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Posts Tagged ‘President Obama’

“Today, on Veterans Day, we honor those who served our country. You who once wore the uniform of our Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard, we owe you our thanks, we owe you our respect, and we owe you our freedom.”
President Obama
Veterans Day Ceremony 11/11/16

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©2007 Scott W. Smith

Today is Veterans Day in the United States, a time to “honor American veterans of all wars.” I took this photo several years ago in Cedar Falls, Iowa on one of those perfect blue sky, windy days at AMVETS Post 49.

Here are some thoughts of former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink responding to a question about if he had any considerations on being a “pawn” in the U.S. military. (To hear the full question and answer listen to The Tim Ferriss Show podcast #187.):

“The fact of the matter is I’m actually honored to have served as a so-called ‘pawn’ in that system. America is far from perfect. We have committed some horrors in our history. Even today we make mistakes in the world. But when you travel the world and you see how much of the rest of the world lives—how much they live in disarray. And you see the oppression, and you see the poverty, and you see the corruption, and see the abject violations of basic human rights, then you realize how blessed, or lucky, or maybe even spoiled we are to live in America.

“Let’s just start with potable tap water. Drinking water. In America we just have that everywhere. Any home, any apartment, even the prisons you turn on the tap and you get good, clean, disease-free drinking water. That is not the norm in the rest of the world. And on top of that we have power, got electricity going in just about every home. That means just about every home has heat in the winter time, and they have air-conditioning in the summer time.”

“Let’s take that just a little further, what about access to the internet. Access to the internet here is widespread. Something like 70% of adults have a smart phone. Seventy percent…. Seventy percent. So you can gain access to knowledge here unlike any other time in human history. And our healthcare system—I know it’s not perfect, but I’ll tell you what, if you view our healthcare system from a third world hospital which often don’t even have the simplest of medical gear, you’d realize it’s not perfect but it’s pretty damn good.”

“And beyond that let’s look at the food that’s available.  Never mind starvation and malnutrition, our issue in America is actually too much food. And much of the world still has people literally people starving to death. And America offers an amazing opportunity to build, and to create, and to be what you want to be and to be who you want to be. And unlike anywhere else in the world, the ability to pursue happiness. And all those things, all of it, is possible because of the unbridled individual freedom that America offers.”

“And you know what else? It’s also possible because of industry, because of the incredible corporations, and businesses, and individuals. Because of people that took advantage of that freedom and worked their asses off to build this nation. So to have been a pawn in that, to have done my small share of work to allow this beacon of light and of hope and of freedom to continue—I’m honored to have had the chance [to serve in the Navy]. Would I do it all over again? You’re damn right I would, without question.”
Jocko Willink  (@jockowillink)

Scott W. Smith

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“From the moment I read Wil Haygood’s article about him in the Washington Post, I was moved by the real life of Eugene Allen.”
Oscar-Winning Director Lee Daniels

When I heard Wil Haygood speak last week about his journey writing The Butler: A Witness to History, I was reminded of a personal experience I had back in 2003. I was producing a TV program for a group in Chicago and on my shuttle bus from the airport to my hotel the older black driver and I talked about Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey—two world famous people with Chicago roots—and I told him I bet he’d seen incredible changes in his life and he simply said, “Yes, I have.”

Just five years later there would be more change when Senator Obama (also with Chicago roots) was elected the first black President of the United States. If that driver lived to see that day his story somewhat echoed that of Eugene Allen, the former White House butler  Haygood wrote about who witnessed that arc from segregation, to the Civil Rights Act being passed, right up to Obama being elected.

Haygood was speaking as part of the Humanities Speaker Series at Valencia College (whose West campus is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse parts of Orlando, Florida).  Back in 2008 Haygood was a corespondent for the Washington Post covering Senator Obama’s campaign trail. After hearing Obama speak in North Carolina he believed the tide was turning in favor of Obama getting the nomination.

“I get back to my newsroom and I tell my editor Steve, I said, ‘Steve, Steve—Obama’s going to win.’ He said, you’re tired, you’ve been on the road too long. I’m going to bring you off the road to get some rest. I said, no listen to me., Obama is going to win.  And because he’s going to win, I want to tell a parallel story. I want to find an African American who worked in The White House in one of those service jobs, and I want to tell their story. Because when Obama wins it’s going to me the world to this person. And my editor leaned back and said, well, who are you going to ne looking for? What type of job would this person have held? And I said, Steve I really don’t know. I think I want to find somebody who worked in The White House who shined shoes, who did the laundry, maybe a maid, and this last phrase fell out of my mouth, I still don’t know where it came from, I said, or maybe a butler. And I said I want to find one of those people who was working in The White House before the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed in this country that freed blacks.”
Wil Haygood

His editor said he needed him back out on the campaign trail, but gave him five days to somehow find that White House worker. Haygood’s next hurdle was how to find that person. Here’s the compressed journey of how Haygood hunted down that story—one that had never been told before.

—He called The White House but was told, “Because of confidentiality rules we don’t divulge who works at The White House.”

—He called his Washington, D.C. sources and was told it was a great idea, but no one knew such a person or where to find that person.

—On the fourth day he received a phone call from someone whose daughter was at a party in Georgetown and heard he was looking for someone who worked in the White House before the Civil Rights Act was passed. She gave him the name Eugene Allen, but had no idea on his contact information.

—He went to a library and started going through phone books of Maryland, DC, and Virginia looking for Eugene Allen. He made 56 phone calls and struck out 56 times looking for a Eugene Allen who worked at the White House.

“I was stubborn, because I wanted to prove to my editor that such a person existed. So students listen to this—I kept at it. I kept at it. On the 57 call I said, ‘Hello, my name is Wil Haygood, I’m a writer at the Washington Post and I’m looking for Mr. Eugene Allen who worked for two presidents at The White House.’ And the gentleman on the other end said, ‘Ah, that’s me. My name is Eugene Allen. Except sir, you have your facts wrong. I didn’t work for two presidents, I worked for eight. From Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan. So by my math, that’s eight.”
Wil Haygood

Allen’s life was a real life Forrest Gump-like experience. He not only worked for eight Presidents, but had a front row seat to some of the best (and worst) moments in modern American history, as well as seeing/meeting/serving a whole host of iconic Americans: Duke Ellington, Sammy Davis Jr, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra and Martin Luther King Jr.

Haygood’s article A Butler Well Served by This Election ran in The Washington Post November 7, 2008. Allen was invited to the inauguration and went escorted by his son and Haygood.

“He saw the first African American President take the oath of office. And he leaned over to me and said ‘This is the first inauguration I’ve ever been invited to.’ He also said as we were leaving,’When I was in The White House, you couldn’t even dream that you could dream of a moment like this.’ He used the word dream twice.”
Wil Haygood

Something else that I imagine Allen couldn’t dream was that his life (and Haygood’s article) would be the inspiration for the movie Lee Daniels’ The Butler , starring a whole host of stars; Forest Whitaker, Oprah, Cuba Gooding Jr, Venessa Redgrave, John Cusack, and Terrence Howard. Allen died in 2010 before the move came out in 2013.

Haygood wrapped up his talk last week saying that Allen gave him a gold plated tie clip that  John F. Kennedy had given him. He added that he was wearing that tie clip, and ended saying that Allen’s house has been designated a historic landmark, and made this observation:

“In a way the story is almost spiritual. For it says in the Bible, that the last shall be first and the first shall be last. ‘ I like to think that the butler is up there in heaven with Dr, King, with the Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall , with all those he served who are up there are well. The butler, the man who used to sweep up the movie theater at The White House. And I’d like to think that he’s walking around saying to them, ‘Hey, would you like to watch a movie tonight? It’s about a butler.

Special thanks to John Watson at Valencia for securing a copy of Wil Haygood’s talk for me to pull exact quotes.

P.S. I bought Haygood’s book and he signed it for my high school English and creative writing teacher Dr. Annye Refoe who not only helped put me on the track where I have earned my creative living the past 30 years, but who being a black woman raised Sanford, Florida showed a class full of white students  A Raisin in the Sun and discussed the writings of Zora Neale Hurston. Later as work would take me through Watts in LA, Overtown in Miami, Cabrini Green in Chicago, Harlem in New York—and really everywhere—I’ve never stopped seeing the world through the lens she provided.

One butler, one writer, one teacher really can make a positive impact in the lives of many.

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And I’ll close with this the video below of the multi-media performance of Three Black Kings I shot and edited a few of years ago with artist Gary Kelley. It was performed live by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony under the direction of conductor Jason Weinberger.

Related posts:
25 Links Related to Blacks and Filmmaking
Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting
President Obama, the Man & Iowa Seeds
Nelson Mandela, Robben Island & Nudging the World
The First Black Feature Filmmaker
Writing ‘Good Will Hunting’ (That other movie)
The Perfect Ending Valencia College’s connection to Game of Thrones

 

Scott W. Smith

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“We’re looking to create the future. We’re looking to change the world of education.”
Lynda Weinman

If you can’t talk politics on election day, when can you? Both President Obama and Mitt Romney (who I both photographed in the above pictures back in ’08) say that Iowa could be the swing state in deciding the next President of the United States of America, so I’m just doing my part to inform the public.

What about lynda.com for President?

Isn’t it time for the USA to have a URL for President? (And a female one at that.)

Look at the track record:

Job stimulation: The fact that lynda.com has had an employment growth of 188 percent over the last three years is impressive, but knowing that growth happened in a down economy is stunning.

Economy: Lynda Weinman and Bruce Heavin started what would become lynda.com with their own $20,000 investment, and without a single venture capitalist (or government bailout) the company has amassed one million subscribers who pay around $25 a month for their services. Again impressive, especially since lynda.com is online video tutorials.

Technology: lynda.com not only embraces technology, but helps others to harness the latest technology as well. (Plus since no one has to drive to class that makes them a green/eco-friendly company as well.) My illustrator friend Gary Kelley may not care for all the newfangled technology, but he at least appreciates how I can move his artwork around for multimedia presentations. And lynda.com is where I learned to do that via keyframing on Final Cut Pro.

Education: Saving the best for last—lynda.com has over 1,000 courses totaling over 40,000 hours of online education. There are no tests to take or essays to turn in. People are spending hours and hours online to simply learn. To better their skills.  To be more proficient at Photoshop, After Effects, Final Cut Pro X, Cinema 4D, and the like. People learn because they see a purpose in learning. In a world where we spend a lot of time arguing about how to fix public education, it’s worth looking at what lynda.com is doing right.

I did my first lynda.com tutorial in 2006 and have been learning from them ever since. A few years ago an editor friend of mine who was working on a project for EA Sports called me one night with a DVD authoring question and asked,”What’s the name of that place you’re always talking about?”—the answer lynda.com. And just a few weeks ago when I spoke to electronic media students at the University of Northern Iowa I told them about how taking advantage of lynda.com (which is free to them as UNI students) is key to their success.

Maybe in 2013 we’re not ready for a URL to be President. Perhaps whoever is elected President today can just name Lynda Weinman as the head of education. That’s a start. And just so you don’t think this is all fluff, take the time to listen to the hour-long talk Lynda gave on education earlier this year in Olympia, Washington at her Alma mater The Evergreen State College. Good stuff.

(A talk by the way I watched in entirety over the weekend and was surprised and thrilled to see at the 22:09 mark Lynda set up and showed a clip I actually shot and edited back in 2009 of Marc Prenksy giving a talk at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. It’s a talk I remember well. This digital world is a small world, huh?)

And to keep this in the film world, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival is presented by lynda.com. If you subscribe to lynda.com you will find they have seminars from past SBIFF available on producing, directing, and screenwriting.

P.S. And here’s a short video on how lynda.com got its start:

Scott W. Smith

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“To have the president of the United States join us in discussing the issues of our time is a special honor.”
University of Iowa President Sally Mason
Iowa City, Iowa
April 25, 2012

Iowa has been a popular state this week. First Lady Michelle Obama was here on Tuesday and President Obama was here yesterday. It appears from the interviews I was hired to shoot for a D.C. group on Tuesday and Wednesday in Des Moines, that these days Michelle is more popular than her husband.

From what I (a registered non-party voter) can gather from the African-American, the Romanian immigrant, the retired Marine, and the transgender college student we interviewed—all who voted for Obama in ’08—I think you might hear a lot about hope and change (and “It’s the economy stupid”) in the next presidential election. But those slogans will be coming from a different corner.

(It’s fun to be paid to be a fly on the wall. This should be should an interesting election year.)

Three 15 hour+ days have me running to keep up on the blog, so here are a couple of photos I took in passing during my shoots this week that I’ll include in my “Postcards from the Road” category. (Bonus points if anyone can tell me who the pro bowler is from our meal stop yesterday at the hipster-60s style High Life Lounge. “Isn’t it time you lived the High Life?”)

To do my job to help the economy I made it 3 for 1 postcard day.

P.S. On my midnight drive home last night I kept awake listening to Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine: How Creativity Works CD book. I’m was enjoying the content so much I could have just kept driving north on I-35 past Minneapolis, and even Duluth, and just gone all the way to Winnipeg. If you haven’t heard of the book, check out my post Bob Dylan’s Brain.

Scott W. Smith

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Army Staff Sergent Salvatore Giunta of Hiawatha, Iowa will be the first living member since the Vietnam war to receive the Medal of Honor. The 25-year-old now stationed in Italy will be honored for going above and beyond his call of duty in an ambush three years ago.

This is the White House report.:

Then-Specialist Salvatore A. Giunta distinguished himself by acts of gallantry at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a rifle team leader with Company B, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment during combat operations against an armed enemy in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan on October 25, 2007.

When an insurgent force ambush split Specialist Giunta’s squad into two groups, he exposed himself to enemy fire to pull a comrade back to cover. Later, while engaging the enemy and attempting to link up with the rest of his squad, Specialist Giunta noticed two insurgents carrying away a fellow soldier. He immediately engaged the enemy, killing one and wounding the other, and provided medical aid to his wounded comrade while the rest of his squad caught up and provided security.  His courage and leadership while under extreme enemy fire were integral to his platoon’s ability defeat an enemy ambush and recover a fellow American paratrooper from enemy hands.

That’s the kind of stuff that happens in movies, glad to know it happens in real life.

On Thursday, President Obama called Staff Sergent Giunta to inform him of being awarded the Medal of Honor.

Writer Sebastian Junger (The Perfect Storm) spent time in the same Korengal Valley, Afghanistan and has an upcoming book (War) and movie (Restrepo) about his experiences there. The movie won the 2010 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Award for a documentary.

Scott W. Smith

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Photograph by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

“My bracket has Kansas winning the whole thing. Kansas is that big, fast, strong, deep, good, great, unbeatable.”
Gregg Dovel, CBSSports.com

President Obama was wrong. But he was not alone in picking the Kansas Jayhawks to win the NCAA National Championship in men’s basketball this year. In case you don’t follow such things, Kansas lost yesterday to that little known team from right here in Cedar Falls, Iowa—The University of Northern Iowa (UNI).

One sports writer said the upset victory, “could go down as the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history.” Of course, that’s debatable. What is less debateable is this is the biggest victory in UNI’s history. This was the first time they have ever beaten a top ranked team. To do it in the NCAA Tournament before a national TV audience is all the sweeter.

The above photo of UNI player Ali Farokhmanesh celebrating says it all. It’s one frame that if it were the end of a movie the critics would be rolling their eyes calling it cliché. But movie audiences enjoy a good underdog story time after time. Why do we love underdog stories?

What is it about an underdog story that makes us feel so good? Perhaps it’s as simple as we all feel like underdogs. We can relate. Heck, I have a blog called Screenwriting from Iowa which might as well be called Screenwriting for Underdogs. But then again that would be redundant, wouldn’t it? (Tell me Joe “I’ve been in fights most of my life” Eszterhas hasn’t felt like an underdog his entire career?)

So screw the critics and keep writing underdog stories because the truth is cinematic history is full of great stories of underdog characters and underdog stories. From Rocky, Indiana Jones, and Norma Rae Webster to Hans Solo, Oskar Schindler, and Erin Brockovich they’re all underdogs that are greatly admired.

More recently, The Blind Side (based on the life of Michael Orr) found an audience to the tune of $250 million so far and landed Sandra Bullock her first Oscar. People still want to see Michael Orr stories. And, of course, an underdog doesn’t have to be an athlete.

Both James Cameron’s Avatar and Titanic are the #1 & #2 box office champs—and both underdog stories.

What are some of your favorite underdog characters or stories?

P.S. The University of Northern Iowa is where Kurt Warner played college football before he became one of the greatest underdog stories in contemporary sports history. I should also give a shout out to the University of Iowa’s wrestling team who last night won the 2010 NCAA Division 1 wrestling championship. No underdogs there—it’s the third straight year they’ve won the championship and 23rd in school history.

Related post: Orphan Characters (Tip #31)

Scott W. Smith

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Though writer John Steinbeck has been dead for more than 40 years he’s been in the news a few times this year. Earlier in the year producer Brian Glazer announced he was going to remake East of Eden, last month the DVD was release of the six-hour production of East of Eden that first aired on ABC back in 1981 and starred an outstanding cast including Jane Seymour (in which she has said was “the best role of my career”), and also last month one of the 25 DVD movies President Obama gave UK Prime Minster Gordon Brown was Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.  

More than 15 of his stories have found their way to film and TV screens including Of Mice and Men back in 1939 and the quirky Cannery Row with Nick Nolte and Debra Winger. (Did you know that Hitchcock’s Lifeboat was based on a Steinbeck story? And that it was one of his three Oscar nominations?)

One of my favorite books is John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, In Search of America. I was reading it again yesterday and stumbled upon this little gem:

“I have never passed an unshaded window without looking in, have never closed my ears to a conversation that was none of my business. I can justify or even dignify this by processing that in my trade I must know about people, but I suspect that I am simply curious.”
                                                                    John Steinbeck
                                                                    Travels with Charley 

But you probably want a quote from Steinbeck more in line with writing so here that is: “The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.”

 


 

Scott W. Smith

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