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Super Bowl LV in Tampa turned out to be not such a super game. But as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were winning their second Super Bowl Championship (and Tom Brady his seventh Super Bowl ring) I started to reflect back on some memories of the Buccaneers and of Tampa.

First I thought back to their 2002 Super Bowl win and I still have the Sports Illustrated after that game. Here it is alongside the team’s first ever home game in 1976 (and my ticket from that game).

The second memory is former Bucs quarterback Doug Williams. When I was a 19-year-old college student and sports reporter and photographer for The Sanford Evening Herald I interviewed him in the off-season. (Williams, Tim Raines, and Jack Billingham were the first pro athletes I met working on that job. Heady stuff for a teenager.)

Williams had a rough few years playing for Tampa Bay, and ended up playing in the USFL, before eventually starting for the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XXII where he lead his team to victory and was awarded the Super Bowl MVP. (Williams also had a solid run as a head coach at Grambling State University, and is an executive with the Washington today).

And lastly as a video producer I was hired to do a freelance shoot with Reggie White in Tampa just before Super Bowl XXXV in 2001. White had recently retired from his Pro Football Hall of Fame worthy career. White and Lawerence Taylor are at the top of the list when mentioning the greatest defensive player in the history of the NFL.

Reggie White (who was known as the “Minister of Defense”) signed his book for me which I still have to this day.

When I was a walk-on with the Miami Hurricanes there was a freshman on the scout team with me named Stanley Shakespeare. He went on to have a solid UM career and started at WR in the 1984 Orange Bowl game in which Miami beat Nebraska on their way to their first national championship. Shakespeare played the last game of the season with the Tampa Bay Bucs in 1987.

Former University of Miami quarterback Jim Kelly is the only QB to lead a team in the NFL to four straight Super Bowls. In Super Bowl 25 (1991) in Tampa, Kelly got the Buffalo Bills into field goal range in the final seconds of a one point game against the New York Giants. Scott Norwood missed the field goal, but the game was ranked a few year’s ago by Sporting News as the 3rd best Super Bowl of all time. Even though I was pulling for the Bills, it was a super Super Bowl.

And my last Tampa memory was going to a Bucs game in 2016. We had seats in the upper bleachers where you mostly watch the game on the jumbotron screen. But late in the third quarter the Atlanta Falcons had a healthy lead and people had already started clearing out because it was a night game. So we walked down closer to the field and got a great view of Mike Evans making a catch that ended up being voted the catch of the year.

P.S. As a kid growing up in Orlando before they had a major pro sports team—and even before Disney World opened—I could never have imaged that one day the top athletes in the world would be talking about coming to Orlando after winning the big game.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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“Reversals are a more compelling form of discoveries or revelations because they turn the story upside down.”
Karl Iglesias
Writing for Emotional Impact

CBS Sports headline Nov. 9, 2020

Last week was historic—I did my first podcast interview about my book . (When that interview about my book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles is posted I’ll write about it here.)

This week was historic, too. On Sunday, Tampa Bay’s quarterback Tom Brady lost a game by the biggest margin of his entire career. And his former team, the New England Patriots, are on track to have their worst season in 20 years. That’s quite a reversal from just a few years ago when Brady was with the Patriots and led them to Super Bowl victories in 2016, 2017, 2018. (And three others a little further back.)

The year 2020 could be called one gigantic reversal. Thanks to the disruption of COVID-19 life as we know it may never go back to the way it was at the beginning of the year.

Back in 2016 I wrote a post about the United States Presidential Election that was a great example of a major reversal. A reversal that favored Donald Trump. So it’s fitting to look at the 2020 election in terms of reversals and the takeaway lessons from a screenwriting perspective.

Do you remember early February of 2020? Bernie Sanders won the most votes in the Iowa caucuses and Pete Buttigieg won the most delegates in the race to pick a Democratic Presidential candidate. Then those two duked it out in New Hampshire. On February 22 Sanders won Nevada. At that point, 77-year-old Joe Biden had never won a single primary and seemed to be on his way out of the race. (Maybe even out of politics.)

Yet here we are less than nine months later and Biden not only became the Democratic candidate, but (unless there is another reversal) he’s been elected as the 46th President of the United States.

“A reversal changes the direction of the story 180 degrees…Reversals can work physically or emotionally. They can reverse the action or reverse a character’s emotions.”
Linda Seger
Making A Good Script Great
Page 67

Minor reversals (good and bad) are a daily part of our lives, but major reversals really get our attention.  It’s a divorce, a death, or the loss of a job. But it’s also a marriage, a birth, and a promotion. It’s been said that there really are only two emotions, happy and sad.

Movies are also full of minor reversals. Just about every scene has some kind of reversal in it.  The uncertainty holds our attention. But what sets a major reversal apart is scope and magnitude.

In Rocky, when Adrian finally accepts a date from Rocky that’s a reversal in their relationship up unto that point. When Rocky loses his locker, that’s a reversal. But when Rocky, a low-level, club boxer is chosen to fight the champion Apollo Creed, that is a major reversal in the story. It’s such a major reversal that five Rocky movies have flowed from the reversal.

If Rocky isn’t chosen for that fight, perhaps he realizes that boxing really isn’t his calling in life and takes a factory job where he ends up fighting the system like Erin Brockovich and Norma Rae. But Rocky fought for the championship and it resulted in a franchise that’s made over a billion dollars at the box office.

Robert Mckee says a film needs to have at least three major reversals to “satisfy the audience” and I’d agree with that. But I’d add that there are five places in script where major reversals are not only common, but needed:

  1. The inciting incident. (What others call the “Knock at the door.”) It’s the thing that sets your story in motion.
  2. Act 1 Turning point
  3. Midpoint conflict
  4. Act 2 Turning point
  5. Crisis/Climax toward the end of your story.

Many memorable movie scenes are major reversals that loosely fit in one of the above categories.

“Reversals go a long way toward helping writers confront the twin-edge sword of predictability.”
Richard Walters
Essentials of Screenwriting
Page 74

Off the top of my head here are some major reversals:

—”I see dead people.” (If you don’t know the reference I won’t spoil it for you.)
—”She’s my sister and my daughter.” (Ditto the above note.)
—The ______ in the box in Se7en.
—The tornado in The Wizard of Oz.
—The plane crash in Cast Away.
— The super posse shows up in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
—Matt Damon gets stranded on Mars (The Martian).
—Sandra Bullock gets lost in space (Gravity).
—A command module malfunctions (Apollo 13).
—Jerry Maguire gets fired.
—Zoltar grants the young boy Josh his wish and he wakes up as a man (Big)
—The warden throws a rock through a Raquel Welch poster in Shawshank.
—Woody in the box at the end of Toy Story 3. (Yes, I shed a tear or two.)
Both Fight Club and A Beautiful Mind have major reversals where the audience learns the main character has a mental illness.
—When Tom Cruise learns who the Rain Man is (Rain Man).
—And the Keyser Soze ending to The Usual Suspects.

In the “Marge vs. the Monorail” episode of The Simpsons, what appears to be a great way to spend a $3 million dollar windfall to Springfield turns out to endanger lives and the town.

And then there is the reversal in The Social Network when the co-founder of Facebook (Eduardo Saverin) learns his stock worth millions even in the early days of Facebook had been diluted to be worth less than $20,000. Reversals can be very emotional.

P.S. But don’t feel too sorry for Saverin—for he had his own major reversal. He won a lawsuit against Facebook and today the investor has a net worth estimated to be over $13 billion. (Yes, that’s thirteen billion. A chunk of which came off a $15,000 investment in a start up then called The Facebook.)

Scott W. Smith

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“You’re going to get knocked down a lot. But you got to get back up.”
—Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly
(Good advice in football, and in life.)

Talent is talent. It doesn’t matter if it’s college football players or Hollywood filmmakers. I’m calling it the talent tree, but others have used the pyramid analogy.

It both cases the smallest part of the tree/pyramid is at the top (where the most talented and accomplished hang out), there’s a thick middle, and a wide (crowded) lower section.

In a few days the #7 ranked University of Miami football team plays top ranked Clemson University. Without drilling to deep into that game since this is a screenwriting blog, let me just say that if Miami upsets Clemson it will be the school’s biggest victory in over a decade—maybe since 2002.

There will be a lot of talent on display including Clemson’s QB Trevor Lawrence who is expected to be a number one NFL draft pick and Miami’s D’Eriq King. It’s not a stretch to say that whoever wins this game at quarterback has a solid shot at the Heisman Trophy (for the top NCAA player of the year).

One of the things that makes college and professional football so popular is hierarchies are decided on the field. Sure there’s occasional politics and various metrics you can tweak, but as my old high school football coach Sammy Weir used to say, “The cream rises to the top.” Here’s what that looks like in the arena of football:

Pro Football Hall of Fame (great career)
NFL Pro Bowl players (great season)
Professional (Arena, Canadian, NFL)
Semi-professional
College
High school
Pop Warner/ youth tackle football leagues
Organized flag football
Sandlot/pickup games
Toss the ball around

The University of Miami has had tremendous success over the last four decades resulting in five national championships. Dozens of players have gone on to play in the NFL. And while some have played at the highest level, you couldn’t put 11 UM players on the field who are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Miami used to be known as “Quarterback U” for turning out great quarterbacks. Here’s a short list (in alphabetical order):

Ken Dorsey (Led team to 2001 National championship, first team All-American, Two time NCAA QB of the year, played in NFL for five years)
Craig Erickson (QB on 1991 National championship team, and third on UM’s all time passing leaders)
Jim Kelly (Only QB to lead pro team to Super Bowls four consecutive years)
Bernie Kosar (QB on 1983 National Championship team, two-time pro bowler with a successful career with the Cleveland Browns)
George Mira (Miami’s top QB for the school’s first 50 years. Played in the NFL and in CFL. And led his team to a World Football League championship and was the game’s MVP)
Vinny Testaverde (Heisman trophy winner and actually threw more TDs than Kelly in the NFL)
Gino Torretta (1992 Heisman Trophy winner, college football Hall of Fame, five year NFL career )
Steve Walsh (23-1 as starter at UM, QB of 1987 National Championship team)

I labor this point to say that of all the quarterback talent that has flowed through the University of Miami football program only one has made it to the top of the pyramid at the highest level. Only Jim Kelly is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

And to show how brutal the talent hierarchy can be— if you field a three quarterback team from the NFL 100th Anniversary All Time Team you’re arguably left with Tom Brady, Joe Montana, and either Johnny Unitas/Dan Marino/ or John Elway.

This reminds me of the meme I saw recently saw on Twitter debating three of the greatest NBA basketball players: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James—start one, bench one, cut one.

You can do this in the animal kingdom, with corporate lawyers, and a pie baking contest at your local county fair. Everywhere. Including Hollywood screenwriters.

On a recent Scriptnotes podcast Craig Mazin talked about the high dollar that top screenwriters can earn doing rewrites (paying upwards of $300,000 a week). But he added that that amounted to only 20-30 writers. He didn’t give any names, but those are the people at the top of the pyramid. Out of 7.5 billion people in the world, there are only 20-30 on the short list. (Probably about the same for current outstanding NFL quarterbacks in the world.)

The good news is thankfully you don’t need to be Tom Brady to play football or enjoy being around the game. Ken Dorsey is now a quarterback coach with the Buffalo Bills. Others coach at the high school level or college level. Others move on from the game, including one who is probably the most financially successful person to ever wear a Hurricane uniform—actor Dwayne Johnson. This year Forbes listed him as the highest paid male actor for the fiscal year ending in June, making an estimated $87.5 million. (And as a reminder to give back, Jim Kelly established the charity Hunter’s Hope.)

All you can do is do what you can, with what you have, where you are. Once upon a time every working screenwriter today didn’t have an agent or a manager, hadn’t even written screenplay yet, and wasn’t even on the talent tree or pyramid.

You may not be the next Quentin Tarantino, but take comfort in knowing that he spent years without getting anyone interested in his writings. Then a few years trying to make a low-budget film. (And while that failed, he says it was a great learning experience.) Then he started getting opportunities to do some re-writes for $5,000 a script. Eventually it all clicked and he moved up to the top of the tree/pyramid and collected some Academy Awards. To paraphrase what FSU football coach Bobby Bowden once to said of a star player, Tarantino may not be in a class by himself—but whatever class he’s in it doesn’t take long to do a role call.

P.S. Speaking of Sammy Weir, I found this photo over the weekend of the two of us on the sideline my senior year. Coach Weir was one of the main influences of me walking-on at Miami. He had been a Little All-American when he played at Arkansas State, and played briefly with the New York Jets (as a teammate with Joe Namath). I think he came to Orlando to play for the Orlando Panthers and eventually coached at several high schools in the area and UCF early in that program’s history. He told me he thought I could play major college football and so I gave it a shot. It didn’t work out like I’d hoped, but I don’t have any regrets.

I wore #42 after my hero Paul Warfield who was a top tier talent. An first team All American at Ohio St., a six time All Pro wide receiver with the Miami Dolphins and the Cleveland Browns, two time Super Bowl champ, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and in 2019 named to the National Football League 100th Anniversary All Time Team. That’s a nice resume.

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Filmmaking and Football with Ryan Coogler
Screenwriting and the Super Bowl

Scott W. Smith




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If yesterday’s Super Bowl football game were a movie, the critics would have walked out because of all the sports clichés. An underdog team that started the season with two losses goes up against the undefeated powerhouse team in the championship game and in the last-minute scores the winning touchdown. They become the first NFC Wildcard team to win the Super Bowl.

Before we fade to black, the winning quarterback wins the Super Bowl MVP, the same award his older brother last year.  Their father who was an NFL quarterback but never had a winning season is redeemed by having two Super Bowl MVP sons.

An announcer called the New York Giants victory over the New England Patriots,  “One of the greatest upsets in Super Bowl History.”

The receiver who caught the winning touchdown cried on camera and the soft-spoken quarterback said, “You can’t write a better script.”

What can screenwriters can learn from Super Bowl XLII?

DRAMA: Drama is defined as exciting, tense, and gripping events and actions. This game had plenty of drama—plenty of conflict. You had no idea what was going to happen next.

A GREAT OPENING: First the New York Giants took a 3-0 lead and the New England Patriots came back and took the lead 7-3.  The scoring then cooled down until the fourth quarter.

TWISTS & TURNS: There were fumbles and interceptions that changed the ebb and flow of the game. The lead changed hands several times.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?: This wasn’t just another football game. The Patriots were vying to make history by becoming only the second team in NFL history to go undefeated, and having a better record than the 1972 Miami Dolphins they would have laid claim to being the greatest football team in history. As it turned out they weren’t even the best team of the night.

SUBPLOTS: For the Super Bowl I would say that the subplots were all the commercials in between the game. Little dramas that offer a change of pace and something that some people look forward to more than the game.

STRONG VISUALS: Not only were there great plays on the field, but there were static visuals in the stands like the sign held up that simply read 18-1. That one shot was the game in a nutshell. Under a game ending photo of dejected New England coach Bill Belichick that caption could read, “The mighty have fallen.”

BACKSTORY: There are too many to list here, but here are some:

-Before Eli Manning became the Super Bowl MVP he endured much criticism about his soft-spoken leadership.

-Winning coach Tom Laughlin’s job was on the line last year after finishing 8-8.

-Kawika Mitchell became a free agent last year and some thought he’d sign a multi-year contract for up to $25 million. The phone was quiet for 27 days and he signed a relatively low one year deal with the Giants to prove himself. In New York he had to change positions to play. He started the Super Bowl game and had three tackles including one sack. (As a fun sidebar, the month and year Mitchell was born I was a high school football player at Lake Howell High School in Winter Park, Florida where he would become an All-Florida football player. I wore #42 because my hero was Paul Warfield of the undefeated Dolphins team. )

-Wes Welker was so short in high school he was passed up by most colleges for a scholarship, later cut by the San Diego Chargers, under used at Miami but there he was,  a 5’9″ receiver playing in the land of giants and in the biggest game in pro football. (His eleven receptions in the game tied a Super Bowl record.)

-Doug Williams handed off the winning trophy to the New York Giant owners after the game in honor of his winning the Super Bowl MVP 20 years ago. Williams endured many hard years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before taking the Washington Redskins to the Super Bowl. He was also the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl. (Fun side bar 2, when I was a 19-year-old sports reporter/photographer for the Sanford Evening Herald in Florida I interviewed Williams before a charity basketball game. I still remember his quote when I asked him how he dealt with fans booing him. “It’s not always important how the fans be when they be there, it’s that they be there.”)

FORESHADOWING: Overconfident New England quarterback Tom Brady laughed when told of a predictions that his team would lose 23-17. He said, “We’re only going to score 17?” Little did Brady know that he would be limited to one touchdown pass or that he would be sacked five times…and only score 13 points.

REDEMPTION: From the underrated NY Giants team to the individual stories there was much redemption which is at the core of many a successful movie. Redemption is one of those primal needs that screenwriter Blake Snyder is always talking about. Something every audience understands. It’s what makes us keep going back to sports movies again and again even though we often know the ending, because deep down we are looking for various kinds of redemption in our own lives. It gives us hope. And “Hope is a dangerous thing,” said Morgan Freeman’s character in “The Shawshank Redemption.”

STRUCTURE: There is a traditional beginning-middle-end to all football games just because playing time is limited. The rules of the game as well as the width and  length of the field also offer structure. Creativity comes when you embrace the limitations. Most feature scripts fall between 90-120 pages so why fight that?

THEME: This one is as basic as they get; sometimes little underrated guys win as hard work and perseverance pay off in the end. (Hoosiers, Breaking Away, The Natural, Seabiscuit, Remember the Titans, andmost recently the baseball film shot in Iowa The Final Season.) Even the Budweiser commercial featured during the Super Bowl reflected this common sports movie theme. After one of the horses doesn’t make the team he trains hard for a year with a dalmatian and makes the cut the next year.

A GREAT ENDING: Throughout the day today people will be talking about Manning’s last touchdown drive. About David Tyree’s spectacular helmet catch that helped set up the winning touchdown.  About Plaxico Burress’ game winning catch with 35 seconds left in the game. Great ending are satisfying.  And this one was for the Giants and their fans. And those that root for the underdog.

That would include the teammates of the 1972 Miami Dolphin team who probably stayed up later than the Giant players as they popped another bottle of champagne (or two) as they have been doing over the last 35 years, celebrating their place in history one more year as the only Super Bowl team to finish the year undefeated.

© Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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