MEH-MMYS

 

The 2019 telecast of the Emmys will probably be remembered for three things:

  1. The British invasion of winners, especially Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s unexpected and very deserving trifecta for Outstanding Lead Actress/Writer in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Comedy Series.

Slay!!! #triplethreat #firstimesinceTinaFey

  1. The stupendously unfunny voice-over quips of Thomas Lennon, a fairly unknown actor/comic who so annoyed so many people on social media during the telecast that he himself referred to how much his job sucked before the program was even over.
  2. The fact that not a single primetime program from ANY of the four major TV broadcast networks (CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX) took home even ONE Emmy in any major category during the entire 180 minute broadcast.

To be sure there were some high notes:

– Billy Porter became the first out Black gay man to win Best Actor in the first series ever on network television centering on the trans community.

Best hat since Aretha!

– Comic moments by two television legends, 90 year old Bob Newhart and 97-year-old Norman Lear, that left almost everyone else in the dust.

– The youthful exuberance (and humility) in the acceptance speeches of Jharrel Jerome (When They See Us) and Jodie Comer (Killing Eve) when they were rightly (and a bit surprisingly) honored as outstanding lead actor in a limited series and outstanding lead actress in a drama series, respectively.

So why did the show itself alternate between being a rudderless mess and a crushing bore???

Sarah Silverman during the Emmys has never been so relatable #ILoveYouSarah

A host might have helped, though that’s not a guarantee. Maybe…the right host, then? Of course, that would likely mean finding someone who appears on a Fox show since each time a network gets its turn broadcasting the Emmys it seems to only want to employ one of its own to appear center stage.

It’s not that Seth Meyers, Jimmy Kimmel, James Corden, Jimmy Fallon or even Carson Daly 2015 could have guaranteed a better program. But perhaps they might have offered a…. fighting chance?

Why the shade, Chairy? #ahem

Are our television fiefdoms now as polarizing as our politics? #UBetTheyR

(Note: How else does one explain Tim Allen showing up and landing like a thud in the middle of nowhere to plug the last season of his Fox series, Last Man Standing?)

BUZZ-KILL #seewhatIdidthere

Still, even without a host you knew we were in trouble when an animated character, aka Fox’s own Homer Simpson, showed up in the opening as a kind of faux host only to be leveled into the ground and disappear. His duties were then taken over by blackish’s Anthony Anderson in an embarrassing routine where he and his Mom steal several Emmys and put them in her large purse in order to presumably smuggle out of the theatre.

Did someone actually write a bit where a person of color was stealing someone else’s awards with a family member on national television?

Super cringe

When Anderson then passed the faux host torch to Bryan Cranston I thought perhaps it was just me having a drug flashback to my Breaking Bad television binge watching days in a much simpler time. Alas, this was not to be.

The minutes and hours wore on and our patience began to wear thin. Why did everything feel just plain off and weird? Like a high school dance where I thought I was wearing a great outfit but the pictures revealed otherwise, it all seemed ill fitted and pimply-faced.

The LED set flashed frighteningly oversized still photos of nominees as someone announced their names from backstage and in another moment would suddenly turn into an assaulting piece of Game of Thrones scenery/logo or an electrically insistent pastel hue that picked up the color in some presenters’ outfit.

Like.. did we need to see Fleabag’s bloody nose?? #whatweretheythinking

At one point there was even a musical number where a gold gowned person with a Meryl Streep mask could be seen juggling bowling pins. I couldn’t swear they were bowling pins or even a female in the gown but I do know I saw the image a second time just before the show cut to commercial.

Given television’s penchant for reruns it might have been nice to relive at least a few more clips from the very best of television in the past year. We were told by Television Academy chairman Frank Scherma that we are now in the PLATINUM age of TV and yet clips from the best of 2019 were few and far between while those that were shown were so short as to come off as practically unintelligible.

Me, to the producers

With TV this good, here’s an idea for next year. Just give us more of the best of and get a witty host or a smart host or maybe even a live action host who’s merely smart enough or only slightly witty.

Until then, we can entertain ourselves with tons of award winning/nominated 2019 TV we might have missed. That would include:

1- Every episode of When They See Us, Chernobyl, Fosse/Verdon and Succession for dramas. (Note: No, they are NOT too depressing and/or off-putting).

2- Every episode of Fleabag, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Good Place and Russian Doll for comedy.

Schitt’s Creek too!! #catherineoharaisaGODDESS

3- Any random episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Saturday Night Live, Late Night with Seth Meyers or The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for timely political satire.

Aside from fashion and hate watching, they’re the real reason awards shows like Emmy2019 exist. Or used to be.

Kelsea Ballerini – “Better Luck Next Time”

Editors Note: The Chair’s predictions scored a 16/27, which is approximately 59% — still better than Electoral POTUS’s approval rating, so we’ll take that as a win. 

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The Chair Challenge

Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 1.15.10 PM

Did you ever have one of those weeks? I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of having celebrities I like and that feel as if they’re a part of my family die. Plus, is the universe going to blow up? Are we headed for World War III? It certainly seems that way. Not to mention the fact that there hasn’t been one movie I’ve loved or even liked more than a little this summer. I mean, how many reruns of House Hunters International can I watch? Yes, Costa Rica looks nice and inexpensive but, seriously – you’re going to uproot your spouse and two kids, go live in a shack on the beach and have them all piss happily in a rusted tin outhouse for $900 a month? Really????

Sorry, I will not calm down. Or pull out my dog-eared copy of The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz from 2008. That was then and this is now. Besides, a good rant can do just as much as being impeccable with your word, not taking things personally, not making assumptions and always doing your best. And in case you were wondering – YES, THIS IS MY BEST! At the moment.

Okay, I feel better already. And so will you. So if that works imagine how good an unlucky 13 of them will feel. What follows are a baker’s dozen of my petty best of the moment. And I CHALLENGE ALL OF YOU to come up with at least one of your own and write in about it. Don’t worry. You don’t have to dump a bucket of ice water over your head afterwards. Or send money. This is therapy. At least for me. For all of us.

Oh, in case you were wondering I AM GRATEFUL – to live in a country where ranting is still legal and among others who can relate, understand and come up with funnier and better things to complain about than me. So as my mother used to warn: DO NOT DISAPPOINT ME. Which explains more than you need to know about myself or my rants on any given day.

MY UNLUCKY 13:

1 – You’re no longer a SPORTS HERO if you beat women and children.

28682-Hell-no-gif-CD0Y

Nuances are meaningless when a man knocks out his wife with a punch to the jaw and drags her limp body across a floor. Ditto when another guy repeatedly whoops his 4 year-old son with a switch to the crotch or beats him bloody with a stick and then chews on the remainder of its picked off leaves in front of him. The NFL’s Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson should be in jail for these offenses – not the subject of debate.   How does any woman put on a Rice jersey or a single football fan support a star running back who put a little boy not yet old enough to attend public school into the hospital? #TimothyRayJones? #Malala? #OJanyone?

2- If you throw your adolescent child out of the house for being gay you should be neutered against your will and relieved of all your wordily possessions. Rolling Stone recently did an expose about the epidemic of homeless LGBT kids, many of who have been thrown out onto the streets by their fundamentalist parents. I, for one, am tired of small-minded cowards hiding behind dogma in order to inflict pain and suffering on family members who they deem unworthy. So let me put it in language their pea brains might understand. Think of your offspring like a plate you knock over in the store. Meaning, you break it, you bought it. Or in this case – you make it, you own it. For life. But unlike a plate, you can’t throw yours out or give it away because you decide you suddenly don’t fancy its pattern or it fails to live up to your preconceived idea of the surface on which you choose to put your cold meatloaf sandwich during one of your typically lazy Sunday afternoons.

3- I don’t have the time to iWatch.

... and just about as useful

… and just about as useful

Who doesn’t love the sleek, stylish lines and shiny cool bling of something Apple? But wasn’t one of the benefits of the iPhone stapled to your person the fact that it pretty much rendered wristwatches obsolete? Do any of us really need a mini computer timepiece on our arms? Well, perhaps need is the wrong word. How about want? Isn’t it tough enough to make an effort lifting up your arms to do…. anything these days? #WWJobsDo?

4- Matthew Perry needs to sit out some more pilot seasons.

Stop trying to make Matthew Perry happen. It's not going to happen

Stop trying to make Matthew Perry happen. It’s not going to happen

We all love MP not only as one of our perennial Friends but for various admirable turns he’s done in both drama and comedy since those halcyon days. Still, a reboot of The Odd Couple as a half-hour CBS comedy this fall? Which was already rebooted in the eighties with an all-black cast from the 1970s hit series? Which was rebooted from the hit film? Which was reinterpreted from the hit Broadway show? The only person not tired of all of these hits is Neil Simon, who brilliantly created the story to begin with and even more brilliantly continues to collect royalty checks from it five decades later. #NoPoachingZone.

5- Too many actors are changing pace. You can’t blame a professional impersonator for wanting to try on all different types of personas but that doesn’t mean you can’t bitch about it. Steve Carrell is a humorless gazillionaire mentally abusing Channing Tatum in the upcoming Foxcatcher, Pushing Daisies’ charming Lee Pace (no pun intended) played the nastiest of villains in this summer’s sole megablockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy, and post Thanksgiving we all have to look forward to a live version of Peter Pan starring Girls’…..Allison Williams?? How would they like it if I renamed this blog Notes From A Zeppelin? Or An Elongated Rant from my Chair. And no, the correct answer is not none of them cares. #Dontbemeanasme. #Thoughtofthatfirst.

She is just too tall to be Peter Pan. TOO. TALL

She is just too tall to be Peter Pan. TOO. TALL

6- We need to thin the herd of tour buses everywhere. Somebody somewhere is probably offering a tour of pretty much every region in the world. But nowhere is this phenomenon more apparent than on the streets of Los Angeles. Here’s the bottom of lines, though. Those of you in the rest of the country don’t get to hate on us (nee make fun) and then come here to visit from every state in the union all year where you will undoubtedly spend at least one day on a tour bus going 5 mph gawking at everything and everyone you see with disdainful admiration. You’re gumming up the traffic and acting like the asshat guy/girl we all once dated who couldn’t make up their mind about us. Note: Those types of relationships never work. And certainly never end well.

7- Drivers of automobiles are not allowed to signal on their choice of odd or even days. While we’re on the subject of L.A. and traffic listen up – you’re a selfish pig if you don’t indicate when you are going right or left and a complete failure as a human being when you suddenly decide to stop in the middle of the street for no other reason than because, well – the sun looked nice? Organic fennel suddenly came into your mind? You thought a pretty guy or gal looked familiar but then realized it was only your own image reflecting into the windshield from your side view mirror? This also applies to big men driving their big trucks who have decided that because they seem more menacing no one else on the road will ever take them to task. Well, I guess I (let’s make it WE just in case) showed them.

Preach Batman

Preach Batman

8- Huge television stars need to stop doing car commercial voiceovers. I was going to let Jon Hamm slide as the voice of Mercedes Benz because after all, he’s Jon Hamm. But he’s started an epidemic that reached its peak last week when I actually recognized the voice of Modern Family’s Ty Burrell on an ad for some other vehicle. I can’t remember which one. And that’s the point. It’s understandable when they get Samuel L. Jackson or Alec Baldwin before the cameras to endorse Capital One credit cards. Their crazy on-camera personas are being bought and paid for with a lot of cash back. But what difference does it make who’s telling me to drive an overpriced automobile if I can’t see their handsome face IN the car and imagine they’re with me? No, of course I’m not specifically talking ONLY about Jon Hamm.   And certainly not of Matthew McConaughey – who is featured live on camera in one of the oddest, newest and most bizarre auto ads of them all.

9- Why can’t we have one universal cord that plugs into everything??? This was not my idea but came from NBC’s Tom Brokaw, who this week said he suggested it to Apple CEO Tim Cook. Yeah, I know, they’ll call it the iCord, build the prototype here and mass-produce it in China with unskilled, underpaid and overworked cheap labor. We’ll all feel guilty about it but it will come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and be sexy and irresistible. And we’ll purchase all of them because once again, well, life is so, so, so haaaaaaaaaaaard. #Too1stworldXGoogol

10- Network television needs to stop putting John McCain on the air right after every presidential speech.

What I see everytime he comes on screen...

What I see everytime he comes on screen…

In my mind, Sen. McCain gave up all rights to criticize presidential judgment the moment he selected Sarah Palin as his choice for vice-president. There will be no Sarah Palin joke here because how does one top anything she’s already said and done in the past, including the drunken brawl her entire family was reported to have gotten into this past week in Anchorage? What will be stated is that Sen. McCain’s expertise in the area of decision-making and strategy not only sucks but is potentially quite dangerous. Putting him on directly after Pres. Obama spoke to the nation about how he will deal with the beheadings of two American journalists at the hands of the fundamentalist religious terrorists of ISIS is akin to….well, I’ll let you fill in the blank. (Hint: Insert that Sarah Palin joke here).

11- Stop calling America “The Homeland!” There is no other way to say this. We are not in Adolf Hitler’s Germany (yet) or living in a cable series starring Claire Danes. When we discuss whether enemies of our state plan to attack our country that is what we fear they will attack – the country. Words matter. Jingoistic, fascist terminology is dangerous. Unless I’m using it to attack Rick Perry or Ted Cruz in an ironically worded twist on the words they ordinarily use. Which I have not done. Yet. #Oops.

We-all-know-someone-who-needs-to-tuck-and-roll…

12- Adored celebrities need to stop dying for a while. Or at least stop dying so close together. Aside from the emotional grief it causes their friends and loved ones it is hell on us. Robin Williams, Joan Rivers and Lauren Bacall all in the space of a month? And then there’s Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death just a bit before??? The least of this is the confusion it causes to consumers and the corporations they love. Do you feature Mr. Hoffman prominently in the ads for Hunger Games: Mockingjay? Will it ever be kosher to watch a rerun of Fashion Police again? Was it unfair of me to get creeped out by the live images of a great actor like James Gandolfini in the recent ads for his last film, The Drop? It’s only creepy because none of us will get out of here alive. Oh, grow up – it’s true!!!

13- Give Billy Eichner a show that is not on Fuse TV!

Can you ever watch too much?

Can you ever watch too much?

It’s not as if I haven’t known about comedian Billy Eichner’s hilarious Funny or Die videos for the last year or two. But suddenly he seems to be on every other click of the web making me LOL (yes, I’m using THAT abbreviation because I’m not as clever as he is) at what might have been my lowest moment of the week were he not available. So, network or real pay cable TV – why? Why? Why? Don’t tell me he’s too gay or too New York or too Jewish. I might take it personally. As for Billy, no one is this funny and strange and entertaining so consistently. Not even Matthew Perry. Who I am a great fan of. (See #4 above). Don’t believe me? Fine. Here.

Julia Roberts Obstacle Course

It’s Debra Messing, You Gays

And in case you’re in the mood for a song, here’s something you won’t ever HEAR on the radio. Write in and Rant On.

American Tussle

simpsons-gifs-bumper-car

I’m a terrible liar – both in person and on the page.  On the surface, this would seem unlikely.  It feels like the very essence of being a writer is possessing the ability to concoct fictional characters who play out stories you make up that don’t ever quite happen exactly the way you write them.  Of course, that is the irony of the writing life.  Unless you are telling the truth about the people and the situations you are making up out of whole cloth you are nowhere. Though the exceptions might be the screenwriter of a tent pole, blockbuster Hollywood movie or an unchecked politician.  Then all bets are off and you become very, very rich or very, very powerful, though seldom both. Still, if you so choose you can arrange a semi-fictionalized alternate version of events that, when told in the order of your own choosing, can sometimes create the greatest fake out of the truth that the real world has ever seen – events that can then be passed off as your truth.

This week we were treated to a movie length press conference – a sort of tent pole of press conferences – of pained New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie copping to some sort of massive, corruption scandal within his administration where his top aides – on their own, he emphasized – exacted some revenge against the usually non Christie-like, Democratic leaning town of Fort Lee, NJ by shutting down some of its major access roads for four days and causing the largest state-wide traffic jam in 12 years.

when it rains, it pours.

when it rains, it pours.

The Governor claims that he only found out the truth about this four month-old event several days ago via email after a workout, which presumes he was dripping sweat and dirty at the time since he also announced that just as knowledge of the situation came across his smart device he was about to jump, naked and spent one would assume, into his morning shower.  Never mind that there are a myriad of images here that I will never be able to get out of my mind because of the governor’s ability to be quite vivid and very specific about some of the events that happened four months after the scandal but to literally draw a blank on all of the other the events that happened during the actual scandal.  Well, maybe that’s too much to expect.  After all, he’s not the screenwriter of a tent pole movie – a person who inherently knows which dramatic points in a narrative to emphasize that will work best for the public – but merely a politician who is “disappointed” and “heartbroken,” to use his very own words.

anigif_enhanced-buzz-8059-1371690094-2

What Christie really wanted to say…

Despite being widely known as someone who runs a very tight ship with an iron hand, Gov. Christie proclaimed endlessly at his marathon gabfest that he knew not a single thing about a bogus traffic study and other occurrences that led to the gigantic marathon gridlock that top members of his administration presumably orchestrated as some sort of payback to the Democratic representatives of the town of Fort Lee and, in turn, its residents. This plan involved the closing of two of three local access lanes in the town – a hub for commuters throughout the state – into the George Washington Bridge- also known as the busiest bridge in world and the state’s prime roadway into New York City.  This traffic jam lasted for nearly 100 hours from September 9- 12 and affected tens of thousands of people, including a 91 year-old woman who paramedics were attempting to rush to the hospital through traffic and who eventually died.  It also continued through the 12th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in N.Y. and is, in fact, the worst traffic snarl up in the tri-state area since Sept. 11, 2001.

For those who are not east coast residents or have never traveled on the GW Bridge it should be noted that gigantic is probably an inadequate word for the kind of multi-hour gridlock drivers from all over the town, the state and elsewhere experienced during that time.  As would be employing the words infuriating, upsetting or frustrating to describe one’s reaction at getting caught in a car or any other non-moving vehicle on any one of those days.  To get an idea of just what a random person’s reaction might truthfully be, at least from this writer’s perspective, imagine a fictional character – say New Jersey’s own Tony Soprano – without his henchmen and at his angriest, sans weapon and unable to use his hands for strangulation or his feet for kicking a car into the Hudson River.  Then double it.  Actually, maybe quadruple – no sextuple it.  And I’m being conservative, though certainly never politically.

yeah that sounds right

still not enough, Chairy

There are lots of simple links to understand the nuances of this scandal.  For your viewing pleasure, they include:

1. The Washington Post’s infographic

2. 10 things you need to know about Bridge-gate

3. Will Bridgegate end it all?

4. EMS delays 

Suffice it to say that the Governor’s deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly was fired as was his chief spokesperson Michael Drewniak.  David Wildstein, Christie’s appointee at the Port Authority, turned over some of his emails to lawmakers as part of a legislative inquiry but pleaded the 5th amendment several days ago to all questions about the incident.  However, his attorney later suggested that if a deal for Mr. Wildstein’s immunity could be brokered, there might be quite a bit of new and very specific information his client could impart that would shed new light on the issues.  Can’t imagine what those would be but given what we have seen in political corruption scandal films involving politicians in New York and New Jersey it could be worthy of at least a David O. Russell production.  Unless the director feels he already covered that territory this year in American Hustle.

At least he already has the fat suit

At least he already has the fat suit

Though in truth, you could even use some of the real life Christie administration dialogue here.  For instance, on the morning right before the lanes were closed and the snarl up started, here’s the real life e-mail exchange between Ms. Kelly and Mr. Wildstein.

Ms. Kelly (Laura Linney?) at 7:35 am:  Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.

Mr. Wildstein (Mark Ruffalo?) at 7:36 am:  Got it.    

CUT TO:

EXT. GEORGE WASHINGTON BRIDGE – FORT LEE ENTRANCE – DAY

A battlefield of automobiles lined up at various angles all honking, screaming and cursing at each other amid closed lanes, Port Authority cones and traffic officials blocking off escape routes via exaggerated hand signals.  It’s 100% massive gridlock at its worst…or best.

Like most good scenes the dialogue is terse and dramatically leads us into a series of memorable images in order to make its main point.

As for Gov. Christie, despite what is being called an initially masterful performance in front of the cameras that degenerated into a too obvious plea to show his “pain” and prove he is a regular guy of the people who is “not a bully” and can still get “hurt” and “humiliated” (again, his words), the verdict is still out.  Clearly if this were a traditionally structured tent pole film made in Hollywood we are now at the end of the second act – the classic low point for a lead movie character.  That is the worst possible moment (unless we’re not quite there and there’s more to come) on his journey that would lead us into Act Three.

Did someone say impeachment?

Did someone say impeachment?

The latter would then entail the moment from which our hero must rise up against all odds, learn a lesson based on everything he has endured up to that point, and go on to defeat the enemy (perhaps even more them one, or perhaps merely no one but himself). Any and all of those points open many possible dramatic doors in Act Three of a story to which there are lots of possible, if not probable, endings.

Act 3?

Act 3?

  1. Christie could be found out to be lying and forced to resign; step away voluntarily for the good of the state in a brokered deal before word gets out; or stubbornly stay put and be impeached.  This is better known “pulling a Nixon” and thus will probably be avoided at any cost
  2. Christie could whether the storm of the scandal somewhat unscathed and serve out the rest of his term “under the radar.” This could then include doing some good work for which he will never really be credited even though he deserves to be, thus making him into an ironic, sort of flawed hero and would be considered an indie-type ending that maybe filmmakers only as iconoclastic as the Coen Brothers could sell to a studio.  That is assuming those guys would even be attracted to this story in first place – which is a distinct possibility since one of the actors they’ve worked with most frequently, John Goodman, would be perfect casting for the embattled governor.
  3. Christie emerges victorious from the scandals though we never know his true guilt or innocence until a book is written decades later.  In the meantime, he solves some significant unemployment or money problems in New Jersey and once again becomes the people’s hero.  He then runs for the Republican nomination for president in 2016, defeats Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the general election and…well, you get it and I can’t write anymore.  This is obviously the ending both the governor and the film studios and/or television networks would prefer.  A very human, though clearly less than saintly everyman who emerges victorious against all odds and leads his hometown and his country to national glory because, deep down in his heart, he is a really, really good guy who cares.
Jon  Hamm says: Only time will tell

Jon Hamm says: Only time will tell

Which ending do you believe?  And which one do you think we’ll get?  And which one do you think is true?  Write in and let us know.

In the meantime, one last fact:  The Democratic leaning town of Fort Lee actually voted in clear majority for Republican Gov. Christie in the November election, which occurred two months after the GW Bridge incident and a month before the scandal broke.  This means there was never any need for retribution against the town to begin with because the majority of its people WERE on the side of the Christie administration and the governor himself after all.  But the key word there is WERE. 

Stay tuned.

Pass/Fail

Dogs.Tug.Of.War

Life is a continuous process of give and take.  Take and give.  A process in which you make mistakes, lots of them, in addition to the many things that you get right.  In fact, one of the ways you can measure if you’re living a life really worth living – meaning doing it well  – is by the amount of mistakes you make.  Chances are if the total number that month or year is zero, you are doing the very thing you have been trying so hard not to do – failing.  Perhaps I’ve been teaching college students too long and that’s the reason I think in terms of pass/fail.  But I don’t think so.

Human beings are not computer programs whose excellence can be programmed.  We are a species who do the lion’s share of our learning the good old fashioned way – through practice and trial and error.   I don’t know about you but when I practice anything – my writing, my cooking, my teaching or my making non-neurotic choices even though the neurotic, crazy choice is far more appealing – I screw up.  I find the more I practice the less I screw up, which if anything is a reason for us all to incessantly practice at anything we care about.   We don’t usually because we are either tired or know that if things are going so well we don’t want to rock the boat since it’s only a matter of time before we – that’s right, you guessed it – screw up.

Sometimes things just don't come out exactly as you had hoped....

Sometimes things just don’t come out exactly as you had hoped….

A lot of times we plateau in what we do well and in an effort not to make a mistake we don’t force ourselves to do enough new stuff.   This, too, is a mistake because nothing stays the same ever – even if you stop and decide it’s going to.  At some point something will change in the equation so why not be the one to take the initiative and shake it up a bit to keep things interesting or perhaps even improve?  It’s because we have this idea that if we hold on to the same tried and true method of doing some task or interest or job the result will always be the same.  Hmmm, it might for a while – as long as we can do it – which won’t be forever.  But it will also ensure we get a bit lazy, or complacent or fail (there’s that word again) to open a door we might have enjoyed going down or benefited from immensely just because we didn’t want to…. Well, you know.

Though, I'm not sure I will ever crave a Vegan Burger

Though, I’m not sure I will ever crave a Vegan Burger

I find this complacency/fear in me sometimes when I teach the same classes, do my gym routine (when I go), or cook the same six meals for dinner several times a month (the rest of the time I eat out or order in).  For example, let’s take teaching – where I keep requiring students to watch the same five movies every semester to illustrate various screenwriting principles.  In the latter, it’s not that these examples don’t work – in fact they do work quite well.  Juno, Adaptation, Harold and Maude, Chinatown, North by Northwest – they’re all excellent films that young people can learn a lot from and, more importantly, I never get tired of teaching or talking about with them.   It’s that, well – I am already quite certain how well how well they work.  Perhaps there is something that could work even better (and make me better)?  Of course, there is.  There is always something that can work better.  But you have to search for it.  That’s why I also have students every other week go out to a newly released movie (at a movie theatre) that we can analyze – so as new screenwriters they can be exposed to all types of films – even if it’s in a genre they or I don’t like.

This week for instance, I insisted on Identity Thief – not because I was dying to see it but because I knew it had a quintessential Hollywood formula you could summarize in a one sheet (industry parlance for, uh, poster) and it is important to see at least one of those a semester if one plans to work in the real world movie business and know how either a. you make one of those or b. what you’re up against.

Definitely the sucker for paying full price...

Definitely the sucker for paying full price admission to this…

So what if it’s #1 at the box-office and as god-awful a movie as you can almost imagine  (well, certainly according to Salon).  And who cares if I will never get back those two hours and my artsy colleagues condemn me for it.  (Note: I actually enjoy the fact of the latter.  Remind me sometime to tell you the full story of how my very positive review of 9 to 5 in the eighties caused one of my fellow Variety film critics to fling his reporter’s notebooks halfway across the newsroom in unmitigated rage).  But at least in the case of Identity Thief it was an attempt on my part (if not the filmmakers’) to do something different.

Okay — I will admit that given the sheer nonsensically incoherent script choices made in Identity Thief I might have made the wrong choice here.  Okay, let me be more blunt – I might have (might have?!) screwed up.  This choice didn’t work at all as a film so perhaps it might have been better to have students watch a much more blatantly commercial film of that type that I knew did work brilliantly (e.g. Forty Year Old Virgin).  There’s only one problem — this is not the 2005 Virgin world of Hollywood.  It’s a different 2013 world a student needs to make their identity in.  So part of their education should be in knowing what to do and not to do.  To which this film illustrates the ultimate challenge.  Universally panned by the critics, probably the future winner of any number of Razzies and yet….it is the #1 film at the box-office this weekend with $36,500,000 taken in domestically in 3 days.  Screw up/Failure or Cleverness/Success?  Ponder that for a while and then consider your final answer to the question, rather than the film itself (which I don’t want anyone to run out and see), as your teachable moment.

Or listen to the philosophy of Homer

Or listen to the philosophy of Homer

Mistakes came up a bunch of times at a recent WGA panel of Oscar and guild nominated screenwriters I took my students to attend.  It always does when writers talk among themselves – as well as other similar themes such as failing, honesty, creativity and discipline.  I suspect this is the case when you gather a group of any creative types – actors, directors, designers or visual artists.  Or maybe even plumbers or insurance salesman or accountants.  Who is to say that there are not these fears (or creativity) among them?  The medical plan that should never have been recommended; the copper pipe system that was not needed or too good to be true; the balance sheet that someone concocted to save their own asses instead of their clients.  Obviously – there is a theme here.

But I can’t speak to those nor would you probably want to read about them since we all know that for some reason, show business is EVERYONE’S second, if not first business.  What I can speak to is a few moments at the panel this week:

  1. Writer’s Guild president Chris Keyser noting that like many professions, writing is a solitary one but that “we write alone – together.”  That we are listening to nominated screenwriters on a panel who no doubt at one time listened to or read about Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine) and Callie Khouri (Thelma and Louise), who in turn also learned from Robert Towne (Chinatown) or Alvin Sargent (Ordinary People), who each probably heard or watched work by Paddy Chayefsky (Network) and Joseph Mankeiwicz (All About Eve), who took advice from  Carl Foreman (High Noon) and Daniel Taradash (From Here to Eternity).  Look up any of these esteemed writers and you’ll also find they all share something else — ALL have written at least one really bad movie, not to mention some of the other scripts you don’t know about.  In other words, all have screwed up – big time.
  2. Screenwriters Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty) and John Gatins (Flight) correcting moderator-screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk) on his assumption that all writers search for absolute truth in their films.  Both agreed that absolute truth does not truly exist and even if it did, would be deadly dull if played out in real time.  Instead, what both require of themselves is honesty and authenticity amid many days, months and years of frustrating roadblocks and missteps along the way.
  3. Stephen Chbosky, novelist and screenwriter/director of Perks of Being A Wallflower, who freely admitted to a 200 page first draft screenplay, much of which had to be junked because of all of the unnecessary subplots he had included – a method of working he recommended to nobody else but one that he sheepishly admitted finally did work for him.
  4.  Roman Coppola, who co-wrote Moonrise Kingdom with director Wes Anderson, speaking to an audience question about the best piece of writing advice he had ever gotten. I f you closed your eyes and just listened, Mr. Coppola sounded exactly like the vocal incarnation of his father, master writer-director Francis Coppola, so it was particularly jarring to hear him pass on these words of wisdom from Coppola, Sr. (a symbolic writing father to many) which RC said were ones from centuries ago taken from novelist Alexander Dumas: “First act – clear.  Third Act – short.  Interest – everywhere.”

So inspired was I by these words that I went home and looked it up to find out more.  But instead what I found was that Roman, or perhaps his father, was mistaken and these words were apparently the advice of not Dumas but another esteemed, centuries old novelist – Honore de Balzac.

But who really cares (except maybe Balzac and he’s dead)?  Because despite the mistake of whomever – Francis or Roman or perhaps me in telling the story – the message was no less truthful or worthy.  This is important to remember not only in the subject of writing but also in an attempt to say or do anything meaningful.  Mistakes will be made but it’s what is really being said that counts – whether it’s from a director’s chair on a stage in Beverly Hills, in your house or apartment in a private conversation, or, most importantly, even only in your own mind – to yourself.