Monday, December 31, 2012

The Best of 2012

Year–end lists are inevitably subjective and usually pointless. Unless you or something you’re intimately involved in is on one, they’re pretty much of little consequence.

So, once again, instead of listing my favorite tunes, movies and books I want people to believe I actually read, I’ve decided to go Full Narcissist and list the best things I posted on this blog in 2012.

And this is no piddly “Top Ten”. Because ten would barely scratch the surface of the brilliance shared here on a regular basis. So what follows is one or two gems from each of the past twelve months.

I am nothing if not consistent –- in my self regard.

Winking smile

Have yourself a Happy New Year.


The Epiphany

White Out/Black Out


They Always Need Indians

Burying The Future


Is There A CBC Hush Fund?

The Crayon Is Mightier Than The Narrow Mind


Beaten By A Dead Horse


A Man Of The People


Mea Maxima Culpa


The Only Remaining Decision

Desperately Seeking Validation

Not Unless Somebody Dies, You’re Not!


An Open Letter To Ken Gass


The Four Truths Of Being An Artist


The Scroungers



It’s Never Too Late For An Awesome Childhood

See Tomorrow’s CBC Shows Today


Canada’s Tall Poppy Death Penalty

My Way Or The Highway

All my best for the coming year. And I’ll do all I can to make visiting the Legion worthwhile in 2013.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Lazy Sunday # 253: Israel Kamakawiwo'ole

The holiday season always travels hand in glove with chaos and a hectic pace as we try to cram as much family, as many friends and countless traditional and celebratory events into each day.

But amid the festivities, we also find moments that make us reflect, not only on Christmases and New Years past but where we’ve travelled since the last one.

It’s in those quiet moments when we connect with that tiny voice inside that has always charted the course we really want to follow, the one that leads to the fulfillment of our deepest hopes and sweetest dreams.

If you haven’t connected with that voice in a while or have allowed it to be silenced by cynicism, defeat or frustration, let me put you in touch with one that will move those clouds aside. It’s a voice as pretty as any you’ve ever heard.

Yes, there are thousands of truly beautiful voices in the world.

And this may be one you’ve never heard. If not, you’re welcome.

And if you are already familiar with Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo'ole you’ll no doubt agree that no one banishes troubles and negativity as thoroughly.

May your own voice guide you to happiness in the coming year. But in times of trouble, let the inimitable “IZ” help you along.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

My Way Or The Highway

There’s something I’ve noticed about public discourse of late. It’s no longer a genteel pursuit.

Debate that involves genuine give-and-take, a sharing of opposing opinions and people shifting their positions a few notches given what’s been said is a thing of the past.

Lately, it seems, there is an inciting incident immediately followed by a shrill demand that we all think the same way.

Media outlets and social media erupt with not only an agreed agenda that requires no further discussion, but the implication that anyone who doesn’t 100% comply is some kind of fucking psycho deserving of no place in polite society.

It’s as if all those Chinese propaganda posters urging that the running dogs of capitalism and counter-revolutionary thought be crushed have found a new life and new acolytes.

And like those days, there has arisen a need to not only disagree with someone but parade them through the public square in a dunce cap with a sign around their necks reading “Reactionary”.

Within my social media feeds are people who post endlessly about partisan politics, their disdain of capitalism or socialism, hatred of religion (one in particular or all in aggregate) or atheism and the various ways we’re poisoning ourselves or killing the planet.

And I don’t have a single problem with anybody having any kind of opinion on anything. I assume that’s a right we all share.

Except we don’t anymore.

There’s a lot of “my way or the highway” going on and it’s starting to feel scarier than the sexually frustrated glare of the pompadoured teenager with a pack of Luckys rolled in the sleeve of his T-Shirt who first coined that term.

Friday, a week after the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, a representative of the National Rifle Association held a news conference in which he asked for a larger discussion surrounding gun control; one that included issues like mental health, violent films and video games as well as placing armed guards in schools.

It wasn’t a sophisticated presentation to say the least and deserved much of the criticism that ensued. But debunking his approach to the problem didn’t seem to be enough. The man had to be branded as psychotic and dangerous as well.

“What kind of an idiot would put guns in schools!” said some, apparently forgetting that President Bill Clinton had proposed exactly the same thing after the Columbine shooting, while additionally ignoring the reality that 1/3 of American public schools already have them.

I was also treated to the sight of the same CNN anchor who had demanded censorship of violent video games after the Virginia Tech shootings now scoffing that anyone could be so deluded.

A New York newspaper, righteous with indignation, published the names and addresses of every legal gun owner in its jurisdiction, following the philosophy that, like sex offenders, their readers had a right to know what dangers lurked in their neighborhood.

Perhaps they didn’t realize or maybe simply didn’t care that this turned people who hadn’t broken any law into potential targets for someone eager to possess a weapon but not having the mental or legal capacity to properly acquire one.

In an equally ill-conceived erasure of basic human decency from the other end of the spectrum, gun owners launched a petition to demand CNN host Piers Morgan be deported for, as a resident-alien, attacking the American Bill of Rights.

Start a petition requesting Morgan get the boot for being a salacious ghoul who lowers whatever standards remain for television and you might be onto something.

But just because he doesn’t agree with your point of view? Although, sadly, I don’t think that’s a sentiment Morgan’s world view allows him to share.

Meanwhile, those angered by the newspaper reversed their invasions of privacy by releasing the names, addresses and personal information (including photos of their children) of its editors and reporters.

This included reminding readers that these folks probably had no way of defending themselves against a home invasion and by the look of it owned some pretty cool stuff and even had swell places to hide on their properties.

And if you think that’s as low as we could sink, you’re wrong. This week the ecological journal “Earth First” published a list of corporate CEOs and government lobbyists it felt should be assassinated.

Couched in a lot of “of course we’re just kidding” rhetoric, there’s no mistaking the message -- or the targets –- anybody who doesn’t agree with them. Last on the list is Brandon Darby, a conservative blogger who unearthed a plot to fire bomb the 2008 Republican convention and called in the FBI.

For which duty as a responsible human being Mother Jones magazine branded him a “snitch” and “Earth First” now apparently thinks he should be whacked.

Where exactly did we not only lose our ability to respect an opposing opinion but start demanding that those who hold them be “removed” –- if not to a retraining camp then permanently?

When did we all put on these blinkers and filters that prevent us from seeing all but one path?

How did we get to a place where a crucifix in urine is art but a Koran in a toilet is reprehensibly insensitive?

Why is it wrong to consider someone laughingly obese except if they’re the Mayor of Toronto?

How do so many people tweeting their disgust with Walmart paying bribes in Mexico not realize they’re doing it on a device filled with rare earth minerals mined by slaves or assembled in a suicide inducing sweatshop?

And this isn’t just the way of the desperate for attention on Facebook. After the Newtown slaughter, award winning novelist and PEN humanitarian Joyce Carol Oates tweeted…



So let me tell you about something else that happened on Friday.

There was a local demonstration featuring aboriginal drummers and environmental activists protesting the latest outrage related to the oil sands or pipelines or recent environmental legislation. Perhaps all three.

Banners and signs proclaimed the Prime Minister’s hatred of all things ecological and the greed and insensitivity of capitalism.

Meanwhile, I was a block away, filming a sleek Tesla Roadster as it pulled up to Mile Zero of the Trans-Canada Highway.

This electric car had just driven the entire length of Canada (something electric cars are not supposed to do) thanks to a small company from Saskatchewan called “Sun Country”.

A year ago, Sun Country set itself the goal of making the nation accessible to fully electric, no-emission vehicles. It was their contribution to reducing greenhouse gases while turning the electric car into a reliable option for anyone wanting to stop using fossil fuels.

In mid-November, they installed the last of the electric vehicle charging stations that have transformed Canada’s Highway One into the longest Green highway on the planet.

And in the process, they have opened up many lesser thoroughfares to electric vehicles, including the entire province of Prince Edward Island and every inch of Vancouver Island.

There were fireworks and speeches and a bottle of Atlantic seawater poured into the Pacific. Nearby sat a humongous electric pick-up truck, the next stage of Sun Country’s grand plan to save the planet.

If all goes well, they’ll build this environmentally responsible replacement for the ubiquitous Canadian half ton in Saskatchewan, creating 3000 jobs while saving cities and municipalities the carbon penalties they face if they don’t improve the energy efficiency of their vehicle fleets.

The trucks would also save farmers and tradesmen the $1000/month most of them now spend on petroleum products just to do their jobs.

It was a good story.

One not one single member of the media showed up to cover.

They were all at the demonstration.

That was where the social rage was as palpable and the indignation as righteous as it has become daily on Facebook and Twitter and the 24 hour News networks.

As I listened to the drumming and the rhyming chants, it struck me that a small (but somehow nonetheless evil) corporation had, under the rule of an uncaring government harboring its hatred for things green, still made a tremendous positive difference.

They were now poised to share that mission with thousands of future employees who would have good jobs building tens of thousands of vehicles to further benefit the planet –- and make an even bigger difference.

It made me wonder why anyone would spend time beating war drums and spouting an approved script while demonizing those with a different opinion when it was possible to just go out and change things for the better. 

And maybe just by realizing that there might be a different way to look at the issue.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Cowboy Who Kept Christmas

In 1934, the “Yodeling Cowboy”, Gene Autry, made his first Western movie, becoming one of Hollywood’s newest sensations, the singing cowboy.

By 1946, despite a few years off to fly in the Army Air Corps during WWII, Autry had made more than 70 films and with his “Melody Ranch” radio show was regularly topping the popular charts.

He was the first performer to earn a Gold record and the first to sell out Madison Square Garden. So it was to no one’s surprise that he was given a place of honor riding ahead of Santa Clause and his reindeer in the 1946 Hollywood Christmas Parade.

But while waving to the crowds of kids and getting his horse Champion to regularly rear or bow, Autry noticed that all he heard were gleeful cries of “Here Comes Santa Claus”.

He went right home and wrote the first of what would become a whole herd of Christmas classics.

While cutting the demo for what would become the top selling record of 1947, Autry and his engineers mixed up some cocktails. Listening to the tinkle of the ice cubes in the drinks inspired him to add “Here Comes Santa Claus”’s signature sleigh bells.

Two years later, despite the fact that he didn’t think it was a very good song, Autry recorded the Christmas ditty that would spawn movies, TV specials and a thousand imitators, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”

“Rudolph” became the biggest selling song Columbia Records had ever recorded and continues to top the Christmas charts more than 60 years later.

As he moved on to become one of the first TV stars of the 1950’s, bought baseball teams and built museums honoring the American West and the country’s native peoples, Autry continued to release new songs at Christmas.

It’s become a Christmas tradition here at The Legion to post a selection of Christmas songs before the big day. And this year I’ve decided to honor the guy who wrote the first seasonal tunes I learned to sing.

Merry Christmas from The Legion –- by way of a Cowboy who knew how to keep Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Lazy Sunday # 252: In The Days After Doomsday

So, once again, the world did not end. All those Mayan documentaries, far-fetched notions of New Age Prophets and the best efforts of Roland Emmerich have been for naught.

And now some of us really have to get our ass in gear if we’re going to get our Christmas shopping done.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in Life it’s that not much turns out the way you were led to believe it would. There’s always an unexpected wrinkle or two.

And when you can’t even count on the things that are pretty much predictable turning out as planned, you wonder why anybody wants to take on something as massive as the end of an entire planet.

Because even when that does happen, it’s probably not going to go exactly as all the computer models predict, let alone what was derived from ancient texts and stone carvings.

back in the early 70’s, some Doomsday cult predicted the end of the world to occur on a mid-summer Sunday afternoon. The news media played it up a lot. Mostly for yucks, of course. But still, when the day dawned they began counting down to the 3:00 pm (local) deadline.

Around then, my buddies and I were back from our Sunday touch football game, splayed on the porch and well into a case of 24.

Then we noticed the sky darkening and a huge storm cloud rolling in over the city, unleashing thunder, lightning and a torrential downpour at exactly the appointed hour.

Like most Summer storms, it blew itself out in ten minutes. But there was a moment when (based on all the hype) you wondered, “Could this really be happening?”.

But it wasn’t. Although, next morning the spokesman for said cult announced that they had not been wrong in their prediction and that, the world as we knew it, had in fact, ended.

But you didn’t hear much about them after that. I think they all quit the cult and got jobs in an Apple store instead.

And still –- every time somebody sets a new date for Doomsday, the media is right there to hype it, revealing by those who take them seriously the true nature of their audience.

So now, as I hastily cobble together my Christmas to do list, I’m once again wondering what happens to those who buy into “The End Times” and how they cope with having to revise not only their future plans but the way they make sense of the world.

Roland “2012” Emmerich, meanwhile, has been relegated to making action films with Channing Tatum and prepping a sequel to “Independence Day”.

Here’s the story of one guy who got Doomsday wrong a year ago. Followed by a little disclaimer NASA felt the need to release this week.

I hope that finally wraps our latest Doomsday.

And then you can –- Enjoy the Sunday so much time and money was spent telling you it might never happen.

We Will Forget from Garret Harkawik on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Get A Jump On 2013

Everyone who works in film and television is the owner of a small business. Even if the only person working there is you, how productive you are determines how successful you will be.

That’s not to say you won’t be impacted by what “They” are or are not buying this season or whether your particular skillset is in as much demand as a plumber after an earthquake or as little as a Canadian screenwriter on a Co-Production.

But all of us are better served by broadening our horizons,  attending seminars or expanding our toolbox to include new ways to save time and money or increase motivation and efficiency.

Over the last month, I attended a series of workshops conducted by Mike Vardy, a productivity expert who has guest written on this site and operates the leading Canadian productivity website.

After just one workshop, I was able to chop a couple of hours of dealing with email, phone calls and paperwork out of my day, leaving me more time for what I hopefully do best and increasing the amount of real work I complete in an average day.

And things got better from there.

Now, just in time for Christmas and the following week of making resolutions to improve your ways in 2013, Mike and other bright lights in the Productivity/Efficiency world have assembled an astonishing list of products to help you get one up on 2013.

The retail price for these products is about $500. But until January 9th, 2013 they are available in a “Kickstart The Year” package you can purchase at an 80% discount  -- or $88!

And a chunk of that bargain price also becomes a charitable donation to Goodwill for the fine community work they do across the country. So while you’re helping yourself, you’ll be helping others as well.

And what’s in the package?

Chris Brogan on Self-Reflection: The Three Words Video Webinar (Value: $47)

Gini Dietrich on Starting a Business: Starting a Business: Real-Life Experience, Tips. and Tools for Success (Value: $25)

Jeff Goins on Writing Your Book: The Writer’s Studio and How to Start Publishing for Kindle (Value: $65)

Craig Jarrow on Time Management: 31 Days, 31 Ways: Daily Tips for Time Management Mastery (Value: $31)

Lorie Marrero on Organization: Home Office Rules of Thumb: A Handy Guide to Organizing Your Time, Information, and Workspace (Value: $20)

Jonathan Mead on Making Your Dreams Happen: Reclaim Your Dreams (Value: $47)

Kate Swoboda on Living a Meaningful Life: The Courageous Living Program (Value: $125)

Dick Talens on Getting Fit: Hack Your Body By Hacking Your Brain (Value: $45)

Jaime Tardy on Taking Control of Your Finances: Eventual Millionaire Academy: Part One (Value: $67)

Mike Vardy: Four Ready Retreat Digital Workbooks on task, email, idea and time management (Value: $20)

If you really intend to turn things around or take a step up in 2013, this could be what makes all the difference.

Pick up Kickstart the year here and build a better you in 2013.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Canada’s Tall Poppy Death Penalty

Imagine being a dancer who performed so beautifully a member of the audience insisted he be put to death.

Imagine being a composer whose music so moved people that the State had him executed.

Imagine being a playwright whose plays were so popular someone in government had him murdered.

The stories of Nero and dancer Pantomimus, Chilean folk singer Victor Jara and Elizabethan dramatist Christopher Marlowe are apocryphal examples of talent overwhelmed by jealousy, evil and ignorance. And they are far from unique.

Artists have always been the canaries in the human rights coal mine, endlessly silenced, imprisoned and exiled by dictators and totalitarian regimes for their ability to inspire or open minds.

It continues today with artists of all stripes from British novelist Salman Rushdie and Danish cartoonists to Chinese visual artist Al Weiwei and Russian punk band Pussy Riot.

Most of us think that sort of thing doesn’t happy in a freedom loving country like Canada. But it does.

In fact, it’s happening right now.

This week in Montreal, Canadian filmmaker Remy Couture stands trial not for committing any actual mayhem –- but for being too good at making the special effects in a film appear “convincing”.

Rémy Couture

Couture has been charged with corrupting morals through the distribution of obscene material. Specifically, he posted a short film about a rape and mutilation on his website that somebody assumed was the real thing and complained to Interpol.

Montreal police leapt into action. Yet, even when their investigation had proven without any shadow of doubt that Couture hadn’t harmed anyone and that the body parts depicted were manufactured out of latex and resin, they charged him.

Couture’s work was simply so good it wasn’t possible to tell it from the real thing on screen.

Now, in the world of filmmaking, Couture’s talents are celebrated. I’ve made dozens of films and TV shows dependent on special effects, prosthetic make-up and replicating physical damage. And when you find somebody who can turn rubber and corn syrup into believable flesh and blood, they’re worth their weight in gold.

They’re the kind of people you can build an industry around. Because that kind of talent elevates the final product, bringing both profit and honor, not to mention other filmmakers in need of talent, to the country in which it resides.

But this time, the powers that be have decided to make an example of Couture instead –- and maybe send a message to anyone contemplating doing a horror or action film in Canada.

We don’t want your kind around here!

Sadly, Couture’s case is something many of us in Canadian showbiz have seen before. Many times.

Back in the 1970’s, the Toronto Police Morality squad regularly raided bookstores for pornography or just publications with gay or feminist themes.

Two filmmakers who would go on to become among our most celebrated, Ivan Reitman and David Cronenberg, were forced to defend their first works against obscenity and morality charges.

In 1973, Toronto Free Theatre’s production of Michael Hollingsworth’s astonishingly powerful play “Clear Light” was closed and the author and cast threatened with prosecution.

A few years later, cops regularly attended performances of Theatre Passe Muraille’s “I Love You Baby Blue” using binoculars to assure themselves that nothing “explicit” was going on.

Not long after, a Yonge Street Art gallery created a furor by exhibiting the work of Montreal sculptor Mark Prent.

Prent’s work included human body parts hung like meat in a deli window and installations depicting various human deformations and examples of madness.

Among these was an execution chamber (the photo above) where the viewer could throw a switch and watch the rubber figure strapped into old sparky convulse and contort.

I remember standing for a long time at that switch, unable to throw it even though I knew the figure in the chair wasn’t actually alive.

Prent’s work was disturbing. But it forced a lot of introspection and debate as well. David Cronenberg was so impressed he included many of the artist’s creations in his film “Scanners”.

But faced with a constant requirement to defend or justify his work before any gallery would display it, Prent finally gave up on Canada and left the country.

Too many Canadian artists, feeling similarly stifled or failing to understand why work bought or celebrated abroad is ignored and even belittled at home, have done the same.

There’s no way of knowing what the full impact of Remy Couture being convicted of being talented and good at his job might be. But it will definitely cast a chill on anyone making horror, fantasy and action films in this country.

Unconvicted, his work has already been blocked online and seized from Montreal video stores. The same is true of a documentary made about the case by Quebec filmmaker Frederick Maheux.

Perhaps we don’t actually execute exceptional artists in Canada. But our moral and intellectual superiors appear to remain exceptionally good at driving them away.

And that’s not a positive thing for any of us.

If you’re so inclined, you can assist Remy Couture here. I think you will find his description of his arrest particularly unsettling.

Here’s a short clip of Remy Couture at work. If he’s convicted, the writers, directors, actors and crew on this film could be next.

Making Of - A Little Off the Top - Make up FX from BloodbathTV on Vimeo.


On December 22, 2012 Remy Couture was ACQUITTED of all charges. Full Story here.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Lazy Sunday # 251: Long Branch

Tough week.

One that leaves you in need of restoring your faith in humanity.

So here goes…

How about a Canadian love story. One every single Canadian has experienced on some long, bitterly cold winter night.

Don’t tell me you can’t relate. Because this is all of us.


Enjoy Your Sunday.

Long Branch from Dane Clark on Vimeo.

Monday, December 10, 2012

I Thought You Said

This is the true story of George Phillips of Meridian, Mississippi.

George was going to bed when his wife told him he’d left a light on in the shed. He went to turn off the light and saw people in the shed stealing things.

He phoned the police, who asked “Is someone in your house?”

George said no, the men robbing him were in his shed. The Police said all their officers were busy and to lock his door until an officer became available.

George said, “Okay,” hung up, counted to 30 and phoned again.

“Hi. I called a few seconds ago because there were people in my shed. Well, everything’s okay because I shot them.” Then he hung up.

Within five minutes three squad cars, an Armed Response unit and an ambulance arrived and the police caught the burglars red-handed.

One of the policemen approached George and said, “I thought you said you shot them!”

George nodded, “And I thought you said there was nobody available!”

h/t Seasoned Citizen

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Lazy Sunday # 250: Hope On The Rocks

Just a couple more weeks to Christmas –- the season of giving.

And most of us do that.

We give gifts, throw a party, buy a round for friends, tuck some bills in a Salvation Army kettle. Sometimes we even drop cans at the food bank or park an unwrapped gift under one of those charity trees at the mall.

We give. But when it comes those truly hurting, we do it ritualistically or from a distance. Most of us don’t make the giving personal.

And at a time so focused on close friends and family, that personal touch is what those most in need need the most.

Over the last week, a lot of us shared that photo of a New York Cop giving a homeless man a pair of boots.

But how many of us went looking for somebody we could help in the same way?

Give it a shot. It’s easier than you think. Even knowing that somebody simply cares can make a huge difference in the lives of those who are without this Christmas.

At the end of the day. We’re all they’ve got. Hope on the rocks.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Add Something More To The Christmas List

I’m way too busy these days. And I know you are too. It’s the season of busy. So just a quick reminder of two things you might want to pencil into your already busy holiday schedule.

The first is doing something special for both yourself and some kids in need.

As of last night, it’s become clear that NHL Hockey is unlikely to arrive in time to appear under anybody’s tree. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t great hockey to be had –- hockey that comes with an additional element of “feel good”.

The above blizzard of bears in Calgary marked the start of Junior Hockey’s seasonal tradition “The Teddy Bear Toss” wherein you celebrate a goal by donating a bear for kids who don’t have one. And who wants to be without a bear and hockey at Christmas?

They don’t do this in the NHL. I believe it’s out of concern for giving Sidney yet another concussion.

If you’ve never been to a Junior game, it’s as fast and more furious than the top level many of the players will be joining next year (if the NHL has a next year). And they include all the guys we’ll be cheering for at the World Championships starting Boxing Day.

So go. Most local Junior teams schedule their “Teddy Bear Toss” this or next weekend.

And… for those in Toronto and the GTA.

Please avail yourself of the opportunity TONIGHT to attend the Premiere screening of Tony Nardi’s “Letter One” at the Hot Docs Cinema at Bloor and Bathurst Streets. 9:00 pm.

I can’t stress enough how important this film is to every one who considers or wants to consider themselves a working artist in this country.

It’s the season of new beginnings – and there’s no better way of preparing for the New Year than with some fresh ideas on rebooting the culture.

Please, please attend if you can. You will not regret doing so.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Up The Junction!

Here’s something I completely fail to understand about Canada’s CBC News Network. For 99% of the time, they’re not pals of the 1%.

Rich people don’t pay their fair share. The motives of people in positions of power are always suspect. Too much Public money goes to people who don’t deserve it while others suffer.

Conrad Black (uck-spit).

Then one of the Royals gets knocked up.

And it’s -- Global Warming? Economic collapse? Political Corruption? Wars in the Middle East? International Terrorism? Who cares!!!

Suddenly all the dour and not to be messed with news anchors are gushing over baby names, revised orders of succession and who’s betting on what arrival date with British bookies. Not to mention how many millilitres the Duchess horked up this morning.

There’s a camera locked on the doors of the hospital and B-roll aplenty of all the tchotchkes being churned out to cash in on the pending bundle of joy.

After spending a couple of weeks before the CRTC pleading poverty and pontificating on how much essential news and information the CBC provides us for so little, we’re now treated to an endless parade of royal watchers, experts in obstetrics and monarchist pundits –- most of them doing live trans-Atlantic interviews.

This Sunday (less than a week after the former Miss Middleton announced she had one in the oven) the CBC News Network will run a Prime Time documentary on the coming monarch.

Meanwhile, if you’re a Canadian documentary maker awaiting a similar CBC spot –- well, you might maybe start thinking of cutting in some kind of Royal Baby angle.

And we’re only in the first trimester.

Look, I’m pleased the young Windsors are expecting. Just as pleased as I’d be for anybody else I don’t know and am unlikely to ever meet.

But I’m also one of that statistically recorded 80% of Canadians who don’t have an acute interest in the Royal Family.

So why is the CBC falling all over itself to make sure I know every detail of this story?

And how seriously am I supposed to take the other stories CBC News will almost certainly run in the next months about the plight of homeless Canadians at Christmas, struggling Northern communities or heartless corporations?

If the wealthy and powerful elites are such a huge problem, why is the CBC so excited that they’re reproducing?

Or do I just accept that those tales and this one are all just part of the same journalistic need to pretend they know what their audience wants?

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Lazy Sunday # 249: Letter One

How long does it take for passion to burn itself out?

When does an artist’s insight no longer resonate with its time?

At what point do you decide nobody wants what you’re selling, give up and move on?

Every creative person has a project they’re desperate to realize. And Showbiz is rife with stories about those repeatedly rejected or marginalized who refused to stop believing in their work.

But the Gatekeepers and Powers That Be are the Deciders.

And yet…

Books have become classics despite rejection by countless publishers. Award winning Movies have survived decades in development. Hit TV series overcame debut numbers that made them sure bets for cancellation.

In the end, they all achieved success because somebody believed. Somebody kept them alive. Somebody refused to accept that the message was not worth hearing.

In January of 2006, Tony Nardi asked me to attend a reading of a “letter” he’d written. After exhausting every excuse I had, I relented and went along. That letter changed my life.

Not changed it in an “OmiGod!I can see again!” way –- but close.

Shocked and angered by a script for which he’d been asked to audition, Tony explored where that shock and anger came from and in the process pulled back the veil on what really goes on in the creation of Canadian television.

It was a raw, passionate and scathingly unblinking look at the industry in which most of those reading this blog work or aspire to work.

Listening to that letter, I realized how much damage had been done to countless Canadian artists by what we’ve allowed to happen to the theatre, television and movies that we make in this country.

And it was something we could fix.

But would we?

Who among us had the courage?

And what might become of those who challenged the Deciders?

Much of what has been written at “The Legion of Decency” was inspired by Tony’s letter and some fellow Canadian bloggers who shared his passion for change.

Five years ago, I encouraged those reading this space to attend the first staging of what by then had become “Two Letters”, a theatrical event that earned glowing reviews.

Today, I’m encouraging you to do whatever you can to attend the first screening of the filmed version.

Friday, December 7th at 9 p.m. “Letter One” debuts at Toronto’s Hot Docs Cinema, 506 Bloor Street West.

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion moderated by Thom Ernst, host of TVO’s “Saturday Night at the Movies”.

The panel will include Nardi, Donato Santeramo (Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, Queen’s University), Nick Mancuso (actor and producer) and others.

Tickets are $11 ($8 for Hot Docs Members).

I don’t think I exaggerate in saying that if you are a working professional artist in Canada, this is the most important film you will see this year.

It’s passionate, inspiring and revelatory of what’s wrong with our creative industries –- and how we can repair them. And making it took more courage and commitment than most of us have ever been willing to bring to bear.

Start with one phrase from the trailer. “Filmed in front of a live audience in one take.” Imagine having the guts to do that with something you’ve spent almost a decade trying to get onscreen.

Go. Please Go. This is Important.

And –- Enjoy your Sunday. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

F/F: The Sky Is Not The Limit

This week of short films highlighting solutions to the world’s most pressing problems was partially inspired by the month which ends today –- November.

November is when the days shorten and darkness seems pervasive. The air gets colder and the urge to just hunker down until Spring grows stronger.

It was also partially inspired by my various social media feeds. Twitter and Facebook have allowed us all to become advocates for one cause or another, without actually having to physically or emotionally commit to fighting for it.

All the problems overwhelming the world feel so much larger and impossible to confront when so many people are demanding that you join in their particular chorus of outrage.

Nobody’s got that kind of time, energy –- or rage.

So the problems begin to feel like they can never be solved.

But these posts were also inspired by how much the world seems to have changed from when I was inspired to realize my own dreams.

Back then, John F. Kennedy’s appeal to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you could do for your country” was a rallying cry.

Now we appear to feel more entitled and want our countries to do more for us. Maybe -– because after all –- we deserve it.

But problems don’t solve themselves. And for the most part governments have their hands full. So it really is up to us.

Maybe the real future of problem solving lies in the model of the “X” Prize. Creating a reward more tangible than the mere thrill of achievement and satisfaction of doing something well.

The “X” Prize proves that the sky does not have to be the limit. There is incentive to move beyond. To Focus/Forward.

The twenty finalists in this inspiring short film competition were named this week. You can see them here and online voting continues until December 20th.

Who knows, you may find something that solves a problem that hits close to home for you –- or maybe just brings a little light of hope to stave off the dark days of Winter.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

F/F: DisplAir

iPad. iPod. Mac. Mac Mini. Blackberry. Notepad. Notebook. Netbook. Tablet. Flat screen. Touch screen. Smartphone. Samsung Galaxy I,II and III. iPhone 4. iPhone 5…

Every day there’s a new device, a newer device. An upgrade. An update. An innovation. A technological revolution.

And each time something new comes along, all the old stuff gets pitched, filling electronic junkyards and polluting the environment.

And all the new stuff requires new accessories, newer batteries and rare earth minerals people literally kill to acquire. Not to mention the armies of human robots working 100 mind-numbing hours per week to make them.

What if we could get rid of all the hardware without sacrificing the benefits that flow from new technologies?

What if all the devices we need could be made from nothing more than light and water and air?

You might call it DisplAir…

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

F/F: Bankrupting The Warlords

Like all things, wars cost money. And when the costs outweigh the benefits, other ways of resolving differences have to be found.

Last weekend, I read an article about the recent Israel/Gaza conflict that said each missile lobbed into Israel by Hamas cost about $1000 to purchase. But by the time all the bribes and payoffs have been made to get them into the Gaza Strip, their final cost is a significant multiple of that.

Taking into account the number of these rockets brought down before reaching their targets by the “Iron Dome” defense system, it’s calculated that Hamas spent over $1 Million for each Israeli killed. And with new software developed during the eight day barrage, any future conflict will raise that cost to between $5 and $10 Million per casualty.

Begging the questions, “Why bother?” and “Maybe that money could be put to better use”.

One of the favorite weapons of the world’s armies is the landmine. They are cheap, costing between $3 and $30 apiece. Any idiot can plant one. And at an estimated cost of $1200 to find and remove each one of them, most armies just leave them where they are when they leave the field.

At this moment, there are approximately 110 Million active landmines planted around the world, continuing to kill 3-4000 people every year, many of them generations after the conflict in which they were used ended.

Most of the casualties are children.

But if it was as cheap and easy to remove a landmine as it is to lay it in the ground, like the Hamas missiles, they would soon cease to be worth using.

Maybe it’s too much to hope that people might then resort to talking out their differences instead. But at least a lot of innocent people wouldn’t have to suffer or die.

Today’s Good News Week entry from the Focus/Forward Short Film Competition exhibits an inspired solution to one weapon of war. It gives you hope that the answers to all the others might be just as easy to find –- if we put our minds to it.

Mine Kafon | Callum Cooper from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Focus Forward: Highways of Light

I have a friend who recently bought an electric car. He did it for a lot of reasons. It only costs him about 1 cent/kilometer for fuel. There are zero emissions polluting the environment. It reduces the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. 

On the minus side, he can only drive 150 km before he needs to spend time recharging. He still gets stuck behind snow plows. All the new electricity he’s using comes from a coal burning plant.

You win some. You lose some. So far, there have been no easy answers to our need to be mobile.

Except for one. 

One that could solve all our energy problems. One that could reduce the cost of building and maintaining highways. One that could employ millions of people and make the electric car a viable choice for more of us.

Today’s entry from the Focus/Forward short film competition is that solution. A solution where the highways of the future will be highways of light.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Focus Forward Week: Print Your Own Kidney

There’s a lot wrong with the world. Everywhere you look there are problems which appear to be unsolvable. Sometimes it feels like for every step forward we take, we take another backward –- or sideways and into yet some new pit of quicksand.

But there are people making progress, coming up with innovative, inspired and almost unbelievable ideas which not only solve our most pressing problems as a species and a planet but take a great leap beyond.

Somehow, you’re not hearing much about these people and their research on CBC or CNN. Maybe the networks would rather you just curled up on the couch in a foetal position eating cheese doodles and in fear of even hitting another dial on the remote.

Maybe they just haven’t heard of the Focus/Forward Project.

Focus/Forward is part contest, part inspiring revelation in which documentary filmmakers are asked to submit 3 minute films about people reshaping our world through actions or innovation.

The most inspiring film will win $100,000. Four runner ups will share another hundred grand.

Dozens of finalists are now online at the Focus/Forward website with more being added daily.

Over this week, in an effort to counter the endless drumbeat of the Main Stream Media Cheerleaders of Doom, I’ll be presenting my favorites from the current slate of entries.

Each one is a stunning example of the unquenchable human will to overcome adversity, not to mention a pretty cool short film.

First up – creating new organs with a 3D Printer.

Pioneering Regenerative Medicine, Dr. Anthony Atala | Andy Anderson from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Lazy Sunday # 248: The Reality Of Reality TV

The openly admitted conceit of drama is that it’s fiction. We all know it’s all made up. The story was hammered out in advance. The actors are pretending. The shots of bourbon are cold tea.

The well hidden truth of reality television is that it’s just as made up. But the writers and performers don’t get paid very much. And while the Jell-o shots might pack a punch, they aren’t really from the brand name bottles in the shot.

This week there was a frisson of “We’ve arrived!” among the makers of Canadian reality shows after American Secretary of State, Hilary Rodham Clinton, allowed that “Love It Or List It” was her favorite TV show.

Maybe it gave her some ideas for that fixer-upper she’s got in Benghazi.

Actually, what she said was that she found the show “Calming”, perhaps admitting that such programming basically helps put her to sleep.

However, we have to admit it is amazing that after almost two decades of by-the-numbers and repetitive “reality” formats, they continue to dominate the television landscape.

Much of that is because networks keep making more of them, their low cost slowing the need to openly admit that their outmoded business model is in its death spiral.

But part of it is because audiences simply don’t stop to consider that the only way to capture such manufactured realities is by using the very same techniques which capture fiction.

Maybe it’s time somebody pulled back that veil.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

See Tomorrow’s CBC Shows Today

You can’t legitimately describe the first couple of days of CRTC hearings on renewing the license of the CBC as fascinating –- unless narcolepsy holds a particular attraction for you.

But they have been fascinatingly revealing.

A month ago, there was a terrifying amount of electricity in the windowless room where these hearings are held as powerful corporate executives from Bell sparred with Commissioners over clearly different visions of what the future of Canadian television should be.

The airless bunker was crammed with predatory power and palpable suspicion. There were flashes of anger, cries of frustration and the thrust and parry of competing forces searching for a chink in either corporate or regulatory armor.

This time, not so much.

The looks between Commissioner podium and network executive table are familial and understanding. “I’m a government bureaucrat. You’re a government bureaucrat. We all know the boxes that need to be ticked.”

When a CBC Exec doesn’t have any support material or suggests the need for a break from CRTC rules, perhaps even a revision to the terms of license already applied for, there’s no consternation.

Instead, we’re treated to a lackadaisical, eloquent dance of civility. Everybody is all forgiveness and smiles. Being a National Broadcaster is a thankless job. Much like being a CRTC Commissioner.

Catch-phrases and cultural touchstones that don’t mean much more than we all remembered to touch all the bases are traded with knowing winks and nods of gracious understanding.

Regionalism. Gender and Ethnic sensitivity. Child psychologist vetted Kid shows. Recipes for Mom. Hockey for Dad. Requisite hours of Blues and Classical music. Radio in dying languages for shrinking audiences. News read by respectable looking White guys who genuinely like the Queen.

The same old same old as familiar as the lumberjack shirt and sweat pants you pull on to watch “Dragon’s Den”.

You begin to realize that the only real difference between “The Beachcombers”, “Arctic Air” and “Republic of Doyle” is which ocean serves as a backdrop.

Phrases like “we’ve ruminated on that”, “we’ve had many discussions about this” and “it’s something we debate amongst ourselves” repeat so often, you soon realize the people who work at CBC spend most of their time talking.

And not a lot doing…

No desire to show that bad old Prime Minister how much more can be done with so much less. No passion to demand the audience pay attention or the world take notice.

No fire in the belly. No spark of imagination.

Only bureaucratic excuses another bureaucrat would understand.

When the subject of feature films on CBC was broached, we learned that Canadian feature films don’t work for the CBC anymore because they arrive without any audience recognition or box office fanfare.

Far be it from the CBC to stir up some interest. Why should they do the job similarly lackadaisical and government funded producers and distributors have not.

What’s more, it seems Canadian films are not “family friendly”. And worse, they don’t all run 90 minutes.

The concepts of editing for content or to fit a time slot are apparently too large for the bureaucratic mind.

But in an effort to accommodate (everything about these hearings drips with accommodation) the network will program Canadian feature films on Saturday nights (the graveyard of Canadian TV) during the Summer (traditional boneyard of all things television).

Which evenings, even a bending-over-backward-to-be-accommodating Commissioner had to mention, are when families are “outside” and “around a campfire”.

At least those who are among the same class and cottage country coteries which network and government bureaucrats inhabit.

I told you these hearings were revealing.

But my favorite moment so far was provided by Mark Starowitz, Executive Director of CBC Documentary Programming, after assuring the Commissioners that CBC remains the dominant force in Canadian documentary filmmaking.

Certainly a revelation to any indie filmmaker who has tried to sell CBC an innovative documentary in the last while.

Asked what kind of Documentary inspiration CBC had coming down the pipe, Starowitz thought for a moment and offered that “in a couple of weeks” a crack CBC crew would be installing a camera inside a beaver dam, allowing the nation’s children the thrilling prospect of getting to know the iconic rodent so much better.

File:American Beaver.jpg

Starowitz would seem unaware, a little research apparently far below the pay grade of somebody busy thinking up documentaries, that there are currently DOZENS of web sites offering web cams planted inside or in the water surrounding any number of beaver lodges.

Meaning –- anybody with Internet access can see what CBC thinks will be cutting edge programming next season –- right now.

Having checked out a long-standing Canadian site which features a Beaver-cam, two items which also escaped the tax-payer funded programmers became clear:

1) Beavers spend most of their lodge time sleeping.

2) Beavers are nocturnal.

So unless some child psychologist recommends getting your kid up to watch TV at three in the morning –- they won’t see much.

And it’s not going to be exciting enough to drag them away from playing “World of Warcraft”.

Although –- if that Beaver were to do what Beavers often do and chews off his own nuts, he’s probably got a good chance of sitting at one of those hearing room tables.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lazy Sunday # 247: Blood Or Chrome

Blood: The essence of life, supplying oxygen and nutrients to the body while removing toxins and waste.

Chrome: Odorless and tasteless. A lustrous, hard metal that appears to be highly polished.

"The most watched content on YouTube is professionally produced because people can tell the difference between real stuff and crap." -- Rishad Tobacowala

Five years ago, when media strategist Rishad Tobacowala assessed the internet’s best known video archive, most in showbiz did not believe online video would ever seriously challenge television creatively or attract a significant audience.

Yeah, it was fun, even edgy and challenging sometimes. But monetizing the content was virtually impossible and without money, those with marketable creative skills might dabble or try out a vanity project, but they would never fully commit.

Because creative people need money to survive and keep creating. So the internet might be a marketing or inspirational tool. Maybe it could even be a platform on which to augment the content of a popular TV series.

But it would never seriously compete.

The Broadcasting powers that be saw sites like YouTube as Chrome, the distracting sparkly, a shiny decorative flourish on  the vehicle to which it was attached.

All that is about to change forever.

imageA year ago, YouTube began to offer “Channels”, specialized sub-sites offering content directed at a specific audience.

These include brands like “Car & Driver”, “Maker” and “Machinima”as well as several where Russian guys shoot big guns with an enthusiasm that must leave even the National Rifle Association slack-jawed.

And in that one year, some of these sites have grown to average more than a Billion video views per month.

That has given Google the confidence to begin moving YouTube from a place where people surf to one where they engage, spending more time watching content –- and thus being more susceptible to advertising.

A few months ago, Google pumped $100 Million into its channels, which for a company that earns more than $8 Billion a year is the equivalent of you or me digging through the couch cushions when we realize the Pizza guy is going to expect a tip.

But with that money, the blood and life essence of creativity, YouTube can at last pay professionals to create high-end content.

Fully one third of this investment went to Machinima and its vast audience of gamers, resulting in two of the most polished series currently available on TV or any other platform.

“Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn” is accessible and engrossing even to those of us who have never played the game, while “Battlestar Gallactica: Blood & Chrome” is a far more worthy successor to the 2004 series than its own “Caprica” sequel.

“Blood and Chrome” began rolling out two weeks ago and will consist of ten 7 to 12 minute episodes by the time it concludes its launch in early December.

The webisodes will then be glued together as a two hour movie for SyFy in early 2013 before a DVD release.

Watching episodes of “Blood & Chrome” it’s impossible not to be struck by production values that exceed virtually anything else on television and realize how quickly what we thought only television could deliver has been eclipsed.

Television will doubtless be around for a while. But from a creative standpoint, it will have to depend on more chrome trim, maybe even fins and spoiler panels to maintain its audience. The essence of life and creativity is inexorably moving online.

The first episode of “Blood & Chrome” is embedded below. Go full screen for the full experience and just keep clicking through to subsequent episodes.

And Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Lazy Sunday # 246: Gifs With Sound

italian wave

I don’t know why I have such a soft spot for animated Gifs. Small things amuse small minds, I suppose.

Or maybe it’s got something to do with those old billboards that used to blow smoke rings or that two storey cowboy in Vegas who did nothing but wave 24/7. They just get your attention.

God knows, every time I tack one up here, the visitor traffic spikes.


It might have something to do with a life spent at the movies too. Watching those strings of still pictures magically being brought to life. The sweet “I could so be on Jeopardy” twinge of recognition or the distillation of the essence of a film captured in a snippet of frames.

Or maybe it’s just that they’re a lot of fun.

Fun that can be multiplied with the creative use of sound and pop touchstones. It’s always amazing how two or three disparate elements can be combined to get you giggling about what has become a cultural reference to something else.

You may not like or even “get” all of what follows. But I guarantee you’ll find yourself laughing out loud a couple of times.

Maybe it really is that “small things amuse small minds” thing.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Bonding With Bond

I stood on the sunlit sidewalk outside Regina’s Capitol theatre, staring at the poster and lobby cards for the movie “Now Showing” in its plush velvet interior. Barely 13 years old, I was certain that the matinee I’d just seen had to be the best movie ever made, “Dr. No”.

I knew nothing of spies, espionage or the Ian Fleming novel on which “Dr. No” had been based back then. What had drawn me was the concept of a man with a “Licence to kill”.

Movies back then stuck to a stronger moral code than they do now. And while today’s action heroes blast away with impunity, a contemporary hero in the 60’s had to be law-abiding and responsible. So the idea that James Bond had been given the okay to kill whoever he wanted without having to answer to anybody was unique indeed.

Looking at “Dr. No” now, it’s hard to believe it had the impact it did. The level of action and production values aren’t far beyond that of an average hour of television –- from the 1970’s.

And for all of his vaunted “License to kill”, the film’s half over before Bond dispatches his first bad guy.

But there was something about it.

All the trademarks of the Bond franchise were there at the beginning. The opening shot through the gun barrel, the stylized title sequence, the theme music with its infectious guitar riff, “Bond. James Bond” and Martinis “shaken not stirred”.

And there was the first “Bond Girl”. I still credit the moment when Ursula Andress’ “Honey Ryder” rose from the ocean in her white bikini as the moment I entered puberty.

I knew I was going to see this movie again. But it was a long wait until the next Saturday matinee. That problem was solved halfway up the next block, when I saw the paperback version of “Dr. No” on a drugstore rack.

I was a couple of chapters into the book before the bus from downtown got me home. Hard as it was for me to believe, it was even better than the movie.

Bond was a rougher, tougher guy. But still with his devil-may-care roguish flair. Dr. No was far more evil, his secret island not a Bauxite mine but a quarry for mining Bat Guano. Who knew bat shit was even called Guano, let alone how much work went into processing it. Fleming was a sucker for detail.

Everything in the book was richer. The inner workings of MI6 and the flavors of Jamaica were knitted throughout. Dr. No’s victims weren’t just thrown in the ocean or fed to sharks. They were staked out on a beach to be set upon by ravenous crabs. And Honey –- Oh My God – when Honey Ryder stepped out of the ocean she wasn’t wearing nothing at all!!!

That copy of “Dr. No” was utterly dog-eared by the time school rolled around on Monday.

And by the end of that first weekend I had become a confirmed James Bond fanatic. By the time “From Russia With Love” came out a year later, I’d read all every one of Fleming’s novels. And I found the second Bond film even better than the first.

But Bond and I were still relative outliers. The films were successes, but didn’t reach “must see” status for the general public until “Goldfinger” came along.

It was followed by what I still think is the best Bond caper, “Thunderball”. But then things started to get into a pattern  where you felt you’d seen it all before. The iconic moments were still highlights, of course. But everything else seemed a re-tread of what had been done before.

The magic of the books and the first films had been replaced by the Hollywood process of turning a plot into a sequel string of familiar touchstones. I always thought that was the real reason Sean Connery walked away from the franchise.

In a way, I walked away too. I didn’t even have an interest in seeing George Lazenby’s turn in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”.

Part of me figured maybe I’d just grown up.

Then, during a break in shooting a scene on “The Last Detail”, Clifton James started talking about the part he’d just played (Sheriff J.W. Pepper) in what would be the next Bond film “Live and Let Die” with the new Bond, Roger Moore.

I pressed him for details and he said the franchise was going in a “different direction”. It was going to be more “tongue in cheek”, more fun.

That didn’t feel right to me and after I saw the movie I knew I was right. Moore’s Bond was a wise-cracking cad who didn’t even drink Martinis and almost seemed to enjoy killing.

I still went to see his Bond films. Back then I saw everything. But I recall leaving both “Moonraker” and “View to a Kill” vowing I’d never see a Bond movie again.

The rugged humanity and unflinching decency that would need to be there for a man to be granted a “License to Kill”, a permit to operate beyond the rules of society in the first place, were gone. Without that, James Bond was just another psychopath. A sophisticated one to be sure. But not a hero.

And that wasn’t the guy who had first gained the trust of both me and Honey Ryder.

bond and honey

Yet, proving just how out of step I was with the Zeitgeist, the popularity of the franchise just seemed to grow.

And while I longed for the Bond of the books and the first films, each new release was accompanied by magazine spreads on the new “Bond Girls” and the “Gadgets” sandwiched between ads for Bond’s new Breitling watch, his special edition Florsheim shoes and the bullet shaped suppositories he could shove up his ass if he came down with a case of the piles.

Commerce had overtaken and corrupted what had been (at least to me) pure art.

By then, luckily, I was on my own espionage series, “Adderly” where fellow story editor Carl Binder and I would do all we could to keep our spy character in the Connery mode while the network kept pushing him ever closer to Roger Moore.

To be honest, both we and the network were deluding ourselves, since our secret agent operated on a far lower level than the double O’s of MI6.

Still, there was a moment late in the second season when we finally got “Adderly” into a white dinner jacket and seated at the Baccarat table of a Moroccan Casino. It was a small victory. But one we savored to the hilt.

I felt the Bond franchise began to turn back to its roots with Timothy Dalton and sensed a perfect balance developing between the Connery and Moore camps in Pierce Brosnan.

But the harsh reality of the character’s life as an espionage agent and what he sacrificed to keep the free world free was still missing.

And then along came “Casino Royale”, reminding all who had been there from the beginning of the magic inherent in Ian Fleming’s creation.

I don’t know if any movie has ever made my movie-going tastes feel more redeemed. A redemption confirmed by “Quantum of Solace”. And hopefully by “Skyfall”.

It’s hard to believe that a movie franchise is still with us, the arrival of its next instalment as anticipated as it is a half century after the first one appeared.

But that’s the bond we all seem to have with Bond. Hopefully, it will continue for many more episodes and incarnations to come.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

It’s Never Too Late For An Awesome Childhood

A couple of weekends back, I was a “Special Guest” at one of those skyrocketing in popularity Comic Con affairs.

While others sold memorabilia or promoted coming attractions, I was there to talk to fans and sign autographs in the spectrum now known as “Genre” –- so named since it has surpassed all the other available genres in its effect on popular culture.

Given that my career includes many years as an actor, some of that giving voice to well-known animated characters and then writing and producing several hundred hours of TV that included Sci-fi, horror, fantasy and adventure formats, it was a varied and multiple personality experience.

It’s also one for which I have to prepare on the scale of a presidential debate. From experience, I’ve learned that there’s always somebody at these events who knows my oeuvre far better than I do and still wants more detail. 

Much as I’ve been ingrained with respect for the audience and appreciation of a fan base, many of those with an undying dedication to one show or another don’t understand that we who create for a living tend to create and move on, often with less emotional attachment to the work we’ve done than they have.

For us it’s a job, their moments of magic either too hard won, constructed with cold calculation or just the result of dumb luck to hold much ongoing personal investment.

Of course, I still appreciate the appreciation. And unlike many in the media, I don’t classify Genre fans as “nerds” or “geeks”. Because there’s a lot more behind being a Genre fan and it’s integral to what makes all of us happy.

Allow me to explain.

The show began in the early morning hours as the vendors showed off their wares to appreciative competitors and VIPs. These are the folks who either make their living in the Genre after-market or whose dedication to collecting, promoting or blogging its content is well known.

It was during this portion of the day that I witnessed one guy count out a few hundred dollars for a set of Hot Wheels cars he’d wanted since he was eight years old. Nearby, another guy climbed into an adult sized Orc costume he insisted would make next Halloween the kind he’d always imagined enjoying as a kid.

As he stalked around ferociously, the guy with the new Hot Wheels tried them out on a loop-the-loop accessory, the look on his face letting you know he was right behind the wheel of each vehicle as it rocketed up the ramp into an inverted 360.

That’s because the embrace of memorabilia and genre is linked to either rekindling imaginations or offering the exercise of imagination to those who, through one circumstance or another, didn’t have the chance to do so when they were kids.

Down one aisle sat a display of priceless comics from what is now known as those publications’ “Golden Age”. As I scanned covers I recalled from my own childhood, I pondered the King’s ransom the titles once stacked in my bedroom closet would bring today.

But I also wondered if the teenaged or young adult me would have bothered dragging the contents of that closet through life. Comics back then were consumed until repeat readings offered no new flights of fancy and then traded to a friend for what he’d read.

Those comics had helped me bring Batman’s battles with The Joker to life in my own mind. Unlike the Hot Wheels and Orc guys, that part of my need for creative expression had been met and encouraged in childhood.

And the thrill of what your own imagination can create is at the core of Genre love. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we all find ways to creatively express ourselves and exercise our imaginations.

The fantasy, horror, Sci-Fi genre by definition requires a greater suspension of disbelief than is asked of those drawn to detectives or historical fiction. It demands we give more credence to what “could happen” rather than what logically “should” or “would have”.

Embracing a childlike willingness to accept the impossible and the implausible is what drives Genre. Unfortunately, that great leap of faith and the desire to be inspired is widely misinterpreted as an unwillingness to mature.

But it’s not. For the original experience inspired some of us to continue playing in that sandbox and allowing ourselves even greater levels of intellectual openness.

Wanting to dress as Princess Leia or an Imperial Storm Trooper is not about being an extrovert or safely practicing fascist tendencies. Do you think any woman wanders the halls of a Comic Con half naked in the hope of attracting the attention of guys already terminally addicted to video games?

Of course not. She’s just having fun. And maybe hoping to meet somebody conversant in Wookie or Klingon.

That kind of playful interplay was exemplified in many of the fans for whom I signed scripts, animation cells, old props and logo’d apparel.

In addition to those who’d found a typo on Page 32 of the script for Episode 63 that had escaped God knows how many weeks of rewrites and wondered if that made it more valuable; there were those who had been inspired to venture beyond where the show, character or iconic item that sparked their imagination ended.

There was one whose research had revealed that the first sighting of the Loch Ness monster took place mere days after the original movie version of “King Kong” had played in Scotland.

Talk about imagination inspiring imagination.

Another had come to own a city miniature created for some series and begun constructing his own town, one that now occupied 833 cubic feet and was still growing; a construct so detailed that town planners dropped by to study the potential impact of their own potential civic improvements.

Most rewarding were those who credited a certain story for healing a long carried wound or inspiring them to overcome a real life version of the obstacles that faced our fictional hero.

And even when I sensed the anecdote might be somewhat embellished itself, you still had to appreciate the exercise in imagination and the desire to share it.

Like all of these weekends, there was a dominating presence by the heavy hitters, the “Star Wars”, “Star Trek”, “Marvel” and “Transformers” franchises. X-Men and Gaming icons wandered every aisle.

Once high-flyers like “Barbie” and “Mickey” were there as well. But a significant segment of the floor space was held by worlds and characters I’d never seen before.

At first, I thought I was just out-of-touch. But on further exploration, I discovered that these were people with brand new creations. None of them had a major studio, game platform or deep-pocketed venture capitalist behind them.

There was the guy who makes his own Zombie movies –- on his days off –- with friends -- and makes enough money at shows like these to keep making them.

There were the twin sisters with a web series. A guy with his own original trading card game. People with online series, graphic novels or a book that could be the start of the next Harry Potter or Twilight franchise.

None had either a studio development contract, interest from a publisher or a deal with a Chinese toy factory. They had just thought up or made something cool and had come to find an audience who might like it.

And I’m sure some of them did. For I know their passion and imagination inspired me. And I’m one of those jaded showbiz guys who’s fairly certain he’s seen it all.

As the show closed and the displays on the floor began coming down, I walked out past vendors breaking down the now empty boxes that had carried in their wares and counting wads of cash and credit card receipts.

It was a reminder of the economic power of imagination and a sad reminder of how so few in the Canadian entertainment industry have understood the value of Genre production.

Yeah, it’s maybe not the stuff any self-respecting exec dependent on funding from a government bureaucracy can easily pitch. They all insist on putting away “childish” things and leaning toward that which fits a societal or demographic need.

But Genre makes money, sometimes for generations to come. While those seeking out “Republic of Doyle” action figures or the “Holmes on Homes” graphic novel will be rare.

But more important, Genre fires imaginations, allowing adults to live or relive what inspired them as kids. And those ideas are what makes an industry vital and viable – and popular.