Posts Tagged ‘Variety’

“This is a business that’s based on rejection and the anticipation of rejection. It’s tough. You have to be like one of those mechanical toys that, when you knock it down, it pops back up again.”
95-year old Oscar-nominated screenwriter Walter Bernstein (The Front)
Variety article by Scott Foundas (@foundasonfilm)
H/T Christopher Lockhart, The Inside Pitch Facebook group

Related posts:
Screenwriting Quote #141 (Melissa Rosenburg) “Don’t give up. You’re going to get kicked in the teeth. A lot. Learn to take a hit, then pick yourself up off the floor. Resilience is the true key to success.”—Rosenburg
Jailbait, Rejection& Screenwriter Mark Boal “You have to be willing to get your teeth kicked in continually before you achieve even a modicum of success. And once you achieve that you have to be willing to put up with a bunch of rejection before you can get anywhere.”—Two-time Oscar-winner Mark Boal
Perseverance (Werner Herzog) “Perseverance has kept me going over the years. Things rarely happen overnight. Filmmakers should be prepared for many years of hard work.”—Herzog

Scott W. Smith


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“The cheapest [Netflix] show is $3.8 million an episode. ‘House of Cards’ started at $4.5 million and (executive producer David) Fincher took it way above that…The next series is ‘Hemlock Grove’ and they’re doing that for about $4 million an episode. ‘Orange is the New Black’ is just under $4 million as well. They’re huge budgets shows, doing things in a huge way.”
CAA TV literary agent Peter Micelli
Netflix Series Spending Revealed by Andrew Wallenstein
Variety 3.08.13

“It’s hard to watch Netflix’s’ House of Cards’ and not get the feeling that it’s not only great programming, but also a seminal event in the history of TV….It’s the first major TV show to completely bypass the usual television ecosystem of networks and cable operators….If there’s any doubt about the venture’s success, competitors are already rushing to emulate it.”
What Netflix’s “House of Cards” Means for the Future of TV by Greg Satell
Forbes 3.04.12

P.S. Netflix, an online rental service, was founded in 1997 and now has more than 23 million subscribers.  It’s worth noting that fifteen years ago there was a healthy groundswell of people using DVDs, and about ten years ago there were 9,000 Blockbuster video stores across the United States (less than 500 remain today). Makes you wonder what the next 10 or 15 years of change will bring in the distribution system—and what kind of opportunities it will bring for screenwriters and filmmakers.

Related Post: Content Creators=Distributors

Scott W. Smith

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“What’s so wonderful about surfing is that it not only connects you with the ocean but also a certain energy in nature. When you’re surfing, it’s like you really are tapping into that source.”
Novelist/screenwriter Kem Nunn

“Let me hasten to say I’m not comparing myself to St. Paul. But I know what it is to do what you never dreamed of doing, what you never thought you’d be capable of doing. The utter mystification that you experience. ‘How did I get here? How did this happen?'”
Four-time Primetime Emmy winning writer David Milch
The Writer’s Voice

HBO’s John from Cincinnati (2007) was created by David Milch and Kem Nunn and used the sport of surfing as an integral backdrop in a way that was as refreshing as it was obscure. You didn’t always don’t what you were watching, but you knew you were watching something different. There was supernatural levitation and artificial medication, a family with three generations of active surfers, and Rebecca De Mornay (Risky Business) as a late forties pretty attractive grandma, all set in the border town of Imperial Beach, California.

The show only lasted one season. Perhaps due to the fact that shows that are existential and mystical tend to have a wee bit harder time finding an audience than, say, the average reality show. Still the final episode had 3 million viewers.

“Perhaps the most important aspect of writing truly great television (and naturally something I’ve always been good at) is coming up with dialog that just barely resembles what each character is trying to say. When people have to work to understand what the hell is going on, they presume (correctly!) that they must be watching fine art.”
David Milch
The David Milch School of Screenwriting
(That link even has an example from John from Cincinnati to explain what he means.)

Milch did his undergraduate work in English at Yale, earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa before becoming an Emmy-winning writer on the TV shows Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue. He’s perhaps most well-known for creating the HBO show Deadwood. In 2006 he was awarded the Outstanding Television Writers Award at the Austin Film Festival.

“My  understanding of the way the mechanism of storytelling works is …whether or not the audience is conscious of the process, apart from the audience awareness that there is a process, any story is constantly appending specific values to the meanings of words, and of the actions of characters.”
David Milch
Variety article “John from Cincinnati”: David Milch Speaks

John from Cincinnati’s co-creator, Nunn has been called “America’s most accomplished surfer novelist.” He graduated with an MFA from the writing program at UC Irvine, and his first novel Tapping the Source was nominated for an American Book Award,  later followed by The Dogs of Winter, Tijuana Straits which he calls his “surf trilogy.” On the back cover of Tapping the Source writer Elmore Leonard (Get Shorty) wrote,”Kem Nunn is one of a rare breed, a novelist who knows how to plot and tell a story. There is amazing energy here.”

Like it or not, you have to applaud HBO for allowing John from Cincinnati to step up to the plate.

Pete from Cincinnati

Speaking of stepping up to the plate, when I think of Cincinnati one of the first names that comes to mind is Pete Rose who used to play baseball for the Cincinnati Reds. Through he holds the record for most hits in major league baseball he’s barred from MLB and the Baseball Hall of Fame—for gambling on baseball. Since I grew up in the ’70s putting together a scrapbook on The Big Red Machine and wanting to be Pete Rose I’ve followed his life story with great interest. (Even went to a baseball camp he did one day at Tinker Field in Orlando.) The other day I came across this short piece on Rose produced by ESPN that I found as an engaging chapter in his  life, and one I was unfamiliar with.

Rob from Dayton

How does Rob Lowe pop up on this post? Simple, he also grew up in the 70s following the Cincinnati Reds and is a surfer. He started acting as youth while living in Dayton, Ohio (about an hour’s drive from Cincinnati), before moving to Malibu, CA during his high school years on his way to being an actor in The Outsiders, Wayne’s World, The West Wing, and currently Parks and Recreation.

I met Lowe at a John Mellencamp concert at the Universal Amphitheater in LA. It was 1984 or ’85 I believe and he was sitting right in front of me so I was like, “Hey dude, I was born in Dayton.” You can imagine how impressed he was by that revelation, but he was gracious. (Later learned that Lowe went to Oakwood Junior High just a couple of blocks from where my grandmother lived on Harman Avenue in the Dayton/Oakwood area.) Dayton has a well establish history in theater and I remember going to Marion’s Pizza as a kid and seeing walls full of black and white photos of famous/semi-famous/used to be famous actors who had performed in Dayton.

As these posts on surfing have been kicking around my brain for the last week I started to write down ideas for a story that takes place on the East Coast of Florida. Right now it’s just 3X5 index cards of notes of personal experiences, people and places/surf spots between Amelia Island and Sebastian Inlet. And on one of my note cards I have written “Rob Lowe-Surfer.” Writing actor bait? Why not? Tell me that a very in shape Rob Lowe wouldn’t want to be in a movie that featured him as a surfer if the script was good.

Same reason the athletic Kevin Costner did three baseball movies (Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, For the Love of the Game), one golf movie (Tin Cup), and one bike racing movie (American Flyers). So there’s my stake in the ground—we’ll see where it leads.

Can’t you see the movie poster?  Kelly Slater, C.J. HobgoodKatrina Petroni and Rob Lowe…

Slater has said, “I have acted, I wouldn’t consider myself an actor” and when asked by CBS what Baywatch did for him he smiled and said, “Ruin my street credibility.” So don’t look for him to be acting anytime soon. But maybe if Lowe gets involved in The Kelly Slater Foundation they can at least produce a project on surfing together.

I have one more post to write following this surfer thread and it will be about a man who was born, raised and died in Wisconsin yet was a key part of the modern-day surfing movement. Gotta love the outsiders.

In the meantime, in the spirit of Edward Burns seeking true honeymoon situations for his film Newlyweds, if you have a surf anecdote you’d like to pass my way send it to: info@scottwsmith.com. It could be as simple as a sufer friend of mine San Diego way who had a shot on Facebook recently of his foot in a bucket of water with a caption about his 39th stingray sting. According to him, “Coronado is the motherload for stringrays.” Don’t remember ever seeing that in a surf film. I’m not looking for story ideas, just that stingray kind of authenticity.

P.S. Nine or ten years ago I produced a TV program that featured Katrina Petroni when she was an up and coming surfer. I’ll see if I can find some photos from that shoot we did at her home in Atlantic Beach, Florida.

Related Posts:
Screenwriting Via Index Cards
Writing Quote #19 (David Milch)
Writing Subtext (Tip #43)
Postcard #23 (New Smyrna Beach, FL)
Postcard #22 (Kelly Slater Statue)
Surf Movie History 101

NPR article on Rob Lowe as a kid meeting Liza Minnelli in Dayton, Ohio. She reportedly told him, “See you in Hollywood, kid.”

The Writing Seminar from Hell, Inspired By David Milch
New Yorker article by Michale Schulman

Scott W. Smith

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Before Dana Fox was named by Variety in 2007 as one of the 10 Screenwriters to Watch, she was Dana Fox from upstate New York. (Because she’s a relatively new writer it’s hard to find many interviews with Fox, but one implied she spent time on a farm as a youth, which is always a nice contrast to Hollywood. Besides I needed another F-word for my title.) Fox got her undergraduate degree in English at Stanford and then earned her master’s at the Peter Stark Producing Program at USC. That’s when she first tried her hand at screenwriting and set her on course.

She spent two years as a writer’s assistant for Al Gough and Miles Millar who were creating the TV show Smallville, and also worked with screenwriter John August (Big Fish). Her first film was The Wedding Date in 2005, followed by What Happens in Vegas (which starred Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz and pulled in $80 million) , and earned a co-writing credit on Couples Retreat starring Vince Vaughn.

I first read the phrase “The Fempire” in a 2008 article by Peter Howell describing the self-designated title of screenwriters and friends Diablo Cody (Juno), Lorene Scafaria (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist), and Fox.  (Playwright-turned-screenwriter Liz Meriwether is a recent addition.)

I heard a screenwriter recently say that you have to buy your way into Hollywood one way or the other. In Fox’s case it was a combination of an education that included Stanford and USC which I’d guess was between $150,000-200,000. in total expenses, which put her in a position to be a low-paid writer’s assistant where she could get coffee for the writers for several years.

“I’m a believer in paying your dues. I won’t say, ‘I have two degrees; I shouldn’t be getting your latte.’ Because I paid my dues when I got to the table, I actually had something to say.”
Dana Fox

The Wedding Date may not be at the top of your Netflix choices, but that’s what launched Fox’s career and I know more than one writer that would like to see their name in the credits with Debra Messing and Dermot Mulroney.

Scott W. Smith

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“It’s my first Oscar nomination, my first screenplay. I think I should quit now, and take up a bonsai tree.”
Mark Boal

Quick what do screenwriters William Goldman and Mark Boel’s have in common? Let me back-up. You may be asking who is Mark Boal? He was just nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay The Hurt Locker. Though he received a story credit on In The Valley of Elah, The Hurt Locker is his first screenplay.

Since I write a lot about how common it is for writers to write anywhere between 6 & 23 screenplays before they make their make their first sale, I thought it would be fair to point out the exception to the rule. But before you think it’s that  easy, let me get back to what Boal’s and Goldman have in common.

They both went to Oberlin College in Ohio. (Goldman was an English major and Boal graduated in ’95 with honors in philosophy.)

Boal went on to write articles for The Village Voice, Rolling Stone Magazine, Budapest Sun, Mother Jones, The New York Observer and Playboy.

“Before 9/11, I covered politics, the war on drugs, technology and the Internet in relationship to privacy, but it was always hard news and investigative reporting. Then Sept. 11th happened, which was a big turning point for me in terms of what I wrote about. After that, I started covering the war on terror and writing about the military. “
Mark Boal

It was while being embedded as a journalist in Iraq that he came up with both ideas for In The Valley of Elah and The Hurt Locker. The later being a film that equaled Avatar with nine Oscar nominations and that Roger Ebert named as the second best film of the last decade. Not a bad start for Mr. Boal.

Scott W. Smith

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New Cinema Screenwriting (part 2)

“The future of cinema lies in the power of the pixel. The injection of fresh ideas and methodologies will only serve to mix up the metaphorical gene pool and empower a new generation of filmmakers.
                                                                                           Roger Corman

“The comeback of documentaries is strictly linked to the arrival of digital technology. We only see the tip of the iceberg. The whole the notion of distribution will be changed in the next decade.”
                                                                                          Wim Wenders

“I wanted this movement to be like the French New Wave, in which directors told different types of stories and used the language of cinema a little differently, with smaller cameras on real locations.”
                                                                                           Gary Winick

“Cinema has always been marriage of technology and human talent.”
                                                                                           Francis Ford Coppola 


Francis Ford Coppola is a prophet. As he gets older he even starts to look like a Moses-like figure. (Well, at least Charlton Heston-like.)  He’s every screenwriters friend and should be an inspiration to you.

He’s made great films (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now), he’s made money and lost money, he’s won five Oscars, he even has a daughter who’s won an Oscar for screenwriting, he’s been a visionary, an artist, “a idea machine,” he own a resort in Belize and a home in Buenos Aires, and he makes a good bottle of wine there in Northern California.

A few months ago I was doing a shoot in the San Francisco Bay area and had an opportunity to make a quick stop in Napa Valley. I had not been there in over a decade and one of the things that struck me was it reminded me of Iowa. Then I realized why, it’s farm land with many Victorian homes scattered around.

Granted those homes in California are five times more expensive than the ones in Iowa. But the area has a similar feel.  In fact if you head west on Interstate 80 from Iowa after a couple days you will end up in California which is essentially what Midwest people did years ago on the first transcontinetal highway looking for new opportunities (and before that looking for gold). Which is why the street names in Napa include, Iowa St., Illinois St., Omaha Ct. and Kansas Ave.

I won’t get into Coppola being born in Michigan because there’s too much room to cover already. Toward the end of part 1 of this post I mentioned Coppola using video on The Outsiders back in 1982.  But before that film he also used video according to ASC cinematographer Russ Alsobrook:

“In 1982 Francis Ford Coppola directed One from the Heart from inside his 28-foot Airstream trailer designed as a complete “Image and Sound Control Center” complete with editing suite, kitchen and Jacuzzi. Aside from the Jacuzzi, the most unusual new piece of equipment that found its way into virtually every aspect of production on One from the Heart was the computer. From word processors in the script phase to budgeting, scheduling, storyboarding, sophisticated video tapes with playback and instant editing, the newest in silicon technology was being integrated into the Hollywood system.”

Coppola and those working with him 25 years ago showed where the technology was heading and helped pave the way. Earlier this year his first film in ten years, Youth Without Youth was released. It was shot on with a high end HD video camera and edited on Final Cut Pro. With five Oscars behind him I’m pulling for Coppola himself to do some of his best work ever in this new cinema.

I’m pulling for you too which is why this is a monster length post, even after being broken up into two parts. It’s important for you to grasp where all the technology is heading. 

What happened between Coppola’s Airstream video center in 1982 and today that makes it an exciting time to be a screenwriter and filmmaker?

Let’s start with 1997. That was the year that digital video arrived on the scene with the Sony VX1000. It was a leap in image quality, portability, and cost and independent filmmakers jumped on board. Lars von Trier’s was one of the first to shoot a feature with the Sony VX1000. He did the camera work as well as direct The Idiots, which was in competition at Cannes in 1998.

In 2000 Van Trier released Dancer in the Dark which was also shot on video, but in one scene he used 100 DV cameras.  Let it be stated that the critics have be far apart on judging his films. Rodger Ebert wrote, “It smashes down the walls of habit that surround so many movies. It returns to the wellsprings. It is a bold, reckless gesture.” Another reviewer called it “A 2 ½ hour demo of auteurist self-importance that’s artistically bankrupt on almost every level.” (Derek Elly, Variety) But another reviewer said of the same film, “An exhilarating and original work of cinema. A triumph of form, content, and artistic integrity. Astonishing!” (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly)

Dancer in the Dark went on to win the top award at the Cannes film festival.

In 2000, Spike Lee chose to shoot most of his $10 million dollar film Bamboozled with the Sony VX1000. In that same year Academy-award winning director Michael Figgis released a DV feature Timecode.

Another film first happened in 2002 with Aleksandr Sokurov’s Russian Ark that was shot digitally in one take.  Impossible to do with film due to limitations of film loads. (Though Hitchcock did his best to make Rope look like one take.) Russian Ark was shot not with a DV camera but a Sony HD camera. That same year Academy –award winning director Steven Soderbergh shot a DV feature Full Frontal.

Jerry Seinfeld was executive producer and featured performer for the DV documentary Comedian (2002) that covered his return to stand-up comedy after his successful run on the TV hit Seinfeld. It was made with a small crew, is raw in production values, but offers a unique behind the scene look at the work of a comedian.

In 1999 a company called InDigEnt was formed by director/producer Gary Winick, John Sloss, Jonathan Sehring, and Caroline Kaplan. 

“I got inspired by the Dogme 95 movement because I felt they were starting to tell the types of stories and tell stories in a different way, and I was hoping at InDigEnt we would do that.”
                                                                                                   Gary Winick

Winick directed Tadpole, shot with a Sony PD-150 DV camera, and won the Best Director Award at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival.

InDigEnt also made my personal favorite DV feature Pieces of April in 2003. It won many awards at film festivals and actress Patricia Clarkson was nominated for an Oscar.  It written and directed by Peter Hedges (who also wrote What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?)

In an Interview with Indie Wire Winick told Matthew Ross:

“I could have shot Tadpole on 35mm, and would it have been a better film? I don’t know. Would I have gotten that cast? I don’t know. Part of the reasons for the cast wanting to be in the film, besides the material, was that they were all interested in working in DV, which I presented it to them as this hybrid between the theater and film. And also, I only need you for two weeks and not two months.”

Ross: I’ve never heard DV described as a hybrid of theater and film.

Winick: Actually it was Sigourney Weaver who inspired me to phrase it that way. But I think it’s well-put for a couple of reasons. One is that you can let the scene keep rolling; you can let the scene unfold like you would in theater. The actors can just perform…Digital cameras can be portable enough that if you suddenly come up with a new approach, you can just back up and redo your scene….Charlie Chaplin used to make films that way… These days, studios just aren’t going to give directors permission to play around that way in 35mm — on DV, you can.

And in 2004 the InDigEnt produced November starring Courteney Cox and shot with a $4,000. Panasonic DVX 100 DV camera by director of photography Nancy Schreiber who won best cinematography at the Sundance Film Festival.

That same year at Sundance Morgan Spurlock earned the Directing Award for Super Size Me and the documentary Born into Brothels won an audience award, both of which were shot on digital video cameras. Brothels beat Super at the Academy Awards.

So in less than a decade digital video made some incredible inroads winning international awards and finding audiences.

You can sit around and argue all day about how film is superior to digital video, but folks the train has left the station. And it’s going to get wilder.  I really don’t think most audiences watching the above films or other DV features such as Trainspotting, Murderball, The Buena Vista Social Club, Inland Empire, and Grizzly Man really care what the film was shot on. They want to be entertained, engaged and get a glimpse into the world they live in. Dare I say films with meaning?

All of this means there are going to be more opportunities for films made and distributed outside the Hollywood system.  People have been dreaming about this time since at least 1955 when Daily Variety’s headline read “Film is Dead” with the invention of the first Ampex video tape recording machine. That bold declaration, and those like it, have caused much laughter. Hollywood is slow to change.

It’s always fun to look back at past predictions and read things like, “The radio will never replace TV because people have to stop and sit down to watch TV” and that Manhattan would never have more than 1 million people living there because there wouldn’t be enough room for all the horses.” 

I remember when a trailer for Silkwood came out in ’83 and Cher’s name appeared on screen. People in the theater laughed. Apparently they missed her excellent film acting debut performance in Robert Altman’s Welcome Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean that came out in 1982.

To the people laughing, Cher was only known as part of the kitchy TV program The Sonny and Cher Show that ran from 1976-1977. She had had a few hit songs, but no one (except Altman perhaps) took her as a serious actress. They weren’t laughing after they saw her performance in Silkwood or the next year for her roll in Peter Bogdanovich’s Mask, or her academy-award winning performance in Moonstruck.

But that’s the same laughter that I heard when my boyhood friends learned the motorcycle company Honda was going to make cars. It’s the same laughter that Ted Turner heard when he said he was going to start a 24 Hour News channel. When told by a reporter that he lost 10 million dollars in his first year of operation, in true maverick spirit he said, “And I plan on losing 10 million dollars every year until this works.”

No one’s laughing at CNN now and behind Tunrer’s wake are many channels dedicated to sports, weather, history, pets and home improvement. (Coppola’s Tucker: The Man and His Dreams touches on the spirit of the entrepreneur.) The entrepreneur and the artist often share a stubborn vision of what is possible.

Artists have always taken the tools at hand and created art; Be it an old Polaroid camera or a cheap Russian made Holga camera. For years filmmakers have been using a plastic video camera designed by Fisher-Price in the 1970’s for children called PixelVision. It originally shot onto cassettes but now is commonly adapted for DV use and there are now PixelVision film festivals as well. 

Now that iTunes is selling short films from the Sundance Film Festival and Academy Award Nominated films it allows a revenue stream never seen before for short filmmakers. With a few clicks on your computer you can be watching The Last Farm shot in Iceland.

Most books on screenwriting are geared toward the traditional Hollywood feature film route and I’m indebted to those books for there I learned classic storytelling structure, but there are many alternative routes for you these days due to the increased bandwidth of the Internet.

Keep in mind that You Tube was just launched in 2005. And already it’s had success (Lonely Girl 15 and We Need Girlfriends) launching careers. The later now being developed by Sex in the City creator Darren Star, who is working on a CBS pilot with the original creators who made the videos in off hours from their day jobs.

And don’t forget the potential for screenwriting for videos games that have become more and more story orientated. Video game sales a couple years ago surpassed movie revenue. And every year more and more businesses will be using video on the Internet to tell their stories.

The digital genie is way out of the bottle. It may be digital but someone still has to write the screenplays. On the high end there will continue to be films shot digitally like Sin City and 300 that were shot on blue screens on sound stages, and this years’ $30 million Cloverfield which was shot mostly with the Panasonic HVX 200 digital camera that sells new for under $6,000. shooting onto digital P2 cards.

There will continually be upgrades to smaller high def DV cameras and films made from them, and there are films now being made being shot directly to hard drives and edited as they’re being shot, and even those older cameras like the Sony VX1000 will filter down to someone who decides its time to make a little film.

And let’s not forget those cell phone cameras I wrote about in New Cinema Screenwriting (Part 1).

This is filmmaking and screenwriting in the 21 century;  A screen is any screen available. Embrace it. That’s new cinema screenwriting.

So pick up a bottle of Coppola wine today a give a toast to Mr. Francis Ford Coppola, prophet, pioneer, and godfather of new cinema.


Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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