Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Precious’

“It’s not a movie if it’s not a horror on the set. If you’re dealing with talent…that are passionate…they are going to be opinionated. And there are bound to be differences. And that’s when magic happens.”
Precious director and Empire creator Lee Daniels
Independent Film interview with Corey Boutilier

Quote pulled from my January 17, 2010 post. 

P.S. I’m sure every movie set isn’t a horror—but it’s hard to beat the behind the scenes conflict on Apocalypse Now. Here’s a Vimeo remix by Brian Carroll which takes clips from the 1979 movie and the behind the scene doc Hearts of Darkness.

Read Full Post »

“I can trace so much of what I do every day, when I’m writing, to what I was taught back then by my teachers at Syracuse.”
Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, A Few Good Men)

“I didn’t have a lot of talent, so I tried to make up for it with spit and vinegar. I spent more time arguing with umpires than I spent on the bases,”
Sparky Anderson

Yesterday, I learned that the great baseball coach Sparky Anderson died and that brought back a flood of memories. And it light of the recent controversy regarding the teaching of screenwriting it seemed like a fitting time to look at what makes a teacher (or coach) good at what they do.

The first major league baseball game I ever saw was in Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium. In fact, on the drive over from Dayton we passed the old Crosley Field. A sacred time for a nine-year old. I grew up a fan of The Big Red Machine in which Sparky Anderson was the coach. I named first dog Sparky—and my second one, too. It’s safe to say I was a Spark Anderson fan.

Long before Anderson found his way into the Baseball Hall of Fame he was born and spent his early youth in Bridgewater, South Dakota. Years ago I remember driving through the small town of Bridgewater on one of my trips and I saw a sign that said something like, “birthplace of Sparky Anderson.” People really do come from unusual places and go on to accomplish amazing things. (I should add that catcher Johnny Bench, who played for Anderson and who many consider the greatest catcher to ever play the game, was from Binger, Oklahoma (pop. 500 when he was growing up).

Anderson was born during the Great Depression, and according to a USA Today article he was,”one of five children who lived in a house without an indoor toilet or sufficient heat. In the winter, Anderson’s father put cardboard over the windows to block the cold.” When he was ten his family moved to Los Angeles and he would become a good enough ball player to make it to the major league—for one season. The reason he lasted just one year was his batting average was only .218.

So at the age of 30 he became a minor league coach and worked his way up until he was named the manager of the Cincinnati Reds where he lead the team into the World Series in his first year (1970). Then in 1975 and 1976 he and the Reds won back to back World Series. (The ’75 series against Boston is the one Matt Damon and Robin Williams discuss in the film Good Will Hunting.)

Anderson would go on to win another World Series in 1984, managing the Detroit Tigers to become the first manager to win the World Series in both the National and American Leagues. We was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.

So while he got to live his dream and play in the major leagues, he did not have a successful career as a player. But as a coach? Forgetabouit. He knocked it out the park. But they say he never forgot his humble background, and as a manager he knew it was standing on a rocky ground. He kept a sign Detroit office that read; “Every 24 hours the world turns over on someone who was sitting on top of it.” That’s good for us all to remember.

“Being nice to people is the only thing in life that will never cost you a dime. Treat them nice and they’ll treat you the same.”
Sparky Anderson

The whole idea of most of the great coaches not being great players at the highest levels interests me.  Recently I came across some quotes from Super Bowl winning coach Tony Dungy on what makes a good coach. (Dungy had a brief career as an NFL player, but like Anderson made his mark as a coach) :

“A mark of a good coach is being able to energize others by showing them their potential.”

“A good coach usually believes in the players more than they believe in themselves.”

“A good coach understands the personality of individuals in order to know how to help them.”

And Gordie Gillespie may not be a household name, but he is the all-time winningest coach in college baseball. Here’s part of his list of what makes a good coach.

You have to like young people
“Your primary reason for coaching should be to watch young people grow, mature and develop. Sure, everybody likes to win, but if winning is the only thing that counts, you’ll never get that deep feeling of pride and satisfaction that comes from watching your kids succeed at life.”

Organized
“You won’t accomplish half of what you set out to do without a concrete, workable plan.”

Enthusiasm
“It would be a complete contradiction if you were not enthusiastic about teaching them the game.”

Patience
“One of the greatest joys of coaching is to see the least talented suddenly blossom, and all because you never gave up on him or her.”

Persistance
“The beautiful aspect about defeat is that it is a powerful learning experience.”

Sincerity and concern
“Being truly concerned, to listen as well as teach, is not an easy virtue to acquire.”

I think those qualities translate well for coaches of all sports and any kind of teacher. And those are qualities that not everyone possess. Which explains why great players don’t usually make great coaches. So the next time you hear someone make a blanket statement like, “Those who can’t do, teach” know that there is some truth in that, just as there is, “Those who can do, can’t teach.”

A great athlete who recounts great moments in his or her career, and tells anecdote after anecdote, may make for an engaging after dinner speech—but it does not make one a good teacher.

And just to bring to tie this back to screenwriting,  every once in a while someone who has taught screenwriting for years breaks though and gets a feature script produced. And at least once in the history of mankind a teacher/writer has won an Oscar after they were a teacher. Don’t believe me? Check out the post First Screenplay, Oscar—Precious, and read about the journey of screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher who taught screenwriting at Columbia University.

“I devoted myself to writing for years without representation or a promise of anything. And there were times when I felt quite down about my prospects.”
Geoffrey Fletcher (Precious)

I think Fletcher was 39 when he won the Academy Award for his first produced feature script. Other than film school, his sole credit was one short film that played at Sundance.

Screenwriting Quote of the Day #43 (Aaron Sorkin)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“I know everything there is to know about the greatest game ever invented. “
Hoosiers (Dennis Hopper’s character)

Since tonight’s NCAA championship basketball game is an extension of March Madness, I’ve finally posted my March Screenwriting from Iowa video. The game tonight between powerhouse Duke (with several national championship) versus Butler (in their first national title appearance) has been called Hoosiers II. Not only because Butler is the smaller school going up against the well established program, but because part of the movie Hoosiers was actually shot in the Butler gym in Indianapolis, Indiana.

You know the ending part of the movie where little Hickory High School walks into the big gym and the players are in awe. And the coach (played by Gene Hackman) takes a tape measure to show the players that the rim is the same height as their little gym back home. They go on to pull off an upset victory in the closing seconds.

Hoosiers was released in November of  1986 and who knows how many basketball players have watched it for inspiration. Butler forward Gordon Hayward said, “I can’t really tell you how many times I’ve watched that movie. I think everyone growing up in Indiana watches that movie. I’ve lost count.”

And a fitting quote to tie-in screenwriting with basketball comes from Geoffrey Fletcher who reportedly wrote thousands of pages before his work finally made its way to the screen in the movie Precious: Based on a Book by Sapphire.

“I watch, say Michael Jordan play and he makes it look quite easy, but we never see all the hours, and hours, and hours of years of practice beforehand. So when people ask me if writing Precious was difficult (to write), well certainly it was. The subject matter…we have a semi-literate character telling us the story. But a lot of the difficulty was writing all of those pages of original material before I got this opportunity.”
Oscar-Winning screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher
wga.com interview

PS. One of the great things about the new HDSLR cameras is that shooting videos with it opens up new opportunites. I bought the Nikon D90 which was the first HDLS released that shot HD video. I took it with me to the Northern Iowa gym to take some still photos for the above video and ended up thinking, “why not shoot a little video while I’m here.” So other than the greenscreen opening section that was shot on Panasonic HPX 170, I shot all the photos and video with the Nikon D90. It doesn’t take much surfing on the web to see many high quality short narrative films and videos that are being made with this new jump in technology. (Just did some test shooting with the very popular Canon 7D last week and that camera is solid.)I haven’t heard of a feature being made with a HDSLR yet, but I’m sure that’s just around the corner.

Related Posts:
Storytelling from Indiana

The King of Cool’s Roots

Why Do We Love Underdog Stories?

Scott W. Smith


Read Full Post »

“David took a stone from the bag and slung it… knocking the Philistine to the ground.”
Scene from the movie Hoosiers

Today the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) men’s basketball team from here in Cedar Falls, Iowa plays the #1 team in the country, Kansas. For many it’s just another game as part of March Madness. But if UNI wins today it would be the biggest win in the school’s history. Of course, the term David & Goliath is being thrown around.

The epic Biblical story of David & Goliath is mentioned just about every time there’s a battle between the little guy and the big guy. It could be a sporting event, a corporate clash, a movie, or any number of references that pit the little guy against the big guy. The term David & Goliath is mentioned so much that like “Catch-22” many don’t even know the original reference.

We could go to the movies to get caught-up on our history. Did you know Orson Wells played David in the 1961 movie David & Goliath? Richard Gere played David in the 1985 movie King David. I’m not sure just how many movies feature David and Goliath but there are a few, including at least one musical.

And though this is a blog about screenwriting I think it’s worth a look at the original context of David & Goliath. After all “Screenwriting from Iowa” is all about the little guy. To any new reader; Iowa is just a metaphor for coming from a place far from Hollywood. But time and time again over the last two years I’ve shown that writers really do come from all kinds of unusual places.

What we mostly remember about the original biblical story is simply that David as a youngster slew a giant. We actually don’t know exactly how old David was or how tall Goliath was, but it’s enough to say that it was a mismatch. David was young and the giant was tall. On the day of the famous battle the only reason David was there was to take food to his older brothers who were in the fight. But when David sees and hears the trash talking Philistine warrior he decides to take him on.

Goliath is not impressed when David grabs five smooth stones and a slingshot, “Am I a dog that you come to me with sticks? Come to me and I will give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the beasts of the fields.” (Nice dialogue.) Game on.

David says he comes in the name of the Lord and then plants a stone in Goliath’s forehead. Goliath falls on his face and David uses Goliath’s own sword to finish the job and cuts off the giant’s head. Game over. And David, who was just the food delivery guy a few minutes prior, is on his way to becoming the King of Israel.

No doubt a great story and it’s no surprise we’re still talking about it centuries later.

But let’s not over look a couple things. Yes, David came in the name of the Lord so maybe he wasn’t quite the underdog that we think. But there is one more detail about David that is always overlooked—He was prepared.

Prepared like a teenage Olympian who has trained a lifetime to win a gold metal. Prepared like screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher who wrote thousands of (unproduced) pages over a couple decades before he won an Oscar (adapted screenplay, Precious).

While David was off tending the sheep in some far away place that is the equivalent of Iowa in Israel, he had killed “both lion and bear.” We’re not talking about a video game. How many people do you know that have killed a lion and a bear? I imagine David passed 10,000 hours practicing sling shot techniques. He stepped into the situation with Goliath with confidence because he was prepared.

Bringing this home to screenwriting is this quote I’ve mentioned before;

“When it comes to screenwriting, it’s the writing. You don’t hear people who want to play professional tennis ask to be introduced to the head of Wimbledon. No, they’re out there hitting a thousand forehands and a thousand backhands.”
Screenwriter Scott Frank

Lastly, I’m not saying UNI will win today. But I am saying they could win today because they having been preparing for this for a long time. And just because I like odd facts, let me add that writer Robert Waller (The Bridges of Madison Country) played basketball at the University of Northern Iowa.

Update: This is why they call it March Madness…This afternoon UNI defeated the top-seeded team (Kansas) 69-67. Some have called it one of the biggest upsets in March Madness history. (It is the first time in the school’s history when they have beaten a top ranked team.) At Yahoo sports they even called Ali Farokhmanesh’s bold three-point shot toward the end of the game, “The shot that felled Goliath.”

Related post: Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (Tip #2)

First Screenplay, Oscar— Percious


Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Last week I was asked by Debra Eckerling to do my first ever guest blogging on her excellent Write On Online website. I appreciated the opportunity and wrote the following post after making the observation that there was a heavy dose of films made beyond what is known as the thirty mile zone in L.A. (As a side note, though Eckerling lives in L.A. these days she is part of the Midwest tribe invading Southern California, having been raised in the Chicago area and college educated in Wisconsin and Nebraska.)

The Oscars & Screenwriting East of L.A.

On my blog Screenwriting from Iowa I enjoy writing about screenwriters who come from outside L.A., not because I have anything against L.A., but because I think there are wonderful stories to tell from all over the world. The famous painter Grant Wood (American Gothic) was fond of talking about regionalism in painting. I’d like to think there is a regionalism brewing from a screenwriting and filmmaking perspective.

One thing that jumps out at me about this year’s Oscar nominations in both the original and adapted screenplay categories is every single one of the stories is set outside Los Angeles.

I haven’t seen all of the films, but after a little research I’m not even sure that of the 10 films nominated in the screenplay categories that there is a single scene even set in the state of California. Those are pretty staggering statistics considering that L.A. is the center of the film industry.

Original Screenplay Nominees:

District 9
Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell; set in Johannesburg, South Africa,

An Education
Screenplay by Nick Hornby; set in England

In the Loop
Screenplay by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, and Tony Roche; set in England and Washington, D.C.

Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire
Screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher; set in New York City

Up in the Air
Screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner; set in various airports & airplanes around the county with key scenes set in Nebraska, Wisconsin and in the air over Iowa

Adapted Screenplay

The Hurt Locker
Written by Mark Boal; set primarily in Iraq

Inglourious Basterds
Written by Quentin Tarantino; set in France

The Messenger
Written by Alessandro Camon & Oren Moverman; set in and around New Jersey

A Serious Man
Written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen; set in Minneapolis

Up
Screenplay by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter. Story by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Tom McCarthy; set in South America

Just taking a cursory glance at all the films in every single Academy Award category and I don’t notice a single movie set in Los Angeles. There are films set in places like Michigan, Memphis, China, and of course, Pandora. This year’s films represent a global cinema.

Novelist and musicians have always been able to ply their trade in far away places that over the centuries has brought an original and rich texture to their work. It’s exposed readers and listeners to new worlds and experiences.

But because feature films usually take large crews and a good deal of equipment it has traditionally resulted over the decades in a good amount of stories that are L.A.-centered. And because of that screenwriters from all over have always been drawn to Los Angeles and end up writing more stories about L.A. (Or had their stories changed to be able to be shot in California.)

Perhaps we’re witnessing the end of a cycle that began 100 years ago when the movie industry moved from New York and Chicago to Hollywood. In 2008-2009 there was a lot of talk about L.A.’s runaway production and what to do about the shrinking number of films being shot on the streets of Los Angeles.

People can argue and blame it on the economy, unions, the high cost of shooting in L.A., tax incentives that are available all over the world, reality TV, the fact that people are tired of seeing the Santa Monica Pier, or the downsizing & democratization as the result of digital production, but the one thing this year’s crop of Oscars prove is that the door is wide open (slightly cracked?) for screenwriters who have stories that take place beyond the shadow of the Hollywood sign.

We may not be at that place where Francis Ford Coppola prophesied 20 years ago when he said that, “One day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart” by making a film on her father’s videocamera. But things are getting very interesting.

Mark Boal who wrote The Hurt Locker is a good example of a screenwriter who did not take a traditional route to break into Hollywood. Though neither fat or a girl he did go to a small college in Ohio where he majored in philosophy. As a journalist embedded in Iraq it led to writing the story that became the film In The Valley of Elah.Then he took the next step by writing his first screenplay (The Hurt Locker) which not only got produced, but has been nominated for a total of nine Academy Awards.

* * *

In a related note, this year’s Oscars will be doing a John Hughes tribute. Hughes was born and raised in Lansing, Michigan until his family moved to the Chicago suburbs when he was a teenager.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a more successful mainstream Hollywood writer/director who was as much of an Hollywood outsider. Hughes, whose films include Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink. Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Christmas Vacation, and of course Home Alone, once told film critic Roger Ebert:

“I’m going to do all my movies here in Chicago. The (Chicago) Tribune referred to me as a ‘former Chicagoan.’ As if, to do anything, I had to leave Chicago. I never left. I worked until I was 29 at the Leo Burnett advertising agency, and then I quit to do this. This is a working city, where people go to their jobs and raise their kids and live their lives. In Hollywood, I’d be hanging around with a lot of people who don’t have to pay when they go to the movies.”

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: