Francis Ford Coppola‘s prompt book for The Godfather is several inches thick and contains Mario Puzo’s book The Godfather with note after note by Coppola as he details what parts he wants to extract and emphasize in the movie. The prompt book was the foundation for which he wrote the script.

Coppola explains that the prompt book is a tradition carried over from his theater days. (Before Coppola got a master’s in film at UCLA, he received a theater degree from Hofstra University.) Coppola also says he based his prompt book on one that Elia Kazan had done for A Streetcar Named Desire. Kazan has written several books about his life and films including  Kazan on Directing and there are many other books that gleam insights from him that I’m sure was an encouragement to Coppola during his own difficult time of getting The Godfather made.

“When I started On the Waterfront, I was what they call unbankable. Nobody would put up money for me because I had had a series of box office failures…. One of my happiest moments was when I got the Academy Award for On the Waterfront.”
Elia Kazan
Kazan: The Master Director Discusses His Films Interviews with Elia Kazan
Jeff Young

In the below video, Coppola discusses part of the process that he went through in writing the script for The Godfather;

“On page 79 of the book we have the actual shooting of the Don. Whenever I felt there was a really important part of the book that was going to be in the movie I would sit there with my ruler and really underline—so this details the shooting. My margin notes are; THE SHOOTING! GREAT DETAIL. The Don is the main character of the movie, so as in Pyscho , we are totally thrown when he is shot. How would Hitchcock design this? Hitchcock was such a master about manipulating information for the audience, usually telling you things so that you were equipped to enjoy what you were seeing —rather than withholding information, he would give you information.”
Francis Ford Coppola

Scott W. Smith

“It’s true I rewrite a lot. You know, I don’t have that kind of talent that, you know,  I saw of kids who could draw beautiful pictures…my talent is I just try and try, and try and try again, and little by little it comes to something that I think is okay.”
Five time Oscar winning writer/director Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather)
Inside the Actor’s Studio interview with James Lipton

Related post: That Time William Goldman Got a ‘C’ in Creative Writing

[Substance definition: Significance or importance]

I think if you put energy into how do I break into the industry, how do I get an agent, how do I – it’s putting the cart before the horse. I think that ultimately first and foremost practicing. Shooting it. And then reshooting it. And reshooting it. And rewriting. And just getting, working on yourself and getting better. But just doing it.

Like getting a camera. Getting whatever camera you can get your hands on. And making stuff. And then getting out there however you can. I actually think practically that’s the industry – you can’t say the industry will be the path to your door, but I think the best way to find your career is just to do what you do and get it out there however you can…. Double down on substance. And that ultimately is what everybody is looking for so hard out there. Everybody wants something that’s interesting and good.”
Writer/director Rian Johnson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi)
Scriptnotes Q&A with Craig Mazin (Episode 299)

Related posts:
The 99% Focus Rule (via Oscar winning screenwriter Michael Arndt)
Rod Serling on Breaking In
The Myth of “Breaking In” (Terry Rossio)
Follow Your Own Wacko Vision
‘I never saw myself as a sitcom writer, but I was waiting tables’—How Rob McElhenny helped launch his career with a camera he bought at Best Buy.
Filmmaking Quote #31 (Annie Mumolo)  “Whether it’s short films or whatever you can do, my advice is make your own stuff. I’m a real believer in preparation meets opportunity…”

Scott W. Smith

Hurricane Survival Mode

Squalls out on the Gulf Stream
Big storm commin’ soon
Jimmy Buffett/Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season


My dad was a pilot in the Air Force (flying C-120s/C-130s) and gave me a survival book when I was a kid. It’s got cool pictures of how to, well, survive if you were put into an extreme situation. Fortunately, I’ve never had to actually use the book—but I’ve held on to it all these years. And when Hurricane Irma was heading toward where I live in Florida last week I was aware where I kept this book.


It doesn’t take much in 2017 for the veneer to be pulled back on our modern day lives in the United States to be reminded how quickly our lives can change with the disruption of everyday services like food, water, gas, and electricity. (There are still a million people without power in Florida a week after the hurricane hit Florida.)

Irma Photo

There was one situation last week that I witnessed first hand at a UPS place that I found humorous. I just went in to drop off a return package and there was a lady who said this basically verbatim:

“I understand there was a storm and there are delays—but these are $500 shoes and I paid $36 for them to be overnighted. I don’t want them left on the front steps of my house, and I don’t want to just wait here until the driver shows up. I don’t think anyone here is appreciating my time.” 

True story. Now I don’t live in the world of $500 shoes (I think my last pair cost less than her overnight shipping) and I’m sure she had a a real reason for needing those shoes ASAP, but her attitude wasn’t getting a lot of sympathy from anyone.  I thought to myself, “The customer is always right—unless they’re acting like a bitch two days after a hurricane that has caused major disruptions for millions of people.” UPS/Fed Ex crews, despite their efficiencies, were not exempt from the hurricane’s disruption.

But I do hope she got her shoes. Maybe they were some kind of high end survival shoes that she needed to wear as she sifted through her things in her destroyed home down in the Florida Keys or wade through flood waters filled with water moccasins hoping to find her missing puppy lost in the storm. It never hurts to think the best of people.

P.S. My dad was in ROTC at Ohio State, did his flight training in San Angelo, Texas, was briefly stationed in Smyrna, Tennessee, and later flew in the reserves out of Savanah, Georgia. He died in 1995 and never spoke much about his time in the service which was in that window between Korea and Viet Nam. Love to hear a story or two if you were a pilot in the Air Force. Ever have to use the Survival book put out by the Air Force Department of Defense? Shoot me an email at info@scottwsmith.com.

Scott W. Smith

“Once there was a tree, and she loved a little boy.” 
Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree


Like a good antagonist there are many ways a hurricane can do damage. The above photo I took the day after Hurricane Irma hit Central Florida is one example.

There’s the powerful winds (including tornados tucked inside the hurricane) that can destroy trees and homes. The storm surge which brings a flood of water. There’s the threat of downed power lines. The loss of power in a sweltering climate that can’t be repaired for days or even weeks. There’s human mischief (like the ex-husband who killed his former wife in Houston right before Hurricane Harvey hit Houston).

There’s infrastructure problems (roadssewagecell phone service). There’s neglect (which may have caused the death of eight elderly people in a nursing home that had lost electricity and air conditioning). There are accidents (several people have died in Florida from carbon monoxide poisoning due to placing generators in garages). And—as if all that other stuff isn’t enough— snakebites.

The loss of homes, businesses, income, electricity and basic human needs takes it’s toll in a variety of ways; physical, financial, emotional, and spiritual.  Four days after the storm passed there are still people staying in shelters, others sleeping in cars, and millions in their homes but without power/air-conditioning (with daytime temperatures around 90 degrees).

You know the damage to the power grid is severe when the closest Walmart to me has been closed for four days. The St. Johns River has yet to crest causing additional damage to homes inland that have never had a problem with flooding. While many have said the damage could have been worse, this disruption—like what happened in Houston— will have a lasting impact for years.

But we’re already hearing stories of hope. Of things people did, and are doing, to help other people. And telling and retelling those stories is what’s been called medicine for the soul. We are people that need stories to survive.

Related posts:
Shelter from the Storm (Dylan)
Against the Wind

Scott W. Smith


“It could have been much worse. That was the grateful mantra on the lips of many on Monday, even as an estimated 12 million Floridians prepared for a dark night without air conditioning in the muggy post-storm swelter.”
The Washington Post on Hurricane Irma 9.11.17

Courtesy of Hurricane Irma I spent 40 hours this week living off the grid in Orlando. There are much worse things than losing your power for two days in a hot and humid climate—say, like losing your entire house or having it partially submerged underwater like others in Florida, Texas, and the Caribbean recently.

I’ll share some photos and thoughts in the coming days, but with my electricity on hiatus I went through a mental purge. I can’t think of a time in the past decade where I was away from a phone, computer,  TV, etc. for so long.

It’s common during those unplugged moments to ask yourself questions like, “What’s really important to me?” and “What do I really need?” The Bible talks about being “content with food and clothing,” but we don’t live in a culture where that’s promoted or honored.

“Everything is amazing right now, and nobody’s happy.”
Comedian C.K. Louis

Be grateful for the little things. Senator Cory Booker’s dad grew up in poverty and told his son growing up, “If you were just born in America, you already won the lottery.”

And so despite learning about the new Apple iPhone X while I was off the grid, I’ve decided to try and be content with food and clothing—and my iPhone7 Plus.

It’s a start.

Well, food, clothing, my iPhone 7 Plus…and air-conditioning—that’s all I need.

So it was fitting that the first movie trailer I saw post-Hurricane Irma was for Alexander Payne’s new movie Downsizing. After being consumed with images and news reports of natural disasters for the past couple of weeks, seeing the trailer for that satire starring Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig looks to be the perfect synthesis of humor and philosophy needed for our times.

P.S. Downsizing screenwriters Payne and Jim Taylor seem to be tapping into that time honored Hollywood concept of “Give me the same thing, only different.” (Or, “I want something original, but familiar.”)  A fresh spin on a proven concept of miniaturizing people. Swimming in the same water as The Incredible Shrinking Man (1959),  Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989), The Borrowers (1997), Innerspace (1997), The Tooth Fairy (“Shrinking paste”) and Steve Martin’s 1974 comedy album Let’s Get Small. The fresh spin appears to be mixing it with themes of consumerism/materialism.

Scott. W. Smith

“It’s like we’re in this sweet spot. It’s like we’re blessed somehow, protected.”
Allison Yeh, a planner for Hillsborough County in Tampa
(As quoted in the Washington Post/July 2017.)

“We’re about to get punched in the face.”
Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn /September 10, 2017

“By a stroke of gambler’s luck, Tampa Bay hasn’t suffered a direct hit from a hurricane as powerful as a category 3 or higher in nearly a century. Tampa has doubled down on a bet that another won’t strike anytime soon, investing billions of dollars in high-rise condominiums along the waterfront and shipping port upgrades and expanding a hospital on an island in the middle of the bay to make it one of the largest in the state.”
Darryl Fears
Tampa Bay’s Coming Storm
Washington Post, July 28, 2017

In 2010, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council produced The Tampa Bay Catastrophic Plan regarding Hurricane Phoenix described as “a fictitious storm created to simulate the effects of a worst‐case scenario.”

The difference between that report and the real life Hurricane Irma is the fictitious hurricane was a category 5 storm and Hurricane Irma is currently at category 4. Some forecasters predict that Hurricane Irma will be downgraded to a category 3 when it hits the Tampa/St. Pete area—but that’s still winds between 111 to 130 mph.

And in a land with a large population of mobile homes there’s bound to be destruction form the only the wind. But perhaps more from the water surge. The purpose of the report was how the area should respond in various scenarios..

The goal of this planning process is to develop strategies that will help the Tampa Bay region to recover and rebuild after such a devastating catastrophe.”

So while the area hasn’t been hit hard by a hurricane in almost 100 years, they’ve known they are not immune. Here’s a video that was also produced as part of the Phoenix project.

Watching that video, reading the report—along with the Tampa Bay’s Coming Storm article by Darryl Fears has been a better use of my time as I wait out this storm here in central Florida with the rain and wind just starting to kick up. (I’ve also been re-reading the 1977 John D. MacDonald novel Condominium that tracks what happens when people bite off a little too much of paradise as a hurricane hits the west coast of Florida.

Let’s hope that the damage from Hurricane Irma is limited to only buildings and infrastructures. Thanks to all the first responders working around the clock.

In 24 hours or so this hurricane will be reduced to a tropical storm, the sun will come out again, the finger pointing will begin, and humans will do what they’ve doing after every setback since the beginning of time—regroup and then rebuild or move on.

Scott W. Smith


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