Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

The West Wing, BMWs & Iowa

“I love writing but hate starting. The page is awfully white and it says, ‘You have fooled some of the people some of the time but those days are over giftless.’”
Aaron Sorkin
Introduction to The West Wing Script Book

“[The West Wing] didn’t not test well. They let us make the pilot, it didn’t test horrendously, but it didn’t test through the roof. Then Warner Brothers, our studio, in order to convince NBC to put it on their schedule, to order 13 episodes of the show, they came up with a new testing sample that no one had tried before. It tested extremely well with four groups; households earning more than $75,000 a year, households where someone had four years of college, households where they subscribed to The New York Times, and the fourth  and this was a huge deal—remember West Wing went on the air in 1999—households that had home internet access. The reason that fourth one was big—now even one has internet access, but not in 1999—the reason why that fourth one was such a big deal was right in the middle of the dot com boom. And Warner Brothers and NBC were able to show these people where they could advertise. If you went back and watched old TV programs, not on DVD, were for dot coms.  You could see that more than half our ads were for doc coms and BMW. It was dot com and BMW why that show was on the air.”
Producer/writer/The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin
The Aspen Institute interview with David Brooks

The above video clip is from The West Wing episode from season one titled, In Excelsis Deo. Sorkin an co-writer Rick Cleveland earned an Emmy for that episode. Cleveland was a graduate of the Playwriting Workshop at the University of Iowa proving that after 8 1/2 years of blogging I have yet to exhaust the depth of talent that has flowed (even for just a season) through the great state of Iowa.

It’s worth noting that The West Wing debuted in 1999—the same year The Sopranos first aired. If you’re looking for an exact year when television entered its modern golden age, then 1999 is a pretty good year to pick. At the 52nd Primetime Emmy Awards in 2000, The West Wing edged out The Sopranos for Outstanding Drama Series. (Over their entire runs  The West Wing won 26 total Primetime Emmys, and The Sopranos 21.)   In the Writers Guild of America’s 101 Best Written TV Series listed The Sopranos was at # 1 and The West Wing at #10. Yes, 1999 was a very good year for setting the tone for the future of television.

P.S. Sorkin has also said that the person that first planted the seed for The West Wing idea was Oscar-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind). In a casual conversation with Sorkin, Goldsman pointed to a poster of The American President (written by Sorkin) saying it would make a good TV series, “If you concentrated on the senior staffers. Senior staffers at the White House, you’d be good at writing that series.”

And for throw-back Thursday here’s Screenwriting from Iowa muse—University of Iowa graduate and Oscar-winning screenwriter—Diablo Cody.

Diablo Cody poses backstage after winning an Oscar for best original screenplay for Juno at the 80th annual Academy Awards in Hollywood

Diablo Cody poses backstage after winning an Oscar for best original screenplay for “Juno” at the 80th annual Academy Awards, the Oscars, in Hollywood February 24, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES-OSCARS)

Related post:
Professor Aaron Sorkin
Sorkin on Revealing Character 
Juno Has Another Baby (Emmy)

Scott W. Smith



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“Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.”
Squire Bill Widener
(Often wrongly attributed to Theodore Roosevelt)

[It’s a Wonderful Life] dealt with the sweeping problem, ‘What would happen if any individual had not been born?’  How would the world be if you’d not been born? Because the Jimmy Stewart character was just anybody from a small town, a very normal guy. He wasn’t anything in particular. Just a small town guy who tried to do the best he could with what he had. Now he was dissatisfied all the time. Dissatisfied with his lot. Dissatisfied with his place. Had ambition to do great things. Yet, had he not lived his particular little world would have been a worse place to live in. Now, this is a theme that I think is universal, and I think is one of the greatest themes I’ve ever encountered. I’d never seen it tackled head-on. What would happen to the world had some individual not been born? Now this is the ultimate in individuality. ‘Cause that individual is you, you, you, you, you, you. It was not Napoleon. One people, one little people. [Jimmy Stewart’s character] couln’t go to the war. Considered himself a complete failure. And found out he was worth much more dead than alive because he had a small little equity in a life insurance [policy].And he tries to bring that off [by attempting suicide]. And somebody comes along and says, no don’t do that, you’re pretty important to people, you know. So he gets a chance to see what his world would have been like had he not been born. Then he wants to live. Wants to live very badly. I think that’s a great tale. I don’t give a damn when you tell that story, I think it’s a great story.”
Three time Oscar-winning director Frank Capra 
(And director of It’s a Wonderful Life)
1971 Interview

Today happens to be my birthday and Capra’s words seem a fitting birthday post. (And I hope it’s encouraging to those of you especially going through a rough time.) And for the younger filmmakers out there who’ve perhaps never seen a Frank Capra film, I’m old enough to say, “Stay off the lawn, and go home and watch some Frank Capra films.”

H/T to Scott Myers at Go Into the Story for posting that Capra video a few days ago. I’d never seen it before. And my birthday gift to you—if you like film history and are unaware of this resource—check out the Cinephilia & Beyond  website because it’s outstanding. (And it comes from an unlikely place—Croatia. Consider supporting their work as well.)

P.S. Speaking of unlikely places, I think the official motto of Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikey Places should be; “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.” (For what it’s worth, Capra’s journey began in Bisacquino, Sicily, Italy.)

Scott W. Smith



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“Gripping … [Into the Lion’s Mouth] will keep you planted in your reading chair from start to finish.”
Author Michael Connelly (The Lincoln Lawyer, Bosch)


Author Larry Loftis at Barnes & Noble in Orlando

Last Saturday I went to a talk and book signing by writer Larry Loftis on his newly released Into the Lion’s Mouth: The True Story of Dusko Popov. It’s the true story of a World War II double agent…and playboy.


According to Loftis, Popov was the real-life inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond character. Fleming was working for Britian’s  Naval Intelligence Division during World War II and would only say before he died in 1964 that he based Bond on several characters met or heard about.

Loftis relies on new documents to unpack the fascinating life of Popov. I’ve known Loftis for 15-20 years and hope to interview him for this blog and cover his process of researching and writing the book. And also to learn about his working with an L.A. manager in hopes of turning the book into a movie or miniseries.

“Who needs fiction. Truth is a thousand times better, and this true-life adventure has it all. Action, history, secrets, conspiracies—a sizzling piece of entertainment that’s real.”
Steve Berry
(On Into the Lion’s Mouth)

P.S. While Wikipedia lists at least 15 real life people who were linked to the inspiration for the James Bond character (including Popov), one thing we do have is Ian Fleming on camera talking about where he stole the actual name James Bond from; the American ornithologist and author of the book Birds of the West Indies.

Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 2.49.35 PM

Into the Lion’s Mouth reviews:
USA Today book review
Parade magazine feature 

Related posts:
James Bond, Screenwriting & Golf
James Bond, Spy/Orphan
James Bond is Philip Marlow
Raymond Chandler Interview (by Ian Fleming)

Scott W. Smith

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Peaks & Valleys

“I’ve been around a long enough also to know that careers are peaks and valleys. And it’s just really all about with how much grace and equanimity you can keep walking along in one direction. Whether you’re marching through the valley of the shadow of death or whether you’re at the pinnacle of whatever, it’s such a flaky endeavor and such a fluky business for all of those reasons of what somebody decides is hot at the moment. You can’t pay too much attention to it or it really will drive you nuts. Because for the last two peaks I’ve experienced there’s been five years of valley.”
Writer/Director Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption)
Fade In interview with Audrey Kelly
circa  1999 when The Green Mile was released

P.S. And since I pulled a quote from Jodie Foster yesterday, I imagine she’d agree with Darabont. Tomorrow we’ll look at indie filmmaking where the peaks aren’t has high as Darabont and Foster have experienced, and where the valleys are also lower.

Related posts:
‘Television used to suck’—Frank Darabont
Descriptive Writing (Frank Darabont)
‘It’s a Wonderful Prison’ “Shawshank is basically It’s a Wonderful Life in a prison.”—Darabont
Legacy Filmmaking (& Your Bank Account)

Scott W. Smith


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‘An exciting place to be’

Taxi Driver would definitely not get off the ground as a feature film today. No way…It costs a lot of money to make movies now. At that time, it cost $1 million to make Taxi Driver, and that was a lot of money for then. Now, it’s all about risk aversion, and the global economy that the film business is now, and the way the studios are organized. But the good news is, it’s not just studios that make movies. We have other avenues. What’s happening on cable now is more interesting than almost anything happening in features, in terms of performance and narrative. You can explore characters over 10 seasons, something you could never do in features. You can make more complex characters that change over time. In Breaking Bad, he starts out one way, he ends up another way. With places like Amazon and Netflix, there is a real trust building in filmmakers again, that is kind of like it was in the ’70s. That’s an exciting place to be.”
Director and Oscar-winning actress Jodie Foster (Taxi Driver, The Silence of the Lambs)
Deadline interview with Mike Fleming Jr.




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“When you start off, you have to deal with the problems of failure. You need to be thickskinned, to learn that not every project will survive. A freelance life, a life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it, and put something in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. And you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back.”
Neil Gaiman
The University of the Arts Keynote Address 2012

Since I started this week talking about high school and college graduations and there’s been an educational theme throughout the week, it makes sense to end the week with a graduation speech. Here’s a little bit of inspiration from the above talk:

And remember that whatever discipline you are in, whether you are a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a designer, whatever you do you have one thing that’s unique. You have the ability to make art.

And for me, and for so many of the people I have known, that’s been a lifesaver. The ultimate lifesaver. It gets you through good times and it gets you through the other ones.

Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.

Make good art.

I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.
Neil Gaiman 

Related posts:
Emma Thompson on Failure
J.K. Rowling on the Benefits of Failure
Embracing the Near Win (part 1) 
Embracing the Near Win (part 2)
Commitment in the Face of Failure
Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

Scott W. Smith



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“Break on through to the other side…”
Jim Morrison


You can file this post under “Old dog, New Tricks.”

Recently we welcomed a 9-year-old Golden-Lab rescue dog named Ginger into our home. It was just about a year after our 15-year-old Golden Retriever Lucy died, and we still had all of her tug toys and were looking forward to our new dog playing with them.

But we found out that Ginger did care to play with any of Lucy’s toys. We were told that Ginger’s original owners were elderly and could no longer care for her which is why they gave her up. We realized that maybe she’d never chased a tennis ball or played with a stuffed dog toy.

But slowly we’ve introduced an old dog to new tricks. Albeit she’s a bit awkward because she is not a puppy, but she seems to be enjoying her latent retriever skill set.

Then it was my turn.

Yesterday, I completed three days of training on the Adobe Creative Cloud at Genius DV here in Orlando. I made the switch from Final Cut Pro to Premiere two years ago, but this filled in some gaps as well as gave me a better working knowledge of After Effects, Photoshop and Audition. (Way back in 2002, I also went to Genius DV when I was making the transition from AVID to Final Cut Pro.)

While I’ve learned greatly from various online tutorials over the years (paid and free), there is something special about stepping away from your regular work environment for a few days (or a week if you can afford it) and doing a hands-on workshop or class. (Some of my greatest leaps in learning have come from going to workshops/seminars in various places throughout the county.)

And here’s the secret that an older TV/video producer taught me when I was younger. I was complaining about a two-day seminar that I attended and how I didn’t learn that much. That can be a problem with any seminar, and there are usually many people there with varying degrees of knowledge and experience. So you can’t just skip a few pages forward, you have to stay on pace with the group.

Anyway, my friend told me, “Scott, you don’t go to workshops to learn everything, you go to learn a few things that make you better at what you do.” Amen. It may only be 10-20% of what’s taught, but that 10-20% can be huge in helping you create better work.

And I’ll add to that that your learning is not always what was actually meant to be a part of the training. Sometimes it’s the rabbit trail discussions, the passing conversations at lunch or break time with others taking the workshop, that are meaningful.

In my Adobe class led by Juan Carlos Santizo he taught this old dog, many new tricks. Some had to do with the nuts and bolts of Premiere (virtual reality in the next upgrade), much in After Effects, and a healthy dose of shop talk including showing the following behind the scene video of three of the then remaining members of The Doors (Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore) recording with Grammy-winning Skrillex back in 2012.  The official song on You Tube has 19 million views. Old dogs—new tricks. Keeps life interesting.

P.S. And I haven’t given up on Final Cut Pro. I just finished a project using FCP7 and started dipping into FCP-X earlier this year. I think it’s wise to be platformagnostic—to borrow Morgan Spurlock’s phrase. I started my production career as a Arri & Eclair 16mm  cinematographer and Steenbeck flatbed editor, so I’ve learned to actually enjoy the continual changes in technology.  And I’ve long cherished the sentiment of photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984) who said his one regret was that he wouldn’t be around to take part in the digital world.

Scott W. Smith

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