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Posts Tagged ‘Up in the Air’

“No one wants to be laid off; it feels embarrassing.”
Author Gillian Flynn

When Up in the Air hit theaters in 2009 it was timely because many people in America were experiencing being laid off from their jobs. The fictious character played by George Clooney tried to encourage people he was firing in Up in the Air by telling them:

“Anybody who ever built an empire, or changed the world, sat where you are now. And it’s because they sat there that they were able to do it. That’s the truth.”
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) in Up in the Air

You know who was fired in real life in 2009? Gillian Flynn. She worked ten years with Entertainment Weekly. I bet if she saw Up in the Air the week after she was let go the first thing she thought was, “I wish George Clooney would have been the one to let me go.” The second thing she thought was probably in line with, “What a load of BS.”

But if she saw Up in the Air tonight, she’s say Clooney was absolutely correct. It was because she was let go that it allowed her to write the novel Gone Girl that became a best selling book in 2012 (over 6 million copies sold), was option to be made into a film for $1.5 million, and she was also paid to write the screenplay. The last two weeks Gone Girl has has sat at #1 at the box office and made $140 million worldwide in 10 days.

She may not have built an empire yet, or changed the world, but in just five short years she’s had about as much of a positive shift one can have after being laid off.

“I was a Missouri kid in New York working at my dream magazine and got laid off and had to figure out what to do with my life next. I did have more time to write; [Gone Girl] was the first of the three books that I wrote while I didn’t have a day job.”
Gillian Flynn
The Hollywood Reporter

Now Flynn already had a novel published before she was laid off and one shortly after, and was thankful at the time she was laid off that her lawyer husband still had a job, so there are a few variables unique to her sudden rise to fame and success. But don’t let that overshadow the fact that she wrote two novels while working a day job.

As screenwriter Bob DeRosa wrote,“There are no shortcuts. There is only hard work. Perseverance. Luck. Craft. Failure. Success. Mistakes. And yes, dreams that come true.”

Related posts:
How Gillian Flynn Killed It
Bob DeRosa’s ‘Shortcuts’ 

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

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Last week I was asked by Debra Eckerling to do my first ever guest blogging on her excellent Write On Online website. I appreciated the opportunity and wrote the following post after making the observation that there was a heavy dose of films made beyond what is known as the thirty mile zone in L.A. (As a side note, though Eckerling lives in L.A. these days she is part of the Midwest tribe invading Southern California, having been raised in the Chicago area and college educated in Wisconsin and Nebraska.)

The Oscars & Screenwriting East of L.A.

On my blog Screenwriting from Iowa I enjoy writing about screenwriters who come from outside L.A., not because I have anything against L.A., but because I think there are wonderful stories to tell from all over the world. The famous painter Grant Wood (American Gothic) was fond of talking about regionalism in painting. I’d like to think there is a regionalism brewing from a screenwriting and filmmaking perspective.

One thing that jumps out at me about this year’s Oscar nominations in both the original and adapted screenplay categories is every single one of the stories is set outside Los Angeles.

I haven’t seen all of the films, but after a little research I’m not even sure that of the 10 films nominated in the screenplay categories that there is a single scene even set in the state of California. Those are pretty staggering statistics considering that L.A. is the center of the film industry.

Original Screenplay Nominees:

District 9
Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell; set in Johannesburg, South Africa,

An Education
Screenplay by Nick Hornby; set in England

In the Loop
Screenplay by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, and Tony Roche; set in England and Washington, D.C.

Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire
Screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher; set in New York City

Up in the Air
Screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner; set in various airports & airplanes around the county with key scenes set in Nebraska, Wisconsin and in the air over Iowa

Adapted Screenplay

The Hurt Locker
Written by Mark Boal; set primarily in Iraq

Inglourious Basterds
Written by Quentin Tarantino; set in France

The Messenger
Written by Alessandro Camon & Oren Moverman; set in and around New Jersey

A Serious Man
Written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen; set in Minneapolis

Up
Screenplay by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter. Story by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Tom McCarthy; set in South America

Just taking a cursory glance at all the films in every single Academy Award category and I don’t notice a single movie set in Los Angeles. There are films set in places like Michigan, Memphis, China, and of course, Pandora. This year’s films represent a global cinema.

Novelist and musicians have always been able to ply their trade in far away places that over the centuries has brought an original and rich texture to their work. It’s exposed readers and listeners to new worlds and experiences.

But because feature films usually take large crews and a good deal of equipment it has traditionally resulted over the decades in a good amount of stories that are L.A.-centered. And because of that screenwriters from all over have always been drawn to Los Angeles and end up writing more stories about L.A. (Or had their stories changed to be able to be shot in California.)

Perhaps we’re witnessing the end of a cycle that began 100 years ago when the movie industry moved from New York and Chicago to Hollywood. In 2008-2009 there was a lot of talk about L.A.’s runaway production and what to do about the shrinking number of films being shot on the streets of Los Angeles.

People can argue and blame it on the economy, unions, the high cost of shooting in L.A., tax incentives that are available all over the world, reality TV, the fact that people are tired of seeing the Santa Monica Pier, or the downsizing & democratization as the result of digital production, but the one thing this year’s crop of Oscars prove is that the door is wide open (slightly cracked?) for screenwriters who have stories that take place beyond the shadow of the Hollywood sign.

We may not be at that place where Francis Ford Coppola prophesied 20 years ago when he said that, “One day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart” by making a film on her father’s videocamera. But things are getting very interesting.

Mark Boal who wrote The Hurt Locker is a good example of a screenwriter who did not take a traditional route to break into Hollywood. Though neither fat or a girl he did go to a small college in Ohio where he majored in philosophy. As a journalist embedded in Iraq it led to writing the story that became the film In The Valley of Elah.Then he took the next step by writing his first screenplay (The Hurt Locker) which not only got produced, but has been nominated for a total of nine Academy Awards.

* * *

In a related note, this year’s Oscars will be doing a John Hughes tribute. Hughes was born and raised in Lansing, Michigan until his family moved to the Chicago suburbs when he was a teenager.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a more successful mainstream Hollywood writer/director who was as much of an Hollywood outsider. Hughes, whose films include Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink. Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Christmas Vacation, and of course Home Alone, once told film critic Roger Ebert:

“I’m going to do all my movies here in Chicago. The (Chicago) Tribune referred to me as a ‘former Chicagoan.’ As if, to do anything, I had to leave Chicago. I never left. I worked until I was 29 at the Leo Burnett advertising agency, and then I quit to do this. This is a working city, where people go to their jobs and raise their kids and live their lives. In Hollywood, I’d be hanging around with a lot of people who don’t have to pay when they go to the movies.”

Scott W. Smith

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“Pick-up your crazy heart and give it one more try.”
From the Crazy Heart theme song

Since one of my favorite films of all times is Tender Mercies, the Horton Foote-written story of a fading country & western singer (played by Robert Duvall, who won an Oscar for his role in the 1983 movie), I look forward to seeing Crazy Heart which stars Jeff Bridges as a down and almost out country singer.

I noticed that the title track to Crazy Heart (The Weary Kind) was written & performed by singer Ryan Bingham. I was unfamiliar with his work but the name Ryan Bingham sounded familiar. Wasn’t the main character in Up in the Air named Bingham? I doubled checked and sure enough the character  George Clooney plays in the recent Jason Reitman film is in fact named Ryan Bingham. (And I thought Scott Smith was a common name.)

Earlier this week Ryan Bingham (the singer) won a Golden Globe award for Best Original Song (along with T. Bone Burnett), and Reitman and Sheldon Turner won Best Screenplay for Up in the Air (featuring the character Ryan Bingham). Small world, huh?

Here is an interview that Crazy Heart director Scott Cooper has with the singer Ryan Bingham & T. Bone Burnett as they talk about writing their Golden Globe winning song. (Followed by the song itself performed by the real life 28-year-old, former bull rider, Ryan Bingham.)

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“As a script reader, I noticed that every variation of Die Hard had sold. Not all of them got made, but they all sold.”
Michael France (On what led him to write Cliffhanger on spec)

One of the fun things about doing a small niche blog like this is making all kinds of odd connections, which I believe is what creativity is all about. (See the post Where Do Ideas Come From?)

For instance, as I mentioned yesterday I flew out of the Tampa airport and learned that the first commercial flight ever was between St. Pete and Tampa. That led me to learn that screenwriter Michael France (Cliffhanger, Hulk) was not only born in St. Pete Beach, but lives there today. Not only that, but he owns an old movie theater there which is currently playing the Jason Reitman/George Clooney film Up in the Air that I spent several days blogging about recently. In one of those posts I mentioned that Walter Kirn, who wrote the novel Up in the Air, was once married to and has two kids with the daughter of Thomas McGuane. Well, it turns out that I found an interview with Michael France where he said his favorite book is The Buchwacked Piano by Thomas McGuane.

One big interconnected world.

In an interview with Stax at ING, France was asked, “What do you feel has been your most important professional accomplishment to date?

“I took this question a couple of different ways. My first response to this is, managing my writing career so that I’m able to live where I want – which is waaaaay out of L.A. – and spend my off hours with my wife and kids on the beach. That’s not an easy balance to pull off, and it allows me to live the way I want to, so…that’s important to me personally. But I think you probably mean artistically, so I’ll take my head out of the beach for a minute. When I was writing Hulk, I wanted to make Bruce Banner an extremely complex, emotionally sealed off character, and to make his relationship with Betty romantic but still tragic. Those dynamics are difficult to make credible even when you’re not bringing in large science fiction ideas – but I tried to make that work in balance with the large scale action scenes that you have to have with Hulk.”
Michael France

To be fair, France did do time in New York & L.A., but a screenwriter “waaaaay out of L.A.”—huh, what an interesting concept. (Of course, to pull that off, it doesn’t hurt to have a few blockbuster films to your name and Marvel’s Stan Lee in your address book.)

Though I’ve never met France, I bet in that funky, creative way our paths have crossed somewhere. We’re the same age so it may have been that Jimmy Buffett concert I went to at the University of Florida campus (where France went to school) in the early 80s (Coconut Telegraph tour if I remember correctly), maybe somewhere in L.A., but most likely it would have been St. Pete Beach where I’ve spent much time visiting over the last 30 years. In fact, I shot part of a commercial there last summer.

One thing is sure, the next time I’m down that way, I’m going to catch a movie at France’s Beach Theater after my regular fried grouper stop at The Hurricane.

Scott W. Smith

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“The movie Frankenstein is not much like the book but there’s some essential creation in the book without which there could not be the movie.”
Walter Kirn
writer of the novel Up in the Air

 

Just in case you think Up in the Air is the only movie I’ve seen recently let me assure you that in the last couple days I have seen both Sherlock Holmes and Avatar. Both were spectacles that from a writing perspective left me with little inspiration. So back to Up in the Air. I found this nice little exchange at Cinema Blend between the novelist Walter Kirn and the screenwriter/director Jason Reitman about turning the book Up in the Air into a movie.

What was the adaptation process like?
Kirn: I think that the book is to the movie, what a piece of paper is to a paper airplane.
Reitman: That was great! That’s not the first time you’ve said that though!
Kirn: What I mean by this paper airplane comparison is this, he took this story and he folded it and he refolded it and he transformed it in a way that I completely recognize my own impulse in writing it but when I sat down to see it was not only honored and delighted but surprised by the transformations that had taken place in my own material and some of the potentials that I left untapped and, you know, here are two characters [gestures towards actresses Anna Kendrick and Vira Farmiga], one of whom is sort of in the book and one of whom is not at all in the book. There’s an Alex of a sort and there is no Natalie. So there’s so much invention. I think that anyone who’s interested in book to film adaptation really should look at this book and this film and see the way that that can be something more than a linear process but actual sort of chrysalis, you know, butterfly process. I read Jason’s script amazed and when you talk about Oscars and that sort of thing, because I know the source material that it came from intimately, there is a very deserved one there.

If you’re interested in adapting a book into a story I’d recommend Linda Seger’s The Art of Adaption:Turning Fact and Fiction into Film. And it would be most helpful to pick your favorite film made from a book and do a breakdown of the similarities and differences of the two. Try to figure out why some things were added and some things left out. Ask how creating a visual film changed some of the literary qualities? How how the structure of the book and the movie are similar and different.

Go deep with one book and one movie rather than trying to do broad strokes with several of your favorite books/movies.

And if you’re adapting a book into a screenplay, unless it’s just an exercise, it’s best to get the rights before you take on the task of investing in the screenplay. (Though I believe Reitman began his script before he actually had the rights to the story so these things do work out sometimes.) Some authors are very accessible, especially if you pick one of their obscure short stories.

And don’t forget there is a lot of public domain material out there.

Also, Walter Kirn has said in interviews that he wrote a script version of his novel. If anyone knows if there is a link to that script I’d love to read it to see how the original writer attempted to adapt his own material.

Scott W. Smith

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Happy New Year.

Well, I made it one whole year blogging once a day and I won’t say it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done–nor was it the easiest. Perhaps self-medication for ADHD. I’m not sure when I started this journey two years ago that I would have imagined that it would have evolved into a part-time job. But it’s given me a place to hyper-focus on an area of great interest to me.

And apparently screenwriting and filmmaking is of great interest to a lot of people as there are many blogs dedicated to the ever-changing film industry. Let hope it all results in better films in the near future.

I would also like to thank all the people for stopping by Screenwriting from Iowa in the past year to read some of the 142,630 words I wrote last year on this blog. December ’09 ended up being my biggest month ever view-wise and was actually five times higher than December ’08. As long as people keep reading, I’ll keep writing. Technically, my anniversary date for the blog is in a couple weeks and I’m working on a change to mark that period. (I welcome any suggestions as well.)

In the meantime, I’ll kick off the new year where I finished last year (which was just last night) with a post connected to the movie Up in the Air. This time just a simple quote from the book’s author Walter Kirn on why he lives in Montana.

I live in Livingston, Montana, a town of 7,000 not far from Yellowstone Park. I have a commercial building downtown, the top part of which is the loft, and I do almost all of my writing there. I found it necessary at an early stage in my career, about 20 years ago, to remove myself from metropolitan life in order to observe America. And I think it‘s served me in good stead, strangely enough. Through the years I‘ve worked for Time Magazine, all sorts of magazines based in New York, and they were always willing to send me everything west of you know the Hudson River and east of Los Angeles. So it‘s worked out.”
Walter Kirn
C-SPAN/Q & A

That’s what I’ve been trying to say for two years now–living outside New York and L.A. does have its advantages (as well as its obstacles). The key is to keep observing, and keep writing. Keep submitting and keep networking. I’d love someday to hear a screenwriter being interviewed about his or her new film to be asked, “What made you think you could write a film in ______ (nondescript middle of nowhere place in fly-over country) and actually get it made?,” and hear them say, “There was this blog….”

Related post: “Up in the Air” Over Iowa

Scott W. Smith

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“Anything that comes to me from the Los Angeles zip code is subjected to a 99% skepticism test.”
Walter Kirn
author Up in the Air

My third look at the film Up in the Air involves a closer look at the original writer of the book (Walter Kirn) that inspired director Jason Reitman to make the film. Kirn has solid Midwest roots being born in Ohio and raised in Minnesota. Though a jock in school he was also aware of the talents of the St. Paul writer F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby). And he was smart enough to go to Princeton University where Fitzgerald attended for a while.

Kirn graduated from college in 1983 and moved to New York and ended up writing for a variety of magazines and published his first of several books in 1990.  His book Thumbsucker was made into a movie in 2005 starring Keanu Reeves and Vince Vaughn. Along the way he moved west to Livingston, Montana and married the daughter of actress Margot Kidder and writer Thomas McGuane. Kidder is most known for her role in Superman and McGuane for his book Ninety-Two in the Shade. Though now divorced from his wife, it would be interesting to know how the relationship with Thomas McGuane influenced Kirn’s writing development over the years.

I remember become aware of McGuane in the 70s from stories about his hanging out in Key West with the likes of Jimmy Buffett and Tennessee Williams.  In fact, Buffett has a song on the soundtrack of the 1975 film Rancho Deluxe that starred Jeff Bridges and was written by McGuane. It’s not a surprise that Kirn lives in Montana as it has a rich tradition of literary talent.  I grew up on Buffett’s early music which often had references to places in Montana like Missoula, Livingston, and Ringling, and was taken by the place and I finally got to visit the place in 1984. It’s a state built for reflecting on life. Something Kirn seems to have a knack for.

(If my facts are correct, Thomas McGuane married Jimmy Buffett’s sister in the 70s, so while Kirn was married to McGuane’s daughter he and Buffett were related.)

One thing is for sure, if Up in the Air, is nominated for an Academy Award then Kirn will have fared better in dealing with Hollywood than both Fitzgerald and McGuane. And much of that credit goes to director Reitman.

Up in the Air was first published in 2001 and was selling well until September 11, 2001 when like a lot of things the sales just dropped off. Though Kirn’s book was optioned and he had written a script based on the book it seemed doomed to never be made. But after a few years of laying dormant the book’s stock was back on the rise. Kirn writes;

“The ascent commenced with a brief email from Jason Reitman, a thirtyish film director who, at the time he wrote me, was not well known, but would soon become famous for his first two movies: Thank You for Smoking and Juno. He was writing a script from my novel, he informed me, and would get back in touch when he was finished. Right. Heard that one. Though another one of my novels, Thumbsucker, had by then become an indie, I knew from experience—my own and others’—that when Hollywood promises to get back to you, it’s best not to wait by the phone. You’ll starve to death.”

It would still be a few years before Reitman would finish the script and then several months after that when George Clooney came on board to star in the film. Kirn was starting to believe the film might actually get made. And once the film finally did get made he had a simple prayer request before he viewed the film for the first time, “Please let this not be crap.”

His prayer seems to be answered. The film is not crap, and has garnered solid reviews across the board. (91% from the top critics at Rotten Tomatoes.)

“Up in the Air is a defining movie for these perilous times.”
Peter Travers
Rolling Stone

And while the film is different from the book in many ways Kirn is glad that the DNA of the book is intact.

“(Up in the Air), which I started writing at the peak of the dot-com mania, was conceived, in part, as a morality tale about the spiritual distortions forced upon people by techno-capitalism. It was also a satirical treatment of the drive to pile up useless wealth. But mostly it was a character study of someone (or a class of someones) who I felt was invisible in literature despite being all around me in real life: the pretzel-eating, mini-bar-raiding nomad, his existence pared down to a single carry-on, but his soul the same size as everyone else’s.”
Jason Reitman
George Clooney Saved My Novel
The Daily Beast

Perhaps the film resonates with me because Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham is a character I recognize from my travels—perhaps even in myself. I flown enough over the years to earn enough frequent flyer miles to fly free to Alaska, Hawaii and Europe. On one trip to the west coast I remember being gone from home for three weeks for productions in San Diego/Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. A friend said to me on that trip, “Don’t you hate traveling?” I remember thinking, “I could live my whole life on the road.” Up in the Air is an exploration of one such character who does just that and it ends up being a reflection on our culture.

Of course, once Reitman finally got the script to the point where it could actually get made, he had to make the film and did a super job of guiding the solid cast that included Clooney, Vera Farming, Anna Kendick, and Jason Bateman.

It’s a fitting end to 2009 to be talking about another Jason Reitman film. For it was his movie Juno, based on Diablo Cody’s script (as well as her life’s story that included a stint here in Iowa) that inspired this blog in the first place. (See post Juno Has Another Baby.) Kirn sounds a lot like Cody when he talks about the Reitman’s film based on his story, “Sometimes miracles happen and this was one of them.”

Happy New Year.

Scott W. Smith


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