Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Bottle Show


2009 hasn’t been the worst year of my life by any measure, but it’s been filled with enough disappointment, frustration and petty annoyances to cover an entire decade. I’m tellin’ ya, I already have a couple bottles of Baby Duck on ice to boot this puppy out the door with all the ceremony it deserves.

But there were some high points, even the worst years have ‘em, and I thought I’d share those as my final post of the decade.

Almost every writer who has toiled on a television series has been confronted at one point or another by something called a “Bottle show”. It’s a term that comes from some line producer’s ambition to find an episode so cheap or quick to produce you could literally shoot it in a bottle and is sometimes the result of too many real bottles being emptied around the production office after one crisis or another.

Basically, the concept is --- write a show that will use clips from past episodes to tell a story while the current episode unfolds in a bar, an elevator or the cubicle where somebody is writing a letter to mom. Anything that will only use minimal cast and time to accomplish.

I always hated bottle shows. But you had to admit that they got you back on budget, on schedule, past the date when the leading lady was no longer infectious or out the door for an early haitus.

Some of the things I’ve written here and your responses to them have been among the high points of 2009 for me. Which might tell you more about my life than I’d like to be public knowledge.

Be that as it may, here’s my own selection of what I thought the Legion said best in 2009. If you get bored over the next couple of days or will be, like me, so hung over you’re not capable of much else, I hope you’ll find one or two you haven’t read or feel you might like to read again.

All the best in 2010 when I’ll be back doing some more. It’ll take more than what 2009 threw to shut me up.

Best of “The Legion of Decency”, If I do say so myself

Oh, and if you have any others, send a comment and I’ll add them to the list…

January 2009 - A Desperate Lack of X-Ray Vision

Technically this three part series, Pt.1, Pt. 2 and Pt.3 began in 2008 as an overview of why Canadian TV had become as screwed up as it has. Who knew 12 months ago that the issues would remain unaddressed a full year later.

March 2009 – Shamelessly Entertaining

Or – why can’t we make movies people enjoy?

April 2009 – Clever Girl

How writers are sometimes not as smart as we think we are.

May 2009 – You Can’t Handle The Truth

Because, well admit it, you can’t.

June 2009 – The New Drive-In

One of Television’s possible futures.

June 2009 – Mexicans in Sweaters

Politically incorrect Canadian television history.

August 2009 – Unnecessary Roughness

How Football went to the Dogs.

September 2009 – Without Stories

Why stories are important.

September 2009 – Stop Making Sense

How we lost it at the movies.

October 2009 – The Hole in Daddy’s Arm

More on why TV here just isn’t getting any better.

November 2009 – A Tale of Two Business Models

Please stop me before I have to write about Canadian TV again!

If once through the above was enough for you, my thanks for continuing to come back to the Legion and have a safe and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Lazy Sunday # 99: “The Advent Reunion”

Andrew Klavan is an American novelist and screenwriter. Among his screen credits are Clint Eastwood’s “True Crime”, based on his own novel, and the adaptation of Simon Brett’s “A Shock to the System”. He’s been nominated five times for a Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Allen Poe Award, winning twice.

Andrew has also achieved a certain amount of notoriety in his personal life. He blogs. He writes essays for the Wall Street Journal and Op-Ed pieces for the New York Times. As a result, a lot of people in show business and the media don’t like Andrew because he challenges much of what Hollywood and the Mainstream Media regularly espouse.

Klavan has often said that he isn’t as bothered by the movies Hollywood makes as much as he is by the ones they don’t make. And he regularly derides his colleagues for not fulfilling what he sees as the Artist’s essential role of “speaking truth to power” – especially when that power shares their own personal position in the political spectrum.

One thing that seems to keep coming up here at the Legion is how quiet Canadian artists are on what goes on in their industry, how easily many are coaxed to group think or “go along to get along” or passively accept the decisions of those who “have your best interests at heart” --- as well as how refreshing it is when somebody finally speaks up.

But in the afterglow of Christmas, let’s set all that aside somewhat, because when it comes to Andrew Klavan, the sonovabitch can really tell a story.

And while on the surface, this is a great tale to while away a lazy Sunday, it’s also an exceptional example of the way the new media allows an Artist the opportunity to deliver his content in his own way while doing it cheaply and yet with a great deal of style. It’s also a story, which, would have been unlikely to find a mass audience by way of any traditional media format.

Please surrender 22 minutes to Andrew Klavan’s Christmas Ghost Story: “The Advent Reunion”.

And then -- Enjoy Your Sunday.

Chapter One:

Chapter Two:

Chapter Three:

Chapter Four:

Chapter Five:

For a taste of Andrew Klavan’s thoughts on the culture, you might want to start here or here.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The 2009 Christmas Concert

Last Christmas, I posted some memories of the Christmas concerts I was part of as a kid, appending it with some of my favorite songs of the season.

This year, I thought it would be fun to offer Christmas music from the bloggers and online sites I frequent.

Down one side or the other of virtually every web presence is a list of links to other places the sites creator(s) think you might like. You, of course, won’t be interested in all of them. But each has its own personality, values and goals – just like the people who live in the communities where you live.

And as much as those of us in “the Biz” represented here might want to be trying to Save Local TV or making some movies, these are the places in which we spend a portion of our day, where we get or are convinced to abandon ideas, test and reformat our values and try in some way or another to communicate.

This growing collection of artists and innovators is also the future of information and entertainment that we’ve yet to fully figure out. But someday, it won’t be Christmas until there’s a Yule log on the fire and everybody has logged on.

So here’s my community – and their contributions to the season.

Feel free to kick in one of your own in the comment section and it’ll be added to the concert program.


Diane Wild of “TV, Eh?”, the go-to locale for all things Canadian and television, picked this from the “Love Actually” soundtrack. And if that movie hasn’t been on your Christmas movie list, download it from iTunes ASAP. It definitely captures the true spirit of the season.

Bill Cunningham at “Pulp 2.0” is always full of surprises. But I think his pick reveals that beneath the blood-spattered Mad Pulp Bastard beats the heart of a man who keeps his Laser Blaster at the ready but safely holstered. From the incredibly heart-warming “Charlie Brown’s Christmas”…

Courtesy “Fadoo” , sports broadcaster Bob McCown’s magnificent sport site which debuted earlier this year: Diana and Alyonka Larianov, daughters of Russian superstar and Detroit Red Wing Hall of Famer Igor Larianov, with a new Christmas song, the proceeds of which go towards Hockey Fights Cancer. 

Over at Facebook and Ink Canada, Karen Walton wrangles more than a thousand scribes and script enablers to examine screenwriting with an enthusiastic inquisitiveness, always finding some new issue or event to explore. Sort of explains her concert pick, Danny Elfman’s “What’s this?” from “The Nightmare before Christmas”.

One of Ms. Walton’s cheerful acolytes at Ink Canada is Brandon Larraby, an up and coming writer with his own “A Boy and his TV Show” blog. It’s a great place for picking up on what new writers are thinking and feeling, thoughts and emotions summed up somewhat by Brandon’s selection for our concert…

Alex Epstein’s first choice of “Carol of the Meows” was blocked in all versions I could find by WMG. I guess if you’ve got fangs and claws you can keep your recording company looking out for your royalties. So the second selection from the guy who runs Complications Ensue is the “O Holy Night” number from the “Studio 60” Christmas episode. The conventional wisdom is that NBC stopped doing real drama in 2009, but I think you can make the argument that their race was run when they didn’t find a way to save this show.

Bill Brioux of “TV Feeds My Family” wanted to present The Mills Brothers -- “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm”. But that also just wasn’t available on video. Now I could’ve gone with versions by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald or Rosemary Clooney that mimicked the Mills Brothers harmonious arrangement. But Bill has been such an intelligent champion of legitimate local television for the last year, helping to save CHCH in Hamilton as well as blunting the multi-network “Save Local TV” balderdash, that I figured this version from “The Lucky Duckies” was the most fitting.

Will Dixon of “Uninflected Images Juxtaposed” took a long time coming up with his number, trying, as is his wont, to come at Christmas from a unique and original angle, using that 360 degree clear field of vision that can only be found in Saskatchewan to make you think of this special day in an even more special way.

This next number comes from Trevor Cunningham, who decided to put his blog “Secret Lab X” to sleep this year, the better to concentrate on some upcoming projects. And while it’s not what anybody considers a traditional song of the season, it does have the word “Holly” in it and there’s a lot of the true meaning of Christmas in the lyrics.

Because it’s my blog, I get to close the program. And I’d like to do that with a Christmas song I first heard 30 years ago driving through the Appalachians on a snowy Christmas Eve. It perfectly captured the mood of that night and deserves a wider audience. 

Well, that’s it for this year. My thanks to all those who contributed. Cyberspace wouldn’t be the same without you.

And Merry Christmas to all of you who have dropped in for this! I hope the day brings you all the warmth and happiness the season has to offer. And thanks again for visiting the Legion in the amazing numbers you have this year. It’s been both appreciated and inspiring. I hope 2010 provides all the blessings and rewards Life has to offer.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Some Early Christmas Presents

christmas presents

Two subjects which have recurred during the past year on this blog are the “Save Local TV” campaign and “Climate Change”.

Regular readers will know that both give rise to a great deal of scepticism on my part. So I wanted to pass on a couple of news items that crossed my desk today which seem to indicate that solutions to both are at hand.

First, according to the Wall Street Journal, CBS and Disney are both close to final agreement with iTunes to allow you to subscribe to both networks for internet delivery. First indications of how all this would work are that a monthly fee would allow you access network programs at the time of broadcast and ad free.

If the deal is consummated, other broadcast networks are expected to immediately follow suit.

No more need to subscribe to a specific channel (or more accurately the bundle of channels in which they are sold to Canadian cable subscribers) just to get the handful of programs you actually watch on it.

And perhaps more importantly, no need to pay a carriage fee to see those shows on a Canadian re-broadcast system like CTV or Global or Rogers or even the specialty channels they own that purchase from the likes of Disney.

In other words, in order to “Save Local TV” (if that’s what these guys really want to do) they’ll have to begin to produce programming that their current subscribers can’t get from iTunes, most likely at a competitive or better rate.

Don’t have one of the many, many products coming online to transfer these shows from the net directly to your High-Def television? That’s not a problem either. All it takes is an HDMI cable linking your computer to your TV. And they go for as little as $10.00.

Meanwhile, in the wake of the debacle that was Copenhagen, comes news that instead of hundreds of Billions of dollars in traded carbon credits or direct payments from developed countries to those which are not; the whole thing might be solved with a hose, some balloons and as little as 250 Million bucks.

According to Nathan Myhrvold, a former tech officer for Microsoft, all’s we need to do is run a hose up to the stratosphere with balloons and then pump out enough sulphur particles to dim the sun's heat just enough to counteract the effects of global warming.

Now, take this with a grain of salt. Just because the guy used to work for Microsoft doesn’t mean he’s really smart. He could’ve been the one who came up with the “Me” operating system or those ads for Windows 7. However, he’s pretty sure there won’t be any unintended consequences, like say starting a new Ice Age.

Phew! I’m glad those things are taken care of. Because I’m sure tired of writing about them.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Lazy Sunday # 98: St. Francis de la Sissies

This is the season of Christmas concerts and all around the world every church and choral group prepares an evening of music to celebrate the holidays.

Among these are many Gay Men’s Choirs not normally associated with religious music or even welcome in a lot of churches.

We Christians can drift a long way from our Messiah’s teaching sometimes.

That sort of supposedly faith based behavior always reminds me of comedian Bill Hicks, who was once accosted outside a Southern nightclub by a group of local fundamentalists after a set that included one of his famous biblical rants. The boys let Bill know they didn’t much like what he’d had to say about Jesus.

Bill: “Are y’all Christians?”

The Fellas: “Yep.”

Bill: “Well, then -- Forgive me!”

Enough said.

Now, I don’t know why Gay men are so attracted to the formation of their own choirs. But I guess it makes as much sense as all of the ones formed by coal miners and branches of the military. Guys like to sing, especially when there’s a bunch of them and they can get really loud.

But the plethora of Gay choirs has made it virtually impossible to tell them apart. And when everybody’s dressed in a dour Christmas tux, it’s even harder to tell the Gay guys from the coal miners or the Marines.

So, two years ago, the Portland Gay Men’s Choir set out to change all that. For their Christmas concert, they presented an order of Monks who had taken a vow of silence to perform the most famous piece of Christmas music ever written, Handel’s “Messiah”.

The order, billed as “St. Francis de la Sissies”, was an immediate sensation, so much so that their performance has now spawned imitators in Christmas concerts everywhere from high school auditoriums to Fundamentalist churches.

Maybe the spirit of the season and this performance will combine to make a few more of us embrace that “Goodwill to all Men” thing. I hope it at least makes you smile.

Enjoy your Sunday.

For a far different staging, check out the version by the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus here.

Saturday, December 19, 2009



Imagine that you’re a screenwriter who has just written the biggest blockbuster hit of the summer. Across the country, there are line-ups at every theatre it plays for every showing. Critics are saying you have completely re-invented your genre and every studio in town is offering you rich contracts to fix or rewrite their next big thing as well as wanting to know how much you want for your next idea.

Where are you? On a beach somewhere mulling your options? Picking out a new Ferrari? Neck deep in starlets?

How many of you would choose to be sitting in a room with no air conditioning over the Hollywood Wax Museum trying to help a half dozen wannabees figure out their script issues?

In the summer of 1979, with “Alien” breaking box office records everywhere, the screenwriter doing just that was Dan O’Bannon. And I was one of the wannabees he was teaching.

Dan O’Bannon died last week after a long and storied career in which he’d impacted both the sci-fi and horror genres like few of his peers.

His list of credits wasn’t long but it’s more than impressive. In addition to “Alien” there is “Total Recall” and “Blue Thunder” and “Lifeforce” as well as “Return of the Living Dead” which didn’t invent the Zombie genre, but gave it the rules by which that endless parade of films now abide.

And before them all was perhaps the greatest student film ever made, “Dark Star”, a movie barely seen before the invention of the VCR but which to many was more influential than “Star Wars”, on which Dan also worked --- in the FX department.

He was one of those guys with endless enthusiasm for his craft who was simply everywhere. While studying film at USC, he met John Carpenter and got involved in both scripting and editing the film as well as playing one of the lead roles, “Sgt. Pinback”.

“Dark Star” inspired film nerds around the world. George Lucas’ “THX-1138” might have been more polished. But “Dark Star” was fun and yet filled with inspiring moments and huge ideas that still made it clear that even you too could do this.

According to Dan, it was the “feeding the Alien” sequence in “Dark Star” that gave him the idea for Alien. And, of course, nobody seeing that scene now can help but see the similarities.

Sometime after graduating USC and bailing on “Star Wars” because what he really wanted to do was write scripts, Dan met Ronald Shusset. They compared their current projects, Dan had “Alien” and Shusset had just purchased the rights to Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” which would become “Total Recall”. They decided to work on “Alien” first because it would be cheaper to produce and was therefore more likely to sell.

What I remember most about the three weeks I spent learning to write Sci-fi with him was that broken air-conditioning and how much we all laughed. Dan’s approach to work followed a philosophy I’ve tried to bring to every project of my own since -- “If you’re not having fun, you must be doing something wrong”.


But he was also a great teacher, never letting you leave the room without carrying away an image or an anecdote that he was aware would ultimately gnaw at you until it informed your work and made it better.

For example, at that time, he still had the original face-hugger stage of the Alien character and kept it in his fridge. Go for a beer, decide to see what was in the crisper – and there it was!

And while Dan always found that funny, it was also in his refrigerator as a handy reminder of the power of primal fears. In his Missouri childhood, Dan had been terrified by warnings about a local spider that buried its eggs inside a victim, eggs which hatched and were provided food as the baby spiders ate their way out. Years later that gave birth to one of the most terrifying moments ever captured on film.

In addition to those insights, his classes were peppered with references to H.P. Lovecraft, an author he loved and felt was the only true master of horror.

And it was in those moments that you understood why Dan was in that room at that time in his life and career. Yeah, the fame and the money and the career options were great. But it was the work that was important and in providing others with his touchstones, Dan was reminding himself of them, of where he came from and what values had gotten him where he was.

It was all about the writing, knowing where it came from and what power it could have.

Not long after our summer writing class, our paths crossed again when I did some of the voices for “Heavy Metal”. Dan had written two of the films animated segments, “Soft Landing” and “B-17”. I gave him a call and while he was happy to hear that I was busy, all he really wanted to know was “What are you writing?”

Being part of something iconic that he had written didn’t matter to Dan. It was all about the work it took to get there.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Writers Beware!!!

This is the first time I’ve opened the site to a guest poster, so I figured I’d make it a good one.

Deborah Nathan is a well known Canadian screenwriter, story consultant and producer whose writing credits include most of the significant series that have been produced in this country.

We first met when she took over the story department helm on “War of the Worlds” for Paramount and not long after, she was the first story editor I brought on to “Top Cops”. Since then she’s gone on to write and story edit several seasons of “Road to Avonlea” as well as produce “Twice in a Lifetime” and “The City”.

Deb has also been a passionate advocate for Writers and got in touch a couple of weeks ago looking for a forum to express her thoughts on the most recent Independent Producer Agreement ratified by the Writers Guild of Canada. She had voted against the pact for reasons both practical and historical.

I said she could use this soapbox and she put together her thoughts. I hope you read them not as a “rant” but as food for thought from somebody who truly cares about her fellow writers and the problems that face them.

All comments will be moderated by Deborah and not yours truly. Please weigh in. These are important issues because they impact all of us.

broken typewriter


The film and television industries are like the Wild West. Dog eat dog; every man/woman/child for him/her self. Never trust a promise or a handshake. Beware of the many con artists and gunslingers. Don’t sit with your back to the door. Carry a big gun. In the case of writers, that big gun should probably be the best lawyer you can afford because as I read the latest negotiated WGC IPA sent out for ratification, I was disappointed, again.

The following are cause for concern:

“Created By” credit: I could write about writers being kicked to the curb off their own shows and now in the position of paying legal fees to try to attain credit and monies on shows they created. Or writers trying to negotiate deals where no other party is interested in negotiation.

Where other jurisdictions have clear guidelines regarding such a credit, the IPA has none. No definition; no criteria for determination; no arbitration process. The onus is on the writer to consult an agent or hire a lawyer to draft special clauses in any contract or deal memo to protect the writer’s creative rights.

Under the Writers Guild of America, there are clauses in the Minimum Basic Agreement and a separate credit handbook that address all credit issues that affects writers. There are definitions, criteria for determination, and an arbitration process. Wouldn’t that be nice. Unfortunately, the WGC complains that “the producers would have to agree that the IPA should govern any creator credits”. Ummm, I would think so, since they are our bargaining partners. But, I guess it’s just one of those areas where the Guild will turn to the writers and say “we tried”.

Without any protection under the IPA, there is nothing to negotiate. It is in the interests of producers to have no attachments on their projects when they go to try to sell them in the U.S. It is also a useful tool if you subscribe to the idea of the revolving door of writers.

Face it, we’re a cheap date.

Bibles: I have recently read Ron Moore’s bible for Battlestar Galactica (54 pages of terrific reading). Also took a look at the bible for The Wire (straightforward with lots of story material) and at Carnivale (one of the coolest bibles ever). Under the WGA, these tomes have a minimum price tag of $50,000 which includes six stories. For each story beyond the initial six, there is a $7300 fee.

Not so under the IPA, where all that is there is a definition of a bible that includes everything, even the kitchen sink. But there are no minimums, no criteria.

So, everyone wants more and more upfront material which should translate into more and more money for writers. Not so much.

Wouldn’t minimums go a long way towards compensating writers in a real way for the amount of work in conceptualizing a series?

This brings me to one of my pet peeves: Script fees versus production fees.

Script Fee vs. Production Fee: The Script Fee is not, really. It is a portion of the Production Fee. The current script fee is $14,572, but the production fee is based on a percentage of the budget. Production Fees are currently at $29,170 on a budget of $1 million per hour. Most one-hour dramas in Canada are budgeted above that level. So why are writers being penalized in this way?

Production Fee (minus Script Fee) is paid on the first day of principal photography. However, this production fee is also a bank against residuals. Until profits on the show reach that magic number, the writer never sees another dime. And, for the most part, accounting on the shows never reach the magic number. Somehow, hundreds of shows that air all over Canada and the world are never profitable. So, this one-time fee is the only fee writers ever receive. And the contracting network may air the program ad nauseum , ad infinitum without further payment to the author.

The Writer has completed all the work that is required, as in, the development and delivery of story, outline, drafts and polish, prior to photography, yet that is not deemed worthy of the full fee.

I have never noticed that a Director or anyone else on crew was so penalized. Perhaps the Director should be paid only one-half or one-third of the fee while prepping and shooting the show and only receive the full fee if and when the program goes to air.

Be aware that this payment schedule has never been changed although it has been studied and placed before committee many times in the past. So, until such time as this onerous formula is overthrown, I would always recommend that writers ask for as much money as possible up front.

By paying the full fee for work done, all levels of the fee would increase and benefit writers’ bottom lines. Currently, a story for a one-hour drama is worth $2,430, not even 20% of the current script fee. Under the WGA, the minimum story fee is over 30% of the script fee.

And I don’t want to hear about economies of scale, or the UK system. We live in North America. We have a standard of living comparable to the US, not the UK. And, we pay more taxes than Americans. We are entitled to a real fee for work delivered. But year after negotiating year we fall farther and farther behind.

New Writers: This clause (A233) states that new writers can be paid at 50% of scale. So, on a one-hour drama, the new writer would receive about $7,300 for their work. Why? This is outrageous and I can’t fathom how this was allowed. But what a boon to producers and networks. Perhaps there should be such a clause for New Directors. Or maybe writers should earn double the minimum when working for New Producers.

Writers with Other Responsibilities: This is what the WGA calls writers who also undertake producing responsibilities. All producing monies are negotiable. Writers should be cognizant of the many aspects of producing and the going rates for these responsibilities. These are not writing credits. Payment can include a weekly or episodic fee plus a percentage of the budget or of profits. Perhaps Mr. Henshaw will oblige us with a column about these various producer hats.

I once delivered the shooting draft of an episode to a lead actor with all his lines removed, as he had rewritten all his dialogue in the previous episode which caused me no end of work in ADR. I wrote on the title page of his script, “Fill it in yourself”. And what would happen if the producer, director, crew and cast arrived on the floor and there were blank pages?

Nothing would happen.

Everything begins with the script.

Remember that.

And don’t get me started on caps for Showrunner fees…

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lazy Sunday # 97: “This is How Much You Have To Love It”

Long before I ever heard Heavy Metal music, I was taking a drawing class from Ted Godwin, an artist whose work now hangs in the National Gallery as well as some of the most prestigious homes and boardrooms of the country.

It was a freezing cold Monday morning and most of us hadn’t dedicated much time to the still lifes we were supposed to have accomplished over the weekend. Ted moved from one flimsy sheaf of half-hearted attempts to another, finally staring over my shoulder at the bare minimum I had been expected to create. I heard him sigh quietly and move to the front of the class.

“I don’t know how to tell you all this.” he said, “But nobody else in the world really gives a fuck whether or not you make it. If you don’t care enough, why would anyone else?”


Flash forward about 10 years to Toronto. I lived across the street from a fleabag hotel near Edwards Gardens called “Larry’s Hideaway”. Larry’s was a four storey first stop for hookers and last chance to sleep inside for a lot of guys who drank or did too many drugs. But there was a ground floor bar that opened onto Carlton Street that booked the best bands in Toronto.

On hot summer nights, the passing streetcars were almost rocked off the tracks by bands that would go on to great success like Trooper, Crowbar, Kim Mitchell in his Max Webster incarnation – and Anvil. Over time, and due in no small part to the Juno rules that forced radio stations to make a third of their prime time offerings Canadian, all of those groups soon moved a couple of blocks down Carlton Street to open for Led Zeppelin and Rush or be headliners themselves at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Like most guys who fought being dragged to a disco at all costs, I probably saw each of those bands more often than I can remember. And then like Larry’s and most of the other live venues in the city, they just went away.

Flash forward again to the summer of 2008, and I hear that screenwriter Sascha Gervasi (“The Big Tease”, “The Terminal”) has made a documentary about Anvil called “Anvil! The Story of Anvil”. I’m not all that current with Metal anymore, and although I’d found Metallica’s “Some Kind of Monster” one of the best rock docs I’ve ever seen, I didn’t really feel the need to learn what had happened to a local band I hadn’t even heard of in 25 years.

More’s the pity.

Because flash forward one last time to this past summer, where my constant hop-scotching of the country landed me in three cities at the same time as Anvil, who were back on tour, opening for AC/DC.

I finally went out and found that documentary. And I’m recommending that you find it as well, especially if you’re a struggling artist or one who doesn’t feel you need or want to struggle anymore.

“Anvil! The Story of Anvil” is not only about never giving up on yourself and your dreams, it’s about not even considering giving up as an option. It’s about understanding that nobody else cares, not fans, not media conglomerates, nobody.

It all comes down to how much you care about what you do, how much you are willing to endure to get where you want to go. This is how much you have to love it played out in front of you. If you can’t make this kind of commitment, then find something else.

The road is never easy. But sometimes it can become pure Hell. And what this film shows you is how much it can hurt. This is how much frustration you can feel. This is losing to the maximum. And this is also how sweet victory can be when you keep caring and don’t give up.

For more on the film, you can find Sascha Gervasi’s interview on CBC’s “Q” here. As for Anvil, the first week of January, they embark on a 28 city North American tour. You can find out how close the band will be coming to where you live here. After that, they’re off to Australia just prior to release of a new album “Juggernaut of Justice”.

Will what you have to face be worth it?

Only you will ever know the answer to that. Because nobody else gives a fuck.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Unravelling

It’s not often you get the chance to tie Tiger Woods, Global Warming, Canadian journalism and the current CRTC Hearings into Canadian Television together. So, of course, I can’t let the opportunity go to waste.

Those of you with access to tinfoil may wish to begin fashioning hats.


Let me say at the beginning, that I’ve always considered myself to be environmentally friendly. Anything we can do to make the planet cleaner and more sustainable for all life forms, the better. I’m also a staunch trade unionist, having been a member of four of them and a founding member of two. I wouldn’t be alive without socialized medicine. I support Public broadcasting and have had a relatively lucrative career thanks to some of the protections offered those of us who work in Canadian TV.

I also used to like to play Golf and retain an admiration of those who are good at it.

There’s honor in Golf, requiring you to be honest with yourself and fair with those you’re playing. It’s a concept not far removed from being responsible to the planet and those with whom we share it.

It’s also similar to the honor that exists among union members, wanting not only a decent life for their fellow workers, but a system that allows their employers to prosper as well. And it’s not too great a leap from all of that to wanting television audiences to have access to programming that’s important to them and supplies news, information and entertainment they might not be able to get anywhere else --- and supplies it in a truly “fair and balanced” way.

All of these things appeal to what most of us feel is our “better nature”. The way we’d all like to be if we had the time.

Over the last couple of weeks, however, as we’ve been bombarded by the Tiger Woods scandal, the increasingly acrimonious debate over climate change and the full on war between Canadian broadcasters and cable companies, one thing has become clear to me…

Hardly anybody appealing to my better nature actually embodies that better nature themselves.

Let me start with Climate change.

As I’m certain many of you were, I was incredibly moved by Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth” and it’s clarion call to save the planet from man made Global warming. His wasn’t some theory. It came with graphs and charts and credible scientists explaining their research.

It seemed we needed to make significant changes to the way we lived in order to prevent an environmental catastrophe.

Chicken Little was everywhere. The sky was literally falling.

And then --- the debate began to shift to not just capping carbon but trading it.


Suddenly we didn’t need to change our ways. We just needed to “offset” the bad things we’d been doing with some good things, like planting trees and helping under-developed nations into the 21st century.

“Cap and Trade” was a concept originally conceived by Ken Lay, the guy who’d also invented the incredible energy scam that was Enron.

It didn’t make a lot of sense in terms of turning around the environment, but it was such an obvious wealth creation tool for some that financiers like Goldman-Sachs, the same guys some suspect were behind last year’s spike in oil prices as well as playing a significant roll in the sub-prime mortgage scandal that almost tanked the world economy, got behind it. And so did a lot of politicians adept at wrapping money grabs in “It’s Good For You” sentiments.

Like many, I began to suspect something else was really going on with Climate change.

Then a couple of weeks ago a hacker or an inside whistleblower released a massive number of files from East Anglia University’s Climate Research Unit that suggested climate change research was either cooked or didn’t actually exist and that a campaign to undermine scientists with an opposing view and make sure they didn’t get their hands on the raw data being used by the UN based Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

One of my favorite revelations was the discovery that weather data attributed to an Australian monitoring station since 1962 had a problem because the station wasn’t even established until 1993. Where did that 30 years of data really come from? Nobody knows. All records of the original reports have “disappeared”.

Chicken Little had been lying. And his stock began to plummet faster than the sky he’d been screaming about. As of last weekend, polls showed that less than 25% of Americans continued to believe that we were the main culprit in climate change.

grizzly chicken

Within days of the revelation, the head of East Anglia’s Climate Research unit had been forced to resign and the Australian Government had voted down Cap and Trade legislation, while Denmark (about to host an important climate conference) got caught claiming 8 Billion Kroner in fraudulent carbon credits. As of today, there are probably more police officers investigating various climate scams than there used to be scientists studying the environment.

Coincidentally, Al Gore realized he’d double-booked himself and had to cancel his appearance in Copenhagen.

But what was decidedly odd about this story was how under-reported it initially was in the main stream media. While it spread like wildfire on the Internet, it took more than 2 weeks to appear on American networks like NBC (owned by GE, another potential Cap ‘n Trade beneficiary) and our own CBC had to be practically embarrassed into reporting it.


Tuesday night, CBC Radio’s evening news series “As It Happens”, however, was still interviewing a climatologist on Al Gore’s infamous “Hockey Stick” Graph as part of its coverage of the Copenhagen Summit, helping listeners to understand the concept.

They not only failed to mention the Climategate scandal in their report, but they didn’t tell their audience that two Canadian scientists, Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick had proven the graph was the result not of Global warming but a computer error. Something the pair had revealed over a year ago and, as a result of their thorough research, the United Nations had dropped the “hockey stick” from the climate report that is the basis for Copenhagen.

Gee, did CBC have some other agenda here?

It was a premise given further credibility by its morning radio series “The Current” where Physicist Spencer Worth (Author of “The Discovery of Global Warming”) suggested listeners ignore the entire Climategate affair as well as any peer review studies. Rather than pointing to other scientific proof of climate change, Dr. Worth said simply, “We don’t even need weather records to know the Earth is warming up”.

And nobody at CBC questioned that assessment.

Can you imagine a doctor being interviewed on CBC saying “I don’t need any tests to know if somebody’s got Cancer”? Or the network silently taking Stephen Harper’s word that no Canadian prisoners were tortured in Afghanistan?

But somehow, a scientist with a climate change book to sell got to dismiss a story being taken seriously elsewhere in the world on a network insisting it is the most reliable source for news in the country.

Put a pin in that thought for later.

Am I suggesting there’s a bias at CBC? Mmmmm --- one could assume that since “The Current” keeps a weekly tally of how many times they’ve had interviews turned down by Harper Cabinet Ministers, while “As It Happens” on the same Tuesday reported that the representative of another party had “a busy schedule which did not allow him time to respond” that somebody has an axe to grind.

But what I’m getting at is that somehow the journalists at “As It Happens” and “The Current” still don’t understand that their audience has access to all sorts of other news and opinion these days and that they need to at least acknowledge and maybe address that stuff in their own reporting.

It isn’t all about one network’s news anymore. It’s about telling the whole story. Even the parts that you may not like.

Which brings us to Tiger Woods.

tiger woods

Most of me doesn’t care about Tiger’s personal life. What’s most interesting again is the different way it’s been handled by the Mainstream media. It was a story that had gone viral on the Internet days before it found traction in the “real” media.

Now, legit journalists claim that’s because they need to fact check and have multiple sources.


Like the incredibly responsible manner in which they covered “The Balloon Boy” and Michael Jackson’s death…

No, what’s intrigued me is that following the initial delay in reporting the story, most of the spin has been “What will this do to his endorsements?” and “What will this do to his image?” Which makes you wonder if some of that press silence might be attributed to somebody trying to figure out how many of Tiger’s sponsors had bought time or space on the outlet concerned.

Then the prevailing sentiment immediately became that Tiger’s “people” weren’t handling this “crisis” very well. In other words, doing all they could to minimize the damage. And everybody kept hoping he’d “get out in front of it” or turn up on Larry King or Oprah for a teary Mea Culpa, so things could get back to normal.

Get back to normal, how? As in – getting back to being the respectable face of all those ads for Nike, Tag Heuer, Gatorade, Buick and many, many, many more?

Tiger’s personal “transgressions” were somehow less important than keeping the ad gravy train rolling.

Was the focus on reporting the news or on protecting those who paid the freight?

And once again, the media giants seemed unaware that their flagship lifestyle and pop culture shows weren’t the only guys on the block anymore.

Tiger can’t just turn up on one of their money spinning interview shows like “Oprah” or “Larry King” and say all the right things and all will soon be forgotten. Because the same people watching their big name interviewer might also have seen this…

And that clip is six months old. You gotta wonder how everybody in the mainstream media missed it. It’s a clue to just how much nobody wanted to dig underneath the Tiger Goldmine.

Look, let’s be honest here. Tiger Woods or any other spokesman who is the face of a brand is very well known to the people who shepherd him from one sponsored event to another. Given the number of photos turning up on the net snapped at one brand or another’s party, tournament or corporate event in which Tiger can be seen hitting on one of his expanding bevy of paramours, it’s impossible that none of his handlers knew what kind of guy he really was.

But because the money he brought in was so massive, they, like those climate researchers, blithely lied to us.

Let me digress to make a small prediction.

Tiger Woods won’t be playing golf on TV anytime soon.

Can you imagine the circus that would follow him? Can you imagine what the other players on the tour will have to put up with? Can you imagine what landmines might be waiting for any potential sponsors around those impeccably manicured greens?

Which brings me to those endless meetings in Gatineau. This week, CTV, Global and CBC turned up on the same panel, appearing together to assure the CRTC that the public will be okay with paying them even more to do even less of what they’ve been doing.

And once again the sky would soon be falling if they didn’t get what they wanted.


Buried by a landslide of real consumers who have inundated the CRTC site with the clear opinion that they don’t want to be charged more on their cable bills, the Commission begged the broadcasters for some idea on how they could all keep their audience happy.

Could they maybe deliver more local news, more drama and comedy, maybe just a clear HD picture?

The answers were “No”, “No” and “No”. And then we watched the absurd spectacle of people who’ve cratered their own businesses offering economic models by which cash flush cable companies could fund them. At one point, I wondered if cablecos were not doing well, but maybe screenwriters were making out like bandits in the spec market, they’d have suggested we pay for everything.

Who covered their costs didn’t matter. All that mattered was that somehow the bubble they’ve lived in for decades had to continue. Their right to determine what was news, or where a celebrity could redeem his image or who watched what and when took precedence over everything else.

Even – as the above examples suggest – if they weren’t doing a good job of all that.

They appeared simply incapable of observing the world they really live in, a world where they are no longer the “Deciders” when it comes to arbitrating culture and information.

Does the CBC not understand that Canadians already pay for them once through taxes, pay a second time to have access to the cable service that delivers them to the majority of the country and are now being asked to pay a third time, through their proposed new fees?

Meanwhile, their counterparts at CTV and Global seem unaware that Canadians might be asking why they have to pay twice for access to fare they can already get just up the dial as well as online or on DVD --- and on top of that forego the income that could accrue to their government if the analog spectrum the Broadcasters were supposed to vacate in 2011 could be auctioned then instead of two years later.

Would it be fair to charge them for the continued use of broadcasting bands that could service other technologies or for how much some other industries may lose by delaying its availability ?

Why not? One could credibly argue that their spending sprees in Hollywood ensure continued American domination of our culture, prevent Canadian artists from fully realizing their talents and keep our country from presenting its true face to the world. How much more damage can they be allowed to do?

In the same way that nobody has a right to fly to Copenhagen on a private jet to curtail the rights of others to travel at will. In the same way that American Express doesn’t get to pretend Tiger Woods is a Goody-Two-Shoes while offering strip joints and escort services pseudonyms to hide the purchases of their clientele from their wives. In the same way that a national news service doesn’t get to ignore the full story in favor of the parts they sympathize with…

In all those ways, Canadian networks don’t get to protect their interests at the expense of all others anymore.

Somehow, the members of the Canadian broadcast system have grown to no longer see themselves (if they ever did) as servants of you and me and our audience. While they may accept that the system exists to entertain and inform the public, they are suspicious of input from artists or anyone else they don’t own or control or are able to manipulate for those who pay them.

They all may say that the system exists to dispense local news and entertainment. But to all intents and purposes, their system is only about self interest.

The rest of us just get in the way. 

It’s time to make it clear we’re tired of them being in ours.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Lazy Sunday #96: It’s Been A Long Night

I did a little bit of community service last night.

Across the country, various police organizations, insurance bureaus and local businesses come together this time of year to sponsor a program to keep impaired drivers off our streets called “Operation Red Nose”.


Notices are placed in bars and party locations letting people know that if they’ve been drinking, they only need to call a local number and somebody will arrive within minutes to ferry them and their vehicle back home free of charge. In my part of the world, this has meant that fatalities caused by drunk drivers have dropped to zero on the nights the program is in operation.

As a volunteer, you turn up at the local headquarters in the early evening and are issued a red vest with your name on it and get your choice of Santa hat, antlers, flashing red nose (or all three) to identify you as somebody enjoying the spirit of the season, but who hasn’t been drinking. You’re then organized in teams of three, one to drive the partiers, one to drive their car and a third who navigates and takes radio calls for your next assignment.

A tag is even placed on the passengers’ returned car keys so they can prove to friends, co-workers or a spouse that they acted responsibly and had a good time without putting themselves or anybody else at risk.

Last night’s event was sponsored by my local MP, who lost her mother to a drunk driver. Others there had also lost family members in similar accidents and a few had been on the other side of the ledger and knew just as well what the costs of drinking and driving can be.

Our night began by escorting our Reindeer Mascot “Rudy” to several company parties and nearby watering holes to make sure people knew we were available. And I gotta tell you, there is nothing like turning up in a crowded bar with a reindeer on your arm to make you the center of attention. We passed out cards while the Mascot boogied on the dance floor, had his picture taken by a thousand phone cameras and received hundreds of Christmas hugs.

In fact, the hardest job of the night was peeling off the female admirers who just didn’t want to let him go.

What’s great about this program is it doesn’t preach or come with the RIDE Program penalties of losing your car for a few days or your license forever. It says “We know you want to party. Go ahead. We’re just here to make sure nobody gets hurt.”

As the night wore on, we ferried everybody from couples who’d had an extra glass at dinner to guys you had to help find the back seat. We picked up designated drivers who’d allowed the night to get the better of them and made unscheduled stops at MacDonald’s when the last call munchies struck for our patrons. And we got to drive everything from tricked out Hummers to a Lexus hybrid that was two days old.

But the best moment for me was stopping back at HQ during the tiny lull before last call, warming up with coffee and cookies as somebody started to sing Christmas carols. Pretty soon the whole room was singing. People who mostly hadn’t known each other before this night. People who had often been robbed of the spirit of the season by tragedies caused by the problem we were there to help prevent.

As we moved out on our next call and those carols echoed into the street, I realized how tough this year has been for a lot of people, how deep the need to relieve some of that pressure is – and how important it remains to have somebody there to catch you when you fall.

And that reminded me of a new song I’d heard earlier in the day. A song by a band I’ve never liked that said the same things and struck the same chord.

Sometimes a song just says it all. And sometimes realizing people just need a break is better than making more rules for them to obey.

After all, we’re only human. Enjoy your Sunday.