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“If you have an opportunity to accomplish something that will make things better for someone coming behind you, and you don’t do that, you are wasting your time on this earth.”
Baseball great and humanitarian Roberto Clemente

Every day 150,000 people die. On Sunday, nine people died in a tragic helicopter accident in Calabasas, California. One of those was 41-year-old basketball great Kobe Bryant.

Some younger sports commenters said that Bryant’s death was the biggest shock of their careers. Another said it was the biggest shock since Magic Johnson announced he was retiring from the NBA because he had AIDS.

When bad things happen to celebrities, it has a unique way of giving people an instant perspective on life. And one of the shifts is our understanding of the fragility of life. That the most talented, the most athletic, the most physically fit, the most charismatic, the most financially secure, can die before they reach a ripe old age.

For me, I learned that lesson as an 11-year-old when Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash on December 31, 1972. Just a year prior, Clemente earned MVP honors during the 1971 World Series. Clemente was fun to watch because he was such a complete player—hitting, fielding, and base running.

But more than that the Puerto Rico born Clemente was also a humanitarian. The plane he was on was delivering aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. And the only reason that Clemente went on the trip personally is food and supplies in pervious trips were, according to Wikipedia, “being diverted by corrupt officials of the Somoza government, never reaching victims of the quake.”

Clemente was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973 and each year MLB gives the Roberto Clemente Award “to a player who demonstrates the values Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente displayed in his commitment to community and understanding the value of helping others.”

In the late ’70s, I was a high school football player when NFL wide receiver Darryl Stingley was permanently paralyzed by a hit during a game in 1978. While it caused me to reflect on the dangers of the game, I did play for a few more years. Just like players in contacts sports do today in light of studies of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and its connection to dementia.

Sports Illustrated named Muhammad Ali “the greatest athlete of the 20th century,and no single athlete left a more significant impression on me as a physical real-life superman as the boxer nicknamed as The Greatest. So it was incredibly sobering to watch Ali shaking from Parkinson’s disease slowly light the torch at the 1996 Olympics.

Clemente, Stingley, and Ali sit deep in my psyche as a reminder of the fragility of life. I’ll never forget watching the original 1971 movie Brian’s Song (the first movie I ever cried watching) about the death of Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo from cancer.

Sports and movies of my youth prepared me for hardships and pain in my adult life. We all must come to terms with the fact that no one gets out alive.

I’m not sure how to end this post, but in the spirit of Robert Clemente let’s look at the citizens of his homeland Puerto Rico (and the surrounding islands). Numerous earthquakes have hit there in the past month. And that after not having fully recovered from the damage by Hurricane Maria in 2017. On top of reports about aid not reaching the people in need and other funding complications.(This is not Nicaragua in 1972, but a United States territory in 2020.)

Seek ways to help.

“If you have an opportunity to accomplish something that will make things better for someone coming behind you, and you don’t do that, you are wasting your time on this earth.”
–– Roberto Clemente

Related post:
Don’t Waste Your Life (2.0)

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

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“If you want to go toe to toe with any foe, you’ve got to be fearless.”
Boxer Chuck Wepner


Much has been written about Sylvester Stallone writing the first version of the Rocky script in just a few days, but little is mentioned about Rocky actually being his 8th script. (The other seven were never produced.)  Stallone has also said that only about 10 % of that first Rocky script remained in the finished version of the film that would go on to win the Best Picture Oscar.

“Since I was obsessed with the idea of personal redemption, I kept saying to myself, ‘Redemption, redemption, redemption…but whose redemption?’ So I considered a gangster, then a cowboy, then an actor, all kinds of people, until I finally came back to the Wepner* fight. Why not a loser, an over-the-hill boxer? I loved the visuals, and the warrior aspect, and the grand symbolism. Bang! It all crystallized. I said, ‘That’s it,’ and I went to work immediately…I was young, and I wrote it in a fury…The original draft was only about 89 pages long, and it was rather hastily thrown together.”
Sylvester Stallone
Going the Distance article by Bill Baer
Creative Screenwriting magazine
January/February 2003

Since Stallone started with “redemption, redemption. redemption” in mind I’ll put him down as starting from theme.

* Chuck Wepner was working as a liquor salesman in New Jersey back in 1975 when fought Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali. With some odds 30-1 against Wepner, he lasted until the fifteenth round before Ali won the fight on a technical knocked out . In 2003, Wepner sued Stallone for his name and story being used without his permission in the marketing of the Rocky franchise. (Lawsuit.) In 2006 there were reports that the case was settled out of court.

Related post: Writing from Theme

 

Scott W. Smith

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“Trouble, oh we got trouble, Right here in River City!”
                                                  Music Man, written by Iowa native Meredith Willson

How high’s the water, mama? 
Five feet high and risin’ 
                                                   Johnny Cash
                                                   Five Feet High and Risin’ 

 

I was supposed to get my haircut today…that didn’t happen.

When the morning begins with a segment of the NBC Today Show in Cedar Falls, Iowa you know there’s trouble in River City. Just two blocks from my office the Cedar River flows. In fact, we chose the name River Run Productions for our company because we saw the river as a metaphor that runs though Iowa and eventually into the Mississippi which eventually runs into the Gulf of Mexico and around the world.

Little did we know when we launched in January of ‘07 that just four months later I would be doing a shoot in Brazil including flying in a seaplane over the meeting of the waters where the Amazon and Rio Negro Rivers meet. 

But back in Cedar Falls today it was a long day of partaking along with hundreds (thousands?) of volunteers (including my partner who lost his home in the Parkersburg tornado two weeks ago) filling and placing sandbags trying to keep the river at bay. So far it’s been working to protect the downtown area, though many people in the low lying areas have evacuated and much of their homes underwater.  And the river is not supposed to crest until sometime tomorrow. 

 

Somewhere between moving boxes of photographs and memories to the basement Saturday night due to a tornado warning and taking the same boxes upstairs this morning in case of flooding, one can’t help but examine what you really need in your life.

I took all of these photos today and will give updates in coming days and then bring it full circle in regard to screenwriting and life.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday June 11, 2008 Update

The sandbagging on Tuesday paid off in Cedar Falls as the river crested at 2 AM with the downtown being spared from any flooding despite a record level of 102 feet. I drove over to Waterloo to help artist & friend Paco Rosic with his battle to hold back the flooding there from his restaurant/studio. Without much sleep in the last two night he and his father are winning the battle when most have given up.  Here are some shots of the front, inside (the multiple cords going to several water pumps), and view from the back of Galleria De Paco (voted this year as the #1 attraction in Iowa).

 

Thursday June 12, 2008 Update

Where’d all the good people go?
I’ve been changin’ channels
I don’t see them on the tv shows
Where’d all the good people go?
                                                                                                 Jack Johnson
                                                                                                 Good People

The secret’s out, Jack. A lot of those good people are in Iowa. They’re even on tv. NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams showed some of them in last night’s broadcast, including a nurse who volunteered in the morning after working an all-night shift in an intensive care unit. All told, I heard 5,000 people and 250,000 sandbags filled and placed on the levee helped keep the river back in downtown Cedar Falls. (Not that I put myself in the good people category, but I did make a brief cameo on the NBC segment in a non-speaking role as “Volunteer passing sandbag in white long sleeve t-shirt and camera strap around front.”)

It appears the worst is over in Cedar Falls but problems continue to mount in Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, and Iowa City and in other cites across Iowa and the Midwest. All of this reminds me of a quote from Steve Brown who I produced a video for in Nashville a couple years ago:

“The one thing I’ve learned is every day the world rolls over on top of someone who was just sitting on top of it yesterday.”

I don’t think a week goes by when I don’t think of that quote. I used to keep a list I called the roll over club. It contained names like John Kennedy Jr., Princess Diana, Mike Tyson, Kenneth Lay (Enron), Michael Vick, Britney Spears, Barry Bonds…you get the picture.

The point is things change quickly when your sitting on top of the world. I’m fond of pointing to Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air where after reaching the peak of Mount Everest exhausted he took a few pictures and then began his decent. Krakauer writes, “All told, I’d spent less than five minutes on the roof of the world.”

Over the years I’ve seen many people who were at the top of the world before it began to roll: Muhammad Ali, Christopher Reeves, and Michael J. Fox come to mind. Ali continually reminded us that he was “the greatest” though he had to recant that later, when Reeves died due to complications from a horse riding accident that had left him paralyzed one headline read, “Superman Dies,” and Fox had an amazing dream year in his early 20’s when he was the star of the top rated TV program that he shot in the day and then went to his night job shooting “Back to the Future” that would become a #1 box office hit long before his career and life took a blow as he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

And in 1990 The New York Times  ran an article on The Man Who Own Prime Time about Brandon Tartikoff who had become the youngest person ever to be chosen the head programmer of a network at 31 and rose to become president of NBC Entertainment. Under his leadership NBC flourished with a string of successes including Cheers, The Cosby Show, LA Law, Family Ties and Seinfeld and for one incredible five year run NBC was the No. 1 Network for five consecutive seasons. Seven years after that article appeared Tartiloff died at age 48 from Hodgkin’s disease. 

Despite human’s great accomplishments, the above stories and this recent flood are reminders of how fragile we are. 

Whatever mountain top you are reaching for know that if you are one of the fortunate ones who gets to the summit you don’t get to stay up there very long. An acting teaching once told me “When your feet hit the ground in the morning if you don’t want to be an actor more than anything then don’t pursue it because it’s too hard to make it and too hard to stay if you do make it. So unless you love acting it’s not worth it.” That’s great advise for the screenwriter as well.  

In the June 5 issues of Time magazine there is an article called “How to Live Live With Just 100 Things.” Lisa Mclaughlin writes, ‘Excess consumption is practically an American religion. But as anyone with a filled-to-the-gills closet knows, the things we accumulate can become oppressive.” Dave Bruno started what he calls “the 100 Thing Challenge,  a grass-roots movement in which otherwise seemingly normal folks are pledging to whittle down their possessions to a mere 100 items.”

Maybe trading in your multiple piece spoon, fork and knife set for a spork won’t bring the Jewish concept of Shalom or peace (what Cornelius Plantinga Jr. calls “universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight…Shalom, in other words is the way things ought to be.”)  But maybe it’s a step in the direction of that happy ending we all seek.

I think that is the single greatest reasons why movie audiences yearn for (in some cases demand) a happy ending. Because one of the deepest longings in life is to find shalom. Look at many of the films people return to again and again (The Shawshank Redemption, Titanic, The Princess Bride, Star Wars, Finding Nemo, Rocky, The Wizard of Oz) and you will find this concept over and over again. Most (all?) films at least show a small corner of shalom or it’s opposite, a world lived outside the garden.

Who doesn’t want to have that moment of clarity that Tom Cruise as Jerry Maguire has as he writes his mission statement and says, “It was the me I’d always wanted to be”? 

Often it takes an event like a flood, 9-11 or a death in the family, or a personal illness to get our attention. Out of difficult times we need to have hope that there is a purpose and meaning to our suffering. Let’s not forget those who have lost greatly in the recent tornadoes and floods and pitch in where we can. And in time we’ll hear stories from this flood about how good things came out of the calamity.

Just like the Johnny Cash song Five Feet High and Risin’:

My mama always taught me that good things come from adversity if we put our faith in the Lord.
We couldn’t see much good in the flood waters when they were causing us to have to leave home, 
But when the water went down, we found that it had washed a load of rich black bottom dirt across our land. The following year we had the best cotton crop we’d ever had.

Sunday June 15, 2008 Update

This morning’s early morning lightening storm was kind of an exclamation point to two weeks of strange weather for the area.

And all the flooding in Iowa proves one thing: Jay Leno was wrong. Back in the first week January just before the Iowa caucuses he said that the word caucus was an Indian word meaning the only day of the year anyone pays attention to Iowa.

From two weeks ago when Parkersburg and other towns where hit by a tornado to the flooding of last week has provided the national press with lots of dramatic images.

Things began to return back to normal in Cedar Falls on Friday when the downtown ban was lifted and the national guard moved on. By Friday night hundreds of people had gathered in Overman Park to watch a movie in the park. Late Saturday afternoon I rode my bike downtown and saw Cup ‘O Joe was open on Main St. and the distinct sound of a Bob Marley song was being performed live at The Hub: 

Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.
Singin’: “Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right!

                                            Bob Marley
                                            Three Little Birds

 

 

Wednesday June 18, 2008 Update

It’s tough out there
High Water Everywhere
                                                                              
Bob Dylan   
                                                                               High Water (For Charlie Patton)
 

It’s hard to believe that is less than a week that flooding in Iowa alone as displaced tens of thousands of people and caused over $1.5 billion in damage. It’s a classic man vs. nature battle that will also have long a term economic impact.

Just about a month ago I did a couple days location scouting for Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut Whip It in the very areas being hit by flood waters; Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Vinton and Cedar Rapids. Probably a good choice by Mandate Pictures to shoot their roller derby film later this summer in other states. 

But those areas will rebound because that’s what good Midwestern people do. And I thought I’d share with you some photos from this part of Iowa that I hope will be a refreshing break from the images you are seeing on the TV day after day. 

Vinton, Iowa Library

Vinton, Iowa Courthouse

 Cedar Rapids, Iowa 

Cedar Rapids Historic Theater

 

 

Photos and text copyright ©2008 Scott W. Smith

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