Archive for April, 2012

“In 1998, I had finished writing ‘Toy Story’ and ‘A Bug’s Life’ and I was completely hooked on screenwriting. So I wanted to become much better at it and learn anything I could. So I researched everything I possibly could. And I finally came across this fantastic quote by a British playwright, William Archer: ‘Drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty.’ It’s an incredibly insightful definition.

When you’re telling a story, have you constructed anticipation? In the short-term, have you made me want to know what will happen next? But more importantly, have you made me want to know how it will all conclude in the long-term? Have you constructed honest conflicts with truth that creates doubt in what the outcome might be? An example would be in ‘Finding Nemo,’ in the short tension, you were always worried, would Dory’s short-term memory make her forget whatever she was being told by Marlin. But under that was this global tension of will we ever find Nemo in this huge, vast ocean?”
Two-time Oscar winner Andrew Stanton  (Wall-E, Toy Story)
TED talk: The Clues to a Great Story
(Also has interactive link of Stanton’s talk.)

H/T to Scott Myers at Go Into The Story for pointing the way to Stanton’s TED talk.

Related links:

Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 1)
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 2)
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 3)
The Dark Side of Pixar & Disney
Writing “Finding Nemo”

Scott W. Smith

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Reading departures signs in some big airport
Reminds me of the places I’ve been…
Jimmy Buffett
Changes in Lattitudes, Changes in Attitudes 

If you ever wonder why you ride the carousel,
You do it for the stories you can tell…
Jimmy Buffett
Stories You Can Tell 

Jimmy Buffett has said when he was a youth in Mobile, Alabama he once saw a live performance of the musical South Pacific and started to dream about far away lands. He learned how to play the guitar and tell stories and that was his ticket to far away places. Somewhere in my youth I picked up Jimmy Buffett’s albums and started to dream about far away lands. I learned how to use a camera and tell stories and that’s been my ticket.

Last night I listened to the Buffett concert in Des Moines over the live feed on Radio Margaritaville. Brought back a few memories from the far side of the world. Whenever I speak at colleges I show various shot from my adventures, I always tell them that when I graduated from high school I had only been to three states in my life—only if you count the Atlanta airport on my way from Florida to visit my grandma in Dayton, Ohio.

And Buffett himself has a line in one of his songs that goes, “Never been west of New Orleans, or east of Pensacola. My only contact with the outside world was an RCA Victorla.” So if you have a drop of wanderlust in your blood, and haven’t traveled as much as you’d like, memorize one of my favorite quotes:

“We tend to over estimate what we can do in one year, and underestimate what we can do in ten.”
Richard Foster

And if you need some musical inspiration for your dream, here’s Buffett’s song Some Day I Will.

Thanks to Jimmy Buffett for giving me a jump start to dream of far away places. And thanks to God for providing opportunities to work in this great big beautiful and mixed up world. BTW—If you have some stories you need to tell, contact me at RiverRun.tv (Have camera, will travel).

Best wishes on your own adventures—and send me a postcard. Here are some of mine from over the years:

Samaria, Russia

Samaria, Russia

Kindston, Jamacia

Kingston, Jamacia

Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa

Denali National Park, Alaska

Sea Plane in Brazil

Sea Plane in Brazil

A taste of Florida in Waterloo, Iowa
(Some adventures are close to home.)

 Scott W. Smith

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“His body was battered, his whole world was shattered
And all he could do was just cry…”
Jimmy Buffett
He Went to Paris

When you think of musician Jimmy Buffett in terms of geography you probably think of the south, but did you know part of his early performing roots were in the Midwest?

Buffett was born in Pascagoula, Mississippi and raised in Mobile, Alabama, graduated from college in Hattiesburg, MS (Southern Miss ’69, journalism degree), and started performing in public in Biloxi, MS and New Orleans, Louisiana, spent time in Nashville, Tennessee and broke through while living in Key West, Florida. So where exactly does the Midwest play into his success as a singer/songwriter/storyteller? I’ll let Buffett explain:

“Chicago is where I truly cut my teeth as a performer, working as the opening at the Quiet Knight. I opened for a variety of people from Neil Sedaka to Bob Marley, and when I got frustrated with the crowds, the old one-armed clean-up man with the big German shepherd always consoled me. It took me a few days of asking to find out that Eddie was more than a janitor. He was a gifted painter and a wonderful pianist. We would stay up after the club closed, and he would sing me songs from the Spanish Civil War where he had fought as a member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade against the Fascists. Eddie Balchowsky was indeed an inspiration. He was larger than life, and as Mark Twain said, ‘he’d gone out into the territory.’ This song is a tribute to his spirit.”
Jimmy Buffett
Introduction to He Went to Paris
The Parrot Head Handbook from Boats, Beaches, Bars & Ballads

Here’s He Went to Paris in the form of a 1973 music video:

And another reason to love You Tube— below is a clip from a 1989 documentary that actually features an interview with none other than Eddie Balchowsky (including him playing the piano one-handed) just months before he died in an accident in Chicago.

To borrow from that Pat Conroy post a couple of days ago, writers do what Buffett did, they go do work to do a job and wait for the one-armed man to show up. That’s where stories come from. That’s how you “capture the magic” (to a use phrase Buffett spoke a few years ago on a 60 Minutes interview).

By the way, back in the folk music heyday, Chicago had a steady stream of artists playing there— Jim Croce,  John Prine and Steve Goodman to name a few. One of my favorite Buffett recordings was written by the Chicago-born Goodman, Banana Republic.

And just in case you’ve never heard of Steve Goodman, here’s a video of him singing his signature song that has been covered a few times since he wrote it:

Related Post:

Screenwriting the Chicago Way  (In this 2008 post, I said if Screenwriting from Iowa …and Other Unlikely Places had a theme song that City of New Orleans would be a fitting choice.)

The Bump In Factor (Post about meeting Dirck Halstead at NAB a couple of years ago. Dirck was a combat photographer for LIFE magazine and was working for UPI during the fall of Saigon. He now heads up TheDigitalJournalist.)

P.S. The Jimmy Buffett concert tonight (April 17,2012) in Des Moines will be broadcast on Radio Margaritaville at 9PM easten time.

Update: Found this article Painter, Poet Ed Balchowsky at the Chicago Tribune website.

Scott W. Smith

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As a dreamer of dreams and a travelin’ man
I have chalked up many a mile
Read dozens of books about heroes and crooks
And I learned much from both of their styles
Jimmy Buffett
Son of a Son of a Sailor 

Jimmy Buffett will be playing in Iowa Tuesday night. The Des Moines Register reported that it’s Buffett’s first concert in Des Moines since 1985.

Without Buffett there probably wouldn’t be a blog called Screenwriting from Iowa. No blog, no Emmy. No blog, no shout-out from Tom Cruise’s website, etc, etc.

Buffett’s first hit was Come Monday back in 1974. I was 13-years old— peak time for discovering music. By the time I was sixteen I was well versed in his albums A1A, Living & Dying in 3/4 TimeHavana Daydreamin’, and Changes in Attitudes, Changes in Latitudes. By the time I left the University of Miami for film school in California I was already indoctrinated into Son of a Son of  a Sailor, Volcano, and Coconut Telegraph and had already been to the Conch Republic and taken my first big road trip—to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.

I’m not sure the first time I saw Buffett in concert, but I dug up an old file over the weekend and the first ticket stub goes back to ’78 at the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando. Probably seen him in concert at least 15 times. I took the concert photos above my senior year of high school in 1980 when Buffett opened for the Eagles at Tampa Stadium. (Back when we both had more hair, as you can see what I looked like back in the day with my hat and Buffett t-shirt.)

Lots of memories from outdoor concerts in Colorado (Red Rocks), California (The Greek Theater), Hawaii (Waikiki Shell) , and the most unusual indoor venue—the Jai-Alai Fronton in Casselberry, Florida during his Coconut Telegraph tour in ’81.

While his concerts are known to be quite a party, it was always the lyrics that drew me to Buffett. The stories. The people. The places.

He went to Paris, looking for answers
To questions that bothered him so
He was impressive young and aggresive
Saving the world on his own
Jimmy Buffett
He went to Paris 

For a kid that grew up on a dead-end street in Central Florida, Buffett opened up a world of curiosity, travel and adventure.

A world of Tony Lama boots, Carmen Miranda hats, Hemingway, John D. MacDonald, Key West, Aspen, Livingston, Montana, expatriates, Patsy Cline, Steve Goodman, Irma Thomas, manatees, sailing, steel drums, Paris, the Cafe Du Monde, Austin City Limits and a quest for paradise.

And there’s that one particular harbour
Sheltered from the wind
Where the children play on the shore each day
And all are safe within
Jimmy Buffett (written with Bobby Holcomb)
One Particular Harbour 

If you only know of Buffett’s music by Margaritaville or It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere, check out this song of his that Bob Dylan once said he liked (Highway 61 Meets A1A);

P.S. Did you know that there is actually a Key West, Iowa.

Related posts:

Sing Along with Mitch in Margaritaville

Euphoria (for 5 Minutes)

Days in the Sun

Writing Quote #31 (Hemingway)

Scott W. Smith

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“On my first night in Vienna, Jonathan [Carroll, author of Bones of the Moon] walked me down to the Danube, where we sat on a flight of steps leading down to the river. The dog walkers were out in force. Greetings were exchanged with small movements of the eyes, and the dogs sniffed one another fondly. Handsome and imperial, Jonathan looked every inch the American expatriate. He exuded a serenity and a seriousness that I lack. But he kept his eye on a woman at the next bridge. She was moving so slowly I though she might be leading a dogsled pulled by escargots. After an hour, the woman walked in front of us, and she bowed her head in acknowledgment of Jonathan. With great dignity, he returned the gesture. To my surprise, she was walking two enormous tortoises, displaced natives from an Ethiopian desert. The woman walked them every night, and Jonathan was always there to admire their passage. 

     ‘That’s what writers do, Conroy,’ he said. ‘We wait for the tortoises to come. We wait for that lady who walks them. That’s how art works. It’s never a jackrabbit, or a racehorse. It’s the tortoises that hold all the secrets. We’ve got to be patient enough to wait for them.'”
Pat Conroy
My Reading Life 

P.S. Not much I can add to that, except to say one of the most memorable moments of my life was when I was a youth and my cousins took me to Melbourne Beach, Florida one night. We waited as large Loggerhead sea turtles came out of the darkness onto the beach. They dug holes and laid eggs. unbelievably memorable. One of the benefits of growing up before cable TV. If you’re ever in Brevard Country between June and June check out the Sea Turtle Preservation Society to learn about turtle walks to observe the nesting. Until then, keep an eye out for those metaphorical tortoises.

Scott W. Smith

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“In 1928 I lost everything I had, and in 1936 I went broke again. So did most of the other soundly advised people in the county…I lost very little money through extravagance, I regret to say. Most of my losses were the result of the dubious pleasure of remarking over the phone, ‘Yes, go ahead.'”
Samson Raphaelson

Imagine your writing career talking off in the 1920s. That’s where playwright/screenwriter Samson Raphaelson found himself after his play The Jazz Singer had a long run on Broadway and then his play was turned into the first talkie film in 1927. You can imagine that for that moment in time life was good for Samson Raphaelson. Then 1928 came along ushering in the Great Depression which lasted more than a decade.

In his book, The Human Nature of Playwriting, Raphaelson said he went broke not once, but twice. His book is based on a class he taught in 1948 at the University of Illinois, and along with his writing advice he gave some practical financial advice to students that is just as valuable today as when he talked about in more than 60 years ago.

“A writer can live anywhere. I myself bought a modest house in the country, where the taxes are low. Ideally, one should live a simple, modest existence and provide for his old age—that is self-evident. I’m trying to tell you how in terms of my temperament and experience.
Samson Raphaelson
The Human Nature of Playwriting

I believe at the time Raphaelson taught that one semester class his home was in Pleasant Valley, PA—about 120 miles outside New York City.

Scott W. Smith

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Playwright and screenwriter Samson Raphaelson would have been 54-years old when he guest taught a class one semester at the University of Illinois at Urbana back in 1948. At that time, along with his play (The Jazz Singer) that was performed over 300 times in Broadway, he had more than 25 feature credits as a screenwriter.

Yet I think the book that came out of teaching that class (The Human Nature of Playwriting) is an excellent example of what I’ve said before—produced screenwriters often don’t make the best teachers. They have a gift and talent to tell stories—and tell them like few can. When they write, to borrow Bob Dylan’s phrase, the ghost comes by.

But where Raphaelson’s book is thin on technical advice on writing he does give some great anecdotes from his writing career that can be extremely helpful.

“The worst play I ever wrote and my biggest flop was The Wooden Slipper. I worked on it harder and longer than anything else in my life—three years—and it was completely meaningless, full of technique and nothing else…The Wooden Slipper was a devastating failure when it opened in 1933. On the second night there were a hundred people in the house, many of them on passes. On the third night Dwight Wiman, the producer, decided to give no passes and about twelve people came…sitting there alone in the balcony, I saw the obvious —what was wrong with the play, how bad it was and why; and that was a great moment…When I think of that night, I remind myself to write about living people; to write unpreteniously, for I have no grandeur; to write humorously, for it is intolerable to see people as they are without the grace of humor; and to not write at all unless there are people in my heart—to live instead, and that isn’t easy, either.”
Samson Raphaelson

As the saying goes, “Success is a poor teacher.” The lesson of touching a burning stove is quickly learned.

In the class and book Raphaelson spends a lot of time letting students develop their ideas which I didn’t find very interesting. In Raphaelson’s later years he did teach playwrighting at Columbia University in New York and perhaps there is where he further developed a teaching style. (Any former Raphaelson students out there?)

Maybe all Raphaelson was doing in Urbana was what the best teachers do—simply investing time encouraging and fostering talent that some students have. Slogging through bad ideas and dead end scenarios in hopes that one or two in the class will have a break through and eventually have their work find its way to the big screen.

May your “Wooden Slippers” find their way to the stage or screen. And if flops, may you learn from your mistakes and make the next one better. Keep in mind that seven years after Raphaelson’s flop, the script he wrote for Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion helped actress Joan Fontaine win an Oscar for her performance.

Scott W. Smith

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