Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Nebraska’

This post originally ran in 2010 and I’m reposting it in light of Jim Harrison’s death last Saturday:

“Later that night the ocean again entered Tristan’s dreams…”
Legends of the Fall (Jim Harrison)

“So many nights I just dream of the ocean…”
Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes (Jimmy Buffett)

I’m not sure what the connection is between writer Jim Harrison and musician Jimmy Buffett, but I’m pretty sure there is one. Some secret Livingston/Key West handshake.

And somewhere in that connection is a spirit that resonates a longing not limited to the books, poems, and songs they’ve created but they’ve tapped into a desire to experience what it means to be alive. And to desire to not only live a life in full—or to use Hemingway’s phrase “all the way up”— but also to have “a good death.”

The 1994 movie Legends of the Fall, based on a novella by Harrisonis a movie I watch every couple of years. I don’t know if it’s the scenery where director Edward Zwick (Glory) picked to shoot the film in the beautiful Canadian Rockies. I don’t know if it’s the cinematography that captured that beauty—for which DP John Toll won an Oscar in 1995. I don’t know if it’s the actors—or simply Brad Pitt’s character Tristan or his Lawrence of Arabia/John Waynelike  introduction, or the James Horner music—whatever the reason, I find Legends of the Fall repeatedly enjoyable to watch.

Critics were spilt at the time of its release and it’s not hard to see why. It has one foot in being an epic story and one foot in melodrama. Tricky territory. And I think that was by design in an attempt for the movie to gain a large audience of both men and women.  Coming off the heals of a Dances with WolvesLegends of the Falls fell short at the box office & Academy Award-wise compared with Dances (which won Pest Picture and 7 total Oscars and made $184 million domestic). But Legends is the one I return to again and again.

Perhaps Legends the film split the vote more than the book did and paid the price. You have wild horses, guns and war for the men and beautiful western clothes, lawn tennis, and a romance normally associated with a romance novel or soap opera for the ladies. And if any men were on the fence, Pitt’s flowing hair (often perfectly backlit) kept them from going over. I’m never surprised when men tell me they’ve never seen the film. Perhaps a sweeping generalization and an oversimplification, but that’s my take. It’s too—to use Harrison’s word—pretty.

Pitt even jokes on the DVD commentary that the movie’s like a L.L. Bean catalog. This is what the original source writer had to say of the refined mountain life portrayed in the movie;

“I did have issues, as they say now, with certain parts of the film, because I thought, ‘Do they have a French dry cleaner right down the street or something like that?,’ ’cause everybody looked— pretty. But so many people seem to like it and I have no objections because it’s a director’s medium. When you accept your check you’re selling your kid.” 
Jim Harrison
NPR, All Things Considered, Feb. 08, 2007

The movie basically extracts the characters that Harrison created and somewhat places them in a new story. Col. Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins), Alfred (Aidan Quinn), Samuel (Henry Thomas), Tristan (Pitt) and others are all there. Susannah’s role (Julia Ormond) is altered and beefed up. Heck, the book opens with the brothers going to the war where in the movie that doesn’t occur until the 32 minute mark. The book is more Tristan focused and covers more of his far away adventures. Like writer Walter Kirn (who also happens lives in Livingston, Montana where Harrison lives part of the year) said of the movie Up in the Air that was based on his book of the same name—the book is not the movie, and the movie is not the book, but they have the same DNA.

To director Zwick’s credit I think he and screenwriters Bill Wittliff and Susan Shiliday, as well as the talented cast & crew created a film that continues to have legs (and a heartbeat) more than 15 years after it was created and that’s not an easy accomplishment. (And something that I don’t think any of the other films based on Harrison’s work have achieved.)

As a side note, though Harrison has homes now in both Arizona and Montana, and has traveled widely, this is what he wrote a few years ago:

“I have several dear friends in Nebraska and the Niobrara River Valley in the Sandhills is my favorite beautiful spot on earth.” 
Jim Harrison

In my adventures over the years I have been fortunate to experience such things as witnessing a full solar eclipse in Salzburg, been free diving with large green turtles in Hanauma Bay in Hawaii, and flown in a seaplane over the Amazon River, but one of the most unbelievable and unexpected experiences I’ve ever had is watching thousands of Sandhill Cranes fill the sky on the edge of the Nebraska Sand Hills.

To beat the drum once again you don’t need to be in New York and L.A. to find adventures or stories worth telling. Certainly, even a somewhat remote place such as Nebraska has been fertile ground for writers from Harrison (Dalva), to Willa Cather (My Antonia) and screenwriter Alexander Payne (Election, About Schmidt).

“Of course Nebraska is a storehouse for literary material. Everywhere is a storehouse of literary material. If a true artist were born in a pig pen and raised in a sty, he would still find plenty of inspiration for work. The only need is the eye to see.”
Willa Cather
My Antonia

May you all have eyes to see.

Up in the Air—The Novel vs. The Film

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“I always look for amazing characters who I find are fascinating, charming, flawed, romantic and in trouble. Those are the key elements I look for. And they have to have a very specific world they’re in, as in The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook. They’re a sort of community and they’re having to reinvent themselves. So they’re in trouble of some kind, but their world also has some enchantment in it that they love. There’s love and passion and compassion in it. And then there must be a sizable theme, and in [American Hustle] it’s not just about conning people, but reinvention.
Oscar-winning writer/director David O. Russell
Post magazine Interview with Iain Blair/ January 2014

P.S. American Hustle tied Gravity for the most Oscar nominations (10) and shows the important of execution. I can’t imagine too many screenwriters pitching a film based on the ’70s scandal Abscam getting a request for the script. Now, David O. Russell wanting to do a film on Abscam—that’s an easier sell.  By the way, Oscar-nominated Best Picture Nebraska, would be a hard pitch as well. No matter how you dressed it up it’s still a story about a son who drives his elderly dad from Montana to Omaha. But say that Oscar-winner Alexander Payne wants to make that film and it’s an easier sell to investors and audiences.  Execution trumps concept in those cases. Though it still took Nebraska 10 years to get made after Bob Nelson’s script was first optioned. Here’s how that script got early traction:

“I was working at a Seattle show called The Eyes of Nye. Producer Julie Thompson came up. I had written a screenplay to try and get a TV job. Julie got the script to Ron Yerxa and Albert Berger, who have a company called Bona Fide Productions.  They decided to send it to Alexander [Payne], not with the intention to direct it but just to produce it and raise money. I was very fortunate, very lucky, and it doesn’t happen a lot. The one take-away is that even though I was in Seattle, I was still working in the business.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Bob Nelson
Indiewire Interview with Meredith Alloway

Especially if you live outside of LA you have to be creative in finding find alternative ways of getting people excited about your screenplay. And while not the norm, Nelson—and Diablo Cody— show that you can not only capture the magic while living in Seattle or Minnespolis, but that it can even lead to an Oscar trip.  In fact, there are film people living in LA that say you have to live in LA to be taken seriously yet will never see the critical success of Nelson or Cody.

Related posts:
Broken Wings and Silver Linings
Screenwriting Quote #177 (David O. Russell)
Screenwriting from Nebraska
The 20 Year Journey of Craig Borten The Dallas Buyers Club took two decades to make it to theaters,  but joins American Hustle and Nebraska in the Oscar race for Best Picture.
Writing from Theme (tip#20)
Jailbait, Rejection & Screenwriter Mark Boal’s Start Another Oscar-winning screenwriter (The Hurt Locker) who was living outside of LA when his journalist writing opened doors.
Screenwriting Quote #145 (Mike Rich) Rich (The Rookie) launched his screenwriting from Portland by being awarded a Nicholl Fellowship.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Today let’s look at how to cast farmers in Nebraska. Really.

Relax— It’s going to be okay. Two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants) will be our guide.

Come on,  I have this little blog called Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places—what are the odds I’m going to pass up writing about Payne’s new film Nebraska? Forgetaboutit. (To use a not so Midwestern phrase.)

“This is my love letter to the state of Nebraska.”
Alexander Payne
LA Times 

The film Nebraska has Nebraska written all over it.  Pure Nebraska roots. Not only in the title but the film’s director Payne was born in Omaha and the parents of Nebraska screenwriter Bob Nelson were from Hartington, Nebraska.  Much of the film was shot in Nebraska and some of it was cast there. And the casting of locals is part of what gives the film its authenticity.

“All of my films, and [Nebraska] even more so, are a combination of highly seasoned, professional actors who typically live in Los Angeles or New York; local, nonprofessional actors … [who do] community theater, local commercials, that sort of thing … and then nonactors, people really off the street or, in this case, off the farm whom John Jackson, my casting director, and I make a point of finding.

For this film, it took over a year of casting to find, for example, those retired farmers who play some of Bruce Dern’s character’s brothers and their wives. And it was a long process of putting out casting notices on, for example, rural radio after the farm report or in small-town newspapers. … For retired farmers, we weren’t so much expecting them to submit auditions, so we were targeting their kids — in their 40s, 50s, 60s — who might go over to their folks’ house on a Sunday and say, ‘Hey! Look at this, I read this. Come on, just for a hoot let me put you on my iPhone reading these lines of dialogue and let me email it into Omaha.'”
Alexander Payne
NPR/Fresh Air Interview with Terry Gross

For those who are geographically challenged, Omaha is pretty centrally located in the contiguous United States. (Just west of Iowa and north of Kansas.) And the reason those iPhone readings were emailed to Omaha is because Payne is not only from Omaha, but he continues to live there as well as Southern California. (He actually grew up near Warren Buffett.) Payne also shot three of his other films in Omaha—About Schmidt, Citizen Ruth, and Election. 

Why? Because Omaha is interesting. Because Nebraska is interesting. But then again, so is wherever you live.

“Of course Nebraska is a storehouse for literary material. Everywhere is a storehouse of literary material. If a true artist were born in a pigpen and raised in a sty, he would still find plenty of inspiration for work. The only need is the eye to see.” Willa Cather (My Antonia)
OmahaMap

P.S. Speaking of casting and Nebraska, did you know that actors Henry FondaMontgomery Clift, and Marlon Brando were all born in Nebraska?

Update:   “[Casting director John Jackson] liked it and thought he wanted to cast it. He said he felt a very personal connection to it through his family, whom he describes as dirt farmers from Iowa.”—Alexander Payne, Salon Q&A

Related Posts:
Screenwriting from Nebraska (Includes an interview I did in Nebraska with Lew Hunter who was one of Payne’s screenwriting professors at UCLA.)
Alexander Payne on Adapting Books
“Wake up and pay attention.” Alexander Payne
Emotional Autobiography (2.0)
Writing to Music (Tip #52)
Capturing Your Country & Hometown “If you’re going to make movies in whatever country you’re in, you want to somehow ‘capture’ it.”—Alexander Payne
Directing Non-Professional Actors

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Here’s an exchange found in Creative Screenwriting magazine, Volume 4, #3 (Fall 1997) that should be an encouragement to you wherever you are writing in the world;

Geoff Jordan: You’ve written a couple of scripts set in Omaha, Nebraska. Why?
Alexander PayneBecause I kind of ‘get” Omaha’s world. If you’re going to make movies in whatever country you’re in, you want to somehow “capture” it. It’s kind of a cliche that early in your career you always go to your roots. It’s all about what you know, or think you know, even if you don’t. I just like Omaha. I’ve always lived here. I mean, my grandparents were here; my father was here. My whole life has been here. Even when I left to go to college at eighteen, I’ve always come back here. So, there’s a kind of constant thread that now, as I’m starting to make movies, it’s kind of fun to go back.

Since that interview, Payne has won two Oscars for his screenwriting; Sideways (2005) and The Descendants. Neither which happen to be set in Omaha as were his films Citizen Ruth, About Schmidt, and Election.

P.S. Bonus for readers of this blog in Greece; While Alexander Payne was born in Omaha, Nebraska, he is of Greek decent and was born with the name Alexander Constantine Papadopoulos.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“I can easily tell you what (Children of the Corn) doesn’t have, namely a solid narrative, good direction, complex characters, strong performances, and genuine terror. And yet, it remains an undyingly popular movie 25 years on.”
DVD Review

All week I’ve been in Sioux City, Iowa working on a production and I picked up a book yesterday that said the first feature film shot in this area was the 1984 Children of the Corn based on a Stephen King short story. The 92 minute film has a strong enough fan base to recently have been released in Blu-Ray for its 25th anniversary edition.

The original film starred Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton and cost $300,000. to make and went on to make over $17 million. at the box office. Six spin-offs have been made and while none were wildly successful there are some actresses who picked up some early experience working on one of the franchise films. The 1995 Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest was the début film of Charlize Theron, Naomi Watts starred in the Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering, and Eva Mendes is one of the stars in Children of the Corn V.

A TV version of the film was shot in Lost Nation, Iowa in ’08 (see photos) and shown on the Sci Fi channel in 2009. It was written and directed by Donald P. Borchers who was a producer on the original 1984 Children of the Corn.

And not that long ago Variety announced that the Weinsteins were producing a remake of the original with Ehren Kruger writing the script. (But I couldn’t find any other evidence that the movie was still in development. Maybe the TV version killed it.) But with the success of Avatar 3-D can Children of the Corn 3-D be too far off?

Though the stories takes place in Nebraska (usually a place called Hastings), for various reasons the films have been shot in various states including the first one in Iowa. Not sure why the original Children of the Corn was shot in and around Sioux City but I know it’s part of their folklore. Just like Lewis & Clark (and gang) passing through here on their famous journey west. They even have a monument for Sergeant Charles Floyd who died here in Aug. 20, 1804.

I couldn’t find a monument for anything related to the filming of Children of the Corn. Maybe it’s hidden in a corn field somewhere. (Then again, I wasn’t looking for one.) But what I did find was something somewhat related to Children of the Corn from a screenwriting perspective in a Q&A with Stephen King.

TIME magazine Nov. 23, 2007  Q&A: Talking with Stephen King

Gilbert Cruz: There have been so many movies and TV miniseries made from your stories and, not to be disrespectful, but some of them are stinkers. Sleepwalkers, Sometimes They Come Back and its various sequels, etc… How do you maintain quality control? Do you even try?
Stephen King: I’d go crazy. I don’t try to maintain quality control. Except I try to get good people involved. The thing is, when you put together a script, a director, and all the other variables, you never really know what’s going to come out. And so you start with the idea that it’s like a baseball game — you put the best team you can on the field, and you know that, more times than not, you’re gonna win.

And in my case, more of the movies than not — if we except things like Return to Salem’s Lot, Children of the Corn 4, The Children of the Corn Meet the Leprechaun or whatever it is — if you do that, then most times you’re going to have something that’s interesting anyway. That doesn’t mean you’re going to have the occasional thing that’s just a train wreck like Dreamcatcher, because that happens, right?

May all your train wrecks be as interesting as Stephen King’s.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“I just happen to find life funny. Everywhere I look I see comedy…often where it’s inappropriate. “
Jason Reitman
Director Juno/Up in the Air

After the success of Juno Jason Reitman’s had the clout to make a film like Avatar. A big budget extravaganza. Instead he made Up in the Air. A film that not only works on many levels, but that was also shot in an area dear to my heart—flyover country. Granted some of it is literally  in the air in the vast stretch of land between New York and L.A., but the are plenty of Midwest moments including George Clooney’s business headquarters and what he has of a home both being located in Omaha, Nebraska.

And this won’t be a spoiler, but there is even a nice little moment tied into Dubuque, Iowa.

Somehow Reitman directed a film (co-written with Sheldon Turner) that deals with contemporary issues of the economy and yet gave it a timeless feel of a classic film. Somehow he made a film that touches on psychology, sociology, and even the meaning of life and along the way entertains us and makes us laugh.

I don’t know specifically which states the movie was actually shot in but I do know that Reitman did location scouting in Michigan and Missouri that impacted the making of the film:

“At a certain point during scouting, I realized that the scenes that I had written of people getting fired were just inauthentic. We needed something that spoke to the times and what was really happening. I cut out all the firing scenes in the movie and we put ads out in the paper, both in Detroit and St. Louis, saying that we were making a documentary about job loss.”
Jason Reitman
Free Press article by Julie Hinds

Twenty of those people where chosen to be film. To paraphrase Clooney’s character who fires people for a living, being fired brings new opportunities.

But the authentic ground work for the movie is rooted in the book Up in the Air written by Walter Kirn. And though there are many differences to the movie, the heart of the story came from Kirn’s own travel experiences:

I wrote this book in [Earl], Montana of all places, in a snowbound winter on a ranch thinking about airports and airplanes and thinking about a particular conversation I’d had that had startled me. I sat down in a first class cabin – somebody else must have been paying – and you know, I’m the guy you don’t want to sit next to on an airplane because I want to know your story and want to tell you mine and I asked him where he was from this line is in the movie. He said, “I’m from right here” and I said, “What do you mean by that?” He said, “Well, I used to have an apartment in Atlanta but I never used it. It just collected dust and then I got a storage locker, I stay in hotels and am on the road 300 days a year. So this is where I’m from and this is my family.” He pointed to a flight attendant and said, “I know her. I know her name. I know her kids’ names.” And I thought, this is a new creature. I felt like an ornithologist discovering a new bird and when you’re a novelist and you discover a new creature and you discover a sort of new environment in which this creature is possible, you have to write the book.
Walter Kirn
CinemaBlend. com article by Perru Nemiroff

So far Up in the Air has been named the best picture of 2009 by the National Board of Review and the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association. Personally, it will be the only film in 2009 I will see multiple times in the theaters. Actually, the first one since Juno. In case I’ve understated myself—if you like fine writing, go see this film.

12/28 Update: Found out that Walter Kirn was born in Akron, Ohio and raised in Marine on Saint Croix, Minnesota (just outside the greater suburbs of Minneapolis/St. Paul). For some reason that doesn’t surprise me. How many times have writers from Minnesota come up in this blog?

Related posts: Filmmaking Quote #6 (Jason Reitman)
Screenwriting Quote of the Day #117 (Jason Reitman)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

And I thought it was pretty cool that Nebraska produced financial guru Warren Buffett, screenwriter Alexander Payne (Sideways, Election), and actor Marlon Brando, but now I’ve learned that ScriptGirl was born and partially raised in Nebraska (and has strong enough ties there to spend Thanksgiving in the Cornhusker state this year). And on top of that she was an Art History major at the University of Iowa.

I always thought that if Diablo Cody wouldn’t have broken through with Juno she would have evolved into something like ScriptGirl. (Actually, they are the same age so I imagine they attended the University of Iowa at the same time. Interesting.)  ScriptGirl for the uninitiated is the persona of a sexy librarian/farm girl-type turned savvy Hollywood script sale reviewer. While she doesn’t cover her breasts much she does a fine job covering recent script sales in an informative and entertaining way.

Her coverage (and lack of coverage) has helped her build a fan base of  around 8,000 You Tube subscribers (one video currently has 890,846 views). She is also well covered on the social media front including Facebook, Myspace, and twitter. Quentin Tarantino is said to be a fan.

So what prepared ScriptGirl for her online success?

“I didn’t go to film school. I studied art history. But, like so many others, I was drawn to the movie business and came to Los Angeles. I’ve tried or suffered through a lot of different industry jobs. But screenwriting to me was always the ultimate destination. After a couple years of flailing around, I managed to find an agent who liked my romantic comedy and shopped it around. It was optioned by the production company of an actor I shall not name, and I had some meetings on other projects. It was a pretty heady time for this Thai/German farmgirl from Nebraska. But before I could even put a down payment on a Prius, the rom-com was out on its keister, promises of other jobs dried up, and I was back to the harsh reality of 9-5 living.”
ScriptGirl
Interview with Kim Townsel

I’m not sure how much of a moneymaker it is for the small team that puts together ScriptGirl (there are You Tube ads and the occasional product placement of Red Bull or Final Draft) but it has to be good exposure. ScriptGirl now has a regular column at Script magazine. From a screenwriter’s perspective it’s a succinct way to follow script sales and it’s always encouraging to hear ScriptGirl’s closing words; “You can’t sell it if you don’t write it.”

So if you’ve never seen the Bellview/Omaha, Nebraska native (and Iowa educated) ScriptGirl in action, welcome to her world. (In case you’re wondering, Bellview is just across the river from Iowa. I’m starting to think this Midwest thing is becoming trendy.)

BTW-Did you know that when Alexander Payne was growing up in Omaha that Warren Buffett was actually a neighbor? And did you know Warren Buffett and Jimmy Buffett are distantly related?

Related Posts:

The Juno-Iowa Connection

Screenwriting from Nebraska

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: