Archive for February, 2018

As an independent-film producer and an avid fan of ambitious and diverse work in all forms— and as a citizen of the world— I am always excited to keep up with the changing times. But nothing has prepared me for the onslaught of the last few years. 

…The Internet has transformed the business of the arts and how we connect with each other, well beyond our imagination. If Hollywood suits and corporate media higher-ups once determined the majority of our choices (simply by limiting them), we— the audience— are now the curators and the programmers, recommending films and other cultural pleasures to our friends, exchanging playlists, and sharing our opinions on social networks. We can now reach out online and mobilize others to vote both with their feet and their dollars, to act not on impulse, but on the knowledge and experience that comes with a highly connected, digital universe.

…Low-cost digital cameras as well as distribution avenues like YouTube and iTunes are available to nearly everyone, and you can be exposed to the history of cinema or music or just about any art form at any time you want— all for free, or virtually so. So why aren’t we making better creative work? And why can’t we come up with better ways to support the work and help it progress? We can. And by doing it together, we can build it better. With fewer barriers, fewer rules, and fewer conventions, filmmakers— and creators of all sorts— are freer to focus on developing new art forms, expanding beyond current modes, and discovering new ways of accessing and sharing content. We are on the verge of opening up which stories can be told, how they are told, and to whom and where we deliver them. Our ability to interact with films in different environments and in new social multi-user ways keeps changing. Cinema is not a single form or experience, but almost as varied as the artists who create it.

…Independence is the only choice when you’re not necessarily interested in a mass audience, and for the first time ever, we can effectively work outside that structure and specifically address the niches. We are right around the corner of an incredible blossoming of a new and vibrant cinema.
Film producer Ted Hope (in 2014) shortly before becoming the head of Motion Picture Production at Amazon
Hope for Film: From the Frontline of the Independent Cinema Revolutions (pp. 22-24).

Related posts:

In light of today’s post it was fun to revisit two posts that I wrote ten years ago. I was writing in 2008 about a shift in the kinds of ways filmmakers were making films—including SMS Sugarman (2008) by South African filmmaker Aryan Kaganof.

New Cinema Screenwriting (Part 1)
New Cinema Screenwriting (Part 2) 
Cocaine Cowboys & the Future of Film (A post I wrote in November 2009 after watching my first film online.)

Scott W. Smith

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This morning I started reading Ted Hope’s book Hope for Film: From the Frontline of the Independent Cinema Revolutions.  I’ll pull some excerpts from it this week. One of Hope’s first credits was as an associate producer on Doom Asylum (1987)—a film that he actually left off his resume for years, but one where he learned valuable lessons.

The film used many techniques that my directors and I applied to many of our first passion projects and still use today: Find a core location that could serve as a base for the entire story and production; write scenes for different times of day, so that the sun is your main lighting instrument; cast friends and acquaintances who want to be there as much as you; and make sure that people enjoyed being there despite horrible conditions. Doom Asylum was an exercise in how to get a movie made with as little available as possible. If I ran a film school, I would require the students to make a feature film for just a thousand dollars. They’d learn tricks that they could apply for the rest of their lives, no matter how poorly the movie turned out.”
Ted Hope
Hope for Film, page 15


Related posts:

Coppola & Corman: “Of all films I ever directed, the one that survived the longest as a genuine ‘cult classic’ is the one I did the fastest and the cheapest. It only took two days on a leftover soundstage to shoot the principal photography for The Little Shop of Horrors.”—Roger Corman
The 10 Film Commandments of Edward Burns
How to Shoot a Feature Film in 10 Days
Don’t Wait for Hollywood
‘Don’t try and compete with Hollywood’

Scott W. Smith

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When I make my new film, I’m not just competing against Poultrygeist. I’m not just competing against the new Mel Gibson movie. I’m competing against the whole history of cinema. You sit here in your home and say, ‘Well, next on my Netflix queue I have this Kurosawa film, this Fritz Lang film, the fourth season of South Park , and I have Slither by James Gunn.’ I have all these things I want to watch. I’m competing against the history of cinema. So why are you going to watch my movie tonight instead of those? I need to give you the access. I have to give you the ramp trail to get you to the wheel and make you content to keep running around. Okay, so that’s not the best metaphor…

As a new filmmaker, you have to recognize, that’s your job. You have to build the ramp to get us to watch the movie. You have to get us to say, ‘Kurosawa may be one of the greatest filmmakers ever, but tonight I’m going to watch Joe Blow’s $20,000 debut film.’ And that can happen; you can win that nightly battle.
Longtime indie producer Ted Hope (and now head of production at Amazon Studios) in 2010 
Sell Your own Damn Movie! by Lloyd Kaufman with Sara Antill
(via Masteringfilm.com)

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“I’m incredibly excited about the future at Amazon Studios. In the studio’s relatively short existence they have innovated, disrupted, and created characters that are already an indelible part of pop-culture. I am both honored and emboldened by the opportunity to lead this extraordinary business. Of course, this is also bittersweet for me. NBC has been an amazing home – creatively, professionally and personally – and I leave there knowing that the work we did had groundbreaking impact. It’s an exciting time to be a content creator, and I look forward to being on the front lines of an innovative business with storytelling at its heart.”
Jennifer Salke, Head of Amazon Studios (and former NBC Entertainment president)
Tracking Board 

This is pulled directly from the Amazon Studios website:

  • Submit Your Series Idea

    Amazon Studios is producing Emmy Award-winning television series. We’re looking for smart, cinematic drama series; bold, original comedy series; and innovative, educational series for kids.

    Now, anyone (including WGA members) is welcome to submit their work with no strings attached. Learn more about our Submission policy here.




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“In ‘Amazing Grace,’ that line —  ‘that saved a wretch like me ’— isn’t that something we could all say if we were honest enough?”
Bob Dylan
Interview with Robert Love

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Back in 1989 I had Forrest Gump moment in Hollywood.  I was eating at a Hamburger Hamlet on Hollywood Blvd. when I saw a crowd gathering across the street and it would be the first and only time I ever saw someone getting a Hollywood star. No, it wasn’t Tom Hanks— or any movie/TV star, but the evangelist Billy Graham. It was surreal.

Somewhere in a box I have a photo of that moment. And that distant memory came to my mind yesterday when I learned that Graham died at age 99.

“I feel somewhat out of place because I’m not sure that a clergyman belongs here.”
Billy Graham on getting a star on Hollywood Blvd.
(His star is between right between actress Judy Holliday and Italian opera singer Beniamino Gigli.)

But Graham was involved in radio, television, and film on an international level so it wasn’t so odd that he ended up with a star on Hollywood Blvd. When I lived in Burbank and was just a couple years out of film school I met a guy who worked on the film side with Graham and he gave me a tour of the World Wide Pictures studios (a division of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Assn. ) in Burbank just a few blocks from Warner Bros. Studios. (And just down the road from Universal Studios.)

According to the Los Angeles Times the World Wide Pictures studio closed in 1988. Their first produced film played at a theater on Hollywood Blvd. and some of the best known films from the World Wide Pictures library are Joni (the story of a diving accident that left Joni Eareckson Tada paralyzed) and The Hiding Place (about Corrie ten Boom’s family hiding Jewish people fleeing the Holocaust).

Along the way a list of Hollywood actors had rolls in various World Wide Pictures including Jennifer O’Neill, Ken Howard, Pat Hingle, Jill Ireland, Dabney Coleman, and Julie Harris. Ken Wales, who was one of the producers of Amazing Grace (2006), also had a hand producing and acting for World Wide Pictures.

It’s also a little surreal to find a Rolling Stone article yesterday that touched on the friendship between Billy Graham and Johnny Cash.

The Sacramento Bee reported that when actor Steve McQueen died he was “clutching a Bible – one given to him by Billy Graham.” Elvis, President Jimmy Carter, and Martin Luther King Jr, all had positive connections with Graham.

“When I was growing up, Billy Graham was very popular. He was the greatest preacher and evangelist of my time — that guy could save souls and did. I went to two or three of his rallies in the ’50s or ’60s. This guy was like rock ’n’ roll personified — volatile, explosive. He had the hair, the tone, the elocution — when he spoke, he brought the storm down. Clouds parted. Souls got saved, sometimes 30- or 40,000 of them. If you ever went to a Billy Graham rally back then, you were changed forever. There’s never been a preacher like him. He could fill football stadiums before anybody.”
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan: The Uncut Interview with Robert Love

I went to the final Bruce Springsteen Born in the USA concert in 1985 at the L.A. Coliseum—greatest concert I ever saw. Largest crowd I ever saw, too. If I recall correctly there were 100,000 people there that night. But that’s not the attendance record there. That belong to a 1963 Billy Graham crusade with 134,254 in the stadium. (And a reported 20,000 more outside.)

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Before Graham filled stadiums he spoke in revival tents including a eight week period in downtown Los Angeles in 1949. That event was covered in the recent L.A. Times article Billy Graham: Made in L.A. (While talking about sin in the shadow of Hollywood might seem 1940ish to some, in light of Harvey Weinstein, sexual assault/harassment in the current headlines, and the #MeToo movement it seems rather timeless and appropriate.)

One of the people who attended the ’49 crusade was POW survivor Louis Zamerini. A USA Today article recounts how Zamerini learned about forgiveness from Graham. Zamerini’s story become the Laura Hillenbrand book Unbroken; A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Then the Angelina Jolie directed movie Unbroken. 

My story is not as dramatic as Zamerini’s, but out of curiosity I went to hear Billy Graham speak at Anaheim Stadium in 1985. I was living with a woman at the time and, like a lot of 24 year olds, my life was messy and complicated. Billy Graham had his critics, but I’m not one of them. You can put me in the company of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Steve McQueen, Obama, Zamerini and millions of others who respected the man.

When I look at that photo of the crowd at L.A. Coliseum, and I think back to hearing Graham at Anaheim Stadium in ’85, and reflect on life and death the word surreal keeps coming to mind.

You want something else a little surreal? Here’s a 1969 interview of Billy Graham with Woody Allen.

P.S. I hear there’s only one Hamburger Hamlet left these days (in Sherman Oaks) but they were once  sprinkled throughout Los Angeles. This is from an blog called Old Los Angeles Restaurants:

The Hamlet was the invention of a Hollywood costumer named Marilyn Lewis and her husband, Harry.  Harry was an actor, perhaps best remembered for his role in the Humphrey Bogart film, Key Largo.  The way the story goes, they opened the first one with all their savings — about $3,000 or $3,500 depending on which account you read. That opening was just before Halloween of 1950 and when they were about to open the doors, they discovered they couldn’t cook. The gas hadn’t been turned on and they were so tapped out that they couldn’t afford to pay the deposit and couldn’t afford to not open on schedule. Marilyn got in touch with a gas man and struck an under-the-table bargain: If he’d come over and turn them on anyway, he could eat there for free as long as they were in business. He did both these things. The original idea was to open an actors’ hangout but the place quickly caught on with folks of all different vocations and other outlets quickly followed.

Scott W. Smith

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”It’s sad, this is my last downhill, I wish I could keep going. I have so much fun, I love what I do…but my body can’t take another four years.”
Downhill racer Lindsey Vonn

Last night I caught Lindsey Vonn’s final downhill run at the Winter Olympics in South Korea. It was great to see her end with a Bronze medal it what is most likely her last Olympics. At 33 she is already the oldest female Alpine skier to ever medal at the winter games. She’d won a gold medal at the 2010 Olympics and then missed the 2014 Olympics because of various injuries.

Here’s a video of one of Vonn’s worst accidents. I never get tired of sports stories of athletes overcoming the odds (and often crushing injuries) to bounce back and accomplish great things in their sport.

And speaking of downhill skiing, here’s a trailer from Downhill Racer starring Robert Redford from a script by James Salter. (The 1969 film is part of The Criterion Collection.)

P.S. Back in ’87 when I was a 16mm camera operator and editor I shot a downhill skiing event in Aspen, Colorado. I think it was my first real gig after graduating from film school. Love that sport.


Scott W. Smith

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”I was going to make [This Is Us] as a movie. It had been a 70 page script. Or it was up to page 80, actually. And I had seven or eight different storylines of a bunch of different people all turning 36 on the same day. And the reveal at the end was they were a set of octuplets born on the same day in 1978. It didn’t feel like a movie. I loved the characters, and I liked the writing. But I was like, ’I don’t know how to end it, it doesn’t feel right.’ And I put it away for a while. And then I decided to turn it into a TV series. Were it came from is I was just—I didn’t think about it, I just started writing…Writing is a business [in Los Angeles], so much of it is based off of ‘What’s the concept?’—‘What type of genre stuff is working?—‘What’s selling in TV?’ and ‘What specs are selling in film?’ With a few exceptions when I was younger, I’ve always just written everything. The reason I’ve gotten stuff made is I write everything. I write on spec.”
Writer/ director Dan Fogelman (Tangled, Cars, This Is Us)
3rd & Fairfax: The WGA Podcast, Episode 47

P.S. “I just started writing” also sums up how Dan Fogelman launched his career. After studying a couple years at the University of Pennsylvania, he graduated from Oxford in England where he studied Victorian novels and “watched Dumb and Dumber 400 times.” Because a college roommate had a girlfriend living in Los Angles he went to live with her family for four months while he searched for his first job. He ended up working on “Howie Mandel’s short-lived day time talk show” which he calls “the best job I’ve ever had.” Working on what he called the outer edges of the entertainment industry, he decided to write a screenplay.

He’d never even seen a screenplay and bought a book on what a screenplay looked like and Final Draft software. He said,  “I wrote a Wonder Years-style screenplay—I wrote it in like a week—about my bar mitzvah.” A friend from college was working as an assistant for a management company. His friend thought the Wonder Years-like screenplay was good and took it to his work where the script resonated with Eryn Brown and she started showing it around. And the short story is his screenplay got attention and work, and before you know it he was working on Cars with Pixar. Simple, right? Eryn Brown is still Fogelman’s manager and now a partner with Management 360.

So if you’re looking for a screenwriting anomalies you can put Dan Fogelman on the same shelf as Diablo Cody. Screenwriters who got work/traction with their very first screenplay. It may not happen much, but it does happen. Just start writing. (If that doesn’t work, try watching Dumb and Dumber 400 times.)

Related post:
Film vs. TV Writing (10 Differences)

Scott W. Smith

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Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Genesis 4:9

Writer/director Ryan Coogler is having quite a run these days. He followed Fruitville Station and Creed with Black Panther. While all three have had critical acclaim, Black Panther‘s global box office launch has made $400 million plus coming out of the gate.  (Over $200 million of that coming from the U.S. over the last few days.)

“The theme of the film is, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ Each character has a different answer to that question and only one changes his answer…My favorite action movies have themes that are deep, that you can chew on. And that what was what we were trying to do, to make a movie that functions the way it was supposed to but has some depth to it.”
Ryan Coogler on Black Panther
Interview with Nell Minow

Related posts:

Writing from Theme
More Thoughts on Theme
Scott Frank on Theme
Kelly Marcel on Theme

Scott W. Smith


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“I have a whole bunch of little life hacks to break through whatever it is blocking me [from writing]. A bunch of little writing exercises…Write the absolute worst version of the scene. Just get it out of your system. Be as horrible as possible. It shuts up the voice in the head saying, ‘This isn’t any good.’ Good it shouldn’t be.”
Screenwriter Eric Heisserer (Arrival)
Basic Brainheart podcast interview with Hannah Camacho



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”I don’t particularly like [the writing process], but I don’t dislike it either. I can tell you that I’ve come to a somber acceptance that…my tastes as a consumer of movies and TV exceeds my talents, so all I can do is try my best to close that gap and to get as best a version of what it is in my head on the page.”
Screenwriter Eric Heisserer (Arrival)
Basic Brainheart podcast interview with Hannah Camacho


Related posts:
The 99% Focus Rule
Art is Work
Screenwriters Work Ethic

Scott W. Smith


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