Saturday, November 29, 2008
And the Producer's name -- is reflected in a smoky mirror.
Yeah, that's producing all right. Most of the time, even those of us who do it aren't sure exactly what we did to make a project happen. Somewhere along the way, somebody was moved by an impassioned argument that could easily have been interpreted as just so much bullshit -- and frankly, might have been just that.
The producer cajoles, massages or wills the pieces he needs into reality, gaining strength and conviction as each part of the machine falls into place, never admitting how precarious the whole thing remains all the way through shooting and well past the delivery of the final cut.
In many ways, all movie magic is an extension of the magic producers have to accomplish to allow the rest of the process to happen.
Which might be why I'm such a big fan of Magicians. Even when I know how the tricks are done, I'm still enthralled by the process, often getting as much enjoyment out of simply watching others being entranced by a Magician's skills.
One who never ceases to amaze me, however, is actor and magician extraordinaire Ricky Jay; whose incredible knowledge of the history and inner workings of his craft has inspired and influenced the work of cinema and TV icons like David Mamet, David Milch and Christopher Nolan.
Jay doesn't just "do" magic, he creates an entire world, drawing you into stories, anecdotes and possibilities that may or may not be fictional. Ultimately, you don't care, you're just caught up in the tale he's weaving and where it might lead.
Gee -- no wonder writers make the best producers...
...and producers rival the best magicians...
......unless the Magician is Ricky Jay...
So sit back. Prepare to be amazed. And enjoy your Sunday.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
For the last three days I've been about an hour away from another of my relentlessly insightful postings about the intricate behind the scenes machinations of the Canadian TV & film industries when the ground has shifted on me.
Just when I thought I had a handle on the broadcasters next "we need your money" move, there was a seismic shift that had me shelve that until I got a cleaner read. Just when what people were watching appeared to be going one way, plugs were pulled and ratings surprises arose to send all that in a decidedly different direction.
Am I the only one noticing that a lot of us blogger types seem to be similarly reining ourselves in just a little?
Are we all just suddenly distracted by more immediate concerns or might we be sensing something previously unexperienced in the zeitgeist and pausing to recalibrate the antennae?
Elsewhere, the fixed stars in my firmament are tap-dancing about cloned starlets and failed musicals, while all around us an industry we'd considered merely flawed seems to be in full collapse.
To be honest, I'm a fan of collapse; a true believer that sometimes the whole forest has to be burned down if a new one is going to be able to come in and take its place. I never was one of those who believed you could change the system from within or maintain your own clear sense of justice in a miasma of corruption.
What's happening out there is truly ugly and unfair right now. Hundreds of industry jobs are being eliminated every day as the current powers try desperately to hang onto their old, no longer viable business models by getting rid of people instead of changing the general idea behind what they do.
In my own home town, Magna International CEO Belinda Stronach (former Federal Liberal Minister of Human Resources & Skills Development) yesterday announced plans to fund a reality music show starring former KISS bassist Gene Simmons -- and today ducked the media after laying off 850 of her own auto-workers, some with decades of service to the company.
It's stuff like that which makes me believe that our industry and political leaders have been more focused on what they'd rather be doing than whatever the job at hand really was for the last little while. And hands unsteady on the tiller tend to lead to times like we're seeing now.
Unfortunately those same hands still retain enough power to make sure other people suffer for their short-comings. Take some comfort in the knowledge that few of them survive times like these with their old image intact.
On the good news side of the local ledger, I hear Belinda's sudden foray into a tired showbiz model has former Toronto Maple Leafs tough guy Tie Domi searching for tongue stretching exercises.
(* For those not making that connection, run some names past Mr. Google)
What I'm trying to say here is the shedding of the old skin here is the hardest part of the process. Some snakes actually die shedding their skins, simply worn out from the thrashing and flailing required. But when all is said and done, they're usually left with something better than what they had.
And as a guy with a lot of faith in the old adage that everything happens for a reason -- a GOOD reason -- I truly believe the future will be better than we ever imagined. In the course of human history, it always has been.
So if you lost your job this week because of some self-absorbed bonehead like Magna's Belinda Stronach, Global TV's Lennie Asper or the guys who used to run Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, GM, Ford or (insert your corporation here) -- know that this too will pass.
There really are angels among us, probably some as pretty as the Victoria's Secret runway models who've brightened up this post. For every tale of doom out there, there's somebody with a much better idea who just needs some of this old, tired and worm-eaten deadwood out of the way so they can break through the soil.
Sometimes it's hard to know what's coming next. But you can always be certain there's something -- and its often far better than what we had.
Never give up Hope.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
To many (including the first two on the list) Richardson was considered the best of them all. But I never saw any of the performances that made and established his reputation. Instead I saw him in a play called "Inner Voices" in 1983 which was the final play he did before his death.
That play included a scene that you knew had either been specifically written with Richardson in mind or chosen for presentation by the National Theatre as a token of respect.
Alone on a massive set, Richardson completed a monologue as the stage ignited in a spectacular indoor fireworks display, sparks showering the elderly actor as rockets burst and exploded all around. I have no idea how the feat was accomplished let alone how it was even allowed to happen in an era when Actors Equity Union rules dictated that signs be posted on theatre entrances which warned things like "A gun will be discharged onstage during Act III".
It was both a safety measure as well as the ultimate SPOILER!
Ralph Richardson was a legendary lover of fireworks. He'd almost burned down the house belonging to Olivier and Vivien Leigh when he set off an impromptu display in their garden to impress her. And on more than one occasion, local fire brigades were called to various garden parties when one of Richardson's pyro-technical displays had gotten out of control.
When the National Theatre opened its permanent home on the banks of the Thames, it began a tradition of signaling opening nights by setting off "Ralph's Rocket", a flaming streamer that was shot into the sky -- usually after Ralph himself lit the fuse.
Once asked what his attraction to Fireworks was, he shrugged and said, "I just love them. They're so -- unnecessary!"
Yet as he stood on stage in that last performance, face turned to the colors exploding mere feet away, you could sense his utter joy at being a part of such meaningless beauty.
Fireworks always get me too. Toronto used to have this spectacular summer festival down on the lake where various countries would come to set off fireworks displays to music. Literally millions of people attended. Hundreds of sailboats anchored near the barges that held the charges and traffic along the shoreline expressway froze for the performances.
The best I've ever seen were the closing of the Sydney Olympics when the Parramatta River became a sea of flame burning all the way to the Sydney Harbour Bridge evaporating it in a massive white starburst and New Year's Eve in Surfer's Paradise with the Coral Sea lit up by fountains of fire that ranged from one coastal horizon to the other.
But the biggest Fireworks display in history was apparently held last week in Dubai to celebrate the opening of the Atlantis Hotel on the Palm Jumeirah. The half hour display cost $40 Million and was visible to the Astronauts aboard the Space Station.
Now I know some people would consider all that fairly excessive. But when you're opening a hotel that charges $45,000 per night for its penthouse suite, I figure you gotta go big or go home. And since the penthouse is now booked solid through New Year's (despite this economic downturn) I guess the strategy worked.
And let's be honest -- our lives are generally most enhanced by things you can't justify or put a price on. We all have moments that we can't ascribe meaning to which still somehow uplift and inspire us. And I think that's what Ralph Richardson was getting at -- the moments that are completely unnecessary yet manage to make life so special.
So here are two views of the Dubai Spectacle. Five minutes from CNN and then the same sequence from Ground Zero, right in the middle of the mayhem.
Enjoy the Shock and Awe -- and your Sunday.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Just what exactly separates them from the dude in the bad tuxedo who does the same thing at weddings anyway?
But I went to "Cirque", Toronto's hottest, hippest (I'm not even sure if those adjectives are current anymore) club last Friday.
I endured the goofing from the Bouncers, who always think it's funny to ask for my ID and never get the joke when I compliment them on their headgear or jacket in return and ask if they got a free bowl of soup with it.
I ran the gauntlet of the hot chix in the foyer ("Omigawd, Raven! Is that your dad?") and bellied up to the bar -- being the only guy in the place with an actual belly to put in that position.
And -- I was once again reminded that even ordering a drink in one of these places is beyond me. Ask for a Vodka Martini and the Supermodel mixing drinks as research for her role in the next Tom Cruise movie reels off six brand names and seven flavors I've never heard of as my initial list of choices.
Is this why Daniel Craig didn't order any martinis in "Quantum of Solace" -- the risk that he wouldn't be "hip" by the time the film came out?
Anyway -- my own embarrassments aside, (and I would have endured worse rather than miss what followed); I was there to attend a screening of one of the most interesting television projects to cross my path in some time -- a half hour pilot entitled "15 Minutes".
Frustrated by their attempts to get past the gatekeepers at all of Canada's television networks, the producers of "15 Minutes", Tyler Fillmore and Samantha Vite, called last summer to ask my advice.
Filmmaker veterans of the club scene, they had concocted a half hour "hyper-reality" series they describe as "The Hills on Crack" set in the world of club promotion, endless partying and palpable desire for celebrity status.
Financing the project themselves and calling in favors from actors, musicians, local Club stars and friends, they shot and packaged the project figuring if they made it as good or better than anything on MTV, VH-1 or CW, one of the local networks would snap it up.
But nobody was responding and they couldn't figure out why.
So I visited their edit suite and screened "15 Minutes".
It blew me away.
Not only was this one of the most funny and charming pieces of Canadian television I'd seen in some time, it was embued with an infectious excitement and passion for its subject you don't see in many places anymore. All the hours of Brittney-Lindsay-Paris coverage I'd seen for years couldn't hold a candle to the connection this half hour immediately made to what the world of celebrity means to those who those hours target.
The characters were completely believable and real. What they wanted from life and the Clubs was suddenly understandable -- even to a guy a generation removed from it.
Most of all, the show was just plain fun to watch.
But neither the program nor their endearingly low-ball sales tag -- which would have seen them working for nothing just to get the show on the air -- had moved anyone here to give them a shot.
I knew there were offices in LA where the doors would have been locked and they would have been forcibly confined until they agreed to a deal. I made some calls. Some friends made some calls. Within a week they had an LA agent and meetings with all of the very same networks they were trying to be better than.
Friday night's screening was a "Thank-you" to Cirque for being the scene of much of the action in "15 Minutes". Tyler and Samantha couldn't afford it as a location, so they shot Guerrilla style, cast and crew paying admission, smuggling in their equipment and pretending to party. Occasionally they had to coax or coerce staff or security to look the other way while they got their shots.
It was interesting to watch the pilot being screened for a crowd that had come to drink, dance and take care of other agendas but gave itself over to a show that was about them and people they knew. They laughed, cheered, went quiet and applauded in all the right places, a huge number taking time to fill out the detailed questionnaire the filmmakers handed around to measure their reactions.
Admittedly, you could win a haircut from somebody who charges $200 for that service by returning a completed questionnaire. But that didn't mean people had to say nice things -- yet 87% of those who responded did just that, many asking to be contacted when it went on the air.
I'm not going to go into whatever might have prevented all those Canadian networks so apparently intent on reaching that 18-30 demographic or just finding good Canadian programming from snapping up "15 Minutes". Let's just say the reasons are easily discovered elsewhere on this blog.
What I do know is -- as cash strapped as they all seem to be at the moment, it would have been easier picking up the show for Canadian dollars than the 20% more expensive American ones it will likely cost if they want to broadcast it in future.
On a personal note, it was really rewarding to watch that club audience and confirm that I could still connect with what entertains them. You can sample "15 Minutes" here. I have a feeling you'll see its potential as well.
As for me, I'm going out to celebrate.
"Hey Raven! Who's your daddy!?!"
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
But power vacuums don't just exist in government or business. They exist in cultural endeavors as well. Therefore, when Canadian television networks don't make Canadian programming, let alone shows that strongly reflect the values of their audience, somebody else is going to move in and make programming for them -- programs sometimes designed to move our hearts and minds in a decidedly different direction.
There's little remaining doubt that Canadian audiences raised on a steady diet of American drama or comedy now prefer that style of entertainment over their home-grown product. Indeed, our most successful indigenous shows now work hard to emulate American models of production and presentation. And quite honestly, their style hasn't really undermined our substance and might even be helping us find a wider audience as well as recapturing those in our own house.
But what if somebody had a different agenda? What if the goal of the shows they created was to change how the country thinks and what it feels is worth fighting for or opposing?
Two years ago, I met a delegation of Chinese television executives at a foreign film market. A couple of months later, one of them phoned me. He was in Toronto and had a project he thought I might be interested in getting involved with. It was a dramatic series of 26 half hours that was already financed. But it needed to shoot in Canada and be written and produced by somebody here.
I met with he and his translator, learning that the show wanted to follow the lives of several young Chinese college students studying in Canada. A kind of "fish outta water" version of "Party of Five", it would be shot in Mandarin and English and explore the cultural challenges these kids faced being half a world away from home and dealing with a myriad of unexpected challenges.
The Mandarin version would play in China and both versions would be made available to networks here to serve both the North American and Chinese community. It would give audiences in China an understanding of what students studying abroad had to deal with and replicate the immigrant experience for the locals.
I thought the concept had enormous potential to explore all the things these kids were being exposed to from the differences in day-to-day life to dating to learning about issues not spoken about at home like human rights and...
He stopped me. No stories about human rights, a free press or challenging authority. The series had to assure people in China that the values their children had learned at home would not be "corrupted" by what they experienced here.
I told him he had the wrong guy.
But for a long time afterward I wondered what kind of effect the show he was imagining might have on those who watched it here. I'm not sure if he ever found somebody to help him. I do know how hard the "already financed" part of his argument would be for most independent producers to resist.
But -- could another country come here and try to shape our views through Canadian produced television programming?
I'm beginning to suspect they could -- make that -- already have, through one of the most influential genres of broadcasting possible -- the News, specifically CBC News.
On Thursday, October 30th, the French language television service of the CBC ran a show entitled "Malaise in Chinatown" portraying a group known as the Falun Gong as a major cause of trouble in Montreal's Chinese community.
For those of you who don't read the papers much, Falun Gong is not some Chinese gang or Triad. It's a spiritual movement founded in China in 1992. Its teachings and meditation exercises seek to develop character according to the principles of Truthfulness and Compassion.
Although a peaceful quasi-religion, Falun Gong has been outlawed by the Chinese government, its followers imprisoned and tortured. According to the UN, 66% of torture cases in China and 50% of the country's forced labor population are Falun Gong practitioners.
And if that isn't bad enough. Former Canadian Secretary of State David Kilgour and Winnipeg Human Rights lawyer David Matas recently published a report entitled "Bloody Harvest" which documents and details the Chinese government practice of harvesting human organs from perfectly healthy Falun Gong members for transplantation.
That report has been recognized as factually accurate by humanitarian groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and convinced the Australian government to close its Transplant teaching hospitals to Chinese students to prevent doctors with Australian medical diplomas from becoming part of this barbaric practice.
However, the CBC, in its report, seems to be following the path of Chinese government allegations that Falun Gong members cut open their own bodies, drink blood, have sex with animals and commit other immoral acts. During the course of "Malaise in Chinatown", a CBC reporter calls Falun Gong an "omnipresent bothersome religion" responsible for many of the problems within the Chinese community.
Among those interviewed for the program was David Kilgour, who on seeing it stated, "I have never seen such an unfair representation of our position."
According to the Epoch Times a newspaper founded to provide uncensored coverage of events in China, this is far from the first time the CBC has broadcast material that ignores the excesses of the Beijing regime.
Some of you may recall that during the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, CBC took the unprecedented action of pulling a documentary it had commissioned from Canadian film-maker Peter Rowe entitled "Beyond the Red Wall" which explored the Falun Gong persecution. It is alleged that CBC acted after pre-broadcast complaints from the Chinese embassy.
"Beyond the Red Wall" was re-edited to remove or downplay some of its content and broadcast a few weeks later. Apparently that wasn't enough for the Chinese government, who blocked the broadcaster's website for a short time in January.
So what happened with "Malaise in Chinatown"? Was this a small payback, a "make-good" for previously offending the Beijing regime? Was it financed as some kind of reward for not talking about "human rights issues" during the Olympics -- or maybe a "tax" for mentioning them by accident once or twice? Was it just bad journalism? Or was somebody helping CBC reframe public opinion?
Again -- it wouldn't be the first time.
During the final week of the Canadian election, CBC talking heads were endlessly questioning the journalistic ethics of CTV for "ambushing" Liberal Leader Stephane Dion by broadcasting interview material not intended for public consumption.
I tended to agree with them that what CTV did was unethical. But the "we're above all that" tone rang hollow to me after the much more organized "smear-job" CBC News perpetrated on Prime Minister Harper during the Isreal/Lebanon war.
That meticulous and conscious reworking of the truth was exposed by Conservative Blogger Stephen Taylor in a video he released to Youtube.
The CBC apology that resulted is also on Youtube in all it's disingenuous "Gosh, I guess we missed that" glory. Not a high point for our national broadcaster. And it appears that with "Malaise in Chinatown", they've sunk to another low.
The one thing I think we all expect from television journalists is either the truth or reporting that's as close to the truth as they can get. We're living in a time when we need to know what we're seeing is as accurate and unbiased as possible -- and maybe produced by Canadians reflecting the values of this country and not serving the agenda of somebody else.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Apparently, the most extensive changes we make to our urban environments (beyond simply knocking buildings down to make room for new ones) are cosmetic and tend to occur only at street level. So to get the sense of how a historical locale appeared back when it was famous, simply raise your eyes a little above the horizon.
Dutch Graphic Artist Piers Schreuders has taken the process in a different direction in his attempt to recreate the Hollywood streets he saw in American movies.
Employing computer graphics, extensive research, a few detective skills and his own talents as an artist; Schreuders has created an extraordinary glimpse into what it must have been like to be working at the Hal Roach studios during the silent film era and shooting on the streets of Culver City.
His downloadable book on the famous comic studio's most used Main Street location can be found here.
Whether you love exploring the past or simply learning about movie history, this is an enthralling piece of work. Enjoy your Sunday.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Oh, I can understand a balance sheet, bring a film in under budget and discern that a financial report from a Canadian producer has got more holes in it than a WWI battlefield -- but some of the other things related to our financial system defy my version of logic.
I really need somebody to explain the current "Bailouts" being instituted by various governments to supposedly prevent our economy from collapsing. Because the more I read about the situation and listen to the talking heads, the more confused I get.
I kinda (though not totally) comprehended the bank bailouts. Apparently banks are just run by people not quite as smart as the guys on Wall street who thought up all kinds of fancy debt instruments and easy credit schemes the poor dumb or simply gullible bankers couldn't see were ultimately worthless even if they really would've made them a shitload of money if they'd worked. And since it was my money the bank had put at risk, I figured the government stepping in might prevent their problems becoming bigger problems of my own.
And here's a tip for all those of you who have a ton of Amway products filling up the garage -- try talking to some bank executives. They might just bite.
Although you should be forewarned that they don't bite whenever I walk in with a sure-fire money-spinner. I might have more actual assets and a better grasp on honesty than most of the guys they've apparently been shoring up, but somehow I'm not the kind of people who can apparently be trusted to build an economy.
Okay, fine. But can somebody then explain why I'm now supposed to bail out the automakers?
If you haven't been paying attention -- the Big Three automakers – Ford, General Motors and Chrysler - are about to (according to them) slip into bankruptcy. An estimated three to five million jobs tied to the auto sector will disappear and hundreds of thousands of retired auto workers will lose their pensions and health benefits.
Dire "End of Days" stuff to be sure and a situation we'd all like to prevent. But I'm not clear on how giving Ford, GM and Chrysler our money solves these problems.
Speaking personally. I haven't owned a North American car since I was 18. I've always been able to find a foreign built model that was better made, more enjoyable to drive and/or cheaper. Christ, I even bought a Jaguar when they were considered a mechanic's personal retirement plan and came out financially ahead of friends who purchased Fords and Chevys.
For the longest time, the B3 have known their foreign competition is head and shoulders above them in quality, customer service and innovation. They haven't addressed those issues and as a result have lost more and more market share. Maybe it's the same question I've been asking about the Canadian Film business for a while -- Why is it essential for me to keep rewarding failure and mismanagement?
Because I want to keep my neighbors working? Well, that would be fine if that's how the B3 operated. But it's not. My province of Ontario handed them around $500 Million a little while ago and all they've done since then was shed jobs -- while hiring more people to build their cars in Mexico, South America and China (where you can get away with paying slave wages).
So even when using semi-slaves these guys can't make a buck? Maybe they've got a problem no amount of my money or anybody else's will solve.
Last week, I was listening to a radio talk show on the issue when a call came in from a guy who worked at the nearby Ford plant in Oakville. He related the oft-heard conspiracy theory about the guy who invented a carburetor that could get 75 miles to the gallon and was silenced by the evil corporations. Only he knew the guy personally, named him and identified him as a loyal Ford employee who was a shift foreman.
In his version of the story, the foreman "who still lives just down the street from me" took his invention upstairs to the execs at Ford, who tested it and found it to be far superior to anything they were using. So they bought the idea.
Only, against all expectations of the guys who built the cars that Ford would soon start installing the invention buddy down the line had invented, the miracle carburetor never materialized. However, according to this radio caller, Ford didn't resort to the urban legend of "disappearing" the inventor. They just turn up at his house on a regular basis to remove the ones he keeps putting on his own car and threatening to sue him for patent or copyright infringement.
So -- Ford owns an invention that could immediately skyrocket their share price and out-distance the competition by miles but it would be better if I just lend them some money instead?
Okay, so maybe we're dealing with a autoworker with a gift for fiction and a line mate he wants to make trouble for. I guess the call's in the archives at Talk640 in Toronto if anybody from the government about to write Ford a cheque on my behalf wanted to check.
But here's something in B&W from a (hopefully) more reliable source, The National Post. Their Saturday headline concerned the difficult times facing our automakers. But if you turned the page of one of the inside sections, you were met with a great big picture of GM's new Camaro, anticipated to come off the line in six months as the most sought after car in the world. According to the Post, more than 600,000 people have already expressed interest in owning one.
So does GM really need a handout, or do they just need to find a way to get that car into their dealerships quicker? Speaking locally, I'd make the Woodbridge outlet and its surrounding population of testosterone fueled young Italian males a high priority.
I also got wondering about a company that sits just a few blocks my Newmarket home, Magna International. Magna makes auto parts and they're also crying for help. But anybody with even a passing acquaintance to the company knows that Magna has lost a fortune over the last decade in the horse racing business, particularly by buying up money-pit racetracks.
They also own a golf course on the border of my city that caters to a very exclusive clientele. Former president Bill Clinton is a regular player and Tiger Woods has been known to drop by to shoot a few holes with hand-picked members of the corporate and political elite.
So shouldn't Magna unload those racetracks or that golf course for the money it needs to stay afloat before they come knocking on my door?
How come it isn't the far-more-wealthy-than-the-average-taxpayer guys, the ones who've enjoyed the perks of playing a round at Magna or sharing a libation at their sports arena private box, who are bailing these guys out?
Do they maybe not have the money, influence or intelligence to do that either? Have we got our own pitiably incapable and self-centered ruling class similar to the Russian oligarchs they make so much fun of?
I mean, why isn't the oil industry, currently swimming in cash, stepping in to support the auto industry which supplies the very gas guzzlers that helped drive up oil profits in the first place? Do they maybe know the handwriting is already on the wall for the North American car makers?
As the B3 crumble, I clean out the garage and find a newspaper from last summer announcing the new Honda Canada headquarters currently being built down the road to, as the local paper says "house its growing sales, marketing and customer service operation teams". Meanwhile, many Financial sites this week featured another announcement from Honda -- that they're building yet another brand new manufacturing plant.
Apparently, people are still buying cars. Just fewer crappy ones. So a lot of those endangered auto workers of ours will likely find new jobs. So why do we have to help out their incompetent bosses?
I always thought the whole point of Capitalism was that the strong survived and those who could innovate and increase value prospered. In the same way that there is no crying in baseball, there aren't supposed to be any "do-overs" in business.
I thought the concept that an idling class takes priority over one that creates something died during the French Revolution. Or did the last few years of prosperity and entitlement bring all that back?
Elsewhere on the web, Billionaire Mark Cuban has launched a site called Bailout Sleuth which is already unearthing indications that some of the places where the bailout money is going are already being hidden from us.
Given the banks and brokerages that are insisting the execs who fumbled this whole situation are still due their million dollar bonuses and just about everybody else with a proven record of incompetence lining up for a handout, I'm wondering if there isn't something else at work here.
Where are the perp walks? Where are the fire sales of the luxury assets of companies who screwed things up for the rest of us?
None of that's happening.
Basically, it's starting to look like what we're funding is a continuation of the charmed lifestyles of the Courtiers who caused all this trouble. The peasants who used to work for Magna and Ford, Chrysler and GM will be without jobs, pensions and health care. While the fops and elites who were supposed to be steering the ship are comfortably on the other side of the iron gates again, still playing golf and betting on the ponies.
Anybody ever notice how much the Magna headquarters resembles Versailles? Am I the only one hearing tumbrels in the distance?
Sunday, November 09, 2008
I was as elated as most people by the election of American President Barack Obama last week. And while others like DMc were pondering the serious questions of how this watershed moment might change primetime television, I couldn't help wondering what it would do to comedy.
For the last eight years, President Doofus has kept the comedy mills better supplied than the post-Lewinsky years of Bill Clinton. I have to say I was getting a little tired of how easy targeting the most powerful man on the planet had become. But it was still fun.
And the best really was saved for last when someone asked Chris Rock if he thought a Black man could become President and he responded, "Why not? We've already had a retard for two terms!"
However, the hard truth is that (the occasional Dennis Miller one-liner aside) good comedians and comedy writers who lean to the right are relatively rare.
In addition, Barack Obama takes office at a very difficult time while carrying the deepest, sincerest hopes of a much of a nation -- and most of us don't enjoy seeing our "messiahs" punked or made fun of.
There's already a clip of MSNBC's Chris Mathews vowing to do what he can to make this Presidency succeed. When another reporter asks if that's really his role as a journalist, Mathews assures him it is.
After 9/11, a lot of comics wondered who would have the courage to tell the first Twin Towers or Arab hijacker joke. Some tried and when met with silence from the audience responded, "What? Too soon?".
So -- when faced with a President-Defunct everybody's joked out on and a President-Elect who might still be a little precious, I asked myself -- just how much time will have to pass before it's okay to make fun of the new guy?
Apparently -- about 24 hours...
The always dependable Onion was first to strike...
Followed by a "Daily Show" on November 7th that will stand with many of their best episodes. Check your local Geo-locked Comedy Central listings for something called "Black Liberal Guilt". Canadian readers can find it here.
And the Neo-cons may not be as humorless as I thought, as this essay from Conservative blogger "IOWAHAWK" will attest. Even if you hate his politics, this is funny stuff.
Hawk, I don't know who you are, but your final paragraph left me with a helpless fit of the giggles.
God, it feels good to be able to laugh again.
Enjoy your Sunday.
Saturday, November 08, 2008
I flew to Edmonton early this morning and when we took off the plane did a mini version of this...
Only lasted a few seconds but it was awesome cool and somewhat spectacular from the inside! I always thought it had something to do with breaking the sound barrier, but apparently it's related to humidity, atmospheric conditions or other things above my pay grade.
It got me thinking about the other "once in a lifetime" stuff that's happened to me on planes. I wrote about my crash a long time ago -- which was memorable in a different way and I sincerely hope was a once in a lifetime event.
On the far more positive side, I remember a red eye from LA to Toronto during a meteor shower. The American Airlines pilot doused the cabin lights to enhance viewability and kept up a running commentary that was the best astronomy class I ever took. By the end of the flight I knew more than I'd ever known about meteors as well as exactly where some of those astrological constellations are. I swear, if the radar had gone out this guy could've navigated by the stars.
Back when you could still visit the cockpit, I had the chance to ride the jump seat on an airline that shall remain nameless (because the practice was completely illegal) as we made a night landing at La Guardia. We came out of clouds over the Atlantic into this shimmering wall of light. All along the coast a string of thunderstorms below us was peppering the shoreline with lightning in what looked like an artillery barrage. But New York sat in the eye of the storms glittering like some Emerald city.
A lot of the air travel experience is numbing these days. The airport traffic, security checks and cardboard onboard snacks. But for me, one moment watching a cloud wisp into a new configuration just a few feet away or tracing the lazy winding path of a river far below erases all that.
Hey, when are you guys at Ford and GM going to finally deliver my flying car? You roll out that baby and your money problems will quickly be a thing of the past.
Thursday, November 06, 2008
I regularly read and enjoy the television column you write for The Globe and Mail newspaper. Even on the rare days when I don't agree with your comments, I know they come from a place of intelligence and insight that (the inexplicable affinity for Soccer aside) deserves consideration.
And I appreciate how tough it is being a critic. Quite simply, no matter what you write, you're always going to piss somebody off.
I also can't imagine what it's like to have to sit through a show I can give up on after ten minutes because it's obviously incompetently produced crap. And I pray that I'll never be in the position of having to turn out 400 words on one of those polished turds because it's the only thing on TV that night, or their network bought lots of ads, or it's culturally "expected" or however that process works at your place of employment.
All of which is saying, I kinda get what you do, share your desire to be watching better stuff and -- well, sympathize.
What I don't get is why that's not coming the other way.
I mean, just exactly how did us Canadian showbiz bloggers manage to park such a big pickle up your ass?
Back on Monday, you wrote a great piece on the CRTC decision denying subscription fees to our traditionally free-to-air networks and the unbundling of subscription packages for consumers. And then you segued to the Gemini Awards and this...
"Thing is, see, a lot of people who work in Canadian television - producing, writing, directing and acting in Canadian-made TV - spend a lot of time complaining about the lack of attention they get. They complain about Canadian broadcasters making money from simulcasting U.S. network shows. They complain about everything. Yet, in the case of their own awards program, they are happy to let the thing roll out in relative obscurity. It seems to me that they're perfectly happy talking to each other, reading each other's blogs, whining and telling each other how great they are.
Here's a piece of advice - get out of the house, stop blogging and reading blogs for a while. Leave the Facebook pages alone for a few days. Go talk to people who watch TV, not just the ones who make it. You'll probably find that very few of them have heard of your shows. You might also find that they're willing to watch if they hear that the show is really great. And they know it's great if it gets awards and attention. So get cracking on fixing your awards show."
Now, maybe I'm being hypersensitive here and taking a different implication from your words than I should. But I don't think so.
Over the last few weeks, I've noticed you taking a couple of back-handed swipes at fellow bloggers for comments they'd made online or to media that had sought out their opinions.
Initially, I wondered if you might not be exemplifying the general disdain many professional journalists have for online "citizen journalists".
We do know it's tough to be a journalist right now. Print media is in serious decline. "The Christian Science Monitor" ceased printing last week, "US News and World Report" stopped killing trees this week. And it can't be easy to construct your reaction to some news or event when those who write online can get their spin out there long before your next edition comes out.
I'd venture you had to endure about four days of our reaction to the CRTC announcement before your next opportunity came around. And that sucks. But complain to Konrad and his Press secretary, not us.
On top of all those annoyances, it can't be comforting to be one of the few writers still able to ply the trade of a TV critic and analyst. But don't blame those of us who act or write or direct or produce AND blog for those stresses either. We live with career insecurity every single day of our lives and the inner tubes are disrupting our industry as much as they are your own.
Our solution to that situation is -- work harder, get better, or maybe write a blog to find a new audience, remind people of your "brand" or help mold a community more conducive to creating good work.
In my opinion, there's nobody writing a widely read Canadian showbiz blog who's there to bitch and complain. Some of us are frustrated with the current situation. Some are downright angry about what's been allowed to happen here. But we're not bitter and we're not impotently whining, no matter how much it benefits somebody else to characterize us that way.
And, speaking only for myself, I don't see any solution to our issues that can come from revitalizing the Gemini Awards, because I did that once and it didn't work.
In 1979, I was part of a small group who created the Academy of Canadian Cinema, mostly because we were tired of industry awards being determined by juries with little or no experience in the crafts being celebrated and were often beholden to a particular network or production house.
We put in place a system that offered Academy members the opportunity to screen everything, nominate their peers and vote en masse for the final nominees. The success of that formula (helped of course by a vibrantly growing film industry) led to the Gemini Awards for television being created a couple of years later.
Noting the success of the initial Geminis both in terms of ratings and subsequent program recognition, those who'd always held sway in the industry (our networks) began demanding awards for newscasters, sports programs, and then every niche they were currently programming including the interminable subsets of craft category awards that logically ensued.
The Awards soon expanded to two nights, then three. Now we're up to four, awarding trophies to programs so poorly hyped by their own home networks that many in the industry have never heard of them and the audience has absolutely no connection to, let alone a rooting interest in seeing recognized.
It quickly became impossible to screen all the programs the networks sought to have feted for the Academy membership and a democratic system of acknowledging merit went back to the frozen chosen -- the juries.
I resigned from the Academy at that point, knowing we'd done little more than interrupt the self centered needs of the power base that determines what Canadians see on their TV screens.
I'm sure if you went back over your own reviews of past Gemini Awards, you'd find that most were little more than the opportunity to unload all the trashy one-liners deservedly owed to a celebration of a great deal of mediocrity. You, like the audience we both share, inherently knows that we need good shows first and a party to celebrate the best of them later on.
Frankly, I want the Gemini Awards to languish in obscurity until the shows those awards are going to get better. Don't get me wrong, I don't begrudge anybody their personal moment in the sun. The after-parties are fun and the hardware can make your mom feel she did the right thing forgoing a fur coat so you could go to film school. But we all know that a Gemini makes as much difference to your career as it does to the life or viewing habits of the poor, bored soul who's watching you receive it.
Creating an environment and community that will birth good shows is what most of us who blog are really after. We spend every day out of the house because we don't do this for a living. We talk to people both inside and outside our industry, trying to find out what they want to watch or how to make things better.
Maybe you need to attend one of the industry screenings that Jill Gollick wrangles together or the forums or writer blow-outs that Karen Walton hosts through Ink Canada. Get in touch and I'll make sure you get in.
You'll see a dedication to good TV that you don't see represented in the programming that comes from our networks. You'll see the supportive community that's being built among industry professionals. And you'll see how kids new to the industry are being mentored so their learning curve won't be as steep or debilitating as it was for many of us. With a little luck, all of this is going to result in better television coming out of this country than we've ever had before.
You'll also find a ton of people willing to buy you a Guinness or double Bushmills and tell you tales of the TV "Racket" you've never imagined could happen here and convince you that you more than chose the correct term for the way the Canadian industry operates. We might even awake the Woodward and Bernstein version of a journalist in you, if you're so inclined.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that those Canadian showbiz bloggers who apparently annoy you from time to time are really trying to make your life better by providing more enjoyable shows for you to review as well as an audience eager to find out your opinion of what we're doing next.
To be honest, we're packing the same pickle. Only we know who really put it there -- and how to get rid of it.
Monday, November 03, 2008
As some of you know, one of our current projects is a reality series based in the world of Gospel music. For a guy who doesn't come from that neighborhood, it's been a great experience setting it up and exploring the possibilities. We did some shooting this weekend and I've spent three days waist deep in charismatic ministries, faith healing and absolutely amazing music.
The core of our story is a group of four young men at the forefront of the Gospel genre called "The Imperials". I can't show you any of what we're doing yet. But here's a taste of what some of it will sound like.
I hope you got as much inspiration out of your own Sunday.