Monday, September 30, 2013

Keep Your Friends Close And…Er…

I’ve met quite a few politicians over the years, including a handful of legendary heads of state. And to a person, regardless of whether or not I shared their point of view or position on a particular issue, there was always this niggling thought at the back of my mind –- “Why in God’s name does anybody trust this guy?”.

To me, politicians are all junkyard dogs, as happy to bite the hand that feeds them as they would anybody stealing the distributor cap off a ‘74 Chevy.

And yet we continue to turn them into pedagogues and demagogues, viewing them as the saviors and villains of what pass for the issues of import on any given day.

And, in numbers far in excess of the national average in other professions, they continue to reveal themselves as self serving rogues with entitled access to the public purse and no intention of embracing the accountability they relentlessly demand of both us and their opponents.

But each new one that comes along assures us they’re different, pure of heart and trustworthy. And we, convinced we are unable to take the reins of government ourselves, willingly surrender once more to their will.

At the moment, Hillary Clinton is the frontrunner to be the next President of the United States. And in deference to that reality, Cable news network CNN announced a documentary on her life and work.

There was some blowback, of course, from those who might oppose her in the 2016 campaign. But CNN insisted the project was of legitimate public interest and their chosen captain, filmmaker Charles Ferguson, steamed full speed ahead.

Until his ship hit some apparently unforeseen rocks and he emulated the Captain of the Costa Concordia and was the first man overboard.

The project was then unceremoniously cancelled. And everybody wondered why until Ferguson offered an explanation in this morning’s edition of The Huffington Post.

Ferguson appears shocked to learn that: “Nobody, and I mean nobody, was interested in helping me make this film. Not Democrats, not Republicans — and certainly nobody who works with the Clintons, wants access to the Clintons, or dreams of a position in a Hillary Clinton administration. After approaching well over a hundred people, only two who had ever dealt with Mrs. Clinton would agree to an on-camera interview, and I suspected that even they would back out.”

Despite holding a PhD in Political Science, Ferguson seems shaken by the realization that one of the junkyard dogs wouldn’t roll over for a nice belly rub and showed its teeth instead.

Perhaps his understanding of his doctoral field isn’t as acute as the brothers Ylvis, the Norwegian rockers who became an internet sensation not long ago with their song “The Fox”.

Here’s their take on the leader of the Norwegian Labor Party, in which surrender to the politician is complete…

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Lazy Sunday # 292: Los Angeles Plays Itself

In addition to plot and character, the most important element of fiction is creating a sense of place.

The same story with the same characters is perceived completely differently went placed in a different setting.

And often our connection to a favorite novel or film is more about the images and ambience of the place in which it is set than the thoughts and emotions evoked as it is told.

As often as Shakespeare is reset in 19th century upstate New York or San Francisco in the 1960’s, the true power of the plays remains reflective 17th Century Denmark or Padua.

In the same way that the tales written by William Faulkner and James Lee Burke define the deep South, Charles Willeford and Carl Haiisen epitomize Florida and Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy proscribe Los Angeles, everything we write is enormously enhanced when it is unapologetically “of” the place in which it is set.

For my money, a lot of the ongoing debate of what’s really “Canadian” about most Canadian TV or film is because we spend so much time hiding who we are and setting our shows in an “this could be anywhere” that might improve our marketing options but does little to advance either our own culture or the interest of anyone else in the world with who we are.

Place is never just an inert backdrop. It is home to the people telling your story and its mores and traditions and geographic demands are an essential part of both your characters’ humanity and the borders that contain and constrain your plot.

That’s because Place shapes every storyteller and illuminates everything he or she writes.

If you need a better understanding of that, find a copy of the Harry Crews (“A Feast of Snakes”, “Karate is a Thing of the Spirit”) biography, “A Childhood”. If nothing else, it will reveal why you write what you write –- and why you set those stories where you do.

It’s a topic further explored in filmmaker Thom Andersen’s “Los Angeles Plays Itself”, a lovingly created study of the most filmed city in the world.

Your creative career might take you to the furthest corners of the world and parts of society you never dreamed you might inhabit. But where you are from never leaves you and embracing it makes you better at what you do.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Little Hump Day Inspiration

Al Boasberg, one of the screenwriters of Tod Browning’s 1932 film “Freaks” had a clause in his contract requiring that all studio executives visiting the set wear an ID badge –- so they would not be confused with the cast.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Lazy Sunday # 291: The Twitter Trolls

While most of you were reading my insightful as always Lazy Sunday post last Sunday morning, I was surfing the news and came across an article stating that the latest UN report on Climate Change (due in about a week) would state that somebody mighta screwed up.

No, it’s not that the planet hasn’t gone (or isn’t going) through a warming phase (as it has many times in the past), just that the computer models in use appear to have been flawed and we weren’t warming at anything even close to the massive civilization ending rate many of the scientific or famous have been predicting.

Now, I admit I’ve always been a little sceptical about the predictions of Al Gore and David Suzuki. That’s partly because the former constantly counters the rise of the oceans by purchasing even more beach front property –- and the latter appears to have gone off the rails, declaring that Canada is “full” and doesn’t need any more people coming here from the rest of the world.

I’ve also looked somewhat askance at the myriad doomsday predictions of those declaring the planet’s end days are upon us. Depending on who you choose to believe and on which day, where you live will either be under 30 feet of water, an arid wasteland or infested with poisonous reptiles and insects from the jungles of Borneo for which neither you nor your dog have any natural defense…

Beyond immediately paying down your carbon footprint.

So anyway, I posted what I’d read on Facebook, and moments later was inundated with messages of derision, shame and revulsion. Not only did I get excoriated for merely directing people to some information, but it was made clear the source was false, the media involved notorious at spreading lies –- and maybe I needed to be sent somewhere for re-education.

Over the last week, most other media, even those sympathetic to the Climate Change cause, have reported the same story and the UN released a preview of their report confirming it as well.

Included in that was that several CC scientists had requested that the computer model debacle be expunged from publication –- no doubt in the interest of expanding our knowledge on the subject.

And some took the opportunity to state that the planet is not warming less, it’s just that “the warming” has retreated into the depths of the oceans –- I presume where it will soon drive Godzilla and the Kraken to the surface thrashing our once safe coastal cities into rubble.

At any rate, we’ll all have the UN Report soon and then we can decide whether the Science on all of this was imperfect or, in fact, the issue is settled, beyond question and it’s time to start paying into those carbon exchanges, which like some modern day Papal dispensation will make all the bad stuff quickly go away.

But the big question that arose for me from all this is –- where did we make the societal turn back to the Middle Ages when anybody who didn’t talk exactly like us or espoused an alternate point of view has become some kind of heretic who needs to be burned at the stake?

I think Bill Maher has the answer.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

American Exceptionalism

We all know, and especially those of us who work in Film and Television, that Americans are better than us. They must be. They’re the only guys you ever hear about on all those Canadian Showbiz magazine shows.

And worldwide, Americans pride themselves on their accomplishments at everything from curing Polio to landing on the Moon. And most of us appreciate those accomplishments and understand the pride.

But the swagger bugs us a little. Because a lot of other places and people also do great things that seldom get talked about, let alone trumpeted to the world –- again allow me to reference all those Canadian Showbiz magazine shows.

Lately, a number of Americans have taken exception with Russian Premier Vladimir Putin for taking up space in the New York Times to basically say it’s okay to toot your own horn, just don’t go around thinking you’re the only guy who’s got one.

Vladimir Putin gifs

Now, much as I don’t hold much affection for Mr. Putin’s policies, I gotta agree with him here. And he may well be basing his opinion on something he learned while heading up the KGB.

For there is a rarely told story from the bad old days of the Cold War and the Russian American Space Race…

It seems that early on, NASA noticed that ballpoint pens didn’t work in zero gravity.

So they spent ten years and $12 Billion dollars developing the Space Pen, which does write in zero gravity as well as upside down, underwater and even on glass at temperatures up to 300 degrees Centigrade -– despite the fact that upside down, underwater and glass at 300 degrees were seldom to be encountered conditions in space exploration.

Russian Cosmonauts, on the other hand, simply used a pencil.

Think of this the next time you see a Canadian TV series being ignored on eTalk.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Lazy Sunday #290: The Double Standard

I spent the first 15 years of my career as an actor. Worked a lot. Got to be in a ton of good shows. It was financially, creatively and personally rewarding.

But if I was starting out today, I’m not sure I’d approach the craft with the same relish I once did. In fact, given the way the world seems to work these days, I’m not sure I’d have chosen the profession in the first place.

It’s pretty clear we live in an era of great television. Series populated by complex and complicated characters, the kind of roles that require consummate skill and immense talent, parts any self-respecting actor hungers to play.

But every now and then I’m stopped short by what those actors are additionally required to do while assaying those roles. I’m talking, of course about all the nudity and simulated sex that permeates the current crop of great shows.

“Game of Thrones”, “True Blood”, “Boardwalk Empire”, “Hung”, “Girls” –- they all demand their leads to do a whole lot more than make you believe in their characters.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I did my share of nude scenes and sex scenes and didn’t have a problem with that. I’m not Gay, but I also played my share of Gay characters. But there was always a line. Mostly proscribed by network or studio censors –- but often drawn by the artists involved, perhaps best described as pushing the envelope while not compromising our own moral code.

Though I haven’t acted in years, I still find myself reading scripts and processing them from the point of view of how I’d have approached the characters. And while watching a show, I sometimes do so from an angle that assesses the actor’s choices with those that I might have made.

And quite often, I come up wondering, “Would I have been able to do that?” Could I have played a sex scene that explicit? Could I have gotten it on with a guy on set if the script required it? Would I have been able to remain on set while an actress was treated in the manner many are treated?

Often, my answer is “No”.

And I get the same answer when I ask myself if I could have written a scene or produced a series requiring such things of my cast.

Try as I may, I can’t imagine these roles being played by Olivier, Bogart, DeNiro, Nicholson, or Pacino – let alone by Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, Burt Lancaster or Kirk Douglas.

It makes me wonder how much talent there might be sitting on the sidelines, their creative power untapped, just so we can get a little more titillation from our ground-breaking dramas.

You see. Hard as it may be for some people to believe, actors are not that different from anybody else. They get through life pretty much the same way we all do. Go home to their families at the end of a hard day. Try to bring up their kids to be decent and contributing members of society.

And sometimes actors have to choose between paying the rent and being in the vampire orgy scene their family and neighbors settle down to watch on a Sunday night –- a scene their children and their friends will eventually Bit torrent.

Much is made about the double standard that exists between what you can “get away with” on cable and the rules which must be observed by the networks.

Yet something can still be said for the creative necessity of not being able to fall back on the “F” word or suggest what can’t be shown.

And after watching this season’s “Money Shot” episode of “Girls”, I also wonder if there’s a developing double standard when it comes to drawing the line between what’s Art and what’s just Porn.

That’s the subject of this week’s first video.

The second addresses another double standard even the cable companies seem afraid of embracing. Perhaps its the hill the next generation of actors will have to climb.

And how many with talent will choose to do something else instead…

Enjoy Your Sunday.


Sunday, September 08, 2013

Lazy Sunday # 289: Agent Provocateur

It’s said that if Love was truly blind, there would be no need for lingerie.

And much as men might appreciate lingerie, it takes a woman to understand what really makes it “work” –- so to speak.

Therefore, while Penelope Cruz (pictured above) in something frilly can get any man’s attention, trust me when I tell you that Senorita Cruz fully clothed but behind the camera writing and directing a lingerie commercial is a force of arousal to be reckoned with.

A partner in the lingerie firm known as “Agent Provocateur”, where her sister is one of the top models, Penelope took it upon herself to direct the introduction to the 2013 Autumn/Winter line.

Chuck your subscriptions to the Victoria’s Secret catalogue right now and thank me later for keeping you warm during the chilly months ahead.

“L’Agent” is Penelope Cruz’s directorial debut. Somebody give her a feature.


And –- Enjoy Your Sunday.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Getting Sirius About The Stooges

When I was a kid, short films by “The Three Stooges” still played in movie theatres, usually somewhere between the Looney Tunes cartoon and the previews of coming attractions.

And when the opening theme played, a cheer always arose from the kids in the audience, while most of the adults settled back with a smile, knowing that despite what film they were in the mood for, they were in for a few belly laughs first.

“The Three Stooges” were never anybody’s idea of sophisticated entertainment, but nobody cared because, no matter which culture spawned you, they were drop-dead funny.

In an age when good movie comedies are few and far between, and often more intent on delivering a social message or subservient to a romantic plot, it’s hard to imagine a creative model that was simply about packing as many laughs into the available screen time as possible.

“The Three Stooges” were movie pioneers as important to the cinematic art form as Charlie Chaplin, John Ford, Hitchcock and pretty much any other filmmaker or movie icon you care to mention.

“King of All Media” Howard Stern has long insisted that the original Stooges, Larry, Curly and Moe are “the greatest comedians of all time”. And he thought he’d read, heard or seen everything available about them.

Then a few months ago, he interviewed “Dancing With The Stars” host Tom Bergeron, discovering not only an equally obsessed Stooges fan, but a guy who’d interviewed Larry Fine and Moe Howard when he was trying to break into the radio business.

At Stern’s urging, Bergeron dug through his attic and found the original tapes of those interviews, which featured both (by then elderly) comedians talking about how their characters, films and comic inspirations came to be.

Bergeron’s tapes form the heart of a Sirius Satellite Radio special that begins running today on Sirius Channel 101 with a wider audio rollout to follow.

It’s a unique insight into creativity and comedy history that’s well worth the listen. Perhaps, with luck, it might even inspire somebody to create content dedicated to doing nothing more than making people laugh.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Lazy Sunday # 288: The Flying Man

One of the silver linings of the last official weekend of Summer is that while marking the turn toward cooler weather and a decline in the days devoted to vacations, it’s also a sign that the guys in Spandex suits will soon be departing the Multiplex.

As the fanboys churned the Internet this week with the angst sparked by Ben Affleck being chosen as the next incarnation of Batman in the “Man of Steel” sequel, truly original movies designed to offer far more than CGI were unspooling in Telluride and Venice, promising original stories designed to engage rather than reboot memes most of us first became familiar with at the age of twelve.

I honestly don’t have a big problem with Super-hero movies. But when they become a steady diet repeated weekend after weekend, and then sequelized until the DVD boxset is released in time for a new auteur and cast to repeat the process –- well, it’s just not really about trying to seriously entertain people anymore.

As the Comic geeks raged against Affleck’s casting, many asking “Why?” since he’d already ruined “Daredevil”. I couldn’t help wanting to point out he’d also got to ruin Superman in “Hollywoodland”.

That’s because ruining things is what Ben Affleck does best, like the way he ruined what really happened as well as Canadian history in “Argo”.

So, in a way, I REALLY want him to play Batman. Because maybe his ruining it might make people turn to movies where the willing suspension of disbelief replaces the complete surrender to imbecility that most blockbuster comic book movies have become.

Don’t get me wrong. I love comic books. I’m in the middle of writing one right now. But the best of the Marvel and DC myths always left room for both the wonder and the scepticism encountering a being with super human powers would clearly engender.

There’s a little of that in a terrific short film by Brazilian filmmaker Marcus Alqueres entitled “The Flying Man”. And Alqueres’ description of his process goes right to the heart of what makes his film so powerful and different, “From the beginning I didn’t want the visual effects to be the centre of attention, I wanted to use it as a tool to help telling stories that can’t be told without it”.

Maybe if this guy were directing the “Man of Steel” sequel, there’d be less chance for the studio blockbuster mentality and Ben Affleck to ruin it.

Enjoy Your Sunday.