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Posts Tagged ‘Woody Allen’

“In ‘Amazing Grace,’ that line —  ‘that saved a wretch like me ’— isn’t that something we could all say if we were honest enough?”
Bob Dylan
Interview with Robert Love

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Back in 1989 I had Forrest Gump moment in Hollywood.  I was eating at a Hamburger Hamlet on Hollywood Blvd. when I saw a crowd gathering across the street and it would be the first and only time I ever saw someone getting a Hollywood star. No, it wasn’t Tom Hanks— or any movie/TV star, but the evangelist Billy Graham. It was surreal.

Somewhere in a box I have a photo of that moment. And that distant memory came to my mind yesterday when I learned that Graham died at age 99.

“I feel somewhat out of place because I’m not sure that a clergyman belongs here.”
Billy Graham on getting a star on Hollywood Blvd.
(His star is between right between actress Judy Holliday and Italian opera singer Beniamino Gigli.)

But Graham was involved in radio, television, and film on an international level so it wasn’t so odd that he ended up with a star on Hollywood Blvd. When I lived in Burbank and was just a couple years out of film school I met a guy who worked on the film side with Graham and he gave me a tour of the World Wide Pictures studios (a division of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Assn. ) in Burbank just a few blocks from Warner Bros. Studios. (And just down the road from Universal Studios.)

According to the Los Angeles Times the World Wide Pictures studio closed in 1988. Their first produced film played at a theater on Hollywood Blvd. and some of the best known films from the World Wide Pictures library are Joni (the story of a diving accident that left Joni Eareckson Tada paralyzed) and The Hiding Place (about Corrie ten Boom’s family hiding Jewish people fleeing the Holocaust).

Along the way a list of Hollywood actors had rolls in various World Wide Pictures including Jennifer O’Neill, Ken Howard, Pat Hingle, Jill Ireland, Dabney Coleman, and Julie Harris. Ken Wales, who was one of the producers of Amazing Grace (2006), also had a hand producing and acting for World Wide Pictures.

It’s also a little surreal to find a Rolling Stone article yesterday that touched on the friendship between Billy Graham and Johnny Cash.

The Sacramento Bee reported that when actor Steve McQueen died he was “clutching a Bible – one given to him by Billy Graham.” Elvis, President Jimmy Carter, and Martin Luther King Jr, all had positive connections with Graham.

“When I was growing up, Billy Graham was very popular. He was the greatest preacher and evangelist of my time — that guy could save souls and did. I went to two or three of his rallies in the ’50s or ’60s. This guy was like rock ’n’ roll personified — volatile, explosive. He had the hair, the tone, the elocution — when he spoke, he brought the storm down. Clouds parted. Souls got saved, sometimes 30- or 40,000 of them. If you ever went to a Billy Graham rally back then, you were changed forever. There’s never been a preacher like him. He could fill football stadiums before anybody.”
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan: The Uncut Interview with Robert Love

I went to the final Bruce Springsteen Born in the USA concert in 1985 at the L.A. Coliseum—greatest concert I ever saw. Largest crowd I ever saw, too. If I recall correctly there were 100,000 people there that night. But that’s not the attendance record there. That belong to a 1963 Billy Graham crusade with 134,254 in the stadium. (And a reported 20,000 more outside.)

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Before Graham filled stadiums he spoke in revival tents including a eight week period in downtown Los Angeles in 1949. That event was covered in the recent L.A. Times article Billy Graham: Made in L.A. (While talking about sin in the shadow of Hollywood might seem 1940ish to some, in light of Harvey Weinstein, sexual assault/harassment in the current headlines, and the #MeToo movement it seems rather timeless and appropriate.)

One of the people who attended the ’49 crusade was POW survivor Louis Zamerini. A USA Today article recounts how Zamerini learned about forgiveness from Graham. Zamerini’s story become the Laura Hillenbrand book Unbroken; A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Then the Angelina Jolie directed movie Unbroken. 

My story is not as dramatic as Zamerini’s, but out of curiosity I went to hear Billy Graham speak at Anaheim Stadium in 1985. I was living with a woman at the time and, like a lot of 24 year olds, my life was messy and complicated. Billy Graham had his critics, but I’m not one of them. You can put me in the company of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Steve McQueen, Obama, Zamerini and millions of others who respected the man.

When I look at that photo of the crowd at L.A. Coliseum, and I think back to hearing Graham at Anaheim Stadium in ’85, and reflect on life and death the word surreal keeps coming to mind.

You want something else a little surreal? Here’s a 1969 interview of Billy Graham with Woody Allen.

P.S. I hear there’s only one Hamburger Hamlet left these days (in Sherman Oaks) but they were once  sprinkled throughout Los Angeles. This is from an blog called Old Los Angeles Restaurants:

The Hamlet was the invention of a Hollywood costumer named Marilyn Lewis and her husband, Harry.  Harry was an actor, perhaps best remembered for his role in the Humphrey Bogart film, Key Largo.  The way the story goes, they opened the first one with all their savings — about $3,000 or $3,500 depending on which account you read. That opening was just before Halloween of 1950 and when they were about to open the doors, they discovered they couldn’t cook. The gas hadn’t been turned on and they were so tapped out that they couldn’t afford to pay the deposit and couldn’t afford to not open on schedule. Marilyn got in touch with a gas man and struck an under-the-table bargain: If he’d come over and turn them on anyway, he could eat there for free as long as they were in business. He did both these things. The original idea was to open an actors’ hangout but the place quickly caught on with folks of all different vocations and other outlets quickly followed.

Scott W. Smith

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“I’m telling you Iowa is incredible. We should all move to Iowa and start the revolution.”
Hannah (Lena Dunham) in Girls, Season 4 episode 2

It’s been a busy month for Lena Dunham as she’s been prominently featured in the press near the center of the film & political world in January 2016. She’s been at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah where her documentary Suited premiers tonight and she’s been stumping in Iowa for Hillary Clinton’s presidential run.   

“This is my second time in Iowa, but before I came to Iowa, I was pretending to be in Iowa. We filmed all our Girls stuff not in Iowa. I had seen tons of pictures of Iowa City, we had a location scout from Iowa and a writer from Iowa, so we had our experts in check, but I hadn’t, myself, had an opportunity to come. It was amazing when I came to Iowa City last year on my book tour because I had already had the experience of existing in fake Iowa and I was like, wow, we didn’t do that bad a job.”
Lena Dunham
The Des Moines Register 
January 11, 2016

Dunham, the creator of the HBO show Girls, is the perfect person to follow up my last post (Diablo Cody Day) about Diablo Cody winning an Oscar in 2008 for writing the Juno screenplay.  (And since I was living in Iowa at the time, the fact that Cody graduated from the University of Iowa served as inspiration for me starting this blog.)

Well, back in 2008 Dunham graduated with a degree in creative writing from Oberlin College in Ohio. While in college, in the infant days of You Tube, she was also creating short films that went viral.

“I didn’t go to film school. Instead I went to liberal arts school and self-imposed a curriculum of creating tiny flawed video sketches, brief meditations on comic conundrums, and slapping them on the Internet.”
Lena Dunham

In 2010, just two years out of college she won the SXSW Award in Narrative Fiction for her film Tiny Furniture. The film made for just $45,000 also earned Dunham Best First Screenplay at the Independent Spirit Awards. (The same award Cody won back in 2008.)

That led to the opportunity to create Girls which has been on the air since 2012, and has won two Golden Globe Awards (Best Television Series—Comedy or Musical, and Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series—Comedy or Musical).

That’s right, she acts, too. And she was paid $3.6 million to write her 2014 memoir Not That Kind of Girl. I don’t exactly fit the demographics of watching/reading Dunham’s work, and haven’t actually never seen a full episode of Girls, and have been out of the loop of the controversies of her work.  But I enjoyed the quirkiness of Tiny Furniture (which is currently available on Netflix), and it’s hard not to appreciate what she’s achieved creatively and financially before she’s even turned 30. 

And I was curious what Cody thought of Dunham and found this quote:

“I absolutely love Lena Dunham. I don’t know her personally, but I’m completely obsessed with the show. I cannot believe what she has accomplished at 26. I think she is like our new Woody Allen.”
Diablo Cody
Huffington Post interview with Lori Fradkin

P.S. Last year, Dunham’s character in Girls began attending the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in Iowa City so I thought I’d give some links that give a glimpse to the real place.

BTW—Diablo Cody got her undergraduate degree in Media Studies from the University of Iowa and when asked why she didn’t attend the Iowa Writers’ Workshop she said it was easier to win an Oscar than to get into Iowa’s competitive graduate program.

Related Posts:
John Irving, Iowa & Writing (My visit to the Iowa Workshop)
(Yawn) Another Pulitzer Prize (for a Workshop graduate)
Postcard #55 (Iowa Writers’ Workshop)
The Making of Woody Allen in 10 Simple Steps
The Juno-Iowa Connection
Oberlin to Oscars (Screenwriters William Goldman and Mark Boal also both graduated from Oberlin.)

Scott W. Smith

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“For your first screenplay, what I’m going to ask all of you is to think about your favorite films and what genre they are. Whatever that genre is, I want you to write that kind of script. If you don’t like murder mysteries, don’t write murder mysteries.”
Robert McKee
(Words that inspired filmmaker Edward Burns before he launched his career)

“I thought about what films I loved the most, I instantly knew the answer: Woody Allen movies. So I said to myself, ‘All right, I’m going to write whatever that genre is; whatever Woody’s genre is, that’s what I’m going to write.'”
Edward Burns

Back in 1995 filmmaker Edward Burns won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival with his debut film The Brothers McMullen. In his new book Independent Ed he recounts what led to that success giving assists to various college classes, Syd Fields’ book Screenplay, The Foundations of Screenwriting, Robert McKee’s story structure seminar, and working as a production assistant on Entertainment Tonight (ET) where he also found time to crank out “four or five screenplays” that didn’t get sold or produced.  After all that, he finally had an epiphany.

Then one day it hit me. What was it about The Last Picture Show and Marty and The 400 Blows that made me want to be a filmmaker in the first place? They were honest. They felt like they were written by people who had lived those stories. Then I thought about the story I had lived.

The Irish Americans were a big part of New York culture. They were an important in my New York City. And having grown up in a tight-knit Irish American family, surrounded by similar families, my world revolved around this community and culture.

I said to myself, “That’s what I’m going to write. These guys are going to be Irish. And they’re not going to be just passively Irish. I’m going to make them aggressively, nostalgically Irish.”

The sudden clarity I had was stunning. Woody Allen wrote and directed about the Jewish American New York experience; Martin Scorsese wrote and directed films about Italian American New York experience; and Spike Lee was writing and directing films about the African American New York experience. All these guys had carved their own niche. I had been asking what mine would be. Now I knew.
Director/Actor/Writer Edward Burns
Independent Ed: Inside My Career of Big Dreams, Little Movies, and the Twelve Best Days of My Life
Page 17

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Can Your Identify?
Telling Our Own Shadow Stories )”I see shadows all of the time in my work—things from my life.” Robin Swicord)
Emotional Autobiography (“My work is emotionally autobiographical.” Tennessee Williams)

Scott W. Smith

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“There’s a great scene in Annie Hall when Alvin and Annie—I think they’re at a party and on a balcony—and they have some small talk and every time they small talk a subtitle comes up to say what they’re really saying…this is exactly what subtext is.”
Jim Mercurio
(On the scene below written by Woody Allen)

“There is great pleasure in having and figuring out that what a person is saying is not exactly what they mean. That’s what you have to fight for. The rule is have fun. Make sure if you know what the beat is that you’re trying to hit—the intention of the character, find a clear way to communicate it that actually doesn’t look like it. And that’s where you can have some fun.”
Filmmaker/teacher Jim Mercurio  ()
Complete Screenwriting: From A to Z to A-List DVD course

Related posts:
Writing Subtext (Tip #43)
Visual Subtext (Tip #39
The Making of Woody Allen in 10 Simple Steps
Screenwriting Quote #39 (Woody Allen)

Scott W. Smith

 

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“Now witness if you will a man’s mind and body shrivelling in the sun, a man dying of loneliness.”
The Twilight Zone, The Lonely  (1959)
Season 1, Episode 7 written by Rod Serling

We all need a little tenderness
How can love survive in such a graceless age
The Heart of the Matter
Lyrics by Don Henley, J.D. Souther, Mike Campbell

There’s has to be a part of Spike Jonze that hates all of the comparisons being made about his film HerHere’s the short list I’ve read online; Weird Science, The Stepford Wives, Cherry 2000, Blade Runner, Pinocchio, S1M0ne, and of course, Electric Dreams. But as far as I can find, there is only one film that Jonze has publicly referenced and it’s a Woody Allen film.

“One of the movies I watched when I was writing [‘Her’] was ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors,’ because that script is so incredibly written. …There’s a lot of talking about the idea of what the movie is about, but mostly the characters are plowing through the story, and taking you through the story, with their decisions. That was really inspiring.”
Spike Jonze
7 Things To Know About Spike Jonze Directing Her

I imagine there’s another part of Jonze that’s glad people are talking about his film. It’s engaging audiences. It’s starting conversations about what love looks like in the future. What it looks like today. And makes us wonder where all this technology is leading us.

“I think that the movie, to me, is more about our relationship to each other, and our need for intimacy and connection, and the difficulties within ourselves that make that challenging — and the limitations within ourselves that prevent intimacy or connection; when it’s that thing we need, maybe the most. And I think those are timeless things. That kind of loneliness and longing and need for connection, and what connection means and what intimacy means to us. So I think that the parts that are about technology and the parts that are about the way we’re living in this modern world are sort of just the modern set of complications.”
Spike Jonze
Interview with Luke Goodsell

So let me thrown in one more story echo to Her, and it’s one that aired on TV (The Twilight Zone) ten years on before Jonze was born. Written by Rod Serling, The Lonely is about a man sentenced to solitary confinement on an asteroid. As an act of compassion to fight his loneliness, a supply ship leaves the inmate a robot named Alicia. At first he rejects Alicia because she’s fake, but as time goes on he develops feelings towards her. (The whole 24 minute program is below and stars Jack Warden.)

Scott W. Smith

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“What people who don’t write don’t understand is that they think you make up the line consciously — but you don’t. It proceeds from your unconscious. So it’s the same surprise to you when it emerges as it is to the audience when the comic says it. I don’t think of the joke and then say it. I say it and then realize what I’ve said. And I laugh at it, because I’m hearing it for the first time myself.”
Four time Oscar winning screenwriter Woody Allen
Esquire, Woody Allen: What I’ve Learned 

BTW—Everyone has their influences and in that same Esquire interview Allen said,  Bob Hope? I’m practically a plagiarist.”

Related posts:

Creativity & Making Milk “All the good ideas I ever had came to me while I was milking a cow.” —Grant Wood
Frank Gehry on Creativity
Screenwriting Quote #31 (Creativity)
Where Do Ideas Come From (A+B=C)
The Making of Woody Allen in 10 Simple Steps

P.S. Woody Allen’s new film Blue Jasmine is terrific. It’s Blanche DuBois meets Bernie Madoff, and well worth seeing how Cate Blanche pulls it off.

Scott W. Smith

 

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“The thing I’m always fighting off is wasted time and writer’s block.”
Edward Burns

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“I have a shoebox and—I have two of them actually. And every time I have an idea for a scene or a scrap of dialogue, or even just a snippet of an impression I have that seems to connote something in my head, I’ll put it in a shoebox. I’ll let six months go by until there’s all these accumulated papers in there. Napkins and business cards and everything that’s scribbled on and I dump it out. And I read through all of the things I’ve collected in the last six months. And some of the things you don’t even remember writing and you can’t even interpret what in the hell it means. Just see if anything connects. Just see if there is a thread that runs through any of the things that obviously that you’ve been thinking about or has been recurring in your subconscious in the last six months. You see what jells—what suggests a shape.
Writer/Director Shane Black
Speaking to students in Minneapolis

“I have three corkboards and then a wall in my office that I painted with the stuff that you can turn into a chalkboard. So basically what I do is I have one corkboard that is divided into four strips. The first act, the first part of the second act, then the second half of the second act, and then the third act. And within that I have index cards of reminders of every screenwriting book that I’ve read. So it’s just like when I’m writing and I’m stuck I’ll just stand in front of the board and say, ‘Oh, Blake Snyder says this, Syd Field says that, Robert McKee says this.’ And a lot of times I can just bust through that the writer’s block…It’s funny when I saw the documentary on Woody Allen and he has the bedside table with all these strips of paper—my version of that is my corkboards. If I have an idea I write it down and post it on the board. And then my chalkboard is basically—since environment is so important to me I want my world to feel very real—that’s usually a listing of my locations.”
Filmmaker Edward Burns
The Q&A Podcast with Jeff Goldsmith

P.S. The above photo is actually a Nike shoebox of mine that has various ideas for screenplay ideas I’d like to explore. Because I played a little football back in the day, there are always themes there that I like exploring. The CNN article was written in 2009 after former NFL quarterback Steve McNair (whose nickname was Air McNair) was killed by his mistress in a murder-suicide. Then earlier this year I read an article about NBA great Michael Jordan who was quoted as saying basically he’d give up all his wealth and fame if he could just play professional basketball again. And that isn’t just an idea that has been percolating in my brain for the past five years, it goes back more than a decade.

The box has various articles and ideas including an insightful Sports Illustrated piece about former Cleveland Brown QB Bernie Kosar and how he went through the $50 million he made before filing for bankruptcy. (Kosar says he was good at making money, but not good at keeping it.) In my shoebox are reports on the lingering effects of head injuries on NFL players. Former players who’ve committed suicide. Index cards that read things like  “Watch North Dallas Forty and “Watch The Electric Horseman”—a 1979 Sydney Pollack directed and Robert Garland written movie starring Robert Redford who played a former rodeo star trying to hold on to his dignity. I don’t know if all those notes, thoughts, and articles will ever lead to a screenplay—but that’s all part of the process.  Judd Apatow (This is 40) types notes/ideas/dialogue on his phone and David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)  says he “tricks himself into writing” by emailing ideas to himself.

So whether it’s a shoebox, a corkboard, cell phone, or email—find what works for you to gather ideas and move forward with writing your screenplay.

Related Post:

Screenwriting Via Index Cards

Scott W. Smith

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“I was the world’s worst student. I hated it with a passion.”
Woody Allen

“I am plagued by doubts. What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet.”
Woody Allen

Over the weekend I stumbled upon Woody Allen: A Documentary on Netflix and was surprised how little I knew about writer/director Woody Allen. That led me to flip through a couple of books Woody Allen has written and read various articles about him and interviews with him. I’ve condensed the making of Woody Allen down to 10 simple steps:

1) Start with a Jewish kid born in Brooklyn named Allen Stewart Konigsberg in 1935, and raise him in a strict home where Charlie Chaplin and Bob Hope movies offer a humorous relief.

2) Add coming face to face with the deep existential questions as a child; “I didn’t like my own mortality. What do you mean, this [life] ends? This doesn’t go on like this? Deal Me out I don’t want to play in this game.” (As Allen got older he added Dostoyevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment and Bergman’s movie The Seventh Seal into his mental & philosophical blender.)

3) At 17 begin sending jokes to the newspaper using the pen name Woody Allen; “A Hypocrite is a guy who writes a book on atheism, and prays that it will sell.”

4) Turn that unpaid newspaper gig into a paid gig writing 50 jokes a day for radio.

5) Turn the radio gig into a well paid TV gigs that end up paying you well working on The Sid Caesar Show and learning from the best of that era; Larry Gilbert, Mel Brooks, Mel Tolkin, Danny Simon (whose brother Neil Simon credits him with teaching him to write), and Sid Caesar.

6) Take the style of black rim glasses from comedian Mike Merrick and wear them your entire life making them your trademark.

7) At 26, though shy, begin a stand up comedy career in New York City in 1961 just as Greenwich Village just started to take off creatively and become a household name on TV. (He once boxed a kangaroo on TV. A feat you’re—understandbly for a couple of reasons—never likely to see repeated on national TV in the United States. Other than the PBS documentary  produced and directed by Robert B. Weide that I mentioned at the start of this post.)

8) Start writing movies (What’s New Pussycat) which gets you a WGA nomination, but quickly move into writing and directing (Take the Money and Run) because you want more control.

9) At 42 win your first two Oscars for writing and directing Annie Hall (co-written with Marshall Brickman) in 1977, which is eventually named on #35 on AFI’s “100 Best Movies” and the #4 AFI “100 Best Comedies.”

10) Don’t ride off into the sunset after reaching the top of the mountain with Annie Hall. Continue making films—some good, some not so good— and win your fourth Oscar in 2012 for writing Midnight in Paris. 

Of course, that’s just the quick ten step overview of his creative journey. There were other people that helped Allen along the way. He was influenced by Mort Sahl, and he was encouraged by his managers Jack Rollins and Charlie Joffe. He learned from cinematographer Gordon Willis and editor Ralph Rosenblum, and no doubt other comedians, actors and production people.

And while no one could follow that exact path Allen has taken, he has in turn inspired and influenced a whole new generation of creative people including Larry David, Chris Rock, Edward Burns, and Nora Ephron. You could say his voice (and neuroses) paved the way for their voices.

“I never cared about commercial success, and as a result I rarely achieved it.”  
Woody Allen

Yet, over his unusally long career, Allen has been able to write and and control the kind of films he’s wanted to make. And his films (including Crimes and Misdemeanors, Manhatten, Zelig, and Radio Days) have grossed over $500 million., and he’s personally collected 17 Oscar-nominations along the way.

What about Woody Allen’s failures? I think of that ending line in Billy Wilder’s classic Some Like it Hot— “Nobody’s perfect.” (A film by the way, Allen doesn’t care for.)

Related Post: Screenwriting Quote #102 (Woody Allen)

Scott W. Smith


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Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
My Way/Performed by Frank Sinatra

Earlier this week I did one day of camerawork for a Canadian TV documentary titled Regret being produced by Newfoundland’s Christopher Richardson. We shot Kevin Hansen speaking to a class at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Kevin lives in Cedar Falls and started the blog Secret Regrets in 2008 and has since had 25,000 anonymous regrets emailed to him. The blog is now also featured on The Huffington Post.

His blog eventually became the book Secret Regrets and then got the attention of Dr. Phil who ended up doing a show on regrets using Secret Regrets as a platform. Toward the end of the class where Kevin was a guest speaker, he had students text him their personal regrets. It was interesting how open the students were, and how deep their regrets were. Regret is fertile ground to explore dramatically. Can you think of any great movies, characters, or scenes that deal with regret?

How can I tie this post into screenwriting? Perhaps a quote from a 15-time Oscar-nominated screenwriter.

“My one regret in life is that I’m not someone else.”
Woody Allen

So even if you win three Academy Awards for your screenwriting (like Allen has for Midnight in Paris, Hannah and Her Sister, and  Annie Hall) it may not solve all your existential problems—or personal ones.

Scott W. Smith

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“It’s very hard to live up to an image.”
Elvis Presley

Last night at the Sundance Film Festival Sam Levinson won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for Another Happy Day. Unfamiliar with Levinson, I was curious to see the path that the 25-year-old writer/director took to make his first feature.

“I guess it goes back to what I said about fanatically watching films since I was very young. I began to see to the film in my head and then as a reference point, I watched certain films, each of them for different reasons, but all of them had aspects of the way I wanted to shoot this film. There was nothing haphazard here, and this is not a criticism of any other style of filmmaking but I never had any thoughts of shooting this film in a verité style. I always saw this film as somehow, ‘formally informal.’ I am in no way comparing my film to these, but I went back again and again, to three extremely different types of films. I watched. ‘Who’ s afraid of Virginia Woolf,’ directed by Mike Nichols, ‘Hannah and her Sisters,’ directed by Woody Allen and ‘Carnal Knowledge,’ again Nichols.”
Sam Levinson
indieWire

I haven’t seen Another Happy Day, but since it’s an emotional drama surrounding an upper-class wedding and a dysfunctional family, it’s hard at first glance to not connect it to Rachel Getting Married. (Written by director Sidney Lumet’s daughter, Jenny.)

Turns out that Sam is the son of director Barry Levinson (Diner, Rain Man, The Natural). I’m sure Sam picked up a thing or two from his brilliant father at the dinner table.

Add Oscar-winning screenwriter Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) into the mix and you definitely see a trend emerging. So if you happen to be looking for an alternative to USC/UCLA/AFI film school, don’t have a Minneapolis background (Coen Brothers, Diablo Cody, Nick Shenk), and are looking for a way to break into screenwriting— then having a father who is a gifted and talented director can help. And I hate to complicate matters, but the elder Lumet, Coppola and Levinson are Oscar-winners, as well. (Plus I’m not sure if adoption counts.)

Truth is statistically very few sons and daughters of Hollywood’s successful producers, directors, writers, and actors make it as big as their mother or father. There’s a special burden attached to the situation. Think of the pressures of being, say, the daughter of Elvis and wanting to have a musical career. If  you don’t need the money—it’s really not worth the all the pain of constantly being compared to the king. You don’t get the luxury of failing and of taking the time to find your own voice.

So congrats to Sam Levinson (and Sofia and Jenny) for stepping up to the plate. (And keep in mind Jenny Lumet was working as a school teacher when she sold Rachel Getting Married.)

“I was driving a truck and studying to be an electrician.”
21-year-old Elvis Presley talking in 1956 about what he did before his musical career took off.

On the other hand, if you happen to be a truck driver (or a son or daughter of a truck driver)  living in a two-room house in, say, Tupelo, Mississippi and you’re writing screenplays and don’t have a single contact in Hollywood—just keep writing and making connections. Who knows, maybe you’ll hook-up with a filmmaker in Memphis and bigger things will happen for both of you. It’s happened before. Dream big, but take little steps.

“What regional filmmaking means to me is not only utilizing the actors of your area, the musicians and the artists, but probing what it means to that region. And for me, the thing about Memphis that I’ve always responded to is its music scene, from Sam Phillips recording Howlin’ Wolf, Rudus Thomas, Elvis Presely, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Charlie Rich.”
Memphis-based Craig Brewer,
writer/director Hustle & Flow

If there’s ever an Elvis of screenwriting I’d put my money on that person not being someone who comes from Hollywood royalty, but from a background that looks more like this…

Update 1/31/11: As far as the current crop of Hollywood sons & daughters, I’d put Ivan (Ghostbusters) Reitman’s son, Jason (Juno, Up in the Air), as the top candidate to top his father’s legacy.

Scott W. Smith

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