Camera Ready

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When I was younger I thought I’d be an in front of the camera guy. But as it’s turned out I’ve spent most of my life as a behind the desk fellow who is occasionally a behind or beside the camera consultant. However every so often, meaning not all that much, I am ready, willing and able in front of the camera and, if shot just the right way and caught at the correct moment, can be quite effective at the task at hand.

The latter will certainly not make me the gay male Oprah – one of my few printable fantasies of the last ten years – but, well, at least it’s a start. To what I’m not sure. But something tells me that with the way the media, information and general business and social interaction are going, it would behoove each of us to learn how to be in front of the lens in order to make our case, sell our story, or simply just be the best and most appealingly real (Note: Or even calculatingly unreal) version of us.

... because this creep could be around the corner

… because this creep could be around the corner

I was recently interviewed by the local news for a piece on noisy neighborhoods. More specifically, to speak about the nightmare house above us being illegally rented to huge party givers and events for upwards of $5000-$7500 per night on varying weekends and weeknights – and for usually more than half the month – by our lying scum of a neighbor who has ignored my previously very polite and in-person pleas to cease and desist.

Of course, I didn’t call him a lying scum of a neighbor on camera. I let the evidence speak for itself. Not that I had any control over what would be in the final piece or how it would be cut together. All the more reason to stick to the basic facts of what happened and let truth and reality do most of my talking.

Can you tell I'm saying torture? (click here to see the full video)

Can you tell I’m saying torture? (click here to see the full video)

I think I did fine but certainly could’ve done better. Maybe torture was not the best adjective to categorize this situation given we’re living in an age of waterboarding and beheadings, as my sister so ably pointed out. (Note: And what ARE family members for anyway if not to remind you of this kind of stuff). Actually, I did instinctually realize that after I said it but frankly, I couldn’t think of any other word to get the point across. It feels “tortuous” in my limited world. You try to sleep when Snoop is rapping outside your back door electronically amplified many times over until he reverberates throughout the rest of the house past locked windows, doors, bedrooms and even ramped up allergy air filter machines at 3 and 4 in the morning.

Just call me Mr. Wilson.

Just call me Mr. Wilson.

Of course – I didn’t refer specifically to rap music on camera. That wasn’t the point and I didn’t want anyone to misconstrue race (or musical taste) has anything to do with this. It doesn’t. But I’ve seen enough as a reporter, publicist, screenwriter and general media commenter and gadfly to know that one too specific slip of my tongue might’ve taken over the story in an entirely different direction. Yes, the music that was playing was mostly rap and because it involved loud speaking and a persistent beat it was particularly annoying. But I had to consider – would it have been any less upsetting if they were blasting Better Midler, Lady Gaga or the score from Les Mis? Well, maybe at first but that would quickly fade. I can recall being at a local diner too late one night when I was in high school where the broken jukebox played Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” for two hours straight. We were stoned and hysterical laughing for most of it but eventually I did want to strangle someone – or at least knock over the revolving standee of cheesecake and baked goods right through the window and into someone’s – anyone’s – face. And we weren’t trying to sleep at 3 or 4 in the morning.

a different kind of torture device

a different kind of torture device

The sheer level of incompetency displayed by others (and even sometimes myself) when placed before the camera is continually shocking – okay, well then let’s just say surprising. (Note: See sis, I’m listening). And to be clear, I’m not talking about home movies or videos here. I’m referring to planned interviews, speeches – political, business or recreational – presentations, and general work or play versions of ourselves we project out into the world when we are knowingly being recorded or in a place where we will likely be. Not to mention, a lot of this behavior comes from professionals presumably being paid to know a lot better.

Here’s one very minor example that turned into a major story this week amid the debate over the blue/back vs. white/gold dress and Congress almost defunding the Department of Homeland Security:

In her post-Oscar comments on Red Carpet looks, E! personality and Fashion Police co-host Giuliana Rancic, decided to publicly take the petite, bi-racial18 year-old Disney Channel actress/singer (and beloved Dancing with the Stars runner-up) Zendaya Coleman to task for her too ample….wait for it….DREADLOCKS!   Sitting stiff-as-a-board upright in the studio – flawlessly coiffed in designer duds and shot in the best TV lighting a basic cable channel like E! can buy, Ms. Rancic carefully considered the image of this young girl smiling in her designer white Grecian dress and carpet-ready new hair before sniffing:

She has such a tiny frame this hair overwhelms her. Like, I feel like she smells like patchouli oil…. and weed!

I'm more wondering why Zendaya was at the Oscars... but oh well

Dress aside.. was anyone else wondering why she was at the Oscars?

It would not have been relevant for me to even mention Zendaya being bi-racial had Ms. Rancic’s comments not played into some unfortunate stereotype a certain segment of the population has about…people who sport dreadlocks? The type of non-white persons we usually see wearing them? Something else? Hmmm.

Well, whatever it was caused a real crap storm. Ms. Rancic and the show quickly issued more apologies than George W. Bush ever did about the war in Iraq, Fashion Police co-host Kelly Osbourne quit over the remarks and unnamed sources have accused Ms. Rancic of trying to channel perpetually politically incorrect yet hilarious former co-host, the late Joan Rivers, in a desperate attempt to be funny.

... and this is an actual Joan Rivers joke from Fashion Police

… and this is an actual Joan Rivers joke from Fashion Police

The latter could be getting to the heart of the matter. Which of us has not made some sort of offensive flub that unintentionally revealed our own prejudices or how ill-suited we were to public joke-telling? However, what made this flub particularly noteworthy was not only the willingness of the co-host to state it to everyone in the world but the fact that it was scripted. That’s right, Ms. Rancic apparently did not think of that line on her own but had it written specifically for her by one of the show’s…writers?

It’s true – someone sits in a room and actually gets paid for making up those kind of comments, jokes and/or mere witticisms… which sort of makes what was said a bit worse. Presumably, a professional joke scribe, director, crew member or network somebody might know better. Except when they don’t. Meaning, if one is going to traffic in borderline racist, sexist, and homophobic insults in order to get a few laughs and drive up the ratings – or one’s own pubic status – one has to take the hot hair heat that rises and inevitably blows back from employing that kind of strategy.

Ya hear that G?

Ya hear that G?

I remember working in marketing on a movie with the brilliantly talented actress Anne Bancroft, who had some really funny and interesting stories about her experiences over the years in show business that she shared in various press interviews. I mean, they were really good and they revealed small bits of herself again and again and again. But after a period of time I began to realize – wait a second, I already know this about her. Did I read it, did I dream it or was it…oh, right, it was essentially the same story. Savvy actress that she was, Ms. Bancroft learned early on the best strategy when faced with speaking about very personal experiences about you and your craft publicly. Give a few to them and keep the rest for yourself. Just update, alternate, embellish and recycle some of the best stuff a bit through the years and no one will ever notice. Except those whose job it is to go through the torture of countless interviews with you and most certainly they’d never tell. Oops.

It's ok if Tay-Tay says it, right?

It’s ok if Tay-Tay says it, right?

Of course, this isn’t a good strategy for the majority since most of us don’t have those kind of acting chops. Not to mention, she could also be very spontaneous and say hilarious and telling comments on the record at the right moment. But being a smart movie star she was also quite well aware of exactly how she came across and why. Always. It’s not about lying but owning who you are.

As one really high priced shrink once pointed out to me: There’s nothing wrong with thinking anything. But there’s also nothing wrong with taking a few minutes to think about whether you want or need to say it out loud.

Yes, it was expensive advice but worth every penny. I pass it on to you for free.

 

The Chair’s 10 Best of 2014

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Of course 10 best lists are bogus. After all, what exactly is “best?” Even the first dictionary definition itself can’t decide. It states:

BEST

  1. 
of the most excellent, effective, or desirable type or quality.

I don’t know about you but I find there is a hell of a lot of difference between excellent, effective and desirable. In fact, the moments in my life I can remember being at my most desirable in no way made me the most excellent person in the room – especially when that number was two. Truth be told and given what usually prompts human desire, I’d actually argue that the exact opposite was true.

I can recall once or twice being so excellent at something that it is hard to imagine someone wouldn’t have found me equally desirable. But wait, let’s forget that. If you’ve been in the presence of any writer at his or her most excellent you’d know it’s not a pretty sight. Hair askew, loved ones, friends and usually hygiene totally ignored. Not to mention common courtesy. Meaning – don’t even THINK about interrupting, much less BREATHING, because I will KILL YOU. Or worse, BLAME YOU for stopping the flow. Not to mention what the world will do to you if any more of this genius is lost from its most excellent source – Me.

I have no idea what you're talking about Chairy

I have no idea what you’re talking about Chairy

Finally, we’re left with effective and nothing about the word effective comes close to evoking best. Michael Bay is probably one of the most effective filmmakers to ever work in contemporary Hollywood but, uh – best? Well, you see how words deceive. And yes, he can take it. He married us for it. Which only proves that Edward Albee is the all-time best.

Here then in no particular order are my 10 best of the year. I define best as jarring, original, memorable and cool – to me. There is nothing scientific about it. It’s a purely subjective list. As are all those that deal in bests.

FILM: Birdman and Boyhood

Looking up

Looking up

No one except a few film critics, most of whom do not partake fully in life because they don’t have the time, have seen every film in any given year. But at least I see a lot. And I say these two stand above and beyond the pack for different reasons.

In the case of Boyhood, the feat of shooting a film with the same actors aging over a 12 year period, rewriting as you go, and emerging with anything coherent – much less emotionally affecting – is nothing but the best. It takes drive, focus and talent. Richard Linklater has always been an interesting and adept filmmaker but in this case he’s managed to circumvent the Hollywood system with a truly original approach to a universal story. Anyone can pick apart the movie’s faults, but no one in the narrative commercial world has had the nerve to take a path this original lately. In 2014, that’s my equivalent of the B word.

Birdman has stayed with me for months and I’m not quite sure why. I liked the film yet in teaching screenwriting have certainly been one of those jerks to – yes – pick it apart. Still, there is something about watching Michael Keaton, a former megastar of the eighties who my college age students now barely know, play an outlandish version of his public persona so heartbreakingly that it makes me occasionally want to weep. Yes, weep. I’m not a total cynic. This is a project that for all of its faults could have gone horribly wrong. Credit director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, another fearless chance taker, and a cast of actors working at the top of their game, for keeping the high wire act alive more times than not to its pretty thrilling results.

THE INTERNATIONAL STAGE: Malala

Yes, you are

Yes, you are

You’re a smart teenage girl from Pakistan who got shot in the head by the Taliban for speaking out for other girls and their education. You then endure a bunch of surgeries and manage to not only survive but to continue to speak your mind as you gain intelligence and, well, even more nerve (Note: As if that’s possible). Then several weeks ago, these same Taliban types shoot up a school and kill 141 people, mostly children, and you still continue to speak out. Not with speechifying anger but with calm wisdom and directness. This is why you win the Nobel Peace Prize before you are old enough to vote. And how the world begins to slowly change.

AMERICAN POLITICS: Elizabeth Warren

America's truthteller

America’s truthteller

Let’s have a show of hands – how many of you are still pissed off at the big banks and Wall Street but don’t know what to say or do about it? Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) does. This time she might have been unable to stop Congress from passing a bill several weeks ago that will once again deregulate Wall Street and allow major banks to engage in the kind of risky investments that almost brought down the economy more than six years ago, but that doesn’t mean she will the next time. She’s like the best and smartest teacher in school that you always remember because she was able to take a subject you never could understand and present it in a way that not only made it clear but made you became engaged. The reason for that is that for years she actually did teach at Harvard and innately understands how to simplify unnecessarily complicated principles to undergraduates – meaning the rest of us. Like all the best academics I have ever met, now Sen. Warren doesn’t fall for the fancy linguistic tricks or ill-conceived arguments the establishment class in her field consistently tries to pass off as absolute truth. She questions so we, in turn, learn to question. This is why she probably always gets high evals at the end of every year.

POP CULTURE LOSSES: Joan Rivers, Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman 

Gone but not forgotten

Gone but not forgotten

This is not the best but the WORST. Still, it needs to be included because of the ripple effect their deaths seemed to have had across the world. Doing great work in the field of entertainment puts you in public view and when you do it over a long period of time the world feels as if they really knew you and mourns accordingly. And perhaps we all did know them – at least partially. It’s an element of what made them all such outstanding artists.

Still, it is quite odd for three such unexpected celebrity deaths to occur in such a relatively short period of time by less than natural means. Flip the channels on television or the peruse the shelves of a film DVD library and you can’t help but run into these three and marvel at the talent as you simultaneously consider the sudden loss.   JR was in her early eighties, RW was in his early 60s and PSH was in his late forties. Yet in their own very individual ways they each were among the very best at what they did. Which is all any of us can hope for at any given moment in time.

TELEVISION: Lisa Kudrow and HBO’s The Comeback

Oh how we "cherish" you (sorry, couldn't help myself)

Oh how we “cherish” you (sorry, couldn’t help myself)

There is nothing currently on television that evokes the humor, pathos and general uneasy brilliant comic drama that Lisa Kudrow brings to her portrayal of actress/reality star Valerie Cherish on HBO’s The Comeback. And when I say nothing I mean her performance is unlike anything I (or you) have ever seen on TV (nee HBO) or pretty much anywhere.

This series has returned ten years after being cancelled after only running a year the first time around. That alone is remarkable. But nothing prepares you for the eight episode arc of the new season as you watch Valerie/Lisa endure the indignities of rising towards the top of a profession that often leaves little room for any real dignity (Note: How may professions do?). Or maybe she just chooses wrong. (Note: Who doesn’t sometimes?). Whatever the reason, she is simultaneously the underdog and her own worst enemy and it’s sad, recognizable, funny and uncomfortably cringe-worthy. Most of all – it’s real.

I will miss Valerie Cherish for everything she is and everything she is not. If you haven’t tuned in, do so. And for god sakes, given Lisa/Valerie the Emmy.

MEDICINE: Ebola Nurse Kaci Hickox

You ride that bike, girl.

You ride that bike, girl.

What can you say about a nurse who goes voluntarily to Africa to fight a deadly disease, returns to the US where she is put into mandatory quarantine by New Jersey governor Chris Christie (even though she showed no symptoms and did not test positive for the virus) and then publicly stands up to said well-known political bully without cursing him out or punching him in the face? That she’s my kind of gal? Needless to say.

If ever there was a face I wanted to punch...

If ever there was a face I wanted to punch…

For those who don’t recall, Gov. Christie insisted on quarantine for Nurse Hickox in a makeshift tent when she returned to the U.S., which caused her to go public and take a stand against the governor by defying his quarantine and returning home to Maine. She did all this with calm determination and the backing of medical facts despite the hysterical witch-hunts and political grandstanding that began swirling around her.

Then once she got to Maine, she and her boyfriend dared to take a bike ride while being hounded by a gaggle of media. And remain polite and calm. I shudder to think what I would have said. #GetChristieNoLove

MUSIC: Annie Lennox, Nostalgia

Click Play. Repeat. Click Play. Repeat.

Click Play. Repeat. Click Play. Repeat.

In the 1980s, Annie Lennox was the lead singer of The Eurythmics and known for huge hit records like Would I Lie To You. Once I saw her in concert where she leaned so far into the stage on one foot with her mic that I thought she’d fall over as she hit a note so raw and pitch perfect that you could hear an audible gasp throughout the entire concert hall. Some years later she went on her own and won a Grammy Award for best pop vocal for No More I Love Yous from her second solo album Medusa. She followed that with an Oscar some years after that for best original song, Into the West, from the last of the first three Lord of the Rings movies.

All that being said, it should come as no surprise that for me the best CD/download/album or whatever you want to call it of the year is hers. In Nostalgia she takes classics like I Put A Spell On You, You Belong To Me, Georgia on My Mind and Billie Holliday’s haunting song of the lynching of Black men in the Deep South, Strange Fruit, and presents them all in stripped down versions unlike anyone you have ever heard before. There are so few true real artists these days with worldwide commercial success. She’s one.

APP: Aaron Paul’s YB

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For free or by paying 99 cents for a more advanced version, you can download an app where actor Aaron Paul’s resonant baritone speaks phrases like Yo, bitch or Happy Holidays, Bitch or See ya, Bitch any time you want. Yes, I find this exciting.

See, when Breaking Bad ended its series run we also lost Paul’s Jessie Pinkman, the dumb as a fox crystal meth-cooking sidekick whose signature phrase, Yo Bitch, became a national obsession. A multiple Emmy winner and fan favorite, Paul raised almost $2 million for his wife’s charity, Kind Campaign, which helps young women in need, with a series of contests and giveaways that coincided with the final season. But after being stopped on the street, emailed and tweeted by thousands of people imploring him to curse them out with variations of his signature phrase he gave in and decided to generate some cash with it – for charity and, hopefully, for himself. Because even cursing people out loses its thrill after a while – and especially when they ask you to.

SOCIAL ACTIVITY: Protests 

Sad realities

Sad realities

The consecutive deaths of too many young Black males in the last year in numerous states by law enforcement has created both spontaneous and planned nationwide protests across the country. In the moment it feels as if this is doing nothing but letting off steam yet through the lens of history one can clearly see this is the American way to social justice and evolution.

I would not have thought this was quite true decades ago. But having been born at a time when the civil rights movement first began taking hold, and then living through the Vietnam War, Kent State, women’s rights, gay rights, AIDS, homelessness, nuclear proliferation and marriage equality, I’ve seen how it works. Societal shifts are only fueled through provocateurs that have a real and righteous point about injustice. Therefore it’s our job to take it to the streets, talk about it, write about it or even just write a check in order to make something happen. It moves at a snail’s pace but things ultimately evolve when we don’t give in or give up. #ICantBreathe.

NEWBORN BABY: Sam Van Buren

Forget Joe Cool.. meet Sam Cool

Forget Joe Cool.. meet Sam Cool

Who is Sam Van Buren, you might ask? Well, the coolest, snappiest and best-dressed baby I’ve ever seen – who happens to be the firstborn of my blog cohort and dear friend Holly Van Buren and her husband Michael.

Holly chooses the images and writes the captions for Notes and it might surprise you to know that she literally gave birth two months ago without missing a single week of choosing images, tagging and posting the blog. How is she able to do this along with everything else she is responsible for in her life – I HAVE NO IDEA!!   

It helps when Sam the Man looks like this...

It helps when Sam looks like this…

Sam the Man, as I call him, takes great photos because he is able to both smile and come off as a hipster all at the same time. Again, I have no idea how to do this. But it does give me hope that one day as he gets older he might teach me. That is if I am not too old. Do not say – too late.

GQ baby of the year

GQ baby of the year

For myself, Holly and our marketing director Samantha Rabstein – who has a few surprises in store for 2015 – that’s all he wrote. In 2014, that is.