Next week, the Maui Writers Conference will again lure wannabe novelists, playwrights, screenwriters and journalists to the Valley Isle. The 1996 session, the conference's fifth, will take place Labor Day weekend. Last year's conference drew more than 1,200 people and thus far, more than 800 people have registered for this year's sessions. Among the noteworthy participants are Ron Howard and Jackie Collins, who are featured below.
So Ya Wanna be
a Writer

Movie making is simple
story telling, says Ron Howard

By Tim Ryan

THE line of dialogue best remembered from Ron Howard's thrilling film "Apollo 13" is a slight variation on the truth.

"Houston, we have a problem," says Tom Hanks, who played astronaut Jim Lovell. But "Houston, we've had a problem" is what Lovell actually said.

It was a small but important change, and one more way that "Apollo 13" unfolded with perfect immediacy, drawing viewers into the spellbinding true story.

That's the important secret to director Ron Howard's success in filmmaking: he emphasizes "simply story telling."

"I've never wanted to make films as a big product thing," says Howard, 42, in a telephone interview from New York where he is editing his latest film. "The day I do, I'll look for another business. Movie making is always story telling.

Howard is a featured speaker along with screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandell at the Maui Writers Conference during Labor Day weekend. The trio will explain how movies get from script to the big screen.

Howard been in show business for more than 40 years, making his stage debut in 1956 at 18 months with his parents in "The Seven-Year Itch" in Baltimore. Since then the Oklahoma-born, UCLA-educated Howard has done just about everything in the entertainment business, including screenwriting, directing, and producing.

For more than a year he's been in New York filming the suspense thriller "Ransom" with Mel Gibson, a quite different genre than Howard is accustomed to doing. The story, about a CEO whose son is kidnapped, is "timeless rather than a timely," he says.

"You can almost never count on a subject's timeliness for a film because of the amount of time it requires to make a movie," he said. "But there must be some sense of timelessness."

Howard says he did a lot of experimentation, including strong point of view from the main characters including that of the mother Rene Russo.

"The idea was not take an arm's length look at this horrific situation but to personalize it, make it very emotional. When we're inside these characters we feel what it's really like."

Howard says he's like a human vacuum cleaner while working on a production, "talking to everybody, the writer, the actor, especially the cinematographer, to compare visions."

"You kick things around. Something begins to emerge, a sense of how each individual can contribute to the overall approach. That makes my job a helluva lot easier because then I become a kind of an editor."

You can't mention Howard without at least a passing salute to his TV stints: eight years as "Opie," the son of Sheriff Taylor on "The Andy Griffith Show," and 10 years as happy-go-lucky Richie Cunningham on "Happy Days." Howard has moved a long way from Mayberry.

As a filmmaker he has a proven track record, starting with his directing and screenwriting debut at age 23 with "Grand Theft Auto," followed by numerous commercially and artistically successful films: "Night Shift," "Splash," "Cocoon," "Gung Ho," "Back Draft," "Parenthood," "The Paper" and "Apollo 13."

"Every movie eventually coalesces in your mind with a slightly different approach from the one you started with and it you either believe in it, or it seems the most reasonable way to make the movie, or it's the version of the story that you as an audience member would like to see. And I don't take a move until I understand what that is. I need to know how to connect with it, what my perspective is, and how it can yield something interesting.

"I'm not going to spend 18 months of my life with a story that bores the hell out of me."

Howard says working in filmmaking requires another talent that isn't taught in film school: emotional commitment.

"This is an industry that invites criticism and humiliation, which is why it pays so well. What we do ain't brain surgery and the world doesn't turn on how effective a movie is. But if this is what you're doing for your livelihood and how you express yourself as a member of society, then it's a big deal how people respond to your film. Coming to terms with this is so essential."

Howard hasn't picked his next project.

"I've made three movies in the last 31/2 years so I need a bit of a rest and spend time with my family," he says. "What I do know is I'm coming to Maui and I'm going to talk about movies. Wow, what could be better."

Maui Writers Conference

When: Aug. 30 to Sept. 2
Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa
The Maui Writers Conference, P.O. Box 968, Kihei, HI 96753, or fax credit card information to 1-808-879-6233
CALL: 1-800-879-0061

See also: Jackie Collins

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