Archive for February, 2022

We all know that it’s conflict really that makes drama happen. It’s not just a slice of life that you’re doing.”
—India-born writer/director Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay!, Monsoon Wedding)
MasterClass, Lecture 3

Salaam Bombay!

It’s possible that I’ve written more about the importance of conflict in drama more than any other subject. It’s why I chose the first chapter of my book to be on conflict. Here are a handful of posts over the years that unpack that some more if you want to do a deep dive.


The Key is Conflict (movies, TV, Docs, Podcasts, Etc.)

Protagonist = Struggle

Neil Simon on Conflict

Screenwriting’s One Unbreakable Rule

Conflict is at the root of everything from Shakespeare to Hamilton to Looney Tunes:

”Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”
From Henry the IV

”There’s trouble in the air, you can smell it.”
Say No to This (from Hamilton) written by Lin-Manuel Miranda

“I like to swing upon my perch and sing a little song,
But there’s a cat that’s after me and won’t leave me alone.”
—Tweety Bird

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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Back in 1985, I was a year out of film school and had worked my way up from a freelance photographer to being the Director of Photography for Yary Photo. It was a still photography gig mostly centered around taking team photos of sports teams throughout Southern California. My last post was on taking the 1985 Los Angeles Rams team photo, but there was another pro team we shot that year—the L.A. Raiders. I didn’t take the photo below, but was part of the Yary photo team that helped setup the shot.

There were many challenges to shooting this kind of photo. You don’t get to pick the ideal time to shoot the photo. You have limited options to work with lighting and backgrounds—because you are on their practice field in El Segundo. You’re working with both white and black jerseys and shirts, and light and dark skin tones of players and coaches which are exposure and dynamic range challenges. And you have a limited time to setup and shoot the photo, because this was taken right before practice. And Photoshop wouldn’t be developed for another two years.

So all in all I think this photo holds up pretty well over the years. Perhaps the thing that bothers me most is he heavy fill flash shadows falling in some of the coaches. But this was shot in the days before digital cameras (with an Mamyia RZ 67) and Norman strobes. I guess taking Polaroids could have heaped tweak things, but there wasn’t time to take Polaroids and make little tweaks. (I once watched an advertising photographer spend over four hours lighting a marine depth finder for a brochure cover. This was not that kind of shoot.)

But forget the nitpicking that photographers love to do. This was a great life experience. I was 24-year-old and hanging out with some legendary pro football players. Many of these players were on the Raiders team that won Super Bowl XVIII in January 1984. Some of these players were even on the Oakland Raiders that won Super Bowls in 1977 and 1981. Players I remembered watching play on TV when I was in high school. Some of legendary players in that photo are Marcus Allen (32), Lyle Alzado (77), Jim Plunkett (16), Howie Long (75), Mike Haynes (22), Cliff Branch (21), Lester Hayes (37), and Ray Guy (8).

There are interesting stories buried in that photo. One of them is the head coach of the ’85 Raiders was Tom Flores (in the center in the third row from the bottom). He was not only the first person to win Super Bowls as a player and as a head coach, but he was the first Latino head coach to win a Super Bowl. When the 84-year-old Flores was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year, the son of migrant workers in Central California referenced that he said to assistant coach Sam Boghosian after his first Super Bowl win, “Sam, not bad at all for a couple of grape pickers.”

Art Shell (who is also in the Pro Football Hall of Fame) was an assistant coach on the ’85 Raiders after his playing days were on and before be would become a head coach.

One of the non-player/non-coach related stories is one of the Yary photographers on that shoot was Robert Galbraith. (Pictured below l in shorts talking to QB Rusty Hilger #12 in an old photo I found during the COVID pandemic.) Galbraith had been a photojournalist in West Virginia and I was blown away by his portfolio. And I learned a lot from him. He had headed west to see where his skills would take him in Los Angeles. The next year he did some freelance work with AP before becoming an AP staff photographer. He later became a staff photographer with Reuters in San Francisco. Over his career he covered Barry Bonds and Tiger Woods in their prime, the America’s Cup, and several Super Bowls. Back in 2016, Insider named one of his photos taken on assignment after Hurricane Katrina on their list of “62 of the most powerful Reuters photographs ever taken.”

Galbraith spent a over a month in Florida this past December and January working on a book project of photographs in the style of the classic Robert Frank book The Americans. I was able to meet him for a couple of hours in Mt. Dora, Florida and hear about some of his adventures in the last 30 years. He’s been posting his travel photos on Facebook and Instagram (@rindeaux) and it really is remarkable work. He’s still in the game—and performing at a high level. Here are a handful of my recent favorites he’s allowed me to publish here. (All taken with his Leica camera and a 50mm lens.)

At the end of meeting Galbraith last month, I pulled out my Nikon and tried to capture a photo of a man whose eyes have seen a few things, and packed in a few miles, since leaving Wheeling, West Virginia many images ago.

Photographer Robert Galbraith in Mt. Dora, Florida

P.S. Sometime around when I was in film school, I made the the trek from Burbank to Hollywood via Barham Rd. one day and saw what is still my all time favorite billboard. A graphic image of L.A. Raider Lester Hayes in his crouched position as defensive back. Just one striking image. I had no clue what the billboard was even advertising when I first drove by it. Later, I saw the Nike swoosh in the corner. It was boldness and subtlety at the same time.

Related post:
‘Straight Outta Compton’ (Wearing Silver & Black)

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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“Welcome to the land of stories. Welcome to the Super Bowl.”
Halle Berry during the NBC intro of Super Bowl LVI

On the heels of Super Bowl LVI two days ago and Valentine’s Day yesterday, I thought I’d write about my love affair with football over the years—and my oh-so-loose connection to Super Bowl greatness. (But closer than six degrees.)

Congrats to the LA Rams for winning the Super Bowl. Every Super Bowl is filled with interesting storylines, and this one was no different. Matt Stafford endured 12 seasons playing for the Detroit Lions (with more losses than wins) on his was to lead the Rams to a 12-5 record this season and a Super Bowl win. There was Odell Beckham Jr. who had a bumpy start this season with the Cleveland Browns only to score the first TD for the Rams. And there’s Cooper Kupp who was not highly recruited out of high school and ended up playing for Eastern Washington University. Yet season all he did was lead the NFL in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown catches, plus score the winning Super Bowl TD—and win the Super Bowl MVP.

As I watched the pregame shows, the game, and the commercials, I couldn’t help but reflect on the storylines that had touchpoints to my own life. I’ll start with the Los Angeles Rams team. When I was in film school, I started doing freelance work for Yary Photo and worked my way up to a staff position as Director of Photography. In 1985 I had the honor of taking the Rams team photo (with a small team helping set up bleachers and arrange the team).

Two years later I working as a 16mm cameraman I shot an interview with future Hall of Fame and then Rams running back Eric Dickerson (#29) at his home in Calabasas, and he signed the photo. This year he was featured in the Super Bowl commercial Eric Dickerson Runs to Super Bowl LVI.

Also in that Rams team photo is Chuck Scott (#48) who I played on the same team at Lake Howell High School. He went on to be a Sporting News All American at Vanderbilt and got drafted in the second round by the Rams. I took the opportunity to have my photo taken with Chuck after taking the team photo. He was the 50th overall pick in the 1985 NFL draft —the 16th draft pick was Jerry Rice.

I traded the Mamiya RZ67 I was using for Chuck’s Rams helmet (just for the photo). That would be the closest I’d ever get to putting on a professional uniform. But here we are in the photo below as wide receivers back in high school, #40 & #42 (because of Paul Warfield). Our head coach in the white shirt was Sammy Weir, voted a Little All-American at Arkansas St. He played a couple years in the pros including one with the 1966 New York Jets, whose QB was Joe Namath. Super Bowl III MVP Namath was featured in the DraftKings commercial during the Super Bowl, had a cameo with Halle Berry in the open, and was referred to a couple of times in comparisons with Cincinnati QB Joe Burrow.

But wait, there’s more…

While my playing days didn’t extend as far as those of Jerry Rice, Chuck Scott, or Sammy Weir, I did manage to earn All-Conference and All-County honors my senior year of high school. Got to experience those “Friday Night Lights” in all its glory. (And speaking of Friday Night Lights, FNL actor Scott Porter also played wide receiver at Lake Howell High school many years later.) I was also honorable mention All-Central Florida the year Wilber Marshall (Astronaut High School in Titusville, FL) was a first team select. He went on to be a first-team All-American at the University of Florida and a two time Super Bowl champ — including the 1985 Chicago Bears, one of the best teams in the history of the NFL.

At 5’8” 150 (and without exceptional grades) I didn’t get any scholarship offers, so I did the logical thing (?) and walked on to the University of Miami football team. Dream big. I had grown an inch and added ten pounds, but no one would confuse me with Duane “The Rock” Johnson —who would play at UM 1989-1992. The Rock mixed his muscular build, pro wrestling persona, and Hollywood acting skills to give a Super Bowl introduction Sunday unlike any I’d ever seen before.

I often joke that I had the shortest career of any Miami player ever to put on a Hurricane uniform. I dressed out for just one JV game before dislocating my shoulder in practice. But that short time gave me four more Super Bowl connections. The head coach that year was Howard Schnellenberger who recruited and coached Joe Namath at Alabama, and was an assistant coach on the 1972 undefeated Miami Dolphins that won Super Bowl VII. The starting QB at Miami was Jim Kelley, who led the Buffalo Bills to four straight Super Bowls. And when you’re a walk-on, you play on the scout team running plays of the opposing team that week against the starting defense. That means I was running plays against Fred Marion and Ronnie Lippett, who both started all games as defensive backs for the 1985 New England Patriots—including Super Bowl XX.

Even the team doctor for the Hurricanes when I was there had a Super Bowl connection. Before Dr. Kalbac popped my shoulder back in place, he was the team doctor also for the ’72 Super Bowl-winning Miami Dolphins. I had my shoulder operated on which ended my season and I chose not to return in the spring. Walk-on, walk-off. I actually made my first film that fall semester with my left arm in a sling and holding an 8mm camera with my right arm. My playing days were over, and I decided to focus on learning and working in production.

I spent a few months working as a sports reporter and photographer for the Sanford Herald and interviewed quarterback Doug Williams who was then playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He and some other Bucs players had an off-season basketball team. A few years later, he would become the MVP of Super Bowl XXI after leading the Washington Redskins to win over John Elway and the Denver Broncos.

In 1982 I moved to LA to finish film school and used my sports background to land the photography gig at Yary Photography. Most of my assignments were high school and college teams, but we did shoot the Rams and Los Angeles Raiders photos. I didn’t shoot the Raiders shot, but that’s me with the hat helping setup.

In that photo is the great running back Marcus Allen (#32)— MVP of Super Bowl XVIII. Allen was also featured in NBC’s introduction of the Super Bowl Sunday.

Back in 2001 a client hired me to shoot a promotional video with Hall of Fame great Reggie White in Tampa. Known as the Minister of Defense, he helped the Green Bay Packer win Super Bowl XXXI. Ten years ago, I had a client send to shoots at the homes of Tony Siragusa (who played helped the Baltimore Ravens win Super Bowl XXXV) and Deion Sanders (who played on two Super Bowl-winning teams (Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers). Another client sent me to Charlotte, North Carolina to shoot an interview with former NFL QB Frank Reich. Reich not played in a of couple Super Bowls, was the offensive coordinator for the Super Bowl LII winning Philadelphia Eagles. Reich is now the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. (And to show what a small world this is—Reich once threw a touchdown to Chuck Scott in a college All-Star game.)

And to finally round out this post, one of the announcers of this Super Bowl—Chris Collinsworth—was someone I followed from his high school playing days. I was a freshman in high school when Collinsworth was an All-American quarterback at Titusville Astronaut High, and would go on to be a first team All-American wide receiver at the University of Florida. He would go on the become an All-Pro receiver with the Cincinnati Bengals, where he played his last game in Super Bowl XXIII. But as solid a career as he had as a player, he’s surpassed that as a sportscaster, winning 16 Sports Emmy Awards.

When I worked for Yary Photo it was co-owned by Ron and Wayne Yary. Ron was on the 1967 USC football team that won the National Championship, and went on to play in four Super Bowls with the Minnesota Vikings. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.

One of the fringe benefits of working for Yary Photography is I traveled throughout Southern California on a daily basis and saw the vast cultural mix that would be hard to do today because of the intense traffic. I could be doing photo shoots in San Clemente one day, Big Bear the next. Followed by Compton, Brentwood, Burbank, Riverside and Antelope Valley. I have very fond memories.

One of my best memories of shooting for Yary Photo was driving up to San Luis Obispo to shoot the John Madden Celebrity Golf Tournament. I can’t even remember all the NFL stars that were there that day. (I sadly didn’t keep a photo.) But I did grab a shot of Madden with Jim McMahon (fresh off leading his team to victory in Super Bowl XX). NBC did a fine job of remembering Madden, who died last December. His love for the game was infectious, and he was one of the greatest all-around contributors to the rise in popularity of NFL football.

Looking back on all of this I feel somewhat like Forrest Gump and Kevin Bacon. And as much as I love football—and loved playing organized ball for ten years— I’m glad my limited skills prevented me from playing before I took too many hits to the head. I’m grateful that my knees are good enough to still snow ski. It can be a brutal sport. On and off the field as various documentaries have shown the relational, professional, physical, and financial strains, many pro players face once their playing days are over. Hopefully. changes they’ve made over the years make it a safer game in the long run.

Some of my earliest memories of pro football were watching QB Roman Gabriel throw the ball to Jack Snow. There was something about that blue and white Los Angeles Rams helmet design that drew me in and made me fall in love with the game. My first self-taught acting lessons in my youth were spent trying to mimic the feats of Paul Warfield, Bob Hayes, and Lynn Swann. And the 1971 ABC movie Brian’s Song cemented my love for the game and the power of filmmaking.

But as thrilling as some of the Super Bowls have been, and my occasional brushes with players at the top of the talent pyramid, what made me fall in love with the game in third grade was the pebbled feel of a leather football. The feeling I got catching a football and running past other players to score a touchdown. Football can be complex and a big business, but it can also be simplistic and pure joy.

When it big business and pure joy come together it looks like Aaron Donald at the end of Super Bowl LVI.

Related posts:
Screenwriting & the Super Bowl

Real-Life Super Bowl Follows Hollywood Script

Madden Football, Diablo Cody, and the 1985 Chicago ’Super Bowl Shuffle’ Bears

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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“Since those days chucking candy in the grocery store in Cedar Falls, Kurt Warner has been an inspiration.”
Sean Gregory
Time magazine

This week they announced the nominations for this year’s Oscar Awards. But I missed this blog’s anniversary last month, so let me backtrack before I write any posts about the Oscars.

Back on January 22, 2008 I wrote my first blog post for what I thought might last a year. But here we are 14 years later and I’m still at it. It took a lot longer to turn it into a book than I thought it would—but Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles finally came out in 2020. Still working on getting a podcast and YouTube channel going, but some things take time. But it’s been an interesting and enjoyable journey.

And since the LA Rams will be playing in the Super Bowl in three days, it’s time I finally give former Rams quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner an assist on my starting this blog. Warner’s Cinderella story has been condensed to the catchy phrase “From Supermarket to the Super Bowl,” because his road between college football and NFL greatness was a stop stocking shelves at a grocery store.

That grocery store was in Cedar Falls, Iowa—the same town I started the blog Screenwriting from Iowa… and Other Unlikely Places. In fact, the Cedar Falls house I was living in at the time was just a few miles from the Hy-Vee store where Warner worked. Just as unlikely it was that screenwriter Diablo Cody would emerge as a Oscar winner (Juno) just a few years out from going to college in Iowa City (maybe 30 minutes from Warner’s hometown of Cedar Rapids), is Warner becoming an NFL’s MVP and two time Super Bowl MVP. Those two are key to me starting this blog.

Warner went from being a backup for the Saint Louis Rams at the start of the 1999 season to being the ringleader of what was called “The Greatest Show on Turf.” Like many others I was captivated by his somewhat zero to hero story. (Technically he was a great high school player and Gateway Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year in college.) I knew well Warner’s story of playing football in Cedar Falls at the University of Northern Iowa and of stocking shelves at Hy-Vee. He put Ceder Falls in the map for me. Unusual circumstances took me to Cedar Falls so in 2004 (for what I thought would be a brief stop), and I ended up being there 10 years.

I later learned that author Nancy Price wrote the novel Sleeping with the Enemy in Cedar Falls, and Robert Waller wrote The Bridges of Madison Country also in Cedar Falls. Both of those became very popular movies starring Julia Roberts, Clint Eastwood, and Meryl Streep. So from my perspective, starting a blog on screenwriting there in 2008 didn’t seem that outrageous. When this blog won a regional Emmy in Minneapolis later that year I was pretty stoked. But part of me also felt like I had that Cedar Falls wind at my back. So thanks to Kurt Warner for planting that first seed over 20 years ago.

Back in 2010, I wrote the post Kurt Warner … What a Story about what an amazing personal story he had. I always thought it could make a super movie, but I also knew the challenge was how do you tell his story in 90-120 minutes? Do you cover his high school years? Warner sitting on the bench for 4 years in college waiting for his shot? His time at Hy-Vee? Playing arena football in Des Moines? Playing football in Europe? The two Super Bowls he played for the Rams and the one later in his career playing for the Arizona Cardinals? His philanthropic and charitable work after his playing days were over?

Back in 2008, I heard novelist John Irving (The World According to Garp) speak at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop—see the post John Irving, Iowa & Writing. Afterwords I told him I heard he was working on bringing a screen version of Olympic Gold medallist and legendary Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable’s story to the big screen. He said movies don’t do a great job covering multiple decades of the same person. Tom Cruise today could play the older coach version of Gable (and since Cruise was a high school wrestler and fan of Gable’s that would be perfect). But Cruise today wouldn’t be believable as the high school/college/Olympic-era Dan Gable. Those challenges play a part of why Gable’s story has never been turned into a movie. Perhaps as Cruise can produce a limited streaming series on Gable and make that somehow work.

But how would you compress 30+ years of Kurt Warner’s life into one movie?

Well, what screenwriters David Aaron Cohen and Jon Erwin did was make it a love story. A love story about football and a love story about a woman. Ripped right out of the playbook of Jerry Maguire (with a little faith in God tossed in). The script was based upon the book All Things are Possible that Warner wrote with Michael Silver and became the movie American Underdog currently in theaters and available online. I saw the movie in January and really enjoyed it. The movie stars Zachary Levi and Anna Paquin and was directed by Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin. The film covers his last year of college, his time stocking shelves, playing arena football, and winning his first Super Bowl—about 7 years of his life.

In the trailer the football footage oddly looks like it was shot video game style, but in the movie it really works because it matches the style of the Arena Football League when Warner played for the Iowa Barnstormers. (Man, I loved those Barnstormer helmets.) The movie is one of the top ten movies at the box office so far in 2022, and has made $25 million since its release Christmas Day 2021.

“This isn’t how I had it planned. I didn’t want to work in a grocery store then go to Amsterdam and play in the Arena League. But as I look back over my life, I realize that I had a lot of maturing to do. I had a lot of growing in my faith.”
—Kurt Warner

I think the tag at the end of the film states something like Warner being the only undrafted player in the NFL who has gone on to become a Super Bowl MVP. It is the epitome of an underdog story. A real life Frank Capra-like story.

P.S. The one disappointment I had with the film is they shot most of it in Oklahoma (probably for tax credits). I would have loved to seen parts of it shot in Iowa—particularly at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI). Warner played his games in the dome there so it was a little disconnect for me to see UNI home games in the movie being played in an outside stadium. But the filmmakers did what they had to do to finally bring this story to the big screen—and shoot the film during a dang global pandemic.

Related Post:
Why Do We Love Underdog Stories? (This is actually what I wrote 12 years ago at the end of that post: “The University of Northern Iowa is where Kurt Warner played college football before he became one of the greatest underdog stories in contemporary sports history.”

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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