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Posts Tagged ‘Peter Hedges’

Peter Hedges once met an actress on a subway in New York City who eventually told him the story about how some friends went to cook a Thanksgiving dinner but their oven didn’t work so they had to go around the building to get other people to let them cook their meal. Hedges thought, “That is a great idea,” and made a bunch of notes and then forgot about it until a couple of years later when he found out his mom had cancer. (A woman that informed everything he did

“As [my mom] was dying—or fighting to live at that time—she would always ask me what I was working on. And I was always working on getting her better doctors and trying to get her better treatments that would save her life. But she said let’s talk about what you’re working on and I said, Mom I can’t write anything, there’s no point in writing. And she said, well, there’s no point in anything if you’re not making something—so what are you making? And I opened up files and I found this file about the girl cooking the turkey and I asked that question that you ask as you’re writing your scripts or you’re making your films, Why is she cooking the turkey? And I said, because it’s Thanksgiving, that’s why you cook the turkey. But so what? And my notes said the reason she’s cooking the turkey is because she’s estranged from her mother and her mother’s dying of cancer. And I gasped. I couldn’t believe it, and I called my mom and said listen to these notes. And she said, Oh Peter, this sounds like a story you’re supposed to tell.”
Writer/ Director Peter Hedges
Podcast interview The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith

Hedges did tell that story—the classic indie film Pieces of April (2003). One of the early films shot on digital tape it was made for under $300K with a stellar cast. It’s a film I’ve written about from time to time on this blog. (It would be a good investment to get the Pieces of April DVD with Hedges director’s commentary to gather tips on indie filmmaking.)

P.S. A little bit of Screenwriting from Iowa trivia—Peter Hedges was born and raised in Iowa.

Related posts:

‘Pieces of April’ (Part 1) 
‘Pieces of April’ (Part 2) 
‘Pieces of April’ (Part 3) 
‘Pieces of April’ (Part 4) 
‘Pieces of April’ (Part 5) 
‘Pieces of April’ (Part 6) 

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

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“I learned a number of things [working on my first firm]. I remember there is a scene in the film [What’s Eating Gilbert Grape ] that I was so proud of—it was about seven pages too long.  [The director Lasse Hallström ] said the scene is about six and three quarters pages too long. I kept rewriting it and I got the scene down to nine words. So I learn economy. About that time I heard a great story about Peter Shaffer the great, wonderful playwright had adapted Amadeus for Milos Forman. And there’s a very famous monologue in the play where Salieri rages at God—there are still monologues in the film, but this was a particular speech that Peter Shaffer really wanted in the screenplay. He’s like if you’re going to adapt my play as a movie you must have this monologue in the film. Milos Forman said no. Shaffer said, no, no, no you need to understand something, this is the best piece of writing I’ve ever done. Salieri is angry at God—it has to be in the film. No. And they went back and forth, and finally Milos Forman said Salieri there is a cross on the wall, Salieri grabs the cross and he throws it in the fire. There’s your monologue. And that is a great example of learning that you can use image or you can use a cut to tell the story. Whereas I came from the theater where I was always trying to tell the story with dialogue. So I learned a lot there.” 
Writer Peter Hedges (Pieces of April, Ben is Back)
The Q&A Podcast with Jeff Goldsmith 

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“Most of us have some old pain or hurt that we don’t think about all the time, but which is always vulnerable on some level of awareness…To humanize a hero or any character, give her a wound, a visible, physical injury or deep emotional wound.”
Christopher Volger
The Writer’s Journey

Katie Holmes in “Pieces of April”

Since it’s Thanksgiving Day and I’ve been writing a string of posts the last couple of weeks on The Florida Project, I thought it would be fitting to repost some thoughts on Pieces of April That 2003 low-budget indie film set entirely on Thanksgiving Day could be a cousin of The Florida Project.

Both are simple yet complex films. Pieces of April starred Katie Holmes who played April, a different version of the Halley character (Bria Vinaite) in The Florida Project. 

Yesterday I stopped at a connivence store here in the Orlando area and saw a real life April/Halley. She looked around the same age as the girls those movies, but looked more tired, worn, and dirty. She sat leaning against a wall next to a large backpack.

Since I was stopping in the store for a protein bar I bought an extra one I was going to  give to her. A clerk came in from outside as I was checking out and said to the other clerk, “If she’s not gone in ten minutes, I’m calling the police. She’s been asked to leave three times.”

When I got outside she was still there and I gave her the protein bar and a dollar and she thanked me. It wasn’t a Thanksgiving dinner or the promise of a better life. But it was something. Sean Baker’s The Florida Project (co-written with Chris Begosh) may not change the world, but the words of playwright Tom Stoppard come to mind:

“I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you might nudge the world a little or make a poem that children will speak for you when you are dead.” 
Oscar-winning screenwriter Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love)
Above quote spoken by character Henry in The Real Thing: A Play

Pieces of April was written and directed by Peter Hedges who was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa. A fact I didn’t learn until years after falling in love with the movie.

In December of 1998, I received a phone call from my mother in Iowa. She had bad news. She’d been diagnosed with cancer. I went to her as soon as I could. She underwent radiation and chemotherapy. Over the next fifteen months, my sisters, my brothers, and I traveled back and forth to take care of her.

“During this time, my mother urged me to keep writing, but it was difficult. One day in my office in Brooklyn, I started opening files on my computer and came across notes I’d written a year earlier for a story about  girl with a broken oven trying to get her turkey cooked.

“In my notes, I had named the girl April after the moody, unpredictable month. The month when it is sunny one moment and rainy the next. In my notes, she was cooking Thanksgiving dinner for her family. Most surprising was the reason why I’d decided April was making the meal: She was attempting to bridge an estranged relationship with her mother who was sick with cancer. 

“That’s when I knew this was a story I had to write.”
Writer/director Peter Hedges
Pieces of April; The Shooting Script—Introduction

May you all write stories that “nudge the world a little.”

Happy Thanksgiving.

P.S. So after I wrote this post I saw the trailer for the Katie Homes directed the film All We Had about a mother-daughter relationship where “everything around us is collapsing.”

Related posts:
Goal. Stakes. Urgency. (Tip #60)
Protagonist= Struggle
Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B+C)

Scott W. Smith

 

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” I don’t know why I’m so hard on you Beth, when you’ve always been the daughter of my dreams. We’re almost the same person, except I don’t have your weight problems.”
Joy (Patricia Clarkson) in Pieces of April

Happy Mother’s Day.

I picked today to round out my set of posts on Pieces of April (2003)  because even though it’s a film set on Thanksgiving Day—it’s kind of a Mother’s Day film as well. And of the six posts I’ve written on the movie (starting with this post on April 1) I needed to give a special mention to actress Patricia Clarkson.

Clarkson plays Katie Holmes’ mother, Joy, in the film written and directed by Peter Hedges. Clarkson’s had a solid 30+ year career (which followed getting a Master’s in theater from Yale), yet her sole Oscar-nomination is from Pieces of April.

So if you know Clarkson from one of her many film, Tv and/or theater roles, including her role in Six Feet Under where she won two Emmys, her 2015 Tony Award-winning Broadway performance in The Elephant Man—or even from the so wrong Motherlove music video featuring Justin Timberlake and Adam Sandler—but haven’t seen her in Pieces of April check it out.

(And if you’re estranged from your mother, really check it out.)

Related Posts:
Pieces of April (Part 1)
Pieces of April (Part 2) 
Pieces of April (Part 3) 
Pieces of April (Part 4) 
Pieces of April (Part 5)
Pieces of April (Part 6) 

 

 

Scott W. Smith

 

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“Most of us have some old pain or hurt that we don’t think about all the time, but which is always vulnerable on some level of awareness…To humanize a hero or any character, give her a wound, a visible, physical injury or deep emotional wound.”
Christopher Volger
The Writer’s Journey

April

Because it’s probably never been done before, allow me to compare the 2003 indie film Pieces of April to the 1982 classic blockbuster E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial. I’ll flesh that out in a moment.

I’ve heard it said that everyone has a personal wound—and it’s usually a wound from a  mother or father. In Pieces of April the wound is from the mother. But the prodigal child April (Katie Holmes) decides that she wants to cook Thanksgiving dinner at her apartment —perhaps due to the fact that her mother Joy has cancer.

We don’t know exactly how that arrangement went down since the movie starts Thanksgiving morning with the plans already in place. And at the 15 minute mark April realizes she has a problem—a dilemma. Her oven isn’t working.

This is how writer/director Peter Hedges writes the key conflict scene in half a page:

INT. APRIL’S APARTMENT – KITCHEN AREA

April finishes writing “Mom” on the Thanksgiving-themed name card she has decorated. Beat as she looks at it. She tears it in two. Then writes “Joy” on the Thanksgiving-themed name card.

She glances up at…

A small clock on her dinning room table which reads 8:00.

April crosses to the turkey pan sitting on the counter, lifts the pan and carries it to the oven. She opens the oven.

She’s about to slide the turkey in when she stops. Beat. She reaches in, feels for heat. Her hands touch the sides of the oven. Her hands touch the metal roasting rack.

She checks the temperature knob. It’s been turned to 375.

She stares in confusion, then it hits.

                                        APRIL
                     Oh, no. No –

A nice simple scene about a broken oven. Normally it wouldn’t be that big a deal, but Hedges raises the stakes by adding that it’s Thanksgiving morning, that April’s mother has cancer, and her family is expecting her to let them down. As I said it Part 1 it’s the inciting incident that sets the story in motion.

Now what could that possibly have in common with E.T.? Well, the Steven Spielberg directed movie (written by Melissia Mathison) opens with space aliens already on earth. Their space ship planted firmly in the San Fernando Valley. But that’s not the inciting incident, that comes at the seven minute mark when E.T. gets left behind when the space ship leaves without him.

If E.T.’s on that ship Spielberg & Mathison would have to tell a different story. And on the same note, if April’s oven works then Hedges has to tell a different story.

I labor the point because script readers say one of the common problems in screenplays they read is a lack of a clear inciting incident. Something active that sets the story in motion and ties into the ending.

I know indie films like to be less conventional, but I think Pieces of April is an indie film that works well following this basic screenwriting principle. (Winter’s Bone does as well.) If you’ve ever read 30 pages of a screenplay or watched 30 minutes of a movie and not been sure what the movie is about—it’s probably missing an inciting incident.

P.S. I couldn’t find that oven scene online, so if you have a link please send it my way.

Related posts:

Starting Your Screenplay
What’s Your Problem?
Protagonist=Struggle
One Clear Dilemma
Telling Smaller Stories
What’s at Stake?
There are no rules, but…
The Major or Central Dramatic Question

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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“I’m often asked how much Pieces of April cost to make. A simple answer is difficult because it doesn’t fully represent the truth. In dollars, maybe not so much. But, you see, for every person who worked on Pieces of April, there’s a story of sacrifice. So I don’t know how to answer the question other than to say, ‘It cost a great deal.'”
Writer/director Peter Hedges
(Reported costs put the film between $150,000 and $300,000)

Before we get to the critical conflict oven scene in Pieces of April let’s step back a second and see the conflict before the film even got made. Writer/director Peter Hedges said the seed of the idea passed his mind in the late ’80s and then again around a decade later in the ’90s when he began writing the screenplay.

I’m not sure how long it took Hedges to write the screenplay, but I do know it was released in 2003. Here is some of the drama that took place behind the scenes to get the film made.

“Getting Pieces of April made was its own particular adventure…On three different occasions, we were about to start production with a budget anywhere from 4-7 million. Each time it fell apart. In our third incarnation, we were even setting up production offices in Toronto, hiring production designers and crew. I returned to Brooklyn for a few days to pack for the eight weeks of prep and the five week shoot. That’s when we got the call came. The number crunchers at the studio were shutting us down. We were back at the beginning, but for me felt like the end. Fortunately, John Lyons, my stellar producer, suggested we call Gary Winick and Alexis Alexanian at InDigEnt, a company that makes digital films on a shoestring budget. They spoke to their partners, Caroline Kaplan and Jonathan Sehring at IFC Productions, and the irrepressible John Sloss, and in less than twenty-four hours, we were, as the say ‘green lit.'”
Peter Hedges
Introduction in Pieces of April: The Shooting Script

Throughout the budget adjustments Hedges was able to retain top-notch actors (including Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson, and Oliver Platt) who committed to seeing the film finally get made. And here we are almost 15 years after the film was produced still talking about that little gem of a film that hopefully can provide some light along the way for other filmmakers today.

And as a nice bookend to Hedges experience having difficulties with fundraising (as well as a quality script ultimately attracting financial partners (and quality actors) here’s screenwriter Nick Hornby talking about his experience working on the Oscar-nominated Brooklyn (2015):

“[The budget] was ten million pounds and it took the producers four years [to raise the money]…The drama in making Brooklyn was in fundraising, and what my wife [producer Amanda Posey] does and what [producer Finola Dwyer] does is way more difficult than [screenwriting]. They have their hearts broken ever single day. Rejection after rejection after rejection. And a bad writing day is, ‘ah, I couldn’t work out where these characters go when they come out’—it’s not that problematic really.”
Nick Hornby
The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith

“The thing I’ve discovered the most about writing screenplays—it’s a wonderful dovetailing of art and commerce—is if you make your minor characters as interesting as you possibly can in the space that you’ve got, better actors will play them. And your film has more chance commercially…When you’re making an independent movie you need all the commercial help you can get, especially when you’re working with a young cast, because they’re not going to be the biggest stars in the world.”
Nick Hornby (An Education, Brooklyn)
The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith

P.S. And that Brooklyn connection—happy accident. Didn’t realize it until after I wrote the post.

Scott W. Smith

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This April I’ve decided to sprinkle in some posts throughout the month of the indie movie Pieces of April (2003). Like Tender Mercies (1984) it’s a simple yet complex films that I revisit from time to time.

Pieces of April was written and directed by Peter Hedges who just happened to be born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa. A fact I didn’t learn until years after falling in love with the movie.

Today we’ll look at the story origins of the movie which starred a young Katie Holmes.

“In December of 1998, I received a phone call from my mother in Iowa. She had bad news. She’d been diagnosed with cancer. I went to her as soon as I could. She underwent radiation and chemotherapy. Over the next fifteen months, my sisters, my brothers, and I traveled back and forth to take care of her.

“During this time, my mother urged me to keep writing, but it was difficult. One day in my office in Brooklyn, I started opening files on my computer and came across notes I’d written a year earlier for a story about  girl with a broken oven trying to get her turkey cooked.

“In my notes, I had named the girl April after the moody, unpredicatble month. The month when it is sunny one moment and rainy the next. In my notes, she was cooking Thanksgiving dinner for her family. Most surprising was the reason why I’d decided April was making the meal: She was attempting to bridge an estranged relationship with her mother who was sick with cancer. 

“That’s when I knew this was a story I had to write.”
Writer/director Peter Hedges
Pieces of April; The Shooting Script—Introduction

Related posts:
Goal. Stakes. Urgency. (Tip #60)
Protagonist= Struggle
Christmas & Cancer
Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B+C)

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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