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As I watched the Miami Hurricanes football team beat Florida State on Saturday I smiled when I saw the new brass knuckles-like rings that Miami used to celebrate to touchdowns this year.

Here’s the preface to my book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles. The book is kind of a greatest hits of the more than 3,000 blog posts I’ve written. Please consider buying a the eBook or paperback as a way to support what I’ve been doing here since 2008. (And starting today, I’m going to make it my goal to go back to blogging daily through the rest of 2020.)


“I wasn’t born knowing how to write a play.”
—Sam Shepard, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright

“I wrote screenplays as a way to get into production. I wrote six or seven before I sold one.”
—Lawrence Kasdan (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars: Episode V)

In the more than 12 years of writingthe blog Screenwriting from Iowa . . . and Other Unlikely Places, I’ve found advice and insight on the creative process from more than 700 gifted screenwriters, filmmakers, and teachers. I realized that I could consolidate and curate the most powerful of that material as a book, revising and reorganizing it in ways that I thought would be most helpful to people’s creative journeys. I want these ideas to function like brass knuckles in an old-school professional wrestling match.

I don’t know if Aristotle ever used brass knuckles, but they are said to have been around since the ancient Greeks. Abraham Lincoln’s secret service men carried brass knuckles. And legend has it that brass knuckles were Al Capone’s favorite weapon.

The term “loaded fist” in Japanese martial arts refers to a martial arts version of brass knuckles that can turn a punch into a sledgehammer. As a troubled youth in Hong Kong, Bruce Lee carried brass knuckles, giving a twist of meaning to his trademark movie Fist of Fury.

Today brass knuckles are brandished in popular video games and music videos. Spike Lee even wore brass knuckles to the 2019 Academy Awards.

My introduction to brass knuckles was watching professional wrestling on TV as a kid. This was not the high-dollar spectacle of today but the low-budget version, usually taped in a small studio in Tampa, Florida.

Actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s father, Rocky Johnson, was a wrestler in the pre-WWE era when professional wrestling was more regionally orientated and the bag of tricks and storylines were more limited.  (Rocky Johnson was actually the 1976 NWA Brass Knuckles Champion.)

This was at a time in my youth when I didn’t know if professional wrestling was real or not. What I did know was that professional wrestling had a cast of characters with colorful names like Abdullah the Butcher, André the Giant, and Dusty “The American Dream” Rhodes and it was flat out entertaining. (Rhodes was the main influence Hulk Hogan used as Hulkamania helped transform pro wrestling into a global phenomenon.)

Inevitably, back then when one wrestler was getting beat up and close to losing a match, brass knuckles would magically appear (usually emerging from someone’s wrestling trunks).

The announcer Gordon Solie would say something like, Wait a minute, what’s he have in his right hand? It looks like a foreign object. Oh no, it looks like a pair of brass knuckles!

At the last minute, this would give the almost beaten wrestler an upper hand in the match. It would result in not only a victory for the trickster but also in a fake bloody mess. For a ten-year-old boy this was as good as a vampire movie.

My goal with this book is not to create a bloody mess, but to offer the equivalent of brass knuckles for writers — screenwriters in particular. Ideas found in this book can serve as powerful resources in urgent moments of desperation—or to avoid those moments altogether.

By screenwriting I mean any screen: the big screen, TV, computers, tablets, mobile devices, virtual reality, video games, and even some non-screen dramatic writing such as theater and podcasts.

This is one of the reasons why I break from transitional conventions of making a differentiation between a screenwriter and a TV writer. What do we call someone who writes for Netflix? A streaming writer? So I just call anyone who writes for something to be viewed on a screen (big screen, little screen, TV, computer, iPad, mobile phone)—I call them a screenwriter.

This book will not substitute for a good writing teacher or mentor, but it can give you some valuable ideas to hang on to, “foreign objects” thrown into the ring as you struggle to craft and tell your own stories.

P.S. The linage of Dusty Rhodes, to Hulk Hogan, to Dwayne Johnson is rather amazing when you think they all have roots to Tampa, Florida.

File this under, it’s a small world: A longtime production friend of mine, Randy Baker, worked with Hulk Hogan on the show Hogan Knows Best and actually was a key person in encouraging me to purchasing my first camera back in 2003. Baker teaches at Full Sail and is currently working on a low budget feature.

Scott W. Smith

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