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Posts Tagged ‘Kurt Warner’

“My grandma really said I should, so I did.”
Cassey Herkelman on her decision to become a wrestler

“Defiance gleamed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip…”
Casey at the Bat
Ernest Thayer, poem first published in 1888

By default yesterday Cedar Falls, Iowa was back in the national news with an intriguing story. It’s not your typical boy meets girl story, but instead a girl beats boy story. (At least in the history books it goes down as a “W.”)

Remember Cedar Falls is the town where Robert Waller wrote The Bridges of Madison Country and where Nancy Price wrote Sleeping with the Enemy. It’s where quarterback Kurt Warner played college ball and bagged groceries before becoming a Super Bowl MVP, and it’s where Ali Frarokhmanesh made a name for himself last year playing for the University of Northern Iowa and making a clutch 3-point shot that defeated the #1 ranked team in the country and landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

And of course, Cedar Falls is the international headquarters for Screenwriting from Iowa. There is something about this place that makes this town of 36,145 people special.

This week the spotlight has been shinning just on one resident, Cassey Herkelman—a 112 pound freshman at Cedar Falls High School who became the first female wrestler to win at the State tournament level. The story went national because of a mini-controversy when a male wrestler decided to withdrawal from competition citing “a matter of conviction and religious beliefs” against physically wrestling a girl in the potentially violent sport. (The same decision, by the way, he made a few years ago when he faced Herkelman in a youth tournament. His pre-tournament record this year was 34-4.)

The student wrestler’s father, Jamie Northrup, is a pastor and had this statement,”We believe in the elevation and respect of woman and we don’t think that wrestling a woman is the right thing to do. Body slamming and takedowns, that full contact sport is not how to do that.” Fair enough. (I think most people ideally wish there were separate divisions for guys and girls, but there are not enough female wrestlers in Iowa as there is in other states.)

Herkelman just wants to wrestle. It’s something she’s been doing competitively since she was in second grade. Sometimes competing in 40 tournaments a year. (Her father Bill qualified for state his senior year of high school.) Herkelman has made enough of a name for herself that last year she was listed in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd:

Cassandra Herkelman

CEDAR FALLS, IOWA > Wrestling

Cassandra, an eighth-grader at Peet Junior High, won the 105-pound class in the middle school division at the U.S. Girls’ Wrestling Association national championships on April 4. The week before, she won at 103 pounds in the 6th- to 8th-grade division at the Girls Folkstyle Nationals. She was Iowa’s 105-pound middle school champion in 2010 and 111-pound titlist in ’09.

So with the forfeit yesterday of her male opponent  Herkelman became the first female wrestler to win an Iowa state tournament match.

Herkelman plans to go to national competitions where she will wrestle against other girls and dreams of being on Team USA and wrestling in the Olympics in 2012 (London) or Rio de Janeiro (2016).

But the road that leads to England or Brazil starts back here in Cedar Falls where she will continue to train—mostly away from the spotlight. But you can follow the journey on her website cassandraherkelman.com.

The take away once again is little successes often lead to larger successes. And your job as a storyteller is to bring to light those unusual stories in unusual places. Tell them as 2-minute You Tube videos or as a feature film.

By the way, there aren’t many movies about wrestling but if you want taste of what it entails, check out the 1985 film Vision Quest starring Matthew Modine.


 

Scott W. Smith


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“The story of Kurt Warner, who announced his retirement after a 12-year NFL career on Jan. 29, always starts with the chapter in that grocery store in Iowa.”
Sean Gregory
Time Magazine

This week’s Sports Illustrated (January 25, 2010) contains an article titled, Iowa’s Got a Secret. SI writer Albert Chen says of the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) basketball team that it, “remains the best kept secret in college basketball.” (The men’s NCAA basketball team is 17-2 and currently ranked #25 in ESPN/USA Today poll right after the much larger & established programs such as Ohio St., Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech.)

UNI happens to also be where quarterback Kurt Warner played college football before going on to have a career worthy of landing him in the NFL Hall of Fame when eligible. Warner retired yesterday from the NFL after a 12 year career which included playing in three Super Bowls (winning the MVP in one of them) as well as being the most accurate quarterback in NFL history.

I’ve written about Warner before and I really think his story symbolizes everything that I’ve been writting about for the past two years. That you can come from a small place and really accomplish some good things—sometimes even great things at the highest level. But, as with Warner’s case, persistance is equally as important as talent.

After Warner’s high school career in Cedar Rapids, Iowa he was disappointed to not win a scholarship to a Division 1 school. Then he changed his perspective by accepting a scholarship  to Division I-AA UNI back in the 90s.. He would play only an hour away from home so friends and family could see him play, and being a smaller school he figured he could maybe start playing as a freshman. He figured wrong and ended up not winning the starting QB position until his senior year. He got hurt in his second game that year but stuck it out and ended up earning the Gateway Conference player of the year.

He figured he played well enough to be drafted into the NFL. He figured wrong once again, but was given a chance as a free agent to make the Green Bay Packers. But they had a young quarterback named Bert Favre so thing didn’t work out too well in Green Bay. The story is well-known in sports circles and will make a fine movie some day. He worked at Hy-Vee Grocery Store for a little over five dollars and hour, worked as an assistant football coach at UNI, became a QB in Des Moines in the arena football league, moved up to playing pro ball in Europe, before becoming the ringleader in “The Greatest Show on Turf” as quarterback for the St. Louis Rams earning the NFL MVP award twice (1999, 2001). He not only holds the record for top passing yards in a Super Bowl game—he hold the #2 and #3 spots as well.

Not bad for a kid from Cedar Rapids who didn’t even earn a Division 1 scholarship and sat the bench for his first three years of college here in Cedar Falls. Time and time when asked what’s kept him going through the dark times, his answer always involves faith. Faith in his talent, and faith in God.

You don’t have to be a football fan (or even a sports fan)  to appreciate the Kurt Warner story. And it’s a nice bonus that his work on the field is matched by his charity work off the field. Kurt Warner is simply one of the good guys.

“Since those days chucking candy in the grocery store in Cedar Falls, Kurt Warner has been an inspiration.”
Sean Gregory
Time magazine

Kurt Warner is retiring, but don’t expect him to disappear. You’ll see more of him, just not in a football uniform. He’ll probably be leading the way in something like building homes in Haiti for Habitat for Humanity, just like he did last year after the floods destroyed over 5,000 homes in his hometown of Cedar Rapids.

Scott W. Smith

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This week I called one of the most respected make-up artists in Iowa for an upcoming shoot and I found out she’s booked into August. Turns out she’s working in Des Moines on a feature with Forrest Whitaker (Oscar winner for The Last King of Scotland) and Adrian Brody (Oscar winner for The Pianist).

That’s some major talent hanging out in the state. Think I can get them to do a cameo in a short film I making next week? The film they are starring in is called The Experiment and also features Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings). Wood happens to originally be from Cedar Rapids. One of the fellows helping me on my film next week went pre-school with Wood so I’m kind of in the ballpark.

And speaking of Cedar Rapids, I just read in Variety  yesterday that Alexander Payne (Oscar -winning screenwriter of Sideways) will produce a film called Cedar Rapids that will begin filming in October. The script was written by Phil Johnston and Ed Helms. Helms who also plays Andy on The Office (and co-stars in The Hangover) will also be among the comedy cast for Cedar Rapids.

No word on whether Cedar Rapids will be filmed in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (and the script probably wasn’t written in Iowa), but I thought it was worth a mention.  (And I’ll throw in a little Cedar Rapids trivia for you…Orville and Wilbur Wright went to elementary school there, as did professional golfer Zack Johnson and Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner. And American Gothic painter Grant Wood was a teacher in Cedar Rapids.)

No one is going to confuse Cedar Rapids for Hollywood, or Iowa for California, but it’s nice to know we’re a blip on the radar. And this is a growing trend.  Susan Sarandon (Oscar winner for Dead Man Walking) was in Iowa last summer filming the yet to be released Peacock, which stars Ellen Page of Juno. And Ray Liotta (no Oscar, but he did win an Emmy) was in the Des Moines area a few months ago filming a movie called Ticket-Out (a film that actually takes place in Kentucky).

If you’re writing screenplays set in Iowa that has to give you a little hope. And if you’re writing screenplays set in Kentucky our film incentives can help you out as well. The key thing wherever you are is to keep writing. The incentives and the Oscar winning talent only follow a script that is so good that people are willing to invest their time and money.

 

Scott W. Smith


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Though Iowa’s own Kurt Warner and the Arizona Cardinals came up a little short yesterday was another case of the Super Bowl being super. Congrats to the Pittsburgh Steelers—champions once again.  And that game winning ballet catch in the closing seconds of the game by Santonio Holmes brought memories for me of Lyn Swann. 

The game being played in Tampa this year also brought back memories to 2001 when I was hired to go during Super Bowl week there and videotape pro football hall-of fame great Reggie White for a promotional video. For some reason what I remember most about that shoot was it was the first time I had seen a stretch Hummer limo. What kind of gas milage do you think they get?

And there was one more experience that popped into my mind while watching the game and listening to John Madden. I once had a shoot in San Luis Obispo, California with Madden and dozens of pro football players for a celebrity golf tournament.  Madden has a Midwest connection in that he was born in Austin, Minnesota which is just over the border from northern Iowa (and where the Spam museum is located).

He played college ball in San Luis Obispo and when his pro career was cut short by an injury he turned to coaching eventually becoming the youngest head coach in the NFL at age 32. He won a Super Bowl a few years later and in 1979 turned to broadcasting where he has won 14 Emmy Awards. And he was an early part of the video gaming industry with his part with EA Sports John Madden Football. 

Quite a career, right? Because opportunities are growing in the gaming industry for screenwriters (and the gaming industry is now bigger than the film industry) I thought you’d be interested in knowing how Madden followed his passion into video games.

I started the videogame before there were videogames. When we first started, we were going to make a computer game. When I got out of coaching, I had taught a class at the University of California, an extension class on football for fans. I was looking for tools. I was showing them films. I was going to write a textbook. Trip Hawkins came to me about making it a game for computers. I said there has to be 11 guys on a team. I figured it would be a good teaching tool, a good coaching tool. I didn’t know anything about computers then, where they were going. No one did. Anyway, we started and worked on this game for a few years. It came out in a computer version. Then, boom, lo and behold, here comes the hardware for videogames and we already have the software. There we go. To say when I started I knew it was going to happen, I didn’t know. But no one else knew. It was just something that we happened to be there first. We stumbled upon it. We’re still going. It just gets bigger and bigger.
                                                     John Madden
                                                     Interview with Jon Robinson 

 

Scott W. Smith

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How about that Kurt Warner? If you don’t follow pro football you may not know that his underdog story is one of the greatest in sports history. And now, with a win in yesterday’s playoff game, the 37-year-old adds another chapter to his hall-of-fame career by leading the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl. If you like comeback stories Kurt Warner is your guy. And, yes, he does have a connection to little ole’ Cedar Falls, Iowa.

When Warner graduated from Regis High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1990 his dream was to play down the road for the University of Iowa. But he didn’t get a scholarship from them or any Division 1 major college. But he did get an offer from a Division II school, the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, where he thought he’d at least get a lot of playing time at a smaller school. But he ended up sitting the bench for three years. 

But in his senior year he was the starting quarterback and at the end of the season he was named Gateway Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year and hoped he’d get drafted in the NFL. He didn’t and was cut when he tried out for the Green Bay Packers. He returned to Cedar Falls where he was an assistant coach at Northern Iowa and a stock boy at the local Hy-Vee grocery store. With no NFL teams interested he went on to play arena football for the Iowa Barnstormers in ’96 & ’97 where he was named to the AFL’s all arena team both years. From there he played in Europe where he played for the Amsterdam Admirals and led the league in passing, then he was finally welcomed in the NFL.

He started the 1999 season as a back-up quarterback for the St. Louis Rams and ended up the MVP of the league and after winning the Super Bowl was named the Super Bowl MVP. The press enjoyed telling and retelling the quick rise of the former stock boy to Super Bowl MVP. Then he was injured in a loss at the 2001 Super Bowl and considered a has been by some. He should just retire they said. But he kept doing his thing and now he’s leading a franchise that’s never been to the big game to Super Bowl XLIII.

You can read more about him at KurtWarner.org where he has a foundation called First Things First that among other things provides trips to Disney for children with life threatening conditions, and has helped with flood relief efforts.  

It seems he does just about everything except write screenplays, but maybe he’ll try his hand at that after his football career is over. Some day his story will make an excellant film as it is one full of conflict, struggle, disappointments, loss and faith. Perhaps you can identify with what Warner told Sports Spectrum’s Chuck Swirsky about his unorthodox journey:

“This isn’t how I had it planned. I didn’t want to work in a grocery store then go to Amsterdam and play in the Arena League. But as I look back over my life, I realize that I had a lot of maturing to do. I had a lot of growing in my faith.”

Warner kept his hand on the plow and did his best in whatever arena he was allowed to play. He believed in his dream and his talent even when he wasn’t sure how he was going to pay his bills. Most people won’t find the wild success that Warner has found, but at least his story gives some hope and purpose to taking the bumpy roads of life. And that is fertile ground for writers in life and in the stories they write.

Related posts: Speaking of bumpy roads & faith check out the post Screenwriting & Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Scott W. Smith


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“From Iowa to Pennsylvania, the presidential campaign has provided its share of made-for-Hollywood moments.”
                                                                                  All Things Considered
                                                                                  April 18, 2008


“It’s not until Iowa when people say this is how the American people are feeling. … So it ends up shaping how people view the race in subsequent states.”
                                                                                  Barack Obama
                                                                                  USA Today
                                                                                  July 17,2007 

obama300

Did you catch the Texas–Texas Tech game last Saturday? That was high drama. And everything I love about college football. A close game down to the last second.

Did you happen to follow the 2008 presidential election results last night? Not quite as close a game. But there was still plenty of drama in the last year and a half race to the White House including a full lineup of sideshows acts; Joe the plumber, The Obama girl (not to be confused with the John Edward’s girl), Super Tuesday, Sarah “Barracuda” Palin’s troopergate, Biden’s blunders, Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s preaching, Huckabee’s humor, Hillary Clinton and her 18 million cracks in the ceiling, and even Oprah coming to Iowa.

Congratulations to President elect Barack Obama. I was able to see 13 presidential candidates as they came through Iowa and I really never thought Obama would get past Hillary. But there he was last night showing that Dylan, Springsteen, Louis Farrakhan, Pamala Anderson, Colin Powell, Jimmy Buffett and Warren Buffett were all on the eclectic winning team.

Obama overcame his lack of experience with his message of change along with the storytelling abilities of Ronald Reagan and the inspirational chants (“Fired Up–Ready to Go!”) of a motivational speaker. So 40 years after Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed we have an moment in history that represents symbolic healing. 

Congratulations to John McCain and his team for their hard fought battle. He’s served his country well and had over 55 million people pulling for him. And like many politicians who face defeat, the chances are good that Palin will do her homework and be back stronger with many lessons learned and popularity gained. (Though she’d have more fun and make more money doing the speaker/author circuit and having her own TV talk show.)

It really has been amazing to be a part of democracy in action at such an in-depth level. Who knew Iowa would play such an important role in history?

 

Never did I think when I moved to Iowa from Central Florida five years ago that I’d be close to such a dynamic election. So close in fact that I was within a couple feet of the future president of the United States of America several times in 2007 taking photos and shooting video on assignment.    

I took the photos on this blog at gatherings in Iowa a wee bit smaller than the huge crowd that showed up in Chicago last night to hear Obama’s acceptance speech. (I haven’t seen a celebration like last night’s since…well, Saturday when the Texas Tech students and fans stormed the field after upsetting the number one team in the country.)

Watching the gazed faces on TV at Grant Park kinda looked like that old footage you see of when The Beatles played at Shea Stadium. But America didn’t elected a rock star.  No, from the looks on the faces he’s bigger than that. More like a mix of Bono/JFK/MLK/Michael Jordon/Muhammad Ali/Billy Graham/Tiger Woods and Oprah –all in their prime.

Why is this man smiling?

Iowa State Fair August 2007

Last night I couldn’t help but think back to my creative writing teacher in high school where I wrote my first scripts and directed my first videos. Dr. Annye Refoe, who happens to be African-American, took this sports and girl obsessed teenager and added color to his world beyond the athletic endeavors of Paul Warfield and Joe Morgan. All these years later, she was one of the first people I contacted when I won the Emmy last week.

I also thought back to when I was a 19-year-old journalist and photographer and I interviewed then Tampa Bay Buccaneer quarterback Doug Williams for the Sanford Evening Herald. Williams went on to become the first African-American to be a winning Super Bowl quarterback (while playing for the Washington Redskins).

Obama was born a month after I was and the arc of racial change that has occurred since then is stunning. But we have a long way to go to realize Martin Luther King’s dream that one day the color of our skin won’t matter.  This election gets us over one hump but I am reminded of the saying that every problem has a solution and every solution has a problem.  We have not reached the finish line.

Anyway — speaking of Washington D.C. –this is a blog about screenwriting so let’s look at the inspiration and movies that has come out of that rather small area of land. The political scene and the drama surrounding it is a natural fit for Hollywood. The quintessential Washington film is Frank Capria’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington starring Jimmy Stewart. The film earned an Oscar nomination for screenwriter Sidney Buchman who happened to be born in Duluth, Minnesota.

Between 1941-42 he served as the president of the Writers Guild of America, but was later backlisted for his refusal to name names of those in the American Communist Party to the House Committee on Un-American Activities.  

Washington D.C. is also home to Georgetown University that has educated some fine talent:
Jonathan Nolan (Memento and co-writer The Dark Knight.) 
Carl Reiner (Writer/director/actor and seven time primetime Emmy winner)
Michael J. Winship (current president, Writers Guild of America East)
William Peter Blatty (writer of The Exorcist)  
John Guare (screenwriter of Atlantic City and Tony Winning playwright)
Blake Snyder (screenwriter and author of the screenwriting book Save the Cat)
 

And coming out of the historically black Howard University in D.C. are writers Zora Hurston Neal (Their Eyes Were Watching God), screenwriter and Oscar-nominated director Dianne Houston, director Ernest Dickerson who has also been the cinematographer on many Spike Lee films, Richard Wesley (Let’s Do It Again, which was directed by Sidney Poitier), Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Margaret Edson (Wit), poet Paul Laurence Dunbar as well as a host of actors and actresses including Ossie Davis, Phylicia Rashad, and Sean (P. Diddy) Combs. 

And American University is not only home to one of the best film programs in the country, but where the top box-office female film director, Nancy  Shyer, graduated from college. Shyer not only directed Mel Gibson in What Women Want  but also co-wrote Father of the Bride, Baby Boom  along with being nominated for an Academy Award back in 1981 for co-writing Private Benjamin.

“I remember driving on the Ventura Freeway when I was about 27, to run an errand, when I thought, ‘What if a girl joined the Army to escape her problems?'”
                                                              Nancy Shyer
                                                              (On the inspiration for Private Benjamin
                                                              Hollywood Reporter 

The Oscar winning director of Rain Man and screenwriter of Diner Barry Levinson also attended Washington University. As did actors Jude law and Jack Black. 

The Washington D.C. political scene itself has provided an compelling background for many excellent films. Mainly because films work on conflict and that never seems to be in short supply there. In fact The White House may be the single most popular home featured in movies and TV shows. Here is a partial list of movies that feature Washington D.C.:

A Few Good Me
Air Force One
All the President’s Men
An American President
Being There 
Dave
Enemy of the State
First Kid
Forrest Gump
The Hunt for Red October
Independence Day
JFK
Minority Report
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington 
Nixon
No Way Out
Three Days of the Condor
Thirteen Days
Traffic
Wag the Dog
West Wing
W.

 

There are also probably a few screenplays in the works on Obama’s life. (I bet Spike Lee and Tyler Perry are racing each other to be first.) Even if you didn’t vote for Obama you have to appreciate the journey–or at least the narrative or the significance. 

Of course there will be plenty of conflict in President Obama’s office. (Probably beginning day one at three in the morning — if not before he even takes office.) I’m sure before the final ballot was cast that Iran, Russia, and North Korea were moving chess pieces around preparing to welcome our new president. January of ’09 will be a hard time to take over the role as president  and Obama’s leadership skills will be tested early.

We quickly forget the pattern of almost every election, hope on the promise of change, harsh realities followed by blame of prior administration, and a plea for four more years to finally get things on track. Obama simply cannot do all the things he’s promised and people tend to become disillusioned quickly.

I just hope the criticism (and the joking from comedians) is not confused with racism or it’s one step forward and two steps back. If Powell is right about Obama being a transformational candidate, I just hope that transformation is for the good.  

I personally enjoy college football more than Washington politics and look forward to the Alabama-LSU game this weekend. Of course there are politics in college football, but at the end of the year the match-up for the title is usually the two best qualified, winning and prepared teams in the national. (Okay, maybe two out of the best three.)

And college football teaches us lessons in perspective.  Like the much hyped Matt Leinhart who had a stacked resume when he was the Arizona Cardinals’ first round draft pick in the 2006 NFL draft: Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback of two national championship teams at USC, and AP All-American.  Stats half-way through the 2008 season: 1 completed pass. (Only five more years on his 7 year 50 million dollar contract.)

Meanwhile the thought to be washed-up old-timer (and Iowa native) Kurt Warner is the starting QB for the Cardinals and who Sports Illustrated said is the clear choice for MVP at this point in the season.

Related Post: Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting (tip #7)

 

photos and text copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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