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Archive for November, 2019

“I’m not a movie producer, I’m in the feelings business. . . . I’m captivated by things that move me emotionally, and elevate me emotionally.”
Oscar-winning producer Brian Grazer (A Beautiful Mind)
The Joe Rogan Experience #1370

Related posts:
40 Days of Emotions

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Last year when the first version of The Quiet Place screenplay found its way online it was unorthodox in that Scott Beck and Bryan Woods where on one page they used just one word (SNAP…) among other techniques. (See the post Writing an Unorthodox Script.) Well, this year’s unconventional script (or maybe just unconventional page) goes to The Lighthouse written by Max Eggers with the director of the movie Robert Eggers.

In the last day or two, A/24 made the script available for consideration during award season.

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Scott W. Smith 

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“We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness” 
― Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

“Hello darkness, my old friend…”
—Simon & Garfunkel
The Sounds of Silence (written by Paul Simon and sung by Simon & Garfunkel)

The last two movies I happened to see in theaters were Joker and The Lighthouse. Thankfully, I didn’t see them on the same night. If I had of seen Joker and The Lighthouse back-to-back on the same day I would have gone home and immediately signed up for the newly launched Disney+  and planned to exclusively stream Disney films for the next year.

A Joker/The Lighthouse double feature would have had me rewatching Taxi Driver just for a ray of light. But the truth is both Joker and The Lighthouse are highly crafted films that will find favor at Oscar time. I expect actors Joaquin Phoenix and Willem Dafoe, directors Todd Phillips and Robert Eggers, along with the writing and production design teams to get Oscar-nominations.

But I think The Lighthouse black and white cinematography of Jarin Blaschke is the single most remarkable element of not only those two films, but of any film I’ve seen this year. And I should mention that both Robert Pattinson’s character in The Lighthouse and the Joker himself belong in what I call “The End of the Rope Club.”

“I would never write about someone who was not at the end of his rope.”
—Stanley Elkin

Here’s a little glimpse into how Joker and The Lighthouse were made.

P.S. As of this writing, the screenplay for The Lighthouse is available from A/24 at their “For Your Consideration” page (as well as the screenplays for The Farewell and Waves).

Scott W. Smith 

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If you’re on Twitter, two writer/directors that I’d recommend you follow are Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (A Quiet Place, Haunt) who go by @beckandwoods on Twitter. Here’s an example of one of their tweets.

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“In the beginning, I tried to be a more cosmopolitan writer, but I realized that I was a country boy, and I had to deal with things I knew about and where I came from.”
Ernest Gaines

The odds from the start were greatly against Ernest Gaines becoming the novelist Ernest Gaines. Or the one whose work would one day be turned into a landmark TV movie that would win nine Emmys.

Imagine being born in Oscar, Louisiana during the depression. To poor black parents who were sharecroppers. And at the age six, instead of going to school, you began working in the fields picking cotton, onions, or Irish potatoes for 50 cents a day. As hard as that is to imagine, I’m sure it was a harder life for Gaines to live.

But Gaines, who died yesterday at age 86, had couple of things in his favor—and one important side hustle. His crippled aunt never walked but that didn’t stop her from cooking, cleaning, and being a strong displinarian to a houseful of kids. She was the main inspiration and guiding force in his childhood—all the more important after his parents life him behind after World War II to seek employment in California.

And in a church they used as a schoolroom five months of the year in the off-harvest season, Gaines learned to read and write. That gave him the opportunity to start his side hustle—his first writing gig. He wrote letters for the elderly people at five cents a pop. And because the people wanted him to fill the front and back of the paper, it gave him an opportunity to use some creativity beyond talking about the weather. And a writer was born. (Though he didn’t acknowlege that until many years later.)

At 15, he would join his parents in Vallejo, California just north of San Francisco. His literary world greatly expanded when he went into a library for a first time in his life. He read a wide variety of writers from around the world, and then attended Solano Community College northeast of Vallejo. That led to an opportunity to study at San Francisco State University. Two of his stories were published in the student library magazine and that opened doors for him to study at Stanford University with Wallace Stegner. 

At this point he was a long way from Oscar, Louisiana. But he would return to Oscar frequently for inspiration. He may have written in California, but the subjects were usually the people and the land of the rural South.

Two of his best knows novels are A Lesson Before Dying and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Both were turned into TV movies, but it was Jane Pittman that was a cultural phenomena in 1974— a few years before the miniseries Roots.

It’s the story of one woman’s journey from slavey to the Civil Rights movement. Though I was 12-13 when the movie came out, I remember clearly all the promotional material released about Cicely Tyson playing both the young and 110-year-old Pittman. Her transformation was so well received that she won two Emmys (Actress of the Year and Best Lead in a Drama). In total it won nine Emmys including John Korty’s direction and Tracy Keenan Wynn’s adaption.

My mentor and former professor Annye Refoe took a graduate class where Gaines made an appearance. I asked her what book of his she’d recommend and she said A Gathering of Old Men. That book was also adapted into a TV movie with the same title (by Charles Fuller) starring Louis Gossett Jr, Richard Widmark, and Holly Hunter.

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“Now that I look back on my career for the past forty-some years, I feel that I’m still writing those letters for those old people. Not only for the old, but the young as well. And not only for those I knew as a child, but for those who lived many generations before. They were not given a chance to read and write, and I was. But without their voices, had I not sat on that porch and wrote letters 55 years ago, I’m certain that I would not be sitting here tonight. After all, what else what I had to write about?”
Ernest Gaines
American Academy of Achievement summit  (heard on the What it takes podcast)

Just another example of what can rise up from unlikely places.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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“Often bumpy roads lead to beautiful places. And this is a beautiful place.”
Washington Nationals Manager Dave Martinez

If you like comebacks and reversals then the 2018-2019 Washington Nationals are your team. There aren’t too many people in May 2019 who would have predicted that the Washington Nationals at the end of October would be World Series champs. After all, their record at that point was 19-31 and one predictor gave them a .05% of winning the World Series.  Forget the playoffs, just finishing with a winning record seemed a long shot. A common question debated was when Nationals’ manager Dave Martinez would be fired.

But last Wednesday the Nationals came back in game 7, just like they had all year, to win that game—and their first World Series championship in franchise history. And on Saturday they celebrated with a parade in Washington, D.C.

Since this is a blog with a focus on screenwriting and filmmaking, let me look at the Nationals’ accomplishment from that perspective. As I’ve mentioned before, Martinez and I went to the Lake Howell High School with him beginning to attend the year after I graduated. I was in my first year of college and working for the Sanford Herald and covered some of the games Martinez played.

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Here’s an article published on March 15, 1981 where I wrote “Martinez, a pitcher-left fielder, transferred from New York two weeks ago. [Coach Birto] Benjamin has high hopes for his left-handed junior.”

In a recent interview Benjamin thought Martinez could play college ball and even had  the big league potential, but he never envisioned Martinez would have the wild success he’s had as a coach and manager. Martinez turned down a lowball pro offer to play baseball at what is now Valencia College.

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Dave Martinez at Valencia College in 1982

In 1983 Martinez signed with the Chicago Cubs and played briefly with the Iowa Cubs in the Quad Cites. In 1986, he did something that every Little League player dreams of doing—he was playing baseball in the major leagues.

He had a 15-year career as a player, and that alone is a major accomplishment. In the whole history of Lake Howell only two players have made it to the major leagues. The second being Eddie Taubensee—who I also covered working for the Herald.

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Eddie Taubensee a few years before he was a 6’4″ MLB player

The thing that both Martinez and Taubensee have in common is that long before they were playing Major League Baseball, they were honing their skills in Little League. Martinez in Long Island and Taubensee in Altamonte Springs. I imagine both of them were playing competitive baseball for a 10-12 years before they stepped on a major league field.

They had small victories along the way. Their talent, skill, accomplishments, hard work and potential became to shine over the rest. I don’t think screenwriting and filmmaking is any different. Except screenwriters and filmmakers sometimes think they are going to spring up to the Oscar stage from a dream they had yesterday. (Even Diablo Cody, who is the rare screenwriter who did win an Oscar in her first screenplay—Juno—said that she had been writing poetry and short stories everyday since she was 12. That was a 15+year overnight success.)

I enjoyed my year of working as a sports reporter and photographer. I watched a lot of talented players—none better than Tim Raines who in 2017 was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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In 2009 I compared working screenwriters to NFL player in the post How Much Do Screenwriters Make? that has now been viewed more than 100,000 times. It was a comparison I now here a few times a year, but one I’d never heard or read before. Check it out if you’ve never read it before.

Some closing encouraging advice comes from one of my acting teachers back in the day. He actually used a baseball metaphor to encourage young actors, “Just because you can’t be Babe Ruth, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy playing the game.” You can unpack that in any way you want. But without Little League coaches enjoying the game, Martinez probably wouldn’t have honed his baseball skills at a young age. There’s not going to be another Steven Spielberg, but there are going to be filmmakers creating theatrical and streaming entertainment. And there’s going to be others all around the world that take what they learn and become content creators and making a living with their technical and creative skills.

My biggest dream at 19 years old was to be a photographer some day for Sports Illustrated magazine. But by the time I was 20 I began to tire of doing sports photography. I remember clearly thinking after one year that I didn’t want to be taking pictures of people sliding into home when I was 30-years old. (When you’re 20 you tend to think of 30 as ancient.) But looking back it was a great experience. And Dave Martinez’s success gave me a good excuse to revisit that era of my life. (An era where I didn’t have the benefit of auto focus lens or an auto-winder to take the photos below.)

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Scott W. Smith

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