Archive for January, 2013

I saw the Google icon today was of Jackie Robinson on account of January 31 being his birthday. The Brian Helgeland (Oscar-winner for L.A. Confidential)  written and directed movie 42 (Robinson’s jersey number when he played for the Dodgers) will be released this April. But many don’t know that there was a movie of Robinson’s life made in 1950 called The Jackie Robinson Story—and starred Robinson playing himself.

Here’s the entire movie, written by Arthur Mann, Louis Pollock, and Lawrence Taylor as found on You Tube:

Scott W. Smith

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Man Vs. Nature

The Birds could be the most terrifying motion picture I have ever made.”
Alfred Hitchcock


Cedar Falls, Iowa gave me a proper send off this morning as several inches fell on my Durango before I could head south. On Sunday we had an ice storm, on Monday we had a thunderstorm, today we had a snow storm, and if all goes right with my trip I’ll be in sunny 70 degree weather in Central Florida capping the most varied and unusual week of weather I’ve ever had.

It made me think of movies that center around man vs. nature.  If you’re ever stuck for a script idea there’s always plenty of primal conflict to explore in nature. Here are a handful of man vs. nature movies that come to mind:

P.S. Notice these are all survival stories with the stakes being life or death.

Related Post: What’s at Stake?

Scott W. Smith

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“Because I have a son who’s had some of these emotional situations I immediately related to [the novel Silver Linings Playbook] otherwise I never would have. And I said, what a wonderful story, and a wonderful world that is tragic, heartbreaking, emotional, and ultimately funny and uplifting….While I was waiting the five years to make it, I probably rewrote the script over 20 times, and I was able to plumb new depths of it in terms of calibrating the nature of the challenges the main character faces.
Silver Linings Playbook writer/director David O.Russell
Charlie Rose Interview 2012 & WGA,West interview by Rob Feld

Related Posts:
Broken Wings & Silver Linings
Coppola & Rewriting

Scott W. Smith


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“I’ve overcome the blow, I’ve learned to take it well…”
Jim Croce/Operator

“Rainy day people all know there’s no sorrow they can’t rise above…”
Gordon Lightfoot/ Rainy Day People

Perhaps the reason I decided to start a post about the movie Silver Linings Playbook with a couple of lines from seventies songs is the movie has a seventies feel. Not disco 70s—Annie Hall 70s.

You know, the kind of movie that centers on great writing and great acting. Movies that transcend entertainment and are about something human. I’m not a tentpole/vampire/contrived comedy kind of guy, so I relish when a film like Silver Linings Playbook comes along. This isn’t a movie review, but a look at the movie from the perspective of the script written by the film’s director David O. Russell. (As of this writing the script can be found at this link by The Weinstein Company.)


The story of Silver Linings Playbook is actually pretty simple. Pat (Bradley Cooper) wants to get back together with his wife. And that happens on page 1 with Pat talking to himself in a psychiatric facility:

PAT: “I blew it. But you also blew it. We can get it back. It’s all gonna be better now. I’m better now and I hope you are, too.”

No big set up of where we are or what happened to Pat, the reader/audience is engaged and playing catch-up. And we also know that Pat is part of the “end-of-the-rope club” which is often a key ingredient in a lead character. So there is a stated goal on page one—get back together with Nikki (who we learn is his estranged wife). Of course, just one of Pat’s problems is he has a court order that prohibits him from coming within 500 feet of his estranged wife.

There are two central characters; Pat and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). This is not one of those scripts you read where you’re flipping back and forth trying to keep track of the characters. And keeping with the idea that you should have a really good reason from cutting away from the central character, I believe Pat in the script and in the movie is in every single scene. But there is meat in the supporting roles which is why Robert De Niro and Jackie Weaver were attracted to the roles and why both were nominated for Academy Awards (as Bradley and Lawrence were).

There’s no real need for an antagonist role (Officer Keogh may be as close as we get), because both protagonists Pat and Tiffany do a pretty good job of being their own antagonists.

There are a handful of other roles, but essentially the story fits the idea that the audience/reader really can’t get involved in more than seven characters.

Silver Linings Playbook is full of not only conflict from beginning to end, but the best kind of conflict—meaningful conflict. Pat has inner-conflict with self and his illness, interpersonal with mom, dad, brother ex-wife, friends and Tiffany, and extrapersonal conflcit with neighbors, police, his doctor and people at football game.

What’s always at stake for Pat is being sent back to psychiatric facility. But the worst part about that for Pat is that would mean he failed at his goal of getting back together with his wife. And the stakes are even greater than if he has to go back to the hospital losing his freedom and maybe his mind.

Screenplays are often difficult to read, probably because they are a blueprint to make a movie. But Silver Linings Playbook was a fun and easy read. That was in part due to the pacing. Scene descriptions were kept between 1-3 lines and dialogue was usually kept between one and three sentences.

The script came in at 152 pages which is longer than most tend to be these days, but it is a verbal rather than a visual story so the running time was 2 hours.

There have been four films made with the title The Silver Lining (1915, 1921, 1927, 1932) and the expression “every cloud has a silver lining” has been around forever. So the title Silver Linings Playbook takes something familiar and gives it a fresh twist.

The movie largely takes place in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania—a small working class suburb of Philadelphia.

Another writer’s tool used throughout the script/movie to bring a conhesivness to the story.

You don’t have to ever been in a psychiatric facility like Pat, or have the emotional relationship baggage Tiffany has to have an emotional connection to these characters. Everyone has their own emotional baggage and relationship issues and this film taps into what is called the laughter of recognition. What’s happening on screen is a reflection of our friends and family—and ourselevs.

Last year I pulled a quote where writer/director Garry Marshall talked about himself and audiences being drawn to Cinderella stories, and another quote by writer/director Frank Darabont talking about having an “uplift” at the end of movies. Of course, not all stories are Cinderella stories nor have an uplift, but if you are writing stories for an audience it is important to know that everyone is looking for a silver lining. I didn’t say a “happy ending,” but a silver lining is a plus.


“I’m gonna take all this negativity and use it for fuel, and I’m going to find a silver lining, that’s what I’m gonna do.”—Pat (Bradley Cooper), Page 14

This is what I believe to be true. This is what I learned in the hospital. You have to do everything you can, you have to work your hardest, and if you do, if you stay positive, you have a shot at a silver lining.”—Pat, Page 35

There is a handwritten sign “EXCELSIOR” on Pat’s wall at his room at the psychiatric facility that we first read about on page three of the script and becomes a running motifs throughout the script—a rally cry of sorts for Pat. Excelsior is Latin for “ever upward.”

Silver Linings Playbook is not the kind of movie that you would think that would have a long box office run. But despite a limited release in November and a wide release at the end of December it’s still in theaters as we approach the first week of February. Heck, in the traditional Hollywood cycle this movie should already be available on DVD. Instead it was actually third at the box office this weekend. Glad this film is getting good word of mouth reviews. And while it wouldn’t seem the most international movie this little $20 million dollar movie is on its way to breaking $100 million at the global box office.

The film has been nominated for a total of eighth Oscars.

Silver Linings Playbook originated as a novel by Matthew Quick and his real life story of quitting his teaching job and taking off three years to focus on his writing is a post for another day. The date on the screenplay says 2008, the year the book was released. If that’s when the script was written (or even just purchased) that means that it was a four/five-year journey to bring that story to the screen. (And I don’t know how many years it took Quick to write the novel.)

For those of you who haven’t seen the film I won’t tell you how it ends, just that the film is really about taking a step on the road to redemption believing that broken wings can be mended and silver linings found.

P.S. Didn’t make this connection until after I wrote this post, but singer Jim Croce was born in South Philadelphia and played in many tough bars in Philadelphia before heading to New York City and greater fame. Unfortunately he died at only age 30. His wife Ingrid owns Croce’s Restaurant & Jazz Bar in San Diego. I had a memorable meal there a few years ago while sitting in their outside area and enjoyed watching the people in the historic Gaslamp Quarter walk by.

Related Posts:
Average Length of a Movie Scene (Tip #21)
Writing Actor Bait (Tip #64)
What’s at Stake? (Tip  #9)
“Goal. Stakes. Urgency.” (Tip #60)
40 Days of Emotions
Screenwriting by Numbers (Tip #4)
Writing Beyond the Numbers (Tip #8)
Setups & Payoffs (Tip #57) 

Scott W. Smith

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“Find a strong-willed character with a nothing-will-stand-in-my-way determination to reach his or her goal confronting strong opposition, add a strong action line, keep throwing obstacles (conflicts) in his or her path, and you’re well on your way to a gripping screenplay.”
William Froug


Last week I did something I’ve never done before, I read a screenplay of a film that was just released and then a couple of days later went to the movie. It was a great experience.

The script and movie was Silver Linings Playbook written and directed by David O. Russell from a book by Matthew Quick. Earlier this month the movie, director  and screenplay all received Oscar nominations, along with being the first film in 31 years to be nominated in all for acting categories (Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress). I’ll write more about the movie Monday, but the great thing about reading the PDF official screenplay at the website of The Weinstein Company who produced the film is regardless of how well the actors performed—the script totally worked on the page.

Of course, you kind of expect that, but we’ve all read scripts where we think “those actors really made that movie better than the script.” Not to take anything away from Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, and Jackie Weaver, but I believe several top actors would have made an equally compelling movie because the script is so dang strong. I look forward to reading Quick’s novel to see how different it is from Russell’s script.

You can also find the screenplay of other Oscar-nominated film produced by  The Weinstein Company, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained online.  I happened to see Silver Linings Playbook and Django Unchained back to back last weekend and noticed that while they are different genres and take places in different eras, the core stories are the same—men who want to reconnect with their wives. A pretty simple through-line or story spine.

But read both screenplays and watch each movie to see how the filmmakers develop their stories. The originality come from taking a simple (and shared) concept and mixing it with familiar yet unique settings , along with complex characters surrounded by conflict with much at stake.

My writer friend Matthew sent me this link at Film Buff Online that actually has 30 recently Oscar-nominated scripts offered by the studios. I’m not sure  how long these links will be live so if you’re interested check them out before the Oscar ceremonies.

P.S. Anyone else remember the days when you had to save up $15 and head down to Hollywood to buy a script or go to AFI where you had to hand over your driver’s licence to read a script in their library?

Related Posts:
What’s at Stake? (Tip#9)
Descriptive Writing—Characters

Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting (Tip#7)
“Goal. Stakes. Urgency.” (Tip #60)

Scott W. Smith

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As this blog Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places enters into its sixth year this week here’s a fitting thought from the always informative blog Go Into the Story:

“Assuming you’re not a native Californian or a long-time transplant to L.A., you developed your writing voice elsewhere. Iowa, New Jersey, England, Norway, wherever. The sum of your life experiences and the very place in which you live now has helped to make you the writer you are, giving you your distinctive take on the world….Let me end with the question that is always on the mind of aspiring writers who live well outside Los Angeles: Do I have to move there to break into the business?

The answer is no. You can write a spec script anywhere. If it’s great, that will be your passport into the business. In fact, I have recently interviewed two 2012 Nicholl Fellow winners, one from Louisiana [Allan Durand], one from South Africa [Sean Robert Daniels]. They and many other writers I know live and work outside Los Angeles.

But if you do sell a spec, and even in anticipation of that chance, at least you should be envisioning the possibility of relocating. Because on the whole, the positives of living and writing in L.A. outweigh the negatives.”
Scott Myers
The Business of Screenwriting: Living and writing in L.A.

Check out the whole article, and if somehow Myers’ screenwriting blog is off your radar check it out—it’s a great one.

Related Posts:

Do You Have To Live In L.A. To Be A Screenwriter?
Why You Should Move to L.A.
Why You Shouldn’t Move to L.A.

Scott W. Smith


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My Satellite Office

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.”
President John F. Kennedy

“I have a tendency to go places where I want to go without knowing where that’s going to take me.”
Academy & Emmy Winning Director/Actor Kevin Costner

Pod-4 1725

When I moved to Iowa from Florida in 2003 it was supposed to be a three months stop-over on my way to Chicago where I had been doing some freelance producing for a TV program. I never would have guessed it would be a ten year run. A run that included opportunities to shoot projects in Russia, Jamaica, South Africa, Hawaii, and Brazil. And eventually lead me to start a blog called Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places. But a part of my Iowa chapter is closing this month.

Earlier this week a moving POD left our driveway in -4 degree weather with most of our earthly belongings and headed south to Florida. I’m moving back to Central Florida where I’ve spent most of my life, but with a twist this time being based in Satellite Beach on the Space Coast, about an hour from Orlando.  Here’s a photo of the back wall of my Cedar Falls, Iowa office before I packed it up. In that photo among other memorabilia you’ll see a Jimmy Buffett poster, an A1A sign, a Save the Manatee Florida Licence plate, and a framed original 1969 New York Times front page proclaiming MEN WALK ON MOON.

Office Back Wall 1725

Buffett, route A1A along the beach, manatees, and one of the greatest technological achievements in history all scream “Space Coast.”

It really has nothing to do with leaving the Midwest in the middle of winter as much as an opportunity to rejuvenate myself creatively which is what brought me to Iowa in the first place. It helps that the housing market is strong here in Cedar Falls and soft in Florida. (We accepted an offer on our house just over a week after we listed it for sale.)  Brevard County, where I’m heading, just last month was reported to lead the nation in foreclosure filings. (Due largely to massive NASA layoffs as they ended the space shuttle program.)

On paper it might not look like the idea place to move my production company, but I will keep clients up here, have some long established clients in Orlando, and have another client who told me my close proximity to the Orlando International Airport would make it easier for him to fly me to various gigs. I have another production friend I’ve talked to about  the option of sharing an office on the lot at Universal Studios—Orlando. Plus the greater Space Coast itself has more than five times the population where I currently live so I’d like to think that there’s room for an Emmy winning producer to build a base of local clients.

Whether it’s big or small
If you have a passion at all
Just say, someday I will
Jimmy Buffett/Someday I Will 

This has been something I’ve contemplated for years and as much as I’ve always dreamed of living at the beach (aside from living three months in Seal Beach, California after graduating from film school) this will be my first opportunity to realize that dream. No risk, no reward—right? And I’m taking with me the first painting I’ve ever purchased—just picked up last weekend. This still life done by Cedar Falls artist Gary Kelley who I’m working on a new project with this spring called The Planets, Revisited.


Friends have asked about what this means for my blog and the answer is simple—nothing. It’s called Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places. I’ve always looked at Iowa as the quintessential metaphor for the last place you’d think of when you think of screenwriting. I have showed writers who developed their literary voice in Iowa, but as the digital age matures I enjoy seeing writers and filmmakers pop up in unlikely places everywhere. Places like Satellite Beach.

But if the Space Coast can produce arguably the greatest surfer ever (Kelly Slater) in Cocoa Beach, plus build and launch a rocket that lands on the moon from Cape Canaveral—then some screenwriters coming from the area really doesn’t seem like a stretch. The area has already produced some compelling movies and TV programs.

P.S. I am looking at donating as many as 200 books on screenwriting and filmmaking to a group in Central Florida so if you know a school, arts groups, creative coffee-house interested please contact me.

Scott W. Smith

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