Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘The New York Times’

CumberlandIsland

©2017 Scott W. Smith

That little sliver of land at the bottom of the frame is Cumberland Island in Georgia. I took this shot on a morning walk on Jekyll Island last week. Little did I know that today’s New York Times would have a full page spread on the travel section on Cumberland Island. The print version is called Almost Out of Reach, and the online version is called On a Georgia Island, a Lot of Good Food and Plenty of Nothing. 

That Times article by Kim Severson talks about how you can only get to the island by ferry, only 300 visitors a day are allowed on the island, and except for limited camping sites the only place to stay is the Greyfield Inn.

I’ve yet to visit the island, but I hope to one day to see the feral horses that roam the island. Cumberland Island is also where John F. Kennedy Jr. married Carolyn Bessette in 1996. (Written about in the New York Times article The Island That Kept A Wedding A Secret.)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“I also think you can learn to be a good writer. Like I was a bad writer, actively bad, and I willed myself to get better. I really tried to learn what are the building blocks of a good story. And I think often people who aren’t naturally good writers, you’re just intimidated because you feel like you have to be touched by an angel to be a good writer, but you just have to have taste on what’s interesting.”
Ira Glass

Ira Glass got a little heat recently after seeing the play King Lear and tweeting, “I think I’m realizing: Shakespeare sucks.” As others pointed out, including The New Yorker, Glass later backed down saying, “That was kind of an off-the-cuff thing to say that in the cold light of day, I’m not sure I can defend at all.”

But the man’s welcomed to his opinion. The United States is still a free country. It seems the more we talk about tolerance, the more intolerant we’re becoming. (Another way of saying it is, “we’re tolerant of everyone—as long as they think like us.”) Of course, it’s fair game for people to critique his critique, but at times the internet seems to be a giant funnel to make the smallest tweet an Middle eastern-size crisis.

While Shakespeare is more well-known than Glass (as more than one person online pointed out in their critique of Glass’s tweet) Glass’s work stand on its own. For more than 30 years he’s been writing for NPR and is most known as the producer and host for the radio program This American Life, which last year broadcast its 500th show. In 2009 he won the Edward R. Murrow award for outstanding contribution in public radio.

Shakespeare may have created some of best drama in history, but he never worked in radio, had a the top-rated  iTunes podcast or spoke at Google headquarters like Glass has accomplished . Granted those options weren’t around 400 years ago, but I’d like to think the stage is big enough for both storytellers.

“There is a thing in writing that I feel I had to learn on my own that I’m surprised isn’t taught in school, and that is people don’t teach story structure properly in school. I think that when we’re all taught how to write, like we’re taught topic sentences—we’re taught the way that you would write an essay with topic sentences at the top of the paragraph, and then you fill out the paragraphs, and that basically was learning to write in school. But in fact, there’s a structure of telling a story that’s more effective than that, that I feel I had to learn by reading and by trial and error and whatever, which is much more anecdote based. So for example, the stories on our show the structure of them is really built around plot and ideas.  And it’s a very traditional kind of story structure where you just want to think through the sequences of actions where one thing leads to the next, leads to the next, leads to the next. So really you want to break down wherever is going to happen into this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened.  And the advantage of having forward motion is that it inherently creates suspense because you wonder what’s going to happen next. And so you hold people’s attention because simply moving forward action, it’s like you create suspense and you can do it with the most banal story possible, or the most everyday story…It’s so much more mesmerizing than topic sentences, because you’re utilizing something that’s so primal in us because you can create suspense.”
Ira Glass Q&A at Google

P.S. Perhaps the best thing about Glass’s tweet is some people were asking, “Who’s Ira Glass?” Which if Glass was a marketing genius was a great move. As of a month ago This American Life left Public Radio International and is now independently distributed. Cara Buckley wrote in the NY Times,  “Mr. Glass will now be responsible for the show’s marketing and distribution, as well as for finding corporate sponsors. It’s the equivalent of Radiohead’s releasing its own album ‘In Rainbows,’ or Louis C. K.’s selling his own stand-up special — except all the time, for every show. It’s the kind of move that can signal radical changes in the public radio firmament, with National Public Radio and other distributors wondering who, if anyone, may follow suit, and whether Mr. Glass will return if he fails.”

P.P.S. Glass also gave a giant boost to the career of writer David Sedaris by having him read The Santaland Diaries story on NPR back in the ’90s when Sedaris was still working odd jobs to make ends meet. Sedaris told the story of working as an elf at Macy’s one Christmas and said after that broadcast, “The telephone started ringing and it wouldn’t stop.”

Update: Apparently Glass attended the play King Lear in NYC with writer/director Judd Apatow and commedian/actress Amy Schumer so he could have easily said one of the humorist hacked his Twitter account regarding his Shakespeare tweets.

Related post:

Ira Glass on Storytelling
What’s Next?
“All stories are emotionally based.”
Robert McKee vs. Richard Walter
Bedford Falls vs. Pottersville
Writing and House Cleaning (David Sedaris quote about one of his jobs)
Can Screenwriting Be Taught (2.0)
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously) This guy loves Shakespeare.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Via a Twitter prompt by director Edward Burns (@edward_burns) I just discovered Ghetto Film School. It fits well with the blog here…Screenwriting from Iowa, and other unlikely places.  I think the ghetto qualifies as an unlikely place to write screenplays and make films. The Ghetto Film School (GFS) was founded in 2000 by Joe Hall. Based in New York City their mission is, “to educate, develop and celebrate the next generation of great American storytellers.”

So far more than 400 students have participated in the 15 month film program. The not-for-profit school has a well-connected Board of Directors, Filmmaker Council, and Advisory Board that includes Mark Wahlberg, Edward Burns, Spike Jonze, Lee Daniels, and Evan Shapiro (President of IFC TV and Sundance Channel).

In a recent article in The New York Times Joe Hall said, “We get people who apply from everywhere, but our commitment is to the Bronx in particular and the city in general.” In the TImes article written by Larry Rohter he quotes director David O. Russell (Three Kings) as saying of the work of The Ghetto Film School, “It’s an inspiring thing to do. Hollywood is so unreal and weird that you really cherish experiences that are real and down-to-earth with people who have compelling stories to tell.”

That sounds like a good plan to me. From the farm to the ghetto, from military bases to retirement homes, I believe there are many, “people who have compelling stories to tell.”

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

This week we’ll look at examples of descriptive writing and Joan Didion is a fitting place to start. While Didion did co-write the screenplays A Star is Born and Up Close and Personal she is best known for her essays and novels. John Leonard of The New York Times wrote,“There hasn’t been another American writer of Joan Didion’s quality since Nathanael West….”

If I ever had to be locked away with only 10 books one of them I would want is her essay book Slouching Towards BethlehemHere is an excerpt from its first essay called Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream:

“This is a story about love and death is the golden land, and begins with the country. The San Bernardino Valley lies only an hour east of Los Angeles by the San Bernardino Freeway but it is in certain ways an alien place: not the coastal California of the subtropical twilights and the soft westerlies off the Pacific but a harsher California, haunted by the Mojave just beyond the mountains, devastated by the hot dry Santa Ana wind and whines through the passes at 100 miles an hour and whines through the eucalyptus windbreaks and works on the nerves.”

Didion sets the tone from the opening sentences. By using words like  “death,” “alien,” “devastated,” “harsher,” and “haunted” there is an ominous tone even though the words flow smoothly and beautifully. It is descriptive writing at its best. And she continues throughout the essay to turn phases like, “This is California where it’s easy to Dial-A-Devotion, but hard to buy and book” and “The future always looks good in the golden land because no one remembers the past.”

It’s a terrific read and full of great examples of descriptive writing. Usually in a screenplay you just have two or three sentences to set-up a scene and Didion is a crossover writer (essays, novels & screenplays) who you would do well to inhale her work.

Scott W. Smith


Read Full Post »

“Twitter is on its way to becoming the next killer app.”
                                                                         Time Magazine 

 

I’m so behind the times (and Time magazine). Yesterday I mentioned something about screenwriting and Twitter and now I find out that just last month Southwest Airlines asked Twitter followers to help them write the first Southwest Airlines Script. Here are the results. (It’s not art, but remember that one of the first images caught on film in 1894 was Fred Ott’s Sneeze. That’s the kind of stuff you learn in film school.)

But now I’m catching up; http://twitter.com/scottwsmith_com

For a list of Hollywood producers, directors, screenwriters and actors using twitter go to /Film.

And congrats to actor/director (an Iowa-native) Ashton Kutcher  on just last week being the first Twitter member to have 1 million followers. (And for pledging $100,000 if he won to fight Malaria. “I’m calling to have a check made out for $100,000 to the Malaria No More Fund,” wrote Kutcher. Second place was media giant CNN. I don’t know how much a threat swine flu is to North America (and, yes, in Iowa we don’t care for that name), but I do know the foundations are shifting in how we are processing our news and entertainment. 

And just to totally try to keep up with the changes, I know The New York Times called Twitter “One of the fastest-growing phenomena on the Internet,.” but just yesterday Michael Liedtke at Yahoo announced that Twitter quitters outnumber those flocking to Twitter. 

 

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Calvin College Bridge

I took the above photo at Calvin College after my screenwriting talks this week. It’s part of Calvin’s Crossing, a pedestrian bridge designed by architect Frank Gorman that spans a little over a football field in length connecting the main parts of campus with the DeVos Communications Center over one of the busiest roads in Grand Rapids.

While the bridge has a practical purpose for Calvin students, it’s a fitting metaphor for all writers, filmmakers, and video producers. Too often creative folks distance themselves from the other disciplines of life. (You could call it a superiority complex.) In fact, there is a growing trend for young filmmakers to just go to film schools that only teach film and digital video production. (Technical skills are always easier to develop than writing. Which is why there are many beautifully photographed movies with shallow stories.)

At Calvin the communication center is where the video and radio studios, the video and film theater, and the video editing suites are all located. But Calvin is a liberal arts school so students head over the bridge to fill their minds with art, literature, languages, philosophy, politics, history, mathematics, religion and science with an emphasis on knowledge and truth rather than livelihood.

The knock on a liberal arts education has always been in line with it doesn’t prepare you for any job except to maybe teach. But if you look at the info where liberal arts grads end up you might conclude that liberal arts majors are prepared for just about every job. Margaret W. Crane wrote in the article For the Love of Learning, “a liberal arts background prepares you to think, analyze, and contribute meaningfully to the world around you.” 
 


While speaking at Calvin this week one of the things I mentioned was when I was a student at the University of Miami a professor told us film school students that you don’t go to school to learn to make films, you go to school to learn what make films about.

Screenwriter/director Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) did go to UCLA for his Master’s work in film studies, but he did his undergraduate work with an emphasis in pre-seminary at Calvin College. While later rejecting the doctrine, he has credited Calvin College with teaching him to think.

When Suzanne O’Malley, who’s written for the TV show Law & Order, taught a seminar a couple years ago at Yale College called “Writing Hour Long Television Drama” where the class came together to write a 47-minute television program. Something a little different at the liberal arts college.

“We’re drawing from The New York Times, from Shakespeare, from Sun Tzu, from [John Lewis] Gaddis, one of the professors here, looking at all different kinds of serious work and blending that into our plot and story line,” she said in a Yale Daily News article by Andrew Bartholomew.

And just to connect all the dots. Yale is actually made up of 12 residential colleges and the one O’Malley taught at was Calhoun College, which is actually where actress Jodie Foster graduated from with a B.A. (with honors) in literature — after she was nominated for best supporting actress in Taxi Driver. She went on to win two Oscars after graduating from Yale. (Maybe a liberal arts degree should be a requirement for all child actors.)

So at least for Schrader and Foster their undergraduate liberal arts backgrounds haven’t hurt their now pushing 40 year careers in Hollywood.

Even if you’re out of school (or never went to school) read and study widely because it will add richness to your writing and your life.

Text and photo copyright 2009 Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: