Archive for July, 2017

Sam Shepard (1943-2017)

“I’m self-taught. I learn everything by doing it. I wasn’t born knowing how to write a play. You do it and hopefully you keep evolving. One really great thing happened was that I discovered Chekhov’s short stories.”
Sam Shepard


When I was in film school back in the early eighties I don’t think there was anyone cooler than Sam Shepard. He had toured with Bob Dylan in early 70s, become a well-known New York City playwright in late 70s, and in the 80s became a screenwriter and a movie star.

The above scene is from The Right Stuff (1983) for which he received an Oscar-nomination for his role as pilot Chuck Yeager. Others may know of Shepard for his roles in Black Hawk Down, Days of Heaven, Francis, or most recently in TV program Bloodline—or his long relationship with actress Jessica Lange.

Back in 2011 in a post called Sam Shepard’s Start I pulled an extended quote where he talked about his early roots:

“I got a job delivering papers in Pasadena, and pretty soon, by reading the ad sections, I found out about an opening with a traveling ensemble called the Bishop’s Company. I decided to give it a shot, thinking that this might be a way to really get out. At the audition they gave me a little Shakespeare thing to read—I was so scared I read the stage directions—and they hired me. I think they hired everyone.

“We traveled all over the country—New England, the South, the Midwest. I think the longest we stayed anywhere was two days. It was actually a great little fold-up theater. We were totally self-sufficient, we put up the lights, made the costumes, performed the play, and shut down. Anyway, one day we got to New York to do a production at a church in Brooklyn and I said, ‘I’m getting off the bus.’

“…I was staying on Avenue C and Tenth Street with a bunch of jazz musicians, one whom happened to be Charlie Mingus’s son. We knew each other from high school, and he got me a job as a busboy at the Village Gate. The headwaiter at the Gate was a guy named Ralph Cook. Ralph was just starting his theater at St. Mark’s in the Bowery, and he said he’d heard that I’d been writing some stuff, and he wanted to see it. So, I showed him a few plays I’d written, and he said, ‘Well, let’s do it.’ Things kind of took off from there. New York was like that in the sixties. You could write a one-act play and start doing it the next day. You could go to one of those theaters—Genesis, La Mama, Jusdon Poets—and find a way to get in done. Nothing like that exists today.”
Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Sam Shepard (and actor/screenwriter/director)
Playwrights at Work

I hope those of you starting out find that helpful and track down more of Shepard’s theater and film work. A good place to start would be his play Buried Child for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1979. Shepard also wrote the script for Paris, Texas — winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival.

Scott W. Smith


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Tim Raines in the Hall of Fame

Tim Raines was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame today. Born and raised in Sanford, Florida I was fortunate to enough to see him play high school baseball and take photos of him his rookie season with the Montreal Expos when I was a 19-year-old photojournalist for the Sanford Herald.

Looking back over the decades I realized that while my path has crossed many talented people—there’s only a handful of truly great ones who are in the upper plateau of their field.

Of all of the great athletes to come out of Seminole County—I believe Raines is the sole player ever inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

P.S. In this 2013 interview Raines talked about going to spring training games in Orlando as a kid to see the Minnesota Twins play. Back then the Twins trained at Tinker Field in Orlando. Here’s a micro doc I did a field years ago before they tore the stadium down.

Scott W. Smith





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Way back when I started this blog in 2008 I did so while living in Cedar Falls, Iowa. A town of 35,000 and if known by anyone outside of Iowa it’s probably because it’s home to the University of Northern Iowa (UNI).

Sports fans may know of UNI because it’s where Pro Football Hall-of-Fame QB Kurt Warner played college football and the UNI basketball team once beat #1 ranked Kansas in the 2010 Midwest Region tournament. (An upset that was big enough to be covered by the NY Times and make the cover of Sport Illustrated.)

But Cedar Falls has other things going on gaining attention and the most recent one is Tim Dodd and his Spaceships. For Earth. commercial (produced with Neal Johnson) that last night was selected as the #2 spot in the fan-based Tesla Project Loveday video competition.

I met Tim in Cedar Falls when he was known as a talented photographer and I even wrote a post in 2012 about some of his work that was getting national attention. He’s a good example of a talented content creator who is racking up small victories that I have no doubt will someday lead to bigger victories.

While he didn’t win best video in the Tesla competition, his second place finish is a big win in furthering his Everyday Astronaut  brand. Check out his website and quirky photos that have been viewed heavily on Reddit, BuzzFeed, and national press sites.

Tim’s not Casey Neistat yet, but remember Neistat got where he is now by building his social platform step by step—and with a lot of talent and hard work.

Start Small…But Start Somewhere 

Scott W. Smith


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As a follow-up to yesterday’s post Sequence Writing (Tip #105) I found these videos produced by The Script Lab which you may find useful in exploring the sequence method of writing further:

Scott W. Smith

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“The sequence method doesn’t just make a screenplay better; it also makes it easier to write. Sequencing helps clarify character motivation and drive, and illuminate which scenes are dramatically necessary and which are irrelevant.”
Screenwriter Andrew W. Marlow (Air Force One, Castle)

“A typical two-hour film is composed of sequences—eight-to fifteen-minute segments that have their own internal structure—in effect, shorter films built inside the larger film.”
Paul Gulino

“The best feature of sequencing is that it makes your script digestible. Especially the second act. When you go in to outline your script, instead of having 120 pages of scary infinity, you have 8 clear sequences you need to design and create that fill out this larger structure.”
Screenwriter Ryan Condal (Hercules)
(Done Deal Pro interview found at Go Into The Story)



According to Paul Gulino, in his book Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach, the history of sequence writing has its roots in early silent film history when there were one-reeler stories that lasted the length of film that could be held on a single reel of film—between 10 & 12 minutes. (Before 24 fps became the standard around the advent of talkies in 1927, motion pictures speeds varied around 18 fps—sometimes as low as 12 fps—so running time on reels was slightly longer than the majority of films in the modern era.)

Those early short films had a protagonist with a goal (say, get the girl untied from the train tracks), with a beginning, middle, and end. They told complete stories in under 12 minutes. Films grew longer and studios, filmmaker, and audiences generally agreed that between 1 1/2 to 3 hours in length was acceptable.

But Gulino says that 10–15 sequences—with its own protagonist, tension, rising action, and resolution—is a system that works and has been taught over the years at Columbia University, USC, and AFI. (Not sure if that’s the case today. in 2017)

My understanding is sequence writing still fits within a traditional 3 act structure and looks something like this:

Act 1—
Sequence 1
Sequence 2

Act 2—
Sequence 3
Sequence 4
Sequence 5
Sequence 6

Act 3—
Sequence 7
Sequence 8

Screenwriter Paul Castro received his MFA at UCLA (and has taught screenwriting at the undergraduate and graduate level) and seems to have a slightly different spin on the sequence method. (Filmmaker/professor Frank Daniel is credited with developing this method. See this slideshare of how he unpacked the sequence approach.)

“If you have an ensemble cast, or if you have a story that is seemingly daunting to you, there’s a way to manage it. And instead of writing a linear screenplay, one scene after the other and keeping track of the different A-story, B-Story, C-Story—and the —different characters, a way to make it manageable is to execute sequence writing. Now what that means in a movie like Forrest Gump? In Forrest Gump there’s a lot of characters in that movie, and there’s a lot that happens in that movie. It’s really about a young man who has some mental challenges and his quest to win the love of his life Jenny, But a lot happens besides that. But that’s the overall thread of that movie; his relationship with Jenny. So how do we handle all these characters and all these relationships? Sequence writing. So in Forrest Gump you would outline and write in certain blocks of sequences.”
Screenwriter Paul Castro (August Rush)
Inspirational Screenwriting

I haven’t read that screenwriter Eric Roth used this method in writing the Forrest Gump script (or Winston Groom when he wrote the novel), but it is a method that some have found helpful. Here’s how Castro says that sequence writing could have been used in writing the Forrest Gump script. (Breaking down the sequences not in a continues flow, but by  Forrest’s relationships with others in the story:


dan copy


Like using notecards, writing from theme, writing a Blake Snyder beat sheet of your story, or crafting a log line first,  the sequence is just an approach to have in your toolbox. Some screenwriters use it regularly and others never touch it. (And I imagine like all these techniques, some working screenwriters would admit to having never heard of sequence writing.) Find what works for you.

Related posts on other sites:
The Eight Sequences from The Script Lab

The Index Card method and the Three Act, Eight Sequence Structure by Alexandra Sokoloff

An Easy Way To Write A Screenplay on Scriptshadow

A look at Chris Soth’s sequence version called the “mini-movie method—mixed with a little Blake Snyder

Scott W. Smith

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“I’m more of the sort of Lars von Trier Breaking the Waves school. The movie [Lion] is primarily an emotional journey, and the movies that matter to me, you experience them here, in the heart and the gut. They’re not such intellectual exercises as visceral and emotional experiences.”
Screenwriter Luke Davies (Lion)

“I made mistakes in drama. I thought drama was when actors cried. But drama is when the audience cries.”
Director Frank Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life)

If asked me what the the two most important posts of the 2,500+ I’ve written over the past 9 1/2 years that would help any writer it would be Conflict—Conflict—Conflict (or my first post on conflict in 2008; Everything I Learned in Film School) and 40 Days of Emotions (Which is a cheat because it’s a reference to 40 other posts). But if there is a bookend to the importance of Conflict—Conflict—Conflict in screenwriting then I think it’s Emotion—Emotion—Emotion.

In Hollywood they don’t buy screenplays, they buy emotion. So if you can make a reader feel something on a very visceral level then it cannot be ignored. Haley Fox was the development executive at the the production company that bought my first screenplay. And she was so passionate about it that she said ‘If you don’t buy this screenplay I am going to quit. I’ve been here seven years, but there’s no need for me to be here.’ She felt that deeply about the material. When writers are coming from a place of truth, facing that hurt we talked about, they can take that hurt, or that rage and put it on the page and then eventually makes it to the big stage of cinema or television because somebody felt something—they felt deeply about it. It can’t be ignored.  And those are the screenplays, teleplays, pilot episodes that sell.”
Screenwriter Paul Castro
Interview with Alex Ferrari on the Indie Film Hustle podcast

Related posts:
40 Days of Emotions
Finding Authentic Emotions (Part 1)   “Everyone wants to find a way out of pain.”—
Alex Blumberg
No Emotions? “Your Screenplay Sucks!”
“Visceral Emotions”
Goal: Elicit Emotions“Emotion grows out of conflict.”—Michael Hague
Emotional Transportation Biz “You don’t talk about what the film was about, you talk about your experience seeing the film: I loved it, I laughed, I cried, I observed. That’s what makes people go to the movies.”—Rain Man Executive Producer Peter Guber
Pity, Fear, Catharsis (Tip #69) 

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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Write What Hurts

There is a lot of luck to [breaking in], but I also do have to say I wrote a lot. By that time I sold [the screenplay] August Rush I had written 11 feature films—maybe 12. I think you know my philosophy, it’s not write about what you know—it’s write about what you know hurts. Everyone has there little owies from life. Something that’s happened to them—usually it’s from childhood— that has stayed with them, and the writers who are brave enough to go into the belly of the beast of that situation early on don’t have to write the 9,10, or 12 scripts they can actually nail it on the first, second or third time. You don’t have to write about that situation—it’s about writing about that emotion. So what is an emotion that when the wave retracts of something that was horrifying, or embarrassing, or shameful to you that when that wave retracts what are the seashell gems left behind? What is that emotion?”
Screenwriter Paul Castro
Interview with Alex Ferrari on the Indie Film Hustle podcast

Related post: 40 Days of Emotions

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You’ve got to have a story and characters the audience will love. [Oscar-winning screenwriter] Callie Khori invited me to speak to the screenwriter’s guild and she said ‘you make a movie by making the audience love the characters and then you torture them.’”
Dr. Art DeVany (Former UCLA economics professor who created mathematical and statistical models to precisely describe the motion picture market.)
Podcast interview with Tim Ferriss 

Related posts:
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (part 2):
“Baboom! Something comes in and turns your character’s life upside down. The thing that was their grand passion gets taken away from them. Woody gets displaced by Buzz.”—Michael Arndt on Toy Story
The End of the Rope Club (Oscars ’14)

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An Earthquake of Interest

I did a binge watch of The People v. O.J. Simpson over the weekend and finished all ten episodes in three days. It was a remarkably well crafted production of a sad chapter in recent American history. It captivated the country in a pre-internet saturated world, and in terms of celebrity, money, power, injustice, domestic viloence, sexism and racism seems more relevant today than when they happened in 1995. Or at least gives a layer of context of how where we got where we are today.

The multiple Emmy winning TV program which aired on FX last year (and currently available on Netflix) was based on  The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. by Jeffrey Toobin.

One way of looking at the case is that it had everything that obsessed the American people: It had sex; it had race; it had Hollywood; it had sports; and the only eyewitness was a dog. So for the first time in American history, you had this strange convergence of so many factors, each one of which would have made the case interesting, but all of them together created this really earthquake of interest.

“…O.J. Simpson was probably the most famous person ever accused of murder in the United States, so you start with that. Also, you had it in a setting that was really the most glamorous place in the United States — Los Angeles, wealthy people. And then you had the element of mystery. It was not, whatever you think, an open-and-shut case. You had to sort of figure out what happened. And then what really pushed the case into the stratosphere of interest was the Bronco chase, the way he was arrested on national television in the middle of the NBA playoffs, watched by tens of millions of people.

“The case was building as soon as the crime was uncovered, but once the Bronco chase happened, it was just a national obsession. Those of us who were involved kept saying, ‘Well, interest has peaked; it will start to go down now.’ And it never did. Something new always kept coming up that was even more bizarre and fascinating than what had gone forward, until you got to the point of the verdict, when essentially the whole country stopped. Long-distance phone calls dropped during that period. Trading on the stock exchange dropped. Everything simply stopped for the announcement of the verdict, because that’s how much the country was interested.”
Jeffery Toobin
2005 Frontline Interview

 Scott W. Smith

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When I started this blog I didn’t have any long terms plans. I certainly didn’t think that 9 1/2 years later I’d still be writing blog posts. I mentioned in January my plans to end this blog on the 10th anniversary of this blog which is six months from today. That’s still my plan.

I have finished a book version of this blog and hope to have that available before the blog end next January. One friend who read the first draft said that it’s like Tim Ferriss’ book Tools of Titans—except from a screenwriting perspective.  I’ll take that compliment.

The similarities being I’ve pulled hundreds of quotes from some of the most accomplished screenwriters and filmmaker throughout film history and tired to bring them together in a cohesive and inspirational way.

And speaking of inspirational…this morning I did something for the first time, but something I’d been thinking about doing for a couple of years—I  took a few first steps into the world of triathletes. I sprinted/walked one mile, swam 400 yards, and biked 10 miles.

I don’t have any ironman dreams, but I’d like to compete in a sprint triathlon in the next six months.  The sprint triathlon tend to look something like this: swim 500 yards, a 12.5 mile-bike, and a 5k-run. There is a sprint triathlon in nearby Clermont, in the greater Orlando area, this September and that could be my first attempt. (Clermont is home to the National Training Center, where many professional athletes have trained.)

Merely completing a sprint triathlon may not be the most ambitious goal, but for those of you who’ve followed this blog for a few years may recall I went through chemo and radiation treatment for cancer at the end of 2014. So the past 2 1/2 years have been a slow and steady build up to get back to “normal.” 

So between doing a sprint triathlon and finally getting a book out there—the next six months should be interesting. And even as I work on ending this blog, I am working on a new creative educational venture. 

Many thanks to those of who you’ve been along for the journey.

Scott W. Smith 





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