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Posts Tagged ‘Kansas’

“Being born in Dodge City, I really wanted to know where the trains were going. The first real light I saw was in a movie theater. I just wanted to know where they were making those movies.”
Dennis Hopper

“He was a Midwestern boy on his own…”
Bob Seger
Hollywood Nights

Dennis Hopper was born in Dodge City, Kansas and spent his early years on farm. When he was nine he moved to Kansas City, Missouri (where he took Saturday art classes with Thomas Hart Benton) and then on to San Diego area when he was 13, eventually being named “Most Likely to Succeed” at  Helix High School in La Mesa.

Hopper succeeded at a lot of things—unfortunately they weren’t all good for him.

His acting career started by performing Shakespeare as a teenager at The Old Globe at San Diego’s Balboa Park, and he then headed to Los Angeles when he was 18 and did some TV work before landing a role in classic James Dean films Rebel Without a Cause and Giant. On a PBS interview, Hopper would say of the actor from Marion, Indiana, “James Dean was the best actor that I ever saw work, really. He was just incredible.”

Hopper also worked with four other Midwestern actors who made their mark in Hollywood (Marlon Brando & Montgomery Cliff/Omaha, John Wayne /Iowa-Nebraska, and Paul Newman/Ohio). When Hopper died yesterday he had more than 200 credits as an actor. But he’s probably known best for just a handful or so roles on top of the James Dean films; Apocalypse Now, Blue Velvet, True Romance, Speed, and his Oscar-nominated role in Hoosiers. When the dust all settles he may be best remembered for directing and starring in Easy Rider for which he also received an Oscar nomination for co-writing the screenplay.

“There are moments that I`ve had some real brilliance, you know. But I think they are moments. And sometimes, in a career, moments are enough.”
Dennis Hopper

Hopper rode motorcycles with Steve McQueen, hung out with Miles Davis, Lenny Bruce and Jack Nicholson, he collected and created art, he was at the civil-rights march from Selma to Montgomery which was led by Martin Luther King Jr., along with his Hollywood career that spanned 56 years.

And while Hopper had his days in the sun, he had his years (decades?) in the darkness. His was a life of excess— alcoholism, cocaine, heroin, LSD, hallucinations, abuse, violence, multiple failed marriages, detox clinics, jail, psychiatric wards, and orgies. But somehow he managed to rebound time and time again and somehow lived to be 74. (Even in his final days as he was in the midst of a divorce, he reportedly had “marijuana joints throughout his compound’ and loaded guns nearby to help ease the pain of his cancer and perhaps provide an exit—Hopper was Shakespearean to the end.)

I’ll always prefer to remember Hopper as his role in Hoosiers as the brilliant, yet alcoholic, Shooter. The story of a town drunk and a disgraced coach who both have a shot at redemption. That’s the hope I have for everyone, especially the artists—the crazy ones who seem to have a harder time than most dealing with demons.

“I am just a middle-class farm boy from Dodge City and my grandparents were wheat farmers. I thought painting, acting, directing and photography were all part of being an artist. I have made my money that way. And I have had some fun. It’s not been a bad life.”
Dennis Hopper
USA Today

Scott W. Smith

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“David took a stone from the bag and slung it… knocking the Philistine to the ground.”
Scene from the movie Hoosiers

Today the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) men’s basketball team from here in Cedar Falls, Iowa plays the #1 team in the country, Kansas. For many it’s just another game as part of March Madness. But if UNI wins today it would be the biggest win in the school’s history. Of course, the term David & Goliath is being thrown around.

The epic Biblical story of David & Goliath is mentioned just about every time there’s a battle between the little guy and the big guy. It could be a sporting event, a corporate clash, a movie, or any number of references that pit the little guy against the big guy. The term David & Goliath is mentioned so much that like “Catch-22” many don’t even know the original reference.

We could go to the movies to get caught-up on our history. Did you know Orson Wells played David in the 1961 movie David & Goliath? Richard Gere played David in the 1985 movie King David. I’m not sure just how many movies feature David and Goliath but there are a few, including at least one musical.

And though this is a blog about screenwriting I think it’s worth a look at the original context of David & Goliath. After all “Screenwriting from Iowa” is all about the little guy. To any new reader; Iowa is just a metaphor for coming from a place far from Hollywood. But time and time again over the last two years I’ve shown that writers really do come from all kinds of unusual places.

What we mostly remember about the original biblical story is simply that David as a youngster slew a giant. We actually don’t know exactly how old David was or how tall Goliath was, but it’s enough to say that it was a mismatch. David was young and the giant was tall. On the day of the famous battle the only reason David was there was to take food to his older brothers who were in the fight. But when David sees and hears the trash talking Philistine warrior he decides to take him on.

Goliath is not impressed when David grabs five smooth stones and a slingshot, “Am I a dog that you come to me with sticks? Come to me and I will give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the beasts of the fields.” (Nice dialogue.) Game on.

David says he comes in the name of the Lord and then plants a stone in Goliath’s forehead. Goliath falls on his face and David uses Goliath’s own sword to finish the job and cuts off the giant’s head. Game over. And David, who was just the food delivery guy a few minutes prior, is on his way to becoming the King of Israel.

No doubt a great story and it’s no surprise we’re still talking about it centuries later.

But let’s not over look a couple things. Yes, David came in the name of the Lord so maybe he wasn’t quite the underdog that we think. But there is one more detail about David that is always overlooked—He was prepared.

Prepared like a teenage Olympian who has trained a lifetime to win a gold metal. Prepared like screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher who wrote thousands of (unproduced) pages over a couple decades before he won an Oscar (adapted screenplay, Precious).

While David was off tending the sheep in some far away place that is the equivalent of Iowa in Israel, he had killed “both lion and bear.” We’re not talking about a video game. How many people do you know that have killed a lion and a bear? I imagine David passed 10,000 hours practicing sling shot techniques. He stepped into the situation with Goliath with confidence because he was prepared.

Bringing this home to screenwriting is this quote I’ve mentioned before;

“When it comes to screenwriting, it’s the writing. You don’t hear people who want to play professional tennis ask to be introduced to the head of Wimbledon. No, they’re out there hitting a thousand forehands and a thousand backhands.”
Screenwriter Scott Frank

Lastly, I’m not saying UNI will win today. But I am saying they could win today because they having been preparing for this for a long time. And just because I like odd facts, let me add that writer Robert Waller (The Bridges of Madison Country) played basketball at the University of Northern Iowa.

Update: This is why they call it March Madness…This afternoon UNI defeated the top-seeded team (Kansas) 69-67. Some have called it one of the biggest upsets in March Madness history. (It is the first time in the school’s history when they have beaten a top ranked team.) At Yahoo sports they even called Ali Farokhmanesh’s bold three-point shot toward the end of the game, “The shot that felled Goliath.”

Related post: Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (Tip #2)

First Screenplay, Oscar— Percious


Scott W. Smith

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