The Orange County Screenwriters Association
    Be Inspired, Do Good Work

    Mark Sevi

    Mark Sevi

    the octagonNo one would confuse "The Octagon" with say, "The Godfather."  It is what it is.  A "B-movie" from the 80's starring a martial-artist turned actor.  It features decent action, some decent themes and a horrible voice over that supposedly conveys the main character's internal thoughts.

    It's too easy to dismiss these films as being just expired, stinky cheese - relics of a film milieu that we have hopefully left behind us as we move into the brave new worlds of Uncanny Valley CGI and 3D over-the-top actioneers that look like giant, gorgeously executed video games.

    Of course, there are those die-hard fans who see no disconnect in these films and rabidly declare them as revolutionary - which to some extent they were.  At the time, there wasn't anything like "The Octagon" gracing American movie screens and big action was nascent at best in any form let alone martial arts.  

    I try not to go to either end of the spectrum.  I do laugh inadvertently at the bad dialog, plot devices or action but I also realize that it was 30+ years ago and these movies are going to look creaky no matter what, even as they were also creating legends like Chuck Norris. I mean, put any 1980 Buick on the screen and you're suddenly wondering how anything that big ever functioned (the term 'bulgemobile' comes to mind.)  Nevermind that the fashion, haircuts, and insanely tight pants they all wore including our hero, Mr. Chuck Norris, looks like something from a bad porn film.  As expressed, it is what it is.

    Norris' movie career took off with his villainous appearance in Bruce Lee's "Way Of The Dragon."  Lee liked to pit two different styles against each other and in Way it's basically Korean/American-style karate vs Chinese Kung Fu.  The opponents couldn't have looked any different with the slight (but ripped) Lee rocking his black Chinese button-up outfit and the burly, red-haired (and hairy!) Norris in a traditional white gi.  After the epic nine minute battle, Norris is defeated and Lee heads away, dusting his black jacket off as if it was another day at the office and not this incredible fight to the death.  The scene furthered Lee's legend and created a new one in Norris.

    Norris was (is) the real deal.  A student of Korean martial arts called Tang Soo Do, which become Tae Kwon Do in a Korean martial arts unification attempt, he was a champion of several real-world tournaments.  He got involved in martial arts when he served in the Air Force as an Air Policeman in Korea.  A lot of military people and cops seem to come to martial arts as a way to supplement their on-the-street skills.  Since they are likely to face some form of violence every day, it just makes a lot of sense.  Norris became a star pupil, a sensei who started his own style (Chun Kuk Do - "The Universal Way")and eventually his skills brought him to the attention of Hollywood via the Hong Kong film world.

    Norris did two movies as the lead after Way started his fame, but "The Octagon" was unique in that it featured mostly martial arts underpinnings.  Norris' character's half-brother is Japanese (and a bad guy) (Tadashi Yamashita) and Norris has to face him in the Octagon in the final battle.  Even though the bad guys are mercenaries, they are being trained by ninjas which includes Yamashita as a co-founder of the school for terrorists.  Yes, terrorists who were on the minds of our culture even back then.  Ninjas (a fairly unknown concept at the time)  run through the entire film and there's a masked, mystery ninja in red (played by legendary Australian stunt man/martial artist Richard Norton) who constantly shows up to inflict ninja-type punishment on people who cross his evil bosses.  There were many legit martial artists in the film including the legendary Gerald Okamura who played the brutal trainer and who is a fifth degree black belt in Kung Fu San Soo. His IMDB page features over 55 feature films that he has either starred in or worked in as an actor and/or a martial arts coordinator as recently as this year.

    Norris' character has grown up with the same ninja training (shown in flashback)  but has rejected using it unless absolutely necessary.  He's forced into a confrontation only at the end of the film because there is no other way to stay alive.

    the octagon sceneThe fight sequences are just fine and stand the test of time.  Some of the ninja stuff like them climbing a building with nothing but their hands or the hiding they do in plain sight is still really cool.  And they did it for reals, yo, since there was no CGI (computer generated imagery.)

    The rest of the film is varying degrees of so-so, sad, or just plain laughable like when hottie Karen Carlsen, dripping sexuality, openly invites Norris to come and see her and he says "Fair Enough."

    Uh? Huh?    

    A serviceable plot, characters and theme are really only redeemed by Norris' exquisite kicking and fast hands.  Here is a man in his prime with skills that make you wish you had spent more time at whatever you were trying to accomplish because you knew he did. It was overly obvious that Norris had mad skilz at the time and knew how to both throw and take a punch.

    This also made Octagon unique because unlike "Billy Jack" which featured an actor with some Hapkido training (but was stunt-doubled by his sensei for most of the kicking scenes,) or "Kung Fu" which featured an actor with dance training, "The Octagon" starred a real martial artist who was already legendary in martial arts before he became an actor.  Norris was first and foremost a black belt - acting, as was proven to the dismay of film critics many times in many films, was a distant second in importance in his film career.

    As an aside, since Norris kicked butt and took names in so many films and for so many years, he was transformed into a meme similar to the Jack Bauer character in the TV series "24."   I think some of them are truly funny but they also tell a tale of an actor whose films never let him be less than the hero who struggles mightily, but always comes out on top.

    Some funny ones are:

    • When the Boogeyman goes to sleep every night, he checks his closet for Chuck Norris.
    • Chuck Norris is so bad he can light a fire by rubbing two ice-cubes together.
    • Fear of spiders is arachnophobia, fear of tight spaces is claustrophobia, fear of Chuck Norris is called Logical.
    • Chuck Norris has a grizzly bear carpet in his room. The bear isn't dead it is just afraid to move.
    • When Chuck Norris does a pushup, he isn't lifting himself up, he's pushing the Earth down.
    • There used to be a street named after Chuck Norris, but it was changed because nobody crosses Chuck Norris and lives.
    • Chuck Norris doesn't call the wrong number. You answer the wrong phone.
    To close, I'm going to include a Zen parable.  It is the "pointing at the moon" reference that Bruce Lee makes in his "Enter The Dragon" film.  The full parable explains the Lee reference and forms the conclusion of my article about a movie that most relegate to the dustbin of B-movie history.
     
    The nun Wu Jincang asked the Sixth Patriach Huineng, "I have studied the Mahaparinirvana sutra for many years, yet there are many areas I do not quite understand. Please enlighten me."
     
    The patriach responded, "I am illiterate. Please read out the characters to me and perhaps I will be able to explain the meaning."
     
    Said the nun, "You cannot even recognize the characters. How are you able then to understand the meaning?"
     
    "Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger, right?"
     
    So, the finger is the films of this generation,  Movies that we look at now and think "That is just crap."  Even more today, given the way movies are created and put together, the old fellows appear ridiculous and just plain stupid.  These films are guilty pleasures at best.
     
    However, the moon is what these films accomplished.  Because these films existed, we now are able to see the moon in all its heavenly glory which is the amazing artistry that has been inherited and supremely refined.  Watch any film with the incredible Donnie Yen ("Ip Man")  and you can see Norris' influence.  "Matrix," "Underworld," James Bond films - they all owe to the fingers that pointed the way.  These films also started a nationwide interest in martial arts that exploded and continues to grow, including into the exciting world of MMA (mixed martial arts.)  
     
    The films of 30 years ago still point unerringly and true.
     
    But to stare only at the finger (and judge it as mundane) is to miss the glory that it ultimately illuminates.

     

    towerPARAMOUNT PICTURES ROCK CINEMACON!

    LOOK OUT SUMMER – GREAT STORIES, GREAT PLOTS, GREAT MOVIES!

     

    April 17, 2013 Las Vegas, NV. The annual movie industry smorgasbord of film, stars, studios, directors, producers, and popcorn makers, aka, CinemaCon, the most widely attended event of its kind in the world, is in high gear in Las Vegas at Caesar’s Palace, and movie studios have shared product reels, stars, and their films for the upcoming summer that have rocked the thousands of attendees, with universal acknowledgement that the bar has been raised and quality writing and directing was the order of the day.

     

    Summer 2013 will be like no other before it. 

     

    Paramount Studios kicked off the event with stars Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson speaking to the audiences at the Caesar’s Palace Coliseum before screening their upcoming film, “Pain and Gain.” The film is directed by Michael Bey, of “Transformer” fame, and is an enormous switch from big action tentpole pictures he is known for making.

    The film, Bey said, has been in his head for years, and he wanted to make a smaller picture, and smaller it was, with a pricetag of only $25 million, but the film is a tour de force of black humor and screenwriting that creates a new genre of film. Wahlberg and Johnson are trainers at a gym who kidnap a member to hold him hostage, but this film goes where no film has gone before.  Hilarious is not an effectual description for this story, it is damn outrageously effective in drawing laughs, none of which are cheap momentary laughs, but a part of a perfect story and done with lines and acting what would have made the Marx Brothers proud. This script about a pack of guys with less than a full deck of gray matter is quality, and Wahlberg and Johnson are a new dynamic duo that could surely see further adventures.

    Bey also made the announcement that the next “Transformers” will feature Wahlberg in the lead and be what he feels is the best of the series. Bey said the story and script are far beyond the ones done in the past.

    But Paramount didn’t stop there.  They have some of the biggest pictures of summer coming to the screen, including “Star Trek – Into Darkness,” which moves the bar beyond simple sci-fi, and brings the story and character arcs to boldly seek out and find places we couldn’t have thought or dreamed of going. It is a film that is both entertainment and a perfect display of great screenwriting, with twists, turns, and more awesome action than Magic Mountain.

    Chris Pine returns as Captain James Kirk, along with the cast, but the writing in this one take this movie beyond wonderful escapism and gives us a dramatic piece of Kirk actually coming of age and the result is a profound and touching film, as well as a “Star Trek” adventure for the ages. Pine grew up loving William Shatner as Kirk, but Pine said he created his view of an early Kirk after some conversations with Shatner, who told him to create his own, and Pine is as memorable here as Shatner. Well, almost, 

    hard at work

     

    but it’s only number two in the new “Star Trek” series, and how they can top this one will be question, it is brilliant, stunning, and so memorable, the way movies ought to be.

    Paramount has another hilarious comedy in “Anchorman 2,” starring Will Ferrell and twice as funny, poignant, and just damn better than the first one, if that were possible. This one doesn’t take us where most sequels go, but brings in new characters, plots and good story to make this a class act instead of a one horse pony show. Ferrell is at his funniest in his own world, and instead of a contrived plot to fit around him, his fine comedic talent works this story.

    But leave it to Paramount, home of “The Godfather,” to come up with perhaps the movie of the summer, “World War Z (WWZ),” a thrilling, and when I write thrilling I mean a 

    pull your hair out scrape your nails thrilling film that will literally take your breath away on a journey like no other ever done on film.

    “WWZ” stars Brad Pitt and is the non-stop story of hordes of zombies attacking the world. Sounds simple. But no-o-o-o-o-o way is this simple. These zombies are the 

    scariest ever presented as the only mission of these non-stop hordes of monsters is to bite a person to infect them, turning one into a snarling, rabid horror. And infect millions they do, with an unceasing rage of mobs on humanity swarming the planet. The resulting infection of billions will cause you to grip the seat, the person sitting next to you, or even to run out for a shot of tequila to calm your nerves, because in “WWZ” the action and the tension soar to a gut churning level of conflict that will take your heart and soul along with it.  It is simple all right – a simply great film with characters that will tear your heart out and a story that brings us to the edge of the end of mankind.  Be prepared to hold your breath for two hours, it is that good. And it stars Brad Pitt!

    Paramount was the beginning and raised the standard for others, and Hollywood seems to have realized that moviegoers want plots and characters that are moving and unforgettable. So far no formula film here, just great work reflecting perfection from directors, cast and crew, and writers. Good scripts with clever ideas and depth are the path Hollywood is on, and Paramount leads the way.

    man in the moon posterI hadn't seen "Man On The Moon" (the biopic about performance comedian Andy Kaufman) and when it popped up on my Netflix streaming queue I wanted to give it a screening.  

    I had known about Andy Kaufman from his early days on "SNL" and "Taxi." To me, he had those two bright moments and the rest of his shtick left me varying degrees of uninvolved.  I'm not alone.  People tended to disagree about Kaufman's "genius" - some adored him, some were, uh...varying degrees of uninvolved.

    And that can be a real problem in a film, especially when a good deal of the film is about his comedic stylings.  Stylings that worked and didn't work.  Yeah, we get to understand him a bit more through the story but honestly, there were sections that I really wanted to fast forward through.  But I'm really glad I didn't.

    Played by the rubber-faced comic (but also serious actor when given the right material) Jim Carrey interprets Kaufman with energy and sincerity.  It's almost as if the real Kaufman had been given a second chance to say to the world: "This is what I was really doing - isn't this funny?"  Yes and no would be my answer.  There was a balanced approach to the storytelling with a lot of the scenes involving people and situations where Kaufman's gags went over as wildly successful but also those that hurt or bored or confused people.  But I already knew a lot of this.  I never felt all that close to understanding why Kaufman or Bob Zmuda, his off-times collaborator, thought a lot of this was funny or even amusing.  I get that he wanted to push boundaries - but why?  I was hoping the film would tell me, that's why I watched it.  What I didn't anticipate is that even with explanation, I still felt like Kaufman was not all that entertaining and I had to watch a great deal of his stuff that I never liked.

    Okay, so all that aside, as I mentioned, the danger is that if you don't pursue more insight, push the film, if you don't intrigue your audience in a way that really gets them anticipating answers or actually answers all these questions, you're gonna end up with a film that's just so-so.  That was me going into the last act.  And I thought it was going to be the entire experience of the film.

    Until the ending.

    "Man On The Moon" is truly redeemed by its ending.  A coda, really,  - the scene that ends the film where you suddenly realize that Kaufman's whole life was about the switch that was played at the Improvisation nightclub - after he's dead.  Sudden insight into his absurdity overwhelms you - you suddenly understand his Pee-Wee Hermanish innocence and his desire to put people on despite the consequences.

    tony clifton

    It revolves around his Tony Clifton character, a boorish, no-talent lounge singer character that Kaufman played once in a while live, and who he demanded be given a NBC Special and guest appearances on "Taxi."

    Everyone supposedly knew eventually that Kaufman was Tony Clifton.  We're clued in quickly when we see a scene where Clifton performs in a club and his agent (played by (producer/actor) Danny DeVito - Kaufman's real life co-star on Taxi,) who doesn't know yet, goes backstage to talk to this terrible lounge singer who Kaufman insisted get the walk-on parts on "Taxi."  He (Kaufman) reveals that he is indeed Tony Clifton, and like most things in Kaufman's life, he was/is fooling everyone.  Mildly surprised agent smiles and chuckles and books his 'second' client, Tony Clifton, on "Taxi."  The execs at NBC didn't care - they loved Kaufman's "foreign guy" Latka and would have agreed to almost anything even though the Tony Clifton character was nowhere as inspired as Latka Gravas.

    Cut to later in the chronology of Kaufman's life where Clifton is on stage performing (badly) and by now everyone thinks they know that Clifton is really Kaufman so they get the gag.  But then who shows up on stage simultaneously?  Kaufman *and* Clifton.  Huh?

    It's revealed right afterward that that Zmuda in makeup and prostethics played the lounge singer in this instance so shame on you, you were all fooled.  Again.

    latka

    Kaufman and Zmuda have their yuck, the agent is confused by why a gag that only two people think is funny, is funny, and the movie rolls on through various other put-ons and drama to Kaufman's death from a rare form of lung cancer.

    I might have shut this film down several times if Carrey wasn't so good and if I hadn't wanted to see it for so many years.  If I was in a theater, I'd have stuck it out - I rarely leave any film no matter how much it either bores or irritates me.  But I think that a lot of people who gave this film a pass (it was a commercial failure) probably did so because Kaufman, even as a look-behind-the-scenes story was irritating as sh*t at times and not funny at others.  

    The biopic of comedic genius John Belushi has a similar problem in that Belushi was terribly self-destructive - but, he was funny as hell and the gags they recreated in the movie were still funny recreated years later.  Not so for Kaufman whose comedic experiments didn't play out a lot of the time and seem even more tedious recreated.  But, and this is what you realize at the end of the film, his *social* experiments did work - the ones he always used to gauge people's reactions to situations that they couldn't be sure were real or not.  That is the insight you get at the very end of the film.

    The coda after Kaufman's funeral takes place at the Improvisation CLub.  Lounge (lizard) singer Clifton shows up to do his act and everyone thinks, of course, that it's Zmuda in prosthetics like before.  Except that Zmuda is actually in the audience *while* Clifton is on stage.  So the film ends with the possibility that Kaufman *faked* his death.  A lot of his fans actually thought this may have been the case since Kaufman faked absolutely everything, including what looked like a real life, bloody feud with professional wrestler, Jerry Lawler.  He even got slapped and knocked down by Lawler on David Letterman's show.  The gag, of course, is that since pro-wrestling is 'faked' a fued with a pro-

    wrestler should also be faked.  It was but it was perceived at the time to be real.

    Point is, when you read the truth behind the stunt at the Improvisation that closes the film, you discover that Zmuda enlisted some of his actor buddies to help him make the gag work.  He had a friend in Clifton-disguise so he could stand in the audience and confuse everyone.  To the very end, from beyond the grave, with Zmuda's help, Kaufman was joshing us.  And so was the film.

    But this ending, and the actual truth behind it, made the entire movie suddenly accessible to me.  Sort of like "Sixth Sense" when you find out that the kid is seeing dead people including Bruce Willis.

    We *are* seeing dead people - people whose work lives beyond the grave and makes us question what's real and what isn't lest we get too complacent with what we think we know.  

    Exactly what Andy wanted us always to do.

    "Andy are you goofing on Elvis?" The lyrics go.

    Or us?

    I'm glad this ending made me realize the answer to that question was only going to be answered by the passing of his life - which did not mean the ending of his reach and influence.

    If it had ended on say a retrospective of all his bits, or his widow visiting his grave perhaps, or something equally as logical (predictable) the film would have failed me completely.  As it was, it soared in those final few minutes and subsequently when I went looking for answers online about the Improvisation gag.

    Comedic genius?  Maybe.  Social genius - most definitely.

    The ending of this film made me an absolute believer and made this film an entirely different experience than I thought it would be.

    And in my mind, saved (redeemed) the entire film.

    enter the dragonIf you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.” ~ Bruce Lee
     
    In 1973, the year that "Enter The Dragon" was released, the war in Vietname was ending, gas was $0.40/gallon; Skylab, Watergate and the Twin Towers being built were all happening.  Genetic engineering, the barcode and optical fiber were invented.  Movies "The Exorcist," "Deliverance," "The Sting" and Pink Floyd's album "Dark Side of the Moon" were released. Notables Seth McFarlane, Oscar DeLa Hoya and David Chappelle were born...
     
    ...And Bruce Lee died six days before the release of his film that would change martial arts films forever,
     
    It’s been 40 years since Bruce Lee almost single-handedly introduced martial arts movies to the United States.  There was an awareness, of course, of both the genre and Lee since he played the character of Kato on the TV show “The Green Hornet” (for a treat look up some of that old footage on YouTube) but no one in America had seen the kind of extended, brutal fight sequences that Lee brought to the screen in this film.
     
    Martial arts in cinema was mostly limited to goofy fight scenes in action films like in James Bond movies where someone would “karate chop” the side of a neck and the opponent would go down and out.  Few in the U.S. were aware of the savagery and blood-letting that “Enter The Dragon” demonstrated.
     
    There were never these types of hand-to-hand executions and deliberate pounding of opponents.  Even “Billy Jack” starring Hapkido-ist Tom Laughlin wasn’t about hitting, it was about loving.  Billy Jack’s whole persona was to solve problems peacefully but use martial arts if that failed; Lee wants to hurt and rain down punishment upon his opponents - totally opposite to say the protagonist in the TV show “Kung Fu,”  Kwai Chang Caine, who actively avoided confrontation, conflict and battle and whose balletic style of martial arts is in direct opposition to the vein-popping, eye-rolling, raged-filled Lee.
     
    The brooding Lee and his fellow martial travelers John Saxon and Jim Kelly (Kelly’s first major role) were strutting bad boys with flaws and crappy attitudes.  We like them even though they seem to go against what we’ve known about martial artists being noble and humble.  Not these guys - they are in your face, smoking, drinking, and womanizing child-men who can kiss the girl and kick your ass.
     
    And except for the internal moments where Lee remembers his sister, the swaggering Lee always seems to be above, distanced from the world in which we mere mortals live.  He’s not touchy-feely like Billy Jack or eye-averting like Kwai Chang Caine.  Like some Asian demigod sitting on a mountain and watching the combat, “call me when the light work is done,” he seems to say with his crooked grin and arching eyebrows.
     
    Movies tend to reflect the times in which they are made.  “Enter The Dragon” is a perfect reflection of the early 70's when there was still a lot of societal conflict swirling from the turbulent 60's.  
     
    Dragon was populated like the bridge of the starship Enterprise with all races equally represented.  There’s plenty of varied skin color and attitudes played out against the john saxon and jim kellytapestry of the matches on the island because the winds of change were howling across the world and Lee felt that strongly.
     
    First there’s Lee whose character comes from a uniquely Chinese institution, the Shaolins whose warrior-priest philosophy is prominent in various parts of the films.
     
    Then there’s actor and martial artist John Saxon who plays a wise-cracking, golf-playing, gambler with eye-winking worldliness and charm.
     
    And it’s no accident that Jim Kelly’s character attends a dojo (his own real dojo) run by what seems to be a black militant group similar to the Black Panthers; and then is clearly harassed for no reason by white cops as he heads home.  Dragon also shattered barriers in featuring interracial sex not seen before on the big or small screen in America as Kelly’s character was clearly portrayed as a man of...appetites assuaged by willing Asian and Caucasian partners.
     
    Dragon obviously wouldn’t have been what it was without Lee.  His pure physicalness is awe-inspiring.  He is cut beyond the cut.  He’s smallish but no one would mess with bruce lee, mirror scenethis man if they got a glimpse of his insane hand and foot speed, or the pecs and abs under those flowing Chinese robes.  But more than that it was Lee’s attitude, the way he held himself.  Confidence oozed from him like sweat off a fat man’s back.  He stood and waited, welcomed you to fight him.  He wanted the battle, the blood - to be tested against the best to prove he was the best.
     
    In many ways, Lee reminds me of Laker’s basketball star Kobe Bryant who always seems to play with a massive chip on his shoulder.  The driven Bryant has never shied away from a fight and neither did Lee whether it was the studios, his real-life martial arts opponents, or those who continually wanted to see him fail.  The movie Lee and real Lee were a lot alike in that they didn’t suffer fools graciously, especially those who bet against him - the measure of a true star’s ability to put away self-doubt and excel.
     
    Lee’s arrogance was born from his skills.  He worked tirelessly for the right to stand and take on all challengers.  He was smart, capable and driven - all qualities you look for in a leader.  And lead he did.  Had he not died, he would have built an empire that would have remained unrivaled because he demanded nothing but the best from himself and those around him.  As it is, the pebble that was his short 33-year life is still rippling more than most who live in twice his lifetime.
     
    villains and heros“Enter The Dragon” was rewritten by the Renaissance man who was Bruce Lee, who wanted the film to reflect what he felt was the beauty of the Chinese culture.  We are warriors and philosophers, Lee proudly stated.  Neither defines us completely.  In many ways, Lee’s roles and attidues always reflected his dual (American/Chinese) citizenship.
     
    Lee was trained in Wing Chun but had rejected one style as all-encompassing by the time Dragon was made.  He had already established Jeet-Kune Do (the style of no style) that borrowed from all disciplines freely, including American boxing.  “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash.”
     
    In Dragon, Lee uses his “no-style” style effectively and tosses in weapons like rope, staves, clubs and nunchakus for good measure.  He also casually, literally throws in a cobra into battle as if to further emphasize his “use whatever is at hand” philosophy.
     
    Stuntmen like a young Sammo Hung, who is seen in the opening fight that Lee choreographed, and Jackie Chan who is used as an extra on the island and as a stunt double when Lee’s character is supposed to be scaling a wall add a lot of credibility and excitement to the fight scenes.  Of course, the Chinese Hercules, Bolo Yeung, made quite an impression as he scowled and destroyed his way through all opponents.
     
    the master, bruce lee“Enter the Dragon” was Lee’s first American film (Warner Brothers) and sadly, his last.  He died six days before the film was released of a cerebral edema (brain swelling) by some accounts.  Some say it was a reaction to an analgesic, some say a delayed reaction from a “death blow” and still others mention the apparent family curse that struck down both Lee and his son Brandon.
     
    Many would find Dragon silly today.  It looks at times like an Austin Powers sendup with it’s cat-carrying, Swiss Army knife-handed villain, and staged fights in which no one is ever attacked by more than one opponent at a time.  But Dragon, like Lee, truly forever changed the way we view martial artists and films of this genre.  I would hope anyone viewing it today would understand that and appreciate it beyond the apparent.  
     
    There is a tremendous amount of information available about Dragon and Lee, including several dozen documentaries and docu-dramas.  “Enter the Dragon” has won a myriad of honors, and is considered culturally significant by The National Film Registry as its influence continues today.   Dragon basically started a movement that continues to influence both the real world of martial arts and MMA, and the dream world of film and television.
     
    For what it represented, for how it changed the world, for who it starred, there is no way I could give this film less than a Ju-dan, a ten out of ten.
    .
    .


    "Ip Man" is a movie loosely based on the life of Grandmaster Ip Man, whose Wing Chung style of martial arts strongly formed Bruce Lee’s style.  Ip Man was Lee’s teacher although this first film of the trilogy doesn’t deal with Lee at all.
     
    Loosely based is the watch phrase here.  The filmmakers take a lot of liberties with the storyline for dramatic impact. You really can’t go into this story thinking that you’re going to see a true events film.  
     
    There’s also a heavily-mandated anti-Japanese theme since a good portion of the film takes place during the 2nd Sino-Japanese War when the Japanese army occupied China from 1937 to 1945.
     
    If neither of these hesitations bother you then the film is truly a joy to watch.
     
    Although Man is fully into adulthood, with a wife and young son when this movie opens he is much like a child in his attitude and lifestyle.  He’s independently wealth so he doesn’t actually work or need students to maintain his somewhat Laissez Faire existence.  As a recognized master, he’s content to live and let live and actively avoids fights.  But that doesn’t mean he won’t as a bully challenger from the North discovers when he forces Man to fight him to prove that Wing Chun isn’t a “girl’s martial art.”  His words, not mine.  Spoiler alert - Ip Man wins.
     
    Actor Donnie Yen plays Ip Man with frosty aplomb.  He’s cooler than Chow Yun Fat on ice and, because actor Yen is a true and highly-skilled martial artist, the fight scenes are insanely good.
     
    The fists and feet fly during breathless matches that seem real and amazing close to hurting the actors - in fact more than a few were knocked senseless during filming.  
     
    These fights were choreographed by legend Sammo Hung, who was raised in the rigorous Peking Opera School like his classmate Jackie Chan.  Hung keeps the opera-flying wushu to a minimum on this 1st film and sticks to more ground and reality-based fights - or as real as any martial arts film aspires to be.
    The movie itself really gets started when the city of Foshan is occupied by the Japanese.  Man and his family are forced out of their home and into poverty.  Although they 

    struggle, Man is always generous of spirit and upbeat - at least in public.  Actor Yen manages to play this without any hint of melodrama - he’s matter-of-factly believable as the indomitable Man who is more concerned with others than himself.  But as the film progresses, Man becomes much less certain of himself and more introspective and, like many of us, has a crises of identity when he realizes that his life hasn’t amounted to much; that he’s not much good at anything except martial arts.
     
    It’s only after Ip Man comes to realize that his life has been useless - as he puts it to his wife, that he takes a different path and tries to help others by directly teaching martial arts for defense to a group of factory workers who are beset by robbers.  These concepts of a changing self, and a growing sense of nationalism in Man form the thematic backbone of the main story of a person who did not aspire to greatness but had it thrust upon him.
     
    "We wanted to do this movie because Ip Man was a man who inspired the world and society as a whole. He was a man who believed in certain morals and principles, and we want to use this movie as a platform to convey those values to the audience. For me, that was the most important part of making this movie."
     
    That was a quote by the Director, Wilson Yip, on making Ip Man and there is at least as much of that sentiment as there are fight scenes.  Yip does a really good job on this film keeping it equally balanced in terms of quiet drama and over-the-top operatic dramatic moments.
     
    Hiroyuki Ikeuchi (HERO YUKI) (IKAY UCHI) plays a great villain in a Japanese general who admires Man but ultimately wants to manipulate and control him.  First, he forces Man to fight in his own private tournaments; And then when Man won’t teach Japanese soldiers Wing Chun, in the best tradition of almost every martial arts film and western ever made, the good guy and the bad guy will meet in a fight to the death at the end of the film.  Spoiler alert - Ip Man wins this one too.  In fact, until the 2nd movie Ip Man never seems to be in danger of losing any fight, be it one on one, or ten on one.
     
    Ip Man’s journey is a true martial arts journey.  When you’re a student, you are naive as to what you don’t know.  You think in lofty terms and don’t pay attention much to your internal world because you’re more concerned with learning how to be physically imposing.  Only after trials shape and humble you do you step onto that road to becoming a true master, recognizing that no matter how far you come, there is always a better you to be worked toward.
     
    There are truly breathtaking moments in this film both martial and theatrical.  Although the storyline take huge leaps of time (and faith) this movie manages to completely engage and enthrall you.  It feels real.  The pain and the struggle both external and internal wrap you up and bring you much closer to the characters than most martial arts films.
     
    In fact, it’s hard for me to call this a martial arts film at all.  It’s more of a well-paced drama with martial arts moments - great moments, but certainly not the only reason to see this film.
     
    “Ip Man” spawned two other sequels neither of which really rose close to this film’s dizzying levels.
     
    I’m giving “Ip Man” a Hutchi-Dan, eight out of ten.
     
     
     
     
     
    The real Ip Man and his most famous student, Bruce Lee.
    “Not understanding money in the movie business is like an artist who doesn’t understand paint.”  - Jack Nicholson1
     
    roger cormanI first became a fan of Roger Corman as a little boy watching monster movies on television.  His low budget monster films captured my imagination and brought out a boyish wonder in me, inspiring me to one day become a genre filmmaker myself.  As luck would have it, I was hired in May of 2011 to produce a Corman-like creature feature film titled The Prey.  The experience in independent low budget genre filmmaking made me appreciate Roger Corman even more so.  My appreciation of Corman as a low budget filmmaker and businessman inspired the writing of this paper, which hopes to summarize Corman’s illustrious career, his business strategy and his legacy on mainstream cinema.  
     
    Roger Corman studied engineering at Stanford University but quickly lost interest in engineering and developed a love for filmmaking.  He only worked four days as an engineer after graduating before deciding to quit his job.  He landed a job at 20th Century Fox as a messenger and was eventually promoted to script reader.  
     
    He became the youngest reader on staff, yet he never recommended a script for production because he felt the brass never gave him a script good enough to recommend.  He eventually received a good script that he made a number of story notes on, and the script became the film The Gunfighter (1950) starring Gregory Peck.  The story notes Corman suggested were used in the film but the studio never gave Corman any recognition.  To add insult to injury, the story editor whom Corman worked under received a bonus for Corman’s notes.  Corman decided to leave the studio and to try his hand at independent filmmaking.  
     
    Corman’s first independent film was Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954).  Corman hadn’t gone to film school so making movies became his education in filmmaking.  Corman did every job he could on set to learn as much as humanly possible.  His second film was The Fast and the Furious (1954).  Even then Corman had a sense of saving money; he borrowed cars from a local sports car dealership to shoot the film and returned them at the end of the day.  Corman immediately saw the problem for independent filmmakers; independents needed to make their money back on their current picture before they had the money to invest to make their next picture.  Corman circumvented this dilemma by signing a 3-movie deal with American International Pictures, allowing him to constantly make movies instead of waiting for returns.  
    The major studios didn’t understand what young people wanted and for the most part during the ‘50s, completely ignored the youth market.  Corman and AIP purposely targeted the youth market that the major studios weren’t able to reach and didn’t care for anyway.  Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009) screenwriter Howard McCain commented: 
     
    masque of the red deathRoger started in a different world in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s when he was directing movies.  The market they went for was the drive-in movie market and/or double feature . . . The strategy was to make cheap movies really fast with hotrods, bikinis, and monsters.  These films were meant for teenagers and were made with no more care or no better scripts, but filled a market that the studios ignored.3
     
    Corman continued making his youth market films with AIP throughout the ‘50s, but by the beginning of ‘60s, Corman began to have confidence in his abilities to master the craft of filmmaking.  This inspired him to make a series of horror films based on Edgar Allan Poe stories starring Vincent Price.  The films that came out of his Poe period were House of Usher (1960), Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Premature Burial (1962), The Raven (1963), The Masque of Red Death (1964), and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964).  Masters of Horror (2005-) executive producer and director Mick Garris expressed, “he made Poe a commercial basis for horror films!  Imagine, a 19th Century author the source material for many commercial horror movies that appealed primarily to teenagers in their prime!2”  The Poe films symbolized the highest production aesthetic in Corman’s career, yet the exploitive filmmaker in him still sought ways to maximize his financial investments.  While shooting The Raven (1963), Corman wanted to shoot another movie using the sets he’d already paid for to get two pictures for the price of one.  The movie that came out of this experiment was The Terror (1963) starring Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson.  Various directors such as Roger Corman, Francis Ford Coppola, Monte Hellman, Jack Hill, and Jack Nicholson shot the film back-to-back, ultimately making a disjointed narrative that even the filmmakers themselves can’t comprehend.  
     
    Even though Corman had great success with genre films, he wanted to do something different than the genre fare he became known for.  He read the book The Intruder by Charles Beaumont, which dealt with the issues of race segregation in the south.  Corman wished to adapt it into a film, so he pitched the project to AIP but they decided they didn’t want to make it.  He was quite astonished because they never said no to him before.  Corman chose to self-finance The Intruder (1962) with his brother Gene Corman since it was the first film that allowed him to make a personal statement about his feelings regarding social ills of the time.  Roger and Gene cared about the project so much that they mortgaged their homes to make the film.  Future Star Trek star William Shatner played the lead role, a character that comes to the south to stir up conflict between the races.  Corman shot the film in the south since the film dealt with racism and separate but equal was the law of the land there.  At first, the general population left Corman alone to shoot since the title and his reputation made them think he was shooting a horror film.  Once the townspeople found out about the political nature of the film, they began driving Corman out of locations.  Corman was able to get enough footage to complete the wild angelsthe picture and people would scream “communists” at the Corman brothers during the screening of the film.  Unfortunately, the picture became a wonderful commercial failure.  Gene said, “It’s the only film we didn’t make money on.  And it’s our best film1.”  Roger learned from the experience and studied the concepts of text and subtext from method acting.  From this point on he would make the text of his films be the commercial content his audiences paid to see, such as monsters and naked women, and within that he would hide the subtext, which would be the social message that was important to him.  
     
    Corman wanted to make a picture about the Hells Angels movement for his next project and AIP agreed instantly.  Corman started working on The Wild Angels (1966), a film that casted real Hells Angels as background actors and as actor Bruce Dern recalled, “The extras made the movie1.”  Actor Peter Fonda stepped in for the lead role since he knew how to ride motorcycles and the original lead didn’t.  Future director Peter Bogdanovich had a reputation as a film critic and magazine wrier, but wanted to break into the film business.  At the time there weren’t many avenues into the industry since film school was still in its infancy.  Howard McCain said of the era, “Roger was about the only game there was if you were a new person3.”  Corman gave Bogdanovich his start in the business and paid him $125/week to work as his assistant on The Wild Angels (1966).  The Wild Angels (1966) became the biggest grossing independent film ever made to that time and changed the public’s perception of Peter Fonda.
     
    Corman wanted to somehow make a film out of some leftover footage and two shooting days with horror legend Boris Karloff.  He asked Bogdanovich if he’d like to try his hand at the project and Bogdanovich made the film Targets (1968) out of it.  Corman was so pleased with Bogdanovich’s work on Targets (1968) that he asked if he would like to direct another picture.  AIP wanted to do a picture with sexy women and the film Bogdanovich made became Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968). 

     
     Bogdanovich said of his directing experience with Corman, “Roger is the type of person who asks if you know how to swim then throws you in the water1.”
    There was a revolution occurring during this era in the youth culture; sex, drugs, and rock and roll symbolized the time.  Corman, with his professorial demeanor, was the 

    jack nicholsan

    straightest guy in the wild political movement, yet his views were left of center.  Howard McCain commented on his impressions of Corman’s, “He’s a very polite formal guy.  He’s very well spoken but he’s definitely a character within that3.”  Mick Garris expressed his first impression of Corman, “He's an extremely intelligent and educated and cultured gentleman.2” Corman wanted to do a film about LSD as his next project and hired his good friend Jack Nicholson to write the script.  Nicholson originally asked to be paid a little more than scale but Corman immediately refused.  Nicholson still wrote the film and used his knowledge of drug culture to write The Trip (1967).  Since Corman was the director, he felt that he couldn’t shoot a film about LSD if he hadn’t used LSD himself.  During Corman’s LSD trip, he described what he was experiencing and future screenwriter Frances Doel took extensive notes of his experience.  Even though Corman had a great trip, he wanted to show bad trips in the movie since he wanted to make a serious movie about LSD.  After Corman submitted the completed film to AIP, AIP became concerned that the project was becoming a pro-drug movie and changed the ending without Corman’s consent.  
     
    The biggest independent film of the era was Easy Rider (1969).  To Peter Fonda, the lead actor and co-writer of Easy Rider (1969), the whole film came from Corman who made The Wild Angels (1966) and The Trip (1967).  When Corman pitched the project to AIP with Dennis Hopper attached as director, AIP agreed to make the film on the stipulation that if Hopper fell one day behind schedule, they had the right to replace him.  This forced Hopper to take the project over to Columbia and both AIP and Corman lost their percentages on Easy Rider (1969), which became one of the most successful independent films ever made.  Nicholson had attended the screening of Easy Rider (1969) at Cannes.  When he saw how crazy the audience went when they saw him onscreen, Nicholson had the realization, “Oh shit.  I’m a movie star1.”
     
    AIP wanted to make a woman gangster movie next and Corman’s wife Julie found the book Box Car Bertha by Ben L. Reitman.  Boxcar Bertha (1972) became the first picture she devilJulie worked with Roger as a co-producer on and the first feature film directed by Martin Scorsese.  Corman knew Scorsese was going to be a big time director when he visited Scorsese before the shooting of the film and saw that Scorsese had sketched 500 storyboards encompassing the entire film.  After the film was finished, Samuel Z. Arkoff of AIP took over the film and released it in a way Corman didn’t agree to.  This final action caused Corman to break off from AIP and form his own company New World Pictures.  Outwitting authority had always fueled Corman, and by owning his own production and distribution company, no one could tell him how to make his movies.  Corman had a loyal audience of young people who would watch his films during the two weeks they ran at the grindhouses and then at the drive-ins.  McCain commented on Corman’s decision to form his own company: 
     
    He broke away from AIP and set up shop; the model followed.  He mirrored himself since he went to Stanford.  He approached things very logically because guys who made movies for teenagers trained him.  What he added to it was this, “I’m gonna hire more people like me.”  He finds kids that are really smart and really want to be in the film business knowing that even if the films are crap, at least they’ll get it done.  Being as that is, he’s never said anything disparaging about his own product.3
     
    The MPAA rating system came in effect by the time Corman made the film Hollywood Boulevard (1976).  The rating system allowed filmmakers to do and show things that they couldn't before.  Corman began making raunchy ’70s exploitation films like Jackson County Jail (1976) and The Woman Hunt (1973).  He hired young smart ambitious filmmakers to shoot his films and this became unofficially known as the Corman School of Filmmaking.  If you were a new filmmaker at this time and didn’t have any connections, Corman was the only place in town that would give you your shot.  It was a true exploitation experience because Corman exploits these young ambitious filmmakers with long hours and slave wages, but they’re also exploiting him because he’s their only road into the movie business.  Corman asked a young Jonathan Demme, “you can write press releases but can you write a screenplay? 1” Demme tried his hand at screenwriting and out of this came the woman’s prison film The Hot Box (1972).  As long as the new filmmakers knew what genre notes they had to hit, they could do whatever they wanted in between.  McCain recalled his first meeting with Corman: 
     
    I had an obligatory meeting with Roger for new directors.  Roger had a real office in front of the building.  You sit on couch and Roger comes in.  He introduces himself and has a polite, calm, erudite manner.  He reminds you the basics: get plenty of coverage, work from a shot list, and don’t let things go too slowly on set.  Every new director got this standardized speech.3
     
    The reward for doing a great job for Corman was matriculation into the mainstream film industry.  Hollywood was desperate for new talent in the ‘70s and turned to film school graduates and Corman alumni to take over.  Ron Howard was known as an actor but wanted to get into directing.  Corman gave Howard the opportunity to direct as long as 

    corman

    he would also act in the film to make it more marketable.  Howard agreed to Corman’s terms and made a car chase comedy called Grand Theft Auto (1977).  During the production, Howard needed to get a shot of a stadium full of extras but didn’t have enough on set.  He called Corman to ask to hire more extras and Corman said no.  Corman could tell Howard was dejected and told Howard, “you do a good job for me on my terms on this movie and you’ll never have to work for me again.1
     
    Corman got into making Blaxploitation films for urban audiences such as The Big Bird Cage (1972) starring Pam Grier.  Grier did her own precarious stunts and said of Corman, “He can talk you into buying sand on a desert and it’ll taste good too.1” Martin Scorsese actually brought his project Mean Streets (1973) to Corman first to produce.  Corman said he would do the picture if the characters were black instead of Italian.  Scorsese gave the idea some thought but chose to keep the characters Italian because that was his own upbringing.  Scorsese didn’t make the film with Corman but because of his experience on Boxcar Bertha (1972), he was able to shoot the film on a time limit.  
     
    Surprisingly, Corman’s taste in pictures is a lot different than the films he makes; Corman is a big fan of international art films.  Corman owned his own distribution company that distributed Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman films when the studios gave up on them.  Mick Garris commented on Corman’s tastes, “He's also got a taste for the outré, in addition to his more commercial endeavors.  He has a good sense of humor, but seems rather serious at times, and unflappable.2
     
    Things were looking good for Corman and New World Pictures in the ‘70s.  Corman made a lucrative deal with CBS to license his old films for television.  Corman had decided to get into more expensive filmmaking but the new generation of filmmakers completely caught him off guard.  Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) became the first summer blockbuster hit, a film that brought a very Corman-like premise of a killer shark eating a naked woman, into the mainstream.  Suddenly, people stopped going to drive-in movies.  The biggest blow to Corman’s business model happened with the release of Star Wars (1977).  The hit came from nowhere and a giant change occurred just like the Easy Rider (1969) change.  Star Wars (1977) was a major threat to Corman’s business model because the major studios were doing what Corman was doing for low budget, but they were doing it for multimillions.  He didn’t know how he would be able to compete in this new landscape.  The major studios hit him in his bread and butter and Corman knew he couldn’t get away with making cheap science fiction anymore. 
     
    By the time the ‘80s came around, Corman’s business was diminishing but the advent of home video through VHS saved his business.  The major studios didn’t realize the potential of releasing their catalogues on home video yet, so the VHS landscape was his to dominate.  Corman began cranking out movies that went straight to video, spending a lot of money making sure the videos had catchy boxes.  This strategy gave his business a second life and Corman began making even more films than he had gladiatorsbefore.  The over production, and the fact the films weren’t going to be released on the big screen anyway, caused a giant reduction in production value.  The roads to the film industry for young filmmakers had changed too since new opportunities had presented themselves with the advent of music videos and commercials.  New filmmakers no longer had to go to Corman to break in.  
     
    Hollywood started paying attention to commercial filmmakers and music video directors in the early ‘90s.  Things really changed with the birth of the Sundance Film Festival and strong receptions to independent films like Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989).  Independent films and their filmmakers began getting attention and making a lot of money.  Young filmmakers didn’t have to make subpar genre films through Corman; they could actually produce films they were proud of and that were lucrative like Reservoir Dogs (1992) and El Mariachi (1992).  As the VHS market matured, the major studios began putting their film libraries out on VHS.  Corman responded by making his films more marketable overseas.  Howard McCain was hired as a director at New World Pictures in 1994.  By then, everybody had already realized that the Roger Corman experience was on the downward slope and that the heyday had passed.  McCain would go on to direct two feature length films for Corman, No Dessert, Dad, Until You Mow the Lawn (1994) and The Unspeakable (1997).  
    The advent of DVDs in the late ‘90s and the general reception of them in the 2000s boosted sales for Corman.  The major studios had learned their lesson from VHS and were quick to release their catalogues on DVD.  Corman was able to thrive in the 2000s by making coproduction monster films with Syfy Channel, which would air the films.  With such a long and rocky career, the question of relevancy comes to mind and McCain commented: 
     
    The very fact that I go to film schools and no one knows who Corman is speaks volumes.  Roger Corman is relevant because of the people he helped who became the leaders of the film industry, never because of his films.  That has since stopped.  Only in the lingering sense that those people are still relevant in the upper echelons in the film business is he relevant.2
     
    It is true that most film students do not have the slightest idea who Corman is, yet they do know who his world-class alumni are.  It does seem like the people who Corman discovered are the ones who cement his legacy, yet Mick Garris shared a quite positive outlook on Corman’s relevancy: 
     
    Hey, he's a human being, and a human being who left a tremendous mark on the world of cinema, so he'll always be relevant.  You judge someone by their best work, and he's got a long list of best works.  And even today he is churning out Syfy movies with abandon!  In his eighties!  So yeah, Roger is and always will be relevant.3
      
    corman and wifeIn 2009, Corman was invited to the Academy Awards where he won an honorary award for lifetime achievement.  The many filmmakers whom he had started were giving back to him.  Quentin Tarantino presented the award to Corman and said to him, “The film lovers of the planet earth thank you.1” As Corman made his way up to accept his award, Jonathan Demme told him, “I know when you get up there you’re gonna stick it to the man.1” Corman accepted the award and expressed in his thank you speech, “To have success in this world you have to take chances.  Keep gambling and keep taking chances1.”   Everyone in the star-studded audience stood up and applauded the man, the legend, and the legacy that is Roger Corman.  
     
    Today Corman still produces high volumes of low budget films with his latest company New Horizon Pictures.  I actually had the honor of working on one of his brilliantly titled movies Attack of the 50ft Cheerleader (2012).  New generations of low budget filmmakers have copied Corman’s formula for their own financial rewards, yet there can only be one Roger Corman.  It’s difficult to discuss Corman’s legacy without mentioning the waves of notable names who got their start through him such as Francis Ford Coppola, Joe Dante, John Sayles, Peter Bogdonavich, Robert Deniro, Sylvester Stallone, Pam Grier, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson Ron Howard, Jonathan Demme, and so many others.  
     
    At the age of 86, Corman still wants to stay in the game and is the shining example of how there is no retirement age as long as you love what you do.  
     
    Bibliography
     
    1.  Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel.  Dir.  Leslie Alex Stapleton.  Blu-ray.  Anchor Bay Entertainment, 2012.  
    2.  Garris, Mick.  E-mail interview.  November 17, 2012.  
    3.  McCain, Howard.  Phone interview.  November 9, 2012.  
    .

    Sorry about the language but that is exactly the reaction I had recently while moderating a film at the Regency South Coast Village Theater.  Let me tell you about it because it further reinforces what I tell my students about this business - you just never know so never say no to anything!

    First, the movie:  A terrific little independent feature called "The Mulberry Tree" written by actor and first time writer Louis Crugnali.  The logline sounds like you're going to want to get a box of tissues instead of popcorn:

    A drama centered on a young man working in Rhode Island's state corrections system and his relationship with a convicted murderer who is dying of AIDS and spending his remaining days on hospital detail.

    Yikes.  Pass the soft but strong paper.  And certainly some of that is true, tissue-wise, but the film is ultimately very positive and life affirming as the central character (played by Crugnali) struggles to find his place in the blue-collar world he's in.  The terrific Joe Morton plays the dying con with amazing grace and quiet charm and the stunning Daniella Alonzo plays Crugnali's love interest with as much skill as Morton but she is just a bit easier on the eyes.

    Guys, I love 'ya but bring Daniella next time she's in a movie of yours, okay?  Seriously...

    This unassuming, small film shouted its truth so loud and strong at various film festivals it's won several "Best Of" categories.  Everyone who saw it Friday night loved it and stuck around to listen to the men who helped birth it. 

    The film was accompanied by one of the producers and one of the distributors.  I normally do these Q&A's from a creative standpoint since I am a writer and that is what most interests me; but of course, there's a business side to film and I cover that too.  With a distributor and producer on stage we got an equal measure of both the creative and business end, and what a great boon that was!  Veteran producer Russell Grey told how he found the script, how many drafts he went through with Crugnali (19 drafts,) how how long it took to produce it (8 years,) and why it is listed as being made in 2010 but is only now hitting the theaters in 2013.

    Their distributor New Hollywood Entertainment's (NuHo) Chris Kanik was refreshingly blunt and honest about his work and the way films actually get to the screen.  Shoot anything you want, he said, then what?  You need a distributor to get your work to an audience.  I loved Chris' plain talk - truly a breath of fresh air.  Of course, Russell was equally as honest but there was always a little twinkle in his eye when he said anything - an indication to me that no matter what anyone said about the business, Russell knew from hard-won experience that there were exceptions to any rule, situation, or reality.  "It depends," he said - about almost everything.  Truth.

    The experience that had me saying "No Sh*t!" was so much fun.  In introducing myself to Russell before we went on stage and he said my name sounded familiar, asked me if I was in the business.  I (humbly - ha!) mentioned that I had 19 films produced.  When we talked a bit further we discovered that he had done casting for one of my films.  We had a good fifteen minutes of reminiscing about the production which was both great and very frustrating.  And we talked about how many people and companies we had in common.  At then end of the night, we exchanged cards and worked out that we would try to get something over to SyFy channel as soon as possible.  Russell doesn't cast anymore but he's doing even better as a producer and is as busy as a Hollywood madame after the Oscars.  I don't think there's any way that he and I can't connect given my track record with SyFy and his connections on the business side of things.

    larry p

    What made me happiest was that I got one of my talented scriptwriting students introduced to Russell and they exchanged contact info.  If she makes it, I'm getting a cut!  No, not really - just a thanks will do.  Really.  No really.  Well, maybe a Starbucks gift card...

    The amazing, wonderful, effusively enthusiastic and massively talented Lorenzo Porricelli, the Regency's general manager, was responsible for this incredible evening.  Mille grazie, paison - I had a perfect evening as usual. 

    Go see Mulberry Tree while it's in the theaters!  You'll be glad you did.

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    Happy 2013, Everyone

    Okay, so it's a little late - been busy, y'all.  And while we're at it, what happened to the website, you're asking?

    We were hacked.  Not horribly, just enough to freak me out and make me want to make sure it won't happen again.  Still working on that but we seem fairly stable now.  Now if I just get Google to forget that bit of nonsense and re-index us my life would be happier.

    And, yes, I am putting up a new site that will be cleaner, tighter and mobile aware.  That wasn't a lie - just not the total story.

    Until then, I'm shutting down site registration for a few reasons - mainly because I need to gain better control of it and that won't happen until the new framework is up. 

    You can still sign up for the newsletter and get the latest - click HERE

    There will be new content coming but I'll be keeping a bit more control over that too.  I may or may not open the front page to anonymous users - not sure yet.  But until then, until all that happens, enjoy what's here, keep on the lookout for some on-the-ground stuff (like seminars) coming up soon!

    So, stay focused and keep working for that dream!  We'll be right there with you in 2013 and beyond.

    Thanks and all our best,
    Mark, and the amazing Board of Directors for OC Screenwriters: Eric, Joe, Larry, Robert, Rudy, Toby and Victor!

    P.S. Also see these pages for more info on OC Screenwriters!

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    smashedAaron Paul isn't a large man.  Not that he's small - what I mean is that he isn't big or overpowering physically.  However, his screen persona is definitely bigger than life.  He consumes your entire attention when he's on stage  - that's why he's an Emmy-award winner for his role in "Breaking Bad" as Jessie Pinkman.

    Paul brings that big energy to his latest movie, "Smashed,"  a tiny-budget, indie directed by journeyman director James Ponsoldt.  Ponsoldt is a force to be reckoned with; a true talent who should be quickly rewarded by Hollywood for his understated style and very capable handling of the performances of his actors. 
     
    But then again, everyone associated with this film is damned good.  Everyone from the supporting actors to the producers who guided this film to a Jury Prize at Sundance, and especially the lead actors like Paul and Mary Elizabeth Winstead who plays her role brilliantly in this sometimes difficult movie about the devastation of addiction.
     
    Basically it's a story about change.  Imagine marrying and becoming drunks together.  Shared activities can be more than just going to bake sales.  Having blackout drunk sessions together counts, right?  At least it did for this film couple played by Paul and Winstead until Winstead's character decides to get sober.
     
    The unraveling of this relationship is at the core of this story.  It's ably and aptly handled with scenes that tear at your heart with their quietness.  Winstead's character wakes up once or twice not sure where she is or how she got there.  She loses her car.  She loses her lunch.  She loses the threads of her life so completely that all she can do is quit drinking and try to find herself again.
     
    Unfortunately that journey can't involve the man she loves because he wants to stay a party hound - he, according to him, doesn't have a problem.  He can handle the drugs and alcohol even if she can't.  Thus the basis of the dramatic conflict - how do you reconcile a sea change in your wife's life?  How do you cope with a new understanding of who you are that doesn't include your husband?
     
    For better and for worse takes on a whole new meaning with this film.  Who is better and who is worse, it purports to ask.  How do you leave someone you love so much but whose lifestyle is slowly killing you - and him?
     
    Tough stuff to think about.
     
    Even tougher to watch.
     
    But even with the emotional electricity that crackles and shocks throughout this film there's a core of sweetness and plain honestly  that gives you hope for the future.  The car scene with Winstead's character and her male friend comes to mind - you'll know it when you see it.
    The film is dark but it isn't bleak  - it's more like watching a rain storm that you can't play in but won't hurt you either like perhaps a hail storm or thunderstorm would.  If that analogy's working at all then I hope you're taking my meaning: despite the subject matter, this film won't make you so depressed you hate yourself for going.  Paced well, at 87 minutes it just flies by.  You meet, fall in love with, mourn and hope for these two confused and struggling characters in an crazy-short span of time.  They feel real and fully realized and you like them both.  And hate them both.  And feel sorry for them both.
     
    Saturday night, at the Regency Rancho Nigel theater, we were privileged to watch the film and then have a Q&A with Aaron Paul, the director/co-writer (Susan Burke is the other writer) James Ponsoldt, and one of the producers, Jonathan Schwartz.  All were articulate and charming, navigating questions from the moderator (me) and the enthusiastic audience who all stayed to listen.
     
    It's amazing to me how very nice and funny Paul is in person given the severely damaged characters he always manages to play.  I asked him where that came from - his producer, Jonathan, answered for him:  "Aaron has a vulnerability that comes pouring out of him even when he's playing bad guys."  I thought that really made a lot of sense.  The characters are damaged and you dislike them but you also feel terrible for them.  Quite a balancing act for Paul and one he manages to pull off seamlessly time after time.  After "Breaking Bad" goes away he should have a continued, massively  successful career both in features and television. 
     
    And I expect to see Mary Elizabeth Winstead in a ton more features soon - she was just terrific.
     
    "Smashed" is playing in theaters everywhere (art houses mostly so you might have to look for it) and has several places to get more information.  Facebook seems to be the choice for most up-to-date info.  (FB LINK)
     
    Highly recommended.
     
    And kudos to Lorenzo Porricelli and Greg Lenou at the Regency chain for supporting these independent films.

     

    paul williamsHe was a 70's phenom.  Seemingly anything he penned went Gold and Platinum.  Now he's (self-admittedly) in his 70's and happily busier than ever.  That twinkle and spark, the boundless enthusiasm he always seemed to have and would exhibit on talk shows, TV, movies and in his music is still roaring strong inside him. Grammy and  Academy Award-Winning Songwriter Paul Williams entranced a room of novelists and screenwriters for over two hours at the monthly SCWA meeting today.
     
    In his 20's and 30's he penned such  hits as "An Old Fashioned Love Song", as well as "The Family of Man", and "Out in the Country" for singing group Three Dog Night.  The Carpenters' "Rainy Day and Mondays," "I Won't Last a Day Without You," and "We've Only Just Begun", originally a song for a Crocker National Bank commercial solidified his star power.  
     
    He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and he's also been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame; but even if you don't know of him, or some of his hits, you do know his music.
     
     "Rainbow Connection,"  sung by superstar Muppet Kermit The Frog (and recently covered beautifully by songstress Sarah McLachlan) - one of his.  "Evergreen," that haunting song from a Star is Born and for which he won an Oscar - his.  He's done musicals, soundtracks, singles, albums, voice overs and voice acting - TV appearances as an actor, written TV eps, feature films, children's shows (like for "Sesame Street" and "Yo Gabba Gabba") and so many other things it's exhausting just writing his credits let alone imagining where he found the time and energy to do it all.
     
    He's so amazingly funny and accessible too.  That's something you don't often see in a star of his magnitude.  This is a man who's worked with John Huston, Robert Duval, Robert Redford, to name a few film people.  He's written for superstars like (political satirist) Mort Saul, The Carpenters and Barbra Streisand.
     
    Years of commercial and critical success is writ large against his still-ongoing legacy and yet he was happy and willing to sit and sign posters, CDs and DVDs for any and all who wanted.  He ate lunch with us and was interrupted a dozen times but always found a smile and a nice word for the people who came up to him while he was trying to chew gracefully around his food.  He was still cheerfully signing for people who ran after him as he was leaving for another appointment in Santa Barbara.
     
    He told stories - lots and lots of GREAT stories about his youth, and recent ones about his experiences and travels as current president of the prestigious ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.)
     
    a star is bornHe also told stories of blackout drunkedness and drugged-out stupidity that cost him work and relationships.  
     
    Sober now for years, Williams never blinked when he related tales of his alcohol and drug use that fueled many of his most creative years and filled many of his bleakest moments.  Of all his legion of accomplishments, he sounded most proud of the fact that he had managed to crawl out of the darkness in his mind and find a way to the light and away from dependancy.  (And also perhaps that he had recently lost 40 lbs - he did look great.)
     
    It's a cliche that creative people are self-destructive ("I did 48 episodes of Johnny Carson, I remember six of them".)  Perhaps Williams had more reasons than most to be so.  He was given drugs when he was young that severely stunted his growth (although obviously did nothing to harm his fertile and facile mind.)  No doubt he grew up with a short man's complex festering inside him - he was 4'6" in high school.  But, as he admits, perhaps that was also the reason he succeeded beyond anyone's expectations.
     
    Born in Nebraska, raised by extended family, Williams' path to Hollywood and songwriting fame is an uncanny, thrilling and inspiring tale of overcoming obstacles, never taking 'no' for an answer, and somehow always answering the bell when it rang even when those clanging bells were part of a massive hangover.
     
    As I mentioned - he held us enthralled.  We all want to believe that given the right circumstances and an unwillingness to quit we can all accomplish what he has.  He made us believers.
     
    A recent documentary "Paul Williams, Still Alive" (IMDB link) (available on iTunes for rental) details a lot of his story.  He mentioned an episode when he drunkedly guest-hosted the Merv Griffin Show that he said he ordered taken out of the 2011 film because it was too painful and embarrassing to watch.  Then, he said, he changed his mind because he wants to continue to help people by example.  "Embarrassing it might be," he said, "but necessary to show how far I've come.  And if I can do it, they can too.  So I left it in to show them that."
     
    He used the word 'gratitude' a lot and you got a sense that he is indeed grateful for his life turning out as well as it did.  Not that he didn't work hard for his acclaim; but he seemed to know, even if he didn't express it directly, that many work hard but many also fail.  He didn't fail and his gratitude to "The Universe" was often and genuinely expressed. 
     
    Wikipedia has a comprehensive article on him and he's all over YouTube.  But even if there was no written material about Paul Williams, his legacy is sung by tens of thousands of voices at weddings, in cars and Karoke bars, and on radio stations and television shows minute by minute by minute.  I'm sure something of his has made its way into a space capsule or space-born radio transmitter and is beaming across the galaxy to alien ears.  I wouldn't be shocked if said aliens landed and said to us, "We're looking for the Rainbow Connection."
     
    His love for his world and his place in it that found its way into his beautiful and irresistible compositions echoes relentlessly in the decades he's been around, now and most definitely will for decades to come.
     
    Even if he never writes another note or word, that is some damned legacy.
     
    And he is most definitely, some damned inspirational guy. 
     
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    Special thanks to Lorenzo Porricelli and the members of the Southern California Writers Association (SCWA) for bringing such great speakers to The O.C.  Please check their website (ocwriter.com) for more great events.
     

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