse Cedar Rapids for Hollywood, or Iowa for California, but it’s nice to know we’re a blip on the radar. And this is a growing trend.  Susan Sarandon (Oscar winner for Dead Man Walking) was in Iowa last summer filming the yet to be released Peacock, which stars Ellen Page of Juno. And Ray Liotta (no Oscar, but he did win an Emmy) was in the Des Moines area a few months ago filming a movie called Ticket-Out (a film that actually takes place in Kentucky).

If you’re writing screenplays set in Iowa that has to give you a little hope. And if you’re writing screenplays set in Kentucky our film incentives can help you out as well. The key thing wherever you are is to keep writing. The incentives and the Oscar winning talent only follow a script that is so good that people are willing to invest their time and money.

 

Scott W. Smith


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In the past week I watched two modern classic films (Deliverance & Scent of a Women) and read the script again for Juno. Though these movies are different in genre and were made in three different decades they have at least one thing in common – they are simple stories.

Four guys go take a boating trip, a prep school kid takes a caretaker job to make a little money over the Thanksgiving weekend, and a teenage girl gets pregnant. Simple.

“The story line idea (of In the Line of Fire) involves a Secret Service agent who survived the Kennedy assassination in Dallas and who must now prevent an assassin from killing the current president. That situation is complicated by the intensity of both the hero and the villain as they conflict over who will prevail. This brief statement summaries the movie. Many films are equally simple when reduced to a sentence or two in this way. Let this be our first lesson: Movie stories are usually simple…..Write simple stories and complex characters.”
Paul Lucey
Story Sense
Page 5

So while Deliverance, Scent of a Woman and Juno are simple stories certainly Burt Renyolds, Al Pacino, and Ellen Page played complex characters. Revisit the scripts of those films written by James Dickey, Bo Goldman, and Diablo Cody to see how they weaved their magic. And don’t confuse simplicity with being simple.

Robert McKee is fond of pointing out the complexity of the simple french toast scene in Kramer Vs. Kramer. While on the surface it’s a scene simply about a father making breakfast for his son. But it’s really a complex scene as the Dustin Hoffman character is in conflict with himself (inner-conflict), his son who is telling him he’s doing it wrong (personal conflict), he’s at conflict with the kitchen (enviroment/extra-personal), and he’s even at conflcit with his wife who isn’t even there but the main reason he is having all these other conflicts.

McKee writes in is book Story, “My advice to most writers is to design relatively simple but complex stories. ‘Relatively simple,’ doesn’t mean simplistic. It means beautifully turned and told stories restrained by these two principles: Do not proliferate characters; Do not not multiply locations. Rather than hopscotching through time, space, and people, discipline yourself to a reasonably contained cast and world, while you concentrate on creating a rich complexity.”

Related Post: Screenwriting & Time
(Notice the time lock on the first three films I mentioned? Deliverance & Scent of a Woman basically take place over a weekend and Juno takes place over the term of her pregnancy.)

Scott W. Smith

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