Sunday, December 04, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 447: A Christmas Story's Story


It's that time of year again. Lights sparkle from rooftops. Carols are the soundtrack at the mall. And television begins unspooling the films of the season.

This month's issue of "Vanity Fair" features an article on the making of one of those Christmas films -- my personal favorite -- "A Christmas Story".

But while the VF story about "Story" is filled with wonderful anecdotes from the production and initial release of the movie in 1983, there's nothing quite like hearing the broadcast that inspired it from the screenwriter and narrator of "A Christmas Story" -- Jean Shepherd.

During the 1950's, 60's and 70's, Shepherd hosted a nightly show on WOR radio in New York, where he spun semi-autobiographical tales that spawned a rabid fan base who made bootleg reel to reel tapes of them to share with friends around the country.

Originally a chapter of Shepherd's 1966 book, "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash".  its first title was, "Duel in the Snow, Or, Red Ryder Nails The Cleveland Street Kid". It was immediately excerpted in "Playboy", winning Shepherd a National Magazine Award for humor. 

After that, every year at Christmas, Shepherd would tell the story on his radio show. And on one of those nights, director Bob Clark heard it while driving to a dinner date. Clark reached his destination and then circled the block repeatedly, unable to stop until he'd heard how it ended. He decided then and there it had to be a movie.

And thanks to one of those original bootlegs, now you too can hear the broadcast that inspired one of the most beloved movies of the season...

Enjoy Your Sunday.




Sunday, November 27, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 446: Johanna Under The Ice


It's cold here today. That kind of damp cold that just pierces you to the core. 

So I decide to stay inside and surf the net, finding a spectacular book of photographs entitled "The Last Days of the Arctic" by photographer Ragnar Axelsson. Sampled above and available from Amazon here which chills me even further.

I hate cold weather. 

I grew up in one of the coldest inhabited places on the planet (Saskatchewan) where you can go 40 or 50 days in Winter where the temperature doesn't get above minus 40 or 50. 

And it's supposed to make you hardy and resourceful and resilient and all those other positive character traits, which I'm sure it does. But it also left me feeling like, "Okay, I've done that. Can we move on? Maybe to somewhere warmer?".

So now I live where it doesn't snow, you only scrape the car windows a couple of times during the dark months and wait for Global warming to finally live up to David Suzuki's dire predictions.

But then guys such as Axelsson come along to remind you of just how freaking pretty frigid can be. 

So, like one of those guys who's afraid of heights but still has to lean over the roof railing of a tall building and look down, I went in search of a cold related video and found what follows...

Not long ago, Finish bicycle racer Johanna Nordblad crashed, badly breaking her leg. Her recovery regimen included cold water therapy which led her to a new sport, cold water free-diving, for which she holds the world record. And that led her to British Filmmaker Ian Derry and a truly remarkable film.

It's cold. And not a dry cold. But it's worth it.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Johanna Under The Ice - NOWNESS from NOWNESS on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 445: The First Men



Last night somebody on my block turned on their Christmas lights for the first time. Despite the fact that Costco has been selling Christmas stuff for more than a month and all week the nice man from Canada Post has been dropping off Christmas catalogs and flyers, it still seemed too soon.

But it's not. So once again I have to suck it up and do one of the things I most don't enjoy doing -- shopping.

Don't misunderstand. I'm not opposed to commerce, spending money or even having to cope with crowds. I just don't enjoy malls that much.

Something about them just -- unsettles -- me. I'm not exactly sure why.

Maybe it's that the bookstores are getting fewer and smaller and with way more books about Cats.

Maybe it's that the record store doesn't have listening stations anymore but they have lots of movie loot like "Superman" Cookie Jars and "Star Wars" Alarm Clocks. How did the people who used to sell music decide that the same people looking for tunes by "Aerosmith" or "21 Pilots" would be suckers for "Ghostbusters" T-shirts?

Come to think of it -- maybe that's what unsettles me. That you're no longer a customer with needs and desires, you're just somebody who buys stuff. Any stuff. Even stuff at places like "Lids". Somebody who'll buy whatever they put on the shelf because -- well, because what else are you going to do with your time and money...?

Food courts particularly unsettle me. Food courts are where you always meet people you know. You'll engage in 2 minutes of small talk and then they'll invariably say, "So, you're at the mall" -- pointedly observing that you clearly don't have anything better to do with your time and money -- or perhaps your life.

Filmmaker Ben Keegan perfectly captures my dread of malls in a terrific short film, "The First Men", based on an even darker short story by Stacey Richter which you can read here.

It might even convince you to avoid the mall.

Enjoy Your Sunday.


The First Men from Benjamin Kegan on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 444: Leon Russell


I first became aware of Leon Russell sometime in 1970 or 71 by way of one of the best Rock documentaries ever made, "Mad Dogs & Englishmen". Only later did I learn I'd been listening to him for more than a decade.

The story behind the film is that Cocker, fresh off the success of "Woodstock" and his first two Platinum albums, had just completed a gruelling months long tour of the United States. Arriving in LA, thoroughly burned out and intending to rest through the Summer and maybe recruit a new band for his next LP, Cocker dropped by his agent's office.

There he learned that said agent had booked him on a 52 city tour slated to depart the next week. When Cocker balked, he was told the Musician's Union, Immigration Officers and Concert Promoters would not reacte kindly to his desire to get some rest and he might not be allowed back into the country.

Luckily his friend, well-known session musician Leon Russell, came to his aid; quickly rounding up an assemblage of talent that could not only make Cocker sound better than he ever had before, but offer enough of their own material so the worn out bill topper wouldn't have to carry the load alone.

The result made Rock 'n Roll history and brought Russell to the forefront of American music.

A laid back, easy going and soft-spoken Oklahoman, Leon Russell had begun his career playing nightclubs at age 14 and had played on virtually every Top 40 single recorded in LA through the 50's and 60's, 

Over the years, even repeated bouts of Pneumonia, Brain surgery and a heart attack could not slow his astonishing musical output.

Leon Russell died this morning at the age of 74 leaving an award winning legacy of music across the genres of Rock, Country, Jazz, Bluegrass, Gospel and Blues not to mention a more important one of kindness and concern for his friends.

Here's a taste of "Mad Dogs", Russell's induction into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame and his biggest hit single.

Enjoy Your Sunday.







Sunday, November 06, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 443: Loose Ends


There's nothing that gives screenwriters nightmares more than the idea that they've left something unresolved.

The process of writing, no matter how organized, plot-mapped, index carded, character studied you are, is always chaotic. Ways to enhance or improve the twists and turns of plot and character you intended constantly spring to mind. 

As the tale unfolds, you inevitably find better ways to tell it. And then when you're done, you go back over the pages time after time, making sure everything tracks, it all makes sense and no one will ever question the logic of the fiction.

And you inevitably miss something.

As a junior member of the writing team on my first TV series, I remember waking up in a cold sweat one morning, realizing that the scene we were shooting that day left something important hanging. Something that needed to be fixed or the entire story would collapse like the house of cards it probably was.

It wasn't a script I'd written. But it was one I'd read a dozen times and a plot hole so big you could drive a truck through it. I raced to work, finding the senior story editor, an experienced Hollywood icon with credits on almost every show I'd ever heard of, calmly perusing the call sheet as he lit a smoke and reeled off the ponies he was picking to his bookie over the phone.

When he finally hung up, I spilled out the problem, my concern increasing because I still didn't have a clue how to fix the problem.

He squinted at me through the cigarette smoke and smiled, "No big deal, kid. Refrigerator moment."

That day I learned that if audiences are caught up in a story, they more often than not don't see the errors and omissions that drive we so-called professionals crazy.

A refrigerator moment is one where a guy watches the show, goes to get a beer while the credits roll, senses something was left out -- and then just drinks his beer and finds something else to watch and/or worry about.

A more nuances version of this is the "hot tub moment", where the guy gets his beer, settles in the hot tub and while recalling the leading lady's cleavage suddenly blurts out "Hey, wait a minute...".

For most people, watching movies and TV shows is just Chinatown -- "Forget it, Jake. It's only a movie." The experience is over. They got their money's worth. Time to move on.

But for us, the nightmare remains. Someday, some Comic Con asshole is going to raise his hand, ask about an episode of some TV series you don't even recall working on and reveal a plot hole so massive it'll be trending on Google and Twitter for weeks designating you as the irresponsible idiot who let it happen.

We've all got 'em. How long did Indiana Jones have to hold his breath to get where that submarine was going? Will Toto still have to be put down now that Dorothy is back in Kansas? Can you really escape the Nazis in Casablanca just by having a piece of paper?

I'm reminded of the refrigerator moment that annoys me the most every time I watch my favorite James Bond film "Skyfall". The entire film is set in motion by the search for a missing file that could reveal the names of every MI5 and NATO agent. But halfway through the film, nobody cares about that anymore because they've got a psycho-killer to worry about.

And maybe that old Hollywood hack whose pony picks I interrupted had the right idea. Maybe showing the audience a good time and giving them their money's worth is a laudable feat in itself. If they want accuracy, they can watch the Weather Channel.

Enjoy Your Sunday.




Sunday, October 30, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 442: The Bump In The Night


Horror movies just get no respect. From the early days of film they've been outliers, considered at worst pandering to the lowest common denominator and at best a grubby way to make a lot of money.

Like all kids, I was fascinated by monsters and sitting in theatres watching Dracula and Frankenstein gave me a chance to prove I was all grown up and wasn't no fraidy cat. 

And then one afternoon, as a fully formed adult I bought a ticket to see "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" on the strength of the audacity of its title alone and realized that Horror in the hands of a master filmmaker has the power to both shatter the psyche and renew it.

What makes so many Horror fans so rabid? They've faced a fear and walk out of the theatre empowered and emboldened by that. All of us remember what it was like to leap off the high diving board for the first time, take on the looping roller-coaster, or finally get up the nerve to talk to that hot girl or guy we're smitten with. The high of those accomplishments is exciting and ultimately life affirming.

But in polite society. Horror still sits on the lowest rung of the film ladder. When I took on the job of writing the "Friday the 13th" series, a lot of my friends thought I must've been desperate for work. And virtually all of the established writers, directors and actors I tried to convince to come aboard refused to sully their careers by having that title on their resumes.

But, as Alyse Wax's recent book about the series "Curious Goods" reveals, the brave band of brothers and sisters who did also felt Horror helped them find their artistic voice.

And yet, the show business desire to be accepted in polite society continues with endless essays on films like "The Witch" demanding that audiences embrace "respectable" Horror films like it or "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" instead of whatever Eli Roth or the folks on "The Walking Dead" are rolling out this week.

After all, wasn't last Sunday's premiere of Season 7 of TV's Zombie drama just the ickiest ever? And look at all those Youtube selfies of audiences being traumatized! How awful to treat people that way!

No.

That's the point.

That's why they come in droves.

To paraphrase a well-known politician. "When Horror goes low Audiences go High".

I saw "The Witch" and yeah, the kids and the goat are great. Except those scenes don't build to anything truly frightening and ultimately you're watching Masterpiece Theatre with more suspense and less brocade. 

And while the brocade's better in "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies", once the literary irony wears off there's not much worth watching.

Horror is not about suspense. And it's not about torture porn or gratuitous gore either.

It's about that bump in the night. The moment when something so out of the ordinary happens that logic evaporates, you're in Tiger Country and the rules you've always lived by no longer apply.

It's about being scared.

And one of the best places to see examples of this are the multitude of Youtube horror short channels like "2SentenceHorror" or "Fuck You Zombie".

You will be frightened.

And it's Halloween weekend, so...

Enjoy Your Sunday.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 441: Movies You Can't Make Anymore



"Your head's so filled with thought you can't use your imagination
Like a sky so filled with stars, you can't find a constellation.
And everyone's so sensitive to any bad vibration
You're so impressing, while we're regressing..."

The first time I visited Hollywood, I felt like I'd gone back to high school. The cliques of super cool kids, jocks and brainers determined not to intermingle less cooties might be spread. The desperation to fit in, to be immediately identifiable, to catch the latest trend and flaunt your wealth or status.

And as much as Hollywood films have changed, those traits of the community making them have not.

To be a Hollywood player you always need to keep your thumb on the pulse of the nation and maintain the appearance of one who espouses the right causes, knows what "the other kids" are thinking and champions the next big thing.

Corporations don't give out those six-figure gift bags at the Oscars because they like the kids from Hollywood High. They need their access to the market that will either buy their products or aspire to buy them.

And at their best, movies do change hearts and minds. "To Kill a Mockingbird", "In the Heat of the Night", "Mississippi Burning" and "Selma" revealed garden variety racism as the illogical evil that it is.

Films like "Philadelphia", "Paths of Glory", "The Big Short" and "Spotlight" were all rightfully honored for opening our eyes to the way the world really works.

Game-changing films such as those are rare, however, since most of us buy a ticket at the box office to get away from the real world for a couple of hours and just enjoy some action, adventure, romance or comedy.

And that's where the progressive impulse of the film community sometimes trips over itself and in its eagerness to show how forward thinking it is, forgets what it was really trying to accomplish in the first place while corrupting film memes that audiences have come to love.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying we shouldn't have gotten rid of Stepin Fetchit, white guys playing Charlie Chan or hordes of blood-thirsty savages (of any ethnicity) charging in to massacre our hero and heroine for no other reason than "that's just what they do" and "how else can the cavalry come to the rescue".

But I'm feeling a little like the appearance of championing diversity, gender equality and acceptance of sexual preferences has become more important than actually helping things change.

"Well, I don't mean to piss you off with things that I might say
So when I try to shut my mouth they come out anyway.
Cause when I speak my mind, that's when we connect
Yeah, but that's not politically correct..."

A while ago, some Hollywood bright light had the idea of rebooting "Ghostbusters" with an all-female cast. Maybe not such a dumb idea at the concept level. But then nobody seemed to think it through much further than "let's put some actresses into those grey coveralls" and certainly not as far as "and put in some good jokes". 

The film flopped. Simply because it just wasn't very good. A reality the studio tried to blame on a negative wave of misogyny that was eventually revealed as a pretty much a PR ruse.

Not to be deterred, another studio has embarked on a female version of "Ocean's 11" to be re-titled "Ocean's 8". Again, not a bad idea -- and from my point of view terrific if they keep Matt Damon in the same role.

Somewhere I joked that if this was the latest high-concept formula, I was looking forward to the all-male version of "Thelma & Louise" -- which is probably under consideration somewhere but using Gay or Asian guys instead.

It just seems to me that if we are serious about increasing the work opportunities for artists no matter their gender, race or sexual preference, then we need to play to the strengths of those artists and not just park them in some lame cinematic attempt to appear inclusive.

What's more, we may need to a get a handle on confronting what's a real issue and what's just fashionable in the moment. 

With the passing of Gene Wilder, for example, there was an out-pouring of affection for "Blazing Saddles" a movie most of those praising it would have turned down flatly for its political incorrectness alone and most certainly wouldn't be caught buying a ticket to see it.

That film is just one example of the kind of work you just can't do anymore. Simply because the appearance of doing it is something the cool kids in Hollywood cannot abide.

And the number of those films increases daily. Five examples follow, along with SR-71's performance of the song lyrics included in this post.

Enjoy Your Sunday...



Monday, October 17, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 440: Playing Bob's Records


A poster version of the image above hung in my bedroom for a good chunk of my teenage years. But Bob Dylan had been around for a while before I really listened to him. 

He arrived in my world around the same time as "The Beatles" and they and all of the following British Invasion invaders took up most of my time and vinyl budget. 

I was probably only aware of him because I was, at the same time, smitten with a beautiful blonde who ironed her hair just like Jane Asher (McCartney's girlfriend) and sang and played guitar well enough that she got invited to perform at a local coffee houses and every high school Hootenanny.

For those who didn't keep track of the 60's, A hootenanny was the final supernova of the Folk Era, where all these singers, guitar and banjo pluckers would get together for a wholesome sing-song, which always included Bob tunes like "Blowin' In The Wind", "Girl From The North Country" and "Don't Think Twice, It's all Right" -- the last of which always made the goatee'd Assistant Profs get maudlin over their cappuccinos and clutch the suede elbows of their corduroy jackets as they tried to hit on my girlfriend.

But I didn't listen to Bob's records. He was just kinda this folk guy who got lucky by having "The Byrds" record "Mr. Tambourine Man" so he could have a real hit.

But in the Summer of 1965, Bob caused a bit of a scandal by playing an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival. It was in all the papers and had Folk people calling him a traitor and guys like me suddenly paying attention because he'd finally seen the light.

I remember hearing "Like a Rolling Stone" a few months later while listening to a cheap. tinny sounding Japanese transistor radio on a noisy bus. It was longer than every other song on the radio and seemed to be about something more important than all the others too, and I started paying attention.

Around the same time, my friend Marc, who played drums in a band, got his own apartment. Perhaps my first buddy to do so. He also bought a stereo system that filled most of the place and covered the walls by thumb tacking his album covers to the peeling plaster -- which also saved having to build a shelving unit or steal plastic milk crates to store them.

That might've been the first time I ever laid eyes on Bob's actual albums, like "Freewheelin", "Blonde on Blonde" and "Highway 61 Revisited". It was certainly the first time I played them in full. Both sides.

And when Marc and I picked up chicks and brought them back to his place, I quickly realized that the presence of Bob's records transformed us (in their eyes) from a couple of horny guys into guys who were "sophisticated horny" and deserved a little more attention.

I started to listen to Bob's records more closely. And have continued to this day.

Years later, I met Bob for about ten seconds. I was staying at a friend's house in LA and one morning there was a knock at the door and some scrawny little homeless guy looking for his dog. Only later did I learn Dylan lived nearby and his dog was always wandering off.

This week, Bob was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, which caused another round of literary types feeling betrayed and guys like me knowing our affection for his words had been validated.

And hey, Don Delillo might still have a shot -- just as soon as he goes electric...

Herewith, my all time favorite Dylan tune...

Enjoy Your Sunday.



Monday, October 10, 2016

Lazy Sunday #439: Dawson City, Frozen in Time


Several years ago, I was approached to write a documentary about a cache of "lost films" discovered during the demolition of a movie theatre in Texas.

In the parlance of film historians and preservationists, "lost films" are those for which there is evidence of their being made -- but no existing prints or negatives.

And they number in the tens of thousands.

A vast majority of the movies made during the silent era are long gone, never to be seen again. They were shot on highly flammable nitrate based film stock and either self-immolated or turned to dust in storage. 

But many did not even get into storage in the first place. After being humped around the country to first run theatres, then second runs and eventually small town mom and pop movie houses, nobody wanted to pay the freight to have them returned to the studio.

So they were simply trashed, while the pristine prints and negatives kept in Hollywood vaults holding one of a kind stories and performances simply rotted away before anyone noticed.

But many of the films trashed in small towns have returned from the dead. The cache I dealt with came from a small town in Texas where the theatre owner, for reasons nobody knows, decided to park the films he was stuck with in a storm cellar in the movie house's basement, a room that turned out to be cold and dark enough to prevent their decay.

It was amazing to sit in a preservation lab and watch films no one alive had ever seen. The Texas collection included several films from the 1930's and 40's made only for African-American audiences, among them one with the only known footage of Bessie Smith singing.  

But the largest collection of lost films every discovered was found in Canada's Dawson City in 1978. Most dated from the Klondike Gold Rush, when boats returning to Vancouver and Seattle were laden with gold and newly rich prospectors and nobody wanted to make space for heavy metal cans of year or two old movies.

Instead they were dumped into the town's old swimming pool, providing the fill to turn it into a skating rink. For decades, more than 500 films, including newsreels of WWI, silent comedy shorts and Hollywood features remained hidden under the ice and preserved in permafrost.

For 50 years, even the residents of Dawson City didn't know that 500,000 feet of lost movie art was under the skates of the local hockey teams they cheered.




And then in 1978, the old film cans were unearthed as the hockey arena was torn down and a foundation dug for a new recreation centre.

A Canadian Forces Hercules was dispatched to carry the thawed but now highly flammable film to the National Film Archive in Ottawa, where the preservation process began.

The story of this discovery, how the films were saved and what they revealed has recently been released by American filmmaker Bill Morrison. It's a fascinating glimpse into a world that was once thought lost and movies that were the building blocks of the industry we have today.

Enjoy Your Sunday...


Monday, October 03, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 438: In the Middle of Somewhere

To Joseph Conrad, the work of a writer was simple, "My job is to make you see." 

But sometimes you're somewhere where the beauty overwhelms and words seem inadequate.

Active Pass. Sunset. Today.

And people wonder why Canadians love this place so much.

Enjoy Your Sunday.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 437: Live TV

A couple of days ago, the University Professor down the street (and originally Oregon) asked if she could drop over tomorrow night to watch the Presidential debate. Being an academic type, she's never owned a television.

On hearing this, the elderly couple across the way, who've given up cable because "there's nothing worth watching anymore" asked if they could come by as well.

Now I could've mentioned that the debate is streaming online, but the Professor has a cellar of great organic wines and I know the folks across the way have been baking apricot cakes, so why not share my old-timey cable access.

Earlier today, while in a meeting, I realized I was going to miss the kick-off of the Seahawks game. I mentioned it to one of the people present, who promptly offered his iPad, equipped with an app which would make sure I didn't miss any of the action.

There was a time when our Cableco's had a stranglehold on live news and sports, two of the main reasons most people come up with as an excuse not to cut the coaxial media umbilical cord.

But that's just not the case anymore. I watched a chunk of the Charlotte riots this week on a Livestream feed while in the middle of the ocean on a ferry.

As I accessed that link just now, I realized they're streaming the Morongo Pow-wow in their arts and entertainment section, along with the National Book Festival, a Hip-Hop Concert and a lecture by George R.R. Martin from Medill Northwestern University, plus a few dozen other arts related events.

Currently showing on television from the fancy-schmantzy artsy-fartsy CBC -- pictures Vancouverites have taken with their iPhones...

And for that cultural reflection of the nation we pay a billion plus in taxes on top of our cable fees.

This week Youtube updated their own LIVE channel, which you can access by simply going there and searching for "live". Once you subscribe to the channel, you thereafter just click on it from your drop-down list.

That's where you can watch Monday's debate. But if you check out the other offerings, you'll notice something else.

Sunday afternoon used to be the bane of couch potatoes. If you weren't into football, you were pretty much reduced to watching evangelists or infomercials, maybe a gardening show.

It was those hours of television drought that eventually brought forth the 500 channel Universe. And it's the 500 Channel Universe's inability to survive without programming endless repeats of its niche offerings that is driving viewers to look for other options.

Were I addicted to the NFL, which I sorta am, I could get the entirety of its games (live or replay) condensed games, archives and downloads for a price not far removed from what I have to pay to get all the broadcast and sports networks required to follow a full Sunday's football on cable television.

Plus I could watch them at my leisure, not crammed into one afternoon and without clicking back and forth and overworking the PVR while missing a lot while clicking.

But were I anti-football and anti-repeat, I could still go to Youtube Live and find:

Cycling

European Motorcycle Racing

Australian Rugby

South African Cricket

Wrestling

Clinton and Trump Rallies

Computer Gaming

Concerts

A Gaming convention

An Electronics Trade Show

Wildlife cams

The International Space Station

And of course -- kittens

Were I to cut my cable, maybe only to make a statement against Cableco's who won't support Canadian content, I might miss the stuff that will tomorrow pass for "water cooler" comment.

But I may just be able to hang around said watering hole talking about things my workmates either didn't know about or wished they'd watched instead of the pictures people took with an iPhone.

And it's definitely a better way to...

Enjoy Your Sunday.




Sunday, September 18, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 436: Taking Flight



I should've been born closer to the Equator. No matter how long or hot the Summer months have been, I hate to see them fade away.

And (around here at least), they're fading fast. The nights are colder. The days are damper. The dog still wakes me by her clock, the sunrise, but that first light is coming later and later. 

Today, however was a throwback to and we got out early to enjoy it. 

Only to see so few people doing the same.

Oh, they were out there. Talking or texting on their phones. Sitting on their front steps tapping away at a tablet. Cruising through the park, searching for Pokemon.

Now, I'm not saying that there isn't a creative element to many of those activities. But I've begun to wonder what filling our lives with somebody else's imagination does to our own.

Maybe it's no different than me finding a weathered copy of "Tarzan The Ape Man" and spending most of a long ago Summer reading it in a treehouse, while imagining I was in deepest, darkest Africa.

Maybe today's airborne pixels approximate the beams of projector light in the Roxy Theatre or The Broadway that inspired me to seek a career creating the same kind of experiences.

But somehow I don't see kids putting down their devices and then continuing the story, the game or the input they're received in another way.

I hope I'm wrong. But sometimes I think we're losing the ability to imagine, to see a story as parable for something in reality instead of a literal stand-alone tale.

Canadian writer W.O. Mitchell has a wonderful book entitled "The Vanishing Point" which includes a great sequence where a kid in a one room classroom transforms a boring exercise about drawing perspective into an abandoned exhibition of imagination.

I just don't want to see people lose that.

And neither does filmmaker Brandon Oldenberg, who has created a sweet little cartoon about discovering the power of one's imagination and "Taking Flight".

I hope it fires your imagination.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

<
Taking Flight from Moonbot Studios on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 435: Rollergirls


I began my first working idyll in Hollywood the Summer of 1979, after teenage years steeped in images of surfers and muscle cars, the music of "The Beach Boys" and TV shows filmed on the Sunset strip.

Los Angeles was still pretty much like that. Thankfully, the Disco sound that had drowned the surf guitars had finally given way to "The Eagles" and Punk. But otherwise, Farrah Fawcett was still the hottest babe on TV, Disneyland still had "E" ticket rides and the surf was always up.

Beautiful big haired blondes were everywhere. But what I hadn't expected was that many of them had traded their knee high boots and stilettos to move around on wheels.

Everywhere you went, stunningly attractive young women were zooming past on roller skates.

Now roller skating had been relatively popular when I was a kid. But where I grew up, all the streets were dirt or gravel so I'd rarely encountered them. The fad, which had been around since the Great Depression, was rapidly fading out and the big roller rinks where people had still gone to "dance" through the fifties were becoming fewer and further between.

When I'd first moved to Toronto, there was one remaining on Mutual Street. But I only went once. A buddy of mine had just gotten out of jail and arrived on my doorstep with a guy who'd been in for a much longer stretch and that's where he wanted to go to celebrate his newfound freedom.

I got up on skates for the first time there and mostly spent the night hugging the boards as the two Cons tried to pick up girls who could've been their moms and were smart enough to not have anything to do with them.

But California was different. This was a scene revitalized and far removed from the 1940's as well as the Canadian impulse to suggest you better wear kneepads, elbow pads and probably a helmet too.

I also realized that if I wanted to meet any of these bronzed and big-haired blondes, I needed to master the wheels myself. And so I did. And I loved it.

Around the same time, "Dire Straights" released a song called "Skateaway". It was never a hit and probably not even played much. But the pace and the rythmn replicated the skating experience perfectly.

This week, that song happened past me again and brought back memories of a great Summer and a great pastime.

I must leave you now to dig through the garage for a very old set of roller skates.

Enjoy Your Sunday.



Sunday, September 04, 2016

Lazy Sunday #434: Inconceivable


There's a scene in William Goldman's "The Princess Bride" where the arrogant douchebag, Vizzini, finds it "Inconceivable!!!" that the film's hero, Westley, can outmaneuver him in a battle of wits to free the captive Princess Buttercup.

Of course, Westley easily outsmarts him, proving once again that the fatal flaw in people with power is that they always think they got where they are because they're just that much smarter than everyone else.

It's a flaw astonishingly evident in both candidates currently running for the American presidency.

To offer a local example: a couple of weeks ago, Jean-Pierre Blais, the insufferably arrogant douchebag who chairs the CRTC, issued an edict reducing the amount of Canadian participation in Canadian content. And while most of the Creatives in this country found the ruling inconceivable, Blais himself could be found writing letters to craft guilds where he found the fact that they were upset even more inconceivable.

This isn't the first time an arm of the Canadian government has stepped in to gut the country's artists just when they appeared on the verge of making a breakthrough in reaching a national or international audience.

In 1981, the government of Prime Minister Trudeau the first cancelled the film investment program which had kickstarted a thriving film industry on less than 24 hours notice. A move which torpedoed dozens of films in mid-production, tossing hundreds of artists and film techs immediately out of work.

Seven years later, the government of Brian Mulroney promised a ticket levy on foreign product to fund Canadian production and blinked at the last minute when Hollywood studios objected.

In 1999, the CRTC changed the definition of what counted as Canadian content in broadcasting so news and magazine style shows were rendered equal to drama and comedy, drowning dozens of dramatic and comedy projects and costing thousands of jobs.

And who can forget the decade of CRTC incompetence that followed as time and again the needs of both Canadian Creatives and Canadian viewers were pole-axed in favor of ever-growing greed and entitlement within the broadcast community.

I can't count the number of times during that dark time where I attended meetings or conferences where Canadian public officials met Guilds and Unions face to face to insist that they were "on our side" and "things will change" -- and then nothing changed.

So Blais and the other CRTC Commissioners who backed this unbelievably short-sighted decision are no worse than those that have preceded them, appointed by governments leaning both Left and Right.

These are just the self-admiring Vizzinis of the moment.

So how do you get around them?

Well, you can go somewhere else. That works for some. Even worked for me for a long while.

Or you can fight them from here. 

How? 

With the same talents they are trying to deny the world that you have.

In my day, that was the theatre. In a time where Stratford and Regional theatres never did Canadian plays and repeatedly hired foreign talent, a community arose that eventually overcame that system, creating memorable work and launching an infinite number of long and successful careers.

There were also low-budget and later direct-to-video movies, all financed and distributed without a dollar of public money. Maybe you didn't make a lot of cash. But you worked and you got even better at what you did. And after a while you had a level of recognition and body of credits that couldn't be ignored.

These days, it's easier than ever to make and distribute something of your own. I know three guys in my relatively small Canadian city who've built their own green screen studios. Dozens more with broadcast quality digital recording, editing and post production systems. Hell, I've stumbled across teenagers who've forgotten more about CGI than I will ever learn.

If the people at Bell and Rogers or Corus don't recognize your value, you don't have to look very far to find people who will. And once you have something finished you'll quickly discover than Amazon and Netflix and their many online competitors, imitators and challengers are far easier to talk to than the gatekeepers at Canada's traditional networks.

And unlike those networks, these new entities actually have money of their own that they want to invest and don't need to go hat in hand to bureaucrats.

A couple of weeks before Jean-Pierre Blais revealed he's not really as smart as he thinks, Canadian cable provider Telus revealed the winning projects of their Storyhive web series competition.

The winner in BC is also called "Inconceivable". Written by Joel Ashton McCarthy, Rachel Kirkpatrick & Mike Doaga and directed by McCarthy -- it's as good as anything you're likely to see from any of the Boys and Girls in Suits networks.

Yes, it's nice to have the public money deals and an often national even if ever-shifting time slot. But the disrespect of what you do that comes with such perks is becoming more and more intolerable and less and less likely.

But you don't need them. 

And as inconceivable as that seems, it's as true as it has always been.

Trust your talent.

And Enjoy Your Sunday...