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Posts Tagged ‘Steve McQueen’

“Entertainment is not frivolous; through entertainment you can actually make people aware of things. And throughout the ages art has always had a huge influence on history… It seemed to me like a kind of an obvious thing to do, to make a film about slavery—just like it’s an obvious thing to make a film about the Second World War or the Holocaust…There really aren’t too many films about slavery.”
Writer/director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)
Combined from interviews with Danielle Berrin and  Elvis Mitchell

Jeremy Kleiner at Plan B knew me and he knew Steve [McQueen]and he said, ‘look, we don’t really have any development money, we can’t really help you.’ This was not a standard development situation. It became a spec script. But he said, ‘if you guys can work out what you want to do and if you’re willing to go write a script and do it on spec and turn it into something that works and Steve is happy with it, we’ll find a way to put it together.’ At that point, Jeremy was one of those producers where if he says that we’ll put it together, you believe that he means it.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Ridley (12 years a Slave)
BuzzFeed interview with Adam B. Vary

12 Years a Slave received 9 Oscar nominations including Best Picture for producers Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen and Anthony Katagas. Pitt is the sole owner of Plan B Productions and it was just announced a few days ago that his group would be partnering with Oprah Winfrey on a film about Martin Luther King called Selma.

Related Posts:
25 Links Related to Blacks & Filmmaking
Filmmaking Quote #24 (Brad Pitt)
Brad Pitt & the Furture of Journalism
Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriitng (Tip #7)

Scott W. Smith

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“Over a century and a half to the present day…you see the evidence of slavery as you walk down the street…The prison population, mental illness, poverty, education.”
Oscar-nominated director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)
2013 New York Times Interview by Nelson George

“In the vast majority of stories, the hero’s overall change moves from slavery to freedom.”
John Truby
The Anatomy of Story

One of the roots of this blog is steeped in African America culture. Annye L Refoe, Ph.D., was my creative writing teacher in high school. It was in one of her classes I first wrote a dramatic script and directed a video. As a black woman raised in Sanford Florida (yeah, same place where Trayvon Martin was killed) she opened up a new world to a class of white students via the writings of Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Where Watching God) and showing us the film version of Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun.

In my very short stint playing football at the University of Miami I heard stories of black players raised in Overtown during Miami’s riots , as a photographer in L.A. I did photo assignments in Watts and Compton and heard gang stories, and I’ve been in prison chapels where blacks made up 85% of those in attendance and heard some of their life struggles.

At the same time, some of the scariest situations of my life were racially centered. Being cornered by four black youths in Florida when I was ten years old, taking a wrong turn on the South Side of Chicago after midnight, and being yelled at from two feet away for having a video camera on the streets of Kingston, Jamaica (which at the time had a higher murder rate than Haiti).

I’ve at least seen the view from both sides of the street.

It’s said that many white Americans can go through a whole day without encountering a black person, but the opposite is not true for most black Americans. I don’t pretend to fully understand the struggle of black people, but as a human being I am sensitive to the issues.  It sticks with me when actor Jamie Foxx told Oprah Winfrey, “I was called a nigger almost every day in Texas.” For many whites the Civil Rights of the 60s is old news, and slavery of the mid-1800s is ancient history. Look, “We even have a black president now.”

Yes, there have been great strides on some levels. Heck, the biggest home I’ve ever been in was NFL great Deion Sanders’ 28,000+ square foot house in Dallas where I did directed a video shoot a couple of years ago. Tyler Perry’s net worth of over $400 million makes him according to one website the fourth financially successful filmmaker in America. But only he and Oscar-nominated writer/director John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood) are in the top fifty.

There are still wide gaps in our culture. And we still live in a world of much racial tension. Some have called 12 Years a Slave “Oscar bait.” If Steve McQueen wins Oscars for best director and/or best picture there will be those who say it’s because he’s black. And if he doesn’t win in either category some will say it’s because he’s black.  There’s lot of wisdom in that  William Faulkner line from Requiem for a Nun , “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” One of my favorite all-time book titles is taken from a Yeats poem by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe for his book Things Fall Apart. 

Pick any period of world history and you’ll find Koyaanisqatsi—The Hopi Indian word for “life out of balance.” (See Godfrey Reggio film Koyaannisqatsi.) We can go back and forth on the political, economic and spiritual solutions to finding peace and harmony in a world where good and evil exist. But it’s hard not to at least metaphorically agree with the thought that,  “We are reminded daily that we live outside the Garden.”

“Everything is supposed to be different than it is.”
Simon (Danny Glover)
Grand Canyon written by Lawrence Kasden & Meg Kasden

This whole global quest we’re all on for equilibrium is why I love storytelling in general, and films specifically. Artists are like those people waving large finger pointer signs at auctions telling everyone where to look. Movies at their best stir up questions and offer hope.

Here are 25 links from this blog over the years centered around blacks and filmmaking:

The First Black Feature Filmmaker

Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting –I happened to be in Atlanta the week  Coretta Scott King died.

First screenplay, Oscar—Precious

Martin Luther King Jr. Special –A multi-media project I produced with artist Gary Kelley

Screenwriting & Slavery

Blacks in Black & White “We’re a great country. We’ve got great stories. And for the most part, the great stories of people of color have not been told.”—Spike Lee

Memphis Story Wins Oscars

August Wilson’s St. Paul Roots

Lynn Nottage & her Play “Ruined”

The Kindness of Strangers

Obama, Drama & D.C. Movies

Filmmaking Quote #10 (Lee Daniels)

Nelson Mandela, Robben Island & Nudging the World

“I Have a Dream” at 50

“Super-Serving Your Niche” (Tyler Perry’s advice to Edward Burns)

Shrimp, Giants & Tyler Perry

Jackie, Spike & Sanford, Florida 

Off-Screen Quote #26 (Jackie Robinson)

Screenwriter Ernest R. Tidyman  Though white he explains why he wrote Shaft (1971)—It was time for a black winner [in movies], whether he was a private detective or an obstetrician.”

“The Help” Smackdown

Chris Rock & Adult Movies

The Father of Film (Part 2) Touches on Spike Lee on D.W. Griffith

Postcard #51 (Cotton Fields)

40 Days of Emotion Touches on the whipping scene of Denzel Washington in Glory

The Black List Annual Report (2013) Franklin Leonard

And let me give a shout-out to Brian McDonald who writes The Invisable Ink Blog.  I believe he’s the only black writer to have written a few books on screenwriting; Invisible Ink, The Golden ThemeInk Spots.

May the stories you tell—to borrow Oscar-winner Tom Stoppard’s words,  “nudge the world a little.” And may they nudge it in the right direction.

P.S. I know there are efforts being made helping minority screenwriters and welcome you passing those websites on to me in the comments or via email at info@scottwsmith.com

Additional links:
Writers Guild of America, West Diversity Department
CBS, Writers Mentoring Program
Deadline article about Warner Bros. diversity connection with The Black List ““For a black kid from Georgia, I’m acutely aware of the access issues the industry struggles with, and I’m excited to be part of a first step toward addressing this.”— Franklin Leonard
The Black List Newsletter Follow the links for Warner Bros Submission requirements
Fox Writers Intensive (FWI) “The Intensive is designed to introduce experienced writers with unique voices, backgrounds, life and professional experiences that reflect the diverse perspectives of the audiences Fox creates for to a wide range of Fox showrunners, writers, directors, screenwriters and creative executives.”
Diversity in Hollywood, NAACP
Universal Pictures’ Emerging Writers Fellowship,Seeking New and Unique Voices
In the While Room With Black Writers “There’s this thing in Hollywood, a ‘diversity staff writer.’ Most every writing room has one…”—Beejoli Shah
Organization of Black Screenwriters, West Hollywood
BuzzFeed interview with Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Ridley (12 Years a Slave“I’m from a small town in Wisconsin, but even when I’m in New York and I’m working for MSNBC or CNN, you’re used to being the only black person in the room. You spend your life in this space where you’re constantly seeing people who don’t even know perhaps they’re being a little dismissive of people of color, let alone the ugliness that you hear on a daily basis. So at times when people say that [racism] is bubbling up, it’s just bubbling up to a level where they’re aware of it.”

Scott W. Smith

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(The theme of  Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid is) times are changing, and you have to change with them—if you want to survive.”
William Goldman
Adventures in the Screen Trade


“I don’t know if you saw the parting of the Red Sea with the chariots on the horses, I did stuff like that.”
Richard Farnswort
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After I posted the above Goldman comment yesterday on the post titled Writing “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid” it jogged my memory of another story about a career transition—both fictional and real life. The Grey Fox was released in 1982 about a decade after Butch Cassidy, but there are some similarities, mostly the concept of change in the Old West.

Richard Farnsworth plays a former stagecoach robber who is released from San Quintin after serving 33 years for his crimes. When he gets out in 1903 it’s a new world—the stagescoaches are out and movies are in. His character, Bill Miner, goes to see The Great Train Robbery and is inspired to take up his old ways yet with a new fresh angle.

It’s been many years since I’ve seen the film so I’ll rely on Rodger Ebert’s account to bring us all up to speed:

“(The Great Train Robbery.) That famous movie is only eleven minutes long, but long enough to make everything absolutely clear to Miner, who realizes he has a new calling in life, as a train robber. All of this could, of course, be an innocuous Disney movie, but it’s well-written and directed, and what gives it zest and joy is the performance by Richard Farnsworth, who plays Miner. Maybe you’ll recognize Farnsworth when you see him on the screen. Maybe not. His life has been one of those careers that makes you realize Hollywood is a company town, where you can make a living for years and never be a star. Farnsworth has been in more than three hundred movies.”
Roget Ebert
Chicago Sun-Times, The Grey Fox
January 1. 1982

Though Farnsworth had been in more than 300 films, they were mostly as a stuntman. He doubled for some of Hollywood’s most well-known actors; Roy Rogers, Gary Cooper, Kirk Douglas, Henry Ford, Montgomery Clift, and Steve McQueen. You think he might have picked up a thing or two about acting from those fellows because after 30 years as a stuntman he began acting.

And he did it well enough to receive a Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination in 1979 for his role in Comes a Horseman and another Oscar nomination for Lead Actor in David Lynch’s The Straight Story (that was filmed right here in Iowa). He was 79 at the time of the nomination making him the oldest actor to ever receive a best actor nomination.

You may also remember his roles in The Natural, The Two Jakes, and Misery. I had the good fortune to meet Richard Farnsworth at a movie theater in Burbank some time in the 80s. Nothing exciting, he was just standing in front of me waiting to buy popcorn or whatever.

“Are you Richard Farnsworth?”
“Yes, I am.”
“I appreciate your work.”
“Thank You.”

He smiled and we shook hands. This was in the days before IMDB so I didn’t know in that simple exchange I was shaking hands with a man who was a real life Forrest Gump in the film industry having been in some legendary Hollywood productions;   Gone with the Wind, Gunga Din, The Ten Commandments, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Roots, Bonanza, The Wild One,  Blazing Saddles, Spartacus and many others.

That means to one degree or another he worked with John Wayne, Clark Gable, Marlon Brando, Mel Brooks, Howard Hawks,  Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood and Cecil B. DeMille.

I don’t know how long stuntman work on a regular basis in Hollywood, but it has to take its toll on your body.  Farnsworth’s last credit as a stuntman was 1975 when he would have been 55. He was almost 60 when his acting career took off. He changed with the times.

By the way, the screenwriter of The Grey Fox, John Hunter,  was no spring chicken himself and was 71 when the movie was released.

Oh yeah, Farnsworth did stunts in Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, too.

Scott W. Smith


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“Two american kids growin up in the heartland…”
Jack & Diane
John Mellencamp

Steve McQueen has been dead for thirty years now, but they still call him the king of cool. Last night I watched The Sand Pebbles which was McQueen’s only Oscar-nominated role.

After the film I did some checking to see where the king of cool came from and guess what I found out? He was born seventy years ago this month in Beech Grove, Indiana. The interesting thing about that is he was born just a year earlier, and about an hour and a half drive from another cool guy, James Dean who was born in Marion, Indiana.

That’s a lot of cool for one part of the country–especially at the same time. (Can’t believe John Mellencamp from Seymour, Indiana hasn’t written a song about that.)

McQueen’s family life wasn’t so cool as his father abandoned his family, leaving him with an alcoholic mother. As a youngster he went to live with family in another Midwest town, this time outside of Kansas City on a farm in Slater, Missouri. Later in life he would settle in Santa Paula, California and say that it reminded him of his hometown of Slater. As a teenager he was back with his mother and now living in Los Angeles but he got into various trouble and ended up living in what is now known as the Boy’s Republic, a home for at risk boys in Chino Hills, California.

He left the Boy’s Republic when he was 16 and ended up wandering the country working at various odd jobs until he joined the Marines when he was 17. He was honorably discharged a couple year later and used his G.I. Bill to study acting. After a decade of smaller roles he became a star in The Great Escape (1963), followed by Bullitt, The Cincinnati Kid and The Sand Pebbles. In 1974 he was the highest paid actor in Hollywood. But it’s almost a cliché to say that didn’t mean he was happy. Cool but not content.

He went through a couple divorces and tangled with more than one director. His co-stars have said he was personable and charismatic, but also an unpredicable, angry troubled man, who was distrustful of people and insecure due to his upbringing. Perhaps that’s where his cool came from.  A sort of carefree aloofness. But there is no doubt that part of his cool factor was not only that he was a good-looking movie star, but that he raced cars and motorcycles and flew planes. That’s the image that even today sells watches, cars and khaki pants and pours money into his estate.

McQueen was a contradiction in many ways; for a while he worked out for two-hours a day, but he also smoked, drank heavily and used drugs. He was worth millions but sometimes slept in an airport hanger. He didn’t trust people and was said to be a loner who played by his own rules (much like his character Jake in The Sand Pebbles), but at the end of his life he put his trust in God. Struggling with an aggressive cancer has a way of putting into perspective fame, money and even being cool. McQueen died of cardiac arrest after a radical surgery in Mexico to remove a large tumor.

McQueen did have some advice for screenwriters saying they ruined too much with dialogue. He believed that actors could often convey more with just a look. Keep that in mind when you watch the next McQueen movie— and when you write. And if you ever question his coolness, remember that Steve McQueen is the one who encouraged Chuck Norris to study acting. That’s right, no Steve McQueen, no legend of Chuck Norris.(Found on the Internet: Chuck Norris has never won an Academy Award for acting… because he’s not acting.)

The one McQueen film I’d love to see is the one that some could say was a result of “sudden serious actor syndrome” where the cool action movie star took on the lead in Ibsen’s Enemy of the People. That’s always been one of my favorite plays and it would be interesting to see how he did playing the role of a doctor who knew what was wrong with the town, though the townspeople didn’t care to listen.

“I’m out of the Midwest. It was a good place to come from. It give you a sense of right or wrong and fairness, which I think is lacking in our society.”
Steve McQueen

Scott W. Smith

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