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Posts Tagged ‘West Virginia’

“Odd lead performances be damned, [Bubble] is not only an underrated gem, but yet another masterpiece found within Soderbergh’s historic filmography.”
Joshua Brunsting, Criterioncast 

Today on re-post Saturday I decided on one where Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) talked about directing non-professional actors because it’s a nice match for the post earlier this month where Alexander Payne’s talked about working with non-professional actors in all his films—“Nebraska”—Take 1 (Casting Farmers)— and because I finally got around to seeing Bubble last night—the movie Soderbergh referenced. (The 2005 offbeat film has never been easy to find, but it’s currently available on Netflix.)

Here’s the original post from October 2011 on one of the early HD features released in theaters:

It’s not usual for directors to use non-professional actors from time to time, but Steven Soderbergh took it to extreme for his 2006 film Bubble—the entire cast was non-professionals actors. I was reminded of that film today when I drove through Parkerburgh, West Virginia & Belpre, Ohio were Soderbergh shot Bubble. Soderbergh, who directed and shot the film, said that he found that non-professionals tend to do their best work in the first or second take before they start becoming self-conscious of their performance. Here are some other thoughts he had on the experience to help you in working with non-professional actors:

“I didn’t ever want to be in a situation of giving non-professional actors marks, you know, and be in a situation where they had to repeat a precise physical activity to accommodate where the camera was.

“So I was always working from the performance out and making sure that I had the camera in a place that could capture what they were doing without me having to tell them, ‘Hey, don’t lean over here. I need you to walk up to this mark. Don’t sit in that chair.’ I wanted them to do whatever they were going to do, and then I would find a way to have it play out in the frame.

“One of the things I like in the film is this guy, this detective, who’s a real detective who works in Ohio, he just had a quality that I thought was really fascinating, you know. It’s just impossible to fake, and especially in the interrogation scene, that was a single take, two cameras running, and watching the two of them as this scene developed was really interesting, watching his cadence slowly start to shift as, you know, the wheel starts to turn a little bit and watching her start to get more and more upset and more nervous. It was really fascinating.

“What we did was we just gave him the factual information that he would have from that alleged murder scene. I didn’t tell him what to say. I didn’t tell him how to question her. I didn’t tell him when to, you know, pull the trump card. I just said, ‘Do this the way you would do it,’ and she had no idea of what he was going to do, and so it was really interesting to watch.”
Steven Soderbergh
ABC Interview  

Colemon Hough wrote the screenplay for Bubble (with a large amount of improv from the non-professional actors).

Scott W. Smith

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It’s West Virginia day here at Screenwriting from Iowa. Below are three of the Google micro documentaries that I field produced and shot in Charleston and Martinsburg, WV on behalf of Magnet Media in New York City. In total, I did 21 of these last year in six states and they were a blast to work on. Travel, met interesting people, and tell their stories—what’s there not to like.

If you happen to be in Charleston, WV today (March 19, 2012) check out the free event at the Clay Center—Walker Theater to learn more about getting your business online. (Stats show 63% of small businesses in the U.S. aren’t online.) Otherwise, check out the West Virginia Get Your Business online website.

P.S. From the lips of a West Viginian—The 1971 John Denver hit song Take Me Home, Country Roads (written with Taffy Nivert and Bill Danoff) was about Virginia, but the opening line “Almost heaven, West Virgina” worked better because of the four syllables in West Virginia. (Others say that it was originally supposed to be Massachusetts, which also has four-syllables and is Danoff”s home state.)  But West Virginia it is, and since 1972 the song has played at every home football game at the West Virginia University. Though some have wanted to change the state motto to “Almost Heaven” it is actually “Mountaineers are always free”—and the state song is West Virginia My Home, The West Virginia Hills, This is My West Virginia.

Related posts:
From West Virginia to Hollywood
Steve Martin’s Bluegrass Roots
Postcard #8 (West Virginia Fall Colors)
Quote from the Road #1 (Charleston)
Jennifer Garner’s Old W.V. Job

Scott W. Smith

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Since Diablo Cody is my poster child (female) for a screenwriter coming from outside L.A. (and the original inspiration for this blog)  then I think I’ll name Lawrence Kasdan as the poster child (male) screenwriter from outside L.A. Kasdan was raised in Morgantown, West Virginia. Quick, name another screenwriter from West Virginia.

(While Morgantown is the second largest city in West Virginia it only has about 30,000 residents not including the students at the University of West Virginia. My lasting memory of Morgantown goes back to 1994 when I was there for a video shoot and the news broke of O.J. Simpson’s famous low-speed police chase. I remember walking down the main drag and seeing restaurant/bar after restaurant/bar having the same helicopter shot of the Simposn’s white Ford Bronco on their TVs.)

Kasdan left Morgantown to attend the University of Michigan where he was an English major. A gifted writer he would go on to win Hopwood Prize at UM for creative writing. In his 30s he became  one of the most successful screenwriters in Hollywood with a string of box office hits— Star Wars: The Empire Strikes, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Body Heat and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. He has also had  three Oscar nominations for his screenwriting —Grand Canyon, The Accidental Tourist, and The Big Chill.

But what I think you’ll be interested in is that little period between college in Ann Arbor, Michigan and his first sale as a screenwriter. While reading The First Time I Got Paid for It, Writers’ Tales from the Hollywood Trenches I found this retelling by Kasdan when he would have been a 28 year old advertising copywriter:

“One summer day in 1977 my agent asked me to lunch, which was so unusual it made me nervous. It has taken me a long time to get an agent, so naturally, I was worried about hanging on to him. For two years now he had been trying to sell a thriller I had written for my favorite star Steve McQueen, who didn’t know I’d written this thriller for him. Originally, the agent thought he wouldn’t have much trouble selling the script, so he agreed to represent me. But after sixty-seven rejections he was getting discouraged.”

But his agent didn’t want to part ways with Kasdan, but he did want Kasdan to try his hand at writing for television, specifically Starsky & Hutch. Kasden reluctantly agreed to give it a shot. Soon he heard back from the powers that be at Starsky & Hutch that he didn’t have the goods to write for the show. He told the agent not to give up on him that he had a new screenplay in the works that was almost done. He thought that would buy him a little more time to breakthrough.

Then Kasdan writes, “But when I came into my job the next day, there was a message that my agent had called. Could he have changed his mind overnight? Of course he could. After nine years of writing screenplays without success, I believed only bad things were going to happen to me. But what he had to tell me wasn’t bad. It was kind of miraculous. After two years and all that rejection, suddenly two different parties were interested in my thriller—which was called The Bodyguard.”

So while you dream of writing the next  Raiders of the Lost Ark or Return of the Jedi (or get discouraged in your own career) remember Kasden’s line, “After nine years of writing screenplays without success.” And also keep in mind that while that first sale came in 1977 it was fifteen years before the film The Bodyguard was produced and released into theaters. (The film starred Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston in roles that were originally thought would star Steve McQueen & Barbra Stresisand. The movie made over $400 million worldwide.)

Related posts: Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours

Screenwriting from Michigan

Raiders Revisted (part 1)

Scott W. Smith

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Screenwriting from Iowa, huh?

No, it’s not a joke or an oxymoron. (Doesn’t the above photo I took today look like an ideal day to write?)

Screenwriting from Iowa isn’t really just about Iowa or limited to screenwriting. But that is the starting point. And I
 hope this on-going blog encourages writers who feel like they live in the middle of nowhere. And if you hold on a moment you’ll learn that the hippest and hottest screenwriter in Hollywood today has some Iowa roots.

It’s ten degrees below zero and snowing as I begin this first blog compounding the barren wasteland fears people have about the state of Iowa. But I think you’ll be surprised at the creative talent growing beyond them there cornfields.

On January 3, 2008 all eyes were on Iowa (at least for a quick glance) as the first presidential caucuses took place. Jay Leno joked on The Tonight Show, “Many people don’t know this, but the word caucus is Indian for the one day anyone pays attention to Iowa.”

Iowa may not be New York or LA but where else can you see 13 presidential candidates up close within a ten-mile drive of your home as I did in the last couple months? There was plenty of drama, and enough material for a couple screenplays.

Iowa is a metaphor for any place that represents life beyond Hollywood. (That could be West Virginia, West Africa, or even West Covina.)   Iowa is where I live and write and is also a state that most people in the United States would have trouble pinpointing on a map. Quintessential “fly-over country.”  What good can come from Iowa? Can you get any further from Hollywood? You’d be surprised.

Forget that six degrees of separation to Kevin Bacon thing. Bacon was right here in Cedar Falls earlier this month stumping for presidential hopeful John Edwards.  Cedar Falls is also where Nancy Price wrote the novel that became the Julia Roberts’ film Sleeping with the Enemy, and where Robert Waller wrote the book that became the Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep film The Bridges of Madison County.

And since this is the first blog let me also mention that entertainment icons Johnny Carson & John Wayne were both born in Iowa. This site is dedicated seeing the depth of talent that can from a remote place and will provide you with practical advise on screenwriting and digital filmmaking.

As I write this, the independent film Juno continues its strong box office run and has already won the Critics’ Choice Award for screenwriter Diablo Cody.  (And I don’t think that will be the last award she wins.) Film critic Tom Long of the Detroit News wrote, “Juno’s the best movie of the year. It’s the best screenplay of the year, and it features the best actress of the year working in the best acted ensemble of the year.” Roger Ebert wrote, “The screenplay by first-timer Diablo Cody is a subtle masterpiece of construction…The Film has no wrong scenes and no extra scenes, and flows like running water.”

The 29-year-old Cody’s own life story of spending a year as a less than exotic dancer in Minneapolis is well documented, but to learn where she honed her writing skills we must go back a couple of years to when she was a college student in…you guessed it, Iowa. The University of Iowa  in Iowa City has long been sacred writing grounds and home to one of the richest traditions in creative writing. Tennessee Williams and John Irving are among its alma mater.

“They have the writer’s workshop there. They have an undergraduate workshop, and I got in,” Cody said in this month’s Written By. “I focused mainly on poetry. I laugh about that now. I actually think it wound up helpful because as a poet you develop a certain efficiency with language that I think you use as a screenwriter.” (The entire article by Matt Hoey can be found at the Writer’s Guide of America’s website: www.wga.org/writtenby/writtenbysub.aspx?id=2693)

Though Cody couldn’t wait to get out of college she did earn a degree in media studies and was known for her excellent writing. And I believe that excellent writing will always be discovered wherever you live.

So over the course of this blog I will offer insights gleaned from my film school days, various workshops I attended and given, over 100 books read on writing and the creative process, as well as more than 20 years of experience as a video producer/director/writer (www.scottwsmith.com), and most importantly quotes from successful screenwriters.

© Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith


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