Sunday, July 27, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 334: Don’t Drink That!

Hot day. Cold beer.

It’s a simple formula, internationally understood and embraced everywhere but the UK, a place not especially noted for dealing logically with warm weather.

Probably from lack of experience…


The rest of us relish an icy beverage during the heat of Summer. And advertisers go out of their way to slake that thirst. Beers are showcased on tropical beaches and sidewalk patios. They’re shown bursting out of glaciers and stuck atop snowy mountains. They’re surrounded by babes in Bikinis and guys wearing shades.

But nobody ever drinks them on camera.

That’s because there’s this weird advertising rule which states that alcoholic beverages cannot be consumed on camera.

The first time I was hired to do a beer commercial, this rule was beaten into my head by virtually everybody on set. “Whatever you do, don’t drink the beer! It’s not allowed!”.

Okay. I was a considerate and co-operative performer. Although it seemed like a pretty arcane, straight-laced rule instigated by the temperance lobby or some other despicable authoritarian…

And then I saw what they did to make the beer look so damn icy cold and enticing.

Somebody popped an Alka-seltzer in the glass to make sure it had a head that foamed over the rim.

Somebody else dripped yellow dye in it to achieve the color deemed most appealing to the core demographic.

And somebody else sprayed it with glycerine to replicate real drops of condensation.

Then they did a whole lot more. To the point that when the money shot arrived, you didn’t even want to touch that damn glass, let alone lift it anywhere near your face.

That was decades ago and yet, even when the enhancements aren’t used, you still can’t drink a beer in a commercial.

It’s a taboo that isn’t going away.

Although some people are having fun with it.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 333: Juggling Water

After a week like this last, it’s hard to feel good about the world. It’s harder not to feel desolate about our species and our future.

But we’ve got other sides too. Ones that give us hope and the opportunity to redeem ourselves and show our true humanity.

Among these is one trait too often ignored. Our ability to just be silly.

Silly makes the feeling that things are pointless, pointless itself by doing things which seem pointless, but actually make us relate to each other on the most basic childlike level.

What follows is pointless and silly. But you’ll feel so much better for watching.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Part One:

Part Two:

Monday, July 14, 2014

It’s Five O’ Clock Somewhere

Remember when you were in high school and it got to be the last week of June?

Outside there was sunshine and freedom. But you still had to get through the final exams or classes before they’d let you out. The only thing keeping you going was knowing that the final bell eventually had to ring.

Summer Mondays as an adult are like that. The weekend was great but now you’re back at it. But the sunshine and freedom are still just outside that window.

I make it through by reminding myself that it’s always five o’clock somewhere and eventually my own final bell is gonna ring.

Here’s some more of that same Cowboy Logic to give you hope and get you through the rest of your day.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 332: Leaked Star Wars Footage

Given the post title, you well might think I’ve stooped to “link-baiting”. But I’m not. There’s a serious point to be made here.

To begin with, I’ve always believed that nine year olds make the best movie marketers. Part of this belief comes from having met several successful people who market films. And part results from experiencing the wonderful imaginations of actual nine year olds.

Spark your average child of nine and they can go for days.

“Hey Kid, what do you think the new “Star Wars” movie will be like?”

That’s all it takes and within hours you’re inundated in pitches, fridge pictures and video repurposed from every previous “Star Wars” movie.

And this is what movie marketers do as well. From the moment a film is green-lit, they begin the process of igniting the dormant nine year old in all of us. For any film to succeed it needs to become an essential can’t miss moment in our lives.

And while I understand that logic from a business perspective, part of me still treasures the nine year old me, who walked into movie theatres not knowing what to expect beyond the images from the poster and lobby cards –- and was repeatedly completely blown away by the unexpected story that unfolded onscreen.

I get to relive that experience almost weekly thanks to Netflix, whose libraries are full of movies that escaped my radar for one reason or another. I see a story idea, a star I like or an image that catches my attention and am taken into a world where I have no preconceptions or expectations.

There’s a reason movie theatres were once called “Dream Palaces”. Yes, they were places where you went to experience things that didn’t exist in your real life. But, like sleep, when those lights went down, you really didn’t know what dreams awaited.

These days there’s little chance of avoiding what your average tent-pole blockbuster holds in store. Studios leak stories from the first script read through to the red carpet premiere and film nerd websites plaster every cell phone picture or video that they can get their hands on. Even if they are only costumes or props.

This week, one famous director posted about being brought to tears by a visit to the set of “Star Wars VII” implying that the geek magic was that overwhelming –- and maybe suggesting  that nobody had jumped to get him a Cappuccino and he suddenly realized he really wasn’t all that and a bag of chips.

Not too long ago, I stepped out a studio door, colliding with a videographer recording a breathless update from a director fresh from a gruelling 14 hour day on set. It was for the daily “private web feed” that had been promised to fans of the multi-sequel franchise he was helming.

I remember wondering what surprises would be left for those subscribing to the feed after getting these daily descriptions of what had transpired onset.

Yeah, it was another revenue stream for the studio and kept the marketing pot bubbling. But sometimes that soup gets overcooked.

My own theory on the current downturn in box office numbers is that we’re being oversold. When movie posters work hard to remind us of previous films in the genre and the trailers repeat the same beats and CGI explosions, deep down we start feeling the dream we’re told we must experience is a recurring one.

So instead of following the marketers, I think we should all go back to following the imaginations of those real excited nine year olds who make up their own leaked set footage.

And then what you get in the theatre will still be a surprise.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


I’m a long way from downtown Toronto these days –- in more ways than just physical distance. So sometimes news from the Big Smoke is slow to reach me.

But the other day at the dog park, folks were talking about a funny local obituary and somebody asked if I’d read the one about some writer with a really odd name who used to sell his own books on the streets of Toronto.
And I immediately knew that we had lost Crad Kilodney.

I don’t know if the people of Toronto or any in its communities of writers marked Crad’s passing. But for me it marked the end of an era that probably ended quite some time ago.

It’s always been tough to get past the Gatekeepers and carve out your own space in the creative industries. Many with talent die without succeeding. Some instinctively realize the struggle is a dead-end path and pave a road of their own.

Crad Kilodney was of the latter group.

In another time, he might’ve been considered an odd duck, a Bohemian or simply unemployable. But that would have misunderstood his wonderfully transgressive and anarchistic character, slathered in satire and layered with dark comedy.

I never knew where Crad came from (New York, apparently) or what brought him to the streets of Toronto. I first encountered him near the corner of Yonge and Bloor, standing silently in a doorway, a sign around his neck reading “Putrid Scum” holding a pipe in one hand and a clearly home-made “Zine” in the other.

Through the 1970’s and 80’s, the “Zine” was today’s version of Wordpress or Tumblr. Descended from the underground comix of the 60’s, they were the print model of choice for those shut out of the legit worlds of publishing.

Zines were often hand-written, hand-drawn or cut and paste jobs consisting of images and text culled from other sources. The cost of production was whatever it took to run the original pages through a Xerox machine and staple them together.

Crad’s content was his own fiction or essays on contemporary subjects. His titles were designed to shock or amuse, seldom having anything to do with what lay inside that volume’s heavy card cover.

The work was peddled directly to passers-by at $3 or $4 a pop.

According to Crad, some days he didn’t sell any.

I remember wondering when he wrote his books because he seemed to be on the street 24/7, rain or shine, blizzard or heat wave. He was continual street furniture. A Yonge Street fixture. Part of what helped make Toronto’s main drag, along with the Sam’s Records sign, The Brass Rail and the many T-shirt stores and grindhouses, so famous.

How many of these publications did he produce? I doubt that anybody knows for sure. There must’ve been hundreds.

The second or third time I bought a book from Crad, I tried to engage him in conversation. But that seemed to catch him off guard. Or it might’ve been he was terminally shy.

And although I became a frequent buyer, he never asked what I’d thought of his work, who I was or what I did for a living.

Some of his obituaries claimed he was a misanthrope and hated Toronto. But for me, that doesn’t fit with a writer willing to meet his readers face to face –- especially the ones who’d forked over a few bucks for last week’s screed.

At one point, I was doing a play that worked the same black comedy and satire furrows in which he toiled and asked if he wanted a couple of free tickets. He was non-committal, so I just picked up a couple of comps and pressed them into his hand.

That night I peeked out at the crowd and he was there. The next time I bought a book, he nodded and half smiled, to my mind offering the same level of feedback he wanted for his own work.

After Crad’s death, one of his friends shared a letter he’d written after he’d been covered in a local literary magazine. It reads as follows:

“Yes, I liked reading about myself in the Excalibur review, mainly because it’s still new to me – that is, reading about myself. But I think I’d feel terrible if I got panned. Anyway, I’ve come to the conclusion that being inoffensive is as important as being talented. I don’t want to be a target for anyone, and I’m very careful of what other people will think of me. I come off as being extremely shy and grateful for the slightest praise. I don’t bad-mouth people behind their backs, and I would never intentionally make an enemy . . . My ego is the source of all my problems. I constantly have to shift between extremes. On some days I’m terribly vain; on others, I have an inferiority complex. When I act too self-effacing, I feel stupid, and when I get carried away by my pride, I feel guilty.”

I don’t remember the last time I saw Crad on the street. But several of his books still reside in my library. And through his obits, I learned a couple of things about him that made me like him even more.

The first is that Crad (real name Lou Trifon) loved tweaking the Canadian literary establishment. He regularly submitted short stories or poems written by Canlit icons to their own publishers under assumed names and treasured the rejection letters that inevitably followed.

In one instance he submitted works by Chekhov and Hemingway and other Nobel laureates  to a CBC literary contest. All were unanimously rejected by the esteemed jury of cultural elites.
Perhaps, better than some of the rest of us, he understood the true abilities and intelligence of the Gatekeepers.

The second thing I learned is that he received a large inheritance late in life and passed a good portion of it on to Toronto’s hospitals as well as the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Room at the University of Toronto, where he apparently often wrote.

There will come a time, if it hasn't already arrived, when Toronto will name a library after Margaret Atwood or Irving Layton. The city might even do the same for the likes of Hart Hanson, David Shore or one of the other screenwriters it has nurtured. At the very least, they’ll all end up honored on its “Walk of Fame”.

Perhaps the same honor should be awarded to a writer who actually worked the town’s sidewalks and sheltered or wrote in its libraries.

And perhaps those of us who reaped vast benefits after we got past the Gatekeepers should follow his lead in giving back –- both to future writers and to those who choose to stay out on the street.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The New Gatekeepers

The purpose of the original Hollywood “Gatekeepers” was to make sure that the studios, the networks and even publishing houses, newspapers and magazines controlled the creative agenda.

Sometimes that was done to protect the financial or genre interests of a particular studio or network. Disney did family pictures. MGM was the only place for musicals, etc.

Sometimes their role was to protect a basic narrative, encouraging the creation of films that didn’t make too many waves. America was good. The cowboy was a wholesome symbol of independence. A woman’s place was in the home. No kissing someone of another race. Gay people didn’t exist.

Communist even socialist views could lead to blacklists. Writers creating anti-heroes were discouraged. Nothing in a script could intrude on the basic “America the beautiful” storyline or disturb either Mom, Pop, Buddy or Sis when they gathered around the tube during Prime Time. Certainly nothing that might make them question the basic narrative in the first place.

A lot of us feel the era of the Gatekeeper is over. With the advent of crowd-funding, virtually anybody can make any movie or TV show they like nowadays. The Internet provides world-wide access to niche audiences for any subject or point of view.

It’s a brand new day for Creatives.

Or is it…?

Last weekend, documentary filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza released his film “America”, a flashy theatrical feature produced by Gerald R. Molen, best known for producing “Rainman”, “Jurassic Park” and “Schindler’s List”.

In limited release, the film grossed $4 Million in its first weekend. It’s release was accompanied by the publication of D’Souza’s book of the same title, currently #3 on the Amazon bestseller list, with an average rating of 4.6 out of 5.

But it seems that despite the popularity of both items, a new generation of “Gatekeepers” has stepped in to make sure it does not reach a wider audience.

If you check out the film on Rotten Tomatoes to see if it might be to your liking, you will see this:


Unusual, isn’t it? A film that 91% of its paying audience liked but not one film critic thinks you should waste your time watching.

It should be pointed out that 17% and 49% of this same group of critics felt you’d get your money’s worth from the new “Transformers” and latest “The Amazing Spiderman 2” respectively.

So is this about reviewing a movie on its merits or is it about something else?

The situation of the book is even more bizarre. While it’s flying out the door at the world’s #1 bookseller, the #2 vendor, Costco, is taking it off the shelves.

On July 1, Costco issued a “pull-order” requiring all stores to make it unavailable as soon as possible. Meanwhile, although its sales should have landed it #8 on the venerated New York Times Best Seller list, it went unlisted.

Did Costco suddenly decide it wasn’t in the business of making money? Does Costco censor books? Does the New York Times?

I can’t answer that. Because nobody at Costco is talking. And the Times assured the “America” publisher it’s sales position will be reflected –- in two weeks.

Whatever is going on, it appears that we have not rid ourselves of the Gatekeepers. They’ve simply moved to a new position in the distribution system.

You can tell whatever story you want these days. Share whatever world view you wish. But it seems the Gatekeepers will still do their best to make sure nobody else sees it.

They still control the narrative.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 331: That Shot

For all the blood, sweat and tears screenwriters expend constructing a story and filling it with memorable characters, the audience’s dynamic link with a film comes from the director.

Oh, they’re drawn by the stars too and seeking something from the genre or the theme. But let’s set that “collaborative medium” thing aside for a moment and admit that in the final analysis it’s the Director who grabs them by the balls –- or whatever.

Screenwriter Peter Stone once quipped that directing was “as hard as falling down and chipping a tooth”. And since Stone mostly wrote bullet (and director) proof scripts, you can forgive him for thinking the craft came down to the Directing 101 assertion that a film is nothing but shots and cuts.

But every great director has one shot or cut that others may copy or emulate but they never master. And even utterly talentless helmers can come up with one that keeps them working for life.

Spielberg is known for the one shot scene. Scorcese always finds a moment of utter silence to nail your attention. Peckinpah was the master of Slo-Mo while Hitchcock had moves that turned any scene sinister.

And Michael Bay has patented “Bayhem”.

Now, nobody hates Michael Bay movies as much as I do. But you gotta give the guy his due. When it comes to filling a frame and overwhelming your senses (maybe beating them to a pulp is more accurate) nobody does it better.

Maybe the reason his movies are so bad is because there simply isn’t room for a story amid everything else that’s going on. Although, I’ve often wondered what would happen if you linked him with a screenwriter suffering from the same multi-level form of ADHD. Maybe Tarantino or Charlie Kaufman.

For a close look at and explanation of how Bayhem works, I place you in the gifted hands of “Every Frame A Painting” host Tony Zhou.

No matter how you cut it, Michael Bay has mastered “that shot”.

Enjoy Your Sunday…

Friday, July 04, 2014

Happy America Day!!!

July 4th and the turn of our neighbors to the South this week to burn weenies, get drunk and handle explosives.

The USA is going through a rough patch right now. Fragmented, confused, dissonant and more than a little broke. They deserve a party.

But I know they’ll come back stronger and more united than ever. They always do. And the rest of us need them to.

That built in resilience is mostly because they began with a clear vision of who they were and what they wanted to be.

Happy July 4th, American readers. Never forget where you come from and how you got here…

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Happy Canada Day!!!


Canada Day Bucket List:

1. Tim Horton’s (Check)

2. Maple Donut (Check)

3. Put up the Flag (Check)

4. Play some Nickleback for the Neighbors (Check)

5. Throw the Dog in the Ocean (Check)

6. Blue Jays Game (Check + We Won!!!)

7. Get Drunk (Check)

8. Burn Burgers and Weenies (Check)

9. Get Drunker and Sing “Oh Canada” really loud (Check)

10. Set off Explosives in the backyard (Awesomely Accomplished!)

Tomorrow’s checklist will include a meeting with the local constabulary and the Fire Marshal, rounding up the currently scattered neighborhood dogs, a visit to the burn unit –- and considering going on the wagon for a few days.

Other than that…

Best Canada Day Evah!!!