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Posts Tagged ‘Matthew McConaughey’

As I looked over the names of the 2014 Oscar nominees one named jumped out at me that I knew I had not pulled any quotes from in the six years of doing this blog. In fact, the name was totally off my radar. Melisa Wallack is now on a lot more radars than she was a few days ago. She’s now Oscar-nominated screenwriter Melisa Wallack.

She’s nominated along with Craig Borton for writing Dallas Buyers Club. I decided to dig around on the Internet and see what I could find out about Wallack. And surprise, surprise her hometown is the Minneapolis area. (One of the inspirations of this blog was this unknown writer in Minneapolis who pounded out a spec script on her way to becoming Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody.)

Wallack moved to LA in ’95 as a businesswoman and by ’05  was named by Variety as one of the top 10 screenwriters to watch. But her Midwest upbringing paved the way for her to write a story about a about an electricians and hustler with AIDS who fights the system for himself and others to get the medication they need.

“I grew up in an idyllic town outside Minneapolis with my parents and five siblings. We had dinner together almost every night … My father would listen to us recount what we had learned at school that day. One of my most vivid memories of this nightly ritual was my father’s insistence that we tell him how we knew something was true. Who said it? Where did we read it? How did we know it was, in fact, true? It wasn’t until many years later that I understood what my father was doing.

“…For me, Ron’s [Ron Woodroof played by Matthew McConaughey] story transcends AIDS. It applies to every one of us in every aspect of our lives. It speaks to the danger of becoming passive participants who follow written protocols and so-called experts’ opinions instead of our own instincts. It reminds me of my nightly conversations with my father and his insistence that we distinguish opinion from fact. It reminds me that it is important to be an active member of society and, in the words of Ron Woodroof, that ‘everyone should ask questions.'”
Melisa Wallack
LA Times, Spirit of Champions drove the ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ script

BTW—That 2005 Variety article about Wallack mentions the Dallas Buyers Club script was what made her a screenwriter to watch. It also said that was her first script and that she began writing in 1999. I’m not sure when she and Borton completed the script but it appears that Dallas Buyers Club took at least 10 years to get produced. Add to that Borton interviewed Ron Woodroof for three days back in 1992 (a month before Woodroof died) and wrote a couple version of the script before he met Wallack,  meaning in total it took over two decades for that story find its way to earning 6 Oscar-nominations including Best Picture.

P.S. Wallack was born in Wayzata, MN which is not far from the Minneapolis suburb of Crystal, MN where Diablo Cody wrote her Juno script. Back in ’08 I visited the Starbucks where Cody wrote much of the script. See the post Juno Has Another Baby (Emmy).

Related Post:

The Oscars Minnesota-Style
The Coen Brothers on Raising Money (Joel & Ethan Coen are also from Minneapolis)
Screenwriting Postcard from Minneapolis
Screenwriting Quote #3 (Charlie Kaufman) Many don’t connect the Oscar-winning screenwriter with Minneapolis, but that’s where he was living before he moved to LA .

Scott W. Smith

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“The most ordinary conversation in the south has a theological basis.”
Novelist Harry Crews

“There are fierce powers at work in the world boys. Good. Evil.
Mud (Matthew McConaughey)
Mud written by Jeff Nichols

One of the reasons I’ve been blogging in and around the movie Mud for the past week is because screenwriter Jeff Nichols has done what I think the best writers do. He’s told a story rooted in place.  And the reason he set the story in Arkansas is because that’s a place he knows well.

Back in 1988 Georgia-born novelist Harry Crews explained in an interview with Terry Gross how embracing his own roots led him to the writings that would lead to his literary success.

“I wrote four novels and short stories before I even published anything, and the reason I didn’t publish any of those things was because it wasn’t any good. And the reason it wasn’t any good was because I was trying to write about a world I did not know. One night it occurred to me that whatever strength I had was all back in there in Bacon County, Ga., with all that sickness and hookworm and rickets and ignorance and beauty and loveliness. But that’s where it was. It wasn’t somewhere else.”
Harry Crews
Harry Crews On Writing And Feeling Like A ‘Freak’/NPR

Granted being from the South does have its literary traditions. (Flannery O’Connor, Pat Conroy, James Dickey, Harper Lee, Ernest Gaines is just a sweeping overview.) But just in the last two days this blog has had readers from Canada, Australia, Germany, Philippines, Russia, Ireland, Croatia, Japan, Sweden, Portugal, UK, Finland, Spain and Venezuela. And there are stories to be told in all those places.

“Truth of the matter was stories was everything, and everything was stories.  Everybody told stories, it was a way of saying who they were in the world.”
Harry Crews

Because Jeff Nichols mentioned Harry Crews as an influence to his writing Mud it caused me to kick around online and see what I could find of interest about Crews. Found this documentary called Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus —a film by Andrew Douglas. One of the people the doc features is Harry Crews. Watching the trailer above and the clip below, you can see that it is a real world where Matthew McConaughey’s character Mud would feel at home.

Related Post: Screenwriting Quote #70 (James Dickey)

Scott W. Smith

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“I love the concept that your friends, your neighbors, the people you know best and trust most become your enemies, and that’s a pure, primal concept that digs deep into the soul and human psyche and human fear. I thought, what a great subject to explore.” 
Director Breck Eisner
(A quote not about a documentary on the Hollywood film industry, but the concept behind his film The Crazies)

Last night I went to see The Crazies, the first full-bore Hollywood feature that was shot & widely released as a part of the Iowa film incentives. (Yes, the ones that are fading away.) I’m not really into the zombie-like thing but was pleasantly surprised how good the film was and how enjoyable it was to watch. (72% on the T-meter over at Rotten Tomatoes and a healthy box-office.)

The cast led by Timothy Olyphant was super and the pacing of the movie was excellent. Screenwriters Scott Kosar and  Ray Wright set the George Romero remake in a small town in Iowa. The Midwest peacefulness was shattered from the start when the first crazy walks onto a little league baseball field with a shotgun. It was an effective way to set the tone early. Some stories need a little setting up, but like Jaws, The Crazies sprints out of the gate and never really stops until the end.

I didn’t know until after the film was over that former Disney CEO Michael Eisner’s son, Breck Eisner, directed the film. Turns out the director who is in his mid-thirties is a USC film school grad and spent 10 years directing big budget commercials as well as some TV programs and the film Sahara starring Matthew McConaughey. Even though he’s Michael Eisner’s son (which I’m sure has its advantages and disadvantages) he’s still been at it for 15 years as he develops his craft. (A favorite theme of mind.)

“The greatest moviegoing experience of all time is Raiders of the Lost Ark, maybe just after Star Wars. So there was an element in me who as a kid just loved those kinds of movies and was excited to make one. When it came to The Crazies, getting an opportunity to do a darker, more intimate, character-based, more personal movie was something I really jumped at and wanted to do. It’s much looser, much more intimate – it’s a completely different type of movie, for sure. It’s not about scope; I really got to dive into character and relationships and really spend time in those worlds.

But still, shooting horror is like shooting action. They’re very closely-related cousins. You’ve got an action sequence, it’s built up, you’ve got a number of shots to build up to the big climax, and then you quickly resolve it and hopefully do a couple of spins on the way. With horror it’s the same way – it’s all about the suspense, it’s all about the pieces and shots and angles and how you build up to the big climax and the resolution, so it’s a similar muscle that’s flexed.”
Breck Eisner
Cinematical interview with Todd Gilchrist

Scott W. Smith

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“A man’s got to know his limitations.”
                                  Clint Eastwood (as Harry Callahan in Magnum Force)

 

John Grisham didn’t get to see his dream come true. His childhood dream was to play professional baseball and he made it all the way to playing junior college ball before he realized his limitations. So at 20 years old he shifted his focus to school and becoming a lawyer.

Once he graduated from law school at Old Miss he saw his new dream come true and then he got an itch to write. While he didn’t have instant success with his writings, according to CNN, he sold 60 million books in the 90s alone.  His books translated to film well and attracted a talented group of actors over the years including Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Susan Saradon, Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Matt Damon, John Cusack, Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman.

From a box office standpoint Grisham had a dream year in 1993 when two films made from his books (A Time to Kill & The Firm) both made over $100 million. Not bad for an old jock from Mississippi.

“The writing has come fairly late in life. I never dreamed of being a writer when I was a kid, even a student, even in college. In fact. I’d been practicing law for about three or four years in the early ’80s, when I decided to make a stab at writing a story that I’d been thinking about. And the story eventually became A Time to Kill.

It took three years to write, and I was very disciplined about doing it. It was very much a hobby. By the time I finished it, I had developed a routine of writing every day. When I finished it, I went to the next book, which was The Firm. Once that was written, everything started changing. I wouldn’t use the word ‘accident,’ but it certainly wasn’t planned. I never dream it….

A Time to Kill and The Firm, those books were written over a five-year period, back-to-back, from about 1984 to about 1989. The bulk was written at five o’clock in the morning, from five ’til seven in the morning. I’d get up and go to the office that early. And again, it wasn’t any fun, but it was a habit. It got to be part of the daily routine. And I remember several times being in court at nine o’clock in the morning, really tired, because writing takes a lot out of you. It’s draining.”
                                                           John Grisham 
                                                           Academy of Achievement website

 

Scott W. Smith

 

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Tender Mercies was filmed in Texas in the Waxahachie area with mainly Texas crews.

                                                               Horton Foote, Texas-born screenwriter
                                                               Tender Mercies, A Trip to Bountiful

I was born and raised in Texas in a family with 10 brothers and sisters. I was a daydreamer and bored at school, so I’d draw and doodle and make little flip cartoon movies. When I was 12, I decided to start making actual movies rather than just cartoons using my dad’s Super 8 camera.

                                                               Robert Rodriguez, Filmmaker
                                                               His movies have earned over $600 million 


There was an Austin breeze in Iowa last night as Willie Nelson was in town for a concert. The good seats costs $69.50 to hear the 75-year-old, and Sling Blade writer/director Billy Bob Thornton (The Boxmasters) was on the bill as well. I didn’t go but it did make me think it would be a fitting time to look at screenwriting from Texas.

While Willie is not a screenwriter, he is a legend. And he is a Texan (which I think is bigger than being a legend). And he certainly is a proven storyteller, a prolific songwriter and believe it or not has over 300 film and TV credits as actor, sound track music, composer, producer, and playing himself.

I’ve been hooked on Willie’s music ever since I first heard “Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow-Up to be Cowboys” and have heard him play live a couple times. And I remember fondly his starring roll in Barbarosa back in the day. (And just for the record, the Barbarosa screenplay was written by Texas born Bill Wittliff who would go on to write the scripts for Legends of the Fall and The Perfect Storm.)

I don’t have time to write about all the talent that has come from Texas because it is a big state. But when I think of movies and Texas one name stands tall;

Horton Foote. 

That pretty much sums up screenwriting from Texas. Of course, he’s not the only writer from Texas — he just embodies the essence of fine writing from the longhorn state. He is best known for his screenplays Tender Mercies and To Kill a Mockingbird both of which earned him Academy Awards.

But he has had a long distinguished career that includes the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for his play The Man from Atlanta, A Trip to Bountiful (for which Geraldine Page would win an Oscar for Best Actress), and the script for the Gary Sinise & John Malkovich version of Of Mice and Men.  

Foote was a trained actor born in 1916 in Wharton, Texas and made his broadway debut in 1944. But it was writing for the theater and in the early days of TV where he earned a living and made a name for himself eventually being called the “American Chekhov.”

But standing next to Horton Foote on the right is Larry McMurty.

McMurty, born in Wichita Falls, Texas in 1936 is yet another giant literary talent from the state. He was nominated for an Oscar in 1972 for The Last Picture Show and shared an Oscar win with Diana Ossana for the script for Brokeback Mountain.

He won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel Lonesome Dove that was also turned into a popular TV mini-series. (Wittliff, if you’re keeping a scorecard, also won a WGA Award for adapting part one of Lonesome Dove.)  And way back in 1963 McMurty’s novel Horseman Pass By was made into the Mitt Ritt directed Hud staring Paul Newman and Patricia Neal (who won the Oscar for Best Actress in a leading role).

Two quirky things about the prolific McMurty is he still writes on a typewriter and he owns a large antiquarian bookstore, Booked Up, in Archer City Texas where The Last Picture Show was shot and where he now lives.

And standing next to Horton Foote on the left I’ll put  three time Oscar winner writer/director Robert Benton who was born in Waxahachie. Huh? The same place Tender Mercies was filmed in — interesting. I don’t know what’s in the water there, but once coming back from a gig in Austin I went out of my way to drive through Waxahachie just to breath the air.

Benton’s screenwriting career began with Bonnie & Clyde and he  wrote and directed Places in the Heart which is just a beautiful film. Ellen McCathy of the Washington Post wrote this about Benton; “His most noteworthy films of the past three decades — 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer, 1984’s Places in the Heart and 1994’s Nobody’s Fool — present familiar characters, ordinary lives and the full range of love’s twisted complexities.”

Maybe instead of calling my blog Screenwriting from Iowa I should of called it Screenwriting from Waxahachie. Then again, how many people can spell Waxahachie? I think it’s an Native Indian word that means land of sacred storytellers.

I’m not sure where to put Robert Rodriguez. But then again he stands out from the pack because he does a little of everything and is one of the greatest overall creative forces in cinematic history.

Born in Texas in 1968, Rodriguez has done a remarkable job of making the low budget El Mariachi (on a reported $7,000 budget) as well as big Hollywood mega hits including Spy Kids which made over $100 million. Personally I like what Rodriguez is doing more than what he has done. That is I don’t revisit his films but I love that he is a producer, director, camera operator, Steadicam operator, director of photography, actor, writer, editor, sound mixer, visual effects supervisor and composer who not only pushes the envelop in the digital world but he is free to tell you what he’s doing so you can get in on the show.

Rodriguez is based in Austin which is its own filmmaking mecca that has inspired  Matthew McConaughey (by the way, love the Airstream in Malibu concept), Richard Linklater, Wes Anderson, Mike Judge, Owen Wilson and is home to The Austin Film Festival. Austin as a whole is one of the most interesting cities in the country. The have the state capitol, a major college in the heart of the city, there are plenty of old hippies, rednecks, computer geeks, business people, artists and musicians of all kinds thrown into the mix for a great overall creative vibe. 

And since at the time of this post the number one box office movie is Twilight (with a $70 million opening weekend) I must mention that the director Catherine Hardwicke was born and raised in McAllen, Texas. She was also the writer/director of Thirteen. (Making a case for speed writing, Thirteen was co-written in six days with 14-year old Nikki Reed.)

And the newcomer from Texas is Chris Eska who comes from Ottine, Texas (pop 98) whose film debut Evening August  was the winner of the 2008 Spirit Awards’ John Cassavetes Award and the Best Film Awards at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Like those oil wells, Texas just keeps producing.

And Texas as a whole is a full of a wonderful wacky history and mix of characters and talent Mark Cuban, Don Henley, Lance Armstrong and you fill-in-the-rest. Here is a short list of some of the films made in Texas that I haven’t mentioned:

Red River (1948)
Giant (1956)
Urban Cowboy (1980)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
North Dallas Forty (1979) 
Southern Comfort (1981)
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982)
Waltz Across Texas (1982) 
Fandango (1985)
Scary Movie (1989)
Rushmore (1998)
Office Space (1999)
Miss Congeniality (2000)
The Alamo (2004) 
Friday Night Lights (2004)
No Country for Old Men (2007) 
There Will Be Blood (2007) 

North Dallas Forty writer Peter Gent played wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys and is an excellent writer and who for whatever reason only has one film credit to his name. Now living in Michigan I hope it’s not his last and that he hook-ups with one of those Michigan filmmakers and knocks our socks off once again. (How about a look into the heart of the auto industry like you did with professional football?)

As I said I’m sure I missed a few people and great films but feel free to send your comments. But a fitting place to end this tour of Texas is back in Austin with William Broyles Jr. the Oscar-nominated screenwriter from Houston (who now lives in Austin) who wrote the screenplays for Apollo 13, Cast Away, and Flags of Our Fathers

“This movie (Cast Away) begins and ends in Texas. And that’s not an accident. This is where my heart is.” 
                                                                    William  Broyles Jr.
                                                                     The Austin Chronicle (Dec. 2000)

Apparently he’s not alone there.


2008 Copyright Scott W. Smith

 

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“I shoot video because it gives me freedom as a filmmaker to try new things.”
                                                                                                Mike Figgis
                                                                                                Writer/Director
                                                                                                Leaving Las Vegas  

“Montage is conflict.”
                                                                                              
Sergei Eisenstein 

 

 

Since my last post was on the six-word story, I thought it would be a fitting place to talk about the 48 hour film.

A couple weekends ago I made a film as part of The 48 Hour Film Project taking place in Des Moines, Iowa. Below the film titled “Heart Strings” I’ll talk a little about the process of making that film.

This is my third year doing The 48 Hour Film Project in Des Moines. The past two years my films have won best cinematography against the 35+ teams competing. This year I really wanted to take a shot at making the best film.

The first thing I noticed is in these sort of things comedy does very well so I had in mind that I’d make a film with a humorous angle. I also decided that I wanted to shoot in one location and be done shooting by Saturday morning. Local artist Paco Rosic (www.pacorosic.com) has a restaurant here and said we could shoot there after 10 PM. 

Then we had a handful of people that had agreed to be in the film if I needed them. My goal was to use only two or three people. I really was aiming for simplicity. On Friday night we drew romance as the genre we had to make and the idea of speed dating came to my mind in about ten seconds.

Which of course fit the talent pool I had gathered– a mix of men and one women. Paco ended up as one of the actors and not only gets the girl at the end of the movie, but he edited the film as well. He is a talented artist and who has a non-linear editing system in his loft near the restaurant.

You learn to go with the flow when you’re making a film in 48 hours. I had an editor and a DP both from Minneapolis who had to pull out of helping just days before the shoot so I was glad Paco wanted to take a stab at editing it. Local grip and lighting specialist Jon Van Allen decided he could help out and the film would not have been as good without him. He brought not only his talent, but his fully equipped grip trailer and an extra Panasonic HVX 200 camera.   

And then there is the lead actress Amy Anderson. This is a classic case of “do what you can, where you are, with what you have.” This was Amy’s first film, but I knew she could play the violin so that would play a part of the story. So she not only was on camera between midnight and 6AM talking to strangers, but she had to perform for the final scene after that. Thank you, Amy.

The entire cast and crew did a super job and it was an enjoyable and stress free shoot. I had written a loose outline of characters and some dialogue and then we just shot a lot of footage picking out the best performances that seemed to have the most conflict in the character Bridget’s search for Mr. Right. 

We turned in the film before the deadline and would have liked more time to tweak the audio–but it is a 48 hour film. Thanks to people lending their time, talent and equipment the total budget was less than 48 bucks. (Probably less than the average lunch for Matthew McConaughey on “Failure to Launch.”)

If you’re a screenwriter who’s never directed a film, events like this are perfect for you to try some new things. It’s also a good chance to let people who have little or no experience to get a glimpse into what it takes to make a film. Believe it or not, an all night shoot is a great introduction to the carnival of a life in the film business.

And if you’re ever driving through Iowa and looking for a unique restaurant check out  Galleria de Paco in Waterloo, Iowa. (The shooting location of Heart Strings.) How many places in the world can you eat shrimp and grits and look at a fantastic spray painted recreation of the Sistine Chapel?

Update: On August 14, The 48 Hour/Des Moines Awards were given out and my little film  “Heart Strings” won best cinematography and an honorable mention for best directing.  

Later that night US Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson from West Des Moines snagged a silver metal in Beijing. In one of those quirky timing things I drove by Johnson’s high school on the way to the Fleur Cinema where the top 12 48 Hour Films were being shown.

Johnson is one more reminder that Iowa is full of surprises. Check out her website that is hosted by my buddies over at Spin-U-Tech.

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