Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 364: Mukbang

We’ve all had the (pleasure?) of having someone use Instagram, Twitter or Facebook to send us an image of what they’re about to have for lunch.

Or dinner.

Or breakfast.

Or at 3:00 am after their local has closed and kicked them into the street.

It’s an affliction I’ve never quite understood.

Not long ago, I had the real pleasure of dining in a Vegas eatery operated by a noted Food Network chef. It would never have crossed my mind to instant message anybody with where I was having dinner let alone what exactly was on my plate.

Such was not the case for the party next to me, all four of whom were recording stills and video of what they’d been served like some kind of Food Paparazzi and feeding them to the Internet.

Later, in meeting our chef and host, they gushed at how much they loved his TV show.

Okay, so maybe this was all just another reflection of our celebrity culture –- or our obsession with basking in the warmth of a nearby celebrity body.

Or maybe –- it was the glimmer of a new age where what we have normally accepted as legitimate forms of employment are being replaced by something else.

Anybody who works in TV is well aware that the coming of the Reality genre has led to every gym rat thinking he could be the next action star and every guy doing renovations handing over his pilot concept for his own DIY series.

But I discovered something this week that made me realize that networks that thrive on Reality, networks like HOME & GARDEN and FOOD might not be around much longer.

It’s something called MUKBANG.

Let me make this simple. The highest rated series on the Food Network hovers around the 600,000 mark. That’s a US figure. Here in Canada it’s, of course, far less.

But just one of the shows involved in Mukbang pulls in 300 Million viewers.

300 Million.

That’s the Superbowl.

Every week.

Sometimes more often.

And it’s about food.

Mukbang is a cultural phenomenon that might not have reached these shores yet. But it’s coming. And its stars earn small fortunes for doing nothing more than what all of you do right after sending your Instagram image…

The Food Network is doomed.

Enjoy Your Sunday…

Monday, February 16, 2015

Searching For Candy

John Candy - Searching for Candy

A short while ago, I had the distinct pleasure of being interviewed by British writer Tracey Morgan for her biography of Canadian actor and comedian John Candy.

Unhappy that her publisher had requested “more scandalous content” and aware from talking to those who knew the man that he lived a far from salacious life, Tracey has decided to self-publish her book.

She’s currently crowd-funding the project and already 40% of the way to her goal. If you can help bring the full story of this amazing Canadian to fruition please make a contribution here.

Both hard copy and e-editions of the book will be available shortly. And you can follow the project here.

John gave so much joy to so many people. It would be great for those who remember him to learn just how special he was.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Lazy Sunday #363: Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone

I caught a concert by one of my Country icons this week – Lucinda Williams. Backed by members of Dallas Bob Dylan cover band “Buick Six” and “Wallflowers” guitarist Stuart Mathis, it was an evening that bounced through so many genres the music might as well be labelled Current Americana.

Williams has always been hard to pin down, one of the reasons she’s so rewarding to listen to. But at her heart she’s simply a phenomenal songwriter building on genes of a celebrated poet father that have travelled through every environment from Bayou swamps to dry West Texas prairie.

It’s kinda pointless to write about somebody who’s been in-depthed by everybody who wants to work for “Rolling Stone”. And I’ve always figured it was kinda cruel to rave about a concert that’s come and gone and therefore inaccessible to anybody reading the review.

But I found this –- a mini-set Williams and her trio did for Seattle FM station KEXP the night before she played my town. Simply follow the video below to Youtube and click on the appended KEXP links.

And Enjoy Your Sunday…

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

John Hunter

image

While writer muses come and go at their will, each of us is granted a mentor. Very early on I was lucky enough to be taken under the wing of the best screenwriter Canada has produced, John Hunter.

I don’t remember how John and I first met. All I know is he was a produced writer and I wasn’t. But it was around the time that his first feature “The Hard Part Begins” went into production.

I think what brings mentors and acolytes together is something each needs from the other. I needed to learn how to write. John needed somebody with whom he could talk about writing.

He didn’t pretend to have a grand vision of the art form. He wasn’t a screenwriting guru or extensively concerned with syntax or style. He simply wanted to understand how and why stories were told the way they were and what stories each of us might hold inside and could share.

We both had Prairie backgrounds and John’s general theory of why the flatlands produced so many artists was simple. There was nothing there. You had to make everything up. And the isolation also meant that when you did speak to someone, you had better have something worth saying and worth listening to.

It was comparable to being a Canadian screenwriter in the 1970’s. There weren’t many. And when they got a chance to make a movie, they had to make damn sure it was a story that hadn’t been told before.

And that’s how he approached the writing process. It was about the writer as much as it was about the subject matter.

John was also drawn to unique characters rarely depicted on the silver screen. “The Hard Part Begins” was about itinerant country singers far from the big time.

He followed that with “Blood and Guts” a film he also produced, a movie about itinerant wrestlers far from the big time.

But unlike artists who go back to the same well, John was about finding turf he may have already explored and discovering new levels he hadn’t known (or that an audience hadn’t suspected) were there.

While “The Hard Part Begins” ends with the hero losing, “Blood and Guts” finds both dignity and redemption in defeat. Fittingly, it also marked the historical point where Canadian film moved into another gear, leaving behind its low budget roots to play on a bigger stage.

blood and guts

John understood that as each of us grew and matured as artists we’d find new levels and angles to a story. Who we were determined the final story as much as the tale we were trying to tell.

He never gave notes or direction. It was your story. Why were you telling it the way it was being told? Why were you taking it in the direction it was taking?

I’ll never forget a discussion on my first feature, where I was struggling with a scene that just didn’t work for me. He dismissed my concerns with a concise, “I don’t think you’re going to make it any better”.

To this day, I’ve wondered if he meant the scene was perfect or that the guy writing it had simply reached the limits of his current level of talent.

But John’s mentoring was not limited to writing. He networked me, introduced me to people and circles of the business I either didn’t believe I belonged with or was ready to encounter. Only later did I realize that exposing me to film icons and other working artists expanded who I was and therefore what I could accomplish.

More than most, he also understood that film was a collaborative art and each of the artists making a film brought something to it that no writer, no matter how accomplished, could do alone. We all needed to really know each other before we could truly do our best work with each other.

John produced my first feature and did his damnedest to get a second one off the ground. At the same time he moved to another writing level himself.

His next film “The Grey Fox” would win international acclaim and garner a Genie award for Best Screenplay. It was a remarkable piece of work in its understanding of the cinematic process. A feature length script with less than 100 lines of dialogue, massive chunks of the story rendered completely visually.

During its writing, John also found time to help draft the first Canadian Independent Producer’s Agreement for a still to be born Writers Guild of Canada.

It was a lengthy negotiation in which he also demanded I serve, insisting it would be my generation of writers who would have to make it work. And he was right. That agreement made it possible for Canadian screenwriters to finally have Canadian careers.

By the time it came into effect the gold rush of the Canadian Tax Credit years was upon us and every screenwriter in the country had more work than he or she could handle.

During those years, John and I spent a lot of time in LA. We visited the shoot locations of films we’d loved, drank late into the night with movie people we’d revered and continued our discussions on writing. Probably around tables where other writers had done the same for decades.

During that time, our paths diverged. I went into television and John wrote a lot of terrific scripts that the hustlers and rug-merchants of that high-flying time either couldn’t get released or where the final print ended up in some bank vault until loans could be repaid.

Among these was a dark little classic called “Cross Country” which escapes its cage from time to time and might just be the most twisted Canadian murder mystery ever written.

John would draw on that era for “Hollywood North” his final feature. By then he’d won a Writers Guild of Canada Award for his only foray into series television “Dead Man’s Gun” and resurrected Gordon Pinsent’s beloved Rowdyman persona in “John and the Missus”. But most of his writing had evolved as well as he moved from screenwriting to novels.

John Hunter passed away on February 2nd. And don’t feel bad for not knowing or harbor some resentment at yet another notable Canadian artist going unmentioned in the press. Even John’s closest friends are only hearing the news today.

He wanted no funeral or memorial, no celebration of his life. Perhaps he’d reached the point in his evolution as a writer where he felt his own story had been told and needed no further embellishment.

Or perhaps he knew that his life was part of our own stories now and we should all tell it in our own way, as best we could.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 362: Enjoy Your Intermission

While a lot of you are still buried in snow, it’s Sunny and warm where I live. Buds are on the trees and the first flowers are beginning to bloom.

I’m not saying that to make you feel bad or envious. But as a reminder that Summer is on the way and you might want to take some time to make plans.

Plans that in my life always include a trip to a Drive-In theatre.

It’s also (both where you and I live) awards season – the time when the various facets of the film industry celebrate themselves.

The Oscars are a couple of weeks from now. The Golden Globes were a couple of weeks ago. Between them are separate celebrations of writers, directors, actors and producers, as well as countless confabs of critics naming their own list of winners.

But amid all this self-congratulation, there’s nary a word said for the people who do as much –- and maybe more –- to bring the movies to all of us and foster much of the affection in which the Award recipients bask.

And that got me thinking about the people who run those Summer Drive-In theatres. They’re a special breed. As special as the folks on the red carpet and just as important to the industry.

None of them will ever receive a shiny trophy or be granted access to a gifting suite. But for them, none of that matters. A fact beautifully communicated in Tansy Michaud & Adam Carboni’s exceptional little film “Enjoy Your Intermission”.

Allow it to warm up the day where you are and…

Enjoy your Sunday.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 361: Lucha VaVoom

Image of Lucha VaVOOM poster Halloween 2012

Nothing sells in show business as well as sex and violence.

Back when I was up to my waist in the horror business, I wandered into an LA movie house one afternoon to catch the latest sequel of a long running scarlet cinema franchise. At some point the actors paused the gore-fest to emote 30 seconds of character development.

The crowd was having none of it with one aficionado in the back screaming out their mantra, “C’mon! Fuck or Fight!”.

We love our sex and violence –- or as it is known in Mexico, “Sexo y Violencia”.

One of the cultural touchstones of Mexican S&V is Lucha Libre (Freestyle wrestling) which also has a long film tradition in which its masked heroes confront buxom female villains or rescue damsels in distress from strip joints and discos.

A dozen years ago, that meme evolved into a Los Angeles theatre attraction known as “Lucha VaVoom”.

It’s hard to describe “Lucha VaVoom”. But it features Luchadors (wrestlers) both Rudos (bad guys) and Technicos (the good ones), who go by such names as Chupacabra and Dirty Sanchez.

It’s also one of the few places where you can still see the politically incorrect art of midget wrestling (Los Minis).

Sharing the stage (ring) with the wrestlers are exotic ladies known as Buxoticas (Strippers), as well as comedians, dancing chickens, melees in the audience and much, much more.

If you’d like to attend a performance of “Lucha VaVoom” the next time you’re in LA, you can buy tickets (and merchandise) here. Or you might catch the company on one of its national/international tours.

Many scholars have written essays and doctoral theses on our enjoyment of sex and violence or our recent affinity for post-apocalyptic and zombie apocalypse worlds.

I think the motivation is as simple as our need to get away from the rules, regulations and restrictions of real life, to be part of something where the regular borders of behavior don’t apply.

“Lucha VaVoom” epitomizes all of that. It’s a hugely entertaining evening. And as the show’s MC emphasizes at its beginning:  “This shit’s gonna get weird. So fasten your Holy Fuck belts…”

And Enjoy Your Sunday.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Glacial Pace of the CRTC

It’s said that the Mills of the Gods grind slow –- and they grind woe. If there are mills in the Gatineau offices of the CRTC, they would seem to grind far more slowly, producing endless woe merely because decisions arrive so long after a time when they might have made a difference.

Because that’s how detached from the real world this outmoded regulatory bureaucracy has become.

After a year or more of eliciting input from Canadians under the “Let’s Talk TV” banner, the CRTC then held weeks of hearings so the vested interests of the industry could weigh in on why what their audience wanted should be adjusted to accommodate their own self-interests.

What has resulted so far was a decision from 3 months ago preventing cable subscribers from being dinged for under 30 day cancellation fees and 3 other edicts issued today.

Today’s pronouncements included -- not allowing Broadcast distributors to show data cap favoritism to their own mobile customers; not allowing local stations to eliminate free to air broadcasts and cancelling Simsub (the simultaneous substitution of Canadian commercials for American ones) on one single Sunday night in early 2017.

That would be the Sunday of “Super Bowl LI”, assuming there is still an NFL as we currently understand it, a continued public fervor for commercials –- and a television broadcast of both.

I’ll let others debate the pros and cons of these decisions, because frankly I’ve been writing about how out of touch and behind the times the CRTC is as long as this blog has existed. Search the acronym and you’ll find about 9 years of that stuff.

The one thing I will point out is that all of the decisions so negatively impact the bottom lines of the BDU/ISP silos. And when was the last time you didn’t hear these guys whine they already had no money to make competitive CanCon?

But setting all that aside, the clear reality of what Monsieur Blais and his confreres announced today is that these decisions probably won’t much matter by the time 2017 rolls around.

That’s how fast television technology is evolving.

Take a moment to consider what your own television habits were back in 2012 or 2013. A huge number of you still subscribed to cable. Hardly any of you had sampled Netflix, signed up for Apple TV, plugged in a ROKU unit, or owned a HD TV with a Smart Box –- or operated a DVR.

Given how fast all of those technologies have transformed your lives in that short time, consider for another moment what might be coming down the pike before 2017.

If you need some help…

At the same time the CRTC was making today’s announcements, the App below was being unveiled. Think of it as Skinny-basic with HBO and whatever big league sports you like to watch.

And after you’ve watched the ad, ask yourself how long the CRTC and our other vested interests will try to keep it from the Canadian public in the name of our national interests.

I’m sorry people, but we’re never going to play in the big sandbox as long as we hide (or are hidden) in a roped off corner pretending to be protected while we continue to be fleeced.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

When Tuesday Is Really Another Monday

I’ve always felt Mondays were a lot like Opening Night in the Theatre. Everybody comes in ready to kick ass. There’s a specific goal to be achieved. Even the most disinterested member of the audience is primed to get something done.

Similarly most of us start off the work week with a set agenda. We’ve got something to accomplish in the coming days and we’ve caught up on sleep so we’re clear-eyed and firing on all cylinders.

And then comes Tuesday.

In theatrical terms, Tuesday is the second night of the run. You’re still a little hung over from the Opening Night party. And you begin to realize that everything you achieved last night has to be, at the least, repeated and, in the best case, improved upon from here until the final curtain.

Life begins to look like one long obstacle course.

Likewise, we all know that in our work lives, we didn’t get as much done on Monday as we planned. Perhaps some crisis erupted to re-direct our energies. Or maybe, despite all the best intentions, everything just went to rat shit.

So we begin Tuesday with an extra cup of coffee. We attempt to re-group and re-focus, searching for something to bring back our commitment, our creativity and our excitement.

I think this will help.

It’s adrenaline charged, eye-opening and endlessly creative. If you’re not inspired to do something special with your day after this, no amount of coffee will change things.

And you can thank French filmmaker Candide Thovex for turning things around. Please click the Youtube logo and watch full screen.

Sometimes Tuesday can far better than Monday.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Lazy Sunday 360: Pancakes

Sundays are holy to me. Not so much in the religious sense but as a sacrosanct day of rest. A day to step back. Smell the roses. Do what I want rather than what the world might expect or require.

And like any good day, Sunday starts with a good breakfast. The rushed coffee and bagel, the omelette that accompanies an early meeting are nowhere to be found.

I make pancakes.

And I’m good at pancakes.

A pancake just says, “Savor the flavor of the day and its possibilities”.

And pancakes are as easy to make as they are to eat. If something about them seems bland, maybe the following will help you to better…

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 359: Johnny Express

Oh, please.Throw the wine into a go cup and head to Walmart.They have cupholders in the cart for a reason, you know!

I’m a huge fan of buying things online.

I think I got that way after moving from a big city to more rural surroundings.

In most cities you can usually find whatever you want with minimal effort once you get to know the place. But as places get smaller, you tend to have to drive around a lot more to find something that isn’t a Big Box staple or only appeals to your particular lifestyle niche.

You save time, money and the impact of your carbon footprint by searching online and having it shipped to your door (more often than not free of charge).

Last week I bought something from China that arrived in less time than parcels took when I was a kid after you ordered stuff out of the Eaton’s catalogue.

It arrived in great shape, exactly as ordered and transportation didn’t cost me a penny –- though I did wonder if the environmental impact of air freighting something from Hong Kong might be a little more serious than if I’d spent an afternoon driving from mall to mall.

But online shopping appears to be the way things are going. And while I don’t understand the economic models or what it likely means in the long run for brick and mortar stores, the price of real estate and careers in retail, it’s sure as hell convenient.

I’ve also gotten to know some real nice people who work for the Post Office, UPS and Fedex, who I otherwise wouldn’t have encountered. And being greeted by my overly enthusiastic dog seems to perk up their day as well.

There’s also a kind of magical excitement about opening the package, hoping what’s inside matches the quality and promise of what was advertised.

I also love buying books and software that don’t even get shipped but just instantly download to your hard drive or Kindle – even if that’s not as much fun for the dog.

I hear that if you own a 3D printer you can just type a few lines and make your own car parts and heart valves, although I’m certain you still need some outside assistance having those installed.

Perhaps the day is coming when we won’t have malls, or aisles of products to choose from or even trucks to bring purchases to your door.

To be honest, what I’ll miss most is the thrill of seeing one of those packages coming up the drive. Although Korean filmmaker Kyungmin Woo has a decidedly different take on that…

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Mothballing The Sweater

The word Fan derives from fanatic. Because when you are a fan of a particular sports team, a true fan, you live and die with them, relish their victories and endure their defeats.

Yes, they often disappoint, even embarrass. But that’s the trade off that comes with the commitment. And in those times when they disappoint, you find a reason to keep loving them, to support, to hope they’ll one day find their way.

But sometimes…

This morning, Toronto Maple Leaf forward Phil Kessel, bemoaning his team’s dramatic slump and his own month long scoring drought, wondered aloud, “Oh my God! Who did we piss off?”

Well, I’ll tell you, Phil…

Me.

Maybe the hockey Gods too. But mostly it’s been me.

A couple of weeks ago, the Leafs fired their coach. Not an unusual occurrence for this continually mismanaged team. But one with an unusually cruel twist.

Randy Carlyle was fired while standing at the bedside of his dying brother, over the phone, because he wouldn’t drive 5 hours to Toronto where he could be fired in person.

Yeah, I know. Life’s tough. Professional sports is tougher. Suck it up, Buttercup. It’s about what’s best for the team and winning.

I also know that the prime driver of sport is that it’s supposed to build character.

Odd how character seems to so regularly desert those in the front offices who manage teams filled with athletes of character.

We’ve seen that in the way Major League Baseball looked the other way on Steroids to bring their game back from a strike that was also caused by executives lacking in character.

We’ve seen how the NBA overlooked criminal activities. The NFL has done the same, adding the ongoing medical mistreatment of their players to their exemplification of character.

But what the Leafs did was personal. I’ve lost two brothers. Both younger than me. It’s a special kind of pain. I can’t imagine dealing with it while the people who were supposed to have my back decided that was the moment to pull another rug from under me.

That takes a very special flaw of character. A failure of humanity .

So, my Leaf sweater has been put away for the rest of this season. Maybe longer. I honestly don’t care how far they fall or who in the corner offices suffers for it.

I’ll feel bad about players who deserve better, the same way I feel bad about a dog with a sorry excuse for a master. But the ones with character will find a way to be traded or exercise their free-agency options.

Yeah, Toronto’s a nice city and a terrific place to play hockey. But there are lots of nice cities. Many where being a person of character appears to matter more.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 358: Night Will Fall

Alfred Hitchcock in 1939

It’s been a rough week for free expression. One in which all of us have had to ruminate on our willingness to accept images and ideas we find troubling as well as what we do to end violence in the name of any –ism, be it religious, political or the simple opposition to something we find alien or out of the norm.

This is far from a new struggle. The tough part is we’ve sometimes had the perfect opportunity to take a hard look at such evils and opted to protect ourselves from the pain instead.

In the spring of 1945, the advancing Allied armies in Europe came across a town called Bergen-Belsen, discovering the massive horror of Nazi Germany’s “Final Solution”.

After seeing footage from embedded photographers of the concentration camp, the British government commissioned a documentary to tell the world of its horrors.

Alfred Hitchcock volunteered to lead the team, overseeing the script and recruiting the best combat cameramen from all the Allied nations. What Hitchcock delivered was one of the most powerful indictments of inhumanity ever seen.

And it was never released.

There are many theories on why that happened, from a concern over how it might hamper the reconstruction of Europe to Britain’s own problem with Palestinian Jews clamoring for a homeland.

Now, 70 years later, film-maker Andre Singer has revived Hitchcock’s project with his new documentary “Night Will Fall”.

Using footage from the original film combined with interviews with the men who shot it, camp survivors and some involved in its suppression, Singer has created a powerful indictment of not only the danger of blind dedication to any ideology but the greater danger that comes from those who shush or scold others into silence.

The film will receive a Global broadcast on January 27th. HBO in Canada.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The Never-Ending Sideshow

I’ve been a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs for as long as I’ve known what the words hockey and fan meant. Yesterday the team fired it’s third coach in four years and thus the decades long sideshow of disappointment threatens to continue...

Sometimes being a Leaf fan is hard and unfathomable and –- well, like this:

One day a fourth-grade teacher asked the children in her class what their fathers did for a living. All the typical answers came up -- fireman, mechanic, businessman, lawyer....

However, little Paul was being uncharacteristically quiet, so when the teacher prodded him, he replied, "My father's an exotic dancer in a gay cabaret and takes off all his clothes to music in front of other men and they put money in his underwear.

Sometimes, he will go home with some guy and stay with him all night for money."

The teacher, obviously shaken, hurriedly set the other children to work and took little Paul aside, "Is that true about your father?"

"No," the boy said, "He plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it's too embarrassing to say that in front of the other kids."

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 357: Yearbook

Okay, time to shut the party down and get back to work.

Fun as the holidays were,it’s firmly 2015 and the first official day of nose to the grindstone is Monday.

And if most of you are anything like the so-called journalists of the so-called Main Stream Media, you’ve spent the last few days downloading new productivity apps and boning up on the Life hacks that will give you more time to work more productively.

Allow me to remind you of the Writer’s unspoken code: Less is more.

Your script can always be shorter. You don’t really need that cop character who’s only in one scene even though he has a wonderfully ironic sense of humor.

The same way you’ve been de-cluttering your closets this weekend, you need to remove everything that doesn’t move things forward or enrich character.

By following these simple tenets, many writers have managed to make a living. And in the process have discovered that sanding away the unnecessary in your own life, you get to its inherent truth.

No better illustrated than by way of Bernardo Britto’s 2014 Sundance Film Festival winner for Best Short Film – “The Yearbook”.

Hack away and be productive on Monday.

Meanwhile…

Enjoy Your Sunday.