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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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If you’re on Twitter, two writer/directors that I’d recommend you follow are Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (A Quiet Place, Haunt) who go by @beckandwoods on Twitter. Here’s an example of one of their tweets.

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“When I’m doing a movie, I’m not doing anything else. It’s all about the movie. I don’t have a wife. I don’t have a kid. Nothing can get in my way.”
Quentin Tarantino in 2009
GQ article Triumph of His Will

It’s offical—Once Upon a Time …. in Hollywood became the first movie I’ve ever seen in theaters more than three times. I saw it for the fourth time yesterday, and if I’d had the time I would have watched it again right way.

For me it’s just been a rare movie going experience and one that I’m not sure will come again any time soon.

And this from someone who wouldn’t consider himself a Quentin Tarantino fanboy. I went to Hateful Eight in 70mm and left disappointed. I appreciate his talent for remixing influences, but don’t enjoy his casual use of violence. I didn’t see any of his prior films in the theater more than once, many of his movies I didn’t even go to while they were in theaters, and I skipped Death Proof all together.

Which makes me wonder why Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood resonated with me so much. I think part of it was being alive in 1969 (albeit I was 8 and 9 years old then),  having spent five years in LA on the fringes of the film industry, being aware of the Charles Manson cult, and having a lifelong love of movies.

After seeing Once Upon with an almost full audience on the opening night the first comment I heard was from a 20-something girl who “What did I just watch?” My guess is she had little or no idea who Charles Manson was or what he and his cult did back in 1969.

Tarantino doesn’t spoon feed you that information with any expositional dumps. If any thing he downplays things. What he does brilliantly is play on expectations. Somewhere early in my first viewing I remember thinking “How is he going to land this plane.”

It was like Hitchcock’s bomb under the table. Screenwriting 101. As long as the audience sees the bomb under the table you can have actors at the table discuss anything and it will be riveting. Some do that for a scene or two. But here Tarantino does it for almost entire film. All but the last scene of the two hour and 40 minute film is a ticking bomb.

Tarantino and cast and crew layer the film with character studies wonderfully acted, a zillion culture reference, beautiful cinematography, and spellbinding sound tack. In a world crowded with content, it stands out as exceptional and emotional storytelling. It’s also one that rewards audiences with repeat viewings. (Well, at least the ones that don’t hate this film.)

For the dozen or so movies I’ve seen three times in theaters, I’ve found that three times is the maximum amount of viewings before I determine that the next time I see it will be on DVD or streaming. But what made this fourth viewing better that the others was I bought the movie sound track on CD (a first in the last decade or so) and listened to it repeatedly over the past week. It’s a joy all by itself. Then I also listened to Karina Longworth’s 12 part You Must Remember This podcast on “Charles Manson’s Hollywood.”

That podcast gave many wonderful insights into the times and people involved in the surrounding story. That podcast was released in 2015 and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was part of Tarantino’s inspiration with wanting wrap a story around that faithful hot August night in 1969.

On this fourth viewing I really appreciated the range of Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance. On the first viewing of the film I really wanted to see Matt Dillion in that roll of an aging actor. An actor that is closer to Brad Pitt’s age, and one who had some great leading roles 15-20+ years ago. (And one who as the same namesake as the sheriff on Gunsmoke.) But on a $90 million budget I understand needing someone who attract a wide audience so I wanted to see Tom Cruise as the aging actor. On the third viewing I was good with DiCaprio, but still wished he was 10 years older—or at least looked a little more worn. On this viewing, I was good with DiCaprio as is.

Though this is Tarantino’s ninth film this is his first film to complete while married. Perhaps that altered his sensibilities for the better. There is something intellectual (even mystical learning toward spiritual) in this film that I did experience in his pervious films.

Perhaps after the fifth viewing in theater (which their no doubt will be) I will be able to articulate what it is about this movie that’s made be respond the way I have. But in the meantime here are a few dots that were connected and memory doors that the movie opened for me and warranted my record breaking viewing.

  1. When I was in film school in Los Angeles in the early 80s I briefly worked at Frank’s Camera in Highland Park (not far from Dodger Stadium) and I sold a camera to a fellow who worked in the film industry and I asked him if he had any advice for someone starting out. He looked at me dead serious and said “Don’t get married.” It was such unexpected advice that it hit me hard. In many ways working in film and television is like joining the circus and not exactly conducive to a normal family life. Tarantino has spoken openly about the sacrifices he made to become the great filmmaker he is. In my early 20s I met several people in L.A. who were in their 40s and 50s who had some success in Hollywood, yet were still waiting for their big break and I knew I didn’t want to be one of those people. I got married when I was 24-years-old and carved out a niche working in production and having a family life.  Tarantino says he didn’t even have a girlfriend until he was 25 (though he pointed out in a interview that he was “the king of first dates). He got married last year at age 56.
  2. When I moved to L.A. in 1981 I rented a studio apartment on Riverside Dr. in Burbank next to some horse stables connected to what is now called the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. I met my wife at that apartment complex. We once rented horses and went on a trail ride there. This week I read that’s where Tarantino’s parent met. In Once Upon a tourist from Tennessee named Connie goes on a horse back ride at Spahn Ranch. Tarantino’s mother is from Tennessee and named Connie.
  3. When Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) says “Okay Kato” to Bruce Lee it snaped a memory to me that The Green Hornet (1966-67) was a favorite TV show of mine as a kid. I couldn’t tell you what a single episode was about, but I remember wearing a Green Hornet ring. This was a very distant memory and one that I wasn’t even sure was a real memory. So last night I googled “Green Hornet ring” and sure enough that was a real thing and I even found a commercial for it.
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  5. When I saw that Tarantino married 35-year-old Daniella Pick I wondered if Tarantino wasn’t getting into position to start a family. Yesterday I read that Daniella is pregnant. Tarantino has said that he wanted to make 10 films and then retire from feature filmmaking at age 60. It’s possible that that could happen. But it’s also probable that he’ll be creating long form streaming content, writing plays and books. And like Steven Soderbergh and Michael Jordan it’s possible that he’ll un-retire down the road. I hope he doesn’t stop creating because I kinda dig this (relatively) kinder, gentler Tarantino.
  6. I grew up on Burt Reynold’s movies as did Tarantino and while I haven’t heard anyone make this connection, but I wonder if The 14 Fists of McClusky wasn’t a nod to Reynold’s character Gator McKlusky in White Lighting (1973) and Gator (1976). Reynold’s  was cast to play the George Spahn character in Once Upon but unfortunately died before his parts were shot. (But Tarantino points out he did do table reads and rehearsals so it was his last role). Back in 1969, Reynolds started in the western Sam Whiskey.  Actress Tracey Roberts has a part in that film and is who I studied acting with in the early 80s. Laura Dern also studied with Roberts, and her father Bruce Dern is the one who replaced Reynolds as George Spahn. Screen Shot 2019-07-30 at 3.08.59 AM
  7. Like a lot of kids I grew up watching old westerns on TV, but I had the benefit of having a Western theme park not far from where I grew up. Six Gun Territory was a place in Ocala, Florida that had an old west town, gun fights and can-can girls. I not only visited a couple of times as a kid but shot part of my first 16mm film there. One of the times I visited my father drove my sister and I up in his Karmann Ghia. The same car that Pitt’s character drives around in Once Upon. 
  8. When Smokey and the Bandit starring Burt Reynolds hit theaters I was 16 years old and I remember well how exhilarating it was after the movie was over and getting in my car to drive away. Tarantino has said that Smokey and the Bandit is a movie that holds up well with repeated viewings. Tarantino is a writer/director who thinks of the audience from the early idea stages through post production. It’s how this movie takes me back to film school when I rode a motorcycle up and down Hollywood Blvd. at night.
  9. Even though Once Upon is a centered on a bromance, Margot Robbie, Margaret Qualley, and Julia Butter shine in their scenes. I would have been fine with Tarantino expanding any of their roles, but it would have pushed the movie over the 3 hour mark.
  10. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is still a full sensory experience even if you weren’t alive in the 1960s, if you never visited Six Gun Territory, if your dad didn’t have a Karmann Ghia, and even if you never even visited Los Angeles —but you may not see it four+ times.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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”My own experience leads me to believe that an original plot is never as essential or, in fact, salable as is fresh and original treatment of a plot that has proved popular.”
Screenwriter Frances Marion

Here is a list of plots pulled from Frances Marion’s book How to Write and Sell Stories—published way back in 1937. As you’ll see, plots over 80 years ago weren’t that much different than today. This list is Marion’s (and the films in parentheses are ones she mentions). The clips I added to so show some examples (more or less) from the past 25 years.

The Prodigal Son Plot

The Sacrifice Plot (Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch)

The Love Plot (Stella Dallas, Min and Bill, Beau Geste, Sorrel and Son)

The Dramatic Triangle (Wife vs. Secretary, These Three, Dark Angel)

The Plot that is Didactic 

Plot Based on Likeness of Identity (As You Desire Me)

Reformation of Character (Magnificent Obsession, Fury, Green Light)

Revelation of Character

Domestic Relations (Dodsworth)

Topical or Timely Plots

The Relation to Society

The Adventure Plot (Tiger Rose)

The Plot Involving the Detection of a Criminal (Charlie Chan)

The Horror Story (Dracula, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, King Kong)

Stories of Fantasy (Peter Pan)

Musical Plot

The Comedy Form 

Plot Involving Race Conflict (The Birth of a Nation, The Lives of the Bengal Lancer)

“We don’t wade through our existence with any sort of originality. We all live and die and eat three meals a day, and fall in and out of love, and the rest of it.”
Charlie Chaplin

Embrace your limitations and consider following Marion’s wisdom to pick a “fresh and original treatment of a plot that has proved popular.”

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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