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My mom was an art teacher for 31 years at South Seminole Middle School. A paint brush with her name on it is one of the few mementos I have of her time there. There’s something beautifully simple about a used paint brush, and this one brings back a flood of memories growing up looking at books in our home showing the work of great painters. I was drawn the most to the works of Winslow Homer, Claude Monet, Salvador Dali, and Vincent Van Gogh.

As a teenager, my mom took art classes at the Dayton Art Institute, and later studied art at Ohio State. I’ll never know exactly how that impacted my creative sensibilities, but I do think my sense of composition was formed in looking at those paintings in books year after year.

My mom was born on this day during the depression. In the years before she died I enjoyed hearing her stories that filled in the gaps of her life. While in high school she worked at radio station WINK in Dayton, Ohio where a young Jonathan Winters was getting his start. And when I asked her if any of her art students went on to have a career as an artist she mentioned Colorado-based artist Scrabble Campbell. It’s so hard to make a living as an artist that John Mellencamp recently said that despite his love of painting, it was easier to become a rock star.

My mom with a creation by one of her students

P.S. This morning in American Cinematographer magazine (April, 2022) I read about the HBO documentary Black Art: In the Absence of Light directed by Sam Pollard and shot by Henry Adebonojo (and also featuring archival footage shot by John Simmons).

”For me as a filmmaker, I always take strength from artists because of the courage they exhibit in doing what they do, as well as their vision — the way they see the world. I’m working with a different kind of canvas than they are, but I can take so many things from them to alter what might be an ordinary palette and turn it into something dynamic.”
—Cinematographer Henry Adebonojo

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

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While tears are not the best indicator of whether a film is great or not, it is an indicator that a viewer was moved. As so was the case yesterday when I saw Marley & Me. There’s been maybe a half a dozen movies in my lifetime that have brought water to my eyes—the first one being the original TV movie Brian’s Song.  

Most of those films probably dealt with death or some other significant life blow. And while some films feel as manipulative as Barbara Walters asking “Tell me about your father” at just the right moment, other films touch us in a deeper place. That’s when we translate what is happening on screen with what’s happened or happening in our lives.

Marley & Me is more than the story of the world’s worst dog, it is a story about life and coping with change. The fact that I have a nine year old golden retriever and am the same age that the book’s author was when he completed the book gave me plenty to identify with. 

But John Grogan didn’t start out thinking “some day I’m going to write a movie about my life that stars Jennifer Aniston as my wife.” (Of course, he may of had those dreams.) No, he lived his life and he wrote about it. And after about 25 years of doing that he became a first time book author with smashing success.  Before I get to the quote of the day from him let me start in a place far from Hollywood.

Grogan was born in Detroit and raised in what he calls the “sleepy village of Orchard Lake,” he graduated with a degree in journalism from Central Michigan University (Mount Pleasant, Michigan) and a master’s degree from Ohio State University.  He was a columnist for  the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale when he and his wife brought home a little dog that would change their lives. (The book Marley & Me became a New York Times bestseller on its way to selling 5 million books and eventually being made into a movie (with the script written by Scott Frank & Don Roos) that was number one at the box office at Christmas time, and crossing the $100 million threshold in just 11 days.)

“I’m usually a night owl, but when I wrote “Marley & Me,” I forced myself to go to bed early and get up early. I wrote from 5 to 7 a.m. and then ate breakfast and went to work to write my newspaper column. I averaged a chapter a week this way. I began the book in early 2004 and finished the manuscript right after Labor Day. My agent, Laurie Abkemeier, sold it the next month in an auction.”
                                                                                      John Grogan 
                                                                                      Author Interview
                                                                                      Harper Collins

Grogan now lives in rural Pennsylvania and his newest book is The Longest Trip Home. He also has a website and blog at John Grogan Books. And if you don’t mind, let me slip in another Grogan quote from the Harper Collins interview:

“Keep a journal and write every day, even when it seems impossible. Read really good writers, and re-read the best parts aloud. Write about what you know and care about. Believe in yourself and your voice. And here’s what I consider the most important part: Take your finished piece and cut it by 20 percent. Relax, you can always restore the lost text. You’ll be surprised how seldom you will feel the need. In my own work, tighter is almost always better.”

Related posts:

Screenwriting from Michigan

Screenwriters Work Ethic (tip #2)


Scott W. Smith

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