Posts Tagged ‘Prince’

Note: I can’t think of a week in the past 12 years where I haven’t written a single post on this screenwriting and filmmaking blog. But that’s what happened in the last week of May. George Floyd died on May 25th shortly after being detained by police. The video of an officer with his knee in Floyd’s neck and Floyd saying “I can’t breathe” is disturbing. We don’t have all the facts at this time, but we do have one dead man, heart’s aching, anger, protests, riots, looting, and physical violence across the country. This is just me trying to process the last week.

“There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?’ We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. . . . No, we are not satisfied. And we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
—Martin Luther King Jr. quoting the prophet Amos in his “I Have a Dream Speech” in August 1963.

Chip&Scott 01062020_2

Directing Chip in a 1984 Student film

When I was 22 years old, I directed a student film starring Chip McAllister. I met Chip in acting classes in Los Angeles and knew that a few years prior, he played Muhammad Ali at age 18 in the film The Greatest (1977). He’s one of the most upbeat and charismatic people I’ve ever met. (And I’m forever grateful to him for introducing me to chicken curry at a Thai restaurant in Hollywood.)

Chip went on to have roles in the TV shows Highway to Heaven, Police Woman, and The Facts of Life, and in the film Weekend Pass. In 2004 he and his wife Kim won the fifth season of The Amazing Race.

But back in 1984, one day before or after acting classes I was talking about a setback of some sorts and Chip smiled and said, “Man, you’re white, you can do anything.” There’s a good chance he doesn’t even remember saying that, but for whatever reason, that line has stuck with me for decades.


Chip in the 1980s

I remember thinking, what does “You’re white, you can do anything” mean? It was the beginning in a shift in perspective for me. Though I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s in Florida, I did not witness much overt racism around me.

Personally, I wore #42 playing high school football because of Miami Dolphin great Paul Warfield.  Playing second base in baseball, Joe Morgan was the player I most wanted to emulate. My favorite and most inspirational teacher in my entire education was Annye Refoe, Ph.D. Warfield, Morgan, and Refoe are all black. My favorite all-time baseball team, the 1975 World Series champion Cincinnati Reds, is  a case study in peak diversity: César Gerónimo (Dominican Republic), Tony Perez (Cuba), George Foster (Alabama), Dave Concepcion (Venezuela), and Johnny Bench (Oklahoma) among others.

A brief stop as a walk-on football player at the University of Miami did not expose any racism that I could see. (But I could do a documentary on the differences between Overtown and Coral Gables. I’d call it 7 Miles— the distance between the two areas.)  My first 8mm student film used Michael Jackson’s She’s Out of My Life from his Off the Wall album. The 1982 NCAA championship came down to North Carolina beating Georgetown 63-62 and featured three players later voted to the list of the 50 top players in NBA history;  Patrick Ewing, James Worthy and Michael Jordan. All black.

In 1984, Eddie Murphy was at the peak of his powers finishing his SNL run and the release of Beverly Hills Cops. In 1984 Prince and his Purple Rain album and movie made him the first person to have a number one album, a number one song, and a number one movie at the same time. The only person even more popular than Prince and Murphy was Michael Jackson. From February 1983 to April 1984 Jackson’s Thriller album sat at Billboard’s number 1 spot. A record 37 weeks. The Thriller music video, the moonwalk, and the Victory Tour cemented Jackson as the King of Pop.

Also, in 1984 the Los Angeles Lakers, lead by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson, put together an amazing run where they finished the season as NBA champs. From my limited perspective of sports and entertainment, black people in 1984 seemed to be doing phenomenally well.  Chip’s “Man, you’re white, you can do anything” comment confused me.

There were a lot of things I couldn’t do. Be as funny as Eddie Murphy, play the guitar like Prince, sing like Michael Jackson, play football like Jerry Rice, or basketball like Magic Johnson. Heck, in 1984 I couldn’t even afford tickets to see the Lakers and the Celtics play .

But that comment worked on me over the years, and I began to realize that there were more Arthur McDuffies in the United States than Michael Jacksons. Who was Arthur McDuffie? While at Miami during the 1981/82 school year, I became familiar with the events surrounding the 1980 Miami riots.

Arthur McDuffie, a black insurance agent,  was said to run a red light on his motorcycle at 1:15 a.m on December 17, 1979, leading police on an 8-minute high-speed chase.  A scuffle ensued, and McDuffie died four days later from head injuries. Police claimed it was from his motorcycle crashing, but the coroner said the injuries weren’t consistent with an accident. Instead, he said, it appeared McDuffie was beaten to death.  It resulted in manslaughter and tampering with evidence charges for six officers. This was in the days long before cell phone videos, and after a four week trial, the officers were acquitted.

Within hours Liberty City erupted in what turned into four days of violence, over $100 million  in damages, and leaving more than 15 people dead. Colin Kaepernick would not even be born until seven years after the Miami Riots.

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
Line from Requiem for a Nun by William Faulkner

It took a while, but I realized what I think Chip’s passing comment meant. That after graduating from film school in 1984 I could meander around the country by myself for six weeks and not think twice about being confronted by racial tension. I got pulled over by police in Moab, Utah and Nashville, Tennessee, during that trip in routine and courteous stops for minor infractions. (And maybe both exploratory pullovers since I was driving an out of state vehicle. But never was I concerned that I might never see my mom again.) I could hike and camp freely, or stop in any store in any town, without a single suspicious glance.

If I started a whole list, I might never finish. Like anyone, I’ve had my share setbacks, and believe I’ve worked hard for my successes. And while it’s not true I can do anything I want—I do understand the sentiment behind that comment. I didn’t grow up in a beautiful tree-lined neighborhood, but the roads in front of me were paved in ways that they weren’t for Chip and his friends.

So I’m committed to listening to the experiences and stories of blacks. I will listen to conversations and debates knowing that there are perspectives that are foreign to me. (I am reminded of a 1997 debate between playwright August Wilson and Robert Brustein that touched on should black actors perform work by white writers.)

Here’s a prime example of “You’re white, you can do anything.” You may have heard the account six weeks ago when NFL great Tom Brady accidentally walked into—yes, walked into—the wrong house soon after he moved to Tampa, Florida.  Realizing he was in the wrong house he apologized and quickly left. The local press, TMZ, the owner, and Brady got a good laugh out of the situation.

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No harm, no foul.

Chip is now a realtor in Southern California and in 2014 when he and his wife accidentally went to (to, not in) the wrong house (because they’d been given the wrong address) in an upscale neighborhood in Yorba Linda what do you think happened?

Several Orange County sheriffs came to the scene.

No harm?  No foul? Just a misunderstanding, right? One time, maybe. But if that’s what you and your friends have experienced to one degree or another, time after time, you might think there was a pattern. This is Chip’s video today where he talks about these things from his perspective.

I will gladly stand up when human rights are violated. Every situation has its own circumstances. In time, hopefully, the truth surrounding the death of George Floyd will come to light. Justice can only follow truth. And I do hope the truth prevails, but it’s not going to happen in a few days.

“What I want to see is not a rush to judgment, but a rush to justice.”
—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
LA Times Op-Ed, May 31, 2020 

May we all take steps toward making this world a place with a little more peace, love, grace, and harmony.

We shall overcome…

P.S. So that’s some of the context behind my 2014 post:
25 Links Related to Blacks & Filmmaking

Scott W. Smith








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“This is not the kind of music that comes from Minneapolis, Minnesota.”
Dick Clark
(After Prince’s appearance on American Bandstand in 1980)

“When you’re coming from the middle of the country…I think it’s easy to be more original.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody

He was born Prince Rogers Nelson in Minneapolis, but the world knew him as just Prince—or as the artist formally known as Prince.

And before Prince won Grammys and an Oscar Award (Best Song, Purple Rain), and before he was called the Prince of First Avenue (a nightclub in downtown Minneapolis), and before he sold 100 million records, and long before he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—he was just another little boy struggling to survive in North Minneapolis.

He was born at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Minneapolis in 1958. That was just seven years after the hospital opened during time of anti-Semitism, and was a place that offered Jewish physicians opportunities that weren’t always possible at other area hospitals. It was, according to the Twin Cities Daily Planet, “a gift from the Twin Cities Jewish community to serve and employ, among others, those not accepted elsewhere because of their race or religion.”

He grew up on the North Side inner-city of Minneapolis. His father was the leader of the Prince Rogers jazz trio and his mother—who was said by Rolling Stone magazine to have “traces of Billy Holiday in her pipes” sang for the group. They divorced when Prince was 10.

“I didn’t have any money, so I’d just stand outside [McDonald’s on Plymouth Ave.] and smell stuff. Poverty makes people angry, brings out their worst side. I was very bitter when I was young. I was insecure and I’d attack anybody. I couldn’t keep a girlfriend for two weeks. We’d argue about anything.”
Rolling Stone interview by Neal Karlen in 1985

He went to John Hay Elementary school and in 1976 graduated from Central High School in Minneapolis. He cut his musical teeth performing at various venues in the Minneapolis area and recorded his first album in 1978. A decade later he was a worldwide music legend.

Though he spent time in other places like L.A. and Toronto,  Minneapolis was his home. He eventually opened Paisley Park  in Chanhassen south of Minneapolis, which is where he died this morning.

Plenty will be written about his musical genius, some about the controversies, but since I have a little blog called Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places I’d like to just point out that a sense of place did play part in his success. From his early musical teachers, to the soul (and pain) of his childhood neigborhood, to those who supported his musical rise in the Twin Cities.

Prince was unique in his talent and his success, but Minneapolis has a long musical history. Back in the early ’60s Bob Dylan began his musical rise living and performing there. On Prince’s setlist for his 2007 Super Bowl half-time show he performed All Along the Watchtower written by Dylan. (Prince said in one interview that the Jimi Hendrix version of that song was an early influence.)

When I was living in the Midwest I did several video shoots in Minneapolis and worked with crew members who worked with Prince and enjoyed hearing their stories. There’s no question that Prince was talented—and eccentric. I heard stories that Prince would sometimes do a mini-concert at Paisley Park for the crew after a production wrapped.

I also have a feeling that Prince produced a lot of videos and music that will only see the light of day now that he’s dead.

And just to come full circle…I started this blog back in 2008 after seeing Juno written by Diablo Cody and learning she went to school at the University of Iowa and wrote the Juno screenplay while living and working Minneapolis.

One of the things that drew Cody to Minneapolis was a graphic designer/musician. (I don’t know if she ever crossed paths with Prince in Minneapolis—but I’d bet the she would have loved the opportunity.) Anyway she wrote for City Pages and blogged until then-agent, now producer Mason Novick encouraged her to try her hand at screenwriting.

Which she did in the Minneapolis suburbs of Robinsdale and Crystal just a few miles north of where Prince grew up. (I’m all about seemingly unlikely places for talent to rise up.)  But where Prince grew up is still a tough place. Here’s a quote from a commentary in the Minneapolis Star Tribune just a few days ago.

“North Minneapolis is a war zone. We are afraid. We are losing our young people to gun violence.”
Mickey Cook
April 16, 2016

It reminds me of one of my all time favorite lines in any movie—in the documentary Hoop Dreams the young rising basketball star is asked if he’ll remember them when he’s famous, and the young basketball player says, “You going to remember me if I’m not [famous]?”

Prince is going to be remember for long time. He’ll probably always be the most famous person from North Minneapolis. President Obama tweeted about Prince, “Today we lost an icon.” And while that’s true, Prince lived a very full life before he even turned 30—much less the 57 years he spent on this planet. It would be nice to do something in Prince’s memory that assures young people in North Minneapolis that they may not be famous—but they’ll be allowed to grow up.

Make a statue of Prince—but build up and protect some lives, too.

Related post:
Juno Has Another Baby (Emmy) “When you’re coming from the middle of the country…I think it’s easy to be more original.”—Diablo Cody
Screenwriting Postcard from Minneapolis
The Oscars Minnesota-Style
Revisiting ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ 

Scott W. Smith



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I’m up in the Twin Cities again for a shoot and happened to be driving through St. Paul yesterday when I heard the news that Al Franken was officially declared the winner of the Senate race that has been in limbo for eight months. It was a good day to be a talk radio host up here. Remember this is the state that once chose Jesse Ventura for Governor.

Because it’s tucked away in the upper midwest, Minnesota kind of flies under the radar for the rest of the country so they have to do some interesting things to get attention.  There’s a great mix of people up here and that’s helped  produced a variety of creative talent from Prince to Diablo Cody. 

A couple days ago I mentioned that Sam Shepard and Jessica Lange lived in the Minnesota -St. Paul area for a period of time while they were raising their kids. So I thought it would be fitting to find a quote from Shepard and I found this one from an interview he did in St. Paul back in 2004:

“I’m self-taught. I learn everything by doing it. I wasn’t born knowing how to write a play. You do it and hopefully you keep evolving. One really great thing happened was that I discovered Chekhov’s short stories. I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t really start reading them ‘til about 5 or 6 years ago. I’d always kind of dismissed Chekhov and didn’t really know why. When I came upon the stories, and started really reading and studying them, I couldn’t believe it. I read every single one.”
                                                  Sam Shepard
                                                  Interview with Don Shewey
                                                  Rock-And-Roll Jesus with a Cowboy Mouth 


Scott W. Smith

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And the winner is… Minnesota.

Minneapolis Convention Center

If someone wanted to make a point about talent coming from outside Hollywood the 80th Academy Awards would be a great place to start. (The above photo is not from the Oscars but gave me an excuse to highlight the Minneapolis Convention Center from a production I worked on a couple years ago.)

I can’t recall a more eclectic (and foreign) group of winners than this year’s Oscar winners. Has Hollywood has caught on to outsourcing? And as far as screenwriting is concerned this year’s Oscar’s were distinctly Midwestern, specifically Minneapolis, Minnesota.

First Joel and Ethan Coen who began making films in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park won for best adapted screenplay for No Country for Old Men.  And then Diablo Cody won best original screenplay for Juno. Congrats to all three.

I couldn’t be more happy for them because they are at the core of what Screenwriting from Iowa is all about. True it’s not called Screenwriting from Minnesota, but that wouldn’t cause any snickers or even raise any eyebrows would it? But both Iowa and its connected neighbor to the north represent a place far from Hollywood.

For the curious, the drive from my office in Cedar Falls, Iowa to downtown Minneapolis takes 3 ½ hours, unless you stop at the Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota near the border. (If you stop in Forest City for the Winnebago tour as well it’s a full day trip.)

When the Minneapolis Star Tribune picked Cody as “Artist of the Year” last year they said that, “she became a professional writer for City Pages and banged out Juno in the Starbucks annex at the Crystal Super Target.” Though raised in the Chicago area and a graduate of Iowa Cody said, “I became a writer in Minneapolis; that’s why I call myself a Minnesota-based writer.”

The Coen Brothers gave a nod to Minneapolis when they won their third Oscar for the night for Best Picture (they also picked up best director). Joel talked about when they were running around as kids making 8mm films like Henry Kissinger; Man on the Go then said. “What we do now doesn’t feel that much different from what we were doing then.”

They have slowly built a wider and wider audience with their quirky film style beginning with Blood Simple in 1984, through Raising Arizona, Fargo and O Brother Where Art Thou? Their Oscar sweep was impressive but they also made the only film to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes along with the Best Director and Best Actor awards for Barton Fink. They are American originals.

Speaking of America, I think JC Penny’s creative team hit a home run with their Oscar commercials introducing the American Living brand featuring the song “Killing the Blues” by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss. I’m not sure I’ve been in a JC Penny since I was nine but I’m ready to go back. (And they get bonus points for the barn shot. Everyone knows you can’t show/sell Americana without a barn shot.)


Another American original is Cody who has been mentioned on just about every blog I’ve written. There’s a good reason. This blog began as a response after seeing Juno in January. In fact over the weekend Screenwriting from Iowa turned one month old and I must thank Cody for the nudge.

My notes on film had been collected over a 20-year period and were just looking for a place to blossom. I began giving screenwriting workshops in 2004 and approached a publisher at the end of ’07 about the concept of Screenwriting from Iowa.  A chapter was requested, then another until I had sent him four chapters. Ultimately the deal didn’t happen but I spent a good deal of last December continuing to write the book.

Then in mid-January I saw Juno and was blow away by the movie. I read that Cody had attended the University of Iowa and was discovered while blogging and I just kind of put two and two together and jumped into the blogging world.

May all you bloggers be encouraged by what Cody told Wired magazine about her unusual rise to fame, “It’s been fun, and I’m enjoying it while I can. I think there’s room for more talented bloggers to break into Hollywood. It seemed like a fluke when I did it, but I won’t be the last blogger to have a film produced. There are so many talented people that exist in the marketplace. So don’t look for a plan. Put your blog into the world and hope that your talent will speak for itself.”

The response based on the  Word Press stats chart and links to this site have kept me pumping these out and I hope the comments have been helpful. I also hope the  contents can be in book form by this summer.

So I not only thank Cody for the inspiration but to everyone for stopping by. My goal all along is to inspire screenwriters and filmmakers who feel like they are in the middle of nowhere. Now that Cody has an Oscar on her shelf (along with the indy award she received the night before) she can get back to her day job working on The United States of Tara for Steven Spielberg.

“I feel like I’m living The Wizard of Oz,” Cody said. “There was a day when I cracked a door open and everything was Technicolor. It was a very frightening place but a very beautiful place, too, as Dorothy says.”

I’m glad she mentioned The Wizard of Oz because when you come up I-35 from the south and begin approaching downtown Minneapolis about an hour past the Iowa border you’ll see downtown appearing on the horizon like the Emerald City.

I’ve always wondered if Minneapolis was the inspiration for Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz book series. Baum spent time in Aberdeen, Dakota Territory (now South Dakota) and that’s said to be the inspiration for Dorothy’s Kansas. So it’s possible he came off the flat prairie land into Minneapolis on his way to Chicago where he would eventually write his wizard books. Regardless The Wizard of Oz movie– many people’s favorite all-time film, has its roots in the  Midwest.

Minneapolis’ twin city St. Paul is where Charles Schulz was raised created Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang, and where Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion is recorded when he’s not on the road.

Over the last couple years I’ve been able to do several video productions in the Twin Cities and they have a solid production base of rental equipment houses, studios, talent as well as a thriving music scene. It’s always fun to work with people who’ve been involved with shooting Prince’s music videos at his studio Paisley Park or on the films Grumpy Old Men, The Mighty Ducks, and Fargo.

Creativity flows from the music scene in Minneapolis as well as the more than 100 theater venues (in fact, they have more seats per capita than any other U.S. city outside New York. “Cutting edge museums, arty hotels and edginess expand Minnapolis’ cool culture reputation..over the past two-year Minneapolis has taken its underground cultural destination status to a new level. (USA Today Dec. ’06)

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

(I took the photo of The Spoonbridge and Cherry artwork by Clas Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen  at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden)

In The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook (Genevieve Jolliffe & Chris Jones) Gail Silva mentions the production scene in New York and San Francisco but adds, “If I had to go anywhere else I’d go to Minneapolis & St. Paul. There is a chapter there of the IFP (Independent Feature Project) where they’re more like the Fine Arts than anywhere else and they’ve been able to do incredible things, including funding films. They have a fund that they got  through the State Legislature fund features.”

Let’s not forget that The Mary Tyler Moore show was based in Minneapolis. It also has long history in advertising and I’m told where the Jolly Green Giant and  Betty Crocker were created.  Rocky & Bullwinkle and Paul Buyan also have a Minnesota roots as does Academy Award winning actress Jessica Lange, Winona Ryder, Josh Harnett and iconic figures  J. Paul Getty and Charles Lindbergh.

I don’t know if there is something in the water in Minnesota but I have to conclude that long streches of cold weather warp the mind and are fertile ground for screenwriters, musicians, actors and filmmakers. Terry Gilliam who co-wrote Monty Python and the Holy Grail as well as co-wrote and directed Brazil was born in Minneapolis.

And concluding our connecting the Oscars with Minneapolis let’s not forget to mention Cate Blanchett’s nomination for Best Supporting actress for playing Bob Dylan in “I’m Not There.” Dylan was raised in Duluth and  the small mining town Hibbing, Minnesota, but began his rise on the music scene in the Dinkytown area of Minneapolis.

I don’t think the spotlight on Minneapolis is going to fade anytime soon. In fact, right now I’m sure there are screenwriters fighting to write in the exact spot at Starbuck’s where Cody wrote Juno.

Photo & Text Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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