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Posts Tagged ‘Francis Ford Coppola’

“You know, when you first start writing you’re going to suck. And so it’s good to keep it to yourself, until maybe you don’t suck as much.”
David Sedaris

The sweet spot for the essays that David Sedaris writes is five pages. The shortest are the two pages he does for CBS Sunday Morning and on the other end of the spectrum he says he “has a 12 page attention span.” Experience tells him that anything longer is hard to read on stage. He spends much time on the rewriting process, and encourages others to do that as well.

“Nine times out of 10, my only comment is you need to rewrite this, ah, 60 times. And most people don’t even want to hear that you need to rewrite it one time. But that’s what writing is—it’s rewriting. And sometimes something’s not worth rewriting. You think, oh, I’m just so bored with this . . . it’s not worth diving back into. And that’s fine because not everything is worth diving back into. But I would say, personally, I probably write something over 12-18 times before I give it to my editor.”
David Sedaris
Masterclass

While you can see doing 12-18 drafts of a short essay, how big of a climb does 60 rewrites seem. And have you ever done 60 drafts of a script you’ve written—or even 12-18. This is what screenwriter John Logan did on rewriting his first screenplay with Oliver Stone:

“We did 26 drafts of Any Given Sunday, one right after another, so I learned everything about the form from him. He was patient. I’d go to his house, he’d say, ‘Pick up that Oscar, hold it, it’ll feel good, you’ll enjoy it.’ And then we’d work. Any Given Sunday, like all these monstrous big movies,  was hard to get made.”
John Logan

And that was after he spent nine months on his own writing more than 20 drafts. Screenwriter Michael Arndt reportedly wrote 100 drafts of Little Miss Sunshine—his sixth script and the first one he sold.

Sometimes it takes a little time. Here’s a closing quote from another rewriter:

“It’s true I rewrite a lot . . . my talent is I just try and try, and try and try again, and little by little it comes to something that I think is okay.”
Francis Ford Coppola

Scott W. Smith

 

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Francis Ford Coppola‘s prompt book for The Godfather is several inches thick and contains Mario Puzo’s book The Godfather with note after note by Coppola as he details what parts he wants to extract and emphasize in the movie. The prompt book was the foundation for which he wrote the script.

Coppola explains that the prompt book is a tradition carried over from his theater days. (Before Coppola got a master’s in film at UCLA, he received a theater degree from Hofstra University.) Coppola also says he based his prompt book on one that Elia Kazan had done for A Streetcar Named Desire. Kazan has written several books about his life and films including  Kazan on Directing and there are many other books that gleam insights from him that I’m sure was an encouragement to Coppola during his own difficult time of getting The Godfather made.

“When I started On the Waterfront, I was what they call unbankable. Nobody would put up money for me because I had had a series of box office failures…. One of my happiest moments was when I got the Academy Award for On the Waterfront.”
Elia Kazan
Kazan: The Master Director Discusses His Films Interviews with Elia Kazan
Jeff Young

In the below video, Coppola discusses part of the process that he went through in writing the script for The Godfather;

“On page 79 of the book we have the actual shooting of the Don. Whenever I felt there was a really important part of the book that was going to be in the movie I would sit there with my ruler and really underline—so this details the shooting. My margin notes are; THE SHOOTING! GREAT DETAIL. The Don is the main character of the movie, so as in Pyscho , we are totally thrown when he is shot. How would Hitchcock design this? Hitchcock was such a master about manipulating information for the audience, usually telling you things so that you were equipped to enjoy what you were seeing —rather than withholding information, he would give you information.”
Francis Ford Coppola

Scott W. Smith

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“It’s true I rewrite a lot. You know, I don’t have that kind of talent that, you know,  I saw of kids who could draw beautiful pictures…my talent is I just try and try, and try and try again, and little by little it comes to something that I think is okay.”
Five time Oscar winning writer/director Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather)
Inside the Actor’s Studio interview with James Lipton

Related post: That Time William Goldman Got a ‘C’ in Creative Writing

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“I don’t think there’s any artist of any value who doesn’t doubt what they’re doing.”
5-time Oscar winner Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather)
Academy of Achievement Q&A

Below is a partial list of Francis Ford Coppola related posts I’ve written over the year. I’m going to designate Coppola the Godfather of this blog.  If you’ve never read the post Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl in Ohio check it out. You’ll see Coppola way back in c. 1979 was way ahead of the curve in seeing a digital revolution.

Related posts:
Heart of Coppola
“Who said art has to cost money?”—Coppola
“Take a risk”—Coppola
Coppola, Castro & Capitalism
Coppola & Roger Corman
Coppola, Criticism & the Internet
The Francis For Coppola Way (Tip #29)
Writing ‘The Godfather’ (Part 1)—A five part series

P.S. I’ve always admired Coppola because he’s a swing-for-the-fence kind of guy. Never afraid to risk failing. This blog has had successes (the Emmy in ’08 and most recently hitting a million total views) but it’s also hit failure (Kickstarter in ’11, and most recently Patreon)—but you learn you either pack up shop or suck it up and forge on. In my case I’m pushing to get the book version of this blog done by the end of the year. If you have any connections to Mr. Coppola I’d love to have him write the introduction the the book, so if you have any magic powers to pull that off I can be contacted at info@scottwsmith.com.

Failure related posts:
Tennessee Williams on ‘Apparent Failure’
Facing the Possibility of Failure (Filmmaker Edward Burns)
Failure is an Option
Susannah Grant on Failure
Aaron Sorkin on Failure
Spectacular Failures
J.K. Rowling on the Benefits of Failure

Scott W. Smith

 

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“Without a network, creative work does not endure…without Paris, there is no Hemingway.”
Jeff Goins
The Unfair Truth About How Creative People Really Succeed

Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez has his filmmaking network of people down in Austin, but he also has a literal network—El Rey Network. And when you own a network you can line up interviews with your director friends, which is exactly what The Director’s Chair with Robert Rodriguez is all about.

“It was a thrill to be able to feel that I was a director from a studio at 24 or 25, but when I came out to Hollywood and was making Finian’s Rainbow…everything I wanted to do wasn’t somehow permitted. I wanted to make the film on location—it was about sharecroppers in Kentucky and I go, ‘Can I go to Kentucky and have dancers dancing around with tobacco?’, ‘Oh no, no, we gotta do it on the sets from Camelot.’ I used to sit there with George Lucas, who was about 19, and we would just grump about we couldn’t do this and we can’t do that. And we started to fantasize, let’s go make a film driving across the country. And we’ll make a truck that has all the necessary equipment and we won’t even know exactly what we’re going to shoot. If we hear there’s mine disaster we’ll all go to the mine disaster and incorporate that into the movie. We made The Rain People that way. And then we were so mobile that we said, well gee, we have a whole studio in a truck, we don’t have to go back to L.A., we can go to San Francisco and be close enough to L.A. to have the access to the actors and the prop houses, and the resources, and not be in the center of it. I essentially combined the culture of a theater club with the reality of filmmaking as we learned at USC and UCLA and that was Zoetrope.”
Oscar-Winning writer/producer/director Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, Patton)
Interview with Robert Rodriguez
The Director’s Chair, Episode 5

The Coppola family, food & film model is much of what Rodriguez has created in Austin, Texas—which has an entrenched film community that’s avoided being in the center of the film business. This is what Rodriguez told Coppola in the above interview:

“Family and food and film kind of all seem to go together for you, and it inspired me to do that. I started my own studio [Troublemaker Studios]. I work with my family, and I’ve had other filmmakers come to my sets and see that I’m working with my kids—they’ve gone off and worked with their kids and have done fantastic work. You’ve kind of started this little revolution.”

P.S. If you want to add faith to family, food & film outside L.A., look at what the writer/director team of Alex and Stephen Kendrick of Kendrick Brothers Productions are doing in (an unlikely place) Albany, Georgia. This past weekend their film War Room ended up #1 at the domestic box office, ending Straight Outta Compton‘s three week run in the top spot. Produced by Sony Pictures for $3 million War Room hasn’t even been out two weeks and has passed $30 million at the box office. I think it’s the first time a specifically Christian faith based film has finished #1 at the box office. Back in 2008 I wrote the post Shrimp, Giants & Tyler Perry and talked about the niche that Perry and the Kendrick Brothers were cooking down in Georgia.

Related posts:
‘Who said art had to cost money?’—Coppola
‘Take a Risk’—Coppola
Coppola & Roger Corman
The Francis Ford Coppola Way
Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl from Ohio
‘Super-Serving Your Niche’

Scott W. Smith

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“Try to disconnect the idea of cinema with the idea of making a living and money.”
Francis Ford Coppola 
Who said art has to cost money? 

“At this moment, anyone who dreams of becoming a filmmaker is lucky indeed. For the first time in the history of cinema, filmmaking does not need to be a capitalist enterprise. You no longer need millions of dollars or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. You are no longer beholden to someone writing a check. It no longer needs to be a business. it can be your artistic expression…Now you can buy a consumer-model digital camera and the image looks great…You can even shoot a pretty good-looking movie on your smartphone and then edit it on a laptop…You can post your film on YouTube, Vimeo, and any number of digital platforms and slowly build your audience.”
Edward Burns
Independent Ed

As I write this post both Mad Max: Fury Road and Avengers: Age of Ulton are currently in theaters so why have I spent two weeks writing posts about indie filmmaker Edward Burns? It’s because my focus has always been on the outsider. To use a well traveled line, it’s about those who’ve “taken the road less traveled.”

And if you succeed that road may take you to the larger production hubs of Los Angeles or New York City, but I’m really interested inspiring people anywhere in the world in telling their stories. As I’ve said before, that could be a filmmaker in West Des Moines, West Africa or someone just east of the Hollywood sign in West Covina.

I love reading blogs & books, and listening to podcasts, from those on the inside of Hollywood. There are many great insights from those people and over the years I’ve tried to find the most helpful ones and pass them on here.

If you dream of winning the spec script lottery by writing one of the under 200 spec scripts that will be sold in Hollywood this year—great. Dream of being a LA screenwriter on assignment—go for it. There are many talented writers doing that very thing and making a very good living. (Though fewer than you probably think.)

But there is a tertium quid—just to drop what little Latin I know.  A third option if you will. And that’s where Edward Burns comes in to point the way for the outsiders out there—wherever you live. (Burns launched his filmmaking career by shooting parts of his first feature in parents house on Long Island—and he relaunched his career my making three micro budget features. )

“You can learn how to make movies and tell stories by making movies and telling stories. Please don’t listen to the naysayers who complain that we have a glut of movies, that there are too many people making movies and telling stories. Has anyone ever complained about too many poems, songs, or paintings? Because of these technological advances, you are now no different from the kids who keep writing songs on their guitars until they figure out what makes a good song, or the painters who keep throwing colors against a canvas until they realize their vision. Think about that kid from Hibbing, Minnesota, who picked up an acoustic guitar and changed the way we look at the world. Do you think this songs could have been written if Bob Dylan needed to please a money man? Not very likely. That could be you and your camera.”
Writer/director/actor Edward Burns
Independent Ed; Inside a Career of Big Dreams. Little Movies, and the Twelve Best Days of My Life
page 220

Burns’ TV program Public Morals is scheduled to debut Aug 25 on TNT. The executive producer is Steven Spielberg (can’t get much more inside Hollywood than that) and has been a dream project that Burns has had for at least 20 years. It takes a little time sometimes—even if your first film cleans up at Sundance as Burns did with The Brothers McMullen back in 1995.

P.S. I’m not the biggest gear head out there but when you have cameras like the Blackmagic URSA Mini camera hitting the market—a 4K camera for under $3k—it’s kind of astounding to think where production has come in just the last 10 years. If you don’t shoot or edit yourself, I’m sure with a little creativity you can meet some shooters and editors in your area to help get your short films, indie features, experimental films, and long and short form documentaries made. And remember what Austin-based filmmaker Robert Rodriguez said in a post about The Total Filmmaker;  “If you are technical and creative you will be unstoppable.”

Related Posts:

How to Shoot a Film in Ten Days
Off Screen Quote #22 (Bob Dylan)
‘Shelter from the Storm’ (Dylan)
Screenwriting from Duluth
The Outsider Advantage
The 10 Minute Film School
The 10 Film Commandments of Edward Burns
“Don’t try and compete with Hollywood.”—Ed Burns
Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl in Ohio (2.0)
A New Kind of Filmmaker   “One of the benefits of being outside of Hollywood…”
Revisiting ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ (2.0) Which includes this passage:

Dylan spent most of his youth in the mining town of Hibbing in northern Minnesota. A group of close-knit Jewish people from Eastern Europe drawn to opportunities in the area known as the Mesabi Iron Range. (See David Mamet’s connection to storytelling and Eastern European Jews.) The ore from the area once made the small town of Hibbing very wealthy. But by the time Dylan (then known as Robert /Bobby Zimmerman) was a teenager in the 1950s the mining town’s heyday was over. But it was fertile ground to listen to blues and country on the radio and learn to play the piano and guitar. Dylan graduated from Hibbing High School in 1959.

Scott W. Smith

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“I like simple stories and complex characters.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade)
Filmmaker Fills Simple Stories with Complex Folks/Roger Ebert

“I’m a big fan of simple stories, complex characters. I love when stories get from here to here. I know then I’ll have room for great character stuff to go on.”
Screenwriter Stuart Beattie (Collateral)

In Stuart Beattie’s screenplay for Collateral (2014) the story is simple, a hit man catches a cab at night with the goal to kill five people before he catches a morning flight out of LAX. That simplicity allowed Beattie to add some complexity to the characters played by Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx. (Cruise’s character is a hit man with an appreciation and knowledge of jazz music.)

“[The jazz scene] is modeled after two favorite scenes of mine, True Romance with Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper…and the Luc Besson movie La Femme Nikita when he takes her to the restaurant and you think, oh great—he’s finally taking her out. And here’s the gun, here are the people. And the whole thing changes on a dime. I love those kind of scenes and I wanted that kind of scene in Collateral.
Stuart Beattie
The Dialogue: Learning from the Masters (Part 1) interview with Mike De Luca

It’s worth noting that there are echoes of the jazz scene in the 1993 movie Schindler’s List when Amon Goeth (known as the “Butcher of Plaszow” and played by Ralph Fiennes) who appreciated classical music yet had no problem standing on his balcony and casually shooting a couple of Jewish workers in the forced labor camp. It may not be historically accurate, but it’s great cinema in conveying that one can be educated and sophisticated musically —and still be a savage killer.

Screenwriter Steve Zillian, who won an Oscar for writing Schindler’s List, is admired by Beattie. Chances are good that Schindler’s List is in what Beattie calls his “personal reference library.”

“I have a library of probably 100 scripts that are my favorite scripts and I’m going going back and referring to them again and again. How do they do that? How’s that set-up? How’s that written?”
Stuart Beattie

When you watch the below clips in light of the above scene from Collateral keep in mind these five quotes:

“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”—Painter Salvador Dalí

”Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.”—Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch

“How does an artist look at the world? Well, first she asks herself, ‘What’s worth stealing?’ And second, she moves on to the next thing.”—Author Austin Kleon

“I think it’s fine for young (filmmakers) to out and out rip off people who come before them because you always make it your own.”
Writer/director Francis Ford Coppola

“Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal.”
Composer/ pianist Igor Stravinsky

P.S. Sometimes writers don’t sample or crib other writers, but their own work. Beattie points out that Lawrence Kasdan used two similar love scenes in both of his scripts for Raiders of the Lost Ark and Continental Divide.

Related Posts:

Inspiration Flying Under the Radar
“Steal Like An Artist”
“Impact. Energy. Emotion.” Nice quote from Mike Corrado (from a CreativeLive Rock and Roll Photography class) that describes the jazz scene in Collateral quite well.
Simplicity in Screenwriting (Tip #27) “Let this be our first lesson: Movie stories are usually simple…..Write simple stories and complex characters.”—Paul Lucey
Writing Good Bad Guys (Tip #85)

Scott W. Smith

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Over the weekend I saw Saving Mr. Banks and enjoyed it immensely. And there is a line in the film—that I don’t think is a spoiler—that seems to be what the film was about.

“In every movie house, all over the world, in the eyes and the hearts of my kids, and other kids and their mothers and fathers for generations to come, George Banks will be honored. George Banks will be redeemed. George Banks and all he stands for will be saved. Maybe not in life, but in imagination. Because that’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.”
Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) in Saving Mr. Banks

That sounds like a pretty strong theme. And I’m fascinated by the topic of theme because I’ve read successful screenwriters and directors say these contradictory things:

A) I never think in terms of theme
B) I usually start with theme
C) The theme reveals itself somewhere in the writing
D) Theme is something the audience sees when the film hits the theaters
E) I avoid writing from theme to avoid the story being message driven
F) I have no clue what the word theme means

So one thing we can learn from Rod Serling, Alexander Payne, Francis Ford Coppola, and others is the process of screenwriting varies from writer to writer.  Which is why you have visually strong writers and dialogue driven writers.

Now I don’t think that Disney line is a direct quote from the Mickey Mouse creator, but from the imagination of the Saving Mr. Banks screenwriter Kelly Marcel.  I don’t know at what point she wrote Disney’s monologue—or if she even thinks that was the theme of the movie—but I do know she in facts does think in terms of theme.

“I’m personally a big fan of knowing what your theme is before starting. I think they can arise as you tell the story, but writing within and for a theme seems to me to help the process along. It allows for much more intricate storytelling, ways of speaking to the theme and letting your theme to speak to you, even unconsciously. I said ‘theme’ four times in that last paragraph. I shouldn’t be allowed to be a writer.”
Screenwriter Kelly Marcel (Saving Mr. Banks, Fifty Shades of Grey)
Go Into the Story Interview with Scott Myers

Related Posts (and a ping pong of views on theme):

Writing from Theme (Tip #20)
More Thoughts on Theme
Theme=What Your Movie is Really About
Theme=Story’s Heart & Soul
Diablo Cody on Theme
Michael Arndt on Theme
Sidney Lumet on Theme
Shane Black on Theme
Wes Anderson on Theme
Lawrence Konner on Theme
Eric Roth on Theme & Loneliness
William Froug on Theme
Aaron Sorkin on Theme, Intention & Obstacles
Diane Frolov & The Theme Zone
Theme vs. Story
“Network” Notes by Paddy Chayefsky
Writing and Directing “Out of Africa”
Serling vs. Coppola

Scott W. Smith

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“Charlie don’t surf.”
Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall) in Apocalypse Now
Screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and John Milius

Hightower Beach
©2013 Scott W. Smith

This morning I took the above photo and decided to make it a challenge to use it as a springboard for a new post. How could I take a sunrise surfer shot and tie it into something useful about screenwriting? Well, to make a long story short I found an interview with Francis Ford Coppola and John Milius talking about Apocalypse Now that they collaborated on together.  I found the You Tube video on a website that is somewhat new to me called Cinephilia and Beyond . The site is a tremendous resource and I believe originates from a filmmaker in Zagreb, Croatia. On Twitter @LaFamiliaFilm. (I see a “Screenwriting from Croatia” post forming.)

So all the way from Croatia via a turn in Satellite Beach, Florida here’s an interview between the filmmaker who made the quintessential Mafia film (The Godfather) and the one who made the quintessential surfer film (Big Wednesday) talking about how they made Apocalypse Now, how George Lucas was the original director on the project, and how the now classic film had a rocky start out of the gate.

“When the movie first came out it was very dicey which way it was going to go. And I really had my life realy based on it— I’d financed it, and it was starting to get a negative buzz. It had gotten horrible reviews. I remember the reviewer Frank Rich wrote in his review, ‘This is the greatest disaster in all of fifty years of Hollywood’..my feelings were so hurt by this pronouncement.”
Francis Ford Coppola

If you’ve never seen Apocalypse Now, definitely put it on your list of films to watch/study. (Will it help add emphasis if I you knew that last year Quentin Tarantino put it on his list of Top 12 Films of All Time?)

“[Robert Duvall] came to me and he wanted to know what all those surfing terms were. Exactly what they were. He wanted to go down to Malibu and look at surfers—see how they walked around, what they did. He wanted to know when he talked about a cutback that he knew what a cutback was.”
John Milius

P.S. File this one under odd connections: In the interview Coppola talks about going to UCLA at the same time as did Jim Morrison of The Doors. Music from the Doors is played in Apocalypse Now. Morrison was born in Melbourne, Florida just a few miles from where I took the above photo of the surfer that started this post in the first place. Apocalypse Now came out when I was a senior in high school and it was by far the most transformational movie experience of my then 18 year existence. And the scene where The Doors’ song The End plays is still mesmerizing (even on You Tube).

Related Posts:
Writing “The Godfather (take 1)
Postcard #22 (Kelly Slater Statue)
Jack Kerouac in Orlando
Surf Movie History 101
Kelly Slater on the Digital Revolution
Off Screen Quote #12 (Kelly Slater)
“Take a Risk”—Coppola

Scott W. Smith

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On this repeat Saturday, I going back to a post I wrote back in 2008. (Back when I regularly wrote posts that were between 1,000-2,000 words.) This one keeps with the Ohio-centered theme this past week. But a few changes have occurred  in the five years since I wrote this post. First LeBron James and I both moved to Florida. (Though I’m pretty sure the square footage of his place is bigger than mine.)  And there has been a shifting of seats at the table of some of the people I mentioned.

Tarantino and Soderbergh have talked about no longer making feature films. One of the people I left out of those on working on The All New Mickey Mouse Club, Ryan Gosling, was a little off the radar in 2008—but at the end of the day may be considered the most talented one in the bunch. And the most talented guy I went to film school with at the University of Miami, Primetime Emmy-winning director  David Nutter (Band of Brothers), directed last Monday’s season 3’s premiere of Game of Thrones—and next Monday’s as well episode I’m told.

The following was originally posted on February 23, 2008:

wightbros200.jpg

“One day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart.”
Francis Ford Coppola

It’s hard to mark the beginning of the modern independent film movement. Certainly one could make the cases for the films of John Sayles, Steven Soderbergh, Spike Lee, and Quentin Tarantino, but I mark the year of 1999 as the point when things really changed in the film industry.

That’s when a group of young guys in Orlando, Florida, created The Blair Witch Project. The graduates from the University of Central Florida shot with a mixture of 16mm film and consumer video cameras and made history. It is still the film with the highest ratio of profit to production cost of any film ever made.

One huge reason is that the filmmakers used the Internet to market their concept in a way that Hollywood easily could have afforded to do if they only had the vision. (They weren’t the only ones to miss the early boat. Bill Gates was not a cheerleader of the Internet at the start.) Hollywood caught the vision soon after the success of The Blair Witch Project, but they’ve been playing catch-up ever since.

I moved back to Orlando from L.A. at the end of 1988 just as the marketing campaign for Hollywood East was heating up. Disney and Universal were building production studios and Chapman-Leonard would follow suit.

Britney, Justin and Christina began doing their thing at Disney, and Nickelodeon found a new use for slime at Universal. Ron Howard’s Parenthood, Wesley Snipes in Passenger 57, and the building that blew up in the opening of Lethal Weapon III– were all shot in Orlando.

I wrote and directed a national radio drama at Century III (known as C-III) at Universal and received my first paycheck writing from Rick Eldridge who would go on to produce Bobby Jones Story; Stroke of Genius. I once was editing a video project at one of the suites at C-III while David Nutter (who I went to school with at the University of Miami) was editing a Super Boy episode he directed in the edit bay next to me. (Nutter went on to direct a Band of Brothers episode as well as some X-Files and has had quite a career in TV.)

Matchbox Twenty, Creed, and yes, The Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync were on the Orlando music scene in the 90’s, Shaq was in command for the Orlando Magic, and Tiger Woods moved to town.

It was an exciting time to be in Orlando. But perhaps the biggest underrated event in that era was under most people’s radar. Valencia Community College lured film professor Ralph Clemente away from the University of Miami. (He still runs the film program at VCC that Steven Spielberg once said was, “One of the best film schools in the country.” 2013 Note: I traded emails with Ralph this week and he said the school was wrapping up shooting its 47 feature film.)

I had an editing class with Clemente at Miami and once got a good grade in part because I edited a montage of found rodeo footage with a Willie Nelson song. Who knew the German born Clemente whose accent sounds remarkably like Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s would be a Willie Nelson fan? Clemente enjoyed telling student to try new things.

Years later a couple of students would be inspired by Clemente to make a mockumentary that hit the Sundance Jackpot. Most people forget that The Blair Witch Project wasn’t even an official entrant. It was a special midnight showing that created the buzz that hasn’t really gone away.

Granted none of the team was a fat girl from Ohio, but it was as a giant step toward to prophetic words that Francis Ford Coppola said on the 1991 documentary Heart of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse:

“To me the great hope is that now that these little 8mm video recorder and stuff now, some–just people who normally wouldn’t make movies are going to be making them. And, you know, suddenly one day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart, and you know, and make a beautiful film with her father’s little camera-corder and for once this whole professionalism about movies will be destroyed forever and it will become an art form. That’s my opinion.”

I hope you’ve never been exposed to that quote before. It’s legendary in the micro-budget film world. If I was a fat girl in Ohio who wanted to make films I’d have that quote gold-plated and framed above my iMac.

I don’t know why Coppola picked Ohio as his frame of reference. Maybe he chose it for the same reason I titled this blog Screenwriting from Iowa. Ohio, like Iowa, represents the heartland of America and is more known for farms and football than film. And since I’m throwing around f-words, Ohio is quintessential flyover country.

But Ohio rocks. In part because the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland. LeBron James does his magic in Cleveland. The kings of high-flying dreams, Orville and Wilber Wright worked out of a bicycle shop in Dayton. The list goes on. (Did you know that the Wright Brothers lived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa at one time?)

And Ohio, like Iowa, has some interesting history connected to screenwriting and movie making: Sundance winner American Splendor, Major League, and the classic family film A Christmas Story. At the time of this writing the ever resourceful Internet Movie Date Base (IMDb) lists a tie for the top rated film ever by its voters as Coppola’s The Godfather and Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption. The later having been shot in Mansfield, Ohio. That site is a character in the film. And you can still take tours there during the summer. (Mansfield State Reformatory in Ohio)

Antioch College in funky Yellow Springs can lay claim to helping to educate Rod Serling before he became an advertising copywriter in Cincinnati before becoming the famous writer & host of The Twilight Zone.

Speaking of Cincinnati, though its influence is probably small, it’s worth nothing that Tom Cruise (who Premiere Mag ranked as the #3 Greatest Movie Star of All Time) attended school briefly in Cincinnati and the highest box office money-making director of all-time (over $3.5 Billion) Steven Spielberg was born in Cincinnati. (And just to pile on George Clooney was raised just over the river in Kentucky.)

The former reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Joe Eszterhas, has returned to his Ohio roots but not before making his mark in Hollywood where he made as much as four million dollars a script. While no one would accuse the writer of Basic Instinct and Showgirls with writing regional Midwestern stories that doesn’t mean he hasn’t written any. In his book Hollywood Animal, Eszterhas mentions a distinctly Midwestern film he wrote that never got made because he was told, “Dirt don’t sell.” Most of the film F.I.S.T. written by Eszterhas (directed by Norman Jewison and starring Sylvester Stallone) was filmed in Dubuque, Iowa.

In his book “The Devils Guide to Hollywood,” Eszterhas offers advice to screenwriters such as “Move to the Midwest.” Talk about counter-culture? (And from a guy who once owed homes in Malibu, the San Francisco Bay area, and Hawaii—at the same time.)

Why would he give such advice? “You won’t be able to write real people if you stay in L.A. too long. L.A. has nothing to do with the rest of America. It is a place whose values are shaped by the movie business. It is my contention that it is not just a separate city, or even a separate state, but a separate country located within America. Real people live in Bainbridge Township, Ohio.”

(Perhaps that’s part of the success of Diablo Cody’s Minnesota-based Juno? Maybe she should write a tell all book and call it, Diablo’s Guide to Hollywood.)

But what does Mr. Eszterhas think about what that does for your odds of selling a screenplay? Glad you asked. These are the words every writer outside L.A. wants to hear:

If you write a script anywhere and send it to an agent in Chicago or Detroit or Cleveland or wherever…and if that agent sends it to an agent in Hollywood who loves it…you can sell your script. You don’t need to have any connections, you don’t need to have an agent, you don’t need to live in L.A. All you have to do is send your finished script to an agent anywhere. That agent will know another agent in Hollywood and you’ll be in business.”
Joe Eszterhas

Keep in mind Eszterhas is talking about the conventional Hollywood agent route, not the additional opportunities wherever you live by various production people who will be attracted to your script.

While not being fat or from Ohio, Zana Briski took a giant step toward Coppola’s vision when the English photographer picked up a handheld DV camera for the first time and made a film in Calcutta’s red light district. Co-directed and shot with Ross Kauman, Born into Brothels, won Best Documentary Feature at the 2005 Academy Awards.

Some people have been asking “Where’s that little fat girl in Ohio?” I think he may have meant Iowa. People get those confused a lot, you know?

But wherever she is she’s on her way. Although she may not make her film using her father’s camera-corder as Coppola suggested, but using her cell phone camera and posting it on the Internet.

Rewind back to 1999 when Steven Spielberg told Katie Couric on the NBC today show, “I think that the Internet is going to effect the most profound change on the entertainment industries combined. And we’re all gonna be tuning into the most popular Internet show in the world, which will be coming from some place in Des Moines.”

As in Des Moines, I-O-W-A. I don’t just make this stuff up, you know? When Couric remarked, “Great, I’m gonna lose my job,” ” Spielberg interjected, “We’re all gonna lose our jobs. We’re all gonna be on the Internet trying to find an audience.” (Speaking of the Internet, to see a fun and original five-minute film actually made in Des Moines view Mimes of the Prairie, which won the 2005 National 48 Hour Film Project.

As Morgan Freeman’s famous character Red says, “Hope is a dangerous thing.”

Cheers to the new Mozarts in Ohio and beyond.

Copyright ©2008 Scott W. Smith

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