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Posts Tagged ‘post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)’

I took this picture of Edd Blott in NYC on a production we worked on together.

One of the enjoyable things about writing this blog is being able to look at films and filmmakers of the past who have achieved great success. Of course, the great hope is that it will help the filmmakers of the future—or even the present. This week I’ll be posting two interviews I did with first time feature filmmakers who happen to be long time readers of this blog.

A few days ago Scott Myers at Go Into The Story had a sobering post titled The Business of Screenwriting where he relayed some numbers about the odds of a screenwriter selling a screenplay being in the 5,000 to 1 range.

“So yes, the odds are against you. Really against you. Way the hell against you.”
Scott Myers 

And those odds are are just for selling your screenplay. It says nothing of the odds of that script actually getting made. Or if it got made, what the odds are of it being any good and/or finding an audience.

But here’s the good news, there are people writing scripts and getting their feature films made. And they’re doing it without having gone to film school (one stat I’ve heard is only 4% of film school grads ever make a feature). And in the cases of Edd Blott and Cindy Gustafson they’re doing it living outside of New York or Los Angeles.

I’ll start today with a Q&A with Edd who lives in Portland, Oregon, and by the end of the week post the interview I did with Cindy who lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Scott W. Smith: How long have you been reading the Screenwriting from Iowa blog and is there anything in general or specifically that has helped you in your screenwriting journey?

Edd Blott: I’ve known you, personally, somewhere in the vicinity of 8 years now. I remember three impressions from our first meeting together in Greenville. The first was your collection of incredible stories. The second was your depth of knowledge and foresight. The third was how much you wanted to see people thrive. That last one, especially, stuck out to me. At that time, few people were willing to take on a mentor-like role for fear of it just being a form of career suicide. You refused to believe that and because of your leadership, I became a better storyteller. You were willing to share your knowledge and experience to this kid long before it became the hot thing to do.

Fast forward a couple years later, I remember clearly when you first mentioned the idea of Screenwriting from Iowa. I totally geeked out. Finally, there’s one place where now anyone can benefits from seeing these elements merge into what I think is one of the most unique blogs on screenwriting that is out there today. I read the blog every day and feel like I am always either learning something new or finding encouragement to keep fighting to get my story told. You even were gracious enough to take a look at an early draft of my script and give me the honest critiques that I needed to hear to make it what it is now. Anything that comes from “A Tale of Delight” only happens because of how much I am indebted to you and your blog.

SWS: So before we get to your film A Tale of Delight first tell us how you ended up in Portland.

EB: I grew up in Spokane, which is about 6 hours northeast of Portland, but for roughly a decade I lived in the midwest in both Minneapolis and Chicago. One of the main reasons we relocated to Portland was the creativity out here. We really feel like what’s happening is kind of a modern day mirror image of what happened in San Francisco in the ‘70′s.

SWS: What’s going on in Portland film-wise?

EB: Well with Leverage, Grimm, and Portlandia all filming here, the television industry has definitely boomed. In film, Gus Van Sant and Todd Haynes both live here. But what I find most exciting is the growing grassroots movement. There’s really an incredibly strong community of new filmmakers who want to help each other make well executed “personal films.” It’s beautiful to watch. It’s less of the “eat or be eaten” competition you find in Hollywood and more about seeing each other to succeed. It’s cliché, but it’s like a family. 

SWS: What filmmakers have been an inspiration to you?

EB:It depends on the project I’m working on, but there’s a small group that I go back to pretty regularly. The dead ones are Robert Bresson, Ingmar Bergman, Charlie Chaplin, Billy Wilder, and Jean Renoir. I actually tell people The Lost Weekend and Grand Illusion are the two films that made me want to be a filmmaker. As for those who are still with us, I’d say Francis Ford Coppola, some of Lars von Trier, and more recently Steve McQueen.
SWS: Where did the idea for your first feature, A Tale of Delight, come from?
EB: It’s inspired by my real-life battle with PTSD. In 2009, I saw somebody die pretty horrifically and was thoroughly jacked up by it. I was invaded, haunted, by the reoccurring images. I became dependent on alcohol. I started to cut myself. I mean, I live with scars all over my body now. I even planned out how I was going to commit suicide. Thank God it never happened because my wife called up a psychiatric emergency service. It was after that very dark season that my wife, Amy, reminded me that I was a storyteller. She suggested that I put those skills to work and try to tackle what was going on inside my head.
Tomorrow we’ll continue this Q&A with Edd and look at some more details about his film. Edd first made this film as a short and has begun production on this indie feature as he continues to look for source funding via his A Tale of Delight site at indiegogo.

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“They drew first blood, not me.”
John Rambo

“You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path.”
Joseph Campbell

The road to the first Rambo movie being released in 1982 was a long journey. The novel First Blood was published in 1972 and reports are that the property went through three studios, 16 scripts, and a lot of high-profile actors and directors before it became Sylvester Stallone’s second franchise character (after Rocky). And though Stallone had become a superstar after the 1976 release of Rocky his other non-Rocky films (F.I.S.T., Nighthawks & Paradise Alley) hadn’t faired so well. Nor was the topic of Vietnam a popular one in ’82—the last U.S. troops pulled out of Saigon in ’75. There weren’t strong indicators that First Blood was going to be a hit film.

But producers Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna, and director Ted Kotcheff, put together a team that would defy the odds, and created not only a film that would open #1 at the box office, but one that would go on to make $125 million worldwide, followed by three sequels—all creating the rare international iconic character, John Rambo.

The movie was based on the David Morrell novel First Blood that actually had Rambo as more of a killing machine. (The first movie while having plenty of actions, explosions and injuries, actually only has a few people dying.) The changes were made to make the character more sympathetic. Morrell was a professor of English at the University of Iowa between 1970-1986, which means the chances are good that the novel was written in the vicinity Iowa City. (Just learned that today as I was doing research on Morrell.)

“My intent in writing (First Blood) started back in 1968 when I was a graduate student at Penn State and I was watching TV one night when I was struck by the news by two reports that followed back to back. One which was of a Vietnam fire-fight with soldiers screaming, and shooting and bullets kicking up dust, and the other was about riots going on in American cities. That summer and the summer before there were many, many riots and many of them had to do with off-shoots of the Vietnam war. And I got to thinking what if we had a novel in which the Vietnam war came home to the United States and we sort of had a taste of what it would be like in our own back yard. Basically what the intent was was to write an anit-war novel about how I was not in favor of the Vietnam war. It was about how the establishment abused young men and took them over and made killing machines and then took them back and never retrained them.
David Morrell
First Blood Blu-ray commentary

His key model for the Rambo character was World War II hero Audie Murphy. Morrell has gone on to have a long successful career as a novelist. He received his undergraduate degree at the St. Jerome University (a Roman Catholic university in Canada), and his M.A. and Ph.D. in comparative literature from Penn State. He said on the DVD commentary that he always thought of First Blood as being a western and lists The Sheepman (1958) as a film that was a sort of parallel to First Blood.

Here is a summary of The Sheepsman found on IMDB:

A stranger in a Western cattle-town behaves with remarkable self-assurance, establishing himself as a man to be reckoned with. The reason appears with his stock: a herd of sheep, which he intends to graze on the range. The horrified inhabitants decide to run him out at all costs.

Morrell also was influenced by Joesph Campbell’s work on mythology in developing his character and story for First Blood. (Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces was also key to George Lucas years later as he would develop the Star Wars movies.) It’s not hard to read Campbell and understand the primal aspects that Morrell drew upon in creating First Blood. There’s the warrior fleeing into the woods, descending into the mine, starting a fire, and surviving swimming with rats, and ascending the ladder into the light. Morrell called it a “Hunter hunted story,” while Stallone has made references is to Rambo being a Frankenstein-like character.

First Blood was also a film that dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and while not giving any answers, Morrell says that he heard reports that many Vietnam vets wept for the first time since the war as the film somewhat depicted how hard it was to make the transition from solider to civilian in a country where they were often despised and rejected.

Come back home to the refinery
Hiring man says “Son if it was up to me”
Went down to see my V.A. man
He said “Son don’t you understand”
Bruce Springsteen
Born in the USA 

You may be also interested to know that Morrell picked the name John Rambo as a combination of the poet Arthur Rimbaud (A Season in Hell) and a type of apples called Rambo that his wife brought home one day while he was writing. Credited on the First Blood screenplay are Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim, and Stallone.

You can find out more about Morell, and the 30+ novels and books he’s written, on his website davidmorrell.net.

P.S. For the person who has everything…the survival knife that Rambo uses in First Blood was designed by the late Jimmy Lile who was known as the Arkansas Knifesmith. For $3,500 you can have a knife like Rambo—it’s called the New Lile First Blood.

Scott W. Smith

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