Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘omaha’

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 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 »

Our screenwriting quote of the day comes from Skip Press on the benefits of gathering actors together to do a reading of your script:

“If you live in Keokuk, Iowa, and write a screenplay, you might find that actors will flock to you for the chance to participate in a reading. I don’t know much about the actors in Iowa, but I do know the Iowa Writers Program is one of the best in the world. And if the movie About Schmidt is any indication of what you can do in Iowa, there’s great work to be done there.”
                                                     Skip Press
                                                     The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Screenwriting
                                                     Chapter 19 What a Reading Can Show You
                                                     Page 241

Notice how Iowa always gets picked on as the last place you’d expect anything to be happening in the film world? Hence, that’s why I chose the name Screenwriting from Iowa.

Now I have been to Keokuk in the southeast corner of Iowa (on the Mississippi River) and they actually have a film festival there called the Keokuk Independent Film Festival so, yes, my guess is you can find actors to read your script in a remote place like Keokuk. (And just for the record Keokuk is about two hours from Marceline, MO where Walt Disney spent time part of his childhood and about an hour away from Hannibal, MO where Mark Twain was raised.)

But I do have to correct Skip on one thing and that is the script for About Schmidt was written by Nebraska native Alexander Payne and filmed in Omaha, Nebraska. Granted just over the Missouri River from Iowa, but I wanted to make that clarification. (It’s kind of like that distinction that folks in Southern California like to make between LA County and Orange County. Or 213 and 818 area codes. Similar, yet different.) But he is correct when he says that there is great work to be done here in Iowa. And I’m guessing wherever you live and write.

To learn more about the Iowa Writers’ Workshop that Skip said “is one of the best in the world” read my post The Juno-Iowa Connection.

And I am planning on following Skip’s advice by doing a reading of a new script I hope to complete this month, so if there are any actors interested in the Cedar Valley please contact me via email at info@scottwsmith.com. (I could arrange something in Minneapolis, Des Moines, Chicago, or even Keokuk if there is a group of actors interested.)

And for the record, Alexander Payne who won an Academy Award for best adapted script for Sideways (written with Jim Taylor) shows that you can come from Omaha and do well in Hollywood. And I don’t know how many actors there are in Omaha now, but that’s where Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando came from so they have a good heritage. (To read more about Nebraska please read Screenwriting from Nebraska.)

Speaking of Nebraska, if anyone knows where I can get a copy of Robert Duvall’s 1977 directorial debut We’re Not the Jet Set please let me know. (It’s a documentary about a rodeo family in Ogallala, Nebraska.) And speaking of We’re Not the Jet Set, here’s a song by that title recorded by Tammy Wynette & George Jones that I’m guessing you’ve probably never seen or heard. (I hadn’t until yesterday.)

7:36 PM Update: I just came back from seeing Jim Carrey in Yes Man where even he had a blast in Lincoln, Nebraska.

 

Text Copyright ©2009  Scott W. Smith

 

Read Full Post »

“I’d wake up at night with the smell of the ball park in my nose, the cool of the grass on my feet… The thrill of the grass.”
Field of Dreams
Shoeless Joe Jackson

Yesterday I wandered over the Iowa state line into Omaha, Nebraska to watch the final game of the 2008 College World Series. The Georgia Bulldogs played the Fresno State Bulldogs.

That’s the first time in my life I’ve ever seen two teams play that have the same mascot. What are the odds?Probably a little worse than getting a script you’ve written made. Since every screenwriter is an underdog there are a few things every screenwriter can learn from the game of baseball.

In the end the Bulldogs from California won the school’s first ever baseball national championship. One sports announcer proclaimed it “one of the greatest stories in sports history.” I don’t know about that but those Fresno St. ‘dawgs were true underdogs. They lost 12 of their first 20 games and finished the regular season only 32-27 but somehow won when they needed to and ended up in the College World Series where they were ranked dead last.

No team had ever come from the last ranked team to win a national championship…until last night. As I said about this year’s Super Bowl, if it had of been a movie you would have said it was full of cliches. But everyone has a dream.

Before we get to screenwriting I want to go back to 2003 where Chris Moneymaker changed the face of poker playing when playing in his first tournament he began as an unknown and turned $39 into a $2.5 million winning purse.

“I got lucky along the way. I also bluffed a lot during this tournament, but somehow I got away with it.” 
Chris Moneymaker

The screenwriting equivalent may be Diablo Cody who won an Oscar for her first film script Juno. These are rare cases, and it is important to have a real understanding of how difficult it is to have a screenwriting career or even get one of your scripts made. But it’s also important to know that Hollywood needs good scripts because the Hollywood system needs good movies.

I found this little nugget of information in Joe Eszterhas’ The Devil’s Guide to Hollywood:
Director Phillip Noyce: “I realized that the Hollywood system–based as it is on the employment of branch offices all over the world promoting and selling movies–is totally dependent on a continual flow of product, and it’s been set up to promote that product into the hearts and minds of people all over the world. In essence, movies represent marketing opportunities for Hollywood.” 

That should encourage you in your writing. And keep in mind:

“The only essential requirement to launch a successful screenwriting career is a terrific script.”
                                                                                     Cynthia Whitcomb

The Fresno St. baseball team, Chris Moneymaker, and Diablo Cody are a group of talented people who were all considered underachivers before their breakthroughs. And what do you do until that breakthrough? You keep dreaming and you write scripts and continue to find key people to read your scripts.

When former baseball players Logan Miller and Noah Miller dream to play professional baseball failed they turned their attention to screenwriting and filmmaking. Once they wrote their first script they cornered actor Ed Harris at a film festival where he was receiving an award and he agreed to read the script. Last year that film, Touching Home (which they also directed and star in) was completed with Ed Harris playing the Logan brothers father.

Editor Walter Murch said this about the film:  “With its crisp photography, concise editing and excellent use of sound, I found Touching Home to be a thoughtful and emotional exploration of the forgotten corners of the American Dream.”

Driving back home today I made a slight detour to Winterset, Iowa which is where The Bridges of Madison County was shot and where John Wayne was born in a house not far from where Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep did scenes together in downtown Winterset.

And if that’s not enough, George Washington Carver lived in Winterset for a while where the former slave was encouraged to attend college which he did, both Simpson College and Iowa State Agricultural College where in 1891 he became their first black student and would go one to earn a Master’s degree before going on with many agricultural discoveries.

George Washington Carver and John Wayne are two more examples of coming from a small town before finding global success.

P.S. I noticed on TV’s at the stadium that Orel Hershiser was calling the game on ESPN. In my Cedar Falls office I have a signed baseball from Hershiser for a project I helped produce for his retirement celebration. It’s also worth noting, before Hershiser became a World Series MVP he played minor league ball in Clinton, Iowa and when he played for the LA Dodgers manger Tommy Lasorda gave him the nickname “Bulldog.”

I really don’t make this stuff up, you know?

 

Word and Photos ©2008 Copyright Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: