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“Nearly every moment of every day we have the opportunity to give something to someone else— out time, our love, our resources —and I have always found more joy in giving when I did not expect anything in return.”
Truett Cathy

I had the opportunity to hear Truett Cathy speak probably 20 years ago when I was running audio where he was speaking. I only remember one thing from that talk; he said that he learned as a kid selling magazines in kind of a newsstand/street style (think the Newsies—without the singing and dancing)  and he learned that some people would always pay more for a magazine, even if it was essentially the same magazine, just because it was more expensive.

Cathy moved on from selling magazines to selling chicken sandwiches. Lots of them. The New York Times reported that in 2013 the company he founded, Chick-fil-A, had “1,800 restaurants and sales of more than $5 billion.” Cathy died this week at the age of 93.

“Rising to prominence between Robert Woodruff, who took over Coca-Cola in the 1920s, and Sam Walton, who began the Walmart chain with a small store in Bentonville, Ark., in 1950, Mr. Cathy was one of a handful of Southern entrepreneurs who in one lifetime took small, hometown companies to a global level.”
Kim Severson
New York Times 

As of March 2014 Forbes listed Cathy’s net worth at $6.2 billion. That put him on the list of the top 250 wealthiest Americans. Not bad for a man born in a small town in Georgia with a high school education, who started working as a youth during The Great Depression. But more impressive is his philanthropic work. In 2008 he won the William E. Simon Prize for his charity work that included work with foster children and awarding more than $23 million in scholarship funding.

And while the man who spent 50 years as a Sunday School teacher may not seem like a candidate for having a hand in movie business but he did that as well. He helped finance the faith-based film on basketball great Pete Maravich, The Pistol, The Birth of a Legend (1991). Maravich was an undersized player as a youth who would go on to be named as one of the 50 Greatest Basketball Players in NBA History. 

More recently Cathy. via the Cathy Family Trust, helped with financing Pinewood Atlanta Studio.

Georgia’s film tax incentives make it one of the top five production destinations in the US.  (The Frank Darabont created TV program The Walking Dead films in Georgia.) Pinewood’s newly opened studio just south of downtown Atlanta has 288 acres and six sound stages up to 30,000 square feet.

“Pinewood Atlanta’s location will contribute significantly to Georgia’s growing reputation as a top draw for movie and television productions. We welcome the business this world-renowned company will bring to the state and the jobs it will create for our crew base and supporting companies.”
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal

A couple of months ago I read that Marvel’s Ant-Man with be shot at Pinewood Atlanta.

So when you read articles about Atlanta the New Hollywood, you can give Cathy some of the credit (or, if you’re in L.A., some of the blame). He earned his wealth (to borrow that title from the great Anne Lamott book on writing) bird by bird—and cow by cow.

‘Put two Cows on a billboard with a bucket of paint and a brush, and they’ll create some unexpected opportunities…The Cows still haven’t learned to spell, but five years after they painted their first billboard, Chick-fil-A had doubled our sales volume. The lesson from the Cows is the lesson of my life: Take advantage of unexpected opportunities.”
S. Trutte Cathy
Eat Mor Chikin:Inspire More People

P.S. Pinewood Studios is not the only game in Atlanta either. EUE/Screen Gems Studio Atlanta has 10 stages, Atlanta Filmworks Studio and Stages has 57,000 square feet of production space, Raleigh Studios in Atlanta has four sound stages, and there’s Tyler Perry Studio. There are others—but you get the idea.

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Martin Luther King Jr. and Screenwriting (Includes a photo I took in Atlanta on the weekend after Coretta Scott King died.)
“Super-Serving Your Niche” Includes a photo of Tyler Perry’s studio I took when I drove through Atlanta last year.
Creativity and Milking Cows

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

“This is an obscure bit of advice I give writers, don’t write that first thing to sell it or get it made. I mean—that’s great, that’s why we’re all doing this—write it to show that you have a voice. So the first script that I sold, part of me knew that it was never going to get made. What I knew was that it was a great forum for me to flex a certain dialogue, and to get into people’s faces, and have a character that would be very verbose and articulate and do those things, to show yes I could write. Ultimately it’s the equivalent of sort of being the guy who dunks [in basketball] time and time again.  Ultimately as a writer you hope you show that you have a post game, and you have an outside game as well, but sometimes people only respond to the dunks.”
Screenwriter Sheldon Turner (who played football at Cornell University)
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters (Part 3) interview with Mike De Luca

Related Post:
Finding Your Voice
Finding Your Own Voice
Dif·fer·en·ti·ate Yourself

P.S. Here are a couple of unusual dunks early in the careers of two players that went on to have pretty good careers. Even if you’re not a basketball fan it’s not hard to see how that if you want to get people’s attention when you’re starting out you have to bring a little extra mojo to your game.

Scott W. Smith 

Mike De Luca: How many screenplays did you write before the first one got produced?
Sheldon Turner: A good 15 probably. You have to be resilient.
The Dialogue: Sheldon Turner Interview Part 2
(Sheldon also mentions on The Dialogue that as he was finding his voice he wrote 11 scripts before he even showed one to anybody.)

“I think all too often now we as a society train ourselves to not have time to think. You get home—you turn the TV on. You get in the car—you turn the radio on. I think those moments [of inspiration] come in solitude. It’s themes—you don’t want to put somebody in a position to go down the hall and tell Amy Pascal (Co-Chairman of Sony Pictures) that Sheldon Turner has some wonderful themes he wants to explore in this movie— but I think that’s what makes for really good [movies]. Even something like The Longest Yard which is pabulum and a fun movie and all that, at least for me I’ve gotta know what the themes are.  Something like redemption or whatever it is, that’s what makes interesting movies.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Sheldon Turner  (credits on Up In the Air, X-Men, First Class)

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Obligatory Scene=Story’s Theme
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Kelly Marcel on Theme
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Scott Frank on Theme
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Shane Black on Theme
Lawrence Konner on Theme
Theme= What Your Movie is Really About
Theme=Story’s Heart & Soul
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More Thoughts on Theme 

Scott W. Smith

“I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) The Godfather

“Think you used enough dynamite there Butch?”
Sundance (Robert Redford) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

“I think there are certain things that actors look for; everybody wants to say cool dialogue, that’s all there is to it. It’s a lesson that I’ve learned. I remember there was a script that I wrote and there’s a line about ‘hookers and eight ball’ and my manager at the time said—and we’re writing for an actor at this time— and he said, ‘Look you don’t want him saying that the first line in.’ Similarly I’ve written for an actress and I had a line description where I described her as haggard—in the scene, it doesn’t mean she’s haggard—but there are certain ways they want to be perceived.”
Screenwriter Sheldon Turner 
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters (Part 1) interview with Mike De Luca

Relate post:
Writing Actor Bait (Tip #64) “Producers and directors buy a property because they like the story. Actors buy it because they see them­selves in a part. “—Jerry Lewis

Scott W. Smith

“My mantra is ‘just keep writing.’ If it’s not good throw it out.”
Screenwriter Sheldon Turner (X-Men: First Class, The Longest Yard)

“I still read five newspapers a day. I try to read a book week, a script a day, all those things. At the end of the day, I believe it’s like the 90 mph fastball—you either have it or you don’t. You can hone those skills…but that’s why I don’t get invited to those screenwriting conferences. Because ultimately my first question is ‘what are you guys doing here?’ Because in a way they’re teaching everyone to do the same thing. And if you look at it from the perspective of a producer, or an executive who’s gotta take home ten scripts in a weekend, or a night take home three scripts, you’ve got to do something to differentiate yourself.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Sheldon Turner (Up in the Air)
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters (Part 1) interview with Mike De Luca

P.S. Two things that differentiates Turner in Hollywood are #1 while he went to NYU like many screenwriters and filmmakers, he’s actually a graduate of the law school, and #2 he gets up everyday earlier than any other screenwriter I’ve ever read about.

“I have a very specific schedule. I get up at 3:57 [a.m.] everyday. I have my whole routine; I’ll write for an hour and then go to the gym and work out for an hour and a half or two hours. And it’s for no other reason other than self loathing, which I find to be the most productive part of my day. I always say I’m motivated by guilt and fear, and also because I don’t take the middle ground well. I’m an extremist. So if I’m not getting up at 3:57 I’m getting up at 1:00 [p.m]. And it’s one of the good things and bad things about being a writer, unless you’re disciplined it’s very easy to fall by the wayside and sort of be the ultimate procrastinator and put things off—So I go to the other extreme.”
Sheldon Turner

Related post:
Self-Study Screenwriting  “I never took a (screenwriting) course, what I did was read every screenplay I could get my hands on.” Sheldon Turner
Finding Your Voice
Shakespeare vs. Ira Glass (Quote for those who don’t have a 90 mph fastball; “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.”—Ira Glass)
Preparing for an Oscar Speech (David Seidler-Style) Only took him about 70 years to hone his writing. 
The Breakfast Club for Writers (2.0) “I began training for the writing life in 1951, getting up at 5:00 A.M. and writing for two hours before going to work at an ad agency.”—Elmore Leonard

Scott W. Smith

September 6, 1995

“A lot of people think I had such a rosy career, but I wanted to identify that one of the things that helps you have a long career is learning how to deal with adversity, how to get past it.”
19-time All-Star baseball player Cal Ripken, Jr.

“I hated my father long before I knew there was a word for hate…I remember hating him even when I was in diapers.”
Pat Conroy

My father died on this date 19 years ago. September 6, 1995. It was the same night that baseball great Cal Ripken, Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s record of consecutive games played—an event that fans on a MLB.com poll voted as the league’s most memorable moment.

It was the following morning as I prepared to direct a three camera video shoot I learned that my father was dead. But September 6 will always be a landmark day in my life. In some ways my father (who divorced my mother and moved away when I was seven) was a bit player in my life, but his shadow is always nearby. He had an interesting life as a drummer, a steel worker before he graduated from Ohio State, an Air Force pilot, and as an advertising executive. There aren’t many photos of him in my family photo album, but he bought me my first camera that set me on the creative path I’ve been walking since I was 18 years old.

Cal Ripken Jr. probably isn’t a perfect father, but the Hall-of-Fame player who has been heavily involved in charity work since his retirement from playing seems the ideal kind of guy any son or daughter would want to have as a father.  The kind of guy who would teach you how to ride a bike, help you with your homework, and pass on pearls of wisdom at various times of adversity in your life. Complete with a family photo album full of pleasant memories.

Kind of the opposite of novelist Pat Conroy’s father. But Conroy’s own rosy literary career owes a debt to the adversity that his father brought into his life.

“I’ve been writing the story of my own life for over forty years. My own stormy autobiography has been my theme, my dilemma, my obsession, and the fly-by-night dread I bring to the art of fiction. Through the years, I’ve met many writers who tell me with great pride that they consider autobiographical fiction as occupying a lower house in the literary canon. They make sure I know their imagination soar into realms and fragments completely invented by them. No man or woman in their pantheon of family or acquaintances has ever taken a curtain call in their own well-wrought and shapely books. Only rarely have I drifted far from the bed I was conceived. It is both the wound and foundation of my work.”
Pat Conroy
The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son

Chances are your own father falls somewhere between they guy who once told me, “The memories of my father could be written on the back of a postage stamp,” and Ward Cleaver on the classic TV show “Leave it to Beaver.”

And the odds are good that you’ve had your share of adversity in your life. But I hope you’ve overcome them—or are in the process of overcoming them—and somehow can use those experiences for fuel in your writings.

Simple words can become clever phrases 
And chapters could turn into books
If I could just get in on paper
But it’s harder that it ever looks
If I Could Just Get It on Paper
Lyrics by Jimmy Buffett

P.S. Here’s a video of Cal Ripken Jr. in one of his philanthropic ventures as he helps rebuild communities via working with Habitat for Humanity.

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Emotional Autobiography (2.0) When you’re going through a period of unhappiness, a broken love affair, the death of someone you love, or some other disorder in your life, then you have no refuge but writing.”—Tennessee Williams
Robert McKee vs. Richard Walter “Decades spent writing and teaching have taught me that writers’ own personal stories are the only story they should write.”—Richard Walter

Scott W. Smith

“At the core of Breaking Bad is family. It is what impels the show’s lead character, the cancer-stricken Walter White, to parlay his knowledge of chemistry into meth production. He wants to ensure the well-being of his wife and children after his death. No sin too great, no hell too deep. This faithfulness to family is the lifeblood of Albuquerque. Everything that lives in the desert has had to fight to stay alive, and survival requires banding together.”
Madeleine Carey
Albuquerque Really Is Like Breaking Bad

“I don’t know where the idea [for Breaking Bad] came from specifically, but I remember the moment it hit me. I was talking to my buddy Tom Schnauz, a guy I went to NYU film school with—who is now a producer on Breaking Bad and written some our best episodes—we’d both been on The X-Files together which ended about three years prior to this conversation. We were kind of bemoaning our situation of being working writers who at that moment were not working. And I said maybe we should get into another line of work while the gettin’s good, and I think I’d be a good greeter at Walmart. I think I’d be good at that—say hi to people, you know, wave. Talked about working at H&R Block and then he said, ‘What if we just pool our resources and buy an RV and put a meth lab in the back?’ And I laughed—obviously he was not serious. But the idea—as we were talking on the phone just BOOM! into my head was the inspiration. I don’t know what it was, but suddenly I was intensely intrigued by the idea of a guy who’d do such a thing. Suddenly it struck me that what would be interesting to me as a viewer and a writer, would what if it was essentially me? In other words what if it’s a guy who’s never broken the law, or littered or jaywalked,  suddenly finding himself being a meth cook. Doing something reprehensible and illegal. That idea, just BOOM! is the middle of this phone conversation, kinda hit me full-blown. Which is rare because ideas are usually much slower in coming, they don’t usually come in eureka moments, at least for me.”
Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan
Interview with Jenni Matz on August 9, 2011

Part of the fruit of Gilligan’s idea during a slow time in his writing career is the 2014 edition of Guinness World Records listed Breaking Bad as the Highest-Rated TV Series. 

Now that the show has concluded its five year run it’s worth glancing back and asking if even though Breaking Bad was a gritty look at the meth industry,  did it some way glamorize the drug and even increase usage. According to the article Was Breaking Bad Good for the Meth Business by Brian Braiker the numbers actually indicate that there were far less meth users at the end of the shows run than before it started:

“According to the most recent data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 440,00 people age 12 and older were users of methamphetamine in 2012. That represents just 0.2 percent of the population and a significant drop from 2006, two years before ‘Breaking Bad’ premiered, when the number of users was 731,000. ‘The numbers go up and down and up and down over the years, but generally speaking, it’s never reached the 2006 levels,’ said SAMHSA spokesman Brad Stone.”

P.S. It’s a good thing Gilligan created Breaking Bad, because that Walmart greeter position he was thinking about became a casualty in 2012 when they first eliminated the 10 p.m. to 7 a.m third shift greeters and I’m not sure they have any greeters now. Or if they do their role has been diminished. Experts said it had to do with a mix of the down economy and competition from Dollar General stores and Internet shopping. If your options are to work at Walmart or create an Emmy-winning TV, go with the latter.

But if you do work at Walmart (or H&R Block) I’m sure there is plenty of inspiration surrounding you for at least enough material for one screenplay. Maybe you saw the photos that went viral this year that were supposedly signs from Walmart management to an employee named Shane.

walmart-shane

Related post:
Where Do Ideas Come From?
Don’t Quit Your Day Job (2.0).

Scott W. Smith

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