The Orange County Screenwriters Association
    Be Inspired, Do Good Work

    Thursday, 27 January 2011 10:22

    The Pioneers of Television

    Written by

    pioneers of tvPBS, an occasional target of political groups for the perception of bias, is perhaps one of our greatest national and cultural treasures.  The original programming like "Nature," "Nova," "Frontline," and even "Antiques Roadshow" fills the airwaves with intelligent, articulate television fare.

    The "Pioneers of Television" is the latest contribution to that pantheon of broadcast goodness.

    Following another PBS' hit series  "The Pioneers of Primetime" in 2005, this series focuses on the big genres that made up television in the 50's, 60's and 70's and shaped the landscape of broadcast TV forever by stumbling upon the formats what would become our evening's standard fare.  Although television has exploded out of the Big Three network formats, sitcoms like "Modern Family" and speculative dramas like "X-Files" still owe much to those intrepid entertainment explorers who created shows that are now bespoken of as legendary. 

    The 1st episode which dealt with science fiction shows like "Star Trek," "Lostpbs logo In Space," "Twilight Zone" and others details the path to becoming almost folkloric in nature.  It talks of the behind-the-scenes pressures and creative angst that propelled men like Gene Roddenberry ("Star Trek") to want to escape into outer space to be able to tell his tales of morality that "normal" dramas wouldn't touch.  Frustrated by the lack of network support for shows he had created previously, Roddenberry looked to the stars to deal with such hot button topics as prejudice, sexuality, and the arms race at a time when none of these issues were being discussed on the airwaves by entertainment entities.

    The format of the episodes is standard and straightforward - a narrator brings a storyline to the fore interspersed with interviews from the actual stars of these shows and clips from the original programming with behind-the-scenes stills peppering the visuals.

    The 2nd episode delves into the westerns that once dominated the primetime television airwaves.  

    Shows like "Big Valley," "Bonanza," "High Chaparral" andtwilight zone "Maverick" are examined and dissected, while not in great detail certainly deeply enough to give you a sense of what drove them and the men and women who created them.

    Many of us who hadn't seen these shows in first run can begin to better to understand the culture of the time that shaped these shows and appreciate the present day given the perspective of those who came before.  

    For example, "Davy Crockett," which became an instant and huge hit for Disney, made enough money for Walt's still-young company to enable him to build Disneyland;  "High Chaparral" features an ahead-of-his time Mexican character in a lead role who wasn't a taco-based cliche and also a strong, independent woman (Barbara Stanwyck) in charge of a huge ranch; the odd-ball and the schlocky "Lost In Space" chosen by CBS-TV instead of "Star Trek" made Irwin Allen the biggest television producer of the time challenging what was possible in terms of TV success 

    kirk uhuraThere is also a wonderful story of how William Shatner forced fearful producers to use TV's first interracial kiss (between Kirk and Uhura) in the 1968 Star Trek episode "Plato's Stepchildren" by just crossing his eyes.  

    And as mentioned, there are interesting tales about  Roddenberry's quest to show material that reflected the shifting culture of the nascent civil rights movement by using the Starship Enterprise as a metaphoric model.  It's no accident that the bridge of the Enterprise featured white men and black women (the first time that a black woman was given such a major role,) aliens and humans, and Russians, Asians, and Scots.  Or that Kirk tried to negotiate first and shoot only when negotiations proved untenable.  Roddenberry's Universe was more benign than the space fare that had come before because mankind, in the 23rd Century, was considerably more enlightened.

    Watching this series bring into close focus that television did much more than reflect the times - it, in some measure, created them. It seems silly to talk about an "interracial kiss" in today's world but once-upon-a-time it was not done on television - at all.  Some of the point of watching this show is to remind us of what was and what wasn't until these trailblazers put their imprimatur on the television of the time and actually changed the status quo.

    Nearly 100 silver age stars will be interviewed by the time the series is finished, most in HD, with many of the clips remastered in HD.

    Anyone with any interest in the incredibly creative and frustrating medium of television will find a lot of very interesting and valuable material here. 

    Check the website for complete programming information.  Future episodes will include:

    "Crime Dramas" - Air Date Tuesday, 02/02/11

    Pioneers of TV crime dramas, including Jack Webb ("Dragnet"), Desi Arnaz ("The Untouchables"), Bruce Geller ("Mannix" and "Mission: Impossible"), Bill Cosby, Angie Dickinson, Barbara Bain, Martin Landau and James Garner.

     

    “Late Night” – Air Date 02/15/11

    The stories of Steve Allen, Jack Paar and Johnny Carson headline this episode about the formative years of late-night television. Merv Griffin also emerges as a key player on the late-night scene. (His interview for Pioneers was his last before he died.) Regis Philbin offers revelations about his years as a late-night sidekick (to Joey Bishop). Dick Cavett and Arsenio Hall also discuss their years in the mix, and Sigourney Weaver offers personal details about her father, Pat — the creator of “Tonight.” The episode is peppered with dozens of never-before-seen clips, including Johnny Carson performing in his early 20s.

    “Sitcoms” – Air Date 02/22/11

    This episode focuses on five key sitcoms: “I Love Lucy,” “Thehoneymooners Honeymooners,” “Make Room for Daddy,” “The Andy Griffith Show” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” The last remaining Honeymooner, Joyce Randolph, offers surprising insights into the mind of Jackie Gleason. Similarly, Marlo Thomas speaks candidly about her father, Danny. Andy Griffith offers forceful opinions about the people and techniques that made his show work. In a rare occurrence, both Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke recount their years on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” Hundreds of episodes were culled for the most entertaining clips — including one particularly side-splitting bit by Don Knotts.


    “Variety” – 

    smothers brothersThis episode begins with Ed Sullivan’s “Toast of the Town” and Milton Berle’s “Texaco Star Theater” and progresses through “The Carol Burnett Show,” “Smothers Brothers” and “Laugh-In,” among others. Tim Conway and Jonathan Winters tell hilarious stories about their variety show years. Conversely, Pat Boone offers chilling insight into early TV’s unspoken racism, and Tommy Smothers details the compelling behind-the-scenes story of his landmark show. Tony Orlando wraps up the era with especially insightful comments about the genre. The episode includes fresh bites from Pioneers’ earlier interviews with Milton Berle, Red Skelton and Sid Caesar. There’s no shortage of great clips for this episode; standouts include Flip Wilson in a hilarious turn as Geraldine.

    “Game Shows”

    This episode traces one of broadcasting’s strongest genres — from its beginnings in radio through its heyday in the late 60s. Bob Barker talks about his earliest work, and Merv Griffin details his creation of “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy.” Monty Hall recounts his compelling rags-to-riches story, and Betty White remembers her role as the first female emcee. Clips for this episode are wide-ranging and include Phyllis Diller’s very first TV appearance — as a painfully shy contestant on Groucho Marx’s “You Bet Your Life."
     

    Monday, 24 January 2011 22:42

    Onion News Network / Portlandia

    Written by

    onion news networkDid you think Ricky Gervais was mean in his delivery on the recent Golden Globe Awards?  Trust me, Gervais was a Jonas Brother compared to the Onion News Network.

    Having been a long-time fan of The Onion, I hoped for the best and was amply rewarded with the Onion's long-standing tradition of absurd and incisive satire deftly in play here.

    Clearly aiming to lampoon CNN, MSNBC and FOXNews and their continuing race downward to journalistic vacuousness and stunning reportage stupidity, ONN puts big news on trial, finds them guilty and then executes them with the mercy of a ravenous praying mantid.

    The anchor in charge of  "The Fact Zone," Brooke Alvarez, is played to blond-coiffed perfection by Suzanne Sena who was actually a former Fox News Channel anchor.  Her deliberate condescension and constant dismissal of everything on which she isSuzanne Sena reporting on merges with her pitch-perfect, self-absorbed delivery.  

    She flatout looks, dresses and sounds like one of these beauty-queen anchors and that makes the ridiculousness of what's she saying even more insanely funny.

    ONN doesn't hit (yet) specific political targets like John Stewart and Steven Colbert do on their satirical shows but rather keeps to generically-generated topics like:

    • A young, white teen who stabs another white teen is told by the judge that she will tried as a black man.  She subsequently is killed by white supremacists who shout "that's what you get for killing a white girl."
    • The history of the handjob and the man who "invented" it.
    • A recognition that one of the ONN correspondents took 2nd place in the "Touch Screen Awards" (because he superciliously uses one to show the most vacuous material just like they do on the big new networks.)
    • A report on an attractive correspondent who has been kidnapped by terrorists - and both ONN anchors are horrified that her hair is "so flat."  They even draw a diagram to show the flatness.
    • A report on an FDA Official who tells America to "Just Eat A Goddamn Vegetable.

    The show reminds me of the best of the crazed comedy writers from the groundbreaking "National Lampoon" magazine who displayed a cover where they were going to kill a dog if you didn't buy a magazine, and the fact that if you hold a hamster upside down by its legs, its eyes fall out; and that if you fart, burp, and sneeze at the same time, you die.

    The humor is also somewhat reminiscent of  the brilliant and ahead-of-its- time madmen at The Firesign Theater.  (Oh yeah - and "The Onion.")

    Profane, insane and at times inane.   The Onion News Network went right to a Season Pass on my Tivo and will stay there are long as they continue to deliver such wacky and wicked comedy.

    Fridays at 10/9c IFC Channel

    ~~~

    And now for something completely different...

    portlandia"Portlandia"  I did not expect to really like - the teasers looked flat and somewhat masturbatory.  Fred Arminsen is certainly a funny man and quite creative. Some of his SNL skits are terrifically funny (I love the testosterone-driven, clueless producer who steps in for the female therapist on her talk show) - but not everything hits with accuracy.  He fails more than succeeds but when he succeeds, he does it large.

    "Portlandia" certainly could be one of those massive successes.  If you like wacky, and at times weird, understated sketch comedy

    Arminsen, and his partner on the show, vocalist/guitarist Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney,) act out the most outrageous and goofy portrayals of people of Portland where, as it's mentioned in the pilot. the silly, slacker 90's still live.  A place where you can still want to do nothing except eat organic tofu and ride a bicycle to work.

    Sketch comedy is usually uneven and this is no exception.  But in the finest tradition of the classic "SCTV" the sketches almost always at least amuse and do cause chuckles and a few real guffaws of joy.  

    Arminsen is nothing if not comedically watchable with his plastic face and infectious, slapstick enthusiasm for his characters; and Brownstein plays her roles with a personal truth that is hard to imagine given how different they all are.  In other words, she's a damned good comedic actress - and fun to watch.

    In perhaps the funniest sketch of the show, producer/director/actor and HBO rising star Steve Buscemi ("Boardwalk Empire") plays a frustrated customer who only wants to use the bathroom in a shop that sells - hell, I'm not really sure - but the results are fun-ny as the dimwitted, unaware clerks continually unconsciously thwart him even as they indict him for his sexist and unenlightened attitude.

    In another, continuing sketch, Arminsen and Brownstein visit a cultish organic farm before they order a chicken dish to make sure the chicken had a lovely life before it was put on the menu.  

    arminsen and brownsteinThe show is (so far) six-episodes and certainly funny and absurd enough to keep me wanting to see them all.

    Imagine, perhaps, if you had been able to see "Fawlty Towers" first run.  That's the kind of show this could become given the promise of the first episode.

    Jonathan Krisel also is listed as one of the creators.  Even at a fairly  young age, Krisel has a ton of great comedy cred including SNL and some of their digital shorts.

    Upcoming, this is from the IFC website:
    An assortment of guest stars inhabit PORTLANDIA, including Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks, Sex & The City), Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation), Selma Blair (Legally Blonde, Hellboy), Heather Graham (The Hangover), Edie McClurg (Ferris Bueller's Day Off), Kumail Nanjiani (Michael & Michael Have Issues), Jason Sudeikis (SNL, The Cleveland Show), and Gus Van Sant (Milk). Singer/songwriter Aimee Mann also guest stars, alongside James Mercer (The Shins), and local Portland musicians Jenny Conlee and Colin Meloy (The Decemberists) and Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney).
     

    Fridays, 10:30/9:30c IFC Channel

     

    Friday, 21 January 2011 09:18

    James Ellroy's L.A.: City of Demons

    Written by

    ellroyIf you're in the City of Angels and you walk down any street, chances are you're near the site of a previous crime scene.  

    If you're walking with crime author James Ellroy, he could certainly tell you the specifics of those crime scenes in gruesome detail. This is the premise of Ellroy's new weekly show.

    But James Ellroy's L.A.: City of Demons should be called City of My Demons because the city has shaped Ellroy in every way imaginable.  The first episode of his new ID Network show makes that clear in abundant fashion.

    If you're an Ellroy fan/follower you certainly know about his obsession with the Black Dahlia case which formed one of the novels of his L.A. crime quadrilogy.  And since the 1st episode of this series is called Dead Women Own Me you sorta know what you're gonna get.  

    The horrifying, beyond-brutal death of Elizabeth Short, a beautiful L.A. party girl in 1947 captured young Ellroy's mind when he was given a book by his father written by Jack Web of early T.V.'s Dragnet fame. Ellroy says that he linked Short with the murder of his own mother, Jean Hilliker,black dahlia who was found strangled and possible sexually assaulted when Ellroy was 10-yrs-old.  Several of Ellroy's recent books mention this linkage in one form or another including his latest, The Hilliker Curse.

    Always painfully honest and with this seemingly obsessive need for self-confession, possibly to exorcise the demons who are his constant companion, Ellroy talks endlessly about his love and lust for his lost mother and the unhealthy link to Elizabeth Short.   So two of the three cases in the 1st episode have some nearly direct connection to Ellroy's life and interior world.

    But it's the third case discussed on the episode, the case of 16-yr-old Stephanie Gorman, a promising young actress, who was raped and murdered in 1965 that brings the idea of Ellroy linking crimes that take place here in L.A. with his own world into sharp focus.

    Ellroy sees a clear parallel with this young girl's murder and the 2009 murder of Lily Burke, the 17-year-old daughter of two of Ellroy's friends.  Whether for the show's purposes, purposes of a literary nature, or as a true (if bizarre) linkage in his mind, you begin to see that murder in Los Angeles, especially murder of the sexual kind, holds a deep and abiding meaning for Ellroy.  It's almost as if he believes that there is a true demonic presence in the city that transcends time and to which he is intimately connected, perhaps even feeding from, for his prose.

    Three stories, three personal tales in this first episode.  Compelling?  Certainly at times, especially if you were being exposed to Ellroy for the first time.  His affected delivery of the prose narrative he certainly must have written for the show, the intense but flat nature of his dead-eyed delivery, and the stories and details of those stories are certain to evoke some sort of visceral response. But if you had prior knowledge of any of the cases that Ellroy discussed, the first episode was perhaps a bit of a disappointment because it covered no really new ground.

    Ellroy is Ellroy is Ellroy.  Whether listening to him at a talk (link), reading his prose or watching him on television, you're gonna get Ellroy.  He's not an discoveryactor; he has no pretense or artiface.  You like him or you don't.  I don't know what I expected but I didn't expect the show's 1st ep to be so close to him.  Understanding a little of who Ellroy is, I should not have expected anything different.  His ex-wife and a bizarre, animated dog of his named Barko (which is now deceased) take up some of the screen time.  Personal indeed.

    I'm not saying any this is good or bad - just that it is Ellroy with all his warts and pimples.  Are people ready to have this man and his amazing crime vocabulary derived of years of obsessive study delivered into their living rooms?  We will certainly find out as the series unfolds.

    I'm curious to see what the 2nd episode will involve.  How many crimes will Ellroy be able to link to himself?  Or will that even be part of the show going forward?  I hope they break that linkage and just deliver some of this material straight up with only a bit of an Ellroy chaser.  I'm not sure the show benefits from that much of the intensely personal, confessional-style narrative - and the dog he can lose anytime without, I suspect, anyone missing it much.

    From a Discovery statement by Ellroy: "Crime is a palpitatingly perennial gas - and L.A. crime is the craaaazy creme-de-la-crime," Ellroy states. "Viewers are terribly tired of the trailer trash tragedies that caustically contaminate documentary TV. They wantonly want to groove, grok, gravitate and glide toward glamorous crime - and L.A. is where all that shimmering sh...stuff...pervertedly percolates. This show will be serious, satirical and great fun."

    So far, that's pretty much right.

    JAMES ELLROY'S LA: CITY OF DEMONS is on Wednesdays at 10 PM (ET) on Investigation Discovery.  

    true girt poster"I've come to hire you, Marshall Cogburn, because people say you have true grit" - Mattie Ross.

    Very few lines in a movie contains so much of what we movie goers come to expect when seeing a movie and in TRUE GRIT the expectations are well met.

    Westerns are the fading genre,  hopeful stories of redemption and good vs. evil that capture in essence what is the real America (or United States for the rest of the world). Forget the economy, Obama and tea parties. These people are what started and made America great. Those rugged pioneers that traversed the wilds of indian infested frontiers in tarp covered wagons without Thera-flu to combat those hard winters or a Starbucks close by to contemplate on their existence. People forged by rough working conditions, hard liquor and guns. Yes, guns. Because without the firearms the west wouldn't have been "wild" at all.

    Being able to survive these conditions made you tough, but also made you a self relying society destined for great things.

    In those days your word and name was the only thing a man really had. Having "true grit" or unfaltering courage is what made you survive. But also is a lesson in values that many people have just forgotten these days because they don't need it anymore to live. The commitment to do something because it's right and not convenient is the whole notion of this film. One that the Coen brothers followed to the " t " in this remake. 

    Now forget about the 1969 loved version with John Wayne. As great as the "dukes" performace was in that version this one guides itself closer to the book by Charles Portis. The Coen's get it right from almost every angle from staging, casting and tone. The Coen's have a long love affair with american culture and always do their stories right by historical and social commentary.

    Where to start is very confusing because all parts that make this movie are equally good. But I would like to make our jump first into the visual. Cinematography makes or breaks a film. Period. You can have the greatest actors and script in the world but if the images you see don't mesh with the tone or the feel you've lost already. The scenery in this movie just does the simple thing of telling the story. You see the town - rough and busy and when you go into the unknown, in this case the indian infested territories or as known in screenwriting as "the underworld" you get a clear sense that you're not in Kansas anymore. The terrain you see is as cold and rough as the story it is telling. Brilliant work done here.

    Now the choice of Jeff Bridges as Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn is good casting. You can appreciate his complete physical transformation. One look at this guy and you don't want him mad or offended or even drunk when crossing him (which he's always two of the three). Bridges portrayal of Cogburn is done in the right measure of experienced lawman, nostalgic crusader and all around loud mouth. His love for the bottle also makes one think that his glory days are forever gone, something we recognize at the end as just another ruse by the "rooster".

    Another remarkable acting job is for newcomer Hailee Steinfield who plays the young Maddie Ross the girl that hires Cogburn to track down Cheney, the killer of her father. The performance is tuned in just rightly so that, in the hands of less experienced directors,  would had come off as a just a pesky brat. Also Matt Damon as Labeouf the Texas ranger that helps our heros and Josh Brolin as the outlaw Chaney do their part in supporting the movie. I might contest that the weakest link here is Brolin. Not that he did a bad job but just didn't come off as the menacing type you would think, maybe it was his intention but who knows. Also props to the rest of the cast who all in small and fun ways gave a great texture of western archetypes that well true gritreflected society in those days. Not one drop of bad casting here... I tip my stetson to that.

    The script keeps the pace well rounded and although if you've seen the pages of the shooting script some dialogue seemed a bit long at first glance, but it was very well delivered by the actors and again well paced by the directors. For those of the school of less dialogue is better go ahead, but in my opinion, where dialogue should be the length it needs to be to give the right idea or premise it works well here and again if done right doesn't bog down a film.

    For everyone who laments the "newer" movies being made with cheesy special effects, lame cop comedies or absurd story lines TRUE GRIT is a little piece of "country" that gives faith to the movie making business today. I'm grateful studio execs didn't butcher this movie or requested a role for Justin Beiber and let an expirienced duo like the Coens do their thing. Hopefully after seeing this movie it might inspire all of us to tune into our own little pieces of "true grit" and maybe, just maybe make us become a little bit better.

    glee logoWhat makes a show a hit?

    “Modern Family,” “Sopranos,” “Rescue Me,” “Law and Order (all versions),” “L.A. Law,” “West Wing,” “Friends” - what do all these shows have in common - besides being legendary hits for their respective networks?

    Let’s use the example of a new hit - “Glee” to walk through some common factors.

    “Glee,” the show about the ebb and flow of high school set against a glee club, is in the middle of its 2nd season. I’m late to the party so I’m just four eps into Season 2 but if Season 1 is any indication this show could last a long time before it loses its relevance

    cast“Glee” started as a feature that was shopped around Hollywood for a few years. Created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, various circumstances transformed it into a weekly series pilot.  It’s now a solid hit with the cast doing stage shows and iTunes and YouTube overrun with its imaginative covers of songs that range from the classic to the bizarre.

    How?  Why does something go from promise to the nirvana of TV hit?  Let's examine some of the elements that in general make all successful shows the hits they become.

    The Big Metaphor - "Glee" like most great series is a microcosmic reflection of society.  Set in little Lima, Ohio it shows how so-called "winners" and "losers" interact.  It tells of the stratification of the have's and have nots - except that the have nots have real value, depth and strength and haves aren't always in the exalted positions we perceive them to be.  The glee club is run by a nice-guy "failure" who is teaching glee rather than living his dream of being a Broadway performer. His enemy?  The uber successful, hard-nosed teacher of the cheerleaders.  Their personalities, styles and just about everything else clash to great metaphoric effect.  Metaphors of this type abound.  Television, even more than movies, reflect our world.  The solid hit series understand and take advantage of this. 

    The “Conceit”  - All series have what I call the conceit - in other words, what is the world that this series presents, and the one thing this show does that others don’t?  What will this show ask you to accept? That there’s a psychopathic mobster in New Jersey who is in therapy, or that crimes are solved by cutting edge forensic science in 44 minutes each and every week?

    The conceit, the “high concept” is in a word - musical performance, both song and dance. If you like musical theater or anything similar you have to love “Glee” which features at least 4-5 performances per episode. These are always meticulously and creatively arranged and choreographed numbers that might skew from 40's pop to 2k hits like “Telephone” by Lady Gaga.

    An article I read said that an episode might take between 3-4 weeks to finish depending on the amount of musical production - that’s unheard of and part of the reason “Glee” works so well. The cast is asked not only to do compelling drama and hilarious comedy but also to knock us flat musically. And all of that happens each and every week. Quite an accomplishment and the one thing that separates this series from all others which is what any successful series has to do.

    Terrific Writing  - This is a bit like the old Steve Martin routine "How To Be A Millionaire.  1st, get a million dollars."  Great writing.  Sure - just do that.  But in the case of “Glee” the creators drew both on personal experience and solid writing chops from other work to create a compelling hour of fun.  None of the three is a beginner and all have worked hard over many years honing their craft.  So yeah - great writing.  It's not accidental.

    The pilot they wrote sold in record time after it was adapted from its feature-length incarnation. Fox saw great potential in the unique perspective the concept presented but the sly and clever writing also had a lot to do with the sale.  "Glee" like all great series, is filled with memorable lines and moments.  But it's filtered through a unique perspective.

    “Freaks and Geeks” and others had similar polarized camps of high schoolers but I don’t remember any scene where the football players gathered outside the dumpster to play toss the geek into the trash. And before they do, the jocks accede to his wishes to take off his coat which is part of the new “Marc Jacobs collection" before they make him part of the morning garbage. Funny and sorta scary at the same time.

    The characters fall into comfortable types but they have nuances and internal pain that elevate them to other than just stereotypes. They become almost archetypal in their quest for relevance. The football player who loves to sing (Cory Monteith); the talented and driven diva (Lea Michele) with two gay dads; the BBW songstress (Amber Riley) who hates taking a secondary role in the performances because she’s not rail-thin; the wheelchair-bound gleester (Kevin McHale) who wants nothing but to be able to dance. Nothing startling, perhaps, but all handled well and soundly with the more-than-occasional flash of brilliance.

    Great Villains - All great productions, film or TV have great villains.  "Glee" has them in droves.  From the angry and lovestruck football coach to the insanely well-written and unique Sue Slyvester, the superstar coach of the "Cheerios" (the cheer squad who send their uniforms to Europe to be dry cleaned.)  Plenty of student villains too - in fact, they oft-times toss big gulp slushies on the gleek's faces and then also on the football players and cheerleaders who go over to the glee club.  Then there's Vocal Adrenalin, the supremely talented and snarky glee club from another school and of course, the internal demons that all the characters posses and the various students themselves who cause a never-ending supply of fear-driven angst.  

    This preponderance of villains and villainy creates some of the most delicious conflict you've ever been exposed to.  Check out "Rescue Me" if you want anything close to what these writers squeeze out of every episode.

    What really astounds me about this show is the ability of the creators to continually shift our allegiance from one villain to another. From one set of emotions about those villains to something totally different. How in the world do you end up liking someone as conniving and evil as Sue Sylvester played brilliantly by comedic actress Jane Lynch? How does the blatantly horrible and seemingly shallow head cheerleader (the gorgeous and talented Dianna Agron ) make us ultimately feel sorry for her? The tap dance (pun intended) that the writers do with these characters and the plot dynamics is truly remarkable.

    Freshness - Probably the one thing I most admire about this series is the settings of the production numbers. Understanding that as terrific as the music and dancing can be, people will tune you out eventually if you don’t push the settings into different areas.

    Besides the glee classroom, where there are instruments and a seemingly always ready band, and the school theater, the nature habitat of any performing group, the producers have set numbers in a wedding dress shop, a mall (with a real flash mob,) a football field during a game, the high school’s open-air quad (a really great season 2 opening number,) walking in the hallways, montages that shift from locale to locale with different verses and different people singing, various rooms in various homes, and dozens of other unique set pieces that keep the material fresh. This is an essential part of any successful piece of television or film writing since these mediums are visual mediums. Talking is important but seeing is essential.

    Theme - without getting all ABC After School Special on us, “Glee” manages to deal with teen sex, teen pregnancy, betrayal, peer pressure, fear of failure, being gay and being geek, and so on. Each episode, while funny and at times poignant, is also teaching valuable lessons that no matter your age can hit you with relevance. The adults in the show have at least as many issues as the kids which shows us that pain and inadequacy don’t go away just because we graduate. And joy is indeed universal as we celebrate vicariously each of these characters’ successes.  

    The songs are teamed to the theme but not in a such a way that you’d be put off by it. For example, an episode called Redemption featured a song by artist Vanilla Ice ( “Ice, Ice, Baby.”) One student quips that the song should be arrested for the crime of sucking. Another says “it’s whack.” The glee teacher, Will Shuester character ( Matthew Morrison) proves them wrong by performing it and getting them all involved in the number, and then tells them that the song got a “bad rap” for various reasons but it’s really a good song. Agree or disagree you’ve got to admire the courage of the writers to try. The entire episode was about getting street cred, good or bad, and surely Vanilla’s song would have never gotten the good kind - until Mr. Shue danced it out for them and the song was redeemed. All right, so the song still kinda sucks but you get the idea.

    chris colferA Willingness To Fail - All commercial success share a common thread - they suck at times too. Not that “Glee” fails much but when it does, it does greatly. And when it succeeds it does so because of the failures not despite them.

    The song “The Thong Song” put into an episode about mashups wasn’t a high point. And although a subsequent number set in the dress shop was fine most of the time, there was some truly unfortunate camera work that was cringe-worthy. Likewise, a number between Mr Shue and guest-gleek Neil Patrick Harris featured the song “Dream On” done like a vocal challenge - and yuck.

    But listen to “Defying Gravity” or the cool little bathroom version of “Telephone” featuring glee star Rachael and the massively talented young and coming star Charice in a guest appearance and all is forgiven. Even the weird Britney Spears ep, which took some large chances, worked. Not so much the Olivia Newton John guest shot. But hey, at least they’re not recycling the same crap week after week. They try, they succeed and they fail. But the producers never stop trying to push the boundaries of their world and that’s a really good thing for any series.

    Other factors -

    1) Great series make stars of the cast.  "Glee" features some supremely talented Broadway performers and has created stars out of others like Chris Colfer and Amber Riley.  Newcomers like Brittany Pierce who was a side member (and a incredible professional dancer) have raised their "Q" status (she was made a regular in Season 2 because of her amazing deadpan delivery of funny one-liners.)   Until this show, a lot of the cast was unknown - no more.  They will all benefit from the exposure of the show.

    2) Sex and sexiness sell.  It works here in great measure.  There are gorgeous men and women running around, some with very short skirts on (the fabulous cheerleaders) and others with bodies that won't quit.  It ain't bad to be pleased by the eye-candy while you're watching.

    3)  Drama in the humor and humor in the drama.  Yep, you get the gamut of emotions in almost every ep of this show.  The best shows are fun and serious in equal measure.  The show creators know this and do it well.
     

    In Conclusion

    All television shows (if they last long enough) seem to eventually “jump the shark” - i.e. outlive their relevance. Some of them do stop before that happens, some go on a bit longer than they should, and some overstay their welcome by years.

     “Glee” is a joyful, fabulously entertaining hour of fun. The 1st season was nominated for nineteen Emmy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards, six Satellite Awards and fifty-seven other awards, with wins including the 2010 Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series - Musical or Comedy with Emmy awards for Jane Lynch, guest-star Neil Patrick Harris and Ryan Murphy's direction of the pilot episode. 

    The second season has currently been nominated for five Golden Globes including Best Television Series in a Comedy and as well as nominations for Matthew Morrison, Jane Lynch, Lea Michele and Chris Colfer.)

    There are clubs, "gleeks," live performances, MP3's of the songs and so on.

      Like all truly unique and ground-breaking series, there are many factors that go into its success. Some of which are easy to define and some which are not. There’s a magic to something that works this well - a cast/creators/crew melange of secret spices that produce a dish that you can’t get enough of at times. But, like all series, as mentioned, I do expect it to fail; for the creative energy to peter out. It’s inevitable - look at “West Wing,” “Sopranos,” “Friends,” etc.

    Hopefully before then we’ll have enough seasons to be able to visit them fondly when they are no longer making them. “Glee” is already a wild success - anything beyond this is just gravy. 

    Tuesday, 04 January 2011 09:41

    Pete Postlethwaite

    Written by

    A PRIVILEGE TO WATCH

    Pete Postlethwaite had perhaps the best face in the movie business. Whatever mood or emotion was needed to set the feel of a scene in a film, Pete provided it instantly, with just a quick and penetrating glare of that ever-ready, ever-rugged face that didn’t carry a movie, but sure provided the texture and grit that made a movie more than that, his presence made it a film.

    His face was a Stonehengeof realism and truth, and always played well against the leads, whether male or female, as they were usually handsome or beautiful, and his craggy visage was a counterpoint that made his scenes bigger than they were written. He has been with us for at least twenty-five years, but he never aged. Yet his face gave us the picture of a man who had survived hard times, and they had scarred him.

    Postlethwaite, however, could use that face to make us believe he was handsome, with pain behind the smile, or mean, brutal, and violent, and at times even gentle before the lens.

    I remember him first, I believe, from “In the Name of the Father”,  the true-life story of the Guidford Four, where men were wrongfully arrested and imprisoned in Belfast in the 70’s, where he was Guiseppe Conlon, the clean, law-abiding, hard working father of Gerry Conlon, played by Daniel Day-Lewis who gets wrongfully arrested for the Guiford pub bombings. Guiseppe gets arrested, too, as he tried to rescue his son.

    Postlethwaite was nominated for an Oscar for that role, most likely for the scene in which Gerry finds his father in the same prison, and there is so much anguish when he sees the prison guards humiliating his father, Postlethwaite, and covering him with powder used for ridding lice. Postlethwaite’s face is ghostlike, and the impression will ever be with you. It was a commanding performance of a heartbreaking figure who died in the prison before his son was released.

    The role he played was so powerful it forced many on both sides of the Irish violence to take a look at compromise, and led to the Good Friday agreement that ended the violence.

    In his last film, he played Fergie Colm, in Ben Affleck’s stunning film, “The Town”, a perfect villain, a role so tough the film spun on his reaction to anything.

    Of course, Postlethwaite reached the status of cult figure, nourished and loved, for his role as the menacing and mysterious Mr. Kobayashi in “The Usual Suspects”, Bryan Singer’s dark crime drama. The plot flipped and turned and dazzled and twisted all over the world and left us gasping for air, not knowing who to believe or trust. And Mr. Kobayashi, the sinister representative of the world’s evil monster, Keyser Soze, appeared to provide by his look, questions, fear, mystery, so many things, specially given by someone so different from anyone else.

    Every director wanted to work with him, and when Steven Spielberg produced “Amistad” in 1997, the true story of a slave mutiny, Postlethwaite played another villain, the attorney without a soul, William S. Holabird, who tried to suppress evidence of illegal slave trading that would free the mutiny organizer, Cinque ( the name taken by the leader of the Symbionese Liberation Army leader, Donald Freese) and his fellow slaves. Spielberg was awed by his command, and seemed bewitched by his character. Spielberg labeled him as “the best actor in the world.” But of course, Postlewaite was also humble, and said that Spielberg must have said that “he thinks that he’s the best actor in the world.”

    He played many roles, and through his amazing work in them, he became one of the most loved and admired, revered and studied, and of course, in-demand actors on the planet.

    Postlethwaite’s appearance was so austere and real, and his acting pure brilliance. He was a treasure of measure, a man who deserved so much recognition, and any movie he was in notched a bit higher just because of his presence.

    Goodbye, Pete Postlethwaite, we will all miss you. Dearly.

     

         I don’t know why the gods favored me to see two stunning performances of Roger Waters “The Wall”, at the Staples Center, but I will forever offer thanks, light candles and incense, and be forever filled with the power of life and love that was shared by Waters that washed away the parts of me that had become jaded, and restored my youth and my dreams, and my hopes not only for me, but more so for the world we exist in today.

         Roger Waters reproduction of the Pink Floyd masterpiece he wrote, “The Wall.” is more than brilliant, it is a staggering production that includes perhaps the finest music ever played in music history, along with a phenomenal and spectacular story shared with the audience through use of outrageous digital film effects exploding across The Wall, two stunning enormous inflatables, of a schoolteacher and a seductress, a kamikaze plane shooting down from the rafters and crashing into The Wall causing a massive explosion onstage, accompanied by pictures of servicemen who gave their lives for the country from both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. And that is barely the beginning. The masterful musicianship done by Waters, and supported with three outrageous solos by Snowy White, G.E. Smith, and David Gilminster, all played loudly and with skill thought only to reside in Heaven, through the finest sound system ever assembled.

         Waters is more than a genius, he is a master, perhaps a god, and his humility, facing the audience and dispensing with the acerbic attitude he possessed as a youthful musician, brings an immense heart of value to this show beyond any demonstrated by any contemporary musician. There are no comparisons. This work is beyond categorizing, if you have any money, scramble and scrape to get a ticket at the Honda Center, or the last of the three at the Staples Center.

         You will never ever see such a spectacle of worth. But “The Wall” will forever be relative, and always solid, whereas such wannabees as Kanye West will quickly fade forever into the still night.

         How does a musician become such a giant? How is he more than ever so relevant at age 67? How does he pack audiences of all ages in huge arenas across the world whenever he plays?

         His music of this story is more valid today than when it was written and performed for a world in turmoil back in the late 70’s, as the tone of demagoguery in the world today, and the ever watchful almost totalitarian state have become as close to a bleak ending as man has experienced in his history.

         Cultural observer, Ben Wener stated, “This is still unquestionably The Ultimate Wall. Its technological marvel and choreographed precision, reshaping Waters’ vision into a supremely humane anti-war statement,” and his words are so true.

         For anyone creative, especially writers, to see such a magnificent and anointed work will surely make you not only question your own personal worth,  but also challenge you to conquer the world with eager anger, born of the realization that the world is an awful place at present, with so much death and destruction that anger becomes natural.

         And all of this is presented in a story of a young man, and his life and friends and desires, told through the skillful and oh so talented hands of fantastic and amazing musicians, each rising to the challenge and the top, lick after lick, soaring to the stars and lingering there as we sing, as we gasp, as we are dazzled.

         This is, perhaps, the greatest story ever told, and Roger Waters has presented us with something so priceless and special, something that touches every nerve and cell, that stuns our vision, and sets our hearing shooting as stars into worlds far above and beyond our existence, all played out against a backdrop of horror and the end of human compassion and the beginning of totalitarian control. All this is also overseen by a huge closed circuit camera that scopes the musicians and terrifies the audience.

         And all of this actually comes together so perfectly with an acoustic conclusion that somehow shares a small glimmer of hope after an evening that has drained the audience as well as the musician, for it is emotions played by a score, and wrenched by what Wener called “gargantuan grandeur.”

         But we are also taken to small places within our hearts, as well as giant canvases, when Waters, in a melancholy tribute to late Pink Floyd partner and closest friend, Syd Barrett, sits in a room that appears out of the wall, watching the World War II channel on television, singing “nobody’s home,” which was how Barrett ended up coping with the breakdown of civilization.

         The story begins with a child facing the world alone after his father is killed in a war, and it takes us all along on a stupendous journey to manhood, where we are all almost waylaid by feeling and singing, “Comfortably Numb,” along with perhaps the longest guitar solo ever heard, and played so sweet and yet tight by Gilminster, a guitar virtuoso who has backed and played with so many, but here he shines and comes out of the shadows and not only steps into the light, but his skill bursts forth with a brilliance that places him in the company of the Best, so grand  that we were all mesmerized and hoped it would never end, and go on for centuries as we listened and allowed each note to fill our senses beyond measure, enrapturing and enslaving in a wickedly joyful manner that made us forget the world, and be comfortably numb.  

         Every writer should and must see this work of genius, your senses will be dazzled, your mind will be overwhelmed, and your heart, yes your heart, however, hidden or encrusted in stone, will shatter and never be as it was before.

         For here before you, is the opus of the century, a work that will ever be recalled, that will be heralded and written about, for it is something that special.

         It will enchant, it will anger, it will move, and it will change you.

         It is, it has to be, there is no other way something this great could come about, but as a work of Heaven, given with grace, to a suffering world starving for hope.

         Everything and anything compared is but as a grain of sand compared with the enormity of “The Wall.”

         And though the Tower of Babel collapsed, it has been rebuilt, with music beyond any previous human achievement, and it soars to the skies, touching the hem of the garment of heaven. 

         Can a story get any better than this?
     

    Sunday, 14 November 2010 12:16

    James Ellroy: Man, Myth and...Man

    Written by

    You don’t know what to expect. He’s a larger-than-life figure in the literary world as much for his work as his opinions and more-than-occasionally abrasive attitude. I knew he was a decent person from my friend, producer Clark Peterson who connected the two of us. But Clark gets along with everyone - he’s that nice - I do not, and I frequently rub people the wrong way for whatever reason.

    I sincerely hoped that Mr. Ellroy and I would not be gasoline and a match.

     Since I always over-prepare for any Q&A I’d done a lot of research reading, watching videos of his previous interviews. I’d seen him garrulous, argumentative, impatient, snide and dismissive. To be fair, he was always bright, incisive and intriguing also. And what...charming? Yeah. You really don’t expect that. I didn’t.

    He walked up to the front entrance of The Regency South Coast Village Theater, the venue site, with OCSWA board member Sterling Vozenilek who had been charged with picking him at the hotel. I took a breath and went out to meet him.

    He’s initially soft-spoken, formal. Rigid even. In bow-tied sport jacket and casual pants, carrying a hard-edged briefcase he looks a little like a school teacher - if your teacher was Mr. Talk-Shit-Get-Hit. At a rangy six, three he carries himself with a definite “do not mess with me with attitude.” Substitute the word “mess” with the four letter word that begins with “f” and you’ll have a better idea of his actual first impression. He also somehow appears to be above it all as if he watching from a high, removed distance. As if he’d always rather be somewhere else.



    “Hello, My. Ellroy,” I said. “I’m Mark Sevi.”

    “Hello, Mr. Sevi,” he said with a photoflash smile. “Call me Dog. It’s an old nickname.”

    I smiled too. I immediately felt like his friend.

    His handshake is strong and firm and his quick smile real, albeit more like anregency theatre after-imaged memory than a true event. My touchstone was my friend, Sterling. She’s got an astounding intuitive sense. She seemed relaxed and at ease so I knew he hadn’t said anything to her that made her uneasy. Not that I really expected that to be the case - but you never know with men and women of celebrity. I’d been surprised before.

    “We’re happy you’re here,” I said.

     “And I’m am thrilled to be here.” And he sincerely seemed to be.

    He wasn’t demanding, dismissive or damning. His only request was to be isolated until I introduced him which I would have done anyway. I do like it when guests make an entrance. I left him in Sterling’s capable hands and attached board member Victor Phan to be the fast-twitch muscle to Sterling’s far-ranging intuition. I didn’t expect anyone to give him a hard time - or for him to do so to anyone else - but again, you never know. I didn’t want to be the guyvictor phan who had caused this American literary legend to be hurt.

    Victor would be more than capable of handling any physical threat that came his way; Sterling would handle the rest. But even if they had to switch roles, I knew that Sterling could fight like a cornered wildcat and Victor could charm the panties off a nun if he had to. They are two of the many reasons that OC Screenwriters is the outstanding organization it is.

     I’d left the format of the Q&A up to him. He was gracious in allowing me to question him for about thirty minutes after his opening welcome to our group.I always try not to be trite with my questions unless it’s purposeful. I discovered that with Ellroy, with such a complete writer who had done both the internal and external work necessary to be great, my questions ranged naturally from the mundane to the esoteric. Even though I knew the answers I felt like the audience would want to know the same things I did when I started to learn about him. That they would have the same hunger for this man’s unique insight into writing and the painful, deep forays he had made into his psyche to bring that writing to the page.

    hilliker curseWhat is your process? How did you come to writing? Why didn’t you finish high school? How did your mother’s death affect you? Simple, almost declarative questions blended with: You’re a man of enormous hungers and passions - why is that? If you look at both sides of your face in isolation you see the human dichotomy writ large - why with you more than with others? Do you believe in God - and if so, why, since your work is at times so nihilistic? He doesn’t like that “n” word much by the way. He also proclaims not like liberals much (don’t believe him) and he says he doesn't believe that the LAPD suffers from an inbred corruption but rather that situations like Rodney King and the Rampart scandal are only aberrations.  In this I think he’s being deliberately simplistic and disingenuous.  No power structure exists without corruption in this world and he's too bright and has used the theme too much to dismiss that concept.

    la confidentialAs the Q&A progressed I knew I might be walking some lines. I never wanted to bring Mr. Ellroy in to challenge him. He’s too accomplished, too brilliantly opinionated to play games with. I honestly just wanted to know, to understand him as a writer. He could be a “peeper, prowler, pederast, panty-sniffer, punk or pimp” in his private life - I only wanted his process, his quest for perfection, his writing soul.  

     Admittedly, I was/am also interested in the man. He is, after all, someone who had suffered untold emotional carnage at the hands of his mother, both directly and indirectly, when she was found dead in 1958, the victim of a brutal murder. No one that I could think of has been so painfully open and honest about the inner demons than Mr. Ellroy. That, in and of itself, drove my curiosity to places that I normally reserve for serial killers and science.

    As he talked to the audience and to me, I grew more convinced that this was a white jazzman unique in our time. I was already in love with his work being a fan of his fiction for many years. But as you grow as a writer, you also grow less tolerant of other writers. You come to a point, perhaps, when you think nothing anyone writes anymore will impress you. But that’s wrong here for me. Ellroy’s work still had the power to challenge me - although perhaps not in the same fashion as before. But the man was a different story.  I knew, sitting in that chair next to him, that I could never be to be lackadaisical or dismissive of him as a person. His kung-fu is verrrry strong.
     

     Why? Because he isn’t a writer trying to impress you about anything. He’s a writer trying to kill himself piece by bloody piece and there is no garbage or dishonesty in that process that ultimately finds its way into his prose. He needs to deconstruct himself - it is the only way perhaps that he can find surcease from the unending terror of the young boy who lived a guilty nightmare and grew to be a wholly dysfunctional man. 

    black dahliaI don’t think anyone can truly appreciate the cost of what Mr. Ellroy has done and continues to do. As writers, we all “soul search.” Boo-hoo, when I was five my dad said he hated me. Sob, I’m so misunderstood because I was fat when I was a kid and it left scars. Don’t look at my darkness - it’s so ugly and it makes me ugly. Shit, shit and shit. All shit. Try going several dozen levels lower than that to “I had a lustful relationship with my mother and constantly tried to see her naked when she peed.” Or - “I cursed her to die and she was murdered.” Or - “I had a childish illusion that my mother was killed for refusing sex. More likely she was killed for demanding more sex.” Now that’s take-no-prisoners inner examination.

    Most people with Ellroy’s dark depths do not make great writers. If they go that deep into who they are, they don’t want to dwell in it. What sane person wants to wallow in bloody stool? Even less-likely, report back about it? People who have to, do go down to those depths, breath the fetidness but then pop back up to the surface as quickly as possible. Ellroy did not, does not. The guilt ellroy and mom younghe’s carried around for decades - self-imposed or not - has created his unique voice and being the quality and honest man he is, he won’t report about that darkness from a quick memory or from the sidelines. He dives into and swims in that rank mess staying there to bring that foul, retching odor and those vomit-inducing thoughts to his readers. Maybe he’s feeding his ego. Maybe he’s just astounded that we all don’t do this. I don’t know and I don’t care.

     But imagine the cost. Imagine living in unending pain for your craft. Say...having your fingers scream in agony every time you type the letter ‘E’ but you do it because it’s the only way to make words that make a sentence - it’s the only way to communicate how and what you know you have to.

    What an inordinately brave and insane creature this man is. What comes out of his mouth and his mind is the lunatic that runs around inside there with him that has set up semi-permanent residence. And since he doesn’t own a computer, a cell phone, a television or any other mass-communication device that I could figure, he is at times completely alone with that pazzo demonoid inbloods a rover his head. Nothing mitigates that voice which screams at him from the terror in the soul of the young boy who believes he willed his mother to death but felt good about the fact that she was gone.

    He tried to drown out its voice with drugs and alcohol and continues to try to my dark placesassuage it with his search for love and completeness, but he’s only partially successful. The nightmare that haunts is also the nightmare that informs and creates. I think he’s somewhat afraid to put it rest. Or maybe he just can’t.

    He has a quote: “Closure is bullshit and I would love to find the man who invented closure and shove a giant closure plaque up his ass."

      I can understand why - or at least I can because Mr. James Ellroy has helped me understand why. There is no cloture for him although there must certainly be moments of peace. The transformation on his face when his Other, writer Erika Schickel walked in, would have shown you that.  In her he seeks and finds peace and a sense of completeness.

    Ellroy talked and answered questions - any and all without reservation - for almost two hours. Then he signed books until everyone who came to visit with him was fulfilled.  He stripped off his jacket and tie to do the signing like the California boy he is - casually, hanging ten, shirt out and linen pants wrinkled.

    I watched him on stage and as he interacted happily with his fans. I hate to bust the illusion but he really is a people person at the end of it all.  I came away with such a deep appreciation. I didn’t expect to be moved by him. Amused, entertained, informed - yes. Moved...? No. That was a complete and thrilling surprise

    I really like James Ellroy - as a person. He’s not asking for pity or understanding or anything at all. He likes making money; he enjoys writing,ellroy smiling and he continues to do both well. He knows he’s been given a gift and a curse. One does not necessarily negate the other - to both good and bad effect in his life. And I do understand that dichotomy if only from the perspective of my own life.

    If you toss aside the way the message is sometimes disseminated - dismissively, with an impatient growl, or with apparent defensive hubris, you can always hear the truth inside James Ellroy’s thoughts. A pineapple is both the outer skin and the sweet flesh inside. Ellroy may scowl and growl and prowl the auditorium, but underneath is the voice of a dark angel who is telling you that he knows your pain, he understands your fears. He brings them up from his stinking depths, vomits them forth, so you don’t really have to. He is our darkness, and he is our joy at times because there is an underlying message of redemption to his voice be it his incredible prose or the poetry of his measured speech and thoughts he freely shares in a live venue.

    In my opinion if you take offense at him or any of his message you’re not reallyellroy pastiche listening to what he’s saying. On Saturday, November 13, 2010, that message was in full force: Be honest. With yourself, with your writing. It’s the only way to truly be at peace.

    Thank you, James. We are the more fulfilled and fully informed for that simple and profound thought that you live each and every day.

    If you missed this event, punch yourself in the face for being so short-sighted. But if you get a chance to see James Ellroy speak, do not repeat that mistake.

    Thanks to Mr. James Ellroy, his assistant Lisa (I’ll reserve her last name,) my friend super-producer Clark Peterson who is also a friend of Dog’s and the staff of the Regency South Coast Village Theater (especially Larry Porricelli.) And of course, the Orange County Screenwriters board of directors who do the scut work necessary to bring these events to you - like Toby Wallwork who headed up the subcommittee for this event.

     “Rampart” written by James Ellroy, produced by Clark Peterson and Lightstream Pictures is filming now in Los Angeles.  

    “James Ellroy’s L.A. - City of Demons” is filming now and will premiere on Discovery Channel in January 2011.

     “The Hilliker Curse” is James Ellroy’s latest book, a non-fiction examination of his life after giving up the quest to find his mother’s killer on sale everywhere.

    Wednesday, 10 November 2010 09:03

    "Rampart" James Ellroy's latest filming in L.A.

    Written by

    james ellroyAll, don't forget this Saturday at the Regency South Coast Village Theatre our guest is writer James Ellroy.  His latest, "Rampart" is filming now in L.A.

    Details below or here;

    ~~~


    'Rampart' movie kicks into production
    November 9, 2010 | 12:27 pm

    by Richard Verrier

    In the late 1990s, the Los Angeles Police Department’s Rampart division was caught up in the worst corruption scandal in the department’s history.

    It didn’t take long for Hollywood to mine the subject matter. The scandal, in which dozens of officers in Rampart’s anti-gang unit were accused of serious misconduct, including perjury and evidence tampering, heavily influenced the FX series “The Shield” and the 2001 movie “Training Day,” starring Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke.

    Now comes “Rampart,” a film from director Oren Moverman (“The Messenger”) and film noir writer James Ellroy (“L.A. Confidential” and “Black Dahlia”). Starring Woody Harrelson, the movie recently began filming in Boyle Heights and other local neighborhoods.

    “Rampart,” which doesn’t yet have a distributor but is expected to be released next year, tells the story of a veteran police officer played by Harrelson who gets caught up in the events of Rampart in the late 1990s. He is joined by an all-star cast that includes Sigourney Weaver, Robin Wright, Ice Cube and Steve Buscemi.

    The independently produced movie is being shot over 35 days in various communities served by the Rampart precinct, including Echo Park and MacArthur Park. The crew filmed last week at the former Rampart station on 3rd Street (the precinct has since moved to a new location on West 6th Street).

    “We can truly say the city is a character in this film,"said Lawrence Inglee, president of Lightstream Pictures, which is producing “Rampart.”

    Filmmakers are taking pains to use actual L.A. locations that are in the script, such as City Hall, the Parker Center and a number of well-known eateries, including Tommy’s burger joint at Beverly and Rampart boulevards, Johnny’s Shrimp Boat and the historic Pacific Dining Car in downtown Los Angeles, a favorite of Ellroy’s.

    “I love the place," Ellroy said. “It’s dark and cavernous and I got married there.”

    Although it's an L.A.-based story, there was no guarantee the movie would be shot locally.

    “It was challenge for us to find a [financial] partner who was willing to support the idea of filming in Los Angeles,” Inglee said, alluding to the fact that many other states offer more favorable tax breaks to filmmakers. "Rampart," which had been on a waiting list to receive a California film tax credit, eventually received approval for a credit. The film, budgeted at less than than $20 million, is being bankrolled by Las Vegas-based Amalgam Features.

    Ellroy, who shares a writing credit with Moverman and is an unabashed supporter of the LAPD, said he was inspired to write the script because he wanted to “set the record straight" about the scandal. He said media coverage of the story, which was broken by the Los Angeles Times, was “overblown” and unfairly tarnished the department's reputation.

    “This is a radically different take on what happened in 1999,” Ellroy said. “This is a good portrayal of a clean, hard-charging police department with the requisite number of bad cops to flesh out any Ellroy story.”

    However, Inglee stressed that movie is not an attempt to present an actual account what happened at Rampart or take a position on the LAPD.

    “It plays against the backdrop of the Rampart scandal, but it’s a fictional story,” Inglee said. “It’s an exploration of what it means to be a police officer in a troubled urban environment.”

    -- Richard Verrier

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/entertainmentnewsbuzz/2010/11/-rampart-movie-kicks-into-production.html

    Friday, 05 November 2010 17:29

    On The Set - The Magic Hourglass

    Written by

     

    robert rollins picturesThere are a few places that always invoke a magical feeling for me:  A college campus - filled with such endless possibilities and energy, a music studio where you gather to make individual pieces sound like God's voice (no matter the genre,) and a movie set where all that is combined into one experience.

    It's fitting that OCSWA member Robert Rollins' featurette should have the word "magic" in the title because it doesn't matter if you're shooting something on your iPhone or you're on a James Cameron film the putting together of what was once only an vague idea is simply...well, magic.

    Robert and his crew (I'd list them but there are too many) looked to me like any group of working professionals at O'Neill Regional Park where they had sets built for the production.  There was no way by just watching to say if the film was being shot for $1,000.00 or $100,000.00.  Well, okay, Robert didn't have a huge Kraft services budget or any honey wagons (portable bathrooms) and the stars' dressing rooms weren't air-conditioned trailers but rather a tent pitched to the side of the campground set but the movement, the temperament, the work ethic was business-like and professionally done.  

    But, as with all sets, it goes beyond just the physical aspects of the shoot just like a film goes far beyond the script.  The people there loved what they were doing - it was easy to tell.  Sweating in the unseasonable heat, working with difficult terrain, trying to move quickly but not hastily to make their day, they all still had smiles and that glow of a group who were doing what they wanted to do - no loved what they were doing.

    One P.A. (production assistant,) Crystal, a 20-yr-old with a brilliant smile  and zero experience couldn't stop grinning all the time I saw her.  She was practically vibrating with excitement at being involved in a legitimate production even though her basic job as P.A. is to go get things and do things that others didn't want to do.  If someone could have snapped a Kirlian photograph of her aura I'm sure it would have been sparkling like the people in the recent music video by Katy Perry "Firework."

    It was also gratifying to see how many OCSWA people had come to the production from many different directions.  This is exactly why OCSWA was founded - to provide networking opportunities that allow film people to do what they love to do - make films.  Since all film is a collaborative endeavor, networking is exactly what needs to be done to promote yourself and your skill set.

    Crystal, the aforementioned P.A. was a "six degrees of separation" example since she came to the production through OCSWA board member Victor Phan who knows Robert Rollins through the Orange County Screenwriters Association since Robert also sits on the board of directors. Board member Eric Hensman was there as set photographer as were two documentarians who just finished a documentary on OCSWA and had interviewed Robert, myself, Victor and Eric as part of the documentary.  They were there to shoot the "making of" footage.

    I highly recommend finding a movie set and working on the production.  Even though I was only there to observe and get in the way, I haven't stopped smiling myself.  A movie set is truly a magical place where dreams are made real.  That feeling is palpable.

    Exactly how many places can you say that about?

    Congratulations to Robert for making this production happen for himself.  He worked hard and long to get it to this point and he will continue to work hard and long on it this weekend and in post-production.  Then marketing it.

    Eric has promised some set photos so when I get those I'll stick them in to this quick hit article.

    Now I just have to somehow stop smiling before my jaw locks.

    Saturday, 13 November 2010 11:50

    James Ellroy Coming to The O.C.

    Written by

    james ellroy

    Mr. Ellroy will be signing books after the Q&A - books will be available for purchase.

    When: November 13, 2010 10:00am
    Where: Regency South Coast Village Theatre, 1561 W. Sunflower Avenue, Santa Ana CA 92704 - across from South Coast Plaza

    This is a Free Event.

    FULL DETAILS

    I never knew her in life. She exists for me through others, in evidence the ways of her death drove them. Working backward, seeing only facts, I reconstructed her as a sad little girl and a whore, at best a could-have-been—a tag that might equally apply to me. I wish I could have granted her an anonymous end, relegated her to a few terse words on a homicide dick’s summary report, carbon to the coroner’s office, more paperwork to take her to potter’s field. The only thing wrong with the wish is that she wouldn’t have wanted it that way. As brutal as the facts were, she would have wanted all of them known. And since I owe her a great deal and am the only one who does know her entire story, I have undertaken the writing of this memoir.

    "The Black Dahlia" by James Ellroy

     

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