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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.

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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.

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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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“In the United States words are medicine.”
Filmmaker Ken Burns

“Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of American had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game and do it by watching first some high-school or small town teams.”
French-born American historian Jacques Barzun

Tonight I’m going to go hear filmmaker Ken Burns speak at Rollins College. So while I’m on a string of  writing about baseball and filmmaking this seems like a good time to touch on the PBS doc Baseball; A Film by Ken Burns (1994), and his 2010 follow-up with Lynn Novick, Baseball; The Tenth Inning.

One of the things that’s addressed in those docs is baseball heroes and their flaws. Gambling and drug use being two of the the flaws that haunt some of baseball’s greatest legends.

“Loving contradictions is saying you love life. All our heroes have dark sides. Only in modern media culture would heroism mean perfection. The Greeks have told us heroism is a negotiation between strength and weakness. That defines heroism.”
Ken Burns
Orlando Sentinel article by Hal Boedekker

P.S. While I’ve read that the patron saint(s) of baseball are Saint Sebastian and/or Saint Rita, I think Robert Clemente could be considered the modern-day saint of baseball. He was an National League, MVP and the first Latino baseball player inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame. He died in 1972—just a year after being voted World Series MVP—when a plane he was in taking that was taking relief aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua crashed. Each year Major League Baseball picks a winner of the Roberto Clemente Award to the player “who demonstrates the values Clemente displayed in his commitment to community and understanding the value of helping others.”

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Character Flaws 101 (Tip #30)
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Filmmaking Quote #33 (Ken Burns)

Scott W. Smith

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 “I wrote it quickly (10 weeks), without an outline, and we pretty much shot the first draft.”
Ron Shelton on his Oscar-nominated Bull Durham script

I’m not sure you could put together an outfield (3 players) of screenwriters who once played professional baseball.  In fact, the only player that comes to mind of any produced screenwriter who played pro ball is Ron Shelton. (But there has to be at least two, right?)

Shelton played minor league ball for the Baltimore Orioles and also wrote and directed Bull Durham, which Sports Illustrated back in 2004 ranked as the #1  greatest sports movie of all time (just ahead of Rocky and Raging Bull).

So I hunted around online and found a Q&A from Back to the 80s: Interview with Ron Shelton—here’s just the first question:

Q. What is the story of how a minor league baseball player ends up becoming an esteemed screenwriter and director?

Shelton: I was an English Lit major in college and liked to write a bit, but had no thoughts beyond that. In the minor leagues I used to go to movies everyday on the road because we didn’t have to go to the ballpark until about 4 in the afternoon–and I really fell in love with movies. I also had a college professor who introduced me to the French New Wave, which intrigued me, and Ingmar Bergman was quite popular when I was in college (along with other foreign directors), but mostly I just found my own way. I remember seeing The Wild Bunch when it came out. I was in Little Rock, Arkansas playing against the Travelers, and the movie knocked me out. At that moment I wanted to know more about how to make movies, but I was still playing ball.

Shelton also wrote the screenplay for Cobb on Detroit Tiger great Ty Cobb, and wrote and/or directed the basketball films Blue Chips and White Men Can’t Jump, the boxing movie The Great White Hype, and the golf movie Tin Cup. 

P.S. You may have read hundreds—even thousands of posts on screenwriting—but how many have you read that mentioned baseball and Bergman in the same post?

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Scott W. Smith

 

 

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‘Anonymity and Poverty’

“I thought I had just taken a vow of anonymity and poverty, if I was going to be a documentary filmmaker concentrating in American history for PBS.”
Ken Burns
New York Times 2013

There’s no doubt that my personal project Tinker Field: A Love Letter  was influenced by filmmaker Kens Burns’ PBS film Baseball.   (I’m looking forward to hearing Burns speak in a few weeks Rollins College.)

It could almost be said that when Burns set out early in his career to be a documentary filmmaker that he was aiming for no demarcation between his professional work and his personal work. And despite thinking he’d “taken a vow of anonymity and poverty,” Burns has become quite well-known, been nominated for two Oscars and won multiple Emmys, and I’m guessing doing fairly well financially.

Burns is a great example of someone finding wide success by choosing a narrow path.

Filmmaking Quote #33 (Ken Burns)
Ken Burns 1+1=3

Scott W. Smith

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