Watching the Gross

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I thought I’d grown used to the movies I like grossing very little money but it’s sobering. Still, this shouldn’t be surprising. I can now get into films as a senior citizen in some places. I know, I’m shocked too.   When I went to see the Steve “Jobs” movie a few weeks ago I almost passed out. But still paid full price.


Clearly, I’ve permanently strayed from the “youth” demographic Hollywood covets no matter how many times my peers say 50 is the new 40, 60 is the new 50, 80 is the new 20 and death is something that happens to OTHER people. That’s scary enough. But to realize that not one of my favorite films is among the 50 top grossing movies of the year – well, that’s positively un-American. It’s like my entire country has turned on me when I wasn’t looking. And in more ways than one. On the other hand, it’s not the first time. I lived through the eighties, Ronald Reagan and Forrest Gump winning the Oscar yet I am still here whining about it all as our first African American-president completes his second term of office and Birdman was last year’s best picture winner. Inevitably, these types of things, as well as life, do run in cycles.

And yet…

Hard as it is to recognize I have come to understand that like many Americans the movies are my touchstone. Each year at least a handful reflect what myself and our culture were thinking or feeling en masse and, when they worked really well, even showed us alternative ways to cope. Did Michael Keaton really go out the window at the end of Birdman? Who cares – it raised the question of just what are the alternatives we all face when trying to survive as an artist of any kind. And if one believes, as I do, that anything you attempt to do well in life does indeed have some sort of artistic element to it, it is essential we continue to consider these questions. And spend less time pondering how high of a gilded wall we can build around ourselves to keep out those who are different. Ironic, isn’t it? That a country built on a melting pot of difference should be faced with the 2015 Shakespearean question of how we engineer and preserve our current gene pool to exclude as many others as possible.

There’s a reason why, at its essence, drama hasn’t really changed very much since the Elizabethan period or even as far back as the ancient Greeks.

Still works!

Still works!

Which in a roundabout way brings me back to The MOVIES, 2015.

If you’re a member of a Hollywood guild each year you’re fortunate enough to receive DVDs of many of this year’s movies so you don’t have to move your privileged ass off the couch and make the effort to go to the movie theatre if you so prefer not to. (Note: Well, you wouldn’t either if you didn’t have to and had a decent TV setup at home – give me a break)

So being the lazybones (nee whore) that I am I decided that after gorging myself on turkey I’d continue gorging myself on some of the movies I got in the mail and have not yet seen. I also decided to go out to the movie theatres and pay for a few others as well as attend several industry screenings (Note: Yes, for free – I’m not only getting lazy in my old age but also cheap). And what continued to amaze me is that without exception the films that I really enjoyed continue to make very, very little money at the box office. How long before these types of films are not made at all? I fear, not very long.

Maybe there are better movies on Mars? (I'll ask Matt Damon)

Maybe there are better movies on Mars? (I’ll ask Matt Damon)

Now before you go saying I’m part of the problem because I’m not going out to see my films enough – you’re only partly right. Like all of you, I should venture out and support my local theatres more than I do. But also know that part of the marketing budgets of all production companies include sending out free DVDs to guild members not to be kind but to get us to VOTE for said film in an enormous array of awards competitions that the industry will use to promote the winners and get you/us – the audience – into the theatres to see or into the stores to buy or into our heads to stream. For better or worse that’s the way the system works. Bottom line dollars.

I suppose this explains why as a Writers Guild member two of the early DVDs I received were for Furious 7 ($353 million domestic box-office gross) and Jurassic World ($652 million). Did anyone really think these would win any writing awards? (Note: That question was rhetorical). No, it was about spreading the word. Well, fyi, I’ve previously seen both a Furious AND a Jurassic movie before and was entertained. I tried briefly with both of these. Oh God. I might be old but I’m not brain dead. Yet. Which is why I turned them off.

As for some of the others – well, here I am to do the job that I was sent to do by the studio overlords – spreading the word. (Note: As if I wouldn’t give my opinion anyway).


He is Spartacus?

He is Spartacus?

This is the story of blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo and how his intellectual liberal leanings sent him to jail for a year in the 1950s merely for being subversively un-American as a member of the Communist party. (Note: Think of him as a Muslim under a future Trump administration).

More interesting is the tale it tells of how Trumbo, once out of a jail, worked secretly writing tacky low-budget movies under assumed names and got his other unemployable writer friends jobs doing the same via a hidden writer’s clearing house he ran out of his house. With the help of his wife and children. Who answered five different telephone lines and served as their script couriers.

As played by Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, this Trumbo is a witty, erudite crusader, family man who takes advantage of the people around him while at the same time loving them and his country in the most unorthodox of ways. It’s a wonderfully nuanced performance that will surely get him an Oscar nomination. The movie takes a long time to get going and in the first half especially feels a bit like a choppy, TV movie biopic from the 1970s. But ultimately it’s smart, breezy, clever and not without some meaning. And slickly made by director Jay Roach.

AND — It’s made less than a $1 million after three weeks of limited release.

Verdict: Watch it.


Would you... Rather?

Would you… Rather?

I was where most of you probably are on this. Robert Redford playing Dan Rather in a movie that shows us how Rather got pushed out of the anchor chair at CBS because of a 60 Minutes story he did on George W. Bush’s questionable military record of service? A story where sources recanted their original claims but nevertheless a story that was never proven factually inaccurate?

#1 – I don’t want to hear any more about Dubya. #2 – Redford is about as similar to Dan Rather as I am. #3 – It’s my private time, I want to be entertained by a film not forced to think about unpleasant stuff I was forced to live through all too recently.

Well, the film is not really about Dubya at all but about how the news you see on TV is put together and just how influential political dynasties can be “behind the scenes.” More importantly, Redford might not look anything like Rather but he’s got his speaking cadence down pat and is ultimately absolutely believable as the veteran Texas newsman – in fact it’s the best he’s been in a movie in many years. Who knew? Not any of us because no one is going to see it. Since it’s release in October it’s grossed about $2.5 million.

Oh, and then there’s Cate Blanchett starring as Rather’s real-life producer Mary Mapes, a tough-talking Texan she gets exactly right because she doesn’t slather on the accent but instead accentuates her intelligence. The whole film is smart. And –



Yawn. Sigh. Bleh.

Yawn. Sigh. Bleh.

My students will hate me for this because they seem to love this movie. Why? I have zero idea. Emily Blunt is as good as she can be as an FBI agent drawn into the web of breaking up a Mexican drug cartel by her CIA overlords as well as by others. But…it’s a labyrinth of action with character development and logic so spare as to be almost non-existent. And after a while it simply becomes preposterous. And a bore.

I’ve experienced first-hand as a writer notes on the strategy of throwing audiences right into the world of a movie without much of a convincing setup and allowing the viewer to play catch up. This sometimes works – as it did in the first season of True Detective. And it often times fails, as it does here. But then again, it depends what you mean by failure. Sicario has grossed $49 million in the U.S. alone and another $34 million overseas so far. That makes it a bit more than a modest success in the world of the balance sheet of a film with no above the title movie star or director. It’s also a world where logic and dialogue don’t matter as much the various kinds of actions that are ultimately delivered.

Verdict: SKIP IT. Though you could do worse (Note: See Furious AND Jurassic).


Costumes by a 3-time Oscar Winner... what can ya say?

Costumes by a 3-time Oscar Winner… what can ya say?

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as two seemingly mismatched women falling in love in the repressive 1950s under the direction of Todd Haynes (Safe, Velvet Goldmine, HBO’s Mildred Pierce). This movie was MADE for me!! You’d think.

It’s beautiful to look at. Cate Blanchett’s mink coat and shimmering blonde hair and red lipstick are breathtaking. As is every single room, piece of jewelry and choice of scenery and period motor vehicle and hotel room and tacky apartment and cheap motel room. Which is a big part of the problem. It’s a movie in love with artifice – and itself. The drama is real and sometimes palpable but as someone is said to have once said, “it’s like watching paint dry.” The same emotional beats are played over and over. Time and again.   It’s based on the seminal lesbian romance novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, which she published under a pseudonym in 1952.   But never for one moment do you feel as if you’re watching anything other than a book unspooling in movie time without any of the nuanced language that made it so special.

The two actresses are wonderful. Everything is pretty. And it does show us how much a great deal of the world has changed. But…well….

Verdict: PASS – which is not to say there is not a great deal of skill and intelligence here. Would I watch it before Jurassic and Furious again? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I should just force myself to get all the way through the latter two for the first time. Though Carol needs the money more. It’s grossed about $500,000 in 10 days of limited release. And I doubt there’s a ton more to come. DVD/streaming sales? Maybe. But…OK, I’ll stop now.


A Spielberg movie written by.... The Coen Brothers?

A Spielberg movie written by…. The Coen Brothers? 

I popped the DVD to this in and had low expectations. I mean, it’s the tale of the reluctant negotiator spy type American hero of the 1950s as played by Tom Hanks and directed by Steve Spielberg that somehow you believe deep down in your soul you’ve seen before…. but directed by Hitchcock and starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman or by Michael Curtiz and starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Except it’s not any of those. Or really that much like them.

Tom Hanks is very good, very believable and very likeable – in an authentic, throwback Americana way. It’s a tough act to pull off an insurance lawyer turned hostage negotiator in period clothes but somehow you buy it all. At this point it’d be shocking if Mr. Spielberg did not direct an infinitely watchable movie. And this one is pretty darn watchable – thanks also in great part to Mark Rylance’s brilliantly understated performance in a role you need to see rather than read about from me. He anchors the film. And if you think that’s easy when you’re not a movie star, you’re wrong.

Verdict: WORTH WATCHING. It won’t change your life but it’s engaging. Though at a $67 million box-office gross it’s the equivalent of Trumbo or Truth in dollars for a Spielberg pic. That may not be fair but it’s the way the industry thinks. And for our future films bodes a bit ominous.

Feel free to agree – or disagree. But just know the top five grossing films of 2015 are Jurassic World ($652 million); Avengers: Age of Ultron ($459 million); Inside Out ($356 million); Furious 7 ($353 million) and Minions ($336 million). And that’s just in the U.S. alone. Films that are more adult – nee a bit more complicated or intellectually challenging – are in trouble. And need our support. At theatres, on DVD, or yes, even for free. It’s who we are. Or were. Our choice.

Oh you'll be adding me to that list pretty soon....

Oh you’ll be adding me to that list pretty soon….

P.S. Note #1: I did very much enjoy Inside Out but it’s an animated film and they’re in a category of their own. This is not a snob thing but everyone likes at least one animated movie a year except a dear friend of mine who I still can’t convince to embrace Aladdin – the gayest animated movie that’s ever been made. I’ll work on him, though.

P.S. Note #2 – Just got home from a screening of The Danish Girl. Eddie Redmayne and his co-star, the Swedish film actress Alicia Vikander, will both receive Oscar nominations. As will others behind the scenes. It’s mainstream yet unusual. Thought-provoking though not too complicated. And timely in that it follows one of the first medical cases of gender reassignment. Verdict: See it. People actually speak in full sentences, and often more than one sentence at a time. Plus, nothing blows up.

At least that’s something.

Time Bandits

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The terrific new film Spotlight tells the story of how an investigative unit of reporters from The Boston Globe spent more than a year researching, reporting and writing a story about the Massachusetts Catholic sex abuse scandal and the Catholic Church’s widespread cover-up of numerous pedophile priests. The real-life reporters won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for their work – which exposed many decades of the hidden sexual abuse of many hundreds of children by these men, who were protected by a massive labyrinth-like web of obfuscation by Church hierarchy that reached all the way to the upper echelons of the Vatican.

A year or more on one news story? Uh, yeah – sometimes it takes a long time to get things right.



I can personally testify to this as someone who just took a year to write a very complicated screenplay adaptation about another journalist who sacrificed his family and career in order to expose widespread corruption in a small midwestern town. The tireless work he did in the late 1970s failed to receive the massive attention of the Globe story but nevertheless it put some very bad people behind bars and shed light on a corrupt system of justice that slowly began to get just a little better as a result of his efforts. And yes, it also took him a little more than a year to do it.

All of this is not to say that one year is the writer/reporter’s magic number to turn out anything of value and significance. Rather what the demarcation means is that in order to tackle particularly challenging tasks of any kind —


Not to mention lots of thought, many dead ends, and tons of hard work.

This seems a novel concept these days.

We want immediate actions and spontaneous results to some of the world’s most complicated problems. And by gum, we’re getting them.

Take terrorism (Please).

Yes, let's please discuss

Yes, let’s please discuss

The Republican Apprentice proposed a national registry just for Muslims, in addition to surveillance programs and taking a serious look at the mosques. (Note: Re the mosques – in Apprentice-speak that could mean anything from a walking tour to a burning tour depending on whether he’s talking to MSNBC or Fox News while subtly evoking images of the Holocaust or KKK).

Dr. Ben Carson advocated banning ALL Syrian refugees, whom he compared to rabid dogs running around your neighborhood.

Marco Rubio raked Pres. Obama over the coals for not taking more immediate, hands on action in light of the Paris attacks to stop the Syrian, or perhaps all immigration – it wasn’t quite clear. What was apparent…oh heck… here’s the chief sound byte from the diminutive Florida senator who could: This is a clash of civilizations. And either they win, or we win.

Ladies and gentleman and those who prefer to remain gender neutral: These are your three top Republican presidential nominee frontrunners. By A LOT. Either one of them or Hillary Clinton will be your next president.

Oh gawd, don't remind me!

Oh gawd, don’t remind me!

It’s not hard to imagine how long it took each of them to come up with those responses to perhaps what are the most complicated and perplexing issues of our time – how to stop terrorism, protect our homeland and help broker some sort of peaceful co-existence of various factions, tribes and religions in the Middle East.

A minute, 10 minutes, an hour? Certainly not a full day. They don’t have time for that.

Mrs. Clinton delivered a very detailed, in-depth, speech with her own complex plan and strategy. How boring.

Oh, and here’s the answer Pres. Obama gave at the G3 summit last week when a CNN International reporter/patriot spit out this thoughtful, provocative question re: radical terrorists: Why can’t we take out the bastards?

The president’s response: This is not, as I said, a traditional military opponent. We can retake territory. And as long as we leave our troops there we can hold it. But that does not solve the underlying problem of eliminating the dynamics that are producing these kinds of violent extremist groups.

What a wimpy nerd.

Just being honest


If I have to listen to or read about one more dumbass talking head angling for some votes, or trying to sell a few more books, or even adding a couple of more points to their TV Qs, I’m gonna barf.

And you try turning off the noise. Everyone’s talking about it. Commenting on things they know nothing about. Yes, I suppose that includes me – at least in comparison to Mrs. Clinton and the/our current sitting president. See the president gets confidential briefings on these matters daily and Hil circled the globe maybe five times as Secretary of State talking to all of the players. Which was 10 years after she spent 8 years as First Lady, circling the globe while married to another former sitting president.

Oh... was that me?

Oh… was that me?

If I wanted to build a hotel in Beirut even I might consult the Republican Apprentice. And while I wouldn’t trust him to operate on my brain for fear that someone might have told him about The Chair, I would certainly choose Dr. Ben’s hands over Hillary’s if it meant going under anesthesia. (Note: Wait, would I???) As for the Senator-ette that could – he hasn’t been in Washington, D.C. all that long and has one of the highest rates of absenteeism of any current elected official in Congress. So I guess if I needed an advisor on how to get elected to a job I didn’t want to do I admit he might be in my top five, or maybe even three.

But at the task at hand (i.e. how to stop the terrorists) – none of the above three.



They don’t take the time, they take the oxygen. And suck it out of the zeitgeist. To the point where most of the rest of us can’t breathe and recede into our own individual worlds – desperate to not pay attention when attention should be paid because it’s too tortuous to engage through their smoke and mirrors spew show of nonsensical rhetorical bluster. I always hated the jingoist dialogue in tent pole action movies. Why would I want to engage in it – or even listen to it – in real life?

It is in this way that the lazy know-nothings win. To fight them is the intellectual equivalent of continuing to go out to cafes in order to not let the terrorists win. But one has to keep paying attention, reason through the muck and fear and put a great deal of thought into considering what the long term solutions are and who best can lead us there if we are to survive through this.

We’ll be lucky if it takes just a year.

The Real Villains

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There are (at least) 129 people dead and 352 injured in Paris – the latest mass murder victims from the latest international terrorist attack.

These things don’t just “happen.” There are reasons other than they’re crazy and we’re not.

This week I was talking to my screenwriting students about writing real villains (the nicer word is antagonists but let’s face it, villain gets the point across far more effectively). I told them one of the keys is that until you understand why your villain is doing what he’s doing you only have an IDEA of a villain.

What my students – and all of us – need to understand is that in drama and in real life a villain truly believes in his or her heart of hearts that what they are doing is ABSOLUTELY RIGHT based on their life experiences and where they are in the world at that moment they take action.


Villains believe their actions are justified. Their actions are a means to their END – which they are convinced, rightly or wrongly, they deserve and/or are correct in executing. Their end can be twisted, offensive, or cray cray to you and I and the rest of the world based on all objective logic. But until you really get how they think and WHY they think it, you will not be able to create or evoke – nee write – them or their situation convincingly.

It’s upsetting to fail at your task as a writer, but the cost of not doing your due diligence in real life battles is a lot more consequential. It means you will NEVER be able to defeat your perceived villain. Certainly not in any permanent or enduring way. Writers hand in bad scripts or abandon projects altogether with only a career price to pay. When your opposition and you are flesh and blood the battle lasts a lot longer and has a far greater effect than a few bad hours of entertainment. It means your villain – nee enemy – can go on for years, decades, or perhaps generations – wreaking havoc.

What a way to live. Or not live.

Is it faith or life (or both) that sustains you?

Is it faith or life (or both) that sustains you?

I tend to see the fundamentalists of any religion as somewhat villainous and that is a prejudice of mine about both religion and doctrinaire thinking. It’s a reason why a play I started years ago about a fundamentalist, anti-gay American town and how it ostracized and eventually murdered a mouthy gay young adult never quite worked. I just couldn’t figure out how to make the people of the town three-dimensional enough to allow the audience to understand and believe their actions. I was too invested in my own bias to think through it clearly no matter how much I tried or how liberal I thought I was being. I got as far as “they were raised that way, they were true believers and they were small-minded” but none of it seemed enough to justify what I clearly felt was, plain and simply, a town of sick, heinous people who were clearly less than something human. So eventually, I dropped the project.

That was six years ago. Perhaps one day a light bulb will go off and I’ll figure it out.   Or not. Either way the world – and myself – will survive.

We have no such luxury with perceived “real life” villains who threaten our very existence.   Yes, I’m talking about the TERRORISTS. Are their reasons really any different than that of ANY convincing movie, theatre of television villain? You’d better believe they are. They are analogous only to our best, most well thought out villains. Certainly, their actions are. And their cost is a lot more than boredom, offensiveness or the price of a $15 ticket to watch in real time.

These are not the moustache-twirlers of pop culture past

These are not the moustache-twirlers of pop culture past

I teach and mentor Ithaca College students in a satellite L.A. school where they spend a semester interning in the entertainment industry as well as taking classes. But our home campus was all over the news this week for mass student protests over perceived racist incidents and inaction to it from our president. This followed similar demonstrations at the University of Missouri, Yale and other schools across the country.

After reading and watching a myriad of stories via the New York Times, CNN and MSNBC, as well as scouring numerous posts on Facebook (Note: Where we trended in the #1 spot – is that to be celebrated?) and on Twitter, I was amazed. Once you got past the first few paragraphs or sound bytes of news, so many of the comments of our so-called informed adult observers dubbed our students and school with words like “whiners,” “babies,” “sick people,” “socialists,” “jail” and “die.” Yeah, I guess that about summarizes it.

Wait... huh?

Wait… huh?

The utter sheer dismissal from so many corners – both liberal and conservative and everywhere in between – was quite shocking to me.   In a non-segregated world there was bound to be a “browning” of America and all this vocal minority (eventual majority?) of young people are saying is that the white power structure needs to slightly alter their way of thinking and reacting to situations they used to categorize merely as misstatements and hard knocks and accept them for what they are – intolerable and offensive.

Of course, the counter argument is statements like – grow up, crybaby, or you’ll never survive in the real world. Well, guess what – as a young gay guy I gained nothing from the numerous times I was called faggot in school or the handful of moments when several teachers made fun of me for a perceived effeminate gesture. In fact, it was just the opposite – years of therapy at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars. If we can provide our young generation a few tools and strategies to deal with these inevitable taunts early on and, yes, in a safer space in college, why WOULDN’T we do it?



Of course, this means listening and understanding their arguments – the arguments of people who are different and with whom we feel we have little in common – even if we don’t agree with them. When the University Of Missouri president finally stepped down from his post several weeks ago in an effort to heal his college community, the Republican Apprentice (Note: Oh, you know who I mean) quickly branded him as part of a group of weak, ineffective people in positions of power at college communities across the country. I should have been the chancellor of that university, he bloviated. Believe me, there would have been no resignations.

But like most trigger happy, lazy thinkers, the ole R.A. did neglect to tell you this one salient fact. There actually was a Trump University from 2004-2010 that is now defunct and being sued for $40 million by the NY Attorney General who has filed charges that this school was operating as an illegal, unlicensed for-profit university that DEFRAUDED its students and bilked them each out of tens of thousands of dollars worth of broken promises and meager results.

I suppose I digress. But only a little.

See, our American Oracle of Healing – Oprah Winfrey – said some time ago that one of her big takeaways from her career as a talk show host and media mogul billionairess is that EVERYONE wants to be heard. When individuals believe they are not being listened to, shunned or even perennially ignored is when the trouble starts. And festers. And becomes something much larger than what it started out. And increases exponentially as time goes by and the status quo continues. Then, at some moment, as writer Malcolm Gladwell so eloquently stated in his international bestseller, there is The Tipping Point and things begin to change – for the good or bad – whether we all like it or not.

One spark is all it takes

One spark is all it takes

No one is defending or justifying terrorism or mass murder. But the world is not a John Wayne movie where a few six guns and some moxie can do the trick. Besides, those movies didn’t have fully developed villains, anyway. You can’t get away with that anymore. Even the new, somewhat disappointing James Bond film Spectre gave Christoph Waltz’s character a personal backstory, which is ultimately how James Bond defeats him (Note: Oh, please, it is NOT a spoiler. Did you think Bond died???).

So as painful as this will be, it might help as the dust settles in the weeks and months to come for us all to try to begin to understand the backstory of this latest band of villains – nee terrorists – in an effort to, if nothing else, stop future attacks. And secure our future – or even – A future.

To this end: I give my students a list of 25-30 questions to ask themselves about their fictional villains. They include: where they came from; where did they grow up; what’s in their room at home; what is their typical day like – meaning what do they do; their relationship with their family; their biggest hurt; what is sacred to them and why; their favorite food and color; unforgettable character; moment they fell in love; job; possession of resonance; sexual proclivities; and age.

Maybe even the name of their pet

Maybe even the name of their pet

I tell my students to answer in depth, superficially and go on tangents. Much of the information they won’t use but if they answer all the questions with thought and feeling they will begin to get an understanding of who that person is and how some of the above, which the audience/world might never even see, informs their decisions. The result will then be a closer to flesh and blood character whose actions will seem perfectly believable given their specific set of circumstances. And if they, the writer, understands the villain, then they can in turn figure out how the hero of their story will figure out how to defeat them at their own game and return the world to stasis– or even better.

Yeah, this is writer stuff and not as adrenaline inducing as rushing into a shootout.  But it works far more effectively in the end and is A LOT less bloody for all parties concerned. Unless blood is what we’re really looking for.

The Sun Will Come Up…


Or next Sunday, that is.

After weeks of typing furiously behind his computer screen, the Chair has finally cranked out a polished first draft of a project to be discussed later (oh you get no spoilers now).

That being said, he is spent… and while he’d love to give you his take on the current pop culture and political moment (I mean, Trump danced on SNL, and Ben Carson might be a sociopath, there is ample opportunities here), he’s “taking five” until next Sunday.

In the meantime, enjoy a different Annie — definitely cooler than that clever little redhead.


More Whine Please

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When you’re a politician and lash out at the media for asking you questions you don’t want to answer it means you are attacking them for doing their job and ill-prepared to do yours. – The Chair

What a bunch of whiners. I’m talking about politicians – particularly the GOP candidates in Wednesday’s second Republican presidential debate. And who better to know than a reformed whiner and complainer like myself. Oh, it’s not that I don’t still bitch and moan too frequently. More that a combination of age and looking around at the rest of the world and its misfortunes has made me realize that, when it comes down to it, I can scale back the bellyaching by at least 50-75%. Besides, as my father used to tell me, what good does it do anyway? (Note: To which I used to retort – It makes me feel better! Yeah, for 5-10 minutes – but consider what it does to your friends. Not to mention the general audience)

I don't know Chairy... I'm still counting my millions (billions?). #ultimatewhiner

I don’t know Chairy… I’m still counting my millions (billions?). #ultimatewhiner

I went to grad school in journalism at Northwestern University during a time when newspapers really were made of PAPER and the people and profession was generally seen as a noble quest for the truth by slightly odd and often dysfunctional people who were nevertheless smart and in your face when it came to digging up your inconvenient truth. The ultimate job of a journalist is not to be its subject’s advocate or friend, though both can easily happen – but to inform its readers – nee the public – on what’s what. Not the party line but what’s really being said at the party – behind closed doors.

Imagine it this way – you’re at a family dinner and you need to find out exactly what Aunt Clara and Uncle Artie have been hiding all these years in the locked back room of their house. Is it a trunk full of money, a dead body or simply the art projects they have been working on for the last 50 years? It is well-known among your relatives that one NEVER asks Artie and Clara about that room, much less goes into it, but for the future of the world, the safety of your neighborhood or the piece of mind of your mother who’s asked you to fulfill her last dying wish, that you find out what the hell is in that godforsaken space they’d never let her into.

Would you be able to resist?

Would you be able to resist?

So what would you do – how far would you go to find out? And how much do you think Clara and Artie would hate or blame YOU once you were done finding out? Because clearly you WILL uncover it since everyone that knows you realizes this is your area of expertise. In fact, that’s why the world, the neighborhood or even your family enlisted you for this duty in the first place. You’re the investigator-in-chief of putting people’s feet to the fire and unearthing the truth.

Oh, and you only have two hours to do it.

Are you getting the picture yet? I thought so. When electing the leader of the free world is the issue, investigators – chief or not – aren’t supposed to be nice. (Note: Did anyone see the members of Congress cross-examine Hillary Clinton at the Benghazi hearings?) I don’t have time to sugar coat for Clara and Art if all you’re giving me is two hours. My mother is dying for god’s sake and I’ve been hired by the world to do this. Failure is NOT an option. Tell me what’s in that effin room!!!!



How do you not ask the self-proclaimed politically incorrect Republican Apprentice a question about temperament and being a loose cannon? Do you ignore the fact that Gov. Mike Huckabee has built his entire campaign on traditional family values and not ask him a question about morality? Does one ignore accusations of financial impropriety against Sen. Marco Rubio when he’s running to be the head of the largest economy in the world? Does Sen. Ted Cruz, who campaigns on national television talk shows bragging about not caring about being liked by his fellow senators, NOT get asked a question about his ability to unite the warring political factions of the country?

There’s no such thing as a GOTCHA QUESTION when the security of the world or granting my mother’s last dying wish are concerned. I’ll stop at nothing. Are you kidding?

I can personally confess that people whine and complain to deflect attention from the real issue at hand. When you have a rough day at the office the loud chewing sound of your spouse at dinner makes you feel like you’re eating in the center of the track at the Indianapolis 500 – in the rain. Without an umbrella. So you yell about it to deflect from the real problem to which you have no solution. Not that my husband chews loudly. He doesn’t. In fact, he does nothing wrong at all. We just care so much about each other.

OK.. maybe not the best strategy

OK.. maybe not the best strategy

See, that’s the party line. Without journalistic investigation. But to answer the direct question – no, he does not chew loudly. Though yes, of course there are times when he pisses me off. And CERTAINLY vice-versa. But we argue, discuss, reason, cajole and sometimes even all out fight about them. That’s why the relationship works. Confrontation is not always a bad thing. Better to confront this stuff now than let it fester into a HUGE problem down the line. Does anyone remember the near collapse of the American financial system almost seven years ago that ensured the election of Barack Obama to begin with?

One of the most cunning skills elected officials posses is the ability to perform expert slight of mouth. That would be the ability to reply to an inquiry with a seemingly related yet ultimately irrelevant retort that avoids the original topic posed entirely. In laymen’s terms, this is called changing the subject. You learn all about sources, subjects and the avoidance thereof in any journalism 101 class. Or simply watch All the President’s Men.

... or apparently any other movie starring Robert Redford

… or apparently any other movie starring Robert Redford

Somehow, with the dissolution of the Fairness Doctrine, which used to require that all news programs offered up opposing opinions and helped usher in the era of partisan journalism, we’ve gotten to the place where fair and balanced seems to be equated with not challenging anyone with whom you agree with or like on an issue they might not like or want to be on the record with. When what’s required in our new age of worldwide media is precisely the opposite. More questions. More answers. More truth. Because the TRUTH will come out anyway.   These days everyone has a camera and knows how to use it. The more challenges our elected officials, especially the next leader of the free world, has to endure in front of them, the more prepared she or he will be to lead us into the future. Hopefully, one a few less Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhs.


Top-Tenning with the Chair

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While the Chair finds himself knee (cushion?) deep in finishing up a very exciting project, in lieu of a more traditional Notes post, here are the topics of the week that he just couldn’t resist commenting on. I mean, cmon, Adele has a new song, we can’t let that fly by.

Wait.. isn't that my schtick?

Wait.. isn’t that my shtick?

  1. Hillary got a free 11-hour commercial courtesy of the Republican Party and solidified Dem nomination and likelihood of being the first female president. Here’s why.
  1. Remember the skier at the Sochi Olympics who saved a bunch of stray Russian puppies and brought them back to the US? Oh, and won a silver medal? His name is Gus Kenworthy and he came out this week. Yup, he’s gay. And a great guy. The world is changing. (Note: He’s also single, 24 and looking for a boyfriend… just sayin’).
As Adele would say.. Hello!

As Adele would say.. Hello!

  1. Speaking of… Adele dropped her new single. Sophomore slump? Oh, I don’t think so. It’s brilliant, as is the video. Pure Adele.

  1. The Republican Apprentice is losing steam in Iowa. The latest poll has him with 19% of the vote, in second place behind Dr. Ben Carson, who has 28%. Do we need a nickname for the new frontrunner? Dr. Knowlittle?
  1. Both my dog and I got a haircut. She’s still adorable.
Feelin' pretty

Feelin’ pretty

  1. A former student of mine sent me a great Google site that has lots of TV scripts of all genres. It also has bibles (Note: Not THOSE kind) and pitches. (Note 2: Check out the pitch for New Girl). A must-see for aspiring TV writers – and their teachers. Thanks, Emma!
  1. The new Star Wars trailer dropped in the middle of Monday Night Football. I was not watching either at the time. I’m not sure if this means I’m less of a culture vulture as I thought or hipper than pretty much anyone else around.
This Carrie Fisher performance is more my cup of tea.

This Carrie Fisher performance is more my cup of tea.

  1. Fox announced that Laverne Cox will star as Frank-N-Furter in their planned 2-hour film reboot of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Yes, a trans woman will play a character who hails from Transsexual, Transylvania on one of our four TV networks. This is something I couldn’t have imagined in the seventies. Not the fourth network. And not the casting.
  1. It’s my husband’s and my 28th anniversary. Though it’s only our six-month wedding anniversary. Do you honor both? Does this mean two presents?
  1. Vice-President Joe Biden will not be running for president. I managed to turn out the blog (sort of) while meeting a script deadline. The world is changing.

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

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I’m not religious or particularly spiritual. Pretty much I think that when you die (Note: That’s YOU, not ME) it’s the end. I most certainly don’t imagine there’s a heaven or a hell, especially given the sheer numbers that have come before me. And if there is, well, I can’t imagine facing the same kind of overcrowding we’re now experiencing in Los Angeles. The mind, or whatever would be left of it at that point, boggles at the traffic. In either direction.

But still….

And yet…

There are those moments.

Here’s a story:

Many moons ago in the 1970s I went to grad school. I was 20 at the time, a too young overachiever with an attitude about many things I knew nothing about. This served me well since I was in journalism school and the ability to play along and ask intelligent questions about subjects one knows nothing about with a certain air of…confidence…is an essential skill. It is a skill that, in fact, I occasionally call on to this day. As most of our readers and subscribers realize and have probably come to expect, if not sometimes dread.

Anyway, I was unbelievably lucky back then to fall in with a small group of fellow students who grounded me through our intensive one-year, four quarter (nee semesters for those not in academia) program. One of these people, let’s call her “A” to protect her privacy, actually did die this week. Even though she and I hadn’t talked in the last number of years we all managed to sporadically keep in touch through social media, or via others in the group who had spoken to one of us and had information about someone else. Unfortunately – or perhaps realistically – this is how it goes as we get older. It doesn’t mean the love isn’t still there. In actuality, it’s quite the opposite. At any given moment, any of us could call the other and pick up almost exactly where we left off.

My lovely friends.... and hair

My lovely friends…. and hair

These enduring friendships, which are often formed at pivotal, peak moments in our lives or developmental cycles (Note: Which hopefully happen all through our lives) are the closest I get to religious experiences. Which makes the following all the more ironic. See, A was not only smart (a Smith gal) but one of the nicest and pure of heart people you’d ever want to meet. This has nothing to do with her untimely death – which is, I suspect, what you’re thinking about now. Rather, she was…to put it bluntly…just….nice. Like…..sweet. Almost naive. Except, she wasn’t by any means. More specifically she was a gentle soul.

Who LOVED The Beatles.

Particularly PAUL MCCARTNEY.

Yes, Paul McCartney. Of The Beatles. Not Band on the Run Paul McCartney or the Michael Jackson dueting This Girl is Mine Paul McCartney. Certainly not Silly Love Songs or even Live and Let Die Paul McCartney. Though I’m sure she very much liked all of those. (Note: Eh, maybe she could’ve done without the Jackson tune, but, well, I’ll never quite know).

That's our Paul

That’s our Paul

She enjoyed Ringo, George and most certainly John (NOTE: That’s Starr, Harrison and Lennon for my students, who I don’t ever underestimate but whom I always want to make sure I inform in case they’re in the dark). But Paul – talented Paul – adorable floppy-haired Paul, the Paul of YesterdayA was all about him.

So much so that when A was put into hospice care her husband hired a guitarist to play Beatles music for her, with what I’m sure was a serious bent towards the Paul canon. By the second day A was not speaking at all so her cousin asked the musician to play something other than The Beatles, if only for a change of pace. To which A said, after 24 hours of silence: NO, JUST THE BEATLES!

Those were her final words.

I'll miss you dear friend

I’ll miss you dear friend

At her memorial service some time later, all five speakers talked about A’s love of The Beatles, and especially Paul McCartney. There was a deli around the corner from the funeral home that one member of our group, let’s call her J, ducked into with some other mourners afterwards to eat.   So imagine their surprise when, sometime between ordering the corned beef and chowing down on the pastrami on rye, who walks in for lunch but —

Paul McCartney. Yes, THAT Paul McCartney.

Does he even live in NYC? Who knew he liked NY deli? And you mean, he just sort of mosies around town ducking in and out of places that sell items like knishes, dill pickles and sable? Well, I guess so.


This seemed like the right time to post this gem

This seemed like the right time to post this gem

J, who told me this story, which I’m sharing with you, decided she had to go over and thank Paul for the joy that he brought our friend. She shared it all – bits of her life, the moments before her death. She said he seemed very touch by the whole thing.

Maybe he’ll write a song about it. Or one of you will. Or perhaps it will inspire something else.

Now, this may all be a coincidence. I mean, why wouldn’t Paul McCartney be in NYC, right? And I mean, it’s not the 1960s, 70s or 80s – he could probably slip in and out of eateries all day without being too mobbed, right? But why that moment?

Well, a cynic like me could say why not? Except, in this moment I find myself to be – dare I say it – a believer. In exactly what, I’m not sure. But it’s the same leap of faith I make as a writer when I sit down to the blank page.   Or as a potential lover when I decide to expose (literally!) my entire self to an individual who for some reason I want to take a chance on. Or as a friend when I meet a new person, or group of people, I decide in that moment would be a good idea to invite into my life.

It’s all guesswork and chance, right?

No, it’s faith.

Which has NOTHING to do with RELIGION.

And everything to do with The Beatles. Or more precisely, Paul McCartney.

…..Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da