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Posts Tagged ‘Georgia’

“Have you ever wondered why it had to be so hard to get through school? Or just make it from day to day? Well, that’s because what you were building (your foundation) had to be strong enough to support the weight of whatever you could dream. And if you’re like me, you’re a huge dreamer.”
Tyler Perry
2016 Tuskegee University commencement speech  

How big is Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia? Well, as CBS’s Norah O’Donnell points out, if you take the Los Angeles/Burbank studios of Warner Bros., Paramount, and Disney and combined them together—they’d still be smaller than Tyler Perry’s 330 acres studio.

Scott W. Smith 

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CumberlandIsland

©2017 Scott W. Smith

That little sliver of land at the bottom of the frame is Cumberland Island in Georgia. I took this shot on a morning walk on Jekyll Island last week. Little did I know that today’s New York Times would have a full page spread on the travel section on Cumberland Island. The print version is called Almost Out of Reach, and the online version is called On a Georgia Island, a Lot of Good Food and Plenty of Nothing. 

That Times article by Kim Severson talks about how you can only get to the island by ferry, only 300 visitors a day are allowed on the island, and except for limited camping sites the only place to stay is the Greyfield Inn.

I’ve yet to visit the island, but I hope to one day to see the feral horses that roam the island. Cumberland Island is also where John F. Kennedy Jr. married Carolyn Bessette in 1996. (Written about in the New York Times article The Island That Kept A Wedding A Secret.)

Scott W. Smith

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Aaron Sorkin is that rare breed of dramatic writers who has had success with Broadway theatre, Hollywood feature films, and broadcast television. But did you know part of his start was in small southern towns?

After he graduated from Syracuse University in 1983 with a degree in musical theater he moved to New York City, but he got work as an actor not off-Broadway, or off-off Broadway, but way the hell off Broadway.

“When I was twenty-one or twenty-two, I traveled the South with a touring children’s theater company called The Traveling Playhouse. When I say the South, we weren’t playing in Atlanta, we were playing Jasper, Alabama. We’d do six or seven shows in elementary school gymnasiums at about ten o’clock in the morning, then pile into a station wagon, and a van carrying the costumes and sets. We did The Wizard of OzRip Van Winkle, and Greensleeves. We were paid thirty dollars a performance.”
Aaron Sorkin
Zen and the Art of Screenwriting
Interview with William Froug
Page 31

Sorkin says he had no interest in writing until one day at a “Motel Six or something” somewhere in Georgia when, “I don’t know why, I all of a sudden felt like Sam Shepard. I felt like I ought to be writing something. That’s the first time that thought went into my head, and it just kept nagging at me and I just felt like a writer without ever having written anything.”

His first completed play was Hidden in This Picture, a single-scene one act play involving four characters. A few years later he found breakthrough success.

“His older sister, a naval lawyer, told him about a 1986 incident at the U.S. Marine base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when an informal disciplinary action had gotten out of hand, resulting in the death of a young soldier. Sorkin immediately recognized the possibilities of a courtroom drama based on the event. In November, 1989, his play, ‘A Few Good Men,’ about two naval lawyers defending two Marines accused of murdering a fellow corpsman, began a 14-month run on Broadway.”
Patrick Pacheco
1992 Los Angeles Times article 

That led to Sorkin writing the film version of A Few Good Men (1992) with a star cast that included Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise, and Demi Moore. He would go on to win an Oscar award for writing The Social Network, and multiple Emmys for his work on The West Wing.

Now to come full circle, earlier this year NBC announced plans to stage a live version of A Few Good Men in early 2017.

I’m not saying all that wouldn’t have happened if Sorkin career path didn’t take to Jasper, Alabama and who knows where Georgia, but magical things can happen on the road—even in a Motel Six.

Dream big, start small.

P.S. Jasper, Alabama is also where stage and film actress Tallulah Bankhead spent some of her childhood, and where SciFy channels docuseries Town of the Living Dead was shot.

Related posts:
(Because I love writing about a sense of place, here’s some love I’ve written over the years centered around Alabama and Georgia.)

Alabama:
Tuscumbia to Hollywood
Muscle Shoals Music & Movie
Shooting a Feature Film in 4 Days
Postcard #82 (Selma)
Postcard #46 (Huntsville)
Revisiting ‘Highway 61 Revisted’
Bama, Bobby & The U
Screenwriting from Huntsville, AL
Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting 

Georgia:
25 Links Related to Blacks & Filmmaking
Postcard #43 (Savannah)
Postcard #35 (Villa Rica)
‘Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus’
Writing Quote #40 (Harry Crews)
Writing from Rural Georgia…to Dreamworks
Screenwriting, Baseball & Underdogs
Truett Cathy–Bird by Bird
Screenwriting Quote #70 (James Dickey)
Writing Quote #39 (Writing in Paris)
Shrimp, Giants & Tyler Perry
‘Super-Serving Your Niche’

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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“Nearly every moment of every day we have the opportunity to give something to someone else— out time, our love, our resources —and I have always found more joy in giving when I did not expect anything in return.”
Truett Cathy

I had the opportunity to hear Truett Cathy speak probably 20 years ago when I was running audio where he was speaking. I only remember one thing from that talk; he said that he learned as a kid selling magazines in kind of a newsstand/street style (think the Newsies—without the singing and dancing)  and he learned that some people would always pay more for a magazine, even if it was essentially the same magazine, just because it was more expensive.

Cathy moved on from selling magazines to selling chicken sandwiches. Lots of them. The New York Times reported that in 2013 the company he founded, Chick-fil-A, had “1,800 restaurants and sales of more than $5 billion.” Cathy died this week at the age of 93.

“Rising to prominence between Robert Woodruff, who took over Coca-Cola in the 1920s, and Sam Walton, who began the Walmart chain with a small store in Bentonville, Ark., in 1950, Mr. Cathy was one of a handful of Southern entrepreneurs who in one lifetime took small, hometown companies to a global level.”
Kim Severson
New York Times 

As of March 2014 Forbes listed Cathy’s net worth at $6.2 billion. That put him on the list of the top 250 wealthiest Americans. Not bad for a man born in a small town in Georgia with a high school education, who started working as a youth during The Great Depression. But more impressive is his philanthropic work. In 2008 he won the William E. Simon Prize for his charity work that included work with foster children and awarding more than $23 million in scholarship funding.

And while the man who spent 50 years as a Sunday School teacher may not seem like a candidate for having a hand in movie business but he did that as well. He helped finance the faith-based film on basketball great Pete Maravich, The Pistol, The Birth of a Legend (1991). Maravich was an undersized player as a youth who would go on to be named as one of the 50 Greatest Basketball Players in NBA History. 

More recently Cathy. via the Cathy Family Trust, helped with financing Pinewood Atlanta Studio.

Georgia’s film tax incentives make it one of the top five production destinations in the US.  (The Frank Darabont created TV program The Walking Dead films in Georgia.) Pinewood’s newly opened studio just south of downtown Atlanta has 288 acres and six sound stages up to 30,000 square feet.

“Pinewood Atlanta’s location will contribute significantly to Georgia’s growing reputation as a top draw for movie and television productions. We welcome the business this world-renowned company will bring to the state and the jobs it will create for our crew base and supporting companies.”
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal

A couple of months ago I read that Marvel’s Ant-Man with be shot at Pinewood Atlanta.

So when you read articles about Atlanta the New Hollywood, you can give Cathy some of the credit (or, if you’re in L.A., some of the blame). He earned his wealth (to borrow that title from the great Anne Lamott book on writing) bird by bird—and cow by cow.

‘Put two Cows on a billboard with a bucket of paint and a brush, and they’ll create some unexpected opportunities…The Cows still haven’t learned to spell, but five years after they painted their first billboard, Chick-fil-A had doubled our sales volume. The lesson from the Cows is the lesson of my life: Take advantage of unexpected opportunities.”
S. Trutte Cathy
Eat Mor Chikin:Inspire More People

P.S. Pinewood Studios is not the only game in Atlanta either. EUE/Screen Gems Studio Atlanta has 10 stages, Atlanta Filmworks Studio and Stages has 57,000 square feet of production space, Raleigh Studios in Atlanta has four sound stages, and there’s Tyler Perry Studio. There are others—but you get the idea.

Related Posts:
Martin Luther King Jr. and Screenwriting (Includes a photo I took in Atlanta on the weekend after Coretta Scott King died.)
“Super-Serving Your Niche” Includes a photo of Tyler Perry’s studio I took when I drove through Atlanta last year.
Creativity and Milking Cows

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

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Savannah

Even if you’ve never been to Savannah, Georgia the odds are good that you’ve seen this church before. The roots of  Independent Presbyterian Church go back to 1755, but that’s not why you’ve seen the church before. The steeple and building get a cameo in opening shot of the movie Forrest Gump. You know, the one where there feather floats in the air until it lands at the feet of Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks).

Check it out at around the one minute mark.

I took the photo yesterday from a similar view as Forrest Gump had from where he sat on that bench in Chippewa Square. The bench was just actually just a movie prop so it’s no longer in the Square, but placed at the Savannah Historical Museum. I don’t know where that bench would be in ionic props in film history, but it has to be high on the list.

But what’s cooler than the bench is the city of Savannah itself.

“Architect John Massengale has called Savannah’s city plan ‘the most intelligent grid in America, perhaps the world’, and Edmund Bacon wrote that ‘it remains as one of the finest diagrams for city organization and growth in existence.’—Wikipedia

I first visited the city more than 20 years ago and enjoy taking the detour off I-95 to at least drive through the city even if I don’t have time to stay the night. The city was founded in 1733 by General  General James Oglethorpe. (A large bronze statue of Oglethorpe also gets a cameo in the opening scene of Forrest Gump at the 2:40 mark of the above clip. But it’s not a prop so if you visit Chippewa Square it’ll be there.)

There is also a marker in Chippewa Square for Dr. William. A. Caruthers (1802-46), an early American Novelist who lived one block away. His first novel The Kentuckian in New York was published in 1834.

Lastly, Savannah not only has a rich back story (you know it used to be a debtor’s colony), but you can see future stories being written as students from Savannah College of Art & Design walk around town carrying their large portfolios.

P.S. I’ve stayed in several bed and breakfasts in Savannah over the years, but my favorite is the Ballastone Inn.

Related Posts: Eric Roth on Theme & Loneliness

Scott W. Smith

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DSC_0572Proving that all beautiful sunsets aren’t only found at the beach I took the above picture yesterday in Villa Rica. I was in route yesterday from Orlando, Florida to a shoot in Athens, Alabama  when I pulled off Interstate 20 in Georgia between Atlanta and Birmingham because I was intrigued by the name of the historic town. The area was originally Creek Indian territory and received the name Villa Rica in the late 1800s during a gold rush. Villa Rica is derived from Spanish for “rich village.”

I used the street lights and the hood of my rental car to add some design elements to make the sunset shot less pedestrian.

Actress Maidie Norman (1912-1998) —who in 1977 was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame—was born in Villa Rica, and the movie Randy and the Mob (2007) was filmed mostly in Villa Rica. But perhaps most of all, Villa Rica is known as “The Birth Place of Southern Gospel Music.” Thomas A. Dorsey known as the “Father of Gospel Music” was born and raised in Villa Rica.

Dorsey is featured in the 1982 documentary Somebody Say Amen. He wrote the song Take My Hand, Precious Lord which was recorded by Aretha Franklin and  Whitney Houston, and Mahalia Jackson sang it at the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr.  (It was said to be King’s favorite hymn):

Here’s the Elvis version:

Scott W. Smith

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“I work in a business that is run by middle age men who make films for teenage boy fantasies.”
Meg Ryan
In Style magazine
October 2008

“In 2005, (Tyler) Perry said, a Hollywood Pooh-Bah told him that ‘black folk who go to church don’t go to movies.’ Yet from that group he’s carved out a strong niche fan base.”
Perry Hagopain
Time Magazine
March 20, 2008 


shrimtruck0866 

About once a month (in season) a shrimp truck comes to my area in northeast Iowa and parks at a strip mall and sells shrimp and other seafood that were in the waters off Texas a just a few days prior. The truck is only in town for half a day before it moves on to the next town. And the same company has been doing this for over 30 years. 

That’s what I’d call a niche market. What a great idea to load up shrimp and make a little route where you go each month and build a steady market base for seafood lovers in the Midwest. I’m sure things like this happen all over the world. Niche markets are the result of supply and demand.

According to the World Dictionary the word niche means:

1.a position or activity that particularly suits somebody’s talents and personality or that somebody can make his or her own

2.an area of the market specializing in a particular type of product

The feature film Facing the Giants was made for only $100,000 yet opened in over 400 theaters in 2006. It was funded by members of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia who wanted to make a Christian film. Made with largely amateur actors and a mostly inexperienced crew the film went on to  gross over $10 million dollars.  A niche market with a faithful audience.

The church people made their first feature film Flywheel in 2003 and rented a local theater to show the film one weekend. The first night the film sold out and ended up having a six-week run and then got picked up by Blockbuster Video stores, aired on several Christian TV stations and went on to sell 85,000 DVDs.  Not bad for a virtually no-budget film.

But to prove that those first two films weren’t a fluke the writers (brothers Alex, who also directs, and Stephen Kendrick) recently produced Fireproof starring Kirk Cameron that is still in the theaters and was made for $500,000. and so far has grossed over $25 million. It’s safe to say that they have tapped into a niche market and done well.

(To put this in perspective Lions for Lambs released earlier this year starring Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep and Robert Redford only had a domestic gross of $15 million. It cost $36 million to make. Though it did better worldwide, with marketing costs marketing included it is estimated that the film lost $50 million.)

And also in Georgia  Tyler Perry has his own niche market. Last month the former New Orleans native who grew up in poverty recently built the 200,000 square foot Tyler Perry Studio on 30 acres in Atlanta. Guests in a attendance at the grand opening included  Will Smith, Sidney Portier and Oprah Winfrey.

According to Wikipedia, Tyler’s “best-known character is Madea who is a physically imposing and overbearing, but well-intentioned, woman who serves both as comic relief and as the loud voice of conscience for the protagonists of Perry’s works.”

The former high school dropout was inspired one day watching The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1992 and wrote a musical dealing with child abuse. While working as a car salesman he staged his first play which was not a success but he continued to hone his writing over the next six years. He began finding success in 1998 with a solid African-American audience and since then has made over $150 million with his plays, DVDs, and feature film releases.

Perry is also producing for TV (Tyler Perry’s House of Payne) and also has written a novel (Don’t Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings: Madea’s Uninhibited Commentaries on Love and Life) that was number one on the New York Times Best seller list in 2006. Many in Hollywood are reportedly confused by Perry’s success.

Perry told Scott Bowles at USA Today, “I’m not sure why no one wants to admit there’s a viable audience out there that believes in God and wants to see a movie with their family. The demand is there. The supply is not.”

 

You may not have seen any of Tyler Perry’s movies (or have even heard of him) but he has had four number one box office movies and this year he was named in Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. 

What niche markets do you think you could tap into? What niche markets could Meg Ryan tap into if she shifted her focus around? (Time magazine March 14,2008-suggests we are living in “The Post-Movie-Star Era.”)

It’s one reason why screenwriters and filmmakers are embracing social marketing like My Space and Facebook to build a base of people interested in their work. (Join me at Facebook under Scott W. Smith in the Waterloo, IA network and please mention Screenwriting from Iowa as a reference.)

I first learned about social marketing from Nathan T. Wright at Lava Row not that long ago and now see it everywhere. It’s a natural fit for those wanting to tap into a niche market. (Did you know there is a website just for people interested in people with Mullets? Mullet Passions.) Screenwriter Diablo Cody has more than 18,000 friends on My Space. Do you think that might help her post Juno career?

Both Perry and the Kendrick brothers are once again proof that you can have success in the film industry outside of the traditional Hollywood route –out there in fly-over county. And that it doesn’t hurt to not only have faith in your screenwriting, but faith in your movies.

Side note: Back when Kirk Cameron was on Growing Pains I did a shoot with him on the Warner Brothers lot in Burbank for a show called Bridges. It was a three screen multi-media program sponsored by Pepsi and shown to hundreds of thousands of high school students across the county. If I can find a clip I’ll post it later. Kirk seemed like a one of the good guys and I’m glad to see him still making films verses being in the news as another example of a child actor gone bad.

Side note 2: If you live in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Oklahoma, Illinois, Indiana, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas or Texas and would like to know if the shrimp truck comes to your area contact Fabian Seafood or call 409.765.9522 in Galveston. (They are fully licensed and inspected and the food tastes great.)

Photo & text copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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“If you follow your passion, the money will follow. Success, in my opinion, involves sheer luck, hard work and humility.”
                                                           Anthony Zuiker, creator CSI TV programs

 

“I’m Zack Johnson and I’m from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. That’s about it, I’m a normal guy.”

                                                           Zach Johnson, professional golfer

Last year at this time Zach Johnson’s above quote caused laughter from the press corp in Augusta, Georgia as he spoke those words before a national TV audience after winning the prestigious Masters at Augusta National golf tournament.

But do normal guys come from seemingly nowhere to win their first major tournament against the greatest golfers in the world? Do normal guys fend off Tiger Woods, one of the greatest golfers in the history of the game?

Zach Johnson was sneaky long.

Sneaky long is a golf phrase which describes a golfer, a golf shot, or a particular hole that looks deceptively underrated. Think of it like an Adam Sandler/Bill Murray-like fellow in his goofiest outfit coming up to some serious golfers and saying, “You guys want to put a little money on who can hit the next ball the longest?” They take the bet thinking the guy doesn’t have a chance and he ends up taking their money.

Sneaky long is the underdog that causes snickers. Rocky, Seabiscuit, and Erin Brockovich were all sneaky long. Audiences love an underdog mainly because the underdog represents us and our deepest wishes.

When a 36-year-old writer broke into the TV business (in a business where 30 is old) with a script for an episode for the TV show Hunter (followed by scripts for even lesser remembered TV shows) few probably thought that within ten years this guy was going to write a movie that would win five Oscars. But that’s what happened after Randell Wallace wrote Braveheart.

Johnson’s hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa has had it’s share of sneaky long characters. NFL quarterback Kurt Warner not only grew up in Cedar Rapids but went to the same high school as Johnson. When no large schools offered him a football scholarship, he signed with the University of Northern Iowa, a Division II college right here in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

It wasn’t the big-time college football that he’d hoped for, but at least he thought he’d start all four years. However, he sat the bench for three years before making his marking mark his senior year by becoming the Gateway Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.

Following graduation, he worked as a grocery stocker at HyVee (where I shop these days to pick up the vibe) and then played arena football in Des Moines. Next was pro ball in Europe before joining the St. Louis Rams where he was booed in his first game. He went on to be twice voted the top player in the NFL and Super Bowl XXXIV MVP. Someday they’ll do a movie about his life.

One could even say that artist Grant Wood was sneaky long. He was a schoolteacher and artist who lived in a small apartment above a carriage house in (you guessed it) Cedar Rapids, where he eventually painted one of the most recognizable (and copied and parodied) paintings in the history of art—American Gothic.

Wood once said, “I had to go to France to appreciate Iowa.” He also coined the term regionalism to define his belief that an artist should “paint out of the land and the people he knows best.”

Isn’t that what Van Gogh did in Arles? Isn’t that what Winslow Homer did in Maine? Isn’t that what Faulkner did in Oxford, what Steinbeck did in Monterey, what O’Connor in Georgia, what Ibsen did in Norway, what Willa Cather did in Nebraska, and what Horton Foote (Tender Mercies) has done in Texas?

This is the heartbeat of Screenwriting from Iowa. Hollywood will always make its tent pole movies. Movies will always have a LA/New York thrust because that’s where the majority of studios, crews, and talent are located.

But if the writer’s strike signaled one thing it’s the times are changing. As the founder of The Geek Squad said recently, “What people don’t understand is the internet hasn’t yet started.” I believe new forms of distribution will fuel a revival in regionalism.

“What regional filmmaking means to me is not only utilizing the actors of your area, the musicians and the artists, but probing what it means to that region. And for me, the thing about Memphis that I’ve always responded to is its music scene, from Sam Phillips recording Howlin’ Wolf, Rudus Thomas, Elvis Presely, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Charlie Rich.”
Craig Brewer, writer/director Hustle & Flow

Audiences for years have been complaining about the lack of originality and seemingly endless repetition of remakes and sequels. (And again that’s why they flocked to Juno.) And writers have struggled with the pressure to write what they think will sell to the masses rather than writing what they know and really want to write.

While advertising dollars are shrinking along with the writing dollars for TV jobs, the advertising dollars are not going away. They’re heading to the internet. And audiences are no longer satisfied the the TV limitations they’ve had in the past. They like being their own Internet programers.

We don’t know what it will look like yet, but the writing jobs (and acting, producing, directing, editing, and shooting jobs) will follow. Like the era from silent movies to sound pictures the industry is shifting.

Hollywood is stocked with talent from all across the United States and Canada. We enjoy hearing stories of Katie Holmes being from Toledo, Ohio and Julia Roberts from Smyrna, Georgia. Even the greater Cedar Rapids area alone has its share of actors in recent films and TV programs.

Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings)
Eric Rouse (Superman Returns)
Michele Monaghan (Mission Impossible III)
Tom Arnold (The Final Season)
Michele Emerson (Lost)
Ron Livingston (Office Space)
Ashton Kutcher (The Guardian)

Did you know that Kutcher grew up in rural Homestead, Iowa and once had a job sweeping up Cheerio dust at the General Mills factory in Cedar Rapids? That was before he became a biochemical engineering student at the University of Iowa, New York model, film and TV actor, and husband of Demi Moore.

Kutcher had the looks, drive, talent, and quirky good fortune to make a name for himself that thousands of small town actors, writers, directors will never find in Hollywood. And what happens to those actors, writers and directors who don’t find fame or fortune in L.A.?

Do they embrace that hotel manager job? Have a career in sales for a health club or a real estate company in the valley? Move back home and unpack their suitcase full of broken dreams? Probably a little of all of that, but it’s going to become less necessary for talent to have to be in New York and LA.

This trend has already been seen in the advertising world as Crispin Porter in Miami was chosen to launch the Mini Cooper campaign years ago. (More recently they revamped VW’s image.) And Virginia’s Martin Agency has been doing the UPS Brown and quirky Geico cavemen & gecko ads. (At Martin they used to have a sign in the creative department that read, “Nobody comes to Richmond for the restaurants.”) Creativity Magazine has called Martin the “Third most creative agency in the world.” And they’re in Virginia! Changing times indeed.

But wherever the sneaky long actor, writer, or director lives they need to keep plugging away at the craft. Keep learning and keep creating.

I’ve said before in workshops I’ve given, “Don’t quit your day job, because you never know how that can serve your work.” (Not to mention it pays the biils.) Johnny Depp says he used to use different voices in the telemarketing job he had when he first moved to L.A. from Florida.

Then there is Anthony Zuiker’s story. After the show he created, CSI, became the top rated scripted show he told Creative Screenwriting magazine, “Three years ago I was living in Vegas as the night manager of the Mirage Hotel tram line.” (Zuiker whose creation has since grown into the hit shows CSI:New York and CSI:Miami has Chicago roots. How many years until CSI: Cedar Falls?)

But when Zuilker was a night manger he was also writing. It was while working at a motel when he actually found the inspiration for his first TV script. “The police and I are in this motel room searching for evidence when an officer lifts up the bed skirt. All I see is a pair of eyes before she leaps from beneath the bed clawing at my face. And I thought, ‘There’s a show here.'” (By the way if you’re interested in having Zuilker speak to a group of yours contact the Greater Talent Network.)

Certainly golfer Zach Johnson has followed Zuilker’s advice: “If you follow your passion, the money will follow. Success, in my opinion, involves sheer luck, hard work and humility.” Johnson was not the top golfer on his college team at Drake. (Congrats, by the way, to Drake men’s basketball coach Keno Davis for getting AP Coach of the Year last week.) Johnson even wasn’t the #1 golfer on his high school team.

But he had passion and kept improving his game until he got to slip on the famed green jacket at Augusta on his way to making $4 million dollars last year.

Whether you’re making music videos in Minneapolis, turning out B-grade cable scripts, teaching high school theater in Tulsa, a grocery store stock boy, a night tram manager in Vegas, a daytime tram operator in Orlando,  or someone sweeping up Cheerio dust in a factory you have to believe that you’re sneaky long and can surprise a lot of people with what you write. But you have to be writing to get there.

 

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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“Find a strong-willed character with a nothing-will-stand-in-my-way determination to reach his or her goal confronting strong opposition, add a strong action line, keep throwing obstacles (conflicts) in his or her path, and you’re well on your way to a gripping screenplay.” — William Froug

                              

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Today marks the 40th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. being assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.  The civil rights leader and Baptist minister has left a lasting impression on the United States.

In 2006 I was doing a video shoot in Jackson, Mississippi and then had to drive to Atlanta for another shoot. When I’m on the road I try to make it as interesting as possible and I took a detour off the main highway so I could retrace the Selma to Montgomery march. (This shot was taken as I drove over the bridge in Selma, Alabama where the conflict known as Bloody Sunday occurred back in 1965.) 

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Much of that region looks similar as it did in that day. In route to Atlanta I learned that King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, had died and there would be a public viewing in Atlanta that weekend. I figured that was a more than amazing way to finish my civil rights tour and I took the photo of King’s hearse outside the State Capitol in downtown Atlanta.

Since this is a blog on screenwriting I’d like to address Martin Luther King Jr. from that perspective.

Let’s talk about the characters you chose to write about.

“Strong characters hold our interest in life and on the screen.”                           Andrew Horton, Writing the Character-Centered Screenplay

It’s been said that drama favors the great saint or the great sinner.

We don’t have to go very far in theater, literature and film to see that this is true:

Hamlet
King Lear
Blanche DuBois
The Godfather
Scarlet O’Hara
James Bond
Mad Max
Lawrence of Arabia
Snow White
Norma Rae
William Wallace
Virgil Tibbs
Darth Vader
Dr. Hannibal Lecter
Bonnie & Clyde

In fact, we might as well say that history favors the great saint or great sinner:

Nero
Lincoln
Grant
Washington
Kennedy
Stalin
Elvis
Ali
Nixon
Churchill
Hitler

It’s been said that the History Channel should be called the Hitler Channel because he plays such a key role in many programs.

Certainly the words saint and sinner are religious in nature so let’s look there to see if it favors the great saint and the great sinner as far as being remembered:

Adam & Eve
Cain & Abel
Moses
King David
Christ
Mary
Paul
Judas
Gandhi
Muhammad
Buddha
St. Augustine
Martin Luther
John Calvin
Mother Theresa
Jim Jones
Satan

How memorable are the characters you have created? Do you write characters that are as fascinating to watch as animals at the zoo? “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”

That’s not to say that every character you write has to be as fascinating as Gordon Gecko in Oliver Stone’s Wall St. but your protagonist and antagonist must be somebody we are interested in investing two hours of hours lives. (They could be a shark, a robot, or a tornado as well, but whatever they are make them standout.) They don’t even have to shoot the bad guy at the end. Jake LaMotta in Ragging Bull is a despicable character but man is he ever an interesting case study.  

“I’m not interested in having to root for someone; I’m trying to get some sort of understanding as to what makes people tick and what they’re about. — Joe Eszterhas, Basic Instinct

If you do write about a common person it’s best if you put them in an extraordinary situation. (Like Miss Daisy & Hoke’s relationship in Driving Miss Daisy centered around a changing world, or Cary Grant’s character in North by Northwest who must run for his life. And let’s not forget the quintessential common man Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman who is a mirror for all humanity that faces living, as Thoreau said, “lives of quite desperation.”  

The truth is it’s easier to write a strong bad guy than a strong good guy. For every Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird) there are probably three Norman Bates (Psycho). (And actors love to play a good bad guy.) And basic dramatic structure dictates that when you throw your protagonist and antagonist into the ring it should be a fair battle. 

Look at Steven Spielberg films and you’ll find a long list of really bad people and creatures. 

And here’s a secret. Many great characters are a mix of saint and sinner. Isn’t there a Jekel and Hyde in all of us? Don’t we love to go to movies and watch characters wrestle with life, with themselves? (Heck, even Ben Stiller and Will Ferrell characters are really wrestling with life.)

Showing that struggle is part of what makes your characters engaging and memorable. It gives your characters dimension.

“It’s rare that you find three-dimensional characters in a writing sample, and when you do, it’s obvious that’s a writer you want to work with.”   Paramount Story Editor 

So as you hear the stories about Martin Luther King Jr. today ask yourself what was it about this man and his work that made him memorable. What obstacles did he have to overcome? How did his character respond to the set-backs? And how in the years after his death has his work been relevant in shaping America today?

The debates I’ve heard on the radio programs have given answers all over the map. Great characters are not lukewarm.

Martin Luther King Jr., by some accounts, was like Oskar Schindler, in that he was a flawed man who left a great legacy. His dream has not been realized, but it’s a good dream.  Remember that throughout history, ideas flow from the philosophers and prophets to the masses via artists.

“Movies reflect the culture they help produce.”  William Romanowski

Photos & Text copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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