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Archive for the ‘Postcards’ Category

Well, 2023 hasn’t started out like I thought it would. I’m tempted to just skip ahead to 2024, but since I have no power to do so I’ll forge on. Besides, I wouldn’t want to miss my 15th anniversary in two days of writing this blog.

And to keep moving onward, I’m going to tap into a photo I took at the end of 2022 in Raton, New Mexico near the Colorado border. It’s of the wonderful castle-like building of the El Raton Theatre. It first opened in 1930 which is that era just as talking pictures were replacing silent movies. The website says it’s closed now but adds, “See you in 2023! Thank you for your patience while we restore El Raton Theatre to its original glory!” That’s petty cool.

I have a fantasy some day of living in a small Main Street town and owning a movie theater. My version of Cicely, Alaska from the classic TV show Northern Exposure. (A show that I actually think played a part in my living in Cedar Falls, Iowa for a decade.)
But instead of KBHR (and Chris in the Morning) being the philosophical voice of the town, my movie theater would be a place for open discussions.

Someone said a few years ago (screenwriter Paul Schrader?) that we’d only have four kinds of movies in the future. I think they were Superhero movies, kid movies, horror movies, and experimental. Everything else is streamed. Something like that. Of that group, the experimental movie interests me the most. That’s the kind of movie that would play in my theater. And it would also be accompanied by a Q&A with the filmmaker.

At nearby Rollins Collins college, on different nights, I’ve heard filmmakers Sean Baker (The Florida Project) and Ken Burns (The Civil War) give talks about their films and creative process. I love those kinds of experiences. Now that we’re coming up on the third year mark of when COVID shifted the way we live our life, I’m not hopeful that the movie theater experience is ever going to have the kind of cultural relevance that it had from 1970 to 2020.

Sure TV in the 1950s and VHS machines on the 1980s impacted people going to movie theaters, but I think both of those actually enhanced movies. It was a way to see great films from the past. Or to rewatch great current films. Streaming is different. The emphasis is on free (if you pirate a password or within a monthly fee). I thought of this last night when I went on the Amazon app and flip through some movies. It’s like we have an unlimited meal plan to McDonalds.

My solution last night was to go over to the PBS app and start watching Burns’ documentary on The U.S. and the Holocaust. Which actually reminds me, two years ago I did drive through the small town in New Hampshire when Burns makes his films and has a restaurant. That dude figured out how to live Northern Exposure-style even before there was a show called Northern Exposure. He figured out just out of college that if he went to New York City and sought out production work that before he’d no it he’d 50 and have never got around to making the kind of films he wanted to make.

Burns moved to a small town where he could live inexpensively and worked on his doc Brooklyn Bridge which launched his career. He said he thought he was taking a vow of poverty to work on documentaries, but instead it’s made him wealthy. And put him at ground central for a world now in love with documentaries.

Who knows, maybe there’s a filmmaker living in Raton, New Mexico today working on a film today that will make him the Ken Burns of tomorrow. According to the El Raton website, the grand opening for 520 seat theatre was April 20, 1930. “The inaugural movie was a Warner Brothers sound picture in natural color; Song of the West starring John Boles and Joe E. Brown.”

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

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I took off for a weekend last month just to try and recall the whole year
All of the faces and all of the places wonderin’ where they all disappeared

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes
Written by Jimmy Buffett

Happy New Year!

I started this postcard section on my blog back when I was on the road more working on various productions around the country. It was a way to keep the blog going without having to write full posts. But here’s a photo I took back in high school before I knew that it would lead to career. (And I’ll unpack its significance below.)

Jimmy Buffett performing in 1980 at Tampa Stadium

My dad bought me my first 35mm camera (Konica TC) the Christmas of my senior year of high school. A month later I drove over to Tampa with two car loads of fellow Lake Howell H.S. students to see a Jimmy Buffett & Eagles concert. (Best $12.50 I ever spent. I’ve seen single ticket stubs alone from that concert on Ebay for $50.) I found the above photo I took in 1980 while doing some after Christmas cleaning. It’s not a technically great photo so I ran it through the Prisma app to gloss over its imperfections. I was only 18–and only had the camera a month— but I think captures Buffett’s onstage personality. That camera was a gift that turned into a career. You never know when a gift you give today will bless someone well into the future.

Rewind a few years to 1977 with the release of the Eagles album Hotel California and Buffett’s Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes. What a one-two punch for a 16-year-old just starting to drive and see the world open up. (I only discovered a few weeks ago that parts of both of those albums were recorded in ’76 at Criteria Studios down in Miami.) I had two years of listening to those 8-track tapes over and over again, as well as their previous albums, before I went to that concert with 50,000 other people. Some days are just better than others.

But it didn’t make me want to be a rock star—I knew that my musical abilities peaked playing the triangle in kindergarten. But I was pulled in by so many of their lyrics—and stories— even if I didn’t (and still don’t) understand them all.

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
“Relax,” said the night man
“We are programmed to receive
You can check out any time you like
But you can never leave”

Hotel California

Last year, I listened to the audio book Rock Me on the Water by Ronald Brownstein and it helped give a context to what was going on in the cultural landscape of Los Angeles in the mid-70s with the Troubadour and Hollywood crowd in particular. And the ripple effect it caused throughout the post-Vietnam United States.

The early 1970s was the moment when all three of these industries [music/film/TV] simultaneously reached a creative peak—and 1974 stood as the absolute pinnacle of this cultural renaissance. For Los Angeles, those glittering months represented magic hour.”

Ronald Brownstein

What I didn’t know at that Eagles/Buffett concert in January 1980 was the ’70s were over. Gone. (News traveled to Florida slower in the pre-internet days.) I was infatuated with something that was history. I still moved to L.A. in 1982 to find it. I can listen to Jackson Browne’s ’70s songs now and believe that he saw the sun setting on that California utopia.

I want to know what became of the changes
We waited for love to bring
Were they only the fitful dreams
Of some greater awakening

—Jackson Browne, The Pretender (1976)

By the late ’70s, disco had largely replaced folk rock in pop culture. Hair bands, rap, Purple Rain/Thriller/Material Girl, and grunge followed. A few months after that Tampa concert, the Eagles broke up. The hippies that once repudiated materialism, prospered in the computer culture they helped create and became even more materialistic than the post-WWII generation they were protesting against.

But Buffett just keep doing his thing. Being a singer/songwriter. Somehow keeping his fan base all these decades later in a way that most of his contemporaries haven’t. For those of us drawn to Buffett’s literary lyrics more than his liquor lyrics there was still plenty to ponder. A course to sail.

You had to be there…

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

One Particular Harbour (1983), Jimmy Buffett

When I look at that photo of Buffett in Tampa smiling, I can’t help but think of my 18-year-old self and all the adventures he’s going to have. All the places he’s going to go, all the people he’s going to meet, and all the images he’s going to capture. Here’s a couple photos from my home office to remind me of his influence.

I found that 1980 photo on Christmas Day, which just happened to be Buffett’s 76th birthday. Happy Birthday J.B.

My hope is if I make it to 76, some filmmakers or content creators say something like, “I stumbled upon this Screenwriting from Iowa blog when I was in high school….”

P.S. And after 15 years of blogging this month, I think I’m finally ready to stick my toes into the YouTube waters this month. More about that in the coming days.

Related posts:
Jimmy Buffett in Iowa (Part 1)
Jimmy Buffett in Iowa (Part 2)
Jimmy Buffett in Iowa (Part 3)
Highway 61 Meets A1A
Magic vs. Grit

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

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“Remember, there are no shortcuts son.”
—Hal Holbrook (as Lou Mannheim) in Wall St.

The Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs has been on my wish list of places to stay for more than a couple of decades. I finally got the opportunity to stay one night last at the end of November as my wife and I celebrated another anniversary. It’s a beautiful resort with a long history. One hallway is lined with various celebrities who have stayed there over the years.

One of those was the Tony and Emmy-winner Hal Holbrook. And he’s the oldest person (at 82) to receive an Oscar nomination for his performance in Into the Wild. I first knew of Holbrook back in the ’70s from his role in the hit TV show Barney Miller, but his first credit was way back in 1955. My favorite role of his was in the Oliver Stone directed Wall St. where he knew Charlie Sheen’s character was up to no good. In the video below from the 1987 film, Holbrook (as Lou Mannheim) could easily be talking in 2022 to disgraced crypto entrepreneur Sam Bankman-Fried.

When I lived in LA back in the ’80s I caught Holbrook’s one man play where he performed as Mark Twain. It was in one of those 99-Seat theaters making it an intimate performance to watch. Holbrook was a craftsman. He was born in Cleveland in 1925 to a mother who was a vaudeville dance. According to Wikipedia, he first began develop Mark Twain Tonight! while a student at Dennison College in Ohio. Between 1942 and 1946 he served in the US Army. He worked with a who’s who of Hollywood talent over the years including Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman (All the President’s Men), and Tom Cruise and Sydney Pollack (The Firm).

He died last year and is buried in McLemoresville, Tennessee, alongside his wife, actress Dixie Carter who died in 2010.

Another Ohioan whose photo is on the wall at The Broadmoor is Jonathan Winters. He was born in Dayton, Ohio and got his start as a DJ on WING radio station in Dayton. My aunt and mother worked there at the time. Robin Williams said he wouldn’t of had a career without Winters. Meaning Winters’ zany cast of characters he developed in his comedy and wild improv skills were a great inspiration to Williams. The two would later perform together on about 20 episodes of Mork & Mindy.

The movies Ice Castles (1978) and The Case of the Sinister Spirit (1987) filmed at The Broadmoor. And The Broadmoor is owned by The Anschutz Corporation whose portfolio includes Regal’s 500 movie theaters, and the film investment and distribution company Walden Media.

All that from a glorified pitstop on the road. And regarding that photo above I took of The Broadmoor at dusk, I continue to marvel at the kind of images you can get from an iPhone.

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

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“Beautiful scenery and weather attracted Chicago-based silent-movie producers to Colorado in the early 1900s. The earliest was the Selig Polyscope Company, who made over 50 films in the state.”
Golden History Museum & Park website

Last month I stayed one night in Golden, Colorado and there is one area that this a mini-Monument Valley and made me think they they just had to have shot a few movie there. And they have. Golden actually predates the big move of the film industry from New York and Chicago to Hollywood.

The Bandit King (1907) one of the earliest films shot in Golden.

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

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Shortly before Thanksgiving I made a stop in Longmont, Colorado which is about a 45 minute drive north of downtown Denver. I’d never been there before, nor had my wife who spent a good deal of her life in Denver. On the Visit Longmont website they call the town “Colorado’s Best Kept Secret.”

I think the town first got on my radar a few years ago from hearing an interview with the author of the Mr. Money Mustache blog. It sounded like an interesting place and so I made it a point to make a stop there while in Colorado briefly. Seems like a nice place to live. Not far from Denver, Boulder, and the Rocky Mountains, yet its own little town. I took the photo below of the Longmont Performing Arts Center on Main St. which was built in 1939 as the The Fox Theatre. The art deco design would fit right in on Miami Beach.

In the 1960 it was renamed the Trojan Theatre and today it has multiple uses including a community theatre and showing classic movies under under the name the New Trojan Movie House & Art Cinema. This month they will run a Christmas Movie Series featuring Scrooge (1935), Die Hard, It’s a Wonderful Life, and White Christmas.

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

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Postcard #220 (Springs Theatre)

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
—Heraclitus 

Over the years I’ve probably shots a few dozen photos of old movie theaters in my travels around the United States. They made a fitting metaphor for life. For change. A few weeks ago on the way to see the Tampa Bay Buccanneers play I purposefully took a side street in Tampa just to see some things I’d never seen before. About 10 miles from Raymond James Stadium I came upon on the Springs Theatre.

According to the Cinema Treasures website in opened o December 7, 1944. Three years to the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and while World War II still nine months from ending. According to the Cinema Treasures website, the double feature that opening day was “Tyrone Power in The Rains Came & Linda Darnell in It Happened Tomorrow.

The Rains Came (1940) also featured Myrna Loy and. The movie won one Oscar—Best Effects, Special Effects.Philip Dunne and Julien Josephson based on the novel by Louis Bromfield. Duane received two Oscars nominations in his career including the John Ford directed classic How Green Was My Valley (1941). Josephson received an Academy Award nomination for Disraeli (1929).
As I point out in my book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles, Frances Marion became the first female screenwriter to win an Academy Award for writing (and the first screenwriter to win two)—her script for The Big House won over Josephson’s script for Disraeli. You just never know what kind of info you’re going to unearth when you finally go to see Tom Brady play a football game.

I’ve never seen The Rains Came, but the storyline appears to involve a love triangle. Casablanca came out two years later and also involves a love triangle. And there have been a few move love triangle movies since then. Nothing new under the sun folks, except fresh ways of telling old stories.

It Happened Tomorrow (1944) was nominated for two Oscars (Best Sound and Best Musical Score). It was written by Dudley Nichols and the director René Clair. And there are five additional people credited with things like ideas and originals. I’ve not exactly sure what “originals” means. Perhaps some kind of original source material the script pulled from.

Here’s the entire movie found on YouTube.

The Springs Theatre has had several lives. A first run theater, a second run theater, a porn theater, a church, a print shop, and a recording studio. I tried the website on the theatre sign and it just says, “We are making something exciting.” So the metaphor I alluded to at the start of this post is that movie theaters, like the movie industry itself (and humans—even Tom Brady) are in a constant state of change.

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

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Postcard #219 (Joy-Lan Drive In Theatre)

A funny thing happened on my way to see Tom Brady play in Tampa against the LA Rams….

Actually, it wasn’t funny but I found it interesting. Instead of taking I-4 from Orlando to Tampa (which is usually slow and go with tourists coming and going from the Central Florida theme parks), I decided to take the backroads. One of the small towns I drove though was Dade City, Florida and I found this jewel: The Joy-Lan Drive In Theatre & Swap Shop. It’s one of the few working drive ins in Florida and has been in operation for more than 70 years.

So if you need a drive in for a movie or production, I’ve done some free location scouting for you. And while you are able to listen to movies on your radio, I love how Joy-Lan left the old school speakers in place.

According to the history page on their website, the theatre opened “March 9, 1950, with the showing of Challenge to Lassie, starring the legendary collie. Admission was 35 cents per person.” That screenplay was written by William Ledwig (1912-1999) based on a book Greyfriars Bobby by Indiana-born Eleanor Atkinson. Ludwig, along with Sonya Levien, won an Oscar for their script Interrupted Melody (1955).

And according to Wikipedia, in Dexter episode “Father Knows Best,” Dexter Morgan goes to Dade City after he father dies. And part of Edward Scissorhands (not sure if it was a scene with Johnny Depp or not) was filmed in Dade City. See what what kind of things you find when you take the backroads.

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

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O beautiful for halcyon skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the enameled plain!

—Katharine Lee Bates
Lyrics to America the Beautiful 
(When’s the last time you dropped the word halcyon in a casual conversation?)

On my recent trip to Colorado I picked up a nail somewhere on my drive. Thankfully the tire held air until I got to Colorado Springs which was the only place in several states that had my exact tire in stock. Life is full of little adventures and we tried to make the best of our slight detour. We arrived in Colorado Springs at night and didn’t realize until the next morning that our hotel had a great view of Pikes Peak.

I took my dog out for an early morning walk and found the mountain range framed some sunflowers nicely. The second photo of my dog gives a little better angle of Pikes Peak in all its glory just as the sun is hitting the summit. Getting a nail in your tire on the road is a pain, but you got to keep your eyes open for the silver linings. (Or in this case, the yellow flowers and blue sky.)

P.S. According to one website, Pikes Peak is known as America’s Mountain and “Named for Lt. Zebulon Pike — who never actually reached the peak — and the inspiration for Katharine Lee Bates’ iconic American anthem, America the Beautiful, Pikes Peak is an American icon whose 14,115-foot summit challenges and inspires visitors from around the globe.”

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

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I took the photo of the Gothic Theatre a couple of weeks ago when I was in Denver. It was originally built as a movie theare in the 1920s, the exterior got a modern update in the 1940s, and in the late 90s the interior was totally remodeled for it to be a live music venue, which is remains as its main use today. It holds a max of 1,100 people and is also used for wedding, special events, and things like a live event of Not Another D&D Podcast.

I’m going to put doing live events at these old theatres on my wish list of something I’d like to do someday. I did a zoom talk on a sweeping overview of film history that I’s like to develop further for a general audience.

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

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Sunday night I drove through Limon, Colorado (pop. 1,161 ) and took this photo of the Lincoln Theatre. It was built in 1938 as The Cactus Theatre. It’s one of the few movie theatres in the United States that was designed “backwards”—where the entrance is on the screen side of the building. It’s still an operating movie house and run by the non-profit group Your Community Foundation.

It’s a movie theatre that would feel right at home in the old tv show Northern Exposure which was set in a small town in Alaska.

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

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