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“I can trace so much of what I do every day, when I’m writing, to what I was taught back then by my teachers at Syracuse.”
—Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, A Few Good Men)

Lake Howell Ripples #1

The first photography class I ever had was as a sophomore in high school. The teacher told me to drop the class after the first assignment. I’d borrowed a 35mm film camera, taken a roll of photos, but forgot to rewind the film before opening the back to take the film out. (A good teacher would have said develop the film anyway and see what opening and quickly closing the back did to the negatives.*) Anyway, I told her I was there to learn photography and refused to drop the class. For the last 40 years photography has helped pay the bills and been a key source of personal creativity. Be someone who builds up others rather than tear them down. (Especially if you’re a teacher.)

P.S. I took the above photo on Lake Howell last week from a kayak. I didn’t have to worry about rewinding the film because it was shot from an iPhone. I have taken my Nikon out a couple of times, but so far my better shots have been with the iPhone. I’m grateful for my film and darkroom experience, but love having a device that can quickly grab and process (and share) a vision you see.

*There are apps now to give your photos the effect of “flashing” and light leaks.

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

“My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.”
― Pat Conroy
The Prince of Tides

When I finished watching The Peanut Butter Falcon over the weekend it reminded me of seeing Ferris Bueller’s Day Off the Friday it hit theaters back in 1986. In that I greatly enjoyed both and while the titles seemed wonky at first—after seeing the movies the titles now seem perfect.

It would be hard not to see traces of Forrest Gump and Rain Man in The Peanut Butter Falcon, but I also felt a little bit of a nod to some of my favorite road movies The Straight Story, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, and even Smokey and the Bandit. (Not a spoiler, but one of the destinations in the movie is Jupiter, Florida where Burt Renyolds grew up, opened a dinner theater, and eventually died. Oh, and an old Trans Am makes a cameo.)

And sprinkle in some Mark Twain, Pat Conroy, and Flannery O’Connor with a side of O Brother, Where Art Thou? and I’ve either confused or intrigued the uninitiated about this movie.

I’ll do some research on the film and write a string of posts on it next week. But check it out on Amazon Prime if you haven’t already seen it. It picked up Audience Awards at the SXSW Film Festival (2019), the Nantucket Film Festival (2019), and Crested Butte Film Festival (2019) among other awards.

If you think that streaming services are swimming in “a sea of sameness” check out what the writing/directing team of Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwatz pulled off along with Zack Gottsagen, Shia LaBouf, and Dakota Johnson. And smaller roles with John Hawkes and Thomas Haden Church totally captivated me.

I’m sorry I missed this film when it was in theaters, but maybe nine months into a global pandemic was the best time to see it. And I only know a little about the backstory of how the film got made, but it’s an equally solid story. More on that next week.

How did I miss this film? This could have been a bad After School Special, or a good little regional film, but with a stellar cast it really is elevated to a remarkable film with many wonderful moments.

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

Here’s a photo I took yesterday of a rainbow that emerged for a few fleeting minutes. The pixels on the iPhone didn’t quite hold up so I ran it through the Prima app (Thota Vaikuntam) to give it a little texture and magic.

P.S. Some time in the next few weeks I’ll hit my 100th kayak trip on this lake since the pandemic began. Usually I’m out between and hour or two around sunrise or sunset. I’ve started to think there is a feature I could shoot on this lake. Perhaps a Huck Finn-like adventure, maybe a On Golden Pond-like family drama, or a Big Fish-like fantasy. A mediation film like the journey in David Lynch’s The Straight Story (changing out the riding mower for a kayak) could be interesting. My filmmaker friend Edd suggested I watch The Peanut Butter Falcon for inspiration so I’m watching that tonight. But if you have any suggestions let me know.

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

It is basically Stephen King saw A Nightmare on Elm Street [1984] and did his ripoff of it. The [1988] book It is Stephen King’s ripoff of Nightmare on Elm Street. He just replaces Freddy Krueger with Pennywise. It’s just exactly like he sees Nightmare on Elm Street—Oh wow, that’s goes that’s a really neat idea. That’s really clever. That’s cool. Well, let me take that idea and do my version of it. Now, his version of it is going to be a 560 page novel. As opposed to a one-dimensional character, and at most two-dimensional characters, he’s going to have four-dimensional characters. And the whole history of everyone of them as far as the kids and the relationships with their parents, and their parent’s relationships, and the whole town will be a thing. He’s a terrific writer in that regard, so he fills it full with minutia, and he fills it with his good prose. And he fills it full of his good writing, which is what Wes Craven didn’t have. Take away all that cake frosting, and all the little frosting flowers that are put on it and all that—it’s basically a ripoff of A Nightmare on Elm Street.
—Oscar winning screenwriter Quentin Tarantino
Eli Roth’s History of Horror: Uncut podcast

P.S. Back in 2011, I wrote a string of posts on movie cloning. If I ever revisit that concept I’ll call it movie sampling instead. Here are a couple of links showing how and why some movies are similar to other movies:
Movie Cloning (Part 1)
Movie Cloning (Pirates)
Movie Cloning (Raiders)
Stealing for Screenwriters (According to Paul Schrader)
Originality is Just Undetected Plagiarism—Example A: ‘Pulp Fiction’


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


This is one of the best of all the Abbott and Costello features.”
—Marjorie Baumgarten
Austin Chronicle
An October 2002 review of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

“To some degree or another, I even think Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein affected me as an artist—i.e. the fact that at five I was able to make genre distinctions. This is the Abbott and Costello slapstick comedy part of the movie, this is the Universal horror film part of the movie. And this exists here, and this exists here, and they combine them together. So now they’re combining my two favorite genres together [comedy and horror]. I was even able to make those distinctions. That, oh, this is that type of movie, and this is that type of movie. And this is the best movie ever made because the put my two favorite types together. I’ve been mixing and matching my favorite genres ever since I started putting pen to paper. None of my movies are just one thing. They’re a lot of different genres and subgenres crammed into it.”
—Writer/director Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)
Eli Roth’s History of Horror Uncut podcast
May 9,2019

Related posts:
Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood in 1987 (How Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle Influenced Quentin Tarantino)

‘Once Upon a Time … ’ in Modesto (& the ‘American Graffiti’ Influence on Quentin Tarantino)

The Unofficial Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood Film School

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

“You know, my problem with most screenwriting is it is a blueprint. It’s like they’re afraid to write the damn thing. And I’m a writer. That’s what I do. I want it to be written. I want it to work on the page first and foremost. So when I’m writing the script, I’m not thinking about the viewer watching the movie. I’m thinking about the reader reading the script.
—Quentin Tarantino
2009 NPR Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross

Related posts:
Screenwriting Cheats & William Goldman’s Indirect Influence on ‘A Quiet Place’ (“I try to make my screenplays as readable an experience as I can.”—William Goldman)
Picking Words That Give Readers an Experience
Meet Your First Audience
Once Upon a Time … How Quentin Tarantino Made the Leap from Unpaid to Paid Screenwriter

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

I’m not saying that signs in movies are my number one pet peeve, but it’s where I’ll start this new category. This is something that I started noticing decades ago. I hate it when signs look brand new movies. You know, the ones that set designers/production designers create to match the script. My problem is they often look too new. Too clean. These signs especially stick out in period films when things should look even more weathered and warn.

Because, well, things left out in the elements over time tend to look weathered and warn.

Perhaps part of the problem is there is not enough time or budget to destress a sign. Maybe they’re rentals and not allowed to chip or fade the paint a little. Or maybe because they tend to only be screen for a few seconds, that detail is overlooked because most people won’t notice. But I notice and it takes me out of the film.

I thought of this last week when I passed a sign for Mac’s Used Auto Parts. I thought to myself—THAT is what a weathered sign should look like. In fact, I love the look of that sign so much I pulled over and took a photo of it for show and tell.

P.S. Somewhere between this sign and the pristine signs found in many movies is probably where most signs live. At least a little weathered.

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

Capture the Magic

“When you’re working well all of your instinctive powers are in operation, and you don’t know why you do the things you do.”
—Photographer Dorothea Lange
Grab a Hunk of Lightning documentary

I’m six chapters into recording the audio version of my book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles and looking at it with fresh eyes there are a few things that jump out at me. When you boil down the creative process there seems to be some common traits in people who flourish in the arts.

—Talent
—Ambition
—Work ethic (to hone the natural skills they possess)
—Knowledge (doesn’t have to be a formal education)

But then there is that extra something-something that really helps some people rise above others and create something special that resonates with a large group of people. Some would call it intuition, and others would call it magic.

I thought of that yesterday when I listened to a podcast interview with Mike Campbell. He co-wrote the songs Refugee, Here Comes My Girl, and You Got Lucky with Tom Petty, and The Boys of Summer with Don Henley.

“Writing is such a mystical thing. Sometimes you’re just in the moment— playing that riff or whatever— and you’re just toiling around trying to put two pieces together, and sometimes a song will just reveal itself to you. It’s like magic, it really is. It’s almost so mystical that I hate to analyze it.”
—Musician Mike Campbell (Tom Petty’s right hand man for 30 years)
The Moment with Brian Koppelman

Here’s a section from my book:

Over the years I’ve spent enough money on Jimmy Buffett concerts, music, and books to help him buy a small island in Margaritaville. When asked on a 60 Minutes interview about his talent Buffett said, ‘I’m an adequate musician. I wish I was a better guitar player, and I’m a fair singer. They’re not my strongest suits . . . I’m a go capture the magic guy.”

And he’s captured enough magic to not only have that rare career that has sustained an audience for over five decades, but he’s built an entertainment and lifestyle empire making his personal worth over $500 million. That’s a lot of magic. How it happened is even a mystery to Buffett.

May you capture the magic in your writing today. But if your muse is like Stephen King’s it’s less like Tinkerbell tapping you on the shoulder, and more like the working stuff guy shoveling coal in the basement. And his only shows up when he’s at a desk writing.

P.S. Here’s a line from the song The Heart of the Matter written by Mike Campbell, Don Henley, and J.D. Souther that resonates strongly three decades after it was written:

These times are so uncertain
There’s a yearning undefined
People filled with rage
We all need a little tenderness
How can love survive in such a graceless age?

Scott W. Smith

“My steadiest survival job was working as a bartender in Broadway theaters. I wrote most of A Few Good Men on cocktail napkins at the Palace Theatre during the first act of La Cage aux Folles.”
—Writer Director Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network)

P.S. Here’s a quote where Sorkin expanded that thought about his survival jobs:

“I bartended in Broadway theaters, I dressed up as a moose and handed out leaflets. I drove a limousine, I delivered singing telegrams. I did all kinds of things you’re going to do, because it’s unlikely that you’re going to graduate and instantly be hired to do what you dream of doing.”
—Aaron Sorkin
The Hollywood Reporter interview with Stephen Galloway

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles which in available in paperback and eBook.

“Reversals are a more compelling form of discoveries or revelations because they turn the story upside down.”
Karl Iglesias
Writing for Emotional Impact

CBS Sports headline Nov. 9, 2020

Last week was historic—I did my first podcast interview about my book . (When that interview about my book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles is posted I’ll write about it here.)

This week was historic, too. On Sunday, Tampa Bay’s quarterback Tom Brady lost a game by the biggest margin of his entire career. And his former team, the New England Patriots, are on track to have their worst season in 20 years. That’s quite a reversal from just a few years ago when Brady was with the Patriots and led them to Super Bowl victories in 2016, 2017, 2018. (And three others a little further back.)

The year 2020 could be called one gigantic reversal. Thanks to the disruption of COVID-19 life as we know it may never go back to the way it was at the beginning of the year.

Back in 2016 I wrote a post about the United States Presidential Election that was a great example of a major reversal. A reversal that favored Donald Trump. So it’s fitting to look at the 2020 election in terms of reversals and the takeaway lessons from a screenwriting perspective.

Do you remember early February of 2020? Bernie Sanders won the most votes in the Iowa caucuses and Pete Buttigieg won the most delegates in the race to pick a Democratic Presidential candidate. Then those two duked it out in New Hampshire. On February 22 Sanders won Nevada. At that point, 77-year-old Joe Biden had never won a single primary and seemed to be on his way out of the race. (Maybe even out of politics.)

Yet here we are less than nine months later and Biden not only became the Democratic candidate, but (unless there is another reversal) he’s been elected as the 46th President of the United States.

“A reversal changes the direction of the story 180 degrees…Reversals can work physically or emotionally. They can reverse the action or reverse a character’s emotions.”
Linda Seger
Making A Good Script Great
Page 67

Minor reversals (good and bad) are a daily part of our lives, but major reversals really get our attention.  It’s a divorce, a death, or the loss of a job. But it’s also a marriage, a birth, and a promotion. It’s been said that there really are only two emotions, happy and sad.

Movies are also full of minor reversals. Just about every scene has some kind of reversal in it.  The uncertainty holds our attention. But what sets a major reversal apart is scope and magnitude.

In Rocky, when Adrian finally accepts a date from Rocky that’s a reversal in their relationship up unto that point. When Rocky loses his locker, that’s a reversal. But when Rocky, a low-level, club boxer is chosen to fight the champion Apollo Creed, that is a major reversal in the story. It’s such a major reversal that five Rocky movies have flowed from the reversal.

If Rocky isn’t chosen for that fight, perhaps he realizes that boxing really isn’t his calling in life and takes a factory job where he ends up fighting the system like Erin Brockovich and Norma Rae. But Rocky fought for the championship and it resulted in a franchise that’s made over a billion dollars at the box office.

Robert Mckee says a film needs to have at least three major reversals to “satisfy the audience” and I’d agree with that. But I’d add that there are five places in script where major reversals are not only common, but needed:

  1. The inciting incident. (What others call the “Knock at the door.”) It’s the thing that sets your story in motion.
  2. Act 1 Turning point
  3. Midpoint conflict
  4. Act 2 Turning point
  5. Crisis/Climax toward the end of your story.

Many memorable movie scenes are major reversals that loosely fit in one of the above categories.

“Reversals go a long way toward helping writers confront the twin-edge sword of predictability.”
Richard Walters
Essentials of Screenwriting
Page 74

Off the top of my head here are some major reversals:

—”I see dead people.” (If you don’t know the reference I won’t spoil it for you.)
—”She’s my sister and my daughter.” (Ditto the above note.)
—The ______ in the box in Se7en.
—The tornado in The Wizard of Oz.
—The plane crash in Cast Away.
— The super posse shows up in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
—Matt Damon gets stranded on Mars (The Martian).
—Sandra Bullock gets lost in space (Gravity).
—A command module malfunctions (Apollo 13).
—Jerry Maguire gets fired.
—Zoltar grants the young boy Josh his wish and he wakes up as a man (Big)
—The warden throws a rock through a Raquel Welch poster in Shawshank.
—Woody in the box at the end of Toy Story 3. (Yes, I shed a tear or two.)
Both Fight Club and A Beautiful Mind have major reversals where the audience learns the main character has a mental illness.
—When Tom Cruise learns who the Rain Man is (Rain Man).
—And the Keyser Soze ending to The Usual Suspects.

In the “Marge vs. the Monorail” episode of The Simpsons, what appears to be a great way to spend a $3 million dollar windfall to Springfield turns out to endanger lives and the town.

And then there is the reversal in The Social Network when the co-founder of Facebook (Eduardo Saverin) learns his stock worth millions even in the early days of Facebook had been diluted to be worth less than $20,000. Reversals can be very emotional.

P.S. But don’t feel too sorry for Saverin—for he had his own major reversal. He won a lawsuit against Facebook and today the investor has a net worth estimated to be over $13 billion. (Yes, that’s thirteen billion. A chunk of which came off a $15,000 investment in a start up then called The Facebook.)

Scott W. Smith

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