Monday, July 25, 2016

Lazy Sunday #428: Spooks-A-Poppin'

All the kids (and a lot of the adults) in my neighborhood are playing "Pokemon Go" hunting enhanced reality creatures near the local parks and soccer field. It's a fun evolution of video games that's taken most of the country by storm.

And the possibilities this offers for those of us in show business are endless. 

I heard a local DJ map out a version of the game that could be marketed alongside "Ghostbusters". First you'd see the movie and then you'd head outside to hunt for ghosts. When you found one, you'd turn on your mobile phone's "Proton stream" to capture it. But you'd need a couple of other people to launch their proton streams as well (being careful not to cross them) and then somebody else to open up their cell phone "trap". 

Entertainment. Enhanced movie. Community. All combined to create a fun, feel good adventure.

Like a lot of things in show business -- Pokemon Go is copying what's gone before while revealing a wildly profitable future.

Back in my day, we only had movies. But once in a while, somebody like Producer William Castle would come along to sell something like "13 Ghosts" -- where you were handed a special viewer as you entered the theatre which would allow you to see the ghosts in the movie. Ghosts invisible unless you used Castle's special device.

Castle would later go on to make films like "The Tingler" in which seats in the theatre were wired to shock audience members into believing they were being attacked by the titular character.

But these highly successful marketing schemes were really just an enhancement of something that had been going on in movie houses since the 1930's -- "The Spook Show".

I went to my first Spook Show when I was about 12. A local movie house was screening a couple of classic Frankenstein films on Halloween. But there was more to the show than that. 

There was a magician doing spooky illusions, Dracula and the Mummy wandering the aisles looking for victims, and best of all -- between the two movies -- a woman in a cage who transformed into a Gorilla before our shocked eyes -- said Ape then breaking from the cage to chase us all into the lobby to buy more popcorn.

This was a sideshow attraction accomplished with lighting and skrims that's still around today and still sends shocked rubes scrambling for the safety of the midway at its climax.

Over the last while, I've blogged about 3D and VR and other ways films are marketed. And while you might be able to come up with an enhanced reality app for your own film, perhaps the way things are going is actually back where they've been before -- offering audiences something more than just going to the local multiplex to see a film.

Maybe your rom-com should be introduced by a set from a local stand-up comic. Perhaps your audience could have their own laser blasters to fire at the invading aliens in your sci-fi, CGI epic.

And what would be the harm of augmenting your horror film with a live spook show.

It might ensure that you get a longer theatrical run (and more publicity) before you disappear into the Netflix back catalog.

If you want to see the future, it never hurts to glance back into the past.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 427: Black Sunday In The Magic Kingdom

I don't think my family owned a TV set during the Summer of 1955. But if we had, I'm sure it would have been tuned to the same channel 50% of televisions were tuned to the night of July 17th -- the live broadcast of the opening of Disneyland.

From the moment we did get a TV set (maybe a year or two later) the Sunday night Disney hour was sacrosanct. I owned a "Davey Crockett" coonskin cap, dressed as "Zorro" on Halloween and followed the adventures of "Johnny Tremaine", "Texas John Slaughter" and "Elfego Baca". 

Interspersed with these were Mickey Mouse Cartoons, wildlife documentaries and Werner Von Braun explaining how we'd get to the moon -- as well as Walt Disney himself extolling the charms of his Magic Kingdom.

I didn't make it to Disneyland until I was in my mid-20's and visiting friends in Los Angeles. They promised to take me there my first Saturday in town and even fixed me up with a "beautiful California Blonde" named Bambi as my date.

Bambi turned out to be quite beautiful and blonde -- and was also 12 years old. But any disappointment I might've felt was short lived because -- because the company of a kid (especially one who knew how to get past the lines for "E" Ticket rides) helped the magic of the place come alive.

As of today, 61 years later, 3/4 of a Billion people have visited Disneyland. But what a lot of people don't know is that it almost didn't make it past opening day -- a day that became known as "Black Sunday".

Disney's skill at promotion and the popularity of his films and TV show had raised interest in the park to a fever pitch. And despite a carefully chosen guest list of family and friends, more than 30,000 people arrived at the front gates. Most with forged tickets.

People were seen literally tossing their children over the heads of early arrivals to make sure they got to the front of the line. Overwhelmed ticket takers had no choice but to open the gates to anyone who wanted in.

Food ran out. Rides broke down under unexpected traffic and the Paddle-wheeler "Mark Twain" ran aground from the sheer weight of its passengers. 

Sleeping Beauty's castle was pillaged for souvenirs and restrooms couldn't handle the overflow -- partly because a Plumber's strike had forced Walt Disney to choose between building the number required and making sure the plaster elephants on the African Cruise ride could shoot water from their trunks.

And the entire fiasco was broadcast live, with various celebrity hosts cutting back and forth to maintain the feeling that nothing was wrong, while everything collapsed around them.

That broadcast is still with us, a reminder of just what it's like to do live television and a testament to how professionals behave in a crisis.

61 years ago today.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 426: And The Horse You Rode In On...

"You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink"-- which Dorothy Parker re-jigged to "You can lead a whore to culture but you can't make her think" -- which brings us to actors, who are often considered the whores of the culture because they'll do just about anything to make a buck.

Now, having been one (an actor) for a big chunk of my career, I can confirm that actors lie a lot. Mostly to get hired. Not that they lie any more than writers and directors do to get hired or producers do to come up with production money or simply to get laid. But only actors will admit they lie. 

The reason is simple. The root from which the word actor derives is "action" -- he who does something. And actors are always being asked if they can do something most people can't. 

Can you ride a horse?

Can you water ski?

Can you play tennis?

Nobody ever asks "Can you act?" since that's supposed to be a given. But this myriad of other skills which might be required of fictional characters takes up a lot of most actors lives. In addition to acting classes and voice lessons, actors spend a lot of time learning to do things most people can't -- and which they likely will never have to do either.

At the bottom of all resumes you'll inevitably find a list of unique things each individual actor can do. Juggle. Kick-box. Ballroom dance. Make paper airplanes.

When I was in high school I was into gymnastics, so that was on my list. But I soon learned that knowing how to do something might get you the job, but it didn't necessarily mean you'd get to do the job.

Allow me to explain. 

I got a call from my agent about a commercial where they needed somebody who had some gymnastic skills. Okay. I could probably do that. So I get an audition. At the audition somebody asks me if I have any gymnastic experience and I go through the list of what I can do. They seem happy. So happy I get booked for the job.

A week later, I turn up at some gymnasium with a whole crew and some ad agency guys. In the middle of the floor is a mat and hanging from the ceiling are a set of gymnastic rings. Now, I know Olympic athletes make those things look easy. But they're about the hardest thing you can do in a gym. 

I'd never been on a set and the director had a whole choreography he'd designed based on being in Munich in 1972 or something. After he laid out a routine only about 8 guys in the world could probably do -- moving from a Giant Swing into an Iron Cross and then a Kip Over to whatever. I politely explained that the rings weren't on the list of gymnastic events at which I was skilled and in addition nobody had ever asked if I was some kind of ring expert.

Everybody freaked out. And I was suddenly another lying actor and dispatched from the set while they frantically tried to reach their number 2 pick at his day job.

I'm pretty sure they couldn't reach him, or number 3 or number 4, because by the time the commercial aired, the poor guy they hired was doing somersaults -- and not doing them very well either.

This experience served me well later in life, when as a producer I would ask if an actor could ride a horse, knowing full well he or she would swear they could. Whoever we hired was them immediately dispatched to a riding school to "brush up" their abilities while the riding instructor was told he was getting somebody who'd never even seen a horse in real life.

Nobody got embarrassed. The production stayed on time and on budget. And the next time the actor was asked to ride a horse there wouldn't be any need for lying.

Which brings me to this lovely little anecdote from Sam Shepherd, a fine actor, superb writer and all round nice guy, who honestly does know how to ride a horse.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 425: Please Get Over Yourself

The Brexit vote just might be the straw that finally broke this camel's back. Although it had been coming for more than a year, it somehow wasn't on anybody' radar because -- well, because who would be so stupid as to do something like that, right?

And then the minute the people of the UK made their decision, there was a momentary gasp and then a flood of "What the fuck were they thinking?" and "Oh my God, the sky is falling!". Not to mention a million people in my Facebook feed alone spewing venom and worse on anybody connected with the "Leave" side, branding them as racists, xenophobes, anti-LGBTQ or anything else that might get somebody else to be pissed off at them too.

The Media were pissed off. The Politicians were pissed off. Stock Brokers were pissed off. Bookies. British Ex-Pats who made their own Brexits a generation ago. Hell, anybody who just needed something new to get jacked up about.

Things got so bad, CBC Radio had a panel of academics claiming some things were far too important to allow ordinary people to make decisions about them. Of course these were Canadian Academics, unable to come up with anything original on their own, so they culled their thesis from British Sources.

Isn't it interesting how some people suffer a loss and decide to suck it up and move on, while others come to the conclusion that their defeat is proof that Democracy isn't such a good thing after all? I mean, it was while their side was winning, but now -- well...

But what the Brexit "discussion" really brought home to me was just how wrapped up so many of us have become in needing the things we believe in, or don't really know much about but they really seem to matter to people we either like or look up to -- needing those things to be what EVERYBODY believes in.

And meanwhile the same people wonder where ISIS comes up with its cockamamie "Everybody has to see the world our way" shit.

Lately, I've had a long Saturday morning commute. Normally the news junkie in me would use that time to catch up on the latest headlines and commentary. But since all that newscasters seem to talk about these days are Trump and Hillary and I can't stand either of them, I've had to surf the dial.

A few weeks ago, I discovered a Canadian Money Show called "Money Talks" hosted by business analyst Michael Campbell. It's likely syndicated to a local station near you. And if it's not you can find it online here.

Now, shows about the economy aren't everybody's cup of whatever you're mostly drinking these days. But what I like about Campbell's approach is -- he kinda cuts through the bullshit. You might not like what he has to say, but it invariably makes sense -- and that doesn't just apply to your retirement portfolio.

What follows is some of what he had to say a couple of days ago about Brexit. Which is mostly about getting over yourself and your holier than thou opinions.

It's worth a listen.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 424: The Free State of Jones

The night before the Brexit vote, I went to a screening of a new film called "The Free State of Jones". Written and directed by Gary Ross, and starring Matthew McConnaughey, it promised to tell an untold story of the American Civil War.

24 hours later as I watched the reaction to the British decision to leave the European Union, I realized it was as much about the truth of today's world as the one which existed a century and half ago.

It's a flawed film on many levels, but powerful in the way it clarifies the difference between most of us and those who strive to control the events which impact our lives.

It's a film about doing what's right as opposed to what the world around you deems appropriate.

Please see it. At the very least, it will help you understand the Brexit. And...

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Lazy Sunday #423: The Joke Police

Last week a little boy watching fireworks at Disney World was killed by an alligator. An unbelievably tragic event by any measure of tragedy.

Being a guy who grew up on the Disney classics, however, the first thing that crossed my mind was "How come nobody heard the beast ticking as it came ashore?".

That's of course a reference to "Tick-Tock the Croc" who swallowed Captain Cook's hand as well as his watch in "Peter Pan". And of course, the second thing to cross my mind was "Too Soon", that term which seems to have been at the forefront of comedy since 9/11 and dictates that a certain amount of time must pass between a tragedy and when it's okay to joke about it.

A couple of guys either braver or dumber than I am, posted their own versions of the same joke and were immediately pilloried by that incredibly fast growing demographic known universally as "The Joke Police".

We're definitely in a time when those who don't appreciate either humor or ideological difference or that some people have an alternate take on life or are simply unaware that "shit happens" quickly take offense. And I'm not really sure what benefit that is to anybody except those who want the world to be absolutely clear on what they find offensive.

Friday night, Bill Maher did his own Disney Alligator joke which offended many in his audience and later did some Muslim and Gun jokes they also didn't appreciate. And by the growing disgust I see on Maher's face, I can tell that one of the Left's most admired comics is frankly wondering what happened to the openness and acceptance that used to typify the Leftist audience he cultivated.

We've all got jokes we don't get or find funny. Most of us just shrug, offer a weak smile and move on. But the Joke Police want humor stifled and silenced. And going down that road inevitably means the joke will one day be on them.

For further insight into this, I offer conservative pundit, climate change denier, gun rights supporter and otherwise thinking speaker most of the Joke Police would consider a right-wing wing-nut. I say that only because I don't want anybody watching what follows without knowing he's somebody they're not supposed to find funny from the get-go.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 422: Heavy Metal Parking Lot

There's an old adage stating: "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American Public." And you can substitute "American" for just about any other audience on the planet.

Therefore the essential rule in entertainment is  -- "Know Your Audience". Because to be truly successful, you've got to appeal to what it is they want, not what it is you want them to like.

Oh, you can claim you're leading them to some better place, or improving their tastes. But if you do, you're either kidding yourself or courting disaster. 

Which brings me to the current kerfuffle over people not being able to get tickets to see the final tour of "The Tragically Hip".

Now, a lot of bands retire. The players get tired of touring or choke on their own vomit. Albums stop selling, the lead singer opts for a solo career, or what they were doing simply goes out of fashion.

I've never been a huge fan of "The Hip", but I've liked some of their stuff and understand the attraction. And if they had simply announced they were calling it quits, I'm sure they would have enjoyed a successful and celebratory farewell.

But concurrent with the announcement of the tour, the band also let fans know that Gord Downie, their lead singer, was dealing with a terminal Cancer.

And, of course, the demand for tickets went nuts. 

In my current hometown of Victoria, where the tour will kick off on July 22nd, the arena sold out in 30 seconds and StubHub is offering pairs of floor tickets for $10,000 -- US -- which puts them at $12,800 Canadian.

Why would people pay prices like that?

For the same reason they gawk at traffic accidents. They want to see the dead guy.

The Promoters knew the real money wasn't in directing sales at fans of the band, but in appealing to the geek factor in the rest of us. 

People weren't purchasing a last chance to watch Gord sing "Bobcaygeon" or "Blow At High Dough", they were paying for the opportunity to gawk at a dying man, perhaps getting a chubby at the possibility he might do a Jackie Wilson and gack right in front of them while warbling his biggest hit.

30 years ago, filmmakers John Heyn and Jeff Krulik borrowed a video camera from a local access station to document the arrival of fans at a Maryland "Judas Priest" concert. It's as fine a depiction as you'll ever find of most of those for whom you are creating what you consider works of art or entertainment and has been named to Rolling Stone's list of "Best Rock Documentaries".

I've appended it with a video of "Judas Priest" in performance. Those of you willing to spend a few grand for Hip tickets may enjoy it simply for the fact that some of these guys are now probably dead as well.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Heavy Metal Parking Lot from Jeff Krulik on Vimeo.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 421: 3D Inferno

Writing a blog is a little like being the artistic director of a little theatre company. You can pretty much program to fit your own mood and hope it strikes a chord among those who happen to notice the marquee.

A few weeks ago we tried sharing some virtual reality around here and boy, did that seem to get a lot of people excited.

So today, I'd like to take a small technological step backwards to one of my favorite movie going experiences -- 3D.

Now modern 3D gets a lot of knocks. It's too dark. It's not properly used. I don't care. I probably saw my first 3D film when I was 9 or 10 and loved it.

Remember the first time you saw a Hi-Def hockey game or something in 4K? Well it was like that. You might still be watching the Leafs play the Canucks. But it's better. 

It's more like real life and thus knocks down one more of those subtle reminders that what you're seeing is "only a movie".

Less disbelief has to be willingly suspended -- which, for me, makes the experience far more immersive.

There's a ton of 3D on-line already. There's even a place where you can turn 2D images into Anaglyphs, which is the tech term for a 3D version.

The one drawback with 3D, of course is you need to wear special glasses. If you haven't already scammed a pair from your last visit to the multiplex, there are people who will send you free ones. You can find them here.

Drop them a line and a couple of days later you'll be able to watch what follows. Or clearly make out this image.

And after that, check out the massive libraries of  3D content on Youtube and Vimeo.

Not only is there stuff that feels like you can reach out and touch. There are films that will touch you deeper because they have an added dimension.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 420: Willy Chirino

Every year, I mark the beginning of Summer by selecting my album of the Summer, the record that I'm probably going to listen to the most while enjoying the Sun, the sand, the cold beers on the patio.

This has nothing to do with my having great taste in music or anybody's idea of what's going to be hip and cool in the coming months. It's just the way I keep track of the Summers in my life.

This year's selection is an album which was released in 2011. I don't know why I've never heard it before. Maybe it got lost of the seat cushions of the car or something. But if you're as equally unfamiliar with Willy Chirino's "My Beatles Heart" as I was, you're in for a treat.

Chirino was born in Cuba around the time Fidel Castro turned it into his own little prison fiefdom. In 1960, he was spirited to the United States as part of  "Operation Peter Pan" a mass migration of children from the island by those who feared the revolutionary government was going to take them from their families.

Years later, having risen to the top of the Latin music scene in Miami, he would write a song about the experience that has become an anthem for Cuban exiles, entitled "Our Day Is Coming".

A perennial nominee and winner of Latin Grammy's, Chirino has released 20 Platinum albums. If you're into Salsa, you've heard him. If you're not, you need to.

Some of my first "Summer Albums" were those of "The Beatles". So it's a particular pleasure to combine that music with what Chirino brings to it.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 419: The Aristocrats

Non-Canadian readers bear with me as I explain the Canadian Senate. 

It's not like the US where you need to be elected. Nor is it like Britain's House of Lords, where you must be either inbred, a Bishop of the Church of England or an MP who suddenly finds himself without a seat.

Here in Canada, you used to get picked because you were either a political bag-man or you had Polaroids of a cabinet minister who didn't want them getting around. 

Nowadays, you need to meet a rigorous set of prerequisites:

1. Age 30-75
2. Own $4,000 worth of property in the province you wish to represent.
3. Have a net worth of $4,000.
4.Since the Senate is working toward gender parity and diversity, you'll get extra points for being a woman, aboriginal or member of a minority.


5. You need to demonstrate either:

a) experience with the legislative process (ie: politician)
b) lengthy and recognized public service  (ie: bureaucrat)
c) outstanding achievement in your profession (ie: rich)

So, given that we've just lived through lengthy RCMP investigations of Senators scamming from the Public purse for which nobody's been convicted or had to do much more than pay back the cash they almost got away with -- we'll have the same kind of scumbags we've always had.

Being a Senator in Canada basically means everybody knows that underneath that slick exterior, you're not somebody anybody actually respects.

The world has always skewed toward being governed by aristocrats. Now and then, there's a French Revolution or Civil war that culls the herd. But eventually they come back and go right on doing what they do best -- living off the rest of us.

That's never been clearer in Canada then it is now, a condition summed up beautifully this weekend by Michael Campbell the nationally syndicated host of radio's "Money Talks".

No matter where your political sentiments lie, I don't think you'll find fault with anything he has to say.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

And for those of you who were expecting something else...

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Water Bomber, The Frogman and The Great Canadian Novelist

(Guest Column from Canadian Writer, Director and Producer Allan Eastman)

This tremendous photograph of a Canadair Water Bomber fighting the horrendous Ft. McMurray conflagration of 2016 invoked a sudden wash of memories having to do with 2 of the great Canadian cultural institutions that I had the good fortune to be involved with and a bizarre set of circumstances that led from a burned out forest to a literary heritage.

The first great cultural institution was The Littlest Hobo TV series. I directed 44 of those over 5 seasons in the early 1980s as a young filmmaker learning his chops and building up his bag of cinematic tricks. All the crew was pretty young as well so we had a tremendous time together shooting the show out in small town rural Ontario over the warm summer months. 

Rarely has wholesome family entertainment been made by such a collection of sex and drug crazed reprobates. At one of our wrap parties at an isolated hotel, I woke up the next morning in bed with 5 people, all of whom I’d had some kind of sex with.

Hobo was great fun to make – a new story and a new cast every week in a new situation set in a new environment. Lots of action. Many tremendous actors to work with – classic old Hollywood pros like Keenan Wynn, John Carradine, Henry Gibson, Patrick MacNee, James MacArthur and the cream of Canadian talent from Lynne Griffin to Jim Henshaw to Sean McCann and Karen Kain. Out in the woods on a sunny day, telling a tale. The crew called it the story of “A dog who traveled around from town to town paying off crew mortgages.” We didn’t know how good we had it.

We were doing a 2-part episode with the SARTECHS at Trenton Air Force Base. These Search and Rescue Technicians were the guys that flew missions looking for the wreckage of missing aircraft out in the wilds or ships in trouble at sea, then parachuted in to rescue the survivors or collect the remains. Our story was about a small plane crash in some remote hinterland and was both a drama with the survivors and a procedural about the SARTECHs search and rescue operation.

The Air Force gave us tremendous support – the free use of big Buffalo search aircraft and Huey and Chinook rescue helicopters, numerous parachute jumps and the run of the Trenton base. For me, it was like Orson Welles’ description of a film set being the best electric train a boy could have. 

We did lots of aerial shooting and excellent action with the SARTECHs rappelling out of helicopters or hitting a precise mark in their glider parachutes. It turned out to be one of our best shows ever.
I was much taken with the 8 or 10 SARTECHs we were working with. They were all long term enlistments and pretty well all Sargeants, you know, the guys the Officers go to to find out what is going on or what they should do. They seemed to me like a group of John Ford cavalry picture heroes - deadly serious about their work but tremendous fun after hours, boisterous and full of jokes. I was so impressed that I wanted to develop a movie script about them. Their lives and their work certainly deserved the big screen treatment so after Hobo, I went back to Trenton and spent many enjoyable, well lubricated evenings interviewing them on tape, pumping them for their best stories.

They had many epic adventures to relate and many amazing tales to tell. How they generally chuted into plane crash sites up North with shotguns because they often had to fight off huge Grizzly bears who were trying to make off with the human remains. How a climber who fell down a mountain was usually stripped naked by his clothes being ripped off by obstructions. How to airlift survivors off a blazing, sinking ship in an Atlantic gale. The strange things that cause plane crashes, like the pilot getting a raisin stuck in his throat and choking to death at 8000 feet.

But the most incredible story was about being called to the site of a major forest fire in BC by the firefighters, after the flames had been largely extinguished. They were led into the heart of the burned out woods, the ash still smoking and small brush fires still being put out. The lead firefighter came to a stop and pointed up at the top of a blackened cedar tree and there, 40 feet up, impaled in the branches was a fully accoutered frogman – wet suit, dive mask, scuba tank and one flipper – dead of course, and all scorched and roasted by the fire and the steam. Sgt. Kelly said it was probably the most surreal thing he’d ever seen, and that’s saying a great deal, based on some of the other experiences he told me.

Well, the story was reasonably easy to figure out, finally. This poor bastard had been scuba diving in one of the local lakes, had been scooped up by a Water Bomber skimming across the surface, taking on a fresh load and had then been dropped into the fire itself on their fire-fighting bomb run.

I’ve thought many times over the years about this unlucky guy’s experience. There he was, placidly scubaing along. There would have been a strange noise, suddenly building up to a gigantic roar and then, he would have been tumbled around in extreme turbulence. What the fuck!? Then, he would have found himself in complete darkness, encased in a great pool of water but on investigation, he would discover that he was entombed by steel walls above, below and all around. Did he figure out what was happening to him? There would be the muted rumble of the plane’s props but the water in the hold would be calm.

But then, Suddenly - Light would begin to appear below him, the water would abruptly start to drain away and he would be swept out in a rush with it. He would find himself falling through the air from great height into a massive raging wild fire directly below.

One can only hope that it was all over for him quickly.

I’ve told this story many times over the years, usually as an example of the kind of freaky things that can happen to Human beings. The sly Greek Philosopher, Heraclitus always said that it was the things that we could never think of that would do us in.

In the long run, the movie never happened. We wrote a decent script but had trouble getting the money together before another big project took us elsewhere. Every filmmaker’s epitaph should read “Films I Never Made.” Later, we did do another SARTECH script for the Danger Bay series and that turned into one of their most celebrated, most popular episodes, nominated for many awards.

Now, the 2nd great Canadian cultural institution. About the time we were working on the SARTECH movie script, I was having dinner at the Windsor Arms one night with the powerful Producer, Bill Marshall. Bill and I worked together over the years and he was always the best of company, funny and entertaining to pass an evening or a plane ride with. His signature line was “I give you my word as a Film Producer!”

At some point, a familiar looking, rumpled little guy passed by and stopped to talk with Bill. Bill invited him to join us. It was Mordecai Richler, considered by many – myself included – to be the greatest Canadian Novelist ever, despite claims by backers of Margaret Atwood or Robertson Davies. I’d never met him before so it was a big thrill for me. I had all his books on the shelf at home. And loved them.

We three talked about all kinds of different subjects for hours, as we worked our way through a bottle or two of Chivas Regal. Mordecai was killer smart and the ironic black humor so on display in his writings was delivered in a quiet sardonic voice for private consumption at the table. At some point, I told them the SARTECH/Frogman story. I don’t remember their reaction but no doubt it was the general head shaking amazement that its telling usually provokes.

Jump Cut a decade or so later. I am shooting something in Vancouver and have just done my Saturday morning book store run, the prize acquisition being the hot off the presses hardcover copy of Mordecai Richler’s latest (and sadly, last) novel, Barney’s Version. I dive right into it and spend most of the rainy weekend devouring it.

A key storyline in the novel is Barney being suspected of murder over the mysterious disappearance of his best friend, during a weekend up in the woods at the cottage. Barney always proclaims his innocence and eventually gets away with it because no corpse is ever found. Until of course, years later when a hiker in a new growth forest comes across charred human remains.

Yes, the strange sound that disturbed Barney’s post lunch nap was a Water Bomber vacuuming up his friend who had gone for a dip, to eventually deposit him from height into a raging forest fire.

At first, I was shocked when I read this denouement but then, I had to laugh. Yeah, Mordecai knew a good story when he heard it, made a note probably and when it didn’t show up elsewhere, he used it as a major plot device for his new book. I resolved to give him some good natured ribbing about stealing my material the next time I ran into him but alas, I never got the chance. Mordecai died a few years later.

But retrospectively, I am proud of my part in passing along this extraordinary tale from the SARTECHs to our greatest Author to be recorded for posterity in his final novel. All Human art begins with our ancestors sitting around telling stories, which then get passed on to the generations. So let it be with this.

And anyhow, it makes for a good story too.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 418: Help!

I was catching the boat to Vancouver a couple of weeks ago and I always love sailing through the Gulf Islands. There are eagles and seals, whales quite often and just the natural beauty of the place to make the trip worth every minute.

But as I was crossing the deck, I noticed a young woman sitting at a sunny window -- wearing a Virtual Reality headset, her senses locked into a computer feeding her something other than the time and place in which she resided.

I couldn't help wondering if the VR experience is really that good or her boredom with Life was really that bad.

Now, movies have always been designed to "transport us" as they say. To take us "out of ourselves" and the humdrum existences we're apparently saddled with, to times, places and experiences that inform us and enrich our perspectives.

But despite all the suspension of disbelief you bring to a movie, you're kinda always aware it's just a movie. VR intends to make you believe you're actually there.

And while I can see the point with news or documentaries, I'm not sure how story tellers focus the audience on the ideas, emotions and conflicts they're using to tell their stories. Will they be wrapt by the tale you're spinning or constantly looking over their shoulders to check out what might be going on behind them?

And how do you as a story teller determine what is going on behind them so the experience remains real but it doesn't distract from what you're trying to say?

It's clearly going to take time for all of us to learn this new story telling tool. But the story telling has already begun.

This week, director Justin Lin, best known for most of the "Fast and Furious" franchise, released what may be the first attempt at VR fiction for Google spotlight.

Now I can provide you with a link to the film, entitled "Help" which comes with a directional control in the upper Left corner so you can get the gist of the VR experience.

But you can also use a YouTube App on a compatible Android device here. Or its iOS version here in order to get the complete experience.

If you want to build your own VR headset, you can find instructions for a cardboard version here

I don't know whether VR movies will be our movie going future or the next failed fad.

Decide for yourself and...

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 417: Have You Ever Been To Sea Billy?

I grew up in a part of the world where we didn't have a lot of water. I might've been 11 or 12 before I saw a body of water where you couldn't see the opposite shore. So, I've always had a fascination for oceans.

And then somewhere around the age of 40, I learned to scuba dive, opening up the entirely different planet that lurks below the surface of those waters.

Since then, I've had the chance to swim with giant turtles, stingrays, sharks and whales. And as breathtaking as those encounters have been, the biggest thrill I've had underwater was visiting shipwrecks.

There's something about swimming over a vessel whose like you've seen on the surface. You fell like you're flying, able to see it from an angle most earthbound humans never get the chance.

And then you go inside, finding a world that few (if any) have seen for decades, even centuries; eerily preserved, giving you the sense of what it was like to be there -- of what life in that time was like.

It's one thing to experience life aboard an centuries old ship. But now the world is about to experience what things were like in an ancient city that hasn't been seen in more than a millennium.

In 2000, French divers mapping the floor of the Mediterranean found the remains of 64 ships off the coast of Egypt in less than 30 feet of water. Gold coins and Athenian weights used by merchants helped them pinpoint the site as the ancient Greek cities of Heracleion (Thonis in Egyptian) and Canopus which sank beneath the waves 1200 years ago.

Until then, most archaeologists considered Heracleion the stuff of legend. It had first been mentioned in Homer's "Iliad".

But not only is Heraclion real and remarkably preserved. It has been pain-stakingly brought back to the surface over the last 15 years and on May 19th, becomes available to the public at the British Museum in London.

Take a trip to the unseen part of our world and far back in time and...

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 416: Proof of Concept

Used to be, if you wrote a good script and the studio liked the idea, it got produced.

Then we evolved to "packaging" scripts so the studios could feel more comfortable with what they were buying, where-in a director of some status and actors with familiar names were "attached" to the script.

Over time, these "packages" needed a further level of comfort, so they were "pre-sold", meaning money was committed from Azerbaijan or Zaire, so the studio or network didn't have to risk so much of its own cash.

But now a lot of the people who make movies are being asked by those who fund movies to provide further proof that they actually have the talent to make the movie in the first place.

It's kind of the writer/director version of actors being asked to appear at auditions in costume -- because the people doing the casting don't have the ability to believe an actor could play Spiderman unless they see him hidden under spandex.

Only in this case it involves a lot more than sewing a Hallow e'en costume in July. 

Along with putting up the money to rent or make costumes, a writer has to find a director and a cast, hire a crew, scout locations and secure the services of a company that does post production and/or CGI.

These people spend a few days realizing a scene or sequence from the script, not just bringing it off the page, but making it as close to what the final version might look like as possible.

It's the kind of process that demands an enormous outlay of creative energy and sweat equity while insuring that people in suits with no clue about how to do their job can keep drawing a salary

And if those execs viewing your final product don't consider your leading lady "fuckable" enough or believe your grandma's house is really located in an idyllic small town in the 1950's -- you're still out of luck. 

The smart screenwriter considers forgetting the middle man, mortgaging his house and continuing to shoot the film. At the very least it supports the "single vision" concept Writers Guilds like to champion -- and who needs to own a house anyway?

How good does a "proof of concept" need to be these days?

As good as what follows, the product of "Fight Club" scribe, Jim Uhls and Academy Award nominee director Ruairi Robinson.

Enjoy your Sunday.