Harrison Ford is 70

“Age is a harsh mistress.”  I said this last year to a student at our annual holiday party when he spied a picture of me and my significant other taken 25 years ago.  A picture I don’t ever give a second thought to, I realized, until a young person happens to spy it and a look of disguised shock and awe came onto his face.  Shock that, I like to think, is because I was and still am so devastatingly attractive (“he was even better looking back then!”) but that probably has more to do with how someone so close to their age could’ve gotten so much, well, older-looking.  And awe, I suppose, at the fact that I am still alive and retain any sort of the youthful vigor or even mobility when I am in their presence.

I still have enough memory to know that I did indeed feel exactly that same way in my early twenties.  And that it is, indeed, okay.  What is not okay – by any measure – is that the movie business – which is almost 100 years old itself – feels exactly the same way.

It’s not news that anyone over 25, or to be kind, perhaps 35, is considered by most of the powers-that-be at movie studios as somewhere between dead or not worth pursuing.  But as myself and many other writer/director/producers/editors/designers and, yes, actors in the biz have been saying for years – it is not only rude and inconsiderate to think that way since the industry and many of the people who run it are older than that, but it’s an extremely poor business model.

You can bemoan this as a creative person.  You can shout it angrily as a movie fan who suddenly finds there is nothing exciting to go to as a lover of big screen entertainment.  But, much like any other changes in the world, none of that does any good until it’s proven on the balance sheet and by the risk of someone else that this way of thinking is, indeed – just plain wrong.

The N.Y. Times wrote quite a perceptive story this week about a movie featuring primarily sixty and seventy somethings that we like to call “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”  A film that is now inching up to a worldwide box-office gross of – wait for it – close to $90 million dollars — on a production and marketing budget of a fraction of that cost.

Certified mariGOLD

I saw the film several weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed it.  In fact, it’s surprisingly good for a movie about a bunch of British seniors who separately decide to retire to India.  Is it the best movie I’ve seen in 10 years?  Well, no, but it doesn’t have to be because that only happens once a decade.  Instead, it’s simply fun, heartfelt, touching, very profitable, well made and got an 83% positive audience response on the AMERICAN film website rottentomatoes.com.

Perhaps even more importantly, it didn’t cost $200 plus million to make and another $100 plus million to market.   And it doesn’t star Taylor Kitsch (sorry Taylor?).  In short —  it’s no “John Carter.”

In the sequel, let’s lose the chestplate

Here’s the way it works and why it shouldn’t work that way.  Hollywood movie studios want to make films that will not only make money but will become cottage industries.  Meaning, known quantities based on books or comic books or board games for teenagers  that can have sequels.  Or that can sell toys, soundtracks, dolls and fast-food tie-ins, among other things.  And perhaps can spawn TV series, cartoons, Broadway shows or, at the very least, an endless stream of theatrical re-releases to new generations or to unsuspecting moviegoers who studio heads believe will crave any kind of faux-repackaged DVD extra they can buy at their local Costco.   (Note: For those poor schnooks who don’t have Costco in their neighborhood, substitute your best local discount store – though I doubt it could possibly compete with the Big C).

Anyway, in the unending quest of franchise-mania (did I make up a new word?), these same studios are willing to risk large chunks of the farm in any effort to prove to their corporate bosses (who often see the movies as glam but not their primary bread and butter) that they are indeed worthy of keeping their jobs.  But because the mode of delivery is changing and we now can get entertainment literally everywhere (not to be gross, but isn’t it only a matter of time until the iPod video player toilet?), the movie business, like its compatriots in the recording industry, are panicked.

It exists.

Some sample movie studio dialogue:

“WTF is happening?  How are these kids continuing to download these movies illegally?” (Uh, yeah, in my unscientific survey I can testify that the majority of them do and will continue to do so no matter how much we preach about intellectual property, cause it’s a new world).

“Do they really want to watch a movie on a tiny phone?  Should we have a phone/mobile device division? Let’s get some interns to work on it  – we don’t have to pay them, they’ll do it for free – and maybe they’ll come up with something??  Hell, maybe they can make the films themselves and we can charge, what – $1 a pop – okay, maybe two if it’s full length. Great – so now – who’s got the nerve to run it upstairs to — Nabisco?” (Well, not Nabisco but substitute some nameless corporate entity – you know what I mean).

“Oh, and don’t forget to tell them ‘no, we’re not gonna pay these kids to make the films’… well, okay – we can create a new guild minimum for phone films but it’ll be negligible – but no profits!  You know what – don’t even mention paying them for now unless they ask!…”

(Yes, this is a fictional conversation.  Or is it?  I’ll never tell).

A much less stressful – and perhaps simpler and more inventive strategy – for said studio people might be this: to look at what one is selling and see who wants to buy it.  That is who else except the usual suspects being catered to.  As the NY Times so wisely points out, and what myself and, again, many of my friends have been saying for years – “baby boomers have literally carried on a life long love affair with the movies.”  And there is a good reason.  Those of us in or around that generation were raised in the golden age of films of the 1960s and 1970s.  A time when the creative output included – I mean, do I have to list them?  Go to oscars.org and look up Academy Award nominations.  Or type in any film festival of your choice and see what was competing at the time.  Then go watch “John Carter” or even more adult type films that won the top awards this year like “The Artist” and “Iron Lady “ and compare them to, oh – “The Godfather,” “Cabaret,” “Mean Streets,” “The Manchurian Candidate,” “The Parallax View” “The Bicycle Thief,” “The 400 Blows” and “Raging Bull” and see if you don’t see what I mean.

Show some respect

Interesting enough, “Marigold” managed to make money (fun alliteration?) not by being a throwback to those films but by unapologetically telling a story about older, though not ancient BRITISH people.  Yeah, they’re not even American but they are acclaimed actors and some Oscar winners who can act too – Dames like Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, among others – actors who are actually in their 70s – a generation beyond the boomers.

The Downton Bump?

Why is anyone going to see this film full of well – practically dead people? Is 70 the new 50 or 60?  Maybe.  But mainly they’re going because, uh, it’s good.  And  because there’s nothing else to see for anyone above a certain sensibility and age even though they have lots of money and are more than willing to spend it.

See – here is a list of movie stars today who are 70 and above —

Jack Nicholson; Warren Beatty; Al Pacino; Dustin Hoffman; Robert Redford; Barbra Streisand; Jane Fonda; Gene Hackman (he’s 80!) and Woody Allen.   And Harrison Ford turns 70 in – July.  (Don’t believe me – look it up)

Oh Indy…

Now — here is a list of American movies stars 62 and above –

Meryl Streep – still one of the most bankable female movie stars now out there. Just sayin’.  Robert DeNiro; Diane Keaton; Helen Mirren; Michael Douglas; Sylvester Stallone; Arnold Schwarzenegger; Goldie Hawn; and Sigourney Weaver.

Does anyone out there really think that the only way young audiences will go to see them in the movies is if they play foil, father, mother or grandmother to Taylor Kitsch, Shia LeBouf or Kristin Stewart?  I mean, give me a break.  I don’t want to even see them in those roles.   And neither do my 20-year-old students.  They want to see them in films that are — good.  As do the many masses of potential ticket buyers who are not young anymore.  (Note to moguls:  Some of the young people I know voluntarily went to “Marigold” not at my prodding and reported back to me that “they liked it, they really liked it” – a phrase that was admittedly coined by Oscar winner Sally Field, who also belongs on that list).

The Picture of Dorian Gray

If many more of these actors other than Magic Meryl got to star in their own movies (and, perish the thought, some of these movies were sometimes written and/or directed by people close to their age group) could they lose any more money than “John Carter?”  No way because we know that no studio would spend as much as they did on that debacle.  Or on some others this summer that I don’t need to mention but you know who you are. That’s not what we’re asking.  We only want some more choices, some different choices, some more vaguely intelligible choices that could possibly bear box-office fruit (and they don’t even have to reek of heaviosity) before our variety of films is no bigger than the images you can conjure on your local mobile toilet device.

P.S.: “Marigold” opened wide to 1233 theatres this weekend and will gross more than $10 million nationally this week, putting its box office gross over $100 million worldwide.  And it’s still playing.

Just sayin’.

Advertisements

Listen

There is something both great and awful, yet at the same time scary, offensive and exhilarating —  about listening.  How many activities can engender such a range of responses and emotions?  Not many unless you count the reaction to the renewal of NBC’s “Whitney” or thoughts on the new Adam Sandler trailer “That’s My Boy” and feedback concerning the voice Mr. Sandler is using to play Dad to the movie’s title character.  But who wants to get into all that now, anyway, even in the safe space confines of a user-friendly (one hopes) Internet blog.

The death of singer supreme Donna Summer this week got me thinking about listening, as opposed to my usual rants about being heard. At one time not so long ago, Ms. Summer’s sultry yet powerful voice played on many more radios than Rush Limbaugh’s ever did but, unlike Limbaugh, her voice was a clarion call to an emerging culture of people who were tired of the way things were and wanted the society to, if not change, at least be broadened enough to include something a little bit more colorful and different.  That was, until, disco sort of imploded upon itself (sort of like what’s happening to Limbaugh at the moment), and created a backlash that sent Ms. Summer’s music underground until decades later when it was sort of okay to listen to her again in a nostalgic, albeit kitschy way.

Dancing Queen

Though I was no Disco baby, I never did lose my taste for a Summer record like “Last Dance,” “MacArthur Park” or even “On The Radio” – all of which I listened to as a young person who, at least on the inside, felt different enough to hear what she had committed to vinyl (uh, yeah, vinyl) over and over again.  I think this was due, in part, because it made me think and, more importantly, feel things I had never felt, or dared to feel before.   For those not getting this last statement – use your imagination.  For those still not getting it – phone a friend (girl OR boy).  Or better yet – listen yourself to her very first hit international hit in the confines of your own study, crib or own safe space.

Music is one way to listen – or not to – but these days, of course, there are a lot more, partly because there are many more outlets. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean there is more worthy stuff to hear.  The challenge is – choosing what to listen to.  Now I’m not one of those armchair liberals who only listen and look (the latter often a requirement of listening in the 2012 age) to those who agree with me – that would be boring.  But that doesn’t mean that my version of listening requires me to watch what passes for news on Fox Broadcasting (I have Jon Stewart to siphon that off) or expose my diminishing hearing to anything within the smell zone that the cigar-chomping Limbaugh chooses to Rush at me.  There are variations of the ilk I will watch or read – pundits or even bigots that make my blood boil at a little lower temperature (Peggy Noonan the former, or Tony Perkins of something called the Family Research Council, being the latter).  This is just in the off chance I can learn something or be forearmed in the very off chance that they might, at some point, or even now, be listening to me.  (A long shot, I know, but, like Bill Clinton, I try in my mind’s eye to still live in a little town called Hope).

Best cheeseburgers in town.

I honed my listening skills as a young reporter, a field where you are pretty much forced to listen to everything in an effort to synthesize and tell the “real story” of an event to people who are depending on you for the truth.  Well, at least that’s the way I learned it back in journalism school.  Unfortunately, times have changed.  Back then most writing and reportage was not about advancing an agenda but actually attempting to get all sides and then tell the most truthful version of it that you could in your own, inimitable fashion.  This does and did not mean that many stories – both news and features – didn’t have a point of view.  Of course they did.  Since complete objectivity is a human impossibility it is a given that the retelling of anything will be synthesized in some way given that mere mortals are telling it.  But as any decent filmmaker knows, POV doesn’t change the actual story elements – it merely shifts focus and moves the audience in a direction.  It is then up to the audience to do what they will with the information given to them.

Or not given.

That’s a trick too.  When no one is listening or reading or watching hard enough, merely arranging the same facts a certain way can cause people to interpret the story exactly the way you want them to.  But that’s pretty much only in the case of people who are not really listening or at least are not practiced listeners. Which, these days, means pretty much everybody.

Everyone. Everywhere.

If we, as storytellers (professional or just plain folks like us), don’t listen we won’t have enough information to tell the story the way it is because we won’t be able to recognize that there are indeed missing details.  And our version will become someone else’s faulty version – someone who is depending on us for the truth – and then they will retell it to yet another who creates still another version with a lack of proper information or facts that we provided them in the first place.   One need only look at the political situation in the Middle East or the “true love” choices on “The Bachelor” to get confirmation of that.

Certainly, we all listen differently and most of us are too busy looking for either work or validation or love or money (sometimes all four) to be focused on getting to the bottom of anything.  That is, unless the real story will provide us with one of the four  (see “The Bachelor” or “Bachelorette”).   In some ways, this was always the case.  We humans usually don’t listen hard enough unless we can get something out of it.  Or, to put it another way: “what’s in it for me?”

Stlll, the baseline was – how do I put this – a bit higher.  There was a time when television news was required by law to present both sides.  But that was abolished under Pres. Reagan’s FCC in 1987.

There was also a time when there was no:

– free porn on a small screen in your home whenever you wanted it

– 1,438,928 cable TV stations vying for your attention

– opportunity to listen to as much of Donna Summer, Adam Sandler, or anyone else you wanted without charge if you clicked the right set of keys on a laptop computer anywhere in the world.

Can you do better?

Chair Translation — we’ve gotta raise the bar – just a tad, or even a hair.  Or two.  Even if it’s calmly trying to discuss and investigate whether the news story your friend posted on Facebook is little more than someone else’s faulty retelling of someone else’s rant.  Or asking your friend, lover or family member to calmly tell you what they are saying and then stepping back and spending more than five minutes deciding for yourself how much you want to believe or whether you want to take at least another five or even ten minutes to do some investigating on your own.   Which might then lead you to talk to someone else about this very situation.  A situation (and NOT the “Jersey Shore” kind) this person might very well be interested in or have pertinent information about, but found that said story in the form you are advancing had never crossed their path.  And that, in turn, can do or change all kinds of things.  Or if not, forge the discovery of yet another “something else”.  Something that might not have been heard before if someone wasn’t listening to you (or vice versa) in the very first place.

All of this can be done to the tune of the Donna Summer record of your choice if you so desire.  Or perhaps, simply, in silence.  I suggest the latter but certainly understand the former, depending on your mood.

Evolution

Evolution:  Any process of formation or growth; development.

I never cared much about getting married.   And this was long before I realized I was gay.  A time that, I might add, was long after many of my friends and relatives realized that I was not heterosexual.  What can I say?  Sometimes it takes me a while to catch on to things, to evolve.  But when I finally did for the first time, back in 1979, the very last thing I EVER imagined or even considered, or even dreamed I wanted, was the right for same sex couples to get married.

Maybe it’s because my parents were divorced and never seemed particularly happily married.  Who wanted to be like them, and, incidentally, many of their friends?  Or maybe it’s because it seemed so constricting and square and I so desperately wanted to be hip and cool and superior – or at least get out of Queens.  I’m old enough where I can’t quite recall.

Then as the years progressed and I lived through two heartbreaking decades of AIDS related deaths of some of my best friends, colleagues and peers — young gay men just like me but unlike me because they had not lucked out and won the survival lottery — it felt, and actually still sort of feels trivial.  Marriage?  Uh, how about the Reagan government showing some interest in not burying any more of my brothers, friends and loved ones if they can manage the task in between deregulating the economy for the rich and super rich, if that’s not too much trouble?  If I still sound bitter, well, uh, yeah, maybe I am – just a little.  Though I am working on it.

Of course, the eighties are over (aren’t they?) and I’ve been in a relationship/domestic partnership/common law something or other for the last 25 years.  And now that as a society we’ve moved past the deregulating making money for the super rich and it’s part of our history (oh, we haven’t and it isn’t?) –- gay marriage sorta/kinda feels (and I’m just speaking for me) well, besides the point.  Like getting permission from your 90-year-old mother to have a sleepover you’ve been having for the past two and a half decades that she actually knew about in the first place.

I take a lot of crap from my gay and straight friends for this – particularly the many who are in couples and are either married or banging the doors down to do so. I don’t get it.  I mean, I do get it, sort of.  But after all this time, I resent someone telling me that my relationship is now okay and acceptable and, if I try real hard and devote a lot of time and energy could even be legal one day.  Really??  Well, screw you (while I screw who I want) and the pulpit you rose rode in on.  In short, don’t do me any favors.

But — and I’m not saying I’m heading to the altar any time soon (so don’t ask and I won’t tell!!) –-

I’m evolving.

Well, I mean if Homer is available to officiate…

And the man who is responsible is The Evolver in Chief, Pres. Barack Obama.  A man I never met and has never met my partner and is not even the person I voted for in the Democratic primary when he was first running for president.  Well, as Katie Morosky says in “The Way We Were” about her beloved Franklin Roosevelt, the president she also at first didn’t campaign for– “some people work out better than we think.”  (Note: KM is one of my favorite movie characters).

I suspect Pres. Obama will go down in history as the person who mainstreamed the legal evolution of marriage equality and helped make it as much of an non-issue as whether the sequels to “The Hunger Games” and “The Avengers” will make money.  In all three cases it’s not if it will occur but how much and to how many.

As for gay marriage – he certainly mainstreamed/evolved it for me.  When I heard Wednesday morning that he was announcing his support I thought it was important for those who wanted it even if it seemed a bit politically facile and didn’t feel much in terms of my own life personally.  But upon actually hearing his words live on tape/digital -– I actually — teared up.

A tissue count normally reserved only for Sophie’s Choice

Know that I HATE admitting that.  Almost as much as I hate admitting I laugh out loud at reruns of “The Nanny,” a show I couldn’t bear when it first aired in the early 1990s, or the fact that I’m the one who never really liked “Pulp Fiction,” “Waiting for Guffman” “Vertigo” “Desperate Housewives” or “The Good Wife.” Plus I refused to see “Jaws”  (because I like body surfing in the ocean) and gave the little seen 1981 movie “Four Friends” a rave review while I was a movie critic at Variety and STILL think it’s a fine, touching movie despite all other reaction to the contrary.  But there, now I’ve said them all.  So hate me if you must.

Oy that hair! those clothes!

Of course, re-watching or re-reviewing any of these I could change my mind but it’s not likely.  Unlike many in the public square, I almost never flip flop.  On anything.  I feel really deeply about what I think and seldom change my mind.  Except – when I’m evolving or absolutely forced to (another line from “The WWW” but who’s counting — 2).

How the hell does Obama do this to people???  That’s what I’d like to know, even more than what gifts I’d be getting if I were to consent to marriage and my partner would actually have me after all my diatribes against it.   Aren’t I too old to register?  Shouldn’t the gift money go to charity at this point?  Since I don’t need any household items would it be too unsavory to ask well-meaning friends to contribute to a fund that would finance a belated honeymoon touring Italy for a month before I’m too old to travel from town to town in awe?  Suddenly, there are questions (too many questions), which makes me sorry that the president even went there with this whole thing.

Table for two, please.

Except – I’m not.   And I think I know why.

In no time in our history have gay people truly had the most powerful person in the world on our side without equivocation.  Never.  Metaphorically, it’s like a young teenager knowing the smartest, most powerful and most popular kid in school has your back.  Yes, I know the goal is to stand up and save yourself and yes I know that no one can prevent bad things from happening to good people all the time.  But — it still feels good to be accepted, and yes, loved, unconditionally.   For all of us in the LGBT community, to have a US president do that while declaring that our love for our mates is no different than anyone else’s and shouldn’t be treated as such – trust me, that is true evolution.

Is the president, or even this declaration, perfect  — no.  But neither are “The Hungers Games” (don’t get me started) or “The Avengers.” Yet they are embraced as a part of contemporary American culture – no matter how much one does or doesn’t feel about them.

To deny that is to deny reality.

Which is really what the fight has always been about anyway.  You don’t have to like or even go see either movie.  But you can’t pretend that they’re not there.

As for evolution, Rachel Maddow put it better than me on the first segment of her Wednesday (May 8) show as she traced the evolution of presidents concerning marriage equality and noted that it was important to understand both the personal and political history of our past presidents of the last 30 years in order to understand our present one.

Yes, Rachel is gay, but her reportage is fact-based and as unbiased as it gets.   Certainly a lot less biased than anything you’d find sitting in your local chair.

Click for full video

The second (and not yet final) example of evolution would be a Washington Post article that ran the other day detailing the prep school escapades (some would call it bullying but that’s not for me to say) of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The former Governor did issue a statement through his staff that he didn’t recall ANY of said escapades in the article and then went on to admit that though he may have participated in a lot of “pranks and hijinks” in school “if anybody was hurt or offended he was sorry.”  Still, he added he was “not going to be too concerned about the item” and that he grew up in a tolerant environment.  Some might call that last statement the beginning of an evolution while others (not naming any chairs here) might see it as a smug, misstatement of fact.   Read it for yourself and see what you think.

Yet the last word on Evolution needs to come from the classic film “Inherit The Wind,” where two lawyers argue the case for and against a science teacher accused of the crime of literally teaching EVOLUTION (the ape to human kind) in the public schools.  In this particular moment, the conservative lawyer (played by Frederic March) questions why he and more progressive attorney (Spencer Tracy) can no longer agree to disagree and must publicly come to blows in court.

Matthew Harrison Brady (March): Why is it, my old friend, that you’ve moved so far away from me?

Henry Drummond (Tracy): All motion is relative, Matt. Maybe it’s you who’ve moved away by standing still.

Amen, Hallelujah or well-said.  You choose.  All three are equally valid.

Starting Over

Thirty years ago I attended the Grammy Awards when John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Double Fantasy” won album of the year and I  watched as Lennon’s widow and sometime collaborator, Ono, walked across the stage to accept the honor.  The irony of the moment was not lost on us attendees or the many millions of people watching worldwide.  The monster hit single being played from the recording as she made her way to the podium was Lennon’s “Starting Over” and its message of new beginnings was especially poignant.   Lennon had been murdered a year before at point blank range in front of his NYC apartment building right after the initial release of “Double Fantasy” and his death required that not only his wife but his legion of worldwide fans would somehow have to heed the advice of the song and begin to finally and fully absorb the shock of living in a world where one of the most iconic artists of that time – or pretty much any time – was gone.

Click for full video

As the very petite and very soft-spoken Ms. Ono stood at a clear podium that seemed to engulf her very presence amid thunderous applause that definitely engulfed the very room, I remember thinking three things  – a. “how is she doing it?”  b. “she’s so much smaller than I imagined” and c. “it’s sad that this is what it takes for people in this business to forgive you for some large perceived misdeed (in her case it was  the lingering unjust accusation that she had caused the break up of the Beatles).

As for part b. —  well, most very famous people are not as “larger than life” as they appear to be – both physically or in any other way – and in terms of part c. – human beings are often much more comfortable if we can blame a person or an institution for something we didn’t want to happen instead of blaming ourselves, life or the fickle finger of fate more commonly known as bad luck.

But as for part a. —  I’m still trying to figure that out, though I’m much closer to the answer than I was in 1982 – a time when I was sure I’d be spending the rest of my life with the music industry person I was dating whose personal history did not include one long term (or even short term) happy relationship. What was I thinking?   Hell if I know.  (Though if you really think about it you probably can guess).

But what John Lennon knew at that time and probably before most of the rest of us did, is that starting over is a way of life – a state of being – something indigenous to the human condition, and often to the sometimes inhuman condition, known as show business.

This week a student who was about to graduate college and venture out into the world for the first time without the safety net of academia came to me fairly terrified and only a little excited about the prospects that lie ahead.

“I feel like it’s going to be like starting college all over again, only different and scarier,” said the student while trying not to fidget.

“It is,” I answered, all smiley and knowledgeable, “except instead of paying with money you’ll pay in a lot other ways.”

Okay, I didn’t say that last part because I’m not that cynical and I try to be encouraging in the same way I like to think John Lennon would be.  But part of taking on any new project; stretching yourself to try or be anything you never were before; or even reinventing that which is already there, means a change in strategy.  It means looking at it with fresh eyes.  It means pulling out a blank slate and pretending you’re brand new at it.  Or – if you’ve never, ever done it before – it’s asking yourself the basic questions that all aspiring people, especially creative ones, need to ask.  What is my goal (nee objective) and what is the best, though not necessarily fastest, way to get there?

the evidence of hard work

This question is at the core of teaching in the arts.  As a screenwriting teacher it often comes down to what does your hero want; what are the obstacles in his or her way; and in the end, does he or she get it or don’t they get it?  Really good actors know that they’re reading a really good part in a play, movie or TV show if their character is actually DOING something about GETTING something, rather than just thinking about it, and that even though this thing they’re after might be difficult or near impossible to get, what the audience will be mesmerized by is the journey that this actor will personify.  They know, as do writers, that what’s really interesting is not so much the ending but the struggle to get there.  If something is too easy to get then it’s not worth watching.  If the goal is not worth pursuing or not particularly mesmerizing (which doesn’t mean it has to be lofty), then why are we wasting our time anyway?  And what all writers and all actors need in order to make the goal, the obstacles and the ending convincing is -– drum roll –  you guessed it – a beginning.

give yourself the green ight

The actor and writer always need to start somewhere in order to do their jobs.  It’s the question every creative person must take on and forge through in the fictional world of the “story.”  And just as each new story starts at some point so do the many and various cycles of our lives.

Certainly, this territory has been covered before in numerous:

  • a  Self-help books
  • b. Oprah episodes
  • c. Places of worship and
  • d. Psychiatrist’s couches across the country.

But for some reason it’s easy to forget this simplest of facts when dealing in our real lives.  It’s normal to be uneasy when you’ve never done it or lived there before but it also has the potential to be more exciting than anything you’ve ever experienced.  (Note:  I believe this applies to every situation except death and bungee jumping).

  • Start a new job?  Oh God, what if it sucks?  Or worse yet, if I suck?
  • Begin a new relationship?  I’m getting nauseous at the idea of letting one more person in my inner circle who is going to screw me over unless, well…they really know how to scr…I mean, fit into my inner circle.
  • I can’t move to a new _______, begin a new __________, or even venture into another ________    _________ without some kind of assurance that I won’t be met with failure, hurt or disappointment once again.

Well, as Samuel Beckett once advised, “Fail.  Fail better.”  Or as an acting teacher once proclaimed to me, “do you know what FAMOUS MALE MOVIE STAR and FAMOUS FEMALE MOVIE STAR had in common?  They BOTH loved to audition.”  On this last point, I didn’t believe it about the movie stars either but I have since had it confirmed by several sources so I’m fairly confident that it’s true.

Long before he co-created “The Simpsons” but long after he created the seminal 1970s TV situation comedy “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” James L. Brooks wrote the screenplay for a film called — wait for it —  “Starting Over.”  It was a sort of comedy/drama about a divorced man who falls in love but somehow can’t get over his ex-wife.  Candace Bergen, who up to that point was consistently cast as the beautiful but not terribly three-dimension female heroine in various films, played the unforgettable, somewhat twisted ex-wife and it was with one specific moment of reinvention that she redefined herself as a comic actress, the kind she will forever be known for, like in the hit series “Murphy Brown.” But before “Murphy Brown” there was —

No one had ever seen Bergen like this – foolish, off tune, and, when it came down to it, real and funny because she was bold enough to play a crazed ex-wife as…well… kind of crazy.  By all accounts it could have been pretty crazy career-wise…

As crazy as it probably seemed to many a decade later for someone with the pedigree of James L. Brooks (who had since become a double Oscar winner for writing and directing a little film called “Terms of Endearment”) to spend his time co-creating a TV cartoon series that started as a sort of throw away segment on an early half hour Fox comedy series called “The Tracy Ullman Show.”  Something three generations of college kids (and counting) have grown up on called – “The Simpsons.”

And he’s got a sense of humor to boot…

That’s high class starting over but in no way imagine that on some level it wasn’t the same blank page or screen or new life chapter we all face many times over.  When you begin you don’t know what your “Simpsons-like” ending will be – or if you’ll even come close to having one.  All you know is the blankness of the beginning and that you’re scared shitless.

To put it another way – and as crazy as it might seem — sometimes the secrets of life can be simplified to a half century old voiceover from an old 1960’s TV show like “Star Trek.”

“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

I’m no Trekkie but those are, I think, our marching orders.  Over and over again.  However, if you do run into any tribbles, it’s probably best to not say hello and just keep walking.