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Archive for February, 2010

Later today is the showdown match between the USA & Canada in men’s hockey as the 2010 Winter Olympics come to a close. If Team USA wins it will be the first time they have one in hockey since the 1980 Winter Games. The was the famous “Miracle on Ice” when a bunch of college experienced young men from the United States beat Russia’s finest and most experienced players.

I’m not a theologian, but if Team USA wins today I don’t think anyone will call it a miracle. In fact, the loss for Canada will have more impact on Canadians than a USA win will have on Americans. “The Miracle on Ice” did not make life-long  hockey fans of Americans, it just made many people extremely proud to be Americans. Heck, we’re still celebrating that underdog victory 30 years later.

So for my second video blog (and just under the February deadline) I’d decided to play off the game tonight and touch on the movie Miracle, and address the question, “What makes a good sports film?”

P.S. A Few video details.

You may look at the video and ask in the tradition of Field of Dreams, “Is that Vancouver?” No, it’s Iowa. George Wyth State Park by my house and popular for cross-country skiing and ice fishing in the winter, and biking and boating in the summer and fall.

What’s up with the Minnesota Twins hat? A little nod to the closest major league team to my house, and a reminder of Diablo Cody’s success as a writer who wrote Juno in the Minneapolis area. (Though since Cody is from Chicago, if she has a favorite team I bet it’s the Cubs.) The Twins used to have spring training in Orlando so I saw them play a lot growing up. Loved watching Rod Carew practice the art of bunting during batting practice. And the 1980 Team USA hockey coach, Herb Brooks– as well as many of the players–were from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Plus the hat is red, white and blue so it seemed like a fitting hat to wear for this video blog. Maybe I’ll make it a staple of all the videos.

A little reminder of regionalism and that talented athletes and screenwriters come from everywhere.

Related post: Screenwriting & the Miracle on Ice

Scott W. Smith

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Last night Apolo Ohno won his eighth Olympic medal making him “the most decorated American Winter Olympic athlete of all time.” It’s important to note that he’s racked up plenty of other victories and titles as a speed skater, and of course, in 2007 he won the Dancing with the Stars competition. It’s safe to say that the 27-year-old Ohno is talented, driven and focused. And he’s handled the spotlight remarkably well.

“I was going to after-Oscar parties. I was mingling with the Hollywood crowd. It’s really easy to become distracted when you have opportunities to do that kind of stuff. There’s no way I would ever turn that stuff down, but it’s important for me to realize why I’m here, what I’m trying to do and the goals I’m trying to accomplish.”
Apolo Ohno

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“Clear away the insurance commercials, billboards, dolls, apparel, stickers, soap dishes and the rest, and we’re left with the real thing: the Peanuts comic strip itself, Charles Schulz’s brilliant, angst-ridden, truly funny, 50-year-long masterpiece of joy and heartbreak.”
Matt Groening
The Simpson creator

This little off-screen section is for giving quotes that aren’t on screenwriting or filmmaking. Today’s quote is a little encouragement that was written many years ago and more recently has been kicking around Facebook as a testament to its enduring popularity and timelessness. Technically, the quote wasn’t written by Charlie Brown but by the great Minneapolis/St. Paul cartoonist Charles Schulz.

“Are you upset little friend? Have you been lying awake worrying? Well, don’t worry…I’m here. The flood waters will recede, the famine will end, the sun will shine tomorrow, and I will always be here to take care of you.”
Charlie Brown to Snoopy

I’m not sure where that first appeared or the context, but I know that’s what we all long to hear. That despite all our problems—the sun will come up tomorrow. That’s the theme of many a great movie.

The Simpsons creator Matt Groening wrote an introduction (Oh Boy, Charlie Brown) to The Complete Peanuts 1955 To 1956 and mentioned the influence the Peanuts gang had on his life and work. He closed the piece writing:

“I got to meet Schulz once, in May 1998. I was holed up on the Fox lot in Century City, working on some Simpsons nonsense, when I received word that the great man was eating lunch nearby. I dropped everything and raced across town, stumbling into the restaurant where the affable Schulz held court before a group of fans and friends. I told him of my all-time favourite Peanuts comic strip, which I hadn’t seen in 40 years. The strip shows Lucy methodically making a series of tiny snowmen, then stomping on them, as Charlie Brown looks on. Lucy explains matter-of-factly: “I’m torn between the desire to create and the desire to destroy.”

“Thank you for that strip,” I said. “In one sentence you summed up my life.”

Schulz smiled politely. Do you hear me? He smiled politely! I made Charles Schulz smile politely! I just now realise I’m more like Charlie Brown than I’ve ever admitted to myself.”

Who knows how many writers Schulz influenced?

Scott W. Smith


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That’s it, Eric Guggenheim is the final straw. Is it me or are screenwriter’s names getting longer? Today I’m officially change one of the categories on this blog from “Screenwriting Quote of the Day” to simply “Screenwriting Quote #___.” The last writer I quoted was Mark D. Rosenthal and the post heading just looked too long.

So let it be said, so let it be done.

Wonder what took me so long to edit that down. It’s not like I’m paid by the word like my first writing gig at the Sanford Herald. I think it was 10 cents a word. But, heck, I was nineteen and thrilled to being paid anything to write. (Wish I was making 10 cents a word to write this blog.)

Anyway, back to Eric Guggenheim. Guggenheim sold his first script at age 23 just after he graduated from NYU before going on to write the script for Miracle (on the 1980 US Hockey team).  In an interview he did with Debra Eckerling he was asked, “What separates a good sports movie from a bad one?”

Guggenhiem: If all you have is that big game, you’re lost. The film has to be about something else. Take Seabiscuit for example. It’s a story about loss and healing that just happens to be set against the backdrop of horseracing. Jeff Bridges’ character lost his son, Tobey Maguire’s character lost his family. Chris Cooper’s character lost his way of life. Working with the horse and each other helped to ease those losses.

Since I’ll go on record as Seabiscuit being my favorite movie of the last decade (and most watched), I never get tired of talking about that movie. (And am always surprised by how many people haven’t seen the film.) Sports film, horseracing, big Hollywood film—I get why some people would not be attracted to the film, but if you haven’t seen it give it a try. It really is a well-crafted film that is enjoyable to watch on many levels.

Is your favorite sports film about more than the big game? I know Rocky & Hoosiers are both about broken characters looking for redemption.

And by the way, Debra Eckeling writes for Storylink and has the website Write On Online (which is full of Q&A with writers). And you can follow her on Twitter @writeononline.

Scott W. Smith


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There is something I’ve learned about photography over the years that translates well to writing screenplays.

Last Thursday my company (River Run Productions) and its sister web design company Spinutech pulled down nine awards* at the 2010 AAF-Cedar Valley ADDY Awards. Two of the awards were for photos I had taken including the above photo which won a Gold Addy.

That photo was taken to promote an active retirement community here in Iowa and features a women in her 70s coming off a water slide. (May we all be as active when we’re in our 70s.) Photography has paid a lot of bills for me over the years, and every now and then you really know when you’ve nailed a shot. It’s a good feeling. And that photo was one of those times.

When I take photos I’m always asking myself, “How can I make this unusual?” It can be subtle or drastic, but something has to make your work stand out. Common ways that photographers make their work uncommon include:

  1. Lighting
  2. Composition
  3. Camera
  4. Aperture
  5. Shutter Speed
  6. ISO
  7. Angle
  8. Environment
  9. Expression (if a portrait)
  10. Post-production

“How can I make this unusual?” That’s a good question to ask about the screenplay you are writing. What sets it apart from the stack of screenplays on a readers or producers desk? Is there something different and out of the ordinary about your screenplay? Common ways that screenwriters make their work uncommon include:

  1. Unusual plot
  2. Unusual character(s)
  3. Unusual setting
  4. Unusual dialogue
  5. Unusual point of view
  6. Unusual ending
  7. Unusual conflict
  8. Unusual jobs
  9. Unusual situations
  10. _____________

I’m sure you can add to the list. But there must be something usual about your screenplay to get producers passionate about spending time and money getting your screenplay made, to get actors exciting about being in the film, and to get audiences interested in watching the finished movie. Look at your favorite film list and ask what makes them unusual. Then look at the screenplay you are writing (or want to write) and ask what makes it unusual.

A couple examples of #8 Unusual jobs would be found in The Hurt Locker and Up in the Air. Unusual usually means original. What are some of your favorite unusual movie elements?

*Here’s a shot of our awards from last week. (They’re not x-rated, it just happens to be the thirtieth anniversary of the local ADDY group.)

Scott W. Smith

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“I was a city health inspector in Boston. Do the necessary work to pay your bills and take care of your family, and you’ll get there. Talent has a way of workin’ itself out. Hollywood will find you. Eventually.”
Screenwriter James L. White (Ray)

Workin 9 to 5
What a way to make a livin’
Barely gettin by
It’s all takin’
And no givin’

9 to 5
Grammy-winning, number one song written by Dolly Parton

Before screenwriter Colin Higgins bought a house in Beverly Hills, he once had a job cleaning pools there. Higgins had a great run in the 70s & 80s writing Silver Streak, Foul Play, Nine to Five, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

But in the book Tales from the Script, UCLA professor Richard Walter tells the story of how Higgins once hoped to win a Goldwyn screenwriting competition so he could quit his day job and write full-time for a year. He ended up getting second in the competition so he had to keep his day job which in turned launched his career. Here’s how Walter’s tell the story;

“(Colin Higgins) went to work for a swimming pool cleaning company. And the very first pool that he’s cleaning is in the flats in Beverly Hills–great big, fancy house. As he’s vacuuming the pool, sitting under a beach umbrella at the pool is a guy who clearly owns the house and he’s reading a screenplay. They get to chatting , and Colin tells him about this script that won the Goldwyn prize. And this producer agrees to read it, and ends up producing it. It’s Harold and Maude. So you just have to stay open to the surprises.”

Now keep in mind that when Higgins was cleaning pools he had already served in the United States Merchant Marines, had an English degree from Stanford and an MFA in screenwriting from UCLA. In fact, he wrote Harold and Maude as his thesis. So don’t think he was just a pool guy who BS’ed his way into a screenwriting career. But once again, another story to add to my “bump-in factor” file.

Scott W. Smith


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“Great moments are born from great opportunities.”
Herb Brooks
1980 Team USA Hockey Coach

Today is the 30th anniversary of the “Miracle on Ice.” I remember the day well. And as big as yesterday’s Team USA’s victory was over Canada, it was a blip on the radar compared to the 1980 victory over the USSR.

Even if you weren’t born yet you are probably familiar with the event that happened on February 22, 1980 when the US hockey team defeated the USSR. What made the victory so remarkable was we hadn’t defeated the USSR in 20 years. And for all of that time this country was in a Cold War and it was clear that the USSR was our enemy. High drama.

At that time there were two super powers in the world who both had loads of nuclear arms. Threat of a nuclear war was always at hand. This provided a lot of tension and some great material for Tom Clancey’s novels and quite a few Hollywood films. And, of course, it set the stage for the events that would unfold in the famous game.

I was a high school senior in Florida at the time and had never even seen snow much less been to a hockey game. But 30 year ago the Winter Olympics were special in a different way. It was a world before cable TV and the Internet. So when the Winter Olympics were on one of three available stations every four years—it  was a big deal. (And in a time before glossy, sentimental TV vignette stories, it was us against them. USA verses whoever, as opposed to pulling for the athlete with the most compelling life story.) I didn’t actually watch the game, but I remember being at work and hearing the news and the celebrations that followed.

What also made the USA hockey team’s victory over the USSR so sweet was the USSR did not have pro hockey so the best players in their country of any age and experience were playing against college age guys from the USA. It was a mismatch. The USSR had won Gold in Hockey in all but one Olympic games since 1956. In an exhibition game against Russia just a few weeks before the Olympic games Team USA lost 10-3.

According to Wikipedia, the USA Olympic coach that year was Herb Brooks who was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and in high school played on the team that won the state hockey championship. He went on to play at University of Minnesota, despite being cut by the 1960 Olympic team he played on the ’64 & ’68 Olympic squads. He then turned to coaching at the University of Minnesota where he won the NCAA championship in 1974, 1976, and 1979.

That set the stage for the “miracle.” The victory (which wasn’t even for the Gold medal that they would go on to win) was called by Sports Illustrated as the “Greatest Sports Moment of the Century.”

Brooks used a good deal of players who played for him at the University of Minnesota (9 of the 20). Keeping with the theme of this blog, I’m sure more than one was from little towns you’ve never heard of.  For instance, Neal Broten was born in Roseau, Minnesota. (Broten, by the way, who happens to be in the foreground of the SI cover is the only hockey player to play on teams that won the NCAA hockey championship, the Olympic Gold medal, and the Stanley Cup. Not bad for a guy who came from a town with a population of under 3,000 and who stands 5’7.”)

Four of the players were also from Boston University including the US captain Mike Eruzione. Eruzione would be the player who scored the game winning goal in the famous game.

A couple years ago I received a call to video tape Eruzione who was speaking in Iowa to a youth hockey organization. Just before the shoot I remembered one of the few Sports Illustrated covers I kept over the years was the March 3, 1980 issue with the famous cover shot by photographer Heinze Kluetmeier of the victory celebration. I took the magazine with me to the shoot and Eruzione was gracious enough to sign it.

I remember that victory well. It was good day.  Good enough to result in a 1981 TV movie, a documentary that aired on HBO, as well as the 2004 Disney film Miracle starring Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks.

Miracle was written by Eric Guggenheim. Here is part of a Q&A that Debra Eckerling had with Guggenheim for Storylink.

Q. (Eckerling) Why did you write Miracle?
A. (Guggenheim):I’m drawn to stories about redemption and second chances. For me Miracle was always less about hockey and more about those themes.

Of course I also responded to the fact that this was the ultimate David versus Goliath story. But the biggest draw was the coach, Herb Brooks. In Brooks you had the makings of a terrific character. He wasn’t very likeable, but what’s interesting is that he made a conscious choice to be that way in order to bond his team together. And even if that wasn’t apparent, his backstory made him incredibly sympathetic. Also, the notion that a hockey team could lift the spirits of an entire nation was very intriguing to me.

Scott W. Smith


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