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Posts Tagged ‘Key West’

“Sometimes you know something’s coming…you feel it in the air. A voice in your head is telling you something is going to go terribly wrong…and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”
John Rayburn (Kyle Chandler) in Bloodline

Todd A. Kessler,  Glenn Kessler,  Daniel Zelman created the Netflix series Bloodline which was shot in the Florida Keys.

“We were looking for a place to set [Bloodline] that had kind of an iconic sensibility for the United States, if not the world. Many people if they’ve never been to the Keys have at least heard of the Keys or most people have at least heard of the Florida Keys. Something weird goes on down there. It’s kind of like New Orleans or Las Vegas or Los Angeles, you know, places that people know of.”
Todd A. Kessler
UPROXX interview with Daniel Fienberg 

In about 10 hours as I write this post the Florida Keys are projected to be hit with category 3 or 4 hurricane. There’s no good outcome of this storm. There’s nowhere for Hurricane Irma to go that won’t wreck havoc.  We can hope that most of the people living in and visiting the Keys have already evacuated as the eye of the hurricane will go directly over the string of islands on the southern tip of Florida.

From there, there’s the strong possibility Hurricane Irma will go up the west coast of Florida hitting Naples, Ft. Myers, Sarasota, Tampa/St. Pete, and Cedar Key. My father died in 1995 while living in St. Pete Beach and he always worried about “the big one” hitting that area because—like parts of Houston—there’s nowhere for the water to go except over land. (The last major hurricane to hit the area was The 1921 Tampa Bay hurricane )

I last visited Key West earlier this year, and was in Tampa/St. Pete just two weeks ago. These are areas I’ve been exploring off and on for 30 plus years and it’s a land mixed with beauty and fragileness. I hope the people and buildings weather the storm well.

P.S. Bloodline ended its three season run on earlier this year. And even though the show didn’t perhaps find a wide audience some called it Netflix’s finest show to date. And it did give viewers one of the final looks at the talents of Sam Shepard—and did a super job of showcasing the Florida Keys.

Related posts:
Sam Shepard (1943-2017)
Postcard #111 (Captain Tony’s)
‘Burbank by the Sea’—St. Petersburg, Florida
Postcard #107 (Downtown St. Pete)
Postcard #142 (Sarasota Seahorse)
Don’t Waste Your Life (2.0)  (Written after an Iowa tornado I was hired to cover.)

Scott W. Smith

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I went down to Captain Tony’s to get out of the heat
When I heard a voice call out to me, “Son, come have a seat”
Jimmy Buffet/Last Mango in Paris

captaintonys_5256

Though today’s postcard comes from Key West (where I was yesterday) this is the first international post in the nine years of writing this blog. So greetings from Cozumel.

Despite having higher end Panasonic and Nikon cameras with me on the production I’m on, the clear winner after two days is the Apple iPhone 7plus. Speed is the issue. Yesterday I only had four hours to capture an overall essence of Key West in the daytime.

The versatility of which you can shoot stills and videos is a strength of iPhones, but the iPhone 7 Plus cell phone/camera is a significant jump up from the iPhone 4s I just upgraded from. I’m shooting a lot of footage in 120 (and some in 240) frames per second which is serious slow motion. Today I’ll also shoot in 4K.

I’m also using the FiLMiC Pro camera app (which only costs $9.99) a lot which allows you to shoot in 24p and also disable the in camera stabilizer. It’s also easy to lock focus and exposure. Because I knew I’d be on the move a lot shooting in Key West gave me a chance to test the DJI Osmo Mobile.

While it’s always best to test out equipment well before a shoot, sometimes you just have to roll the dice. In this case, I just booked this shoot a week ago. Did some research and then finally pulled the trigger on buying the DJI Osmo less than 24 hours before my cruise ship departed.

After purchasing it in Orlando and driving to Miami, at around midnight I finally got to open the box set-up the battery to charge. At 2:3o AM it didn’t appear to be charging. I went to sleep thinking it was a bust and I’d just return it after the cruise.

But in the morning it all fired up so it gave me hope. We left that day out of the Port of Miami and the next day while on Old Town Trolly Tours I finally had a chance to start shooting with it and my first impression is it’s great. Very user friendly is getting Stedicam-like shots from an iPhone. (Note: I once owned a Stedicam Merlin and I never really could balance the dang thing. The DJI Osmo took less than five minute to balance.)

One sad note on my quick trip to Key West is that it’s changed a lot since I first visited there in 1981 or ’82. Back then it still had a bohemian/artistic/drop out of society feel to it. Today it feels like Orlando.  I have nothing against Starbucks or CVS Pharmacy, but places like that take away from the other-worldness that Key West once had. But you’re still closer to Havana, Cuba than a Walmart… and there’s still Captain Tony’s, and Sloppy Joe’s, and Hemingway’s house, etc. etc.  Just don’t go there expecting to see a quaint   seaside hippy village unless you can go in 1971. Aside from that go for at least 4 days, not four hours. That gives you time to decompress and find the secret gems of Key West.

And especially for content creators, Key West is still a visual feast.

P.S. For what it’s worth, two of my most memorable dining experiences came from a trip to the Keys years ago. Louie’s Backyard in Key West and Little Palm Island (just a boat ride away from Key West).

Related posts:
Jimmy Buffett in Iowa (Part 1)
Jimmy Buffett in Iowa (Part 4)
Sing Along with Mitch in Margaritaville

Scott W. Smith

 

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“When you map your life in retrospect there’s a bit of a blind cartographer at work.”
Jim Harrison
Off to the Side: A Memoir

This is a screenwriting blog that strays off the reservation (the reservation being Hollywood). Or as the official blog of Tom Cruise said a few years ago, “For a more off-beat look at writing, the Screenwriting from Iowa blog provides screenwriters with a slightly removed take from the Hollywood norm.”

We’ve been remembering writer Jim Harrison who died last Saturday so I thought we’d take a little trip today down to Key West and introduce you to a little off-beat film— Tarpon (1973)—that featured Jim Harrison and the music of Jimmy Buffett.

There’s been plenty written and said about Superman v Batman in the last few days since its release but for some reason here’s the only thing I could find recently said about the obscure 40+ year old documentary on tarpon fishing:

“[Director] Guy de la Valdene had all the money and sent a crew that was all French. I speak French now, but I didn’t at the time, so there was a huge communication issue. So we’re in the Keys and taking out boats with [poet] Richard Brautigan and [novelist] Tom McGuane. It really captured the Key West of the ‘70s. It’s sort of a treasure today. But we didn’t really get paid for it. I wrote the music and Harrison was going to do the narration.”
Jimmy Buffett
Men’s Journal

And here’s another memory of Harrison that Buffett tells in the Men’s Journal that rounds out well this round of posts on Harrison:

“One time Jim and I drove his Ford Cortina from Montana to Michigan together. Just the two of us. We seemed to have all these road trips that we did together that were kind of, kind of hilarious. I loved to hear Jim’s view of the world. I don’t know how much he cared about mine. On another trip in Florida, we talked about Cuba a lot. I told him about my grandfather, who was a ship captain who took his family on board in those days, back in the early 1920s. My father spent his first birthday in Havana Harbor, and there’s a family story that my grandfather put up a signal flag to celebrate my dad’s first birthday, and all of the other ships in the harbor started signaling back. So all the sailing ships in Havana Harbor had their flags up for my dad’s first birthday. And he loved that story. Well, the next thing I knew, he told me to look at Legends of The Fall when it came out. The opening of one chapter it says Tristan took a ship to somewhere, and there’s this passage about it. And he told me later, he said ‘Yeah, I did that for your grandpa and your dad.’ He put it in the book.”

P.S. “Jim [Harrison] became famous for his fiction, celebrated internationally as a storyteller of genius, but through all the years, and the novels and novellas and films that came with them, he remained a poet, his life syncopated with contrapuntal complexities and the chromatic cadences of rural landscapes.”
Terry McDonell
The New Yorker, Jim Harrison, Mozart of the Prairie

P.P.S. In 2008 Tarpon became available on DVD. Here are a couple of quotes about the doc:

“Tarpon is a timeless and beautifully executed film about life, sport and culture. You’ll be moved, amused, outraged and, most of all, entertained.” 
Tom Brokaw, Journalist and Author

“This long-lost gem of a film has acquired cult status in the fly fishing world, and with good reason. It has the most breathtaking footage of the tarpon-stalking experience that you’ll ever see. Like the fish itself, this is a work of art.” 
Carl Hiaasen, Author

Related posts:
Writer Jim Harrison
Pat Conroy & Rehearsing for Death
Jimmy Buffett in Iowa (Part 1)
Jimmy Buffett in Iowa (Part 2)
Jimmy Buffett in Iowa (Part 3)
Havana Daydreamin’

Scott W. Smith

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“The toughest athlete in the world is a 62 year-old woman.”
D.L. Stewart, Dayton Daily News

“It was an old dream. It was lingering for so long—three decades ago . The only world-class swim that I had sort of tried and failed at in my early 20s was going from Cuba to Florida. It was deep in my imagination. No one has ever done it without a shark cage. It’s daunting. It’s more than a hundred miles across a difficult passage of ocean. It’s probably at my speed and my age—for anybody’s speed at anybody’s age—is goning to take 60 maybe 70 hours of continuous swimming. Never getting out on the boat. And I started to train. I hadn’t swum for 31 years—not a stroke.”
Diana Nyad
TED talk 2012

After 41 hours and being stung by box jellyfish Nyad’s “dream was crushed” when she aborted the swim from Cuba to Florida in 2011. She had actually failed to swim from Cuba to Key West back in 1978 when she was 28-years-old. She failed again in a  2010 attempt. And in 2012—she failed again. So on August 31, 2013—at the age of 64—when she stepped into the water in Havana, Cuba it was her fifth attempt at dream more than three decades old. A dream to do something no one had ever done before.

Today at 1:55 pm SDT she successful completed the marathone swim and walked to shore at Key West after 53 hours of continual swimming and had just enough energy left to give three messages:
1) We should never, ever give up
2) You’re never too old to chase your dreams
3) It looks like a solitary sport, but it’s a team

Congrats to Nyad and her team.  And thanks for the inspirational story.

Scott W. Smith

 

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“The book came to me in sort of a haze in Harry’s Bar in Venice.”
Ernest Hemingway speaking about writing In Harry’s Bar In Venice
(Not to be confused with the clip below from Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris)

When I was in high school I don’t think I really understood that Ernest Hemingway was a literary giant. But I knew Jimmy Buffett was fond of Hemingway and that was the only sign of approval I needed as a 17-year-old.

When I had to pick a book in my 11th grade American Literature class to do a report on, I naturally—in my youthful wisdom— outsmarted my teacher by picking the thinnest book on my teacher’s list—Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. I’ve been pals with Papa ever since.

When I graduated from film school in California I drove around the country for a couple of months and one of the books I took with me was Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. On that trip I went out of my way to drive through Ketchum, Idaho where Hemingway killed himself in 1961. While I lived in Florida I toured his Key West house that’s open to the public and where he wrote To Have and Have Not. (If I recall correctly, they said his custom in Key West was to swim early in the morning and write standing up from 8AM until noon.)

Once on a flight to London for a shoot I read Hemingway’s The Green Hills of Africa. And over the years as I found myself in Kansas City, Oak Park, Petoskey, Venice (including Harry’s Bar) and Paris I’ve always thought of Hemingway and his time spent in those places. Oh, and at the University of Miami I was in the film program with Hilary Hemingway (Ernest’s neice) .

Though I’ve never seen a bull-fight in Spain, caught a marlin off the waters of Cuba, or been on a safari in Africa—someday I will. I hope. Hemingway’s adventurous life has influenced me as much as his writings. Moving to Iowa in ’03 has just been another part of the adventure. So even this blog has a loose assoication to the Hemingway spirit. A couple of days ago I went down to the Cedar Falls Library and picked up a copy of Hemingway’s memoir A Moveable Feast that I’d never read.  It’s mostly his account of being young, poor, and unpublished while living in Paris in the 1920s.

“Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. “
Ernest Hemingway
A Moveable Feast

Looking for a little note of inspiration to stick above your computer? Hard to beat, “All you have to do is write one true sentence.”

P.S. One of the things I delight in when reading Hemingway’s letters is his creative ways of spelling. Hemingway could write, but he couldn’t spell. Nothing a little spell checker wouldn’t fix these days, but we all have our achilles heels don’t we? Hemingway was also no Mark Twain when it came to public speaking. “One of Ernest Hemingway’s deadliest enemies was The Micophone,” said A.E. Hotchner. Just listen to his talk on In Harry’s Bar in Venice or his Nobel Prize Acceptance speech to know what Hotchner meant.

For those that cling to the idea that great writers ideally make the best teachers, I think Hemingway is a pretty good example to the contrary. His writing can take you’re breath away, his speaking—not so much. And I’m sure rather than nurturing an up and coming writer Hemingway would rather have been hunting or drinking. But hanging out with him and his creative gang on the Left Bank in Paris in the 20s would have been quite a learning experience.

Scott W. Smith

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“I finally figured out we are somewhere between the end of the line and the middle of nowhere.”
Dr. Joel Fleischman
Northern Exposure

Goethe’s final words: “More light.” Ever since we crawled out of that primordial slime, that’s been our unifying cry: “More light.” Sunlight. Torchlight. Candlight. Neon. Incandescent. Lights that banish the darkness from our caves, to illuminate our roads, the insides of our refrigerator.”

Chris in Morning
KBHR, Cicely, Alaska
Northern Exposure

When Sarah (Barracuda) Palin was chosen as John McCain’s running mate it was textbook solid screenwriting inspired. A nice twist in the story. If it were a movie and she ends up VP I’d call it Mrs. Palin Goes to Washington. Kind of a remake of the Jimmy Stewart classic.

How do you offset the first African-American presidential candidate who makes his acceptance speech before more than 80,000 people at the Democratic National Convention in Denver on 45th anniversary to the day of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech? How do you offset Obama being raised by a single mom and forgoing a Wall Street career to do social work on the south side of Chicago?

How do you take advantage of millions of women who are upset that Hillary Clinton is not the presidential or VP candidate? How does McCain avoid being seen as just rich and elitist and out of touch with the countries economic problems?

You head north…to Alaska, that’s what you do. You choose their female governor as your running mate.  A “hockey mom” with five kids (pro-family)  including one with Downs Syndrome (pro-life) , a moose hunter (NRA), whose husband is part Yup’ik Eskimo (multiethnic) and a commercial fisherman (working class) and union worker (union), whose parents were teachers (middle class), who has faith (evangelicals), who has brought reform to government there (change), who fought the “bridge to nowhere” (fiscally responsible), whose son joined the Army last year on September 11 (patriotism), and who comes from an area more than 3,500 miles from Washington D.C. (beltway outsider).

As a former broadcaster she is media savvy and can read a teleprompter. And her selection as the first VP GOP candidate came on the 88th anniversary of women being allowed to vote. And to top it off the former Miss Wasilla has the whole sexy librarian thing going on with the glasses and wearing her hair up.

I’ll leave it to others to debate whether she’s qualified for the White House, but there is no debate she has a heck of a story. And stories outside L.A. is what this blog is all about.

Is choosing Palin a Hail Mary pass by McCain? If so, he’s old enough to remember when Doug Flutie’s desperation pass beat the mighty Miami Hurricanes back in ’84. Sometimes the high risk pass works.

And for the media, picking Palin is a slice of Hollywood. A political narrative full of conflict. Peggy Noonan wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Palin’s candidacy “will be either dramatically successful or dramatically not; it won’t be something in between.”

We know screenwriter Gary Ross (Big, Seabiscuit) has written presidential speeches for the Democrats. The talent pool of Republican or conservative screenwriters is not quite as deep (99 to 1?), but I wonder what writer or filmmaker they’ve employed. (Perhaps John Milius, Clint Eastwood, Dennis Hopper or David Mamet.)

Maybe it was Hillary’s Hollywood people (Spielberg or Murphy Brown creator Diane English)  suggestion since a Republican victory is Mrs. Clinton’s only chance to make a run in ’12.

No matter the outcome of the election, from a dramatic standpoint McCain couldn’t have written a better script. Well, Palin could have been born in Cedar Falls, Iowa to an African-American mother and a Hispanic father and have captured Bigfoot last week–but let’s not get carried away.

Truth is stranger than fiction.

Alaska has been at the heart of many good stories as well as being full of folklore. Say, did you hear the “Little known facts” about Palin? “The Northern Lights are really just the reflection from Sarah Palin’s eyes.” “Sarah Palin doesn’t need a gun to hunt. She has been known to throw a bullet through an adult bull elk.” (Do you know how long it took for Chuck Norris to get that kind of street cred? She did it in one day.)

On second thought, Sarah Palin appears to have more in common with Erin Brockovich than she does Jimmy Stewart. (“You may want to re-think those ties.” Erin, in the movie written by Susannah Grant.) But let’s get back to Alaska.

Stories do flow from Alaska; Jack London’s Call of the Wild, Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush, Never Cry Wolf, and Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia written by Hilary Seltz , Pulitzer Prize winner John McPhee’s Coming into the Country, Johnny Horton’s number one hit North to Alaska, documentaries by Robert Flaherty (Nanook of the North)  and Warner Herzog (Grizzly Man) and more recently the Sean Penn movie Into the Wild from the Jon Krakauer book.

But my favorite set of stories that are Alaska-based is what I think of as one of the all-time great TV programs – Northern Exposure. (In my book it’s right up there with The Twilight Zone and Seinfeld.) Though the show was filmed in Roslyn, Washington it retains the feel of a small eccentric, creative town you’d like to think exists in Alaska. Some say it is based on the quirky little town of Talkeetna, Alaska and others say the quirky town of Ely, Minnesota, a town near the Canadian border in the Boundary Waters.

In part because of my love for the show I’ve been to  Roslyn, Talkeetna and Ely. (However, I’ve never been to Moosefest.)  I do think the show Northern Exposure in part lead me to Cedar Falls, Iowa. Growing up in Florida steeped on Jimmy Buffett’s songs about Key West, the Caribbean, and paradise mixed with a heavy dose of Walt Disney’s version of Main Street, I think I have always been looking for my own personal Margaritaville. (A place where “My old red bike gets me ’round.”)

Even if you didn’t get into Northern Exposure you’d have to give it points for originality. Where else in the history of TV have you seen two people arm wrestle over the doctrine of transubstantiation or see someone have a conversation with a human-sized dust mite? And isn’t there a little spunky Maggie O’Connell (Janie Turner) in Palin? Yes, Palin even owns a float plane. I’m sure Noexers (as fans of the show are called) have already connected John & Cindy McCain with the older/younger couple Shelly & Holling.

Is it more than a coincidence that one of the co-creators of Northern Exposure went to college just a little over an hour from Cedar Falls? John Falsey is one more MFA graduate from the Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa. The Emmy, Peabody, Golden Globe winning producer/writer also worked on St. Elsewhere, The White Shadow and I’ll Fly Away. (I don’t know much of what he’s done in the last decade. “Where have you gone John Falsey?” Maybe he cashed in and moved to his own personal Cicely, Alaska.)

And I guess this blog is my own little version of Northern Exposures resident radio DJ Chris in the Morning (John Corbett). Trying to do my best to wax philosophically while making odd connections.

Cedar Falls is a little bigger than Cicely Alaska, but it’s got enough characteristics to feel similar and it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than Key West, FL, Seal Beach, CA, or Crested Butte, CO. No oceans or mountains here (though we do have a river and killer bike trails) but we have a perfect view of the political process as I pointed out in Politics, Power & Screenwriting.

I’m sure will see plenty of Mrs. Palin which will make up for all the times I saw Obama last year. (I think the guy was stalking me.) If John McCain and Sarah Palin don’t make it to the White House I think they could have shots at a career in Hollywood. At least a reality show.

And whoever is our next president I wish they add to their packed political campaign platform a decree for films to be better. Yesterday I walked out of two movies in one day for the first time in my life. On second thought, that’s really not the government’s job–it’s yours, so get busy writing.

And just to tie this all together as we say goodbye for now you might not know that the beautiful, haunting song that was played at the end of the last episode of Northern Exposure was written and performed by Iris DeMent — a folk artist who is married to another folk artist named Greg Brown from Iowa City and where I believe they both now live.

If you’ve never heard “Our Town” or if it’s been a while since you’ve heard it, do yourself a favor and listen to the link below. The song resonates every bone of my body and I hope it hits a nerve or two for you. (And if you’ve never seen the show at all check it out because it is a fine example of great writing.)

September 4 Update: From a public speaking perspective you’d have to pull for an Obama-Palin ticket. Palin: “The difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull?.. Lipstick.” Great writing and great delivery. All of this reminds me of that great Jon Stewart quip at the 2008 Oscars: “Normally when you see a black man or a woman president, an asteroid is about to hit the Statue of Liberty.”

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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