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Archive for August, 2009

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Yesterday I took two plane flights, one bus ride, and one subway to get to my first game ever at Yankee Stadium. The journey from my house took about about nine hours. But it was really several decades in the making. It’s a place I’ve always wanted to visit ever since I was a little kid. I grew up playing baseball and loved the old stories about Babe Ruth & Mickey Mantle.

Of course, I would have loved to have seen a game in the old stadium (The House that Ruth Built) rather than the new one that opened this year. But they at least haven’t torn the old one down yet so I at least got to see it. Having seen Fenway Park and Wrigley Field my baseball stadium dreams are finally fulfilled.

But anyway my little visit to Yankee Stadium was a good example of persistence.

Here the definition of persistent I found on Dictionary.com: persisting, esp. in spite of opposition, obstacles, discouragement, etc.

So whatever your screenwriting and filmmaking dreams are stick with them knowing they sometimes take a little time to become a reality.

Scott W. Smith

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2008-2009SFI

A few days ago I learned that I received two more Emmy nominations by the Upper Midwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. That makes four in two years. And though there are many great screenwriting blogs out there, I was thrilled last year that Screenwriting from Iowa was the first screenwriting blog ever to win an Emmy.

But this year the blog didn’t even get a nomination. My nominations this year were for location lighting for a commercial I shot film noir style and editing (along with Steve Holm) an advanced media project.  I made a decision at the end of last year to slightly change the direction of the blog and I knew that come award time it might hurt me. But I had a bigger goal in mind.

I decided to go daily and instead of the long 1,000 and 2,000 words essays I would try to keep my posts under 500 words and sometimes just put a quote up. Since my views on the post had remained level for that entire first year I thought I needed to do something to rev this thing up a little. (WordPress makes this easy to track as the above chart shows.) I was hoping maybe that I could double my views by trying this approach.

That’s were I was off a little. I quadrupled my views. So while there is a little sting from not getting a nomination for the blog this year,  the fact that this month is my highest month of views makes up for it. Heck, one would like to have both–but life doesn’t always work that way. (In fact, it usually doesn’t.) Of course, I’d trade the whole thing in to be telling you that a film I wrote is a box office success and a critics favorite. 

But here’s my point today…keep flipping your pancakes. That’s an expression I first heard from an acting teacher in L.A. when he told the class that they had to learn how to flip pancakes. What he meant was they needed to be able to do Ibsen, Chekov and Shakespeare while at the same time be ready to audition for a small film or TV roll—or even a commercial.

You learn along the way and you never know what is going to be your breakthrough moment. But the chances are it’s going to happen while you’re in motion. Remember the Goethe quote; “In action there is power, grace and magic.”   And the Richard Foster quote I am fond on mentioning, “We tend to overestimate what we can do in one year and underestimate what we can do in ten.”

So while I have my own screenwriting goals I am also plugging away on growing creatively with the projects that come my way. And while nine years ago I would have said that I didn’t think one could do the jack-of-all trade well,  I am pleased to have Emmy nominations in producing, lighting, editing and writing. 

And my work isn’t just in Iowa. This week I was editing a project that I shot in Brazil and this morning I fly to New York for a shoot. So keep writing, keep meeting people and showing them your work…but don’t be afraid to start flipping some pancakes. If you’ve never picked up a camera, pick one up and shoot some footage. If you’ve never edited, find an editor friend to give you a tour of Final Cut Pro. And spend a little time getting to know Lynda.com.

I could be wrong but I don’t think this technology is going backwards anytime soon.

 

Scott W. Smith
River Run Productions 

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Since I wasn’t able to go to the Aplington-Parkersburg game last night I thought I’d drive out this morning and see the what remnants were left behind from the first ever high school football game from Iowa to be broadcast on ESPN. The only activity was a couple joggers running around the track.

The only hint production-wise was a large Musco lighting truck. Musco is an Iowa-based company whose large lighting set-ups provide temporary and permanent  lighting for everything from the last presidential inauguration, features films such as Pearl Harbor, the Daytona Speedway , and currently the 2009 Little League World Series.

But there was the Ed Thomas field. Named after the long time coach of the Aplington-Parkersburg team who died a few months ago. The nickname of the field is “The Sacred Acre” and I think ESPN broadcasting the game last night as a tribute to Coach Thomas will cement in the minds of the American public that town as a symbol of what’s good about this country.

Thomas was already a well-respected icon in Iowa before his death. He was the eighth winningest coach in the the history of Iowa football and currently has four players in the NFL. That’s an impressive number since there are schools around this county who have never had in their school’s history a total of four players in the NFL. What’s more amazing is the school has less than 280 students and the population of the town of Parkersburg is smaller than some high school’s in this county.

So what sets this program apart? Books will be written about that in the future. Aplington-Parkersburg is not really a football factory. It never was intended to be one. But here are a few quotes from Coach Thomas taken from an interview I found at Momentum Media that give a hint of what made him a special person.

“I’ve always said my job is not to prepare our kids to be college athletes. My job is to make football a learning experience, and there are so many things they can learn from being a part of our team that will help them be successful later in life as a father, member of a church, or member of the community. There are so many intangibles we can teach that they can take with them.”

On a leadership class he taught to senior players:

“I talk about leaders setting an example, the responsibility of being a leader, and the idea of being a servant and a giver. I talk about standing up to do what is right when nobody else will, and letting other players know when they’re doing something wrong. I also explain the importance of being a role model—that leaders have to set the tone for other players to follow. I talk about the respect that they have to gain with other young people. I tell them that everyone might not always like you, but you should act in such a way that they respect you.”

When asked about how he defined ethics as it related to coaching:

“Ethics is doing what’s right. It’s following the rules, and teaching football the way it ought to be played. Ethics is teaching young people about sportsmanship and how to conduct themselves in a first-class fashion regardless of whether they win or lose. I tell our kids that we’re going to go out and play hard, and we want to win as much as anybody. But when the game is over, we’re going to line up, shake hands, and be gentlemen, knowing that we did the very best we could. To me, that’s all part of ethics.”

Scott W. Smith

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It’s not everyday that ESPN broadcasts nationally a from a high school in small town in Iowa. In fact, I don’t think it’s ever happened before anywhere in Iowa. But it’s happening tonight in Parkersburg, Iowa just 20 miles from where I live in Cedar Falls, Iowa. 

Parkersburg,of course, would rather not be in this position. It’s not that they mind the $7 million production semi coming to town or the ESPN staff that is spending a little money along the way. It’s the real life story of why ESPN is in town today that the people of Parkersburg would rather not have had to have gone through.

Just over a year ago a F-5 rated tornado hit the town of Parkersburg claiming the lives of several people and a chunk of the town’s homes. But they came together as a community and began the rebuilding process. A big part of helping that  process was Ed Thomas, the long time head coach of the Aplington-Parkersburg football team. Already a legend in the state of Iowa for his more than thirty years as a coach as well as currently having four players in the NFL.

Then the unthinkable happened when a troubled youth shot and killed coach Thomas a few months ago in the school weight room. How much suffering does a town have to live through? So tonight will be the first game in 34 years where Ed Thomas will not be on the sidelines coaching the A-P Falcons. Hopefully this night will mark a turning point for the town as they, along with a national audience, remember a man who dedicated his life to his students and players.

To learn more about Coach Ed Thomas check out the site that my buddies at Spin-U-Tech launched this week for the Ed Thomas Family Foundation.

I wish I could be at the game tonight but I am freelance field producing for the ABC show The Doctors this evening. Sure seems like a good deal of film & TV activity going on these days in Iowa. 

Here’s the post I wrote a couple months ago on Coach Thomas, A Sacred Story from Parkersburg.

 

Scott W. Smith

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Time it was, and what a time it was,
it was a time of innocence…

Simon & Garfunkel
Bookend Theme

While songwriter Ellie Greenwich never wrote a screenplay that I know of she lived dramatic enough of a life to have a show based on it, Leader of the Pack, make it to Broadway in the 1980s. Greenwich, who died Wednesday, had a hand in writing the hit songs Chapel of Love, Da Do Ron Ron and Leader of the Pack. She ended up with 25 gold and platinum records and a part of tens of millions of records sold.

Even if her name is not familiar to you I’m sure her work made it onto the soundtrack of a film or two you’ve probably seen;
Bedtime Stories (I Can Hear the Music)
Baby Mama (Be My Baby)
Forrest Gump (Hanky Panky)
The Bridges of Madison County (Leader of the Pack)
My Girl (Do Wah Diddy Diddy)
Goodfellas (Then He Kissed Me)
Full Metal Jacket (Chapel of Love)
Dirty Dancing (Be My Baby)

There was a window of a few years in the early 60s where pop culture was open to a certain kind of innocence. Then the late sixties happened;  Viet Nam ,leaders being shot, drug use, Woodstock and the sexual revolution—and into the 70s,Watergate. There was a certain amount of cynisism and despair that followed and that didn’t really lift pop-culture wise until the optimism of Rocky and the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976. Greenwich’s own life wasn’t quite as romantic as her songs either. A bitter divorce and a nervous breakdown followed her wild success.

“I know people that have gotten married in the past two years who have used ‘Chapel Of Love’ as their wedding song. I think, no matter how much of a feminist one claims to be … Lord knows, if you go by my songs, and the way my personal life has gone, you’d say, ‘Oh my, this lady was dreaming.’ It didn’t exactly happen the way I was writing it. However, I would have liked it to have gone that way. I am a very firm believer in equality, women and men: if you can do the job, by all means go ahead and do it. But I still feel it would be nice if that romance can be there, birds could sing if you fell in love, and you could hear violins. I think that would be really terrific – I don’t care how old you are, or what generation.”
Ellie Greenwich
by Charlotte Greig

Scott W. Smith
River Run Productions

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“I don’t want film to be a ‘slice of life’ because people can get that at home, in the street, or even in front of the movie theater. They don’t have to pay money to see a slice of life. And I avoid out-and-out fantasy because people should be able to identify with the characters. Making a film means, first of all, to tell a story. That story can be an improbable one, but it should never be banal. It must be dramatic and human. What is drama, after all, but life with the dull bits cut out.”
                                               Alfred Hitchcock
                                               Hitchcock by Francois Truffaut
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Champion surfer Kelly Slater gets it—this whole digital revolution. In an interview he did with Surfing Magazine four years ago Slater mentioned how the newer younger breed of surfers are not only sitting in on video editing sessions but editing their own footage and he speculated about the future of surfers using video: 

“Guys in 20 years are going to be holding a camera in one hand and downloading it to a computer while they’re still in the water and watching the playbacks on a big screen on the beach facing the water. [laughs]“
                                                Interview by Matt Walker, Surfing Magazine

To see some great surf footage being shot with the Red One Camera read Vincent Laforet’s blog on the Jamie O’Brien Project. 

For surfers looking for an inexpensive way to shoot their own footage (without even having a camera in your hand) check out the Go Pro Hero camera that is a small waterproof camera that costs under $200. and can mount to your surfboard. I shot with one at a water park this weekend for a commercial I’m producing.

December ’09 update; Go Pro now has an HD Hero Camera.

HeroCamera

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It seems like there’s been quite a few movies in the last couple years that deal with the changing of the guard from older to younger. And as the boomers start to retire I’m sure that theme will become more popular. One of the great lessons I learned playing sports into college is how every year (every game sometimes) someone is gaining ground on you in hopes of taking your position.

And professionally in media production I’ve watched the transition cycle a few times. I watched the old adage of “You don’t want to be a jack-of-all trades” that I learned in school be turned upside down today. I remember what it was like being 25-years old doing a 16mm shoot in Aspen, Colorado where everyone else in production seemed 100 years old and I’ve been on shoots more recently where all of the sudden I’m the old guy.  (At the 48 Hour Film Project/Des Moines a couple weeks back the winner for Best Special Effects was 15-years-old. I have light meters that are more than 15 years old!)

One way to look at these transitions is to look at the ebb and flow of the surf. There is a cycle of change there that is healthy to embrace. Since I mentioned nine time surfing champion Kelly Slater yesterday I thought it would be good to find a quote from him to see how he, at age 37, handles the pressure of being the old guy on the tour with plenty of young talent from around the world gunning for him.

“When there’s a generational change, there’s a change in the way things are done. And people who are stuck in their ways and don’t want to see change are the first ones to be vocal about it. And I feel totally supportive because I’m still trying to take my surfing to different levels and that’s exciting for me. Because, honestly, there were times when I first got on tour that I was bored with the level of surfing. And I’d much rather be getting my ass kicked than being bored.”
Kelly Slater
Surfing Magazine
Interview by Matt Walker

What a great mindset to have. Slater is not focused on trying to stay young, or to hold on to the past, but to continue to raise his skill level. And one of the things that pushes him is seeing the 22-year-olds doing radical moves just like he did when he joined the tour more than fifteen years ago.

I’ll keep that in mind next week when I have a shoot in New York City with a talented young crew that’s probably going to be at least a decade younger than me. Another chance to grow.

Scott W. Smith

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If you follow hurricanes at all you may know that Hurricane Bill kicked up some pretty nice waves along Florida’s east coast the past few days. Florida is not usually known for large waves. Most days the surf pales compared to the best surf spots in California & Hawaii. So one could make the mistake of thinking that small wave Florida wouldn’t produce world champion surfers.

But the pro surf version of Lance Armstrong/Michael Jordan/Tiger Woods is in fact from Florida. Kelly Slater was born in Cocoa Beach, Florida in 1972 and has won the ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals) World Championship a record nine times. He holds the record for being both the youngest (20) and the oldest (36) to win the title. He is also the all-time leader in career event wins. Pretty amazing stats for anyone but more amazing since he came from an area nicknamed the “Small Wave Capital of the World.”

TV buffs may recall that Cocoa Beach is the setting for the 60s classic show I Dream of Jeannie. (Though according to Wikipedia the cast and crew only visited the area twice for filming). As part of the Space Coast, Cocoa Beach is where parades were held for astronauts when they would return from the Apollo missions. (As featured in The Right Stuff.) Though only six miles long, about a mile wide, this little town of 12,000 has had its brushes with greatness. So maybe it’s a fitting place for the greatest competitive ever to be from.

And Slater is not the only surf champion from Florida. Both Lisa Andersen (Ormond Beach) and Freida Zamba (Daytona Beach) both hold four ASP titles, and C.J. Hobgood (from Melbourne/Satellite Beach, FL) won the 2001 ASP World Championship and last year’s O’Neil Cup of World Surfing. I could go on about accomplished surfers from basically a 100 mile path on the coast of Florida from Ormond Beach to Sebastian Inlet, but I think you get the point.

Having spent most of my life in Central Florida it’s an area I’m fond of as I’ve gotten to spend my share time in the water there over the years. In fact, just two weeks ago I got several hours in of bodybording and longboard surfing in New Smyrna Beach/Cape Canaveral. But the reason I think champion surfers have risen from that area is it’s a great place to get in your 10,000 hours learning the craft and there is a history of surfing there that goes back for decades. That’s a great combination. And Slater working his magic on the smaller waves everyday as a kid is actually what set him up to change the face of surfing when he had an opportunity to perform on larger waves on the world stage.

I bring that up on a blog about screenwriting because it once again shows that something great can come from outside Southern California. Looking at surfers coming from the east coast of Florida is like looking at why so many writers come from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and why world class sprinters come from Jamaica. Vision, hard work, and the right ground work years (decades?) in the making seem to be what set a part places like Iowa City, Kingston, and Cocoa Beach to produce amazing results.

Part of Cocoa Beach’s ground work was Ron DiMenna opening Ron Jon’s surf shop in 1959  in Cocoa Beach. That helped create the surf culture that is there until this day. That’s 13 years before Slater was even born. Though Ron Jon’s today resembles Walt Disney World more than traditional surf culture, I have to think that back in the day Slater’s dad bought a board or two at Ron Jon’s.  (Or at least at least a Hang Ten/Lighting Bolt/OP shirt.)

Once again in an era of digital filmmaking the doors are being blown open for filmmakers to rise up from unusual places. And if you need a little more inspiration read my post about Coppola’s “fat little girl from Ohio” comment.

Lastly, I should mention that there is another deep connection to films and surfing as the two seem to go hand in hand. From Gidget, Big Wednesday, and Warren Miller’s classic surf films, to Blue Crush, Jack Johnson’s Thicker Than Water, and  Endless Summer II (which featured Slater) there has never been a shortage of finding great footage to put on screen—finding a great script with a surf angle has been proven a little more difficult to find.

Scott W. Smith

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“Fame is like cigarettes with no surgeon general warning. It destroys most people as it did to the true and only King of Pop. We exploit ourselves and eat our own egos ‘Till there is nothing left.”
                                                                   Kanye West

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