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Archive for September, 2011

“It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.”
Billy Beane (Brad Pitt)
Moneyball 

Today I saw Moneyball starring Brad Pitt and loved everything about it.* It completed a week where by happenstance I followed the Brad Pitt trail.

Last Saturday while on location shooting a video project I drove by Shawnee, Oklahoma where Brad was born. A few days later I drove through Springfield, Missouri where he was raised and went to high school. The next day I was on the campus of the University of Missouri in Columbia where he went to college. 

The first time I recall seeing him act was in Thelma & Louise in 1991 and it was one of those scene stealing performances where I wondered, “Who the heck is this guy?” Within four years, and after his performances in A River Run Through It, Legends of the Fall, and Se7en—everyone knew who Brad Pitt was. And while he’s a tremendous actor, personally I haven’t always appreciated most of the movies he’s been in the past 15 years.

Moneyball goes down in my book as the perfect Brad Pitt movie.  (I haven’t seen Tree of Life yet, but I’m guessing it’s going to be a solid film, but a solid Terrance Malick film.)  That’s not to take anything away from Moneyball’s director (Bennett Miller) or screenwriters (Steven Zillian and Aaron Sorkin), it’s just that their talents all came together to tell a great story that is driven by an actor in his prime. And my guess is that they’ll all be rewarded when the Oscar nominations are announced.

“(Moneyball) is about how we value things. How we value each other; how we value ourselves; and how we decide who’s a winner based on those values.  The film questions the very idea of how to define success. It places great value on this quiet, personal victory, the victory that’s not splashed across the headlines or necessarily results in trophies, but that, for Beane, became a kind of personal Everest.  At the end of the day, we all hope that what we’re doing will be of some value, that it will mean something and I think that is this character’s quest.”
Brad Pitt
Moneyball: Interview with Brad Pitt

* I will admit that baseball was my first love which is part of what is so special to me about this movie. From rooting for Cinncinatti’s Big Red Machine and to going to spring training games at Tinker Field in Orlando as a kid, to playing the game through high school, and as an adult going to games at Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, and Yankee Stadium, the idea of baseball has been a constant companion even though I don’t follow the game much any more. But even if baseball is foreign to you, I think Moneyball works on so many levels you can enjoy the movie even if you’re not a fan of the game. 

Related posts: 

Brad Pitt & the Future of Journalism
Writing “Se7en” 
Writer Jim Harrison (Part 1)
Writer Jim Harrison (Part 2)

Scott W. Smith

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“Recently some one in Missouri has sent me a picture of the house I was born in. Heretofore I have always stated that it was a palace, but I shall be more guarded, now.”
Mark Twain
Autobiography of Mark Twain

Mark Twain was born in Florida. If you want to win an easy bet throw that statement out. Because the majority of people will disagree with you and say that the great writer was born in Missouri. Many people associate Twain’s early years with Hannibal, Missouri which is fitting because he moved there when he was four years old and it served as the inspiration for his early stories including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

But he was born in Florida. Really, he was—Florida, Missouri. He was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835 in a small two-room house where eight people lived. (Not a typo—eight people. And not two bedrooms, two rooms.) The house is still in Florida, Missouri and I saw it Wednesday when I passed through the town about 40 miles south east of Hannibal in the north west part of Missouri not too far from the Iowa-Missouri border.  I took the photo below of the house at the Mark Twain Birthplace Historic Site which is located in Florida, Missouri.

Twain’s connection to Florida once again proves that great talent can come from obscure places.

In Twian’s Autobiography he wrote, “My parents removed to Missouri in the early ‘thirties; I do not remember just when, for I was not born then and cared nothing for such things. It was a long journey in those days, and must have been a rough and tiresome one. The home was made in the wee village of Florida, in Monroe County, and I was born there in 1835. The village contained a hundred people and I increased the population by 1 per cent.”

Related Post: Mark Twain

 

Scott W. Smith

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Jay H. Neff Hall/Missouri School of Journalism       Photo ©2011 Scott W. Smith

As I headed home to Iowa after a week of video production in Oklahoma I made a stop in Columbia, Missouri. I’d never been on the University of Missouri campus before, but had heard about the famed Missouri School of Journalism (J-School) ever since I was a paid 19-year old photojournalist while still in college. Founded in 1908,  Missouri’s J-School  and is the oldest journalism school in the United States.

A good way to look at Missouri’s J-School is it’s the equivalent in journalism of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in creative writing circles. Or NYU/USC/UCLA in film circles. It’s always mentioned in subjective “best of” lists. It also has a long list of accomplished alumni working on magazines, newspapers and in broadcasting. Some of Missouri’s most visible grads include Elizabeth Vargas (ABC News), John Anderson (ESPN), Chuck Roberts (CNN), and Jim Lahrer (PBS).

But the most visible,  most famous, and probably most financially successful former Missouri J-School student is Brad Pitt, who just a few credits short of graduating decided to try his hand in Hollywood. (It worked out okay.) Perhaps Missouri should do what the University of Miami did back in 1999 when they gave former Miami dropout Sylvester Stallone college credit for writing the Rocky screenplay. I suggest helping Brad get his degree before he wins an Oscar for his work on A Tree of Life or Moneyball. Certainly a professor at Missouri can give Brad an essay on being a Oscar-nominated movie star, producer and global philanthropist.

What is less certain is the future of journalism.  For journalists who don’t go on to become movie stars, but instead seek employment  in the shrinking journalistic  job pool of broadcasting and print, it is trying times. Don’t take my word, read Lindsey Wolf’s post Half of Missouri School of Journalism School Grads Can’t Find Work on the blog, J-School Buzz.  On school’s website their studies show, “Almost 90 percent of Missouri School of Journalism students who graduated in 2007-2008 are working in journalism, advertising or public relations jobs.” So it could be that recent journalism grads are just entering the job market at a poor time. Time will tell.

But in 2008 Los Angeles Times editor James E. O’Shea (a Missouri J-School grad) was forced out of his position when he disagreed with the publishers plans to make budget cuts. In 2009, the L.A. Times in its third wave of layoffs cut 300 jobs including 11 percent of its editorial staff. Various reports have reported the total newspaper jobs lost between ’08-’11 at over 20,000.

Wolf’s research also reveals another downer for J-School grads in her post on Average Starting Salary for Missouri J-School Grads. (Basically $32,800.) You can live off that in many parts of the country, but recently I heard about a reporter making $32,000. working for the New York Times and living in New York City. When I figured rent could eat up well more than half of that take home pay I wondered how that was possible to live on there. The answer I was told— “Family money.”

If you don’t have family money and want job security well into the future I have two words for you: Computer Science. (Sign recently seen at Google offices: “We’re always hiring.”) But the good news is, there may not always be steady pay and regular work, but we’ll always need storytellers. We’ll always need journalists. Even if there aren’t traditional  newspapers, magazines and movie theaters—there will always be a need for people who can tell the truth and give a narrative context to the world we live in.

P.S. Other notable creative people who attended or graduated from the University of Missouri: Tennessee Williams, Sheryl Crow,  George C. Scott (Patton),  Chris Cooper (American Beauty), Kate Capshaw (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), Tom Berenger (Platoon), Linda-Bloodworth-Thomason (Five time Emmy-winning producer/writer), and Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm.

P.P.S. If Brad Pitt had continued on his journalism path there is a good chance he’d be where a lot of 47-year old journalists are today—unemployed. Or worse, he could be writing for the tabloids about some meaningless feud between Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie.

Scott W. Smith

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As I left the Baylor University campus this morning I drove by the theater building where the great playwright Horton Foote did some teaching.  Just just over an hour later, between Waco and Dallas, I drove through Waxahacie, Texas. Waxahacie may not be on your radar, but back when I was in film school took of my favorite films where shot in and around there— Tender Mercies(1983) & Places in the Heart(1984).

Two great films. Places in the Heart was nominated for two Academy Awards and won two, including Robert Benton for his screenplay. Tender Mercies received  five Oscar nominations and won two including Horton Foote for his screenplay. (Foote also won an Oscar for his script for To Kill a Mockingbird.)

I took the above photo in the town square on a perfect blue sky Texas day. A building that doesn’t appear in the minimalist Tender Mercies, but I believe is featured Places in the Heart.

Related post: Horton Foote (1916—2009)

Scott W. Smith 

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Wisdom in Waco

This morning I was on the campus of Baylor University in Waco, Texas and on the above building I photographed was inscribed:

WISDOM IS BETTER THAN RUBIES

P.S. Waco Related Film Trivia: Actor Steve Martin (and co-host of last year’s Oscars) was born in Waco, as was director Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) and director Terrance Malick. (Malick’s Tree of Life, starring Brad Pitt and released earlier this year, was set in Waco.) Author Thomas Harris (Silence of the Lambs) was an English major at Baylor and graduated in 1964. Singer Willie Nelson (who has an IMDB credit or two as musician, actor and producer) briefly attended Baylor. And The Social Network (2010) made mention of Baylor because of the school’s information system.

Talent comes from everywhere.

Scott W. Smith

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“My ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but they met the boat.”
Will Rogers

One of things I love discovering on the road is those out of the way small places that have been at the crossroads of big things. On Saturday I shot a video in Claremore, Oklahoma (pop. 18,581) that is not only where Will Rogers*  once called home but it (and the greater area) is where the Rogers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma! takes place.

Rogers was born in Chereokee Nation land now known as Oologah, Oklahoma. The Will Rogers Memorial Museums are located in Claremore/ Oologah.

I took the above photo on the old Route 66 in downtown Claremore, meaning a generation of Americans heading to California once passed through Claremore.

Will Rogers Movie Trivia: He was the #1 male box office star in the 30s.

Talent comes from everywhere.

Scott W. Smith

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I know in this day and age of cable Tv and the Internet that it’s hard to see something you’ve never seen before, but here’s a photo of The Blue Whale on Route 66 in Catoosa, Oklahoma. And even if you’ve seen it before, it was just restored a couple of weeks ago. So not that many people have seen the Blue Whale in all its glory. You can find The Blue Whale on Facebook and at www.BlueWhaleRoute66.com .

I’m photographed here with Blaine Davis, the curator of The Blue Whale.

Scott W. Smith

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Stranger than Fiction—Oklahoma

Just in case you missed it, here’s the opening paragraph of an article by The Associated Press that was printed in USA Today (September 22,2011):

MANGUM, Okla.—The wife of a former Oklahoma prision warden who disappeared with a convicted murderer only to be found living with him in Texas nearly 11 years later was found guilty Wednesday of helping him escape.

How long will it take that feature film or Tv movie to get produced?

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Postcard #3 (Taylor Swift—Tulsa)

As I pulled into downtown Tulsa last night I saw a steady stream of people flocking to some kind of event. It turned out that just a couple of blocks from my hotel Taylor Swift was in concert at the BOK Center. I was told the concert was sold out and was starting about the time I was checking in. But I was curious at what a Taylor Swift concert was all about, so long story short—I not only got a ticket, but I sat down just a few minutes before she went on stage.

The audience was primed and ready after a couple of opening acts and the sound (i.e. the screaming) was louder than any live venue I can ever remember attending. I’ve been to professional football and baseball playoff games, college and pro football games, and have probably been to 50 large venue concerts (including a Bruce Springsteen concert in L.A. with 100,000 people) but none of them were a match for 13,000 people at that Taylor Swift concert in an indoor arena.

Part of that equation is the majority of the 13,000 in attendance were females—and young girls and teenagers at that. When the screaming started all I could think of was that old footage I’d seen the Beatles playing Shea Stadium back in the day. It was that kind of loud at the start, though thankfully they didn’t sustain that pitch the entire concert so you could hear the music.

It was a fun concert and the production values were through the roof spectacular. Apparently, being one of the current best selling artists has its perks—and benefits. Taylor’s a model and actress on top of being a recording artist who last year sold more records than any other musician or band..  Though only 21-years old, she has a net worth over $50 million and this year Forbes listed her as the #7 most powerful celebrity.

Not bad for a young lady who just a few years ago was writing poetry in Wymossing, PA.

Scott W. Smith

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“Home Run” in Tulsa

“Only two things come from Oklahoma…”
Sgt. Emil Foley (Lou Gossett Jr.) An Officer and a Gentleman 

It’s fitting a day after the football centered TV show Friday Night Lights walked away with two Emmys that the Oklahoma Film & Music office announced Friday Night Lights Director Takes on Oklahoma Produced Feature Film. The movie is called Home Run and will be directed by David Boyd in Tulsa. I happened to be in Tulsa shooting a video project today so that’s why this project is on my radar.

(I rented a tripod today from a fellow who is not only supplying grip equipment for that film, but I met him while he was scouting for another Christmas-themed feature film to be shot in Tulsa. )

According to IMDB Home Run was written by Eric Newman Melanie Macfee, Brian Brightly and Candace Lee. Here’s the logline from IMDB:

A pro ball player with a substance abuse problem is forced into rehab in his hometown, finding new hope when he gets honest about his checkered past, and takes on coaching duties for a misfit Little League team.

Sounds a little like The Bad News Bears (1976), Bad News Bears (2006) and Hard Ball (2001) doesn’t it. Nothing new under the sun folks. Remember  the mantra: “Hollywood wants the same thing—only different.” The thing that’s different here appears to be a faith-based angle. The Press release from the Oklahoma Film & TV office says:

Home Run is the story of a pro baseball player, who returns to his hometown where he comes face to face with the pain he tried to ignore, the girl he wanted to forget, and the son he never knew. The film features Celebrate Recovery, an international, faith-based, 12-step program founded out of Saddleback Church in California with a widespread presence in Oklahoma.

Actually, the true story behind movie Hardball (starring Keanu Reeves and Diane Lane) had faith-based roots but was downplayed in the movie. But the climate in the ten years since 2001 has changed in regard to faith-based films. Producers Carol Matthews and Tom Newman have said that the 37% Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate played a part in planning to shoot the film in Oklahoma.

Time will tell if Home Run will become a timeless story that joins the Oklahoma centered stories The Outsiders and Oklahoma.

P.S. Speaking of Lou Gossett Jr, he was in Iowa last year shooting a film.

Related Posts:

Screenwriting Quote of the Day #8 (S.E. Hinton)

Lee Roy Selmon (1954-2011)

Scott W. Smith

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