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Posts Tagged ‘Ohio’

“Everyone who’s sat in that chair has died of unnatural causes.”
—Sound bite from the Crooked City/Youngstown, Ohio podcast

The above quote from the Crooked City podcast shows just how connected ancient Athens, Greece is to contemporary Youngstown, Ohio. (At least, a fairly recent era of Youngstown folklore.) A story that dates back a couple hundred years B.C. is that of a fellow named Damocles who told the king, Dionysius, that the king had it made in the shade.

The king knew otherwise. Because despite his royal exterior of grandeur, there was an ever-present threat of danger. And to illustrate this point, Dionysius offered Damocles the opportunity to sit upon his throne for one day. Damocles jumped at the chance to sit in the seat of luxury.

But Dionysus had mounted a sword above his throne—hung by the single hair of a horse’s hair—to remind himself of the hazards of the job. He had deadly enemies. Damocles had a change of heart and decided that he didn’t want to live like a king after all. That’s where the phrase, “The sword of Damocles” comes from. He didn’t last a day on the job. Too much stress.

”Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”
—Shakespeare’s Henry IV

The same could be said for being a politician (or a Mafia leader) in Youngstown, Ohio. One of the central characters in Crooked City is Jim Traficant, a former U.S. House of Representative from Youngstown. A man who once took money from the mob, and also did prison time for bribery, racketeering, and tax evasion.

Producer Marc Smerling’s Crooked City paints Youngstown as steel mill boomtown turned ”Crime Town USA.” A 1963 Saturday Evening Post headline read, ”Youngstown has had 75 bombings, 11 killings, in a decade and no one seems to care.” Youngstown is situated between Cleveland, OH and Pittsburg, PA so there were turf wars just like you’ll find in any good Mafia movie.

Things didn’t improve as the steel mills that originally made Youngstown prosperous began closing in the mid-‘70s. In 1991, Youngstown had 59 murders, one for every 2,000 people. One of the highest per capita in the United States.

I realized listening to Crooked City that it actually embodies most of the ingredients I write about in my book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles.
—Conflict
—Concept
—Catalyst
—Construction
—Climaxes and Conclusions
—Catharsis
—Controlling Idea
—Change
—Careers and Cows

I think all of my chapters are all well represented in Crooked City. (Except for the reference to cows. But Smerling makes up for it by starting and ending his podcast with an odd and deadly tractor accident on a 170 acre Youngstown-area farm.) And I’m not sure about the whole catharsis thing. I think Youngstown is still coming to terms with its past as it tries to move into the future.

It’s also a sound bite machine from a wide ranging cast of real life characters who make up Youngstown’s colorful past. Here are my two favorite sound bites (from my favorite podcast of 2022) that would fit right at home in a Hollywood screenplay.

“He had eyes as black as coal, and a heart twice as dark.”

”Joey was the type of guy—his clothes has to be perfect. Well-dressed, groomed. He would floss his teeth 50 times a day.”

Stephen King says you should be able to depict a setting or person with just two or three choice details. I think those two are great descriptions. The one gives you a good feel for Joey Naples. (Naples by the way was killed in an ambush.)

I’ve watched (well, technically listened to) podcasts evolve greatly over the last decade. And, truth be told, I think I’ve listened to more podcasts than watched movies since the start of the pandemic lockdowns in March of 2020. And the fact that Crooked City is so good is no accident. It turns out that Smerling has an M.A. from USC film school, is an Emmy-winning and Academy Award-nominated producer whose credits include All Good Things (2010) which starred Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst. Are podcast the new indie films?

”I wanted to continue to tell crime stories that delved much deeper and had something larger to say about who we are. Crime is nothing if not the purest distillation of the dark side of human experience.”
—Marc Smerling
Deadline

One more Crooked City sound bite:

“[Jim]Traficant was the most talented politician this area has ever seen. Traficant was also the most corrupt.”

P.S. I have a love affair with Youngstown, Ohio. Probably because my dad was from Youngstown. He briefly worked at Youngstown Sheet and Tube, and his father worked there for over 30 years. After I listened to Crooked City, I watched ESPN’s Youngstown Boys (2013) documentary that I actually had never seen. I’m starting to think Youngstown, Ohio (and former Ohio State football player Maurice Clarett)— are a microcosm of the United States. Representing what it means to have tasted both greatness and brutal loss—and striving for redemption.

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

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These mills, they built the tanks and bombs
That won this country’s wars

—Bruce Springteen, Youngstown

My grandfather worked for Youngstown Sheet and Tube for at least 30 years (because after 30 years of service he received a Zippo Lighter with his initials on it). I always wondered what his job was like. And thanks to YouTube, this past Labor Day weekend I stumbled across a documentary produced in 1944 by the U.S. government. I imagine it was shot to boost morale during World War II.

With talk these days about people “quietly quitting” jobs I thought it would give a perspective on what work looked like for some in a previous generation.

My grandfather would have been working at the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Struthers plant in 1944, and his son (my father) spent a year working there in after high school. That makes me a son of a son of steelworker. My father decided he wanted a different life and went to Ohio State before joining the Air Force where he was pilot. A stop at McCoy Air Force base in a pre-Disney Orlando, Florida convinced my father to bet his future on Central Florida. Those were good moves for him and his family. In 1971, Disney World opened just outside Orlando. Economic growth 101. In Youngstown on September 19, 1977, 5,000 steel workers found themselves abruptly out of work. Economic decline 101.

At its peak (1950) Youngstown Sheet and Tube had 27,000 employees. Eventually all the mills shut down in the area resulting in 50,000 jobs lost. The effects of the mills closing over 40 years ago can be felt there today. According to Wikipedia, Youngstown’s population today is 60% down from its 1959 numbers.

Over the years I’ve found time to occasionally stop in Youngstown and monitor the slow changes that leaders have made over the years as the town seeks to reinvent itself. That’s one of the things that America and Americans do best.

Unfortunately, there are growing pangs along the way. Toss in a storied history of Mafia presence and funky politics and there is enough material rooted in Youngstown for someone to do a On the Waterfront/The Godfather/Hamilton-style story. Paving the way is the Bruce Springsteen song Youngstown, and this year’s podcast Crooked City.

P.S. “Youngstown was the home for Amil Dinsio, who I think legitimately is the LeBron James of bank burglars.”

—Screenwriter Keith Shannon (Finding Steve McQueen, a story drawn from the famous 1972 Laguna Niguel bank heist led by Dinsio.)

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

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“Congrats to Julia and Steven, the filmmakers behind American Factory, for telling such a complex, moving story about the very human consequences of wrenching economic change. Glad to see two talented and downright good people take home the Oscar for Higher Ground’s first release.”
Barack Obama

Filmmakers Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar won an Oscar Sunday night for their documentary American Factory, which they shot in—what I consider an unlikely place to lead them to Hollywood success—a factory in Moraine/Dayton, Ohio.

Both my grandmother and grandfather worked for NCR in Dayton, Ohio (where I was also born), and I had a great aunt who was a nurse at a GM factory there. In northeast Ohio, my paternal grandfather spent 30 years working for Youngstown Sheet and Tube. And I worked in a boat windshield factory in Florida one summer while in college. So while factories and Ohio may not get your heart pumping, that combination has a special place in my heart.

And obviously for Reichert and Bognar as well, as they also made the  documentary The Last Truck :Closing of a GM Plant.  A film nominated for an Oscar in 2009.

In the spirit of finding stories in your own back yard, Reichert and Bognar live in Yellow Springs, Ohio, just east of Dayton. Reichert went to Antioch College in Yellow Springs and has been nominated for an Oscar four times.

At the age of 73, and diagnosed with terminal cancer, it must have been fulfilling for Reichert to stand on the world stage and receive her first Oscar award.

Of course, it’s hard to miss that in Reichert’s acceptance speech that she’s probably the first person in Oscar history to both give a “Go Buckeyes” shoutout and quote Karl Marx. That will bring her friends and foes on both sides.

I’ve yet to see American Factory (which is currently on Netflix), so I don’t know if the filmmakers take a prescriptive, descriptive, subjective or objective  filmmaking approach to a Chinese billionaire bringing his car glass manufacturing plant in Ohio.

But she did say this on a recent interview:

“Some workers feel like the American dream is done. We are never going to get that back. And others say, you know you really have to believe in the American dream. And I think it’s really up for grabs. Is there an American dream still? Is there something that people can if they work hard and stick to the laws that they’re going to have a good life. Is that possible anymore? I think that’s a real question that I hope our film sort of raises. Is this the world we want to live in?”
Julia Reichert
Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross 

These are the questions, that in some ways, philosophy, religion, and politics have wrestled with for the past 200 years, and if you remove the American dream aspect, probably since the beginning of time. Long before capitalism, communism, socialism, and Make America Great Again were being debated.

It does feel like we are in a significant global transition period. If you watch 4-time Oscar winner Parasite (2019), it’s not hard to make the connection between daily financial struggles in Korea and those in Ohio. It’s also not hard to watch the documentary One Child Nation (2019), read current news about the spread of the deadly coronavirus, or track tariffs in China and realize how interconnected the world is these days.

Hat tip to Megan Cunningham for putting Julia Reichert on my radar. Cunningham wrote the book The Art of Documentary that I first read in 2006, and I’ve had the opportunity to produce and shoot projects with her company Magnet Media Films. In a LinkedIn post yesterday, Cunningham said Richert was a recipient of the 2016 Chicken and Egg Award . (The Chicken and Egg Award recognizes and elevates five female non-fiction directors each year with $50,000 unrestricted grants.)

Reichert wrote a book called Doing it yourself: A handbook on independent distribution that was published in 1977, and I’m not sure where you can find a copy.

P.S. From the back to the future file:  Watch the trailer to the 1986 film Gung Ho to see how an early Ron Howard film dealt with cultural differences as a Japanese company acquires a car manufacturer in western Pennsylvania.

Scott W. Smith 

 

 

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My mother was tough.

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Suzi, as she was called when she was younger,  doesn’t look tough in this photo. But she was tough.

She was born in the middle of the Great Depression and a chunk of her youth was taken up with the scarcity of the effects of a world at war. Those raised during the Depression and World War II were engrained with an exceptionally particular view that economic turmoil was always on the horizon and my mother was no different.

And despite my mother’s father having a job in advertising at National Cash Register (NCR) during those times of high unemployment he was an alcoholic. He died of cirrhosis of the liver at age 57. Having an alcoholic father is tougher than tough. It’s a wound.

Happy Mother’s Day, right?

But it is a happy Mother’s Day for me because I recall a woman who endured hardships and went on to have a productive life. I gave my mom her last Mother’s Day card a few days before she died last month.

Before she graduated from Fairview High School in Dayton, Ohio she had played field hockey, was a homecoming queen, and worked at the Dayton radio station WINK where she met comedian Jonathan Winters and humorist Erma Bombeck early in their careers. She also took classes at the Dayton Art Institute. 

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She met my father when she was a student at Ohio State University and part of the Delta Gamma Fraternity (Delta Gamma was formed in 1873 when what we commonly call sororities were called women’s fraternities). And to show how tough she really was—she taught art at South Seminole Middle School for 30 years.  Days before she died I saw a woman at Starbucks wearing a shirt that proclaimed “I ain’t scared—I’m a middle school teacher.”

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A student’s creation at South Seminole Middle School

She also raised two kids mostly as a single mother, and mostly on a teacher’s salary. Did I tell you my mom was tough? One year I gave her a Mother’s Day card featuring the iconic World War II art work of J. Howard Miller that originally encouraged women to roll up their sleeves and do wartime jobs in the defense industry.

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My mom was strong. And she was also loving, funny, and supportive. Looking back perhaps one of the toughest/loving/supportive things she did was sit through all of my football and baseball games. That’s part of her life spread over a decade just  standing or sitting in the Florida sun watching her son play sports.

My mom went to high school and college in the 1950s which was during the peak of cigarette smoking being cool. She started before the dangers of smoking were widely known, and unfortunately never stopped long after she knew the damage it was doing to her lungs.

I took the below photo sometime after she turned 80 and shortly before she was wearing oxygen full time due to having COPD. Living and dying with COPD has been called the long goodbye because it can be a long, slow process. For my mom it was a decline of six plus years from when she really began having difficulty breathing.

SueSmithObit_7988.jpg

Over those last six years my mother never missed a chance to tell me that this could be her last Mother’s Day. I knew one of these years she would be correct so I tried to maximize my time with her in person and on the phone.

My mom’s final act of toughness was enduring a month in various hospital rooms, an intensive care unit, and at a physical rehabilitation facility.  She always said she wanted to go peacefully in her sleep and she was able to do just that with her son and daughter on each side of her holding her hands as she took her final breath.

It was a sad and sweet moment. I’m thankful for my mom bringing me into this world and giving me the foundation to live a creative life. And I’m glad my sister and I had the opportunity to help her in the later stages of her life.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there. The definition of tough is to “endure a period of hardship or difficulty”—so I think all mothers are tough.

And another group of tough women were the nurses, med-techs, and care workers at the assisted living facility where my mother lived in her later years. They oversaw her medication, brought her food daily when she after she could not longer go to the dining hall for meals, made sure she got her daily paper, joked with her, often has extended conversations with her, and maybe put up with a complaint or two from my mother.

My mother was an avid reader of novels, enjoyed well-done witty Tv shows (Young Sheldon was her recent favorite), and I look forward to watching Cannery Row again because that was one of her all-time favorite films.

It was a tough but human process to watch my mother die. And it will forever shade how I live my life.

P.S. One of the fringe benefits of having someone close to you die is you get to hear stories you never heard before. I just received a phone message from Vivian Hurston Bowden (who is author Zora Neale Hurston’s niece) and she commented on how much she loved my mom and enjoyed working with her at the junior high/middle school.  She also let me that my mom did the decorating for her wedding in Sanford, Florida back in 1971. A long time neighbor of hers told me how my mom bought her little gifts when than woman went through treatment for cancer.  I love hearing those stories.

Scott W. Smith

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“Somehow, some way, incredibly enough, good writing ultimately gets recognized. I don’t know how that happens but it does. If you’re really a good writer and deserve that honored position, then by God, you’ll write, and you’ll be read, and you’ll be produced somehow. It just works that way.”
Playwright/screenwriter Rod Serling (Requiem for a Heavyweight, Planet of the Apes)
1975 interview with Linda Brevelle

In the post Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany I wrote about the time when Serling was 27 or 28 years old and working as an advertising writer for a Cincinnati, Ohio  television station. If you met Serling at that point in his life—when he was “making up testimonial letters”—you might not think he was destined for greatness as the creator of The Twilight Zone. 

But if you happen to be writing screenplays in some unlikely place—in between “making up testimonial letter”—memorize Serling’s words, “Somehow, some way.” But that only happens when you’re cranking out scripts and sending them out—or making your own films.

That Ohio Epiphany  post was written four years ago and in the comments section there was a reply by “Loyd” which I said at the time officially put him in the “Screenwriting from Iowa” Comment Hall of Fame.  Loyd was Loyd Boldman and he died last month. I’d known him for probably 15 years and he was a true Renaissance man, and one of the most creative people I’d ever met.

He also happened to be from Cincinnati. I didn’t learn until Loyd’s memorial service that he inspired his younger brother Craig Boldman to became a cartoonist. Craig’s worked on the DC Comic’s Superman and Bazooka Joe.

Here’s Loyd’s comment written in 2010 after the Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany post:

“I remember Serling as a striking presence, a ghost that haunted each Twilight Zone episode. His wry sense of humor, rugged good looks and cool demeanor were an odd idea for the host of a fantasy/sci-fi series, but in a strange way, perfect.

When is the last time TV had a writer who could command such attention? Harlan Ellison has tried it and come close, but he lacks the temperament–you always feel his rage. Serling exuded a sense of control. Ellison is always one turn from flying off the rails.

Serling was a great moralistic writer, something he shared with Mark Twain, O. Henry and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Each Twilight Zone episode was a fable with a moral twist at the end. Serling also connected with so-called “common men” and understood their ambitions. He also had a hatred for the pettiness of small dictators clutching for power that always slips through their fingers.

The only name that even comes close to the output, consistency and supervisory skill that Serling demonstrated is Aaron Sorkin, who wrote The American President, A Few Good Men, The West Wing and Sports Night, and even the well-written but doomed Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Sorkin lacks the range and imagination of Serling, however. In the arena that Serling created, he is still the champion.”

–Loyd

Related links:
Writers Breaking In
Writers Not Breaking In (Part 1)
Writers Not Breaking In (Part 2)
The Myth of “Breaking-In” (Tip #58)
There are no rules, but… (Tip #93+)
Keep Your Head Down

Scott W. Smith

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“Odd lead performances be damned, [Bubble] is not only an underrated gem, but yet another masterpiece found within Soderbergh’s historic filmography.”
Joshua Brunsting, Criterioncast 

Today on re-post Saturday I decided on one where Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) talked about directing non-professional actors because it’s a nice match for the post earlier this month where Alexander Payne’s talked about working with non-professional actors in all his films—“Nebraska”—Take 1 (Casting Farmers)— and because I finally got around to seeing Bubble last night—the movie Soderbergh referenced. (The 2005 offbeat film has never been easy to find, but it’s currently available on Netflix.)

Here’s the original post from October 2011 on one of the early HD features released in theaters:

It’s not usual for directors to use non-professional actors from time to time, but Steven Soderbergh took it to extreme for his 2006 film Bubble—the entire cast was non-professionals actors. I was reminded of that film today when I drove through Parkerburgh, West Virginia & Belpre, Ohio were Soderbergh shot Bubble. Soderbergh, who directed and shot the film, said that he found that non-professionals tend to do their best work in the first or second take before they start becoming self-conscious of their performance. Here are some other thoughts he had on the experience to help you in working with non-professional actors:

“I didn’t ever want to be in a situation of giving non-professional actors marks, you know, and be in a situation where they had to repeat a precise physical activity to accommodate where the camera was.

“So I was always working from the performance out and making sure that I had the camera in a place that could capture what they were doing without me having to tell them, ‘Hey, don’t lean over here. I need you to walk up to this mark. Don’t sit in that chair.’ I wanted them to do whatever they were going to do, and then I would find a way to have it play out in the frame.

“One of the things I like in the film is this guy, this detective, who’s a real detective who works in Ohio, he just had a quality that I thought was really fascinating, you know. It’s just impossible to fake, and especially in the interrogation scene, that was a single take, two cameras running, and watching the two of them as this scene developed was really interesting, watching his cadence slowly start to shift as, you know, the wheel starts to turn a little bit and watching her start to get more and more upset and more nervous. It was really fascinating.

“What we did was we just gave him the factual information that he would have from that alleged murder scene. I didn’t tell him what to say. I didn’t tell him how to question her. I didn’t tell him when to, you know, pull the trump card. I just said, ‘Do this the way you would do it,’ and she had no idea of what he was going to do, and so it was really interesting to watch.”
Steven Soderbergh
ABC Interview  

Colemon Hough wrote the screenplay for Bubble (with a large amount of improv from the non-professional actors).

Scott W. Smith

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“Since I was running into a little trouble in getting other people to go along with my desires and publish my stuff, I began publishing it myself….In the third issue of our fanzine I wrote a story called “The Reign of the Superman.”
Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel

Reign_of_the_Superman

O.K., we all know that Superman was born on the planet Krypton and raised on a farm in Kansas, but did you know he was actually created in Cleveland, Ohio—by a couple of high school students?

Writer Jerry Siegel (1914-1996) and artist Joe Shuster (1914-1992) came up with the concept for the concept of Superman while students at Glenville High School. The biggest change in Superman as we know him now from was when he was first created is he was bald and on the side of evil.

“A couple of months after I published this story, it occurred to me that a Superman as a hero rather than a villain might make a great comic strip character in the vein of Tarzan, only more super and sensational than that great character. Joe and I drew it up as a comic book – this was in early 1933. We interested a publisher in putting it out, but then he changed his mind, and that was the end of that particular version of Superman – called The Superman. Practically all of it was torn up, by the way. Joe got very upset and tore up and threw away most of it…Obviously, having him a hero would be infinitely more commercial than having him a villain. I understand that the comic strip Dr. Fu Manchu ran into all sorts of difficulties because the main character was a villain. And with the example before us of Tarzan and other action heroes of fiction who were very successful, mainly because people admired them and looked up to them, it seemed the sensible thing to do to make The Superman a hero. The first piece was a short story, and that’s one thing; but creating a successful comic strip with a character you’ll hope will continue for many years, it would definitely be going in the wrong direction to make him a villain.”
Jerry Siegel

It took a few more years before Superman would fully evolve and have his dual-identity of Clark Kent.

“That occurred to me in late 1934, when I decided that I’d like to do Superman as a newspaper strip. I approached Joe about it, and he was enthusiastic about the possibility. I was up late one night, and more and more ideas kept coming to me, and I kept writing out several weeks of syndicate scripts for the proposed newspaper strip. When morning came, I had written several weeks of material, and I dashed over to Joe’s place and showed it to him. (This was the story that appeared in Action Comics 01, June, 1938, the first published appearance of Superman.)  Of course, Joe had worked on that earlier version of Superman, and when I came to him with this new version of it, he was immediately sold. And when I saw the drawings that were emerging from his pencil I almost flipped. I knew he had matured a great deal since he had done The Superman, and I thought he was doing a great job on the new art.”
Jerry Siegel

If two teenage students growing up in the Midwest during the depression who create one of the great superheroes doesn’t inspire you to write stories wherever you live I’m not sure what will.

P.S. All of the above quotes came from a 1983 interview with Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.  Tony-winning playwright  Willie Gilbert (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) was a student at Glenville High School, as was playwright Jerome Lawrence (Inherit the Wind). They all worked on the school newspaper together.

Related Posts:
Toy Story 3’s Ohio Connection
The Lucky Slob from Ohio
Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl in Ohio (2.0)
Screenwriter Dudley Nichols  (1895-1960)
Content Creators=Content Distributors (A post written about 80 years after Jerry Siegel was his own content creator/distributor.)

 Scott W. Smith

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Live. Learn. Lead.
Motto of Oberlin, Ohio

Oberlin, Ohio map

Last year Oberlin was voted the “Best Hometown” in northeast Ohio by Ohio Magazine.  The city of just under 10,000 people was founded in 1833 by two Presbyterian ministers, and just happens to also be the place that helped develop two top Hollywood screenwriters. And while the city sits between Cleveland and Toledo it’s interesting to head over to Europe to see the original roots that links Oberlin to the Oscars.

Oberlin, Ohio was named after Jean-Frederic Oberlin (1740-1826) who was a German minister who worked to build a better community in the Le Ban de la Roche region in France.  (Known for his work in medicine, agricultural, helping to build roads, bridges and oraphanages—along with his spiritual teachings.)  The J.-F Oberlin Museum in Waldersbach is dedicated to celebrating his 59 years of ministry work in the remote valley.

Oberlin-Hollywood

Oberlin College was established in 1833 by the same two ministers who founded the town. According to Wikipedia, Oberlin was a key stop for the Underground Railroad in assisting escaped slaves and  the college  “was the first college in the United States to regularly admit African-American students, beginning in 1835.” And while Oberlin College is strong in the arts, and today has a Cinema Studies program, the school’s most successful screenwriters majored in different disciplines.

Two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman was an English major at Oberlin before he wrote the novel Harper which led to a career in Hollywood. His best known films are Marathon Man, The Princess Bride, Misery, All the Presidents Men and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Goldman also wrote the insightful book Adventures in the Screen Trade:  A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting. That book includes the entire screenplay to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Though first published in 1982, it’s the first book any inspiring screenwriter should read. Here’s how Goldman introduced Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) in the screenplay.

A MAN idly walking around the building. He is BUTCH CASSIDY and hard to pin down. Thirty-five and bright, he has brown hair, but most people, if asked to describe him, would remember him as blond. He speaks well and quickly, and has been all his life a leader of men, but if you asked him, he would be damned if he could tell you why.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Written by William Goldman

The other screenwriter from Oberlin is Mark Boal who majored in philosophy. While the much respected Goldman is on the tail-end of his career, Boal who graduated from Oberlin in ’95 is at the front end of his career but already has four Oscar nominations for his work writing and producing Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker, resulting in two-Oscar wins. Here’s how Boal introduced Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) in The Hurt Locker:

Working the joystick on the laptop is SERGEANT J.T. SANDBORN, a type-A jock, high school football star, cocky, outgoing, ready with a smile and quick with a joke…or, if you prefer , a jab to the chin. Think Muhammad Ali with a rifle.

I couldn’t tell you another connection between Goldman and Boal, but for the sake of this blog, two great screenwriters passing through the same small city decades apart makes it a city of interest. And a reminder that talent comes from everywhere.

Related posts:

William Goldman Stands Alone
Screenwriting Quote #118 (William Goldman)
Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl in Ohio
Toy Story 3’s Ohio Connections
Screenwriter Ernest R. Tidyman
Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany
Descriptive Writing—Pt 3, Characters

Scott W. Smith

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 “The Eagle has landed.”
Neil Armstrong

Before Neil Armstrong took that historic step of being the first person to walk on the moon, he took his first steps in the small town of Wapakoneta, Ohio where he was born in 1930. It was reported that as teenager he worked in a pharmacy there, ‘saving money for flying lessons.” A reminder that before you shoot for the moon, start small.

Small steps before giant leaps.

Because one of the themes of this blog is people rising up from small (seemingly unlikely places) and doing great things, I think—though not a screenwriter— Neil Armstrong’s life story qualifies.

I was eight years old living in Central Florida when I saw Apollo 11 lift into the sky, and I remember on July 20, 1969 watching a small, fuzzy TV broadcast of Armstrong landing the lunar module on the moon and later taking those first steps on the moon and uttering, “That’s one small small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

That line was not improvised, but following a great literary tradition—it is unknown who actually wrote that line. Nor was it properly delivered. It was supposed to be, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” (Armstrong would say later that the word “a” was lost in transmission.)

Regardless, putting a man on the moon was one of the great technological and symbolic acts of modern history. (It was also one built on years of failures and an immeasurable amount of man hours.) I’m old enough to remember all the debates about how it was impossible to put a man on the moon. So on July 20, 1969—suddenly everything seemed possible.

When I heard news that Armstrong died two days ago quite a few memories came to mind, including how “The Eagle has landed” became a catch phrase for “mission completed.” There is a poster in my office of the front page of the New York Times that proclaims “MEN LAND ON MOON.” (One time where all caps is fitting.)

I thought it also fitting that Armstrong died in Cincinnati, just about an hour away from where Orville and Wilbur Wright designed and built the first successful airplane and where both also died.

It’s also worth noting that while Armstrong will be forever linked to walking on the moon, that of his 82 years of life, he only spend 2 hours and 31 minutes walking on the moon and a total of less than 24 hours on the moon. (His total time in space was just 8 days.)

“I believe that every human has a finite number of heartbeats and I don’t intend to waste any of mine.”
Neil Armstrong

So wherever you live, shoot for the moon—but keep the rest of your life in perspective.

P.S. As far as I can tell, the city of Wapakonita was named after a Shawnee Indian Chief. And Oscar-winning screenwriter Dudley Nichols (The Informer) was also born in Wapakonita in 1895 and wrote for more than sixty movies including Stagecoach, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and Bringing up Baby. He was also the president of the Screen Writers Guild in 1937 & 1938. I bet when he died in Hollywood in 1964 he thought that no one more more accomplished then him would ever be born in Wapakonita .

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“Literature abounds with stories about meteoric rises followed by catastrophic falls. There are very few stories, much less true stories, with a genuine third act. But John Nash’s life had such a third act. In fact, it was that amazing third act that drew me to his story in the first place.”
Sylvia Nasar

On the DVD commentary of A Beautiful Mind director Ron Howard mentions that mathematicians on the level of John Nash don’t think it terms of numbers but of patterns.  I’m no mathematician (and certainly no genius), but in doing this blog for the past three years I’ve seen a number of patterns emerge. Today it happens to be journalists and Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Just as there was a great trail of talented people that led to the making of the classic film On the Waterfront , there was also a lot of talented people who were behind the success of A Beautiful Mind. And though both of those films were made over 45 years apart there are some common denominators between them.

Important parts of both stories take place in New Jersey. On the Waterfront in Hoboken and A Beautiful Mind in Princeton. I have been to both places, and though they are only 50 miles apart, culturally they are a worlds away from each other. (At least they were years ago.) Both stories center around a man facing great odds with a strong woman helping them endure. Both movies won Best Picture Oscars: On the Waterfront (1955), A Beautiful Mind (2002). Wait, both titles also have three words—this is getting scary.

And both stories were first brought to light by journalists. On the Waterfront flowed from 26 front page articles written by Malcolm Johnson. They first appeared in 1947-48 in The New York Sun and later in book form. For his work in exposing organized crime Johnson won the Pulitzer Prize.

A Beautiful Mind was the brainchild of Sylvia Nasar.  She was working as an economics reporter for the New York Times when she heard that John Nash would be sharing the Nobel Prize for his doctoral dissertation that was over 40 years old.

What had become of John Nash? Was he even still alive? He was alive, but he didn’t  understand why anyone would want to write a story on his life and did not give Nasar a formal interview. His friends and peers also were reluctant to speak to Nasar. She knows why, “There had not been a paragraph written on Nash, and no one who knew him wanted to put schizophrenia on the record because he had already suffered so much.” In 1994, The New York Times published Nasar’s article, The Lost Years of a Nobel Laureate.

One person who did talk to Nasar was Nash’s sister and that was enough to get started going deeper into the story. Nasar was also able to interview and talk with John’s wife, Alicia.

“In many ways these were the first prints in the snow, and the greatest thing that could happen to a reporter. It was an extremely rewarding experience not just telling a rise and fall story, but the fall and rise of an intellectual giant.”
Sylvia Nasar

Nasar took leave from the Times and spent two and a half years writing the book A Beautiful Mind: The Life of Mathematical Genius and Nobel Laureate John Nash. In 1998 the book won the National Book Critics Award for Biography and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Nash had a great (though not perfect) first act as a rising academic in the cold war era when some mathematicians were rock stars. He earned his Ph.D. at the age of 21. He married a physics major who also happened to be a cheerleader and was said to resembled Elizabeth Taylor in the movie Butterfield 8

Act 2 is when things got rough. He failed to accomplish the great things he thought he would in his field. He began hearing voices and having delusions. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia in an era where the treatment was brutal. He ended up divorced, living in poverty and obscurity.

Five years after their divorce John called Alicia from a mental hospital  in West Virginia and asked her to help him. She did. And a mere 25-years-later he was honored with the Nobel Prize, and later the film A Beautiful Mind. He had finally found the success and fame that he hungered for as a young man.

“I dedicated my biography of John Nash to his wife Alicia. A Beautiful Mind is a drama about the mystery of the human mind, but it’s also very much a love story. It is very much an exploration of what Wordsworth called “the tenderness, joys, and fears of the human heart”...Without Alicia, Nash would have perished. There would be no recovery, no Nobel, no second take on life or the marriage.
Sylvia Nasar
Talk at MIT & Interview

So what does all of this have to do with Yellow Springs, Ohio? That is where Sylvia Nasar received her undergraduate degree in literature at Anitoch College. A place I have mentioned before since it is where Rod Serling graduated from on the road to creating The Twilight Zone.

We’ve all heard the horror stories from authors of books who’ve been less than pleased with the movie results based on their writings. Nasar’s Hollywood experience is on the other end of the spectrum.

“Was I happy with the movie? Well, look….when Ron Howard screened the movie for us I had read many drafts of the screenplay. I visited the set, I talked with Ron Howard—nothing prepared me for how good it was. I was really blown away. To me this movie captured what was truley— yes, in a fictional way— what was truly unique and meaningful about this story, and did something that I have never seen any movie do by this very cleaver device it put the audience in the shoes of someone who can’t distinguish between delusion and reality…To be able to translate a story about two states of mind, mathematics and schizophrenia, that are pretty remote from most people’s experience and to communicate that to audiences in many different cultures  and countries around the world I think is extraordinary. So, I was very happy with it.”
Sylvia Nasar
MIT Talk

Nasar is the John S. and James L. Knight Professor of Business Journalism at Columbia Journalism School.

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