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Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

If I listed all the writers who started out as actors it would be an extensive list. But here’s a short list: Sofia Coppola, David Mamet, and Aaron Sorkin. And there are others that are still known for both acting and writing; Ben Affleck, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tina Frey, Jordan Peele, Sylvester Stallone, and Emma Thompson.

Even if you don’t have a desire to act—and just the idea terrifies some introverted writers—just taking one class for say three months is still an experience that can benefit you as a writer. Here’s what sitcom writer Sheldon Bull says new writers should do after taking a writing class or joining a writers group.

l“Take an acting class. Even if you have no aspirations to be an actor, an acting class can be invaluable to a writer. Even of you just audit the class and never do any acting yourself, it’s great to see how actors work and what their problems and challenges are. Observe how the acting teacher coaches the actors. That’s how a director on a sitcom works. You’ll see how the acting teacher gives notes to an actor. Learn how to give notes that improve the actor’s performance and build his confidence. As a sitcom writer, you are writing words that are intended to be spoken by the actors. The more you understand the acting process, the better your writing will be.”
—Producer/writer Sheldon Bull (M*A*S*H, Coach, Newhart)
Elephant Bucks, An Inside Guide to Writing for TV Sitcoms

That’s timeless advice that works across the board no matter the kind of writing you want to do. Some writers act out their lines while writing. Walt Disney was said to get so excited in story meetings that he would act out scenes as his ideas were flowing. (And you really haven’t had an acting class unless you and your classmates have all acted out being animals in a zoo.) A fringe benefit is just getting to know actors and how they’re wired. Understanding their doubts and insecurities. Their strengths and weaknesses. Plus having more actor friends help do table readings of your script is a good thing.

Robert Towne was in an acting class with Jack Nicholson when they were starting out and neither knew if they were going to have careers in Hollywood. Towne wrote the script for Chinatown with Nicholson in mind for the lead role. Nicholson was nominated for an Oscar and Towne won the Oscar for his screenplay.

If you can’t take a class in person, and interesting class to watch is the Nina Foch Course for Filmmakers and Actors. (Foch was a legendary in film, Tv, and theater actress.)

On Udemy right now, the course Directing the Actor a USC Course with Nina Foch is only $14.99 (No sponsorship.) That’s worth four hours of your time. Here’s what Alex Ferrari from Indie Film Hustle says about that course.

P.S. Two opportunities I missed while living in LA back in the ’80s. Shelly Winter’s was teaching an acting class. I was in my early 20s and only knew her then from The Poseidon Adventure, but later became aware of her two Oscars in A Patch of Blue and The Diary of Anne Frank. And my favorite Winter’s film is A Place in the Sun. I would have loved to watch her teach. And Stella Adler had long been based in New York, but opened a studio in LA around 1985 and was teaching a class that somehow involved William Hurt. I could audit the class for $360, but just couldn’t part with that money at the time. If ever those kinds of things come your way—jump at the opportunity. When I lived in Iowa, I once drove 3 hours each way to hear filmmaker David Lynch speak for a couple of hours. No regrets there.

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

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“Never let the fear of striking out get in your way.”
—Babe Ruth

While I was in film school and a couple of years after graduating, I took acting classes. They weren’t that different from the ones Michael Douglas leads in the Netflix show The Kominsky Method.

,I was told that every writer, director, and filmmaker should at least know what it’s like to walk in an actor’s shoes. So I took sensory classes, cold reading, and scene study classes. I worked with Arthur Mendoza doing scenes from Chekhov’s The Seagull and Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie (“I have tricks up my sleeves…”), studied at the Van Mar Academy, Estelle Harman’s Actors Workshop, and at Tracy Roberts Actors Studio. I learned something from all of them.

I even learned from a couple of places I didn’t study. I cold called Jeff Corey because I knew that Jack Nicholson and Robert Towne had studied with him. I told him I was interested in checking out his classes to see if I wanted to study with him. He firmly told me that first he was in Malibu and that was too from my apartment in Burbank, and secondly that I wasn’t the one doing the qualifying. Next.

Another day I dropped into what is now called The Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute on Santa Monica Blvd. A lady there told me that unless I wanted to be an actor more than anything, then don’t come there to study. Because she said, it’s too hard to make it as an actor, and too hard to stay if you do make it. That the only thing that keeps you going as an actor was that when your feet hit the ground in the morning—all you want to be is an actor. That wasn’t me, so I moved on.

Tracy Roberts was where I spent the most time. She had been part of the original Actor’s Studio back in New York in the ’50s and racked up film and Tv credits through the ’70s before turning to teaching. She was the first one to turn me on to the work of Clifford Odets and liked a short story I wrote enough to give me a scholarship to a dramatic writing class they were doing at her studio.

And it was at her workshop that I got some of the best advice of my life. And while it was given in the context of acting, you can apply it to just about any area of life. But this is where my memory is a little fuzzy, and I can’t remember exactly who told it to me. But I think it was Howard Fine. Recently, I came across a sheet from a scene study class I did with Fine, who I think was teaching with Roberts’ studio back in the ’80s.

Fine now runs the Howard Fine Acting Studio in LA and has a who’s who list of actors that have worked with him. (Brad Pitt, Gal Gadot, Jered Leto, Dwayne Johnson, Salma Hayek, Kerry Washington, and Chris Pine.) I’m not 100% sure, but I think he’s the one that gave me the great advice below.

After class one night, I was discouraged about how I’d done. I think I told him I had a sports background and liked that at the end of a game you knew how you’d done. I sensed I wasn’t going to be the next great thing. Fine said, “Just because you’re not Babe Ruth doesn’t mean you can’t play the game.” That was a revelation.

For those of you unfamiliar with the analogy, Babe Ruth was arguably the greatest baseball player ever. When I visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY this summer, I learned even more what an iconic player Ruth was in his day. Even when he wasn’t playing a game, he caused a stir when he just visited a town. He wasn’t your average a baseball star, he was a rock star (long before there were rock stars).

There are layers of talent in every field. In screenwriting terms, if your goal is to be the next Paddy Chayefsky, William Goldman, or Aaron Sorkin you just might fall short. But if you do, that doesn’t mean you can’t play the game. That’s also true at every part of the entertainment and content creation industry.

So be encouraged— there are more creative opportunities in the world than ever before. There are even more ways to make a living producing, directing, writing, and editing outside of Hollywood than inside it. So when you get down just remember, “Just because you’re not Babe Ruth doesn’t mean you can’t play the game.” And Ruth’s own story from a troubled youth to baseball star found its way to the big screen in The Babe Ruth Story.

P.S. I did a little digging and did read an interview where Howard Fine said he started teaching at Tracy Roberts Actors Studio in 1985 so I at least got that part right. I would have been one of his first students in LA and the chances are slim that he’d remember me, but he might recall giving that Babe Ruth advice. I’m sure that advice comforted many an actor, because there was only one Babe Ruth–just like there was only one Marlon Brando.

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

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“I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing — that it was all started by a mouse.”
—Walt Disney

One of the perks of working in production is meeting famous celebrities

Walt Disney World opened 50 years ago today. I remember going within the first few months of its opening. Because I grew up in the Orlando area when the biggest deal was the Central Florida Fair, experiencing Disney for the first time in 1971 was surreal. It was a much smaller attraction than it is today, but I had a blast. That is until my sister crushed my heart by telling me that I wasn’t really driving that Grand Prix car—that it was on a track. She didn’t even give me a spoiler alert! Long live the Grand Prix Raceway (now known as Tomorrowland Speedway).

Here are a couple of tickets I saved from the old days. A child’s admission to Disney World in 1971 was only one dollar. (Admission for a 10-year-old today is $109.) Then you’d buy tickets/coupons to go on select rides. I remember the “E” ticket (not to be confused with the electronic eTicket today) were the big deal because it allowed you to go on these rides: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Jungle Cruise, and The Haunted Mansion.

The “B” Ticket got you into the lesser attractions including the Main Street Cinema. Which, if I recall correctly, always had old Steamboat Willie movies playing.

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

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“We’re all told at some point and time that we can no longer play the child’s game. We just don’t know when that time will be. Some of us are told at 18. Some of us are told at 40. But we’re all told.”
—Baseball scout in Moneyball

My first experiences with organized baseball. (Front row, left of center in both photos.) Johnny Bolton was a Ford Dealership in Maitland, Florida. Looks like a casting call for the movie “The Sandlot.”

In the summer of 1970, I went to a baseball game at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati and it was my first live experience with Major League Baseball. The stadium was brand new and (if my memory is correct) there were about 50,000 in attendance for that summer game. I was nine years old and had never been anywhere with 50,000 people in one place. It was mesmerizing. Our seats were in left field weren’t great, but I had nothing to compare it to so I was thrilled. Watching MLB games at that point in my life were mostly starring at a 19″ black and white TV that picked up four channels with a rabbit ears antenna. Though I was raised in Central Florida, Disney World was still a year away from opening. I don’t remember anything about the game. But I have a photograph in my mind of a banner in right field that read “Rose Garden.” It was there because that’s where Pete Rose was positioned.

If you wanted to tell the story of professional baseball in one person, you couldn’t go wrong picking Pete Rose. (The short list would include Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, and Ty Cobb.) But with Rose you get high levels of both success and failure—highs and lows. He holds the Major League Baseball record for total hits (4256), played in 17 All Star games, was a key player on the Cincinnati Reds who won two World Series in the ’70s—and in 1989 he became the first player since 1943 banned from baseball for life.

And while his gambling on baseball games while a manager for the Reds also prevents him from being voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, there are still several Rose references in the Hall of Fame including this jersey when he was a part of what was known as The Big Red Machine.

From Little League through high school, his gung-ho style of play was what I tried to emulate the most. When I was around 12, I got to attend a baseball clinic that Rose did at Tinker Field in Orlando. I’m seated in the back next to his right knee in the photo below. (Oddly wearing a Miami Dolphin football jersey if I remember correctly.) I don’t remember anything about that day except Rose said there was a mix-up and he didn’t have his Reds uniform with him. But it was still a cool life experience to have in your past.

I
My own personal baseball hall of fame with memorabilia from my youth. Including a flip book I wrote simply called “Baseball.”

I didn’t blaze any Pete Rose-like trails in my playing days, but I did make some All-Star teams and played on two of the best teams in Lake Howell school history. My senior year we had a 14 game winning streak and won our conference. (The year after I left, Dave Martinez played at Lake Howell on his way to going pro as a player, and as a manager leading the Washington Nationals in becoming the 2019 World Series champs.)

I played my last real baseball game at age 18—and never was able to grow a proper mustache.

Baseball and baseball movies have brought me many wonderful experiences and memories over the years. Rose being banned from baseball didn’t hit me like a ton of bricks because I was a grown man and had seen plenty of the darker side of humanity by then.

My next post will look at talent as it relates to baseball, filmmaking, and screenwriting.

P.S. Unfortunately, the real story of interest to my playing days may be one of the guys I played baseball with in high school went on to be known as “Columbian Jake” where he became involved in underage sex tourism in Medellin—a bad career choice—and ended up getting busted and died allegedly by suicide in a Columbian prison in 2017. I’m sure there is a story there, but I really don’t care to know any more than what I read in a couple of articles. How in the world did this post start out talking about Little League baseball in Florida and end up with a dead gringo in a prison in Latin America? Because truth is stranger than fiction.

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

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“People will come to Iowa, for reasons they can’t even fathom.”
—Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) in Field of Dreams

All eyes in the baseball world were on Iowa on Thursday night for MLB’s Field of Dreams game between the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees. And Iowa did not disappoint.”
—Aaron Marner
Des Moines Register

There are a lot of grand movie entrances. Two that come to mind are Rose (Kate Winslet) and her giant hat in Titanic and the Ringo Kid (John Wayne) twirling his rifle in Stagecoach. But on some list of 100 great film entrances has to be the entrance of the baseball players emerging from a cornfield in Iowa in Field of Dreams.

Last night in Dyersville, Iowa, Kevin Costner got to make his own grand entrance emerging from an Iowa corn field—followed by the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees. As a lifestyle baseball fan, I can’t say that Major League Baseball ever fully recovered from the double black eye of the strike back in the 90s, followed by the MLB steroid scandal.

But they took steps yesterday to add to baseball folklore by having the Yankees and the White Sox play a game near where they shot Field of Dreams movies back in the 1980s. (I think it was the first MLB game ever played in Iowa.) The TV announcers keep talking about a magical vibe the place had.

I’ve visited the Field of Dreams site a couple of times when I lived in Iowa. When I started the Screenwriting from Iowa … and Other Unlikely Places in Ceder Falls, Iowa 13 years ago, the mythology of Field of Dreams (screenplay by writer/director Phil Alden Robinson from a book by W.P. Kinsella) was definitely on my mind. What may get lost in the backstory of Field of Dreams is that Kinsella had an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. A pretty good foundation for Robinson, Costner and the others to build upon.

Screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) and Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (A Quiet Place) also graduated from Iowa and it’s been fun all these years to go back to that well from time to time. People may forget that in 2008 just the idea of screenwriting (and filmmaking) from Iowa and other unlikely places was a radical (or tongue in cheek) concept. But fast forward to 2021 in a post-COVID world and you see that it’s no longer so bizarre. Your favorite movie or streaming show is more likely to come from the state of Georgia than Los Angeles.

The cost of living and quality of life in LA is causing more than a few creatives to trade LA for Austin, Texas. Which, of course, has its own established film community. Vancouver has proven to be a film hot spot. Zoom calls have allowed established writers to retreat to states throughout the US. If I wanted to call it a day for this blog and say “my work is done” this would be a good day to do it.

But … I think I have a few more posts in me. And I still have to get on the ball and get my podcast rolling. I don’t know what the future of movies will be—or how many movie theaters will survive these odd times—or if people even will return to the movie going business as we once knew it—but I’m pretty sure people will still want to be entertained as they have throughout the history of civilization.

In recent posts, I’ve been recounting some places I visited on my vacation back in June and July. It’s fitting that my next post will be about going to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY on my birthday. It was a trip I’d been planning since I was 10 years old.

For those of you who missed the game last night, here’s all the drama of the final dream ending (at least for Tim Anderson). Hollywood couldn’t have done it better.

P.S. Whoever came up with that idea to play the game in Iowa last night deserves a nice bonus.

P.P.S. Just realized after I wrote this post the Iowa-connection of two of the movies I referenced. Rose in Titanic (as a 103 woman) lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and John Wayne was born in Winterset, Iowa.

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

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In this same New Bedford there stands a Whaleman’s Chapel, and few are the moody fishermen, shortly bound for the Indian Ocean or Pacific, who fail to make a Sunday visit to the spot. I am sure that I did not.
Moby Dick, Chapter 6, written by Herman Melville

I don’t remember how old I was when I first saw the 1956 version of Moby Dick, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t know the director (John Huston), the star (Gregory Peck), or the actor playing Father Mapple (Orson Welles). It was probably something I stumbled upon in my youth while watching TV on a rainy Saturday afternoon. What I do remember is the minister climbing into the pulpit shaped like a boat. It was visually stunning.

Here’s the sermon that Welles reportedly did in one take. It’s not the sermon on the mount, and I don’t know how theologically accurate the sermon is, but Welles has quite a commanding delivery. (The film version sermon written by Ray Bradbury with the director John Huston is significantly shorter than the book version Melville wrote in chapter 9.)

Last week, I revisited the film version of Moby Dick after part of my recent vacation took me to New Bedford, Massachusetts. The film was not shot in New Bedford, but there is a ship shaped pulpit in Seaman’s Chapel there. (When I stopped by on July 4 it was closed for the holiday, so I could only take exterior photos.) Moby Dick author Herman Melville visited this church in 1840 before setting out to sea on a whaling boat.

I imagine someone has written extensively on sermons in movies, but here’s a short list of movies I came up with.

On The Waterfront (1954)

The Apostle (1997)

Tender Mercies (1983)

Sister Act (1992)

I’ll Give My Life (1960)

Places of the Heart (1984)

The Preacher’s Wife (1996)

The Hotel New Hampshire (1984)

Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)

Elmer Gantry (1960)

Leap of Faith (1992)

MARJOE (1972)

The last three on that list could be filed under hypocritical preachers. And the last one I’d never seen or even heard about until writer/director (and encyclopedia of film history) Quentin Tarantino mentioned the name Marjoe Gortner in passing on his recent interview with Joe Rogan.

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

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“Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.“
Ishmael in Moby-Dick (Chapter 17)
Written by Herman Melville

“I can assure you, Ernest Hemingway was wrong when he said that American literature begins with Huckleberry Finn. It begins with Moby-Dick.”
—Novelist E. L. Doctorow
(More than 150 years after Moby-Dick failed to make a ripple when initially released.)

While I was on Nantucket at the end of June, I picked up the book Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick at Nantucket Bookworks.

Philbrick wastes no time in dropping some surprising facts about Melville that were unknown to me:

Page 6:

“By the time of Melville’s death in 1891, Moby-Dick had sold a grand total of 3,715 copies.”
–Nathaniel Philbrick

Page 2:
”In December 1850, Melville was just thirty-one years old. A few months earlier he’d decided to move his family from New York City to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, the temporary home of his new literary idol, Nathaniel Hawthorne. . . . From the second-floor study of the farmhouse he purchased and renovated with loans from his father-in-law and a family friend, he could see nearby Mount Greylock.”
–Nathaniel Philbrick

Nathanial Hawthrone’s The Scarlet Letter was published in 1850. He moved to a farmhouse near Lennox, MA in March of that year, and a few months later met Melville at a picnic. Melville had already had success with his novel Typee. The house he bought in 1850 is known as Arrowhead and located in Pittsfield, MA. I took a tour of the house during the last week of June.

The furniture and other items in the room are not authentic, and there have been some modifications to the house, but the room where Melville wrote Moby-Dick is essentially the same.

And you can see the view that Melville had when he looked out over Mt. Greylock. When Melville finished Moby-Dick, he thought he’d written a story that would be considered one of the best American novels. He arguably did, though it would take about 80 years for the book to be discovered and appreciated. When he died, Moby-Dick wasn’t even mentioned in some of his obituaries. Unable to make a living as a writer, he sold Arrowhead 1863 and moved to New York City where he died 1891.

Though Melville was landlocked when he wrote Moby-Dick, he did spend four years at sea living a great adventure in his early 20s. (He said that was his Harvard and his Yale.) Melville was inspired by the tragic true story of the Essex whaling ship.

Philbrick’s modern retelling of the Essex story is the book In the Heart of the Sea, which became the Ron Howard directed movie In the Heart of the Sea.

P.S. Part of my short time in Nantucket was spent at the Whaling Museum which was quite fascinating, and gave a great overview of how the small island for a time was a hub of international trade due to the islanders success in the whaling industry. And though Melville has a chapter on Nantucket in Moby-Dick, he did not actually visit the island until after his book was published.

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

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“My biggest lesson is simply this: be prepared.”
—Photographer Robert Galbraith

Photo by Robert Galbraith

When I met photographer Robert Galbraith it was around the time I graduated from film school back in the 1980s. He was a transplant from West Virginia where he’d been a newspaper photojournalist, and I was a transplant from Florida who’d worked a photojournalist with a small newspaper. We found ourselves doing freelance photography for the same group in Southern California. He was a few years older than me and totally committed to photojournalism, and his portfolio was remarkable.

Soon he was off covering the LA Dodgers and spending the day on assignment photographing Clint Eastwood. Those stringer jobs led to an AP staff photographer job in LA and Sacramento for 15 years. Then he became a senior photographer with Thomson Reuters in San Francisco.

He’s lived the great photographic adventure covering multiple Super Bowls, going into coal mines, the Corcoran State Prison, and his photo of a man clinging to the top of a van surrounded by water during Hurricane Katrina was named one of the “62 most powerful Reuters photographs ever taken.”

And here he is in 2021 still capturing stunning images in the vein of Robert Capa and Robert Frank. In a world where everyone is a version of photographer, Galbraith still captures images with his Leica that you stare for minutes rather than seconds before you swipe to the next one.

He took this photo recently in New Mexico where he’s on a self-assignment for a book and exhibit he’s been working on for a while. I reconnected with him a few years ago on Facebook and marvel at the work he’s been doing throughout the Southwest. But the photo of women in room 105 (at least that’s what I’m calling it) works for me on so many levels. The casual lean of the woman with her sunglasses, drink, and cigarette totally pulls me into the photo and makes he wonder who she is and where she’s been. The composition, lighting, and background are powerfully simple. I told Galbraith it should be the cover of his book. (But truthfully, I’ve told him that a few times.)

A few days before I saw this photo, I listened to Scriptnotes episode 499 where John August and Craig Mazin talked about how valuable it could be to base a story on a photograph you’ve seen. A way to stir the imagination. I decided to try that out with the above photography and came up with a 150 word short story. I won’t share that here, but it involved a fictitious photographer photographing a fictitious woman in a motel.

When he approaches her in my story and asks if he can take her photograph, she doesn’t change her stance, she just says, “It’s a free country.”

Yes it is. And thankfully there are still a few photojournalist roaming around providing contemporary insights into the United States of America. (In real life, Galbraith approaches people and asks to take their photo and some say and and some say no. He doesn’t pose them and usually one of the first few frames is the best and most authentic.)

And I’m all for more authenticity.

P.S. And speaking of podcasts. I have finally recorded episode one of my Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles podcast and hope to get it edited and uploaded in the next 1-7 days. Step by step.

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

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Here’s The Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles podcast. I say that not with trumpets blasting, but in a whisper.

Consider this the soft launch of the podcast rooted in my book of the same name. I still have a lot to learn about podcasting, but I’m out of the gate with a 2 minute trailer. You can subscribe on Spotify on iTunes—and soon on the many other places people subscribe to podcasts.

On May 5th I plan on releasing short episodes on a weekly basis. Like my blog, there’s no team of people here—just myself. So I’m going to try to keep this simple by aiming in the five to 10 minute range. And I’m not going to reinvent the wheel, but be tapping in to the more than 3,000 posts I’ve written on this blog.

My book is what I would consider the greatest of hits of advice curated over the years from screenwriters and filmmakers throughout film and television. But of the well over 1 million words I’ve written here since 2008, that 250 page book only represents about 70,000 words.

I have a lot of people to think for getting me to take the first baby step into the podcasting world, but I’ll save that list for my May launch. For now I’ll just think you— the readers of the Screenwriting from Iowa . . . and Other Unlikely Places blog—because that’s been the fuel that’s keep this going.

Blogs aren’t as popular as the were five or ten years ago, and I think the evolution of podcasts and YouTube channels are part of the reason. Add in COVID-19 to disrupt patterns in which people consume information and their lives in general. It became clear to me that it was time to explore creating some new kinds of content. Podcasting seemed like a natural first step.

If you’ve been thinking about starting you’re own podcast, I’ll lay out the steps I took to get here in my next post. One of great things about podcasting is the cost for entry is so much cheaper than the filmmaking world. Technically you could start a podcast for free just using your phone. But even using high end equipment will set you back less than a $1,000.

Podcasting is simple, but not easy. One one level it’s record, edit, and publish. Like learning to play chess. But to do it well—that’s were things get complicated. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History wasn’t built in a day, and WTF with Marc Maron wasn’t an overnight sensation. Both of those accomplished podcasters built on decades of experiences.

Most people don’t respect the heavy lifting behind the scenes which explains why half the podcasts out there are dormant (having not produced anything in the past year). The average episodes released before quitting is under 10. They call it podcast fade. But I think it probably should be filed under: “All disappointment comes from unmet expectations” 101.

I hope you and others join me on this new journey, but I’m going to keep my expectations realistic. I’m going to show up, punch the clock, and do the work. I’m committing to doing at least 100 episodes and then will review the time commitment. But I will say it’s pretty cool to see your newly launched podcast pop up on your podcast feed with the big dogs.

That’s a small victory I’ll cherish for a few moments. Then back to work.

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

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There was no illusions
On the summer side of life
Only tenderness

—Gordon Lightfoot
Summer Side of Life

A few days ago I watched the documentary Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind directed by Martha Kehoe and Joan Tosoni. It took me back to August 1983 when I saw Gordon Lightfoot in concert at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles. To borrow the phrase from one of his songs, it was “the summer side of life.”

I was living in Burbank and loved driving by Warner Bros, NBC, Universal and Disney Studios on my way to film school. I was working as a freelance photographer, taking acting lessons, every day was 76 degrees, and the sun was perpetually shining—even at night.

At least, that’s my memory of August 1983. I was 22 and everything seemed possible. And everyone seemed honest.

I went to the Universal Amphitheatre ticket booth inquiring if there were any seats left for the Lightfoot concert that week and without showing any expression Mr. Ticket Booth Man pointed on a chart at two seats front and center. Yeah, those would be good. That was the first and only time to score seats front and center to a concert. I was told that those tickets are set aside for music executives, VIPs, or for the artist to give to friends. If unused they are turned in and go on sale to the public as late as the day of the concert.

The singer songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s (Jimmy Buffett, Jim Croce, John Denver, Bob Dylan, Carole King, Don McLean, Carly Simon, Paul Simon, James Taylor, etc.) are my sweet spot musically. I was pulled in by Peter, Paul and Mary singing Puff the Magic Dragon as a kid, and then hearing American Pie as a 10-year-old sealed the deal.

I’d just become a teenager when Lightfoot’s hits Carefree Highway and Rainy Day People played on the radio. I was too young to really comprehend what he was singing about, but I connected to the vibe and emotions of his music. And all these decades later people are still connecting to his music. Not only is he still performing into his 80s, but his work has been featured recently in Knives Out (the song Sundown), Mr. Robot (the song If You Could Read My Mind), and last year on Family Guy (the song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald).

In his peak popularity Lightfoot played five nights at the Universal Amphitheatre. That would be impossible for any musician to do in 2021. Partly because of the COVID pandemic, but mainly because the Universal Amphitheatre was demolished in 2013 for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood. But regardless, there’s just a short list of entertainers today that could play five nights (non-pandemic) in one city in a facility that seats 6,000 per night.

The singer/songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s eventually gave way on the charts to disco, Urban Cowboy-inspired country, MTV, big hair bands, Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson, Guns N’ Roses, Bon Jovi, etc. Bruce Springsteen may be the only Dylan-inspired musician whose success in the ’70s was surpassed by his hits in the ’80s. Some folk/folk rock artists faded away. Some tried to crossover into harder rock and some into country.

Lightfoot went canoeing and sailing in his home state of Canada. He had ups and downs with relationships and alcohol. But he just kept doing his thing—being a singer and songwriter recording albums and touring. At least he was before COVID hit. But now there’s the documentary to remind some of his talent and introduce him to others.

I don’t remember many details about that 1983 concert in LA. But I do recall thinking that sitting front and center was slightly overrated because you had to look up the whole concert. Technically my long time girlfriend had the one true front and center seat. But it was a great experience to listen up close to his timeless and universal songs full of love, loss, and regret.

I don’t know where we went wrong
But the feeling’s gone and I just can’t get it back

—Gordon Lightfoot
If You Could Read My Mind

The summer ended and soon afterwards my girlfriend and I broke up and she married another guy. And just like that I lived out a Gordon Lightfoot song. I got a puppy that soon died of worms. That year did not end on an up note.

Thankfully the next year was one of the best years of my life. Over the years it seems like every decade has its share of winters, springs, summers, and falls. The key is appreciating each season. And, of course, those times of transition in-between seasons are fertile ground for storytellers.

P.S. My go to Gordon Lightfoot song is Rainy Day People.

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

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