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Posts Tagged ‘Iowa’

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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“Today, on Veterans Day, we honor those who served our country. You who once wore the uniform of our Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard, we owe you our thanks, we owe you our respect, and we owe you our freedom.”
President Obama
Veterans Day Ceremony 11/11/16

flagsiowa-scottwsmith

©2007 Scott W. Smith

Today is Veterans Day in the United States, a time to “honor American veterans of all wars.” I took this photo several years ago in Cedar Falls, Iowa on one of those perfect blue sky, windy days at AMVETS Post 49.

Here are some thoughts of former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink responding to a question about if he had any considerations on being a “pawn” in the U.S. military. (To hear the full question and answer listen to The Tim Ferriss Show podcast #187.):

“The fact of the matter is I’m actually honored to have served as a so-called ‘pawn’ in that system. America is far from perfect. We have committed some horrors in our history. Even today we make mistakes in the world. But when you travel the world and you see how much of the rest of the world lives—how much they live in disarray. And you see the oppression, and you see the poverty, and you see the corruption, and see the abject violations of basic human rights, then you realize how blessed, or lucky, or maybe even spoiled we are to live in America.

“Let’s just start with potable tap water. Drinking water. In America we just have that everywhere. Any home, any apartment, even the prisons you turn on the tap and you get good, clean, disease-free drinking water. That is not the norm in the rest of the world. And on top of that we have power, got electricity going in just about every home. That means just about every home has heat in the winter time, and they have air-conditioning in the summer time.”

“Let’s take that just a little further, what about access to the internet. Access to the internet here is widespread. Something like 70% of adults have a smart phone. Seventy percent…. Seventy percent. So you can gain access to knowledge here unlike any other time in human history. And our healthcare system—I know it’s not perfect, but I’ll tell you what, if you view our healthcare system from a third world hospital which often don’t even have the simplest of medical gear, you’d realize it’s not perfect but it’s pretty damn good.”

“And beyond that let’s look at the food that’s available.  Never mind starvation and malnutrition, our issue in America is actually too much food. And much of the world still has people literally people starving to death. And America offers an amazing opportunity to build, and to create, and to be what you want to be and to be who you want to be. And unlike anywhere else in the world, the ability to pursue happiness. And all those things, all of it, is possible because of the unbridled individual freedom that America offers.”

“And you know what else? It’s also possible because of industry, because of the incredible corporations, and businesses, and individuals. Because of people that took advantage of that freedom and worked their asses off to build this nation. So to have been a pawn in that, to have done my small share of work to allow this beacon of light and of hope and of freedom to continue—I’m honored to have had the chance [to serve in the Navy]. Would I do it all over again? You’re damn right I would, without question.”
Jocko Willink  (@jockowillink)

Scott W. Smith

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“You have so many opportunities now….We’re in a new frontier.”
Screenwriter Diablo Cody
Juno Has Another Baby (Emmy)

“You absolutely can make movies. The idea of having a career in the movie business is very, very different ”
Writer/director John Sayles (Lone Star, Sunshine State)

Diablo Cody poses backstage after winning an Oscar for best original screenplay for Juno at the 80th annual Academy Awards in Hollywood

Apparently it’s Mike Birbiglia week. After three days of pulling quotes from Mike Birbiglia’s interview with Tim Ferriss, I was surprised yesterday to hear Birbiglia interviewed by Craig Mazin on Scriptnotes.

What jumped out to me on his interview with Mazin was a brief exchange that hits at the the core of what I’ve been blogging about since 2008 after former University of Iowa grad Diablo Cody hit the screenwriting scene with Juno.

Mike Birbiglia: I’ve been traveling around the country with Liz Allen who coached our improv team in [Don’t Think Twice] and she does these free improv workshops at these [indie film] theaters, and I speak about how improv is related to my process as a director, writer and actor. And the thing I say is I would highly recommend people make something. If they’re living in Austin, or Iowa City, or Chicago or anywhere, and feel like you have something to say or a story to tell—we’re in an era where you can shoot something for nothing. And if you don’t believe me, go on Netflix and watch Tangerine [a film shot on a iphone that played at Sundance] and you’ll go, “Oh, that can be a movie? Holy cow. ”

Craig Mazin: You’re 100% right. But I wouldn’t suggest necessarily for people to start making things so that you can become famous and sell those things. Make them as part of your education. You don’t have to show them to anybody. If you make something of your own thing and hate it, you’ve learned so much.

MB:I did that in college. I shot a short film called Waiting to Be Great.

CM: —It’s still waiting?

MB: Yeah, it’s still waiting. It’s really not done. In the edit we kind of gave up on it at a certain point. We showed it to friends. It was just terrible. They said, “Nice try.”

So while you’re waiting to be great—just make something. It doesn’t even have to be good.  Have you ever seen Quentin Tarantino‘s first feature film? There’s a good chance you haven’t. I’m not talking about Reservoir Dogs, but the lesser known My Best Friend’s Birthday. A film that reportedly took four years to shoot and of which only 36 minutes survive due to a fire. (The first cut was 70 minutes and never released.)

I can’t recall Tarantino even talking about My Best Friend’s Birthday, but I imagine friends at some point told him, “Nice try.”And I’m pretty sure it played a key part of his education in becoming two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter Quentin Tarantino.

As you’re waiting to be great, just make something. It won’t be Juno, and it won’t be My Best Friend’s Birthday, but it will be a heck of an education. And it will be your vision that you helped create with a small team of people.

P.S.. And to round out yesterday’s post Bad Script, Good Pizza, Great Feedback you can add Frank Oz, Nicole Holofcener, Greta Gerwig and Mazin to the list of people Birbiglia had over to his place for script readings of Don’t Think Twice.

Note: Liz Allen coauthored the book Improvising Better: A Guide for the Working Improviser.

Related posts:
How to Shoot a Feature in 10 Days
Shooting a Feature Film in 4 Days
Shooting a Feature Film in 2 Days
Shooting a Feature Film in 1 Day
Shooting a Feature Film Over Dinner
The 10 Film Commandments of Edwards Burns
Writing for Low Budget Films
Filmmaking Quote #44 (John Sayles)
Filmmaker/Entrepreneur Robert Rodriguez
Start Small…But Start Somewhere

Diablo Cody related posts:
The Diablo Cody–Damien Chapelle Connection
Diablo Cody Day
The Juno-Iowa Connection
“Keep Your Head Down” “You will be a big deal for about ten seconds.”-Cody

Quentin Tarantino related posts:
Tarantino Gumbo Soup Film School
“When you have a big flop…”
“What I’m really here to do…”
“The way I write…”

Scott W. Smith

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This April I’ve decided to sprinkle in some posts throughout the month of the indie movie Pieces of April (2003). Like Tender Mercies (1984) it’s a simple yet complex films that I revisit from time to time.

Pieces of April was written and directed by Peter Hedges who just happened to be born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa. A fact I didn’t learn until years after falling in love with the movie.

Today we’ll look at the story origins of the movie which starred a young Katie Holmes.

“In December of 1998, I received a phone call from my mother in Iowa. She had bad news. She’d been diagnosed with cancer. I went to her as soon as I could. She underwent radiation and chemotherapy. Over the next fifteen months, my sisters, my brothers, and I traveled back and forth to take care of her.

“During this time, my mother urged me to keep writing, but it was difficult. One day in my office in Brooklyn, I started opening files on my computer and came across notes I’d written a year earlier for a story about  girl with a broken oven trying to get her turkey cooked.

“In my notes, I had named the girl April after the moody, unpredicatble month. The month when it is sunny one moment and rainy the next. In my notes, she was cooking Thanksgiving dinner for her family. Most surprising was the reason why I’d decided April was making the meal: She was attempting to bridge an estranged relationship with her mother who was sick with cancer. 

“That’s when I knew this was a story I had to write.”
Writer/director Peter Hedges
Pieces of April; The Shooting Script—Introduction

Related posts:
Goal. Stakes. Urgency. (Tip #60)
Protagonist= Struggle
Christmas & Cancer
Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B+C)

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“People who have nothing to do with Des Moines drive in off the interstate, looking for gas or hamburgers, and stay forever.”
Bill Bryson
The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America

Not every kid who grew up in Iowa would one day have Robert Redford portray them in a movie. In fact, there’s only one person in history I think that applies to—writer Bill Bryson.

Last night I heard Bill Bryson speak at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. His humorous writings were matched by his humorous speaking abilities. His observational style reminded me of Garrison Keillor and Mark Twain, two other writer/speakers with Midwestern roots.

Bryson spoke fondly of growing up in Des Moines during the ‘50s, of his father who was a sports writer for the Des Moines Register, of his adopted county of England, and said that the community of Winter Park was enchanting. (While I did spend an enchanting decade living in Iowa, I have lived in enchanting Winter Park more than any other place.)  Bryson now lives with his family in enchanting Hanover, New Hampshire.

He spoke to the estimated a thousand or so in attendance that there was a certain anonymity of being a writer. That in 30 years of being a published writer no one had ever recognized him on the street. He reflected that he would not recognize some of his favorite writers on the street. He read some short passages from his books and about what a pleasure it was to attend the Sundance Film Festival last year and watching A Walk in the Woods based on his book. At the movie’s premiere, his wife sat on one side of him and on the other side was Redford.

I’ll leave you a one simple practical bit of wisdom from last night’s Q&A:

“What inspires me to write? Bills.”
Bill Bryson

P.S. Des Moines is a much different town today than when Bryson grew up there over 50 years ago and recounted so well in his book The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memior.

In Colin Woodward’s recent article  How America’s Dullest City Got Cool, he unpacks how a place once known as Des Boring reinvented itself:

In recent years Des Moines has been named the nation’s richest (by U.S. News) and economically strongest city (Policom), its best for young professionals (Forbes), families (Kiplinger), home renters (Time), businesses and careers (Forbes). It has the highest community pride in the nation, according to a Gallup poll last year, and in October topped a Bloomberg analysis of which cities in the United States were doing the best at attracting millennials to buy housing. “Never mind California or New York,” Fast Company declared two years back. “By some important measures, Des Moines is way ahead of its cooler coastal cousins.”

That’s one reason why I’ve set my recent spec TV pilot in Des Moines, Iowa. Another enchanting place.

P.P.S. Screenwriters Jim Uhls (Fight Club) and John August (Big Fish, Scriptnotes) both went to college at Drake University in Des Moines.

Related posts:
Postcard #11 (Des Moines)
Postcard #77 (Iowa State Capital)
San Francisco Vs. Des Moines
2010 48 Hour Film Festival/ Des Moines 

Scott W. Smith

 

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“I’m telling you Iowa is incredible. We should all move to Iowa and start the revolution.”
Hannah (Lena Dunham) in Girls, Season 4 episode 2

It’s been a busy month for Lena Dunham as she’s been prominently featured in the press near the center of the film & political world in January 2016. She’s been at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah where her documentary Suited premiers tonight and she’s been stumping in Iowa for Hillary Clinton’s presidential run.   

“This is my second time in Iowa, but before I came to Iowa, I was pretending to be in Iowa. We filmed all our Girls stuff not in Iowa. I had seen tons of pictures of Iowa City, we had a location scout from Iowa and a writer from Iowa, so we had our experts in check, but I hadn’t, myself, had an opportunity to come. It was amazing when I came to Iowa City last year on my book tour because I had already had the experience of existing in fake Iowa and I was like, wow, we didn’t do that bad a job.”
Lena Dunham
The Des Moines Register 
January 11, 2016

Dunham, the creator of the HBO show Girls, is the perfect person to follow up my last post (Diablo Cody Day) about Diablo Cody winning an Oscar in 2008 for writing the Juno screenplay.  (And since I was living in Iowa at the time, the fact that Cody graduated from the University of Iowa served as inspiration for me starting this blog.)

Well, back in 2008 Dunham graduated with a degree in creative writing from Oberlin College in Ohio. While in college, in the infant days of You Tube, she was also creating short films that went viral.

“I didn’t go to film school. Instead I went to liberal arts school and self-imposed a curriculum of creating tiny flawed video sketches, brief meditations on comic conundrums, and slapping them on the Internet.”
Lena Dunham

In 2010, just two years out of college she won the SXSW Award in Narrative Fiction for her film Tiny Furniture. The film made for just $45,000 also earned Dunham Best First Screenplay at the Independent Spirit Awards. (The same award Cody won back in 2008.)

That led to the opportunity to create Girls which has been on the air since 2012, and has won two Golden Globe Awards (Best Television Series—Comedy or Musical, and Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series—Comedy or Musical).

That’s right, she acts, too. And she was paid $3.6 million to write her 2014 memoir Not That Kind of Girl. I don’t exactly fit the demographics of watching/reading Dunham’s work, and haven’t actually never seen a full episode of Girls, and have been out of the loop of the controversies of her work.  But I enjoyed the quirkiness of Tiny Furniture (which is currently available on Netflix), and it’s hard not to appreciate what she’s achieved creatively and financially before she’s even turned 30. 

And I was curious what Cody thought of Dunham and found this quote:

“I absolutely love Lena Dunham. I don’t know her personally, but I’m completely obsessed with the show. I cannot believe what she has accomplished at 26. I think she is like our new Woody Allen.”
Diablo Cody
Huffington Post interview with Lori Fradkin

P.S. Last year, Dunham’s character in Girls began attending the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in Iowa City so I thought I’d give some links that give a glimpse to the real place.

BTW—Diablo Cody got her undergraduate degree in Media Studies from the University of Iowa and when asked why she didn’t attend the Iowa Writers’ Workshop she said it was easier to win an Oscar than to get into Iowa’s competitive graduate program.

Related Posts:
John Irving, Iowa & Writing (My visit to the Iowa Workshop)
(Yawn) Another Pulitzer Prize (for a Workshop graduate)
Postcard #55 (Iowa Writers’ Workshop)
The Making of Woody Allen in 10 Simple Steps
The Juno-Iowa Connection
Oberlin to Oscars (Screenwriters William Goldman and Mark Boal also both graduated from Oberlin.)

Scott W. Smith

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