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“Creative-minded people enjoy a mix of influences. They want to hear different kinds of music and try different kinds of food. They want to meet and socialize with people unlike themselves, trade views and spar over issues.”
Richard Florida
The Rise of the Creative Class

“We focused on places that specialize in out-of-the-box thinking.”
Kiplinger’s editors on their picking the 10 Best Cities for the Next Decade

When people think of Iowa the word creative isn’t usually the first word that pops into their mind. (Nor even the second or third word.) But what makes Iowa a fitting metaphor for screenwriting outside LA (as I have tried to show in the last two and a half years) is some tremendous creative talent has flowed from this state. Way back to painter Grant Wood and playwright Meredith Wilson (Music Man) to current actors from right here in Cedar Falls Michael Mosle and Annabeth Gish.

Certainly every state in America has, to borrow Richard Florida’s phrase, a creative class. In fact, Florida says they actually represent 40 million people in this county. He doesn’t limit the creative to writers and painters but includes those in education, biotech and architecture and small business.

I was living in Orlando when I first read Florida’s book The Rise of the Creative Class and was excited to a see a shift in the culture where creative people were not just tolerated, but seen as a key part of economic development for cities across the country. It’s been a while since I read the book, and I’m not sure how recent economic changes have altered the course of Florida’s predictions, but the lasting impression I got from reading the book is—it’s a good time to be creative.

(And even those in non-creative professions are more creative in their lives these days due to the increasing popularity of home improvements and decorating TV shows, taking better pictures of their kids, cooking gourmet meals. blogging, etc.)

Which brings me back to Iowa. Des Moines has made national news this week a couple of times and they are not unrelated. First when Slipknot bass guitarist Paul Gray was found dead in a hotel room is a Des Moines suburb. Slipknot came on the scene in the 90s and was unorthodox even by heavy metal standards. I’m not sure when people’s perception of Iowa began to changed, but it may have something to do with the founding of Slipknot in 1995—or when the Iowa-based band won a Grammy in 2006 for “Best Metal Performance.” (Maybe someone can fill in the gap between the dreaded Des Moines in the 60s & 70s that Bill Bryson writes about in his books and the Slipknot era.)

The fact is times are changing. A 1999 quote I’m fond of digging up comes from Steven Spielberg; “I think that the Internet is going to effect the most profound change on the entertainment industries combined. And we’re all gonna be tuning into the most popular Internet show in the world, which will be coming from some place in Des Moines. We’re all gonna be on the Internet trying to find an audience.”
(Interview with Katie Couric on the NBC Today Show)

This week Kiplinger magazine name Des Moines the seventh best city to live and work. (10 Best Cities for the Next Decade.) Austin was listed as #1 and Seattle #2. No surprises there, nor with Boulder a little further down the list—but Des Moines? Really? This is what Kiplinger was looking for:

“Places with strong economies and abundant jobs, then demand reasonable living costs and plenty of fun things to do. When we ran the numbers, some of the names that popped up made us do a double take at first…One key to a bright future is a healthy shot of people in the creative class. People in creative fields — scientists, engineers, architects, educators, writers, artists and entertainers — are catalysts of vitality and livability in a city.”

This is nothing new to people in Des Moines. In a 2002 article by Florida he listed Des Moines as #2 (after Madison, WI) in his “Small-Size Cities Creativity Rankings.”

I’ve been fortunate over the years to have traveled to all 50 of the United States and I’ve seen creative people everywhere; Pittsburgh, Birmingham, Portland, Cleveland, Boston, Santa Fe, Minneapolis, Talkeetna—you get the picture. And I’m sure in all of those places there are screenwriters chipping away on scripts that they hope will find their way to Hollywood or perhaps a local filmmaker who can bring their words to life.

“Screenwriting from Iowa” is just here to give you a little encouragment—a glass of water for thirsty souls on a long journey.

PS. If you happen to find yourself driving through Des Moines on I-80, stop by the East Village downtown to see some of the creative changes happening in Iowa.

PSS. Also making Kiplinger’s top ten list is Rochester, Minnesota. Cedar Falls, Iowa where I live is about two hours south-west of Rochester and about two hours north-east of Des Moines…so once again in the middle of a lot of action.

Related Post: Off Screen Quote #2 (Bill Bryson)

Scott W. Smith


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“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
                                                        Dorothy

“Digital downloads! Internet video-on-demand! This is the future!”
                                                        Phil Alden Robinson
                                                        Director/screenwriter of Field of Dreams

 

In the last couple days I’ve written about webisode and Internet and the opportunities it is bringing screenwriters and filmmakers. But last night I had the antithesis of watching a two-minute web story alone on a 15″ laptop screen. I had a shared experience of watching The Wizard of Oz on the big screen with more  than 1,000 people accompanied live by a full orchestra.

It was quite an experience. Something even audiences 70 years ago when the movie was released didn’t get to experience. The Midwest premiere of Oz with Orchestra was performed by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony under the direction of conductor Jason Weinberger. 

But as popular and magical an evening as it was, watching movies with live orchestras is not going to be a regular movie going experience if for no other reason as it is cost prohibitive. So here we are back in the land of the Internet.

Back in 2003 one place made the proclamation about watching movies online “someday all movies will be watched this way.”  Now there are several places like Netflicks and iTunes where you can legally download movies free or for a price. And who knows how many places there are to illeagally download movies? In fact, before the much anticipated film  X-Men Origins: Wolverine release next week it has been estimated that over 2 million people have already watched an  illegal download of the movie.

 I don’t know what all of this means for the movie industry so I thought I’d see what the Wizard of Hollywood had to say about all of this. Here’s what  Steven Spielberg told Katie Couric on the NBC Today Show back in 1999, “I think that the Internet is going to effect the most profound change on the entertainment industries combined. And we’re all gonna be tuning into the most popular Internet show in the world, which will be coming from some place in Des Moines.”

I hope he’s wrong. I hope that Internet show is coming from Cedar Falls, Iowa. (And I hope it’s being produced by River Run Productions.)

Oh, you don’t think Spielberg is the Wizard of Hollywood? Let’s go back a couple years ago when George Lucas according to Vanity Fair said in effect that the secret to the future is a large quantity of small, web-distributed movies; and the habit of moviegoing will be a thing of the past.

I wouldn’t bet against Spielberg and Lucas. But however inventive films are viewed in the future, scripts still need to be written the old fashioned way — word by word.

Oz trivia: Did you know that not only Dorothy had Midwest roots but so did the actress who played here? Judy Garland was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Minnesota and her childhood home is now the Judy Garland Museum.  The Minnesota town also is in its fourth decade of having a Judy Garland Festival each June. 

And if you’d like a different experience to watching the film that AFI has ranked as the number one fantasy movie, I’ve heard the The Wizard of Oz actually syncs up pretty good to Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon if you begin the CD on the third lion roar at the start. Really, who discovers these things? 

 

Scott W. Smith

 

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“Trouble, oh we got trouble, Right here in River City!”
                                                  Music Man, written by Iowa native Meredith Willson

How high’s the water, mama? 
Five feet high and risin’ 
                                                   Johnny Cash
                                                   Five Feet High and Risin’ 

 

I was supposed to get my haircut today…that didn’t happen.

When the morning begins with a segment of the NBC Today Show in Cedar Falls, Iowa you know there’s trouble in River City. Just two blocks from my office the Cedar River flows. In fact, we chose the name River Run Productions for our company because we saw the river as a metaphor that runs though Iowa and eventually into the Mississippi which eventually runs into the Gulf of Mexico and around the world.

Little did we know when we launched in January of ‘07 that just four months later I would be doing a shoot in Brazil including flying in a seaplane over the meeting of the waters where the Amazon and Rio Negro Rivers meet. 

But back in Cedar Falls today it was a long day of partaking along with hundreds (thousands?) of volunteers (including my partner who lost his home in the Parkersburg tornado two weeks ago) filling and placing sandbags trying to keep the river at bay. So far it’s been working to protect the downtown area, though many people in the low lying areas have evacuated and much of their homes underwater.  And the river is not supposed to crest until sometime tomorrow. 

 

Somewhere between moving boxes of photographs and memories to the basement Saturday night due to a tornado warning and taking the same boxes upstairs this morning in case of flooding, one can’t help but examine what you really need in your life.

I took all of these photos today and will give updates in coming days and then bring it full circle in regard to screenwriting and life.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday June 11, 2008 Update

The sandbagging on Tuesday paid off in Cedar Falls as the river crested at 2 AM with the downtown being spared from any flooding despite a record level of 102 feet. I drove over to Waterloo to help artist & friend Paco Rosic with his battle to hold back the flooding there from his restaurant/studio. Without much sleep in the last two night he and his father are winning the battle when most have given up.  Here are some shots of the front, inside (the multiple cords going to several water pumps), and view from the back of Galleria De Paco (voted this year as the #1 attraction in Iowa).

 

Thursday June 12, 2008 Update

Where’d all the good people go?
I’ve been changin’ channels
I don’t see them on the tv shows
Where’d all the good people go?
                                                                                                 Jack Johnson
                                                                                                 Good People

The secret’s out, Jack. A lot of those good people are in Iowa. They’re even on tv. NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams showed some of them in last night’s broadcast, including a nurse who volunteered in the morning after working an all-night shift in an intensive care unit. All told, I heard 5,000 people and 250,000 sandbags filled and placed on the levee helped keep the river back in downtown Cedar Falls. (Not that I put myself in the good people category, but I did make a brief cameo on the NBC segment in a non-speaking role as “Volunteer passing sandbag in white long sleeve t-shirt and camera strap around front.”)

It appears the worst is over in Cedar Falls but problems continue to mount in Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, and Iowa City and in other cites across Iowa and the Midwest. All of this reminds me of a quote from Steve Brown who I produced a video for in Nashville a couple years ago:

“The one thing I’ve learned is every day the world rolls over on top of someone who was just sitting on top of it yesterday.”

I don’t think a week goes by when I don’t think of that quote. I used to keep a list I called the roll over club. It contained names like John Kennedy Jr., Princess Diana, Mike Tyson, Kenneth Lay (Enron), Michael Vick, Britney Spears, Barry Bonds…you get the picture.

The point is things change quickly when your sitting on top of the world. I’m fond of pointing to Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air where after reaching the peak of Mount Everest exhausted he took a few pictures and then began his decent. Krakauer writes, “All told, I’d spent less than five minutes on the roof of the world.”

Over the years I’ve seen many people who were at the top of the world before it began to roll: Muhammad Ali, Christopher Reeves, and Michael J. Fox come to mind. Ali continually reminded us that he was “the greatest” though he had to recant that later, when Reeves died due to complications from a horse riding accident that had left him paralyzed one headline read, “Superman Dies,” and Fox had an amazing dream year in his early 20’s when he was the star of the top rated TV program that he shot in the day and then went to his night job shooting “Back to the Future” that would become a #1 box office hit long before his career and life took a blow as he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

And in 1990 The New York Times  ran an article on The Man Who Own Prime Time about Brandon Tartikoff who had become the youngest person ever to be chosen the head programmer of a network at 31 and rose to become president of NBC Entertainment. Under his leadership NBC flourished with a string of successes including Cheers, The Cosby Show, LA Law, Family Ties and Seinfeld and for one incredible five year run NBC was the No. 1 Network for five consecutive seasons. Seven years after that article appeared Tartiloff died at age 48 from Hodgkin’s disease. 

Despite human’s great accomplishments, the above stories and this recent flood are reminders of how fragile we are. 

Whatever mountain top you are reaching for know that if you are one of the fortunate ones who gets to the summit you don’t get to stay up there very long. An acting teaching once told me “When your feet hit the ground in the morning if you don’t want to be an actor more than anything then don’t pursue it because it’s too hard to make it and too hard to stay if you do make it. So unless you love acting it’s not worth it.” That’s great advise for the screenwriter as well.  

In the June 5 issues of Time magazine there is an article called “How to Live Live With Just 100 Things.” Lisa Mclaughlin writes, ‘Excess consumption is practically an American religion. But as anyone with a filled-to-the-gills closet knows, the things we accumulate can become oppressive.” Dave Bruno started what he calls “the 100 Thing Challenge,  a grass-roots movement in which otherwise seemingly normal folks are pledging to whittle down their possessions to a mere 100 items.”

Maybe trading in your multiple piece spoon, fork and knife set for a spork won’t bring the Jewish concept of Shalom or peace (what Cornelius Plantinga Jr. calls “universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight…Shalom, in other words is the way things ought to be.”)  But maybe it’s a step in the direction of that happy ending we all seek.

I think that is the single greatest reasons why movie audiences yearn for (in some cases demand) a happy ending. Because one of the deepest longings in life is to find shalom. Look at many of the films people return to again and again (The Shawshank Redemption, Titanic, The Princess Bride, Star Wars, Finding Nemo, Rocky, The Wizard of Oz) and you will find this concept over and over again. Most (all?) films at least show a small corner of shalom or it’s opposite, a world lived outside the garden.

Who doesn’t want to have that moment of clarity that Tom Cruise as Jerry Maguire has as he writes his mission statement and says, “It was the me I’d always wanted to be”? 

Often it takes an event like a flood, 9-11 or a death in the family, or a personal illness to get our attention. Out of difficult times we need to have hope that there is a purpose and meaning to our suffering. Let’s not forget those who have lost greatly in the recent tornadoes and floods and pitch in where we can. And in time we’ll hear stories from this flood about how good things came out of the calamity.

Just like the Johnny Cash song Five Feet High and Risin’:

My mama always taught me that good things come from adversity if we put our faith in the Lord.
We couldn’t see much good in the flood waters when they were causing us to have to leave home, 
But when the water went down, we found that it had washed a load of rich black bottom dirt across our land. The following year we had the best cotton crop we’d ever had.

Sunday June 15, 2008 Update

This morning’s early morning lightening storm was kind of an exclamation point to two weeks of strange weather for the area.

And all the flooding in Iowa proves one thing: Jay Leno was wrong. Back in the first week January just before the Iowa caucuses he said that the word caucus was an Indian word meaning the only day of the year anyone pays attention to Iowa.

From two weeks ago when Parkersburg and other towns where hit by a tornado to the flooding of last week has provided the national press with lots of dramatic images.

Things began to return back to normal in Cedar Falls on Friday when the downtown ban was lifted and the national guard moved on. By Friday night hundreds of people had gathered in Overman Park to watch a movie in the park. Late Saturday afternoon I rode my bike downtown and saw Cup ‘O Joe was open on Main St. and the distinct sound of a Bob Marley song was being performed live at The Hub: 

Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.
Singin’: “Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right!

                                            Bob Marley
                                            Three Little Birds

 

 

Wednesday June 18, 2008 Update

It’s tough out there
High Water Everywhere
                                                                              
Bob Dylan   
                                                                               High Water (For Charlie Patton)
 

It’s hard to believe that is less than a week that flooding in Iowa alone as displaced tens of thousands of people and caused over $1.5 billion in damage. It’s a classic man vs. nature battle that will also have long a term economic impact.

Just about a month ago I did a couple days location scouting for Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut Whip It in the very areas being hit by flood waters; Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Vinton and Cedar Rapids. Probably a good choice by Mandate Pictures to shoot their roller derby film later this summer in other states. 

But those areas will rebound because that’s what good Midwestern people do. And I thought I’d share with you some photos from this part of Iowa that I hope will be a refreshing break from the images you are seeing on the TV day after day. 

Vinton, Iowa Library

Vinton, Iowa Courthouse

 Cedar Rapids, Iowa 

Cedar Rapids Historic Theater

 

 

Photos and text copyright ©2008 Scott W. Smith

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