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Posts Tagged ‘Mark Twain’

“Producers and directors buy a property because they like the story. Actors buy it because they see them­selves in a part. ”
Jerry Lewis in The Total Film-Maker
From the post Writing Actor Bait

Mark Twain’s one of my favorite writers from the South. [My character in American Made is a] kind of southern rascal, Huckleberry Finn kind of character in modern day. And also the fact that, the kind of flying that you could have in the 80s, that kind of adventure, those kind of escapades – that was it. You’ll never have that time period again, so these kind of cowboys were very unique. And also one of my favorite films, which was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, is based on a true story but had also that kind of you know – it’s a very layered film. It’s very humorous, but it’s also about American history.”
Actor Tom Cruise on what attracted him to the Gary Spinelli screenplay
ScreenRant interview with Alex Leadbeater  @ADLeadbeater

P.S. I grew up in Florida in the 70s, went to college in Miami in the early 80s and especially enjoy the Scarface to Cocaine Cowboys retelling of stories from that era. American Made puts its own topspin on the “same thing, only different” school of Hollywood filmmaking and I enjoyed the ride. Nice touch by director Doug Liman and editing crew for adding Linda Ronstadt’s 1977 version of Blue Bayou to the American Made soundtrack.

P.P.S. Speaking of American made, in this 2010 post I mentioned that Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, and George Cooney all lived in Kentucky at one point in the late 60s or early 70s. You can add Harry Dean Stanton, Jennifer Lawrence, and The Father of Film to the list from the Bluegrass State. Oh, and actress Sarah Wright, who plays Tom Cruise’s wife in American Made—she’s from Kentucky, too.

Related Posts:
Mark Twain’s Florida
Cocaine Cowboys and the Future of Film
Complex Stories/Simple Characters
Writing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Thanks for the Plug TomCruise.com

Scott W. Smith

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“Missouri was an unknown new state and needed attractions.”
Mark Twain
Autobiography

“Yes, high and fine literature is wine, and mine is only water; but everybody likes water.”
Mark Twain

DSC_3684MarkTwain

If one of Ernest Hemingway’s characters in The Green Hills of Africa is correct in that,”All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn,”  then all modern American literature flows from Hannibal, Missouri.  That’s where Mark Twain spent most of his childhood and served as inspiration for Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, Becky Thatcher and other memorable characters.

And the bi-product is Missouri now has some tourist attractions.  Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to travel through Hannibal probably a dozen times, but until yesterday I never took the time to tour Mark Twain’s childhood home. Hannibal may be a proper tourist trap, but if you look beyond the prepackaged Twain memorabilia you can see a place that hasn’t changed that much in the last 100-150 years. It’s a fine stop if you’re traveling from Des Moines to St. Louis as I was yesterday. The town sits on the Mississippi River and was once a busy port during the Steamship era.

And those steamships helped fuel Twain’s imagination, and for a time he was able to live his boyhood dream of being a steamboat captain. He would eventually travel the world and write stories that would entertain the world. But much of it started in and around the house pictured above. An unusual place. A place that formed Mark Twain as a writer.

“A man’s experiences of life are a book. There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy.”
Mark Twain’s notebook and The Refuge of the Derelicts

Related Posts:

Postcard #7 (Mark Twain’s Florida)
Mark Twain

Scott W. Smith

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“I kept saying to over and over to myself that God would probably lead me home.”
Nadia Bloom
(11-year-old girl who was found in swampy woods after missing for several days)

“We’re looking forward to the whole story. It’s got to be awesome.”
Jeff Bloom (Nadia’s father)

The story of Nadia Bloom’s rescue from the swampy woods in Florida gets more interesting the more we learn. It’s a little in the great adventure tradition of Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway mixed with Alice in Wonderland.  A mixture of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Robinson Crusoe,  Tarzan, Rain Man, Dorothy, and a little less known but much more contemporary literary character named Lanie. (“She’s an energetic girl who discovers the world in her own back yard.”)

Nadia’s story is also a story of faith, hope and a lot of determination by a large team of people. It’s the stuff of great stories.

It turns out that she had been missing for 90 hours and the Winter Springs Police Chief said that six more hours of searching was the point where it would have turned from a rescue mission to a recovery mission.

And though there were 150 searchers in the area, the foliage is so thick that machetes are needed to proceed and visibly at times was only 20 feet.

There were 30 dog search team that couldn’t find a trail due to knee deep and waist deep water —that at times dropped to fifteen feet of murky water.

ATV, horses, divers, side scan sonar machines, helicopters and a few days time turned up nothing. It had to be discouraging.

Then early Tuesday morning James King, a church going man with five children of his own, set out at sunrise believing that God would lead him to the girl. (Granted, when the press and many people hear that— the soundtrack to Deliverance kicks in, but in this case it appears to be just a real deal person of faith. The Blind Side kind of person who is just trying to do the right thing.)

King found Nadia near the shoreline of Lake Jesup. The lake that I mentioned yesterday that is estimated to have 10,000 alligators.  It took a team of 15 men to daisy chain carrying her out of the swampy woods.

The 85-pound girl was reported to be shoeless and covered from head to toe with mosquito bites, but otherwise doing “remarkably fine.”

Nadia said she prayed to be rescued and recalled the Bible verse,  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

The sheriff’s office has her camera and those pictures will be sought after in the coming days as people will want to know what Nadia saw in her own version of Wonderland with skunks, snakes and such.

In many ways Nadia is an average elementary school girl who likes Webkinz. She or her younger sister was reading the American Girl book Lanie. (Either way I bet the story was familiar to her.) I found this description of the book at Amazon:

Ten-year-old Lanie loves science and nature, but she has a problem: she’s an “outside” girl with an “inside” family. She longs get out and go camping, but they all want to stay home. It wouldn’t be so bad if her best friend was around, but she’s halfway around the world, living out their dream of studying wildlife. Lanie feels she never gets to have any adventures-anywhere. But when her favorite aunt comes to stay, Lanie discovers that the wonders of nature are everywhere-even in her own backyard.

An adventure in her own backyard? Sound kinda familiar? Nadia’s younger sister and father at the time of her disappearance were actually on a camping trip with a Brownies troop in the Everglades.

Lanie was written by Jane Kurtz and just published at the end of 2009. Kurtz has a website and a blog and it sounds like she has had an interesting and adventurous  life as well. She was born in Portland, Oregon but moved to Ethiopia with her parents when she was just two. Speaking engagements have taken her to Uganda, Nigeria, Romania, Indonesia and many other places, and she lives in Lawrence, Kansas. (Here in the adventurous Midwest.) She also helped start Ethiopia Reads, a nonprofit group that is “planting the first libraries for children in Ethiopia.”

But what may have led Nadia into the woods more than anything was her mild Asperger syndrome. Something that can lead to a preoccupation with one subject of interest. A simple desire to take a picture on the edge of the swampland could have led to another step, and another photo, and another step until she was deep in the woods.

Nadia is not the first child for this to happen to in Florida.  Back in 1996 the NY Times reported a 10-year-old autistic boy named Taylor Touchstone disappeared four days in a black water swamp area in the Florida panhandle. That search included “Army Rangers, Green Berets, marines, deputies with the Okaloosa Country Sheriff’s Department and volunteers.”

The NY Times article said the boy went for a swim and “just felt compelled to keep moving” and was found unharmed four days later by a fisherman farther down the river than search teams imagined was possible. One thing that both Taylor and Nadia have in common other than great adventures is they both share mild forms of autism which has been reported can make them hyper-focus and times and be fearless. Perhaps the things that both led them into their adventures and helped them survive.

I’m glad James King didn’t do the sensible thing Tuesday morning and sleep in or perhaps Nadia wouldn’t have been found in the dense brush. But know from the public’s fascination to this story, as well as the literary output of the “lost in the woods/stranded on an island/on the yellow brick road” themes that it is fertile ground for writers to explore.

P.S. To add to the odd connection file, I just saw online a video at CBS News with Rev. Jeff Dixon who is the pastor at Covenant Community Church where Nadia and her family attend church. I know Rev. Dixon from my days in Central Florida and once used him as a cameraman for a video I was producing.

One last thing, if you’re ever in Central Florida and want to get a taste of Florida before Disney, visit the Black Hammock Restaurant located just a couple of miles from where Nadia was rescued.

Scott W. Smith

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“Segar grew up in an out-of-the way place but the inspiration for his most successful graphic creations came out of that place.”
Ed Black

“I’m strong to the finich
Cause I eats me spinach
I’m Popeye the Sailor Man ”
Popeye’s theme song written and composed by Sammy Lerner


Thanks to the Google Popeye doodle I saw last night I’ve discovered one more example of a big success coming from a small place. I’m not sure if any of the decades of comic strips or the 350+ TV shows that feature Popeye explain where he was from, but Popeye’s creator had solid small town Midwest roots.

E.C. Segar was born and raised in Chester, Illinois near the Mississippi River in Southern Illinois. According to Wikipedia Segar provided music to films and vaudeville acts in the local theater and for a while was a projectionist in the days before talking pictures.

When he was 18 he signed up for a correspondence course in cartooning that cost him $20. (Keep in mind this would have been before World War 1.)  After work he would work on his courses where he said he, “lit up the oil lamps about midnight and worked on course until 3am.”

His skill and hard work took him to Chicago and New York were he succeeded creating comic strips. In the 1920s while working at the New York Journal he had an unusual way to come up with ideas. He and fellow cartoonist Walter Berndt (creator of Smitty) would finish their work in the morning and spend their afternoons fishing off a pier in New Jersey. Berndt was quoted as saying later, “We’d finish the day with a bunch of fish and about 15 or 20 ideas each.”

When Segar moved to Santa Monica in 1923 he carried on that idea fishing tradition along with his teenage assistant Bud Sagendorf. Ed Black wrote, “According to Sagendorf Seger had a rather unusual method of thinking up ideas. He’d sit in a rowboat twice or three times a week from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m off the Santa Monica breakwater, fishing and thinking. Segendorf had to accompany him to take notes by the light of a Coleman lantern.”

(That’s great imagery. If you’re stuck on a story idea you may want to give that a try.)

In 1928 Segar created Popeye in his Santa Monica studio though the inspiration appears to be a man from back in his hometown of Chester named Rocky Feigle. He was short, worked in a bar, smoked a corncob pipe and was known to use his fists a time or two. Popeye first appeared in 1929 and helped pave the way for Segar to earn $100,000 a year in the 1930s. (And Popeye not only found lasting fame, but helped promote the eating of spinach.)

Segar didn’t just create a great characters, he knew how to tell stories. But it is the Popeye the Sailor that is his lasting legacy. An odd character with a couple anchor tattoos on his forearms, one-eye,  a corncob pipe, a slight speech impediment and a desire to eat spinach out of can which gave him super human strength who has earned his place on the iconic fictional shelf with Mickey Mouse, James Bond and Scrooge.

Back in Chester, Illinois they have a six-foot, 900 pound bronze statue  of Popeye at Elzie C. Segar Memorial Park to honor their hometown boy who made good on his $20 correspondence course in cartooning. And though most people have probably never been to Chester, or even heard of it, legend has it that both literary giants Mark Twain and Charles Dickens stayed there.

As you drive around your town or city today think of the interesting characters there or that have crossed your path in the past and perhaps you’ll find your Rocky Feigle who will be the basis for your Popeye. And perhaps someday your hometown will create a bronze statue in honor of your creation.

Dream big, start small.

Bud Sagendof who took over the Popeye comic strip after Segar died had a book published in 1979 called Popeye:The First Fifty Year which you can find on Amazon.

Update: According to The Handbook of Texas Online Popeye said he was born in Victoria, Texas.  Apparently Segar was grateful to the town’s paper for being the first to run the comic strip Popeye. In 1934 anniversary issue of the Advocate Segar wrote a note to the newspaper’s editor as Popeye saying,  “Please assept me hearties bes’ wishes an’ felitcitations on account of yer paper’s 88th Anniversity….Victoria is me ol’ home town on account of tha’s where I got born’d at.”

And to add one more illustration into the persuasive means of the media, the Texas Handbook also declared that, “The spinach industry credited Popeye and Segar with the 33 percent increase in spinach consumption from 1931 to 1936, and in 1937 Crystal City, Texas, the Spinach Capital of the World, erected a statue to honor Segar and his sailor.”

Scott W. Smith

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“The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
                                                  Mark Twain

Recently I came across the Miss Congeniality script that contained only the dialogue. Apparently Miss Congeniality is one of those scripts that is hard to find online so someone took the time to play the DVD and just write out the spoken words. No scene heading , no scene descriptions, no parenthericals — not even a single character’s name. Just dialogue.

The dang thing reads like a Twitter screenplay. A line here, a line there. (If you are unfamiliar with Twitter, another social marketing tool, you can get a quick overview by checking out a video on You Tube called Twitter in Plain English.) I bet since Twitter has been around for a few years now that somebody has already written a screenplay via Twitter. (At least a short film.) 

But the thing that stood out as I looked at the Miss Congeniality dialogue only version is that it weighs in at only 9274 words. (I think I’ve written blogs of more than 9274 words.) So anybody intimidated about writing a screenplay just needs to think it terms of writing less than 10,000 words. Write a thousand words a day and you’ll have a script in 10 days. Of course, the key thing is finding the right 10,000 words. 

And while there are a few other things that go into a screenplay the well known Hollywood concept of a screenplay page having “lots of white” applies here as no one is looking for large blocks of black letters full of descriptions and actions. Sparse dialogue rules. Looking and reading some of the top screenplays ever produced makes the process look deceptively easy, because as you flip them you often just see a lot of white on the page.

Here’s an example from the Miss Congeniality script that if I recall correctly was in the trailer for the movie:

“What is the one most important thing our society needs?”
“That would be harsher punishment for parole violators, Stan….And, world peace.”

That’s part of the 9274 spoken words that resulted in $212,742,720 at the box office.

 

Scott W. Smith

 


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disneydsc_6324

Walt Disney was a little like Moses. He never made it to the promised land. Disney died a few years before his dream project, Walt Disney World, opened in Florida in 1971.

I remember going to Disney World that opening year and it was magical. Central Florida was not the sprawling Central Florida that it is today. No, for better or worse, that sprawl is the after effects of Walt Disney World. Before Disney took a rural area and transformed it into one of the top destinations in the world, Central Florida was lucky to have air conditioning and indoor plumbing.

And in those pre-Disney days in the Orlando area, other than putt-putt golf courses, go-kart rides, and Gatorland there wasn’t a whole lot of competition for a place like Disney World.

Now Orlando has plenty of theme parks, as well as places with indoor plumbing, air-conditioning, and more than its share of strip malls. Ah, the power of imagination.

There is no question that Walt Disney is a product of the Midwest, having been born in Chicago and raised in Missouri. But few realize the huge impact little  Marceline, MO had on Walt’s imagination and in effect on the world. For Marceline’s Main Street is the inspiration for Main Street USA.

signdsc_6326

When you drive down Marceline’s Main St. today it doesn’t really seem magical. There’s no indication that there is anything special about this place. It’s not one of those quaint main streets you stumble upon while traveling that makes you say, “I’d like to live here.”

But that’s the place where young Walt Disney watched the parades go by on his way to becoming the filmmaker who has won more Oscars than any one else (32).

The farm Disney lived on (and worked on at a young age) in Marceline was also no doubt  fertile ground for young Walt as observing animals played such a large part of his enduring success.

Wade Sampson at mouseplanet.com  unearthed an interview Disney did back in 1933 following the success of his newest film The Three Little Pigs:

“All this talk about my making a lot of money is bunk.  After 10 years of pretty tough sledding, I am now making a moderate profit on my products, but every dime I take in is immediately put back into the business. I’m building for the future. And my goal isn’t millions; it’s better pictures. I’m not interested in money, except for what I can do with it to advance my work. The idea of piling up a fortune for the sake of wealth seems silly to me. Work is the real adventure in life. Money is merely a means to make more work possible….The secret of success if there is any, is liking what you do. I like my work better than my play. I play polo, when I have time, and I enjoy it, but it can’t equal work!”
                                                                                              Walt Disney 

And work in 1933, during the Great Depression, was not always easy to come by. Disney provided not only entertainment in a difficult time but also a lot of jobs.  Today Walt Disney Studios still entertains and The Walt Disney Company has annual revenues around $35 Billion.

Side note: I think it’s worth mentioning that Mark Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, Missouri (and his inspiration for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) is only about an hour and a half away from Marceline, MO. As well as Twian’s birth place of Florida, MO.

Scott W. Smith

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Since my last post had more views in a five day period than anything I’ve posted I thought (like a good Hollywood producer) that I would follow it up with a sequel. But this time instead of limiting myself to more kinda, sorta random quotes on writing and life from mostly screenwriters I’ll open up the floor for others.

“I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird.”
                                                                                 Harper Lee
                                                                                To Kill A Mockingbird 

“The best work that anybody ever writes is the work that is on the verge of embarrassing him, always.”
                                                                                Arthur Miller 

“The awful thing about the first sentence of any book is that as soon as you’ve written it you realize this piece of work is not going to be the great thing that you envision. It can’t be.”
                                                                                Tom Wolfe 
“A writer’s courage can easily fail him.”
                                                                                E.B. White 

“I have so many demons and voices telling me what a fraud I am and how my meager talent will be uncovered.” 
                                                                                Scott Frank 
                                                                                Oscar nominated screenwriter
                                                                                Out of Sight, Minority Report,
                                                                                Get Shorty
 

“No one can give you the secret of screenwriting because no such secret exists. No one knows exactly how to write a superior screenplay. It is a matter of instinct and experience- or talent, living, learning and practice.”
                                                                                Edward Dmytryk
                                                                                Director, The Caine Mutiny 


“If you were to just focus on a day job and work really hard – you’ll probably make about as much (if not more) than you will writing scripts. With less hassle and more peace of mind.”
                                                                                 William Martell 
                                                                                 Screenwriter, 
                                                                                 West Coast Editor
                                                                                 of Scr(i)pt Magazine  

“The ancient commission of the writer has not changed. He is charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement.”
                                                                                 John Steinbeck
                                                                                 Speech at Nobel Prize Banquet

“It’s much easier to do the impossible than the ordinary.”
                                                                                 Ken Kragen
                                                                                 Entertainment Lawyer/
                                                                                 Manager & Organizer of
                                                                                 We Are the World
                                                                                 & Hands Across America 

“The secret of life is enjoying the passing of time.”
                                                                                 James Taylor

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?
                                                                                 Satchel Paige

“The problem with the rat race is even if you win you’re still a rat.”
                                                                                 Lilly Tomlin 

“The only way to rise above the pack is not be a part of it.”
                                                                                 Don Hewitt
                                                                                 Creator/Executive
                                                                                 producer 60 Minutes 

“If we couldn’t laugh we’d all go insane.”
                                                                                 Jimmy Buffett

“The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.”
                                                                                 Mark Twain 

“The idea that your career is your life is a great misconception. Your career is just one of the tools to help you have the most fulfilling and successful life possible.”

                                                                                 Ken Kragen
                                                                                 Life is a Contact Sport
                                                                                  

“Who have you ever heard, as the lay on their deathbed, say, ‘Gee, I should have spent more time on my business’?”
                                                                                  Lee Iaciocca

My goal when I began this Diablo Cody-inspired blog on screenwriting was to bring some structure to my many notes in hopes of preparing this for a book. I set a mark in January of 50,000 words by the first day of summer (June 20). It seemed like an ambitious goal, but my last post on May 31 actually surpassed that goal. I’ll continue to post on screenwriting up until June 20 because I have a few more areas to flesh out. And then I’ll reevaluate the direction I’ll head.

After all, I don’t want to waste my life just reading and writing blogs. And I’ve started two new screenplays since I began this blog so there is other work to be done. Thanks to everyone for visiting over the months because without a growing list of views on my WordPress stat chart I’m not sure I would have been motivated to complete my 50,000 word goal.

And a special thanks to Mystery Man on Film for his screenwriting blog that has pointed many people my way. His blog is kind of a greatest hits of screenwriting sites. Way too much information there. But a better place for a writer to spend time than watching TV, playing video games, or looking for real estate deals in Hawaii you plan on buying once your script sells.

 

copyright @2008 Scott W. Smith 

 

 

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