Archive for December, 2015

Postcard #96 (Vail Covered Bridge)


©2015 Scott W. Smith

Last week while in Vail, Colorado my wife and I made a special trek to the covered bridge where we got married many snowfalls ago. I now call this the mysterious hidden covered bridge in Vail as we had a little trouble finding the bridge and a dozen or so locals told us there was only one covered bridge in the center of Vail Village.

I was resigned to the fact the bridge I was looking for could have been torn down as Vail expanded over the years. But as it turns out, each of the people that I asked was actually less than a 100 yards from the bridge. Part of what now obscures the bridge on the eastern part of Vail is it sits behind a hotel so access to it is now limited.

But it’s still there and looks just as quaint and romantic as I remember it back in the November of 1985. I don’t know if the bridge has ever been featured in a movie or TV program but it’s a beauty. And you could house a large crew less than a minute walk away. Remember me in the credits.

Scott W. Smith

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Postcard #95 (White Christmas)


 ©2015 Scott W. Smith

This morning I woke up at The Minturn Inn and walked across the street and took the above photo as a light snow fell. A picture perfect white Christmas. The only thing that would make it better is if the marketing team at Subaru (another car company?) saw this photo and paid for my vacation for doing the heavy lifting location scouting while visiting the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

Merry Christmas—

Scott W. Smith



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Postcard #94 (Frisco, Colorado)


©2015 Scott W. Smith

My plan on Tuesday was to make it to Steamboat Springs (one of the few ski towns in Colorado I haven’t hit over the years), but at Silverthorne was advised to not attempt heading north and crossing Rabbit Ears Pass (gotta love quirky names of some places) because it was snowing and there were patches of ice, and we had neither an SUV/AWD (or even snow chains for our tires).

We ended up staying in Frisco, Colorado where I took the above photo. To get an idea of the scale of this tree look at the bus stop stucture in the lower left hand corner of the photo.

I’m sure Steamboat Springs looked beautiful with its freshly fallen snow, but Frisco was beautiful with its own fresh snow. I’ve always been a fan of the TV show Northern Exposure and its fictitious town of Cicely, Alaska. Fricso is that kind of town. (I’ll add it to my list of sister Cicely cities—Ely, Minnesota and Talkeetna, Alaska.)

While in Frisco we ate The Moose Jaw  (another great name) on Main St. which I was told was “about as close to Northern Exposure as you can get.”  The building itself has a great backstory in that it was originally used to bunk workers constructing Dillion Reservoir. The building was spilt in two and moved from nearby Dillion to its present site in Frisco in 1961. The Moose Jaw opened in 1973.

So thanks to The Moose Jaw for the hamburger, the Frisco Inn on Galena for the room (and advice on getting a snow sock for our tires—something I’d never heard of), and to the town of Frisco for the beautiful holiday decorations throughout town. Sometimes the detours turn out pretty well.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere I go…

Scott W. Smith 


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©2015 Scott W. Smith

On Monday night I took the above picture of the Denver City and County Building in Colorado.  Planning and construction on the building took eight years and it was completed in 1932. And the tradition of lighting the downtown building also dates back to 1932. According to KUSA 9news the Downtown Denver Grand Illumination Event  when they turn on the colorful lights on several historic buildings is “the largest lighting event from Denver to the West coast.” (And it’s much more impressive in person than my little iPhone panorama shot can capture.)

I’m not sure if the Denver City and County Building with its holiday lights has ever been featured in a movie to TV show, but it’s just another glimpse of the world out there between L.A. and New York.

Scott W. Smith

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“I think every writer harbors—secretly or not-so-secretly—delusions of grandeur. Still, when you’re starting out, it’s hard to imagine how you’ll ever ‘succeed.’”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt 

Now I don’t know if any of screenwriter Michael Ardnt’s script made it into Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but his name is there co-credited as writer on the film which now claims largest box office weekend of all time.

The force really was awakened as Box Office Mojo had the latest Star Wars film now holding 16 box office records. (Not a bad start for a movie that only hit theaters five days ago.)

So now is a good time as any to revisit a 2013 post on what Michael Arndt was doing long before he turned in his Star Wars script, and before he won an Oscar for Toy Story 3. (Also, don’t miss the post How to Become a Successful Screenwriter which goes deeper into his journey as a writer.)


(Opening scene of the Little Miss Sunshine script (PDF dated 10.9.03) written by Michael Arndt.)

“I didn’t really expect that the script [Little Miss Sunshine] was going anywhere. I mean, I was hoping to get an agent out of it but I didn’t bother to register it just because I didn’t think anyone was going to see it. And then I had a friend of mine who was represented by the Endeavor Agency [now WME] and that was sort of my one hope. She read it and liked it and said, ‘Can I give this to my agent?’ so I said, ‘Yes, please do.’ And like six weeks went by and I thought no one had read it and it had falling through the cracks. And I was really unhappy because I’d spent a whole year writing it and I thought I’d have to go back and get a day job again. It was a Saturday afternoon and I got a message on my machine saying, ‘We read your script, we really liked it.’ And I called them on Monday morning and basically they said, ‘We think we can do something with this.’ And I still have those agents today. They basically saved my life. I said it at the Writer’s Guild Awards, the thing that’s standing between me being up here and me being in my basement was this agent who read my script.”
Screenwriter Michael Arndt  (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3)
2007 talk at Cody Books (at the 33:31 mark of the FORA.tv video)

This single post/Arndt excerpt—sums up everything I’ve been writing about on this blog for the past five years. Here’s a sweeping overview of Michael Arndt’s career path:

—Graduated from NYU Film School
—Read 1,000 scripts as a script reader of which only “three or four” were turned into good films
—Wrote 10 scripts before breakthrough where he sold one
—Wrote first draft of Little Miss Sunshine in three days, but took a year—full time— to do rewrites
—Was fired off Little Miss Sunshine project—then rehired a few weeks later
—Won an Oscar for Little Miss Sunshine
—Wrote Toy Story 3, Hunger Games: Chasing Fire, and most recently hired to write Star Wars Episode VII

P.S. To register your film script—which is a good idea— contact the WGA East  or the WGA West.

P.P.S. I finally set up a Facebook page under “Screenwriting from Iowa & Other Unlikely Places” so you can track me down there where I’ll link to posts from the past you may not have read as well as share links from other blogs and websites. (If you decide to “like” make sure it says “Screenwriting from Iowa & Other Unlikely Places.”)

Related Posts:
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 2)
Insanely Great Endings

Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
Start Small…But Start Somewhere

Scott W. Smith

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One of co-screenwriters of Star Wars: The Force Awakens ( Lawrence Kasdan) is also credited on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Back in 2009 I wrote the post From West Virginia to Hollywood that I’m reposting here in hopes that his journey will help your creative journey.


Since Diablo Cody is my poster child (female) for a screenwriter coming from outside L.A. (and the original inspiration for this blog)  then I think I’ll name Lawrence Kasdan as the poster child (male) screenwriter from outside Los Angeles. Kasdan was raised in Morgantown, West Virginia. Quick, name another screenwriter from West Virginia?

(While Morgantown is the second largest city in West Virginia it only has about 30,000 residents not including the students at the University of West Virginia. My lasting memory of Morgantown goes back to 1994 when I was there for a video shoot and the news broke of O.J. Simpson’s famous low-speed police chase. I remember walking down the main drag and seeing restaurant/bar after restaurant/bar having the same helicopter shot of Simpson’s white Ford Bronco on their TVs.)

Kasdan left Morgantown to attend the University of Michigan where he was an English major. A gifted writer he would go on to win Hopwood Prize at UM for creative writing. In his 30s he became  one of the most successful screenwriters in Hollywood with a string of box office hits— Star Wars: The Empire Strikes, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Body Heat and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. He has also had three Oscar nominations for his screenwriting —Grand Canyon, The Accidental Tourist, and The Big Chill.

But what I think you’ll be interested in is that little period between college in Ann Arbor, Michigan and his first sale as a screenwriter. After college Kasdan could don’t land a teaching job that he was persuing so he ended up working in advertising in Detroit and eventually his advertising career led him to moving to L.A.

While reading The First Time I Got Paid for It, Writers’ Tales from the Hollywood Trenches I found this retelling by Kasdan when he would have been a 28-year-old advertising copywriter:

“One summer day in 1977 my agent asked to lunch, which was so unusual it made me nervous. It has taken me a long time to get an agent, so naturally, I was worried about hanging on to him. For two years now he had been trying to sell a thriller I had written for my favorite star Steve McQueen, who didn’t know I’d written this thriller for him. Originally, the agent thought he wouldn’t have much trouble selling the script, so he agreed to represent me. But after sixty-seven rejections he was getting discouraged.”

But his agent didn’t want to part ways with Kasdan, but he did want Kasdan to try his hand at writing for television, specifically Starsky & Hutch. Kasden reluctantly agreed to give it a shot. Soon he heard back from the powers that be at Starsky & Hutch that he didn’t have the goods to write for the show. He told the agent not to give up on him that he had a new screenplay in the works that was almost done. He thought that would buy him a little more time to breakthrough.

Then Kasdan writes, “But when I came into my job the next day, there was a message that my agent had called. Could he have changed his mind overnight? Of course he could. After nine years of writing screenplays without success, I believed only bad things were going to happen to me. But what he had to tell me wasn’t bad. It was kind of miraculous. After two years and all that rejection, suddenly two different parties were interested in my thriller—which was called The Bodyguard.”

So while you dream of writing the next  Raiders of the Lost Ark or Return of the Jedi (or get discouraged in your own career) remember Kasden’s line, “After nine years of writing screenplays without success.” And also keep in mind that while that first sale came in 1977 it was fifteen years before the film The Bodyguard was produced and released into theaters. (The film starred Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston in roles that were originally thought would star Steve McQueen & Barbra Streisand. The movie made over $400 million worldwide.)

P.S. Another film/script worth checking out is Continental Divide. It’s neither a great film or was it a box office hit, but the 1981 was written by Kasden and is a solid single in his early career. (I imagine Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be a walk off grand slam home run—in the bottom of the ninth to win the game and the the World Series.  A once in a lifetime event. Continental Divide is just a single.) A simple character driven two-hander film with Steven Spielberg as executive producer, starred John Belushi, and got Blair Brown nominated for a Golden Globe award. Nothing wrong hitting singles.

Related posts:
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
Screenwriting from Michigan
Raiders Revisited (part 1)
Postcard #8 (West Virginia Fall Colors)
Start Small…But Start Somewhere

Scott W. Smith

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The last five films I’ve seen in just November/December alone make for a solid movie year: Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Spotlight, Creed, and Trumbo. In fact, I can’t remember when I’ve last seen five films in a row that I’ve enjoyed so much.

But there’s one film that personally touched me more than the others—Creed. It was flying a little under my radar so I wasn’t expecting it to be so well crafted. Only afterwards did I realize it was directed by Ryan Coogler (Fruitville Station) and co-wrtten by Coogler and Aaron Covington (based on characters written by Sylvester Stallone).

Go back only eight years (2007) and Coogler, originally from Oakland, was still playing wide receiver for Sacramento State and growing in his newfound love of movies. He went on to film school at USC, and through the Sundance Screenwriters Lab.

Creed has been out for 3 weeks and has made over $80 million (against a budget of $35 million). The 29-year-old Coogler, like 30-year-old writer/director Damien Chazell (Whiplash), is a hot talent in Hollywood.

I haven’t found a lot of press on Coogler where he goes through his writing and filmmaking process but will keep digging and post some things in coming months. I did find The New York Times did an Anatomy of a Scene from Creed that I thought was informative (one take Steadicam shot done 13 times to get it right):


And the movie reminded me of a boxing poster I own from the original Rocky era (mid-’70s) when I was a part of the boxing scene in Orlando. (Mostly as a young fan—notice the autographs— but also participating as a 12-year-old in a sport that was much more primitive—and personally more difficult for me—than playing football, baseball, basketball, etc.)

Related Posts:
Writing ‘Rocky’
Rocky:the Anti-Antihero
Raging Bull vs. Martin Scorsese
Screenwriting & Brass Knuckles
Pro Football Player vs. Pro Feature Screenwriter 
The Rocky Road to Rocky


Scott W. Smith

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Heroes Aren’t Perfect

Stephen J. Cannell taught me that your hero can do a lot of bad things, he can make all kinds of mistakes, can be lazy and look like a fool, as long as he’s the smartest guy in the room and he’s good at his job. That’s what we ask of our heroes.”
7-time Primetime Emmy winner David Chase 
(The Sopranos creator earned his first credits back in the ’70s writing for The Rockford Files—which Cannell created with Roy Higgins)
Difficult Men, Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad by Brett Martin

From the Bible, to Greek plays, through Shakespeare’s work, to modern TV shows and movies, someone could put together a long and interesting list of leading characters who match the above quote—starting with Tony Soprano,  Don Draper, and Walter White. (Using hero in the Joseph Campbell “Hero’s journey” sense.)

In fact, last year I wrote a post where I had an echo quote by Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan,  “I’ve learned the audience will go along with a character like Walt so long as he remains interesting and active, and is capable about his business. People like competency. What is it people like about Darth Vader?  Is it that he’s so evil, or that he’s so good at his job? I think it might be the latter.” 

Related posts:

Burns, Baseball, & Character Flaws
Stephen J. Cannell’s Work Ethic
Superpower + Kryptonite= Suspense

Scott W. Smith 





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Jerry Seinfeld on What Drives Comedy

“Emotion drives comedy. Emotion and conflict is the essence of comedy.”
Jerry Seinfeld
Interview with Fred Topel

Related posts:
Everything I Learned in Film School
Neil Simon on Conflict
Mike Nichols on Comedy, Tragedy & Truth
Comedy, Cruelty & Chaplin
Telling the Truth=Humor
40 Days of Emotions

Scott W. Smith

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Havana Daydreamin’

Ceilin’ fan it stirs the air
Cigar smoke does swirl
The fragrance on the pillowcase
And he thinks about the girl
Havana Daydreamin’/Jimmy Buffett

Cuba 1
The closest I’ve ever gotten to Cuba is flying over the island coming back from a production in Jamaica. And I’ve stood on the southern most point  of Continental United States in Key West and dreamed of traveling to Havana some day.

Growing up in Florida I had a heavy dose of Cuba culture filling my imagination with stories of Castro, communism, the Bay of Pigs invation, the Mariel Boatlift,  Hemingway, baseball, Cuban music, and Cuban cigars (which I first smoked on a trip to Moscow). Movies like Buena Vista Social Club, going to college in Miami and many trips to the  Ybor City area of Tampa have further added to the puzzle of my limited understanding of Cuba.

As a youth I was confused about a place that people both hated and loved, and that was a place where people had fled, were still fleeing—sometimes on handmade rafts—yet others were highjacking planes to return to Cuba.

Layers and layers of spices and flavors
Are finding their way to my brain
Layers and layers of costumes and players
That make my whole life look insane
Island Fever/ Jimmy Buffett
From the musical Don’t Stop the Carnival

A person I recently met from Cuba said it’s “like New York in the fifties,” and one travel writer called Cuba “tragically beautiful.” I’ve known cameraman Mike “Mac” McAleenan since we first worked on a project over 20 years ago. For the past decade he’s carved a niche as a reality show director of photography.

A very compressed version of his resume includes being a cameraman on a couple of Survivor programs, as well as shooting for the Discovery Channel and NatGeo. His work has taken him from Alaska to Africa and Maine to China—and quite a few places in between.

This past weekend he was in Havana where he’s working on a TV project, and he posted several photos on Facebook that he’s allowed me to post the ones you see here. Direct flights from Orlando to Havana resumed earlier this year for the first time in my lifetime. It’s my goal to get to Havana in 2016.



P.S. A couple of months ago Mac was in Orlando for a few days and helped me grab a few shots with his drone for my short doc on historic Tinker Field. I competed the project and entered it into its first film festival last month.  Talented guy that Mac originally from Belleville, Illinois.




Related links:
Hollywood Insiders Descend on Havana

Related posts:
Jimmy Buffett in Iowa (Part 1)
Jimmy Buffett in Iowa (Part 2)
Postcard #52 (Pascagoula)
Postcard #27 (A1A)

Scott W. Smith


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