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Archive for December, 2019

“The task of the successful writer is to lower the bar. You want to avoid areas of high difficulty. So a high difficulty task is having your story in your head before you write it. That’s too hard to do! You got to be really smart to do that. I’m not smart enough, so why would I put myself in that position? Just start writing and then work it out. You can always rewrite it, you can change it. That’s the great luxury of being a writer. We’re not surgeons. The world does not hold us to our first pass.”
—Author Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point)
MasterClass, “Drafts and Revisions”

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Merry Christmas (2019)

My wife is a pianist and I took this photo during the candlelight portion of a Christmas Eve service she was a part of last night. It’s one of my favorite traditions of the whole year.

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This month I started listening to the new nine-part podcast Dolly Parton’s America produced by Shima Oliaee and hosted by Jad Abumrad. Christmas Eve seems like as fitting a time as ever to post my first ever Dolly Parton video on this 11 year old blog.

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“Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art you must master the craft. If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. Write the story, learn from it, put it away, write another ”
Ann Patchett
The Getaway Car (found in the book This is the Story of a Happy Marriage)

 

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“Every time I have set out to translate the book (or story, or hopelessly long essay) that exists in such brilliant detail on the big screen of my limbic system onto a piece of paper (which, let’s face it, was once a towering tree crowned with leaves and a home to birds), I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence. Every. Single. Time. Were I smarter, more gifted, I could pin down a closer facsimile of the wonders I see. I believe, more than anything, that this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself.”
International best-selling author Ann Patchett
The Getaway Car (in the collection of essays book This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage)

P.S. Patchett also owns Parnassus Books in Nashville. (Probably not something she imagined would happen when she was in her twenties and working as a waitress and dreaming of being a published writer.)

Scott W. Smith

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“I divide the world into two groups of people. There are those who pay someone to listen to their problems. And there are those who get paid for telling people their problems. I am very fortunate to be in group number two. . . . I can’t wait to hear everything that’s gone wrong in your life.”
David Sedaris
Masterclass, Conclusion: Two Groups of People

Humorist David Sedaris said that he knows there are better storytellers than him, better writers than him, and people who have better speaking voices than him him—but as of this post he’s written ten books that have sold 12 million copies and has made a career out of reading his stories in person and on the radio. (That reminds me of the motivational saying, “Never let what you can’t do prevent you from doing what you can do.”)

Here’s one of his secrets.

“I wrote every day for 15 years before my first book came out.”
David Sedaris

If you want an easier task to follow, read Ann Patchett’s essay The Getaway Car (found in her book This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage) which Sedaris calls “the best essay I’ve ever read about writing” because it reminds him “of the joy of writing.”

“Why is it that we understand playing the cello will require work, but we attribute writing to the magic of inspiration?”
Ann Patchett

P.S. Ann Patchett is a has an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. All roads lead to Iowa.

Scott W. Smith

 

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“You know, when you first start writing you’re going to suck. And so it’s good to keep it to yourself, until maybe you don’t suck as much.”
David Sedaris

The sweet spot for the essays that David Sedaris writes is five pages. The shortest are the two pages he does for CBS Sunday Morning and on the other end of the spectrum he says he “has a 12 page attention span.” Experience tells him that anything longer is hard to read on stage. He spends much time on the rewriting process, and encourages others to do that as well.

“Nine times out of 10, my only comment is you need to rewrite this, ah, 60 times. And most people don’t even want to hear that you need to rewrite it one time. But that’s what writing is—it’s rewriting. And sometimes something’s not worth rewriting. You think, oh, I’m just so bored with this . . . it’s not worth diving back into. And that’s fine because not everything is worth diving back into. But I would say, personally, I probably write something over 12-18 times before I give it to my editor.”
David Sedaris
Masterclass

While you can see doing 12-18 drafts of a short essay, how big of a climb does 60 rewrites seem. And have you ever done 60 drafts of a script you’ve written—or even 12-18. This is what screenwriter John Logan did on rewriting his first screenplay with Oliver Stone:

“We did 26 drafts of Any Given Sunday, one right after another, so I learned everything about the form from him. He was patient. I’d go to his house, he’d say, ‘Pick up that Oscar, hold it, it’ll feel good, you’ll enjoy it.’ And then we’d work. Any Given Sunday, like all these monstrous big movies,  was hard to get made.”
John Logan

And that was after he spent nine months on his own writing more than 20 drafts. Screenwriter Michael Arndt reportedly wrote 100 drafts of Little Miss Sunshine—his sixth script and the first one he sold.

Sometimes it takes a little time. Here’s a closing quote from another rewriter:

“It’s true I rewrite a lot . . . my talent is I just try and try, and try and try again, and little by little it comes to something that I think is okay.”
Francis Ford Coppola

Scott W. Smith

 

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“Notice when you’re talking to people, notice what people laugh at. If you tell a story and somebody laughs, then they sort of ask you some follow-up questions, that’s a pretty good indication that that might be a good thing to write about. Carry a notebook— make note of those times. I do.”
Humorist David Sedaris
Masterclass, “Observing the World”

While I lived in Iowa I got to know former Saturday Night Live writer/cast member Gary Kroegerwho lives there now, and he said that comedian Rodney Dangerfield once told him that three funny things happen to everyone every day, he just writes them down.

Do the Dangerfield math there. If you write down 3 funny things every day for a year (365 days) you’ll have 1,095 funny bits. Even if only 10% have staying power you’ll have over 100 bits to develop further.

And if you want to see how a comedian crafts together five-minutes of original comedy material then check out the documentary Comedian (2002) with Jerry Seinfeld.

Scott W. Smith 

 

 

 

 

 

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“We didn’t do any color filtration….”
Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael on shooting Ford v Ferrari

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Ford v Ferrari: To get that golden look (without filters or visual effects), you have to shoot at the golden (or magic) hour

Avatar and Titanic director James Cameron once said that the problem with filmmaking is there is “never enough time or money.” While I was reading this morning about the making of Ford v Ferrari that Cameron quote popped into my mind.

When I lived in LA in the eighties there was a remote area just outside of the edges of the San Fernando Valley called Agua Dulce.  Because it’s still in LA County (yet very unlike most of LA, movies like Blazing Saddles and 127 Hours were shot there. I did some rock climbing and photography there. Fast forward 30+ years and the surrounding area is no longer remote. That poses some challenges to those wanting to shoot there.

They filmed parts of Ford v Ferrari in what is known as the Antelope Valley at the Agua Dulce Airport near Lancaster/Rosamond/Palmdale, CA. An area now with a population of over 300,000 people.

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“At Agua Dulce, because of noise restrictions, we could only shoot until 10 p.m. — and since it was late summer, we couldn’t start rolling on our night work until 8 p.m.. So each day we’d have a two-hour window to complete our night work.”
Phedon Papamichael
American Cinematographer
“Lap of Honor” by David Hearing
December 2019, pages 40-42

If a $100 million budget has limitations (or $200 million in Avatar‘s case) then the chances are pretty good that you will not have enough time or money on the productions you work on. So what do you do? You embrace your limitations. It’s one of my favorite concepts: Embrace your limitations.

So all those beautiful sunset shots you see in Ford v Ferrari were shot in just two hour chunks.

On the director’s commentary of Rain Man, Barry Levinson talks about how they only had a few hours to shoot the sequence where Tom Cruise teaches Dustin Hoffman how to dance in a high dollar hotel suite overlooking Las Vegas.

The DP for the Levinson directed The Natural (1984) was Caleb Deschanel.  A film that had many exteriors filmed in the early morning or late afternoon hours when the sun is golden.

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Decschanel also shot The Right Stuff which Papamichael said was an inspiration to him on Ford v Ferrari.

Another way of embracing you limitations is to know what you need to sell the shot. Years ago I shot an interview with a surfer in Atlantic Beach, FL. We were shooting an interior shot with the beach in the background. We had an HMI Joker light so we were able to not have the exterior background blowout. But it was a hazy day and small one-foot waves, so it was hard to tell we were at the beach. We embraced our limitations and simply propped up a colorful surfboard outside framing it behind her and it help sell that we were at the beach.

Scott W. Smith 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Following yesterday’s post Writing is Work ..., I thought it would be a good time to revisit a post from 2012. It’s based on the phrase/book Art is Work that I first heard about from artist Gary Kelley when I lived in Iowa:

“If graphic design has a grand master, then Milton Glaser is Michelangelo.”
Chip Kidd Talks With Milton Glaser

“I started out copying Walt Disney, very early, and then invented comic strips.”
Milton Glaser
Author of Art is Work and designer of the “I ‘Heart/Love’ New York”  logo

P.S. As of today Milton Glaser (called “The godfather of modern design”) is not only still alive and kicking at age 90, but I believe still goes to work in his studio in New York City. A book he’s fond of is Rules for Aging by Roger Rosenblatt.

Related posts:

Frank Gehry on Creativity (Second all-time read post on this blog.)
Stephen King’s Double Wide Trailer (Could be subtitled “Writing is Work.”)
Billy Wilder on Writing “(Writing) is blood, sweat, and tears, believe me. ”
Art & Fear
Off-Screen Quote #15 (Edgar Degas)
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (tip #2)

Scott W. Smith

 

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