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Posts Tagged ‘The Doors’

“Break on through to the other side…”
Jim Morrison

dv

You can file this post under “Old dog, New Tricks.”

Recently we welcomed a 9-year-old Golden-Lab rescue dog named Ginger into our home. It was just about a year after our 15-year-old Golden Retriever Lucy died, and we still had all of her tug toys and were looking forward to our new dog playing with them.

But we found out that Ginger didn’t care to play with any of Lucy’s toys. We were told that Ginger’s original owners were elderly and could no longer care for her which is why they gave her up. We realized that maybe she’d never chased a tennis ball or played with a stuffed dog toy.

But slowly we’ve introduced an old dog to new tricks. Albeit she’s a bit awkward because she is not a puppy, but she seems to be enjoying her latent retriever skill set.

Then it was my turn.

Yesterday, I completed three days of training on the Adobe Creative Cloud at Genius DV here in Orlando. I made the switch from Final Cut Pro to Premiere two years ago, but this filled in some gaps as well as gave me a better working knowledge of After Effects, Photoshop and Audition. (Way back in 2002, I also went to Genius DV when I was making the transition from AVID to Final Cut Pro.)

While I’ve learned greatly from various online tutorials over the years (paid and free), there is something special about stepping away from your regular work environment for a few days (or a week if you can afford it) and doing a hands-on workshop or class. (Some of my greatest leaps in learning have come from going to workshops/seminars in various places throughout the county.)

And here’s the secret that an older TV/video producer taught me when I was younger. I was complaining about a two-day seminar that I attended and how I didn’t learn that much. That can be a problem with any seminar, and there are usually many people there with varying degrees of knowledge and experience. So you can’t just skip a few pages forward, you have to stay on pace with the group.

Anyway, my friend told me, “Scott, you don’t go to workshops to learn everything, you go to learn a few things that make you better at what you do.” Amen. It may only be 10-20% of what’s taught, but that 10-20% can be huge in helping you create better work.

And I’ll add to that that your learning is not always what was actually meant to be a part of the training. Sometimes it’s the rabbit trail discussions, the passing conversations at lunch or break time with others taking the workshop, that are meaningful.

In my Adobe class led by Juan Carlos Santizo he taught this old dog, many new tricks. Some had to do with the nuts and bolts of Premiere (virtual reality in the next upgrade), much in After Effects, and a healthy dose of shop talk including showing the following behind the scene video of three of the then remaining members of The Doors (Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore) recording with Grammy-winning Skrillex back in 2012.  The official song on You Tube has 19 million views. Old dogs—new tricks. Keeps life interesting.

P.S. And I haven’t given up on Final Cut Pro. I just finished a project using FCP7 and started dipping into FCP-X earlier this year. I think it’s wise to be platformagnostic—to borrow Morgan Spurlock’s phrase. I started my production career as a Arri & Eclair 16mm  cinematographer and Steenbeck flatbed editor, so I’ve learned to actually enjoy the continual changes in technology.  And I’ve long cherished the sentiment of photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984) who said his one regret was that he wouldn’t be around to take part in the digital world.

Scott W. Smith

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“Charlie don’t surf.”
Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall) in Apocalypse Now
Screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and John Milius

Hightower Beach
©2013 Scott W. Smith

This morning I took the above photo and decided to make it a challenge to use it as a springboard for a new post. How could I take a sunrise surfer shot and tie it into something useful about screenwriting? Well, to make a long story short I found an interview with Francis Ford Coppola and John Milius talking about Apocalypse Now that they collaborated on together.  I found the You Tube video on a website that is somewhat new to me called Cinephilia and Beyond . The site is a tremendous resource and I believe originates from a filmmaker in Zagreb, Croatia. On Twitter @LaFamiliaFilm. (I see a “Screenwriting from Croatia” post forming.)

So all the way from Croatia via a turn in Satellite Beach, Florida here’s an interview between the filmmaker who made the quintessential Mafia film (The Godfather) and the one who made the quintessential surfer film (Big Wednesday) talking about how they made Apocalypse Now, how George Lucas was the original director on the project, and how the now classic film had a rocky start out of the gate.

“When the movie first came out it was very dicey which way it was going to go. And I really had my life realy based on it— I’d financed it, and it was starting to get a negative buzz. It had gotten horrible reviews. I remember the reviewer Frank Rich wrote in his review, ‘This is the greatest disaster in all of fifty years of Hollywood’..my feelings were so hurt by this pronouncement.”
Francis Ford Coppola

If you’ve never seen Apocalypse Now, definitely put it on your list of films to watch/study. (Will it help add emphasis if I you knew that last year Quentin Tarantino put it on his list of Top 12 Films of All Time?)

“[Robert Duvall] came to me and he wanted to know what all those surfing terms were. Exactly what they were. He wanted to go down to Malibu and look at surfers—see how they walked around, what they did. He wanted to know when he talked about a cutback that he knew what a cutback was.”
John Milius

P.S. File this one under odd connections: In the interview Coppola talks about going to UCLA at the same time as did Jim Morrison of The Doors. Music from the Doors is played in Apocalypse Now. Morrison was born in Melbourne, Florida just a few miles from where I took the above photo of the surfer that started this post in the first place. Apocalypse Now came out when I was a senior in high school and it was by far the most transformational movie experience of my then 18 year existence. And the scene where The Doors’ song The End plays is still mesmerizing (even on You Tube).

Related Posts:
Writing “The Godfather (take 1)
Postcard #22 (Kelly Slater Statue)
Jack Kerouac in Orlando
Surf Movie History 101
Kelly Slater on the Digital Revolution
Off Screen Quote #12 (Kelly Slater)
“Take a Risk”—Coppola

Scott W. Smith

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“Yeah I think I know what my father meant when he sang about his lost highway…”
Hank Williams Jr.
All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down)

“You must break from cliché. You must ‘Give us the same thing…only different.'”
Blake Snyder
Save the Cat

The movie Country Strong is no Tender Mercies. And there are some pluses and minus associated with that. While Tender Mercies is one of my all time favorite films, it did only make $8 million at the box office. Country Strong almost did that this weekend. But since I’ve been writing a good deal recently about movie clones it’s a good time to talk about avoiding clichés.

Tender Mercies is the 1983 Bruce Beresford directed movie for which Robert Duvall earned an Academy Award for Actor for playing a fallen (and alcoholic) county star. Horton Foote also earned an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Country Strong is the 2010 film written and directed by Shana Feste which stars Gwyneth Paltrow as a (recently) fallen (and alcoholic) county music star . And while Paltrow may get an Oscar nod, the screenplay won’t.

Feste is not Foote, and it would be unfair to compare her to him. He wrote Tender Mercies about 50 years into his career. A career that included Broadway plays and an Oscar for Adapted Screenplay for writing To Kill A Mockingbird in 1962. (And later a Pulitzer Prize.) County Strong is just Feste’s second film. (Who knows what Foote’s early plays were like decades before he became known as “America’s Checkov”?)

And to Feste’s credit she not only wrote the film but directed it putting together a great cast that do their best with a script that crosses the line into a melodrama with a cliché or two—or three. It doesn’t help that last year Jeff Bridges just happened to win an Academy Award in Crazy Heart for playing a fallen (and alcoholic) county music star. In fact, bio pictures of fallen and or musicians struggling with fame, drugs and/or alcohol is such a well travel path (The Doors, Walk the Line, A Star is Born, Glitter, Sweet Dreams) that Judd Apatow found it fertile ground to parody with his 2007 film Walk Hard: The Dewey Coy Story.

“When it seems like you’re stealing—don’t. When it feels like a cliche—give it a twist. When you think it’s familiar—it probably is, so you’ve got to find a new way.”
Blake Snyder
Save the Cat

“Clichés are shortcuts. The more you avoid taking them, the more interesting the places you’ll end up.”
John August
Avoiding cliches

When you start sampling movies about musicians you have to work hard not to hit a wrong note—be diligent to avoid the clichés. (Wait, did I just use a cliché?) I’ll give you one example of good and bad writing. In the opening scene of Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges as Bad Blake pulls into the parking lot of a dive bar and empties a jug of urine. Not a word has been spoken and we’ve learned a lot about this character and we’ve seen something that no other film has shown before. Here’s a guy who lives on the road and doesn’t want or can’t take the time to make a proper restroom stops between gigs. (A little like the true “stalking astronaut in a diaper story” a couple of years ago.)

Now contrast that with (not really a spoiler, folks) Paltrow’s character finding a baby bird while in rehab and her husband played by Tim McGraw carrying the beat-you-over-the-head-metaphor-in-a-box through half the film. At least one point in the making of the film McGraw had to think, “Is this bird thing working? Seems a little forced to me.”  And I don’t even recall a payoff with the bird.

Country Strong is the kind of movie I used to walk out of when I was younger (ie: Bolero) but now I’ve learned to enjoy the good things about any film. Here the music is top-notch and the studios gave Feste the great director of photography, John Baily (As Good As It Gets), so the film looks wonderful. And despite the 17% Rotten Tomatoes rating from top critics, the film has its moments. I thought the opening scene was a fresh twist and great start to the movie. But somewhere along the way my mind started drifting and I started to wonder how actor Tobey Maguire (Superman, Seabiscuit) got attached to this project as producer.

Later I found out and that’s where the story gets interesting.  I discovered that Feste was once Maguire’s nanny. That’s not meant as a knock. That’s interesting stuff. Everyone needs a job until they break through and Feste was savvy enough to work as a nanny in LA to make connections in the industry. It worked. (I’d definitely recommend being a nanny over some of screenwriter Diablo Cody’s previous income streams. Heck, maybe you could be a nanny for Cody.)

“I went to work as a nanny for people who were in the entertainment business, so that I could get any information I could, even while I was watching their kids. I love children, so it was an easy gig.”
Shana Feste
MovieMaker, December 2010

Along the way, Feste also cut her chops getting a BA at UCLA, a master’s in creative writing from University of Texas at Austin, and another graduate degree from AFI. Solid credentials. After AFI she went to work as an assistant at CAA for  Richard Lovett, who was president of the agency. Again, brilliant move. Her first film The Greatest premiered at Sundance in 2009. Country Strong may not be the best film of the year, but I imagine there are few grads that she went to school with at UCLA, UT-Austin, and AFI who are in the position that Feste finds herself as a Hollywood player writing and directing features.

P.S. Feste was once a nanny for Courney Love. I imagine Love and many others will have a “no screenwriter” request for future nannies. I also have a feeling that the nanny agencies will be getting a lot of calls this week from filmmakers with MFA’s looking for work. So if you happen to live in LA and decide to sign up at one of the agencies like Buckingham Nannies you may want to keep that screenwriter thing to yourself.

Scott W. Smith

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“Someone handed me Mexico City Blues (written by Jack Kerouac) in St. Paul in 1959 and it blew my mind. It was the first poetry that spoke my own language.”
Bob Dylan

“If you’re working with words, it’s got to be poetry. I grew up with Kerouac. If he hadn’t wrote On The Road, the Doors would have never existed. (Jim) Morrison read On The Road down in Florida, and I read it in Chicago. That sense of freedom, spirituality, and intellectuality in On The Road — that’s what I wanted in my own work.”
Ray Manzarek, The Doors’ Keyboard player

Though I’ve spent a good deal of my life living in Florida it wasn’t until yesterday that I visited the house Jack Kerouac lived in for a short time back in 1957-58. I was on the tail end  of a week-long stay in the Orlando area before I flew back to Iowa.

Though Kerouac died in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1969 (on top of living in the Orlando area a couple times) most people don’t associate Kerouac with Florida. Probably because he didn’t write about it much—it’s only mentioned in a few letters. He’s more known for being born in Massachusetts, his brief college experience in New York City and, of course, his time on the road. (Heck, he wrote more about Iowa than Florida.)

The Kerouac Project began when reporter Bob Kealing wrote about discovering the house in 1997. Marty and Jan Cummins happened to own a bookstore not far from where the Kerouac house and contacted Kealing about working on preserving the house. Plans were set in motion, but as it is with most visions money was an issue. But after Jeffrey Cole read about the project in USA Today he provided the necessary funding to purchase the property.

Other people and groups would come together to restore the home and launch The Kerouac Project, which includes a writers in residence program. When I drove by the house yesterday to take a few pictures of the outside of the home the current writer in residence, Alicia Holmes, was sitting in the front porch and asked if I’d like to see inside the house. Of course I did.

The house is located at 1418 Clouser in the College Park area just outside downtown Orlando. Though technically he lived in the small porch apartment in the back of the house with his mother. Inside there is a 10×10 room where the 35-year-old little known writer Kerouac (at that time) slept and actually wrote  The Dharma Bums in one of those classic 11 days continual writing sessions he was known for. Though he had written On the Road at this time it had not yet caused the sensation that would eventually catapulted him into fame as writer.

In case you never make it to Orlando here’s a tour I found online.

According to Bob Kealing’ book Kerouac in Florida, back in the early 60s Kerouac bought two lots in the Sanlando Springs area of the Orlando suburb Altamonte Springs with the hopes of starting a “communal retreat.” Those plans never materialized, but if you’ve ever driven from Daytona Beach to Orlando on Interstate 4, you’ve traveled the land once known as “Jack’s Patch,” which is now part of the west bound lane of I-4 just before you reach the 434 exit. Somehow a fitting end for a writer whose best known work was On the Road.

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!'”
Jack Kerouac
On the Road


Scott W. Smith

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