Archive for June, 2015


One of the advantages of living in Orlando is just embracing the tourist thing from time to time. Today is my birthday so after doing a studio shoot this morning, editing this afternoon, I drove four miles from my edit bay to Portofino Bay at Universal Studios Florida. I had a wonderful dinner at Mama Della’s Restorante and then took a short boat ride into the CityWalk area.

Universal Studios Florida is now 25 years old and while not too many movies or TV programs are shot there these days, it’s still a fun place rooted in the movie & Hollywood history —with a touch of Italian and Polynesian culture thrown in to mix it all up a little. And you really haven’t lived until you hear a trained opera singer sing the Spider-Man theme song.

P.S. The also took away the Jaws ride at Universal Studios which was a little dated for this era, but last week I did go see the 40th Anniversary release of Jaws. That Universal Studios release is a timeless classic, and I loved seeing it in a full theater.

Scott W. Smith

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Keep the Candle Burning

“People who succeed in the arts most often are the people who get up again after getting knocked down. Persistence is critical…I used to write on the morning commuter train. It was sometimes no more than a paragraph a day, but it kept the candle burning.”
Author Scott Turow

“Right out of high school I started doing stand-up [comedy]. Didn’t go to college, didn’t pursue anything else professionally really. The first time I went on stage I did a minute and a half and I bombed. It was terrible. But I wanted it so bad I kept trying and I learned how to write jokes.”
Louis CK
Louis CK honors George Carlin (Where he also talks about chucking all his jokes he’d worked on over 15 years and his career finally taking-off.)

“[The Tim Ferriss Experiment] is about the struggle as much as anything else. It’s not The Tim Ferriss Highlight Reel…You see me get really injured. You see me screw-up really badly and make some really embarrassing mistakes. And it’s intended to highlight for people the fact that when you think of people you’re trying to emulate, these people make mistakes. Most of the incredible performers I know struggle—they still struggle.”
Tim Ferriss
The Moment podcast interview with Brian Koppelman

Related Posts:

Comedy, Cruelty & Chaplin
Garry Marshall—Survivor
Jerry Seinfeld (Part 1)
Mike Nichols on Comedy, Tragedy & Truth
Tasting & Smelling Comedy
Rewriting Courtroom Drama (Scott Turow)
Flaming Rejection
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
Aaron Sorkin on Failure

Scott W. Smith

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Emotions & Film Composing

“My job — and it’s something I discuss with [James Cameron] all the time — is to make sure at every turn of the film it’s something the audience can feel with their heart. When we lose a character, when somebody wins, when somebody loses, when someone disappears — at all times I’m keeping track, constantly, of what the heart is supposed to be feeling. That is my primary role.”
Oscar-winning composer & conductor  James Horner (Avatar, Titanic,The Karate Kid, Apollo 13)
2009 LA Times article by Geoff Boucher

After Horner’s death this week producing partners James Cameron and Jon Landau said in a joint statement; “James’s music affected the heart because his heart was so big, it infused every cue with deep emotional resonance, whether soaring in majesty through the floating mountains, or crying for the loss of nature’s innocence under bulldozer treads.” Here is the song for which Horner shared an Oscar for Best Music, Original Song:

Related posts:
40 Days of Emotions
Emotional Transportation Biz
Mind, Spirit, Emotion
It’s All About Emotions

Scott W. Smith

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“Getting a puppy, the comic Louis C.K. observed, is a ‘countdown to sorrow.'” 
What Our Dogs Teach Us About Aging by David Dudley

“When you tell a story that embodies human challenges, you create an experience that resonates with your customers.”
J-P De Clerck
Using storytelling to you strengthen brand 

Photographer Ben Moon & his dog Denali’s story was told by Felt Soul Media whose website proclaims, “We strive to cause the rare magical goose bump that occur when pictures and sound are squished together just right.” Ben Knight and Travis Runnel are the Felt Soul Media team and based in Salida and Denver, Colorado. Back in 2003 after a video shoot in Colorado Springs I drove a couple of hours west to Salida because I’d heard it was a relatively undiscovered jewel in the United States.

There I found a wonderful area tucked in the Rockies that was attracting outdoor enthusiasts, artists, and even a chef from San Francisco. There were also migrant workers and people who worked at the nearby Buena Vista Correctional Complex so there was no confusing Salida with Aspen or Telluride. But as I walked through the downtown area and skied Monarch Mountain I found myself wondering how I could live and work in Salida someday. Knight and Runnel have found a way to do that and create compelling work for the world to see.

I see branding storytelling as a growth market. Denali (wonderfully shot by Skip Armstrong) was sponsored by Pategonia and a few other adventure-related groups. It also won the Best of Festival and People’s Choice awards at the 2015 5Point Film Festival in Carbondale, Colo.

Scott W. Smith 

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Happy Father’s Day

“[Good Will Hunting] is a wonderful example of a hero living an emotionally safe existence and how he gradually finds the courage to abandon that identity to achieve real fulfillment.”
Michael Hauge
Revealing Your Hero’s Wound

A few years ago I read a book where the author stated that everyone had an emotional wound—and it usually came from their father or mother. That was written in chapter four of the book and after I read that chapter whenever I’d see that wound played out in movies I used to lean over and say to move wife, “chapter four.”

But after so many films with mother and/or father issues I shortened it to just raising up four fingers to signify chapter four whenever I saw or heard a line that represents a wound. Steven Spielberg said of one of the most popular films of all-time: “E.T. was about the divorce of my parents, how I felt after my parents broke up.” That’s a wound.

And that’s one way to deal with a wound. Another film,  On Golden Pond written by Ernest Thompson is one of my favorite films that deals with a father-daughter wound.

May all of you write a script or make a film that helps heal your wounds. May you tell stories that chase the demons away and help heals the wounds of those in the audience. Sure movies and TV shows are entertaining, but at their best they do offer a form of catharsis. Has any film in history resulted in more father/son phone calls than Field of Dreams?

P.S. Here’s a shot of my father, Charles W. Smith, circa 1950s somewhere in either Youngstown or Columbus, Ohio.


Scott W. Smith

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The following is an excerpt from a Go Into The Story interview with Scott Myers and Shut In screenwriters TJ Cimfel (@TeaJaySee) and David White (@dkwite).:

DW:  I don’t want to sound like I’m saying it’s a bad idea to move [from Chicago to L.A.] because for most it’s probably the right decision. But for me specifically, I have a job here that allows me significant time to write, and that’s the most important thing. I don’t know if I could find that in LA.

TJ:  Yeah. What it comes down to is, if you’re committed to making it work, you can make it work from anywhere. You just have to be prepared that there are going to be extra obstacles if you’re not in Los Angeles. As long as you make your peace with that, and you have somebody who’s working with you and for you, who has made their peace with that, that’s a wonderful thing.

From that standpoint, it’s funny because that’s probably one of the first questions when you do the small talk when you have a general meeting with somebody is, “So… You guys are from Chicago? How’s that work for you?”

Yet, they usually wind up finishing with, “Well, I guess you can write from anywhere.” That’s the truth. At the end of the day, that’s really the number one thing. That’s the value that we’re bringing to people is through our writing, not through our proximity.

This is a drum I’ve been beating since 2008 when I was inspired by Diablo Cody’s success. She wrote her first screenplay in off work hours while living in Minneapolis—just a few years removed from graduating from the University of Iowa the Chicago native won an Academy Award for that Juno script. (And while Cody did move to LA, her best work to date was still pounded out between her home and a Starbucks in the suburbs of Minneapolis.)

Of course you can write from anywhere—but the great thing about Cody, Cimfel, and White is they show your screenplays can also get produced. And I should add that one thing I’ve learned over the years is if you’re going to write outside of New York and LA, then having some kind of greater Chicago roots doesn’t hurt.

Related posts:
Screenwriting da Chicago Way (2.0)
Why You Shouldn’t Move to L.A. 
Why You Should Move to L.A.
‘Keep Your Head Down’
Juno Has Another Baby (Emmy) “Don’t ever agonize about the hordes of other writers who are ostensibly your competition.  No one else is capable of doing what you do.”—Diablo Cody
The 99% Focus Rule

Scott W. Smith

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“Success isn’t something that just happens – success is learned, success is practiced and then it is shared.” 
Sparky Anderson

A few years ago I drove through Bridgewater, South Dakota on one of my road trips to who knows where and saw a sign that said, “Hometown of Sparky Anderson.” It was a fine moment, and his story is an echo of one of the major themes of this blog—that talent comes from everywhere (even if they were born during the Depression). What good can come from Bridgewater—population 492?

I’d put the name Sparky Anderson down as one of the greatest sounding names of the 20th century. He wasn’t a screenwriter, but a professional baseball player and manager. Despite only playing in the major leagues one season and having a poor lifetime batting average (.218) he was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. How? He found success by putting together great teams.

In fact, he is one of only two managers who won a World Series in both the National and American Leagues. He first came on my radar when I was a kid when he managed the Cincinnati Reds. The powerhouse team known as The Big Red Machine with Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and gang.

I can’t believe I’d never seen that quote until today when Namita Kabilas posted it on Twitter—@NamitaKablis. (I hate posting quotes without original sources so if you know where that quote came from let me know.) It’s a good one—and worth repeating again and again.

“Success isn’t something that just happens – success is learned, success is practiced and then it is shared.” 
Sparky Anderson

Related posts:

Tinker Field: A Love Letter (and where I saw The Big Red Machine play)
Burns, Baseball, Flawed Characters
Screenwriting, Baseball & Underdog (2.0)
Baseball, Bergman & Bull Durham
Screenwriting, Baseball and Underdogs
Postcard #84 (Spring Training)
Screenwriting & Pete Rose

Scott W. Smith

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Mind, Spirit, Emotion

Does life seem nasty, brutish and short
Come on up to the house
The seas are stormy
And you can’t find no port
Come on up to the house
Lyrics by Tom Waits

We’re going to church today on this blog and featuring songs written by Bob Dylan and Tom Waits and a excerpt from a sermon that could make you a better storyteller.

Dr. Joel Hunter is a story evangelist, and an evangelist who tells stories. Along with being one of the spiritual advisors to President Obama, Rev. Hunter is the senior pastor at Northland, a large church in Central Florida, that just in the last week or so packed 330,000 meals for earthquake victims in Nepal, hosted a forum in Orlando on race relations, and recorded a sermon which finds its way into a screenwriting blog:

“There are three things that I think about when I make up a sermon and it’s along the lines of how God has aligned all of us; mind, spirit, emotion. That is to say in every sermon I want to teach you something you don’t know intellectually, so that you’ll go out and think, ‘Huh, I never thought of that.’ So you feel like you made a connection and actually learned something that everybody ought to know. The second thing is the spirit. When I read scripture that’s a spiritual highway—the Bible says it’s living and active. It says the spirit has its own impact it does not return void. The scriptures speaks to your spirit. The third thing is I tell stories. Do you know why? Because it connects with the little kid in you. My target audience is the eight year old in every one of us. Because that’s pretty much how we make up our minds about things. There’s an eight year old running loose.”
Joel Hunter, sermon June 7, 2015

I think the best films, plays, TV programs and storytelling in general connects those three things: mind, spirit, emotion. If you haven’t been to church in a while—or ever—here’s a moving version of a Tom Waits song sung recently by Vernon Rainwater at the church where Hunter serves as a pastor.

P.S. Waits lifted that line “Does life seem nasty, brutish and short” from Thomas Hobbs’ book Leviathan—which was first published in 1651. As someone who personally started the year off in the hospital on the tail end of cancer treatment, watched my 15-year-old dog die last month, and whose mother has been in the hospital the past week with an aortic aneurysm—not to mention my lawnmower not starting yesterday—I understand that life can be brutal at times. Then factor in atrocities that are going on around the world and it can be overwhelming.

So let me at least end with a screenwriting benediction from the post Hope & Redemption from a few years ago:
“It’s very, very hard to get a movie made. Quadruple or quintuple that degree of difficulty when your movie is about endless grim horribleness. If there is no spiritual uplift at the end, the reader is going to heave the script into the fireplace and cackle as it burns. Why should the audience suffer along with the character only for it to have been in vain?…Let the reader end on a note of hope or redemption.”
William M. Akers
Your Screenplay Sucks

Related posts:
Think. Feel. Do.
Pity, Fear, Catharsis
It’s All About Emotions—Jamusz Kaminski
Broken Wings & Silver Linings
The Gut of Cinema
40 Days of Emotions
Emotional Transportation Biz
Theme = Story’s Heart & Soul
Screenwriting Quote #182 (Richard Kreolin) “All characters are wounded souls, and the stories we tell are merely an acting out of the healing process.”
Stop Making Soul-less Movies

Scott W. Smith

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Stealing from Shakespeare

“Words without thoughts behind them will never make it to heaven.”
Claudius in Hamlet written by William Shakespeare

“Shakespeare surrounds us.”
Christopher Gaze Ted Talk Shakespeare is everywhere

Shakespeare died in 1616—and in the almost 400 years since his death I image not a year has gone by when a Shakespeare play hasn’t been produced somewhere. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if a scholar told me not a month—or even a day—has gone by since Shakespeare’s death where a play of his hasn’t been performed at some level somewhere in the world.

So we know that his work has endured, but according to more than one scholar Shakespeare was less than original. Some have gone as far as calling the famous playwright a thief, a copycat, and a plagiarist. I’m not here to debate that, but to steal from Shakespeare himself.  Of course, this isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list, but some thoughts that can help your own writing journey.

“These things I call the DOLTS; death, order, love, transformation, sovereignty—these things you’ll find in the classics.You find in Shakespeare, you find in The Odyssey, you find in Gilgamesh—the oldest story that we know of. And by studying the classics—and Shakespeare is a very handy way of doing it, because you can find his works in used bookstore—by breaking down what Shakespeare did in various modes and basic tropes you can see those threads develop in his work and you can steal them.”
Greg Robin Smith
Managing Director of The Washington Shakespeare Festival
On the Page “Stealing from Shakespeare” podcast interview with Pilar Alessandra

Here’s how Smith unpacked that a little more:
DEATH Death is always referred in his plays, even if it’s comedy.
ORDER In every Shakespeare play order is restored at the end. All of his plays start off with a little bit of order and then splits apart—the toilet explodes (to borrow Stephen J. Cannell’s phrase), the world shreds a part.…It’s about how do you struggle to bring back order. Sometimes people have to die before order is restored. At the end of every one of his plays order is re-established.
LOVE… Or its cousins hate and jealousy.
TRANSFORMATION Part of the hero’s journey is how they change. (Translates to many films including Citizen Kane, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Shakespeare in Love, Casablanca. And the transformation isn’t always bad to good, but good to bad.)
SOVEREIGNTY The question of who owns me? Who am I? (Translates to many films including Memento and The Bourne Identity.)

The only thing I would change from Greg Robin Smith’s list—and I know it messes up DOLTS—is I’d change sovereignty to identity. Something more primal and easy to grasp. Or soul if you wanted to preserve the DOLTS acronym.

“We spend much of our lives trying to reconcile these two halves of our spirit and soul—call it identity—as we struggle to figure out just what and who it is we genuinely are.”
Richard Walter

And here’s another helpful quote from Smith’s interview with Alessandra:
“If you look at [Shakespeare’s] introductions he usually starts off on the run. There’s no voice-over . You have to be up and running with him. Romeo and Juliet—two houses of equal nobility. There’s a brief introduction and then you’re off with fights, it starts off on the run. He will bring in people to let you know what you need to know, but not everything you need to know. In Romeo and Juliet we know that these two households are at war, it takes the length of the Bible before Romeo comes on and he’s in love with somebody named Rosalind— there’s no Juliet, he’s in love this other person that we never even see. There’s confusion there and we begin to sort it out. The best of his work is focused on the people not the situation. It’s all about humanity. It’s not about the war of the family it’s about the families at war.”

Related articles (Who isn’t stealing from Shakespeare?):
Sons of Anarchy: Shakespeare on motorcycle wheels by Anne T. Donahue
9 Things ‘House of Cards’ Took From Shakespeare
7 Teen Movies Based On Shakespeare That Would Make Him Roll Over In His Grave by Claire Fallon
The Lion King and Hamlet
Sopranos is Shakespeare of modern times by George Galloway
5 Reasons Why Breaking Bad is Macbeth
‘King Lear’ meets ‘Dynasty’ in the hip-hop-fuled ‘Empire’ by Robert Lloyd

Related posts:
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously) “The reason that I am a writer today is Shakespeare.” Three-time Oscar nominated screenwriter John Logan
Fueling Your Imagination (Jarmusch Style) “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.
Creating Under the Influence “Oh, I’ve stolen from the best. I mean I’ve stolen from Bergman. I’ve stolen from Groucho, I’ve stolen from Chaplin, I’ve stolen from Keaton, from Martha Graham, from Fellini. I mean I’m a shameless thief.”—Woody Allen
Movie Cloning (Part 2) “I think it’s fine for young (filmmakers) to out and out rip off people who come before them because you always make it your own.” Francis Ford Coppola
Paying for Transformation We pay movie stars a lot of money to show us how to change.”—
Michael Chase Walker
‘To Live or Die’ “To live or die? What drama is greater?”—Howard Hawks

Scott W. Smith

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“What’s different now than when I started is you can make your own stuff now. It’s cheap enough that you can film your own movie, edit your own movie, and distribute your own movie if you want to. If it’s a big production you’re going to have to deal with compromise if you’re lucky, because you need a lot of resources. I always recommend keeping it small enough that you can maintain that control. Because even if you win the lottery and somebody buys your thing you’re not going to be happy with a lot of the compromises that are going to take place. It’s too painful. You have to counter balance that with how much heat it’s giving you or how much money you’re getting when you’re starting off and getting your foot in the door. But now I think more and more people are getting their foot in the door by doing really good work on a small scale. And then scaling up as people are looking for fresher voices.”
Producer/writer/director/Actor Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Chef)
The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith

Portland-native Devin Graham (AKA Devin Super Tramp)  is a great example of a young filmmaker who started out making cell phone snowboarding videos with his friends as a teenager and now is a 31-year-old who has scaled up to making You Tube videos that have a total of over 500 million views. I don’t know if Graham will scale up to making feature films, but I do know before he started making You Tube videos he attended film school in Utah. But he dropped out of BYU and began making Orabush’s videos. What’s Orabrush? A tongue cleaning company.

Success there has given the Salt Lake City resident to travel throughout the world working on various projects and clients include Ford, Reebok, and Bear Naked granola.

When I was a 21-year-old film school student in Los Angeles I remember taking my resume to a small production company in Burbank. By that point I had already worked as a staff photographer for a small newspaper and had made a few short 8mm and 16mm films, but I remember very clearly the sting of this guy looking at my resume and telling me “Son, it’ll be ten years before you have anything to bring to this company.” I wasn’t looking to run the company, I just wanted to get my foot into the production world.

Today there are many 20-somethings (male & female and without any film school training—and even teenagers) who have been making solid short films and videos for years. Armed with an iPhones and DSLRs and any other cameras they can find they’re creating compelling work—and some making a living. And while being a hard working, low-paid production assistant (PA) is a long standing tradition of being a super place to start your production career (and learn a lot), I’m seeing more and more young people finding small scale success (and sometimes large scale success) by shooting, directing, and editing projects for clients.

Here’s the kind of adventure videos Devin Super Tramp gets paid to make. (Don’t be surprised when he has a film pop up at Sundance some day.)

Related Posts:

Screenwriting Quote #89 (Scott Frank) “You don’t hear people who want to play professional tennis ask to be introduced to the head of Wimbledon. No, they’re out there hitting a thousand forehands and a thousand backhands. But for some reason, in the case of screenwriting, people don’t think that way.”
Little Victories, Big Lights (Tip #94)
Start Small, But Start Somewhere “When I wrote 3:10 to Yuma. I sold the original [short] story for $90.” Elmore Leonard
Write 2 or 3 Scripts This Year (Tip #87)
‘Don’t Try and Compete with Hollywood’ (Edward Burns)
Self-Study Screenwriting  “I wrote 12 screenplays before I gave one to anybody.”—Sheldon Turner
Screenwriting Straight Outta Harvard Damien Chazell is another example of a filmmaker who found small scale success before getting an Oscar-nomination for his screenplay Whiplash.
Finding Your Voice “For me, it was a matter of years of trying to develop my writing in the same way that some people spend years learning to play the violin.” Oscar-nominated screenwriter Frank Darabont

Scott W. Smith

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