Archive for June, 2012

Number 1,300

I think it’s fitting that writing this 1,300th post for Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places started in New York City (Hotel Belleclaire–where Mark Twain was once a guest) and ended home in Cedar Falls, Iowa—and also that today is my birthday.

The goal for this blog when I began in January 2008 was to simply pull together some quotes, teachings, and thoughts that I had gathered over the years with the hope of organizing them in a 50,000 word book. While there is still officaly no book, I’m getting close to finishing the written part of actually three books—Beginning, Middle, and End—my accidental trilogy. While the goal of 50,000 words at first seemed pretty ambitious at the time, in the 1,299 previous post I’ve actually cranked out more than 535,000 words.

I’ve pulled what I think are the best posts and categorized them into three books of about 65,000 words each. This is where I need your help. I’m curious on your thoughts, experiences, and/or advice on self-publishing via something like Create Space or unpacking the pros and cons of ebook publishing. (Reply in comments or email me at info@scottwsmith.com.)

Also, thanks so much for your support in reading this blog—even if this is the first post you’ve ever read. Without the continual growth of readership I’m not sure I would have had the endurance to make it past the first 13 posts, much less make it to number 1,300.

P.S. Shortly after  I arrived at the airport in Iowa this afternoon I picked up my first pair of glasses I plan to wear permanently. So regardless of what happens with my “trilogy” things are going to look a little different from now on.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

In the last 48 hours I’ve taken one long bath in New York City. Not a literal bath because my hotel room doesn’t have a bath tub. (In fact, the “upgraded” room is about the size of a bathroom in other places in the United States.) But like most of my trips over the years to the big city, this has been a full Manhattan emersion —with a splash of Louisiana.
Last night I caught the just released movie Beasts of the Southern Wild. I don’t even know what to say about the film other that it’s part Southern Comfort (1981), part Conrack (1974) —from Pat Conroy’s book The Water is Wide, and part Cross Creek (1983)—from the book of the same name by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Backwater stories. Oh, and mix into the gumbo some of Terrance Malick’s The Tree of Life and Winter’s Bone (2011). And definitely a story that qualifies as screenwriting and filmmaking from an “unlikely place.”
“Unlike a lot of movies shot in Louisiana, ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ couldn’t have been made anywhere else.”
Stacy Plaisance
Mercery News 

If you happen to be in New York tonight you have a unique opportunity at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas when director & co-writer Benh Zeitlin (a New Yorker) and star  Quvenzhan Wallis will be speaking after the 7:00 showing.

More about that film next week, meanwhile here are some iPhone photos I’ve taken on my downtime from shooting the video project I’m in town working on. Mixed in with fragments of overheard conversations.
Overheard #1: When I got out of prison….”
#2: “I remember when I was single, weekends were killers.”
#3: “If you’re not Japanese, it’s really hard to live in Japan.”

#4: “I’ll tell you one thing nobody knows… ”

#5: “I’m glad I’m done with dating.”

#6: They always have a reason not to do it.”

#7: “My abs feel so good.” (Biker)

P.S. The director of Beasts of the Southern Wild will also be at screenings at the Lincoln theater Friday night (6/29/12).

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Postcard #18 (NYC Synagogue)

“The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls.”
Sounds of Silence
Simon & Garfunkel 

The words of the prophets are also written on the synagogue walls. Today I was shooting a video project in New York City and on a brief lunch/walk break I took this photo of Congregation Rodeph Sholom, on the Upper West Side near Central Park. The inscription on the building reads:


(From the book of Micah, and what Martin Luther King, Jr. called the “magna carta of prophetic religion.”)

According to their website the building’s style “follows the Romanesque of the 11th and 12th centuries.” It was designed by architect Charles B. Meyers and built in 1930. And the name Rodeph Sholom, is Hebrew for “pursuer of peace.”


Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Cheap Therapy

“In On Moral Fiction, John C. Gardner states, ‘True art clarifies life, establishes models of human action, casts nets toward the future, carefully judges our right and wrong directions, celebrates, and mourns. It does not rant. It does not sneer or giggle in the face of death, it invents prayers and weapons. It designs visions worth trying to make fact. It does not whisper or cover up its hands and bat its lashes….It stikes lighting or is lightning.’ So let your writing crackle with lighting, but never forget that a storm is one percent lighting and ninety-nine percent wind and rain. Yes, the reality of our lives is simply that we yearn for betterment because people don’t change….

Like the Greeks, for whom theater was a communal and religious gathering wherein the fears and desires of the culture could be exorcised and expressed, modern plays and movies let us come together to create a new sense of community we lost and in doing so, perpetuate a new set of metamyths which can provide answers to the hard questions of being alive. Humans want to grow, and we will pay to see the transformation of other human beings. By watching someone experience an epiphany and change, I too am transformed. All in two hours for a mere eight dollars, while most therapists charge at least a hundred an hour.”
Richard Krevolin
Screenwriting from the Soul 

Last year Richard spoke on storytelling at Google:

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“Shocking is easy. Shockingly brilliant, a bit more challenging.”

Back in January of 2011, I wrote a post called How to Get Started Working in Production about how Josh McCabe started working for me while in college and was heading out to Los Angeles to work as an assistant editor. Josh returned to Iowa last week to visit his family and stopped by the office to say hello, help me get up on the Apple cloud, and give me an early birthday present—a book called leeclowsbeard.

The book is even signed by Lee Clow.

Yes, the Lee Clow, Global Director Media Arts at  TBWA/Worldwide. Perhaps Lee’s most well known as the co-creator of Apple’s Super Bowl commercial, 1984. He’s been a force in global advertising for the past four decades. Back in ’09 I wrote a post called “Here’s to the troublemakers…”  featuring Lee’s & his team’s work on Apple’s “Think Different” campaign. (Still a classic.)

And Lee wasn’t just being humble when he wrote “I didn’t write this!”—the just released book had its beginnings as a Twitter feed in 2009 written by Dallas-based freelance copywriter Jason Fox. Check out the Fast article by Rae Ann Fera to see how the tweets became a book via the TBWA’s Let There Be Dragons branch. (Just checked Jason’s resume, and yes, he is a screenwriter as well.)

Just a year and a half ago Josh was a recent college grad helping me on productions and for the past few months he’s been doing regular freelance work (editing, shooting, etc.) at TBWA/Chiat/Day—a top 10 global agency.

Funny thing is I have a book at my River Run office called Chiat/Day: The First Twenty Years that Josh doesn’t remember seeing in his two years of working on projects with me. Below is a photo from that book that is a fond memory of mine. One day in the early 80s while I was in film school and driving on Barham Blvd. going from Burbank to Hollywood I saw a this Nike billboard by the backside of Universal Studios and it’s forever cemented in my mind. It’s of Los Angeles Raider great Lester Hayes. It was subtle and bold in the same time.

Josh flew back to L.A. Sunday and if you want to get a glimpse of where he’ll be working this week. Check out this video of the inside of the TBWA/Chiat/Day 120.000 suare foot mothership (or “Advertising City” as it’s been also called) in Playa del Ray. (If you’re looking for an advertising job or internship around the world check out the TBWA/Chiat/Day website.)

P.S. That NKLA shirt Lee is wearing in the photo with Josh is part of an initiative to make Los Angeles a no-kill city as it raises awareness and support for animal rescue organizations in LA.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
My Way/Performed by Frank Sinatra

Earlier this week I did one day of camerawork for a Canadian TV documentary titled Regret being produced by Newfoundland’s Christopher Richardson. We shot Kevin Hansen speaking to a class at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Kevin lives in Cedar Falls and started the blog Secret Regrets in 2008 and has since had 25,000 anonymous regrets emailed to him. The blog is now also featured on The Huffington Post.

His blog eventually became the book Secret Regrets and then got the attention of Dr. Phil who ended up doing a show on regrets using Secret Regrets as a platform. Toward the end of the class where Kevin was a guest speaker, he had students text him their personal regrets. It was interesting how open the students were, and how deep their regrets were. Regret is fertile ground to explore dramatically. Can you think of any great movies, characters, or scenes that deal with regret?

How can I tie this post into screenwriting? Perhaps a quote from a 15-time Oscar-nominated screenwriter.

“My one regret in life is that I’m not someone else.”
Woody Allen

So even if you win three Academy Awards for your screenwriting (like Allen has for Midnight in Paris, Hannah and Her Sister, and  Annie Hall) it may not solve all your existential problems—or personal ones.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

As Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coat’s list 22 #storybasics I’ve picked up in my time at Pixar blazed through the internet this month, I wanted to try and find a fresh angle to do a post on it and add to the conversation. So I thought I’d pick a three from her list and tie then into posts where I’ve expounded on them a little more. (And it gave me a reason to connect it to some other Pixar posts I hope you find helpful.)

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now Rewrite.
Related posts: Writing from Theme (tip #20), More Thoughts on Theme, Diane Frolov & The Theme Zone, Serling Vs. Coppola,  Eric Roth on Theme, William Froug on Theme
#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
Related post: What’s at Stake (tip #9)
#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
Related post: Screenwriting & Coincidence (tip #11)

You can follow Emma on Twitter @lawnrocket .

P.S. One of my favorite quotes on theme:

“The best thing that can happen is for the theme to be nice and clear from the beginning. Doesn’t always happen. You think you have a theme and you then start telling the story. Pretty soon the characters take over and the story takes over and you realize your theme isn’t being executed by the story, so you start changing the theme.”
Paddy Chayefsky (Network)

Related posts on Pixar:

Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 1)
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 2)
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 3)
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 4)
The Dark Side of Pixar of Disney
Toy Story 3’s Ohio Connection
Writing Finding Nemo

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“When you adapt a book, you’re not making another book—you’re making a movie, which operates grammatically very, very differently. The better the book is, the more you have to change it. A good book succeeds with literary effects, but you need cinema so you have to just treat it as raw material. Anyone who expects a movie to be faithful to a book is not really giving the proper respect to cinematic form and literary form.”
Alexander Payne 
Interview with Kevin Conroy Scott
Screenwriters’ Masterclass

Note: Payne has won two Oscars for his hand in adapting two scripts from novels; The Descendants (Kaui Hart Hemmings) and Sideways (Rex Pickett).

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“I’m not interested in characters who aren’t broken. I’m not interested in happy people. It just doesn’t draw me as a writer. Theater people say you are either a comedian or a tragedian, and I’m a tragedian. And the vexing, dark characters, the ones where I don’t understand their pain or their anguish, they are the characters that appeal to me.”
Screenwriter John Logan (Hugo, Rango, The Aviator, Gladiator)
“A Precise, Beautiful Machine”: John Logan on Writing the Screenplay for Hugo

Note: “I’m not interested in character’s who aren’t broken,” is a nice bookend to the Stanley Elkin’s quote, “I would never write about someone who is not at the end of their rope.”

Related Posts:

The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously)
The Heart of “Hugo” (Part 1)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“Remember that the word star spelled backwards is rats.”
Joe Eszterhas

I’m sure Joe Eszterhas was sitting home in Chagrin Fall, Ohio last Friday when he came across my blog post Screenwriting Rock Starand then he thought to himself, “Really?” (Okay, he probably didn’t, but if he had of read it that’s what he would have said.)

So when it comes to screenwriting rock stars I should give the man his due. Eszterhas has not only written films that have brought in over a billion dollars at the box office—and personally  had a few multimillion dollar paydays from his scripts, but for several years in the 70s he was a senior editor of Rolling Stone magazine, used to live in Hawaii and Malibu, and once dated actress Sharon Stone. (Well I don’t know if you could really call it dating, but according to Eszterhas’ book Hollywood Animal it involved sex, champagne and cocaine.)

Perhaps Joe Eszterhas is the orignal screenwriting rock star.

And even though he’s 67-years-old now and has stopped chasing women, has been married to the same woman for 20 years, stopped drinking and smoking, and lives (and even goes to church) in small town Ohio— he’s still enough of a screenwriting rock star rebel to go to war recently with Mel Gibson. (See the June 9, 2012 L.A. Times article by Patrick Goldstein, Pulp non Fiction: Joe Eszterhas tells all about Mel Gibson.) His Kindle book Heaven and Mel is currently #9 on the Amazon Best Sellers list.

But if you read Eszterhas’ books you get the feeling he doesn’t admire too many people in Hollywood. Though he does have at least one other screenwriter he looks up to:

“All Hail Billy Bob Thornton! A hard-nosed screenwriter (Sling Blade) who went to the wall with several studios that wanted to change his scripts, he even jumped atop a studio head’s desk once…Billy Bob is the realization of all our dreams: He became a movie star; he became a rock and roll star; he married Angelina Jolie.”
Joe Eszterhas
The Devils Guide to Hollywood 

Billy Bob Thorton even won an Oscar for his Sling Blade screenplay, but his marriage to Angelina didn’t last as long as Arthur Miller’s five-year marriage to Marilyn Monroe.

It would appear being a screenwriting rock star is not an easy gig, and perhaps one you shouldn’t aspire to be.

P.S. Smoking is bad for you. Joe says so, and has a cancer-ravaged voice to prove it.

Scott W. Smith 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: