Archive for the ‘screenwriting’ Category

“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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It’s graduation time and if you happen to be receiving  your degree from film school or as a TV or electric arts major I have good news for you. In fact, if you’re gradating from high school and have a couple of years of shooting and editing short projects I also have good news for you.

Remember Sonny Crockett? That character Don Johnson portrayed on Miami Vice back in the 80s? He wore funky clothes, lived on a sailboat, drove a Ferrari,  and was a Miami narc officer. He was cool. But now in real life we know that the Miami Police Department has an officer cooler than Crockett. (And apparently, a whole cast of characters.)

Officer Nick Perez is a vlogger and part of a three person social media team at the police department.   Here’s the video featuring Perez that’s going viral:

Now the reason I say that it’s a good time to be starting a career in production is places that never did videos before, or that outsourced it if they did, are now hiring young people who are jack of all trades production people to help tell their stories and sell their products.

When I was in in film school I worked as a PA on projects and as a driver for an equipment rental company. No great, but it seemed better than the survival jobs that Aaron Sorkin was doing when he was starting out.

But just armed with a GoPro camera and FCP-X, and a little talent you to can be a You Tube content creator earning a living. Here’s some background videos that show how the Miami- Dade Police Department launched it’s You Tube channel just a few months ago to be a way to connect to the community it serves. Mission accomplished.

P.S. Congrats to the recent college (or soon to be) high school graduates. Best wishes on your job search. (Just put “video producer” or “video content creator” into a Google search and see what people around the county are looking for.)  My guess is there are going to be a lot more police departments around the county that are going to be looking for content creators.

Scott W. Smith

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“At a writing workshop, purely as a courtesy, I attended the poetry workshop presented by a friend, University of Hawaii professor Steven Goldsberry…Perhaps the most useful advice Goldsberry gave was to encourage writers to consider every sentence to be a joke, and to remember that jokes end on the punch line.

“This is useful to screenwriters struggling with issues regarding both dialogue and description. Don Corleone in The Godfather does not say: ‘He won’t be able to refuse the offer I’m going to make.’ The punch line in this sentence has to be ‘refuse.’ That’s where the drama resides. That’s the most powerful word, the one carrying the greatest stress. With the sentence ending on the punch line it becomes among the most timeless lines ever uttered in any movie: ‘I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.'”
UCLA Screenwriting Chairman Richard Walter
Essentials of Screenwriting

P.S. After I wrote this post I found out that Professor Goldsberry earned his PhD from the University of Iowa—all roads may not lead back to Iowa, but a whole bunch of them do. Goldsberry also wrote The Writer’s Book of Wisdom: 101 Rules for Mastering Your Craft

Related posts:
Screenwriting Quote #16 (Richard Walter)
Robert McKee vs. Richard Walter
Screenwriting’s One Unbreakable Rule
Keeping Solvent & Sane

Scott W. Smith

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“We found out this really simple rule that maybe you guys heard before, but it took us a long time to learn it. We can take these beats, which are basically the beats of your outline, and if the words ‘and then’ belong between those beats, you’re fu*ked—basically. You’ve got something pretty boring. What should happen between every beat that you’ve written down, is either the word ‘therefore’ or ‘but’. So you come up with an idea and write ‘and this happens…and then this happens…’ no, no, no. It should be ‘this happens and therefore, this happens’. ‘But, this happens, therefore, this happens….'”
Trey Parker (South Park)
mtvU, Stand In at NYU

This deals with causality, change, and conflict. (See the posts What’s Changed and Conflict-Conflict-Conflict.) It’s not that Clarice Starling  (Jodie Foster) in The Silence of the Lambs goes for a jog and then has a meeting with Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn), but that Clarice is on a run training to be an FBI agent but her run is disrupted with news from a guy that she has to meet with Crawford. Something caused a change in the scene.

P.S. How much would you pay to see Trey Parker and Matt Stone do a South Park-like satire on screenwriting and filmmaking and all the training material, films schools, workshops, blogs, etc? Until then there’s always the episode where the Sundance Film Festival decides to move to recapture its small town mountain roots and move the festival to South Park.

Related posts:
Screenwriting’s One Unbreakable Rule
Rules, Breaking Rules, No Rules
‘There are no rules’
There are no rules, but…

Scott W. Smith




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” I don’t know why I’m so hard on you Beth, when you’ve always been the daughter of my dreams. We’re almost the same person, except I don’t have your weight problems.”
Joy (Patricia Clarkson) in Pieces of April

Happy Mother’s Day.

I picked today to round out my set of posts on Pieces of April (2003)  because even though it’s a film set on Thanksgiving Day—it’s kind of a Mother’s Day film as well. And of the six posts I’ve written on the movie (starting with this post on April 1) I needed to give a special mention to actress Patricia Clarkson.

Clarkson plays Katie Holmes’ mother, Joy, in the film written and directed by Peter Hedges. Clarkson’s had a solid 30+ year career (which followed getting a Master’s in theater from Yale), yet her sole Oscar-nomination is from Pieces of April.

So if you know Clarkson from one of her many film, Tv and/or theater roles, including her role in Six Feet Under where she won two Emmys, her 2015 Tony Award-winning Broadway performance in The Elephant Man—or even from the so wrong Motherlove music video featuring Justin Timberlake and Adam Sandler—but haven’t seen her in Pieces of April check it out.

(And if you’re estranged from your mother, really check it out.)

Related Posts:
Pieces of April (Part 1)
Pieces of April (Part 2) 
Pieces of April (Part 3) 
Pieces of April (Part 4) 
Pieces of April (Part 5)
Pieces of April (Part 6) 



Scott W. Smith


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“One of those lines from the how-to-write-movies books finally became real to me: The script is only a blueprint. During filming, last-minute decisions have to be made because of weather or budget, an individual’s availability or the director’s flash of insight. Pushing for greater naturalism, [director Lenny Abrahamson] often got the actors to improvise within a scene and I was startled by how much I liked the results.

“…A novelist shouldn’t write the screenplay unless she embraces the chance to change everything, to try to make the same magic over again, out of different ingredients. (For instance, ‘Room’ the novel gives him an expressive child’s body. The book is one boy’s story, and his mother is only shown in flashes, through his limited perspective; the film is a two-hander, with Brie Larson’s extraordinary performance bringing Ma right into the spotlight.)

“Adapting fiction for the screen is an act of mysterious translation, and working on ‘Room’ taught me much about both forms that I’d never known.”
Novelist/screenwriter Emma Donoghue (Room)
Novel Ideas for a Script/LA Times

Related post:
Good in a Room—Literally
Up in the Air—The Book vs. The Film
Up in the Air—The Book vs. The Film (part 2)

Scott W. Smith

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