Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Social Media: More Dangerous Than The 32nd Floor (kinda)

Much better kind of fall

 Memories fog. I do remember hanging out with John Lurie at Save The Robots, but I can't remember why he was with us...

Actually I kind of do. It started at the wrap party for a film I'd worked on. I think we were partying on some kind of boat that was permanently attached to shore, and John was there, but what the hell did he have to do with the movie?

At Robots I made an ass of myself, but I was drunk and that's what we do when we're drunk.

Before I got drunk I remember thinking, "this dude's pretty cool."

I had seen his band The Lounge Lizards perform a couple times at the Village Gate (another place that is no longer... Lots of places are no longer, I mean look at Atlantis! But the Village Gate?? Come on, man. You know who has played there!?! I used to love looking at the pics/albums on the stairwell going down into the place. Of course that's not how I got into the place - my roommate worked there so he let me in the back door because we were young and broke. Not every youth is broke. We were. We worked though, so we weren't completely broke, but we didn't make enough to spend it on cover charges at clubs. What we had we needed to save for booze.)

--I digressed-ed.

John, or Mr. Lurie (since I'm not really on a familiar basis with him, the way say, everyone used to like to talk about Robert DeNiro as "Bobby." I mean, yes, these actors worked with him, maybe had a scene or two with him. Maybe was an extra. Maybe just saw him in a movie and suddenly it was "Ya know, Bobby -- Bob DeNiro I mean -- Bobby, he liked to...")

--I re-digressed.

So there we were. John Lurie, some other stoned (stoned didn't always mean "as in marijuana," could be he was just drunk) crew member, and me headed downstairs into Save The Robots and... And...

Shit. That's all I remember.

I got pretty drunk on some jungle juice they were serving, I do remember that. And I remember fading out during the conversation and suddenly John Lurie was gone, the sun was high in the sky, and I was stumbling home.

The Lounge Lizards live, by the way, were great.

I have one album, No Pain For Cakes. I love it. Both the music and the song titles. My Clowns On Fire? Sweeeet. Actually it's a cassette tape but it still plays.

This whole episode falls under my I-had-an-awesome-time-during-my-New-York-days, days.

I even romanticize the bad days. I survived, right? Hey, I was in my early twenties. I could handle those days better than I could today.

I didn't go looking for trouble, well I did, but didn't call it trouble then.

Now it would be the kind of trouble I might not escape because -- though I am wiser -- my reflexes are not as quick. My senses not as sharp.

I probably would have been thrown out that 32nd story window, or, if I had managed to fight my way back into the apartment, at least stabbed or shot on the living room floor.

You know what gave me incredible strength that night? I was getting on a plane the next morning to fly out West to visit my mom and I thought, "She will really be upset if I don't get off that plane and she has no idea why and then reads about it in the newspaper or something."

We didn't have twitter and stuff then. Or cell phones (at least I didn't, maybe the military did. Or Mick Jagger. People like that.)

And there was no way I could text her during that craziness to tell her, "Hey Mom? Just a quick 'I love you' in case I die in the next twenty minutes... Oh, nothing, just something stupid, but serious. Lol."

Actually it probably wouldn't have made the papers either. Too many crazy stories in that city for all of them to make the news.

This was all in the early 90s, by the way. For a frame of reference. Think it was 1991-ish.

I was living on Cooper Square in a building that is no longer there. That's another story, though. Not "the building is no longer there" story, the "what went on in that building" story.

Actually, no. I can't talk about it. Not with employers scouring the internet to find out just how imperfect we all actually are -- I touched on this in my last post.

The Village Gate. Now that's a story deserves it's own post, or two.

John played there. My roommate served there. I was an audience there. All the parts required to make something happen.

At least something that more than one of us can reference.

I wonder if any of my employers were ever there, too? Village Gate, Save The Robots...

Getting so drunk they pulled their own underwear over their heads, ran through the streets maybe.

Well, if they were, they probably don't blog about it.

Of course, I really could have been thrown from the 32nd floor that night, so the fact I'm still around to blog, that ain't so bad.

I think using "ain't" in that last sentence is acceptable, no?

Unless I'm applying for a job as a writer.

Man, this social media thing is more dangerous than the 32nd floor!

Thankfully I made the flight

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Why We Can't Shoot Ourselves

The real reason


We're going to see a decrease in depression in this country. Maybe mental illnesses as well.

Not because there is actually going to be a decrease, but because of social media.

And non-social media.

Because of media.

Or rather the comment sections of the media.

Every time a human being flies off the handle and it makes the media, somewhere in that story will be the sentence: "Ten years ago he sought help for depression," or "Was once arrested for shoplifting," or "Police once responded to report of a domestic argument at his/her house," or "Had a prescription for Xanax."

And the comment section will chime in: "Hello! ... Am I the only one who saw this coming?! ... Well, duh! ... Hmm, was once arrested and someone still hired this guy? Does no-one do background checks!? ... Treated for depression and we let him live!"

That's my favorite. Because it's really at the core of every comment in the comment section.

We let him live?!

Of course the media doesn't have to include those background tidbits. Nor do they have to report on people before they're actually determined to be guilty of something, since everybody knows once something is reported -- true or not -- there will always be that doubt.

You will always be guilty of being alive.

So, would you tell your doctor that you are depressed? Knowing that with our world of one-touch know-everything media it could come back to bite you with a future employer, or divorce proceeding?

And how about that shoplifting charge? Heck, let's make it something heavier, felony trespassing (not hard to do it turns out), or take it a step further, robbing a bank.

I don't mean like those guys in Los Angeles who robbed a bank and then shot up the streets with the police.

I mean more like you were being stupid, or you were high, or trying to get the money to get high, or feed your kids and chose the wrong way to go about it.

Whatever the reason, you get caught, and that's what we have prison for.

And prison is supposed to deter us from doing these things, and help rehabilitate, or at least make it doubly-clear not to go down that path again.

Kind of like a hot stove. Most of us learn: "Hey, ouch."

That curious yearning may still be there, especially when it's glowing cherry red... but, no, better not.

Except, that's not what prison does. Not once it's reported in media that "He spent time in prison."

The comment-crowd will pounce, and re-tweet, and make sure the world knows.

Duh! Hello! No-one but me saw this coming? Sheesh, who hires the people who do the hiring!?

Prison, like depression, once reported, fucks you.

I don't think we should have prison, or treat depression.

I think we should line ourselves (because it could be you or I) up against a wall.

Then round up the comment-section folks (determined by ISP) and bring them to the killing ground, give them the guns, make them do it.

And the comment-section folks could be any one of us as well.

Maybe we should just shoot ourselves.

No... Someone would say we must have been depressed and: "Well, duh! Did no-one but me see this coming!?"


Sunday, February 09, 2014

A Good Scribe, or A Good Jake

Mixing film & firefighting backgrounds on "World Trade Center" movie set. I'm the small mustache...


Part II - The Screenwriter As Firefighter

I have been both Scribe and "Jake."

Well, not really a Jake. That term is almost exclusively a reference to a firefighter in the Greater Boston & New England area. Since I did most of my Fire/Ems work in Alaska (with a brief foray into Antarctica) I guess a better term would be "Ake."

Drop the J and you have AK for Alaska, E for emergency responder ... No?

Lost Friends & Writing Credits

Before I became an Ake I was working towards becoming a professional writer, though I didn't know it.

I enjoyed writing, and had some good response from friends, but never got around to submitting it to places that could pay me wages to write. When I finished my first full-length play, and shortly after that, my first full-length screenplay, I had no idea what to do with them. I was vaguely aware of contests, writing agents, publishers etc, but my lacking self-esteem at that time kept my pages in a drawer...

... Until a filmmaker friend asked me to help her work on her story and script for a feature film she had an offer to direct.

Today, I'm still not sure what my position really was on the project. Was I a co-writer? Script doctor? Story editor?

In the end I realized she did all the typing, so I wasn't a co-writer. And it WAS her idea that she came to me with and started bouncing off me as a friend -- something we've all done as writers, I'm sure.

But then the day came where we walked all the way from uptown to downtown Manhattan discussing and developing the story together. Sure, she had final say in everything, but I was there wasn't I?

And then the work sessions began. She would write some pages, give them to me to read, and we'd meet and discuss them at her apartment, over coffee at a diner, walking around a park. Often these sessions would go on for hours, and we'd have to block out time for them so she could still spend time with her family. I spent hours, then weeks, then months discussing the story, reviewing pages, giving notes...

The film got made. I got paid some money and one of those "special thanks" credits, which at the time I thought was all I could hope for.

I mean, it wasn't my project or original idea. I was lucky just to be asked to the dance.

A few years later when I was making my own indie feature I had done a brief Q&A for an independent film magazine and mentioned I had helped work on the screenplay and story for my friend's movie, which was receiving attention in the indie scene. My friend read my statement in the magazine and called me up. I was excited to hear from her as it had been awhile since we had last spoken (Facebook did not exist then,) but quickly realized she was upset. I defended myself and we haven't spoken since.

Most of us will have been taken advantage of at some point in our life, often to our detriment. Just as we will take advantage of others, whether it be personally or in business. Thus I strive for two things:

To limit my advantage-taking when I recognize it, and to better my ability to stand up for myself.

If my self-esteem had been more fully realized, and I had understood how to stand up for myself those many years ago, I would have fought for credit -- as story editor, script doctor, anything that would have helped legitimize myself in a profession where your name on a project, good or bad, is often more important than the short-end money.

In fairness I realize there are multiple sides to every story. The friend I've lost undoubtedly has her take on things -- but this is my side to the story and since time has long marched on and I've yet to have a real "career" as a screenwriter, I'd like to get it off my chest and officially claim my credit before I pass into the ether.

I am far from alone.

Unfairness Abounds

There is an interesting and sobering documentary about the professional frustrations of screenwriting called "Tales From The Script."

If you are a writer who has been at it for some time, whether you've had a project sold, produced, awarded, or you've worked for years on spec in between flipping burgers, you'll recognize yourself in this documentary.

I own it and pop it in whenever I begin to believe that I am kidding myself with this screenwriting thing.

Actually, before I pop it in I usually think--

Give it up. Another screenwriting blog, DVD, book, seminar... They're all the same, say the same things. All they do is bring attention to and make money for the person who's putting it on.

Not with "Tales From The Script." At least I don't think so.

I popped it in again this week and (perhaps unfortunately for me) it rejuiced me. Even the most successful of us experience the same frustrations and battles.

Unfairness abounds.

We take advantage of each other because we are survivors, or competitive, or greedy, or insecure, or there are just too many of us.

Build your self esteem and fight. Cream can't always find its way to the top.

Careful about celebrating contracts early. I certainly enjoyed the Dom, but it's safe to say I was "out of pocket" on this unproduced spec work...


You're Not Invited To The War

With that said, be smart...

I had a small one-line role in my first professional play. The play was a hit and we were extended for a few months and so I thought I could now ask for the minimum Equity (stage actors union) wages along with the rest of the cast.

I was turned down and began to get vocal about it until a friend in the cast pulled me aside and said, "Matt, you might win this battle, but you're going to get kicked out of the war if you're not careful."

It was sage advice. You don't know how long your life is going to go on for, but the longer you are here the more you find yourself wanting to keep off the streets, pay your rent with some left over for coffee and a movie.

Screenwriting is not ironwork, or nursing, or firefighting. Where once you're in, you've got a pretty decent chance at job longevity. Relatively speaking.

Screenwriting belongs to that part of the entertainment business where you're in and then you're out within the same 24 hours.

If you want back in the war, choose your battles with care.

The "Ake"

Ninety-odd percent of you are making ends meet through other work as you write your scripts. I am no different. Many of my jobs have been film-industry related, but there was a period when I fell into other work and before I knew it I was a firefighter and EMT.

It's good work -- No, it's great work.

In addition to the job, where every day held the potential for something totally unexpected and exciting, I felt like I was holding my own weight in our over-populated world. I was a positive contributor.

And I found success in a way I hadn't found success in the movie world. A regular paycheck, recognition by my peers, pushing personal boundaries, travel to exotic locales (I landed one gig working as a firefighter for the U.S. Antarctic program. Cold, but still exotic.)

Now, before I continue, if any of you screenwriters find this happens for you -- that you fall into other work that feeds your spirit, fills your wallet, puts you in rooms filled with supportive peers -- throw out your typewriter, or iPad, or pen and paper immediately and don't move. Keep that job!

I didn't take this advice.

I took a break from emergency services to return to writing screenplays because I find peace in trying to create other worlds. But it's the only part of the process I do enjoy.

Trying to network and sell my work, I find I trip over myself. I either fight the wrong battles, or the right battles too late.

Like trying to get a long ago/galaxy far away credit to help build upon my argument I belong in the game.

It's not only about writing a great script.

And if you learn this lesson late but still feel you must keep writing, then suck it up and keep going, knowing you're the old guy at the club -- Or become something useful, meaningful, fulfilling, and truly awe-inspiring to the rest of us.

Cold, wet, tired, and happy.  My friend Kurt post fire in winter.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

S T O R Y T E LL ING


Last post was October 2013 -- is this too soon?

Part I - In Which We Become God


Stream Clogging
 
With all the daily utube & blog updates popping up on your device I want to make sure I'm not clogging your stream. All the news outlet updates, twit feeds... Webisodes... Vudu & hulu flicks... Kickstart requests... Faceblah gossip...There really is too much to read. And that leads me to...

Digital v. Film

Got into a documentary last year called Side By Side that asks the question "Can film survive our digital future?"

As much of my life has been spent in the world of film, both as audience member and working participant, I took quite an interest in the subject matter.

Now, however, I no longer care about the answer to the question "can film survive our digital future."

I used to, but then I finally understood that it didn't matter in the way I thought it mattered -- If I want to make film, watch film, project film, those opportunities will remain for a long time (as long as those asteroids miss us of course.) There are enough of us who appreciate and enjoy film as a medium, and will help to protect its existence, that I do believe it will survive well into future generations. At least until film stock is no longer produced, and even then our existing "films" will remain, even if they become artifacts in some museum.

Digital (and whatever comes next) are only new means to storytelling. And even though digital devices ensure that practically everyone can now shoot and promote some version of a moving-image story, there will long be an audience for a story to be told well. Just because the vendor has won out the shelf space of modern-day distribution doesn't mean the audience is going to take it all lying down. Someone will always be sifting through the crap to find the gold and bringing that gold to the attention of others.

With digital, though, that sifting of material is definitely more difficult. The loads of content are so overwhelming that we need to extend our days into 48-hours (the first darkness will now be known as midday and allow for a four-hour nap and work break) just so we can catch up on a day's worth of news posts, blog entries, utube channel updates, twits, and Faceblah streams.

This is referenced in Side By Side. In the film v. digital discussion it becomes apparent that one of digital's advantages is also a problem -- the amount of material can become overwhelming.

You can keep the camera (or whatever the image-capturing devices will come to be called) running almost forever, recording as much information as your storage units can hold. We're already on the precipice of pretty much recording an entire day and then sifting through to find any good bits.

Yes. Sift through those bits. All those possible precious moments because, like some junkie, you let the camera run longer and longer, capturing every tic, every realistic "actor unaware" moment, every possible moment of a sunset - the setting, set, and setted.

Yes, you can bring in more editors and assistants to help catalog and catalog and catalog. And you can throw out a few easy ones -- the actor looked at the camera, the producer's guest walked into the shot.

But there is still so much material left, so many options...

I like the light on the trees here, but if we wait two seconds the light does this cool little flash through the leaves... And wait, two more seconds, see how that one leaf kind of twists... And now the light is, wow! ...  Hmmm. Lot of options, let's come back to this shot later. How about the goodbye scene at the coffeeshop between Jack and Jill, let's watch those. How many takes did we shoot of that scene by the way? Two thousand and thirty-seven!?!?!?!

I've been on the road collecting footage this past month for a new short project. I've played around with digital before, but this is the first time I've really delved into shooting it for my own work. It began all right. I was careful to only shoot things I thought really stood out in some way -- a nice composition, colorful subject matter, etc etc. And when I did shoot I took care to only press record when I thought it was the right time, and only for as long as I needed (with a tail and head.) All of this was due to my film experience. Knowing that film was money, and that there was only so much film on a roll...

But I quickly realized I could shoot as much as I wanted. And delete. And shoot. And delete. And shoot again...

Soon, though, I stopped deleting. I kept it all, knowing that I could sift through the material later when I really had time to study it.

There are those words again. Sift. Time.

I already have too much material, but much of that is due to my not having specific shots planned out that I wanted. I went on the road to capture a lot of "B" roll, and capture it I did.

With discipline, and a story plan, this doesn't have to happen of course. But it does. The stream gets clogged.

I'm guessing there will come a time (barring asteroids) when images will record and project as we think them. Within seconds, and with honed skill, they will be thought, shot, and edited into some sort of story, or personal update, or news blip.

And those of us in that future will cease movement and meld into one unmoving blob of super-consciousness. We will end, become anew, and, missing what we once were, create in our own image on some nearby planet.

(Part II - In Which Screenwriters Save Too Many Cats)




Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Baggage Rack (posted retroactively, just like my bills)


Steeds, Sidekicks, & the Outlaw Josey Wales

Everyone Is Behaving As If It's A Monday


After my first business phone call this morning I should have realized the mood of the day and put off other calls until tomorrow.

I want to yell, "You guys all suck!" - But who would care?

Yesterday, the real Monday, was Clint Eastwood's birthday. One of my heroes as a child.

Clint was the subject of a recent special on Turner Classic Movies. In it he discussed a personality trait he personally seems to lack, but has been found in at least one of the characters he's portrayed:

Fear of success.

Our cable company has been bought by another cable company. I called to pay my final bill and disconnect the cable for summer and was told I should send the money to my old company, but that the new company has to handle the disconnect. When I called the new company the man who answered did not know his company had bought the old company and knew nothing of handling my disconnect procedure. I called my old company back and was told... You get the picture.

I've always marveled at when people get to work with their childhood heroes.

To play side by side in the NFL with a player you idolized as a child. To have your band open for the band whose albums you grew up listening to in your room Sunday afternoons, or have your screenplay directed by the the man whose films inspired your own Super-8 weekend wonders.

When I was younger I never believed I'd be able to act next to, or play music with some performer I idolized. I used to think it was because they had come along before me and were from an era I couldn't belong to.

Later I realized that many people, both my age and younger, have gone on to act alongside of, or play music or sports with these same childhood heroes.

The reason now seems more that I didn't believe in myself enough at the time.

My health insurance company billed me for a retro-active rate increase. I don't believe in retro-active rate increases, because the price agreed upon should stay the price. If you want to raise the price, do it on your next billing, but don't go back and tell the customer who bought a television set for $200, that because they are now selling for $295 that customer owes you another $95... As you can guess, my argument fell on deaf ears. I took it to the state level where the company is based, a loophole was found by that state to turf my complaint back to the state I live in, and today I received a letter basically telling me what I already knew everyone would tell me... And you know what that is.

When Clint was discussing the fear of success, or self-destructiveness, that some of us exhibit more than others, he mentioned that often these people are very capable and talented, but when they have their big shot they sabotage themselves rather than possibly fail.

My mom recently said something to me along the same lines. That when I get close to success in an endeavor I almost sabotage it, as if I don't think I deserve it.

To hear it twice in one week. Once from mom, and the other from Josey Wales.


My motorcycle insurance company has also billed me for retro-active rate increases, saying they will cancel my insurance if I don't pay soon. I'm glad my planned trip through Canada has been delayed, because I should have been on the road by now. That would have been unpleasant to be traveling in Canada and require my insurance for some reason, only to find it had been canceled while I was on the road. Funny, in their TV ads they seem so cheerfully helpful... You know the ones.

Success is part preparation, ability, and luck.

Without the luck portion Clint Eastwood might never have become the icon he is, and without the buoyancy that such success provides might not exude the tremendous self-confidence he portrays.

But positive actions breed positive reactions. Positive words and thought breed the same.

Somewhere along the line I must have contributed to shooting myself in the foot a time or two.

On Sunday morning I received a phone call that my credit card had recently been compromised. The credit card company handled it well, I destroyed the card, and a new one is on the way. But it is my one and only card...

... Today I realized a motorcycle supply company I had placed an order with using that one and only credit card, had only billed me for part of my order, and told me they wouldn't ship the remaining part of the order until I paid in full. For fear of my package not arriving in time for my road-trip I worked out a payment option
, but wanted badly to wonder aloud why they didn't just collect on the full bill when I ordered the item to begin with and how I might have been stuck without my precious motorcycle luggage because some asshole stole my credit card information and if I had gotten in an accident on this road trip I could get neither my bike or body repaired as both my motorcycle and health insurance had been canceled because they wanted to retro-bill me an extra $95 for a television!

If I had wondered all that aloud, I might have been shooting myself in the foot...

Clint is only eighty.

He looked pretty damn good actually. Good enough to continue making movies. Maybe even make a movie from the script I am determined to get onto his desk.

My goals have found their reset button...

No more foot-shooting, get my script to my childhood hero, continue with my motorcycle trip...

Luggage racks, or no luggage racks.

That's the point of a motorcycle. Freedom from baggage.

And how can a person with fear-of-success-baggage ride a motorcycle anyway?

"Uh-oh, I might successfully navigate this decreasing-radius corner, don't want to do that."

Yes, you do want to successfully navigate that corner. Don't feed yourself to the pavement just because you think it's inevitable.

Pull over a moment.

Then get back on and relax.

It ain't over til it's over.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Stuck In A Lonely Place With A Driftwood Pipe

 It's your tennis ball, I ain't going after it

Hello Again

This post is more for me, but I hope that you get something out of it as well.

I keep casual track of visitors to my blogs, and even though I haven't added anything to them in quite some time there are a few posts that still attract attention. Blog burnout after six years of posting is what initially pulled me away. When I wanted to start up again I suddenly didn't know what to say. Like taking a breather in the middle of a long hike, you feel rested and so get up to go again, but the wheels are even slower than before.

Moving Picture Stories

This winter my screenwriting train derailed and I'd been struggling to get it back on track. I was climbing my way to new heights with regards to my career when everything fell apart. I started questioning my ability, naturally, but also feared that because I'm no longer a twenty, or even thirty-something, whether I belonged in the game anymore.

Every time I watch a film I really love I answer my own question. I can't walk away from writing.

Without an assignment, though, it's back to writing specs. Currently I'm in the middle of too many stories. I've outlined every crazy two-in-the-morning idea just to see if this one is "it."

This post is meant to help me answer which of the current stories I've been working on I should stick to. The trick is to remind myself what I like in a story, and then apply that to my notebook and see which idea best fits the bill. Make sense?

Hope you get something from this post as well. At least consider checking out one or two of the films I've mentioned if you haven't seen them -- A good story holds up much better than a great special effect.

Nothing like looking at another mans Oscars to find inspiration


Movies I Really Dig

Only rule is: Must be a film I enjoy watching more than once. Films I enjoyed watching once but wouldn’t really want to sit through again don’t make the cut.

1)Waltz With Bashir
Logline: A veteran of the Lebanon war revisits old comrades in an attempt to make sense of what they experienced.
About: The horrors of war and its aftermath
Main Character: Unwilling hero
Why I like: Tapped into the loss and pain of people suffering ptsd, touched me deeply, gave me a feeling I long for, a place I want an excuse to be so that I can justify my own inner turmoil

2)Barabbas
Logline: A thief is freed, and in exchange Jesus Christ is crucified to satisfy the masses
About: Life of Barabbas, a thief supposedly freed in exchange for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ
Main Character: Unwilling hero, a virile and strong man
Why I like: Anthony Quinn; it’s rough, no-BS approach to what is and isn’t; the sorrow of the lives involved

3)Sullivan's Travels
Logline: A successful filmmaker goes undercover on the poor side of town for his next story
About: Shunning the shallowness of Hollywood success in search of something more meaningful in your work
Main Character: Intellectual, fearless
Why I like: The dialogue and writing alone kept me entertained, I loved replaying certain lines; it kept me thinking

4)Sometimes A Great Notion
Logline: An independent logging family holds out against corporate timber industry
About: A family and the family business. They believe everything that is important in the world is right there in their little clan
Character: Tough, stand up for themselves, men
Why I like: Paul Newman, Henry Fonda; the character studies of confident individualists; the scene beneath the trapped log; the danger inherent in their work; the locations

5)Outlaw Josey Wales
Logline: A southern homesteader seeks revenge against the Union army for the death of his family during the American Civil War
About: Vigilante justice for a deeply personal loss
Character: Tough, don’t take no shit, man’s man; able to stand up for himself and those who can’t defend themselves
Why I like: Clint Eastwood and his portrayal of the character Josey Wales; the humor (Chief Dan George); the seeking of revenge against evil deeds; the chase and confrontations that occur during the chase

6)The Unforgiven
Logline: A retired gunfighter puts back on his guns to earn money for his family
About: The cheapness of life, and what it really means to take another’s life. Seeking redemption once crossing a line is usually unsuccessful (check out Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant)
Character: A man full of personal sorrow with a great cross to bear.
Why I like: Clint Eastwood and the character he portrays; again it's someone who stands up for himself and others who can’t defend themselves; the introspective dialogue about a gunfighter preaching that "killing a man is not as simple as it appears"; the entire cast; the amazingly deceptive ease of the storytelling: the simple act of killing seemingly evil men all goes wrong

7)Hard Times
Logline: A street-fighter makes money in illegal-fight matches during economic hard times
About: Doing what you have to do to make it in this world, even when you hate what it is you do.
Character: A man able to stand up for and defend himself and those who can’t defend themselves (I'm starting to see a pattern in my taste here)
Why I like: The main character; the cast (especially Charles Bronson); the sparse dialogue; the way the film doesn’t glorify the fighting -- which is it’s centerpiece -- but makes it feel harsh and ugly, the way things are.

The writer: Always in a lonely place with a driftwood pipe

8)In A Lonely Place
Logline: A successful screenwriter with a violent reputation is suspected of murdering a young actress.
About: Missed opportunities, bad timing, wrong place at wrong time, things not being what they seem
Character: A man’s man capable of standing up for himself and others (Ok, I really had no idea until this list that I sought out these characters)
Why I like: Humphrey Bogart’s performance; Hollywood story from a bygone era; the tragedy of two people in love who through unfortunate circumstance will never see the “life that could have been.”

9)Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Logline: The discovery of gold in Mexico turns three partners against each other.
About: Human nature when it comes to greed turns friends against each other.
Character: Seemingly tough capable men whose humanity exhibits weakness when they turn self-centered and greedy.
Why I like: Humphrey Bogart and his playing an unlikeable character; John Huston’s direction; the dialogue; fortune found through great hardship is then lost.

10)Casablanca
Logline: Two lovers are reunited during WWII, but under difficult circumstances.
About: A cantina in Morocco is a base for the black market during WWII. The lives that pass through there represent many walks of life.
Character: Smart, capable man, willing to take risks under dangerous circumstances.
Why I like: Humphrey Bogart; the love story; the rise of a common man to great position and wealth under dangerous circumstances; the sacrifice made out of love that also means they can never have that love together.

11)Dog Day Afternoon
Logline: Bank robbery gone wrong, ruins everyone’s day
About: A bank robbery gone wrong turns into hostage crisis. The robbers gain public support through their human connection with the crowds outside the bank and draw out the day’s events as the police must tread lightly.
Character: Misguided, sensitive, loving man who makes a grave mistake
Why I like: Performances are top notch, along with the writing (RIP Frank Pierson,) allows us to see the humanity in the people involved in the event, police, robbers, everyone; story cannot have a good ending and still remain true to life, but you hold out hope for the criminals who seem like they could be you or I; pathos

12)Nobody’s Fool
Logline: Lovable and broke grump struggles to make it day to day in a small town
About: How you treat people is more important then financial success at the end of the day.
Character: Everyman with an Achilles heel, difficult to like, but easy to love.
Why I like: Paul Newman; character-driven type of story; acting is topnotch; small town; grounded, realistic

13)Once Upon A Time In The West
Logline: A gunfighter seeks to avenge his brother’s death against the deadliest man around.
About: Good vs. evil via the old west
Character: All men. Ready, willing, and able
Why I like: Cast (Bronson, Fonda, Robards); Leone’s style of storytelling with extreme close-ups, sparse dialogue, and clear moments; seeking to avenge a horrific crime, where even revenge won’t quell the pain; the character’s in constant internal pain yet strives to behave humanely when possible; men not afraid to be men

14)The Thin Red Line
Logline: A soldier struggles to balance the reality of war with the internal workings of his own humanity and still remain faithful to his fellow men.
About: This one was tough for me to pinpoint but: Lives of men in war, as soldiers (make sense?)
Character: Questioning, introspective, sensitive, yet face all challenges head on, even when terrifying.
Why I like: The cinematography, images, and quiet moments of the beauty that exist in our world; juxtaposing realities of war with internal workings of our humanity; fear dissipates.

15)Sunshine
Logline: Crew is dispatched aboard a spaceship to deliver an explosion into our sun in order to save earth.
About: People willing to sacrifice all for the greater good of humanity.
Character: Introspective, volatile, intelligent, sensitive
Why I like: Idea of sacrificing yourself for something you believe in, and for the greater good of others;  the frightening moments they face en route to the sun, especially when exploring the ship of an earlier failed mission; the philosophical element when they run into the surviving crew member of the previous failed mission who has developed a god-like complex;

16)Ratatouille
Logline: A gutter rat who appreciates good cooking attempts to become a top-chef in Paris
About: Reaching beyond your grasp, following your dreams in order to make yourself whole.
Character: Knows who he is and what he wants, likes himself, sticks up for himself, is happy.
Why I like: Great story! Love watching this rat impossibly become a leading chef in Paris; the cooking, the food! Fun to watch, triggered my primal cravings for good food; the challenge by one of the world’s top food critics, where the rat will either make it or break it.

17)Aguirre Wrath of God
Logline: A soldier leads his men on a quest for the lost city of gold in the Amazon.
About: Pursuit of dreams based on greed and the destruction that follows.
Character: Fearless, adventurous, charismatic
Why I like: Klaus Kinski’s face; the grand scope of the adventure, following the men through the massive jungle laden down with heavy armor and gear; the insanity that comes

18)Fitzcarraldo
Logline: A music lover strives to bring opera deep into the heart of the Amazon.
About: Pursuit of dreams that are madness and tend to destroy the dreamer as well as others around him.
Character: Brilliant, bordering on psychotic
Why I like: Klaus Kinski's face again; the grand scope of the tale, bringing a steamboat upriver and over a mountain; the madness that follows; the harsh reality of life and death in such a place; the loneliness

Schoolhouse from Hitchcock's "The Birds"

19)Wages Of Fear
Logline: In desperate need of money three men agree to carry nitroglycerin over a dangerous mountain road in order to help stop a burning wellhead.
About: What are we willing to do when desperate.
Character: Hardened men, have faced difficult times before and survived, thrown into a situation most men would run from.
Why I like: Watching people trying to survive in dire situations and succeeding; watching men at odds working together; seeing everything work out until a tiny mistake at the end nullifies all their good work.

20)On The Waterfront
Logline: A dockworker stirs trouble with the local union mob bosses.
About: A man stands up to a bully.
Character: A man not afraid to stick up for himself and what he believes
Why I like: the cast and performances; the edginess and fear that I imagine I would feel if I were in such a situation, the reality of being seriously hurt or killed in such a situation makes the character Brando plays that much more likable that he is willing to take on such a dangerous man in such a dangerous organization.

21) A Streetcar Named Desire
Logline: The private paradise of a young married couple is disrupted when the wife’s sister moves in.
About: How fragile beauty is, in the face of harsh reality.
Character: Primal man and woman contrasted against our more intellectual & spiritual selves.
Why I like: Tennessee Williams writing and dialogue; Brando; raw primalness in the couple’s relationship; seeming simplicity and contentedness in their lives; trying to fit two opposites together in the same life with bad results.

22)Slapshot
Logline: Miserable hockey team tries to change their ways to make a go at drawing crowds and not getting sold off.
About: Fighting and fucking. Doing what is right vs. what sells tickets.
Character: Blue-collar everymen and women.
Why I like: Dialogue; Paul Newman; the groundedness of the blue-collar everymen and women who live these lives; and my friend played "Dr. Hook!"

23)Elf
Logline: Human is raised as an elf at the North Pole.
About: Love and success are where you find them.
Character: Unwitting jester.
Why I like: Feel good classic comedy moments of oddball trying to fit in; escapism through story.

24)American Graffiti
Logline: Last night for senior high-schoolers before they graduate and move into the adult world.
About: Fear and excitement found at the precipice of the next great adventure.
Character: A piece of all of us through multiple characters.
Why I like: Nuances of our high-school life; the fear and excitement of getting to move onto a great adventure; the music; the innocence in the character’s lives, still unspoiled.

25)The Caine Mutiny
Logline: A US Naval ship crew mutinies against its captain when they believe he’s gone crazy.
About: Crowd mentality and fear-mongering vs. standing one’s ground when it’s unpopular to do so.
Character: Leaders and followers in a structured scheme.
Why I like: Humphrey Bogart; Lee Marvin; showing there is more than one side to a story; the seeming hero turns out to be a coward; the sacrificial lamb in Bogart’s character; the danger of a crowd mentality AND the danger of seeing things as black & white.

 Ok Then...

Are you still with me?  Not only did I revisit what works with a story, but I learned a couple things about myself -- Apparently I really like characters who stand up for themselves and others! I'm sure many of us enjoy those characters, I just never realized to what degree they exist in the movies I like.

Thanks for reading!



Monday, August 13, 2012

There Go I



How long has it been? A year?

I didn't purposefully stop writing in the blog. Who knows why... Tank ran dry... Grew tired of repeating myself maybe.


Writing Gig

So, I was offered a screenwriting gig a little while back (I'm not going to discuss details because it's still on-going)... No pay up front -- But legit.  Has great potential.

Shot at starting (again) a writing career.

Last time I was on this path was around 1992. I had back to back script-doctor jobs, with pay, but no credit. That's when I learned how important credit can be.

Life took a few funny turns and here I am again twenty years later.

Talk about perseverance.

Anyway

Writing's never easy. Shouldn't be, if it's going to be any good.

But, I got a little stuck.

Two drafts and nothing seemed to be working. Couple note sessions, and still no real excitement.

Spoke with writer friends... Re-read a couple books... Re-read favorite scripts at the WGA library... Started watching films...

Now, usually when I am stuck writing a screenplay I don't turn to watching films. They are a finished product with music, scenery, and actor's nuance.

Sometimes our favorite moment in a film can be enhanced by a charismatic actor's facial tic accompanied by a powerful piece of music... Sure, the writing is there somewhere. Leading us into such a moment, but it can be buried so deep that it is hard to see.

That's why -- to study writing -- I seldom turn to watching a finished film.

But What The Hell

My dvd collection is in Alaska, so I turned to Redbox, a couple dvds a friend had given me, and going out to new releases. Searching for great moments and whatever writing might be behind them.

TED -- Loved it. Saw it twice. Laughed out loud both times. Not in the vein in which I am currently writing, but it was obvious that we knew who the characters were, what they wanted, and were able to enjoy the hi-jinks along the way.

THE CINCINNATI KID -- Well, Ring Lardner Jr. for one. A solid screenwriter who was among those blacklisted during the House Un-American Activities Committee... The film has some holes, a few scenes that weren't necessary and brought the story to a dead halt -- But the character development was clear, without hitting you over the head with it. Edward G. Robinson really brought his character to life without having to say what he was doing, which I took as a sign of great character writing.

THE BOURNE LEGACY -- (spoiler) Very entertaining, enjoyed watching Jeremy Renner, but I didn't see the deep story or character work I was seeking... Was it so well written it was hidden? Or was it simply such entertaining eye-candy that I didn't mind the lack of deeper story/character elements?

Yet, it is making money, and will continue to I am sure.... So?

PAPILLON -- Dalton Trumbo (another HUAC victim).  Loved it when I was younger, tried watching it again and got about twenty minutes in and shut it off... Why?  I'm not sure. The idea is intriguing. The locale is fun.  But it lost it's hook on me.

BEING FLYNN -- Paul Dano doesn't do it for me and the heavy voice-over in the beginning had me reaching for the off switch, but I stuck it out, and became intrigued.  The character work was definitely here. Enough so, that I actually started to not mind Paul Dano. Actually, I really started to enjoy watching him.

So, here we were again. Character work. Not flash, not clever hooks or twists, not set pieces... Straightforward character work.  Ok, time for a tune-up, I'll keep watching...

And then came the homeless shelter stuff and I flashed back to my own life and shut the movie off.

No I Haven't Lived In A Shelter

During the late 80's, early 90s, when I lived in New York City, I had a temporary summer roommate who became a good friend.

He was considerate, responsible, kind to others, and helped pull me out of a rotten place. One day he brought me along to help volunteer at a local shelter, something he did on weekends and holidays, telling me I needed to spend some time with other people's problems for a while.

It was an eye-opener -- not the conditions of their lives -- but who they were. These invisible people who drive so many of us to not fail (there but for the grace of God go I).

I'd been down before. Depressed. On drugs. Broke. Turning occasionally to petty bullshit. But I had never lived like these men and women had.

Invisible.

The homeless man I remember most during my time in NYC was not from the shelter, or on the trains, or sleeping frozen to the ground with his own urine in winter. He was a man I was walking behind one day on the way to a job interview. He was walking slower than I was, but every time I tried to move around him in the crowded streets of Manhattan he seemed to sense it and would step right in front of me. Like he had eyes in the back of his head. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore and moved to push around him hard when he stopped, turned, and barked:

"I don't exist?  Am I invisible?  You don't see me?"

I had never (and haven't since) seen a man so removed from basic humanity. His skin was too thick. His eyes were too deep. He was encrusted with years of being forcibly removed from what it meant to be a human being... His hand went in his coat pocket and produced something scary,

"I'll stab you. I'll stab you motherfucker."

Of course the other New Yorkers were classic -- Thank God he's not targeting me -- And kept to themselves as this walking shell-of-man followed me into the streets, jabbing at me until I could dart behind the safety of a cab and then disappear down another street, as he was left yelling after me.

Back To My Friend

One day I figured out why my friend spent so much time volunteering at shelters. An article had come out, in the Village Voice I think, about a group called the National Front. A political party that had links to fascism, racism, violence.

My friend pointed at the article and asked if I had read it. I had.

"I used to belong to them. As a youth."

At this point in life I wasn't surprised by what others revealed to me, so I listened.

"We didn't do much. I was young. Broke a few windows after football games. Got in a few fights. I didn't really hurt anyone... You know..."

My friend was now an adult. Responsible. Kind. Generous. Hard-working. Interacted well with other races, AND, saved me from myself during a rotten time.

Whatever he did before I knew him I can't be sure. Is there someone in the world perpetually suffering because of an action my friend had taken? If so, does my friend deserve to keep on living?

Do any of us?

Deserve is such a lousy word.

If he had gotten caught in some nasty action and got 'what for' none of us would bat an eye. When we read about teenagers committing violent crime we ask they be tried as adults, strung up, shot, drawn and quartered. Whatever we can come up with to try and numb the pain of loss or destruction to our own loved ones, or others we perceive as innocents.

I know I do. I cry out for vengeance when it hurts an innocent, or someone I love.

I also turn the other cheek.

It's a lose-lose situation.

It's our humanity at it's worst.

It's why we love and hate ourselves - We can't escape what we are, even though we aspire to.

Maybe the most beautiful among us do. The very few. The angels.

Character Work

Yes.

So that we may recognize ourselves on-screen, or stage, or page. And maybe not feel so alone in the world.

This Is Why I Stopped Writing In The Blog

Cause I never write anything funny.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Heaven Like A Twinkie


No one likes a shitstorm

Heaven is like a Twinkie in the bottom of your lunch sack. Something you might look forward to, tastes good going down, but in the end is a bunch of crap.

If there is a pleasant home to go to, then I guess not much matters. With cruelties, suffer them and let them go.

But if the powerful and cruel are all there is, then there are many creatures who get nothing but a shitstorm of degradation and abuse at the will of others for the entirety of their life and then it ends.

So, just in case, pull people out of the shitstorm when you can. It might be all they have.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Grass Is Green


When you think you're taking up space, wasting oxygen and others time.

When you believe that you will never take your own life, but you spend your days searching in vain for some alternative to your despair.

When God either doesn't exist or doesn't answer.

Drugs and alcohol offer only side effects.

Your body is free to come and go, but you suffer inside a prison of your mind.

Regress.

Forgotten all you know.

Watch as others re-invent the same wheel you re-invented in your own youth, then march to the podium to claim victory and spoils as you fall to the wayside.

Realize you have only succeeded in some esoteric manner, which they tell you only so you don't have to face the fact you have not succeeded at all...

Change something, or suffer purgatory.

Grass is green somewhere, brother.

Lay down in it.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Smokin' Good


Mac n' Cheese

But First...

I have started another blog.

49th Films will focus on screenwriting and filmmaking, with an emphasis on Alaskan writers and filmmakers.

Whenever I visit one of my favorite blogs they are all pretty specific on what their subject matter is. Barnyard Devil began as a personal writing exercise and never stopped. It will continue until the tank runs dry, but...

... 49th Films will strive to stay on topic.

On That Note

Been feeling particularly down this year, even with all my good fortunes. So I thought of as many great restaurant meals as I could remember.

Great meals are among my fondest memories. Right up there with travel, sex, and firefighting.

Now I focused on restaurant meals, but that doesn't mean I have forgotten all the homemade ones, or those made by friends.

Those cannot be beat.

No restaurant meal - not even the most fantastic restaurant meal I have ever had hands down second to none, that stupendous meal Rhonda and I had at Melisse in Los Angeles - no restaurant meal compares to great home cooking.

Something about taking the time to get the sauce right, a good base, the extra care when it's a friend or family member's special occasion.

The back-deck in summer, creek running, cold beer in hand, and that home-made razor-clam chowder comes out... Or that sockeye fillet, cooked in foil over briquettes and still moist, almost raw, inside... Or homemade chili, cooked down for hours, seventeen different flavors in every bite (ok, maybe sixteen)... Pasta sauces from scratch, on your second bottle of wine by the time dinner is served... Smoked salmon strips, with alder, hickory or mesquite for hours, dried to a sticky kippered-like jerky...

Like The Smoked Salmon I'm Eating Right Now

Yes folks, this may be a cruel tease for you, but I made sure I had relief in hand before I whetted my own appetite.

Just finished smoking a second batch. Some friends brought us some sockeye they had vacu-sealed as we didn't make it dipnetting last summer.

None too soon.

To begin the smoke-salmon cravings this early usually leads to drooling frustration, counting the days until the first salmon runs begin. But like I said - I had relief close by.

Can't have your cake and eat it too, though.

Staring at the deep red strips coated in spices and brown sugar can make for a wonderful evening, but you have to dig in a some point.

And then it is difficult to stop --

Oh Yeah, Restaurant Meals

Melisse, as mentioned. I never thought I could go gaga for a soft-boiled egg appetizer. And it wasn't just the food, the service as well. Fork dirty? It's already been replaced. For us, maybe a once in a lifetime dining event, which is cool, cuz it wasn't cheap.

Ca 'Del Sole, also in Los Angeles. Fantastic beef carpaccio with capers and parmesan, and an excellent gnocci in duck ragout. Ate there many times.

Giraffe, Los Angeles. Whatever soup was in that shot glass to start the meal off was of the 'I'll have another right now' kind of good.

Q-Shack, Durham, North Carolina. BBQ sandwiches and (when available) home-made buttercream frosted cupcakes.

Actually most any of the BBQ we ate during our stay in the American Southeast. While living in Durham we took a drive up to see friends in New England and along the way hit some awesome BBQ joint in Delaware - name and town escape me, sorry.

Fao Fao Beach Fales, Saleapanga, Samoas. The palusami they made us is my favorite dish ever.

Some sushi place in Honolulu, Hawaii. Name doesn't really matter, the memory is there. One of those 'eat what the chef puts in front of you' places. Great fish, but the best part was being treated to an excellent (and probably very expensive) bottle of sake by the two Japanese women we sat next to.

Diaz Cafe, Ketchikan, Alaska. I'm serious now. Some great Philippine cooking.

Having A Bad Day? Eat Something

Can't say that everyone. For some it would be like telling an alcoholic to crack a fifth when they're having a bad day.

But I can tell myself that.

And if there isn't a great meal nearby, remember one. And then open that box of Mac n' cheese and suck it up.