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Posts Tagged ‘The Wizard of Oz’

“Well, as a rule about 50% you have in your mind before you start the picture, and the rest you develop as you’re making it.”
Writer/Director/Actor (and silent film comic genius)  Buster Keaton 

“Going into a day we were 70% structured, 30% was left up to the film gods to give us happy accidents.”
Writer/Director/Editor Sean Baker on shooting The Florida Project

Yesterday I read the New York Times list of The Best Movies of 2017 and since the writers (Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott) put The Florida Project at #4 I feel justified in continuing to blog on that movie that I’ve been doing for the past month.

“We actually scripted a rainbow. The kids were supposed to have seen the cows and then look up and see a rainbow. We were going to have a CGI rainbow where they chase a rainbow through a field, but two weeks earlier we were shooting at The Magic Castle and suddenly everyone goes there is a real rainbow over the motel and I thought if we shot that it would save the production 50 grand. ‘Get the camera down there. ’ You know it’s a 35mm camera— it took seven whole minutes to get it down there and when we did we only had moments to capture it because it was fading. Those two little girls knew what to do. They just jumped right into that little talk about the leprechaun and ran off into the parking lot. So there are happy accidents and also moments of desperate improvisation in front of and behind the camera. That’s just the way I like to work sometimes.”
Sean Baker (who co-wrote The Florida Project with Chris Bergoch)
The Director’s Cut podcast interview with Paul Schrader

MW-FX308_florid_20171030233925_ZH

Valeria Cotto and Brooklynn Prince in The Florida Project

Speaking of rainbows, here’s a scene that I think the young character Moonee in The Florida Project would enjoy. Where Judy Garland ponders if there is such a place where there isn’t any trouble.

Related posts: The Journalistic and Cinematic Roots of The Florida Project

Scott W. Smith

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DSC_1801Tampa

Over the weekend I was finally able to see a movie at the Tampa Theatre (in downtown Tampa, Florida) which is one of the most beautiful settings to watch a movie in the United States—maybe in the world. I say finally because the theater was built in 1926, and while I’m not quite that old—it had been on my to-do list for well over a decade. I arrived early because I wanted to look around and was not disappointed.

Keep in mind that it was built in the era long before the internet, television, and even before the Great Depression. So this is a grand and ornate building complete with peacock statues, gargoyles, and twinkling stars. And I had the great thrill of hearing their Wurlitzer organ not only being played live before the movie started, but the organ and the organist unexpectedly coming up out of the grand on a moving platform. Before the movie even started I had my money’s worth of entertainment.

Keep in mind that back when the theater first opened that movies were the main form of entertainment, so every week as the Tampa Theatre website points out, “more than 90 million Americans were going to the movies every week.” If you’d ever like to be transported back in time to connect to early cinematic history the Tampa Theatre is the ideal place to go. In fact if you live in the greater Tampa Bay area—or will be visiting the area in the coming months—you have the opportunity to see The Wizard of Oz (June 7), Key Largo (June 14), Back to the Future (July 5) and/or a contemporary art house film in grand style.

Here’s what the outside of the Tampa Theatre looks like.

DSC_1807

P.S. My father moved to Tampa in the 1970s and ran Smith Advertising in the area until he died in 1995. So over the weekend I was able to retrace some of the places where I have many fond memories. If you’d like my Ferris Bueller’s Day Off—version of how to do Tampa Bay in a day or two here’s my list:
Eat at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, drive along Bayshore Boulevard and explore the Hyde Park Village area full of craftsman homes and a small shopping area.

Saint Petersburg which used to be the shuffleboard capital of Florida is turning into the Austin of Florida—hipster heaven. And why not, writer Jack Kerouac (On the Road) not only lived there for a spell, but died there in 1969. You can go sailing in the morning, visit the Dali Museum in the afternoon, get a tattoo, and catch the sunset in St. Pete Beach while eating at Hurricane Seafood Restaurant on Pass-A-Grille.

And, lastly I should mention, if the Tampa Bay Lighting win tonight they will be in the Stanley Cup Final. So you could always fit that into your schedule if you can get tickets.

Scott W. Smith

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Someday I’ll wish upon a star
Wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where trouble melts like lemon drops
Over the Rainbow
Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen
Performed by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz 
Named #1 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs

P.S. Long before the classic The Wizard of Oz hit theaters in 1939, the Frank Baum story was a Broadway hit in 1903 and a silent film failure in 1925. Despite not being a box office success and losing the Oscar for Best Picture to Gone with the Wind, according to the Library of Congress, The Wizard of Oz (1939)—thanks to its many viewings in the early decades of TV— “has been seen by more viewers than any other movie.”

Related post:
‘Shelter From The Storm’ (Dylan)
The Weather Started Getting Rough…
…and Dark and Stormy Nights

Scott W. Smith

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“You do things sometimes as a writer subconsciously, things you’re not even aware of. I’m always comfortable doing things instinctively because I see it as tapping into this vein of archetype that works for a broader audience base.”
James Cameron
Writer/director of Titanic and Avatar

“I think it’s fine for young (filmmakers) to out and out rip off people who come before them because you always make it your own.”
Francis Ford Coppola
World News interview


Yesterday we looked at several films that share some of the same DNA. I mentioned several words and phrases used to explain why some movies resemble other movies. Blake Snyder in Save the Cat added one more phrase—”Hollywood’s Dirty Little Secret.”

“Look at Point Break starring Patrick Swazye, then look at Fast and Furious. Yes, it’s the same movie almost beat for beat. But one is about surfing, the other is about hot cars. Is that stealing? Is that cheating? Now look at The Matrix and compare and contrast it with the Disney/Pixar hit Monsters, Inc. Yup. Same movie. And there’s a million more examples. Who Saved Roger Rabbit? is Chinatown…In some instances, the stealing is conscious. In other, it’s just coincidence.”
Blake Synder
Save the Cat

So let’s have some screenwriters weigh in on the topic.

“I wrote the screenplay (for The Magnificent Seven), Johnny Struges, the director, asked me to make a screenplay out of Kuroisawa’s (Seven Samari), setting it in the West.”
Walter Brown Newman

“(The movie Red River) was Mutiny on the Bounty. I had always thought what a great Western.”
Red River screenwriter Borden Chase as told to William Bowers

Okay, but do screenwriters have to be at retirement age to admit to taking from other films? Well, writer/director James Cameron prefers to use the words “reference point” when talking about films that he watched before he made Avatar.  Here’s an Q&A interview that he did with the Los Angeles Times that addresses if Avatar is Dances with Wolves in space.

Geoff Boucher: There’s also maybe some heritage linking (“Avatar”) to “Dances with Wolves,” considering your story here of a battered military man who finds something pure in an endangered tribal culture.

James Cameron: Yes, exactly, it is very much like that. You see the same theme in “At Play in the Fields of the Lord” and also “The Emerald Forest,” which maybe thematically isn’t that connected but it did have that clash of civilizations or of cultures. That was another reference point for me. There was some beautiful stuff in that film. I just gathered all this stuff in and then you look at it through the lens of science fiction and it comes out looking very different but is still recognizable in a universal story way. It’s almost comfortable for the audience – “I know what kind of tale this is.”

Dances with Wolves was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and Avatar was nominated for 9. Combined they both they won ten Oscars. And while only Dances with Wolves won the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Screenplay based on Material from Another Medium (Michael Blake), Avatar became the all-time box office champ making $2.7 billion worldwide.

As a sidenote Avatar’s production designer saw shades of The Wizard of Oz in the script. (The Wizard of Oz just happens to be one of Cameron’s favorite films.)

Scott W. Smith

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“I did have a dream once that Alan Hale, the skipper of Gilligan’s Island, chased me through the streets of Hollywood.
Johnny Depp

“The creators of Lost must have watched and dissected every episode of good ole Gilligan’s isle and took the craziest parts from it to use in their new show.”
Shawny Nevill
Six Original and Creative Conicidences Between Lost and Gilligans Island

There is no question that Gilligan’s Island has had its shared of critics.  Rick DuBrow of UPI once summoned up a lot of people’s view of the show by writing, “It is impossible that a more inept, moronic or humorless show has ever appeared on the home tube.” But there is also no question that the same show has more than its share of fans—even though the TV show was cancelled over forty years ago. (Of course, it’s never really gone off the air.)

And from a writer’s perspective you have to realize that the concept of being stranded on an island is fertile ground. Long before Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) there have been stories of living on deserted island. Hayy ibn Yaqzan (Alive, Son of Awake) by a Spanish Muslim in the 12th century is said to be one of the first known deserted island stories.

I imagine the Greeks and Romans had deserted island plays and there is the shipwrecked story of the Apostle Paul in the Bible, Shakespeare  touched on the concept in The Tempest, there have been true stories of related events like the one that inspired the original Robinson Crusoe story. And there have been several film versions of Robinson Crusoe including Luis Buñuel’s Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1954) and the more recent version Cast Away starring Tom Hanks. There’s the long-lasting reality TV program Survivor, and of course, LOST—well, you get the picture. The whole idea of being stranded on an island brings up so many primal themes to explore; life & death, time, food, economy, community, sociology, psychology, theology, purpose & meaning, etc.

But let’s not forget we are talking about Gilligan’s Island here. To bring things a little more down to earth it was Dawn Wells (who played the wholesome girl from Kansas, Mary Ann) who said about the lasting affinity for Gilligan’s Island; “It’s really kind of fun how it holds up – nonsensical silly slapstick humor is what it was. Escapism is all it was, but it was one of the best there was.”

I thought it would be fun to dig a little deeper into the cast of Gilligan’s Island knowing there would be a quirky surprise or two.

Gilligan—Bob Denver was actually a political science major at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and before getting turned on to acting had thoughts of becoming a lawyer.

Mrs. Lovey HowellNatalie Schafer was 63 years-old before she shot her first scene for Gilligan’s Island. She was a Broadway actress from New Jersey and didn’t do a film until after she was 40-years-old. Because of wise real-estate investments she was a multimillionaire. Because most of the cast did not get paid residuals for all those re-runs I imagine Schafer ended up the wealthiest of the entire cast.  (Well, of the regular cast. Kurt Russell had a cameo as Jungle Boy in one episode and he’s had some $10-12 million dollar paydays on films, so unless he invested with Bernie Madoff he’s probably the wealthiest of all cast members.)

The Professor—Russell Johnson was born and raised in Pennsylvania and flew 44 combat missions for the Air Force during World War II and was awarded the Purple Heart for being shot down in the Philippines. He used the GI bill to study acting and was in the Sci-Fi classic It Came from Outer Space.

Mary Ann—Dawn Wells was from Reno, Nevada where she became Miss Nevada and competed in the Miss America pageant in 1960. She attended Stephens College in Missouri where she studied chemistry and transferred to the University of Washington where she graduated with a degree in theater. Wells once said in an interview,”One of the hardest things starting the acting was eliminating the chemistry side of me and just concentrating on the emotional, artistic side of me.” For the past 50 years she has been a working actress is film, TV, and theater.  She has a website DawnWells.com.

Ginger—Tina Louise who attended Miami University in Ohio, studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse and the Actors Studio in New York.  (She studied with Lee Strasberg who also taught James Dean, Dustin Hoffman, and Al Pacino.)  She also was a Broadway actress, a model and a night club singer before Gilligan’s Island.

Thurston Howell IIIJim Backus was born and raised in Cleveland where IMDB reported that one of his grade school teachers was Margaret Hamilton who went on to play the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz. Backus once had a top 40 song on the pop charts, was the voice of Mr. Magoo in cartoons, and in Rebel without a Cause was James Dean’s father.

The Skipper—Alan Hale’s father was an actor so he started acting in roles as a baby and had his last credit just two years before he died in 1990. He racked up over 200 Tv credits in his lifetime.

Wow, it’s like I won a bet to get Johnny Depp,  Luis Buñuel, Shakespeare, the Apostle Paul and Mary Ann all into one post. Now if I could just find a version of the Gilligan’s Island theme sung by Jimmy Buffett I would know all is right in the world.

P.S. If you’re stuck between stories—or between scenes—just remember these magical worlds;”The weather started getting rough…”

Related post: The Serious Side to “Gilligan’s Island”

Scott W. Smith

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“I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them, my first fancies regarding what they were like, were unreasonably derived from their tombstones.”
Pip in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations 

When a hero starts his life as an orphan, it is to show he has nothing to lose. He is unattached and unencumbered by family ties and social obligations, so he is usually portrayed as an orphan to indicate that he is not saddled with the normal attachments the rest of us have. This sense of not belonging is a part of all of us.”
Michael Chase Walker
Power Screenwriting

I’m sure somewhere along the way in reading Joseph Campbell or Chirstopher Vogler, and their work on mythology, I read about the role of the orphan character. But not until I read Michael Chase Walker’s brief one page summary on orphans in his book Power Screenwriting did I connect it with a screenplay I have written and have been recently re-writing. (And I should add that Walker himself credits Carol Pearson’s book The Hero Within for many of his insights.)

Then once I connected the dots the floodgates opened wide and there were orphans running all over the place in cinematic history. While the orphan can literally be an orphan he or she usually isn’t.  Walker clarifies, “The orphan/hero today is created by giving your main character a single and footloose status. He may be divorced, widowed, abandoned, handicapped or a maverick. It doesn’t matter. The point is that the heroes and heroines must be free to seek their destiny and reclaim their birthright.”

Think of how these characters are orphans:
Neo/The Maxtrix
Superman
Rocky
Dorothy/The Wizard of Oz
Will Hunting/Good Will Hunting
Jason Bourne/Bourne trilogy
Tom Hanks character/The Terminal
Jack Lemon character/ The Apartment
Citizen Kane
E.T.
Bambi
Forrest Gump
Seabiscuit
Jerry Maguire
Rain Man
Sleepless in Seattle
Babbett’s Feast
Hoosiers
The Firm
Kramer vs. Kramer
Lion King
Home Alone
Oliver Twist
Gladiator
Elf
Star Wars
Erin Brockovich
The Wrestler
Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood has made a career of playing orphans)

Orphans in movies are often lost and alone as they begin their journey. Is there any wonder why audiences connect with such characters?

1/25/12 Update:  “I never looked at (Hugo) as a 3-D family film. I never consider an audience that way when I’m working. To me, it was a compelling story about an orphan making a home for himself.”
Hugo screenwriter John Logan
Movieline interview with S.T. Vanairsdale 

Scott W. Smith

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“Well, nobody’s perfect.”
Classic last line of Some Like it Hot

“In story terms, the main character’s persona is plagued with a flaw, and as this flaw is tested throughout the story, the main character integrates a greater understanding of overcoming the flaw through the lessons of life that are expressed by the story.”
Kate Wright
Screenwriting is Storytelling
page 114


The world recently learned that the great golfer Tiger Woods is not perfect. And if you read this post in a few months or a few years just fill in the blank…The world (or your local community) recently discovered that ____  ____ is not perfect.  The news of imperfection—of character flaws—still makes the news. Always has, always will.

Character flaws in movies are not always spelled out as clear as they are in The Wizard of Oz, but it’s hard not to have a flawed character in a film because the cornerstone of  drama is conflict. Flaws can be external and/or internal so they offer ample room for conflict.

I don’t need to explain a character flaw so I’ll just give you a list of some key flaws in some well-known movies. As you’ll see both protagonists and antagonists have flaws. The major difference tends to be the protagonist/hero generally must overcome his or her flaw for growth, whereas the antagonist are usually defeated due to their great flaw. (But even in tragic endings where lessons are not learned and character is not changed in the hero, and where evil not defeated (Death of a Salesman, Chinatown, Citizen Kane, Scarface), there is a warning shot felt in the heart of the viewer.

“Greek classical drama frequently afflicted the hero with a blind spot that prevented that character from seeing the error of his or her ways.  This strategy still shows in films that range from character studies (What’s Love Got to Do with It), to epics (The Bridge on the River Kwai), to action stories (Jurassic Park).”
Paul Lucey
Story Sense
page 159

The following list is not a conclusive list of flaws, just some of the most common ones that you’ll recognize when you get together with family this holiday season.

Pride/arrogance
Zack Mayo, An Officer & a Gentleman
Maverick
, Top Gun

Drugs/alcohol
Paul Newman character, The Verdict
Sandra Bullock character,28 Days
Nicolas Cage character, Leaving Las Vegas
Don Birnam
, The Lost Weekend

Greed/Power
Darth Vader,  Star Wars
Gordon Gekko & Budd Fox, Wall St.

Lie/Cheat/Steal/Corruption 101
Jim Carrey character, Liar! Liar!
Denzel Washington character
, Training Day

Delusional/Mentally ill
John Nash, A Beautiful Mind
Norman Bates, Psycho
Captain Queeg/ The Caine Mutiny
Blanche Dubois, A Streetcar Named Desire
Colonel Kurtz, Apocalypse Now
Glenn Close character/ Fatal Attraction

Unfaithful/Promiscuous
Fatal Attraction
Body Heat
A Place in the Sun

Obsessive
Jack Nicholson character, As Good as it Gets
Meg Ryan character, When Harry Met Sally
Tom Hanks character, Castaway

Flaws, by the way, are one of the chief dilemmas that both philosophy and religion have struggled to answer for at least the last few millenniums. Where do flaws come from and what do we do with them? The central question being if  man (as in mankind) is born good as some believe then why is everyone and every civilization since, uh—the beginning of time— so messed up? And if we’re born with original sin as other believe then what are the ramifications of that? I’m pretty sure we can agree on one thing, this is one messed up world with a whole cast of real life flawed characters.

We’re all trying to figure out why we’re wired the way we’re wired. And we go to the movies to get a piece of the puzzle. And the side benefit to writing great flawed characters is the audience not only identifies with the character, but actors love to to play flawed characters. Writing great flawed characters tend to be appreciated at the box office and at award time. It’s a win-win situation.

Who are some of your favorite flawed characters?

P.S. Marc Scott Zicree The Writer’s Wrench calls character flaws, “The hurt that needs healed.” Zicree also wrote The Twilight Zone Companion and Rod Serling understood a lot about writing about character flaws.

Scott W. Smith

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