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Thursday January 23 will be the 12th anniversary of my blog Screenwriting from Iowa … and Other Unlikely Places. I’ve written all of the more than 3,000 post since its inception. So today, Martin Luther Ling Jr Day seems like a fitting day to break that streak.

Jack Trice was a football player at Iowa State in 1922-23. He was one of the early African-American football players to play at a major college. To put that in perspective he died six years before Martin Luther King Jr. was born, and the University of Alabama—one of the greatest programs in college football— didn’t have a black football player until 1971.

So here is the first guest post of sorts. I saw it today on Facebook written by Brendan Dunphy, who is a smart and multitalented guy from Iowa—who could pass for Tom Cruise’s younger brother—who was an actor on a short film I shot a few years ago.  Here’s his post in bold (I have added the links):

On MLKj day, I’ll share with you one of my proudest moments of 2019.

For the past 7-1/2 years, I have been investigating the life and legacy of famed fallen athlete, Jack Trice, often in painstaking and novel detail. “Jack” was Iowa State University’s first black athlete and remains the only athlete in school history to have ever died as a result of athletic competition. The stadium that bears his name is the only one in the U.S. named after a black person.

This research has been carried out not only for an upcoming documentary film on Jack (along with my film partners Scott, Paul David, and Christopher) but also for a probable podcast series that shares the investigative process that has been, at times, a hard-to-believe series of events that is wrought with strokes of serendipity. The Trice story is so much deeper than has ever been chronicled.

As a result, I was asked by “Cleveland” to give a ten-minute tribute to Jack Trice in October during a first-ever benefit gala for a new organization that aims, in part, to resuscitate northern Ohio’s Senate Athletic Conference, which is supposedly the oldest in the nation; that’s where Jack played. This organization also honors the sports legends of Cleveland, and Jack has deservedly been inducted as one.

To share a sliver of his story with a Cleveland audience full of Olympic athletes, NFL players, Cleveland Indians, and many college stars that have never even heard of Jack Trice was a true honor.

When Cleveland asks you to commemorate Jack Trice at such an event, you just say “yes.”
When Olympic gold medalists seek you out to thank you for the work that you do in revealing his story to the world, you say nothing because you are speechless.

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Jack Trice (1902-1923)

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Brendan Dunphy

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2019 Sports Legends of Cleveland Public Schools Senate League Benefit Gala

Related videos:

Scott W. Smith

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“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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Unless you’ve been stuck under a avalanche in Colorado the past few days you can’t have missed that Captain Marvel starring Brie Larson opens tonight. Here’s what the IMDB slash page looks as I type this post. But you may have missed that movie has Iowa roots.

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Captain Marvel co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (who also co-wrote the film with Geneva Robertson-Dworet) shot their first narrative indie film Sugar (2008) in Davenport, Iowa. Actually, in the same Quad City area along the Mississippi River that A Quiet Place screenwriters Scott Beck and Bryan Woods first started making films together as youngsters.

And the last feature Boden and Fleck made before Captain Marvel  (Mississippi Grind) actually starts out in Iowa. Though I think for budgetary reasons the entire film (except for insert shots) was shot in Louisiana. No news yet if Captain Marvel makes a stop in Iowa.

Mississippi Grind, starring Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds, is one of the best acted films that people never saw. It had a limited release in 2015, but is hopefully finding its lost audience now that it’s on Netflix. But the $130,000 box take (less than Captain Marvel probably spent on orange juice for the crew) made Boden and Fleck question the future of their careers.

Here’s a lightly edited excerpt from an interview that Boden and Fleck did in 2016 on The Moment with Brian Koppelman podcast.

Brian Koppelman: I do sense from you a little discouragement on the state of independent film. I look at your career and I think they’ve been able to make all these movies exactly the way that they’ve wanted to. It’s incredible. It’s the kind of thing that later someone looks back and thinks they’re living a french new wave kind of existence. Of course, living it is hard. You’re making exactly  the movies you want to make with no creative compromises. Yet I can see your frustration—are you frustrated by it?

Anna Boden: I am frustrated by it, but I look back at all the movies that we’ve made and the experience of making them—it took a few years to make Mississippi Grind (our last film) and I was frustrated. I was going home to my husband every night as we were trying to get that movie off the ground [and] I was like I can’t do this—this is my least favorite part of filmmaking. And I was complaining to all my friends about it—maybe I should open a B&B in Hudson Valley. And then we got down to New Orleans and started prep and I felt so happy. I felt so exactly where I wanted to be, doing exactly what I wanted to be doing. So confident in what we were doing and the people we’d chosen to work with. And in those moments that it’s worth it. But then you finish and then you spend a year releasing it, and then nine people see it. And then you have to start raising money for your next project. And it’s in those lulls that you start wondering, “Is it really worth it?”

In that lull between releasing Mississippi Grind and beginning to work on Captain Marvel, Boden and Fleck directed three episodes of Koppelman’s Showtime series Billions in 2016 and 2017.

Scott W. Smith

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The photo that’s been at the top of this blog all these years is a quintessential farm shot I took one morning outside of Decorah, Iowa where I was shooting a short film.  The anchor in the shot is the barn and silo in the left part of the photo.

That’s classic Iowa. And I hadn’t thought about that photo in years until today when I read this quote about the silo used in A Quiet Place. 

“Where we grew up [in Iowa] was a healthy mixture of city life and farm life. We lived in the city, but you would hear about grain silos being one of the most dangerous things you can fall into. It’s basically like drowning, but in dry grain. It was terrifying to drive by them on country roads. Early in the writing process we said, ‘That has to be part of the setpieces.’”
Screenwriter Scott Beck (A Quiet Place)
Filmmaker Magazine interview with Matt Mulcahey 

Here’s a clip where the young actors Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jope discuss shooting that scene inside a silo surrounded by corn.

Here’s what part of that scene looked like on the page of the original screenplay.

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That silo scene reminds me a little of the Mt. Rushmore scene in Hitchcock’s North By Northwest. 

P.S. You want to know an odd connection between North By Northwest and A Quiet Place. Cary Grant, who starred in North By Northwest, died in Davenport, Iowa.  Where did A Quiet Place screenwriters  (Beck and Bryan Woods) grow up and begin making movies? Davenport/Bettendorf, Iowa. (Part of what’s known as the Quad Cities.) Check out my 2010 post Cary Grant and T. Bone…”somewhere in Iowa.” I don’t just make this stuff up. Check out Cary Grant’s IMDB page and see where he died. Then look up Bryan Woods IMDB page and see where he was born.

It’s a small, small world.

Scott W. Smith

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A Quiet Place hit $150 million at the worldwide box office over the weekend. Not bad for a movie that just cost $17 million to produce and has only been in theaters 10 days. You may be surprised to learn that it started as an idea that could be made on a micro-budget.

We started thinking what can we write that could be made. Again, this was almost ten years ago—it’s been a long journey.  But we started pivoting our point of view to what films that could be producible? 

Kind of a lesson we learned growing up in Iowa, we would write things for resources that we had in front of us. Something that could be produced, could be made, and hopefully be an interesting story, too. That’s a long way of saying that’s somewhat the genesis of A Quiet Place. It’s like A Quiet Place was written for us to shoot back in Iowa for $50,000 if everyone passed on it. It would have been a very, very different version without Emily Blunt and John Kraninski. But it was something we just had a passion for, and we knew worst case scenario that could be plan B.
Scott Beck on writing the original script for A Quiet Place with Bryan Woods
H/T Christopher Lockhart via a Q&A video at the WGA Theater in Beverly Hills

I saw the film over the weekend and could see the DNA of their Iowa roots in the movie (even though the film was shot in rural New York):

Farm/farmhouse
Cornfield
Silo full of corn
Old truck
Pitchfork and hatchet
Bridge
Woods
Small town Main Street.

And I also saw the DNA of some popular movies scattered throughout A Quiet Place:
Alien
Birds
Signs

Jaws 
Them! (1954)

P.S. Scott Beck and Bryan Woods are originally from Bettendorf, Iowa and graduated from the University of Iowa in 2007, both less than 2 hours from where I lived in Cedar Falls, Iowa when I started this blog. (Our only connection that I know of is we both used Iowa-based gaffer/jib-operator Jon Van Allen on our films and other productions.)  I don’t know if Beck or Woods ever read a single post of Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places—but they’re example A of what’s possible if you have a movie idea and live in an unlikely place.

Related post:
The Best Film School

Scott W. Smith

 

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One of the great joys of my decade living in Iowa was getting to know and work with artist Gary Kelley. Here he is explaining his football sized artwork at the Google data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa.  

And these large murals are painted in other Google data centers (the cloud) around the world.

P.S. Gary’s daughter Cydney Kelley is a writer on Days of Our Lives. She also wrote an episode of The Game

Related post:
Kelley’s Blues Concert
Post #1,500
Postcard #32 (The Planets)
The First Black Feature Filmmaker  (Oscar Micheaux stamp by Gary Kelley)

Scott W. Smith

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Author Robert Waller died today and since this blog originated in Cedar Falls, Iowa—where Waller wrote The New York Times best-seller The Bridges of Madison County—I think it’s fitting to give a nod to Bridges & Waller. Here’s the spark of the idea that became a book that sold over 12 million copies in the ’90s, and eventually became a movie with the same title starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. (The 1995 movie version made $182 at the worldwide box office.)

In the summer of 1990, Robert James Waller—then a 50-year-old economics professor and sometime folk musician—was on his way home to Cedar Falls after a day of photographing the old covered bridges of Madison Country, southwest of Des Moines.

Driving through the heat, Waller says he began to heat a line from a song he’d been working on recently, ‘an old bossa nova tune,’ about a woman named Francesca. He got a wondering about her. What if Francesca lived in Iowa? And what if she met a man, a man named—Robert? Robert Kincaid. Back home, Waller began to write his first novel, which would become, by early this year, the best-selling work of fiction is the United States. He says he didn’t stop writing, except to eat and sleep, for 14 days. ‘I never wanted it to end.’
True Life: The Best-Seller From Nowehere by William Souder
Washington Post Service

Bridges leapt to the top of the best-seller lists and stayed there, eventually outselling Gone With the Wind. It took root on The New York Times’s list and remained there for three years, becoming, as Entertainment Weekly put it, ‘The Book That Would Not Die.’”
William  Grimes
New York Times/March 10, 2017

Iowa never looked better than it did when photographed by cinematographer Jack N. Green and his crew for The Bridges of Madison County. It received an ASC nomination.

Scott W. Smith

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