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“In the beginning, I tried to be a more cosmopolitan writer, but I realized that I was a country boy, and I had to deal with things I knew about and where I came from.”
Ernest Gaines

The odds from the start were greatly against Ernest Gaines becoming the novelist Ernest Gaines. Or the one whose work would one day be turned into a landmark TV movie that would win nine Emmys.

Imagine being born in Oscar, Louisiana during the depression. To poor black parents who were sharecroppers. And at the age six, instead of going to school, you began working in the fields picking cotton, onions, or Irish potatoes for 50 cents a day. As hard as that is to imagine, I’m sure it was a harder life for Gaines to live.

But Gaines, who died yesterday at age 86, had couple of things in his favor—and one important side hustle. His crippled aunt never walked but that didn’t stop her from cooking, cleaning, and being a strong displinarian to a houseful of kids. She was the main inspiration and guiding force in his childhood—all the more important after his parents life him behind after World War II to seek employment in California.

And in a church they used as a schoolroom five months of the year in the off-harvest season, Gaines learned to read and write. That gave him the opportunity to start his side hustle—his first writing gig. He wrote letters for the elderly people at five cents a pop. And because the people wanted him to fill the front and back of the paper, it gave him an opportunity to use some creativity beyond talking about the weather. And a writer was born. (Though he didn’t acknowlege that until many years later.)

At 15, he would join his parents in Vallejo, California just north of San Francisco. His literary world greatly expanded when he went into a library for a first time in his life. He read a wide variety of writers from around the world, and then attended Solano Community College northeast of Vallejo. That led to an opportunity to study at San Francisco State University. Two of his stories were published in the student library magazine and that opened doors for him to study at Stanford University with Wallace Stegner. 

At this point he was a long way from Oscar, Louisiana. But he would return to Oscar frequently for inspiration. He may have written in California, but the subjects were usually the people and the land of the rural South.

Two of his best knows novels are A Lesson Before Dying and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Both were turned into TV movies, but it was Jane Pittman that was a cultural phenomena in 1974— a few years before the miniseries Roots.

It’s the story of one woman’s journey from slavey to the Civil Rights movement. Though I was 12-13 when the movie came out, I remember clearly all the promotional material released about Cicely Tyson playing both the young and 110-year-old Pittman. Her transformation was so well received that she won two Emmys (Actress of the Year and Best Lead in a Drama). In total it won nine Emmys including John Korty’s direction and Tracy Keenan Wynn’s adaption.

My mentor and former professor Annye Refoe took a graduate class where Gaines made an appearance. I asked her what book of his she’d recommend and she said A Gathering of Old Men. That book was also adapted into a TV movie with the same title (by Charles Fuller) starring Louis Gossett Jr, Richard Widmark, and Holly Hunter.

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“Now that I look back on my career for the past forty-some years, I feel that I’m still writing those letters for those old people. Not only for the old, but the young as well. And not only for those I knew as a child, but for those who lived many generations before. They were not given a chance to read and write, and I was. But without their voices, had I not sat on that porch and wrote letters 55 years ago, I’m certain that I would not be sitting here tonight. After all, what else what I had to write about?”
Ernest Gaines
American Academy of Achievement summit  (heard on the What it takes podcast)

Just another example of what can rise up from unlikely places.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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“Often bumpy roads lead to beautiful places. And this is a beautiful place.”
Washington Nationals Manager Dave Martinez

If you like comebacks and reversals then the 2018-2019 Washington Nationals are your team. There aren’t too many people in May 2019 who would have predicted that the Washington Nationals at the end of October would be World Series champs. After all, their record at that point was 19-31 and one predictor gave them a .05% of winning the World Series.  Forget the playoffs, just finishing with a winning record seemed a long shot. A common question debated was when Nationals’ manager Dave Martinez would be fired.

But last Wednesday the Nationals came back in game 7, just like they had all year, to win that game—and their first World Series championship in franchise history. And on Saturday they celebrated with a parade in Washington, D.C.

Since this is a blog with a focus on screenwriting and filmmaking, let me look at the Nationals’ accomplishment from that perspective. As I’ve mentioned before, Martinez and I went to the Lake Howell High School with him beginning to attend the year after I graduated. I was in my first year of college and working for the Sanford Herald and covered some of the games Martinez played.

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Here’s an article published on March 15, 1981 where I wrote “Martinez, a pitcher-left fielder, transferred from New York two weeks ago. [Coach Birto] Benjamin has high hopes for his left-handed junior.”

In a recent interview Benjamin thought Martinez could play college ball and even had  the big league potential, but he never envisioned Martinez would have the wild success he’s had as a coach and manager. Martinez turned down a lowball pro offer to play baseball at what is now Valencia College.

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Dave Martinez at Valencia College in 1982

In 1983 Martinez signed with the Chicago Cubs and played briefly with the Iowa Cubs in the Quad Cites. In 1986, he did something that every Little League player dreams of doing—he was playing baseball in the major leagues.

He had a 15-year career as a player, and that alone is a major accomplishment. In the whole history of Lake Howell only two players have made it to the major leagues. The second being Eddie Taubensee—who I also covered working for the Herald.

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Eddie Taubensee a few years before he was a 6’4″ MLB player

The thing that both Martinez and Taubensee have in common is that long before they were playing Major League Baseball, they were honing their skills in Little League. Martinez in Long Island and Taubensee in Altamonte Springs. I imagine both of them were playing competitive baseball for a 10-12 years before they stepped on a major league field.

They had small victories along the way. Their talent, skill, accomplishments, hard work and potential became to shine over the rest. I don’t think screenwriting and filmmaking is any different. Except screenwriters and filmmakers sometimes think they are going to spring up to the Oscar stage from a dream they had yesterday. (Even Diablo Cody, who is the rare screenwriter who did win an Oscar in her first screenplay—Juno—said that she had been writing poetry and short stories everyday since she was 12. That was a 15+year overnight success.)

I enjoyed my year of working as a sports reporter and photographer. I watched a lot of talented players—none better than Tim Raines who in 2017 was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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In 2009 I compared working screenwriters to NFL player in the post How Much Do Screenwriters Make? that has now been viewed more than 100,000 times. It was a comparison I now here a few times a year, but one I’d never heard or read before. Check it out if you’ve never read it before.

Some closing encouraging advice comes from one of my acting teachers back in the day. He actually used a baseball metaphor to encourage young actors, “Just because you can’t be Babe Ruth, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy playing the game.” You can unpack that in any way you want. But without Little League coaches enjoying the game, Martinez probably wouldn’t have honed his baseball skills at a young age. There’s not going to be another Steven Spielberg, but there are going to be filmmakers creating theatrical and streaming entertainment. And there’s going to be others all around the world that take what they learn and become content creators and making a living with their technical and creative skills.

My biggest dream at 19 years old was to be a photographer some day for Sports Illustrated magazine. But by the time I was 20 I began to tire of doing sports photography. I remember clearly thinking after one year that I didn’t want to be taking pictures of people sliding into home when I was 30-years old. (When you’re 20 you tend to think of 30 as ancient.) But looking back it was a great experience. And Dave Martinez’s success gave me a good excuse to revisit that era of my life. (An era where I didn’t have the benefit of auto focus lens or an auto-winder to take the photos below.)

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Scott W. Smith

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“[Dave Martinez is] a fine role model for many. Just not, it seems, a very good big league manager.”
Thomas Boswell
The Washington Post, May 22, 2019
(A few months before Martinez led the Nationals to their first ever World Series appearance.)

“If the Nationals don’t turn it around soon, don’t be surprised if [Martinez is] the first manager fired in 2019.”
David Schoenfield,
ESPN article, May 8, 2019 

Last night, during game six of the World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals, I continued a baseball tradition from my youth. As a Little League player in the era before the internet and even cable TV, I was so in love with baseball that I would listen to baseball games on the radio. I was a fan of the Cincinnati Reds when they were nicknamed The Big Red Machine.

When they played the Atlanta Braves I was able to follow the play by play commentary from a radio station out of Georgia. And for reasons I’m not totally sure of today, I had better reception from the radio in my mom’s car. So if you can imagine a 11-14 year old in Orlando, Florida sitting in a station wagon at night listening to a baseball game, that was me.

I’ve been listening to the 2019 World Series that way as well, but on my phone and in bed. If the game is uneventful I drift to sleep like listening to a podcast. But last night I stayed up for the whole game because of the drama.

With the Washington Nationals down 2-1 there was a controversial call against the Nationals that could have potentially changed the outcome of the game and the series. Nationals’ manager Dave Martinez was so upset with the call he ended up getting ejected from the game for yelling at the umpire. But managers often do that kind of thing to fire up the troops. If that was the case, it worked. After his ejection the next batter, Anthony Rendon,  hit a two run home run putting the Nationals ahead for good.

It’s all part of what I’m calling “The Dave Martinez Redemption.” Just a few months ago, The Washington Post ran an article Dave Martinez is a good man. But he probably shouldn’t be managing the Nationals. At that point, in May 2019, the Nationals were in a slump and the season was considered a wash and columnist Thomas Boswell pointed to  “The Martinez Problem.” There was a problem somewhere, because the Nationals started the year with a win/loss record of 19-31.

Since that May article, Martinez led a team that didn’t seem destined for the playoffs, all the way to their first ever World Series appearance. And facing a rock solid Houston Astro team that was highly favored to win the series, they are now locked three games a piece going into the final game tonight in Houston.  High drama indeed.

And to add an exclamation to last night’s victory, Juan Soto did a bat drop after hitting a monster home run that gave the Nationals some insurance runs.

Time will tell if the Nationals can complete the total Dave Martinez Redemption tonight by winning their first ever World Series, but Martinez has proven his worth as a manager. And if they do win the Series, that ejection will be become legendary.

And I’m pulling for Martinez, because as I’ve written before, we both played baseball at the same high school—Lake Howell. I graduated two years before him so we never played on the same team, but we both were part of conference championship teams under coach Birto Benjamin.

The year after I graduated from high school I attended what is now Seminole State College and did a paid internship as a sports reporter and photographer for the Sanford Herald. I happened to cover the first Lake Howell baseball game of the 1981 season and watched a skinny junior I’d never heard of hit a home run in his first at bat. I remembered the name Dave Martinez after that. And I’ve followed his career since then— from playing fall ball at Valencia College to being drafted by the Chicago Cubs.

Over the decades he’s continued to make a name for himself, first as a player, then as a coach where he earned a World Series ring while coaching with the Cubs in their 2016 winning season. I imagine Martinez made a name for himself last night to a new crop of people who follow baseball only loosely. Working out at the gym this morning he was mentioned several times on ESPN (complete with footage of his arguing with the umpire), and on my drive to work he was also mentioned several times as they discussed the controversial call leading to his ejection.

Update at 11:52pm—The Washington Nationals completed their incredible year by beating the Astros and finishing World Series champs

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Related post:
Dave Martinez Keeps on Winning
LA vs. Washington
Silver Hawks Flying High
Screenwriting, Baseball, and Underdogs

Scott W. Smith

 

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So I called up the Captain
“Please bring me my wine”
He said, “We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969”
Hotel California/Eagles

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Yesterday I went to see Once Upon a Time …. in Hollywood at the Sun-Ray Cinema in Jacksonville, Florida. I drove to this theater two hours from my house because it was the only place in Florida showing Quinten Tarantino’s movie in 35mm. (Yes, if you drive two hours to see a movie in 35mm—and one you’ve already seen twice—you may be a cinephile.)

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I’ve heard this movie called “nostalgia porn” which is a phrase I’ve never heard before. But the movie does resonate in me in ways I can’t explain. But it no doubt has something to do with the mesmerizing sound track, the cinematography, the Cinerama Dome insert shot, the Camero, the old TV shows referenced—even the Marantz stereo receiver (I still have my from the 70s.)

I’ve decided I don’t want to see this movie again—I want to crawl into the movie and hang out with Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) and have him drive me around old Hollywood in his Karmann Ghia. Maybe grab a drink with Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie at The Musso and Frank Grill.

I’m not ready to write this movie off as wishful “Once upon a time…” thinking mixed with nostalgia. There may have been more of an emphasis on art direction than plot, but this is my favorite Tarantino film. I didn’t say it was his best, just that it’s my favorite.  It’s a meditation of sorts that’s hard to define. (Which makes sense since he said this was his Roma. ) This is his $90 million memory film. After seeing it the first time I had to recalibrate my expectations to truly enjoy the accomplishment

And I can’t even articulate what Tarantino accomplished, but it’s one of those hang-out movies that he loves. And one that I think movie lovers will hang-out discussing long after it picks up a few Oscars nominations.

The Sun-Ray originally opened in 1927 as the Riverside Theatre. It was the first in Jacksonville to screen movies with sound. So it was nice to tap into that history. Unfortunately the 35mm film brought back some memories of the down side of film verses digital. There was a problem with one of the projectors yesterday causing a chunk of the film focus appear soft (including the climax of the film).

Not the end of the world for me since I’d seen it twice, but less than ideal. It made me think of all the problems I’d seen back in the day when films would be scratched and dirty, or would break during a screening, or a film hair would dance on the screen, or a bulb or projector would burn out.  Factor in that few films are shown these days in 35mm and you have older projectors that are going to need more nurturing to stay alive and operating.

And when you factor in the many problems that can occur while loading film cameras, or shooting, or in the developing stage it’s no surprise that many ASC cinematographers are less romantic for film than Tarantino. (Tarantino also has plenty of disposable income to keep his film projectors in top shape at his New Beverly Cinema in ways that’s not as economically viable for others.)

But I’m glad there’s a Tarantino in the world to keep that heartbeat alive. It made for a nice weekend for me to kick around Jacksonville and pull back a few more layers of his movie and the history of cinema.

Once upon a time Jacksonville, Florida was known as the winter home of the movie industry. This was back in the silent era when Fort Lee, New Jersey was the movie capital of the world.

Estimates are that more than 30 film companies in Jacksonville produced 300 films between 1906 and 1916. After World War I, production shifted to Los Angeles. Like Rick Dalton in Once Upon a Time … Hollywood, Jacksonville became a has been. Replaced by the young attractive glamour of a newcomer named Hollywood. (The first film in Jacksonville was made three years before the first film made in Hollywood.)

Over the years Jacksonville has been a bit player in the movie industry getting in some close-ups in a few films; Cool Hand Luke, Sunshine State.Lonely Hearts, Forces of Nature, G.I Jane).

The Norman Studios was a production company in Jacksonville that took over the old Eagle Film Manufacturing Company and between 1920-1928 produced films with an all black cast. One of those films, The Flying Ace (1926), will be shown today at the Cade Museum in Gainesville Florida with the grandson of the director Richard Norman in attendance.

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While in Jacksonville I also drove past another historic movie theater, the San Marco (built in 1938), to take a photo and complete my journey.

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P.S. Did you know Jacksonville, Florida was named after Andrew Jackson? I didn’t until this weekend when I drove past a statue of Andrew Jackson in downtown Jacksonville.

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Scott W. Smith

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Though Photoshop World 2019 in Orlando ended a few days ago I’m just getting to my final post on the conference because I had a Photoshop hangover. After the last session I attended I was walking in the large hallway to leave and happened to run into Scott Kelby and meet him for the first time.

He and his company Kelby One have been putting on Photoshop World conferences for 20 years now and I’ve had read many of Kelby’s books over the years. As well as learned a lot from his online videos.

But one of Kelby’s great legacies is raising up other photographers turned educators. Three people that he’s brought to my attention that I’ve learned greatly from are Joe McNally, Zack Arias, and Jeremy Cowart.  If you need a creative jolt check out anything you can find on these guys.

Here’s a Zack Arias classic from 2009:

And if you’re a content creator who has focused on the video side—and would like to get more involved in still photography and Lightroom and Photography then check out Scott Kelby’s educational material.

P.S. On a similar note, I’m listening to the audio version of Like Brothers by filmmakers  Mark Duplass and Jay Duplass and they’ve also done a super job of raising up other filmmakers to follow in their path.

Related Posts:
Back to School—with Scott Kelby

Scott W. Smith

 

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One of the classes I attended today at Photoshop World Orlando was given by New York model turned photographer Peter Hurley who specializes in headshots.

Here are a couple of his YouTube videos with over six millions of views just on two basic techniques that will help with your headshots—no matter what side of the camera you’re on.

Hurley wrote the book on headshots—literally. It’s called The Headshot: The Secret to Creating Amazing headshot Portraits. 

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Hurley has also been featured on a TED talk.

Related post:
Back to School—with Scott Kelby 

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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