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Posts Tagged ‘Iowa City’

“Convincingly creepy while also slightly thought-provoking, it warns about deceiving facades, because what hides underneath masks is possibly much worse.”
Carlos Aguilar review of HAUNT
Los Angeles Times 

Filmmakers Scott Beck & Bryan Woods were working on the screenplay for their new movie Haunt at the same time they were working on the script for A Quiet Place. Last year A Quiet Place found a worldwide audience and made $340 million at the box office. Yesterday Haunt opened in select theaters with a wider release next week.

It’s not playing in Orlando yet, so I’ll round out my extended run of posts on Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood in the next few days. Then I’ll turn my attention toward Beck and Woods’ recent film.

But if you happen to be in Davenport, Iowa tonight Beck and Woods will be returning to their hometown Quad Cities area for a screenwriting at the Putnam followed by a Q&A session. Next week Haunt opens in Iowa City where Beck and Woods went to college and they’ll also be on hand for a Q&A there as well— September 21 at FilmScene as part of the theater’s grand opening of their Chauncey location.

“To come back to meet some of the founders of FilmScene who just have a love for film as much as people in California is incredible. We couldn’t be more excited to come back to Iowa.”
Bryan Woods
Isaac Hamlet, Iowa City Press-Citizen

The next project for Beck and Woods is adapting Stephen King’s short story The Boogeyman. They’re not doing too bad for a couple of guys who started out screenwriting from Iowa.

Congrats both of them. May they be a major inspiration to you—especially to those of you working on screenplays and making movies outside of Los Angeles.

P.S. Haunt is also currently available On Demand and digitally. 

Related posts:

A 20 Year Journey to ‘A Quiet Place’
Writing an Unorthodox Script (‘A Quiet Place’)
Scott Beck and Bryan Woods on Theme
‘A Quiet Place’ Meets ‘Screenwriting from Iowa’

Scott W. Smith

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“When I look out and I see people, who most likely have no idea who we are, responding to our music, it’s pretty damn rewarding.”
Roadkill Ghost Choir frontman Andrew Shepard
Band on the Rise article by Donovan Farley

For the past year or so I’ve been using Saturday’s to repost some of the screenwriting posts going back as far as 2008—the start date of this blog. But because music is such a major part of films, I think from time to time I’ll mention more musicians, bands and composers—so for the first time in a long time I’m starting a new category simply called music.

And today’s band is the Roadkill Ghost Choir (@RoadkillGhosts). They’re from Central Florida and made their national TV debut earlier this year on the Late Show with David Letterman. I don’t think their music has been featured in any movies yet, but it’s just a matter of time.

Having a banjo and a trumpet mixed in with guitars, keyboards, and drums puts a little extra independence into this indie band.

The band formed in 2011 in DeLand, Florida and profiled this month in the Orlando Weekly and interviewed on WPRK.

P.S. Roadkill Ghost Choir’s folk-rock music has been called neo-Americana, and for whatever reason their song Beggars’ Guild reminds me of the Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash duet of Girl from the North County from The Johnny Cash Show in 1969. (A  TV show, by the way that U2’s Bono watched as a kid. Bono later helped Cash have a musical resurgence in his later years.)

P.P.S . A nice tie-in to a blog called Screenwriting from Iowa is Roadkill Ghost Choir played last year in Iowa City. Screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) —an inspiration for starting this blog went to college at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

Americana-related posts:
The Civil Wars
Off Screen Quote #22 (Bob Dylan)
Postcard # #38 (Lincoln Highway)
The Tennessee Williams Project
Creativity & Milking Cows “All the good ideas I ever had came to me while I was milking a cow.” Grant Wood (Iowa painter, American Gothic)
Postcard #61 (Hannibal, MO)
Postcard #62 (Beale Street)
Postcard #63 (Graceland)
Postcard #52 (Pascagoula)

Scott W. Smith

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“To have the president of the United States join us in discussing the issues of our time is a special honor.”
University of Iowa President Sally Mason
Iowa City, Iowa
April 25, 2012

Iowa has been a popular state this week. First Lady Michelle Obama was here on Tuesday and President Obama was here yesterday. It appears from the interviews I was hired to shoot for a D.C. group on Tuesday and Wednesday in Des Moines, that these days Michelle is more popular than her husband.

From what I (a registered non-party voter) can gather from the African-American, the Romanian immigrant, the retired Marine, and the transgender college student we interviewed—all who voted for Obama in ’08—I think you might hear a lot about hope and change (and “It’s the economy stupid”) in the next presidential election. But those slogans will be coming from a different corner.

(It’s fun to be paid to be a fly on the wall. This should be should an interesting election year.)

Three 15 hour+ days have me running to keep up on the blog, so here are a couple of photos I took in passing during my shoots this week that I’ll include in my “Postcards from the Road” category. (Bonus points if anyone can tell me who the pro bowler is from our meal stop yesterday at the hipster-60s style High Life Lounge. “Isn’t it time you lived the High Life?”)

To do my job to help the economy I made it 3 for 1 postcard day.

P.S. On my midnight drive home last night I kept awake listening to Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine: How Creativity Works CD book. I’m was enjoying the content so much I could have just kept driving north on I-35 past Minneapolis, and even Duluth, and just gone all the way to Winnipeg. If you haven’t heard of the book, check out my post Bob Dylan’s Brain.

Scott W. Smith

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“If Indiana Jones were a cameraman his name would be Scott Duncan.”
Moe Shore
Abel Cine blog post by Moe Shore 

“I have several cameraman that I’m close to—that I respect and love, but there’s Scott [Duncan]—and then there’s everyone great, and then there’s everyone else.”
Natalie Jowett
Producer-ESPN/Maggie Vision

There are some talented shooters who have made a bigger name for themselves by being on the forefront of embracing social media. These days some of those creative people probably make more money teaching workshops and getting paid equipment endorsements than actual shooting assignments.

Then there’s Scott Duncan. A true director/cameraman/photographer rock star. And though he’s kind of mix of Lance Armstrong and Bob Marley, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of him or his companies Scott Duncan Films/Other Films. But he’s a good source of inspiration of what one can do with a camera, so I’ll spend two or three days showing some of his work.

His resume is deep. He’s shot for ESPN, Survivor, The Apprentice, BMW, Ford, IZOD, and five different Olympics. His work has taken him around the world working with not only high-profile clients, but with a diverse group of high-profile people.

Once you see his work, you won’t be surprised that he’s also won eight Emmy Awards—but you may be surprised that he’s based in Iowa City, Iowa. (With a presence in L.A.)

And though we only live an hour a part, I’ve actually never met him. I first heard his name in 2004 when I was on a shoot in Colorado Springs and met an ABC producer who when she found I was from Iowa said, “Oh, you must know Scott Duncan.” I had never heard his name before that. I then became aware of his work and have even had two cameraman friends in Orlando (Mike Murray & Mike McAleenan) who’ve worked with Scott on various Survivor gigs around the world.

Enjoy. (The best seven minutes you’ll probably have today.)

Related post: 10 Cinematography TIps (Roger Deakins) 

Scott W. Smith

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“I wanted the reader to know that not all is lost. And then show, within the story, what was worth saving.”
Justin Cronin
On his new book The Passage

“There’s a little bit of Iowa in everything I write.”
Justin Cronin


First let’s look at the numbers behind Justin Cronin’s new book The Passage about a vampirepocalypse.

Justin Cronin’s age: 47

Pages of his new book The Passage: 766

Price paid by Ballantine Books for trilogy: $3.75 million

Price director Ridley Scott’s production company paid for rights: $1.75 million

Odds that Cronin will return to being a college English teacher any time soon: 0%

Before you think Cronin got lucky, realize that he is a graduate of both Harvard and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. That’s a couple hundred grand worth of the finest education in the history of civilization.

He’s had many short stories published, some novellas and two serious literary novels (The Summer Guest and Mary and O’Neil). He’s won a PEN/Hemingway award and The Stephen Crane Prize.

Stephen King said of The Passage , “Read fifteen pages and you will find yourself captivated…”

I only needed to read the first sentence before I was captivated;

“Before she became the Girl from Nowhere—the One Who Walked In, the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years—she was just a little girl in Iowa, named Amy, Amy Harper Ballafonte.”

Somehow it’s reassuring to know, that in the future, the girl who sets out to save the world was born in Iowa. Yes, it is another vampire book but this week on Iowa Public Radio’s The Exchange Cronin told the host Ben Kieffer why his vampires are not like the sexy ones in the Twilight series, “The thing about the vampire story is that’s it’s really good soft clay and you can really do what you want with it. And you have to also…The handsome debonair underwear model vampire has been done.”

The book was released last week and it’s been called the hot book of the summer. Cronin was back in Iowa City Tuesday to read from his book and sign copies at Prairie Lights. While on The Exchange radio show he mentioned his affinity for Iowa. Though he had lived in New England, Hawaii and California before he moved to Iowa to attend the Iowa Writers Workshop he said, “I just fell in love with the place.,,I thought (Iowa City) was the best town I’d ever lived in. (Iowa) is beautiful and surprising which is what art is supposed to be, beautiful and surprising.”

I have not read or seen any of The Twilight Saga, and while Cronin’s book sounds like a more literary vampire book, time will tell if his apocalyptic, non-sexy vampires will be as popular. (The book that people really seem to be comparing it to is Stephen King’s The Stand.)

And while vampire stories have been around for at least 200 years, Cronin points out that the subject of immortality has a longer history saying, “You can look at the Garden of Eden as a vampire story.” I can honestly say I’ve never made that connection before. But two things I do know; Cronin is now a very wealthy man, and vampire stories will never die.

Related post: The Juno-Iowa Connection

Scott W. Smith

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When millions of people tune in tonight to watch the season six première of Lost (The Final Season), they won’t be thinking about the state of Iowa—but that doesn’t mean the show doesn’t have a Hawkeye connection. It actually has several.

Fans of the show know that fictional character Kate (Evangeline Lilly) was born and raised in Iowa. But a lot less people know that in real life both Michael Emerson (who plays Ben Linus) and Terry O’Quinn (who plays John Locke) have Iowa roots. When season five ended Ben Linus and John Locke were central figures in the final plot.

What are the odds of two actors going to college in Iowa 30 plus years ago ending up in the middle of a cultural TV phenomenon?

According to a news release at the University of Iowa, O’Quinn attended the University of Iowa in Iowa City back in ’74 & ’75 and Emerson received a BFA from Drake University in Des Moines in 1976.

According to the news release, “Both actors are also Emmy winners. O’Quinn won the Best Supporting Actor award in 2007 for his work as Locke. Emerson won for Outstanding Guest Actor/Drama in 2001 for his recurring character William Hinks, a psychotic serial killer, on the series The Practice.”

More proof that talent is talent and sometimes comes from unusual places.

Speaking of Emmys and Lost, I learned last week that a fellow I graduated from film school with (Jay Keiser) has been nominated twice for Primetime Emmy’s for sound design while working on the TV series Lost.

I look forward to this season to see how the writers pull all the storylines together.

Scott W. Smith

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“The most fantastic thing about Mr. Fox is the way he shows that while our flaws can bring us down, sometimes, too, we triumph in spite of them and because of them.”
Nancy Churin, review of The Talented Mr. Fox
Dallas Morning News

“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorn.”
William Cosgreve
The Mourning Bride (1697)


There are no speeches about the dangers of infidelity in the movie Fatal Attraction. No one says, “There is a proverb that goes, ‘For the lips of the adulteress drip honey, And smoother than oil is her speech; But in the end she is bitter like wormwood, Sharp as a two-edged sword.'”   No, the film does what film does best, it visually and viscerally tells a story. Remember the old adage  — show, don’t tell.

Back in the early 80s producer Stanley Jaffe saw a short film called Diversion by James Dearden and thought it had potential to be a feature. Jaffe’s producing partner Sherry Lansing agreed and they had Dearden write a feature script that both Jaffe and Lansing loved but was turned down by every major studio. Though Jaffe had won a Best Picture Oscar for producing Kramer vs. Kramer a few years earlier it was not thought there was an audience for a film like Fatal Attraction. (No one ever said winning an Oscar made finding funding any easier.)

It took them over four years to get the film made and it not only found a large audience but earned five Oscar nominations. Its altered ending is legendary and may have cost Glenn Close the Oscar, and while it’s possible that the original ending may have been better it also may have been less satisfying for audiences and released and forgotten. We’ll never know.

Here is a key scene in the movie that is a hybrid of the fourth draft of Fatal Attraction and the dialogue as spoken in the finished film. It’s a wonderful scene that captures the essence of fine screenwriting.  The scene appears at 13:30 into the film after Dan (Michael Douglas) and Alex (Glenn Close) who are business associates have trouble getting a cab in the rain and end up sitting down for a drink.

It’s a scene full of subtleties and subtext. A display of simplicity and complexity. An interesting sidenote is the character Alex was originally named Eve, nothing subtle about that which was why it was probably changed.

(We pick up in the middle of the scene where they are sitting down at a restaurant. And you’ll have to endure the funky formatting because my WordPress isn’t allowing me to format this correctly.)

There is a brusqueness in her manner towards the WAITRESS, suggesting a certain lack of empathy with the other women. The WAITRESS goes off. Alex folds her hands and looks at Dan as if to say, ‘What next?’.

DAN
Ahh, it’s funny – being a lawyer’s
a bit like being a doctor. Everyone’s
telling you in their innermost secrets.

ALEX
You must have to be discreet.

DAN
Oh, yeah.

ALEX
Are You?

DAN
Am I what?

ALEX
Discreet.

He looks at her, an ironic smile playing about his lips.

DAN
Yes, I’m discreet.

ALEX
Me too.

She holds his gaze. There is a moment of complicity.

DAN
Can I ask you something? Why don’t you have a
date tonight? Saturday night.

ALEX
I did have a date. Stood him up, that was the phone
call I made. Does that make you feel good?

DAN
It doesn’t make me feel bad.

There is a momentary lull. Finally:

ALEX
So where’s your wife?

Taken by surprise, Dan fumbles for his words.

DAN
Where’s my wife? My wife is in the country with
her parents visiting for the weekend.

ALEX
And you’re here with a strange girl being a naughty boy.

Dan holds up his hands to protest his innocence.

DAN
I don’t think having dinner with anybody is a crime.

ALEX
Not yet.

DAN
Will it be?

ALEX
I don’t know, what do you think?

DAN
I definitely think it’s going to be up to you.

Alex smiles, She is enjoying the game.

ALEX
Can’t say yet. I haven’t made up my mind.

DAN
At least you’re very honest.

ALEX
We were attracted to each other at the party.
That was obvious. You’re on your own for
the night that’s also obvious. We’re two adults…

A beat.

DAN
Check.

—–

It’s a scene that was wonderfully written and acted. It was also well directed by Adrian Lyne. Dearden received and Oscar nomination for the script and the character Alex Forrest was named by AFI as the #7 villain in movie history.

Lastly, while Dearden did receive sole writing credit for Fatal Attraction, I should point out that Nicholas Meyer was brought in to do some additional writing. Meyer is a graduate of the University of Iowa (B.A.–Theater & Film) and best known for writing a couple Star Trek films, but he was also nominated for an Oscar for screenwriting The Seven-Per-Cent Solution that was based on his New York Times #1 bestselling novel of the same name. The Papers of Nicolas Meyer (working scripts, story ideas, galley proofs, reviews, etc.) are available for research at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

Related post: Screenwriting Quote of the Day #95 (Nicholas Meyer)

Scott W. Smith

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