My story about the Texas Film Awards posts to Creative Screenwriting magazine

20 Apr

It is a golden age not only for television but also for independent films. At least, it is according to the Austin Film Society’s founder and artistic director Richard Linklater, speaking at the press conference for the 2017 Texas Film Awards.

At the panel of this year’s Hall of Fame Honorees, Richard Linklater, together with Honorees Hector Galan (Children of Giant), Tye Sheridan (X-Men: Apocalypse), Jeff Nichols (Loving), and producer Sarah Green (Midnight Special), discussed a wide range of issues related to filmmaking and screenwriting.

Creative Screenwriting was fortunate enough to attend.

Sarah Green kicked off the panel with a discussion about her work on Song to Song with Terrence Malick.
Green: It’s about sex and drugs and rock and roll. There’s this just unbelievable young kid named Ryan Gosling, you’ll like him. Rooney Mara – she’s incredible. Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop – there’s so many – Bérénice Marlohe, Val Kilmer…It kind of just goes on and on. The Black Lips, the Red Hot Chili Peppers – some of these are performing and some are interacting with other actors.

Jeff Nichols then talked about his Oscar-nominated film, Loving.
Nichols: It wasn’t until I got behind the curtain with Loving, that I realized just how far away all my other films were from ever being considered in that world.

And that was illuminating for a lot of reasons.
And Tye Sheridan talked about his new movie, Ready Player One, directed by Steven Spielberg and due to be released in 2018.
Sheridan: The film is based on a sci-fi novel written by Ernest Cline. It takes place in the future. And when I read it I just thought “wow, it’s such an honest depiction of where we’re headed in our world right now. It’s the technology and the kids playing video games – that social world.”

If you work in film, it’s everyone’s dream-come-true to work with Steven Spielberg. I was working with the best of the best.

Talking next about funding, Green said that more companies such as Amazon, HBO, and Netflix are providing funding for movies.

Green: More is better when it comes to financing opportunities. We want every opportunity we can get, and then it’s a question of “what’s the best distribution company for that particular movie, that will get it seen more on television, that will get it seen more in the theaters?” I love that there are more opportunities.

However, panel moderator Steven Gaydos said that a gulf still exists in Hollywood between large budget studios, and mid-level independent or specialty film companies.
Linklater: It’s excruciating to talk about, but I think it’s kind of true. But with that said, we’re sitting here with a guy who got that rare film made – and I’m talking about Jeff NicholsMidnight Special.

Nichols: I feel like I live in a bit of bubble though, because I’m a rare exception in the year 2016 to get a film like Midnight Special released. So I know my experience is unique. It took somebody at the top to reach down literally and give me that opportunity.

That’s what’s so great about Rick’s [Richard Linklater’s] career. I use it as a model because he’s been able to move back and forth between those worlds. He seems to be having fun in all of them.
Linklater: I think you have to be really practical in your approach. You know, it’s storytelling. You ask “what does this story need?” Well if it’s a period film it needs a bigger budget, so I’ll try to take this one to the studio. Or if this one’s a really intimate little story, let’s just keep that at home.

I think a filmmaker gets into trouble when they take that personal indie film and get a huge budget – that’s where careers go off the rails. So, you have to just be humble and try to not to spend any more than you have to.

It’s the golden age of television, but if you really think about it, it’s also the golden age of documentaries, you know? I think that’s clear. And if you really think about it, it’s the golden age of indie cinema.

Take the Oscars and the recent recognition for a film like Moonlight. If it had come out in 1985, back then indie films didn’t hit the mainstream awards shows. A couple did: there were nominations for John Pierson [who produced some of Linklater’s first films, along with those created by Spike Lee, Michael Moore and Kevin Smith]. But it was weird for an indie film to break through at that time or to receive recognition.

Green: It also matters how much they’re spinning it, how they’re releasing it. It’s not just about the most money, but it’s about the money that’s spent, and how much they can put behind it, and whether they actually know how to release a film of a certain type.
Galan said Latinos have become one of the most under-represented ethnicities in American cinema today.
Galan: There are more Latinos in America than there are Canadians in Canada. But you just don’t see that represented on the big screen, even on the small screen, to the degree that reflects the population.

It’s true that a lot of people look at us in LA as gardeners, maids and people who take care of babies. It’s real complex because we do have Spanish-language networks. So, some of us speak Spanish and some of us don’t. It’s very very complex.

When there are a 25 million eligible Latino voters in a 54 million population, with 18,000 Latinos turning 18 every month in this country, there’s still a lot of representation that needs to happen.

A member of the audience asked Linklater if he knew what might happen to The Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program, that has provided incentives for filmmakers to make their movies in Texas since 2005, but is now at risk.

Linklater: I just shot a film [Last Flag Flying] in Pittsburgh. So it’s a real issue, but I think there’s some hope to getting us back to where we were.

And we’re a good industry. We moviemakers bring hundreds of millions of dollars in to Texas, we bring in the jobs, clean industry and that’s just the business.

But I worry more about the cultural representation. If you tell Texas stories you’ve got to tell them in Texas. It’s kind of sad; last year, Hell or High Water, a story set in West Texas, was shot, as the producers for the movie have said, “as close to Texas as we could.” They shot it in New Mexico.

We would feel a lot differently about The Last Picture Show, if they had shot that in Colorado. So culturally, for our own stories, our own borders are important.
When a member of the audience asked what the future holds for documentarians, Galan responded with an impassioned plea to filmmakers to tell the stories of undocumented immigrants in Texas affected by raids conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Galan: Now is really an important time for documentary work. At one time, people were predicting the death of the documentary. I think today it’s more important than ever, especially for us Latinos.

I have so many friends out there right now who are hiding, people that I know. It’s like when I was in Germany – and I’m kind of telling you some history – but I would go to Munich or Heidelberg or some of those places in Germany that were still standing after the bombings in World War II. I imagined what it must have been like for those people hiding and knowing that the Nazis were coming for them. That’s happening now. A lot of people don’t know.

People are afraid to go out of their homes. People need to report on this and the division that is happening.

Finally, this reporter for Creative Screenwriting magazine asked Green what the future holds for women screenwriters and filmmakers.

Green: It’s our responsibility as producers, and the studios’ responsibilities as financiers, and everyone’s responsibility, to ensure that all voices are heard.

Whether it’s people of color, whether it’s different genders, whatever those stories we need to be telling are, we need to make sure that we are training those people, that we are providing those opportunities.

Please also see my story posted on Creative Screenwriting magazine’s website at:

https://creativescreenwriting.com/texas-film-awards/

My interview with Daniel Pyne posts to Creative Screenwriting magazine

20 Apr

Bosch show runner Daniel Pyne discusses writing plot twists, research, and updating novels for the screen, and offers great advice for screenwriters.

Screenwriter, novelist, show runner, producer…In a career spanning over 30 years, Daniel Pyne has become known for his knack of creating works filled with suspense and twists.

He is also a busy man. He published his latest novel Catalina Eddy in March, he is the show runner for season three of Bosch which airs this weekend on Amazon, and his next film Backstabbing for Beginners will premiere in September at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Despite this, Pyne remained self-effacing as he spoke with Creative Screenwriting about writing plot twists, research, and updating novels for the screen.

How did a graduate from Stanford with a degree in economics become a screenwriter and a novelist?

My father is a painter and a sculptor. He didn’t want me to go into a creative field, so economics sounded to him like a really practical degree, although it really wasn’t. It was almost like philosophy of mine. But what it did help me do is understand what I was getting into, and it’s helped me divorce the business of Hollywood from my art.

Name a couple of movies that inspired you.

I came of age in the ‘70s, so I was very influenced by The Godfather and The Conversation, by Apocalypse Now, M*A*S*H, and all the Robert Altman films. I also liked the French new wave stuff like Jean-Luc Godard and Jean Pierre Melville, and all those French directors from the ‘60s.

I was really interested in early French films by Jean Vigo – noir. What else inspired me? There were lot of films, foreign films – I mean (Federico) Fellini was huge. I love Fellini.
You studied screenwriting at UCLA?

I took one film course at Stanford. My father would watch old movies on TV. I think I got a love for movies from him, but it wasn’t until I got to UCLA that I was really exposed to the critical studies of film, and film as an art form.

Where did you learn your trademarks in screenwriting: shocking twists, reveals and betrayals?

I like turns in stories. That goes back to novels – the idea of an epiphany – of a reversal, some kind of reversal of fortune. But I was very influenced by thrillers – by Alfred Hitchcock and The Third Man, detective stuff by Raymond Chandler, and Dashiell Hammett (who wrote The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, Miller’s Crossing). And I did love the notion the loner in the dark streets, battling and trying to find their way, trying to find the good.
Which comes to your mind first, the twists or the story?

Usually the characters come first; some kind of situation with a character put into a dilemma comes first, and the twist comes last. The twist, I always hope, is a natural consequence to what’s happened before. It’s just how things play out.

How did you research your current screenplay, Backstabbers for Beginners?

It is based on a non-fiction book by a whistle-blower named Michael Soussan. It is about a corruption scandal at the UN that happened in about 2003 with the UN Oil-For-Food Program, a multi-billion dollar program to feed the Iraqi people, when they were hit by sanctions because of Saddam Hussein – weapons of mass destruction and all that.

Your 2004 adaptation The Manchurian Candidate is based on both Richard Condon’s original novel, and George Axelrod’s script for the classic 1962 film. How did you approach this project?

I did do an extensive amount of research as I was writing it around 2002–2003, and the events in the world were overtaking us.

I had to keep changing the script because things that we would make up would actually happen. They were already old news: things about the corporations and the military/industrial complex, corruption, and a lot of the backdrop of the 2000 election.

You wrote 25 episodes for The Marshall in 1995. How was the experience of writing for a television series?

My first jobs were Matt Houston and Miami Vice, so I had been well-trained as a show runner. The writer is king in television. So you really do get to have a lot of power, and have a lot of influence over what gets made.

Staying with television, you became the show runner this year for Bosch, based upon the best-selling novels about Harry Bosch by Michael Connelly. Where does Connelly’s storytelling begin and yours end?

He is an executive producer, so he’s on staff. The Bosch show universe is like a parallel universe to the books, because we’re using some of the plots of the books to tell the series each season, but in a different order from the order that he wrote them in, and 20 years later.

So a lot of times, the science of police work and technology has changed, and changed the way the crimes play themselves out and get solved.

Bosch is also a little bit different. In the books he’s a Vietnam veteran and in our telling he’s a Gulf War veteran, and the order of events with his family and his personal life change.

It’s a lot like doing an adaptation. I feel like a part of our responsibility is finding Michael Connelly’s voice in the novel, and making the direct translation of that.

It’s like adapting Sum of All Fears (a screenplay that Pyne and Paul Attanasio wrote as an adaptation of Tom Clancy’s novel) or Manchurian Candidate. You have the luxury of having original material to build your structure on, but at the same time you have to figure out how to do it cinematically and dramatically as opposed to in prose.
What is the best advice you have given your students at UCLA and at Sundance?

The best advice I can give is: you write a script, you send it out, you see if it hits the market place. And if it doesn’t, you write another one. Don’t either give up because one didn’t, or keep slogging that single script thinking that somehow that’s your ticket.

It’s a career; it’s not a single thing.

I have gotten the same advice from novelists. A lot of novelists have written novels that they didn’t get published, and they just wrote another one. You learn from it; you get better. You never know what’s going to hit the marketplace; that’s the part you can’t control.

You have also worked as a film producer, director, novelist, journalist, advertising copywriter, cartoonist, sculptor and silk screener! How have these experiences contributed to your storytelling?

Copywriting taught me economy, because with advertising I wasn’t so good at the selling part. It taught me to do economical writing, and commit to writing things with very few words.

You have been quoted as saying “the narrative becomes more important than the truth.” This concept seems to define your novels?

I like to write about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, rather than the other way around. I like to write about people who have normal abilities and have to rise to the occasion.

I like those kinds of stories, and I am also fascinated by memory. Fifty Mice deals a lot about memory: how we remember what we remember, what we remember, whether what we remember is true or not, and how we delude ourselves.

Then we have the whole idea of fake news and alternative facts, but I haven’t quite gotten into that yet.

All of your work seems to possess similar touchstones about memory.

We can’t ever remember anything exactly the way it happened, as the mere act of remembering changes it. It is already changed when you’ve experienced it, because you’re looking back on it with a certain emotional framework.

That is really fascinating to me, especially in storytelling and cinematic terms. Because the way that we tend to write memory in films and in novels is as flashbacks, and as very accurate flashbacks.

I’m more interested in a jumble. Our memories jump around. They’re not accurate flashbacks; they tend to be almost like dreams. That’s how we remember ourselves; it’s the whole concept of our identity.

Do you have any tips for writers?

The only rule is don’t be boring. You need to engage and pull the person through. I’ve tried to apply that to everything – to prose too. You want to pull your audience or pull your reader through the story, as opposed to pushing them. You want them to be anticipating where you might go.

The books that we love are the ones where we think we know where they’re going, and we can’t wait until they get there, and when they get there they surprise us.

Also please see my article about Daniel Pyne on Creative Screenwriting magazine’s website at:

https://creativescreenwriting.com/daniel-pyne/

 

My Gareth Edwards (Rogue One producer) story posts to Creative Screenwriting magazine

19 Apr

Gareth Edwards discusses never giving up, not letting fear get in the way, and the importance of remaining fluid.

British screenwriter, director, producer, cinematographer and visual effects artist Gareth Edwards became recognized as a maverick for digital storytelling in 2010 with his feature debut, Monsters.

Edwards then directed Godzilla in 2014, and that work led to his job directing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in 2016.

In his keynote address at Austin’s SXSW Conference this year, Edwards told his audience that directing the Star Wars movie fulfilled a lifelong dream. Creative Screenwriting was fortunate enough to be present, as he discussed the inspiration of Star Wars, not letting fear get in the way, and the importance of remaining fluid.
Inspiration

My dad was a bit of a film buff. When I was very young, my parents forced me to watch this film that was kind of artistic and groundbreaking and sort of revolutionary at the same time. Some of you might have heard of it; it’s called Star Wars.

I instantly knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Right there and then I knew exactly what I was going to do. I was going join the Rebel Alliance and help blow up the Death Star.

Filmmaking Lessons

I had a book called The Steven Spielberg Story. This thing was my Bible. There was a chapter inside about how he got to make films. There’s like a little checklist. So I did all those things.

I made films with my father’s camera—check. I went to university—check. I made a professional short film—check. Then I sent it to Hollywood producers and I got given a very polite rejection letter.

So I did this kind of ‘low-budget passion project’ called Rogue One: Star Wars. It’s an amazing thing; it’s living the dream. This is Star Wars, this is what we were promised as kids; this is what they promised in the brochures.

Gary Whitta who was the storywriter on the film, was naming everything, and said “Gareth you’ve got to name something.” So I go off and I go to a very well known coffee shop. They finally give me my coffee and when they ask me for my name, I told the barista “It’s Gareth” but they wrote ‘Scarif’ on my coffee. Scarif became the name of the tropical planet occupied by the Imperial Army in the movie.

I was very lucky that I managed to make Star Wars. You know, it’s not enough to make a good Star Wars film, you need to keep trying to make a really great one.

I remember one of the last things we ever shot was that Darth Vader scene. It was an idea from my editor Jabez Olssen, who pitched it to co-producer Kathleen Kennedy, and she went for it.

We said ‘We’ve got to see Darth Vader one more time at the end,’ and she went for it. So we had three days on the set.

I gave myself one cameo in Rogue One at the very end, when Darth Vader is pursuing Princess Leia. There is a guy, a rebel soldier who I feel saves the day. As they’re going down the corridor, he pulls the lever that launches the ship: that was me.

So never ever ever listen to anybody when they tell you something is ‘impossible.’ Because if you never give up, you can sometimes join the Rebel Alliance and blow up the Death Star.

We had a choice of whether to put this guy K-2 in a suit or use CGI. We tried the guy in the suit thing. But there’s a reason that C-3PO moves kind of the way he does: because his suit is so restrictive. So we ended up going CGI and doing motion capture.

Alan Tudyk is very much responsible for K-2’s character. He was the funniest guy I’ve met. On set he was given complete free range to tell any jokes that he wanted to.

Warning: This section contains plot spoilers!

The Ending

We wrote the first draft and just assumed that a lot of people were going to die, but not the essential characters: they would never let us kill them—that would never be allowed. So for the first draft in development, they survived.

But as soon as everyone read it, Kathleen Kennedy said “Surely they should die, right?” And we said “Ooh, can we do it?”

I kept waiting for them to go back on that decision, and throughout the whole process—honestly until the last week—we kept waiting for that little note that said: “You know, I know it’s cool they die and everything, but…”

It never came; so we got to do it.

Picking your Scenes

If you could have a time machine and send yourself the film before you start making it, you would realize ‘Oh, I don’t need that, I don’t need that, and I don’t need that.’

You hear people talk about that Vader scene, but when we shot it I didn’t think it was a special moment in the film; it just felt like something we needed to do. It just was another scene amongst all the others. It was only in the premiere when it got such a reaction and people started saying things afterwards, I went ‘OK.’
Advice for Screenwriters

Don’t let the fear of doing something bad get in the way; get them out and get them done.

And avoid excuses. If you do anything in your life towards your dream, you have succeeded way more than someone who just quit and never did it. You can’t really fail. The second you start, you won. You did something with your life.

The Journey

The journey is as important—actually more important and is more rewarding—than the destination. I think if I’d seen this guy on stage who made all these films I’d be very jealous of that guy. But as that guy on stage now, I’m actually jealous of the guy who is at the beginning. That’s an exciting adventure that’s ahead and don’t let it pass by. Enjoy it.
Remaining Fluid

I think at the start of this process we said we should be really fluid and let the film speak to us, and see what the film needs to be, and change things and keep adapting.

It used to be that a film had a pre-production, production and post-production. They were all completely separate. And now because of digital technology everything is blending together.

We had edit-suite cutting before we had even written a script. We were just starting to build stuff together and have a look and see how the storyboards might work, and we were writing when we were in the thick of end of post-production.

It just became this completely fluid thing.

For instance, that Darth Vader scene, that got suggested in September—pretty late in the day. Everything was fluid, and it’s an insane way to make a film, it’s really exhausting. But if it leads to the result, and people don’t shout at you from across the street and say you’ve ruined their childhoods, I will take that.

Please also see my story as it appears on Creative Screenwriting magazine’s website: 

https://creativescreenwriting.com/rogue-one/

 

 

My review of the documentary about Stevie Ray Vaughan posts to Elmore magazine

5 Apr

The DVD documentary, Lonestar: Stevie Ray Vaughan 1984-1989, delivers in 108 minutes a roller coaster of emotions about Texas’ beloved late blues guitarist, Stevie Ray Vaughan, beginning with his debut, Texas Flood, and ending with his death at 35 years old in a helicopter crash August 27, 1990 outside East Troy, Wisconsin. The disc features photos and rare film footage recorded during concerts and behind-the-scenes interviews with friends, former band members, and those within Vaughan’s inner circle including his last girlfriend, Janna Lapidus LeBlanc. In archival videos, Vaughan himself gives a painful testimony about how he overcame an addiction to drugs and alcohol and began to live a sober lifestyle.

Following the success of his Grammy-award-winning album, In Step, Vaughan began his fateful final tour on May 4, 1989, performing 147 shows over 18 months. This writer had the privilege to see Vaughan perform live along the shore of Mountain Shadow Lakes in El Paso on May 29, 1989. That desert hot day, without a spot of shade to be found anywhere within a 20-mile radius, fans responded to Vaughan and his musical entourage with near hysteria. The Dallas native opened with his first mainstream hit single, nominated in 1984 as the best song of the year, “Cold Shot,” off his Couldn’t Stand the Weather album.

Vaughan and his band, Double Trouble, recorded three studio and several live albums, earning them a controversial mix of both praise and criticism over a tumultuous five-year career. In Austin, his legacy continues. At Auditorium Shores Park in 1994 the Austin Parks and Recreation Department erected a life-size bronze statue created by artist Ralph Helmick in the musician’s likeness, complete with his signature hat and trench coat created. Most often Vaughan performed on his hybrid 1962-63 Stratocaster nicknamed “Number One,” also referred to as “First Wife.” Those who remember the bluesmaster, will weep in sorrow at his tribute; newcomers may find inspiration. This film, the sister to Sexy Intellectual’s documentary, Rise of a Texas Bluesman—Stevie Ray Vaughan 1954-1983, makes widows of us all anew through archive songs and images. 

Please also see my article as it appears on Elmore magazine’s website at: 

http://www.elmoremagazine.com/2017/04/reviews/films/lonestar-stevie-ray-vaughan-1984-1989

 

My interview with O’Haver and Turner posts to Creative Screenwriting magazine

24 Mar

Netflix’s original biopic The Most Hated Woman in America is about the life and death of atheist crusader Madalyn Murray O’Hair. played by Melissa Leo, founded the American Atheists movement, and led the controversial legal battle which culminated in the Supreme Court’s ban on official Bible reading in American public schools in 1963. This, together with regular appearances on television talk shows where she delivered foul-mouthed diatribes against her opponents, led to her being referred to as “The most hated woman in America”.

Writer-director Tommy O’Haver and his co-writer Irene Turner researched their screenplay from primary sources to recreate this much-publicized true story. Creative Screenwriting spoke with them about portraying the essence of the truth, flashbacks, and getting the death right.

Which of you came up with the idea for the screenplay?

Tommy O’Haver: It actually was neither of us!

Our producers, Elizabeth Banks and Max Handelman, had seen our previous film, An American Crime, which I directed and Irene and I co-wrote, and they liked it a lot. We sat down with them and they pitched us a movie about Madalyn Murray O’Hair. So we jumped into the research and thought the story was incredible. I was amazed that it hadn’t been told in a film yet, and we were all in.

Irene Turner: She was just such a polarizing, inspiring, strong and difficult woman. And Tommy and I said “we definitely must do this.”

How did you research the story?

Tommy: Luckily there’s a ton of articles and writings on Madalyn and television appearances. There’s just so much material out there on her and her family and life. So that’s where it started.

Irene: For some stories, the tricky thing is just flushing out what little you know. But in this case the tricky thing was sifting through, what seems to be the most important details to bring out in a short amount of time. Because she wrote so much about herself, and people wrote so much about her, that it was sometimes overwhelming.

Tommy: Sometimes the stories were contradictory in fact.

Irene: For example, her relationship with her son, Bill Murray Jr. In newspaper articles and interviews he has talked about it from one perspective, while she spoke about it from a different perspective. That’s the biggest thing, trying to figure out the truth of that relationship from what they both said about each other.

Tommy: And you have to assume that probably the truth was somewhere in the middle; at least that’s what we extrapolated.

What of her other relationships?

Tommy: She had a very conflicted relationship with both of her parents. In fact, it’s hard to say whom she fought with the most. I think Madalyn basically fought with everybody. We tended to soften her relationship with her mother for narrative purposes.

Irene: But she was definitely closer to her mother, and also her mother lived longer. So there was a definite tie there that she did not have with her father.

Tommy: A lot of people, in fact even their son Bill Jr., said that Madalyn’s biggest issue wasn’t necessarily with God, it was with men in general. She had a lot of bad relationships with men. There’s an allusion to that in the script, with a brief quote from Madalyn. I’m glad that comes through.

Madalyn’s granddaughter, Robin Eileen Murray, disappeared in 1995 with Madalyn. How did you create her character (for actress Juno Temple) when so little is known about her?

Tommy: It’s interesting, because Melissa Leo as Madalyn is obviously the centerpiece of the movie, but it’s very much an ensemble. There are so many characters around her that are interesting.

On the page a lot of those characters maybe didn’t feel underwritten per se, but they didn’t sort of jump out as important as they are. So it was amazing bringing actors into the mix and then having them give those characters flesh.

Juno Temple doesn’t have a great deal of dialogue. But just her presence brings this force to this character who is very integral to the entire story.

Could the same be said of Jon Garth Murray (portrayed by actor Michael Chernus)?

Tommy: It was a very similar situation to Robin, where on the page he only had a few lines, and he was always being berated by his mother. It almost read as comic relief on the page.

Then when I got Michael Chernus involved, he came in and seemed to inhabit the role. He did a lot of research. I sent him videos and articles, and things like that; I did this with everyone. Then he came back to me and said ‘I think he’s kind of a sad person and I really feel for this guy.’

So a character that maybe felt slightly one-dimensional in a quick read becomes a real person through the magic of production.

Dichotomy made Madalyn a compelling character—unlikeable, but interesting. How did you go about fictionalizing her?

Tommy: A lot of her lines are direct quotes from Madalyn herself. Some of the best lines are things she actually said.

In terms of process, it was about letting the actor discover their version of Madalyn Murray O’Hair. I provided Melissa Leo with a lot of research, and we discussed the character several times, but she sort of fell in love with her, and said ‘I’m going to do my version of Madalyn Murray O’Hair which I would hope if she were alive, she would respect.’

Irene: When we’re writing we’re portraying as much of the truth and the essence of the truth as we can find.

I love Madalyn. I’m glad she wasn’t my mother, but she was a fighter and an iconoclast and someone who just never gave up. Some of her anger at the establishment I totally get. The idea is you bring as much truth as you can, and as you work with the actors they bring another layer. They’re the ones who have to take the words and to interpret them. You just try and keep getting at the truth as much as you can.

Tommy: Gary Karr (portrayed by actor Rory Cochrane) really was a wild card. He was unpredictable; he was tough and scary.

Irene: It was nice to able to write a character that volatile.

Tommy: He’s kind of a contrast to David Waters, (portrayed by actor Josh Lucas,who’s all about control.

Tell me about how you created Danny Fry (portrayed by Alex Frost.)

Irene: The tragic thing about Danny is he seems to be a grafter, just a small time con man who tried to get into some schemes that he screwed up. He had a daughter that he cared about that he was trying to get back to.

Clearly the whole kidnapping was way above his pay grade in terms of being a criminal. It was great as a screenwriter to have this contrasting third guy who really kind of wishes he hadn’t gotten himself into this, and doesn’t know how to get out of it.

He’s actually not that hardened and is much newer to crime and much more vulnerable.

The flashbacks in the film really provide so much backstory about Madalyn and Waters’ relationship. How did you write the Christmas party scene, when Madalyn tells her guests about Waters’ criminal past?

Tommy: That was a written and more physical representation of what actually happened. She used her newsletter to mar his name, and he was furious. She wrote some diatribe about him in the American Atheists Newsletter that totally embarrassed and infuriated him, and set him on this path of revenge.

Irene: He had also stolen money from her.

Tommy: Yes, it was in an earlier draft. But it was very complicated, and for simplification purposes, we ended up dropping that subplot.

Irene: But she had embarrassed him. So we took the essence of that, which was the embarrassment in a public setting.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story?

Irene: Getting her death right. What happens when someone who has spent her whole time as an atheist faces death? That seemed really important to me. It’s a small thing, but it’s also a huge thing. It’s like sticking the landing in Olympic gymnastics. You better get that right.

There were other things that were probably harder to discover, but that’s the one that just felt the most important, and in that sense the most difficult.

And what was the easiest part?

Irene: Stealing dialogue from Madalyn!

Tommy: I was going to say the exact same thing. Finding great lines from Madalyn. Because she was an incredibly intelligent, witty person, and she had a lot of great lines.

Irene: We’d find stuff and we’d just laugh.

Tommy: It was only difficult in deciding which ones to use and which ones not to use.

It surprised me in the movie when Madalyn says “In the end, family is everything.” Did she want her family around her to control them, or were they meaningful to her?

Irene: She loved her kids and her grandchild so much. She just had so many of her own issues. If you read her diary you see that she was so vulnerable. She cared so much that they would succeed and be happy. She just was her own worst enemy.

Please also see my interview as it appears on Creative Screenwriting magazine’s website at: 

https://creativescreenwriting.com/most-hated/

My Garth Brooks story and photos post to Elmore magazine

20 Mar

After delivering a SXSW keynote at Austin’s convention center downtown, March 17 mega country artist Garth Brooks hinted about delivering a secret show in town. Then just a bit after 10 p.m. Brooks tweeted a photo of a wagon wheel with one broken spoke with the message “let’s get started.”
Brooks showed up at the 52-year-old honky-tonk about 11 p.m. with body guards greeted by Broken Spoke proprietor James White. Afterwards the mega country star performed a whole set of greatest hits beginning with “Friends in Low Places,” along with George Jones’ “He Stopped Lovin’ Her Today,” George Strait’s “Amarillo By Morning,” and Merle Haggard’s “Fightin’ Side of Me.” Audience participation reached a fever pitch when Brooks sang Joe Nichols’ “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off,” as more than 500 people sang the lyrics from the Broken Spoke’s dance floor, with their smart phones raised above their heads.
Between songs, Brooks told his audience, “If I had known there were honky-tonks like this back when I started out, I never would have left.” He also said “You all have fun like this every day,” and “I haven’t done anything like this in a hundred years.” At the end of his set, Brooks told the audience “It’s never good to end the night with a down song, except this one,” and he sang “The Dance.” The crowd demanded an encore, and afterwards Brooks handed over his acoustic Takamine guitar to White as a parting gift. “I didn’t know he was gonna give me a gift too,” White said afterwards. “I will always remember the day Garth Brooks played on stage at the Broken Spoke. He was right on every song. It was so crowded I could not leave the stage, but I really did not want to. It was exciting. Completely unexpected. That’s the way he rolls!”
More than 50,000 fans are expected to attend Brooks’ outdoor concert tonight on Auditorium Shores.

Please see my story posted on Elmore magazine’s website at: http://www.elmoremagazine.com/2017/03/reviews/shows/garth-brooks-at-the-broken-spoke

To see 2 of my videos of Garth Brooks performing at the Broken Spoke please go to the KVUE local ABC affiliate website at:

http://www.kvue.com/features/sxsw/garth-brooks-surprises-austin-with-broken-spoke-show/423666224

My review of the 2017 Ameripolitan Awards posts to Elmore

22 Feb

Lance Lipinsky, nearly stole the show before accepting the Rockabilly Male Award at the fourth annual Ameripolitan Awards, held February 15th at Austin’s Paramount Theater. Lipinsky had costarred in the Tony Award-winning musical, Million Dollar Quartet, and at the Grand Ole Opry. His band, The Lovers, released their debut album, Roll, last summer.

Jerry Lee Lewis’ prerecorded message from Nesbit, Mississippi appeared overhead on screen as Silvia and Brett Neal accepted the Master Award on his behalf. The Neals and singer/songwriter Dale Watson cofounded the Ameripolitan Awards in 2014 to honor artists who represent four roots branches of country music: western swing, honky-tonk, rockabilly and outlaw styles. Between set changes, Watson and Asleep at the Wheel’s front man, Ray Benson, served as the night’s emcees, providing impromptu commercials for two of the show sponsors, Lone Star Beer and Tito’s Vodka. Presenters Rosie Flores and James Intveld also provided an outstanding duet performance. Other music awards went to Leona Williams, Jake Penrod, Gary P. Nunn and the Bunkhouse Band, Lara Hope, The Silver Shakers, Kristyn Harris, Pokey LaFarge, The Western Flyers, Darci Carlson, Hank3, the Dallas Moore Band, Chris Casello and James Riley.

American original singer/songwriter and musician Junior Brown received the Keeper of the Key Award. Brown’s unique song lyrics and hook phrases, such as “My Wife Thinks You’re Dead,” previously earned him a 1996 Country Music Association Award. Brown performed while playing his “guit-steel,” a double-necked invention that melds both guitar and steel guitar attributes. Lil’ Red’s Longhorn Saloon in Fort Worth received the Venue Award and the Festival Award went to Nashville Boogie. Absent from the night’s proceedings due to the flu was presenter James White, proprietor of the Broken Spoke. The house band included: Chris Crepps, bass; Mike Bernal, drums; Don Pawlak, pedal steel guitar; Jason Roberts, fiddle; Redd Volkaert, guitar; Joey Colarusso, saxophone; Rick White, trumpet; Ken Mills, trombone; and Danny Levin, piano. For more information about the awards and a full list of winners, head to the Ameripolitan Music Awards’ website at: http://www.ameripolitan.com/2017-winners.html

Please also see my article as it appears with my photos on Elmore magazine’s website at: http://www.elmoremagazine.com/2017/02/reviews/shows/2017-ameripolitan-music-awards

My review of Dolly Parton’s Valentine CD posts to Elmore magazine

14 Feb

Dolly Parton – Elmore MagazineDolly Parton convincingly whispers and sings ten love songs on her 43rd studio album, Pure & Simple. The stripped-down recording defies Parton’s 70 years with an ageless voice on “I’m Sixteen.” She admits that romantic love rejuvenates and keeps her feeling young. Though Parton never mentions him by name, she and Carl Dean, her husband of the last five decades, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last May by renewing their vows.

It is obvious from the album’s title track, “Pure & Simple” that their love endures: “It’s so pure it’s almost sacred/simply put it feels divine.” Parton also exercises her trademark knack for making the most of a great hook line, with “Head Over High Heels (In Love.)” With “Forever Love,” she tenderly and passionately delivers lyrics accompanied only by an acoustic guitar and violin. The beloved icon from Locust Ridge, Tennessee, previously recorded two of the album’s tracks, “Tomorrow is Forever” and “Say Forever You’ll Be Mine,” with Porter Waggoner.

Since embarking on a solo career in the 1970s as a singer/songwriter and actress, Parton has earned at least one nomination in all four major American entertainment award organizations: an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony. She also received the distinguished Living Legend Award from the U.S. Library of Congress. Listen to this valentine in the dark, with someone you love.

Please also see my review posted on Elmore magazine’s website at:

http://www.elmoremagazine.com/2017/02/reviews/albums/dolly-parton-2

 

My book launch party April 22, 2017

10 Feb

Texas A&M Un3rdcoverrevisionmiller_jkt5-2iversity Press and I launched my book, The Broken Spoke: Austin’s Legendary Honky-Tonk, Saturday April 22 at the Broken Spoke, 3201 South Lamar Blvd.  Book signings were provided by James and Annetta White and myself.

Ben Rogers played for tips in the dining room from 6 to 8 p.m. Terri White offered dance lessons in the dance hall at 8 p.m. for $8 per person. Afterwards, Alvin Crow and the Pleasant Valley Boys performed in the dance hall  for an additional $12 per person cover charge. 

Order books at: http://www.tamupress.com/product/Broken-Spoke,8735.aspx

 

My review of the book, Pickers & Poets, posts to Elmore magazine

31 Jan

Pickers & Poets: The Ruthlessly Poetic Singer-Songwriters of TexTroubadours and Texas music lovers will adore this collection of essays assembled and edited by Craig Clifford and Craig D. Hillis, Pickers & Poets: The Ruthlessly Poetic Singer-Songwriters of Texas. Several different writers pay homage to some of the veteran songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s who began their careers within the Lone Star State. Hillis, an author and guitarist who has toured and recorded with a few of the book’s highlighted artists, provides insights about Steven Fromholz, Michael Martin Murphey, Jerry Jeff Walker and Willie Nelson. Clifford, also an author and working musician/singer/songwriter who holds a standing day gig as a professor of philosophy at Tarleton State University, adds his authoritative perspectives about Nelson, Kinky Friedman, Walt Wilkins, Hayes Carll, Ryan Bingham, and Miranda Lambert.

My personal favorite penned by Clifford, “Beyond the Rivers,” portends that modern songwriters seem “caught up in the pseudo-country tropes of pickups and painted on jeans.” He also claims today’s mainstream country gives spotlight mostly to the young and the beautiful. Jeff Prince discusses the role of “iconic cultural happenings” or music festivals that introduce fans to lyric-driven songs too unique or obscure for radio play. Kathryn Jones, in “Roots of Steel: The Poetic Grace of Women Texas Singer-Songwriters,” calls Patty Griffin, Lucinda Williams, Terri Hendrix, Nanci Griffith, Tish Hinojosa and Eliza Gilkyson “trail-blazers.” She claims they refuse to be pigeonholed in “the good ‘ol boys club” of influential music circles in a male-dominated industry.

Andy Wilkinson explains in a feverish stream of consciousness narrative why the Texas Panhandle, namely the Llano Estacado of Lubbock, per capita has produced so many songwriters thanks to its great expanse of land, the wind, and a culture composed of mostly friendly people. While some songwriters have had to leave the state to find their audiences, others simply have jumped into Austin’s musical stew pot. This book promises a tantalizing feast to satisfy avid readers of nonfiction musical history.

Also please see my article posted on Elmore magazine’s website at:

http://www.elmoremagazine.com/2017/01/reviews/books/pickers-poets-the-ruthlessly-poetic-singer-songwriters-of-texas

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