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Posts Tagged ‘It’s a wonderful life’

“My favorite Christmas film is It’s a Wonderful Life and I think Capra did a great job of balancing the light and the dark, the comedic and the dramatic—but George Bailey from the mid-point on he’s got to go through some really tough, dark stuff. And I think the reason that that film lives on today, and the reason every time you watch it is you get choked up at the end is because—I don’t care how tough you are—it’s because it’s earned. He had to go to the tough place and when he gets that reconciliation, his redemption— and not only the reunion with his family, but all those folks from the town come—you bought it and it’s okay to get sappy, mushy, dusty, whatever because I felt Capra and Jimmy Stewart earned that.”
Filmmaker Edward Burns (The Brothers McMullen, The Fitzgerald Family Christmas)
The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith

P.S. Capra always gets a lot of credit for It’s a Wonderful Life for obvious reasons, but if you look at the IMDB credits for that film here’s what you’ll see in the writing credits:
Francis Goodrich (screenplay) and
Albert Hackett (screenplay) and
Frank Capra (screenplay)
Jo Swerling (additional scenes)
Philip Van Doren Stern (story)
Michael Wilson (contributor to screenplay (uncredited)

Goodrich and Hackett won the 1956 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for their play The Diary of Anne Frank. They both also received 4 Oscar nominations including their script for The Father of the Bride (1950). Swerling, who was born in Ukraine, was a Tony-Award winning writer and lyricist and received an Oscar nomination for co-writing The Pride of the Yankees. Stern was born in Wyalusing, Pennsylvania and was an accomplished historian who wrote over 40 books. So there was a lot of talent behind the story/script of It’s a Wonderful Life. How many people mention Stern as the original source of It’s a Wonderful Life?  Tomorrow I’ll write about how Stern couldn’t get his short story that became It’s a Wonderful Life published so— in the true independent spirit—he published it himself.

Related Posts:

Insanely Great Endings
Insanely Great Endings (Part 2)
It’s a Wonderful Prison (“Shawshank is basically It’s a Wonderful Life in a prison.”—Frank Darabont)
Filmmaking Quote #28 (Frank Capra)
Emotional Screenwriting (Tip #53)
Writing Quote #22 (Dara Marks)
Hope & Redemption
Screenwriting Quote #146 (Edward Burns)
The 10 Film Commandments of Edward Burns

Scott W. Smith

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“Shawshank is basically It’s a Wonderful Life in a prison.”
Frank Darabont, Writer/director of The Shawshank Redemption

That observation by Darabont came during a Q&A at the Zurich Film Festival where he also made this comment:

“To me, aside from I really dig movies and a good story well told, I think there is sort of a nobler aspiration to film. And I felt this very keenly when I was the kid. I remember intellectualizing this at the age of 12. I saw a movie when I was 12-years-old that struck me as being very, very profound and I realized for the first time intellectually that there is a storyteller. Not just a storyteller but that there was a world view, a philosophy, an imprint of somebody’s intellect and heart on the screen. And I remember having the thought that if I could put my head through the screen I would be able to look off the edge of the camera and see that person standing there.  And I thought, ‘I want to be that guy.'”
Frank Darabont

Related posts:

Descriptive Writing (Frank Darabont)
The Real & Creepy Shawshank Redemption
Self-Study Screenwriting
Movie Cloning (Part 1)
Prison Food

Scott W. Smith

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“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. “
Charles Dickens

“God bless us everyone.”
Tiny Tim
(A Christmas Carol)

A Cedar Falls white Christmas day in the great tradition of Bedford Falls in It’s a Wonderful Life and Dickens’ London in A Christmas Carol. Merry Christmas.

*Our Redeemer Lutheran Church located near my home.

Scott W. Smith

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Once upon a time…a 16-year-old farm girl from a small town in Iowa decided to parlay her good looks into an acting career in Hollywood. She ended up working as prostitute. I know that sounds like a classic cliche, but it wasn’t quite as it seems. For the farm girl was Donna Reed and she won an Oscar for her role as a prostitute in the classic 1953 film From Here to Eternity.

Reed is also known for her role opposite Jimmy Stewart in the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life. She ended up being in more than forty films and had a successful TV program (The Donna Reed Show) from 1958-1966. (Reed died of cancer in 1986 and in her hometown of Denison, Iowa they now have the Donna Reed Foundation for the Performing Arts.)

While it’s true that Reed’s success is not the norm for most who’ve headed to Hollywood over the years, the path to Southern California is well marked from decades of young hopefuls from all over America with stars in their eyes. And there are plenty of dream come true stories of everyone from Brad Pitt to Hilary Swank doing basically what Reed had done in 1937. (For what it’s worth Swank was born in Lincoln, Nebraska and Pitt was raised in Springfield, Missouri, both in the middle of the country like where Reed was from.)

Maybe that model for actors will play out for another hundred years, but maybe it won’t. Over the past two years I written about how writers, actors, and filmmakers have done their thing outside L.A. and found success. (Sometimes great success.) I think that will be a growing trend.

Most 16-year-olds who follow their Hollywood dreams don’t end up with an Oscar to donate to their hometown when they die as Reed did.  Most don’t even get a SAG card. But here’s the thing—these days the odds are in your favor to work in production if you stay where you are and learn your craft.

Of course, there are more opportunities in L.A. but there is also much more experienced competition. And with L.A.’s high unemployment rate that’s more true than ever. (Plus harder to get any job while you wait for your break.) Cameras and editing equipment are cheaper and better than they have ever been. If you’re a writer or actor I’m sure there are production people you can connect with wherever you live (and vice versa).

There have been plenty of actors and writers over the years you have jumped over to the production side as well and this is a great time for you to do this as well.

Programs like Final Cut Pro are relatively inexpensive ($1,000.) and that is the same program that many feature film programs are cut on these days. Go to Lynda.com and for $25. a month you have not only many online tutorials to learn Final Cut Pro, but also about a zillion other creative software programs.)

There are blogs, books, DVDs and podcasts where you have access today to information that the typical film student didn’t even think about ten years ago. You don’t have to jump into the deep-end, but you have to at least stick your toes in the water and move forward.

You don’t have to start out making a feature film, start out by making a one minute film. Make a spoof on what you think really happened to those pilots in the cockpit who lost contact with traffic controllers for an hour and a half. Show it to your friends, stick it on the web—see where it leads. (Send me a link as well, and give me a story credit.)

This is the time to try some new things. But do what you can to avoid the prostitution thing.

Scott W. Smith

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Often times there is a lot of talk about “life affirming” films. Films that raise up the spirit of the audience. A film like It’s a Wonderful Life is life affirming. But since I’m still in a New York state of mind I thought I relay that that is not the goal of at least one filmmaker:

“If my films make one more person miserable, I’ll feel I have done my job.”
Woody Allen

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When I was taking photos of this house just a few blocks from my own house on Christmas eve three different vehicles pulled up and people went inside. One child yelled “grandpa” as an older man opened the door.  A slice of Bedford Falls (It’s Wonderful Life) right here in Cedar Falls.

Speaking of Bedford Falls & Iowa…did you know that the Academy Award-winning actress Donna Reed was born on a farm near Denison, Iowa?  She played  Mary Bailey, Jimmy Stewart’s wife in It’s a Wonderful Life. While that film had a weak run at the box office after it was first released it is now considered a Christmas classic and named by AFI has one of the best 100 American films ever made and number one  on their list of the most inspirational American films of all time.

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“Small town people are more real, more down to earth.”
                                                             Groundhog Day 
                                                             Phil (Bill Murray) 

 

“A growing number of Americans are seeking a larger life in a smaller place. Many are finding it.” 
                                                                                      Life 2.0
                                                                                      Richard Karlgaard 

You hear a lot about Main St. these days and I thought I’d explore what that means from a screenwriting & filmmaking  perspective. A couple days ago my travels took me to northern Illinois and to the town of Woodstock which happens to be where much of the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray was filmed.

The above photo is the corner where Ned confronts Bill Murray’s character again and again and where Murray steps off the curb into the puddle of water. The town, which is about an hour north east of Chicago, has improved much over the last 15 years and continues to embrace the fact that Groundhog Day was filmed there.

 

That’s right, Woodstock doubled for Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Director Harold Ramis thought the town square there worked better as a location than the real deal. I wonder how many people go out of their way to go to Punxutawney and are disappointed that it doesn’t look like the town in the movie? That’s showbiz.

In fact, the town even has a life-imitating-art groundhog day celebration and a nice map you can follow to see the various filming locations of the Danny Rubin and Ramos screenplay. The bar scene where Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell drink to world peace is now the Courtyard Grill and has a signed script on the wall by where they sat.

 

Certainly, if you’re in the area it’s worth it to stop to see where one of the great comedy films (#34 on the AFI Greatest American Comedy list) was filmed. If you’re there at the beginning of February you can even take part in the groundhog days celebration. 

From my home where I am typing this I can see Main St. here in Cedar Falls, Iowa. It’s just a block to the west and is quite a lively Main St. USA. Shops, a playhouse, art galleries, several bars and restaurants (a new one opening next month will feature a respected Chicago chef) and even a comedy club. It’s also worth a stop if you are ever driving the Avenue of the Saints between St. Louis and St. Paul.

There’s something endearing about Main Streets in general. Of course, sometimes they aren’t even called Main St., but they are the historic main road through the heart of smaller towns. It’s not hard for me to think back at some of my favorite main drags (Telluride, Colorado, Winter Park, Florida., Franklin, Tennessee,, Holland, Michigan, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Seal Beach, California, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania  and Galena, Illinois).

Places that for the most part that have been around for 100 years. Places with history and character. Perhaps in a response to sprawling suburbs there has been an architectural movement to design areas that look a little like small towns complete with a Main St. (Some even have a small movie theaters.)

I first became aware of this while a student at the University of Miami in the ’80s when two Miami architects (Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk) began to design the beach community of Seaside, Florida. (Seaside is so idyllic, it is where they filmed The Truman Show.) The success of Seaside has been well documented.

On the Seaside website you’ll find the history and the philosophy of what they set out to create after doing extensive research:
“Most of the buildings were studied in the context of small towns, and gradually the idea evolved that the small town was the appropriate model to use in thinking about laying out streets and squares and locating the various elements of the community. 

Seaside is a great place and today you can go throughout the country and find other areas that were designed in its wake; Celebration, FL,  Baldwin Park, FL, Harmony, FL, Prospect New Town in Boulder County, Colorado, and Kentlands in Gaitherburg, Maryland. 

That is not to say that this new urbanist master planned communities idea doesn’t have its critics. The most common charge is they say the towns are more like film sets or some kind of fantasyland — sentimental and far removed from reality.  Some felt it a little strange when Thomas Kinkade (The Painter of Light) got into the act outside the San Francisco Bay area by inspiring a development called The Village at Hiddenbrook that feature homes that would be at home in one of his glowing paintings. Where are the Rod Serling/Twight Zone inspired writers on that one?

But for many (including Walt Disney, and perhaps Kinkade) small towns represent the ideal. (Community, honesty, fullness of life, etc.) The way life ought to be, or the way it was.  Many movies and TV programs tap into this mystique: It’s a Wonderful Life, American Graffiti, The Last Picture Show, My Dog Skip, The Andy Griffith Show, Cars, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Truman Show, Northern Exposure, Places in the Heart, and Hoosiers.

(And some books, films and songs are critiques and satires of small town living such as Pleasantville, Harper Valley PTA, and Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street.

Either way Main St. (and all that it represents) is a part of Americanna and will continue to be probably forever and is fertile ground for you to explore in your screenwriting, and perhaps even in your life. As Don Henley (who was raised in the small town of Linden, Texas) sings in The End of the Innocence:
Who know how long this will last
Now we’ve come so far so fast
But somewhere back there in the dust,
that same small town in each of us

On a closing note, I remember when I lived in L.A. there was a popular radio host named Dr. Toni Grant who used to encourage her callers/listeners to write the script of their life. I always thought that was an interesting concept and worth exploring as you take a few more trips around the sun. 

Come to think of it, isn’t that what Bill Murray’s character did in Groundhog Day? He rewrote the script of his life and became a better person — and got the girl to boot. It is a wonderful life…

 

Photos and text 2008 copyright Scott W. Smith

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