Monday, July 25, 2016

Lazy Sunday #428: Spooks-A-Poppin'

All the kids (and a lot of the adults) in my neighborhood are playing "Pokemon Go" hunting enhanced reality creatures near the local parks and soccer field. It's a fun evolution of video games that's taken most of the country by storm.

And the possibilities this offers for those of us in show business are endless. 

I heard a local DJ map out a version of the game that could be marketed alongside "Ghostbusters". First you'd see the movie and then you'd head outside to hunt for ghosts. When you found one, you'd turn on your mobile phone's "Proton stream" to capture it. But you'd need a couple of other people to launch their proton streams as well (being careful not to cross them) and then somebody else to open up their cell phone "trap". 

Entertainment. Enhanced movie. Community. All combined to create a fun, feel good adventure.

Like a lot of things in show business -- Pokemon Go is copying what's gone before while revealing a wildly profitable future.

Back in my day, we only had movies. But once in a while, somebody like Producer William Castle would come along to sell something like "13 Ghosts" -- where you were handed a special viewer as you entered the theatre which would allow you to see the ghosts in the movie. Ghosts invisible unless you used Castle's special device.

Castle would later go on to make films like "The Tingler" in which seats in the theatre were wired to shock audience members into believing they were being attacked by the titular character.

But these highly successful marketing schemes were really just an enhancement of something that had been going on in movie houses since the 1930's -- "The Spook Show".

I went to my first Spook Show when I was about 12. A local movie house was screening a couple of classic Frankenstein films on Halloween. But there was more to the show than that. 

There was a magician doing spooky illusions, Dracula and the Mummy wandering the aisles looking for victims, and best of all -- between the two movies -- a woman in a cage who transformed into a Gorilla before our shocked eyes -- said Ape then breaking from the cage to chase us all into the lobby to buy more popcorn.

This was a sideshow attraction accomplished with lighting and skrims that's still around today and still sends shocked rubes scrambling for the safety of the midway at its climax.

Over the last while, I've blogged about 3D and VR and other ways films are marketed. And while you might be able to come up with an enhanced reality app for your own film, perhaps the way things are going is actually back where they've been before -- offering audiences something more than just going to the local multiplex to see a film.

Maybe your rom-com should be introduced by a set from a local stand-up comic. Perhaps your audience could have their own laser blasters to fire at the invading aliens in your sci-fi, CGI epic.

And what would be the harm of augmenting your horror film with a live spook show.

It might ensure that you get a longer theatrical run (and more publicity) before you disappear into the Netflix back catalog.

If you want to see the future, it never hurts to glance back into the past.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 427: Black Sunday In The Magic Kingdom

I don't think my family owned a TV set during the Summer of 1955. But if we had, I'm sure it would have been tuned to the same channel 50% of televisions were tuned to the night of July 17th -- the live broadcast of the opening of Disneyland.

From the moment we did get a TV set (maybe a year or two later) the Sunday night Disney hour was sacrosanct. I owned a "Davey Crockett" coonskin cap, dressed as "Zorro" on Halloween and followed the adventures of "Johnny Tremaine", "Texas John Slaughter" and "Elfego Baca". 

Interspersed with these were Mickey Mouse Cartoons, wildlife documentaries and Werner Von Braun explaining how we'd get to the moon -- as well as Walt Disney himself extolling the charms of his Magic Kingdom.

I didn't make it to Disneyland until I was in my mid-20's and visiting friends in Los Angeles. They promised to take me there my first Saturday in town and even fixed me up with a "beautiful California Blonde" named Bambi as my date.

Bambi turned out to be quite beautiful and blonde -- and was also 12 years old. But any disappointment I might've felt was short lived because -- because the company of a kid (especially one who knew how to get past the lines for "E" Ticket rides) helped the magic of the place come alive.

As of today, 61 years later, 3/4 of a Billion people have visited Disneyland. But what a lot of people don't know is that it almost didn't make it past opening day -- a day that became known as "Black Sunday".

Disney's skill at promotion and the popularity of his films and TV show had raised interest in the park to a fever pitch. And despite a carefully chosen guest list of family and friends, more than 30,000 people arrived at the front gates. Most with forged tickets.

People were seen literally tossing their children over the heads of early arrivals to make sure they got to the front of the line. Overwhelmed ticket takers had no choice but to open the gates to anyone who wanted in.

Food ran out. Rides broke down under unexpected traffic and the Paddle-wheeler "Mark Twain" ran aground from the sheer weight of its passengers. 

Sleeping Beauty's castle was pillaged for souvenirs and restrooms couldn't handle the overflow -- partly because a Plumber's strike had forced Walt Disney to choose between building the number required and making sure the plaster elephants on the African Cruise ride could shoot water from their trunks.

And the entire fiasco was broadcast live, with various celebrity hosts cutting back and forth to maintain the feeling that nothing was wrong, while everything collapsed around them.

That broadcast is still with us, a reminder of just what it's like to do live television and a testament to how professionals behave in a crisis.

61 years ago today.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 426: And The Horse You Rode In On...

"You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink"-- which Dorothy Parker re-jigged to "You can lead a whore to culture but you can't make her think" -- which brings us to actors, who are often considered the whores of the culture because they'll do just about anything to make a buck.

Now, having been one (an actor) for a big chunk of my career, I can confirm that actors lie a lot. Mostly to get hired. Not that they lie any more than writers and directors do to get hired or producers do to come up with production money or simply to get laid. But only actors will admit they lie. 

The reason is simple. The root from which the word actor derives is "action" -- he who does something. And actors are always being asked if they can do something most people can't. 

Can you ride a horse?

Can you water ski?

Can you play tennis?

Nobody ever asks "Can you act?" since that's supposed to be a given. But this myriad of other skills which might be required of fictional characters takes up a lot of most actors lives. In addition to acting classes and voice lessons, actors spend a lot of time learning to do things most people can't -- and which they likely will never have to do either.

At the bottom of all resumes you'll inevitably find a list of unique things each individual actor can do. Juggle. Kick-box. Ballroom dance. Make paper airplanes.

When I was in high school I was into gymnastics, so that was on my list. But I soon learned that knowing how to do something might get you the job, but it didn't necessarily mean you'd get to do the job.

Allow me to explain. 

I got a call from my agent about a commercial where they needed somebody who had some gymnastic skills. Okay. I could probably do that. So I get an audition. At the audition somebody asks me if I have any gymnastic experience and I go through the list of what I can do. They seem happy. So happy I get booked for the job.

A week later, I turn up at some gymnasium with a whole crew and some ad agency guys. In the middle of the floor is a mat and hanging from the ceiling are a set of gymnastic rings. Now, I know Olympic athletes make those things look easy. But they're about the hardest thing you can do in a gym. 

I'd never been on a set and the director had a whole choreography he'd designed based on being in Munich in 1972 or something. After he laid out a routine only about 8 guys in the world could probably do -- moving from a Giant Swing into an Iron Cross and then a Kip Over to whatever. I politely explained that the rings weren't on the list of gymnastic events at which I was skilled and in addition nobody had ever asked if I was some kind of ring expert.

Everybody freaked out. And I was suddenly another lying actor and dispatched from the set while they frantically tried to reach their number 2 pick at his day job.

I'm pretty sure they couldn't reach him, or number 3 or number 4, because by the time the commercial aired, the poor guy they hired was doing somersaults -- and not doing them very well either.

This experience served me well later in life, when as a producer I would ask if an actor could ride a horse, knowing full well he or she would swear they could. Whoever we hired was them immediately dispatched to a riding school to "brush up" their abilities while the riding instructor was told he was getting somebody who'd never even seen a horse in real life.

Nobody got embarrassed. The production stayed on time and on budget. And the next time the actor was asked to ride a horse there wouldn't be any need for lying.

Which brings me to this lovely little anecdote from Sam Shepherd, a fine actor, superb writer and all round nice guy, who honestly does know how to ride a horse.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 425: Please Get Over Yourself

The Brexit vote just might be the straw that finally broke this camel's back. Although it had been coming for more than a year, it somehow wasn't on anybody' radar because -- well, because who would be so stupid as to do something like that, right?

And then the minute the people of the UK made their decision, there was a momentary gasp and then a flood of "What the fuck were they thinking?" and "Oh my God, the sky is falling!". Not to mention a million people in my Facebook feed alone spewing venom and worse on anybody connected with the "Leave" side, branding them as racists, xenophobes, anti-LGBTQ or anything else that might get somebody else to be pissed off at them too.

The Media were pissed off. The Politicians were pissed off. Stock Brokers were pissed off. Bookies. British Ex-Pats who made their own Brexits a generation ago. Hell, anybody who just needed something new to get jacked up about.

Things got so bad, CBC Radio had a panel of academics claiming some things were far too important to allow ordinary people to make decisions about them. Of course these were Canadian Academics, unable to come up with anything original on their own, so they culled their thesis from British Sources.

Isn't it interesting how some people suffer a loss and decide to suck it up and move on, while others come to the conclusion that their defeat is proof that Democracy isn't such a good thing after all? I mean, it was while their side was winning, but now -- well...

But what the Brexit "discussion" really brought home to me was just how wrapped up so many of us have become in needing the things we believe in, or don't really know much about but they really seem to matter to people we either like or look up to -- needing those things to be what EVERYBODY believes in.

And meanwhile the same people wonder where ISIS comes up with its cockamamie "Everybody has to see the world our way" shit.

Lately, I've had a long Saturday morning commute. Normally the news junkie in me would use that time to catch up on the latest headlines and commentary. But since all that newscasters seem to talk about these days are Trump and Hillary and I can't stand either of them, I've had to surf the dial.

A few weeks ago, I discovered a Canadian Money Show called "Money Talks" hosted by business analyst Michael Campbell. It's likely syndicated to a local station near you. And if it's not you can find it online here.

Now, shows about the economy aren't everybody's cup of whatever you're mostly drinking these days. But what I like about Campbell's approach is -- he kinda cuts through the bullshit. You might not like what he has to say, but it invariably makes sense -- and that doesn't just apply to your retirement portfolio.

What follows is some of what he had to say a couple of days ago about Brexit. Which is mostly about getting over yourself and your holier than thou opinions.

It's worth a listen.

Enjoy Your Sunday.