Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

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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“I’m telling an old myth in a new way. That’s how you pass down the meat and potatoes of your society to the next generation.”
George Lucas on creating Star Wars

“Mythology teaches you what’s behind literature and arts, it teaches you about your own life…Myths are clues to the spiritual potentialities of the human life.”
Joseph Campbell

George Lucas has been open over the years about Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces influencing him in creating the Star Wars movies. (And the above video unpacks that some.)  The following quotes by Campbell are from his interview with Bill Moyers in The Power of Myth.

#1—“Myth basically serves four functions. The first is the mystical function—realizing what a wonder the universe is, and what a wonder you are, and experiencing awe before this mystery.”

#2—“The Second is a cosmological dimension, the dimension with which science is concerned—showing you what the shape of the universe is, but showing it in a way that mystery again comes through.”

#3—“The third function is the sociological one—supporting and validating a certain social order.”

#4 “There is a fourth function of myth, and this is the one that I think everyone must try to relate to—and this is the pedagogical function, of how to live a human lifetime under and circumstances.”

Scott W. Smith

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“The road to success isn’t paved with gold—99 percent of the time it isn’t paved at all.”
Photographer/Author/Educator Chris Orwig
The Creative Fight

Because my mom was an art teacher, I was aware of the creative fight from an early age. Before I was ten I was fascinated by Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings, but perhaps more enamored that he cut part of his ear off. I’ve read plenty of theories about the madness, pain, and demons that the creative genius fought before his death at age 37.

Chris Orwig’s book The Creative Fight may not have saved Van Gogh’s life—but it may help you on your creative journey.  Encourage you as you face a world of constant noise and change. The goal of his book is to help you refocus and reframe your creative vision and life in general.

“Creativity has given us romance, recovery, culture, cuisine, music, motocross, fables, fashion, and sports. Deep creativity stirs our soul. It reminds us of something we once knew but have since forgotten. Creativity awakens life, like the taste of those cookies brings back your grandmother’s face or that one song reminds you of being 16. We not only watch and witness creativity, we take part in ourselves. And the most creative act of all is living life to the fullest degree. Without creativity by your side, it’s impossible to live a rich and meaningful life.”
Chris Orwig
The Creative Flight
Page 4

For the past few weeks I’ve been in the process of moving my still photography workflow from Apple Aperture to Adobe Lightroom, and Orwig has been helping me with the transition. Not personally, but via his tutorials on lynda.com. I’ve been a long time fan of lynda.com and have watched many of Orwig’s tutorials.

Over the years I’ve grow to realize that change—for various reasons— is just a part of the game. In shooting footage (8mm,16mm, 3/4 inch, Beta SP, DigiBeta, and several digital formats), editing (upright Moviola, Steenbeck flatbed, AVID, FCP, Adobe Premiere), and 35mm and medium format film cameras to DSLRs that shoot stills and video I’ve been through plenty of changes since graduating from film school back in the day.

And I wouldn’t say I’m the most technical person out there and there have been many fights on the technical side so I for one welcome the prolific online training available. Help with the creative fight is harder to come by. But Orwig—a photographer/adventurer— is an able guide. And throughout his book he sprinkles quotes from a wide range of people: John Muir, Mark Twain, Dr. Seuss, Mahalia Jackson, Ansel Adams, T.S. Eliot, Seth Godin, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Kelly Slater, Thomas Edison and others. (In fact, an electic group of which I have quoted from many of them on this blog over the years.)

“[Jack London] wrote and wrote on a borrowed typewriter, but still the rejection letters came. One publication sent him this rejection note: ‘Interest in Alaska has subsided in an amazing degree. I do not think it would pay us to buy your story.’ It seemed his adventures up north wouldn’t pay off after all. Little did London know, more rejection was to come. During his first five years as a writer he received an avalanche of over 500 rejection letters. After his books became a huge success, London would say, ‘You have to go after inspiration with a club.”
Chris Orwig
The Creative Fight
page 97

I bought the book last weekend because I wanted to support Orwig, but also because I’m always open to anyone who can help me in my own creative fight. Especially when one can do so visually and poetically, and who often comes to his soulful observations through is own journey of pain, suffering, and brokenness.

Here are some other videos of Orwig speaking that may help you in your creative fight.

Related Posts:
Creativity & Milking Cows
‘Creativity for Life’
lynda.com for President
Off Screen Quote #12 (Kelly Slater)
Living a Creative Life
Creativity’s Best Friend
Where Do Ideas Come From?

Scott W. Smith

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“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 Emmy 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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