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Archive for August, 2013

“At the end of the day, we all hope that what we’re doing will be of some value.”
Producer/actor Brad Pitt

On this repost Saturday I’m reaching back to a post I just wrote two years ago. I know many people in the sporting world are in a football state of mind this week since the 2013 college football season began this week.

But I’m in a baseball state of mind because I went to a memorial service yesterday for Coach Mike Ferrell. He was my JV baseball coach my freshman year of high school. Some people only come into your life for a season but still leave an impact. Coach Ferrell was one of those people in my life.

I can’t remember what our record was that year I played on his team. I can’t even remember a single game. But I remember Coach Ferrell. My defining memory of him was when I was going through a batting slump and he allowed me hit extra in batting practice. Next game I got two hits. Little things like a coaches confidence in you to do better and a lesson about perseverance go a long way in life.  (Passion, patience, practice and persistence are a great combination any endeavour.)

He was a good man. A fair man. And he loved the game of baseball–and it showed in his affections for his players and wanting them to play the game well. I learned at the memorial service that he “mowed his lawn every four days.” That made sense. He was a man of precision, of detail.

Looking back I realize that Coach Ferrell would have only been 25-26 years old when he was coaching that year.  Young, but every bit the leader.  And while mowing your lawn every four days won’t change the world, it does reveal a glimpse into the character of a man who would invest 37 years in the public school system teaching and coaching young men and women.

Character building stuff that impacts lives in positive ways. And there’s great value in that.

A special thanks to the teachers and coaches out there investing in the lives of others. And may peace be with Coach Ferrell’s wife and family.

Here’s the post that first ran September 30, 2011—then titled Filmmaking Quote #24 (Brad Pitt):

“It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.”
Billy Beane (Brad Pitt)
Moneyball 

Today I saw Moneyball starring Brad Pitt and loved everything about it.* It completed a week where by happenstance I followed the Brad Pitt trail.

Last Saturday while on location shooting a video project I drove by Shawnee, Oklahoma where Brad was born. A few days later I drove through Springfield, Missouri where he was raised and went to high school. The next day I was on the campus of the University of Missouri in Columbia where he went to college.

The first time I recall seeing him act was in Thelma & Louise in 1991 and it was one of those scene stealing performances where I wondered, “Who the heck is this guy?” Within four years, and after his performances in A River Run Through It, Legends of the Fall, and Se7en—everyone knew who Brad Pitt was. And while he’s a tremendous actor, personally I haven’t appreciated many of the movies he’s been in the past 15 years.

Moneyball goes down in my book as the perfect Brad Pitt movie.  (I haven’t seen Tree of Life yet, but I’m guessing it’s going to be a solid film, but a solid Terrance Malick film.)  That’s not to take anything away from Moneyball’s director (Bennett Miller) or screenwriters (Steven Zillian and Aaron Sorkin), it’s just that their talents all came together to tell a great story that is driven by an actor in his prime. And my guess is that they’ll all be rewarded when the Oscar nominations are announced. (Update: Moneyball received six Oscar-nominations and won the AFI Award for Movie of the Year.)

“(Moneyball) is about how we value things. How we value each other; how we value ourselves; and how we decide who’s a winner based on those values.  The film questions the very idea of how to define success. It places great value on this quiet, personal victory, the victory that’s not splashed across the headlines or necessarily results in trophies, but that, for Beane, became a kind of personal Everest.  At the end of the day, we all hope that what we’re doing will be of some value, that it will mean something and I think that is this character’s quest.”
Brad Pitt
Moneyball: Interview with Brad Pitt

* I will admit that baseball was my first love which is part of what is so special to me about this movie. From rooting for Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine and to going to spring training games at Tinker Field in Orlando as a kid, to playing the game through high school, and as an adult going to games at Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, and Yankee Stadium, the idea of baseball has been a constant companion even though I don’t follow the game much any more. But even if baseball is foreign to you, I think Moneyball works on so many levels you can enjoy the movie even if you’re not a fan of the game.

Related posts:

Brad Pitt & the Future of Journalism
Writing “Se7en”
Writer Jim Harrison (Part 1)
Writer Jim Harrison (Part 2)
Off-Screen Quote #20 (Rod Carew #29)

Scott W. Smith

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Overnight Success

“It doesn’t seem that long ago I had hopes of being the hot kid, selling my first story in ’51 when I was 25. I got on the cover of Newsweek in April 1985, and was seen as an overnight success after little more than thirty years.”
Elmore Leonard
1998 Film Comment Interview with Patrick McGilligan

P.S. And from that same interview Leonard told what he learned from that first story he sold;

“The story [3:10 to Yuma] was in DimWestern4500 words; I got ninety dollars for it. The editor insisted I rewrite one of the scenes and do two revisions on my description of the train. He said, “You can do it better. You’re not using all your senses. It’s not just a walk by the locomotive. What’s the train doing? How does it smell? Is there steam?” He made me work for my ninety bucks, which was good. It was in the magazine, and then within a year a producer saw it and bought it.”

Related Posts:

Elmore Leonard (1925-2013)
Tarantino on Leonard
The Dickens of Detroit (Elmore Leonard)
Writing Quote #24 (Elmore Leonard)
The Breakfast Club for Writers

Scott W. Smith

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Scott Frank on Theme

“I got an idea for a movie.”
Chili Palmer (John Travolta)
Get Shorty

As a rule [Scott] Frank says, he likes to avoid thinking about “theme” when writing a script (“The work can become pretentious or feel ‘built'”); but with a [Elmore] Leonard vehicle, a thematic idea can help pull together a lot of discursive material. “And in the case of Get Shorty, there was this terrific theme of identity: Everybody in Los Angeles wants to reinvent themselves. This load shark from Miami,” trying to break into the movie business, “was no exception. Focus on that, and it helps you organize the book….With Out of Sight, the thematic idea was ‘road not taken’: This man who had early on chosen to be a bank robber meets the one person he really falls in love with—and he’s not realizing he can’t have a life with her because of the road he took. And that becomes sort of a sad story for me.”
Tom Nolan (Interview with Scott Frank)
WGAW Written by article Dutch Landscape

P.S. Scott Frank received an Oscar nomination for adapting Out of Sight. Most recently he co-wrote the script for The Wolverine (2013).

Related Posts:

Writing from Theme (Tip #20)
Michael Arndt on Theme
Sideny Lumet on Theme
William Froug on Theme
Theme = What Your Movie is Really About
Shane Black on Theme
Diablo Cody on Theme
More Thoughts on Theme

Scott W. Smith

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Since today marks the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech given in Washington D.C. I thought I’d pull together many of the links related to Martin Luther King and black writers and filmmakers I’ve written about since I started this blog in 2008. The roots of this blog go back to a creative writing teacher I had in high school named Dr. Annye Refoe—who just happens to be black. She opened to me and other students a new world of creativity, literature & storytelling, and an understanding of the black experience in the United States.

Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting (Tip #7)
Martin Luther King Jr. Special
Blacks in Black & White
Shrimp, Giants & Tyler Perry
Postcard # 18 (NYC Synagogue)
The First Black Feature Filmmaker
Writing & House Cleaning “Whatever your life’s work do it well.” MLK
The Father of Film (Part 2) A look at Birth of a Nation.
The Father of Film (Part 3)
Jackie, Spike & Sanford, Florida
Soul of the Game
President Obama, The Man & Iowa Seeds
First screenplay, Oscar—Precious
40 Days of Emotions (Famous scene of Denzel Washington in Glory)

And I’ll close with this the video below of the multi-media performance of Three Black Kings I edited a couple of years ago with artist Gary Kelley. It was performed live by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony under the direction of conductor Jason Weinberger.

Scott W. Smith

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“[Screenwriting] was a chore [mostly] because you’ve got several bosses. You’re not just writing for yourself. I write for myself. I’m the only one I have to please. When I have to please a producer and a director and so on, then I’m just taking in writing, doing what they want me to do.

There was a time when I had to do it, ‘cuz I needed the money. I wasn’t very proud of the pictures, but it was just something I had to do. There was no way to talk [executives] into anything. You’d have a story conference on a Friday afternoon, and they’d give all this stuff, all their ideas, [and] you’d go back to your hotel room, sit there looking at the wall and writing it, and then Monday you’d meet ‘em again, and they’d forgotten all the bullshit they’d told you Friday.”
Elmore Leonard
WGA, West article Always Writing by Dylan Callaghan

Hollywood Hacks & Shipwrecks
Hollywood=Factory Town (Michael Arndt)
One Benefit of Being Outside Hollywood (Robert Rodriguez)
Elmore Leonard (1925-2013)

Scott W. Smith

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“After graduating in 2007 [University of Miami], I knew I wasn’t ready to move to LA. My chops as a writer weren’t sharp enough to survive the Hollywood meat grinder. I needed time to hone my craft, so I moved back to Boston and worked at an Italian restaurant delivering pizzas. The best part about living at home was that my expenses were minimal, so every cent I earned went toward my wagons-west-fund. I wanted to make the most of this interim period, so I dove headfirst into writing feature specs. I wrote nonstop. Most of the scripts never saw the light of day, but my skills evolved with each completed draft. I was finding my voice.

During this time, I also made five short films. It was startling how much my directorial endeavors informed my writing. Listening to actors breathe life into your dialogue is a humbling and instructional experience. You start to understand how conversations translate from the page to the set, and how to craft dialogue with a naturalistic ear, while still retaining the narrative thrust essential to story progression.”
Screenwriter Will Simmons (His script Murder City made The Black List in 2012)
Go Into the Story interview with Scott Myers

P.S. Often we only read interviews of writers after they’ve received a measure of success in the films they’ve made or after their first film has been a box office hit. What’s great about the six-part interview Will Simmons did with Scott Myers is it shows us a screenwriter in mid-step. Though none of Simmon’s feature scripts have been produced, he does have deals in the works at Warner Bros.  and is repped by UTA and Energy Entertainment. It’s important to point out that Simmons made a couple short films in college, and five short films after graduating. And his early writing in school led him to an independent study in screenwriting during his senior year of high school. So while he’s a hot young writer now, keep in mind that his writing journey so far has taken 10+ years. As screenwriter Bob DeRosa wrote, “There are no shortcuts. There is only hard work. Perseverance. Luck. Craft. Failure. Success. Mistakes. And yes, dreams that come true.”

In his Go Into The Story interview Simmons said, “I have sort of an old-school, blue-collar mentality when it comes to work ethic, so instead of making excuses I just write nonstop.”

Will Simmons on Twitter @willsimmons_

Related Posts:

The 99% Focus Rule (Tip #70) “99% of your effort should go to writing a good script. “—Michael Arndt
Screenwriting from Massachusetts
Don’t Quit You Day Job
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
Writing “Good Will Hunting”
Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg
Why You Should Move to L.A.
Why You Shouldn’t Move to L.A.
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (Tip #2)

Scott W. Smith

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On this repost Saturday I’m going to tap into a post I wrote several years ago where I quoted Elmore Leonard who passed away earlier this week. Here’s the post that originally ran in June of 2009:

Finding time to write is one of the biggest struggles for those writers with jobs and a family. But there are many stories of writers like John Grisham (The Firm) and Ron Bass (Rain Man) waking up at 5 A.M. to write before their day jobs. Now I’ve discovered another writer in that club:

“I began training for the writing life in 1951, getting up at 5:00 A.M. and writing for two hours before going to work at an ad agency. My one rule; I had to start writing, get into a scene, before I could put on coffee. Two pages a day in the early hours allowed me to turn out five books, all westerns, and over 30 short stories in the next ten years.”
Elmore Leonard
(Three-Ten to Yuma, Get Shorty)
AARP The Magazine
page 29

P.S. Leonard would have been 25 or 26 years old when he began “training for the writing life.”

Related Posts:
Elmore Leonard (1925-2013)
Screenwriting Software vs. Ballpoint Pen Leonard didn’t use writing software…or even a computer.
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (Tip #2)
Stephen J. Cannell’s Work Ethic
Stephen J. Cannell’s Work Ethic (Take 2)
Iowa Kutcher on Jobs/Work  “Opportunities look a lot like work.”
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
“Art is Work”—Milton Glaser
Stephen King’s Doublewide Trailer “I wrote my first two novels, Carrie and Salem’s Lot in the laundry room of a doublewide trailer, pounding away on my wife’s portable Olivetti typewriter and balancing a child’s desk on my thighs.”–Stephen King

Scott W. Smith

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