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Posts Tagged ‘Texas’

“I wanted to make a skyrocket big enough that I could shoot the damn thing in the air and they could see me in Los Angeles. So that’s what I did.”
Austin-based filmmaker Tobe Hooper on making The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Tobe Hooper made documentaries and commercials in Texas before making a hippy/psychedelic feature film called Eggshells in 1969. When only a few people outside of students at the University of Texas in Austin saw the movie, Hooper put aside his European art house film sensitivities and made this to turn heads—

It worked. He went on to direct Lifeforce in 1985 (which is said to be a favorite of Quentin Tarantino) and Poltergeist (which was produced by Steven Spielberg).  The line from Poltergeist “They’re here” was a “Show me the money”-type line that became was often quoted throughout the 80s.

P.S. Eggshells has been called “the first feature shot in Austin” and I don’t know if that’s true, but Hooper has to be considered a founding member of what’s turned Austin into one of the great film communities in the world.

H/T Brad Apling for sending me some Tobe Hooper links that give me a track to run on.

Scott W. Smith

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On the heals of writing yesterday’s post about a filmmaker from Austin, Texas, I thought it was fitting to write about a filmmaker from New Jersey talking about being inspired decades ago by a filmmaker from Austin.

“I was awed by (Richard Linklater’s film) Slacker, that it existed. And Richard’s story was kind of compelling too. This guy from Austin, Texas—not from Hollywood, not from New York—had made a film that’s playing in New York and look at all these people here to see it! And he’d made it for such a low amount of money. But by the end of the film I was thinking, I could definitely do this! And oddly enough it was the reaction that Clerks would have a few years later…Anyway we’re driving back to New Jersey and I say, ‘You Know, Vincent, I think that’s what I want to do. I think I want to make a film.”
Kevin Smith
My First Movie
20 Directors Talk About Their First Film
Page 74
Edited by Stephen Lowenstein

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John wanted to be a screenwriter. He was born to public school teachers in Longview, Texas and raised in Texas City, Texas. Eventually he earned an English degree from Baylor in Waco. Then after graduating from law school he became a lawyer in Houston.

What are the odds of John making it as a Hollywood screenwriter?

[Dramatic pause]

The odds are against him, right? Well, if you’ve seen The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks, The Rookie, or A Perfect World then you’ve seen movies where John from Texas (John Lee Hancock) is credited as writer and/or director.

In an interview with Craig Mazin on Scriptnotes, Episode 27 John unpacked how he made the initial transition from a lawyer/actor in Houston to Hollywood writer/director:

“I really fell in love with movies. Not when I was a kid, but when I was in college and I would go to movies a lot. And so I started thinking hard about kind of movie stories, and how they looked on the page, and — this was back in the days before you could walk into a bookstore and get, like, 17,000 books on how to write a screenplay.They didn’t exist. I mean, and you were lucky, you could — there was no online at that time.”

Hancock just turned 60-years-old so I’m guessing this was the late 70s or early 80s. Not only before the internet, but possibly even before Syd Fields’ book Screenwriting: The Foundations of Screenwriting was originally published in 1979.

So he found a place in the San Fernando Valley (probably Burbank) where he could order a few scripts. After learning the format of a screenplay he wrote his first script on the side while practicing law.

But even before tackling a feature script Hancock was studying acting with a teacher who had been a working actor in Los Angeles. It was there where he first started writing monologues and short scenes. Writing that provided “instant gratification.” (A similar experience that Tarantino had in acting classes. Read the post ‘The way I write’—Tarantino)

Hancock said that first feature script (“a story about a guy in his 20s in Houston, Texas who’s angst-ridden and doesn’t know what to do with his life”) was awful. But that “awful” script changed his life.

He sent it to the newly formed Sundance Institute that was doing a workshop in Austin with John Sayles and Bill Wittliff and others and Hancock thought that would be a great opportunity because he’d “never even met anybody who writes screenplays.” (To keep this in perspective he was probably in his mid-twenties at this time.)

“And I signed up, and it also had a thing that said you could — they were going to select, I think, eight screenwriters to go through an intensive four-day worship with Frank Daniel (who had been the head of Columbia Film School and USC).”

I don’t recall if Hancock says on that interview how he started to get traction and work in L.A. (or when he moved there), but that initial thrust began like many others—a desire to write, then writing a screenplay and sending it to some people, and that writing getting him some recognition and eventually leading to his becoming a working Hollywood screenwriting.

Hancock’s experiece in Houston is an echo of what Diablo Cody did in Minneapolis a decade ago and served as the inspiration for starting this blog. (Read the post Juno Has Another Baby). He may not happen everyday, but it happens.

P.S. Keep in mind that Hancock made that transition began over 30 years ago. If he were a lawyer in Houston today he might connect with some filmmakers in Austin, write something that gets on The Black List, or perhaps fund his own low-budget filmmaking. He would find a different path because times and opportunites change.

Related post:
The 99% Focus Rule (via screenwriter Michael Arndt)
Start Small…But Start Somewhere
Starting Small
Screenwriting from Texas

Scott W. Smith

 

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“Without a network, creative work does not endure…without Paris, there is no Hemingway.”
Jeff Goins
The Unfair Truth About How Creative People Really Succeed

Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez has his filmmaking network of people down in Austin, but he also has a literal network—El Rey Network. And when you own a network you can line up interviews with your director friends, which is exactly what The Director’s Chair with Robert Rodriguez is all about.

“It was a thrill to be able to feel that I was a director from a studio at 24 or 25, but when I came out to Hollywood and was making Finian’s Rainbow…everything I wanted to do wasn’t somehow permitted. I wanted to make the film on location—it was about sharecroppers in Kentucky and I go, ‘Can I go to Kentucky and have dancers dancing around with tobacco?’, ‘Oh no, no, we gotta do it on the sets from Camelot.’ I used to sit there with George Lucas, who was about 19, and we would just grump about we couldn’t do this and we can’t do that. And we started to fantasize, let’s go make a film driving across the country. And we’ll make a truck that has all the necessary equipment and we won’t even know exactly what we’re going to shoot. If we hear there’s mine disaster we’ll all go to the mine disaster and incorporate that into the movie. We made The Rain People that way. And then we were so mobile that we said, well gee, we have a whole studio in a truck, we don’t have to go back to L.A., we can go to San Francisco and be close enough to L.A. to have the access to the actors and the prop houses, and the resources, and not be in the center of it. I essentially combined the culture of a theater club with the reality of filmmaking as we learned at USC and UCLA and that was Zoetrope.”
Oscar-Winning writer/producer/director Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, Patton)
Interview with Robert Rodriguez
The Director’s Chair, Episode 5

The Coppola family, food & film model is much of what Rodriguez has created in Austin, Texas—which has an entrenched film community that’s avoided being in the center of the film business. This is what Rodriguez told Coppola in the above interview:

“Family and food and film kind of all seem to go together for you, and it inspired me to do that. I started my own studio [Troublemaker Studios]. I work with my family, and I’ve had other filmmakers come to my sets and see that I’m working with my kids—they’ve gone off and worked with their kids and have done fantastic work. You’ve kind of started this little revolution.”

P.S. If you want to add faith to family, food & film outside L.A., look at what the writer/director team of Alex and Stephen Kendrick of Kendrick Brothers Productions are doing in (an unlikely place) Albany, Georgia. This past weekend their film War Room ended up #1 at the domestic box office, ending Straight Outta Compton‘s three week run in the top spot. Produced by Sony Pictures for $3 million War Room hasn’t even been out two weeks and has passed $30 million at the box office. I think it’s the first time a specifically Christian faith based film has finished #1 at the box office. Back in 2008 I wrote the post Shrimp, Giants & Tyler Perry and talked about the niche that Perry and the Kendrick Brothers were cooking down in Georgia.

Related posts:
‘Who said art had to cost money?’—Coppola
‘Take a Risk’—Coppola
Coppola & Roger Corman
The Francis Ford Coppola Way
Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl from Ohio
‘Super-Serving Your Niche’

Scott W. Smith

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‘Boyhood’

“Whenever I despair I think, OK, somebody out there somewhere, while we’re sitting right here, somebody out there somewhere is making something cool that we’re going to love, and that keeps me going. “
Steve Soderbergh on April 27,2013
Conclusion to his State of Cinema talk
San Francisco International Film Festival

For the last month I’ve tried to find an angle to write about Richard Linklater’s film Boyhood. After writing the last two posts about Steven Soderbergh I decided that Soderbergh’s State of Cinema  talk last year was my anchor. I don’t know if Soderbergh loved Boyhood, but I think it fits his criteria from last year that “somebody out there somewhere is making something cool.”

Linklater shot the Boyhood over 12 years with the same actors in Austin, Texas. That’s pretty cool just by itself. Linklater said that he’d been compelled to make a film about childhood, but was having trouble finding the moment he wanted to explore so he’d given up on the idea of a feature film on the topic. But he sat down to write something and that’s where he captured the magic.

“I was just going to write an experimental novel or something, and the hands go to hit the keyboard and this idea comes fully formed. Like, ‘What if you filmed a little bit every year? And the kids just grew up, and everyone just aged—why can’t you make a move like that?’ So that’s the fun part. The tough part was it’s such an impractical crazy idea—the mechanics of it. Not to mentioned getting it financed.”
Writer/director Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Flim4video interview

And even if Soderbergh didn’t love (or even see) Boyhood, plenty of people did. It received 100% from the top critic on Rottentomatos.com.  On boxofficemojo.com they have the $4 million film making over $37 million worldwide since its July release.

Boyhood wraps up today a more than a month-long run (often to sold out crowds) at the Enzian Theater here in Orlando, so obviously the film struck a chord beyond the art house crowd.

There’s an Amy Hempel quote I read in an article by Blake Butler a while back that sums up part of what I think fascinates viewers of Boyhood, “The more literal you are, the more metaphorical people will think you are being.”

P.S. I was producing and shooting a video project after I saw Boyhood that required using a young talent hitting a baseball off a tee and blowing out birthday candles and decided to take a still photo of the talent that captured the spirit of boyhood and what it means to be seven years old.

DSC_8685web

© 2014 Scott W. Smith

Related posts:

Screenwriting from Texas
The Day the Field of Dreams Burned
Difficult + Changing Times = Whiplash

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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“Paris, Texas is a heartbreaking character study of longing and lacerations of the heart.”
Hillary Weston 

When you blog daily you have to find ways to try to keep it fresh. So the journey that started with Holland, Michigan—The Screenplay, and continued on to  Vernon, Florida yesterday, now leads us to Paris, Texas. The Wim Wender’s directed film from a script by Sam Shepard with L.M. Kit Carson doing some re-writing came out in 1984. Like Tender Mercies that came out the prior year, it was a film that captivated me and moved me in a way that’s hard to explain.

If say 80% of Hollywood movies follow a somewhat similar narrative flow, we can be thankful for filmmakers who fill in some of the other 20% with words and images that defy our normal movie going experience.

“What makes Paris, Texas and all of Wim’s work so special is that it is filled with so much yearning and so much restlessness; people aching so badly to find what it is they’re looking for. They’re all so hungry for love and connection and something to make them feel alive.”
Hillary Weston
Cinematic Panic: Longing Endlessly With Wim Wenders

If you’re drawn to writing less traditional screenplays the one blessing you have is often times actors get tired of being in traditional Hollywood roles and enjoy opportunities that allow them to do something that flexes some of their acting muscles they sometimes don’t use. Harry Dean Stanton acted in more than 100 films before he made Paris, Texas and The Observer quoted him saying of the film , “After all these years, I finally got the part I wanted to play. If I never did another film after Paris, Texas I’d be happy.”

Paris, Texas won the Palme d’Or at 1984 Cannes Film Festival, and the film is now part of The Criterion Collection.

I found a link at the excellent Cinephilla and Beyond that includes an old article by L.M. Kit Carson subtitled Postcards from the Old Man on Paris, Texas that contains this nugget called The Wim Movie Making Method:

“When you make a movie you actually make two movies at the same time. 1) the movie you write and think you’re supposed to make; 2) the movie that comes up, you can’t write it ahead of time, it only comes up from the people gathered when you shoot. The second movie is the true movie, you watch for it and make it.”

Though it’s been a long time since I last saw Paris, Texas,  I do rememeber being impressed with the cinematography of Robby Müller and the music of Ry Cooter.

P.S. Yes, there really is a Paris, Texas  ( “Second Largest Paris in the World.”) and they even have a 70-foot Eiffel Tower replica—which a cowboy hat on top of it.

Scott W. Smith

 

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“Cinema has always been marriage of technology and human talent.”
Francis Ford Coppola (older filmmaker based in Napa Valley)

“I think every filmmaker needs to make 20 awful films before they can make one good one. And I made my share of totally awful films with my friends.”
Bradley Jackson (younger filmmaker based in Austin)
Interview with Ron Dawson

Screenwriter John August has a post on his blog titled Writing for Hollywood without living there where he has a first person account written by 26-year-old writer/director Bradley Jackson from Austin, Texas. Jackson recently earned more than $100,000 by winning The Doorpost Film Project (best film, best director, best script) and optioning a screenplay.

What separates Jackson from the traditional way of thinking about a career in production is he has no intentions of moving to Los Angeles. His plan right now is to stay in Austin where he has friends and family and to commute to L.A. as needed.

August’s readers made various comments on whether this is a wise thing to do and speculated if Jackson can really pull off a career writing and making films in Austin. Because my focus is encouraging writers and filmmakers who live in unusual places (and that includes some places even within the 30 mile zone in LA) three thoughts quickly came to mind;

1) It’s not like Bradley Jackson lives in a small town in Iowa. He lives in Austin, Texas which is one of the most interesting places in the United States. It’s a giant college town, has a solid tech and political base, and an intense creative culture. It’s home to the Austin Film Festival, SXSW and the last time I was in Austin I was told there are more live musical acts in a given night in Austin than any city in the USA. (Yes, that includes NY, LA and Chicago.)

2) Most people writing screenplays and making films make no money writing screenplays and making films. (Heck, even a good chunk of writers in the WGA, make little or no money in a given year.) Jackson just made over $100,000 in just the first two months of 2011 by winning The Doorpost Film Project and optioning a script. I’m not sure if that money is his, but whatever he takes home will go a lot further in Austin that it would in Los Angeles.

Jackson represents a new breed of filmmakers. He’s been making films since high school and by his own admission spent several years making bad films before he learned what he was doing. He got a film degree from UT—Austin where he was mentored by filmmaker/teacher Scott Rice.  He’s surrounded himself with other talented filmmakers in Austin and became Kickstarter savvy which helped him fund his recent film. He’s busting his butt, writing scripts, and willing to fly in to L.A. as needed.

3) Robert Rodriguez. While screenwriters and filmmakers have traditionally moved to Hollywood after they’ve gotten their first break, Rodriguez is the poster child for bucking that trend. Here’s part of what Austin-based Rodriguez told a group of filmmakers in LA back in 2003:

“One of the benefits of being outside of Hollywood—one of the reasons I think like this (shooting digitally) has to do with the fact that I don’t live here. Because (in Texas) you’re so removed you get to examine (how films are made) and say, ‘That doesn’t really make sense for us out here. Let’s do what makes sense.’ And you find a whole other way of shooting.  And that’s one of the best things you can do for yourself even if you work here (LA). Try to get a birds-eye view of things and really question it and you’ll start coming up with different ways of doing things that work.”

As I’ve said before, when I was in film school many years ago students were encouraged to not be a jack-of-all trade, and a master-of-none. But the new kind of filmmakers coming up (who may be in  middle school or retirement homes—and everywhere in between) are jack-of-all trades. And some of them are on their way to becoming master-of-all trades.

They  can not only write, but they know their way around cameras and non-linear editing systems, they are aware of various fundraising methods, they devour DVDs directors commentaries & online tutorials at lynda.com,  and they are keeping on track of new distribution trends and get exciting about the success that Edward Burns has had  self-distributing his films and the things that Kevin Smith said at Sundance ’11:

“The piece of advice that Walter Gretzky gave (his son) Wayne Gretzky was this…’don’t go where the puck’s been, go where it’s gonna to be.’ The philosophy was simple, if you puck chase you’re always going to be behind the game…You want to be the person that’s where the puck’s going to be.”

These new kind of filmmakers are reminiscent of those rebel filmmakers like Lucas and Coppola who back in their youth were embracing new technologies and pursuing a life beyond LA.

Today this new kind of filmmaker is going where the puck isn’t and they’re not afraid to make a bad film or two in their quest to make good films.

And, of course, they read Screenwriting from Iowa daily.

To view Jackson’s winning short film go to the film’s website, TheManWhoNeverCried.com

Related posts:

One of the Benefits of Being Outside of Hollywood

Screenwriting from Texas

The 10-Minute Film School (Robert Rodriguez)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Ten parts)

New Cinema Screenwriting (Part 1)

New Cinema Screenwriting (Part 2)

Scott W. Smith


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