Screenwriting from Iowa, huh?
No, it’s not a joke or an oxymoron. (Doesn’t the above photo I took today look like an ideal day to write?)
Screenwriting from Iowa isn’t really just about Iowa or limited to screenwriting. But that is the starting point. And I hope this on-going blog encourages writers who feel like they live in the middle of nowhere. And if you hold on a moment you’ll learn that the hippest and hottest screenwriter in Hollywood today has some Iowa roots.
It’s ten degrees below zero and snowing as I begin this first blog compounding the barren wasteland fears people have about the state of Iowa. But I think you’ll be surprised at the creative talent growing beyond them there cornfields.
On January 3, 2008 all eyes were on Iowa (at least for a quick glance) as the first presidential caucuses took place. Jay Leno joked on The Tonight Show, “Many people don’t know this, but the word caucus is Indian for the one day anyone pays attention to Iowa.”
Iowa may not be New York or LA but where else can you see 13 presidential candidates up close within a ten-mile drive of your home as I did in the last couple months? There was plenty of drama, and enough material for a couple screenplays.
Iowa is a metaphor for any place that represents life beyond Hollywood. (That could be West Virginia, West Africa, or even West Covina.) Iowa is where I live and write and is also a state that most people in the United States would have trouble pinpointing on a map. Quintessential “fly-over country.” What good can come from Iowa? Can you get any further from Hollywood? You’d be surprised.
Forget that six degrees of separation to Kevin Bacon thing. Bacon was right here in Cedar Falls earlier this month stumping for presidential hopeful John Edwards. Cedar Falls is also where Nancy Price wrote the novel that became the Julia Roberts’ film Sleeping with the Enemy, and where Robert Waller wrote the book that became the Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep film The Bridges of Madison County.
And since this is the first blog let me also mention that entertainment icons Johnny Carson & John Wayne were both born in Iowa. This site is dedicated seeing the depth of talent that can from a remote place and will provide you with practical advise on screenwriting and digital filmmaking.
As I write this, the independent film Juno continues its strong box office run and has already won the Critics’ Choice Award for screenwriter Diablo Cody. (And I don’t think that will be the last award she wins.) Film critic Tom Long of the Detroit News wrote, “Juno’s the best movie of the year. It’s the best screenplay of the year, and it features the best actress of the year working in the best acted ensemble of the year.” Roger Ebert wrote, “The screenplay by first-timer Diablo Cody is a subtle masterpiece of construction…The Film has no wrong scenes and no extra scenes, and flows like running water.”
The 29-year-old Cody’s own life story of spending a year as a less than exotic dancer in Minneapolis is well documented, but to learn where she honed her writing skills we must go back a couple of years to when she was a college student in…you guessed it, Iowa. The University of Iowa in Iowa City has long been sacred writing grounds and home to one of the richest traditions in creative writing. Tennessee Williams and John Irving are among its alma mater.
“They have the writer’s workshop there. They have an undergraduate workshop, and I got in,” Cody said in this month’s Written By. “I focused mainly on poetry. I laugh about that now. I actually think it wound up helpful because as a poet you develop a certain efficiency with language that I think you use as a screenwriter.” (The entire article by Matt Hoey can be found at the Writer’s Guide of America’s website: www.wga.org/writtenby/writtenbysub.aspx?id=2693)
Though Cody couldn’t wait to get out of college she did earn a degree in media studies and was known for her excellent writing. And I believe that excellent writing will always be discovered wherever you live.
So over the course of this blog I will offer insights gleaned from my film school days, various workshops I attended and given, over 100 books read on writing and the creative process, as well as more than 20 years of experience as a video producer/director/writer (www.scottwsmith.com), and most importantly quotes from successful screenwriters.
© Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith