Archive for the ‘Postcards’ Category

”[T]here was something of a boom of Holy Land miniatures and roadside attractions with the expansion of car culture and summer road trips in the mid-20th century. There were at least 10 new biblical parks built in the 1950s, eight more in the ’60s, and another seven in the ’70s.”
—Daniel Silliman
The Holy Land Experience Never Made it to the Financial Promised Land

If you think Disney World in Central Florida is the holy land, you may be unaware that until recently there was actually a place in Orlando called the Holy Land Experience.

But it closed in 2020, the land sold to a hospital in 2021, and about a week ago they began tearing down the Biblical theme park. (It was located between downtown Orlando and Universal Studios Florida.)

Today I drove by it and couldn’t resist taking a photo. Got some help from the clouds to add a little drama.

P.S. I never made it to the Holy Land Experience, but I was curious. I had an actor friend who had an ongoing gig there soon after it opened in 2001. A couple of decades ago, I did make a trip to the original Holy Land in Israel. I remember thinking then that there was a tinge of Orlando there with all the tourists, trinkets, and t-shirts.

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

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“The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.”
—James Taylor
Secret O’ Life

Just about a month ago, my wife and I made a couple of stops driving through The Villages in Central Florida. It had been several years since I’d driven though there and I was surprised at the growth. I shouldn’t have been as it’s said to be the largest, and fastest growing planned community in the world. A common comparison is it falls somewhere between Disney World and The Truman Show. Wikipedia states that The Villages covers 32 square miles and has around 80,000 residents, with an emphasis on people 55+.

And while my photograph featured a classic 1950s Nash Metropolitan car, it’s more common to see golf carts in The Villages—since there are 55,000 of them. (A golf car is like a golf cart except it is not meant just for gold courses. The golf car—also known as a LSV, a low speed vehicle—has windshields, break lights and turn signals, seat belts and other safety features.)

YouTuber Peter Santenello has carved out a niche creating videos that give a larger views of cultures beyond typical stereotypes. See his videos on East LA, Chicano culture, the Navajo nation, East NY Projects, and inside the largest Amish/ Mennonite community to get an eclectic mix of the United States. Below was a video he posted two weeks ago on a trip to The Villages. (His impression is pretty much my takeaway.)

In 2020 filmmaker Lance Oppenheim released the doc Some Kind of Heaven that was shot in and around The Villages.

In 2021, writer/director Valarie Blankenbyl released her doc The Bubble, also on The Villages.

Actress Megan Boone (The Blacklist) was raised in The Villages on her way to success in Los Angeles. She also returned the area to shoot part of Eggshells for Soil (2010), which she wrote and directed.

All proving once again that unlikely places are fertile ground for creativity.

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

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“In August of 2020, the State of Florida banned wild oyster harvest in Apalachicola Bay for five years to allow oysters to hopefully repopulate… But the closure was largely symbolic; the oysters were already gone as were most of the fishers who harvested them.”
—Richard Bickle
Requiem for an oyster and a way of life in Apalachicola Bay

This post started out as a postcard of just one photo, but it could end up as a documentary. I’ve been drawn to Apalachicola and what’s called “The Forgotten Coast” since I first visited that area in the Florida Panhandle back in the ’90s. I took the photos here when I drove through last November. The town has lingered in my thoughts since then.

There’s a certain mystic to Apalachicola that I liken to what I found in Ely, Minnesota and Talkeetna, Alaska. Places with history that could be grouped together in some kind of American explorers club. Look at the photo below of the lobby of The Gibson Inn— you half-expect Ernest Hemingway or Teddy Roosevelt to be holding court telling some elaborate story about an expedition in Africa or South America.

The region is rich in history and conflict going back to at least 1513 when it was part of El Camino Real where the Spanish moved westward from St. Augustine in expanding their reach. The trail would eventually connect all the way to Santa Fe, New Mexico. In the 1700s it was the area of the French Indian War, at one point it was the third largest British port (after New Orleans and Mobile) on the Gulf of Mexico, and during The Civil War it was captured by the Union.

One of the most effective 10 minutes in the history of cinema is the opening of Saving Private Ryan when US troops storm Omaha Beach in what was a key moment in World War II victory. Well, that D-Day beach landing had to be practiced somewhere. It turns out that the beaches at Carrabelle (20 miles from Apalachicola ) were ideal for training soldiers for amphibious warfare. Camp Gordon Johnston was established in 1942 and where a quarter of a million soldiers were trained solely for the World War II efforts, and it closed in 1946.

Apalachicola and the greater area are survivors. It’s a microcosm of the United States. Before automobiles and airplanes (and railroads not being everywhere) Apalachicola’s ability to ship cotton, lumber, and seafood via the Gulf and up the Chattahooochee River allowed this remote area to thrive. I’ve read that nearby Eastpoint once provided Florida with 90% of its oysters before its industry (and way of life) was devastated by contaminated waters in the bay. In 2018, Hurricane Michael made landfall in nearby Mexico Beach with 160 mile hour winds bringing further devastation to the area. (But NPR reported recently that Mexico Beach is making a comeback.)

Today fishing and tourism seem to be the way that The Forgotten Coast is finding a way to keep the lights on. It’s a wonderful place to spend the night, a vacation, and attracting more and more people to live there full time in their retirement or working remote jobs. Regretfully, I did not get a chance to met international photographer Richard Bickle because he was out of the country on assignment, but I was able to peak into his gallery there and see his work. Next time.

My photographer friend from my Los Angeles days, Robert Galbraith, did stop by Richard’s gallery in 2021 and was able to take a photo of him, as well as a few shots in Apalachicola in a way that only he and his Leica camera can do.

P.S. Just three days after this post St. George Island (just 15 minutes from Apalachicola) was named by Dr. Beach (Professor Stephen Leatherman) as the Best Beach in the Nation for 2023.

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

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Last year, I worked on an educational video series on the history of China. That’s when I learned that just off one of the main roads in Central Florida there was a statute of Sun Yat-sen in Orlando’s Chinatown. A few days ago when the morning light was nice I drove down Colonial Avenue and took the photo below. Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) was an influencer more than 100 years before TikTok. Was he a good or bad influencer? To answer in a Chinese proverb-like manner, it depends on which side on the mountain you stand.

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

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Last night I watched the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Boston Red Sox 1-0 at Topicana Field in St Petersburg, Florida. That win gave them a 10-0 start of the season, which no team in Major League Baseball (MLB) has done in a decade. They also won tonight meaning there are only two teams in MLB history that started better than them. Both the 1982 Atlanta Braves and the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers started off 13-0. So the Rays just need three more wins to sit on top of the record books in one category.

I don’t go to many MLB games, but I dug the new timing rule that makes makes games go faster than they used to. It made me stick around and see Brandon Lowe’s solo home run near the end of the game that was the difference in the game last night.

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

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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 knew 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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