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“Whenever there is that struggle for power, of who is going to be the leader, that is pure Shakespeare.”
Sam Wanamker (Nicholas Hammond)
Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (Blu-ray extra scene)

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The other day a friend of mine watched Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood for the first time and really enjoyed it. I told him I’d written several blog posts about that movie, and he said to send him some links. When I did a search on my blog I actually discovered some blog posts I’d written with that title back in 2009.

That’s a full ten years before Quentin Tarantino released his Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood title, that I wrote ten blog posts called Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. …. The only difference was the placement of the ellipses. (My Once Upon were kind of a sweeping overview of some of the changes throughout film history.)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood… (Part 1) 
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood … (Part 2) 
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood … (Part 3) 
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood … (Part 4) 
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood … (Part 5) 
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood … (Part 6) 
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood … (Part 7) 
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood … (Part 8) 
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood … (Part 9) 
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood … (Part 10)

I’m not saying that Tarantino lifted the title from my blog (or even knows it exist), but I did write and publish that title long before his even started writing his script. I don’t recall ever seeing the title Once Upon a Time in Hollywood used before my posts, but it’s possible someone will say that used that title ten years before I did. Or someone else did in 1940-something.

There is a book titled Once Upon a Time in Hollywood  (no ellipsis) by Juliette Michaud, but it wasn’t published until 2013.

There’s nothing new under the sun folks.

Here’s a few of the links I sent my friend:

The Unofficial ‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’ Film School
Once Upon a Time … in Van Nuys
Once Upon a Time in Modesto (and the American Graffiti influence on Tarantino) 
‘Once Upon a Time …’ Once Again 
Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood —in 1987 (How Robert Townsend’s ‘Hollywood Shuffle’ Influenced Tarantino
Once Upon a Time … in Burbank

P.S. After seeing Once Upon nine times in the theaters, I now have the Blu-Ray and will see if the movie holds up as well at home.

Scott W. Smith

 

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Since this is a blog on screenwriting and filmmaking, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the coronavirus in my posts. But it looks like it’s going to be with us a while—and potentially alter our lives into a new normal—so I’m going to roll with it as best I can.

If you have some extended time off from your regular job—or worse, were laid off— and want to finally tackle writing that play or screenplay you always dreamed about, here’s some good advice that worked for a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright (You Can’t Take It With You) and screenwriter (A Star Is Born—the 1934 version with Judy Garland):

“I do not believe that play-writing can be taught any more than acting can be taught, and I am quite certain that I did not consciously think of play-writing seriously in relation to myself, for all during that time it never occurred to me to read a book on how plays are written. I simply read the plays themselves, I read the published version of plays that I had seen and then plays that I had never seen, sitting there day after day like a bacteriologist trying to isolate a strange germ under the beam of a new more powerful microscope. . . . I began to perceive and place proper perspective the distinction between plot and character, the difference between tricks of the trade and honest craftsmanship, and though I was hardly aware of it, I began to discern the gradual steps by which a play is built and, in the really good plays, the wonderful economy with which each salient point is made and not a moment on the stage is wasted.”
—Moss Hart
Act One, page 125

P.S. And if you’ve bought every other book on screenwriting, attended screenwriting workshops, taken college writing classes, listened to a zillion podcasts on screenwriting, and even written a couple of screenplays—Hart’s advice is one way to hit the reset button. Maybe start with King Lear—since it’s believed Shakespeare wrote that while quarantined from the plague of 1606. It’s actually possible he wrote Macbeth and two or three additional plays during that time.

Scott W. Smith

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“The first Mickey Mouse was made by twelve people.”
Walt Disney
(It is debated whether Disney or Ub Iwerks drew the first Mickey)

“According to market research, Mickey Mouse has a 97% name recognition in the United States, which is even higher than Santa Claus.”
Elizabeth Segran
Fast Company article 4.01.19

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“The original Mickey was rattier and leaner. He also had clawed feet.”        — Garry Apger

As original a thinker as Walt Disney was, he didn’t create things out of thin air. And the creation of Mickey Mouse was no exception. The inception was probably somewhere between Aesop’s Fables (that Disney enjoyed reading)  that often featured mice and real life mice that were around the Hyperion Studios where Disney and his team created their short animations, and  drawings of a character named Johnny Mouse drawn by Clifton Meek.

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Johnny Mouse by Clifton Meek

Looking for a character to animate, Walt drew a picture of a mouse. With Disney’s team of artist, that mouse would evolve into the character Mickey Mouse and first appear in the 1928 short Plane Crazy.

It’s impossible to watch Plane Crazy today and not see that first iteration of Mickey as devious —after all, he does try to scare Minnie into giving him a kiss. She not only refuses but jumps out of the plane that Mickey is piloting. Spoiler alert;  Fortunately, Minnie does have a parachute and lands safely.

Mickey’s second film Barn Dance was his first film that showed that Disney and annimator Ub Iwerks had hit something special as it played in more theaters.

Over the years, both Mickey’s movement—and morals—improved, and he  found a wide audience. Mickey Mouse offered cheap escapist entertainment to audiences that had just experienced the Wall Street crash of 1929, and the start of The Great Depression.) By 1930, Mickey was getting 30,000 fan mail letters a month.  But his relationship with Minnie was still complicated.

Disney did not hide his admiration for Charlie Chaplin, calling him “the greatest of them all.” In Neal Gabler’s book Walt Disney, he quotes animator Ward Kimball as saying, “Walt kept the feeling of this little droll kind of pathetic little character who was always being picked on. But cleverly coming out on top anyway.”

“We wanted something appealing, and we thought of a tiny bit of a mouse that would have something of the wistfulness of Chaplin—a little fellow trying to do the best he could.”
Walt Disney

Another influence on Mickey Mouse was the actor Douglas Fairbanks, who was known for his action movies The Thief of Bagdad, Robin Hood, and The Mark of Zorro. Disney animator Ub Iwerks  said of Fairbanks, He was the superhero of his day, always winning, gallant and swashbuckling.”

Iwerks was the one who took Disney ‘s early rough drawings of Mickey and brought him to life in the early films. Though Iwerks and Disney had worked together since their Kansas City days, and on Silly Symphonies  together, the two had a falling out and parted ways in 1930.

But Disney and Iwerks—with a little Chaplin and Fairbanks—created one of the great and most loved characters in film history.  One whose popularity that moved from silent films to talkies,  and as a brand has moved all the way into the current digital era—almost 100 years after his first film.

But every mouse has his day, and as a movie star Mickey seemed to be peak somewhere in the late—1930s. In 1935 there were 500 million paid admissions to see a Mickey Mouse movie.  (To put that in perspective, Gone with the Wind has sold more tickets than any single movie—202,286,100 .) Granted the releases over ten movies that year, but 500 million admissions is a big number. At Mickey is the character that kicked off the whole merchandising thing in Hollywood, and Walt ended up making more on shirts, dolls, toys, etc. than on Mickey movies.

Gabler points out that Mickey was the victim of his own success. As animation got more realistic, Mickey had an identity crisis. Was he more mischievous like Chaplin, or more a hero like Fairbanks? Was he man, boy, or animal? His body movement changed, as did his hands and feet change in this new style of animation. He became nicer—and more boring.  Then, like all stars sooner or later, he got upstaged by a rising star—the wacky, brash Donald Duck.

If you have Disney+ you can see in high quality how sound, color, and animation techniques transformed both Mickey Mouse and Disney Studios over the years.

Related links:
Stealing for Screenwriters (According to Paul Schrader)
Stealing from Shakespeare
Fueling Your Imagination (Jarmusch Style) “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.”
Creating Under the Influence “Oh, I’ve stolen from the best. I mean I’ve stolen from Bergman. I’ve stolen from Groucho, I’ve stolen from Chaplin, I’ve stolen from Keaton, from Martha Graham, from Fellini. I mean I’m a shameless thief.”Woody Allen
Movie Cloning (Part 2) “I think it’s fine for young [filmmakers] to out and out rip off people who come before them because you always make it your own.” Francis Ford Coppola

P.S. I had this photo taken with Mickey about five years ago when I did a shoot at Walt Disney World. Mickey has aged better than most.

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Scott W. Smith 

 

 

 

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“The things that you are fired for are often the things in later life that you are celebrated and given lifetime achievements for.’
Oscar-winning writer/director Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, Patton)

Scott W. Smith 

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Today I completed a five-day workshop on Writing and Developing The Documentary at the Maine Media Workshops in Rockport. It was led by former Time magazine reporter Emmy Jack McDonald, whose writing and directing credits include working with Discovery, National Geographic, and PBS.

I watched and discussed more documentaries than I have in any single week of my life—probably more than in most months, and some years. I can’t breakdown what I learned from watching all or part of 15+ documentaries, or the many proposals we looked at, but I can share with you the core of the class in one photo. (It’s no surprise there is much crossover in structuring a documentary, and structuring a narrative story. And both are deceptively hard to do well.)

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Scott W. Smith

 

 

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Postcard #185 (Salem, MA)

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Just your average blue sky day in Salem, Massachusetts where a guy on single wheel electric skateboard carrying a dog on his hip, outnumber witches.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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While in Gloucester, Massachusetts a couple of days ago I stopped by the Crow’s Nest and had a beer and remembered the six man crew of the Andrea Gale died at sea in what was called the perfect storm in 1991. 

Sebastian Junger wrote the book The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea, which was turned into the movie The Perfect Storm from a script by Bill Wittliff. 

P.S. The have a scrapbook at the Crow’s Nest that includes various cast and crew who came to Gloucester to shoot the film. George Clooney played Captain Billy Tyne.

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Scott W. Smith

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