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Posts Tagged ‘New York’

A nice segue from my recent Rod Serling posts (and even my golf/movie related posts from a couple of weeks ago) is the following quote by Oscar-winner screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. Serling was born in Syracuse, New York and Sorkin went to Syracuse University.

“I have a lot of experience with failure, and I hate it. It’s going to happen again, but it’s like electroshock therapy. So combined with the pressure that you put on yourself, that’s pretty much the jet fuel for writing. You know when you’re not [writing well], when you’re slogging through it and it’s all coming like molasses, you know something’s wrong. But when you’re writing well, there’s nothing like it. It’s like the golfer who hacks his way around a golf course all day long, but then for some reason, you don’t know why, just hits a beautiful shot. That’s the reason they keep coming back to the golf course.”
Aaron Sorkin (West Wing creator)
Emmys Roundtable—The Hollywood Reporter 

Bonus failure quote from the same article:

“When I’m being really honest with myself, the only thing I ever learn from is failure. Because Breaking Bad is the rare success I’ve had in my career.”
Vince Gilligan

Related posts:

J.K. Rowling on the Benefits of Failure
Commitment in the Face of Failure
Spectacular Failures
Rod Serling on Rejection
Winning. Losing and Little Miss Sunshine “From my perspective, the difference between success and failure was razor-thin…”—Oscar-winning Screenwriter Michael Arndt
Orson Welles at USC in 1981 (Part 3) “Anybody who goes into film has to be a little crazy. And has to be ready for every kind of disappointment and defeat.”—Welles

Scott W. Smith

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“My little town blues are melting away.”
New York, New York

 “It’s not a musical; it’s a film with music. I got that definition from Billy Wilder, who said you can’t call it a musical unless the people sing in situations where you don’t expect them to. It’ll be about their marriage breaking up, about their problems in relating to one another…”
Martin Scorsese talking with Roger Ebert about New York, New York (1977) before its release

Just saying New York, New York instantly conjures up the Frank Sinatra standard New York, New York.  But did you know that’s actually a cover song? John Kander and Fred Ebb wrote the song for the 1977 Martin  Scorsese directed movie New York, New York  where Liza Minnelli sings the song. But the neither the film or the original song were an instant success. Three different versions of the film were made (153 minutes, 137 minutes, and 164 minutes) trying to find an audience, and the New York, New York song was not even nominated for an Oscar.

And even the Sinatra version recorded in 1979 wasn’t a number one hit—or even make it into the top 10. It peaked at number 32 on the charts and lost out on the Grammy song of the year to Christopher Cross’ Sailing. But in the 30 years since then the song has become ubiquitous and as recognizable (and as copied) as the “I (heart) New York” logo.

If you need a smile today here’s a version where Frank and Liza sing an impromptu duet of New York, New York. 

But since this is a screenwriting blog…Earl Mac Rauch and Mardik Martin wrote the screenplay for New York, New York from a story by Rauch.

“Martin Scorcesse’s New York, New York never pulls itself together into a coherent whole, but if we forgive the movie its confusions we’re left with a good time. In other words: Abandon your expectations of an orderly plot, and you’ll end up humming the title song. The movie’s a vast, rambling, nostalgic expedition back into the big band era, and a celebration of the considerable talents of Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro.”
Roger Ebert

Looking forward to seeing Scorsese’s latest New York state of mind movie—The Wolf of Wall Street—which hits theaters next week.

Scott W. Smith

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“Somewhere a screenwriter is preparing a query letter to send out. Will you read the letter? We will. Will you write the letter? You should. It has to start somewhere.”
Producer Adam Kolbrenner (Prisoners)

“#1 – IT ALL STARTS WITH AN ENVELOPE

Let’s go back to 2006. It was a simpler time in America for screenwriters (you know, pre‐WGA Strike). It all started with a query letter from an unrepresented screenwriter named Aaron Guzikowski. A hard letter … in an envelope. With a stamp! Not a blind email or submission through a website. A letter.

I picked up the letter and quite liked that this writer had an odd last name and lived in Brooklyn, NY. I love Brooklyn. So, I called him and he sent me his first script, which I read and called him again to say I can’t sell it. But, he can write, that voice was there. So we agreed we would work on a new idea for a film that we can develop together. This might take a few tries, but we’ll get there.

Several months later, a PDF one page movie idea arrives in my inbox. The story for a movie called Prisoners.”
Adam Kolbrenner, co-founder of Madhouse Entertainment 
@madhouse_ent
MAKING A MOVIE IS EASY
Hollywood Journal, September 17, 2013

You’ll have to read the entire article by Adam Kolbrenner to learn how the past seven years came to fruition yesterday as Prisoners took the number one spot at the box office this past weekend.

I wonder if Kolbrenner would mind if I adopted as the official motto for Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places his phrase, “It has to start somewhere.” Because that’s the drum I’ve been pounding on this blog since January 2008. And I’ve tried to show example after great example of how various writers started.

So wherever you are in the world and wherever you are in your screenwriting journey just remember Kolbrenner’s tip—”It has to start somewhere.”

P.S. Of course, screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski’s start was not the query letter he wrote to Kolbrenner in 2006…or even in Brooklyn. Tomorrow we’ll look at his roots in Brockton, Massachusetts and how this now 39-year-old screenwriter’s journey into writing actually began back in fourth grade.

Related Posts:
Christopher Lockhart Q&A (Part2)  If an out-of-town writer scores a local manager or agent, the writer can certainly see results.”
Christopher Lockhart Q&A (Part 3) WME explains what to put in a query.
The 99% Focus Rule “I would say 99% of your effort should go to writing a good script.” Michael Arndt (Another writer who toiled for years in Brooklyn before his eventual success.)
The Myth of Breaking-In  Thoughts from screenwriter Terry Rossio
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously)  John Logan
How to Become a Successful Screenwriter (Tip # 41) Michael Arndt

Scott W. Smith

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“In many ways, though, my life has remained much as it was in 2000. I still rent the same one-bedroom walk-up in Brooklyn, and I still spend my days sitting in a chair and staring at a computer (though the chair is more comfortable and the computer is nicer). The main difference is I don’t worry about having to get a day job. (Not yet, anyway).”
Screenwriter Michael Ardnt
(Writing in 2006 soon after the release of Little Miss Sunshine)

Chaplin, Charlie (Modern Times

“I live in New York, I still rent an apartment in New York, and I taught myself to write living in New York. There is a tiny, tiny little industry there where I can be reading scripts there, but the idea of going to Los Angeles and being a struggling screenwriter in Los Angeles—I just couldn’t do it. It was just too much for me to take. And in a way, I don’t think I would have written Little Miss Sunshine if I’d been living in Los Angeles, just because it’s such a factory town, you know. I hesitated for a long time to write this movie just because I knew it’s such an odd and idiosyncratic movie—and so low budget, and so small scale—that it didn’t seem like anybody was going to be interested in making it. And I think you just internalize the values of that environment. I’m going to move back to New York after I finish with Pixar [writing Toy Story 3] and I hope I stay there. 
Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine)
2007 talk at Cody’s Books (Before he won his Oscar and before Toy Story 3 was released)

Related Post:

Hollywood Hacks & Shipwrecks
The Outsider Advantage
One Benefit of Being Outside of Hollywood
Why You Shouldn’t Move to L.A.
What’s it Like to Be a Struggling Writer in L.A.

Scott W. Smith

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I am strong (strong)
I am invincible (invincible)
I am women

I Am Women
Written by Helen Reddy & Ray Burton

“I couldn’t find any songs that said what I thought being a woman was about. I thought about all these strong women in my family who had gotten through the Depression and world wars and drunken, abusive husbands. But there was nothing in music that reflected that.”
Helen Reddy

The movie Whip It owes a lot to the 1970s. Not only were Whip It screenwriter Shauna Cross, director Drew Barrymore and supporting actress Juliette Lewis born in the 70s— the movie’s theme of girl power rises from the Gloria Steinem version of feminism that came to fruition in the early 70s. (The National Women’s Political Caucus and Ms. Magazine were both founded in 1971 with Steinem’s guidance. A year before Helen Reddy sang I Am Woman in which would become a catchy powerful feminist anthem.)

And while there are probably a zillion different views of feminism today (and plenty of strong women who don’t care for that label) most would look at the role women have in culture today and agree with the popular 70s Virginia Slims ad champaign, “You’ve come a long way baby.”  (Of course, not everyone would agree on the interpretation of that phrase. Some would say a long way good and others a long way bad.) In the 1970s there was a shift in the roles that women would play in business, education, politics, military and sports. I was raised in the 60s-70s by a single mother and two of the best athletes on my street were girls, so I can’t say I felt the shift and only knew the traditional world by watching old reruns of Leave it to Beaver.

(Growing up in Central Florida I have burned into my memory the blarring 70s radio ads for drag racing events, “Big Daddy Don Garlits, and Shirley ‘Cha-Cha’ Muldowney this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Gainesville International Speedway. BE THERE ! BE THERE! BE THERE!” I never did get there but I remember being amazed that there was a female drag racer. Muldowney was the first women to receive a NHRA licence and won NHRA top fuel championships in 1977, 1980 and 1982. Her story was made into the excellent 1983 film Heart Like a Wheel starring Bonnie Bedelia.)

Of course, as women sought more independence, freedom and accomplishments outside the home this would impact how children were raised and as a result our entire culture effected.  Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979) was one of the first films to deal with this changing world. And The Fight Club (1999) dealt with the lingering effects. But honestly, things haven’t exactly been a picnic ever since that incident with the fruit in the garden of Eden. We live in a broken, fallen world and everyday the news confirms this. We go to movies for the hope of a little sliver of restoration.

Which brings us back to Whip It. The movie’s poster with a great shot of star Ellen Page says, “Find your tribe.” It’s about finding your place in this world even if you live in a little town like Bodeen, Texas. I became aware of the story when Cedar Falls, Iowa had a shot at becoming both Bodeen and Austin when I received a call from Mandate Pictures to do some location scouting in the Cedar Falls, Waterloo and Cedar Rapids area here in Iowa.

Iowa’s film incentives were the main reason they considered shooting a story set in Texas. (It would have been a nice payback since the Johnny Depp/Leonardo DiCaprio/Juliette Lewis film What’s Eating Gilbert Grape was set in Iowa but shot in Texas.) When I got the call last spring, Ellen Page was already in Iowa making another Mandate Picture called Peacock which was shooting in the Des Moines area.

I ended up doing two days of scouting and thought we had a good shot. One of the biggest problems though was they were really looking for a 50s style ranch home made of brick. We had a good deal of 50s ranch homes in the area but brick for whatever reason was not commonly used. They also wanted the yards to be a little worn down. Maybe it’s because the soil is good in Iowa or the neat German heritage, but there aren’t many lawns in disrepair in this part of the county.

I took hundreds of pictures for the various locations they needed including the Oink Joint where Page’s character worked. My best find was the town of Vinton, Iowa (between Cedar Falls & Cedar Rapids) that I thought made a fitting small Texas town like the ones I’ve driven through before. But at the end of the day they shot most of the film in Michigan. (Apparently, they don’t take care of their lawns as well as Iowans.) I was bummed when I found out they weren’t shooting in Iowa because it would have meant a lot to the community and I would have loved having a small part in bringing the first Hollywood film here since they shot Country in Black Hawk County back in the mid-80s.

But I’m glad the film got made and will write specifically about it tomorrow. The script was written by Cross based on her youth book Derby Girl. Since I write a blog that’s focused on writing or writers that come from outside of L.A. I enjoyed reading an interview where Cross stated, “It’s easier to be more original writing about Texas than New York or L.A.” But it should be noted that while Cross went to film school at the University of Texas at Austin, she did get her breakthough while living in L.A. and bumping into film people.

Whip It (Part 2)

Scott W. Smith



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Until last Saturday afternoon I was unfamiliar with the name Kate Whoriskey. By the time the afternoon turned to evening I was sure that everyone would eventually become familiar with the name Kate Whoriskey. Whoriskey directed Lynn Nottage’s  Pulitzer Prize-winning play Ruined which just finished its run in New York. She’s been called “one of the most admired directors in the American theatre today.”

Whoriskey comes with solid credentials with an ungraduate degree from NYU and an MFA from the American Repertory Theater at Harvard (A.R.T.). After graduating from A.R.T. in 1998 she soon directed Ibsen’s The Master Builder. She’s directed plays in in Louisville, Utah, Alaska, Chicago as well as various theaters in California and New York. 

She recently has been appointed as the artistic director of the Intiman Theater in Seattle beginning in 2011. She has said that one of the reason to move from New York to Seattle is to escape commercial pressures of the New York theater scene as well as for more aesthetic freedom. (Maybe I should start another blog—“Playwriting from Iowa…or wherever you live outside New York.”

Whorisky’s role was not simply directing Ruined but helping Nottage in her research including traveling with her to Uganda to interview women who had been raped and abused in the Congo. It was an experience that had a profound effect on Whoriskey and she later told NPR:

“They were all beautifully dressed, these 15 women, so colorful and beautiful. And then we heard these stories. And the stories were devastating, and to hear them back to back. … I didn’t actually recognize that rape had such physical consequences. I always thought of the psychological, but not the physical consequences. It was hard to hear, over and over, how ruined these woman’s bodies were.” 
                                 
To watch a short video with Kate Whoriskey and Lynn Nottage visit Charlie Rose “A conversation about the play Ruined.

 

Scott W. Smith

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A few years ago I read that in this world that there are over 200 civil wars going on at any one time. We don’t hear about most of them because it would be sensory overload. But when things reach a certain level then the press or the government makes Americans aware of what’s going on. In the little traveling I have done outside the states I have sometimes wondered what keeps certain countries from total collapse.

Seeing Lynn Nottage’s play Ruined takes in a place that has collapsed. Set in the war torn Demoratic Republic of Congo (formerly know as Zaire and the Belgian Congo).  It’s a country that had over 5 million people die in the Second Congo war between 1998-2003. It was also a war where accounts of rape and other brutal acts of violence were widespread. (Nottage has pointed out that though the war is over violence on women continues in that region.)

If you’ve seen the movie Hotel Rwanda which took place is the neighboring country of Rwanda in 1996, and later spilled over into Zaire, you begin to have an understanding of the situation. Another slightly older reference is when the area was known as the Congo Free State it was the setting for Joseph Conrad’s book Heart of Darkness which was published over 100 years ago (and for which in turn was the beginning point for Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.)

Somewhere in hearing the modern day suffering of women in the Demoratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Nottage decided there was something worth exploring. According to an article by Patrick Pacheco in the L.A. Times Nottage spent two months “at a Uganda refugee camp interviewing women who had been raped and brutalized in the fierce Civil War that has wracked the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo for decades.”

He quotes Nottage about her desire to write a play on what she had seen and heard, “I thought to myself, ‘This play will be the ruin of me.’ I knew I wanted to tell a story that was not agitprop, that was universal, epic and unabashedly theatrical. Something truthful and yet joyful. And I didn’t know how I was ever going to do that.”

But somehow she did and won the Pulitzer Play in drama this year. I was fortunate to see the play in its last weekend in New York this past Saturday. It’s a powerful piece of drama and instantly took me back to high school when an African-America creative writing teacher showed our class the film A Raisin in the Sun and I began to have a whole new understanding of drama beyond Smoking and the Bandit. That class is also where I first heard the name Zora Neale Hurston. A writer who Nottage has been compared to.

Nottage’s skill as a playwright did not come from nowhere. She was raised in Brooklyn around a family of storytellers and where she began writing plays as a teenage and later graduated from Brown University and has an MFA in Drama from Yale. While working for Amnesty International she wrote a short play called Poof! that she submitted to the Actors Theater of Louisville where it won a competition and she was off to the races.

Since then many of her plays have been performed; Mud, River and Stone, Por’Knockers, Crumbs from the Table, and Intimate Apparel. And in 2007 she was named a recipient of the MacArthur Genius Award.

Before Ruined found its way to the stage at the Manhatten Theatre Club it was first commissioned and produced by the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. The performance I saw in New York was theater at its best. It’s hard to be transplanted from a beautiful summer day in the city to some harsh realities in war-torn Africa–but somehow Nottage and the actors made it as seemless a transition as taking the subway from Grand Central Station to the Bronx.

And part of Nottage’s gift and talent as a writer is show us an incredibly painful world full of moral ambiguity and depravity and to weave a story of humor, humanity and hope.

Scott W. Smith


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