Sunday, September 30, 2012

Lazy Sunday # 240: Add 7.5 Minutes To Your Life

What if I told you that you could add more than 7 minutes to your life just by watching a video?

You probably wouldn’t believe me.

But you’d be wrong.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

And your extra seven and a half minutes.

Friday, September 28, 2012

How To Buy Me A Birthday Present

Yeah, it’s that day again. And thanks to social media, I’ve been inundated with salutations and best wishes. (Thank you).

Some people still yearn for the old days, when you got cards and presents and a cake with a stripper in it. But not me.

Okay, maybe I still hold out hope for that kind of cake…

But let’s be honest, there was a lot of stress for the people around you on your birthday. A lot of them forgot and had to do the “belated” thing which, even when it was legit, made it clear that your date of birth was far from one of their priorities.

Those who did remember had to spend an hour at the drugstore thumbing through cards, searching for one that wouldn’t be too schmaltzy or was actually funny. And then they went through the discomfort of wondering whether you’d get the joke or be offended because it maybe had a little too much truth to it.

Then they had to find a present using the same criteria or a place to buy you a drink or some excuse so everybody could “Surprise!” you.

Let’s admit it. The whole thing was a lot of Agita for everybody involved.

Now it’s easier. Some algorithm keeps track, gives you a timely notice, you push a few buttons and the birthday celebrant goes “Aww, how thoughtful!” and everybody gets on with their lives.

Although I do miss the presents…

And this morning, I started thinking that there should be a way to make the gift giving just as painless and economical.

I came up with the idea of having people give themselves a present in honor of the birthday celebrant. Maybe they could just encourage other people to buy themselves something, so the present remained as cost efficient as the electronic greeting.

So here’s what I’d like for my birthday this year…

If you're in Ottawa or know somebody there, even if it's only your MP or a CRTC Commissioner -- please ask them to go to the historic Mayfair Theatre on Bank Street tonight at 9:00 pm to see "Slaughter Nick For President" -- the best documentary ever made about the effect Canadian TV has had on the world.

For those who don’t know the story behind the film, it’s here.

If they miss the movie tonight, they can still see it tomorrow at 8:30 or Monday and Tuesday at 9:00. And let's be honest, with no pre-season hockey, how much is there that's better to do in Ottawa this weekend anyway?

The point is -- this is the film's theatrical debut and if it does well, it gets a wider release. Meaning you can enjoy it in your own hometown and lots more people can discover the true power and influence of Canadian television.

So let's get on that! A birthday present that doesn't cost you anything and gets more people interested in Canadian TV.

In other words -- cake for everybody!

Maybe even one big enough to hide a…

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Life Imitates Art

Some men can't be bought, bullied or reasoned with. Some men just want to watch the world burn…

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Lazy Sunday #239: Cookie Dough Vodka

When I was learning to drink alcohol –- and in my opinion –- yes, drinking alcohol is an acquired skill; I lived among folk who took their drinking seriously.

By that I mean, they didn’t approach it as a frivolous activity.

They might have a drink or two at the end of a hard day at work.

They regularly took a bottle down from the shelf when friends came over. They tucked a flask in their jacket when they went to a football or hockey game to stay warm.

They had more than a couple on a Friday or Saturday night when somebody was throwing a party, getting married, celebrating something special.

Sometimes they drank and drove. Sometimes they drank and got into fights.

But through high school, college and the rest of my youth, I never lost a friend to anything related to drinking. I never saw anybody drink enough to seriously harm themselves, their career or somebody else.

I didn’t know anybody who knew a bartender by their first name, or proclaimed the merits of one brand name over another (besides avoiding American beer at all costs).

Mostly, I never knew people who were “regulars” in a certain watering hole or made it a point of letting me know how much of whatever they were putting away.

Rehab was for a sports injury.

Maybe the people who taught me to drink just weren’t very sophisticated. Or maybe I’m just not that sophisticated myself.

But things seem a lot different now. And I’m not gonna go all “kids today…” because I don’t think the way alcohol is consumed these days has much to do with anybody but the folks who sell it.

My drug of choice is Vodka. And when I was starting out there was one kind. Lots of different labels but pretty much the same thing inside.

Then they started adding a touch of orange or pepper or juniper. And I began noticing that while one of those flavors would make a great Screwdriver, it had a negative effect on a Caesar or a Dirty Martini. And instead of having one bottle in the cabinet, I now needed three or four. Well played, Marketing executives.

Then I noticed I’d be in bars and the “Jager-Girls” would sidle over, or some cutie from Grey Goose would hint that pouring from that bottle would exemplify my refined taste. Branding could publically define me –- and my lifestyle.

The other night, I was in a liquor store and came upon a bottle I’d never seen before, purporting to contain “Cookie Dough Vodka”. Actually, a closer examination revealed it contained “imitation” chocolate and other flavors, which, in combination, would taste just like cookie dough.


I asked the clerk, who stopped picking at his new tattoo long enough to shrug and say, “Teenage girls seem to like it.”

Filing that away for the next time I might need to seduce a teenager and recalling all the Singapore Slings I’d put away during my early adulthood; I wondered if some of the problems we have related to alcohol and younger drinkers are because the people selling it are only too happy to warp their product to fit palates nearer to the enjoyment of candy and ice cream and cookie dough than something more mature.

An acquired taste implies the time and experience required to acquire it. Maybe not the best thing for a profit margin. But maybe a better thing for society as a whole.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Lazy Sunday # 238: Winston


Friday morning, Canadian actor Winston Rekert passed away in his hometown of Vancouver. In addition to a grieving family and wide circle of devastated friends, he leaves behind a country much changed and greatly improved by the life he lived.

Win’s death cuts particularly deep for me, since I spent two years making him a guy you just couldn’t kill in the CBS television series “Adderly”.

Talking with cast and crew over the last days, I discovered we all shared much the same sentiment. We never considered that a time could come when Winston wouldn’t be there to save the day, either for us or somebody else –- either on screen or off.

He had a drive, a determination and a lust for life that seemed impossible to extinguish.

“Adderly” was green-lit in the Spring of 1986 as part of a late night drama slate CBS dubbed “Crime Time After Prime Time”. It was counter-programming to the pervasive late night talk format of the time, while mining the popular Private eye/Cop genre.

Adderly tv show photo

It was where I landed my first staff job in television and it would be Winston’s first series lead as well.

I didn’t know him, but knew of him when he was cast. And, frankly, I didn’t have a high opinion of his talents.

Winston had come up through theatre in Vancouver at the same time I was coming up through it in Toronto. And back then, the twain never met. So I hadn’t been exposed to any of his landmark and iconic West coast performances.

I’d only seen him in a couple of over-hyped and overwrought Canadian movies and didn’t think he had the weight to carry a television series. But casting decisions were far beyond my pay grade back then –- clearly with good reason.

When I finally met Winston, I was stunned at how damned handsome he was. But unlike a lot of good-looking actors, he was clearly a guy who didn’t rest on those laurels.

He was funny and smart, self-deprecating, self-aware and clearly focussed on disappearing into the character of a formidable espionage agent who had lost the use of one hand and was now relegated to the very lowest level of the spy game.

The conceit of the series was that each week Adderly would turn a nothing assignment into something bigger, outsmarting both his superiors and various foreign governments in the process.

In a lot of ways that was as far-fetched as the way Tom Selleck’s “Magnum PI” and “The A-Team” operated, at a time when those two shows were part of our competition.

In that first meeting, I took an immediate liking to Winston and walked away knowing we had a lead who would make the long hours of writing worthwhile. It was a sentiment that soon spread to every other department on the series. This was a guy who cared and worked just as hard or harder than everybody else.

Over the next two seasons, I can’t count the number of times Win’s unwavering sense of humor and dedication to getting it right combined to both inspire and reward.

Although already strikingly handsome, the network powers had an obsession with "hairstyles” that ultimately had Winston locked in a make-up chair for an hour every morning as an unmoving coiffure he dubbed “the helmet” was sculpted on his head.

Instead of complaining, he used that time to ramp up the make-up and hair crew for their day, making his arrival so high energy that we discovered others of the crew were coming in an hour or two early to join in the fun while getting a little ahead on what they had to accomplish in their day.

Initially, “Adderly” was conceived as a dark, Harry Palmer rather than James Bond version of the world of international espionage. But as the audience took a greater interest in the gallows humor of series characters relegated to the dead end security sector dubbed “Miscellaneous Affairs” it began to lighten, taking the business of spying far less seriously.

Sometimes, we all felt that went too far. But Winston always found a way to make everything believable and often better than it deserved to be.

We were likewise hamstrung on the budget side, knowing we needed to compare favorably to the prevailing notion of what constituted a “spy film” with less money than James Bond spent on a single car.

To succeed, we had to play “small ball” accomplishing in story and character what we couldn’t deliver as spectacle.

Unlike those series stars who make it all about them, Winston knew when scenes needed to be about somebody else, that he shouldn’t always have the best lines and that you didn’t quit until it was as good as it could be.

My memories of those seasons are filled with set-side conferences, coming up with cheats and tricks to make the show bigger than it was. Winston was always front and center, keeping it fun, transforming the psychic pain into a fraternal bonding and helpless laughter.

In 1987, Winston won his first Gemini for “Adderly” sharing the award with Eric Peterson of “Street Legal” (I believe the first and only time that has happened). It was a stunning moment for the Canadian television industry. A shock brought home when his co-star, Dixie Seatle, took the Best Actress trophy.

Until then, we were considered just another one of those “for entertainment purposes only” shows, not legitimately Canadian and certainly nothing with the weight and importance to be considered culturally important and award worthy.

There were many discussions at the evening’s after-parties about whether the firmament had shifted. “Gee, maybe we really can make shows that a lot of people want to watch!”

The next morning, I arrived at the studio to find Win’s statuette parked in a bowl of cream cheese on the craft service table, there to be shared with everybody else he knew had made it possible.

At wrap, a case of champagne turned up as well, with Winston popping the corks and filling the paper cups, making sure he thanked everyone personally for making his achievement possible.

After “Adderly” went the way of all television, Winston returned to Vancouver to create, produce and star in the series for which he became best known, “Neon Rider”.

Through that series, Winston not only gave about half the current cadre of film professionals in Vancouver their first jobs, he became involved in a variety of charities, ultimately becoming the spokesman for “Youth in Crisis”.

He was always there for somebody.

Winston would go on to win a second Gemini in 2003 for a guest role on “Blue Murder” and was nominated on nine other occasions.

Yet despite these accomplishments, the seismic creative jolt he gave the industry and all he accomplished in the world of charity, Win’s passing didn’t make the news much beyond his hometown.

Maybe that’s the way the world (or at least Canada) works when it comes to TV from more than a decade ago.  But I know that there are many in this business who wouldn’t be here without him.

And there are just as many like me who watched him and learned how to make production shortcomings work in our favor and find ways to overcome misdirected network notes.

More than anything, Winston helped me to understand that as important as making a good show is, it’s just as important to have a good time making them and to share any success with everybody involved in the process.

We lost a great talent this week. A regular guy. A decent man.

For those who didn’t know him, here’s the last episode of “Adderly”, a show that died so CBS could finally climb on the late night talk show bandwagon. But also a show that first told Canadians we could easily hold our own in America and the rest of the world when it came to making popular television.

It’s a fine example of both Winston Rekert’s talents and his love of life and those with whom we share it.

It’s of another time and another world, so forgive it that.

But appreciate it for the enjoyment it attempted to deliver.

And Enjoy your Sunday.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Damn Yankees!

Back in the days when my beloved Blue Jays were winning ball games with regularity, I walked into a New York Police Precinct in a tough part of town one night wearing a Jays cap.

A big, black desk Sergeant eyed me dourly over his reading glasses and quipped, “You trying to get shot?”.

There are no more entitled feeling fans than New York Yankee fans.

And there is no greater joy for every other fan in the league than watching your team beat the Yankees.

This season, for a whole lot of reasons, the Yankees have become adept at beating themselves. And God, that is just the icing on the cake for the rest of us.

Some have even gotten cocky about the pinstripe demise. And I think what follows might even bring a bittersweet smile to a Yankee fan.

Sorry, guys. Time to start bragging on the Rangers for a few months. Because this year, they’re lookin’ real…

Oh, wait…

The gates at the Gardens are locked?

Oh. This could be a real long, cold winter in the Big Apple, couldn’t it…?

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Lazy Sunday # 237: Pipeline

One Saturday afternoon when I was a kid, my dad piled us in the car and we drove a few miles to where the Trans-Canada pipeline was being laid across Saskatchewan.

Pipelines weren’t much on my radar at that age. But I was told it was a really big deal and would take oil from Alberta and my home province down East and maybe all over the world.

The process was actually very cool to watch. Bulldozers ploughed a path, followed by these circular diggers that made a trench.

After them came gigantic claw arm thingies that picked up a line of pipe that seemed to stretch from one horizon to the other and lowered it into the trench as another machine wrapped it with something that looked like tar paper.

After that another line of bulldozers filled in the hole and steamrollers came last tamping it all down.

It didn’t seem to take long at all and within a couple of hours the long line of welded pipe that had greeted our arrival was replaced by flat prairie.

I don’t know if there was a lot of discussion about provincial and Aboriginal rights let alone a debate on its environmental impact when that line was built. Probably not.

At the moment, there are two major pipeline debates going on in Canada. One revolves around the Keystone Pipeline taking Alberta oil to refineries in Texas.

The other concerns the Enbridge Northern Gateway which will carry it across Northern British Columbia to the port of Kitimat.

I’m not going to get into detailed pros and cons of either. But I gotta say I don’t fully understand why we’re building either one.

As far as Keystone goes, it escapes me why we can’t just build a couple of refineries here and create the 10,000 – 50,000 jobs that its supposed to realize South of the border.

I heard somebody from the Alberta government say it was because we didn’t have the technical expertise to do that -- which kind of offended me on a bunch of levels and made me wonder how all the refineries we already have got here.

Meanwhile, both American presidential candidates have assured their electorate that the USA will no longer import foreign oil in 8-10 years. So why is anybody spending billions on a pipeline that won’t even be paid off by the time it is no longer needed?

Or do Americans think Canadian oil isn’t foreign?

As for the Northern Gateway, you gotta wonder if all the anger and division already associated with it will be worth whatever the final product brings.

If we want to ship oil to China, fine. But can’t it come down the same line or one built along the already negotiated right-of-ways that now carry oil from Edmonton to Vancouver?

How come it has to go across (and potentially put at risk) a vast expanse of pristine wilderness?

And if those presidential candidates are correct and Americans kiss oil from the Persian Gulf good-bye in a few years, why wouldn’t China buy what it needs from that region? Because no matter what route you take, it’s an easy thousand miles of Ocean closer than Kitimat.

So I get to wondering what’s really going on here. That pesky “Qui Bono?” question.

And those suspicions were heightened a little while ago when an animation by Vancouver Province editorial cartoonist Dan Murphy was pulled by publisher Postmedia after Enbridge threatened to pull its advertising from the newspaper chain.

Luckily, we still have Youtube for those who missed it.

And even luckier, it’s tough to keep a good cartoonist down. Because Murphy is back, his sharp sense of humor completely intact –- and perhaps greatly motivated.

This can’t be going over too well in somebody’s boardroom.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Friday, September 07, 2012

A Different Drummer

If you’ve had a rough week, this should more than mend the ravelled sleeve…

…or put you on the floor.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The Four Truths Of Being An Artist

My life always seems to circle back through the theatre. Countless times, when I’ve felt confused, unsure of a direction or in need of perspective, a play or a conversation with a thoughtful member of the theatre community has come along to light the way.

It’s what the purpose of theatre has always been. And it works.

It’s what good writing, good movies, good television, music, painting and sculpture are all about as well.

Trust me, if fewer people devoted their time to reality television and focussed instead on the same stories told through the eyes of an artist, the world would be a much more contented place.

For the longest time, I tried to stay out of the current dispute at Toronto’s Factory Theatre. But then I realized I was one of those people of the theatre too and might be able to offer some light of my own.

That contribution earned me heaps of disdain and more than a few insults. But it also brought me back into contact with thoughtful theatre people who’ve been out of my life for a long time.

And it introduced me to dozens I may never meet, newcomers to the profession eager to be part of the work of the theatre and bring their own unique wisdom to the rest of us.

Yesterday, the Factory (while commencing mediation with its former Artistic Director) announced the appointment of a pair of interim Artistic Directors with a long history at that theatre. They also introduced two new playwrights in residence and a cadre of young writers who may shape its future.

I’m sure these announcements will be met with disdain and insults from some quarters. But I’m just as certain that others will look at these new faces and see the reflection of our society that theatres need to mirror to remain relevant.

Life goes on. Nothing is more certain than change.

And the hard truth of being an artist is that our lives are too short, our careers even shorter and change is ever present.

For me, that has always been a singular truth. But yesterday, Brendan Healy, a thoughtful theatre person and Artistic Director of Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre company laid out four truths of being an artist.

Of all the thoughtful insights ever given me, these might be the most essential.

Like all good professionals, I don’t imitate, I steal. And so I have stolen Brendan’s words to share with you.

Take them to heart. They will make your time in any creative industry that much more rewarding and far easier to bear in times of crisis or change.

Four thoughts for my future self

by Brendan Healy on Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 9:09am

1. I am not the theatre company and the theatre company is not me.

At its essence, a theatre company is a collection of ideas. It is this collection of ideas that draws people to the theatre. Not me. It is this collection of ideas that people wish to serve. Not me. I have had the immense privilege of being deeply intimate with these ideas for a moment in time. But these ideas exist outside of me, have existed before me and will continue without me.

2. The theatre company owes me nothing.

My job has required me to be completely devoted to the ideas that have created the theatre company and to push these ideas forward. Furthermore, my job has required me to be held personally and publicly accountable to how these ideas are managed. I have been paid to do this. These requirements are not extraordinary.

3. I will lose everything.

If there is one thing that cancer has taught me it is this: everything in this world is temporary. The process of living is ultimately a process of letting go: youth, health, relevance, people, status, power, etc. Life will always force me to let go. This will be painful. But, I believe that grace lies on the other side of that process. This belief is what will get me through.

4. My work exists inside the people that I have shared it with.

In the end, all that will be left of my work at the theatre company will be contained within people: the people I collaborated with, the people who came to see the work, the people who helped fulfill a vision, the people who inspired me, the people who I inspired. Whatever legacy I will eventually leave will be contained within them and not inside a show, not inside a building, not in a review, not in an award. It is these people that make this all worthwhile. I must cherish them.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Lazy Sunday # 236: Hard Workin’ Man

It’s Labor Day Weekend.

Go make somethin’…

Then party some…

And mostly – Enjoy Your Sunday.