Monday, November 25, 2013

The Stooges and me...

 It's that time of the year again and hundreds of people are preparing for Saturday, November 30th. I and some friends will be gathering at the Alex theater for none other than the 16th "Three Stooges Big Screen Event".

We're not talking about Lady Gaga (whose costumes often feel inspired by the Stooges) nor bad comedians like Dane Clark... nor Iggy Pop and the Stooges.

 We're talking about the real 3 Stooges.

I haven't attended each event but at least half of them and always enjoyed it. So what happens at the 16th annual Stooge event?

First of all, the event draws fans from everywhere and even women show up, more each
year. There's an issue about women here; it's mostly accepted that the Stooges are for men while women shake their heads and wonder what the attraction is.

I've always said that there are two things women dislike; air conditioning in a car and the 3 Stooges. Their quota of eye gouges and banging heads together just isn't their piece of pie. BUT in recent years women began showing up in larger numbers and when the host asks for the traditional "Woo, woo, woo" (a Curly expression), the women's side is often louder than the men as they proudly shout out.

It all began the the Stooges black & white short films that played in my hometown when Ii was about 8. These were mostly with Shemp rather than Curly. Curly, the bald one, is everyone's favorite (audiences felt for him as he was always the one picked on and the one who was more innocent). Believe me, there is a lot of psychology to what the Stooges did.

Later when I moved to the city I saw Curly for the first time and he was my favorite. Living across the river from Detroit, I watched Stooges three times a day and even my younger brother became a fan.

The Stooges were the remnants of the vaudeville entertainers who worked the circuits of theaters across America, this was mostly before movies but even after movies began there was always the vaudeville entertainers.

The entertainment was always pretty raw, pretty girls, jokes and slapstick which included slapping, tripping and anything else that looked dangerous.

The Stooges were also considered not as artistic as Chaplin or Buster Keaton who were truly experimenting in film. But the Stooges managed to keep going year after year and produced hundreds of short films that were shown before the movie in theaters everywhere.

Then, around the late 1950's, they resurfaced as TV began to show the Stooges among a dozen or so other forgotten vaudeville entertainers. And that's where a new fan base occured - us baby boomers.

I have gone to all four graves of the 3 Stooges here in LA. They were Moe, who had the moptop haircut, Larry, with long curly hair and then Curly and Shemp, who were brothers. Shemp replaced Curly after he passed away early in life.

My brother always said that everything you needed to know about life, you could find in a 3
stooges short film. They were always looking for a job and they made fun of the rich. They even mocked Hitler in one of their shorts.

It was a rite of passage for most of my friends, we all loved the Stooges because in some ways, they expressed a lot of what real life would become for us, looking for work, making mistakes, trying our hardest and just finding a place for our world. 

The Stooges continue to entertain people in 2013 and all over the world. I know a woman from Guatamala who watched the Stooges in her country, not needed to understand the language, the Stooges visual language was and still is universal. She said her mother used to call her Larry, after her own curly hair.

And here's
a photo here where my brother and I duplicated a scene from a Stooge film in which Larry carries up an ice block up a long stairway. We discovered the real stairway and it looked pretty much the same as back in the 1940's.

So, I'm looking forward to another shot of my childhood that stayed with me. I'm a true "knucklehead" as we're known.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Where was I?

I'm going off the track today as far as the movie business. 50 years ago today in 1963, President John Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas. As with most of the world, I remember where I was. 

For me, I was in high school, Grade 9 I think, and we were just finishing a boy's gym class when someone came in and told our gym teacher, Mr. Riberdy something. He then proceeded to tell us that the President was dead.

I have to point out that I lived in Canada, but across the River lay Detroit, you know, the Motor City. And being so close to America, we felt it just as strong. But later I would discover that the whole world felt it, all the way from a Texas city called Dallas.

I entered the 1960's with hope and excitement, having moved in 1959 to Windsor, Ontario, which sat ironically south of Detroit. It was piece of Canada that was actually south of the United States.

My gym teacher also said that JFK was shot because he was Catholic. Remember this was 1963 and JFK was the first Catholic president ever and there was a lot of flack from the Christians who were afraid of having a president who would have to listen to the Pope. Naturally this was ridiculous but in those days... it wasn't. And since I was Catholic and attended Catholic schools, it was particularly close.

I remember being in a fog for the next few days and when he was buried, my local grocery store put black paper over it's windows. Canada was just as affected, being that it was and still is, the closest country to the U.S.A, both in location and in our hearts.

It took a long time to figure out what happened that day, it was a shooting, but it was so much more. JFK promised a bright future for America and the world, he started the Peace Corp and didn't go to war with Russia.

What happened was a loss of innocence. The 1950's were, at least to me as a kid, the best time. We were the baby boomers, born between 1946 to 1964. Our generation had it easier than any other proceeding us.  We grew up on TV and movies and went to school (unlike a lot of our parents), we had homes, schools, families and everything else and nothing seemed to worry us. 

But after JFK the world changed. Vietnam came and 50,000 Americans died. Four students at Kent State University in Ohio were shot dead by National Guardsmen and others wounded while protesting the war. There were marches on Washington to stop the war, with the largest being around 2 million people from all walks of life. 2,000,000 people.

Then I got involved in politics when I joined Students For a Democratic Society, or SDS as it was often called and was quite involved with stopping the war.   In 1968 I went to Indianapolis to work for Bobby Kennedy in his quest to become President. I ended up in a bad area near downtown where I went from house to house getting African Americans to register to vote.

I was amazed at the reception I got, me with a sportcoat and tie and very Canadian... they treated me incredibly well and they truly had a love for RFK. And I saw the American political machine at work, which impressed me big time. And yes, I shook his hand, even with Colonel Sander's chicken on it. Bobby was shot in L.A. a month or so after I worked with so many others only to see another death.

Then Martin Luther King was shot and killed and in some odd coincidence, a rock concert at Altamont near San Francisco with the Rolling Stones ended when a concert-goer was killed by Hell's Angels. I say coincidence because Altamont finished the 60's with a bang.

After that I joined the Trudeau campaign in Canada, for Pierre Trudeau, a colorful and masterful politican who had the youth vote and was, to my mind, the best leader of our country that we ever had.

So the 1960's started with a boom but ended with a darkness that still haunts this country. The 70's brought us disco, which seemed more like an apology to Americans but turned out to be a fad.

So today, I'll take a moment to remember that day in my high school gym and try to balance all the hours that will contain tons of words about that day and about what it meant. 

For me, it was my first acknowledgement of adult life and what it could take from me and how it still weighs in my heart and what could have been.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Maybe a sale... or not?

I had a message left on my phone Friday,  posted around 1pm but never noticed it until around 4pm. Message was simple enough, someone wanted to "talk" to me about my script. He gave a name and a company.

Those are the kind of calls a writer likes to hear. 

Someone wants to talk about my script. At first it sounds great. "Talk" is akin to buy? For a moment, I went back to my Christmas movie in 2010 wherein a woman left a message for me and actually saying; "we'd like to make a deal, who do we talk to".

That was plain and clear and within a few days the contract was signed. And the movie was made 4 months later. I actually have kept that message on my answering machine and now and then press it again "we'd like to make a deal..."

So why shouldn't I be happy about this new one? Because they "want to talk with me" about the script. Not buy -- talk. 

Now my friends say that no company is going to call me to say they don't want the script. So why am I expecting the worst.

Well, for one, I don't know which script they mean; I have a half-dozen circulating around town. But that'll be easy to know once I call back today.

And for another reason to be uncertain can be told in 3 words. Emperor of Mars. The screenplay I wrote in 1989 and was "almost made" 4 or 5 times. And each time it started with "we'd like to talk to you about your script".

So, now you understand? 

Talking and buying are two different things.

I know, I know, some of you out there would be happy to have someone call who wants to talk to you, or take you to lunch or have you wash their car.

That's the problem with experience. You get dropped too many times and after a while you begin to be more suspicious than ever. Being dropped 2 or 3 times is hurtful but how about a hundred times, or two hundred times.

So what else would they want, if not an outright sale? How about these possibilities?
- What else do you have?
- Can you do a free rewrite?
- We don't have a lot of money, can we have it for free?
- Can you change it to Romania?
- We have someone else in mind to rewrite it.
- Can we put another name on it as well as yours?

That's the insecurity of being around as long as I have.

After all, after around 50 or so screenplays I've written and dozens of others that I never finished, I begin to think I really don't deserve it.

Actors are the only others in this business who go through the insecurity thing;  writers and actors are always judged on what they bring to the table, actors bring their face, writers bring their 100 pages of story.

So here I am, Monday, wondering exactly what time I should call back. I checked the producer and he is valid but I'm not sure what his company was as it was a little blurred in the message.

So there I am... I figure 10am is a good time. Or does that suggest I'm too anxious? Maybe 10:30.

Stay tuned....

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Envelope... and money

Last week the LA Times started it's oscar race by putting out their own special addition to their paper called The Envelope. As in the Academy Award.

It's all about who's gonna win, who might, why they win, how they win and most importantly how many ads will actors, writers, directors, studios and anybody else with a horse in the race spend money.

And as usual; it's all about the actors.

Today's cover features Michael McConaughey once again with his movie Dallas Buyers Clubs. It also has the "Buzzmeter"which gives us some insight into who's being talked about in the circles that count. There's "the odds", for gamblers, what are the odds against who might win or lose.

There's articles about who's hot and who's not, who's out of rehab, who's in rehab, how actors lives are changed and how great Hollywood is. 

But there any articles on writers? 

I've never seen one but then I rarely read it. After all most people think actors make up their dialog. Really.

Yesterday I went to see Robert Redford's movie, All Is Lost, and got in for free with my WGA card. This is also the time that 20 or 30 movies want your vote and thus members of WGA, DGA and SAG get to see them for free.

But since I'm a nice guy and they're letting me in for free, I buy popcorn and a coffee or that rare soft drink (Dr. Pepper if available).

While WGA is for anyone in WGA, the studios do control the numbers of SAG (actors union) which has thousands of members. Only voting committee SAG members and only directors in DGA (this excludes assistant directors and other below the line members).

WGA members also get free DVDS delivered to our door as do DGA directors. The DVD comes with warnings that if you give the DVD to anyone, your wife or dad or dog... you will be destroyed. WGA is less paranoid.

To be honest, I rarely open the weekly Envelope, mostly because it's all about ads and stories about actors I really don't care for. Also it's information that's pretty much been passed around since January 2013.

They're even advertising movies that haven't opened yet, like Tom Hank's Saving Mr. Banks, about how Walt Disney saved Mary Poppins. It'll open soon as well as several movies that won't be in big release until January.  This is so they can qualify for Academy Awards which requires they be shown in at least one theater for one week before the end of the year.

I had my own experience with this when my old friend Phil Borsos and I took our little barrel-making short to L.A. in 1976 and had a theater play it for one week to qualify. It's not really difficult, for our short was played at the end of the last movie playing at the Los Feliz theater. We'd wait till the projectionist played it and rewound it and we'd take it back to the motel. It eventually was a finalist.

So the season begins, not Christmas, the money-spending ads that the studios will pay to win that golden statue.  "And the award goes to..."  $$$$$$.

Merry Christmas

Monday, November 11, 2013

Everything old is new again again.

Lately I've been watching ME-TV, a local L.A. channel that broadcasts old TV shows from the late 1950's to the late 1960's. Shows like Ironsides, Rockford Files, Gunsmoke, Rawhide and lots of others. These were the shows the boomer generation watched as kids. Boomers, for those who don't know were born from 1946 to 1964 and represented the "baby boom" after WW11 when the soldiers came home.

A lot of my generation always talked about the great old TV series we had then and great ideas and stars.

But watching lots of these old shows, I have to admit some of them weren't very good at all. And I find it hard to watch the hour-long shows of the good series. After a while, I watch only a handful and even there just one or two.

And it also came to me that our generation has watched more movies and TV shows than any other generation in history. Of course we started watching TV in the mid 50's for most of the country (U.S. and Canada). We also watched old movies a lot, in fact my little town theater played movies that were made 20 years before I started to see movies.

Still, there were a lot of plotlines and ideas that spilled out and by now, we've seen almost every idea there ever was. The studios are even making remakes and sequels for the new generation of movies and TV shows we watched as kids.

And they now are coming back -- for the newer generations.

Lately there was an Ironsides sequel but was cancelled and Law & Order is a remake of an old series called Arrest & Trial. And when it comes to movies, how about remakes and sequels from Star Wars, Star Trek, Superman, Batman and on and on...

That's why many of my generation will say that most of the new stuff is crap. I don't think it's crap, they're made much better in terms of production values although you can't beat a good black & white movie from the 1940's. Casablanca anyone?

But there is a lot of "crap" out there now, but there always was a lot of "crap" back in the late 50's onwards. 

We had a new wave of filmmakers that came up from film schools in the late 60's, Coppola and Lucas and Spielberg and Scorceses and Milius and a lot of others. And a lot of them are still working.

So what about the latest generation; the millennials.

They certainly aren't as great as that film school group, in fact barely even able to make anything new. Their stories seem to revolve around going back to that home town to find that girl/guy who dumped them. You should watch Scorcese's Mean Streets to see a great "first film". 

He did one previous but Mean Streets is his best. He had DeNiro and Keitel and a couple other great actors.

And that's also where millennials fail... their cast. Millennial actors just don't seem to have that presence of form that the previous generations seemed to have. It just isn't there. Maybe it was because the 50's movies were written by people who experienced World War 11 and boomers dealing with assassinations of great men and Vietnam.

Maybe the millennials never experienced anything else than iPhones and texting instead of talking. 

And they rarely, if ever, watch old movies the way we did. Maybe because it was new to us and they grow up with 500 channels. 

A good example of bad and good is a series on Me-TV is "Wanted: Dead or Alive" about a western bounty hunter (bounty hunters would hunt down criminals; they still do now). It was a typical TV western, shot on a studio lot and most of the stories weren't very good but it had Steve McQueen (not the director now) and McQueen had something that millennial actors don't seem to have. And he could carry the show.

Carrying the show means simply, that with his presence people would watch. The boomer actors seemed to have much more presence, and it makes up for a bad script or a poor movie.  Notice CSI has a boomer lead actor, there's also Tom Selleck in another TV show. In fact you'll see a boomer lead in most TV shows except for CW stuff.

They're there for the boomer audience of course, but they're also there because they can carry the show.  Except for CW whose ratings are always at the bottom even though it's made for millennials.

Go figure.

Anyways, just a piece of history for around 40% of you who regularly read this blog.

And don't feel bad, because we boomers had lots of bad movies.


Friday, November 8, 2013

The week-end... writing.

There was one good thing about this week; I began writing the screenplay my director friend and the actor who suggested it. I held off for a long time, several weeks, not sure of exactly how to write it.

Stories I write for myself are generally easier to write then having to write for someone else. I think that most of the produced screenplays I've written were assignments. The catch there is that I'm writing with a specific goal and story.

Sometimes I don't like the story.

And that's when it comes to two things; do I write anything and take the money or do I try to find something in the story given to me that I can catch onto, something that appeals to at least one aspect of the story.

It all sounds easy to non-writers, ya write down words and get paid for it, what's the problem?

The problem is that some writers, like me, really want to find the "truth" in a screenplay, something to hold onto in order to create a reasonably coherent story. 

And that's where this new story enters; it's based on an idea the actor has and it took me a good three weeks to find something to hang onto it. And during that time, I was not a pleasant person to hang around with...

Because it nags at you, sort of like you forgot to turn the TV off when you go out of town. And then there's the avoiding the computer. I sometimes just to to my iMac and begin doing some video editing on a project that's been stalled for at least 5 years.

Then Wednesday, I got up and wrote on my PC laptop. 4 pages. A weak start and an uncertain one. Then I put it away. Later in the day I forced myself to look at the four pages and figured it's not too bad. I would write more Thursday.

Thursday came and I wrote more. And it began to have something to it. Not great, not yet, but it could work.

So today, after emails and phone calls, I am going to try a few more pages. The week-end is not for work so I'll have two days to mull it over. And Monday is a new start.

I hope.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Meryl, Julia and the beards and Ben...

A few blogs ago I mentioned my oscar contenders, both men and women. There were enough men but only two possible female contenders; Bullock for Gravity and Kate Blanchette for Jasmine.

But as of today, a whole slew arose, and in one movie; The movie is August: Osage County.
And battling it out will be Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. Should be interesting. But that's only four women. Maybe Mary Steenburgen for the routine comedy Last Vegas but maybe someone else in the fall.

Then there are the beards;

I didn't really catch on to the male beard thing; was it Ben Afflec in Argo? All of a sudden a lot of young male actors have sported beards. Even my friend's son attempted to create a beard and since he's a millennial, I realized this must be "trending". I even noticed it today when I took my car in for an oil change and walked home. A millennial passed me on his trendy bike and he too had a beard.

Everything old is new again goes the saying.

Nobody seems to know where that saying came from, there are a few possibilities but nobody in particular except for Peter Allen, who was a famous Australian song writer back in the 80's.

So what's so new about beards?

It was a big thing back in the hairy 70's and even had me with a beard when I was working on a TV news film crew. Hard to believe I had that much hair. I don't really remember why I grew a beard, I think it was simply because I didn't want to shave and the TV station allowed me to grow one. Even my then-wife Brenda didn't mind it, calling me "Beardsley".

It once got me past some security people who were handling Jane Fonda who refused to
have an interview or photos from the media. It was mostly because I looked like most of the guys in her entourage.  And here's one of about 90 pics I took of her in appropriate anti-establishment clothes and that great hair from Klute. She was quite cooperative and very nice as they say. 

Another aspect of beards was skiing which offered the "frozen beard" which, at the top of the mountain was soft but by the bottom it was a forest of icicles and it burned against the skin.

So, beards are back. Although since I noticed it, the trenders are off to another trend by now.

Now that I've said a Monday blog, I can get to work. All of this was the final stalling before I start that screenplay.