Eck Pic

Butch was undoubtedly the most colorful character I’ve ever known — on or off the screen. Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t a renowned actor, but the bit roles he played in two of my films served to highlight his uniqueness.

He drove a truck covered with animal skins. “Critters,” as he called them. I called them road kill, and wrote that into a script. Butch was a professional hunter and trapper who saved more animals than he ever killed. Where wild hogs were rooting up cornfields, farmers would call Butch to come trap them. After trapping them, Butch took them to the swamp and turned them loose. Sometimes he’d butcher them and give the meat to the underprivileged.

The animals whose skins adorned his truck were creatures he’d killed for food, or found dead in the swamp. He’d skin them, prepare their furry hides, and attach them to his critter truck — an old ’48 Ford. A line I wrote for him in “Mattie and the Meteor” had his character say of the mounted critters “It gives them a little dignity in death.”

When he made appearances at schools, rodeos, festivals, or whatever, he derived great satisfaction in pointing out the habits and habitats of various creatures. Kids loved it. Butch and I often met at a restaurant in Brunswick, Georgia, and if he drove his truck we’d always find a crowd assembled around it when we returned to the parking lot. He’d talk and sign autographs and pose for pictures with people as varied as the critters on his truck.

Butch wore all leather and a wide-brimmed leather cowboy hat with a Diamondback wound around the crown. He also carried two six-shooters holstered on each hip. He knew how to use them, too. With a lightning-fast draw and skillful aim he could send a bullet into any target within range, no matter how small.

Butch had some Cherokee blood in him and followed many of the traditional practices of a particular tribe to which he traced his ancestry. Honoring a creature shot or trapped by performing a strange ritual near a campfire never ceased to amaze me.

Butch kept two stills operating at all times. His ‘likker’ was the best in south Georgia by all accounts. The law seemed to turn their back on his operation. “That’s because I supply everyone from the mayor to the police chief with my likker,” Butch would say. He wasn’t a model human being by any stretch of the imagination. We got into it more than once over items he’d absconded from me. But the guy with the guns always wins an argument; and I really couldn’t fault him as he’d worked for me for peanuts and he no doubt sought to even the score a bit.

A crew from Sharp Entertainment came down from New York to film a pilot for a TV reality show featuring Butch as an enigmatic loner in a small town often used by the law to catch bad guys who’d escaped to the swamp. Butch was a natural.

He took the crew out through the swamp where they (according to what was scripted) encountered an old hermit. Butch’s character heard that the old man had an Eagle feather and he wanted it for his hat. Since it’s illegal to kill an Eagle, and they’re not in the habit of leaving their feathers lying around, Butch carried some supplies out and they bartered in the way swamp people do. Butch got his feather and everyone returned safely, despite the Water Moccasins and ‘gators encountered along the way.

Butch didn’t hear back from Sharp but he believed the call would come any day. Death called first. I won’t describe the spectacle that his funeral created. Whatever your imagination conjures up is probably fairly accurate.

Butch is the first actor I’ve worked with to pass away. I’d never given it much thought because at my age I assumed they’d all outlive me. When it came, my reaction wasn’t what I’d have thought. “Butch is just playing another role,” I reasoned, “and doing a danged good job of it. The best he’s ever done.” Sure, he won’t be around to entertain us again, but when you’ve done your best stuff, where can you go from there anyway?

Screenplays Ready to Film

This is a list of our current screenplays that are either in preproduction or in the final draft stage.PIC

The Homeschooled Screenwriter and the Joy of Autodidactism

Photo on 2-17-15 at 11.58 AM #3Home schooling is more popular than ever for a variety of reasons. But the one common thread among all home and alternative learning adherents is that our public schools and many private institutions are failing. This is the case from elementary to baccalaureate levels of learning. My primary complaint about traditional education is that it produces cookie-cutter products with a shallow pool of resources to draw from in post-academic pursuits.

This is especially true in the field of screenwriting. I spent large slices of time and no small amount of cash dashing around among various schools and classes trying to find the magic bullet that would mould me into the next William Goldman. Instead, they moulded me into images of themselves – or at least attempted to. To the chagrin of several gurus, I didn’t take the bait. For that I was no class favorite and didn’t get any favors or jumpstarts into the industry that the more pliable students received. In one case, the instructor’s critique of a fairly good screenplay of mine was purposely returned to me several days past a deadline for entering a highly regarded script competition at a well-known university. By the way, networking is a selling point many institutions toss around. Don’t believe it. No one, I repeat, no one is going to provide any worthwhile networking benefit to a classmate. It’s every student for themselves – and rightly so. The others in the class are current or future competitors and everyone knows it.

So, whether I’m a slow learner, or the victim of useless academics, I have now resorted to home schooling. And it’s working. I have two produced scripts (not masterpieces by any stretch of the imagination) and a couple of feature length films that will be produced. And, for the most part, I owe this to a sumptuous diet of reading screenplays.

I read one screenplay every morning. I don’t bother to take notes. That’s a mistake made in a traditional classroom environment. The best note taking is that which is embedded in the human brain.AgentReadingScript Note-taking, by definition, gives you only notes – watered down and compacted versions of the extensive information the brain takes in automatically. Immediate results may not be apparent, but heaps of knowledge is safely tucked away in nerve cell bodies and their dendrites. One might not be able to pass an exam on the plays of Chayefsky, but it’s there. And when you dive into your own work it emerges.

I also assign myself supplemental books to read. Reading that matters. Reading that I enjoy and that fits my self-designed curriculum. Books like  Egri’s “The Art of Dramatic Writing,” Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” and off-the-beaten-path works like “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott. These books are marked up, underlined, bookmarked, and fully annotated by the time I’m finished.

I keep works like “Writing from the Inside Out” always on my desk. I dog-ear the pages in this excellent book by Dennis Palumbo for easy access to specific sections on battling psychological blocks and reviving inspiration.

My advice to aspiring writers is to get some education in the arts. Gain in-depth knowledge of literature, philosophy, and history. After you’ve got a deep intellectual well to draw from, translate what you know into telling stories. Get a good volume on formatting, like “The Hollywood Standard.” Study it and refer to it as you write. Most screenwriting software does the formatting for you so you can concentrate on the story and not the technical stuff.

“So,” you ask, “don’t I need some viable academic credentials to break into the industry?” Absolutely not. A good play is a good play. You’re not required to turn in a résumé with a script. The best class you can take on screenwriting is one on the art of getting read by a studio insider (if such a class were available). An article entitled “PRIMETIME: Should I Go To College To Become a Screenwriter?” written by Chad Gervich for Script Magazine, lists the following as the most essential qualifications for success in screenwriting:

  1. Talent
  2. A deep well of life experiences
  3. Personal stories to write about and explore
  4. A strong vision, a specific way of seeing the world, or—as people say in Hollywood—a unique “voice”
  5. An incredible work ethic, a willingness to work tirelessly and endlessly
  6. Top-notch communication skills
  7. The ability to read and think critically and articulate your thoughts
  8. A network of professional contacts (which you’ll develop once you’re here, so don’t worry about this now)

See more at: http://www.scriptmag.com/features/primetime-should-i-go-to-college-to-become-a-screenwriter#sthash.

Now comes the big moment you’ve been waiting for: The definition of autodidactism.

  • autodidact |ˌôtōˈdīˌdakt|
  • noun
  • a self-taught person.
  • DERIVATIVES: autodidactic |-ˌdīˈdaktik| adjective
  • ORIGIN mid 18th cent.: from Greek autodidaktos ‘self-taught,’ from autos ‘self’ + didaskein ‘teach.’

The essence of becoming a screenwriting autodidact is purchasing or downloading a ton of screenplays. And not just the hits, either. You can learn almost as much from a washout as from a girl-stack-of-bookswinner. Read every day. Watch movies (although this is highly overrated as a learning tool).Write. Write. Write. Enter lots of competitions – a great source of feedback, a little money, and the possibility of taking a screenplay to the next level.

O.K., autodidactics of the world unite! We should form our own union. The Guild of Autodidactic Screenwriters (GAS). At the very least, surrounded by your books in a cozy office or nook, everyday is a school day.