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“Pelé changed everything.”
—Brazilian soccer great Neymar

Back in 2007 I was working as a cameraman on a shoot in Brazil when I did the dumbest thing I ever did on a production. We flew into São Paulo which I knew was Pelé territory. The soccor great was one of those rare athletes who reached global icon status. The top of the short list over my lifetime is Ali, Tiger, Michael Jordan, and Pelé.

We were told that São Paulo was not the safest place in the world at the time. In fact, just before we arrived there had been a murder at the ranch where we were supposed to stay. We had a security guy with us most of the time. He told us what it took to provide security for the band U2 and the Pope who were both in Brazil in 2006/2007. In short, let me just say there is a reason the Travel Channel has an article titled How to Stay Safe in Rio.

But one night in Rio de Janeiro, I dropped my common sense when I saw a street vender selling a Pelé jersey I just had to have. I was told it was $10 which seemed like a deal. This is where I made a tactical error and reached in my pocket and pulled out a small stack of Brazilian bills (reais). Later someone on the production crew said every mugger within five miles turned their head to look at me. The good news is it was an uneventful transaction and I still have that Pelé 15 years later.

I remembered that shirt after I learned that Pelé died recently. Much has been said and written about the Pelé winning three FIFA World Cups with the Brazil National Football Team, being the key figure for populaizing soccer in the United States, and in 1999 being named The World’s Best Man Player of the Century.

But the lesson I’m going to pass on from Pelé is a pure rags to riches story. Growing up in poverty Pelé could not afford a soccer ball or soccer shoes so he played the game barefoot with a sock stuffed with rags for a ball. Years later in 1970, Puma paid him $120,000 to simply tie his shoes at the World Cup. While he made millions playing soccer, he made tens of millions in endorsement and advertisements deals long after his career was over. His net worth at the end was estimated to be around $100 million.

The lesson there is the ole, do what you can, where you are, with what you have.

Barbara Walters died the day after Pelé died. Over the years I read many stories of the uphill battle she faced as a female journalist in the 1950s. She started her career in broadcasting doing publicity and writing press releases for WNBT-TV in New York City. But the time her career slowed down she’d interviewed Fidel Castro, Margaret Thatcher, Michael Jackson, Sir Laurence Olivier, Jimmy Carter, and the list goes on and on.

Many years ago someone recommended the book she wrote titled How to talk with practically anybody about practically anything. I picked up a used copy and found it a very useful book. Still have it to this day. I’ve applied many of her principles over the last 20 years. In the book she tells the story about when she had lunch with Aristotle Onassis who at the time was one of the riches men in the world. She was hoping to convince him to do a TV interview with her. At the lunch she first she found him to be intimidating and uncooperative. Then she asked him a question that caught his attention:

“Tell me Mr. Onassis, you’re so successful—not just in shipping and airlines, but in other industries too—I wonder, how did you begin? What was your very first job?

“It was like saying the secret word on the old Groucho Marx show, the one that brought down the floppy duck. Onassis clearly was delighted with the question and immediatley became very animated. He told me that he was born in Turkey but emigrated alone to Argentina after his father was jailed during the persecution of the Greeks by the Turks. In Argentina, young Onassis worked as a dishwasher, a construction worker, and finally as a cigarette salesman, which ultimately led to his first big fortune. He seemed touchingly proud that his beginnings had been so lonely and difficult.”

And he agreed to do an interview—on his yacht.

Walter’s made a career out of asking questions that were then seen as a little off beat in traditional journalist. But I’ve found asking most people something about their hometown and/or the equivalent of their first job are great ice breakers.

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

 

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Merry Christmas 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.”
—James Taylor (Secret O’ Time)

Yesterday I drove from Orlando to Tampa to watch Tom Brady play for the first time in person. Widely considered the greatest football in history, I was hoping the 45 year old QB showed a little of his seven-time Super Bowl winning greatness. And while this was just regular season game, it was against the most recent Super Bowl winners—the L.A. Rams.

And a great day it was. I got my money’s worth. And one of those rare times when an event superseded my expectations. I got to see Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp catch eight passes including a 69 yard TD. I got to see Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey do what they do best on the Rams’ defense. Tampa Bay had their own stellar defense. And I saw a 74-yard punt by Jake Camarda that tied the Bucs franchise record.

But most importantly I saw Tom Brady cross the threshold of 100,000 career passing yards. A sports record never likely to be beaten. And to top it off he led the Bucs to a come from beyond victory throwing a TD in the last few seconds of the game. It was classic Tom Brady. And to make it all the more special, that TD just happened to be in the corner of the end zone where I was sitting. I may never go to an NFL game again because everything after this is going to be a letdown.

It was all the more special in that my dad took me to my first ever NFL game in 1976 to watch the Bucs play. It just happened to be the first home game Tampa Bay ever played in franchise history. A preseason game against the Miami Dolphins. I still have the ticket stub.

Here are some of my iPhone photos that capture the day. From my arriving early to make sure I didn’t miss a single play because of a traffic/parking snafu, to the end of the game. (There were no shortage of Brady jerseys.)

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

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I’m going to continue into November with some photo stories from a recent trip I took to Denver, but since today is Halloween I’ll share a passage from a classic Stephen King book about a family in transition:

She went upstairs and into the kitchen. She put on the teapot and laid a couple of Oreos on a plate for Danny in case he decided to come up while she was lying down. Sitting at the table with her big pottery cup in front of her, she looked at the window at him, still sitting on the curb in his bluejeans and his oversized dark green Stovington Prep sweatshirt, the glider now lying beside him/ The tears which had threatened all day now came in a cloudburst and she leaned into the fragrant, curling steam of the tea and wept. In grief the loss for the past, and terror of the future.
The Shining, the last paragraph in chapter two
(And an early sign that things weren’t okay at the Overlook Hotel.)

In the 1980 film version of The Shining, the wife’s fear of terror is realized when she checks on the novel her husband has been working.


And since Scott Beck and Bryan Woods are credited on writing the script for The Boogeyman (2023)—based King’s short story with the same title—it’s fitting to mention they have a book coming out this year centered around their movie Haunt. It’s called Haunt, Screenplay & Filmmakers Diaries.

And while a lot of filmmakers dream of owning a movie theater someday, earlier this month it was announced that Beck and Woods will being opening the Last Picture House in downtown Davenport, Iowa. You can read about it here.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles (The forward was written by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods.)

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A few days ago I drove by the Watson Stiefel Theatre and was blown away by the building. What even made it more surprising is it’s in The Wizard of Oz territory—Salina, Kansas. Just a brief unplanned stop as part of a larger road trip. And the only reason for the asterisk in the title The Nicest Movie Theatre I’ve Ever Seen* is —while I’m sure I could come up with a nice list of movie theaters I’ve seen in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles—I just can‘t think of one that I think is nicer. (It helped that it was a beautiful blue sky day when I took the above photo.)

According to their website, the theatre (then The Cox-Watson Theatre) opened in 1931. The first movie shown there was Not Exactly Gentlemen. (On IMDB it stated that Not Exactly Gentlemen was a remake of the 1926 John Ford directed silent film 3 Bad Men.)

The theatre closed in 1987 due to declining attendance. But at least two civic groups came together over the years to provide major renovations and returned the theatre to its original glory. Renovations were completed just before COVID hit, but I believe its primary intended use is as a music venue. I didn’t get to see the inside of the theatre, but from the photos I’ve seen it also looks beautiful. A job well done by the vision and support of the Salina community. I’d love to see this theatre get a cameo in a feature film someday.

In the coming days I’ll be showing other photos of other movie theatres from my recently completed fall trip.

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

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“I’ve lost everything.”
—Same comment by multiple people in Florida after Hurricane Ian

Back in 2008 I was hired by an insurance company to shoot video footage and interviews following the EF-5 tornado that tore through Parkersburg, Iowa destroying hundreds of homes and killing seven people. I took the above photo in the wreckage, and the sign I’m guessing was put there by the homeowner who lost their home.

It’s hard not to be spiritual in times of crisis. And while I didn’t talk to the person that put up that sign, it is a direct quote from the Bible (1 Thessalonians 5:18). I was in Orlando as Hurricane Ian hit Ft Myers Beach in southwest Florida on it’s way through the center of the state. While it was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it left Central Florida it left unprecedented flooding. The National Record Service said that the storm help make the month September 2022 the wettest on record for Orlando. A total of 22.42″—when the yearly average is 51.” And much of that was in a 24 hour period. (New Smyrna Beach an hour north east of Orlando got over 21 inches alone from the slow moving tropical storm.)

The stories of those in the path of the storm are heartbreaking, including one family that lost their home in the 2018 Woolsey Fire and decided to start over by living on a boat— in Ft. Myers Beach. Looking like they’d lost their home and physical belongings again, they were thankful just to be alive. Others weren’t as fortunate. It looks like it will go down as the deadliest hurricane to hit Florida since 1935. (And possibly the most expensive ever to hit Florida.)

I was in LA when the Whittier earthquake hit, in Orlando during part of Hurricane Charley’s $16 billion damage trail, and drove through Miami and the coast of Mississippi not long after Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina devastated those areas. There are harder times than others to be thankful. But I’m always thankful in times of loss because I know it could have been worse. Then I take stock of things to be thankful for—starting with just seeing another day.

In the 2011 Bastrop County Complex Wildfire in Texas that burned more than 1,500 homes, filmmaker Richard Linklater lost a building and an estimated $500,000 of film memorabilia and irreplaceable personal mementos. He said it made him less materialistic, and added this perspective;

”It’s all gonna be dust someday anyway. It reinforces my notion of the utter impermanence of not only life, but things. Thrift stores are full of stuff that meant something to someone’s grandparents. At some point in the future, there’s no one who remembers the connection. And the same goes for all of our gravestones. Eventually there’s no one alive on earth who ever knew you.”
—Writer/Director Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Grantland article ”Golden Boy” by James Hughes

It’s been hard to think about screenwriting in the last week. But storytelling has a way of getting to the truth. I was reminded last week of the 1980 TV miniseries Condominium, based on the novel of the same name by John D. MacDonald. I seem to recall a scene where instead of fleeing the storm, people had a “Hurricane party.” That didn’t end well for them. While fiction, MacDonald addressed in his book over 45 years ago the dangers of greed, corruption, and poor planning in the face of powerful storms.

Even much further back than that, Jesus told the story of the foolish man who built his house upon the sand, but that’s a different story/sermon for a different day. Let’s just focus on being thankful today.

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

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“Everyone who’s sat in that chair has died of unnatural causes.”
—Sound bite from the Crooked City/Youngstown, Ohio podcast

The above quote from the Crooked City podcast shows just how connected ancient Athens, Greece is to contemporary Youngstown, Ohio. (At least, a fairly recent era of Youngstown folklore.) A story that dates back a couple hundred years B.C. is that of a fellow named Damocles who told the king, Dionysius, that the king had it made in the shade.

The king knew otherwise. Because despite his royal exterior of grandeur, there was an ever-present threat of danger. And to illustrate this point, Dionysius offered Damocles the opportunity to sit upon his throne for one day. Damocles jumped at the chance to sit in the seat of luxury.

But Dionysus had mounted a sword above his throne—hung by the single hair of a horse’s hair—to remind himself of the hazards of the job. He had deadly enemies. Damocles had a change of heart and decided that he didn’t want to live like a king after all. That’s where the phrase, “The sword of Damocles” comes from. He didn’t last a day on the job. Too much stress.

”Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”
—Shakespeare’s Henry IV

The same could be said for being a politician (or a Mafia leader) in Youngstown, Ohio. One of the central characters in Crooked City is Jim Traficant, a former U.S. House of Representative from Youngstown. A man who once took money from the mob, and also did prison time for bribery, racketeering, and tax evasion.

Producer Marc Smerling’s Crooked City paints Youngstown as steel mill boomtown turned ”Crime Town USA.” A 1963 Saturday Evening Post headline read, ”Youngstown has had 75 bombings, 11 killings, in a decade and no one seems to care.” Youngstown is situated between Cleveland, OH and Pittsburg, PA so there were turf wars just like you’ll find in any good Mafia movie.

Things didn’t improve as the steel mills that originally made Youngstown prosperous began closing in the mid-‘70s. In 1991, Youngstown had 59 murders, one for every 2,000 people. One of the highest per capita in the United States.

I realized listening to Crooked City that it actually embodies most of the ingredients I write about in my book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles.
—Conflict
—Concept
—Catalyst
—Construction
—Climaxes and Conclusions
—Catharsis
—Controlling Idea
—Change
—Careers and Cows

I think all of my chapters are all well represented in Crooked City. (Except for the reference to cows. But Smerling makes up for it by starting and ending his podcast with an odd and deadly tractor accident on a 170 acre Youngstown-area farm.) And I’m not sure about the whole catharsis thing. I think Youngstown is still coming to terms with its past as it tries to move into the future.

It’s also a sound bite machine from a wide ranging cast of real life characters who make up Youngstown’s colorful past. Here are my two favorite sound bites (from my favorite podcast of 2022) that would fit right at home in a Hollywood screenplay.

“He had eyes as black as coal, and a heart twice as dark.”

”Joey was the type of guy—his clothes has to be perfect. Well-dressed, groomed. He would floss his teeth 50 times a day.”

Stephen King says you should be able to depict a setting or person with just two or three choice details. I think those two are great descriptions. The one gives you a good feel for Joey Naples. (Naples by the way was killed in an ambush.)

I’ve watched (well, technically listened to) podcasts evolve greatly over the last decade. And, truth be told, I think I’ve listened to more podcasts than watched movies since the start of the pandemic lockdowns in March of 2020. And the fact that Crooked City is so good is no accident. It turns out that Smerling has an M.A. from USC film school, is an Emmy-winning and Academy Award-nominated producer whose credits include All Good Things (2010) which starred Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst. Are podcasts the new indie films?

”I wanted to continue to tell crime stories that delved much deeper and had something larger to say about who we are. Crime is nothing if not the purest distillation of the dark side of human experience.”
—Marc Smerling
Deadline

One more Crooked City sound bite:

“[Jim]Traficant was the most talented politician this area has ever seen. Traficant was also the most corrupt.”

P.S. I have a love affair with Youngstown, Ohio. Probably because my dad was from Youngstown. He briefly worked at Youngstown Sheet and Tube, and his father worked there for over 30 years. After I listened to Crooked City, I watched ESPN’s Youngstown Boys (2013) documentary that I actually had never seen. I’m starting to think Youngstown, Ohio (and former Ohio State football player Maurice Clarett)— are a microcosm of the United States. Representing what it means to have tasted both greatness and brutal loss—and striving for redemption.

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

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”As a quarterback, I’ve been the guy that people were yelling for; I’ve been the guy that’s been booed in my own stadium.”
—Scott Frost

The Hollywood ending for the University of Nebraska was supposed to go something like this: A once powerhouse football team hires its former star quarterback to restore their program to national prominence. Instead, head football coach Scott Frost was fired this week after he started the season with a record of one win and two loses. Nebraska not only failed to play in a bowl game with Frost as coach, but they actually lost more games than they won over the last five years.

But, man, the setup was great. 

Frost was a Parade All-American quarterback while playing for a rural high school in Nebraska. As a QB at the University of Nebraska, he led the Cornhuskers to a shared National Championship in 1997. As a coach, he was the offensive coordinator at Oregon where he helped Marcus Mariota win the Heisman Trophy. He became the head coach at the University of Central Florida and the turnaround he brought to that program was so significant that I even mentioned it in my book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles in the chapter on change. 

In 2015, the University of Central Florida (UCF) football team finished the season 0-12. This was the worst season in school history, and the team finished last in the American Athletic Conference. The head coach resigned before the season ended. Two years later, the team finished with a Peach Bowl win against Auburn and a 13-0 record. They not only won their conference, and finished in the top ten for the first time in major polls, but in The Colley Matrix they were listed as the 2017 National Champions.

Although such extreme reversals are uncommon in sports and otherwise, they happen often in the movies. This is probably a big part of why we watch movies. As Blake Snyder says, “All stories are about transformation.”

After two seasons at UCF, Frost signed a 7-year deal worth $35 million to be the head coach at his alma mater. Who better to bring back the glory than a home grown hero? Of course, the problem with being on top of the mountain is the only place to go is down. Sports, like movies, reflect well the ”thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.” Frost has experienced a roller coaster of highs and lows in just one six year period.

“A reversal changes the direction of the story 180 degrees. . . . Reversals can work physically or emotionally. They can reverse the action or reverse a character’s emotions.”
-Linda Seger
Making A Good Script Great

But this isn’t exactly uncharted territory for Frost. In high school he experienced what it was like to lose a state championship game. In the NFL he experienced a short-lived career as a player. As an assistant at Oregon he experienced losing a National Championship game. I imagine he’d say that all those set-backs made his other successes all that sweeter. 

And he’ll come back. Because he’s a winner. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was hired as a QB coach in the NFL or a college offensive coordinator by the end of the year. Or he could wait for ideal head coaching job which is better setup for sucess than he had at Nebraska. And to take the sting away, Frost gets a $15 million buyout of his contract. Beats getting fired and wondering how you’re going to afford keeping your Midwest home heated this winter. 

P.S. Here are a few quirky connections to Scott Frost. When I started this blog in 2008 I lived in Cedar Falls, Iowa. In 2008, Scott Frost was also living in Cedar Falls, Iowa where he was an assistant football coach at the University of Northern Iowa. My high school football coach, Sam Weir, was also once the head coach at the University of Central Florida. And when Frost coached at UCF, I lived less than 4 miles from him.

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

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