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Posts Tagged ‘Spielberg’

“I never wanted to write a screenplay. To me, writing is this wonderful, indulgent activity where you just fill the page with words.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody
Iconcinema.com

Three years ago today I created my first blog post ever (Life Beyond Hollywood). I started out with a little Diablo Cody inspiration and a modest goal to consolidated my writing notes gathered over the years from film school, books, magazines, seminars & workshops in hopes of it becoming a 50,000 word book—and perhaps helping a fellow writer or two.

Three years later I’ve written 832 posts and over 300,000 words. (With roughly 833 estimated typos, which I blame on posting daily without a copy editor. Like Jimmy Buffett I’m not aiming for perfection—just trying to “capture the magic.”) I’m now in the process of distilling those 832 posts into three books which will be much more refined.

Actually the idea of a book predates the blog. Since I had read quite a few film and video books by Michael Weise Books, and  had just read Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat at the end of ’07 (which they published, and I thought was great)  I sent them a book proposal toward the end of 2007 and got this email back from Ken Lee:

Please email me your table of contents and a sample chapter

Thanks

Ken

Ken and I traded emails a few times and I ended up sending him three or four chapters and we spoke on the phone a couple of times and he asked me to think about what I’d like to write and blog about over the next five years. At the end of the day, while there was no deal with Michael Weise Books, this blog in part was an indirect result of my communication with Ken. (If you’re looking for a theme to write about “Success out of Failure” is a great concept because everyone can identify with losing their locker like Rocky did in that first film.)

At the same time I had written those first four chapters I started to read about Diablo Cody’s story about writing the Juno screenplay in Minneapolis, her blogging, and having gone to college at the University of Iowa. Lightning struck. A couple of people showed me the ropes on how to start a blog and four days after seeing the movie Juno I launched my first post exactly three years ago today.

I even traded a few emails in January of 2008 with Blake as his blog was one of the first screenwriting blogs I ever read. In fact, I just found this email from him that ended with: “Best to you in ‘the great 2008′ and yes, I am happy to help in any way I can.” Miss ya Blake, but long live your books & influence.

Later that year, in October of 2008, the Screenwriting from Iowa blog won a Regional Emmy (Minneapolis) in the category of advanced media. A few months later Diablo Cody walked away with an Oscar for writing Juno. Fun.

“I’ve never read a screenwriting book. I’m really superstitious about it too. I don’t even want to look at them. All I did was I went and bought the shooting script of  ‘Ghost World’ at Barnes and Noble and read it just to see how it should look on the page because I like that movie.”
Diablo Cody

The day after my first post I received this email  from Scott Cawelti, an English professor and writer at the University of Northern Iowa: “Ready for a collaboration?” It took a little time, but we recently finished a spec screenplay, have done a couple re-writes, and are just now shopping it. (As a quirky sidenote, Scott was once in a band with Robert Waller who wrote The Bridges of Madison County.)

There was early support from Mystery Man on Film. For the record I think Mystery Man’s post The Raider’s Story Conference is the single best thing you’ll find on the Internet on the process of storytelling. (Make sure to follow the link to the 125 page transcript of Lucas, Spielberg and Kasden as they discuss what became Raiders of the Lost Ark.) I was also encouraged by emails from readers and fellow blogger Scott Myers at Go Into the Story.

Last year the shout out by Diablo Cody on Twitter as well as the TomCruise.com plug were bonuses and will keep me going another year. And I hope some things I write encourage you in your own quest as a writer. In the coming days I’ll have some posts based on interviews I did with UCLA screenwriting professor Richard Walter and screenwriter Dale Launer (My Cousin Vinney, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels). This blog has brought me into contact with producers and writers in LA that would be hard for me to connect with otherwise. So if you have a blog in mind, go for it.

But for now let me say thanks for stopping by, best wishes on your own writing and if you need a little inspiration today I hope this helps:

“I can actually give you a really specific bit of advice that I give to everyone. I would not be where I am, I would not be any sort of professional writer if I had not self-published. We live in a day and age where there’s so many opportunities for writers and filmmakers with YouTube to self-publish, to make their own work available without having to go through the rejection letters and the middleman and, you know, it used to be that you were, that if you wanted to share your work with other people, I mean, you had to go through so many channels and jump through so many hoops. And now, you can just put it out there. You know, the internet is a miraculous thing, so just share as much as you can self-publish blog, you know, podcast, whatever you need to do, just make sure that you are not withholding your (unintelligible) from the world because we have so many opportunities now.”

Diablo Cody
NPR transcript Feb  2009

I never would have dreamed that I’d write 823 posts in three years, but that’s what happened. The Writers Store has an article online that talks about Jerry Seinfeld’s method for success where he marks on a calender with a red “X” over everyday he writes new material. Each “X” forms a chain and his goal is to not break that chain. You want to talk a day or two off every week from writing, that’s fine (and healthy) but do your best to have at least 20 “X’s” on your calender each month.

Writers write.

Related Posts: Juno Has Another Baby (Emmy)

Screenwriting’s Biggest Flirt

The Juno—Iowa Connection

Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours

Scott W. Smith

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It looks like 2011 is going to be the year of the clones. Not in terms of movies in the theaters (because that’s always the case), but in terms of my exploring the topic from a screenwriting perspective.

“You don’t get to be a Hollywood hitmeister like (Michael) Bay — 200 Zillion Tickets Sold! — without indulging in formulas, and the characters Star Warshero Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation) play in The Island bear a striking resemblance to the hyperactive narcs of Bad Boys, the tireless Earth-savers of Armageddon, and the dashing flyboys and selfless nurse of Pearl Harbor. Bay watchers know the king of the big-budget directors has been in the cloning game for a decade now, and that he knows a good thing when he repeats it.”
Bill Gallo
Send in the Clones
SF Weekly July, 20, 2005

And though Gallo’s quote from a critic’s perspective is meant in the pejorative sense, for the screenwriter inside you it is should make you sit up and take notice. Time and time again it’s been said that getting a feature produced and released into theaters takes a minor miracle. (Getting people to see the film and then to win awards takes a major miracle.) So it’s worth it to at least take a look at what kind of films are being made because most screenwriters would rather be writing movies rather than just scripts that are left unproduced.

Again don’t be turned off by the word clone. Don’t think of it as a mere copy, but as containing similar DNA. If it’s good enough for Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola, Scorsese, etc.—maybe there’s something to it. Yes, of course, there are bad clones (Pasadise two years after Blue Lagoon*) but keep in mind that Castway was a modern retelling of Robinson Crusoe and (as Lee A. Matthias points out) Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet was updated into West Side Story.

In fact, there were 13 Oscar nominations between Castaway and West Side Story. Take what you want and make it your own. And just for the record Robinson Crusoe was first published in 1719 and Romeo and Juliet circa 1560. With reports of similar stories of both being told even before those authors were born. The quest for love and survival are as primal and universal as you can get.

*Of course, I haven’t seen it since in came out in 1980, but Blue Lagoon starring Brooke Shields was probably just a retelling from a youth perspective of Robinson Crusoe. Toss in the TV shows LOST and Gilligan’s Island and you can see the stranded on an island concept is never going away. Here’s a trailer you may have never seen from a movie called Horrors of Spider Island about “eight beautiful girls” and one man stranded on an island (Hmmmmm):

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

 

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“Surely the most famous life line in classic storytelling is the glass slipper.”
Wells Root (referring to Cinderella)

Your character has a goal or a problem that needs solved—what they ultimately need to achieve that goal is a life line.

Do you remember in the movie Jaws when the Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider) was facing imminent death at the end of the movie? It’s a scene of high drama. It’s a you or me face-off and it looks like Brody is on the losing end with a shark…until he reaches for a life line.

From the Peter Benchley script (this draft only has his name on it) at page 112:

Brody is sliding toward (the shark) with the rest of the debris as the bow raises thirty degrees. He intercepts one of Hooper’s compressed air tanks and just as he and everything else pours toward the whirlpool and into the jaws Brody braces himself and shoves the tanks at the bottomless pit. They jam between the upper and lower jaws and stick fast.

But where did these compressed air tanks come from? The tanks are loaded on Quint’s (Robert Shaw) boat on page 79. They are intended for diving by Hooper, but just so we know the power and danger of the tanks Benchley writes a little exposition.

Quint almost trips over Hooper’s tanks as he walks to the chum barrels. He roughly kicks them aside.

Quint
Fancy goddamn toys….

Hooper
(jumping up)
Careful! Compressed air — you crack that and it explodes like a bomb!

It’s a quick exchange that doesn’t draw attention to itself. So now let’s fast forward to page 112 of the 113 page script. Brody has tossed the tanks in the shark’s mouth. That’s the set-up and now the payoff. Benchley writes (major spoiler coming):

The shark twists backward in the water and turns away. Hooper, rising, is peering around for Brody and Quint. The shark is spinning in crazed circles, the head-thrusts indicating that it can neither dislodge nor swallow the silver tanks. It bites down at fifteen tons pressure per square inch. The TANKS EXPLODE!

Now Spielberg (or Benchley, or additional credited writer Carl Gottieb, or even somebody else) said something like, “Yeah, technically Brody got the shark, but what if we raised the stakes? What if we put victory or defeat in the hands of Brody? Wouldn’t that be a more satisfactory ending than the shark basically killing himself? Brody is a cop, he knows how to shoot a gun. We laughed at him for pulling out his pistol at one point and trying to shoot this giant killer shark. ‘ But what if he falls back on his marksmanship and takes a rifle and has to shoot the compressed air tanks wedged in the sharks teeth or he’s a dead man?” The audiences will be thinking ‘Good luck. That’s not going to work.’ The shark gets closer and closer. Brody pulls himself together, concentrates, fires…and boom The TANK EXPLODES.”

That’s what happens in the movie. The box office exploded as well. And some would say that Jaws was the film that changed American movies forever. With a great big assist by a great life line.

In the book Writing the Script (which happened to be published in 1979—the same year as Syd Field’s Screenplay) Wells Root writes;

“This life line, therefore, is whatever device you can use to resolve your hero or heroine’s problem…But the technique has certain strict limitations. It must be logical. Not cloud-built or contrived. It should not be just wild luck, such as a lightning bolt killing the heavy or a flash flood drowning all the escaping bandits. Your life line should not be deus ex machina. That is latin for ‘a god from the machine.’”

So give your character a life line, but always remember to set it up properly so we’re not reading your script or watching your moving and reacting with a uniform bewildered look as we bury our face in our hands.

And just for the record, life lines tend to have the most impact when what’s at stake is life or death. (What’s at Stake? Tip #9)

What are some of your favorite movie life lines?

Scott W. Smith

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The story of the missing little girl who was found yesterday in Florida has caused quite a stir in the news the last few days. Eleven year old Nadia Bloom has Asperger’s syndrome and wandered off into the woods alone and wasn’t rescued until four days later.

Having grown-up in Central Florida, the area she was rescued is very familiar to me. And this is one time when the press has not given to hyperbole. Calling it the woods doesn’t do it justice—there is a reason why this area is not just another Orlando area subdivison. It is rugged swampland complete with dense foliage, muck and snakes. While I don’t know the exact area where she was rescued, I do know nearby Lake Jesup in Winter Springs is estimated to have an alligator population of over 10,000.

Bloom was thankfully carried out alive with just bug bites and dehydration and I bet one heck of a story to tell. Her father said she, “is a nature lover. She went on a bike ride and stopped and went off to take some pictures.”

The first time I ever heard of Asperger’s syndrome was in a book by playwright/screenwriter David Mamet, Bambi vs. Godzilla;

“I think it is not impossible that Asperger’s syndrome helped make the movies. The symptoms of this developmental disorder include early precocity, a great ability to maintain masses of information a lack of ability to mix with groups in age-appropriate ways, ignorance of or indifference to social norms, high intelligence, and difficulty with transitions, married to a preternatural ability to concentrate on the minutia of the task at hand. This sounds like a movie director to me.”

Mamet goes on to say that the highest prevalence of Asperger’s syndrome is among Ashkenazi Jews and their descendants, which historically just happens to make up the bulk of American movie directors and studio heads. (The Jewish lineage, of course, is not a requirement to be in film industry Mamet points out, but one that includes Goldwyn, Mayer, Spielberg, Mamet himself, and a long list of others.)

While Nadia’s Asperger syndrome may have lead her into the woods to take some pictures, it is probably what helped her survive as she did not appear to panic, but was concentrating on the minutia of the swampland.

I hope her camera and pictures and/or video survived the journey as well. Don’t tell me some Hollywood producers aren’t already working an angle on this story. Nadia’s story is the real life Where the Wild Things Are.* She spent four days (and don’t forget the nights) alone in an area few of us would want to spend four minutes.

Can I get an associate producer credit for my suggested title?: How to Train Your Alligator.

And lastly, Nadia’s story is one reason why happy endings are so popular in movies. Because in real life we are used to seeing so many heart breaking stories when young boys and girls disappear.

*Where the Wild Things Are writer/illustrator Maurice Sendak’s parents were Jewish immigrants to the United States from a small village outside Warsaw, Poland. Mamet points out (via Neal Gabler’s book  An Empire all Their Own), that Warsaw (and the surrounding 200 mile radius) was ground central for those that would lay the foundation for Hollywood storytelling. Perhaps I should have called this blog Screenwriting from Warsaw.

Scott W. Smith


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I wrote in my last post (Screenwriting from Japan) that many Japanese films are about respect and honor. Akira Kurosawa, who was the youngest of eight children, was born in Toyko in 1910 and would go on as a film director and screenwriter to gain the respect and honor of some of the greatest filmmakers in history including Fellini, Bergman, Spielberg, Lucas, and Coppola.

Martin Scorsese said of Kurosawa, “His influence on filmmakers throughout the entire world is so profound as to be almost incomparable.”

But one of the things that may make his films so accessible and enduring to those outside Japan is that Kurosawa was influenced by Frank Capra, William Wyler, Howard Hawks, John Ford and  William Shakespere.

And if you want to follow a nice exercise of how creativity is passed around read Shakespere’s King Lear and watch Kurosawa’s Ran. Watch Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) and then watch The Magnificent Seven (1960). Read Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan IIyich and then watch Kurosawa’s Ikiru.

As original as we think we are, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” But it doesn’t hurt to expose yourself to the wisdom and creativity of great artists from the past.

”With a good script, a good director can produce a masterpiece. With the same script, a mediocre director can produce a passable film. But with a bad script even a good director can’t possibly make a good film. For truly cinematic expression, the camera and the microphone must be able to cross both fire and water. The script must be something that has the power to do this.”
Akira Kurosawa

Kurosawa died in 1998, but look for some celebrations coming as the 100th anniversary of his birth arrives March 23. And for a list of Kurosawa’s films check out The Criterion Collection.

And, for good measure, I’ll toss in this quote by Tom Cruise;

“I was 18 when I saw Akira Kurosawa’s Shinchinin no samurai (Seven Samurai). After about 30 seconds, I realized that this was not just a cultural thing, it was universal. Years later, I read Bushido. It talked about many things that I strive for in my own life: loyalty, compassion, responsibility, the idea of looking back on your life and taking responsibility for everything you’ve ever done. I’m fascinated by the samurai and the samurai code – it’s one of the main reasons I wanted to make The Last Samurai.”

Scott W. Smith

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I think it’s going to turn into Daivd S. Cohen week as I pull another quote from his book Screen Plays. This one from screenwriter David Franzoni. Before Franzoni won an Oscar for his role in producing Gladiator or worked with Spielberg on Amistad he was a struggling writer like everyone else. He grew up in Vermont and attended the University of Vermont where he studied geology and paleontology. 

By the time he turned his full attention to screenwriting he was in his early 20s. It would take him five years before he would break into the business with a script sale and another 10 years before he saw his first screen credit. By the time that film (Jumpin’ Jack Flash) was released Frazoni was 39 years old. The Oscar would take another 15 years. It’s a process. (For more on the process read the post on Malcolm Galdwell’s chapter The 10,000 Hour Rule from his book Outliers.)

“I remember the day I broke through. I had a meeting with Sissy Spacek and I came out and I’ve got a flat tire. And my spare’s flat. I’ve got twenty-six bucks. I take the spare and roll it down the street. For twelve bucks they patch it for me and I roll it back. I get home. I don’t have an agent. I have a girl at CAA who’s representing me on the side. I get home and there’s a message. ‘Sissy wants to hire you, and we sold the spec script.’ “
                                                       David Franzoni
                                                       Quoted in Screen Plays by David S. Cohen
                                                       page 21

 

Scott W. Smith

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Every year when the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) meet in Vegas it’s a great time to get look at the latest, greatest production equipment. The big dogs like Sony, Panasonic and AVID have large impressive display areas. This year there were 1,600 companies and 900,000 square feet of exhibit space. 

With only a few days to soak it all in you have to pick and chose what you want to focus on. (Or how much walking your feet can take.) It’s more technical than creative, but it does allow creative people to notice trends. And from a screenwriting & independent filmmaking perspective one trend I see is the shift toward smaller and smaller equipment. 

For instance the above photo is the Canon ESO 5D Mark II (If you hang with the technical people you know they love to talk in numbers).  It’s a digital still photo camera that also shoots stunning 1080i video. It is seen here with a Redrock matte box and rails to make it look like a mini Panavision camera. This camera is amazing and signals yet another shift in digital technology. When the camera was released last year it got a lot of attention from photographers and cameramen. A film called Searching for Sonny is said to be the first feature film shot with the Canon.

Over the last couple days I’ve written a lot about the future of filmmaking and the rise of webisodes and the like of online storytelling. I’ve quoted people like Spielberg and Lucas who see more and more emphasis toward web films. Sure it may be five or ten years before this comes to fruition but it is coming.

Keep in mind You Tube is not even five years old and already has more content produced on it than the entire history of television. You Tube has the power to help transform an unknown 47-year old singer from Britain into a world wide celebrity in a matter of days. In just a few weeks the Susan Boyle video has been viewed more than 43 million times. (Before she sang she said, “I’ve always wanted to perform before a large audience.”  Cheers to Susan for hanging on to her dreams all these years.)

It would be possible to take this little Canon camera and shoot a musical starring Miss Boyle and have it be in the theaters (or online) in weeks taking advantage of the media buzz. This is how fast things are moving. This should be encouraging for screenwriters and filmmakers who have seen their projects in development hell for years before dying a slow death.

One of the things that helped turn out some of the greatest films in the 30s and 40s was that they were just making a heck of a lot of films.  Without TV, DVD and the Internet, people back in the day flocked to movies on a regular basis — sometimes to double features. That’s why John Ford directed 144 films.

Think of the learning that could occur if writers and directors were making that many pictures over a lifetime. The problem for the last 30 years is Hollywood has been focused on big tent pole movies searching for the next blockbuster film. But I predict that as the Internet floodgate opens up there will be a return to more character driven stories providing many opportunities for writers, actors, and filmmakers like has never been seen before.

Sure there will still be a pyramid of talent, but as someone has said that pyramid is going to be a lot bigger.  And there will be less need to live in L.A. to be a part of the pyramid.

 

Photo & text copyright 2009 Scott W. Smith

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So Lucas came up with the bullwhip idea and Spielberg scored with the snake concept, where did the girl come from in Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Well, first let’s back up a step and realize that Casablanca did influence Raiders. And Casablanca is many things, part a detective story, part mystery, part wartime story, and practically a Max Steiner musical—but when it lands on its feet it’s a love story. And love stories sometimes find themselves in usual places. Look over your list of favorite films and see how writers use a love story as at least a subplot.

Stories of romance often offer a contrast to the action and sometimes give meaning to the main plot.   Where is Rocky without Adrian? And where is Indy without Marion? The screenplay describes her as “twenty-five years old, beautiful, if a bit hard-looking.” When she punches Indy seconds after seeing him we know a lot about her and something about their relationship.

Here’s part of the discussion about Marion in the Story Conference with Lucas, Spielberg and Kasden:

 S — …She’s not just somebody to be around for comic relief or romantic relief. Rather than being a kind of quasi…In the the Dietrich mold like a double agent.

G – It’s more of a plot thing. I had her a German double agent who was stuck over there. Then we can use her in the plot. She sort of has access to information. She is useful and tied in. It has to be something where they’re sort of tied in together on this thing , where it’s conceivable. Again she doesn’t have to be German, she could be American, she could be French or whatever. But I don (a typo in the transcript  I think means do)  think that we should come up with some reason to keep her from being just a tag along. The only thing I can come up with is that she’s some sort of mercenary, and she’s somehow involved. Like she has a piece of the puzzle, rather than being forced into the situation.  Because if she’s forced into it, you’re constantly fighting to try to keep her there. Every scene you’re going to have to explain why she’s there and why she doesn’t leave. Half her dialogue is going to end up being “Smokey and the Bandit” dialogue. 

So that’s how Marion, tough as nails, became an integral part of the story in Indy’s quest to find the Art of the Covenant rather than just a side kick. But, hey, speaking of Smokey and the Bandit, did you know that Burt Reynold’s name was kick around as a possibly playing Indiana Jones? It’s hard to think about now but at the time of the story conference in 1978 Burt was the man. Fresh off Deliverance (72), The Longest Yard (1974), as well has the hugely popular Smokey and the Bandit (1977), I would have easily picked Reynold’s in a fight with Hans Solo. 

But Harrison Ford was a brilliant pick as Indy as he added a little more of that reserved professor quality to the character. And Karen Allen packed a punch as Marion. And just to drop in yet one more Midwest angle, both Ford and Allen were born in Illinois, near Chicago. 

 

Scott W. Smith

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Indiana’s been in the news the last couple weeks. First there’s the new Indiana Jones film that’s on top at the box office, there was the Indy 500 this past weekend, and then I saw the front page of New York Times yesterday morning and learned that director and Indiana native Sydney Pollack died Monday.

It seems like a fitting time to take a road trip to the Hoosier State. Though Pollack was not a screenwriter it’s worth paying tribute to this giant of a filmmaker who knew how to tell a story.

Before he headed to New York after high school in South Bend to study acting with Sanford Meisner he had spent his life in Indiana.  From acting in theater, to directing TV shows, to directing over 40 feature films Pollack was unusually gifted. I was a long time fan of Pollack’s and he directed some of my favorite films:

They Don’t Shoot Horses, Do They? The Way We Were Jeremiah Johnson Three Days of the Condor The Electric Horseman Absence of Malice Tootsie Out of Africa The Firm Sketches of Frank Gehry 

He was a two time Oscar winner (Out of Africa & Tootsie) both of which films also won Best Picture Oscars.  Another Indiana native producer/director Robert Wise also had won two best director Oscars for his films West Side Story & The Sound of Music. He also won two more Best Picture Oscars for producing both movies.

And to challenge Nebraska’s cool actor category (which produced both Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando), Indiana lays claim to Steve McQueen and James Dean. The list of entertainment icons from Indiana also includes Karl Malden (On the Waterfront), comedian Red Skelton, song writer Cole Porter, and TV host David Letterman.

Moving to the writing side, Kurt Vonnegut was born and raised in Indianapolis. Glenn Berggoetz writes, “It was at Shortridge High School in Indianapolis that Vonnegut gained his first writing experience. During his last two years there he wrote for and was one of the editors of the Shortridge Daily Echo, which was the first high school daily newspaper in the country. At this young age Vonnegut learned to write for a wide audience that would give him immediate feedback, rather than just writing for an audience of one in the form of a teacher.” (Note also that Vonnegut also honed his skills at the Iowa Writers Workshop.) 

Theodore Dreiser from Terre Haute wrote the novel An American Tragedy that was made twice made into a film including the 1951 George Stevens’ version (A Place in the Sun) staring Elizabeth Taylor that won 6 Academy Awards. It is a film that Mike Nichols (director of The Graduate) said if you wanted to learn how to direct you should watch 50 times.

To counter Dreiser’s somber look at the dark side of America let’s look at another film with Indiana roots. Playwright and screenwriter Steve Tesich was born in Yugoslavia, raised in Chicago and graduated from Indiana University. He won an Oscar for his screenplay Breaking Away based and filmed in Bloomington, Indiana and that became the 1979 sleeper hit staring Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, Chrisopher Plummer and James Earle Haley.

Tesich’s script came at a time before we were jaded by sports stories and was released just three years after Rocky. The film captures much of what I’m trying to write about in Screenwriting from Iowa. That is that there are stories to tell beyond Hollywood, and people all over the world need encouragement to tell those stories.

Frank Deford reviewed Breaking Away for Sports Illustrated in 1979:

“It is the rare film that has understood the essence of sport so well as Breaking Away; or understood summer or growing up; or, for that matter, America and Americana. This joyous story about four young A&P cowboys and a bicycle race in Bloomington, Ind. cost a measly $2.4 million to make but it is better by far than all the ballyhooed, star-studded epics. Steve Teisch’s screenplay is impeccable; Peter Yates’ direction is nearly magic in its command and sensitivity; and the cast is perfectly chosen, an ensemble always in character. And if all this were not enough, Breaking Away also evokes a spirit these times yearn for.

“I’m sure that Teisch and Yates didn’t set out to wave the flag, but there is something special here… the wonderful thing about Breaking Away is that you leave the theater very proud that America has both an Indiana and a Hollywood.”

TV and film director David Anspaugh was born in Decatur, Indiana and also studied at Indiana University before going on to win two Emmy’s producing and directing Hill Street Blues and the quintessential Indiana film Hoosiers.

Matt Williams from Evansville, Indiana is best known as the creator and executive producer of Roseanne and co-creator of Home Improvement. But he also wrote for The Cosby Show and produced the Mel Gibson film What Women Want. He graduated with a theater degree from the University of Evansville and was awarded an honorary doctorate from there in 2003.

And the newest up and coming writer/ director from Indiana is James C. Strouse (from Goshen, Indiana) whose latest film Grace is Gone won the critics awards at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. His first film Lonesome Jim starred Casey Affleck and was directed by Steve Busemi. 

But I can’t pass up the opportunity to mention John Mellencamp from Seymour, Indiana who seems to embody a Midwestern spirit in everything he does. Going way back into the early 80’s with prefect sing-a-long songs Jack & Diana (“Two American kids growing up in the Heartland”), Pink Houses and Small Town to his classic thought-provoking album Scarecrow that addressed the farm crisis in the 80’s, to his more recent Our Country. Mellencamp embraced his Midwestern roots and we were better for it.

While his film connections are usually on the soundtracks of films he did star and direct the 1992 film Falling from Grace. Mellencamp was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Indiana University awarded him an honorary doctorate of Musical Arts.

On Sunday I spent a several hours driving on the Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinenental highway in the country. (It goes through both Iowa and Indiana. And paid my first ever $4.+ per gallon for gas.) It’s hard for me to make that kind of trip and not think of Mellencamp’s lyrics, “Ain’t that America Something to See.”

It’s something to write about, too.

P.S. Did you know that in the original Indy script that it was Indiana Smith? Doesn’t have the same ring does it?  (Spielberg thought it sounded to much like Nevada Smith, a 1966 Steve McQueen film.) And isn’t it hard to see Tom Selleck as Indy, who Spielberg originally wanted but couldn’t get because of Selleck’s commitment to Magnum P.I.?

Copyright ©2008 Scott W. Smith

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