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“Letting morality get in the way of making money. I might as well go and be a teacher.”
TV Executive Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) on 30 Rock

Donald Trump inspires me. Not politically, but creatively.

There I was less than two months ago deciding to write my first spec TV pilot with an idea rooted in an aborted screenplay I wrote a few years ago. The idea popped back on my radar at the end of last year because I realized it was a TV idea and not a film idea. (Next Monday I’ll start a string of posts looking at those differences.)

It only took a day to take my 36-page screenplay and morph the movie idea into a TV idea. Then a week to flesh it out, and by the end of the month to have a first draft done.

So where does Donald Trump fit into this creative process? When you’re writing everything goes into your creative blender. There I was developing my story idea and at the same time watching presidential debates and news reports.

Somewhere in that process I realized Trump was a trope.

“Merriam-Webster gives a definition of ‘trope’ as a ‘figure of speech.’ In storytelling, a trope is just that — a conceptual figure of speech, a storytelling shorthand for a concept that the audience will recognize and understand instantly. Above all, a trope is a convention. It can be a plot trick, a setup, a narrative structure, a character type, a linguistic idiom… you know it when you see it.”
tvtropes

Trump is Archie Bunker in All in the Family, Lou Grant in Mary Tyler Moore,  Alec Baldwin’s 30 Rock character, Danny DeVito in Taxi, Fred Sanford on Sanford and Son, and that reality show star on The Apprentice who loved saying, “You’re Fired!”

This trope speaks his mind. Doesn’t care about political correctness. And while we’re sometimes stunned by what they say—audiences tune in like they did on this exchange from the Norman Lear created All in the Family (the most watched Tv show from 1971-1976).

Gloria: You know, pizza’s actually not from Italy. I read that Marco Polo discovered it in China and then brought it back to Italy. 

Archie Bunker: Leave it to a dago to go halfway around the world to get a take-home meal.

*Sidenote: Did you know All in the Family was inspired by the hit British sitcom Till Death Us Do Part created by Johnny Speight ? It featured a working class racist and first aired in 1965.

Trump may not have won in Iowa, but he won the ratings game. And there’s a part of me that expects to see Trump show up one night on a late night interview basically saying he was pulling a Joaquin Phoenix-like (retired actor turned hip-hop artist) hoax. Time will tell.

But Trump inspired me to trump-up a character I’d written. One who speaks his mind and doesn’t care what anybody else thinks—and that’s a fun character to write. And as I’ve been working on re-writes the actor who I’d most love to hear say these lines is Patrick Warburton (Puddy on Seinfeld) whose persona has built-in smarmy/arrogance. He’s been featured during this election cycle on National Car Rental commercials, so I’m sure that’s an added reason he ended up in my creative blender.

But let’s not just keep the spotlight on Trump. Here’s a glimpse at four other candidates:

Bernie Sanders. He’s kind of the flip side of the coin character of Trump. He speaks his mind and has his share of radical ideas. With both Sanders and Trump I find myself both agreeing with some of the things they say—but with other things they say wondering if they have a screw loose. (But the best life changing ideas always sound a little crazy at the start. It’s too bad with radical ideas we can’t get a small working sample from a small town somewhere to see how those ideas play out.) A tie in Iowa was a win for Sanders.

Ted Cruz. With Cruz beating Trump in Iowa, I bet screenwriter Craig Mazin woke up this morning with a hangover. (Mazin has been outspoken against Cruz.) The last thing Mazin wants is to be known to the world not for his writing but as Ted Cruz’s college roommate. Mazin once told Brian Koppelman, “I’ve always felt that if you put me in front of 10 feet of concrete and said, ‘walk through itI’d get through it. I believe it, I really do…I’ve never felt like anything could stop me if I really tried.”  Cruz appears to have that same DNA. (Maybe they have a class on persistence at Princeton.) To walk away with a victory in Iowa took a lot of systematic and methodical work.

Hillary Clinton. Clinton is the Madonna of this political crowd.  Loved by some, hated by others, but resilient to the core. One way or another, she’ll still be around in four years, and in eight years. Not 100% sure you can say that about any other candidates.

Mario Rubio. I tuned into Rubio speaking last night and thought he’d won in Iowa instead of coming in third. He was upbeat about being only a percentage point behind Trump as well as picking up the same amount of delegates (7) as Trump. When the dust settles, Rubio and Sanders may have been the real winners last night.

The odds are looking good that the United States will elect its first woman, or first Hispanic, to become the next President.

P.S. One of my most interesting life experiences was being in Iowa during the 2007 Iowa Caucus. I saw 12 presidential candidates on both sides in many different venues including the classic Iowa State Fair. I was also hired as a cameraman to tape one event in Waterloo, Iowa in which six presidential candidates were speaking. While the press camera crews were places at the back of the convention center, because I was hired to tape the talks for the sponsoring group I was allowed to set-up in the front row.

I was the closest person in the room to the candidates which included the eventual President of the United States Barack Obama. Here’s photo I took between shooting footage. (POTUS looked a little younger back in ’07.)

obama 1997.jpg

P.P.S. Why not end on one more little nugget from Jack on 30 Rock:
“Diversity is the engine that drives this country. We are an immigrant nation! The first generation works their fingers to the bone making things, the next generation goes to college and innovates new ideas, the third generation snowboards and takes improv classes.” 

Related post:
President Obama and Iowa Seeds
Politics, Power & Screenwriting (tip #3)
The President & Cedar Falls, Iowa

Scott W. Smith

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“Most people fail in at least a few areas, so you’ve got to work at it. I certainly had to.”
Greg Norman

My blog seems stuck in Colorado. (A trend that started December 23, but will end on January 22.) Yesterday at the gym where I workout I noticed a magazine with golfer Greg Norman on it. Turns out the magazine was published two years but featured photos of Norman’s 14,000 square foot Rocky Mountain getaway ranch on 11,000 acres in northwest Colorado. Said to be his “favorite place.”

The article pointed out that Norman came from Mount Isa, Australia where he started out making $32 a week as a 20-year-old working in a pro golf shop, to being the N0. 1.  player in the world for 331 weeks during the ’80s and ’90s, to becoming a successful entrepreneur through various business endeavors including his  Great White Shark Enterprises.

Back in my L.A. days I was paid to photograph Norman at a fundraiser for Friends of College Golf at the Bel-Air County Club. If I recall correctly this was 1986 just after he’d won the British Open. The beautiful golf course is near UCLA and Alfred Hitchcock’s former home overlooks the golf course.

What I remember vividly about the shoot was leaving Bel-Air (a place where Elizabeth Taylor, Ronald Reagan and Jennifer Aniston all had homes) and driving east on Sunset Blvd. through Beverly Hills, and into Hollywood where street people were pushing carts. Not the first time I’d ever seen extreme wealth and homelessness, but it was a ten mile drive where the harsh contrast is something I’ve never forgotten.

And I remember having a brief chat with Norman because his main resident then was in Palm Beach, Florida and I was originally from Orlando so we had that in common. He was rather down to earth for being the first golfer ever to win $1 million in a season.

Over the years he’s added a few hundred million dollars to his net worth, but I found this quote of his to be an interesting perspective on helping others achieve success:

“If somebody asks me for help, I’m going to help them. Years ago back in Australia, [pro golfer] Adam Scott came to me with a lot of great questions like, ‘What’s it like when you get to 40?’ I don’t lock my door to anybody. And now Adam’s off and running, but we still stay in contact. When he won at Augusta National, if felt like I had won! Helping someone achieve their own success is just about the most rewarding thing you can do.”
Golfer/entrepreneur Greg Norman
2014 Golf Magazine interview by David DeNunzio

Related links:
‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Golf Scene
Sneaky Long Screenwriting (2.0)
Postcard #75 (Arnold Palmer)
‘The Legend of Bagger Vance’ Golf Scene 
‘Lost in Translation’ Golf Scene
‘Tin Cup’ Golf Scene

The Perfect Ending —On University of Miami & Valencia College film professor Ralph Clemente who helped many achieve success.

Scott W. Smith

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Glenn Frey (1948-2016)

It’s your world now
My race is run
I’m moving on
Like the setting sun
It’s Your World Now written by Glenn Frey and Jack Tempchin

When I heard yesterday that Glenn Frey died, I thought back fondly to when I was a senior in high school and was fortunate enough to see the Eagles perform at Tampa Stadium just months before the band broke up. Good memory of great music.

Last year I posted two Glenn Frey’s quotes that I pulled from the History of the Eagles documentary and this is as good a time as any to repost them:

“Bob [Seger] was the first one that wrote and recorded his own songs that I’d ever met. He said, ‘you know, if you want to make it you’re going to have to write your own songs.’ And I said, ‘Well, what if they’re bad?’ And he said, ‘Well, they’re going to be bad. But you just keep writing, and keep writing, and eventually you’ll write a good song.’
Glenn Frey

“Around nine in the morning I’d hear Jackson Browne’s teapot going off with this whistle in the distance, and then I’d hear him playing piano. I didn’t really know how to write songs. I knew I wanted to write songs, but I didn’t know exactly, did you just wait around for inspiration, you know, what was the deal? I learned through Jackson’s ceiling and my floor exactly how to write songs, ’cause Jackson would get up, and he’d play the first verse and first course, and he’d play it 20 times, until he had it just the way he wanted it. And then there’d be silence, and then I’d hear the teapot going off again, and it would be quiet for 20 minutes, and then I’d hear him start to play again … and I’m up there going, so that’s how you do it? Elbow grease. Time. Thought. Persistence.”
Glenn Frey
HISTORY OF THE EAGLES 

P.S. Yesterday I wrote about serendipity and happened to mention the movie Jerry Maguire. One of Glenn Frey’s acting roles was in that movie. And I thought yesterday ended my run of posts touching on the Rocky Mountains, but then I saw the above video of Frey back in the day—wearing a University of Colorado shirt.

Scott W. Smith

 

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Rocky Mountain Oscars

“How Is It Possible For The 2nd Consecutive Year All 20 Contenders Under The Actor Category Are White?”
Writer/director Spike Lee

“He said I don’t know what it’s like to be a black person? I’m Mr. black people!”
Jerry Maguire 
Screenplay by Cameron Crowe

This blog depends on a certain amount of serendipity to exist. There’s no team of people planning the direction the blog will take months ahead. It’s just me floating down the river of cinema—finding quotes and making observations that I hope filmmakers find helpful. Especially those outside the Hollywood system.

And having just spent the past three weeks writing posts in, around, and about the Rocky Mountains—including the posts  Rocky Mountain High and  Rocky Mountain Movie Battle RoyaleI couldn’t pass the the comment below after the Oscar Awards were announced last week:

“Hollywood is like the Rocky Mountains, the higher up you get the whiter it gets. And this year’s Academy Awards will be yet another Rocky Mountain Oscars. Yet again, deserving black actors and directors were ignored by the Academy — which reinforces the fact that there are few if any blacks with real power in Hollywood.”
Al Sharpton
(Statement after the 2016 Oscar nominations were announced)

No matter what you think about Sharpton or his comments, you’ve got to admit there’s some good zingers in that statement—and a measure of truth. And many have made the point of Beast of No Nation, Creed, Straight Outta Compton, Will Smith and Samuel L. Jackson and others of color being under represented in the Academy nominations.

Of course, there is always a subjective and political nature in just about any kind of award—in Hollywood or anywhere. I do think this has less to do with racism than it just does that the Oscar voters are 94% white and on average 63 years old.

Last year when an older than average industry heavyweight white writer/director wrote last year about a certain movie “…everything at highest levels…best ensemble cast, best acting by movie stars, costumes, music, locations, editing. the look!”, it’s no surprise he was talking about The Big Short not Straight Outta Compton. (And for all I know he may have loved Straight Outta Compton, too. But The Big Short was much more in his demographic  wheelhouse.)

And a few years ago a working screenwriter publicly admitted he was voting for so and so because he was his friend.  We want to live in a world when things are won purely on merit—but that’s not the world we live in. Hence the struggle for justice on many levels.

“Everything is supposed to be different than it is.”
Simon (Danny Glover)
Grand Canyon written by Lawrence Kasden & Meg Kasden

And on this Martin Luther King day if there’s one thing we can do is look at the world of change that’s happened since the civil rights was killed in 1968. Including not only a black man being elected president of the United States, but some changes in Hollywood including that night in 1992 when both Denzel Washington and Halle Berry won Best Actor/Best Actress Oscars, to John Ridley, Lupita Nyong’o, and 12 Years a Slave winning Oscars for Best Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Film in 2014.

But it’s also understandable—and expected—that Spike Lee write his #OscarsSoWhite thoughts that were posted today:

Dr. King Said ‘There Comes A Time When One Must Take A Position That Is Neither Safe, Nor Politic, Nor Popular But He Must Take It Because Conscience Tells Him It’s Right”. As I See It, The Academy Awards Is Not Where The “Real” Battle Is. It’s In The Executive Office Of The Hollywood Studios And TV And Cable Networks. This Is Where The Gate Keepers Decide What Gets Made And What Gets Jettisoned To “Turnaround” Or Scrap Heap. This Is What’s Important. The Gate Keepers. Those With “The Green Light” Vote. As The Great Actor Leslie Odom Jr. Sings And Dances In The Game Changing Broadway Musical HAMILTON, “I WANNA BE IN THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS”. People, The Truth Is We Ain’t In Those Rooms And Until Minorities Are, The Oscar Nominees Will Remain Lilly White.
Spike Lee Instagram post today
Spike Lee is Boycotting the Oscars 

And the Rashomon effect is to look at it from the executive and studios perspective where they are trying to make decisions that will be profitable and preserve their jobs. It’s a tangle web indeed. Here’s a real life example from the creator Everybody Loves Raymond on the notes he was giving in casting the show (before it won 15 Primetime Emmy Awards) :

“We started hearing about how we shouldn’t go too ethic with the cast [on Everybody Loves Raymond]. What does that mean? It means that for this show to play in Middle America, we couldn’t have too many overtly swarthy Italian or Jewish types populating this family. Ray [Ramono]and Brad [Garrett] are both, and respectively, swarthy, Italian, and Jewish. I asked, ‘It’s an Italian family. What are we supposed to cast? Network Guy says, ‘Nonethnic ethnic.’
Phil Rosenthal (Creator and Executive Producer of Everybody Love Raymond)
You’re Lucky You’re Funny
page 85

So we’ve gone from “nonethnic ethnic’ in the mid-90s to the “Rocky Mountain Oscars” in 2016. Sometimes it’s hard to see the progress, but I think this is a great country and I have hope for the future. And this is as good a time as any to show a clip I shot and edited a few years ago of artist Gary Kelley’s work done in conjunction with the Waterloo Cedar Falls Symphony and conductor Jason Weinberger.

In was a special night when the images where shown on a large screen with a live orchestra before 1,000 people.

Related posts:

25 Links Related to Blacks & Filmmaking
The First Black Feature Filmmaker
Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting
Postcard #82 (Selma)
Screenwriting Straight Outta Compton
Straight Outta Compton (Wearing SIlver & Black)
Jackie, Spike & Sanford, Florida

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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Rocky Mountain High

“No one comes up here without a damn good reason.”
Tagline from The Hateful Eight movie poster

FullSizeRender-2

I first visited Telluride back in the ’80s and found it one of the most beautiful places I’d ever been. A few decades later, and many travel miles later, I still think that’s true.

And while a large chunk of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight actually takes place inside a single building (and the story set in Wyoming) the exteriors were shot in the Telluride area (mostly on the Schmid Family Ranch on Wilson Mesa) and showcased the snowy mountain region area well. (Though the people I met in the area are nicer than the ones in the movie.)

And, of course, The Hateful Eight is not the first Western to be shot in the same general area.  Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (1969) —while also shot in Utah, Mexico, New Mexico, Arizona, and sound stages in Los Angeles— did shoot in several parts of Colorado including Silverton, Durango, and at the New Sheridan Hotel Telluride.

How the West Was Won (1962), starring Henry Fonda was shot Ridgway, Montrose, Silverton, and Durango. Screenwriter James R. Webb (1910-1974) won his sole Oscar for writing that film. And for what it’s worth, Webb was born in Denver. (The greatest one word screenwriting advice ever comes from Webb—”Finish.”)

True Grit (1969), starring John Wayne, was shot in nearby Ouray, Gunnison, Montrose and Ridgway.

According to The Telluride Daily Planet, part of what attracted the producers of The Hateful Eight to shoot in Colorado was, “The Colorado Economic Development Commission and its Office of Film provided the film project with a $5 million incentive package. The Colorado Film Incentive program offers a 20 percent rebate for film production costs within the state for qualifying projects.”

For more information about shooting permits and incentives in Colorado contact the Colorado Office Film, Television & Media.  To see how that film money works its way into the local economy check out this story on a how The Hateful Eight crew spent $140,000 at a Telluride tire shop.

Other websites to check out are Telluride Film Commission , the Telluride Film Festival,  Visit Telluride is the official tourism site, and there’s a New York Times article 36 Hours in Telluride.

As of last year, Tom Cruise’s Telluride house was listed for sale at $59 million. And since we’re still in an all Star Wars time period, Lawrence Kasdan, co-screenwriter of Star Wars: The Force Awakens has had a home in Telluride for many years. (Yes, everything is connected to the Star Wars universe.)

In fact, in his 2012 film Darling Companion (co-written with his wife Meg Kasdan) takes place in Colorado. Though because of incentives most of it was shot in Canada, they did do some pick-up shots in Telluride including a cameo of the New Sheridan Hotel—the same one featured in Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid.

And a fitting way to round out a couple week of posts on Colorado is the classic John Denver song Rocky Mountain High.

P.S. National commercials are also no stranger to shooting in the Telluride area. I believe the last shot of the “Born in the Rockies” Coors spot is Wilson Peak 11 miles west of Telluride.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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‘My Nebraska’

This week Nikon released it’s new D5 camera and with it a video called My Nebraska directed by Bill Frakes. (So I going to push back my Telluride/Hateful Eight final Colorado post until Monday.)

Besides the state of Nebraska sits between Colorado and Iowa, so this video is at home on this blog. (Plus I’ve been a Nikon shooter since I was 20-years-old.)

Frakes is a fifth generation Nebraskan, a Sports Illustrated photographer—who according to his website “was a member of the Miami Herald staff that won the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of Hurricane Andrew,” and whose advertising clients include Apple, Nike, and Reebok. He started Straw Hat Visuals in 2008.

Besides you have to appreciate a state that produced Montgomery Cliff, Alexander Payne, and Marlon Brando. (All from Omaha, too.)

P.S. I’ve travelled to all 50 states in the U.S. and a small chunk of the rest of the world and one of the coolest natural sights I’ve ever seen (up there with seeing a full solar eclipse in Salzburg) was seeing what I’m guessing was tens of thousands of sandhill cranes in central Nebraska descend on a lake like a large dark cloud slowly falling from the sky.

Related posts:
Screenwriting from Nebraska
‘Wake up and pay attention.’ Alexander Payne
‘Nebraska’—Take 1 (Casting Farmers)
‘Nebraska’—Take 2 (Directing Actors)
‘Nebraska’— Take 4 (The Nebraska Mafia in LA)

 

Scott W. Smith

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Today my wife and I celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. We met in an elevator in Burbank, California and married in a covered bridge in Vail, Colorado, and have experienced many of the ups and downs of any relationship that has endured 30 years.

I put together 30 pictures that symbolized the sweeping overview of our marriage and shared it with friends. I’ll spare you 30 pictures but will share a favorite one of mine that was taken in 1999 when we backpacked across Europe in our most memorable travel adventure together.

15-VeniceThis afternoon we went to a movie that is easily one of the best I’ve seen this year— Brooklyn. It also happens to be a movie about new adventures, the search for love, and the complexity of choices we face in life. (With a nice Ireland/Italian/American mix to the story.)  John Crowley directed the script written by Nick Hornsby (High Fidelity) based on the New York Times best selling  best selling novel Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín. I should add that is was beautifully shot by cinematographer Yves Bélanger. (But across the board, from cast to crew, this is a finely crafted movie.)

Scott W. Smith

 

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