Archive for January, 2017

Living Life Dealing with Conflict

“For decades he was the chief justice of the film industry — fair, tough-minded, and innovative. I feel that all of us have lost our benevolent godfather.” 
Steven Spielberg quoted in the LA Times after the death of Lew Wasserman

When Lew Wasserman died in 2002 he was considered the last of Hollywood’s moguls. Variety said he was “Hollywood’s ultimate mover and shaker.” He was head of Universal Studios when Jaws and and E.T. became the highest grossing pictures ever.

“One of the great lessons I learned from [my grandfather Lew Wasserman] was that the more successful you are the more problems you deal with. And the more challenges you have, and the bigger company you have, and the bigger business—just stuff goes wrong. The key measure to success is how well you deal with the bad news, and the problems, not how well you embrace the good news. Inherently, the more successful people have organizations better at anticipating, communicating, learning from, growing from, and dealing with and surviving problems. He was a big believer in that. He used to always say, ‘bad news gets worse, so you better just deal with it.’ And if you think about it it’s true, I get paid to deal with problems. Good news takes care of itself. And if you think about human nature—whether if it’s with your kids, or your partner, or at work, most people’s knee-jerk reaction is to stick their head in the sand and hope that bad news goes away, and the truth is, it doesn’t.”
Casey Wasserman, Chairman and CEO of Wasserman
Rich Roll Podcast interview

P.S. Casey Wasserman is also heading the committee trying to bring the Olympic games to Los Angeles in 2024. He was 10 years old when the Olympics were last in L.A. and said it was a magical time. It was. I graduated from film school in L.A. in 1984 and remember that era fondly. That’s also the year I met my wife in an elevator in Burbank.

Related posts:
Looney Toons & Conflict
Neil Simon on Conflict

Scott W. Smith

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Six Pages a Day

Write six pages of script a day. Stick to this schedule no matter what. You’ll have a finished first draft in roughly twenty days. Then go back and edit what you’ve written. Spend no more than five days on this edit.”
Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (Basic Instinct)
The Devil’s Guide to Hollywood

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Postcard #117 (Dez Bryant)

They are playing the NFL Pro Bowl in Orlando tonight and I went out to the ESPN Wide World Wide of Sports at Disney yesterday to see the last practices of the AFC & NFC teams and other events. Got to see wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. be covered by cornerback Richard Sherman—two of the best in the league.  And I saw Dez Bryant (#88 of the Dallas Cowboys) play John Madden Football and took this shot:


©2017 Scott W. Smith

Related post:
Postcard #28 (Prime Time)

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“I’m Mary Tyler Moore and I am…an actress, an animal lover, the chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Reseach Foundation, the wife of Dr. Robert Levine, and…I don’t want to give away the whole story from the vert start. Suffice it to say there are a lot of ways to end that sentence, and I don’t think I’ve come close to living through all the possibilities, thank heavens. But what I do know is that in every role I am a devotee of laugher and tears, committed to expressing the nuances of each.”
Mary Tyler Moore
Growing Up Again:Life, Loves, and Oh Yeah, Diabetes
Opening of Chapter 2

That iconic freeze frame of Mary Tyler Moore throwing her hat in the air as Mary Richards in The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a peak moment in her life. It was her Rocky running up the steps moment.

In a Facebook-centric world we’re great at putting filters on photos and our lives. We’re good a promoting our victories and happy moments. But our tears and struggles we’re not so good at talking about. (And when we do we know they won’t get as many likes.)

When Robin Williams committed suicide in 2014 it was surprising for people to learn about his struggles. He was known for his laughter. But it reminded me the suicide of Freddie Prinze back in 1977. He was a successful stand-up comedian turned even more successful sitcom actor. Yet just months after signing a $6 million five-year deal with NBC the 22-year-old took his life. Depression, drugs, and divorce were the flip side of a man who made many laugh.

Moore, who died last week at 80, was a survivor. She too made many laugh and reached incredible entertainment heights in the sixties and seventies with her comedic Emmy-winning abilities and then received an Oscar nomination for her serious role in Ordinary People (1980).  A devotee of laugher and tears.

A life shaded by getting married at 19 to flee her alcoholic parents. She later not only divorced her first husband, but her son from that marriage died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 24. Moore also had her own struggles with alcohol.  And just before her run with The Mary Tyler Moore Show began she discovered she had stage 1 diabetes.

Since this is a blog on screenwriting let me just say that’s what a three-dimensional life looks like. When we read a script or see a movie or Tv show where we see three-dimensional characters it resonates with us because it reflects our lives.

I’ll close with this excerpt from Moore’s book Growing Up Again:


Related Posts:
Broken Wings & Silver Linings
40 Days of Emotions
MLK & Screenwriting (on characters)

Scott W. Smith

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‘A ping in her voice’

Carl Reiner on casting Mary Tyler Moore for The Dick Van Dyke Show:

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The Impact of Kind Words

“I will never forget one day [Lucille Ball] sort of walked out of the studio and then came back, and came up to me and said, ‘you’re very good,’ and then walked on. That was the greatest gift I ever received in this business. I don’t think I have another moment that compares with the impact of those words.”
Mary Tyler Moore
Archive of American Television interview in 1997

P.S. In that interview Moore mentioned that Lucille Ball would sometimes drop in on rehearsals of The Dick Van Dyke Show because her company Desilu Productions owned the studio where they taped episodes before a live audience of 300 people. Also in that interview Moore said that her favorite episode from that show was My Blonde-Haired Brunette.

Bonus quote for the day:

“Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow. Pain nourishes your courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave.”
Mary Tyler Moore

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“Today Mary Richards and her DNA can be found in nearly every major female character in primetime.”
Tina Fey on the character Mary Tyler Moore played in the TV show that lead to Moore winning four of her seven Primetime Emmy Awards


©2008 Scott W. Smith

The day after I won a Regional Emmy for this blog in 2008 I drove the the Starbucks in Crystal, Minnesota where Diablo Cody wrote much of Juno, and I then drove to downtown Minneapolis and took this photo of the Mary Tyler Moore statue on the Nicollet Mall.

I’ve read the because of construction in that area the statue is temporarily “housed inside the Minneapolis Visitor Information Center at 505 Nicollet Mall, Suite 100.” And because of her death today flowers are being placed on the statue.  Here’s the opening of The Mary Tyler Moore Show that ended with the famous hat toss of a happy Mary Richards.

Entertainment Weekly ranked the hat toss as the second greatest moment in TV. The show was created by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns.

Scott W. Smith

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“If you’re looking for an excuse, you’ll find one.”
Actor/Director Denzel Washington 
60 Minutes interview December 18, 2016

Congrats to all those nominated for Oscars today. But since much of the national press centered around the major turn around of people of color being nominated for Oscar Awards compared to last year, I thought it was fitting to revisit a post I wrote back in 2014. There I looked over the history of this blog and found 25 links related to blacks and filmmaking that I’d written.

I’m sure I’ve added a few over the last couple of years but I’ll just roll with the original 25.

“Over a century and a half to the present day…you see the evidence of slavery as you walk down the street…The prison population, mental illness, poverty, education.”
Oscar-nominated director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)
2013 New York Times Interview by Nelson George

“In the vast majority of stories, the hero’s overall change moves from slavery to freedom.”
John Truby
The Anatomy of Story

One of the roots of this blog is steeped in African America culture. Annye L Refoe, Ph.D., was my creative writing teacher in high school. It was in one of her classes I first wrote a dramatic script and directed a video. As a black woman raised in Sanford, Florida she opened up a new world to a class of white students via the writings of Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Where Watching God) and showing us the film version of Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun.

In my very short stint playing football at the University of Miami I heard stories of black players raised in Overtown during Miami’s riots, as a photographer in L.A. I did photo assignments in Watts and Compton and heard gang stories, and I’ve been in prison chapels where blacks made up 85% of those in attendance and heard some of their life struggles.

At the same time, some of the scariest situations of my life were racially centered. Being cornered by four black youths in Florida when I was ten years old, taking a wrong turn on the South Side of Chicago after midnight, and being yelled at from two feet away for having a video camera on the streets of Kingston, Jamaica (which at the time had a higher murder rate than Haiti).

I’ve at least seen the view, and felt the tension, from both sides of the street.

It’s said that many white Americans can go through a whole day without encountering a black person, but the opposite is not true for most black Americans. I don’t pretend to fully understand the struggle of black people, but as a human being I am sensitive to the issues.  It sticks with me when actor Jamie Foxx told Oprah Winfrey, “I was called a nigger almost every day in Texas.” For many whites the Civil Rights of the ’60s is old news, and slavery of the mid-1800s is ancient history— Look, “We even elected a black man President of the United States—twice in a row.”

Yes, there have been great strides on many levels. Heck, the biggest home I’ve ever been in was NFL great Deion Sanders’ 28,000+ square foot house in Dallas where I did directed a video shoot a few  years ago. Tyler Perry’s net worth of over $400 million makes him according to one website the fourth financially successful filmmaker in America. But only he and Oscar-nominated writer/director John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood) are in the top fifty.

There are still wide gaps in our culture. And we still live in a world of much racial tension. These nominations won’t fix our problems. (Some called the 2013 film 12 Years a Slave “Oscar bait” and it walked away with three Oscars including Best Picture in 2014. Two years later it was #OscarsSoWhite.)  There’s lot of wisdom in that William Faulkner line from Requiem for a Nun , “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Pick any period of world history and you’ll find Koyaanisqatsi—The Hopi Indian word for “life out of balance.” (See Godfrey Reggio film Koyaannisqatsi.) We can go back and forth on the political, economic and spiritual solutions to finding peace and harmony in a world where good and evil exist. But it’s hard not to at least metaphorically agree with the thought that,  “We are reminded daily that we live outside the Garden.”

“Everything is supposed to be different than it is.”
Simon (Danny Glover)
Grand Canyon written by Lawrence Kasden & Meg Kasden

This whole global quest we’re all on for equilibrium is why I love storytelling in general, and films specifically. Artists are like those people waving large finger pointer signs at auctions telling everyone where to look. Movies at their best stir up questions and offer hope.

Whatever color you are, may the stories you tell—to borrow Oscar-winner Tom Stoppard’s words, “nudge the world a little.” And may they nudge it in the right direction.

Here are 25 links from this blog over the years centered around blacks and filmmaking:

The First Black Feature Filmmaker

Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting 

First screenplay, Oscar—Precious

Martin Luther King Jr. Special –A multi-media project I produced with artist Gary Kelley

Screenwriting & Slavery

Blacks in Black & White “We’re a great country. We’ve got great stories. And for the most part, the great stories of people of color have not been told.”—Spike Lee

Memphis Story Wins Oscars

August Wilson’s St. Paul Roots

Lynn Nottage & her Play “Ruined”

The Kindness of Strangers

Obama, Drama & D.C. Movies

Filmmaking Quote #10 (Lee Daniels)

Nelson Mandela, Robben Island & Nudging the World

“I Have a Dream” at 50

“Super-Serving Your Niche” (Tyler Perry’s advice to Edward Burns)

Shrimp, Giants & Tyler Perry

Jackie, Spike & Sanford, Florida 

Off-Screen Quote #26 (Jackie Robinson)

Screenwriter Ernest R. Tidyman  Though white he explains why he wrote Shaft (1971)—It was time for a black winner [in movies], whether he was a private detective or an obstetrician.”

“The Help” Smackdown

Chris Rock & Adult Movies

The Father of Film (Part 2) Touches on Spike Lee on D.W. Griffith

Postcard #51 (Cotton Fields)

40 Days of Emotion Touches on the whipping scene of Denzel Washington in Glory

The Black List Annual Report (2013) Franklin Leonard

And let me give a shout-out to Brian McDonald who writes The Invisible Ink Blog.  I believe he’s the only black writer to have written a few books on screenwriting; Invisible Ink, The Golden ThemeInk Spots.

P.S. I know there are efforts being made helping minority screenwriters and welcome you passing those websites on to me in the comments or via email at info@scottwsmith.com

Additional links:
Writers Guild of America, West Diversity Department
CBS, Writers Mentoring Program
Deadline article about Warner Bros. diversity connection with The Black List ““For a black kid from Georgia, I’m acutely aware of the access issues the industry struggles with, and I’m excited to be part of a first step toward addressing this.”— Franklin Leonard
The Black List Newsletter Follow the links for Warner Bros Submission requirements
Fox Writers Intensive (FWI) “The Intensive is designed to introduce experienced writers with unique voices, backgrounds, life and professional experiences that reflect the diverse perspectives of the audiences Fox creates for to a wide range of Fox showrunners, writers, directors, screenwriters and creative executives.”
Diversity in Hollywood, NAACP
Universal Pictures’ Emerging Writers Fellowship,Seeking New and Unique Voices
In the While Room With Black Writers “There’s this thing in Hollywood, a ‘diversity staff writer.’ Most every writing room has one…”—Beejoli Shah
Organization of Black Screenwriters, West Hollywood
BuzzFeed interview with Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Ridley (12 Years a Slave“I’m from a small town in Wisconsin, but even when I’m in New York and I’m working for MSNBC or CNN, you’re used to being the only black person in the room. You spend your life in this space where you’re constantly seeing people who don’t even know perhaps they’re being a little dismissive of people of color, let alone the ugliness that you hear on a daily basis. So at times when people say that [racism] is bubbling up, it’s just bubbling up to a level where they’re aware of it.”

Scott W. Smith

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MLK & Screenwriting

I meant to post last Monday on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but life happens. This is a slightly adjusted re-post from a 2008 post with a similar title. (Interesting to think that the original post was written before Obama became the first black President of the United States.)

“Find a strong-willed character with a nothing-will-stand-in-my-way determination to reach his or her goal confronting strong opposition, add a strong action line, keep throwing obstacles (conflicts) in his or her path, and you’re well on your way to a gripping screenplay.”
William Froug                


Hearse for Coretta Scott King /©2006 Scott W. Smith

Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights leader and Baptist minister, left a lasting impression on the United States.

In 2006 I was doing a video shoot in Jackson, Mississippi and then had to drive to Atlanta for another shoot. When I’m on the road I try to make it as interesting as possible and I took a detour off the main highway so I could retrace the Selma to Montgomery march. (The shot below was taken as I drove over the bridge in Selma, Alabama where the conflict known as Bloody Sunday occurred back in 1965.)


Much of that region looks similar as it did in that day. In route to Atlanta I learned that King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, had died and there would be a public viewing in Atlanta that weekend. I figured that was a more than amazing way to finish my civil rights tour and I took the photo of King’s hearse outside the State Capitol in downtown Atlanta.

Since this is a blog on screenwriting I’d like to address Martin Luther King Jr. from that perspective.

Let’s talk about the characters you chose to write about.

“Strong characters hold our interest in life and on the screen.”
Andrew Horton, Writing the Character-Centered Screenplay

It’s been said that drama favors the great saint or the great sinner.

We don’t have to go very far in theater, literature and film to see that truth:

King Lear
Blanche DuBois
The Godfather
Scarlet O’Hara
James Bond
Mad Max
Lawrence of Arabia
Snow White
Norma Rae
William Wallace
Virgil Tibbs
Darth Vader
Dr. Hannibal Lecter
Bonnie & Clyde

In fact, we might as well say that history favors the great saint or great sinner:


It’s been said that the History Channel should be called the Hitler Channel because he plays such a key role in many programs.

Certainly the words saint and sinner are religious in nature so let’s look there to see if it favors the great saint and the great sinner as far as being remembered:

Adam & Eve
Cain & Abel
King David
St. Augustine
Martin Luther
John Calvin
Mother Theresa
Jim Jones

How memorable are the characters you’ve created? Do you write characters that are as fascinating to watch as animals at the zoo? “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”

That’s not to say that every character you write has to be as fascinating as Gordon Gecko in Oliver Stone’s Wall St. but your protagonist and antagonist must be characters we’re interested in investing two hours of hours lives watching. (They could be a shark, a robot, or a tornado as well, but whatever they are make them standout.) They don’t even have to shoot the bad guy at the end. Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull is a despicable character, but man is he ever an interesting case study.

“I’m not interested in having to root for someone; I’m trying to get some sort of understanding as to what makes people tick and what they’re about.”
Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (Basic Instinct)

If you do write about a common person it’s best if you put them in an extraordinary situation. (Like Miss Daisy & Hoke’s relationship in Driving Miss Daisy centered around a changing world, or Cary Grant’s character in North by Northwest who must run for his life in a case of mistaken identity). And let’s not forget the quintessential common man Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman who is a mirror for all humanity that faces living, as Thoreau said, “lives of quite desperation.”

The truth is it’s easier to write a strong bad guy than a strong good guy. For every Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird) there are probably three Norman Bates (Psycho). And actors and actresses love to play a good bad guy/bad gal. And basic dramatic structure dictates that when you throw your protagonist and antagonist into the ring it should be a fair battle.

Look at Steven Spielberg’s films and you’ll find a long list of really bad people and creatures.

And here’s a secret. Many great characters are a mix of saint and sinner. Isn’t there a Jekell and Hyde in all of us? Don’t we love to go to movies and watch characters wrestle with life, with themselves? Showing that struggle is part of what makes your characters engaging and memorable. It gives your characters dimension. Great characters are not lukewarm.

“It’s rare that you find three-dimensional characters in a writing sample, and when you do, it’s obvious that’s a writer you want to work with.”
Paramount Story Editor

Martin Luther King Jr., by some accounts, was like Oskar Schindler, in that he was a flawed man who left a great legacy. His dream has not been realized, but it’s a good dream. Remember that throughout history, ideas flow from the philosophers and prophets to the masses via artists.

P.S. Here’s a multimedia project I worked on a few years ago called Three Kings featuring the artwork of Gary Kelley:

Related posts:
25 Links Related to Blacks and Filmmaking
Martin Luther King Jr. Special
The First Black Feature Filmmaker
Writing Good Bad Guys (Tip #85)

Scott W. Smith

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‘If it bleeds, it leads’

“Sometime in the past few years, the blog died…R.I.P. The Blog, 1997-2013.”
Jason Kottke
NeimanLab (2013)



Robert Redford’s character in the 1996 film Up Close and Personal explains the time tested news reporting truism, “If it bleeds, it leads.” So here we go…

Today marks the ninth anniversary of this blog. And there’s blood everywhere. My blog is on the operating table and a team of doctors and nurses are performing triage as I write this. It reminds me of when that light/heartbeat inside of E.T. started to fade.

As I’ve stated before, it was never my intention to do this for more than a year. But once I got on the roller coaster I couldn’t get off. And as fun as roller coasters can be there’s a point when it’s time to step off and move on with your life.

So after much thought I’m ready to let this blog die.

Not quite yet. But I can see the finish line.


I have my sights set on hitting the ten year mark on this blog. So 2017 will be the farewell tour. Honestly, I’m not sure it’s even sane to blog about screenwriting (and filmmaking) for 10 years, but there’s a reason these kinds of things are called passion projects.

But I do have one bit of unfinished business that I have to accomplish before I move on, and that’s completing at least one book based on the greatest hits from this blog. I actually have finished writing the book and am in the editing process. It’s sitting now at around 220 pages and 70,000 words and I’d like to pare it down a little.  (I’m looking at self-publishing an ebook at this time —perhaps through CreateSpace, but welcome any other publishing suggestions; info@scottwsmith.com.)

Winning the regional Emmy for this blog in 2008 was a nice surprise (and motivation to continue), and the shout-out I got from Diablo Cody via Twitter, plus the mention by TomCruise.com early on was added encouragement. But mostly it was the readership in general that grew and kept me going.

It’s interesting that Jason Kottke wrote his article The blog is dead, long live the blog in 2013 because that’s when my readership after five years reached its plateau. Readership declining on this blog also coincided with me moving back to Florida in 2013. Not sure what the connection is, but as early as 2013 I started to think about how to land this plane.


“I don’t know if he’s in a class by himself, but whatever class he’s in, it doesn’t take long to do the roll call.”
Former FSU football coach Bobby Bowden talking about a star player

During the pro football season on any given week there are only 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL. (And less than half of those would be considered great. But let’s stick with 32.) That’s 32 men who are the best in world that week at a highly skilled and important position.

This blog took an outlier position from the start and held up a Chicago-raised, University of Iowa graduate, and blogger from Minnesota turned screenwriter named Diablo Cody as a new breed of screenwriter. When she won the Oscar in 2008 for her Juno script I though it was a great sign.

As far as writers plucked outside of Los Angeles on the strength of a spec script finding success inside the Hollywood, Cody is not alone–but whatever class she’s in, it doesn’t take long to call roll. I know I’d have trouble coming up with 32 names over the last nine years.

There are scrappy screenwriters everywhere working on independent films, but that continues to be a tough road to haul career wise. Screenwriting and movies are at an interesting crossroad at the moment. There are plenty credited screenwriters who don’t do superhero movies, who lament the loss of what’s called the middle-class of movies, who are at a crossroad. And Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places is also at a crossroad and as much as it would make sense to change the blog to Screenwriting from (or for) China that’s not going to happen.

I would like to explore in some posts over the next 12 months is screenwriting outside of the U.S.A. (I welcome any links to interviews that explain the world of screenwriting around the world.)

My hope is that this blog has inspired many over the years. And who knows, maybe some ten-year-old today will stumble upon this blog in the future and find something that helps them create something great.


For the past two years I’ve worked as multimedia producer at a college doing mostly studio work and editing for instructional videos. (Which unlike a lot of production work, thanks to online learning, is in growth mode.) But this month I not only added a week long freelance shoot that briefly took me out of the country, but I started taking two classes as part of the Digital Journalism & Design Master’s program at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg.

I’ll give 2016 Oscar-winning best picture Spot Light an assist on that idea. And I can see doing a string of posts on great journalism-based movies. (The Insider, His Girl Friday, Almost Famous and Broadcast News quickly come to mind.)

My early roots were not only in journalism, but I finally realize that the nine years of writing this blog are a part of digital journalism. I’m not sure if that will point me in the direction of working on more short form storytelling, working on long form documentaries, or teaching, or something different altogether.

Maybe I’ll get a better understanding of a business model for running a digital platform. Something that would bring a return on the time invested. But even though my dance card is full for the remainder of 2017, I intend on sprinting to the 10 year mark by returning to daily blogging. To accomplish that there will be a healthy amount of cribbing from the 2,000+ posts I’ve written in the last 9 years.


I love movies. Went to see The Founder Friday night and it’s the kind of movie I’m thrilled still gets made. Everyone keeps saying we’re in the modern golden era of television, which is providing opportunities to not only new writers, but a place for feature writers to find work.  And the rise of Netflix, Amazon and the like keeps finding new ways of producing and distributing material.  Podcasting is also not only opening up new ways of communicating, but in some cases proving also good revenue streams.

There’s much to be encouraged by.

I’m intrigued that Casey Neistat made a film that went to Sundance and then carved his own path as a You Tuber. Video essays like Every Frame a Painting are substantive and engaging to millions of viewers. What one person, or a small team can do these days is rather amazing.

But features continues to be tricky water. Here’s a thought to ponder from a comedy great who conquered both stand-up and TV, but learned a key lesson working on Bee Movie ten years ago:

“If you’re watching a bad movie, it’s two hours of your life. If you’re in a bad movieit’s two years.”
Jerry Seinfeld

And, lastly—spoiler alert— if you remember when E.T.’s light was fading, that wasn’t the end of the story. I don’t know if I’ll just do a mic drop on January 22, 2018 and walk away from blogging, or if I’ll l discover some new uncharted digital territory to head, but I’m pretty sure there’s there’s going to be some kind of resurrection.

Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Scott W. Smith


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