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Posts Tagged ‘Jimmy Stewart’

“I like characters that are struggling, and they’re gonna die or they want to die, they’ve never prayed in their life, but they say, ‘Help me, God, I’m at the end of my rope!’ And then something happens… I always loved that Wonderful Life scene where Jimmy Stewart is praying in the bar, and then he gets punched in the face — that’s how God responds.”
Director Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club)
The Hollywood Reporter 

“[It’s a Wonderful Life] movie works like a strong and fundamental fable, sort of a ‘Christmas Carol’ in reverse: Instead of a mean old man being shown scenes of happiness, we have a hero who plunges into despair.”
Roger Ebert 

It’s interesting that a largely dark film that deals with a suicidal man is such a beloved Christmas classic. It’s also interesting that the town of Bedford Falls was actually a 4 acre set—complete with 300 foot Main St.— built in Encino, California. It was partly shot in the summer of 1946 during a record heat wave in Encino, so keep that in mind when you watch those snow scenes. Hot was made cold, and darkness made light; The power and magic of filmmaking.

Merry Christmas—

And in case you’ve never seen It’s a Wonderful Life here is the entire movie on You Tube:

Related posts:

It’s a Wonderful Prison— “Shawshank is basically It’s a Wonderful Life in a prison.”—Frank Darabont
“The Greatest Gift”—The original 4,000 word self published story that became It’s a Wonderful Life.
Writing “Flight”—Post begins with the quote, “I would never write about a character who is not at the end of his rope.”—Stanley Elkin

Scott W. Smith

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“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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“Can I tell one quick story? It’s not a funny story, but it’s a nice story to end with. It has to do with why we all sit around talking about movies so much. What is it we like about the movies? I was sitting with Jimmy Stewart one time and we got on to the subject of movies and the effect they have on people. And Jimmy told me this story: “We were shooting a picture in Colorado. We broke for lunch, and it was the usual terrible box lunch. And this guy, an older fella, who’d been watching us, he comes over to me and says, ‘You Stewart?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘You said a poem once in a picture. That was good.’ And I said, ‘Thank you very much.’ That was all he said and he walked away. And I knew just what scene he meant – it was a scene in a picture made 20 years before, and it was just about a minute, and he’d remembered it all these years. And I thought, that’s the wonderful thing about movies. Because if you’re good, and God helps you, and you’re lucky enough to have a personality that comes across, then what you’re doing is, you’re giving people little… tiny… pieces of time… that they never forget.” Isn’t that a great description of movies?”
Peter Bogdanovich
Interview with Clive James

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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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“I finally figured out we are somewhere between the end of the line and the middle of nowhere.”
Dr. Joel Fleischman
Northern Exposure

Goethe’s final words: “More light.” Ever since we crawled out of that primordial slime, that’s been our unifying cry: “More light.” Sunlight. Torchlight. Candlight. Neon. Incandescent. Lights that banish the darkness from our caves, to illuminate our roads, the insides of our refrigerator.”

Chris in Morning
KBHR, Cicely, Alaska
Northern Exposure

When Sarah (Barracuda) Palin was chosen as John McCain’s running mate it was textbook solid screenwriting inspired. A nice twist in the story. If it were a movie and she ends up VP I’d call it Mrs. Palin Goes to Washington. Kind of a remake of the Jimmy Stewart classic.

How do you offset the first African-American presidential candidate who makes his acceptance speech before more than 80,000 people at the Democratic National Convention in Denver on 45th anniversary to the day of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech? How do you offset Obama being raised by a single mom and forgoing a Wall Street career to do social work on the south side of Chicago?

How do you take advantage of millions of women who are upset that Hillary Clinton is not the presidential or VP candidate? How does McCain avoid being seen as just rich and elitist and out of touch with the countries economic problems?

You head north…to Alaska, that’s what you do. You choose their female governor as your running mate.  A “hockey mom” with five kids (pro-family)  including one with Downs Syndrome (pro-life) , a moose hunter (NRA), whose husband is part Yup’ik Eskimo (multiethnic) and a commercial fisherman (working class) and union worker (union), whose parents were teachers (middle class), who has faith (evangelicals), who has brought reform to government there (change), who fought the “bridge to nowhere” (fiscally responsible), whose son joined the Army last year on September 11 (patriotism), and who comes from an area more than 3,500 miles from Washington D.C. (beltway outsider).

As a former broadcaster she is media savvy and can read a teleprompter. And her selection as the first VP GOP candidate came on the 88th anniversary of women being allowed to vote. And to top it off the former Miss Wasilla has the whole sexy librarian thing going on with the glasses and wearing her hair up.

I’ll leave it to others to debate whether she’s qualified for the White House, but there is no debate she has a heck of a story. And stories outside L.A. is what this blog is all about.

Is choosing Palin a Hail Mary pass by McCain? If so, he’s old enough to remember when Doug Flutie’s desperation pass beat the mighty Miami Hurricanes back in ’84. Sometimes the high risk pass works.

And for the media, picking Palin is a slice of Hollywood. A political narrative full of conflict. Peggy Noonan wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Palin’s candidacy “will be either dramatically successful or dramatically not; it won’t be something in between.”

We know screenwriter Gary Ross (Big, Seabiscuit) has written presidential speeches for the Democrats. The talent pool of Republican or conservative screenwriters is not quite as deep (99 to 1?), but I wonder what writer or filmmaker they’ve employed. (Perhaps John Milius, Clint Eastwood, Dennis Hopper or David Mamet.)

Maybe it was Hillary’s Hollywood people (Spielberg or Murphy Brown creator Diane English)  suggestion since a Republican victory is Mrs. Clinton’s only chance to make a run in ’12.

No matter the outcome of the election, from a dramatic standpoint McCain couldn’t have written a better script. Well, Palin could have been born in Cedar Falls, Iowa to an African-American mother and a Hispanic father and have captured Bigfoot last week–but let’s not get carried away.

Truth is stranger than fiction.

Alaska has been at the heart of many good stories as well as being full of folklore. Say, did you hear the “Little known facts” about Palin? “The Northern Lights are really just the reflection from Sarah Palin’s eyes.” “Sarah Palin doesn’t need a gun to hunt. She has been known to throw a bullet through an adult bull elk.” (Do you know how long it took for Chuck Norris to get that kind of street cred? She did it in one day.)

On second thought, Sarah Palin appears to have more in common with Erin Brockovich than she does Jimmy Stewart. (“You may want to re-think those ties.” Erin, in the movie written by Susannah Grant.) But let’s get back to Alaska.

Stories do flow from Alaska; Jack London’s Call of the Wild, Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush, Never Cry Wolf, and Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia written by Hilary Seltz , Pulitzer Prize winner John McPhee’s Coming into the Country, Johnny Horton’s number one hit North to Alaska, documentaries by Robert Flaherty (Nanook of the North)  and Warner Herzog (Grizzly Man) and more recently the Sean Penn movie Into the Wild from the Jon Krakauer book.

But my favorite set of stories that are Alaska-based is what I think of as one of the all-time great TV programs – Northern Exposure. (In my book it’s right up there with The Twilight Zone and Seinfeld.) Though the show was filmed in Roslyn, Washington it retains the feel of a small eccentric, creative town you’d like to think exists in Alaska. Some say it is based on the quirky little town of Talkeetna, Alaska and others say the quirky town of Ely, Minnesota, a town near the Canadian border in the Boundary Waters.

In part because of my love for the show I’ve been to  Roslyn, Talkeetna and Ely. (However, I’ve never been to Moosefest.)  I do think the show Northern Exposure in part lead me to Cedar Falls, Iowa. Growing up in Florida steeped on Jimmy Buffett’s songs about Key West, the Caribbean, and paradise mixed with a heavy dose of Walt Disney’s version of Main Street, I think I have always been looking for my own personal Margaritaville. (A place where “My old red bike gets me ’round.”)

Even if you didn’t get into Northern Exposure you’d have to give it points for originality. Where else in the history of TV have you seen two people arm wrestle over the doctrine of transubstantiation or see someone have a conversation with a human-sized dust mite? And isn’t there a little spunky Maggie O’Connell (Janie Turner) in Palin? Yes, Palin even owns a float plane. I’m sure Noexers (as fans of the show are called) have already connected John & Cindy McCain with the older/younger couple Shelly & Holling.

Is it more than a coincidence that one of the co-creators of Northern Exposure went to college just a little over an hour from Cedar Falls? John Falsey is one more MFA graduate from the Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa. The Emmy, Peabody, Golden Globe winning producer/writer also worked on St. Elsewhere, The White Shadow and I’ll Fly Away. (I don’t know much of what he’s done in the last decade. “Where have you gone John Falsey?” Maybe he cashed in and moved to his own personal Cicely, Alaska.)

And I guess this blog is my own little version of Northern Exposures resident radio DJ Chris in the Morning (John Corbett). Trying to do my best to wax philosophically while making odd connections.

Cedar Falls is a little bigger than Cicely Alaska, but it’s got enough characteristics to feel similar and it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than Key West, FL, Seal Beach, CA, or Crested Butte, CO. No oceans or mountains here (though we do have a river and killer bike trails) but we have a perfect view of the political process as I pointed out in Politics, Power & Screenwriting.

I’m sure will see plenty of Mrs. Palin which will make up for all the times I saw Obama last year. (I think the guy was stalking me.) If John McCain and Sarah Palin don’t make it to the White House I think they could have shots at a career in Hollywood. At least a reality show.

And whoever is our next president I wish they add to their packed political campaign platform a decree for films to be better. Yesterday I walked out of two movies in one day for the first time in my life. On second thought, that’s really not the government’s job–it’s yours, so get busy writing.

And just to tie this all together as we say goodbye for now you might not know that the beautiful, haunting song that was played at the end of the last episode of Northern Exposure was written and performed by Iris DeMent — a folk artist who is married to another folk artist named Greg Brown from Iowa City and where I believe they both now live.

If you’ve never heard “Our Town” or if it’s been a while since you’ve heard it, do yourself a favor and listen to the link below. The song resonates every bone of my body and I hope it hits a nerve or two for you. (And if you’ve never seen the show at all check it out because it is a fine example of great writing.)

September 4 Update: From a public speaking perspective you’d have to pull for an Obama-Palin ticket. Palin: “The difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull?.. Lipstick.” Great writing and great delivery. All of this reminds me of that great Jon Stewart quip at the 2008 Oscars: “Normally when you see a black man or a woman president, an asteroid is about to hit the Statue of Liberty.”

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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