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Posts Tagged ‘Slippery’s Bar’

Long before Diablo Cody wrote Juno in a Starbucks in a Minneapolis suburb, and before Nick Schenk wrote Gran Torino at Gumpy’s Bar in Minneapolis, another screenwriter from Minnesota had jumped into the scene with his first script — Grumpy Old Men.

Screenwriter Mark Steven Johnson is another example of talent coming from a small town in the Midwest. He was born in 1964 in Hasting, Minnesota which is just outside the metropolitan Minneapolis area. He went to school for a year at Winona State University which is located in the southeast Minnesota town of Winona. 

Johnson transferred to Cal State Long Beach and then got his break while working as a secretary in the entertainment industry. He was 25 years old when he sold Grumpy Old Men. The film got made in 1993 with an terrific cast that included Jack Lemmon. Walter Matthau, Ann-Margret, Burgress Meredith, Daryl Hannah, Kevin Pollack, Ossie Davis and Buck Henry. Not a bad line-up for your debut film.

The opening shot of Grumpy Old Men is of the train station at Wabasha which is a small town on the Mississippi River between Hastings (where Johnson was born) and Winona where he went to school. Though they shot the film in many locations in Minnesota, I’m not even sure they actually shot any footage any in Wabasha. But the story takes place in Wabasha. (And the movie plays everyday at Slippery’s Bar in Wabasha.) 

I’ve read that Johnson based the story on his grandfather who lived in Wabasha. And I doubt it was the first film that featured ice fishing, but it’s probably the most popular film to feature ice fishing. The film had a slow start at the box office but gained a solid following and ended up making $77 million and opened the door for the sequel which came out in 1995 and made $71 million.

No one would accuse Grumpy Old Men of being high concept. A couple old men in a film that would have to be shot in Minnesota during wintertime probably didn’t get studios excited or make film financiers jump up and down. More than one film school screenwriter teacher would probably have read the script and said, “Nice try, now work on something more commercial. Something for a younger audience that has a chance to actually get made.”

But Johnson wrote the script and it eventually made it’s way into the right hands, got made, and found an audience. And it launched Johnson’s screenwriting and directing career to boot.

 

Scott W. Smith

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