New Season (part 1)

Well that’s done. And by “that” I mean the summer of 2013. Oh, sure, almanac geeks will tell you that technically speaking “fall” doesn’t begin until September 22nd, but the Autumnal Equinox is not the boss of me! The Proft boys have all gone back to school and our local Costco is already selling Thanksgiving decorations.  Frankly that’s all the prof I need. Thousands of years ago the ancient Druids constructed enormous stone monoliths to calculate the change of seasons, today all you have to do is wait for the giant inflatable pilgrims to go on sale. Ah progress.

Grab thine glue stick, highlighter and three ring binders brother.

All hail the Kirkland Solstice!

Speaking of the Proft boys and school…..our oldest (14-year-old Matthew) started high school a few weeks back. Yikes! It seems like only yesterday I was showing him how to use the bathroom. Actually, it literally was yesterday. Despite having been potty trained for over a decade he still labors  under the misconception that magical elves appear in the night to replace depleted tissue rolls and pick up his discarded socks.

As if having a kid in high school  wasn’t a trippy enough pill to swallow, he happens to be going to Santa Monica  High School…the same school I graduated from back in 1986. The day we drove down for his freshman orientation I just happen to park right next to a girl I knew from back in the day. We both looked at each other, our matching mini vans and teenaged children and exchanged a mutual “what the heck happened to us?” look.

I know it’s cliché, but man time does really fly. One day you’re listening to a Human League cassette on your Walkman and smoking clove cigarettes under the bleachers and the next thing you know your child (four years shy of legal adulthood) is sitting in your old desk in Mr. Blatz’s American Literature class.

On his first day of school I wanted to play the cool elder statesman and show him around campus, but soon thought better of it when I realized that all the locations on my tour were linked to some degenerate activity. “And that’s the old, dark stairwell where we used to…er…uh….hey, check out that seagull over there.”

I was however, with no shortage of pride, able to show him the lunch table where on May 26, 1984 (having just seen “Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom) I argued in front of an angry sanhedrin of nerds that George Lucas was a creatively bankrupt filmmaker destined to spend the rest of his career living off the vestigial glory of past success. Did they believe me? No. Was I met with a barrage of insults, ridicule and half empty milk cartons?  You bet your sweet Sankara Stones, but dagnabit someone had to make a stand!  While modesty compels me to reject the label “hero” I have often considered myself the Martin Luther of film nerds.

Some day there will be a plaque here in my honor.

Some day there will be a plaque here in my honor.

Ah…..glory days, eh?

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The Real Question….

Forget Syria, I think it’s time we had a national debate on whether Luke Skywalker could defeat Superman.

And why do both these men look like Cory Feldman?

And why do both these men look like Cory Feldman?

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Big Shoes, Big Trouble.

Took my kids to a local park this evening to toss the old football around. While we were there I noticed a clown “entertaining” a group of children with magic tricks. As I walked past I heard him say “Who wants to see the birthday boy disappear?”

I smell an Amber Alert on the horizon.

We all float down here.

We all float down here.

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Tony Montana Joins Ninjago

I found a bunch of minifig heads on the living room floor this morning. I’m afraid some tiny Lego drug cartel might be sending me a message.

 

Say hello to my little friends!

Say hello to my little friends!

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The Narcissistic Limb

Screenwriter_shutterstock_102960407-594x309 It’s been over two months since my last blog entry and I’m going way out on  a narcissistic limb and assume that you missed me terribly and demand to know where I’ve been. Okay, fine you’ve dragged it out of me.

Well, as most of you know I used to be a working screenwriter.

Oh, please….not this again!

Yes, yes, I know I do have a tendency to crowbar that into nearly every conversation, but this time (I promise) it’s actually relevant. You see there I was, way back in late October, in the midst of composing a very witty post concerning my thoughts on Halloween when I got a call from my old manager’s office.

You mean your agent? 

No, my manager.

What’s the difference?

Good question. An agent’s  job is to find you work and negotiate contract terms. This can mean identifying projects that are looking to hire writers or  finding a buyer for something you’ve written on your own time. In return the agent typically pockets 10 percent of your earnings and since they only make money if your stuff sells, Hollywood talent agents are notoriously picky about who they’ll represent. The incentive, obviously, is for them to only work with established people who have proven track records. Probably the greatest hurtle a young writer (or actor) will face on the road to success is finding someone willing to take a chance in representing an unknown.

In the case of my writing partner and I (the late, great Sean Fanning) the person willing to take that chance was actually a manager.

So…back to my original question….

What’s the difference? Technically a manager’s job is to develop a long-range career plan…for which he/she also receives a percentage. As was explained to us once over martinis at Nic’s one afternoon in 1995, “Boys, we’re going to put a team together. A team that makes things happen for you. It’ll be like the Super Friends…but with a few less gays.” Eventually our creative Hall Of Justice included an agent, an entertainment lawyer and several other people whose job titles and functions I never clearly understood.

I always had my suspicions about Aquaman and Robbin.

I always had my suspicions about Aquaman and Robbin.

As a practical matter our manager ended up doing a lot more agent-ing than our actual agent ever did. About 80% of the meetings we took and connections we made were the result of events he had put in motion.

Of my flash-in-the-pan writing career, I have already much opined. Interested readers could go back and review previous blog entries, but suffice to say by  2002 my writing career was all over. The phone has slowly stopped wringing,  my partner and I had parted ways and I was now essentially a full-time stay-at-home-dad who ran a little daycare business on the side.

Flash forward to this past October when, in the midst of composing the aforementioned Halloween blog entry, I got a call from my old manager’s office.

“Hey kid, remember that piece you did back in the day about the guy who does that stuff with the thing?”, he asked in a blizzard of pronouns.

“Yeah”, I lied.

“We should talk about it.”

medium_Television_7

Turns out his assistant had been clearing out a storage room and came across a TV pilot I wrote back in 1999.

A pilot?

A “pilot” is the first episode of a proposed TV series.  It’s primary purpose is to introduce the main characters and set up the world in which they live. This particular script was always one of my favorites. Written late in my career, when I’d finally figured out how to play to my few strengths and steer clear of my creative weaknesses, it’s one of the few things I can go back and read without cringing.

The pilot circulated around town in late 1999 and early 2000. Everyone who read it said essentially the same thing: “We like it, but….”. After a while we simply ran out of people to send it to. So, the script was stuffed into a box, the box was dumped in storage like the lost Ark of the Covenant and we all moved on. That is until a guy, probably looking for something to wrap fish in, stumbled across a coffee-ring-stained copy. The last in existence actually…since the hard drive I thought I had it saved on was destroyed when our garage flooded by a sewage line backup 2009.

Long story short….

Too late.

I’ve spent the last two (blog entry-less) months doing a mild rewrite of the script and, in the next week or so, it’ll be once again circulated around the entertainment universe looking for a home.

What makes you think it’ll sell this time?

Well…bottom line you never know, but there are two things working in our favor this time around. First there are now a zillion cable networks that need content, if only just to kill time between Zumba infomercials and back episodes of Cajon Storage Locker Cupcake Wars. That’s something that just didn’t exist 15 years ago. Secondly, the story has certain “thematic elements”  that are somewhat more in vogue now then back when I first wrote about them, so we’ve got that going for us too.

Of course the whole thing could just fizzle out. I’m painfully aware of that possibility.  One way or the other I’ll keep you informed. After all, you demanded that I share this with you.

Honestly you people have no sense of personal boundaries.

Naturally your encouragement and prayers are welcome.

A 1922 Script rejection notice from   Essanay Films.

Script rejection notice from Essanay Films circa 1920. I’m not sure numbers 5 and 11 are still considered valid reasons to turn something down.

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…Overload, Overload, Overload…

There’ve been a number of music groups who’ve donned makeup, elaborate costumes and assumed fictitious personas when performing. Acts like KISS, Gwar and Justin Bieber, who I’m convinced is actually a middle aged black woman, come to mind. I mean think about it…have you ever seen Bieber and Sister Souljah in the same room? No you have not.

The alternative rock/electronica group Gorillaz take the artistic masquerade a step further by existing only as a “virtual band” of cartoon characters.  To my teenaged son that’s the most original idea ever. I don’t have the heart to tell him that Josie and the Pussy Cats and the Groovie Ghoulies were doing it thirty years ago.

That said the Gorillaz are musically a lot more interesting than those Hanna Barbera toon bands ever were. Your Friday Video this week is “Stylo” and it comes with car chases and a cool celebrity cameo to boot.

Enjoy your weekend everybody.

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My Kid’s College Watch List (pt. 3)

Let’s recap the premise, shall we?

The wife and I don’t let our children watch R-rated movies…which only makes sense given their respective ages. However, that means they’re missing out on some truly amazing films. This is a list (arranged in no particular order) of the movies I’ll be sending with them when they head off to college. A sort of cinematic passage into manhood.

Make sense? Good. Let’s move on.

1. Saving Private Ryan (1998) – Here’s the world’s toughest trivia question: “What Vin Diesel movie was nominated for eleven Academy Awards?” See, now most folks will say the 2005 family comedy, The Pacifier where he plays an ex-Navy SEAL turned male nanny and co-stars opposite a cast of nauseating child “actors” and a sassy pet duck. But surprisingly the answer is….Saving Private Ryan! Wait, you forgot he played the wisecracking Private Caparzo? Well, I guess that’s his fault. Frankly, if I were him there’s two things I’d never stop doing. The first is walking around shirtless and the other is reminding people I was in one of Steven Spielberg’s greatest films. In fact I’d probably look for a way to do both of those things simultaneously…. probably through the use of a non-water soluble peck paint.

Diesel’s appearance is one of several strange casting choices this movie makes. I can remember turning to my wife in the theater at one point and saying: “Wait…did I just see Ted Danson machine gun a bunch of dudes?” Which of course I had. You spend 270 episodes of Cheers waiting for that moment, and when it finally comes you don’t know how to process it. Oh, and do we all remember that Paul Giamatti plays a sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division? Because nothing says hardcore like the dude from Sideways.

If I’m poking fun at this movie it’s only because I love it so. It opens with a recreation of the landings at Normandy that is masterfully staged and  goes on for nearly thirty minutes.  The fighting (and dying) is depicted with shocking realism. Anyone thinking of joining the military would be well served by watching this movie.

I don’t mind saying that this is one of only two movies I openly cry during. The scene where I always lose it…and I mean at every repeat viewing…is the one where -SPOILER ALERT- the old man, who we discover is actually an elderly Ryan, is visiting the battlefield cemetery with his wife, kids and I think even grand-kids in toe. After searching for a bit he finds Tom Hank’s grave and has a teary-eye moment. Ryan’s wife looks at the grave marker and says something to the effect, “Did you know this guy” and you realize that he’s lived with this woman for over forty years….and he’s never told her the story of what happened. I think that’s true of a lot of veterans. They see and do things that are so horrible they know they can’t possible share it with someone who wasn’t there. Because how could they possibly have the context to understand? So the stuff gets pushed down and internalized. When Ryan looks at his wife and asks if he’s been a “good man,” it’s his survivor’s guilt finally bubbling over. And it always sends me rushing for the Kleenex.

And the other movie that always makes me cry….Titanic. Don’t judge me!

2. The Sixth Sense (1999) – There was a time when M. Night Shayamalan was considered to be a brass plated genius. A master of suspense.  A latter day Hitchcock! Today however he’s recognized as just another one-hit-wonder right up there with the guys who sang “I’m Too Sexy For My Shirt”. Back in the closing days of the twentieth century he caught lightning in a bottle when he wrote and directed The Sixth Sense, a film that has to be one of the greatest ghost stories ever. Bruce Willis, who up to this point was known mostly for high testosterone action roles, was cast against type, to play a bookish Child Psychologist trying to help a troubled boy with supernatural problems. The movie is famous for its twist ending which isn’t just a tacked on gimmick.  The end actually makes you go back and reevaluate everything you had seen Willis’ character do during the past 106 mintes…and discover that you’ve completely misinterpreted it.  All of it.  Masterfully done. Sadly Shayamalan was never able to capture that magic again.

But wait! Wasn’t this movie actually rated PG-13, not R?

Yes, Interior Monolog, it was.

Then why is it on this list?

Because of my lovely wife. The Sixth Sense scared the pants off her (only a metaphor, sadly) and lead to about a month and a half of the worst nightmares she’s ever experienced.  As far as she’s concerned this movie is too terrifying for any human under voting age to watch. And even then only during daylight hours. In a way my wife’s reaction is a testimony to M. Night Shayamalan’s skill as a director. The fact that a movie with no chainsaws, gore…or really any overt violence whatsoever, still forces you to sleep with the lights on and check under your bed at night is pretty amazing. The scares here don’t come from special effects or cheap tricks. They come from a prevailing atmosphere of fear that’s much more difficult to generate. And for Shayamalan impossible to ever reproduce.

3. The Usual Suspects (1995) –  A great bit of modern film noir. Near the end of The Usual Suspects, Kevin Spacey, in his Oscar-winning performance as crippled con man Roger “Verbal” Kint, says, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” That line is really the subtext for the whole story.  The further along the movie goes, the more you realize that not everything is quite what it seems. I love that. Christopher McQuarrie’s script (which also won an Oscar) not only introduced the world to Keyser Soze it coined the phrase “…he was a big fat guy, I mean like Orca fat…” which I spent the next several years trying to crowbar into conversation, along with a number of other unforgettable lines.

The cast is amazing. In addition to Spacey’s fantastic performance you’ve got Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, the comedian Kevin Pollak and a twenty-eight-year-old Benicio Del Toro doing one of the strangest accents I’ve ever heard. What is that? Puerto Rican? Croatian? Klingon? Who knows and who cares. All I know is I couldn’t get enough of it. The ending of The Usual Suspects has a lot in common with The Sixth Sense in that it suddenly changes the context of everything you’ve been watching…in one, long, falling coffee cup moment of clarity.

4. Die Hard (1988) – In 1966 the crime novelist Roderick Thorp wrote a book called “The Detective” about a hardboiled New York cop investigating the death of a gay man. The case soon leads him down a dark rabbit hole into a world of sex, drugs and political corruption. Pretty racy stuff for back in the day. Two years later it was made into a movie staring Frank Sinatra as the titular Detective Joe Leland. It went on to become one of the highest grossing films of 1968 and one of the strongest box-office hits of the singer/actor’s career.

Um…what’s this have to do with Die Hard?

I’m getting to that. In the mid 1970’s Roderick Thorp saw the now famous Irwin Allen disaster movie The Towering Inferno and later that evening had a dream of seeing a man being chased through a building by other men with guns. He’d been working on a sequel to “The Detective” for some time and decided to incorporate that idea into his new book…which he titled, “Nothing Lasts Forever”.

Objection, Your Honor. Relevance?

“Nothing Lasts Forever”, which hit bookstores in 1979, has Detective Joe Leland traveling to Los Angeles to visit his daughter who works in a ginormous skyscraper that serves as the headquarters for the fictious Klaxon Oil Corporation. While he’s there, a German terrorist gang led by a dude named Gruber takes over the entire building. Leland remains undetected and picks off the terrorists one by one, aided from outside the building by an LAPD Sergeant named Al Powell.

Wait…that’s the plot of Die Hard?

That’s my point! Die Hard is the sequel to a Frank Sinatra movie. Or at least it was supposed to be originally.  The script spent nearly a decade in development hell and along the way some stuff got changed.  His daughter became his wife, Klaxon became the Nakatomi Corporation and Joe Leland’s name was changed to John McClane. Interestingly enough, a clause in Sinatra’s contract for “The Detective” back in 1968 gave him the right to reprise his role in any sequel. That means he was actually the first person offered the lead in Die Hard, which of course he turned down. That turned out to be good news for a certain TV actor named Bruce Willis who would rocket to big screen stardom after this.

Still, if a lifetime of science fiction as taught me anything, it’s that somewhere there’s an alternate universe where a 73-year-old Sinatra swung from a firehouse while shooting an assault rifle and yelling “Yippie kay yay mother…!” Oh, man what a great DVD extra that would make.

Willis is great and Alan Rickman absolutely steals the show as Professor Severus Snape…er…I mean Hans Gruber. Die Hard might be my favorite 80’s action movie. It’s certainly one of the best written.  Thank you Jeb Stuart and Steven de Souza who did the final adaptation. The characters are well defined and they move logically towards their goals. The scene where our barefoot hero has to walk across a room littered with broken glass….uggg!

Can you think of anything that should be on the list? Any thoughts on what is/is not age appropriate out there? Feel free to shoot me a comment.

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