Archive for May, 2016

“What can you do when you’re absolutely nowhere but feel like you are full of magic and ideas?”
Filmmaker Mark Duplass

“There’s one thing that keeps coming up to me over and over in my career–this very simple phrase—and I’m going to take a note from motivational speaker Tony Robbins for a second—and were going to have something to really focus in on and that is the simple words,  ‘The cavalry isn’t coming.’ And I’m looking around like Tony, and let it sit. Then Tony repeats it, ‘The cavalry is not coming.’ And I say this because we’ve all heard that amazing tale abut this 21-year-old kid who had a script and his cousin worked in the mail room at Warner Brothers and he gave it to him and the script got up to the head of Warner Brothers they loved it and bought it for a million dollars and got it made. That’s an exciting story, but a super dangerous one, because I don’t know anyone who that’s happened to —maybe that’s happened once—but I had a very different career trajectory.”
Producer/Director/Actor Mark Duplass (The Puffy Chair, The Mindy Project)
2015 SXSW Keynote talk

Somewhere between starting out as a filmmaker with little assets and selling the golden goose screenplay, Mark Duplass offered these points from his 2015 South by Southwest talk:

1) The $3 Film—One scene, two actors, five minutes in length. Aim for comedic because  film festivals are looking for humorous short-shorts. Shoot it on whatever camera you can get your hands on—including an iPhone. Don’t just make one, make one ever weekend. Don’t worry if the first ones suck, you’ll get better and find your voice.

Note: Mark and his brother Jay made the short This is John in one 20-minute take that they edited down to 7 minutes. The little experiment was the first film they made that was accepted into the Sundance Film Festival.

2) Once your short-short plays in some festivals and wins some awards an agent will approach you and tell you “The cavalry is coming”—but it’s not.

3) But you will have a handful of friends you’ve met along the way who will help you make a $1,000 feature film. (As in one thousand dollars.)  Between time at your day job, your 5-8 person crew put together a feature film that you may or may not have a script for using whatever’s available to use in your town. It takes you a year or two to finish this film but you get it into film festivals where you’ve made inroads with your short films.

A agent tells you the cavalry is coming—but it’s not.

4) You make another $1,000 film, but this time you have a rich but sad name TV actor who wants to do something creative with his talent and teams up with you because you are a rising indie filmmaker. You will sell this film to a video on demand (VOD) group for between $50,000-$100,000. You’ll finally pay your crew some money.

An agent will tell you “The cavalry is coming”—and they may be right if that means you will take meetings in Hollywood for the next year but nothing will come of it. You might even sell a TV pitch that will end up in turn around, which at least puts money in your pockets.

5) But instead you decide to take you name TV actor (and perhaps a second TV actor) and you shoot two episodes of a two-hander TV show and license it (and the season you’re going to produce) to a cable or online group for $500,000. Now you’re finally making money.

And an agent tells you, “The  cavalry is coming.” And they may be right, but as you look at the offers coming your way you realize that you may not want to be a part of that cavalry. You realize you are your own cavalry. You are your own studio. Your creating projects that you own and that are finding distribution.

6) You then help others became their own  cavalry, by investing in their $1,000 films.

So the bad and good news of Duplass’ talk is the cavalry is not coming, and you are the  cavalry.

Related posts:
Who cares if it’s garbage?—Edward Burns
The Ten Film Commandments of Edwards Burns
How to Shoot a Feature in Ten Days
It’s a Good Time to Be a Filmmaker
Don’t Try and Compete with Hollywood’
Freedom of Limitations

Scott W. Smith





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Peaks & Valleys

“I’ve been around a long enough also to know that careers are peaks and valleys. And it’s just really all about with how much grace and equanimity you can keep walking along in one direction. Whether you’re marching through the valley of the shadow of death or whether you’re at the pinnacle of whatever, it’s such a flaky endeavor and such a fluky business for all of those reasons of what somebody decides is hot at the moment. You can’t pay too much attention to it or it really will drive you nuts. Because for the last two peaks I’ve experienced there’s been five years of valley.”
Writer/Director Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption)
Fade In interview with Audrey Kelly
circa  1999 when The Green Mile was released

P.S. And since I pulled a quote from Jodie Foster yesterday, I imagine she’d agree with Darabont. Tomorrow we’ll look at indie filmmaking where the peaks aren’t has high as Darabont and Foster have experienced, and where the valleys are also lower.

Related posts:
‘Television used to suck’—Frank Darabont
Descriptive Writing (Frank Darabont)
‘It’s a Wonderful Prison’ “Shawshank is basically It’s a Wonderful Life in a prison.”—Darabont
Legacy Filmmaking (& Your Bank Account)

Scott W. Smith


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‘An exciting place to be’

Taxi Driver would definitely not get off the ground as a feature film today. No way…It costs a lot of money to make movies now. At that time, it cost $1 million to make Taxi Driver, and that was a lot of money for then. Now, it’s all about risk aversion, and the global economy that the film business is now, and the way the studios are organized. But the good news is, it’s not just studios that make movies. We have other avenues. What’s happening on cable now is more interesting than almost anything happening in features, in terms of performance and narrative. You can explore characters over 10 seasons, something you could never do in features. You can make more complex characters that change over time. In Breaking Bad, he starts out one way, he ends up another way. With places like Amazon and Netflix, there is a real trust building in filmmakers again, that is kind of like it was in the ’70s. That’s an exciting place to be.”
Director and Oscar-winning actress Jodie Foster (Taxi Driver, The Silence of the Lambs)
Deadline interview with Mike Fleming Jr.




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“When you start off, you have to deal with the problems of failure. You need to be thickskinned, to learn that not every project will survive. A freelance life, a life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it, and put something in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. And you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back.”
Neil Gaiman
The University of the Arts Keynote Address 2012

Since I started this week talking about high school and college graduations and there’s been an educational theme throughout the week, it makes sense to end the week with a graduation speech. Here’s a little bit of inspiration from the above talk:

And remember that whatever discipline you are in, whether you are a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a designer, whatever you do you have one thing that’s unique. You have the ability to make art.

And for me, and for so many of the people I have known, that’s been a lifesaver. The ultimate lifesaver. It gets you through good times and it gets you through the other ones.

Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.

Make good art.

I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.
Neil Gaiman 

Related posts:
Emma Thompson on Failure
J.K. Rowling on the Benefits of Failure
Embracing the Near Win (part 1) 
Embracing the Near Win (part 2)
Commitment in the Face of Failure
Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

Scott W. Smith



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“Break on through to the other side…”
Jim Morrison


You can file this post under “Old dog, New Tricks.”

Recently we welcomed a 9-year-old Golden-Lab rescue dog named Ginger into our home. It was just about a year after our 15-year-old Golden Retriever Lucy died, and we still had all of her tug toys and were looking forward to our new dog playing with them.

But we found out that Ginger didn’t care to play with any of Lucy’s toys. We were told that Ginger’s original owners were elderly and could no longer care for her which is why they gave her up. We realized that maybe she’d never chased a tennis ball or played with a stuffed dog toy.

But slowly we’ve introduced an old dog to new tricks. Albeit she’s a bit awkward because she is not a puppy, but she seems to be enjoying her latent retriever skill set.

Then it was my turn.

Yesterday, I completed three days of training on the Adobe Creative Cloud at Genius DV here in Orlando. I made the switch from Final Cut Pro to Premiere two years ago, but this filled in some gaps as well as gave me a better working knowledge of After Effects, Photoshop and Audition. (Way back in 2002, I also went to Genius DV when I was making the transition from AVID to Final Cut Pro.)

While I’ve learned greatly from various online tutorials over the years (paid and free), there is something special about stepping away from your regular work environment for a few days (or a week if you can afford it) and doing a hands-on workshop or class. (Some of my greatest leaps in learning have come from going to workshops/seminars in various places throughout the county.)

And here’s the secret that an older TV/video producer taught me when I was younger. I was complaining about a two-day seminar that I attended and how I didn’t learn that much. That can be a problem with any seminar, and there are usually many people there with varying degrees of knowledge and experience. So you can’t just skip a few pages forward, you have to stay on pace with the group.

Anyway, my friend told me, “Scott, you don’t go to workshops to learn everything, you go to learn a few things that make you better at what you do.” Amen. It may only be 10-20% of what’s taught, but that 10-20% can be huge in helping you create better work.

And I’ll add to that that your learning is not always what was actually meant to be a part of the training. Sometimes it’s the rabbit trail discussions, the passing conversations at lunch or break time with others taking the workshop, that are meaningful.

In my Adobe class led by Juan Carlos Santizo he taught this old dog, many new tricks. Some had to do with the nuts and bolts of Premiere (virtual reality in the next upgrade), much in After Effects, and a healthy dose of shop talk including showing the following behind the scene video of three of the then remaining members of The Doors (Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore) recording with Grammy-winning Skrillex back in 2012.  The official song on You Tube has 19 million views. Old dogs—new tricks. Keeps life interesting.

P.S. And I haven’t given up on Final Cut Pro. I just finished a project using FCP7 and started dipping into FCP-X earlier this year. I think it’s wise to be platformagnostic—to borrow Morgan Spurlock’s phrase. I started my production career as a Arri & Eclair 16mm  cinematographer and Steenbeck flatbed editor, so I’ve learned to actually enjoy the continual changes in technology.  And I’ve long cherished the sentiment of photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984) who said his one regret was that he wouldn’t be around to take part in the digital world.

Scott W. Smith

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“The whole goal is to tell our story… Every single day the task of our social media accounts is to help tell the story of what it’s like to be a Clemson Tiger.”
Jonathan Gantt
Digital & Creative Director, Clemson University Athletics

It’s not only police departments now that have social media departments producing content, colleges athletic programs are also telling their story as a way to connect to students, donors, alumni, and to attract new recruits.

In the Sports Illustrated Social 100 Clemson came out #1 for their excellent use of Twitter, Instagram, Vine, videos, etc. In 2015 alone they are said to have had 27 million views across all platforms. The really amazing thing about Clemson University is it doesn’t have a film school (I don’t believe they have a TV major either) yet much of the content being produced are being done so by students.

Way back when I was a walk-on football player at the University of Miami and film major there all I remember the team having is a 16mm camera that filmed practices for coaches and players to watch. Fast forward to today and there are millions of people watching their favorite players prep for games. I’ve seen videos where even mundane fitness drills or workouts are made interesting. (And it’s not just football teams—or male sports— that are covered and followed.)

And schools are just in their infant stages of using all of this technology so this is a growth trend for people wanting to work in production. It’s not all done in 15 second bursts, and you can see longer narratives starting to be developed.

The Dream is our biggest production to date. The Dream tells the story of a young boy who dreams of becoming a Clemson Football player and running down the Hill for the ‘most exciting 25 seconds in college football’ and chronicles his journey to the moments before his dream becomes a reality. It’s not common for athletic departments to produce fictional short films in house, so we’re very proud of this one.”
Jonathan Gantt

And if you want to dig deeper, here’s a video that unpacks the inner workings of how Gantt, digital content coordinator Nik Conklin & their social media team at Clemson work their magic:

P.S. If you’re down in south Florida and handy with a DSLR and/or After Effects connect with someone in the social media department and help the Miami Hurricanes and their new head coach Mark Richt rebuild the dynasty in Coral Gables.

Related posts:
Postcard #24 (Coral Gables)
Miami vs. Florida
Hawkeye, Hawkeyes, & Hurricane Mark Richt
Hitting Rock Bottom with the Rock
Screenwriting & the Super Bowl

Scott W. Smith

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It’s graduation time and if you happen to be receiving  your degree from film school or as a TV or electric arts major I have good news for you. In fact, if you’re gradating from high school and have a couple of years of shooting and editing short projects I also have good news for you.

Remember Sonny Crockett? That character Don Johnson portrayed on Miami Vice back in the 80s? He wore funky clothes, lived on a sailboat, drove a Ferrari,  and was a Miami narc officer. He was cool. But now in real life we know that the Miami Police Department has an officer cooler than Crockett. (And apparently, a whole cast of characters.)

Officer Nick Perez is a vlogger and part of a three person social media team at the police department.   Here’s the video featuring Perez that’s going viral:

Now the reason I say that it’s a good time to be starting a career in production is places that never did videos before, or that outsourced it if they did, are now hiring young people who are jack of all trades production people to help tell their stories and sell their products.

When I was in in film school I worked as a PA on projects and as a driver for an equipment rental company. No great, but it seemed better than the survival jobs that Aaron Sorkin was doing when he was starting out.

But just armed with a GoPro camera and FCP-X, and a little talent you to can be a You Tube content creator earning a living. Here’s some background videos that show how the Miami- Dade Police Department launched it’s You Tube channel just a few months ago to be a way to connect to the community it serves. Mission accomplished.

P.S. Congrats to the recent college (or soon to be) high school graduates. Best wishes on your job search. (Just put “video producer” or “video content creator” into a Google search and see what people around the county are looking for.)  My guess is there are going to be a lot more police departments around the county that are going to be looking for content creators.

Scott W. Smith

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“I was 21, maybe I was 22 [when I began writing].  It was shortly after I graduated from college, moved to New York, got a number of survival jobs. I bartended in Broadway theaters, I dressed up as a moose and handed out leaflets. I drove a limousine, I delivered singing telegrams. I did all the kinds of things you’re going to do, because it’s unlikely that you’re going to graduate and instantly be hired to do what you dream about doing. And I would only urge you — and I know this is a lot easier said than done — but I would only urge you to get on the bottom rung of a ladder you want to climb, and not the middle of a ladder you don’t care about.

“Or even the second rung of a ladder you don’t care about. Get on the bottom of a ladder you want to climb, and that really hard work you’re doing for no money is not going to seem quite so hard. You’re going to have a hard time paying your bills, it’s going to be a hard life, everything is going to be hard, but there’s going to be something fun about it. Your soul is going to feel good. You’re going to like yourself. And work hard and you’ll get to the second rung, the third, the fourth, and fifth.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network)
The Hollywood Reporter interview with Stephen Galloway


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“The etymology of freelance is exactly as it sounds. In medieval days if you were a ‘free lance’ you were a knight without a lord. You were a mercenary. And I loved the idea of going to Hollywood without an agent, without a manager, without a publicist, without a lawyer, and booking as much work as I could. I didn’t care about the work. I didn’t care about the quality of the work.  I didn’t care if it was infomercials. I didn’t care if it was books on tape. I didn’t care if it was sitcom or talk shows, it didn’t matter—I did it all. Or tried it all. And got my share. And by 1995 I’d had dozens and dozens of jobs in Hollywood, and in New York, and feeling kind of arrogant in the way you do when you think you’ve figured out what most people haven’t. And so I was freelancing. And many, many jobs—eight months on, four months off. I’d pattered that whole part of my career after John D. MacDonald and Travis McGee. A guy who took his retirement in early installments. And I just loved it. And American Airlines was one of maybe 300 jobs that I Forrest Gumped my way into.”
TV host/narrator Mike Rowe (Dirty Jobs, Deadliest Catch)
Podcast interview with Tim Ferriss

I’ve been a fan of Mike Rowe’s for a while, but John D. MacDonald & Travis McGee—fuhgeddaboudit. Discovered those cats over three decades ago. In college I even did a report on MacDonald for an American Lit class. No one told me that you weren’t supposed to write about a pulp fiction writer of detective stories. (Besides now that we know that William Faulkner lied his way through his non-fiction classic Travels with Charlie— MacDonald is holding his own these days—long after his death.) Stephen King said MacDonald was, “the great entertainer of our age, and a mesmerizing storyteller.”

Now if George Clooney would just play Travis McGee in a film or two that part of my life would be complete.

What I also love about Rowe’s above comments is it just shows a great degree of hustling to have the kind of success he’s had. Rowe also said he’s not the one to tell people to “follow their passions” but to follow the opportunities that come their way—and take their passion with them.

And here’s a nice bookend comment (also from a Tim Ferriss interview):

“I love being a storyteller right now. I love being a content creator, being a filmmaker, a director, whatever you want to call it, because there is a place now to tell all these stories. Whether it’s 90 minutes, or 30 minutes, or 20 minutes, or 10 minutes, or three minutes. Like we made an amazing bunch of movies a few years ago called Focus Forward that GE paid for where we basically made these 3 minute short films about innovators around the world. People who were doing incredible things. And each one of these movies were three minutes long and they were powerful. They’re so beautiful and inspiring and now they’ve been seen by a 100 million people around the world.”
Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me
Podcast interview with Tim Ferriss

Related posts:
‘Art is Work’—Milton Glaser
Stephen King’s Doublewide Trailer
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
Iowa Kutcher on Jobs/Work


Scott W. Smith


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“At a writing workshop, purely as a courtesy, I attended the poetry workshop presented by a friend, University of Hawaii professor Steven Goldsberry…Perhaps the most useful advice Goldsberry gave was to encourage writers to consider every sentence to be a joke, and to remember that jokes end on the punch line.

“This is useful to screenwriters struggling with issues regarding both dialogue and description. Don Corleone in The Godfather does not say: ‘He won’t be able to refuse the offer I’m going to make.’ The punch line in this sentence has to be ‘refuse.’ That’s where the drama resides. That’s the most powerful word, the one carrying the greatest stress. With the sentence ending on the punch line it becomes among the most timeless lines ever uttered in any movie: ‘I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.'”
UCLA Screenwriting Chairman Richard Walter
Essentials of Screenwriting

P.S. After I wrote this post I found out that Professor Goldsberry earned his PhD from the University of Iowa—all roads may not lead back to Iowa, but a whole bunch of them do. Goldsberry also wrote The Writer’s Book of Wisdom: 101 Rules for Mastering Your Craft

Related posts:
Screenwriting Quote #16 (Richard Walter)
Robert McKee vs. Richard Walter
Screenwriting’s One Unbreakable Rule
Keeping Solvent & Sane

Scott W. Smith

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