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Once upon a time I started a little blog called Screenwriting from Iowa. It was meant to be a one year experiment—but here I am nine years later. My original goal was to gather some notes together and eventually organize them into a 50,000 word book.

More on the book and the direction of this blog later this month, but this year will be heavy on revisiting some of the over 2,000 blog posts I written. Sometime they will be the full post slightly updated, and other times it will be just a quoted pulled from a longer post that deserves to stand on it’s own.

Today’s quote is pulled from the 1510 word post Can Screenwriting Be Taught (2.0): 

“I felt the years go by without accomplishment. Occasionally I wrote a short story that no one bought. I called myself a writer though I had no true subject matter. Yet from time to time I sat at a table and wrote, although it took years for my work to impress me.”
Bernard Malamud (The Natural and Pulitzer Prize winner The Fixer)

Note: Malamud was born in 1914 and didn’t have his first novel published until 1952. That novel finally made its way to the big screen in 1984 with Robert Redford starring as The Natural.  The screenplay was written by Roger Towne and Phil Dusenberry. The film was directed by Barry Levinson between directing Diner and Rain Man (for which Levsinson won his sole Oscar)—three personal favorite films of mine.

Scott W. Smith

“A new heart for a New Year, always!”
Charles Dickens
(From his short novel The Chimes written in 1844, a year after he published A Christmas Carol)

grand-bohemian

This afternoon I took this photo at the Grand Bohemian hotel in downtown Orlando which is less than two miles away from the Pulse nightclub where 49 people on June 12 last year. Then tonight I watched the 60 Minutes report on murders in Chicago this past year (the total number: 762). Sober reminders of 2016.

I know 2016 wasn’t all bad, it just felt like it. May 2017 be at least a less violent year than 2016—for the entire world. Is that too much to hope for?

Happy new year to you. I wish the best for you and your creative endeavors this year.

“His writing career happened almost by chance. [Richard] Adams had children late in life and liked to entertain them with stories. In 1966, driving from London to Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace, he began telling them about two rabbits named Fiver and Hazel who traveled to the real-life Watership Down, five miles from his childhood home.

“Two weeks later, when he had finished his improvised tale, his daughters urged him to write it down. He completed the book over the next two years.”
Harrison Smith
Washington Post

Adams, who died the day before Christmas this year, began writing Watership Down when he was 46 year old. It took him two years to write, and after initial rejection it was finally published years after he completed it,  before going on to sell 50 million copies.

It was made into the movie Watership Down in 1978.

Scott W. Smith

“I’m telling an old myth in a new way. That’s how you pass down the meat and potatoes of your society to the next generation.”
George Lucas on creating Star Wars

Related Posts:
Star Wars & The Four Functions of Mythology
Screenwriting Structure, Snake Oil, & Star Wars
Before Star Wars (Screenwriter Kasdan)
Jim Mercurio on Theme/Star Wars
Star Wars—The Logline

Scott W. Smith

 

“Speaking personally, Martin Scorsese is one of my absolute favorite directors, and I will watch anything he makes. Where he leads, I will follow. His new ‘Silence,’ is ready-made for this time of year, a tale of religious faith and deep spiritual questioning.”
Mark Olsen, LA Times
December 25, 2016

“With the religious historical drama Silence, Martin Scorsese proves he’s as masterful a filmmaker with men of God as he is with gangsters.”
Brian Truitt , USA TODAY
December 19, 2016

You may not even have heard of Scorsese’s latest movie Silence since it does not get a wide release until next month. But the movie which began a limited release three days ago is already listed on AFI’s Movie of the Year list of the top ten films of 2016.  And the screenplay written by Scorsese and Jay Cocks won Best Adapted Screenplay by the National Board of Review, USA.

This is the movie that Scorsese waited 26 years to make.

“I knew he had a this script and was terribly disappointed that he couldn’t get it made. And I thought, ‘What a sad state Hollywood is in when Matin Scorsese, with all his success, with all the honors he’s gotten, can’t get a movie made.’”
Producer Irwin Winkler (Raging Bull, Goodfellas)
As quoted by Paul Elie in his The New York Times Magazine article
The Passion of Matin Scorsese

But even if Scorsese has mixed faith and films since his youth, and had financial and critical success as a filmmaker, the story of Silence is of a 17th century Jesuit priest sent to Japan to minister to persecuted Catholics. It doesn’t exactly have box office gold written all over it. Oscar nominations, yes.

From interviews with Scorsese you sense he wanted to not only capture on film Shûsaku Endô’s novel, but he stayed committed to the project over the years because it was sort of a spiritual pilgrimage.  

“I believe in the tenets of Catholicism. I’m not a doctor of the church. I’m not a theologian who could argue the Trinity. I’m certainly not interested in the politics of the institution. But the idea of the Resurrection, the idea of the Incarnation, the powerful message of compassion and love — that’s the key. The sacraments, if you are allowed to take them, to experience them, help you stay close to God.”
Oscar winning director Martin Scorsese

Related Posts:
Raging Bull vs. Martin Scorsese
‘Study the old masters’—Martin Scorsese
The Director as Smuggler
Filmmaking Quote #30 (Martin Scorsese)
Writer/Director Paul Schrader (who wrote Taxi Driver)

Scott W. Smith

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.”
Jesus

I met my wife in an elevator in Burbank. (A line that’s more humorous if you’re aware how Johnny Carson said the line “beautiful downtown Burbank” when he was the king of late night TV.)

My wife to be was obviously moving into the large apartment complex where I lived but turned down my request to help. But later she did say she could use assistance getting a TV up to her apartment. I’ve often thought if it wasn’t for that TV my whole life would be different. In some ways the movie La La Land is an echo of our story. I was a photographer/film school student from Florida and she was a model/actress/pianist from Colorado. Our studio apartments just happened to be in the same building on the same floor. A different version of that is played out everyday in Los Angeles.

To make a long story short—my wife and I have been married 31 years. If you knew us then you probably wouldn’t have bet on that relationship lasting a year. This is my Christmas story.

My favorite Christmas movie isn’t a Christmas movie— but it’s one I watch every a year or two, usually around Christmas time. In fact, I watched it in the pre-dawn hours this Christmas morning. Tender Mercies just hits me in the heart.  It always has. I saw it three times in the theaters when it first came out in 1983. I was in film school at the time and I couldn’t tell you then why that film resonated so much with me. And I’m not sure I can now.

I’m very comfortable with the mysteries of the heart. I do know that in a world of cookie cutter Hollywood filmmaking Tender Mercies shines today just as it did over 30 years ago. Robert Duvall won his sole Academy Award for his role and Horton Foote won an Oscar for his screenplay. (Tender Mercies also earned Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Original Song, and for Bruce Beresford’s directing.)

The acting (Tess Harper, Betty Buckley, Wilford Brimley, Ellen Barkin, Allan Hubbard, and,of course, Duvall), the cinematography of Oscar-winner Russell Boyd, the art direction of Jeannine Oppewall, the editing of William M. Anderson—and probably 100 other talented people— create a feast of understated and authentic filmmaking. It’s also a study in minimalism. 

How this movie is not on the AFI top 100 list is beyond me. It’s easily one of my top ten all-time favorite movies, right up there with On the Waterfront.  But beyond the performance praise there is a redemptive theme that runs through the story.

So Tender Mercies came into my life in 1983, my wife in 1984 in that elevator in Burbank, and then in 1985 I had another encounter, also in Burbank. After two years and through many relational ups and downs with my future wife we walked into Emmauel Church where Steve Goold was the pastor.

This is where the story takes a major twist. You could call subtitle this A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Hollywood. It wasn’t as dramatic as Moses and the burning bush, Jacob wrestling with the angel, or Paul on the road to Tarsus, but it was life changing.

Like Mac Sledge in Tender Mercies I had a transformation. Culturally I was raised in the Christian tradition, loved Christmas like most kids, but you wouldn’t have looked at my life and seen a spiritual heartbeat. What you would find was a life that to say it politely was messy. (Just like that Duvall character in Tender Mercies.)

Pastor Steve (as we called him) was the key person in my life to change that. He was around 40 years old at the time and had Hollywood good looks, but much more importantly he was full of wisdom and grace. No man has had a greater impact for good on my life.

And while I moved from California two years after I met him, our paths crossed with his wife Pam for dinners and conversations in Florida, Iowa, and Minneapolis. And over the years we also talked on the phone and traded emails. Pastor Steve weighed in on some of the biggest decisions of my life and gave me direction.

“The goal of our instructions is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
The Apostle Paul

Sometimes people come into your life sometimes only for a short season, but leave a lasting ripple effect. Pastor Steve was that person for my wife and I. When I heard that he died in September I felt a mixture of grief and gratitude.

I will always be thankful that Pastor Steve showed us tender mercies. And if you encounter one person like that in your life consider yourself fortunate. And on this Christmas day, I do not say this lightly, but Pastor Steve exemplified what it meant to be the hands and feet of Christ as he ministered to lost and broken people.

Merry Christmas.

P.S. Let me add that over the years I’ve visited a wide variety of churches including Episcopal, Presbyterian, Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Brethren, Spanish Pentecostal, Congregational, African-American, Lutheran, charismatic, Evangelical Free, community/non-denominational, conservative, liberal, and the one thing I can say is you won’t find uniformity in the Christian faith, but you will find unity. And that unity centers on why people around the world still celebrate Christmas day—about finding “a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

Two days ago the New York Times published an Op-Ed piece titled Am I a Christian Timothy Keller? Keller (@timkellernyc) is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhatten (“A church where skeptics are welcomed.”) As a video producer I’ve had the good fortune to work with Keller a couple of times. If your life is messy and you’re looking for some tender mercies I’d recommend checking out his books (Hidden Christmas) and/or podcasts. 

Related posts:
Horton Foote (1916-2009)
Screenwriting Quote #56 (Horton Foote)
Postcard #6 (Waxachacie, TX) Area where Tender Mercies was shot)
New Hope “Hope is a dangerous thing.”—Red in The Shawshank Redemption

Scott W. Smith

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