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“We have to be on the outside so we can see things other people can’t see and tell those stories. Don’t follow. Set trends. Lead us. Tell your stories or help others to tell theirs in your ways. A culture needs its creative people to tell its story, to reflect itself, and to reflect what’s happening to us. To give us perspectives and images about who we are and where we’re going and where we might go. And without those reflections, without those stories, a culture dies. Or at least it gets shallow and meaningless and starts remaking movies from ten years ago because they’re too frightened to make anything original.”
–Screenwriter Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King, Freedom Writers)
2011 Emerson College Commencement Address

Scott W. Smith

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Don’t get scared away by the privacy settings on the below video, just click the “Watch on Vimeo” button and you‘ll be rewarded with a terrific DIY video where ASC cinematographer Lawrence Sher (Joker, The Hangover) walks you through how he recreates a shot from E.T. by using only things in his house and an iPhone. This is one way to use you quarantine time in creative ways. (Heck, this would be a good way to do a whole college class.)

Shot Craft — Staying Creative in Quarantine from American Cinematographer on Vimeo.

You can check out a matching article on the American Cinematography blog written by Jay Holben. Sher also created a website called Shotdeck that is full of movie images that can  serve as inspiration for your own ideas.  And you can follow Sher on Instagram (@lawrencesherdp) where he shares his recreations of famous movie scenes.

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The Best Film School 
10 Low-Budget Filmmaking Quotes 
The 10 Film Commandments of Edward Burns
Shooting a Feature Film in 4 Days
Shooting a Feature Film in 1 Day
Shooting a Feature Film Over Dinner
Shooting a Feature Film in a Coffin

Scott W. Smith

 

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“I do take a personal approach first. I’m not so much market-based. In a place like Amazon, where everyone is employed verses as opposed to self-employed, does have certain business mandates you’re trying to fill and address. But on a much more personal level, the first question is, How do I feel?What kind of response does it elicit in me? And there’s a handful of things that we immediately look for. I’m asking myself, am I going to be as excited about unlocking the mysteries that are contained within three to five years down the road as I am at this moment? Like the longevity— almost like a relationship. You have to look at the movie and interrogate it;  Is there enough to keep you hungry for a long time to unlock those pleasures?  For me, that often comes down to— I’m a very thematic-based individual— I look for what is in this? Whether it’s a design for living, or an overall philosophy. My team at Amazon sometimes teases me that I get fixated on certain themes, and I’m starting to see it. I very much like stories where’s it’s about me seeing you and you seeing me. When do we know that we’re actually recognized? How do we find our authentic self? I like stories about that. I like questions about the transformative power of love. I like that as a theme in movies.  Really what I’m getting at is I’m looking at something that is going to keep me leaning forward, engaged with the film, my mind spinning, my emotions stimulated, and I know that when it’s over I’m going to be compelled to talk about it with my friends that I’ve seen it with. I want to be heavily engaged and get a bit of a workout —whether it’s emotional, intellectual,  or visceral.”
Producer Ted Hope (Manchester by the Sea, Cold War)
Woodstock FilmFest, “Virtual Films & Conversations” 

Related posts:

Define What You Love & Ted Hope’s List of ‘32 Qualities of a Better Films’ 
‘Helping Others Rarely Hurts Anyone, Particularly Yourself’— Ted Hope 
Ted Hope on Finding a Safe Harbor from Liars and Cheats
40 Days of Emotions 
‘My Formula for the Perfect Sundance Film’—Producer Ted Hope
Ted Hope on Finding a Film’s Theme
‘A new and vibrant cinema’—Ted Hope
‘If I ran a film school…’—Ted Hope

Scott W. Smith 

 

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When I studied dramatic writing in college my professor John Glavin printed out the screenplay for American Beauty and told me, ‘Notice that it says draft 12.’ I remember thinking, ‘That must be an anomaly.’ But it isn’t. Everything I’ve produced on stage or screen went through 10 or 20 drafts. Believe it or not, you’re currently reading the 12th draft of this.

Rewriting is a badge of honor. For a year the final story in The New One took place with my wife and daughter on a beach. And one day Ira Glass said to me “It shouldn’t end there. It should end somewhere else.” (I won’t say where).

I had already toured 30 cities with artwork of myself on a beach. I had made a promotional video with live seals in La Jolla, Calif., on a beach. Now the beach story is gone.”
—Writer Mike Birbiglia (Don’t Think Twice, The New One)
6 Tips for Getting Your Play to Broadway 

Related post:
Bad Script, Good Pizza, Great Feedback

Scott W. Smith

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Here’s a Vanity Fair clip of director Randel Kleiser walking through a scene from the timeless Grease featuring the song You’re the One That I Want sung by Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta.

You’re the One That I Want is one of the top 20 selling singles of all time. 

Back in 1978 Travolta was over-the-top successful. He’d just come off an Oscar-nomination for Saturday Night Fever, was starring in the hit TV show Welcome Back Kotter, and had a hot song with Let Her In. Lesser remembered is a TV movie he did in 1976.

The Boy in the Plastic Bubble  was also directed by Randel Kleiser from a script by Douglas Day Stewart (screenwriter of An Officer and a Gentleman). I remember being a teenager and seeing The Boy in the Plastic Bubble when it came out on TV. I never saw it again and haven’t thought about it in a decade—or two. Until recently,  when the coronavirus started to take over the news.

And speaking of the coronavirus— and the other half of singing You’re the One That I Want…

Olivia Newton-John may have been my first celebrity crush. I bought her If you love me , let me know album when I was 13. That was 1974, a couple of years before the Farrah Fawsett poster came out. (Maureen McCormick, Marcia on The Brady Bunch, was in the mix around that time.)  I spent a lot of time listening to Olivia Newton-John’s music.

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Olivia Newton-John’s battle with cancerhave been well documented over the years, and she recently relayed a stay at home message on her Instagram from some of the staff at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre in Australia.

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If you need a smile today to break through the global news, here’s a video of Olivia Newton-John singing Bob Dylan’s If Not For You when she was in her early 20s.  That smile. That voice. Those eyes.

Scott W. Smith

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“Our stories, our books, our films are how we cope with the random trauma-inducing chaos of life as it plays out.”
—Bruce Springsteen

The antithesis of social distancing for me was the Bruce Springsteen concert I attended on October 2, 1985 at the Los Angeles Coliseum. It was also the best concert I ever attended.

It was the final night of the Born in the U.S.A. tour and, if I recall correctly. there were around 100.000 people in attendance. It was not only biggest crowd I’ve ever been a part of, but it was the longest one, too.

I think it was a soild 3 1/2 hours. I found the setlist of that night online, and the encore itself was 10 songs. The encore! Apparently Springteen  played 33 songs total. And he did a lot of talking between songs.

Yesterday I came across the above quote of Springsteen’s, that I think I pulled from his Broadway show that I saw on Netflix last year. This seems as good as any to point out to reflect on that quote. And to look at the three films from three different places around the globe (Los Angeles, Japan, and Denmark) that I think deal well with “trauma-inducing chaos.”

That includes loss of job, broken relationships, shipwreck, and terminal cancer. Jerry Maguire is such an timeless film that instead of posting the trailer, I’ve included the Springsteen song featured in Jerry Maguire.

Scott W. Smith 

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“The setting of [Field of Dreams] is just so inspired, and so perfect. You look at the movie, and the cinematography has aged really well. What’s more American than apple pie? Well, literally, nothing is more American than a cornfield in Iowa, right? And so many times in the movie someone talks about the smell—the smell of the glove by your face, or the feel of the grass on your feet. And that visceral physicality to the thing that allows you to connect with it—that has aged well. There’s almost a nostalgia for it in an era when digitally, we’re just removed from everything.”
Mallory Rubin (Editor-in-Chief, The Ringer)
The Rewatchables, ‘Field of Dreams’ with Bill Simmons, Chris Ryan, and Mallory Rubin

Since the tile of this blog is Screenwriting from Iowa … and Other Unlikely places (and features a cornfield in Iowa photo), I couldn’t pass up on posting the above quote after hearing it on The Rewatchables podcast. I actually didn’t love Field of Dreams when it came out in 1989. But after my dad died September 6, 1995—the same night Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gerhrig’s recordField of Dreams was the first movie I watched. Since then I’ve been a fan.

In 2014,  I shot and produced the micro-doc Tinker Field: A Love Letter, and recalled a baseball memory with my father:

P.S. Tinker Field was named after Joe Tinker who played for the Chicago Cubs, and is perhaps best remembered as part of the double play combination mentioned in the 1910 poem Baseball’s Sad Lexicon by Franklin Pierce Adams :

These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

Related posts:
Field of Dreams—25th Anniversary
Field of Dreams Turns 20
Dreams for Sale 
‘What could be make on a farm in Iowa for $50K?’—A Quiet Place 
Sam Shepard on a Farm in Iowa 
Burns, Baseball & Character Flaws 
Screenwriting, Baseball, and Underdogs (2.0)

Scott W. Smith

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“I left the theater [after seeing Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood] thinking that this was Brad Pitt— kind of like his Dirk Nowitzki 2011 Finals title. Where it’s like, oh man, I’d written the chapter on his legacy. I didn’t realize we were going to keep rewriting the legacy.”
Bill Simmons (Comparing Pitt’s now Oscar-winning later career performance to a NBA basketball player who helped his team win a Finals title—and series MVP— later in his All-Star career.)
The Bill Simmons Podcast

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I saw Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood nine times while it was in theaters. That’s right, I saw Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film nine times—don’t judge.  That tripled my viewing record of any film while it was still in theaters. It’s an amazingly rewatchable movie, so it’s no surprise that I enjoyed The Rewatchables podcast where host Bill Simmons and the gang discussed Once Upon at the Sundance Film Festival last month.

Tarantino loves hang-out movies, and I think you could consider The Rewatchables as a hang-out podcast. (In the Once Upon episode, Simmons hung out with Sean Fennessey and Chris Ryan for a lively discussion.)  I’ve been binging on back episodes for the past week, and it was no surprise that Tarantino himself popped up to hang-out on a few of The Rewatchables. These are usually long format podcasts, but here’s a short sample of the episode on the movie Unstoppable where between talking about his love for actor Denzel Washington, Tarantino spoke about how he wrote the Jules character in Pulp Fiction for Laurence Fishburne— and why Fishburne turned down the role.

Simmons comes from the world of sports analyzing (ESPN, HBO, Grantland) and brings to each podcast a fresh take on movies where he mixes his encyclopedia of knowledge on a variety of topics and sprinkles in enough sports analogues to get someone like me jazzed.

The first 20 years of my life were defined by sports. My ’70s childhood/teenage memories are full of watching the ’72 Miami Dolphins go undefeated, and the Big Red Machine winning the ’75 World Series. I played competitive baseball and football for a decade. I read Jim Boudin’s Ball Four, Gary Shaw’s Meet on the Hoof: The Hidden World of Texas Football.  and consumed sports movies like Brian’s Song, Le Mans, The Longest Yard, Rocky, and North Dallas Forty.

All of that lead for a year in college to working as a sports photographer/journalist with the Sanford Herald.  There I interviewed and/or photographed pro athletes Jack Billingham, Doug Williams, and Tim Raines. Then I walked-on to the Miami Hurricane football team and started studying movies and filmmaking.

After dislocating my shoulder in practice and having an operation, I walked-off and moved to Los Angeles in 1982 to finish film school. Back then, sports and movies were essentially two different worlds. My first spec script was titled Walk-On and I was repeatedly told Hollywood didn’t like sports films because they didn’t sell. That was years before Rudy— and a zillion other sports films.  I learned that in filmmaking, as well as sports, that timing is everything. And there’s always a talent pyramid. (One of my football coaches was fond of saying at the beginning of the season “the cream always rises to the top.”)

While in Los Angeles I worked for a few years at Yary Sports Photography, co-owned by Ron Yary. Yary blocked for O.J. Simpson and won the Outland Trophy at U.S.C, before going on to be a seven time pro-bowl player with the Minnesota Vikings. He was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.

That sets up why Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood and Bill Simmons resonate so much with me. I had the opportunity to drive all over Southern California (including Sunset Blvd. and Hollywood Blvd. hundreds of times) between ’82-‘87 taking team photos (including the L.A. Rams and L.A. Raiders) as well as getting a healthy dose of old Hollywood. I was also able to do business at various movie/TV studios including Disney, Warner Bros., and Paramount. It feels like half of Once Upon takes places driving around L.A., which explains why the Once Upon soundtrack has lived in my car CD player since July.

Perhaps in an alternative world, instead of being a few years older than Simmons, ideally I would have been a few years younger and ready to work on the ESPN’s 30 by 30 sports documentaries that launched in 2009—with none other that Bill Simmons as co-creator with Connor Schell.

One of the first 30 by 30 docs was directed by Billy Corban on the University of Miami National Championship football program in the ’80s and ’90s. A documentary so successful that ESPN did a second doc on on the Hurricanes.

With The U doc (along with Rudy, Friday Night Lights, Sandlot, etc.etc.) it’s easy for me to identify some with Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) about the road not taken, but also Cliff Booth’s (Brad Pitt) life ain’t so bad philosophy. Working in production has paid my bills for over three decades, allowed me to travel widely, and to work with many very creative folks.

And like  Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, I still have hope that at the end of day that just maybe (like Rick Dalton) the gates will open to yet another new chapter of life. Who doesn’t want to have hope we’re “just one pool party away” from whatever it is we’re longing for? To be like NFL great John Elway leading the Denver Broncos to back to back Super Bowl victories in the final two years of his career.

“My father always said to me I would be a late bloomer. I believe I’m the oldest person to ever win this particular award. I hope that record is broken.”
Oscar-winning speech by 74-year old David Seidler (The King’s Speech)

But I’m at a point in my life when I can truly appreciate other people’s success. That includes Simmons own “Apex Mountain” (to use a phrase he’s fond of) who’s selling his L.A. based The Ringer podcast company to Spotify in a deal reported to be in the $200 million range. Not bad for a CEO who was fired by ESPN five years ago.

That’s more stunning than if Tarantino had written an ending with Rick Dalton being cast to star in the Roman Polanski directed film Chinatown (1974) instead of Jack Nicholson. Congrats to Bill Simmons on his team for adding their version to Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood folklore.

P.S. One of the categories of The Rewatchables is nitpicks. For instance, in Once Upon they wondered if Brandy the dog that hangs out in Cliff’s trailer has someone take her out for a bathroom break during the day. I did wonder that. But my real nitpick in Once Upon revolves around a key moment of the film. At Spahn Ranch, Cliff discovers not only that he has a flat tire, but that the knife is still in the tire. First, why would you leave your knife in the tire that you flattened?  And secondly, why was only one tire punctured? If you wanted to mess with someone, wouldn’t you flatten all four tires? The only logical explanation is upon flattening the first tire, the knife got stuck. But I think it’s really an homage to Road House (1989), where Dalton (Patrick Swayze) comes out of a bar late at night (after a rowdy fight) to find a knife in his flat tire. In that case, all four tires were slashed. And it had a nice set-up and payoff in that we see in the prior scene Dalton buying four tires and sticking them in his trunk (implying that he’s two steps ahead of the bad guys, knowing they are going to slash his tires).

Related posts:
The Unofficial ‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’ Filmmaking School
The Dave Martinez  Redemption and the Drama of the 2019 World Series
Remembering the Friday Night Lights 
Once Upon a Time … in Burbank  (reflecting a little on Burt Reynolds )
Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (Part 1 of 10)

Scott W. Smith 

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If you want to get caught up on world cinema, contemporary indie films, tap into some of the Criterion Collection, documentaries, and/or educational videos—all for free–then check out Kanopy.com, which hopefully you can access into through your college/university or public library. (Availability and selection of movies depends on your library/school.)

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Here’s a wide assortment of topics you can sort through.

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Between this post and yesterday’s post on links to recently Oscar nominated screenplays, it is simply amazing what is available these days for no cost.

Scott W. Smith

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“[Hollywood has] welcomed change with about the same relish the dinosaurs welcomed the Ice Age.”
Stephen Galloway
The Hollywood Reporter

“I get asked all the time, ‘Where does this stop? When does it stop?’ The truth is that it is only getting started.”
Brett Sappington (on the growing number of streaming services)
A senior Parks Associates analyst and researcher

OscarEmmy

In the New York Times article, The Streaming Era Has Finally Arrived. Everything Is About to Change,” Brooks Barnes writes that the streaming era is a once in a generation disruption—like the shift away from silent movies or the introduction of broadcast television, or cable decades after that.

He points out that how in 2018 there were 495 scripted original series, and says that all the work is making it “gravy time” for many. Just this month Disney Plus and Apple Plus TV added more viewing choices to audiences to the over 250 online choices out there. (Ever heard of Horse Lifestyle TV? As the saying goes, “there are riches in niches.” Just ask Tyler Perry.)

No doubt there will be audience fatigue with all of these choices, and some consolidation and mergers of shows and companies, but we are living in a streaming world—at least until the next disruption in 10, 20, or 30 years. And with the blending of movies, broadcast/cable TV, and streaming, the entertsinment status quo is in the early stages of a major earthquake leading to speculations never imagined even a year ago.

“With more original movies bypassing big screens, the line between TV and film is blurring, prompting once-unthinkable operating questions. Studios, for instance, employ separate executive teams to oversee the development and production of movies and television series. Should that siloed approach end? There has even been some muttering about whether the Emmys and the Oscars should merge.”
Brooks Barnes

Barnes is referring to a The Hollywood Reporter article by Stephen Galloway this summer where he addressed what all of these streaming changes mean at award time.  Netflix’s Roma last year kicked off the debate on when the foreign-languge film, produced by a streaming company, with a limited theatrical run, was up for a Best Picture Oscar.  (it did win Best Foreign Film, but lost to Green Book for Best Picture.

But it’s just a matter of time before a streaming company wins a Best Picture Oscar—perhaps The Irishmen, which Netflix releases next week will be that picture. Either way, the provocative question is Will the Oscars and Emmys Merge in the Streaming Era?

That’s as fun to speculate as a joke starting with, “An Emmy and a Oscar walk into a bar. . . .”

P.S. Ten years ago I watched my first streaming show on my computer (Cocaine Cowboys on Netflix) and it took me about 2.3 seconds to realize that the VHS/DVD rental business was finished. Blockbuster went bankrupt. Blockbuster at its peak had 9,000 stores, but today there is just one left in the entire world. I don’t know what the the entertainment landscape will look like in ten years, but I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying that studios will begin to sell chucks of real estate because “There’s gold in them thar hills.” Movies can be made anywhere—have you see Tyler Perry’s new Atlanta studio?—and real estate in Los Angeles is just crazy expensive.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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