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Posts Tagged ‘Brian Koppelman’

“I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring.”
Chuck Nolan (Tom Hanks)
Cast Away

Screen Shot 2020-03-26 at 8.30.28 AM

Tom Hanks in Cast Away (who in real life is recovering from the Coronavirus)

On March 1, I flew back to Orlando from Boston after attending a documentary filmmaking workshop and started reading on the plane In the Heart of the Sea; The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex.By the end of the first chapter, author Nataniel Philbrick lays out how the small island of Nantucket in the 1800s was one of the wealthiest places in the country thanks to the whaling industry. But changes came that put an end to a 100 year tradition as demand for whaling oil diminished and eventually died.

It reminded me of my grandfather who worked for more than 30 years at Youngstown Sheet & Tube in Ohio before the steel industry greatly shut down production. Business guru Tom Peters once said, “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance less.” In the past few weeks, we’ve seen a world of change. (From a record stock market high to record unemployement.)

While I heard this week someone in the grocery business say that their business has doubled in the last week, I know more who are like my freelance production friends who have had their work in the past week to 10 days totally disappear. It’s normal to have a shoot here and there be canceled or pushed back, but the fear here is what does the new normal look like.

How long will this Coronavirus shutdown last? And obviously, it’s not just the production world that’s impacted by this. Here in Orlando, the ripple effects of Disney World and Universal Studios being closed financially impacts people working in theme parks, hotels, conventions, restaurants and bars, airlines, etc.

This may seem like a bad time to bring up the concept of an emergency fund, but I’ve found in my own life that hard times are ideal times to hit the reset button. And in case, you don’t feel like reading further, let me point you to Dave Ramsey’s website where tonight (March 27, 2020) he and some of his team will be streaming a free message of hope starting at 8 PM. It’s billed as “Answers to your top questions on money, career and life during this time of uncertainty.”

Ramsey is known for his popular radio program and podcast The Dave Ramsey Show where he gives financial advice and encourages people to get out of debt and create wealth. While he has his share of critics, he also has millions of people who are success stories. I’m one of them.

I was already aware of Ramsey and some of his teachings—yeah, he’s the cut up your credit card guy—when my financial planner gave me his book The Total Money Makeover the year it came out in 2003. I wish I could tell you that I was a quick learner, but some lessons take years to learn. (I’d made plenty of my share of financial mistakes along the way, so I was open to Ramsey’s core teachings.)

And I’m still learning. I was listening to his podcast two days ago on a walk, and I heard that they were giving free access to people for 14 days to their Financial Peace University ($129 after that). These are high-quality videos that walk you through their nine steps of financial freedom. If you’re out of work at the moment with major concerns about paying your bills, watch the first three videos today (about a three-hour investment) and then cancel before your credit card/debt card gets dinged. (Binge watch them all if you’re ambitious.)

Since I’d never gone through a Ramsey class or video series, I signed up yesterday for the free  14-day trial offer and watched those first three messages and here’s a recap. (And it’s important to point out that Ramsey learned these lessons after he was overextended on some real estate dealings and filed for bankruptcy at age 28.)

“You’re never going to win with money as long as you’re paying payments.”
—Dave Ramsey

—80% of people in the US live paycheck to paycheck.
—The average new car payment is over $500.
—Money problems are the number reason for divorce.
—Having a good credit score only means you’re a good borrower.
—There are plenty of well-dressed people, driving nice cars, who are broke.
—Run from debt like a gazelle runs from a cheetah.
—The goal is to have an emergency fund, pay off debt, and build wealth & give.
—How? One step at a time. (It’s like working out. One pound at a time.)
—Baby step one: Set aside $1,000 for an emergency fund.
—Baby step two: Pay off debt with the debt snowball. Sell that car you really can’t afford. Pay off the smallest debt first, regardless of the interest rate. You need small victories and to gain momentum to pay off larger debts. Most people can do this in 24 months if they’re focused. Get a second job if you have to.
—Baby step three: Build up a 3-6 month emergency fund.  This covers all your expenses for 3 to 6 months.  Why? Because emergencies  happen. (The fallout from the Coronavirus is just the latest reminder. And the more unstable your field, the longer you emergency fund should be. I think having an emergency fund is like a superpower that is attainable.)

Some of Ramsey’s steps seem radical. (If you have credit card debt, you shouldn’t see the inside of a restaurant. The paid off house, not the BMW, is the new status symbol.)  But radical steps are often needed. He jokes that you should try it his way and get out of debt— if you don’t like it you can go back to being in debt.

His more advanced steps are saving for your kid’s college, building up your retirement fund, paying off your house, and being at a place where you can live and give like no one else.

And if you’re looking for a job, Dave Ramsey is hiring, and they’re located in Nashville/Franklin, TN—one of my favorite parts of the country. Amazon is looking for 100,000 full and part time people to hire to meet their increased demand. The University of Texas in Austin just posted a job for a multimedia producer.(A lot of schools are going to be looking for multimedia producers.)

Working in any creative field is always an uphill and competitive battle.  And if you live in New York or L.A. it’s extra hard because the cost of living in so high.  I feel for you. And if I can offer any solace, it’s that I’ve been there. There will be brighter days.

In 1984, I graduated from film school in Los Angeles and worked as a photographer for a couple of years before landing a job as a 16mm camera operator and editor in 1987. My first big shoot was going to Aspen, Colorado to shoot footage of a national downhill ski competition. I was going on the Warner Bros, Disney, and Paramount studio lots. I was 26 years old and living the dream.

On October 19, 1987 the stock market crashed. Long story short, in December ‘87 I moved back to Florida. Thought I’d get on the ground floor of what was called “Hollywood East.” That transition didn’t go well and though I shot a few weddings and bar mitzvah’s, my main source of income was delivering Domino’s Pizza. (Note: Domino’s Pizza and many food delivery places are also looking for drivers.) Remembering my grandfather worked in a steel mill for 30 years gave me a little perspective on my “hard times.”

I did that for a few months and was soon working back in production. The silver lining there was Domino’s did a star search and I sent in an old acting headshot and was one of eight people chosen to fly to Ann Arbor, Michigan to meet the Domino’s founder Tom Monaghan, and shoot a Domino’s Pizza commercial.  All those acting workshops in L.A. finally paid off with a gig that paid. Thanks Mr. Monaghan.

Fast forward to shortly after September 11, 2001. I left a group I’d been producing and directing videos and a radio show for over a decade to go out on my own. There was a group in Chicago that wanted to hire me as a producer on their TV program as soon as a hiring freeze was lifted, but could offer me steady freelance work. One of my production friends told me, “You know, the middle of a recession isn’t the best time to hang out your shingle.”

The first few months were incredibly busy and I lined up some other ongoing projects. I even did a video shoots in London and Berlin. Living the dream 2.0.

Long story short, that job in Chicago never panned out as they stopped the show they were producing altogether (meaning no more freelance work from them).

For cash flow, I took a sales job that I wasn’t particularly good at. But I did learn about sales, and I met a fellow named Marc Reifenrath who was great at sales and had an up and coming  (now well-established) web marketing and design company named Spinutech. Marc threw some production work my way and before I knew it I was off to shoots in Russia, Jamaica, and South Africa. Meeting Marc was the beginning of one of the most fruitful and fun decades of my career. And it all started taking a three month non-production job I needed for cashflow.

Marc was also the person that introduced me to blogging. That led to this Screenwriting from Iowa blog—which led to winning my first Emmy. That blog that I started in 2008 is finally becoming a book in 2020. Step by step.

And a third time of personal transition followed a health bump in the road in 2014 that put and end to being out on my own. In 2015, I landed a job as a multimedia producer at a college doing mostly educational videos. There’s perhaps no such thing as job security in production, but working in the online educational world is currently a hot field, as the trend for all schools at all levels to be at least online friendly is probably a new reality.

I hope something in this post encourages you in this time of transition. If you’re in high school, let this be a lesson to avoid any student loans you can. If you’re a new or recent college graduate, there will be new opportunities that flow out of this current situations as companies look for cheaper ways of doing things.

And if you’re further along in your career and facing a bleak future, do what you can to stay positive and know sometimes you just have to do what you have to do to pay the bills.

Watch that Ramsey free seminar tonight because it’s about career as well as financial advice. Ramsey’s hope is rooted in his Christian faith, which may not be your thing, but listen to what screenwriter Brian Koppelman (Billions, Rounders) had to say about Ramsey when he had him on his podcast:

“I am a Jewish, atheist, screenwriter, New York liberal and you’re like one of my three favorite things to listen to. Because at the core, it’s clear how much you care about people. … What you’re saying to people, especially these young people listening, is develop a habit of thinking about your future and protecting yourself for your future. And take these steps that will help you be able to not make the mistakes that so many of us made along the way.” 
—Brian Koppelman
The Moment with Brian Koppelman, “Best of: Dave Ramsey”

There’s an old saying that we buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people who don’t care. This is a good time to reconsider how we’re living our lives.

P.S. The only movie poster I own is from the 2003 movie Seabiscuit.

That Great Depression-era story of three broken people (and one broken horse) coming together to mend each other touched me during one of the harder transitions of my life.

“You don’t just throw a whole life away just because it’s banged up a little.”
—Tom Smith (Chris Cooper)
Seabiscuit’s trainer

“This is not a movie about victory, but about struggle.”
Seabiscuit screenwriter/director Gary Ross,

And to come full circle, Cast Away (2000) is also a movie not about victory, but struggle.

Related post:
Revisiting Seabiscuit in 2008 (With a photo of the poster in my then office)

Scott W. Smith  

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Statistically, in my own case, I suppose half of the screenplays I’ve written have actually seen production. And I am being dead honest when I tell you this: I have absolutely no more idea as to why some of them happened than why some of them didn’t. Of course it’s more than possible that my work wasn’t much good. But remember, executives are not necessarily in pursuit of quality.”
William Goldman
Adventures in the Screen Trade

Screenwriter Scott Frank (Minority Report, Get Shorty), in an interview with Brian Koppelman, said there was a five year period between 2007 and 2012 where “one script after another” that he spent up to a year and a half on that didn’t get made.  A process he found “agonizing” and said of those experiences, “It makes me feel that I’ve just wasted a year and a half of my life.” But part of the process that led Frank to get Oscar and Emmy nominations in 2018 for his work on Logan and Godless. 

Scott W. Smith

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Producer/screenwriter Brian Koppelman on his podcast asked indie producer Christine Vachon about what advice she had for young people today making their way into the entertainment world.

Christine Vachon: Stop calling yourself a filmmaker. Call yourself a storyteller. Call yourself a content maker. Start looking at everything as all the different ways, all the different platforms, all the different methodologies of telling your story and getting it out of there. And don’t confine yourself to one almost archaic form. Now young storytellers will come in and say, ‘This is my series idea,’ ‘This is my long form series,’ ‘This is my episodic series,’ ‘This is my web series’—

Brian: And you’re open to all that stuff?

Christine: Absolutely. A good example is Z: The Beginning of Everything— the series we did for Amazon—Christina Ricci brought us the book and said I want to partner with you. I want to play this role, but I’m open to what it could be. So we talked through what’s the film version, what’s the mini series version?

Brian: How do we tell this story in a way that we actually get the money for it and then sell it in the right way that finds some kind of an audience for it?

Christine: That’s right.

P.S. Speaking of Amazon, here’s a link to their submissions guidelines. Next week I’ll run some posts on indie producer Ted Hope (The Brothers McMullen) who is now the head of motion picture production for Amazon Studios.

Related Posts:

Filmmaking Quote #36 (Being Platformagostic)
Kevin Smith is Platformagnostic
Steven Soderbergh is Platformagnostic
Don’t Wait for Hollywood

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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“I’m doing the outline [of my story] upfront so I always know where I’m going. I work on the outline for weeks, months, sometimes even years if I can’t get it right. But when I start the book on January the first to finish by July the first I’ve got a clear outline—I know exactly where the story’s going— I know how it’s going to end. I love John Irving books, and John Irving says he writes the last sentence before he writes the first. I’m not that smart, but I know what the last scene is before I write the first scene….It’s important to outline because if you don’t know where you’re going you can waste huge amounts of time.”
John Grisham (The Firm, The Client, The Pelican Brief)
Interview with Brian Koppelman

P.S. Grisham does say in that interview that he does have some “freedom and flexibility” to change his outline, but the reason “he can’t take a left turn for no reason” is he’s on a deadline to publish a book once a year. He didn’t outline his first book (A Time to Kill) and it took him three years to write and came it at 1,000 words (his editor cut that book by a third). And because his outlines sometimes take an extended time to complete, he can have multiple stories in play to make sure he gets one book done a year.

Related posts:
Screenwriting Quote #93 (John Grisham)
John Irving, Iowa & Writing
Postcard #48 (Oxford)
Analytical vs. Intuitive Writing
Stuart Beattie’s 5-Page Outline
Story Plotting the Harry Potter Way (It’s worth noting until J.K. Rowling came along, I believe John Grisham was the most financially successful living writer. Maybe ever. But when you look at the combined success of Grisham and Rowling and realize they both outline their stories you have to at least take notice. On the flip side, Stephen King doesn’t outline and Quentin Tarantino says “Basically, my writing’s like a journey.” )

Scott W. Smith

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“There should be no sorrow at this funeral because The Great Santini lived life at full throttle, moved always in the fast lanes, gunned every engine, teetered on every edge, seized every moment and shook it like a terrier shaking a rat.”
Pat Conroy
Colonel Don Conroy’s Eulogy
(The book & movie The Great Santini was based on Pat Conroy’s Marine jet fighter pilot dad)

Yesterday when I learned of the March 4th death of writer Pat Conroy my first thought was that he was at the center of one of my fondest moments with literature. For one month in the summer of ’99 I backpacked around Europe with Mr. Conroy at my side—in literary form of course.

I have a distinct memory of being on a train in the Swiss Alps reading Conroy’s Beach Music and thinking, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” It was one of those rare beautiful moments in life where you are fully aware that you are alive—and you at least have the illusion that all is right in the world.

Only later did I learn that it took Conroy a decade to write Beach Music. While some writers distance themselves from the autobiographical aspects of their writings, Conroy had no place to hide. He once said,“One of the greatest gifts you can get as a writer is to be born into an unhappy family” (I think Hemingway said basically the same thing), and Conroy’s own tortuous relationship with his father was the foundation for his life’s work. A tough price to pay.

His literary career started simply when he was a high school English teacher in Beaufort, South Carolina when he self-published his first book The Boo. He was paid $7,500 for his next book The Water is Wide, which was made into the movie Conrack.  His book The Prince of Tides sold 5 million copies, and he also worked on the screenplay version of that book and received an Oscar nomination. A movie was also made of his book The Lords of Discipline.

If you’ve never read Conroy’s work The Great Santini is the one I’d recommend you’d start. And the single best movie scene made from his writings (and was reflective of the relationship with his father) was the following scene from The Great Santini. 

Good drama, bad parenting.

A fitting end to this post is a quote by author and University of Iowa writing professor Ethan Canin (who Pat Conroy said of Canin’s new book A Doubter’s Almanac, “With this extraordinary novel, Ethan Canin now takes his place on the high wire with the best writers of his time.”):

“I was driving the other day and there’s this this traffic jam, it was this miserable traffic jam, and I thought what in the hell is this? I finally get to the curb and I look up and there’s wild flowers in bloom and all these cars had just slowed down a couple of miles an hour to see the wild flowers. And it was this incredible moment where everybody who was on the way to work—they’re pissed off— they were still slowing down for the wild flowers. Not to sound too California-ish about that, but that’s amazing to me that despite the inutility of all of this stuff we are wired to just love this. To love gossip—which is what literature is—to love hearing about someone else. To love to see how other people have done things wrong. And also to rehearse for your own death. I mean that’s what reading is about. Generally most novels are about life. Many novels are about life, [A Doubter’s Almanac] is about life—birth to death, and it gives you a chance to look at it. Do it once, do it twice, read another novel. Read Moby-Dick, read The Adventures of Augie March, read some novel about a life and you can live a life, and imagine how you will face the inevitable.”
Ethan Canin
The Moment podcast interview with producer/screenwriter Brian Koppelman (Billions)

Chances are good that you won’t be on a train going through the Swiss Alps this week, but you can slow down and take in some beauty. Be it in nature, a book, a movie, or just hanging out with friends and family.

P.S. If you’ve never been to the South Carolina lowcountry where Conroy often wrote about, lived a chunk of his life, and where he died, do yourself a favor and visit the area. There’s much beauty and rich culture there, and Beaufort is one of my favorite towns in the United States.

P.P.S. Conroy does have a connection to Iowa, and it’s not the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, but his father (Don Conroy) attended college in Iowa at Saint Ambrose College, and as a youth  Pat and his family spent an uncomfortable summer in Davenport once while their military family was in transition.

Related posts:

Writing Quote #32 (Waiting for Tortoises)  A great observation from Conroy’s book My Reading Life. (Loved his reading on the audio book.)
Tell Me a Story—Pat Conroy
Writing Quote #20 (Pat Conroy)
Writing Quote #39 (Writing in Paris)
September 6, 1995

Scott W. Smith

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Looking for a New Year’s screenwriting resolution? Here’s one nicely tucked in just two sentences that you can adopt:

“The road to Hollywood is neither a sprint nor a marathon…it’s a death march. The smartest things you can do to advance your craft and career are to read scripts, watch movies, be up to date on the current script marketplace/industry, network, and write 2-3 scripts a year.”
Christopher Lockhart
WME Story Editor, Producer
@TheInsidePitch1

And as a bonus link to learn how to get started today (and exactly what equipment you’ll need) to write those 2 or 3 screenplays this year, check out screenwriter Brian Koppelman’s video Six second screenwriting lesson No. 121.

P.S. And that second Lockhart sentence is good even if your goal is making indie films in unlikely places. (My WordPress annual report said last year this blog had readers in 191 countries. Thanks for stopping by and best wishes for you and your writing this year.)

Related Posts:
The 99% Focus Rule (Tip #70)   “I would say 99% of your effort should go to writing a good script.”—Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3)
Bob DeRosa’s “Shortcuts” “There are no shortcuts. There is only hard work. Perseverance. Luck. Craft. Failure. Success. Mistakes. And yes, dreams that come true.” Bob DeRosa (The Killers)
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (Tip #2) “For me, it was a matter of years of trying to develop my writing in the same way that some people spend years learning to play the violin.” Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption)
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously)” “I lived in a tiny studio apartment…” John Logan (Hugo)
How to Become a Successful Screenwriter (Tip #41) “When you’re starting out, it’s hard to imagine how you’ll ever ‘succeed.'” Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3)

Scott W. Smith

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