Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 364: Mukbang

We’ve all had the (pleasure?) of having someone use Instagram, Twitter or Facebook to send us an image of what they’re about to have for lunch.

Or dinner.

Or breakfast.

Or at 3:00 am after their local has closed and kicked them into the street.

It’s an affliction I’ve never quite understood.

Not long ago, I had the real pleasure of dining in a Vegas eatery operated by a noted Food Network chef. It would never have crossed my mind to instant message anybody with where I was having dinner let alone what exactly was on my plate.

Such was not the case for the party next to me, all four of whom were recording stills and video of what they’d been served like some kind of Food Paparazzi and feeding them to the Internet.

Later, in meeting our chef and host, they gushed at how much they loved his TV show.

Okay, so maybe this was all just another reflection of our celebrity culture –- or our obsession with basking in the warmth of a nearby celebrity body.

Or maybe –- it was the glimmer of a new age where what we have normally accepted as legitimate forms of employment are being replaced by something else.

Anybody who works in TV is well aware that the coming of the Reality genre has led to every gym rat thinking he could be the next action star and every guy doing renovations handing over his pilot concept for his own DIY series.

But I discovered something this week that made me realize that networks that thrive on Reality, networks like HOME & GARDEN and FOOD might not be around much longer.

It’s something called MUKBANG.

Let me make this simple. The highest rated series on the Food Network hovers around the 600,000 mark. That’s a US figure. Here in Canada it’s, of course, far less.

But just one of the shows involved in Mukbang pulls in 300 Million viewers.

300 Million.

That’s the Superbowl.

Every week.

Sometimes more often.

And it’s about food.

Mukbang is a cultural phenomenon that might not have reached these shores yet. But it’s coming. And its stars earn small fortunes for doing nothing more than what all of you do right after sending your Instagram image…

The Food Network is doomed.

Enjoy Your Sunday…

Monday, February 16, 2015

Searching For Candy

John Candy - Searching for Candy

A short while ago, I had the distinct pleasure of being interviewed by British writer Tracey Morgan for her biography of Canadian actor and comedian John Candy.

Unhappy that her publisher had requested “more scandalous content” and aware from talking to those who knew the man that he lived a far from salacious life, Tracey has decided to self-publish her book.

She’s currently crowd-funding the project and already 40% of the way to her goal. If you can help bring the full story of this amazing Canadian to fruition please make a contribution here.

Both hard copy and e-editions of the book will be available shortly. And you can follow the project here.

John gave so much joy to so many people. It would be great for those who remember him to learn just how special he was.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Lazy Sunday #363: Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone

I caught a concert by one of my Country icons this week – Lucinda Williams. Backed by members of Dallas Bob Dylan cover band “Buick Six” and “Wallflowers” guitarist Stuart Mathis, it was an evening that bounced through so many genres the music might as well be labelled Current Americana.

Williams has always been hard to pin down, one of the reasons she’s so rewarding to listen to. But at her heart she’s simply a phenomenal songwriter building on genes of a celebrated poet father that have travelled through every environment from Bayou swamps to dry West Texas prairie.

It’s kinda pointless to write about somebody who’s been in-depthed by everybody who wants to work for “Rolling Stone”. And I’ve always figured it was kinda cruel to rave about a concert that’s come and gone and therefore inaccessible to anybody reading the review.

But I found this –- a mini-set Williams and her trio did for Seattle FM station KEXP the night before she played my town. Simply follow the video below to Youtube and click on the appended KEXP links.

And Enjoy Your Sunday…

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

John Hunter


While writer muses come and go at their will, each of us is granted a mentor. Very early on I was lucky enough to be taken under the wing of the best screenwriter Canada has produced, John Hunter.

I don’t remember how John and I first met. All I know is he was a produced writer and I wasn’t. But it was around the time that his first feature “The Hard Part Begins” went into production.

I think what brings mentors and acolytes together is something each needs from the other. I needed to learn how to write. John needed somebody with whom he could talk about writing.

He didn’t pretend to have a grand vision of the art form. He wasn’t a screenwriting guru or extensively concerned with syntax or style. He simply wanted to understand how and why stories were told the way they were and what stories each of us might hold inside and could share.

We both had Prairie backgrounds and John’s general theory of why the flatlands produced so many artists was simple. There was nothing there. You had to make everything up. And the isolation also meant that when you did speak to someone, you had better have something worth saying and worth listening to.

It was comparable to being a Canadian screenwriter in the 1970’s. There weren’t many. And when they got a chance to make a movie, they had to make damn sure it was a story that hadn’t been told before.

And that’s how he approached the writing process. It was about the writer as much as it was about the subject matter.

John was also drawn to unique characters rarely depicted on the silver screen. “The Hard Part Begins” was about itinerant country singers far from the big time.

He followed that with “Blood and Guts” a film he also produced, a movie about itinerant wrestlers far from the big time.

But unlike artists who go back to the same well, John was about finding turf he may have already explored and discovering new levels he hadn’t known (or that an audience hadn’t suspected) were there.

While “The Hard Part Begins” ends with the hero losing, “Blood and Guts” finds both dignity and redemption in defeat. Fittingly, it also marked the historical point where Canadian film moved into another gear, leaving behind its low budget roots to play on a bigger stage.

blood and guts

John understood that as each of us grew and matured as artists we’d find new levels and angles to a story. Who we were determined the final story as much as the tale we were trying to tell.

He never gave notes or direction. It was your story. Why were you telling it the way it was being told? Why were you taking it in the direction it was taking?

I’ll never forget a discussion on my first feature, where I was struggling with a scene that just didn’t work for me. He dismissed my concerns with a concise, “I don’t think you’re going to make it any better”.

To this day, I’ve wondered if he meant the scene was perfect or that the guy writing it had simply reached the limits of his current level of talent.

But John’s mentoring was not limited to writing. He networked me, introduced me to people and circles of the business I either didn’t believe I belonged with or was ready to encounter. Only later did I realize that exposing me to film icons and other working artists expanded who I was and therefore what I could accomplish.

More than most, he also understood that film was a collaborative art and each of the artists making a film brought something to it that no writer, no matter how accomplished, could do alone. We all needed to really know each other before we could truly do our best work with each other.

John produced my first feature and did his damnedest to get a second one off the ground. At the same time he moved to another writing level himself.

His next film “The Grey Fox” would win international acclaim and garner a Genie award for Best Screenplay. It was a remarkable piece of work in its understanding of the cinematic process. A feature length script with less than 100 lines of dialogue, massive chunks of the story rendered completely visually.

During its writing, John also found time to help draft the first Canadian Independent Producer’s Agreement for a still to be born Writers Guild of Canada.

It was a lengthy negotiation in which he also demanded I serve, insisting it would be my generation of writers who would have to make it work. And he was right. That agreement made it possible for Canadian screenwriters to finally have Canadian careers.

By the time it came into effect the gold rush of the Canadian Tax Credit years was upon us and every screenwriter in the country had more work than he or she could handle.

During those years, John and I spent a lot of time in LA. We visited the shoot locations of films we’d loved, drank late into the night with movie people we’d revered and continued our discussions on writing. Probably around tables where other writers had done the same for decades.

During that time, our paths diverged. I went into television and John wrote a lot of terrific scripts that the hustlers and rug-merchants of that high-flying time either couldn’t get released or where the final print ended up in some bank vault until loans could be repaid.

Among these was a dark little classic called “Cross Country” which escapes its cage from time to time and might just be the most twisted Canadian murder mystery ever written.

John would draw on that era for “Hollywood North” his final feature. By then he’d won a Writers Guild of Canada Award for his only foray into series television “Dead Man’s Gun” and resurrected Gordon Pinsent’s beloved Rowdyman persona in “John and the Missus”. But most of his writing had evolved as well as he moved from screenwriting to novels.

John Hunter passed away on February 2nd. And don’t feel bad for not knowing or harbor some resentment at yet another notable Canadian artist going unmentioned in the press. Even John’s closest friends are only hearing the news today.

He wanted no funeral or memorial, no celebration of his life. Perhaps he’d reached the point in his evolution as a writer where he felt his own story had been told and needed no further embellishment.

Or perhaps he knew that his life was part of our own stories now and we should all tell it in our own way, as best we could.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 362: Enjoy Your Intermission

While a lot of you are still buried in snow, it’s Sunny and warm where I live. Buds are on the trees and the first flowers are beginning to bloom.

I’m not saying that to make you feel bad or envious. But as a reminder that Summer is on the way and you might want to take some time to make plans.

Plans that in my life always include a trip to a Drive-In theatre.

It’s also (both where you and I live) awards season – the time when the various facets of the film industry celebrate themselves.

The Oscars are a couple of weeks from now. The Golden Globes were a couple of weeks ago. Between them are separate celebrations of writers, directors, actors and producers, as well as countless confabs of critics naming their own list of winners.

But amid all this self-congratulation, there’s nary a word said for the people who do as much –- and maybe more –- to bring the movies to all of us and foster much of the affection in which the Award recipients bask.

And that got me thinking about the people who run those Summer Drive-In theatres. They’re a special breed. As special as the folks on the red carpet and just as important to the industry.

None of them will ever receive a shiny trophy or be granted access to a gifting suite. But for them, none of that matters. A fact beautifully communicated in Tansy Michaud & Adam Carboni’s exceptional little film “Enjoy Your Intermission”.

Allow it to warm up the day where you are and…

Enjoy your Sunday.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Lazy Sunday # 361: Lucha VaVoom

Image of Lucha VaVOOM poster Halloween 2012

Nothing sells in show business as well as sex and violence.

Back when I was up to my waist in the horror business, I wandered into an LA movie house one afternoon to catch the latest sequel of a long running scarlet cinema franchise. At some point the actors paused the gore-fest to emote 30 seconds of character development.

The crowd was having none of it with one aficionado in the back screaming out their mantra, “C’mon! Fuck or Fight!”.

We love our sex and violence –- or as it is known in Mexico, “Sexo y Violencia”.

One of the cultural touchstones of Mexican S&V is Lucha Libre (Freestyle wrestling) which also has a long film tradition in which its masked heroes confront buxom female villains or rescue damsels in distress from strip joints and discos.

A dozen years ago, that meme evolved into a Los Angeles theatre attraction known as “Lucha VaVoom”.

It’s hard to describe “Lucha VaVoom”. But it features Luchadors (wrestlers) both Rudos (bad guys) and Technicos (the good ones), who go by such names as Chupacabra and Dirty Sanchez.

It’s also one of the few places where you can still see the politically incorrect art of midget wrestling (Los Minis).

Sharing the stage (ring) with the wrestlers are exotic ladies known as Buxoticas (Strippers), as well as comedians, dancing chickens, melees in the audience and much, much more.

If you’d like to attend a performance of “Lucha VaVoom” the next time you’re in LA, you can buy tickets (and merchandise) here. Or you might catch the company on one of its national/international tours.

Many scholars have written essays and doctoral theses on our enjoyment of sex and violence or our recent affinity for post-apocalyptic and zombie apocalypse worlds.

I think the motivation is as simple as our need to get away from the rules, regulations and restrictions of real life, to be part of something where the regular borders of behavior don’t apply.

“Lucha VaVoom” epitomizes all of that. It’s a hugely entertaining evening. And as the show’s MC emphasizes at its beginning:  “This shit’s gonna get weird. So fasten your Holy Fuck belts…”

And Enjoy Your Sunday.