The Circus is Always in Town

“We’re not going to solve our problems if we get distracted by side shows and carnival barkers,” President Obama said yesterday when he released the original copy of his birth certificate (where the heck is mine?  I have no idea).  This was after his lawyer personally went to Hawaii and made a special request to not only get it but to also make a copy – just like you have to do in a research library (2011 college students take note).

But let’s get back to sideshows and carnival barkers.  Because that’s what we really want to do, isn’t it?  OF COURSE, he’s speaking about Donald Trump.  But not only him.  It’s a whole 21st century movement, this side-showing and carnival-like atmosphere.  And you can make a lot, actually TONS, of money doing it. Which these days certainly isn’t unappealing.  Plus, it’s fun.  Because it’s entertainment.  And everyone in the world knows WORKING IN ENTERTAINMENT IS A 24-HOUR FUNFEST ALL DAY AND NIGHT ALL THE TIME!  Except perhaps for those of us who actually work in it.

That’s not to say entertainment biz isn’t fun – actually it’s great fun.  But not all day.  Not every day.  Nothing is.

Except in the case of the old, tired joke about the guy/gal shoveling elephant (shit) dung at the circus.  When someone asks, “why don’t you just quit, the shoveler looks up,  blankly replying “And what, give up show business?”

Has the world finally come to this in the 21st century – entertainment sideshow tactics trumping the future of a nation?  Well, Abraham Lincoln was shot by a disgruntled actor.  (Rimshot?  Maybe not).

Plus – you and I know this has always been so.   The Greeks and Romans loved a good show, especially when it meant a hungry crowd could literally see people they didn’t like get torn apart by lions or fight to the death.  Or in the case of the French centuries later,  get guillotined (or worse). Today there are certain countries that still prefer justice in the form of stoning and public flogging (And these are places where they don’t even get “Jersey Shore” or “The Bachelor”).

In the last 70 years, it’s become a bit more intellectualized, electronic and sophisticated but we humans still enjoy a good show.   And who better to run the show than carnival barker types.  That would be us, oh good people of the entertainment world.  But as we know, but the general public might not know, there are all kinds of persons in the business we like to call show.  Sure, we might all be carnival barkers of some sort, but we come in various degrees of subtlety and moralities, just like folks in any industry.  We’re not all on the fringe, as one of my favorite writers, Joseph Mankiewicz, had his alter ego director character state in one of my favorite films, “All About Eve.”  Arguing back against the story’s most outrageous carnival barkers, a venomous columnist named Addison DeWitt (get it?), who believes everyone in show business is crazy, neurotic, egomaniacal emotional misfits, Bill the director, answers:

“Oh, I admit there’s a screwball element in the Theatre (show business).  It sticks out, it’s got spotlights on it and a brass band.  But it isn’t basic.  It isn’t standard – if it were, the Theatre couldn’t survive.”

And that was in 1950.  But we’re still here.  Interpolating this to include his beloved Manhattan, Woody Allen took it a step further in “Annie Hall” and said about New York (another show business hub). “Don’t you see, the rest of the country looks upon us (NY) like we’re left wing communist Jewish homosexual pornographers?  I think of us that way sometimes and I live here.”

When I was in college I can recall Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s much lauded LP “Brain Salad Surgery” and it’s song “Karn Evil 9,” acknowledging the circus-like atmosphere through rock music.  As the synthesizer-backed lyrics went, a carnival barker-type singer shouted/sung in that song:

“Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends, We’re so glad you could attend!  Come inside!  Come inside!…Come inside the show’s about to start, guaranteed to blow your head apart…You’ve got to see the show, It’s a dynamo, You’ve got to see the show, It’s rock and roll.”

Granted I’ve edited the lyrics and perhaps they were better appreciated in the altered states of 1970s college, but you get the idea.  Contemporary culture in a carnival setting.  Do you think Donald Trump listened to ELP at Harvard?  I mean, he was of that general age.  Yeah, me neither.  But it might have helped him.  Or, at least us.

Trump is, of course, doing just fine in our world of celebrity-invoked culture. Because somewhere in his non-rock ‘n roll listening heart he knows it’s all rock ‘n roll.  He’s the star of a still hit television show (“The Apprentice”) and supposedly worth megamillions, or perhaps billions, but no one knows for sure because he hasn’t released his tax returns and there is no public record of it.  Hmmm, perhaps he’s not really a citizen if we can’t find his tax returns.  I mean, I can release mine.  Can’t you release yours?  Maybe we should start a movement?

You don’t have to be a Donald Trump huckster to succeed in the world (thank God) and you certainly don’t have to be an egghead, editor of the law review Harvard-attending President Barack Obama (thank God because really, isn’t that setting the bar just a little high?).  But what you do have to understand is that each have gotten where they are with a combination of smarts (street, book or both), good instincts and understanding the value of show business/entertainment/hucksterism.  Isn’t that why Obama’s pre-fabbed “columns” were brought in during the 2008 Democratic convention to make him look more “presidential,” not to mention his own personal teleprompter? I rest my case.  But there are degrees of how you do this and it’s up to you to figure out the right balance.  As it applies to yourself.  And what you can’t and will be able to live with (Or else it’s eternal damnation in hucksterism hell of your own choosing).

At a panel I moderated for our students this week of three very accomplished, award-winning, successful film professionals, one student asked the panelists, “If you could give advice to your younger self from everything you’ve learned up to this point, what would it be?”  There were several moments of silence as we all tried to think of something valuable and intelligent to say to not only our younger selves but this group of 75 of our younger selves.  Across, the board, the advice was to “be bold, be courageous.  Work your butt off.  Because it will work out.”

One could say that’s exactly what’s happened for both Obama AND Trump.  Albeit in very different ways.  And they’re not even in the world of entertainment.  Or – are they?

Plain White Shirt

Hollywood and Highland is a shopping complex in Los Angeles that not only has the home of the Oscars – the Kodak Theatre – but a maze of so many stores, shops and places to eat (that don’t quite satisfy your hunger) that few people living in the city frequent it if it can at all be avoided.  It’s not that it’s particularly bad but it’s overdone, confusing, doesn’t have anything really necessary that you can’t get somewhere else and is a chore to navigate through and park.

I was there to see a matinee of the new Robert Redford film, “The Conspirator,” because I assigned my writing students to see the film, and didn’t get a chance to go to it this weekend, and consistently chastise my students when they complain about getting off their —-s and going out to movie theatres.  (And, being a period drama, it wasn’t playing anywhere else.  On that score, we’re lucky to even see it at a movie theatre and not straight to video).

Hollywood and Highland is still home to the revamped Mann’s (formerly Grauman’s) Chinese Theatre, part of a landmark that wasn’t at all confusing because it’s best known for housing the footprints and signatures of our most famous movie stars in dried cement.  Those cement blocks still exist, but in front of a façade adjacent to Hollywood and Highland.  The theatres themselves are three floors up (or more, who can count with so many subterranean and upstairs levels) from the main level inside the complex.  They still have the Chinese logo (hopefully that Chinese writing is not yet deemed offensive, but merely still borderline) but that’s about all of the vintage locale that remains.

As a visitor to L.A. in the seventies, and a transplanted Angelino since the eighties, Grauman’s (as we used to call it, the Chinese theatre) was one of my favorite places.  I mean, who didn’t want to dream of being a movie star (which you could do by literally standing in their footsteps) or feel a connection to the larger than life men and women immortalized in cement?  Even if you didn’t care, who doesn’t remember Lucy trying to steal John Wayne’s footprints and then getting her foot caught in a bucket of quick drying cement, only to then have to drag a new block of wet cement to the Duke’s dressing room and try to get him to unknowingly sign it.  Oh, you don’t remember that?  Well, trust me, it was funny.  And memorable…

(Watch entire episode here)

As for the movie theatres, in the eighties I can remember going first to an advertised sneak preview of “Ghost” at the Chinese and crying despite myself when Demi and Patrick connect again through Whoopi.  I can also recall seeing a screening of a god awful film called “Whispers in the Dark” where Alan Alda is (spoiler alert) exposed at the end as a homicidal killer chasing after someone with a knife on the beach.  Such is the life of movie theatres and I certainly don’t blame the quality of films on the proprietors of any particular movie palace.

What is upsetting is everything else about Theatre #1 at the Chinese these days.    The fact that through half the movie you could hear a blaring soundtrack of something else coming through the walls of the mall or another one the five other theatres in the now sixplex (the manager couldn’t quite determine which).  The fact that with dozens of places to buy refreshments nearby one is almost frisked at the door and told you can’t bring in food or drink from any other locales in the mall or even from home (I did get around this by pouring my hot tea I bought 100 feet away (I have a cold) into an empty cup I got from the concession stand but that’s me and I don’t recommend illegalities).  Add to all this, the fact that there wasn’t one movie in the coming attraction trailers anyone in our audience seemed excited about.  And the fact that the movie we saw wasn’t exciting at all and came from an indisputably talented director and film icon (Robert Redford) and a cast of terrific actors trying a little too hard to make each moment work. And the film had so many lighting tricks that one can’t help but be reminded every two minutes that this is a PERIOD film and that it is meant to be ARTISTIC.  And finally, the fact that there were, oh, about 8 people at the theatres.

My afternoon at the movies and at Hollywood and Highland made me consider just how complicated we try to make everything these days and how unnecessary or at least cumbersome and tedious it all is.  Do we really need endless levels of stores selling nothing of necessity in the center of Hollywood, New York or fill in the downtown center of your city.  (Do not tell me this is capitalism or I will surface through your computer and shoot you). Can’t a movie tell an uncomplicated story in a simple way and still resonate with a contemporary audience?  Or do we need endless bells and whistles?  Can’t a huge underground parking lot be fully open during the day and not littered with endless yellow cones providing you with even more endless arrows that detour you into oblivion?  Yes, I’m a somewhat smart guy but it still took me about 10-15 minutes to figure my way out of there.


Mind you, we’re not talking Mideast politics.  Or the economy.  Or the multi-layered machinations and brain cells that are needed to understand either or both.  We’re just talking about going to a movie and some hot tea.  Greater minds are writing about our two (or is it now three?) wars and our financial system.  I’m a teacher and a screenwriter so I can only speak with authority on getting about town to see a film, and yes, I know how bitter and shallow that sounds (especially since I live in Los Angeles).

Of course, we all know it’s not just movies or the mall. Can you call a company and get a real person, or the person you want to talk to, on the phone without playing a tag team relay race?  Lately I’ve even been detecting a slight annoyance when you call someone on the phone during a business day.  Wouldn’t an email or a text suffice?  Why be so intrusive, I hear them thinking.

Call me Methuselah (the world’s oldest man) but I sometimes like to make direct contact in a simple, straightforward way.  I like my gadgets and the ease of the computer but I also want to feel like I’m driving occasionally.  Not driven to distraction by too many neon lights on my screen or in the mall stores I have no desire to patronize.   Now I really may sound old, which, perhaps (perhaps?) I am, but with age comes wisdom so hear me out.

My dear friend Neil (who is a very talented and famous production designer) and I see it as the plain white shirt argument.  You go out somewhere and someone compliments you not on the shirt, pants, jacket or dress (the latter if you’re female or transgender or transsexual) you’re wearing . Instead, they crave the classic white shirt (or fill in the blank of another classic item) that you bought 10 years ago and now is no longer available – anywhere.   Because, well, they don’t make them anymore.

But can’t I have something plain?

A: No.

Can’t I have something without the color stitching?

A: Uh, uh.

The collar is so big, it looks funny.

A: It’s standard.

Why is this collar so small?

A: Tailoring.

Do I have to have pleats in the back?

A: Yes, it’s special.

The shirt seems awfully long.

A: Oversize.  One size fits all.  Alteration.

The cuffs have all this stuff on it.

A: Logo.

No this.

A: Embroidery signature.

But I can’t I just have a plain white shirt.

A:  Well, sure.  But – we don’t carry them.  Sorry.

Can you recommend any place that does?

Blank stare.  Blank stare.  Silence.  And —


Trumping Mr. Corman

The lie starts when you actually show up an hour early for a 7:40 am flight only to be kept waiting on the ground 90 minutes due to the airline’s clerical error.  It continues when you turn on the news and a senior member of Congress is telling you Planned Parenthood spends 90% of its time on abortion when every report and factoid tells us that is only 3% of its services.  It continues when you look at someone’s Facebook post and a top website admits it publishes writers all the time who it knows in advance are factually inaccurate.  It nearly ends when you watch “American Idol” or “Dancing With The Stars” and, clearly, the worst singer or dancer wasn’t voted off and someone more talented got the axe for favoritism.  But the lie truly ends when right before you go to bed the top organization in charge of rewarding positive portrayals of your minority group  gives an honor to a movie you find impossibly, horribly and forever indefensibly offensive to you (can’t say the name of the movie) [“I Love You, Phillip Morris”] or the group [GLAAD]).

In any event –-  Those were some of the lies I endured this past week.  Probably they are something else other than lies (right now I can’t think of what) but that seems the most apt description to me right now – a deception, a manipulation that isn’t true or as it should be.   But isn’t one person’s lie another person’s – truth?  Indifference?  Zen-like acceptance of the world?  Or just plain outrage – the kind of acceptance, indifference or outrage that fuels fringe-like groups coming to power in society or mediocre television, radio, film, theatre and the endless of revivals and remakes of such.  Perhaps I’m exaggerating.  But I don’t think so.  And remain ever hopeful that..

Donald Trump is another story.  He’s so slickly…Donald…that I and no one else knows — and no talking head that I’ve seen can tell us for sure —  if he’s a Grade A, #1 liar, a misunderstood truth-teller or something in between.  What everyone does seem to agree on is he’s our modern-day P.T. Barnum – meaning he’s one of our master showman.  Someone who knows how to generate white hot light, outrage, polarization and yes, even good will around himself or a particular person(s) or story.    (I’m not repeating his “lie” because you already know it).

Trump actually trumps truth AND lies because, in some strange way, he’s entertaining.  Most reality TV is entertaining, especially after a long day at the workhouse.  Or even worse —  a long day looking for work at a workhouse.   Any workhouse.

Forget the truth.  Just give us something to talk about (thank you, Bonnie Raitt, but it still shouldn’t have been the title of that Julia Roberts movie, sorry.).  Stephen Colbert some time ago coined the phrase “truthiness.”  Which means kinda, sorta, in a way – true.  But at the very least pleasantly (or unpleasantly) anecdotal.  Jon Stewart and Colbert make fun of this kind of thing and if someone gave me my own show or paid me more than I made for this blog ($000,000.00), I would too.  Gladly.

Entertainment can get away with being untrue because it’s a palatable lie and, at least on the surface, doesn’t really hurt anyone.  It actually often revels in the art of the lie or fudge or partial truth for the sake of drama or comedy.  The trick?  Well, a lawyer friend of mine once explained it to me – lying that is.  He was admittedly a master liar.  Actually, he reveled in that ability.  His advice:  “You have to put a grain of truth in the lie or no one will believe you.”  By the way, there wasn’t a smile when he said this.  He was dead serious and believed he was giving me rock solid guidance on how to advance in my career.

I might have followed it had I not I not been the worst liar in the world and a person who feels guilty if I get extra change in the market and don’t immediately give it back.   I’m not necessarily proud of these limitations but facts are facts. And at least I can sleep at night.  So does my friend.  And quite well.  At two different houses three times the size of mine, may I add.

Where were we?

Oh yes –- entertainment.

My first big exposure to that lie was when I started the weekly national box-office column at Daily Variety.  This was in the early 80s – years before the Internet, computers (I had a manual typewriter!!!) or cell phones.  Or before the movie grosses were a box-office derby reported on by all the morning shows, major media outlets and even the New York Times.

What I had to do was call each of the major and indie film distributors with movies debuting that weekend (no, it wasn’t a rotary dial) to find out “estimates” of what their film(s) made in ticket sales that weekend.  These numbers were reasonably accurate because studios crosschecked each other via their relationships with multiplex theatre chains and, frankly, their competitors.

Where I’d run into trouble was with independent distributors who often needed to report higher grosses for their films to get future funding and to show off what successes they were in order to compete for talent and other resources with the major studios.  That’s where Roger Corman comes in.

For those who don’t know (or recall), Roger Corman  was?  is known in some circle as King of the Bs (as in “B” movies) and producer of such low budget films as “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Death Race 2000” and  “Piranha.”  He is also the man who gave some of our best known filmmakers (Martin Scorcese, Francis Coppola, James Cameron) their first shots at directing features.

One week New World had released a film whose name I can’t now recall and the rep at the studio gave me a box-office gross report that was outrageously inflated.  Not the usual 10% margin or error but, like, 30-50%.  I knew this was so because a) every other distributor had the true figure, b) it made no sense that this low budget film could have a per screen average so high, and c) New World’s past reputation for gross reportage was, well (fill in the blank).  When I politely (yes, I was polite in those days) questioned the accuracy of the figure several times to several people I was told Roger Corman himself would call me.   Which he did.   The conversation went something like this:

Corman:  Nice to talk to you!

Me:  Same here!

Corman:  So –  the grosses on (name of film) are ($ dollar figure)  at (number in the hundreds) theatres.  Do you have any questions?

Me:  Yes. I’m told that the figures you gave me…(blah, blah, blah)

Corman:  These are the numbers I’m giving you.

Me:  Right.  Right, But….

Corman:  Are you saying I’m lying?

Me:  No, I didn’t say that.  But I have…

Corman:  These are the figures I’m giving you.

Me:  (Polite explanation of figures’ inaccuracy and corroboration from others). (More apologies) …So you see why it might seem a little…

…. A long silence.

Corman:  Then print what you want!


Me:  Hello?

Dial tone.

Me:  Hello?

Dial tone.

Corman knew exactly how to bridge the roads between entertainment and lies.   Quite efficiently.  When one watches Donald Trump and many of the others, one longs for such simplicity.

Don’t Remake Me… Let Me Go!

You know the drill. There’s nothing playing at the movie theatres worth seeing and why leave your house anyway when you’ve just spent too much money on a flat screen TV/sound system? Or — why not stay home when you don’t have the money to go out and your laptop’s bookmarked with key websites from which you can download any film you want and can outsmart the flaccid reach of federal authorities.  Yes, downloading is illegal but when was the last time you heard of anyone arrested for what they viewed in the privacy of their own homes (if that were the case, we’d all be in jail!) just for themselves and the date/friends they couldn’t afford to take out on the town — a predicament they (we) like to blame on the authorities, anyway.

I won’t tell you which of the above categories I fall into (you can guess) but suffice it to say at various points in my life I’ve fallen into both. And even now somewhere in- between.

This week I’m watching the two- hour premiere of AMC’s “The Killing” and the first three hours of HBO’s five-hour miniseries “Mildred Pierce” (that’s many hours I could have devoted to, well…something else) It’s comfortable – I’ve got my popcorn, soda, chocolate and kitchen nearby in case that’s not enough. Minutes, half an hour, then an hour goes by and I begin to realize — THERE IS SOMETHING ABOUT THIS ALL THAT IS VAGUELY FAMILIAR – but not in a good way. And I’m not even at the movies.

“The Killing” had the moody atmosphere of a David Lynch film without much of the strangeness. That made it okay, but nothing special (and I’d rather be offended than bored because at least it wakes me out of my ennui. But wait – this isn’t a movie and I’m watching it at home so that criteria doesn’t apply). Then as I sped through the commercials (thank you – DVR) but not quite fast enough (curse you, clumsy remote control fingers) I come upon AMC’s promo for “The Killing” during “The Killing” and hear the words, “Who Killed Rose Larson?,” bragging about a special AMC “suspect tracker” and online clues that will keep you guessing and guessing as the truth behind the “Killing” unravels.

Being of a certain age, I finally realize. Didn’t David Lynch do television? Oh, “Twin Peaks, remember? Of course I remember the dancing midget little person, “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” You couldn’t have lived through the eighties or be any kind of film or television fan/student without remembering a show that became such a huge hit it even threw off Lynch and its creator Mark Frost because, guess what – they didn’t know who killed Laura Palmer at all because they didn’t think the damn show would be a hit! (I love that they didn’t because, well, that’s soooo David Lynch).

Unfortunately, I fear/know the makers of “The Killing” do know the truth (and a lot more) and that’s what’s wrong with the show.

“The Killing” is a remake of a hit Danish television series now a huge hit in England. It’s not bad, but watching it gives one the distinct feeling that no matter what the cast and director try to do, we’ve covered this territory before. Because we have. And in a far better way.

I had the same thought this morning when I turned on the news (liberal bias alert!) and saw the Republicans of Congress giving a press conference basically stating they are trying to save the American economy with massive budget cuts and the uncooperative president will leave them no choice but to shut the government down.

Is this 1995/6 or the 2010’s? Is John Boehner simply Newt Gingrich with a tan, elevator shoes and a swagger? Is Obama simply Bill Clinton with a tan? (going too far?) I don’t know, but once again, there’s something oddly familiar. And not in a good way. Because once again I’m getting bored and don’t think our current president can be anywhere near as entertaining as Mr. Clinton. But, I mean, who can?

Which is really the point when it comes to “Mildred Pierce.” It is extremely well-made, beautiful to look at, even has a bit of a resonant theme given the high unemployment in today’s world that certainly parallels the many out-of-work people in post Depression era Los Angeles. But as much as I loooove Kate Winslett, she couldn’t possibly be the campy fun of Joan Crawford. She’s actually acting the piece in a very believable dramatic way because writer-director Todd Haynes (the iconoclastic filmmaker who not only gave us “Velvet Goldmine” and “Safe,” but his brilliant first film“ The Karen Carpenter Story,” where he evokes the musical icon’s story with a cast of only Barbie dolls) seems determined to be hamstrung by sticking so closely to the book (remake) and the requirements of cliffhanging rising action of traditional cable TV moviemaking.

In short, I fear I’ve seen this story before. And not in a good way.

I start to wonder:

  • Is Libya, a rerun (co-run) of Afghanistan, which is a rerun of Iraq, which in turn is a remake of the Vietnam War?
  • Is Michelle Bachman a remake of Sarah Palin, after we had to briefly suffer through the even worse Palin remake that was Christine O’Donnell, which, let’s face it, no one (not even O’Donnell, I bet) really thinks worked
  • Isn’t the upcoming” “The Voice,” and “X-Factor” a remake of “American Idol?” But didn’t “America’s Got Talent” remake “Idol?” Sort of? But then again, “Idol” remade “Star Search” (that’s where Rosie O’Donnell and Brad Garrett were discovered, remember?), which was really a remake of one of my parents’ favorite shows, “Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour.”

Maybe one reason we’re not going out and paying for movies is because Russell Brand and Helen Mirren are starring in a remake of a film I vividly remember (and I’m not THAT old) called “Arthur.” Is it me, or does this film smell A MILLION MILES AWAY? Why is that? It can’t only be that it’s a remake, is it? I can remember the funny type A writer-director Steve Gordon who conceived the original “Arthur,” and had it financed by the then somewhat iconoclastic company called Orion. The proprietors being the former executives at United Artists responsible for original classics like “Annie Hall,” “Rocky” and “Network” who walked away because of interference and lack of any support from their corporate elders who didn’t crave originality. They then got their own financing and company and an original slate of films that included the original screenplay “Arthur.” It was a HUGE success seemingly out of nowhere, Gordon was hailed as a bit of a modern day Preston Sturges and then tragically died in 1983. Luckily, this was before the sad sequel to his comic gem, “Arthur on the Rocks,” and decades before the likely creative fiasco this weekend will become with this remake because I saw Helen Mirren on “Today” on Monday looking so oddly uncomfortable promoting it, and, well, if the Queen can’t divert me who can.

Maybe Martin Scorsese needs to do original films and not remakes like “Shutter Island,” which wasn’t bad but still feels like territory he’s traveled before (Oh come on, he’s not infallible). I know there is “Dragon Tattoo” fever but do you really think the American film is going to feel new? Yes, I know we’re all dying to see Barbra Streisand star in the film remake of “Gypsy,” but come on my brothers in gay and musical aficionados, do you really think….(fill in choice words)

It’s true “The Office” is a smash creative remake of the British series with Ricky Gervais and that “All In the Family” remade another British series, “Till Death Do Us Part.” And yeah, I’ll be tempted to see, the remake of, well, “Dune,” I suppose (not really, but fill in your own remake choice). But before writing me on that, think about the 2004 debacle called “The Stepford Wives,” then watch the 1975 original and consider — do you REALLY want to put your fingers to those keys and send me your objections? Do you? Do you?

Original is, of course, no recipe for success. But at least it has the chance of thoroughly offending me, rather than boring me to death. Which is, on its own, a victory. And it might even get me (us) off the couch and back into the movie theatre where I (we) belong.

Postscript: I won’t be watching Arnold Schwarzenegger’s newly proposed cartoon series called “The Governator,”” where he voices a superhero governor living on the Westside of Los Angeles who saves the world (presumably in between meetings with the state legislature). But it’s original, you say? Uh, I don’t think so. Not even slightly.

Ya Oughta Be Committed!

It’s tough to get out of bed and start one’s daily journey into social networking “heck” when only yesterday morning your chosen media platform informed you that “live-able” traces of radiation were found in air particles worldwide, and that it might not be wise to eat sushi or tuna fish unless you could verify that the piscine you were devouring never swam anywhere near a nuclear power plant in their lifetimes.  And even then, how would you know for sure if either the fish or its captor weren’t lying?

I have some friends who are rabid vegetarians.  And though I stopped eating red meat long ago (except when it’s the only item on a plate at a seated dinner party (as it was last weekend) and I couldn’t bring myself to finish it), I can’t quite do the whole vegan full monty at mealtime.  First, I’m allergic to nuts and have gotten really sick at more than one vegan cardboard food eatery (and not just from the smell!).   Second, one of my best vegan friends used to chastise me relentlessly 15 years ago when he insisted on serving roast pork (a food which even now makes me physically nauseous) at dinner parties and when I tried to discreetly refuse to eat it was met with his consistent utter disdain.  Yes –  Revenge runs in my family, my astrological sign is Scorpio and I have trouble moving on even when I’ve made my point ad nausea (which should be thoroughly apparent to you if you’re a frequent or even infrequent reader of this blog).

What does energize me to get up when my sinuses are begging me to stay down is seeing other people’s passion or commitment to a task (despite the obvious likelihood of their failure).  It’s always been that way and I really can’t explain it.  Maybe it’s catching  — like radiation poisoning but in a good way.  Perhaps it was a bit too rare in my neighborhood in Queens where people didn’t think about existential states of being but rather having lox on a Sunday or Chinese food on a Sunday nite. More likely, it’s growing up as the son of a gambler with a natural aversion to take on tasks where the odds were clearly stacked against me/us.

Except – that’s all I’ve ever done in my life.

I entered journalism when all people ever said was I’d never start on anything but a small town newspaper; and the screenwriting sweepstakes when the first agent I ever met with sneered at my script and jeeringly told me my dialogue was too off-Broadway (I still can’t figure out if that was an insult).  These days, I continue to like “La Vida Loca” through all the Ricky Martin backlash.  And I don’t hesitate to say I’m a liberal, liberal, liberal, liberal, liberal, liberal in an age where it’s not cool to be labeled politically but ultra-chic to be labeled for your sexual practices, ethnicity or latest social networking proclivity (I’m not yet a Twitterer but I fear it’s right there over the horizon).  Those over 35 who doubt me should remember the day when you VOWED you would never be one of those people who had nothing better to do than natter on your cell phone.  Those under 35 (or even over) could pretend you’ve never watched and enjoyed reality television and then hit the playback of some conversation you had with your best friend, family or classmate years before about how lame “Fear Factor” or “The Real World” was.

Since I depend partly on other people’s passions to spark some of my own, it is conversely true that lack of passion and half-heartedness bugs the living crap out of me.  Though I try very hard and don’t roll my eyes or sigh audibly as I once did, there is something personally enraging about watching someone not put any effort in (students beware) or purposely/carelessly do something in a half-assed way because they can (eg – the people my landlord has remodeling our duplex).

That makes it especially difficult to live in the nuances of today’s world.  We are in a “limited military engagement” in Libya and not a war – which seems to be a good thing on the surface until one considers its contradicts everything we all know about the effort it takes to win.  We also know passion projects in film and television are the ones particularly impossible to get made these days yet it is on record for everyone working in the fields of entertainment (and at the major studios) that most of the best and most POPULAR (yes, that means financial success) pieces in television and movies grew out of one person’s (or group of people’s) passion, commitment, drive and determination to get a story told.  And if they don’t know that, it’s because they’re not passionate themselves and are living a half-assed life.  Because it’s my blog and, once again, I set the rules.


  • Margaret Mitchell took a decade to write “Gone With the Wind” based on what she’d seen growing up in the South.
  • Sylvester Stallone (supposedly) wrote “Rocky” in desperation over a weekend (though I never bought it and think it took him at least two) from his own desperate life experiences.
  • Matt Weiner’s “Mad Men” got turned down several times from every network and other outlet all over town and yet has won the Emmy for best series three years in a row and has launched a classy profile for AMC, the only studio to give it a chance. (Note:  With its success, AMC is now trying to cut back and interfere with Weiner’s creative vision and is shortening each episode and killing off characters in a hackneyed cost cutting measure.  Ooops – news flash – they just relented [compromised?] and Weiner re-signed.)

Let’s not even go through Spielberg and Lucas and the childhood passions they were determined to bring onscreen.  Or Francis Coppola’s unique ability to inject themes of family he held so closely to a work like “The Godfather.”  Or Norman Lear essentially basing  “All in the Family”’s famed Archie Bunker on his own father and their turbulent relationship growing up.  Or did I just mention them all.

Dedication.  Personal passion. Commitment.  And I’ve left out all of the other arts.  And haven’t even gotten into sports, Oprah or the latest Ricky Martin record even though I could make a convincing case for each.  (I can’t make a case for Disney just signing beautiful actress Jennifer Garner to play a revamped version of Agatha Christie’s 80 year old British Sleuth Miss Marple for the start of a new tent pole series of films – though I have no doubt she will give her all as an actress if it does get made because she’s known for doing that sort of thing.  So there still is half a case to be made about that).

It’s important to care and do your best work because you don’t know where it will lead or whom it will inspire.  But mostly because it’s too easy to live in a world where it seems those who are immoral and lazy will get ahead.  And if we’re to have any future as an admirable society it is our collective obligation to prove that theory wrong.

I was in a bit of a passion rut last week until I was obligated to attend a fundraiser my students were having to raise money for autism.  It was on a Sunday and, truth be told, I was tired, cranky, hadn’t slept well the previous night because my nightmarish landlord is still remodeling, and generally was annoyed that a screenplay I worked very hard on for a producer which I deemed more than admirably now seems to be perpetually stalled.

Who wanted to see a talent lineup of non-famous students and their friends that included: an opera singer; a Shakespearean monologue from a budding actor; a reading of a short story; at least three young original singer-songwriters playing their own material; an a cappella male vocalist doing “Sounds of Silence;” four unknown comedians; one comedian/singer/You Tuber; an improv group with four members, and maybe even a partridge in a pear tree for all I knew.  It was so much easier to stay home, play Scrabble on my iPad, make fun of Charlie Sheen myself and be politically outraged on Facebook.

But being committed to at least following through on my commitment (out of guilt, not any sense of my own nobility, I promise), I forced myself out of my house.  And guess what?  It was pretty fabulous.  I mean, like – really, really.  Even the reading of the short story (who likes readings?).  The incredible soaring notes of the opera singer, the stand-ups, and improv group.  And on and on.  I’m not saying this because many (but not all) of them were my students and could be reading this.  I actually, truly, passionately mean it.

Why do they take the time and energy to hone their crafts when they all have day jobs and almost never get paid (yet) for their creative endeavors? Passion.  Commitment.  Dedication.  What they’re doing is coming from a real place.  And yes, they are all of the things I just mentioned and more.  Most won’t “make it” commercially but some will.  Which ones – I have no freakin’ idea because long ago I’ve given up that guesswork.  But even those that don’t might inspire someone who will and get out a message that might not have gotten out in the world unless perhaps that particular messenger heard that said person perform.  And that, in itself, is something.

Because it makes me (us?) get out of bed each day no matter how bad my sinuses are.  Or consider becoming vegan if my nut allergy is cured – or perhaps even before.  I’m not sure it’s an antidote to radiation or world peace, but at least it’s a start on the road to —- ?

And now, for some inspiration…