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Posts Tagged ‘Academy Awards’

Can you have a day job (or a night job) and still find time to write? Yes.

“I was a sound engineer. That was my day job when I started writing. I sort of did my day job every night. I would write from ten to six every day and at six, leave my apartment and head down to one of these rock clubs I worked at and mix for bands, or I would go into my studio… I had a little studio that I started with friends on the Lower East Side, and record bands there and I remember we did a series of Garnier shampoo commercials that like paid my rent for a year.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Graham Moore (The Imitation Game)
Interview with Brad Brevet/ Rope of Silicon

In case you missed it, Moore (whose roots are in Chicago) wrote from “ten to six everyday”—that’s eight hours a day, 40 hours a week if he did that five days a week. Over 160 hour of writing a month, all while working another job that paid his bills.

The Imitation Game was written as a spec script and was chosen as the top script on the 2011 The Black List. For what it’s worth, Moore’s degree from Columbia University is in religious studies.

Related post:
“I can’t keep handling this…rejection”—Graham Moore
“Art is Work”—Milton Glaser
The Breakfast Club for Writers (2.0) Elmore Leonard on writing two hours before work each morning— for ten years!—before his writing career really took off.
Iowa Kutcher on Jobs/Work —”Opportunities look a lot like work.”
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (Tip #2)
The 99% Focus Rule (Tip #70) Hint—it’s not screenwriting contests, screenwriting workshops, or screenwriting blogs and podcasts.

Scott W. Smith

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“In Hollywood people are nice to you just in the first week after the [Academy Award] ceremony. Then they are like, ‘Oh, you just won an Oscar, right?’ Three weeks after the big party people are already thinking about the next year’s Oscars. Life goes on. Winning an Oscar is an honor, but, between you and me, it does not makes things easier.”
Oscar-winner Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting)
1998 Interview in Veja magazine with Ruben Edwald Filho via Forbes

Related Post:
The Breaking of Peter Bogdanovich —”Orson [Welles] had this line: ‘The terrible thing about LA is that you sit down when you’re 25 and when you stand up you’re 62.’ He was not wrong.” Director Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show)

Scott W. Smith

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“I would never write about someone who was not at the end of his rope.”
Stanley Elkin

I’ve always been fond of the above quote by Elkin and I thought I’d add some movies that I know are not only about characters at the end of their ropes, but movies that as of last night are movies connected with at least one Oscar win :

12 Years a Slave 

Dallas Buyers Club 

Blue Jasmine   

Gravity

Her

Congrats to all of the winners at last night’s Academy Awards.

Related posts:
’12 Years a Slave’
The 20 Year Journey of Craig Borten—Dallas Buyers Club
Screenwriter Melisa Wallack —Dallas Buyers Club
Unconscious Writing (Tip #82) Blue Jasmine
Picking Movie Titles —Gravity
Back to the Future with ‘Her’

Scott W. Smith

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“My top ten tips for tilting your film. 1. The shorter the better…”
Chris Jones (Co-author of The Guerilla Filmmakers Handbook)
Top Ten Tips For tilting Your Movie

“A good title should be like a good metaphor: It should intrigue without being too baffling or two obvious.”
Novelist/essayist Walker Percy (The Moviegoer)

Gravity-1

There’s no “rule” that says movie titles have to be short, but it’s a pretty good proven principle to follow.

I noticed this year’s Best Picture Oscar nominees followed a trend I began to see clearly back in 1998 with the release of AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies list. The vast majority of great movies titles are three words or less.

The original AFI list sits right about 75% with titles with three words or less. (Citizen Kane, Casablanca, and The Godfather set the tone right out of the gate.) Best Picture nominees this year have only one of the nine pictures with more than three words in it. And 66% have two or less words including four with only a single word; Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena.

Historically, going all the way back to very first Academy Award ceremony (1929), more than 60% Best Picture winners have titles with three words or less, but ever since Rocky won Best Picture in 1977, only three winners (out of 37) had titles of more than three words.  (And each of those three was a novel first.)

That’s a pretty good case for picking short titles. One reason is it’s easier to recommend  Gladiator or Platoon than it is The Bridge on the River Kwai or All Quiet on the Western Front. Hitchcock’s best films had short titles including Vertigo, Psycho, and Notorious. Even a list of breakthrough indie films (filmmakers who seek to be unconventional from the Hollywood norm) has its share of short titles: Memento, Clerks, Reservoir Dogs, Before Sunset, El Mariachi, Slacker, Metropolitan, Rushmore.

Shakespeare at his best? Hamlet, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Henry V, and Macbeth. 

Woody Allen’s most referenced films these days? Annie Hall, Manhattan, Crimes and Misdemeanors,  Midnight in Paris, and Blue Jasmine. 

Chapin? City Lights, Modern Times, The Great Dictator, and The Gold Rush.

And if I haven’t made the case for picking a short title clear enough consider Pixar’s titles; Toy Story, Cars, Up, Wall-E, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, A Bug’s Life, Brave, Monsters, Inc., and Trains. In fact, Pixar has never had a feature film title with more than three words.

up_

That doesn’t mean bland and slightly long title (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)—or even a bland short title (The Shawshank Redemption)— can’t find an audience. Or that Up in the Air isn’t the perfect metaphor for George Clooney’s character. (A character whose only real purpose appears to be collecting frequent flyer miles—everything else is up in the air.) Or even that it’s unheard of to have a very long title like The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. (Although, when that last film came out in 1984 I remember people referred to it as Buckaroo Banzai.)

The point is short titles rule. Why fight an uphill battle?

Movie titles are important. How do you pick a good one?

Some writers talk about starting with a title and going from there, and others talk about struggling to land on a title even after they’ve finished their book or screenplay.

But the most common titles seem to focus a main character or being, place or thing, or an event. Of the non-sequel films (or non-comic based films) at the top of the all-time box office include Avatar, Titanic, Skyfall, and Jurassic Park. (And audiences tend to abbreviate sequels/comic-based movies around the water cooler calling them Batman, Star Wars, Pirates, Spider-Man, Twilight, Iron Man and Harry Potter.)

CHARACTER(S) OR BEING:
Citizen Kane
Lincoln
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
King Kong
Rocky
Alien
Erin Brockovich
Patton
Forrest Gump
Spartacus
Bonnie and Clyde
The Godfather
Tootsie
Norma Rae
Jaws
Psycho
Raging Bull
Bridesmaids
The Artist
Annie Hall

A PLACE OR THING:
Titanic
The African Queen
Bridge on the River Kwai
Treasure of the Sierra Madre
On the Waterfront
Chinatown
Sunset Blvd.
The Bridges of Madison County
Pearl Harbor
The Maltese Falcon
The Apartment
Casablanca
Fargo
Oklahoma
Wall St.
Philadelphia

AN EVENT:
12 Years a Slave
High Noon
Apocalypse Now
Star Wars
3:10 to Yuma
Flight
2001: A Space Odyssey
This is 40
Saving Private Ryan
Bringing Up Baby
Sophie’s Choice
Mutiny on the Bounty
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

(Or a person, place, & event: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.)

Up in the Air falls into that minority category of a title that’s a little more obtuse, in line with The Last Picture Show, A Streetcar Named Desire, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Silence of the Lambs, or Gone with the Wind. (Again all were books or plays first which tend to favor a more intellectual audience, and gives them the advantage of a built-in audience when the movies hit theaters.If you go with a metaphor, it doesn’t hurt if the title is a common phrase like “up in the air.” Even still, I heard people called Up in the Air,  “The new George Clooney movie.” (More words than the actual title but easier to explain to a friend when picking a movie.)

What are some of your favorite titles (even if they aren’t one of your favorite films)? What are some of your favorite bad titles?

Some of my favorite titles are the lesser remembered movies Them! (1954) and  Zulu (1964).  And I like titles such as Psycho, Black Hawk Down, Meet the Parents, Witness, The Hunt for Red October, Collateral and The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly because they all have built-in conflict, mystery and intrigue. They hit you at a gut level.

When I think of bad movie titles it tends to be because I think the movies are bad. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of the movies listed at The 100 Worst Movie Title are longish; The Assassination of Jesse James by Coward Robert Ford, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.

I should add in closing that just because you have a short title doesn’t guarantee success as Ishtar and Gigli prove. But even in an internet driven age where viral reviews may trump movie titles, short titles still seem to work best because word counts are as important as ever.

P.S.  One blogger wrote a post called Top 10 Worst Movie Titles Ever and put Surf Nazis Must Die at #10. That film was written and directed by Peter George who I happened to go to film school with. (I was always a little upset I didn’t get a small role in the film.) If anyone knows where Mr. George is these days tell him I want my watch back. The one that I left at his Hollywood apartment after I crashed on his sofa one night back in the day.

P.P.S. My own longest and worst title for a script I’ve written—When the Cold Winds Blows. More novel-friendly, but I should really be forced to write an apology letter to James Taylor for sampling the lyrics from his classic Fire and Rain. And in case you think I’m kidding—here’s the tattered title page from over a decade ago.

photo-2

Updated from the post: Movie Titles (tip #32) published in 2010.

Related posts:
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (part 2)
Irony in Movies (Tip #79)
Average Length of Movie Scenes (#21)
Choosing a Title for Your Script  “A good title could get your script moved up from the bottom of the stack of to-read scripts to the top — and change your life.”—Terry Rossio (Pirates of the Caribbean, Shrek)

Related links from others:

Choosing a Great Title “Will the title look good on a poster and will it intrigue passersby?”—Julie Gray
Screenplay Tip #6: Title  “Sometimes dramas will have a lengthy title like Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, but this seems less now and I certainly can’t remember the last time I saw such a long title for a drama in the spec pile.”—Lucy V. Hay
Reader mail—titles “You know what does stick with me? The clever titles, the unique ones.”—The Bitter Script Reader
The Ultimate Guild To Screenwriting Titles

Scott W. Smith

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“The main thing in writing a movie is to have a good ending.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects)

Thelma & Louise

Thelma & Louise

In terms of the Academy Awards, the morning of the Oscar-nominations in January and the night of the Oscar Awards in March make fitting Hollywood bookends. And it’s a time where the drama isn’t left on the big screen as the debating begins about which movies and people will win alongside speculation on why other movies and people were snubbed.

And some of the best writing happens the night of the Academy Awards like when Thelma & Louise screenwriter Callie Khouri said holding her Oscar statue, “For everyone who wanted to see a happy ending for Thelma and Louise, to me this is it.”

Yesterday after a long conversation with Jason McKinnon of Screenwriting Spark I decided to pull together 50 screenwriting posts that feature Oscar-winners (in no particular order).

By the way, to download some of the most recent Oscar-nominated screenplays check out the links at Screencraft and Go Into The Story.

1) The Shakespeare of Hollywood (And the first screenwriter to win an Oscar)

2) Screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie

3) Writing Quote #9 (Chayefsky)

4) Screenwriting Quote #110 (Paul Haggis)

5)  Screenwriting Quote #143 (Elia Kazan) “Have your central character in every scene…”

6) Screenwriting Quote #173 (Akiva Goldsman)

7) Screenwriter Ernest R. Tidyman

8) Screenwriter/Director Richard Brooks

9) Screenwriting Quote #44 (John Patrick Shanley)

10) Screenwriting Quote #38 (John Huston)

11) Screenwriting Quote #3 (Charlie Kaufman)

12) Screenwriting Quote #179 (Chris Terrio) 

13) Screenwriting Quote #148 (Edward Zwick)

14) Screenwriting Quote #161 (Frank Pierson)

15) Screenwriting Quote #54 (Walt Disney) Who’s won more Oscars than anyone.

16) Screenwriting Quote #139 (Stephen Gaghan)

17) Writer Budd Schulberg (1914-2009)

18) Horton Foote (1916-2009)

19) Screenwriting “To Kill A Mockingbird”

20) Writing “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid”

21) Filmmaking Quote #19 (Robert Towne) “Filmmaking is dictated by fear…”

22) Filmmaking Quote #14 (Robert Benton)

23) Writing Quote #33 (Tom Stoppard)

24) The Making of Woody Allen in 10 Simple Steps

25) James L. Brooks on Chayefsky

26) Writing Quote #26 (Waldo Salt)

27) Woman of Steel (Diablo Cody)

28) Insanely Great Endings 

29) Tarantino on Leonard

30) Eric Roth on Theme & Loneliness

31) Sorkin’s Emotional Drive

32) Filmmaking Quote #27 (Frank Capra) “I thought drama was when actors cried. But drama is when the audience cries.” 

33) Writing “Thelma & Louise”

34) Writing “Good Will Hunting”

35) Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl in Ohio (Francis Ford Coppola)

36) “Network” Notes by Paddy Chayefsky

37) First screenplay, Oscar—Precious

38) Filmmaking Quote #34 (Ben Affleck)

39) 4 Weeks + 8 Years = 1 Oscar ” “Once you start writing, go like hell—but don’t fire till you’re ready.”—William Goldman

40) Preparing for an Oscar Speech (David  Seidler-Style)

41) The Oscars & Screenwriting East of L.A.

42) First Screenplay= 9 Oscar Nominations

43) Jailbait, Rejection & Screenwriter Mark Boal’s Start

44) The Oscars Minnesota-Style

45) The Job of Writing Quote by Oscar-winner Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List)

46) Writing and Directing “Out of Africa”

47) The First Academy Awards

48) Writing “A Beautiful Mind” “I was the worst writer in my seventh grade class.”—Akiva Goldsman

49) Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 2)

50) How to Become a Successful Screenwriter (Tip #41)—Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine)

Related links:
Best Screenplay Oscar Winners A to Z at Biography.com
Oscar Winning Screenplays 1928 to present at SimplyScripts

Scott W. Smith

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“HOW do you marry God after you’ve kissed the King?”
Maureen Doud
NY Times/ Where the Boys Aren’t 

“When I met Elvis, I met a very sweet and very courteous young man who jumped to his feet and said ‘Hello,’ and ‘ How do you do, Miss Dolores?’ I was very touched by his courtesy and honesty, and I thought immediately I would like this fellow.”
Dolores Hart

A spiritual documentary about a 73-year-old nun living in a rural Benedictine monastery/farm in Bethlehem, Connecticut might not seem like the easiest route to take to the Oscars, but it worked for God Is the Bigger Elvis—the story of former a Hollywood actress who once kissed Elvis Presley in a movie.

The 35-minute film directed by Rebecca Cammisa centers around the life of Chicago-born Dolores Hart who starred in the 1960 Ft. Lauderdale spring break flick Where the Boys Are and was in the cast with Elvis in King Creole (1958) before giving up a career in movies to lead a simple spiritual life. (The film was nominated in the 2012 Academy Awards for Documentary Short where it lost to Saving Face.)

How does a documentary like God Is the Bigger Elvis get produced? According to the NY Times, Sheila Nevis, president of HBO Documentary Film, has a weekend home near Bethlehem and thought it would make a good film, and serves as the executive producer on God Is the Bigger Elvis.

I couldn’t find a preview of the HBO documentary, but here’s an old 20/20 program that features Reverend Mother Dolores Hart, followed by an ABC link to here being at the 2012 Academy Awards.

ABC Academy Awards Special

By the way, I don’t think you would have had any problems convincing Elvis that God was bigger than him. He reportedly once said in a concert, “There’s only one king and that’s Jesus Christ.” He was baptized in the First Assembly of God in East Tupelo, Mississippi. Billy Graham said that he expected to see Elvis in heaven, and Elvis recorded many gospel songs including How Great Thou Art.

P.S. My extremely loose connection to Dolores Hart is according to an article by Thema Adams Hart mentions studying acting with Jeff Corey. She didn’t care for his style and quit studying all together. When I first moved to LA in the early 80s, I called Mr. Corey because I knew Jack Nicholson had studied with him. Corey’s acting workshops were based in Malibu and when I told him I lived in Burbank he basically said, “find someone in the valley” and hung-up. He was a gifted actor and teacher (on top of being a combat photographer during WWII) who trained many Hollywood actors and directors. He died in 2002.

Scott W. Smith

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“This is awesome for Louisiana.”
Julie Bordelon
Lafayette Entertainment Initiative

“This is the first Academy Award ever received by a Shreveport artist and a strong affirmation of the role arts in brining international recognition, employment and a culturally generated economy to Shreveport.”
Shreveport, La. Mayor Cedric Glover

The other LA, of course, is Louisiana. At the 2012 Academy Awards author/illustrator William Joyce and co-Director Brandon Oldenburg won an Oscar (Best Achievement in Animated Short Film) for their film The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.

My favorite lines from the entire 2012 Academy Awards:

“Look, we’re just these two swamp rats from Louisiana. We love the movies more than anything. It’s been a part of our lives since we were both kids.”
William Joyce

Oldenburg added, “It’s been a part of our DNA since we were children, and it’s made us storytellers.
Of course, their acceptance speech was almost as long as their 14-minute film, but you have to cut them some slack because Oscars aren’t common for swamp rats.

They’ve already received a shout-out from Governor Jindal, “”Tonight, Louisiana celebrates this Oscar win with the exceptionally talented and creative staff of Moonbot Studios” and a parade is planned for them next Monday. That’s what happens when filmmakers breakthrough from “unlikely places.”

But as I wrote back in 2008 in a post titled Sex, Lies & Mr. Bill (Screenwriting from Louisiana, there’s been some mojo kicking around in Louisiana for quite some time.  And just last month in the post Four Year Anniversary I mentioned how Benh Zeitlin’s film Beasts of the Southern Wild (shot in Louisiana) was creating buzz at this year’s Sundance.

Here’s the trailer for The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.

Notice that it taps into a little bit of both The Artist and Hugo in being inspired by books and Buster Keaton. On their Vimeo account it says “Morris Lessmore” is old fashioned and cutting edge at the same time.

Related posts:
Hugo & The Artist
Harold Loyd & Buster Keaton (Super Bowl Special)
Comedy, Cruelty & Chaplin
Taking a Bath in New York City
Old Fashioned & Cutting Edge (A look inside Moonbot Studios)

Scott W. Smith

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Inspired by seeing the silent film The Artist (2011) I’ve spent most of the past week or so reflecting on the early days of motion pictures, and since the Academy Award nominations are today it seems fitting to look back on the first Academy Awards on May 18, 1929.

One of the most significant things about that date is it was just five months before the Stock Market Crash in October of 1929, which began the Great Depression. Another interesting fact is the award ceremony only last 15 minutes—a far cry from the marathon 3 hour plus modern ceremonies. It also reflected not on one year of films as done today, but on a two-year period of 1927 & 1928.

So the first Academy Awards really represent a shift from the early silent era into what is known as “The Golden Age of Hollywood.” The beginning of syncretized sound pictures in 1927 through sometime around 1930 when detailed attendance records began being kept, film going attendance in the USA was at an all time high of 90 million moviegoers per week (which was around 60% of the population). Just as a comparison, these days in the United States the weekly movie going attendance is less that 30 million people (or 10% of the population).

Back in 1929, the First Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Story went to Underworld by Ben Hecht, beating out The Last Command by Lajos Biro. (Ironically, a movie titled Underword happened to be the box office winner this past weekend).  And Best Writing, Adapted Story went to Benjamin Glaser for Seventh Heaven (beating out Glorious Betsy by Anthony Coldway and The Jazz Singer by Alfred A. Cohn.). The best picture was the silent film Wings. 

And you know those title cards that sometimes popped up on silent movies? They had an Oscar for that in 1929. (The only year it was given.) Best Writing, Title Writing went to George Marion Jr. (for No Specific Film) beating out The Private Life of Helen of Troy by Gerald Duffy.

What’s interesting about the Best Writing, Original Story for Underworld and Ben Hecht is look at the other people who are listed on credits who did not partake in Oscar victory; Adaptation by Charles Furhmann, Screen play by Rober N. Lee and Titles by George Marion, Jr.

Related Post: The Shakespeare of Hollywood (Ben Hecht)

Hugo & The Artist (Both of these films lead the 2012 Oscar nominations with a combined total of 21.)

Scott W. Smith


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“Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.
Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) quoting fatherly advice
Ranked #58 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes

After the screen success of The Godfather the studios were interested in making a sequel. Wrtier/director Francis Ford Coppola, who did not enjoy the process of making The Godfather, was not as thrilled with repeating the experience and turned down their offer. The studios told him they couldn’t  believe he had found the secret formula but was not interested in making more of the product. Eventually Coppola agreed to produce the film finding a new director and then circumstances changed and once again he was leading The Godfather family, writing and directing the sequel.

“The Godfather Part II had taken upon itself a very ambitious structure  which was that it was going to tell its story in two entirely different time periods basically going back and forth in a kind of parallel structure between them. Actually, this was an idea before I knew I was making this Godfather Part II, I wanted to write a screenplay about a man and his son but both at the same age—like let’s say 30 years old— and tell the parallel story. Finally, I found myself doing The Godfather Part II—I basically just took that notion and conceived of Part II as having two time periods told against each other.”
Francis Ford Coppola
Mario Puzo’s The Godfather Part II DVD Commentary

Coppola basically wrote the contemporary parts that were set in Miami, Lake Tahoe and Cuba while the older sections in Italy and New York were taken from Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather. The Godfather Part II was nominated for 11 Academy Award winning 6, including Best Screenplay from Adapted Material for both Coppola and Puzo. The Godfather Part II is listed #32  on AFI’s !00 Years…100 Movies—1oth Anniversay Edition. And Michael Corleone is listed as the #11 top villian in AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes and Villians. Not bad for a film Coppola didn’t initially want to make.

(Though personally, I must add that I think Pacino as Tony Montana—Scarface— could take Pacino as Michael Corleone any day of the week. Unless Montana was all coked-up.)

Scott W. Smith

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My last post was on Alessandro Camon who was a co-writer on the film The Messenger which is up for an original screenplay Academy Award . The other writer of that script was Oren Moverman, who also directed the film starring Woody Harrleson. I’m always interested in the impetus of an idea. I found this interview with Chase Whale where Moverman talks about how he and Alessamdro developed the idea of The Messenger.

“It came out of a very casual discussion over drinks with Alessandro and we were talking about the war and America in general. We’re both outsiders, I’m from Israel, he’s from Italy. We talked about how we never really get to see the stories about the people who have to live with all the consequences of war, and the people who have to have personal relationships with [those involved in war]. It’s not just about politics, it’s just not about opinions, it’s really about your loved ones or you. So we thought of the Casualty Notification Officer as an amazing dramatic vehicle to go into these small stories of the families who are dealing with these situations right now and then get out and feel the effect of war and military life on these two guys. So that was really the inspiration and we just kept developing it, working it, shaping it… For us, it’s a very hopeful movie with a lot of humor in it that addresses in general how you go through a lot of shit in life, and how do you deal with it? Well, you deal it with through friendship, through love, through humor, through camaraderie, all the good things that make you feel lucky to be alive.”
Oren Moverman
Interview with Chase Whale

Scott W. Smith

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