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Posts Tagged ‘University of Florida’

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Many know of Gainesville, Florida simple because it’s the home to the Florida Gators football team. Lesser known is the name at the top of the University of Florida football stadium that reads Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.* Griffin was a former UF  who became an orange grove baron in Frostproof, Fla. with an estate worth an estimated hundreds of millions when he died in 1990. He and his family have been significant donors to the school over the years.

Years ago I once produced a video for his extended family and came across footage of an old interview with Griffin that’s always been one of my favorites. Since he started with just 10-acres of oranges he was asked what was the secret of his immense financial success. He smiled and said, “Now I don’t know if I’ve failed more than I’ve succeeded, it’s just that my successes have outshone my failures.”

I imagine any honest biography would echo that thought. And may it be true of us as well.

In the bottom left corner of the photo I took yesterday are three top Gator players (Danny Wuerffel, Steve Spurrier, and Tim Tebow) who each had their share of successes and failures, but are best known for being Heisman Trophy quarterbacks who also were on national championship teams as a player or coach at Florida.

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*The full name of football stadium is now “Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.” But that’s a mouthful so many just call it by its nickname—”The Swamp.”

Scott W. Smith

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“Harry Crews has a talent all his own. He begins where James Dickey left off.”
Norman Mailer

“I wrote four novels and short stories before I even published anything, and the reason I didn’t publish any of those things was because it wasn’t any good.”
Harry Crews

In his interview on The Tim Ferriss Show, Cal Fussman mentioned that he’s only had writer’s block once in his life and writer Harry Crews (1935-2012)  helped him work through it.

Fussman was so moved reading the novel A Feast of Snakes by Crews that he got in his car and drove 20 hours to meet Crews unannounced at his Gainesville, Florida home. Fussman’s Esquire article Drinking at 1,300 FT: A 9/11 Story About Wine and Wisdom was the result.

I grew up in Central Florida and first became familiar with Crews’ writing back in the 80s. His essay A Day at the Dogfights (from Florida Frenzy) is hard hitting in the Hunter S. Thompson-style of immersive journalism.

From the late 60s to 1997 Crews not only published books, but taught creative writing at the University of Florida. Crews wrote about what he was after in his classes:

“Part of my job as a teacher is first to try to help my students determine what’s worth writing and what is not. If they want to write science fiction or detective stories, that’s fine with me; I just want to make sure they know what they’re doing, to make sure they realize they are not writing the kind of fiction that can crush the heart of the living memory. I want to show them that they are writing nothing but entertainment. It is not that the greatest fiction, the kind I want them to spend their energies on, is not entertaining. It is. But it is so much more than that. It is the ‘more than entertainment’ that I want the writers who work with me to know about, be concerned with, even consumed by.”
Harry Crews
Essay Teaching and Writing in the University
From the book Florida Frenzy

And this is as good a time as any to throw in another quote of his on writing:

“Writing fiction or plays or poetry seems to me to be a very messy business. To be a writer requires an enormous tolerance for frustration, for anxiety, for self-doubt.”
Harry Crews

P.S. Two other names that came up in the Fussman/Ferriss interview were legendary fitness expert Jack LaLane and the great wrestler & coach Dan Gable. I have mentioned them both on this blog before and had the opportunity to work on video/TV productions with both of them. As they sing a few hundred times everyday here in Central Florida, “It’s a small world after all.”

Related link:
Harry Crews: On Writing and Feeling Like a Freak, NPR (1988)

Related posts:
‘Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus’
Jack LaLanne (1914-2011)
Screenwriting Quote #70 (James Dickey)
Thanks for the Plug TomCruise.com (Touches on Dan Gable being Cruise’s hero back when he was a high school wrestler.)
John Irving, Iowa & Writing Touches on the novelist love of wrestling and how he was trying to get a screenplay done on Gables life.

Scott W. Smith

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“As a script reader, I noticed that every variation of Die Hard had sold. Not all of them got made, but they all sold.”
Michael France (On what led him to write Cliffhanger on spec)

One of the fun things about doing a small niche blog like this is making all kinds of odd connections, which I believe is what creativity is all about. (See the post Where Do Ideas Come From?)

For instance, as I mentioned yesterday I flew out of the Tampa airport and learned that the first commercial flight ever was between St. Pete and Tampa. That led me to learn that screenwriter Michael France (Cliffhanger, Hulk) was not only born in St. Pete Beach, but lives there today. Not only that, but he owns an old movie theater there which is currently playing the Jason Reitman/George Clooney film Up in the Air that I spent several days blogging about recently. In one of those posts I mentioned that Walter Kirn, who wrote the novel Up in the Air, was once married to and has two kids with the daughter of Thomas McGuane. Well, it turns out that I found an interview with Michael France where he said his favorite book is The Buchwacked Piano by Thomas McGuane.

One big interconnected world.

In an interview with Stax at ING, France was asked, “What do you feel has been your most important professional accomplishment to date?

“I took this question a couple of different ways. My first response to this is, managing my writing career so that I’m able to live where I want – which is waaaaay out of L.A. – and spend my off hours with my wife and kids on the beach. That’s not an easy balance to pull off, and it allows me to live the way I want to, so…that’s important to me personally. But I think you probably mean artistically, so I’ll take my head out of the beach for a minute. When I was writing Hulk, I wanted to make Bruce Banner an extremely complex, emotionally sealed off character, and to make his relationship with Betty romantic but still tragic. Those dynamics are difficult to make credible even when you’re not bringing in large science fiction ideas – but I tried to make that work in balance with the large scale action scenes that you have to have with Hulk.”
Michael France

To be fair, France did do time in New York & L.A., but a screenwriter “waaaaay out of L.A.”—huh, what an interesting concept. (Of course, to pull that off, it doesn’t hurt to have a few blockbuster films to your name and Marvel’s Stan Lee in your address book.)

Though I’ve never met France, I bet in that funky, creative way our paths have crossed somewhere. We’re the same age so it may have been that Jimmy Buffett concert I went to at the University of Florida campus (where France went to school) in the early 80s (Coconut Telegraph tour if I remember correctly), maybe somewhere in L.A., but most likely it would have been St. Pete Beach where I’ve spent much time visiting over the last 30 years. In fact, I shot part of a commercial there last summer.

One thing is sure, the next time I’m down that way, I’m going to catch a movie at France’s Beach Theater after my regular fried grouper stop at The Hurricane.

Scott W. Smith

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