I had a slightly abridged version of this quote in an earlier post this week, but thought it needed to stand on its on:

“I’ve always felt that if you put me in front of 10 feet of concrete and said, ‘walk through it’—I’d get through it. I believe it, I really do. It’s just a question of pushing yourself hard enough through rock. I’ve never felt like anything could stop me if I really tried.”
Screenwriter Craig Mazin (Identity Thief)
The Moment with Brian Koppelman

Listen to the entire Koppelman podcast to hear about Mazin’s ups and downs thoughout his career and how he landed a gig co-screenwriting of The Huntsman Winter’s War starring Charlize Throne and Chris Hemsworth.

Related posts:
Emma Thompson on Rejection & Persistence
Perseverance & Persistence
Bob DeRosa’s ‘Shortcuts’
Perseverance (Werner Herzog)
Screenwriting Quote #141 (Melissa Rosenberg) “Don’t give up. You’re going to get kicked in the teeth. A lot…”
Keep the Candle Burning

Scott W. Smith

“I’m a craftsman. I don’t know if you’ve seen Jiro, the movie about the sushi chef… There’s a little bit of that feeling of, ‘Finally I’m starting to understand certain things.’ I’m starting to understand how to use certain tools. And there’s tons of things that I need to learn and that I need to practice and that I need to experiment with. I think in that sense the Oscars don’t really mean much. It’s more that I’m trying to improve my craft.”
Two-time Oscar winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, Bridman)
Deadline article by Matthew Grobar (12/23/2015)
Lubezki is also up for an Oscar this year for shooting The Revenant

Scott W. Smith



“To write well, I advise people to read widely. See how people who are successful and good get their results, but don’t copy them. And then you’ve got to write! We learn to write by writing, not by just facing an empty page and dreaming of the wonderful success we are going to have. I don’t think it matters much what you use as practice, it might be a short story, it might be the beginning of a novel, or it might just be something for the local magazine, but you must write and try and improve your writing all the time. Don’t think about it or talk about it, get the words down.”
Novelist PD James (1920-2014)
BBC News

P.S. Several movies and TV shows were based on James’ writings including Children of Men (2006). A movie that includes the intense scene below that also took a major technological feat to pull off. Shot by two time Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman, Gravity), who received an Oscar-nomination this year for shooting The Revenant.

Scott W. Smith

“Letting morality get in the way of making money. I might as well go and be a teacher.”
TV Executive Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) on 30 Rock

Donald Trump inspires me. Not politically, but creatively.

There I was less than two months ago deciding to write my first spec TV pilot with an idea rooted in an aborted screenplay I wrote a few years ago. The idea popped back on my radar at the end of last year because I realized it was a TV idea and not a film idea. (Next Monday I’ll start a string of posts looking at those differences.)

It only took a day to take my 36-page screenplay and morph the movie idea into a TV idea. Then a week to flesh it out, and by the end of the month to have a first draft done.

So where does Donald Trump fit into this creative process? When you’re writing everything goes into your creative blender. There I was developing my story idea and at the same time watching presidential debates and news reports.

Somewhere in that process I realized Trump was a trope.

“Merriam-Webster gives a definition of ‘trope’ as a ‘figure of speech.’ In storytelling, a trope is just that — a conceptual figure of speech, a storytelling shorthand for a concept that the audience will recognize and understand instantly. Above all, a trope is a convention. It can be a plot trick, a setup, a narrative structure, a character type, a linguistic idiom… you know it when you see it.”

Trump is Archie Bunker in All in the Family, Lou Grant in Mary Tyler Moore,  Alec Baldwin’s 30 Rock character, Danny DeVito in Taxi, Fred Sanford on Sanford and Son, and that reality show star on The Apprentice who loved saying, “You’re Fired!”

This trope speaks his mind. Doesn’t care about political correctness. And while we’re sometimes stunned by what they say—audiences tune in like they did on this exchange from the Norman Lear created All in the Family (the most watched Tv show from 1971-1976).

Gloria: You know, pizza’s actually not from Italy. I read that Marco Polo discovered it in China and then brought it back to Italy. 

Archie Bunker: Leave it to a dago to go halfway around the world to get a take-home meal.

*Sidenote: Did you know All in the Family was inspired by the hit British sitcom Till Death Us Do Part created by Johnny Speight ? It featured a working class racist and first aired in 1965.

Trump may not have won in Iowa, but he won the ratings game. And there’s a part of me that expects to see Trump show up one night on a late night interview basically saying he was pulling a Joaquin Phoenix-like (retired actor turned hip-hop artist) hoax. Time will tell.

But Trump inspired me to trump-up a character I’d written. One who speaks his mind and doesn’t care what anybody else thinks—and that’s a fun character to write. And as I’ve been working on re-writes the actor who I’d most love to hear say these lines is Patrick Warburton (Puddy on Seinfeld) whose persona has built-in smarmy/arrogance. He’s been featured during this election cycle on National Car Rental commercials, so I’m sure that’s an added reason he ended up in my creative blender.

But let’s not just keep the spotlight on Trump. Here’s a glimpse at four other candidates:

Bernie Sanders. He’s kind of the flip side of the coin character of Trump. He speaks his mind and has his share of radical ideas. With both Sanders and Trump I find myself both agreeing with some of the things they say—but with other things they say wondering if they have a screw loose. (But the best life changing ideas always sound a little crazy at the start. It’s too bad with radical ideas we can’t get a small working sample from a small town somewhere to see how those ideas play out.) A tie in Iowa was a win for Sanders.

Ted Cruz. With Cruz beating Trump in Iowa, I bet screenwriter Craig Mazin woke up this morning with a hangover. (Mazin has been outspoken against Cruz.) The last thing Mazin wants is to be known to the world not for his writing but as Ted Cruz’s college roommate. Mazin once told Brian Koppelman, “I’ve always felt that if you put me in front of 10 feet of concrete and said, ‘walk through itI’d get through it. I believe it, I really do…I’ve never felt like anything could stop me if I really tried.”  Cruz appears to have that same DNA. (Maybe they have a class on persistence at Princeton.) To walk away with a victory in Iowa took a lot of systematic and methodical work.

Hillary Clinton. Clinton is the Madonna of this political crowd.  Loved by some, hated by others, but resilient to the core. One way or another, she’ll still be around in four years, and in eight years. Not 100% sure you can say that about any other candidates.

Mario Rubio. I tuned into Rubio speaking last night and thought he’d won in Iowa instead of coming in third. He was upbeat about being only a percentage point behind Trump as well as picking up the same amount of delegates (7) as Trump. When the dust settles, Rubio and Sanders may have been the real winners last night.

The odds are looking good that the United States will elect its first woman, or first Hispanic, to become the next President.

P.S. One of my most interesting life experiences was being in Iowa during the 2007 Iowa Caucus. I saw 12 presidential candidates on both sides in many different venues including the classic Iowa State Fair. I was also hired as a cameraman to tape one event in Waterloo, Iowa in which six presidential candidates were speaking. While the press camera crews were places at the back of the convention center, because I was hired to tape the talks for the sponsoring group I was allowed to set-up in the front row.

I was the closest person in the room to the candidates which included the eventual President of the United States Barack Obama. Here’s photo I took between shooting footage. (POTUS looked a little younger back in ’07.)

obama 1997.jpg

P.P.S. Why not end on one more little nugget from Jack on 30 Rock:
“Diversity is the engine that drives this country. We are an immigrant nation! The first generation works their fingers to the bone making things, the next generation goes to college and innovates new ideas, the third generation snowboards and takes improv classes.” 

Related post:
President Obama and Iowa Seeds
Politics, Power & Screenwriting (tip #3)
The President & Cedar Falls, Iowa

Scott W. Smith


All eyes are on the state of Iowa as I write this post at 9:47 (EST) on Monday, February 1, 2016. The results are starting to come in from the 2016 Iowa Caucuses. It’s the first electoral step as Republicans and Democrats in the state chose presidential nominees. It’s not exactly predictive, but it sets the tone in choosing the next President of the United States.

It’s a unique time for people in the state as presidential candidates crisis cross the state (often followed by national and international journalists) meeting people in schools, churches, libraries, parks, and restaurants.

So today as I was thinking about my time living in Iowa the Canteen Lunch in the Alley (pictured above) came to mind. A few years ago I produced and shot an economic development video for a group in Ottumwa, Iowa and stopped by the Canteen for lunch.

Their specialty is the loose meet sandwich, and I’m sure more than a few presidential candidates and their staff have eaten one. Actor Tom Arnold has eaten more than one. He was born in Ottumwa and the Canteen was actually the model for the Lanford Lunch Box featured in the sitcom Roseanne (which he starred in with Roseanne Barr).

Scott W. Smith 




“To produce a mighty work, you must choose a mighty theme.”
Herman Melville

Scott Myers at Go Into the Story has an excellent five-part interview with 2015 Nicholl winning screenwriter Anthony Grieco. Here’s one part that jumped out at me:

“When I construct my characters, I start by asking myself, ‘What is the thematic value of my story?’ Then I go, ‘OK. Let’s meet someone at the beginning of this story who doesn’t believe in that value.’ To me, a screenplay or a book, they’re like a thesis. You’re trying to either prove or disprove a value.

The theme leads me to the character’s flaw, but I remove the word ‘flaw’ and I replace it with the word “armor.” Giving them a flaw makes me inherently judgmental of my characters. It’s hard not to do that. You judge them. You shouldn’t judge them. When you replace the word ‘flaw’ with the word ‘armor,’ you instantly have more empathy for them. It’s like, ‘This isn’t necessarily a bad person, it’s simply someone who is protecting herself from something terrifying.’

That helps me into act two, which is like, ‘How do I throw rocks at this armor?'”
Screenwriter Anthony Grieco / @SwimCharlieSwim

P. S. Grieco is a University of Toronto graduate, a commercial actor in New York turned writer, whose passion for screenwriting landed him a gig at The Writers Store in Southern California.  He also wrote the book, The Pocket Screenwriting Guide: 120 Tips for Getting to FADE OUT with Mario O. Moreno.

Related posts:
Writing from Theme
Theme=What Your Movie is Really About
Sidney Lumet on Theme
Michael Arndt on Theme
Kelly Marcel on Theme
Shane Black in Theme
Sheldon Turner on Theme (and Resilience)
Theme=Story’s Heart & Soul
Obligatory Scene=Theme
More Thoughts on Theme
Theme vs. Story

Scott W. Smith



“I’ve come to realise that there’s no such thing as a finished screenplay: the document is only a blueprint, and so much will change in the building. You have to allow for – and be prepared to notice, and welcome – what happens on the day, when the cameras are rolling.”
Screenwriter Emma Donoghue (Room)

“Of all the advice [Room director Lenny Abrahamson] gave me on rewriting my screenplay, one piece sticks in my mind: he asked me to write the scenes long and loose, ‘like a wildlife documentary’, and leave the cutting for him to do at the editing stage. I was intrigued by the idea that the audience would be allowed to glimpse Ma and Jack going about their days in their locked shed as unselfconsciously as chimps in the trees, and I sensed that this level of naturalism would really anchor Room’s dramatic storyline…I realised that for our child star in particular – Jacob Tremblay was just turning eight – getting him to improvise along the lines of the dialogue was producing much more naturalistic results than making him stick word for word to the script. I found myself deeply enjoying the spontaneous, fly-on-the-wall feel of his interactions with Brie Larson (playing his young Ma).”
Emma Donoghue who wrote the Room screenplay based on her novel
The Guardian article Emma Donoghue on how she wrote the screenplay for Room 

Every once in a while a young actor or actress gets an oscar nomination:
8-year-old Justin Henry (Kramer vs. Kramer)
9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wilds)
11-year-old Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense)
11-year-old Brandon deWilde (Shane)
11-year-old Anna Paquin (The Piano) And Oscar-winner.

Actress Tatum O’Neal at age 10 is the youngest person to win an Oscar Award, acting opposite her father in Paper Moon. After seeing Room and reading The Guardian article by Donoghue I think the Academy missed a nomination for nine-year-old Jacob Tremblay.

Related posts (based on Stephanie Palmer’s book Good in a Room):
Learning to Be ‘Good in a Room’ (Part 1)
Learning to Be ‘Good in a Room’ (Part 2) 
‘Good in a Room’—The Blog

Scott W. Smith 




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