Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Stage to Lordsborg’

Yesterday I was fortunate to have lunch with The Angry Filmmaker (Kelley Baker ) and  Jon Gann, founder of the D.C. Film Alliance, as they journeyed from doing a film workshop in Madison, Wisconsin to meeting with filmmakers in St. Louis. I’ll write more about what I learned about filmmaking over yesterday’s lunch (and it was a lot) later this week, but for today let me sum it all up in one word—”Stagecoach.”

Kelley and Jon noticed as they pulled into Cedar Falls fresh from a morning stop at the Field of Dreams in Dyersville) that the 1939 John Wayne/John Ford film “Stagecoach” was on the marquee at the Oster-Regent Theatre on Main Street. No, movies don’t take that long to get to Iowa (though many good ones never get here), but it was part of the theater’s 100 year celebration.

On Sunday afternoon I gave a short introduction to the classic western film and that info I learned meshed very well with Kelley’s own views on filmmaking and that is simply that filmmaking is a process that is best learned by doing. If you’ve read this blog much you’ve heard illustration after illustration of writers and filmmakers who simply learned their craft by writing script after script and making film after film.

And the same was true for John Wayne and John Ford. While Stagecoach is #63 of AFI’s list of the greatest American films ever made and #9 on their list of top ten westerns. The film was nominated for seven Oscars and won two. It did not win for best picture  because 1939 was one of the greatest years for films in the history of cinema.

Stagecoach joined Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Wuthering Heights, Ninotchka and The Wizard of Oz in losing the best picture Oscar to Gone with the Wind. Victor Fleming also won best director for Gone with the Wind.

But Stagecoach was the go to film for Orson Welles before he made Citizen Kane (1941). In fact, Welles not only watched the film 40 times, but when once asked who his favorite three film directors where said, “John Ford, John Ford, John Ford.” For what it’s worth, both Citizen Kane and Stagecoach did mediocre business at the box office when released.

But the more fascinating thing to me about Stagecoach from this blog’s perspective is that for both John Ford and John Wayne it was about the 90th film each had made. Of the 180 films between the two made before 1939  most people today wouldn’t recognize but one or two films. (John Wayne called his pre-Stagecoach films “poverty westerns.”) A good deal of those films where two-reelers that were 20-50 minutes in length. Though the popularity of these shorter films that played along side feature films died out in the mid to late 1930s, they proved to be a great training ground for actors and filmmakers since the beginning of film history in the late 1800s.

And if the 10,000 hour rule is true then the greatest benefit for actors and filmmakers today in working on short films is the learning process.  What does the Angry Filmmaker have to say about short films?

“If you make a feature without having made a short film, you’re an idiot. Filmmaking is as much a craft as it is an art form and a business. First and for most you have to learn your craft.”
Kelley Baker
The Angry Filmmaker Survival Guide

These days it really doesn’t take much time and money to get some friends and some equipment together and make one to seven minute films. And there are plenty of film festivals to enter so you can collect some awards and this little thing called the internet for your films to perhaps find an audience and make a name for yourself.

If John Wayne can go from being born in little Winterset, Iowa to becoming one of the greatest on-screen legends via doing 13 years of  “poverty westerns”— just maybe there is some magic in just in the process of doing little things well until greater opportunities come your way.

P.S. And just because I delight in making odd connections, The Angry Filmmaker (who’s really a gentle soul from what I can tell) is from Portland which happens to be where writer Ernest Haycox was born and died. Haycox wrote 300 short stories and 12 novels and  of who Ernest Hemingway once said, “I read The Saturday Evening Post whenever it has a serial by Ernest Haycox.” Haycox’s short story Stage to Lordsborg was what screenwriter Dudley Nichols based based his script Stagecoach.

P.P.S. The movie Stagecoach was also John Ford’s first film to be shot in Monument Valley. Though I’ve been all over the county that area is one place I’ve missed and is in my top five place I want to see. I dream of staying at The View Hotel on the Arizona/Utah border someday. As John Ford found out, there is some beautiful land out there in flyover county.

Scott W. Smith


Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: