Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

Postcard #82 (Berlin Wall)

“If we are to change our world view, images have to change. The artist now has a very important job to do. He’s not a little peripheral figure entertaining rich people, he’s really needed.”
Czech politician and playwright Vaclav Havel (1936-2011)

Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall so it seemed liked a fitting place to drop in a photo that was taken of me on a video shoot about ten years ago in former East Germany. I’m leaning against a sculpture that represented the separation of East and West Berlin and I’m actually facing a large section of the Berlin wall that was still standing at the time.

I’ve been on hundreds of shoots in my career, but the one day of driving around Berlin shooting b-roll on a sunny, blue sky day is easily one of the top five single shooting days in my life.

Germany, like the United States, has a mixed bag of history—and thankfully many talented filmmakers over the years that have shown the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Berlin Wall 1889


Here’s a bonus video featuring a studio in Berlin which is one of the oldest movie studios in Berlin. (And now also one of the largest studios in Europe.)

Scott W. Smith

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Someday I’ll wish upon a star
Wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where trouble melts like lemon drops
Over the Rainbow
Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen
Performed by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz 
Named #1 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs

P.S. Long before the classic The Wizard of Oz hit theaters in 1939, the Frank Baum story was a Broadway hit in 1903 and a silent film failure in 1925. Despite not being a box office success and losing the Oscar for Best Picture to Gone with the Wind, according to the Library of Congress, The Wizard of Oz (1939)—thanks to its many viewings in the early decades of TV— “has been seen by more viewers than any other movie.”

Related post:
‘Shelter From The Storm’ (Dylan)
The Weather Started Getting Rough…
…and Dark and Stormy Nights

Scott W. Smith

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I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”
Lyrics by Bob Dylan

On my top shelf of storytellers sits Bob Dylan.

His songs written and/or performed over the last 50 year have appeared in movies or Tv shows more than a staggering 550 times. Along with his creative influence he’s won many awards including an Oscar for his Things Have Changed which he performed on the movie Wonder Boys (2000).

Ever since seeing St. Vincent (2014) a week ago I’ve been listening to Dylan’s Shelter From The Storm over and over again. It hit me that Shelter From The Storm could sum up what most movies are really about:

I was burned out from exhaustion, buried in the hail
Poisoned in the bushes an’ blown out on the trail
Hunted like a crocodile, ravaged in the corn
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

Many great movie characters seek shelter from the storm;  Rocky, Terry Malloy (On the Waterfront),Norma Desmond (Sunset Blvd.) , Rick (Casablanca), Erin Brockovich, George Bailey (It’s a Wonderful Life), Tom Joad (The Grapes of Wrath), Norma Rae, Oskar Schindler, Maximus (Gladiator), Karen Silkwood, Tyler Durban (Fight Club), Indiana Jones, Ellen Ripley (Aliens), Chuck Noland (Cast Away), Joan of Arc, Sophie (Sophie’s Choice), C.C. Baxter (The Apartment), Andy Dufresne (The Shawshank Redemption), Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, and Bogart and Hepburn’s characters in The African Queen.

If you’re looking for a standard and proven theme/desire to hang your story on take a tip from Dylan and write about characters who are seeking shelter from the storm. It emotionally resonates with movie audiences —people who are also seeking shelter from the storm.

P.S. Couldn’t find a good version of Dylan singing Shelter From The Storm, but I did find a version with Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris.

Related posts:

Off-Screen Quote #22 (Bob Dylan)
Bob Dylan’s Brain
Revisiting ‘Highway 61 Revisited” (2.0)
‘Against the Wind’ Bob Seger’s version of “Shelter From The Storm”)
Jimmy Buffett in Iowa (Part 1) Buffett’s version (written with Bobby Holcomb):
And there’s that one particular harbour
Sheltered from the wind
Where the children play on the shore each day
And all are safe within
Highway 61 Meets A1A
Neil Simon on Conflict (Conflict and more conflict.)
Everything I Learned in Film School (Tip #1)

Scott W. Smith

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Three nights ago 25-year-old San Francisco Giant pitcher Madison Bumgarner helped his team win the World Series by earning a save in the 7th game of the World Series. He also won the World Series Most Valuable Player.

Though sports is filled with cliché quotes, Madison’s father Kevin gave a line about his son to NY Times after the game that hit me as a fresh description. It may be a common phrase in the Appalachian foothills of North Carolina where the Bumgarner’s are from, but I’d never heard it before:

“That boy would try to steal a steak off the devil’s plate.”
Kevin Bumgarner
NY Times article by Michael Powell

If that was a character description or a line of dialogue in the first page of a screenplay I’d think the writer was in command of his or her craft.

P.S. Kevin’s line also reminded me of the well-known proverb, “He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon.”

Related posts:

Descriptive Writing (Frank Darabont)
Descriptive Writing (Stephen King)
Descriptive Writing—Part 1 (tip #22)
Descriptive Writing—Part 2 (tip #23)
Descriptive Writing—Part 3, Characters (tip #24)
Descriptive Writing—Pt. 4, Action (tip #25)
Descriptive Writing—Pt. 5, Setting tip #26)

Baseball Related Posts:
Burns, Baseball & Flawed Characters
Screenwriting, Baseball & Underdogs
Baseball, Bergman & Bull Durham
September 6, 1995
‘Field of Dreams’—25th Reunion

Scott W. Smith

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Tennessee Williams felt that ‘apparent failure’ motivated him. He said it ‘sends me back to my typewriter that very night, before the reviews are out. I am more compelled to get back to work than if I had a success.’ Many have heard that Thomas Edison told his assistant, incredulous at the inventor’s perseverance through millions of aborted attempts to create an incandescent light bulb, ‘I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’ ‘Only one look is enough. Hardly one copy would sell here. Hardly one. Hardly one. Many thanks…’ read part of the rejection letter that Gertrude Stein received from a publisher in 1912.”
Sarah Lewis
The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery

Related posts:
Embracing the Near Win (part 1) 
Embracing the Near Win (part 2)
Tennessee Williams’ Start
Writing Quote #45 (Tennessee Williams)
Commitment in the Face of Failure
J.K. Rowling on the Benefits of Failure

Scott W. Smith

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“Just because it’s a worthy cause doesn’t make it interesting.”
Audio journalist Alex Blumberg

Alex Blumberg is a rock star. At least a rock star in finding authentic emotions.

Between Thursday and Sunday night I caught chunks of Blumberg’s live (and then rebroadcast) CreativeLive seminar Power Your Podcast with Storytelling and was enthralled with what he pulled off with the help of his class.

Don’t get caught up in the podcast part of his title if that’s not your thing, but focus on the storytelling aspect. While Blumberg’s background includes producing for NPR’s This American Life and most recently the podcast StartUp, his ability to talk storytelling was not only informative but moving.

In my last post, I covered some of the nuts and blots I took away from the sections of the talks I heard. Today I’ll fill in a little bit why I think it was one of the top creative seminars I’ve ever seen. (It was no surprise when I later found out that it is the same material that Blumberg presents when he teaches at Columbia University.)

While my last post mentioned the pre-interview process Blumberg did (with San Francisco-based artist Ann Rea), over the weekend I caught the full interview 90 minute he did with Rea and it was 100% engaging.

If you can, buy the $99 class just to salute Blumberg’s and Rea’s gamble and boldness. (A heck of a lot cheaper than taking it at Columbia.) I’ll try here to synopsize what made it special. Though this was meant to be a NPR-like radio program, I swear you could at least write a Lifetime movie script as you listen to Rea’s life story unfold.

What made it such a powerful tag team effort was the framework of questions that Blumberg asked and Rea’s honest answers. You could say the structure broke down into four acts. (I’m flying from my notes so some of the actual details may be a little off.)

1) The desire for Rea to paint at a young age, and the early support she got from her artistic talent. She won a scholarship to art school where she was an Industrial Design major. After graduating she moved to Dayton, Ohio and expectations for an artistic career fell away with the reality that student loans needed paid. (Downbeat)

2) But while in Dayton she met a man who would change her life. She met him the day she moved into her apartment and thought, “He’s my neighbor? Nice.” They got married and eventually dreamed about a life beyond the Midwest and agreed on trying the California dream. He landed a job in San Francisco and they took their goldfish and drove west. Life was full of positive expectations. (Upbeat)

3) The San Fran dream faded when his job was actually in Sacramento and they eventually settled in the suburb of Elk Grove where she spent years working various cubicle jobs with no satisfaction or artistic expression. Financial and marital problems followed until she decided for her own physical safety it was time to leave her marriage. She’d be starting over as their savings were depleted. (Double Downbeat)

4)  She started to paint again and as she talked about that process it reminded me of that line in Jerry Maguire where he’s writing his mission statement and says, “Suddenly, I was my father’s son again.” Rea wrote a business plan because she didn’t want to just paint—she wanted to make a living painting. In her first year as a full time painter she made more than she’d ever made before, and continues to grow her business. And now she helps others turn their artistic efforts into profit. (Double Upbeat)

What you don’t get from my overview is the authentic emotions that were tapped into—in real time over the course of the interview. The laughter and joy of their trip west, the pain of finding out her husband was a closet alcoholic, and the tears of rediscovering her artistic talents—of finding new life.

As a bonus at the end of the second day of the workshop, Blumberg played some edited clips from the interview thereby completing the whole creative process of showing pre-production, production, and post-production.

There were many valuable takeaways for any storyteller. Perhaps none more valuable than asking a question and shutting up. Just letting the person you’re interviewing give raw and honest answers as they tell their story. That’s how you capture the magic—how you find authentic emotions.

You can listen to the edited interview here.

And you can follow Blumberg on Twitter @abexlumberg.

P.S. I promise you I don’t make a penny from talking about CreativeLive (or Lynda.com or KelbyOne training) but it turns out Ann Rea has a class on CreativeLive called Make Money Making Art. I have not seen that, but based on her interview with Blumberg it’s worth at least checking out.

Scott W. Smith



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Finding Authentic Emotions (Part 1)

“What is a story, exactly?”
Alex Blumberg

What were you doing at 4:16 this morning? I was watching a story unfold  about a woman who married the hunk who lived next door to her in Dayton, Ohio and moved west to live the California dream.  She found her dream, but not until she went through years of despair.

“Everyone wants to find a way out of pain.”
Alex Blumberg

It wasn’t a movie, a TV show, or even a radio program, but the CreativeLive online class Power Your Podcast with Storytelling with Alex Blumberg. It was intriguing because you were able to watch how Blumberg takes a person out of the audience and shows how he would learn and tell her story for a program like This American Life (the NPR program where Blumberg was once a producer). Great stuff for anybody wanting to develop and tell better stories.

You can watch part two of the class for free today (and the rebroadcast tonight), or buy both days today for $79 (or $99 after today). I don’t recommend a lot of things to buy, but what I caught of Blumberg’s talk yesterday (and again early this morning) it’s solid material that you’ll find helpful and engaging if your storytelling is for features, TV, documentaries, radio, corporate videos, non-profit/NGO, or podcasts.

“Go where the medium lets you go.”
Alex Blumberg

He covers aspects like finding the core of the story, what hooks the audience into the narrative, what details do you need to tell, what surprises can you find, and what areas need explored. With the woman in the audience some of those areas were her dream of living in San Francisco turned into living in a suburb outside of Davis,CA. Her marriage and plans of 2.5 kids turned into a divorce and no kids. But there is a revelation and discovery on her way to finally living her California dream life—being a painter in San Francisco. If there’s a theme to her story it could be, “The road to happiness travels through many unhappy places.” (How’s that for a universal theme that would resonate with a few people worldwide?)

A few thoughts that I’ll pass on from Blumberg are his formula for nailing the thumbnail version of the story is, “This is a story about X, and it’s interesting because of Y.” When you tell people this framework for your story it must hit them at the gut level—they want to hear the story. It’s instantly intriguing.

This wasn’t an example from the workshop but I think works:”This is a story about ordinary people with the same name as famous people.” I’m flying from memory here, but I think that was the basic concept from a This American Life broadcast a few years ago. One of the ordinary people name was Willie Nelson and he lived in Texas where the more famous Mr. Nelson lived. Ordinary Willie Nelson kept voice mails left on his answering machine but obviously left for the famous Willie Nelson lived. It was an engaging program in the radio medium.

“Boredom is the enemy.”
Alex Blumberg

In telling your story look for the unexpected twists, contrasts, We like to hear about the pain, the a-ha moments, and the resolution/triumph.For true stories he looks for someone with direct experience rather than just an expert in the field.

Blumberg also said what he’s looking for when interviewing people is “authentic emotions.” Finding someone who went bankrupt because of a subprime loan they couldn’t afford to pay will tend to have more authentic emotion versus an expert on the topic. (Boots on the ground stuff, versus the view from afar.)

While it was a risk to interview an audience member in front of a live Internet audience, he certainly found “authentic emotions.”

If you can check it out today for free.

Related post:
Finding Authentic Emotions (Part 2) 
40 Days of Emotions
Ira Glass on Storytelling
Creative Learning 2.0
Chase Jarvis—A Creative Force one of the co-founders of CreativeLive
The End of the Rope Club (Oscars ’14) The California dreamer story belongs in the end of the rope club.

Scott W. Smith



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