Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘University of Northern Iowa’

Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
My Way/Performed by Frank Sinatra

Earlier this week I did one day of camerawork for a Canadian TV documentary titled Regret being produced by Newfoundland’s Christopher Richardson. We shot Kevin Hansen speaking to a class at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Kevin lives in Cedar Falls and started the blog Secret Regrets in 2008 and has since had 25,000 anonymous regrets emailed to him. The blog is now also featured on The Huffington Post.

His blog eventually became the book Secret Regrets and then got the attention of Dr. Phil who ended up doing a show on regrets using Secret Regrets as a platform. Toward the end of the class where Kevin was a guest speaker, he had students text him their personal regrets. It was interesting how open the students were, and how deep their regrets were. Regret is fertile ground to explore dramatically. Can you think of any great movies, characters, or scenes that deal with regret?

How can I tie this post into screenwriting? Perhaps a quote from a 15-time Oscar-nominated screenwriter.

“My one regret in life is that I’m not someone else.”
Woody Allen

So even if you win three Academy Awards for your screenwriting (like Allen has for Midnight in Paris, Hannah and Her Sister, and  Annie Hall) it may not solve all your existential problems—or personal ones.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“My grandma really said I should, so I did.”
Cassey Herkelman on her decision to become a wrestler

“Defiance gleamed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip…”
Casey at the Bat
Ernest Thayer, poem first published in 1888

By default yesterday Cedar Falls, Iowa was back in the national news with an intriguing story. It’s not your typical boy meets girl story, but instead a girl beats boy story. (At least in the history books it goes down as a “W.”)

Remember Cedar Falls is the town where Robert Waller wrote The Bridges of Madison Country and where Nancy Price wrote Sleeping with the Enemy. It’s where quarterback Kurt Warner played college ball and bagged groceries before becoming a Super Bowl MVP, and it’s where Ali Frarokhmanesh made a name for himself last year playing for the University of Northern Iowa and making a clutch 3-point shot that defeated the #1 ranked team in the country and landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

And of course, Cedar Falls is the international headquarters for Screenwriting from Iowa. There is something about this place that makes this town of 36,145 people special.

This week the spotlight has been shinning just on one resident, Cassey Herkelman—a 112 pound freshman at Cedar Falls High School who became the first female wrestler to win at the State tournament level. The story went national because of a mini-controversy when a male wrestler decided to withdrawal from competition citing “a matter of conviction and religious beliefs” against physically wrestling a girl in the potentially violent sport. (The same decision, by the way, he made a few years ago when he faced Herkelman in a youth tournament. His pre-tournament record this year was 34-4.)

The student wrestler’s father, Jamie Northrup, is a pastor and had this statement,”We believe in the elevation and respect of woman and we don’t think that wrestling a woman is the right thing to do. Body slamming and takedowns, that full contact sport is not how to do that.” Fair enough. (I think most people ideally wish there were separate divisions for guys and girls, but there are not enough female wrestlers in Iowa as there is in other states.)

Herkelman just wants to wrestle. It’s something she’s been doing competitively since she was in second grade. Sometimes competing in 40 tournaments a year. (Her father Bill qualified for state his senior year of high school.) Herkelman has made enough of a name for herself that last year she was listed in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd:

Cassandra Herkelman

CEDAR FALLS, IOWA > Wrestling

Cassandra, an eighth-grader at Peet Junior High, won the 105-pound class in the middle school division at the U.S. Girls’ Wrestling Association national championships on April 4. The week before, she won at 103 pounds in the 6th- to 8th-grade division at the Girls Folkstyle Nationals. She was Iowa’s 105-pound middle school champion in 2010 and 111-pound titlist in ’09.

So with the forfeit yesterday of her male opponent  Herkelman became the first female wrestler to win an Iowa state tournament match.

Herkelman plans to go to national competitions where she will wrestle against other girls and dreams of being on Team USA and wrestling in the Olympics in 2012 (London) or Rio de Janeiro (2016).

But the road that leads to England or Brazil starts back here in Cedar Falls where she will continue to train—mostly away from the spotlight. But you can follow the journey on her website cassandraherkelman.com.

The take away once again is little successes often lead to larger successes. And your job as a storyteller is to bring to light those unusual stories in unusual places. Tell them as 2-minute You Tube videos or as a feature film.

By the way, there aren’t many movies about wrestling but if you want taste of what it entails, check out the 1985 film Vision Quest starring Matthew Modine.


 

Scott W. Smith


Read Full Post »

“(Vilmos Zsigmond) made his way to Hollywood, where he found work as a technician in a film lab and also as a home portrait photographer.”
Ray Morton writing about the days long before Zsigmond won an Oscar for Best Cinematography
Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The making of Steven Spielberg’s Classic Film

Here’s a case study of how to get a start working in production. (And what I wish somebody would have told me back when I was in film school.)

My first interaction with Josh McCabe was about 2 years ago—at about 3 in the morning. River Run Productions was looking for some production assistance and we asked the local college to recommend to us their best student. They recommended Josh. So I sent him an email early one morning and figured we’d touch base later that day.  He emailed me back right away.

I asked him what he was doing up so late. I think he said he was working on some editing tutorials at Lynda.com. That was a good sign to me.

We met and he left his job at a credit union and began working on a regular freelance basis with us.  There is an old concept that employers use that says hire for attitude, and then train the person. Josh came with not only a great attitude, and a willingness to learn, but he was well versed in editing on Final Cut Pro.  He was still in school as an electronic arts major at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) where he worked on various student productions and also did some weddings videos on his own.

Josh jumped in right away wherever we needed him. As you’ll see from some of the pictures here, sometimes he edited projects, sometimes he logged footage, sometimes he helped carry a heavy Jimmy Jib up three flights of stairs, sometimes he was a PA, sometimes a grip, sometimes a cameraman, sometimes he was a technical advisor, photographer, sound designer, sometimes he pushed a dolly, and sometimes he worked 16 hour days—he did whatever we threw at him.

Josh got to work on everything from industrial & corporate projects, commercials, web videos, promotional videos, music videos, and even co-directed a couple short films with me for the 48 Hour film project. (His resume now includes working experience on not only FCP, but Motion/After Effects, Photoshop, DVD Studio Pro, Compressor, Aperture/Lightroom, Soundtrack Pro on top of green screen work, P2 workflow, etc.)

In 2009 Josh spent the summer in LA interning at Entertainment Tonight, a gig he got through ET host Mark Steines, an Iowa native who graduated from UNI.

Josh came back to Cedar Falls to finish his BA and work at River Run and graduated last May.  When an Emmy-winning editor (Dexter opening credits) and UNI grad came to speak at the school Josh not only went to hear him speak but was part of a small group of students who got together with him for drinks afterwards.

When that editor (who works for a broadcast post house in LA) had a friend at an other post house in LA call looking for an up and comer as an assistant editor —Josh’s name came up. In a sea of capable LA talent this kid in Cedar Falls, Iowa got the gig.

To make a long story a little shorter, Josh worked his last day for us Wednesday, headed west on I-80 Friday, made a quick stop in Park City, Utah Saturday night to soak in the tail end of the Sundance Film Festival and arrived in LA Sunday night, and begins his new gig today in Santa Monica.

I’m thrilled for him. So the lesson to learn here is simply have a great attitude, learn everything you can about the tools of the trade (lynda.com is a must)—party less, and do tutorials more, network like crazy, and do the little jobs (PA, logging footage, whatever) in the little places (Cedar Falls, Iowa) and that will pave the way for bigger opportunities.

Here’s the last big project we did together that just went online this week. It was produced for an economic development group and allowed me the opportunity to do a lot of things I talk about on the blog (produce, direct, write, shoot & edit) with the bulk of the work being done by two people as Josh also shot some of the beauty footage and was also co-editor on the 3 1/2 minute video.

Josh, thanks for all your work here at River Run, and I wish you the best in LA. And for all of you starting out in your career, the lesson to learn from Josh is to be not only both technical and creative, but (I know I’m repeated myself, but sometimes you have to shout) work hard /party less, network, network, network, be addicted to learning from Lynda.com, and have a great attitude. (Tattoos are optional.)

P.S. Another young creative that I’ve been able to watch grow over the years (and also use on a freelance basis) is creative director/filmmaker Edd Blott of Chicago. He currently has a short film called A Tales of Delight that is part of the Open Film contest in hopes of being turned into a feature. Today is the last day you can vote for his film—check it out at OpenFilm.com.

Related posts:
Why You Should Move to L.A.

Why You Shouldn’t Move to L.A.

What’s it Like to Be a Struggling Writer in L.A.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“I never wanted to write a screenplay. To me, writing is this wonderful, indulgent activity where you just fill the page with words.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody
Iconcinema.com

Three years ago today I created my first blog post ever (Life Beyond Hollywood). I started out with a little Diablo Cody inspiration and a modest goal to consolidated my writing notes gathered over the years from film school, books, magazines, seminars & workshops in hopes of it becoming a 50,000 word book—and perhaps helping a fellow writer or two.

Three years later I’ve written 832 posts and over 300,000 words. (With roughly 833 estimated typos, which I blame on posting daily without a copy editor. Like Jimmy Buffett I’m not aiming for perfection—just trying to “capture the magic.”) I’m now in the process of distilling those 832 posts into three books which will be much more refined.

Actually the idea of a book predates the blog. Since I had read quite a few film and video books by Michael Weise Books, and  had just read Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat at the end of ’07 (which they published, and I thought was great)  I sent them a book proposal toward the end of 2007 and got this email back from Ken Lee:

Please email me your table of contents and a sample chapter

Thanks

Ken

Ken and I traded emails a few times and I ended up sending him three or four chapters and we spoke on the phone a couple of times and he asked me to think about what I’d like to write and blog about over the next five years. At the end of the day, while there was no deal with Michael Weise Books, this blog in part was an indirect result of my communication with Ken. (If you’re looking for a theme to write about “Success out of Failure” is a great concept because everyone can identify with losing their locker like Rocky did in that first film.)

At the same time I had written those first four chapters I started to read about Diablo Cody’s story about writing the Juno screenplay in Minneapolis, her blogging, and having gone to college at the University of Iowa. Lightning struck. A couple of people showed me the ropes on how to start a blog and four days after seeing the movie Juno I launched my first post exactly three years ago today.

I even traded a few emails in January of 2008 with Blake as his blog was one of the first screenwriting blogs I ever read. In fact, I just found this email from him that ended with: “Best to you in ‘the great 2008’ and yes, I am happy to help in any way I can.” Miss ya Blake, but long live your books & influence.

Later that year, in October of 2008, the Screenwriting from Iowa blog won a Regional Emmy (Minneapolis) in the category of advanced media. A few months later Diablo Cody walked away with an Oscar for writing Juno. Fun.

“I’ve never read a screenwriting book. I’m really superstitious about it too. I don’t even want to look at them. All I did was I went and bought the shooting script of  ‘Ghost World’ at Barnes and Noble and read it just to see how it should look on the page because I like that movie.”
Diablo Cody

The day after my first post I received this email  from Scott Cawelti, an English professor and writer at the University of Northern Iowa: “Ready for a collaboration?” It took a little time, but we recently finished a spec screenplay, have done a couple re-writes, and are just now shopping it. (As a quirky sidenote, Scott was once in a band with Robert Waller who wrote The Bridges of Madison County.)

There was early support from Mystery Man on Film. For the record I think Mystery Man’s post The Raider’s Story Conference is the single best thing you’ll find on the Internet on the process of storytelling. (Make sure to follow the link to the 125 page transcript of Lucas, Spielberg and Kasden as they discuss what became Raiders of the Lost Ark.) I was also encouraged by emails from readers and fellow blogger Scott Myers at Go Into the Story.

Last year the shout out by Diablo Cody on Twitter as well as the TomCruise.com plug were bonuses and will keep me going another year. And I hope some things I write encourage you in your own quest as a writer. In the coming days I’ll have some posts based on interviews I did with UCLA screenwriting professor Richard Walter and screenwriter Dale Launer (My Cousin Vinney, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels). This blog has brought me into contact with producers and writers in LA that would be hard for me to connect with otherwise. So if you have a blog in mind, go for it.

But for now let me say thanks for stopping by, best wishes on your own writing and if you need a little inspiration today I hope this helps:

“I can actually give you a really specific bit of advice that I give to everyone. I would not be where I am, I would not be any sort of professional writer if I had not self-published. We live in a day and age where there’s so many opportunities for writers and filmmakers with YouTube to self-publish, to make their own work available without having to go through the rejection letters and the middleman and, you know, it used to be that you were, that if you wanted to share your work with other people, I mean, you had to go through so many channels and jump through so many hoops. And now, you can just put it out there. You know, the internet is a miraculous thing, so just share as much as you can self-publish blog, you know, podcast, whatever you need to do, just make sure that you are not withholding your (unintelligible) from the world because we have so many opportunities now.”

Diablo Cody
NPR transcript Feb  2009

I never would have dreamed that I’d write 823 posts in three years, but that’s what happened. The Writers Store has an article online that talks about Jerry Seinfeld’s method for success where he marks on a calender with a red “X” over everyday he writes new material. Each “X” forms a chain and his goal is to not break that chain. You want to talk a day or two off every week from writing, that’s fine (and healthy) but do your best to have at least 20 “X’s” on your calender each month.

Writers write.

Related Posts: Juno Has Another Baby (Emmy)

Screenwriting’s Biggest Flirt

The Juno—Iowa Connection

Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Last Friday I went to hear Entertainment Tonight co-anchor Mark Steines speak at his alma mater, the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), here in Cedar Falls, Iowa. His basic message to a couple hundred mostly Electronic Media students was simple;

“Where do you want to go? What do you want to do? It’s as simple as that.”

I might add that it doesn’t hurt to look like Tom Cruise, as Stienes did when he was starting out, and still does today. That played a big part in some opportunities that came his way in the 80s and lead to what has turned into a 15 year stint at Entertainment Tonight.

Yesterday, I drove through Steines’ hometown of Dubuque, Iowa which sits on the Mississippi River. He was an all-state full-back in high school and got a football scholarship to the UNI where he became a tight end. After knee & back injuries, he turned his attention to electronic media and got an internship at the local TV station KWWL in Waterloo, Iowa. His goal was to be a cameraman, but the co-anchors at the time, Ron Steele and Liz Mathis encouraged him to give it a try in front of the camera. They also mentored him along the way. And the rest is history.

To make a long story short he was hired by KWWL and while covering the Republican National Convention in New Orleans in the 80s he was confused as being Tom Cruise and Entertainment Tonight did a story on Steines and that got him some good exposure and lead to three job offers, He took one in Springfield, MO where he was the sports anchor for three years. That eventually lead him to a sports reporter job in Los Angeles at KCAL where he won his first of three Emmys. Being in LA he also studied acting, worked on voice training at the Kalmenson & Kalmenson Voice Over School for Actors, and also studied improv at The Groundlings.

In 1995, seven years after the ET spotlight on him looking like Tom Cruise, he was hired by Entertainment Tonight as an entertainment correspondent and eventually became co-anchor with Mary Hart.

He comes back to Iowa from time to time to speak at UNI as a way of paying back what has turned into a long, fulfilling and prosperous career in an industry where that combination is not easy to find. It helped give clout to his words that he was on his way to London to be on the set of Pirates of the Caribbean 4. Cedar Falls one day, hanging out with Johnny Depp the next day.

Steines talked about the importance of standing out, and how that’s hard to do in Iowa. That the industry is in LA and that’s where many opportunities are—as well as the competition.  He spoke about the need to have passion, commitment as well as rock solid skills. He also said that didn’t guarantee success in Los Angeles.

Steines spoke about the changes in the business and if he were coming up today one thing he might try is being a one-man band where you knew how to shoot and edit as well as software like After Effects. Maybe produce a little segment that was of interest to yourself and send to producers and tell them you did everything and  that would get attention.

As I’ve said many times on this blog, these are good times to be a jack-of-all-trades. That was not the message preached to me when I was in college. But the majority of 20-somethings I work with today are fearless when it comes to multitasking and performing many production skills.

And lastly, Steines talked about the difficulties of juggling career and family, because when something happens to Britney or a celebrity dies then he has to rush to the set for an update. Steines comes across about as grounded and laid back as you’ll probably find in Los Angeles. He talked about the need to give back and said as much as he loves L.A. he sometimes misses his life back in Iowa. (But don’t look for him to be moving back here any time soon.)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“What interested me about the story (of the Dalai Lama) was how a young man who lived in a society based on the spirit, found himself in conflict with a strongly anti-religious society, the Maoist government of the Chinese communists. How does a man of non-violence deal with these people?”
Martin Scorsese

“A dog is not considered a good dog because he is a good barker. A man is not considered a good man because he is a good talker.”
Siddhartha

As unlikely as it sounds, the Dalai Lama will be speaking today in Cedar Falls, Iowa.  Since I moved here in 2003 I’ve come to almost expect these kind of things. After all, just in the last few years Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman have performed here, and Rudy Giuliani and Barack Obama stumped here.

So I wouldn’t say this is a typical small town of 35,000 people. The Dalai Lama will speak a of couple times on education at the University of Northern Iowa.

There are many kinds of Buddhist (sort of like denominations among Protestants), but the one I am most familiar with is the Hollywood Buddhist. Richard Gere being the leader of the pack and who recently did the narration for The Buddha which recently aired on PBS. Harrison Ford did the narration for the documentary Dalai Lama Renaissance. Martin Scorsese directed Kundun, based on the life and writings of the Dalai Lama. And Brad Pitt starred in Seven Years in Tibet. (Not that they all claim to be Buddhist, but there is a connection, and much of what the average person in America knows about Buddhism flows from those sources.)

Others linked with Buddhism in Hollywood are Sharon Stone,  Orlando Bloom, and Oliver Stone. (Scorsese and others are interviewed in the John Halpern documentary Refuge, which is a look at why Buddhism is so popular in the West.)

Melissia Mathison, who wrote the screenplay for The Black Stallion as well as E.T., wrote the script for Kundan. The Scorsese directed film is based on the life of the Dalai Lama and the political struggles between Tibet and China. In an interview Mathison did with Erin Free she had this to say about writing the script for Kundun:

“I buried myself in research, and I loved it. I had to learn about the people, the religion, the history and it was all quite fantastic and tantalising. I read everything I could find on Tibet and this went on for a couple of years. So that was the basis. I also did interviews with lots of people, including His Holiness, the Dalai Lama… It was wonderful. I would send him questions and his secretary would fax me back the answers. I took a couple of different drafts at different times to India and read through them with him. You could imagine what a pleasure it was.”

The script for Seven Years in Tibet was written by Becky Johnston. (Johnston was nominated for an Oscar for her script Prince of Tides.) She also did a great deal of research on the religion and met for a short time with the Dalai Lama. Both Seven Years in Tibet and Kundun came out in 1997. (For whatever reason both of those films were the last film credits for both Johnston and Mathison.)

That’s as close as I could find of American screenwriters with any ties to any kind of Buddhism. William Froug did write two volumes of Zen and the Art of Screenwriting, though the title really is just a play on Robert Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. But Froug does include a quote in the second volume by screenwriter Ron Bass that I think is a pretty wise quote about life and the stories we tell; “It’s all one story really, the story of who we are and how we relate and how we get it wrong.”

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“The story of Kurt Warner, who announced his retirement after a 12-year NFL career on Jan. 29, always starts with the chapter in that grocery store in Iowa.”
Sean Gregory
Time Magazine

This week’s Sports Illustrated (January 25, 2010) contains an article titled, Iowa’s Got a Secret. SI writer Albert Chen says of the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) basketball team that it, “remains the best kept secret in college basketball.” (The men’s NCAA basketball team is 17-2 and currently ranked #25 in ESPN/USA Today poll right after the much larger & established programs such as Ohio St., Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech.)

UNI happens to also be where quarterback Kurt Warner played college football before going on to have a career worthy of landing him in the NFL Hall of Fame when eligible. Warner retired yesterday from the NFL after a 12 year career which included playing in three Super Bowls (winning the MVP in one of them) as well as being the most accurate quarterback in NFL history.

I’ve written about Warner before and I really think his story symbolizes everything that I’ve been writting about for the past two years. That you can come from a small place and really accomplish some good things—sometimes even great things at the highest level. But, as with Warner’s case, persistance is equally as important as talent.

After Warner’s high school career in Cedar Rapids, Iowa he was disappointed to not win a scholarship to a Division 1 school. Then he changed his perspective by accepting a scholarship  to Division I-AA UNI back in the 90s.. He would play only an hour away from home so friends and family could see him play, and being a smaller school he figured he could maybe start playing as a freshman. He figured wrong and ended up not winning the starting QB position until his senior year. He got hurt in his second game that year but stuck it out and ended up earning the Gateway Conference player of the year.

He figured he played well enough to be drafted into the NFL. He figured wrong once again, but was given a chance as a free agent to make the Green Bay Packers. But they had a young quarterback named Bert Favre so thing didn’t work out too well in Green Bay. The story is well-known in sports circles and will make a fine movie some day. He worked at Hy-Vee Grocery Store for a little over five dollars and hour, worked as an assistant football coach at UNI, became a QB in Des Moines in the arena football league, moved up to playing pro ball in Europe, before becoming the ringleader in “The Greatest Show on Turf” as quarterback for the St. Louis Rams earning the NFL MVP award twice (1999, 2001). He not only holds the record for top passing yards in a Super Bowl game—he hold the #2 and #3 spots as well.

Not bad for a kid from Cedar Rapids who didn’t even earn a Division 1 scholarship and sat the bench for his first three years of college here in Cedar Falls. Time and time when asked what’s kept him going through the dark times, his answer always involves faith. Faith in his talent, and faith in God.

You don’t have to be a football fan (or even a sports fan)  to appreciate the Kurt Warner story. And it’s a nice bonus that his work on the field is matched by his charity work off the field. Kurt Warner is simply one of the good guys.

“Since those days chucking candy in the grocery store in Cedar Falls, Kurt Warner has been an inspiration.”
Sean Gregory
Time magazine

Kurt Warner is retiring, but don’t expect him to disappear. You’ll see more of him, just not in a football uniform. He’ll probably be leading the way in something like building homes in Haiti for Habitat for Humanity, just like he did last year after the floods destroyed over 5,000 homes in his hometown of Cedar Rapids.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: