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Posts Tagged ‘Larry McMurtry’

The title of this post should say Writing, Directing, Shooting and Lighting Friday Night Lights, but that’s a little cumbersome and not quite as catchy.

As I get up to speed on the TV show Friday Night Lights which ran from 2006-2010, I’m not going to quite yet confess to a mancrush on Kyle Chandler, but I will say that southern drawl is mesmerizing. (Can he record some Larry McMurtry books on tape?)  And Chandler (who plays Coach Chandler) reminds me of every wise coach/father figure I had growing up in Florida playing sports who seemed concerned with doing the right thing. (And for some reason most of them were from places like Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Arkansas and Georgia and spoke just like Chandler.)

As a fan of middle America, there is an authenticity that I think rings true in this show—a real sense of time and place. And of people who live in that time and place. And while the place is specific to Texas it somehow becomes universal. All rooted in the ground work of H.G. Bissinger’s book Friday Night Lights: A Town. a Team, and a Dream in which he used high school football as a backdrop to look at deeper issues.

I just read an article about how they approached the production of the TV program according to producer/director Jeffrey Reiner who worked on 39 of the programs.

“The (Friday Night Lights) writers are not precious about every word being said. So we stick to the script in the sense that a scene is a scene, but we have the license to explore what is the truth of the scene. Instead of trying to mimic exactly what’s on the page, we’re just kind of finding it, in a very organic way.

There’s nothing technical about our approach. In a regular TV show, actors have to hit their marks, and they rehearse, and they have to wait for the lighting. Our show, before you know it, we’re shooting. There’s no rehearsal. There are no marks. We have very minimal lighting. After you’ve done that for six months, the show’s progressed to the point … it just feel so organic.

In a regular TV show, if you’re going to sit and do a scene, you have to wait for the lighting, you have to find the right place for the camera. Here, we’re shooting 8 hour days, instead of 14 hour days. We just shoot. I’ll say, ‘I want a camera here and a camera here. The third camera – you surprise me.’

That third camera, even if you’re shooting the scene in a traditional way, that third camera will find a different point of view. So you’re in the moment, and you cut to that camera angle, you’re seeing the scene from a radically different place. And it doesn’t cost us any time or money to get those shots.”
Jeffrey Reiner
Chicago Tribune interview with Maureen Ryan

I have made two short films using two cameras rolling at the same time and I do think it gives the actors a closer feel of being in the moment. And from those actors coming from the theater it is much closer to live theater than big budget features where sometimes the actors are doing close-ups while their co-star is sitting in their trailer.

As digital cameras get better and cheaper (and budgets and shooting schedule get tighter) I see muticamera productions becoming more common. (Even ones not going for a Cinema verite/documentary  look. Heck, if Edward Burns uses two or three cameras on his next feature he could probably shoot the thing in five days.

Scott W. Smith

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“I really do believe that chance favours a prepared mind. Wallace Stegner, who was one of my teachers when I was at Stanford, preached that writing a novel is not something that can be done in a sprint. That it’s a marathon. You have to pace yourself. He himself wrote two pages every day and gave himself a day off at Christmas. His argument was at the end of a year, no matter what, you’d got 700 pages and that there’s got to be something worth keeping.”
Scott Turow
Writer of Presumed Innocent interview with Robert McCrum

“Much of Stegner’s writing grew out of his itinerant upbringing, a self-described ‘wandering childhood’ that took him to North Dakota, Washington, Saskatchewan, Montana, Utah, Nevada, and California.”
Honor Jones and Andrew Shelden
Wallace Stegner inVQR


Wallace Stegner (1909-1993) won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1972 (Angle of Repose) and has been called “The Dean of Western Writers.”  Though born on a farm in Iowa (and earned his Master’s and Doctorate degrees at the Iowa Writers Workshop) he really was a man of the country having lived in 20 different places (including Canada).

He taught at the University of Utah (where he did his undergraduate work), the University of Iowa, the University of Wisconsin and Harvard University before being the founder of the creative writing program at Stanford University. His students over the years included Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove), Thomas McGuane (Ninety-Two in the Shade), Ernest Gaines (A Lesson Before Dying),  Wendell Berry (The Unsettling of America), and Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest).

Here is part of Stegner’s advice to a talented writer who had studied with him:

“I imagine you will always be pinched for money, for time, for a place to work. But I think you will do it. And believe me, it is not a new problem. You are in good company…Your touch is the uncommon touch; you will speak only to the thoughtful reader. And more times than once you will ask yourself whether such readers really exist at all and why you should go on projecting your words into silence like an old crazy actor playing the part of himself to an empty theater.”
Wallace Stegner
the Atlantic, To a Young Writer

And in case you are intimidated by Stegner’s academic pedigree, it may help you to know that Stegner spent part of his youth in an orphanage and once said that he didn’t grow up with any art, music (except for some folk music), or literature.  The only architecture around him was a grain elevator. In fact, he never saw a city of any kind until he was 12 years old. He once said, “Coming from nowhere. you have lots of places to go.”

In one talk, he also stressed the importance of having a sense of place and continuity, “You are members of a community—most of you. You are a members of a region, of a country, of a culture, of an ecology, a species, and if you find it as I do a ‘weed species,’ that isn’t any reason to belong to it less, or love it less, it’s only an excuse to mitigate its weediness.”

Robert Redford narrated the documentary Wallace Stegner: A Writer’s Life.

The Papers of Wallace Stegner can be found at the University of Iowa and are open for research.

*Back in the day, spending time in an orphanage didn’t always mean that your parents were dead, but perhaps they weren’t able to afford to raise and care for you properly. I’m not an expert on the subject, but I’m guessing that wasn’t too uncommon throughout the depression. By the way, orphanages find their way into stories because the place is so rich to explore from a perspective of the universal themes of home and belonging. And as I’ve pointed out before, orphans make for great protagonists. (See the post Orphan Characters.)

Scott W. Smith


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