Monday, December 11, 2017

LAZY SUNDAY # 500: Curiosity Stream




In 1961, Newton Minow, President John F. Kennedy's Chair of the American Federal Communications Commission (the much feared and vaunted FCC) had this to say about one of the major industries he regulated...

"When television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland".

The vast wasteland he described is often looked upon now as one of the early "Golden Ages" of television. Many of the shows of that time still run on channels such as MeTV, sell as DVD packages or remain available worldwide on their own YouTube channels.

What's more, the formats and genres they popularized are the same ones we use today -- in another "Golden Age of Television" -- and are found in much of the material produced solely to be streamed instead of viewed on a traditional television.

Newton Minow practically begged the TV industry to produce intelligent, thought-provoking programming. His entreaty did not fall on deaf ears -- screenwriter Sherwood Schwartz immortalized him when he dubbed the boat on his pilot for "Gilligan's Island" the S.S. Minnow.

And those searching for intelligent programming are still giving up on finding it on television. When I went to university none of my professors even owned a television set and the same is true for the handful of them I know today.

But now you don't need to own a television to find intellectually challenging fare. Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime offer a lot of great documentary programming. And now there's a streaming entity offering nothing but that kind of content for $3 a month.

Curiosity Stream offers hundreds of hours of high-end documentary content on all sorts of subjects and in all manner of disciplines. It's available on any device on which you want to consume it -- phones, tablets, laptops, desktops or even your television if its connected to a Roku or Apple TV box.

It's one more example of the kind of challenges being faced by specialty TV channels, the industry version of the brick-and-mortar retailer. Why pay three or four times those $3 for a documentary or educational channel packaged with some other channels you have no interest in?

Curiosity Stream may or may not be of interest to you. But it's certainly worth sampling for free for seven days while you decide. You can check the service out here. What follows is a sample of what you'll find.

Enjoy Your Sunday...



Sunday, December 03, 2017

LAZY SUNDAY # 499: THE POLAROID JOB


I've always found those pictures people take this time of year of their pets with Santa Claus were somewhat cute but mostly stupid. I mean, any picture of an animal being coddled or cuddled is heart-warming. But they don't know Santa anymore than what Christmas is. The whole process is forced and fake. And it gives people the impression you oughta have better things to do with your free time.

But this week I got a nice note from my local pet store offering me the chance to support them as well as raise money for a group who trains compassion dogs to assist people with medical issues -- and you end up with a picture of your pet with Santa Claus. One of those win-win all round deals.

And in my case I've also got a pooch who refuses to have her picture taken, so I've hardly got any photographs of her. That's because whenever a camera points in her direction, she immediately shies away, like a canine version of those ancient tribes who believed capturing their image was a way for the photographer to steal their soul.

Nobody's been able to explain why she does this. My own theory is that -- back in the kennel, puppies had their pictures taken all the time -- and disappeared to their new home soon after. So if she wants to maintain the cushy, treat-laden and daily dog park visiting life she has, best not to let anybody have a picture of how cute you are.

Of course I should've listened to my gut because nothing went well. The room was packed with dogs all far more fun than sitting quietly for Santa. And when she wasn't ducking and weaving to avoid the camera, she was trying to escape Santa's many helpers as they offered squeaky toys and snackables to draw her attention where it was required.

It'll be a couple of days before I see the finished product, but I'm not holding out much hope.

Although the experience got me wondering about what draws people to this line of work. And that drew me to a video by Mike Plante about the time his family thought they'd get rich by taking "The Polaroid Job".

Enjoy Your Sunday...

The Polaroid Job from The New York Times - Video on Vimeo.


Monday, November 27, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 498: People City


Every city changes. They rise and fall. Evolve with the times and the tides of the people who roll in and out of them.

Toronto when I was growing up was "The Big Smoke", some place far away where my beloved Maple Leafs played and my dad went once a year for a business conference.

It sounded big and busy but it didn't hold any special attraction.

That changed in 1971 when I got an Actor's Equity Card and Toronto was the place where Canada made most of its television and all of the country's theatres went to look for casts for their plays.

I'd been there for a half a day when I was six and a couple of hours between planes a decade later. I didn't know anybody. Didn't have a clue what it was like.

I fell in love with the place immediately. Mostly because of the people I got to know.

But all cities change. And over time my affection for Toronto changed too. Like all failed marriages, it wasn't any one thing. And not really any blame that could be laid on either side. We just grew apart. Embraced different values. Had different goals. Revised ideas of what would make us happy.

I still love the Leafs. Still read one or two of her newspapers everyday to see how she's doing.

But there's no going back.

And yet, there was a time -- a golden time when it seemed like the perfect place -- a people city.

You can feel the mood of that time perfectly in filmmaker Ed Conroy's documentary of Toronto's "lost anthem" -- the song many of us heard as we switched off the tube and shuffled off to bed. A song that anyone who was there understood implicitly.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

People City: Toronto's Lost Anthem (2017) from Retrontario on Vimeo.


Monday, November 20, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 497: AC/DC


Rock icons are most often shooting stars, burning bright and flaming out quickly. Some endure, of course, their music shifting to fit or influence the eternal ebb and flow of trends and tastes. Few, if any, ride out a full half century doing the same damn thing.

Malcolm Young of AC/DC was one of the latter. He started out rocking hard and never stopped. Overshadowed by the lead guitar of his showy brother and gravel voiced lead singers, hardly anybody who followed the band knew that the guy in the background was the one who wrote all the songs -- and all the infectious riffs.

Malcolm Young's greatest talent was being able to touch something primal inside us and bring both it and those who heard it to life.

AC/DC wasn't a pretty band. It wasn't politically correct or a darling of the critics. But it knew its audience and gave them what they wanted, outselling more highly regarded artists by the tens of millions.

Their 1980 album "Back in Black" sold 50 million copies worldwide, making it the top selling record of any band -- as in -- any -- band.

Much of the credit for that goes to Malcolm Young, who died this week after a long battle with dementia.

As an example of their incredible longevity and appeal, I offer the following song as an example.

"Highway to Hell" was first recorded in 1979. The concert in the video took place thirty years later in 2009. When did you last see 100,000 people rocking out to a song written before they were born.

I have a feeling Malcolm Young's magic will touch their children as well. And their children as well. Like the man said, "Rock n' Roll will never die".

Enjoy Your Sunday.





Monday, November 13, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 496: The Monster Factory



Spoiler alert -- Professional Wrestling is fake. What happens in the wrestling ring isn't real.

Wanna know something else?

Acting is fake. What happens on movie and TV screens isn't real either.

And yet...

Those engaged in staging the latter always seem to dismiss and look down on those who wrestler for a living.

I've always wondered why.

Back in the mists of time, as both streams of entertainment evolved, they each trotted colorful wagons from town to town to find an audience and eke out an existence. Sometimes they even shared the bill and taught each other their skills.

What happened? If you ask me, one got respectable. The other  -- not so much.

Today there are no government grants to train or develop wrestlers, nor to export the culture of wrestling or expand its markets around the world. There are no respected performance spaces built by patrons or responsible city councils. No festival circuits. No seemingly endless awards seasons.

And yet -- wrestlers endure. And prosper at levels that dwarf the money earned in Canada's currently super-heated film and television production centers.

Without ever needing a tax credit to keep them going.

One of my current projects involves wrestling. And this week I set out to find somebody who could train actors to wrestle --and maybe find a couple of wrestlers who could act.

The search took me to rougher parts of town and into worlds where a red carpet just means somebody bled pretty good.

There's a lot in that world that deserves respect. Here's a taste courtesy of filmmaker Tucker Bliss.

Enjoy Your Sunday...
Monster Factory from Tucker Bliss on Vimeo.


Monday, November 06, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 495: Monsoon IV


I grew up in some of the drier places in Canada. The Alberta Badlands. The Great Sandhills of Saskatchewan. I often quip that I was 12 years old before I saw water that wasn't in a glass. And that's not too far a stretch from the truth.

And somewhere around age 12, we moved closer to water. I learned to swim and toyed with the idea of becoming a Marine Biologist despite having not yet seen an ocean. I often quip that I made the University of Saskatchewan swim team because there were few in the student body who could swim. And that's not too far a stretch from the truth either.

The major bonus of coming from dry land is that you look on rain as a kind of natural wonder. It's rare and at times spectacular, such as those Summer nights when it arrives wrapped in lightning and thunder.

Where I live now, it rains a lot. As in pretty much six solid months of the year. So everybody around me bitches about the wet or the lack of sunshine. And I do too sometimes. But mostly I still wonder at water that falls from the sky.

The following is from an American filmmaker named Mike Olbinski who, to my mind, shares my affinity with what goes on in the skies above that can only come from living in a very dry place.

I hope his work is as magical for you -- no matter where you live.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Monsoon IV (4K) from Mike Olbinski on Vimeo.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 494: Jasper




I was a kid the first time I visited Jasper National Park in Alberta. And I spent most of my time looking for the cartoon bear (pictured above), who was supposed to live there.

Jasper was a regular in Maclean's magazine and several weekly color comic sections at the time and had spawned a massive line of trinkets and toys as cartoon characters are wont to do these days, but was quite unusual for Canadian icons back then. 

A couple of years after that first visit of mine, Jasper was inducted as the Park's official mascot and a statue was erected to him. It still stands today, even though most who are photographed hugging it probably have no idea it's more than just a bear. 

I'm not sure if that's a bad thing, as it may mean those who visit what is, in my opinion, the most beautiful National Park in the country actually spend more time taking in the natural beauty.

There are still a couple of months left in the Canada 150 celebration which comes with free admission to all our parks. And if you haven't availed yourself of that fabulous freebie -- well, what's been keeping you.

If you can get to Jasper, great. If not -- here's a taste of what's waiting for those who do.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 493: The Days The Music Died



Gord Downie's death this week turned into a national outpouring of grief. We all remembered our favorite "Tragically Hip" song or how'd we'd caught them in a bar one night before they were famous. Every newscast and talk show discussed the local landmarks, arcane hockey moments, regional turns of phrase and national traits mentioned in their lyrics.

For a while there it felt like no politician, athlete or kid on the street was without profound thoughts on the Legacy the music would engender and the change in our collective consciousness that would evolve as a result. 

It made me wonder how much of this was genuine -- given that less than 10% of the country had ever purchased one of the Hip's albums. And far fewer when you consider that the core of any fan base owns all of their favorite band's output.

Not that there's anything shabby about selling just over 5 million copies of anything. And God knows there were Summers and camp grounds where the tunes from their 14 albums were everywhere.

But given that Shania Twain has already sold more than 8 times as many copies of one album  ("Come On Over") alone, how overwrought is this nation going to become when her turn to shake off this mortal coil rolls around? 

"Bobcaygeon" might choke me up personally whenever I hear it. But millions more were/are just as moved by "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under".

Or are the wakes we hold for our pop stars more media generated than genuine? 

Yeah, I know it hurts to lose someone who influenced your formative years. But trust me, I was around when Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison died -- and none of them ever made the front page of any newspaper I picked up or garnered more than a moment of the nightly news.

The tragedies of their passings didn't dominate the zeitgeist and the word "legacy" never crossed anybody's mind beyond hoping people would be a little more careful about what drugs they took.

Still -- like a lot of you I'm sure -- in my sadness, I ventured onto YouTube to re-watch a few of my "Tragically Hip" favorites. And you know how, when you do that, YouTube comes up with a list of other clips you might want to see...?

That list included the one I'm attaching below because a couple of things struck me watching it.

1. Every single star participating in it has passed on. Each of them giants in the industry. 

And...

2. This kind of thing used to turn up on television with regularity -- unprompted by anyone's impending mortality or the need to opine on their context in the grand scheme of things.

Perhaps the innocence of "entertainment" being the point of entertainment is one more thing that we've lost.

Enjoy Your Sunday...



Sunday, October 15, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 492: Walk Off The Earth



The following video was done in a single take -- after six solid days of rehearsal.

Here's Burlington, Ontario band "Walk Off The Earth" proving the reality that we all need to forego
the option to "fix it in post".

Far better to fix it in Prep.

Enjoy Your Sunday...




Sunday, October 08, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 491: The Fire's Out


After the worst forest fire season in recorded history, which scorched an area of British Columbia four times the size of Vancouver and the rest of our urban mainland, the flames are out.

Crews that came from across Canada and all over the world to fight the wildfires are going home. Some leave quietly. Others make you wish they'd stay forever. Not just because of their courage and commitment. But because they hold onto something we've lost.

Remember when people used to sing at work? 

And I'm not talking about chain gangs but that sense of community and communal labor that caused all kinds of people to get together in song. 

As a kid, I remember railroad crews busting out a tune to set the rhythm of their hammers or some cowboy bringing out his guitar at a campfire after the branding was done.

When you took your car to a garage, there was always a radio blasting back in the repair bays and one or two of the mechanics joining in.

Every police force and fire department had a choir or a band or both. Geez, even coal miners sang between coughing fits as they hacked up a lung.

But people don't even turn on a radio at work anymore. Workplaces have become these quiet hives, where even the crappy muzak in the elevator is being replaced by tiny TVs offering stock quotes and snippets from CNN.

And those who do their jobs to tunes do it with earbuds, seldom to experience the delight of a shared song.

When did work become all about work and lose the joy that made working with other people worthwhile?

What follows is a Samoan Crew of Firefighters leaving the woods after killing a wildfire. They're hot and tired. Bruised and sore from the back-breaking labor.

But they've got a song in their hearts.

This is special.

Enjoy Your Sunday.


Sunday, October 01, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 490: Editing as Punctuation



I've always held that it is a storytelling power of three that makes cinema what it is. Those three story tellers are the writer, the director and the editor.

The writer creates the original story on paper. The director lifts it from the page so it can be retold in the physical world. And finally, the editor uses the captured images and sound to re-tell the story in cinematic form.

No good film story can be realized if one of the three storytellers is missing.

Without a good script, the director's skills can still achieve a level of sound and fury, but the result inevitably signifies nothing. And no matter how well the writer and director have told their tales, without the storytelling skills of an editor, the audience won't be taken on the intended journey.

Whether those story tellers are embodied in one person or many doesn't matter. The story still needs to be told three times to make a movie.

Now -- everybody thinks they can write and those with healthy egos are certain they can direct. But editing is a more mysterious craft to most, practiced in darkened rooms by people who seldom speak about what illusions they can concoct.

One of the easiest ways to understand what editors do is to look at their work through the eyes of a writer and one of the skills writers rely on -- punctuation.

The image above is the first half of one of the most famous cuts in cinema history.

Or is it just a comma...

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Editing as Punctuation in Film from Max Tohline on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 489: The Good Time Girls



There used to be a T-shirt popular among people who worked on movies (probably still is) that read "What I really want to do is direct". Like the movie set memes that now populate social media, it reflected the reality that a lot of people who wrote, produced, acted or crewed films actually didn't want to be a small cog in the big mechanism of film creation. They wanted to run the thing.

As I writer and producer, I can't count the number of scripts that were dropped on my desk by actors, grips, stuntmen and extras, almost all of them hoping a sale would vault them out of the position they held into a credit closer to the beginning of the picture -- with virtually all of them silently hoping a script credit would get them one step closer to their true holy grail -- directing.

I've often thought that when the desire to direct arises in people with a regular crew job, it comes from working under a director who isn't that good at what they do. Like those scripts I mentioned, I also can't count the number of times I've seen a director struggling to make his or her day when everybody surrounding them knows exactly what the next shot should be.

That said, it's still rare when the desire to run the show comes from someone who's not only exceptional at their niche within the production community but is much sought after by the very best directors out there.

Courtney Hoffman was the Costumer on "Magic Mike", "The Hateful Eight" and "Baby Driver". A year ago, she availed herself at an opportunity offered by Production entity Refinery29 to create a short film as part of their "Shatterbox Anthology" effort to find emerging female directing talent.

She created a film entitled "The Good Time Girls" and shopped it around. The result impressed a lot of people, including Steven Spielberg, who just hired Ms. Hoffman to direct a feature called "Ruthless" for Amblin Entertainment.

Which seems to prove that if you really want to direct the best path to that goal is to just go out and direct something.

Maybe it's really that simple.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 488: Hurricane Shapiro


You don't know who to trust these days, do you?

Actually, nobody's ever really known who to trust. At one point in my life I spent a lot of time shadowing cops -- cops who relied on confidential informants to do their jobs. Most of these CI's were scumbags, low-lifes, petty or major criminals. A few were even lawyers. Actually, more than a few. That attorney-client privilege thing isn't held in the high esteem you might expect.

I learned that when one of them dropped a little information on a police officer, the cop made a mental note of it and went on with his day.

"Hey, didn't he say some guy was getting whacked this afternoon?".

"Yeah. We'll see..."

No urgency. No way of verifying what was offered. It was just -- information. Perhaps ill-informed. Perhaps intended to settle a grudge.

If said cop then got the same information from CI #2, he might take out his notebook and make a note. But there was still no indication he was acting on what he'd heard.

But if CI #3 showed up with the same news. Then it was time to spring into action.

I feel like one of these cops every time I watch the news these days. I'm never sure how much trust to have in what I'm hearing. So I tend to look for other sources. If it turns up in three or more places that don't share the same ideology or political agenda, I'll go along with it. Otherwise -- we'll see...

Last week, as Hurricane Irma bore down on Florida, CNN was wall to wall with the doom and gloom of a storm more dangerous than the planet had ever seen -- one that would level several American cities and then cut to anchors standing in the rain as approaching breezes tousled their hair.

Either CNN anchors are suddenly a dime a dozen and ten feet tall and bulletproof -- or maybe Irma had blown it's load in the Caribbean.

But that doesn't sell ads for Cialis, does it?

And this goes on all over the place. One week, Donald Trump is worse than Hitler. And the next, the very people who've called him unhinged and a Fascist are sitting down to have dinner with him. And the media who've promulgated those opinions are suddenly using terms like "eminently presidential".

Am I the only one who feels I'm being played?

Meanwhile, as Hurricane Irma threatened one coast, another storm dubbed Shapiro was threatening to bring death and destruction to Berkeley, California.

At least that's what CNN and a lot of people on Facebook wanted me to believe.

For those not paying attention, Ben Shapiro, a Fascist, White-Supremacist, was booked to speak at UC Berkeley, the birth place of the free speech movement, and after failing to prevent his appearance, the college and city had required Shapiro to spend more than $600,000 to make sure the students attending his speech did not come to harm.

For those who've truly been paying attention, Ben Shapiro is about as far from a Fascist, White Supremacist as you can get. He's actually an Orthodox Jew married to a Moroccan woman with whom he's had two kids.

He's also, according to the Anti-Defamation League, been the target of more anti-Semitic attacks than anyone else on social media. Attacks that came from both the Left and the Right.

He's also written a couple of books about how the media participates in the creation of our current culture of fear. Something, you'd suspect people in the media do not take kindly to.

So, he's labelled with the worst things you can call people these days as vast numbers on social media parrot the terms and demand he be silenced.

But Shapiro went ahead and spoke -- and nothing happened.

Oh, a few hot heads got arrested and some people who heard him might've had their opinion changed. But the culture of fear took the real hit because it turned out the guy isn't somebody to fear.

You can find Shapiro's entire speech here, including a half hour of engaging with people who disagree with him. Engagement that is intelligent and respectful and honest on all sides, proving that people can hold differing views without demonizing one another or pedaling falsehoods.

Below is a small snippet that will hopefully start some of you questioning the sources from which you get your news. Maybe it's time for you too to seek some additional sources.

And -- Enjoy Your Sunday...