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“Life is a lot like jazz. It’s best when you improvise.”
George Gershwin

So I was looking for an excuse to show some pictures of the recent multi-media project I worked on that debuted Saturday night and I landed on Gershwin. The concert called “Kelley’s Blues” featured the artwork of Gary Kelley and the music of Duke Ellington and George Gershwin performed by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony (and guest pianist Genadi Zagor)  under the direction of Jason Weinberger.

As a composer Gershwin is perhaps best known for his Rhapsody in Blue, though much of his music has had a long life in Hollywood, beginning with a forgotten film called Delicious in 1931 to his music being used in an episode of The Simpsons in 2010. IMDB has Gershwin’s music being credited (or at least used if not credited) in more than 300 films and TV shows. Among the list are An American in Paris, Porgy and Bess, and Manhattan.

When Rhapsody in Blue was used in The King of Jazz (1930) he was paid $50,000. It’s well-known that at one time in the 1930s that baseball great Babe Ruth made more than President Hoover, but writer Walter Rimler (George Gershwin: An Intimate Portrait) has said that Gershwin made more than both of them combined.  Gershwin’s loan Oscar nomination came in 1938 for the lyrics he wrote (with his brother, Ira) for the song They Can’t take that Away from Me used in the 1937 film Shall We Dance.

Outside of Hollywood he had his first hit in 1919 with the song Swanee, and La, La, Lucille was his first Broadway play. In 1932 he won the Pulitzer Prize for the musical Of Theee I Sing (on collaboration with George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind and Ira Gershwin.) He had quite a run, especally when you consider he was only 38-years-old when he died.

Here are some photos I took of the artwork being created and at the rehearsal last Saturday.

Photos Copyright 2010 Scott W. Smith

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“I was sort of stuck in a quandary when I left college because I thought I was going to end up a writer. I found that my work wasn’t as great as I thought it was. So I ended up doing what people from West Philly end up doing–hustling.”
Lee Daniels
Blackfilm.com

Producer/Director Lee Daniels spent two-years at Lindenwood University in the St. Louis area before setting his sights on Hollywood. He ended up working as a nurse, then started a successful company in the nursing industry, all before transitioning to a casting director and manager. Eventually he broke into producing in 2001 with Monster’s Ball, which earned Halle Berry an Academy Award in her leading role.

Most recently he produced and directed Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. At the 2009 Sundance Film Festival it won the Audience Award, Grand Jury Prize and a Special Jury Prize for actress Mo’Nique. It’s won or been nominated at many other festivals and award groups and is sure to get some Academy Award nods.

Somehow Daniels cast an inexperienced actress in the lead role, convinced Mariah Carey to not wear make-up and Lenny Kravitz to wear scrubs. He made a film that is a harsh look at the realities of life in Harlem back in the 80s. Though Harlem today is going through gentrification, is there any doubt issues that Daniels’ film addresses is still a part of the fabric of this country in certain areas?

The film is having an excellent run in the theaters, one that matches the awards it’s won and been nominated for. Though it doesn’t sound like the five weeks of production were conflict free. According to an IMDB post, “Over the course of the shoot the production lost an editor, a cinematographer, three continuity people, three locations managers, two producers, two assistant directors, two sound people, two video playback people, and two caterers.”

Daniels believes that’s part of doing business.

“It’s not a movie if it’s not a horror on the set. If you’re dealing with talent…that are passionate…they are going to be opinionated. And there are bound to be differences. And that’s when magic happens.”
Precious director Lee Daniels
Independent Film interview with Corey Boutilier

1/18/09 Update: Precious actress,Mo’Nique, won the Golden Globe award for best supporting actress, and The Blind Side actress Sandra Bullock won for best actress. What is interesting there is both Precious and The Blind Side both address a similar theme. Though the films are worlds away in style and content. The Blind Side is based on a true story and takes place in Memphis, where a conservative Christian family takes in a young, homeless, male  African-American high school student with an elementary school reading level, and prepares him for college and for life. The film is motivational and inspirational in tone.

Precious takes place in Harlem, but as a film has elements of the raw aspects of the Memphis-based film Hustle & Flow. Precious plays more like a documentary on the harsh realities of life in the inner-city. Precious is aboutan illiterate teenage African-American  girl who has a child and is pregnant again. She lives with her abusive mother (played by Mo’Nique), who also abuses the welfare system. Precious’ abusive father is long gone. An alternative school teacher and social worker help show her the way, though most wouldn’t bet on Precious going far.

Mo’Nique & Bullock both gave outstanding performances and are deserving of their awards. But both The Blind Side and Precious ultimately ask many disturbing questions about our culture and where we are heading.

Scott W. Smith

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When you think of fly-over country, Tampa Bay is probably not the first thing that comes to your mind. But as far as commercial flights are concerned, that’s the original fly-over territory. It wasn’t until I flew out of the Tampa Airport yesterday that I learned that the first commercial flight back in 1914 was from St. Petersburg to Tampa.

So I thought I’d find a screenwriter from St. Pete and came up with Michael France who was born there in 1962. France graduated from the University of Florida before breaking into the movie business in 1991 when his spec script Cliffhanger was sold. In 1993 it became a hit film starring Sylvester Stallone. He was credited for the story on the James Bond film Goldeneye, as well as co-screenwriter of Hulk and Fantastic Four.

According to IMDB, “Movies made from Michael France’s screenplays have earned well over one billion dollars in worldwide theatrical admissions, and at least another billion dollars in home video revenues.”

France lives in the Pass-a-Grille section on the southern tip of St. Pete Beach and in 2007 he purchased the local Film Paradiso Beach Theatre . (How many screenwriters and filmmakers dream of buying an old theater? France is the only one I know who ever followed that dream to the finish line.) And because I’m a big fan of the film, I should point out the Up in the Air is playing this week at the Beach Theater. On Saturday nights’ they play The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Laurel & Hardy pictures on Saturday mornings. Something for everybody. (Heck, this past Sunday they even held a tribute for the librarian at the St. Pete Library and who passed away in December.)  A community movie theater at its best.

This is the same theater that France’s parents and grandparents took him to movies as a child. Don’t you love happy endings?

Scott W. Smith

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“There are an awful lot of Scott Smiths running around the world.”
                                                                          Scott B. Smith
                                                                          Writer, A Simple Plan, The Ruins 

Years ago when I lived in Burbank I received a phone call asking if I was “the editor Scott Smith.”  Now I was working at a production company as an editor (as well as director, 16mm cameraman, and writer) but I knew the person was talking about the other Scott Smith. In this case, M. Scott Smith the one who edited To Live and Die in L.A.

 

There’s always another Scott Smith. In fact. if you look on IMDB there are 55 Scott Smiths listed working on various productions. (At least at this point I’m the only Scott W. Smith.)  If the stars lined up someday I could make a film with an entire crew members named Scott Smith. Really I could—and it would be a nice marketing angle. And it really would be “A Scott Smith film.”  

There are Scott Smiths as producer, director, cinematographer, sound recordist, boom operator, actor, visual effects, editor, production assistant, composer, grip, set dresser, and make-up. There is even a character named Scott Smith in Milk. (And another Scott Smith has written a book on film called The Film 100.)

And, of course, there is the screenwriter Scott B. Smith. Armed with an MFA from the writing program at Columbia University the Sylvania, Ohio native came on the scene as a 28-year-old bestselling novelist with his first book A Simple Plan. Then Hollywood came calling and he not only sold the rights to the book but wrote the screenplay for the movie as well (making a lot of money along the way). The film version directed by Sam Raimi was shot in Wisconsin and Minnesota and released in 1998. The reviews were good and it would earn Smith an Academy Award nomination. 

But it did not find an audience making less than its $17 million budget.  It would be another 10 years before he would have another movie produced—The Ruins which was based on his only other published novel. Though the novel and the movie were hailed by Stephen King the movie version failed to find box office success. Who knows if we’ll hear from Smith for another 10-12 years?

But according to various reports and interviews Smith has been writing all along, on a novel he abandoned and on scripts that have either gone unproduced or he didn’t do enough script doctoring to receive a credit. He’s a talented writer with a following and he’ll pop up again. Given the nature of his success in writing thrillers you may be surprised who he credits with teaching him how to write screenplays:

“Ben (Stiller) really taught me how to write a script. I don’t know that he ever explicitly said it, but by imagining the script as a verbal description of a movie, the movie that I wanted the book to be. That’s very simple, but it really was the key to everything for me—just imagining what was on the page. I was shortchanging the visual in my script (A Simple Plan), concentrating on dialogue, which I imagine is a very common first-time screenwriter’s mistake, and to suddenly just do it visually opened up everything for me.”
                                       Scott B. Smith
                                       screenwriter, A Simple Plan, The Ruins
                                      
Quoted in Screen Plays by David S. Cohen
                                       page 273-274 

 
Scott W. Smith 

 

 

 

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