Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Taxi Driver’

Screenwriter David Webb Peoples was born in Connecticut, went to school at Berkeley, and was a film editor before making his mark as a writer. He’s been called “anti-Capra” because he finds the films of Frank Capra at their worst, “corny, preachy and sanctimonious.” He credits the film Taxi Driver in the early 70s with opening the door for showing violence as violent.

He wrote five screenplays before he sold one as is most known for his work on Blade Runner and for writing Unforgiven, which which starred Clint Eastwood and earned 4 Oscars including Best Picture.

David Webb Peoples was actually 36 years old when he sold the script Unforgiven (1976), but  52 years old when the film finally got produced and released in 1992. That’s a long journey from script to screen. He also received an Oscar-nomination for the Unforgiven screenplay.

In regards to Unforgiven’s journey, he was asked many years ago by Elaine Dutka of the LA Times,  “Why did it take so long getting that project off the ground?

“Francis Ford Coppola optioned it in ’84. He took it around, but couldn’t get financing. Clint picked up the option in 1985 and said he was making it “next year” a couple of times. The year before last, my wife was at the Telluride Film Festival and Clint walked on stage. He was overwhelmed by the scenery, he told the audience, and figured it was probably time to make his Western. I was thrilled.

Francis would have done it brilliantly as he does everything else, but it’s hard to imagine anyone making it as straightforwardly and uncompromisingly as Clint. No studio would have made it that way–dark, moody. With a lot of voices, things generally end up becoming blander and more accessible. “Unforgiven” was Clint Eastwood saying “This is what I’m going to do . . . get out of my way.”
David Webb Peoples

I don’t know how long it took Peoples’ to write Unforgiven, but its 15+ year journey is one more reminder that it takes a little time sometimes.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“The fact is, when I wrote Juno—and I think this is part of its charm and appeal—I didn’t know how to write a movie.”
Diablo Cody

Today marks the two and a half-year anniversary of starting this blog— Screenwriting from Iowa. A blog that got its start after seeing the movie Juno and reading the articles about screenwriter and University of Iowa grad Diablo Cody who jump started her career by blogging. Two and a half years ago blogging was still pretty much a mystery to the masses. Just put your stuff out there and see what happens was Cody’s encouragement to anyone who would listen.

She walked away with an Oscar in 2008 and later that year I won a Regional Emmy in Advanced Media for Screenwriting from Iowa. (Juno Has Another Baby.) It was all the sweeter that I received the Emmy in Minneapolis where Cody happened to write Juno.

My goal with this blog from the start has been to encourage and inspire writers and filmmakers around the country to hone their craft as they pursue writing for Hollywood, ultra low-budget filmmaking, or something in between. Along the way I’ve also shown writers in Los Angeles who write stories that take place far from the shadow of the Hollywood sign. (Usually, because they came from outside L.A. originally, or they are adapting a novelist who set a story in their neck of the woods.)

Cody was not the first writer outside L.A. to breakthrough, nor will she be the last. But I believe she is the poster child for screenwriters originally from outside L.A. who desire to write something so original that it leap frog’s the zillions of other more experienced screenwriters. Really, how many screenwriters does the public know by name?

That doesn’t mean that she is loved and adored by everyone. I’m sure she even understands some of the Cody backlash, because how many people walk away with an Oscar on a first script that they were just flirting around writing?

“I think I went into (writing Juno) as an experiment; I didn’t really have a whole lot invested in it. It was more something I just wanted to try. I had no idea throughout the whole process that this would ever wind up being a produced screenplay or that this would ever end up being cast with these amazing actors. There was absolutely no pressure on me because I was just sitting in Minnesota writing for my own edification. So I think that was freeing in a lot of ways.”
Diablo Cody
Filmmaker magazine Fall 2007

That has to make all of those screenwriting gurus cringe. And tick off a few writers who have been at it five, 10, 20 years. And if that doesn’t, this will:

“I guess ignorance is bliss is the best way of putting it. [laughs] The only thing I did was I went to Barnes & Noble and bought the shooting scripts for a couple of movies that I liked so I could see how they looked on the page and that gave me a little structural guidance. but that was all I did. ”
Diablo Cody
Filmmaker magazine Fall 2007

But what about all those screenwriting classes and workshops you’re supposed to take and all those books on screenwriting you’re supposed to read, on top of the years of writing screenplays? Nah, remember Cody was just flirting with screenwriting. Juno was her first attempt and she cranked it out in six weeks at a Starbucks inside a Target store in the Minneapolis suburb of Crystal. Was it a flawless, script? Perfectly tuned like the screenwriting gurus tell you it has to be? Not according to Cody.

“When we sent that screenplay out it was riddled with typos and formatting errors because I had no idea what I was doing. [laughs] My manager was so stunned that I had turned out something vaguely coherent that he just said, ‘Let’s just throw it out there and see if anybody likes it.’ We didn’t really obsess; I think it was just a case of expectations being so low that there was not a lot of polishing and spit-shinning going on.”
Diablo Cody
Filmmaker magazine Fall 2007

It would be easy to just say Cody got lucky. That would be a mistake. How did she get a manager in the first place? Because her manager-to-be (Mason Novick) came across her blog and saw talent and originality. Perhaps a freshness that’s not easy to find in L.A. when everyone is going to the same screenwriting workshops, reading the same screenwriting books, going to the same screenwriting expos, and hanging out at the same L.A. restaurants or sitting on the same L.A. freeway.

Thanks in part to the plethora of new books and seminars on screenwriting, a new phenomenon is taking over Hollywood: Major scripts are skillfully, seductively shaped, yet they are soulless. They tend to be shiny but superficial.”
Richard Walter
UCLA Screenwriting Professor

Part of what sets Cody apart is, to use Colin Covert’s phrase, she is “scary-smart.” She had 12 years of Catholic school, was raised in the Chicago suburb of Lemont, and has a Bachelor’s degree in Media Studies from the University of Iowa. While not in the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate program, that was part of what attracted her to Iowa. While she had never written a screenplay before Juno, she thought of herself as a writer and had been writing on a regular basis (poems, short stories, etc.) for 15 years before she turned her hand to screenwriting. (Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours)

And I love the fact that not three miles from where Cody wrote Juno is a Minneapolis bar called Grumpy’s where screenwriter Nick Schenk wrote much of Gran Torino that in 2009 would become Clint Eastwood’s highest grossing film that he’s ever starred in. (Screenwriting Postcard from Minneapolis.) If Cody and Schenk don’t inspire you nothing will.

“Aspiring screenwriters always ask what’s the best way to break into the Hollywood? I say move to Minnesota.”
Writer Ken Levine (Frasier, MASH, Cheers)
How to sell a screenplay by drinking in a bar

Thanks again to Ms. Cody for the nudge to jump into the blogging world. And thanks to everyone for stopping by to read what I post, because without readers it would be hard to have written the 600+ posts I’ve written so far.

P.S. In yesterday’s post I mentioned that I’d explain why Clark Gable would be attracted to Diablo Cody and here’s my reasoning. A Time magazine article said, “Gable liked his women to be both sacred and profane.” It doesn’t take much reading about Cody to realize she is both scared and profane. While the profane aspects get more press, Cody’s sacred side is more fascinating to me. And it certainly doesn’t hurt her originality.

Read her 2005 post Finding My Religion to see a theological side to Cody that probably can only be matched in Hollywood by the Calvinist-raised Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver). One thing Cody says she’s never flirted with is atheism. Here’s a sample of her pre-Juno writing;

“I’ve had my share of core-rattling Touched By an Angel moments–brief instances in which God seemed to be standing right beside me, tousling my overprocessed hair like a kind scoutmaster–but most of the spiritual epiphanies I’ve had in my life were far earthier, borne of personal reflection, diverging beliefs, and the admission that I can’t ever fully grasp the sacred.”

Related Post: The Juno-Iowa Connection
Juno Vs. Walt
The Oscars Minnesota Style
The Fox, the Farm, & the Fempire
Life Beyond L.A. (The first blog on January 22, 2008)

Update June 23, 2010: Here is what Diablo Cody (@diablocody) wrote on Twitter: “@scottwsmith_com Thank you for writing that kind and lovely piece. I truly appreciate it.” Yeah, that’s a good way to start your day.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

In his book Movie Speak, Tony Bill (who directed My Bodyguard) mentions that in his 35 years or so of producing and directing films that almost all of them were either  the first scripts written, or the first script produced by the writer. Bill speculated why that has so often been the case:

“There’s a quality that most first scripts share: fresh, surprising, and unspoiled. Recently, it was Juno. Little Miss Sunshine was a first-time script, as was My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Good Will Hunting, Rocky, Sling Blade, and Taxi Driver were all first scripts. So was My Bodyguard. None of these came out of a how-to-do book or a weekend seminar in screenwriting. First scripts usually come from a need to write something (or, sometimes, a need to eat and pay the rent.) But with rare exceptions, they don’t come out of  a need to score big, to write a hit, to make a splash. And they don’t follow in the footsteps of pervious successes; They’re invariably ‘surprises’ flying in the face of what’s considered commercial. Whatever the genres, they come from the heart.”
Tony Bill (Oscar-winning producer. The Sting)
Movie Speak
page 197 

And I should add that every single movie, except for Little Miss Sunshine (which was really a road movie), that Bill mentioned took place outside Los Angeles. And while Taxi Driver was New York the majority of films he mentioned took place in Chicago, Minnesota, Boston, Philadelphia, Arizona, and rural Arkansas.

Do you think that might have had something to do with the fresh perspective of those films?

Scott W. Smith


Read Full Post »

"I'm asked why people don't often see me and Elin in gossip magazines or tabloids. I think we've avoided a lot of media attention because we're kind of boring."

                                            Tiger Woods (pre car accident)  


"We felt if (Fatal Attraction) was to be successful it had to be about anybody sitting in the audience. It had to be about you."

                                                                                                                                Stanley Jaffe, producer
 

On Friday I was looking for a movie to go see and came across this synopsis of Wes Anderson’s new film The Fantastic Mr. Fox;

“After 12 years of bucolic bliss, Mr. Fox (George Clooney) breaks a promise to his wife (Meryl Streep) and raids the farms of their human neighbors, Boggis, Bunce and Bean. Giving in to his animal instincts endangers not only his marriage but also the lives of his family and their animal friends. When the farmers force Mr. Fox and company deep underground, he has to resort to his natural craftiness to rise above the opposition.”

Uh…speaking of animals and movies, I don’t know if Tiger Woods has ever met Glenn Close. I’m guessing not because if she was ever a cocktail waitress before her acting career took off it was before Tiger was born. And I’m guessing he never saw her Oscar-nominated role as Alex in Fatal Attraction. He was only 12 when the film first came out in 1987 and he’s probably been too busy to catch up on old films.

But Fatal Attraction has to be one of the most powerful and memorable films that deals with adultery.  And the competition is strong. (The Scarlet Letter, Citizen Kane, Doctor Zhivago, The Bridges of Madison County, Jungle Fever, The Graduate, Blue Sky, The End of the Affair, The Apartment, Election, Unfaithful, Indecent Proposal, Death of a Salesman, American Beauty and ever other Woody Allen film are part of the string of films with adultery in the storyline.)

“Saul Bellow once compared a novel without adultery to ‘a circus without elephants.'”
Jody W. Pennington
The History of Sex in American Film

Since films center around conflict it should be no surprise that conflict among marital relationships are a common theme to wrestle with. Hitting a tree with your car at 30 mph is conflict, having an affair is meaningful conflict.

It’s interesting to note that though Hollywood is not the most pro-marriage place in the United States most of the films that deal with adultery put it in a negative light (except for The Bridges of Madison County and every Woody Allen film that deals with adultery). That is films often show the consequences of cheating on a spouse.

And whatever Tiger did it appears he also looks at adultery in a negative light. In his statement he used words like “values,” “far short of perfect,” “personal sins” “personal failings” and “transgressions.” It was reported that the most searched word on the Internet (according to Google Trends) the day Tiger gave his press conference was the word “transgression(s)”

I spent many years producing and directing videos for theologian Dr. R.C. Sproul so I know a lot of 25 cent words and didn’t need to take time to look that up. Just hearing the word transgression brings up in my mind the well-known passage in Isaiah (“He was wounded for our transgressions.”) as well as the old Westminster Shorter Catechism Question Number 14. What is sin? 
Answer: Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.

Sproul, by the way, is the only contemporary theologian I know who has ever been quoted in a vampire film.  In the Abel Ferrara directed film The Addiction written by Nicholas St. John, the Annabella Sciorra character says, “Now, R.C. Sproul said we’re not sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners.” (The film also stars Christopher Walken and Lili Taylor.)

We sin because we’re sinners is as good an explanation as any for Norman Bates (Pyscho), Annie Wilkes (Misery),  Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver) as well as real life characters Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini. As well as our own shortcomings.  Tiger is not the only non-perfect human being and the bible does say, “We all stumble in many ways.” (James 3:2) Or as speaker/author/radio host Steve Brown is fond of telling audiences, “Everyone in this room has at least one sin that if was made public would crawl out of here on their hands and knees.”

I think that the role drama has played for a couple thousand years is to show people struggle with life. Good old good versus evil stuff. Sometimes drama is inspirational and sometimes it offers a cautionary tale.

When we hear the word adultery, even for the non-religious, it tends to make us think of one of the ten commandments:
”Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery” (Exodus 20:14) Which is a long way from a billboard ad I once saw for the TV show Melrose Place proclaiming; “Loving thy neighbor is cool.”

There aren’t too many people that say adultery is a good thing for marriages, families and society (though some do) and we can look back over the last several thousand years and see successful men and women in every arena of life (politics, education, business, athletics, entertainment, religion, etc.) get tangled up in the web of adultery. Often painfully and publicly tangled up.

Which brings us back to Tiger and  Glenn Close. If “stories are equipment for living” as Edmund Burke wrote then I think Fatal Attraction shows us brilliantly the extremes of a cause and effect of an affair. Tomorrow we’ll look at one key scene from James Dearden’s Fatal Attraction script.

The film that Michael Douglas would later reflect back on the success of the film saying, “It hit a nerve around the world as a ‘what if?’ type scenario.” Fatal Attraction producer Stanely Jaffe added, “I think the world was ready for someone to examine the way we were living our lives.”

As Tiger has said he is examining his life. And don’t you think that husbands and wives around the world are examining text messages more closely? And perhaps some are examining where they store their golf clubs.

Scott W. Smith



Read Full Post »

“You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me?”
                                         Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro)
                                         Taxi Driver
                                         Written by Paul Schrader 

deniro500

No Bobby, I’m not talkin’ to you. But I did spend a couple days talking to students (and a few visitors) at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan the last couple days and the above photo was one of the movie posters hanging outside the video theater where I spoke.  Calvin’s most famous film alumni is Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader.

I would like to thank Prof. Bill Romanowski for the invite and and all the support staff, other professors, and students for the opportunity to speak, as well as the sponsorship by the Gainey Institute and Communication Arts & Sciences department. It sure is more fun to talk about this stuff than write about it.

I not only got to meet a lot of eager students, but had lunch yesterday with a New York actor who’s recently been on Law and Order and had a director from L.A. sit in on one of my seminars. (He was in town raising funds for a film that would take advantage of Michigan’s 40%-42% tax incentives.)

Those tax incentives are bringing a film called The Genesis Code not only to Michigan, but they will be shooting part of the film at the Calvin College campus. But Michigan is learning quickly about Hollywood’s ways as people have gotten excited about films starring people like Samuel L. Jackson, Joe Mantegna and Robert Duvall scheduled to shoot in Michigan only to see them postponed for one reason or another.

It was an interesting time to be in Michigan because not only is Detroit hurting because of the decline in auto sales, but the whole economy of the state is effected because many of the smaller cities are made up of manufacturing plants that produce parts for the  automobiles that people aren’t buying.

So people are both excited and skeptical about the possibilities of a film industry bringing jobs. Enrollment at schools and colleges that teach film and video is up. I saw people shooting footage around the Calvin campus including this young fellow that I snapped a picture of as he was in action. This kind of thing is happening all over the country. 

calvinstedicam1858

While at Calvin College I learned that they have a few other grads who are working in the film industry, but the most impressive to me is Jeannie Claudia Oppewall. She’s is a four time Oscar nominated production designer/art director who’s worked on two of my favorite films, Seabiscuit and Tender Mercies.

And for what it’s worth, she’s worked in Iowa twice on The Bridges of Madison County and the yet to be release Ellen Page film Peacock. And just to come full circle she was once married to Paul Schrader.

Schrader’s divorce played a part of his state of mind before writing Taxi Driver, as did Jean-Paul Sartre, “Before I sat down to write Taxi Driver, I reread Sartre’s Nausea, because I saw the script as an attempt to take the European existential hero…and put him in an American context.” Schrader has also said that part of the inspiration for picking a taxi driver to represent loneliness was based on the  Harry Chapin song Taxi about a taxi driver who used to dream of being a pilot and one night gives a lift to his old girlfriend.

…And me, I’m flying in my taxi, 
Taking tips, and getting stoned, 
I go flying so high, when I’m stoned.

                                          Taxi
                                          Harry Chapin 

Before that song was a hit in 1972, Chapin had actually written and directed a documentary called Legendary Champions which was nominated for an Oscar in 1969.

And lastly, AFI lists “Are you talking to me?” as the 10th most popular movie quote of the last 100 years. So yes, it is possible to be born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan and to write a screenplay that leaves an imprint on film history. (Though it’s okay to start out with slightly lower aspirations.) 

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“Movie storytelling is about redemption–the recovery of something lost or the attainment of something needed.”
                                                               Brian Godowa
                                                               screenwriter, To End All Wars 

“All main characters are wounded souls, and the stories we tell are merely an acting out of the healing process.”
                                                            
   Richard Krevolin 
                                                               Screenwriting From the Soul 

shaw

 

Director Martin Scorsese was once told by a priest friend that his films were “too much Good Friday and not enough Easter Sunday.” In his films, characters like Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver) and Jake LaMotta (Raging Bull) are wounded souls with no hint of redemption. No hope of resurrection. (Though the real life Jake LaMotta has said that the film changed his life.)

But there are plenty of films that somewhat mirror the Christ story of death and resurrection, of transformation or redemption, or even the concept of laying ones life down for another. Though one could argue there are similar themes throughout history (and Joseph Campbell does) it’s hard to miss the Christ metaphor in a film like Gran Tornio when Clint Eastwood is positioned in a Christ-like pose at the end of the film.

And it’s impossible to miss the Christ-like imagery of Tim Robbins on the poster of The Shawshank Redemption, taken from the climatic moment in the film when he emerges free from prison (death) on his way to paradise (life). 

Audiences never tire of stories of  transformation because I think that is one of the chief reasons we go to films. Yes, we want to be entertained, we want to eat popcorn, and we want to escape. But deep down inside we want to have purpose and meaning in our lives and art acts as a conduit to give structure to what often seems like a meaningless life. It points to the mysterious. 
                                    

 “Stories are equipment for living.”
                                          Kenneth Burke 

 “Stories are the language of the heart.”
                                          John Eldredge 

So while yesterday on Easter Sunday I pointed to the many films that actually portrayed Christ figures such as in The Greatest Story Ever Told, today I’ll point to films that show a Christ-like metaphor in their central characters, or have themes of transformation, sacrifice and/ or resurrection. (And like yesterday this is just a partial list, but the ones that seem to have lasting appeal.)

ET
The Lion King
Tron
On the Waterfront
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Sling Blade
Cool Hand Luke
Schindler’s List
The Natural
Babette’s Feast
Hoosiers
Cinderella
The Beauty & the Beast
An Officer and a Gentleman 
Tender Mercies 
Braveheart
Superman
Spiderman
Iron Man
The Matrix 

Roger Ebert has an interesting read called In search of redemption and talks about  the kind of films that made him want to be a film critic. He talks about films with “human generosity and goodness.” And he even closes with a nod to Juno.  

Now if you’d like to take a deeper look at spiritual side of films then Paul Schrader is your man and I recommend his book Transcendental Style in Film as he looks at the films of Ozu, Bresson and Dryer. Schrader is the screenwriter of Taxi Driver, The Mosquito Coast, and The Last Temptation of Christ. And he’s a graduate of Calvin College.

If you happen to be in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area tomorrow night (4/14/09) I will touch more on this in a talk I’m giving at Calvin College. Schrader is not Calvin’s only connection to Hollywood. Phil Oosrerhaus was an assistant to the Wachowski Brothers on The Matrix as well as an associate producer on the sequels. 

As I pointed out in Screenwriting from Michigan there is a lot going on there film-wise. There were 32 features shot there last year including Eastwood’s Gran Torino. I also look forward to giving a screenwriting talk there on Wednesday. 

 

copyright 2009 Scott W. Smith


Read Full Post »

Over the weekend I saw the movie Taken and it made me think back to a few films that feature a son or daughter who disappears—The Searchers with John Wayne, Ransom with Mel Gibson, and Hardcore with George C. Scott. 

Hardcore was written by Paul Schrader who also wrote Taxi Driver, Ragging Bull, and The Mosquito Coast. Born and raised in a Dutch Reformed community in Grand Rapids, Michigan, he didn’t see a movie until he was 17. Since Hardcore is about a daughter who runs away and gets caught up in the porn industry, Schrader’s religious upbringing may seem an odd fit as the writer of the screenplay. But if you read the book Schrader on Schrader & Other Writings (edited by Kevin Jackson) you understand better where he is coming from.

Though film has been called a Catholic medium because of its use of symbolism and emphasis on guilt and works (as well as its understanding of sin & redemption), Schrader is one of the few modern giants of cinema with a Protestant background. (Protestants, especially evangelicals, tend to favor didacticism—instructional—methods which doesn’t play as well on film. )

Schrader’s understanding of what’s known at the doctrine of total depravity allows him to tap into characters such as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Schrader is also considered one of the greatest intellectuals in Hollywood and though he later walked away from the religious beliefs of his youth, he credits Calvin College with teaching him to think. (And a few years ago he returned to his alma mater  to speak, so maube they’ve made their peace.) 

“There’s also a delicious line in Hardcore that’s actually taken from one of my uncles, which is at the beginning, at the Christmas part. The kids are sitting around watching some innocuous TV special and the uncle walks in and turns off the set—this is something that actually happened to me—and he says, ‘Do you know who makes television? All the kids who couldn’t get along here go out to Hollywood and make TV and send it back here. Well, I didn’t like them when they were here and I don’t like them now they’re out there.’ And this struck me as absolutely true, That’s what we all do, you know; misfits from small towns across America go out to Hollywood, make TV and movies and pump it back into our parents homes and try to make them feel guilty.”
                                                       Paul Schrader
                                                       Schrader on Schrader
                                                       page 149 

 

Schrader’s website is paulschrader.com

 

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: