Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

Arnold Palmer (1929-2016)

“Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated; it satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening—and it is without a doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented.”
Arnold Palmer


This morning when I heard he’d died it reminded me of a couple of years ago when I had a meeting at the Golf Channel in Orlando, Florida and took the above photo of his parking space there.

Here’s a nice tribute on Arnold by Golf Digest including thoughts from actor Chris O’Donnell, broadcaster Jim Nantz, and hockey great Wayne Gretzky:

Scott W. Smith



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So now that I passed a million views on this blog…now what?  Good question. I’ve been wrestling with that answer. (If you’re short on time check out a Patreon account I just set up.)


Jon Krakauer touches on the theme of how fleeting mountain top experience can be in his book Into Thin Air as he explores the quest to reach the summit of  Mount Everest. His says behind most mountain climbers desire to reach the highest peak in the world are years of dreaming, training, and a lot of money for travel, gear, and sherpas to assist in the climb.

A climb in which people have died. One that if you are fortunate to accomplish that feat (as Krakauer did in ’96) when you finally arrive at the top of the world you are light headed from the altitude and are sleep and food deprived. As Krakauer stood “28,028 feet up in the troposphere” he didn’t have much time to take in the view due to needing to descend for survival purposes.

“I’d been fantasizing about this moment, and the release of emotion that would accompany it, for many months. But I was finally here, actually standing on the summit of Mount Everest, I just couldn’t summon the energy to care….I snapped four quick photos…then turned and headed down. My watch read 1:17 P.M. All told, I’d spent less than five minutes on the roof of the world.”
John Krakauer
Into Thin Air

Back in college I used to have a Nike poster with the tagline “THERE IS NO FINISH LINE.” Looking back I see it as inspirational, but with a twist of futility. Finish lines are good. They let us know how good someone like nine-time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt is in the world of sprinting.

Speaking of Olympic gold medals…as an athlete I never came close to winning a Olympic medal—well, I did win a first place blue ribbon in a potato sack hop during the English Estates Elementary School Olympics when I was ten, though I don’t think that counts—but I can imagine the let down after the real Olympic games are over. A lifetime of dreaming and training for an actual moment that, in some cases, lasted less than a minute of actual competition. Then what?

Well, after nine years of posts, I can see the finish line.

January 21, 2018 to be exact. (About 15 months away.)

That would complete 10 years of writing Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places blog posts. My goal was never to blog for ten years, or to get 1 million views, it was to blog about 50,000 words—enough for a book. (In case you’re wondering, I’m finally within striking distance of completing the book. More on that in coming weeks.)

Then what?

Crossing a finish line doesn’t mean the end. To switch metaphors, I’m not quite sure how I’ll land this plane, but I will continue to create content in some form. And while blogging will be an element it will evolve into something much broader than just screenwriting and include video essays—and possibly a podcast, infographics, ebooks, and whatever ever new technology seems fitting.

But those things are going to take even more time and resources, and probably more help from others to help pull off. For the 2,323 blog post that I’ve written I would say I invested an average two hours of time per post, meaning I poured into this blog at least  4,646 hours. And that doesn’t include all the books read, movies watched, commentaries listened to, internet searches, interviews recorded, transcriptions written & edited, and research in general.

A little crazy, I know. But that’s why they call passion projects, passion projects. There was no business plan written, no accounting books kept, no marketing plan prepared. No army of people gathered to study analytics. Just a strong desire to write informative posts and curate the best screenwriting and filmmaking advice for you and the next generation.

But as I attempt to climb the next mountain I need some assistance, so I’ve set up a Patreon account to see if readers like yourself will assist me. Please check out the website and thank you for consideration. And since this is a new venture it’s bound to have a few kinks to work out so I welcome all your input. As always, I can be reached at info@scottwsmith.com.

P.S. If you’re familiar with Patreon and support others already, I’m especially interested in hearing about your experiences.

Scott W. Smith




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Well, the wind is blowin’ harder now
Fifty knots or there abouts,
There’s white caps on the ocean.
And I’m watching for water spouts
Jimmy Buffett/Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 8.07.37 PM.png

As I type this post, residents here in Florida are waiting for a hurricane to make landfall in the state for the first time in ten years. Hurricane Hermine is predicted to make landfall near Tallahasse in a couple of hours. The Weather Channel warns of damaging winds, life-threatening storm surge flooding, as well as the threat of tornadoes.

So the day will end just as rough as it started when the Space X unmanned rocket launch exploded this morning on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral. Once again a reminder of how fragile we are despite our command of advanced technology, as well nature’s power to wreck havoc.

Dere is trouble all over dis world
Children, dere is trouble all over dis world
Traditional Negro Spiritual
(What was sung before Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech)

Let’s hope tomorrow is a better day.

And despite the negative news, a personal bright spot is later tonight or early tomorrow morning this blog will hit a milestone that I never dreamed about when I started this blog almost nine years ago. I’ve actually been waiting for it for about a year and a half.

Come tomorrow and see what I’ve been waiting for and how this plateau will potentially change the future of this blog. If you’re new to this blog, or a long time reader, thanks for taking the time to visit Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places. For me it’s been a little like trying to surf in a hurricane—a pretty crazy ride.

Everyone in the greater Florida panhandle area take care, and I’ll see ya tomorrow.

P.S. And if you personally need a little pick up today, check out the Rich Roll podcast interview with George Raveling. I listen to a lot of podcasts these days and this one one was one of the most inspirational ones I’ve heard all year. The story of how Martin Luther King Jr. handed Raveling his speaking notes from what is now known as King’s 1963  I Have a Dream Speech in Washington D.C. is outstanding. (King, by the way, was only allotted 5 minutes to speak at the Civil Rights March, but Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson keep telling King—in the middle of his speech— to tell the people about his dream. King ended up speaking for 16 minutes, and history was made. But Raveling tells the story much better than I can so check it out.

Related posts:
Shelter from the Storm (Bob Dylan)
Shelter from the Storm (Dorothy)
Postcard #21 (Hurricane Isaac)
Postcard #83 (Kennedy Space Center)
Postcard #104 (Space X)
Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting

Scott W. Smith


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“In life I wasn’t funny. I felt on stage or in movies I could do whatever I wanted. I was free.”
Gene Wilder


It’s hard to write something about Gene Wilder that hasn’t been written since he passed away two years ago. But I’d like to touch on his Midwestern roots and how he found small victories on his way to greater success. After all, that is a key aspect of this blog all these years.

Wilder was born Jerome Silberman in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As a youth, he entertained his mother with humor to try and help ease the pressure of her bad health. He began studying acting at 13, his older actress sister got him a spot doing summer stock when he was 16, and when he was 18 he followed her theatrical path and attended the University of Iowa because of its reputable theater program.

He was in four plays his freshman year alone (Note: It’s not easy to get stage time as a freshman in top drama programs), and graduated in 1955. Kim Howard Johnson’s book The Funniest One in the Room: The Lives and Legends of Del Close mentions that Del Close claimed to have been a roommate of Wilder’s at Iowa. Wilder didn’t mention that in his autobiography, but they were within a year of each other age wise and did both attend Iowa so it’s possible.

If true, it certainly would have made for an incubator of creativity. While Wilder would go on to Broadway and Hollywood success, Close would make his impact mostly in Chicago being a early part of improv (Second City/Upright Citizens Brigade) and whose students included; Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Chris Farley,  Mike Myers, John Candy, Jon Favreau, Tina Fey,  Harold Ramis, John Belushi, and Gilda Radner (who would eventually marry Gene Wilder).

“Many have called Del Close the most important comedy figure of the last fifty years whom you’ve never hear of.”
Kim Howard Johnson

Close was only at Iowa one semester, but I’d like to believe that he and Wilder had some late night discussions in Iowa City about “pure imagination,” in the Willy Wonka sense.

The first time I saw Wilder was in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when I was ten years old. Watching Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, Silver Steak and Stir Crazy are like entertaining sign posts through my middle school and high school years. In a time before cable and the Internet—and back when hit movies had lines to get in—Wilder was memorable because he made me laugh.

But he wasn’t Steve Martin funny. And when you look at the path he took after Iowa and you seem to see a disconnect—until you learn that Wilder said seeing Lee J. Cobb in Death of a Salesman was what made him want to become an actor. Wilder went to New York and studied with Lee Strasberg (where Wilder said he was only two actors out of 1,200 accepted into the actors studio when he applied).

He yearned to be a serious actor.

Opportunities in off-Broadway and Broadway plays brought him into contact with the person he claimed would change the direction of his career.

“I was miscast in that production [of Mother Courage and Her Children] … but it was with Anne Bancroft, whose boyfriend at the time was Mel Brooks, and that made my — I can’t say my day, it made my life, in a way.”
Gene Wilder
NPR/Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross 

Wilder co-starred in The Producers (1967) which Mel Brooks produced and directed. They team up again on Young Frankenstein (written by Wilder) and on Blazing Saddles (where Wilder was The Waco Kid).

The disconnect: Wilder was seriously funny.

So while Wilder was influenced by the seriousness of playwright Arthur Miller, he also wrote in his autobiography that another giant influence was Charlie Chaplin. He specifically points out the brilliance Chaplin in the hot dog scene from The Circus (1928).

“The acting lesson from this film seems so simple, yet inspired me for the rest of my career: if the thing you’re doing is really funny, you don’t need to ‘act funny’ while doing it.”
Gene Wilder
Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art

Wilder wrote, directed, and starred in movies through the 80s, but seemed to walk away from Hollywood after his wife, Gilda Radner, died in 1989. But he had a great over ten year run that included his best work with Brooks and Richard Pryor, and as Willy Wonka, and that brought me some of the greatest joys of childhood and teenage years.

P.S. The University of Iowa is home to the The Gene Wilder Papers. And a nice Iowa tie-in is Cloris Leachman, who plays Frau Blücher in Young Frankenstein, was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa.

Scott W. Smith

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Jamaica’s six gold medals at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games matched what its athletes did at the 2008 Beijing Games. That made me think of a post I wrote in 2008 on Jamaica and I thought it was worth reposting today as a reminder of how small places foster talent that can perform on a world stage:

“Little Jamaica — our country is blessed with some of the best, if not the best, talent you can find.”
Olivia Grange,
Jamaica’s minister of sport

Chances are when you think of movies and Jamaica Cool Runnings comes to mind. (If you’re old school you may remember that part of Sean Connery’s first Bond film, Dr. No, was filmed in Jamaica.)  But my interest in connecting screenwriting and Jamaica has to do with the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Not to take away from Baltimore’s Michael Phelps’ outstanding achievement of winning eight gold medals in Beijing, but I can’t get over the fact that over the weekend Jamaican athletes won gold in the men and women’s 100 meter sprint.

Usain Bolt did it in world record speed on the male side and on the female side Jamaican runners collected all the medals. ESPN dubbed Jamaica “World’s Fastest Nation.”

What is most amazing to me about this feat is that the total population of Jamaica is under 3 million compared to over 300 million for the United States. (And there are a few other countries at the Olympics as well.) Another way to look at it is Iowa also has three million people. This is really at the heart what Screenwriting from Iowa is all about. That amazing things can come from little places.

But amazing things don’t come out of thin air. If you look beyond Jamaica’s gold medals you will find the secret to how a small impoverished island ended up on top the world stage.  Matthew Clark wrote an insightful article on this titled a couple of months ago, How Tiny Jamaica Developed So Many Champion Sprinters. Like champion long distances runners from Kenya and Ethiopia the key word there is developed.

Anthony Davis, the sports director at Jamaica’s University of Technology (UTECH), whose programs and facilities developed Bolt told Clark, “You’d have had to plant a seed long ago to get where we are today.”

Davis helped start the school because traditionally Jamaica’s best athletes left the country to compete for colleges in the United States. And though the program is looking golden now, its original vision was doubted and even today its facilities are still second-rate compared to the US.   According to Davis, “We had a choice: complain about the resources and do nothing or work with what we have.”

Clark’s article points out; Another reason for Jamaicans’ success: their attitude, according to  (Fitz) Coleman ( a technical coach on Bolt’s team) “We genuinely believe that we’ll conquer,” he says. “It’s a mindset. We’re small and we’re poor, but we believe in ourselves.”

A couple years ago I shot a documentary in Jamaica and spent a few days in Kingston far away from the other side of the island where tourist usually spend their time on peaceful beaches. We were told not to walk outside the barbed wire topped walls of our hotel at night and that the murder rate per capita was higher than Haiti.

The economics of the area are poor — in fact one home we shot in would be the equivalent of a large tool shed in the States-no air and and no bathroom. But I found the people warm and friendly, and the music, food, culture and history totally captivated me.

We did take time to tour the Bob Marley Museum in the home where he used to live and it is a must see for reggae fans. Nothing quite brightens driving on snowy freezing day in Iowa as listening to Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” (But even if a white guy from Iowa likes reggae music, it may be a sin for him to wear a traditional Jamaican hat. At least I didn’t get the one with fake dredlocks for the full Rastafarian poser look. Just doing my part to help the economy there.)

And just how has a little island again produced such memorable music? No, I’m not thinking about the herbs Marley had in his spliff. Once again talent, training and time are the key.

Believe it or not there is actually a strong connection between Jamaica’s musical heritage and a school run by Catholic nuns. The Sisters of Mercy founded the Alpha Boys’ School in 1892 to house and educate “wayward boys’ from poor families in Jamaica. Music was a key part of their education.

An interesting read on this is Tracing reggae’s Catholic roots by Thomas Green.

“Without the school, there just wouldn’t have been the blossoming of talent on the island in the key period of the `60s and `70s,” says Laurence Cane-Honeysett, a music consultant to reggae label Trojan Records, who has compiled the excellent album Alpha Boys’ School: Music in Education 1910-2006.

“When the Jamaican music industry took off, it was totally dependent on those who studied there,” he says.

So wherever you are in your screenwriting journey I hope you can be inspired by the small island of Jamaica and its recent gold medal achievements. And whether you live in West Des Moines, West Africa, or West Covina I hope you remember the words of Jamaican sports director Anthony Davis, “We had a choice: complain about the resources and do nothing or work with what we have.”

August 22, 2008 Update
In the last couple days the men and women’s Jamaican track team left no questions in regard to their dominance as they claimed gold medals in every single Olympic individual sprinting event. Anyone working on the script on the life of three time gold medalist and world record holder Usain Bolt’s life story yet?

To put Jamaica’s achievements in perspective, they ended up with six gold medals. It was estimated that for China to have won the same amount of gold medals per capita that they would have had to won 2,889 gold medals. So pop open a Red Stripe for the little guys this week.

(It was also great to see Iowa’s own Shawn Johnson—who just happens to be from West Des Moines— win a gold on the balance beam.)

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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The 2016 Rio Olympics closing ceremony ended yesterday with many memorable moments over the past two weeks including three more gold medals for Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. So I thought it would be fitting to re-post what I wrote about Bolt after he won three gold medals four years ago:

“I would say I’m the greatest.”
Usain Bolt

“This is very good for the country.”
Portia Simpson—Miller
Prime Minister of Jamaica after the 200m Olympic finals

Jamaica stunned the world yesterday. Taking home the gold, silver, and bronze in the men’s 200-metres finals at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

I haven’t written about this year’s Olympics, because I hadn’t found any motivation to connect it to screenwriting.  Then suddenly a bolt of inspiration hit me. And not just as in Usain Bolt being dubbed the fastest man ever after he became the first person ever to win the 100m & the 200m races in back to back Olympics. But because of Jamaica’s historic 1,2,3 finish in the 200m race.

Think about that—The population of Jamaica is smaller than the population of the state of Iowa. In other words, a country of less than 3 million people had three sons in one race who were faster than the other 7 billion people living on this planet. Sprinters Bolt, Yohan Blake, and Warren Weir walked away with the medals sweep.

That doesn’t happen by accident. Four year’s ago in the post Screenwriting Jamaican-Olympic Style, I wrote about the long establish training tradition that has made Jamaica such a force in the men’s and women’s track & field. And the connection to screenwriting and filmmaking is some incredible things can happen in small tucked away places, but they are years in the making.

Remember I launched this blog in January of 2008 after seeing Juno and learning about a Minneapolis screenwriter (Diablo Cody) who wrote that script in the suburbs of Minneapolis. In the post Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours, I mentioned that while it was Cody’s first screenplay it followed 15 years of creative writing everyday . (Including four years of writing while at the University of Iowa.)

Yesterday all the talk about Bolt and the one time fastest man in the world, Carl Lewis, reminded me that I once stood next to greatness. It was 1987 at the Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut, California. Lewis had won four gold medals at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and would later be named by Sports Illustrated “Olympian if the Century.” I was a cameraman shooting footage with an Eclair NPR 16mm camera as Lewis performed “one of the most outstanding individual performances ever witnessed at the Relays, as all six of his leaps in the long jump exceeded 28 feet.” I was 25 years old, the exact age of Lewis—and the exact age of Bolt.

What’s fun about writing this blog is the little connections I can make from time to time. While I’ve been able to parlay a love of photography, movies, and a film school degree into a lifelong career in production—even got to shoot a documentary in Kingston, Jamaica back in ’06—I would never confuse what I do with what Billy Wilder and Paddy Chayefsy did or what Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin do today. But my little successes (and failures) make me appreciate those with huge talent backed up by outrageous success. And the hope that we all have is that we can learn from the great ones (and even the less than great ones) and it will improve our work.


Scott W. Smith

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“A successful focus sentence is the most basic, bare-bones version of your narrative arc.”
Jessica Abel
Out on the Wire, Episode 4

A focus sentence is what screenwriters call a logline. The essential elements of your story. In the podcast Out on a Wire, Jessica Abel explains how some narrative & non-fiction radio/podcast producers use the technique “that allows you to slot in elements of the story in order to identify the essential question of the story.”

And she points out that the focus sentence idea came to her from The Transom Story Workshop teacher Rob Rosenthal, who found the concept in the book From Idea to Air: Getting Paid for Your Writing on Public Radio by Tod Maffin.

Jessica explains the focus sentence:

It goes like this:

does something,

Let’s go over that again.

A main character. A protagonist.

Does something.
The protagonist is in motion, in the middle of living his or her life.

The protagonist has a motivation–inner, or outer–for doing whatever it is that he or she is doing.

There is something that stands in his or her way. Something that makes this action difficult or problematic, and means that the outcome is unknown.

So here’s an example:

Good boy Luke Skywalker is frustrated, living a boring life on a farm on Tatooine. He buys some boring new farm androids, who turn out to have some kind of holo image hidden inside.
Because he’s a sucker for a pretty girl begging for help, he sets out to find “Old Ben Kenobi.”

But the Empire is looking for those same androids, and when Storm Troopers kill his family, it sets him on a path that will determine the fate of the galaxy.

Now on the the  CreativeLive class Power Your Podcast with Storytelling, Alex Blumberg reveals what he calls The Story Formula (another version of a focus sentence:

The formula is:

I’m doing a story about X
And it’s interesting because of Y

It’s hard for for me, it’s hard work for everybody, to try to figure out what is the most compelling way of framing the thing I’m trying to discuss. What is the thing that takes it out of being sort of a stock, tacky way of thinking about something, and turns it around into something that’s fresh and exciting? It’s hard. And it takes a lot of time. And it takes a lot of practice. But I’m living proof that you can cross the chasm.”  
Alex Blumberg
CEO & co-founder of Gimlet Media and producer/host of the podcast StartUp

And just to throw in a third version of a focus sentence Jessica found one more producer, who came up with a more dynamic demand on the story you are trying to tell.

I want to have some reason for that story to exist. I want to be like, It needs to say something back to the entire universe, or say something back to me in my life in some kind of way.

Yeah, so maybe my sentence would be,

This happened ____, then this _____, then this____, and then you wouldn’t [BEEP] believe it but _______ . And the reason that is interesting to every single person walking on the face of the earth is _________.
Soren Wheeler
Senior Producer of Radiolab

So there have three different options to test your story ideas. Find what works for you.

P.S. And I guess this would be a good time to toss in one of the 22 #storybasics I’ve picked up in my time at Pixar by Emma Coats:
#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

From the post A Really Simple Writing Rule (via Trey Parker) the South Park gang does this:
 What should happen between every beat that you’ve written down, is either the word ‘therefore’ or ‘but’. So you come up with an idea and write ‘and this happens…and then this happens…’ no, no, no. It should be ‘this happens and therefore, this happens’. ‘But, this happens, therefore, this happens….’”

Related posts:
The Perfect Logline
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (part 2) 
‘The Inside Pitch’ “A logline is a super tiny pitch. A TV guide presentation of your story. Two or three sentences….It’s important to know what the thoughline of your story is…if I don’t hear a throughline, I don’t think you have a dramatic story.”—Christopher Lockhart

Scott W. Smith



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