Posts Tagged ‘Michael Phelps’

”All creative work is mystical.”
—Screenwriter John Milius (Apocalypse Now)

”Our vanity, our self-love, promotes the cult of genius. For if we think of genius as something magical, we are not obliged to compare ourselves lacking.”
—Friedrich Nietzsche
(As quoted in the chapter ”Effort Counts Twice” in the book Grit by Angela Duckworth)

Last night I watched the four part series They Call Me Magic about one of greatest basketball players in NBA history. This was the Magic Johnson quote that jumped out at me about his dedication for the game as a youth and teenager growing up playing pickup games in Lansing, Michigan:

“I played [basketball] in the rain. I played in the snow, it didn’t matter. Sun up to sun down. And then I started playing against older boys, then I started playing against men. . . Nobody outworked me in the neighborhood. I was on the court more than any kid. It wasn’t even close. I wanted it more.”
—Magic Johnson

The reason that quote jumped out as at me is because I’ve been listening to the audio book Grit by Angela Duckworth. Just a few days ago in the chapter titled ”Effort Counts Twice,” Duckworth addressed greatness in Olympic athletes whose talent seem otherworldly. (Think of swimmers Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps.)

She points to an study of competitive swimmers titled “The Mundanity of Excellence,” by sociologist Dan Chambliss who observed;

“Superlative performance is really a confluence of dozens of small skills or activities, each one learned or stumbled upon, which have been carefully drilled into habit and them are fitted together in a synthesized whole. There is nothing extraordinary or superhuman in any one of those actions; one the fact that they are done consistently and correctly, and all together, produces excellence.”

How old do you think Magic Johnson was when he threw his first no-look pass? I’m gusessing pretty young. And before that become one of his trademark plays, I’m sure that small skill was well honed by thousands of passes before he put on a professional uniform.

I was a better than average football and baseball player as a youth, but when I joined my first basketball team when I was 12 I was instantly out of my league with kids who grew up around the game. Magic Johnson was the youngest of nine brothers and sisters, and I wouldn’t be surprised if when he was 12 years old he didn’t already have a decade of experience around the game.

Back to Duckworth’s book:

“With everything perfect,” Nietzsche wrote, “we do not ask how it came to be.” Instead, “we rejoice in the present fact as though it came out of the ground by magic.”

But Magic wasn’t really created from magic. Or fully formed. How did he come to be Magic Johnson? He told us in that first quote. He was created from the mundane task of showing up to play pickup games in the the rain, and snow, sun up to sun down. Determined to win, because winners got to stay on the court. And win he did. Here’s what he accomplished before he turned 21 years old:

Everett High School, State champs & Parade First Team All American (1977)
Michigan State, NCAA champs & All American (1979)
Los Angeles Lakers, NBA Champs & NBA Finals MVP (1980)

Astonishing. And not only that, but Magic changed the game. He lead the team that made the NBA popular. The NBA Finals in 1980 weren’t even broadcast live, but aired on tape delay because CBS didn’t want to spoil the ratings of Duke of Hazards. (In 1980, Dukes of Hazard was the #2 Tv show in the United States with an estimated audience of over 21 million. About twice as many viewers of even the 2021 NBA Finals.)

But Magic and his Lakers teammates “Showtime”style of play throughout the 1980s (along with the Boston Celtics rivialry) made basketball mainstream in the United States in a way it had never been. And paved the way for Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls to take it to even a greater level of global popularity. And if you just saw Jordan in his prime—flying in the air—you’d swear it was a mystical experience. But when you read his story, you know he may have been the most determined person to ever play basketball.

Michael Jordan = Grit. (Of course, in basketball, it also helps if you’re 6’6″ like Jordan, or 6’9″ like Johnson.)

On page 211 of my book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles, I touched on what I called the mystical aspects of creativity. The unexplained aspects. I even quoted Jimmy Buffett who said that even though he wasn’t the greatest singer or guitar player he was able to “capture the magic” in his songs and concerts. But now I’m thinking Buffett was full of grit. Still performing and touring as he approaches 75, he cut his chops playing on the streets of New Orleans and working his way up to clubs, then colleges, then larger concert venues, on his way to playing stadiums.

As I update my book, I’m going to revisit that section. I’m thinking that grit is a cousin of The 10,000 Rule.

P.S. My first paid job when I was in film school in the early ’80s was with Broadcast Equipment Rental Company (BERC) in Hollywood. My primary job was to drive Ikegami cameras to various production companies and TV studios throughout Southern California. I never got to make a delivery to the Forum where the Lakers played, but I know they did sometimes supply cameras to ESPN who covered games. But I did get a glimpse (thanks to a security guard) of the empty stage of The Tonight Show at NBC in Burbank back when Johnny Carson was the host. Here’s a clip of when Magic Johnson was on the show after he won his third NAB championship in 1985.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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“I would say I’m the greatest.”
Usain Bolt

“This is very good for the country.”
Portia Simpson—Miller
Prime Minister of Jamaica after the 200m Olympic finals

Jamaica stunned the world yesterday. Taking home the gold, silver, and bronze in the men’s 200-metres finals at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

I haven’t written about this year’s Olympics, because I hadn’t found any motivation to connect it to screenwriting.  Then suddenly a bolt of inspiration hit me. And not just as in Usain Bolt being dubbed the fastest man ever after he became the first person ever to win the 100m & the 200m races in back to back Olympics. But because of Jamaica’s historic 1,2,3 finish in the 200m race.

Think about that—The population of Jamaica is smaller than the population of the state of Iowa. In other words, a country of less than 3 million people had three sons in one race who were faster than the other 7 billion people living on this planet. Sprinters Bolt, Yohan Blake, and Warren Weir walked away with the medals sweep.

That doesn’t happen by accident. Four year’s ago in the post Screenwriting Jamaican-Olympic Style, I wrote about the long establish training tradition that has made Jamaica such a force in the men’s and women’s track & field. And the connection to screenwriting and filmmaking is some incredible things can happen in small tucked away places, but they are years in the making.

Remember I launched this blog in January of 2008 after seeing Juno and learning about a Minneapolis screenwriter (Diablo Cody) who wrote that script in the suburbs of Minneapolis. In the post Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours, I mentioned that while it was Cody’s first screenplay it followed 15 years of everyday writing. (Including four years of writing while at the University of Iowa.)

Yesterday all the talk about Bolt and the one time fastest man in the world, Carl Lewis, reminded me that I once stood next to greatness. It was 1987 at the Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut, California. Lewis had won four gold medals at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and would later be named by Sports Illustrated “Olympian if the Century.” I was a cameraman shooting footage with an Eclair NPR 16mm camera as Lewis performed “one of the most outstanding individual performances ever witnessed at the Relays, as all six of his leaps in the long jump exceeded 28 feet.” I was 25 years old, the exact age of Lewis—and the exact age of Bolt.

Probably what makes me appreciate the efforts of both Lewis and Bolt more than the other Olympic athletes is I won my share of races through high school. I’m sure if I was once a gymnast, a volleyball player or a diver I would be more fixated on those sports and athletes. While being the fastest runner in the 50-yard dash at English Estates Elementary School Olympics is a thin connection to what’s happening in the London Olympics, it’s a thin connection I enjoy making.

It’s actually what’s fun about writing this blog. While I’ve been able to parlay a love of photography, movies, and a film school degree into a lifelong career in production—even got to shoot a documentary in Kingston, Jamaica back in ’06—I would never confuse what I do with what Billy Wilder and Paddy Chayefsy did or what Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin do today. But my little successes (and failures) make me appreciate their huge talent. And the hope that we all have is that we can learn from the great ones (and even the less than great ones) and it will improve our work.

P.S. Usian Bolt created a little controversy yesterday when he said, “No one remembers Carl Lewis.” Well, I remember Carl Lewis. I remember his greatness. But I also remember his aloofness. I remember that he once said, “I am limitless.” Much like Muhammad Ali saying, “I am the greatest.” Now we can put Bolt’s “I would say I’m the greatest” on that same shelf—and watch how time handles those words. Remember, it was once thought that breaking the four-minute mile was impossible. The world record today is a more than 16 seconds below the four-minute mark. The first sub-four minute mile happened back in 1954. Time has a way of smiling on what we think is great today.

And when you’re talking great at the 2012 Olympics it’s hard to overlook Michael Phelps winning his record-setting 22th Olympic medal—spread over three Olympics. I wonder if Bolt remembers him. I know that was last week’s news, but Phelps does have 18 gold medals—13 more than Bolt currently has, and double the number of any other Olympian.

P.P.S. And while not on par with what Jamaica’s done, I must give a shout-out to 16-year-old gymnast Gabby Douglas, who came to West Des Moines, Iowa to train with Shawn Johnson’s coach Liang Chow and won two gold medals in London.

Scott W. Smith

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“Little Jamaica — our country is blessed with some of the best, if not the best, talent you can find.”

Olivia Grange,
Jamaica’s minister of sport

Chances are when you think of movies and Jamaica Cool Runnings comes to mind. (If you’re old school you may remember that part of Sean Connery’s first Bond film, Dr. No, was filmed in Jamaica.)  But my interest in connecting screenwriting and Jamaica has to do with the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Not to take away from Baltimore’s Michael Phelps’ outstanding achievement of winning eight gold medals in Beijing, but I can’t get over the fact that over the weekend Jamaican athletes won gold in the men and women’s 100 meter sprint.

Usain Bolt did it in world record speed on the male side and on the female side Jamaican runners collected all the medals. ESPN dubbed Jamaica “World’s Fastest Nation.”

What is most amazing to me about this feat is that the total population of Jamaica is under 3 million compared to over 300 million for the United States. (And there are a few other countries at the Olympics as well.) Another way to look at it is Iowa also has three million people. This is really at the heart what Screenwriting from Iowa is all about. That amazing things can come from little places.

But amazing things don’t come out of thin air. If you look beyond Jamaica’s gold medals you will find the secret to how a small impoverished island ended up on top the world stage.  Matthew Clark wrote an insightful article on this titled a couple of months ago, How Tiny Jamaica Developed So Many Champion Sprinters. Like champion long distances runners from Kenya and Ethiopia the key word there is developed.

Anthony Davis, the sports director at Jamaica’s University of Technology (UTECH), whose programs and facilities developed Bolt told Clark, “You’d have had to plant a seed long ago to get where we are today.”

Davis helped start the school because traditionally Jamaica’s best athletes left the country to compete for colleges in the United States. And though the program is looking golden now, its original vision was doubted and even today its facilities are still second-rate compared to the US.   According to Davis, “We had a choice: complain about the resources and do nothing or work with what we have.”

Clark’s article points out; Another reason for Jamaicans’ success: their attitude, according to  (Fitz) Coleman ( a technical coach on Bolt’s team) “We genuinely believe that we’ll conquer,” he says. “It’s a mindset. We’re small and we’re poor, but we believe in ourselves.”

A couple years ago I shot a documentary in Jamaica and spent a few days in Kingston far away from the other side of the island where tourist usually spend their time on peaceful beaches. We were told not to walk outside the barbed wire topped walls of our hotel at night and that the murder rate per capita was higher than Haiti.

The economics of the area are poor — in fact one home we shot in would be the equivalent of a large tool shed in the States-no air and and no bathroom. But I found the people warm and friendly, and the music, food, culture and history totally captivated me.

We did take time to tour the Bob Marley Museum in the home where he used to live and it is a must see for reggae fans. Nothing quite brightens driving on snowy freezing day in Iowa as listening to Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” (But even if a white guy from Iowa likes reggae music, it may be a sin for him to wear a traditional Jamaican hat. At least I didn’t get the one with fake dredlocks for the full Rastafarian poser look. Just doing my part to help the economy there.)

And just how has a little island again produced such memorable music? No, I’m not thinking about the herbs Marley had in his spliff. Once again talent, training and time are the key.

Believe it or not there is actually a strong connection between Jamaica’s musical heritage and a school run by Catholic nuns. The Sisters of Mercy founded the Alpha Boys’ School in 1892 to house and educate “wayward boys’ from poor families in Jamaica. Music was a key part of their education.

An interesting read on this is Tracing reggae’s Catholic roots by Thomas Green.

“Without the school, there just wouldn’t have been the blossoming of talent on the island in the key period of the `60s and `70s,” says Laurence Cane-Honeysett, a music consultant to reggae label Trojan Records, who has compiled the excellent album Alpha Boys’ School: Music in Education 1910-2006.

“When the Jamaican music industry took off, it was totally dependent on those who studied there,” he says.

So wherever you are in your screenwriting journey I hope you can be inspired by the small island of Jamaica and its recent gold medal achievements. And whether you live in West Des Moines, West Africa, or West Covina I hope you remember the words of Jamaican sports director Anthony Davis, “We had a choice: complain about the resources and do nothing or work with what we have.”

August 22, 2008 Update
In the last couple days the men and women’s Jamaican track team left no questions in regard to their dominance as they claimed gold medals in every single Olympic individual sprinting event. Anyone working on the script on the life of three time gold medalist and world record holder Usain Bolt’s life story yet?

To put Jamaica’s achievements in perspective, they ended up with six gold medals. It was estimated that for China to have won the same amount of gold medals per capita that they would have had to won 2,889 gold medals. So pop open a Red Stripe for the little guys this week.

(It was also great to see Iowa’s own Shawn Johnson—who just happens to be from West Des Moines— win a gold on the balance beam.)

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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