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Posts Tagged ‘Lake Howell High School’

“Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose.”
Dillion High Motto

Okay, I know I’m late to the game but just last night I finally watched the pilot to Friday Night Lights that first aired in 2006.  Really great stuff. I’m so far behind that just over a month ago the series just finished airing its fifth and final season.

I was a fan of the Friday Night Lights book by H.G. Bussinger when it first came out in 1990, and enjoyed the 2004 film that was based on the book, so I don’t know what took me so long to getting around to the TV program other than I don’t invest too much time into television. From the start what I like about Friday Night Lights is it has a rich sense of time, place and people.

The TV version of Friday Night Lights was created by Peter Berg who wrote and directed the movie version and also the show’s pilot. In an interview with Jeffrey Brown, Berg had this to say about the program that over its five year run had a relatively small but faithful following:

“I think it’s become pretty clear in the last couple of years — I don’t know, four, five years — that mainstream audiences are looking for escapism in their films and in their television programs. They’re not looking to and I certainly understand why, they’re not being asked to work a lot emotionally or often times I think intellectually. That’s not to say that we’re lazy emotionally and intellectually, it just says that when we watch TV or go to the movies as a culture, we generally want to have fun and escape. And for “Friday Night Lights,” for a variety reasons, is not always a lot of fun and it’s certainly not an escape. I think that’s a similar problem to films like “The Hurt Locker” have encountered when trying to find and connect to, you know, large mainstream audiences.”

Berg was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing For A Drama Series for the pilot. And apparently the program stayed strong under the showrunner Jason Katims because Friday Night Lights picked up several nominations in 2010 including one for Outstanding Writing by Rolin Jones for his episode The Son.

Berg is also an actor who had roles in Chicago Hope and Collateral. I did a little digging and sure enough found a nice Midwest connection with Berg. Though born in New York City apparently he started taking acting classes in Saint Paul, Minnesota at Macalester College where he graduated in 1984 with a degree in theater.

Berg set the emotional and intellectual tone early in the opening show when the star quarterback who has his sights set on playing college ball at Notre Dame is paralyzed in the first game of the year. The show ends with Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) saying this prayer;

“Life is so very fragile. We’re all vulnerable and we will all at some point in our lives—fall. We will all fall. We must carry this in our hearts that what we have is special, that it can be taken from us, and that when it is taken from us we will be tested. We will be tested to our very souls.”

In my book, that’s pretty fine writing. And words that resonate beyond the football team at Dillion High School.

By the way, the star quarterback who is injured in that first program was played by actor Scott Porter.

“I played wide receiver for Lake Howell High School in Florida. We had a great team, went to the state semi-finals my junior and senior high, and had three future NFL players.”
Scott Porter

I happen to have played wide receiver at Lake Howell High School in Florida as well. (As did current Miami Dolphin wide receiver Brandon Marshall.) Doesn’t mean much, but still fun to make those little connections.

Here’s one last little connection that comes full circle to this blog. Diablo Cody (many of you know my inspiration for starting this blog three years ago) wrote her Juno script in Minneapolis not far from where Berg started taking acting classes. Turns out that Cody is a big fan of Friday Night Lights (“one of the best shows on television”) and even featured Kyle Chandler on her webshow Red Band Trailer.

Scott W. Smith



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Yesterday I returned to Lake Howell High School in Winter Park, Florida where I graduated from years ago to talk to five classes and around 350 students total. The groups were a mix of students in video and TV production, radio, graphic design, journalism and entrepreneurship.  Since Lake Howell was where I took my first photography class and wrote and directed my first videos I was thrilled with the opportunity to speak to them about much of what I write about on this blog.

I believe that high school students today who are interested in various forms of production are in a great position. And so this post will be an abridged version and recount of my talk yesterday.

When I was 18 years old there was a place called Fotomat where I used to take my still photography film (Not one student could tell me what Fotomat did). It was cutting edge for that time period. You would drop your film off and the next day you’d get it back. (Lots of mock “oohs” and “ahhs” from the students.)  At its peak there were over 4,000 Fotomat booths throughout the United States.

I asked them why all of those Fotomat booths if they still existed were no longer Fotomats and they correctly pointed to one-hour developing and digital photography. That is the technology changed the game.  

A photographer friend from San Diego tells me that in 1980 the president of Fotomat gave the keynote address at a big convention in Las Vegas where he basically said that Fotomat had nothing to fear from the new “mini lab” industry.  The next year they lost 50% of their business to mini labs. 

Technology is a two edged sword in that it opens news opportunities while at the same time closing the door on older ways of doing things (usually resulting in jobs loses…like the whaling industry in days of old, and more recently the newspaper business). 

Today digital technology offers amazing opportunities for high school students. It is common today for students to be editing video projects on non-linear editing systems. And not unheard of for students to be editing on Final Cut Pro which is the same editing system that the Coen Brothers edited “No Country for Old Men” on which won an Academy Award for Best Picture last year.

There are also DVD and Internet tutorials available to ambitious students. (Sometimes for free in the case of tv.adobe.com) Movies can also be studied on DVDs and there are filmmaker commentaries for additional insights. There are plenty of instructional books and magazines on screenwriting and other areas of production.  The quality of even consumer cameras has improved greatly. There are free versions of screenwriting software kicking around and even the top of the line programs only cost around $200. And there are places on the Internet where you can pitch your ideas and scripts and try to connect with producers.

Years ago when I made my video projects they were watched by a class and then eventually lost or the master tapes recycled for another class. Today a young person can make a video that can be watched by hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions of people via You Tube or other places on the Internet. (Speaking of You Tube, I just discovered  some Rod Serling interviews of him talking about writing.)

It  is crazy and stunning what a teenager can learn today before they even graduate from high school. (And most of it probably outside the classroom.) Stuff that even graduate students just a few years ago were not exposed to. 

And all of this is not limited to high school students. Not long ago I had an eighth grader show me a documentary he did on Buddy Holly. Nikki Reed was 13 when she co-wrote the movie Thirteen. The Hollywood Reporter recently announced that 9-year-old Alec Greven’s book How to Talk to Girls was recently picked up by Fox to become a movie.

Of course, those are the exceptions. And as it’s been said, while it only takes a few hours to learn how to play chess it takes many years to learn to play the game well. Alfred Hitchcock said it only takes about two days to learn what you need to know about the technical aspects of making films, but making good films is obviously a different story.

I told the students yesterday about one of my favorite quotes, “We tend to overestimate what we can do in one year, and underestimate what we can do in ten” (Richard Foster). And that while I had traveled to all 50 of the United States and over 15 countries that, in fact, when I graduated from high school I had only been to a total of 3 states in my life. (Only if you included the Atlanta, Georgia airport.) With that said I told them to dream big, but take little steps in working toward their goal. To borrow from a phrase from Anne Lamott, the way I traveled to all 50 states was state by state over several decades. And the way you build a career in production is  script by script, film by film, short story by short story, photograph by photograph, video by video, and/or blog by blog.

So if you’re in high school (or even middle school) student know that there is no better time to be learning these skills. So keep writing scripts and making films and getting better at what you do. Use all that  youthful energy to work those long hours needed to hone your skills. I do believe that today you are better position than any group that has gone before you to have a career in production.

And for the teachers out there my challenge to you is to take you most talented and focused students and make a feature film over the school year. You have a huge set full of props (the school), you have actors (students, teachers, parents, school workers), you have the time of the school year, all you need is a script. Maybe one semester students write the script and the second semester have some students shoot the script and some edit it and then have a big screening the last week of school. It doesn’t have to be that good, the learning comes in the doing.

I would like to thank the teachers, administration, tech crew and students for giving me  the opportunity to speak yesterday and I hope some of it sticks.

*LAKE HOWELL TRIVA…After speaking I was given a tour of the school and saw for the first time my name listed on a wall as some kind of special mention for playing wide receiver back in the day. Actor Scott Porter who plays injured quarterback Jason Street in the tv program Friday Night Lights also played wide receiver at Lake Howell. And I graduated with Claude McKnight who is the Grammy winning founder of the group Take 6. Go Silver Hawks!

 

copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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“I wrote screenplays as a way to get into production. I wrote six or seven before I sold one.”
Lawrence Kasden
screenwriter, Raiders of the Lost Ark

There is an age-old question; Can writing be taught?

Don’t be silly, of course it can.

When it comes to most things in life we expect that we must be taught how to do them properly. We are taught how to ride a bike, swim, our A-B-C’s, to a drive a car, how to be a doctor or a mechanic. Talent and drive will play a part in how well we do something, but Tiger Woods’ dad taught him how to hit a golf ball and Archie Manning taught his boys (Peyton & Eli, Super Bowl MVPs) how to throw a football.

For some reason when it comes to the arts many yield to the old saying that that is a talent we are simply born with. I took the photo of the little red school house yesterday just for this blog. (I took the barn photo at the top as well while driving to a short film I was working on this summer.) I was taught in high school and college about lighting, composition, exposures, etc. I took bad pictures and teachers told me what I did wrong. I read books and studied great photographers. I learned how to be a photographer. (It probably didn’t hurt that my mom was an art teacher.) While I don’t claim to be the next Ansel Adams, that skill has paid a few bills.

Here’s what the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop states on their website:

“Though we agree in part with the popular insistence that writing cannot be taught, we exist and proceed on the assumption that talent can be developed. If one can ‘learn’ to play the violin or to paint, one can ‘learn’ to write, though no processes of externally induced training can ensure that one will do it well.”

Okay, so maybe they had a lawyer look over that document so it essentially says writing can’t be taught but it is something you can learn. Fine. I’m in their camp on this matter. If they don’t want to use the T word that’s their prerogative. With their track record they can call whatever goes on there whatever they want. (But I do think we’re dealing with a degree of semantics between educating, training, honing skills, inspiring, developing, encouraging and teaching.)

Often when people talk about being self-taught they mean they weren’t taught in the formal sense of going to school and taking classes. But make no mistake, they were taught. One can learn in a variety of ways outside a classroom, but having a mentor is the best way to learn a trade. That is the way the Renaissance painters learned. It was a tradition passed down for generations in various trades be it a shoe smith, a glass blower, or a carpenter. In the United States that model has been eclipsed a good deal by academia.

How would someone go about teaching themselves how to write if they lived, say, in the middle-of-nowhere? Here’s what screenwriter Joe Eszterhas wrote, “Inhale a writer you admire. Knowing nothing about writing a play, Paddy Chayefsky (Network) taught himself playwriting by sitting down at the typewriter and copying Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour word for word. He said, ‘I studied every line of it and kept asking myself, Why did she write this particular line.’” That’s a passion for learning.

Now probably the majority of writers these days do come from a college educated background. But it’s not a requirement. Neil Simon said the closest he got to college was walking by NYU. At one time Simon had three plays running on Broadway and has had a string of hit films. Where did he learn how to write? He credits his older brother Danny.

Academy Award winning writer of Pulp Fiction Quentin Tarantino said, “When people ask me if I went to film school I tell them, no, I went to films.” That was his education. He also studied acting and a filmmaking workshop or two.

Some writers come from law school (John Grisham) and some from medical school (Michael Crichton. Who, by the way, wrote Twister shot here in Iowa–can’t pass those opportunities.) Writers come from everywhere.

And writers keep writing. One thing I will keep shouting on this blog is that screenwriters that get produced are relentless. I just read an interview with Geoff Rodkey, who said after his screenplay Daddy Day Care was released, “I’ve written something like eighteen screenplays, and this is the only one that’s ever been made.” Sure the reviews were less than glowing, but my hat goes off to anyone who can pull in $100 million in the box office.

And what do writers do before that breakthrough? They keep writing.

“I felt the years go by without accomplishment. Occasionally I wrote a short story that no one bought. I called myself a writer though I had no true subject matter. Yet from time to time I sat at a table and wrote, although it took years for my work to impress me.”
Bernard Malamud (The Natural and Pulitzer Prize winner The Fixer)

“Learning to write is not a linear process. There is no logical A-B-C way to become a good writer,” says Natalie Goldberg.

There may not be a logical way to being a good writer, but having a good mentor or teacher is probably the most common factor found in successful writers. You’re fortunate if you can find one in your life. This is not to be confused with a screenwriting guru who passes though town over the weekend. They can be helpful as I’ve pointed out before, but are best seen as a quick motivational jolt.  A mentor or teacher guides you through the ups and downs of your learning process. They invest in you as a writer and as a person. They nurture your writing.

Lew Hunter who helped found the masters in screenwriting program at UCLA used to open his home in Burbank to writers. Since retiring he now runs Lew Hunter’s Superior Summer Screenwriting Colony in Nebraska. He used to teach fellow Nebraskan Alexander Payne (Sideways).

“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.”
John Steinbeck

Though none of my feature screenplays have been produced I have had the opportunity to hear actors say words I have written for short films, radio dramas, one-act plays and video productions. I’ve had over a 100 newspaper and magazine articles published. And I have carved out a 20-year career working in media production. And it all began with one teacher at Lake Howell High School who took an interest in developing in me a skill in writing that I didn’t really know I had. (Honestly, I signed up for her creative writing class because it looked like an easy elective.)

“A teacher who can arouse a feeling for one single good action, for one single good poem, accomplishes more than he who fills our memory with rows and rows of natural objects, classified with name and form.”
Goethe

So this Monday Night when ABC airs a new version of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” (starring Sean Combs) I will be watching and thinking of Dr. Annye Refoe who showed the Sidney Poitier film version to our creative writing class. For it was there I began to see and appreciate powerful writing.

Somewhere in Hansberry’s education growing up in Chicago and later at the University of Wisconsin-Madison she learned how to write. And she took some negative experiences that had happened in her life and turned them into something that we’re still watching today. If you’re a writer, I hope your work finds that kind of light. And if you’re a teacher, may you help your students write one single good poem, or perhaps a single good screenplay.

Copyright ©2008 Scott W. Smith

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If yesterday’s Super Bowl football game were a movie, the critics would have walked out because of all the sports clichés. An underdog team that started the season with two losses goes up against the undefeated powerhouse team in the championship game and in the last-minute scores the winning touchdown. They become the first NFC Wildcard team to win the Super Bowl.

Before we fade to black, the winning quarterback wins the Super Bowl MVP, the same award his older brother last year.  Their father who was an NFL quarterback but never had a winning season is redeemed by having two Super Bowl MVP sons.

An announcer called the New York Giants victory over the New England Patriots,  “One of the greatest upsets in Super Bowl History.”

The receiver who caught the winning touchdown cried on camera and the soft-spoken quarterback said, “You can’t write a better script.”

What can screenwriters can learn from Super Bowl XLII?

DRAMA: Drama is defined as exciting, tense, and gripping events and actions. This game had plenty of drama—plenty of conflict. You had no idea what was going to happen next.

A GREAT OPENING: First the New York Giants took a 3-0 lead and the New England Patriots came back and took the lead 7-3.  The scoring then cooled down until the fourth quarter.

TWISTS & TURNS: There were fumbles and interceptions that changed the ebb and flow of the game. The lead changed hands several times.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?: This wasn’t just another football game. The Patriots were vying to make history by becoming only the second team in NFL history to go undefeated, and having a better record than the 1972 Miami Dolphins they would have laid claim to being the greatest football team in history. As it turned out they weren’t even the best team of the night.

SUBPLOTS: For the Super Bowl I would say that the subplots were all the commercials in between the game. Little dramas that offer a change of pace and something that some people look forward to more than the game.

STRONG VISUALS: Not only were there great plays on the field, but there were static visuals in the stands like the sign held up that simply read 18-1. That one shot was the game in a nutshell. Under a game ending photo of dejected New England coach Bill Belichick that caption could read, “The mighty have fallen.”

BACKSTORY: There are too many to list here, but here are some:

-Before Eli Manning became the Super Bowl MVP he endured much criticism about his soft-spoken leadership.

-Winning coach Tom Laughlin’s job was on the line last year after finishing 8-8.

-Kawika Mitchell became a free agent last year and some thought he’d sign a multi-year contract for up to $25 million. The phone was quiet for 27 days and he signed a relatively low one year deal with the Giants to prove himself. In New York he had to change positions to play. He started the Super Bowl game and had three tackles including one sack. (As a fun sidebar, the month and year Mitchell was born I was a high school football player at Lake Howell High School in Winter Park, Florida where he would become an All-Florida football player. I wore #42 because my hero was Paul Warfield of the undefeated Dolphins team. )

-Wes Welker was so short in high school he was passed up by most colleges for a scholarship, later cut by the San Diego Chargers, under used at Miami but there he was,  a 5’9″ receiver playing in the land of giants and in the biggest game in pro football. (His eleven receptions in the game tied a Super Bowl record.)

-Doug Williams handed off the winning trophy to the New York Giant owners after the game in honor of his winning the Super Bowl MVP 20 years ago. Williams endured many hard years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before taking the Washington Redskins to the Super Bowl. He was also the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl. (Fun side bar 2, when I was a 19-year-old sports reporter/photographer for the Sanford Evening Herald in Florida I interviewed Williams before a charity basketball game. I still remember his quote when I asked him how he dealt with fans booing him. “It’s not always important how the fans be when they be there, it’s that they be there.”)

FORESHADOWING: Overconfident New England quarterback Tom Brady laughed when told of a predictions that his team would lose 23-17. He said, “We’re only going to score 17?” Little did Brady know that he would be limited to one touchdown pass or that he would be sacked five times…and only score 13 points.

REDEMPTION: From the underrated NY Giants team to the individual stories there was much redemption which is at the core of many a successful movie. Redemption is one of those primal needs that screenwriter Blake Snyder is always talking about. Something every audience understands. It’s what makes us keep going back to sports movies again and again even though we often know the ending, because deep down we are looking for various kinds of redemption in our own lives. It gives us hope. And “Hope is a dangerous thing,” said Morgan Freeman’s character in “The Shawshank Redemption.”

STRUCTURE: There is a traditional beginning-middle-end to all football games just because playing time is limited. The rules of the game as well as the width and  length of the field also offer structure. Creativity comes when you embrace the limitations. Most feature scripts fall between 90-120 pages so why fight that?

THEME: This one is as basic as they get; sometimes little underrated guys win as hard work and perseverance pay off in the end. (Hoosiers, Breaking Away, The Natural, Seabiscuit, Remember the Titans, andmost recently the baseball film shot in Iowa The Final Season.) Even the Budweiser commercial featured during the Super Bowl reflected this common sports movie theme. After one of the horses doesn’t make the team he trains hard for a year with a dalmatian and makes the cut the next year.

A GREAT ENDING: Throughout the day today people will be talking about Manning’s last touchdown drive. About David Tyree’s spectacular helmet catch that helped set up the winning touchdown.  About Plaxico Burress’ game winning catch with 35 seconds left in the game. Great ending are satisfying.  And this one was for the Giants and their fans. And those that root for the underdog.

That would include the teammates of the 1972 Miami Dolphin team who probably stayed up later than the Giant players as they popped another bottle of champagne (or two) as they have been doing over the last 35 years, celebrating their place in history one more year as the only Super Bowl team to finish the year undefeated.

© Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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