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Posts Tagged ‘John Deere’

I’m going to Graceland
Graceland
In Memphis,Tennessee
Paul Simon/Graceland

“Elvis loved his John Deere [tractor].”
Elvis’ Aunt

DSC_3751

Graceland Wall #1

I’m fascinated that people are fascinated by Elvis. And though touring inside Graceland was never really on my bucket list, I was glad to have the opportunity to explore the famous Memphis home of The King of Rock-n-Roll on Tuesday. Sure it’s gaudy in places (green shag carpet on the floor—and even the ceiling— in the jungle room) but this was Elvis of the ’70s. More Vegas than Memphis.

Elvis pool room

Elvis living room

And while in today’s scope the house and grounds seem modest for a star. Perhaps that’s because last year I did that shoot at NFL great Deion Sanders’ 28,000+ sq. foot Dallas home (on 100 acres).  In one sense touring Graceland is like looking at the first 8-track player in a museum. You think, “I’m sure that was state of the art back in the day, but it doesn’t look that amazing now.”

Then you realize that Elvis bought the house when he was just 22-years-old, and just a few years before that he was living in public housing and boarding houses with his parents—and that can give you a fresh perspective. From his first hit until his death in 1977, Graceland was home. (Even though he lived in Beverly Hills during his moviemaking days, he always called Memphis and Graceland home.)  Now it’s kitsch heaven with a gift store at every turn, with everything you can buy from Elvis mugs and t-shirts to Elvis Christmas ornaments and wallets.

But what I’ll always appreciate about Elvis was his talent, his energy, and his music.  In touring Graceland and getting a sweeping overview of his life I think the real fascination I have with Elvis is that question, “What do you do after you’ve accomplished all your grand dreams?” (Or in Elvis’ case where he said he had realized his dream 100 times over.) Then what happens? After all the money, fame, and women, Elvis headed down a destructive path and didn’t live long enough to reinvent himself.

When Elvis toured in the final year of his life he was overweight and out of shape, no longer the movie star, was playing much smaller musical venues than just a few years earlier, and addicted to prescription drugs. When Elvis died at age 42, if various reports are true, he was not a man at peace with his great accomplishments.

But time has been good to the memory of Elvis. His iconic statue is intact. Thankfully he’s remembered for his music, his generosity, and for being the single best-selling musician of all time.  And more fascinating to me than touring inside Graceland is the wall outside Graceland. And it’s free. In fact, you don’t even have to pay for parking. They have a lane dedicated on Elvis Presley Blvd. where you can park and sign the wall and take a few pictures.

Elvis wall

I did learn one interesting fact on the tour that has a nice Iowa connection. In the section where they have some of Elvis’ cars they have a John Deere tractor. A video said that it was one of his favorite toys. The tractor was used for many years to take care of the beautiful grounds at Graceland. The video also made a point of saying that the John Deere tractor was made at Waterloo Works in Waterloo, Iowa.

I started writing this blog is 2008 about ten miles from that factory. This post is just one more example of embracing your limitations and seeing the unusual places it takes you.

Elvis tractor

What did we do before the internet? Here’s some rare footage of Elvis and what looks like an International Harvester tractor. (Elvis spread the love around and didn’t limit himself to Pink Cadillacs and green tractors.)

P.S. Found out that the Elvis tractor was restored by students at Northwest Mississippi Community College in Senatobia, Mississippi. (Article: Restoring Elvis’ tractor.)

Related post:

“God is the Bigger Elvis”

Scott W. Smith

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“There’s something magical about this place.”
Field of Dreams Visitor

If you’re in the market for a traditional Iowa farmhouse with a white picket fence, 193 acres, a two car garage and one baseball field used in the movie Field of Dreams—you’re in luck. Yesterday, it was announced that the field of dreams is for sale for $5.4 million.

The real estate bust in parts of the country like Las Vegas, Southern California and Arizona is pretty bad. I’ve read that 40% of homeowners in Florida owe more on their homes than they are worth. Foreclosures continue to climb. But Iowa has been spared from much of those problems because they never experienced a bubble in the first place. Growth here is like corn—slow and steady.

I live in Cedar Falls, Iowa about an hour and a half away from the field of dreams so I don’t really know the housing market there, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that $5.4 million is the most well-known and expensive house & property on the market in Dyersville, Iowa.

But while it is listed as a one-of-a kind property, I have to admit the annual 65,000 tourists that are attracted to the field of dreams pales in comparison to Graceland. (And, of course, those visitors do buy t-shirts and artwork which provides a nice income stream to keep your John Deere tractors running.)

Here’s my dream, that some wealthy benefactor (and longtime Screenwriting from Iowa reader) would buy the property and donate the house to serve as the iconic global headquarters for Screenwriting from Iowa. I’m not real interested in maintaining the ball field or farming the land. But I am open to hosting writing and acting workshops with Diablo Cody and Kevin Costner in the machine shed by the corn bib.

(For new readers, the Oscar-winning Juno screenwriter, Diablo Cody, went to college at the University of Iowa. Same school, by the way, that W.P. Kinsella (who wrote the novel that became the movie Field of Dreams) happened to attend. Check out the post The Juno-Iowa Connection. And keep an eye open for a change of address.)

Scott W. Smith

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Just a quick thank you to all the people that stopped by this blog last week and helped make it the single biggest week view-wise since I started this blog just over a year ago. Those kinds of things are always encouraging. Also, Sunday I ran into a short film director I worked with a year or so ago said she didn’t know you could win an Emmy for a blog. (Technically the category is Advanced New Media.)

But that got me wondering if “Screenwriting from Iowa” is the first screenwriting blog to win an Emmy. If you know of another let me know, because if this is the first then I’ll market that a little more. (It’s always good to be the first.) 

One of the great thing about all the social networking going on the Internet is you can watch a movie like Transsiberian (like I did over the weekend) and do a quick Google search on the writer/director (Brad Anderson) who made this amazing, fresh and original film. And within a few seconds I was directed to Anderson’s  My Space page.

There I will found several questions he’d been asked by various people online. And here was his answer to a question about starting out in the business:

“In regard to finding a good story you have to have a level of curiosity and desire to go out there and see the world—do things. Find interesting, provocative, unusual fresh kinds of stories to tell because those are the kinds of stories that get noticed and more likely get the kinds of financing you need to realize it.  This movie here, Transsiberian, evolved out of a trip I took 20 years ago, after graduating from college, on the Trans-Siberian. That trip became the seed for the script and the movie like 20-odd years later. So gathering experiences is more important to me, at least in the early stages of your career, than trying to stratagize and think of clever ways to break into the industry. Go out there see the world. Try to use your curiosity to pull in interesting ideas into your brain that are later going to translate later into movies….So my advice is find a good story and don’t be surprised if it takes you five years to get it off the ground, get the financing together to make it.”
                                                                               Brad Anderson
                                                                               On Getting Started/My Space 

Of course, I must also add that when Anderson wanted to find a naive, goofy, and square American as protagonist in Transsiberian for some reason he chose a church-going protagonist (Woody Harrelson) from Iowa, complete with a minor John Deere power mower injury. “If she likes cold, she’d like Iowa because it gets cold there.”

(Update: Turns out the co-writer of Transsiberian, Will Conroy, spent five years living in Iowa City where his father, Frank Conroy, was the director of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. If you read the post The Juno-Iowa Connection you’ll see how in many ways this blog is an extension the work Frank did there. I was glad that Will contacted me in the response section as it’s part of that whole circle of life stuff)

When I started this blog it was simply because Iowa is where I live now and because it’s where screenwriter Diablo Cody went to college before writing Juno. I didn’t really know it was the center of the world.  Now I know why Obama spent so much time here in ’06-’08.

And just for the record Woody Harrelson must have been tapping into his Midwest roots for the role. In real life spent his teen years in Lebanon, Ohio (a Cincinnati & Dayton bedroom community) and was a theater & English major at Hanover College in Indiana.  He made his feature film debut in Harper Valley PTA which happened to be filmed in Lebanon.

Anderson for the record was born in Connecticut, went to Bowdoin College in Maine (where he majored in anthropology and Russian) and lived for a while in Boston. He also applied to but didn’t get into USC and NYU film schools. So he studied film in London for a year and then went off and did his own thing and has done pretty well. He’s doing his part to show a world outside NY & LA. Loved the photography from China & Russia in Transsiberian. And if nothing else get the movie just to watch Ben Kingsley.

It’s a solid movie and it must be frustrating for Anderson and Conroy to see their film get a great 90% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and yet only see it bring in $2 million in the box office. I hope it is one of those films that gets a following in the DVD world.

Transsiberian also took me back in memory to a documentary I shot in Samara, Russia back in ’05. If I recall correctly after 13 hours of traveling they almost didn’t let us into the country because of some mixup in visa’s.We happened to be there when Russian was celebrating it’s 60th anniversary of defeating Hilter. It’s when I realized that they had a long way to go but they were on the rise as a nation. Our translator told us that many Russians “hate Americans and want to be just like them.”

Other cultures offer so much to explore from a creative aspect. And just to bring it back home, I’m sure there are interesting things worth exploring creatively  in Moscow, Iowa (yes, there is such a place) and Moscow, Idaho.  

Nostrovi!

russiashootdsc_1597

 

Scott W. Smith

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“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”
                                                         Gordon Gekko
                                                         Wall St. 

“Our entire economy is in danger.”
                                                         President George W. Bush
                                                         September 2008    

“When was the last time you cared about something except yourself, hot rod?”
                                                        
 Doc Hudson (voice of Paul Newman)
                                                          Cars       

                                                    

This is a look at two Hollywood icons. One fictitious, one real. One that’s alive and well and one that just died. 

But before we get to our heavyweight match-up let’s look at why I’ve put them in the ring together.

“It’s the economy, stupid” was a phrase made popular during Bill Clinton’s first presidential bid. It’s always about the economy. Well, usually. Understanding economics can help your screenwriting greatly.  

First let me clarify that if you’re looking for “The Economics of Screenwriting” (how much you can get paid for screenwriting)  then check out Craig Mazin’s article at The Artful Writer

Few things are as primal in our lives as the economy. Wall Street’s recent shake-up joins a long list of economic upheaval throughout history. Just so we’re on the same page, the word economy flows down from the Greek meaning “house-hold management.” I mean it to include how people, businesses, villages, towns, cities and countries manage resources such as money, materials and natural resources. 

That is a wide path indeed. It’s why college football coach Nick Saban is on the cover of the September 1, 2008 issue of Forbes magazine as they explain why he is worth $32 million dollars to the University of Alabama. Why is the economy center stage once again in the most recent presidential election? Because… it’s always the economy, stupid.

Looking back you’ll see economics at the core issue of not only Enron, Iraq, 911 and the great depression but world wars, famines, and even the Reformation. I’m not sure how much further we can look back than Adam and Eve, but that whole apple/fruit thing in the garden had huge economic (as well as theological) ramifications. (In fact, it’s been said that there is more written in the Bible about money than about salvation.)    

There is no question that economics plays a key role in films as well — in production as well as content. On some level it’s almost always about the economy. This first dawned on me when I saw Chekhov’s play “The Cherry Orchard” for the first time and I realized the thread of money in it. Then I read Ibsen’s play  “An Enemy of the People” and noticed the economic theme there. They I started noticing it everywhere in plays, novels and movies.

From the mayor’s perspective the real danger of Bruce the shark in Jaws is he threatens the whole economy of the island town. In The Perfect Storm, George Clooney takes the boat back out because money is tight. Dustin Hoffman auditions as a women in Tootsie because he can’t get work as a male actor. Once you see this you see it everywhere in movies. 

Here is a quick random list where money, need to pay bills, lack of a job, greed and/or some form of economics play a key part in the story:

Chinatown
Scarface
Titanic
Sunset Blvd.
Tootsie
On the Waterfront
Wall St.
Cinderella 
Cinderella Man
Ragging Bull
Rocky 
Jaws
Jerry Maguire
It’s a Wonderful Life
Field of Dreams
Big
Greed
Body Heat
Falling Down
The Godfather
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid 
The Jerk
Gone with the Wind
The Verdict 
Gone with the Wind 
The Grapes of Wrath
Risky Business
Do the Right Thing
Hoop Dreams 
Rain Man
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
The Gold Rush
Home Alone
Babette’s Feast
The Incredibles
Castway
Ocean’s Eleven
The Perfect Storm
Pretty Women
Trading Places
Indecent Proposal 
The Firm
American Ganster 
Rollover 

And it’s not limited to dramatic films. It’s hard to watch Hoops Dreams, Ken Burns’ The West, or any Michael Moore documentary and not connect it to economics.

So if you’re struggling with a story or struggling what to write, open up that door that explores economics. You don’t have to write The Wealth of Nations, but at least explore some aspect of it.  Join Tennessee Williams, John Steinbeck, Eugene O’Neill and other great writers who tackled that monster.

One thing living in the Midwest the past five years has done is help me understand how the world works economically. Because on a small level you see when John Deere is selling tractors locally, nationally and globally it helps the housing market here as the standard of living increases. The Midwest was the only place to to see homes appreciate last quarter. (Other parts of the country saw a 2 to 36% drop.)  But that wasn’t always the case.

When the farming crisis hit in the mid-eighties and John Deere (Cedar Valley’s largest employer) laid off 10,000 of it’s 15,000 employees and people were walking away from their homes. A film that came out of that era was the 1984 Sam Shepard, Jessica Lange film Country filmed right here in Black Hawk County. (By the way John Deere the company celebrates today 90 years being in this area. If you’ve ever eaten food they’ve had some role in it along the way.)

Three years later Oliver Stone’s film Wall St. came out the same year Black Monday occurred as stock markets around the world crashed. It was the largest one-day percentage decline in stock market history since the great depression. (It only ranks #5 now.)  So here we are 20 years later still trying to figure it all out as two of the top ten largest stock market drops have been in the last two weeks. (Sept 29 update: Make that three of the top ten stock market drops have occurred in the last two weeks.)

(I’m sure Stone felt good when Wall St. first came out, kinda of like “I told you so.” But on the DVD commentary Michael Douglas said that he often told by stock brokers that they got into the business because of the Gekko character he played. Douglas said he doesn’t understand because he was the bad guy. But how many of those guys now in positions of leadership in the financial crisis had Gekko as their hero? To quote writer/professor Bill Romanowski one more time, “Movies reflect the culture they help produce.”

The news will tell us what happened, critics will tell us why it happened, and it’s up to writers to tell us what it means. For years now I have noticed in many different states that more often than not when I go into a convenience store I see someone buying beer, cigarettes and lottery tickets and I ask myself, “What does this say about about the direction we are heading?”

Screenwriting is a place where we can pose those questions –and the playwright Ibsen said it was enough to ask the question.  So get busy asking questions. And if the economy gets worse remember this Carlos Stevens quote:

”Throughout most of the Depression, Americans went assiduously, devotedly, almost compulsively, to the movies.”

On the opposite end of Hollywood from Gordon Gekko is Paul Newman. If there ever was an example of a talented actor/director and giving businessman/ social entrepreneur it was Ohio-born and raised Newman who passed away last night. Newman’s films Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Cool Hand Luke, Absence of Malice and The Verdict will always be favorites of mine.

“I had no natural gift to be anything–not an athlete, not an actor, not a writer, not a director, a painter of garden porches–not anything. So I’ve worked really hard, because nothing ever came easily to me.”
                                                                                            Paul Newman 

 

(Newman’s Midwest roots extend to performing in summer stock theaters in Wisconsin and Illinois. And an Iowa connection is his last Academy Award nomination was for his role in The Road to Perdition which was based on the graphic novel by Iowa writer Max Allen Collins. And don’t forget that the Newman’s Own label was inspired by Cedar Rapids artist Grant Woods’ American Gothic.

I find it interesting that the three largest legendary film actors coming up in the 50s were all from the Midwest; Marlon Brando (Nebraska), James Dean (Indiana) along with Newman.)

Gavin the lawyer Newman played in the David Mamet scripted The Verdict says words that are just as relevant today as when they we spoken a couple decades ago: “You know, so much of the time we’re lost. We say, ‘Please God, tell us what is right. Tell us what’s true. There is no justice. The rich win, the poor are powerless…’ We become tired of hearing people lie.”

The world is upside down when we pay executives millions in golden parachutes when they drive a company into the ground. And that’s after they lied about the about the companies financial record along with their hand picked spineless board of directors. And after they’ve cashed in their own inflated stocks while the stockholders and employees are shortchanged.

But how nice to see a company like Newman’s Own whose entire profits from salad dressing and all natural food products are donated to charities. The company motto is “Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good.” To date Newman and his company have generated more than $250 million to thousands of charities worldwide. 

“What could be better than to hold out your hand to people who are less fortunate than you are?
                                                                                                      Paul Newman

P.S. Robert Redford had hoped he and Newman would be able to make one last film together and had bought the rights to Des Moines, Iowa born and raised Bill Bryson’s book A Walk in the Woods

“I got the rights to the movie four years ago, and we couldn’t decide if we were too old to do it,” said Redford. “The picture was written and everything. It breaks my heart.”

 

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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