Archive for October, 2011

Today I’m on the last leg of a road trip that has lasted 22 days and will cover more than 4,000 miles in 13 states. While there were plenty of interesting moments (my first wasp sting ever on a shoot in West Virginia—nothing a little “hillbilly medicine” couldn’t fix) , but the first night of the trip was the most memorable.

I finally got to tour where they shot part of The Shawshank Redemption in Mansfield, Ohio. You know, the big castle fortress seen the the background of the photo below.

While some of the old prison was knocked down and some of  the movie was shot on beautifully replicated  sets, a large part of it is still standing at Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio. And in the summer time you can tour the prison. But for Halloween this year they had a Haunted Prison Experience that I was able to do. It was interesting to walk around the prison at night and imagine what it would have been like to be incarcerated there 100 years ago. You’re not allowed to take pictures inside, but take my word that that place is creepy.

Here’s a shot I took after my tour:

The prison opened in 1896 and closed in 1990. Just waiting for Frank Darabont and crew to give it its Hollywood close up while making a film from Stephen King’s novella Rita Heyworth and Shawshank Redemption. (It’s in the book Different Seasons, which also includes the novella The Body, which Rob Reiner turned into the movie Stand by Me.)

According to the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society:

Cleveland architect Levi T. Scofield designed the Ohio State Reformatory using a combination of three architectural styles; Victorian Gothic, Richardsonian Romanesque and Queen Anne. This was done to encourage inmates back to a “rebirth” of their spiritual lives. The architecture itself inspired them to turn away from their sinful lifestyle, and toward repentance. This grand structure is comprised of more than 250,000 square feet and houses the world’s largest free-standing steel cell block.

If you’re one of the millions of fans of the movie put it on your wish list of places to see. (And if you’re a football fan it’s not too far from the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.)

Scott W. Smith

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Inns Along the Way

“I read Lewis for comfort and pleasure many years ago, and a glance into the books revives my old admiration.”
John Updike 

I’m not sure what the worst place I’ve stayed this year has been, but the nicest place is easy.

One of my favorite all-time illustrations was written by C.S. Lewis. In may have been a section in his book The Problem of Pain, but I think he covered the subject in a few places in his writings and talks.  He used the metaphor of a journey to explain the dangers, toils and snares we face in life. It’s been a few years since I last read Lewis’ essay, so with apologies to Lewis here’s my interpretation. 

We’re like travelers on a distant journey and before we reach our final destination we come face to face with day after day when we’re tired of walking the road where the sun is beating down on us, times where we’re hungry for food, thirsty for water, times when we yearn for a warm fire to rest our bones from the cold winds, and desire conversation with strangers that will encourage our souls.

And every once in a while on our journey we come upon an inn along the way where we find a place to rest from the shelter of the storms, a place to have a good meal, and a pleasant time with people we’ve just met. As you curl up with a warm blanket by the fire, you wish you could call this place home. But you can’t mistake it for your final destination, and tomorrow you must go out into the elements that beat down on you—but you’re thankful for the inns along the way, because they give you a foretaste of your final destination. 

In the past week I was able to spend three days at an inn along the way in Kennebunkport, Maine and I’m thankful for the experience. It made up for the 21 hour day I had the day I arrived due in part to a flight being cancelled by Continental, a sore back from running with my camera and such to catch a last-minute flight to Boston in hopes of me having a chance of getting to my shoot on time (a shoot that popped up just the day before), it made up for having to drive a total of ten hours of extra driving due to the cancelled flight—not including the time spent changing a tire just before midnight when I had to retrieve my luggage and tripod that was on my original flight. 

Woe is me, right?


This place made up for all the places I’ve had to stay this year that were less than ideal—the cigarette smokey smelling room in Clear Lake, Iowa and the one with the dead crickets in Oklahoma City—all the places whether because of budgets, lack of availability, or bad timing I’ve had to stay. And while I was on a shoot and working a chunk of the time at my inn along the way, I did get to spend a little more time here than the Mt. Everest climber who has five minutes at the top of the world before he or she has to head down.

When the Apostle Paul wrote a couple thousand years ago that he “learned to be content in all things” it’s easy to overlook that he says it’s something he had to learn to do. I’m still working on learning to be content in all things, but the inns along the way are something I now appreciate when they come every once in a while, rather than expect them on a daily basis.

John D.  Rockefeller when asked “How much is enough?” is reported to have said, “Just a little bit more.”

One could probably take a chunk of great movies made and put their theme into the spirit of Lewis or the camp of Rockefeller.

The harsh reality is just days after I left my inn along the way, Kennebunkport (and all of New England) are expecting a record October snow storm that is expected to leave millions of homes without power for as long as a week. Keep those people in your prayers.

P.S. While Lewis is commonly known today as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, the Oxford scholar was quite an accomplished theologian.  If you’ve never seen the movie  Shadowlands starring Anthony Hopkins as Lewis and co-starring Debra Winger as Joy Gresham, it’s a movie I recommend. Both Winger and screenwriter William Nicholson were nominated for Oscars in that 1993 film.

Scott W. Smith

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When I was in film school we cut versions of an old Gunsmoke TV scene. It’s a great exercise. Today it’s popular for people to recut their own movie tailers. It’s a lot easier today with non-linear editing systems than on a 16mm upright Moviola, but the exercise is just as effective. And you don’t have to pay for a college class to do it.

As with all videos online there is a pyrimid of quality, but in light of my recent shoot in Maine and talking about The Shining, I thought I’d pass on a quirky, original trailer I found on You Tube based on the 1980 classic horror movie The Shining re-cut as a romantic comedy.

For those of you unfamiliar with this film here is a scene that captures more the tone of the film. (And Jack Nicholson’s bad case of writer’s block.) Even if horror isn’t your genre, The Shining is a great film to study for music and sound effects as well as non-verbal writing. Here’s a 2 1/2 minute scene with just five words.

Scott W. Smith

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A White Halloween

While many people dream of a white Christmas, you rarely hear anybody pine for a white halloween. But that’s what it looks like many in the upper northeast will get this Halloween.  Thursday night this is what Maine looked like outside where I ate dinner and watched snow gently fall on the pumpkins. 

Now, if you’ve ever wondered how Stephen King could write a book like The Shining those long Maine winters may have been part of that equation. Here’s the official trailer from the 1980 film directed by Stanley Kubrick.



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My two day streak of lobster ended today in Maine, but don’t feel bad for me, I did get to experience a personal culinary first–caviar on an oyster. From the minute we pulled up to The Tides Beach Club on Goose Rocks Beach in Kennebunkport I realized I was a long way from Cedar Falls, Iowa. (Though I’m sure somewhere in Des Moines you can get caviar and oyster. It’s just something I’ve never had in all my travels.)

And I learned a new word that night that I think fits this blog well; Terraria.  According to Merriam-Webster a terrarium is usually transparent enclosure for keeping or raising plants or usually small animals (as turtles) indoors. At The Tides the authority on oysters kept using the word terraria for explaining where oysters get their flavor. The terraria he explained is the environment where oysters are grown.

About three hours north of Kennebunkport is Bangor—Stephen King territory. His terraria if you will. It’s different from Hemingway’s Oak Park, which is different from Flannery O’Connor’s Georgia, which is different than Steinbeck’s Monterey County in California.

The flavor of your writing comes from the areas you are from, places you been, and where you currently live. (One more reason to pull for that “little fat girl in Ohio.”)

As a connected sidenote, it’s worth noting that some of the best-known natural estuaries for growing oysters in the United States are no longer what they were because of overfishing and polluted waters.

P.S. Speaking of Ohio and first time culinary tastes, I had my first ever bowl of turtle soup in Canton, Ohio earlier this year. Keeps life interesting.

P.P.S. I took the above picture at sunrise the morning after Maine got its first snow of this season.

Scott W. Smith

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Prison Food

Yesterday on a shoot in Maine I was subjected to eating prison food—and it was better than you think. I don’t know how many prisons today serve lobster for lunch, but many years ago in Maine the lobsters were so plentiful that they would wash up on shore. I was told by the chef that lobster was once considered poor man’s food and routinely served in prisons. In fact, once the prisoners revolted because they were tired of eating lobster.

Lobsters back in Colonial New English sometimes reached 40 pounds. 

That may not be worth of a feature film but you have to admit that that could make for an interesting scene in a story. And I actually don’t know where folklore and truth meet surrounding the stories of Maine lobsters, but I hope I get some more prison food today—even if it’s cooked on a bed of seaweed.

Scott W. Smith



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On Monday I was in Orlando finishing up shooting a video project when I got a call about shooting another project in Maine. About 24 hours later I was in Kennebunkport and this was one of the first sites I stumbled upon— Hidden Pond.

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“Touch and Go”

Last Saturday night I was invited to and attended a play in Sanford, Florida called Touch and Go written by playwright Jules Corriere. It’s kind of a sweeping overview of the Central Florida town. Corriere crafted the play based on pulling parts of the 1,500 people who had told their own personal story of living in Sanford.

“I was introduced to person after person, all different ages, from different neighborhoods, with different backgrounds, and what I kept hearing from all of them was this: Determination. Guts. Courage. Loss. Triumph. Loss again, and Perseverance. Sanford is the town that never gives up.”
Jules Corriere

The play reminded me of a cross between a Tennessee Williams play, Horton Foote’s A Trip to Bountiful, and the Robert Altman directed film Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean—which was based on the play and script written by Ed Graczyk. Writers and stories where memory is used like a character.

And while every town has a history, not every town has a group of people keen on preserving that history. Sanford is fortunate to have a group called Creative Sanford Inc. that is a non-profit 501(c)(3) whose goal is to tell stories of Sanford and Seminole County which are performed by volunteers  from the community.

I’m not sure how many people were involved in the production of Touch and  Go, but I imagine it was over 100 people. And one of those people is a dear English and creative teacher of mine from high school, Annye Refoe. Annye is on the Executive Board of Creative Sanford and Saturday night performed a monologue of her own family story that could be titled From Slavery to a Ph.D.

One of my favorite stories in play is one that could be a metaphor for most of our lives. It was the account of a man from New York who after fighting in the Civil War settled in Sanford where he started an Orange grove. He started with 2 acres and built a thriving business of 42 acres until a winter freeze came and destroyed his entire grove. But instead of giving up he decided to farm something more resilient to cold and began growing celery. 

He not only found personal success, but Sanford’s nickname for many decades was Celery City. Sanford is no longer a mostly agricultural community but it’s not afraid to embrace that past as it plants creative seeds for the future. 

And, for what it’s worth,  the town of Sanford already has a movie history as it was the backdrop for the films My Girl, Passenger 57, Rosewood, Wilder Napalm, and Monster.

Scott W. Smith




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“Yeah, there’s a lion on Mount Perry Road and Gratiot Road.”
911 call in Zanesville, Ohio on October 18, 2011

A couple of weeks ago on my way to a location shoot I drove from Canton, Ohio to Charleston, West Virginia on Interstate 77 and made a brief stop in Cambridge, Ohio and took some photos in nearby Salt Fork State Park. As I looked over the water, the rolling hills and the beautiful late fall colors on the trees I felt like I was in a scene from Lord of the Rings.

So much so that I took this photo of a crewmate Josh McCabe. He posted it on Facebook with Frodo’s words, “I will take the Ring to Mordor.” (Though looking more like Gandalf than a Hobbit.)

Being in Middle-earth deep in middle of the Midwest can stir your imagination. Who knew that basically a week later and about half an hour away an exotic animal owner in Zanesville, Ohio would free his lions, tigers and bears (and monkeys, wolves, leopards) shortly before committing suicide?

Fortunately no people were harmed in Ohio on account of the 18 Bengal tigers, 17 lions, and eight bears that wandered the countryside. Unfortunately, many of the animals had to be killed to preserve the safety of the town. Imagine the concerns of the local people as the hunt went on for 24 hours.

We may never know the real motives behind the news of what happened in Zanesville, but it’s one more reminder that in that vast land known as flyover country there are in fact interesting stories to be told and fuel for your imagination.

In case you missed the story, here’s a link to ABC’s report of the animals set free in Ohio.

Scott W. Smith

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Fogelman on Cronin

This week I finally got around to watching Tangeled and so I’ve been on a Dan Fogelman kick and just read a blurb from the New York Times last month where Fogelman tells what he’s been reading recently:

I’ve read three novels by my new favorite writer, Justin Cronin. His latest, “The Passage,” is post-apocalyptic sci-fi and like 1,000 pages long. It cost me an entire long weekend because I couldn’t put it down.”

I love when writers intersect here at Screenwriting from Iowa. Last summer I wrote a post on Cronin (a grad from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop) entitled The Next “Twilight” Trilogy?

Related post: Screenwriting Quote #162 (Dan Fogelman)

Scott W. Smith

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