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Posts Tagged ‘Florida’

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by…
Sea Fever by John Masefield

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I have a few more days of posts related to The Florida Project movie, and today’s is semi-related.  The Magic Castle hotel featured in The Florida Project is a real hotel located on Route 192 in Kissimmee, Florida. Head west on 192 and within 10 miles you’ll be at any Disney park. But if you head east on Route 192 and drive 80 miles you’ll drive directly to the boardwalk at Indiatlantic, Florida.

And if you drive two miles to the south on A1A you’ll be at Melbourne Beach where I took the above photo yesterday. I’ve been going to the beaches in this area since I was a child.

One of my fondest childhood memories was a vacation at Sebastian Inlet just south of Melbourne Beach where at 12-years-old my Uncle Jack took me fishing and let me drive a boat for the first time. I’m not sure there’s a more idyllic memory from my childhood.  Sebatian_2824.jpg

Uncle Jack was known to others as Jack Wilson, and he died earlier this month. He was the captain of the 1949 Ohio State football team that won the Big Ten Conference and then beat Cal in the Rose Bowl before 100,963 people packed into the stadium in Pasadena. He was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1950, but back then a career in professional football wasn’t a lucrative as it is today. He ended up in Melbourne, Florida spending his career with the Harris Corporation. 

Related post:
Postcard #115 (Sebastian Inlet)
Postcard #116 (Space Coast Sunrise)
Postcard #34 (Sea Turtle)

Scott W. Smith

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In a semi-related connection to The Florida Project movie is Busch Gardens in Tampa Florida. Long before tourists started flocking to Orlando for Disney World vacations,  Busch Gardens in Tampa was one of central Florida’s major attractions. (Disney World was called The Florida Project back in the sixties as it was being developed.)

When Busch Gardens opened in 1959 it was more of a zoo than a theme park with an emphasis on animals, gardens, and free beer. With Walt Disney World opening in 1971, the architecture eventually gravitated toward the African continent with touches of Nairobi, Morocco, Egypt, and the Congo and more thrilling rides were introduced as a way to compete with Disney. Busch Gardens captivated me when I first visited as a young teenager because my world then did not really expand beyond Florida.

I went there yesterday for the first time I’m guessing 20 years. Things have changed quite a bit since the Anheuser-Busch sold the park in 2009. There is no longer free beer, but there are more rollercoaster rides than ever. The Serengeti Plain area is still there where giraffes, rhinos, and elephants roam free. There is an old, quaint nod to the early days Busch Gardens (the skyride), but it’s obvious that they’ve also retooled it to compete with family tourism today.

Here are two videos that shows the contrast of the older Busch Gardens and what it’s like today.

Scott W. Smith

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“I want to tell everyone reading this they have the means to shoot a feature film in their pocket”
Writer/director Sean Baker 
(Baker only shot one scene of The Florida Project with a cell phone—the rest in 35mm— but his entire feature Tangerine was shot on a couple of iPhones 5s with the FilMiC Pro app)

Yesterday I wrote a post about going to a spring training game in Kissimmee (in the greater Orlando area). Yesterday I also had to make an unplanned trip to Kissimmee for a root canal. And today I’m going to see The Florida Project which as shot in Kissimmee.

The Florida Project borrows it’s name from what Walt Disney World was referred to in its early stages.  While people around the world generally associate Disney World with Orlando, the mailing address for Disney World is Lake Buena Vista, and all four of the theme parks are located in Bay Lakes.

But the major spillover city of Disney World is Kissimmee. The former small rural, cattle town is now a tourist area mixing with a sprawling community that’s now 58% Hispanic. It is possible to fly into Orlando and drive to Disney World and have a fantasy vacation without seeing Kissimmee.

But if you want to stay at a cheaper hotel, eat a cheaper restaurants, or experience some cheaper tourist attractions you might end up in Kissimmee. The range of things to do in Kissimmee ranges from tacky touristy to stunning nature beauty. And Kissimmee is where a lot of people work in the Magic Kingdom call home.

And since the majority of jobs at Disney World are service jobs paying in the $8-12 an hour range, where some people call home is a cheap hotel. (Read the Orlando Sentinel article, Magic Kingdom brings joy, if not riches, for long time Disney employee.)  Homelessness is an issue in Central Florida. And not just the living in the woods or or an underpass variety, but families living out of cars and vans.

That is the world that writer/director Sean Baker (and co-writer Chris Bergoch) chose to explore in The Florida Project. Specifically kids that live in a hotel in Kissimmee.  It’s the kind of off the beaten path kind of film that the Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places blog has championed for 10 years now.

Go see this movie. (It opens today in 187 cities.)  Then use your voice (and your cell phone if you have to) to tell the stories waiting to be told in your own backyard.

P.S. When President Obama was in the White House one of his spiritual advisors was Joel Hunter who was then the pastor of Northland Church in the Orlando area. Hunter recently become the founder and chairman of Community Resource Network in central Florida whose vision “sees a future where homelessness is eliminated through the collaborative effort and collective resources of government, business, nonprofit, and the faith community.”

Scott W. Smith

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“Elvis Presley kicked off my love of music. That was the dream I followed.”
Tom Petty

Just two days ago Tom Petty helped me solve a mystery that I’d been curious about for several decades.  It had to do with the day when Petty was 11-years-old and introduced to Elvis Presley by his Uncle Earl.

Earl Jernigan was a very interesting guy. He wasn’t a southerner. He was the only northerner in the family. And his love was film, motion pictures. And he had the only business in town that was a film business. He had the only place where you could develop film or buy it.

And anytime there was a shoot, probably within a hundred miles, he would go…He had done Return of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and he actually had one of the cool rubber suits of the creature in his house, and we thought that was so cool.”
Tom Petty (as told to Paul Zollo)
Homegrown in Florida (Edited by William McKeen)

Jernigan also worked on the Tv show Sea Hunt (1958-61) which was shot at Silver Springs —near Gainesville, Florida where Tom and Earl lived. And Jernigan also shot and developed film for the University of Florida football team.

Reading Petty’s account of his uncle reminded me of a question I’d had since I was a teenager. Back in 1981 when I was 19-year-old photojournalist for the Sanford Herald in Central Florida I went back to Lake Howell High School to cover a spring training football game. I ended up being given 16mm films from two of my best high school football games.

I remember when I was given the films I thought it odd that the label said Gainesville rather than the bigger cities of Miami, Tampa or Orlando. Why Gainesville? That was the mystery. So after reading Petty’s words I walked into my home office and quickly found the old 16mm films and sure enough the name on the label read Jernigan’s Motion Picture Service.  

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Mystery solved. Tom Petty’s uncle developed that film—or at least his company did. That also may explain why Petty talks about growing up poor but had 8mm family films and of his first bands that were featured in the documentary Runnin’ Down a Dream. (I grew up in a plain cement block house in Florida—without air-conditioning— and nobody that lived around me had a fancy 8mm camera.)

When Petty was 11-years-old Petty’s his uncle was working on the set of Follow that Dream (1962) starring Elvis Presley, and Petty’s aunt took him to a filming one day in Ocala, Florida (about half an hour from Gainesville) and the future rock star Tom Petty was introduced to the King.

“He stepped out, radiant as an angel. He seemed to glow and walk above the ground. It was like nothing I’d ever seen in my life. At fifty yards, we were stunned by what this guy looked like. And he came walking right toward us. And his hair was so black, I remember that it shined blue when the sunlight hit it. And he walked over and we were speechless. My uncle said, ‘These are my nieces and nephews, Elvis.’ And he smiled and nodded at us. I don’t know what he said because I was just too dumbfounded.”
Tom Petty
Homegrown in Florida

That first brush of fame marked Petty for life. He also took notice of the crowd of girls behind a chain link fence trying to get an autograph of Elvis and thought at the time, “That is one hell of a job to have. That’s a great gig—Elvis.” Petty went home and traded a Wham-O slingshot for a box of 45 records that included Elvis, Ricky Nelson, and Jerry Lee songs. He said he wasn’t thinking about being a musician then, just being a fan of music.

If Elvis kicked off his love for music it was the Beatles performance on The Ed Sullivan show in 1964 that gave Tom Petty the idea that he could actually learn to play the guitar and start a band.

So there you have it, a kid from Gainesville inspired by a kid from Tupelo and some kids from Liverpool going on to have a 40 year musical career until his death last week. Here’s what it looked like in 2006 when Petty returned to Gainesville.

P.S. That Lake Howell v. Lyman football game that I got the films from was the first high school football my father ever saw me play. My mom and dad got divorced when I was seven and for whatever reason he didn’t come to a high school game until the two he attended my senior year. I scored a total of four touchdowns in those two games and that Christmas he bought me my first 35mm camera. That was by far the most expensive gift he’d ever given me and it helped set me on the creative path that I’ve been on ever since. In fact, that Konica TC was the camera I used when I worked for the Sanford Herald.

Related post:
Tom Petty’s Gainesville Roots

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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I got my own way of talkin’
But everything gets done
With a southern accent
Where I come from
Tom Petty/ Southern Accents

“The reason to make it in Florida was to make it out of Florida.”
Warren Zanes
Petty: The Biography 

The Beatles had Hamburg to refine their sound, Tom Petty had Gainesville.

When Petty died earlier this week a few places mentioned that he was born and raised in Gainesville, Florida before his success as a musician on the world stage. But since a part of this blog is about a sense of place, I’d like to spotlight just what it meant that Petty was from Gainesville.

The first time I visited Gainesville I was struck how it was unlike any place I’d ever been. I was 17 years old and hadn’t ventured far from the Orlando suburbs where I was raised. I was part of a high school football team that made the two hour drive north to play a game on the same field where the University of Florida played their games.

That was 1978 before cable Tv and the internet so I didn’t really have a frame of reference of what a college town looked like. We pulled into Gainesville and it was magical. The late afternoon sun hitting historic brick buidings that seemed more at home at an Ivy League school than in Florida. We drove down fraternity row where some guys were drinking beer next to a firetruck parked on a frat house lawn, and it seemed as if every coed was jogging around campus. (Jogging was big in the ‘70s.)

This was not the part of Gainesville where Petty came from, but it helped pave the way for his success.

I was in the redneck, hillbilly part [of Gainesville]. I wasn’t part of the academic circle, but it’s an interesting place because you can meet almost any kind of person from many walks of life because of the university. But it’s really surrounded by this kind of very rural kind of people that are — you know, they’re farmers or tractor drivers or just all kinds of — game wardens, you name it. So it’s an interesting blend. 

My family wasn’t involved in the college. They were more of ‘white trash’ kind of family. And so I have that kind of background, but I always kind of aspired to be something else, and I made a lot of different friends over the years that were passing through.”
Tom Petty
NPR interview with Terry Gross

The closet Petty got be a student at the University of Florida was working as a groundskeeper at the University of Florida. But the large campus, and the Lipham Music store where students and local muscians hung out, did help him get his musical education.

“Gainesville, Florida [in 1972] had become fully hippie, with a lot of mushroom-potion drinking going on.”
Jeff Calder

(To get a taste of the kind of interesting people connected with the University of Florida during Petty’s time there, check out the post Writing Quote #40 about author and professor Harry Crews.)

Gainesville has long had a reputation as a party school, and in Petty’s day that gave bands nightly musical opportunities to play. A step up from the teen dances and Moose Lodges he started doing when he was 14.

A lesser know fact is Petty took guitar lessons for 18 months as a teenager from Don Felder—as in Don Felder, member of the Eagles (1974-2001)—and co-writer of the song Hotel California. Felder himself took slide guitar lessons from Duane Alman. That’s the kind of musical talent kicking around Gainesville in the 60s and 70s.

“Tom Petty came in [the music store where I taught] one day, gosh, he must’ve been 12 or 13. He had been playing bass in a band called the Epics that I knew as the Rucker Brothers Band and he wanted to play guitar… so I started teaching him to play and went over to his house a couple of times and hung out and heard him play and went over to two or three of the Rucker Brothers’ shows ’cause it was a bit of a train wreck. I kind of helped put them together in the sense that one of them would play rhythm and one of them would play lead while Tommy was playing bass and just help sort through their band to help these kids put their garage band together…. Growing up together in Gainesville and seeing one of my students blossom as an incredibly gifted musician and songwriter has been one of my most fulfilling experiences in this life.
Don Felder
Billboard article by Gary Graff 

Both Petty and Felder would both go on to become more than local legends. And they weren’t alone.

“Eight musicians with musical roots in Gainesville in the ’60s and ’70s have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Stephen Stills (Crosby, Stills and Nash; Buffalo Springfield), Don Felder and Bernie Leadon (the Eagles), and the original lineup of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers — Tom, Mike Campbell, Stan Lynch, Benmont Tench and Ron Blair. That’s a remarkable showing for a small college town.”
How One Sleepy Southern college town changed the history of rock ‘n’roll

”An unusual number of people came out of that small little north central Florida town that went on to become platinum-selling recording artists and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees. The closest thing I can draw it to is the same sort of phenomenon that happened at Motown or around Memphis or in Nashville, where in certain areas there were so many people that kind of influenced each other or developed a similar style and that same group of people went on to stay involved in music because of that love and excitement in music.”
Don Felder

As Petty and third band Mudcrutch (after the Sundowners and Epic) became a popular regional band playing clubs and large music festivals (“mini-Woodstocks”) and they even opened for the Jacksonvile-based band Lynyrd Skynyrd. By the time Petty headed to Los Angeles in 1974 the 24-year-old had a solid ten years of playing and performing experience. He would go on to sell 80 million albums.  But the seeds were planted and nurtured right there in Gainesville, Florida.

“However long it had been since he’d run away from Gainesville, Florida, from the rednecks and college boys calling out for ‘Satisfaction,’ however long it had been since that town had both loved him and kicked him down its main streets, he knew it was the place that made him. He didn’t find rock and roll in Malibu. He’d brought it with him.”
Warren Zanes, Petty: The Biography

In the world of film outside of Los Angeles, Austin and Portland have an excellent track record of having that kind of iron sharpens iron vibe that Gainesville had musically back in the day. And over the years I’ve tried to show little pockets around the world where people come from on their way to bigger success.

Yes, screenwriters can even have roots in Iowa. Three solid examples are Fight Club screenwriter Jim Uhls and screenwriter/podcaster John August (Big Fish), who both studied journalism and/or theater at Drake University in Des Moines, and Oscar-winning Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody (who was media studies student at the University of Iowa in Iowa City).

Related Posts:
Start Small…But Start Somewhere
Aiming for Small Scale Success First 
Aaron Sorkin in Jasper, Alabama
Start Your Own Writers/Actors Workshop

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

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Postcard #146 (Hurricane Irma)

“Once there was a tree, and she loved a little boy.” 
Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree

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Like a good antagonist there are many ways a hurricane can do damage. The above photo I took the day after Hurricane Irma hit Central Florida is one example.

There’s the powerful winds (including tornados tucked inside the hurricane) that can destroy trees and homes. The storm surge which brings a flood of water. There’s the threat of downed power lines. The loss of power in a sweltering climate that can’t be repaired for days or even weeks. There’s human mischief (like the ex-husband who killed his former wife in Houston right before Hurricane Harvey hit Houston).

There’s infrastructure problems (roadssewagecell phone service). There’s neglect (which may have caused the death of eight elderly people in a nursing home that had lost electricity and air conditioning). There are accidents (several people have died in Florida from carbon monoxide poisoning due to placing generators in garages). And—as if all that other stuff isn’t enough— snakebites.

The loss of homes, businesses, income, electricity and basic human needs takes it’s toll in a variety of ways; physical, financial, emotional, and spiritual.  Four days after the storm passed there are still people staying in shelters, others sleeping in cars, and millions in their homes but without power/air-conditioning (with daytime temperatures around 90 degrees).

You know the damage to the power grid is severe when the closest Walmart to me has been closed for four days. The St. Johns River has yet to crest causing additional damage to homes inland that have never had a problem with flooding. While many have said the damage could have been worse, this disruption—like what happened in Houston— will have a lasting impact for years.

But we’re already hearing stories of hope. Of things people did, and are doing, to help other people. And telling and retelling those stories is what’s been called medicine for the soul. We are people that need stories to survive.

Related posts:
Shelter from the Storm (Dylan)
Against the Wind

Scott W. Smith

 

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“It could have been much worse. That was the grateful mantra on the lips of many on Monday, even as an estimated 12 million Floridians prepared for a dark night without air conditioning in the muggy post-storm swelter.”
The Washington Post on Hurricane Irma 9.11.17

Courtesy of Hurricane Irma I spent 40 hours this week living off the grid in Orlando. There are much worse things than losing your power for two days in a hot and humid climate—say, like losing your entire house or having it partially submerged underwater like others in Florida, Texas, and the Caribbean recently.

I’ll share some photos and thoughts in the coming days, but with my electricity on hiatus I went through a mental purge. I can’t think of a time in the past decade where I was away from a phone, computer,  TV, etc. for so long.

It’s common during those unplugged moments to ask yourself questions like, “What’s really important to me?” and “What do I really need?” The Bible talks about being “content with food and clothing,” but we don’t live in a culture where that’s promoted or honored.

“Everything is amazing right now, and nobody’s happy.”
Comedian C.K. Louis

Be grateful for the little things. Senator Cory Booker’s dad grew up in poverty and told his son growing up, “If you were just born in America, you already won the lottery.”

And so despite learning about the new Apple iPhone X while I was off the grid, I’ve decided to try and be content with food and clothing—and my iPhone7 Plus.

It’s a start.

Well, food, clothing, my iPhone 7 Plus…and air-conditioning—that’s all I need.

So it was fitting that the first movie trailer I saw post-Hurricane Irma was for Alexander Payne’s new movie Downsizing. After being consumed with images and news reports of natural disasters for the past couple of weeks, seeing the trailer for that satire starring Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig looks to be the perfect synthesis of humor and philosophy needed for our times.

P.S. Downsizing screenwriters Payne and Jim Taylor seem to be tapping into that time honored Hollywood concept of “Give me the same thing, only different.” (Or, “I want something original, but familiar.”)  A fresh spin on a proven concept of miniaturizing people. Swimming in the same water as The Incredible Shrinking Man (1959),  Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989), The Borrowers (1997), Innerspace (1997), The Tooth Fairy (“Shrinking paste”) and Steve Martin’s 1974 comedy album Let’s Get Small. The fresh spin appears to be mixing it with themes of consumerism/materialism.

Scott. W. Smith

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