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“I also think you can learn to be a good writer. Like I was a bad writer, actively bad, and I willed myself to get better. I really tried to learn what are the building blocks of a good story. And I think often people who aren’t naturally good writers, you’re just intimidated because you feel like you have to be touched by an angel to be a good writer, but you just have to have taste on what’s interesting.”
Ira Glass

Ira Glass got a little heat recently after seeing the play King Lear and tweeting, “I think I’m realizing: Shakespeare sucks.” As others pointed out, including The New Yorker, Glass later backed down saying, “That was kind of an off-the-cuff thing to say that in the cold light of day, I’m not sure I can defend at all.”

But the man’s welcomed to his opinion. The United States is still a free country. It seems the more we talk about tolerance, the more intolerant we’re becoming. (Another way of saying it is, “we’re tolerant of everyone—as long as they think like us.”) Of course, it’s fair game for people to critique his critique, but at times the internet seems to be a giant funnel to make the smallest tweet an Middle eastern-size crisis.

While Shakespeare is more well-known than Glass (as more than one person online pointed out in their critique of Glass’s tweet) Glass’s work stand on its own. For more than 30 years he’s been writing for NPR and is most known as the producer and host for the radio program This American Life, which last year broadcast its 500th show. In 2009 he won the Edward R. Murrow award for outstanding contribution in public radio.

Shakespeare may have created some of best drama in history, but he never worked in radio, had a the top-rated  iTunes podcast or spoke at Google headquarters like Glass has accomplished . Granted those options weren’t around 400 years ago, but I’d like to think the stage is big enough for both storytellers.

“There is a thing in writing that I feel I had to learn on my own that I’m surprised isn’t taught in school, and that is people don’t teach story structure properly in school. I think that when we’re all taught how to write, like we’re taught topic sentences—we’re taught the way that you would write an essay with topic sentences at the top of the paragraph, and then you fill out the paragraphs, and that basically was learning to write in school. But in fact, there’s a structure of telling a story that’s more effective than that, that I feel I had to learn by reading and by trial and error and whatever, which is much more anecdote based. So for example, the stories on our show the structure of them is really built around plot and ideas.  And it’s a very traditional kind of story structure where you just want to think through the sequences of actions where one thing leads to the next, leads to the next, leads to the next. So really you want to break down wherever is going to happen into this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened.  And the advantage of having forward motion is that it inherently creates suspense because you wonder what’s going to happen next. And so you hold people’s attention because simply moving forward action, it’s like you create suspense and you can do it with the most banal story possible, or the most everyday story…It’s so much more mesmerizing than topic sentences, because you’re utilizing something that’s so primal in us because you can create suspense.”
Ira Glass Q&A at Google

P.S. Perhaps the best thing about Glass’s tweet is some people were asking, “Who’s Ira Glass?” Which if Glass was a marketing genius was a great move. As of a month ago This American Life left Public Radio International and is now independently distributed. Cara Buckley wrote in the NY Times,  “Mr. Glass will now be responsible for the show’s marketing and distribution, as well as for finding corporate sponsors. It’s the equivalent of Radiohead’s releasing its own album ‘In Rainbows,’ or Louis C. K.’s selling his own stand-up special — except all the time, for every show. It’s the kind of move that can signal radical changes in the public radio firmament, with National Public Radio and other distributors wondering who, if anyone, may follow suit, and whether Mr. Glass will return if he fails.”

P.P.S. Glass also gave a giant boost to the career of writer David Sedaris by having him read The Santaland Diaries story on NPR back in the ’90s when Sedaris was still working odd jobs to make ends meet. Sedaris told the story of working as an elf at Macy’s one Christmas and said after that broadcast, “The telephone started ringing and it wouldn’t stop.”

Update: Apparently Glass attended the play King Lear in NYC with writer/director Judd Apatow and commedian/actress Amy Schumer so he could have easily said one of the humorist hacked his Twitter account regarding his Shakespeare tweets.

Related post:

Ira Glass on Storytelling
What’s Next?
“All stories are emotionally based.”
Robert McKee vs. Richard Walter
Bedford Falls vs. Pottersville
Writing and House Cleaning (David Sedaris quote about one of his jobs)
Can Screenwriting Be Taught (2.0)
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously) This guy loves Shakespeare.

Scott W. Smith

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“My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.”
LaBron James
Sports Illustrated 7/11/14

“Unless you are hardhearted or a Miami Heat season-ticket holder, this is tough not to love.”
Jason Gay on LeBron James returning to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers
NY Times

“James seems to be following a higher calling with this move. We can’t help but admire his devotion to Flyover Land.”
Rolling Stone article by Jeff Allen 

Years ago when screenwriter Joe Eszterhas moved  from Hollywood to the Cleveland area people thought he was crazy. Now that basketball great LeBron James is moving from Miami to the Cleveland area, it looks like this is just a new hip trend. (Kind of like those artists I keep reading and hearing about who are moving from places like New York City to Detroit.)

“Yeah, I think if you’re off the beaten path in any way it’s always tough. I’ve been off the beaten path my whole life.”
Hollywood screenwriter/Ohio resident Joe Eszterhas
The Hollywood Interview

The sun is in fact shinning brighter this week in Northeast Ohio. Property value in Akon probably went up 2% in the last few days since the world’s greatest basketball player announced he was returning to his home state to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The odds are slim that anyone from Team LeBron ever read my post Fueling Your Imagination, which was about filmmaker Jim Jarmusch who was from Akron, Ohio. But this is what I wrote on June 20, 2010 when James was thinking about leaving Cleveland:

The Akron-Cleveland has changed a lot since Jarmusch was a kid (and even when he shot part of Stranger in Paradise there in the 80s) and I’d like to think that the next Jim Jarmuschs from the area, like current NBA MVP LeBron James, stay in their hometown and do their thing for the world to see.

So it took a LeBron a few years to come around, but I’m glad he’s going to play for his hometown crowd again. (He won two NBA championships playing for the Miami Heat so I don’t think he has any regret leaving.) But he’s now done the Rocky Balboa thing where he’s redefined winning. You remember in Rocky where he realizes he can’t beat Apollo Creed so he redefines winning as just being able to do something that no other boxer has done, and that’s to go the distance—all 15 rounds—with the champ. So at the end of the film even though Rocky loses the spilt decision, in a sense he’s a winner.

LeBron James is refining his vision.

“When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.”
LeBron James

Northeast Ohio has a special place in my heart because it’s where my father was from, and my grandfather worked for more than 30 years at Youngstown Sheet & Tube. (YS&T was Ohio’s largest employer in the 1930s.)

The area now has had its share of economic problems. LeBron alone won’t be a cure all, but with Heisman Trophy winning QB Johnny Manziel being drafted by the Cleveland Browns just a few months ago, Northeast Ohio is on the upswing and is enjoying its moment in the spotlight.

In honor of LeBron heading home to Ohio, I’ve decided to pull together all my Ohio-centered posts over the years. And there are a lot of them. You may be surprised that  screenwriters Mark Boal, Dudley Nichols, Ernest R. Tidyman, Rod Serling, Willima Golman, and actors Cary Grant, Tom Hanks, Jennifer Garner, and Paul Newman, as well as directors Chris Columbus and Jonathan Demme and former Disney head Michael Eisner  all have roots in Ohio.

The Superman from Cleveland
The Lucky Slob from Ohio
Toy Story 3’s Ohio Connection
Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany
From Poland, Ohio to a 155-Foot Yach
The Thinking Person’s Playwrights
The Oberlin Express
Oberlin to Oscars
Jailbait, Rejection & Screenwriter Mark Boal’s Start
Screenwriter Dudley Nichols (1895-1960)
Shoot for the Moon
The Original Screenwriting Rock Star
Screenwriter Ernest R. Tidyman
Screenwriting from Sunset Blvd.
Screenwriting Quote #61 (Jonathan Winters)
The Real & Creepy Shawshank Prison
Middle-Earth in the Midwest
Directing Non-professional Actors
Before ‘Friday Night Lights’
Project Greenlight 2 (Part 7)
Genius, Madness, and a Genuine Third Act
Emmy-Winning Writer Rick Cleveland
Cleveland Screenwriter Hits ‘Lottery Ticket’
The Weather Started Getting Rough (Two of the Gilligan’s Island cast members were  from Ohio)
Fueling Your Imagination (Jarmusch Style)
Screenwriting Quote #129 (Bob Peterson)
E.T. was from Youngstown (Kinda)
Youngstown’s Hollywood Connection
Son of a Son of a Steelworker
Screenwriting Quote #116 (Chris Columbus)
The Story of Men on the Moon
William Goldman Stands Alone
The Other Scott Smith
Screenwriting Quote #72 (Michael Eisner)
Screenwriting Quote #42 (Brad Anderson)
Screenwriting Quote #29 (William Blinn)
Screenwriting Quote of the Day #23 (John Grogan)

P.S. Cleveland rocks! Check out this interview with Joe Eszterhas where he talks about when he took Jimi Hendrix to a Hungarian restaurant one night in Cleveland.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

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Since this is the last day of spring 2014, I thought I’d do a little spring cleaning and doing something I don’t often do–write two posts in one day. (There may even be a third one later.) But in light of yesterday’s post (Susannah Grant on Failure) by the screenwriter of Erin Brockovich, I thought I’d sneak in this quote I read in last Sunday’s NY Times that was part of a graduation speech at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

“Failure is going to be a part of the process. You’re all here because you’re good at not failing, right? This is the culmination of doing a great job at not failing. There are no G.P.A.s after this. There’s going to be lots of setbacks. There’s going to be lots of failures. No one introduces me as the founder of My Mobile Menu, also known as Mmm, because that was the company we started before Reddit, Steve [Huffman] and I started that, and for a year and a half worked on something that went nowhere. But that’s O.K. Failure is an option.”
Alexis Ohanian
The 31-year-old co-founder of Reddit (one of the 50 biggest websites in the United States)
New York Times
Sunday June 15, 2014

P.S. Just to tie in a great filmmaker born in Kenosha, WI—who knew both success and failure in his career —read the post Screenwriting Quote #38 (Orson Welles).

Related post:
The Shakespeare of Hollywood spent part of his childhood not far from Kenosha in Racine, WI.
J.K. Rowling on the Benefits of Failure

Scott W. Smith

 

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Personal projects are a must for many reasons. Chiefly, they showcase your interests and give the client a better sense of your own personal interests. I am into relationship building with creatives, and understanding what drives and motivates them is important.  In a perfect scenario, I might see someone’s personal work that could tie in nicely with a show or upcoming series on the Channel – knowing their passion helps me understand them as an artist and as just a person.  Personal projects are also entirely YOURS – it says a lot about your own personal aesthetic, and your creative sensibilities… And the last thing I’ll say about personal projects: You’re reading one right now!  This blog is entirely a personal project for me. It’s gotten a little bit of attention which is nice, but most importantly it has been a lot of fun, and something that I do for my own creative happiness. And that’s hugely important for all creatives, to have a place that is theirs to own and control and create.”
Andy Baker, SVP/Group Creative Director at the National Geographic Channels
The Client Blog

Like Baker’s blog, this blog is a personal project I’ve been cranking away on since January 2008—over 1,800 posts. Hopefully there’s been at least one or two posts tucked in there that have helped give some traction to your own personal projects.  (And in the screenwriting world I think spec scripts qualify as personal projects.) May your creativity flourish.

P.S. As a follow-up to another personal project I produced a few months ago, Tinker Field: A Love Letterit not only connected me with various people and groups but was featured in the Orlando Sentinel article by Mark Schlueb— Filmmaker produces video tribute to Tinker Field.

Related Posts:
Personal Projects (Part 1)
Personal Projects (Part 2)
Personal Projects (Part 3)
Personal Projects (Part 4)
Personal Projects (Part 5)
Personal Projects (Part 6)

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

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 “I knew I didn’t want to make it like a normal narrative film where it’s all about story.  I wanted it to be more like a meditation.”
Pawel Pawlikowski
Collier interview by Shelia Roberts

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“The real inspiration for how [Ida] looks was my impatience with cinema, where the vein of cinema is going. I wanted to make an anti-cinema film where there are no pointless camera moves, no pointless close-ups. I’m not emotionally excited by the power of cinema’s tricks anymore. Maybe it’s my personal midlife crisis. I’d love to see something that was calm and meditative, where you suggest more than show, where each kind of shot has some kind of density and tension, not just in the drama and the acting, but in the visuals, and where acting and image and sound are all part of the same thing. When I watch most films, with some exception, I always ask myself: ‘Why is the camera moving? Why is there a close-up now? Why does this have to be handheld now?’ It was a way of purifying, getting rid of habits, and doing something really simply. Looking at a picture, contemplating it, while not really reading the emotional charge. But staying away from the kind of cinema rhetoric that I’m finding myself more and more impatient with. Maybe it’s my last film, like a farewell to my career—although I don’t have much of a career.”
Pawel Pawlikowski (Director/co-writer Ida)
Interview in Film Comment by Violet Lucca

Just about a year ago, in my post State of Cinema’, I quoted filmmaker Steven Soderbergh from his talk at the 2013 San Francisco International Film Festival where he said, “Whenever I despair I think, OK, somebody out there somewhere, while we’re sitting right here, somebody out there somewhere is making something cool that we’re going to love, and that keeps me going.”

As those words were spoken, Pawlikowski was somewhere in Poland working on Ida. I don’t know if Pawlikowski ever watched Soderbergh’s talk, or if Soderbergh has seen Ida—but I’d like to think that at some point those two will be sitting together in a cafe in Warsaw, or a bar in Baton Rouge, talking about cinema.

“I never made films like kind of career moves, like making this film in order to make that film in order to end up in Hollywood. “
Pawel Pawlikowski

Ironically, Pawlikowski is now scheduled to direct Godzilla vs. Spider-Man. Kidding.

P.S. I know a little more about anti-heroes and anti-piracy than anti-cinema, but a quick Internet search connected a short list of filmmakers some associate with anti-cinema; Yasujirō Ozu, Andy Warhol, Lars von Trier, and Carl Dreyer.

One film that resonates with Ida is Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). A film where Roger Ebert said, “To see Renee Maria Falconetti…is to too look into eyes that will never leave you,” and Pauline Kael said, “Perhaps the finest performance ever recorded on film.”

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Maya Angelou, poem Still I Rise

It’s like the boy who cried wolf—all those over-the-top Facebook titles that are meant to entice us. Daring us click and watch the video. “What this woman did at this end of this video will make your jaw drop and your entrails spill out.” But the below video of Heather Dorniden  really is exceptional, and is a great lesson on what to do  after you fall on your face.

File this one under “Who does that?”

“All great victories, be they in politics, business, art, or seduction, involved resolving vexing problems with potent cocktail of creativity, focus, and daring. When you have a goal, obstacles are actually teaching you how to get where you want to go—carving a path. ‘The Things which hurt,’ Benjamin Franklin wrote, ‘instruct.'”
Ryan Holiday
The Obstacle is the Way

Related Posts:
Earn Your Ending (Tip #76)
“Returning to Zero—Robert Redford “I was a failure at everything I tried.”—Redford
Arron Sorkin on Failure
‘The Lord of the Rings’—Failure
Spectacular Failures
Iowa Kutcher on Jobs/Work
J.K. Rowlings on the Benefits of Failure

Scott W. Smith

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“I write for myself and that reader who will pay the dues. There’s a phrase in West Africa, in Ghana; it’s called ‘deep talk.’ For instance, there’s a saying: ‘The trouble for the thief is not how to steal the chief’s bugle but where to blow it.’ Now, on the face of it, one understands that. But when you really think about it, it takes you deeper. In West Africa they call that ‘deep talk.’ I’d like to think I write ‘deep talk.’ When you read me, you should be able to say, Gosh, that’s pretty. That’s lovely. That’s nice. Maybe there’s something else? Better read it again. Years ago I read a man named Machado de Assis who wrote a book called Dom Casmurro. Machado de Assis is a South American writer—black father, Portuguese mother—writing in 1865, say. I thought the book was very nice. Then I went back and read the book and said, Hmm. I didn’t realize all that was in that book. Then I read it again, and again, and I came to the conclusion that what Machado de Assis had done for me was almost a trick: he had beckoned me onto the beach to watch a sunset. And I had watched the sunset with pleasure. When I turned around to come back in I found that the tide had come in over my head. That’s when I decided to write. I would write so that the reader says, That’s so nice. Oh boy, that’s pretty. Let me read that again. I think that’s why Caged Bird is in its twenty-first printing in hardcover and its twenty-ninth in paper.
Maya Angelou
the Paris Review interview with George Plimpton

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