Archive for August, 2017

“I’ve never viewed myself as particularly talented. I’ve viewed myself as…slightly  above average in talent…Where I excel is with (a) ridiculous, sickening work ethic. While the other guy’s sleeping, I’m working. While the other guy’s eating, I’m working.”
Two time Oscar-nominated actor Will Smith (and 4-time Grammy winner)
60 Minutes Interview

Related posts:
Bob DeRosa’s “Shortcuts”
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously)—John Logan
Perseverance and Persistence
How to Become a Successful Screenwriter —Michael Arndt
Stephen J. Cannell’s Work Ethic

Scott W. Smith

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“Alfred Hitchcock, the undisputed master of suspense drama once said, ‘There is no terror in a bang only in the anticipation of it.’  Anticipation is one of the  most important emotions scriptwriters can feel as they look forward to something that will happen in the future, whether it’s positive, like winning  a big prize, or negative, like facing off against a superior opponent. Without this forward momentum, the story will drag and fail to hold the readers interest.”
Karl Iglesias
Creative Screenwriting
September/October 2009
The Power of Anticipation, page 48

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“I wanted to make a skyrocket big enough that I could shoot the damn thing in the air and they could see me in Los Angeles. So that’s what I did.”
Austin-based filmmaker Tobe Hooper on making The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Tobe Hooper made documentaries and commercials in Texas before making a hippy/psychedelic feature film called Eggshells in 1969. When only a few people outside of students at the University of Texas in Austin saw the movie, Hooper put aside his European art house film sensitivities and made this to turn heads—

It worked. He went on to direct Lifeforce in 1985 (which is said to be a favorite of Quentin Tarantino) and Poltergeist (which was produced by Steven Spielberg).  The line from Poltergeist “They’re here” was a “Show me the money”-type line that became was often quoted throughout the 80s.

P.S. Eggshells has been called “the first feature shot in Austin” and I don’t know if that’s true, but Hooper has to be considered a founding member of what’s turned Austin into one of the great film communities in the world.

H/T Brad Apling for sending me some Tobe Hooper links that give me a track to run on.

Scott W. Smith

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Today is the first day of school at Valencia College and the film production, sound technology, and digital arts students will be walking into the newly opened School of Arts & Entertainment for the first time for classes.

I took a tour of the impressive facilities on Thursday and thought I post a few photos so give you a glimpse of what’s going on in the world outside of Los Angeles. The Valencia film program traditionally trains below the line talent and the various students over the past 20+ years have worked on 47 feature films as part of their education.

(And read my 2015 post The Perfect Ending that shows the connection between Valencia College, The Blair Witch Project, and Game of Thrones.)






One of only three Dolby Atmos theaters in Orlando

One oIMG_0950


Scott W. Smith

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From Houston to Hollywood (2.0)

(Note: In light of the recent destructive flooding along the Texas Gulf Coast in the Hurricane Harvey aftermath, I wanted to re-post a Houston-centric post from last year as a way of showing that I’m at least thinking and praying for the residents of East Texas. “This could go down as the worst flood disaster in U.S. history.”—Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd/New York Times.)

John wanted to be a screenwriter. He was born to public school teachers in Longview, Texas and raised in Texas City, Texas. Eventually he earned an English degree from Baylor in Waco. Then after graduating from law school he became a lawyer in Houston.

What are the odds of John making it as a Hollywood screenwriter?

[Dramatic pause]

The odds are against him, right? Well, if you’ve seen The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks, The Rookie, or A Perfect World then you’ve seen movies where John from Texas (John Lee Hancock) is credited as writer and/or director.

In an interview with Craig Mazin on Scriptnotes, Episode 27 John unpacked how he made the initial transition from a lawyer/actor in Houston to Hollywood writer/director:

“I really fell in love with movies. Not when I was a kid, but when I was in college and I would go to movies a lot. And so I started thinking hard about kind of movie stories, and how they looked on the page, and — this was back in the days before you could walk into a bookstore and get, like, 17,000 books on how to write a screenplay.They didn’t exist. I mean, and you were lucky, you could — there was no online at that time.”

Hancock just turned 60-years-old so I’m guessing this was the late 70s or early 80s. Not only before the internet, but possibly even before Syd Fields’ book Screenwriting: The Foundations of Screenwriting was originally published in 1979.

So he found a place in the San Fernando Valley (probably Burbank) where he could order a few scripts. After learning the format of a screenplay he wrote his first script on the side while practicing law.

But even before tackling a feature script Hancock was studying acting with a teacher who had been a working actor in Los Angeles. It was there where he first started writing monologues and short scenes. Writing that provided “instant gratification.” (A similar experience that Tarantino had in acting classes. Read the post ‘The way I write’—Tarantino)

Hancock said that first feature script (“a story about a guy in his 20s in Houston, Texas who’s angst-ridden and doesn’t know what to do with his life”) was awful. But that “awful” script changed his life.

He sent it to the newly formed Sundance Institute that was doing a workshop in Austin with John Sayles and Bill Wittliff and others and Hancock thought that would be a great opportunity because he’d “never even met anybody who writes screenplays.” (To keep this in perspective he was probably in his mid-twenties at this time.)

“And I signed up, and it also had a thing that said you could — they were going to select, I think, eight screenwriters to go through an intensive four-day worship with Frank Daniel (who had been the head of Columbia Film School and USC).”

I don’t recall if Hancock says on that interview how he started to get traction and work in L.A. (or when he moved there), but that initial thrust began like many others—a desire to write, then writing a screenplay and sending it to some people, and that writing getting him some recognition and eventually leading to his becoming a working Hollywood screenwriting.

Hancock’s experiece in Houston is an echo of what Diablo Cody did in Minneapolis a decade ago and served as the inspiration for starting this blog. (Read the post Juno Has Another Baby). He may not happen everyday, but it happens.

P.S. Keep in mind that Hancock made that transition began over 30 years ago. If he were a lawyer in Houston today he might connect with some filmmakers in Austin, write something that gets on The Black List, or perhaps fund his own low-budget filmmaking. He would find a different path because times and opportunites change.

Related post:
The 99% Focus Rule (via screenwriter Michael Arndt)
Start Small…But Start Somewhere
Starting Small
Different Drummer from Linden, Texas
Screenwriting from Texas

Scott W. Smith

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When the Travel Channel listed the top ten bridges in the world it put the Sunshine Skyway Bridge at #3. (The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco was #1, and the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge in Japan was #2.)  At just over 4 miles long the Sunshine Skyway Bridge connects St. Petersburg and Terra Ceia.

The bridge was featured in the The Punisher (2004).

I took the still photo above just before I drove over the bridge on Monday. It made me think of the bridge it replaced after a tanker hit it in 1980. That accident resulted in 35 people plunging to their death as cars and a bus fell into Tampa Bay. The St. Petersburg Times ran a super article by Jean Heller on the 20th anniversary of accident— The Day the Skyway Fell. 


Scott W. Smith

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”I grew up an hour south of Tampa in a small town called Venice, which is mostly a retirement community. My parents are chiropractors and a pretty loving, normal family. I mean, you know, I hated my childhood but it was perfectly safe and privilege.”
Moonlight producer Adele Romanski
Meet the Moonlight producers who Meet in College by Carl Swanson


Here’s a quirky little photo of a seahorse (and a horse and monkey) that I took earlier in the week on during a quick trip to Sarasota, Florida. I believe it’s part of the Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy.  It was early in the morning when I took this photo and everything was closed, but I was able to get this photo from the sidewalk at it faces the major road into town. (And the museum’s website says they are closed for the summer.)

Sarasota is a city steeped in the arts. It’s home to the Ringling College of Art and Design, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, a few art museums and galleries, and The Circus Arts Conservatory.

The Florida State University/ Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training is also located in Sarasota. So there are some things happening on the West Coast…of Florida. And perhaps that foundation in the arts is part of the reason that two from the area where recently recognized  by the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Science.

Adele Romanski won an Best Picture Oscar this year as one of the producers of Moonlight. She went to Pine View School (a public school for gifted students)  in Sarasota County, which has been ranked as one of the top schools in the nation.

Visual effects artist Steven Rosenbluth (Iron Man 2, Avatar) graduated from New College of Florida in Sarasota and earlier this year won a Scientific and Engineering Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his motion system used on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. 

And since we’re talking about Sarasota and quirky—and movies—I guess I should mention that Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens) attended Sarasota High School where he was named president of the National Thespian Society. And he also did local theater in Sarasota and his road to to making Pee- wee’s Big Adventure. (See the post Your ‘Big But’ and New Year Dreams.) 

Here’s the trailer for Pee-wee’s Big Holiday on Netflix last year.

Scott W. Smith

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I took this photo Sunday night in Sarasota, Florida at St. Armands Circle. It’s a beautiful place by itself, but the rainbow made it extra special. Straight out of the iPhone 7plus—just had to be at the right place at the right time.


Scott W. Smith

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The tourist traps are empty
Vacancy abounds
Almost like it used to be
Before the circus came to town
When the Coast is Clear
Lyrics by Jimmy Buffett and Mac McAnally

Siesta Key

Earlier this year Siesta Beach on Siesta Key in Florida was listed as the top beach in the United States by Trip Advisor. I hadn’t been to Siesta Key in over a decade so I took some time Monday to stop by and took the above shot with my iPhone. I’m drawn to simplicity, so while I know that sky begs an inspirational graphic—like “Keep Writing”— I think I’ll post this photo as is.

Clean and simple. (But do keep writing.)

P.S. And if you’re down today and need some inspiration, do you know what you have to do? “Just keep swimming.”

Scott W. Smith

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“I had seen a partial eclipse in 1970. A partial eclipse is very interesting. It bears almost no relation to a total eclipse. Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him, or as flying in an airplane does to falling out of an airplane.”
Annie Dillard
In her essay Total Eclipse written after she saw the total eclipse in 1979

St. Petersburg, Florida averages 248 sunny days a year and August 21, 2017 was one of those days. A total solar eclipse would have been spectacular, but Florida isn’t scheduled to see a full solar eclipse until August 24, 2045. 

I was on the University of South Florida—St. Petersburg campus yesterday during the partial eclipse and took the photo below of student Antonio Permuy who was wearing his David Bowie shirt as a nod to the 1979 eclipse—the last total eclipse seen in the contiguous United States.


Another photo I took yesterday was of a statue of Christopher Columbus at St. Armands Circle in Sarasota, Florida. Columbus pulled off one of the greatest eclipse ruses back in 1503. In fact, it may have saved his life.

After some ship and provision problems, and a mutiny of his men, Columbus used his almanac to trick the locals in what is now Jamaica into thinking that he (or his god) could bring about a lunar eclipse.

When the moon disappeared briefly and appeared, let’s just say that the tension between his men and the islanders went away and they made sure Columbus and his men were taken care of until repairs could be made and other provisions arrived. At least, that’s the way I heard it.


Scott W. Smith

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