I Can Do That!

Have you ever watched American Idol or Survivor or The Amazing Race and thought to yourself, “I could do that!”?

Somewhere in your heart of hearts you just know that if you had the opportunity, you could do just as well, if not better, than the people who are being lauded and praised on TV. They are winning hundreds, thousands, and even millions of dollars, as well as huge career contracts, just for using their God-given talents. You want in, too.

I feel the same way when I watch the Oscars. In fact, when I was in the eighth grade, I had a goal of being the first woman to be nominated for an Academy Award in the four top slots—writer, director, producer and actress in a leading role. Now that was two grown children and forty pounds ago, but I still have the love for movies.

A few years ago I decided to really concentrate on my writing. I’ve always been a writer, but most of my work has been incomplete, sitting in file folders, waiting until the day I could figure out how to make it good. I’m realistic about some things, at least.

One morning I heard about a local group of writers—The Panhandle Professional Writers—which is one of the oldest writing groups in the country. They meet right here in my hometown. I joined and attended meetings. I met another writer who was published. She took me under her graceful wings, and now I have two novels that are in polishing stage. NaNoWriMo got me motivated to get the words out, and Dianne G. Sagan and her editor/ husband, Greg, help me write efficiently and with pizzazz.

But then the Oscars come along, and I see how far away from my lofty eighth grade goal I still am.

I want to make a movie. My first really completed work was a screenplay. My second, as well. I’d love to make either of those screenplays into movies, but my first, The Privateer, is about Jean Laffite. It revolves around the 1814 Battle of New Orleans. The second script, Long Lost, is set in southern California in the late 1940’s. Both of these will be big-budget features. (Notice how I said will be?)

At the present, I have… ummm… how should I say… no budget, and I live in present-day Amarillo, in the Texas Panhandle. Just to film trees would take an enormous travel budget. So what do I do?

My very supportive family and I will be putting together a movie that we can actually shoot right here in literally our own back yard. We will write the script based on a story that a close family friend told me when I was a child. He’s agreed to refresh my memory about what happened to him and his friends, and allowed me to turn it into a movie.

We’ve got a rough outline. We’re working on a cast and some locations. I’m excited. The events that inspired the story took place in the early 1960’s, but the story itself is timeless, so setting isn’t a problem.

The main challenges will be the ones we make for ourselves. I don’t want to shoot a picture that looks like I shot it in my back yard. I want something special. I plan to give the story a real-time look and feel. I want it to have the “one-take” appearance without the Blair Witch nausea. I want the audience to feel the worry and suspense of Rope. I want to direct.

This project is small. It’s a first step. Spielberg, Scorsese, Bruckheimer, Lucas, Abrams, Howard—they all took first steps.

I won’t get Academy nominations for this one. It might not be good enough to show anyone at all. But I’ve learned that you can’t take huge leaps without taking first steps.

Over the next several months, I will occasionally blog about my movie-making challenges. I will blog about the movies that inspired my dream in the first place. I’d love to hear what you think. I’d love any advice you wish to offer. Talk to me!

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading!

The Man with the Golden Sword

We call him Oscar—the little gold statuette that brings all sorts of accolades in the movie industry. He treads closely on the heels of the Golden Globe awards. Sometimes he echoes their praise, and sometimes he offers a dissenting opinion.

This morning we learned the names of those contending for the little man. The list includes actors, writers, directors, producers, set and camera artists, costume designers, and technicians of every type. Some of these names we’ve all heard over the years. A few are new to us.

With the exceptions of Best Picture and Best Original Song, most of the main categories have five nominees competing. And yes, they will all tell you that it’s an honor just to be nominated—but of course they all covet the Oscar.

Ask Meryl Streep how “honored” she feels. This year makes her 17th Academy Award nomination. It’s a record. But does Ms. Streep have a mantle lined with an army of Oscars? Nope—just two. (poor thing)

I kid. I love Meryl Streep. She’s amazing, as I’ve mentioned before. It will be a tight race, I hear, between Streep, Viola Davis and Michelle Williams. The other two ladies in the Best Actress in a Leading Role category are Glenn Close and Rooney Mara. With these strong women anything could happen.

Have I seen all the nominated films? No. I live in a good-sized city, but not a major market. The Descendants will finally make its debut inAmarillo this weekend. There’s a good chance that many of the nominees will never show in a theatre here. So far I’ve only seen three of the nominees, but I intend to see several more soon.

The thing that strikes me about the list of nominees this year, and maybe this is simply my age, is that with only a few exceptions this list of actors, producers and directors could have been from any of the last twenty years or so. Think about it. Gary Oldman, Nick Nolte, Kenneth Branagh, Christopher Plummer, Max von Sydow, Glenn Close, Meryl Streep, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, Gore Verbinski, and last but not least, John Williams.

Do I begrudge them their praise? No way! They deserve their honors. They’ve worked hard. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Viola Davis and Michelle Williams are relatively new compared to them, and they are just now coming into their own.

Will the Academy Awards bring them all the glory for which they wish? Most of them will go home empty handed. But for the next month, all of the nominees are winners. And from now on, each can add the “Oscar-nominated” tag to their names and resumes.

From now until February 26th I’ll be working on my movie list, watching as many nominees as I can. I’ll form my opinions and pick my favorites. I’ll get my dress all picked out for the big night. It’s my Super Bowl!

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading!

The Best for Last

Christmas time brings a plethora of family movies, but it’s also the time of year for the production companies to roll out their Oscar contenders. These films are generally serious dramas involving mature subject matter or important political statements.

Usually the only way a comedy gets an Oscar nod is if the plot includes something heartbreaking as well.

Science fiction and animated features generally get ignored unless their musical score or special effects are outstanding.

Though the Academy Awards are given for all the movies released throughout the year, the studios like to hold their “best” until December to keep their titles fresh in the minds of Academy members. You might see something released in June getting a few awards, but the big ones—Best Actor or Actress in the lead or supporting role, Best Director, Best Writer, and Best
Picture—will most likely be given to cast and crew members of November and December movies.

These facts make for either terrific or terrible holiday movie outings.

Oscar-worthy films are usually well-written and filled with amazing performances. The down-side is that these motion pictures have quite serious plots.

Case in point: escorting a gaggle of elementary school-aged children, hyped up on Christmas candy, to watch a two-and-a-half -hour film about relationships is something like taking the same group of kids to a teeth cleaning. Advice: know your opponent and don’t allow yourself to become outnumbered. You cannot win.

However, if your group of kids is old enough and responsible enough, you may still make the outing work.

It turns out that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is showing two screens down from The Adventures of Tintin. Carnage and Young Adult are both showing in the same multiplex as Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked. If you can find a theatre with compatible show times, you can send the kids to their own show and you’ll be able to finally enjoy a grown-up activity.

Even if they’re too young to roam the cinema unsupervised, you can employ a sitter to accompany your children. Just offer to pay for their ticket, and then grab a gift card for another couple of tickets-worth of theatre fun!

What if you aren’t interested in those “important” performances? What if you need a little family time and your kids are “too old” for Chipmunk music? The great news is that Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, We Bought a Zoo and Warhorse are all December releases, too.

Like many things in life, the movie producers have saved the best for last.

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading!