Posts Tagged ‘Prisoners’

“I’ve done a lot of crazy things in my career. I’ve been invited to be with emperors, kings and prime ministers, but I can tell you right now from the bottom of my heart, being here in Iowa Falls is something I will never, ever forget.”
Actor Hugh Jackman
September 21, 2013

Would you pay $100 for a movie ticket? And one that’s not even in 3-D? (Isn’t this what earlier in the year George Lucas and Steven Spielberg predicated what would happen?) Well just a few days ago people in Iowa did pay $100 and sold out the theater in 35 minutes. What would make people pay $100 to see a movie in the small town of Iowa Falls?

Answer: Hugh Jackman.  Not just a Hugh Jackman movie, but Hugh Jackman the person. The actor fresh off of starring roles in Les Miserable and The Wolverine was in Iowa Falls for the rural premiere of his newest movie Prisoners.  Now you may wonder why what ended up being the top box office movie this past weekend had a red carpet premiere in a town of under 6,000 people.

Answer: Patrick Whitesell. A guy who grew up in Iowa Falls who just happens to be Hugh Jackman’s agent—and co-CEO (with Ari Emanuel) of William Morris Endeavor (WME). Some of the talent represented by WME includes Denzel Washington, Robert Redford, Oprah Winfrey, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarnatino, Christopher Nolan, Lady Gaga, and Charilize Theron.  Now for a guy who writes a blog titled Screenwriting from Iowa I find that pretty darn interesting.

Interesting that one of the world’s largest & oldest talent agencies with headquarters in Beverly Hills has a co-CEO from Iowa Falls. And according to Jackman, Whitesell is one of the good guys in Hollywood.

“I met [Patrick Whitesell] about 15 years ago. Patrick became my agent. I’ve only had one agent, and that’s him. And I would not be where I am in my career today without this man. To you guys, someone with a good sense of humor, who tells the truth, who works hard, and is genuinely a good guy who understands ethics—that’s a normal thing, right? In Hollywood—not so normal.”
Hugh Jackman speaking to the audience at Prisoners premiere in Iowa Falls

Patricks father, Jack Whitesell, is a retired attorney in Iowa Falls and recently bought (along with Patrick I believe) and spent $500,000 to upgrade the Metropolitan Opera House (movie theater) in Iowa Falls. It’s a beautiful building that according to Wikipedia opened in1899 as the Metropolitan Opera House with 800 in attendance and the event proclaimed as “biggest social event in the history of Iowa Falls.” The other film playing last week at the theater’s reopening was The Wolverine. That’s right it was double feature Hugh Jackman night in Iowa Falls.

Now if you’re new to this blog check out my WME-related post centered around WME Story Editor Christopher Lockhart.

Screenwriting Quote #172 (Christopher Lockhart)
Christopher Lockhart Q&A (Part 1)
Christopher Lockhart Q&A (Part 2)
Christopher Lockhart Q&A (Part 3)
Christopher Lockhart Q&A (Part 4)
Christopher Lockhart Q&A (Part 5)
Writing “Flight”

A few days after the premiere, Jackman was photographed riding a bike in France. Iowa Falls one day, Paris the next—the glamorous life of a movie star. BTW—I learned a new phrase doing this post; “rural premiere.” Never read those two words together until I read Kyle Munson’s article in his Des Moines Register blog on Jackman’s visit to Iowa. Kind of has a nice ring to it doesn’t it? Maybe rural premiere’s will be the next fad for Hollywood to reconnect with audiences. It fits right in with the old Hollywood marketing question, “Will it play in Peroria?”

P.S. I used to live in Cedar Falls about an hour from Iowa Falls and once shot part of a video there for a regional economic development group. One of the things I learned while producing that video is many companies like that area because it is at the crossroads of Interstate 35 and Interstate 20 (and not far from Interstate 80) with direct routes to Minneapolis, Chicago, St. Louis, Omaha and Kansas City. Food, tractors, and Hollywood agents are made or grown in Iowa and shipped all over the world.

Related Posts:

Screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski (“Prisoners”)
Nobody Reads Query Letter —Myth (Tip #82)
Query Letter Strikeout  (2011 post about me contacting WME)
Query Letter Strikeout (Part 2)

Scott W. Smith

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“Just focus on the writing and everything else will fall into place.”
Aaron Guzikowski

While the name Aaron Guzikowski may not roll off the tongue as easy as saying Diablo Cody,  there are similarities between the two screenwriters . Cody is a writer with Chicago/Iowa City/Minneapolis roots who worked a regular (non-creative) job at an advertising agency until her writing got the attention of a Hollywood insider. Guzikowski is a writer from the greater Boston area (Brockton), who had been living in Brooklyn, NY and working a regular (non-creative) job in advertising until his writing got the attention of a Hollywood insider.

Both had been writing since their youth and followed that path through college. Cody studied media studies at the University of Iowa and Guzikowski studied art and film at the Pratt Institute. Cody’s Juno made The Black List before it got produced and became a well reviewed movie and a box office hit—and she won an Academy Award for the script. Guzikowski’s Prisoners also made The Black List, and though just released in theaters it has been well reviewed and is on its way to being a box office hit. (It finished #1 at the box office this past weekend.) Time will tell about any Academy Awards.

One of the big differences between the two writers is Cody was discovered while writing a blog, while Guzikowski via an old school query letter sent in the mail. Cody says she wrote the first draft of Juno in six weeks, and Guzikowski said he took two years to write Prisoners. Regardless, if you’re looking for contemporary success stories of screenwriters who were once living outside of L.A. and working regular day jobs then Cody and Guzikowski (one female, one male) are as solid  examples as you can find.

And they both did it not by writing a great script but by writing material that had a voice and connected them with people inside Hollywood who could help develop that voice. The great scripts and the great movies—and the big money— came later.

“[Guzikowski] finished the screenplay for Prisoners while working at an ad agency in New York – getting up at 5 a.m. to write most workdays, penning his thoughts whenever he could at work, then coming home again to write.”
Maria Papadopoulos
The Enterprise

Back in 2009, I wrote the post called The Breakfast Club for Writers where I pointed out how Elmore Leonard, John Grisham, and Ron Bass all once got up at 5 AM to write before their day jobs. So I guess Guzikowski’s in the club.

But the real take away from Guzikowski is the commitment to craft.

“When it comes to submissions, the only thing you want to stand out is the writing, so it pays to adhere to industry standards. As for competition, there’s not much point thinking about it. Just concentrate on the story you’re trying to tell….I signed with my manager first (through a query letter), worked with him for two years developing Prisoners, then after I completed it, I signed with my agent. You don’t really need an agent until you have something that’s ready for market. In terms of how hard it was, working on the script was the hard part, and if you pay enough dues on that end, then securing representation — even without having previously sold anything — becomes a lot easier.”
Aaron Guzikowski
2009 Q&A/Limite Magazine

P.S. The Boston area sure has a solid history of producing excellent screenwriters.

Related Posts:
The 99% Focus Rule (Tip #70)
The Idea is King (Focus not writing the great script, but the “right script”)
Screenwriting from Massachusetts
Will Simmons’ Road to Hollywood (Black List writer who was delivering pizzas in Boston a few years ago.)
Writing “Good Will Hunting” These former no-name writers won an Academy Award for their first produced screenplay.

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)


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 
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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