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Posts Tagged ‘New York Minute’

“When I write a script, I am telling a story that comes from my heart.”
Matthew Weiner, 9-time Emmy winning writer/producer (The Sopranos, Mad Men)

“He had a home,
The love of a girl,
But men get lost sometimes,
As years unfurl”
New York Minute
Lyrics by Don Henley, Danny Korthchmar, Jai L. Winding

I’m on a steady Mad Men diet. No, I didn’t see the season premiere of the Emmy-winning AMC TV program earlier this week. Not being a regular TV watcher it takes me a little time to commit to watching a show. But once I’m in, I’m all in. This week alone I’ve watched 9 episodes. (All which aired originally in 2007.)

It’s really more of a workout—literally. At the gym I set either a stationary bike or an elliptical machine for 47 minutes. (The length of an episode.) And I’ve even switched machines and watched shows back to back. So if you had a sedate winter give that Mad Men diet and workout a try. (Results vary.)

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living”— but it sure can make for good drama. It worked for Arthur Miller in Death of a Salesman and it works for Matthew Weiner and his writing team for Mad Men. In fact, the subtitle of Man Men could borrow words from Thoreau; “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Mad Men is everything that television usually isn’t; intelligent, philosophical, contemplative, and even spiritual. (Along with a good deal of smoking, drinking, and philandering.) And its use of subtext and visual storytelling* exceeds what you’ll find in the typical Hollywood feature film.

So I thought I’d find a little inspiration today for you from the Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner.

“Writers were idolized in my home. My parents had a big poster picture of Ernest Hemingway on a wall in a hallway in our house. I thought I was going to be a poet and that I would find some other profession, teaching or something, to support me. After I graduated from film school at the University of Southern California, it was about 10 years before I got a paying job in the industry, but I never gave myself a time limit. I wrote the pilot episode for Mad Men in 1999 at night while I already had a job, and finally got it produced in 2006.”
Matthew Weiner
A Conversation with Matthew Weiner by Bob Fisher 

Don’t gloss over that 10 year deal. It was 10 years after Weiner earned his MFA from USC that he got “a paying job in the industry.” He also did his undergraduate work at Wesleyan University where he was in “a Great Books program with philosophy, literature and history mixed together.” Smart cookie, with educated and affluent parents, but it still took him 10 years to get a paying job in the industry. Say he’s 24 when he gets his Master’s degree, that puts him at 34 before his career started to take off.

I don’t know what he did in that ten-year period, but I bet he was cranking out pages. (He did have some scripts optioned for free.)

“I’ve learned that tenacity is a common part of the personalities of successful writers whom I have met. Now, maybe because I have had some success, I can say that the struggling  for the 10 years or so before I got a paying  job, made me a better writer.”
Matthew Weiner

Looking for a word today to put on a 3X5 card to place on the wall behind your computer? Try tenacity. Meaning persistent, relentless—like a dog on a bone.

P.S. From the quirky connection category. Weiner is four years younger than me an attended the all-boys prep school Harvard in Los Angeles (Now the co-ed Harvard-Westlake School). When I was in film school I worked for Yary Photography taking pictures of sports groups throughout Southern California. I did several shoots at the Harvard School when I was 21/22-years-old. Weiner would have been a 17/18-year-old student meaning if he played sports our paths could have crossed for a fleeting moment.

And for what it’s worth, writer-director Jason Reitman (Up in the Air) is also an alumni of the Harvard-Westlake School where the tuition for this school year is $30,000.

P.P.S. Care for a Midwest angle on Mad Men? Jon Hamm, who plays creative director Don Draper was born in St. Louis, Missouri and graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Missouri. Same school Brad Pitt attended. Ironically, neither of the future stars and Sexist Men Alive were theater majors at the Columbia, MO college. And January Jones (who plays Don’s wife Betty) was born and raised in Sioux Falls, South Dakota (about 10 miles from the Iowa border).

* Visual storytelling Mad Men example: In the episode Long Weekend, the number #2 man at the advertising agency Sterling-Cooper calls a secretary into his office (who is having an affair with) and just before she closes the door to his office she decides to leave it ajar about a foot. Nothing said, but so much implied. As the scene plays on it turns out she has seen Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960), and  sympathizes with the Shirley MacLaine character and wonders if she herself is just being used.

Related posts:

Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
“Unstoppable” Wesleyan University
Screenwriting Quote #32 (Mad Men)
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously) John Logan’s (Hugo, Rango) 10 year struggle as a writer.

Scott W. Smith

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You find someone to love in this world
You better hang on tooth and nail
The wolf is always at the door
Don Henley
New York Minute

I know it’s Thanksgiving day, but it’s also my 25th wedding anniversary. (No, I didn’t get married on Thanksgiving, it just happens to be where it falls this year.) Can I tell you a story?  I won’t bore you with all the details, but if you’ve ever wondered—as a friend once ask me—”How did you end up in Iowa?”—here’s the answer.

After getting interested in writing short stories, photography, and video production growing up in Central Florida I attended film school at the University of Miami for one year. (Even was a walk-on on the football team where Jim Kelly was the quarterback.) Made a few short films and decided to transfer to film school out in LA.

In my senior year I met my wife to be in an elevator in Burbank. Can you get any more romantic than that? She was a model & actress from Denver and had two kids. We got married a year and a half later in a covered bridge in Vail, Colorado. (That really was romantic.)

She worked as a temp at various industry related places (Disney, Warners, Paramount, NBC, Technicolor) which was part of our greater plan for me to break in. I worked as a photographer and then as a 16mm cameraman/editor for a production company in Burbank. By the time I was 25 and thought I was on the L.A. fast track.

Then life happens the way it does. On top of a few other things the Whittier earthquake happened and we decided to move to Florida where the cost of living was cheaper and they were just starting to build “Hollywood East” in Orlando as Disney and Universal were building theme parks that promised to have real working studios. It looked good on paper.

Yeah, that didn’t quite work out either but I ended up producing and directing videos for a group in the 90s just as digital revolution was taking off. That got me on the ground floor of working with AVID and eventually Final Cut Pro. Fast forward to 2003 where not only had my step kids both graduated from high school and college, but my step-daughter was married and had a couple kids. (For the record, I was an empty-nester grandpa at age 37.)

My step-daughter and her family had moved to Cedar Falls, Iowa and when my wife and I would visit and I found myself saying, “I could live in a place like this some day.” By that time I had my own little production company in Florida and I was doing some freelance producing for a TV program in Chicago that brought me to the Midwest from time to time. As often as I could I’d visit Cedar Falls.

Eventually, my wife and I thought it would be best to live closer to Chicago and we decided to try living in Cedar Falls (a five hour drive from Chicago and 3 1/2 hours from Minneapolis) and see if we could make that work. It took a little work to make it work, but I eventually met some young guys here who had a web design company and I started doing some productions for them.

This just happened to be in 2005-2006 as video for the Internet was just starting to take off. (Hard to believe now that You Tube only started in 2005.) We ended up forming a new company in 2007 called River Run Productions and we’ve watched video for the Internet grow. I’ve had a front row seat view of watching the production world totally evolve. And part of the change has been the world of blogging and how information and entertainment is distributed.

Moving to Iowa not only forced me to embrace the changes (tapeless production, multiple hats on productions, blogging) it also allowed me to tap into a great literary tradition as well as a Midwest mythology.  It certainly wasn’t in my mindset that I’d start writing a blog on screenwriting in January of ’08 that it would win an Emmy and get shout outs and links from people like Tom Cruise, Edward Burns, and Diablo Cody—but that’s all happened. And oddly enough, it’s brought me connections that I never had in my five years in L.A.

And it’s happened in part because of people like you who’ve visited Screenwriting from Iowa from time to time. As the views have increased month after month it’s given me encouragement to continue this slightly time-consuming endeavor. So this Thanksgiving I’m thankful for you all stopping by and I do hope it helps you in your writing and your dreams wherever you call home.

That 24-year-old me in the above picture thought he was going to be the next Steven Speilberg. Didn’t happen. But to quote one of Minnesota-based singer Sara Groves’ songs, there are “Different Kinds of Happy.” I just have to get Robert Duvall and former Iowan Ben Foster interested in my latest script and the whole story could have a Hollywood ending.

And I’m thankful for my wife who’s been on this crazy journey with me these past 25 years. Happy Anniversary.

Scott W. Smith


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“The wolf is always at the door.”
Don Henley
New York Minute

I don’t remember when I first asked myself, “How is Blockbuster going to survive?”—but it was a few years ago. Now with a debt load of over a billion dollars and stocks currently selling at 11 cents, everyone is wondering, “How is Blockbuster going to survive?”

“After dominating the home video rental business for more than a decade and struggling to survive in recent years against upstarts Netflix and Redbox, Blockbuster Inc. is preparing to file for bankruptcy next month, according to people who have been briefed on the matter.”
L.A. Times

August 26, 2010

The first Blockbuster video store opened in 1985 just as the VCR movie rental business was taking off. If I recall correctly, the video rental market at that time consisted of mostly mom and pop type stores. By the early 90s Blockbuster stores were everywhere and they became the largest movie rental company in the United States.

For a long time its major competition was Hollywood Videos (also known as Movie Gallery) which at its peak had over 4,500 stores in North America. Early this year Hollywood Video/Movie Gallery filed for bankruptcy and the last of its stores just closed within the last month.

Whether Blockbuster  finds a way to reorganize and survive or becomes the new Fotomat is unknown at this point.  But either way, they had a great 20 plus year run and filled a niche between Hollywood and consumers. I wish I could hit a button and look at how many movies I’ve rented from them over the years. And the list of movies itself would probably a few good memories.

I know there are more efficient and convenient ways to rent movies these days, but if all the large video rental houses fade away I will miss just being able to wander through the store and stumbling on a movie I had never seen before or hadn’t seen in a while.

But I’ll never miss those dang late fees.

Scott W. Smith

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“I need to know two people can stay together forever.”
Juno

(Winning an Oscar) doesn’t mean anything. It’s like winning class president.”
Diablo Cody

Someone once said that in America we love to cheer victors as they enter the triumphal arches and then throw rocks at them as the pass through the other side. If you’re older than 15 you’ve seen the cycle repeated a time or two with athletes, political leaders, and especially movie and pop music stars.

Welcome to the jungle Diablo Cody. The first negative thing I remember hearing about Cody was the day after she won her Oscar for Juno and some critics decided they had had enough of the Cody love fest and mocked her choice of dress for the Oscars.

Now is when things get ugly. Cody’s second film Jennifer’s Body was released Friday and the reviews are mixed, but with a heavy dose of criticism:

Jennifer’s Body is never scary and it’s only sporadically amusing.” Christy Lemire. AP

“It’s a serviceable premise, but the execution fails on almost every level.” Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“An unoriginal and mostly unscary horror-comedy from, surprisingly, the pen of Diablo Cody.” Kirk Honeycomb, Hollywood Reporter

Diablo Cody called unoriginal? Ouch.

But I’m not really interesting in talking about Jennifer’s Body, I’m more interested in Diablo’s body. Her arm actually. I want to talk about what happens after you’ve been to the top of the mountain because they don’t generally have a class for this kind of thing.

A few months ago I was doing a shoot in Minneapolis and went to eat at Al’s Breakfast in Dinkytown. (A must-do eating experience if you’re ever in the Twin Cities.) I sat next to a guy who looked like a rock star (as a lot of people do in Minneapolis). I asked him if he was in a band and he said he used to be. We talked about the music scene in Minneapolis and then about Diablo Cody. He said years ago he met her once (when she went by the name Brook) at a bar across the street when she was there to watch her boyfriend/husband, Jonny Hunt, play in a band. (A good musician I was told.)

The same Jonny that Steve Marsh at Mpls St. Paul Magazine asked Diablo Cody about in October 2007 just as her career was taking off:

Marsh: Let’s say $100 million gross, little gold man—does that mean, bye, bye Jonny?
Cody: WHAT? Are you kidding? That’s a ridiculous question. Like, he’s sitting right here. He’s not going anywhere. Everything we do we do side by side. I’ve got him tattooed on my arm for god’s sakes.

Jonny responded to the question on his blog a week after the question was asked and wrote about he and Diablo’s relationship, “We’re doing just fine. Out here in Hollywood, despite what you have heard, people don’t always ditch each other randomly when they get successful, okay?”

But by the time the article hit the stands two months later (Dec. ’07) the tattoo “Jonny’s girl” was inked over with roses. ( News of their split hit the press the day the film opened , and I’m not sure if the divorce was final before or after Juno passed the $100 million mark.)

Cody has basically lived the whole Hollywood life cycle in just two or three years (write script in Minneapolis—sell script to Hollywood—move to Hollywood—movie gets rave reviews and is a box office hit—hired by Steven Spielberg—talk show circuit—win an Oscar—nude photos circulated—next movie gets some stinging reviews and stumbles at the box office—talk of her demise). In a year or two everyone will be talking about her comeback film.

Diablo’s body of work is not that large but the University of Iowa grad does have an Oscar and the TV show she created (The United States of Tara) landed the lead actress, Toni Collette, an Emmy Monday night. She’s doing fine, thank you.

Even if Jennifer’s Body doesn’t make another dime, Cody will. And she’ll continue to develop as a writer and will have hits and misses in the future (just like all working writers, directors, producers, and actors). Winning the Oscar really will be a burden for her as everything she does will be compared to Juno, and she may never be on that mountaintop again. (But what would most writers give to have that burden?)

There were many factors that made Juno a success. And one of those factors I believe is the one who gave Cody a lot of early support and inspiration— Jonny Hunt (the one covered in roses on Cody’s arm). Cody once said of him, “My now-ex-husband convinced me to use our last $200 to buy Final Draft, so I just sat down and started writing a movie. It’s that simple.”

It’s too bad their marriage didn’t survive.

I think two people can stay together forever. But it isn’t easy for any couple. As Don Henley sings in New York Minute: “If you find someone to love in this world/You better hang on tooth and nail/The wolf is always at the door.”

Related Posts: Juno has Another Baby (Emmy)

The Juno-Iowa Connection

Scott W. Smith

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