Thursday, May 31, 2007


We currently have a series in development with a Canadian network. All you need to know for the purposes of this little rant is that it takes place in a modern urban setting. On my way out of the last meeting we had on the show, one of the Execs asked how I felt about putting the production "outside Toronto".

Not a big deal. Where were they thinking -- Montreal, Vancouver...?

"No. We want you here. But there are some new rules. So it has to be at 150 Kilometers from Toronto."


They weren't amused.

I actually wasn't either -- but for different reasons. You see, our various government funding agencies have moved from their historically benign dislike of Canadian artists to actively trying to kill us.

And unfortunately, I mean that literally.

Yes. Those apparently nice, Latte sipping administrative types who explain the nuances of government regulations and make sure all the boxes are ticked on our application forms have turned homicidal.

No film or television project is ever realized without its producers jumping through a lot of hoops, keeping multiple plates spinning simultaneously and juggling any number of elements. To this three ring circus act, the Canadian government, in their infinite lack of wisdom, has added the obstacle course of regional production.

Now, don't get me wrong. If you want to live and work in Edmonton in February, good for you. You have just as much right as anybody else to live and work where they want.

But apparently you don't have that right if you live in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver, where the film and television business has become more or less "established".

If you think about any film industry in any other nation, it tends to center in two or three places, for all kinds of logical business reasons.

Not here.

The concept of Regionalizing production may satisfy politicians who want to see their constituents tax dollars spent locally. But you can't build a viable film industry that way. In fact, it's a sure-fire recipe for making sure it never happens.

Imagine asking most of the production companies in Hollywood to relocate to Pismo Beach if they want their project green-lit. Consider what Woody Allen or Spike Lee's films would look like if they had to be shot in Newark. Take your life in your hands and tell Robert Rodriguez he's giving up Austin for Padre Island.

And maybe give some thought to the "suppliers" of the industry. The people who have no say in what gets conceived or made. They rent cameras, build props and costumes, or sustain state of the art post houses. Now imagine how their profit margins (which have always been thin) are impacted by having to serve customers who have no choice but to work in areas where such operations are not resident because they couldn't survive and everything has to be shipped in.

This week a Producer friend said, "They're spreading things so thin, nobody can survive anymore." She's right. And as far as I'm concerned that's the plan. The juicy side effect is that the Bureaucats also get to murder some of us in the process.

Yes, I said "murder" and I'm not trying to be sensationalist.

To keep producers awake amid all their hoop jumping, plate spinning and ball juggling, the bureacrats who use our industry to practise social engineering constantly change the rules whereby you can achieve and receive the tax credits, certifications and incentives you need in Canada to produce.

So, one year there will be gains to be had for using previously unproduced writers or directors, including diversity in your casting or shooting in a gravel pit in Winnipeg. A year later, the new writers are out of luck because we now must use writers of diversity. Actors of Asian or African descent are back waiting tables because there are now extra points for casting Aboriginals and the gravel pit has migrated to a spot just outside Moncton.

Before anybody dubs me the David Duke of Canada, I'll point out I was born on a reservation, have been honored by the NAACP for a series episode I did on Racism and probably hold the Canadian record for the number of artists from minority cultures, non-traditional sexual orientation or physical disability I've broken into the business.

And that doesn't make me special. It merely places me on a par with most of the Canadian producers I know. We make our hiring judgements primarily on talent.

However, if there's one thing I've noted about Canadian film and television, it's that while there's a lot of diversity among the people who make it -- the faces in the government agencies and network offices we deal with remain predominantly of one hue.

All this is to say -- surely the people who make policy for CAVCO, the CRTC, CTF and Telefilm can't be suggesting that without their strict government regulations and cash incentives, those who own our networks, highly respectable corporations like BCE, BellGlobeMedia, CanWest, Rogers, Quebecor and our own federal government through the state owned CBC and Radio-Canada would not AUTOMATICALLY make sure the airwaves reflected the cultural and regional diversity of the country!

That would simply be standard practice because they're good corporate citizens and it's the correct thing to do -- Right?

At any rate, this constantly fluctuating agenda is problematic on any number of levels and nearly impossible to service in a country where development takes at least a year, two if you're working in television or sometimes three if your project is at the CBC.

If any of these bureaucrats actually understood the business they regulate, they might realize that our artists and technicians do not operate in a vacuum. Therefore, when you mandate that a production must take place "regionally", you create more problems than whatever ones you are endeavoring to address.

The minute a production goes into prep, there's a rapid deployment of people and resources to create the program as quickly and efficiently as possible. Production offices are set up, studios booked or created, contracts negotiated for the goods and services this movie/TV army needs to get to work. That's everything from hiring actors and grips to finding portable toilets.

On a longterm project like a TV series, you're booking these elements for up to 10 months. And everyone you bring in has to be as accessible as possible for the production to operate smoothly.

In addition to your regular cast, for example, you're hiring up to a small Battalion of performers. And hard as it may be to believe, even actors working regularly on a series need to augment their earnings by working in theatre, doing commercials or voice-overs on the days you're not using them.

That's why major production centers developed in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Work opportunities at the CBC in these cities, combined with a wide array of theatrical venues serving these larger populations, assisted by corporate headquarters that drove the advertising business, led to large numbers of actors making their homes in these cities. In time, the critical mass created by a large community of actors, writers and directors, inevitably sparked greater creative endeavor.

Can you recreate that all across the country? No. Never been done anywhere. Can't be. There simply isn't enough shelf-space for the product that would be created, no matter how many tiers of cable you build.

And especially when the tiers that already exist don't have to do any drama.

That's not to say you can't do stuff in Regina or Sudbury. Of course you can. But while cities of this size might be able to sustain some production, they can seldom fully support the needs of imports thoughtlessly foisted upon them.

Let's say we've got a show with a dozen supporting actors on a particular episode. We might be able to pull some from the local pool. But often there will be artists with more experience, specific skills or greater recognition value elsewhere. If I want to use one of those actors, I have to import them, pay their travel, accommodation and per diems -- which increases my production costs and eats into whatever incentives I've gained by being 150 clicks away from a major production center.

Actors sometimes get sick or otherwise need to be replaced at the last minute. They may be available for the Monday and Tuesday you were going to use them, but they're not now that you've slipped their shoot days to Thursday and Friday. In a major production center, you might be able to replace someone on a couple of hours notice. Working regionally, it'll take two hours just to fly them in. Again, increased costs and an increased potential that you're compromising the aesthetic of your show.

Let's take something as technically simple as rain bars. For the uninitiated, rain bars are a piece of equipment that simulate rain. They're not expensive to book for a day, but a pointless expense to carry around for an entire shoot. You only use them in two instances. To create a rain effect or (most often) to cover for the fact that you started a scene shooting in actual rain and need continuity now that the skies have cleared.

So, let's assume a scene is half shot and the clouds roll away. Unless there is a fully stocked effects house 150 clicks from the major production center I can't shoot in, it'll take those bars 2 hours to get to me. That's two hours the crew is either sitting around eating me out of craft service or shooting something they hadn't planned to shoot. Again an increase in expense and a potential loss of show quality.

But this pales by comparison to the real cost of shooting 150 clicks away from a major production center. The human cost.

Over the past few years, local incentives have driven a lot of production from Toronto to Hamilton. Crews that once had a 20 minute average commute to work and could often catch a bus or subway to get there, now endure a 2 hour commute either way.

Two hours in good weather -- not the kind of weather we get in Canada about half the year -- and not accounting for the normal delays along Canada's most traveled corridor.

In other words -- two hours if you're lucky.

Isn't it interesting that while the government is spending enormous amounts of money to convince people to drive less and consider their carbon footprint, one government department is mandating that people in the film industry consume even greater amounts of fossil fuel.

Film crews work an average 12 hour day. That means these guys drive 2 hours, work 12 and then drive two more to get home. At least 16 of every 24 hours are taken up by their jobs. Sometimes that's six days a week. Add a couple more hours for weather and delays.

Isn't it interesting that while we have a government spending countless amounts to strengthen the family and paying people to stay home and raise their kids, we have CRTC/CAVCO/CTF rules which reduce the time film crews can spend with their families and increase their chances of dying through sleep deprivation.

Sleep deprivation research isn't exactly a new science. Doctors have known for years that lack of sleep can lead to everything from clinical depression to heart disease and a compromised immune system. It's considered a factor in one out of six traffic accidents, accounting for more than 25,000 highway deaths and 2.7 Million injuries annually in the United States alone.

Isn't it interesting that while government health agencies are working to reduce sleep deprivation, one government department is making it mandatory.

The only conclusion is that they want to get rid of us.

And they are succeeding.

Brent Hershman was a 35-year-old camera assistant on “Pleasantville”. He died in a single car accident on the Century Freeway at 1:30am on March 6, 1997 after working a succession of 18 and 19 hour days.

Brent wasn't the first film crew member to die falling asleep at the wheel. The Directors Guild of America had logged several cases among their own membership. But many in the industry determined he would be the last.

Within days, the DGA, along with the International Photographers Guild; The International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE), the WGA and SAG had signatures from more than 10,000 industry professionals calling for more humane working conditions – especially for "below the line" crew.

The resulting BRENT’S RULE is now widely adhered to by LA production companies, but that makes little difference in Canada, where the hunger for runaway production has kept ACTRA minimum turnaround to 12 hours (SAG is ten) and when government rules on regional production add to the commute to get to a film set in the first place.

These rules are destroying the family lives of people working in our industry. They're making us work longer hours to produce a lower quality product. And most importantly, people are being injured and killed.

Part of me wonders how long regional production would remain a requirement if the folks at the CRTC/CAVCO/CTF were made to relocate their offices to wherever they decide they want production taking place next year.

I'm sure those places will all have at least one Starbucks and a trendy bistro where you can get a nice Penne Alfredo. But those establishments won't be right next door -- the cities won't provide easy access to all the industry soirées film bureaucrats like to frequent -- the locations won't make it easy to get home after your civil service union 8 hour day and being there won't get the work done as efficiently.

The next time you meet one of the folks from the CRTC/CAVCO/CTF cabal consider whether that smile they're offering you is friendly or harbors thoughts more vulpine -- and think twice about shaking their hands...

...because there's blood on them.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Home Stretch

This is the first time I've ever been out of a hockey pool before the final round. Hard to believe, but there it is on the standings page of the Online Pools website. A little green line through my name. Done. Finished. Hangin' 'em up for another season.

And in the spirit of Chris Chelios, I'm not lining up to shake hands. Real players do not feign acceptance of a cruel fate. We do not go gentle in that good night. Nope, we go into the locker room and break things.

I blame my downfall on the Nashville Predators, my hillbilly heart winning out over my prairie rink rat head when I was making my picks.

I was in Nashville the day the NHL announced they were coming to town. Sitting in a local diner minding my own business and reading the sports page as the short order cook wandered over. "Yer Canadjun ain'tcha?" Yup. "This hockey's what they played in ROLLERBALL, right?" I assured him it was.

It was an uphill battle for the Preds in a town that had barely heard of hockey, but Nashville, a city that feels more like a small town than any US city I've been in, liked them from the start.

There was an inspired marketing campaign with country stars like Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson and Amy Grant smiling over copy soliciting season tickets, their front teeth blacked out.

And Canadian hockey players cut quite a swath through the Southern star firmament. By my count, a half dozen country stars and starlets ended up marrying guys from Canada whose music collection consisted of Nickleback and...(uh) Nickleback.

The news tonight is that Jim Balsillie, CEO of the evil Crackberry empire has bought the Predators and may move them to Kitchener. Much as I'd love to see another Canadian team, I'm hoping the Predators stay where they are. It's not just the symbolic triumph of the ultimate icon of the power cabal over working class values. We may have rabid fans here, but consider how rabid you must be to pull on a hockey jersey in a town that wears nothing without rhinestones and only says "Puck" when its got a cheekful of Redman.

Americans are beginning to get hockey. Not the ones who work at NBC or apparently in the NHL's head office, but the ones who are starting to watch their kids play -- not to mention the kids themselves.

You only have to once see the glow on the face of an 8 year old coming off the ice, having stepped on it knowing he can never be Albert Pujols or Michael Jordan, to understand the thrill of finding a game where scrawny little white guys can be heroes. Expect several stars to come out for the Anaheim-Ottawa series too and not just ex-pats or those who need to be seen.

I especially want to spot a mad-pulp-bastard in the Anaheim stands wearing a Senators jersey with a severed head. Don't let me down, Cunningham! You can pay off the ticket debt with all the swag you've got coming in about 10 days.

And most importantly -- GO DUCKS!!!! Please do not let the Cup end up in Ottawa! Us Leaf fans will never overcome the humiliation.

The Standings as we head into the final round.

1 Bill Cunningham 148
2 Dave Moses 134
3 Mark Askwith 127
4 Michael Foster 125
5 Micah Reid 114
5 Denis McGrath 114
7 Will Dixon 111
7 Juniper 111
9 John Whaley 106
9 Larry Raskin 106
11 Jim Henshaw 103
12 Mark Farrell 89

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Joss Whedon Can Teach Us All

The post is called: "Let's watch a girl get beaten to death."

The writer is Joss Whedon, creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Firefly", who claims he "snapped," after viewing two online videos.

The first was CNN's cellphone-recorded "honor killing" of Dua Khalil, a teenager of 17 in Bashiqa, Iraq.

The second clip was the trailer for "Captivity", a release from Canada's Lionsgate Studios starring Canadian actress Elisha Cuthbert.

If you want to learn the art of writing for series television, you will find no better examples than Joss Whedon's scripts. The pilot for "Buffy" grabs you from page one and makes it clear, no matter what preconceptions you might have of the genre, the premise or television in general, that you are in the hands of a master story teller.

But Whedon's post last Sunday on one of his fan sites illustrates that he deserves to be admired for much more than his writing and producing skills.

"It’s safe to say that I’ve snapped. That something broke, like one of those robots you can conquer with a logical conundrum. All my life I’ve looked at this faulty equation, trying to understand, and I’ve shorted out. I don’t pretend to be a great guy; I know really really well about objectification, trust me. And I’m not for a second going down the “women are saints” route – that just leads to more stone-throwing (and occasional Joan-burning). I just think there is the staggering imbalance in the world that we all just take for granted. If we were all told the sky was evil, or at best a little embarrassing, and we ought not look at it, wouldn’t that tradition eventually fall apart?"

"’s no longer enough to be a decent person. It’s no longer enough to shake our heads and make concerned grimaces at the news. True enlightened activism is the only thing that can save humanity from itself. I’ve always had a bent towards apocalyptic fiction, and I’m beginning to understand why."

Whedon concludes his post with words every writer worthy of using that term in self reference should memorize and make as much a part of their daily ritual as turning on the computer and typing "FADE IN:"

"All I ask is this: Do something. Try something. Speaking out, showing up, writing a letter, a check, a strongly worded e-mail. Pick a cause – there are few unworthy ones. And nudge yourself past the brink of tacit support to action. Once a month, once a year, or just once. Even just learning enough about a subject so you can speak against an opponent eloquently makes you an unusual personage. Start with that. Any one of you would have cried out, would have intervened, had you been in that crowd in Bashiqa. Well thanks to digital technology, you’re all in it now.

I have never had any faith in humanity. But I will give us props on this: if we can evolve, invent and theorize our way into the technologically magical, culturally diverse and artistically magnificent race we are and still get people to buy the idiotic idea that half of us are inferior, we’re pretty amazing. Let our next sleight of hand be to make that myth disappear.

The sky isn’t evil. Try looking up."

Thanks for this, Josh. Thanks for the reminder of the power we all have and that the pen will always be mightier than the sword.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

You Blinked!

I need one of you guys in Gatineau to get this to your boss.

Don't try to hide! I know you're there. Every time I use four letter words like CRTC or reference Konrad von Finckenstein, my hits from your side of the river spike like gas prices on a summer long weekend.

Maybe the boss is even reading them before you can prep the synopsis. You think?

If so -- vF, can I have a moment? And I hope you don't mind me calling you vF. I'd love to stick to the formalities rightly due you and your office but I'm going to get carpel tunnel if I have to type Konrad von Finckenstein over and over.

Okay. The reason we need to talk is this. You've been snookered, pal. Had. As in Fooled -- Tricked -- or more contemporarily...

You remember when you were a Judge and lawyers in your courtroom used to signal somebody was fibbing by tugging their wigs lower -- literally "pulling the wool over their eyes"? Well, apparently nobody signaled you during the recent hearings with Canada's more significant Broadcasters and Re-Broadcasters. So I guess you missed what was really going on.

I think you might have suspected something was up since you dropped your recent ruling on a Friday while everybody was packing for the cottage. But us folks who actually work in showbiz, we noticed. And I thought somebody should tell you what's really going on so you could maybe change your mind on Tuesday.

But first, let's talk about how I was able to recognize your situation...

On a warm spring day almost exactly 19 years ago, I winged my way to LA for a meeting about becoming head writer for "Friday the 13th: The Series". Things were busy TV wise in the Great White North, but the film biz was faltering. The Ottawa brain trust that ran Telefilm and mapped "Cultural Policy" had been wrestling with ways to get Canadian film to the next level for more than two years as the business they were intent on saving withered and died around them.

Telefilm's goal back then was to have Canadian films be truly Canadian, as opposed to the not even "B" movie stuff we'd produced through the early 80's. They also wanted home grown product to account for 15% of available screen time.

The Mulroney government, leery of doing anything that might parallel the Liberal "tax credit" scams that produced most of those "not even B" movies, intended to fund and promote this great leap forward with what was called the "Film Importation Bill"; an Act which (instead of fleecing taxpayers) would take a few pennies from each film ticket sold for a non-Canadian feature and direct it toward indigenous fare.

These types of levies had been quite common at various times around the world. Hollywood, the prime target, had always survived them, and some programs similar to the one the Canadian government was devising had helped infant industries bootstrap themselves to a competitive level while also finally getting their own stories onto local screens.

If you happen to be a history buff or Canadian film masochist, here's a CBC clip that provides the background. Remember to click the video link so you can see Peter Mansbridge with hair.

Anyway -- US president Ronald Reagan and Hollywood Hit Man, Jack Valenti, were fighting hard against this possibility. The former insisted it contradicted the newly signed Free Trade pact while the latter held that Canada was inextricably tied to the American market. According to both the Movie Star turned President and the Presidential Aide turned Hollywood Ninja, if Canada made this move, ticket prices would skyrocket, audiences would be denied the chance to see many far more popular American films, distribution chains would collapse, and the movies and artists that came out of such a program could be denied American distribution in retaliation.

On the day I boarded my plane, Heritage Minister Flora MacDonald finally killed the bill and Telefilm changed course to concentrate on "industrializing". That meant making sure even more American productions came up here, so those out of work feature crews could keep paying their income taxes.

Although I work a lot on television, I started in Indy films and that's where my heart will always be. And much as I was looking forward to the possibility of working on this new series, I had a couple of feature scripts out there that I knew were now as good as dead.

In one of those anomalies of East to West travel, where you get off a plane around the same time you got on it, I arrived in LA to discover what was headline news in our morning papers was also the top story in "Variety" and "The Hollywood Reporter".

My meeting was with Frank Mancuso Jr. at Paramount. We'd never spoken, but I had been well-briefed by a few insiders. He was the son of Paramount CEO Frank Mancuso Sr. and the force behind the hugely successful "Friday the 13th" slasher franchise. Those who didn't like Frank or his movies characterized him as a spoiled rich kid or only on the lot because of daddy. Those who liked him or the films called him "lucky".

In reality, he was one of the brightest producers I've ever worked with. He had his own assessment of the Jason phenomenon but was enough of a showman to keep giving that audience what they wanted. He would go on to do some truly egregious movies like "Back to the Beach" and "He Said, She Said" but also produced good films like "Permanent Record", "Internal Affairs", "Ronin" and more recently, Andy Garcia's achingly poetic "The Lost City".

Far from a dilitante, Frank taught me an enormous amount about being true to your creative convictions, never giving in to corporate duplicity and especially -- how Hollywood thinks.

I arrived on the Paramount lot and was escorted into his well-appointed office, where he was reading the Hollywood Reporter. He smiled at me, pointed to the headline and said, "You blinked!"

"Excuse me?"

"Your government. They blinked."

He went on to explain that virtually every studio in LA had assumed the Film Importation Bill was a done deal. A few good movies had come out of Canada lately. Much of the talent was already making names for themselves in LA. It only made sense that such potential should be exploited.

Oh, sure, they'd sicked Valenti on us. That made sense too. Maybe they could reduce the size of the levy, find ways to qualify American controlled films as Canadian much as they had in Germany, Italy or the UK.

And then we blinked, rolled over, showed our tummy and slunk away to let our artists wither and a film industry remain stillborn.

I was astonished at how simple it all was. To be honest, I think that's why Frank hired me. He sensed I was easily impressed.

A couple of years later, I ran into Frank's dad at my first NATPE convention. Frank Sr. asked what I thought of the TV marketing madhouse that is NATPE. I told him I was confused. Everybody I talked to contradicted each other. It was hard to separate the truth from the lies.

He shook his head. "Nobody Lies", he said. "They tell you the truth they need you to believe."

That's what happened at your hearings, vF. Canada's Broadcasters and Re-Broadcasters spun tales of doom and gloom, collapsing networks, no money for Canadian drama and only "Carriage fees" would save them -- and the culture.

They told you the truth they needed you to believe. And you blinked.

These guys never wanted "Carriage Fees". They knew no right thinking cable or satellite subscriber was going to pay to see the same programming they were already paying to see from the US stations in their package. They knew no profit minded cable/satellite provider was going to put up with the outcry and canceled subscriptions that would follow such a move.

Nope, they just wanted another "no strings attached" hand-out -- and you handed it out.

Our Broadcasters and Re-Broadcasters are now in a position to earn as much as $300,000 more per hour of primetime programming. This after a year in which their profits were so high that two of them had enough cash just lying around to buy up some of the competition.

What will the Canadians who own the airwaves these guys use receive in return for such a financial windfall? Nothing but more commercials. What will the Canadians who make Canadian television programming receive? Nothing that helps us make better programming, or perhaps any programming -- and we'll also get fewer promotional spots, meaning far fewer Canadians will even know our programs exist.

You stated that you made your decision to "give broadcasters additional revenue to deal with increasing competition from cable channels, new media and other digital platforms". For the life of me, I've never been able to understand why you feel the need to keep these people viable when they can't seem to remain competitive on their own.

I guess you also don't know that they own most of those cable channels, tie up new media rights in any programs they license and through the ISP's they also already own, control a significant portion of emerging digital platforms.

It was somewhat telling that the first comment from the CBC about your decision stated: "Over the longer term, the net result will be fewer opportunities for Canadian stories to be told."

This from the network who counts among its jewels for the coming season, "The Tudors", a mini-series about a 400 year old British King, which had already reduced the opportunities for Canadian stories to be told prior to your ruling.

I hope you'll be reading the Entertainment pages as you prepare for Banff, vF, so you can see how our Re-Broadcasters use their newfound wealth to buy foreign programming. I hope you'll be able to face the people who struggle to make programming here without any assistance from you to help them "deal with increasing competition, new media and other digital platforms."

There's still time to fix this mistake. I'm not the only one who's already noticing. There are great posts by my industry confrères Will and DMC and Caroline, offering their insights and ideas.

Hey, maybe you could use Banff to drop the other shoe! By adding two minutes of hourly ads to the current twelve, your ruling has increased Broadcaster ad revenue by 15% -- maybe you could announce a mandatory spend of 15% of ad revenue for Canadian drama.

Seems only fair.

I know we've only asked for 7%, which the nets insisted they couldn't afford. Seems that argument's out the window now. Tell you what -- we'll ask 15 and you give us 10. Then everybody's ahead. And we'll all blink back, but only using one eye.

But understand this, vF, if you don't drop that other shoe -- then you really will have blinked when you could have made a real difference. And you'll also prove the truth in that old joke that lawyers used to tell behind your back...

Q: What do you call the dumbest lawyer in the room?
A: Your Honor.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

It Ain't Over Til It's Over

I don't think I've ever been in a hockey pool where one player dominated the field for so long. There's usually some ebb and flow, some flukes and dramatic shifts. But it seems that so far Cunningham can do no wrong.

1 Bill Cunningham 140
2 Dave Moses 126
3 Michael Foster 111
4 Will Dixon 108
5 Micah Reid 107
6 Mark Askwith 106
7 John Whaley 102
8 Denis McGrath 100
9 Jim Henshaw 99
10 Larry Raskin 98
11 Juniper 97
12 Mark Farrell 84

But don't give up! Askwith's still sitting there with a full team, some of whom are actually capable of scoring. And DMC has some solid picks remaining too. This isn't done by a long shot. One of these guys could be the Thomas Holmstrom everybody thought was down and out. Sometimes (as all Leafs fans know) a series can turn on one dumb play.

Yes, Cunningham, the hockey Gods can be fickle. Fans went to bed all over Ottawa last night thinking "Oh no, it's starting..." and I have a feeling Rob Neidermeyer is secretly wishing he'd been suspended from tonight's game along with Chris Pronger. "Mr. Neidermeyer, meet Mr. Maltby. He'd like to show you how to throw an elbow without getting caught..."

In other, better news. Canada's National Team went undefeated in the World Hockey Tournament, with Shane Doan making himself an instant folk hero and a lot of grim faced politicians wishing they'd stuck to the job they were elected to do instead of trying to make some political hay by smearing his name.

Wave "Bye-Bye" Jack Layton. That shadow you saw was the long one you're casting as the sun sets on your sorry, duplicitous ass.

For those who missed it, here are the Host German Broadcasters' highlights of the Gold Medal game. You don't need to watch it all, but scoot ahead to the 2:00 minutes remaining marker to witness one of the best goals you might ever see. Rick Nash should be an example to all writers that determination and refusing to give up is what nets you the winners.

And see you next week. Trust me -- this isn't over...

Sunday, May 06, 2007


"I figured I needed a six of Miller
And one of those things so I wouldn't spill 'er"

Miranda, honey, this is everybody! Everybody, meet Miranda! She'll be right next to me for the next few months. Yessirree, we're goin' everywhere and doin' everything Summertime together. This sweet little thing and me are gonna be inseparable. And tell ya what, she's not only easy on the eyes -- there's these things she does with her tongue...

The first warm weekend of every spring for as long as I remember, this young man's fancy has always turned to finding a soundtrack to the pending Summer and all that comes with it. Pressed, I can probably name a half dozen tunes I directly link to each of my Summer's past.

I literally played the grooves off two copies of "Rubber Soul" and "Born in the USA" after their summer arrivals. Past years, the player in the truck has been Summer-stocked with Garth and Wilco and Shaggy. Of late, it's almost all Country and this year, the Number One slot, the disk the system automatically seeks when I turn the ignition will be occupied by Miranda Lambert's spectacular new album "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend".

Miranda had a huge hit last year with her debut album "Kerosene" and her 2nd offering solidifies her place as the new voice of Country. Even the City Slickers at the NY Times are writing stories about her and her songs. Whether you're into Country or not, I can assure you, this is one very special singer and there are songs here that will speak to you.

I should also take this opportunity to say that I've always felt way too many screenwriters get all uppity and sophisticated and Urban about C&W and therefore miss all the screenwriting tips they could pick up listening to Country.

Not for nothin' but you should do yourself a favor.

Country's a musical style that's completely story based. The songs deal in real people, real emotions and the themes other music barely acknowledges in passing. Lines scrawled on washroom walls, napkins and Hallmark cards become doorways to the innermost reaches of the human heart. As one Nashville station used to say, "Listen long enough and somebody sings your life".

My favorite Country lyric belongs to Rhett Atkins (Summer of '95):

"That ain't my truck in her drive
This ain't my day tonight
She's my girl – she’s my whole world
But that ain't my truck"

I mean, just says it all, don't it...and in four lines.

I have this TV dialogue rule that you never get more than four lines -- five in only the tightest pinch and if you want more, you better have something exceptionally important to say.

Script Gurus, Network Execs and Studio Readers all insist you must grab their attention by page 10. Well, that's all very nice -- but -- they're lying. The truth is, a good first page buys you that ten. Keeping page two interesting gets them to read up to twenty and so on. By page ten, if you continue to impress, they're in for the whole ride, no matter how tired their lips are getting.

But grabbing them with those first few lines is the key.

Job interviews come down to the first eight seconds. Scripts you get sixty.

And you gotta put a lot in those first lines.

Similarly, a great Country song is able to set the scene in 4-8 lines, describes the emotional point of view in the chorus and tells Act II and Act III in the next two verses. Trust Me! You become a better writer by listening to Country.

Miranda's album has several songs that tell great stories, beginning with the opening number "Gunpowder and Lead"...

"County road 233 under my feet
Nothin' on this white rock but little ole me
I've got two miles til he makes bail
And if I'm right we're headed straight for hell

I'm goin' home, gonna load my shotgun
Wait by the door and light a cigarette
If he wants a fight well now he's got one
He ain't seen me crazy yet"

To check out the rest, check out Miranda Lambert. I'll bet she turns out to be your summer girlfriend too, as well as an inspiration and perhaps a new muse.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Time For Some Inglewood Jack

Almost at the end of Round two and the Mad Pulp Bastard continues to lead the way. His urine test arrived a couple of days ago. I don't know why you had to fill a Colt .45 quart bottle, Cunningham. But I suppose I should've known better than to issue the challenge in the first place...

In lieu of opening that bottle and in tribute I post the following blend of hockey and Pulp...

This week's standings:

1 Bill Cunningham 99
2 Michael Foster 88
3 Micah Reid 86
4 Dave Moses 85
5 Will Dixon 83
6 Larry Raskin 82
7 John Whaley 77
8 Jim Henshaw 74
9 Denis McGrath 72
10 Mark Askwith 70
11 Mark Farrell 69
12 Juniper 68

And one final thing for all you Canadian members of the Pool...

This morning, members of Canada's Parliament are gathering in a Committee Room in Ottawa to smear the reputation of our National Team Captain Shane Doan for their own petty political purposes.

Shane's appointment has been called into question by opposition leaders Stephane Dion, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe, over an incident in which he was accused of uttering a derogatory remark to a French-Canadian referee.

Doan has repeatedly denied he uttered a slur in a game played Dec. 13, 2005, and handled by an all French-Canadian officiating crew. The NHL investigated the incident and completely exonerated him.

Doan says he was trying to calm down goaltender Curtis Joseph, who was upset that a penalty hadn't been called in a game against the Canadiens. As an enraged Joseph hovered around centre ice, Doan skated over to him and yelled: "Four French referees in Montreal, Cuje, figure it out."

But that's not good enough for Canada's politicians, who waited 17 months and the start of International competition so they could grab the spotlight.

NDP Leader Jack Layton has said that Mr. Doan's captaincy "casts a shadow" on the Canadian team. Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe says the NHL is not a legitimate tribunal. And Stephane Dion....?

There is a Liberal Candidate named Farhan Chak running in the Alberta Riding of Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont. He was charged with firing a shotgun into a nightclub after a knife fight. Like Mr. Doan, he was exonerated.

Mr. Chak has also published articles that blame the Israeli government for slaughtering, raping and enslaving Palestinians, and suggesting the West masterminded terrorist attacks to discredit Muslims.

Despite questions in Parliament two days ago, about Mr. Chak’s fitness as a candidate, Mr. Dion has stood by him.

So – whatever a politician might say or his indisputable innocence after he's vindicated is one thing but it's okay to smear an ordinary Canadian's reputation in this way?

Please send your MP an email this morning, perhaps asking if there aren't more important things they could be doing.

Here's more from the hockey community courtesy of TSN:

The NHL stands by its decision to clear Shane Doan and says politicians should mind their own business.

Colin Campbell, the NHL's executive vice-president and director of hockey operations, said Wednesday he is mystified that Canadian politicians have revived the Doan controversy.

It's been almost a year and a half since the league cleared the Phoenix Coyotes forward of allegations that he made a derogatory remark to a French-Canadian official during a 2005 game in Montreal.

"I stand by my original comments after our investigation," Campbell told The Canadian Press. "But I would add to it at this point in time, it's rather embarrassing to all Canadian hockey fans we're rehashing this again, particularly when Hockey Canada and Shane Doan are representing and working hard in Moscow right now, competing for our country. It's ridiculous."

The Phoenix Coyotes defended Doan in a statement. "As a member of our organization for 12 seasons, Shane Doan has been a model of sportsmanship, dedication, and excellence for our organization and the Phoenix community," the statement read. "He has repeatedly shown his compassion for people through his many goodwill endeavors, and has held himself to the highest moral standards.

"The Phoenix Coyotes are honored to have Shane Doan represent our organization at the World Championships as captain of Team Canada"

Others in the hockey world also rallied around Doan on Wednesday.

"Totally ridiculous," Canucks head coach Vigneault, a Quebec City native and former coach of the Montreal Canadiens, said in Vancouver. "In the heat of the battle things get said sometimes, a lot worse than being called a French frog or whatever.
"He says he didn't say it. Even if he did, come on," added Vigneault. "If our politicians, French or English, if that's the only thing right now they have to worried about . There's a lot more important things going on right now in society. It is utterly, utterly stupid, not to say embarrassing."

Superstar goalie Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils also wished the politicians had laid off. "It's unfortunate," he said in Ottawa before Game 4 of his playoff series against the Senators. "Coming from Montreal, you can understand that people don't like that when there's speculation over language and whatever.

"I know Shane really good and I don't see him saying that. All these years in the league I never had a problem with it so for me to hear that other people had a problem, I have a hard time to understand it. But everyone has a right to react different ways about situations."

Senators forward Mike Comrie played with Doan in Phoenix and defended his former teammate. "If you know Shane Doan, you would assume he would never make the remarks he's being accused of," said Comrie. "I played with him for three years and I never heard him swear. He's a person people respect."

Canucks forward Alex Burrows of Pincourt, Que., also didn't understand why the politicians were fussing. "I think it's over the limit," said Burrows. "I think it's something that happened two or three years ago.

"The NHL didn't make anything about it, they probably studied the case and nothing came upon it. Now it goes to the government and they are making a big story about it?
"It's kind of funny it's still going on. Hopefully Shane will still be team captain and keep doing the great job for the country."

While Doan, who denies making a slur, has been exonerated by the NHL, some politicians have questioned the league's investigation. Campbell says the NHL followed the rules.

"We have a protocol in these situations that we stand by," said Campbell. "And we use it in every situation where we have accusations regarding slurs or whatever it may be. For some of these politicians to get involved, I would have to think they've got other things pending and they should stay out of our business."

The issue erupted on Parliament Hill this week as opposition parties criticized Doan's selection as Canadian captain. Members of the Conservative government agreed with them that Hockey Canada should be asked to tell their side of the story and voted with the opposition to schedule a hearing before a parliamentary committee to explain why Doan was named captain.

Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson, chairman Rene Marcil, and senior director Brad Pascall will appear Thursday before the House of Commons' Official Languages Committee.

They were not forced to testify - but could have faced a subpoena had they rejected an initial request from the committee.

Sport Canada was also summoned, and has also agreed to attend. The agency receives $150 million in federal funding and is responsible for Hockey Canada.