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Posts Tagged ‘Springfield’

Once upon a time…a 16-year-old farm girl from a small town in Iowa decided to parlay her good looks into an acting career in Hollywood. She ended up working as prostitute. I know that sounds like a classic cliche, but it wasn’t quite as it seems. For the farm girl was Donna Reed and she won an Oscar for her role as a prostitute in the classic 1953 film From Here to Eternity.

Reed is also known for her role opposite Jimmy Stewart in the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life. She ended up being in more than forty films and had a successful TV program (The Donna Reed Show) from 1958-1966. (Reed died of cancer in 1986 and in her hometown of Denison, Iowa they now have the Donna Reed Foundation for the Performing Arts.)

While it’s true that Reed’s success is not the norm for most who’ve headed to Hollywood over the years, the path to Southern California is well marked from decades of young hopefuls from all over America with stars in their eyes. And there are plenty of dream come true stories of everyone from Brad Pitt to Hilary Swank doing basically what Reed had done in 1937. (For what it’s worth Swank was born in Lincoln, Nebraska and Pitt was raised in Springfield, Missouri, both in the middle of the country like where Reed was from.)

Maybe that model for actors will play out for another hundred years, but maybe it won’t. Over the past two years I written about how writers, actors, and filmmakers have done their thing outside L.A. and found success. (Sometimes great success.) I think that will be a growing trend.

Most 16-year-olds who follow their Hollywood dreams don’t end up with an Oscar to donate to their hometown when they die as Reed did.  Most don’t even get a SAG card. But here’s the thing—these days the odds are in your favor to work in production if you stay where you are and learn your craft.

Of course, there are more opportunities in L.A. but there is also much more experienced competition. And with L.A.’s high unemployment rate that’s more true than ever. (Plus harder to get any job while you wait for your break.) Cameras and editing equipment are cheaper and better than they have ever been. If you’re a writer or actor I’m sure there are production people you can connect with wherever you live (and vice versa).

There have been plenty of actors and writers over the years you have jumped over to the production side as well and this is a great time for you to do this as well.

Programs like Final Cut Pro are relatively inexpensive ($1,000.) and that is the same program that many feature film programs are cut on these days. Go to Lynda.com and for $25. a month you have not only many online tutorials to learn Final Cut Pro, but also about a zillion other creative software programs.)

There are blogs, books, DVDs and podcasts where you have access today to information that the typical film student didn’t even think about ten years ago. You don’t have to jump into the deep-end, but you have to at least stick your toes in the water and move forward.

You don’t have to start out making a feature film, start out by making a one minute film. Make a spoof on what you think really happened to those pilots in the cockpit who lost contact with traffic controllers for an hour and a half. Show it to your friends, stick it on the web—see where it leads. (Send me a link as well, and give me a story credit.)

This is the time to try some new things. But do what you can to avoid the prostitution thing.

Scott W. Smith

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After 72 years on the air the CBS soap opera Guiding Light faded off screen for the last time on Friday.  The show which began in 1937 as a radio program found its way to TV in 1952. Over 15,000 shows aired. That’s a lot of scripts.

The show won 69 daytime Emmy’s and provided work for many well-known actors as they were starting out including Kevin Bacon, Calista Flockhart and James Earl Jones. It would be interested to see if there were any well-known writers who got their start there.

The demise of Guiding Light leaves only seven daytime dramas still running. (Four decades ago at its peak there were 19 daytime dramas on air.) While millions still watch the daytime dramas the rating systems have been hit hard in recent years as viewers find other addictions. Who needs soap operas when there’s Facebook?

And though the show was taped in Manhattan, I was interested to find out that the last couple decades the show was set in the fictional town of Springfield somewhere in the Midwest. Who knows, maybe the longest running show in broadcast history took place in Iowa.

I actually have a writer friend who is from Cedar Falls, Iowa, Cydney Kelley, who spent 2000-2009 writing scripts for the daytime drama Days of Our Lives. Though she lives in L.A., last summer I saw her working on a script while she was working out on a Stairmaster at the rec center. Screenwriting from Iowa, baby!

And just to give you a little behind the scene glimpse of writing daytime drama I found this post online by writer Todd Strasser:

“Some of the smartest writers I ever met worked on Guiding Light.”

Soap operas, like many TV shows, are written by teams of writers. At the top of the Guiding Light team circa 1990 was a head writer named Pamela Long. Pamela was a former beauty queen (Miss Alabama 1974) and actress. It was her job to come up with ‘the long story,’ that is, the story of the emotional travails of the large cast of characters on the show (In general Pam was supposed to know what the characters would be thinking and feeling for the next six months, although often, it seemed, there was uncertainty about what they would be doing the next day.)

Under Pam were the breakdown writers. During my brief sojourn at Guiding Light, I was one of them. We worked with Pam to fill out the long story so that all the characters were involved in a weekly basis according to their contract requirements. Some characters were contracted to work five days a week, and others one day a week. The number of times they appeared per week could change based on their popularity and the popularity of whatever emotional morass they were floundering in. After we completed our 20-page breakdowns of each day’s script, a script writer would turn them into action and dialogue.

Pam’s job was easy. All she had to do in any given week was:
1) Make sure she knew where all the intertwining stories of the show’s characters
2) Meet with the breakdown writers to work out that week’s set of breakdowns
3) Read the breakdowns after they were written
4) Read the scripts based on the breakdowns
5) Talk to the breakdown and script writers about what they’d written and what needed to be rewritten
6) Make sure the show’s directors were shooting the show as scripted
7) Deal with actors who often did not like the dialogue the writers had chosen for them to say
8)Deal with producers who might disagree with where she wanted to show to go
9) Go to publicity appearances and give interviews to soap opera magazines and do whatever other publicity activities were required.”

I did some quick research and found out that Pamela K. Long won two Outstanding Writing Daytime Emmys. Not bad for a trained ventriloquist raised in Huntsville, Alabama with “rednecks and rocket scientists” and a sorority girl at the University of Northern Alabama in Florence.  A school whose Latin motto is “Veritas Lux. Orbis Terrarum” (“Truth and Light of the World”).

Scott W. Smith

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“I adore Chicago. It is the pulse of America.”
Sarah Bernhardt

“You’re Abe Froman… the sausage king of Chicago?”
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

“I give you Chicago. It is not London and Harvard. It is not Paris and buttermilk. It is American in every chitling and sparerib. It is alive from snout to tail.
H. L. Mencken

“They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way, and that’s how you get Capone!”
The Untouchables

Last week a 5.4 earthquake hit Illinois and was felt in Indiana and as far away as Iowa. Just one more way the Midwest is following those California trends. You know, I’m doing my part to export screenwriting from the Midwest and other unlikely places where people are writing so it makes sense to make another road trip and head over the Iowa state line to the east and travel into Illinois.

The epicenter of last week’s earthquake was West Salem, but from a screenwriting and filmmaking perspective the epicenter for the Midwest is Chicago. It’s the third largest city in the United States and sits with a commanding view of Lake Michigan and can rightly be called The Third Coast.

Everyone should have the opportunity once in their life to have their own version of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in the windy city. Here’s my perfect Chicago day: The Art Institute in the morning, a walk and lunch at the Navy Pier, see the Cubs play at Wrigley Field, ride an architectural boat tour, a sunset dinner at the Signature Room high atop the John Hancock Center , a play at one of the zillions of theater options, a carriage ride around the Chicago Water Tower downtown and a nice room at The Drake Hotel on the Magnificent Mile with a room overlooking the Gold Coast (and where they welcome my golden retriever).

And if you have the weekend you can fit in a concert at Millennium Park and a list that just gets longer and longer. Chicago is a great city. And it alone has produced a wealth of creative talent that shines as bright as a city. (Maybe that’s why Dan Quayle once said, “It is wonderful to be in the great state of Chicago…”)  Here’s a list of writers from Illinois though I’m sure to leave out many people. (Feel free to email me additional writers with connections there.)

Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding)
Sam Shepard (True West)
David Mamet (The Verdict)
Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451)
Preston Sturges (Sullivan’s Travels)
Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan)
Ernest Hemingway (The Old Man and the Sea)
Mark Brown (Barbershop)
John Hughes (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)
Andy and Larry Wachowski (The Matrix)
Harold Ramis  (Groundhog Day)
Bill Murray (The Razor’s Edge)
Greg Glienna (Meet the Parents)
Steve Conrad (The Pursuit of Happyness)
John Logan (Gladiator)
Jon Favreau (Swingers)
Tina Fey (Mean Girls)
Michael Mann (The Insider)
Phil Vischer (VeggieTales movies)
Roger Rueff (The Big Kahuna)
Robert Zemeckis,  (Back to the Future)
Edward Zwick, (The Last Samurai)
Diablo Cody (Juno)
John Logan (Hugo
Garry Marshall (The Odd Couple-TV)

From the odd connections category, Evangelist Billy Graham (who used to have a film studio in Burbank) and horror specialist Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street) both graduated from Wheaton College about 30 miles from downtown Chicago. Blues Brother, and writer/actor John Belushi graduated from Wheaton High School.

Film critic and produced screenwriter Roger Ebert (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) and screenwriter/Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee (Eat Drink Man Woman) are both are both graduates of the University of Illinois system.

Filmmaker and book publisher Michael Wiese is originally from Illinois. I have at least a dozen production books that Michael Wiese Productions has produced. If you’re not familiar with their books three to check out are Save the Cat (Blake Snyder) , Shot by Shot (Steven D. Katz) and The Hero’s Journey (Christopher Vogler).

A special mention must be made to two pillars of writing from Chicago: Pulitzer Prize winner Saul Bellow (Humboldt’s Gift) and Studs Terkel (Hard Times).

The list of well-known actors with Chicago ties is too long to list but here are a few;  Harrison Ford, Vince Vaugh, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, John and Joan Cusack, Virgina Madsen, Kim Novak, Bill Murray, Terrance Howard, Red Foxx, Bonnie Hunt, Patricia Arquette, Karl Malden and Gary Sinise.

Chicago is the kind of place where probably every night of the week you could attend a film related function between the various school, colleges and professional groups. There are plenty of ways to avoid writing if you live in the Chicago area.

But, of course, your goal is probably to write while living outside L.A., get sold and get produced. (I’ve said before you could live in West Africa or West Covina and feel like you’re far from the Hollywood system.)

Let me tell you about a fellow I just found out about via the DVXuser.com forum. Kyle is a radiologists living in the suburbs of Chicago. He owns a DV camera package and writes screenplays. In other words he was like every other writer with a dream…until a couple weeks ago.

He wrote a screenplay called The Lemon Tree and had a lawyer he met in Chicago rep him in L.A. and earlier this month sold the script for $300,000 against $600,000. He has no plans to quit his job and move to L.A. The next step is seeing if the film gets made and then if it finds an audience. But as far as a writer outside the system Kyle has hit the jackpot, and proves it can be done.

(You can read the entire thread and download a well-informed screenwriting document Kyle has put together at DVXuser.com. Look under filmmaking–screenplay/writing/Sold it! The DVXuser forum is a wealth of info for the independent filmmaker and a supportive community. Here’s a little poser shot of me with my DVX camera back in ’06 when I was shooting a documentary in Chicago.)

If you want further proof that screenplays can be sold by screenwriters outside L.A. here is a quote that screenwriter and author of Save the Cat! Blake Snyder sent me when I asked him about writers living outside L.A. selling their work:

“I have said often that geography is no longer an impediment to a career in screenwriting. I know of one woman who decided to be a screenwriter in Chicago, wrote 5 scripts, sold 2 and got an agent and manager, all while never leaving the confines of her condo.  It starts with a great concept! You have a great idea and a great poster, if you execute that well, you will get phone calls — and deals.  The key is: the great script!  And that starts with the step by step process I outline in Cat!  Go get ‘em!”

On the footsteps of The Dark Knight (Batman) being filmed last summer in Illinois, the current big movie being shot there is Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant starting Matt Damon with a funky mustache. The story takes place in Decatur and is based on Kurt Eichenwald’s book about a scandal at Archer Daniels Midland’s Company (ADM) that involved the FBI. Ultimately ADM was fined $100 million for a conspiracy involving replacing sugar with high fructose corn syrup. Shades of Soderbergh’s other film about corporate greed,Erin Brockovich?

Other helpful sites about the filmmaking scene in Illinois here are a few recommended sites:

Reel Chicago

Chicago Script Works

Midwest FIlm

Chicago Screenwriters

Illinois Film Biz


So come on, if Abraham Lincoln can go from a one room log cabin to become the 16th President of the United States (via Illinois) certainly that should give you some motivation to overcome a few obstacles in your life to get your scripts written and sold. Or maybe to buy a camera and make your own films. Even if you live in Springfield or Kankakee.

Speaking of Kankakee, if Screenwriting from Iowa had a theme song it might be Chicago native Stevie Goodman’s City of New Orleans because it captures a flavor of a life beyond Hollywood:

Riding on the City of New Orleans
Illinois Central Monday morning rail
Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders
Three conductors and twenty-five sacks of mail
All along the southbound odyssey
The train pulls out at Kankakee
Rolls along past houses, farms and fields
Passin’ towns that have no names
Freight yards full of old black men
And the graveyards of the rusted automobiles

Chorus
Good morning, America, how are you
Don’t you know me, I’m your native son
I’m the train they call The City of New Orleans
I’ll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done

And if I can pick a B-side song I’ll go with, Jim Croce’s tribute to the South Side of ‘ole Chicago — Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.

Photographs & Text Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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