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“The internet is a miraculous things. Just share as much as you can, self-publish, blog, podcast whatever you need to do. Just make sure you are not withholding your gifts from the world. Because you have so many opportunities now….We’re in a new frontier.”
Diablo Cody

Today marks the 12th anniversary of Screenwriting from Iowa … and Other Unlikely Places.  The original goal was to take a year and blog a book. I failed that task—but there’s still hope. And at least in the first year the blog won a regional Emmy so that was a nice tradeoff. (See the post Juno Has a Baby.)

And I got a nice shout-out from screenwriter Diablo Cody when she was on Twitter back in the day. Her Oscar-winning  Juno script and Midwest background were a large part of starting this blog, and she’s been featured in many posts over the years. I think her tweet was a response to my 2010 post Screenwriting’s Biggest Flirt.)

Diablo Cody Twitter copy copy

After chipping away at the book for a decade I thought I was close to finishing it about a year ago. I turned it over to an editor who did what good editors do. His suggested changes and comments totaled 3,000. One of his biggest challenges to me was not to copout saying it was a book cobbled together from random blog posts, but to make a book that stands on its own. So that’s what I’ve tried to do the past six months and believe the finished product is elevated greatly because of the changes. More in coming weeks about the book’s release.

change

But seeing those edit notes was a blow. Like thinking you at the end of running a marathon only to be told, “Oh, this isn’t the finish line, you still have 10 miles to go.” It took me three months just to wrap my head around doing a deep pass on the 225 pages. Now I’m down to a dozen changes so I’m hopeful that I will finally get the completed version of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles out by March of this year.  At least, that’s the new goal.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share my introduction to the book which happens to mention actor Dwayne Johnson’s father—the former pro wrestler Rocky Johnson— who died last week.

Screen Shot 2020-01-23 at 4.37.21 PM

 

PREFACE
(For the book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles  by Scott W. Smith)

“I wasn’t born knowing how to write a play.”
—Sam Shepard, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright

“How did I learn screenwriting? It was a matter of years of trying to develop my writing in the same way that some people spend years learning to play the violin.”
—Screenwriter Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption)

In the ten years of writing the blog Screenwriting from Iowa . . . and Other Unlikely Places, I’ve found advice and insight on the creative process from more than 700 gifted screenwriters, filmmakers, and teachers. I realized that I could consolidate some of this material as a book, revising and reorganizing it in ways that I thought would be most helpful to people’s creative journeys. I want these ideas to function like brass knuckles in an old-school professional wrestling match.

I don’t know if Aristotle ever used brass knuckles, but they are said to have been around since the ancient Greeks. Abraham Lincoln’s secret service men carried brass knuckles. And legend has it that brass knuckles were Al Capone’s favorite weapon.

The term “loaded fist” in Japanese martial arts refers to a martial arts version of brass knuckles that can turn a punch into a sledgehammer. As a troubled youth in Hong Kong, Bruce Lee carried brass knuckles, giving a twist of meaning to his trademark movie Fist of Fury.

Today brass knuckles are brandished in popular video games and music videos. Spike Lee even wore brass knuckles to the 2019 Academy Awards.

My introduction to brass knuckles was watching professional wrestling on TV as a kid. This was not the high-dollar spectacle of today but the low-budget version, usually taped in a small studio in Tampa, Florida.

Actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s father, Rocky Johnson,* was a wrestler in the pre-WWE era when professional wrestling was more regionally orientated and the bag of tricks (and storylines) was more limited.

This was at a time in my youth when I didn’t know if professional wrestling was real or not. What I did know was that professional wrestling had a cast of characters with colorful names like Abdullah the Butcher, Dusty “The American Dream” Rhodes, and Andre the Giant, and it was flat out entertaining.

Inevitably, when one wrestler was getting beat up and close to losing a match, brass knuckles would magically appear (and oftentimes un-magically when he reached into his wrestling trunks and pulled out brass knuckles).

The announcer Gordon Solie would say something like, Wait a minute, what’s he have in his right hand? It looks like a foreign object. Oh no, it looks like a pair of brass knuckles!

At the last minute, this would give the almost beaten wrestler an upper hand in the match. It would result in not only a victory for the trickster but also in a bloody mess. For a ten-year-old boy this was as good as a vampire movie.

My goal with this book is not to create a bloody mess, but to offer the equivalent of brass knuckles for writers — screenwriters in particular. Ideas found in this book can serve as powerful resources in urgent moments of desperation—or to avoid those moments altogether.

By “screenwriting” I mean any screen: the big screen, TV, computers, tablets, mobile devices, virtual reality, video games, and even some non-screen dramatic writing such as theater and podcasts.

This book will not substitute for a good writing teacher or mentor, but it can give you some valuable ideas to hang on to, “foreign objects” thrown into the ring as you struggle to craft and sell your own stories.

*Rocky Johnson was actually the 1976 NWA Brass Knuckles Champion.

Related post:
Hitting Rock Botton with The Rock (And my very loose University of Miami football connection with The Rock.)

Scott W. Smith

 

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“When I first meet with the scriptwriter, I never tell him anything, even if I feel there’s a lot to be done. Instead I ask him the same questions I’ve asked myself: What is the story about? What did you see? What was your intention? Ideally, if we do this well, what do you hope the audience will feel, think, sense? In what mode do you want them to leave the theater?”
Director Sidney Lumet (Network, The Verdict)
Making Movies 

P.S. This quote is actually a nice bridge between the worlds of podcasting/radio and filmmaking. One of the things that makes Ira Glass’s work stand out is he is known to sometimes ask over 150 questions to decide if a person or topic is worthy of a radio program on This American Life. That and he’s also said to have a 40% kill rate of shows they start to produce but do materialize in a way that is worthy of the program. The great thing about asking questions is they’re quite inexpensive.

Related posts:
‘Out on a Wire’ Podcast (A good list of sample questions to ask?)
The Major of Central Dramatic Question
Screenwriting Quote #194 (John Jarrell)
Is It a Movie?
What is it about? (An Oscar-winner weighs in on asking questions.)
What’s Changed (Tip #102)

Scott W. Smith

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“I know when I write a line that I like. When musically it feels right. What the words sound like are as important to me as what they mean….I don’t know [while writing] we’re going to be saying ‘You can’t handle the truth,’ however many years later.”
Aaron Sorkin
Interview with David Brooks

“I’m not writing something that’s meant to be read; I’m writing something that’s meant to be performed. Just having written a screenplay is no more satisfying to me than if a songwriter handed out pieces of sheet music.”
Aaron Sorkin
Inside Aaron Sorkin’s Writing Process
by Christy Groaz, Variety  

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is one of those exceptions to the rule. Movies are a visual medium so there is much emphasis to write visually. (Visual Conflict, Visual Subtext, George Miller Masterclass in Visual Storytelling, Show Don’t Tell.) Which explains these quotes found on the ScreenCraft website.

“A good film script should be able to do completely without dialogue.”
Screenwriter/playwright David Mamet (The Verdict)

“Dialogue is a necessary evil.”
4-time Oscar-winning producer/director Fred Zinnemann (High Noon)

And this one from a Timeout interview:

‘I’m not one of those people who writes long soliloquies… And I just think that visual storytelling, for me, is more interesting. So if I can show something rather than say it, I will. And to have a character who almost says nothing is perfect for me, I love that.’
Oscar-winning screenwriter Steve Zaillian (Schindler’s List)

But Sorkin wasn’t a hyper movie buff growing up, his parents took him to plays and he developed an ear and appreciation for dialogue. He majored in musical theatre. And so one of the things that set Sorkin apart was his knack for writing sharp dialogue.

P.S. Ironically the two credited screenwriters on Moneyball are Sorkin and Zaillian. A film which happens to have some moments that play out visually and others that play out with dialogue that flows like music. Sorkin & Zaillan—yin & yang.

Related posts:
‘Everyone wants to say cool dialogue.’
‘Storytelling Without Dialogue’
Writing Actor Bait (Tip #64)
Directing Tips from Peter Bogdanovich  “Silent looks between people—to me, that’s what movies are about.”—Peter Bogdanovich
The Four Functions of Dialogue 

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

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Here’s the good news about bad ideas & writing poorly:

“Write. Write poorly. Continue writing poorly. Write poorly until it’s not bad anymore, and then you’ll have something you can use. People who have trouble coming up with good ideas—if they’re telling you the truth—will tell you they don’t have very many bad ideas. But people who have plenty of good ideas—if they’re telling you the truth—will say they have even more bad ideas. So the goal isn’t to get good ideas, the goal is to get bad ideas. ‘Cause once you get enough bad ideas, then some good ones have to show up.”
Author & speaker Seth Godin
The Tim Ferriss Show podcast interview 

P.S. Seth Godin’s book Purple Cow had a hand in me launching this blog. How do you stand out from the crowd? That was the basic question he asked. And the title is a reference to  when you’re driving down the road and see brown cow after brown cow how they all blend together. But if there’s a purple cow in the field it will stand out. So that in part was how I came up with the title “Screenwriting from Iowa.” (It helped that I lived in Iowa at the time—a state which has more cows than people.) If you want a good metaphor for your screenplay, make it a purple cow. (You know, like what Diablo Cody did with her Oscar-winning Juno screenplay.)  “In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is a failure. In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible.”Seth Godin 

Related posts:
Where Do Good Ideas Come From? (A+B=C)
A Perfect Bad Idea (& Oscar-winner)
Creativity & Milking Cows
The Advantage of Boredom
Filmmaking Quote #7 “If you wait until the right time to have a child you’ll die childless, and I think film making is very much the same thing. You just have to take the plunge and just start shooting something even if it’s bad…Pick up a camera. Shoot something.”—James Cameron
The Best Idea Wins 

Scott W. Smith

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“Let both sides seek to involve the wonders of science…let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths and encourage arts and commerce.”
President John F. Kennedy
Inaugural Address on January 16, 1961

Apollo 11 Liftoff July 16,1969

Apollo 11 Liftoff
July 16, 1969

I have news to announce—the Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places countdown. Countdown to what? I’m not 100% sure. But the clock is ticking.

Back in the 1960s the United States had a clear goal—to be the first country to put men on the moon. The Soviet Union had hard landed the unmanned Luna spacecraft in 1959 and the space race was in full swing. (With brilliant Germans working on both sides—but that’s another post.)

The one thing I have in common with Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, George Clooney, and President Obama is I’m a tail-end boomer. Boomers that were too young to know where they were when JFK was shot. But I was old enough on July 20, 1969 to understand how cool it was that Kennedy’s eight year old prediction was fulfilled on that day as men landed on the moon.

“This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”
President Kennedy on May 25, 1961

My father got me the front page of the New York Times with its headline MEN WALK ON MOON. (Which I still have to this day.) Following the return of the Apollo 11 astronauts there was a ticker-tape parade in New York City. It was kind of a big deal.

Admittedly, my countdown news is not quite as big a deal. I’m not expecting any front page headlines or ticker-tape parades. (Though I’m open to both.) And I don’t know what exactly is going to happen at the end of the countdown, but I know the countdown officially starts today and ends on January 22, 2015. Mark your calendars now. Something’s going to happen.

In the next 20 posts spread out over the next two months I will lead up to my 2000th post. Again, not man on the moon stuff, but worth celebrating. That will also coincide with my seventh anniversary of this blog. I had some modest goals when I started this blog—none included writing 2,000 posts over seven years.

But let me thank you ahead of time, because without people reading this blog there’s no way I would have sustained this blog all these years. The Regional Emmy, the TomCruise.com mention, the Script Mag screenwriting website of the week, and various other shout-outs have been nice—but it’s people reading this blog that have been the fuel to keep going.

My goals all along has been simple—to improve my own writing and understanding of screenwriting/filmmaking with hopes that it would also help other people with their own writing and understanding of screenwriting/filmmaking.

Cheers—

P.S. Any ebook gurus who read this blog and can offer a handle on Amazon, Gumroad, Shopify, and the like shoot me an email at info@scottwsmith.com .

Related Posts:
Screenwriting from Space (Star Trek)
Postcard #46 (Huntsville) “Dr. von Braun Says Rocket Flights Possible to Moon”—1950 Headline
Creating ‘I Dream of Jeannie’
Shoot for the Moon
The Story of Men on the Moon Remember where you’re standing when the spotlight goes off, you’ll have to find your own way off the stage.” — Down to earth advice from Apollo 13 astronaut James Lovell
Life Beyond Hollywood My very first post on January 22, 2008

Scott W. Smith

 

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“As the day ended, the five were satisfied, they had done something new, something different, something more!”
The Numberlys
William Joyce & Christina Ellis

Now that my life is so prearranged
I know that it’s time for a cool change
Cool Change/Little River Band (Written by Glenn Shorrock)

Today is post #1,901 on Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places. I know I haven’t done something as “different” as The Numberlys did. After all they took a world that knew only numbers and formed letters and words. Now that was revolutionary.

All I’ve done is spend a few thousand hours laboring over books, magazines, online interviews, etc. looking for a cohesive (and sometimes contradictory) view of screenwriting (sometimes spilling over into other filmmaking disciplines). I think I have 99 more posts in me to make it to 2,000. After that? I don’t know.

But it’s time for a cool change.

My original goal in 2008 was a book and it just grew and grew. I’m actually on the tail-end of editing the “best of” posts down to three 60,000 word books. Sort of a beginning, middle and end. I’m exploring some ebook options and if you have any experience or advice in that world please shoot me an email at info@scottwsmith.com .

I don’t have much more of a game plan than that. When I was in film school I used to have a Nike poster in my dorm of a lone runner with the words, “There is no finish line”—which seemed cool at the time. But on a little reflection, I realized I like finish lines. We need finish lines. Finish lines are useful. It’s a way to measure things.  (You know what doesn’t have a finish line? Hamsters running on a wheel.)  It just seems like 2,000 posts on screenwriting is a good finish line.

theres-no-finish-line

The Regional Emmy Award and shout-outs from Diablo Cody, Edward Burns, and TomCrusie.com–as well as the many readers over the years have all been much appreciated. (Heck, yesterday had the most views all year.) Even if I stop writing daily posts here I’m sure something new will pop up. A new blog or perhaps weekly videos.

Finding a way to monetize it or have it open up more speaking opportunities would be great. Spending time getting more dramatic writing done would be ideal.

Playwright/screenwriter David Mamet was once asked if the theater was dying and replied, “The theater is always dying and always being reborn.” Certainly that definition could be used to explain a lot in our ever-changing society. I just found out today that the cable on our TV has been off for two months because we didn’t get a new box thingy. They credited our account and since we didn’t miss it we dropped cable altogether.

I’m not a Luddite, I’ve been watching The Sopranos via Amazon Prime and movies on Netflix streaming through my BluRay and playing on my TV.  Most college freshman I’ve read don’t have a TV in their room preferring to watch everything on their computers or phones. TV is dying and being reborn.

And so it is with Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places—it’s dying and being reborn. I’m just not sure yet what that new manifestation will look like. All suggestions welcomed.

‘The very impulse to write springs from an inner chaos crying for order, for meaning….”—Arthur Miller

P.S. The Numberlys book, App, and film was created by Oscar-winning Moonbot Studios in Shreveport, Louisiana—Shreveport qualifies as an unlikely place. I wrote some posts about them ( Filmmaking in the Other LA, Old Fashioned & Cutting Edge) a couple of years ago.

Update: Soon after I wrote this post, I heard some people talking about the bowling alley at Downtown Disney (Splitsville Luxury Lanes) and one of the people said, “Bowling’s coming back.” Bowling is always dying, and always coming back.

Related Posts:
Netflix + Emmy Nominations = New World Order
Putting the Bust in Blockbuster

Scott W. Smith 

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It’s all baby steps. One foot in front of the other.”
Writer/Director Sidney Lumet (The Verdict)

ScriptMag

 

A few days ago I was thrilled to find out that the Screenwriting from Iowa and Other Unlikely Places blog was named by Script Magazine as Website of the Week.  That’s pretty cool. I’m a long time fan of the magazine and appreciate the nod from Script Mag editor Jeanne Veillette Bowerman and her team. I’ll metaphorically put that on the same shelf as my 2008 Regional Emmy for this blog, the 2010 shout-out from the official blog of Tom Cruise, and most recently in 2014 named as one of Screenwriting Spark’s Top 25 Screenwriting Blogs and by the New York Film Academy’s The Best Screenwriting Blogs.

A nice pay off to six and half years of blogging more than 1850 posts. Baby steps. Anytime my outsider perspective can be mentioned in the same breath as the insider perspectives of Go Into The Story and John August’s blog I feel like I have something to add to the screenwriting and filmmaking conversation. Thanks to all the readers over the years who have provided the motivation to keep this blog going.

Still exploring ways to publish a book/ebook version of the Screenwriting from Iowa greatest hits as well as monetize the blog, but personal projects are fuel by passion. The best advice I can pass on to you in whatever creative endeavor you chose is what the artist Gary Kelley once told me about pro bono work he chooses to do—basically, if you’re doing it for free make sure it feeds the soul.

final draft script writing screenwriting software screenwriting contests filmmaking books

Being named by “Website of the Week” gives me the opportunity to highlight 10 posts where I pulled quotes from Script Mag over the years:

Normal is Not Funny (tip #28)
The Job of Writing
Writing “The Artist” (Part 3)
Writing “The Social Network” (Part 1)
Will Anyone Read Your Script?
“I can’t keep handling this…rejection.”
Screenwriting Quote #172 (Christopher Lockhart)
Writing Actor Bait (Tip #64)
Writing “Back to the Future”
The Billy Wilder Way

And as a bonus here’s a 2009 post—Screenwriting Quote #24— that’s a quote from Script Magazine that gets to the heart of this blog:
“It doesn’t matter if you didn’t go to the best schools, if you’re a kid or in your 50s. It doesn’t matter if, like me, when I moved to Los Angeles in 1981, you come at the business without friends or relatives in the business. It doesn’t even matter if you spent formative years digging carpet scraps out of dumpsters instead of going to film school. The only thing that matters is the quality of the storytelling. More than hearing about techniques, more than discussing the construction of dialogue, I think that’s the important message; that it’s possible.”
Screenwriting J. Michael Straczynski (Changeling script, Babylon 5 creator, story credit on Thor and World War z)
Script Magazine
Volume 15/ Number 1 Pages 38-39

Scott W. Smith

 

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