Friday, November 30, 2007


There's probably nothing that better defines my "Shitkicker" status than my affection and respect for Robert "Evel" Knievel, the motorcycle stunt phenomenon who died a few hours ago.

I honestly don't know when I first encountered Evel Knievel. There was just a point when he was kind of there and a moment later he was everywhere, making the leap from obscure cult hero to cultural icon about as fast as he covered the distance from one ramp to another over an ever increasing number of cars, 18 Wheelers, fountains, canyons or buses.

Evel Kneivel routinely took his life in his hands by doing something oddly stupid, and arcanely unique -- jumping things on a motorcycle.

He probably failed at this more often than he succeeded. In the course of his "career" he broke every bone in his body at least once and endured untold muscle tears, skin shears, concussions and pierced organs. The pulmonary disease that took his life today was contracted in the same manner as the Hepatitis C that almost killed him in 1999, by a transfusion of tainted blood.

But he kept coming back. He just healed, got up, got back on his Harley-Davidson #1 motorcycle and did it again -- each time making the task before him harder than it had been before. If he crashed jumping 10 cars, the next time he took on 11. He never went back. All movement was forward.

Forward toward what? Your guess is as good as mine. Try asking yourself that question no matter who you are or what you do in life. I'm sure many of us would not comprehend your own answer.

My addiction to what he did had been affirmed by the 1971 George Hamilton movie "Evel Knievel" and fed regularly by the numerous jumps that were covered "Live" on ABC Sports.

That's how big the guy was. Before the networks had even heard of NASCAR or motocross, let alone conceived the "X" Games, Evel had touched that Thrill Ride/Desperado/Redneck nerve and consistently delivered millions of viewers.

The man's exploits were followed by "Life" and "Rolling Stone". For good or ill, Joe Esterhaz owes his Hollywood career to the coverage he wrote of Evel's failed rocket cycle jump of the Snake River Canyon.

I saw Evel Knievel jump a bunch of trucks at the CNE in August of 1974. The photo above was taken on the afternoon of the event.

The old stadium by the lake was sold out -- which would have meant I was in the company of 25,000 other fans. The show consisted of an hour or so of stunts, car rollovers and thrill driver stuff. And then Evel came out of his American flag painted mobile home, mounted the jump ramp and made a speech about how happy he was to be there. After he had taken us through the minutiae of what was arrayed against him, he led us in a moment of prayer and then got on board #1.

He was dressed in his trademark white leathers with a blue criss-cross of stars that I emulated by wearing in my 1975 film "A Sweeter Song", reversing the blue and white and replacing those American stars with more Canadian Maple Leaves.

Evel donned his helmet and did a couple of warm-up runs past the line of trucks, doing wheelies, tweaking the bike throttle, enriching the fuel mix. News reports today say there were thirteen trucks. I remember the number as 12. Either way, lined up side by side, they offered an impressive obstacle, an almost 2-storey high wall of steel.

By the time he took his place on the runway track, it was growing dark. One of those soft summer nights we get in this city, where the air only moves enough to flutter a flag and the temperature so approximates body heat that you don't know where you end and the night begins.

The place slowly went silent, as all of us suddenly came to the realization that the soft spoken man on the bike in front of us might be only a few seconds from death. Part of you wanted him to take off his helmet, wave and go home to his family. We'd seen him. We'd touched his courage and that was enough.

But it wasn't enough for him. He cranked the throttle and that Harley engine roared louder than I'd ever heard a motorcycle roar. It echoed around the mute stadium for a moment before his white boot lifted from the pavement and he was away, careening toward his destiny.

It took seconds for him to mount the ramp and seconds more to cross that chasm of trucks, but for that part time stopped. This tiny white figure hung in the sky. Then Flashbulb stars began exploding around him as he arc'd above, the bike gliding silently over the chasm. Then he started to drop and you watched the line of the fall. It looked like he'd make it. No, it didn't. Yes, it did...

The crowd erupted as the realization that he would clear the last truck became obvious. Then the place went nuts as he landed, man and bike compressing into the off-ramp. He wobbled, then shot down to the field and open road ahead.

We were all screaming now, in that tribal way like when you'd seen one of the young warriors elude the sabre-tooth tiger or slay the wooly mammoth. Evel Knievel had cheated death right there in front of us. He took the one thing he knew we all are most afraid of and took it on, demanded it either show its face and its power or shut up and scurry on home.

That night we knew death wasn't as powerful as it thought it was. And that feeling was incredibly freeing and inspiring.

We walked out of that stadium on air. Nothing was impossible. Fear was just a word. If Evel could overcome his challenge, you could scale whatever was placed in front of you.

Death, of course, lets us play that game. It knows it always wins in the end. And this afternoon it finally came to claim Evel Knievel.

But you know, if you take a careful look at the box score, it reads:

Evel Knievel: 300 or more -- Death: 1.

Rest in Peace, Buddy. You kicked the sonovabitch's ass!

And for a way cool one-on-one with Evel, check out DMC.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007



“...and the men of Israel were gathered together, pitched by the valley of Elah, and set in battle array against the Philistines.”

I'll be joining the Day of Solidarity with the WGA in Toronto today. But with both sides in the Strike back at the table and hopefully making progress, I wanted to communicate a little about my own experiences negotiating writer agreements.

I hope it will help those of you who are new to this process understand what you can expect in the coming days. Because this is where the hard part begins. This is where you come face to face with Goliath, depending on little more than your faith in what you believe in and hoping the small stone in your sling is enough.

I have been connected to Unions my whole life. When I was a kid, one of my grandfathers and later my dad worked for the Canadian Pacific Railroad. One of my dad's best friends was an officer in their union and went on to become a respected Member of Parliament.

I can remember going to smokey meetings in the local Legion or Oddfellows Hall as he would outline the latest company offer or a negotiated agreement the other men needed to ratify.

The details of those deals were beyond me, but I won't ever forget the turmoil and emotion in those meeting halls as men struggling to make ends meet argued over what they were losing to see a few extra dollars in their pay packet or achieve a benefit many of them might never require.

That taught me early that no one wins a strike. No one.

In school, they regularly showed us NFB films about the importance of the rail lines that connected the country and gushed with pride over the massive shipments of wheat and cattle that left places like my home town to feed great cities. We were the "Breadbasket of the world".

Those sprocket jumping films showed me that the companies who owned the box cars carrying our produce also owned ships and airplanes, great skyscapers and luxury hotels; along with the shiny streamliners with Club and Observation cars that zoomed past town once a day in either direction.

It would be years before anyone coined the term "convergence". But the overall message was that the companies were very rich and very powerful and we were very lucky to have them looking out for our interests.

But then the railroad workers would disagree with the wage or benefit packages the company offered, negotiations broke down and their union went on strike.

It wasn't anything they looked forward to doing. To be honest, it made no sense given the money and power arrayed against them. But like sending a child into battle against a giant, it was the only option they had.

And it made you realize that maybe the companies didn't have your best interests at heart at all.

What I remember most from these disputes was the way it impacted my family. I overheard late night calls threatening my dad if he didn't go back to work and discussions with men who worked alone or in small groups in remote locations along the tracks. They were vulnerable and afraid, often warned of the imminent arrival of scabs and railroad "Bulls" determined to break their will, physically if need be.

It was a time when it wasn't unusual for union men to be beaten or humiliated in front of their families, sometimes as the Mounties looked on -- or just the other way. I remember seeing my dad and my grandfather and that future MP loading the .38s the railroad had issued them to protect its property, now being carried to defend themselves from their benefactors.

It was an early lesson in how fragile society really is, how the concept of fairness doesn't seem to graduate past grade school with some people and that those with power sometimes feel the need to grip it with frightening tenacity.

It was my introduction to the concept of the "Working Class Hero". I understood you should respect authority and great wealth and power -- but you could never trust them to show respect in return. Sometimes they had to be reminded that people without wealth and power were people too.

And like the man said, a working class hero was "something to be".

My own union affiliations have included the Musicians Union, Canadian and American Equity, ACTRA, the Writers Guild of Canada and the WGA. Early in my career, when Canadian writers were still members of ACTRA, I was part of the group that helped seperate us from their embrace and form the WGC.

That was a difficult and complicated process, especially for me, mostly still an actor at the time. But I knew that the working goals of actors and those of writers were not always compatible and whether I stuck with the new Guild or not, writers needed their own voice, which by its separateness could enhance rather than weaken the position of Canadian artists overall.

My original WGC membership card was #2.

Around the same time, I was pressed into service on the negotiating team that hammered out what became the WGC's first Independent Producer Agreement. For the first time in my association with Unions, I was part of constructing the terms and conditions under which I worked.

Along with Jack Grey, the Guild's first President, John Hunter ("The Grey Fox") and rotating regional reps, (ably guided by the Guild's first Executive Director, Margaret Collier) we spent the best part of a year locked in that process. Opposite us were several producers I'd worked for and an experienced entertainment lawyer; like us, determined to create an agreement that realistically reflected our growing film and television industry.

At first, a lot of time was spent with both sides being painfully honest and detailed in how we worked, what individual and industry realities we faced and how we envisioned a future that could benefit all of us.

For all you've heard recently about how essential writers are to the process, writers also know that a prosperous industry is just as important and that the future needs to be bright for everyone involved.

That approach is complicated by the knowledge that the industry is populated on both sides by those whose motives are more selfish and to whom the "here and now" always takes precedence over "down the road".

As Craig Mazin correctly compares labor and baseball here, you quickly learn that your duty in that room is to be both strong and reasonable.

Strong as an advocate for your fellow writers, reasonable in knowing that you can't always get what you want.

Writers here at that time were trying to establish that there really were -- writers -- here -- at that time. Some of us had a certain caché because we'd sold scripts in NY, London or LA. But overall, there was little to encourage Producers to use local talent. It was much more fun for them to fly to LA and come back with a little bag of "sparkle dust" from there.

Come to think of it, some things never change...

So part of our agenda was to create incentives to encourage our hiring while not undercutting what were economically realistic WGA minimums. To establish a foothold in the industry, we needed to be cheaper than they were without working for less than we could live on or leaving the impression that Canadian scripts weren't worth as much as those sold South of the Border.

The Producers had their own problems. Development money was non-existent. Production funding was tenuous right up until the day cameras finally rolled and Distribution was American controlled and iffy when it came to accounting for the profits.

Some of that was posturing. But we knew that establishing ourselves as working writers depended on helping them reach a position of cost certainty with backend profit sharing structured to ensure that they had seen profits in the first place.

Canadian residual income was a pipe dream in the late 70's with neither side seeming capable of tracking where and when income was being earned after the initial theatrical or television runs.

Like I said, some things don't change...

However, in a day when almost any information is a few mouse clicks away, it might be hard to understand that creative unions once used to horde TV Guides from all over the world as their trump card in keeping Producers honest.

I once learned a film of mine was making the rounds of American USO's only after getting fan letters from soldiers in Germany and Korea. Another time, I discovered another was being shown as in flight entertainment from a friend who'd seen it while flying Hong Kong to Bombay. The somewhat chagrined airline paid, after achieving a lower dollar amount by insisted the film had only been made available to those in "Second Class".

The negotiation process is a complex one. You come to see some of your own positions as justified but maybe unattainable. You see some of the Producer's requirements as onerous but logical. And both of you get snagged on issues that can't be addressed without throwing some other section already agreed upon completely out of whack.

A clause may be painful for some of the membership and perfect for the rest. They pay the same dues and work just as hard. What do you do?

A loophole covered creates another that a disingenuous producer could drive a truck through. Do you hamstring them all for the sake of one potential bad apple, or cut them some slack and hope the trust is appreciated and respected?

Those two words constantly reverberate in your head -- strong but reasonable.

In the end, the final agreements are always imperfect. This isn't a business where everybody operates the same jack hammer.

Both sides also know that times change, they're not carving anything in stone and better minds or new experience will get a crack at the same issues in 2 or 3 years time. You do the best you can under the circumstances, both for your union members and for your industry. Sometimes you make mistakes.

Our first IPA (Independent Producers Agreement) was imperfect, but it achieved its goal of creating a a reliable foundation for a burgeoning industry. Accepting that development money was scarce, we made the initial writing stages cheaper, creating a "script fee" that was below WGA rates, but was topped up when it went into production. We also created a "Production fee" that prepaid residual uses and didn't require further outlays from the producer until he was out from under his negative cost and in profit.

I've had writers tell me it was an agreement that finally allowed them to earn a living in this country. I've had others insist it cost them a fortune. They're probably both right.

What comes out of the current talks in Los Angeles will be imperfect. Nobody will get everything they want. We'll give away things we've championed to make a deal and some writers will complain that the strike wasn't worth it.

There will also be producers who find loopholes in the new contract and use them against our best interests. That's simply the nature of the beast and not something you change with a sling and a small smooth stone.

But it's all we've got -- and sometimes it can make all the difference.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Up to my early teens, I was convinced I was going to be a cartoonist. I'd rush home after school to watch Jon Gnagy's "Learn to Draw" and even applied for a job at Disney when I was 12. I drew all the time and even won a couple of awards at the local fair for my artwork. Drawing from life was my favorite. But I never imagined anybody could be as good as this...

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Canadian screenwriters, along with others in our showbiz community, often bemoan the lack of appreciation we receive for what we do. Sometimes the grousing can make it feel like the "powers that be" in this nation are somehow out to get us. I believe there's much truth in that. But I also know we're not alone.

Constable Chris Garrett of the Coburg, Ontario police department, responded to a 911 robbery call from a teenaged boy in the early morning hours of May 15, 2004. What he didn't know was that the call was a set up, designed to lure the officer who answered it into an ambush that was to mark the start of an all out assault on the local police.

Posing as the victim, 18 year old Troy Davey, gained Garrett's confidence, getting close enough to slit his throat. But the officer fought back, chasing his attacker as blood gushed from his neck and firing a shot that wounded him in the leg before Garrett died.

Davey was soon captured, the investigation revealing that he was in possession of homemade bombs and other weapons. The evidence at his trial indicated that he had planned to destroy the Coburg police station and kill as many cops as he possibly could.

I've been to a few Police funerals. They're an incredibly moving spectacle. And while writing on "Top Cops" I had the opportunity to pen several stories about fallen police officers, learning first hand from their families and fellow officers how impactful these events are.

That led me to writing speeches for two US Presidents on occasions honoring their fallen at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington. Not the same as having your work voiced by Pacino or Clooney, but still very cool. If you visit Washington, the Fallen Lions overlooking the names of the Fallen Officers on that memorial delivers a profound and moving message.

I also shot a documentary about the Canadian Police/Peace Officer's Memorial at one of the annual Services held the last Sunday of September on Parliament Hill. That event draws thousands of Police from around the world to witness the names of the previous year's fallen enscribed in the granite stone at the pavilion's base.

After his death, Chris Garrett was rightly named a hero. His actions, while they forever took him from his wife and two children, undoubtedly saved many other lives and many other families from the same anguish. It was a selfless sacrifice and Garrett's thankful colleagues nominated him for the highest award a member of law enforcement can receive in Canada -- the Cross of Valour.

But Garrett won't get a medal.

Governor General Michaelle Jean, whose office handles such matters, has let Chris Garrett's family know that she won't award it. You see, there is a time limit of two years between the date of the incident and the date an application will be considered. Constable Garrett's application arrived -- eight months too late.

Now, there was a reason for that late application. It's called the Canadian Justice system. Which, for reasons good or bad, took almost 3 years to try and convict Garrett's killer of First Degree Murder. And no application for awards to Fallen police officers can be made until all legal matters in the incident have been resolved.

You'd think a Governor General might have enough common sense to do the right thing under the circumstances; or that one of her minions would take a moment from planning the guest list for the Rideau Hall Christmas party (which you can be assured did not include members of Constable Garrett's family) to find a way to bend the rules.

But that's not how Ottawa works. And that's not the mentality of the kind of people who work there.

And you thought all those CRTC rulings that only favored the wealthy and powerful were an anomally, didja Sparky?

Unfortunately, the GG may strike an egalitarian pose when she's touring Haitian slums or glad-handing Inuit school kids. But at the core she's part of the cabal who really run this country. And just like we showbiz types, cops are not part of their inner circle, nor much valued by it, if the truth were known.

If this callous disregard for someone who gave their life in service of their fellow citizens appalls you as much as it does me, there's an online petition you can sign here, which, as of this morning, had over 10,000 signatures.

Or you can contact your local MP, who'll be on the list here and ask what they plan to do about it. Maybe you could phone the Prime Minister and suggest that when he's finished abolishing the Senate, he take a look at some of the other parasites in Ottawa we're supposed to respect.

At the moment, a movement is afoot in Canadian Police circles to return all medals officers have received, including Crosses of Valour that will come from the widows and families of Fallen officers. Just how sad is that?

And come next September, GG Jean will still take her coach to Parliament Hill, as she and all her predecessors have always done, escorted by her personal Horse Guard, to make a nice speech to several thousand law enforcement officers and their fellow Canadians about how much they are valued.

Only those people will know she doesn't mean it.

And maybe some of them will also be wondering if anyone's taken convicted felon Conrad Black's place as an Officer in that self-same Governor General's Horse Guard -- or if that is being politely ignored and hopefully forgotten by us masses.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


My home team's playing for the Grey Cup! Perhaps I could even go so far as to say that Canada's team is playing for the CFL Championship this year. For those fans who come from other cities, I understand your loyalties are split, but you have to admit it's true.

Nobody dislikes the Saskatchewan Roughriders! Even when we're killing other teams we're the underdogs, the small town guys who made good, an eternal Cinderella story.

For those of you reading from lands afar, I'm talking about Canadian football. It's a game not much removed from the American version, but with unique quirks that make it faster and more fun. We play with more guys on a bigger field and three downs instead of four. Other than that and arcane scoring terms like the "rouge", it's pretty much the same product.

The Roughriders are from Regina, the smallest city in the league. They're our equivalent of the Green Bay Packers and their fans are just as loyal.

They were also the first professional sports team I ever saw play. And when I was a kid, I worshipped each and every one of them. They were heroes in a land that had none. Larger than life and yet so much a part of the town that they seemed no different from your dad or next door neighbor.

My family moved to Regina from the SW of Saskatchewan in 1960. Back then, the city had a population of less than 100,000 and not much in the way of traditional sports and entertainment. The Riders were literally the only game in town. And at that time, that wasn't saying much.

The team had suffered a terrible tragedy a couple of years earlier when their four best players were killed in a plane crash returning from our version of the Pro-Bowl. Without their stars, and with the fans' hearts cut out, the Riders endured a string of miserable seasons. Attendance fell to nothing and the franchise was close to going under.

In fact, the team ended up being taken over by the city fathers in a last ditch erffort to save it and to this day remains the only community owned franchise in professional sport. If you live in Saskatchewan, you can buy a club membership and have a say in how things are run.

Anyway, around 1961 or 2, I landed my first job; a paper route with the Regina Leader-Post. And when football season approached, us paperboys were handed books of tickets and asked to sell them door to door as we delivered newspapers, to help keep the team alive. For every book of tickets you sold, you got an end zone seat in a section reserved for kids with an overhead sign that read "RIDER ROOKIES".

I sold two books and my brother and I went to our first football game. It was against the BC Lions and their hated Quarterback (later NFL and B-movie star) Joe Kapp.

Kapp had gotten on the bad side of Saskatchewan kids by becoming the spokesman for "Squirrel" Peanut Butter. We couldn't understand how the people at Squirrel would let a quarterback for some other team try to sell us peanut butter. The brand immediately dropped to last place on the shelves at Safeway. We'd eat crap like "Jif" before we'd let our mothers buy another jar of "Squirrel"!!!

Joe was so detested, that when you got his picture wheel in a bag of Old Dutch Potato Chips, those guys were smart enough to encourage you to return it for a free bag.

Unfortunately, Joe (now dubbed "The Peanut Butter Kid") and his team kicked our ass that night. Although he did get sacked on the two yard line right in front of us which was sweet! We lost bad. But the combination of crisp night air, steaming hot dogs smothered in mustard and the thrill of being in a sea of happy drunks dressed in green and white turned me into one of the best ticket salesmen the team ever had.

I'm not saying that it was all those people I convinced to attend games that turned the Riders around. But turn around they soon did, inaugurating what's still considered the Roughrider's golden age.

In 1963, a Fullback from Washington State named George Reed turned down the Denver Broncos to play in Regina because the Riders offered him $3,000 more in an era when salaries in both leagues were interchangeable.

Reed was an astonishing ball carrier who took endless punishment as he ground out his above 5 yards per carry career average. As a testament to his courage and determination, George once played a half dozen games with a broken leg and broke both his hands four times each over his 13 year career. After he also broke Jim Brown's professional rushing record, 12 different NFL teams offered him a contract. He chose to stay in Regina.

George Reed was also one of the first guys to buy me a beer. I walked into a pub one day just after turning 18 and he was sitting at the bar. His off season job was doing promotional work for a local brewery. I stared. George smiled and asked if I was old enough to drink. I nodded and he suggested I try a "Canadian" and directed the bartender to slide one my way.

I snuck that bottle outside and it stood in a place of honor for many football seasons to come.

Two years after George arrived, the Roughriders paid Ottawa $500 for a back up quarterback named Ron Lancaster. At 5' 5" tall, Lancaster was considered an unlikely candidate for pro ball. As the saying goes, they failed to measure the size of his heart.

I don't know that I can adequately describe the sheer terror you felt as you watched Lancaster scramble out of the pocket, pursued by Defensive lineman literally twice his size, knowing that if he didn't get the pass away he might never get off the ground. Some said the legendary Offensive line that soon formed in front of him, including Ted Urness and Bill Clarke (who lived up my street) felt Lancaster's very life depended on them stopping the blitz.

But the terror was matched by the excitement as Lancaster would scoot to a point where he could just see over the defenders and launch a perfect spiral to his favorite receiver, "Gluey" Hughie Campbell.

Campbell was a long, lean and rubbery man who moved like a Chinese fighting kite, rippling off the ground to snare impossible passes. It was as if he was born to perform this one action with perfection. In fact, that might be true, because Campbell actually wrote his college thesis on the math and geometry involved in successfully completing the forward pass.

By now, I must be coming off like some kind of rabid, stat monkey. But what you have to understand is the Riders were a couple of dozen guys who lived and worked in a really small town that had little else. Most of them had regular jobs there in the off-season. They were our neighbors.

The local Ford dealership didn't need to have a celebrity Saturday because half their sales staff was the defensive backfield to start with. A tight end delivered the mail. Guys who returned punts helped you try on a suit at The Bay. Kicker Alan Ford was even my Math teacher for a while.

Because it was Saskatchewan, nobody treated them like they were special. And they didn't act like they were special either. They just played football for a living. Reed and defensive tackle Ed McQuarters were probably the first black people half of Regina ever met. You saw Bill Baker at church and Wayne Shaw at the grocery store.

It was a grown up version of "Friday Night Lights". Farmers drove tractors and combines to Taylor Field so they could get right back to the fall harvest after a game. We didn't have tailgate parties, but on a cold night, it wasn't unusual to have somebody's mickey passed down a row of strangers until it was gone, or see some guy take hot dog orders for his section because he was heading to the concession stand himself.

I think our official mascot was a Gopher, but the unofficial one was some madman who strapped a flash pot to his head and lit it after every touchdown.

Calgary might have a pretty cowgirl on horseback circling the field, but we had somebody willing to risk blowing his head off everytime we scored -- right in the middle of the stands! I believe the league stepped in and ended the practise before anything more than a few eardrums were lost.

In 1966, led by coach Eagle Keys out of East Jesus, Tennessee (Honest, I am not making that up) the Saskatchewan Roughriders finally won their first Grey Cup. The long yearned for victory and their return to the Championship game the following year marked the end of that golden era.

But the loyalty that decade of teams had created endures to this day.

I last saw Ron Lancaster play in the 1976 Grey Cup game, when Tony Gabriel broke my heart catching a touchdown in the dying minutes to seal a win for the other Roughriders from Ottawa. But I tasted victory again in 1989 at the Skydome in Toronto as the Riders beat Hamilton on the last play of the game -- accompanied by a brother who hadn't even been born when I first saw them play.

I guess, like the place you come from, the teams you love stay a part of you as well. They get into your blood, their character sets a standard that forms your own. In some ways, I think that's what being a fan is really all about. It's not just being a part of something bigger. It's knowing that that something is also a part of you.

Go Riders! The game's Sunday on CBC and available to 70 million homes in the US on Comcast regional sports channels and HD net. I believe it's also available in Europe and Asia. Check your local listings.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Just before this whole strike mess started, I got to spend a fun weekend swimming through my Country music collection. One of the artists I didn't feature in the resulting post is the absolute King on modern Country, Garth Brooks.

This morning Garth cancelled appearances on "Ellen" and "The View" and announced he won't be making any television appearances in support of his new album until the WGA goes back to work.

Garth's stance caused a flurry among media pundits because Country is inaccurately seen by the big media sock puppets as conservative and leaning to the political right. Truth is it's anything but. You don't write songs about "the working man" without understanding a whole lot of what that really means.

Mr. Brooks graduated from the University of Oklahoma with degrees in advertising and marketing that helped him become an impressive force in the music business. He's also had a frighteningly accurate understanding of the national pulse for more than a decade and personal experience in what's involved in taking on somebody far bigger, stronger and more powerful than you are.

I couldn't find an embed to link the song off his "No Fences" album that best expresses all of this, but the lyrics are printed below. You might like to find and purchase it online, a small token of thanks to somebody who's shown us his support.


January's always bitter
But Lord this one beats all
The wind ain't quit for weeks now
And the drifts are ten feet tall
I been all night drivin' heifers
Closer in to lower ground
Then I spent the mornin' thinkin'
'Bout the ones the wolves pulled down

Charlie Barton and his family
Stopped today to say goodbye
He said the bank was takin' over
The last few years were just too dry
And I promised that I'd visit
When they found a place in town
Then I spent a long time thinkin'
'Bout the ones the wolves pull down

Lord please shine a light of hope
On those of us who fall behind
And when we stumble in the snow
Could you help us up while there's still time

Well I don't mean to be complainin' Lord
You've always seen me through
And I know you got your reasons
For each and every thing you do
But tonight outside my window
There's a lonesome mournful sound
And I just can't keep from thinkin'
'Bout the ones the wolves pull down

Oh Lord keep me from bein'
The one the wolves pull down

Sunday, November 18, 2007


I'm skipping my newly adopted "Lazy Sunday" post of internet content you'll never experience offline in the interest of keeping the WGA Strike at the forefront.

It's great that the AMPTP and WGA are heading back to the bargaining table after the Thanksgiving holiday. But returning to the room does not mean that an agreement is imminent. In fact, some of what's happened in the last couple of weeks may force the parties to become far more entrenched in their positions.

Here's WGA writer and negotiating committee member Marc Norman ("Shakespeare in Love") in discussion with former studio heads Peter Bart and Peter Guber on AMC's always fascinating series "Shootout", describing how things look from the inside.

Of particular interest to me was Peter Guber's reaction about 20 seconds in. This guy is a real producer, not one of the corporatized big media executives who've been pulling the strings in this dispute. He gets it. He understands what's really going on.

It's a candid discussion epitomizing that it's time our business was returned to the control of people who know how to make movies and television and removed from the influence of those who follow other corporate models.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


One of the most unexpected elements of the current WGA strike has been the reaction of the fans. I think we were all prepared to take some heat from the loyal followers of Prime Time programming as their hours with Dr. House and Jack Bauer were curtailed. The media warned of the wrath of the "Lost" fanatics and reminded us how much of our audience had tuned out in 1988 and never returned.

But the LA and NY picket lines are awash with stories of ordinary viewers delivering coffee and pizzas to strikers, refusing to cross the lines for studio tours and even hiring planes to tow banners supporting the WGA around the monolithic office towers of the Big Media.

It's been a revelation to many writers that the people to whom they've been providing an escape from reality not only understand the real world issues we're facing but want to help us achieve our goals. It's a gift I don't think any of us expected and a gesture that won't soon be forgotten.

Personally, I've been overwhelmed by the response to my list of things you can do to help the WGA and stunned by the passion of people who aren't in this business, yet are going out of their way to make a difference to our struggle.

(Gawd, how often have a preached this -- "It's about the Audience, stupid!")

Anyway, tonight I was linked to a Facebook Group set up by a student at Ryerson University in Toronto named Alyssa Luckhurst. This is what she posted:

"On Saturday, November 10, the 102 members of the "Office" production crew were laid-off. That's 102 hard-working people who have lost their jobs as the WGA (rightfully) fights for a fair deal.

Crew members are arguably the most under-paid and under-appreciated people in the film and television business. They were not protected because their union is not on strike. As Kent Zbornak, co-executive producer, told me, "I had one crew member tell me that he needed to tell his children this weekend that Christmas was going to be tough and they may not get any presents this year."

As fans, I say we help them out! The "Office" crew have given us amazing Christmas episodes, so it's our turn to brighten their holidays."

Ms. Luckhurst's goal is to raise $10,200 by Friday, December 21st ($100/crew member) to make sure the men and women who make her favorite show can celebrate Christmas.

I'd love to see the looks on Jeff Zucker and Ben Silverman's faces when they read that...

Actually, Mr. Zucker may already be wrestling with how badly he wants to get into his Scrooge costume. In a letter to me tonight, Ms. Luckhurst said, "Today I called Jeff Zucker and his secretary was taken aback when I asked to leave my cell number."

I'm starting to think it might not be us writers, but the people on whom Big Media depend for their income and their good corporate image who will settle this thing.

Anyway, if you'd like to help deliver some cheer to the crew of "The Office", you can find out all you need here.

And maybe the rest of us should start thinking about providing a merrier Christmas for the laid off crews of our favorite shows as well. Hey, Diane, how about hanging some mistletoe for the folks at "House". Alex, maybe spiking the punch will help get "Friday Night Lights" back on track.

As for me, I mostly watch Hockey lately, and after tonight's debacle, I think I'll be starting a Facebook Group to buy the Maple Leafs a frickin' goalie!

But seriously -- this kind of compassion is what truly sets us apart from the heartless conglomerates that would run our lives. We keep reminding ourselves that this struggle isn't just about us, but about the Guilds whose negotiations will follow the WGA and the generation of writers that will follow us.

Well, it's about our crews too. We may be the inspiration, but without their execution, we're just a bunch of guys standing around with fistfuls of paper. Taking a tip from our fans and doing right by the people now taking a hit for us is simply the right thing to do.

UPDATE: For those who commune on MySpace rather than Facebook, a seperate site for the "Office Fans Christmas Fund" has been set up here. And as a reminder of the power of the Fans, they've raised 1/3 of their goal in less than 3 days.


I've been overwhelmed by the response to my last post on ways you might help the members of the WGA. Thanks especially to Denis McGrath, a guy who'll have his own WGA card real soon, Will Dixon, fellow Canadian WGA member and also enlightened network executive, as well as the WGA gang at United Hollywood for helping get the message out.

A shout out also to the couple of "Anonymous" Goons who wrote to threaten that I'd never work again. Start hoping you aren't employed by those I'll be taking with me the day that happens, you dickless wonders!

Originally, the United Hollywood folks also felt I was being a little extreme. In the pureness of their mission and the early glow of solidarity that bathes any righteous strike, they hold onto the hope that "Good will triumph" just like it always does in the movies.

But having been through a few strikes and having served as a negotiator for the WGC in winning our first Independent Producer contract I learned a lot about how the companies we work for think and operate. Working inside a couple of them taught me much more I wish I'd never had to know about the business.

However, I think our brothers and sisters South of the border are beginning to see the light and more importantly have discovered the weapon that will ultimately help WGA writers, other Hollywood creatives and the crews at IATSE win their deserved share of studio and network profits.

The video posted below now joins the pantheon of internet clips on United Hollywood that have helped 69% of Los Angeles and 63% of the rest of the country begin to understand what's really at stake here.

Imagine what those numbers would be if the media wasn't controlled by the companies we're striking...

Let's hope the Big Media moguls respond before some of these people begin to divest themselves of their corporate holdings or start demanding that the SEC and their government representatives investigate.

Mr. Moonves, Mr. Chernin, Mr. Zucker, Mr. Iger, et al -- get back to the table while you can. And remember -- Multi-million dollar salaries and stock options don't mean much in a place where the currencies are cigarettes and Vaseline.

Monday, November 12, 2007


Half of me is on strike and half isn't. Half goes to work every day and half doesn't. I'm a multi-hyphenate writer member of the WGA and the Writers Guild of Canada, producer and of late director. Explaining how I fragmented so much is far too complicated. To be honest, I don't fully understand it myself.

With the WGA on strike, my business in that realm is at a standstill. On the plus side, the long distance phone bill this month promises to be a little more manageable. On the WGC half, I can write for Canadian companies working in Canada and I'm fielding calls from Canadian producers trying to figure out how to profit from the current labor disruption and hoping I'll get aboard that train.

Not a chance.

There's much at stake in this WGA/AMPTP dispute and no matter how you frame it, doing anything but fully supporting the WGA is tantamount to helping the American media conglomerates gut our fellow writers -- and do the same to directors, actors and anybody else who works in film and television as soon as they finish with the scribes.

Big Media is in trouble. Oh, they've put a rosy face on things. All those recent acquisitions and mergers have allowed them to appear fat and happy at the bottom line. But the risk averse nature of the new corporate owners has gradually led to their TV audience dwindling. Repetitive styles and sequels do not make for a reliable source of steady cash at the box office. DVD sales have peaked. The Music business is in freefall and everybody seems to be going to the internet.

The internet is where the money and the future lies.

Only the corporations don't own or control the internet.


Under the current system, the movie business is financed primarily by DVDs, followed by the box office and then sales to television and other distribution systems. Problem is that because of their own risk aversion and mismanagement, that money isn't going to the studios that make the movies anymore.

Global Media Intelligence in association with Merrill Lynch, just published a report concluding that much of the studio income (current and future) has already been alotted to the top stars, directors and producers in the form of participation deals. That's a share of the gross revenue, not just the profits, of a movie.

Major studios are now giving away as much as 25 percent of a film's receipts under these agreements. Some stars even get a share of the sales of popcorn and milk duds.

Industry-wide, the payout was $3 billion last year alone, with many of these players still making fortunes even when the films themselves lose money.

It's a system that closely replicates the corporate structure of the companies controlling today's media; where obscene sums are paid to a few but at the expense of everyone else involved and imperiling the very business that could easily sustain them all.

In TV, the economic climate is just as bad because of the same level of greed and mismanagement. Last year, a relatively good one by all forms of measurement, the major networks still had to give back $200 Million to their advertisers in the form of "make goods"; meaning free commercial time to make good on promises of audience numbers that weren't delivered.

One week into the strike, late night ratings were down 30% and numbers in all time slots are expected to decline precipitously once current shows run out of original material.

The question is not only how much the nets will have to "make good" this season, but how much their advertising clients will be willing to offer up front in June to finance next year's pilots and series. The prevailing wisdom is -- a whole lot less than they did this year.

This mess is the result of stupidity. The whole system could easily be run better, creating a positive financial outcome for all concerned. But then all those concerned might leverage some creative control or ask for a share of income that better reflects their contribution and that just isn't allowed.

So Big Media's only hope to regain and retain the profit margins they've enjoyed to date is to break the unions and control content on the internet. But building the same stranglehold on creativity and distribution they've enjoyed up to now requires complete and absolute control of every penny flowing through that new media conduit.

If they break the writers, they'll move on to break SAG whose membership has both a shorter average professional career and a lower median income, making it harder for most SAG members to sustain any long term resistance. Directors, the smallest guild, would inevitably follow and that will be that.

The thin gruel that makes up the bulk of what's on television and available at the multiplex would now come to you online as well.

This isn't a battle between Big Media masquerading as Producers and a bunch of guys who write scripts. It's the opening salvo of a war over who can have a place in the media of tomorrow, It's also a reflection of the desperation of conglomerates whose only hope of creating shareholder value is through the complete elimination of all shared revenue streams and the subjugation of their workers.

So what can you do?

Being a thousand miles from the nearest picket line, I asked myself the same question and came up with a list. Here are 10 things you can do to support the striking writers of the WGA, their fellow artists and the countless others who provide you with your entertainment options.

1. STOP WATCHING AMERICAN TELEVISION. I'm not saying kick the TV habit. Just stop watching anything created or broadcast by any of the BIG 6, Newscorp, Time Warner, GE, Viacom, Sony and MGM. That may mean watching CBC in Canada or a lot of tele-novellas stateside, but you'll survive and you might even find something you like. If you must watch "House" and "CSI" until they're out of original episodes, so be it. But please don't watch the reruns or what replaces them. And if the Neilsen people call before then, tell them you're not watching anything and tell them why.

2. STOP BUYING AND RENTING DVDS. Writers get virtually nothing from their sale, either to you or the rental place. Tell the kid at Blockbuster why you're not renting from him. He's a film geek and doesn't like studio product for more reasons than you'll ever understand and will therefore appreciate your "stickin' it to the man". Once this is over, he'll happily have a free bag of M&M's and a big Coke waiting to greet your return.

3. STOP DOWNLOADING from iTunes or any other pay site for media. Writers get nothing from those purchases. Yes, downloading from pirate sites is stealing. But paying for downloads when the revenue is not shared with the creators is corporate theft. Is stealing from thieves a crime? I'll let your own moral compass be your guide on that one. Watch what you already own. Swap with friends. Just don't put another dollar in the hands of the WGA's persecutors until this is over.

4. STOP GOING TO MOVIES. Again, I'm not asking you to give up date night or Sunday afternoon with the kids. Just don't go to see anything made by the BIG 6. Their names are plastered all over the ads, so the marks of the beasts are quite visible.

There's a ton of indy features you can go to see instead, along with art films, documentaries and foreign films. And those foreign flicks are not all in French, Swedish or Italian. Remember: Canadians, Australians and the British all speak English and also make some damn good movies. Try breaking down other cultural barriers you might have too because there's great stuff made by the Chinese, the Japanese and at least a million different guys in Bollywood.

5. STOP BUYING PRODUCTS from the multi-nationals who own the networks and studios. A comprehensive list of their holdings can be found here.

Your Mom or your girlfriend/boyfriend does not need a GE hair dryer or a Westinghouse toaster oven for Christmas. Buy jewelry instead. At least then you're only supporting local warlords and slave traders, in some cases, a moral step up from the average Multinational CEO.

There's also a lot of guys who aren't named Sony making Plasma TVs. Get your news and sports information online instead of buying Time or Sports Illustrated. The information you get will also be less than a week old. And understand that people write good books that aren't published by Simon & Shuster (another Viacom company).

Y'know it's appalling how much these people own and yet they still can't seem to make ends meet without screwing writers. I think their shareholders should be asking who's in charge.

6. BECOME A SHAREHOLDER. Buy one share of one or all of the BIG SIX. Given what's going on, you might want to make that purchase on margin and short the stock. Then start phoning management to complain about how things are being run. Be a pest. You're a shareholder. It's your money they're throwing around on private jets and gourmet lunches while box office and ratings are suffering. Ask a lot of questions about those movie participation deals. How come the shareholders weren't told a quarter of the cash flow was going to that Spielberg guy and Tom Cruise? Why should your dividends end up financing E-meters?

Hound them about the accuracy of their books too. Do you think these people would only cheat writers?

7. THE SAME GOES FOR TV SPONSORS. Find out who buys ads on your favorite show and phone them up. Tell the guys at Ford that you want 24 episodes of "24" or you're going across the street to the Dodge dealership. You might also ask what kind of message they're sending by having a guy who's going to jail for DUI as their product spokesman while you're at it.

Overall, let any sponsor know that you're not very happy with them using their ad dollars to support businesses like TV networks who don't treat their employees fairly. Suggest that you won't be buying their product until they pull their ads. If enough people call, that strategy works. I know, I've been on the wrong side of it. Even if it doesn't work, you'll get a nice letter with some coupons.

8. COMPLAIN TO YOUR ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES. There's an election coming up in the USA. Call your local candidates and anybody running for President and ask where they stand -- on the side of greedy, faceless corporations or ordinary people who can outvote them on a scale of about 10,000 to one? When they patronize you with the obvious answer, demand to see some tangible proof. There are photo-ops aplenty for any politician who walks a WGA picket and a lot of questions that need to be asked of those not brave enough to show up.

In Canada, this political objective can be accomplished by asking your MP how come the CRTC allows Canadian networks to buy so much programming from people who don't want writers to earn residuals which could support their families in a land without universal health care, subsidized theatre and guaranteed maternity leave.

9. PHONE PETER CHERNIN AND LESLIE MOONVES. These two network CEOs told WGA negotiators a deal could be made if DVD payments were taken off the table and then reneged on that promise when the Guild complied. If I was on the negotiating committee, I'd be raising that DVD payment 1% a day from now until a deal is finally reached. You can't allow this kind of duplicity to go unpunished.

There's no way to end any labor dispute until a level of trust between the parties is achieved and these two men all but eliminated that possibility. They both need to be called to account.

You can reach Mr. Chernin at 310-369-1000 and Mr. Moonves at 323-575-2345. Don't let the nice lady on the switchboard deter you, the boys are somewhere in the building and you will be forwarded. Studio policy requires that all phone calls placed between 8:00 am and 8:00 pm be voice answered and logged, making the staff less available to assist these two reprehensible CEOs in putting their plans for world domination into action.

10. SUPPORT INDEPENDENT PRODUCT ONLINE. Writers and other creatives are already offering new media forms of entertainment online and it's not hard to find. Just Google what whets your appetite and a thousand options will present themselves. It's just as easy to crack a beer and flop in front of your computer as it is using a couch and a television. And it's going to get a lot easier real soon. There are entire networks here that you've never heard of, original webisodes and alternate universes and graphic novels and real people you can interact with while being entertained.

There are opinions expressed here that are not diluted or spun to serve the self interests of mega-corporations as well as products and services that will never carry an "As seen on TV" sticker. It's a brave new world that isn't owned and controlled by six companies. A place where artists and audiences can engage without a grasping middleman and where the future can be shared equitably.

Sharing equitably is what this strike is about. Thanks for doing whatever you can in helping us all get there.


The overwhelming social ramifications of the WGA strike weighed on me this weekend and I started working out what I think it means to all of our futures.

I hope that post will turn out to be as insightful and informative as what's to be found or linked here and here this morning, for I'm getting the sense that all the disruptions that have shaken our industry for the last 10 years (including this strike) have been merely the pre-shocks to the "Big One" that will hit this summer.

For those two or three that hang on my every word, I won't keep you in suspense much longer. Point is, by last night, I was utterly depressed and being a guy who doesn't drink as much as he should, I turned to responding to a tag from Jill Gollick and in the "research" portion of that process, refound my spirit, which was at the core of her tag question...

Jill's directive was to reveal what music gives me story ideas, inspiration or the motivation to write. And since it was finding the video samples I was supposed to supply that got me out of my funk, the tag couldn't have been more timely.

I'm one of those writers who doesn't require quiet solitude to create. Maybe it's all those years in busy production offices. Phones ringing incessantly. Constant interruptions. One crisis or another. So my writing environment of preference includes continuous background chatter or distraction.

However, unlike professional athletes or those soldiers in Iraq who post their pre-patrol playlists on Facebook, I don't have a specific piece of music that gets me primed.

What I seem to do is begin trolling the collection as I'm focusing on a new story and winnowing that down to 2 or 3 albums which become the soundtrack for each individual writing assignment. Those albums then play continuously until my script is done. The music itself has nothing to do with the themes or moods of the material but is everything in resparking whatever creative cable was laid during the "thinking" stage.

I wrote one of my first features with Rush's "Moving Pictures" hammering away in the BG. To this day, hearing the first notes of "Red Barchetta" or "Tom Sawyer" immediately puts me back in that time, sitting in that room, pecking away on a Tandy computer.

My tastes are fairly eclectic. But about 10 years ago I reconnected with Country music and now I'm pretty much Hillybilly Hardcore.

Country is also primarily a story telling genre with almost every song having a definitive beginning, middle and end that covers the traditional 5 W's and repeats the theme in the choruses and coda. Generally two or three lines firmly set the scene and you're into the plot, a cogent reminder while writing that less is always more.

It's also precise storytelling as in Garth Brooks' "Papa Loved Mama" -- to wit -- "Papa loved Mama. Mama loved men. Mama's in the graveyard. Papa's in the Pen." You don't create story more economically than that.

I've actually developed a theory that like the story-breaking process or writing room discussions, Country music uses stories to tease new stories from its listeners and therefore puts you in instant writing mode.

What I like best in a good script is also at the heart of Country music. Honesty. As Rock and Pop have (for me) become more formulaic and niche focused; Country (which probably has the most precisely targeted demographics in the music industry) maintains the sense that its artists both believe and live the philosophies that permeate their music.

Yeah, I've written to Dave Grohl, Springsteen and Don Henley (both in and out of "The Eagles" -- great new album there BTW) as well as film composers like Mark Isham. But Country is what consistently stimulates and lubricates my creative flow.

For my required footnotes and examples, I've chosen three songs from three artists who are likely easier on those among you with non-Country ears. I hope they inspire you a little. And if they do -- TAG -- you're it, explain yourself.




Sunday, November 11, 2007


Ever since the first guitar was electrified, teenage boys have hunkered in garages, bedrooms and basements practising the licks that might lead them to rock stardom.

And then there are guys like this...

Thursday, November 08, 2007


Conjure the following scene...

A fortified jungle outpost. Machine gun fire and rocket propelled grenades spew from the slit windows of a concrete blockhouse as the fortress's Defenders come under relentless attack.

Surging from the jungle, wave after wave of troops charge headlong through tall elephant grass that rises above their shoulders. They struggle to aim and fire AK-47's that are almost as large and heavy as they are. The attackers are Children and the fortress Defenders cut their tiny bodies to pieces...

This isn't fiction. It's a brief description of the Battle of Elephant Pass, which occurred in Northern Sri Lanka in 1991, lasted 4 days and involved more than 10,000 combatants.

The attacking army was "The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam"(LTTE). They lost the battle and left 573 dead child soldiers on the battlefield, some as young as 4 years old.

The use of Child soldiers is one of the most repugnant aspects of modern warfare. Around the world, hundreds of thousands of children are abducted from their families, abused until compliant and turned into killers. They are literally cannon fodder. Disposable. Dispensable. Never missed or mourned by their commanders.

The war in Sri Lanka has been going on for more than 20 years, with the Tamil Tigers credited for not only inventing suicide bombing, but for abducting thousands of children in the tiny island nation to act as soldiers in units the Tigers themselves have dubbed "Baby Brigades".

If it were possible to make this practise even more disturbing, the LTTE has done that too, now owning and operating orphanages where the children placed in their care are trained for special combat units called "Leopard Brigades" or their "Black Tiger" suicide squads.

And they've done all of these things with money raised in Canada (mostly within 25 miles of my own home) while Liberal Prime Ministers Jean Chretien and Paul Martin repeatedly refused to place them on any list of banned terrorist groups.

As the LTTE assassinated heads of government, massacred hundreds in rural villages, engaged in human smuggling, arms smuggling, Tsunami relief fund theft, piracy and massive extortion in immigrant communities abroad; the USA, India, Australia, Great Britain and 27 countries in the European Union outlawed their activities, jailed their enablers and froze their assets.

In Canada, the ruling Liberals did nothing, not wanting to "upset" Tamil residents who account for 100,000 votes in Federal ridings East and North of Toronto. And you don't have to take my word for that.

While the RCMP investigated "intimidation and extortion" of Tamil Canadians to secure funding for the Tigers, an FBI report designated Canada as a major source of illegal funding to the Tigers because "The federal Liberal Government, in an effort to bolster support in the Tamil community, refuses to declassify the Tigers as a terrorist group despite several recommendations from CSIS to do so."

Last year, the new government of Stephen Harper followed the rest of the International community and declared the LTTE a terrorist organization. The RCMP raided their fund raising charity fronts in Toronto and Montreal while police arrested several involved in arms smuggling.

Last Friday, the Sri Lankan Air Force killed LTTE Brigadier S.P. Thamilselvan, deputy leader of the Tigers. On Monday night, not far from where I live, 10,000 Tamils gathered to mourn his loss, joining them and speaking from the stage were 9 federal Liberal members of parliament.

The MP's said they were there "to urge for peace" and have been praising the dead Tiger leader as a "peacemaker" despite his well publicized (and self-acknowledged) record of hundreds of atrocities and have denied that the Tigers are involved in extorting their constituents and are anything but terrorists.

That would seem to fly in the face of reams of evidence supplied by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, UNICEF, Interpol, the FBI and CSIS.

Yesterday, I heard MP Jim Karygiannis deny that there was any evidence of Tamils in Canada being threatened, abused or forced to pay money to support the Tigers. That would mean that he's unaware of the letter sent to members of parliament and the Toronto Police Chief 11 months ago by Human Rights Watch which outlined just such practices.

He also apparently missed the CBC story from a year earlier that outlined the door-to-door fundraising where Tamil families were given Pin numbers for donations. Numbers they would need to enter certain districts in Sri Lanka when they returned for visits. Numbers which would also assure the safety of relatives still living there.

And I guess he was busy in June of 2000 when 400 Sri Lankans marched on Parliament Hill urging the Liberal government to crackdown on fund-raising by the Tigers that had Tamil neighbourhoods living in fear.

In protecting their political backsides, these politicians protect killers, not only breaking the laws of this country by "associating with a banned terrorist organization", but contributing to untold suffering and bloodshed half a world away -- much of it by children whose innocence has been traded for inhumanity.

According to Human Rights Watch and UNICEF, the Tamil Tigers abducted 5,666 children between 2001 and 2006, although they speculate only 1/3 of cases are actually reported to them.

The report also states that these Children were used for "massive frontal assaults" like Elephant Pass and that boys and girls 12-14 were used to massacre women and children in remote rural villages. Children as young as 10 are used as suicide bombers and assassins, the Tigers preferring girls and young women because they are less likely to be searched for explosives by security forces.

And if this isn't sinking low enough, LTTE child soldiers are provided with cyanide capsules and grenades and instructed to take their own lives to avoid capture.

There's an adage that the only thing required for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing and another about the banality of evil.

The nine Liberal Members of Parliament pictured below certainly exemplify the banality of evil.

In descending order, they are:

John Cannis -- Mark Holland -- Jim Karygiannis -- Derek Lee -- John McKay -- Maria Minna -- Yasmin Ratansi -- Lui Temelkovski -- Borys Wrzesnewskyj...

Despite their stance as peacemakers, supporters of "freedom fighters" or however else they rationalize their behaviour -- nothing can justify defending those who twist children into killers and assassins or walking bomb delivery units.

I honestly hope there's some way they can be punished for their support of the purveyors of terror. Maybe our anti-terror laws actually have some teeth. Maybe American Homeland Security can put them on some no-fly list. Perhaps the decent people in their constituencies have other ways to take them to task for the terrible acts they've assisted by their desire to hold a seat in Parliament.

How do these people sleep? Just how much can a vote really be worth?

Monday, November 05, 2007


Friday night saw the launch of Canada's new Pay-TV service, "Super Channel", owned by Allarco Entertainment of Edmonton.

It's a gutsy move bringing a product like this to life in a television environment already heavily fragmented, competing with video-on-demand, movies-by-mail and the TMN/Movie Central matrix that has dominated the Pay industry here since 1984.

TMN/MC fought Super Channel every inch of the way from conception to birth, arguing against its license at the CRTC primarily on the grounds that another Pay service would create a "lack of program diversity" and cause the movement of some specialty channel programming to Pay.

Well, gee -- then why don't the networks affected get out there and produce some new stuff of their own? That's what they promised to do when they got licensed, wasn't it?

I guess monopolizing your turf makes good business sense at one level. But the best way to deal with a competitor is to outclass or outmaneuver him before he has a chance to get a solid footing.

With six months to prepare an ambush, you'd think TMN/MC might've cooked up something the new arrival would have had a tough time matching. Some ground-breaking series. Perhaps a stunningly original film or three. But so far the senior service doesn't appear to be offering its subscribers much beyond the usual fare in order to hang onto its "Big Dog" title.

Featuring 4 individual channels plus 2 HD positions on the dial that replicate the content on the first four, the current Super Channel schedule promises it will deliver "a little something for everybody". I'm sure that'll draw a wide variety of viewers to sample their wares, but the big question is how SC will hold onto those viewers in the coming months.

While TMN/MC continues to support the Canadian feature industry through equity investment and generous pre-buys, the last few years have seen a concerted effort to set themselves apart by creating or acting as first window for series such as "ReGenesis" and "Slings & Arrows" as well as prestigious minis like "Durham County" and "Terminal City".

SC's current commitment of $4 Million in the first year in new production and acquisitions would translate to licensing 3 or 4 series annually (if that's all it was used for). But that further copies the competition and I doubt such a commitment would have enough overall impact to clearly define their programming intentions. I also doubt such a strategy would attract a wealth of new subscribers or hold those that the limited hours of such new series might initially lure aboard.

SC and its audience might be better served by following the formula which laid a solid foundation for Showtime and was later replicated by currently successful specialty networks Sci-Fi and Lifetime. All of these opted to produce a mass of low budget productions that may have had their creative faults but ensured viewers would have at least one brand new and original feature every single week of the year.

People might have rolled their eyes at titles like "Moonshine Highway" or "Night of the Twisters", but they kept coming back in large enough numbers to establish their broadcaster.

Programming a slate of low-budget but audience friendly films in whatever genre(s) SC feels its target demographic is most apt to watch would be a simple way for this new kid in town to have something original to promote on a weekly basis and make sure they cover their quota of 30% prime time and 25% the rest of the time Canadian content.

And whether the content were exploitive or followed a middle path of Romantic comedy or bestseller mystery, it would still put the channel in a position to hedge its bets in the Pay market while tapping the revenue streams these original films would have in the foreign, DVD and online after-markets.

To be sure, the safe course would be to follow the TMN/MC format of Hollywood fare augmented by over played or just plain played out CanCon. But then, who's going to notice the new kid and are there enough subscribers to keep two more or less identical networks profitable? Let's not forget that it was this kind of "same-ness" that helped kill two of our original Pay services (C-Channel and the single word version Superchannel) the first time there were competing entities.

Super Channel is already committed to diverting 32% of its revenues to Canadian production, so why not give the production community the immediate shot in the arm it desperately needs, and build on the resulting mutual success later. It's a move which would earn Super Channel enormous industry support and just might attract viewers with a product no other Canadian broadcaster is currently offering them.

Sunday, November 04, 2007


I'm one of those guys who doesn't gas up until he's running on fumes. I've got some friends who comment that they've never driven anywhere with me when the fuel light wasn't on and one who recalls literally coasting 26 miles down a twisting cliffside road through the middle of nowhere in Australia to reach the only petrol station within a day's drive.

We made it. I always do. Not sure if it's just luck or an innate ability to calculate distance to fuel ratios, but I haven't been stranded yet.

This weekend I was shooting way North of Toronto. After wrapping the crew and packing the truck, I set out on the long drive home just before sunset, soon realizing I was low on gas and also starving since I'd worked through lunch.

I'd just rolled past the last service area for the next 50 miles, because like all highway service areas these days, it was basically a McDonald's franchise with pumps and I wasn't doing that to myself.

There was a turn-off ahead for a small town a half dozen clicks from the highway so I figured I'd find gas and maybe a nicer place to eat there. The town was small and the only eatery I'd seen, the coffee shop opposite the gas station, was closed. I filled up and asked the kid at the cash if there was a restaurant open nearby. He shook his head, "Everybody's closed. They're all down at the Fall Supper."

It was a term I hadn't heard in years. But I asked directions and the kid gave them to me. He even had a couple of tickets left and sold me one. $10 -- for the best meal any former country boy can have.

The Fall Supper is a North American farm tradition that goes back at least a couple of hundred years. Before there were official Thanksgivings, every rural community would hold a post harvest feast, an opportunity for those who'd spent the last weeks getting in the crops to relax, catch up with their neighbors and dig in to the best local recipes and home cooking to be found thereabouts.

They reached their peak in the 1950's and were such a cultural fixture in Saskatchewan during my childhood that some dignitary decided that the Queen and Prince Philip should attend one during a Royal visit. There's a famous story of one of the church women picking up the royal plates and saying, "Hang onto your fork, your Majesty, there's pie!"

It's still a major part of the Autumn social calendar all across the Canadian Prairies and through the Midwestern States. But from late September to late November, it isn't hard to find something similar anywhere rural.

The one I found tonight was in the basement of the local United Church, just like most of the ones I'd attended as a kid. Back then the tickets cost a buck, a quarter for anybody over 60 or under 12.

Preparation started early in the day with the local women gathering at the Church kitchen to either create their personal trademark dishes or warm up the foil covered cauldrons of heirloom recipes they'd prepared at home.

The menu might vary from Turkey & Sauerkraut or thick beef sausages if the ethnic makeup were primarily German to Perogies and Roast Pork in a Ukrainian community. But there was always a wide variety of choices and the servings were immense. If you could carry your plate to the table with one hand, you were definitely not getting the full experience.

The diners came from miles around. In a time of bachelor cowboys and hired hands, it wasn't unusual for a pick up truck crammed with guys eager for a real home-cooked meal to travel an hour or more to find the local church having "Supper Night".

That popularity meant there were always multiple "sittings", meaning the enormous meal would be served at least 2-3 times per night.

Kids ate first and you turned up at the church around five, sitting in the pews until somebody came to wave you down to the basement. That wait was always an exquisite agony. Incredible smells drifted up through the floor boards as you debated what kind of pie they might have (my favorite was Rhubarb) and some too-brainy kid would always insist it wasn't a "Fall" supper, it was a "Foul" supper because of all the chickens and turkeys being served.

Meanwhile, you tried to avoid making eye contact with the Minister pacing the aisle, eschewing his dog collar for a more trendy "social evening" turtleneck, because you didn't want him mentioning that he hadn't seen you at Sunday school for a while.

The Organist was usually there too, playing something more up-tempo than hymns. We figured it was what she played down in Swift Current at the hotel. There was always an ad in the Saturday paper showing her "At the Hammond for Happy Hour".

Y'know, I'll bet there's a story in that woman's double life; playing "Begin the Beguine" amid swirling cigarette smoke over the clink of "Hi-Ball" glasses until midnight, then driving all night to appear scrubbed and prim as she pumped out "Bringing in the Sheaves" at the 8:00 a.m. service.

But I digress...

Eventually somebody took your ticket and ushered you down to the basement and its waiting tables. You waved to your mom and loaded up your plate with Turkey and Goose and one of Mrs. Hartman's amazing Moose sausages. Then your aunt heaped mashed potatoes and gravy on one side of your dish while the nice lady from the farm with the big St. Bernard ladled on peas and carrots fresh from her garden.

You found a seat at a table with big bowls of still steaming rolls and pitchers of water, apple juice and cherry Kool-aid. The first sitting was always noisy as hell. Imagine a giant Thanksgiving dinner made up of nothing but kids' tables.

Once the amazing meal had been put away, the church ladies came around to clear the plates and serve dessert. It was always a big slab of homemade pie with a dollop of fresh whipped cream and a couple of sugar cookies on the side. You could also pretend to be grown up and have tea.

Overhead, you could hear the second sitting arriving and you knew the pre-dinner aroma torture they were undergoing and that they wouldn't be happy if you dawdled. The ladies were always anxious to move you out too -- for reasons I didn't understand until I was old enough to be part of the second or the even more mystical "third" sitting.

I doubt that anthropologists or sociologists study Fall Suppers. But they should, because there's a dynamic going on that's really intriguing.

For as the diners got older, the women in the kitchen got -- younger.

The second sitting was primarily the local menfolk and seniors. Farmers finished with their evening chores, store clerks, grain agents and the fellas from the railroad. Their wives and sweethearts were the cooks and servers, but instead of sitting down with the kids, tonight they were eating with all their friends.

It was Christmas dinner without being worried if Uncle Al would drink too much or crazy old Aunt Margaret would call a curse down on the Catholics during grace. The gaiety of the kids tables now translated to adults free of their social norm and in an atmosphere where a guy could openly flirt with the woman next door because she just made such great scalloped potatoes and a lonely telephone operator could draw an appreciative smile from a gentleman farmer with her flaky pastry.

It wasn't anything that threatened to turn into a Little Swingers Club on the Prairie, but it was a huge change from their ordered days and proscribed social options. Most of the women ate their meals when the men had desert and coffee, harvesting their full measure of kudoes and compliments.

But soon the restless shuffling upstairs moved the men and the seniors out. The hired hands were hungry.

And this is where it got interesting.

Because when the fresh scrubbed cowboys and single farmers in their best shirts made their way down the stairs, most of the married cooks busied themselves washing up the now empty pots and casserole dishes as the single women of the town did the serving and the recommending of each others candied yams and pickled beets.

For the cowboys weren't just hungry for a good meal and this was still a time when a woman got as far with her skills in the kitchen as her looks. In an almost tribal way, the older women were helping their eligible daughters and the handsome cowboys on the path to some smouldering glances around the old corral.

There was only one sitting tonight. But as the women of the church heaped my plate with slabs of roast turkey, ribs, baked squash and barely braised spinach, I could see them nudging a pretty young server into the path of raw-boned and good looking guy who clearly wasn't used to wearing a suit.

She said he should try the pumpkin pie. He asked if it was hers. She almost blushed as she nodded and her mom cut an extra thick slice and gave the Redi-Whip container a good shake. The woman serving me smiled knowingly. I did too.

You just don't get this kind of stuff at McDonald's.