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Thursday, October 12, 2006

BRENT BOYD KEYNOTES SCREENWRITERS' WORKSHOP ANNUAL MEET


Minnesota-born screenwriter Brent Boyd will be the featured guest of the Screenwriters' Workshop in Minneapolis on October 28th while his film AURORA BOREALIS is being rolled out, city by city, across the country during the months of October and November.

AURORA BOREALIS main character Duncan, played by TV-star and teen heart-throb Joshua Jackson (Dawson's Creek) is a Minneapolis-slacker who moves from one job to the next, not due to economic hard times but more out of disrespect for authority. Duncan job problems are because of his attitude-itch.

Gradually, we learn Duncan's history and watch his indifferent exterior melt away under sway of healthcare professional Kate, played by Juliette Lewis, but moreso due to a growing bond with his grandfather Ronald played by Donald Sutherland. Duncan is stuck in Minnesota and Kate challenges him to go somewhere else in order to appreciate why Minnesota is a nice place to live.

A romantic comedy hangs in the wings while the true center of the film is the relationship between Ronald, struggling with end-of-life dehabilitating issues and Duncan who is trying to find meaning in his emotionally desolate life.

Larger themes are the autobiographical core of AURORA BOREALIS and Boyd acknowledge everybody asks if Duncan's story is his Minnesota story. The only scene Boyd will admit to being "real-life" is the end-second act Mall of America bathroom scene between Duncan and Ronald and the one that seems to stands out with viewers and movie critics. But it isn't the emotional apex of the movie which arrives later in the third-act.

How does such a particular a Minnesota film get sold in Hollywood and how do inside Minnesota jokes play to audiences around the country? Boyd doesn't have a simple or direct answer to the first question, however, he believes the more specific and detailed you make a film about its time and place the more universal its story becomes.


MPR calls AURORA BOREALIS Boyd's love letter to Minnesota. Star Tribune chief film critic Jeff Strickler [as I also speculated in this blog before Strictler wrote his review] says the real attention for Boyd's film will come when Sutherland is nominated for an Oscar for his performance as Ronald Shorter. Still, I believe Regent Releasing is way out of its league in the Oscar race and I doubt they can draw enough attention to this film.

Boyd described how when the film screened in festivals, the teenage girls would swarm and scream around Josh Jackson while elderly women swarmed around him. At the same time, he claims, the Minnesota insider jokes play to all audiences in North Carolina and New York.

...............................
WHAT: Screenwriters' Workshop Annual Meeting
WHO: Featured Guest BRENT BOYD screenwriter of "Aurora Borealis"
WHEN: October 28th, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (with Break for Lunch)
WHERE: Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC)
1500 Hennepin Avenue South, 3rd Floor, Whitney Library, Minneapolis
...............................

Links: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2006/09/29/brentboyd/
http://www.startribune.com/1553/story/707853.html
http://ae.mercurynews.com/entertainment/ui/mercurynews/movie.html?id=499882&reviewId=null

Photos courtsey of Regent Releasing 2006

Monday, October 09, 2006

WINNING A SPECIAL JURY PRIZE


WE WON!

The IFP Cinema Lounge Bill Keyes MC announced, "And the jury awarded special recognition to I WILL COME BACK..." and a big image of Amahl Grant popped onto the screen and the clip, "My grandfather wore a suit everyday of his life. Cold, Heat... it didn't matter, it wasn't a matter of showing out for other people. It was a matter of dignity and Italy had a lot to do with that..."

That was pretty cool to see and hear Amahl talking on that big screen and the crowd applauding our bio-doc film about Buffalo Soldier Samuel H. Grant for the Minnesota Historical Societies' Greatest Generation Film Festival.

Special Jury Prize. I am always curious about why people are awarded Special Jury Prizes, for instance, at Cannes or Sundance. Of course, for us it means we didn't get a share of the big pot of money being put out for prizes. But we did get parting gifts!

Even better, I think, was our reception in the screening rooms. I ran between the two theaters and listened to audience reactions. The audiences cheered at the end of the film and not just in the screening room loaded with Grant family. In fact, the Grant family theater was more subdued than the larger main screening area at the Minnesota History Center. Many from the audience gave us and the Grants warm and appreciative feedback and said they were moved by the story and Samuel Grants courage. not only at war but on the homefront in starting the civil rights movement.

And then the post-mortem sets in, why a "Special Jury Prize" and not the big tamale? Withstanding I had no opportunity for a speech, probably the real reason we didn't get a main category prize. Let me first just express my gratitude for not winning a cash prize. Cash prizes always produce nothing but problems with vendors, with participants, with lawyers who prey upon filmmakers and with outsiders critical of the project who feel the filmmaker just "did it all for the cash." Everybody wants a piece of prize money. It's like winning the lottery and discovering instantly you have hundreds of long lost relatives. There is never enough prize money to recoup expenses.

Let's be honest, screenwriters and filmmakers are two classes of sufferers who will never be made whole by any amount of cash. We don't make films for cash reward. You'd be crazy to think that was our motivation. We do nothing but lose money on films because we believe in them. Besides, jury awards are like homecoming queen contests and cash prizes should never be counted upon.

One thing about the contest this year was how the winning films reflect upon our image of ourselves as Minnesotans. We have myths that must be upheld and this set of films fully embraced the Midwest Minnesotan image of subdued optimism and joy in the face of unbridled hardship.

Our special jury prize film, I WILL COME BACK has the same theme, an honest man who fought for his country even though it never wanted to give him full rights as a citizen and even tried to burn him at the stake but, other-than-than, there is very little variation from the sentimental ghee-whiz sympathy profiles and heroic virtues the Minnesota Historical Society sought to promote.

The suffering Scandinavian is an archetype juries pick because they feel public pressure to uphold Minnesota myths. Or maybe that's the only subject filmmakers felt they should pursue because the MNHS wanted them in the collection.

Over the years you will find an ongoing thread of story that continually gets retold about Minnesota people, that we cannot stop working as our Protestant work ethic will not allow it; we will suffer even Gods and natures vengeance valiantly and without too much complaint; and we never take ourselves too seriously even when we sometimes should. We love this story about ourselves. We want to hear it over and over, whether it be from Garrison Keillor or the Coen Brothers -- it is the archetypal Minnesotan story.

The great thing, I've discovered, is the suffering Scandinavian archetype is not the only story in Minnesota. And hopefully, with future Minnesota Historical Society projects we can get beyond simple stereotypes and explore the rich heritage of Minnesota from the Eastern European immigrants on the Iron Range to the German's of New Ulm, from the farmer to the shopkeeper to the Jewish deli owner to the Italians who lived on the flats along St. Paul's riverfront.

Our states culture is made of different perspectives and prisms through which it can be viewed and should be seen. There are stories of medical discovers, engineering marvels, heroic deeds and achievements, cartoonists, innovators, politicians, artistic achievements and hardworking migrant field workers. And, you'd probably find just as many stories about flappers, strippers and showgirls, nightclub entertainers, snake oil salesmen and gangsters, Holy rollers, boxers and poolsharks than in Brooklyn, New Orleans or Chicago.

This isn't to take any credit away from the winners. I loved Maxine Davis' THE GOOD DOCTOR that won for "best intergenerational film" and "56" by Deacon Warner about a Gopher football hero (also a Special Jury Prize winner) and THE SATISFIED LIFE and unflinching monologue by Ted Wryk by Freya Schirmacher took the top prize for "best film." MY GRANDMA LUCY was a heartfelt film narrated by Ali Drube about her grandmother who suffered from tuberculosis produced with her father Tom that won for "best collaboration" (between father and daughter).

MAKING THE BEST OF HARD TIMES by Roger Bindl won the prize for "best film about children growing up in the depression" who never "felt poor because nobody told them" and that intercut oral history interviews at a cafe in St. Paul. And A SACRED HEART by Norah Shapiro about the poetry of Phebe Hanson that arrived in her journals out of death and loss during an era with plenty of it. All were great stories and deserving winners. And we got to ride up to the premiere in a Rolls Royce limo and walk down the red carpet. It is so much better than cash, really!

Congratulations. Hopefully these film will inspire much more citizen scholarship and documentary making in years to come.

For a list of all 32 films go to:

http://www.mnhs.org

On the way home Patricia asked me why we didn't win the top film prize and money. I told her juries all have their dynamic and perhaps they couldn't fit us neatly into one of the categories. And her response was, "Well, I guess we can take confort that we are true artists, since we won a prize but still remain poor and misunderstood."

We both laughed outloud at her comment.

Friday, October 06, 2006

STRIPPER TO SCREENWRITER...

...or how to get the recognition you want in Hollywood.

Our ever so charming yet naughty Minnesota girl Brook Busey-Hunt, aka Diablo Cody, cred has been lingering in a Hollywood purgatory since her lusty splash to fame on David Letterman this spring. By her own admit, Diablo's instant fame turned quickly into fledgling career and this is the stuff on which Hollywood is made.

Originally, Cody's red-hot script JUNO was shopped around by Mason Novick of the firm Benderspink, who has gained the reputation as the "horny manager" seeking sexy-girl blogger for career in pictures, who discovered Diablo in the Pussy Ranch, took his cut and signed her book "Candy Girl" to a six-figure publishing contract. As if there are not enough horny boys in LA LA land and lusty girls down in the valley! Novick was exposed to Diablo's writing while reading her raunchy blog on the internet. With profits, Brook bought a house in Minneapolis with hubby Jonny as apparently a book deal and a few thousand for a WB "three-picture deal" can no longer finance a house in LA.

According to columnist Jay Fernandez who writes Scriptland for the LA Times Diablo Cody is the kind of success story Hollywood loves. And he continues, "Novick has proven, is that surfing porn at work can no longer unilaterally be written off as unproductive."

LEMONY-SNICKET'S director Brad Silberling was originally slated to direct JUNO but has since been replaced by soup du jour THANK YOU FOR NOT SMOKING writer-director Jason Reitman and GHOST WORLD'S Russ Smith and Lianne Halfon producing for Mandate Pictures. JUNO has long been referred to as the female version of NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, not a flattering comparison in my book, however Reitman is reportedly working with Cody to "flesh-out" the adult characters. [Exactly what ND never got IMHO]

In order to fulfilled her promise to WB, Cody has written the feature script TIME AND A HALF, a dark comedy about a recent college grad swimming into a "mid-20s life crisis" and is finishing scripts for TV pilots she owes Sony and Dreamworks. As Fernandez describes her ascending career, Diablo's "work meetings no longer require a sheet of protective glass." Cody wants to write a horror movie and is tagged as a big fan of THE DESCENT.

Just this week, the Hollywood Reporter announced casting decisions have been made for JUNO. Cody reacted on her blog, "Ellen Page and Michael Cera are both so good. They're gooder than good. They're goodical. They're a Mark Goodson production. I could not be happier."

So the word on the street is that with an entirely new team for JUNO it could begin shooting in January 2007. Will they consider coming to shoot in Hopkins Minnesota again?

ON LOCATION WITH CHASING WINDMILLS


Chasing Windmills is one of the most exciting adventures in dramatic filmmaking to come out of the Twin Cities. Whether you are drawn to the genre of urbane Quixotic drama with a Latin flare or not, you have to admire the shear tenacity of storytelling and the bravado of posting a dramatic story everyday to the internet.

In the couple's first season, during the fall of 2005, Juan Antonio del Rosario and Cristina Cordova centered the short episodic stories primary around themselves and a fictious floundering relationship between a Minneapolis couple with family ties to Puetro Rico. Almost all their scenes were shot in their downtown Minneapolis apartment or nearby skyways and coffeeshops. Dunn Bros. at the Freighthouse is featured prominently in a couple of episodes as well as Runyons Bar. At season end, the couple take a trip to Puetro Rico to visit family and announce their expectations for family expansion.

Then, how quickly the story turns...

In the second season that began appearing on September 25th, the couple have expanded their pallet of locations, story options and characters. They have drawn their characters out of their fan base and through their web presence called together unusual, almost comic book, personae from the world of the web. You don't see these characters on TV because they are post-television digital age citizens. The second season episodes take us in many different directions, following the new characters and into new prominent Minnesota locales.

While the style of their productions appears, at times, to be hap-hazard and loose - a part of its charm - the stories are actually highly crafted and storyboarded. Juan and Cristina take turns handling the camera while the other performs in the scene.

My wife Patricia and I went on location after Juan and Cristina asked Patricia via email if she'd appear in this seasons episodes. The first episode Patricia appears in is titled LURKING. The main character Q and his new roomate Sam Carr enter a Lake street video store, cruising for single women to pick up. Once inside Sam gives his psycho-sexual analysis of women's film taste based on their availability status and suitability for mating. Sam finally concludes the foreign film section presents the best opportunities for a healthy coupling with a partner. And, as is often the case, that's where Q and Sam find Patricia browsing the shelves.

http://www.chasingmills.com

You can view individual episodes of Chasing Windmills on their main page but also see back episodes and read viewer comments on each on their videoblog:

http://chasingmills.blogspot.com

You can also subscribe to Chasing Windmills in iTunes and set them up to be loaded onto your Video iPod. These new distribution mechanisms and the world-wide audience Chasing Windmills has attracted put Juan Antonio and Cristina on the cutting edge of dramatic storeytelling for a new medium. Television had its golden era with the serialized sitcom; printing mastered its storytelling format with the novel; radio found its perfect form with the radio hour variety show; and now the internet with its fast, immediate and very portable content will find its idiom and golden mean.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

INTO THE WILD WITH BILL POHLAD

I ran into Producer Bill Pohlad and his wife at SW Minneapolis' YUM! restaurant on Saturday evening, where he was taking a break from his hectic travel schedule to grab dinner at this homey bistro owned by brother Bob and sister-in-law Michelle. Bill ate fruit salad and lemon chicken as their infant son slept in the stroller between them. We had a few moments to chat about his film productions.

FUR is going to open at the Rome Film Festival, Bill said, in a couple of weeks, however, he will not be in Rome for the festival due to the production schedule for INTO THE WILD, taking him to Portland while the Shawn Penn film shoots on location in Beaverton, Oregon in October.

FUR stars Nicole Kidman as Diane Arbus and has evolved into "an imaginary portrait" of Arbus under Steven Shainberg's direction and script by Erin Cressida Wilson, the writing team who brought the adaption SECRETARY to the screen. A wind of controversy swirls around FUR as the writer and director focused this portrait somewhat narrowly on an Arbus' obsession with forbidden sexual behavior, also a central theme in SECRETARY, as opposed to Arbus' complex career as a New York artist and photographic genius.

Pohlad's current production, INTO THE WILD is an adventure drama based on the bestselling story by Jon Krakauer about a top student and athlete from Emory University, Christopher McCandless (being played by Emile Hirsch) who abandons conventional life for the Alaskan wilderness. The script adaptation was written by Sean Penn who is also directing the film with Pohlad as Producer. The cast includes William Hurt as McCandless' demanding aerospace engineering father and Catherine Keener as well as Vince Vaughn as Wayne Westerberg.

In the non-fiction book by Krakauer, McCandless in a Tolstoyan fit renounced all his possessions, hitch-hikes to Alaska to live in the wilderness and return to nature. Keener plays Jan Burns who picked up McCandless and treated him as a surrogate son while Vaughn plays a tow-truck driver he meets while on the road. Shockingly, McCandless died of starvation four months later in a remote campsite inside an abandoned bus.

While Penn has been director of other special projects and several music documentaries, his last film for Warner Bros was THE PLEDGE (2001) that carried an estimated budget of $45M and ended grossing $20 in U.S. box office receipts. Penn's effort on THE PLEDGE was noticed with nominations for Cannes' Golden Palm and Berlin's Golden Bear but failed to achieve significant notoriety upon release.

Penn has recently been in the news for his interest expressed making the politically hot-button film adaptation of Richard Clark's Washington insiders memoir AGAINST ALL ENEMIES also with Vince Vaughn.