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Posts Tagged ‘Henry Fonda’

Today let’s look at how to cast farmers in Nebraska. Really.

Relax— It’s going to be okay. Two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants) will be our guide.

Come on,  I have this little blog called Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places—what are the odds I’m going to pass up writing about Payne’s new film Nebraska? Forgetaboutit. (To use a not so Midwestern phrase.)

“This is my love letter to the state of Nebraska.”
Alexander Payne
LA Times 

The film Nebraska has Nebraska written all over it.  Pure Nebraska roots. Not only in the title but the film’s director Payne was born in Omaha and the parents of Nebraska screenwriter Bob Nelson were from Hartington, Nebraska.  Much of the film was shot in Nebraska and some of it was cast there. And the casting of locals is part of what gives the film its authenticity.

“All of my films, and [Nebraska] even more so, are a combination of highly seasoned, professional actors who typically live in Los Angeles or New York; local, nonprofessional actors … [who do] community theater, local commercials, that sort of thing … and then nonactors, people really off the street or, in this case, off the farm whom John Jackson, my casting director, and I make a point of finding.

For this film, it took over a year of casting to find, for example, those retired farmers who play some of Bruce Dern’s character’s brothers and their wives. And it was a long process of putting out casting notices on, for example, rural radio after the farm report or in small-town newspapers. … For retired farmers, we weren’t so much expecting them to submit auditions, so we were targeting their kids — in their 40s, 50s, 60s — who might go over to their folks’ house on a Sunday and say, ‘Hey! Look at this, I read this. Come on, just for a hoot let me put you on my iPhone reading these lines of dialogue and let me email it into Omaha.'”
Alexander Payne
NPR/Fresh Air Interview with Terry Gross

For those who are geographically challenged, Omaha is pretty centrally located in the contiguous United States. (Just west of Iowa and north of Kansas.) And the reason those iPhone readings were emailed to Omaha is because Payne is not only from Omaha, but he continues to live there as well as Southern California. (He actually grew up near Warren Buffett.) Payne also shot three of his other films in Omaha—About Schmidt, Citizen Ruth, and Election. 

Why? Because Omaha is interesting. Because Nebraska is interesting. But then again, so is wherever you live.

“Of course Nebraska is a storehouse for literary material. Everywhere is a storehouse of literary material. If a true artist were born in a pigpen and raised in a sty, he would still find plenty of inspiration for work. The only need is the eye to see.” Willa Cather (My Antonia)
OmahaMap

P.S. Speaking of casting and Nebraska, did you know that actors Henry FondaMontgomery Clift, and Marlon Brando were all born in Nebraska?

Update:   “[Casting director John Jackson] liked it and thought he wanted to cast it. He said he felt a very personal connection to it through his family, whom he describes as dirt farmers from Iowa.”—Alexander Payne, Salon Q&A

Related Posts:
Screenwriting from Nebraska (Includes an interview I did in Nebraska with Lew Hunter who was one of Payne’s screenwriting professors at UCLA.)
Alexander Payne on Adapting Books
“Wake up and pay attention.” Alexander Payne
Emotional Autobiography (2.0)
Writing to Music (Tip #52)
Capturing Your Country & Hometown “If you’re going to make movies in whatever country you’re in, you want to somehow ‘capture’ it.”—Alexander Payne
Directing Non-Professional Actors

Scott W. Smith

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“Most people , I believe, initially shun jury duty. The summons always seems to come at the least opportune time, and one might go kicking and screaming.”
David Mamet
Introduction, Twelve Angry Men, Penguin Books

Some writers begin with character, some with a situation, some from theme, but today we’ll look at a writer who once started with setting. A setting most try to avoid—the courtroom.

The first time I stepped foot in a courtroom I was 18 years old and fighting a traffic ticket. It was intimidating, and stimulating to the senses. And it was made all the sweeter in I presented my case, showed some photographs, and won. I was relieved and the police officer even gave me a pat on the back when it was over. That was a good day and left a positive impression of the legal process. My next time in court was a wake-up call.

I was a 22-year-old film school student when I was given a ticket in North Hollywood for what I believed was a mistake of perception on the police officer’s part. I took pictures once again and was confident that the judge would understand the situation and rule in my favor. And he might have, except I didn’t factor in one thing—that the police officer would lie. I was stunned. The judge believed his story, I lost, and the cop called me a punk as we walked out of the building. My hands shook as I drove back to my apartment in Burbank, constantly looking in my rearview mirror.

After that day I started to listen to those who complained of police improprieties. Yes, Virginia, there really are good cops and bad cops. (And  good doctors, bad doctors, good money managers, bad money managers…) Sooner or later you realize we all live outside the garden. Once your eyes are opened, it doesn’t take much to realize the depth of depravity in the world.

But fortunately we live in a country where in general the law and the courts seek the truth. The water may get a little muddy, and it may not always be found, but truth and justice are the goal. And that leads us to Reginald Rose and what led him to write the classic story 12 Angry Men as a successful teleplay (for which Rose won an Emmy), play, and Oscar-nominated screenplay and movie. (In 2005 , the play also won an Tony for “Best Revival of a Play.”)

Rose began writing plays as a teenager and sold his first teleplay when he was 30. Four years later he wrote 12 Angry Men as a one hour teleplay for Studio One and its popularity grew into the play and the 1957 film starring Henry Fonda directed by Sidney Lumet. (A great study for independent filmmakers because the bulk of the movie takes place in one room.) In 1997, another TV version was made starring George C. Scott, Jack Lemmon and Edward James Olmos and would win a collection of Emmy, DGA, SAG, and Golden Globe awards.

And what was the impetus for the story that would go on to win so many awards and be performed so much? A court case where Reginald Rose was part of the jury.

”It was such an impressive, solemn setting in a great big wood-paneled courtroom, with a silver-haired judge. It knocked me out. I was overwhelmed. I was on a jury for a manslaughter case, and we got into this terrific, furious, eight-hour argument in the jury room. I was writing one-hour dramas for ‘Studio One’ then and I thought, wow, what a setting for a drama.”
Reginald Rose
1997 interview with The Daily News.

I don’t know if Rose looked at his jury duty as a pain or a civic duty but I do know that it was that it resulted in a story that was the pinnacle of his career. And since today is Memorial Day let me say that since Rose was a veteran I’d like to think that he, to borrow Mamet’s phrase, saw himself an “essential component of American Democracy.”

Rose enlisted in the Army in 1942 after Pearl Harbor and served in the Philippines and Japan as a First Lieutenant until 1946.

He was nominated for a total of six Emmys winning three and belongs to mentioned with his TV contemporaries Paddy Chayefsky and Rod Serling.

So the next time you get that dreaded jury duty request, remember Reginald Rose and 12 Angry Men.

Twelve Angry Men (Play published by Penguin Books with David Mamet intro)

12 Angry Men (50th Anniversary DVD starring Henry Fonda)

Twelve Angry Men (L.A. Theatre Works CD)

Twelve Angry Men (DVD of original 1954 Studio One production)

Scott W. Smith

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Edward Dmytryk is not the most recognizable name in film history but you could benefit from knowing his work. First he directed 56 feature films, one of which was nominated for an Academy Award (Crossfire) and two others were nominated for DGA Awards (The Caine Mutiny, The Young Lions).  Though some believe his best films were Murder, My Sweet and Warlock. (An interesting mix of military/war films, film noir, and a western—all which happen to deal with morality.)

Along the way Dmytryk directed some of the greatest Hollywood legends; Humphrey Bogart, Marlon Brando, Montgomory Clift, Bette Davis, Henry Fonda, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and Elizabeth Taylor.

When Dmytryk is mentioned  today it’s usually in connection with his being one of The Hollywood Ten. Back in the late 40s, ten screenwriters were blacklisted after being charged with contempt of Congress for not answering questions in regard to their involvement in the communist party. It’s a highly debated issue of which much has been written about and documented on film & video.

Several films are said to have been made as a response to the events surrounding The Hollywood Ten including, High NoonOn The Waterfront, and The Crucible.

Dmytryk after serving several months in prison cleared his name by talking to the House Committee on Un-American Activities which saved his career while creating lifelong enemies. Dmytryk pleads his case in his book Odd Man Out, A Memoir of The Hollywood Ten. 

He made films into his seventies and in the 1970s began teaching at the University of Texas in Austin and later taught at USC where he held a chair in filmmaking. In the 80s he wrote a series of books on filmmaking which are some of the few books you can read by an accomplished filmmaker.

“Today, many film-makers are afraid to deal with sentiment, dismissing it as sentimentality. But the ability to properly handle sentiment and its underlying emotion, to get the most out if it without going over the line into mawlisness, is the mark of the dramatist. The greatest dramas ever written or performed have been ‘love stories’, concerned with emotional contacts and conflicts of human beings. If the characters in a film do not  ‘touch’ each other, how can they possibly touch the viewer?”
                                                                           Edward Dmytryk
                                                                           On Screen Writing
page 101 

Just for the record, I don’t think I had ever seen the word mawkishness before reading it in Dmytryk’s book, nor do I recall ever seeing it used again. It means “Excessively sentimental.”  I thought it was a fitting quote to pull the day after Valentine’s Day, which has it’s share of mawkishness.

And lastly, here is a scene from my favorite Dmytryk film The Caine Mutiny starring Bogart as Captain Queeg. The movie was based on the 1951 Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Herman Wouk. The Oscar nominated screenplay was written by Stanley Roberts who wrote the film version of Death of a Salesman just a few years prior.

Scott W. Smith

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