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Archive for March, 2014

Play Ball!

Scott at Tinkern

Baseball is in the air as the Major League Baseball season kicked off in full force today.  As I looked for something movie related to baseball I landed on a trailer from For Love of the Game. Partly because my last post was on Tiger Town in Lakeland, Florida where the Detroit Tigers hold their Spring Training—and in For Love of the Game stars Kevin Costner as a Detroit Tiger picture (and is directed by Sam Raimi—who is really from Detroit).

But before I get to the trailer let me mention that the micro doc Tinker Field: A Love Letter that I made this month as a personal project got a nice mention on Friday from the Orlando Sentinel by staff writer Mark Schlueb in his article Filmmaker produces video tribute to Tinker Field. (If you’re doing a personal project for yourself—it’s a nice bonus to get a good amount of positive feedback from others as well as some exposure in the press.)

P.S. Costner’s been in three baseball movies (Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, For Love of the Game), one golf movie (Tin Cup), and one biking movie (American Flyer), and in a few days has a movie coming out in a couple of weeks where he plays a General Manager of a pro football team—Draft Day.

Related posts:
Michigan’s Sam Raimi & The Guy with Greasy Hair
The Dickens of Detroit (Elmore Leonard)
Elmore Leonard (1925—2013)

Scott W. Smith

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Today I went to the last ’14 Spring Training baseball game in Lakeland, Florida where the Detroit Tigers defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 6-3. I took this photo of a couple Tiger mopeds in front of Joker Marchant Stadium at the complex known as Tiger Town. It’s a jungle out there…

Lakeland, FL

 

Related post: Screenwriting from Michigan

Scott W. Smith

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“When I decided to stop writing about five years ago I did, as you say, sit down to reread the 31 books I’d published between 1959 and 2010. I wanted to see whether I’d wasted my time. You never can be sure, you know. My conclusion, after I’d finished, echoes the words spoken by an American boxing hero of mine, Joe Louis. He was world heavyweight champion from the time I was 4 until I was 16. He had been born in the Deep South, an impoverished black kid with no education to speak of, and even during the glory of the undefeated 12 years, when he defended his championship an astonishing 26 times, he stood aloof from language. So when he was asked upon his retirement about his long career, Joe sweetly summed it up in just 10 words. ‘I did the best I could with what I had.'”
Philip Roth
My Life as a Writer
2014 New York Times interview by Daniel Sandstrom 

 

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“The former Buffalo Bills QB [Jim Kelly] has endured more pain, grief and disappointment than many nations, and it’s only getting worse.”
Rick Reilly
ESPN March 4, 2014

“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
Andy Defresne in The Shawshank Redemption

Jim Kelly and his daughter at the hospital

Jim Kelly and his daughter at the hospital

Jim Kelly changed my life.

Indirectly—and I’ll explain in a minute—but now that he’s facing surgery tomorrow for an aggressive form of cancer I wanted you to keep him in your thoughts and prayers.

Kelly’s not a screenwriter, but once said he’d written the script for his life that included coaching his son Hunter one day. But Hunter was born with a genetic disorder and died in 2005 when he was 8-years-old. Jim and his wife Jill founded Hunter’s Hope Foundation in honor of their son.  In times like that I’m always reminded of the words of Roy Hobbs in The Natural, “My life didn’t turn out the way I expected.”

To one degree or another that’s true of every person who’s ever lived on this planet. I think that’s why stories dealing with struggle are so universal. Our culture celebrates power and strength, but it seems to be in moments of weakness where real and lasting impact takes place.

“His ability to lose, and lose big, and yet handle it, is so impressive to me. This has all made him an even better person than before, more patient even. It’s made him want to help even more people than before.”
Jill Kelly on her husband Jim who had part of his jaw removed last year due to cancer

For those of you who don’t follow football, Kelly is a member of the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame and from 1986 to 1996 was the quarterback for the Buffalo Bills.

My path crossed Kelly’s in August of 1981 at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. I was a first year football walk-on and Kelly was the starting QB. I was so low on the totem pole that as practices first started I didn’t even have a “U” on my helmet. That’s the truth. But I did have “Smith” written on tape across top front of my helmet, and perhaps the only conversation I ever had with Kelly was when he said, “Hey, Smitty” and he threw me the ball to warm his arm up before practice.

For Kelly who would later be the only QB to take a team to the Super Bowl four years in a row, that moment probably doesn’t make his highlight memory reel. But if you’re a first year walk-on and you’re catching a football from the starting QB you don’t forget that moment. But that’s not how Kelly changed my life.

In high school I was an all-conference football player but lacked size, grades, and about anything else that would make a college offer me a scholarship. But I still had this desire to play major college football. I went to a community college for a year to improve my GPA and also worked at a small newspaper as a sports writer and photographer. So as I looked for a college that had a good passing program (and a solid film school) I landed on Miami as the perfect fit.

Because Miami has won more national championships in football than any other school in the last 30 years, people forget before Kelly led the Hurricanes to a Peach Bowl victory after the 1980 season—Miami hadn’t even won a bowl game since 1966. I liked the direction head coach Howard Schnellenberger was taking the team and dreamed about catching passes from Kelly who was fresh off being the offensive MVP in that Peach Bowl.

So to a certain extent I lived that dream on a very, very micro level. I often joke that I had a the shortest career of any player who ever wore a Hurricane uniform in a game. I dressed out for exactly one JV football game playing exactly zero downs—and then dislocated my shoulder in practice, had surgery, and walked-off. (Didn’t even make the team picture that was taken later in the season.) About the only other thing Kelly and I have in common is we both had shoulder surgery done by the team physician Dr. Kalback.

But if it hadn’t been for Kelly I don’t think I would have chosen the University of Miami. So that’s indirectly how he changed the course of my life. With playing football out of my system I decided to head to California to finish film school, met my wife, etc. etc, etc.

So if you’ve enjoyed any aspect of this blog over the years–know that Jim Kelly played a part in all of this. There’s a wake behind great leaders where they have a positive impact that they are totally unaware of.

Please keep he and his family in your thoughts and prayers because he’s one of the good guys. And consider donating to Hunter’s Hope as they seek to alleviate the pain children are suffering from Krabbe Disease.

P.S. When Kelly was first drafted by the Buffalo Bills he says he actually cried, because he did not want to play in a cold weather climate. And before he joined the Bills, he played in the USFL in the Astrodome for the Houston Gamblers. But as the USFL folded he reluctantly joined the Bills. Lesson there is sometimes when we go to the places we don’t want to go magical things can happen.

Related Posts:
Screenwriting Quote #19 (Kurt Warner)
Screenwriting and the Super Bowl
Screenwriitng Quote #29 (William Blinn) Screenwriter of Brian’s Song about Gale Sayers

Update 4/8/14: Doctors decided they could treat Kelly this time with radiation and so this week he begin radiation treatment five days a week for the next seven weeks for his skin cancer (squamous cell carcinoma).

Scott W. Smith

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“A rule says, ‘You must do it this way.’ A principle says, ‘This works…and has through all remmebered time.'”
Robert McKee
Story

“My first eight to 10 scripts were pretty horrendous, but I stayed at it, stayed at it, and stayed at it, until I eventually found a voice and a subject like Rocky that people were interested in.”
Writer, director, actor Sylvester Stallone

Yesterday’s post was a Christopher Lockhart quote about how nobody who reads scripts cares about screenwriting rules—only a great script. Or as Lockhart says in other places “the right script.” I’ve heard others say there are no rules—but break them at your own peril. And, “There are no rules, only guidelines.”  And yet another common phrase is,”know the rules before you break them.”

Is there any way to bring a synthesis to these somewhat opposing views?

I look at writers and filmmakers like I do athletes. Being tall is an advantage in basketball, but not in horseracing. And even within the same sport like American football each position has different requirements. Having the ability to catch a football is a basic requirement of a wide receiver but not expected at all of a left guard playing offense. One has the gift of catching, the other of blocking. There are hall of fame players who wouldn’t even make the team if they had to line up at a position that didn’t play up their strengths.

Screenwriters tend to have strengths in one or two particular genres. And even working screenwriters have a mixed writer’s grab bag of some of the following traits in their writing; great characters, solid story structure, snappy dialogue, humorous dialogue, minimal dialogue, emotional writing, theme, visual storytelling, etc, etc.

Maybe the problem with the word “rules” is we’ve all read and/or written scripts that have followed basic accepted rules of screenwriting and are lifeless. Most if not all script readers say that they only recommend between 2-10% of the scripts they read. But I honestly think that has less to do with rules, and more with talent and how it’s developed.

You may have heard the story about how Michael Jordan,  one of the greatest professional basketball players of all time, was once cut from his high school basketball team.  He had talent, but it needed to be developed. He had to hone what worked with his skill set. He had to play the game a little better.

So while Lockhart says there are no rules, if you listen his whole one hour Final Draft webinar you will find plenty of suggestions based on his years of experience that will help develop your talent and hone your skill set. Here’s some bullet points that jumped out at me. If we don’t call them rules, maybe we can just call them realities.

(Note these are my quick notes from the Q&A with Lockhart not direct quotes. Any errors are mine.)

—Active portagonist: The script revolves around this character. The one who makes everything happen and who moves the story forward. Is in almost every scene. And has to be involved in the climax of the story. Good example: Taken.

—Emotional range: Lead actors like to play roles with a wide range of emotions.

8 to 10 pages: No set page count when he knows a script is working, but if it hasn’t happened by pages 8-10 experience tells him that it’s probably not going to happen.

Visual conflict: Watch the movie Insomnia (2002) 

—Starting Out: Find a manager willing to work with new writers. Know that every writer with an agent, at one time didn’t have an agent. For an unknown to get recognized with an agency like CAA/WME you need to bring some kind of heat to the table, like having a film at Sundance or be a Nicholl finalist. An agent wants to represent you when you have something to sell (or ready for assignments), a manager will help you get to that place.

—One right script. It may take you ten scripts to write that one right script, but you only need one to open doors. It may not get made, but solid scripts always advance a writer’s career.

—Pitching stories: 
Getting in the room to pitch a story is reserved for experienced writers.

—Screenwriting contests: The majority of contests don’t open doors, but they give writers goals and deadlines which are helpful.

—High concept: Best chance for new writers to get traction.

—Query letters/emails: A query from Canada can land on the right desk and get noticed. Never put the word “query” in subject of email—just the script title. Put your logline at the top of the email or letter. Example: “Hi Chris, I have a new horror thriller it’s about a psychiatrist who struggles to help a young boy overcome a bizarre affliction—the boy sees dead people. It’s called the Sixth Sense.”

—Movies vs. TV: In movies the story is in the foreground and in TV the characters are in the foreground.

—Hustle: If you don’t want to hustle then the film business may not be the best career for you. Writing is only about 50% of the job. It’s not rude to ask someone to read your script at a party, standing in line, walking down the street—that’s your job. Just be respectful. When networking realize that people want to work with people they like and want to be around. (i.e. Don’t be a dick.)

—Voice: Not about the words you use, but how you tell the story.

—Page count: In theory, 100-120 pages is the norm in Hollywood.

—Living in LA: You can write from anywhere, but you have to be able to take meetings in LA. (And if you’re Joe Blow/Jo Blow from Idaho traveling to LA comes out of your pocket.) If you do live in Idaho concentrate on writing the right script that will get traction. (That’s what Diablo Cody did with Juno when living in Minneapolis.)  Kevin Fox (Queens of Supreme, Lie to Me) lives in New jersey.

—Treatments: Joe Blows in Idaho don’t sell treatments.

—Pitchfests: Good place if you have the money to get learning experience (but the chances of actually selling a pitch are slim because the people you’re pitching to tend to be from the lowest level of the places they represent).

—Read newly sold scripts: It’s helpful to get your hands on scripts that just sold and see how it creates the movie in your head without any preconceived notion of actors. Understand why that script sold.

Related posts:

Christopher Lockhart (Q&A Part 1)
Christopher Lockhart (Q&A Part 2)
Christopher Lockhart (Q&A Part 3)
Christopher Lockhart (Q&A Part 4)
Christopher Lockhart (Q&A Part 5)

Scott W. Smith

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“About rule breaking—there are no rules. Do whatever you have to do—it doesn’t matter. Nobody cares. Listen to me, I’ve read 30,000 screenplays, I work at WME, and I’m telling you anybody in this business who reads scripts doesn’t given a flying f*#k about the rules. All they care about is a really great script. And as a writer you have to do what you have to do in order to communicate your story to the reader.”
WME Story Editor Christopher Lockhart
Final Draft Webinar

Related post:
Screenwriting’s One Unbreakable Rule
Everything I Learned in Film School (Tip #1)
“Everything Was Perfect…”
Neil Simon on Conflict
Getting Your Script Read (Tip #51) Another Lockhart quote.

Scott W. Smith

 

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“Here’s an indication of how burdensome student loans have become: About one-third of millennials say they would have been better off working, instead of going to college and paying tuition.”
Halah Touryalai, Forbes

Calvin Johannsen of The Visual House is one of those creative hybrids who’s a producer/director/shooter/editor as well as being quite proficient in motion graphics. And to top it off he’s got a super sense of business—and he’s still a few years shy of being 30 years old. (You didn’t meet many people like that 10 years ago, but ‘welcome to the jungle’ in 2014.)

He’s also part of a team of people behind the documentary Broke, Busted, & Disgusted about the growing problem of college student loans.  They are in the process of raising funding via an Indiegogo campaign. Here’s a 10 question Q&A I did with Calvin where you’ll not only learn about his project, but he’ll give you some crowdfunding advice for your next project.

Scott W. Smith: Where did this idea of BB & D come from?

Calvin Johannsen: The idea was concepted by Adam Carroll over a couple years ago. Adam was traveling the country, speaking to college students about financial literacy. While out delivering his message, he discovered a couple common problems amongst college students. Problem #1: they had no idea how much their student loan payments would be after graduating. Problem #2: the debt load students were carrying in order to obtain an undergraduate degree.

Adam approached me with his vision of a documentary, and from our initial conversations, we begun putting plans in place.

SWS: What do you think the chief problem is with college loans these days?

CJ: I think it’s a tossup, a two-fold problem. The ease of accessibility to loans (with skyrocketing interest rates) and the unconscious decision for high-school graduates borrowing tens-of-thousands of dollars without a plan, to get a higher-education, with the dream of obtaining the good life.

What they don’t realize, is they’re often signing up to run up a mountain with a boulder on their back after graduation. They’ll spend the next 10-15 years paying back their astronomical debts. By doing so, they end up serving their debt, instead of their life’s mission.

SWS: Can you give one or two examples from your research or interviews about the increasing burden of loans on graduates?

CJ: I’ll give you something better… Here’s an entire list of articles circulating about this exact issue. So we’re not the only ones who know it’s important to talk about it: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AsUP10YELY2QdEVWeU5mX2otX2xpbExNRzQ4VWN2UXc&usp=sharing

SWS: What’s your end goal with BB & D?

CJ: To create the must-see film for every soon-to-be, or current college students, that educates them about their current predicament, and create an awakening amongst them. We want all students to be making conscious decisions, instead of blindly signing on the dotted line. Having more educated and informed young professionals being in a lot less debt, is in the best interest of our nation (and economy).

We’re trying to avoid a mortgage crisis 2.0.

SWS: Tell me about your own college experience.

CJ: I went to college simply because it was the next step after high-school (unless I wanted to be stuck on the farm). I had no real plan, or goal. I didn’t even know what I wanted to be, or what I wanted to do. Honestly, I had no idea what it was costing me to partake in the experience. Year after year, with the guidance of my parents, I kept borrowing money.

It wasn’t until late in my Junior year did the fog began to clear, and I begun conceptualizing what I would like to do someday. Which was to serve the world with my ability to tell stories, and work for myself by doing so.

SWS:  So you’re not anti-college? After all if you hadn’t gone to college and  learned about production you probably wouldn’t be making this documentary.

CJ: I speak on behalf of our whole team when I say we are very pro-education, but not at the expense of your dreams. College, higher education as a whole, is very vital into developing into a professional. That’s why public universities and colleges were established in this country. However, I think education is beginning to take a backseat, while the whole system (government, lenders, institutions, etc) focus on profits instead.

Every student is a profit opportunity. At the surface, the government is raking in about $50 billion a year off interest — and we wonder why student loan debt has accumulating to be over 1.2 trillion dollars ($800 billion dollar increase in the last decade).

SWS: Why did you decide to go the crowdfunding direction to raise money?

CJ: Crowdfunding is built around being social. It’s a great avenue to share your vision and message with people. We want to build awareness around our mission, and see who else rallies behind it. It’s been a vehicle to instantly build relationships, and get feedback instantaneously about our project. A great way to get the conversation started. It’s been crucial in landing some very important conversations to move our documentary forward.  

SWS: You’ve put together a nice campaign with videos. How much time have you and others spent on this already?

CJ: An ungodly amount. Thankfully we have the pleasure to execute ideas quickly. We spent a couple months gearing up for the campaign, writing, shooting, re-writing, re-shooting the campaign video, and building the page. We’ve built an incredible team around the project. Everyday at least three more ideas are generated, while only maybe one can be executed. It’s all been very fast, challenging, and exhilarating. But at the end of the day, doing this type of work, doesn’t feel like work. We leave feeling more energized than when we begin in the mornings. When you’re serving a higher purpose, work no longer becomes work.

SWS: You’ve raised over $15,000 so far what have you learned about this process? What can you pass on to others who are attempting to raise money for their projects.

CJ: So far we’ve raised $15,849 — a bit behind our goal…but keeping our fingers crossed we’ve got some big fish and initiatives we’re attempting to reel in. My advice would be to build up commitment and awareness a month before the campaign launches, that way upon launching, you have instant momentum. We had success with chaos the first two weeks, but in order for us to reach our goal, we had to focus in tightly, gather a support team, align our vision, and work in unison. My overall advance would be to build a team that works in unison — each member working efficiently and effectively utilizing their core strengths. Delegate duties, and don’t be stepping on toes.

One other tip is to develop what I call a 100-list. That’s 100 people you can pick up the phone, tell them about your project, and request contribution (family and friends). Crowdfunding still relies on very personal relationships…so leverage them. We’ve had each team member create their own list.

SWS:  What’s the distribution plan once you complete the film?

CJ: We plan to follow in the path (and successes) of documentaries like “Indie Game”, “Sound City”, “I’m Fine, Thanks” and “#standwithme”, and begin with self distribution. We’ll build an audience, and form partnerships to get our film in front of as many people as possible. But, we’ll also aim for some festivals, with hopes of gaining recognition, and landing a traditional distribution deal.

Our primary question we’re currently asking is, “How do we get every high school kid to see this film?”. We may not have the exact answer right now, but at least we’re asking the right questions, which will hopefully lead us to the right answer(s).

And here’s a video where Calvin video interviewed realtor Mark Charter who gave $5,000 to the Broke, Busted and Disgusted documentary.

Scott W. Smith

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