Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

“My story is like an American dream story. I grew up on the south side of Chicago [in a] working poor family…I was a freshman in high school when I saw Bonnie and Clyde, and I remember very profoundly there is a scene where Gene Hackman’s character gets shot in the head and he’s in this field and he’s dying. And I remember being overwhelmed with sadness and emotion. And that was the seminal moment where I go I gotta be a movie director. Right around the same time I’m watching Johnny Carson and his guest that night is Jerry Lewis. In the 60s he was like the Spielberg of the movie industry. He had like total autonomy of making his movies. So Johnny says, ‘Hey Jerry, I hear your teaching school at a university,’ and he goes, ‘Yeah, I’m teaching at USC Cinema School.’ And I went, there’s cinema school? I thought there’s a place where you can actually learn cinema. I said I gotta go to this place. I got accepted into the USC film school and that was my connection to the movie business. I came out cold turkey. I had no relatives in the movie business, nobody had a union card, and I basically got into the industry through the film school.”
Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump)
The Director’s Chair
interview with Robert Rodriguez

In 1975 Zemeckis won at the The Academy’s Student Film Award for his film A Field of Honor. Over the years his filmography includes Back to the Future, Cast Away, Flight, and The Walk (which is released in theaters next week).

Related posts:
Professor Jerry Lewis (The Total Filmmaker)
Professor Jerry Lewis (Screenwriting)
Professor Jerry Lewis (Great Filmmakers)
Jerry Lewis (Directing)
Professor Jerry Lewis (Actors)
Filmmaking Quote #13 Robert Zemeckis
Postcard #43 (Savannah)
40 Days of Emotions

Scott W. Smith

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Game of Thrones broke a huge Emmys record at Sunday night’s ceremonies. With David Nutter’s win for best director of a drama series, the HBO show snagged its tenth Emmy this year, the most any series has ever won in a single year.” 
Eliana Dockterman, Time, September 20, 2015
(Game of Thrones would finish the night with 11 Emmys)

“What am I doing up here?”
David Nutter
(How Nutter began his acceptance speech)

It was the perfect ending. Perfect and poetic. I’m not talking about a movie or a TV show, but about yesterday—and about a life. And what made it really special is no one wrote the ending, it just happened in that mystical way where things align together perfectly. It was an ending that filmmaker/film teacher Ralph Clemente would have appreciated if he hadn’t died earlier this year, but one that happened because he lived.

When David Nutter was a 20-year-old music major he had a big dream—to be the next Barry Manilow. Nutter’s musical dreams died before he graduated from the University of Miami. But he also found a new dream in 1980 when he took an 8mm filmmaking class with Prof. George Capewell.

Then Nutter found a filmmaking mentor with Clemente, who Capewell had hired as filmmaker in residence at Miami. After graduating from Miami, Nutter launched his career when he directed the 1985 feature Cease Fire (starring Don Johnson), which Clemente worked on as an associate producer.

Fast forward 20 years to last night when Nutter accepted a Primetime Emmy for directing the Game of Thrones episode, Mother’s Mercy. A remarkable accomplishment because we are in what has been called the modern golden age of television. At the end of his acceptance speech Nutter said, “Thank you to Ralph Clemente, the man who taught me the most.” One little sentence made for the perfect ending.

Earlier in the day there was a tribute at Valencia College in Orlando for Ralph Clemente, where Clemente started the film program in the late ’80s. He would help students work on 47 feature films through a film program that he helped designed. Valencia College President Sandy Shugart spoke at the tribute about how Ralph taught him about vision, saying Clemente was like a gardener who could taste the fruit before he planted the seeds.

And Ralph Clemente planted a lot of seeds. Inspired a lot of people.  At the tribute they played a video of Nutter talking about how Clemente was not only his teacher and mentor but also a father figure. He also said that he changed is life because he ended up marrying the au pair that Ralph and his wife Emily had when they were raising their sons in Miami. Nutter said that he regretted not being at the tribute, but if he won an Emmy he’d be sure to mention Ralph—and that’s exactly how it went down. Fruit from seeds planted 35 years ago.

Ralph Clemente Tribute at Valencia College

Ralph Clemente Tribute at Valencia College

Several people at the tribute mentioned affectionately how Clemente was a schmoozer.  He was a positive people person who got people on board with his vision. I wish I had a quote of his I could drop in here to show how that helps in the filmmaking process, but since I’ve been running Robert Rodriguez related posts all month I’ll hand it off to him to talk about the salesmanship side that is often needed with the creative and technical side of filmmaking:

“If you go to an actor and say, ‘hey, I’m a filmmaker and I’m making a low budget movie and I kind of need a marquee to kinda help sell it. I can’t pay you very much. And it’s probably going to be a lot of work, but do you want to be in it?’ you’re only thinking about yourself , and they’ll be like, ‘No, get the hell out of here.’ Because all you’re taking about is what you do and how you do it, which is I make low budget movies. Yeah, so what, that means ya got no money. Instead I always start with why. I go to [the actor] and say, ‘I love what you do. I’ve always been a big fan—I believe in creative freedom. I don’t work with the studios, I work independently. I’m the boss, it’s just me and my crew. It’s very creative, ask any of your actor friends. They’ll say go have that experience, you’re going to feel so invigorated. I shoot very quickly and you’ll be out [quickly]. Robert De Niro in Machete was out in four days. While you’ll be on your next movie for six months, you’ll be on my movie for four days, and it’s going to be the most fun you’ve ever had. And your performance is going to be really freeing, that’s why I do it. How do I do it? I work very independently. I have very few people on my crew and we do multiple jobs. We do it with less money so we have more freedom. Do you want to come make this movie?’ And they’ll be like, ‘Yes.’ Because it’s all about what they can do. What they can bring to it. How it’s going to fulfill them.”
Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez
Tim Ferriss interview

Clemente wasn’t in it just for himself. He knew he could only do the kinds of things he wanted to do by helping people do the things they wanted to do. Win-win. I was part of the Miami film program during the Clemente era and know that he poured himself into students. So yesterday wasn’t the end of his legacy. There will be students of his that will take what they learned from him and pass it on to others they work with in that circle of life kind of way.

Link to donate to the Ralph R. Clemente Scholarship at Valencia College.

P.S. Back when I had a production company in Iowa I worked with Josh McCabe while he was still in college and tried to pass on what I knew to him in the few years we worked together. (I wrote about him in the 2011 post How to Get Started Working in Production.) Today Josh works in production in Denver, Colorado and just this weekend got married. Congrats to he and his wife Ashely.  He never met Ralph Clemente, but I hope I passed on a few things to him I learned working with Clemente that helped make him the creative producer/shooter/editor he is today.


Photo by Jon Van Allen

Related posts:
Ralph Clemente (1943-2015)
‘It has to move me.’—David Nutter
Insanely Great Endings Screenwriting insight from Michael Arndt

Scott W. Smith

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Living a Creative Life

“If film died tomorrow I’d be sculpting, or painting, or something else that involved creativity. So really what I am is someone who lives a creative life. Not just in work, but when I’m not working…The creative process blows me away… And it applies to anything that you do. How you raise your children, how you cook food, how you run a business. Creativity is so much a part of that. When people say, oh, you do so many things you’re a musician, you’re a painter, you edit, you’re a composer, you’re the cinematographer, you do so many different things and I go, no, I only do one thing— I live a creative life.

“When you put creativity in everything, everything becomes available to you. Anything that has a creative aspect is suddenly yours to go and do. And there’s no separation between work and play. I mean I work ‘in my house’ that’s where I write my scripts, come up with my ideas while I’m playing with my kids, while I’m cooking them a meal which is a creative exercise in itself. And then I go upstairs and do some editing—edit a scene , and then I can hear the kind of music and then I’ll walk over to this room and do music for it, and then I’m not sure how I’m going to get into this character’s head, maybe I’ll paint him first and see visually what he looks like, or musically what he sounds like.  And you can work completely non-linear that way because you realize, I can do anything I want because everything can be creative. Even a business call. You go this is kind of out of my league, but let me add my creativity to it and maybe that will solve something that no one else will be able to solve, and sure enough, you can always rely on creatively to win the day in a lot of areas.”
Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez
Interview with Tim Ferriss

Related posts:
The Best Film School
Nothing Ever Goes as Planned
One of the Benefits of Being Outside Hollywood

Scott W. Smith

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“When you can have a positive effect on people’s lives and help them reach their dreams, that is the best reward a teacher can have.”
Ralph Clemente

“A teacher who can arouse a feeling for one single good action, for one single good poem, accomplishes more than he who fills our memory with rows and rows of natural objects, classified with name and form.”


Ralph Clemente in his Valencia College office/Photo by Don Burlinson

Earlier this month filmmaker and educator Ralph Clemente died only three weeks after finding out he had  pancreatic cancer. He was a professor of mine at the University of Miami and known for his infectious inspiration—and Arnold Schwarzenegger-like accent.

In the late eighties he helped start the film program at Valencia College in Orlando where he and his students would have a hand in producing 47 feature films. Over the years the program allowed students to work with Oscar-nominated actresses Julie Harris and Ruby Dee, and Oscar-winning director Robert Wise (who also edited Citizen Kane). Steven Spielberg once called the program, “one of the best film schools in the county.”

Clemente actually had the distinction of being part of the inspiration for a couple of the filmmakers who would go on to make The Blair Witch Project, as well as just this past November having a small part playing a woodman in Game of Thrones

That Game of Thrones episode was directed by David Nutter who was also Clemente’s student at Miami. Clemente produced Nutter’s first feature Cease Fire (which starred an up and coming actor named Don Johnson) which helped launch Nutter’s career that’s included directing gigs on The Sopranos, The X-Files, Entourage, and Band of Brothers. Clemente and Nutter remained friends over the decades so I wasn’t surprised that he hired Clemente as an extra on the set of Game of Thrones shot in Ireland.

(Note: For the younger DSLR crowd, and those totally unfamiliar with Nutter or Clemente, as Vincent Lafort continues making the transition from photographer to filmmaker he’s recently been shadowing the Primetime Emmy-winning Nutter on production sets. It’s all one big interconnected tribe.)

Clemente was born in Germany and actually had his first acting role at the age of two. He moved to Florida as a teenager, studied acting, ending up serving in the Army, before going on to work in TV and film and landing at the University of Miami as filmmaker-in-residence for ten years.

What a life, right? But his legacy is the film program at Valencia which just earlier this year had a 20th Anniversary film festival to celebrate some of the films he and the school helped get made including Sealed with a Kiss which he directed from a script written by his wife Emily.

What sets the Valencia program apart is its early vision. In the late 80s, Disney and Universal built film studios in Orlando, and enough features and TV shows were being shot here (Parenthood, From Earth to the Moon, Passenger 57) that it looked like the promises of central Florida becoming Hollywood East were more than hype. But what there wasn’t a lot of was support personnel grounded in the area— grips, gaffers, camera assistance, etc.

Greg Hale, one of the producers of The Blair Witch project, went through the Valencia film program and more recently worked as an assistant director on The Avengers and Django Unchained. Producer/Director Ben Rock was also a student of Clemente’s:

“One of the best lessons 
Ralph teaches is that production should be fun…My best memories of Valencia are of Ralph, working the set, joking around, telling stories, keeping everybody’s morale up.”
Ben Rock
Vitae Magazine

Clemente always encouraged his students to take chances and I remember editing a student project at Miami where I risked using a Willie Nelson song (Nelson wasn’t quite as hip in Miami in the 80s as he would be with hipsters in Miami today) and it turned out Ralph loved Nelson’s music and would later use one of his songs in a feature he produced.

In college I also remember going to Mardi Gras in New Orleans with a couple of friends on one long weekend road trip but made it back in time for his class on Monday. When I told him I was just off a 12-hour drive to make the class he laughed and told me my grade just went up.

I don’t know how many hundreds or thousands of people Clemente touched in his life, but he was one of the good guys. In fact, Ralph also had students work on public awareness projects including Make-a-Wish, Health Care for the Homeless, and His House Children’s Home (for abused and neglected kids) which helped raised awareness, donations, and resulted in some adoptions.

This blog is the overflowing of the good influences in my life and part of that DNA is my time spent with Clemente in Miami. And just to come full-circle, since January of this year I’ve been producing projects at Valencia College and while my tools are not film and Moviola’s anymore, what I learned from Ralph Clemente transferred well to digital cameras and non-linear editing. But beyond the technical aspects and production tips you commonly learn in school, Clemente had an upbeat spirit that was less common.

Related Links:
Ralph Clemente: Valencia film pro inspired good stories, Orlando Sentinel
Filmmaking is a Team Art  Friend Oliver Peters who edited four of Clemente’s features remembers working with him.
Valencia Mourns Loss of Filmmaking Legend Ralph Clemente 

P.S. “Ralph R. Clemente Scholarship” at Valencia Foundation, 1768 Park Center Drive, Orlando, FL 32835 or complete online donation form by selecting the Designation “Ralph R. Clemente Scholarship” at donate.valencia.org.

Scott W. Smith

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In my last post I wrote about Missouri’s influence on Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lanford Wilson, and how he wrote his first play during lunchtime while working at an ad agency in Chicago.

But those weren’t the only things that shaped him as a writer. When Wilson was 26-years-old he moved to New York City in the early sixties and worked various odd jobs (dishwasher, reservation clerk, riveter, waiter)—but more importantly he became part of an informal group of about 45 writers. (One of the writers was Sam Shepard who at the time was a bus boy at a jazz club called The Village Gate.)

Here’s an excerpt from Dennis Brown’s book Shoptalk explaining the era:

Wilson became involved with Off-Off-Broadway when it was nurturing a young generation of writers. 

“The greatest thing about the early days was that it was like a five-year apprenticeship for all of us,” he said. “I don’t know any place, even today, other than Off-Off-Broadway that offers people what we had. Working on one-act plays with live audiences that we had to get ourselves. It was dragging them off the streets.”

Talent has a way of clustering, and it clustered in Greenwich Village in the mid-sixties. These starving writers were filled with ambition and confidence. 

“We knew,” Wilson enthused. “We knew. When Sam Shepard’s first play was done, there was a general cheer across all the Village. Everyone knew that someone was added to the list. We would sit talking about theater all night long in some cafe, and before we would leave someone would say, ‘Does this remind you of Van Gogh and Gauguin sitting together? We always knew!”

In 1969 Wilson, director Marshall, director Rob Thikield, and actress Tanya Berezin founded the Circle Repertory Company (first known as Circle Theater Company). In 1982, The New York Times stated, “Circle Rep is home to some of the most prolific talent in the American theater.”

P.S. The first play I ever saw on Broadway was a revival of The Three Sisters in 1997 featuring a Lanford Wilson translation of the Anton Chekhov play. The cast included Lili Taylor, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Amy Irving, Eric Stoltz, David Strathairn, Jerry Stiller,  Calista Flockhart, Justin Theroux and Paul Giamatti. A lot of talent on one stage.

Scott W. Smith

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7 Years & 2,000 Posts

“Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.”
Playwright Eugene O’Neill
From his play The Great God Brown

“I broke my hand, my shoulder, my elbow and my face but the real injury this year was to my Irish pride as it was discovered that under my tracksuit I was wearing yellow and black Lycra cycling shorts. Yes, LYCRA. This is not very rock ‘n’ roll. 

Recovery has been more difficult than I thought… As I write this, it is not clear that I will ever play guitar again. The band have reminded me that neither they nor Western civilization are depending on this.”
Bono on his bicycle accident in NYC
U2 News: Little Book of a Big Year, January 2015

Cancer changes everything. Towards the end of 2014 I started to think of how I could do something special for the seventh anniversary and 2,000 post on this blog—which happens to be today. But life happens. About the same time last November when Bono was having a five-hour surgery for his bike accident I started six weeks of chemo and radiation.

Shortly before my treatment ended the first week of January ESPN’s Stewart Scott died after a long fight with cancer. News of he and others with cancer hits a little closer to home with me these days.

Hopefully, I’ll find out in a couple of weeks that I cancer free—but having cancer has a way of changing your perspective. I am aware that Western civilization doesn’t depend on me doing something special for my 2,000th post. And the world won’t stop if I don’t write post number 2,001.

So I don’t have any big fanfare today except to say thank you for joining me on this extended personal project that’s gone on a lot longer than I ever thought it would. And there will be a 2,001st post plus some, they just may not come as regularly as they have in the past. I would like to do one short video essay a month just to bring a new dimension to the blog.

As a way to begin a new chapter in my own life I started a new video producer position with a local college last week and it’s been nice to get back into the studio after almost three months of downtime. I hope 2015 has some moments of grace and creativity for You, Bono and myself.


P.S. Here’s the nice note from WordPress after I hit publish on this post:


Scott W. Smith


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“There’s Hong Kong, Tokyo, Paris, and Cedar Falls. That’s the company you’re keeping.”
President Barack Obama speaking in Cedar Falls January 14, 2015

If you followed this blog for long you may know that I started writing it in January 2008 while living in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Well, earlier this week President Obama was in Cedar Falls to talk about this town of just 40,000 people being a gigabit city with an Internet network as fast as some of the best networks in the world.

Below is Wednesday’s talk featuring an introduction of the President by Marc Reifenrath—a former business partner of mine while I lived in Iowa. I’m not sure if President Obama will bring up his visit to Cedar Falls in his State of the Union address on January 20, but there are big things happening in unlikely places.

Scott W. Smith

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