Archive for August, 2009

It seems like there’s been quite a few movies in the last couple years that deal with the changing of the guard from older to younger. And as the boomers start to retire I’m sure that theme will become more popular. One of the great lessons I learned playing sports into college is how every year (every game sometimes) someone is gaining ground on you in hopes of taking your position.

And professionally in media production I’ve watched the transition cycle a few times. I watched the old adage of “You don’t want to be a jack-of-all trades” that I learned in school be turned upside down today. I remember what it was like being 25-years old doing a 16mm shoot in Aspen, Colorado where everyone else in production seemed 100 years old and I’ve been on shoots more recently where all of the sudden I’m the old guy.  (At the 48 Hour Film Project/Des Moines a couple weeks back the winner for Best Special Effects was 15-years-old. I have light meters that are more than 15 years old!)

One way to look at these transitions is to look at the ebb and flow of the surf. There is a cycle of change there that is healthy to embrace. Since I mentioned nine time surfing champion Kelly Slater yesterday I thought it would be good to find a quote from him to see how he, at age 37, handles the pressure of being the old guy on the tour with plenty of young talent from around the world gunning for him.

“When there’s a generational change, there’s a change in the way things are done. And people who are stuck in their ways and don’t want to see change are the first ones to be vocal about it. And I feel totally supportive because I’m still trying to take my surfing to different levels and that’s exciting for me. Because, honestly, there were times when I first got on tour that I was bored with the level of surfing. And I’d much rather be getting my ass kicked than being bored.”
Kelly Slater
Surfing Magazine
Interview by Matt Walker

What a great mindset to have. Slater is not focused on trying to stay young, or to hold on to the past, but to continue to raise his skill level. And one of the things that pushes him is seeing the 22-year-olds doing radical moves just like he did when he joined the tour more than fifteen years ago.

I’ll keep that in mind next week when I have a shoot in New York City with a talented young crew that’s probably going to be at least a decade younger than me. Another chance to grow.

Scott W. Smith

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If you follow hurricanes at all you may know that Hurricane Bill kicked up some pretty nice waves along Florida’s east coast the past few days. Florida is not usually known for large waves. Most days the surf pales compared to the best surf spots in California & Hawaii. So one could make the mistake of thinking that small wave Florida wouldn’t produce world champion surfers.

But the pro surf version of Lance Armstrong/Michael Jordan/Tiger Woods is in fact from Florida. Kelly Slater was born in Cocoa Beach, Florida in 1972 and has won the ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals) World Championship a record nine times. He holds the record for being both the youngest (20) and the oldest (36) to win the title. He is also the all-time leader in career event wins. Pretty amazing stats for anyone but more amazing since he came from an area nicknamed the “Small Wave Capital of the World.”

TV buffs may recall that Cocoa Beach is the setting for the 60s classic show I Dream of Jeannie. (Though according to Wikipedia the cast and crew only visited the area twice for filming). As part of the Space Coast, Cocoa Beach is where parades were held for astronauts when they would return from the Apollo missions. (As featured in The Right Stuff.) Though only six miles long, about a mile wide, this little town of 12,000 has had its brushes with greatness. So maybe it’s a fitting place for the greatest competitive ever to be from.

And Slater is not the only surf champion from Florida. Both Lisa Andersen (Ormond Beach) and Freida Zamba (Daytona Beach) both hold four ASP titles, and C.J. Hobgood (from Melbourne/Satellite Beach, FL) won the 2001 ASP World Championship and last year’s O’Neil Cup of World Surfing. I could go on about accomplished surfers from basically a 100 mile path on the coast of Florida from Ormond Beach to Sebastian Inlet, but I think you get the point.

Having spent most of my life in Central Florida it’s an area I’m fond of as I’ve gotten to spend my share time in the water there over the years. In fact, just two weeks ago I got several hours in of bodybording and longboard surfing in New Smyrna Beach/Cape Canaveral. But the reason I think champion surfers have risen from that area is it’s a great place to get in your 10,000 hours learning the craft and there is a history of surfing there that goes back for decades. That’s a great combination. And Slater working his magic on the smaller waves everyday as a kid is actually what set him up to change the face of surfing when he had an opportunity to perform on larger waves on the world stage.

I bring that up on a blog about screenwriting because it once again shows that something great can come from outside Southern California. Looking at surfers coming from the east coast of Florida is like looking at why so many writers come from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and why world class sprinters come from Jamaica. Vision, hard work, and the right ground work years (decades?) in the making seem to be what set a part places like Iowa City, Kingston, and Cocoa Beach to produce amazing results.

Part of Cocoa Beach’s ground work was Ron DiMenna opening Ron Jon’s surf shop in 1959  in Cocoa Beach. That helped create the surf culture that is there until this day. That’s 13 years before Slater was even born. Though Ron Jon’s today resembles Walt Disney World more than traditional surf culture, I have to think that back in the day Slater’s dad bought a board or two at Ron Jon’s.  (Or at least at least a Hang Ten/Lighting Bolt/OP shirt.)

Once again in an era of digital filmmaking the doors are being blown open for filmmakers to rise up from unusual places. And if you need a little more inspiration read my post about Coppola’s “fat little girl from Ohio” comment.

Lastly, I should mention that there is another deep connection to films and surfing as the two seem to go hand in hand. From Gidget, Big Wednesday, and Warren Miller’s classic surf films, to Blue Crush, Jack Johnson’s Thicker Than Water, and  Endless Summer II (which featured Slater) there has never been a shortage of finding great footage to put on screen—finding a great script with a surf angle has been proven a little more difficult to find.

Scott W. Smith

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“Fame is like cigarettes with no surgeon general warning. It destroys most people as it did to the true and only King of Pop. We exploit ourselves and eat our own egos ‘Till there is nothing left.”
                                                                   Kanye West

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“I never spent less than two years on the text of one of my picture books, even though each of them is approximately 380 words long. Only when the text is finished … do I begin the pictures.”
                                                              Maurice Sendak
                                                              author of Where the Wild Things Are 

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This week I watch Last Chance Harvey on DVD and really enjoyed it and wondered who wrote the script that attracted the acting talents of Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson. Turns out it was Joel Hopkins who also directed the film.

Though I know little of his life story, what I do know shows the difficulties of this business. Hopkins was born in London in 1970 and attended NYU where his student film Jorge won NYU’s Wasserman Award which provided him with funds to make his first feature film in 2001, Jump Tomorrow. In 2002 he was named the Most Promising Newcomer by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

So just a few years ago Hopkins was an award winning filmmaker from NYU with a feature film that was well received at the Sundance Film Festival. Many filmmakers would sell their souls to be in that position. So why did it take Hopkins another seven years before he released another film?

“Quite often the second one is sometimes harder than the first…For whatever reason, I’d been attached to films that haven’t happened, as a director. I’ve had scripts I’ve written that have almost happened, but you make your first feature and you just assume the next one will be easier, but it’s kind of not, unless you have an absolute blow-out success and someone will write a check for pretty much whatever you want to do. And it’s not the case. You kind of have to start from scratch really.”
                                        Joel Hopkins
                                       ComingSoon.net interview with Edward Douglas 


Last Chance Harvey is not a great film, but it is well written and has some wonderful moments in it and it gives two fine actors a chance to do something you don’t see enough of these days—a chance to act. I hope it’s not another seven years before Hopkins makes another film.

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This is no question that journalism is changing these days. But between whatever it was and whatever it will be there was a 50+ year span where producer Don Hewitt was in the center of the mix. Hewitt, who died yesterday, was many things in his career—but at the core he was a master storyteller.

After a start at the New York Herald Tribune he began working for CBS news in 1948. He worked on See it Now with Edward Murrow and in 1960 was the director of the famous Kennedy-Nixon debate. That’s a pretty solid career right there. But Hewitt went on to be the executive producer for the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite before starting 60 Minutes in 1968 and served as its executive producer until 2004.

I was a big fan of 60 Minutes growing up and have read a couple of Hewitt’s books that gave some behind the scene glimpes of how he lasted so long in the business. He had great instincts of what would attract both intellectuals and common folks. So what was his secret?

“When people ask me, as they do, ‘How long in advanced do you produce the show?’ I usually tell them, ‘You don’t understand. we don’t produce a show. We produce stories, and once a week we assemble three of them into a show.'”
                                                                               Don Hewitt

Of course, it didn’t hurt that Hewitt helped assemble an incrediable staff of producers and on-camera talent that included Mike Wallace, Dan Rather, Ed Bradley, Diane Sawyer, Harry Reasonser and others. 

Great producers find great stories and great storytellers to help tell those stories. And where did Hewitt first get the idea to work in the media business? That happened in his childhood growing up in the depression.

“Other kids went to the movies and they either wanted to be Tom Mix, the cowboy, or they wanted to be Tarzan. I wanted to be either be Hildy Johnson from The Front Page (1931) or a guy named Julian Marsh who was the producer in a musical called 42 Street” (1933).”
                                         Don Hewitt

That’s the power and influence of movies.

Scott W. Smith

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I know William C. Martell’s book The Secrets of Action Screenwriting is out of print but you can really track down a copy if you want one (and want to spend a little money) so this will be the last post from Martell’s book. I’ll leave you with some encouraging words:

“Now, it’s time for YOU to swing into action, and get to work on your script. Set aside a couple hours a day to work on your computer. Remember, it’s only one page a day at a time. If you write only one page a day, seven days a week, you’ll have a completed first draft in about three months. THREE MONTHS! You can write a page a day, right? So start tomorrow, and three months from now, you’ll have a new, exciting, action script…Maybe the next Face/Off or Die Hard!”
William C. Martell
The Secrets of Action Screenwriting
Page 208

Scott W. Smith

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