Archive for December, 2022

Simply Spielberg

“I was skinny and unpopular. I was the weird, skinny kid with acne. I hate to use the word wimp, but I wasn’t in the inner loop. I never felt comfortable with myself, because I was never part of the majority.”
—Steven Spielberg on his youth

Today I did something that I haven’t done since the COVID pandemic first started in early 2020—I went to two movie in one day. Spielberg’s The Fabelmans and Aronofsky’s The Whale. For those keeping score, that’s four and a half hours of watching dysfunctional families in action. But both have plenty of humor, are exceptionally well crafted, and worthy of seeing on the big screen.

It’ll take me a while (years?) to process The Whale, but I can’t imagine Brenden Fraser not getting a lead actor Oscar nomination. And I got a kick out of one of the characters in the movie being from Waterloo, Iowa. (Waterloo is the city next to where I lived in Iowa for a decade, Cedar Falls.) But I was totally swept away by The Fabelmans. To paraphrase what David Mamet once said about plays, The movies are always dying, and always being reborn.

I saw The Fabelmans not far from where I stood in line to see E.T. back in 1982, Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, and where I saw Jaws in 1975. And not far from the home where I was living when I didn’t know who Spielberg was but was riveted by a TV movie titled Dual that featured Dennis Weaver. Spielberg directed it when he was in his early 20s.

Now he’s in his mid-70s giving us a version of his own origin story. I loved every frame of it. He’s made some of the greatest and films of cinema, including the ones previously mentioned as well as Schindler’s List, Empire of the Sun, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jurassic Park, and Saving Private Ryan. From the odd connection file, Saving Private Ryan was inspired by the Five Sullivan Brothers who all died on the same ship during WWII and just happened to be from Waterloo, Iowa.

While I’ve never met Spielberg, I do have a certificate from him for working on a project then called the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation (now the USC Shoah Foundation) that he was the founder and chairman. Back in the ’90s, I was a cameraman in Central Florida for two interviews of Holocaust survivors. One of the most memorable production experiences I’ve ever had.

For anyone who made 8mm and 16mm films back in the day there will be a tinge of nostalgia in watching The Fabelmans. For everyone else there is the joy (and heart break) of the journey of one of the greatest directors to ever made movies. And one heck of a grace note ending featuring David Lynch playing an iconic Hollywood director.

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

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Merry Christmas 2022

This Christmas morning around sunrise I drove to Lake Baldwin located in the Baldwin Park area of Orlando, Florida. It was a nice, peaceful, and cold (for Central Florida—around 30 degrees) way to start the day.

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“Remember, there are no shortcuts son.”
—Hal Holbrook (as Lou Mannheim) in Wall St.

The Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs has been on my wish list of places to stay for more than a couple of decades. I finally got the opportunity to stay one night last at the end of November as my wife and I celebrated another anniversary. It’s a beautiful resort with a long history. One hallway is lined with various celebrities who have stayed there over the years.

One of those was the Tony and Emmy-winner Hal Holbrook. And he’s the oldest person (at 82) to receive an Oscar nomination for his performance in Into the Wild. I first knew of Holbrook back in the ’70s from his role in the hit TV show Barney Miller, but his first credit was way back in 1955. My favorite role of his was in the Oliver Stone directed Wall St. where he knew Charlie Sheen’s character was up to no good. In the video below from the 1987 film, Holbrook (as Lou Mannheim) could easily be talking in 2022 to disgraced crypto entrepreneur Sam Bankman-Fried.

When I lived in LA back in the ’80s I caught Holbrook’s one man play where he performed as Mark Twain. It was in one of those 99-Seat theaters making it an intimate performance to watch. Holbrook was a craftsman. He was born in Cleveland in 1925 to a mother who was a vaudeville dance. According to Wikipedia, he first began develop Mark Twain Tonight! while a student at Dennison College in Ohio. Between 1942 and 1946 he served in the US Army. He worked with a who’s who of Hollywood talent over the years including Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman (All the President’s Men), and Tom Cruise and Sydney Pollack (The Firm).

He died last year and is buried in McLemoresville, Tennessee, alongside his wife, actress Dixie Carter who died in 2010.

Another Ohioan whose photo is on the wall at The Broadmoor is Jonathan Winters. He was born in Dayton, Ohio and got his start as a DJ on WING radio station in Dayton. My aunt and mother worked there at the time. Robin Williams said he wouldn’t of had a career without Winters. Meaning Winters’ zany cast of characters he developed in his comedy and wild improv skills were a great inspiration to Williams. The two would later perform together on about 20 episodes of Mork & Mindy.

The movies Ice Castles (1978) and The Case of the Sinister Spirit (1987) filmed at The Broadmoor. And The Broadmoor is owned by The Anschutz Corporation whose portfolio includes Regal’s 500 movie theaters, and the film investment and distribution company Walden Media.

All that from a glorified pitstop on the road. And regarding that photo above I took of The Broadmoor at dusk, I continue to marvel at the kind of images you can get from an iPhone.

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

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“Beautiful scenery and weather attracted Chicago-based silent-movie producers to Colorado in the early 1900s. The earliest was the Selig Polyscope Company, who made over 50 films in the state.”
Golden History Museum & Park website

Last month I stayed one night in Golden, Colorado and there is one area that this a mini-Monument Valley and made me think they they just had to have shot a few movie there. And they have. Golden actually predates the big move of the film industry from New York and Chicago to Hollywood.

The Bandit King (1907) one of the earliest films shot in Golden.

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

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“I’m 37 years old and I teach rocket science on YouTube. I used to be a professional photographer but since 2017 I’ve been digesting rocket science and making videos about it with the goal of bringing space now to earth for everyday people.”
—YouTuber Tim Dodd (Everyday Astronaut)

When I lived in Cedar Falls, Iowa I knew a talented young photographer named Tim Dodd who I featured on a couple of blog posts in 2012 and 2017. One day he bought a Russian space suit for $600 and started taking photos of himself in the space suit as a personal creative project. I thought it was cool when his space suit photos were featured in BuzzFeed. I thought it was cool when he started the YouTube channel Everyday Astronaut in 2017 and a few years later crossed the 100 million views mark. But he topped all of that a few days ago when he was chosen a crew member of the first civilian mission to the moon as part of dearMoon project.

The project funded by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa will launch from Cape Canaveral in 2023 or 2024. Dodd was chosen with 7 other creatives to part take in the circumlunar art project mission in a SpaceX’s Starship out of 1 million applicants. A YouTuber from Cedar Falls, Iowa—what are the odds? It’s definitely in the spirit of when I started the Screenwriting from Iowa … and Other Unlikely Places almost 15 years ago in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

“Seven years ago I bought a space suit as a joke to take pictures with and now I’m going to be flying around the moon—the story arc is ridiculous. If that can happen to me— you know if you just purse something with your whole heart and all your energy, you never know what can happen.”
—Tim Dodd

Here’s a video where Dodd has a casual conversation about rocket engines with Elon Musk. Just another day for the Everyday Astronaut.

Safe travels Tim Dodd. I hope when you return to earth that you get a tickertape parade down Main St. in Cedar Falls.

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

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“When you make a difference, there’s going to be haters.”
—Deion Sanders, Pro Football Hall of Fame speech

“The Colorado Gold Rush started in 1858 and was the second largest mining excitement in the United States history after the great California Gold Rush a decade earlier.”
Western Mining History website

Now before you think I dropped in the $ in Sanders in the title as a knock on Deion Sanders, know that’s how the man himself signed a mini-Dallas Cowboy helmet for me a few years ago. Last week after finishing the season undefeated as the head coach at Jackson State, Sanders traded his $300,000 yearly salary for a five year contract in the $30 million range at the University of Colorado. Prime Time struck gold in the Rockies the old fashioned way—he earned it. (Some are upset with Sanders because he spoke so much about elevating HBCU football only to leave for a bigger opportunity.)

And it’s not like Sanders needs the money. But he’ll take it and the respect that comes with it. When I pulled up to his home ten years ago for a video shoot, some of the money he made as a phenomenal football player was on full display. The home was the largest home I’ve ever been in before or since and estimated to be around 30,000 square feet. The crew had the photo below taken in his kitchen by one of his sons. It was a fun shoot as he cooked a Prime Burger for the project.

We had a connection back to his Florida days in that the sports reporter Sam Cook who hired me as a 19-year-old photojournalist for the Sanford Herald also covered Sanders’ rise as an all-state football, baseball, and track athlete at North High School in Ft. Myers. Back in 2012 Sanders was coaching a youth or high school team and I asked him how that was going and he laughed and said, “Not well.” Obviously, things are going well for him now.

Will Sanders win at Colorado? In one sense, he’s already won by increasing his annual pay by $4.7 million a year. Will he win a national championship? I wouldn’t bet on that. But this is the man who is the only human being in history to play in both a World Series and a Super Bowl. This is the man who never coached college football before and just finished the best season in Jackson St. football history. So I wouldn’t bet against him either.

What I would bet on is Deion Sanders helping Colorado performs better than they did this season. They were 1-11 and last in their conference. It’s rare that a great player becomes a great coach. (The Iowa wrestling legend Dan Gable is an exception that comes to mind.) But much of college football is about recruiting and that’s another area where Coach Prime shines.

I personally think that Sanders was born to play and coach at the University of Miami, but no one asked me.

But it will be fun to watch the Prime Time Revival Show transform Boulder.

If you’re unfamiliar with his struggles growing up without money, watch this acceptance speech when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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

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Shortly before Thanksgiving I made a stop in Longmont, Colorado which is about a 45 minute drive north of downtown Denver. I’d never been there before, nor had my wife who spent a good deal of her life in Denver. On the Visit Longmont website they call the town “Colorado’s Best Kept Secret.”

I think the town first got on my radar a few years ago from hearing an interview with the author of the Mr. Money Mustache blog. It sounded like an interesting place and so I made it a point to make a stop there while in Colorado briefly. Seems like a nice place to live. Not far from Denver, Boulder, and the Rocky Mountains, yet its own little town. I took the photo below of the Longmont Performing Arts Center on Main St. which was built in 1939 as the The Fox Theatre. The art deco design would fit right in on Miami Beach.

In the 1960 it was renamed the Trojan Theatre and today it has multiple uses including a community theatre and showing classic movies under under the name the New Trojan Movie House & Art Cinema. This month they will run a Christmas Movie Series featuring Scrooge (1935), Die Hard, It’s a Wonderful Life, and White Christmas.

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

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