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Posts Tagged ‘Utah’

“I’m telling you Iowa is incredible. We should all move to Iowa and start the revolution.”
Hannah (Lena Dunham) in Girls, Season 4 episode 2

It’s been a busy month for Lena Dunham as she’s been prominently featured in the press near the center of the film & political world in January 2016. She’s been at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah where her documentary Suited premiers tonight and she’s been stumping in Iowa for Hillary Clinton’s presidential run.   

“This is my second time in Iowa, but before I came to Iowa, I was pretending to be in Iowa. We filmed all our Girls stuff not in Iowa. I had seen tons of pictures of Iowa City, we had a location scout from Iowa and a writer from Iowa, so we had our experts in check, but I hadn’t, myself, had an opportunity to come. It was amazing when I came to Iowa City last year on my book tour because I had already had the experience of existing in fake Iowa and I was like, wow, we didn’t do that bad a job.”
Lena Dunham
The Des Moines Register 
January 11, 2016

Dunham, the creator of the HBO show Girls, is the perfect person to follow up my last post (Diablo Cody Day) about Diablo Cody winning an Oscar in 2008 for writing the Juno screenplay.  (And since I was living in Iowa at the time, the fact that Cody graduated from the University of Iowa served as inspiration for me starting this blog.)

Well, back in 2008 Dunham graduated with a degree in creative writing from Oberlin College in Ohio. While in college, in the infant days of You Tube, she was also creating short films that went viral.

“I didn’t go to film school. Instead I went to liberal arts school and self-imposed a curriculum of creating tiny flawed video sketches, brief meditations on comic conundrums, and slapping them on the Internet.”
Lena Dunham

In 2010, just two years out of college she won the SXSW Award in Narrative Fiction for her film Tiny Furniture. The film made for just $45,000 also earned Dunham Best First Screenplay at the Independent Spirit Awards. (The same award Cody won back in 2008.)

That led to the opportunity to create Girls which has been on the air since 2012, and has won two Golden Globe Awards (Best Television Series—Comedy or Musical, and Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series—Comedy or Musical).

That’s right, she acts, too. And she was paid $3.6 million to write her 2014 memoir Not That Kind of Girl. I don’t exactly fit the demographics of watching/reading Dunham’s work, and haven’t actually never seen a full episode of Girls, and have been out of the loop of the controversies of her work.  But I enjoyed the quirkiness of Tiny Furniture (which is currently available on Netflix), and it’s hard not to appreciate what she’s achieved creatively and financially before she’s even turned 30. 

And I was curious what Cody thought of Dunham and found this quote:

“I absolutely love Lena Dunham. I don’t know her personally, but I’m completely obsessed with the show. I cannot believe what she has accomplished at 26. I think she is like our new Woody Allen.”
Diablo Cody
Huffington Post interview with Lori Fradkin

P.S. Last year, Dunham’s character in Girls began attending the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in Iowa City so I thought I’d give some links that give a glimpse to the real place.

BTW—Diablo Cody got her undergraduate degree in Media Studies from the University of Iowa and when asked why she didn’t attend the Iowa Writers’ Workshop she said it was easier to win an Oscar than to get into Iowa’s competitive graduate program.

Related Posts:
John Irving, Iowa & Writing (My visit to the Iowa Workshop)
(Yawn) Another Pulitzer Prize (for a Workshop graduate)
Postcard #55 (Iowa Writers’ Workshop)
The Making of Woody Allen in 10 Simple Steps
The Juno-Iowa Connection
Oberlin to Oscars (Screenwriters William Goldman and Mark Boal also both graduated from Oberlin.)

Scott W. Smith

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“I like dissolves. A dissolve is a film technique, usually a transition from scene to scene where image A begins to fade out, overlapped with the fade in of image B….Nowadays you don’t see too many dissolves in movies. And I never paid attention to when they went out of fashion. And Kevin Tent, my editor, and I think they’re beautiful. I happen to be a big fan of Hal Ashby films in the ’70s and to my mind, he an ex-editor, was a master of dissolves, and particularly long dissolves. For me, they lend emotion to a film and there’s a kind of a melancholy that comes from them….One thing is going away, another thing is coming in. And I can’t explain it, but there’s something poetic and melancholy about it.”
Producer, writer, director Alexander Payne (Sideways, Election)
NPR/Fresh Air Interview with Terry Gross

I think I’ve shown all the clips out there of Payne’s new film Nebraska, so today I think it’s fitting to show a video that’s a nod to Hal Ashby (1929-1988). While Ashby is best known for directing Coming Home (for which Nebraska star Bruce Dern received an Oscar nomination), Being There, The Last Detail and Harold and Maude, his sole Oscar win was for editing the 1967  film In the Heat of the Night.

I’ll have to do a run of posts on Ashby next year after I read Nick Dawson’s (@thatnickdawson) book Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel. While his acclaim did not reach the heights of many of his Easy Rider and Raging Bulls fellow filmmakers, Ashby’s influence today may be greater. Not only on Alexander but on Sean Penn, Johnny Depp, Wes Anderson, David O. Russell and I imagine a whole list of others.

P.S. And since I like to point out origins of filmmakers from unlikely places…Hal Ashby was born in Ogden, Utah and raised in a Mormon home where his father was a dairy farmer. Remember the wise words of Anton Ego in Ratatouille, “Not everyone can be a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.” Good ones, too.

Related Post:

Editing for Emotion
40 Days of Emotions ‘I try to set things up so that they pay off in a way I hope evokes a strong reaction.” Eric Roth (Forrest Gump)
Cinematography & Emotions
Cinematography & Emotions (Part 2)

Related Blog:

Check out Oliver Peters’ blog post on a case study of editing Alexander Payne’s film The Descendants.

Scott W. Smith

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“It’s really a huge opportunity for our career— which we’ve been struggling with for a long time. I’ve been dreaming of this my whole life.”
JR Burningham
Utah native interviewed before his Doritos Super Bowl spot won $1 million


You know, I’m all about the little dogs doing big things, and the Dortitos commercial that aired during the Super Bowl last night not only featured a pug—but was a total underdog itself. The spot was directed by JR Burningham for $500. and ended up earning him $1 million in a Doritos/PepsiCo competition in which more than 5,000 commercials were submitted.

Burningham’s commercial featured a small pug knocking a door down on top of his master in his quest for Dortios. The spot tied for first on the Super Bowl Rating Meter even beating out the VW Star Wars spot in popularity. And while the 31-year old Burningham has been called in some articles “a part-time web-designer”—there’s a little more to the story.

Burningham is originally from Salt Lake City and after he graduated from the University of Utah with a B.S. degree in computer engineering & computer science, he went on to get an MFA in film production at USC in 2008. At USC one of his films received an honorable mention at the Student Emmys and he also met Tess Ortbals who became his partner at Mythmakers after they graduated.

Ortbals, who has an MFA from USC on the producing side, wrote the script Terra Incognita with Burningham which recently finished in the top ten of both the Austin Film Festival Screenwriting Competition and The Script Department’s Silver Screenwriting Competition. Ortbal’s undergraduate work was in ancient storytelling and mythology, and she graduated with a BA in anthropology. Producing a winning commercial wasn’t just blind luck.

Burningham & Ortbals set-up their shop in Burbank, CA and while their dreams are big , so is the debt from their student loans. So it wasn’t beneath them to gather some film school friends together in hopes of creating something that could bring them a little attention.

“This commercial was a last-ditch attempt to make something happen. It’s just a very difficult industry.”
JR Burningham

Mission accomplished.

They rented a Cannon 7D camera package, gathered some film school friends together, and shot  for a day in Ventura. And the rest is history. A history that is beginning to repeat itself. A trend that began a few years ago when major advertising production outsiders began to make inroads in the granddaddy of advertising venues.  In fact, this year 3 of the top 5 rated commercials during this year’s Super Bowl were made from people that represent Main St. more than Madison Ave.

In fact, when I last checked the most  watched ad of all time was the Doritos ad Snack Attack Samurai that ran during last year’s Super Bowl. It was made by a couple filmmakers (Ben Kruger & Cole Koehler) in Minneapolis. (I was fortunate to work with one of the actors in that spot, Mike Rylander, last year on a production I was producing/directing.) Kruger & Koehler spent less than $1,000.  for a :30 spot that was viewed by 116,231,920 people. Big return on investment as they won $25,000.

And don’t forget the two unemployed brothers (Dave and Joe Herbert) of Batesville, Indiana who also won $1 million for their Doritos commercial that was chosen as the best commercial during Super Bowl XLIII.

“As digital media continues to expand, entrepreneurial filmmakers like ourselves must blaze a new model that includes making great movies for less money while expanding distribution avenues. It has to change on both ends. The true masters of the 21 century filmmaking will be those who can be extremely business savvy without compromising the quality of the craft or the meaning of their story.”
JR Burningham

Entrepreneurial filmmakers—that has a nice ring to it.

Congrats JR & Tess, I look forward to seeing your feature films in the not to distant future. (And I read where they just got engaged.) And congrats to the team just east of Iowa, the Green Bay Packers, for the big Super Bowl win.

And just for fun here’s a Doritos spot that I did last year as a one man crew (producer/director/writer/cameraman/editor)  for the total cost of less than $8 (two bags of Doritos). It didn’t win anything, but it was a nice experiment. (Best to double click on it as WordPress frames it kind of funky.)

February 9, 2011 Update: The spot I made with spray paint artist Paco Rosic fit my creative temperament, but doesn’t quite fit the commercials that usually win the Super Bowl challenge. Those usually have to do with pain, hulliliation. (Using sophomoric humor is a plus if you want to rise to the top.)   “The thing about the Crash The Super Bowl contest is that you’re not playing to ‘your’ audience. Meaning, this commercial isn’t about what you necessarily think is funny or what the people you show your work to thinks is funny. Quite simply, it’s about what is formulaic AND funny AND plays to the widest demographic of people.” Ben Krueger  (who along with Cole Koehler, won $25,000. for their Doritos spot in 2010).

Febraury 10. 2011 Update: The Chevy Camero ad during the 2011 Super Bowl became the most watched ad according to Nielsen Co. beating the 2010 Doritos with 119.6 million viewers.

Scott W. Smith


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