Monday, April 30, 2018

What do you do when you're waiting

A non-writer brought up something the other day that warrants mentioning. What exactly do we do while we wait for answers from the investors, potential investors and everybody else I have contacted who take their time getting back to me.

It's an awkward time as some days, in fact most, I really don't have much to do as there's only so much to do at this stage. This is one of the most important lessons I've learned in the film business and it's simply this:

Don't ever count on one thing.

You're always waiting in this business, and the more you need it, the longer it seems to take. You wait for someone to read your screenplay, you wait for the notes, you wait for the contract and you wait for the money.

So what do I do?

For one thing I have at a couple of other projects with serious interest. They are:

  •  Emperor of Mars has been optioned at least 6 times, of which I can actually show you the option. But right now, isn't. So I wait for that one. If you want, you can see the book I wrote. Actually I wrote the book after the 6 other options. I also get a note or two from the producers who still want to make it. Never say no.  The closest it came to was back around 2004, to be shot in Canada. I was director also and was suddenly off because two money people argued and one left. No more money.
  • Chaser also is still on an aption now. It was also optioned 3 times and again, occasionally call me. It's a script to be shot in France. They've had it for 6 years.
  • Side by Side is a screenplay that has been read a lot of times and has had one director who wants to make it and keeps looking for the money people. Had them almost once.
  And I still have at least 20 screenplays I wrote that remain on my shelf, unproduced, waiting for someone. 

Sounds like a lot, right? Some writers I know, even experienced ones have one screenplay. And they are totally depending on that one script to make them a career.

It could happen. Maybe.

But the one consistent lesson I learned is to never count on just one thing.  Because sure as hell, your project is going to fall through and there you are... lost and adrift. There's nothing worse than pinning your hopes on that one big thing and then it falls through.

This has happened to me more than I care to remember, probably 75% of the time. I've done 18 movies but have seen at least 50 projects fall through in the last 30 years, probably more. Everything from small no-budget movies to bigger ones and TV series and documentaries. 
And as my friend Paul Lynch says, I'm in the top 10% of writers who have had projects made. Some get lucky with one movie and then struggle to get another one and never get another shot.

So even as I work on my new screenplay, I have a handful of other projects that I show around, like the four I mentioned above and a few others. And I get feel-good emails fromm the horror cult film that took only 35 years to be "culted".  I also have that distributor who took Ghoskeeper and created a 30th year DVD copy with extras. And I forgot, but I also have a Ghostkeeper screenplay also floating around the world.

I guess if you wait long enough, someone will say something nice about you.

A lot of writers don't have an interest in every element of filmmaking, they're happy with writing the script and taking the money and leave. I started in TV news and went on to work in every aspect of the business and thus often surprise myself at what I know.

And of course at what I don't know.

In spite of what anyone might think, the business hasn't changed that much since it started way back in the 1900's. Kids still come to Hollywood to be stars, dreams are realized and dreams are lost. There hasn't been a year that's gone by when someone hasn't said  "this is the worst year ever".

And while I have several projects turning around in mid-air I realize the difference between writers and everyone else.

They all have to wait to get a job.

I don't. 

Why? Because I can always write a screenplay.  In fact well over 50 if you count the TV pilots and animation and episodic shows.  Everyone else, actors, directors, crew, caterers, teamsters, everyone has to be hired before they can work.

And that's the beauty of writing. Writers can produce a product without anyone else helping, there's no factory, no tools to buy (well, a computer but everyone has that), no licenses, no displays.  No employees. Not even travel time to work. It takes me a dozen steps to go to work.

But not all writers are like that.

A lot of them couldn't write a spec screenplay without being hired. Mostly TV writers, but some feature writers also. I was always surprised by this, but a lot of them have to wait with the other crew to be hired.

What's the difference?

Motivation. Some writers are motivated more than others. That goes for everyone, not just film people. I'm motivated most of the time,  I get at least 2 or 3 ideas a day, ideas that usually fade by evening. Some of them stick around.

So what's the catch? 

I haven't made a dollar from any of the above. Well, not really, because I got options for all of those above. Emperor of Mars gave me around $8,000 from options. 
But there was something else I had, particularly in Canada. Canada gives writers grants. Both novels or books and screenplays. You wanna know how much I got in the last 20 years? Emperor of Mars gave me around $13,000. But that's Canada.

So I can write, but I might not sell my idea or script. In fact I can almost guarantee I won't sell it. But someone might just get interested. It happened with Travel Day, where this blog of the same name, can happen with something else.

 This is what you have to do to get funding from Canada.  Just kidding, they've helped me and other writers alive during the hard times.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

About producers

Years ago, a real estate salesman met me at a party and asked me this; what does it take to be a movie producer? Turns out he had always wanted to be a producer but didn't quite know how to go about it as he lived in a small eastern city. My answer was simple. It's easy.

Find me $2 million dollars and you automatically become a producer.

He laughed and said it couldn't be that easy. But I wasn't joking. All you really need to know to become a producer, is how to find money. Everything else you need to know you'll find out soon enough as the money comes in... or it doesn't. 

There's contracts, and budgets and schedules and casting sessions, but all of that can be learned as you go, really. A producer's prime talent is the ability to raise money and that means someone who could sell swampland to anyone. You need to be able to convince people to give you money. 

Does that sound too much like a used car salesman? Or a new car salesman?

Sure does. And yes, there are a lot of those kinds of producers around. Not as much as there used to be, but enough. Because you have to sell a product that hasn't been made yet. It's like you paying for a house that hasn't been built or a car that has only been designed on paper. And the worst part of a movie is that it might turn out bad. And you lose all your money. At least a house being built will still be a house when it's done, flaws and all. But a bad movie goes to bad movie heaven and is never seen again.

I've had my share of those kind of producers, some raised money for me, some didn't. One quality many of them had was that they were charmers.  But that doesn't necessarily mean they're the only ones. 

There's another kind of producer, someone like me. We aren't especially charmers and we hate asking for money because we're way too honest to say that our movie will be the greatest ever. These are the passionate ones. That's a word I don't always like to use because it's become a common term for producers to use. And it has become a cliche you hear on late-night talk shows. 

What it really means is that we care. We care about our story, about our cast, our crew, and especially about our investors. And that gives us a slight disadvantage over the used car salesmen. We are brutally honest. And in spite of that we still get movies made.

Some years ago, an accountant approached me and proudly stated he had taken a career test that determined what kind of job he should have. It cost $300 for him to find out that he was qualified to be a movie producer. Now he was waiting for someone to hire him. 

Hire him? 

I told him he's hired. Now go find me $2 million. 

He didn't understand, where was his huge salary and the girls and the private jet? I suggested if he find me the $2 million, I would give him a rental car for 6 months. Subcompact. Needless to say, I explained what a producer's job is, that he finds the money, not me.  He wasn't so sure about that, he'd never asked anyone for money, he assumed it just came from somewhere.

He then asked me if I'd ever taken a career test to find out what I was qualified for. I replied that the last thing I wanted to know was the job I was qualified for.  Most likely a Walmart greeter.

So you see, it's not really hard to be a producer. Sure, I joke about it, but it really is that simple. If you can sell a newspaper subscription to a mall shopper then you can find money for a movie. You can start with your own bank account, then go to your friends, your neighbors and then strangers and in a few weeks have enough to make a movie. Granted, it'll probably be a small movie. 

Like Paranormal Activities. Made for $15,000 and it has now grossed over $100 million. After watching it, I wondered where he spend the money on; it's essentially 2 actors in the director's house for nearly 2 hours. Must have had great catering.

And one more thing you need if you're the used car salesman type or the passionate type. 


You never give up. Never.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Catching up...

Sorry to get behind, I'm beginning to create an online screenwriter course which is quite similar as my UCLA courses. It's going to be a little different but I look forward to be able to actually have contact with my students.

My blog will remain, as most of you know, it started in 2009 and the start date was November 25, 2009. I'll put the first blog tomorrow, 2018.  The pic above could look at a screenwriting course or a pack of writers for a TV series.

I'll post the first blog tomorrow.  And back to business.


Friday, April 20, 2018

Guess who's teaching

Guess who's going to teach screenwriting?

And how about one of my favorite movies with Gable and Doris Day. I used to carry a photo of her in my wallet (a kid's wallet). Got into a fight with another kid in school when he grabbed my photo of her. My favorite teacher pulled us apart. Don't nobody rag on my Doris.

And yes, I will be teaching 2018-19 I think. 

The movie had Doris Day teaching newspaper work and Gable sneaked in to see what she was about. 

 Also is one of the best "buddy" character actor Gig Young, who made a lifetime playing the lead actor's buddy. Nobody was as good as Gig. 

By the way the movie was in black and white.  1958

I'll be teaching "on-line".

 And my Doris is still alive, living in Caramel CA!

And yes, I tried to find her too.

No luck

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Lost in Space 1965 vs Lost in Space 2018

Just caught a few episodes of Lost In Space 2018 on netflix. It's pretty good, although I have a few things that don't seem to work that well. The photo above is the 1965 version of the same characters. The first season was black and white as not everybody had a color TV.

Yes, there were still lots of people who had black and white TV's, my family did. But we laughed at sitcoms and dramas and cops and everything you see now, only with different faces. Well, actually the same faces. Seems they hire actors to look like other actors.

The 1965 Robinson family above was the entire crew. And as then, there were no other colors on series TV. The series was one of a batch of was supposed to set off on a five-year mission to explore a distant planet, but an act of sabotage by the scheming Dr. Zachary Smith -- who managed to get himself trapped aboard the spaceship -- leaves them adrift in space for three years. 

The Robinsons, pilot Don West, Dr. Smith and their trusty robot move from planet to planet, always searching for a way to return to Earth. This is the 1965 version

The new version is actually pretty much the same, but with special effects that surpassed anything that the old series did. Special effects were not even close to what's now.

Here's the new 2018 version

I watched the new version; well, 3 episodes on how to get out of a cave.  I have to say the old show had a better idea, basically because there's too much tech and not much for humans. 

And darker.

Oh, and of course, the wife is considering divorce. How many times have we heard that. And a new person, an African american young girl who replaces the second girl of the family. And these young kids seem to have superpowers and know more than the average

But the biggest part is Parker Posey, a favorite b-movie actress. She is the most interesting person in the series, older than the kids of course - and replaces the male actor Johnathan Harris, a slimy secretive person who wonder is here for. Parker takes Harris's part and makes it good. Or is that bad?

You can catch some of the 1965 shows on youtube.

Monday, April 16, 2018

A Different life

Screenwriters live a different life than most people, even actors and directors and crews aren't the same as us. For one reason that I often quote to aspiring writers and to anyone else who will listen is that we are the only ones in the film business that don't have to have a job in order to write. You might include producers but let's not.

What I mean is this; we have the chance of getting hired by a producer to write a completely new screenplay or get hired to do rewrites on someone else's screenplay. 

But there's another shot at getting a movie made.

And it's free.

Yes, that book cover is my book on screenwriting. I didn't mention the back cover. Didn't want to put too much of me in it.

Writers are the only ones who can write a "spec" screenplay (or script, same thing) on their own. Why write something without getting paid? Well, half of my original screenplays that were produced were spec scripts. In other words I wrote them by myself without getting a penny for them but then managed to sell them and get made. A dozen or so were bought but never made however.

Yeah, that happens. Usually all you get is a small amount, since it didn't get made so you get anything from $500 to scale around $5000.

I've got a stack of these specs that I wrote that number around 30 and I know very few other writers who have that many. There are probably more, but I don't know them. 

Why do I take that chance of writing a script that maybe nobody will want?

For one thing I get to write it exactly how I want without a producer poking their nose into my story and telling me too change something on this page or that page. Of course when they buy it they will tell me to change stuff but at least that first draft is mine.

You never know.

And besides, what else should I be doing when I'm waiting for someone to buy another one of my scripts? One of my past agents said that he loved telling producers that "Jim is one of the few writers who likes to write."

I'm not exactly sure that I like to write, but more like I have to write. The alternative is to sit and wait for the phone to ring or watch a lot of Netflix movies that someone else wrote.

I do other things than write, however, I'm working on that doc you probably read a few months ago, the 90-year old pilot from WW11 in the Pacific campaign. My experience with cameras and editing also allows me to do shorts as well as around 40 youtube videos. Not to mention a few hundred commercials I wrote, produced and directed. And three movies I wrote and directed.

In that sense, I'm more a filmmaker than a screenwriter.

Then there's credits.

Probably all of you know about, the British service that has become the equal of the NSA in that they know way too much about all of us writers and actors and directors.  Over a period of ten years or so imdb has become the source to find out about anything in the film business.  And that includes your age, which, if you're over 40 (some say 30) you stand a chance to lose a job.

And one thing in particular that can praise you or kill you.

And that is credits. Credits are gold. They can get you a job or lose it.

For those few who don't know what credits are, it's simple; Your name on a movie or TV show and how new it is or how old it is.

My example; my last credit was for The Town That Christmas Forgot. Now I am just at the end of my shot as a working writer unless I get a new credit. Fast. Credits are God, the more the better and the more recent the better. On this one, I discovered another name on my script. 

It was someone on the crew who wrote a few scenes. I called Writer's Guild and his name disappeared.

And if you haven't had any in 3 or 4 years, everyone is going to think you're finished. Even if you have a few screenplays optioned as I have. And all they have to do is go to imdb and check on me. 

Imdb has made a few mistakes in my credits and I have attempted several times to have it corrected but they're like Google, they don't bother. Ever try to get an answer from them?

So, what's left is the fact that we still can work, even if nobody's hired us. I converted my Emperor of Mars screenplay into a book and finished a book on screenwriting this year, while finishing a screenplay for an actor and director.

So I'm not complaining.

But a lot of other people are; and that's the thousands of film crews who are losing jobs to tax credits given out by other states and Canada. But that's another blog.

And that guy with white hair is my English buddy and he also writes and acts. 


Friday, April 13, 2018

Everything Old is new

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 the same over again. 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" way back to silent movies. 

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.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A Stooge Week-end

Well, I made it to the Annual Stoogefest again and had a nice evening at a great old theater filled with 3 Stooges fans of every shape, color and age group. The "Alex" was built in 1925 and played vaudeville acts as well as silent films. 

Now, it's been completely redone in it's original style and looks great.

The Stooge event begins with a host to talks about the Stooges and later, introduces several family members including Moe's daughter. Moe was the one with the crewcut for those of you who aren't stooge fans.

This year held a surprise when they announced that someone found a print of a Stooge film in Australia that had never been seen since a big fire at MGM years ago. It seemed that someone in Australia had kept a copy in his basement and finally decided to see if anyone wanted the print. It's biggest feature was that it was shot in color way back in 1933 and now, the only print of that era. Here's my friend Tom in front and my brother Dave on the famous steps.

When it came to the audience, as I mentioned, every kind of person and almost every age group. There are the hardline Stooge fans who call themselves Stooge-files and there's the "Knuckleheads", who belong to the Knucklehead club of course.

There were five shots played as usual and with some comments beforehand as sometimes the shorts had what we could call "insensitive" to certain groups.

And as for me, I'm just one of the many people who like to drop by now and then to bring back memories of the little movie theater I would go to in my small town of 539 people. Our theater was a revised church hall that became my lifeline living in a small town with very little to do. My brother says that all he learned in life was from the Stooges.

From the movies, I learned about the world and also learned about who made the movies. I would always watch the titles and credits and began to remember names of people who wrote the movies, directed the movies and everyone else whose name was on the screen from casting to make-up and everything in between...

Here's my rag-tag movie theater now gone forever as it was torn down in 1988.

As you can see, the Alex is a little more flamboyant than my old theater. But it still gave me movies to watch and with them, the 3 Stooges.


Monday, April 9, 2018

Having written for around 30 years or so (who counts after that many years?) I seem to be getting more ideas than ever for a screenplay.  My latest one came when I watched consumers storming big box stores and malls for special sales. I had to return a suitcase to Macy's and thought I'd drive by the Fashion Square Mall near me to return it.

But it was not to be, the streets were blocked off as though a hurricane was coming and traffic cops were everywhere. And it was all for the mall traffic. Needless to say I turned around and went home.

But on the way back, I started thinking about Black Friday. I'm always looking for a holiday movie for Hallmark or Lifetime, and I thought that maybe a movie called Black Friday could work. It would be about four or five people who have adventures in a shopping mall on that big day.

But then Black Friday was a great title for a horror movie too. Maybe even better than a family movie for Hallmark.

I thought it over for the rest of the day, bouncing each idea around and trying to imagine what kind of story I could write, and for which idea.

By Saturday, I was focused on the mall idea, and with green screen and CGI, it could be made for those mini-budgets that Hallmark deals with. You wouldn't need a thousand extras, you could create them on computers.

But the dark side of me was also pushing the horror film. My first movie, Ghostkeeper, was a horror movie, although it could be labeled as a "supernatural thriller". There wasn't really a lot of horror in it because I'm not the kind of person who wants to see people being cut up.

And that brought me back to the nice Black Friday. A friend suggested I see that Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Jingle All The Way (remember that one?) where Arnold fights for a special toy for his son.  Maybe I could still make the family version.

But by Sunday both ideas started to look lame, the horror movie definitely not what I wanted to write and the family one was too much about money and buying stuff, and I didn't think that was particularly inspiring either. 

By the end of the day I dropped both ideas and this morning put them into my files for projects that might be resurrected, or maybe not.

But then there was that mall cop movie with Kevin James, but it didn't do much business.

But then I remembered a screenplay I read that was written by Sam Peckinpah, the great screenwriter and director whose movie The Wild Bunch, is a classic. He had written a screenplay about someone locked in a department store all night and was being terrorized by an unknown presence that seemed to be hunting him. 

Well, that's not a horror film completely, it's more "Hitchcockian" as they say. Suspense. I could write a suspense movie. 

Maybe you'll get that idea? It's yours.

I'll see how I feel Monday. 

Friday, April 6, 2018

Taking jobs away

One of the topics our little group discuss over Sunday breakfasts at the Figtree restaurant on the beach in Venice, is the subject of jobs. Not necessarily for us but for the country.

Having grown up across from Detroit and with lots of relatives in Detroit, I know all too well how hard hit Detroit is, their unemployment rate is around 15% while the reality is closer to 35% if you discount the suburbs.

I've always said that many jobs have simply disappeared, never to return no matter who's President.

Take my book, Emperor, it took 2 people to get it published. There was one formatting expert who will cost me around $150 and a graphic artist who has cost me $250. She did the front and back covers I posted a week ago.

And that's it.

My director friend Malcom has a background in publishing and graphics and he figured that I just took jobs away from around 20 people. Now this would be pre-computer era. All those people, typesetters, readers and more.

So 18 jobs have disappeared. Never to come back.

And how about this; I'm doing a favor for a friend in a week or two. She has written books on directors and wants to interview a handful of older actors who worked with the director in question.

Since my background is camerawork, mostly film but lots of still photography also, I said I could help her out. I would film the interviews and then edit them into whatever she needed.

Here's who was left out:

An assistant cameraperson
A soundperson
A lighting person
The processing lab
The counterperson at the lab
An editor
A colorist
An effects person (titles, fades, dissolves, etc.)

How's that. 8 jobs lost.

I can do all of those jobs now with digital cameras (I will rent one for about $150/day) as well as a wireless microphone ($35/day), a reflector and maybe a light ($50), tape/memory card ($50) and lunch.

When I finish, I will take the video to my iMac where I  have Final Cut Pro, used by many feature and TV editors who prefer it to Avid, the industry standard. I learned FCP when I had comp courses at UCLA when I taught screenwriting extension classes.

In short, I can do it all.

Of course, the argument is; is this a good thing? If you're an editor looking for work, it probably isn't. Or a cameraperson.

And of course, there's the often repeated saying; "the good news is that everyone can make a movie, the bad news is that everyone can make a movie".

If this is what's going on in the film business, if I can literally make a movie for free, what does it speak for every job in the country.

Fresh & Easy, a British food store has locations in L.A. and they don't have cashiers at all, it's all scanners. Ralph's has 6 scanners in Sherman Oaks. Robots are making cars and work more efficiently and better than humans.

Where are these jobs Republicans are claiming to have if they're elected? Trickle down does not work as we've seen, and they're mostly delusional. Or just lying.  A politician lying?

The American worker hit his/her peak in 1973, meaning that was the moment when the average worker made the most money, say when a dollar was worth a dollar. It went downhill from then.

And American industry peaked in 1979. That was when America had it's highest level of industry, everyone was working. And that went downhill steadily too. A lot of experts say that industry is no longer driving America, now it's consumers.

Neither of these ever came back, there were spikes now and then but as of 2010 it was 65 cents.

So how can consumers drive the economy if there's so much unemployment (average is just around 9% but doesn't include those who stopped looking, and that's more like 15%)?

I think that as population increased, there are simply more people who can buy things. Go by Fashion Square here in Sherman  Oaks, yesterday there was a half a block of traffic going into the Mall and Macy's in particular.

Go figure? Who are these people? While unemployment is high, I can only think that there are enough people (and sales) that they continue to drive the economy.

And of course, I told you often that of the alleged 10,000 writers in WGA that only 1500 or so are actually working.

So don't complain to me.

And there's always "The Singularity". You know, when computers take over completely. Just like Terminator.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018


On a little departure, but still within the film business, I'd like to bring in a debate that my friends and I have quite often.
Why are movies now so bad -- or are they? 
First, this analogy, I saw an ad in today's LA Times for the new Audi. What does a car have to do with movies? Well, look at the car. Yes, it's a pretty car, and the reviews remark on it's "fresh design". But is it really fresh.
To be honest, it looks a lot like every other car today. 
Can't they come up with a really new radical design? Or have they just run out of ideas for anything new. Have they seen every possible design for a new car. Is there nothing left? 
And you know where this is going.
Movies, TV, music. Have we reached the point where there's nothing new left? Being of the aging baby boomer species we often agree that simply, we have seen every kind of plot, every twist and every idea ever used in a movie or TV show. I started attending movies at the age of 8, which means I have had exposure over 56 years of watching stories unfold on every type of screen.
But ironically, I hear this from younger people, especially those under 30, like the kids who attended a Ghostkeeper screening. In a dialog after the screening they  mostly agreed that the product coming out now was simply not very good.  And that's one of the reasons they came to see Ghostkeeper, and all the other obscure movies.
For the record, Ghostkeeper is not a great movie, there are flaws in it, but the ambience of the movie and the feeling is what really worked.
But have we run out of ideas?
Look at the spat of movies this year, remakes, sequels and crude comedies.
There is the argument that today's young writers who grew up in  the mean streets of suburban shopping malls and vacations to Hawaii have no stories to tell. One of the stories they seem to favor is this; 
Young man returns to his home town to find old girlfriend and a distant father ends up with his dog dying. 
That is a movie. I saw it. Now consider this one: 
Young man returns to home to come to terms with sick dad and has to deal with the wealthy life he left behind. And sleeps with his brother's girlfriend. 
Both ideas sound the same. Except for one thing. The first movie came and went, the second went on to become a classic movie.
It was called 5 Easy Pieces and starred Jack Nicholson. I don't remember the name of the actor in the first one.
So what's different? It's the same question as where are the great actors of today. Most of the leading men in their 30's are just not very interesting now, compared with the past. One feminist referred to the Leos and Brads and Eds were nothing more than "little lesbians". Oddly enough women actors are much more evident, better and have more presence than the young male actors who are more eye candy than having presence.
I'd take Cate Blanchett over Ryan Gosling anyday. He has no attraction at all, but who's left? And he's even Canadian!!
Another element is that the writers before me and up to my generation came from hard times, wars and a generational change that still influences the world today. You get a lot of stories if you've been in war, Rod Serling was in war and most of his stories dealt with the oddities he saw.
Is it fair to compare timeframes when debating this; maybe, maybe not. There are exceptions; movies that are unique, or movies that simply take your breath away. Avatar was a spectacular movie but the screenplay was pure 1970's. And movies like Winter Bone are simple yet moving.
And not all movies from the 1940's to 1970's were good, there were a lot of good ones, but also a lot more bad ones. It's just that the good ones now are average and the bad ones really bad.
What do you think?

Monday, April 2, 2018

Presence - not the thing you buy.

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.

Some time ago 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 older. 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 movie, we could have movies again featuring a young Gene Hackman, Sean Connery, Kirk Douglas, Joan Crawford, Bogart, 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.Way better than the Bond we have now.

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?