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“It seems to me that the earth may be borrowed, but not bought. It may be used, but not owned. It gives itself in response to love and tending, offers its sesonal flowering and fruiting. But we are tenants and not possessors, lovers, and not masters.”
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Cross Creek

LakeHowell

Since my last post had a shout-out to Lake Howell High School I thought it fitting to show Lake Howell the lake. The lake actually sits just 100 yards off one of the busiest roads in Central Florida (State Road 436). In fact, if you cross eight lanes of traffic from where this picture was taken you’ll be at the parking lot of a Super Wall Mart.

But as you watch a sunrise though the Spanish moss hanging on the trees, the Wall Mart seems not only 100 miles away, but 100 years away. A remnant of old Florida that was captured so well in the The Yearling, the 1939 Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. In 1939 the book was actually the best selling novel in the United States.

The 1946 film version of The Yearling won two Oscars (Cinematography and Art Direction) and a Best Motion Picture Actor Golden Globe for Gregory Peck.

“Every man wants life to be a fine thing, and easy. And it tis fine, son, powerful fine— but t’aint easy.”
Penny Baxter (Gregory Peck) in The Yearling

But the movie I prefer more based on Rawlings’ work is Cross Creek (1983) starring  Mary SteenburgenRip TornPeter Coyote , directed by Martin Ritt, and screenplay by Dalene Young.

“In the late 1920s, it took a lot of guts for a woman to pack up her typewriter and move off to the wilds of Florida like that. This is the story of a woman finding herself.”
Director Martin Ritt on Rawlings 

P.S. The Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings home in Florida is now part of the Florida State Parks system and can be toured at various times of the year. Though Rawlings is connected to Florida through he life and writings in the state, she was born in Washington, D.C., received an English degree from the University of Wisconsin—Madison, worked as a reporter in Louisville, Kentucky and was living in New York when she received an inheritance from her mother and decided to move to rural Florida.Later she would move to Crescent Beach, Florida and died in nearby St. Augustine in 1953.

Scott W. Smith

’10 Years’

” I wanted to minimize the locations and there are really only four locations in the movie so we designed the production to allow us to go from one location to the next.”
Writer/director Jamie Linden (10 Years)
Variety
article by Stuart OldhamBride and Groom 2

There’s nothing quite like high school friends.

Yesterday I missed writing a post on a weekday for the first time in a long time. But it was just one of those crazy 15 hour shooting days. I’m working on a video version of the Mike and the Mechanics song The Living Years that will be used in symphony concert settings.  The budget’s tight so I had to reach out to some friends for some assistance with props and people.

The video is an arc of life concept shot in silhouettes and I needed a bride and groom and just put it out there on Facebook and a friend from high school said his nephew got married earlier this year and thought they’d be game to help. So Chris and Danielle were kind enough to drop by yesterday and allow me to shoot the above shot. (The finished shot will be more stylized, but I do like the simplicity of this shot.)

Turns out that Chris went to the same high school I did (many years after, of course) and two of his classmates just happened to be actor Scott Porter (Friday Night Lights) and screenwriter Jamie Linden (We Are Marshall). Small world, huh?  A few years ago Linden and Porter returned to Florida for their 10-year reunion of Lake Howell High School.

“I went to [my high school reunion] with my friend, Scott Porter, who is an actor.  We grew up in Orlando, Florida, as far away from this business as you could be.  I have a couple other friends who live here in L.A. that went to high school with us, and we went back as a group ‘cause we don’t get a lot of chances to go home and definitely not together, so it was an excuse.  And I don’t think I was disappointed by it, but just was underwhelmed by it all.  But, I found it interesting, just purely on a sociological and anthropological level.”
Jamie Linden
Writer/director of  10 Years
Collider
article by Christina Radish

That experience was the beginning of Linden writing and directing the feature 10 Years.  If you didn’t see (or even hear of) the 2011 film that’s because it was a small indie film. But the ensemble cast included Channing Tatum (who both Porter and Linden worked with on Dear John),  Rosario Dawson and Chris Pratt.

Two days ago Variety reported that Linden, “will write the screenplay of Lionsgate’s franchise starter Chaos Walking: The Knife of Never Letting Go.” George Clooney and Jodie Foster are set to co-star and Robert Zemeckis attached to direct. Porter plays George Tucker on the TV program Hart of Dixie. Linden and Porter are kind of the Matt Damon/Ben Affleck of Orlando.

And speaking of Lake Howell High School, last week I dropped off two boxes of my screenwriting and filmmaking books at the school in hopes that they would inspire the next crop of Scott Porter’s and Jamie Linden’s. Go Silver Hawks.

photo

P.S. Yesterday’s shoot was the first time I’ve done a 4K shoot. Used the little Lumex GH4 which for the price may end up being the hottest camera to come along since the Canon 5D. Here’s Philip Bloom’s review of the camera.

Related post:
Remembering the Friday Night Lights
The 10 Film Commandments of Edward Burns Low-budget indie film tips
Screenwriting from High School (Back in 2008 I went back to my old high school to give a talk.)

Scott W. Smith

 

“There are three points of view from which a writer can be considered: he may be considered as a storyteller, as a teacher, and as an enchanter. A major writer combines these three — storyteller, teacher, enchanter — but it is the enchanter in him that predominates and makes him a major writer.
Russian American Novelist Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977)
From Brain Picking article by Maria Popova

P.S. In the athletic world some unusually talented people have what’s known as an extra gear. (Probably true of any field, but I remember back in the day watching Deion Sanders returning punts and it’s easier to see that extra gear kick in when it happens in real time on national television. For Nabokov that extra gear for the writer is being the enchanter. Do you think Vladimir Nabokov and Deion Sanders have ever been mentioned in the same article ever before? By the way, I’ve worked with Deion and he’s not only a  Pro Football Hall-of-Famer but also a storyteller, teacher and enchanter.

Related post: Postcard #28 (Prime Time) 

Scott W. Smith

 

 

“Plays are about conflict. Plays are about people not getting along.”
Edward Albee

oddcouple

“Behavior interests me more than anything. I think in any play that I’ve ever written the people all have options to behave in another way; they don’t, and that’s what makes it so funny and so poignant. It’s generally people who get themselves in all of the problems…Generally in a lot of my plays, two people are in major confrontation with each other, like in The Odd Couple or Barefoot in the Park or The Sunshine Boys.”
Neil Simon
The Playwright’s Art

In that same interview with Simon he also said, “Generally speaking, when a play opens, 95 percent of what’s up there is what I have approved of. With a film, I’m at mercy of the director, and what comes out on the screen is about 10 percent of what I approved of.” Not sure how much he approved of in The Sunshine Boys (1975), but George Burns did win a Best Actor in a Supporting Role as part of a vaudeville duo who can’t stand his partner.

P.S. The Odd Couple was not only a Broadway play, a movie in 1968, a popular TV show in the 70s, but has been remade into several other plays and TV shows including the female and the African-American versions. In 2015, yet another version hits TV.

Related Posts:
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 2) —A character comes to a fork in the road and a choice must be made. Take the high road (the healthy responsible choice) or the low road (unhealthy, irresponsible choice). If the character chooses the right thing you really don’t have a story.
Everything I Learned In Film School (Tip #1)
Protagonist=Struggle
Neil Simon on Conflict

Scott W. Smith

“As the day ended, the five were satisfied, they had done something new, something different, something more!”
The Numberlys
William Joyce & Christina Ellis

Now that my life is so prearranged
I know that it’s time for a cool change
Cool Change/Little River Band (Written by Glenn Shorrock)

Today is post #1,901 on Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places. I know I haven’t done something as “different” as The Numberlys did. After all they took a world that knew only numbers and formed letters and words. Now that was revolutionary.

All I’ve done is spend a few thousand hours laboring over books, magazines, online interviews, etc. looking for a cohesive (and sometimes contradictory) view of screenwriting (sometimes spilling over into other filmmaking disciplines). I think I have 99 more posts in me to make it to 2,000. After that? I don’t know.

But it’s time for a cool change.

My original goal in 2008 was a book and it just grew and grew. I’m actually on the tail-end of editing the “best of” posts down to three 60,000 word books. Sort of a beginning, middle and end. I’m exploring some ebook options and if you have any experience or advice in that world please shoot me an email at info@scottwsmith.com .

I don’t have much more of a game plan than that. When I was in film school I used to have a Nike poster in my dorm of a lone runner with the words, “There is no finish line”—which seemed cool at the time. But on a little reflection, I realized I like finish lines. We need finish lines. Finish lines are useful. It’s a way to measure things.  (You know what doesn’t have a finish line? Hamsters running on a wheel.)  It just seems like 2,000 posts on screenwriting is a good finish line.

theres-no-finish-line

The Regional Emmy Award and shout-outs from Diablo Cody, Edward Burns, and TomCrusie.com–as well as the many readers over the years have all been much appreciated. (Heck, yesterday had the most views all year.) Even if I stop writing daily posts here I’m sure something new will pop up. A new blog or perhaps weekly videos.

Finding a way to monetize it or have it open up more speaking opportunities would be great. Spending time getting more dramatic writing done would be ideal.

Playwright/screenwriter David Mamet was once asked if the theater was dying and replied, “The theater is always dying and always being reborn.” Certainly that definition could be used to explain a lot in our ever-changing society. I just found out today that the cable on our TV has been off for two months because we didn’t get a new box thingy. They credited our account and since we didn’t miss it we dropped cable altogether.

I’m not a Luddite, I’ve been watching The Sopranos via Amazon Prime and movies on Netflix streaming through my BluRay and playing on my TV.  Most college freshman I’ve read don’t have a TV in their room preferring to watch everything on their computers or phones. TV is dying and being reborn.

And so it is with Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places—it’s dying and being reborn. I’m just not sure yet what that new manifestation will look like. All suggestions welcomed.

‘The very impulse to write springs from an inner chaos crying for order, for meaning….”—Arthur Miller

P.S. The Numberlys book, App, and film was created by Oscar-winning Moonbot Studios in Shreveport, Louisiana—Shreveport qualifies as an unlikely place. I wrote some posts about them ( Filmmaking in the Other LA, Old Fashioned & Cutting Edge) a couple of years ago.

Update: Soon after I wrote this post, I heard some people talking about the bowling alley at Downtown Disney (Splitsville Luxury Lanes) and one of the people said, “Bowling’s coming back.” Bowling is always dying, and always coming back.

Related Posts:
Netflix + Emmy Nominations = New World Order
Putting the Bust in Blockbuster

Scott W. Smith 

(It’s been almost four years since I originally wrote this post—then titled Screenwriting Obsessionand it seems a fitting time to repost.)

“Most creators — and all would-be creators — simply aren’t obsessed enough.”
Eric Maisel

A few weeks ago I was talking to a couple filmmakers and we got to talking about a favorite topic of mine; Why are so many artists dysfunctional?  Take a handful of painters, writers, actors, musicians and filmmakers and you’ll have more than your share of people who suffer from depression, mental illness or at least some phobia that haunts them. Alcoholism and drug abuse appears more common with this tribe.

So the big question is — why?

One of the filmmakers had an easy answer, obsession.

I instantly thought of Jackson Pollock painting in his barn. I thought of Van Gogh’s passion. I thought of Martin Scorsese and his own demons. Obsession may be as good and answer as I’ve heard.

“One hasn’t become a writer until one has distilled writing into a habit, a habit that has been forced into an obsession. Writing has to be an obsession. It has to be something as organic, physiological and psychological as speaking or sleeping or eating.”
Niyi Osudare
From the book One Hundred Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters/Karl Iglesias

Eric Maisel, PhD has written several books that touch on this issue including Creativity for Life, The Creativity Book, and The Van Gogh Blues. I haven’t read his books, but in his article In Praise of Positive Obsessions he does make the distinction between positive and negative obsessions. He writes:

What exactly do I mean by a positive obsession?

A fair working definition is as follows: positive obsessions are insistent, recurrent thoughts or sets of thoughts, pressurized in feel, that are extremely difficult to ignore, that compel one to act, and that connect to one’s goals and values as an active meaning-maker and authentic human being.

For Van Gogh, for a period of time, sunflowers obsessed him. For Dostoevsky, for decades, the question of whether an innocent–a “saintly man” –could survive in the real world haunted and obsessed him.

Georgia O’Keeffe obsessed about how to represent the desert, thrilling herself when her imagery of bleached bones satisfied her for a time.

It is no accident or coincidence that effective artists harbor preoccupations that rise to the level of positive obsession.

So maybe we just obsess too much about those creative souls who have negative obsessions. After all those are the ones that tend to fascinate us the most. Those are the ones books are written about and movies made of their lives.

If you have any books and articles that explore the similarities and differences of positive and negative obsessions toss them my way. I don’t think my obsession is going away from thinking about it anytime soon.

And as far as screenwriting obsessions—there are many. Why do people spend so much time and money on something when the odds are so against any meaningful return on investment? Why all the books, CDs, workshops, college degrees, screenwriting expos, script consultants, etc. if there wasn’t a screenwriting obsession in this country? Why do produced screenwriters continue though they often feel less than satisfied with the finished results of their script?

Maybe it has something to do with Van Gogh continuing to paint even though the appreciation for his work would come long after he died. I hope you can find that “positive obsession,” and can continue to work on your craft without losing your mind.

Related posts:
“What it means to be a screenwriter.”
Don’t Waste Your Life (2.0) “It’s an accepted fact that all writers are crazy, even the normal ones are weird.”—William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade    
‘The Greatest Gift’“It is a story about depression and disillusionment, alcoholism and attempted suicide. And yet for all that, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life has just been voted the most inspirational film ever made.” 2006 article in The Guardian

Scott W. Smith

Tom Lazarus (Stigmata) is not only a produced screenwriter, but a longtime instructor at the UCLA Extension program.  Earlier this week I thumbed through a book of his I bought over a decade ago and found this little gem:

The best log line I’ve ever read was for an episode of the old TV show Father Knows Best. It was: Billy loses his house key. That’s what the episode was about. That, and nothing more.

The log line is the simple, one- or two-sentence, description of a movie that appears in TV Guide.

…Log lines are vital in my process of film writing because they force me to distill my idea for the screenplay down to its essence. The log line is what I judge what I’m writing against. The log line forces me to be absolutely clear about what I’m writing.
Tom Lazarus
Secrets of Film Writing 

We could go back and forth over the difference between a logline for a movie and one for a TV program–or if the logline for a Father Knows Best episode is better than, say, the logline for JAWS. But it’s a good to think about as you develop your own stories. And while “Billy loses his house key” may seem a little simplistic, check out the insight in the post (David Wain) What’s at Stake?:

“Any screenplay can be about any stakes. It can be tiny like trying to get a piece of gum off your shoe or saving the world–it’s irrelevant. The point is the stakes are important to the character and that you care as the audience about what the character cares about.”
Screenwriter David Wain

That usually means there is the potential for something meaningful to be lost. Wally on Leave it to Beaver losing his baseball glove and fears his father’s anger, Tony Soprano fears losing his mind, Bruce Willis in Die Hard fears losing his wife, Marlin fears losing his only son in Finding Nemo. 

Here’s another thought I read this week that seems fitting to toss into the mix:

“I received an exorbitant amount of query letters this week. After all these years, I’m still amazed at how many bad ideas inspire screenwriters. Many new writers make a fatal era at the start: Choosing an idea that is neither cinematic nor dramatic. Or an idea that is limited in its appeal. Is the concept best suited for a screenplay? Is it an externalized story best told with moving pictures and through conflict? Is it a story that will attract enough of an audience to warrant its budget in the millions? Many writers will defend themselves with: ‘I’m an artist and must write what’s personal and important to me. I can’t think about those other things.’ That’s fine — but don’t query me. Make your own movie. Not all stories make for good screenplays, by the way. And that’s okay. The story might be a better novel or poem or play. It’s the writer’s job to make that determination. And it’s better to do it at the beginning – before writing the script.”
WME Story Editor Christopher Lockhart on The Inside Pitch/Facebook group
And he linked to his 2006 blog post Think “Hallewood” on how to improve the stories you set out to write

P.S. I’ve actually never seen an episode of Father Knows Best, and couldn’t find the “lost key” episode online, but I did find one from the first season written by Phil Davis that has the logline, “Jim has only two tickets to a football game and must decide whom to take with him.” Jim (the father played by Robert Young) decides to have a contest with his three children to see which one will be chosen to go with him to— “the most important football game of the year.”

And while that concept of that 60-year-old program seems dated, the dramatic material between sibling rivalries is deep. Not only to mention the timeless question kids ask their parents, “Which child is your favorite?” And how many billions of dollars have been spent on counseling people with mother/father—son/daughter issues?

“I was very angry with him. It cost me ten thousand dollars in therapy to say that sentence: ‘I was very angry him.’ I do it very well, don’t I? I’ll say it again: I was very angry with him. ‘Hello, my name is Mr. Lewis, I am very angry with my father.'”
Edward (Richard Gere) in Pretty Women

Related links.

The Perfect Logline
Star Wars—The Logline
Juno—The Logline

Links to others who have written about longlines.

The Construction of a Logline (Get this free PDF.)
ScriptShadow Special – How To Craft A Damn Good Logline

Scott W. Smith

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