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Posts Tagged ‘W.P Kinsella’

“If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the movies. Don’t even mention them to me.”
Holden Caulfield
Catcher in the Rye
Written by J.D. Salinger

How did J.D. Salinger become one of the most wanted writers in Hollywood? By not wanting Hollywood.  Perhaps it would be better said that it was not the reclusive Salinger who was wanted but his work, Catcher in the Rye. When Salinger died a few days ago I imagine producers were excited about the possibility of finally bringing the book to the screen.

Selling the film rights to Catcher in the Rye would be very lucrative for the Salinger estate.

The story goes that Salinger was so upset with the adaption of Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut (made into the 1949 film My Foolish Heart) that he was done with Hollywood. (Though I did notice on IMDB that he is credited a couple times in the last 30 years.)

I don’t know if Salinger ever stepped foot in Iowa but his spirit was drawn here. In the Field of Dreams, the character that James Earl Jones plays (Terrance Mann) was based on Salinger. In the W.P Kinsella book (Shoeless Joe) that the movie is based on the character actually is  J.D. Salinger himself, but he did not allow his name to be used in the film so changes were made. Good thing, too. It would be hard to imagine that film without James Earl Jones, a fine actor but one who doesn’t quite look like Salinger.

Not much is known about Salinger and that’s the way that he wanted it. But that will all change since his death.  Screenwriter Shane Salerno (Shaft, Armageddon) has spent five years working on a self-funded documentary on Salinger. One in which he interviewed over 150 people who “had contact with him otherwise, or were greatly influenced by him.”  (Robert Towne, Tom Wolfe, E.L. Doctorow, Philip Seymour Hoffman) The documentary is based on Salinger: A Biography, written by Paul Alexander.

Salerno told Mike Fleming at Deadline Hollywood;

“I loved (Salinger’s) work, and how he had the world at his doorstep, and said no thanks. He somehow understood in 1951 the corrosive effect that fame and money could have on his writing. He was singular, and in this Internet age where people pursue their 15 minutes of fame, nobody did what Salinger did: living in the woods in New Hampshire, writing to please only himself.”

Maybe in the future it will be hip to pursue 15 minutes of reclusiveness. I think it was Blaise Pascal who said a few centuries ago that the chief problem of man was that he could not stand to be in room by himself. (I might update that to “by himself—without a TV, a computer and the Internet.”)

Scott W. Smith

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“When your heart speaks, take good notes.”
Judith Campbell

You’re going to think I’m making this up…and I won’t blame you.

But I’m going to tell you about how one screenwriter had a part in making the world a better place.

Here’s what happened. A friend in Florida sent me a message on Facebook asking if I was going to hear Greg Mortenson speak in Cedar Falls Thursday, February 12. Who? With a few clicks I realize that he’s the co-author of Three Cups of Tea which was a #1 New York Times bestseller and has sold over one million copies. I know of the book,  but I haven’t read it.

Greg was an avid mountain climber when he was younger  and now helps build schools in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, so his story sounded interesting and I went to hear him speak last night. I showed up at the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center on the UNI campus a little late and found the place packed. (Apparently this is common wherever he speaks.)  Out of 1,500 seats I only counted seven open seats. And this is my abridged version of Greg’s story.

Once upon a time…before Greg Mortenson was born his mother and father went to the Iowa State Teachers College in Cedar Falls (which is now the University of Northern Iowa where the talk was given last night). They got married, had children and did missionary and educational work in Africa. When Greg was 12 he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. The family would later settle in Minnesota. Craig’s sister Christa was epileptic and for her 23rd birthday in 1992 she wanted to take a trip to Iowa to see the “field of dreams” in Dyersville where her favorite movie was shot.

Though the movie  Field of Dreams still has a strong following today this was just a few years after the 1989 release. (In fact, the Field of Dreams Movie Site still draws over 50,000 tourists a year. An ESPN article called A little piece of heaven still exists quoted one visitor to the field as saying, “There’s something magical about this place.” )

But on the morning they were to leave on the trip Christa’s mother found that she had died in the night. As a way to honor the memory of  his sister Greg decided to climb K2 the second largest mountain in the world.  He trained hard for the journey. He planned to leave Christa’s necklace at the summit. But he failed. He didn’t make it to the top. Exhausted after a 50 plus day journey he became disoriented and “wandered away from his group.” He ended up in the small village of Korphe in Pakestain where the town people helped him recuperate.

Though he hadn’t had a bath in 84 days he was greeted and welcomed. During his stay he learned that the kids had sticks instead of pencils and in general as tradition the women were not educated. He learned that there was not a full time teacher there because the village does not have the dollar a day to pay a teacher.

So Greg decided to take it upon himself to raise money for a school and after sending out over 500 fundraising letters he had a total of $100 in donations—not enough to cover postage. But he was persistant and continued in his quest until the concept of raising pennies for pencils gains momentum in schools and library’s throughout the land.

To make  along story short today Greg has helped establish over 80 schools providing education to over 28,000 children including 18,000 girls who are not normally educated in this region. And while the Taliban continues to destroy schools (over 400 last year) Greg is doing his part to build school and promote peace. To learn more about Greg and his work visit the Three Cups of Tea website.

“Three Cups of Tea is one of the most remarkable adventure stories of our time. Greg Mortenson’s dangerous and difficult quest to build schools in the wildest parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan is not only a thrilling read, it’s proof that one ordinary person, with the right combination of character and determination, really can change the world .
Tom Brokaw

“I did not find a field of dreams in a cornfield in Iowa or at the top of K2. I found my field of dreams in Korphe, an impoverished village in Pakistan’s Karakoram Himalaya.”
Greg Mortenson

Perhaps Greg would have done all that he had done without if his sister hadn’t have seen the movie Field of Dreams. But I love how the Phil Alden Robinson screenplay wrote (based on W.P. Kinsella book) and the movie Robinson made are a part of Three Cups of Tea and a movement that has been a part of making the world a better place.

To paraphrase a client I have, “We’re not saving lives, we’re entertaining people.” But every once in a while…..

copyright 2009 Scott W. Smith

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juno.jpeg

Yesterday the Oscar nominations were announced and Diablo Cody and her script Juno were nominated for best original screenplay and the film was also nominated for best picture.  I recently pointed out her Iowa connection as having graduated from the University of Iowa.

If you’re not familiar with the creative talent that has come out of the University of Iowa hold on for what I’m about to tell you.  You’ll be hard pressed to find a university that has educated and attracted more novelist, poets, essayist, screenwriters and short story writers at such a high level of proficiency and acclaim.

The campus is located just off Interstate 80 in Iowa City. Head west on 80 from New York City and you’ll run right into it. Head east on 80 from San Francisco (or via Park City if you’re coming from Sundance) and you’ll be heading toward the promise land of creative talent.  And if you happen to be in Cedar Falls where I’m typing this, it’s just a little over an hour drive south.

Its famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop is the oldest and most prestigious MFA writing program in the country. The program has produced thirteen Pulitzer Prize winners, and has had professors such as Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse-Five), Robert Penn Warren (All the King’s Men) and Philip Roth (The Human Stain).

Its notable MFA alumni whose writings have become movies include John Irving (The World According to Garp), W.P.Kinsella (Shoeless Joe, which became the movie Field of Dreams), Leonard Schrader (screenplay, Kiss of the Spider Woman), Ethan Canin (The Palace Thief that became the movie The Emperor’s Club), Michael Cunningham (The Hours), Nicholas Meyer (Oscar-nominated The-Seven-Percent-Solution), Robert Nelson Jacobs (screenplay, Chocolat), Max Allan Collins (The Road to Perdition) and Anthony Swofford (Jarhead).

Most recently two Iowa grads have had books listed in The New York Times 10 best books of 2007; Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson and Then We Came to an End by Joshua Ferris.

Those educated at the University of Iowa (though not in the writing program) include Stewart Stern (Rebel Without a Cause), Barry Kemp (Coach), actor/writer Gene Wilder (Young Frankenstein), producer Mark Johnson (Rain Man), Richard Maibaum (12 James Bond films including From Russia with Love), and the great playwright Tennessee Williams (A Streetcar Named Desire).  I’m sure I’ve missed many people, but I think you get the point.

So Diablo Cody joins a distinguished list of honored writers from Iowa. Congratulations on her success. I’m sure her 12 years of Catholic schooling in the Chicago area also played a part in developing her talent. The list of Catholic influenced (some positive, some negative) writers is too long to address now but may be worth a future blog. (I’m neither Catholic nor did I attend the University of Iowa, but I do like to notice trends.)

But make no mistake, Cody’s quirky mix of Midwest roots (she wrote Juno while living in Minneapolis) are what make her writing original. (Ditto that for the Minneapolis raised Coen brothers who just received writing and directing Oscar nominations for No Country for Old Men.) And that originality is what makes Cody attractive to Hollywood, both as a writer and as a person. Stick to your dreams and more importantly keep writing.

And paste this quote from Ohio screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (Basic Instinct) above your writing area: “If you write a good, commercial script and start sending it out – someone will recognize that it is good and commercial…If they think your script will make them money, they will option or buy your script.”

May 2008 Addition: The Juno-Iowa Connection Part 2. Ellen Page the talented lead actress in Juno is in Des Moines this month shooting Peacock with Cillian Murphy.

For more about Iowa and Diablo Cody read the post Life Beyond Hollywood. To read more about University of Iowa graduate John Irving read John Irving, Iowa & Writing.

© Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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