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“Look, I don’t have the vision or the voice of Martin Luther King or James Baldwin or Jesse Jackson or even of Jackie Robinson. I’m just an old ballplayer. But I learned a lot as a ballplayer. Among other things, I learned that if you manage to make a name for yourself—and if you’re black, believe me, it has to be a big name—then people will start listening to what you have to say. That was why it was so important for me to break the home run record.”
—Hank Aaron
I Had a Hammer

Tomorrow I’ll return with more Coronavirus Writers’ Room posts, but today I thought I’d share something special. Like a lot of people on lockdown during this pandemic, I’ve been spending some time sorting through my stuff. Call it a forced spring cleaning.

This was my recent find—a signed photo of baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron. I was 13 years old when he broke Babe Ruth’s all time home run record.  Even though I was a Cincinnati Reds fan, I was a baseball fan that loved the whole build up to Aaron’s historic achievement.

At some point, I remember writing a letter to Aaron via the Braves organization. And some time later the signed photo below came in the mail. I was young and naive enough to think that life was always going to go as smooth.

This was also back in the day long before autographs were a big business and forgery was the issue it is today. Aaron has a distinct signature and it lines up well with others I’ve seen online, so I’m going to believe it’s 100% authentic. Thank you Mr. Aaron and the Atlanta Braves for the cherished memento.

I’ve kept it in safe keeping in a filed sleeve all these years, but in the spirit of Marie Kondo’s concept of sparking joy—I’m now going to get it framed and have it on display.

It was many decades after Aaron retired when I fully understood his accomplishment. He not only became the home run king, but he did it under immense pressure of hate mail and death threats. One letter was a blunt as “Retire or die.” He did eventually retire after a great career playing baseball and today is a senior vice president with the Braves.

Hank_1436

This is what the home run looked like on April 8, 1974.

If you’re unfamiliar with Aaron, read his autobiography I had a Hammer, and check out the video below.

P.S. And since the start of  MLB has been delayed with the coronavirus, Ken Burns has made his Baseball series (produced with Lynn Novick) available on PBS for free.  

Scott W. Smith 

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“Dad was a Yankee fan then, so I rooted for Brooklyn. In ’58, the Dodgers moved away, so we had to find other reasons to fight.”
Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner)
Field of Dreams 

If you’ve never watched Field of Dreams (1989) then this post is not a good starting point, because it’s about the end of the modern classic movie. In the late 1980s, Kevin Costner was already a major star—coming off an incredible five year run of movies including The Untouchables, No Way Out, and Bull Durham—when he first read the Field of Dreams screenplay.

As much as he wanted to do Field of Dreams, he was under contract to do Revenge. Plus he didn’t think it wise to follow-up a baseball movie with a baseball movie. But when production start date for Revenge wash pushed back a couple of times he told that films producer, Ray Stark, that he was going to make Field of Dreams. Stark threatened to sue him and Costner called his bluff.

Costner’s star power allowed him to not only avoid getting sued, but he made Field of Dreams, and a few days after that movie wrapped he was on the set of Revenge. But what was it in the Field of Dreams script that made Costner be willing to get sued, and to make back to back baseball movie? It was a single moment at the end of the Phil Alden Robinson screenplay.

Note: Costner played Ray Kinsella and John is his father (the ghost catcher).

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If you listen to the podcast interview Costner did with Tim Ferriss, you’ll learn that Costner and his dad didn’t always see eye to eye. And they didn’t totally patch up their relationship until shortly before his dad died. Here’s how Costner explains the moment of reading the script that made him want to make Field of Dreams. A movie he thought had a chance of being a modern day thematic version of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. A story of second chances.

“I had a real short intake of breath when I said ‘Dad, can we have a catch?’ I had to remember that moment forever because that’s how I make a decision whether I’m going to do a movie. I said if we can get to that moment, and take that moment where the hair on the back of your neck stands up, and where you begin to weep—and you don’t even know why—that means we’re going to have to do all these scenes that are almost dopey, correctly. They’re dopey, but we didn’t try to wink at it. It was real. That’s what makes that dangerous hard [to make]. It bordered on dopey, to begin with. And then that’s your big ending? ‘Let’s have a catch.’ I get so much credit for this, but Phil Robinson is the guy who wrote [the script]. I never would have done that movie based on a pitch. I did it based on the script. And I knew the script had gold dust on it. I didn’t know obviously that it would become part of the vocabulary. I didn’t know 30 years later it would find its way into the hearts of the people the way it did. But it found its way into my heart, and that’s why I challenged Ray Stark on Revenge and said I’m going to do this movie in the corn.”
Actor Kevin Costner 
Interview on The Bill Simmons Podcast

Field of Dreams was based on the W.P Kinsella book Shoeless Joe. Kinsella earned his B.A. in creative writing from the University of Victoria (at age 39), and an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Link to Field of Dreams screenplay. 

P.S. Dwier Brown plays Costner’s dad in the movie, and wrote the book If You Build It … A Book About Fathers, Fate and Field of Dreams. Costner says Brown’s own life story of overcoming adversity is quite inspirational.

Related post:
Writing Actor Bait 

Scott W. Smith 

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“The setting of [Field of Dreams] is just so inspired, and so perfect. You look at the movie, and the cinematography has aged really well. What’s more American than apple pie? Well, literally, nothing is more American than a cornfield in Iowa, right? And so many times in the movie someone talks about the smell—the smell of the glove by your face, or the feel of the grass on your feet. And that visceral physicality to the thing that allows you to connect with it—that has aged well. There’s almost a nostalgia for it in an era when digitally, we’re just removed from everything.”
Mallory Rubin (Editor-in-Chief, The Ringer)
The Rewatchables, ‘Field of Dreams’ with Bill Simmons, Chris Ryan, and Mallory Rubin

Since the tile of this blog is Screenwriting from Iowa … and Other Unlikely places (and features a cornfield in Iowa photo), I couldn’t pass up on posting the above quote after hearing it on The Rewatchables podcast. I actually didn’t love Field of Dreams when it came out in 1989. But after my dad died September 6, 1995—the same night Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gerhrig’s recordField of Dreams was the first movie I watched. Since then I’ve been a fan.

In 2014,  I shot and produced the micro-doc Tinker Field: A Love Letter, and recalled a baseball memory with my father:

P.S. Tinker Field was named after Joe Tinker who played for the Chicago Cubs, and is perhaps best remembered as part of the double play combination mentioned in the 1910 poem Baseball’s Sad Lexicon by Franklin Pierce Adams :

These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

Related posts:
Field of Dreams—25th Anniversary
Field of Dreams Turns 20
Dreams for Sale 
‘What could be make on a farm in Iowa for $50K?’—A Quiet Place 
Sam Shepard on a Farm in Iowa 
Burns, Baseball & Character Flaws 
Screenwriting, Baseball, and Underdogs (2.0)

Scott W. Smith

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To paraphrase what David Mamet once said about the theater—Baseball is always dying and always being reborn.

The Chicago Cubs winning the final game of a best of seven game World Series was the stuff of high drama. A couple of years ago I wrote a post called Screenwriting and the Super Bowl. This post could be called Screenwriting and the World Series.

Here’s a quick overview of why the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series captured the attention of so many here in the United States with an estimated 40 million viewers watching on TV. And because this is a screenwriting blog, I’ll talk about it in terms of the theatrics. (And I’ll just limit it to 11 points)

BACKSTORY: Chicago is third largest city in the United States. And even as the 2.7 million population is not in growth mode there are millions of others scattered throughout the country with roots in Chicago. And part of those roots is being a Chicago Cub fan. The fact that the Cubs had not won a World Series since 1908 meant to be a Cubs fans meant generations of being perianal losers. The quintessential “This wasn’t out year/Wait until next year” fan.

Toss in the legend of the Curse of the Bill Goat where the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern was asked to take his Billy Goat out of Wrigley Field because its smelled bother other fans  so he allegendly cursed the team and it’s not hard to see where even the non-baseball fan was pulling for the Cubs.

And because of labor strikes by players and steroid drug scandals over the years Major League Baseball isn’t quite the national pastime it once was. The NFL and NBA are the glamour models of professional sports in the United States. And everything from UFC, smart phones, video games, etc. don’t make the culture at large as interested the slower game of baseball as popular as it once was.

But last Wednesday night people sat up and paid attention to baseball.

So game 7 of the World Series—winner take all. The series tied three games a piece. The odds are against the Cubs for several reasons and of the main ones is the game was played in Cleveland. But the twist is because of the historic chance to win a World Series, Cubs fans from around the world pay on average $2,700 per ticket. (But actor Bill Murray gave an extra ticket he had to a Cubs fan.) So a healthy amount of Cubs fans are in the stands so it’s not a typical away game. In fact, behind the Cubs dugout it probably felt like a home game.

STAKES: For all the reasons above the stakes are high for the Cubs.

DYNAMIC OPENING: The very first batter of the game, Dexter Flower, hit a home run for the Cubs. A lead off home run in game 7 had never happened in World Series history.

GOALS: Each team/fan has a simple definable goal—to win game 7 and the World Series. There’s no real bad guy/bad team here, just two equally matched teams. Though because the Cubs haven’t won in so long the are seen as underdogs and people love to root for underdogs.

CONFLICT—There’s contant conflict throughout the game as teams fight to score runs and prevent the other team from scoring.

CRISIS-In the next to the last inning, the Indian get a two run homer to tie the game. The tide appears to be shifting for the home team. NBA champion and MVP LeBron James is in the stands and does a Hulk Hogan impression of power. After the regulation 9-innings the game is tied 6-6. But in the tenth inning the Cubs score two runs to take a 8-6 lead.

CLIMAX: All the Cubs need is three outs to finally win a World Series after 108 years. They get two outs, but the Indians also score a run and have a man on base meaning a home run by the next batter would result in the Indians winning 9-8. But he grounds out and the Cubs win. Celebrating begins and doesn’t stop for a couple of days.

RESOLUTION: The celebration continues as the Cubs return to Chicago for a old school downtown parade. (The kind astronauts got after the returned safely from space.)

IS IT A MOVIE? Sure it was an exciting World Series, but does that make it worthy of a movie? Time will tell. There definitely will be long and short documentaries on the 2016 Chicago Cubs. But chances are if the first feature dramatic film made about the Cubs winning will probably be a quirky indie film set around the events of the memorable 2016 team.

Take for instance the man who made a promise with his dad that if the Cubs were ever in the world series that they’d listed to the game together. The problem was his dad was dead. So the 68-year old man drove 650 miles from his home in North Carolina to a cemetery in Greenwood, Indiana where father was buried after he died in 1980. Sitting in a chair next to his father’s headstone he listened to the game. That’s the stuff of great drama. The Straight Story meets Field of Dreams.

EMOTIONS-After the last out in game seven, I bet there hasn’t be so many grown crying in the USA over something athletic since Brian’s Song first aired back in the 70s. (By the way, another Chicago-based movie.) And there were plenty of women and children caught up in the celebrations and mixture of emotions.

WHAT’S CHANGED?: The world is different now for Cubs fans. They are winners now.

It’s a little sad that we’ve lost The Bad News Cubs, but congrats to the 2016 Chicago Cubs for bringing a jolt of life to baseball—especially in light of a time when American politics appears on life support.

P.S. And since this blog is titled Screenwriting from Iowa I should point out that the Chicago Cubs have a minor league team in Des Moines, Iowa. And one of the millions of subplots surrounding the Cubs win 85-year-old Darel Sterner, a life long Cubs fan and Iowa resident, watched the Cubs finally  win the World Series and died three hours later.

Related posts:

Screenwriting da Chicago Way
Postcard (Wrigley Field)
Bleacher Bums

Scott W. Smith

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“In the entire history of theater, it would be difficult to think of a play that’s more purely American than Bleacher Bums.”
Los Angeles Times review 

If the Chicago Cubs lose tonight there will be some happy Cubs fans. That’s not a typo. Yes, the Cleveland Indians fans will be happy if there team wins game 6 and become World Series champs for the first time since 1948.

Why, you may asked, would some Chicago Cubs fans be happy if their team loses another World Series? That is a rational question. But you see, the Cubs haven’t won a World Series game since 1908. Part of what’s baked into being a Chicago Cubs fan is your team is a perennial loser.

Several generations of Cubs fans have a shared camaraderie that their team is not going to win a World Series. I doubt there is anyone in Chicago (maybe in the world) who was alive and remember the last time the Cubs the World Series.

And, Yahoo! Sports reports that while the majority of Cub fans (91%) would like to see the Cubs finally win the World Series, that “1 in 4 Cubs fans will miss their identity of losing if they win the World Series.”

An identity of losing—that’s a theme worth exploring dramatically. And in fact, if I recall correctly, that was the basis for the play and TV movie Bleacher Bums. According to Wikipedia the 1977  play was “written collaboratively by members of Chicago’s Organic Theater Company, from an idea by actor Joe Mantegna.

I saw the play at a small theater in Los Angeles in the early or mid-80s and actually don’t remember much about it except it was enjoyable to watch. The play takes place in the cheap seat, outfield bleachers during an afternoon game at Wrigley Field as the ensemble cast of Cubs fans interact with each other.

Two Tv versions were made based on the play including this one from 1979 which aired on PBS:

If the Cubs lose tonight (or tomorrow night) Cubs fans in Chicago can still “celebrate” by catching the tail end of an updated Bleacher Bum run at the The Broadway Theater of the Pride Arts Center in Chicago. (According to the Chicago Tribune the play closes November 6.)

P.S. Back when the Indians won in 1948 one of their pitchers was Satchel Paige who on October 10, 1948 became the first black pitcher to to pitch it World Series history. That’s 45-years after the first World Series game was ever played. Which reminds be of another baseball film, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976). Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins wrote the screenplay based on William Brashler’s novel.

Related Posts:
Screenwriting, Baseball & Underdogs
Burns, Baseball & Character
‘The Battered Bastards of Baseball’
Baseball, Bergman & Bull Durham
Moneyball & Coach Ferrell

Scott W. Smith

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Do they still play the blues in Chicago
When baseball season rolls around
A Cub’s Fan Dying Request/Steve Goodman

wrigleyfield

©2006 Scott W. Smith

Last night the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series game in 71 years. It was kind of a big deal for the Windy City. Tomorrow the Cubs host the Cleveland Indians in the first World Series game to be played at Wrigley Field since October 10, 1945.

And even though 71 years is a long time to wait to win a World Series game, the Cubs actually haven’t won an entire World Series since 1908. That’s 108 years ago for those of you keeping score.

Part of that team was immortalized in the Franklin Pierce Adams poem Baseball’s Sad Lexicon:

These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double –
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

Tinker to Ever to Chance is about Cubs players Joe Tinker, Johnny Ever, and Frank Chance who were the best double play combination of their day, and one of the greatest of all time.

Joe Tinker retire to Orlando, Florida where he died in 1948. Back in 2014, a year after I returned to my hometown of Orlando after a decade in Iowa I made this short film about Tinker Field—named after Joe Tinker.

I’ve had the good fortune to visit Chicago 15-20 times over the years for various reasons including shoots, edit sessions, anniversary celebrations, conferences, etc. and look forward to any opportunity to travel there. I think I’ll reflect on Chicago in my next post.

Best wishes to the Cubs and their fans. It’s been a long  wait. Seems like a fitting end to this post is to close with Steve Goodman’s A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request.

Related posts:
Screenwriting da Chicago Way (2.0)
Adam Mckay, Del Close, & Chicago
The Heart of Chicago
Second City of Chicago Turns 50
85 Bears, 50 Super Bowls & 1 John Madden

Scott W. Smith

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“A lot of people think I had such a rosy career, but I wanted to identify that one of the things that helps you have a long career is learning how to deal with adversity, how to get past it.”
19-time All-Star baseball player Cal Ripken, Jr.

“I hated my father long before I knew there was a word for hate…I remember hating him even when I was in diapers.”
Pat Conroy

My father died on this date 19 years ago. September 6, 1995. It was the same night that baseball great Cal Ripken, Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s record of consecutive games played—an event that fans on a MLB.com poll voted as the league’s most memorable moment.

It was the following morning as I prepared to direct a three camera video shoot I learned that my father was dead. But September 6 will always be a landmark day in my life. In some ways my father (who divorced my mother and moved away when I was seven) was a bit player in my life, but his shadow is always nearby. He had an interesting life as a drummer, a steel worker before he graduated from Ohio State, an Air Force pilot, and as an advertising executive. There aren’t many photos of him in my family photo album, but he bought me my first camera that set me on the creative path I’ve been walking since I was 18 years old.

Cal Ripken Jr. probably isn’t a perfect father, but the Hall-of-Fame player who has been heavily involved in charity work since his retirement from playing seems the ideal kind of guy any son or daughter would want to have as a father.  The kind of guy who would teach you how to ride a bike, help you with your homework, and pass on pearls of wisdom at various times of adversity in your life. Complete with a family photo album full of pleasant memories.

Kind of the opposite of novelist Pat Conroy’s father. But Conroy’s own rosy literary career owes a debt to the adversity that his father brought into his life.

“I’ve been writing the story of my own life for over forty years. My own stormy autobiography has been my theme, my dilemma, my obsession, and the fly-by-night dread I bring to the art of fiction. Through the years, I’ve met many writers who tell me with great pride that they consider autobiographical fiction as occupying a lower house in the literary canon. They make sure I know their imagination soar into realms and fragments completely invented by them. No man or woman in their pantheon of family or acquaintances has ever taken a curtain call in their own well-wrought and shapely books. Only rarely have I drifted far from the bed I was conceived. It is both the wound and foundation of my work.”
Pat Conroy
The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son

Chances are your own father falls somewhere between they guy who once told me, “The memories of my father could be written on the back of a postage stamp,” and Ward Cleaver on the classic TV show “Leave it to Beaver.”

And the odds are good that you’ve had your share of adversity in your life. But I hope you’ve overcome them—or are in the process of overcoming them—and somehow can use those experiences for fuel in your writings.

Simple words can become clever phrases 
And chapters could turn into books
If I could just get in on paper
But it’s harder that it ever looks
If I Could Just Get It on Paper
Lyrics by Jimmy Buffett

P.S. Here’s a video of Cal Ripken Jr. in one of his philanthropic ventures as he helps rebuild communities via working with Habitat for Humanity.

Related posts:
Emotional Autobiography (2.0) When you’re going through a period of unhappiness, a broken love affair, the death of someone you love, or some other disorder in your life, then you have no refuge but writing.”—Tennessee Williams
Robert McKee vs. Richard Walter “Decades spent writing and teaching have taught me that writers’ own personal stories are the only story they should write.”—Richard Walter

Scott W. Smith

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