Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Maine’

“We were able to show some early footage [of Crip Camp] to Priya Swaminathan and Tonia Davis, who run Higher Ground, and they were really intrigued by this kind of reel that we’ve cut together.”
Crip Camp co-director Nicole Newnham
No Film School interview with Oakley Anderson-Moore
(On a turning point for getting the film completed and distributed.)

Last Friday, I went to see the documentary Crip Camp which won an audience award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.  The film was part of the Cabin Fever film fest held at the Opera House in Camden, Maine. A bonus was some of the filmmakers (in person and via Skype) held a Q&A after the showing.

Documentary filmmaking is hard on many levels. In one sense, Crip Camp was five years in the making. But since much of the found footage was shot back in the early ’70s, you could say this documentary was 40+ years in the making.

The movie was picked up by Netflix and will find a wider audience starting later this month.

IMG_0197IMG_0198

Scott W. Smith 

Read Full Post »

IMG_0189

Today I completed a five-day workshop on Writing and Developing The Documentary at the Maine Media Workshops in Rockport. It was led by former Time magazine reporter Emmy Jack McDonald, whose writing and directing credits include working with Discovery, National Geographic, and PBS.

I watched and discussed more documentaries than I have in any single week of my life—probably more than in most months, and some years. I can’t breakdown what I learned from watching all or part of 15+ documentaries, or the many proposals we looked at, but I can share with you the core of the class in one photo. (It’s no surprise there is much crossover in structuring a documentary, and structuring a narrative story. And both are deceptively hard to do well.)

IMG_0112

Scott W. Smith

 

 

Read Full Post »

“In making art you declare what is important.”
David Bayles & Ted Orland

“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint’, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”
Vincent Van Gogh

Several  years ago I attended a weeklong workshop at what is now known as the Maine Media Workshops in Rockport, Maine. I’ve mentioned before that the workshop I took and just visiting the towns of Rockport and Camden where worthwhile, but my real lasting memory of that trip was sitting at a table one meal with legendary photographers Arnold Newman and Mary Ellen Mary.

At that time the workshop also had a large library and a bookstore with tons of books on art, photography, and filmmaking. One of the books I purchased was Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles & Ted Orland.  It’s a thin book—just 122 pages—that I find myself drawn to from time to time.

“It’s apparent that as some level, all art is autobiographical. After all, your brush only paints a stoke in response to your gesture, your word processor only taps out a sentence in response to your keystrokes. As Tennessee Williams observed, even works of demonstrable fiction or fantasy remain emotionally autobiographical. John Szarkowskowski once curated a show at the Museum of Modern Art titled Mirrors and Windows. His premise was that some artists view the world as if looking through a window at things happening ‘out there’, while others view the world as if looking in a mirror at a world inside themselves. Either way, the autobiographical vantage point is implicit.

If art is about self, the widely accepted corollary is that making art is about self-expression. And it is—but that is not necessarily all it is. It may only be a passing feature of our times that validating the sense of who-you-are is held up as the major source of the need to make art. What gets lost in that interpretation is an older sense that art is something you do out in the world, or something you do about the world, or even something you do for the world. The need to make art may not stem solely from the need to express who you are, but from a need to complete a relationship with someone outside yourself. As a maker of art you are custodian of issues larger than self.”
David Bayles & Ted Orland
Art & Fear
pages 107-108

Note: The above Van Gogh painting is one of his works from the 15 months he spent in Arles, France.  The specific painting is of the inner court of the hospital in Arles where Van Gogh ( who struggled with metal illness) stayed for a time for after he was admitted after he cut his lower earlobe off in 1888.  In 1999 I visited the hospital (now a cultural center) in Arles which looks very similar to painting. If you ever have a chance to go to Arles they have a wonderful walking tour that takes you to many of the sites “the redheaded madman” (as he was known to some of his neighbors) painted.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“If you follow your passion, the money will follow. Success, in my opinion, involves sheer luck, hard work and humility.”
                                                           Anthony Zuiker, creator CSI TV programs

 

“I’m Zack Johnson and I’m from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. That’s about it, I’m a normal guy.”

                                                           Zach Johnson, professional golfer

Last year at this time Zach Johnson’s above quote caused laughter from the press corp in Augusta, Georgia as he spoke those words before a national TV audience after winning the prestigious Masters at Augusta National golf tournament.

But do normal guys come from seemingly nowhere to win their first major tournament against the greatest golfers in the world? Do normal guys fend off Tiger Woods, one of the greatest golfers in the history of the game?

Zach Johnson was sneaky long.

Sneaky long is a golf phrase which describes a golfer, a golf shot, or a particular hole that looks deceptively underrated. Think of it like an Adam Sandler/Bill Murray-like fellow in his goofiest outfit coming up to some serious golfers and saying, “You guys want to put a little money on who can hit the next ball the longest?” They take the bet thinking the guy doesn’t have a chance and he ends up taking their money.

Sneaky long is the underdog that causes snickers. Rocky, Seabiscuit, and Erin Brockovich were all sneaky long. Audiences love an underdog mainly because the underdog represents us and our deepest wishes.

When a 36-year-old writer broke into the TV business (in a business where 30 is old) with a script for an episode for the TV show Hunter (followed by scripts for even lesser remembered TV shows) few probably thought that within ten years this guy was going to write a movie that would win five Oscars. But that’s what happened after Randell Wallace wrote Braveheart.

Johnson’s hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa has had it’s share of sneaky long characters. NFL quarterback Kurt Warner not only grew up in Cedar Rapids but went to the same high school as Johnson. When no large schools offered him a football scholarship, he signed with the University of Northern Iowa, a Division II college right here in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

It wasn’t the big-time college football that he’d hoped for, but at least he thought he’d start all four years. However, he sat the bench for three years before making his marking mark his senior year by becoming the Gateway Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.

Following graduation, he worked as a grocery stocker at HyVee (where I shop these days to pick up the vibe) and then played arena football in Des Moines. Next was pro ball in Europe before joining the St. Louis Rams where he was booed in his first game. He went on to be twice voted the top player in the NFL and Super Bowl XXXIV MVP. Someday they’ll do a movie about his life.

One could even say that artist Grant Wood was sneaky long. He was a schoolteacher and artist who lived in a small apartment above a carriage house in (you guessed it) Cedar Rapids, where he eventually painted one of the most recognizable (and copied and parodied) paintings in the history of art—American Gothic.

Wood once said, “I had to go to France to appreciate Iowa.” He also coined the term regionalism to define his belief that an artist should “paint out of the land and the people he knows best.”

Isn’t that what Van Gogh did in Arles? Isn’t that what Winslow Homer did in Maine? Isn’t that what Faulkner did in Oxford, what Steinbeck did in Monterey, what O’Connor in Georgia, what Ibsen did in Norway, what Willa Cather did in Nebraska, and what Horton Foote (Tender Mercies) has done in Texas?

This is the heartbeat of Screenwriting from Iowa. Hollywood will always make its tent pole movies. Movies will always have a LA/New York thrust because that’s where the majority of studios, crews, and talent are located.

But if the writer’s strike signaled one thing it’s the times are changing. As the founder of The Geek Squad said recently, “What people don’t understand is the internet hasn’t yet started.” I believe new forms of distribution will fuel a revival in regionalism.

“What regional filmmaking means to me is not only utilizing the actors of your area, the musicians and the artists, but probing what it means to that region. And for me, the thing about Memphis that I’ve always responded to is its music scene, from Sam Phillips recording Howlin’ Wolf, Rudus Thomas, Elvis Presely, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Charlie Rich.”
Craig Brewer, writer/director Hustle & Flow

Audiences for years have been complaining about the lack of originality and seemingly endless repetition of remakes and sequels. (And again that’s why they flocked to Juno.) And writers have struggled with the pressure to write what they think will sell to the masses rather than writing what they know and really want to write.

While advertising dollars are shrinking along with the writing dollars for TV jobs, the advertising dollars are not going away. They’re heading to the internet. And audiences are no longer satisfied the the TV limitations they’ve had in the past. They like being their own Internet programers.

We don’t know what it will look like yet, but the writing jobs (and acting, producing, directing, editing, and shooting jobs) will follow. Like the era from silent movies to sound pictures the industry is shifting.

Hollywood is stocked with talent from all across the United States and Canada. We enjoy hearing stories of Katie Holmes being from Toledo, Ohio and Julia Roberts from Smyrna, Georgia. Even the greater Cedar Rapids area alone has its share of actors in recent films and TV programs.

Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings)
Eric Rouse (Superman Returns)
Michele Monaghan (Mission Impossible III)
Tom Arnold (The Final Season)
Michele Emerson (Lost)
Ron Livingston (Office Space)
Ashton Kutcher (The Guardian)

Did you know that Kutcher grew up in rural Homestead, Iowa and once had a job sweeping up Cheerio dust at the General Mills factory in Cedar Rapids? That was before he became a biochemical engineering student at the University of Iowa, New York model, film and TV actor, and husband of Demi Moore.

Kutcher had the looks, drive, talent, and quirky good fortune to make a name for himself that thousands of small town actors, writers, directors will never find in Hollywood. And what happens to those actors, writers and directors who don’t find fame or fortune in L.A.?

Do they embrace that hotel manager job? Have a career in sales for a health club or a real estate company in the valley? Move back home and unpack their suitcase full of broken dreams? Probably a little of all of that, but it’s going to become less necessary for talent to have to be in New York and LA.

This trend has already been seen in the advertising world as Crispin Porter in Miami was chosen to launch the Mini Cooper campaign years ago. (More recently they revamped VW’s image.) And Virginia’s Martin Agency has been doing the UPS Brown and quirky Geico cavemen & gecko ads. (At Martin they used to have a sign in the creative department that read, “Nobody comes to Richmond for the restaurants.”) Creativity Magazine has called Martin the “Third most creative agency in the world.” And they’re in Virginia! Changing times indeed.

But wherever the sneaky long actor, writer, or director lives they need to keep plugging away at the craft. Keep learning and keep creating.

I’ve said before in workshops I’ve given, “Don’t quit your day job, because you never know how that can serve your work.” (Not to mention it pays the biils.) Johnny Depp says he used to use different voices in the telemarketing job he had when he first moved to L.A. from Florida.

Then there is Anthony Zuiker’s story. After the show he created, CSI, became the top rated scripted show he told Creative Screenwriting magazine, “Three years ago I was living in Vegas as the night manager of the Mirage Hotel tram line.” (Zuiker whose creation has since grown into the hit shows CSI:New York and CSI:Miami has Chicago roots. How many years until CSI: Cedar Falls?)

But when Zuilker was a night manger he was also writing. It was while working at a motel when he actually found the inspiration for his first TV script. “The police and I are in this motel room searching for evidence when an officer lifts up the bed skirt. All I see is a pair of eyes before she leaps from beneath the bed clawing at my face. And I thought, ‘There’s a show here.'” (By the way if you’re interested in having Zuilker speak to a group of yours contact the Greater Talent Network.)

Certainly golfer Zach Johnson has followed Zuilker’s advice: “If you follow your passion, the money will follow. Success, in my opinion, involves sheer luck, hard work and humility.” Johnson was not the top golfer on his college team at Drake. (Congrats, by the way, to Drake men’s basketball coach Keno Davis for getting AP Coach of the Year last week.) Johnson even wasn’t the #1 golfer on his high school team.

But he had passion and kept improving his game until he got to slip on the famed green jacket at Augusta on his way to making $4 million dollars last year.

Whether you’re making music videos in Minneapolis, turning out B-grade cable scripts, teaching high school theater in Tulsa, a grocery store stock boy, a night tram manager in Vegas, a daytime tram operator in Orlando,  or someone sweeping up Cheerio dust in a factory you have to believe that you’re sneaky long and can surprise a lot of people with what you write. But you have to be writing to get there.

 

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: