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Archive for June, 2020

[M]ost of the characters I’ve known as a writer have traveled something of a path from darkness to lightness. Those are the characters that I love: those who seek some kind of enlightenment or betterment, a nobler sense of themselves. Those are the characters I tend to write. It’s a recurring theme in my work. I love that.

I want more movies showing us the potential of ourselves. People seeking what Abraham Lincoln called ‘the better angels of our nature,’ rather than necessarily being mired in all the ways in which we can fail— spiritually or emotionally. I want to see more movies about working through those pitfalls and coming to a better place.

Hey, I just described Frank Capra, didn’t I? [Laughs] That’s another thing I’ve always admired so much about Steven Spielberg’s work, and George Lucas’s work.

Not to say that there isn’t room in this world for nihilism, but we seem to be nihilistic at the exclusion of all else in our movies of late. And that’s very disheartening to me.”
—Writer/directorFrank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption)
Creative Screenwriting magazine
“Frank Darabont on The Green Mile” by Daniel Argent and Erik Bauer

 

 

 

 

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“Blue Mind, a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment.”
—Wallace J. Nichols
Blue Mind, Chapter 1 “Why Do We Love Water So Much?’

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While walking through the Minneapolis airport about 10 years ago I saw a Hobie Mirage Adventure Island in all its glory. The Adventure Island is kind of a cross between a traditional kayak and a Hobie Catamaran. A boat in an airport—with a big colorful sail— is impossible to not notice. And it looked like a lot of fun. I filed it away as something I’d like to try someday.

Four years ago I did a demo of a Hobie Revolution, which is like the Adventure Island without the outrigger setup on each side of the kayak. Fully decked out, you can either paddle, peddle or sail the boat. It was alway on my wish list if I ever had some extra time to justify the expense.

Then a few months ago, along came the coronavirus. Thankfully I’m able to edit from home when not doing an occasional video shoot. With my normal two hours of commuting each day gone, my gym closed, and the bike trails overly crowded, I decided it was now or never on getting a Hobie kayak.

For the past three months I’ve averaged taking it out on a lake four days a week for 60-90 minutes each time. Usually around sunrise. It’s been a blast ten years in the making. I’m sure my aging car is thinking we’re heading for a divorce. (My once weekly gas station pitstops have been reduced to just two stops in the last four months.) But from a physical, mental, spiritual, and aesthetic perspective this new venture has fulfilled my expectations.

This honeymoon period won’t last. (The old saying is, “The two best days of a man’s life are when he buys a boat—and when he sells it.” Though perhaps more true of motorized boats.) But it appears I’ll be working remotely through the end of the year, so I’m looking forward to seeing a few more sunrises and sunsets on the water before the music stops.

And who knows, maybe a personal project will come from my photos and footage on the lake. Keep looking for the silver lining in this unusual time. Here are some samples of my new favorite way to practice socially distancing :

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Scott W. Smith 

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I took this photo around 6:45AM yesterday just about 15 minutes after sunrise. A massive dust storm off the coast off Africa—nicknamed “Godzilla”—made its way across the Atlantic to Florida this week causing unusually hazy conditions.

The Spanish moss hanging from trees is not only common in central Florida where I took this photo, but throughout the south.

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P.S. I heard on the BBC this morning that India on top of having a Coronavirus outbreak is dealing with the largest swarms of locusts than they’ve experienced in 30 years dangering the food supply and economy in some regions. What else can 2020 bring?

Scott W. Smith

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“I was going into hiatus on Rawhide, a three month layoff, and they said, well, we got this western we want to make in Europe. Italian company. Made in Spain. German co-production. About a $200,000 budget. And I said, I don’t think so. I‘d really rather take the time off. I got a job and I’m coming back to a job in a few months. And the guy said, well, I promised the Rome office that you‘d read it. I read it and recognized it right away as Yojimbo. So I thought, Yojimbo I thought it was great. I loved that movie. It was a conscious adaptation of Yojimbo. Though the Italians neglected to tell the Japanese they were doing this.”
Clint Eastwood
Inside the Actors Studio interview with James Lipton

A Fistful of Dollars(1964)
Written by Adriano Bolzoni, Mark Lowell, Victor Addres Catena, Jamie Comas Gil, Sergio Leone

Yojimbo (1961)
Written by Akiri Kurosawa and Ryûzô Kikushima

Scott W. Smith

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“Originality is just undetected plagiarism.”
—Anonymous
(Some version of this quote is attributed to William Ralph Inge, Mark Twain, Herbert Paul, Paul Chatfield, Katharine Fullerton Gerould, and others.)

“I steal from every single movie ever made. I love it—if my work has anything it’s that I’m taking this from this and that from that and mixing them together….I steal from everything. Great artists steal, they don’t do homages.”
Two-time Oscar wining screenwriter Quentin Tarantino
Empire, November 1994

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The Adrenaline shot scene from Pulp Fiction is one of the most iconic scenes in the history of cinema.

Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary won an Oscar for the screenplay of the 1994 film, and it catapulted Tarantino to international fame as a writer/director. Film critic Roger Ebert remembers that when Tarantino went to the Cannes for Reservoir Dogs he was just glad to be there, but said of Tarantino when he went back with Pulp Fiction that ” the whole top floor of the Carlton has been roped off for him.”

And in his 1994 review of Pulp Fiction Ebert wrote that it “situations are inventive and original” and pointed out the scene where John Travolta and John Stolz argue over who is going to plunge the adrenaline-filled syringe into Uma Thurman’s heart: “YOU brought her here, YOU stick in the needle! When I bring an O.D. to YOUR house, I’LL stick in the needle!”

I don’t know who first detected the origin of that scene, but I just discovered it last week when I stumbled on the 1978 documentary American Boy: A Profile of – Steven Prince directed by Martin Scorsese. The Criterion Channel profile of Steven Prince calls him a “former drug addict, road manager for Neil Diamond, and actor who played the gun salesman in Taxi Driver. Here’s one of the many unusual situations he recounted:

“I managed to get a lot of medical supplies, medical equipment that you didn’t normally have. Like we had oxygen. We had an electronic stethoscope that gave you a tape readout so you could tell how many heartbeats. We had Adrenaline shots . . . the kind of shots to bring you through when you OD. And this girl once OD’d on us. And she was out, man. And it was myself and her boyfriend. And her heartbeat was dropping down. And we got everything out, oxygen, and nothing was working. And he looks at me and says, well, you’re gonna have to give he an Adrenalin shot. And I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ I said, ‘You give it to her’ and he said, ‘I can‘t. It’s like a doctor working on someone in his own family.’ I said, ‘That’s bullshit, you’ve known her fucking two days.’ . . .  And he said, ‘No, I can’t do it.’ So we had the medical dictionary—you know how you give an Adrenaline shot? Okay, the Adrenalin needle’s about that big, and you’ve got to give it into the heart. And you have to put it in in a stabbing motion, and then plunge down on the thing. I got a Magic Marker, make a Magic Marker where her heart was, measured down, like, two to three ribs and measured in between there and I just went [motions stabbing the syringe down and injecting the Adrenaline] and she came back like that [snaps fingers].”
—Steven Prince

Might that look something like this?:

I wondered if someone had done a mashup of Steven Prince’s story and the Pulp Fiction scene—and the answer is, of course. (Found the video below on an 2017 IndieWire article by Jude Dry. Can’t believe it took me 26 years to hear that story.)

P.S. “We found adrenaline does not increase your chances of surviving without severe brain damage. In fact, of the survivors, twice as many have severe brain damage.”
— Dr. Gavin Perkins, professor of critical care medicine at the University of Warwick Medical School in England. Source 2018 WebMD article. 

Related post:
Stealing for Screenwriters (According to Paul Schrader) 
Stealing from Shakespeare 

Scott W. Smith 

 

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Director Joel Schumacher died a couple of days ago and while he’s known for many films (St.  Elmo’s Fire, The Client, A Time to Kill, Phone Booth, Batman Forever, Phone Booth) the first film of his that came to find when I heard he passed was Falling Down.

Written by Ebbe Roe Smith and starring Michael Douglas as a Los Angeles man who comes unhinged has stayed with me since I first saw it in theaters 17 years ago. Here are three scenes from that movie that are prime example of a character with ”a crisis lurking inside” and a member of the “end of the rope club.”

The release of the film was just a year after the 1992 LA Riots and I don’t recall its cynicism being embraced by critics. But in some ways the 1993 film represents—metaphorically or literally— the first six months 2020. A lot of angst in the air.

(Movies that make an impact are centered around a character during the best or worst days of their lives. These three clips could be summarized in the post CONFLICT—CONFLICT—CONFLICT.)

Scott W. Smith

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“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
—Martin Luther King
(Rephrasing a 1853 sermon by abolitionist minister Theodore Parker.)

Over the weekend I saw the screenwriter Paul Schrader posted on his YouTube page this interview with Marlon Brando and Johnny Carson from May, 5, 1968. Except that these two entertainment icons are long gone, the content feels like it could have been recorded yesterday—rather than just a month after Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed.

P.S. And interesting side note  is Marlon Brando was born in 1924 in Omaha, Nebraska and  Johnny Carson was born in Iowa in 1925 and as a youth moved to Norfolk, Nebraska as a youth (about 2 hours northwest of Omaha).  Toss in actor Montgomery Cliff (born in Omaha in 1920), and investor Warren Buffett (born in Omaha in 1930) and you have quite a few of accomplished people coming from one area somewhat around the same time.

Scott W. Smith 

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“We have to be on the outside so we can see things other people can’t see and tell those stories. Don’t follow. Set trends. Lead us. Tell your stories or help others to tell theirs in your ways. A culture needs its creative people to tell its story, to reflect itself, and to reflect what’s happening to us. To give us perspectives and images about who we are and where we’re going and where we might go. And without those reflections, without those stories, a culture dies. Or at least it gets shallow and meaningless and starts remaking movies from ten years ago because they’re too frightened to make anything original.”
–Screenwriter Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King, Freedom Writers)
2011 Emerson College Commencement Address

Scott W. Smith

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“A good character always has a crisis lurking inside them like a ticking time bomb. Once I’d decided who the characters would be in Little Miss Sunshine, it was just a matter of figuring out when those crises would happen. You also want those crises to happen in ascending order of importance. It all fell together pretty easily in the outlining process. The only really noteworthy choice I made, I’d say, was to kill off Grandpa at the midpoint, rather than hold off until the end of the second act. I hate seeing characters die in the late second act or early third act—it’s just such a clichéd time for a character to die. There’s a lot more shock value in a midpoint death, because audiences aren’t used to losing a major character that early in a movie.”
Screenwriter Michael Arndt
Little Miss Sunshine
MovieMaker interview with Jennifer M. Wood
February 3, 2007

Classic character from The Shining with a “crisis lurking inside ”:

 

 

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“The question is ‘How do you meet an agent?’ or get your script to an agent—It’s a mystery to me. Everyone sort of is able to find a different path, and usually it just comes to referrals. You can submit your script to contests, blah, blah, blah crap like that. For the real top-tier agents they just don’t care about contests or anything like that. I would recommend just working in the industry. Just by virtue of working in the industry you make contacts with people. If you keep talking to people you’ll find a way to get your script on the right desk. I was a [script] reader and I read at least a thousand scripts, and I’d say that out of those thousand scripts maybe twenty got made into movies, and maybe three or four were good movies. So it’s much easier to get your script read and it’s much easier even to get your script made into a movie then it is to write a really good script. So I would say 99% of your effort should go to writing a good script.  And my story is a testament to that. I spent a whole year—10 years—teaching myself how to write. It went to one [agent’s] desk basically and once it hit that desk though it was like the doors were flying open. They were going to send it to Spielberg, and to Robert Zemeckis, and Steven Soderbergh—once they find something they think they can do something with it’ll just go straight up. So as a writer you can only control what’s on the page. You can’t control what happens to your script after it gets out the door, so just try and focus on making the script as good as possible.”
Screenwriter Michael Arndt  (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3)
2007 talk at Cody’s Books

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