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Posts Tagged ‘Jessica Lange’

“BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND”
Steven R. Covey
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Habit #2)

After I wrote the last screenwriting tip, Writing Good Bad Guys (Tip #85), I discovered a Facebook thread over at The Inside Pitch where WME Story Editor Christopher Lockhart listed some of his favorite bad characters in movies. (I’ve added his list to that post.) The first character mentioned was Archibald Cunningham (Tim Roth) in Rob Roy. I’d never seen that 1995 movie before and caught it on Netflix over the week.

Tom Roth’s character is in fact a bad guy of the highest caliber. No question there. It made me want to find a screenwriting quote from Scottish born writer Alan Sharp (Rob Roy, Night Moves, My Talks with Dean Spanley) who just died earlier this year.

“I try to get the story to tell itself from front to back. It’s very helpful to have a final scene in mind, a sort of destination, if you like, but often that doesn’t reveal itself until you’ve taken a number of false turns. Re-writing is the key and the ability to view previous drafts as material to be changed, cut and shaped. Start thick and end up thin.”
Screenwriter Alan Sharp
RT Burns Club Interview with Scottish Screen Writer Alan Sharp 

Here’s a scene from Rob Roy where actors Jessica Lange, Brian Cox, and Tim Roth, under the direction of Michael Canton-Jones, and the cinematography of Karl Walter Lindenlaub bring to life Sharp’s words. (Semi-spolier note: It’s a powerful scene that does foreshadow the wonderful Rob Roy ending.)

P.S. Rob Roy was overshadowed at the box office in 1995 by that other Scottish-centered movie Braveheart. Both films stand on their own as well made movies, and I’m sure more than one person has done an analysis of the similarities and differences of both films. Both Liam Neeson and Mel Gibson are characters at the end of their rope.  One has a theme of intergity and the other about freedom. But from my limited knowledge Rob Roy MacGregor (even by Sharp’s admission) was a minor character in Scottish history. William Wallace was a major leader in the War of Scottish Independence. Given the choice to pick a major or minor character in writing an epic film—go with the major character.

But I think what really separated the two films is Rob Roy had a good ending and Braveheart (to use Michael Arndt’s words) had an insanley great ending. Braveheart’s highly emotional scene hit audiences hard.

Braveheart walked away with five Oscars including best picture and is listed at #80 on the IMDB Top 250 chart. Rob Roy is unfortunately still known more as a cocktail.

Related Posts:
Insanely Great Endings
Insanely Great Endings (Part 2)
Earn Your Ending (Tip #76) Writer/director Edward Burns on It’s a Wonderful Life
Coppola and Rewriting
Screenwriting Quote #177 David O. Russell quote about rewriting Silver Linings Playbook “over 20 times.”

Scott W. Smith

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“Stop me if this seems familiar: There’s a new cop comedy coming out that pairs a loose-cannon SNL veteran with a growling, resentful partner in a semi-sendup of the 80’s buddy comedy genre. “
Kyle Buchanan
The Other Guys Trailer: Cop Out with Jokes

I didn’t see Cop Out last year, but I’ve read that it was a similar buddy cop spoof as The Other Guys. So I don’t know if it would qualify as a movie clone, but Cop Out director Kevin Smith on his blog Silent Bob Speaks fills in the blanks about the Hollywood process:

“Ideas cost NOTHING & require ZERO risk. And yet, oddly, the LEAST amount of time’s usually spent in the idea stage before a small fortune is dumped on a whimsy that’s still half-baked.

Case in point: Cop Out.

When I was brought in, there was talk of spending $70mil on a Will Ferrell/MarkyMark version of A COUPLE OF DICKS (the pre-COP title). Then WB didn’t wanna pay the actors’ full quotes, so off go they go to do the over-$70mil+ OTHER GUYS. WB then made WAY less expensive deals with Bruce & Tracy, I cut my salary by over 80%, and we were off to the races with what became a $32mil flick (which is why, hate on it all you must, but – as per two high-level studio sources & one of our producers – Cop Out turned a profit already; it did what it was designed to do). All of that came from Jeff Robinov’s idea stage. The idea that the movie could go on without Will & Mark resulted in Cop Out. And while some may harp about whether the flick was their cup of tea or not, the people who paid to have it made were content we all hadn’t wasted money.”

So now you have the inside scoop to why Ben Joseph (and his readers) in his article Attack of the Clones: Suspiciously Similar Movie Showdown find common DNA in the following films:

The Truman Show/EdTV (1998/1999)
Mission to Mars/Red Planet (2000)
The Cave/The Decent (2005)
Garden State/Elizabethtown (2005/2006)
The Illusionist/The Prestige (2006)
Juno/Knocked Up (2007)
The Arrival/Independence Day (1996)
Jurassic Park/Carnosaur (1993)

And way back in 1994/95 audiences could choose Mel Gibson (Braveheart), Richard Gere & Sean Connery (First Knight), and/or Liam Neeson & Jessica Lange (Rob Roy) for their medieval movie feast. And the lists could go on and on.  These things go in cycles.
In Vanity Fair (December 2010) Jim Windolf had an article titled “Is The King’s Speech Really Just The Karate Kid in Royal Vestments?” You’d have to read the whole article to see why he thinks that, but here’s the shorthand list:
1. A circumstance beyond the hero’s control compels him to learn a new skill or fail utterly.
2. The hero is humiliated in the presence of his future teacher.
3. The teacher’s unorthodox methods humble the student and even cause him to quit, albeit temporarily.
4. The teacher may be a quack.
5. The teacher is an outsider, with low social status in his new land.
6. The unorthodox, uncredentialed teacher is contrasted with a cruel—but more respected—educator.
7. In the teacher’s backstory lies patriotic wartime service.
8. The teacher helps fill a void left by the student’s absent father.
9. The teacher prepares the student for a grand stage, where he must display everything he has learned or suffer public defeat.
10. The teacher looks on with pride at the moment of his student’s final triumph.

I don’t remember how old I was when I actually realized that the Chevy Camero and the Pontiac TransAM were basically the same car, but I remembered it confused the heck out of me. Now that I’m all grown up I realize that some people want a Toyota and some people want a Lexus. Hollywood confuses me a little less these days as well. And even the creative process confuses me a little less. I realize that painters, cameramen, editors, actors and the rest of the freaky people who’ve joined the creative circus are drawing on a mix of creative influences to create something new that will help put food on the table.
And the stew isn’t always fresh and original, but every once in a while the right combination falls into place and it’s a large feast.
I think it was writer/director Frank Darabont who said Hollywood is like a shipwreck, and that every once and a while a survivor makes it to shore. You don’t get to make The Shawshank Redemption—quality films every year.  Actually, with even the giants two or three memorable films is a good career.
So don’t get caught up in all this talk about cloning. Like in the 1996 Harold Ramis film Multiplicity some of the clones of Michael Keaton were helpful and some were a little odd.  Tomorrow we’ll look at what Joseph Campbell has to say on the topic of monomyth and why there is really only one story. But for today we’ll let Kevin Smith have the last word of encouragement,“Ideas cost nothing yet have the potential to yield inexplicably long careers & happy lives. So go ahead: dream a l’il dream.”

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Last night I just caught a few minutes of the Primetime Emmy awards and glad to see Jessica Lange and Ken Howard win Emmys for their roles in Grey Gardens. The HBO movie also picked up the Emmy for Made-for-TV Movie. (The movie won a total of six Emmys.) It’s always great to see someone like Howard who has been nominated for 10 Emmys finally pick up an Emmy after a long career.

Someone who hasn’t had a long career is the writer/director of Grey Gardens, Michael Sucsy. I didn’t really know much about him so I poked around and here is what I found. I think it’s important to see the path that talented people take to see what it takes to succeed at the highest level. Sucsy was born in 1973 and received his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and an MFA from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.

He worked various below the line jobs on some features and made an award-winning short film after school. But he really made a name for himself directing commercials and in 2002 according to IMDB he was “nominated for the Young Director of the Year Award in conjunction with the 2002 Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.”

He began to work on the script for Grey Gardens in 2003 after seeing the documentary by the same name. So we’re talking six years from idea to award. He was working as an assistant to a entertainment lawyer while doing research and writing for Grey Gardens meaning he had to get much of his writing in in the early morning hours before going to work. (The Breakfast Club for Writers.)

Eventually his script found its way to HBO where Sucsy directed Lange, Drew Barrymore and others in that would go on tie for the most Emmy nominations ever for a TV movie.

Dream big dreams, but keep plugging away on smaller projects.

(I’m preaching to myself here and look forward to going up to Minneapolis Saturday for the Midwest Regional Emmy Awards where I’m nominated for two Emmys—one for editing and one for lighting.)

Dec. 6, 2009 Update. I did pick up a Regional Emmy for location lighting for a spot I shot film noir style. But much more impressive is Grey Gardens which I finally saw a couple weeks ago. Just an extraordinary, moving and insightful film.

Related posts: Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours

Screenwriters Work Ethic

Scott W. Smith

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I’m up in the Twin Cities again for a shoot and happened to be driving through St. Paul yesterday when I heard the news that Al Franken was officially declared the winner of the Senate race that has been in limbo for eight months. It was a good day to be a talk radio host up here. Remember this is the state that once chose Jesse Ventura for Governor.

Because it’s tucked away in the upper midwest, Minnesota kind of flies under the radar for the rest of the country so they have to do some interesting things to get attention.  There’s a great mix of people up here and that’s helped  produced a variety of creative talent from Prince to Diablo Cody. 

A couple days ago I mentioned that Sam Shepard and Jessica Lange lived in the Minnesota -St. Paul area for a period of time while they were raising their kids. So I thought it would be fitting to find a quote from Shepard and I found this one from an interview he did in St. Paul back in 2004:

“I’m self-taught. I learn everything by doing it. I wasn’t born knowing how to write a play. You do it and hopefully you keep evolving. One really great thing happened was that I discovered Chekhov’s short stories. I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t really start reading them ‘til about 5 or 6 years ago. I’d always kind of dismissed Chekhov and didn’t really know why. When I came upon the stories, and started really reading and studying them, I couldn’t believe it. I read every single one.”
                                                  Sam Shepard
                                                  Interview with Don Shewey
                                                  Rock-And-Roll Jesus with a Cowboy Mouth 

 

Scott W. Smith


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But, somewhere back there in the dust,
That same small town that’s in each of us.

                                    The End of the Innocence 
                                    Don Henely 

Got nothing against a big town
Still hayseed enough to say
Look who’s in the big town
But my bed is in a small town

                                     Small Town
                                     John Mellencamp

 

What would you do if you won an Academy Award? What if against all odds you won two? Would you load up the family and move to Beverly Hills? But what if you already lived there or in New York City? Where would you put the idea of moving to a small town in Minnesota a year after you won your second Oscar? 

That’s what actress Jessica Lange did back in 1995 after she won her second Academy Award. She, Sam Shepard and their four kids moved to Stillwater, Minnesota,  a small town that sits on the St. Croix River just outside the Twin Cities.  Why?

Jessica Lange told Architectural Digest a couple years ago, “I had this kind of romantic image of the children growing up not dissimilarly to the way I grew up in a small town where they could walk to school. Even more than that, I wanted to raise them close to their extended family.”

So they bought a house next to where her mother lived. So the town not only got a Hollywood actress, but in Sam Shepard they also got an Oscar nominated actor (The Right Stuff), a screenwriter,  and a Pulitzer Prize-winning Playwright (Buried Child).  It’s not so off the wall when you think about it. Lange was born 15 miles south of Duluth in Cloquet,  Shepard was born in Fort Sheridan, IL.

They lived in Stillwater for about a decade.  Then after Lange’s mother died and all but one of their kids had graduated from high school there was no reason to be in Stillwater anymore so they moved to New York. But for a while they lived the small town dream. (They still own a lake cabin near Cloquet.)

A few days ago I had a video shoot in Minneapolis and ended up driving through Stillwater one morning. In some ways it’s outgrown the hardware store on Main St. thing and in some ways has been changed by gift shops and the condos that have popped up. After Lange sold their Stillwater house she commented that the town wasn’t real anymore. But for most small towns in America it’s a matter of growing or dying. (That probably could be said of most things in life.) From my perspective, Stillwater looks like a pretty fine place to live. (But it is a long commute if you work on Broadway from time to time.)

There’s something mythical about small towns in America. A little idealism mix with romanticism. A place where life is somewhere in between It’s a Wonderful Life and  Live it to Beaver. Where little kids can wander down Main Street like Opie did in Mayberry and where teenagers can hangout like they do on Happy Days. And if you can’t move back to the 1950s or live in a black & white movie or TV show then living in a small town may be as close as you can get to the ideal.

Of course, the reality is that there are often economic struggles in smaller towns. Teenagers are bored and can’t wait to leave. And small towns are not immune from drugs and violence. But small towns are still a refuge. And there is a reason why many of those teenagers when they hit their 30s and have kids move back to those same boring towns to raise their families. And they bring their gifts, talents and new perspectives that make the town a better place for everyone.

If you were in Cedar Falls, Iowa this weekend it would have made you at least think, “I could live in a place like this.” With two days of weather more fitting for San Diego, you could have watched a parade down Main St., eaten kettle corn while you listened to the United States Marine Corp Band perform at the band shell, taken a long bike ride through a state park, watched lighting bugs in the early evening, and listened to the church bells Sunday morning and a sala band down by the river Sunday night.

As a matter of fact, Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard lived in this area for a while back in the 80s. They rented a house in the Prospect area of the neighboring city of Waterloo while filming the farm crisis movie Country that was shot here in Black Hawk County. (That would have been the time when I was living in L.A. and going to Shepard’s play True West that featured Randy and Dennis Quaid in a small theater in Hollywood.)

Lange has the talent and has built her career in a way that allows her to live anywhere she wants and to continue her acting career. And my hope is with the changing digital technology and the various incentives to shoot films outside L.A. that there will rise up a new generation of filmmakers and actors who can make good films and live good lives wherever they want to live.

Well, I have to go walk to work now…

 

Scott W. Smith


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And the winner is… Minnesota.

Minneapolis Convention Center

If someone wanted to make a point about talent coming from outside Hollywood the 80th Academy Awards would be a great place to start. (The above photo is not from the Oscars but gave me an excuse to highlight the Minneapolis Convention Center from a production I worked on a couple years ago.)

I can’t recall a more eclectic (and foreign) group of winners than this year’s Oscar winners. Has Hollywood has caught on to outsourcing? And as far as screenwriting is concerned this year’s Oscar’s were distinctly Midwestern, specifically Minneapolis, Minnesota.

First Joel and Ethan Coen who began making films in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park won for best adapted screenplay for No Country for Old Men.  And then Diablo Cody won best original screenplay for Juno. Congrats to all three.

I couldn’t be more happy for them because they are at the core of what Screenwriting from Iowa is all about. True it’s not called Screenwriting from Minnesota, but that wouldn’t cause any snickers or even raise any eyebrows would it? But both Iowa and its connected neighbor to the north represent a place far from Hollywood.

For the curious, the drive from my office in Cedar Falls, Iowa to downtown Minneapolis takes 3 ½ hours, unless you stop at the Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota near the border. (If you stop in Forest City for the Winnebago tour as well it’s a full day trip.)

When the Minneapolis Star Tribune picked Cody as “Artist of the Year” last year they said that, “she became a professional writer for City Pages and banged out Juno in the Starbucks annex at the Crystal Super Target.” Though raised in the Chicago area and a graduate of Iowa Cody said, “I became a writer in Minneapolis; that’s why I call myself a Minnesota-based writer.”

The Coen Brothers gave a nod to Minneapolis when they won their third Oscar for the night for Best Picture (they also picked up best director). Joel talked about when they were running around as kids making 8mm films like Henry Kissinger; Man on the Go then said. “What we do now doesn’t feel that much different from what we were doing then.”

They have slowly built a wider and wider audience with their quirky film style beginning with Blood Simple in 1984, through Raising Arizona, Fargo and O Brother Where Art Thou? Their Oscar sweep was impressive but they also made the only film to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes along with the Best Director and Best Actor awards for Barton Fink. They are American originals.

Speaking of America, I think JC Penny’s creative team hit a home run with their Oscar commercials introducing the American Living brand featuring the song “Killing the Blues” by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss. I’m not sure I’ve been in a JC Penny since I was nine but I’m ready to go back. (And they get bonus points for the barn shot. Everyone knows you can’t show/sell Americana without a barn shot.)

juno-1.jpeg

Another American original is Cody who has been mentioned on just about every blog I’ve written. There’s a good reason. This blog began as a response after seeing Juno in January. In fact over the weekend Screenwriting from Iowa turned one month old and I must thank Cody for the nudge.

My notes on film had been collected over a 20-year period and were just looking for a place to blossom. I began giving screenwriting workshops in 2004 and approached a publisher at the end of ’07 about the concept of Screenwriting from Iowa.  A chapter was requested, then another until I had sent him four chapters. Ultimately the deal didn’t happen but I spent a good deal of last December continuing to write the book.

Then in mid-January I saw Juno and was blow away by the movie. I read that Cody had attended the University of Iowa and was discovered while blogging and I just kind of put two and two together and jumped into the blogging world.

May all you bloggers be encouraged by what Cody told Wired magazine about her unusual rise to fame, “It’s been fun, and I’m enjoying it while I can. I think there’s room for more talented bloggers to break into Hollywood. It seemed like a fluke when I did it, but I won’t be the last blogger to have a film produced. There are so many talented people that exist in the marketplace. So don’t look for a plan. Put your blog into the world and hope that your talent will speak for itself.”

The response based on the  Word Press stats chart and links to this site have kept me pumping these out and I hope the comments have been helpful. I also hope the  contents can be in book form by this summer.

So I not only thank Cody for the inspiration but to everyone for stopping by. My goal all along is to inspire screenwriters and filmmakers who feel like they are in the middle of nowhere. Now that Cody has an Oscar on her shelf (along with the indy award she received the night before) she can get back to her day job working on The United States of Tara for Steven Spielberg.

“I feel like I’m living The Wizard of Oz,” Cody said. “There was a day when I cracked a door open and everything was Technicolor. It was a very frightening place but a very beautiful place, too, as Dorothy says.”

I’m glad she mentioned The Wizard of Oz because when you come up I-35 from the south and begin approaching downtown Minneapolis about an hour past the Iowa border you’ll see downtown appearing on the horizon like the Emerald City.

I’ve always wondered if Minneapolis was the inspiration for Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz book series. Baum spent time in Aberdeen, Dakota Territory (now South Dakota) and that’s said to be the inspiration for Dorothy’s Kansas. So it’s possible he came off the flat prairie land into Minneapolis on his way to Chicago where he would eventually write his wizard books. Regardless The Wizard of Oz movie– many people’s favorite all-time film, has its roots in the  Midwest.

Minneapolis’ twin city St. Paul is where Charles Schulz was raised created Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang, and where Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion is recorded when he’s not on the road.

Over the last couple years I’ve been able to do several video productions in the Twin Cities and they have a solid production base of rental equipment houses, studios, talent as well as a thriving music scene. It’s always fun to work with people who’ve been involved with shooting Prince’s music videos at his studio Paisley Park or on the films Grumpy Old Men, The Mighty Ducks, and Fargo.

Creativity flows from the music scene in Minneapolis as well as the more than 100 theater venues (in fact, they have more seats per capita than any other U.S. city outside New York. “Cutting edge museums, arty hotels and edginess expand Minnapolis’ cool culture reputation..over the past two-year Minneapolis has taken its underground cultural destination status to a new level. (USA Today Dec. ’06)

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

(I took the photo of The Spoonbridge and Cherry artwork by Clas Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen  at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden)

In The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook (Genevieve Jolliffe & Chris Jones) Gail Silva mentions the production scene in New York and San Francisco but adds, “If I had to go anywhere else I’d go to Minneapolis & St. Paul. There is a chapter there of the IFP (Independent Feature Project) where they’re more like the Fine Arts than anywhere else and they’ve been able to do incredible things, including funding films. They have a fund that they got  through the State Legislature fund features.”

Let’s not forget that The Mary Tyler Moore show was based in Minneapolis. It also has long history in advertising and I’m told where the Jolly Green Giant and  Betty Crocker were created.  Rocky & Bullwinkle and Paul Buyan also have a Minnesota roots as does Academy Award winning actress Jessica Lange, Winona Ryder, Josh Harnett and iconic figures  J. Paul Getty and Charles Lindbergh.

I don’t know if there is something in the water in Minnesota but I have to conclude that long streches of cold weather warp the mind and are fertile ground for screenwriters, musicians, actors and filmmakers. Terry Gilliam who co-wrote Monty Python and the Holy Grail as well as co-wrote and directed Brazil was born in Minneapolis.

And concluding our connecting the Oscars with Minneapolis let’s not forget to mention Cate Blanchett’s nomination for Best Supporting actress for playing Bob Dylan in “I’m Not There.” Dylan was raised in Duluth and  the small mining town Hibbing, Minnesota, but began his rise on the music scene in the Dinkytown area of Minneapolis.

I don’t think the spotlight on Minneapolis is going to fade anytime soon. In fact, right now I’m sure there are screenwriters fighting to write in the exact spot at Starbuck’s where Cody wrote Juno.

Photo & Text Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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