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“I was really beginning to question if I’d ever catch my proverbial big break. I drifted away from film work and started applying for police jobs.”
Chris Sparling, Buried screenwriter

“(Chris Sparling) went directly from struggling indie director to successful Hollywood scribe when the screenplay for his horror thriller Buried was picked up, cast with a major up-and-coming star, and thrown before the cameras in just six months. And now it’s receiving its U.S. première at the Sundance Film Festival.
Melissa Silvstri
Filmmaker Magazine Winter 2010

You can’t get more minimalistic than Buried (2010). And while it was shot over 21 days with Rodrigo Cortés directing— it could have been shot in a 1 to 4 days. Granted it wouldn’t have been as good, but it could have been.

And from interviews back around the time Buried was purchased between three and four million, it sounded like an ultra low-budget film was what screenwriter Chris Sparling was originally after. (He had little success in distrubuting his short films and one low-budget indie film.)

“Stealing a page from Hitchcock’s playbook, I decided on writing a story that takes place entirely in one small location. In my case, this was inside an old, wooden coffin.”
Chris Sparling

Two of the most well-known films in Alfred Hitchcock’s playbook that embraced limitations were Rope and Lifeboat.

Sparling was asked in an interview with Carson Reeves at Script Shadow, “How many scripts had you written before Buried? Which script did you realize that maybe you were getting the hang of it?” Sparling said, “Before Buried, I think I’d written about nine or ten features and two TV specs. Truth be told, it didn’t start to click for me until about my seventh feature script.”

Ryan Reynolds plays a  U.S.  contract driver in Iraq who is attacked and placed in a coffin with a flashlight, a cell phone and a lighter and must find someone to pay a million dollar ransom or he’ll soon die. A primal survival story reminiscent of low-budget success stories of past years; The Blair Witch Project, Open Water and Paranormal Activity. 

If you’re interested in low-budget filmmaking with a contained story elements read the Buried screenplay and study he movie. A nice bookend to Buried is 127 Hours. 

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Scott W. Smith

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“I have not failed. I have just found 1,000 ways that did not work.”
Thomas Edison (And one of screenwriter Chris Sparling’s favorite quotes.)

Los Angles is full of screenwriters who came from outside L.A.

Of course, most of them broke in the old-fashioned way. They moved there. That’s been going on for 100 years ever since L.A. replaced New York and Chicago as the go to place to make movies.

And that may be true for the next 100 years, because that is still the heart of the film industry. It’s where the majority of studios, executives and film talent are based. It’s the main place for deals to happen and for movies to be made.

But what keeps that heart pumping is the fresh talent that movies through it. And that talent often comes from outside L.A.

And I’ve spent two years giving accounts of talented writers who come from all over the U.S. (and sometimes other countries) to make an impact on the film business. Occasionally, writers have enough clout to stay in their hometowns (John Hughes/ Chicago) and sometimes they move back to their hometown (Mike France/St. Pete Beach) or move to their ideal creative place (George Lucas/Skywalker Ranch). But those are exceptions to the rule.

The big question now is has the technology and the business evolved to the point where it is becoming more common for screenwriters and filmmakers to not only launch a career outside L.A., but sustain one from wherever they want live? In the 70s & 80s Francis Ford Coppola & Lucas fled to Northern California to do their thing. In the 90s & 2000s, we’ve see places like Austin, Atlanta & Portland become places where filmmakers live and work. I think that is a trend that is going to continue to spread throughout the country.

Let me throw out a quote that point to where things are heading:

“I think that the Internet is going to effect the most profound change on the entertainment industries combined. And we’re all gonna be tuning into the most popular Internet show in the world, which will be coming from some place in Des Moines. We’re all gonna be on the Internet trying to find an audience.”
(Steven Spielberg in interview with Katie Couric on the NBC Today Show in 1999)

Have you noticed that the phrase “I think that the Internet…” has become a very popular? As in I think that the Internet…helped Diablo Cody become a screenwriting rock star.

But I think that it is fair to point out that Diablo Cody moved from Minneapolis to L.A. soon after her script for Juno sold. My guess is newcomer Chris Sparling will be moving from Rhode Island to L.A. soon (if he hasn’t already done so). I think Sparling is a recent and great example of how to launch a screenwriting career from outside L.A.

At this point he’s just a few days removed from the stir that was created at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival where the film he wrote, Buried, sold for $3 million plus. So there is not a lot written about him, but I’ve pieced together a few things I could from the internet.

Since he’s said he is roughly the same age as Ryan Reynolds (who stars in Buried), I’m guessing that he has been writing for ten years (maybe even 15 if he started as a teenager). He made some short films and in 2005 made a low-budget feature called An Uzi at the Alamo where he was the producer, director, writer and lead actor. The film can be viewed on Netflicks.

But as is often pointed out, getting a film made and paying the bills are not always the same thing. In one interview he said he recently “started applying for police jobs.”

From what I can gather Sparling earned money as a personal trainer and a freelance writer for magazines and blogs such as Maximum Fitness Magazine, Sunrise Helpers, Indie Slate and Imagine Magazine,The Diabetes Blog, The Cardio Blog, FitBuff,  America Online’s That’s Fit and Exist Magazine. He also taught screenwriting at Emerson College and I found an ad from just a year ago where he would read scripts for people and help them write query letters for extra money.

In an interview with Emerson College, Sparling was asked how one gets an agent and he said,“You have to cultivate relationships. You have to nurture them. You may meet an agent and send him a script. Odds are it will be a pass if he or she reads it at all, but you keep that relationship open and get recommended to others, and maybe on the fourth or fifth script you send to an agent…that’s the one they love and want to rep.”

Did you catch that? He said “maybe the fourth of fifth script.” Good writing is a process. It takes time. Sparling has said that it took him seven scripts before it “clicked” for him and that he wrote 9 or 10 scripts before Buried sold. Then he was on the fast track as it went into production, was edited, and shown and sold at Sundance all within the last year. It will be released in the spring of 2010. He’s a hot writer in Hollywood now as he’s sold other scripts and picked up other assignments. But don’t forget the many years and many scripts that paved the way for his recent success.

Living in Providence, Rhode Island he would also make occasional trips to L.A. to make contacts in the film industry.

“The first time I flew into LA, I had 15 meetings in five days. The next time it was 20 meetings.”
Chris Sparling

So did Chris Sparling just get lucky? I don’t think so. His is not the only way to break into Hollywood, but it follows a pretty common path that I would condense as:

1) Read a lot of scripts
2) Write a lot of scripts
3) Meet a lot of people

And if you want to read most of the good, logical reasons on why you should live in L.A., check out Ashley Scott Meyers’ post Do you have to live in Los Angeles to be a screenwriter?

© 2010 Scott W. Smith 
 

 

 

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“It was a brilliant script.”
Director Rodrigo Cortes on Chris Sparling’s script Buried
(And why he didn’t change the one location/one on-screen actor concept.)

So here’s my latest angle to give “Screenwriting from Iowa” a new perspective. My first video blog. Since shifting to daily posts was burying me why not add video into the mix? Right now, I’m going to try doing one video a month for now and see how it goes. (Of course,  the shooting style of this video is best understood if you’ve seen the original trailer for Buried.)

Buried was purchased by Lionsgate for between $3 & 4 million after the film was shown at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival just a few days ago. The entire movie is said to feature one person (Ryan Reynolds) held captive in a coffin for the entire length of the film as he tries to call people on his cell phone to secure his $1 million ransom.

Buried alive? There’s no app for that.

Scott W. Smith

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“I was really beginning to question if I’d ever catch my proverbial big break. I drifted away from film work and started applying for police jobs.”
Chris Sparling, Buried screenwriter

“(Chris Sparling) went directly from struggling indie director to successful Hollywood scribe when the screenplay for his horror thriller Buried was picked up, cast with a major up-and-coming star, and thrown before the cameras in just six months. And now it’s receiving its U.S. première at the Sundance Film Festival.
Melissa Silvstri
Filmmaker Magazine Winter 2010

Until this morning I had never seen or heard the name Chris Sparling. Then I read on Scott Myers’ screenwriting blog (Go Into The Story) about a movie Sparling wrote called Buried that sold at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival for between $3 & $4 million. Sparling is from Providence, Rhode Island and has made short films and one low-budget independent feature five years ago that had little distribution.

He was looking to write a movie that could be shot quickly and cheaply when he stumbled upon the idea for Buried.

“Stealing a page from Hitchcock’s playbook, I decided on writing a story that takes place entirely in one small location. In my case, this was inside an old, wooden coffin.”
Chris Sparling

While his sudden rise is rare, the process that he took to be a screenwriter in demand is a familiar story. One of dedication and hard work.

Sparling was asked in an interview with Carson Reeves at Script Shadow, “How many scripts had you written before Buried? Which script did you realize that maybe you were getting the hang of it?” Sparling said, “Before Buried, I think I’d written about nine or ten features and two TV specs. Truth be told, it didn’t start to click for me until about my seventh feature script.”

I think to pull off writing a 90 minute story in a coffin one has to have a solid handle on the craft of screenwriting. You have to think that having a story set in a coffin would cut down on crew, cast, wardrobe,  lighting, etc.. The film was directed by Rodrigo Cortes and shot in 21 days in Barcelona, Spain. With Ryan Reynolds in the lead role it couldn’t have be too low a budget film.

Renyolds plays a  U.S.  contract driver in Iraq who is attacked and placed in a coffin with a flashlight, a cell phone and a lighter and must find someone to pay a million dollar ransom or he’ll soon die. A primal survival story reminscent of low-budget success stories of past years; The Blair Witch Project, Open Water and Paranormal Activity.

Is there a Midwest angle? Of course.  The character Renyolds plays says that he’s from Hastings, Michigan. Below is the promo for the movie that is said to being released this spring. If you do a little homework you can find a version of the script online.

Scott W. Smith

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