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“Anxiety, nightmares and a nervous breakdown, there’s only so many traumas a person can withstand until they take to the streets and start screaming.”
Jasmine (Cate Blachett) in Blue Jasmine
Written by Woody Allen
Nominated for 3 Oscars

“The art of survival is a story that never ends. “
Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) in American Hustle
Written by Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell
Nominated for 10 Oscars

“I don’t want to survive. I want to live.”
Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in 12 Years a Slave
Written by John Ridley
Nominated for 9 Oscars

I was looking for an Oscar-nominated song this year to add an exclamation to the above quotes and decided to settle for a now formerly nominated Oscar song. The song Alone But Not Alone was disqualified a couple of days ago by the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Science—but if you read related backlash articles in the LA TimesDeadline, and The Hollywood Reporter  on the song’s historic rejection you’ll know it’s a survivor.

The indie film hasn’t even been released and the song seems to have a life of its own. The producers of the Alone Yet Not Alone movie have to look at the controversy and be thinking—like Bill Murray in Scrooged— “You can’t buy this kind of publicity!”

The perfect Hollywood ending would be during the Super Bowl half-time show tomorrow that Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers were joined by quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada (carried on stage, of course, by Tim Tebow) as they all sing Alone But Not Alone. The crowd joins in like a version of We Are the World. Cut to close up of Payton Manning crying just before completing his own personal neck injury comeback by winning the game’s MVP. Followed by world peace.

P.S. Gravity, Captain Philips, and Dallas Buyers Club add at least 22 more survival-related movies to this year’s Oscar nominations.

Update: 2/1/14: “I owe quite a debt to Capt. Richard Phillips, who survived something I know would have killed me.” Screenwriter Billy Ray accepting the WGA award for writing Captain Philips.

Related posts:

What’s at Stake? (Tip #9)
Goal. Stake. Urgency. (Tip #60)
“Unbroken” One great true story of survival that will be released as a movie this year.

Scott W. Smith

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I don’t know what the odds are for one of your sons becoming a head coach of one of the 33 NFL football teams, but there odds of having two sons as NFL head coaches has to be pretty much against you. And the odds of those two sons coaching opposing teams in the Super Bowl has to be on par with dropping a football from an airplane from a few thousand feet and a dog catching it with his teeth.

So it wasn’t historic enough that brothers Jim and John Harbaugh both became NFL coaches, or that they even faced each other when the Baltimore Ravens (John) and the San Francisco 49ers (Jim) played each other in 2011. But this past Sunday they faced off again with the stakes a little higher for Super Bowl 47.

The parents said they were neutral on who they wanted to win, but I’m sure they were proud of both of their sons. In case you don’t follow football the Ravens defeated the 49ers in a game that wasn’t decided until the final two minutes when the 49ers couldn’t score on the Ravens five yard line.

I wanted to do a post on this before the game but was traveling and had limited time and access to Internet. While I was packing to move last month—and doing some house cleaning—I came across a photo I was part of a photographic team with Yary Photography that took the photo below of the 1986 University of Michigan football team that played in the Rose Bowl when none other than Jim Harbaugh was the starting quarterback. I’ll file this one in the “It’s a small world after all” file. (Jim wore #4 at Michigan and is in the top right area of the photo.) I didn’t even realize I had that photo. It was just rolled up in a tube in my basement and had suffered a little water damage.

Michigan Rose Bowl

Anyway, like screenwriters, I don’t believe people are born NFL coaches. I imagine both Jim and John had many influences in their lives that helped put them on the path to being head coaches in the NFL, but I’m sure their parents played a key part. In fact, in a much reported story that goes back to when Jim and John, their sister Joan were little kids and lived in Iowa with their parents, their father would shout, “Who’s got it better than us?” In unison they’d shout, “Nobody!”
“At the time they lived in a tiny two bedroom-house in Iowa City, where Jack was an assistant coach at University of Iowa. Sometimes they had a car. If not, they were walking — what a terrific opportunity to work on basketball dribbling skills! Jack convinced the boys how great it was that they could bunk together in a tiny bedroom and talk philosophy and share each other’s dreams.”
Ann Killion
Sports Illustrated.com

Do you really think that when Jim and John shared each others dreams that they ever dreamed they would be coaching against each other in a Super Bowl? Sometimes, somehow there are times when you can’t dream big enough.

Don’t be surprised if next year Jim leads the 49ers to a Super Bowl victory making both brothers Super Bowl winning coaches in a feat that will probably not be reached in your lifetime.

P.S. In case you wondered where my blog was yesterday, I don’t usually posts on weekends and holidays—and the day after the Super Bowl is one of the most called in sick days of the year so I think “Super Bowl Hangover” is  like a holiday. Where people stay home to clean their houses the day after the Super Bowl, of course.

Scott W. Smith

 

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“It’s really a huge opportunity for our career— which we’ve been struggling with for a long time. I’ve been dreaming of this my whole life.”
JR Burningham
Utah native interviewed before his Doritos Super Bowl spot won $1 million


You know, I’m all about the little dogs doing big things, and the Dortitos commercial that aired during the Super Bowl last night not only featured a pug—but was a total underdog itself. The spot was directed by JR Burningham for $500. and ended up earning him $1 million in a Doritos/PepsiCo competition in which more than 5,000 commercials were submitted.

Burningham’s commercial featured a small pug knocking a door down on top of his master in his quest for Dortios. The spot tied for first on the Super Bowl Rating Meter even beating out the VW Star Wars spot in popularity. And while the 31-year old Burningham has been called in some articles “a part-time web-designer”—there’s a little more to the story.

Burningham is originally from Salt Lake City and after he graduated from the University of Utah with a B.S. degree in computer engineering & computer science, he went on to get an MFA in film production at USC in 2008. At USC one of his films received an honorable mention at the Student Emmys and he also met Tess Ortbals who became his partner at Mythmakers after they graduated.

Ortbals, who has an MFA from USC on the producing side, wrote the script Terra Incognita with Burningham which recently finished in the top ten of both the Austin Film Festival Screenwriting Competition and The Script Department’s Silver Screenwriting Competition. Ortbal’s undergraduate work was in ancient storytelling and mythology, and she graduated with a BA in anthropology. Producing a winning commercial wasn’t just blind luck.

Burningham & Ortbals set-up their shop in Burbank, CA and while their dreams are big , so is the debt from their student loans. So it wasn’t beneath them to gather some film school friends together in hopes of creating something that could bring them a little attention.

“This commercial was a last-ditch attempt to make something happen. It’s just a very difficult industry.”
JR Burningham

Mission accomplished.

They rented a Cannon 7D camera package, gathered some film school friends together, and shot  for a day in Ventura. And the rest is history. A history that is beginning to repeat itself. A trend that began a few years ago when major advertising production outsiders began to make inroads in the granddaddy of advertising venues.  In fact, this year 3 of the top 5 rated commercials during this year’s Super Bowl were made from people that represent Main St. more than Madison Ave.

In fact, when I last checked the most  watched ad of all time was the Doritos ad Snack Attack Samurai that ran during last year’s Super Bowl. It was made by a couple filmmakers (Ben Kruger & Cole Koehler) in Minneapolis. (I was fortunate to work with one of the actors in that spot, Mike Rylander, last year on a production I was producing/directing.) Kruger & Koehler spent less than $1,000.  for a :30 spot that was viewed by 116,231,920 people. Big return on investment as they won $25,000.

And don’t forget the two unemployed brothers (Dave and Joe Herbert) of Batesville, Indiana who also won $1 million for their Doritos commercial that was chosen as the best commercial during Super Bowl XLIII.

“As digital media continues to expand, entrepreneurial filmmakers like ourselves must blaze a new model that includes making great movies for less money while expanding distribution avenues. It has to change on both ends. The true masters of the 21 century filmmaking will be those who can be extremely business savvy without compromising the quality of the craft or the meaning of their story.”
JR Burningham

Entrepreneurial filmmakers—that has a nice ring to it.

Congrats JR & Tess, I look forward to seeing your feature films in the not to distant future. (And I read where they just got engaged.) And congrats to the team just east of Iowa, the Green Bay Packers, for the big Super Bowl win.

And just for fun here’s a Doritos spot that I did last year as a one man crew (producer/director/writer/cameraman/editor)  for the total cost of less than $8 (two bags of Doritos). It didn’t win anything, but it was a nice experiment. (Best to double click on it as WordPress frames it kind of funky.)

February 9, 2011 Update: The spot I made with spray paint artist Paco Rosic fit my creative temperament, but doesn’t quite fit the commercials that usually win the Super Bowl challenge. Those usually have to do with pain, hulliliation. (Using sophomoric humor is a plus if you want to rise to the top.)   “The thing about the Crash The Super Bowl contest is that you’re not playing to ‘your’ audience. Meaning, this commercial isn’t about what you necessarily think is funny or what the people you show your work to thinks is funny. Quite simply, it’s about what is formulaic AND funny AND plays to the widest demographic of people.” Ben Krueger  (who along with Cole Koehler, won $25,000. for their Doritos spot in 2010).

Febraury 10. 2011 Update: The Chevy Camero ad during the 2011 Super Bowl became the most watched ad according to Nielsen Co. beating the 2010 Doritos with 119.6 million viewers.

Scott W. Smith


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Though Iowa’s own Kurt Warner and the Arizona Cardinals came up a little short yesterday was another case of the Super Bowl being super. Congrats to the Pittsburgh Steelers—champions once again.  And that game winning ballet catch in the closing seconds of the game by Santonio Holmes brought memories for me of Lyn Swann. 

The game being played in Tampa this year also brought back memories to 2001 when I was hired to go during Super Bowl week there and videotape pro football hall-of fame great Reggie White for a promotional video. For some reason what I remember most about that shoot was it was the first time I had seen a stretch Hummer limo. What kind of gas milage do you think they get?

And there was one more experience that popped into my mind while watching the game and listening to John Madden. I once had a shoot in San Luis Obispo, California with Madden and dozens of pro football players for a celebrity golf tournament.  Madden has a Midwest connection in that he was born in Austin, Minnesota which is just over the border from northern Iowa (and where the Spam museum is located).

He played college ball in San Luis Obispo and when his pro career was cut short by an injury he turned to coaching eventually becoming the youngest head coach in the NFL at age 32. He won a Super Bowl a few years later and in 1979 turned to broadcasting where he has won 14 Emmy Awards. And he was an early part of the video gaming industry with his part with EA Sports John Madden Football. 

Quite a career, right? Because opportunities are growing in the gaming industry for screenwriters (and the gaming industry is now bigger than the film industry) I thought you’d be interested in knowing how Madden followed his passion into video games.

I started the videogame before there were videogames. When we first started, we were going to make a computer game. When I got out of coaching, I had taught a class at the University of California, an extension class on football for fans. I was looking for tools. I was showing them films. I was going to write a textbook. Trip Hawkins came to me about making it a game for computers. I said there has to be 11 guys on a team. I figured it would be a good teaching tool, a good coaching tool. I didn’t know anything about computers then, where they were going. No one did. Anyway, we started and worked on this game for a few years. It came out in a computer version. Then, boom, lo and behold, here comes the hardware for videogames and we already have the software. There we go. To say when I started I knew it was going to happen, I didn’t know. But no one else knew. It was just something that we happened to be there first. We stumbled upon it. We’re still going. It just gets bigger and bigger.
                                                     John Madden
                                                     Interview with Jon Robinson 

 

Scott W. Smith

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Screenwriter William Blinn has been at it for more than 40 years. He won two Primetime Emmy’s for his work on Roots and Brian’s Song, and was nominated for three more for his work on Fame. He also wrote scripts for some of the classic TV programs; Gunsmoke, Bonaza and Eight is Enough, as well as being the creator of Starsky and Hutch.

Blinn also received the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television from The Writers Guild of America West. And as a quirky side note he was one of the writers for Purple Rain which starred Prince (who won an Oscar on that film for Best Music, Original Song Score). 

WGA West President Patric M. Verrone said of Blinn,”He has credits that few can match and all can envy.”  And Blinn, who is credited for changing the face for television, has Midwestern roots being born and attended public school in Akron, Ohio.

I bet William Blinn has stories to tell about a life behind the scenes of television from the 60s through today. Of course, I bring him up because the Super Bowl is today and I was looking for a writer to quote with some football connect and Brian Song is what first came to my mind. I found this video where he talks about the impact and criticism of the 1971 movie based on Gale Sayers book I Am Third.

“I can’t tell you how many times guys have said to me, ‘That’s the first time I cried around other guys.’ That sounds stupid, and it is to some degree, and now it’s on television as a cliched joke, that’s okay I got no problem with that, but there’s something to be said for that…Kurt Russell said, ‘I never cried in a movie before that.’ Manipulative? Yeah, sure it is. Sentimental? Yeah, sure it is. So what?
                                                                       William Blinn 

Related post: Screenwriting and the Little Fat Girl from Ohio

 

Scott W. Smith

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How about that Kurt Warner? If you don’t follow pro football you may not know that his underdog story is one of the greatest in sports history. And now, with a win in yesterday’s playoff game, the 37-year-old adds another chapter to his hall-of-fame career by leading the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl. If you like comeback stories Kurt Warner is your guy. And, yes, he does have a connection to little ole’ Cedar Falls, Iowa.

When Warner graduated from Regis High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1990 his dream was to play down the road for the University of Iowa. But he didn’t get a scholarship from them or any Division 1 major college. But he did get an offer from a Division II school, the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, where he thought he’d at least get a lot of playing time at a smaller school. But he ended up sitting the bench for three years. 

But in his senior year he was the starting quarterback and at the end of the season he was named Gateway Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year and hoped he’d get drafted in the NFL. He didn’t and was cut when he tried out for the Green Bay Packers. He returned to Cedar Falls where he was an assistant coach at Northern Iowa and a stock boy at the local Hy-Vee grocery store. With no NFL teams interested he went on to play arena football for the Iowa Barnstormers in ’96 & ’97 where he was named to the AFL’s all arena team both years. From there he played in Europe where he played for the Amsterdam Admirals and led the league in passing, then he was finally welcomed in the NFL.

He started the 1999 season as a back-up quarterback for the St. Louis Rams and ended up the MVP of the league and after winning the Super Bowl was named the Super Bowl MVP. The press enjoyed telling and retelling the quick rise of the former stock boy to Super Bowl MVP. Then he was injured in a loss at the 2001 Super Bowl and considered a has been by some. He should just retire they said. But he kept doing his thing and now he’s leading a franchise that’s never been to the big game to Super Bowl XLIII.

You can read more about him at KurtWarner.org where he has a foundation called First Things First that among other things provides trips to Disney for children with life threatening conditions, and has helped with flood relief efforts.  

It seems he does just about everything except write screenplays, but maybe he’ll try his hand at that after his football career is over. Some day his story will make an excellant film as it is one full of conflict, struggle, disappointments, loss and faith. Perhaps you can identify with what Warner told Sports Spectrum’s Chuck Swirsky about his unorthodox journey:

“This isn’t how I had it planned. I didn’t want to work in a grocery store then go to Amsterdam and play in the Arena League. But as I look back over my life, I realize that I had a lot of maturing to do. I had a lot of growing in my faith.”

Warner kept his hand on the plow and did his best in whatever arena he was allowed to play. He believed in his dream and his talent even when he wasn’t sure how he was going to pay his bills. Most people won’t find the wild success that Warner has found, but at least his story gives some hope and purpose to taking the bumpy roads of life. And that is fertile ground for writers in life and in the stories they write.

Related posts: Speaking of bumpy roads & faith check out the post Screenwriting & Martin Luther King Jr.

 

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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