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Posts Tagged ‘Lord of the Rings’

“Martha Graham used to say, ‘if you’re going to steal, steal from the best,’ and I have always embraced the people that I have idolized and tried to incorporate what I’ve enjoyed in their films and in their styles in mine.”
Woody Allen
Interview by Tony Jenkins

“I decided that I would create a modern version of (the Ben-Hur chariot race) which was instead of horses and chariots they would be speeders hooked behind giant engines.
George Lucas on the pod race in Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace


Yesterday’s post covered how the movie Dances with Wolves helped inspire James Cameron as he created Avatar. But before Avatar became the all-time box office winner, Cameron’s Titanic held that spot for 12 years. Was there a filmed that helped Cameron create Titanic?

I couldn’t find a quote from Cameron, but here’s a thought-provoking comparison of Titanic and Ben-Hur, that was created by Kal Bashir.* (One slight correction, Titanic was nominated for 14 Academy Awards but won 11 Oscars, which tied Ben Hur’s total wins. A record they now also now share with Lord of the Rings:Return of the King.)

Ben-Hur was also an inspiration to Ridley Scott on the making of Gladiator—a film that itself was nominated for 11 Academy Award, winning five including Best Picture, and the famous Ben-Hur chariot race was the basis for George Lucas in creating the pod race scene in The Phantom Menace.

Lew Wallace‘s book Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ was first published in 1880 and for over 50 years was the second best-selling book next to the Bible. ( Wallace was born, raised, and died in Indiana. He spent seven years reseaching and writing Ben-Hur “under a tree in Crawfordsville, Indiana.” ) There was a New York stage version of the book done in 1899, and the play would eventually go on the road in the states and overseas and be seen by an estimated 20 million people.  Ben-Hur was made into movies in 1907, 1925, 1958 and an animated version in 2003.

*Kal has several other movie examples on his website where he touches on what he calls The 510+ stage Hero’s  Journey. (Ben-Hur/Titanic synopsis used by permission.)

Scott W. Smith

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“Just because you’ve made a movie doesn’t mean anyone’s going to see it.”
Kent Stock

It’s hard to believe that last night ended the final season of the San Francisco Giants’ 52 year drought without winning a World Series. They’ve had some great players over the years. Looking back it’s hard to believe that MLB Hall of Fame greats Willie Mays,Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal played on the same team but somehow never won a World Series.  Congrats San Francisco, home of the 2010 World Series champions.

But for the next few days I want to talk about the baseball movie The Final Season. Even if you’re not a baseball fan, I think you’ll find the story of its sixteen year journey to get made an interesting one. Though it’s taken me a few years, the timing just seems to be fitting to write about this 2007 independent film that was set and filmed in Iowa.

Yesterday I went to hear Kent Stock speak about how his simple failed journey to become a professional baseball player ended up being the central character in a movie where actor Sean Astin (The Goonies, Lord of the Rings) played him.  After modest success as a high school player he received only one scholarship to play baseball in college, but that was enough to kept his long time dream of playing professional ball alive—at least for two more years.

After his sophomore season it became apparent that he not only didn’t have what it took to play pro baseball, but that it would be better for him to focus on his education and his ball playing days were over. His new dream was to become a teacher and coach high school baseball. After graduating from college he got one job offer to coach, but it was girls JV volleyball. He took the job and made the most of it and got promoted to the variety girls volleyball coach. He made the most of that as well.

While scouting a team his team would be playing in the playoffs he met an Iowa high school baseball coach legend, Jim Van Scoyoc (played by Powers Boothe in the movie). That providential meeting with Van Scoyoc would lead Stock to his first baseball coaching opportunity that would eventually lead to a feature film based on the team he coached.

Keep in mind that the places I’m talking about are small towns in Iowa that unless you are familiar with the area are unknown to most people; Ankeny, Forest City, Decorah, Belle Plaine and Norway. Not exactly places one would expect would lead to Hollywood.

Kent Stock’s story is one of being faithful in the little things.

It’s also a story of a video producer in Des Moines, Iowa named Tony Wilson who believed enough in Stock’s story and the team he coached to pursue turning it into a movie. It was a journey that would take 16 years to see fully realized, and one that almost cost Wilson his life. I met Wilson a couple years ago at a film festival and for the next few days I will share some insights from him as he recounts his passion for seeing this story be told and the ups and downs it took to bring it to the big screen.

In Stock’s talk yesterday he spoke of his appreciation for Wilson persevering though many hard times  to see The Final Season get produced. Stock spoke about how much he learned about the film business during the making of the film and recounted several lessons learned including, “Hollywood producers have egos bigger than this auditorium,” and “Hollywood is a different monster. I hope my daughter’s never go to Hollywood.”

He said they went through eight script revisions before they filmed the one directed by David Mickey Evans (Sandlot). Art D’Alessandro and James Grayford were the screenwriters.  In Stock’s talk yesterday he ended his talk with a question that is asked in a key scene in the film, “How do you want to be remembered?”

Who would have ever guessed that becoming a JV high school girls volleyball coach in a small town in Iowa could lead to a feature film being done on part your life?

The Final Season (Part 2)

Scott W. Smith

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“E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” is a reminder of what movies are for. Most movies are not for any one thing, of course. Some are to make us think, some to make us feel, some to take us away from our problems, some to help us examine them. What is enchanting about E.T. is that, in some measure, it does all of those things.”
Roger Ebert
Chicago Sun Times

“The image of E.T. emerging from his mobile tomb summons a storehouse of symbols that mark the presence of God and divine miracle.”
Roy M Anker
Catching Light

Hollywood has had an interesting dance with religious films over the years with various degrees of successes, failures and controversy. An abridged list includes The Ten Commandments, The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Robe, Seven Years in Tibet, King David, Kundun, The Last Temptation of Christ and The Passion of the Christ.

The biggest game changer being The Passion of the Christ. Oddly, the violent retelling of the crucifixion of Christ became the all time R-rated box office champ. Mel Gibson’s $30 million dollar gamble eventually  paid a dividend of $600 million at the world-wide box office. Despite it’s predicted failure at the box office, in the year it was released (2004) it became the seventh highest grossing movie ever. (With the audience it found some would say it paved the way for films like The Book of Eli and The Blind Side.)

Speaking of The Passion, did you ever see the humorous studio notes Steve Martin wrote for the The New Yorker?:

Dear Mel,
We love,
love the script! The ending works great. You’ll be getting a call from us to start negotiations for the book rights…Possible title change: “Lethal Passion.” Kinda works. The more I say it out loud the more I like it.

But in general Hollywood has had much more luck dealing with stories that would be considered spiritual allegories. They tend to me less didactic, less overtly religious and less controversal, and generally better stories.  And the box office responds much better to them. Films I would put in this category are Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia,  Star Wars, and The Matrix. (Though it’s fair to say that not everyone is in one accord with the meanings of these films. But then again, how many different religions are there? Focus on something like separate protestant denominations and you’ll see the numbers climb into the the thousands. Getting people to agree is not that easy.)

In the spirit of Easter, one film that has been closely identified with the death and resurrection of Christ is E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called the movie,”essentially a spiritual autobiography, a portrait of the filmmaker as a typical suburban kid set apart by an uncommonly fervent, mystical imagination.”

Written by Melissa Mathison (a self-described “ex-Catholic’) and directed by Steven Spielberg (raised Jewish in Anglo-Saxon suburbs) there has been much written about the spiritual aspects of E.T., but Spielberg has said (in Take 22; Moviemakers on Moviemaking) that, “If I ever went to my mother and said, ‘Mom, I’ve made this movie that’s a Christian parable,’ what do you think she’d say? She has a kosher restaurant on Pico and Doheny in Los Angeles.”

So much detail went into the technical aspects of E.T. it would be hard to believe that Spielberg and Mathison were not at least aware of the spiritual parallels they were drawing on. (At least kicking around somewhere in Mathison’s Catholic-schooled subconscious in the eight weeks she took writing the first draft.) But I don’t think they were pandering to a Christian audience, in fact, when the movie first came out some Christian leaders were calling the film “new age.”

Spielberg and Mathison were simply trying to tell a story that would make a good movie, and in doing so tapped into their own upbringing (Spielberg has talked about his parents divorce and his longing for an imaginary friend), their spiritual upbringing, mixed with creative imagination, as well as a powerful death and resurrection theme that many associate with the cornerstone of the Christian faith. (Of course, Joseph Campbell would make the case that death and resurrection themes pre-date Christ, but that opens up a whole different can of worms.)

But in making E.T. the filmmakers made one of the most uplifting films ever and the one that the American Film Institute currently lists as the 25th greatest American film. Sitting nicely between Raging Bull and Dr. Strangelove.

© 2010 Scott W. Smith



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“I had been thinking about this project for a long time.  As a camera fanatic and a product builder, this was something I seemed destined to do.”
Jim Jannard on developing the RED camera

Today the folks over at RED announced plans for the release this year of their RED EPIC camera.  To date RED cameras have been used on over forty feature films including The Informant! starring Matt Damon, District 9, and David Fincher’s The Social Network. What’s amazing about that if you don’t follow such things is the RED Digital Cinema Camera Company hasn’t even existed for five years.

Jim Jannard founded the compnay in 2005 and when he released the specs for his newly designed camera many laughed. Jannard didn’t come from a Hollywood background or with lots of camera experience. What he did have was passion and vision. As well as some cash, investors, and  business expertise that included running and founding a company he used to own; Oakely sungalsses.

He pulled together a team of expert engineers and designers and the like to make something special.

“We needed a bunch of guys who were inventors to come up with entirely new ways of getting to the finish line.”
Jim Jannard Wierd magazine

His new RED  company began taking deposits for the camera in 2006. At the 2007 NAB convention they released footage that (Lord of the Rings) director Peter Jackson had shot on the yet to be released RED camera. The footage stunned a lot of people and it caused a backlog of orders.

“There’s talent on the streets, kids with ideas who have stories to tell and never get a chance. Up to now, they’ve been limited to tools that confine their stories to YouTube.”
Jim Jannard

Maybe Jannard and his team haven’t changed Hollywood yet, but the fact they are even mentioned at all in an eight part series (so far) on an overview of film history shows the potential they have to change the future. Keep in mind that the company has been in business less than five years and has only been selling cameras for a couple years now.

But its combination of high quality images and low costs to own many have said it is the film blow for films to technically still being shot on film.

“This is the camera I’ve been waiting for my whole career: jaw-dropping imagery recorded onboard a camera light enough to hold with one hand. I don’t know how Jim and the RED team did it–and they won’t tell me–but I know this: RED is going to change everything.
Steven Soderbergh

Soderbergh’s last few films have been shot with the RED camera.

Scott W. Smith

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This week I called one of the most respected make-up artists in Iowa for an upcoming shoot and I found out she’s booked into August. Turns out she’s working in Des Moines on a feature with Forrest Whitaker (Oscar winner for The Last King of Scotland) and Adrian Brody (Oscar winner for The Pianist).

That’s some major talent hanging out in the state. Think I can get them to do a cameo in a short film I making next week? The film they are starring in is called The Experiment and also features Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings). Wood happens to originally be from Cedar Rapids. One of the fellows helping me on my film next week went pre-school with Wood so I’m kind of in the ballpark.

And speaking of Cedar Rapids, I just read in Variety  yesterday that Alexander Payne (Oscar -winning screenwriter of Sideways) will produce a film called Cedar Rapids that will begin filming in October. The script was written by Phil Johnston and Ed Helms. Helms who also plays Andy on The Office (and co-stars in The Hangover) will also be among the comedy cast for Cedar Rapids.

No word on whether Cedar Rapids will be filmed in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (and the script probably wasn’t written in Iowa), but I thought it was worth a mention.  (And I’ll throw in a little Cedar Rapids trivia for you…Orville and Wilbur Wright went to elementary school there, as did professional golfer Zack Johnson and Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner. And American Gothic painter Grant Wood was a teacher in Cedar Rapids.)

No one is going to confuse Cedar Rapids for Hollywood, or Iowa for California, but it’s nice to know we’re a blip on the radar. And this is a growing trend.  Susan Sarandon (Oscar winner for Dead Man Walking) was in Iowa last summer filming the yet to be released Peacock, which stars Ellen Page of Juno. And Ray Liotta (no Oscar, but he did win an Emmy) was in the Des Moines area a few months ago filming a movie called Ticket-Out (a film that actually takes place in Kentucky).

If you’re writing screenplays set in Iowa that has to give you a little hope. And if you’re writing screenplays set in Kentucky our film incentives can help you out as well. The key thing wherever you are is to keep writing. The incentives and the Oscar winning talent only follow a script that is so good that people are willing to invest their time and money.

 

Scott W. Smith


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