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“Life is short
Even in its longest days”

—John Mellencamp/Longest Days

Ten year ago I was hired to field produce and shoot a spot with Super Bowl winner and on-air personality Tony Siragusa. When we were setting up in his New Jersey home, he came into the kitchen and joked, “What are all these people doing in my house?” Big personality, very enjoyable to work with, and instantly likable. Last night when I heard that he died at age 55, I thought that though he had a relatively short life, he seemed to have a zeal for life you don’t often see. Along with his Super Bowl XXXV ring with the Baltimore Ravens, he also had on his resume: NFL on Fox reporter, host of the TV show Man Cave (2007-2016), and parts in Spike Lee’s 25th Hour and David Chase’s The Sopranos. 

Enjoy each moment you can.

P.S. On that shoot with me was the talented Sara Kinney (standing to Tony’s left), who is now an LA based cinematographer. She has an MFA from AFI and her credits include The World According to Jeff Goldblum.

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

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”All creative work is mystical.”
—Screenwriter John Milius (Apocalypse Now)

”Our vanity, our self-love, promotes the cult of genius. For if we think of genius as something magical, we are not obliged to compare ourselves lacking.”
—Friedrich Nietzsche
(As quoted in the chapter ”Effort Counts Twice” in the book Grit by Angela Duckworth)

Last night I watched the four part series They Call Me Magic about one of greatest basketball players in NBA history. This was the Magic Johnson quote that jumped out at me about his dedication for the game as a youth and teenager growing up playing pickup games in Lansing, Michigan:

“I played [basketball] in the rain. I played in the snow, it didn’t matter. Sun up to sun down. And then I started playing against older boys, then I started playing against men. . . Nobody outworked me in the neighborhood. I was on the court more than any kid. It wasn’t even close. I wanted it more.”
—Magic Johnson

The reason that quote jumped out as at me is because I’ve been listening to the audio book Grit by Angela Duckworth. Just a few days ago in the chapter titled ”Effort Counts Twice,” Duckworth addressed greatness in Olympic athletes whose talent seem otherworldly. (Think of swimmers Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps.)

She points to an study of competitive swimmers titled “The Mundanity of Excellence,” by sociologist Dan Chambliss who observed;

“Superlative performance is really a confluence of dozens of small skills or activities, each one learned or stumbled upon, which have been carefully drilled into habit and them are fitted together in a synthesized whole. There is nothing extraordinary or superhuman in any one of those actions; one the fact that they are done consistently and correctly, and all together, produces excellence.”

How old do you think Magic Johnson was when he threw his first no-look pass? I’m gusessing pretty young. And before that become one of his trademark plays, I’m sure that small skill was well honed by thousands of passes before he put on a professional uniform.

I was a better than average football and baseball player as a youth, but when I joined my first basketball team when I was 12 I was instantly out of my league with kids who grew up around the game. Magic Johnson was the youngest of nine brothers and sisters, and I wouldn’t be surprised if when he was 12 years old he didn’t already have a decade of experience around the game.

Back to Duckworth’s book:

“With everything perfect,” Nietzsche wrote, “we do not ask how it came to be.” Instead, “we rejoice in the present fact as though it came out of the ground by magic.”

But Magic wasn’t really created from magic. Or fully formed. How did he come to be Magic Johnson? He told us in that first quote. He was created from the mundane task of showing up to play pickup games in the the rain, and snow, sun up to sun down. Determined to win, because winners got to stay on the court. And win he did. Here’s what he accomplished before he turned 21 years old:

Everett High School, State champs & Parade First Team All American (1977)
Michigan State, NCAA champs & All American (1979)
Los Angeles Lakers, NBA Champs & NBA Finals MVP (1980)

Astonishing. And not only that, but Magic changed the game. He lead the team that made the NBA popular. The NBA Finals in 1980 weren’t even broadcast live, but aired on tape delay because CBS didn’t want to spoil the ratings of Duke of Hazards. (In 1980, Dukes of Hazard was the #2 Tv show in the United States with an estimated audience of over 21 million. About twice as many viewers of even the 2021 NBA Finals.)

But Magic and his Lakers teammates “Showtime”style of play throughout the 1980s (along with the Boston Celtics rivialry) made basketball mainstream in the United States in a way it had never been. And paved the way for Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls to take it to even a greater level of global popularity. And if you just saw Jordan in his prime—flying in the air—you’d swear it was a mystical experience. But when you read his story, you know he may have been the most determined person to ever play basketball.

Michael Jordan = Grit. (Of course, in basketball, it also helps if you’re 6’6″ like Jordan, or 6’9″ like Johnson.)

On page 211 of my book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles, I touched on what I called the mystical aspects of creativity. The unexplained aspects. I even quoted Jimmy Buffett who said that even though he wasn’t the greatest singer or guitar player he was able to “capture the magic” in his songs and concerts. But now I’m thinking Buffett was full of grit. Still performing and touring as he approaches 75, he cut his chops playing on the streets of New Orleans and working his way up to clubs, then colleges, then larger concert venues, on his way to playing stadiums.

As I update my book, I’m going to revisit that section. I’m thinking that grit is a cousin of The 10,000 Rule.

P.S. My first paid job when I was in film school in the early ’80s was with Broadcast Equipment Rental Company (BERC) in Hollywood. My primary job was to drive Ikegami cameras to various production companies and TV studios throughout Southern California. I never got to make a delivery to the Forum where the Lakers played, but I know they did sometimes supply cameras to ESPN who covered games. But I did get a glimpse (thanks to a security guard) of the empty stage of The Tonight Show at NBC in Burbank back when Johnny Carson was the host. Here’s a clip of when Magic Johnson was on the show after he won his third NAB championship in 1985.

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


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Until last night, I hadn’t been to Universal Studios Orlando for over a decade. (Dispelling the myth that people who live in the Orlando area spend half their time at the many theme parks.) But I not only went last night, but I got to ride on a Mardi Gras float with a team from Valencia College. I’ve wanted to ride a float since I attended Mardi Gras in New Orleans when I was in college. It was a blast to toss beads out on the eager people below. People now, as they were decades ago, sure like to get those cheap beads thrown their way.

I will say the Orlando version is a much cleaner, safer, less chaotic version of what I saw in New Orleans. (I didn’t see anyone getting arrested at Universal Studios Orlando.)

It was a perfect early evening in Orlando and it was just as much fun as it looks.

I’ll try to track down a photograph from my first trip to New Orleans. But it was a classic college road trip. We left Miami Friday after classes and drove straight through until we arrive at a KOA campground in Slidell, Louisiana I think around 2 AM. We spent the majority of the weekend in New Orleans, before heading back to Miami late Sunday night. I made back in time to make an editing class that night with Ralph Clemente. Ralph couldn’t believe I drove to Mardi Gras in The Big Easy and back over the weekend AND make his class on time. He said he was going to give me an A just for showing up.

Ralph later came up to Orlando to teach some workshops connected to the new studios opening at Universal Studios in what was part of what was marketed as Hollywood East. Ralph helped spin that workshop into the film program at Valencia College where a couple of his students went on to be a part of the Blair Witch Project team. Part of that editing class I had was doing a project with found footage kicking around the film program. Ralph also loved those Bermuda triangle stories popular back in the day—is it true or not? Mix found footage and Bermuda triangle conspiracy theories and it’s not hard to see some of the roots of The Blair Witch Project.

But Ralph’s star student at the University of Miami was David Nutter who’s had an incredible run in Tv directing. Nutter won two Emmys for his work on Game of Thrones. I wrote the post The Perfect Ending after Ralph’s memorial service and Nutter gave him a shoutout when he won his first Emmy on the same night.

P.S. Orlando had a good production run in the ’90s, and “Hollywood East” actually became a realty—in Atlanta.

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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”Storytelling needs a sense of place.”
—Robert Redford

The road to Sundance is difficult. Especially in a two-wheel drive car at wintertime. Because of snow, chains on your tires are often required if you’re not in an all-wheel drive or four wheel drive vehicle.

I’m speaking of the literal road to Sundance, Utah. Of course, the Sundance Film Festival (which starts today) is a difficult place for filmmakers to get their films shown. Because of the high volume of films submitted for relatively few spots, the acceptance rate I’ve read is less than 2%. But we’re going back to the roots today. Long before I started this blog Screenwriting from Iowa …and Other Unlikely Places in 2008, and before what would become known as the Sundance Film Festival, and I think even before there was a place known as Sundance, Utah. Back to the early ’60s when actor/director Robert Redford took a drive into Provo Canyon and up Route 92 toward Mount Timpanogos and ended up buying two acres of land (because that’s all he could afford).

But in 1969, on the success of his roles in Barefoot in the Park and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Redford was able to purchase an additional 500 acres. That is where the Sundance Mountain Resort is located. I’m actually not 100% sure, but I think the seeds of the Sundance Film Festival were birthed at the Sundance Institute started in Sundance in 1981. I think back then, Utah would officially have qualifed as an unlikely place to be a future Mecca for independent filmmakers. This year due to COVID the festival is online (and select theaters around the country), but Park City is normally the main hub for the festival (with many of the films shown in Salt Lake City). Both of those areas are about an hour north of Sundance.

My wife and I were fortunate enough to make a stop at the Sundance Resort in December. I took the photos on this post and soaked in what drew Redford to the area. I’ve been a fan of Redford’s since I was ten years old and saw a re-release of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in theaters. “Think you used enough dynamite there Butch?” In high school I did a report on old west ghost towns and remember reading a book by Redford called The Outlaw Trail. For a kid growing up in a cement block home in the suburbs of Orlando, that old west stuff was (and still is) fascinating.

I always thought of the Old West as places like Colorado, Wyoming and Montana—but Utah is where many of the great old westerns were shot including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Stagecoach. The book When Hollywood Came to Utah by James D’Arc covers that history well. After I graduated from film school back in the ’80s one of my stops was the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City. It only took me a few more decades to make it up the road to Sundance. Hope I can make it in person to the Sundance Film Festival one of these days. But, hey, this is a reminder that there are all kinds of things happening in unlikely places.

P.S. Even if you can’t make it Utah—and even if you don’t have a car—there are online ways for you to learn from the Sundance Institute through their Sundance co//ab website where you can pay for classes and even watch some free videos on the filmmaking process.

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

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Back in 1984, after graduating from film school in Los Angeles, I decided to finally take the solo cross-country trip I always wanted to take. While working as a freelance assistant photographer in school, another assistant told me that if I didn’t do it after I graduated I’d probably never do it. It was great advice because life (and bills) have a way of quickly altering your life.

So I put my stuff from my Burbank studio apartment into a small storage unit in June knowing I had some freelance photography opportunities to come back at the end of August. It was a wonderful trip that took me to the east coast and back over a six week period. One of the great stops was in Ketchum, Idaho. I remember looking up at the Sun Valley ski area and saying that someday I wanted to return and ski the area that was a favorite of Hollywood elite going back to the 1930s.

Keep in mind this was 1984. That some day finally happened on the last day of 2021. That’s 37 years in the making. I was only able to get a half-day in skiing, but it was a glorious blue ski day after a light snowfall the night before. On the first ski lift I met a man in his forties who been coming to Sun Valley every year since he was five because his family had a home there. I was content to get in basically 24-hours total in Ketchum/Sun Valley.

My wife was able to see the New Year’s eve fireworks from our hotel room, but I was fast sleep after my few hours on Bald Mountain and a trout dinner at The Sawtooth Club where Hemingway used to hangout in his later years. On New Year’s Day, we had breakfast at Gretchen’s at the Sun Valley Resort and walked around a bit to get a teaspoon taste of the world that’s attracted John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Demi Moore, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Lucille Ball, and many others over the years.

The bottom line is some hopes and dreams take a little longer than others to fulfill.

Happy New Year.

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

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This Thursday is Thanksgiving here in the States and while giving thanks is always a good idea any time of the year, this week seems to bring it to the forefront for many people. This morning after a video shoot a co-worker dropped by the studio and brought her cool new iPhone 13 Pro Max.

I’m still rocking a prehistoric 7+ iPhone so I was thrilled to check out the new camera. I love the new wide angle feature. So I took a few photos of her and she took a couple of me. So thanks McKenzie for the photo.

Photo by McKenzie Lakey

When I was 21 or 22, and still in film school, I was first paid to work in a studio. Even though back then I was just a part-time freelance second assistant to a fashion photographer in L.A., it was like being given the portal to a secret world.

Art’s studio was just outside downtown L.A. between Silver Lake and Chinatown. Back then it wasn’t the safest part of town, which explained why Art had two Doberman Pinschers to keep his live-in studio and Alfa Romero in check. When Art answered the phone he simply said, “Studio.” It was the epitome of cool. And one of the great things about being an assistant is you get to learn a lot just by observing.

Over the years I been in many big and small studios and still find them magical. I’m thankful that through this pandemic (almost two years now) I’ve had a studio to work in and the flexibility to edit at home when things were shut down. I know many people have had their lives turned upside down during this time.

I mentioned a while back my brother-in-law was in the hospital with COVID. Unfortunately, he died from it and there was a graveside service last week and a get together with friends and family afterwards. There was much to be thankful for as memories were shared, and just that it was beautiful blue sky day. My sister said she was aiming that it being a meaningful day and was grateful that was accomplished. It is an act of grace to be able to experience gratitude in the face of loss.

I could write and never stop if wrote down all the things that I’m thankful for just this year. But let me just point you to a movie that is my go to favorite Thanksgiving movie—Pieces of April. I’ve written about that 2003 film staring Katie Holmes many times on this blog, but I think it’s been a few years so let me beat that drum again.

Pieces of April was written and directed by Peter Hedges who was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, so its fitting to treasure that film on this blog. It’s the story of a young lady who is living in NYC and decides to cook Thanksgiving dinner for her estranged family because she’s trying to make amends to her mother who has cancer.

Katie’s character finds her oven isn’t working and things go south from there. Even though it was made for only $200,000 it features an incredible cast and holds up well today because of the performances. And from a screenwriting perspective, it is a wonderful example of conflict/goals/stakes/urgency. And it packs in humor and emotion as well. Check it out and have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Update Thursday 11.25.21

Happy Thanksgiving. Because today is also our wedding anniversary, my wife and I went to St. Augustine to celebrate and see the Nights of Lights holiday display. The historic part of St. Augustine is a visual feast 24/7. But this morning on a narrow side street off the beaten path I was able to capture a not so touristy photo.

Related Pieces of April posts (a deep dive about that film):
Pieces of April (Part 1)
Pieces of April (Part 2) 
Pieces of April (Part 3) 
Pieces of April (Part 4) 
Pieces of April (Part 5)
Pieces of April (Part 6) 
Pieces of April (Part 7)

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

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“When I was a boy, there was but one permanent ambition among my comrades in our village on the west bank of the Mississippi River. That was, to be a steamboatman.”
Life on the Mississippi written by Mark Twain

Many years ago I read where a National Geographic photographer said some of his best shots were from returning to the same location at not only different times of the day, but different times of the year. Then I learned that bigger movies and commercials had location scouts whose main job is to find great locations for various productions. Reading all the searching that the producers of Cast Away did to find the island for Tom Hanks to be stranded on is how you capture the magic.

When I was a teenager and just learning photography I went to Lake Monroe in Sanford, Florida to take some pictures. I was hoping to take photos of sailboats but instead found some people doing hang gliding. Sanford is flatland country so the hang glider would stand on the edge of the shore and his hang glider was connected to a boat by rope. The boat would speed away and eventually pull the hang glider into the sky.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, after a few successful launches I was situated behind a hang glider who for whatever reason did a face first nose dive into the sand. Broken nose, blood, people crying—the whole deal. I was shocked, but got off a few shots. Not sure where they are now, but it was my “Welcome to photojournalism” moment. An editor for the Sanford Herald inquired about using some photos and a couple years later I become a photojournalist with the Sanford Herald at 19.

I was at the right place at the right time.

Fast forward a few decades and on Saturday I returned to Lake Monroe. Maybe just 50 yards from the great hang gliding flop, I saw a vision emerging in front of me. An old steamboat coming towards me. I just had my iphone and knew I couldn’t get a close shot of it so I ran over to some palm trees to have something to fill the foreground. I cursed there being a light in the corner of the frame. I could have cropped or Photoshopped it out, but once I shifted the photo to black and white I thought it added a nice design element.

So while this isn’t the shot I thought I’d get when I drove to Sanford Saturday, I did drive there with my visual antenna alert to capturing the magic if it came my way. I made note of the time and imagine I’ll return some day with my Nikon and a video camera to get an even better shot and some footage. Who knows, maybe when I return I’ll get the steamboat and a hang glider in the same shot. (Though I’m not sure anyone hang glides there anymore.)

The 21st century doubling for the 19th century

P.S. Long before the pandemic—even long before airplanes and cars—people used to travel to Central Florida via steamboats. My understanding is back in the late 1800s wealthy people in the North East would take the train south to Jacksonville, Florida and board a steamboat on the St. Johns River. They would head south on the river that flows north. They would stop in towns along the way and look at the scenery unlike anything they could see in New York or New England. Imagine an era before the internet and even television and being a Manhattan socialite and seeing your first manatee or alligator. Exotic stuff. (You can ride this steamboat by contacting the the St. Johns Rivership Co.)

I’m not sure that era has ever been captured in a movie, but much of the St. Johns River is visually untouched from what it was like in 1875. About 15 years ago I did shoots on the Amazon and Rio Negro rivers near Manaus, Brazil and it reminded me much of trips I’d had on the St. Johns River. So the St. Johns River can double for South America as well.

And lastly, Lake Monroe is part of the St. Johns River where painter Winslow Homer used to love to leave his Maine home and studio in the winter and fish and paint in and around Enterprise, Florida which sits across the lake from Sanford, Florida.

Winslow Homer painting ”St. Johns River” (1890)

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

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A few minutes ago I watched the Atlanta Braves defeat the LA Dodgers to advance to the 2021 World Series. This seems like a fitting time to share a 2015 video I just saw for the first time this week. It features professional baseball player Daniel Norris and his unusual off-season practice of living out of a classic VW bus despite making millions playing MLB player.

I’m not sure how much time Norris spends these days in his VW, but this past season he made $3.5 million playing for the Detroit Tigers. (This article still has him spending time in his VW.) Last month, the 2011 second round draft pick was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. The short film Offseason was directed by Ben Moon, with Ben Sturgulewski as the director of photography, and edited by Dana Shaw.

If you dig that film check out Denali.

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

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