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Posts Tagged ‘Million Dollar Baby’

“I think it’s good for a writer to always be an outsider of some sort.”
Canadian-born screenwriter Paul Haggis

“When I’ve spoken at colleges and schools and—after you give the long spiel about writing from the heart, and all that stuff—the writers always ask, ‘What are people looking for?’ And I say, ‘Stop, stop thinking that right now.’ The really great producers don’t look for that anyway. They’re looking for an individual voice. They’re looking for a story that moves them.  And if you start thinking, ‘What do they want?’ and write that, then you’re never going to reach down to that great place.”
Two-time Oscar-winning producer/director/writer Paul Haggis (Crash)
The Dialogue: Learning from the Masters interview with Mike De Luca

Note: Haggis co-wrote both Crash and Million Dollar Baby on spec. The end result was a total 13 Oscar nominations, and seven wins for those movies.

P.S. Screenwriting Summer School homework: Take all advice with a grain of salt. Plenty of people  started their careers with Roger Corman by asking what he wanted. Keep in mind that the above quote is from an Oscar-winning screenwriter. But when Haggis was starting out in his career he wrote for The Richie Rich/Scooby-Doo Show and The Love Boat. And despite Billy Ray’s quote (Screenwriting Litmus Test) “Never ever write a movie that you yourself wouldn’t pay to see”—I’m not 100% sure Oscar-nominated writer/directed John Sayles wanted to see Piranha (1978) or Alligator (1980), scripts he worked on early in his career. But as far a spec scripts, I say absolutely write something from the heart that you would want to see (and hopefully one a few other people would also like to see ).

Related posts:

The Outsider Advantage
Finding Your Voice Frank Darabont quote
Finding Your Own Voice Henry Miller quote
The ‘Piranha’ Highway “It’s funny the things you would do when you’re starting out in your career that you probably wouldn’t do the same later.”—Director Joe Dante (Piranha)
Coppola & Roger Corman
Filmmaking Quote #7 (James Cameron) The Canadian-born writer/director who stands at the top of the Hollywood box office.

Scott W. Smith

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 “In high school I’d get out of doing papers by asking if I could do videos instead. I was one of those weird kids in high school who figured out that I wanted to make videos for the rest of my life.”
Kevin T. Willson
Director of Sling Baby
USA Today 

The Sling Baby now has a new name—Million Dollar Baby.*

Yesterday, Sling Baby beat out 54 other Super Bowl commercials to be the winner in the USA Today/Facebook Super Bowl Ad Meter.  Which means director Kevin T. Willson gets a nice little million dollar bonus. It also mean a clean sweep for Doritos as its other Super Bowl Ad, Man’s Best Friend, won the panelist Best Ad on Sunday. Think about that for a second….two consumer-created spots beating all the giants of advertising in the biggest game of the year.

Sure the big game was one by the New York Giants, but the great upset was scored by Doritos. To have two different films win in two different polls is amazing. The fact that they were both consumer-created is off the charts. It gives real meaning to the whole Crash the Super Bowl contest.

Of course, the big winner is Kevin Willson. Big as in one million dollars. That’s his bonus for Sling Baby landing in the top spot. On Sunday’s poll he came in fourth which meant he just missed out on the third place $400,000 bonus. That had to be frustrating to get that close. But he made up for in a couple of days later in the fan poll (aided by a nice social marketing push) and now he has a greater platform to make the features he wants to produce. Heck, if he does them Edward Burns-style, he could be making films for the next decade.

Congrats to Willson and his fellow Slingers.

But one thing to realize with Willson is just because Sling Baby was part of what’s called a consumer-created ad that doesn’t mean his win was a fluke. If you visit his Compass Films website you’ll see that he’s been at this a few years—actually, since his elementary school days in Southern California:

“After graduating from Biola University he taught Special Education for years. He left teaching to purse his dream of filmmaking and directing and directed numerous documentaries for humanitarian organizations; including Aces of Love, Habitat for Humanity, and Free Wheelchair Mission, where his film took 1st place and received a standing ovation at The White House. Kevin has filmed in 14 different countries including Peru, Cambodia, and Afghanistan.”

And this year was actually the third time he’s been a top five finalist in the Crash the Super Bowl Contest. So I don’t know if Willson has put in his 10,000 hours , but he definitely knows what he’s doing. And since he’s 34-years old, I’m estimating that he’s been at this for 20 years.

Though Willson lives in Los Angeles, he’s exactly the kind of person I write this blog for and love featuring. The full title of this blog is Screenwriitng from Iowa…and Other Unlikley Places, and I’ve often said that that unlikely place could very well be West Covina (in California) as well as West Des Moines.  La Mirada, where Willson went to school, is 15 miles south of West Covina.

Best wishes Kevin T. Willson on your filmmaking journey.

*Sling Baby’s title riffs on the movie Sling Blade (for which Billy Bob Thorton won an Oscar for his script) and Million Dollar Baby was the four-time Oscar-winner directed by Clint Eastwood.

Scott W. Smith

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Orson Welles was only 25-years-old when he made his first film Citizen Kane. It is considered one of the greatest films ever made. He won his sole Oscar on that film. He was 43 when he directed his last significant film Touch of Evil. Welles died in 1985 at age 70. Though he worked as an actor, voice-over talent, director, and even had his own TV show in his later years,  he was most well known to the general public for his Paul Masson commercials; “We will sell no wine before its time.”

When Clint Eastwood was 25-years-old he was digging swimming pools in Los Angeles.  While in his thirties he started to build a name for himself as an actor, but it was not until he was in his forties when he turned his hand to directing. And that was a 12 minute film called The Beguiled: The Storyteller. He followed that with the feature Play Misty for Me and has gone on to direct more that 30 films. He’s won four Academy Awards (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby) the last one at age 74. He was 78 when he directed and starred in Gran Torino, which to date (according to Box Office Mojo) is the highest grossing film that he’s ever starred in or directed.

“Some people glow really early, in their twenties and thirties, then in their fifties they are not doing as much. but I feel that growing up and maturing, constantly maturing—aging is the impolite way of saying it-—I like to think there is an expansion going on philosophically.”
Clint Eastwood
Devil’s Guide to Hollywood
Joe Eszterhas
Page 361

Scott W. Smith

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Since The Hurt Locker is Mark Boal’s first screenplay I wondered how he first made contact with producer/director Kathryn Bigelow. According to an LA Times article by Claudia Eller Boal & Bigelow first met “years earlier when she developed a TV series for Fox based on an article he wrote about an undercover drug agent.”

With that answer out of the way, I began to wonder where Boal’s picked up how to write a screenplay since he was a trained journalist. And I found the answer in the  article “Inside The Hurt Locker with writer Mark Boal” by Jen Yamato.

Yamato:  Coming from a background in journalism, were you prepared to write in terms of cinematic storytelling?

Boal: No, not really. I was really lucky in that I had worked before that on In the Valley of Elah with Paul Haggis, so that was my introduction to screenwriting. I learned a lot from Paul. Kathryn was very generous with her time and taught me a lot, too, so between the two of them I got my feet wet.

The time in Iraq was really research, and I did additional research after that. What it did was it enabled us to make something that was pretty faithful to what life was like in 2004.

Ahhhh, it all makes sense. Haggis (who I quoted back in November) cut his writing chops back on shows like the Love Boat back in 1985 and many other TV programs before winning back to back Oscar awards for writing the scripts for Crash and Million Dollar Baby. I kept wondering how Boal pulled off such a great first script. Not to take anything away from Boal or the research he did in Iraq, but what a great opportunity he had to have mentor-like relationship with an multiple Academy Award-winning screenwriter who has picked up a few things in his 20+ year career. And then add Bigelow’s experience on top of that I’m guessing that Boal has a pretty solid understanding of screenwriting and I look forward to his next film.

The Writer’ Store is selling The Hurt Locker script published by Newsmarket and Storylink  will also be hosting a live Q&A with Boal on February 16, 2010. You can submit questions online at Storylink.

Related posts: Pandora vs. Baghdad

First Screenplay= 9 Oscar Nominations

Scott W. Smith

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