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“The road to success isn’t paved with gold—99 percent of the time it isn’t paved at all.”
Photographer/Author/Educator Chris Orwig
The Creative Fight

Because my mom was an art teacher, I was aware of the creative fight from an early age. Before I was ten I was fascinated by Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings, but perhaps more enamored that he cut part of his ear off. I’ve read plenty of theories about the madness, pain, and demons that the creative genius fought before his death at age 37.

Chris Orwig’s book The Creative Fight may not have saved Van Gogh’s life—but it may help you on your creative journey.  Encourage you as you face a world of constant noise and change. The goal of his book is to help you refocus and reframe your creative vision and life in general.

“Creativity has given us romance, recovery, culture, cuisine, music, motocross, fables, fashion, and sports. Deep creativity stirs our soul. It reminds us of something we once knew but have since forgotten. Creativity awakens life, like the taste of those cookies brings back your grandmother’s face or that one song reminds you of being 16. We not only watch and witness creativity, we take part in ourselves. And the most creative act of all is living life to the fullest degree. Without creativity by your side, it’s impossible to live a rich and meaningful life.”
Chris Orwig
The Creative Flight
Page 4

For the past few weeks I’ve been in the process of moving my still photography workflow from Apple Aperture to Adobe Lightroom, and Orwig has been helping me with the transition. Not personally, but via his tutorials on lynda.com. I’ve been a long time fan of lynda.com and have watched many of Orwig’s tutorials.

Over the years I’ve grow to realize that change—for various reasons— is just a part of the game. In shooting footage (8mm,16mm, 3/4 inch, Beta SP, DigiBeta, and several digital formats), editing (upright Moviola, Steenbeck flatbed, AVID, FCP, Adobe Premiere), and 35mm and medium format film cameras to DSLRs that shoot stills and video I’ve been through plenty of changes since graduating from film school back in the day.

And I wouldn’t say I’m the most technical person out there and there have been many fights on the technical side so I for one welcome the prolific online training available. Help with the creative fight is harder to come by. But Orwig—a photographer/adventurer— is an able guide. And throughout his book he sprinkles quotes from a wide range of people: John Muir, Mark Twain, Dr. Seuss, Mahalia Jackson, Ansel Adams, T.S. Eliot, Seth Godin, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Kelly Slater, Thomas Edison and others. (In fact, an electic group of which I have quoted from many of them on this blog over the years.)

“[Jack London] wrote and wrote on a borrowed typewriter, but still the rejection letters came. One publication sent him this rejection note: ‘Interest in Alaska has subsided in an amazing degree. I do not think it would pay us to buy your story.’ It seemed his adventures up north wouldn’t pay off after all. Little did London know, more rejection was to come. During his first five years as a writer he received an avalanche of over 500 rejection letters. After his books became a huge success, London would say, ‘You have to go after inspiration with a club.”
Chris Orwig
The Creative Fight
page 97

I bought the book last weekend because I wanted to support Orwig, but also because I’m always open to anyone who can help me in my own creative fight. Especially when one can do so visually and poetically, and who often comes to his soulful observations through is own journey of pain, suffering, and brokenness.

Here are some other videos of Orwig speaking that may help you in your creative fight.

Related Posts:
Creativity & Milking Cows
‘Creativity for Life’
lynda.com for President
Off Screen Quote #12 (Kelly Slater)
Living a Creative Life
Creativity’s Best Friend
Where Do Ideas Come From?

Scott W. Smith

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“One of the most famous protagonist in contemporary pop culture is Superman. Now Superman is special because he’s not some ordinary human, he can do things nobody else can. But if he was completely unstoppable, he’d be boring, he would easily win every fight and that would not be suspenceful. So, his creators invented Kryptonite, the one thing that renders him helpless. Your protagonist may not be Superman, but you can treat them the same way. So, we’re going to develop them a little further by giving them a Unique Talent (Superpower) and a Unique Weakness (Kryptonite). In a nutshell, these two traits give your protagonist the capacity for both success and failure, and that creates suspense. You can do this with any of your other characters, too, as long as it’s relevant to your story.”
Mark Tapio Kines 
Screenwriting Fundamentals on lynda.com

Related Posts:
Character Flaws 101 (Tip #30)
Burns, Baseball & Character Flaws
The Superman from Cleveland
Postcard #53 (Metropolis)
Screenwriting Quote #95 (Nicholas Meyer) Will Hamlet kill the king? The job of the dramatist is to raise as much suspence as possible as to the outcome of that question.”
Creative Learning 2.0 (Here’s a post from 2008 where I talked about being an evangelist for lynda.com—I’m still a big fan of their online tutorials.)

Scott W. Smith

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“It was Chandor’s script, filled with tart exchanges and involving situations that explore unexpected areas of corporate psychology and human behavior, that attracted the high-powered cast…”
Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic
Regarding Margin Call which starred Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, Zachary Quinto, and Simon Baker

Like a lot of people (including the Coen Brothers) I’m transiting from editing on Final Cut Pro to Adobe Premiere Pro. I weighed my options for over a year before jumping into Premiere last week. The main thing that forced the issue was having a reality show pilot I’m editing that has over 500 gig of footage from four different types of cameras. Without getting too technical for the non-video editors out there, not having to transcode 500 gig of footage was worth the switch to Premiere alone. So far, the transition has been a smooth one.

And one of the things that’s made it a smooth transition is the online training tutorials I use at lynda.com. This morning I was looking over some of lynda.com’s hundreds of course titles and noticed they had a screenwriting panel discussion from the 27th Annual Santa Barbera International Film Festival and I found this sound bite from a screenwriter who had a 15 year journey before his screenwriting dream become a produced reality :

“I had been a not very successful commercial and documentary director that was trying to write and direct my own material. So I had written one or two projects that I had worked on for seven or eight years. One finally sort of came together, and then blew up prior to principal photography. And we had a deposit, a full crew, I mean we were ready to go. I had taken eight or nine months off of working on anything else and had a young baby at the time and had put myself in a terrible financial position. So I walked away for almost three years. And this story sort of started to grow in my head, and then I finally sat down and wrote it very quickly. Gave it to two people and very superstitiously felt like if something was meant to come from it it would. And not to be melodramatic about it but it was sort of my last shot at [screenwriting]. I think I knew it was the best thing I’d ever written up until that point so I felt like if something would come from it it would. And it did thankfully.”
J.C. Chandor speaking about his first produced feature film Margin Call (2011) for which he received an Oscar nomination

Chandor made his first short film at Wooster College in Ohio and graduated from there in 1996. It takes a little time sometimes. (Actually, more often than not.)

Related Posts:
lynda.com for President
How to Become a Successful Screenwriter (Tip #41)
First Screenplay, Oscar—Precious (“I devoted myself to writing for years without representation or a promise of anything.”— Geoffrey Fletcher)

Scott W. Smith

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“We’re looking to create the future. We’re looking to change the world of education.”
Lynda Weinman

If you can’t talk politics on election day, when can you? Both President Obama and Mitt Romney (who I both photographed in the above pictures back in ’08) say that Iowa could be the swing state in deciding the next President of the United States of America, so I’m just doing my part to inform the public.

What about lynda.com for President?

Isn’t it time for the USA to have a URL for President? (And a female one at that.)

Look at the track record:

Job stimulation: The fact that lynda.com has had an employment growth of 188 percent over the last three years is impressive, but knowing that growth happened in a down economy is stunning.

Economy: Lynda Weinman and Bruce Heavin started what would become lynda.com with their own $20,000 investment, and without a single venture capitalist (or government bailout) the company has amassed one million subscribers who pay around $25 a month for their services. Again impressive, especially since lynda.com is online video tutorials.

Technology: lynda.com not only embraces technology, but helps others to harness the latest technology as well. (Plus since no one has to drive to class that makes them a green/eco-friendly company as well.) My illustrator friend Gary Kelley may not care for all the newfangled technology, but he at least appreciates how I can move his artwork around for multimedia presentations. And lynda.com is where I learned to do that via keyframing on Final Cut Pro.

Education: Saving the best for last—lynda.com has over 1,000 courses totaling over 40,000 hours of online education. There are no tests to take or essays to turn in. People are spending hours and hours online to simply learn. To better their skills.  To be more proficient at Photoshop, After Effects, Final Cut Pro X, Cinema 4D, and the like. People learn because they see a purpose in learning. In a world where we spend a lot of time arguing about how to fix public education, it’s worth looking at what lynda.com is doing right.

I did my first lynda.com tutorial in 2006 and have been learning from them ever since. A few years ago an editor friend of mine who was working on a project for EA Sports called me one night with a DVD authoring question and asked,”What’s the name of that place you’re always talking about?”—the answer lynda.com. And just a few weeks ago when I spoke to electronic media students at the University of Northern Iowa I told them about how taking advantage of lynda.com (which is free to them as UNI students) is key to their success.

Maybe in 2013 we’re not ready for a URL to be President. Perhaps whoever is elected President today can just name Lynda Weinman as the head of education. That’s a start. And just so you don’t think this is all fluff, take the time to listen to the hour-long talk Lynda gave on education earlier this year in Olympia, Washington at her Alma mater The Evergreen State College. Good stuff.

(A talk by the way I watched in entirety over the weekend and was surprised and thrilled to see at the 22:09 mark Lynda set up and showed a clip I actually shot and edited back in 2009 of Marc Prenksy giving a talk at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. It’s a talk I remember well. This digital world is a small world, huh?)

And to keep this in the film world, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival is presented by lynda.com. If you subscribe to lynda.com you will find they have seminars from past SBIFF available on producing, directing, and screenwriting.

P.S. And here’s a short video on how lynda.com got its start:

Scott W. Smith

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“Cinema has always been marriage of technology and human talent.”
Francis Ford Coppola (older filmmaker based in Napa Valley)

“I think every filmmaker needs to make 20 awful films before they can make one good one. And I made my share of totally awful films with my friends.”
Bradley Jackson (younger filmmaker based in Austin)
Interview with Ron Dawson

Screenwriter John August has a post on his blog titled Writing for Hollywood without living there where he has a first person account written by 26-year-old writer/director Bradley Jackson from Austin, Texas. Jackson recently earned more than $100,000 by winning The Doorpost Film Project (best film, best director, best script) and optioning a screenplay.

What separates Jackson from the traditional way of thinking about a career in production is he has no intentions of moving to Los Angeles. His plan right now is to stay in Austin where he has friends and family and to commute to L.A. as needed.

August’s readers made various comments on whether this is a wise thing to do and speculated if Jackson can really pull off a career writing and making films in Austin. Because my focus is encouraging writers and filmmakers who live in unusual places (and that includes some places even within the 30 mile zone in LA) three thoughts quickly came to mind;

1) It’s not like Bradley Jackson lives in a small town in Iowa. He lives in Austin, Texas which is one of the most interesting places in the United States. It’s a giant college town, has a solid tech and political base, and an intense creative culture. It’s home to the Austin Film Festival, SXSW and the last time I was in Austin I was told there are more live musical acts in a given night in Austin than any city in the USA. (Yes, that includes NY, LA and Chicago.)

2) Most people writing screenplays and making films make no money writing screenplays and making films. (Heck, even a good chunk of writers in the WGA, make little or no money in a given year.) Jackson just made over $100,000 in just the first two months of 2011 by winning The Doorpost Film Project and optioning a script. I’m not sure if that money is his, but whatever he takes home will go a lot further in Austin that it would in Los Angeles.

Jackson represents a new breed of filmmakers. He’s been making films since high school and by his own admission spent several years making bad films before he learned what he was doing. He got a film degree from UT—Austin where he was mentored by filmmaker/teacher Scott Rice.  He’s surrounded himself with other talented filmmakers in Austin and became Kickstarter savvy which helped him fund his recent film. He’s busting his butt, writing scripts, and willing to fly in to L.A. as needed.

3) Robert Rodriguez. While screenwriters and filmmakers have traditionally moved to Hollywood after they’ve gotten their first break, Rodriguez is the poster child for bucking that trend. Here’s part of what Austin-based Rodriguez told a group of filmmakers in LA back in 2003:

“One of the benefits of being outside of Hollywood—one of the reasons I think like this (shooting digitally) has to do with the fact that I don’t live here. Because (in Texas) you’re so removed you get to examine (how films are made) and say, ‘That doesn’t really make sense for us out here. Let’s do what makes sense.’ And you find a whole other way of shooting.  And that’s one of the best things you can do for yourself even if you work here (LA). Try to get a birds-eye view of things and really question it and you’ll start coming up with different ways of doing things that work.”

As I’ve said before, when I was in film school many years ago students were encouraged to not be a jack-of-all trade, and a master-of-none. But the new kind of filmmakers coming up (who may be in  middle school or retirement homes—and everywhere in between) are jack-of-all trades. And some of them are on their way to becoming master-of-all trades.

They  can not only write, but they know their way around cameras and non-linear editing systems, they are aware of various fundraising methods, they devour DVDs directors commentaries & online tutorials at lynda.com,  and they are keeping on track of new distribution trends and get exciting about the success that Edward Burns has had  self-distributing his films and the things that Kevin Smith said at Sundance ’11:

“The piece of advice that Walter Gretzky gave (his son) Wayne Gretzky was this…’don’t go where the puck’s been, go where it’s gonna to be.’ The philosophy was simple, if you puck chase you’re always going to be behind the game…You want to be the person that’s where the puck’s going to be.”

These new kind of filmmakers are reminiscent of those rebel filmmakers like Lucas and Coppola who back in their youth were embracing new technologies and pursuing a life beyond LA.

Today this new kind of filmmaker is going where the puck isn’t and they’re not afraid to make a bad film or two in their quest to make good films.

And, of course, they read Screenwriting from Iowa daily.

To view Jackson’s winning short film go to the film’s website, TheManWhoNeverCried.com

Related posts:

One of the Benefits of Being Outside of Hollywood

Screenwriting from Texas

The 10-Minute Film School (Robert Rodriguez)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Ten parts)

New Cinema Screenwriting (Part 1)

New Cinema Screenwriting (Part 2)

Scott W. Smith


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“(Vilmos Zsigmond) made his way to Hollywood, where he found work as a technician in a film lab and also as a home portrait photographer.”
Ray Morton writing about the days long before Zsigmond won an Oscar for Best Cinematography
Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The making of Steven Spielberg’s Classic Film

Here’s a case study of how to get a start working in production. (And what I wish somebody would have told me back when I was in film school.)

My first interaction with Josh McCabe was about 2 years ago—at about 3 in the morning. River Run Productions was looking for some production assistance and we asked the local college to recommend to us their best student. They recommended Josh. So I sent him an email early one morning and figured we’d touch base later that day.  He emailed me back right away.

I asked him what he was doing up so late. I think he said he was working on some editing tutorials at Lynda.com. That was a good sign to me.

We met and he left his job at a credit union and began working on a regular freelance basis with us.  There is an old concept that employers use that says hire for attitude, and then train the person. Josh came with not only a great attitude, and a willingness to learn, but he was well versed in editing on Final Cut Pro.  He was still in school as an electronic arts major at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) where he worked on various student productions and also did some weddings videos on his own.

Josh jumped in right away wherever we needed him. As you’ll see from some of the pictures here, sometimes he edited projects, sometimes he logged footage, sometimes he helped carry a heavy Jimmy Jib up three flights of stairs, sometimes he was a PA, sometimes a grip, sometimes a cameraman, sometimes he was a technical advisor, photographer, sound designer, sometimes he pushed a dolly, and sometimes he worked 16 hour days—he did whatever we threw at him.

Josh got to work on everything from industrial & corporate projects, commercials, web videos, promotional videos, music videos, and even co-directed a couple short films with me for the 48 Hour film project. (His resume now includes working experience on not only FCP, but Motion/After Effects, Photoshop, DVD Studio Pro, Compressor, Aperture/Lightroom, Soundtrack Pro on top of green screen work, P2 workflow, etc.)

In 2009 Josh spent the summer in LA interning at Entertainment Tonight, a gig he got through ET host Mark Steines, an Iowa native who graduated from UNI.

Josh came back to Cedar Falls to finish his BA and work at River Run and graduated last May.  When an Emmy-winning editor (Dexter opening credits) and UNI grad came to speak at the school Josh not only went to hear him speak but was part of a small group of students who got together with him for drinks afterwards.

When that editor (who works for a broadcast post house in LA) had a friend at an other post house in LA call looking for an up and comer as an assistant editor —Josh’s name came up. In a sea of capable LA talent this kid in Cedar Falls, Iowa got the gig.

To make a long story a little shorter, Josh worked his last day for us Wednesday, headed west on I-80 Friday, made a quick stop in Park City, Utah Saturday night to soak in the tail end of the Sundance Film Festival and arrived in LA Sunday night, and begins his new gig today in Santa Monica.

I’m thrilled for him. So the lesson to learn here is simply have a great attitude, learn everything you can about the tools of the trade (lynda.com is a must)—party less, and do tutorials more, network like crazy, and do the little jobs (PA, logging footage, whatever) in the little places (Cedar Falls, Iowa) and that will pave the way for bigger opportunities.

Here’s the last big project we did together that just went online this week. It was produced for an economic development group and allowed me the opportunity to do a lot of things I talk about on the blog (produce, direct, write, shoot & edit) with the bulk of the work being done by two people as Josh also shot some of the beauty footage and was also co-editor on the 3 1/2 minute video.

Josh, thanks for all your work here at River Run, and I wish you the best in LA. And for all of you starting out in your career, the lesson to learn from Josh is to be not only both technical and creative, but (I know I’m repeated myself, but sometimes you have to shout) work hard /party less, network, network, network, be addicted to learning from Lynda.com, and have a great attitude. (Tattoos are optional.)

P.S. Another young creative that I’ve been able to watch grow over the years (and also use on a freelance basis) is creative director/filmmaker Edd Blott of Chicago. He currently has a short film called A Tales of Delight that is part of the Open Film contest in hopes of being turned into a feature. Today is the last day you can vote for his film—check it out at OpenFilm.com.

Related posts:
Why You Should Move to L.A.

Why You Shouldn’t Move to L.A.

What’s it Like to Be a Struggling Writer in L.A.

Scott W. Smith

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2008-2009SFI

A few days ago I learned that I received two more Emmy nominations by the Upper Midwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. That makes four in two years. And though there are many great screenwriting blogs out there, I was thrilled last year that Screenwriting from Iowa was the first screenwriting blog ever to win an Emmy.

But this year the blog didn’t even get a nomination. My nominations this year were for location lighting for a commercial I shot film noir style and editing (along with Steve Holm) an advanced media project.  I made a decision at the end of last year to slightly change the direction of the blog and I knew that come award time it might hurt me. But I had a bigger goal in mind.

I decided to go daily and instead of the long 1,000 and 2,000 words essays I would try to keep my posts under 500 words and sometimes just put a quote up. Since my views on the post had remained level for that entire first year I thought I needed to do something to rev this thing up a little. (WordPress makes this easy to track as the above chart shows.) I was hoping maybe that I could double my views by trying this approach.

That’s were I was off a little. I quadrupled my views. So while there is a little sting from not getting a nomination for the blog this year,  the fact that this month is my highest month of views makes up for it. Heck, one would like to have both–but life doesn’t always work that way. (In fact, it usually doesn’t.) Of course, I’d trade the whole thing in to be telling you that a film I wrote is a box office success and a critics favorite. 

But here’s my point today…keep flipping your pancakes. That’s an expression I first heard from an acting teacher in L.A. when he told the class that they had to learn how to flip pancakes. What he meant was they needed to be able to do Ibsen, Chekov and Shakespeare while at the same time be ready to audition for a small film or TV roll—or even a commercial.

You learn along the way and you never know what is going to be your breakthrough moment. But the chances are it’s going to happen while you’re in motion. Remember the Goethe quote; “In action there is power, grace and magic.”   And the Richard Foster quote I am fond on mentioning, “We tend to overestimate what we can do in one year and underestimate what we can do in ten.”

So while I have my own screenwriting goals I am also plugging away on growing creatively with the projects that come my way. And while nine years ago I would have said that I didn’t think one could do the jack-of-all trade well,  I am pleased to have Emmy nominations in producing, lighting, editing and writing. 

And my work isn’t just in Iowa. This week I was editing a project that I shot in Brazil and this morning I fly to New York for a shoot. So keep writing, keep meeting people and showing them your work…but don’t be afraid to start flipping some pancakes. If you’ve never picked up a camera, pick one up and shoot some footage. If you’ve never edited, find an editor friend to give you a tour of Final Cut Pro. And spend a little time getting to know Lynda.com.

I could be wrong but I don’t think this technology is going backwards anytime soon.

 

Scott W. Smith
River Run Productions 

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