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“Courage is like a muscle. We strengthen it with use.”
Screenwriter and actress Ruth Gordon

After writing 1,700+ posts on screenwriting and filmmaking (on top of probably 1,700+ other blogs out there on screenwriting, filmmaking and movies) it’s hard to write something fresh, but today I want to touch on an Oscar-nominated husband and wife screenwriting team.

Sticking with my golf inspired posts lately, Pat and Mike is a 1952 George Cukor movie starting Katharine Hepburn (as a golfer) and Spencer Tracy.  It was written by wife and husband team Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin. Those two wrote three Oscar-nominated scripts;  A Double Life, Adam’s Rib, Pat and Mike.

Gordon won an Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in Rosemary’s Baby, and she won an Emmy for a guest appearance on the TV show Taxi. But many remember her most for her role as Maude in Harold and Maude. Gordon’s career in professional in theater began in 1915 when she appeared n Broadway (that year she was also an extra in a silent film) and it 1986 she published her autobiography My Side in 1976.

Kanin, who served in the US Army in 1941-1945, was uncredited as co-director on the 1945 Oscar-winning documentary The True Glory

I don’t know how many produced screenwriters are husband and wife teams, but I imagine it takes a lot of spunk to work and live together. Almost as much spunk as Katharine Hepburn in this scene from Pat and Mike:

Scott W. Smith

On this day six years ago I wrote the post below reflecting on a relatively unknown golfer named Zach Johnson who beat Tiger Woods in his prime at the Masters Tournament. Since the Masters was today I thought I’d have a special repost Sunday and add a fitting quote by writer Carl Hiaasen that shows a parallel between all those screenwriting and golf instructions.

“Golf books and golf magazines sell like crazy because every player is searching for the formula, the secret, the code, the grail—how do I conquer this impossible, godforsaken game? 

“And the more you read, the more hopelessly muddled you become. After digesting an article by David Leadbetter advocating and early cocking of the wrists on the backswing, I came upon the following quote by Byron Nelson: ‘Make a takeaway with no wrist break, and you’ll like what happens through impact.’

“Now what? Chose between Leadbetter, tutor of champions, or Nelson, the only guy to win eleven consecutive PGA tournaments?

“Because no two experts play, teach or analyze golf the same way, the instructions are often contradictory and vexing.”
Carl Hiaasen
The Downhill Lie; A Hackers Return to a Ruinous Sport

Here’s the original 2008 post called Sneaky Long Screenwriting —(back when my posts where a lot longer):

“If you follow your passion, the money will follow. Success, in my opinion, involves sheer luck, hard work and humility.”
Anthony Zuiker, creator CSI TV programs

“I’m Zach Johnson and I’m from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. That’s about it, I’m a normal guy.”
Zach Johnson, professional golfer

Last year at this time Zach Johnson’s above quote caused laughter from the press corp in Augusta, Georgia as he spoke those words before a national TV audience after winning the prestigious Masters at Augusta National golf tournament.

But do normal guys come from seemingly nowhere to win their first major tournament against the greatest golfers in the world? Do normal guys fend off Tiger Woods, one of the greatest golfers in the history of the game?

Zach Johnson was sneaky long.

Sneaky long is a golf phrase which describes a golfer, a golf shot, or a particular hole that looks deceptively underrated. Think of it like an Adam Sandler/Bill Murray-like fellow in his goofiest outfit coming up to some serious golfers and saying, “You guys want to put a little money on who can hit the next ball the longest?” They take the bet thinking the guy doesn’t have a chance and he ends up taking their money.

Sneaky long is the underdog that causes snickers. Rocky, Seabiscuit, and Erin Brockovich were all sneaky long. Audiences love an underdog mainly because the underdog represents us and our deepest wishes.

When a 36-year-old writer broke into the TV business (in a business where 30 is old) with a script for an episode for the TV show Hunter (followed by scripts for even lesser remembered TV shows) few probably thought that within ten years this guy was going to write a movie that would win five Oscars. But that’s what happened after Randell Wallace wrote Braveheart.

Johnson’s hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa has had its share of sneaky long characters. Former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner not only grew up in Cedar Rapids but went to the same high school as Johnson. When no large schools offered him a football scholarship, he signed with the University of Northern Iowa, a Division II college right here in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

It wasn’t the big-time college football that he’d hoped for, but at least he thought he’d start all four years. However, he sat the bench for three years before making his marking mark his senior year by becoming the Gateway Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.

Following graduation, he worked as a grocery stocker at HyVee  and then played arena football in Des Moines. Next was pro ball in Europe before joining the St. Louis Rams where he was booed in his first game. He went on to be twice voted the top player in the NFL and Super Bowl XXXIV MVP. Someday they’ll do a movie about his life.

One could even say that artist Grant Wood was sneaky long. He was a schoolteacher and artist who lived in a small apartment above a carriage house in (you guessed it) Cedar Rapids, where he eventually painted one of the most recognizable (and copied and parodied) paintings in the history of art—American Gothic.

Wood once said, “I had to go to France to appreciate Iowa.” He also coined the term regionalism to define his belief that an artist should “paint out of the land and the people he knows best.”

Isn’t that what Van Gogh did in Arles? Isn’t that what Winslow Homer did in Maine? Isn’t that what Faulkner did in Oxford, what Steinbeck did in Monterey, what O’Connor in Georgia, what Ibsen did in Norway, what Willa Cather did in Nebraska, and what Horton Foote (Tender Mercies) has done in Texas?

This is the heartbeat of Screenwriting from Iowa. Hollywood will always make its tent pole movies. Movies will always have a LA/New York thrust because that’s where the majority of studios, crews, and talent are located.

But if the writer’s strike signaled one thing it’s the times are changing. As the founder of The Geek Squad said recently, “What people don’t understand is the internet hasn’t yet started.” I believe new forms of distribution will fuel a revival in regionalism.

“What regional filmmaking means to me is not only utilizing the actors of your area, the musicians and the artists, but probing what it means to that region. And for me, the thing about Memphis that I’ve always responded to is its music scene, from Sam Phillips recording Howlin’ Wolf, Rudus Thomas, Elvis Presely, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Charlie Rich.”
Craig Brewer, writer/director Hustle & Flow

Audiences for years have been complaining about the lack of originality and seemingly endless repetition of remakes and sequels. And writers have struggled with the pressure to write what they think will sell to the masses rather than writing what they know and really want to write.

Every year the entertainment industry experiences some minor tremors. Like the era from silent movies to sound pictures the industry is shifting.

Hollywood is stocked with talent from all across the United States and Canada. We enjoy hearing stories of Katie Holmes being from Toledo, Ohio and Julia Roberts from Smyrna, Georgia. Even the greater Cedar Rapids area alone has its share of actors in recent films and TV programs.

Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings)
Eric Rouse (Superman Returns)
Michele Monaghan (Mission Impossible III)
Tom Arnold (The Final Season)
Michele Emerson (Lost)
Ron Livingston (Office Space)
Ashton Kutcher (The Guardian)

But wherever the sneaky long actor, writer, or director lives they need to keep plugging away at the craft. Work through that “contradictory and vexing” advice they get from friends, teachers, books, and blogs. Keep learning and keep creating.

I’ve said before in workshops I’ve given, “Don’t quit your day job, because you never know how that can serve your work.” (Not to mention it pays the bills.) Johnny Depp says he used to use different voices in the telemarketing job he had when he first moved to L.A. from Florida.

Then there is Illinois born  Anthony Zuiker’s story. After the show he created, CSI, became the top rated scripted show he told Creative Screenwriting magazine, “Three years ago I was living in Vegas as the night manager of the Mirage Hotel tram line.” (Zuiker whose creation has since grown into the hit shows CSI:New York and CSI:Miami has Chicago roots. How many years until CSI: Cedar Falls?)

But when Zuilker was a night manager he was also writing. It was while working at a motel when he actually found the inspiration for his first TV script. “The police and I are in this motel room searching for evidence when an officer lifts up the bed skirt. All I see is a pair of eyes before she leaps from beneath the bed clawing at my face. And I thought, ‘There’s a show here.’”

Certainly golfer Zach Johnson has followed Zuilker’s advice: “If you follow your passion, the money will follow. Success, in my opinion, involves sheer luck, hard work and humility.” Johnson was not the top golfer on his college team at Drake.  Johnson even wasn’t the #1 golfer on his high school team.

But he had passion and kept improving his game until he got to slip on the famed green jacket at Augusta on his way to making $4 million dollars in 2007.

Whether you’re making music videos in Minneapolis, turning out B-grade cable scripts, teaching high school theater in Tulsa, a grocery store stock boy, a night tram manager in Vegas, a daytime tram operator in Orlando,  or someone sweeping up Cheerio dust in a factory you have to believe that you’re sneaky long and can surprise a lot of people with what you write. But you have to be writing to get there.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

“Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated; it satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening—and it is without a doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented.”
Arnold Palmer

“Golf is a bond that has drawn us all together and created a special fraternity among celebrities of show business, sports and politics.”
Bob Hope

Palmer

 

When I stopped by the Golf Channel headquarters today it was hard to miss the empty spot up front dedicated for Arnold Palmer. The 84-year-old golfing legend was busy with his duties up in Augusta, Georgia where The Masters Tournament is being held.

Last month The Hollywood Reporter wrote about a three-part documentary on the life and career of Arnold Palmer that is the first project by Golf Channel Films. (The doc begins airing Sunday night 4/13/14.)

“The Palmer documentary has been over a year in the making and will include more than 100 interviews with Palmer’s friends, peers and fans including President Clinton, Kurt Russell, Herm Edwards, Bob Costas, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. The film is produced by veteran NBC Sports and Olympics producer Israel DeHerrera and written by 18-time Emmy winner Aaron Cohen.”
Marisa Guthrie
The Hollywood Reporter 3/5/14

Part of what’s made Palmer so iconic over the years is he helped grow the game via television and his entertainment connections. Aside from  televised tournaments where he battled Jack Nicklaus, he also appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson numerous times and also in the Bob Hope movie Call Be Bwana (1963). Hope was an avid golfer—he once said he told jokes to pay for his greens s fee—and he was a long time friend of Palmer.

Here’s another side of Palmer that you may not know about. Here’s a 3-minute video for The Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children made by Jon Strong that tied for Best In Show at this year’s Addy Awards in Orlando.

Scott W. Smith

 

“Cinderella story. Outta nowhere. A former greenskeeper, now, about to become the Masters champion.”
Carl Spackler (Bill Murray) in Caddyshack

Bill Murray

Since today is the first day of the 2014 Masters Tournament  in Augusta, Georgia I’ll use that to jump ship from blogging about baseball to blogging about golf (all connected to movies and filmmaking in one way or another).

Today I visited the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Florida and  a couple hundred yards away in World Golf Village is where I I took the above photo (of a photo cutout of actor Bill Murray) at Murray Bros. Caddyshack restaurant. (Bill Murray opened the restaurant in 2001 with his five brothers.)

“[The movie Caddyshack] is really a gripping tale of the Murray brothers’ first experiment with employment. It suited us. You didn’t have to punch a clock; that failure would come later.  No dress code; you could work barefoot. No age limit, no income tax. I want this job now.”
Actor Bill Murray
Cinderella Story; My Life in Golf

Related Post: Harold Ramis on ‘Caddyshack’

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 “If I were given a thousand years to live, I wouldn’t run out of topics in American history.”
Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns

“In the country of baseball, men rise to glory in their twenties and their early thirties—a garland briefer than a girl’s, or at least briefer than a young woman’s—with an abrupt rise, like scaling a cliff, and then the long meadow slopes downward.”
Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball by Donald Hall with Dock Ellis

When I heard filmmaker Ken Burns speak Monday night at Rollins College he used a phrase I’d never heard before—”emotional archaeology.” He said that’s what he aims for in his work which includes the documentaries The Civil War, Jazz, and Baseball.

Burns added that “Who are we?” and “Where are we going?”are key questions he tries to answer in his work. Others words that he said his work often addresses is “race,”  “space,” and the shared experience of life as a struggle.

And just when you thought I wasn’t going to write about baseball anymore I have at least one more baseball-themed post to sneak in—the new documentary No, No: A Dockumentary (2014) on Major League pitcher Dock Ellis who in 1970 threw a no-hitter while on LSD.

Jeff Radice directed the film and I hope to catch it tomorrow night (4/10/14) at the Florida Film Festival. Judging from the trailer the doc seems to cover race, space, and life as a struggle. You know, emotional archaeology.

Related post: 40 Days of Emotions 

Scott W. Smith 

“There’s kind of a sports world and a filmmaking world and there’s not too much overlap in there.”
Maclain Way 
Co-director, The Battered Bastards of Baseball

 “[Baseball is] the greatest game that’s ever been invented, period, full stop.”
Filmmaker Ken Burns
Orlando Sentinel interview by Alicia DelGallo

The Battered Bastards of Baseball documentary debuted to an enthusiastic audience at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.  I haven’t see the film yet, but I believe the main character is Bing Russell, the head coach of the rouge Portland Mavericks —who was also actor Kurt Russell’s father, and the grandfather of the film’s directors Chapman and Maclain Way.

“There’s a direct correlation between what the Mavericks were and what Sundance is. The system ain’t going to finance or distribute your movie unless you’re connected to a major studio. You might make your movie, but no one’s going to see it. What Robert Redford has done is give people a place to play. And that’s exactly what my dad did with independent baseball. He gave all these outsiders the opportunity to play.”
Actor Kurt Russell (who played minor league baseball in El Paso, Texas and briefly for the Portland Mavericks)
The Guardian article by Xan Brooks7785920_orig

I couldn’t find a trailer of the movie, but I did find this Q&A with the filmmakers at Sundance.

Related post: “Don’t try to compete with Hollywood”—Ed Burns

P.S. Kurt Russell’s nephew, Matt Franco, not only played in the Major Leagues from 1995-2003, but he also played for the minor league team the Orlando Cubs— who played their games at Tinker Field. And for those of you who missed it a couple of weeks ago I featured Tinker Field in a micro doc I finished last month.

Scott W. Smith

 

“In the United States words are medicine.”
Filmmaker Ken Burns

“Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of American had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game and do it by watching first some high-school or small town teams.”
French-born American historian Jacques Barzun

Tonight I’m going to go hear filmmaker Ken Burns speak at Rollins College. So while I’m on a string of  writing about baseball and filmmaking this seems like a good time to touch on the PBS doc Baseball; A Film by Ken Burns (1994), and his 2010 follow-up with Lynn Novick, Baseball; The Tenth Inning.

One of the things that’s addressed in those docs is baseball heroes and their flaws. Gambling and drug use being two of the the flaws that haunt some of baseball’s greatest legends.

“Loving contradictions is saying you love life. All our heroes have dark sides. Only in modern media culture would heroism mean perfection. The Greeks have told us heroism is a negotiation between strength and weakness. That defines heroism.”
Ken Burns
Orlando Sentinel article by Hal Boedekker

P.S. While I’ve read that the patron saint(s) of baseball are Saint Sebastian and/or Saint Rita, I think Robert Clemente could be considered the modern-day saint of baseball. He was an National League, MVP and the first Latino baseball player inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame. He died in 1972—just a year after being voted World Series MVP—when a plane he was in taking that was taking relief aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua crashed. Each year Major League Baseball picks a winner of the Roberto Clemente Award to the player “who demonstrates the values Clemente displayed in his commitment to community and understanding the value of helping others.”

Related posts:
Character Flaws 101 (Tip #30)
Ken Burns on 1+1=3
Filmmaking Quote #33 (Ken Burns)

Scott W. Smith

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