“in some way in every story, heroes face death or something like it: their greatest fears, the failure of an enterprise, the end of relationship, the death of an old personality.”
Christopher Vogler
The Writer’s Journey, page 181 (of 1st edition)

Last week I wrote posts about Dwayne Johnson (Hitting Rock Bottom with The Rock),  Sylvester Stallone (The Rocky Road to Rocky), and Chris Orwig (The Creative Fight’) who all hit life-defining rough spots in their lives that eventually led them to successes they are known for.

That is— after Johnson’s failed professional football career, after Stalllone’s rejection in college acting classes, and Orwig being hit by a car while skateboarding, each of them bounced back in their own unique way. And since Jon Acuff is speaking and doing a book signing this evening in Orlando, I thought pulling a quote from his book fit right in with recent posts.

“The crucible of brokenness has a funny way of leading to awesome lives. For some people, rock bottom is a trampoline. It springs them up from the depths, back into the light, filed by a decision never to experience that low again. Or to help make sure other people don’t end up there either.

“Is there anyone who doubts that being fired from his own company didn’t fuel Steve Jobs? Having lost his baby, having been pushed out by his own board in 1985, is there anyone who doesn’t think he licked his wounds and started planning a triumphant return? Would Apple have been Apple without Steve’s underdog moment that came back full circle when he came back to Apple in 1996? Hard to say, but his Career Bump did impact him and the company.”
Author/Speaker Jon Acuff/ @JonAcuff
Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, And Never Get Stuck
pages 83-84

P.S. Two movies that come to mind about characters who had career Do Overs are Erin Brockovich and Jerry Maguire. I’m sure with a little time one could come up with Do Overs being a movie genre of its own. Here’s a favorite “public failure in the work place” scene written by Cameron Crowe.

Related posts:
Shelter from the Storm (‘Fury’)
What’s at Stake? (David Wain)
What’s at Stake?
“Goal. Stakes. Urgency.”
Screenwriting & Slavery to Freedom

Scott W. Smith

“The road to success isn’t paved with gold—99 percent of the time it isn’t paved at all.”
Photographer/Author/Educator Chris Orwig
The Creative Fight

Because my mom was an art teacher, I was aware of the creative fight from an early age. Before I was ten I was fascinated by Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings, but perhaps more enamored that he cut part of his ear off. I’ve read plenty of theories about the madness, pain, and demons that the creative genius fought before his death at age 37.

Chris Orwig’s book The Creative Fight may not have saved Van Gogh’s life—but it may help you on your creative journey.  Encourage you as you face a world of constant noise and change. The goal of his book is to help you refocus and reframe your creative vision and life in general.

“Creativity has given us romance, recovery, culture, cuisine, music, motocross, fables, fashion, and sports. Deep creativity stirs our soul. It reminds us of something we once knew but have since forgotten. Creativity awakens life, like the taste of those cookies brings back your grandmother’s face or that one song reminds you of being 16. We not only watch and witness creativity, we take part in ourselves. And the most creative act of all is living life to the fullest degree. Without creativity by your side, it’s impossible to live a rich and meaningful life.”
Chris Orwig
The Creative Flight
Page 4

For the past few weeks I’ve been in the process of moving my still photography workflow from Apple Aperture to Adobe Lightroom, and Orwig has been helping me with the transition. Not personally, but via his tutorials on lynda.com. I’ve been a long time fan of lynda.com and have watched many of Orwig’s tutorials.

Over the years I’ve grow to realize that change—for various reasons— is just a part of the game. In shooting footage (8mm,16mm, 3/4 inch, Beta SP, DigiBeta, and several digital formats), editing (upright Moviola, Steenbeck flatbed, AVID, FCP, Adobe Premiere), and 35mm and medium format film cameras to DSLRs that shoot stills and video I’ve been through plenty of changes since graduating from film school back in the day.

And I wouldn’t say I’m the most technical person out there and there have been many fights on the technical side so I for one welcome the prolific online training available. Help with the creative fight is harder to come by. But Orwig—a photographer/adventurer— is an able guide. And throughout his book he sprinkles quotes from a wide range of people: John Muir, Mark Twain, Dr. Seuss, Mahalia Jackson, Ansel Adams, T.S. Eliot, Seth Godin, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Kelly Slater, Thomas Edison and others. (In fact, an electic group of which I have quoted from many of them on this blog over the years.)

“[Jack London] wrote and wrote on a borrowed typewriter, but still the rejection letters came. One publication sent him this rejection note: ‘Interest in Alaska has subsided in an amazing degree. I do not think it would pay us to buy your story.’ It seemed his adventures up north wouldn’t pay off after all. Little did London know, more rejection was to come. During his first five years as a writer he received an avalanche of over 500 rejection letters. After his books became a huge success, London would say, ‘You have to go after inspiration with a club.”
Chris Orwig
The Creative Fight
page 97

I bought the book last weekend because I wanted to support Orwig, but also because I’m always open to anyone who can help me in my own creative fight. Especially when one can do so visually and poetically, and who often comes to his soulful observations through is own journey of pain, suffering, and brokenness.

Here are some other videos of Orwig speaking that may help you in your creative fight.

Related Posts:
Creativity & Milking Cows
‘Creativity for Life’
lynda.com for President
Off Screen Quote #12 (Kelly Slater)
Living a Creative Life
Creativity’s Best Friend
Where Do Ideas Come From?

Scott W. Smith

“It ain’t about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
Rocky Balboa (written by Sylvester Stallone)

Today we’re going from The Rock to Rocky and it happened very organically. Yesterday’s post, Hitting Rock Bottom with The Rock, touched on Dwayne Johnson’s hard times after he left the University of Miami. After I wrote that post I saw on Facebook were Robert Rodriguez and the El Rey Network just put online an interview with Sylvester Stallone. Great stuff and a perfect follow-up to the posit on Johnson.

“There was an audition for Death of a Salesman—never even heard [of the play]— and just for some reason I was drawn into that room. And I read and got the part of Biff. I still remember the dialogue to this day. Then we did the stage production and the director there was a Harvard graduate and said, ‘You know, you should do this professionally.’ And that was it. 

“Then I headed to the University of Miami and The Ring Theatre and it just didn’t happen. We’re doing improvs, playing The Hunchback of Notre Dame, this and that, and that was also where failure was a great impetus. Okay. Crossroad. You’re not getting any acting parts. You’re not connecting with any of the professors, they think you mumble, you’re just not what they consider acting material—and that’s when I started writing. And that was the beginning. And I can’t emphasize how important that was. If I’d been very successful at the University of Miami I never would have written, if I never wrote, I’d never had done Rocky.
Producer/director/writer/actor Sylvester Stallone
The Director’s Chair with Robert Rodriguez on the El Rey Network

Earlier this year I wrote the post The Perfect Ending about director and University of Miami grad David Nutter giving a shout-out to the late Ralph Clemente upon winning an Emmy for his work on Game of Thrones. Well, a pretty nice ending to Stallone’s University of Miami experience is while Stallone left Miami without a degree, in 1997 he was granted his BFA degree, if I recall correctly, based on his Rocky script to make up his missing credits.

P.S. In my post Miami vs. Florida there is a Stallone quote tucked inside which I think is the secret formula which leads to great writing:
My first eight to 10 scripts were pretty horrendous, but I stayed at it, stayed at it, and stayed at it, until I eventually found a voice and a subject like Rocky that people were interested in.”
Sylvester Stallone 

Meaning he wrote at least 8-10 scripts before he sold one. Every once in a while someone like Diablo Cody knocks one out of the park in her first at bat, but Stallone’s rocky road to success is more common. (And even Cody talks about writing poems and short stories everyday for 15 years before she wrote Juno.)

Related posts:

Writing ‘Rocky’
Rocky: The Anti-Hero Hero
The Other Side of ‘Rocky’
Postcard #24 (Coral Gables)

Scott W. Smith

“The first rock bottom I hit was out of college where I worked for ten years from the time I started playing football at 14 years old to the time I was 23 and did not get drafted. Played in the CFL for approximately 200 bucks a week Canadian. I got cut from the team a couple months later, and I had to close that chapter in my life. It’s pretty sobering, and it’s a tough experience when you have to move back in with your parents. They had a little small apartment in Tampa, Florida, and I had to move in with them. And then you go through the challenges of that. You hit depression. You hit rock bottom.”
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

Everyone knows what it’s like to experience loss. Not everyone knows what it’s like to hit rock bottom, but throughout film history audiences have flocked to films where characters face significant, meaningful loss, and hit rock bottom. And actors love to play those kind of characters.

In my post Writing Actor Bait I have a quote half a century old, that I bet was true 100 years ago:

“Producers and directors buy a property because they like the story. Actors buy it because they see them­selves in a part. ”
Jerry Lewis
The Total Film-Maker

And one reliable arena in which many star actors see themselves in a part is in sports-centered movies.

One of my favorite scenes in Rocky is when the Stallone character goes to the gym and finds he’s lost his locker. All his gear has been moved to “skid row”—gym bags on hooks where the lowest ranked boxers keep their stuff.

It sets up nicely the transformational arc that Rocky will experience. Part of what makes movies work so well is we can emotionally connect with a character facing loss. There’s a certain amount of wish-fulfillment of seeing a character like Rocky rise up from his loss, and there is also hope that we can overcome the losses in our personal lives. Who doesn’t want to at least metaphorically run up stairs and lift their arms triumphantly?

Think of the many star actors over the years drawn to playing characters in sports related movies. Here’s a list off the top of my head:

Steve McQueen (Le Mans, The Cincinnati Kid)
Tom Cruise (All the Right Moves, Days of Thunder, Jerry Maguire, The Color of Money)
Kevin Costner (Field of Dreams, American Flyer, Tin Cup, Bull Durham, For Love of the Game, Draft Day McFarland USA)
Robert DeNiro (Raging Bull, The Fan, Bang the Drum Slowly)
Will Smith (Ali, Concussion, The Legend of Bagger Vance)
Robert Redford (The Natural, A River Runs Through It, Out of Africa, The Electric Horseman, All is Lost, Downhill Racer)
Wesley Snipes (White Men Can’t Jump, Major League, Wildcat, The Fan)

Dwayne Johnson is a long way from rock bottom these days, but he explains what drew him to his role in the pro football-centered HBO show Ballers:

“One of the biggest reasons why I feel such a personal connection to the [Ballers] is because the life that Spencer Strasmore has was a life I wanted. I wanted that life. Down here, University of Miami, 18 years old, I stepped on campus. I had no money, and we struggled for a long time, but my No. 1 goal was to make it to the NFL just so I can buy my parents their first house that they lived in. I never lived in a house until I was 28 years old. 

“So the point is it’s Spencer’s life as a successful NFL player, future Hall of Famer. That was the life I wanted. I failed at that. Will I ever find peace with it? I think I found peace with it. I don’t know. Maybe a therapist would say otherwise. Maybe I need some work with clearing some issues, but for many years my goal was to make it, and I never did. And then when the game is taken away from you or it’s cut short like a lot of players, like it happened to me when I had a run there where I had suffered a lof of injuries, five knew surgeries, bad back injury, complete reconstruction on my shoulder. It all happened within my college career. So it sidelined me.

“So will I find peace with it? As best I can, but I think and now, because I have my degree in psychology, clearly, I think I’m finding peace with it on the show. And I’ve got to tell you, it’s unlike any experience I’ve ever had. I’ve had the opportunity in movies to play a lot of characters and a lot of men who have done some pretty good things, and they galvanize some people, and they go on to save the day, and there’s bad guys to hunt down. In something like this , the muscle I get to exercise in this is completely different one that I was never used to. What I mean by that is just living and just every day you’re just living and living life. So the experience has been tremendous, and I’m fortunate to be playing a guy whose life I wanted.”
Dwayne Johnson
MSN Entertainment interview 

If you’re at a point in your life where you’ve hit rock bottom (or experienced life changing loss) let me recommend Jon Acuff’s book, Do Over. I bought the book after hearing Acuff’s interview on Brian Koppelman’s The Moment. I’ll do a run of posts on Acuff’s book down the road, but it’s a good read. This January I finished chemo and radiation treatment and 10 days later started a new producer job (and am trying to launch a sports related feature doc) so this whole year feels like a do over.

P.S. Here’s a personal anecdote of what makes many athletes transition to real world so hard. When I was a high school football player I was not a blue chip athlete, but good enough to take in a pretty heady experience at a young age. Our school would have fans line up from goal post to goal at home games and the team would run through 100 yards of cheering fans. The next day after the game there would be a write up where my name would often in the paper and sometimes a photo. Filled up some scrapebooks, won some awards. Students and teachers I knew (and didn’t know) would say things like “good game” in the hallways. In my small world it seemed like everyone knew who I was.

By the time I walked-on to the University of Miami football team nobody knew who I was—or cared. It was my first wake-up call. Every athlete gets that call. Sometime it happens when you move up in Little League and sometimes it happens after climbing to the top of the mountain in whatever sports one excels in. Sometimes you’re replaced by a better athlete and sometimes the lights just fade away.

After that it’s like an Old Testament prophecy, “The glory has departed.” I know a guy who sells sports memorabilia on eBay and his first item sold was a jersey of NFL great Emmitt Smith that he bought at a garage sale for 50 cents.

What’s particularly hard for major college football players is little has prepared them for a do over. Willie Morris’ book The Courting of Marcus Dupree and ESPN’s The Best That Never Was sum up the downside of sports in America.

Astronaut James Lovell (who was the commander of Apollo 13) once told author Jeffery Kluger, “Remember where you’re standing when the spotlight goes off, you’ll have to find your own way off the stage.”

Scott W. Smith

“If you’ve been involved in professional football or even football at any level, you can’t not be interested in this movie.”
Concussion writer/director Peter Landesman
Comingsoon.net interview 

“I did nothing at the behest of the NFL, for the NFL, against the NFL. When I was writing and shooting the movie, the NFL wasn’t a single consideration, in any regard. Whether it was the portrayal of a character, or the story. In terms of what was cut or left out, any movie that’s about a true story, whether it’s Social Network, Zero Dark Thirty, or Moneyball to a slightly lesser degree, goes through a process of fair representation weighed against the power of the story you want to tell. There’s a constant dialogue going back and forth between the filmmakers and the producers. The one thing you don’t want to do is to be unfair or inaccurate. I had a very strong background in journalism, so it’s my instinct to try to be as fair and accurate as possible. We had scenes, dialogue coming out of the mouths of characters that simply didn’t happen. As a former journalist and now a filmmaker telling a story of this importance that has entered the zeitgeist in such a profound way, I wanted to simply tell a story in the most incisive and fair way possible. I can tell you this. The movie pulls no punches. In fact, anybody who see it would say exactly the opposite.”
Journalist turned painter, turned novelist, turned writer/director Peter Landesman 
Deadline Hollywood interview by Mike Fleming Jr. 

The starting point for the Concussion movie (which opens December 25) was the 2009 GQ article Brain Game by Jeanne Marie Laskas  (@jmlaskas). Her book version Concussion comes out November 24.

Scott W. Smith

“Anyone who buys the idea that great athletes are dim should have a close look at an NFL playbook.”
David Foster Wallace

By far the most read post on this blog is How Much Do Screenwriters Make? In fact, I just Googled that phrase and out of the 1,070,000 results, my 2009 post was on the first page. In that post I contrasted working screenwriters and NFL football players and made this observation:

“While reading over the WGAw report I made another connection between screenwriting & the NFL. On the film side there were 1,553 male writers employed in the last year of the report. That’s about 150 less writers than players in the NFL any given year.”

Perhaps someone else made the connection before, but I’d never read or heard it if they did.  And perhaps the reason I did make that connection is before I went to film school I played 11 years of organized football. Didn’t come close to making the pros, but have more than a casual understanding of the game. (I’ll write an extended post script if you’re interested in me unpacking how I may of had the shortest career of any University of Miami football player.)

Now 6 years after my original post John August and Craig Mazin picked up that football verses screenwriting on their Scriptnotes podcast (Episode 215) and ran with it some. They added some insights and based some of their thoughts on a photo about the odds of making it in the NFL. No matter how you tweak the metrics, the odds of a player making it to the NFL are small.

The shorthand facts are there are a million high school football players any given year and only 6.5% of those will play NCAA college football, and only 1.6% of college football players will ever play pro football. And of those that make it that far, only 150 will have careers that reach the four year mark. And while the 2014 league minimum of $420,000 makes a nice salary for anyone (especially when you’re in your early 20s), that chart estimated after taxes that’s a take home pay around $252,000. Still good money if you don’t squander it—which many pro athletes are famous for doing.

Quarterback Tom Brady is one of the best players in the NFL and let’s call his contract $9 million a year (the actual number is higher but getting into the structure of his contract is complicated, so let’s just stay with $9 million). Brady’s teammate Malcolm Butler was the hero of the Super Bowl last year when his interception in the end zone sealed the New England Patriots Super Bowl win. Last year Butler made the league minimum salary with no signing bonus—$420,000.

I don’t see it as self-defeating to talk in terms of the odds in making in as a pro football player or as a high paid screenwriter. Just shows you how high the bar is to make it. A few years ago I wrote the post How to Be a Successful Screenwriter where I unpacked screenwriter Michael Arndt‘s journey to becoming an Oscar-winning screenwriter. (Basically he wrote ten screenplays before selling one. And that one took five years to get made.)  The 99% Focus Rule has another great quote by Arndt for aspiring screenwriters.

The other thing is even if you fail in your dreams others opportunities come out of those ashes. Every once in a while the consolation gig is superior to the original dream. When I was at Miami the back-up quarterback to Jim Kelly was Mark Richt who never had pro career, but he’s now the head coach at the University of Georgia. (I bet the number is pretty small of athletes his age who had NFL careers and can match his million dollar plus annual salary these days.)  David Chase never became the feature screenwriter he wanted to be, but he did okay with a little show called The Sopranos. (Not sure his net worth would be in the $80 million range if he’d been a feature film screenwriter.)

You might still get work in other aspects of film, TV, or Internet productions. And there are many other opportunities in theater, education, churches, non-profit organizations, and in the corporate world where you can earn a living off of your talent and creativity. And, of course, there is no expiration date on writing screenplays. Arndt made the decision before his success that he was going to be a screenwriter for life. If you still have ideas, desire, and passion to write—then write.

Just don’t forget to have a life.

P.S. (A longer than average postscript for those really interested in football.)

On Friday night I did something I hadn’t done in 20 years— I went to a football game where I used to play high school football. While years ago they tore down the old Lake Howell High School buildings and rebuilt new ones,  the football stadium is essentially the same from the day it was built back in the ’70s.

While the game wasn’t very good, it was fun to take in the atmosphere and watch the various cliques in stands like a live version of a John Hughes film. On the field, sidelines, and surrounding track I found the players, coaches, cheerleaders remarkably similar to when I was in high school. The two schools bands as much as anything stirred my sense I was back in high school. And after the game I met Coach Ken Kroog who was my receiver coach in high school when I scored three touchdowns one game.

They also had six or seven posters displayed of Lake Howell players who had made it to the NFL including Chuck Scott who played for the L.A. Rams and the Dallas Cowboys. Chuck and I were the two starting receivers when I was a senior year and he was a junior.

His senior year he became an all state player, and a few years later while playing at Vanderbilt became an All American tight end. Currently, his son Calab Scott plays receiver at Vanderbilt and his son Chad Scott plays football at Furman. Smart and talented family. And Chuck’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. (And I actually was working at Yary Photo in Southern California and took the rookie photo of him below when the Rams were based out of Anaheim.)

Scan 5

Chuck Scott

Perhaps the greatest football player to come out of Lake Howell is Brandon Marshall who scored the game-winning touchdown yesterday for the New York Jets. He’s a five time pro bowl player and this is his tenth year in the league. Actor Scott Porter (Friday Night Lights) also played football at Lake Howell, and screenwriter Jamie Linden who wrote the football centered film We Are Marshall also graduated from Lake Howell.

Here’s my entire football career summarized in three photos. An all-conference photo, a letter from Miami’s head coach Howard Schellenberger, and an article on being injured. It really wasn’t career ending injury, but after I had surgery on my shoulder I decided to focus on school in L.A. since that’s where people seemed to head after they graduated. The reason I say I may of had the shortest career of any Miami player is I was injured the week after dressing for only one game. A game in which I played exactly zero plays. Not exactly going out in a blaze of glory.

Scan 1

Scan 13


But I do have one fond memory of playing at Miami. When you’re a walk-on you are mainly on the scout team (when not standing around) meaning whatever team the varsity is playing, you are running that teams’ plays.  There was one particular practice where I caught a lot of passes and Stanely Shakespeare (who was a freshman then, but would later start at wide receiver on Miami’s first National Championship team, and play one season in the NFL) said to the JV coach, “You gotta start Scott, he catches everything.” That was validation that I at least belonged there. But at 5’9″ 160 pounds—even before my injury— I realized my shelf life was limited.

Related posts:
The Perfect Ending (One of the reason I went to Miami was the film program.)
Postcard #24 (Coral Gables)
Tinker Field: A Love Letter
‘If you want to write, write’—Guillermo del Toro
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously) John Logan spent 10 years working in a library and writing plays, but eventually found screenplay success co-writing the football-centered movie Any Given Sunday with Oliver Stone.

Scott W. Smith

“When people mouth of about how Hollywood has changed I remind myself of a correspondence I once perused between the great Bertolt Brecht and the legendary agent Spud Weed, who departed the hills and valleys before I came to town.

“Neither Brecht nor Spud Weeb bothered with long philosophical exchanges. The letters between them—notes, really—were about deals. That is to say, money. So much for this play, this short story, this script. Neither man wasted words—three sentences was a long letter for Spud Weed, and Brecht was not much more voluble. He said take it or leave it and that was that.

“…At various times I’ve toured the three major agencies: William Morris, ICM, and CAA, and have been a client of two of the three, though never a particularly happy client. Probably that was because I was a writer and writers are always small potatoes at the big agencies, particularly in the budgetary sense. They want Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and the like. You can’t blame the agencies for that: after all, they are in the business to make money. Spud Weed knew that, and so did Brecht.”
Novelist and Oscar-winning screenwriter Larry McMurty (Brokeback Mountain)
Hollywood: A Third Memoir
pages 76-77, published in 2010
McMurty is also credited on The Last Picture Show, Hud, Terms of Endearment, and wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Lonesome Dove

Scott W. Smith

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