Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I'm holding another Sitcom Room Seminar

After a two year's hiatus I'm holding another Sitcom Room weekend seminar.  It will be the weekend of November 12-13, 2011 at the elegant LAX Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles.

Anyone who's been a professional sitcom writer knows that the most fun part of the job is being locked in a room with incredibly funny people.  Yes, at times you want to tear your hair out, but even then -- imagine going to work and laughing for ten hours every day.

And more and more sitcoms are being room-written these days.  Shows like BIG BANG THEORY don't assign scripts to individual writers.  The entire staff sits around a table and cobbles the draft together.  The more training you have in this unique way of writing, the more marketable you become.

And this is the only seminar/workshop that teaches you those skills.

THE SITCOM ROOM is a two day EXTENSIVE workshop that simulates just what it's like to be on a sitcom writing staff.   You'll be broken up into groups of "writing rooms", actual working Hollywood actors will perform a scene, and then (after an extensive briefing and many insider tips) you'll go back to the room and rewrite the crap out of it.   The next day the actors return and perform YOUR scene.

It's a great learning experience, a great bonding experience, a great glimpse into the real workings of television.   But be forewarned -- this is only for people who enjoy laughing.

For details, just go here.   Registration is limited to only 20 attendees.  Each person gets personal attention.  Soon I will announce when registration is open.  But if you're on the email alert, you will get the word before I post it in the blog.

Once again.  Here's where you go to learn more.  I've already had one graduate land a staff job on a network show.  Whether you're interested in becoming a sitcom writer or just want a "fantasy camp" experience to see what it's like working on a TV show, the SITCOM ROOM is for you.

UPDATE:
Here's an article that T.V. critic Alan Sepinwall wrote for the N.J. Star-Ledger about the first Sitcom Room.  You'll notice a lot of the article is devoted to whether the sitcom is dead?  I think we can agree, now five years later, that the sitcom is back and only getting stronger, which is good news for me.  I sure didn't want to start the PROCEDURAL DRAMA ROOM. 

Tweets worth Re-Tweeting

I was going to post this yesterday as a birthday toast, but then Annie built the Ikea cabinet and I had to go with that instead.  So here it is today -- a few of her Tweets. Tomorrow, the story of how she solves crimes (no, just kidding).

How long do you think it will be before Victoria Secret starts marketing itself as "The Halloween Costume Superstore"?

Apparently my twitter account was hacked into. I don't have a way for anyone to make money. If I did, I'd be doing that rather than tweeting

National Geographic recreated the floating house from UP! Next step: An adorable robot that cleans up waste and loves Hello Dolly!

It's National Grammar Day! I think I'll celebrate by putting a preposition at the end of every sentence it's in.

Charlie Sheen wants another Major League movie? The way things are going with him & Willie Mays Hayes it better be a Prison Baseball League

What is everyone so bitter about Valentine's Day? It's a national excuse to eat chocolate. And I plan to celebrate for weeks and weeks.

I love MOMA, but out of curiosity at what point is something made in 1880 no longer considered "modern"?

What would be the difference between a TRUE BLOOD spec and creepy fan fiction? Because I bet it would be pretty minimal at this point...

After watching the trailer for the new "Arthur," I find it incredibly ironic that a lot of the movie is about wasting money.

Once again Santa didn't bring me anything. I even baked him cookies. Sure they were in the shape of menorahs, but that still counts...

I'm semi-relieved that most of these new shows are terrible; I didn't have the time for any more serious TV commitments.

Why do I still watch True Blood? Did Sookie just check Bill's pulse? Why would a vampire have a pulse?

I still love Blossom. Even if she can't dress herself.

@ dodger stadium for "viva Los dodgers" and "Jewish Community Day." always a winning combination.

Is it just me or do Minka Kelly and Leighton Meester look super similar? PS. Please don't judge my taste in TV shows entirely on this tweet.
I got a ticket for parking on my own street. It was definitely because my car isn't nearly as nice as everyone elses. Automotive profiling?

Hey INCEPTION, thanks for these crazy meta dreams.

The new Health Care Bill will impose a 10% tax on Tanning Salon Customers? My heart bleeds for the cast of Jersey Shore.

Gym. Tan. Laundry. (minus Gym and Tan)

"Look they have a trivia night. You should go; you're trivial." -My Mother

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Handy Annie

I am not what you’d call “handy”. When I was in the 5th grade I took part in a citywide model boat competition. For weeks I built my wooden sailboat – sawing and sanding and hammering and varnishing. It looked awful. Lopsided, nails every which way, jagged instead of rounded curves. If they gave the same exercise to monkeys they could build better boats.

I took my funky vessel to Rancho Park for the competition. There must’ve been over 300 kids who participated in these boat races. Much to my embarrassment, the next day the Herald Examiner published the results. Out of 300+ entries I finished second to dead last. I beat one other boat and a third sunk.

Shop classes in Junior High were a disaster. My sugar scooper looked like an IUD insertion device. I can’t build things.

I always used to joke that if I ever killed someone and there was an All-Points-Bulletin out on me and I was looking for somewhere to hide, somewhere where I know no one would ever think to look for me – I would hide out at an Ikea.

So it was with much trepidation that I agreed to help my daughter construct some furniture she purchased recently at Ikea’s. Annie just moved into a new apartment and bought a desk, night table, and dresser. The night before I tried to talk myself into this. Hey, it’s not rocket science. You’re a grown adult. How hard can it be to read a set of instructions and just follow them? The instructions can’t be that complicated otherwise no one would buy the items. And hey, my boat didn’t sink. It just kept going in circles but didn’t sink. I could do this thing.

On Friday morning I arrived at her place, pumped. This was going to be my chance to prove that I wasn’t totally helpless.

First up was the desk, least complicated of the three.  I took the pieces out of the box. So far, so good. There was a set of instructions that looked very doable and weren't in Japanese. Every step was carefully explained. Also included was a little sealed plastic bag filled with the screws and pegs needed to do the job. Right away I was in trouble. There were no instructions on how to open the little plastic bag. I had to improvise and use the scissors. What if I didn’t have scissors, Ikea? Then what?

Step two (step one being the baggie) was to attach four long double-sided screws into the corners of the desktop. They didn’t fit. And since they were double-sided, you couldn’t use a screwdriver to twist them into the wood tabletop. And trying to twist them without a tool just ripped up your hands. Ten minutes of that and we said, “Okay, that’s enough of that.” We put the desk aside and moved onto the nightstand.

So I'm helpless?  So what?  I have other talents.  I can live with that.  I have before.

Having successfully rationalized my uselessness, we proceeded to the nightstand. 

The finished product would look like this: A little square with two sliding drawers. The dresser was larger with many drawers. To me that was like building the bridge on the River Kwai. Not a chance. So we set out to conquer the nightstand, although if we didn’t get past step two in the more simple designed desk, what chance would we have with this bad boy?

The nightstand came in a bigger box with all kinds of pieces and a much bigger bag of screws, nails, pegs, plastic doo-hickeys, and round gym-gicks. We emptied the contents onto the floor, I got one look at them and said, “Let's go see a movie.” But Annie, God bless her, said, “No. We can do this one.”

And she was right.

Except – that by “we” she meant “she” could do it.

You’d think raising a daughter you’d know her strengths and weaknesses. I had no idea. Annie laid out that instruction booklet and just dove in.  I stayed off to the side silently saying, "Who is this child?"  I watched in awe as my little princess built this pesky cabinet with the ease and assurance of a highly-trained contractor who charges two hundred an hour and then never shows. I was relegated to inserting wooden pegs and handing her the appropriate tool, and on more than one occasion was told, “No, not that screwdriver, daddy, the other one.” There are different screwdrivers it seems.

Within no time she had this nightstand built. The drawers fit! They were on rollers and when you pulled them out, they actually rolled! Now I know what it must be like to see your child win an Olympic event.

(Forget genetics.  I have two kids.  One can build furniture, the other is an engineer. If they didn't look like me I'd be getting tests right now.)

We were going to tackle the dresser but it was lunchtime (11:25 is lunchtime, right?). She had things to do in the afternoon and couldn’t get to the dresser till later. I was a little disappointed. It was fun watching her work.

Experiences like these are great for daddy-daughter bonding, although usually it’s the dad who builds doll houses or constructs cabinets for the kitchen. It’s not the daughter who does the work while dad inserts eight wooden pegs. But we’re a strange little family anyway.

The thing is – like I said – I never knew. My daughter surprises and delights me everyday with new things she can do, or new funny things that she says. I may not be a handy man but I’m a lucky man.

Today is Annie’s birthday. Have a happy and joyous one. I love you, sweetheart. Sorry to say I can’t bake a cake. But I know you can.

Tomorrow: a look at some of those funny things.

Monday, August 29, 2011

One of those truly uncomfortable moments in life

From time to time, folks in show business try to use contacts to get house seats for various plays and musicals. Some participants of a production – like playwright, director, actors – are entitled to a certain number of house seats for each performance and often they don’t use them. So through agents, casting directors, friends, or on those rare occasions, actually knowing the participants yourself, you can sometimes score their house seats.

A number of years ago at the Huntington Hartford Theatre in Los Angeles there was a new play by Herb Gardner starring Judd Hirsch that my wife and I wanted to see. In this case, I did not know anyone. I had met Judd on a couple of occasions when I was on CHEERS and he was still doing TAXI on the same lot. But those were only momentary “Nice to meet you” encounters. Still, through the casting director of the show I was working on at the time I got Judd's house seats.

We go to the theatre, they’re great seats, and about ten minutes before the performance Judd’s assistant approaches and says Judd would like us to come back to his dressing room after the show. Okay. That’s a little strange. Often as a courtesy, you will go backstage to thank the person for the seats or just leave him a note acknowledging your gratitude. It’s a little odd to be summoned.

All through the play I’m wondering – what does he want? Does he have an idea for a show he wants to pitch? Is he just a big fan of my shows? Does he want to go out with my wife?

After the show the assistant reappears and escorts us backstage to Judd’s dressing room. And here’s where it gets weird.

We walk in and immediately, by the look on his face, it’s clear he doesn’t know me from Adam. He must’ve thought I was somebody else -- someone that he did know. But of course he doesn’t want to be rude so he pretends that he does know us. At which point we don't want to embarrass him by saying he doesn't know us so we pretend that we know him as well.

So now the three of us engage in the most excruciatingly awkward conversation ever. I don’t recall what we talked about. I just remember a whole lot of pauses. All the while I kept hoping the assistant would pop her head in and say there were other well-wishers or the theatre was fire. Nothing. There was no escape.

After what seems like an hour (it was probably ten minutes) we go to the babysitter card and gracefully make our exit.  Moments later our car screams out of the parking lot. 

The next day the casting director who arranged for the tickets said Judd called her and asked, “Who the hell was that?” Then, when she told him, he said, “Oh. Glad he stopped by.”

The next time I’m just buying tickets.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

If anyone hates me, I'll be at Jiffy Lube

I was walking through a mall recently and there was a radio station doing a remote. The disc jockey was in the corner of this store, sitting in front of a microphone, the station’s call letters on a big sign above his head. All of the music, commercials, everything else was back at the station. So it was just this poor schmoe, pleading for listeners to stop on by. Of course, that’s when he was on the air. Most of the time he was not. A song or spot or promo was playing so it was just a poor schmoe sitting alone under a sign. It’s like when you give your kid a “time out”. A few shoppers crossed back and forth but no one paid attention. I passed by and a arctic breeze went right up my sphincter.

In an ideal world remotes would lure more people into the store (for which the station receives a healthy fee up front). It’s kinda like when Jiffy Lube has a grand opening and schedules Greasy the Clown to make a guest appearance so bring all the kids.

Also, the broadcast is supposed to sound more fun to the listeners because it’s unpredictable, the D.J. can interview folks who are there, it’s a big party.

Yeah. Right.

Most of the time no one shows up and the ones who do don’t give a shit. The disc-jockey (thinking it’s a rare chance to be a big celebrity) is pretty much reduced to that crazy guy with a pinwheel hat who talks to himself on the subway.

I’ve gotten roped into a number of these remotes during my checkered radio career. Frequently (i.e. 90% of the time) the equipment doesn’t work, it sounds awful, there’s loud feedback, headphones that don’t work, I never know when my mic is actually on so over songs you hear me saying, “Hello? Is this crap working?” “When I get back to the station I’m going to kill Lenny for setting this damn thing up.” Weather is occasionally an issue. I’ve done outdoor remotes in the rain (“If you’re coming folks would one of you please bring an umbrella?”), the heat, and mostly the wind. All of my commercial copy gets blown onto a freeway.

Usually I’ll have prizes to give away. But they’re always weenie, and I sound so pathetic begging people to drive twenty miles to get free station bumper stickers and kitchen magnets.

The few stragglers that do stop by usually say, “Who are you again?” or tell me how much they hate me or my station. And then they still ask for one of the prizes. “You want this fucking kitchen magnet? Bend over. How about a station ballpoint pen? Let me give you one of those, too.”

I’ve done them in hardware stores, tuxedo rental shops, record stores, a Denny’s, and an exclusive country club. That was fun, telling the thirty-five people in Los Angeles who were even eligible to come on by.

One time when the Dodgers were on XTRA 1150 I co-hosted a pre-game show from a tire store in Torrance. But since it was a day game from the east and we were on west coast time, the show started at 8:00. The store wasn’t even open until 10:00. We sat there alone in the parking lot.

And later that same year we did our broadcast from a car dealership in Anaheim, again set up in the parking lot. The dealer also happened to have his gardener there that day. All the listeners heard for a half an hour was a deafeningly loud leaf blower.

On the other hand -- at least they're LIVE.

They're local. They're unpredictable. All the things that radio used to be before networks, syndicated shows, voice tracking, satellites, simulcasting, and automation took over. Give me a leaf blower over Sean Hannity any day... although that has nothing to do with my views on remotes.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Dealing with rejection

I wrote a piece on Thursday about what it's like to write a boxoffice flop.  My point was to move on and work on something else.   A few years ago I wrote a piece more specific to dealing with rejection and thought this might be a good time to reprise it. 

Dealing with rejection is never easy. Especially when starting out. Barry Diller (the Dali Lama of sharks, pictured right) has the philosophy that when a deal falls through or is rejected, his automatic response is: “Next?!”

Writers need a thick skin, belief in themselves, and five times a week therapy (prom rebuffs linger large). The good news is if you’ve written a spec, all you need is one person to say yes. (I know, you could say that about the prom, too. Get over it already!)

I’ve saved all my rejection letters and wouldn’t you know, a number of the writers who initially said I sucked eventually submitted scripts to me looking for a job years later. (No, I didn’t just send back their rejection letters and flip flop the names…but I wanted to.)

Keep striving to improve, maybe find some constructive use in the rejection (if it’s offered and useful), but never let your worth be decided by someone else. Supposedly, Richard Wagner once wrote back to a critic who panned one of his works by saying (and I’m paraphrasing), “I am currently sitting on the toilet. At the moment your critique is in front of me. In a moment it will be behind me.”

I’ve written spec screenplays that have sold and others that haven’t. I used to ask my agent if they gave any reason for passing. I would hear such explanations as: too broad, not broad enough; too edgy, too soft; too familiar, too out there. And all these regarding the same script. My favorite rejection of all-time was from an idiot studio executive who said this about one of my screenplays:

“The writing was so good it almost fooled me into liking this script.”

How do you react to that other than laugh and drop him a note congratulating him on the success of FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY? I no longer ask for explanations. I no longer even wait to hear the reaction on one project before launching into another. I don’t consider any of my screenplays rejected, just “not having sold yet”.

NEXT?!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Vin Scully to return!!!

Vin Scully announced officially Friday night that he will return next year to broadcast Dodger games.  It will be his 63rd season.  I can't begin to tell you how relieved I am.  It's unthinkable to imagine Dodger baseball or LIFE without Vin Scully. 

Today is officially Thanksgiving.

What's Alan Alda really like?

It’s why we look forward to the weekend – Friday Questions!   What’s yours?


Becky Asks:

What was Alan Alda like in person? Hawkeye Pierce was my first character crush as a 10-year-old girl and I've always wanted to know what the actor was like as a person.

Becky, you’ll be happy to know Alan is a terrific guy. Much like Hawkeye except he can’t do heart surgery worth a shit.

But working with him on MASH, he was always supportive, always respectful, and always positive. He was a great cheerleader. Never would Alan say, “This doesn’t work, fix it.” He would always say, “What could we do to make it better?” The key words there were WE and BETTER.

Alan was always willing to pitch in, and unlike with some other TV stars, his participation was very welcomed. He’d occasionally come up to the room and help out in a rewrite, and if you pitched a good joke he’d always be the one laughing the loudest.  And then he'd take us out to dinner. 

I know it sounds like I’m nominating him for Pope, but I genuinely loved working with Alan Alda. And would jump at the chance to work with him again.


From Chris:

Here's one for friday: I remember you saying extras aren't allowed to talk or else they would have to be credited as actors, how does that work when an extra or two have to laugh and it's obvious it's their laugh are those actors?

Laughing is not considered dialogue. Extras can laugh without being considered day players.

It’s often hard though, to get extras to react big enough. Not their fault really. They’re so used to miming. But at times when you’ll want them to really react to something they’ll give a muted performance. Or worse, most will give a muted performance and one or two will go way over the top.

Like everything else, being a good extra is a skill.

Depending on the show, the laughter you hear from the extras may not even be from their own mouths. Especially if someone’s laugh is too distinctive and possibly distracting. Looping people come in during post production and add laughter, additional screams, and background walla walla. All that chatter you hear in TV squad rooms or busy hospital corridors – that is all recorded after the fact.

Smoke and mirrors... smoke and mirrors. 

Rob has a common CHEERS/U.S. Government question:

This morning someone who works for my company mentioned flags being lowered in Wisconsin for a former Chariman of the Joint Chiefs of staff. That reminded me of Admiral William Crowe, another former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who was born in the town where I lived for a large portion of my life. I looked him up to confirm that he was indeed born there and saw that he was in an episode of Cheers written by...

How in the world did you come to write an episode including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff?


Here’s the full story and a great excuse to plug my archives. Lots of good stuff in there if you’re incredibly bored one day.

ernie changes the subject:

How are you able to keep positive and up when the team's hitting is horrible and in a seventeen game losing streak?

That seventeen game streak is now just a distant memory. For all I know it didn't even happen.

Staying positive is easy because I love baseball and love broadcasting it. Every game is different. Just because a team is struggling doesn’t mean they can’t pull off incredible feats. And no matter how long you’ve been covering the game, from time to time you’ll always see something you’ve never seen before. This even goes for Vin Scully and at last count I think he’s witnessed 3,474,864,843 ballgames.

But you never know. Last week there were two triple plays. On any given night you might see a perfect game or someone hit for the cycle or a spectacular catch or seven errors. Not to get too flowery or poetic but baseball is the Greatest Show on Dirt.

And finally, from Betty:

How did you get that first spec to the producers of MTM and did you have an agent before you made that spec and how did you get him/her?

We did have an agent… sorta. She worked out of her house. So you could call her agency either fly-by-night or boutique. But she was licensed and a signatory to the WGA.

We were signed because her daughter was dating my partner.

She claimed she was friends with David Lloyd, a producer of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and submitted our spec MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW episode to him. When she didn’t hear back in a month she sent a second copy along with a tart letter accusing him of shirking his duty.

This infuriated David who promptly rejected our script and began his letter with “How dare you!” The rest of the note went downhill from there.

Once we sold a JEFFERSONS and joined the Guild we were able to move onto more effective and reputable representation.

Years later I worked with David Lloyd on CHEERS and brought up that story. He didn’t remember the incident but did say if he rejected our script he was sure it was shit.

And while we’re on the loose subject of archives, it’s worth going back and revisiting my thoughts on David Lloyd, a brilliant writer who passed away last year.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What's it like to have your movie flop at the boxoffic


There was an interesting article this week by Sean Hood, the screenwriter of CONAN THE BARBARIAN on what it’s like to have your movie flop at the boxoffice. A number of my readers emailed me asking how I handled major failure – the assumption of course being that I must have experienced that… probably often. Thank you for thinking of me. But the truth is, I have had my share of misfires. All writers do if you’ve been in the business long enough. The trick is not to have them first so you are able to be in the business for more than a cup of coffee.

But the short answer to the question is:  IT SUCKS!!!  

I will say this: it’s harder to weather failure now because there is so much more scrutiny. Websites and blogs make note of every step of every career and project. If a movie pitch is sold it’s a headline in the trades. That used to be a complete non-story. Today if you sell a pilot pitch and get a script commitment that warrants an entire article in Deadline Hollywood. It's just a script deal. Each network will make hundreds of them, and most of those projects won’t live beyond the second draft. An article for every one? So you’re always in a fishbowl. Yes, friends congratulate you when they see your name on Nikki Finke's site, but then they also see that ABC decided your pilot script was a piece of shit and junked it.

And if you’ve written a movie that tanks at the boxoffice, there’s nowhere to hide. Larry Gelbart used to get out of the country whenever one of his movies opened. If it were today he’d be getting texts in Addis Ababa and the one TV station in Ouagadougou would be showing ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT.

The only commodity more valued than hype in show business is schadenfreude, and now with the information highway, we can have both anytime anywhere, magnified to IMAX proportions. So a Friday movie tanking carries the same weight as a government junta.

My partner, David Isaacs and I wrote VOLUNTEERS. It was supposed to be released in late June of 1985. Unfortunately, RAMBO was a big hit so theater chains didn’t want to let go of it. Our release date was pushed back to August 16th – the dregs of the summer. Our studio, Tri-Star had the worst distribution. We couldn’t get into the major theaters in big cities. For example, in Los Angeles, you wanted to be in Westwood. That’s where all the Hollywood premieres you see are held – not in Hollywood. The Fox, Bruin, Avco – those were the primo screens. VOLUNTEERS opened at the Picwood, which was two miles from Westwood on Pico Blvd. next to a bowling alley and some furniture stores. We didn’t have a chance, despite some excellent reviews. You’d think Tom Hanks would be a draw. But another movie he had made, THE MAN WITH THE ONE RED SHOE – a true stinkburger – had opened and flopped just the week before. Great timing on our part. 

I walked up to the Picwood on Friday night at 6:30 and there was a line for our movie. I was excited. That excitement lasted maybe two minutes. Inside the lobby I encountered our producer, Dick Shepherd. First thing he says to me is, “We’re dead!”

I was stunned. “But what about the line…?” “Dead!” he repeated.

Early boxoffice returns from the east coast were average. That meant ‘dead’. So I went into the theater, the lights went down, and even though a sold-out house was roaring with laughter, all I could think of was “We’re dead. Will we ever get another movie assignment? Is our feature career over? Am I going to have to give back the Tri-Star jacket?” For years I dreamed about the day when a movie I wrote actually made it to the big screen and when that day finally came I couldn’t enjoy a moment of it.

Today, not only would I know the movie was dead but the audience would too, having received texts and RSS feeds and E! updates. They would have gone into the experience already with a preconception that what they were about to see wasn’t very good. I bet they wouldn’t have laughed as much. Same movie, same jokes, different mindset.

Dick Shepherd proved to be only half-right. VOLUNTEERS was not a big hit. But it broke even. And for whatever reason, does great on television. You still see it popping up all over the dial, which is pretty damn good for a 26 year-old movie.

Now MANNEQUIN TWO, that was a fucking disaster. On opening night there were two people in the theater. It was such a flop that word of its flopness did reach Ouagadougou that Friday, and this was before the internet. But I was braced for it. And like I said, failure comes with the territory. It’s just more of a public pantsing these days.

The advice Sean gives is the same I give – shake it off and just start working on something else. Go back to basics. I became a writer because I have this need to express myself. My ultimate goal wasn’t to see my name in print or get invited to one of the many Kardashian weddings.

There’s also another alternative. Sarah Palin’s film also opened to two people in the theater on opening night. So if your movie flops, either go back to the drawing board and begin work on a new project, or consider running for President.

Tomorrow is Friday question day.  But on Saturday I'll discuss dealing with rejection in greater detail.  So don't hang yourself just yet.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mike Flanagan 1951-2011

So sorry to hear of Mike Flanagan’s passing. He was only 59. I got to know him during my year broadcasting for the Orioles. After his playing career he worked in the front office for the Orioles and recently did color commentary on their TV broadcasts. He was beloved in Baltimore… and for good reason.

In my book about my year with the Orioles (IT’S GONE!…NO, WAIT A MINUTE) this is one of the sections I wrote about Flanny.

For all the hoopla regarding the Jim Palmer comeback, Mike Flanagan, at thirty-nine, who toiled for the Orioles from ’75 to ’87 and won the Cy Young Award in ’79, actually has a chance to make this ball club. Last year he was released by Toronto. In August he attended Jim Palmer’s induction ceremony into the Hall of Fame and bumped into Orioles’ GM Roland Hemond, who told him to call if he was ever interested in giving it another try. Roland’s phone rang this winter. Flanagan is a wonderful guy – great personality and (unusual for ballplayers) genuinely funny. On Toronto’s retractable roof he once remarked: “I wish it had retractable fences.” On teammate Mike Boddicker’s fastball after Boddicker had just pitched a game in Toronto, Flanagan observed: “We had him throwing eighty-eight miles per hour on the radar gun, but with the Canadian exchange rate, it was only eight-three.”

59. Way too young. He should not only still be alive, he was a lefty – he should still be pitching. RIP Mike Flanagan.

Crazy, Stupid, Love

I crazy, stupid, liked CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE. It was refreshing to see a romantic comedy where characters acted their age, the comedy was based on behavior and not violating a pie, and there were some genuinely big laughs. My biggest problem was that a better title for the movie might be CRAZY, STUPID, LONG.

They could have easily taken twenty minutes out of that movie and (a) you wouldn’t miss a thing, and (b) it would be a much tighter funnier and emotional film.

Not being a high concept romcom has it’s plusses and minuses. Again, I enjoyed watching people work through romantic entanglements as opposed to some contrived big hook like two idiots switch bodies after pissing in a fountain. Instead, we are treated to a series of subplots. And the problem there is that you have a lot of loose ends to tie up, and that takes time and additional scenes. The movie has a great beginning and nine so-so endings.

Of greater concern is that of all the plots, the main one with Steve Carrell and Julianne Moore was by far the least interesting. After many years she wants a divorce and he is cast out on his own. You’re supposed to hope that they get back together again I suppose but you really don’t. If there was some spark between them, some chemistry, some magic – I sure as hell missed it.  They were just two dull people and there was nothing to suggest that if they got back together again anything would be any different. At one point, after some tutoring by Ryan Gosling, Carrell starts sleeping with a bunch of women, and I’m thinking – Great, I’m satisfied. Let’s eat. But no, that’s not the end. That’s just the start of Act II.

As for performances, Steve Carrell plays the same character every time out -- the lovable schmuck trying to maintain his dignity and cover for his social awkwardness. And as such he's fine.  If there's a laugh to be had he got it for you.  Tim Allen used to play that part. Now it’s Carrell. Soon it will be Ty Burrell.

Julianne Moore has a tough assignment. How do you dump your puppy dog husband without having the audience absolutely hate you? With a mixture of skill and charm she somehow pulls it off. No easy task. It’s a tribute to her talent and likeability. But she’s not funny. And this becomes even more noticeable because everyone else in the film is.

Ryan Gosling really shines as the modern day Fonzie. He’s the real-life version of Barney on HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER. Gosling has the swagger, Gosling has the talk – his days of dating inflatable girls are over.

But stealing the show is Emma Stone. And she’s not in it that much. But every moment she’s on the screen your interest level goes through the roof. Her sequences with Gosling are the best scenes in the film.

Also notable is Jonah Bobo, who plays Carrell’s 13 year-old son, and Analeigh Tipton, who is the 17 year-old babysitter. Analeigh was perfect casting. A pretty teenage girl who is gawky and believable as a real teen. I’m sure someone at the studio said, “I bet with the right wardrobe Kate Hudson could play it”. Kudos to the producers for going authentic.

Kevin Bacon makes the most of a too-small role and the best thing is, since this is a big ensemble piece, I think you can now change the game to “Five Degrees of Kevin Bacon”.  Meanwhile, Marisa Tomei is funny and never ages.  I don't know how she does that.  She must have a portrait in her attic that now looks like Nancy Pelosi. 

Smart script by Dan Fogelman and the directing team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa get the laughs but never at the expense of the emotion. And if you think that’s easy, see any Nancy Meyer movie (at your own risk). This is what all of her films aspire to be and fall short by 2,000 miles.

CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE is worth seeing, especially if you liked… say, LOVE ACTUALLY and the length of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Darren Star thrown off his own show

Warning:  I'm feeling snarky and miscellaneous today. 

Darren Star has been banned from the set, writing room, and his office at the new ABC dramedy, GOOD CHRISTIAN BELLES. Despite taking full credit for the show, it seems there are actual showrunners and writers and they’re the ones in the trenches doing the actual work. A rift has occurred that has escalated to “him or us” status, and bless the studio or network or whoever made the call, but the people who are doing the work won out over the “name”. Darren will still give “notes” (but relayed through a studio person) and you can imagine how seriously those notes will be considered.

THE RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES – the story of the original rally monkey.

I really enjoyed the movie, but the fifteen trailers before it sucked. Plagues, haunted houses, remakes. And Daniel Craig in all of them.

The new TV development season is already underway and so far this year, comedy is king. Usually networks buy a lot of dramas early and dole out the comedy commitments the way you feed pigeons in the park. But this season it’s just the opposite. Either it means that comedy is having a true renaissance or when you put on shows with cops who see fairy tale characters you know there are no more drama premises out there.

The FCC has removed its long-ignored political “Fairness Doctrine”, which used to require that equal time be given to opposite points of view.   Equality -- what a horrible notion that is. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski justified the ruling by saying this – and I quote: “the Fairness Doctrine holds the potential to chill free speech and the free flow of ideas.” Huh??? Am I living in the bizarro world? It’s like if George Orwell ran Fox News.

Matt Holliday of the St. Louis Cardinals had to come out of last night’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers because a moth flew into his right ear.

First Sally ran away from Betty Draper and now Bobby… well, the latest Bobby. I think there have been three Bobbys (maybe five, I dunno, I can’t keep up). Anyway, Jared Gilmore (the latest Bobby) has bolted MAD MEN for ONCE UPON A TIME and taken a parting shot at TV mom, January Jones, saying everyone in the cast was really nice except her.  Ouch!  Heaven help the next Bobby.  I doubt Ms. Jones has concerned herself with trivial details like four different actors have played her son.  New Bobby's going to walk onto the set the first day and she's going to wash his mouth out with soap. 

Sitting with my daughter, Annie and her writing partner Jon -- we got into an interesting discussion. Who in ten years will have the biggest career – Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, or Rhianna? I say as long as there are productions of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA Lady Gaga will find work. What do you think?

Finally! There’s an iPhone App That Can Judge Watermelon Ripeness!

Wanna feel old? Robert Redford is 75. The Sundance fucking KID!!

NBC has a mid-season show called SMASH. It’s about making it on Broadway. The pilot is pretty good actually. I assume the height of “making it” is winning a Tony. But I bet SMASH won’t tell you what happens after you win a Tony. Because it’s a very tragic story. You go to Hollywood and get cast in a truly awful new fall network series. Just ask Laura Benanti (now in the laughable PLAYBOY CLUB) and Katie Finneran (co-star of the worst pilot I’ve seen so far – I HATE MY TEENAGE DAUGHTER). This is like original Monet paintings hanging in a Popeye’s Chicken.  The American Theater Wing should provide some counseling for these Tony winners. 

Whatever happened to Julian McMahon?

There was better attendance for three games of the Little League World Series last week than six home games for the Oakland A’s.

and finally.,..

According to Amazon, people who have recently bought my book, WHERE THE HELL AM I? TRIPS I HAVE SURVIVED ($2.99 E-book version. What are you waiting for?) also purchased DATING MY VIBRATOR, MOUSESCHAWITZ - MY SUMMER JOB OF CONCENTRATED FUN, THE SEX LIFE OF CANNIBALS, WHERE'S MY F*CKING LATTE? (AND OTHER STORIES ABOUT BEING AN ASSISTANT IN HOLLYWOOD), STOP DRESSING YOUR SIX-YEAR-OLD LIKE A SKANK, BUMFUZZLE - JUST OUT LOOKING FOR PIRATES, DO TAMPONS TAKE YOUR VIRGINITY?, SWAHILI FOR THE BROKENHEARTED, and DOUCHEBAG ROULETTE.

I'll be better tomorrow... or at least a little better.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Check out this bizarre TRIPLE play

From a AAA game between Nashville and Omaha. Here's how it works: runners at first and second. Fly ball to center. The ball glances off the outfielder's glove, then head, but he manages to catch the ball before it hits the ground. Both runners were on the move. The outfielder fired to second to double-up one and on to first to complete the triple play. Have a look.

DANGER! A new study says that TV can KILL!!!

It’s bad enough that sitting through an hour of THE VIEW can rot your brain. Now comes a study that says for every hour of television you watch after the age of 25, it shortens your life by 22 minutes. This is according to researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia.

So do the math.  If you watch six hours of television a night, you will die five years sooner. That means that the third largest cause of death, right behind cancer and heart problems, is the LAW & ORDER franchise.

I’m sure the two people in the television industry who have a conscience will find these research findings disturbing. Especially if they’re responsible for crap. There is much blood on the hands of reality show producers. And Jeff Zucker.

Others in TV will dismiss this study. Just like Phillip Morris continues to make cigarettes, Tyra Banks will continue to host talk shows.

Me? I see it as an opportunity. BREAKING BAD and THE C WORD are both doing well (I hope they can live with themselves). I want to create a show about a guy who’s dying because he signed up for the DirectTV premium package. Black humor abounds! “I might as well sell DDT to farmers, I love WHEEL OF FORTUNE”.

Of course the study also admits that it’s inactivity more than the shows themselves that cause this hastened demise. Time in front of the flatscreen would be better spent exercising or being active in any other possible way. And a bad diet may be a factor as well. Personally, I like to think of a Double-Whopper as the food equivalent of Carson Daly.

But the survey goes further. Sitting in front of the computer six hours a day increases your risk of death by 40%. Yikes! Fortunately for me, no one ever reads my archives so I’m not keeping anyone for more than maybe two minutes.

But all of us computer users have to ask ourselves the same gut wrenching question -- just how important is watching porn worth to us?  

And things get worse STILL.  The study doesn’t address it but it occurs to me – if TV watching is hazardous, and computer time is hazardous, what about watching TV shows streamed on your computer? Why that’s just SUICIDE!

In any event, I think the lesson here is clear. Get outside. Do things. Be out in the world. Unless of course you do and get hit by a bus, or fall off a mountain hiking. You’d still be around 22 minutes longer if you were home watching THE TALK. You might wish you were not alive but still. 

Stay tuned for my new series, THE TIVO WORD -- coming soon.  (I'm rushing it so you'll still be around to see it.) 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What Actors Hate (Besides Other Actors)

As mentioned in this space before, writers need to remember that actors perform their material. And there are certain things actors hate. As a public service, when writing your script, here are some of those traps that will make for unhappy actors and by extension, an unhappy you.

Actors hate having to give exposition. It’s dry, it’s informational, it’s not fun. Unfortunately, SOMEONE has deliver the exposition. The trick is to spread it around, find ways to hide it, and make it entertaining. Necessary information woven into a joke is a great solution. Exposition itself is a great topic for a later post.

Actors don’t like just asking questions in a scene. They didn’t spend four years finding their “inner center”, “emotional truth triggers” and portraying ice cream cones just to ask questions. But sometimes there is a great temptation to do that. Actor “A” knows all this information, Actor “B” needs to know it. In real life, it’s a simple conversation of Q&A. Not in actor-life. Massage the scene so that Actor “B” has some jokes or comments, or Actor “A” shares information without being prompted.

Similarly, actors don’t like just doing set-ups for other actors’ jokes. Bud Abbott is dead. Spread around the wealth. The tough thing here is knowing Actor “A” is funny and Actor “B” is a lox. Still, you have to throw him a bone or two. Or work in some jokes in the set ups themselves. Or re-cast.

Here’s a common rookie mistake: Having an actor in a scene and not giving him a line for a page or two…or four. If he’s in the scene he needs to have a purpose and needs to be a participant. If he has no purpose, find a way to get his ass out of there. You’d think actors want as much screen time as possible but they would MUCH rather be out of a scene than be a piece of furniture in it.

Here’s a biggie: parentheticals – those little bracketed indicators that suggest the intent of the line. Most actors are irritated, even offended by them. They feel it’s their job to discover the intent. And they like the freedom to interpret the lines as they choose. That’s fine to a point. I still use this device, albeit sparingly (same with underlining specific words I want stressed) because first and foremost I want my scene to be interpreted correctly. But like I said, I am very judicious. I never indicate (angry), (sad), or (jaundiced but insouciant).

That said, you’re probably writing your script to be READ not PERFORMED (actors hate capitol letters too.) So in the interest of having a reader better understand your script and maybe buying it, you can sprinkle in a few more parentheticals. (warning) But don’t go crazy.

Actors balk at thankless roles. The best friend, the harpy-wet blanket, the “Ralph Bellamy” boring third guy in a triangle soon to be dumped (Ralph Bellamy -- pictured above -- played this role in HIS GIRL FRIDAY and 297 other movies), and any role played by Emily Mortimer. Find a way to make these characters interesting, complex, or maybe let Ralph Bellamy get the girl.

Long speeches: Actors like ‘em and hate ‘em. They like having a big juicy emotional speech and they hate having to memorize them. Forget that human beings don’t normally speak in long speeches, if you want to give a character a big speech, fine. Don’t give him six. And give him spots to breathe.

Actors protect their characters, as well they should. Writers sometimes have the tendency to sacrifice their characters’ integrity for the sake of a big joke. I gotta side with actors on this one. Once you’ve sacrificed a character you can’t go back. Find another joke.

And finally, most actors don’t want to be seen in an unflattering light. They may voice their objections in gobs of Byzantine actor-speech, but trust me, the real issue is they don’t want to look weak, or mean, or playing the girlfriend of the Elephant Man. They can have flaws but within reason. What you need to do here is either give the characters interesting shadings, multi-dimensions (not always weak, not always giving dogs caramels to eat) or make the parts so meaty that actors suddenly would kill to play them. Villains, in particular, can be delicious, despite how hateful and cruel they are. Is there a more fun character than J.R. Ewing? Or Simon Cowell? Or my favorite champagne villain, Alan Rickman in DIE HARD?

By making a concerted effort to accommodate the actors’ needs (and most of these are just good general writing tips) you stand a much better chance that the actors will embrace your script and even add to it. Their wardrobe and make up issues? That’s someone else's problem.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

An even more sexist ad

Yeah, I would say this is more sexist than the helpless wife having to drive all alone in the scary car. I would also say, "Yikes!"  Don Draper, you should be ashamed!

Thanks to reader DogsOnDrugs.com for the heads-up on this ad.

Explain this one to me

Why do certain things go viral? This is an ad from the '60s for Goodyear tires that someone recently posted and already it's gotten close to a million hits. Why? Plus, it's labeled the "Most Sexist Ad of All-Time". Huh?? What am I missing?

Shooting Just Shoot Me

Here's an episode I directed that I'm particularly proud of. It's for JUST SHOOT ME, written by Andy Gordon and Eileen Conn. I had a lot to wrestle with that week, including an orangutan, rushing water stunt, and glow-in-the-dark paint effect. I'm sure you'll recognize the guest star. It's Lisa Edelstein from HOUSE.

The last scene was particularly wild. It was quite complicated and required numerous pick-ups. Problem was, I was fighting the clock. The issue wasn't going overtime and running the budget up. It was that the orangutan had a bedtime and if he wasn't in bed in time he got mean and would start biting and attacking people. I needed an hour for the pick ups. I got ten minutes. Happy to say mission accomplished and no humans were harmed during the filming of this show.



Friday, August 19, 2011

How do you react to bad plastic surgery and other Friday questions

Who’s up for some Friday questions?

Beth Ciotta gets us started:

As a new and avid fan of BECKER via reruns.... Becker is, on the surface, a pretty despicable guy, yet I feel for him, root for him. Do you consider him the most difficult character you ever tried to humanize. If not... who and why?

Humanizing the character was made easy by casting Ted Danson in the role. He has a natural warmth that takes the curse off a lot of the outrageous things he says. Cast Ron Leibman in the part and the audience would storm CBS.  But Ted could get away with it.  And charm is not something you can just learn.  Trust me, I've taken many courses.

John asks:

Ken, have you ever taken a premise created for characters on one show that might not have been used and tweaked it to fit characters on another show?

Yes. There is a slightly neurotic Jewish character with simmering anger and a biting wit that keeps popping up in our work. Adam Arkin played him in BIG WAVE DAVE’S, Chip Zien played him in ALMOST PERFECT, and Jason Alexander & Chip Zien both played him in my play. The one line description of him might be “Show me an unhappy Jew and I’ll show you a happy Jew”.

But we give the character different names and backgrounds. It’s not like Kilgore Trout appearing in a bunch of Kurt Vonnegut novels.

Quispette wonders:

I was watching a favorite 1970s show that had a bonus "Where Are They Now" clip for the DVD.

The men looked about how you would expect. But several women had opted for extreme plastic surgery--I found myself really distracted as they spoke--gaping at the unflattering results.

Do you ever run into people you used to know back in the day now rendered unrecognizable? How do you handle that?

I try not to gasp.   I'm not always successful.

From Chris:

Sometimes I see big decisions that affect a number of following episodes being written by freelancers/non-staff writers, like a character moving in with others or taking a new job. Who takes those decisions, is it the writer him/herself or does the showrunner/execs decide and tell whoever is gonna write the episode?

It's the showrunner. The freelancer may come in with that story and the showrunner responds to it, but generally, the freelancer or staff writer is assigned the story. It always amazed me when people would write spec episodes of LOST. How the hell did they even have a clue where the show was going?
It used to be that a freelancer would pitch story ideas to the producer. If the producer liked the story he bought it and hired the freelancer to write it. Rarely is that the case today. Producers are impressed with a spec, bring a young writer in and give them the story.   It makes sense.  Generally, seasonal arcs are plotted out and for the freelancer to come in with a perfect story is like scoring a bullseye on a moving target. 

And finally, from Barbara C.:

Have you ever done any video commentaries? Do you wish that was something going on during your MASH, Cheers, or Frasier years or are you just as glad not do have to deal with that bother?

Yes, on the two SIMPSONS episodes we wrote. Great fun. They put you in a recording studio, screen the episode and you just riff while it unfolds.

I would have loved to do commentaries for CHEERS or FRASIER. Paramount’s presentation for the DVD’s of those two series is lackluster and cheap. Little or no bonus features. Maybe they’ll put something together for the Blu-Ray releases, but I’m not holding my breath. Not even holding my breath there will BE Blu-Ray releases.

What’s your question? Leave ‘em in the comments section. Many thanks.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

On the eve of the fall season, an open letter to the networks

Been screening some of the comedy pilots for the fall season. Can’t really comment on specifics because (a) I haven’t seen all of them, (b) a number of them are being revised (some drastically), and (c) some were so fucking awful I couldn’t make it through ten minutes.

A few showed promise but sorry to say there’s not one real knockout like MODERN FAMILY in the bunch. And it’s not like they’re even shooting for it. TWO AND HALF MEN seems to be the gold standard. Several of these pilots felt like Disney Channel sitcoms with raunch. Tired themes dressed up with sex jokes and pretty young people. No one over 40 was cast unless they starred in at least four previous sitcoms.

I kept thinking while watching some of these leadened forced attempts at hilarity – these tested well? There were other pilots that tested even worse than this?

We all know network decisions are based primarily on research results (the rest on commitments) so obviously these pilots that made it to series did pass the grade in testing. And we also know that 90% of these new shows will fail. Among last season’s testing darlings were LOVE BITES, OUTSOURCED, RUNNING WILDE, BETTER WITH YOU, and the inexplicable PAUL REISER SHOW which was mercifully pulled after just two episodes. Testing is an in-exact science… at best.

So I have an experiment, a suggestion I throw out to the networks. Take one of your pilots – a show geared to a young audience (i.e. any of them) – and re-test it on the internet.

Make it available to everybody to screen, not just a few hundred hand-selected flood victims. Promo it on the air so you’ll drive new traffic to your online site. Let everybody rate it. Let everybody weigh in. Sure, you’re going to get 3,000,000 comments and 2,000,000 of them will be insane. And yes, you won’t have any control factors. You’ll have no idea how many of the test subjects watched the whole thing. And you won’t be able to vouch for the accuracy of their profile data.

But…

You might get some surprising results. You might get a reaction wildly different from the one you got through traditional testing. Or you might get the exact same reaction and that tells you something too.  And guaranteed you'll get a much larger sample size. 

So let’s say the results are very different. The show finally airs and is a hit or not. Which test proved to be the most accurate?

The time to do this is right now, before the new fall season. Take one show, just one, and offer it up on your website. You have nothing to lose and much to gain. You may have discovered a better research tool, and you may help generate good buzz on promising shows.

The best way to pick shows is to go with your gut, of course.  But since will never happen, then go with ours.   Who knows?  Maybe the failure rate will plummet to 75%.  And you'll have some really hilarious comments to pass around to your friends.

Part 3 of my Fall Movie Preview is here.

Fall Movie Preview Part 3

Wrapping up the Fall Movie Preview. See you at the Cineplex.


J. EDGAR – Leonardo DiCaprio in J. Edgar Hoover biopic. Oscar talk already. J.Edgar’s gowns supposedly knockout!

HUGO – After directing BOARDWALK EMPIRE for television, Martin Scorsese decided to return to features before getting roped into megging episodes of THE GLADES. This one is set in 1931 Paris, features the obligatory Parisian robot, and is shot in Trois-D.

THE ARTIST – A silent movie shot in black-in-white. It’s not like MR. WOODCOCK where the release date kept getting pushed back. Wasn’t made originally in 1921 and held back until the right opening weekend could be found. Supposed to be amazing.


TOWER HEIST – Caper film starring Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy. They try to steal $20,000,000 from someone who didn’t deserve it originally. If they want to accomplish the same thing Eddie could just give back the money he took for MEET DAVE and THE ADVENTURES OF PLUTO NASH.


JACK AND JILL – Adam Sandler plays dual roles as a brother and his sister. This way he can be twice as unfunny.


MY WEEK WITH MARILYN – A week in the life of Marilyn Monroe. But not a week in which she slept with Sinatra, DiMaggio, Miller, Kazan, Dougherty, Slatzer, Montand, Gable, Brando, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, or (as a favor to one of the Kennedys) Lawford. Makes you wonder what did happen the week they picked.


A DANGEROUS METHOD – Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud. When Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung bangs Keira Knightley, Siggie goes all TEXAS CHAINSAW 3 on his analytical ass.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO – The story of Diablo Cody.

THE DESCENDANTS – Alexander Payne’s first film since SIDEWAYS. Can’t wait. One of my favorite filmmakers and one of my favorite stars -- George Clooney.


WAR HORSE – Not to be confused with the Cher concert film. Steven Spielberg directs this adaptation of an extraordinary play set in World War I.


SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS – Robert Downey Jr. is back as the badass sleuth facing his arch nemesis Moriarty (played by Jared Harris – Bryce Lane from MAD MEN). He can’t outwit Joan, how’s he going to do against Sherlock Holmes?

NEW YEAR’S EVE – Follow up to Garry Marshall’s VALENTINE’S DAY. Same thing. A holiday theme, bunch of stars, gaggle of little story lines. Next up for Garry, YOM KIPPUR.


THE IRON LADY – Since everybody knows it’s impossible to find a good British actress, they had to resort to Meryl Streep to play former prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. Judi Densch, Helen Mirren, and Maggie Smith probably read and just weren’t right. I mean, you just don’t believe them as English. Not like you do with Meryl Streep.


ALBERT NOBBS – Glenn Close as a woman who masquerades as a male butler in 19th Century Ireland. Not only does she pull it off, everyone thinks she’s Red Buttons.


THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN – The lovable German shepherd is back with Rusty and the rest of the gang from Fort Apache. Oh wait. That’s Rin Tin Tin. This is a motion-capture movie of a Belgium comic book character. Directed by Steven Spielberg. So it’s the “childlike wonder” Steven Spielberg as opposed to the “ravages of war-where’s my Oscar?” Steven Spielberg.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCAL – Before you say, “Oh no, not again”, this one is directed by Pixar’s Brad Bird so expect a decent story that makes sense for once. As for Tom Cruise -- he can run, he can jump, he can grin, he can grimace. That’s pretty much all any director is going to get out of the guy.

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: SHIPWRECKED -- The events in Germany that led to the emergence of Adolph Hitler.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What is Sleeping Beauty really about?

Lots of discussion in the comments section today about what SLEEPING BEAUTY is. See if you can decipher from this trailer what the plot is.



Actually, my description -- although in jest -- was half right. A girl joins a brothel where the johns prefer the prostitutes to be drugged during, uh... client consultations. Sounds like a Sunday drive into some serious sick subject matter.  On the other hand, if you're on a first date and the guy takes you to this, you have a bit of a glimpse into just who he is. 

Heaven help the moms who gather their kiddies around the TV and pop in this movie that they ordered off of Netflix thinking it was the Disney version of SLEEPING BEAUTY.

My Fall Movie Preview wraps up tomorrow.

Fall Movie Preview Part 2

More of the movies you'll be subjected to this fall. Part 1 was yesterday.

WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER? – High concept romantic comedy (aren’t they all?) starring Anna Faris as a girl who must determine which of her twenty former lovers is her true love. Damn! There goes my Wilt Chamberlain notion. He has to choose between his 20,000 former lovers. And I’m already on page 3,473 on the screenplay.


I DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT – The question usually asked whenever Sarah Jessica Parker lands a starring role.


RED STATE – Kevin Smith’s low budget horror film about religious zealots who kill for Jesus. I wondered when Kevin was finally going to make a holiday movie. And while we’re on the subject…

MACHINE GUN PREACHER – Pass the collection plate. I’m out of bullets.

APOLLO 18 – Astronauts get to the moon and discover a Roger Maris home run ball.

SHARK NIGHT 3D – It’s like you’re actually there at the testimonial dinner for Ari Emmanual.


FOOTLOOSE – Why?????

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE – High school girl with split personalities. Advance reaction from critics: Loved her, liked her, loathed her, and really loved her.

PARIAH – High school girl who leads different lives. Doesn’t that sound like exactly like MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE?


YOUNG ADULT – Jason Reitman & Diablo Cody team up again, this time for a tale about 30 year-old who acts like she’s still a high school girl. So Seth Rogen/Jason Segel/Jonah Hill without the Y chromosome. Or... Charlize Theron playing Juno. I love the creative team. Got my fingers crossed for this one.  

IN TIME – Sci-Fi genre. 27 year-old Olivia Wilde plays 30 year-old Justin Timberlake’s mother. Based on Hugh Hefner’s most recent engagement.

LIKE CRAZY – Trying to sustain a long distance romance. One of many Sundance Festival prize winners. That’s the other theme this season – Sundance hits. Hope it does better than other Sundance sensations like IN THE SOUP, THE SPITFIRE GRILL, HAPPY TEXAS, SON OF RANBOW, and HAMLET 2.

THE RUM DIARY – Early Hunter S. Thompson novel starring Johnny Depp. I can see myself being at the Hollywood ArcLight on a Friday night, packed house with Johnny Depp fans, and I’m the only one in the theater who even has a clue as to who Hunter S. Thompson was.

TEXAS KILLING FIELDS – Any open space in Texas not occupied by a WalMart.


THE THING – Actually a prequel to John Carpenter’s original movie. So this is more of THE ‘JESUS, WHAT DO YOU CALL THAT?


PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 – Not in 3D though, since they don’t make Flip Cameras in that format.


SLEEPING BEAUTY – Erotic telling of the classic fairy tale. Not sure what that means. Do the fairies slip her a roofie?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fall Movie Preview Part 1

Not a baseball movie
The summer theme was “sequels”. For the fall it’s “apologizing for the premise because it’s not an easy sell”. Filmmakers are saying their movies are not what they clearly are. First up are a few examples as we begin our annual Fall Movie Preview.

As always, these are my impressions based on loglines, articles, trailers, hearsay, and everything except actually seeing any of these movies.  But that's what makes my capsule reviews so gosh darn accurate. 


MONEYBALL – Baseball is a hard sell internationally. Fortunately it’s not a movie about baseball. Star Jonah Hill claims, “It’s about thinking differently.” A movie about the Oakland A’s trying to win a pennant is NOT about baseball. How stupid does he think the French are?

DRIVE – Not an action-thriller about a guy driving getaway cars starring Ryan Gosling. No, according to director Nicolas Winding Refn, after the two were listening to REO Speedwagon on the radio, “It became a completely different movie out of this strange, mystical relationship between Ryan and me in that moment in the car.” 90 minutes of car chases and crashes are just coincidental.


THE IDES OF MARCH – Director/star/co-writer George Clooney insists this movie about a presidential campaign is not a political movie. “It’s about a guy doing anything to win at the cost of his soul. Those are universal themes you could play with in any genre or in any workplace.” Clooney plays a presidential candidate trying to win a state primary. So I guess, what? It’s ON THE WATERFRONT with campaign buttons?

THE BIG YEAR – This is a film about competitive bird watching. Or is it? Director David Frankel says, “For me, it was never really a movie about bird watching. This is about three guys who want to be the best at something. There’s kind of a bromance at the heart of it.” If someone says, “Hey, there’s an eagle” it’s a friggin’ movie about bird watching.

PUSS IN BOOTS – You might think it’s just a spinoff of SHREK with Antonio Bandaras reprising his hilarious tabby role but no, director Chris Miller says “It’s a redemption tale. He’s searching for a way to clear his name and wash away the sins of his past.” No it’s not! It’s a goddamn commercial holiday family animated comedy that the studio is hoping will clean up at the boxoffice. Sorry. The cat’s out of the bag.

REAL STEEL – A robot boxing movie. But attention Academy voters, director Shawn Levy insists, “the movie is really about the father and son and the relationship between them.” Right. The thinking man’s TRANSFORMERS.


IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY – First off, it was written and directed by Angelina Jolie so right away -- DANGER! DANGER! The subject: the Bosnia Civil War of 1992-1995. But according to Ms. Jolie, “It’s about what happens to people.” Later she says, “I felt like I didn’t make a film about people. I tried to make a film with people.” Please, Angelina, go back to acting and just do GIA 2.

WE BOUGHT A ZOO – but director Cameron Crowe says it’s about the human relationships that he’s emphasizing. That said, I’m a huge Cameron Crowe fan so am looking forward to it no matter what species gets the best lines.

Now here are some movies that do own up to what they are, although I’m sure they're chock full of universal themes, celebrations of the human spirit, and explorations of the truth.

A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS – Holiday snowboarding and waterboarding.

THE MUPPETS – Either a comic romp featuring our beloved characters or a metaphor for how we’re all puppets in a decaying society. With songs. And toys for sale.

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DOWN – PART 1 – America’s favorite hickey couple are at it again.

CONTAGION – A contagious disease wipes out millions including many A-list actors. You know how stars love their death scenes. Especially good buzz on Gwyneth Paltrow’s seizure death.


DREAM HOUSE – THE SHINING goes suburban.


ANONYMOUS – Film maintains that William Shakespeare didn’t write those plays. They were really room written by Sir. Charles Lorre and his band of merry scribes.

More tomorrow...

Monday, August 15, 2011

On the road again

Rangers Park, Dallas.  Photo by Jon Wolfert
Here's another travelogue. I file these whenever I go out of town. A compilation of them is available in my new book, WHERE THE HELL AM I? TRIPS I HAVE SURVIVED, available in all ebook formats for only $2.99 and paperback for only $6.99. Order yours here. Heck, order many dozen. Thanks.

Have Announcer Will Travel. Back from a whirlwind two weeks calling Mariners games. My three stops: Seattle, Anaheim, Dallas. Arrived in Seattle – it was 50 degrees. Left Dallas – it was 112. Packing was fun.

This was the start of the annual Seafair festival in Seattle, a stellar summer celebration with parades, hydroplane races (only slightly less dangerous than juggling live grenades), and Fleet Week. Over 5,000 Navy and Coast Guard personal poured out of their ships for a week of shore leave. Everywhere these sailors went in their white starched uniforms they were treated like heroes and deservedly so. Saw quite a few out at the ballpark. They missed a bet in THE LAST DETAIL not having Jack Nicolson take Randy Quaid to a Mariners game on his last day before life-in-prison.

The Navy brought San Diego weather with them. By mid-week it was absolutely glorious. Clear sunny skies and temperatures in the high 70’s. When it’s not cold and rainy, the Pacific Northwest is the most beautiful region on earth. Which is not to say that there’s anything wrong with the gloom. They film the TWILIGHT movies in the nearby Olympic Peninsula city of Forks. Although now I hear a lot of the vampires in the area are complaining about the new influx of tourists.

Speaking of tourists, I almost got run over eighteen times by Duck Tours. There must be 1,000 of these land/sea vehicles. Everyone thinks it’s so awesome that a car can also be a boat. Have they ever heard of a Volkswagen?

It’s the 50th anniversary of the famous Seattle Space Needle, erected in 1962 specifically for the Elvis Presley classic motion picture, IT HAPPENED AT THE WORLD’S FAIR. Apparently there’s a company that will blast people 60 miles into space and this is the grand prize of a contest the Needle officials are throwing. That should be the second-place prize. First-place is NOT being shot 60 miles into space.

The “Grunge” look is still very “in” with Seattle’s street people.

SEATTLE WEEKLY released their “Best of 2011” edition. My favorites:

“Best Place to Meet Single Men” – Don’t know.


“Best Place to Meet Single Women” – Online.


“Best Public Restroom” – Sanitary Market Building


“Best Hair on a News Anchor” – Dan Lewis, KOMO

The Mariners wound up sweeping the Oakland Bad News Bears and headed south for Anaheim. The flight from Seattle took two-and-a-half hours, roughly the same time it takes me to drive to Anaheim from my home thirty miles away.

We stayed in Costa Mesa across the street from a huge upscale shopping mall called the South Coast Plaza -- Orange County’s answer to the Mall of America. Every high-end store in the world has an outlet there. It’s the Mall of Conservative America. There’s also a Jerry’s Famous Deli, a local chain. But this one is unique in that you never see any Jews in it.

Teams from a girls’ water polo tournament were staying at our hotel. Every time I stepped into the elevator there were eight gorgeous bouncy blond athletic coeds. I felt like Buck Henry as Uncle Roy on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. “Hey, little girls, wanna play ‘Horsie’?”

Went to the Crab Cooker in Newport Beach for lunch. This is a funky seafood joint where everything comes on paper plates and the clam chowder is God’s mouthwash. Very informal; they don’t take reservations. One night the owner got a call from the White House. Then-President Nixon was staying in nearby San Clemente and had heard good things about this humble eatery. The president wanted to have dinner there that Saturday night. The owner said, “That’s great. Have him get here around 5:30 because at 6:00 there’s usually a line.” I can just imagine the subsequent conversation. Aide: “You don’t understand. This is a tremendous honor. The president of the United States wants dine in your restaurant . We’ll need you to close that night. ” Owner: “Look, that’s super but Saturday is a big night. Besides, as a rule I don’t close the place for private parties.” Aide: “As a rule?! As a RULE?! This is not some Bar Mitzvah reception! This is the Commander-in-Chief of the free world!” Owner: “Right. So just get him here at 5:30 and he won’t have to wait.” (Yes, I’m paraphrasing but the incident is accurate.) Needless to say, the president did not dine there. And the Crab Cooker received much better press than if he had. If Nixon were smart he would have just placed a take-out order and had Spiro Agnew drive over and pick it up.

I wouldn’t think that Ludacris’ target audience would be Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim fans but he performed a free concert at the Big A. following one of our games and over 40,000 people stuck around for the show. I can just picture it. He’s singing “You’z A Hoe” and the crowd is doing the wave.

The Mariners outscored the Angels 6-4 in the three-game series and lost two of ‘em. It’s been that kind of a year.

Next stop: Big D. Arrived at 9:30 Sunday night. Stepped off the plane and Holy Christ! It was a blow furnace. Imagine Dante’s Inferno with a lot of WalMarts. Facebook friend, Kat Winn Blanchard said, “It's so hot, Lady Gaga's meat dress is well done”.

Stayed at a fabulous hotel – the Four Seasons resort right next to the Las Colinas golf course, home of the HP Byron Nelson Championship. I’m sure it’s a beautiful course in the spring but now it’s just yellow. There were more golfers than balls in the lakes.

Actual story in a Dallas newspaper: Two new In-N-Outs were opening.

Italian designer/architect, Santiago Calatrava just completed an impressive bridge from downtown Dallas to nowhere. It ends in a slum and there’s no water or anything else to cross. It’s just there. This curious 40-foot structure with cables in a geometric design. Sometimes the Big D. stands for daft.

Oh no! One of Dallas’ great landmarks is gone. The Washateria where Lee Harvey Oswald used to take his laundry is now a Vegan restaurant.

Fortunately, the city is not completely turning its back on its rich heritage. You can take an all-day Bonnie & Clyde bus tour – see bank locations that they robbed, the Barrow family’s original old filing station, and even a house or two were innocents were needlessly gunned down. These are not Duck Tours because there is no water in Dallas other than on golf course and city park lakes, and they’ll all be bone dry by August 18th.

According to legend, Clyde’s last words were, “What do we need a fancy bridge to West Dallas for?”

Highlight of the Dallas leg (besides winning one of three from the Rangers) was getting a private tour of Cowboys Stadium. From the outside it looks like a silver version of Darth Vader’s helmet. It’s the largest domed stadium in the world. And Dallas is so flat you can see it from Lubbock.

Inside it’s a marvel. Seating capacity is 85,000 but it can go as high as 100,000 for special events like the Super Bowl or a Sarah Palin appearance. The stadium high definition video board is literally 60 yards wide. I wonder if the all-night crew ever puts porn up on that baby. Debbie would REALLY be doing Dallas on that humungous screen.

Outside the building there’s a statue of former coach, Tom Landry, wearing his traditional Stetson fedora hat. A passerby wondered why they had a statue of Sinatra out there. What is it with these people? This is the land of religious zealots, bridges to nowhere, Fox News, and (spotted at a coffee shop in a pod mall) nitwits dining outside in 112 temperatures.

Headed home Thursday morning. The TSA process at Dallas-Ft. Worth International was the easiest, fastest, and most courteous of any airport I’ve ever been to. And yet, recently the sheriff of Dallas County tried to push his way through the screening machines, blustering that he could because he was the sheriff of Dallas County. Too bad the airport is in Fort Worth County. Federal authorities led him away. Seriously, what is with these huckleberries?

The Mariners went 5-4 on my stint. Thanks to Kev, Rick, Blow, Sims, Shannon, Eric, Jon, KGJ, and of course Casper for helping to make this a winning trip, even if only by one game.