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Sears

SEARS

Last week I went to a mall that I’ve been going to since I was a teenager and I noticed there was a major change. One of the anchor stores that had been there from the start was blocked off from the interior mall entrance. There was no familiar Sears sign.

On Monday, I heard on NPR that Sears had filed for bankruptcy and was trying to keep some stores open. The news wasn’t a total surprise as I’ve watched many iconic brands fade or disappear in the age of Walmart and Amazon.

Once upon a time, Sears was one of those iconic brands that symbolized American success. Richard Warren Sears and Alvah Curtis Roebuck started the first version of the company in the late 1800s as a mail ordering catalog company based in Chicago. Especially for rural people who were a long way from stores, and transportation limited, Sears catalogs were a way of life. It was like the Internet 100 years ago where you could order clothes and household items and have them shipped to your house. Heck, at one time you could even order a house.

The first Sears & Roebuck store opened in Evansville, Indiana in 1925. The stores spread throughout Main Street America and then eventually grew into malls when those became the new thing. Sears became the largest retailer in the U.S. with thousands of stores and hundreds of thousands of employees.

Perhaps the symbolic pinnacle of the success for Sears is when the Sears Tower was completed in 1974. At that time, the 110-story building was the tallest in the world. And it was their headquarters. Now, like Kodak, it’s fighting to keep a foothold in the world.

One more not so subtle reminder that one day you can be on top of the world, and the next day the world is on top of you.

SURFING

Surfing is not a sport on the decline. It’s going to be an Olympic sport in 2020. And I don’t think it’s a bold prediction to say someday there’s going to be a champion surfer from Oklahoma, Minnesota, or another unlikely place in the world someday. Right now I’m sure there are some solid young surfers out there in the middle of the U.S. who’ve never even seen an ocean. How?

Wave pools. Like this one.

While artificial wave pools will have their share of critics from purists it’s going to open up surfing opportunities for people who’ve never had the opportunity to surf. That will add to a larger global surf industry as a whole and eventually foster a champion who grew up far from the ocean but was able to hone their skills on wave machines.

Surfer Today lists several places where wave pools have been built or are being built including one in Waco, Texas. Like any new business venture finding the right business plan that makes wave pools financially feasible is the only thing limiting their growth.

But my guess is that within ten years wave pools will be sprinkled throughout the country. Definitely ones in Las Vegas, Dallas, and Atlanta, and probably even an indoor one in Minneapolis eventually.

Actually, Disney’s Typoon Lagoon in Orlando for years has opened their wave pool before and after normal business hours for surfing. To borrow a phrase from the acting world, surfers in the future will get better quicker because they will get more stage time. Less flat or choppy days, more consistent waves.

And all those kids that used to play tackle football and spend hours doing gymnastics—look for their moms taking them to the wave pools. And that’s where the future champions are going to be coming from.

STORYTELLING

“While everyone was busy complaining about slow sales at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, something remarkable happened: The festival saw its first major VR acquisition.”
Kim Voynar, Virtual Reality Finally Sold Big at Sundance

That same day I saw the Sears store shuttered, I noticed Barnes and Noble was doing something with their DVD/CD section. I’m not sure what yet, but it looked less like a reorganization and more like a plan to get rid of the DVD area. Time will tell. But it’s no secret that DVD/Blu-Ray sales are down and not coming back. Barnes and Noble itself is trying not to go the way of Border Books—or Sears.

But storytelling is alive and well. And it’s evolving. Virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, and AI are the new frontiers. The 2018 Sundance Film Festival showcased some experimental media.   Indiewire reported that seven-figure deals were made for virtual reality films at Sundance so there are going to be opportunities there that weren’t even a dream for filmmakers and storytellers of the past.

Here’s a glimpse into the future; Spheres is a short film/high concept CGI project written and directed by Eliza McNitt. It was one of the films that found success at Sundance and “was the first and only virtual reality to screen at the Telluride Film Festival this year.” (Darren Aronofsky is the executive producer.)

“Science is a form of storytelling. Instead of a narrative with a beginning, a middle, and an end, you have a hypothesis, a process, and a conclusion.”
Eliza McNitt

Back in the ’80s when EPCOT first opened in Orlando I remember a ride they had (and may still have) where it simulated being on an airboat in the everglades. I remember clearing feeling like I was zipping through the water at a high speed and looking down at the ground as we were moving at a walking pace. I believe that was my first virtual reality experience. Now virtual reality rides are common at theme parks.

Here’s a deeper look at virtual reality from a Ted Talk by Chris Milk.

Related post:

Spreading the Aloha Spirit
Surfing in a Snowstorm
Postcard #22 (Kelly Slater)

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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“Walking through the snow to get to the ocean is a first for me.”
Surfer Jamie Sterling (on surfing in Alaska)

“Everybody in the United States, and around the world, at some time at any age has seen a picture of people surfing and went, ‘Wow, I’d like to do that,’ but not everyone lives near the beach…that’s why [wakesurfing] is growing so rapidly.”
Jerry Price

When you think of surfing do you think of places like California and Hawaii or places like Alaska and Wyoming? Malibu or Munich? While not quite mainstream yet, surfing is popping up all over the world in unlikely places. And interesting things happening in unlikely places is definitely one of the themes of this blog. Life beyond the Santa Monica Pier.

The most pure surfer I personally know is my longtime friend Steve Trobaugh. I first met him 30 years ago when he gave me a photography job at Yary Photography in Southern California while I was still in film school. (Another Yary photographer at that time was Sean Collins who went on to start a company known to surfers around the world—Surfline. And yet another freelance shooter at Yary then was Peter Brouilllet who was also shooting for Surfer Magazine.)

Steve was surfing long before I met him and now at age 60 is still surfing. He lives in the San Diego area and has basically built his life around surfing. When I spoke with Steve on the phone the other day he’d just finished surfing Trestles at San Onofre State Beach. These days he also teaches surfing and paddleboarding at the Hotel del Coronado. (That hotel is where much of the classic film Some Like it Hot was filmed, and where guests over the years have included Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Gloria Swanson, James Stewart and stars of today.)

After I graduated from film school I tried to emulate that beach life style. After my traveling adventure of driving around the country for a couple of months I landed in Seal Beach, California in a studio apartment 50 steps from the beach where all I owned was a box spring for a bed, some clothes, a Nikon camera, TV/VCR, a few books, and a surfboard. But that lifestyle didn’t last long, because my obsession with film was stronger than my obsession with surf.

I moved to Burbank and haven’t lived close to the beach since. (Though a summer stroll down Main Street in Cedar Falls, Iowa is actually closely akin to strolling down Main Street in Seal Beach.) And during that time I did get to have one memorable experience bodysurfing “The Wedge” in Newport Beach with 8-10 foot waves. (Without fins I could have landed on the rocks at the jetty, and probably ended up sleeping with the fishes.) It was the closest experience to flying, but it was just one day. But like skiing a perfect day on the Back Bowls at Vail, one day can last a long time in your memory bank.

If you ever wonder why you ride the carousel
You do it for the stories you can tell
John Sebastian/Stories We could Tell

But there’s always that’s unique pull to the beach and ocean, and I think that pull is universal—which explains why surfing is popping up in unusual places. You don’t even need sun or sand, just water.

Surfing in Alaska

Surfing on “The Other North Shore” (Lake Superior)
You don’t even need an ocean to surf some “double overhead waves.” Surfing Beaver Bay in Duluth, Minnesota up to Canada definitely puts the north in the other North Shore experience.

Surfing in Wyoming
You don’t even need an ocean. Just a board, a wet suit and the Snake River in Wyoming.

Glacier Surfing
Don’t try this at home…

Surfing in Iowa
Here’s an example of wakesurfing I found on You Tube that was shot not far from my office.

Surfing the Jungle
No sharks or jellyfish, but keep an eye out for crocodiles and piranha.

I believe the longest non-stop surfboard  ride is still British surfer Steve King who rode on the River Severn in the UK for 7.6 miles. There’s a river in Munich, Germany where this is also popular.

Texas Tanker Surfing
While singer/surfer Jimmy Buffett didn’t get a 7.6 mile ride tanker surfing off Galveston, Texas with tankersurfcharters, he did say his 4 minute 21 second ride was the longest he’d ever ridden.

Surfing in the Desert
Here’s a video of a wave pool in Dubai, Saudi Arabia.

Surfing in the Future

The movie The Endless Summer helped kickstart the modern-day surfing movement, now surf champ Kelly Slater and his company are working on the endless wave.

Ending Song
Breakdown by surfer Jack Johnson

P.S. The song from that very first video posted is Cry, Cry. Crow from the album Dark So Gold (2012) by the Minneapolis-based group the PINES. Here’s a link to the offical music video of that song.

Scott W. Smith

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“Waves are like toys from God. And when I’m out here, I’m just playing.”
Surfer Clay Marzo
Quoted in Imagine: How Creativity Works

“While on a board, either surfriding or paddling, one is truly free from land-bound restrictions. For that hour he is captain of his fate, of his miniature ship. The burden of city, school, job, as well as the cares and worries of the subconscious mind, are erased and forgotten until the tensions of living again build up. The remedy again is obvious. Go surfing.”
Legendary surfer Tom Blake (1902-1994)

There is a bronze statue of Duke Kahanamoku (1890-1968), the full-blooded Hawaiian known as the Father of Modern Surfing, on the beach at Waikiki. He was born and raised on Oahu and was a master surfer and swimmer and Olympic gold medal champion. He was also the sheriff of Honolulu for 20 years and beginning in 1925 racked up some IMDB credits playing everything from a lifeguard, to a Native Chief (Mister Roberts). He even had a role in a film with the other Duke—John Wayne (Wake of the Red Witch). In the surf world, Duke Kahanamoku is the man. And it makes perfect sense that the first name in modern surfing would come from Hawaii.

What’s a little more unusual is the second name in modern surfing was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As in the American Midwest. Harley-Davidson territory. But according to legendaysurfers.com, Tom Blake would go on to be the guy first credited with surfing Malibu (along with Sam Reid), invented the hollow surfboard (surfboards before that weighed around 90 pounds), once set the world swimming record in the ten-mile swim,  in 1926 won the first Pacific Coast Surfriding championship, in 1929 inventing the first water-proof housing for a camera and his photos published in National Geographic further exposed surfing to the world, invented the surfboard fin, wrote Hawaiian Surfboard— “the first book to devote itself to surfboards and surfriding,” and ‘virtually began the surfing lifestyle as we know it.” He had other accomplishments, but you get the picture.

So how in the world did a kid born and raised in Wisconsin become such a key figure in surfing? Well, the movies played a part. Back in 1920 when Blake would have been 18 years old he went to a movie theater where Duke Kahanamoku just happened to be at on a stop in Detroit, Michigan returning from the Olympics in Austria.  Blake went out of his way to shake hands with Duke in the lobby and a connection was made. In 1921 Blake was living in California as a lifeguard and swim instructor, and eventually did some movie double work. At the age of 22 he made his first trip to Hawaii.

“Waikiki beach has been kind to me. The native Hawaiians have been kind. I have had the honor of riding the big surfs with these Hawaiians – I have sat at their luaus – watched their most beautiful women dance the hulas – I have been invited into their exclusive Hui Nalu surfriding club – a club for natives only. I have held the honor position (bow seat) riding waves in the outrigger canoe – the honor position (holding down the outrigger) on the sailing canoe. I have been initiated into the secrets of spear fishing far out on the coral reefs…I have learned much from these people.”
Tom Blake

What he learned was the Aloha Spirit.

In the Hawaiian Islands (it would not become a US state until 1959) Blake found a “simple” and “quiet” life where;

“I can live well, without the social life. I can dress as I please, for comfort, usually it’s a pair of canvas sneakers, light trousers and a sleeveless polo shirt with swimming trunks all day. I like the Islands because I can keep one hundred percent sun-tan here the year around, rest and sleep for hours in the wonderful sunshine each day… In my yard [I] grow bananas, avocados, mangoes, papaia and luxurious ferns and flowers including a stately Royal palm which is majesty in itself in the moonlight.”
Tom Blake

He also was a fitness and health food advocate,  and reading his writings you see he often mixed surfing and religion so you could also call him the Theologian of Surfing.

“One might say that surfriding is a prayer of high order, that the sea is a beautiful church, and the wave is a silent sermon.”
Tom Blake
Voice of the Wave essay

Blake stopped surfing at age 55 and returned to his home state of Wisconsin where he was said to live an active life until he died in Ashland, Wisconsin in 1994. Tom Blake and Duke are the only two honorees of both the swimming and surfing halls of fame.

“Tom Blake was a larger-than-life surf pioneer, a seminal force in the history of the sport, who almost single-handedly transformed surfing from a primitive Polynesian curiosity into a 20th century lifestyle.”
Surfline

Wouldn’t Blake get a kick out of the fact that Sheboygan, Wisconsin (an hour’s drive north of Milwaukee) is now known by some surfers as the “Malibu of the Midwest”? Home of the Dairyland Surf Classic. Sure the water in Lake Michigan can be cold, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have ridable waves. I first learned of Midwest surfing from the documentary Step into Liquid. 

I know this is a detour from a pure screenwriting post, but let your take away be this; if you’re going to make a film on surfing, give audiences something they haven’t seen before. Like the story about Rex Flodstrom who was arrested this past January for surfing in Lake Michigan. Even surf champ Kelly Slater weighed in on that with a Tweet saying, “Surfing is not a crime.”

Surfing in the spring & summer in Sheboygan is one thing, but surfing in the coldest month of the year in Chicago? What’s next? (Maybe a surf film called Stepping into Ice.) I’ve been reframing from posting on weekends and holidays this year, but tomorrow I want to sneak in one more post about surfing—this one about all the unlikely places that surfing has invaded.

By the way, ESPN reported in February that the arrested Chicago surfer, “appeared in court in response to being cited for disorderly conduct and violation city park ordinances for being at a closed beach.” He agreed to 20 hours of community service.

Aloha—

Scott W. Smith

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Champion surfer Kelly Slater gets it—this whole digital revolution. In an interview he did with Surfing Magazine four years ago Slater mentioned how the newer younger breed of surfers are not only sitting in on video editing sessions but editing their own footage and he speculated about the future of surfers using video: 

“Guys in 20 years are going to be holding a camera in one hand and downloading it to a computer while they’re still in the water and watching the playbacks on a big screen on the beach facing the water. [laughs]”
                                                Interview by Matt Walker, Surfing Magazine

To see some great surf footage being shot with the Red One Camera read Vincent Laforet’s blog on the Jamie O’Brien Project. 

For surfers looking for an inexpensive way to shoot their own footage (without even having a camera in your hand) check out the Go Pro Hero camera that is a small waterproof camera that costs under $200. and can mount to your surfboard. I shot with one at a water park this weekend for a commercial I’m producing.

December ’09 update; Go Pro now has an HD Hero Camera.

HeroCamera

HeroCamera2



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It seems like there’s been quite a few movies in the last couple years that deal with the changing of the guard from older to younger. And as the boomers start to retire I’m sure that theme will become more popular. One of the great lessons I learned playing sports into college is how every year (every game sometimes) someone is gaining ground on you in hopes of taking your position.

And professionally in media production I’ve watched the transition cycle a few times. I watched the old adage of “You don’t want to be a jack-of-all trades” that I learned in school be turned upside down today. I remember what it was like being 25-years old doing a 16mm shoot in Aspen, Colorado where everyone else in production seemed 100 years old and I’ve been on shoots more recently where all of the sudden I’m the old guy.  (At the 48 Hour Film Project/Des Moines a couple weeks back the winner for Best Special Effects was 15-years-old. I have light meters that are more than 15 years old!)

One way to look at these transitions is to look at the ebb and flow of the surf. There is a cycle of change there that is healthy to embrace. Since I mentioned nine time surfing champion Kelly Slater yesterday I thought it would be good to find a quote from him to see how he, at age 37, handles the pressure of being the old guy on the tour with plenty of young talent from around the world gunning for him.

“When there’s a generational change, there’s a change in the way things are done. And people who are stuck in their ways and don’t want to see change are the first ones to be vocal about it. And I feel totally supportive because I’m still trying to take my surfing to different levels and that’s exciting for me. Because, honestly, there were times when I first got on tour that I was bored with the level of surfing. And I’d much rather be getting my ass kicked than being bored.”
Kelly Slater
Surfing Magazine
Interview by Matt Walker

What a great mindset to have. Slater is not focused on trying to stay young, or to hold on to the past, but to continue to raise his skill level. And one of the things that pushes him is seeing the 22-year-olds doing radical moves just like he did when he joined the tour more than fifteen years ago.

I’ll keep that in mind next week when I have a shoot in New York City with a talented young crew that’s probably going to be at least a decade younger than me. Another chance to grow.

Scott W. Smith

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If you follow hurricanes at all you may know that Hurricane Bill kicked up some pretty nice waves along Florida’s east coast the past few days. Florida is not usually known for large waves. Most days the surf pales compared to the best surf spots in California & Hawaii. So one could make the mistake of thinking that small wave Florida wouldn’t produce world champion surfers.

But the pro surf version of Lance Armstrong/Michael Jordan/Tiger Woods is in fact from Florida. Kelly Slater was born in Cocoa Beach, Florida in 1972 and has won the ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals) World Championship a record nine times. He holds the record for being both the youngest (20) and the oldest (36) to win the title. He is also the all-time leader in career event wins. Pretty amazing stats for anyone but more amazing since he came from an area nicknamed the “Small Wave Capital of the World.”

TV buffs may recall that Cocoa Beach is the setting for the 60s classic show I Dream of Jeannie. (Though according to Wikipedia the cast and crew only visited the area twice for filming). As part of the Space Coast, Cocoa Beach is where parades were held for astronauts when they would return from the Apollo missions. (As featured in The Right Stuff.) Though only six miles long, about a mile wide, this little town of 12,000 has had its brushes with greatness. So maybe it’s a fitting place for the greatest competitive ever to be from.

And Slater is not the only surf champion from Florida. Both Lisa Andersen (Ormond Beach) and Freida Zamba (Daytona Beach) both hold four ASP titles, and C.J. Hobgood (from Melbourne/Satellite Beach, FL) won the 2001 ASP World Championship and last year’s O’Neil Cup of World Surfing. I could go on about accomplished surfers from basically a 100 mile path on the coast of Florida from Ormond Beach to Sebastian Inlet, but I think you get the point.

Having spent most of my life in Central Florida it’s an area I’m fond of as I’ve gotten to spend my share time in the water there over the years. In fact, just two weeks ago I got several hours in of bodybording and longboard surfing in New Smyrna Beach/Cape Canaveral. But the reason I think champion surfers have risen from that area is it’s a great place to get in your 10,000 hours learning the craft and there is a history of surfing there that goes back for decades. That’s a great combination. And Slater working his magic on the smaller waves everyday as a kid is actually what set him up to change the face of surfing when he had an opportunity to perform on larger waves on the world stage.

I bring that up on a blog about screenwriting because it once again shows that something great can come from outside Southern California. Looking at surfers coming from the east coast of Florida is like looking at why so many writers come from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and why world class sprinters come from Jamaica. Vision, hard work, and the right ground work years (decades?) in the making seem to be what set a part places like Iowa City, Kingston, and Cocoa Beach to produce amazing results.

Part of Cocoa Beach’s ground work was Ron DiMenna opening Ron Jon’s surf shop in 1959  in Cocoa Beach. That helped create the surf culture that is there until this day. That’s 13 years before Slater was even born. Though Ron Jon’s today resembles Walt Disney World more than traditional surf culture, I have to think that back in the day Slater’s dad bought a board or two at Ron Jon’s.  (Or at least at least a Hang Ten/Lighting Bolt/OP shirt.)

Once again in an era of digital filmmaking the doors are being blown open for filmmakers to rise up from unusual places. And if you need a little more inspiration read my post about Coppola’s “fat little girl from Ohio” comment.

Lastly, I should mention that there is another deep connection to films and surfing as the two seem to go hand in hand. From Gidget, Big Wednesday, and Warren Miller’s classic surf films, to Blue Crush, Jack Johnson’s Thicker Than Water, and  Endless Summer II (which featured Slater) there has never been a shortage of finding great footage to put on screen—finding a great script with a surf angle has been proven a little more difficult to find.

Scott W. Smith

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