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Posts Tagged ‘Renee Zellweger’

“I never studied writing. I never studied screenwriting. I just hear voices and I see visions, and instead of being locked up I’m a screenwriter.”
Nick Kazan
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters (Part 1) interview with Mike De Luca

“I don’t like roller coasters.”
Kevin Hart

In the first part of screenwriter Nick Kazan’s interview on The Dialogue he mentioned he liked roller coasters. Kazan’s latest script set to be produced is a good example of how much of a roller coaster the film business can be. The Whole Truth was set to be shot earlier this year in Boston starring Daniel Craig, but The Hollywood Reporter said Craig pulled out at the 11th hour—”days before filming.” Part of what that means is an entire crew who had blocked out x-amount of months for work on that project now had to scramble for new opportunities. It also means a loss of millions of dollars in hotels, meals, rentals, etc. in the Boston area.

Fast forward a few months and I’ve read reports that instead of the story being about a lawyer in Boston, it will now be a southern lawyer as production has shifted to New Orleans. Keanu Reeves to replace Craig with Renee Zellweger co-starring and Courtney Hunt (Frozen River) directing. While one article said the changing of locations was a “slight shift in the story” think about what that means from Kazan’s perspective.

Boston and New Orleans are two different cultures. Perhaps the plot stays the same, you could even change the setting of a historic building in Copley Square to a historic building in the French Quarter. A downtown waterfront scene set in Boston Harbor can be shot on the Mississippi River.  But the whole background and mindset of a lawyer from New Orleans and a lawyer from Boston can be as different as their accents. Worlds apart.

I guess they could cheat and make it a Boston lawyer in New Orleans. I’m sure there’s more than one Harvard-educated lawyer kicking around Louisiana. Kind of a fun contrast to think about. Image a lawyer from a wealthy  Boston family who when thinking of heading south, thinks of Martha’s Vineyard. Give that man a shrimp po’boy and toss him into the mix of a post-Katrina New Orleans.

But Kazan’s a writer and so he’ll make it work–new visions and new voices.

And just in case you’re wondering why producers would make such a major shift in locations so late in the game the answer is simple—money. Louisiana has been aggressive in the last few years in courting film production via film incentives. In fact, at this year’s Oscar awards “four of the six highest-profile Academy Awards went to New Orleans-shot films.” (Including the Best Picture, 12 Years a Slave.)  You may be surprised that one report said that in 2013 Louisiana overtook California in film production.

“We have been on a steady upward trajectory since Louisiana adopted its incentive program in 2002… 2013 was our biggest year.”
Chris Stelly, executive director of Louisiana Entertainment
Move over Hollywood! Louisiana is top for film production, CNN Money

When I started this blog Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places in 2008 it was meant to have built-in irony. My Purple Cow to borrow Seth Godin’s phrase. But with the change in the economy since ’08—plus changes in digital filmmaking— and seeing Louisiana become a major player and Atlanta being called The New Hollywood—somehow filmmaking outside New York and L.A. seems less ironic.

I’ll write more about that later, but it would be interesting to read an interview where Kazan unpacked how his voices and visions changed as he had to transpose his script from Boston to New Orleans.

BTW—That roller coaster of change happens at every level of production. I have a DP friend who was booked on a big broadcast shoot recently who invested $3,000 in new equipment for the shoot only to have it cancel. That roller coaster effect is probably one of the top five reasons crew people leave the production business. It’s hard enough if you live in LA and are booked on a 2 or 3 month shoot away from your family, but harder when that shoot cancels and you end up not landing another gig quickly. The whole truth is roller coasters can be fun, you just don’t want to live on one.

Related post:
Nick Kazan’s Chainsaw Inspiration
Sex, Lies & Mr. Bill (Screenwriting from Louisiana)
Shrimp, Giants & Tyler Perry

Scott W. Smith

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While studying acting for three years in L.A. I learned a few things about the craft. When I inquired about classes at the The Actors Studio in West Hollywood I was told, “If when your feet hit the ground in the morning you don’t want to be an actor more than anything then don’t even try, because it’s too hard to make it and if you do make it— it’s still hard.”    

I didn’t have the passion to be an actor, but I was in film school and wanted a first hand understanding of the acting process. I found film students rather intimidated by actors which makes some sense in that they were more comfortable with the technical aspects. On the other hand I found the actors often insecure. One of those dances in life in that the filmmakers and actors need each other. 

Part of the insecurity in acting I found was it was hard to gauge when you did a good job. Even if someone did a scene in class that everyone else thought was great  the actor might say, “it seemed flat to me.” I did not find acting like playing sports where you knew if you had a good game or not. 

I think that has to do with subjective nature of acting. Just look how people fight over whether so and so is a talented actor or not. Acting is also quirky in that actors with limited abilities sometimes win major awards. It seems to me that the best working actors understand their limitations and work to do their best work within those limitations.  Stallone may not be the greatest actor, but he was a great Rocky. (Even Paul Newman said he didn’t feel he could perform well the classics of theater.)

After one acting class at Tracey Roberts Actors Studio a teacher asked me why I seemed a little down and I said something about not feeling like I was doing a great job. And he made an off the cuff comment that has stuck with me all these years, “Just because you’re not Babe Ruth doesn’t mean you can’t play baseball.”

That is just because you’re not one of the greatest at what you do doesn’t mean you can’t perform at all. Professional sports have a few outstanding players that even people outside the sport are familiar with–people like Tiger Woods. But there are a whole lot of less talented (and less known) athletes that still earn a good living doing their job.

I was reminded of this last night when I saw the movie New in Town. How could I pass up on a story about a Floridian who ends up living in the cold Midwest? I don’t think it will find a warm spot in the hearts of critics, nor will it be accused of breaking any new ground, but it does have its moments.

But here’s the key thing to learn from New in Town…it got made. And it got made with Renee Zellweger and Harry Connick Jr. in the lead roles.  (And J.K. Simmons, the father in Juno, is a delight to watch.)

Free yourself from the burden of comparing your writing to Casablanca. It’s great to dream of writing the greatest movie ever made, but in practice just write the best script you can and hope it gets made. Colleges and writing workshops are full of teachers who can go on for days about what makes Citizen Kane a great movie and mock films like New in Town for being filled with cliches.

I found out New in Town was originally written by yet another Minneapolis, Minnesota native, Ken Rance. And though he’s kicked around the TV business since graduating from Howard University in 1992, this is his first produced feature film. In various interviews Rance has mentioned it took a lot of faith to realize a 16 year dream.

He shares a screenwriting credit with C. Jay Cox who was 40 when he finally had a screenplay produced. (Sweet Home Alabama starring Reese Witherspoon & Patrick Dempsey.) So just a few weeks before Rance turns 39 I doubt he’s too worried about what the critics say about his film, I bet he’s just glad that the critics are saying anything about his film. And there’s always hope that it will find an audience.

Meanwhile Rance is developing other projects. So the lesson from up Minneapolis way today is just because you’re not the Coen brothers or Diablo Cody doesn’t mean you can’t write a screenplay that gets sold and made.

 

copyright 2009 Scott W. Smith

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