Monday, January 30, 2012

The Elite Left Wing Media

I rarely comment on politics online as I found that engaging with unknown forum wackos often solves no real problems. And while I'm considered a moderate liberal in Canada, I probably am Left Wing in the U.S. Which gives you an idea of how liberal Canada is even though we have a Conservative Prime Minister, who's politics would compare with a moderate Democrat here in the U.S.

I worked for Bobby Kennedy back in 1968 in Indiana just a few months before he was shot and killed in Los Angeles. I was one of those kids in sport coat and tie who went house-to-house to register voters and my territory was the African-American areas of Indianapolis.

But that's another story.

I have watched most of the Republican caucaus debates with interest and objectivity, something I learned when I worked in TV News. I don't really need to dwell on the debates too much as it's pretty self-evident that the Republican Party is fractured and falling apart. Evidence of this is simple; look at who's running.

And to be fair, my Liberal party in Canada is going the same way. In fact, they lost the last election and were, for the first time, not the ruling or opposition party. We have a handful of parties in Canada, including Quebec's own party.

So I watch the debates to see what happens as the candidates go after each other with everything they can find or make up.

Then there's the Newtster.

Even his own party doesn't want him and for good reason. Look back to the Clinton years and you'll see he's not going to win anything. Even Bob Dole and Ann Coulter don't like him, not to mention a growing list of prominent Republicans.

But it didn't matter to me until Newt said this:

The Elite, liberal media.

Newt has a great way of getting people on his side, except maybe for women of whom 80% today don't like him. And I'm sure you know why.

The "media" has been taking heat, primarily from Conservatives, but I hear it everyday how the news media is so bad. Is there too much media? Probably. But there's too many tablet books, too many types of cell phones, too many channels on TV, etc. etc.

I worked in the news media, first as a TV news writer, then as a film crew who went out to film the news (not video-- film).

The first thing about "news" is this; it's not always good. The saying goes "if an airplane takes off from LA to Chicago and lands, that's not news. If it takes off from LA to Chicago and crashes -- that's news."

But - as far as bias, no, that's not the rule. Most news media go for as much objectivity as they can and that's where Newt and his kind don't like it. They don't note Fox News because it is biased - to them. It's practically the media arm of right-wing Republicans.

And Newt knows that if he says something about the elite, liberal media, that his audience will applaud and he will get off having to answer a pertinent question that the media asked. I give this to Newt, he's a lot smarter than his supporters.

I have a test that I offer to people who differ with my objectivity theory. I will challenge anyone to watch the network news shows at 6:30pm every day with Brian Williams and the other two and tell me what they say that is biased.

Well, so far nobody has taken the challenge, one person did but after ten minutes he walked out.

I agree that some of the news is way too sensational and even dumb, but biased; for the most part no,  they really do try to get the story objectively. I don't like how they sensationalize storys, especially murders and other crimes.

But without them, where would we be. Who would be our voices?

Probably none of you remember Edward R. Murrow, the legendary TV news personality of the 1950's. Actually I don't remember him either. It was during the McCarthy hearings where a sociopathic politician named Joe McCarthy was accusing hundreds of Americans, including actors and writers and directors, of being communists.

And this led to many of them going to jail, leaving the country and even being blacklisted for years afterwards.

Murrow would broadcast from CBS and detailed the hypocrisy and lies that McCarthy spewed and it led to a giant backlash from the public and even with congressmen who were at the hearings. In the end, it led to the crash of McCarthy and his right wing attacks at innocent people.

And there's also a great movie to see if you haven't already. It's called "Goodnight and good luck" which was Murrow's sign-off. The movie is recent, directed by George Clooney. Yes, that George Clooney.

The lesson - watch TV news with a critical eye, definitely but don't believe anyone who says they're biased, except for Fox of course.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

And the best movie is...

Well, the nominations are out and the LA Times carries it's usual Entertainment segment that's larger than all the other segments put together. Everybody will have their opinions, who should have gotten a nomination, who shouldn't have and who deserves it the most.

For the most part, it's a pretty average group of nominees, once again Meryl Streep is nominated for once again doing what she does better than any other actor in the world, and yet makes it look easy.

And she seems to live a real life as well, not the high maintenance actors who are either in re-hab or soon to be in re-hab.

But about the movies, they're still doing the 10 best for some odd reason, my favorites are two; Woody Allan's Midnight in Paris and Martin Scorceses Hugo. Both have that element that good feature movies should have; that being a genuine feeling of the story and an element that takes you into another world of fantasy where all things can happen.

On the other side is The Descendants, a favorite no doubt of George Clooney fans, of which I dare say are mostly women. I do like Clooney as well, Syriana was great, as was Good Night, Good Luck.

But The Descendants is a Hallmark TV movie, a nice movie, even admirable, but not a feature movie, more like a TV movie. Only difference is a few curse words.

So what's the difference between a TV movie and a feature. These days it's harder to tell because so many feature movies look more like episodes of Law and Order than The Verdict. But the main element is that thing that takes you into the story with powerful performances and a feeling you don't get by watching a TV movie.

And by the way, I like TV movies, in fact most of the movies I've written and re-written were TV movies, so I am not knocking them. The biggest problem for TV movies is that you are catering to specific audiences and thus, the writing tends to lower the bar for the lowest common denominator -- the least intelligent person watching.

Hallmark's credo is that anyone can enter a living room and watch a Hallmark movie without feeling awkward or uncomfortable. A few F-bombs would certainly not qualify there.

And then there's The Artist. A silent movie. A brand new silent movie. Made by a Frenchman too. I haven't seen it but my friends who did either liked it or didn't. It went from brilliant to boring. Hollywood has taken to it because it's about... us. Movie makers. Hollywood likes to slap itself on it's back, how wonderful "we" are.

I'll hold my opinion until I see it later this week.

How does one compare movies? My friend Marilyn, a film historian,  has a great bar:

How does it stand up to Bridge on The River Kwai?

Bridge on The River Kwai was movie entertainment and spectacle at the same time with some of the best performances you'll ever see. In 1958, it won 7 Oscars and a few dozen other awards.

Paris at Midnight and Hugo almost stand up to that standard, and they really are two different movies, although the element of a dreamlike fantasy runs through both. Hugo is more of a movie fan's movie while Paris is more of an intellectual movie (try watching it with an audience in a blue-collar town -- I did, my 2nd hometown).

Spielberg's War Horse is a good movie in an old fashioned way, even at his worst, Spielberg can still bring out emotion. You know, that element that doesn't include car crashes and CGI monsters.

I haven't mentioned The Help because I feel a little divided by it. Being Canadian, I have what most Canadians feel, a genuine dislike of the south. Blame it on all the movies we've seen set in the south. Remember, Canada did not have slavery, in fact England banned slavery 50 years before American wrote it's Declaration of Independence.

What would you think if your impression of the south was In The Heat Of The Night, ironically directed by Canadian Norman Jewison. And an Oscar winner with 5 wins. (Not for the director, but I have this theory that Canadian directors and actors never win Oscars).

On that note, George Lucas just released Red Tails, an action story about the legendary Tuskagee Airmen, which consisted of black fighter pilots in WW11. Lucas couldn't find any studio who would take it on, he eventually paid for it himself.

Even when he had screenings for studios, some never showed up.

This is George Lucas. How much has he made for the studios? Billions of dollars. And they wouldn't come to a screening of what is essentially an all-black cast. Lucas put in a total of $100 million dollars in both production and advertising, all of it his own money. It opened with $19 million, respectable, but not block buster.

Back to the awards. The lead actors aren't anything special, rarely are, but the supporting male actors this year are exceptional, all of them at their prime and all good. Naturally I'm hoping for Christopher Plummer, another Canadian boy in his early 80's.

And come Oscar, I will sit in front of the TV with potato chips and french-onion dip as I have for at least 40 years and watch the return of Billy Crystal.

Yeah, I know, get a life.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The future of cameras.

"Rich Lackey thinks 4K is the future, not out of necessity but because "we can sell it and fuel untold billions of dollars of business in cameras, post, data transmission and networking infrastructure, televisions, new portable devices and of course, content production. Since when has need ever really fueled consumption in the digital age."
                                                       - Digital Age Magazine

 For those who don't know 4K, it's basically a concept in digital cameras. Your basic DV camera which is now pretty much gone, was around 480 pixels (those little square dots that make up the picture) and now we have 720p which is HD and the higher amount 1080p which is the highest resolution to date and 4K meaning 4000 pixels. 

Sort of like the difference between 8mm film and Super 8 and then 16mm and 35mm. Obviously the picture at 35mm is way superior to 8mm (at least for those of you who remember 8mm).

Our movie world was fine with 35 mm as a standard for movie film and every movie you saw up until the 2000's, was most likely 35mm. It's the same film used in still cameras, both SLR and Rangefinder styles.

35mm is still being used now, many of the drama series still shoot it as do features. There are differences in both film and digital both pro and con for each format. And film will still be around for awhile.

But the point I'm getting to is this; how good does it have to be?

4K resolution is almost as good as film (and notice I said "almost"), in fact, on the screen it's almost comparable. Where digital fails is in contrast levels primarily in the blacks. Digital doesn't handle blacks as well as film does even at 4K.

Contrast is basically the difference between black and white. Film is believed to have a 1000:1 ratio while digital is much less. Thus film always wins. But digital at 4K is getting closer.

But the point of this blog was to suggest something else -- how good is good? Already actors dislike digital because it's so damn sharp and all those facial lines begin to really show up actor's facial flaws. In fact they're creating special make-up for actors to help hide them lines and imperfections.

And as the author of the quote at the top suggests, it really isn't about pixels nor 4K, it's about selling a product. Like Apple and Microsoft and thousands of other corporations, they have to continue to "upgrade" their products.

And so do the camera manufacturers. A big deal in the last few years was the introduction of the Canon 5D SLR (Single Lens Reflex camera and later to be dubbed the DSLR for Digital Single Lens Reflex camera.  And last December I saw the newer video camera replacing that Canon 5D and while you can get a 5D for around $5000, the new video camera started at $10,000 with no lens!

And then Canon is now introducing the new version of the 5D.

There's just too many damn cameras.

When I began shooting film around 1970, we only used film of course, but a person could buy a camera and keep it for the rest of their life! 

No upgrade, no new technology, no plastic casing.

And you could still shoot with it, even today in 2012. My favorite was the Arriflex 16mm BL and you can see that in the photo I used a few blogs ago.

It's a beautiful camera, still good in 2012 and still being used now and then through-out the world.

There were a handful of different film cameras, Beaulieu, CP 16, Auricon, Bolex and Eclair were 16mm. Arriflex had both 16 and 35 and the Eclair also had a 16/35mm camera. I saw someone using an Eclair NPR a year ago. This is me with a Bolex back in the 70's.

The Godfather of all film cameras was probably the Panavision camera, which is only available as a rental.

But there's another issue as well, something besides the constant upgrades we are required to make to our song list and cameras...

And that's the story.

You know, that thing where actors pretend to be other people.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Concept of Copyright

Whenever you write anything, be it a sentence or a screenplay or a book, it is copyrighted. You don't have to pay to have it copyrighted and you don't have to do anything. It just happens.

Well, sort of. (there's always a "sort of") 

For example, if you sell a screenplay to a U.S. studio, they will inevitably sneak in a clause that says they own the copyright. In perpetuity. Throughout the known Universe. Really.

So what happened to that copyright that you own? You give it up by selling the screenplay. Hollywood learned a long time ago to grab up everything. A clause in their contracts says "work for hire" and just like that you lose your copyright.

Most other countries, like Canada, simply don't allow transfer of copyright.

But they try. 

I had a meeting over Christmas with a cable company representative in Calgary. It was about the video footage I got on Georgie Collins, an actress, now 86, who played a role in Ghostkeeper. I edited a version of it, 13 minutes long, and it can be seen on Youtube by clicking on Georgie under Materials in this blog.

I had thought about extending the Georgie video as she talks about her early years as a child and eventually going into the acting profession. She is the Grand Dame of Drama in Alberta and I thought I could extend the video to 30 minutes as a tribute to her.

I was turned down by some broadcasters but then had an opportunity to have it shown on a local cable station. A "cable station" in Canada is a specific channel that provides a full-scale broadcast studio for anyone who wants to put on a local show, gardening, local events, anything.

It's also known as a "local access channel".  It's there because the government makes them have this local access in exchange for allowing the broadcaster to sell his 150 regular channels.

The representative was very excited about this possibility (and yes, he did say he was "excited). My friend who introduced us thought this would be good too. I figured that while it's not a real broadcaster in the sense of TV shows and drama, it's more for someone who wants to do something in their neighborhood. Still an audience is an audience and right now nobody else wants Georgie's tribute.

Then, after a couple of weeks, an email arrived and they were still excited, and offered their needs and wants and --- copyright of the finished product.

It is customary to sell a program to television by license, in that you license them to have a certain amount of broadcasts (also referred to as plays) under specific rules.

I had suspected that they would ask for it for free, as they rarely pay for anything but I wasn't expecting a copyright issue.

Suddenly the game changed. I could not, nor would not give away any aspect of copyright for many reasons. My copyright on Ghostkeeper means that I own it. By giving away the copyright as is often done in the U.S. , I lose that right.

Meaning that the local access channel could say they own several minutes of Ghostkeeper. And that would make it very difficult to sell Ghostkeeper or any parts of it. In fact, impossible.

I emailed a few friends, all of whom agreed that giving copyright to the cable company was not going to happen. Rather a licence could be agreed on, giving very minimal and specific rights for a certain period of time. After all they're getting the Georgie video and specific scenes from Ghostkeeper itself, for nothing except a licence.

Say, they can show it 20 times over a period of 1 year. Local access/cable channels often repeat shows so that's a realistic start. Oh, and no copyright.

What this is about for me is Georgie. She is a wonderful lady and a great actress and at 86, more than worthy of a tribute and it's not right for her to be caught in a copyright catfight, in fact nobody knows this except me, 3 references, my friend and the very nice access representative. And you.

I sent the email today but the rep is out of town so I'll hear from him Friday or next week. And just in case, I'm making a few other calls, there might be someone out there in Alberta who wants to honor their homegrown star.

BTW the cable company that I'm dealing with made $1.2 billion in 2011 and paid $24 million to it's former CEO Jim Shaw.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Jim the cameraman

I'm off today to shoot interviews with the nephew of Raoul Walsh, a Hollywood director considered one of the top directors in town in his day. Walsh directed movies with Bogart (High Sierra), Errol Flynn (Objective Burma), Alan Ladd (Saskatchewan), Clark Gable and many others. While never considered the level of the great independants like Ford and Huston, Walsh did somewhere around 140 movies in his lifetime and is considered one of the best studio directors of his era.

I'm doing this as a favor to a director friend and also to the woman who recently wrote a book on Walsh, published last year. She hopes to compile this into a documentary to supplement the book.

Today I get a chance to visit his home in Simi Valley as well as shoot the interview with his nephew. It's also an opportunity to shoot some HD finally as I can now edit it in my newer version of Final Cut Pro. 

Pretty uneventful, but I'll have a longer blog Wednesday.

And just to show you I know  y way around cameras, here's a pic that's at least a hundred years old... at least I think that's me... with hair!!

BTW that's my favorite camera, an Arriflex BL 16mm, a work of art.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

How it all started

It all begins somewhere.

I passed a guy hammering a nail into a wood plywood board yesterday. I was riding my bike in Sherman Oaks near the library on Moorpark when I heard the distinctive sound of a nail being driven into wood by a hammer. It's a sound you rarely hear today, yet it's as common as it was since the hammer was created.

For some reason, it caught my attention, even as cars sped by. It took a beat or two before I realized something. That sound brought back to the house my dad built in Windsor, almost 40 years ago. It brought  back a flood of memories, last summer I drove past the house which was well kept and still the same and probably with a few owners by this time.

My father wasn't as whimsical as me; he said that "a house is a house, when you're dead and gone it doesn't remember you." So much for that.

Just for your information, hammers go back at least to 30,000 bc, stone hammers go back even further. Nails have been with us at least since the Roman Period.

And it still looks the same. No upgrades here, except maybe that machine gun-like hammer that shoots nails. But there's something else that came to me yesterday, actually two things;

First, the sound of a nail being hammered in goes back at least 3000 years, maybe even more. And secondly, it's the beginning of something; a house, a garage, a war shield and many other things.

And what about writing?

Writing began to show up around 4000 bc in Mesopotania and was created for keeping track of numbers, as in 50 sheaves of wheat or 10 cows. Eventually there was need for words describing the objects rather than only the numbers. It took off over the thousands of years until now.

Like, totally, for sure, dude.

Okay, not the best example of writing.

But now we write with every type and shape of pens, pencils and computer keys and ipad surfaces.

Which brings me to the Rhodia.

I discovered the Rhodia at one of the last real office supply stores, A&B in Studio City. Unlike the big box stores, A&B has pens and pencils where you can buy one, not 10. It's a classic mom & pop store on Ventura and is rarely crowded. But it's the kind of place where you can buy one envelope or a hundred, and it has more pens and pencils than any Staples.

And you even get to try them out on small 2x2-inch sheets of white paper.

And that's where I found the Rhodia.

It's an upscale pencil and costs almost $2 for one. You can buy 10 pencils at Staples for the same price. But they're not Rhodias.

I didn't know anything about Rhodia pencils until I hunted around on the internet and discovered a world I never knew. Pencil fanatics with forums where they compare, discuss and argue.

The Rhodia pencil is a pale orange with black details, made in France and just finely made.  The designers of this pencil went so far as to dye the wood black, so that the pencil is absolutely and completely black and orange.

It's tip is cut by a knife rather than a pencil sharpener. How's that?
So, does it perform better than a dime pencil? I can't really tell, but holding it and using it seems to make me feel like it's really something special. But somehow, along with the nail being hammered into wood, the idea of holding a wood pencil again brings me back to the past and a time when the world was a bigger place.

And a 12-year old who had a crush on his teacher and learned how to write by using a pencil.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The rewards of writing.

What a wonderful surprise and Christmas present ,Jim.  I was totally taken aback, ELATED,OVERWHELMED, DELIGHTED, etc. etc. to receive  your book and dedication to me. This is the greatest reward  I  have received in my lifetime.  I had many rewards and a lot of fun while teaching, but this topped everything. Everyone is so excited for me.

First of all, no, I didn't write that, and since there might be non-believers, hard to believe, let's make it one specific non-believer, this was written by my Grade 6 teacher, who always inspired and encouraged me.

The novelization of Emperor of Mars was dedicated to her.

The book has been out now a little over two weeks and unfortunately was too late for the Christmas sales. I could have kept it back till next Christmas but I decided to put it out now. It's on Amazon, Kindle and Nook, and Amazon in Canada.

So why is it dedicated to her?

Because she is a big part of the book. I've told you it's a story based on my life as a 12-year old (not all that interesting) and a true-story character who called himself the Emperor of Mars (much more interesting).

Put them together and you have a book. Or rather a book based on a true story. Or a book based on a true story based on a screenplay.

I've said this before, but EOM (the business loves to use letters rather than titles) was written as a screenplay in 1989 and almost made into a movie 5 times. It was the screenplay that got me into every studio in town. Every one. They loved it. Steve Teisch, producer of Forrest Gump loved it. 

But nobody wanted to make it. They considered me for other writing assignments, and I got a handful or so but nobody wanted to make it. 

One reason was that "it had no star role". Meaning no big role that a star would want, after all it was about a boy. You can say that Stand By Me had no stars, but they had Stephen King's story and Rob Reiner, entrenched into the Hollywood world.

The 5 "almosts" were indie producers,  the 1st attempt was an option that eventually expired, the second had an oscar-winning director (honest) and financing fell through, the 3rd was an option again, the fourth was the closest,  I was director and had done locations when the dreaded call came.

Finally it was with 2 producers from Calgary who did an award-winning western with Robert Duvall. They lost interest eventually because, as with most Canadian producers, they really don't want to look for money, they want someone to give them the money so they can spend it.

I had friend who suggested I novelize the screenplay and put it on Amazon which published books for anyone, sort of like "vanity publishing" but at no cost. Then a former UCLA student told me of his success with a book. In 3 years he made over $15,000. He also showed me how to do it.

So I got a graphic artist to design the cover and a tech to help format and upload the book. It took almost 2 months to write as I didn't plunge right into it. By last December it was ready.

The teacher was one of those who suddenly appear into your life, she was around 18, and in the late 1950's, typical of many teachers who took a 1 year teaching course. Everything about her was spectacular to a kid of 12, I couldn't wait to get to school and just be around her.

In later years I would come back to Manitoba and often see her again. I remember sitting in her home and drinking scotch. Then she moved and I lost track of her. We met again at a 100 year anniversary of the little town I lived in and reconnected with email.

Some time ago, she emailed that she faced a serious health problem, and in her words "wouldn't go without a fight". I emailed with another student, a woman who became a politician in Canada, herself inspired by our teacher. We kept in touch over a year, hoping for the best until the politician emailed to say our teacher was back home and in better health.

Three weeks ago I mailed her the first copy of the book and wasn't sure what she would think. Her response is what you read at the heading, except for her very nice words about my writing abilities and that she hopes we meet again soon.

If anyone wonders why anyone would want to write for a living, I think this is at least half of it. 

The other half is because it's the only thing I know how to do well besides shooting film and video and some darn good photography.


Friday, January 6, 2012

Airplanes, schedules & being behind

Finally made it back to Sherman Oaks, where the temperature was 87F, as compared to around 38F in the foothills of the Rockies in Alberta. And 38F was good, as usually it's in the double digit minus temps.

Spending the last 2 days getting ready for what looks like a busy spring in which I will attempt to write another novelization, 2 spec screenplays, a budget for Ghostkeeper 2 that reflects some new technology that will lessen the expenses, and maybe, a screenwriting book based on my UCLA lectures.

Yeah, I know, like we need another book on screenwriting? Well, mine's gonna be different. And written by someone who has actual produced credits.

All of that should happen before April.

Monday begins the year for Badland Company, I hope many of you stick around.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Still here

Been running around in Calgary and today, Banff and Lake Louise where I had a mini-reunion with Ghostkeeper. Traveling now and will be back and ready for 2012 with an interesting proposition and some new leads.

Usually don't get this far behind but I'll be back in form Wednesday, Jan 4th.