Archive for July, 2013

“It’s all television, whether people watch on a mobile device, a tablet or a flat screen.”
Bruce Rosenblum
Chairman of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences

Last week, on July 18, 2013 to be exact, when I heard House of Cards was nominated for nine Primetime Emmys I knew it was significant, but I needed a few days to think over writing a post about it.

Among those nominations were best actor in a drama (Kevin Spacey) and best actress in a drama (Robin Wright) and best drama. The significance, of course, being that House of Cards is the first show developed not for network or cable television, but for digital distribution (via Netflix) to be nominated for major Emmys.

“The world of 7:30 on Tuesday nights, that’s dead. A stake has been driven through its heart, its head has been cut off, and its mouth has been stuffed with garlic. The captive audience is gone. If you give people this opportunity to mainline all in one day, there’s reason to believe they will do it…..[House of Cards] isn’t TV, because we don’t have the studio, we don’t have standards and practices, we don’t have people breathing down your neck saying, ‘Remember, kids love bright colors!’ We don’t have people militating against collective disinterest. I wanted to create an environment where you go in, point at the left field wall and swing as hard as you can.”
House of Cards director David Fincher
Playing with a New Deck
DGA article by Robert Abele

And House of Cards wasn’t the only Netflix show to find itself in the spotlight, its shows Arrested Development and Hemlock Grove also received Emmy nominations for a Netflix total of 14. Netflix, like all businesses, has had its ups and downs, but the Emmy nomination is not only an up moment for the company started in 1997—but it’s now a historic milestone in the always evolving world of storytelling.

By the way, the impetus for starting Netflix has its own nice little back story:

“I got the idea for Netflix after my company was acquired. I had a big late fee for “Apollo 13.” It was six weeks late and I owed the video store $40. I had misplaced the cassette. It was all my fault. I didn’t want to tell my wife about it. And I said to myself, “I’m going to compromise the integrity of my marriage over a late fee?” Later, on my way to the gym, I realized they had a much better business model.”
Reed Hastings, Founder and CEO
NY Times article Out of Africa

“Netflix democratizes the viewing experience. It exploits a trend (DVR, on-demand, streaming), which strips execs of the power to determine when & how a show will be viewed, and it places that power in the hands of consumers. That’s chaos for networks, but out of that storm emerges a new order, one governed by viewers instead of content-providers.”
Beau Willimon, creator of House of Cards
The Hollywood Reporter

P.S. HBO led the Emmy nominations this year with 108, but I’m old enough to remember when cable TV was the new kid on the block and was thought by many as just a place for old TV show reruns, low budget productions, and a stopping ground for Hollywood movies before they hit network TV. Digital distribution/Online streaming is the new cable TV of today—but it’s gotten respect much quicker.

Related Posts:
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Part 1) 

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“Run fast, stand still. This, the lesson from lizards. For all writers. Observe almost any survival creature, you can see the same. Jump, run, freeze. It the ability to flick an eyelash, crack like a whip, vanish like steam, here this instant, gone the next—life teems the earth. And when that life is not rushing to escape, it is playing statues to do the same….What can we writers learn from lizards? In quickness is truth. The faster you blunt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are….In between scurries and flights, what? Be a chameleon, ink-blend, chromosome change with the landscape.”
Ray Bradbury
Zen in the Art of Writing


Read Full Post »

On today’s repost Saturday I’m going to update a post that’s 2 1/2 years old when editor Josh McCabe headed out for L.A. after working with me when we were both based in Iowa. He’s now based in Santa Monica and shortly after landing in L.A. was doing work with TBWA\Chiat\Day, but mostly has a regular editing gig these days with the creative team at Smashbox. This week Josh sent me some links to a freelance project he did for Red Bull that is airing this weekend at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago.  Here’s the 30 second version:

Josh is still early in his career but has already had some great experiences working for some major brands and advertising companies. But he started out just like everyone else, a beginner sitting in his bedroom working on tutorials and personal projects until someone started paying for his skills. Two things about Josh that helped him beyond his editing talent that I can’t stress how important they are in your career:
1) Josh McCabe never looked down at any project he worked on. That included even doing non-creative things like making DVD labels and dubs.
2) Likeability. People want to work with people who aren’t only talented, but people they like working with. That’s why even many proven directors, actors, and writers don’t work. And the longer the project is, the more important likeability plays in you getting work. Michael Port’s book Book Yourself Solid Illustrated touches on the importance of this trait.

Here’s the post originally posted on January 31, 2011:

“(Vilmos Zsigmond) made his way to Hollywood, where he found work as a technician in a film lab and also as a home portrait photographer.”
Ray Morton writing about the days long before Zsigmond won an Oscar for Best Cinematography
Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The making of Steven Spielberg’s Classic Film

Here’s a case study of how to get a start working in production. (And what I wish somebody would have told me back when I was in film school.)

My first interaction with Josh McCabe was about 2 years ago—at about 3 in the morning. River Run Productions was looking for some production assistance and we asked the local college to recommend to us their best student. They recommended Josh. So I sent him an email early one morning and figured we’d touch base later that day.  He emailed me back right away.

I asked him what he was doing up so late. I think he said he was working on some editing tutorials at Lynda.com. That was a good sign to me.

We met and he left his job at a credit union and began working on a regular freelance basis with us.  There is an old concept that employers use that says hire for attitude, and then train the person. Josh came with not only a great attitude, and a willingness to learn, but he was well versed in editing on Final Cut Pro.  He was still in school as an electronic arts major at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) where he worked on various student productions and also did some weddings videos on his own.

Josh jumped in right away wherever we needed him. As you’ll see from some of the pictures here, sometimes he edited projects, sometimes he logged footage, sometimes he helped carry a heavy Jimmy Jib up three flights of stairs, sometimes he was a PA, sometimes a grip, sometimes a cameraman, sometimes he was a technical advisor, photographer, sound designer, sometimes he pushed a dolly, and sometimes he worked 16 hour days—he did whatever we threw at him.

Josh got to work on everything from industrial & corporate projects, commercials, web videos, promotional videos, music videos, and even co-directed a couple short films with me for the 48 Hour film project. (His resume now includes working experience on not only FCP, but Motion/After Effects, Photoshop, DVD Studio Pro, Compressor, Aperture/Lightroom, Soundtrack Pro on top of green screen work, P2 workflow, etc.)

In 2009 Josh spent the summer in LA interning at Entertainment Tonight, a gig he got through ET host Mark Steines, an Iowa native who graduated from UNI.

Josh came back to Cedar Falls to finish his BA and work at River Run and graduated last May.  When an Emmy-winning editor (Dexter opening credits) and UNI grad came to speak at the school Josh not only went to hear him speak but was part of a small group of students who got together with him for drinks afterwards.

When that editor (who works for a broadcast post house in LA) had a friend at an other post house in LA call looking for an up and comer as an assistant editor —Josh’s name came up. In a sea of capable LA talent this kid in Cedar Falls, Iowa got the gig.

To make a long story a little shorter, Josh worked his last day for us Wednesday, headed west on I-80 Friday, made a quick stop in Park City, Utah Saturday night to soak in the tail end of the Sundance Film Festival and arrived in LA Sunday night, and begins his new gig today in Santa Monica.

I’m thrilled for him. So the lesson to learn here is simply have a great attitude, learn everything you can about the tools of the trade (lynda.com is a must)—party less, and do tutorials more, network like crazy, and do the little jobs (PA, logging footage, whatever) in the little places (Cedar Falls, Iowa) and that will pave the way for bigger opportunities.

Here’s the last big project we did together that just went online this week. It was produced for an economic development group and allowed me the opportunity to do a lot of things I talk about on the blog (produce, direct, write, shoot & edit) with the bulk of the work being done by two people as Josh also shot some of the beauty footage and was also co-editor on the 3 1/2 minute video.

Josh, thanks for all your work here at River Run, and I wish you the best in LA. And for all of you starting out in your career, the lesson to learn from Josh is to be not only both technical and creative, but (I know I’m repeated myself, but sometimes you have to shout) work hard /party less, network, network, network, be addicted to learning from Lynda.com, and have a great attitude. (Tattoos are optional.)

P.S. Another young creative that I’ve been able to watch grow over the years (and also use on a freelance basis) is creative director/filmmaker Edd Blott of Chicago. He currently has a short film called A Tale of Delight that is part of the Open Film contest in hopes of being turned into a feature. Today is the last day you can vote for his film—check it out at OpenFilm.com.

Update 7/20/13: Last year Edd Blott wrote and directed his first feature film, A Tale of Delight for which he won Best Director at the 2012 Oregon Film Awards. He just had a table read in Portland of his latest script. See the post Congrats Edd Blott on Best Director Award.

Related posts:
Why You Should Move to L.A.

Why You Shouldn’t Move to L.A.

What’s it Like to Be a Struggling Writer in L.A.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“My film is not a movie. My film is not about Vietnam—it is Vietnam.”
Francis Ford Coppola on making Apocalypse Now

I saw Apocalypse Now in the theaters when I was a senior in high school and the spectacle definitely influenced my desire to go to film school. This video confirmed that Francis Ford Coppola is the filmmaker I’d most like to have dinner with some evening.

(From what I can gather this video was put together by Brian Carroll an editor in Philadelphia. Twitter @Editcadet. The video went online a year ago, but I just saw it for the first time posted yesterday on Chase Jarvis’ site. Great stuff.)

Related Posts:

Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl in Ohio (2.0)
“Who said art has to cost money?”—Coppola
“Take a Risk”—Coppola
Coppola and Rewriting
Coppola & Roger Corman
The Francis Ford Coppola Way (Tip #29)
“The Godfather” Meets “Big Wednesday”

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

The other day I flipped through MovieMaker magazine and came across the article Perfect Pitch by Ken Rotocop that had this interesting insight:

I’ve been the creative head of four studios, so I know what happens when a studio gets a synopsis: One quick glance and it goes right into the wastebasket.

A synopsis cannot help you—it can only kill you.

So what should you do if a producer has shown interest in your idea? 
Send him the first ten pages of the script—and send it with the following letter:
In my screenwriting workshops, my students have been sending out the first 10 pages of their screenplays for the last four years—and the response from producers and executives they’ve submitted their work to has been 100 percent positive!…So now that you know the secret, don’t screw it up—make sure those first 10 pages are dynamite!
In those 10 pages, we better darn well learn:
* Who the protagonist is
* What he (or she) wants
* Who or what is stopping him or her from getting it!
Ken Rotocop
MovieMaker Issue No. 65, Volume 13, Page 42
P.S. Now 100% sounds like hyperbole, but any writers out there had success with doing this? Any producers/executives like this technique?

Related posts:
Starting Your Screenplay (Tip #6)/ “As long as the protagonist wants something, the audience will want something.”— David Mamet
“The Inside Pitch”
The Perfect Logline
The 99% Focus Rule (Tip #70) Here Michael Arndt gives the real secret to reaching producers.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“I wish I had a theater that was only open when it rained…I like it when people come up to me the next day or a week later and they say, ‘I saw your play—what happened?'”
Bill Murray as the playwright Jeff in Tootsie

“You can’t have a theater based upon anything other than a mass audience if it’s going to succeed. The larger the better. It’s the law of the theater. In the Greek audience fourteen thousand people sat down at the same time, to see a play. Fourteen thousand people! And nobody can tell me that those people were all readers of The New York Review of Books! Even Shakespeare was smashed around in his time by university people….because he was reaching for those parts of man’s makeup which respond to melodrama, broad comedy, violence, dirty words, and blood. Plenty of blood, murder, and not very well motivated at that.”
Arthur Miller (Death of a Salesman)
Playwrights at Work, Page 171

Related Posts:

Screenwriting Quote #175 (Arthur Miller)
Volcanic Emotions & Arthur Miller
Arthur Miller on Writing
What Would Arthur Miller Do?
“Tootsie” at 30
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously) “The reason that I am a writer today is Shakespeare.”—John Logan
There’s Something About Jerry“No artist—notably no film or television writer—need apologize for entertaining an assembled mass of people.” Richard Walter (UCLA screenwriting professor)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

From the movie poster & trailer for The Delinquents (1957)

“Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food and tyrannize their teachers.”
Socrates (470-399 BC)

“After toiling away in Hollywood in the late 1940s, a frustrated but determined Robert Altman returned to his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri in an effort to focus on his dream of making movies more seriously. It was here he was hired by a local production company, and over the next several years produced more than 65 projects, leading up to his first feature, The Delinquents….The old adage that it’s all about ‘who you know’ may ring true in Hollywood circles, but if your goal is to make movies that matter in the independent world, then it’s all up to you. Sure, film is a collaborative art, but you need to take that first step. So jump right in and write that script, direct that short and take that editing class. The time is now!
Jennifer M. Wood
MovieMaker magazine, Issue 65, Vol 13

P.S. The Delinquents was written and directed by Altman and starred Tom Laughlin—the man who would go on to make the Billy Jack films. Altman would go on to have a career spanning six decades only ending with his death in 2006. He would eventually be nominated for six Oscars including his work on Short Cuts, MASH, and Nashville. My personal favorite Altman film is The Player—check out this great one-shot opening:

Related Posts:

Kansas City’s Robert Altman
Robert Altman
Screenwriting from Missouri
Sacred Land, Moving Pictures
Postcard #1 (Downtown KC)
BOOM! & The Fat Lady in Kansas City

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: