Posts Tagged ‘University of Miami’

Note: I’ve been using most of my free time in the last two weeks trying to power through launching the podcast Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles. I still have a few things to wrap my head around, but look for an launch announcement tomorrow. (In fact, this post will probably find its way into episode 1.)

“The guy looked like a cross between Colonel Sanders and General Patton . . . .[Howard] Schnellenberger was as old-school as a pair of brass knuckles. He had learned football from some of the game’s biggest legends.”
—Bruce Feldman
‘Cane Mutiny: How the Miami Hurricanes Overturned the Football Establishment

This is the opening paragraph of my book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles:

“Get that f—ing walk-on off the field” is how my short-lived football career ended at the University of Miami back in 1981. I’d dislocated my shoulder during the previous play in practice and was hunched over frozen-like and favoring my twisted left arm. Dr. Kalbac popped my shoulder back in place. I had surgery put down my helmet for good, and picked up a camera.

I thought of that moment again after learning Howard Schnellenberger died at age 87 at the end of March. He wasn’t the coach that uttered those encouraging words to me, but he was the head coach back then. He was the architect who took a program that was almost disbanded in the ’70s and built it into the most dominant college football program of the ’80s and ’90s.

He won’t go down as the greatest coach in the history of football, but in my opinion he was the most influential coach for the fast-paced, high energy that college football is today. College football through the ’70s looked a lot like “three yards and a cloud of dust” that Woody Hayes made popular at Ohio State. Schnellenberger brought his prostyle passing offense to Miami and when mixed with the talents of Jim Kelly and Bernie Kosar created magic.

What a full life Howard Schnellenberger had. He was an All American football player at the University of Kentucky in the 1950s. He coached under Bear Bryant at the University of Alabama and recruited Joe Namath in the 1960s, In the 70’s he was an assistant coach with the 1972 champs that where not only Super Bowl champs but finished the season undefeated.

In the 1984 he won a national championship at the University of Miami. That Hurricane season and upset win of Nebraska in the Orange Bowl started what was known as the decade of dominance. ESPN doc This was well documented in the Bruce Feldman book Cane Mutiny: How the Miami Hurricanes Overturned the Football Establishment and Billy Corban & Alfred Spellman ESPN’s documentary The U.

In the ’90s he turned around the Univ. of Louisville football program, and helped start from scratch the football program at Florida Atlantic University. FAU played their first game in 2001 and in just seven years into the program were Sun Belt Conference champs capping what was for Schnellenberger six decades of football excellence.

I can only remember having one conversation I had with coach Schnellenberger, but a letter I got from him cemented my decision to go to school in Miami as a walk-on player. Still have that letter. (And his signature has a smudge because I wanted to know if it was a real signature.) I was looking for a major college that had a football program and a film program which in the ’80s was a pretty short list.

In high school I’d been an All-Conference and All County wide receiver, but when I got to Miami I realized that everyone was All State and some were All American. (Remember this was long before the internet that gave in-depth reports on every school. There was a certain amount of mystery involved. And it was a pre-Randy Moss era before some wide receivers were taller than linebackers.) Every step-up in the game from Pee Wee football through to professional football is a major jump.

I’ve said before I may of had the shortest career of any player to put on a Hurricane uniform for a game. (One JV game where I played exactly zero plays.) But a few days before I got injured I had my best practice running through plays before a JV game against Florida St. and teammate Stanley Shakespeare said, “Coach, you should start Scott— he catches everything.” Shakespeare went on to be the starting wide receiver on the ’83 National Championship team so I’ve always cherished that moment. Never underestimate the power of a few encouraging words.

One of the things I learned at Miami was to respect the talent pyramid. There are always just a few people at the top. Pick any field and you’ll find it’s true. As Robert De Niro is quoted as saying, “We’re all talented. Some are just more talented than others.“

Composers: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart

Tech: Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Mark Zuckerberg

NBA shooting guards: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Duane Wade

Female Recording Artists: Madonna, Rihanna, Taylor Swift (Or is it Mariah Carey, Streisand, Whitney Houston? Janet Jackson, Olivia Newton-John, Aretha Franklin?)

Ranking talent isn’t an exact science. Hence, the endless G.O.A.T. debates these days. But as legendary football coach Bobby Bowden once said of one of his players, “He may not be in a class by himself, but whatever class he’s in it doesn’t take long to do a roll call.”

In my year at the UMiami film school, director David Nutter was the standout student. Since he went on to win three Primetime Emmys (Band of Brothers, Game of Thrones) I think he’d be at the top of the pyramid of all students in the history of that program. (Read the post The Perfect Ending.)

Of all the great athletes that have excelled at the University of Miami and went on to have a career in the NFL, you couldn’t even put a full 11 player team on the field of those who have reached the pinnacle of excellence—the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Here’s the entire list of nine players from the almost 100 year history of the Hurricane football program in Coral Gables, Florida:

Ted Hendricks
Michael Irvin
Edgerrin James
Jim Kelly
Cortez Kennedy
Ray Lewis
Jim Otto
Ed Reed
Warren Sapp

Those were the great ones who had long and distinguished careers. And even that small list has a pyramid.

One could do a Ph.D. thesis on Pareto principle or Price’s Law (dealing with the scarcity of a few to accomplish the most) from the talent that Miami harnessed from 1982—2002 when the school won five national championships. At Miami, Schnellenberger was a recruiting genius tapping into the unusually large talent pool in Central and South Florida that was traditionally drawn away by powerhouses in the Big Ten or SEC conferences. (Even today, the state of Florida produces the most players in the NFL.)

And Schnellenberger and his coaches could recruit outside the state as well. The 1982 team alone had three quarterbacks (Jim Kelly, Vinny Testaverde, and Bernie Kosar) who would go on to each be first round draft picks in the NFL. (Technically Kelly was recruited by former Hurricane head coach Lou Saban, but Kelly stayed because of Schnellenberger and credits him and QB coach Earl Morrall with preparing him for the NFL.)

Great talent is extremely rare. And it doesn’t last forever. To borrow a line from the movie Moneyball, ”We’re all told at some point in time that we can no longer play the children’s game.” Heisman Trophy winner Tim Teabow played his last NFL game in his mid-20s, Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice lasted until his early 40s, and even the great Tom Brady will retire—eventually (I think).

Schnellenberger never made it to the NFL as a player though he did play professional football in Canada for two seasons. Then he turned his attention toward coaching. But as an acting teacher in LA once told me when I was frustrated with my progress, “Just because you’re not Babe Ruth, doesn’t mean you can’t play baseball.” Schnellenberger found other ways to leave a legendary mark.

I would say that is the heart of this blog (and soon to be podcast Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles). You may not be the next Paddy Chayefsky, William Goldman, Spike Lee, Aaron Sorkin, Quentin Tarantino, Diablo Cody or William Shakespeare—but you can learn from their writings, and the hundreds of other writers and filmmakers I quote to become the best writer, filmmaker, content creator you can become.

P.S. And couple quirky fun facts, Schnellenberger was born in tiny Saint Meinrad, Indiana (home to a Benedictine Monastery) and according to IMDB he played a referee in the Robert Altman directed MASH (1970).

P.P.S. Brass Knuckles are illegal in Florida and do have a violent connotation, which may be two reasons the University of Miami football team has “The Crib” touchdown rings. This is what Spike Lee writes in his Do The Right Thing screenplay: Mookie stares at the gold “brass knuckles” rings Radio Raheem wears on each hand. Spelled out across the rings are the words “LOVE” on the right hand and “HATE” on the left hand.

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

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“[Eddie]Van Halen was not just an awesome guitarist. He developed a repertoire of techniques that transformed the way that the guitar was played.”
—Steve Waksman
NPR music

You’ve heard about the 10,000 hour rule, right? It’s the theory developed by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson and popularized in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success. The essence is that to reach expert level of performance it takes on average 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.

Much has been said about the phenomenal guitarist Eddie Van Halen since he died this week. One interview that stuck out to me was with former Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth who said that Eddie Van Halen was a 30,000 or 40,000 hour guy.

Let that sink in. It’s one thing to put in a decade of work to reach expert level, but imagine what it would look like if someone but it 30,000+ hours into their craft. Perhaps something like this…

While some compared Eddie to Jimi Hendrix or Les Paul, he was also called the Bach of the electric guitar. That causes me to think of the song Cathedral from the 1982 album Diver Down where Eddie made an electric guitar sound like an organ.

And if you’re thinking “you can’t teach that” consider this quote:

“I’m not self-taught anything. I’m the result of instructors, teachers, professors, a couple of probation officers, and so were the Van Halens [meaning brothers Eddie and Alex]. And you hear it in the music.”
—David Lead Roth (the original lead singer in the group Van Halen)
TheRothShow #27

I saw Van Helen in concert my senior year of high school in Lakeland, Florida. It was 1979 or 1980 making those guys around 24 or 25 years old. I can’t remember seeing any live band it my life that was more electrifying—that exhausted more energy on stage. (I never had the opportunity to see James Brown, Michael Jackson or Prince live.)

Bruce Springteen’s Born in the USA 1985 tour would be close, but Springsteen was already on top of the world. Van Halen was just breaking away from being an opening act and ready to make their mark on the world. (This was pre-MTV so you made your mark selling records and with your stage performances.)

In January 1984 Van Halen released the album 1984 which eventually sold 17 million copies. It only reached #2 on the charts because Michael Jackson’s Thriller album owned the entire year. (But as a side note Eddie Van Halen played a solo on Beat It from the Thriller album.)

January 1984 just happened to be the month that Howard Schnellenberger reached the pinnacle of his career. As the head coach of the Miami Hurricane football team he defeated the #1 ranked (and highly favored) Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Orange Bowl.

Schnellenberger took a program than was almost disbanded in the 1970s and helped turn it into the most dominate program in college football from 1983—2001. The school won five national championships in that time and once had a home winning streak of 58 games. (Still an NCAA college football record.)

Schnellenberger unfortunately chose to leave Miami for the USFL following his team winning the National Championship. He had various levels of success at other colleges, but Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson, and Larry Coker continued the Hurricane national championship tradition.

But Schnellenberger is considered the architect who laid the foundation for not only Miami’s winning tradition, but for largely what college football looks like today. A long way from “three yards and a cloud of dust.”

If he’d of had of stayed at Miami there’s a good chance—to use Bill Simmons’ analogy—Schnellenberger would be on the Mt. Rushmore of college football coaches.

But I’d like to spotlight what I’m guessing was the 30,000+ hours Schnellenberger put into coaching. He was an All-American end at the University of Kentucky in 1955. Started coaching in 1959, was the offensive coordinator under Bear Bryant as the University of Alabama in the 1960s won three National Championships.

He then coached in the pros and was on the coaching staff under Don Shula during the Miami Dolphins’ undefeated 1972 season when they won the Super Bowl. He was also the head coach of the Baltimore Colts and joined the Hurricanes as head coach in 1979. Meaning when Miami was named national champions in 1984 he’d invested 35 years of his life in football.

And here we are 36 years after that Miami—Nebraska game and #7 ranked Miami plays the #1 ranked Clemson tonight. Schnellenberger wrote the book Passing the Torch: Building Winning Football Programs… with a Dose of Swagger Along the Way. And if the turnover chain or the touchdown rings come out tonight, know that there is a touch of Schnellenberger swagger in those jewels.

And regardless if the Hurricanes upset Clemson or not, I hope the 86-year-old Schnellenberger goes to sleep tonight with a smile on his face knowing that the hours he invested in others and the game leaves a lasting legacy.

P.S. As I’ve written before, I was briefly a walk-on at UM on the 1981 team and one of my fondest memories was hearing Schnellenberger’s mesmerizing voice of authority in the locker room. (The only conversation I recall having with Schnellenberger was when he asked me “Where are your people from?” I had never heard that phrase before and it sounded like poetry.) I remember having a discussion in 2007 about wanting to do a documentary on Schnellenberger, but was thrilled when Bill Corban and Alford Spellman created The U that was part of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series.

Check out my new paperback or eBook Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles to help support this blog.

Scott W. Smith

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“I was a failure at everything I tried. I worked as a box boy at a supermarket and got fired. Then my dad got me a job at Standard Oil—fired again.”
—Actor/director Robert Redford
Success magazine

Besides using some downtime during the coronavirus global pandemic to finish my book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles, one of the things I’ve been doing is digitizing old files of photos, papers, and the like. Brings back lots of memories.

Today’s post is kind of a photo journey that I hope helps some of you who are early in your journey. Or those of you who’ve metaphorically seen your dreams crash and burn—or at least hit some kind of wall in your life. (This year could be dubbed ”Dream Crusher” for many. This Wall St. Journal article today about more cuts at Warner Brothers shows just some of the tens of thousands of media jobs cut due to fallout from the pandemic. )

Looking back it seems that every ten years I hit some kind of wall in my life. As I’ve gotten older I’ve gained a perspective that I’ll get through it eventually. (“Just keep swimming.”) As I touched on earlier this week, I hit my first real life-changing wall my second year of college when I dislocated my shoulder as a walk-on football player at the University of Miami.

After playing organized football for ten years it was my first real injury. I had surgery in the fall of 1981. Fortunately, I was prepared to pivot. Former boxing champ Mike Tyson once said everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. Thankfully I was already working on my next plan.

In the fall of 1981 I was taking my first film class with Prof. Capewell. I have a distinct memory of shooting my first 8mm film that semester with my left arm in a sling following surgery. I filmed a POV shot in a go-cart holding the camera in my right hand and steering with my knees.

The next semester I loaded up on classes on film editing, screenwriting, photography, and Tv production. With football out of the picture I also decided to head out to Los Angeles to finish my film education. I chose Columbia College Hollywood because they took my community college and Miami credits letting me finish my BA in a year and a half. Plus the classes were at night giving me an chance to seek daytime opportunities in the business. (And we had some professors that also taught at USC and UCLA.)

The truth is there are plenty of film and Tv opportunities for those starting out—if you’re willing to work for free. I was an unpaid intern on a cable TV show called Alive and Well. It was exciting at first, but the early call time and long commute from Burbank to Marina del Rey, and the long days working and school at night, got old quickly. (And did I mention that it was unpaid?)

Interns are so valuable (and transient) they don’t make the list.

Seeking to get a paid job in the business I got a driver job with Broadcast Equipment Rental Company (BERC) in Hollywood and that was my first opportunity to get on various film and TV studio lots. A highlight was when a security guard delighted in showing me the set of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson at NBC. (It was a lot smaller than I expected.)

Deciding I needed to be doing something more creative, I used my sports background to land a job at Yary Photography where I drove around shooting photos of high school, college, and professional teams. Looking back the real fringe benefit of that job was getting paid to drive all over Southern California for a couple of years. From Big Bear to Rancho Palos Verde, and from San Louis Obispo to San Clemente. From a gritty area in Compton, to a ritzy golf course in Brentwood, to being on the field at the Rose Bowl, I got an incredible overview few get to see first hand.

USC campus just south of downtown Los Angeles
LA Raiders training camp in El Segundo
Yes, short-shorts were in style back then.
College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita
Pomona (if my memory is correct)
Yes, puffy shirts were in style back then.
UCLA team in Pasadena
Inside the Rose Bowl

I enjoyed being around sports teams, working with some great people, learning a lot from other photographers, and worked my way up from freelancer to director of the photography department.

And at the same time I was making and studying films in school: Shooting and editing footage, working on budgets, leading crews, casting and directing actors, and writing scripts. (One of my first attempts at screenwriting was, believe it or not, about a walk-on football player.)

I also took acting classes and weekend filmmaking workshops at AFI and UCLA. Lost a girlfriend along the way, which is understandable because my normal days were 12-16 hour days. But I later helped a young lady moving into my apartment building—next month we’ll celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary.

My next job after the sports photography gig was as a 16mm camera operator and editor for a group in Burbank. I won’t bore you with all the details, but it’s been an adventure.

Flying out of the Aspen airport in a snow storm as a young cameraman is something I’ll never forget.

But it was hitting that wall back in 1981 that was a key turning point in my life. If my football dream would have continued as a Hollywood movie I would have returned to Miami in the fall of 1982 which had the greatest collection of quarterbacks in the history of college football (Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde), and in 1983 been on the team that won Miami’s first national championship.

Instead, I may of had the shortest “career” of any player who ever wore a Hurricane uniform in a game. (I dressed out for one JV game and played exactly zero plays.) My take two dream would have been my script based on that experience would have been made into a movie. Yeah, that didn’t happen either. But years later the story about another walk-on, Rudy (1993)—the story of Rudy Ruettiger— got made and found great success. A movie the Bleacher Report named the #2 (behind Rocky) most inspirational sports movie of all-time.

So what do you do after your dreams crash and burn? You pick up the pieces and you move on. That’s pretty much the basis for many great movies. It’s why Kenneth Burke said, “Stories are equipment for living.”

I’m a person of faith so I think stories and movies can only take you so far in finding purpose, meaning, and fulfillment in life. But they’re great at pointing the way.

“The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”
Hamlet by Shakespeare

If it helps, most of the foundation of my entire creative career was formed in years after hitting the wall in Miami. And for a different perspective, read the recent Sports Illustrated article about how 5 of the 12 linebackers from the 1989 USC football sadly died before age 50. Sometimes living the dream brings its own set of problems. As Hollywood celebrities have been proving for decades.

P.S. Yary Photo was founded by Wayne and Ron Yary who both played football at USC. Ron went on to play 14 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His son Jack Yary is a freshman tight end this year at the University of Washington.

Related post:
The Benefits of Failure (From a Former Struggling Writer Now Worth Over $1 Billion)

Scott W. Smith

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Note: My new book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles is available on Amazon in both paperback and eBook.

Years ago when I traveled more for productions than I do today, I started this postcard section where I shared various shots on the road. And that also gave me a break from writing a daily posts. So today’s post is in that spirit, but a throwback postcard.

Way back to when I was in film school at the University of Miami. (Back when the cost of film school wasn’t as astronomical as it can be today.) Today’s postcards are from a photography class I took in the spring of 1982. I think they hold up pretty good for student work.

The first shot is of The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. Today it’s a luxury hotel, and that’s what it was when it first opened in 1926. But in-between it had a couple of lives. I’m not sure how the great depression was for business, but in 1942 the government converted to the hotel into what was called the Army Air Forces Regional Hospital.

At some point it was used as The University of Miami’s School of Medicine, and was a Veteran’s Administration hospital until 1968. According to Wikipedia, it was abandoned for many years until becoming a hotel again in 1986.

When I took this exterior shot in 1982 is was a tragically beautiful building. This was well before YouTube and urban explorers, but I would have loved to have seen what it looked like inside after years of neglect. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) was still fresh on mind my so it wasn’t hard to imagine a Jack Nicholson-like character typing away in the lobby. (My assignment must have been to shoot something fitting for infrared film. )

The faded edges of the printed from years gone by have only added to the mystery I was hoping to capture as a student.

The Hollywood connection to the hotel is not only various celebrities that stayed there (Judy Garland, Ginger Rogers, Bing Crosby and Tarzan—Johnny Weissmuller), but many movies and television and TV shows that were shot there (Bad Boys, CSI Miami, and Miami Vice).  

The second shot is from Vizcaya Museum and Gardens overlooking Biscayne Bay. It was built between 1914—1922 as the winter estate for businessman James Deering who made his fortune from farm equipment. In case you missed it, this huge estate was just where he wintered. Apparently there was a lot to be made selling harvesters to Midwestern farmers who helped feed people in the United States.

Enough to live like a king. Of course, this is photo is not James Deering, but just a random king I stumbled upon at (with the help of some internet research) the Florida State Renaissance Festival in March of 1982. (They stopped doing the annual festival in 2003). A rather timeless photo. I’d like to thing that this is someone’s grandfather and they get a kick out of seeing it somehow.

Now that I’m in a Miami state of mind, tomorrow I’ll share the secret I learned about talent during my short stint as a walk-on on the UM football team and at the film school there. Advice that’s also timeless.

P.S. If you ever have a weekend in Miami and want to get a 1-2 taste of grand ole Miami it’d be hard to beat checking out The Biltmore and Vizcaya.

Scott W. Smith

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“The whole goal is to tell our story… Every single day the task of our social media accounts is to help tell the story of what it’s like to be a Clemson Tiger.”
Jonathan Gantt
Digital & Creative Director, Clemson University Athletics

It’s not only police departments now that have social media departments producing content, colleges athletic programs are also telling their story as a way to connect to students, donors, alumni, and to attract new recruits.

In the Sports Illustrated Social 100 Clemson came out #1 for their excellent use of Twitter, Instagram, Vine, videos, etc. In 2015 alone they are said to have had 27 million views across all platforms. The really amazing thing about Clemson University is it doesn’t have a film school (I don’t believe they have a TV major either) yet much of the content being produced are being done so by students.

Way back when I was a walk-on football player at the University of Miami and film major there all I remember the team having is a 16mm camera that filmed practices for coaches and players to watch. Fast forward to today and there are millions of people watching their favorite players prep for games. I’ve seen videos where even mundane fitness drills or workouts are made interesting. (And it’s not just football teams—or male sports— that are covered and followed.)

And schools are just in their infant stages of using all of this technology so this is a growth trend for people wanting to work in production. It’s not all done in 15 second bursts, and you can see longer narratives starting to be developed.

The Dream is our biggest production to date. The Dream tells the story of a young boy who dreams of becoming a Clemson Football player and running down the Hill for the ‘most exciting 25 seconds in college football’ and chronicles his journey to the moments before his dream becomes a reality. It’s not common for athletic departments to produce fictional short films in house, so we’re very proud of this one.”
Jonathan Gantt

And if you want to dig deeper, here’s a video that unpacks the inner workings of how Gantt, digital content coordinator Nik Conklin & their social media team at Clemson work their magic:

P.S. If you’re down in south Florida and handy with a DSLR and/or After Effects connect with someone in the social media department and help the Miami Hurricanes and their new head coach Mark Richt rebuild the dynasty in Coral Gables.

Related posts:
Postcard #24 (Coral Gables)
Miami vs. Florida
Hawkeye, Hawkeyes, & Hurricane Mark Richt
Hitting Rock Bottom with the Rock
Screenwriting & the Super Bowl

Scott W. Smith

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“When you can have a positive effect on people’s lives and help them reach their dreams, that is the best reward a teacher can have.”
Ralph Clemente

“A teacher who can arouse a feeling for one single good action, for one single good poem, accomplishes more than he who fills our memory with rows and rows of natural objects, classified with name and form.”


Ralph Clemente in his Valencia College office/Photo by Don Burlinson

Earlier this month filmmaker and educator Ralph Clemente died only three weeks after finding out he had  pancreatic cancer. He was a professor of mine at the University of Miami and known for his infectious inspiration—and Arnold Schwarzenegger-like accent.

In the late eighties he helped start the film program at Valencia College in Orlando where he and his students would have a hand in producing 47 feature films. Over the years the program allowed students to work with Oscar-nominated actresses Julie Harris and Ruby Dee, and Oscar-winning director Robert Wise (who also edited Citizen Kane). Steven Spielberg once called the program, “one of the best film schools in the county.”

Clemente actually had the distinction of being part of the inspiration for a couple of the filmmakers who would go on to make The Blair Witch Project, as well as just this past November having a small part playing a woodman in Game of Thrones

That Game of Thrones episode was directed by David Nutter who was also Clemente’s student at Miami. Clemente produced Nutter’s first feature Cease Fire (which starred an up and coming actor named Don Johnson) which helped launch Nutter’s career that’s included directing gigs on The Sopranos, The X-Files, Entourage, and Band of Brothers. Clemente and Nutter remained friends over the decades so I wasn’t surprised that he hired Clemente as an extra on the set of Game of Thrones shot in Ireland.

(Note: For the younger DSLR crowd, and those totally unfamiliar with Nutter or Clemente, as Vincent Lafort continues making the transition from photographer to filmmaker he’s recently been shadowing the Primetime Emmy-winning Nutter on production sets. It’s all one big interconnected tribe.)

Clemente was born in Germany and actually had his first acting role at the age of two. He moved to Florida as a teenager, studied acting, ending up serving in the Army, before going on to work in TV and film and landing at the University of Miami as filmmaker-in-residence for ten years.

What a life, right? But his legacy is the film program at Valencia which just earlier this year had a 20th Anniversary film festival to celebrate some of the films he and the school helped get made including Sealed with a Kiss which he directed from a script written by his wife Emily.

What sets the Valencia program apart is its early vision. In the late 80s, Disney and Universal built film studios in Orlando, and enough features and TV shows were being shot here (Parenthood, From Earth to the Moon, Passenger 57) that it looked like the promises of central Florida becoming Hollywood East were more than hype. But what there wasn’t a lot of was support personnel grounded in the area— grips, gaffers, camera assistance, etc.

Greg Hale, one of the producers of The Blair Witch project, went through the Valencia film program and more recently worked as an assistant director on The Avengers and Django Unchained. Producer/Director Ben Rock was also a student of Clemente’s:

“One of the best lessons 
Ralph teaches is that production should be fun…My best memories of Valencia are of Ralph, working the set, joking around, telling stories, keeping everybody’s morale up.”
Ben Rock
Vitae Magazine

Clemente always encouraged his students to take chances and I remember editing a student project at Miami where I risked using a Willie Nelson song (Nelson wasn’t quite as hip in Miami in the 80s as he would be with hipsters in Miami today) and it turned out Ralph loved Nelson’s music and would later use one of his songs in a feature he produced.

In college I also remember going to Mardi Gras in New Orleans with a couple of friends on one long weekend road trip but made it back in time for his class on Monday. When I told him I was just off a 12-hour drive to make the class he laughed and told me my grade just went up.

I don’t know how many hundreds or thousands of people Clemente touched in his life, but he was one of the good guys. In fact, Ralph also had students work on public awareness projects including Make-a-Wish, Health Care for the Homeless, and His House Children’s Home (for abused and neglected kids) which helped raised awareness, donations, and resulted in some adoptions.

This blog is the overflowing of the good influences in my life and part of that DNA is my time spent with Clemente in Miami. And just to come full-circle, since January of this year I’ve been producing projects at Valencia College and while my tools are not film and Moviola’s anymore, what I learned from Ralph Clemente transferred well to digital cameras and non-linear editing. But beyond the technical aspects and production tips you commonly learn in school, Clemente had an upbeat spirit that was less common.

Related posts:
The Perfect Ending  (The day one of Ralph’s former students won an Emmy for directing Game of Thrones)

Related Links:
Ralph Clemente: Valencia film pro inspired good stories, Orlando Sentinel
Filmmaking is a Team Art  Friend Oliver Peters who edited four of Clemente’s features remembers working with him.
Valencia Mourns Loss of Filmmaking Legend Ralph Clemente 

P.S. “Ralph R. Clemente Scholarship” at Valencia Foundation, 1768 Park Center Drive, Orlando, FL 32835 or complete online donation form by selecting the Designation “Ralph R. Clemente Scholarship” at donate.valencia.org.

Scott W. Smith

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“The former Buffalo Bills QB [Jim Kelly] has endured more pain, grief and disappointment than many nations, and it’s only getting worse.”
Rick Reilly
ESPN March 4, 2014

“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
Andy Defresne in The Shawshank Redemption

Jim Kelly and his daughter at the hospital

Jim Kelly and his daughter at the hospital

Jim Kelly changed my life.

Indirectly—and I’ll explain in a minute—but now that he’s facing surgery tomorrow for an aggressive form of cancer I wanted you to keep him in your thoughts and prayers.

Kelly’s not a screenwriter, but once said he’d written the script for his life that included coaching his son Hunter one day. But Hunter was born with a genetic disorder and died in 2005 when he was 8-years-old. Jim and his wife Jill founded Hunter’s Hope Foundation in honor of their son.  In times like that I’m always reminded of the words of Roy Hobbs in The Natural, “My life didn’t turn out the way I expected.”

To one degree or another that’s true of every person who’s ever lived on this planet. I think that’s why stories dealing with struggle are so universal. Our culture celebrates power and strength, but it seems to be in moments of weakness where real and lasting impact takes place.

“His ability to lose, and lose big, and yet handle it, is so impressive to me. This has all made him an even better person than before, more patient even. It’s made him want to help even more people than before.”
Jill Kelly on her husband Jim who had part of his jaw removed last year due to cancer

For those of you who don’t follow football, Kelly is a member of the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame and from 1986 to 1996 was the quarterback for the Buffalo Bills.

My path crossed Kelly’s in August of 1981 at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. I was a first year football walk-on and Kelly was the starting QB. I was so low on the totem pole that as practices first started I didn’t even have a “U” on my helmet. That’s the truth. But I did have “Smith” written on tape across top front of my helmet, and perhaps the only conversation I ever had with Kelly was when he said, “Hey, Smitty” and he threw me the ball to warm his arm up before practice.

For Kelly who would later be the only QB to take a team to the Super Bowl four years in a row, that moment probably doesn’t make his highlight memory reel. But if you’re a first year walk-on and you’re catching a football from the starting QB you don’t forget that moment. But that’s not how Kelly changed my life.

In high school I was an all-conference football player but lacked size, grades, and about anything else that would make a college offer me a scholarship. But I still had this desire to play major college football. I went to a community college for a year to improve my GPA and also worked at a small newspaper as a sports writer and photographer. So as I looked for a college that had a good passing program (and a solid film school) I landed on Miami as the perfect fit.

Because Miami has won more national championships in football than any other school in the last 30 years, people forget before Kelly led the Hurricanes to a Peach Bowl victory after the 1980 season—Miami hadn’t even won a bowl game since 1966. I liked the direction head coach Howard Schnellenberger was taking the team and dreamed about catching passes from Kelly who was fresh off being the offensive MVP in that Peach Bowl.

So to a certain extent I lived that dream on a very, very micro level. I often joke that I had a the shortest career of any player who ever wore a Hurricane uniform in a game. I dressed out for exactly one JV football game playing exactly zero downs—and then dislocated my shoulder in practice, had surgery, and walked-off. (Didn’t even make the team picture that was taken later in the season.) About the only other thing Kelly and I have in common is we both had shoulder surgery done by the team physician Dr. Kalback.

But if it hadn’t been for Kelly I don’t think I would have chosen the University of Miami. So that’s indirectly how he changed the course of my life. With playing football out of my system I decided to head to California to finish film school, met my wife, etc. etc, etc.

So if you’ve enjoyed any aspect of this blog over the years–know that Jim Kelly played a part in all of this. There’s a wake behind great leaders where they have a positive impact that they are totally unaware of.

Please keep he and his family in your thoughts and prayers because he’s one of the good guys. And consider donating to Hunter’s Hope as they seek to alleviate the pain children are suffering from Krabbe Disease.

P.S. When Kelly was first drafted by the Buffalo Bills he says he actually cried, because he did not want to play in a cold weather climate. And before he joined the Bills, he played in the USFL in the Astrodome for the Houston Gamblers. But as the USFL folded he reluctantly joined the Bills. Lesson there is sometimes when we go to the places we don’t want to go magical things can happen.

Related Posts:
Screenwriting Quote #19 (Kurt Warner)
Screenwriting and the Super Bowl
Screenwriitng Quote #29 (William Blinn) Screenwriter of Brian’s Song about Gale Sayers

Update 4/8/14: Doctors decided they could treat Kelly this time with radiation and so this week he begin radiation treatment five days a week for the next seven weeks for his skin cancer (squamous cell carcinoma).

Scott W. Smith

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“After graduating in 2007 [University of Miami], I knew I wasn’t ready to move to LA. My chops as a writer weren’t sharp enough to survive the Hollywood meat grinder. I needed time to hone my craft, so I moved back to Boston and worked at an Italian restaurant delivering pizzas. The best part about living at home was that my expenses were minimal, so every cent I earned went toward my wagons-west-fund. I wanted to make the most of this interim period, so I dove headfirst into writing feature specs. I wrote nonstop. Most of the scripts never saw the light of day, but my skills evolved with each completed draft. I was finding my voice.

During this time, I also made five short films. It was startling how much my directorial endeavors informed my writing. Listening to actors breathe life into your dialogue is a humbling and instructional experience. You start to understand how conversations translate from the page to the set, and how to craft dialogue with a naturalistic ear, while still retaining the narrative thrust essential to story progression.”
Screenwriter Will Simmons (His script Murder City made The Black List in 2012)
Go Into the Story interview with Scott Myers

P.S. Often we only read interviews of writers after they’ve received a measure of success in the films they’ve made or after their first film has been a box office hit. What’s great about the six-part interview Will Simmons did with Scott Myers is it shows us a screenwriter in mid-step. Though none of Simmon’s feature scripts have been produced, he does have deals in the works at Warner Bros.  and is repped by UTA and Energy Entertainment. It’s important to point out that Simmons made a couple short films in college, and five short films after graduating. And his early writing in school led him to an independent study in screenwriting during his senior year of high school. So while he’s a hot young writer now, keep in mind that his writing journey so far has taken 10+ years. As screenwriter Bob DeRosa wrote, “There are no shortcuts. There is only hard work. Perseverance. Luck. Craft. Failure. Success. Mistakes. And yes, dreams that come true.”

In his Go Into The Story interview Simmons said, “I have sort of an old-school, blue-collar mentality when it comes to work ethic, so instead of making excuses I just write nonstop.”

Will Simmons on Twitter @willsimmons_

Related Posts:

The 99% Focus Rule (Tip #70) “99% of your effort should go to writing a good script. “—Michael Arndt
Screenwriting from Massachusetts
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Writing “Good Will Hunting”
Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg
Why You Should Move to L.A.
Why You Shouldn’t Move to L.A.
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Scott W. Smith

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In the last few days I’ve glanced at filmmaking from Japan. I followed some rabbit trails and it’s lead me right back to the Midwest and David Bordwell over in Madison, Wisconsin. I have quoted Bordwell before, but was unaware that he wrote a whole book on one of Japan’s greatest filmmakers. The bad news is Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema is out of print, the good news is the entire book in available online for free.

The film scholar with long-standing ties to the University of Wisconsin at Madison has an arrangement with the University of Michigan’s Center for Japanese Studies  where you can download the entire book as a PDF file. Bordwell also did the audio commentary for Ozu’s An Autumn Afternoon. (Criterion Collection). You can read more of his writings at David Bordwell’s website on cinema.

I confess to dropping the first film history class I ever took at the University of Miami. I just wanted to make films. Not do a boring examination of dead filmmakers. Never understood the fascination with dates and influences. I’m not sure when that all changed for me but it probably had something to do with an interview I saw on Martin Scorsese where I began to understand the depth of his knowledge and appreciation of film history.

If you want to improve your appreciation of films, Bordwell’s writings are a great place to head.

“Filmmakers know more than they say or can say. They have secrets, some of which they don’t know they know. Let’s try to bring their tacit knowledge to light; let’s expose their secrets. Will that dispel the mysteries we cherish? Only if we cherish mysteries for their own sake. Know of how artists both rely upon and surpass their craft won’t diminish our admiration or dilute out experience. It’s illuminating to learn that Rembrandt starts from the portraitist’s standard schema for rendering eye sockets but them by applying looser brushwork conjures up a flickering glance. What seems an alchemist’s lair becomes a kitchen, where recipes are transformed by trial and error and spontaneous flair. Creation is demystified, and knowledge increases our appreciation and enjoyment.”
David Bordwell
Konban-wa, Ozu-san

Creativity is more about connecting influences rather than just making something up . An example is one of  the greatest Japanese films ever is Ozu’s Tokyo Story which was co-written with Kogo Noda. (Ozu & Noda, one of the all-time great director/writer teams, wrote 13 films together,) But that great film was inspired by the 1937 American film Make Way for Tomorrow.  (That film was written by Vina Delmar, and was based on the book The Years Are So Long (1934) by Josephine Lawrence (and a play by by Helen Leary & Noah Leary).

Lawrence was born in Newark, New Jersey kept a strict three-hour writing schedule at night after work. She wrote over thirty books for young people, and one adult novel before she wrote The Years are so Long.

Scott W. Smith

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“Never quit. It is the easiest cop-out in the world. Set a goal and don’t quit until you attain it. When you do attain it, set another goal, and don’t quit until you reach it. Never quit.”
Coach Bear Bryant

Tonight’s BCS game between the 13-0 Alabama Crimson Tide and the 13-0 Texas Longhorns is high drama. Two long-standing, unbeaten college football programs battling for the national championship. (Mini-screenwriting lesson; Drama is conflict and there’s nothing like putting two equal (and successful) opponents against each other and taking them to the end of the line in a battle that will crown one as the victor.)

Over the years I’ve been to both Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Austin, Texas and found them both have their own unique vibe.  The University of Alabama has played college football since 1892 and has won 12 National Championships and has had a cast of characters over the years including Bart Starr, Joe Namath, Ken Stabler as well as the coach of coaches, Paul “Bear” Bryant. (Heck, even Forrest Gump played ball there.) This year’s team has Heisman Trophy winner  Mark Ingram on its side.

But in the last decade or so Alabama’s football teams have not shined so brightly. They’ve  shuffled through five coaches over that time trying to get back that winning tradition. They brought Nick Saben in to get them back on track and gave him a $32 million contract. The September 2008 cover of Forbes magazine asked about Saben,  “Is he worth it?” Even if the doesn’t win tonight, the answer is yes.

The University of Texas at Austin on the other hand has won four national, has had two Heisman Trophy winners, and their legendary football coach is Darrel Royal.  If you want to read a knock your socks of book on college football read Gary Shaw’s Meat on the Hoof, about his days as a player at the University of Texas.

The championship game tonight pitting #1 against #2  in Pasadena should be a great game. Drama at its best.

This week is the first time since 1954 where Bobby Bowden is not coaching college football. Last week he won his last game as the head football coach at Florida State University, where he had been head coach since 1976. Bowden also has an Alabama connection having been born in Birmingham, played his freshman year at the University of Alabama before transferring to Howard University (now Samford University in Birmingham), where he also began his coaching career.

Bowden led FSU to two national championships and is the second winningest coach in Division 1 college football history.  Congrats on a great career Coach Bowden–one that is not only  measured in wins, but in respect and appreciation. He also helped change how football teams from Florida are perceived. Since 1984 teams from the state of Florida have won nine national championships in football which is a staggering number. Bowden probably would have had a couple more national championships if they would have made a couple field goals against the University of Miami.

Speaking of the University of Miami, when I was in Florida last month I happened to catch Billy Corben’s documentary The U that was featured on ESPN’s 30 for 30. One write-up on the documentary said, “For Canes fans, this will be a reminder of what they loved about this team. For Canes haters, this will be a reminder of what they hated about this team.”

Many don’t know how controversial the documentary is in Miami. In the film, the Miami football program is not always shown in a positive light and it’s been reported that the school made it known to former players and coaches they would rather they not participate in the documentary. Corben definitely played up the bad boy image of the program (yes, rapper Luther Campbell is featured so that gives you a hint), but I think he also did a fair job of showing the rough areas where many of the players were from. They were playing for respect and they got it. (Well, respect mixed with a little hatred. Is calling a program “classless” its own form of trash-talking?) Miami’s program hasn’t been around since the 1800’s so it’s still working on being refined like those southern gentlemen in Alabama.

The U also takes time to show how Howard Schnellenberger was the architect for building a championship program out of a school that just a few years earlier was thinking about dropping football. The football program has not been without its scars, which makes it all the more amazing that in the last 25 years they have won five national championships—more than any other school during that time.

And who was Schnellenberger’s mentor? That happened to be none other than Bear Bryant. Schellenberger was an assistant at Alabama and helped Bryant lead the school to win three national championships in the 60s. Schellenberger was also an assistant on the 1972 Miami Dolphins Super Bowl championship team that is the only pro team to ever go undefeated in a single season. In fact, I’d love to produce a documentary on just Schnellenberger.

In fact,  to the University of Miami officials and/or alumni who didn’t care for the documentary The U and want to produce another angle to the story, give me a call. I was a briefly a walk-on player in the early 80s (still have my letter from Coach Schnellenberger), was a film major there, and have a couple decades of experience producing, directing, writing, shooting and editing many award winning projects.

The Miami football team doesn’t need a sugar coated version of the program, but their are other dimensions that could be covered that were missed on The U documentary. A good start would be  interviewing players like Jim Kelly, Warren Sapp, Vinny Testaverde and coaches Bowden, Larry Coker, Steve Spurrier and Mark Richt (the Georgia coach who was also a player at Miami, and an assistant at FSU). Corben and his rakontur production team covered a lot of ground, but Miami football  is its own mini-series & soap opera rolled into one, and you can only cover so much ground in an hour and a half.

Anyway, many eyes will be on Southern California tonight, but not because of USC, UCLA or the latest movie—but for two teams from fly-over country who have risen to the top of their field.

Scott W. Smith

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