Sunday, April 23, 2017

LAZY SUNDAY # 467: HOLLYWOOD'S GREATEST TRICK



Earlier this week, a producer friend asked me about the strike ratification vote going on for members of the Writers Guild of America, wondering aloud why we writer types were "continuously belly-aching" about the way we are treated in the movie and television business. 

I mean, we're in a "Golden Age" of writers. Never have so many productions depended on great writing and great scripts. And never have we had so many opportunities to sell what we write. 

Okay. So if we're that integral to the business, what's the problem with treating us fairly and paying us what we're apparently worth?

The stories of "Hollywood Accounting" are legion. Blockbusters that have taken in Billions (Yeah, I used the "B" word) yet somehow never earned a dime. 

The creators of "Spinal Tap", for example, filed an action a couple of weeks ago, calculating that they'd been shorted about $400 million by their studio.

You'd think a film made as cheaply as "Spinal Tap" and which continues to earn millions annually due to its iconic status, wouldn't have a problem sharing the wealth. But like most writers, the guys who created that particular golden goose aren't people the studios depend on to sell whatever's on the upcoming release schedule.  So -- well -- fuck'em!

Perhaps their lawyers will be successful. Most likely, they'll agree to something less than 400 extremely big ones while signing a non-disclosure agreement and something that says the dispute was amicably settled.

The sad reality of Hollywood is that for every recognizable star or noteworthy name, there are a couple of thousand people who do most of the work that leads to a film's success. And the majority of them are replaceable. Either by people of equal talent or those simply eager to do anything to be part of a movie.

And thus the endless churn and turnover of people who don't keep quiet and tow the line.

That's the theme of  "Hollywood's Greatest Trick", directed by Sohail Al-Jamesa and Ali Rizvi.

The numbers behind the story are here

But watch the film first. You'll never look at movies the same way again.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Hollywood's Greatest Trick from Sohail Al-Jamea on Vimeo.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 466: You're No Bunny Til Some Bunny Loves You


A little something Steve Scaini and I made when we were both young and immature -- as opposed to the older immature guys we are today.

Happy Easter!

And Enjoy Your Sunday...

You're No Bunny Till Some Bunny Loves You from Spellboundfilms on Vimeo.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 465: Dan Miller

It used to be said that we were all "living lives of quiet desperation", implying that despite our sunny or calm demeanor, beneath the surface we were actually a rolling boil of anxiety over things of which the rest of the world knew nothing.

These days, thanks to social media, I'm thinking we're more "living lives at a desperate volume". Everybody seems to have to weigh in on everything, whether or not they know anything about it. Websites are full of link bait. Newspaper headlines sensationalize the copy below.

It's like we're all on a non-stop treadmill we can't escape until we're noticed.

Several years ago, at a film conference, just as the world wide web was gaining a foothold in the industry, a futurist of some note used a phrase that struck me as prophetic -- "Obscurity is the new poverty".

The meek may well inherit the earth. But until then, and if we know what's good for us, those of who want to become stars had better get our brand out there.

The message was heard loud and clear. Reality television was suddenly all the rage. 3rd rate actors and gym rats who once only found jobs in professional wrestling now open tent-pole films. Celebrities with no real abilities beyond a narrow niche of home renovation, cupcake construction or duck hunting  now have the ears of heads of state -- or even are ones themselves.

That only increases the quiet desperation in many of us. But it also makes us wonder -- "What if this rising above the crowd thing happened to me?"

What if I really was big in Japan?

What if Dan Miller was me?

Dan who...?

Enjoy Your Sunday.


Dan Miller from artperezjr on Vimeo.


Monday, April 03, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 464: Sudden Death Overtime


I had this really great blog post planned for today. Just needed to attend an afternoon outing of my home team and then I'd get at it. They're in the playoffs, so my support was necessary.

And then, the score was tied as the final horn sounded. So we went into overtime. Still not a problem. The boys were playing really well. They could take these guys.

But one overtime period became two -- and then three (as in two full hockey games) and then four making it the longest game in WHL history.

Ten minutes into period number 5 we broke the record for the longest game in CHL history. And at the 151:36:00 mark...

The bad guys scored.

And you're reminded of that term, "Sudden Death Overtime" as in -- when it's over -- it's over.
 And somebody's done.

Last season we had our playoff hopes dashed with 2 tenths of a second remaining on the clock. This season the darkness descended after almost 6 solid hours of being at a hockey game.

This one's gonna sting for a while.

And yet...

We're once again part of history. I think that means the hockey gods are setting us up for something special -- only good special this time.

Hey, I'm also a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. it's unsubstantiated faith like that which keeps us going.

I've been present for a lot of great sports moments. Secretariat winning his last race. My Roughriders hoisting the Grey Cup on a last minute field goal. Joe Carter's incredible walk off homer to win the 1993 World Series.

And tonight as I watched the teams line up for the traditional handshake that marks the end of a championship round, I was reminded that the winners came just as close to losing. Opposing players hugged, shed and wiped away tears together. They all knew it could've just as easily have been the other guys tasting victory.

In Dan Jenkins marvelous book about Golf "Dead Solid Perfect", the reason for losing most games is simple -- "God just liked the other guy better".

A Rodeo rider always wants to draw the toughest Bull. Because otherwise he'll never know if he really was the best or he just got lucky.

We all know we can't really consider ourselves to be the best unless we beat the best.

But this is still gonna sting for a while.

Enjoy Your Sunday.




Monday, March 27, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 463: Black Holes

Life kind of entered a Black Hole around here this week. More in the days to come. But until then...

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 462: Those Who Can't Teach -- Teach Gym


I spent much of today in the presence of a bunch of young athletes making speeches. And I gotta say, unaccustomed as all of them were to public speaking, they blew me away with their insight, intelligence and unique perspective on the world.

We all have this preconceived notion of the dumb jock, a stereotype that's a staple in every teen TV show, movie and especially all those cheerleader flicks I used to catch at the Drive-In.

But today's experience got me thinking about my own high school athletic career -- which to be perfectly honest consisted mostly of going to Gym Class -- which every kid in my first year of high school detested.

This was not because Phys-Ed (as it was known back in the day) took place in some dank, musty gymnasium with flickering halogen lights and a drafty change room.

Nope, we had a brand new school with state of the art amenities. What made us hate it was -- along with your text books you had to buy a gym uniform, which consisted of really short white shorts, a white T-shirt with the school logo, sneakers and -- a jock strap, which none of the 14 year olds I hung out with had ever seen before.

The waitress at the Woolworth's lunch counter even yelled at us for pulling them from the boxes they came in to check them out while waiting for our post shopping burgers and cokes.

This "uniform" meant that not only did you have to get naked in front of a bunch of other guys twice a week when you had Phys-Ed (or four times because you had to get both in and out of your jock strap for each class); but you had to stay naked for 15 minutes at the end of the class while everybody crammed into a communal shower.

I guess this was the school's way of making sure we took at least two showers a week. But still...

On top of that, the Gym teacher was a guy who liked to yell a lot and clearly had interest in whatever he was supposed to be teaching because he had football or basketball plays to think up.

This changed about midway through the year, when the lady gym teacher took over to teach us some gymnastics. Not only did she know her stuff, she looked really good showing us how to do it. Although that meant there were some who had to take a little extra time to cool down before we hit the showers -- if you know what I mean.

But it turned out gymnastics was actually something I was good at and some of us even ended up doing presentations of "gymnastic skills" on Parents Nights or when somebody notable visited.

The Gym Lady, a real keener, wanted to start a team to compete with other schools. But somehow, that never happened and a year or so later, I was just too artsy and theatrical for that sort of thing -- and besides, the really cool guys didn't want to be thought of as jocks.

As coincidence would have it, one of the social media feeds I checked after today's revelation of the true nature of jocks included the video that follows.

And quite honestly, I can't imagine ever being this cool.

Enjoy Your Sunday.



Sunday, March 12, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 461: Dream On


Elton John's playing my town this weekend and the place can't get enough of him. Everybody's lining up to hear Sir Elton (or should that be Sir Reggie?) sing all of his hits, with the reviewers cooing about how he sounds as good as he ever did and exactly like the original vinyl.

And that vinyl era would be about the time I first saw Elton in concert. Recalling the night with some young whipper-snappers this week, I mentioned that I was pretty sure Ted Nugent had been on the same bill. Which wouldn't've caused that much consternation in the 1970's but struck these guys as extremely unsavory.

"The gun freak hunter guy?"

Well, yeah. But back then Ted was pretty much a guitar freak hunting little more than some "Wango Tango". But I digress....

Driving home I considered how much Ted and others changed over the decades, while some like Sir Elton changed hardly at all -- save for maybe swapping out Marilyn Monroe for Princess Di to get a second Number One out of "Candle in the Wind".

Can "Saturday Night's All Right For Fighting" really have the same impact coming out of the throat of a 70 year old?

Perhaps.

But perhaps real artists change as they age, investing their songs with the insights and experiences the intervening decades have brought them.

Or perhaps --  it's the songs that need to evolve, rearranged to bring out imagery and emotions we never knew they could contain.

Take Aerosmith's "Dream On" for example. Place that in the hands of Postmodern Jukebox and the mouth of an inspired talent like Morgan James and see what happens.

Life, as I understand it, is supposed to go on -- not stand still.

Enjoy Your Sunday.





Sunday, March 05, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 460: Unfinished Business


A year ago, as the game clock wound down, my local WHL team, the Victoria Royals, were poised to win the 7th game of their Division final in their quest to hoist the Memorial Cup. The arena was electric. Fans counted down the final seconds. "3-2-1...". And then with 2 tenths of a second on the scoreboard, the bad guys scored.

I've never seen a crowd deflate so fast. We all stared in stunned disbelief. Players collapsed on the ice. You could've heard a pin drop over the intermission before the overtime that followed. And in that overtime -- we lost.

It was a crushing defeat. Not only for the team but the entire town. And in an effort to come back as this season began, a banner was strung that read "Unfinished Business". We all knew what it meant.

Last night we clinched a spot in the playoffs. The business is still unfinished, but we're closer to seeing the job get done.

Coming back from loss is hard. The initial feelings of hurt, anger and frustration are difficult to shed. And once they're gone, what's left is an emptiness. One easily filled with depression, recrimination or the simple desire to just give up.

Loss is tough. Getting back up is tougher. Getting on with the job is the toughest thing of all.

No one I know has faced a larger climb up that mountain of late than a Palm Desert, California band known as "The Eagles of Death Metal".

"EODM" were the band onstage at the Bataclan venue in Paris on November 13, 2015 when it was attacked by Islamic terrorists. 88 of their fans and the band's merchandise manager were slaughtered.

I'm not sure it's possible to describe the bond that is formed between performers and audience during a live performance. Suffice it to say, the emotions are as intense for one as the other. Those onstage may be creating the vibe. But the energy of the audience is what fuels their fire. Consider it the ultimate co-dependent relationship. One can't survive without the other.

And when one is brutally torn away before the other's eyes, the shock is intense and often permanent.

That it did not happen to the "Eagles of Death Metal" and how the band found its way back is profoundly captured in a recent documentary by Colin Hanks entitled "Nos Amis" which covers not only the aftermath of the Bataclan tragedy, but the band's ultimate return to first making music and then taking it back onstage in a still wounded Paris.

Catch the documentary during its current rotation on HBO if you can. And make it a must if you're struggling to overcome something bigger than you've ever faced before.

The entire Paris concert where "The Eagles of Death Metal" finished their own "Unfinished Business" can be found here. May the healing power of Rock and Roll uplift you.

And Enjoy Your Sunday.




Sunday, February 26, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 459: And The Winner Is...


It's Oscar Night! Oh boy!

And yet -- despite the fact I've seen pretty much all of the nominated films, scripts and performances this year and found most of them damn worthy of recognition -- I won't be watching the ceremonies.

Put my choice down to simply not wanting to participate in the sideshow.

For while the Academy Awards used to be about celebrating cinematic excellence, they've devolved into an evening of extremely wealthy and successful people championing their own social issues.

And I have no doubt many actually passionately care about whatever it is they'd rather talk about than the movie they were in. I just don't have anymore interest in which "victims" of whatever "oppression" they want to talk about.

To my mind, we've reached a time where most people don't honestly care who you tell people you are. They care about what you do. 

Which brings me to something that happened in Canada this week.

After more than a year of Canadians pleading with the government to include Yazidi women in their much ballyhooed refugee policy, the Feds finally agreed to bring in 1500 of these ISIS victims.

For those not paying attention -- in September of 2014, ISIS thugs committed the largest mass kidnapping in human history, capturing 5000 Yazidi women and girls, members of a peaceful non-Muslim sect in Iraq that had never gone to war with anyone.

Those women and girls were forced to become sex slaves. Any who resisted were brutally murdered.

Anybody with half a heart would've thought they'd be the first we'd want to offer the safety and freedom of Canada. But they weren't.

And instead of getting on my own soapbox about all that, I want you to see a different side of this story -- previous captives and their Yazidi sisters who have picked up guns and are taking the fight back to ISIS.

So you can spend 3-4 hours tonight listening to people asking you to stand up for (insert their victim here) or join some kind of Hollywood "Star Wars" concept of resistance...or... you can take 40 minutes to watch real victims who are doing something to take care of their oppressors once and for all.

Talk is cheap. Actually doing something -- not so much.

Enjoy Your Sunday.



Thursday, February 23, 2017

Chris


There are actors around whom you can build a show, a movie, even a television series. Every now and then, one comes along with enough talent to allow you to build a world. Chris Wiggins was of the latter group.

I can't remember when I first met Chris. To be honest he'd been a fixture on Canadian television since my childhood, starring in episodes of "Last of the Mohicans", "R.C.M.P", "The Unforeseen" and just about every other CBC drama, including "The Best Damn Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar" which won him a Canadian Film Award as Best Actor in 1969.

His voice was just as pervasive in commercials and a raft of animated series like "Captain America", "Spider-Man" and "Rocket Robin Hood" as well as more than 1200 radio plays.

Around the time I started acting professionally, Chris had his own series, "Paul Bernard, Psychiatrist", a remarkably creative 5 day a week 2 hander.

The first show we worked on together was the CBC series "The National Dream" though we didn't have any scenes together. He was Donald Smith, one of the driving forces behind the construction of the first railway to link Canada from coast to coast, while I was some Ontario farm boy drafted to fight in the Riel Rebellion. But at one point in the story, the visuals cut from Chris to me and I felt like I'd finally "arrived" as an actor.

We worked together many times after that, often in animation. In Nelvana's first animated film, "The Devil and Daniel Mouse" Chris was the Devil and I played the rodent.

He wasn't the kind of actor who talked craft a lot or worried directors about motivation or what his best side might be. He just turned up on time and did the job. One of those classic journeyman performers who'd do his take, then sit nearby reading the newspaper or doing a crossword puzzle until the next set up was ready.

Then he'd step in, matching exactly the energy, focus and performance as if no time at all had passed.

He was the only actor director Stefan Scaini and I even considered for our first Christmas collaboration "The Silent Bell", a seasonal charmer that won a bunch of awards and returned every Christmas for a couple of decades largely on the basis of a wonderful performance from Chris.

Where I got to know he and his talents best was on the "Friday the 13th" series. Jack played Jack Marshak, an expert in the occult whose primary practical responsibility was to explain the "mystic shit" that went on each week, so our series leads John Lemay and Robey could go about fighting the weekly mayhem.

During the entire run of the show, I can't recall him ever asking for an explanation of whatever made-up supernatural powers were at play. He just made it real. By the end of the run, he was an integral part of every episode.

And if any of the above gives you the impression Chris Wiggins was some kind of Thespian drone, you couldn't be more wrong. He was always charming and fun to be around, laughing and sharing anecdotes about the famous and infamous in the biz whose paths he had crossed.

One of my favorites was about receiving a call from a cleaning lady while he and his beloved wife Sandra were on vacation. One of the pipes in their home had sprung a leak. Chris told the cleaning woman where to find his address book and the number of their plumber.

A couple of weeks later, on some film set, he was approached by Christopher Plummer wondering why he'd been pestered to fix the pipes at Chris' place.

Chris Wiggins passed away yesterday in a small town care home far from the bright lights of show business, ending a long struggle with Alzheimer's.

In many ways his final moment reflected his life, just quietly going about the business at hand.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 458: How To Lose Weight In 4 Easy Steps


There was a noticeable fitness uptick in my neighborhood this week. Instead of it being just me and the dog wandering empty streets at sunrise, there are people in day-glo sweats and polyester now jogging alongside us.

The die-hard, ride-all-winter cyclists who had the bike lanes all to themselves, now have to get around a block long Peloton of newcomers. And the parking lot at the local pool and gym is now full before the breakfast drive-thru at Tim Horton's has backed up all the way to the street.

Some of that you could put down to the weather around here finally warming up. Some of it probably indicates how many want to fit into last year's shorts or bikini for March Break. But I'm betting a good chunk of this is the result of Valentine's Day.

And I'm not talking about all that chocolate and candy.

While gym memberships skyrocket at New Years as everybody and their chubby brother decides this is finally the year they'll get in shape, Valentine's Day is when a lot of people realize their body image needs some attention.

Some of that's the result of a comment from an otherwise amorous partner to be sure. "Honey, when did you start getting out of breath during foreplay?"

But much of it's because a lot of people got dumped on February 14th.

Statistically, V-Day is the most likely day for someone to seriously examine their love life and decide to move on.

Many of those left behind might initially have wondered if they should've gone with the more substantial rose bouquet instead of hoping a single flower would come off as more romantic. But a whole lot more quickly realize they figured the relationship would take care of itself and kinda let it -- and themselves -- go a little.

If this is ringing true over at your house, Sparky, allow me to offer a solution...

Whether or not tightening up what you let go slack is the real problem, the following short film written by Aaron Bleyaert and directed by Ben Berman should offer an insight.

Ultimately, time changes everything -- as long as you're willing to embrace the change.

Enjoy Your Sunday.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Lazy Sunday #457: Five Star



Television wants us to believe that football is over. 

The Super Bowl is over. The flurry of million dollar commercials is over. The Lady Gaga tour is almost sold out. It's done! Okay! Change the channel and go back to watching "The Walking Dead" where the serious head injuries will continue. Mostly to those still watching it.

But the reality is that the football season never ends. And it's not just guys like me trying to get over Super Bowl XLIX. 

Teams are already gearing up for next year. Stadiums are being refurbished. Coaches are being hired. Players are having injuries repaired, being released from contracts or negotiating their renewal. 

And in High Schools across America, 17 and 18 year old kids are deciding what college will best prepare them for a career in the NFL.

Can you remember what career decisions you were making when you were 17 or 18? If you were like me, you were pretty much consumed with buying a car and trying to get laid. Yeah, you might have an idea of what you might want to do (operative words "might"). But were you capable of navigating all the possible scenarios that might help or hinder reaching that goal?

Thinking back, I also remember some of the real stars of my high school. The young men and women everybody knew had a special talent and a golden future. We had the best basketball player in the city. A couple of singers as good as anybody on the radio. A guy so smart our "Reach For The Top" team won the Provincial championships.

After Grade 12, I never heard about a single one of them again.

We all make decisions that seem small and insignificant in the moment, not realizing until decades later how much they determined the ultimate pattern of our lives.

That's basically the theme of "Five Star", a sports doc by filmmakers Ryan Booth and Henry Proegler that follows a decisive few days in the life of a 17 year old kid in Nacogdoches, Texas, pressured to make a decision that will impact everything that follows in his future.

Whether you can't quite give up on the world of football just yet, are wondering what will happen to your kids as they enter their final semester of High School, or are simply a fan of wonderful documentaries -- "Five Star" is definitely worth a half hour of your time.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Five Star from Hank & Booth on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 456: Scorsese NYC


A couple of weeks ago, Cameron Bailey, artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival, published what pretty much amounted to an open letter in the Globe and Mail newspaper entitled "Dear Canadian Filmmakers: It's not about you. It's about us" basically challenging homegrown cinema artists to do -- I don't know, maybe just something different.

I believe I speak for myself and many others either making or trying to make movies here when I say, "This gives us a laugh".

In his effete throwing down of some kind of gauntlet of self-interest, Bailey, like many in the business of supporting and promoting the Arts in Canada, reveals not only how little he knows about how the films he'd prefer to see get made; but of his own part in the annual regeneration of the kind of movies he doesn't much want to see anymore.

For it is Bailey's own TIFF that has devolved from an invigorating film festival that once championed up and coming Canadian talent to one striving to be seen as the first Studio stop for American Oscar contenders; while the majority of Canadian filmmakers are relegated to being second or third class citizens in their own country.

Indeed, it is film programmers such as Bailey who have gotten us where we are "creatively", eternally providing a pulpit for and thereby suggesting up-and-comers imitate either the dense vacuity of Atom Egoyan, the cheap patina of class inherent in the Robert Lantos imprimatur or the eternally ill conceived and unrefined first drafts or first edits that typify Paul Gross.

If Bailey really wanted better movies, he'd stop programming the annual failures of those who regularly account for the lion's share of government funding (the only real film financing in this part of the world) and get his movie scouts out to find people trying to do something better -- or at least more interesting.

Before I get all Greg Klimkiw on everybody's ass, the above rant was inspired by a short film on Martin Scorsese's work in this month's Filmmaker Magazine.

Included with the text is a Leigh Singer video essay offering a staggering insight into the Scorsese filmography, the city where half of his films are set and how both combined to give us not only endlessly original and re-watchable movie experiences but an undeniably clear and focused body of work.

It's also a reminder that the Scorsese Oeuvre was created not by Pauline Kael or the programmers of the New York Film Festival and Museum of Modern Art. 

They were made by a single artist given the freedom to follow his inspirations, surround himself with other independent artists and do the work that artists do. Uninfluenced by those given to navel gazing or striving to one day collect an indexed pension.

Singer's video is a reminder of what's possible when a filmmaker is not required to define or divine the goals of bureaucrats, but work his own magic.

Enjoy Your Sunday.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 455: Killer In Red


Any liquor or liqueur is an acquired taste. And I've just never acquired a taste for Campari, a red concoction primarily designed as an aperitif, but pretty much combined with anything liquid if you're in Italy.

I don't know what put me off Campari. Maybe it's because it can't decide if it's bitter or sweet. Maybe because the color originally came from crushed insects. Maybe my palate, like my brain, just can't handle things that are too complicated.

And perhaps I'm not alone. Because Campari, more than most manufacturers of imbibable spirits, goes all out when it comes to finding creative new ways to promote itself.




For decades there have been iconic posters and calendars. Their classy magazine ads and sophisticated commercials, populated by A list stars and fashion models, appear with regularity. They even have a youtube channel offering famous bartenders inventing new ways to enjoy their product.

And now they have entered the world of short film with "Killer in Red" starring Clive Owen and directed by Paolo ("The Young Pope") Sorrentino. I'm not sure if it will change anybody's mind about trying Campari. But it will definitely alter how some companies approach advertising.

Enjoy Your Sunday.


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 454: Election Night

Well -- we're into it now...

And in the very near future, we'll all know whether our fears, hopes and expectations will be what we feared, hoped or expected.

The Chinese have a curse, "May you live in interesting times" and given what America's new president has said, particularly about them, you have to wonder if the times to come will be more interesting to the Chinese, or us, or both.

I lived in LA when Ronald Reagan was elected President and most of the showbiz community I interacted with were as concerned about his elevation to the Oval Office as today's stars and celebrities. But Reagan had been governor of California, as well as a one time movie star, so a chunk of the industry also liked him.

One day, a composer I was working with shrugged off the "sky is falling" predictions of some of the more progressive musicians we were working with, suggesting that in his experience Conservative governments are better for artists. And in the decade that followed, a lot of us worked a lot more than we had.

Will that happen again? Who knows. 

The only thing that's become crystal clear is just how quickly the world can turn on a dime.

I was in New York shortly after the 9/11 attacks and overheard two high school kids discussing what they had planned for the weekend. One of them, finding his buddy's plans fairly lame, responded with "Dude, that's so September 10th". 

Times change. We all have to adjust. Or dig in our heels and refuse to change our compass heading. Something that doesn't usually work out well.

It might be worth looking back at who we were on November 8th and decide how that person survives and prospers over the next four -- or maybe even eight -- years.

So here's filmmaker Ryan Scafuro's both objective and unflinching take on the night.

Enjoy Your Sunday.





Sunday, January 15, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 453: The Blacklist


I've long believed that nobody calling themselves an artist has any right to tell another artist what they can or cannot do with their talents let alone where or for whom they can perform.

Recently, there's been a building brouhaha designed to convince entertainers of all stripes to either refuse the booking or withdraw from performing at this week's Presidential inauguration in Washington, DC.

Across the media, both traditional and social, pretty much anybody with a recognizable name in film, television or music has urged their peers to teach President-Elect Trump some kind of lesson by not showing up for the gig.

Now, I'm not a Trump fan -- and isn't it interesting that I have to issue that kind of disclaimer -- because otherwise a whole bunch of people would either just stop reading this or get busy calling me a racist, a misogynist and all sorts of other insults of the day. But where do any of you get off dictating the terms of somebody else's employment?

None of those people or what they have to say bothers me much, since most have a tighter grasp on ideology than actual talent. And few if any would ever get an invitation to perform at a Presidential Inauguration, no matter who was taking the oath of office.

Still, they go after everybody from the Radio City Rockettes to marching bands from Alabama, artists they'd probably never personally pay to see -- shaming, promising career disaster and uttering death threats.

Seriously. Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli withdrew this week because he'd been getting death threats. What kind of person sends death threats to a blind man?

Just how deep this hatred goes was illustrated this weekend when Nicole Kidman merely refused to take a shot at Trump and said she was adopting a wait-and-see attitude. Director Josh Whedon immediately issued the following tweet...



Good thing Mr. Whedon has gone out of his way to declare himself an avowed feminist. Otherwise, God knows what kind of venom he might've spewed.

All of this has reminded me of a rainy night in the mid-1990's, when I ducked into a Santa Monica bookstore and stumbled into a reading by one time movie director and the only Canadian member of the Hollywood Ten -- Edward Dmytryk.

At some point in Edward's youth, his family had moved from BC to Los Angeles and he landed a job as a messenger at Paramount Studios. From there he moved to film editing and then directing. Among his first features were the Film Noir classics "Murder, My Sweet" and "Crossfire" for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.

He would go on to direct dozens of notable films including, "Back to Bataan", "The Caine Mutiny", "Raintree County", "The Young Lions", "Walk on the Wild Side", "The Carpetbaggers" and "Mirage".

But all that talent and the millions he'd earned for the studios didn't mean much when the House Un-American Activities Committee arrived to uproot Communists in Hollywood and discovered Edward had been a party member for a brief time in 1945. 

Like others of "The Hollywood Ten", Edward refused to testify before the committee and went to jail, his career destroyed. 

Later, HUAAC gave him a chance to redeem himself, so Edward named the guys he was already in the slammer with and they let him go.

While lining up to get my copy of his book autographed, I thumbed the pages, finding a photograph of Edward in Convict Blues leaning against a gas pump where he worked gassing up the the prison vehicles. During his reading, he'd referred to it as "The best job I ever had". 

I asked him to sign that photo instead of the title page. He laughed and we started a conversation that would go on for several weeks. Mostly about screenwriting, editing and directing. But also -- what happens when artists are turned against one another merely to suit someone's political agenda.

You can find Edward Dmytryk's exceptional work almost anywhere. But here's a taste of what Andrea Bocelli won't be doing on Inauguration Day but Country Star Toby Keith will. Part of me hopes Toby sings one of my personal faves. It might be quite fitting.



Sunday, January 08, 2017

Lazy Sunday #452: Bill

                   

Most of you know Bill Marshall, who passed away last week in Toronto, as the founder of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the largest public film festival in the world and the most influential festival in getting movies into theatres and in front of audiences around the world. But he was so much more than that.

Bill was one of those people who just made things happen. He got politicians elected, produced films and partied long and hard. The kind of outgoing, tenacious guy who never took "No" or "That's not possible" for an answer. To parrot one of his phrases, he was a guy who just went out  and "got shit done".

I was fortunate enough to have a film in the first festival in 1976, when the event went by its original name, "The Festival of Festivals". 

The film was "The Supreme Kid" by Vancouver filmmaker Peter Bryant and its presentation at the now long gone Toronto Dominion Theatre on a Friday morning might've been the only legitimate screening it got in the country in which it was made.



The Festival then was only a week long affair with nowhere near the publicity it now gets and featuring titles most people had never heard of, so I didn't expect much of a turnout. But the place was full and Bill and his festival founding partner Dusty Cohl were there with the express purpose of showing me off.

They'd promised a star studded week of movies but no big names actually came, so I guess being able to introduce somebody who was a star of a movie at least helped them prove they hadn't been snowing everybody.

And they were gracious hosts, later dragging my wife and I to party with Wilt Chamberlain, the only real celebrity who'd come to town.

At that time, Bill had only produced a low budget movie called "Flick" or "Frankenstein on Campus" depending on what poster or print was handy when somebody wanted to show it.

But a few months later he launched Dick Benner's "Outrageous" which became a huge success and set him on the path to producing another 18 features.

Either because I had attended that first festival or because I was among a handful of screenwriters in Toronto, I always ended up getting dragged into bars and bistros with Bill and a couple of years later was hired with three other scribes for a mini-series he'd sold to CBC.

For reasons too complicated to explain (and you'd only be getting my side of it anyway) the project eventually collapsed due to a combination of broadcaster, studio and guild acrimony and I headed off to Hollywood to seek my fortune there.

Barely a week later, at my first ever glittering party in the Hollywood hills, I flopped down on a couch with a glass of wine and found myself almost in the lap of Bill Marshall, who said…

“Geez, Henshaw! We can’t be seen together. We’re suing each other.” At which point we both cracked up.

The great thing about Bill in those days was he was exactly the sort of character the Canadian film industry desperately needed. A guy who understood how things must be seen to be done in an overly cautious and closely regulated nation –- and yet knew how the real world worked so they could actually get done.

He was one of my producer mentors long before I’d ever contemplated producing anything and he not only taught me a ton, but contributed to some of the defining moments of my life.

Much has been written, for example, about the earth-shaking argument he got into with Mordecai Richler on a TIFF panel about Canadian culture. The press, as usual, mostly took Richler’s side in reporting it. But everybody who was in that room, including me, knew that Bill had won the day and a lot of ugly truths about how culture is made and supported in this country were laid bare.

There are two things I feel deepest about the loss of Bill Marshall. One is the memory of nights of frivolity and story telling or intense discussions about craft and production and building an industry of which I'm now one of the sole survivors.

But more important is the realization of how badly we need someone like Bill Marshall today. A guy who could convince or cajole the driest bureaucrats and most tight-fisted of investors to take a chance at trying something different -- of just ignoring what everybody accepts as an unchangeable  reality and going out and getting shit done.

Enjoy Your Sunday...




Sunday, January 01, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 451: Looking Back to Look Ahead


An interview with Martin Scorsese is making the rounds in advance of the release of "Silence", a passion project he's been trying to get made for decades. In it, perhaps our greatest living film director bemoans the loss of cinema as we've known it, declaring the art form is dead.

It's not hard to understand where Scorsese is coming from. Anybody trying to sell a script or project they love has shared the defeat and disappointment when other people just don't get it -- year after year after year. 

Recall the number of times in the past months when you wanted to go out and see a movie but the multiplex was showing nothing but cartoon superheroes and frat boy comedies. Or ask how often the films you did see rewarded you with an experience that affected you deeply.

If you're like me, those latter moments were few and far between. Or you got them from something you found on Netflix, which gave you the movie, but not the communal reward of sharing it with others. 

Quentin Tarantino once defined a great film as one where you had to go out and have pie afterward. And we all remember those late night cafe conversations with friends or film nerds as we relived the movie we'd just seen, unwilling to let go of either its content or the bond it had created among those with whom we'd seen it.

A friend reminded me this week of Nicholas Cage's performance in "Leaving Las Vegas" a movie so raw and harrowing in its examination of alcoholism that I literally NEEDED a drink when it was over. 

I'm sure that like Scorsese, few of us can remember the last time something like that happened.

But while there's a lot I can agree with in the great master's assessment -- the proliferation of images, our awareness that much of the spectacle is computer generated and not "real" or the ways we consume the art form on smaller and more private screens -- for me, Cinema is not dead.

While I probably attended hundreds of movies in movie in theatres when I was a kid, I was probably in my late teens before I truly experienced one. 

It was early one morning in university, a mostly empty theatre and a film appreciation class I'd booked for an easy credit. From the first frames of "Citizen Kane" I knew something out of the ordinary was happening.

Over the next weeks I saw "The Grapes of Wrath", "Seven Samurai", "Onibaba" and "Casablanca" without commercials. And I became aware that movies weren't just somewhere to go to eat popcorn or make out in the back row.

And unlike Scorsese, the young filmmakers I meet these days give me great hope for the future.  
Like him, they've seen it all. But unlike most people in Hollywood (or working in the bureaucratic maze of Canadian cinema), they're not beholden to a system that determines and ultimately controls their output.

What keeps cinema alive as 2017 dawns are the myriad ways a filmmaker can get around or simply ignore the barriers that have been placed in their way to protect those who currently control the marketplace.

Last week one of those new ways of reaching an audience, Vimeo, published their list of the best short films of 2016. Among them you'll find the Scorseses of the future, the Haskell Wexlers and enough talented writers and actors to replace those we lost in the celebrity massacre of 2016.

One of my current favorites on Vimeo is below, giving me faith in the fact that movies aren't even close to dead, they're evolving. Something you'd think a guy who once took a few friends and a camera onto the "Mean Streets" of New York to make a film would recognize and understand.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Strange Men from andrew fitzgerald on Vimeo.