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    Thursday, 14 April 2011 10:18

    Atlas Shrugged

    Written by

    atlas shruggedIn college I was taught that satire isn’t necessarily funny - that it really got its humor, if any, by illuminating a larger social message and from the exaggeration of the social context of which it was parodying. A famous example of this is “Gulliver’s Travels” which was written really as a political and sociological treatise (before Jack Black got a hold of it.)

    “Atlas Shrugged” was written as satire - but it doesn’t really anymore exaggerate a larger social context because in its prescience it is our social context - and that may be laughable but it’s really not so funny anymore which is why this film could not have been released at a better time.

      The movie is true to the book - at least the first part of it. This is only part one of a projected three. Part I covers about a third of the book. Producer John Agiaoro figured if the market wanted Part II it would tell him - how Randian is that? Let the market decide. Free enterprise at its best.

     Agliaoro, committed the first cardinal sin of Hollywood - don’t use your own money - but he had such a passion for this story and initially figured it was a good investment buying the film rights. He didn’t factor in that it would take him nearly twenty years to get it to the screen. After many false starts and false promises, his dream, his vision of bringing Ayn Rand’s dystopian world to film has finally come true. 

    Screenwriter Brian Patrick O'Toole, not widely known or sold, took on the Herculean task of adapting this well-known material and he did an amazingly good job considering his lack of credit in this genre. Other writers had tried unsuccessfully to tackle this tome with varying degrees of success. I can directly relate to this experience since my script “Devil’s Knot” had several writers before me trying to tell that story unsuccessfully.  I can definitely say that taking well-known source material and being the “go-to writer” isn’t the most comfortable role. O’Toole is to be congratulated for rising to the occasion.

    Using virtual unknowns for the cast and crew, the film delivers on a persistently accurate vision of the book. You can definitely see these written taylor shillingcharacters coming alive on the screen.

    Taylor Shilling (“Mercy”) is Dagny Taggert a character who probably reflects Rand herself most completely. Shilling is very good in the role as are a slew of talented actors supported admirably by veteran character actors like Michael O’Keefe, Michael Lerner and Jon Polito. 

     To introduce these characters, an interesting technique was used by which brief spots for all the characters were played out, and then, building the layers upon layers of each character with longer spots as world news flew across the screen, we then saw reactions and actions, if any, that brought us into the heart of each character.

    The stakes become higher and higher with this method, as we see Dagny forced to respond and act against the absurdity of the world and what was occurring - the breakdown of society and the collapse of civilization.  Dagny (along with character John Galt - actor Paul Johansson) is one of the voices in response to this collapse because people like her own brother (actor Matthew Marsden,) although a multi-millionaire heir to the Taggert railroad, are afraid of people who actually created andatlas shrugged bridge moved society and civilization ahead with their inventiveness and courage.

     Dagny bring the stakes to a high level when she decides to use a controversial new metal, invented by a kindred soul, Hank Reardon (Grant Bowler) for her rail and rail cars, as well as a rail bridge, to carry cargo and oil from the only place in America producing oil by a revolutionary new method. Her choice makes her an absolute in a world of shadow men.

    The production is solid on a budget that can only be described as tiny. In today’s world of mega-blockbusters based on other material as famous as this, ten million dollars would buy you a star’s salary and not much else. How the producers pulled off the scenes they did puts one in deep admiration of the thought and foresight that went into the film. The funny thing is that entire production came together, as with most situations  in Hollywood, in a three month period because the producer's option was about to expire. Director Paul Johansson is to be commended fro wringing the most out of what was certainly a tight schedule.  

    Clever marketing by the producers is pitting this film and its conservativeatlas shrugged supporters against so-called liberal Hollywood. But everyone should see parts of their philosophies reflected in this film.

      Rand herself never fit neatly into anyone’s categories and neither does this story or film.  Although Conservatives and Libertarians can claim Rand as one of their own from a less government, free market philosophical standpoint, her open marriage and views on sexuality would cause many of the conservative Christians in these groups to howl in protest today. Word is, the character of Dagny Taggert was considerably sanitized from the book specifically because of this.  I'm sure the producer would argue that it wasn't terribly important to the storyline. 

      “A Clockwork Orange,” “Wag The Dog,” “Network,” and “Dr. Strangelove,” are all examples of terrific social satire that isn’t seen much anymore. “Atlas Shrugged” is destined to fit neatly into that category.  atlas shruggedWhether it will find an audience passionate enough about it to want more is yet to be seen. But one can only hope it will. We really need more movies that are this well-thought out and well-delivered and give us reasons to think about where we’re taking ourselves and our world for good or ill.  These types of conversations go missing more and more as our pundits and journalists become entertainers and not objective moderators of discourse.

    You can enjoy this film on many levels. See it and judge for yourself if the millions of dollars and decades producer Agiaoro put into it were worth it. No matter how you feel, I doubt you’ll walk away from this movie unaffected. 

    In a plastic, vanilla world of cookie-cutter films, that, in and of itself, is reason enough to go.

    "Atlas Shrugged" is playing locally at the Regency South Coast Village Theater (link)

    OCSWA board member Larry Porricelli contributed to this review. 

    Wednesday, 20 April 2011 11:50

    The Killing

    Written by

    the killing“The Killing” is a new series from AMC which does a tremendous amount of things right. It’s moody, atmospheric, raw and edgy. Well-written (mostly) and well-acted, the expert direction from Hollywood veterans sets us into a place where almost anything (bad) can happen. But more than anything else, "The Killing" takes its time getting to places that a lot of suspense dramas wouldn’t.  This bucks the current trend of frenetically paced and oft-times unsatisfying TV (think the pilot of "V".)

       There’s an actioney opening that’s a bit cliched that propels us into the grey world of Seattle, WA - this is Rosie Larsen trying desperately to escape from someone who is chasing her with obvious ill-intent. This chase is oddly cut in with lead detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos from “Big Love”) jogging along a similar path. Rather ham-handed symbolism but perhaps this is also to give us conspiracy fans something to lock into.  I found it distracting and unnecessary although, obviously, there is some ending symbolism here that has to be absorbed.

    Since we see this chase of Rosie Larsen right up front - and since AMC in their marketing wisdom has already told us in their slugline “Who Killed Rosie Larsen” - we know she’s a goner. This has the effect of making the first 30-40 minutes a bit tedious while we go through a journey with the detectives and Rosie’s family that we already know the ending to. There’s enough human drama to keep it moving but just barely.

    Because of the slugline and the setting in the Pacific Northwest (and certainthe killing stars other revelations as we go along) this show has been compared to “Twin Peaks.” “The Killing” is as much “Twin Peaks” as I am Katy Perry - at least in the first two hours. It just isn’t and don’t tune in thinking it is. And I pray they don’t go down that path since this feels more like the amazing British police procedural “Prime Suspect” (Helen Mirrin) which matter-of-factly presented horrible murders or situations but took its time to unravel all the human drama behind these crimes.

     Enos plays Sarah Linden, a detective who as the series opens is about to leave for the warmer climes of SoCal with a fiancé who adores her and a son who is teenaged-bitter and angry that they are moving away from his home and all his friends (topped off with the seemingly requisite cliche “he’s not my dad” line - ugh!) She has one day more to put in and her boss insists that she put in her full time. Of course she gets the case of the initially missing person then murder case of pretty teenager Rosie Larsen.

     It gets a little comical in a non-funny way that Linden keeps getting pulled back to this crime. It certainly goes to her character that she is so focused on this crime and its impact that she really can’t walk away; I’m assuming that at some point she’ll just have to give up the marriage/moving idea and stick around. Hopefully sooner than later since there were at least four scenes dedicated to the idea that she has to put off the flight to SoCal and a little goes a long way in this case. By hour one this dance of denial has already overstayed its welcome.

    mireille enosWhat makes “The Killing” so watchable (it’s already on a Season Pass on my Tivo) is certainly the characters. The crime itself is horrific and you feel for the girl who was the victim but the characters moving around this orbit of pain are the real compelling storylines.  The creators obviously understood this and make good use of it.

     Enos is stunningly good - it’s as if she pulled this character out of her soul.  Born to play this detective wouldn’t be an understatement. Her sorta/kinda/maybe partner, Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman “Snabba Cash”) is a polar opposite of her thoughtful manner. And he’s so good at times he steals the scenes as the Gen-X, slightly edgy former narc cop who is anxious to the killing starsprove he’s got the stuff to do big-boy homicide. Kinnaman is a Swedish actor - and you'd never know it - who has been up for several high-profile film roles lately.  This is a good place for him to land until he gets one of those roles.  He’s equal parts bull-in-a-china shop and cagey investigator. Although he’s a bit outclassed by the bulldog who is chief investigator Linden, he does come up with unique and interesting ways to find answers - like pretending to party (with weed) with two high-school girls to get a lead on something called “The Cage” which is the intriguing bit that rolls you out of the 2hr pilot and into the next episode.  It's also the title of this episode.

     There’s a subplot, obviously a major one, that involves Billy Campbell “Once and Again” as Darren Richmond, Seattle's city council president who is now running for Mayor. Since there are many scenes devoted to this sub-story and one particular potentially damning piece of evidence, we know that this will dovetail into the investigation in a big-time manner.

    The family of Rosie Larsen (mother played by Michelle Forbes “True Blood,” father played by Brent Sexton “Justified”) is a third subplot and it’s extremely challenging and painful watching them try to process the unthinkable - especially since Rosie’s aunt makes her sister feel guilty about not calling Rosie all weekend when the main part of the family was away camping. There’s obviously more to this story so stay tuned for the plot to thicken here.

    The first hour of this pilot was directed by Patti Jenkins (“Monster”) and the second hour was Ed Bianchi, a TV veteran. Both segments were written by Veena Sud “Cold Case,” who adapted it from the (very successful) Danish series “Forbrydelsen” which is now filming its third season.

    Although the story slips into the unbelievable, cliche and/or silly at times, on balance it is a terrific tonal, police procedural. This is series television done right. Real, imaginary and all shades of in-between, it leaves a mark on you that's not easily erased. It’s so much above the stuff we normally get that AMC, the parent production company, should be commended for stepping the killing sceneoutside the batter's box of the mundane and comfortable and swinging for the skies.

    I can see “The Killing” becoming a true cult classic - yes, all right, like “Twin Peaks” - and gathering a storm of Emmys for all involved.

    One thing is certain, anything Enos is in I will watch in the future. I’m sorry I missed her in “Big Love” but I won’t make that mistake again.

    “The Killing” pilot premiered on Wednesday night but takes its normal time/day slot on Sundays at 10:0 on AMC. 

    Monday, 04 April 2011 16:36

    CRIMINALS : Our fascination with bad people

    Written by

    hannibal the cannibalAs writers we all know the cardinal rule of: " You're only as good as your villain" so when crafting an interesting story focus is always going to be on the bad guy.  You never judge a story by saying the hero was so good, I loved it. One usually says the villain was weak. Maybe the hero was so good that the villain couldn't catch up?  Sadly our brains don't work that way.

    So I ponder the question, what is it to us humans that makes a bad person so fascinating?

    I'm doing some research on a T.V. pilot I'm writing and like all pilots you go to the newest crop of features and see how they start a show, introduce premise and characters, etc. I started with the series " SONS OF ANARCHY", since I was looking for an outlaw type of story. It's about a fictional biker gang from northern California. 

    Now I start to watch the series, the premises are not too strong the characters are a bit weak and the dialogue is O.K. but I'm awestruck by the fact that I want to keep watching more in spite of it's  shortcomings. Also, how do you walk around with an ARMY KNIFE strapped to your side and not get stopped? Maybe it's a NorCal thing.

    The writers are trying to make these guys likable but they're just dirtbags. Onekathy bates of the main guys is a good looking dirt bag but with a heart. There's a chief dirtbag, some small, thin and fat dirtbags, even some lady dirtbags. And it makes me wonder if I should just stop watching it because, in a way,  I'm glorifying their criminal life. But you see the genius here? I'm torn and want to watch more, in spite that I don't like who they are and what they stand for... Maybe I want to continue to watch to see them go down in flames.

    So I guess the series creator hit a great a mark here. It doesn't matter if the show is O.K. it doesn't need to be excellent just make the "dirtbags" BIG dirtbags and people will watch no matter what.

    Why do women go for the bad guys? Why do people respect the hard ass at work and not the nice guys who helps everyone around? I do believe our genetic wiring hasn't evolved that much from the stone age, where protection was crucial and leadership was needed, since it seems we still fall for the "alpha" character.

    I'm not new at this discovery. Hollywood, Scorsese and a many others from the Gangster movies from the 30's and 40's to the recent "Sopranos"  have profited with our fascination with the underworld.  And it comes down to one thing: people like to watch criminals!

    But it doesn't end with that, we like it when a thief gets away, we're stuck to the screen when a serial killer acts or other forms of human on human violence occur. Maybe life has become so easy, mundane and boring that we choose to escape to these lives. Probably everybody has the thought, one time or another, what it would be like to be respected (or feared) by others, have tons of cash and women at your disposal or just plain power. Yeah, it can be addictive, but if you're not part of the most dangerous gang of all "old white money" (as one of the characters in SOA says) it's not in our cards. So, yeah, maybe people want to walk on the wild side without the risks of getting thrown in jail, hurt or killed. Or maybe it's just human nature, long before 9 to 5 and gridlock happened the romans loved seeing people gorged to death by wild animals or slaves with armor. 

    Of course that doesn't mean as a writer you can be sloppy. Bad ideas, and bad premises always will kill any story no matter how fascinating your "bad boy" is. But one thing is clear, you'll get much more milage out of a lowlife than any other character, unless your writing a comedy. Combine both and you just might have box office gold.

    My advice ? Stick to what you like and if your story is not for kids (big $$$ market) or a comedy ( Bearish $$$ market) make your next character a criminal.

    Some people say crime doesn't pay... yeah,  ask Michael Chase!

    Wednesday, 30 March 2011 12:36

    The Hero With One Face

    Written by

    joseph campbellJoseph Campbell changed my life.  Without reservation I can say he was the single-most important factor in who I am as a writer.  

    When I started writing I was pretty good from a structural and technical aspect. I understood intuitively how to shape a story and how to create conflict and excitement in stories and scenes. Some of me thought it was because I was just well-read and well-educated (thank the Catholic Nuns for that.) What I didn’t realize is that I was actually channeling a lifetime, no, a universe of experience and what is known by Jungians as a “collective unconsciousness.” Campbell understood and detailed this concept in his many works and lectures.

    young campbellCampbell was an American mythologist and philosopher whose first published work “The Hero With A Thousand Faces” instantly became required reading across college campuses for decades. As a young man, in the 1920's and 30's Campbell pursued his passions for myth and philosophy with single-minded determination by reading and traveling constantly. Although an amazing scholar Campbell was also a star athlete, husband, and jazz musician who lived life to the fullest. He blended the activities of his mind with a consistent level of physical activity in order to remain open to the cultural experiences that would shape his lifetime’s work.

    It was during this time, while exposed to different cultures and places in the world - including a roadtrip across America - that Campbell began to formulate the thoughts for his scholarly and humanistic works through myth and myth structure. His hero book, the first expression of these thoughts, was instantly embraced by an unsettled world hungry for ideas that explained who campbell and wife jean on honeymoonwe were becoming by understanding who we had been.

     Carl Jung was influential in Campbell’s work. The term “collective unconsciousness” was Jung’s. A lot of Jungian concepts find their way into Campbell’s dialogue and some that he puts forth in his many lectures and books seem rather “new Ageish” - a bit like “energy fields” and “sacred energies.” But what I heard those many years ago when I was exposed to these concepts was: tell a story like your distant forefathers did and you will own the world because you will tap into something that no one can explain.

     At its core, Campbell's thoughts expressed information about archetypal works that had direct resonance for all of us. “Mentor,” “Temptress,” “Hero,” “Villain,” “Shapeshifter.” these types of characters are found in tens of thousands of myths and tens of thousands of stories, fables and nursery rhymes. It was pretty obvious but Campbell was the person who first expressed it so completely and in such comprehensively academic terms.

    If you think about it, we are really hardwired from birth to these stories - “Once upon a time...” is the beginning to many tales about heroic feats, consequences, and just about every life lesson you can imagine. These fundamental stories find their ways into film, novels, comic books, music, video games, etc. as we re-express them in our current cultural terms - but at the core, they are the same stories that have been told since mankind crawled out of the primordial oceans.

    Is this truly a connection to a collective unconsciousness or just the fact thatfrank frazetta painting our common ancestors migrated across continents with similar tales that then evolved into specific cultural identity stories? American Indians have a “Jonah and the Whale” myth; Egypt has the biblical virgin birth story; all cultures have flood and creation myths. So does it really matter if you call it collective unconsciousness or common-shared experiences? The question of mankind's societal origin is writ large across many sociologists’ research but for writers it’s easy - just compose a story that utilizes those archetypes and you will be tapping into a place where our cultural and human heritages live; in other words, you be using the same techniques that Shakespeare and John Updike and Stephen King have used to create their work that has lasted decades and centuries and continues to resonate years beyond its creation.

    I’ve read and taught Campbell’s lessons for years. His lectures are famous and can be found in many places including a series of brilliant conversations with journalist Bill Moyers called “The Power of Myth.” If you’re a writer, you can’t do yourself a greater favor than to familiarize yourself with this man’s work. It can be daunting - Campbell does not write or speak simply - but the rewards are worth the effort.

    A perhaps more accessible version would be Christopher Vogler’s incredible book “The Writer’s Journey” which discusses both Campbellian myth concepts and the inner journey that every writer undertakes when he or she sets words to page. Vogler’s book has also been a favorite of mine for many years.

     March 26th was Campbell’s 100 birthday. Although he’s been gone from this world for decades (he died in 1987) his collected works live a robust life. Physically gone he may be, but his “collective unconsciousness” will live an eternity.

    “Follow Your Bliss” and get to know this amazing man’s work.

    Monday, 28 March 2011 11:26

    SUCKERPUNCH : Why a script matters!

    Written by

    suckerpunchBeing a so called "movie-person" people often ask my opinion about movies or sometimes to explain some to them. Sometimes I'm on the money, sometimes I'm lost and some other times I am so baffled I don't know exactly what to say. 

    This moment came when my friends cousin from Argentina, who is studying english here for a year, asked me to explain to her Suckerpunch. First she's not very fluent in english and second not very versed in American pop culture so how to break it to her easy was the thing. I went ... it's like Inception, no wait it's like Pan's Laberynth, no... it's like Shelter Island... well, it's a bunch of hot girls in sexy outfits, using swords and guns to escape their surroundings through dreams.

    So it's a dream movie she asks? I say kinda.  So it's a quest type movie? I go kinda. Do they go out of the this dream? I say not for 80% of the film. And then she hit's it on the nail, she goes , so if it's a dream there are no consequences to the characters since nobody can get hurt.

    And I went WOW.

    Funny a person with no film training found one of the many flaws of Suckerpunch as a movie. In writing class one of the very first things they hammer to you is that one must have a very clear understanding of the stakes for your hero. What will the character loose, and why she/he/thing must do something to avoid any wrong doing that will become. Zack Snyder , the writer,(Director of 300 and WATCHMEN) surely played hooky that day.

    Now some people might say, well you didn't get what he was trying to say. He's actually using these escapism dream sequences to mirror the horrible conditions the characters are living in (a 1930's asylum for "troubled" women). And that the opponents they face are just symbols for male oppression that females face every day - AKA combating the penis. So for every german soldier (penis), Dragon (big penis) and SUPER SAMURAI ROBOT (huge penis) they fight,  they're actually trying to bring their oppression down and gain equal rights.

    Sorry I'm not buying it. Especially when you can clearly see that this movie is what Snyder and probably other suits though teen males with raging hormones would go rush to see.

    Now this a great, great disappointment because the action scenes a very well done and piled up with layers and layers of very awesome geeky goodness. I mean the WWI scenes where fantastic (with a nice tight script it could have just stayed in this realm and been another hit for Snyder), the Dragon stuff was cool and the giant robot fight scenes were crafted to perfection. But like an awesome meal in front of you it's totally useless when you just came from IN - N - OUT. One can use the argument that Snyder is a master of green screen illusion and can craft a fun action movie, but only if he's tightly reined and guided by an interesting story, such as Frank Miller's 300. Therefore once again, action scenes witout a good story to back them up end up being a *ahem*  "suckerpunch" to your intellect. 

    And here is were it's important to us writers. THE SCRIPT. It is always sad to see how high the level of entry to Hollywood's writing community is and then see movies like this constantly flow through their pipes.

    When it comes to story give me something real, something to believe in and if not keep the dream coherent and in the nice neat storyline to follow. Don't jump from a cruel reality to a Strip club ambient 2nd dream reality and then to a  batsh*t crazy what ever you think is hot n cool 3rd dream reality. Then of course don't mix all three and shake it like crazy and throw us bits and pieces all through 109 minutes. If you want to do this, atleast put some work in the storyline so we can be convinced of it.

    The movie is about a wronged girl named "Baby Doll" who is forced into a mental institution by her evil stepfather (lay on the stereotypes please). She then finds out she going to be treated to a lobotomy but before that happens she decides to use what is left of her useful mind to escape her reality and try to finally ditch her horrible situation.

    There she uses the other girls from the asylum to help her find "keys", "fire" and a "map"
     to help them escape their dire situation. I say uses because there is really no reason for the others to help her out and no real character development on them either. Besides it's Baby Doll's dream and she can do what ever she wants.

    The sets, design and acting are good. I mean every actor committed to their parts and gave it their all. But nothing could save them from the huge plot mess that they had to work with. I can detail for a while all the weak points of the film but why bore you. Maybe if you want to watch and decide that for yourself I encourage you to do so. One can learn a lot from a good movie as much as a bad one. Also if you dig deep enough you can justify the plot and actions. I have no problem having to work a little for a good film but just can't get myself to it for this one.

    if you think you'll enjoy huge explosions and hot chicks with machine guns for no good reason then this is great movie for you. Could I catergorize it? I don't know, the closest thing I can come to is maybe "Hick Porn" ???

    So what can we learn from Suckerpunch?

    Lesson 1) Make the stakes worth while. If you're in a dream and you die, make that have consequences other than that it's just paper thin.

    Lesson 2) Don't pile action sequences for the sake. If you want to do that go create a video game. Scenes should have to be a function of one another not a "cool" reason to blow something up. You can do that but I'm doubtful any producer would want to produce your movie.

    So pretty much like the strippers of Baby Doll's fantasies, SUCKERPUNCH doesn't care about you, it just wants your money. It's all up to you if you just want a cinematic lapdance or a meaningful movie  relationship..

    Friday, 25 March 2011 11:41

    The Last Movie Star

    Written by

    young taylor

    “The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they're going to have some pretty annoying virtues.”  Elizabeth Taylor 

    On a Wednesday night in the summer of 1963, I was at the weekly Boy Scout meeting of Troop 69 in the Kendall Elementary School gymnasium, and though I was Senior Patrol Leader and a member of the Order of the Arrow, my mind, hell, my entire being, was far from Scouting. It was the night that “Cleopatra” was to have its world premiere in New York, at 8:00 PM, in the Rivoli Theatre, a spectacular movie palace in Manhattan that I had visited often. 

    I looked to the clock on the gym wall so many times, and when it was close to 8 PM, I was riveted, watching the second hand as it hit the 12. My heart raced and I knew the curtain was rising on the film, and on the woman I loved.

    I was only 14, but my first encounter with Elizabeth Taylor onscreen had been as enrapturing and hypnotic as Montgomery Clift’s, in “A Place in the Sun”. And as I watched that film, I was young and I had not known any real women, only girls, but Elizabeth Taylor was a woman. And everything within me, every thought, every desire, was of this beautiful woman.

    There was something alluring and captivating that I couldn’t control, and I loved every minute of my rapture, for she was something I had never known to exist, and she oozed  all the possibilities of passion that make love the most popular subject of poems, songs, books, films, plays, paintings, and life. 

    taylor burtonAll I saw was Cleopatra before me, her and those damn, sexy, velvet diamond eyes, and I knew I was more in love with her than Richard Burton. I had my red, Japanese transistor radio with me, and they were broadcasting live from the premiere, so I left the gym, and turned on the radio and put it to my ear to hear the report. Announcers spoke of her as if she was the Second Coming of Christ. I was dizzy, and that was no little thing for an active teen Boy Scout who played sports and could lash together a bridge over a raging 
    river in 20 minutes.taylor

    The previous August my heart had been crushed when Marilyn Monroe died, but I was immature, and had thought of her as “wow’, but not much more. I saw a reissue of “A Place in the Sun” a short time later, and I lived and breathed one thing, Elizabeth Taylor was a Goddess, my Goddess. I had grown up.  

    And who could have known that a young girl named Elizabeth Taylor, who starred with Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer in her first film, 1942’s “There’s One born taylorEvery Minute”, would become not only the most beautiful and successful actress in the world, but the one who would bring the issue of AIDS to the living rooms of the world. 

    In “A Place in the Sun”, Montgomery Clift’s was a rising young executive from the lower class who became enraptured the first moment he met Elizabeth Taylor’s character, an upper crust young woman with an appetite for romance. Unfortunately, Clift was married to Shelly Winters, whom he murdered in gruesome fashion to spend his time with Ms. Taylor. Although it was a movie, many could understand the passion of Clift in the film. 

    Elizabeth Taylor wasn’t just stunningly beautiful. She was dazzling. She defined gorgeous. She was so sultry her appeal was beyond sexy. Perhaps entrancing is an all-encompassing description, for every molecule, every atom, every breath, every slight move of hers was hypnotic. And magnetic. That was Elizabeth Taylor. There was no actress who could convey such a range of emotion and be so suggestive with even the slightest glance than Elizabeth Taylor.

    America shared her pain when her husband, producer Mike Todd, of “Around the World in 80 Days”, and developer of Todd A-O Vision, died in a plane taylorcrash in 1958, only one year after they were married, and she was only 25. 

    And Taylor was not one to hide her passions. Her affairs were in the open, she didn’t hide them. Paparazzi were invented to pursue her and Richard Burton in Rome because of  their affair while filming “Cleopatra” (Which while panned by critics, and labeled the most expensive film ever made, the film made plenty of money for her and 20th Century Fox, as fans around the world loved the movie.)

    Taylor was the biggest star on the planet, anything she did became a fad, any clothes she wore became the fashion, and her hair styles made hair salons rich as every woman copied them. She was the woman who did it all herself. And the world bowed before her. 

    Elizabeth Taylor’s magic began as a child, when she appeared in a “Lassie” film, and though in her early teens, even film critics were enamored with her beauty. When “National Velvet” became a phenomenal success, her stunning eyes were violet diamonds that enticed the world. One look to the sky, and those eyes brought innocent hope to every heart. 

    She worked regularly, and with every star, from Spencer Tracy in “Father of the Bride”, to Clift, to Katherine Hepburn in “Suddenly Last Summer”, Paul Newman in “”Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, James Dean and Rock Hudson in “Giant”, and with so many more actors and directors. 

    Taylor never took an acting lesson, and yet she won two Academy Awards, and from 1956teen -1960 she was nominated every year for Best Actress, before winning in 1960 playing a hooker in “Butterfield 8.” (Incidentally, the winner of Best Supporting Actress in the same year, 1960, was Shirley Jones, who also played a prostitute in “Elmer Gantry”.)  

    She won her second Oscar for her spectacular performance in, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” in 1966.

    But what set her up on Olympian Heights, was her business acumen. For” Cleopatra”, Taylor earned “$1 million, which in 1963 was more than four times the rate major male actors were making. Additionally, she collected ten-percent of the picture’s gross, which was a hefty sum. She also received that for “Virginia Woolf.”

    taylor midAs she matured, she produced a lined of fragrances and jewelry that sent her value into the stratosphere, and her estate is estimated at close to $1 billion. 

    But all of that aside, in 1985, her dear friend, Rock Hudson, whom she had starred with in “Giant”, developed AIDS and soon died. At the time, AIDS was not spoken of except  in hushed tones, it wasn’t even mentioned by the President, but Taylor took it head on, and started a foundation to assist AIDS patients throughout the world, and she raised more than $25 billion for the AIDS cause, and started a worldwide movement and acceptance of the illness.

    Elizabeth, I will see you in every star, every night, from here to beyond the horizon.  

    ~~~ Elizabath Taylor quotes  ~~~

    ""I never planned to acquire a lot of jewels or a lot of husbands.” 

    ”Big girls need big diamonds.” 

    “The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they're going to have some pretty annoying virtues.” 

    "I am a very committed wife. And I should be committed too - for being married so many  times." 

    "Some of my best leading men have been dogs and horses." 

    "Everything makes me nervous - except making films."

    "I adore wearing gems, but not because they are mine. You can't possess radiance, you can only admire it.

    "I don't pretend to be an ordinary housewife. "

    "I feel very adventurous. There are so many doors to be opened, and I'm not afraid to look behind them."

    "I fell off my pink cloud with a thud."
    "I have a woman's body and a child's emotions. "

    "I sweat real sweat and I shake real shakes. "

    "It is strange that the years teach us patience; that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting."

    Wednesday, 16 March 2011 18:31

    Posers - Where Is Your Passion?

    Written by

    poserI've been in this business for a long time.  Probably longer than I should given that I'm of reasonably sound mind.

    When I started, it was in junior college attending classes to find out how to write a script.  Of course, no one could teach me that - I tell my students all the time you need to teach yourself. But the teacher many times provides the inspiration for the seeking of that knowledge.

    As I teach, continue to work in this industry, and run the Orange County Screenwriters Association, I find a lot of posers - a term that came straight out of Hollywood about 15 years ago.  Perhaps it was used before that but it's never been more appropriately applied to people who "want" to do something in Hollywood.

    Directing, editing, writing, acting - anything in this business - is hard effing work; perhaps the hardest work you will ever do.  There is so much casual success and rewarding of mediocrity under mysterious circumstances (relatives, sex partners, college buddies) that you sometimes think you never have a chance.  It's not like professional sports where you're almost sure to be rewarded for being good - in film you can do everything right and better than everyone else and still fail.  Now that's harsh.

    So to succeed, even briefly and even marginally you have to really, really want this; more than that hot blond cheerleader in high school; more than winning the lottery; more than that classic Shelby Mustang - more than almost anything you can imagine.

    And most don't.  Want it, I mean.  They only like the idea of wanting it.

    I've seen hundreds of students, colleagues, friends, acquaintances throw themselves at the Hollywood Hills and fall back down bruised and battered.  Most quit.  The tough ones get up, dust off and run up that hill again pushing that Sisyphusic boulder before them.  The really tough ones do it more than once or twice.  The few who succeed though, don't do it over and over again because that concept never occurs to them - they just never stop - they never see the bottom of the hill because they don't allow themselves to be pushed back in the first place. They dig their heels in, scream invective at the gods, bleed from their eyes but they do not budge.  They demand a hearing.  They demand to be heard.

    All of this is to say that since those junior college days where one of my instructors provided me with the passion to want to teach myself how to write, I just don't see the level of commitment in most people that it takes to succeed in this business. Not that I necessarily have an inside track but I know that I am ten times tougher than anyone I've met because the people who run things, the gate keepers, demand it.  

    I've been rejected at every level imaginable, insulted, fired, abused, ignored, marginalized, laughed at and just donald trumpabout any other demeaning thing you can imagine.  Most of the time it's not personal - it's just the business.  But it is exactly the nature of this business.  You are rejected at every level before you are accepted at any level.

    Big rewards demand big risks and an inability to hear the laughter, or the abuse - to ignore the rejection and the disdain.  To have such a complete utter faith in yourself that you don't care what happens negatively because you reject the rejection.

    Donald Trump, for all that we laugh at him, has heard it all, failed grandly, and now has seven billion dollars in the bank, is running for President and has his name on everything. He's even so secure that he makes fun of himself.  He might be the punchline to a joke to you or me but he is laughing in luxury and basking in the glow of his success.  How?  Why?  It isn't all his father's fortune - he went bankrupt at least once and lost that.  He simply wanted it more than the other guys and refused to consider failure.

    You can't be a half-stepper in this world of film, of show business.  You need to want it; to love the game and the failures as much as the success.  You cannot be a poser because to do it, you just have to do it - to bastardize a Nike slogan.

    They had it right in the musical "Annie Get Your Gun" and the song "There's No Business Like Show Business."

    "The headaches, the heartaches, the backaches, the flops, 
    The sheriff who escorts you out of town..."

    the untouchablesThere's a great conversation that actually describes what I'm saying exactly because it tells what's necessary to win against all odds - the commitment that cannot be compromised.

    It's from the film "The Untouchables" written by David Mamet who certainly knows about achievement and what it takes to succeed against all odds.  It's when Jimmy Malone played by Sean Connery, as a no-nonsense Chicago cop tells the naive Federal agent Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner)  what it takes to get his goal of taking down the power that is Al Capone.

    Malone: You said you wanted to get Capone. Do you really wanna get him? You see what I'm saying is, what are you prepared to do?
    Ness: Anything and everything in my power.
    Malone: And *then* what are you prepared to do? If you open the can on these worms you must be prepared to go all the way because they're not gonna give up the fight until one of you is dead.
    Ness: How do you do it then?
    Malone: You wanna know how you do it? Here's how, they pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way, and that's how you get Capone! Now do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that?
    Ness: I have sworn to capture this man with all legal powers at my disposal and I will do so.
    Malone: Well, the Lord hates a coward. Do you know what a blood oath is, Mr. Ness?
    Ness: Yes.
    Malone: Good, 'cause you just took one.

    Yeah.  That's what it takes, you posers.  

    People tell me all the time to relax, to take it easy.  But I don't know how to do that - I'm focused on one thing and one thing only - I want this business, this career.  I have sold 25 scripts, made 19 films and I want more.  And that desire, good or ill, infects everything I do, everything I am.  If that's not you then so be it.  That's fine.  But if it is you, if you want it as badly as I do you need to stop talking about it, making half-hearted swipes at it, and make it bleed.

    Because you can bet your ass that I will.  And I will push that rock right over you if you hesitate.  I will pull a gun when you pull a knife.

    I want it all and I'm willing to do whatever it takes. 

    Monday, 14 March 2011 16:39

    RANGO : Adult animation is here

    Written by

    rango posterChameleons are pretty much the "geek" choice in pets. No offense to geeks (being a honorary member mysef.) But when people ask you : Does your pet bring you your slippers? you say no. Does it play around with yarn and entertains you with it's purring? you say no. But when you proudly respond:  my pet has 160 types of subspecies and changes colors... can yours do that?  the conversation usually ends with people walking away or if you're in 5th grade a punch to the nose... so it figures that Gore Verbinski (director of Pirates of the Carribean) choose this noble type of lizard for a hero in this movie.

    Animation has always been created for adults to entertain children (while secretly hoping it would entertain some adults too). For years since Walt Disney lifted his gifted pencil animation has been the realm of the 10 and under crowd. But grown ups have always been behind the scenes with its shenanigans making animation with tongue in cheek jokes while never really stepping into adulthood story themes.

    Rango I believe changes that.

    Rango's story is the typical hero/chameleon with flaw - he wants to be an actor, but can't because he has no friends and is confined to glass box. Again not many other chameleons visit each other's glass tanks for a chat in thespian theory. So what if he's thrown into a world he never knew existed? Be pushed to the limits of his physical and mental strength? Forced to save the day and at the same time forge a place for himself in this world?... and do it against the  great backdrop of America's greatest "loner" genre - The Western.

    Sorry if I spoiled the story for you but news flash: Nothing that you see or will ever see in a movie theater is new. Every single story you've see has between 30 to 70% stolen from another movie, book or folk tale. If you see something completely original email me and if you have valid proof I'll send you $100.00 , oh and for those thinking of getting their stinky paws on my 100 bucks by saying "INCEPTION" go back and read an obscure Japanese novel from 1954 or if you're lazy a Scrooge McDuck comic, just google it. So there you have it folks nothing is new just meant to look new. Here's a free tip kids,rango poster 2  two words studios and producers hate : familiar and different - but they love a story that is familiar BUT different. Yeah I know, this industry is crazy.

    Rango is very familiar but again very different, the story is is mishmash or "homage" of Chinatown, Sergio Leone movies, greek tragedy and couple of clever scenes ripped off ..*ehem* inspired by many late comedies. But what makes it different are two crucial things -  its look and theme.

    It looks like a mixture between CGI, and real life texture all painted over with an edge diffuser brush. I haven't seen anything like it and that tricks the brain to make one feel the story is original. Also helps that, and luckily for us writers, that 80% of the population going to the movies only remembers things from last week and the others who do, don't mind. I will give you that some scenes were very clever for the simple idea of " what if we put an critter with a gun? " hence some mean prairie dogs with Gatling guns. But you'll never get a rango morememorable line from this movie because it's not that type of movie.

    I overall loved the visuals and enjoyed the somewhat inspired dialogue. But it's all fun when a lovable chameleon/con artist gets his Shakespeare on with gullible country folks, I mean animals.

    The other thing that caught my eye was the serious adult themes in the movie of corruption, greed, manipulation and politics never seen in an animation because... all together class... animation is for children. Hence what I think will be a new sub-genre in animation I like to call grownupimation. The look is certainly for adults, the story is certainly for adults and as soon as some brave directors throws in a couple of F-bombs we're off to the races. Sorry if this doesn't read like your run of the mill movie review, I didn't get a critics job from my dad, nor am I a writer with grudge looking to find tiny holes in every movie but a concerned audience member and writer looking to give props where props are due.

    If you're looking for good 'ol American fun at the movies you can't miss with Rango. If you're looking for a clever message in subliminal imagery or setups join the Army intelligence signal corps and if you hate animation don't go. For the rest of us Rango is just fine and is the first salvo in the animation for adults genre that will be popping out everywhere once the other studio execs see they can make money with quirky adult themed CGI movies. 

    Friday, 25 February 2011 21:18

    VIDEO GAMES: Know thy enemy

    Written by

    red dead redemptionoIt's February 23rd, 1911 and I'm in the badlands of the Texas/ Mexican border. In the last 3 hours I have learned to fast rope a horse, operate a 44 cal.  carabine, understand the political constraints of local law enforcement and made $26 by capturing a wanted horse wrangler, dead or alive (it was easier to shoot him to bring him in).

    No, I'm not dreaming or in the mist of a fantastic world created from my screenplay. I'm playing in the world, of what many writers think might be the last nail in the coffin of Theater going, of a video game. 

    This particular game is called "Red Dead Redemption." One of the highest grossing video games of 2010. I have always been curious about video games but never really been curious enough about penetrating these cyber worlds were one can be lost for hours (and days if you have no job, friends or a girlfriend). They never interested me until the playing got really... well how can I say it "cinematic".

    After a recent meeting at a studio that will remain nameless, but rhymes with Smashamount. We were met with a producer that has had some very big hits in the '80's and '90's, who was a friend of my producer. We all went to lunch, thinking wow, I'm not worthy. At the table we were talking about the economy, the sad state of movies, the actress that recently got two greenlights even though she's box office doom. And then the conversation got to video games. And big shot producer goes "Hey Gus you're the puppy here, what's your take on video games? Should we start learning about computers?"

    Funny, that shows how some of the Hollywood players are out of touch with the "utes" like my cousin Vinny said. First he mentioned learning about computers and never learning to write code...anyway . What did I respond? I said I think they're the next thing. The room went silent. Foot in my mouth? maybe. Again I should have shut up since I'm not a huge gamer. But big shot perked up and I was amazed at what he said next. He said and I quote " Then we gotta learn their tricks and try to pull these kids from the living room back to the movies". That's a fearless leader right there. He wasn't shocked and ready to go back to his convertible Mercedes and drown the rest of his days in whiskey at his Malibu pad. He wanted a fight. And that got me curious... maybe we're being too stupid here, us writers in ignoring the wealth of information a video game can teach us. Tsun Zsu said : Learn thy enemy. And maybe he's right. We should go into these worlds, disect them see what makes them tick, what keeps a person glued and what can we learn to try to bring it to the page and maybe a movie. I remember how Blockbuster got his @#$ kicked to the curb when it ignored the future and let Netflix run wild online, when it came to it's senses the war was lost. I don't want to be another "Blockbuster" so there I went and bought the game.

    As I continued to play I totally see why anyone would get enthralled in these plots. You're the "hero" and you get completely immersed in the story. You shoot, steal, deal, flirt all your way to the next challenge. Of course it's on rails since the programers take you on the journey. But it's very incredible, dynamic and real life like. The pixels are getting closer and closer to human likeness every day. But it's the small details that amazed me the most. I walk into the town of "Armadillo" ( I know,  when it comes to fun names these guys are programers not writers) I have to go to the bar but before I get there a drunkard stumbles and I kid you not, falls flat on his face!... I could have continued inside but I followed the guy and it's like it had his own life, he walks, crept, fell down, stood up and tried to get to the other side of town. I followed him for like 10 minutes and I'm amazed at the computing power these things have. It is total immersion and no movie can compete with that... for now. Being raised on a farm, I've done my share of horse riding, with a saddles and without and it's not as easy at it seems. After riding long and hard in the game I pause the horse and my character does the typical thing any riders does at a stop - lifts his ass to relieve the pain! Even the most minute details have been thought of.

    Now the story, which is why we're here, is pretty much paper thin, my character gets wronged and is forced to do something to save bla, bla. But that's all it needs because you get to shoot, kick and cuss at everyone else in this world. You can be a good guy, a bad guy or a lighter shade of grey. I've been playing the nice lawman, but also loot the guys I shoot, hey nobody said the West was easy besides made a extra 7 bucks among the three "desperados" I searched. 

    Overall here's one thing I learned, I'm going back to RDR, for more fun. So what else can I learn or take away? Not much aside that it's a great world that for $ 40 ( when the game came out last year it retailed for $ 60) it will keep you entertained for months and maybe a year to come. Hard to beat 4 movie tickets.  The cinematic style is good, but doesn't beat the movies. I think the two can co-exist but movies better start having some more engaging aspects, maybe 3 D might not be so bad after all. But I still have to play some to get a better sense of it.

    Are we writers going the way of Blockbuster? I don't think so. I think that maybe we should learn how to bring our movie talents and story telling to video games. Most games are pretty flat story wise and RDR is no exception. But think of it, with a great plot and or twist a good game can become memorable.

    To be frank one usually ends an article with a point or at least something to close your argument and I can't seem to find one that says movies are better than video games. They're not, but again movies have been around since the 1900's (curiosly the timeframe in which RDR plays), only color and image quality has changed, and that was 110 years ago! Daryl Zanuck or the Warner brothers couldn't even imagine anything like a video game would ever be possible and in many cases better than some movies being released today.

    So is there hope?  Yes, should we stay put and see what happens? Absolutely not!

    So get a video game, play it, get to know it. It will be one of the next frontiers of story telling. And who knows maybe your next blockbuster will come from a plastic box and not a ticket stub.


    Wednesday, 23 February 2011 23:55

    Networking Event - February 2011

    Written by

    FADE IN:


    MARK walks into the restaurant already stressed from running late in rush hour traffic and meets the MANAGER at the front desk who nods as Mark introduces himself.

    Yeah, we got 'ya.  Twenty people for dinner.

    Uh, no.  Fifty people for a meeting.

    Well, we got you in this corner.

    The Manager shows Mark to a small section of the restaurant where nicely appointed tables sit waiting for guests.

    (deeply concerned)
    But...that's not enough room.  
    We can't fit fifty people in this area.  
    Plus, we have a sound system.

    The Manager shrugs and walks away.

    Mark's looks like his brain is about to explode.  Clenching his jaw, he's ready to commit a violent act upon the Manager but the Manager comes back and works hard to make things right.

    Ah, the joys of running an org...

    A small misunderstanding with the staff of Taco Rosa - but it all turned out well.  Right?  Right.

    Last night we met at Taco Rosa in Irvine to do our 1st networking event of 2011.  Although it started with a tense misunderstanding of the space we were to have, by the time most of the people arrived things were happily rolling along.

    Our estimates put our gathering at just south of 70 people which is a great turnout for a Wednesday night in February.

    We accomplished all of our goals foremost of which was to expose the group to more members and expose all the members to each other.  We also wanted to get into a dialogue started about the year ahead based on what you, our members, needed as filmmakers.  In other words, we're seeking your help to shape our events and resources.

    After a brief introduction from moi, the current captain of this always interesting ship, we had the very savvy and accomplished Terri Zinner of Gallagher Literary Management speak.  Terri is a vet of the show business wars and she gave us a lot of insight into the process of screening material for representation and possible sale. I found myself nodding at everything she said - she knows the business of the business, there is no doubt about that. Thanks, Terri - we all loved you! 

    We also gave away two copies of Final Draft 8.0 the latest version of the need-to-have software for aspiring and professional writers.  The copies went to deserving writers; one, a young mom struggling to realize her dreams and the other, a 24-yr-old student who is working on his scriptwriting so he can direct his own work.  Congrats to you both.

    We also gave away some DVDs and a beautiful, hard-bound copy of the graphic novel "300."

    Our next event will be on March 23rd (we're pretty sure) and at a different venue so keep watching this site, the MeetUp page or sign up for the newsletter on this site.

    Anyone wanting to make suggestions as to future events, directions, critiques, etc. please go HERE or HERE and leave us a message.  

    Great to see you all and to meet those who hadn't been with us before.  Thanks to all who helped make this event great including Savvy Robot, Viral Whisper, and my always fantastic board of dir

    So, the take-away from the event?  Keep your passion alive, peeps -  it will serve you well. And I am proof positive that our dreams can be accomplished.  We'll actually talk more about all that at our next Networking Event  - which, we promise, won't be shoved into a corner of a busy restaurant... 

    Thursday, 17 February 2011 11:47

    On The Shoulders of Giants

    Written by


    giantsMy good friend and mentor Raymond Obstfeld is one of those slashes - you know: screenwriter/producer/etc.  But Raymond's slashes go even further to NY Times best-selling author / long-time teacher / prolific fiction and non-fiction novelist / co-founder of this org and, certainly not least, husband and father.

    A few years back he hooked up with NBA L.A. Laker legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to write a non-fiction book: On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance (2007) ISBN 978-1416534884

    Raymond wrote the first draft of the independent feature that is premiering tonight in Hollywood but had to decline further re-writes because of time and other professional commitment issues. 

    raymond obstfeldI caught him on the phone on his way to physical therapy for his knee - he's also a cutthroat volleyball and basketball player and apparently went hard to the hoop once too many times...

    OCSWA:  How did get you involved with Kareem?

    RAYMOND: Deborah Morales (producer/director of the film) contacted me through (writer/instructor)  Anna Waterhouse.

    OCSWA:  About a book?

    RAYMOND:  No, it was initially conceived to be a film but I suggested also writing a book, which then became a New York Times best seller.raymond and kareem

    OCSWA:  But you did write a script?

    RAYMOND:  Yes, a 1st draft.  I had other obligations and had to step away after that. Anna did the rewrites and did a fantastic job.

    OCWSA:  Was it difficult collaborating?  With Kareem?

    RAYMOND:  No, on either question.  Kareem is amazing - being a writer himself, he knew what he wanted and has encyclopedic knowledge of the subject.  He also remembers way more than I do about the book we wrote - I'm astonished when he pulls out these small facts at interviews and book signings.

    OCSWA:  You have over 40 books published, dozens of scripts, have written hundreds of articles, syllabi, how-to's and you're a full-time teacher and have a family with young kids - how many hours do you actually get to write?  And when do you sleep?  Or do you?

    book coverRAYMOND:  (Laughing) I write about 4-5 hours a day.

    OCSWA:  Will you be going to the premier?

    RAYMOND:  The kids are sick so I'm staying home.  I really don't get too involved with that stuff anyway - I saw Kareem last week and we had a celebratory dinner.  It was enough for me.

    OCSWA:  Any chance we could get you and Kareem to do a screening of the film down here and then perhaps a book signing?

    RAYMOND:  Maybe.  Let me check and get back to you about it.

    Can't wait!

    "On The Shoulders Of Giants" premiers tonight in Hollywood and opens widely soon.  Look for it.

    There's also more information on Raymond here when he was featured as an Orange County Screenwriter board member and there are also a few articles he's written for the website.  Search for his name and you'll find them. 

    On a personal note, it is fitting that I should write this article about Raymond and his book because the shoulders of the giant I've stood for many years on are his.

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