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Posts Tagged ‘The Yearling’

“It seems to me that the earth may be borrowed, but not bought. It may be used, but not owned. It gives itself in response to love and tending, offers its sesonal flowering and fruiting. But we are tenants and not possessors, lovers, and not masters.”
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Cross Creek

LakeHowell

Since my last post had a shout-out to Lake Howell High School I thought it fitting to show Lake Howell the lake. The lake actually sits just 100 yards off one of the busiest roads in Central Florida (State Road 436). In fact, if you cross eight lanes of traffic from where this picture was taken you’ll be at the parking lot of a Super Wall Mart.

But as you watch a sunrise though the Spanish moss hanging on the trees, the Wall Mart seems not only 100 miles away, but 100 years away. A remnant of old Florida that was captured so well in the The Yearling, the 1939 Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. In 1939 the book was actually the best selling novel in the United States.

The 1946 film version of The Yearling won two Oscars (Cinematography and Art Direction) and a Best Motion Picture Actor Golden Globe for Gregory Peck.

“Every man wants life to be a fine thing, and easy. And it tis fine, son, powerful fine— but t’aint easy.”
Penny Baxter (Gregory Peck) in The Yearling

But the movie I prefer more based on Rawlings’ work is Cross Creek (1983) starring  Mary SteenburgenRip TornPeter Coyote , directed by Martin Ritt, and screenplay by Dalene Young.

“In the late 1920s, it took a lot of guts for a woman to pack up her typewriter and move off to the wilds of Florida like that. This is the story of a woman finding herself.”
Director Martin Ritt on Rawlings 

P.S. The Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings home in Florida is now part of the Florida State Parks system and can be toured at various times of the year. Though Rawlings is connected to Florida through he life and writings in the state, she was born in Washington, D.C., received an English degree from the University of Wisconsin—Madison, worked as a reporter in Louisville, Kentucky and was living in New York when she received an inheritance from her mother and decided to move to rural Florida.Later she would move to Crescent Beach, Florida and died in nearby St. Augustine in 1953.

Scott W. Smith

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“There’s enough land here (Florida) to hold all the ideas and plans we can possibly imagine.”
Walt Disney

Florida has had an awkward dance with movies for the past 100 years. While it’s had its share of feature films and TV programs filmed there over the years it’s almost as if the industry there is a façade. (Just like the above New York façade I shot on the Universal Studios Florida back lot last week.)

It looks real, but upon further investigation you see that it’s not–but stick with me there is a silver lining. You may recall in the 80s & 90s when Florida was calling itself “Hollywood East” as Disney and Universal were building studios. Some believe the studios were built for tourism from the start and word was that Disney even once hired people to push movie lights around when a tram went by.

But for a while it seemed to be working. Ron Howard and Steve Martin came to Orlando to make Parenthood, Wesley Snipes made Passenger 57, Nickelodeon was busy on the Universal lot, TV programs The Mickey Mouse Club, Superboy and Sea Quest were also shooting around Orlando.

Adam Sandler went to Central Florida to make The Waterboy, Director John Singleton to make Rosewood, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp to make Edward Scissorhands, Michael J. Fox to become Doc Hollywood, and Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro to make Marvin’s Room. Then it seemed like every other state and country got into the tax incentives for filmmakers game.

And then like a crew wrapping a production on location and returning home “Hollywood East” disappeared.  Around the same time a handful of filmmakers educated in Orlando colleges made one of the biggest splashes in independent film history making The Blair Witch Project landing two of the filmmakers on the cover of Time Magazine. Then they all but disappeared as well.

Perhaps the greatest illusion of Florida is the fact that two of the greatest films ever made are set in Florida but neither were shot in the Sunshine State. Both Citizen Kane (listed as AFI’s top film) and Some Like it Hot (AFI’s top comedy film) were shot in California adding to the irony of the Florida film industry.

And most of Scarface, with a story set in Miami, was shot in California. But if you want to see what Miami’s South Beach looked like 25 years ago (gritty) then Scarface is the film to see because they captured well those great art deco exteriors. Even the classic Lauren Bacall & Humphrey Bogart film Key Largo was filmed mostly in California. See what I mean about Florida’s strange dance with the movie industry? But while movies about Florida are not always shot in Florida, Florida did doubled for the Amazon underwater scenes in the cult favorite Creature from the Black Lagoon.

The film industry first came to Florida at the turn of twentieth century and it looked like Jacksonville in North Florida would be a major player in film production. Dozens of films were made there and studios began to pop up to take advantage of the warm sunny days. But eventually the film industry chose Hollywood as it’s go to place to film around the year.

The greater Ft. Lauderdale-Miami -Palm Beach area has seemed positioned over the years to be a leader in the film industry and some fine films and TV programs have been made down there: Body HeatThe Jackie Gleanson Show, Flipper, Gentle Ben, Miami Vice, and most recently CSI Miami, Burn Notice, and Marley & Me written by South Florida reporter and author John Grogan.

And some iconic stars and well know have made films in Florida including Elvis Presley (Follow that Dream), Gary Cooper (Distant Drums), Frank Sinatra (Lady in Cement) and Paul Newman (Absence of Malice). Not to mention a cast of more recent movie stars including John Travolta, Will Smith, Tom Cruise, Jim Carrey, and Demi Moore, as well as Florida’s own legend Burt Reynolds have made movies in Florida.

On the surface when  you step back from the picture what you see emerge in Florida’s 100 year movie history is that Florida doesn’t so much have a unified film industry –it’s one giant back lot. A great place for New York & California filmmakers to come and make movies and commercials. And they have made a lot of them over the years.

But when you look beyond the smoke and mirrors of “Hollywood East” you begin to a deeper foundation.  Since I like to talk about screenwriting and regionalism you can’t get any more regional in Florida than The Yearling written by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize Novel in 1939 and it became a great  film in 1947 and also was made as a TV film in 1994.

In a similar vein is Minneapolis born writer Theodore Pratt who after a time freelancing in New York spent most of the last 35 years of his life living in Florida and writing more than thirty novels that were set in Florida. His most well-known novel The Barefoot Mailman was made into a movie in 1951.

Zora Neale Hurtson was part of the Harlem Renaissance movement  in the 20s & 30s and used her hometown of Eatonville, Florida as the backdrop for her most well-known novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Oprah Windfrey produced the TV version of that book in 2005 starring Halle Berry.

As a quirky side note my high school and college creative writing/English teacher  (and Zora Neale Hurston scholar) Annye Refore got me interested in Hurston’s work back in the early 80s and when I was in film school in California I talked to an actress named Cyndi James-Reece who I was taking an acting class with saying she’d be great in the role that Berry eventually played. (Reece went on to win Star Search one year and married Lou Gossett Jr.)

And of course there are a whole list of writers who have called Florida home over the years some whose work has become movies; Ernest Hemingway, James Michener, E.B. White, Harry Crews, John D. McDonald, Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry to name a few.

But what about…screenwriters from Florida? Yes. Let’s see what we can find. Let’s start with writer/director Victor Nunez who though a UCLA film school graduate is known for his un-Hollywood films. In fact, he could be the poster child for regional filmmakers. The first film I saw of his was A Flash of Green that not only introduced me to his talent but also that of a young actor named Ed Harris. His next film Ruby in Paradise was Ashely Judd’s first film as a lead actress.

Nunez’s Ulee’s Gold starred Peter Fonda (who received an Oscar nomination) and was just the second film for a young actress named Jessica Biel. Nunez continues to make films but his day job is currently teaching film at Florida State University.

Which leads us to Tallahassee where FSU is and where screenwriter Robin Swicord graduated from. She recently got a screen story credit on The Curious Case of Behjamin Button, the David Fincher and Brad Pitt film that just opened yesterday. She also wrote the scripts for The Jane Austen Book Club, Memiors of a Geisha, and Little Women.

We are Marshall screenwriter Jamie Linden is also an FSU grad and Fort Lauderdale native Steve Conrad briefly attended FSU before going to Northwestern and eventually writing the script The Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith.

And while famed FSU football coach Bobby Bowden may not be a screenwriter I heard or read many memorable one liners come from him while growing up in Orlando. My favorite was when he talked about one player, “He doesn’t know the meaning of the word fear, in fact, looking at his grades he doesn’t know the meaning of a lot of words.

Screenwriter Melissa Carter who wrote Little Black Book starring Brittany Murphey and Kathy Bates is an FSU alum.

And while not a screenwriter (and who actually was an advertising-marketing major at FSU)  I must give Cherylanne Martin a special mention because she has worked on a magic carpet ride list of feature films (about 30 total). Beginning as a production assistant in 1983 on Jaws 3-D (shot in Orlando), she worked her way up to second assistant director on Rain Man, first assistant director on Forrest Gump, unit production manager on Castaway, and more recently was one of the producers of Nancy Drew. Quite a career, right?  (Years ago I crossed paths with Cherylanne when in a happy accident I met her father and he kindly past a script of mine on to her.)

And lastly (but the most  highly rewarded FSU grad) is Alan Ball, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of American Beauty. (From the theater school where Burt Reynolds graduated from back in the day.)

I know there are many colleges in Florida doing media and theater training but none that have the fruit of the FSU program. (This coming from a Miami Hurricane mind you. Though it is worth mentioning that Sylvester Stallone did attend a few semesters at the University of Miami and later went back using his script for Rocky to finally earn his degree. It’s good to see that writing a film that wins an Academy Award for best picture is worth a few college credits.)

Native Floridian writer Connie May Fowler wrote the book and script Before Women Had Wings (BTW–I love that title) that became an Emmy winning movie starring Oprah Winfrey and Ellen Barkin.

Florida will always be place to shoot films and TV programs like the classic Sea Hunt starring Loyd Bridges, because of the local and weather. But I also believe there is a remnant left over from “Hollywood East” made up of actors and production people who will keep turning out independent features from time to time.

While I was in Orlando last week I stopped by and visited some old haunts; Building 22-A at Universal, Panavison Florida and some friends who now work at Full Sail (which does have the most amazing sound stages I’ve ever seen for students). The good news is Universal has had a solid run of booking their sound stages for the past 18 months with a variety of productions and we’ll have to see what this new economy brings.

The talent, studios, desire, film commission offices, and other infrastructures are in place for things to take off in Florida. But for whatever reason it seems like Florida as a whole as been in rehearsals for 100 years. I believe Florida is ready for its close-up beyond just attractive people running around on the beach. And that’s where screenwriters from Florida come into the picture.

Producer's Building-22A Producer’s Building-22A
Panavision Florida

Panavision Florida

Full Sail Stage

Full Sail Stage

Florida is fertile ground for writers. It has an eclectic multi-cultural mix of characters and a large transient culture. (Heck, Jimmy Buffett’s had a long career writing songs about such people. And if you haven’t seen Errol Morris’ early documentary Vernon, Florida I’d recommend checking that out.)   There are stories to be told from there and there  just needs to be some screenwriters who can tap into the real Florida rather than Hollywood’s version of Florida.

Sidenotes: Orlando-based editor Oliver Peters who has edited features and documentaries (and a heck of a lot of corporate and commercials) has a helpful and informative blog called Digitalfilms for those of you interested in filmmaking. And to find out  about production news in Florida (including tax incentives) contact Film in Florida. Florida also has over 50 film festivals including the Florida Film Festival hosted by the wonderful Enzian Theater in Maitland, Florida.

Text & Photos Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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“Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.”
 
                                                          Henry David Thoreau

“I lost passion. I felt a little unfulfilled and empty.”
                                                           Jim Brandenburg

                                                           Photographer & cameraman
                                                           (Reflecting on his 90-day journey)                       

We normally associate renewal with springtime but I think fall is a wonderful time to undergo creative renewal and would like to talk to you about a great story of an artist who used the 90 days of fall to undergo a creative transformation.

Today marks the first day of fall. Before I moved to Iowa a few years ago fall had little impact on my life. That third week of September was usually just another summer day in Florida and California. But here in the Midwest the change is amazing to watch. Just this week I was riding my bike and couldn’t help but notice the fallen leaves on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail.  Soon there will be an explosion of color in the trees and coolness in the air.

Several hundred miles north in Ely, Minnesota near the Canadian border I’m sure fall is well on the way. That is where photographer Jim Brandenburg calls home. Several years ago when Brandenburg was on contract with National Geographic he found himself in a place that many dream of. Traveling the world in search of great images that people would admire and appreciate.

Yet the schedule was grueling as he traveled away from his family 50 to 70% of the year. After 20 years he decided that he need a time of creative renewal. I have read that National Geographic photo assignments average 550 rolls of film and that a 1,000 is not unheard of.  (A thousand rolls of 36-exposure film is 36,000 shots.)

It’s been said that every assignment for National Geographic is like getting up to bat expecting to hit a grand slam home run. 

Brandenburg said of the schedule “the day is never done. You start early and don’t stop until you are exhausted or you are absolutely sure you got that photograph. And I had been through that cycle for 20 years and I was getting weary.”

So he began to look for way to find creative renewal knowing that he’d either find a breakthrough or do something different with his life. 

So Brandenburg’s idea for creative renewal was to take the fall of 1994 and only shoot one shot a day. If he stayed the course he would shoot less than three rolls of film. He explains it as sort of a Zen experiment in ascetic discipline. To search everyday for the one photograph that needed to be taken.

Brandenburg said, “I was looking for something elusive, an idea or a process, or a spiritual direction of some kind.”

“If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things. This is the best season of your life.”
                                                                    Wu-Men                  

It’s reminiscent of the stories of photographer Ansel Adams who in the 1930s would take his 8X10 camera deep into Yosemite. Because he was limited on how much film he could take he would often camp out and just watch the sun one day as preparation for shooting the next day. There is a reason we still admire Adams work today.

And there is a reason I’m bringing up Brandenburg. His special project that was meant for just himself eventually became a National Geographic spread that showed every single shot making it the largest single photo essay in National Geographic history. 

(Side note: You can view all of Brandenburg photo from his journey on his website www.jimbrandenburg.com. Because of copyright issues I did not use a photo of his at the top of this post. But that photo was inspired by Brandenburg as I took my camera on an early morning bike ride yesterday after reviewing Brandenburg’s photos for this blog. Creative renewal is contagious.)

Brandenburg’s photo eventually became his best selling book and a DVD followed in which Brandenburg recounts the creative process and the struggles he had along the way. Chased by the Light; A Photographic Journey with Jim Brandenburg is a wonderful documentary full of insights into the creative process. Rarely do you find such an elegant exposition of the creative process and I think there is something here that all writers and artists can gleam from.

 

On the DVD Brandenburg talks about some of the experiences of his self-assigned experiment that was never intended to be seen by others. Some times he would set out before dark and walk many miles. At day 23 he thought about abandoning the project because he thought he had failed. But he remembered the old saying, “There are no rewards without risks.”

Day after day he waited for the right moment to that that one picture of an eagle, wolves, deer, ravens, loons, trees or whatever else captured his imagination. 

His last photograph was December 31, 1994 at 1:40 AM. The photos then sat in a drawer for two years until National Geographic Senior Editor John Echave saw them and then published them in November 1997 as a 90 photo feature. 

Brandenburg continues to shoot. He has also taken steps to protect the land “that nurtured and renewed” his creative spirit  Brandenburg and his wife Judy have set aside with The Trust for Public Land 640 arces of Ravenwood forest to be preserved in perpetuity. 

The Brandenburg’s are also involved with preserving the tallgrass prairies of Jim’s youth at Touch the Sky Prairie Preserve in Rock Country, Minnesota.

If you’re ever in the Lavern or Ely, Minnesota be sure to check out the Brandenburg Gallery or see more of his work online at www.jimbrandenburg.com.

There are other ways to seek creative renewal. Tom Peters says that some times you need to move another country or climate to rejuvenate yourself. No one said creative renewal would be easy or practical. (Heck, how do you think I ended up living in Iowa?) Let me tell you another story of renewal.  

When I was in film school back in Los Angeles in the 80s I sometimes assisted fashion photographer Art Pasquali.  Art not only had the coolest last name but lived in his studio in downtown LA with two doberman pinschers and flew gliders in his downtime from shooting beautiful people. 

After shooting for 20 years Pasquali bought a sailboat and sailed away from LA-LA land, down to Mexico, through the Panama Canal and eventually found his way to the Cayman Islands where he stopped for a Corona and has called it home ever since.  

Brandenburg and Pasquali’s stories are exceptional which is why I bring them up. Deep down change and renewal is going to take more than turning off the TV for a week. If you’re a writer it may be taking up photography or writing in a genre or style that you’ve never tried. If you’ve never written a screenplay maybe that’s what you do in the next 90 days. (All you have to do is average a page a day.) 

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings didn’t hit her stride as a writer (or publish a novel) until she moved to rural Florida which would provide her inspiration for her novel The Yearling for which she won a Pulitzer Prize and was made into a movie staring Gregory Peck. Martin Ritt directed the excellent Cross Creek that tells the unusual life story of Rawlings.

Perhaps you just need to take a small step in your creative renewal. Here is Julia Cameron’s suggestion in her book The Artist’s Way:

“Spending time in solitude with your artist child is essential to self-nurturing. A long country walk, a solitary expedition to the beach for a sunset or a sunrise, a sortie out to a strange church to hear gospel music, to an ethnic neighborhood to taste foreign sights and sounds–your artist might enjoy any of these. Or your artist might like to go bowling.”

I hope these stories and ideas provide some inspiration for you as fall starts. When is the best time to start your creative renewal? I’ll defer to Karen Lamb; “A year from now you may wish you had started today.”

 

Photo & Text Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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