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Posts Tagged ‘What Happens in Vegas’

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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“Three years ago I was living in Vegas as the night manager of the Mirage Hotel tram line.”
                                                            Anthony Zuiker
                                                            C.S.I., Creator & Exec. Producer 
                                                            Creative Screenwriting Vol 9 No. 5 (2001) 

 

“I like to gamble. The way I have learned to play poker is by putting a lot of hours into it and learning from my mistakes.” 
                                                             Peter Eastgate          
                                                                                  

Professional gambler Peter Eastgate became a multi-millionaire at 5 AM yesterday morning when he won over 9 million dollars–and a gold watch–at the main event at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. The 22-years-old from Demark also became the youngest person to ever win the tournament.

Eastgate symbolizes to many the best of Vegas. The hope that you can parlay a little into a lot in a short amount of time. (Some would say that is also the problem with Vegas.)

But back in 2003 Chris Moneymaker (yes, his real name) won the same tournament and became the face of Internet gambling. He parlayed $39 into $2.7 million dollars. He had never played in a live professional tournament, but he had gotten so good playing online poker that he could beat all his friends. And he was inspired by the movie Rounders in which Matt Damon plays a poker player in the World Series of Poker.    

That’s one more example of movies reflecting the culture they help create. Now there is talk of a movie being produced on the life of Chris Moneymaker. Maybe Matt Damon can play the lead in that as well — just to keep the cycle going.

“I got lucky along the way. I also bluffed a lot during this tournament, but somehow got away with it.”
                                                             Chris Moneymaker

But what does all this have to do with screenwriting? Once again the key is learning a skill and using the Internet. Just like Diablo Cody (Juno) being discovered on the Internet, Chris Moneymaker refined his game on the Internet.  I don’t think Cody and Moneymaker were as lucky as they were prepared. (Moneymaker did earn a Masters degree in Accounting and had played cards since his youth.) They were prepared for the moment that came there way. 

The same is true for C.S.I. franchise creator Anthony Zuiker who was working at Vegas Hotel when he translated some experiences at work into an immensely popular TV franchise. He had graduated from University of Nevada Las Vegas with a BA in English.  He wasn’t sitting in a coffeeshop in L.A. talking about be a screenwriter. He was in fly-over country (fly-to country?) working a regular job to pay the bills and keeping his eyes open for story ideas.

“The police and I are in this motel room searching for evidence when an officer lifts up the bed skirt. All I see is a pair of eyes before she leaps from beneath the bed clawing at my face. And I thought, ‘There’s a show here.'” 
                                                               Anthony Zuiker

Las Vegas itself is an iconic and fascinating place that I have watched reinvent itself it few times over the last 20 years since I first drove through there in college when they still had $3.99 steak dinners. The last time I was there was four years ago for a video shoot and happened to catch them shooting Miss Congeniality 2 at the Venetian. Vegas may not be a hotbed for creating writers but the atmosphere itself is conducive to a wide array of storytelling.

Leaving Las Vegas
Honeymoon in Las Vegas
Casino
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas 
Viva Las Vegas
Heat
Melvin & Howard
The Electric Horseman
21
What Happens in Vegas
Pay it Forward  
3000 Miles to Graceland
Oceans 11 
Bugsy
Indecent Proposal
Vegas Vacation
Showgirls
Swingers
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

If you have a screenplay set in Las Vegas then look into the Nevada Film Office Annual Screenwriting Competition. It’s open to all unsold writers, though 75% of the screenplay must be filmable in Nevada. 

And since we’ve touched a little more on the internet, I think the first book that touched on the web for screenwriters outside L.A. is Christopher Wehner’s Sceeenwriting on the Internet. Wehner also launched screenwritersutopia.com back in 1996 which is packed with helpful information.

“With the Internet you really do have a resource that can help you find a market for your writing. No longer can we sit back and say, “if only I had connections, I could a been a contender…” We’re all contenders now!”
                                                                  Christopher Wehner 

I don’t really know what goes on in the rest of the state of Nevada production-wise because the spotlight always seems to be on Las Vegas. But I do have restaurant recommendation I discovered years ago when I was heading up to Squaw Valley from L.A. for a shoot. On the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe there is a Chart House Restaurant that has one of the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen. (Life can’t be screenwriting, screenwriting, screenwriting.)

 

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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