Posts Tagged ‘Sweet Dreams’

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.
What Labor Day Means, US Department of Labor

“When is everything going to get back to normal?”
Roger Sterling (John Slattery) in the Mad Men episode Tea Leaves



Let me start with the good news—and then I’ll get to my car wreck. Yesterday Red Shark News posted Seven Must Read Blogs for Screenwriters and Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places was the first blog mentioned. That nudge at the end of August helped this blog have its most viewed month in a year and a half.  Welcome to the new readers, and I appreciate the shout-out by Patrick Jong Taylor.

“Screenwriting From Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places reads as a travelogue to the vast world of screenwriting beyond the borders of Los Angeles. Although never stated in so many words, the blog progresses two inter-related messages: learning and practicing the craft of screenwriting is not dependent on geographic proximity to major industry towns (like LA); and your own environs, no matter where you are, can be an enormous source for inspiration and discovery.”
Patrick Jong Taylor

The origins of physically starting this blog go back to January 2008 after I saw Juno when I was living in Iowa and realizing that it was written by an outsider to the film industry. Diablo Cody followed her Catholic prep school education in the Chicago area by getting an undergraduate degree in Media Studies from the University of Iowa, then writing Juno at her home and a Starbucks in the suburbs of Minneapolis. (Synergy in action: That year Cody won an Oscar for her screenplay and I won a Regional Emmy in Minneapolis for my blog.)

If you want to read one post that sums up what I’m after here check out; The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously). No snake oil being sold there. Free advice that follows where Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3) says 99% of your efforts should go to becoming a better screenwriter.

Now, the bad news. (And for new readers; I usually use weekends and Holidays to re-post, not post, or go off the topic of screenwriting and filmmaking just for a change of pace. And on weekday post I aim for  200 words or less.)

My Labor Day weekend started with a bang. While stopped at red light, the above car slammed into the back of my vehicle going between 30-40 mph. Thankfully I was driving a full-sized SUV that appears to have suffered only a mangled bumper. Though I had some pain in my back and neck I was able to drive home from the accident.

The next day x-rays showed there appears to be a hairline fracture in my neck. I was given a couple prescriptions for pain killers and muscle relaxers, and supposed to see a specialist tomorrow. I’m sure many readers have been in worse accidents. Car wrecks where some involved didn’t walk away— or if they did had to use a cain or a wheelchair.

I haven’t been in an accident in over 25 years, and while thankful it wasn’t worse it still shakes you up. You’re suddenly  more sensitive to the tail-gaters, and how many small cars are on the road. I don’t see buying (or even renting) a compact car in my near future.

Last week I did a solo video shoot that wrapped late at night so I lined up all my gear at the door so I could back my SUV up and load everything at once. It was such a ridiculous amount of gear that I stopped and took a picture. And I don’t think my 72 pound Arri IV light kit is even in this shot. I’ll see what the specialist says tomorrow about my neck, but thankfully I’m in post production this week so no heavy lifting scheduled.


Who knows, maybe that accident will cause me to embrace some of the smaller cameras some are already using. A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed by the Orlando Sentinel because of my micro-doc on Tinker Field, and was interested at the simple small camera set-up the one-man reporter/cameraman/editor used. That followed by my renting the mirrorless Lumex GH4 camera that shoots stills and 4K video and feels like it weighs as much as a box of Animal Crackers.  And seeing footage of the newest GoPro shot with the Steadicam Smoothee is impressive. The technology—and high quality— available in small packages these days is stunning.  (And everything I listed above will be relatively outdated in two years.)

All that to say, have a happy Labor Day—and drive safely.

P.S. Just to keep it movie related; car crashes are such a major part of American movies because cars are such a integral part of American culture and they also fit the bill for conflict on many levels. The car crash scene I thought about after my accident was the one in Sweet Dreams (1985) written by Robert Getchell and starring Jessica Lange as county singer Patsy Cline.

Related posts:

Everything I Learned in Film School (tip #1)
Neil Simon on Conflict
Screenwriting’s One Unbreakable Rule
Screenwriting Quote of the Day #16 (Richard Walter)  “Planes that land safely do not make the headlines and nobody goes to the theater, or switches on the tube, to view a movie entitled The Village of the Happy Nice People.”
Juno Has Another Baby  “I guess when you’re coming from the middle of the country and you’re not part of the industry and you’re just telling your own story, I think it’s easy to be more original.”—Diablo Cody

Scott W. Smith   


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Okay, it’s not really a photo of Brandi Carlile because I’m not sure if I can show any photos /video I took tonight of the Brandi Carlile concert tonight at the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Artist Center where she performed with “the twins” (brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth) and the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony. (The purpose of the photo/video shoot was archival in nature.) It was a super concert with a blend of folk, country, and rock. She ended the concert with a remarkable cover of the Leonard Cohen/Bob Dylan song Hallelujah. Few concerts (or movies) end as satisfying.

Here’s the version Carlile recorded with the Seattle Symphony.

Last year Carlile performed with the Seattle Symphony and guest conductor Jason Weinberger—the same conductor of tonights concert in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Carlile was born in Ravensdale, Washington and lives in the greater Seattle area. While her music has been features in movies and TV programs, perhaps a better movie movie connection to today’s post is that one of Carlile’s influences was Pasty Cline. If you are unfamiliar with Cline’s music and life check out Sweet Dreams (1985) written by Robert Getchell and directed by Karel Reisz. And one super performance by Jessica Lange as Cline.

Scott W. Smith

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“Yeah I think I know what my father meant when he sang about his lost highway…”
Hank Williams Jr.
All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down)

“You must break from cliché. You must ‘Give us the same thing…only different.'”
Blake Snyder
Save the Cat

The movie Country Strong is no Tender Mercies. And there are some pluses and minus associated with that. While Tender Mercies is one of my all time favorite films, it did only make $8 million at the box office. Country Strong almost did that this weekend. But since I’ve been writing a good deal recently about movie clones it’s a good time to talk about avoiding clichés.

Tender Mercies is the 1983 Bruce Beresford directed movie for which Robert Duvall earned an Academy Award for Actor for playing a fallen (and alcoholic) county star. Horton Foote also earned an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Country Strong is the 2010 film written and directed by Shana Feste which stars Gwyneth Paltrow as a (recently) fallen (and alcoholic) county music star . And while Paltrow may get an Oscar nod, the screenplay won’t.

Feste is not Foote, and it would be unfair to compare her to him. He wrote Tender Mercies about 50 years into his career. A career that included Broadway plays and an Oscar for Adapted Screenplay for writing To Kill A Mockingbird in 1962. (And later a Pulitzer Prize.) County Strong is just Feste’s second film. (Who knows what Foote’s early plays were like decades before he became known as “America’s Checkov”?)

And to Feste’s credit she not only wrote the film but directed it putting together a great cast that do their best with a script that crosses the line into a melodrama with a cliché or two—or three. It doesn’t help that last year Jeff Bridges just happened to win an Academy Award in Crazy Heart for playing a fallen (and alcoholic) county music star. In fact, bio pictures of fallen and or musicians struggling with fame, drugs and/or alcohol is such a well travel path (The Doors, Walk the Line, A Star is Born, Glitter, Sweet Dreams) that Judd Apatow found it fertile ground to parody with his 2007 film Walk Hard: The Dewey Coy Story.

“When it seems like you’re stealing—don’t. When it feels like a cliche—give it a twist. When you think it’s familiar—it probably is, so you’ve got to find a new way.”
Blake Snyder
Save the Cat

“Clichés are shortcuts. The more you avoid taking them, the more interesting the places you’ll end up.”
John August
Avoiding cliches

When you start sampling movies about musicians you have to work hard not to hit a wrong note—be diligent to avoid the clichés. (Wait, did I just use a cliché?) I’ll give you one example of good and bad writing. In the opening scene of Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges as Bad Blake pulls into the parking lot of a dive bar and empties a jug of urine. Not a word has been spoken and we’ve learned a lot about this character and we’ve seen something that no other film has shown before. Here’s a guy who lives on the road and doesn’t want or can’t take the time to make a proper restroom stops between gigs. (A little like the true “stalking astronaut in a diaper story” a couple of years ago.)

Now contrast that with (not really a spoiler, folks) Paltrow’s character finding a baby bird while in rehab and her husband played by Tim McGraw carrying the beat-you-over-the-head-metaphor-in-a-box through half the film. At least one point in the making of the film McGraw had to think, “Is this bird thing working? Seems a little forced to me.”  And I don’t even recall a payoff with the bird.

Country Strong is the kind of movie I used to walk out of when I was younger (ie: Bolero) but now I’ve learned to enjoy the good things about any film. Here the music is top-notch and the studios gave Feste the great director of photography, John Baily (As Good As It Gets), so the film looks wonderful. And despite the 17% Rotten Tomatoes rating from top critics, the film has its moments. I thought the opening scene was a fresh twist and great start to the movie. But somewhere along the way my mind started drifting and I started to wonder how actor Tobey Maguire (Superman, Seabiscuit) got attached to this project as producer.

Later I found out and that’s where the story gets interesting.  I discovered that Feste was once Maguire’s nanny. That’s not meant as a knock. That’s interesting stuff. Everyone needs a job until they break through and Feste was savvy enough to work as a nanny in LA to make connections in the industry. It worked. (I’d definitely recommend being a nanny over some of screenwriter Diablo Cody’s previous income streams. Heck, maybe you could be a nanny for Cody.)

“I went to work as a nanny for people who were in the entertainment business, so that I could get any information I could, even while I was watching their kids. I love children, so it was an easy gig.”
Shana Feste
MovieMaker, December 2010

Along the way, Feste also cut her chops getting a BA at UCLA, a master’s in creative writing from University of Texas at Austin, and another graduate degree from AFI. Solid credentials. After AFI she went to work as an assistant at CAA for  Richard Lovett, who was president of the agency. Again, brilliant move. Her first film The Greatest premiered at Sundance in 2009. Country Strong may not be the best film of the year, but I imagine there are few grads that she went to school with at UCLA, UT-Austin, and AFI who are in the position that Feste finds herself as a Hollywood player writing and directing features.

P.S. Feste was once a nanny for Courney Love. I imagine Love and many others will have a “no screenwriter” request for future nannies. I also have a feeling that the nanny agencies will be getting a lot of calls this week from filmmakers with MFA’s looking for work. So if you happen to live in LA and decide to sign up at one of the agencies like Buckingham Nannies you may want to keep that screenwriter thing to yourself.

Scott W. Smith

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