Monday, October 31, 2011

The Possessory credit

One of things I dislike most about making films is what is called "The Possessory Credit". And while it's hardly worth noticing for most people, it certainly bothers screenwriters. 

What it is is this;  a title at the beginning (or the end which is becoming more fashionable) which reads: A Film By Harvey Glick". And who is Harvey Glick? Well, I made up that name but this credit is becoming more and more common. And it is always taken by the director.

There's others too, A Film by Martin Scorceses, A Spike Lee Joint, A John Ford Production, A Steven Spielberg Film and many others.

And what the credit suggests, is that the director is totally responsible for every element of the movie. So why does this bother writers so much?

Well, for one thing the director is rarely there when the writer spends days, months and longer to write the screenplay, especially if it's a spec, than have the hired director enter and say it's all his idea.

But then, there's also another factor to take in.

Personally I don't mind the great directors taking this credit, mostly because they have proven to have a unique style unlike your average director. Can you tell the difference between a film by someone you've never heard of, and a film by, say, Robert Altman. 

There's a huge difference. Altman's style is unique and therefore he is entitled to "A Film by". So is Warren Beatty and Brian DePalma and Coppola. They have earned their strips, so to speak and have established a unique style from movie to movie.

And which writer wouldn't want a great director to make his movie, credit and all. 

But where it bothers me is when someone makes his/her first film and uses the credit there. They just don't deserve it as very few of them have any style at all, rather they are copying ideas they've seen from the great directors.

In other words, you gotta earn that "Film by" credit.

But the new directors coming up are demanding the credit even on really bad movies that nobody sees until they end up on Netflix. While usually it's the gorilla on the film (most often the director) who can negotiate the credit, it's also been give to writers (Neil Simon) and producers (David O. Selznick). And who would deny Alfred Hitchcock taking the credit?

And some directors feel that giving the credit to newbies or hacks demeans the intent of the credit. Other directors feel it discredits the writer and the crew, all of whom "made" the movie.

I even had a chance to put a possessory credit on the 3 movies I directed, but two of them were direct to video and hardly the quality of an Altman film so I said no. On Ghostkeeper, a film I wrote, directed and produced through my company, I chose to use the credit as "A Badland Picture Film" as it was truly a company film.

There's an element of me that gives away credits all the time. On Cooperage, the short film I filmed and co-produced in 1976, I had to leave production for a week and let a newcomer cameraman take my place. I gave him first standing because he needed the credit while I was more established.

You know us Canadians, we just want to be liked.

So watch for those "Film by..." credits and see if that director has done anything remarkable that gives him/her the right to take credit for the entire production.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Catching up.

I'm getting a little behind on the blogs but will pick it up Monday. Having a good week, I'm going to publish my novelization of Emperor of Mars in about a week or so,  waiting for the cover from the artist. 

Also editing a short trailer for Ghostkeeper, which will be released January 2012 as well as beginning to edit a longer video on Georgie Collins, who played the part of the "Old Woman" in Ghostkeeper. The short version can be found here on Materials and I had enough material for a half hour so am going to cut it for television in Canada. 

Georgie, now 86, is the grand dame in Alberta and I thought she'd really like the idea of leaving a legacy behind. I'll get photos and other materials as well to cut into the video.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Presence and who has it... and who might have it.

It's been told that Marilyn Monroe could go unnoticed a party but put her in front of a camera and something happened. You couldn't take your eyes off her.

Presence is one of those things that you can't really define, either it's there or it's not Cary Grant had it both on and off the screen, when he walked into a room, everyone turned around.

Last night I watched an old western with Jimmy Stewart and Dean Martin and a load of character actors that filled the screen. Stewart and Martin had presence, but so did the supporting cast including George Kennedy and regulars like Dub Taylor, Andrew Prine, Will Geer and Denver Pyle. Did I mention Raquel Welch? Even she had my attention. Forget Reese Witherspoon, give me a real woman like Raquel.

The story was a classic chase plot, but shot on great locations and with a cast like that, I didn't speed my TiVo at all. Which I do with a lot of movies now. But it wasn't the story that kept me interested. It was the actors.

You watched them.

They had presence, they looked like they had lived life, not growing up in the suburbs and hanging out at the mall.

I also watched the new Hawaii 5-0 finally, or at least 10 minutes of it. The lead actor is completely devoid of any presence at all, given that the original actor Jack Lord, just oozed presence. And he looked like a tough guy. The new version has Scott Caan, son of James Caan, who's left to offer some presence. He's not as good as his old man, but he tries his best and manages a bit of presence.

There's a lot of complaints about actors under 40, mostly that they don't seem to have much presence. One of the reasons is that the studio system has been gone for over 40 years. Studios carefully picked who would be a star, and it wasn't always because of talent. They would shoot tests of every kind until they found that actor who stood out on film.

Consider that today many actors have very little training and often none, given these reality shows. There are exceptions; Matt Damon has it, Ben Affleck doesn't. I don't get Ryan Gosling at all, and Edward Norton and a dozen others. They all look the same, "the little lesbians" as a feminist quoted a few years ago.

Now consider this; the studios are re-doing every movie older than 10 years ago in the hopes that lightning can strike again. The Fog came and went, so did Captain America and the Green Hornet, and I still didn't understand The Green Lantern with another actor, Ryan Reynolds who has the presence of a wall.

George Clooney has presence on screen and off, I saw him once briefly and you can't help but look at him. But he's 50. Johnny Depp is one of those inbetween guys,  but he still looks like a kid. And I still think Leonardo looks like he's dressed in his dad's clothes. 

So let's assume that there aren't any great actors anymore, just mediocre ones. The studios are redoing old movies so what is next?

What about putting an old face on a new body?

If you remember Brad Pitt in the movie Benjamin Button, you'd remember how he aged from baby to old man. It worked well.

So what if you could create Jimmy Stewart again, or Cary Grant or even Bogart. After all they were "stars" in the true description. What if you just added Bogart's face. Or Marilyn's?

Al Pacino starred in a movie called Simone, about a digitally created woman who rebels against her creator.

A week ago a friend of mine said that he knew an actor who was called to a studio for some tests. They were "tests" being made by two of the biggest directors in Hollywood. That's all he would say. Sort of. He couldn't say anymore except that it could change the business.

What if they created the old actors again with the amazing technology from Avatar, we could have movies again featuring a young Gene Hackman, Sean Connery, Kirk Douglas, Joan Crawford and of course... Marilyn. Maybe she gets to finish her last movie after all.  Imagine Sean Connery's young face on the next James Bond film.

Think it's crazy?

Those avatars looked pretty damn good. And that was almost 3 years ago. Imagine what they can do now. Or tomorrow?

Why do you think the Screen Actor's Guild wasn't happy with Avatar?

At least they can't create a software that can write screenplays.

Or can they?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Awards and awards...

 So what's a parking lot got to do with this blog?

The LA Times carried a story yesterday about an awards ceremony for location managers who find locations for movies.

My first reaction was; more awards shows? And this time for location managers? The Academy awards are already losing the audience and no doubt part of it are the dozen or so awards that precede the Oscars.

You have the Foreign Critics awards, the SAG awards, the DGA awards, the Spirit Awards and least noticeable, the WGA awards. Toss in a few others and there's just too many award shows that by the time the Oscars roll by, you've been beaten into the ground by hundreds of acceptance speeches. 

All of the Academy awards are creative, be that writing, directing, filming, sound, etc. You know the categories. Each of them features a person or persons who create something, be it words, sound, CGI, music, whatever. But the key word here is create.

Location managers find locations. You need a house that looks spooky, it's the location manager, you need a street blocked off, that's the location manager. They look for locations that both the screenplay and the director dictate.

Is the job creative? Well, the definition of creativity in Websters is this: 

"To cause to come into being". 

A writer creates a script, a director creates a movie, an actor creates a part. And so on.

So does finding a warehouse to film in a creative job? One can certainly argue that by finding a location the location manager is creative. But once the location is arranged a whole team of designers roll in and create whatever the location is supposed to be; a warehouse or a bad guy's laboratory or even Mars, as what the production designer did for a screenplay I rewrote called Escape from Mars.

You know what the most important thing is to a location manager? More important than even the location sometimes?


A friend of mine who does locations in Vancouver on big movies says he salivates everytime he passes an empty parking lot. Why? Because a location with no parking is no good. Not only do you have trucks and vans and big semi's, but you also have crew vehicles, people drive to the location and need parking.

How do I know this?

Because I was location manager on a feature a few years ago. I was helping out a friend who was producing a movie and I said I'd help out. After all, how hard is finding a location?

It wasn't long before I realized that not only did I have to find the right location, I had to find parking close enough that it wouldn't take away filming time by having to transport crew back and forth from a mile away.

Now you'd think parking lots are everywhere. But they're not and it took me a week to figure out the best places: 

Schools and churches.

Churches are better because they're only used on week-ends and they can use the extra money. Schools are harder and more expensive because they belong to the city.

A parking lot at a church could go for $500 too $1000 if you plead with them, school parking is upwards of thousands of dollars because you need $2 million insurance policies. And if you want to film at a city school... well, get ready to shell out a lot of money.

I spent as much time looking for parking lots as I did for locations and you learn to deal with people as everyone out there thinks movies have tons of money to spend.

So, back to the awards.

The location manager's awards ceremony was helped by the location representatives for the city and state and even other states as a reward of sorts for the location managers finding locations for their movies. These government agencies depend on location managers finding locations in their district, city, state or country.  So the awards are slightly biased in that each side needs the other.

And there are other film categories that want to be included in awards, especially the oscars. That's the casting agencies who cast actors for movies. Again it's a somewhat unclear category, a good actor comes to a casting agent who casts them but is it a creative thing? Ultimately the final choice is made by the director and producers.

I guess that these points can be argued back and forth but I'm reminded of something a friend of mine once said; 

All you really need to make a movie are three things; a script, an actor and a camera. 

Sure, you have a 10-person crew or a two hundred person crew, but the only ones really making the movie are the writer, the actor and the cameraman. Okay and maybe the director but even there, the director can also shoot the movie.

BTW the winner of the Location Manager awards was a woman who was about to lose a location because of safety reasons and she managed to get a crew to clean it up and pass the city ordinances so the movie could be filmed there.  

Monday, October 17, 2011

Are movies relative anymore Pt 2

After long consideration, Disney has decided to go with a western movie with Johnny Depp for $215 million. The original budget was $275 million and Disney was worried, but now that it's only $215 million, all is well.

The movie is based on a 1950's TV series and 3 movies and it was called The Lone Ranger. The Ranger traveled the west with his trusty Indian friend, Tonto, dealing out justice to bad guys. I used to watch the series all the time and still find one of the feature-length movies on TCM.

In hindsight, they were pretty simple stories of morality, good guys win, bad guys lose. They were okay for a kid like I was, but now, older, I realized they weren't that great even for their time period.

But back to the question of movies and whether they matter. The previous blog dealt with the business end and this blog is about the content. At the beginning of the digital age a saying came into place; "the good news is that everyone can make a movie, the bad news is that everyone can make a movie".

And there have been a lot of bad movies lately. Some well-meaning, but simply not very memorable. And it's worth it to remind you that there were always bad movies. But what is happening is that the good ones really aren't great.

There's a theory about people who watch a movie a couple of times over a period of time. It basically suggests that what you remember is not really the movie, it's the memory of the movie, what you remember about that evening as much as what you saw.

I do this with Easy Rider, sometimes I watch it and it's great, other times it feels dated and sometimes just corny. But then, there's The Searchers, one of my alltime favorites and what's interesting about this one is that I still enjoy watching it.

Okay, I remember going to Easy Rider with a date who wore a mini-skirt just after they all came out in around 1967 or so. And it was a mini that could take on any clothes of today.

And I remember The Searchers, seeing it as a kid of 10 in a small town theater. Yet every time I watch it, and I've seen it at least 30 times, it's always new, there's always something in it that I didn't catch before.

So what's the difference?

It's a better-made movie. Directed by John Ford, who won 6 Oscars in his career and who had a way to make the movie better. Ford had a way of putting little idiosyncrenicities into his characters and scenes, little bits as actors call them, the way someone rolled their cigarette or rode a horse or just spoke. Little things that made them human. And usually things that producers hate because few producers really understand the subtleties of life.

And knowing those subtleties means you have lived life.

But there was something that all the movies had up to the 1990's. They were the event. You would talk about going to see the latest movie on Fridays, there was no iPhones or iPads or tweets, just the movies.  And TV of course, but TV didn't spend the money that movies did, movies were truly bigger and wider and louder and more exciting.

TV was related to doctor shows and cop shows and lawyer shows. Ironically the same as now. But then there came the CSI shows which pushed the envelope in terms of filming like a movie. This new way to shoot TV dramas started some time ago, the X-Files was one of the first to shoot dark images and shadows.

With digital cameras they can now give TV shows the look of a movie, any CSI episode that show you that.

That hit the movies hard, not to mention that a whole new generation of writers who were raised in relatively easy  lives that gave them little inspiration beyond writing shows that copied the TV shows they saw as kids.

The great writers came from WWII, they either served or they were kids and many of them were outsiders, guys mostly, who came back from the horror of war or hitchhiked across the country, riding trains, working in fields, living life. And they usually wrote great scripts although mixed in with a few bad ones here and there.

What they wrote about were issues, disguised as entertainment. There was always a bigger picture than the story. Take Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, about migrant workers in the 30's. The book caused a stir in America, Republican politicians condemned it. And John Ford made the movie in 1939 and Republican politicians threatened to have it pulled from theaters.

Most of the great movies have messages that stir the heart and mind, and most people don't get them, but that doesn't matter, the message is still there. Of the movies now, I would say Avatar had that, it was essentially a 1970's script with 21st century CGI. This year's Woody Allan movie also has a bigger message, that the past isn't always as great as you think, it's just the past.

One of the best younger writers around now, although way past 40 is Alan Sorkin, and if you want to read the hell he went through just in his personal life with drugs, you can see why he's good. He's been there.

Each week in LA there are 5 to 10 new movies released, most of them independent movies where the distributor rents a theater for 2 weeks to say the movie played "theatrical", which enhances it for DVD distribution (and now streaming). And most of them are not very good, some weeks they're all really mediocre.

So what do studios do? You know that, bigger and better. 

Remember the Lone Ranger? On TV it was a fairly inexpensive show, but with Johnny Depp, it's going to be $215 million. We're talking about a couple of horses, some wide open spaces and some gunfights. $215 million?

How can a western cost that much? Well, Johnny gets his piece. But after that, where is the money going to be spent? Cowboys and Aliens wasn't a success, considered a flop even with Harrison Ford although Harrison is getting long in the tooth. And it didn't cost as much, even with massive CGI effects. 

And the best part is this; they're re-arranging the movie just slightly. Instead of the Lone Ranger being the lead --- Tonto, his faithful Indian companion  is the lead. So it's The Lone Ranger, but the Ranger plays second fiddle. In a genre that only anyone over 45 can relate to. And they stay home to watch CSI.

At least in the series, Tonto was played by Jay Silverheels, a real Indian from Canada. 

Now to see The Lone Ranger from the 1950's go to Materials and click on LONE RANGER.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Are movies relative anymore Pt 1

There is a great amount of debating going on now in the movie industry. In short, it comes down to that famous and overused saying from William Goldman.

Nobody knows anything.

Movies have changed dramatically in the last 5 years. DVD sales have slumped as people prefer to rent from Netflix and Redbox and that approaching gorilla, streaming video. And if the studios are wondering why they're beginning to see sales of movies go flat, they just have to look in the mirror.

First let's look at the business end.

Studios made a lot of money on VHS movies, both for sale and for rent in both corporate video houses like Blockbuster and mom&pop shops. It was a whole new way to get money from their vast libraries of movies. They discovered that not only new movies were sought, but also old ones too.

It was good times.

Then DVD entered the picture, and it was even better as they realized that customers would not only buy the new DVD movies but also would buy the old movies they already had on VHS but wanted the superior pictures of digital video.  This also happened when people began to buy CD's to replace cassettes and vinyl records.

It was good times again.

And then the studios got greedy and said "let's sell movies everywhere!"And DVDs began showing up in your local supermarket by the movie magazines at the checkout. They were everywhere, the pharmacies, gas stations, liquor stores and finally -- the Red Box.

The Red box, usually at supermarkets but now in other stores, was simple, like buying a chocolate bar. Simply slide in your credit card and get a movie for $1.  Yes, one dollar.

But some other people did not like this at all. Who?

The theater owners, that's who. Movies were coming out too fast from the studios. And networks began to show their old shows on the internet. For free.

So who was losing money here? The theater owners who depend on movies playing at their theaters for as long as possible. That's how they make money. And releasing movies too soon takes money away from them.

And that's where we are now.

This week, a movie called Tower Heist with Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller was set to open Nov. 4 and then be released  3 weeks later via VOD (video on demand) to 2 sample cities, Portland and Atlanta where people could pay $59 to see it at home.

Do you see something wrong here?

Without debating the worth of that particular movie, except to say Eddie Murphy movies have flopped for the last 10 years, the thing here is this:  The theater owners were afraid that could cut into their ticket sales. Most big movies last at least 3 weeks in theaters.

And would you be willing to pay $59 for any movie 3 weeks after it's released rather than wait for a few more weeks to buy it at $9.95?

So the studios now have backed off and everyone is still unhappy because sales are dropping steadily. And studios wonder how they can bring back those heady days of VHS again, this time with the internet being another big gorilla in the room.

There are two things that I can see; first the studios oversold their movies and in doing so made movies less important. Up until the mid 90's movies were still a big-ticket item, they were special and you would go to see movies in theaters.

By putting movies into any store that had a counter, I think that it made movies less special. You can buy a movie and corn flakes at the same store.  And Red Box was renting the for $1. And movies lost their magic.

And secondly, we have a generation that's used to getting things for free (except anything from Apple whose mark-up is outrageous) and that includes movies.

What's the solution? Need I say it again? "nobody knows....

But there's another side to the movie problem... but that's for the next blog.

Monday, October 10, 2011

How great is great?

A relatively unknown man named Ralph Steinman died from pancreatic cancer three days before he could receive the Nobel Prize for medicine, shared with two partners. Coincidentally he was Canadian. The irony is that he never learned that he would be receiving the Nobel Prize.

What he did is discover the dendritic cell which his fellow scientists say has greatly enhanced how the body's immune system works and has paved the way for cancer treatments and other diseases. Not a cure, but something that will bring a cure closer.

A few days later, Steve Jobs also died of pancreatric cancer and the world watched endless hours of tributes and millions of tweets from the man who gave us the MacIntosh,  iPod, iPhone and iPad and how much he contributed to the world.

No, I'm not going to trash Jobs, he did not deserve to die so young and he was one of a kind. But I think that now, in the next week or so, we'll begin to see editorials and letters about his failings  and I guess it's inevitable that such a huge reaction will be followed by those who will bring out his almost draconian corporate rules, his revenge against those who opposed him and the poor condition of the Chinese factory workers, 10 of them who leapt to their death because of harsh work conditions.

But I found it interesting how pancreatic cancer involved both of them, the scientist  who was and trying to find a cure and one of the  innovators of the personal computer who created products to entertain us.

So yes, I just got tired of the constant coverage of Jobs,  yes, he was brilliant. But so was Steinman and he got a quarter of a page for one day.

The interesting thing about Steinman, is that after he got pancreatic cancer, he chose to become a test tube for any kind of treatment that was available for study. Since he was dying, he figured he'd continue his study of immunity as far as his body would let him. He was also named co-recipient of the $500,00 Albany Medical Center Prize, the largest award in medicine in the U.S.

Watching the Jobs coverage I wonder where our values are now. What's more important; a cure for cancer or an iPod that plays 15,000 songs.  I guess it depends on one's values.

Jobs was responsible for opening up the world to some extent for the blind and deaf, but he wasn't the innovator nor the only computer manufacturer to do so. And as far as the iPod, Sony came out with the Walkman in 1980 and it was a major change in that one could carry a small portable cassette player with them all the time. With earphones too.

So why all the attention for Jobs?

Well, first of all we now have more media coverage of everything than ever in the history of the world. Something happens in Uzbekastan and we hear about it immediately, that is if it has a good  hook. As the old news saying goes, "if it bleeds, it leads". When I worked in TV news, both as writer, cameraman and soundman, I learned early that news was when something bad happened to someone.

But we now have, thanks to Jobs and Gates and all the others, the ability to instantly tell the world what we feel. And it's infectious; one starts and then another and then millions and pretty soon it's a movement and everyone wants to be included.

And so what Jobs helped create was also the reason that the outpouring of tributes and messages in the millions took place. Remember that Americans in the west didn't know that Abraham Lincoln was president for almost 2 months.

When Michael Jackson died, his family and the world mourned the "greatest entertainer ever". Was he the greatest? Nobody really knows as most of our perceptions are based on the values we have now, the world is a little smaller and to some, everything's been done. All we're doing is refining it.

Did Michael change the world? Not as much the Beatles did. They literally changed the world, people began to dress like them, more bands than ever in history were formed by teenagers, including me and long hair... well it's still a style today.

But the world again rained tributes and messages to them and to each other. A celebration of being part of something big.

So consider that the media, mostly TV and internet and newspapers, now run 24 hours and thus need content. So when someone important, or mildly important dies, they jump on it and try to find family, friends or anyone who they can interview in their "breaking news". Jobs was a natural, a California boy and he did change his world, primarily that of how to listen to music and extending the idea of a laptop into the iPad.

Steinman got a short mention as did his 2 partners, for their research. They didn't appear on CNN or MSNBC or ABC or any of the news shows. CNN seemed to run almost 24 hours of Jobs and in the LA Times today an article talks about "a world without Jobs".

So who's the guy above with lightning in his hands?

Nikola Tesla was arguably the 20th century's greatest genius and most people have never heard of him. Among his amazing inventions was invented A/C power, you know, that outlet on the wall that you plug your computer and your TV and your radio and your refrigerator into. Where would Jobs be without Tesla. Or us?

The LA Times had a headline Saturday that read "What will the world do now that Steve Jobs is gone?"

Well, it will continue. Genius is unique, and he had that. But genius isn't all that uncommon. When Alexander Bell was developing the telephone there were at least a dozen others who were working on their telephone at the same time. Bell never patented his telephone until his father-in-law actually went to the patent office and had it patented.

Two hours later another inventor came in to patent his phone, similar to Bell's. But it was too late. Had Bell not got his phone patented,  he would never had the recognition he has to this day. Bell is a common word now.

Genius comes and goes, and there's always someone else out there who has the next great idea and there's also some scientist who sits for hours in a cramped lab somewhere who will also come up with one more advance in medicine, influenced by Steinman and probably listening to his iPod.

For the record, I have 4 computers, 2 Dell laptops and 2 Mac's (although one is ancient). And an iPod.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My oldest student

I met Morrie Ludwig when he took a screenwriting class I taught at UCLA extension back around 2003-04. My classes were online rather than classroom and I found this method far better than giving a lecture and then having a student read some of their pages in a 2-hour frame.

While it meant more work, which ultimately was the reason I left after nearly 3 years as it began to interfere with my projects and at $180 week hardly covered the hours I spent.  One of the differences between classroom and online was that online I was always available to the students, 24/7 as they say. Classroom instructors interacted with their students 2 hours a week.

I spent a lot of time talking to students through email almost every day and had the habit of writing a lot of notes and comments, which I would post on my course page. Students would also post their work for me and for other students to comment on. I still feel this method is much better than classroom in spite of the workload.

Eventually the workload became too much, especially after one semester where I had 15 completed screenplays anywhere from 70 to 130 pages in length. As I tended to give initial notes of anywhere from 4 to 8 pages, it took me a full week to write those notes and taking entire days. It just wasn't worth it anymore.

But back to Morrie. 

He first emailed me that he was having trouble with the online application. It wouldn't accept his birthdate. I wasn't sure what he meant but was surprised to find out the reason.

Morrie was born in 1912 and the computerized application refused to acknowledge the date.

He was 91 years old.

We exchanged emails several times during the first week of the course and then I found out something else about Morrie. He was born in Manitoba within about a hundred and fifty miles from where I was born.

Both of us left Manitoba at the age of 12 as well. I moved with my family to Southern Ontario and Morrie left for San Francisco. Our emails began to talk about our lives, me in my early 50's and he at 91. I found out his wife had passed away and he had always wanted to write a screenplay so he took my course.

Morrie had already written a screenplay on his own, a golf story. And it was pretty good. My course was about writing a new screenplay and he was ready. As the months passed, Morrie moved to Los Angeles to be with some family as he was alone up north. That's when we decided to meet.

I chose the perfect restaurant, Musso and Frank's, which opened in 1919. Known for the movie stars, writers and other celebrities over the years, the restaurant still hangs on to it's traditions and going there is stepping back into history.

We hit it off perfectly, each told stories about our upbringing and started a friendship that would carry on for 3 years. He took one more class and then decided that was enough but by then he moved to a senior development where he bought a very nice 2-bedroom home overlooking an open green space.

I would drive to Palm Desert every two months or so and we would make dinner for his brother and his wife as well as his 75-year old niece who begged him not to reveal her age to her 70-year old former bandleader.

For me it was a time of listening to stories about big bands, adventures and old friends as I sat and listened. Morrie had maculer degeneration in his eyes but he could still fire off a handful of golfballs to within a few feet of the hole from 20 feet away. "It's the feel, not the eyes", he would tell me.

And he wasn't above flirting with a lovely barmaid in Palm Springs, or any woman for that matter. And as I was by far the youngest person around, I got a lot of attention from the ladies in their 80's and 90's. One even showed me her nude painting done when she was thirty.

On one of my trips to my home town in Manitoba, I took a side trip to where Murray grew up to the age of 12. It was an empty field and a stone monument stood near the gravel road.  No cars passed and only a few cows watched me for a moment or two.

This was Bender Hamlet where he was born. It was founded in 1906 and a small group of Jewish settlers attempted to work the land. Unfortunately the land was very poor and rocky and they struggled until many left for Winnipeg. There was no real indication that anyone had every lived there now, just the wind and the rushing sound of poplar tree leaves.

Morrie had funded the plaque back in the 1970's and it still stood there in perfect condition.  I had taken a Sears catalog I found and took a handful of popular leaves as well as some prairie flowers and pressed them in the thick catalog.

Months after I gave the leaves and flowers to Morrie and tears began to fall. He hugged me and said "thank-you". Poplar trees are in the aspen family and their leaves have a distinctive sound that anyone who grew up on the prairies immediately recognized.  It may sound kind of dorky, but it's real.

Later my brother visited Morrie with his family and Morrie again was the gracious host. He even had an "affair" with a lovely woman in her 70's, which he described to me in detail.

As things happen, I went home to Canada for Christmas and when I returned and called Morrie, his phone number was gone. He had passed away at the age of 93, peacefully in his sleep.

Last year, I visited Bender Hamlet again and walked the empty fields while the popular leaves shimmered and sparkled and remembered my friend. A car drove off the road and onto the field, it was a young couple and not knowing I knew who put the plaque up, told me the story that people heard, about a man who paid for the plaque because he was born there. They thought he was famous, because he came from California and they liked that he was born around here.

Then they drove off and left me alone, only the cows watched.

 As we get older, things that didn't mean much when we were young seem to matter more now and the passing of friends and even the sound of leaves seem to be more important than they used to be. I miss Morrie but have a treasure of stories to remember.

You can see a very short video of Morrie by going to Materials and clicking on "Morrie".

Or try this link;

Monday, October 3, 2011

Re-inventing boomers or like anyone under 30 needs to hear this

Last night I dropped by a restaurant here in Sherman Oaks called Corky's. It's one of those classic 60's places like Norm's, huge meals for decent prices and photos of the valley on the wall going back to the 1930's.

I was there to hear a friend of mine sing in the bar which itself was classic. There were a handful of people there, a guy at the bar and definitely a 60's or 70's feel to it. You'd almost expect Jim Garner as Rockford enter to get info from a con man.

My friend was also the lead actress in Ghostkeeper way back in 1980. She never really sang until last year, never even imagined singing. Even her ex-husband was surprised. Like most of us she had her ups and downs and managed to raise her daughter and send her through school after the divorce. She also teaches yoga.

In her late 50's, she would qualify for that almost new word reinvention that's being used more and more as boomers age. Just to qualify it, boomers are that age group born from 1946 to 1964, meaning the oldest ones are 65 and the youngest are around 47.

So what about writers? 

I posted this question on the WGA writer's website, not the official one, but a separate website only accessed if you're WGA. I got 3 replies.

Out of at least several hundred writers. 


Does that mean 99% of WGA writers are under 46? No, it means either they don't care or they don't want to bring it up. More writers than you think have short careers, some with one screenplay to their credit. How does one reinvent themselves when all they do is write.

I've often said that much of my survival in this business was due to the fact I was experienced in making films, filming, editing, sound and other aspects. I'm still doing this and at present have a pilot for a half-hour travel series unlike anything out there so far.

I did the pilot myself, along with a friend, filming in Nevada and then editing it. You've probably seen the 5 minute trailer for it, it's on the list on the left side of this blog. I've also just finished the novelization of Emperor of Mars and hope to have it on Amazon in the next few weeks.

And I'm considering a book on screenwriting. Isn't that what you do when you don't have a real job? Like we need another book on screenwriting?

Why not?

Mine would be based on my UCLA lectures as well as probably some of this blog that deals with writers and writing. And it wasn't my idea, okay, so don't start on the ego thing, this is more the practical thing.


Nobody's buying my screenplays right now, Christmas Carole is on hold until probably next year as 3 companies say they want to make it, the trouble is that Hallmark has it's quota of Christmas scripts this year with deal from Larry Levinson, who brings movies in cheaper than anyone else.

The only other markets have specific topics; Lifetime only wants true woman-in-jeopardy stories, ABC Family wants family stories featuring the next Hannah Montana.

But it gets better and worse. Better for boomers and worse for under 30's. Several studies show that a significant amount of under 30's are found to be unreliable and not much interested in jobs. Not all of them, okay, but a significant amount.

As a young comedian said on Letterman when he found difficulty in finding a job, "it was obvious that my parents hadn't told the world how brilliant I was".

Bummer, huh?

I remember my grandfather, who at 67 spent his days staring out the window until he finally died. Boomers seem to want to hang onto youth no matter what it takes. Employers find they can use retired boomers for less money and can count on them doing the job.

And then there's Andy Rooney from 60 Minutes who finally retired last night from his weekly short clips. He was 92 and wasn't stopping writing, just quitting the show.

So I guess I'm still a bit away from being a Walmart greeter, but I'm practicing the smile just in case.