Posts Tagged ‘Milton Glaser’

Following yesterday’s post Writing is Work ..., I thought it would be a good time to revisit a post from 2012. It’s based on the phrase/book Art is Work that I first heard about from artist Gary Kelley when I lived in Iowa:

“If graphic design has a grand master, then Milton Glaser is Michelangelo.”
Chip Kidd Talks With Milton Glaser

“I started out copying Walt Disney, very early, and then invented comic strips.”
Milton Glaser
Author of Art is Work and designer of the “I ‘Heart/Love’ New York”  logo

P.S. As of today Milton Glaser (called “The godfather of modern design”) is not only still alive and kicking at age 90, but I believe still goes to work in his studio in New York City. A book he’s fond of is Rules for Aging by Roger Rosenblatt.

Related posts:

Frank Gehry on Creativity (Second all-time read post on this blog.)
Stephen King’s Double Wide Trailer (Could be subtitled “Writing is Work.”)
Billy Wilder on Writing “(Writing) is blood, sweat, and tears, believe me. ”
Art & Fear
Off-Screen Quote #15 (Edgar Degas)
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (tip #2)

Scott W. Smith


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“If graphic design has a grand master, then Milton Glaser is Michelangelo.”
Chip Kidd Talks With Milton Glaser

“I started out copying Walt Disney, very early, and then invented comic strips.”
Milton Glaser
Author of Art is Work and designer of the “I ‘Heart/Love’ New York”  logo

Related posts:

Frank Gehry on Creativity (Second all-time read post on this blog.)
Stephen King’s Double Wide Trailer (Could be subtitled “Writing is Work.”)
Billy Wilder on Writing “(Writing) is blood, sweat, and tears, believe me. ”
Art & Fear
Off-Screen Quote #15 (Edgar Degas)
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (tip #2)

Scott W. Smith

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“Keep a good head, and always carry a light bulb.”
Bob Dylan

“Every creative journey begins with a problem. It starts with a feeling of frustration, the dull ache of not being able to find the answer.”
Jonah Lehrer

Bob Dylan had just turned 24-years old when he wrote the song Like a Rolling Stone, a song Rolling Stone magazine decades later called The Greatest Song of All Time.

The beginnings of “Like a Rolling Stone” can be seen in a pair of offstage moments in Don’t Look Back. In the first, sidekick Bob Neuwirth gets Dylan to sing a verse of Hank Williams’ “Lost Highway,” which begins, “I’m a rolling stone, I’m alone and lost/For a life of sin I’ve paid the cost.” Later, Dylan sits at a piano, playing a set of chords that would become the melodic basis for “Like a Rolling Stone,” connecting it to the fundamental architecture of rock & roll. Dylan later identified that progression as a chip off of Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba.”
500 Greatest Songs of All Time/Rolling Stone

Bob Dylan’s Brain happens to be the title of the first chapter of Jonah Lehrer’s excellent book Imagine: How Creativity Works. I’ve listened to that chapter on CD twice as Lehrer unpacks the neurons that were firing in Bob Dylan’s brain when he wrote Like a Rolling Stone back in ’65 in a small rural cabin in Woodstock, New York:

“He grabbed a pencil and started to scribble. Once Dylan began, his hand didn’t stop for the next several hours. ‘I found myself writing this song, this story, this long piece of vomit, twenty pages long,’ Dylan said. ‘I’d never written anything like that before and it suddenly came to me that this is what I should do.’ Vomit is the essential word here. Dylan was describing, with characteristic vividness the uncontrollable rush of a creative insight, that flow of associations that can’t be held back. ‘I don’t know where my songs come from,’ Dylan said. ‘It’s like a ghost is writing the song. It gives you the song and it goes away. You don’t know what it means.’ Once the ghost arrived, all Dylan wanted to do was get out of the way.”

But the important thing for you to realize is the flow of association didn’t come out of thin air. What Lehrer called Dylan’s “diversity of influences” came from his time as a youth listening to a mix of music on AM radio while growing up (with long winters) in Hibbing and Duluth, Minnesota. His influences were the books and poems he read. His early influences include his brief college career in Minneapolis and taking part in the music scene in Dinkytown. It was actually his time in the Twin Cities in 1959 when he shifted from a rock and roll to a folk emphasis.

“I knew that when I got into folk music, it was more of a serious thing. The songs are filled with more despair, more sadness, more triumph, more faith in the supernatural, much deeper feelings.”
Bob Dylan

By 1961 Dylan was playing in folk clubs around Greenwich Village in New York. In ’63 he had a hit with Blowin’ in the Wind, and just a couple of years later, Dylan had already played throughout the U.S. and Europe. He was successful and popular, yet it was Like a Rolling Stone that proved his real breakthrough as an artist.

“Listening to these ambiguous lyrics, we can hear his mental blender at work, as he effortlessly mixes together scraps of Arthur Rimbaud, Fellini, Bertolt Brecht, and Robert Johnson. There’s some Delta blues and ‘La Bamba’ but also plenty of Beat poetry, Ledbetter, and the Beatles. The song is modernist and pre-modern, avant garde and county & western. What Dylan did— and this is why he’s Bob Dylan—was find the strange thread connecting those despairing voices. During those frantic first minutes of writing, his right hemisphere found a way to find something new out of this incongruous list of influences, drawing them together into a catchy song”
Jonah Lehrer
Imagine: How Creativity Works

In many ways, Lehrer is building on what Arthur Koestler wrote in his 1964 book The Act of Creation and legendary designer Milton Glaser later did in Art is Work. It’s what I touched on back in ’08 in one of my all-time favorite posts, Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B=C). But Lehrer’s writing is more accessible that Koestler’s and he brings many fresh examples to how the creative process works.

Looking at Dylan’s influences, it’s no surprise that the song Like a Rolling Stone was the leading hit off the album titled Highway 61 Revisited. Highway 61 being that road that runs up and down the gut of the United States. A road that wanders along the Mississippi River from Duluth in northern Minnesota down through the Delta Blues country in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana. An area that has been tremendously influential musically in places like St. Louis, Memphis, New Orleans, and the famed Crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi where blue great Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the Devil.

This is the heart of this blog Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places. Sure books, blogs, seminars and schools can be helpful on one level—but don’t get caught up in playing follow the leader. While few will have the genius of Dylan, we all come from somewhere, from someplace.  The real gold is what’s kicking around in your head and heart. You have your own unique life experiences.You have your own unique blender of influences kicking around into your brain. Tap into that and hope that the ghost pays you a visit.

P.S. Jonah Lehrer’s website is jonahlehrer.com, his blog is Frontal Coretx, and his twitter address is @jonahlehrer.

August 1, 2012 Update: Los Angeles Times/Joanah Lehrer’s Bob Dylan quotes lead to resigination. 

Related Posts:

Off-Screen Quote #22 (Bob Dylan)
Revisiting “Highway 61 Revisited”
Highway 61 Meets A1A
Screenwriting from Duluth 

Scott W. Smith 

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“Art is not only a vehicle for self-expression or exclusively for the pursuit of the spiritual. From the very beginning, drawing an animal on the wall of a cave—you would be able to control the animal and this magic would help the tribe.”
Milton Glaser
Art is Work
(Popularly known as the artist who designed the I “Heart” New York logo.)

“Creative expression is not logical, circumspect, intelligent, or responsible; it’s illogical, unreasonable, manic, and irresponsible, especially as an activity preoccupying grown women and men. Is screenwriting any different from the other arts? Yes. It’s crazier.”
Richard Walter
Essentials of Screenwriting

This is part 6 of an interview I did with Richard Walter, Chairman of the UCLA Screenwriting program.

SS: The is no question that Hollywood is the major leagues. But now that digital cameras have gotten better and cheaper, I see a new crop of filmmakers popping up all over the county (and the world) who are starting to make their own films outside the Hollywood system. Then you have traditional Hollywood-types such as Edward Burns making smaller films (Nice Guy Johnny; 10 day shoot/$25,000. deferred budget) and self-distributing them on iTunes and finding an audience. Do you see a new league rising up? The entrepreneurial filmmaker who writes, produces, and distributes his or her own films outside mainstream Hollywood.

Richard Walter: I think the least interesting films being made are major Hollywood movies. They are not really movies that stand alone, but they are parts of franchises. George Lucas —it’s not his fault, I wouldn’t have done it any differently—started it all with Star Wars in 1977. That was an important year.

As big as Star Wars was, and it was the biggest thing ever in terms of ticket sales , still that was pretty small when compared to the ancillary considerations  with the toys.

So suddenly the actual movie became only one component in a package—in a cluster of other considerations.  And that has to have a suffocating influence on the imagination.

I see much more interesting stuff on cable TV than I see in theaters. I haven’t seen a movie recently in theaters as good as the last episode of Mad Men from the third season, or some of the best stuff on the Sopranos.

And as you said, now that it’s become cheaper and cheaper to make a movie, and because of the internet, distribution is now available to anybody— The question is how do you get people’s attention and so on. You have to be clever about that.

But it doesn’t need to be a blockbuster success—nothing wrong with a blockbuster success like Avatar—but it’s not all there is.  To me it’s not as interesting as what you just decribed that Burns is doing. Absolutely, that’s a much more interesting way to go.

You don’t need to be a trillionaire. If you can get by and be sort of comfortable I think you can have a much more satisfactory life artistically and every other way if you don’t focus on this very narrow arena called mainstream Hollywood.

SS: When I was in college, I remember a photography instructor in Florida telling me that he felt fortunate to just be able to make a living in the arts.  And as I’ve gotten to know working artists in Iowa I find that they’re not encumbered like many screenwriters in that they are not trying to get rich and famous—that rarely happens for most artists— but they’re simply working on their craft and content to earn a living. Do you think it would be healthier for most screenwriters and filmmakers if they had a more artist-like mentality?

Richard Walter: If you can modestly survive and work with your imagination and create narrative what can be better than that? What’s there not to like about that?

Related posts: A New Kind of Filmmaker

Sputnik. Sundance & Kevin Smith

How to Shoot a Feature in Ten Days

The 10 Film Commandments of Edward Burns

Scott W. Smith

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I think it was designer Milton Glaser who said all creativity is is connecting influences. The other day when I was writing the post on Temple Grandin called Thinking in Pictures (the title of one of her books) I seemed to recall there was an old book on filmmaking also called Thinking in Pictures. So I poked around my books and found it yesterday.

John Sayles’ book Thinking in Pictures was published back in 1987 and subtitled The Making of the Movie Matewan. (Just saw where you can buy a used copy on Amazon for $4.24.) One nice connection with the movie Temple Grandin and Matewan is both feature actor David Strathairn. Back in the day, it was hard to find much information out about independent filmmaking and Sayles’ was a beacon. It’s still a solid book that gives an excellent overview of the production process.

I flipped through the book this morning looking at my yellow highlighted sections hoping to find a quote that seemed to jump out at me and fit what I try to communicate on this blog called Screenwriting from Iowa…and other unlikely places and found this quote:

“If storytelling has a positive function it’s to put us in touch with other people’s lives, to help us connect and draw strength or knowledge from people we’ll never meet, to help us see beyond our own experience. The people I read about in the history books and the people I met in the hills of Kentucky and West Virginia had important stories to tell and I wanted to find a way to pass them on.”
John Sayles
Thinking in Pictures
page 11

So if you’re looking for a filmmaker who champions unusual people and places then check out John Sayles’ films. And tomorrow I’ll talk about how Sayles himself got his unusual start in the film business—writing the script for the 1978 Roger Corman film Piranha.

Scott W. Smith

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“Oh, I’ve stolen from the best… I mean I’m a shameless thief.”
Woody Allen

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.”
Jim Jarmusch

No, I’m not going to write about writers and artists who create while drinking. But if you read a few bios of writers and artists you’ll realize that more than a few (for whatever reason) have a fondness/weakness for drugs and alcohol. But that’s another post for another day.

I want to address creative influence.

Yesterday, I did a photo shoot and was told by one friend that one of my shots looked like one of the Star Trek movie character posters and other friend said George Hurrell would be proud. Not knowing what either meant I did a quick Google search and discovered that they were both correct. See if you agree.

The photo I took of Josh McCabe is one the left and the other is of actor Eric Bana as the Star Trek character Nero. I don’t recall ever seeing the Nero photo before, but the  similarities are obvious. Black & white photo of white males, dead center  composition with eyes looking up, lit with edge lights to the left and right. (If I shaved Josh’s head and Photoshopped some tattoos from his arm to his face it would be called a dead rip off.)

Now photographer George Hurrell‘s influence I will admit to. When I moved to LA as a 21-year-old there was a place on Hollywood Blvd. that was lined with photos of old movie stars— Errol Flynn, Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow and the like.  Lots of black and white shots from the 30s and 40s and I’ve always been drawn to that style. Hurrell was one of the best known photographers of movie stars in that era. Here’s one of his shots of Humphrey Bogart next to the photo I took. Again, there are similarities and I understand why the connection was made.

There’s nothing new under the sun. Isn’t Lady Gaga just an updated version of Madonna and Cher? And weren’t they updated versions of Carmen Miranda?

Well now she had a big hat, my it was high
Had bananas and mangos all piled to the sky
How she could balance it, I wouldn’t dare
But they don’t dance like Carmen nowhere
—Jimmy Buffett

From a screenwriting perspective, don’t be surprised (or offended) if someone reads your script and says, “It reminds me of….” Graphic designer Milton Glaser (most famous for his I Love New York design) says that all creativity is is just connecting influences. You have your influences when you create something and the viewer/reader of your work has their influences. Lines are being crossed and connected all the time.

George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have both talked about boyhood TV shows and movies that influenced the concepts behind Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Sometimes the connection is obvious and sometimes obscure. One of the screenplays kicking around my house is Body Heat written by Lawrence Kasden. The 1981 film has often been called a re-make of the 1944 Billy Wilder film Double Indemnity. You can find much online (here’s one) about the connection between the two, and I don’t know if Kasden ever saw Double Indemnity, but the script I have says “An original screenplay by Lawrence Kasden.”

Don’t analyze this stuff too much because it will stifle your creativity. Just keep creating, keep writing.

Scott W. Smith

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The Writers Guild of America strike has finally ended and now the “We Support” signs can come down and go on ebay. But I do have a couple of questions. Who is the “we” in the above photo? And why does Gary Kelley have it on his door at work? Kelley is not a screenwriter though he did spend time in Los Angeles on the picket line during the writer’s strike.  His daughter is a screenwriter and a member of the WGA, so that’s probably the reason the sign’s there.

Kelley is an artist who can be found most days (and often nights) working in his upstairs studio in Cedar Falls, Iowa.  Yes, downtown Cedar Falls does resemble Bedford Falls in It’s a Wonderful Life. Yes, it was snowing when I took the photo below last week, and yes, the Christmas lights are still up in mid February. (Talk about a long December….)


If you don’t recognize the name Gary Kelley I’m sure you are familiar with his art work. As an illustrator his work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Time, New Yorker Magazine, Newsweek and many other publications and national advertising campaigns. He has won over 25 medals from the Society of Illustrators and last year was elected into their Hall of Fame. He’s kind of the William Goldman of illustrators. But he is most known for the murals he’s done of writers that can be found in every Barnes & Noble Booksellers across the country. Including two 70 foot murals at the most recently renovated Barnes & Nobel on 5th and 48th street in Manhattan.


When you walk into Kelley’s studio it’s like walking onto a movie set. It’s exactly what you’d expect a working artist’s studio to look like. During the day beautiful natural light spills into the loft like area and onto a large easel where he is often painting. What he’s usually not doing is sipping a glass of wine, waxing philosophically about art.

He can do that, but he’s got work to do most of the time. It was from Kelley that I learned the phrase “Art is work.” It originated from the book with that as the title by Milton Glaser, the designer of the ubiquitous “I (heart shape) NY” design.

It’s a book Kelley likes to recommend. “First off Glaser is a giant in my eyes,” Kelley told me in his studio, “He’s extremely articulate and he shares everything he knows in this book which is wonderful. It’s such an honest book. Art is Work that’s a pretty honest statement. The thing that makes it so great is that he’s not afraid to talk about inspiration and influence. Many artists are very secretive about that. They want you to think that ideas come from some kind of magical, middle-of-the-night revelation. Creativity is assembling influences. It’s not about having something totally original pop into you head all of a sudden.”

That explains why Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, who are basically film historians as well as filmmakers, are known for their original work. But even a director of Scorsese’s stature hits creative dry spots as he has talked about before he made Raging Bull. How does work fit into that predicament? (Or, say,  a financially drained screenwriter after a three-month strike? Or a mother of two trying to squeeze in a script writing at night?)

Thomas Moore writes in Dark Nights of the Soul, “Don’t work only when the mood is right. Let the dark night come and go, but keep doing your work. Igor Stravinsky said, ‘Even when I do not feel like work I sit down to it just the same. I cannot wait for inspiration.’ He liked to quote Tchaikovsky who said that composing was like making shoes. In that sense, it was a job.”

Screenwriting is a job. It’s work. Just show up and ply your trade.  Do that whether you get paid or not and even if you live in Memphis, Des Moines or Fairbank. These things take time.  Steve Martin in his book Born Standing Up, recounts how he did thousands of performances over a 10 year period getting his act down and then another four years fine tuning it before he found wild success for four years. It took a lot of work to discover how to be a wild and crazy guy.


There is an old saying that writers don’t like writing but they like having written. And the only way to have written is to write. If you look at the lives of writers you will find all kinds of styles. But the one thing many successful ones have in common is a discipline (desire, obsession?) to write on a regular basis.

John Grisham is one of the most financially successful writers in history. But before he made a name for himself as a writer he was a lawyer in Oxford, Mississippi. Lawyers aren’t known for having a lot of free time so on top of his 60-80 hour days as a State Representative he would wake up at five 5 AM to fit in an hour of writing on his first novel.  After he did that for three years, he could not find anyone interested in publishing the book. So he continued to wake up early and write the next novel that eventually got published and went on to make him a very wealthy man.

Ron Bass & Stephen King are also known for their dedicated daily writing schedules.

Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) was a struggling novelist for ten years before he found success with his first screenplay The Client based on Grisham’s novel.

I grew up with laid back musician Jimmy Buffett as one of my heroes, but it wasn’t until years later that I realized Buffett didn’t spend much time in Margaritaville because he is a workaholic who’s usually on the road or in the studio. That’s why he’s had a 30+ year career and why he made around $30 million back in 2006. Don’t let those flip-flops fool you – it takes a lot of work to be that carefree.

A few years ago I was producing a TV program in LA with director of photography Peter Biagi who shot on the first HBO Project Greenlight movie. On our last day of shooting a group of us had dinner with Stolen Summer writer/director Peter Jones. The HBO Greenlight show projected Jones as merely an insurance salesman from Chicago which was partially true. I asked him how many screenplays he had written before Stolen Summer and he said six. This wasn’t a guy who went from writing insurance claims to screenplays overnight. It was a process where he worked on his writing.

“For me, it was a matter of years of trying to develop my writing in the same way that some people spend years learning to play the violin.” Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption)

“My average UCLA student who’s been successful wrote at least six complete, polished screenplays before finally selling one.” William Froug

“I wrote maybe 10 screenplays before I was able to sell one.” Nicolas Kazan, At Close Range

“We wrote six scripts before anything was produced.” Jack Epps, Jr., Top Gun

“Before I got adept at it, I had to write about ten scripts.” Brian Helgeland, L.A. Confidential

Those are encouraging quotes when you’ve written seven unproduced feature scripts, and help keep you sane when you see Diablo Cody knock her first script out of the park with her Oscar nominated Juno. (Congrats once again to Cody for winning the Writers Guild of America best original screenplay award.) For those of you who haven’t read The Juno-Iowa Connection on this site, Cody is a graduate of the University of Iowa.

But Cody is not a freak of nature.While her first screenplay won an Oscar, Cody mentions writing everyday sice she was 12. That’s fifteen years of writing before she wrote Juno.  Oliver Stone wrote 12 screenplays before he sold one. Are you getting the picture? Screenwriting is work. But let’s get more specific and look at work on a day-to-day basis.

Joe Eszterhas’ (Basic Instinct) advice in his screenwriting book The Devils Guide to Hollywood is; “Write six pages of script a day. Stick to this schedule no matter what. You’ll have a finished first draft in roughly twenty days. Then go back and edit what you’ve written. Spend no more than five days on this edit.”

Any way you look at it it comes down to work.

Gary Kelley’s work made it to the big screen this past November when I photographed and produced an HD production of his artwork for Holst’s The Planets performed by the Waterloo-Ceder Falls Symphony under the direction of conductor Jason Wienberger. Viewed on a 20 foot screen it received a triple standing ovation from the 1,300 in attendance. (Newspaper Review.) I took this photo at rehearsals.


I don’t think Kelley has any desire to make the feature film leap as Julian Schnabel’s (The Diving Bell and Butterfly) has done, but it was fitting for him to walk the picket line during the Writer’s strike because he did get his first paid gig though the movies–sort of…”In eighth grade I did a drawing of Gary Cooper for the local newspaper,” Kelley said.  “I got a free pass to the movies for a year.” So it makes sense that he would come full circle and illustrate his picket line experience with a piece of work that will appear on a future cover of the North American Review.

Welcome back to work.


© Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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