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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.”
Goethe

ralph-in-his-office-pano

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.

Cheers—

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

2000

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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How to Write Songs

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

Turns out writing songs and writing screenplays have some things in common:

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

Related post: ‘Against the Wind’

Scott W. Smith

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Different Drummer from Linden, Texas

“Linden, Texas is my home town. It’s a small town in northeastern Texas. When I was growing up the population was about 2,500—2,600. It’s primarily an agricultural area. Some people worked at the steel mill —it’s just a typical small Texas town. There’s an old courthouse dating back to before the Civil War and one stoplight, kinda of like The Last Picture Show. It was a great place musically because it was kind of a cultural crossroads. It’s really located where the old South meets the West. Linden, Texas was the birth place of Scott Joplin and T-Bone Walker. Both of my parents loved music so we had a lot of records  in the house. I was exposed to music of all kinds from an early age. You know, Country and Western, Western swing, gospel music, blues, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Pasty Cline. There was a 50,000 watt radio station in New Orleans and I heard on that station that I didn’t hear anywhere else. And when I’d go to work with my dad he would listen to a station in Shreveport  KWKH and that station broadcast the Louisiana Heyride where Elvis Presley made his first radio broadcast in 1954. The first record I bought was by Elvis Presely. My playing the drums was sort of an organic process. I began by beating on my school books with my fingers and with pencils…I managed to cobble together a drum kit from old drums that I found stashed in the band hall at high school. And then one day my mom said, ‘come on, get in the car,’ and she drove me to a town an hour and a half away called Sulphur Springs, Texas to McKay Music Company. Much to my surprise she bought me a set of Red Sparkle Slingerland drums that I still have today. So I have to give my parents a lot of credit.”
Don Henley—Eagles
HISTORY OF THE EAGLES DVD & Blu Ray currently playing on Netflix

 

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“The world will break your heart ten ways to Sunday—that’s guaranteed.”
Pat (Bradley Cooper)
Silver Linings Playbook

“Next year all our troubles will be miles away.”
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas lyrics
Frank Sinatra version featured in Silver Linings Playbook 

Here’s a little 2-minute video I put together today sitting in a hospital bed on Christmas day, based on the theme and a Christmas scene from Silver Linings Playbook (written & directed by David O. Russell) :

Related Posts:
Broken Wings & Silver Linings
Screenwriting Quote #177 (David O. Russell)
The Greatest Gift The short story that became the classic Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life.

P.S. Countdown to 2000th special post on January 22, 2015—12 posts.

Scott W. Smith

 

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