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Archive for November, 2016

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©2016 Scott W. Smith

The Beach Theatre in St. Pete Beach, Florida was owned by screenwriter Michael France (Cliffhanger) until his death in 2013. The theatre first opened in 1940 and France bought it in 2007.

But unlike The New Beverly Cinema (owned by writer/director Quentin Tarantino) in Los Angeles, The Beach Theatre didn’t have a large cinephile fan base to sustain it and it closed on on Nov. 18, 2012. France died five months later at age 51.

There were some legal issues in its closing months and I’m actually not sure who owns it now or if there are any plans to restore it. But it looks like it’s been dormant in the years since France’s death.

If the theater was in St. Petersburg it’d have a chance to be revived, but St. Pete Beach is a largely tourist and retirement community of under 10,000 people. Downtown Tampa is a good 45 minute drive depending on traffic and already has a thriving and beautiful historical movie house (that I featured in a post last year) so it can’t look for help from there.

It’d be great if the Lowe’s Don Cesar Hotel (a 1920s built grand hotel nearby), the city of St. Pete Beach, or a non-profit group in the area purchased the Beach Theatre and somehow found a way to restore the art deco building and have at least one theatre on St. Pete Beach that played movies at least every once in a while.

For now, the Beach Theatre is one more reminder of the ongoing struggle the movie business has between art and commerce. Not too many screenwriters ever get the chance to buy an old movie theatre so at least Michael France got the chance to carry the torch for a few seasons.

Related posts:
Screenwriting Quote #122 (Michael France)
St.Pete Screenwriter (Michael France)
Postcard #86 (Tampa Theatre)
Postcard #87 (St. Pete Beach Sunset)

Scott W. Smith

 

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Postcard #107 (Downtown St. Pete)

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©2016 Scott W. Smith

It’s fitting that I was in the Tampa Bay area on the day that Fidel Castro died over the weekend. A third of all Cubans in America live in Florida. The majority of those of those live in the greater Miami/South Florida, but Cuban immigrants began coming to Tampa in greater number in the late 1800s often working and living near the cigar factories in Ybor City area.

Perhaps I’ll write more about Castro, Cuba and the movies on another post, but for today I’ll say that my views of Castro are shaded by those who fled after Castro took power in 1959, including one college professor I met who left behind everything in Cuba to come to the United States—arriving with 37 cents in his pocket.

The views of Castro are well summed up by Graciela Martinez in The NY Times Sunday,”For those who loved him, he was the greatest. For those who hated him, there was no one worse.” I went to school in Miami just after Mariel boatlift so I was definitely surrounded by people who did not love Castro or what he did to their homeland.

I imagine few would have bet on a 30-year-old exiled Castro arriving in Cuba via boat with Che Guevara and 80 other rebels in 1956 and not only overthrowing the government, but his communistic government staying in power to this day. And much has been written (and will be written) about the pros and cons of Castro’s legacy.  Perhaps the one positive thing most can agree on that flowed from Castro’s dictatorship is the 1983 film Scarface. (AFI’s #10 ranked Gangster film of all time. “Say hello to my little friend” is #61 on AFI’s 100 Greatest Movie Lines of All Time.)

But politics and movies aside, I love the Cuban/Spanish culture that you’ll find all over Florida from St. Augustine to Key West.

I took the above photo in downtown St. Petersburg over the weekend. Believe it or not, St. Petersburg is one of the most transformative, invigorating, an artistic cities in the United States. It’s like a mix of the best of Miami and Minneapolis with a little bit of a Marina del Rey/Santa Monica west coast vibe–and Spanish spices tossed in.  Call it The St. Petersburg surprise.

Home to several financial institutions, the University of South Florida—St. Petersburg,  and the Home Shopping Network, it’s also been ranked #1 in the Top 25 Mid-Size Cities for Art.  (In part due to the Museum of Fine Arts, the Chihuly Collection, and the Salvador Dali Museum.)

The USF sailing team finished sixth in the nation at The 2016 College Sailing Match Racing Nationals just last week. And sure, there’s still the world’s largest shuffelboard club in St. Pete (est. in 1924), but you’ll find hipsters there as well as retirees.  So when you read in Esquire New Brooklyn Gets Into Good Ole’ Shuffleboard, know that trend started in St. Petersburg.

Part of those St. Pete surprises.

P.S. If you ever visit Tampa make sure you eat at the Columbia Restaurant (Florida’s oldest restaurant) in Ybor City. In 2017, I’d like to cover more global cinema and look forward to getting caught up on Cuban movies made over the last 50 years.

Related posts:
Havana Daydreamin’
Coppola, Castro & Capitalism
Cuba to Key West

Scott W. Smith

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Thanksgiving Drama

“The last thing I want to be remembered as is an annoying blabbermouth.”
Del (John Candy)
Planes, Trains & Automobiles

It’s Thanksgiving here in the United States and one globally universal thing about holidays is the potential for conflict (drama) as family and friends get together. (At least one crazy family member per get together has probably been the standard since the beginning of the human race.)

This week I heard a great description of a destructive family member on the rebroadcast of This American Life:

“Like some kind of super villain who can’t control her super powers, my mother somehow leaves an accidental trail of carnage wherever she goes.”
Josh Bearman
Duty Calls

Earlier this year I wrote seven posts about Pieces of April (2003)—my favorite Thanksgiving time-related film. (Edging out Planes, Trains and Automobiles.) And it that Peter Hedges film, it is the mother who would basically agree that her daughter (Katie Holmes) is the one who “leaves an accidental trail of carnage wherever she goes.”

Here’s a simple exchange from the movie where the daughter April talks about her mother (Joy) and a Thanksgiving memory:

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May those of you celebrating Thanksgiving today have a conflict free day.

Pieces of April (Part 1)
Pieces of April (Part 2)
Pieces of April (Part 3)
Pieces of April (Part 4)
Pieces of April (Part 5)
Pieces of April (Part 6)
Pieces of April (Part 7)

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

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“A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”
Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) in Annie Hall 

Have you ever had a boyfriend or girlfriend break-up with you?  Raise your hand if you’ve gone through a nasty and emotional break-up? Wow, look at all those hands.

The Social Network opens up with a scene that builds up to a break-up.

“You are probably going to be a very successful computer person. But you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.”
Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) in The Social Network

If your goal is to be in a healthy, loving relationship and the person you’ve been with calls you an asshole right before they break-up with you have three basic options:

  1. Work through those issues with that person (and perhaps yourself) and eventually kiss and make up.
  2. Shake the dust off your feet and move on to another relationship (or at least begin looking for one).
  3. Listen to the Phil Collins song I Don’t Care Anymore 426 times and swear off personal relationships as impossible and get a dog, throw yourself into your career, or travel to Tahiti and take up big wave surfing.

We could call those three options complications, roadblocks, and reversals. On Scott Myers’ screenwriting blog Go Into the Story here’s how he defines those three things:

Complications: A complication is an event or circumstance which slows the Protagonist’s progress toward their goal.

Roadblocks: A roadblock is an event or circumstance which stops the Protagonist’s progress toward their goal.

Reversals: A reversal is an event or circumstance which reverses the Protagonist’s progress toward their goal.

Now granted screenwriters/screenwriting teachers have plenty of confusing names for various writing techniques that can muddy the water. But I think complications, roadblocks and reversals is simple and helpful way to look at scenes you’re writing.

In the fictitious movie version of Mark Zuckerberg’s life, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin uses the break-up to change not only the computer wizard’s life, but the lives of quite a few people. In the movie, that break-up led to a major reversal that changed the world.

After the break-up Zuckerberg could have walked around campus and thought things over and then taken his ex some flowers and tried to make up. In that scenario the break-up was just a complication.

Or after the break-up he could have said “Fine,  there’s more fish in the sea” and spent a few days or weeks looking for a new girlfriend. The break-up was a roadblock in his quest for a healthy, loving relationship.

But what Sorkin had the Zuckerburg character do is head back to his dorm and with a little computer know-how, a few beers, a couple of friends, and a lot of bitterness launch the “hot or not” website to get back at the woman who broke-up with him.

That leads to he and his friends to starting The Facebook, now known as just Facebook. In that version the break-up led to a major reversal in not just Zuckerberg’s life, but in the way that over a billion people live their daily lives.

As of this writing there are over 1.79 billion active Facebook users and over a billion of those log onto Facebook daily. Talk about disruptive. Facebook is up there with Henry Ford’s Model T, and the birth control pill, as far as disrupting the way people live their lives.  (And according to some reports Facebook could be classified as a modern form of birth control.)

Ultimately when you boil it down, complications, roadblocks, & reversals—slow down, stop, back-up (or change directions)—  when done right are all in the family of conflict & emotions, and are part of engaging an audience in your story.

Related posts:
Conflict—Conflict-Conflict
Major Reversals (Tip #104)
What’s Changed? (TIp #102)?

Scott W. Smith

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Sharks, Ghosts & Reversals

“Reversals can work physically or emotionally. They can reverse the action or reverse a character’s emotions. In Ghostbusters, our unemployed university professors reverse direction and start their own business. In Jaws, the townspeople think that they’ve caught the shark and start celebrating….The down and out psychic professors in Ghostbusters suddenly change from disappointment to excited. In Jaws, Martin and Matt move from celebration to fear.”
Linda Seger
Making a Good Script Great
page 77

Below is the scene in Jaws of the shark being cut open and the scene proceeding it where Matt (Richard Dyfuss) says that he’s leaving tomorrow to do shark research on a ship at sea for 18 months. After they cut the shark open he reverses his decision because (as he tells Sheriff Brody) “you’ve still got a hellofa fish out there.”

Scott W. Smith

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“Sometimes your convictions are the greatest stumbling blocks to fixing a story problem. It’s that thing that you’re certain of, that you don’t challenge — that you just know is right about a scene — that stops you from finding the inventive solution. It’s a good idea to have this general rule: challenge everything. Go through the problem scene step by step and consider the effect of doing the exact opposite of your story decisions.

“The audience will come to ‘know’ the character through their actions. When characters can make decisions that run counter to expectations, bringing immediate reversals into the story, that’s of immediate interest. (When Indiana Jones ties up Marion instead of releasing her [In Raiders of the Lost Ark], it’s a marvelous reversal, and we gain huge insights into Indy’s character by that one action.”
Screenwriters Terry Rossio & Ted Elliott (Pirates of the Caribbean)
Wordplay Columns/ Plot Devices

I couldn’t find the Indy/Marion scene online, but the classic opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark is a great reversal that goes from positive to negative.

And speaking of Rossio & Elliot, how about this reversal from their Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl script“You are without a doubt the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of” to “That’s got to be the best pirate I’ve ever seen.”

P.S. If you’re not familiar with Rossio & Elliot’s Wordplayer screenwriting columns you’re missing out on some of the best free screenwriting advice on the Internet—for almost 20 years!

Scott W. Smith

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“Reversals are a more compelling form of discoveries or revelations because they turn the story upside down.”
Karl Iglesias
Writing for Emotional Impact

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2016 Election Night/ New York Times

(Let me preface this post by saying that while I’ve been a registered Democrat and a registered Republican in the past, for the past 15 years I’ve been an independent. And though I did take part in this year’s election I did not vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.)

Politics aside, the 2016 United States Presidential Election was a great example of a major reversal. Up there with the grandaddy of cinematic major reversals— “I am your father.” And as divisive as this past election was, it’s simply too good a reversal illustration to pass up. (Plus what I’m talking about was already fair game for SNL Saturday night in their Election Night skit with Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, and others.)

But before I talk politics, let’s talk sports. On Saturday college football had its own set of major reversals as the #2, #3, #4 teams lost. Something that ESPN reported hadn’t happened on the same day in 31 years. (Both #2 Clemson losing to unranked Pitt, and #4 Michigan losing to unranked Iowa—each by last second field goals—were particularly dramatic.)

And just two weeks ago the Chicago Cubs had their own major reversal. Once down 3 games to 1 in the best of seven  games 2016 World Series, they came back to win three games in a row including game 7 in extra innings. That was not only a reversal in being down 3-1 in the series, but a major reversal because it ended 108 of losing out on winning a championship. High stakes. High drama.

But this week’s Presidential Election had even a bigger major reversal than all of those. One commentator called it the biggest upset in American politics since 1948 when Truman upset Dewey for the presidency, another commentator called it the biggest political upset in a century, followed by an NPR commentator yesterday calling it “the biggest political upset in American history.”  All I know is at least half the voters in the USA are upset. (Major reversals are emotional. That’s why you sometimes see tears flow following one.)

“I’m not worried about Trump. As a Democrat, I hope he gets the nomination. Because if he gets it, I don’t think there’s any way he can win.”
Writer John Grisham
Interview published April 18, 2016

Perhaps filmmaker Michael Moore was the only person in the press in recent months who truly believed Donald Trump was actually had a chance at becoming the next president of the United States. (And that includes the now President-elect Trump who seemed to be in excuse mode even the day of the election. Even sources in Trump’s camp said he was “surprised” he won.)

But regardless of your view of the outcome of the election, there is a great lesson here to improve your screenwriting and storytelling.

As I watched the election results unfold last Tuesday night it reminded me of watching a movie.

Act 1 (8:00 PM):  While the Major Dramatic Question was “Who is going to win the election?” the feel was “How big a margin is Hillary Clinton going to win by?” Basically echoing what Adam Nagourney wrote in The New York Times the Sunday before the election, “It’s hard to begrudge Democrats their gloating about the state of the Republican Party as the campaign enters its final hours. By most measures, Donald J. Trump appears headed for defeat.”

Act 2 (8:30 PM): As the Southern states started tilting red for Trump, TV commentators said things like “We expected this…” but then when Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Florida were all shaping up as too close to call one of the commentators said, “I’m not sure what’s happening.” Others said that it was surprising, but that Trump would actually have to win Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, AND Florida to have any chance at a path to win the election. Highly unlikely.

Act 3 (9:30 PM):
Trump did win Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, AND Florida. Now the talk flipped to “Hillary still has a path to the White House.” And that drama played out for about half an hour or so until Clinton appeared to be losing Iowa and Wisconsin and that Trump was actually going to pull off a major upset. In the early hours of Wednesday, Clinton conceded defeat. For the rest of your lives if you ever forget what a major reversal looks like you just have to recall the 2016 Presidential Election.

“A reversal changes the direction of the story 180 degrees…Reversals can work physically or emotionally. They can reverse the action or reverse a character’s emotions.”
Linda Seger
Making A Good Script Great
Page 67

Minor reversals (good and bad) are a daily part of our lives, but major reversals really get our attention.  It’s a divorce, a death, or the loss of a job. But it’s also a marriage, a birth, and a promotion. It’s been said that there really are only two emotions, happy and sad.

Movies are also full of minor reversals. Just about every scene has some kind of reversal in it.  The uncertainty holds our attention. But what sets a major reversal apart is scope and magnitude.

In Rocky, when Adrian finally accepts a date from Rocky that’s a reversal in their relationship up unto that point. When Rocky loses his locker, that’s a reversal. But when Rocky, a low-level, club boxer is chosen to fight the champion Apollo Creed, that is a major reversal in the story. It’s such a major reversal that five Rocky movies have flowed from the reversal.

If Rocky isn’t chosen for that fight, perhaps he realizes that boxing really isn’t his calling in life and takes a factory job where he ends up fighting the system like Erin Brockovich and Norma Rae. But Rocky fought for the championship and it resulted in a franchise that’s made over a billion dollars at the box office.

Robert Mckee says a film needs to have at least three major reversals to “satisfy the audience” and I’d agree with that. But I’d add that there are five places in script where major reversals are not only common, but needed:

  1. The inciting incident. (What others call the “Knock at the door.”) It’s the thing that sets your story in motion.
  2. Act 1 Turning point
  3. Midpoint conflict
  4. Act 2 Turning point
  5. Crisis/Climax toward the end of your story.

Many memorable movie scenes are major reversals that loosely fit in one of the above categories.

“Reversals go a long way toward helping writers confront the twin-edge sword of predictability.”
Richard Walters
Essentials of Screenwriting
Page 74

Off the top of my head here are some major reversals:

—”I see dead people.” (If you don’t know the reference I won’t spoil it for you.)
—”She’s my sister and my daughter.” (Ditto the above note.)
—The tornado in The Wizard of Oz.
—The plane crash in Cast Away.
— The super posse shows up in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
—Matt Damon gets stranded on Mars (The Martian).
—Sandra Bullock gets lost in space (Gravity).
—A command module malfunctions (Apollo 13).
—Jerry Maguire gets fired.
—Zoltar grants the young boy Josh his wish and he wakes up as a man (Big)
—The warden throws a rock through a Raquel Welch poster in Shawshank.
—Woody in the box at the end of Toy Story 3. (Yes, I shed a tear or two.)
—The ______ in the box in Se7en.
Both Fight Club and A Beautiful Mind have major reversals where the audience learns the main character has a mental illness.
—When Tom Cruise learns who the Rain Man is (Rain Man).
—And the Keyser Soze ending to The Usual Suspects:

Scott W. Smith

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