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Posts Tagged ‘Sports Illustrated’

After LeBron James announced in a letter to Sports Illustrated he was returning to play basketball in Cleveland, comedian Frank Caliendo read the letter on ESPN’s Mike and Mike show in the voice of Morgan Freeman. I decided it would make a nice mash-up to combine all of those with a few scenes from The Shawshank Redemption and create the parody The LeBron James Redemption.

P.S. My ties to Northeast Ohio include my  grandfather spending 30 years working for the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company.

Scott W. Smith

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“Every picture tells a story don’t it”
Lyrics by Rod Stewart and Ron Wood Tony C

My post yesterday stirred up an image in my mind of what I consider the most memorable Sports Illustrated cover ever. It’s of Tony Conigilaro photographed by the great Neil Leifer.  The photo screams drama and begs you to know what happened. Even more than 40 years after the cover first ran—and even if you’ve never heard the name Tony Conigilaro before—you want to know what happened to his eye.

Conigilaro—often simply referred to as Tony C— was an up and coming outfielder for the Boston Red Sox and hit his first home run at Fenway Park when he was just 19-years-old.  A few years later he was selected to play in the 1967 All Star Game. Later that season he was hit in the face by a pitch thrown by Jack Hamilton. It shattered his left cheekbone and damaged the retina in his left eye and not only ended his season, but essentially his career as various comebacks failed and he retired from baseball in 1971.

He later worked as a radio announcer but in 1982 suffered a heart attack, then followed by a stroke and stayed comatose for eight years until he died in 1990 at age 45. I can’t say that I learned everything about life from sports, but I sure learned at a young age that no one gets to live at the top of the mountain. Some athletes have good games, good seasons, and even great careers—but there are also of plenty of heartbreak stories along the way.

To learn more of Tony C’s story read the Sports Illustrated article Return From The Dark, Shaun L. Kelly’s article Tony Conigliaro Forty Years Later; A Remembrance, or the book Tony C, The Triumph and Tragedy of Tony Conigilaro by David Cataneo.

Each year the Tony Conigliaro Award goes to the Major League Baseball player “who have overcome adversity through spirit, determination and courage.”

P.S. It’s spring training time here in Florida and I’ve been working on a personal project—a micro documentary on Tinker Field in Orlando. The historical park where the Minnesota Twins used to train is schedule for demolition. If any readers have marketing connections to MLB, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, the Minnesota Twins, or Brand 47 (in Boston) please email me at info@scottwsmith.com. I’d like see if this micro doc can move beyond a personal project and hit an emotional cord with a larger audience.

Related post:

Screenwriting, Baseball and Underdogs
Postcard #54 (St. Louis Stan)
Moneyball & Coach Ferrell
Screenwriting from Massachusetts

Scott W. Smith

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“Listen to the advice of people you trust.”
Scott Kelby

“Be a student so long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life.”
Clay P. Bedford

Yesterday SmugMug Films released the above video on photographer, author and educator Scott Kelby. Kelby started giving Photoshop workshops more than twenty years ago and that passion has morphed into KelbyOne today—their tagline is “online education for creative people.”

So if you’re a creative person I wanted to put them on your radar if they’re not already there. I’ve been a fan of Kelby’s books, seminars, and online training for years.  KelbyOne is photography and Photoshop centered with a deep well of instructors that cross-over into various aspects of storytelling, creativity, business, social media, and life.

KelbyOne has a more than 70 instructors and some of my personal favorite online classes they have are taught by Jay Maisel, Jeremy Cowart, Zack Arias  and Joe McNally. Even if you consider yourself purely a writer, if you invest just $25 for a single month and watch as many online classes as you can it will help you take better pictures of your family and friends. And even if you don’t want to spend any money you can find free Kelby videos online via The Grid with Scott Kelby and Matt Kloskowski. They record and broadcast live ever Wednesday at 4pm EST. And you can also find free videos at Kelby’s You Tube channel.

“Photography’s gotten super cool—everybody wants to do it and thanks to technology everyone can. It’s a whole new world.”
Peter Reed Miller
Sports Illustrated photographer interview with Mia McCormick on KelbyOne

As a side note—speaking of Sports Illustrated— just a few days ago I listened to a 2011 PhotoShelter interview of Steve Fine, former Sports Illustrated Director of Photography, and though I’d been reading Sports Illustrated since I was ten I’d never heard the SI secret photo formula until last week.  Fine said what he looked for in a photograph was:
1) Magical moments
2) Sense of place
3) Tears 
4) Cheers

(Sounds like a trailer mix of Oscar-winning movies, right? Emotional, right? Check out the post 40 Days of Emotions.)

And if you can get magical moments, a sense of place and tears & cheers in one shot then you really have a great photo. (The same could probably be said for screenplays and movies, too.)

Another part of the SI formula is  shooting with either a 600mm or a 28mm lens (and going where most people can’t) and sifting through 250,000 photos that haven’t seen before for each magazine. (No, that’s not a typo—250,000 photos for each issue.)

But not everybody is going to be a Sport Illustrated photographer and Scott Kelby understands that. I remember when I was starting out in photography and film it was very hard for working professions to pass on trade secrets. It’s always been a competitive field and has only gotten tougher for various reasons. But Kelby and others openly pass on those trade secrets which is great—except it makes a competitive field more competitive. But that helps create greater work.  There are classic photos that 20 years ago were cover shots for Sports Illustrated that wouldn’t even be selected to be published in the magazine today.

Kelby knows his audience isn’t just professional photographers, but soccer moms, engineers, and the like who just love photography. (And who are often quite serious and talented.) He acknowledges that photo hobbyist and those who make some of their income doing photography are his largest of his audience.

“This idea of Metallica or some rock n’ roll singer being rich, that’s not necessarily going to happen anymore. Because, as we enter into a new age, maybe art will be free.”
Five-time Oscar-winning producer/director/writer Francis Ford Coppola

Last year I met a businessman who had a 600mm Nikon lens and loved to shoot surfing photos in Satellite Beach. We’re talking a lens that’s just under $10,000 to buy! And he bought the lens and was shooting just for the joy of it —and he gives the photos away for free. He didn’t seem interested in becoming a professional photographer—and would probably have to take a pay cut to become one. (BTW—According to Merriam-webster the word amateur is a French word that comes from “the Latin amator lover, from amare to love.”)

This isn’t to say you need expensive equipment to become a photographer. (I have lots of photographer and cameraman friends and not a single one personally owns a 600mm lens.) Kelby says many photographers are like amateur golfers thinking that buying the latest golf club will make them a better golfer.

“Don’t worry so much about the gear…there’s not a button on the camera that you press to get better photos.”
Scott Kelby

One of the things I appreciate about Kelby’s teaching is he isn’t saying take this class and get rich and famous.  He understands that more often than not it’s the business and marketing side that separates photographers, so he teaches that along with all the fun and creative aspects of photography. So wherever you are on your creative journey check out KelbyOne and see if it gives you a creative (or business) jolt.

Here’s episode #57 of The Grid where Kelby talks with the photographer Joe McNally:

P.S. All this talk about sports photography reminds me of one of my all time favorite photos. I took it when I was 19 and only owned a camera for just over a year. But I knew sports and was a staff photographer for the Sanford Herald and on this occasion photographed a well executed suicide squeeze play at a high school baseball game. What I love about the shot is I took it using film, with a manual focus fixed lens, and without an auto-winder. Yet despite some technical limitations and lack of experience I believe I captured what photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson called “the decisive moment.”

photo-30

Related posts:

Photography is Your Friend
Ansel Adams, Zack Arias & Unicorns
Joe McNally/David Hobby
The Rise of Storytellers with Cameras (Features a video Zack Arias did for Kelby.)
Cinematography and Emotions
Mike Rich & Hobby Screenwriting
“Who said art had to cost money?”—Coppola

Scott W. Smith

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“Let it roll off the tongue: Ali Farokhmanesh. Get used to it: Fuh-ROAK-muh-NESH.”
Brett McMurphy
NCAA Fanhouse

“When you’re a small program like this, you want to get your name out there.”
Ali Farokhmanesh


The name Ali Farokhmanesh is not a common name in Iowa. Probably not common in entire the United States. But it is a popular one here now and across the country. This week’s  Sports Illustrated has a picture of Ali on the cover and I thought I’d explore how Ali made a name for himself and found national fame. (Screenwriters and non-sports fans stick with me a minute.)

When his parents moved to Iowa when Ali was a teenager he took up the game of basketball because of its popularity here. His parents helped train him with techniques such as having Ali shoot over them holding a broom with a yardstick to simulate playing against taller players. At Iowa City West High School he was a two-time all-conference player, conference MVP, and first team All-State.

Are you starting to get the picture? That darn Iowa work ethic at play again.

But all those accolades did not result in a Division I scholarship that he had hoped for because Ali was not tall enough to be considered a major prospect. Nor did he receive a Division II scholarship. He ended up playing basketball in Ottumwa, Iowa at Indian Hills Community College his first year and Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids his second year. He played well enough to earn a scholarship to the University of Northern Iowa where he started his Junior year. This season as a senior he lead the team in three-point shots with 75, including six in one game.

Of course, his biggest three pointers were last week when one beat UNLV at the NCAA basketball tournament and the one that broke the back of the number one ranked Kansas Bluejays. Ali said after the Kansas game, “That’s what you dream for is to make a shot like that.” But along with his dreaming he also normally practices shooting between  600-700 jumps shots a day—and he’s been doing that since his junior high days. (Remember the 10,000 hour rule?)

That’s how he ended up on the cover of Sports Illustrated. That’s how he made a name for himself (albeit a hard one to pronounce).

“I just remember coming out of high school and not knowing if I was even going to play anymore. To go from that to, we’re in the Sweet Sixteen, we just beat the No. 1 team in the country. I mean, if someone would have told me that back then I would have laughed at them probably. But I think it shows that hard work really does pay off.”
Ali Farokhmanesh

I don’t know if Ali is interested in screenwriting (he’s a marketing major) but he’s got a heck of a story, and I think he just became the current poster child for Screenwriting from Iowa. That person who is talented but underrated and overlooked, and ends up in a community college in Ottumwa, Iowa dreaming of hitting a game winning shot in the spotlight. The person who works on his game far from the spotlight, but who with one shot makes a name for himself. And who ends up on the first page of Google search for “Ali,” replacing a slot usually reserved for one of the most well-known names in sports history, Muhammad Ali.

The funny thing is if he would have gotten a scholarship out of high school to his dream school (the University of Iowa) the odds are pretty good that he wouldn’t have hit the game-winning shot against Kansas that will be talked about for years, he wouldn’t be on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and he wouldn’t be playing tonight as the Northern Iowa tonight in the Sweet Sixteen game for the first time in the school’s history.

(Below are a couple photos I took Wednesday as Ali and the team boarded the bus here in Cedar Falls before they headed to St. Louis for their next game agaist Michigan St.)

Go Panthers!

And just to bring this home to screenwriting;  embrace your limitations, your odd location, hold on to your dreams, and practice the equivalent of 600-700 jump shots everyday.

P.S. And for the record Ali Farokhmanesh’s favorite film is Gladiator. “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”

Related post: David & Goliath (and Screenwriting)

Scott W. Smith

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“Great moments are born from great opportunities.”
Herb Brooks
1980 Team USA Hockey Coach

Today is the 30th anniversary of the “Miracle on Ice.” I remember the day well. And as big as yesterday’s Team USA’s victory was over Canada, it was a blip on the radar compared to the 1980 victory over the USSR.

Even if you weren’t born yet you are probably familiar with the event that happened on February 22, 1980 when the US hockey team defeated the USSR. What made the victory so remarkable was we hadn’t defeated the USSR in 20 years. And for all of that time this country was in a Cold War and it was clear that the USSR was our enemy. High drama.

At that time there were two super powers in the world who both had loads of nuclear arms. Threat of a nuclear war was always at hand. This provided a lot of tension and some great material for Tom Clancey’s novels and quite a few Hollywood films. And, of course, it set the stage for the events that would unfold in the famous game.

I was a high school senior in Florida at the time and had never even seen snow much less been to a hockey game. But 30 year ago the Winter Olympics were special in a different way. It was a world before cable TV and the Internet. So when the Winter Olympics were on one of three available stations every four years—it  was a big deal. (And in a time before glossy, sentimental TV vignette stories, it was us against them. USA verses whoever, as opposed to pulling for the athlete with the most compelling life story.) I didn’t actually watch the game, but I remember being at work and hearing the news and the celebrations that followed.

What also made the USA hockey team’s victory over the USSR so sweet was the USSR did not have pro hockey so the best players in their country of any age and experience were playing against college age guys from the USA. It was a mismatch. The USSR had won Gold in Hockey in all but one Olympic games since 1956. In an exhibition game against Russia just a few weeks before the Olympic games Team USA lost 10-3.

According to Wikipedia, the USA Olympic coach that year was Herb Brooks who was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and in high school played on the team that won the state hockey championship. He went on to play at University of Minnesota, despite being cut by the 1960 Olympic team he played on the ’64 & ’68 Olympic squads. He then turned to coaching at the University of Minnesota where he won the NCAA championship in 1974, 1976, and 1979.

That set the stage for the “miracle.” The victory (which wasn’t even for the Gold medal that they would go on to win) was called by Sports Illustrated as the “Greatest Sports Moment of the Century.”

Brooks used a good deal of players who played for him at the University of Minnesota (9 of the 20). Keeping with the theme of this blog, I’m sure more than one was from little towns you’ve never heard of.  For instance, Neal Broten was born in Roseau, Minnesota. (Broten, by the way, who happens to be in the foreground of the SI cover is the only hockey player to play on teams that won the NCAA hockey championship, the Olympic Gold medal, and the Stanley Cup. Not bad for a guy who came from a town with a population of under 3,000 and who stands 5’7.”)

Four of the players were also from Boston University including the US captain Mike Eruzione. Eruzione would be the player who scored the game winning goal in the famous game.

A couple years ago I received a call to video tape Eruzione who was speaking in Iowa to a youth hockey organization. Just before the shoot I remembered one of the few Sports Illustrated covers I kept over the years was the March 3, 1980 issue with the famous cover shot by photographer Heinze Kluetmeier of the victory celebration. I took the magazine with me to the shoot and Eruzione was gracious enough to sign it.

I remember that victory well. It was good day.  Good enough to result in a 1981 TV movie, a documentary that aired on HBO, as well as the 2004 Disney film Miracle starring Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks.

Miracle was written by Eric Guggenheim. Here is part of a Q&A that Debra Eckerling had with Guggenheim for Storylink.

Q. (Eckerling) Why did you write Miracle?
A. (Guggenheim):I’m drawn to stories about redemption and second chances. For me Miracle was always less about hockey and more about those themes.

Of course I also responded to the fact that this was the ultimate David versus Goliath story. But the biggest draw was the coach, Herb Brooks. In Brooks you had the makings of a terrific character. He wasn’t very likeable, but what’s interesting is that he made a conscious choice to be that way in order to bond his team together. And even if that wasn’t apparent, his backstory made him incredibly sympathetic. Also, the notion that a hockey team could lift the spirits of an entire nation was very intriguing to me.

Scott W. Smith


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In the spirit of the Olympics, how do you think the state of Iowa would match-up against Hawaii? You may be surprised at the results. (Stick with me and I’ll tie it in with screenwriting.)

In a recent article I read on Yahoo! News written by Jeanna Bryner she reported on the happiest places to live in 2009. All 50 United States were graded on a well-being score.

Bryner writes, “The well-being score for each state is an average of six sub-categories, including: life evaluation (self-evaluation about your present life situation and anticipated one in five years); emotional health; work environment (such as job satisfaction); physical health; healthy behavior; basic access (access to healthcare, a doctor, a safe place to exercise and walk, as well as community satisfaction).

Who came out on top? Hawaii…but Iowa was close behind at #5. And if you add its neighbor just to the north, Minnesota which came in #4,  then Iowa/Minnesota make the best one/two connected states in the U.S. on the old happy meter. (Granted Hawaii is at a disadvantage there.) Actually four of the top ten states are in the Midwest with Kansas and North Dakota being the other states. Who knew?

So Hawaii edges out Iowa as far well-being. But lets put Cedar Falls, Iowa up against Maui. Well, I’m sure there are many ways to judge such a thing but only one of those places was chosen earlier this month as a “distinctive destination of 2010.” Yep, Cedar Falls. (See the article Cedar Falls receives rare honor from National Trust.)

I think we’re officially on the map. Last month Sports Illustrated did a feature on the local college basketball team (UNI) and last summer Good Morning America taped a segment  downtown.  Remember this is the town that Julia Roberts escapes to in the movie Sleeping with the Enemy. That novel was written in Cedar Falls by Nancy Price as was The Bridges of Madison Country when Robert Waller  lived in Cedar Falls. And the current issue of Rolling Stone magazine features an illustration of Sade that was created by local artist Gary Kelley. (And don’t forget the first screenwriting blog to win an Emmy was created in–of all places–Cedar Falls, Iowa.)

If you’re a screenwriter/filmmaker outside L.A. you probably have a chip on your shoulder. And it’s good to be reminded of people and places in your area of the world that have found some measure of local, regional, national or international success. Remember that “hope is a dangerous thing.” Isn’t it inspirational when you watch Olympic athletes who come from small middle of nowhere towns and villages around the world and stand on the world stage?

Focus on the prize. (And do the work when no one is watching.)

And if you’re ever in these parts stop by for a visit. (The above photo is for a client of mine The Black Hawk Hotel.) Here’s what the National Trust for Historic Preservation writes about Cedar Falls:

Situated in a picturesque bend in the Cedar River, Cedar Falls, Iowa offers an impressive mix of shopping, dining, entertainment and cultural activities, from eclectic shopping experiences along its historic Main Street to the many recreational opportunities in the surrounding forests, lakes and prairie preserves. Cedar Falls’ Main Street is a national model, a winner of the Great American Main Street Award that hums with activity nearly round the clock. In addition to its retail offerings, the historic downtown has been certified by the state of Iowa as an “Arts and Cultural District.”

P.S. If you’re looking to move to a happy place and you’re torn between Hawaii and Iowa (common problem)… you may want to compare housing prices.

Text & photo Copyright 2010 Scott W. Smith

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“The story of Kurt Warner, who announced his retirement after a 12-year NFL career on Jan. 29, always starts with the chapter in that grocery store in Iowa.”
Sean Gregory
Time Magazine

This week’s Sports Illustrated (January 25, 2010) contains an article titled, Iowa’s Got a Secret. SI writer Albert Chen says of the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) basketball team that it, “remains the best kept secret in college basketball.” (The men’s NCAA basketball team is 17-2 and currently ranked #25 in ESPN/USA Today poll right after the much larger & established programs such as Ohio St., Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech.)

UNI happens to also be where quarterback Kurt Warner played college football before going on to have a career worthy of landing him in the NFL Hall of Fame when eligible. Warner retired yesterday from the NFL after a 12 year career which included playing in three Super Bowls (winning the MVP in one of them) as well as being the most accurate quarterback in NFL history.

I’ve written about Warner before and I really think his story symbolizes everything that I’ve been writting about for the past two years. That you can come from a small place and really accomplish some good things—sometimes even great things at the highest level. But, as with Warner’s case, persistance is equally as important as talent.

After Warner’s high school career in Cedar Rapids, Iowa he was disappointed to not win a scholarship to a Division 1 school. Then he changed his perspective by accepting a scholarship  to Division I-AA UNI back in the 90s.. He would play only an hour away from home so friends and family could see him play, and being a smaller school he figured he could maybe start playing as a freshman. He figured wrong and ended up not winning the starting QB position until his senior year. He got hurt in his second game that year but stuck it out and ended up earning the Gateway Conference player of the year.

He figured he played well enough to be drafted into the NFL. He figured wrong once again, but was given a chance as a free agent to make the Green Bay Packers. But they had a young quarterback named Bert Favre so thing didn’t work out too well in Green Bay. The story is well-known in sports circles and will make a fine movie some day. He worked at Hy-Vee Grocery Store for a little over five dollars and hour, worked as an assistant football coach at UNI, became a QB in Des Moines in the arena football league, moved up to playing pro ball in Europe, before becoming the ringleader in “The Greatest Show on Turf” as quarterback for the St. Louis Rams earning the NFL MVP award twice (1999, 2001). He not only holds the record for top passing yards in a Super Bowl game—he hold the #2 and #3 spots as well.

Not bad for a kid from Cedar Rapids who didn’t even earn a Division 1 scholarship and sat the bench for his first three years of college here in Cedar Falls. Time and time when asked what’s kept him going through the dark times, his answer always involves faith. Faith in his talent, and faith in God.

You don’t have to be a football fan (or even a sports fan)  to appreciate the Kurt Warner story. And it’s a nice bonus that his work on the field is matched by his charity work off the field. Kurt Warner is simply one of the good guys.

“Since those days chucking candy in the grocery store in Cedar Falls, Kurt Warner has been an inspiration.”
Sean Gregory
Time magazine

Kurt Warner is retiring, but don’t expect him to disappear. You’ll see more of him, just not in a football uniform. He’ll probably be leading the way in something like building homes in Haiti for Habitat for Humanity, just like he did last year after the floods destroyed over 5,000 homes in his hometown of Cedar Rapids.

Scott W. Smith

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“From Iowa to Pennsylvania, the presidential campaign has provided its share of made-for-Hollywood moments.”
                                                                                  All Things Considered
                                                                                  April 18, 2008


“It’s not until Iowa when people say this is how the American people are feeling. … So it ends up shaping how people view the race in subsequent states.”
                                                                                  Barack Obama
                                                                                  USA Today
                                                                                  July 17,2007 

obama300

Did you catch the Texas–Texas Tech game last Saturday? That was high drama. And everything I love about college football. A close game down to the last second.

Did you happen to follow the 2008 presidential election results last night? Not quite as close a game. But there was still plenty of drama in the last year and a half race to the White House including a full lineup of sideshows acts; Joe the plumber, The Obama girl (not to be confused with the John Edward’s girl), Super Tuesday, Sarah “Barracuda” Palin’s troopergate, Biden’s blunders, Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s preaching, Huckabee’s humor, Hillary Clinton and her 18 million cracks in the ceiling, and even Oprah coming to Iowa.

Congratulations to President elect Barack Obama. I was able to see 13 presidential candidates as they came through Iowa and I really never thought Obama would get past Hillary. But there he was last night showing that Dylan, Springsteen, Louis Farrakhan, Pamala Anderson, Colin Powell, Jimmy Buffett and Warren Buffett were all on the eclectic winning team.

Obama overcame his lack of experience with his message of change along with the storytelling abilities of Ronald Reagan and the inspirational chants (“Fired Up–Ready to Go!”) of a motivational speaker. So 40 years after Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed we have an moment in history that represents symbolic healing. 

Congratulations to John McCain and his team for their hard fought battle. He’s served his country well and had over 55 million people pulling for him. And like many politicians who face defeat, the chances are good that Palin will do her homework and be back stronger with many lessons learned and popularity gained. (Though she’d have more fun and make more money doing the speaker/author circuit and having her own TV talk show.)

It really has been amazing to be a part of democracy in action at such an in-depth level. Who knew Iowa would play such an important role in history?

 

Never did I think when I moved to Iowa from Central Florida five years ago that I’d be close to such a dynamic election. So close in fact that I was within a couple feet of the future president of the United States of America several times in 2007 taking photos and shooting video on assignment.    

I took the photos on this blog at gatherings in Iowa a wee bit smaller than the huge crowd that showed up in Chicago last night to hear Obama’s acceptance speech. (I haven’t seen a celebration like last night’s since…well, Saturday when the Texas Tech students and fans stormed the field after upsetting the number one team in the country.)

Watching the gazed faces on TV at Grant Park kinda looked like that old footage you see of when The Beatles played at Shea Stadium. But America didn’t elected a rock star.  No, from the looks on the faces he’s bigger than that. More like a mix of Bono/JFK/MLK/Michael Jordon/Muhammad Ali/Billy Graham/Tiger Woods and Oprah –all in their prime.

Why is this man smiling?

Iowa State Fair August 2007

Last night I couldn’t help but think back to my creative writing teacher in high school where I wrote my first scripts and directed my first videos. Dr. Annye Refoe, who happens to be African-American, took this sports and girl obsessed teenager and added color to his world beyond the athletic endeavors of Paul Warfield and Joe Morgan. All these years later, she was one of the first people I contacted when I won the Emmy last week.

I also thought back to when I was a 19-year-old journalist and photographer and I interviewed then Tampa Bay Buccaneer quarterback Doug Williams for the Sanford Evening Herald. Williams went on to become the first African-American to be a winning Super Bowl quarterback (while playing for the Washington Redskins).

Obama was born a month after I was and the arc of racial change that has occurred since then is stunning. But we have a long way to go to realize Martin Luther King’s dream that one day the color of our skin won’t matter.  This election gets us over one hump but I am reminded of the saying that every problem has a solution and every solution has a problem.  We have not reached the finish line.

Anyway — speaking of Washington D.C. –this is a blog about screenwriting so let’s look at the inspiration and movies that has come out of that rather small area of land. The political scene and the drama surrounding it is a natural fit for Hollywood. The quintessential Washington film is Frank Capria’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington starring Jimmy Stewart. The film earned an Oscar nomination for screenwriter Sidney Buchman who happened to be born in Duluth, Minnesota.

Between 1941-42 he served as the president of the Writers Guild of America, but was later backlisted for his refusal to name names of those in the American Communist Party to the House Committee on Un-American Activities.  

Washington D.C. is also home to Georgetown University that has educated some fine talent:
Jonathan Nolan (Memento and co-writer The Dark Knight.) 
Carl Reiner (Writer/director/actor and seven time primetime Emmy winner)
Michael J. Winship (current president, Writers Guild of America East)
William Peter Blatty (writer of The Exorcist)  
John Guare (screenwriter of Atlantic City and Tony Winning playwright)
Blake Snyder (screenwriter and author of the screenwriting book Save the Cat)
 

And coming out of the historically black Howard University in D.C. are writers Zora Hurston Neal (Their Eyes Were Watching God), screenwriter and Oscar-nominated director Dianne Houston, director Ernest Dickerson who has also been the cinematographer on many Spike Lee films, Richard Wesley (Let’s Do It Again, which was directed by Sidney Poitier), Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Margaret Edson (Wit), poet Paul Laurence Dunbar as well as a host of actors and actresses including Ossie Davis, Phylicia Rashad, and Sean (P. Diddy) Combs. 

And American University is not only home to one of the best film programs in the country, but where the top box-office female film director, Nancy  Shyer, graduated from college. Shyer not only directed Mel Gibson in What Women Want  but also co-wrote Father of the Bride, Baby Boom  along with being nominated for an Academy Award back in 1981 for co-writing Private Benjamin.

“I remember driving on the Ventura Freeway when I was about 27, to run an errand, when I thought, ‘What if a girl joined the Army to escape her problems?’”
                                                              Nancy Shyer
                                                              (On the inspiration for Private Benjamin
                                                              Hollywood Reporter 

The Oscar winning director of Rain Man and screenwriter of Diner Barry Levinson also attended Washington University. As did actors Jude law and Jack Black. 

The Washington D.C. political scene itself has provided an compelling background for many excellent films. Mainly because films work on conflict and that never seems to be in short supply there. In fact The White House may be the single most popular home featured in movies and TV shows. Here is a partial list of movies that feature Washington D.C.:

A Few Good Me
Air Force One
All the President’s Men
An American President
Being There 
Dave
Enemy of the State
First Kid
Forrest Gump
The Hunt for Red October
Independence Day
JFK
Minority Report
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington 
Nixon
No Way Out
Three Days of the Condor
Thirteen Days
Traffic
Wag the Dog
West Wing
W.

 

There are also probably a few screenplays in the works on Obama’s life. (I bet Spike Lee and Tyler Perry are racing each other to be first.) Even if you didn’t vote for Obama you have to appreciate the journey–or at least the narrative or the significance. 

Of course there will be plenty of conflict in President Obama’s office. (Probably beginning day one at three in the morning — if not before he even takes office.) I’m sure before the final ballot was cast that Iran, Russia, and North Korea were moving chess pieces around preparing to welcome our new president. January of ’09 will be a hard time to take over the role as president  and Obama’s leadership skills will be tested early.

We quickly forget the pattern of almost every election, hope on the promise of change, harsh realities followed by blame of prior administration, and a plea for four more years to finally get things on track. Obama simply cannot do all the things he’s promised and people tend to become disillusioned quickly.

I just hope the criticism (and the joking from comedians) is not confused with racism or it’s one step forward and two steps back. If Powell is right about Obama being a transformational candidate, I just hope that transformation is for the good.  

I personally enjoy college football more than Washington politics and look forward to the Alabama-LSU game this weekend. Of course there are politics in college football, but at the end of the year the match-up for the title is usually the two best qualified, winning and prepared teams in the national. (Okay, maybe two out of the best three.)

And college football teaches us lessons in perspective.  Like the much hyped Matt Leinhart who had a stacked resume when he was the Arizona Cardinals’ first round draft pick in the 2006 NFL draft: Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback of two national championship teams at USC, and AP All-American.  Stats half-way through the 2008 season: 1 completed pass. (Only five more years on his 7 year 50 million dollar contract.)

Meanwhile the thought to be washed-up old-timer (and Iowa native) Kurt Warner is the starting QB for the Cardinals and who Sports Illustrated said is the clear choice for MVP at this point in the season.

Related Post: Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting (tip #7)

 

photos and text copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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Indiana’s been in the news the last couple weeks. First there’s the new Indiana Jones film that’s on top at the box office, there was the Indy 500 this past weekend, and then I saw the front page of New York Times yesterday morning and learned that director and Indiana native Sydney Pollack died Monday.

It seems like a fitting time to take a road trip to the Hoosier State. Though Pollack was not a screenwriter it’s worth paying tribute to this giant of a filmmaker who knew how to tell a story.

Before he headed to New York after high school in South Bend to study acting with Sanford Meisner he had spent his life in Indiana.  From acting in theater, to directing TV shows, to directing over 40 feature films Pollack was unusually gifted. I was a long time fan of Pollack’s and he directed some of my favorite films:

They Don’t Shoot Horses, Do They? The Way We Were Jeremiah Johnson Three Days of the Condor The Electric Horseman Absence of Malice Tootsie Out of Africa The Firm Sketches of Frank Gehry 

He was a two time Oscar winner (Out of Africa & Tootsie) both of which films also won Best Picture Oscars.  Another Indiana native producer/director Robert Wise also had won two best director Oscars for his films West Side Story & The Sound of Music. He also won two more Best Picture Oscars for producing both movies.

And to challenge Nebraska’s cool actor category (which produced both Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando), Indiana lays claim to Steve McQueen and James Dean. The list of entertainment icons from Indiana also includes Karl Malden (On the Waterfront), comedian Red Skelton, song writer Cole Porter, and TV host David Letterman.

Moving to the writing side, Kurt Vonnegut was born and raised in Indianapolis. Glenn Berggoetz writes, “It was at Shortridge High School in Indianapolis that Vonnegut gained his first writing experience. During his last two years there he wrote for and was one of the editors of the Shortridge Daily Echo, which was the first high school daily newspaper in the country. At this young age Vonnegut learned to write for a wide audience that would give him immediate feedback, rather than just writing for an audience of one in the form of a teacher.” (Note also that Vonnegut also honed his skills at the Iowa Writers Workshop.) 

Theodore Dreiser from Terre Haute wrote the novel An American Tragedy that was made twice made into a film including the 1951 George Stevens’ version (A Place in the Sun) staring Elizabeth Taylor that won 6 Academy Awards. It is a film that Mike Nichols (director of The Graduate) said if you wanted to learn how to direct you should watch 50 times.

To counter Dreiser’s somber look at the dark side of America let’s look at another film with Indiana roots. Playwright and screenwriter Steve Tesich was born in Yugoslavia, raised in Chicago and graduated from Indiana University. He won an Oscar for his screenplay Breaking Away based and filmed in Bloomington, Indiana and that became the 1979 sleeper hit staring Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, Chrisopher Plummer and James Earle Haley.

Tesich’s script came at a time before we were jaded by sports stories and was released just three years after Rocky. The film captures much of what I’m trying to write about in Screenwriting from Iowa. That is that there are stories to tell beyond Hollywood, and people all over the world need encouragement to tell those stories.

Frank Deford reviewed Breaking Away for Sports Illustrated in 1979:

“It is the rare film that has understood the essence of sport so well as Breaking Away; or understood summer or growing up; or, for that matter, America and Americana. This joyous story about four young A&P cowboys and a bicycle race in Bloomington, Ind. cost a measly $2.4 million to make but it is better by far than all the ballyhooed, star-studded epics. Steve Teisch’s screenplay is impeccable; Peter Yates’ direction is nearly magic in its command and sensitivity; and the cast is perfectly chosen, an ensemble always in character. And if all this were not enough, Breaking Away also evokes a spirit these times yearn for.

“I’m sure that Teisch and Yates didn’t set out to wave the flag, but there is something special here… the wonderful thing about Breaking Away is that you leave the theater very proud that America has both an Indiana and a Hollywood.”

TV and film director David Anspaugh was born in Decatur, Indiana and also studied at Indiana University before going on to win two Emmy’s producing and directing Hill Street Blues and the quintessential Indiana film Hoosiers.

Matt Williams from Evansville, Indiana is best known as the creator and executive producer of Roseanne and co-creator of Home Improvement. But he also wrote for The Cosby Show and produced the Mel Gibson film What Women Want. He graduated with a theater degree from the University of Evansville and was awarded an honorary doctorate from there in 2003.

And the newest up and coming writer/ director from Indiana is James C. Strouse (from Goshen, Indiana) whose latest film Grace is Gone won the critics awards at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. His first film Lonesome Jim starred Casey Affleck and was directed by Steve Busemi. 

But I can’t pass up the opportunity to mention John Mellencamp from Seymour, Indiana who seems to embody a Midwestern spirit in everything he does. Going way back into the early 80’s with prefect sing-a-long songs Jack & Diana (“Two American kids growing up in the Heartland”), Pink Houses and Small Town to his classic thought-provoking album Scarecrow that addressed the farm crisis in the 80’s, to his more recent Our Country. Mellencamp embraced his Midwestern roots and we were better for it.

While his film connections are usually on the soundtracks of films he did star and direct the 1992 film Falling from Grace. Mellencamp was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Indiana University awarded him an honorary doctorate of Musical Arts.

On Sunday I spent a several hours driving on the Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinenental highway in the country. (It goes through both Iowa and Indiana. And paid my first ever $4.+ per gallon for gas.) It’s hard for me to make that kind of trip and not think of Mellencamp’s lyrics, “Ain’t that America Something to See.”

It’s something to write about, too.

P.S. Did you know that in the original Indy script that it was Indiana Smith? Doesn’t have the same ring does it?  (Spielberg thought it sounded to much like Nevada Smith, a 1966 Steve McQueen film.) And isn’t it hard to see Tom Selleck as Indy, who Spielberg originally wanted but couldn’t get because of Selleck’s commitment to Magnum P.I.?

Copyright ©2008 Scott W. Smith

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