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Posts Tagged ‘Terry Gross’

“Congrats to Julia and Steven, the filmmakers behind American Factory, for telling such a complex, moving story about the very human consequences of wrenching economic change. Glad to see two talented and downright good people take home the Oscar for Higher Ground’s first release.”
Barack Obama

Filmmakers Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar won an Oscar Sunday night for their documentary American Factory, which they shot in—what I consider an unlikely place to lead them to Hollywood success—a factory in Moraine/Dayton, Ohio.

Both my grandmother and grandfather worked for NCR in Dayton, Ohio (where I was also born), and I had a great aunt who was a nurse at a GM factory there. In northeast Ohio, my paternal grandfather spent 30 years working for Youngstown Sheet and Tube. And I worked in a boat windshield factory in Florida one summer while in college. So while factories and Ohio may not get your heart pumping, that combination has a special place in my heart.

And obviously for Reichert and Bognar as well, as they also made the  documentary The Last Truck :Closing of a GM Plant.  A film nominated for an Oscar in 2009.

In the spirit of finding stories in your own back yard, Reichert and Bognar live in Yellow Springs, Ohio, just east of Dayton. Reichert went to Antioch College in Yellow Springs and has been nominated for an Oscar four times.

At the age of 73, and diagnosed with terminal cancer, it must have been fulfilling for Reichert to stand on the world stage and receive her first Oscar award.

Of course, it’s hard to miss that in Reichert’s acceptance speech that she’s probably the first person in Oscar history to both give a “Go Buckeyes” shoutout and quote Karl Marx. That will bring her friends and foes on both sides.

I’ve yet to see American Factory (which is currently on Netflix), so I don’t know if the filmmakers take a prescriptive, descriptive, subjective or objective  filmmaking approach to a Chinese billionaire bringing his car glass manufacturing plant in Ohio.

But she did say this on a recent interview:

“Some workers feel like the American dream is done. We are never going to get that back. And others say, you know you really have to believe in the American dream. And I think it’s really up for grabs. Is there an American dream still? Is there something that people can if they work hard and stick to the laws that they’re going to have a good life. Is that possible anymore? I think that’s a real question that I hope our film sort of raises. Is this the world we want to live in?”
Julia Reichert
Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross 

These are the questions, that in some ways, philosophy, religion, and politics have wrestled with for the past 200 years, and if you remove the American dream aspect, probably since the beginning of time. Long before capitalism, communism, socialism, and Make America Great Again were being debated.

It does feel like we are in a significant global transition period. If you watch 4-time Oscar winner Parasite (2019), it’s not hard to make the connection between daily financial struggles in Korea and those in Ohio. It’s also not hard to watch the documentary One Child Nation (2019), read current news about the spread of the deadly coronavirus, or track tariffs in China and realize how interconnected the world is these days.

Hat tip to Megan Cunningham for putting Julia Reichert on my radar. Cunningham wrote the book The Art of Documentary that I first read in 2006, and I’ve had the opportunity to produce and shoot projects with her company Magnet Media Films. In a LinkedIn post yesterday, Cunningham said Richert was a recipient of the 2016 Chicken and Egg Award . (The Chicken and Egg Award recognizes and elevates five female non-fiction directors each year with $50,000 unrestricted grants.)

Reichert wrote a book called Doing it yourself: A handbook on independent distribution that was published in 1977, and I’m not sure where you can find a copy.

P.S. From the back to the future file:  Watch the trailer to the 1986 film Gung Ho to see how an early Ron Howard film dealt with cultural differences as a Japanese company acquires a car manufacturer in western Pennsylvania.

Scott W. Smith 

 

 

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Before writer/director Lulu Wang made an international splash this year for her movie The Farewell, one of her day jobs was producing videos for lawyers to be used in legal cases.

“I was basically going to people’s homes – you know, people who had been severely injured, people who, oftentimes, their injuries weren’t visible to the eye, you know, which meant a lot of brain damage cases. I would go into people’s homes and just interview the – you know, the client and sometimes their family to better understand the extent of their injuries.

“So we – it was called a day in a life video, and so you also would – I would include footage from before the injury occurred and – to see, you know, what they were capable of, what their dreams and aspirations were. And sometimes it would be as mundane as just shooting this person trying to make breakfast, you know, because if this client walks into a courtroom and gets on a stand, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to determine what the extent of their injuries are by just hearing them talk. You might think, well, maybe they’re not the brightest person, but, you know, they seem fine to me. But you would – if I, you know, was with them, watching them make breakfast, they would take the eggs out and then go back to the refrigerator and go grab eggs and forget where they put the eggs. You know, there’s all of these little nuances of how the – of how brain injury affects a person’s day-to-day life that I had to show.

“So there was that. I did some class action cases as well. . . . I found it very fascinating. It was very difficult, too, you know, because you meet somebody for, you know, 10 minutes, and then you’re in their home and you’re asking them to open up their lives to you. And I – you know, I was usually there by myself, maybe with one other person who was helping me set up the camera and maybe a light or something.

“But you know, there’s a lot of stories, and it – I think it also helped me to really stay grounded because no matter what fictional story I was working on, I was still doing this at the same time.”
Lulu Wang
NPR interview with Terry Gross

And in various interviews Lulu Wang has done, here are some other life experiences that show the trajectory of her career before making The Farewell. 
—She was born in China, and moved to the United States (Miami) when she was six.
—She went to a arts conservatory high school where she was a good enough pianist that her teachers thought she could have a career playing the piano, but she didn’t have enough passion for music. (New World School of the Arts in Miami is also where playwright and Oscar-winning Moonlight screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney went to high school.)
—She earned her four year degree from Boston College, where she only took one  photography class and one filmmaking class. But she did well enough in school that she was accepted into law school on a full scholarship. But she didn’t have enough passion for law to continue that route.
—She moved to Los Angeles and because she could speak Mandarin Chinese ended up doing translation work on the film Rush Hour 3.
—She made some short films, and also shot some bar mitzvah videos.
—In 2016, her story What You Don’t Know was part the radio broadcast This American Life. She got an option to write the screenplay version that eventually got produced with her directing and debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
—The film was released in the United States in July.
—Last night Awkwafina won best actress at the Gotham Awards for her lead role in The Farewell.

P.S. After graduating from NYU film school, Sean Baker (The Florida Project) worked on wedding and corporate videos, and explains why it’s good training for filmmakers.

“I was lucky enough to land a job right out of school with a small publishing company that put me in charge of their AV work. So basically I was producing a lot of corporate type videos. I was interviewing authors. Traveling all over the states just to interview them to put together a little EPK [Electronic Press Kit]. But that’s good work. It pays the bills. And I would suggest anybody who’s striving to become a filmmaker to at least stay within the AV world. Because you’re practicing on a daily basis. And even though you think this isn’t me being creative, it is. It really is because you’re still framing shots, you’re still editing, you’re understanding the technical side of things.”
Sean Baker
No Film School podcast interview

Scott W. Smith

 

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When comedian, actor, and game show host Drew Carey was starting out he tried doing standup “as a goof” while in college and it didn’t go well. After a few failed attempts, he was glad he gave it a shot and get it out of his system.

After he dropped out of college, he joined the U.S. Marines.  Carey served in the military for six years and was waiting tables in his hometown of Cleveland when a radio host he knew said he’d pay him $20 a joke. He was hoping to pick up an extra $100 a week and ended up building over his career (so far) an estimated net worth of over $100 million.

This is how Carey told Terry Gross on Fresh Air how he learned to write jokes.

Drew Carey: I went to the library and I finally got a book on how to write jokes. And from reading that book, that’s what really started me. I thought, oh wow, there’s a formula to this. I can write jokes.

Terry Gross: How did the book help you to write jokes?

Carey: There’s formulas for every kind of joke writing. There really is. The example they used in the book is you take driving and write it at the top of the page. It’s all about list-making. Then you write down everything that relates to driving: angry drivers, slow drivers, fast drivers, new cars, old cars, junk cars, car washes, red lights. You write all this stuff down and then you try to exaggerate something to make it bigger than it is. Then there’s words that sound like other words and you try to make puns up that way, and use all these different techniques to take all this little lists you’ve made—angry women drivers, angry men drivers—when you detail it down you try to exaggerate it, or minimalize it, or twist it around. And then you try to make 20 jokes and try to get one good joke out of that, and that’s how you come up with one good joke. If you’re starting out, it takes you like three hours.

P.S. He didn’t say in that interview what that book he read, but if you’ve seen it in others interviews let me know and I’ll put a link to it here. In the meantime check out Comedy Writing SecretsThe Hidden Tools of Comedy, The New Comedy Writing Step by Step, and Jerry Seinfeld’s doc Comedian.

Scott W. Smith

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This exchange between playwright Neil Simon and Terry Gross is from a 1996 Fresh Air interview:

GROSS: You have a theory that you write about in [your book Rewrite:A Memoir] that your mind doesn’t know, when you’re writing, that it’s only fiction. Your mind thinks you’re actually living through whatever you’re putting on paper.

SIMON: Yes.

GROSS: What has led you to this conclusion?

SIMON: Because my body goes through the pain that I am going through in the writing. I feel the tenseness if I’m writing a scene between, let’s say, a husband and wife who are having a fractious marriage. Things are going wrong. There’s a big argument. There’s a confrontation. I feel the intensity in my body, and I don’t think I’m acting that out. I truly feel it. I’m exhausted when I go home, whereas if I write something that’s a funnier scene, a lighter scene, a more loving, romantic scene, I don’t feel that same tension. I feel a lightness about me. So I don’t think that the mind differentiates about what’s going on in real life or what’s going on in the fiction you’re writing.

GROSS: So fiction really does take its toll on you physically.

SIMON: It does, but it’s been very rewarding for me. I don’t think I would like to have been anything else in life but a writer, but I also don’t think I could have been anything else.

Related posts:
Nostalgia: The Pain from an Old Wound
Emotion-Emotion-Emotion
Power Your Podcast with Storytelling “Everyone wants to find a way out of pain.”-
Alex Blumberg
Method Writing—Write with Your Scars 

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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“I like dissolves. A dissolve is a film technique, usually a transition from scene to scene where image A begins to fade out, overlapped with the fade in of image B….Nowadays you don’t see too many dissolves in movies. And I never paid attention to when they went out of fashion. And Kevin Tent, my editor, and I think they’re beautiful. I happen to be a big fan of Hal Ashby films in the ’70s and to my mind, he an ex-editor, was a master of dissolves, and particularly long dissolves. For me, they lend emotion to a film and there’s a kind of a melancholy that comes from them….One thing is going away, another thing is coming in. And I can’t explain it, but there’s something poetic and melancholy about it.”
Producer, writer, director Alexander Payne (Sideways, Election)
NPR/Fresh Air Interview with Terry Gross

I think I’ve shown all the clips out there of Payne’s new film Nebraska, so today I think it’s fitting to show a video that’s a nod to Hal Ashby (1929-1988). While Ashby is best known for directing Coming Home (for which Nebraska star Bruce Dern received an Oscar nomination), Being There, The Last Detail and Harold and Maude, his sole Oscar win was for editing the 1967  film In the Heat of the Night.

I’ll have to do a run of posts on Ashby next year after I read Nick Dawson’s (@thatnickdawson) book Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel. While his acclaim did not reach the heights of many of his Easy Rider and Raging Bulls fellow filmmakers, Ashby’s influence today may be greater. Not only on Alexander but on Sean Penn, Johnny Depp, Wes Anderson, David O. Russell and I imagine a whole list of others.

P.S. And since I like to point out origins of filmmakers from unlikely places…Hal Ashby was born in Ogden, Utah and raised in a Mormon home where his father was a dairy farmer. Remember the wise words of Anton Ego in Ratatouille, “Not everyone can be a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.” Good ones, too.

Related Post:

Editing for Emotion
40 Days of Emotions ‘I try to set things up so that they pay off in a way I hope evokes a strong reaction.” Eric Roth (Forrest Gump)
Cinematography & Emotions
Cinematography & Emotions (Part 2)

Related Blog:

Check out Oliver Peters’ blog post on a case study of editing Alexander Payne’s film The Descendants.

Scott W. Smith

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“I  never tailor a screenplay to fit the actor. I always demand the actor come to the script – even if it’s Nicholson or Clooney.”
Alexander Payne
Nebraska Coast Connection Q & A

“I’m not there to give an acting class. I’m there to make a movie. And I often don’t know, nor do I often care to know, really, what the actor is thinking about….My basic direction is: please hit your mark and recite your dialogue exactly as written. And you think I mean that somewhat facetiously. But actually, my job I feel is basically done – not done, but on the way to being done when I’ve cast them. And that old cliche is very true, 90 percent of directing is casting, not just the actors, but the technicians, everyone involved in making a film. So in the moment we’re doing a scene, and I work with intelligent actors, they know what the heck the scene’s about, so – and they know what, without being too result-oriented in their thinking, they know what emotional state the character is in. Sometimes I think that if I get too personal with a direction, you know, try doing this or think about that, I may mar what they’re already thinking about.”
Two-time Oscar winner Alexander Payne
NPR/Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross

Some of the fruit of Payne’s casting and directing:

George Clooney (The Descendants) Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Feature
Jack Nicholson (About Schmidt) Golden Globe Award Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture–Drama
Cast (Sideways) Screen Actors Guild  winner Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Bruce Dern (Nebraska) Cannes Award for Best Actor

Related posts:
Directing “Chinatown”
Directing “Mud”
Writing & Directing “Rush”
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 1) Follow the thread for a total of ten tips from Marshall.
Directing Tips from Peter Bogdanovich
Kazan on Directing (Part 1) Follow the thread for ten tips from Kazan

Scott W. Smith

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“Whatever your life’s work do it well.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

“The works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the women going about her household task, but that all works are measured before God by faith alone.”
Martin Luther

Before David Sedaris became David Sedaris the best-selling author, humorist & storyteller extraordinaire David Sedaris, he was just a college drop out working various jobs including house cleaning. After he was discovered by Ira Glass doing a public reading of his diary he began to gather a following on NPR but still cleaned houses in the day to earn a living. In a radio interview in 1993 Terry Gross interviewed Sedaris asking him if it bothered him that he had to clean houses as his day job instead of devoting his full time to writing.

“I like to think that all work is pretty much equal. It doesn’t really matter what you do—it doesn’t bother me, the work. I like it. There’s a before and an after. I mean I like cleaning someone’s home if they’re really filthy, that’s my favorite. But some of the people I clean for it’s clean when I get there and there’s not really that much for me to do. So you don’t really feel like there is a before and an after. So I’d much rather go to a slobs house… because afterwards they look at it like you’ve done something they could never possibly do. Like you have retuned the engine to the car, like you have removed their kidney. Like you did something that required such skill, and it was a skill that you could ever master.”
David Sedaris
Fresh Air Writers Speak with Terry Gross

His first book was published in 1994 and over the years several books have followed and I think it’s been a while since he cleaned houses for a living. Perhaps one of the reasons that Sedaris embraced his various jobs was because it was not just a paycheck it was material. Material that went into his daily diary and that could one day find itself in one of his books. In 2004 he was nominated for Grammy Award for Best Spoken word for Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. Cinemablend announced in May of 2010 that feature film writer/director Kyle Patrick Alvarez (Easier with Practice) had optioned one of the stories from Sedaris’ book Naked.

Scott W. Smith

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