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Remember when you held me tight
And you kissed me all through the night

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
Lyrics by Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield

La La Land came out in 2016, but just in case you haven’t seen that fine film—MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!

“At the very start [of writing La La Land] I knew roughly where we were headed in terms of the final scene. I knew I wanted to tell a story about a romance that doesn’t last forever. Something that winds up ends up being a finite moment in these people’s lives. And they’re kinda cross like two ships passing in the night. They cross for a moment and that moment is crucial for both of them, but they wind up going their separate directions. And I knew I wanted the tone of the ending to be okay with that. That I didn’t really see it as a tragic ending. I mean I’m certainly very inspired by The Umbrellas of Cherbourg —the French musical from the ’60s—that similarly does not keep the romance going at the end. But where the tone there is a little more tragic. I think here I wanted there to be a real hope to the ending. And also this idea that some dreams come true, some don’t. This wouldn’t be an honest movie if every dream came true.”
La La Land writer/director Damien Chazelle
Interview with James V. Hart
Bulletproof Screenwriting podcast #107

Related post:
Tender Mercies in La La Land
Difficult + Changing Times = Whiplash
Setting the ‘Whiplash’ Tone

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

Deion Sanders is on a winning streak. In fact, he’s undefeated. Over the weekend—at age 53— he won his first game as a college football coach. The Jackson State Tigers beat Edward Waters College 53—0 to set the tone for a new Sanders challenge.

Sanders is the only person in the history of the world to play in both a World Series and a Super Bowl. So what did he do after his playing days were over? He became a sports broadcaster—a natural fit for his “Prime Time” personality. On the side, he did a rap album, starred in a realty show, coached high school football, and started a charter school.

Now he wasn’t as successful at all of those endeavors as he was as a pro athlete, which may be what brings him to Jackson, Mississippi. You don’t have to drill down far into ESPN story after ESPN story to know that the transition from successful pro athlete to mere mortal is a hard transition to make. Even those who still have millions when their career is over have trouble finding their place in the world.

I won’t question Sanders motives (as plenty already have), but I do think he still wants to ride some wild horses. That’s a phrase I was told once by a business guru who was explaining to me the drive of older, successful men. Winners like to win. Which explains why Warren Buffett still has a passion for investing, and why Clint Eastwood keeps making movies. And since both Buffett and Eastwood are currently 90 years old, Sanders is a relatively young man.

I don’t really know Sanders, but I once worked with him back in 2012. I was hired as a field producer to work on a project we shot at his Dallas-area/J.R. Ewing-like home. Not growing up with much money, working in production has personally opened up some interesting travel and life experiences. A shoot with golfer Greg Norman at the Bel-Air Country Club, inside a prison in South Africa, and a 12-course meal after a shoot in Kennebunkport, Maine come to mind. I’d put Sanders’ 28,000+ square foot home (with a ten car garage) up there with those memorable experiences.

Super talented guy on camera. And it was nice that we had a mutual connection. Sam Cook was the sports editor who hired me as a sports reporter/photographer out of high school in Central Florida, and Cook later worked for a newspaper in Ft. Myers when Sanders was playing high school ball. Sanders told me his mom still kept in contact with Cook. (Above is a mini-helmet that Sanders was gracious enough to sign for me from that shoot.)

It’s rare for a great athlete to become a great coach. It’s just a different skill set. Dan Gable, the great wrestler from Iowa, was not only an Olympic Gold medalist, but went on to become a multiple national championship college coach. He’s the only person that comes mind that excelled at the top levels as an athlete and a coach. I’m sure there are others, but it’s not a long list.

Time will tell how Sanders will do at Jackson State. But I wouldn’t bet against him. Perhaps he’ll win a conference championship. Perhaps he’ll elevate football at historic black colleges. And perhaps he’ll end up back at his alma mater, Florida State University, and return that program to its National Championship status. Could he end up moving to Atlanta one day and produce movies and TV shows at Tyler Perry’s studio? Sure. He does have a flair for drama. (And a history with the ALT having played for both the Falcons and the Braves.)

I don’t know what the future brings, but I do know that if Deion Sanders lives to be 90, he’ll have a few more wins behind him. And whatever he does it’s not going to be boring. Stay tuned for the revival in Jackson, Mississippi.

P.S. Sanders sold his 112-acre Texas mansion in 2014, and it got turned into a community.

Scott W. Smith is the author Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

In Stephen King’s short story The Body (on which the 1986 movie Stand By Me was based) the protagonist in the story is reminiscing a trip to New York he took after he sold his first novel. Toward the end of a grand three day tour of the city given by Keith, his editor, there is an awkward moment between the two men and King writes:

“[I wanted to tell Keith]: The only reason anyone writes stories is so they can understand the past and get ready for some future mortality; that’s why all the verbs in stories have -ed endings, Keith my good man, even the ones that sell millions of paperbacks. The only two useful art forms are religion and stories.

I was pretty drunk that night, as you may have guessed.

What I did tell him was: ‘I was thinking of something else, that’s all.’ The most important things are the hardest things to say.”

The Body is available as a stand alone book or part of the original collection of short stories called Different Seasons. In that book you’ll also find the story Rita Hayworth and the Shank Redemption, which became the movie The Shawshank Redemption. And the short story Apt Pulpil became the 1998 movie Apt Pupil.

P.S. If you’ve never seen Stand By Me put it on your list to watch this week. And for extra credit read the Stephen King short story then the script by Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans. And then watch with Rob Reiner director’s commentary, and then the movie one more time. (The 25th anniversary Blu-Ray of the movie has a commentary by Reiner, Corey Feldman, and Wil Wheaton and I imagine that’s solid as well.) There’s a whole film school worthy class you could build around King’s short story becoming a modern day classic movie.

Scott W. Smith wrote the book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

“I have no idea where it came from. It just came all of the sudden. One minute it wasn’t there and the next thing the whole line was there.”
—Paul Simon on writing Bridge Over Troubled Water

Twice in the past week I heard two accomplished artists talking about unconsciousness in terms of creativity and I thought I’d string them together for you to ponder. And then I tie them in from a screenwriting perspective from my book where Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), Jim Uhls (Fight Club), and Star Wars writer Lawrence Kasden address the mystical part of writing.

“Your personal experience and your emotional stress finds its way by way of your unconscious mind over into the mind of reality. And it translates itself into your lyrics, and you don’t even know that’s happened.”
—Musician Gordon Lightfoot
The documentary Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind

“I’m interested in acting that involves the unconsciouses. We all know how to do something and hit beats and deliver to kill a performance. I’m interested in giving the performance that I don’t know how to deliver. . . . It’s very fluid when you’re in a take. And there’s definitely some structure to the scene because of the dialogue, or how the scene is going to play out. And I rely heavily on the director for that structure, too. But I’m here to bring responses and truth.”
—Academy Award winning actress Nicole Kidman
WTF Podcast with Marc Maron

Here’s a section pulled from my book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles:

Mike De Luca asked Fight Club screenwriter Jim Uhls, “When did you first feel when you had what it takes to be a screenwriter? Did you have this specific moment when you felt the confidence of,‘I can do this.’?” Uhls resonded, “It was when the analytical side and the intuitive side merged together, worked together as a creative unit.”

Oscar-winning screenwriter Tarantino said of creating the Mia character (Uma Thurman) in Pulp Fiction, “I have no idea where she came from. I have no idea whatsoever. ” That’s intuition. And talent.

The intuitive side of screenwriting is hard to articulate. The intuitive side isn’t as concrete as the analytical side. It could even be called mystical.

When Lawrence Kasden was asked how he came up with Yoda’s unique speech pattern (“Much to learn, you still have.”) when writing Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back he did not know.

“I don’t know that we choose how we write. I think it somehow chooses us. It’s very mystical.”
—Oscar-winning screenwriter Horton Foote (Tender Mercies).

Scott W. Smith

There was no illusions
On the summer side of life
Only tenderness

—Gordon Lightfoot
Summer Side of Life

A few days ago I watched the documentary Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind directed by Martha Kehoe and Joan Tosoni. It took me back to August 1983 when I saw Gordon Lightfoot in concert at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles. To borrow the phrase from one of his songs, it was “the summer side of life.”

I was living in Burbank and loved driving by Warner Bros, NBC, Universal and Disney Studios on my way to film school. I was working as a freelance photographer, taking acting lessons, every day was 76 degrees, and the sun was perpetually shining—even at night.

At least, that’s my memory of August 1983. I was 22 and everything seemed possible. And everyone seemed honest.

I went to the Universal Amphitheatre ticket booth inquiring if there were any seats left for the Lightfoot concert that week and without showing any expression Mr. Ticket Booth Man pointed on a chart at two seats front and center. Yeah, those would be good. That was the first and only time to score seats front and center to a concert. I was told that those tickets are set aside for music executives, VIPs, or for the artist to give to friends. If unused they are turned in and go on sale to the public as late as the day of the concert.

The singer songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s (Jimmy Buffett, Jim Croce, John Denver, Bob Dylan, Carole King, Don McLean, Carly Simon, Paul Simon, James Taylor, etc.) are my sweet spot musically. I was pulled in by Peter, Paul and Mary singing Puff the Magic Dragon as a kid, and then hearing American Pie as a 10-year-old sealed the deal.

I’d just become a teenager when Lightfoot’s hits Carefree Highway and Rainy Day People played on the radio. I was too young to really comprehend what he was singing about, but I connected to the vibe and emotions of his music. And all these decades later people are still connecting to his music. Not only is he still performing into his 80s, but his work has been featured recently in Knives Out (the song Sundown), Mr. Robot (the song If You Could Read My Mind), and last year on Family Guy (the song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald).

In his peak popularity Lightfoot played five nights at the Universal Amphitheatre. That would be impossible for any musician to do in 2021. Partly because of the COVID pandemic, but mainly because the Universal Amphitheatre was demolished in 2013 for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood. But regardless, there’s just a short list of entertainers today that could play five nights (non-pandemic) in one city in a facility that seats 6,000 per night.

The singer/songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s eventually gave way on the charts to disco, Urban Cowboy-inspired country, MTV, big hair bands, Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson, Guns N’ Roses, Bon Jovi, etc. Bruce Springsteen may be the only Dylan-inspired musician whose success in the ’70s was surpassed by his hits in the ’80s. Some folk/folk rock artists faded away. Some tried to crossover into harder rock and some into country.

Lightfoot went canoeing and sailing in his home state of Canada. He had ups and downs with relationships and alcohol. But he just kept doing his thing—being a singer and songwriter recording albums and touring. At least he was before COVID hit. But now there’s the documentary to remind some of his talent and introduce him to others.

I don’t remember many details about that 1983 concert in LA. But I do recall thinking that sitting front and center was slightly overrated because you had to look up the whole concert. Technically my long time girlfriend had the one true front and center seat. But it was a great experience to listen up close to his timeless and universal songs full of love, loss, and regret.

I don’t know where we went wrong
But the feeling’s gone and I just can’t get it back

—Gordon Lightfoot
If You Could Read My Mind

The summer ended and soon afterwards my girlfriend and I broke up and she married another guy. And just like that I lived out a Gordon Lightfoot song. I got a puppy that soon died of worms. That year did not end on an up note.

Thankfully the next year was one of the best years of my life. Over the years it seems like every decade has its share of winters, springs, summers, and falls. The key is appreciating each season. And, of course, those times of transition in-between seasons are fertile ground for storytellers.

P.S. My go to Gordon Lightfoot song is Rainy Day People.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

Tampa Memories

Super Bowl LV in Tampa turned out to be not such a super game. But as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were winning their second Super Bowl Championship (and Tom Brady his seventh Super Bowl ring) I started to reflect back on some memories of the Buccaneers and of Tampa.

First I thought back to their 2002 Super Bowl win and I still have the Sports Illustrated after that game. Here it is alongside the team’s first ever home game in 1976 (and my ticket from that game).

The second memory is former Bucs quarterback Doug Williams. When I was a 19-year-old college student and sports reporter and photographer for The Sanford Evening Herald I interviewed him in the off-season. (Williams, Tim Raines, and Jack Billingham were the first pro athletes I met working on that job. Heady stuff for a teenager.)

Williams had a rough few years playing for Tampa Bay, and ended up playing in the USFL, before eventually starting for the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XXII where he lead his team to victory and was awarded the Super Bowl MVP. (Williams also had a solid run as a head coach at Grambling State University, and is an executive with the Washington today).

And lastly as a video producer I was hired to do a freelance shoot with Reggie White in Tampa just before Super Bowl XXXV in 2001. White had recently retired from his Pro Football Hall of Fame worthy career. White and Lawerence Taylor are at the top of the list when mentioning the greatest defensive player in the history of the NFL.

Reggie White (who was known as the “Minister of Defense”) signed his book for me which I still have to this day.

When I was a walk-on with the Miami Hurricanes there was a freshman on the scout team with me named Stanley Shakespeare. He went on to have a solid UM career and started at WR in the 1984 Orange Bowl game in which Miami beat Nebraska on their way to their first national championship. Shakespeare played the last game of the season with the Tampa Bay Bucs in 1987.

Former University of Miami quarterback Jim Kelly is the only QB to lead a team in the NFL to four straight Super Bowls. In Super Bowl 25 (1991) in Tampa, Kelly got the Buffalo Bills into field goal range in the final seconds of a one point game against the New York Giants. Scott Norwood missed the field goal, but the game was ranked a few year’s ago by Sporting News as the 3rd best Super Bowl of all time. Even though I was pulling for the Bills, it was a super Super Bowl.

And my last Tampa memory was going to a Bucs game in 2016. We had seats in the upper bleachers where you mostly watch the game on the jumbotron screen. But late in the third quarter the Atlanta Falcons had a healthy lead and people had already started clearing out because it was a night game. So we walked down closer to the field and got a great view of Mike Evans making a catch that ended up being voted the catch of the year.

P.S. As a kid growing up in Orlando before they had a major pro sports team—and even before Disney World opened—I could never have imaged that one day the top athletes in the world would be talking about coming to Orlando after winning the big game.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

“I approached it with the idea that he was a cavalier, not a hairy-legged slob. The plume feather adds class, I think. I put the dagger in his mouth to add aggression and then had him wink. It is a half wink and half sneer.”
—Artist/cartoonist Lamar Sparkman (on creating the original Tampa Bay Bucs logo)

Way back on August 21, 1976 I went to the very first Tampa Bay Buccaneer home football game ever. It was a preseason game against the Miami Dolphins. They lost. They lost a lot that first season. And the second season. In fact, they lost their first 26 regular season games. (A modern NFL record.)

But it didn’t matter. I was one of the 71,718 fans welcoming a new franchise taking their first baby steps. I was 15 years old and it was my first professional football game to see in person. And I was with my dad. My mom and dad got divorced in the ’60s when I was seven, and when it was far less common than today. He lived in Tampa and would make the hour and a half trip to Orlando occasionally to spend the day with my sister and me.

But the memories I can count of my dad and I alone doing something could fit on one side of a 3X5” index card—without having to do the small handwriting thing. So that first Buccaneer game was a big deal on many fronts. I still have the program and the ticket. It was magical.

What stands out all these years later is Bruce the Winking Pirate on the cover. In case you’re unsure, he’s the one with the funky hat with a feather, long hair, hoop earring, Vincent Price pencil-thin moustache (in his younger, more dashing days), and a knife clutched in his teeth—and did I mention he’s winking? Menacing isn’t he? You’d hate to run into him in a dark alley in Barbados. He’s kind of a cross between swashbuckler Errol Flynn and one of the Village People. He had a few nicknames over the years, but let’s just stick with Bruce the Winking Pirate.

Bruce retired in 1996 for a more threatening skull and swords logo.

As quarterback Tom Brady leads Tampa Bay into the Super Bowl 55 Sunday, several versions of Tom Brady the Winking (or non-winking) Pirate have popped up online. It’s just one more feather in his cap (pun very much intended) as he heads into his 10th Super Bowl game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

I wish I could make the game Sunday because that Super Bowl ticket and program would make a nice bookend to my game one experience. Since I’ve bought Buccaneer tickets in recent years, the organization was kind enough to shoot me an email last week informing me that tickets were still available. Lucky me! But there was a catch, tickets started at $19,126—and you had to buy them in groups. (I read where a sideline ticket was going for close to $60,000.) Tickets may have gone up or down depending on demand. But one of my friends joked that the players on the field were the only ones who could afford to be in the stands.

I’ll be watching on Tv and pulling for the Buccaneers. We’ve got history together.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

”What Tom [Cruise] and I have learned to do over the course of three [Mission: Impossible] movies is we’re constantly striving to make a silent film. We’re pushing harder and harder with each film to make ways where the dialogue doesn’t matter . . . I’m extremely suspicious of dialogue and consider dialogue to be a last resort rather than a first wave of storytelling.”
Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, Mission: Impossible—Fallout)
The Inside Pitch Facebook live interview with Christopher Lockhart

P.S. Of course, one wouldn’t expect Aaron Sorkin to agree with McQuarrie. But here are a couple screenwriters who are in the striving to make a silent film camp.

“The perfect movie doesn’t have any dialogue. So you should always be striving to make a silent movie.”
David Mamet
On Film Directing 

“Storytelling without dialogue. It’s the purest form of cinematic storytelling. It’s the most inclusive approach you can take. It confirmed something I really had a hunch on, is that the audience actually wants to work for their meal.”
—Two time Oscar-winning writer/director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL-E)
TED talk The Clues to a Great Story

Related posts:
Emotionally Silent Dialogue
Storytelling Without Dialogue

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

Here’s are a handful of concepts of what could be called The Jerry Seinfeld System, pulled from various sources over the years. And the great thing about his systematized writing process is it’s simple and cheap.

He used a BIC blue barrel with blue ink pen and a yellow legal pad to write every episode of Seinfeld. (And all of his standup material, too.)

Start out with a basic time limit like 30 or 60 minutes.

Write for only 30 or 60 minutes and stop. Then reward yourself.

Get a calendar and put an X every day you write. Fill the calendar. Continue. (Seinfeld is known for his relentless work ethic.)

Embrace your mediocrity knowing that the only people who get great are the ones who invest a lot of time. (He and Chris Rock once deduced that the best comedians ever only had two hours total of great material over their lifetime.)

Note: Results may vary. But the title of this post is simply to learn how to write, not how to get rich and famous writing screenplays or doing a stand-up routine.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

“I’m Albert Brooks, and I’m speaking to you on behalf of the Famous School for Comedians, located on twenty-two gorgeous acres near Arlington National Park. How many times have you gotten nice laughs at a party, had a friend turn to you and say, ‘You know something. [your name here], that was pretty funny. You should think about being a comedian.’ Well, your friend was right!”
—Albert Brooks

When Jerry Seinfeld was interviewed on The Tim Ferriss Podcast he talked about reading an article in Esquire magazine called Albert Brooks’ Famous School for Comedians. That article was originally published in 1971 putting Seinfeld around 16-years-old when he read it. The funny thing is Seinfeld didn’t realize that the article was a spoof. There not only wasn’t a famous school for comedians, there wasn’t one at all.

I found this website that has the entire article online (without a login). The school lists an advisory faculty, a curriculum, and a comedy talent test. (A warning on that test: It’s 1971 humor so if you’re younger than Jerry Seinfeld, you’ll be offended at least once.)

This was well before the internet or even ubiquitous 24-hour cable TV. Back when people sat around and listened to records of comedians, and maybe caught them on the The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. So give Seinfeld a pass for not getting the joke right away.

What’s important is 16-year-old Jerry Seinfeld already had his antenna tuned toward being a comedian. He graduated from Queens College, rose through the ranks performing stand-up in New York City, then doing the same thing in Los Angeles, before his first appearance on Carson just before his 28th birthday.

Seven years later everyone was watching Seinfeld—which they’re still doing long after the show’s nine season run. And partially explains—despite never having attended Albert Brooks’ Famous School for Comedians— why Jerry Seinfeld is worth close to an estimated one billion dollars today.

In 2020, he published the New York Times Bestseller Is This Anything? That (and his documentary Comedian) are as close as you’ll get to a “Jerry Seinfeld’s School for Comedians.” But we’ll take a look at his process this week—one that he says he hasn’t veered from since he started doing stand-up.

P.S. A massive difference between 1971 and 2021 is a 16-year-old comedian today can have his or her own YouTube following. They’re cranking out content and getting immediate feedback. (Albeit some of it is brutal feedback, but that’s how you develop a thick hide.) But in some ways YouTube and other social media outlets are vaudeville, comedy clubs, and an opportunity to break open your career with a spot on Carson all rolled into one. With a whole talent pyramid that’s always prevalent.

Related posts:
Jerry Seinfeld & Marc Maron on the Essential Element of Comedy
What Changed Jerry Seinfeld’s Life
Jerry Seinfeld (Part 1) On getting his first laugh around age eight.
Jerry Seinfeld (Part 2) On the serious aspect of comedy.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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