Sunday, June 30, 2013

One of the worst movie trailers EVER

Here's a movie trailer for THE LEGEND OF LYLAH CLARE, a 1968 film about the inner workings of Hollywood.  I defy you to find one frame of subtlety in this movie.  I think even Faye Dunaway would say, "Whoa, ease up on the throttle."  This movie  makes  THE OSCAR seem understated.   My thanks to bad movie aficionado, Mark Legan for turning me onto this gem.  I'm guessing it's not available on Netflix.  Enjoy.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Even I can't get an agent

The difficulty in securing an agent is not confined to those writers just starting out. I tried to get a theatrical agent when I wrote my play a few years ago and hit a brick wall, even with my resume. And I didn’t list AfterMASH so I know it’s not that.

The Hollywood literary agency that represented me did not have a theater department so when I wrote my play a few years ago I decided to get a second agent to handle that facet of my career. Unlike these major conglomerates with three letters that handle screenwriters, theatrical agencies are all boutique. Going down the list it seemed every Jewish girl who wouldn’t go out with me now has an agency.

I made a few calls and found no one was interested. The fact that (a) I wasn’t 25, and (b) they couldn’t cash in on movie rights made me persona non representita. And this was before anyone even bothered to read my play.

Through a playwright friend, I was referred to one agent – we’ll call her Beth B. I had a nice conversation with her, she said she really wasn’t looking to take on new clients but wanted to read my play. So I sent it along with a resume. Two weeks later I get a letter from her. The first sentence was “Ohmygod, I had no idea you co-created ALMOST PERFECT!” She went on to say it was her favorite show, the writing was brilliant, she wrote a letter to CBS complaining when they cancelled it, it was like we were in her bedroom, and she was often confused for our star, Nancy Travis. I thought – I am IN!

Next paragraph – pass.

Okay. Whatever.

A few months later I was in New York and decided to call her again. Sometimes when people meet they click and who knows? Maybe she’d have a change of heart. She agreed to meet with me.

It took three trains to get down to her agency. Every other agency was in mid-town, in the theatre district. This one was in the land of discount sneakers and checks cashed while you wait. Once there, after waiting a good half hour, Beth B. finally appeared and ushered me back to her office. My first thought upon seeing her was – Nancy Travis? The only thing she had in common with Nancy Travis was that they both breathed air. Beth B. was large, horn rimmed glasses, and had giant frizzy Carole King hair.

After the pleasantries, she explained that she liked to represent hot young playwrights who lived in New York. The key to her was they’d be able to go to openings and readings and be seen in all the right places.

I said, “what if I produced my play in LA and it got good reviews?” She said that would be disastrous for it ever getting mounted in New York. I suggested that maybe the New York theatre scene was a tad elitist, fully expecting her to back off and say “No, no, not at all.” Instead, she said proclaimed, “Yes, that’s right.” I was a little thrown and wondered if New York had the theatre to support it. “Suessical? Thousand Clowns with Tom Sellick? Annie Get Your Gun with Crystal Bernard? There weren’t exactly new Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams pieces starring Brando or Burton coming in this season.”

It was clear we were not “clicking”. So finally, I asked Beth B. what advice she could give me? She thought for a moment and finally said, “Write”. I said, “Excuse me?” She repeated it. “Write. I find that the first play is an introduction, the second gets a reading, the third gets a workshop, and the fourth maybe gets a production. So just keep writing.”

I nodded and finally said, “Beth, that’s great advice. In fact, it’s the same advice I’ve been giving young writers… for THIRTY YEARS. But since I’ve had more of my work produced on a national level than all your clients combined times ten I think I can SKIP A STEP.”

Beth B. was not on the invite list for my New York reading.

I know it’s discouraging when an agent doesn’t want you, but always remember, there are plenty of agents out there that YOU don’t want. If it takes more time to find a better match it’s worth it.

Friday, June 28, 2013

How accurate is CALIFORNICATION?

For many of you the 4th of July holiday begins today. What better way to celebrate than with Friday Questions?

Dodgerdog has one near and dear to my heart:

Both "Episodes" and "Californication" have story arcs involving television writers getting it on with hot young actresses on their shows. (Hilarity ensues.)

The public is well aware that movie producers and directors often have "special" relationships with star actresses, but in films, the writers tend not to be around for the shoot, whereas in TV, the writers are always there (along with the producers and directors of course).

No question David Duchovny and Stephen Mangan are attractive guys. My question: since television writers are writing these shows, how much of this is from their own or observed experience as television writers, and how much is wishful fantasy?

There’s an old joke – Did you hear about the Polish actress who tried to get ahead in Hollywood by sleeping with writers?

I’m not saying it never happens, but it just doesn’t happen enough. That said, there have been occurrences. Chris Thompson created NAKED TRUTH for Tea Leoni that resulted in a rather public and ultimately messy affair. David E. Kelley is married to actress Michelle Pheiffer. There should be a statue of him in front of the Writers Guild.  Katey Sagal is married to Kurt Sutter and Jenna Fischer walked down the aisle with writer Lee Kirk. There are other examples. I’m sure you can Google them.

But CALIFORNICATION is as realistic as I DREAM OF JEANIE is. Actually, I DREAM OF JEANIE is more realistic.

Charles H. Bryan asks:

Ken, are there ever any discussions about casting actors that resemble each other when their roles are siblings? Or is the production happy to just find people who show up on time and can get the job done? I always think this of FAMILY TIES: "Those kids aren't related to each other. This is a scam." However, I never doubted that Niles and Frasier were brothers.

There is often discussion on the “look” of an actor for a part. Ideally, yes, you’d like to cast siblings who look like they could come from the same family.

But often you find yourself in a situation where you have two actors – one has the perfect look and the other has better skills. What do you do? Personally, I opt for the better actor.

And sometimes hiring actors who look too similar causes confusion. You like a little individuality – different hair color, one wears glasses, one is shorter, etc.

Remember, that in the original conception of the FRASIER series there was no brother. Casting director Sheila Guthrie saw a tape of David Hyde Pierce and suggested to the producers that if they ever wanted to give Frasier a brother, this might be the perfect guy. To Casey, Lee, & Angell’s credit, they saw the possibilities right away and snapped David up. So in this case, it wasn’t like a casting call went out for an actor who looked like Kelsey Grammer.

Side note: I can’t tell you how many times on shows I’ve gotten letters and photos from people who said they should play the brother or sister of cast members, and invariably they were so far off it was hilarious. I look more like Kirstie Alley than some of these women.

Matthew has a question based on a recent post regarding outlines.

Is it common for jokes and/or story lines that were in original outline but cut out of final script to be recycled in subsequent outlines?

Absolutely. On CHEERS we had what we called “the S.O.S. file” – Some Other Show.

And there was one bar run from the first season that we filmed but cut due to time. So a couple of weeks later we wrote it back into that week’s script. Again it was filmed and again it was cut because the show was too long. By the third time the cast almost killed us. But it was a good bit and we couldn’t just use their performance from a previous show because the wardrobe wouldn’t match. The third time proved to be a charm... thank goodness… for us.

What’s your question? Leave it in the comments section. Thanks. Happy 4th of July.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Natalie Wood's most erotic scene

A lot of you yesterday wanted me to post some Natalie Wood pictures.  For new readers, whenever I can't find an appropriate visual I post Natalie Wood photos.  She's been my all-time favorite since the first time I saw her in THE GREAT RACE.  I was at that impressionable age when... well, my hormones were exploding.  13 year-old Kenny sat in the Pantages Theater thinking " Holy God!  What is THIS?"

And it turns out she was a good actress too.  What a bonus for me.

I saw her only once, shortly before she died.  It was at the MGM commissary during lunch and I almost passed out.

Needless to say I've seen all of her movies and read quite a few books about her.  I went to Catalina to retrace her last steps.  But there's nothing obsessive about that.  All casual fans do the same thing, right?

Anyway, by request,  here are a couple of Natalie Wood photos and something more.  So much of eroticism is in the mind.  Seeing what we're forbidden to see is what makes something stimulating.  And I'm going to show you Natalie Wood's most erotic scene.  But it's not sexy for the reason you expect.

It's the famous bathtub scene in SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS. You're thinking -- oh sure, it's erotic because she's naked in a bathtub.  Other than her bare back you don't really see anything.  Still, you're saying -- just the suggestion that she's naked is exciting.   Nope.  That's not it.

When Natalie was 9 she fell into a river during a movie shoot and broke her arm.  It was not set properly and she was left with a permanently weakened left wrist and a slight bone protrusion.  She was self-conscious about it and for the rest of her life wore large bracelets on her left wrist.  You'll see this in every movie and every photograph of her.

So back to SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS.  There was this scene in the bathtub.  It would look unnatural for someone to be naked except for a bracelet and so somehow director Elia Kazan convinced her to remove it.

So that's what erotic!  Not to turn this blog into X-rated porn, but in the following scene you actually see Natalie Wood's left wrist.   Is that a giant turn-on or what?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

WARNING: This post may suck

The hardest part of writing a blog is coming up with topics. Once I come up with a decent topic I’m usually off to the races. Today I have no idea what to write. So I thought I would use that as an experiment. Experiment is a nice way of saying I may never do this again. But here’s the plan: I’m going to just start writing, free associating, and just keep going. It may turn out great; It may be the dog's breakfast. But I promise to post this, regardless of the results. And I promise not to go back and do several passes to clean it up. Whattcha see is whattcha get.  You of course, don’t have to stay for the whole thing. You can leave at any time. You might even be saying, “Good luck with your experiment. I’ll check back tomorrow when you’re not flying up your own ass.” That’s fair enough.  But what the hell?   I have no other topic for today so let's give it a shot. 

I sat for the first five minutes just scanning my office looking for objects that might lead to something. How long do you keep magazines? In the bathroom we keep every NEW YORKER but how many ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLYS should I clog up my bookshelf with?  I think I can lose the seventeen issues devoted to TRUE BLOOD.

By the way, they always do that feature SOUND BITES where they paste pictures of actors and give them dialogue bubbles featuring pithy lines they said in their various shows. Hey, EW – writers wrote those lines! Not the actors. That page is terribly misleading and an industry publication should know better. Ever notice the disconnect between the witty things they “say” in SOUND BITES and their acceptance speeches during award ceremonies? Gwyneth Paltrow was in SOUND BITES one time. Come on.

For reasons I can't fathom, I also get FIELD & STREAM every month.  Did one of you readers send that to me as a joke?  Or did I once try to subscribe to TEEN VOGUE and checked the wrong box?   But I am not the outdoor type.  If I ever kill someone and there's an all-points-bulletin out on me, I'll just go to an REI store.  It's the last place anyone would ever look for me.  I can hide out there for twenty years. 

I look forward to my weekly NEW YORKER arriving and the first thing I do is check to see if Paul Rudnick has a humor piece. He’s always funny. As opposed to Lena Dunham who never is. What more proof do we need that she’s the Emperor’s New Clothes than the fact that she is always naked? I then check to see if Anthony Lane did the movie review that week. I choose my favorite film critics not by whether I share their sensibilities but whether they make me laugh. Michael Bay and Oliver Stone were put on this earth for Anthony Lane to critique.

I've submitted a couple of pieces for the Shouts and Murmurs humor section and never even got a rejection letter. Lena Dunham can send in her grocery list and that they’ll print.

There’s a small movie I saw recently called FRANCES HA, written by Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig and directed by Noah Baumbach. It’s a modest little black-and-white trifle starring Gerwig as a young single woman trying to find her place in Manhattan. It’s GIRLS without the sodomy. I got bored the second half when nothing really happened, but I appreciated the dialogue and glimpse into that world. To me it felt way more realistic than GIRLS. Ironically, Adam Driver, the guy who plays Lena's sadistic (excuse me, artistic) boyfriend is also in this film. He’s nicer though, and by that I mean he doesn’t make his date crawl around on all-fours and masturbate on her. In other words, he doesn’t get to play “comedy” like he does in GIRLS (the Golden Globe winner for “Best Comedy of the Year.”).

Let’s see if it even gets nominated for Best Comedy Emmy. My guess is it won’t – funny as forced anal sex may be. There will be MODERN FAMILY, BIG BANG THEORY, LOUIE (all three very deserving), and since it’s the final year of THE OFFICE and 30 ROCK, those might get sentimental nods. But the audience is quite divided on GIRLS… and ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT for that matter. The hardcore AD fans were thrilled with the deliciously intricate new Netflix season while many others were so confused they had to be re-taught how to brush their teeth. Shows that should get nominated (and probably won't) are PARKS AND RECREATION and here’s one out of leftfield – THE MIDDLE. Watch THE MIDDLE. It’s not cool and sexy but it’s funny and is actually about something. Same show but starring Louis C.K. and it gets nominated every year. Maybe even wins.

And speaking of winning -- congratulations to my alma matter, UCLA for winning the national championship in baseball last night.  Fuck football.  

Okay, that should fill out one rambling post. I hope this experiment worked because it was kind of fun to do.   And if it didn’t, well… think of me as Wile E. Coyote stepping off the cliff and walking five or six steps in mid-air until I realize it and then…………………………….. poof.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

RIP Gary David Goldberg

Gary David Goldberg was what the hippie movement was supposed to be. Before it all got corrupted by drugs, greed, and bad fashion the point was to spread compassion, understanding, love for one another, and place the human spirit over material wealth. If anyone fulfilled the promise of our generation it was Gary Goldberg. (I always knew him just as Gary. The David was silent.) Gary passed away yesterday, just shy of his 69th birthday.

He sure looked like a hippie. A bear of a guy with long black hair and a thick black beard. Since when did the lead singer of Canned Heat become a comedy writer?

I first met Gary in 1976. My partner David and I were hired as baby writers on THE TONY RANDALL SHOW for MTM. The staff was showrunners Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses and writers Hugh Wilson and Gary Goldberg. Gary was the one who took us under his wing and taught us the ropes. He was supportive and calm at a time when we were the most insecure and mashugina. I think Gary Goldberg could have settled down Mel Brooks in 1955 when even a stun gun couldn’t do the trick.

But that was his temperament – relaxed, reassuring, and confident. Everything in perspective.

He used to say that he and longtime companion, Diana Meehan once lived in a cave. I believe that. Gary could adjust to anything; Gary could be happy anywhere. I’m sure he left the cave in better shape than when he found it.

We went on to MASH and hired Gary to do an episode. It’s difficult for freelance writers to really find the voice of a show, especially one as unique as MASH. Gary’s episode won the Writers Guild Award.

At the core of all of his work was heart and reality. Many of his projects stemmed from personal experience. We helped out on a pilot for a short-lived series called THE LAST RESORT, which was about kids working at a large Jewish resort in the Catskills. Gary had worked in one. FAMILY TIES was essentially his family – hippie liberal parents, conservative materialistic children. And then he did a jewel of a show called BROOKLYN BRIDGE, which was an homage to growing up Jewish in New York in the ‘50s. Good luck getting that series on the air today.
Gary was wildly successful but used that success for good. He took advantage of his leverage at Paramount to create a day care center for working parents. Not a palatial office (his office was small and dark – his second cave?), not use of the corporate jet. A day care center for below-the-line studio employees who didn't have the luxury of hot and cold running nannies. No studio up until that time even considered it. Paramount’s day care center is still operational today. He and his wife, Diana were instrumental in the formation of the Archer School for Girls in West Los Angeles. And he gave selflessly to many causes.

Side note: the other demand he made on Paramount was for an outdoor basketball court so he and his friends could shoot hoops. Half the time I’d see Gary he’d be on crutches because of one basketball injury or another.

Those who worked for him (including me) loved him and learned from him. The big lesson: You can be in this crazy business and still stay true to who you are, what you believe in, and preserve what’s important to you.

The passing of Gary Goldberg is a huge loss. He leaves behind a stunning body of quality work that will be enjoyed and appreciated for decades to come. But personally, I will remember him for his generosity, inspiration, and grace under pressure. I will honor him by trying to be more like him.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Superstars in the shadows

There’s a great new documentary out called 20 FEET FROM STARDOM. It was a big hit at Sundance and is now playing a limited theatrical run. That might mean one theater in LA, New York, and Madison, Wisconsin. But if it’s playing in your area, check it out. Or when it gets to Netflix in twenty minutes, flag it.

The movie is about backup singers – those incredibly talented musicians who you rarely hear about but are on all your favorite records and sing at all the big concerts. You realize that artists like Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Tata Vega, and others are every bit as good or better than the singers they back.

Some try to go solo, like Merry Clayton (who did have one big hit “Oh No, Not My Baby”), Judith Hill (briefly on THE VOICE), Darlene Love (“Just One Look”), and Lisa Fischer (who even won a Grammy), but due to circumstances, timing, that asshole Phil Spector (they should add another five years to his sentence just for how he treated Darlene Love), personality, and luck these superstars primarily live in the shadows.

Note: It should be mentioned that some of them don’t want to be in the spotlight. They don’t want the pressure, loss of privacy, and Faustian contract that goes with stardom. Still, why Britney Spears is a household name and Lisa Fischer (pictured: right) is singing “Oooo oooo oooo” is a crime against nature.

Being a longtime music freak I do know of many of these singers. I rarely get star struck but meeting Darlene Love backstage during her run in HAIRSPRAY on Broadway was like meeting the Beatles. And to think that only a few years before she was cleaning peoples’ homes.

The movie resonated even more with me because backup singers are somewhat akin to comedy writers. We’re only 20 feet off camera, and just as Merry Clayton can say she sang with Ray Charles, did the amazing solo on the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”, and appeared on hundreds of hit records, there are writers who are not “Steve Levitan”, or “Chuck Lorre” who have had spectacular careers but you might not know their names.

One such writer is Richard Rosenstock. How’s this for a resume? Wrote and produced ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT and THE BIG BANG THEORY, wrote and did staff work for FRIENDS, FAMILY GUY, KING OF QUEENS, WILL & GRACE, NEWHART, and contributed scripts for HAPPY DAYS, MORK & MINDY, and LAVERNE & SHIRLEY… among others. He also created two highly acclaimed series – THE MARSHALL CHRONICLES and FLYING BLIND. During rewrites he’s always the funniest guy in the room. I’ve used him on all my pilots. Next time you see his name flash by – which will probably be tonight somewhere, make note of it.


But at least writers do get credits (even if they're on the screen for one nanosecond). Not so with backup singers. Hopefully at least their movie will play in a theater near you. And there is that chance – because Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Stevie Wonder, and Bette Midler are featured in it. Look for their names on the marquee.

UPDATE:  So sorry to hear of the passing of Gary David Goldberg.  Will write my thoughts tonight and share tomorrow in this space.  My love to his family.  

Sunday, June 23, 2013

How to hit on Margaret Colin

Guys, how’s this for a sure fire pick-up line?

Margaret Colin is a fine actress. You’ve seen her on many things I’m sure. Recently you've seen her in THE GOOD WIFE, NURSE JACKIE, and GOSSIP GIRL. She’s been in INDEPENDENCE DAY, THREE MEN AND A BABY, and SOMETHING WILD among other features. In the late 80s and early 90s she was very hot in television. She starred in such series as FOLEY SQUARE, LEG WORK, SIBS, and CHICAGO HOPE.

Her first series was FOLEY SQUARE, a comedy that aired on CBS in 1985 right after THE MARY SHOW, which was our series (and could have easily been entitled FOLLY SQUARE). Neither show fared well and by early ’86 they were both cancelled.

Flash forward a few months. I’m on vacation at the San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara. Hanging out at the pool. And I see Margaret Colin. Actually, every guy saw Margaret Colin. On a scale of 1-10 she was a 52.

At one point we’re both in the pool. I swim up to her and with a panache that the Fonz himself would approve of, say, “Hi there. Y’know, you and I have something in common.” She rolls her eyes. Another schmuck. “What?” she asks warily.

I said, “You and I both killed Wednesday night for CBS”.

She was not expecting that. She laughed, I explained who I was and we had a nice chat bitching about the network.

A few years later she starred in SIBS for ABC and I did punch-up for that series. She told me that was the greatest pick-up line she had ever heard (and I’m sure she’s heard many).

So fellas, as a public service I offer the line to you. Best of luck with it. Let me know how it goes.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Vintage Disneyland

This is an AMAZING video. It's an hour long but features tons of lost footage on the construction and evolution of Disneyland. Lots of great facts too as one of the Disney Imagineers leads you through it. Included is a simulated tour through a ride that was never built.   How one man conceived this and actually built this amusement park it is extraordinary.  The logistics and amount of construction not to mention number of different parts is staggering.   A tip of the mouse ears to Uncle Walt.  Enjoy!

Friday, June 21, 2013

More of the CHEERS outline

Earlier this week I posted a portion of a CHEERS outline and it prompted a couple of Friday Questions. Many of you also asked to see more of the outline so I’m providing that too.

B.B. Callow asks:

Why is the outline so detailed if it's only an outline? If you kept all the dialogue from the teaser and formatted it to script form, it would be very close to what the finished teaser would look like.

Is there really any advantage to creating an outline when you could simply go at a first draft instead? I suspect the amount of plotting/planning would be about the same for both.

A detailed outline helps the writer really think through the story. You catch logic problems, you discover exposition traps, you realize if a scene has nothing funny going on, and when you get to good comedy scenes you can really connect the dots. The producer and staff can determine whether the story still needs some tweaking. In short, it saves everybody a lot of time to make story modifications at the outline stage and not the script stage.

Composing a detailed outline also gives you a better idea of how long it will take to tell the story. Everyone pitches it out in the room, it seems like the right length, but once you get it down on paper you realize you have way too much story. Or not enough.

Or the A story works but the B story isn’t as funny as it was in the room.

And even with a ten-to-fifteen page outline, you may think you have all the jokes but once you start writing you find you only have about 30%, and a lot of those get discarded as you write.

But some do remain. And when you set off to write the draft it’s nice to know you’ve got some great jokes in your hip pocket.

It’s like driving a race car. You come to a spot in the outline where you can transcribe off the page and it’s like coming out of a turn into the straightaway.

Nowadays, detailed outlines are mandatory because they have to be approved by studios and networks. We never had that on CHEERS. The great David Lloyd would write things in his outline like “Carla says something stupid” or “here’s where I get out of this scene somehow” and we didn’t care because we knew he’d deliver on the draft. But you couldn’t turn that in to a network.

From Tom Quigley:

Since we don't see the full 11 pages, were there any major story changes that were decided upon by the producers or writing staff between turning in the outline and writing the first draft of the script?

In the outline Frasier discovers Lilith has a rat in her purse while Lilith is there. We decided it would be more fun if she wasn’t there initially. It allowed for more discussion and fun reactions.

At the end of the show we wound up losing a lot of the tenuousness of life discussion. And Frasier’s exit line worked so well we ended the show there. You’ll see here a more elaborate ending that was never filmed.  These are the last two pages of the outline.

If you have questions, please leave them in the comments section. Thanks. Now more of “Rat Girl.”

Thursday, June 20, 2013

James Gandolfini RIP

Like everyone else, I was shocked and saddened by the sudden death of James Gandolfini. He was 51.

How many actors could play a vicious gangster who had a conscience and you actually believed it? How many actors could command any scene or any stage? How many actors could play loveable as well as hateful? And how many actors could play comedy as well as heavy drama?

And despite all that James Gandolfini landed the part of Tony Soprano.

If THE SOPRANOS were on a major broadcast network they would have insisted on someone better looking, someone with a bigger name, preferably someone who had already been in five series. Thank God for great timing, HBO, and David Chase. It’s impossible to think of anyone else as Tony Soprano and impossible to think of THE SOPRANOS succeeding without James Gandolfini.

I had the pleasure of meeting him only once. Just two months ago.

I agreed to help a writer friend with his screenplay reading. James graciously agreed to play the lead. I read the stage directions. We wound up having dinner together. Very informal, in the writer’s apartment. You’d never know he was a major star. He was the most regular guy you’ve ever seen. And trust me, most stars, in any situation, let you know they’re stars. Not James. He was the guy who sat next to you at a ballgame.  He was the neighbor who always invited you over for a barbeque even though you had screaming kids. 

What impressed me so much at the reading was (a) he didn’t smack me for jumping one of his lines, and (b) he clearly had prepared for the exercise. Lots of times actors will give you cold readings. It was enough of a favor that they even agreed to show up. This was not a reading to get backers or a studio involved. It was merely a tool to help the writer polish his spec screenplay. And yet James gave it everything he had, adding subtlety, shading, and power. After it was over he made himself available to the author for discussion and suggestions. He was so helpful.  The man was a total mensch.

I thought to myself – someday I want to write for him. Sadly, that will now never be.  51 is way too young.  I'm sure he knocked around for years getting bit character parts.  And now, when he finally made it, when he proved all the "suits" wrong by becoming a star without looking like Leonardo DiCaprio, he was taken from us. 

When THE SOPRANOS ended there was a huge uproar over the final shot. The camera just cut to black. Was Tony about to be killed? Or did he live? I found that ending very unnerving. And now, I wish that on James Gandolfini’s final day, in Rome, the screen went black, so that at least there was the chance that we wouldn’t lose this wonderful man and extraordinary talent. If only life could be like THE SOPRANOS.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What a CHEERS outline looked like

In digging through some old papers I came upon a CHEERS outline.  A number of you have asked what a sitcom outline looks like.  There is no set format.  This is the one used by CHEERS, FRASIER, and all of my series.  What we like about it is that half the page is blank.  It's very easy to scribble down notes.   Our outlines are generally about 15 pages. 

Anyway, here's a taste of what a CHEERS outline was like.  The story and script changes from step to step.   A writer turns in an outline.  He gets notes.   He turns in the first draft.  He gets more notes.  Once he turns in the second draft the staff may make further changes before it goes to the stage.  And then during the week of production there's usually more polishing.  

Hope you find this instructive, and oh, I find that whenever I post scripts I get notes from readers.  "You should've said it this way."  "That's not funny."  Like there's anything I can do about it now.   This is a twenty year old outline for a show that has already been shot.  No notes please.  However, you are welcome to rewrite it yourself.  Just don't send it in.    Thanks and enjoy. 



Tuesday, June 18, 2013

If Christopher Nolan re-booted MARY POPPINS

Memo:

FROM: Christopher Nolan
TO: President of Walt Disney Pictures

SUBJECT: Re-boot of MARY POPPINS

After watching the original 1964 movie once I know how we could improve this beloved children’s classic and make it relevant for today’s theatergoers.

The color scheme must be grey.  Most of the film will take place at night.  

It is still a period piece but we update it slightly. It now takes place during the bombing of London in World War II. Let’s take some creative historical license and blow up Big Ben and the Parliament building. We have the means to do that in a very cool way. To punctuate the moment cut to an Englishman saying “SuperFUCKINGcalifragilisticexpialidocious!” as a double decker bus almost decapitates him. We can still say two fucks and keep our PG-13.

Bert, the street performer, is a loner with a dark past. Dick Van Dyke was fine for his day but I see Steve Buscemi. He should always be an ominous presence. He himself was abused as a child and we must always be afraid when he is around children.

His fellow street people are all damaged due to the horrors of World War I. There might be some comedy in seeing them act silly as long as we understand it is because they are deeply traumatized.

There will be no singing, dancing, or animation in this new version. Anything to take us out of the reality of innocent people being slaughtered is counter-productive. Modern children don’t want fuzzy bedtime stories. They want to be scared shitless. Let’s do that for three hours.

Mary Poppins arrives. She too has a dark past. Sexual abuse and forced into prostitution has caused her mind to snap. Her sunny optimistic disposition is really psychotic repression. She thought she was applying for position of madame not nanny. but to avoid a savage beating from her pimp she takes the job. Julie Andrews was serviceable for the time. But now we need a warrior. Casting suggestion: Katee Sackhoff as Mary Poppins.

The kids take to her right away. She still has the magic bag filled with wonders that they’ve never seen. But those wonders are dildos and handcuff and cock rings. The kids play with them. We get our heart, our comedy, and our bonding. If time allows, Bert comes over and teaches them how to play doctor.

Keep some of the familiar conventions but justify them. The floating tea party is the result of the children being drugged. The dancing penguins is a bad acid trip. I have some leftover designs for the Penguin in DARK KNIGHT. We can use those.

Keep the scene where Mary takes the kids to the bank to see their disinterested banker father (who has a dark past, by the way) and it turns into chaos. But let the chaos be a bank robbery. Let the children be held hostage. Let their father learn to appreciate his children by seeing guns to their heads. Let Mary impale one of the robbers with her umbrella. Let it go right through him. This starts a gun battle. One of the children dies. That will get the dad’s attention to really love the remaining ones.  Let the dead child be his favorite.  That ups the anguish -- always a crowd pleaser. 

Eventually the family’s home is bombed so there’s no further need for a nanny. Mary moves on thus setting up the franchise for sequels. I have some ideas for how she can clash with Mr. Belvedere but I’ll save those for MP2: THE WAR OF THE APRONS.

As always, these recommendations are non-debatable. Please confirm their brilliance at your earliest convenience so I can get the wardrobe people working on Mary’s armored house dress.

Sincerely,

Chris

Monday, June 17, 2013

Save the date

I'm holding my once-a-year SITCOM ROOM seminar on the weekend of October 26-27 in Los Angeles.   It's the only hands-on workshop that let's you actually experience what it's like to be in a writers room.   All the laughs and indigestion. Enrollment is limited to only twenty students.   I'll let you know when registration is open, but if you're on our mailing list you'll be alerted 24 hours prior to the public announcement.  For more info and to get on the alert list just clink on this link.  

Thanks much.  I look forward to making you funnier in late October.   Now scroll down for my review on Superman.

Superman: my review

The reaction has been mixed.

Every opportunity for humor, compassion or plausible responses to otherworldly phenomena is buried beneath product placements and CGI special effects.
- Joe Williams, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The greatest movie ever made!
-- James Olsen, Metropolis Daily Planet

The filmmakers still didn’t get it right. Even with the “genius” of Christopher Nolan and the wonders of today’s special effects.

Superman is arguably the toughest superhero to adapt to the big screen. There is the legend that goes with him, the concern that his sensibilities come off as corny, and he’s indestructible so what do you do with the big lug? What Hollywood has decided is that there are only two Superman stories – he battles Lex Luthor who has Kryptonite, or General Zod from his old planet. 75 years of comic books, but it’s one of those two plotlines. In this version we get story number two.  Yawn.

“Genius” Chris Nolan, director Zach Snyder, and screenwriter David S. Goyer asked the wrong questions. It’s not “how can we make Superman relevant to today?” It should have been “how can we do a 2 ½ hour movie that’s not boring as shit?” And maybe “how can we do a movie that’s FUN?”

“Genius” Chris Nolan went back to his dark, brooding, bleak bag of tricks – figuring I guess “it worked once, it can work again.” Or “don’t question me, I made a boat load of money for this studio.” So the end result was a joyless, tedious, exercise in excess. Endless “epic” battles, mind numbing mass destruction, and loud explosions mixed in with a convoluted story and flying prehistoric creatures for some reason (yes, that’ll make him seem more contemporary).

Perhaps I take this a little personally because Superman has always been my favorite superhero. I suppose I just identify more with him than the others. But I want to be thrilled by a Superman movie. I want to cheer when he arrives on the scene to save the day. I want to feel exhilarated when he flies. And I want my Superman to enjoy being Superman. Even for five minutes.

I want him to take delight in knowing that he has a secret. I want some humor. And yes I want to see him do amazing stunts, but more than anything I want him to ultimately triumph by using his brain. I want him to outsmart his super-foe, not just outlast him.

I can hear the story conferences. “It’s a struggle between his people and earth people.” “Oh, that’s so cool.” “So the theme is identity.” “Yeah, yeah, that’s awesome.” “It’s the existential struggle we all face. What kind of person are we going to become?” “Oh yeah, the kids will sooo identify with that.” “He’s on a quest, a search to find the real him.”

Well, that’s all bullshit.

Superman should be fun, a thrill ride, a shot of adrenaline, a fantasy. Oh why didn’t Joss Whedon make this movie instead of “genius” Chris Nolan?

Let’s go through it, good and bad.

First, it was still way better than the last Superman reboot. But so was the TV episode where Superman flies a little girl around the world in a couple of hours and all she needs is a little sweater at 40,000 feet and her skin doesn’t get ripped off her body from the G-forces.

I guess I should say SPOILER ALERT.  There's a scene at IHOP,  and folks in Metropolis get their snacks at 7-11 and their emergency kits at Sears. 

You could lose the whole first half hour on Krypton. We know the legend. This looked like Zach Snyder had all this unused footage from 300 so he used it here. Like I said, prehistoric birds. Why? Who gives a shit? You could’ve done the whole segment in five minutes.

Now a half hour of identify crisis. Clark Kent doesn’t fit in. He’s different from the other kids. “Ooooh, our target Millennials will eat that up. That should be good for at least another $100 million worldwide.”

Finally, he puts on the suit. Thank God already. In fairness, Henry Cavill did a nice job. He wasn’t Christopher Reeve, but he didn’t have as much to play as Reeve. The last guy was essentially George Lazenby. He doesn’t count. Full disclosure: My favorite Superman is still George Reeves from the TV version. So what if the Man of Steel is 38 and has a gut? You never forget your first love.

Amy Adams had nothing much to do as Lois Lane other than be tenacious and scream. Again, the filmmakers gave her no great moments. Didn’t you love the scene in the Christopher Reeve Superman where he catches Margot Kidder, says “I’ve got you” and then she says, “Yeah, but who’s got YOU?” There was no noticeable sexual chemistry between this Superman and Lois, but there was nothing in the script to establish it. No time. We had to see those prehistoric magpies!

From this point it was just CGI overload. Like every superhero movie, there’s a long battle sequence in whatever name they use for New York. And there are always the same shots of people in the street scurrying and hiding behind cars. Note to Metropolis/Gotham/Manhattan citizens: when you see a spacecraft hover overhead or two men fighting in mid-air, RUN. Run the fuck away! Seek cover! And this goes for you guys in the Daily Planet building watching the mayhem from the 50th floor. Great Caesar’s Ghost, people!

From the time I was a kid I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if there really was this alien from another planet who landed in Kansas, and was here to protect “truth, justice, and the American way?” But with this movie, seeing all the destruction that resulted, I wish he had landed in Nizhmy Tagil. Destroy Moscow for a change.

I read the weekend reports that say MAN OF STEEL received A- Cinemascores. So you may love this movie despite my objections. If so, great. But the reports also say the film did huge boxoffice numbers. And the Sunday matinees were running +18% over Saturday’s, which is highly unusual. But I saw it Sunday afternoon at the Village Theater in Westwood, one of the largest screens in the city, and there was no one there. Zero lines. The theater was three-quarters empty. Trust me, when there’s a mega hit there’s a line around the block the first weekend. This felt like a 10 PM showing on a Thursday two weeks into the run. There’s a disconnect somewhere.

The Superman suit looked great; the cape was especially effective. Diane Lane and Kevin Costner as Ma & Pa Kent cashed thier paychecks, and Russell Crowe didn’t sing. Aylet Zurer played Clark Kent’s birth mother. Since she’s Israeli then Superman must be Jewish. That at least explains the angst.

The effects themselves were top notch, but when you’ve seen Superman smash through a thousand walls you’ve seen ‘em all. And somehow the stunts aren’t thrilling because you know they’re all fake. Everything is blue-screen and later computer generated. There’s probably a $1.99 app that allows you to do the same thing on your iPad.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY devoted their entire magazine this week to Superman. Page after page after page, and then they reviewed the movie and gave it a C. I had to laugh then have to agree.

This time around the S on his chest stands for "substandard."   Lex Luthor and Kryptonite -- you're up next.  Good luck.  

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day!

Especially to my own father, Cliff, who is both my hero and role model.

Note to those wives and kids planning to celebrate: no brunches. That’s Mother’s Day stuff. Let the old man sit in front of the TV and watch NASCAR or the WNBA. 

Or watch FIELD OF DREAMS.

And now, as a public service, here are some movies NOT to watch on Father’s Day:

FEAR STRIKES OUT
CHINATOWN
SHINE
WALK THE LINE
OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN
DEAD POETS SOCIETY
STAR WARS
THE GREAT SANTINI

Some TV shows and telefilms NOT to watch:

THE MARVIN GAYE STORY
THE BEACH BOYS STORY
MAD MEN
LOST
WHITE COLLAR
Any CBS family comedy

Some unfriendly father plays:

ALL MY SONS
DEATH OF A SALESMAN (any Arthur Miller, actually)
LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT

Some books to avoid:

Any Bing Crosby biography
Any Frank Sinatra biography
LOVE STORY (for so many reasons)

Records to skip:

PAPA WAS A ROLLING STONE by the Temptations
BOY NAMED SUE by Johnny Cash
 
The sappiest record but a lot of people like it:
 
MY DAD by Paul Peterson

Any other suggestions are welcome.

Again, happy Father’s Day – the most sacred of the bullshit Hallmark holidays.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Dating a witch

Here's another short exerpt from my book THE ME GENERATION...BY ME (GROWING UP IN THE '60s).   It's the PERFECT last minute Father's Day gift that you can order here.   This is the perfect post for June 15th (you'll see why).   It's 1967.  I've just gone out on a date with Eleanor.  During the date she casually mentioned that she was a witch. 

Eleanor was extremely cute. Huge blue eyes, a slight over-bite (which works for me), svelte figure, and a Dorothy Hamill wedge haircut.

Afterwards we went to Sambo’s for dessert (yes, there was an actual coffee shop chain named “Sambo’s”) and I followed up on the witch thing. Her months in bed with mono required no further details (although I would hear them again… and again… and again). I asked, “So you mean you’re like Samantha in Betwitched?” “No,” she snorted, “that show is so unrealistic.” (Really? You mean you can’t wriggle your nose and turn someone into a hamster? Why isn’t there a disclaimer at the beginning of the show?)

It’s been awhile so I hope I can recall this correctly. Jesus blessed her by making her beautiful, but with the extra attention came people who would take advantage of her, or resent her. And so, as protection, since He might find himself preoccupied with other things (like seeing that the Packers covered the spread in the Super Bowl), He also blessed her by making her a witch. Her faith in Jesus was rewarded with an interest in the occult. And she now had the power to inflict curses (which she assured me she only did when absolutely necessary). I think that’s pretty much the gist. It was always my understanding that the Christian Bible strongly denounced any occult practices because they were the work of Satan, but why quibble?

She squeezed my hand as we walked to her front door and kissed me on the lips. Suddenly she went from major nutcase to delightfully eccentric.

Such are the concessions we make for a potential first girlfriend.

We started going out every Saturday night, usually to concerts.

Eleanor was what was commonly called a D.D.H. – damn door hugger. I’m surprised she didn’t fly out of the car whenever I took sharp turns (and there were a couple of nights I took sharp curves on purpose).

I would get my kiss on the lips goodnight. I would get to put my arm around her in the movies. And eventually we made out in my car. I was allowed to grope and pet but she always had to be fully clothed. I was never permitted to learn just how cold a witch’s tit really is.

At school she very friendly but not particularly affectionate. If I held her hand she didn’t pull away, but she never offered hers. She was usually surrounded by her magpie friends. Still, I would say we were an item… if only to the keenly observant.


The spring prom was coming up and I thought, okay, finally, here’s the perfect time to really make my move. Rumor had it that lots of girls lost their virginity on prom night – it being a special occasion and more importantly, curfews were relaxed.

So I rented a tuxedo, bought her the obligatory wrist corsage, and escorted her to the elegant Taft multi-purpose room for this gala occasion. It was my first prom and I couldn’t be more under whelmed. Overdressed classmates awkwardly milling about drinking punch or standing in a long line to get their picture taken. Missing this is what drove Janis Ian to madness?

After the prom I took Eleanor to Monty’s Steak House in Encino for a nice dinner (you can’t go to Shakey’s in formal attire).   Then we drove to a secluded spot up in the hills for a little amore. At first I stabbed myself on her corsage but things improved. We were making out, she was seemingly receptive, so I reached behind to unzip her dress.

And she stopped me.

She wasn’t ready to do that (at least with me). I lied and said all the right things – I really cared about her, respected her, she was the most beautiful girl in the entire world, I would pledge to a coven. No dice. But she said it was because of her, not me. And then she explained. I must say, I’ve been given the brush-off a fair amount in my time, but no rejection since Eleanor’s could even compare when it comes to originality. She said she couldn’t get involved because of her birthday. I said, “You have to be at least 16, you’re a junior in high school.” No, no. That’s not what she meant. Her birth date.

Eleanor was born on June 15, 1950. That’s the middle of the month, the middle of the year, the middle of the century. It was her lot in life to always be in the middle, always stay uncommitted.

Even at the time I thought, “Wow, that was impressive. She’s a fucking loon but that was impressive.”

We broke up after that. My birth date is February 14th. We weren’t compatible. I was meant to gun down gangsters in a Chicago garage.

Happy birthday, Eleanor. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Can TV writers go back and forth between sitcoms and dramas?

Happy Flag Day.  Many years ago on this date I joined the Army Reserves.  Amazingly, the country still exists.   Fly Old Glory and leave your Friday Questions in the comments section. Thanks. Here are today’s:

Dan Ball asks:

How easily can a TV writer go back and forth between sitcoms and dramas?

It’s never easy because writers get pigeonholed. Even if you’re established you might have to write a spec if you want to pursue a different genre. Matt Weiner was a very successful comedy writer. When I worked with him on BECKER he wrote this spec drama he called MAD MEN. His agent didn’t know what to do with it.

Several established writers have bounced back and forth between comedy and drama. Off the top of my head – Jane Espenson, Phoef Sutton, Steven Nathan, Janet Leahy, Mike Saltzman, Alan Ball, Amy Sherman, and Karen Hall. I’m sure there are many others.

But if you’re a new writer trying to break in, I strongly suggest you pick one genre and commit to it. Agents and producers are wary of writers who dabble. Agents like to sell you as either a comedy or drama guy.  That's your brand.  Covering your bases doesn’t work in this case.

Sean Christie wonders:

In your illustrious career as a writer, have you ever come across and befriended a successful Canadian writer who got work (an agent and staffed on a show) and a work permit (visa)?

Just wondering, because that's been my situation this past year in L.A. on a student visa.

Earl Pomerantz, Lorne Michaels, Andrew Nicholls & Darrell Vickers, Rosie Shuster, Graham Yost, and about a hundred more. If those hosers can do it, so can you.

From Ernie:

What do you think of Quentin Tarantino's statement that directors over 60 years old are no longer any good?

There are too many examples of great movies made by directors over 60 to even take his statement seriously. And wait’ll he turns 60. Somehow I don’t see him retiring to Virginia and becoming a country squire.

Kathryn asks:

Have you ever submitted a piece to NPR? With your radio, baseball and show business experience, I would think you would be able to become a contributor. Also, they would plug your book as part of the introduction. More sales! ;-)

I’m likin' that last part. But no, I’ve never approached NPR. I’ve done a lot of things for commercial radio but not public. In Los Angeles there’s nothing about the industry I could provide that would be any better than Rob Long’s Martini Shots on KCRW. Rob is a top comedy writer (I worked with him on CHEERS and the highlight of his career – BIG WAVE DAVE’S) and he files a weekly commentary on show business that is razor sharp and hilariously true. Check him out. But only AFTER you buy my book.

bla wraps it up:

Watching Cheers for the first time ever (i'm a 35 year old French woman), I can't gather why Cheers did not ever air in France except on a channel nobody ever got. We have the Nanny, the Cosby Show, Something so Right, Friends.... but never had Seinfeld or Cheers. What was that about ? Do you know how are show sold in other countries?

And after we saved their sorry ass in the war!

American series have sales representatives who strike syndication deals with foreign countries’ networks. Why CHEERS and SEINFELD didn’t sell in France I don’t really know. Maybe they were too expensive. Maybe they did air initially and weren’t well-received. That’s always possible. One country’s MASH is another country’s AfterMASH.

If I’m not mistaken (and I could easily be), I think Paramount/Viacom operated a satellite channel in Europe. Since CHEERS was a Paramount property, perhaps the studio decided not to syndicate it in France but air it on their own satellite instead. But again, I’m only speculating.

Or France just getting back at us for Justin Bieber.

Fly your flag proudly today. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Pregnant & Dating

In my eternal quest to find you the most idiotic reality shows, I present for your astonishment – PREGNANT & DATING. Who knew with a title like that that the show would be absurd? It airs on WE.

The show follows five pregnant available women. There’s Kiesha, formerly of the group Xscape… Shana, a former bikini model… Melissa, a fashion stylist… Megan, a knothead from the O.C. (“I went to Taco Tuesday. Unfortunately, there was tequila. And now I’m pregnant. It’s crazy.”)… and Rachel, a TV sports producer who’s having twins.

We see Kiesha on a date with Ben, an imbecile who looks like a young cute Michael Bolton. She asks all these subtle leading questions like, “What do you think about kids?” and “Would you ever date a pregnant girl?” and yet he still doesn’t pick up on what she's he’s driving at. How did this cretin have the mental capacity to even sign the release form?

But Ben was Einstein compared to Beau, Melissa’s date. Picture a grey-haired Frederick Weller. Melissa is 7 ½ months along. She asks why he didn’t call her for months following their first date and his eloquent answer (for two straight minutes) was “Uh… er… uh…well… um…yeah… uh… you see… um…hmmm… y’know…” And he stopped calling her before she was showing, so now good luck.

Shana meets two of her equally pregnant friends. They argue over whether to wear lingerie. And what kind of panties. One says she doesn’t wear them at all… and never did. But that’s okay because quote: “I don’t feel wet anymore.” The topic turns to sex. SEX IN THE TRAILER PARK CITY. A big problem for these women is the misconception that men feel they’d hurt the baby during sex. But one preggo gently reassured her boyfriend by saying, “Sweetheart, you are not that big.”

Mensa Megan meets with her mom. “Why are you so mad at Tony (the dad)?” mom asks. Megan answers: “Not being there for me when I needed Benadryl.” Meg is adamant that Tony not play a major role in her child’s upbringing. As she says, “Just because he’s a sperm donor doesn’t mean he’s the father.” This is why we need sex education in the second grade. Reach them while they’re still in school.

Meanwhile, Kiesha is moving into a giant glass house in Malibu that she plans to share with her platonic hip hop pal, Ryan, and sassy girlfriend Princess. Princess wants to set her up with a friend who is 51. Kiesha thinks that’s way too old. Ryan is indifferent. Princess says the guy is in law enforcement and suddenly Ryan is outraged. “Really? You’re going to date a cop?” Dating a guy twenty years her senior is not a problem but a cop? Unconscionable. But Princess lets him have it. “What are you drinking in that glass,” she asks, “Hate-orade?” THREE’S COMPANY meets DUMB AND DUMBER.

Shana and her mom check out their midwife. Shana is horrified that she’s gained twenty pounds. She’s carrying a bowling ball in her stomach and her weight has ballooned to 134. Her mother, ever concerned about her daughter’s wellbeing asks “What about stretch marks?”

Copies of this episode will make wonderful gifts to these unborn babies in another twenty years. It will explain so much to them.

Rachel meets a blind date. Picture Tom Haverford from PARKS & REC. He obviously didn’t know beforehand his date was due…  with twins yet. It’s the same look a guy would have if his blind date was Roseanne. Rachel is into football. He’s into skiing. Rachel admits she’s never skied. "Tom" says, “That’s just immoral.”

Melissa meets her blind date, a nice guy named Joe. He too is somewhat surprised to see his companion is moments away from her water breaking. He is an independent film director. Melissa talks directly to the camera and says: “Indie filmmaker, no money, no time, and is probably going to want me to work for him for free. I’m trying to have an open mind.” Yeah, you surprise a guy by being eleven months pregnant and you’re the one who needs to keep an open mind?

I’m waiting for the sequel: DELIVERING & DATING.

Back to the Malibu mansion where Kiesha reveals to her roommates that’s she’s in a motherly way. Princess reacts by saying: “OMG. What the fudge?” Ryan wants to know the daddy. Kiesha says “me.” Ryan gets off a good line by saying, “So you're having Jesus?” Ultimately, Ryan’s okay with it. He says: “You gotta prep, take pre-natal vitamins.” The two girls are so blown away by how expert he is on the subject to conclude (correctly) that he must’ve knocked someone up himself. Soon to be FIVE’S COMPANY meets DUMB AND DUMBER.

We follow Shana on a maternity photo shoot. Gamer that she is, she says: “In modeling, even if you feel like an elephant, you still have to look pretty.”

The storyline continued to the next episode where Kiesha finally sends for her mom to tell her she's pregnant. Mom rolls up in a limo. Happy to say she took the news well. They actually flashed subtitles when she spoke English. That was it for me. I was laughing too hard. I needed an epidural.

PREGNANT & DATING is complete with the usual crying, angst, pretty people, upscale settings, cloying background music, and jaw dropping stupidity. How would I feel, I wondered, if I were in that situation? If my blind turned out to be pregnant. It would be a shock but I think I could get past it. However, if my blind date was not pregnant but said she watched PREGNANT & DATING, I think I would fake a heart attack and just leave.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Who deserves the Best Drama Emmy?

The Emmy ballots went up on line on Monday. (They close the 28th.) The toughest category should be Best Drama. It’s tough because (a) there are so many excellent shows to choose from, and (b) very few people have seen any of them.

Unless you have cable or satellite and Netflix you’re missing out on some amazing programs. Other than THE GOOD WIFE on CBS I can’t think of a single network drama that can seriously compete with other outlets.

HOUSE OF CARDS was a fantastic series. Kevin "Bobby Darin" Spacey and Robin "what was she thinking married to Sean Penn?" Wright both deserve nominations. Everyone was great except for the annoying girl who played Zoey. But it’s a Netflix show. We academy members received screeners so more of us got a chance to see it but in the real world – how many people subscribe to Netflix and of those how many bothered to watch thirteen one-hour episodes? A few million perhaps? Not chump change. But in its day, E.R. attracted thirty million every week. The point is, if HOUSE OF CARDS is nominated, viewers all over the country are going to say, “What the hell is that?” The Emmys might as well be the Tonys.

Look at the possible candidates this year. Besides HOUSE OF CARDS and THE GOOD WIFE, you have THE WALKING DEAD, BREAKING BAD, THE KILLING, BOARDWALK EMPIRE, DEXTER, BATES MOTEL, DAMAGES, GAME OF THRONES, DOWNTON ABBEY, HOMELAND, JUSTIFIED, THE AMERICANS, TRUE BLOOD, THE NEWSROOM, SONS OF ANARCHY, and probably six others.

And then there's MAD MEN, but honestly, this year I personally think there are five series better. But I’m sure it will get nominated so some deserving entry will get snubbed.

Still, what a list! Meanwhile, there are sixty-eight entries on the comedy side and I’m not sure there are five legitimate nominees. And by the way, the comedy ballot is really screwy. COMMUNITY is left off while MARON and REAL HOUSEWIVES OF HOLLYWOOD are on it. Those are scripted sitcoms? And why does 2 BROKE GIRLS even bother?

Good luck to all the shows. In the drama category I’m voting for all underdogs. BREAKING BAD doesn’t need my help. But JUSTIFIED does. And SUITS. And HOUSE OF CARDS. Who knows? An underdog may sneak in. SONS OF ANARCHY or BATES MOTEL?  Some show that Martin Scorsese didn't executive produce.   In that case, it truly is an honor just to be nominated.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Budgeting your movie

Lots of people are considering making their own independent movies. Or at least putting together financing. With High-Def cameras relatively cheap and editing that can be done on your MacBook Pro – suddenly feature films are way more affordable.  And there's Kickstarter if you don't mind competing with the Mamet sisters.  This prompted a Friday Question that is worthy of a full post. It’s from Liggie:

On various screenwriting forums, I've seen people's pitches include an estimated budget (say, $4 million). How the heck do they come up with these figures? I figure an average sci-fi script would cost more than a rom-com due to special effects, costumes and the like. But wouldn't there be a lot of other variables that throw estimates off track?

There are a gazillion variables. Your first step is to enlist someone to draft a budget who knows what the hell he’s doing. In other words, someone who’s done it before. If he’s any good (and that’s always a big IF) he’ll know what’s needed, what’s not needed, and where to get/rent/borrow/steal what you need. These are the line producers. Good ones know tricks, how to cut corners, when you can shoot without a permit and not get arrested.

And then whatever their projected budget is – add to it. There are always items you don’t figure in – like covering bail.

I once wrote an independent feature set in Bakersfield. I hired a line producer to come up with a budget. I almost passed out when I saw the final number. $10 million dollars. I was hoping for something like $40 thousand.

So I went through it line-by-line and saw that he approached this as if it were AVATAR. There were thousands allotted for plane flights… between Los Angeles and Bakersfield. First class yet. It’s an eleven-minute flight! Thousands were set aside for gifts. Towncars on stand-by, separate hair, make-up, and wardrobe people for each star.

And this was my favorite: There’s a half-page scene where a character comes out of a club at night following someone and discovers it’s so foggy he can’t see his hand in front of his face, and of course he loses the person. (Thick Tulie Fog is a Central California staple in the spring.) Again, a half page scene. The producer had it budgeted for $1 million. This was the conversation (almost verbatim):

Me: Why?

Producer: Are you kidding? Do you know the amount of fog machines I would have to rent to make fog that thick in an open area… and sustain it? Not to mention renting them from LA and hauling them up here and hiring extra personnel to man them. This is a huge undertaking. I hope I can do it for just a million.

Me: Uh huh. Okay, fine. But let me ask you, is there possibly any other way? Can you think of any other options for doing this scene?

Producer: No. Not really.

Me: (exploding) It’s FOG! We can’t SEE anything! Shoot it in the corner of a sound stage with one fog machine! Do it optically and don’t film anything! It’s FOG. At NIGHT.

Needless to say, I did not use his budget.

But getting back to you, let’s discuss some of the variables. The genre is certainly a big factor. Sci-Fi movies generally will be more expensive than rom-coms. Doing scenes in weightlessness will require more than a young couple on the couch at your parents’ house.

The big question is how many days will you need to shoot the film? Each day is costly. You want the minimum number, but you don’t want to be so rushed that it’s either impossible to finish in that time frame or you have to compromise to the point where you ruin your movie. How experienced is the director? How experienced are your actors? How experienced is your crew? Are there a lot of set-ups? Or stunts? When you’re doing the scene where the astronauts are weightless are you going to need to have an apple floating in space? Fruit takes time. Do you have scenes that must be shot at daybreak? Is weather a factor?

You get the idea.

There are also details you may not be considering but also must be addressed. Restroom facilities. Catering. If you’re using actors and crew people who are working for scale or even gratis, you have an obligation to make them as comfortable and appreciated as possible. Are you shooting outdoors in the cold? You better provide a warm haven and lots of hot chocolate.  Do you know any hookers who would give blowjobs for an on-screen title of "Executive Producer?"

On the one hand you want to get as many pages done a day as possible, but especially if your people are providing their services for free (and you haven't hired the hookers), it’s not really fair to work them like galley slaves.

What about re-shoots? It’s generally a good idea to have a day or two of those figured in. But that’s expensive – you have to reassemble everybody (and the actors may no longer be available depending on when the reshoots are). You have to decide going in whether reshoots are a necessity or luxury.

How much are you planning to spend on music? Will you commission original music or try to get clearances for existing songs?  The Mamet sisters can't be cheap if you want to use one of their classic tunes.  And who tracks down those clearances? 

Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? And yet, you hear stories of people who make full-length feature films that look gorgeous and have sweeping battle scenes and cost $19. I don’t know how they do it, but they do. Ultimately, the key is getting the right person to do your budget and signing up for as many credit cards as you possibly can. And not spending your entire budget on fog.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Prime rib only $1.25

How’s this for a deal?

There’s a famous restaurant in Los Angeles (and now a few other places) called Lawry’s. It specializes in prime rib. Even if you’re vegan you gotta try this prime rib. A clogged artery or two is a small price to pay for a slab of this he-man delicacy. Lawry’s is an LA institution like the Hollywood sign and silicone breasts. The prime rib is cut at your table. Don’t worry though. You don’t have to pick out your cow. But it is sliced to your specifications and accompanied by Yorkshire pudding, potatoes, and a great salad that’s tossed in a spinning bowl. Lettuce is so much better spun. Needless to say, Lawry’s is an “event” place. You’re not going to swing by there for a light bite. Following their meal, satisfied customers are usually rolled out to their cars.

You may also have heard of Lawry’s because the week before the Rose Bowl they invite both teams to engage in “the Beef Bowl.” Now they’re all just fed a hearty meal. Years ago there was an actual competition to see which team could eat the most. But after they finished off the entire cattle population of Montana one year, the owners decided to scale back. Still, it’s a shining example of gluttony.

You also may know Lawry’s from their seasoned salt.

Lawry’s turns 75 this month. And how’s this for a celebration? Tomorrow , the original Lawry’s on La Cienega will offer prime rib at the same 1938 price: From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the first 1,000 customers pay $1.25 for the "Lawry cut" prime rib with Yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes and a "Spinning Bowl" salad.  You can't beat that offer!

No reservations. Start lining up now.

But it brings up the question: What would you stand in a long line for? What would you pull an all-nighter for?

When I was in college I pulled all-nighters every year to get basketball season tickets in the students section. Tickets came to twenty-five cents per game, we sat at center court, and it was UCLA. We won the National Championship every year I was there. So that I felt was worth sitting on a cold sidewalk for nine hours with two thousand other totally drunk vomiting Bruins.

But standing in line for movie openings makes no sense to me. A concert, perhaps. A one-time only event, sure. But a movie is a one-time every two hours event. Instead of waiting in line for twenty-four hours on Thursday night, take a half day off of work and go Monday morning. You walk right into the theater and choose between the four hundred empty seats. It’s the same Superman.

I know there’s the “event” factor, fans want to see it first, and there’s a real party atmosphere. I love that people dress in costumes --for the Triumph the Insult Comic Dog interviews alone.

But that brings up a second question (or sub question to the first question): I wore a Superman cape… when I was six. At what age is that no longer appropriate, even under the influence of alcohol? I’m going to take a wild stab and say if you’re thirty-five and wearing a Superman cape in public you damn well better BE Superman.

When I was in Cleveland last year with the Mariners people were lined around the block at 1:00 a.m. to get into a new casino. That was nuts. Folks waiting hours just to lose their money.

And the madness continues. People start lining up for Black Friday sales on Tuesday now. What happens is the first six get giant flatscreen TV’s for fifteen dollars, and the rest are just fucked. Are the other deals really THAT stupendous? Enough that it’s worth living on the street in the cold of November and missing Thanksgiving (although missing Thanksgiving could be the perk depending on your family)?

For me, it’s bad enough there are long lines I have to stand in – TSA security, immigration, anything at the post office. So I won’t be joining you tomorrow at Lawry’s. I find it so much easier to just be super charming and have someone treat me to dinner. Of course then I might have to put out.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

What to get Dad for Fathers Day

Dad's are always tough to shop for.  How many ties, and tools, and Tiger Woods commemorative plates can you buy him?   How many shirts, and socks, and lawn gnomes?  Well, this year I have the answer.  A handsome paperback (or Kindle or audio download) of my book, THE ME GENERATION... BY ME (GROWING UP IN THE '60s).  Yes, this is a shameless plug but you'll notice no Google Ads ever appear along the side.

Seriously, it's a fun, nostalgic trip back to a decade that Dad actually understands.   And the cover is real colorful.   If you order now you'll have it in plenty of time for the big day (next Sunday).  So tell your father you love him... or all is forgiven... or you still have issues but let's just get through the day by ordering your copy here.  And it's cheap!

As further incentive, I'm re-posting my book trailer (which I have no idea has helped me sell a single book but it's amusing).    Thanks, everybody! 

In the spirit of Tony revivals...

...here are highlights from my past Tony reviews. I won’t be reviewing them this year because they’re tape delayed and I don’t want to stay up until 4:00 writing a review of a show that only I saw. But I love the Tony’s and if you do too, here are excerpts from my previous snarky reviews to get in the mood.

Usually I say the Tonys are the only award show where no one thanks their wives. This year, with THE BOOK OF MORMON there was the chance that winners would thank many wives. But not so. That would require Mormons to actually be involved.

This year we had JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, GODSPELL, THE BOOK OF MORMON, and LEAP OF FAITH. Don’t producers know that JEWS are the people who go to the theater? What’s next? A Mel Gibson one-man show?

The theater community was thrilled and relieved when Audra McDonald finally won for lead actress. Her four other Tonys were just for supporting actress. Highlight of her speech was saying it was an honor to get raped by Philip Boykin every night.

How nice to have an awards show where the “Harvey” they’re saluting is Fierstein not Weinstein.

For the first time in the 65-year history of the Tony Awards, they waited a full two hours before the Sondheim tribute number.

My delightfully caustic daughter, Annie and her writing partner, Jon Emerson are also contributing this year. Annie (during the JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR number): “That musical has had more revivals than Jesus.”

Sick joke alert but I laughed: When Tyne Daly was introducing the In Memoriam segment and saying the theater lost many great people this year, Jon chimed in with, “Yeah, and half the cast of SPIDERMAN”.

Very happy that Nina Arianda won even though you’re saying who is she and what did she win for?

I always find in unnerving to see a Judy Garland impersonator who isn’t a man.

The Tonys are only once a year in the summer so you can understand why CBS continues to air them despite so little interest. I mean it’s not like it’s a weekly series about Broadway. What network would be crazy enough to have one of those, spend big bucks on it, and then renew it? Even NBC couldn’t be that foolish, could they?

The production numbers are always more fun at the Macy's Parade where they do the same thing but in 20 degree weather. If I don't see steam coming out of mouths I'm not as transported.

Christina Applegate, with her short blond hair and tight green dress looked like Tinkerbell while her co-presenter, Neil Patrick Harris looked like Peter Pan. Neil is maybe the only male who could ever play that part.

Julie White won the TONY for “Best Impersonation of a Harriet Harris” performance. She was very funny in THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED.

As usual, off stage announcer, Randy Thomas, was smooth and flawless. I want to win just so someday I could hear her say my name (and maybe plug my book).

Mandy Patinkin and Patti LaPone were presenters together. That’s like Godzilla and Mothra on the same stage. There must be teeth marks on every piece of backstage scenery at the Beacon and three neighboring theaters.

Good luck to all the nominees. May the best man, or man playing woman, or woman playing man, or woman win.