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Posts Tagged ‘Wisconsin’

“Storytellers broaden our minds: engage, provoke, inspire, and ultimately connect us.”
Robert Redford, Sundance Institute President and Founder

“It seemed like an age old story made new.”
Director Jessee Moss (on not Hercules, but his doc The Overnighters)

It’s really not a fair fight. The tag team of  Hercules and Lucy will be playing today in 6,762 theaters in the United States and The Overnighters (as far as I know) will be playing in just one theater—and a small one at that. It’s actually playing at a microcinema—or minima—in Pepin, Wisconsin.

Pipin’s where I wish I could be tonight or tomorrow as The Overnighters plays in a theater that holds just 40 people. The Jessee Moss documentary on Williston, North Dakota won the  U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

How’s this for a logline? “Desperate, broken men chase their dreams and run from their demons in the North Dakota oil fields. A local Pastor risks everything to help them.”

Okay, maybe not a logline that wouldn’t excite WME Story Editor Christopher (The Inside Pitch) Lockhart and result in a movie that would open in 3,000+ theaters and find an international audience, but I look forward to seeing it eventually. You do know this blog is called Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places, don’t you? Williston, North Dakota qualifies as an unlikely place to make a film.

“Jesse Moss’ verite documentary about the impact of the oil boom in Williston, North Dakota on the local job market, and the controversial priest supporting the lives of the newcomers it attracts, contains one of the most remarkable examples of layered non-fiction storytelling to come along in some time.”
Eric Kohn, Indiewire review of The Overnighters after the movies Sundance viewing

The Overnighters really isn’t competing tonight against Hercules and Lucy (and I’m sure some talented screenwriters worked on both of those movies), I just wanted to give a shout-out to the Flyway Film Festival gang and its Executive Director Rick Vaicius as they celebrate the opening of their Flyway Minima tonight in a former ice cream shop near the banks of Lake Pepin. The only thing better than being at the opening night would be eating at the Harbor View Cafe in Pepin before going to the movie.

P.S. Don’t be surprised if Lucy beats Hercules at the box office this weekend. Remember that post I wrote earlier this week (‘What it means to be a screenwriter’) and how “Young Women Are The Hottest Box Office Demographic.” Showdown—Who will win at the box office—A female driven action film or a male driven action film? What are the chances they both do well and Dwayne Johnson and Scarlet Johansson end up in a film together next year?

Related posts:
Postcard #17 (Lake Pepin)
The Perfect Logline
Christopher Lockhart Q&A (Part 1)
Screenwriting Quote #172 (Christopher Lockhart) 

Scott W. Smith

 

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Coming off a couple of posts on Super Bowl commercials, I thought I’d point out that making commercials is not an uncommon place for writers and directors to hone their skills. Today I’ll highlight one such person who made the commercial below that aired during the 2003 Super Bowl and who has since built a career making feature films:

It’s fitting in light of the Green Bay Packers winning  Super Bowl XLV to mention that the director of that commercial, Zack Snyder, was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  He didn’t live there long, but he was born there in 1966. He went to art school in London and also attended the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He spent many years making music videos and high end commercials.

One of his best known commercials is this 1997 Jeep spot called Frisbee which was a Clio winner.

His first feature film Dawn of the Dead, was released  2004, and in 2007 he wrote and directed 300. Two years later he released Watchmen and in 2010 he produced and directed Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga ‘Hoole. Next month his latest film, Sucker Punch (it’s been called “Alice in Wonderland with machine guns”), will be released which he co-wrote (with Steve Shibuya), produced and directed.


And he is on board to make the next Superman movie, The Man of Steel.

“In the pantheon of superheroes, Superman is the most recognized and revered character of all time, and I am honored to be a part of his return to the big screen. I also join Warner Bros. and the producers in saying how excited we are about the casting of Henry (Cavill) . He is the perfect choice to don the cape and S shield.”
Zack Snyder

Snyder and his wife, Deborah, have a production company in Pasadena called Cruel and Unusual Films.

According to Box Office Mojo, the first four moives Zack has made have a phenomenal box office average of $100 million a film.

Scott W. Smith

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Once upon a time (1978) in a land far, far from Hollywood (Utah) a film festival popped up that eventually became what is considered today as the granddaddy of film festivals in the United States—the Sundance Film Festival. I imagine 30 years ago if you asked most people if they wanted to go to a film festival in Salt Lake City a common answer would have been, “Why?’.

Of course, having Robert Redford involved didn’t hurt visibility, nor did the decision in 1981 to move the festival to Park City, Utah. And since that is a ski resort town they also moved the festival from the summertime to the winter as a way to make the festival more glamorous to the Hollywood crowd. Those changes all worked. And the festival that was originally started to increase filmmaking in Utah and highlight regional independent filmmaking has become a two-week suburb of Los Angeles full of celebrities and paparazzi.

So where do you go these days to see small, independent, regional filmmakers? Well, honestly, if you’re not making a film try next door because somebody there is probably between writing a script and editing the film. Small film festivals are everywhere as cities now see it as a marketing advantage—a way to seem with it.

But I want to tell you about a little film festival that is located in one of my favorite areas in the country—The Fly Way Film Festival began in 2008 and is held in late October in Pepin & Stockholm, Wisconsin.  (It’s going on right now.) The two small villages on Lake Pepin (part of the Mississippi) while not large in number are a located in a beautiful area that has no shortage of artists. And begin located an hour and a half south-east of Minneapolis makes it not so remote.

This year 35 feature films and shorts will be show through this weekend. I met the director Rick Vaicius last month while sailing on Lake Pepin. One of the things I like most about the festival is they don’t charge an entry fee for filmmakers. I think that probably sets them a part from most (all?) film festivals right out of the gate. I don’t know if they’ll become the next Sundance (or even want to be), but I think it’s a festival that should be on your radar because what every filmmaker needs is a few cheerleaders in their corner.

And speaking of cheerleaders, Kelley Baker, The Angry Filmmaker, will also be speaking at the Fly Way Film Festival this year.

As a taste of this year selections… Ballhawks is a documentary by Mike Diedrich that is narrated by Bill Murray. The film will be show tomorrow (10/23/10) at the Fly Way Film Festival and Diedrich will be on hand at the showing. (For those of you in Texas, the film is also showing this week at the Austin Film Festival.) The film is about  a little known aspect of Chicago Cubs baseball that happens just outside Wrigley Field. Diedrich says it’s, “A story about hope, exuberance, shattered dreams and picking up the pieces to move on.”

Vimeo doesn’t play well with WordPress so click here to watch a trailer of Ballhawks.

Oh, and one for the trivia books. Pepin, Wisconsin happens to be the town that Laura Ingalls Wilder was born just outside of. (Before she wrote Little House on the Prairie, her first book was Little House in the Big Woods about the Pepin area.)

One more example of big things happening in small places. (Not to mention Bob Dylan playing here in Cedar Falls, Iowa on Sunday.)

Scott W. Smith

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“Writing a good movie brings a writer about as much fame as steering a bicycle.”
Ben Hecht

“The job of turning good writers into movie hacks is the producer’s chief task.”
Ben Hecht

Screenwriter Ben Hecht was born in 1894 just as moving pictures were being invented. Before he died in 1964 he worked on 70+ films and wrote many plays and books. He was the first screenwriter to ever win an Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Story. He’s considered  one of the greatest screenwriters in the history of motion pictures.

Hecht was born in New York City and spent time on the lower east side before moving to Racine, Wisconsin. where his mother worked in downtown Racine. For those keeping score, Racine is not far from Kenosha, WI where Orson Welles was born.

After graduating from high school in Racine and briefly attending college at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (for all of three days), Hecht went to Chicago where he eventually began working for newspapers (Chicago Journal and The Chicago Daily News). His first novel (Erik Dorn) was published in 1921. His Chicago-basedplay The Front Page was written in 1928 and was made into films several times. His time in Chicago covering murders and gangster would serve him well in Hollywood as those stories translated well to the big screen.

Jumping into the world of movies just as they were using sound, his script for Underworld was released in 1929 and earned him an Oscar award. He sometimes wrote a script in a matter of days and said that he never took longer than eight weeks. Scarface (1932) was written in nine days. He is quoted as saying of his screenwriting career that he was paid, “tremendous sums of money for work that required no more effort than a game of pinochle.”

He was called The Shakespeare of Hollywood but had this to say of his own career: “Out of the seventy movies I’ve written some ten of them were not entirely waste product. These were Underworld, The Scoundrel, Wuthering Heights, Viva Villa, Scarface, Specter of the Rose, Actors and Sin, Roman Holiday, Spellbound, Nothing Sacred.
Ben Hecht

Some of the other movies he worked on (credited and uncredited) include:

Gunga Din
Notorious (Oscar Nominated)
Gone with the Wind
The Shop Around the Corner
His Girl Friday
Stagecoach
Angels Over Broadway (Oscar Nominated)
Viva Villa (Oscar nominated)

He won his second Academy Award for The Scoundrel (shared with Charles MacArthur). Because he sometimes used a pseudonym (partly because he was blacklisted in Europe) we’ll probably never know exactly how many novels, plays and movies Hecht actually wrote. But it’s safe to say that he cranked out his share of pages. Combine the tough-talking gangster persona Hecht carried with the rapid exchange found in His Girl Friday (based on Hecht/MacArthur play The Front Page) and it’s hard to think that Hecht didn’t pave the way for writers Joe Eszterhas and Quentin Tarantino.  (Eszterhas in his book Hollywood Animal called Hecht “the most successful screenwriter in Hollywood history.”

Later in life Hecht had his own TV talk show in New York City (you can find a weak interview he did with Jack Kerouac on You Tube) and was critical of the culture that American movies had helped produce:

“The movies are one of the bad habits that corrupted our century….Of their many sins, I offer as the worst their effect on the intellectual side of the nation. It is chiefly from that viewpoint I write of them — as an eruption of trash that has lamed the American mind and retarded Americans from becoming a cultured people.”
Ben Hecht

What would he say of TV and the Internet today?

Scott W. Smith

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Reading departure signs in some big airport
Reminds me of the places I’ve been.
Visions of good times that brought so much pleasure
Makes me want to go back again.
Jimmy Buffett
Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

“A zip code is something I’d rather do without.”
George Bingham
Up in the Air
Written by Walter Kirn

Over the weekend I decided to read Walter Kirn’s novel Up in the Air to see how it’s different from the new movie starring George Clooney.  It’s actually quite different. I read somewhere that Kirn said that the movie was not the book, and the book was not the movie, but that they had the same “genetic code.”

But I was surprised how little connection there was between the two story-wise. I remember reading the book Seabiscuit after seeing the movie and it was remarkable how similar the two were. In that case several hundred pages had to be pared down, meaning that huge chunks the story had to be left out. In other case things were added to streamline the story. But the two worked as almost a mirror of each other.

Not so with Up in the Air. The core is there. A man named Ryan Bingham flies around the country living in hotel rooms and chalking up frequent flyer miles in between his job as a career transition consultant—he fires people. Yet though he is connected to the entire United States, he’s disconnected from just about everything and everyone else.

And he does motivational speaking on the side. Though in the movie it’s a seminar called “What’s in Your Backpack?” and in the book it’s a business parable called The Garage. They are similar, yet different.

Here are some other differences:

In the book Bingham is 35-years-old (which explains why Leonardo DiCaprio was attached at one time), Clooney is closer to 50.

In the book Bingham’s base is Denver and in the movie it’s Omaha. (Perhaps because Omaha represents more the middle of the country. Perhaps as a tribute to writer/director Alexander Payne (Sidesways, Election) who Up in the Air director Jason Reitman is said to be a fan of his work.

Bingham’s sister lives in Minnesota and that’s where a family wedding is planned, whereas the movie has the wedding taking place in Wisconsin. (Perhaps simply to remove it from the same state where Reitman’s Juno takes place.)

Only fragments of dialogue overlap between the book and the movie. (“You’re awfully isolated, the way you live.”)

The plot of the book is more about Bingham getting a million frequent flyer miles where in the movie it’s more about Bingham keeping his way of life on the road alive. The story and supporting characters are probably the biggest differences between the book and the film.

Perhaps the biggest additions to the movie that are not in the book are Bingham has a young female traveling companion and there is an online technological change to the film.  Both of these help the film. One gives Bingham a chance to explain his way of life and the other help make the story contemporary.

Things like discussions about Mormonism and Binghams’s preference for listening to Christian rock music are left out of the movie, but the movie has its own spiritual undertones–albeit subtle. In the book, Bingham likes to do his paperwork in the small worship places that are found in most large airports. Simply because they are quiet and usually empty. That would have been a nice touch for the film. Perhaps fitting of Bingham’s character if he would have met a lady friend there.)

Both stories have a good twist in them, but the twists are different.

One thing that stays consistent is a key event in Bingham’s life takes place in Iowa. In the movie it’s Dubuque and in the book it’s Fort Dodge. “I like the name,” Bingham says about Fort Dodge. (A place just about an hour to the west of Cedar Falls where I’m typing this post. Just did a shoot there a month or so ago.)

The worst thing about the original hardback book is the cover artwork. It lacks the simple, elegant design of the movie poster. It’s cartoonish clouds could be taken as an explosion and there is a burning person falling to the ground. (Of course, it didn’t help this book that it came out just two months before September 11, 2001.)

But the theme of people losing their jobs is much more timely in 2009/2010 than it was when the book was first released.

One thing the movie can’t capture is Kirn great ability at turning a phrase and his descriptive writing;

“Dwight is my age but with an air of elegance, as though he grew up abroad, in grand hotels.”

“I suppose that it’s time to explain about women. There are lots of them. I credit my looks.”

“The car, a new model I’ve never driven before, smells of a fruity industrial deodorant that’s worse than any odor it might be masking.”

“Our clothes and papers strewn across the room like wreckage from a trailer-park tornado.”

And a fitting place to end this post is with this Iowa-friendly section from the book:

“My mother has developed a sense of place; her mental map of the country is zoned and shaded according to her ideas about each region’s moral tenor and general demographic…If I’m in Iowa, sensible, pleasant Iowa, I’m eating well, thinking clearly, and making friends.”

His mother’s right, you know? Sensible, pleasant, clear thinking. (Except for the meth labs and some of the people I’ve interviewed when producing segments for The Montel Williams Show & The Doctors.)

Update: You can follow Walter Kirn on Twitter @walterkirn.

Scott W. Smith

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Did you know the Midwest had a big part in the success of Sunset Boulevard? Not only was Gloria Swanson born in Chicago and William Holden born in O’Fallon, Illinois (just east of St. Louis) but Nancy Olson who received and Academy Award nomination in her supporting role in the film was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

But it was a preview screening just north of the city of Chicago that first signaled there was a problem with the opening scene.

While few have seen the original opening of the movie since 1949 there are scripts kicking around with the original open. The opening scene takes place in a morgue where William Holden’s character Joe Gillis lies dead with other dead bodies of men, women and children. Then things get funky when the voices of the dead people begin to talk.

                                                           A MAN”S VOICE
                                             Don’t be scared. There’s a lot of us here.
                                             It’s all right.
                      
                                                             GILLIS
                                             I’m not scared.

And then they all continue talking about how they died and one asks if “Satchel Paige beat the White Sox yesterday?” to which the Gillis voice-over replies, “No I wouldn’t. I died before the morning paper came.” The tone Wilder was after was missed by that first audience in the Midwest.

“Because of the touchy subject matter. Paramount sought a venue far from Hollywood to preview the picture. Evanston, Illinois, seemed distant enough. After the opening credits, when the story moved down Sunset Boulevard and into the L.A County Morgue, the audience stunned Billy Wilder. Years later he recalled, ‘When the morgue label was tied on Mr. Holden’s toe, they started to scream with laughter. In the mood of hilarity I walked out of the preview, very depressed.’”
                                                    Sam Staggs
                                                    Close-Up on Sunset Boulevard
                                                    Page 151

Paramount got the same negative reviews in Poughkeepsie, New York  and Great Neck on Long Island. The release was delayed as Wilder took six months to make changes.  When the film was released with changes in 1950 it was generally well received in the larger cities with some reviews having a clear understanding of the lasting value of the film. But the film was not a blockbuster hit. But it would go on to become what many have called the greatest film about Hollywood and in 1998 AFI would list Sunset Boulevard  as #12 on its top 100 film list.

 

Scott W. Smith

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Though screenwriter Robert Siegel grew up in New York, he got his Midwest roots by graduating from the University of Michigan and then made headlines in Madison, Wisconsin. Literally. As the editor for the great fake newspaper The Onion Siegal came up with those crazy headline. Things like, “Report: 98 Percent Of U.S. Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others.”

But after 13 years he quit and began to write screenplays and has found success with The Wrestler starring Mickey Rourke. The film is on a lot of critics picks for one of the best  of ’08. But making the transition from writing witty headlines to writing a quality screenplay was not without some bumbs of his own.

“Some of the drafts I wrote, if you would have showed them to a studio executive, they would have called an emergency meeting…That’s the nature of writing. You kind of have to get lost. You go down a bunch of wrong paths and then you find the right path.”
                                                               Robert Siegel
                                                               Script magazine
                                                               Script to Screen article by David S. Cohen

And what did kind of satire did The Onion come up with for The Wrestler? “Acclaimed director Darren Aronofsky takes viewers on a harrowing journey deep into the face of Mickey Rourke.”

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