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“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me. ”
Fred Rogers

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If you time it right next Tuesday you can catch the unusual double feature of Mr. Rogers  (Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and Full Metal Jacket at the Enzian Theater in Maitland, Florida.  Catch the documentary on Fred Rogers at 6:30, grab a food and a drink at Eden Bar, and then catch the Stanley Kubrick war classic at 9:30. (Therapy afterward optional.)

How many times will you get to do that in your life?

I had the opportunity to cross paths with Fred Rogers twice in my life. The first time was in 1997 when my wife was playing a piano duet in the music building at Rollins College.  As my wife and I were talking after the recital Mr. Rogers came up and said to my wide in his super nice and friendly manner, “I really enjoyed your music.”

Mr. Rogers also played the piano and went to Rollins College where he met his musician wife. She later received a book from him with a nice note.

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My second Mr. Rogers encounter was when I was taking photos at the Rollins Chapel carrying equipment and he opened the door for me. It was like having Forrest Gump open the door for you. (Speaking of…Tom Hanks will be playing Mr. Rogers in the movie You Are My Friend coming out next year from a script by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and  Noah Harpster. )

Fred Rogers received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1998 and may have taken one of the more unusual routes to Hollywood Blvd. He born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania (where golfing legend Arnold Palmer was also born) and after Rollins attended Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and became an ordained Presbyterian minister before launching his TV class show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. 

Here’s a little Mr. Rogers inspiration for you today.

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P.S. In the early 60s (1961/1962) author and theologian R.C. Sproul was starting his training at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary just as Fred Rogers was finishing his education there. In 1971 Sproul started the Ligonier Valley Study Center in Stahlstown, PA. (Stahstown, Ligonier, and Latrobe are all neighboring towns within a ten-mile radius of each other.)

Sproul later moved to Orlando and in the 90s when I was just a few years out of film school and looking for “Hollywood East” I produced many videos and a radio program with Sproul and he told me he’d gone to seminary with Fred Rogers.

Proving once again that it’s a small, small world with many surprising twists and turns.

P.P.S.

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Won’t you be my neighbor? (“Full Metal Jacket” version.)

Related post:
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Hollywood East (written after R.C. Sproul died last year)

Scott W. Smith

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“One of the best films about American life that I have ever seen.”
Roger Ebert on Hoop Dreams

Tonight in Chicago Kartemquin Films has a public gala at the Harris Theater as part of its 50th anniversary celebration. Congratulations to the Kartemquin team and “Hoop Dreams” director Steve James for producing quality films and being a light upon the path.

The quote below is taken from a longer Q&A from The Criterion Collection:

TCC Question: Was there a particular reason you chose to make movies in Chicago, rather than New York or Los Angeles?

Steve James: When I was going to leave grad school, I was married—still am—and I floated the idea of maybe going to New York, and my wife just did not like that idea; it seemed too intimidating to go there. Los Angeles was a possibility, but I wasn’t particularly interested in L.A. I knew I wanted to do this Hoop Dreams idea, and I knew New York would be a good place, but I knew Chicago would also be a good place to do this story because of the tradition of basketball in this city. I liked the idea of coming to Chicago; I didn’t know much about Chicago, but a big part of my motivation for coming there was I needed to go some place where there was an industry and a way to make films.

Seeing Hoop Dreams at the Enzian Theater when it was first released in the mid-90s was one of the most moving experience I’ve eve had watching a movie. Steve James and his team spent 7 or 8 years making that documentary, so if you’ve never seen it I encourage you to see it and celebrate the work Kartemquin Films has been doing for 50 years.

Cheers—

Related posts:
Screenwriting da Chicago Way 
Friday Night Hoop Dreams

Scott W. Smith

 

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“I’m more interested in politics than anything in the world.  Much more interested in politics than I am in movies, art, or anything. I’m absolutely fascinated by politics and have been all my life…The truth is every piece of art is a political statement. When you deliberately make it you—the audience is going to get dizzy—when you deliberately make it you usually fall into the trap of rhetoric and the trap of speaking to a convinced audience, rather than convincing an audience. I think some movies and some books, and god some paintings, have changed the face of the world. But I don’t believe it’s the duty of every artist to change the face of the world. He is doing it by being an artist.”
Orson Welles at Q&A at USC in 1981
(Welles was most personally politically active during the ’30s and ’40s—”FDR used to say, ‘You and I are the two best actors in America.'”—Orson Welles)

This concludes a week of posts of the Orson Welles Q&A at USC after they screened his film The Trial. It’s interesting to note that in the Q&A he mentioned that he never watched his film after he made them because they are so much better in his mind.

It’s also worth noting that in the last few years before Welles dies in 1985,  filmmaker Henry Jaglom recorded conversations with him at the original Ma Masion restaurant where Welles held court in his later years.Those conversation were edited by Peter Biskin (Easy Riders, Raging Bulls) and recently  published in the book My Lunches with Orson Welles. I have not read the book yet but from what I’ve read it does offer some new—and unplugged—revelations into a man who at just 24-years-old directed one of the masterpieces of cinema—Citizen Kane.

“When asked to describe Welles’s influence, Jean-Luc Godard remarked, simply, ‘Everyone will always owe him everything.'”
Peter Biskin introduction to My Lunches with Orson Welles

For Welles Citizen Kane was his mountaintop experience. The movie was released in 1941 and his journey, and creative & financial struggles, over the years have been well documented. If you were born after his death you may be surprised to learn that in the ’70s—and era before cable TV, DVDs, and Internet streaming—Welles was mostly known to the American public as the spokesman for Paul Mason wine. For his Shakespearean delivery of the line, “We will sell no wine before its time.”

An average young person  today is more likely to know Welles from his drunken outtakes from those Paul Mason commercials. The kind of video that ends up on Funny or Die and I’ve actually seen a video of the outtakes below re-shot with actors today as either a spoof or a class project.

By this time in his life the well had run dry for Welles. In a sense he had become like what became of many legends in their later years (Elvis, Hemingway, Tennessee Williams) a shadow of his former greatness. But like Elvis, Hemingway, and Williams the sun is shinning once again. The good, the bad, and the ugly has turned the man who once stood on the mountaintop to become his own mountain. Welles like a select few people in Hollywood—a place he called “a snake pit”— has become through appointments and mythology reached the status of legend and icon.

In the spirit of who “Who was Charlie Kane?” and “Who was Rosebud?” — Who was Orson Welles?   Biskin and Jaglom I imagine have added another chapter to the growing story of the man now sometimes called Citizen Welles.

The final scene of The Lady from Shanghai is perhaps the most autobiographical truthful metaphor in all of his work. It is ultimately impossible to find the real Orson Welles among all the fun-house mirrors he so energetically set in place.”
Henry Jaglom

And to end this full circle, I found a quote online from Jaglom’s talks with Welles that touched on politics.

“Politics is always corrupting. Even saints in politics. The political world, in itself, is corrupt. You’re not going to satisfy that urge to spiritual perfection in any political movement without being betrayed and without betraying others. Only service, direct service, say, helping a lot of starving kids in a Third World country, is impeccable.”
Orson Welles
My Lunches with Orson Welles

And instead of ending with the a scene from The Lady from Shanghai or a clip of one of Welles’ films I thought you might enjoy this clip of Welles talking about Ernest Hemingway.

P.S. If you happen to be in the Orlando area, the Enzian Theater will have a Saturday matinée of Citizen Kane tomorrow (1/11/14) at noon.

Related links: The USC Spectator Spring of 1982 about Welles visiting USC

There is an entire You Tube Channel dedicated to Citizen Welles which includes the  90 min doc—The Complete Charlie Kane.

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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