Endings and Beginnings

The one and only?

“When one door closes another opens.”  It’s taken me all of my life and then some (I’m counting the future) to accept the adage.  How does one take a disappointing or not hoped for outcome and not only accept it but actually revel in it because its very existence might be opening up a great opportunity yet to come?

On that note, how can you let go of a longtime dream, whether you’ve achieved it or not achieved it and make room for another (Remember — either outcome means you do have to go on).  How do you believe that CHANGE IS GOOD, or can be good –-because experience tells us that it is, or can be, if we make it so.

This is all essential in show business and in life (Side Note: Never, EVER, confuse the two).   I’ll resist saying anything about the latter because, well, I’m not that wise and certainly not old enough to philosophize.  But I do know something about surviving in show business because, well, I’m friends with a lot of people who have and, let’s face it, here I am still performing in our little/big/medium-sized three-ring circus (the size depends on your current standing in the biz).

The death of Amy Winehouse this week prompted all this reflection.  I was a rabid fan of the brilliant and troubled young singer and her demise felt to me like a door closing on one of the few contemporary musicians whose work I listen and relate to with any regularity.  There have been so many intelligent tributes, tweets, comments on this (and some not so smart) that I won’t go on about it.  You can read Russell Brand‘s or two writers at Salon (here and here) for some of my favorites.  There’s even a NY times article where iconoclastic (or at least he was) director John Waters talks about her style.

But best of all there’s the music. Listen to the “Back to Black” album and if for some reason it’s not your thing, it is likely you won’t deny the one-of-a-kindness of Winehouse’s talent.  Perhaps more interesting and less known was her pared down jazz/soul cover of the vintage Carole King song, “Will You Still Love me Tomorrow.” Watch it here. 

Why am I writing about this?  Because while part of Winehouse’s talent was just a grand gift from – not sure where, you decide – it was not just the inheritance of the “brilliant gene” that fostered her creativity.  She worked at it from a young age.  She grew up obsessed with Frank Sinatra, girl bands, played with her musician Dad and others for years on end as a kid on several instruments.  She listened incessantly to Billie Holiday, white British soul singer Mari Wilson, and American girl group icon Ronnie Spector for hundreds of hours on end.  Spector, a member of rock royalty whose classic “A Christmas Gift For You” album you hear in every mall across America in the holiday season (and yeah, she was married to THAT guy), knew Winehouse was inspired by her but the feeling was mutual.  So much so that at a concert six months ago, she sang a cover song of Winehouse’s signature song, “Back to Black.”  (Watch it here) while a shy Winehouse hid behind a man in the corner.  But Spector still spotted Winehouse’s signature beehive hairdo, the same hairdo she herself sported in the 60s.

The truism here is that like all great art, artists are not accidental and Amy Winehouse wasn’t.  It was a combination of study and hard work on the shoulders of those who came before her — Holiday, Spector, Nina Simone, Dinah Washington, the Shirelles and every girl group of the sixties, Aretha Franklin, Carole King (I was surprised but shouldn’t have been that a Carole King song, “So Far Away,” was noted by her father as one of her favorite songs at her funeral), and Lauryn Hill (the latter apparently being someone she listened to incessantly).  That her demise into the “27 club” even happened is awful and represents an ending of sorts.  Yet as final as her death is as an end to her new music, we can be sure her creative history marks the beginning of someone else – perhaps in a few years – in 10 years – or maybe a generation later.  That person will listen to Winehouse incessantly, be influenced by her and the handful of brilliant artists of all kinds before her, and create something just as raw, fresh and frankly, amazing, as she did.  But in a different way.  And we can also be sure that person would not have existed without Winehouse ending specifically when she did.   That sucks, and we wish it didn’t happen but it did and that’s the way of the creative world.  Work is sparked by nuance, by obsession, by circumstances, by innocence and by tragedy – of all kinds. *

 *For those who say we pay too much attention to Winehouse’s death in comparison to the massacre last weekend in Norway, I say – “uh, since when do tragedies have to compete in the “best” category, like Oscars,  and why does attention to one negate the other.  And I point you to this refutation in one of the two prior Salon posts.

It should also be noted the ENDING of Winehouse’s music will somewhere spark the BEGINNING of someone else’s voice not only in music but in film, print, television and/or yes, perhaps the internet.  It’s part of the elusive cycle of art in this new world we live in.  No one does it alone, really.  Nor could they  (And who would want to?).  We don’t live in isolated caves anymore, no matter how much the reflection of our current events on cable news makes it seem.

If you want to create new work it helps to have a “gift.”  But more people than you might realize have the “gift.”  Ask anyone over 40 you know who is an actor, writer, musician or director to recite some of the more talented friends with sparks of brilliance much brighter than their own who were never heard from and I guarantee you will soon get a list a mile long.  The legacy of Amy Winehouse, aside from her music and her brilliance, was that she worked at it her whole life.  So much so that it will in turn give life to much more wonderful art than we can ever know.  Endings and beginnings, indeed.


On a more personal basis – today marks another exciting beginning of sorts for someone very special to the chair and to this blog.   My colleague Holly Van Buren, who fills in for my lack of tech savvy and is the best blog editor any guy (or gal) could ever have, is leaving Ithaca College Los Angeles and relocating to our home campus in Ithaca , NY where she will be teaching freshman film, among other life lessons. (Lucky them – and that’s not me being sarcastic!).

Holly’s exit from our offices is an ending – and is sad for us – but is such an exciting beginning for her that we can’t be sad unless we were the most selfish, egocentric, only obsessed with our own needs people in the entire world.  And I, for one, stopped being that last week because I didn’t want to make Holly feel any worse for abandoning/leaving me and the blog, (okay, not to mention the rest of the office) to our own devices.  She’s not, of course, because that’s not her way.  She’ll be editing it and posting cool videos for us from Ithaca.  It might not be different for you but it’s different for me.  She was the one who encouraged me to do this in the first place and laughs at my jokes, compliments my observations and tells me when I make absolutely no sense at all or am being as clear in print as a smoggy Los Angeles day (which happens more often than I like in my first draft).

Everyone should be lucky enough to have a Holly.  But our loss here, is Ithaca College’s gain.  Endings and beginnings.  Again.

Stay tuned for more.

Dream Team


I enjoy cooking and I’m good at it.  I’m not a great cook because that would entail inventing recipes from scratch out of thin air or improvising five star meals out of what’s in the kitchen cabinet.  What I love most about cooking (other than eating) is that if you exactly follow a great or even good recipe it’s impossible to make a mistake.  It will ALWAYS come out right.  When my sister, whom I adore, compliments my cooking and tells me she wishes she could be as good as I am at it, I roll my eyes (lovingly) and always have the same response:  “If you can read, you can cook.”

Not so in the entertainment business.  There is no recipe.  No formula.  This runs contrary to what you hear deep inside film and TV studios and from many, if not most, producers and agents.  They believe in the “recipe,” “the formula,” if only for self-preservation.  I mean, what if there were no sure fire way to do your job – you’d have to get creative.  Maybe even edgy or dangerous.

Note:  I’m making an overall point here.  I do know some creative studio executives, producers and agents.  Maybe even one or two who are edgy and dangerous.  And even if I didn’t (but I do) I would not admit it because I would like to get a film made again.  To reiterate, that’s “if” I didn’t.

The recipe you most hear about in film and television is

  1. Take a strong concept or story (robots attacking the earth.. ahem, “Transformers”) and…
  2. Marry it with a proven moneymaking director (Michael Bay: “Tranformers II.”  And “III.”  And…?).   Sometimes you can even…
  3. Put a big star in it (Shia LaBeouf?).  But, uh, okay, not necessarily.  Two of the three elements are often enough.

Another way to go is to:

  1. Take a money-making story from another medium that is so HUGELY popular (“Harry Potter”) that it can’t help but succeed financially, even without big box-office stars.  In that case, it helps to have…
  2. A proven, big moneymaking director (Chris Columbus)
  3. An experienced, literate screenwriter (Steve Kloves) and…
  4. A lot of very experienced producers – too many to mention but you can look it up here.

So okay – there IS a formula, you say?  Hasn’t this guy just disproven his point?  Not exactly.  Or at all.  Because aside from the various examples of other films that had those same type of elements but DID NOT succeed (my friends and I call them LUCY award winners, for reasons which I’ll explain in a minute), it seems that the aforementioned sure-fire formulas for film/TV success I just mentioned in 2011 no longer hold water for the studio powers-that-be.

To prove my point, I cite and credit the following bit of information to Nikke Finke’s Deadline Hollywood, which broke the following story earlier this week:

“Universal recently passed on green lighting At The Mountains of Madness, which Guillermo del Toro was to direct with Tom Cruise starring, based on HP Lovecraft horror tale.”

And what about this one?

 “…The Dark Tower, the ultra-ambitious adaptation of the Stephen King 7-novel series that was going to encompass a trilogy of feature films and two limited run TV series. The studio has said, No Thanks. Universal has passed on going forward with the project, dealing a huge blow in the plan for Ron Howard to direct Akiva Goldsman’s script, with Brian Grazer, Goldsman and the author producing and Javier Bardem starring as gunslinger Roland Deschain.

How does this NOT work?

Don’t these fit in the formula?  Uh, not any longer because, as you see, the recipe has changed.   And will change again.  And then again.  Or maybe there was never any sure-fire recipes for film and TV success to begin with (Just as I told you!).

Because if, according to those proven “recipes,” Tom Cruise (still one of our biggest international moneymaking actors) starring in a genre (they never lose money) film directed by a now HOT, money-making and even artistic director like Guillermo Del Toro who understands, has made money and even gotten good reviews in genre filmmaking (“Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Blade 2,” “Hellboy”) can’t get a film project going, something’s up.  Yeah, Deadline Hollywood tells us “the studio balked at funding a $150 million film that gave del Toro the latitude to deliver his cut with an R-rating.”  But is that it?  Or have economic times called for a seismic shift in new ingredients?

Ron Howard’s films have grossed upwards of $1.8 billion (that’s BILLION, with a “B”) domestically.   So if anyone could do a “Lord of the Rings” type trilogy for his home studio of Universal you’d think it would be a veteran yet still young (ish – for directors) Oscar winner, producing with his longtime mega moneymaking partner from a script by his Oscar-winning long-time writer.  Also, incidentally,  starring arguably one of the hottest international stars both critically and financially in movies today.  But again, no go.

Stop the boiling water, Virginia —  your film package may not have seemed half-baked but is now officially only half-cooked.

The recent economic meltdown of the past two years and the financial disappointments or stale reviews for some much-touted films has changed things.  Nothing is a sure thing, if it ever was.  The recipes for success that are no guarantees of anything have been changed by the people who claim publicly to not have any.  Or maybe, where creative work is concerned, there is no, nor has there ever been, any sure fire recipe to begin with.


  1. “Nine” – From the director of the Oscar-winning movie musical megahit “Chicago,” (Rob Marshall) starring the Academy Award-winning actor of pretty much every other acclaimed movie (a slight exaggeration?) in the last 15 years (Daniel Day-Lewis)
  2. “Lovely Bones” – An adaptation of one the world’s most recent best selling single volume books from one of the most sought after directors Peter Jackson of multi-part films (“Lord of the Rings”) the world has ever known.
  3. “Burlesque” – Cher and Christina Aguilera in a movie musical.   It bridges music young and old.  Plus there’s A LOT of skin.  How can it lose?  Or at least not be interesting.  And infinitely watchable?


My friend Barry (who suggested I cite  him  the films) and I would modestly categorize these last three films as “Lucy” award winners.  Meaning they are films that on paper look like they’re sure successes or of high interest either creatively, financially or for huge entertainment value.  Yet, all three, with fairly sure-fire ingredients in their recipes failed to deliver.

(Note:  This award was named years ago in honor of my favorite all-time TV actor – Lucille Ball, who still makes me guffaw in reruns of “I Love Lucy” just about every time I tune in.  However, she unwittingly created the “Lucy” award when she starred in the ill-fated movie version of “Mame,” an adaptation of the hit Broadway musical that, on paper at least, looked like a viable recipe for success).

It wasn’t.

What is the takeaway here?  That recipes are for cooking, not for movie or TV making.  And just to prove it, I will close with one of my favorites of the former – Ina Garten’s (“The Barefoot Contessa”) formula for GREAT GUACOMOLE.  Over the years I’ve made it at least 100 times and it ALWAYS, ALWAYS comes out perfect.


4 ripe Haas avocados

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 lemon)

8 dashes hot pepper sauce

1/2 cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion)

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 medium tomato, seeded, and small-diced


Cut the avocados in 1/2, remove the pits, and scoop the flesh out of their shells into a large bowl. (I use my hands.) Immediately add the lemon juice, hot pepper sauce, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper and toss well. Using a sharp knife, slice through the avocados in the bowl until they are finely diced. Add the tomatoes. Mix well and taste for salt and pepper.

You can thank me later.