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My review of Freda and the Firedogs posted to Elmore magazine

21 Apr

 

Elmore Magazine | Freda and the FiredogsRegaling in glory days as hippies performing classic country music, Freda and the Firedogs also memorialized an old friend at the Broken Spoke in Austin March 22.

The show culminated two sold-out reunion shows that began the night before at The Paramount Theatre.

   U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett emceed the Broken Spoke reunion concert that also paid tribute to San Antonio’s legendary guitarist Doug Sahm who died in 1999.

Attendees included some of Austin’s biggest movers and shakers in the music community including Waterloo Records president John Kunz and his wife, Cathy.

More than 36 years have passed since five members of Freda and the Firedogs played together on stage. They last reunited for a single performance at the Old Soap Creek Saloon in Austin in January of 1979. They performed their final concert as a band at Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic in College Station at the Texas World Speedway on July 5, 1974.

Original band members included: piano player and vocalist Marcia Ball, bass player and singer/song writer Bobby Earl Smith, guitarist John X. Reed, drummer Steve McDaniels, and steel and accordion player David Cook.

Broken Spoke founder James White also took the stage with them to sing a Buck Owens’ version of the 1955 song, “Rollin in My Sweet Baby’s Arms,” by Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, and the Foggy Mountain Boys.

Freda and the Firedogs performed two lively sets of fan favorites including: Merle Haggard’s 1966 “Swinging Doors,” and Rubye Blevin’s (aka: Patsy Montana’s) 1935 hit, “I Want To Be a Cowboy Sweetheart.” They also played two originals “Muleshoe” and “Dry Creek Inn,” that Smith wrote.

They played covers by George Jones and Ball sang a lot of Tammy Wynett and Loretta Lynn as well as the 1966 hit, “Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ with Lovin’ on Your Mind.”

In 1972 Ball traveled from her hometown of Baton Rouge on her way to San Francisco when her car broke down in Austin; afterwards she never left. Soon she met bassist Smith and together they founded their band.

During the early 1970s, Freda and the Firedogs helped to bridge the cultural gap that once divided the long hairs from the traditional country music fans throughout Texas. The band often opened shows and performed with Sahm at the formerly famous Armadillo World Headquarters.

About that time, Doggett began his political campaign for state senator and he asked Freda and the Firedogs to perform at his first fundraiser held at the Broken Spoke on July 9, 1973.

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Here’s the link to my story and photos posted on Elmore magazine’s website:

http://www.elmoremagazine.com/2015/04/reviews/shows/freda-and-the-firedogs

My article with Scott Frank’s advice posts to CS magazine

9 Apr

Write Every Day: Screenwriting Advice from Scott Frank | CreativScreenwriter and director Scott Frank has one hard-and-fast rule that he says has led directly to his success: he writes every day — for at least 10 minutes. Some days, that effort stretches into two hours or at the most, four hours.

“I am at my desk or in my chair or wherever I am, but I write probably two hours a day. I mean if I’m really under the gun, I’ll write four hours a day,” he said. “I burn out after that. I burn out very hot and very fast.”

Frank spoke to an audience of Texas screenwriters March 1 at the “On Story” conversation about “Sustaining a Writing Career,” sponsored by Austin Film Festival at Holiday Inn on Town Lake March 1.

He shared his insights about how he became a writer, how luck has played a part in building his successful career, and how to improve the craft of screenwriting. He also talked about his upcoming project.

Frank has written several original screenplays as well as a string of novel adaptations by crime writers Elmore Leonard and Lawrence Block.

He became a director after working as a writer with some of the biggest names in Hollywood such as Steven Soderbergh, Out of Sight (1998); Steven Spielberg, Minority Report (2002); and Sydney Pollack, The Interpreter (2005).

Last year he directed A Walk Among the Tombstones, starring Liam Neeson, adapted from Lawrence Block’s novel.

How Frank became a screenwriter

   During the Iran hostage crisis from Nov. 4, 1979 to Jan. 20, 1981 as a college student attending the University of California Santa Barbara, Frank felt inspired to write his first original screenplay, Little Man Tate.

After graduating college in 1982, Frank began to focus writing more about the boy character, Fred Tate. It took eight years before the story became a film project but in the meantime, Frank established himself as a screenwriter.

How luck has helped his career

Looking back over 30 years, Frank said he did not have a career plan at 24 years old.

“I don’t know that there was a conscious design for my career as much as it was blind luck,” he said. “I was incredibly lucky.”

He happened to meet someone who had the ability to alter the path of his entire career.

“I was very lucky that the first person that I met early on in my career was Lindsay Doran (actress and movie producer best known for The Firm in 1993, Sense and Sensibility in 1995 and Stranger than Fiction in 2006,) for instance. That’s just luck. There’s no reason for it,” he said.

“I could have met (producer, Jerome Leon) ‘Jerry’ Bruckheimer (best known for the television series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation since 2000, and The Amazing Race since 2001,) and I might have done something else, but I met Lindsay Doran and she actually took the time and taught me how to write.”

He also met late film executive and producer Ned Tanen, best known for Sixteen Candles in 1984, The Breakfast Club, and St. Elmo’s Fire both in 1985. Tanen brought Frank to Paramount and gave him a desk on the studio’s writing floor.

While at Paramount, Frank met other writers and movie producers, including Dennis Feldman, best known for Just One of the Guys in 1985, The Golden Child in 1986 and Species in 1995.

“One day I wandered into his (Feldman’s) office to play Nerf basketball and I said ‘I have this title in my head and I have no idea what the movie is about. I just like this title, it’s a weird bumbling of words – Dead Again.’ And he said ‘huh’ and by the end of the basketball game I had the plot for the movie,” he said.

“Weird stuff like that just happens. I didn’t go in there to talk about a movie. I had no agenda, just luckily that’s what happened.”

He worked on the screenplay for over two years before it became the 1991 movie directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson.

To further his luck, he often becomes “the dumbest guy in the room.”

   “I’ve made a career – no joke – out of being the dumbest guy in the room. Writers tend to want to be the smartest guy in the room because they don’t want to take anybody’s notes, but if you’re the dumbest guy in the room, you’re surrounded by those people who make your work better and ultimately you get credit for it,” he said.

“The best stuff in The Lookout (2007) came from (David) Fincher and in Out of Sight, (1998) the best stuff came from (Steven) Soderbergh, and the best stuff in Minority Report (2002) came from Steven Spielberg.”

Crucial conversations with influential people have often changed the direction of his screenplays. As an example he described a phone call he received from director Barry Sonnenfeld during pre-production for the 1995 movie, Get Shorty.

“Barry (Sonnenfeld) called me up in the middle of the night and he said ‘I think Chili (Palmer, played by John Travolta,) should rent a minivan.’ So I wrote the scene and there was this whole scene with the lady on the bus who calls it ‘the Cadillac of minivans.’ I never would have written that if Barry hadn’t called me up,” he said.

Frank’s tips for improving the craft of screenwriting

Think like a director

Now that he also directs, Frank writes more sparingly and he includes critical visual details in his screenplays.

   “Now when I write a little paragraph, I think ‘Ok. That’s eight hours of shooting. Do I really want to do that, to be outside in the snow again? How about interior, girls’ locker room, day.’ So you’re constantly thinking about stuff you’re going to make, all the time,” he said.

“There are things not in your script that you need in your script – things that were very non-specific and stuff that you just hoped someone would work out and now you’re the someone.”

Writers will write better scenes if they think like directors, he said.

“Even if it’s two people sitting at a table. It makes you want to make something happen,” he said.

“If you just write a scene with two people sitting at a table, guess what? You get on the set and there are two actors sitting across from one another at a table and there is nothing for them to do but say your lines. Unless your lines are like My Dinner with Andre, — which is spectacular dialogue — nothing is going to hold your attention.”

Writers should write dynamic scenes as visually interesting as possible and think about who might interrupt, or what unexpected bit of business may occur.

“You want to start thinking about these things and you only start thinking about them as a director,” he said.

“I had a little of that as a writer because I worked for so many directors from the get-go, so I was always aware that something always has to be happening. Still, if you don’t create something, a director will fill in the vacuum. Sometimes it’s not good.”

Write great openings

Frank has a reputation for creating compelling openings for each of his screenplays; he uses that same writing device at the start of every scene throughout his screenplays.

   “People who are happy are boring,” he said. “Unless it’s somebody who’s really happy and then something horrible happens to them – that’s awesome.”

In order to enjoy a movie, a viewer must be invested pretty quickly. Writers must write their scripts with that rule in mind.

“We are also writing for people who read the script,” he said. “Our writing is a factor. Sometimes people write these things when translated are really good, but they read horribly. I would argue that you have to do both, especially early on in your career and especially if you aren’t directing,” he said.

“It has to read great and it has to be great. My thought process ranges from ‘What do I need to know to care enough to go on this ride? What do I need to know? Is there a mystery or a question that I can ask that’s waiting to be answered?’”

Frank said that every scene should answer the same questions three questions.

Develop great characters

   Readers must care about a script’s main characters right off the bat and writers must reveal them as authentic and multifaceted people motivated by passion, Frank said.

As examples of solid characters, Frank cited those created for: Raging Bull, the 1997 book written by authors Jake LaMotta, Joseph Carter, Peter Savage and Nick Tosches, and adapted for the 1980 movie by screenwriters Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin. He also likes the characters in Nightcrawler, last year’s screenplay by Dan Gilroy, loosely based upon the comic series by Chris Claremont.

   Frank also likes writing about men suffering from a serious mid-life crisis. He particularly likes bank robbers as characters.

“I’m so glad that I’m not them,” he said. “I have a very boring life and I like it that way. My childhood wasn’t particularly fascinating, but I had a great imagination and I’m very curious. I have weird friends and I know that I collect weird people and I just like that,” he said.

“I like people in crisis. Also I think good stories are about people who ‘in extremis,’” a Latin phrase that translates “at the point of death.”

He also looks for ways to endear a complex character to his or her audience.

“I’m always thinking I just want you to care about this guy. I just want you to care more about her or him in any way that I can to get you there. So by the end (of the screenplay) you have some type of emotional connection, even if it’s a dark, dark story,” he said.

Writers must find “the hook” that makes a character interesting. Mistakenly, most writers spend too much time on exposition, Frank said.

Don’t set the scene at the beginning of a screenplay

Drop brief descriptions about the setting throughout the script, he said.

“The big mistake people make is they feel that they need to set the scene. So they spend a lot of time in the beginning of their script setting the scene – telling what the apartment looks like, introducing you to their kids and their dog and their car and their life,” he said.

“Nothing is more boring than that.”

A screenwriter entertains; he does not explain, Frank said.

Set the tone immediately

Frank created the tone for his movie, Walk Among the Tombstones, loosely based upon the tenth book in a series of novels written by Lawrence Block about an alcoholic and former private investigator Matt Scudder.

In order to write the adaptation, Frank had to change the original setting and borrowed a different opening scene from one Block mentions in another book in the thrilling detective series.

“So I wanted something that started off with a bang where you saw this man and you kind of got one sense of him,” he said.

“I thought what would be really interesting is if the guy you met in the first five minutes was different from the guy that you meet after the credits.”

Write concise dialogue

Screenwriters must learn to say much with very little.

“That’s exactly what a script should look like,” he said.

Make the script your own

   While writing an adaption for a novel, Frank does not collaborate with the author.

“I want the author to like me; I don’t want them to help me,” he said.

For Get Shorty, Frank had to invent at least half the story for his script, a huge departure from the novel.

“I realized for the movie, for the story that I wanted to tell — not all of it’s in the book,” he said.

The same rule applies for his current project.

This year he plans to direct a movie loosely based on a German children’s novel, set inside a little village in Ireland.

“It’s about a flock of sheep who solve the murder of their shepherd. He has read to them every night from Agatha Christie because he’s a lonely, sad guy. They’ve heard every Agatha Christie story there is so they believe they’re up to the task,” he said.

“One or two of them may be smart, but the only person dumber than the sheep is the town constable.”

Frank hopes to cast Liam Neeson to play the shepherd and Emma Thompson to voice the smartest sheep, Miss Maple. Craig Mazin wrote the adaption for the 2008 book, Three Bags Full: a Sheep Detective Story, written by Leonie Swann and translated by Anthea Bell.

“The sheep can choose to forget things and any time something bad happens, like death, they all choose to forget. So they never realize that through our memories is how we actually keep people alive,” he said.

“My wife says ‘Well, you finally do a real family movie and it’s about murder.’ So I said, ‘I did another family movie and killed the dog; it’s perfectly in keeping.’”

To see my article as it appears on the website of Creative Screenwriting magazine, please follow this link:

http://creativescreenwriting.com/write-every-day-screenwriting-advice-from-scott-frank/

My Dirty River Boys CD review posted to Elmore today

7 Apr

Elmore Magazine | The Dirty River Boys – The Dirty River BoysAn El Paso quartet that now calls Austin home, the Dirty River Boys, deliver 13 country rock songs that cover a wide range of topics from drug war violence along the Texas/Mexico border to unrequited love.

Country singer Ray Wylie Hubbard co-wrote “Down By The River,” the opening track off the band’s self-titled album released by the Thirty Tigers label in October. The song tells a few bold adolescent tales about crossing the Santa Fe Street Bridge with fake IDs to party in Juarez; fast-forward to present day, times have changed along the Rio Grande River.

Colton James adds a bass line like a heart beat, while Nino Cooper and Marco Gutierrez swap impressive electric guitar leads and vocals. Drummer Travis Stearns wages rapid-fire attacks on the rhythm section accented by clap tracks.

The catchy “Thought I’d Let You Know” demonstrates the Boys’ impressive four-part harmony and “Teenage Renegade,” with its feel good lyrics creates a tune that already sounds like a hit single.

Named “2012 Band of the Year” by Austin City Limits, the Dirty River Boys will leave fans helpless to refrain from singing along on the choruses to their songs.

Here’s a link to my review of the Dirty River Boys CD on Elmore magazine’s website: 

 http://www.elmoremagazine.com/2015/04/reviews/albums/the-dirty-river-boys-the-dirty-river-boys

 

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