Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I've worked in Paris before. Previously, it was for the usual Canadian reasons: tax credits, co-pro requirements, spending money somebody otherwise can't get out of the country. This time it's for all the right reasons -- Paris made sense for the series and my Execs said "Go for it!"

My first visit here was for all the right reasons too. I came to get laid.

I was 18, going to school in London, had a new girlfriend and figured a trip to Paris was the ticket to get the relationship headed in the right direction.

Like all 18 year olds plotting a romantic weekend, I invited all my buddies and their girlfriends to come along. We decided to go to Paris for Bastille Day, July 14, 1968.

1968 was a rough year in France. A student uprising in May had rocked the city. The Sorbonne had been occupied. This was followed by a general strike and a lot of social unrest. I never fully understood the politics. But a bunch of French Filmmakers made great movies about it all (Goddard's "Tout La Bien", Malle's "Milou et Mai", Bertolucci's "The Dreamers").

When you're 18, you don't consider that you're walking into a war zone -- especially when there's a chance you'll get laid.

We caught a train to Dover, a ferry to Calais and another train to the Gare du Nord. We'd booked a cheap hotel and the lady and I checked into a snug 2nd floor room overlooking St. Mark's Square. It was going to be a special night.

As the sun set, we found a sidewalk cafe, blew through a few bottles of wine and set off to watch the fireworks at the Eiffel Tower. Despite being warned that the city was a powderkeg, all we saw were the happy throngs partying in the streets. The music, the wine and the soft summer night soon had my girlfriend and I cuddling close and we caught the Metro back to our hotel.

As we climbed the subway steps near St. Mark's Square, I thought I heard another street party. But this one was louder and the only music was a heavy rythmic drumming.

We stepped onto the street facing a phalanx of angry students, many wearing masks and bandanas, others pounding the street with clubs a little longer than baseball bats and just as big around. The Mob blocked the street ahead, so I turned to see if there was a way to go around them and saw a solid line of blue uniformed Paris police in riot helmets carrying large grey shields and rubber truncheons.

We were right between them and the Mob. Instinct told me to move toward the cops (after all, we were tourists who hadn't done anything wrong). No sooner had we begun to move than tear gas cannisters came arcing over the Police line. One hit my girlfriend in the shoulder and bounced to our feet. I moved to kick it away. My soccer skills being what they are, it went right back at the cops.

The Mob cheered and the Police charged. The Girlfriend turtled and I tried to cover her as the Cops ran right over us, one of them making sure we stayed down by whacking me with his truncheon as he passed.

Hey, I was a long-haired and blue-jeaned kid like the students. How was he to know I had innocent bystander status.

Choking on tear gas now, unable to see, we somehow got up and kept moving. A couple more blows and few screamed epithets in French and we were far enough from the chaos to make a run for the hotel.

We were just yards from the entrance when we were tossed back by a sudden rush of air. I didn't hear the explosion until we were on the pavement, glass raining down around us.

The chaos seemed to go into hyper mode. Sirens wailed, bullhorns blasted and people shrieked. When I could see again, I realized the front doors and window of the hotel were gone. We learned later that someone had tossed a concussion grenade into the lobby.

Chipped by the glass, bruised and still choking from the gas, we managed to get into the relative shelter of a shop doorway; where for the next hour we watched a pitched battle between the students and the police. At one point the cops appeared to be getting the upper hand. Then a second mob burst from a sidestreet, out-flanking them and clubbing several down as they attacked from behind.

Soon after, more police and soldiers arrived, the students scattered and things began to quiet. We picked our way to the hotel as our friends rolled in as well. The manager was in his shirt-sleeves, supervising as a couple of Firemen hosed the broken glass and debris from the lobby. He assured us everything was fine upstairs and we went to our rooms.

My girlfriend bandaged our cuts and put some ice on the welt on my back. Then the rest of the evening went pretty much as planned.

Next morning, I woke to hear her talking to someone on the balcony. I figured it was one of our friends but emerged to find a French soldier perched on the turret of a tank lighting her morning Galois and less than happy to discover she had company.

French Guys! Honestly!

Our train left early in the afternoon and we walked to the station passing more tanks and machine gun toting soldiers in the street. We also encountered small groups of students distinguished by their camo gear and red bandanas. No matter what the uniform, the response was universal; a dismissive look to the guys and an appreciative one accompanied by a wink or whistle to the ladies.

I took it as a sign that Paris was quickly getting back to normal.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Man, I love this town!

I'm here for two days, shooting more stuff I can't talk about yet. And while the days preceeding have been filled with all the complications and headaches that bedevil any production that's going on location; a couple of hours of this city erases all that and reminds you of how special it is just to be allowed to experience one of the best places on earth.

I'm convinced that every great city in the world, whatever their individual charms and personalities, secretly wants to be Paris. Maybe that's just a result of coming from Toronto, a city which has failed so miserably at its "World Class City" aspirations by constantly falling back on its Presbyterian roots, Family Compact way of doing business and patented exclusionary paternalism.

This year's tourist logo for Toronto was "Come for the Fun -- Be the First!"

The secret to Paris is simple. It's open and everybody's welcome to the party. I'm sure it has all the problems of any large city. But you get the feeling that Parisians don't let them interfere with their primary pursuit -- enjoying life.

There was a full moon here tonight and slightly jet-lagged, my DOP and I went out to embrace an almost perfect Summer evening. Within minutes, we'd blended into the throngs along the Champs Elysse, walking from L'Arc de Triomphe to the river.

You don't walk around most North American cities at night. Even Toronto, which once boasted such a lifestyle choice, has pretty much lost its charm in that department.

The crowd was diverse in all demographic categories. Families with toddlers mingling with Teens on the prowl, tourists, shoppers and people watchers jamming the cafes.

I've developed a theory that the seating arrangements in street cafes are identical to that of strip joints. The first row is for the devout voyeurs, the second holds those who want to appear slightly more sophisticated and the back is for the ones who just came for the atmosphere and the drinks.

I'd heard a lot about the Islamification of France before I arrived and while there were a few Burkas passing, I also noticed a number of young Arab women competing quite ably with the always striking contingent of French femininity. That's another one of Paris' charms -- the opportunity to shuck the expected and just be who you are.

All around us, people shopped or patronized vendors selling mountains of fresh fruit, candy and chocolates. There was a crush of people going to the Cinema, dressed for the occasion and appearing eager to buy tickets.

Each of the 4-5 screen multiplexes featured one North American Summer blockbuster, the balance of the screens taken up by French, Italian or British films I'd never heard of. And several cinemas were only showing French features.

Like the lost street culture of Toronto, they reminded me of the lost opportunity that once was Canadian film and an insight I'd had in New York 20 years ago -- that my own country did not yet possess the corporate courage or government will to build its own culture. I mean, why bother when you could make an easy living at less risk simply by coat-tailing American entrepreneurs.

Walking now amid a vibrant culture Canadians fought two wars to save, I wondered how we had the guts for that, but not the fortitude for this.

Bringing that further home is the method I'm using to post what you're reading. I'm flopped on the bed in my hotel room, wireless keyboard linked to the 40" plasma screen on the wall. I could be watching TV on it, gaming or viewing a recently released film. But the internet is also delivered on TV here -- something we'd have in Canada if the CRTC wasn't so busy pimping out the Canadian public for the benefit of our telecoms and broadcasters.

But back to the night...

Our goal for the evening was to film a Paris neighborhood for a dying friend, in the hope that seeing the streets and sights of her childhood might encourage her flame to flicker a little longer.

It was a part of the city I'd never been. But working from Google Maps and remembered anecdotes, we pieced together the locales that helped make her who she is and filmed them. Amid the world history that is memorialized everywhere here, it was a poignant reminder of the more important human stories that play out in any city every day.

I'll let you know if the plan works...

After shooting, we had a great meal in an open air cafe with a plasma screen hanging from the street awning. No different from any of Paris' red draped sidewalk cafes, it turned out to be a sports bar, playing Soccer and Rugby accompanied by cranky waiters, wine that's never seen a cork and the "Plat du Jour" standing in for Chicken wings.

An hour later, we were hanging our camcorder out a taxi window after convincing the driver to careen (as if that's hard) through the Alma Tunnel so we could experience Princess Di's last ride.

Yes, there's nothing like Paris to bring out the understated sophistication and elegance for which I'm widely known.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


I've never really understood the cult of celebrity; the need to collect autographs, have your picture taken with somebody you don't actually know or acquire a piece of ephemera once possessed, touched or casually noticed by somebody famous.

When I was acting, I'd often be accosted after a show to sign somebody's program or pose for a picture with my arm around their mom or girlfriend. Some fans went further, asking for small momentoes like the pen I was using to sign my name. After a while I took to buying them in bulk to make sure I had one left over for writing in my journal on the bus ride home.

The sharing went the other way too. I did a long run playing a German SS officer in one show and by the final curtain had amassed a small collection of Nazi paraphernalia delivered with appreciative notes by some seriously misguided theatre patrons.

And there were always the cards with phone numbers, polaroids or quite professionally produced "glamor" shots -- all from women (and the occassional guy) seeking an intimate moment with somebody who didn't bear the slightest resemblance to the stage character that had somehow pushed the right buttons for them.

I had a director friend at the time who shot interviews with famous Hollywood personalities (past and present) for a Canadian educational channel. He used to take a still camera to his shoots and would approach the interview subject afterward. Inevitably, they prepared to have their picture taken with him. Instead, he'd hand over the camera and ask them to take a picture of him.

They all loved that and he ended up with a collection of portraits he'd hand around at parties. "This is the picture Jimmy Stewart took of me. This one's by Hitchcock. That's by Mae West."

On one level, it was way better than the wooden shots you see at an Italian restaurant or car dealership that could just as easily be the fan with his arm around a cardboard cutout -- on another level -- I still didn't get it.


Last week, a member of my crew turned up one morning with a web search result outing a romantic entanglement involving yours truly and somebody quite famous. Neither one of us was at all famous at the time of our entanglement but that didn't matter to the crew member -- or, as the morning progressed, a growing number of the crew.

By lunch I was inundated by requests for details, anecdotes, some little gem they could take home with them -- to do what with I can't imagine. Not being the kind to kiss and tell, I just allowed that she's a very nice lady, we're still friends and that was that.

But that wasn't good enough and by day's end my tight-lipped approach to the subject was being taken as a personal insult. In this era of endless celebrity detail, how could I possibly keep any of this from them.

I have a handful of friends who've remarked that one of the reasons they like hanging with me is that I don't treat them any differently than they were treated before their fame arrived. I think that's because I've been semi-famous at times myself and the plain fact is you're not any different from who you were the day before except that a few more people seem to know who you are.

And I got a great lesson in celebrity when I was working in Australia. I went from a society here that was obsessed with celebrity to one there that was absolutely identical -- except the names of the celebrities were different -- and I'd never heard of any of them.

Their stars had local TV shows, played Rugby and Cricket, or had made a fortune harvesting Cane Toads. I didn't know the faces, didn't recognize the names, didn't get the puns or plays on words in the headlines, didn't understand the jokes.

It was like changing high schools in mid-term and having to re-learn which ones were the cool kids, the jocks and the drama queens.

A few months after my arrival, the Golden Globes were on television and I tuned them in to escape yet another night of "Home and Away" or Rugby. But because of the nature of the film distribution system and the presenters on Awards shows, I wasn't aware of half the movies and had no clue to the identities of the various tuxedoed newbies and starlets the crowd seemed enamored by.

It was like attending a Rotary roast in a town you'd never visited before.

By the time I got back to the Northern hemisphere, most of the celebrities I was familiar with had run their course, replaced by a new set with names and faces I also didn't know. It made me wonder even more why any of us even bother trying to keep up.

As our shoot day drew to a close and most of the crew had stopped talking to me, I was setting up a shot with the DOP, the two of us taking turns peeking through a camera perched on top of a truck.

"So, were you really with ----?" he asked. I nodded. "What was it like?"

It was a complicated shot and I needed to keep him as an ally.

"What did you and your wife do last night?" I asked.

He shrugged. "She told me how she liked things loaded in the dishwasher and then we went shopping for shoes."

"It was like that." I said.

And it was.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


Sorry for the long silence but we've been shooting a pilot. My first time producing, writing AND directing. Tap dancing must be next -- wait, that's how we got the financing...

Anyway. It looks good. I like it. The backers are ecstatic. We await the official verdict. Lots of stories, pix and clips once the cone of silence is lifted.

Off to Paris next week to shoot something else, but will drop in a few posts I've been scribbling in the moments of downtime.

And I can't thank the likes of Will, Bill, DMC, Alex, Riddley and the others who've kept me far more entertained and informed than the conventional media about what's been going on while I've been in the shoot cocoon.

This world really is the future. I hope I can repay you in kind.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Within show business, especially Canadian show business, and most especially within the briefs submitted to regulators by established production companies and broadcasters, it's fashionable to bemoan the difficulties of making a profit.

Audiences and box office numbers are always fickle, the landscape is always changing, somehow befuddling the media conglomerates and the journalists who write for their newspapers and magazines as to how movie and television shows will ever survive let alone meet the outrageous demands of those who create the entertainment being marketed.

"Can't these people just be happy doing what they love? How many of us are that lucky?"

So, on a day when Tom Hanks and his producing partners launch a lawsuit against a distributor who is claiming "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" still hasn't made a profit...

Budget: $5 Million
Prints and Advertising: $19 Million
Worldwide Gross: $354 Million
Funds remitted to partners: $0

...please give a listen to voices within the industry you've probably never heard, clearly explaining how the corporate spin works. If they'll fuck Tom Hanks, what do you think they're doing to people without a publicist.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


I've always been intrigued by the concept of self-awareness, the ability to step back in the midst of a special moment and not only see its uniqueness, but understand how it fits into your life as a whole. What does it feel like when you know you've reached your peak? Do you comprehend on some level that nothing you do again will ever be this good? Is there an instant where you feel complete satisfaction or know that you will never achieve what you've always dreamed of accomplishing?

How many of us, while focused on reaching our own particular goals, take a second to consider the ramifications of what we're doing to achieve them, who's being hurt or taught a life lesson by our actions? Do any of us see exactly how the paths we take impact on even ourselves?

Saturday night, Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants hit home run #755 equaling the Hank Aaron record that has stood for 31 years. Sometime tonight or in the next few days, he will hit #756 achieving a record he's been pursuing all his life.

A lot of people want to see Barry break the home run record. A lot of people don't. That's because Barry has been accused of using steroids to achieve his dream. He's juiced. He's found an unfair edge. He's a cheater with no regard for his game, its fans or anything save his own ego.


I've been a Bonds fan all of his career. When he was young, he was explosive and acrobatic maturing over the years into a power hitter with the sweetest swing in baseball.

If Barry Bonds used steroids to accomplish what he is about to accomplish, I don't really have a problem with it. It's his body and if he wants to wreck it, that's pretty much his business. On a certain level, it's no different than the guys I've been admiring this week on the "X" Games literally risking their lives for their sport and its rewards.

On other levels, he doesn't have an unaccountable right to that kind of behavior -- and I'll get to that in a minute. But speaking as someone who has played and loved baseball all my life, I find the hypocracy of the Baseball establishment, politicians, sports media and fans commenting on Bonds more repugnant than whether or not Barry cheated.

You see, Baseball knew all along that many of its players were using steroids. Coaches, Managers and Trainers knew. Owners knew. The Players Association knew and the Sportswriters knew. They’ll all deny it now, but they couldn’t have not known and still have been doing their jobs. The obvious results of steroid use was staring them in the face season after suddenly musclebound season.

The reason nobody did anything is twofold. First – Baseball has always embraced and silently condoned cheating. It’s an acceptable part of the game. Benches make a practise of stealing signs from the opposing team. It’s okay to drill a batter with a pitch to send the message that you don’t like something he or a teammate has done to beat you. Bats are corked. Balls are scuffed. Double plays broken by sliding with your cleats up or made without tagging the lead runner or touching the bag.

There are former players still wringing Gaylord Perry’s spit out of their jerseys. He writes a book about how much he cheated (“Me and the Spitter”) and resides in the Hall of Fame, while radio sports jocks debate Bonds worthiness of sharing a nearby plaque.

The second reason is the nature of steroids themselves. I’m no expert, but I’ve had some experience with them. And while the Media and Dick Pound of the World Anti-Doping Agency make blanket condemnation, most people remain unaware of just how broad that family of pharmaceuticals actually is. Indeed, there are steroids banned in North America which are condoned for use by sports federations in Europe – and vice versa.

When I was working in Australia, we flew in supplements for our stunt players which required reams of regulatory paper to import, yet were purchased over the counter and without a prescription in LA. Visit any GNC in America and you’ll find products banned by their Canadian stores. It’s quite plausible that an athlete using a particular substance can be legal or illegal simply on the basis of geography.

According to Jose Canseco, hardly the most reliable source on the subject, yet far more honest than most in Baseball; 85% of players in his era were juiced. Even if Jose is only half right (and allowing home runs to bounce off your head and sleeping with Madonna can do that to a guy) it means that Barry Bonds and any other “clean” player in Major League Baseball was facing 2-3 pitchers per week (or even per game) who were juicing. A few times a week, he was trying to outrun the throw from a pumped up Fielder who had suddenly grown a gun for an arm.

In my view, Baseball allowed an environment to develop where drugs clearly gave some Players an advantage, so those who weren’t juicing had no choice but to get with the program or wave good-bye to their careers. If Barry Bonds started jamming a syringe in his butt, was he cheating or simply trying to level the playing field in a sport that was doing nothing to protect those who played clean?

You have to wonder if Baseball’s complacency robbed us of the full enjoyment of unknown talents by allowing lesser players to “cheat” their way to the top.

Much of what I’ve heard during this assault on the most venerated Baseball record reflects a desire by some to put an asterisk (*) next to Barry’s achievement so future readers of the record book know it is a diminished victory. It would be like the one they put next to Roger Maris’ name when he out-homered Babe Ruth, because he did it in more than the 154 games that made up a season in the Bambino’s time.

I’ve never really understood Baseball’s obsession with the sanctity of records in a game that changes exponentially on a regular basis. Would the Babe have hit 60 Homers if he’d had to endure the transcontinental travel, day games after night games and other rigors of a modern athlete? How would he have fared under the intense media scrutiny Bonds has had to deal with for the last few months?

Something tells me, he’d have been imbibing more than Beer and Hotdogs.

Every time I hear some Baseball geek quote stats I wonder if Ty Cobb (who once murdered a man) ever got a homer by sauntering up to a pitcher at batting practice and giving him the choice between tossing a fat hanging curve and extensive dental work. I wonder if Mickey Mantle ever invited some corn-fed rookie to his watering hole in Manhattan the night before a game for a couple of boilermakers that wouldn’t wear off til sometime in the 4th inning.

To paraphrase Churchill’s quote that Democracy is the worst form of Government except for all the others. Records are a poor way of comparing players, but it’s the best one we’ve got. Overall, Records reflect the era in which they were set and little more. They can’t be so sacrosanct that we diminish our enjoyment of the game or need to find a way to asterisk Players we don’t like for one reason or another.

If people need a villain in this piece, I nominate MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. Bud was present to see Barry slug #755, looking on glumly, hands firmly jammed in his pants as Barry circled the bases. It might be that he was trying not to show his appreciation of the moment. It might be that he was desperately searching for his testicles.

Instead of offering a long overdue “Mea Culpa” on behalf of all in Baseball for what’s gone on, Bud has stood by and let the media hounds and politicians savage one of his players (albeit an apparently dislikable one) at will. After the game he issued a press Release which read in part…

“…out of respect for the tradition of the game, the magnitude of the record and the fact that all citizens in this country are innocent until proven guilty, either I or a representative of my office will attend the next few games and make every attempt to observe the breaking of the all-time home run record."

How's that for an understated "Way to go, Slugger!"?

Bud then promptly announced he wouldn’t be attending the next few Giants games and failed to acknowledge that Clay Hensley, the San Diego Padres pitcher who served up #755 had been suspended for steroid use in 2005. In other words, the Commissioner and many others were rooting for a convicted “Cheat” over a Player merely suspected of doing something wrong.

Years ago, I did a show with NFL star Lyle Alzado after he became one of the first professional athletes to admit to steroid use; usage he claimed caused the brain cancer that would eventually take his life. While his doctors never shared that diagnosis, Lyle was completely convinced the same drugs which had prolonged his career also shortened his life.

The true victims of steroid use are not professional athletes who should know better, but the high school kids shooting up in the vain hope of winning a college scholarship. Bud and his buddies were in the position to make a difference to those kids, but they did nothing, and now they are praying that Barry Bonds will take the fall for their failings.

As for Barry Bonds…

When he crossed the plate, officially scoring #755, his son Nikolai was the first person in a Giants uniform to embrace him. I hope for both their sakes that Barry does not suffer Lyle Alzado’s fate and lives to see his son grow and achieve his own dreams. But that may have been put at risk by the way he may have chosen to reach a record that will inevitably be surpassed.

I hope he has the awareness to consider how this moment fits in his life and how much it really means when the moment has passed.