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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Duvall’

“Charlie don’t surf.”
Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall) in Apocalypse Now
Screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and John Milius

Hightower Beach
©2013 Scott W. Smith

This morning I took the above photo and decided to make it a challenge to use it as a springboard for a new post. How could I take a sunrise surfer shot and tie it into something useful about screenwriting? Well, to make a long story short I found an interview with Francis Ford Coppola and John Milius talking about Apocalypse Now that they collaborated on together.  I found the You Tube video on a website that is somewhat new to me called Cinephilia and Beyond . The site is a tremendous resource and I believe originates from a filmmaker in Zagreb, Croatia. On Twitter @LaFamiliaFilm. (I see a “Screenwriting from Croatia” post forming.)

So all the way from Croatia via a turn in Satellite Beach, Florida here’s an interview between the filmmaker who made the quintessential Mafia film (The Godfather) and the one who made the quintessential surfer film (Big Wednesday) talking about how they made Apocalypse Now, how George Lucas was the original director on the project, and how the now classic film had a rocky start out of the gate.

“When the movie first came out it was very dicey which way it was going to go. And I really had my life realy based on it— I’d financed it, and it was starting to get a negative buzz. It had gotten horrible reviews. I remember the reviewer Frank Rich wrote in his review, ‘This is the greatest disaster in all of fifty years of Hollywood’..my feelings were so hurt by this pronouncement.”
Francis Ford Coppola

If you’ve never seen Apocalypse Now, definitely put it on your list of films to watch/study. (Will it help add emphasis if I you knew that last year Quentin Tarantino put it on his list of Top 12 Films of All Time?)

“[Robert Duvall] came to me and he wanted to know what all those surfing terms were. Exactly what they were. He wanted to go down to Malibu and look at surfers—see how they walked around, what they did. He wanted to know when he talked about a cutback that he knew what a cutback was.”
John Milius

P.S. File this one under odd connections: In the interview Coppola talks about going to UCLA at the same time as did Jim Morrison of The Doors. Music from the Doors is played in Apocalypse Now. Morrison was born in Melbourne, Florida just a few miles from where I took the above photo of the surfer that started this post in the first place. Apocalypse Now came out when I was a senior in high school and it was by far the most transformational movie experience of my then 18 year existence. And the scene where The Doors’ song The End plays is still mesmerizing (even on You Tube).

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Off Screen Quote #12 (Kelly Slater)
“Take a Risk”—Coppola

Scott W. Smith

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“Yeah I think I know what my father meant when he sang about his lost highway…”
Hank Williams Jr.
All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down)

“You must break from cliché. You must ‘Give us the same thing…only different.'”
Blake Snyder
Save the Cat

The movie Country Strong is no Tender Mercies. And there are some pluses and minus associated with that. While Tender Mercies is one of my all time favorite films, it did only make $8 million at the box office. Country Strong almost did that this weekend. But since I’ve been writing a good deal recently about movie clones it’s a good time to talk about avoiding clichés.

Tender Mercies is the 1983 Bruce Beresford directed movie for which Robert Duvall earned an Academy Award for Actor for playing a fallen (and alcoholic) county star. Horton Foote also earned an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Country Strong is the 2010 film written and directed by Shana Feste which stars Gwyneth Paltrow as a (recently) fallen (and alcoholic) county music star . And while Paltrow may get an Oscar nod, the screenplay won’t.

Feste is not Foote, and it would be unfair to compare her to him. He wrote Tender Mercies about 50 years into his career. A career that included Broadway plays and an Oscar for Adapted Screenplay for writing To Kill A Mockingbird in 1962. (And later a Pulitzer Prize.) County Strong is just Feste’s second film. (Who knows what Foote’s early plays were like decades before he became known as “America’s Checkov”?)

And to Feste’s credit she not only wrote the film but directed it putting together a great cast that do their best with a script that crosses the line into a melodrama with a cliché or two—or three. It doesn’t help that last year Jeff Bridges just happened to win an Academy Award in Crazy Heart for playing a fallen (and alcoholic) county music star. In fact, bio pictures of fallen and or musicians struggling with fame, drugs and/or alcohol is such a well travel path (The Doors, Walk the Line, A Star is Born, Glitter, Sweet Dreams) that Judd Apatow found it fertile ground to parody with his 2007 film Walk Hard: The Dewey Coy Story.

“When it seems like you’re stealing—don’t. When it feels like a cliche—give it a twist. When you think it’s familiar—it probably is, so you’ve got to find a new way.”
Blake Snyder
Save the Cat

“Clichés are shortcuts. The more you avoid taking them, the more interesting the places you’ll end up.”
John August
Avoiding cliches

When you start sampling movies about musicians you have to work hard not to hit a wrong note—be diligent to avoid the clichés. (Wait, did I just use a cliché?) I’ll give you one example of good and bad writing. In the opening scene of Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges as Bad Blake pulls into the parking lot of a dive bar and empties a jug of urine. Not a word has been spoken and we’ve learned a lot about this character and we’ve seen something that no other film has shown before. Here’s a guy who lives on the road and doesn’t want or can’t take the time to make a proper restroom stops between gigs. (A little like the true “stalking astronaut in a diaper story” a couple of years ago.)

Now contrast that with (not really a spoiler, folks) Paltrow’s character finding a baby bird while in rehab and her husband played by Tim McGraw carrying the beat-you-over-the-head-metaphor-in-a-box through half the film. At least one point in the making of the film McGraw had to think, “Is this bird thing working? Seems a little forced to me.”  And I don’t even recall a payoff with the bird.

Country Strong is the kind of movie I used to walk out of when I was younger (ie: Bolero) but now I’ve learned to enjoy the good things about any film. Here the music is top-notch and the studios gave Feste the great director of photography, John Baily (As Good As It Gets), so the film looks wonderful. And despite the 17% Rotten Tomatoes rating from top critics, the film has its moments. I thought the opening scene was a fresh twist and great start to the movie. But somewhere along the way my mind started drifting and I started to wonder how actor Tobey Maguire (Superman, Seabiscuit) got attached to this project as producer.

Later I found out and that’s where the story gets interesting.  I discovered that Feste was once Maguire’s nanny. That’s not meant as a knock. That’s interesting stuff. Everyone needs a job until they break through and Feste was savvy enough to work as a nanny in LA to make connections in the industry. It worked. (I’d definitely recommend being a nanny over some of screenwriter Diablo Cody’s previous income streams. Heck, maybe you could be a nanny for Cody.)

“I went to work as a nanny for people who were in the entertainment business, so that I could get any information I could, even while I was watching their kids. I love children, so it was an easy gig.”
Shana Feste
MovieMaker, December 2010

Along the way, Feste also cut her chops getting a BA at UCLA, a master’s in creative writing from University of Texas at Austin, and another graduate degree from AFI. Solid credentials. After AFI she went to work as an assistant at CAA for  Richard Lovett, who was president of the agency. Again, brilliant move. Her first film The Greatest premiered at Sundance in 2009. Country Strong may not be the best film of the year, but I imagine there are few grads that she went to school with at UCLA, UT-Austin, and AFI who are in the position that Feste finds herself as a Hollywood player writing and directing features.

P.S. Feste was once a nanny for Courney Love. I imagine Love and many others will have a “no screenwriter” request for future nannies. I also have a feeling that the nanny agencies will be getting a lot of calls this week from filmmakers with MFA’s looking for work. So if you happen to live in LA and decide to sign up at one of the agencies like Buckingham Nannies you may want to keep that screenwriter thing to yourself.

Scott W. Smith

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You find someone to love in this world
You better hang on tooth and nail
The wolf is always at the door
Don Henley
New York Minute

I know it’s Thanksgiving day, but it’s also my 25th wedding anniversary. (No, I didn’t get married on Thanksgiving, it just happens to be where it falls this year.) Can I tell you a story?  I won’t bore you with all the details, but if you’ve ever wondered—as a friend once ask me—”How did you end up in Iowa?”—here’s the answer.

After getting interested in writing short stories, photography, and video production growing up in Central Florida I attended film school at the University of Miami for one year. (Even was a walk-on on the football team where Jim Kelly was the quarterback.) Made a few short films and decided to transfer to film school out in LA.

In my senior year I met my wife to be in an elevator in Burbank. Can you get any more romantic than that? She was a model & actress from Denver and had two kids. We got married a year and a half later in a covered bridge in Vail, Colorado. (That really was romantic.)

She worked as a temp at various industry related places (Disney, Warners, Paramount, NBC, Technicolor) which was part of our greater plan for me to break in. I worked as a photographer and then as a 16mm cameraman/editor for a production company in Burbank. By the time I was 25 and thought I was on the L.A. fast track.

Then life happens the way it does. On top of a few other things the Whittier earthquake happened and we decided to move to Florida where the cost of living was cheaper and they were just starting to build “Hollywood East” in Orlando as Disney and Universal were building theme parks that promised to have real working studios. It looked good on paper.

Yeah, that didn’t quite work out either but I ended up producing and directing videos for a group in the 90s just as digital revolution was taking off. That got me on the ground floor of working with AVID and eventually Final Cut Pro. Fast forward to 2003 where not only had my step kids both graduated from high school and college, but my step-daughter was married and had a couple kids. (For the record, I was an empty-nester grandpa at age 37.)

My step-daughter and her family had moved to Cedar Falls, Iowa and when my wife and I would visit and I found myself saying, “I could live in a place like this some day.” By that time I had my own little production company in Florida and I was doing some freelance producing for a TV program in Chicago that brought me to the Midwest from time to time. As often as I could I’d visit Cedar Falls.

Eventually, my wife and I thought it would be best to live closer to Chicago and we decided to try living in Cedar Falls (a five hour drive from Chicago and 3 1/2 hours from Minneapolis) and see if we could make that work. It took a little work to make it work, but I eventually met some young guys here who had a web design company and I started doing some productions for them.

This just happened to be in 2005-2006 as video for the Internet was just starting to take off. (Hard to believe now that You Tube only started in 2005.) We ended up forming a new company in 2007 called River Run Productions and we’ve watched video for the Internet grow. I’ve had a front row seat view of watching the production world totally evolve. And part of the change has been the world of blogging and how information and entertainment is distributed.

Moving to Iowa not only forced me to embrace the changes (tapeless production, multiple hats on productions, blogging) it also allowed me to tap into a great literary tradition as well as a Midwest mythology.  It certainly wasn’t in my mindset that I’d start writing a blog on screenwriting in January of ’08 that it would win an Emmy and get shout outs and links from people like Tom Cruise, Edward Burns, and Diablo Cody—but that’s all happened. And oddly enough, it’s brought me connections that I never had in my five years in L.A.

And it’s happened in part because of people like you who’ve visited Screenwriting from Iowa from time to time. As the views have increased month after month it’s given me encouragement to continue this slightly time-consuming endeavor. So this Thanksgiving I’m thankful for you all stopping by and I do hope it helps you in your writing and your dreams wherever you call home.

That 24-year-old me in the above picture thought he was going to be the next Steven Speilberg. Didn’t happen. But to quote one of Minnesota-based singer Sara Groves’ songs, there are “Different Kinds of Happy.” I just have to get Robert Duvall and former Iowan Ben Foster interested in my latest script and the whole story could have a Hollywood ending.

And I’m thankful for my wife who’s been on this crazy journey with me these past 25 years. Happy Anniversary.

Scott W. Smith


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Get Low starring Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek received an 85% from the top critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Sharing the screenwriting credit are Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell.

“If you ‘know’ it write it, if you write it, write it well, defend it; if you defend it, pick your battles; if you lose, stay strong because you may win the war. Lo and behold you win the war, the phone just might ring with someone asking if you’d like to do it all over again. If that happens, say yes. It may take 10 years, as Get Low did, but it’s worth every minute.”
Chris Provenzano
Screenwriter, Get Low
Script m
agazine Sept./Oct. 2010
page 44

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Our screenwriting quote of the day comes from Skip Press on the benefits of gathering actors together to do a reading of your script:

“If you live in Keokuk, Iowa, and write a screenplay, you might find that actors will flock to you for the chance to participate in a reading. I don’t know much about the actors in Iowa, but I do know the Iowa Writers Program is one of the best in the world. And if the movie About Schmidt is any indication of what you can do in Iowa, there’s great work to be done there.”
                                                     Skip Press
                                                     The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Screenwriting
                                                     Chapter 19 What a Reading Can Show You
                                                     Page 241

Notice how Iowa always gets picked on as the last place you’d expect anything to be happening in the film world? Hence, that’s why I chose the name Screenwriting from Iowa.

Now I have been to Keokuk in the southeast corner of Iowa (on the Mississippi River) and they actually have a film festival there called the Keokuk Independent Film Festival so, yes, my guess is you can find actors to read your script in a remote place like Keokuk. (And just for the record Keokuk is about two hours from Marceline, MO where Walt Disney spent time part of his childhood and about an hour away from Hannibal, MO where Mark Twain was raised.)

But I do have to correct Skip on one thing and that is the script for About Schmidt was written by Nebraska native Alexander Payne and filmed in Omaha, Nebraska. Granted just over the Missouri River from Iowa, but I wanted to make that clarification. (It’s kind of like that distinction that folks in Southern California like to make between LA County and Orange County. Or 213 and 818 area codes. Similar, yet different.) But he is correct when he says that there is great work to be done here in Iowa. And I’m guessing wherever you live and write.

To learn more about the Iowa Writers’ Workshop that Skip said “is one of the best in the world” read my post The Juno-Iowa Connection.

And I am planning on following Skip’s advice by doing a reading of a new script I hope to complete this month, so if there are any actors interested in the Cedar Valley please contact me via email at info@scottwsmith.com. (I could arrange something in Minneapolis, Des Moines, Chicago, or even Keokuk if there is a group of actors interested.)

And for the record, Alexander Payne who won an Academy Award for best adapted script for Sideways (written with Jim Taylor) shows that you can come from Omaha and do well in Hollywood. And I don’t know how many actors there are in Omaha now, but that’s where Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando came from so they have a good heritage. (To read more about Nebraska please read Screenwriting from Nebraska.)

Speaking of Nebraska, if anyone knows where I can get a copy of Robert Duvall’s 1977 directorial debut We’re Not the Jet Set please let me know. (It’s a documentary about a rodeo family in Ogallala, Nebraska.) And speaking of We’re Not the Jet Set, here’s a song by that title recorded by Tammy Wynette & George Jones that I’m guessing you’ve probably never seen or heard. (I hadn’t until yesterday.)

7:36 PM Update: I just came back from seeing Jim Carrey in Yes Man where even he had a blast in Lincoln, Nebraska.

 

Text Copyright ©2009  Scott W. Smith

 

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