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”I think it’s one of those times to really think about everything that’s important in your life.”
—Surfer Kelly Slater (on the pandemic in 2020)
The Tim Ferriss Show

Sign in Cocoa Beach, FL (September 2020)

On Saturday I went to the beach for the first time since things started getting funky with COVID-19 in March.

It was a great summer day and a reminder of what the world was like just earlier this year.

I spent a little time in the water at Cocoa Beach and Satellite Beach. And I filled part of my drive time with an interview the surfing legend Kelly Slater did with Tim Ferriss.

Slater grew up in Cocoa Beach and it was fitting I drove by a statue of him (twice) that they have there on A1A. Slater’s 48 now with 11 World Surf League titles to his name including being both the youngest and the oldest WSL champ.

And he’s still active and competing against men more than half his age. What I liked about the interview is Slater is heading into new territory as he thinks about his future.

Who hasn’t lived through the last six months without thinking that they’re heading into new territory and thinking about your future?

I’d been pushing so hard to get my book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles published this month that I kind of hit a wall afterwards. Not quite the “tunnel vision syndrome” that elite athletes have after the Olympic games are over on when they retire, but just a little let down. Hunting for that reset button.

I thought once the book hit I might try blogging twice a day for a couple weeks. Instead, here I am with my first blog post in over a week.

But thank you to those if you who purchased the eBook and/or paperback. I had hoped to have an audio version released at the same time, but now hoping to have that done by the end of the year.

I did convert the closet in my home office into a makeshift VO booth (and a place to try to less annoy my wife during zoom meetings). And starting a podcast and producing some YouTube videos is on my shortlist to launch this year as well. (Not sure what the podcast looks like, but I welcome your suggestions.)

My guess is 2020 is going to going down as one gigantic transition year. My hope is that we emerge from it better people, in a better world.

P.S. Slater talks on the podcast about his friends who have been foiling (or foil surfing) in Cape Canaveral with incredible mile long rides. Here are two videos that I found online that adds a new wrinkle to water sports. (Tow foiling and wing foiling. Both of these videos were shot about an hour from Orlando. Something to add to my wish list to try.)

Scott W. Smith

“The good news is, you’ve already taken the initiative by reading this book. It doesn’t matter if you’re from Iowa or Iceland. You don’t need an agent or a manager. You don’t need to place first in a screenplay competition. You don’t need to wait to wait for permission. All you need, is to start.”
—Screenwriter Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (A Quiet Place)
From the forward to Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

Look out Casey Neistat — I just published my second YouTube video on this channel in the past six years. It’s a teaser for my book
Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles which is now available on Amazon.

Many thanks to those of you who’ve been longtime readers of this blog. When I started blogging in January 2008 my original idea was to sort of blog a book in a year. Now after 3,000 posts later here it is. (But more of a stand alone book than I originally planned.) Wouldn’t have gotten here without all the people continuing to read the website.

I am thinking about doing more videos. Perhaps monthly. Perhaps weekly. We’ll see.

Like the book cover I wrote about in my last post, for this video I gathered some ideas and concepts and did a rough edit of this teaser then sent it to editor Josh McCabe who I used to work with Iowa and let him do his magic. Josh has worked on projects with national brands including NBC and Smashbox, and did a stint with TBWA in LA. Check out his website and contact him there if you have a project you need edited.

Scott W. Smith

Because I am drawn to clean and simple (even understated) design I knew that was what I was aiming for with the book cover of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles. (Think the Nike swoosh, the Apple logo, or the “U” design for the University of Miami.)

This is what Predrag Capo came up with that exceeded my expectations. (He’s based in Serbia and can be reached on 99designs/ CsapoDesign).

In my original brief here is my feeble attempt to draw what I had in mind. Capo took that idea and ran with it. I thought I wanted a white background, but he flipped it around and presented a concept that I liked better. The best idea wins is a good motto to go by.

The digital version of the book is in presale for release on Monday. And you can order the paperback version now. They say the first week of sales is important to gain momentum, so please show your support by buying one (or buying a dozen.) And please take the time to leave a review on Amazon as I’m told that also makes a difference.

P.S. In the coming days I’ll pass on the secret handshake of writing and publishing a book. Though it took me 12 years, there are only 10 or 20 steps you need to do to publish your own book. It’s not a bad skill to pick up in these uncertain times.

Scott W. Smith

“The good news is, you’ve already taken the initiative by reading this book. It doesn’t matter if you’re from Iowa or Iceland. You don’t need an agent or a manager. You don’t need to place first in a screenplay competition. You don’t need to wait to wait for permission. All you need, is to start.”
—Screenwriters Scott Beck & Bryan Woods in the forward to Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

brassfrontbook1

Man, I could write a book on writing a book. What started out a blog a book a year in 2008, turned a 12 year journey. Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles will officially launch on September 14 on Amazon. You can preorder the digital version now, and the paperback soon. (I’m also working on an audio version.)

One writer friend who read it said it’s like a greatest hits of screenwriting advice. I’ll take that. What I tried to do with this blog over the years is curate the most helpful (and often contradictory) advice my some of the top writers throughout the history of film and television.

Call it the era between Fred Ott’s Sneeze (1897) and the global pandemic that forced movie theaters to shut down for months in 2020. With a little Shakespeare and Aristotle thrown in to make me appear smarter than I am.

I asked my wife what we were going to do with the profits and she said, “Take me to IHOP.” Granted screenwriting books are a niche market (and there’s no shortage of them), but if this blog has been helpful to you over the days/weeks/months/years then please purchase a copy so I can take my wife to IHOP as soon as it’s safe to eat inside. That Classic BreakFAST Sampler is starting to sound good.

Next week I’ll talk about the process of writing the book. Those of you wanting to write a book will find it helpful. Others will find my #uphillallthewayeveryday battle entertaining. There’s been such a big learning curve.

But there have been a few peak moments. And one of them I’ll announce today for the first time is screenwriter Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (A Quiet Place) wrote the forward to the book. Beck/Woods graduated from the University of Iowa in 2008 before heading off to Hollywood to find great success.

Deadline just announced on September 1 that Beck/Woods are set to write and direct 65 starring Adam Driver.

P.S. I’m going to give away an older camera of mine as a promotion to this book. The Pansonic HVX 200 is an older camera, but in the right hands you can create some magic. (I believe the indie film Puffy Chair was shot with an HVX.) Still trying to figure out details on how merge that with a book promotion so if you have any ideas email me at info@scottwsmith.com.

Scott W. Smith

Once when I was in film school I skipped a class to go to a double feature at a revival house (in Pasadena, I believe) that was showing Tender Mercies and Tomorrow. Both starred Robert Duvall and were written by playwright and screenwriter Horton Foote.

Foote won his first Oscar Award for writing To Kill a Mockingbird, and his second 21 years later for Tender Mercies. Foote also won a Primetime Emmy for his script for Old Man (1997). 

And to round out his Mt. Rushmore of films, The Trip to Bountiful was nominated for both an Oscar and a Emmy. The film version starring Geraldine Page was release in 1985 and the TV version starring Cicely Tyson in 2014.

His career spanned more than sixty years. Though he spent time in New York City and Los Angeles the are that he was known for indirectly exploring in his writings could be considered an Unlikely Place—his hometown of Wharton, Texas (about 60 miles south of Houston).

The Bruce Beresford directed Tender Mercies is on my short list of all-time favorite films. It moved me from the first time I saw it, and was the first movie I ever saw three times in theaters. It came out in the early days of MTV and stylistically worlds apart from Journey’s Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) music video that also came out in 1983.

Film critic Pauline Kael called it a “bare-bone art movie” that “Mostly the picture consists of silences; long shots of the bleak, flat land, showing the horizon line (it gives the film integrity).”  If that doesn’t make you want to watch it tonight, consider that it was Duvall’s sole Oscar win.

The supporting cast of Ellen Barkin, Wilford Brimley, Betty Buckley, Tess Harper, and Allen Hubbard, the cinematography of Russell Boyd, and the art direction of Jeannine Oppewall all helped make this an extraordinary film and I’m always disappointed it never shows up on those 100 greatest American movies list.

Foote also wrote essays and won a Pulitzer Prize for his play The Young Man from Atlanta.  So I was interested to come across this exchange on the internet called A Conversation with Horton Foote :

Ramona Cearley: Much of your writing evokes a lyrical sense of place and strength of character. Where do your stories begin? How do you choose what to write about?

Horton Foote: I suppose it is oversimplification that you write about what you know. I’ve never really analyzed it. It’s a very mysterious process, this finding what you want to write about and how it appears and how it urges you to finish it and to go through all the pain.

I’ve said this before that some giants of dramatic writing often aren’t the best to reveal their creative process. Like baseball great Ted Williams being asked how he hits a baseball so well, and reportedly replying, I wait for a good pitch and I swing.

What I’ve tried to do in my book coming out this month is extrapolate, synthesis, and curate the best screenwriting advice from Fred Ott’s Sneeze (1987) to the shutting down of movie theaters during the coronavirus. More on that in the next two weeks, but you can pre-order Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles here.

But here’s some real practical advice from the master that was done before high speed internet became ubiquitous.

“The main thing about writing is perseverance. It’s a job that you can easily be distracted from; there are a lot of temptations. When I was coming along, we didn’t have the temptation of television. You could spend the rest of your life listening to that if you weren’t careful. Writing is a lonely journey, and writers have to find their own way. That’s the most important thing: to realize that your own voice is the most important gift you have.”
—Horton Foote

Related posts:
Screenwriting Quote of the Day #56 (Horton Foote)

Scott W. Smith 

 

“Sometimes you need to get knocked down before you can really figure out what your fight is, and how you need to fight it. . . . The struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.”
—Actor Chadwick Boseman
2018 Howard University Commencement Speech

Legacy. What is a legacy?
It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see
I wrote some notes at the beginning of a song someone will sing for me
”The World Was Wide Enough” from Hamilton

This morning I woke up and heard that actor Chadwick Boseman died of cancer at age 43. Known for his lead role in the Black Panther and as Jackie Robinson in 42. 

Here’s a scene from 42 with Boseman and Harrison Ford as (Branch Rickey) dealing with the struggles of being the first black baseball player in Major League Baseball. Followed by an old Jackie Robinson interview (from the 1970s shortly before he died).

Earlier this week I was editing a video project on Renaissance art for a humanities professor. It was a talk that connected in my mind a few dots. Dot that went all the way back to ancient Greece and extended into our present times.

At the same time I was editing, and only about 10 miles away here in Central Florida the Milwaukee Bucks  boycotted playing a basketball game against the Orlando Magic. They were protesting a shooting by police of Jacob Blake (a 29-year-old black man) a few days ago in Kenosha, Wisconsin,

By the end of the day several teams in the NBA, WNBA, Major League Baseball, and Major League Soccer joined the boycott. I don’t think anything of that magnitude has ever happened in professional sports.

On Wednesday of this week I finished the last episode of the Ken Burns documentary The Civil War which I hadn’t seen in entirety since it first aired on PBS 30 years ago. It also connected a lot of dots. In some ways, The Civil War doc plays better in 2020 than it even did in 1990. It’s not hard to connect the dots back a few hundred years to when the first slaves were brought to the new world in 1619, and connect them to our present time.

Much has changed for the good, and much has not changed. What led me to rewatching The Civil War was watching Hamilton on Disney+.  A musical that not only was unique for telling the story of the founding fathers with a multi-multi-rational cast, but one that touched on how dealing with slavery was a part of the debate in 1776 of what it meant for “all men created equal.” It would take almost another 100 years—and the loss of 600,000+ soldiers in the Civil War—for the freeing of slaves.

Now here we are almost 160 years after President Abraham Lincoln issued The Emancipation Proclamation. And  still, as The Constitution if the U.S.A.states,, working on forming “a more perfect union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility.”

In a year that has brought about more than its share of struggles, here’s some encouraging words from 2018 commencement speech by Chadwick Boseman as he received and honorary doctorate from his alma mater Howard University. (Keep in mind that he was already diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer when he gave this talk.)

Book update: I’ll have some news here on Tuesday, September 1 about finally releasing my book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles into the world in a couple of weeks.

Scott W. Smith

“All creative work is mystical. How dare they demystify it? How dare they think they can demystify it? . . . I was never conscious of my screenplays having any acts. I didn’t know what a character arc was.”
—Screenwriter John Milius (Apocalypse Now, Big Wednesday)
2015 Creative Screenwriting interview with Erik Bauer

“These things I call the DOLTS; death, order, love, transformation, sovereignty—these things you’ll find in the classics.”
—Greg Robin Smith
Stealing from Shakespeare

Here are 23 examples of how Lin-Manual Miranda keeps the life or death stakes (or at least conflict) in the foreground of the first act of Hamilton. And has a healthy dose of foreshadowing in the background that will pay off in act two.:

  1. Aaron Burr in the second song:
    “Fools who run their mouths off wind up dead.”
  2. Alexander Hamilton in the third song:
    “I am not throwing away my shot” 
    (One line that actually packs into it foreshadowing, double meaning/irony, and stakes)
  3. Hamilton in the fourth song:
    “I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory.”
  4. Lafayette/Mulligan/Laurens sing together in the fourth song:
    “I may not live to see our glory!”
  5. Peggy Schulyer in the fifth song:
    “It’s bad enough there’ll be violence on our shore.”
  6. Samuel Seabury in the sixth song:
    “Chaos and bloodshed are not A solution.”
  7. King George in the seventh song:
    “Cuz when push comes to shove, I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.”
  8. George Washington in the eight song:
    “We are outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, outplanned.”
  9. Burr in the ninth song:
    “Washington hires Hamilton right on sight, But Hamilton still wants to fight.”  
  10. Hamilton in the tenth song:
    “Eliza, I don’t have a dollar to my name, an acre of land, a troop to command, a dollop of fame.”
  11. Angelica Schulyer in the eleventh song:
    “He will never be satisfied. I will never be satisfied.” 
  12. Laurens in the twelfth song:
    “Well, well, I heard you’ve got someone on the side, Burr.”
  13. Burr in the thirteenth song:
    “Hamilton faces an endless uphill climb.”
  14. George Washington in the fourteenth song:
    “Stay alive ’til this horror show is past. We’re gonna fly a lot of flags half-mast.”
  15. Company sings in the fifteenth song:
    “Pick a place to die where it’s high and dry.”
  16. Hamilton in the sixteenth song:
    “I’m more than willing to die—”
  17. Eliza Schulyer in the seventieth song:
    ”The fact that you’re alive is a miracle. Just stay alive, that would be enough.”
  18. Burr sings in the eighteenth song:
    ”How does a ragtag volunteer army in need of a shower, somehow defeat a global superpower?”
  19. Washington in the ninetieth song:
    ”I led my men straight into a massacre, I witnessed their deaths first hand.”
  20. Hamilton in the twentieth song:
    “If this is the end of me, at least I have a friend with me, weapon in my hand, a command, and my men with me.”
  21. King George in the twenty-first song:
    “Oceans rise. Empires fall. It’s much harder when it’s all your call.”
  22. Burr/Hamilton in he twenty-second song:
    ”We’ll bleed and fight for you, we’ll make it right for you.”
  23. Burr in the twenty-third song:
    “Ev’ry proclamation guarantees ammunition for your enemies!”

These 23 songs take us to the intermission of Hamilton, and I’m going to pause my run of posts on the musical. I’ll switch gears in tomorrow’s post, and pick up with Hamilton later in the year.

Related post:
What’s at Stake? 
What’s at Stake? (David Wain)
Setups & Payoffs

Scott W. Smith

 

Let me tell you what I wished I’d known
when I was young and dream of glory
“Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”
Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda

One (of the many) remarkable things about the storytelling of Hamilton is how the creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, compressed the story down to 2 hours and 40 minutes. Personally, the story flies by. And it is that compression that makes the story stand up to repeated viewing.

Plus, the more I listen to the soundtrack while driving the more layers I find. In the song “Stay Alive” there are these lines:

Congress writes, ‘George, attack the British forces.’ I shoot back, we have resorted to eating our horses.
Local Merchants deny use equipment, assistance, they only take the British money, so sing a song of sixpence.

Miranda compresses into 35 words what could be told in a 10 part miniseries. The is the struggle General George Washington and his army face during the American Revolution.

Whether it’s a brief mention of the “Battle of Monmouth” or a passing remark by Aaron Burr about his grandfather being “a fire and brimstone preacher” are each places you could pause Hamilton and spend hours doing research on the internet.

In a later post, I will write about Burr’s grandfather and the spiritually saturated storytelling used throughout Hamilton.  I doubt that one in 100,000 viewers of Hamilton could name Burr’s grandfather —Jonathan Edwards— and far fewer ever read Edwards’ most famous sermon.  The layers are so deep in Hamilton. 

I’m sure part of that is due to Miranda compressing Ron Chernow’s book on Hamilton into a musical, but it takes a creative genius to make history entertaining, informative, educational, dramatic—and singable all at the same time. Here are two songs, sung near the end of act 1, that are examples of contrast in storytelling.

Another thing that worked for me on the storytelling front is how Miranda contrasted the big events of the American Revolution with the small events such as Hamilton and Eliza meeting, and the birth of their son Phillip.

There is much spectacle throughout Hamilton, and gigantic events that helped shape the United States of America. But at the end of the day, it is the smaller moments with Alexander, Eliza and Phillip that pack the big emotional punch at the end.

In that I am reminded of producer Lindsay Doran’s TED Talk, “Saving the World vs. Kissing the Girl,”where she said of movie characters, “Positive relationships trump positive accomplishments.”

My guess is that rings true in movies because it rings true in life. But we forget that sometimes and need art to remind us.

P.S. Over my lifetime I have watched plenty of men and women reach the top of the mountain only to be left with an “empire of dust” at the end of their lives. If you’ve never seen the Johnny Cash version of Trent Reznor’s song Hurtit’s one you should watch at least once a year to give you a perspective on life.

Related post:
It’s the Relationships, Stupid!

Scott W. Smith 

His rival, it seems, had broken his dreams
By stealing the girl of his fancy
Rocky Raccoon, lyrics by Paul McCartney and John Lennon

After Lin-Manuel Miranda introduces the audience to Alexander Hamilton and his band of brothers in Hamilton, he then introduces and/or develops four additional characters.

One thing I noticed that they all have in common is they are different versions of a love triangle.  Each triangle is full of conflict with varying degrees of stakes.  The first triangle involves two of the Schuyler sisters (Angelica and Eliza) who head downtown looking for “minds and work.”

They both are drawn to the rising star Hamilton, but Angelica being older and wiser decides Hamilton would be better for her sister. But it’s clear that when Hamilton and Eliza get married that Angelica has second thoughts.

Laughin’ at my sister, ’cause she wants to form a harem
I’m just sayin’, if you really loved me
You would share him
Helpless, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda

If I tell her that I love him she’d be silently resigned
Satisfied, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Another triangle is between Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and General George Washington. Both want the be the right hand man of the grand leader in the fight for freedom. Burr is disappointed in Washington’s choice, and as Hamilton’s influence grows, Burr jealousy burns.  But Washington sees something in Hamilton he likes—himself.

It’s alright, you want to fight, you’ve got a hunger
I was just like you when I was younger
Head full of fantasies of dyin’ like a martyr?
Right Hand Man, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Aaron Burr has his own love triangle in the he is seeing a woman who is married to a British officer. It just gets a quick mention in the song The Story of Tonight. 

And there is yet one more triangle in Act One of Hamilton. Colonial America had to make a choice between its allegiance to the British Empire or what would become the United States of America.

Way back in the early 1600s, King James I of England gave his blessing to establish permanent settlements in the new world.  What started in New England and Virginia grew into the Thirteen Colonies. 

At the risk of ineffectively reducing a 150 year history into a few words; The British Empire drove out the native Indians, brought in slavery, harvested tobacco and cotton in the South, and built grand industrial cities in the north. In short, it was a financial success.  The Thirteen Colonies were a fine little chess piece in the British Empire.

But in the mid-1700s some in the Colonies started eyeing lady liberty—and got tired of paying taxes to the British Parliament. Around 100 American colonists had a little tea party on December 16, 1773 that led to a nasty breakup. But people break up and get back together all the time.

Obviously, back in England, King George was hopeful that things could be patched up. And in Hamilton, that leads to the song You’ll Be Back.

Remember we made an arrangement when you went away
Now you’re making me mad
Remember, despite our estrangement, I’m your man
You’ll Be Back, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda

That break up lead to bloodshed and the founding of the United States of America in 1776. It took a while (and there was more bloodshed) but slavey was eventually abolished. The Thirteen Colonies grew into 50 States. Great Britain and the United States never got back together, but they agreed to be friends. The U.S. welcomed the Beatles in 1964 (and the whole British Invasion) and London welcomed Hamilton in 2017. (Albeit at a slightly lower decibel  level than when the Beatles played Shea Stadium in New York.)

P.S. All the above “love triangles” of sorts happen in act one. There is a big love triangle (passion triangle?)  in act two that alters the whole course of Hamilton’s career path. And we’ll get to that in a post next week.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

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