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“The internet is a miraculous things. Just share as much as you can, self-publish, blog, podcast whatever you need to do. Just make sure you are not withholding your gifts from the world. Because you have so many opportunities now….We’re in a new frontier.”
Diablo Cody

Today marks the 12th anniversary of Screenwriting from Iowa … and Other Unlikely Places.  The original goal was to take a year and blog a book. I failed that task—but there’s still hope. And at least in the first year the blog won a regional Emmy so that was a nice tradeoff. (See the post Juno Has a Baby.)

And I got a nice shout-out from screenwriter Diablo Cody when she was on Twitter back in the day. Her Oscar-winning  Juno script and Midwest background were a large part of starting this blog, and she’s been featured in many posts over the years. I think her tweet was a response to my 2010 post Screenwriting’s Biggest Flirt.)

Diablo Cody Twitter copy copy

After chipping away at the book for a decade I thought I was close to finishing it about a year ago. I turned it over to an editor who did what good editors do. His suggested changes and comments totaled 3,000. One of his biggest challenges to me was not to copout saying it was a book cobbled together together from random blog post, but to make a a book that stands on its own. So that’s what I’ve tried to do the past six months and believe the finished product is elevated greatly because of the changes. More in coming weeks about the book’s release.

change

But seeing those edit notes was a blow. Like thinking you at the end of running a marathon only to be told, “Oh, this isn’t the finish line, you still have 10 miles to go.” It took me three months just to wrap my head around doing a deep pass on the 225 pages. Now I’m down to a dozen changes so I’m hopeful that I will finally get the completed version of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles out by March of this year.  At least, that’s the new goal.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share my introduction to the book which happens to mention actor Dwayne Johnson’s father—the former pro wrestler Rocky Johnson— who died last week.

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PREFACE
(For the book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles  by Scott W. Smith)

“I wasn’t born knowing how to write a play.”
—Sam Shepard, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright

“How did I learn screenwriting? It was a matter of years of trying to develop my writing in the same way that some people spend years learning to play the violin.”
—Screenwriter Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption)

In the ten years of writing the blog Screenwriting from Iowa . . . and Other Unlikely Places, I’ve found advice and insight on the creative process from more than 700 gifted screenwriters, filmmakers, and teachers. I realized that I could consolidate some of this material as a book, revising and reorganizing it in ways that I thought would be most helpful to people’s creative journeys. I want these ideas to function like brass knuckles in an old-school professional wrestling match.

I don’t know if Aristotle ever used brass knuckles, but they are said to have been around since the ancient Greeks. Abraham Lincoln’s secret service men carried brass knuckles. And legend has it that brass knuckles were Al Capone’s favorite weapon.

The term “loaded fist” in Japanese martial arts refers to a martial arts version of brass knuckles that can turn a punch into a sledgehammer. As a troubled youth in Hong Kong, Bruce Lee carried brass knuckles, giving a twist of meaning to his trademark movie Fist of Fury.

Today brass knuckles are brandished in popular video games and music videos. Spike Lee even wore brass knuckles to the 2019 Academy Awards.

My introduction to brass knuckles was watching professional wrestling on TV as a kid. This was not the high-dollar spectacle of today but the low-budget version, usually taped in a small studio in Tampa, Florida.

Actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s father, Rocky Johnson,* was a wrestler in the pre-WWE era when professional wrestling was more regionally orientated and the bag of tricks (and storylines) was more limited.

This was at a time in my youth when I didn’t know if professional wrestling was real or not. What I did know was that professional wrestling had a cast of characters with colorful names like Abdullah the Butcher, Dusty “The American Dream” Rhodes, and Andre the Giant, and it was flat out entertaining.

Inevitably, when one wrestler was getting beat up and close to losing a match, brass knuckles would magically appear (and oftentimes un-magically when he reached into his wrestling trunks and pulled out brass knuckles).

The announcer Gordon Solie would say something like, Wait a minute, what’s he have in his right hand? It looks like a foreign object. Oh no, it looks like a pair of brass knuckles!

At the last minute, this would give the almost beaten wrestler an upper hand in the match. It would result in not only a victory for the trickster but also in a bloody mess. For a ten-year-old boy this was as good as a vampire movie.

My goal with this book is not to create a bloody mess, but to offer the equivalent of brass knuckles for writers — screenwriters in particular. Ideas found in this book can serve as powerful resources in urgent moments of desperation—or to avoid those moments altogether.

By “screenwriting” I mean any screen: the big screen, TV, computers, tablets, mobile devices, virtual reality, video games, and even some non-screen dramatic writing such as theater and podcasts.

This book will not substitute for a good writing teacher or mentor, but it can give you some valuable ideas to hang on to, “foreign objects” thrown into the ring as you struggle to craft and sell your own stories.

*Rocky Johnson was actually the 1976 NWA Brass Knuckles Champion.

Related post:
Hitting Rock Botton with The Rock (And my very loose University of Miami football connection with The Rock.)

Scott W. Smith

 

“That’s the part that keeps people back the most—it’s like, ‘Well I don’t have an idea, so I can’t start.’ No, it’s like you only get the idea once you start. It’s this totally reverse thing. You have to act first before inspiration will hit. You don’t wait for inspiration and then act or you’re never going to act. Because you’re never going to have the inspiration—not consistently.”
—Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez
The Tim Ferriss Show #98

That quote reminds me of another well-traveled quote on inspiration:
“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
Jack London

Though I’ve read the original word for word quote from London’s 1903 essay Getting Into Print is “Don’t loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club, and if you don’t get it you will nonetheless get something that looks remarkably like it.” But “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club” rolls off the tongue so much easier and is easier to remember.

Related post:
Stephen King’s Doublewide Trailer
“There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer station.”
Stephen King
On Writing 

Scott W. Smith

Thursday January 23 will be the 12th anniversary of my blog Screenwriting from Iowa … and Other Unlikely Places. I’ve written all of the more than 3,000 post since its inception. So today, Martin Luther Ling Jr Day seems like a fitting day to break that streak.

Jack Trice was a football player at Iowa State in 1922-23. He was one of the early African-American football players to play at a major college. To put that in perspective he died six years before Martin Luther King Jr. was born, and the University of Alabama—one of the greatest programs in college football— didn’t have a black football player until 1971.

So here is the first guest post of sorts. I saw it today on Facebook written by Brendan Dunphy, who is a smart and multitalented guy from Iowa—who could pass for Tom Cruise’s younger brother—who was an actor on a short film I shot a few years ago.  Here’s his post in bold (I have added the links):

On MLKj day, I’ll share with you one of my proudest moments of 2019.

For the past 7-1/2 years, I have been investigating the life and legacy of famed fallen athlete, Jack Trice, often in painstaking and novel detail. “Jack” was Iowa State University’s first black athlete and remains the only athlete in school history to have ever died as a result of athletic competition. The stadium that bears his name is the only one in the U.S. named after a black person.

This research has been carried out not only for an upcoming documentary film on Jack (along with my film partners Scott, Paul David, and Christopher) but also for a probable podcast series that shares the investigative process that has been, at times, a hard-to-believe series of events that is wrought with strokes of serendipity. The Trice story is so much deeper than has ever been chronicled.

As a result, I was asked by “Cleveland” to give a ten-minute tribute to Jack Trice in October during a first-ever benefit gala for a new organization that aims, in part, to resuscitate northern Ohio’s Senate Athletic Conference, which is supposedly the oldest in the nation; that’s where Jack played. This organization also honors the sports legends of Cleveland, and Jack has deservedly been inducted as one.

To share a sliver of his story with a Cleveland audience full of Olympic athletes, NFL players, Cleveland Indians, and many college stars that have never even heard of Jack Trice was a true honor.

When Cleveland asks you to commemorate Jack Trice at such an event, you just say “yes.”
When Olympic gold medalists seek you out to thank you for the work that you do in revealing his story to the world, you say nothing because you are speechless.

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Jack Trice (1902-1923)

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Brendan Dunphy

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2019 Sports Legends of Cleveland Public Schools Senate League Benefit Gala

Related videos:

Scott W. Smith

The good news is there are free college classes online from top intuitions like Yale, Harvard, MIT, and Stanford. Here are a couple of screen grabs from my phone of some of the courses available at iTunesU. (Though the future doesn’t look bright for iTunesU, free online education appears to be flourishing in other places.)

The bad news is the student debt crisis is real. And I’m a firm believer in students having a crystal clear understanding what their loan payments and responsibilities will be after they finish school. (Especially for those seeking work in creative fields.)  But it’s clear from article after article that even future doctors and lawyers (and parents) don’t fully understand students loans and how those debts you acquire while in school can haunt you for decades. How your making minimum payments for a decade can actually leave you owning tens of thousands of more money than you originally took out because of compounded interest.

Don’t took it as free money, because it’s not. Nothing new there—but that drum has to be pounded over and over again.

What is free are many classes at the following schools. (And I will add this list as I find them or people tell me about them.) Some of these you have to provide your email to sign-up for classes, and others will try to up-sell you in one way or another, but if you’re creative you can find hundreds—probably thousands— of classes that are totally free.

Carnegie Mellon University / Open Learning Initiative

Harvard University

MIT OPEN COURSEWARE

Stanford online

Yale University / Open Yale Courses
You can also view many videos on their YouTube channel

UC Berkeley

And there are many others you can find via iTunes U, as well as the following places that offer free class.

co//ab-Sundance
Code Academy 
CreativeLive
iTunes U (an incredible resource)
Ted-Ed

Scott W. Smith

 

 

“On January 1, 2020, works from 1924 will enter the US public domain, where they will be free for all to use and build upon, without permission or fee.”
Jennifer Jenkins
Public Domain Day 2020 from Duke University Center for the Study of Public Domain

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Thanks to a Facebook post by Ted Hope of the above link from Duke University I became aware of a wide range of films, books, and music that are now in the public domain. Of course, what that means is you are free use those stories without paying any royalties.

This includes the movies by Buster Keaton (The Navigator) and Harold Loyd’s (Girl Shy), books by E.M. Forster (A Passage to India) and Edith Wharton (Old New York), Eugene O’Neil play Desire Under the Elms, and music by George Gershwin (Rhapsody in Blue) and Irving Berlin (Lazy).

In music what is copyright free is the arrangements, not performances from 1924 until now. And the 1984 movie (and the script by David Lean, nor the play Santha Rama Rau) are copyright free, but you are able to go the 1924 source material and use freely.

The topics of copyright law and derivative works have long been the center of many conversations among content creators. As original as everyone seeks to be it’s impossible  to shake connections to past work. Just look at some Oscar nominated films this year: You watch 1917 and you think of Saving Private Ryan and Russian Ark (and Birdmam, and Rope), Marriage Story has traces of Kramer vs. Kramer, The Irishman is a brother to both Goodfellas and The Godfather and a cousin to Hoffa, Joaquin Phoenix is favored to win Best Actor for his Joker that Heath Ledger won an Oscar for in a supporting role as the same character in The Dark Knight.

Inspiration is one thing, copyright infringment is another thing. One of the nice things about adapting stories from 1924 and before is you are building on work that has proven worth. The test will be can you update it for a modern audience? But at least you can do it without the threat of being sued. No shame in following the steps of proven writers. And I think you find—as Francis Ford Coppola has said—at the end of the day, you will make it your own.

“Someone is going to invent a new art form, a new medium—it’s probably not going to be you. So follow in someone’s footsteps. Because if there is someone before you that has made an impact with the acoustic guitar, then we know it is possible. . . . If you would have said to me when I met you, my goal is to change the culture with an outdoor repertory theater that’s only going to be in Iowa, I would say ‘Has anyone ever come close to doing that?’, because your expectations might be mismatched. You said you wanted to change the culture. If on the other hand you say we have typewriters and we know how to deal with people in Hollywood and New York who have carriage and spectrum, I’d say yeah, there’s been a thousand people before you—in their own way—who have done that. Yes, go do that.”
Author/speaker Seth Godin (The Dip)
Interview on The Moment with Brian Koppelman (9/17/19)

P.S. Speaking of Seth Godin and Iowa, Godin’s book Purple Cow was one of the inspirations behind starting the blog Screenwriting from Iowa … and Other Unlikely Places way back in 2008. On the 12th anniversary of this blog (January 23, 2020) I’ll give an update on the progress on my book based on the blog.

Related post:
Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B=C)

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

If you want to get caught up on world cinema, contemporary indie films, tap into some of the Criterion Collection, documentaries, and/or educational videos—all for free–then check out Kanopy.com, which hopefully you can access into through your college/university or public library. (Availability and selection of movies depends on your library/school.)

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Here’s a wide assortment of topics you can sort through.

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Between this post and yesterday’s post on links to recently Oscar nominated screenplays, it is simply amazing what is available these days for no cost.

Scott W. Smith

Here are links to the 2020 Oscar nominated screenplays (except Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, which I haven’t found yet).

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Jojo Rabbit by Taika Waititi
Joker by Todd Phillips & Scott Silver
Little Women by Greta Gerwig
The Irishman by Steven Zaillian
The Two Popes by Anthony McCarten

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

1917 by Sam Mendes & Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Knives Out by Rian Johnson
Marriage Story by Noah Baumback
Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood by Quentin Tarantino
Parasite by Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won, Story by Bong Joon Ho

P.S. Usually these kinds of links from studios are only good for a limited time during the award season.

Scott W. Smith 

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