“In ‘Amazing Grace,’ that line —  ‘that saved a wretch like me ’— isn’t that something we could all say if we were honest enough?”
Bob Dylan
Interview with Robert Love

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Back in 1989 I had Forrest Gump moment in Hollywood.  I was eating at a Hamburger Hamlet on Hollywood Blvd. when I saw a crowd gathering across the street and it would be the first and only time I ever saw someone getting a Hollywood star. No, it wasn’t Tom Hanks— or any movie/TV star, but the evangelist Billy Graham. It was surreal.

Somewhere in a box I have a photo of that moment. And that distant memory came to my mind yesterday when I learned that Graham died at age 99.

“I feel somewhat out of place because I’m not sure that a clergyman belongs here.”
Billy Graham on getting a star on Hollywood Blvd.
(His star is between right between actress Judy Holliday and Italian opera singer Beniamino Gigli.)

But Graham was involved in radio, television, and film on an international level so it wasn’t so odd that he ended up with a star on Hollywood Blvd. When I lived in Burbank and was just a couple years out of film school I met a guy who worked on the film side with Graham and he gave me a tour of the World Wide Pictures studios (a division of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Assn. ) in Burbank just a few blocks from Warner Bros. Studios. (And just down the road from Universal Studios.)

According to the Los Angeles Times the World Wide Pictures studio closed in 1988. Their first produced film played at a theater on Hollywood Blvd. and some of the best known films from the World Wide Pictures library are Joni (the story of a diving accident that left Joni Eareckson Tada paralyzed) and The Hiding Place (about Corrie ten Boom’s family hiding Jewish people fleeing the Holocaust).

Along the way a list of Hollywood actors had rolls in various World Wide Pictures including Jennifer O’Neill, Ken Howard, Pat Hingle, Jill Ireland, Dabney Coleman, and Julie Harris. Ken Wales, who was one of the producers of Amazing Grace (2006), also had a hand producing and acting for World Wide Pictures.

It’s also a little surreal to find a Rolling Stone article yesterday that touched on the friendship between Billy Graham and Johnny Cash.

The Sacramento Bee reported that when actor Steve McQueen died he was “clutching a Bible – one given to him by Billy Graham.” Elvis, President Jimmy Carter, and Martin Luther King Jr, all had positive connections with Graham.

“When I was growing up, Billy Graham was very popular. He was the greatest preacher and evangelist of my time — that guy could save souls and did. I went to two or three of his rallies in the ’50s or ’60s. This guy was like rock ’n’ roll personified — volatile, explosive. He had the hair, the tone, the elocution — when he spoke, he brought the storm down. Clouds parted. Souls got saved, sometimes 30- or 40,000 of them. If you ever went to a Billy Graham rally back then, you were changed forever. There’s never been a preacher like him. He could fill football stadiums before anybody.”
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan: The Uncut Interview with Robert Love

I went to the final Bruce Springsteen Born in the USA concert in 1985 at the L.A. Coliseum—greatest concert I ever saw. Largest crowd I ever saw, too. If I recall correctly there were 100,000 people there that night. But that’s not the attendance record there. That belong to a 1963 Billy Graham crusade with 134,254 in the stadium. (And a reported 20,000 more outside.)

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Before Graham filled stadiums he spoke in revival tents including a eight week period in downtown Los Angeles in 1949. That event was covered in the recent L.A. Times article Billy Graham: Made in L.A. (While talking about sin in the shadow of Hollywood might seem 1940ish to some, in light of Harvey Weinstein, sexual assault/harassment in the current headlines, and the #MeToo movement it seems rather timeless and appropriate.)

One of the people who attended the ’49 crusade was POW survivor Louis Zamerini. A USA Today article recounts how Zamerini learned about forgiveness from Graham. Zamerini’s story become the Laura Hillenbrand book Unbroken; A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Then the Angelina Jolie directed movie Unbroken. 

My story is not as dramatic as Zamerini’s, but out of curiosity I went to hear Billy Graham speak at Anaheim Stadium in 1985. I was living with a woman at the time and, like a lot of 24 year olds, my life was messy and complicated. Billy Graham had his critics, but I’m not one of them. You can put me in the company of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Steve McQueen, Obama, Zamerini and millions of others who respected the man.

When I look at that photo of the crowd at L.A. Coliseum, and I think back to hearing Graham at Anaheim Stadium in ’85, and reflect on life and death the word surreal keeps coming to mind.

You want something else a little surreal? Here’s a 1969 interview of Billy Graham with Woody Allen.

P.S. I hear there’s only one Hamburger Hamlet left these days (in Sherman Oaks) but they were once  sprinkled throughout Los Angeles. This is from an blog called Old Los Angeles Restaurants:

The Hamlet was the invention of a Hollywood costumer named Marilyn Lewis and her husband, Harry.  Harry was an actor, perhaps best remembered for his role in the Humphrey Bogart film, Key Largo.  The way the story goes, they opened the first one with all their savings — about $3,000 or $3,500 depending on which account you read. That opening was just before Halloween of 1950 and when they were about to open the doors, they discovered they couldn’t cook. The gas hadn’t been turned on and they were so tapped out that they couldn’t afford to pay the deposit and couldn’t afford to not open on schedule. Marilyn got in touch with a gas man and struck an under-the-table bargain: If he’d come over and turn them on anyway, he could eat there for free as long as they were in business. He did both these things. The original idea was to open an actors’ hangout but the place quickly caught on with folks of all different vocations and other outlets quickly followed.

Scott W. Smith

”It’s sad, this is my last downhill, I wish I could keep going. I have so much fun, I love what I do…but my body can’t take another four years.”
Downhill racer Lindsey Vonn

Last night I caught Lindsey Vonn’s final downhill run at the Winter Olympics in South Korea. It was great to see her end with a Bronze medal it what is most likely her last Olympics. At 33 she is already the oldest female Alpine skier to ever medal at the winter games. She’d won a gold medal at the 2010 Olympics and then missed the 2014 Olympics because of various injuries.

Here’s a video of one of Vonn’s worst accidents. I never get tired of sports stories of athletes overcoming the odds (and often crushing injuries) to bounce back and accomplish great things in their sport.

And speaking of downhill skiing, here’s a trailer from Downhill Racer starring Robert Redford from a script by James Salter. (The 1969 film is part of The Criterion Collection.)

P.S. Back in ’87 when I was a 16mm camera operator and editor I shot a downhill skiing event in Aspen, Colorado. I think it was my first real gig after graduating from film school. Love that sport.


Scott W. Smith

”I was going to make [This Is Us] as a movie. It had been a 70 page script. Or it was up to page 80, actually. And I had seven or eight different storylines of a bunch of different people all turning 36 on the same day. And the reveal at the end was they were a set of octuplets born on the same day in 1978. It didn’t feel like a movie. I loved the characters, and I liked the writing. But I was like, ’I don’t know how to end it, it doesn’t feel right.’ And I put it away for a while. And then I decided to turn it into a TV series. Were it came from is I was just—I didn’t think about it, I just started writing…Writing is a business [in Los Angeles], so much of it is based off of ‘What’s the concept?’—‘What type of genre stuff is working?—‘What’s selling in TV?’ and ‘What specs are selling in film?’ With a few exceptions when I was younger, I’ve always just written everything. The reason I’ve gotten stuff made is I write everything. I write on spec.”
Writer/ director Dan Fogelman (Tangled, Cars, This Is Us)
3rd & Fairfax: The WGA Podcast, Episode 47

P.S. “I just started writing” also sums up how Dan Fogelman launched his career. After studying a couple years at the University of Pennsylvania, he graduated from Oxford in England where he studied Victorian novels and “watched Dumb and Dumber 400 times.” Because a college roommate had a girlfriend living in Los Angles he went to live with her family for four months while he searched for his first job. He ended up working on “Howie Mandel’s short-lived day time talk show” which he calls “the best job I’ve ever had.” Working on what he called the outer edges of the entertainment industry, he decided to write a screenplay.

He’d never even seen a screenplay and bought a book on what a screenplay looked like and Final Draft software. He said,  “I wrote a Wonder Years-style screenplay—I wrote it in like a week—about my bar mitzvah.” A friend from college was working as an assistant for a management company. His friend thought the Wonder Years-like screenplay was good and took it to his work where the script resonated with Eryn Brown and she started showing it around. And the short story is his screenplay got attention and work, and before you know it he was working on Cars with Pixar. Simple, right? Eryn Brown is still Fogelman’s manager and now a partner with Management 360.

So if you’re looking for a screenwriting anomalies you can put Dan Fogelman on the same shelf as Diablo Cody. Screenwriters who got work/traction with their very first screenplay. It may not happen much, but it does happen. Just start writing. (If that doesn’t work, try watching Dumb and Dumber 400 times.)

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Scott W. Smith

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Genesis 4:9

Writer/director Ryan Coogler is having quite a run these days. He followed Fruitville Station and Creed with Black Panther. While all three have had critical acclaim, Black Panther‘s global box office launch has made $400 million plus coming out of the gate.  (Over $200 million of that coming from the U.S. over the last few days.)

“The theme of the film is, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ Each character has a different answer to that question and only one changes his answer…My favorite action movies have themes that are deep, that you can chew on. and that what waas what we were trying to do, to make a movie that functions the way it was supposed to but has some depth to it.”
Ryan Coogler on Black Panther
Interview with Nell Minow

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Scott W. Smith


“I have a whole bunch of little life hacks to break through whatever it is blocking me [from writing]. A bunch of little writing exercises…Write the absolute worst version of the scene. Just get it out of your system. Be as horrible as possible. It shuts up the voice in the head saying, ‘This isn’t any good.’ Good it shouldn’t be.”
Screenwriter Eric Heisserer (Arrival)
Basic Brainheart podcast interview with Hannah Camacho



”I don’t particularly like [the writing process], but I don’t dislike it either. I can tell you that I’ve come to a somber acceptance that…my tastes as a consumer of movies and TV exceeds my talents, so all I can do is try my best to close that gap and to get as best a version of what it is in my head on the page.”
Screenwriter Eric Heisserer (Arrival)
Basic Brainheart podcast interview with Hannah Camacho


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“It’s an odd business in that it is either one of two extremes, it’s either feast or famine…Rejection is [a part of] the business and you gotta figure out how to roll with it.”
Eric Heisserer on the film busienss

Screenwriter Eric Heisserer grew up in Norman, Oklahoma where his father was a professor. He bypassed college, taught himself Photoshop, and at 19-years-old landed a job at Space Industries in Houston. He helped put together for proposals that were submitted to NASA.

He then took a job doing design work with a consulting firm in Houston, and writing short stories at night. He also submitted ideas for board games and when one was rejected as being too linear and movie-like he decided to try his hand at writing screenplays.

He bought copy of the scripts Butch Cassidy and and Sundance Kid and Star Wars, then sat down and wrote a “bad” screenplay. But it felt good. So he kept writing screenplays. But he wasn’t ready to make the move to Los Angeles.

“I sort of made a promise to myself that if I get a little bit of traction on one project that I don’t give up everything and move out right away. I’ll wait and see if I can do it a second time.  And it took twelve screenplays for me to finally get two in a row that got a little bit of money, a little bit of heat. And I thought—OK, with two in a row here, I need to head out…So I had two projects that were optioned and felt like there was some forward motion on at least one of them, so I moved from Houston to L.A. and within a few months both of those project fell through. So I found myself hemorrhaging money in a city where I didn’t really know anybody.”
Screenwriter Eric Heisserer (Arrival)
Basic Brainheart with Hannah Camacho
With an assist by Screencraft

He came with the idea for a horror film and called his manager who told him that people weren’t interested in original material anymore, but rather something on a comic book or novel. And secondly his manager told him he was leaving the business. So he wrote an online story that he ended up selling to Warner Bros., and that opened the door for a number of projects.

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From Houston to Hollywood

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