Thursday, May 30, 2013

When it works and when not

Fell a little behind this week, got an excellent start on my heart screenplay last week and plowed through 40 pages this week, that is until today --

-- Nothing today. I'm staring at the screen and nothing's coming to me. Maybe it was because I got up too early, due to someone playing music at 1:30am somewhere. One little thing like that can upset the day for a writer, as simple as it sounds.

But I've learned that it will come back, maybe later after a nap, or even tomorrow. 

And still waiting for the screenwriter's books that I'll pass around to some of the local bookstores as well as to some online sites that hopefully will read it and say it's not bad. 

Also scanned Amazon Studios, which have already started work on a few TV series and movies. Amazing how that happened so quickly...  maybe a blog on this, maybe tomorrow. It's all about content.

It's gonna be mid 90's today and not a good day to ride a bike but director friend Paul Lynch is coming by for lunch so hopefully after that I can get working on the heart script.

Guess you could call this a "writer's block", just goes to prove it happens to everyone of us.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Week-ender - a short history of where I live...

I happen to live in Sherman Oaks, which is in the "valley" as they say.  That refers to the San Fernando Valley, which has several of these little cities within it's boundaries. It's on the other side of the Santa Monica Mountains and tends to be hotter than the Los Angeles basin, which is where Santa Monica is, and Hollywood. North Hollywood is across the mountains and is very different than Hollywood.

As you know "Hollywood" is a hundred or more small towns that eventually got swallowed by the city of Los Angeles and are now part of L.A. County. There are oddities as well; Hollywood proper has LA police and fire while Glendale and Pasadena have their own police and fire depts. Santa Monica has it's own police and fire but Brentwood is part of L.A. Beverly Hills also has it's own police.

Area codes are the big thing here, 310 is the most desireable as it's in the west side of L.A. where life is pretty good, 818 where I live is not bad, but not as cool as 310. 323 is mostly Los Angeles itself and is tied with 818.  Anything else doesn't matter except there are 1o more area codes in LA county.

These area codes are judged; 310's look down at 818's who look down on 323 and so on. 310 is alleged to have more movie stars and executives but the studios are pretty much spread out over 818 and 310. Desirable places depend on how much money you have. The really rich are in 310 although West Hollywood has a huge gay population. 818 has some rich but mostly a mix of illegal Hispanics and people who don't like the Hollywood side of the mountains.

Then there's Sherman Oaks.

It's a small city of 52,000 and a mix of homes and apartment buildings and most importantly is --- s.o.b.

Now before you think it's a bad thing it's not; s.o.b. refers to an expression in Sherman Oaks used by those who live there -- it stands for South of The Boulevard

The boulevard in question is the famous and infamous Ventura Boulevard which crosses the San Fernando valley. Sherman Oaks sits almost in the middle with it's back against those same Santa Monica mountains. And Beverly Hills is on the other side so a little bit of it stretches over to Sherman Oaks.

The term s.o.b. refers to the fact that south of Ventura, the homes are a little nicer, there's mountains and hills and narrow curved streets. James Dean lived two blocks from where I live now and other actors live and hang around here and nearby Studio City. I always describe it as exactly as it sounds. And it is.

Sherman Oaks is really a neighborhood place, every kind of store or restaurant or cafe or movie theater that you'd ever need. And most of it is within a few blocks. People are friendly and crime is low.  Once someone robbed a donut shop and at least 6 police cars showed up within minutes. You don't see that in Compton.

The strangest thing though, is how I came to choose it when I moved here. I had friends who lived in "the Oaks" . I found a great place and have never moved. But then I read a magazine article about where actors, writers, directors and producers lived.

It turned out that writers lived in Sherman Oaks, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills. They tended to drive old Mustangs or SUV's, dress in levi's or khaki's and a whole bunch of other things.

So much for individuality?

But at least it's not 323.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Before I write...

A lot of people think writers just start writing their story and probably some of them do. However, for me, it can take weeks or months or even years before I finally get to any particular story. Sometimes maybe less than a week.

Last week I started on a new screenplay, a political thriller. I had part of the idea way back in 2005 but didn't have the story right. Then last fall, I was watching a TV show and something came up in the story that hit me like the proverbial brick.

I had the second half of the story.

And because of the complexity of the story involving politics, heart transplants, action and other elements, it required a lot of research. As I was finalizing my book on screenwriting, I began looking for stories or events that would fit into my screenplay. 

But the book began to have problems, primarily with the createspace people who work for Amazon. They said we had flaws in our book file and we said they had the problem. This began to take all my time, calling them, showing them files. As of now it seems all has been solved, but I won't believe it until I see the proof copy on Wednesday. 

I finally had some time and realized I could also began the new screenplay and I began research with the intention of starting the story immediately. The research included watching political movies, West Wing episodes and anything revolving heart transplants. 

I called ULCA Cardiology and asked to meet some of their transplant people and they agreed to let me meet and talk with them. This was invaluable as I could ask almost any question I could think of. The three people were friendly and helpful. 

I also saw a new way of heart transplant transportation, rather than placing the donor heart on ice, which lasted for 6-8 hours, this new unit actually makes the heart beat, you can see it beating in a metal case about the size of a suitcase. It's really neat.

Then I watched more movies, of which some helped me, others didn't do a thing. That's the problem, you never know what can help. I also found screenplays of doctor shows and movies on the internet and printed up some of them.

Then I did a "beat sheet"which is a collection of "moments" in the screenplay and eventually, in the movie. I could write "he's reluctant to help" or "she knows a secret entrance", things like that. I wrote  seven pages of beats and rewrote, changing some, adding new ones and taking old beats away.

This took a week in itself.

But finally, on last Thursday I sat down and wrote five pages and they looked good. On Friday I wrote five more and they looked good. I don't usually write on week-ends so I focused more on the WW11 documentary I'm working on with my 89-year old former pilot and his stories of flying in the Pacific war back in 1944.

So now, today, I'm hoping to write another five pages. That's how it goes for me, no writer writes the same as another, some write a page a day, some write all night, others write two pages, there's no real rule.

So now, I am back to writing after a long absence, not including the TV pilot I wrote a few weeks ago. And I'm coming up with the same excuses starting; I should do the dishes, maybe water the plants, check email.... 

It's never easy even when it's easy...

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Projector - or How I Got The Movie Bug.

A few weeks ago the major movie studios announced that they are not going to make and deliver 35mm prints of their movies to theaters in the U.S. and Canada. Instead movies now will be sent via digital means and eventually will come from "the cloud". The projectors above were similar to those used in my home town. 

There are two of them because a feature-length film of around 100 minutes wasn't one single reel. Often it took 6 reels or more, depending on the length. Each reel weighed maybe around 10 lbs.  Running was basically simple, reel 1 and reel 2 were loaded on their projector. Then when reel 1 was ending reel 2 was ready to take over . That's when the projectionist would have to shut off projector one and turn on projector two.

The trick was to never see the screen go black for even a second and thus it took a steady hand and a lot of practice. Projectors were used from the very start of the movie business and lasted just around 100 years. A pair of these projectors and a projectionist were, to my thinking, the inspiration to my love of movies. And it began with me screaming.

I was about 4 or 5 when my parents took me to see a movie, apparently because they couldn't find a babysitter. The movie was "The Living Desert", a Disney documentary about the desert.

All went well until a rattlesnake appeared on the screen, magnified to the size of a house. It seemed to leap out at me and I yelled like hell. I wanted out. My mom immediately took me out to the lobby and calmed me down. But I was not going back. No way.

Then she took me upstairs to the projection room. Since my town was pretty small, everyone knew everyone else and the projectionist, Leonard Kaminski, sat me down near the projectors and my mom went back to sit with dad. I remember some theaters used to have a room at the back of the theater with windows so moms with babies could watch a movie without having to annoy the audience. But ours didn't have that feature. 

It was wintertime and the projection room was warm and cozy and I soon became relaxed. I watched Leonard expertly switch the projectors then take the used reel of film and rewind it. It became hypnotic to me. There was the warmth from the projectors and something else.

The click-clack sound of the film going through the projector.

It was soothing and I  had the feeling that I was safe. The sound was much like the sound of a train clicking along the tracks. And I was totally mesmerized by this new world that seemed to protect me.  It was the beginning of a long friendship with those projectors and it led to a life in the movies. 

Ironically I had the chance to meet Leonard several years ago before he passed away and he remembered me just like I remembered him. I told him what I did for a living and he said he figured I would because he noticed how I studied every aspect of what he and the projectors did. Once in a while and as I was older, Leonard would let me sneak in and sit with him, with me watching the screen through a small window.

But now, the projectors are gone and many of the older theaters in small towns are having to close down due to the costs of buying digital projectors. Some small towns have used to solicit funds from the locals and many now have digital. Yet I'm sure that many don't.

And what about my theater back in northern Manitoba?

I have been assured that they have installed brand new digital projectors ready for the next kid who falls under the lure of movies. And I think Leonard, somewhere in projectionist heaven, also agrees.  

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Two guys who failed film school

Today, my friend Phil Borsos, would be 60. Phil was a totally filmmaker whose talents in filmmaking were above grade. Phil died way too early in 1995 of a type of leukemia in Vancouver. 

Phil and I met at the Banff School of Fine Arts in 1872 when my then-wife Brenda and I went there to take classes in film and photography. The course was below my knowledge as I had worked in film for 3 years already. But the whole thing was to spend 4 months in the great Canadian Rockies. He's behind the white haired lady and I'm to his left, behind the blonde. Lots of hair going there!

The school rests between sharp mountain peaks in every direction, a great place to go to school. Phil and I hit it off right from the beginning, he had art experience and I had film experience and we both helped each other make the obligatory 15 minute film. However in the class of around 15 students, Phil and I were the only ones who failed.

The instructor even suggested we not try the movie business.

But we did, I moved to Vancouver and we started a small company called Rocky Mountain Films and managed to barely find work let alone money. Phil had always wanted to make a short film about a barrel factory in the city. It made whiskey barrels as well as other types.  Somehow we gathered the money and borrowed some, got free film from the film board and processed it at night at the local lab.

The film turned out great, winning the Canadian version of an oscar for a short film as well as awards in several other countries and even ending up as a finalist for the 1976 oscars.

We made another short film called Cadillac which again won awards.

But we still had no money. Our tiny office was running with funds from my job as a night film editor at one of the TV stations and Phil's job at the film lab. We got jobs anywhere we could but finally I got an offer to work as a producer and writer and I decided to take it. 

Phil had always talked about a local bandit circa 1900, an American named Billy Miner, who was probably the first person to rob a train in Canada.  We talked about it often and kept in touch as I worked in Saskatchewan and Alberta.  

We even met in Los Angeles in 1976 to get Cooperage to run in a local theater, which was necessary if you wanted to enter it into the Academy Awards. We found a theater in the Los Feliz area and dropped off the 35mm print with the projectionist.

He would run it after the feature film and when it ended, we took it back and went to a motel. We did this 5 times and it qualified.

After that we both went in different directions but always kept in touch and even made our debut feature films in the same year. His was far better than mine, of course, but he never mentioned that. Those hungry years made both of us appreciate any achievement. 

He made several big features and was about to make another until the disease struck him. He had a touch of it a few years earlier but this time it was not going away.

I stayed at his house along with his wife Beret and their two boys, Angus and Silas and helped out where I could, mostly being with the boys. After Phil passed away I stayed for a week or so to see what else I could do and finally returned to L.A.

I miss him. We had great arguments, he was a big guy and could shout louder than me, but we always got along and had that bond of starving artists. We were going to do a few of my screenplays, he even wanted to make Emperor of Mars but it never came to be.

Phil was one of those tremendously talented people and I like to think I may have scratched off a tiny bit

I miss you buddy.