Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Miami’

“In my mind and in my car, we can’t rewind we’ve gone to far.”
The Buggles/Who Killed the Radio Star

I thought it would be fun to revisit a post I wrote way back on November 15, 2009 called Cocaine Cowboys & the Future of Film. I wrote it the day after I watched my first Netflix movie online.

Before that most DVDs were mailed to you, or you went to a video store. I remember after viewing that film thinking, how long until Blockbuster video stores are out of business? According to Wikipedia, in 2010 Blockbuster had 4,000 videos stores in the U.S. and 2,500 international stores.  That year Blockbuster went through a world of change. They filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy production in September of 2010 with $900 of debt.

After that Blockbusters began closing stores and I think there are a few stores scattered around the world. There still is a Blockbuster website with a link of some kind of deal they have with dish.

But its retail store days of being a regular part of American pop culture are long gone. Like record stores before them, just a reminder of how the times keep changing.

Cocaine Cowboys & the Future of Film
(blog post from 11/15/2009)

Yesterday was an important day personally. I got a glimpse into the future. And, yes, it did involve illegal drugs.

I watched the documentary Cocaine Cowboys on immediate viewing online through Netflix. The movie has been out for few years but I had never seen it before. Having attended the University of Miami in 1981-1982 the topic alone was of great interest to me. It was impossible to live in Dade County in the 80s and not be acutely aware of the drug trade and the murders that followed in its wake.

In 1981 there were 621 murders in Dade County. (A record that still stands there.)  I distinctly remember the news at that time where each murder seemed more bizarre than the next.  One official on the documentary called Miami at that time, “the most dangerous place in the world.”  (In reality, I think Medellin, Colombia, as in the Medellin drug cartel, in the 80s  technically had the highest rate of murder per capita in the world.)

I personally didn’t see any of the crime (I was safely editing my first 8mm film in my Mahoney-Pearson dorm room) though it was hard miss all the Ferraris & Porsches kicking around Cocount Grove.  And it didn’t take much for a film professor to show us A Clockwork Orange and connect it to Miami. Stanley Kubrick’s futuristic look at a chaotic culture full of brutal violence and murder without remorse was a daily realty in Miami.

But as fascinating as that era was it’s not what caused my mini glimpse into the future. It was simply because I could watch the movie immediately online. Legally. While I have watched LOST online before this was the first movie I have ever watched online.

It was an epiphany of sorts. I had a flashback to standing in line to see the movie ET, 15 years of renting VHS tapes (and paying all those Blockbuster late fees & rewind fees), to marveling how Netflix revolutionized things by having DVDs delivered to your home. Supply & demand and distribution channels seem to be changing quicker than ever.

Now I’m a mid-level tech savvy guy and try to somewhat keep up with where things are heading. I edit every day on Final Cut Pro. I Twitter, blog, and use Facebook yet I just learned yesterday that the push this Christmas will be TVs that are interconnected to the web. This will make your TV more like a computer, stereo, photo gallery and movie theater all in one.  There you’ll link to You Tube, Twitter, Facebook and the like.

Just as people are dropping their land phone lines you have to wonder what internet connected TV will do to regular cable TV. If all you do is push a button and watch the movie of your choice, what will it do to DVD sales that have been in decline for a while? There’s talk of streaming videos the same day they open in theaters.

The battle is on. And some would say its getting bloody. On production as well as distribution.

Anne Thompson wrote a post on indieWIRE called Toronto Wrap: Indie Bloodbathwere she said this year’s Toronto Film Festival marked the end of the old independent market.

There were few sales made at the festival leading producer Jonathan Dana to say, “It’s a massacre.”

Thompson explains, “Fox Searchlight, Overture, Summit, Focus Features, Lionsgate, Sony Picture Classics and Miramax all wanted to buy in Toronto. While they may buy later, at fest’s end, they walked away empty handed.”

It’s one thing for independents to raise the money to get a film made and to get it into the key festivals (Telluride, Venice, Tornoto & New York) but what happens to those films if they don’t get a distribution deal?

Thompson explains, “Most of the 145 films on sale at Toronto will wind up streamed, downloaded, and viewed on a small TV or computer or mobile screen.”

At the end of Cocaine Cowboys one of the ex-girlfriends of one of the drug runners asks, “What I want to know is what happened to all that money?” That’s what filmmakers are wondering these days.

Actually, Cocaine Cowboys may be a good template for the small and micro-budget films made outside L.A. It was produced by rakontur in Miami, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2006, got picked up by Magnolia Films and had a limited theater release ($150,000 domestic), then a cable run, good DVD sales, and eventually streamed onto my computer last night. Don’t know if anybody made any money along the way but I have read rumors that  HBO television is developing a dramatic series based on the players in the doc.

Hollywood in 2009 is not a more dangerous place than Miami in 1981, it just feels that way. I imagine the film industry is going to follow the path that Miami took after the city was declared DOA. It emerged as a thriving city and a land of new opportunity to those who embraced the change.

Update 4/25/17:  Cocaine Cowboys director Billy Corben (a University of Miami grad) of Rakontur has a new film coming out this year (or next) called Cocaine Cowboys: Los Muchachos.  He also is active and interesting on Twitter @BillyCorban.

And just yesterday, the Orlando Sentinel reported that former Cocaine Cowboy Gustavo Falcon was arrested in Central Florida where he’d been living the last five years under an assumed name. He evaded authorities for over 25 years. He’s now in a Federal Detention Center in Miami and I’m sure Corban and he’s team would love to interview him. But regardless, the new press helps keep Cocaine Cowboys in the news. And as Bill Murray says in Scrooged, “You can’t buy this kind of publicity!”

Related Posts:
Postcard #24 (Coral Gables) Billy Corben also directed The U doc
La La Liberty City
Postcard #25 (Miami Beach)
Miami vs. Florida 

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“There are only two possible stories: a man goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town.”
Unknown (Though often attributed to Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky)

I’ve always been fond of the above quote, and over the weekend I realized that the last two Best Picture Oscars were examples of each.  Moonlight being “a man goes on a journey,” and Spotlight representing “a stranger comes to town.”

Moonlight and Spotlight are not only one word titles with nine letters that end with “light,” but there is a Miami connection as well. Moonlight is about a boy raised and Miami, and the stranger coming to town in Spotlight is when the Boston Globe hires Marty Baron (Liev Schreiberwho was the executive editor at The Miami Herald.

As the editor at the Boston Globe, Baron oversaw the investigative team that earned a Pulitzer for their coverage of sexual abuse in the Catholic church. If the movie version is true, it was Baron’s being a stranger to Boston culture that helped him pursue truth at whatever the cost.

“Over the course of 2002, we probably did almost 1,000 stories on the topic. We went to the court to have documents unsealed that the church had hoped to keep secret, documents that addressed the fact that the church knew these priests had abused and continued to abuse children. It forced the church to address issues that had essentially been swept under the rug for 40 or 50 years.” 
Marty Baron
Leigh University / Department of Journalism & Communication

P.S. Baron is currently the editor of The Washington Post and says, “I see a lot of people getting out of law school who can’t get jobs, but the ones with journalism majors still can. The people who have learned the tools and who are open to working in a variety of different media will find opportunities, and they will succeed.”

Journalism may have hit a wall around 2008, but it’s being revamped offering opportunities for storytellers with multimedia skills. So if you’re a film school grad looking for work, don’t ignore the chance to use your producing, shooting, writing, and/or editing skills in journalism.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“We’re two boys from Liberty City representing the 305.”
Tarrell Alvin McCraney
(305 is the area code in Miami)

“Liberty City, one of the poorest sections of Miami and almost entirely black, is geographically tiny, little more than the housing projects and the blocks surrounding them.”
Nikole Hannah-Jones/ New York Times


liberty-city

What’s more unlikely than an Oscar-winning screenwriter being from the Liberty City section of Miami? That’s easy— how about two Oscar-winning writers being from there. Barry Jenkins and Tarrell Alvin McCraney collected the Best Adapted Screenplay Award Sunday for their Moonlight script. Both are from the same housing project in Liberty City.

And to top it off, Moonlight had a surprise upset of La La Land to win Best Picture Oscar.

Allow me take you on a quick tour of greater Miami to explain what’s so special about being from Liberty City.

Less than ten miles east of Liberty City is Miami Beach with its beautiful Art Deco hotels, glamorous night clubs, and high-end cars. Here’s a map of homes in the South Beach and surrounding islands listed on Zillow that are listed for three million or more. (Make note of one listing for $65 million.)

Homes for sale .png

A little over 10 miles to the south of Liberty City you’ll find Coral Gables. It’s home to the Miracle Mile, the University of Miami, and the beautiful and historic Biltmore Hotel.

And lastly on our little tour, just 10 miles to the west of Liberty City you’ll find the Trump National Hotel Miami, a country club where PGA tournaments have been held every year since 1962. Tiger Woods won four times there.

You get the picture. Liberty City is surrounded by some of the finest and upscale places in the United States. I won’t speak for Liberty City (or its next door neighbor, Overtown) in terms of today, but back in 1979 when Barry Jenkins was born Liberty City was  a just under six square miles low income and high crime zone.  (Tough but not as many guns on the street as there are today according to Jenkins.) In 1980 riots broke out there amidst racial tension over a police shooting and acquittal.

This is how Time magazine wrote of the area in 1981 article titled Paradise Lost?:

“Even in Liberty City, the black enclave in North Miami where 18 people died in last year’s riot, the Latin influence is apparent. White store owners who abandoned their businesses are being replaced by Latin landlords. ‘The only things blacks have in Miami are several hundred churches and funeral homes,” says Johnny Jones, a former Dade County school superintendent. ‘After a generation of being Southern slaves, blacks now face a future as Latin slaves. ’”

This is how this New York Times explains the Liberty City journey of both Jenkins and McCraney:

Both men were born to mothers who had their first children when they were teenagers. Both saw their mothers become H.I.V. positive after falling victim to the crack epidemic that overtook their community. Both were taken away from their mothers and bounced around; caregivers, related and not, took them in. They both knew what it was like to have the water turned off for lack of payment, to go to school without deodorant because there was no money to buy it.”

So, yeah, it’s an unlikely place for two Oscar-winners to be raised. And in a nutshell, that’s what the Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places blog is all about. To give a little hope to the creative Outliers in unlikely places around the world.

Related links:
A Liberty City Oscar Watch Party Reacts to Moonlight win/ Miami Herald
Watch Moonlight Director Barry Jenkins Revisit His Hometown/Vanity Fair

Related posts:
The First Black Feature Filmmaker
Postcard #24 (Coral Gables)
Postcard #25 (Miami Beach)
Cocaine Cowboys & the Future of Film (Doc on Miami in the 70s & 80s)
25 Links Related to Black & Filmmaking (2017 Oscar-Edition)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

ini-fl300dsc_4750

“There’s enough land here (Florida) to hold all the ideas and plans we can possibly imagine.”
Walt Disney

Florida has had an awkward dance with movies for the past 100 years. While it’s had its share of feature films and TV programs filmed there over the years it’s almost as if the industry there is a façade. (Just like the above New York façade I shot on the Universal Studios Florida back lot last week.)

It looks real, but upon further investigation you see that it’s not–but stick with me there is a silver lining. You may recall in the 80s & 90s when Florida was calling itself “Hollywood East” as Disney and Universal were building studios. Some believe the studios were built for tourism from the start and word was that Disney even once hired people to push movie lights around when a tram went by.

But for a while it seemed to be working. Ron Howard and Steve Martin came to Orlando to make Parenthood, Wesley Snipes made Passenger 57, Nickelodeon was busy on the Universal lot, TV programs The Mickey Mouse Club, Superboy and Sea Quest were also shooting around Orlando.

Adam Sandler went to Central Florida to make The Waterboy, Director John Singleton to make Rosewood, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp to make Edward Scissorhands, Michael J. Fox to become Doc Hollywood, and Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro to make Marvin’s Room. Then it seemed like every other state and country got into the tax incentives for filmmakers game.

And then like a crew wrapping a production on location and returning home “Hollywood East” disappeared.  Around the same time a handful of filmmakers educated in Orlando colleges made one of the biggest splashes in independent film history making The Blair Witch Project landing two of the filmmakers on the cover of Time Magazine. Then they all but disappeared as well.

Perhaps the greatest illusion of Florida is the fact that two of the greatest films ever made are set in Florida but neither were shot in the Sunshine State. Both Citizen Kane (listed as AFI’s top film) and Some Like it Hot (AFI’s top comedy film) were shot in California adding to the irony of the Florida film industry.

And most of Scarface, with a story set in Miami, was shot in California. But if you want to see what Miami’s South Beach looked like 25 years ago (gritty) then Scarface is the film to see because they captured well those great art deco exteriors. Even the classic Lauren Bacall & Humphrey Bogart film Key Largo was filmed mostly in California. See what I mean about Florida’s strange dance with the movie industry? But while movies about Florida are not always shot in Florida, Florida did doubled for the Amazon underwater scenes in the cult favorite Creature from the Black Lagoon.

The film industry first came to Florida at the turn of twentieth century and it looked like Jacksonville in North Florida would be a major player in film production. Dozens of films were made there and studios began to pop up to take advantage of the warm sunny days. But eventually the film industry chose Hollywood as it’s go to place to film around the year.

The greater Ft. Lauderdale-Miami -Palm Beach area has seemed positioned over the years to be a leader in the film industry and some fine films and TV programs have been made down there: Body HeatThe Jackie Gleanson Show, Flipper, Gentle Ben, Miami Vice, and most recently CSI Miami, Burn Notice, and Marley & Me written by South Florida reporter and author John Grogan.

And some iconic stars and well know have made films in Florida including Elvis Presley (Follow that Dream), Gary Cooper (Distant Drums), Frank Sinatra (Lady in Cement) and Paul Newman (Absence of Malice). Not to mention a cast of more recent movie stars including John Travolta, Will Smith, Tom Cruise, Jim Carrey, and Demi Moore, as well as Florida’s own legend Burt Reynolds have made movies in Florida.

On the surface when  you step back from the picture what you see emerge in Florida’s 100 year movie history is that Florida doesn’t so much have a unified film industry –it’s one giant back lot. A great place for New York & California filmmakers to come and make movies and commercials. And they have made a lot of them over the years.

But when you look beyond the smoke and mirrors of “Hollywood East” you begin to a deeper foundation.  Since I like to talk about screenwriting and regionalism you can’t get any more regional in Florida than The Yearling written by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize Novel in 1939 and it became a great  film in 1947 and also was made as a TV film in 1994.

In a similar vein is Minneapolis born writer Theodore Pratt who after a time freelancing in New York spent most of the last 35 years of his life living in Florida and writing more than thirty novels that were set in Florida. His most well-known novel The Barefoot Mailman was made into a movie in 1951.

Zora Neale Hurtson was part of the Harlem Renaissance movement  in the 20s & 30s and used her hometown of Eatonville, Florida as the backdrop for her most well-known novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Oprah Windfrey produced the TV version of that book in 2005 starring Halle Berry.

As a quirky side note my high school and college creative writing/English teacher  (and Zora Neale Hurston scholar) Annye Refore got me interested in Hurston’s work back in the early 80s and when I was in film school in California I talked to an actress named Cyndi James-Reece who I was taking an acting class with saying she’d be great in the role that Berry eventually played. (Reece went on to win Star Search one year and married Lou Gossett Jr.)

And of course there are a whole list of writers who have called Florida home over the years some whose work has become movies; Ernest Hemingway, James Michener, E.B. White, Harry Crews, John D. McDonald, Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry to name a few.

But what about…screenwriters from Florida? Yes. Let’s see what we can find. Let’s start with writer/director Victor Nunez who though a UCLA film school graduate is known for his un-Hollywood films. In fact, he could be the poster child for regional filmmakers. The first film I saw of his was A Flash of Green that not only introduced me to his talent but also that of a young actor named Ed Harris. His next film Ruby in Paradise was Ashely Judd’s first film as a lead actress.

Nunez’s Ulee’s Gold starred Peter Fonda (who received an Oscar nomination) and was just the second film for a young actress named Jessica Biel. Nunez continues to make films but his day job is currently teaching film at Florida State University.

Which leads us to Tallahassee where FSU is and where screenwriter Robin Swicord graduated from. She recently got a screen story credit on The Curious Case of Behjamin Button, the David Fincher and Brad Pitt film that just opened yesterday. She also wrote the scripts for The Jane Austen Book Club, Memiors of a Geisha, and Little Women.

We are Marshall screenwriter Jamie Linden is also an FSU grad and Fort Lauderdale native Steve Conrad briefly attended FSU before going to Northwestern and eventually writing the script The Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith.

And while famed FSU football coach Bobby Bowden may not be a screenwriter I heard or read many memorable one liners come from him while growing up in Orlando. My favorite was when he talked about one player, “He doesn’t know the meaning of the word fear, in fact, looking at his grades he doesn’t know the meaning of a lot of words.

Screenwriter Melissa Carter who wrote Little Black Book starring Brittany Murphey and Kathy Bates is an FSU alum.

And while not a screenwriter (and who actually was an advertising-marketing major at FSU)  I must give Cherylanne Martin a special mention because she has worked on a magic carpet ride list of feature films (about 30 total). Beginning as a production assistant in 1983 on Jaws 3-D (shot in Orlando), she worked her way up to second assistant director on Rain Man, first assistant director on Forrest Gump, unit production manager on Castaway, and more recently was one of the producers of Nancy Drew. Quite a career, right?  (Years ago I crossed paths with Cherylanne when in a happy accident I met her father and he kindly past a script of mine on to her.)

And lastly (but the most  highly rewarded FSU grad) is Alan Ball, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of American Beauty. (From the theater school where Burt Reynolds graduated from back in the day.)

I know there are many colleges in Florida doing media and theater training but none that have the fruit of the FSU program. (This coming from a Miami Hurricane mind you. Though it is worth mentioning that Sylvester Stallone did attend a few semesters at the University of Miami and later went back using his script for Rocky to finally earn his degree. It’s good to see that writing a film that wins an Academy Award for best picture is worth a few college credits.)

Native Floridian writer Connie May Fowler wrote the book and script Before Women Had Wings (BTW–I love that title) that became an Emmy winning movie starring Oprah Winfrey and Ellen Barkin.

Florida will always be place to shoot films and TV programs like the classic Sea Hunt starring Loyd Bridges, because of the local and weather. But I also believe there is a remnant left over from “Hollywood East” made up of actors and production people who will keep turning out independent features from time to time.

While I was in Orlando last week I stopped by and visited some old haunts; Building 22-A at Universal, Panavison Florida and some friends who now work at Full Sail (which does have the most amazing sound stages I’ve ever seen for students). The good news is Universal has had a solid run of booking their sound stages for the past 18 months with a variety of productions and we’ll have to see what this new economy brings.

The talent, studios, desire, film commission offices, and other infrastructures are in place for things to take off in Florida. But for whatever reason it seems like Florida as a whole as been in rehearsals for 100 years. I believe Florida is ready for its close-up beyond just attractive people running around on the beach. And that’s where screenwriters from Florida come into the picture.

Producer's Building-22A Producer’s Building-22A
Panavision Florida

Panavision Florida

Full Sail Stage

Full Sail Stage

Florida is fertile ground for writers. It has an eclectic multi-cultural mix of characters and a large transient culture. (Heck, Jimmy Buffett’s had a long career writing songs about such people. And if you haven’t seen Errol Morris’ early documentary Vernon, Florida I’d recommend checking that out.)   There are stories to be told from there and there  just needs to be some screenwriters who can tap into the real Florida rather than Hollywood’s version of Florida.

Sidenotes: Orlando-based editor Oliver Peters who has edited features and documentaries (and a heck of a lot of corporate and commercials) has a helpful and informative blog called Digitalfilms for those of you interested in filmmaking. And to find out  about production news in Florida (including tax incentives) contact Film in Florida. Florida also has over 50 film festivals including the Florida Film Festival hosted by the wonderful Enzian Theater in Maitland, Florida.

Text & Photos Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: