Sunday, April 01, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 516: Your Turn In The Barrel

I first met Steven Bochco over coffee in Las Vegas.

That's not as world-shattering an event as it might appear. I'd just finished 4 seasons of "Top Cops" and a fistful of TV movies for CBS and was taking a break, or more accurately a busman's holiday, attending my first National Association of Television Production Executives Convention in Sin City.

Steven Bochco, the man who had created "Hill Street Blues",  "LA Law", "Doogie Houser M.D." and was currently the toast of television with his latest hit series "NYPD Blue" was doing an early morning talk about the craft of writing and I knew I had to be there first thing because this was the "can't miss" event of the symposium and all the seats would be gone the minute the doors opened.

Back then, Steven Bochco was a God to writers and remains so to many of us. He broke so much new ground in television that those writing obituaries following his death today will be hard pressed to do more than scratch the surface of all the changes he wrought and how many successful series would never have made the air without the creative pioneering he did.

Bochco was so beloved of the networks that William Paley of CBS had once offered him the presidency of his entire entertainment division. More interested in creating television than deciding who else should do it, Bochco turned him down for an unprecedented 10 series deal with ABC where he would retain ownership of his shows.

I set my alarm to go off before dawn and arrived to find waiters rolling in huge carafes of coffee, trays of muffins and piles of ceramic cups labelled "I just had coffee with Steven Bochco". As I selected one, the man of the hour strolled in and poured himself a cup.

He asked if we were the only ones there. I suggested some other people were sure to turn up. He laughed and asked what part of the business I was in.

And here's where it got tricky.

Because "Top Cops" had debuted in the same Thursday at ten time slot as Bochco's "Cop Rock" when it made its debut. And 11 weeks later, we were a huge hit and the series ABC had poured a fortune into because it was from the magic pen of Steven Bochco was gone.

Knowing how much some Hollywood types hold grudges, I danced around offering my resume, just saying I wrote and produced. Uh, yeah -- series. What am I working on? I told him my show had just ended its run. He asked the title...

I had no choice. I confessed. He studied me for a moment, "That was you?". I said it was a lot of other people too, people equally enamored of his work and who didn't have any say whatsoever over what time slot we got, or...

He laughed again, offered congratulations and said a couple of nice things about the show. I said I was sorry "Cop Rock" had been cancelled so soon and commented on how innovative and courageous it had been.

He shrugged off the sympathy, admitting he'd liked it a lot too, but "Sometimes it's just your turn in the barrel".

Somewhere back in grade school I'd memorized Rudyard Kipling's "If" and its instructions on what it takes to make a man successful and respected and the lines...

"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same..."

...immediately sprang to mind. And I realized that in addition to his many talents, Steven Bochco was a man whose character rose far above the showbiz environment Hunter S. Thompson once described as... 

"...a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs."

He'll be missed on too many levels to count.

YouTube's Archive of American Television has dozens of videos of Bochco discussing his life and work. What follows is one of my favorites, for the way it makes innovation look like just another practical day-to-day decision -- which in many ways it usually is.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 515: The Wild Canadian Year

Canadian film-makers are forever trying to think up new ways to show Canada to the world. An interesting phenomena since most of the world and even a majority of Canadians haven't seen it in the first place.

We have huge expanses where nobody lives or that only see a human presence on very rare occasions. Many of these are locales of such stunning beauty and grandeur you'd think they'd draw crowds larger than those that flock to the Great Pyramids and Taj Mahal.

But the blessing in our disinterest in these places is that they teem with wildlife.

In honor of our just completed 150th birthday, a celebration that saw such things as a giant rubber duck being towed to various urban locations, the Documentary division of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation dispatched more than a dozen camera crews under the supervision of film-maker Jeff Turner to spend more than 800 camera days recording what goes on in these remote places.

The shoots took place during all four seasons, producing a remarkable five part series entitled "The Wild Canadian Year".

If you haven't seen it, or just want to have your breath taken away once more, the entire series can now be found either on its own YouTube Channel or here.

In addition to episodes for each of the seasons, there's a great final hour documenting how the whole thing got made.

But Turner and his crews weren't happy just documenting what they saw. They wanted to find yet another way to show Canada to the world. And they did that by including 360 degree cameras in their arsenal.

These astounding scenes not only take you into the Canadian wilderness, they make you feel like you've been abandoned there. For no matter where you look as you swing from horizon to horizon, there is nothing to suggest any other human being is within miles of you.

This is amazing footage worth visiting whenever you feel the walls of your apartment or the banality of an urban landscape closing in on you.

It just might just be the best thing we did to mark our 150th year and watching it will go a long way to helping you...

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 514: A Stand Up Guy

A few months ago, a friend of mine decided he wanted to try his hand at stand-up comedy.

Now, this is a bright, talented, intelligent guy with a Masters in Languages and a very successful career in another branch of the show business. Maybe it was some kind of bucket-list, mid-life crisis thing. I don't know. But he wanted me to accompany him to a local open mike night and critique his work -- so I did.

And as a result, I ended up meeting a bunch of young comics just starting out and was reminded of the comedy scene in Toronto when it was just a gleam in Mark Breslin's eye and whoever conceived the Just For Laughs festival still hadn't put that first bottle of seltzer down somebody's pants.

On one level, those who do stand-up comedy are no different from those who choose to become actors, singers, writers or directors. There are some who are hugely talented but adrift. Some with little talent but lots of drive. All trying as best they can to find their voice and a way to entertain an audience.

But on another level, stand up comics are very, very different. I've always looked on them as the professional wrestlers of legitimate show business. The kind of people instilled with a clarity of purpose that would give a Jesuit pause and the courage to go out night after night to get a steel chair in the face.

There is simply no one braver than a stand up comic. As the saying so aptly goes -- "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard". And stand ups face their own agonizing version of death every time they step onto a stage.

Through little more than dumb luck, I saw some of the best comedians ever to come out of Canada take their first baby steps. Jim Carrey. Mike Myers. Ron James. Brent Butt. Howie Mandel. And the list goes on.

But perhaps the bravest of them all was Mike MacDonald.

Mike stared down depression and a bi-polar condition long before he ever stood in front of an audience. And he continued to fight those demons as he built an astonishing list of classic routines that were funny as hell.

Later he battled Hepatitis C and performed the super-human feat of rebooting his career following a liver transplant, going back on the road while struggling nightly to remember the intricate, nuanced jokes that had once rendered audiences helpless with laughter.

Much of that is covered in a Marc Maron WTF podcast from last Summer and well worth a listen here. Mike's portion begins about 40 minutes in.

Mike died last night back home in Ottawa, leaving fellow comedians stunned. To many of them, Mike was a giant, both as a talent to emulate, a mentor and a friend.

And those, like me, who saw him perform remain awed by the ability he had to make us laugh.

Whether you had that good fortune or not, Mike left a raft of great routines, TV specials and more to keep us laughing for a long time to come.

Here's a taste.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 513 Tattad Tattad

All week long I've struggled with what I wanted to write this week. The winning of an Oscar by an old pal and creative partner had me leaning in that direction.

Tonight's pending Canadian Screen awards seemed worthy of mention.

And in the midst of it all was International Women's Day and there are few guys who love women as much as I do. Heck, half my career was founded on cleavage.

Therefore -- lots of things worth celebrating in the best sense of that word.

But then I noticed a trend that I've been aware of for pretty much all of my life in Canada. We have trouble truly celebrating significant moments here -- with real Joy.

I don't mean that we don't know how to party or share a lot of laughs, because we're spectacular at that. But somehow, when it comes to really embracing the inspiring moments, we tend to go in a different direction.

The very day J. Miles Dale and his talented gang of Canadian creatives snagged the Best Picture Oscar for their beautifully made and spiritually uplifting film "The Shape of Water", the CBC was working hard to tarnish the achievement by insisting the film didn't really understand the disabled.

Meanwhile, virtually every nominee in the feature category of the Canadian Screen Awards can be described as dour, depressing or at best -- heartbreaking. Nothing that encourages people to line up at the box-office and lay down some hard earned cash for an evening's entertainment.

Meanwhile, International Women's Day was marked by Canadian film execs eulogizing the career of Telefilm Exec Carolle Brabant for revolutionizing how Canadian film success is measured -- meaning she stopped equating it with entertaining audiences or earning money.

In other words, they were appreciative of her adding additional years to their inability to actually reach an audience.

Now, trust me, I know that financial success isn't everything in the world of film and that celebrity is shallow and fleeting. But to quote writer Mickey Spillane -- "I have no fans. You know what I got, Customers".

Customers are what "The Shape of Water" will have for generations. Few, if any, of whom will ever catch one of tonight's Canadian Screen Awards nominees unless they're afflicted with insomnia and watching TMN at 3 o'clock in the morning.

Other nations celebrate the joy their cinema inspires in its people. Those sappy montages from the Oscars are one example. For another, search Youtube for clips from the Bollywood Film Fare awards which fill stadium sized arenas with rabid movie lovers.

Therefore, I offer the following lesson in learning how to find the joy in making films your country can embrace. It's a musical number from the Bollywood hit "Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-leela" basically "Romeo and Juliet" in Hindi.

It also allows women still celebrating International Women's Day the opportunity to shake their booties and objectify a guy for a change.

And if any of this upsets you -- I was probably influenced by a rogue element of the Indian government.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 512: The Dog Photographer

I've written before that I own a dog who hates to have her picture taken. I don't know why. Every other dog I've spent time with just kinda sees a camera and assumes an "aren't-I-cute" pose.

My theory is that she was once part of a litter of puppies much sought after because her mom and dad were both champions. People came and took pictures and one by one all her brothers and sisters disappeared. Ergo -- Camera = Vanishing without a trace.

Now and then, somebody at the dog park catches a great shot of her. Usually when she's too exhausted from playing with her pals to notice her picture is being taken.

But even with dogs who love to be in the spotlight, it's hard to capture an image that resonates with the true character of the animal. Some gifted photographers manage to do it now and then. But only one has done it continuously for decades.

William Wegman.

For more than 45 years and using barely more than his own pet companions, Wegman has managed to corner the collective imagination when it comes to depicting the relationship/similarity between dogs and those who love them.

There is simply no one better.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Being Human With the Dog Photographer from Great Big Story on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 511: Never Die Easy

The latest version of the Olympic Games wrapped up last night, and given that they were happening half a world away and broadcast live in the middle of the night, I didn't think I'd pay much attention.

But I did. As surrounded as they are by corruption and nationalist bullshit, I love the Olympic Games. Even sports I wouldn't normally a) pay any attention to or b) remotely understand.

I've never been much of an athlete. I played baseball and hockey, curled a little, wasn't bad at tennis or bowling and was absolute crap at golf. But I've always admired those who dedicate their lives to something like conquering the half-pipe or mastering the bobsled run.

So I lost a lot of sleep over the last few weeks and in that twilight dream-state when one of those "aren't the games grand" commercials was on, I got to wondering if there was a sport I could've excelled at that might have won me a medal of some kind.

Or at my age -- is there one I might still attempt to share in the "thrill of victory or the agony of defeat".

And maybe there is...

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Never Die Easy: The Dag Aabye Story from Justin Pelletier on Vimeo.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 509: Joy & Heron

With the stories on the News endlessly dark and Winter sticking around too long. There's a need for a moment that simply cute and cuddly...

Enjoy your Sunday...

JD.COM 'Joy & Heron' from Nylon Studios on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 508: Make An Impact

It's Super Bowl Sunday. Meaning at some point there will be a discussion of inspiration speeches. What do coaches say to their thoroughbred millionaire players on the eve of or halfway point of the big game?

These speeches are often replayed, paraphrased or parodied by leaders hoping to inspire any group of wannabe achievers from cub scouts to Fortune 500 Vice-Presidents.

A good percentage of any training of professional athletes is set aside for improving character. And who among us doesn't want to be a better person -- or at least imagine scoring the winning points in a championship game.

The inspirational speech has always been a required moment in any movie about football. Knute Rockne's "Win One for the Gipper" probably started that trend in "Knute Rockne: All American and since then we've had too many to count.

My personal favorite is delivered by Al Pacino in the best football movie ever written by John Logan and Oliver Stone, "Any Given Sunday".

At least it was until I ran across this one by Rick Rigsby, a former coach and Chaplain of the Texas A&M "Aggies".

These are words that apply to anybody in any endeavor whether or not you've ever laced on a pair of cleats.

It'll make you a better person, no matter who wins today.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 507: Imagination: Tom Wallisch

I'm going to go out on a limb here...

Actually, I'm not.

Because I can say with complete certainty that this week's short film contains more creative ideas, interesting camera work and the sheer joy of life that can only be found in Canada -- than anything you'll find in all the films funded during the past year by Telefilm Canada and/or any other purveyor of Government funded ART.

Enjoy Your Sunday...
Imagination: Tom Wallisch from The North Face on Vimeo.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 506: Alive

I grew up in a place that was little more than earth and sky and a well defined horizon marking where one ended and the other began.

Where I live now is endlessly amazing and I often wonder -- "How did I get so lucky?".

I'm sure a lot of us feel that way about the places life has taken us and where we are or who we've become.

This is where I live. Feel free to try and top it.

And enjoy your Sunday...
ALIVE | Canada 4K from Flo Nick on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 505: The Story Machine

Writers often speak of "feeding the machine". Film and television production in particular often has the feel of a runaway train. There are schedules to be met, time is of the essence and little or no time can be spared for the thoughtful consideration of plot twists and character development. They need the pages on set -- yesterday.

That machine has different variations in the publishing of everything from novels to daily newspapers, even greeting cards have to get the Christmas season covered by early July, if not sooner.

Writers constantly bemoan their deadlines and the lack of sympathy they receive for having to do the intricate work of story creation under such pressure.

And that's not hard to understand. As technology pushes our lives to a faster pace to keep up with business competitors, travel schedules, family demands and just about every segment of our lives, we're all short of time.

And what little time we do have is seldom given over to reading a story. In airports, coffee shops, buses and commuter trains around the planet, you seldom see people with a book or reading from a portable device.

We play mindless, repetitive games. We surf Facebook, looking for worthy nuggets of anything amid mindless, repetitive posts about things we rarely care much about. 

Where is the content that might enrich those few moments of free time we manage to find?

Well -- a French company called "Short Edition" may have found it.

This week at CES, the Computer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, they unveiled a device they've been testing in France for the last two years. It's a story vending machine.

The user simple presses a button indicating how many minutes (one, three or five) that he has to spare. Then the machine dispenses a story of that can be read in that length of time. 

In an unusual twist, the story costs the reader nothing, but the writer is still paid. What's more the machines are calibrated to suit their location. One in a children's hospital will draw from a database of stories for kids for examples. Those in railroad stations and airports might dispense content for travellers to particular destinations.

There are a myriad of algorithms for all manner of demographics to find just the right tale from a current database of 85,000 stories.

Those who access a story invariably share it with someone else at their location, who invariably shares it with someone else, creating discussions and interactions you will never get from a session of "Angry Birds" or scrolling a Twitter or Instagram feed.

Until a Short Edition machine turns up near you, you can sample some of the stories dispensed here. Or you could see the reaction of the first North American to buy one for his restaurant. Francis Ford Coppola, a guy more than familiar with feeding stories into other story machines.

I think these things are going to be very popular and maybe even help one of you to...

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Monday, January 08, 2018

Lazy Sunday # 504: What if.....?

The arrival of each new year brings with it intentions among all of us (whether ascribed as resolutions or just a to-do list) to make this the year we finally accomplish something specific.

Maybe it's something big. Maybe it's small but of personal import. Maybe it's a desire to just do what you normally do or be what you normally are -- only a little better than before.

For those of us who write fiction, that process begins with the question that leads to any story -- "What if...?".

Some of us work harder at crafting "What if?" than others. But nobody goes as far or as deep or as detailed as Randall Munroe, the guy behind the "What if" blog, which you can find here.

An example of this process is in the video that follows.

Imagine yourself making this kind of commitment to your germ of an idea/intention/whatever and...

Enjoy Your Sunday...