Plastic Wrap

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As I sat staring aghast at the before and after pictures of Renee Zellweger that circulated all over social media this week I wondered – am I against plastic surgery or just bad plastic surgery? Or at least the extensive kind since bad is clearly in the eye of the beholder when it applies to things like elective medical procedures and reupholstery which, when you stop to think about it, are sort of the same thing.

For those not up to snuff, some rather shocking photos emerged of Ms. Zellweger at a red carpet event where her face was very much unlike the quite famous one we have all come to know since she emerged seemingly out of nowhere as a full blown movie star in Jerry Maguire – a film where she not only held her own against the megawatt presence of a younger Tom Cruise but matched his charisma frame for frame. Needless to say, anyone who has made following the movies their business or even hobby knows that aside from this being not an easy feat to pull off it is actually pretty near impossible to do against the handful of actors we in the public vaunt into cinema royalty in any given generation.

The making of America's sweetheart

The making of America’s sweetheart

Of course, it’s been almost 20 years since Jerry Maguire and both Ms. Zellweger, all of you and, most importantly, myself are also almost two decades older. Perhaps that is why I was so taken aback by this now unfamiliar image staring at me in the face that was identified as her face. Even though I am more than a decade older than Ms. Zellweger and on a given day absolutely as vain as any movie star I’ve ever met, I couldn’t help wonder why anyone as talented, accomplished and yes – attractive as she – would choose to alter their physical self to such a very large extent.

Honey, we can all tell you've had work

Honey, we can all tell you’ve had work

Then it hit me – if her alterations simply made her look like a younger version of herself rather than an altered version of, let’s say, her distant cousin raised in Slabovia twice removed – would I have been so troubled by it? Or even noticed? I was quick to comment that this new RZ decision was “sad” and wrote/told those within ear or eye shot on social media to “be themselves” and not adhere to the pressure to “do that to yourself.” Well, whom was I kidding? It didn’t seem to matter to me when I met Jane Fonda last year that at 73 she suddenly looked about 20 years younger. Or that somehow, clearly only through exercise and Scientology, 52 year-old Tom Cruise seems permanently frozen at 38. On the other hand, I was appalled several years ago when I saw the shiny, waxily frozen face of Sylvester Stallone to my right waiting for the valet to bring around his car or the alternately scary images of Mickey Rourke, Kim Novak, Barbara Hershey and Burt Reynolds in recent years in photographs, awards shows, on film and yes, regrettably even in person at the supermarket.

Hey Mickey!

Hey Mickey!

Age is a very, very tricky thing, let me tell you. Physically, psychologically – and in all other ways you can think of. But let’s not get into our mutual expiration dates for fear of depressing the hell out of the room and just stick with the outside wrapping. You don’t want to look like you belong in a rocking chair but at the same time you don’t want to live a pathetically striving existence of trying to compete with people 20 years your junior and then lie yourself into thinking that you appear as refreshed as those that age who are not excessively drinking or drugging up daily over the top doses of some lethal co-combinations or quantities of said substances. Stand next to any healthy individual of that age at your age and the lie becomes too obvious. That is, if you choose to live in reality.

OK, we get it, Meryl. You rule.

OK, we get it, Meryl.

Well, luckily the entertainment business has perfected the art of creating alternate realities and we have perfected incorporating what they sell into our everyday existences. With so much available, the fountain of youth is just one more item to be obtained with one, two or three clicks at the most. True – virtues like intellect, humor, love and decency are what we say we want but they can’t stare back at you in the mirror – either rear view, bathroom or vanity style.

Which brings us back to Ms. Zellweger. In answer to the outpouring of…reaction…to her new look, she issued the following series of statements:

“I’m glad folks think I look different! I’m living a different, happy, more fulfilling life, and I’m thrilled that perhaps it shows…

My friends say that I look peaceful. I am healthy. For a long time I wasn’t doing such a good job with that. I took on a schedule that is not realistically sustainable and didn’t allow for taking care of myself. Rather than stopping to recalibrate, I kept running until I was depleted and made bad choices about how to conceal the exhaustion. I was aware of the chaos and finally chose different things.”

Reaction?

Reaction?

That is a lot more than any of us want to know about her life or even have the right to know but let’s not try to pretend it answers the question which is – why does an accomplished, more than reasonably attractive person (Note: I always thought she was flirty and really pretty but lets go with the former) endure the risks of major surgery and perhaps a life-altering change in appearance in order to look…younger? More attractive? Or less or more….???????????

Certainly, Ms. Zellweger is under no obligation to say anything at all. And for those who want to advance arguments, the correct answers are not things like:

  1. She makes her living as an actress and at 45 years old this is the price that must be paid.
  2. Plastic surgery is always a gamble and she just got unlucky. Besides, she doesn’t look all that different.
  3. Why are you specifically raking her over the coals, anyway?

Actors the caliber of RZ play real characters and as they age they have the ability to adapt and become all kinds of more interesting and even older people; to say she doesn’t look all that different is like me trying to pose as a full on Divan rather than a mere Chair; and I am a huge RZ fan not only for her commercial hits like Bridget Jones, Chicago, Jerry Maguire and Cold Mountain but in lesser known films like The Whole Wide World, Nurse Betty and My One and Only. In fact, in the latter 2009 road movie she gives a charming performance as the fictionalized version of actor George Hamilton’s beautiful Southern belle mother who determinedly drives cross country with the younger George in tow as life lessons abound. Watch it on DVD or Netflix and see if you don’t agree.

... this film is from 2009 (yes, that's 5 years ago)

… this film is from 2009 (yes, that’s 5 years ago)

The truth is there is something truly insidious about what the scientific advances in beautifying medical procedures have wrought on our culture. I live in L.A. where so many are surgically enhanced. But this is not limited just to the movies or on the left coast anymore. It’s in most big cities. And smaller ones, too. Go to an upscale restaurant and you see it everywhere. And not just on women. I go to the gym and I see it in the faces of guys I used to know who now have foreheads and cheeks (not to mention other body parts, I presume) that you could bounce a quarter off of. This is the same city I came to more than thirty years ago where I spotted a still dazzling attractive man in his late seventies stumbling a bit tipsy down the streets of Beverly Hills. He was tanned and had deep bags under his eyes and lines on his forehead and cheeks but wouldn’t you know that with his thick black glasses and gray black hair Dean Martin was still devastatingly handsome. And he wasn’t even sober! Not to mention a few years ago at a private screening for eight I also found myself wildly attracted to sixty something year old Helen Mirren, sexy as hell despite wrinkles in her face after a day of filming but with a healthy, quite upright body and refreshingly blunt intellect to match.

What's your shelf life?

What’s your shelf life?

We can dismiss all this by saying these are exceptionally attractive people who have aged well but that doesn’t address the very fact that there is a way to still look great on the outside to both strangers and yourself without going under the knife and taking the risk that if she were not forewarned even your own mother might pass you by on the street. That kind of extreme alteration used to be reserved for fictional characters in soap operas and murder mysteries who had committed a crime and needed to change their identities. Getting older is not a cause for either of those.

... or 1980s stardom

… or 1980s stardom

All of this is not so say one can’t be well groomed and use beauty aids. Do NOT get cute and try to employ the where do you draw the line argument here. You’re in charge of the line and you’re the master (or mistress) of how you look.

Cher, the ultimate show business survivor and, among other things, admitted plastic surgery user, had the best answer to those who questioned her employment of cosmetic procedures to look good and, as she says, “keep the package viable.” And that is:

If I want to put my tits on my back, it’s nobody’s business but my own.

I would only add to that statement: There are lots of people who will still find you equally or even more attractive if you choose NOT to do that. Perhaps even yourself.

And that goes double for anyone else – famous, unknown or even infamous – who might be considering cutting into their face now or at some future date. This gets harder to say as you get older but it’s a lot easier to maintain as an alternative as the years go on.

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Marriage… not that there’s anything wrong with that

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Gay marriage is now legal in 31 of 52 states in the U.S. This week a federal district judge in Arizona struck down the state’s ban on sex unions and its Attorney General Tom Horne said it would be “an exercise in futility” to appeal the decision given where the courts and general public now stand on the issue. After a speech announcing his decision, Horne then confessed even all four of his children disagreed with him on his own personal opposition to gay marriage “so that tells you something of where the trends are going.”

More than a 1000 miles northeast in Arkansas, former Governor Mike Huckabee followed with a radio meltdown that went viral regarding the Republican Party’s reluctance to continue fighting this nationwide trend. The one time Republican presidential primary contender was positively apoplectic at the undeniable surge towards allowing same sex couples to marry and threatened to leave his own political party if it didn’t stop continuing in a direction that would “guarantee they will lose every election in the future.” To quote him exactly:

the spew

A lot of the Republicans, particularly in the establishment and those who live on either the left coast or in the bubbles of New York and Washington, are convinced that if we don’t capitulate on the same sex marriage issue and if we don’t wave the white flag of surrender and just accept the inevitable then we’re going to be losers. I tell you…it is the exact opposite of that. And if Republicans want to lose guys like me and a whole bunch of still god fearing, Bible believing people…go ahead and just abdicate on that issue, and while you’re at it go ahead and say abortion doesn’t matter either, because at that point you lose me, I’m gone. I’ll become an independent. I’ll start finding people that have guts to stand, I’m tired of this!

Wow, you can practically hear the sputtering from here, huh? The Significant Other and I have not yet chosen to walk, skip, dance or even mince down the aisle but I’ll tell you – if anything could provide me with that final push to do so it just might be the sight of Gov. Huckabee’s head exploding live on ABC during one of his numerous early morning political pundit gigs. Yes, I realize that my marriage wouldn’t personally put him over the edge but there is something about contributing to the cumulative nudge that makes it hard for me to resist. Admittedly that’s not the best reason to get legally hitched but let’s face it, it’s certainly not the worst one we’ve all ever heard.

That would do.

That would do.

The S.O. and I will actually celebrate 27 years of non same-sex marriage status this week and from where we sit the world has changed in many ways. In 1987, the idea of marriage – gay, straight or otherwise, was not even on our radar. Because at that point if we each had to pay for one more present, airline ticket, hotel accommodation or even tank of gas to attend yet another wedding we were convinced our two brains would have actually combusted into what we can now consider to be a Huckabee-like head explosion – though clearly in a far more glittery and stylish fashion. Looking back at it now I want to believe this was subliminal anger at the fact that we knew that we could never get married and therefore have the favor returned. But if I’m totally truthful I think it was only because the ritual was annoying, costly and symbolic of the yuppie-like entitlement of the Reagan era 80s that threatened to engulf you no matter where you turned. That and the fact that truly – we just couldn’t afford it all and hated feeling as if we had to pretend like we could.

This was before we had iPhones to distract us!

This was before we had iPhones to distract us!

As the years and the decades evolved and we began attending the weddings of several couples we mutually loved (Note: Okay, not literally – not all of us gays are THAT evolved) our feelings began to evolve. The whole thing began to seem less like a waste of money and more a declaration and expression of love in front of friends and family. Sure, we still had to deal with the outfits and the gifts, but as two men there were a lot less accessories to buy. Plus, after commiserating with other straight couples also living in sin, we realized there was absolutely no chance of anyone coming up to us and asking that dreaded question:

“So, when are you two going to…you know…..Oh, we don’t to embarrass you but…Oh, come on!!!”

This is not to even mention what they would say to already married couples at the wedding who had not yet chosen to have children. Since at that time the idea of being a gay parent biologically was at the very least unlikely – and adoptively not all that much talked about generally among wedding attendees – (Note: That would come later as the gay parented kids grew) – I for one considered it a double win.

Of course, somewhere along the line all of that began to change. The escalation of AIDS to an epidemic, along with the AIDS-related deaths of tens of thousands of gay men as well as many millions of others, proceeded to usher in a great deal of sympathy and eventual acceptance. Gays all around the word began to come out en masse, our stories were not only featured on the news but on comedy series like Will and Grace, by celebrities like Ellen and on the faces of politicians who followed the now far less dangerous, trailblazing path of murdered San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk – the man who predicted the whole thing, albeit not spearheaded through the lethal force of a deadly disease.

A better kind of epidemic...

A better kind of epidemic…

On the latter note, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fantasized about the reaction of deceased, like-minded gay friends of mine to all of this. Not how the ones who longed to be like their parents would feel but by those gay guys who used to grimace and groan about the prospect of attending just one more wedding where they had to buy a gift, an outfit or…well, you already know the drill. Not to mention, what they would think about the possibility of now being questioned about why they were not….a PARENT???? Yes, I’m leaving out serving in the military because the people I’m thinking of, well, um, let’s just say like me they had asthma, clubbed feet, a congenital heart disease or – also like me – could figure out a way to get a doctor to write them a note. (Further Note: This is by no means to cast aspersions on anyone in the military – simply a statement of fact regarding those I knew and loved, who were very much like my cowardly self).

Saturday Night Live’s new Weekend Update co- anchor Michael Che, a straight guy, captured this perfectly last week in a mock editorial about all of the gay guys who have up till now been able to hide behind the injustices of the anti-gay marriage status quo. Noting his happiness for gays and lesbians who chose to tie the knot, Che nevertheless proclaimed:

I feel bad for a group of people that still get ignored in this country – and that’s gay dudes who really, really don’t want to get married and had a really good excuse not to for so long. I know there are some deadbeat gay boyfriends who are like, Yo Carl, you KNOW I want to marry you. But SOCIETY, man…wont let us. Oh well, I guess we just have to keep on boning casually till the world gets its act together.

I see what you did there

I see what you did there

Not that it’s a great thing for us homosexuals not to get married but well, if you’re going to be discriminated against you might as well use it for something productive. It reminds me of my dear friend Deb, whose parents were Holocaust survivors and whose grandparents the Nazis murdered, when she used the death of her already deceased grandmother as an excuse to not attend class in high school when she would oversleep. I challenged her on that at the time and was somewhat shocked when she reasoned to me that since she and her grandmother had never met she felt at the very least it was “one small thing she could do for me.” Though now, with the whole marriage thing – well, I think I finally do understand.

According to a recent ABC/Washington Post poll 56% of people in the country support the US Supreme Court ruling to allow gay marriage. This includes majorities in the 11 states affected by the court’s most recent decision earlier this month against the anti-gay marriage statute in Alaska. Incidentally, among those states in the lucky eleven are Arizona, Indiana, Utah, Colorado, West Virginia and North Carolina – hardly the “left coast” and certainly not anywhere near the bubbles of New York or Washington.

... and the soon to be legalization in Scotland has definitely increased my wardrobe choices.

… and the soon to be legalization in Scotland has definitely increased my wardrobe choices.

Which means that as far as the marriage between the S.O. and I are concerned – well, it’s no more excuses, at least legally. So we’ve decided to….um, well, at least recognize we are getting older and need to have some legal status. Which is not to say we will be having a surprise wedding on our anniversary on the 24th. (Note: No Gifts, please). Only that at some point we will very much look forward to contributing to a nationwide movement that will one day cause ex- Governor Mike Huckabee’s head to explode. Hopefully, that will be sooner rather than later. On at least one of the aforementioned counts.

Be Gone Girl

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Gone Girl, the hit classy movie du jour this month – was silly, overwrought, overdone and, in the end, laughable. That is – for me. Actually, let’s not sugarcoat it. Even in the film noir world it seeks to evoke and despite being under the hand of David Fincher, one of the best American directors working today, it presents two people so utterly “written” – and therefore so totally preposterous – that it’s difficult to take anything they do for an almost endless two and a half hours seriously. This includes their relationship, their marriage, their lies, their truths and certainly their acting. Oh, and also, not any murders they may or may not have been involved in. That’s right, you will find no spoilers here – that is with the exception of the movie itself.

No, I DID NOT READ THE BOOK! And stop asking me!!! I know you loved it and you think I would too, especially if I had picked the book up before the movie. (Note: Which yeah, I know, would have had the added benefit of me ALSO having liked the movie a lot more– at least you think that’s the case). (Note #2 – But it isn’t!). And finally, yes, of course I know this is a matter of opinion and I’m clearly in the minority. Do not feel the need to refer me to Rotten Tomatoes, where the film has received a 91% positive rating by audiences and an 89% thumbs up from movie critics across the country. A best picture Oscar didn’t get me to change my mind about the annoyingly retro sensibility of Forest Gump, the dulling Driving Miss Daisy or, dare I say it, the blood curdling, off tune caterwauling of Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago. In fact, I still have to plug up my ears every time I hear one of my favorite show tunes, All That Jazz, anywhere to this day for fear it will somehow be her voice wafting into the room to haunt me once again as she begins to mangle each and every one of those lovely notes. (Note: Right, yes, I realize she won the Oscar for that one, too. Blah, blah, blah).

Dear Catherine...

Dear Catherine…

You might say, in these situations, I have chosen not to adapt and get with the program. Or perhaps – I was unable to. We all do this in some ways and in various situations thought not necessarily out of stubbornness. Sometimes it’s about mere conviction – a state of mind that is truly anything but “mere.” Though occasionally it is also about::

  1. stubbornness,
  2. an inability to change (not to be confused with stubbornness), or
  3. a process of reasoning that presupposes one knows best in pretty much most situations and that the rest of the world is full of your excrement of choice.

It’s unclear why certain situations cause a particular individual to be inadaptable and therefor unable or adamantly against modifying an option and/or action in a given situation. For example, I was truly surprised by the reaction of my students to Gone Girl (why do I keep confusing it with Affleck’s directorial debut – Gone Baby Gone – an infinitely better and, to my mind, terrific film in a similar though not totally analogous genre?) – that’s how sure I was in my analysis. But as it turns out, they loved it. Well, most of them. They found it to be engrossing, superbly acted and right on in its portrayal of a marriage gone bad. Painful as the latter is, I suppose it does give me yet another reason to keep my 27 year old perfectly happy non-married relationship intact despite all the outside pressure to make it legal now that we can. So at least there is that.

Still, what particularly intrigued me about their clearly misguided reaction to the film weren’t their actual opinions but their willingness to agree with me on all the points I raised about it and yet — not change their minds! Was I losing my touch? Or generationally, are they just not as stubborn and/or intractable as we were on every issue in the universe?

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Well, I prefer to think it’s generational since I certainly would never pressure, out-argue or outwardly shame anyone into agreeing with me on any one point. At least, not consciously – well, okay, gleefully. Instead, they seem to me a more adaptable group and/or generation, which in the end might be a more admirable quality for the times they have been born into.

We baby boomers – though I’m on the tail end of it – expected so much and were not satisfied with NOT getting it. So we chose to innovate or push the envelope in other ways to get what we wanted. Or stamp our feet and whine when that didn’t work.

toon369I don’t think this generation wants any less but it feels like they’ve come to expect less. It’s not that they won’t work hard it’s that they haven’t decided they’re entitled and have to have something. They have adapted themselves to expect less – be it from movies, the economy or the government – because less has been given. I’m not sure if they have the right idea but it might not necessarily be the wrong one if they keep working just has voraciously for what they desire. In the end, it might just only be yet another way to look at the world – a canny strategy given the state of things that we have left for them.

This principle is illustrated tenfold in Adaptation – a 2002 film dreamed up by one of the few truly original voices left in the screenwriting trade – Charlie Kaufman. This is a movie I’ve had students watch and read in classes almost since it came out in order to study Mr. Kaufman’s spare writing style and daringness on the page and it’s been almost universally adored by aspiring writers I’ve taught over the last decade. Sadly, this was not the case last week. There was something about the sheer oddness of the work that left this group cold. Not that that they didn’t admire the unmitigated gall of what he did. He got some points for that. They just didn’t believe it made sense under the rules of movies they had grown up watching.

My reaction... or my students'?

My reaction… or my students’?

As the inside story goes, the real Mr. Kaufman wanted to adapt a non-fiction book about flowers called The Orchid Thief, written by famed New Yorker writer Susan Orlean, into a major feature film following the out-of-nowhere success some years earlier of his original, post-modern, hilariously affecting meta-screenplay for Being John Malkovich. Stumped beyond reason and with a deadline looming, the real Mr. Kaufman had the desperate idea to write himself into the film as the main character struggling to adapt an inadaptable book and imagined its author, Ms. Orlean, as an unattainable, ice princess intellectual snob from the Big Apple who falls in love with the subject of her novel and becomes, well – lets just say you have to see the film in order to know that. In any event, the desperate fictional version of Mr. Kaufman, helped along by his doppelganger screenwriter brother Donald –a twin who only aspires to write big commercial movies – finally takes some action to discover the truth behind not only The Orchid Thief but the seemingly unattainable Ms. Orlean -and in the end discovers both the unsavory but thrilling truth about her life as well as his own.

The agony and the ecstasy of Adaptation

The agony and the ecstasy of Adaptation

The genius of the real Mr. Kaufman’s efforts here is that in his story adaptation (and thus the movie, Adaptation) became not compromise but innovation. It was only after hitting his head countless times against the proverbial writer wall that he found the most bizarre solution imaginable, taking a ridiculous stab at doing something outlandish that had just the slightest chance of emerging as – great. Forget about how one feels about the film itself – imagine yourself being paid a hefty amount of money by Columbia Pictures to adapt a book about flowers and handing in a screenplay where you are the main character and your subject takes a back seat to your neurosis in wrestling said subject? Not to mention co-authoring your WGA registered script with another person – your brother – who is also fictionalized in the film and, as it turns out, does not exist in real life. The best part of all this for me was when Mr. Kaufman’s screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award and at the Oscar competition ceremony, the fake name of Donald Kaufman, along with the real Charlie Kaufman, was read by actress Marcia Gay Harden from the stage of the Kodak Theatre to millions of viewers worldwide. Now that’s adaptation on all levels – and in the best, most insurgent way.

This is not the case with Gone, Girl – a not particularly innovative film that by most accounts is a very faithful adaptation of a best-selling novel that purports to tell the tale of modern day marriage by employing the filmic conventions of suspense and neo-noir while ultimately cloaking it all in a sort of 2014 media world of 24/7 meta reality. For those looking for a take on the latter, I would suggest a film done almost 20 years prior – Gus Van Sant’s To Die For (1995) – which has its flaws but at the very least took a fresh and much more unusual approach to the subject. Or better yet, a brilliantly funny cable movie, The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom, starring Holly Hunter in an unforgettable, Emmy Award-winning performance. Yes, it’s a matter of taste. I know that. But to not call it as you see it when the whole world seems to be proclaiming it an entirely different way, would be to betray everything I believe in. After all, if nothing else I am still a baby boomer. On the tail end, that is.

Yes... I agree... something IS missing

Yes… I agree… something IS missing

For the record, one’s view of any movie or work of art is certainly nothing more or less than a matter of opinion. Clearly, there is no real right or wrong. But when one aspires to merely adapt rather than innovate – or more dangerously sees them as the same thing – we run the risk of losing the rarity of something truly fantastic. Standing on my crumbling soapbox of flower power I proclaim to the world that Gone Girl is not even close to being the latter. And note – this is nothing personal to the filmmakers.   I’m sure one-on-one I would likely enjoy the company of the entire cast and crew, even if they would each prefer to take me to the woodshed – or simply tune me out. But I’m used to that. After all, I have been in a relationship for 27 years where the latter simply becomes an occasional fact of life – on both sides. And unlike what’s presented in Gone Girl it doesn’t mean marital destruction – it actually ensures relationship survival.

If you’re single or perhaps simply despise marriage metaphors, let me put it another way with a brief excerpt from one of the wisest films that I know – The Rocky Horror Picture Show. A heated exchange between transvestite/resident mad scientist, Dr. Frank –N –Furter and his surly, crazy-haired maid, Magenta, finally and inevitably concludes this way:

Magenta: I ask for nothing, Master.

Frank: And you shall receive it…..IN ABUNDANCE!!

Interestingly enough, those lines came from an adapted screenplay.

Rules of the Game

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About three and a half years ago I came up with a silly exercise for my students, who each semester must attend a series of panels on different aspects of the entertainment industry.   Rather than me explain it to you, I scoured my old gmail account to find this task, which will undoubtedly affirm the belief of some that majoring in communications at a private college is a total waste of time. The fact that those people are absolutely wrong and that this exercise is absolute proof that I am indeed preparing them for the world they are about to enter into, will be discussed in a moment. For right now here is the task at hand that you are free to make fun of in your minds five ways to Sunday:

ANGRY BIRDS: THE MOVIE

March 28, 2011

As you all know, Pendleton Productions has purchased the rights to “Angry Birds” and has set up “Angry Birds: The Movie” as our first animated/live action tent pole film with Pixar Studios. It will, of course, be directed by Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”). 

We have cast Angelina Jolie, Paul Rudd, Andrew Garfield, Willow Smith and Kim Kardashian as our birds. Our pigs will be played by Zack Galifinakis, Hugh Jackman and Jack Black. 

In the time remaining, we’d like you to develop a detailed marketing plan to launch our film. Actually, it’s more than a film. It’s an event. Or will be if we decide to hire you because that will be your responsibility.

The marketing plan should reach across all media and be as creative and out-of-the-box as possible while still staying within the realm of reality. Whose reality? That’s up to you. But it should include publicity and promotion plans for the launch, advertising ideas, tie-ins, merchandising, product placement and any other means of creating public attention (but not backlash). It should also take into account platforms in film, television, music, new media and all social media. Because we want to reach, well – EVERYONE!!

You’ve got about 20 minutes to meet and then no more than 5-10 minutes to impress us with a presentation. So, no pressure.

Oh — our blue ribbon panel will vote and award prizes for the winning team.

Good luck and… don’t get shot down.

Okay, perhaps not my finest work. But it was prescient. A year after this assignment it was announced that there would indeed be a movie version of that best selling app/videogame/four quadrant mega-tent pole thingie.   And given that at last count the thingie was at 2 billion downloads across all platforms (and still counting) it was unsurprising that just several days ago Sony Pictures announced it was indeed moving forward with a planned Summer 2016 release of AB on the big screen with a cast that includes SNL veterans Jason Sudekis, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph and Kate McKinnon, not to mention Frozen’s Josh Gad, Key and Peele and Peter Dinklage.

Sounds a little bit different than this "birds" movie

Sounds a little bit different than this “birds” movie

Logic and everyday belly-aching about the lack of imagination among film industry bigwigs tells us that no matter how bad any of us might think this film will turn out, it is also likely to turn out somewhere between a tidy and massive profit. Certainly, it is unlikely to lose money given the longevity this kind of asset assures its makers. Or is it and does it?

The fact is Rovio Entertainment – the Finnish animation company that first created the AB global franchise back in 2003 with a mere app – became rich beyond its wildest dreams from the app and is partners with Sony on the big screen version. But Rovio also had an additional announcement to make almost simultaneously with all this film casting hoopla last week. And that was that there would be a 16% cutback of its workforce, which in laymen’s terms means up to 130 Rovio employees – many of whom were there since the company’s inception – are getting the ax.

huh?

huh?

But how can this be after 2 billion plus downloads, 10 million Hasbro toys sold, an on-demand television show, and theme park attractions across the world, including even one at….NASA? (Look it up, naysayer)

Well, apparently Rovio’s 2013 net profits dropped 50% and this summer it was thus forced to replace its co-founder and chief executive of 10 years. In this way, it is actually telling us it will likely fit very well into the model of any other company in the entertainment industry. For the streets of Hollywood – both live and virtual – are littered with top of the heap successes that either no longer exist or are sputtering along in severely downsized versions.

I am old enough to remember that once upon a time there was a decade called the eighties and an independent film company named Vestron that won the lottery many times over with a worldwide film sensation asset that kept on giving: Dirty Dancing. But after a few years of spending with the big boys (literally) and never again achieving that kind of success, Vestron eventually folded. Remember New Line Cinema – the only studio in town that would roll the dice with the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, not to mention the makers of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise? Well, eventually even those assets would still not allow them to compete with the changing landscape of media platforms and they were absorbed by Time Warner and downsized into a sleeker form until eventually winding up as a pint-sized entity of the corporate conglomerate where it is now barely an afterthought.

Flying too close to the sun?

Flying too close to the sun?

Which brings us back to my students.

Many of them are aspiring writers, directors and producers. There are others who hope to work in more specifically technical fields such as editing, cinematography and sound. In addition, I have a healthy number who are majoring in various forms of journalism, marketing, advertising and public relations. All of them are social media savvy and many are game savvy, or at least game literate. They may not be Angry Birds players – clearly not enough of us are for Rovio – but they have played or will (eventually) be playing some newer, hipper version of it on their phone, tablet or screen of choice not yet invented.

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This being the case, there is another game I would like them to be skilled enough to play well in: the game of reality.   It didn’t take any genius on my part to predict the Angry Birds reality but it did take a bit of chutzpah to force them to think long and hard, regardless of their career aspirations, of how the commercial world of entertainment functions and what they are up against. No longer can a writer just be a storyteller or a cinematographer spend his/her time ignoring everything else but how precisely light flows into the frame of a scene.   In order to navigate the waters and be in a position to exercise your craft within the “system” most seem determined to enter, one needs to understand a world where we are all so ridiculously connected to both the ridiculousness of minutiae and the seriousness of global destruction, human rights violations and refighting the social revolution of the 1960s. Meaning that it should be a mystery to no one how a game application where nasty little furry birds slingshot themselves into innocent farm animals in the hopes that they will obliterate them into nothingness could net its creator many multi-millions/perhaps billions of dollars. Nothing about it should.

Since this is the world we have allowed them to inherit – this Angry Birds world – my thought three and a half years ago was to prepare them in a game of my own rather than to sit around and watch as the slingshot passed them by. Don’t get me wrong – I have higher aspirations for them than the virtual destruction of pigs via feathers. But wouldn’t it be great if they could accept the ridiculous Angry Bird reality of where we seemed headed, use their creativity to smartly work within that world and then leverage it into other employment with something newer, better and certainly more creative of their own once they amassed the access to do so?

After all, the next generation is being born this way

After all, the next generation is being born this way

Well, I thought so. But as it turned out, they were not the clueless, intellectual snobs I assumed many of them would be and that I certainly was at their age. They jumped into the assignment at the time, coming up with some of the best, most creative and certainly wisest marketing strategies I had ever heard. This includes any and all ideas I witnessed during the tortured eight or so years I spent working at three different studios in film marketing before become a more tortured – though in a good way – screenwriter, teacher and blogger.

... and before I became the great Chair-dini

… and before I became the great Chair-dini

This is a generation that, if nothing else, appreciates irony. I loved the AB live celebrity dunk in Times Square. The simultaneous worldwide Angry Bird game, the virtual billboards in cities across the world that would keep score via international teams, the personal appearances of movie stars in bird costumes that would litter the airwaves and magazine pages, and even the animal rights charities that – through some twisted reasoning I can’t remember but recalled liking at the time – would become involved in some huge charity event benefit culminating at the film premiere.

Taking a cue from China's Angry Bird's theme park

Taking a cue from China’s Angry Bird’s theme park

Sure, some of them balked at having to spend half an hour of their day thinking about film marketing – especially since on the whole this is a generation who doesn’t care much to sell something they don’t believe in.   But they all immediately understood the value of doing so. The truth is they’re a lot smarter and two steps ahead of the game that most of the rest of us are because they know games, have fun with games and will, no doubt, be changing the game while the rest of us are still complaining about the very existence of the game that we somehow, through ignorance, omission or sheer laziness, helped make a reality.

Here’s hoping that once they get the power they don’t turn their backs so some other younger, more vibrant member of some future animal species can knock them off their perch.   Though surely by that time there will be an app for that which works better than any new, lame exercise I could have come up with.

Until it doesn’t.