Archive for the ‘movies’ category

Virtual Life

January 19, 2015

The holidays are over, and although we’re only halfway through the first month of 2015 I feel like I’m already falling behind. Each year I vow to get off to a stronger start on my writing and life goals, but I get distracted by college football bowl games, then the NFL playoffs, while systematically emptying the kitchen cabinet of accumulated Christmas gift cookies and candies. I often find myself in a funk too after spending time with my parents and siblings, temporarily reunited for a week or so at the end of each passing year.

It’s been tougher of late because my mother has been losing her short term memory as a result of Alzheimer’s. I first noticed signs of delusion years ago, but my father insisted nothing was wrong with her and doctors kept prescribing more and more drugs to treat whatever aches or pains she complained of. Meanwhile, he was taking more meds himself to sleep and deal with his own depression. I kept sending them articles and links to scientific studies that showed how important it was for older people to exercise and do physical activities to stave off common aging problems such as memory loss. That only angered my father even more. “You don’t know what it’s like getting old!” or he’d snidely cut me off with, “Oh, when did you become a doctor?”

The latter was probably a not-so-subtle jab at me for choosing to become a writer instead of a lawyer or some better paying profession they approved of. So I stopped offering any advice or help a long time ago, since they made it clear they weren’t interested in changing a damn thing about the way they were going to live out their remaining years. They have no hobbies, interests or desires to do anything other than sit in their living room and watch television. My mother used to read a lot, but a few years ago I recognized something was seriously wrong when we were talking about a book I knew she liked and she couldn’t recall whether she read it or not. That was the last time I bought her any books for Christmas or her birthdays.

Despite my differences with my parents, at least I used to be able to talk about books with Mom. She appreciated my intelligence and interest in writing more than my father, whose reading preferences  were Popular Mechanics and Popular Science magazines. She also used that mutual interest in books as an excuse to call and complain about being mistreated by my dad. Those conversations often ended with her in tears or becoming hysterical to the point that my father would pick up the extension and start yelling at her for twisting the truth. The sad irony is now she cannot recall all those arguments and accusations, and he must endure hearing her repeat the same questions over and over, day after day, week after week, while having to watch her all the time. It must be hell for both of them.

Yet when we get together for the annual Thanksgiving/Christmas dinners, everyone smiles, acts like things are fine, and Mom even makes jokes… repeatedly, while we all pretend she’s normal. Dad doesn’t say much. I can’t tell if it’s the meds or if he simply doesn’t feel like he has anything worth sharing. We sometimes break out old pictures and ask them to talk about those times, but neither seems to trust their fading memories.

Anyhow, I’m writing this because I saw a movie review for “Still Alice,” starring Julianne Moore. I’m not sure I want to see it since it hits so close to home. However, I read the book, “Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?” by Roz Chast, and have to say, it’s one of the best things I’ve read in a very long time.  Here’s the Amazon link. It’s a comic book that is funny, honest, humbling, observant, sad and truthful about the disease of being human. If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s, please get this book. I only wished I could have shared it with my mother.

As for my sibs, we’re all so busy with life and work, we don’t have much time to read all the books we know are supposed to be really good (I’ve got a stack from last Christmas I’m still trying to get through) so we try to talk about recent movies and TV shows we like. They’re always surprised at just how much TV my wife and I watch, but it’s not that hard to cram 6-7 hours of TV shows into 4 hours each evening if you DVR everything and fast forward through all the commercials, credits and redundant stuff. The fact is television can be a wonderful tool for entertainment, education and escapism. It can be a form of virtual life in itself.

Which brings me back to my folks and their chosen lifestyle of sitting in a dark room, blinds closed to keep the sunlight and outside world blocked out, eyes focused on the television. Okay, I can accept that. But why not make it the best experience possible then? I’ve suggested they get a better TV and offered to pay for high definition, got them a gift subscription to Netflix, and sent them recommendations on good movies I thought they would enjoy. Instead, they’re watching Fox News or CNN and banal junk.

I guess my point is, whatever you choose to do with your life, go all the way. In the end, when our memories flicker like dimming pixels on a screen, the only thing we will have are the transcendent moments when we felt we achieved something grand… be it real or not.



June 12, 2014

Grow, evolve, or die.

In essence, that’s perhaps the most important thing I learned from my first three Industry Insider story coach phone sessions (see prior post), in relation to writing better screenplays. But as I was reading a book my consultant had highly recommended — “Inside Story” by Dara Marks — I realized her observations of what makes for a compelling movie character, also applies to ourselves on a personal and professional level. Without getting into all the technical and esoteric details, it boils down to this: when people are in “stasis,” they stop growing. Once you stop growing, you are in a state of decay. Dying.

That goes for everything — love, relationships, work, hobbies, writing or art. It’s why we so often hit a wall when outwardly things appear pretty good, or at least normal, while inside there’s a gnawing dissatisfaction with the state of our life, career or significant other. Sometimes it’s the other person in a relationship who feels that way toward us, and we can’t understand why because we think: well, I haven’t changed, so what’s the problem? Of course, that’s the problem — maybe we haven’t continued to evolve and grow as a person or artist. Subconsciously, we detect that state of decay and it scares us to think we’re hanging on to something that is dying.

Which is why an affair or doing something risky, no matter how stupid or dangerous, makes us feel more alive for awhile. When we stop taking risks and “stasis” becomes the norm, we’re really avoiding the things that test who we are — the challenges that make us stronger even when we fail. It’s what make us heroes in our own personal stories. Sure, each of us has our flaws. But rising above those flaws is what gives us a sense of self-respect and makes others respect or love us.

Coincidentally (or not if you subscribe to Jung’s theories), I just saw the movie HER by Spike Jonze and the documentary TIM’S VERMEER this week courtesy of Netflix, while reading “Inside Story” and felt inspired by both, even though they are completely different in terms of story, medium, characters, and goals. Then again, perhaps not so different in some ways. In the end analysis, both are about the illusion of what is real and what is artifice.

In HER, a sensitive guy who dictates “beautifully handwritten letters” for other people is in stasis because his wife has left him, and he can’t seem to connect with anyone… until he falls in love with his new computer Operating System (OS). Scarlett Johansson is wonderful as the disembodied voice that blurs the lines between artificial intelligence and what seems like genuine human emotion. Joaquin Phoenix is terrific too in portraying a man who overcomes his fear of attachment because of being abandoned by his wife, and risks being branded a fool for professing his love for a computer OS.  But he is brought back to life by Samantha because she’s excited about seeing what it is to be alive through his eyes — or lens of his smart phone, to be more precise. Isn’t that what we love about being in love during the early stages of romance?

Anyhow, as much as I’d love to discuss HER more, I want you to get “Inside Story” and read that as a companion piece. Doesn’t matter what kind of stuff you write, it will make you a better, more thoughtful artist — and person. A lot of it will seem familiar at first, because she’s talking about basic elements of story-telling and why we connect to certain characters and their fates. And when you compare some of her statements to lines in HER about learning to “trust” in relation to love, you’ll swear Spike Jonze must have read the Dara Marks book. The further you get into her book, the more you’ll see how to integrate the “inner” character with the outer goals in your stories.

As for TIM’S VERMEER, it’s about a successful inventor’s quest to figure out how the great artist, Vermeer, may have painted his photo-realistic, richly detailed paintings. The idiosyncratic entrepreneur, Tim Jenison, made lots of money from creating video hardware — not exactly computer engineering stuff, but close enough for my HER comparisons. Others before him, such as artist David Hockney, speculated that Vermeer may have used some version of a camera obscura to recreate scenes on canvas… except there are logistical problems in matching colors. Tim had an idea that using a mirror in conjunction with the camera obscura could solve the problem. And it worked. He was able to recreate a Vermeer masterpiece, using this painstaking, time consuming process he came up with, even though he had never painted anything in his life and didn’t profess to have any artistic talent whatsoever.

Yet, just because he could duplicate the masterpiece, does Tim’s painting deserve to be called a work of art too? I don’t think so. Vermeer composed the scene, chose the models, the props, positioned them just so to get the desired lighting effect. That takes a true artist’s eye. I mean, Warhol wasn’t exactly creating his art from scratch either, and employed things like photography and silk screening. It’s not the “how” necessarily that makes something art, or the technique. It’s the effect that’s achieved through the thoughtful arrangement of elements to elicit a feeling… an emotion in the viewer, which makes it real. Even if it is all artifice and slight of hand, or the work of a hundred computer software engineers.


Rediscovering Mary Poppins

April 16, 2014

Last night, my wife and I watched SAVING MR. BANKS and we both cried at the end because the characters and emotions felt genuine. I read the script months ago, and had the same reaction — even though I had already read reviews that criticized the film for taking liberties with the true story it was based on, especially in regards to the author, Pamela Travers (a pen name for her book and clue to what the movie is actually about). I loved the screenplay for what it is: a well-crafted blueprint for a crowd-pleasing Disney brand movie. The pages I read moved me enough that I decided to watch the original MARY POPPINS before SAVING MR. BANKS was available on Netflix.

When MP was released in 1964, I was 7-years-old and my memory of seeing the film in a theater is literally a blur because I was near-sighted, and would not wear glasses until I was 12 (didn’t want to be called “four-eyes”). For some reason, I didn’t really connect with it, although I did have a crush on Julie Andrews… even now when you watch that film, she’s absolutely beautiful on screen. After all these years though, I wasn’t sure how it would play.

The first thing that struck me in the opening was the tone. It’s a bit darker and more poignant than I recalled. It’s also very surreal. Right away, I was drawn into its strangely straight-laced yet anything-goes world. Before long, I was telling my wife this was the most creative, inventive movie I’ve seen in a long time — more so than any number of recent Hollywood blockbusters and Oscar-nominated films. We both had been lamenting the dearth of fun, imaginative movies and were disappointed by critics’ picks like AMERICAN HUSTLE, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, NEBRASKA and AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY… all of which seemed overrated to me. (Too much “realness” when I’d rather find an escape from nasty, mean-spirited, profanity-laced harangues and plain old crankiness. Heck, I can get that at my own family gatherings so why would I want to pay to see it in a theater?)

The original MARY POPPINS is truly original in so many ways. Yeah, there are some numbers and scenes that could be trimmed a bit. But as I was watching it, I couldn’t help but wonder why they haven’t turned this into a Broadway Disney musical, now that the technology exists to do a lot of the movie magic on stage. For instance, a few years ago we saw SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, in which the Seurat painting comes to life through the use of video backdrops. Imagine the sequence where Dick Van Dyke dances with the cartoon penguins, transferred to the stage with holographic penguins or some high tech animation. Or imagine what they could do with Mary Poppins gliding down from above, holding her magic umbrella… and later the “Go Fly a Kite” finale with kites flying above the audience! I’d pay Broadway ticket prices to see that.

CORRECTION: Turns out MP was adapted for the stage back in 2006 and had a fairly long run. Just goes to show how out of touch I am with Broadway theater! Apparently, the production received mixed reviews, but it sounds like the special effects were imaginative and impressive. Wished I had seen it back then!

Back to SAVING MR. BANKS: After seeing MARY POPPINS, I had an even greater appreciation for the writers of that movie who had to deal with the prickly Mrs. Travers in adapting her book. I think SMB captures the essence of their challenge and the central conflict between her attachment to the book versus the Hollywood writers’ task of making the material fresh and fun for American palates, while retaining enough of the book’s major elements to appease Mrs. T’s staunchest fans as well as her. The dialogue and lyrics are witty, full of clever word play, yet also hint at deeper emotions and themes related to childhood and growing up. If you’re going to see SMB, I recommend you add MP to your Netflix queue first because you only get a taste of the words, images and songs that make MP a classic worth revisiting.

I know purists will say SAVING MR. BANKS sugar-coated the real story, but isn’t that what MARY POPPINS  is all about — a spoonful of sugar to make unpleasant realities go down a little easier?

Reasonable Facsimiles

December 6, 2013

Been awhile since my last post, mostly because I’ve been busy with my Career Changers TV show, and also because I haven’t had much motivation to blog about screenwriting or the entertainment biz in general. Lately, it feels like nearly everything I see on TV/movies, or read in “hot” scripts and amateur screenplays, or listen to that is supposed to be “new” music…. well, it all seems like pale imitations of better stuff that has been been amped up, dumbed down, and homogenized for a mass market with short term memories.

Okay, I know that’s a tired trope. And maybe it’s more of a reflection on how long I’ve been writing. As you get on in years, you can’t help comparing things you grew up liking with things that are in vogue. I suppose every generation thinks “their” art and creative ventures were more original than the next generation to come along. But it really hit home the past week on a personal level, causing me to ponder whether I still have the stomach for screenwriting in a business world dominated by the cold hard realities of commerce versus the idealistic notions I once had of creating art.

The clash of personal artistic ambition and what I do these days to make a buck came full circle last week in an unexpected venue: my  cameraman and I were shooting a segment on the Legends in Concerts Waikiki show, which features “tribute artists” who perform as Elvis, Britney Spears, Madonna, and Michael Jackson. The Chief Operating Officer of all the Legends shows worldwide, Brian Brigner, explained they don’t call them impersonators because of negative connotations associated with that word — i.e., con artists, drag queens who lip sync, comedians who do bad imitations of celebs, etc. In fact, these performers did all their own singing on stage, which has not always been the case with some of the stars they portray in the show who often rely on lip synching themselves because it is very difficult to dance, perform acrobatic moves and sing at the same time.

What made my interview with Brian even more interesting is that before he began working with Legends, he was managing and producing real music legends such as the Gatlin Brothers, Ronnie Milsap, and others who were huge country stars. He also had managed touring productions of big Broadway shows and ran live theater operations that offered a variety of “products” as he refers to shows and music acts. His start in show biz though came through the Indy car racing circuit… which actually makes sense. Fresh out of college, he decided he wanted to get involved with the business side of car racing, and that’s how he learned about marketing tie-ins to sponsors, packaging race car drivers as stars, putting people in seats, and so on. All the things you have to do in selling live theater shows — or movies for that matter.

I was really impressed with Brian’s professionalism and how smoothly the Legends show ran from start to finish. Everything was well organized, every performer and supporting cast member hit all their marks on cue, the band was note perfect, and the customers — mainland tourists, Australians, lots of Japanese — ate it up, squealing with delight when the look-alikes ventured into the audience to shake hands, kiss cheeks or accept a small stuffed koala bear as a token of appreciation for the Elvis imitator — er, tribute artist I mean. Truth be told, I enjoyed the show too.

But afterwards I flashed back to a script I wrote years ago that had been optioned by the writer of an iconic movie. I’ve blogged about what went down in the past, and the writer asked me to take his name out because he said there were some things that were inaccurate or might give the wrong impression of him. Rather than argue or ask which things I may have misremembered, I deleted those posts. Still, it was a script that to this day I believe was prescient and a smart commentary (or weird and bizarre at the very least) on the state of the entertainment biz back when I wrote it in the mid-1990s.

It was called I GOTTA BE ME and it was about a failed punk rocker stuck in a dead-end job, who becomes the poster boy for the ultimate “lifestyle makeover” company… which is really a front for a Disney-esque multimedia conglomerate whose real goal is to makeover entire cities, beginning with Hoboken, New Jersey, by brainwashing the residents into consuming their products from the cradle to the grave. That includes shows in which “look-alikes” replace dead stars to perpetuate the sales of their work, while remaking crappy TV shows and movies for a younger, dumber generation (they take over education and job training by privatizing government). The recycling metaphor is extended to how the corporation handles its biggest infrastructure headache: dealing with all the human waste produced by old people in Hoboken. So the CEO gets the brilliant idea of recycling shit into frozen yogurt, which they add an addictive ingredient to, then reselling it to the residents who produced it.

In my plot, the protag winds up in a Movie Coma, and the corporation replaces him with a look-alike — who does a better job of selling their product than the real guy. So they keep him in a coma, until he accidentally gets out of it and discovers the contract he signed allows them to use a Reasonable Facsimile of himself should he ever be unable to perform his duties as company spokesman/poster boy. When I look at the kind of scripts I’m currently trying to write to fit what I hear producers/agents/managers say they want, I start to wonder if I have become a Reasonable Facsimile of myself as a writer.

Needless to say, the writer/producer who optioned it was never able to get any traction with studios on the project. Yet when I look at the entertainment landscape today, I can’t help but think this is where we are and who we’ve become: mindless consumers who will swallow our own recycled crap if it’s dressed up with artificial flavorings, packaged in bright colors with cool graphics, and touted by the latest, hip celebs who get a piece of the action.

And you know why I was inspired to write this long, rambling missive? Last night I watched a documentary, GOOD OL’ FREDA, about the woman who was the Beatles’ secretary and fan club president for the 10 years they were together. Listening to her talk about the “lads” and seeing the old black and white photos of the four young guys made me yearn for a time when bands kind of just happened on their own, with no clear intention of conquering the music world or becoming a corporation unto themselves. They seemed so natural and authentic — the antithesis of music stars who aim for millions of YouTube views with each new release, regardless of how mediocre it is.

It got me to thinking about rock concerts back in the 60s and 70s, when bands and music events were often unpredictable, unruly affairs where nothing happened on schedule, musicians might be impaired or unable to perform… and even a bad show could seem special because you knew you were there to witness something unique. Sure, the band might flame out or never quite catch fire with the masses for whatever reason. But the glow from seeing the real thing — the originals — always stays with you.

Tasteful Nudity

July 18, 2013

Did that get your attention? Good, because I have something serious to say, although I did want to comment on the HBO series, Game of Thrones — which my wife and I are loving, now that we’ve finally caught up with it through Netflix. There are great visuals, intricate plots, violent (yet imaginative) battle scenes, and yes, a fair amount of gratuitous nudity and sex in certain episodes. It’s sort of like an R-rated version of Lord of the Rings for adults. At its heart though, is the dwarf character, who starts out as a wastrel and uses his wits as a way of compensating for his “half a man” stature. Watching him adapt and grow, metaphorically, into a cunning leader by using his skills of lying, deal-making and common sense observations, is inspiring. He’s the ultimate underdog, who relishes the Game. But his most important quality is empathy.

We root for Tyrion Lannister, a.k.a. “The Imp,” because he identifies with those who are mocked, beaten down or abused. He doesn’t get on his high horse or moralize about the fairness of life or offer empty platitudes about helping others. He just shows it by small gestures, pardon the pun. However, those little things he does are magnified by the pettiness of his bigger, stronger siblings and their might-makes-right approach to ruling. Every wannabe politician should study The Imp’s character arc.

Oh, where was I? Ah, yes… the real point of this post was to direct you to a documentary that is available on Netflix via instant streaming: Chasing Ice. For anyone who is a skeptic of global warming concerns or thinks Al Gore was exaggerating the threats posed by climate change when An Inconvenient Truth came out in 2006, all I can say is watch this movie. Now. Not only does it show proof that glaciers are melting — it’s happening much faster than anyone predicted. Sometimes, reality is scarier than any big budget disaster flick.

And that brings me to the latest Godzilla remake. The local TV “news” media in Hawaii has been all atwitter about the millions of dollars spent and hundreds of extras being employed while cameras roll in Waikiki, as part of future scenes of death and destruction coming to a theater near you (and will probably bomb like the last Godzilla remake). Wow, isn’t that great! We get to see Hawaii demolished in another overblown Hollywood exercise in crap-tastic recycling of familiar monsters and cliche action “heroes” who don’t seem to care much about threats to the human race until giant mutant creatures or hostile aliens show up.

So here’s my gripe: Destruction is easy. Making movies about fake disasters is fun and exciting for those who get to be part of the experience. But making people care about real catastrophes that are occurring right now is hard. We’d rather look away from evidence of actual threats to the planet and escape into apocalyptic fantasies than do something to address clear and present dangers to humanity. Imagine if we — or these giant entertainment companies — would just put a fraction of the time and money they spent on the fake destruction of Waikiki, into something constructive… like helping some of the homeless get off the street, or fixing our aging infrastructure, or —

I forgot. You’d have to be living in a fantasy world to think we should expect our leaders to engage the public and rally them toward doing something useful. Instead, we get politicians who show up on Waikiki film sets for photo ops and a chance to hobnob with Hollywood royalty. I can see that little dwarf, Tyrion Lannister, smirking at our folly while knowing “Winter is coming” — except in our case, winter is global warming, and rising sea levels.

If you want examples of real heroes, I nominate the filmmakers of Chasing Ice and An Inconvenient Truth. It requires true courage to tell people they have to wake up and take action before it’s too late.

Crappy Directing = EXTREME CLOSE-UP MANIA!

March 1, 2013

An old adage for screenwriters is don’t direct on the page — leave out camera angles, pans, zooms and CLOSE UP. Instead, describe your scene and actions in visual ways that convey how you “see” it played out on the big screen. Lately though, I feel like TV and movie directors are reading only the character names because it seems like every other shot in some films and a lot of TV series, are EXTREME CLOSE UPS of talking heads. In the Feb. 4 episode of The Following, sometimes half the screen was filled with shots of the BACK of Kevin Bacon’s head, unflattering profile shots of him, and more ECUs of some fat guy’s face.

When my wife and I went to see Les Miserables in a theater, it was because we expected to see an epic widescreen adaptation that brought the songs to life by showing us what it looked and felt like to be in that period of French history. During filming, actors on the set talked about the stench of rotting fish, which was part of the set designer’s efforts to make the movie as authentic as possible. So I had high hopes for the director’s vision… until I actually saw the movie. Between the silly handheld shaky cam effects and EXTREME CLOSE UPS, I actually got a headache and found myself closing my eyes so I could just listen to the music. On the rare occasions where we could see wide angle shots of the streets and city or characters interacting, we got a glimpse of the big screen experience Les Miz could have been. Alas, those moments were few and far between.

You might shrug it off as a matter of personal taste. As a writer, I disagree. If you write a scene that sets up conflict between characters, you want the audience to see the interplay and reactions — not just one head saying a line, followed by a cut to another head replying, with all the acting consisting of furrowed eyebrows, gritted teeth and other facial tics. I swear, when you watch Hawaii Five-O or The Following, the characters could be filmed in separate cities and spliced together without you even noticing — even when the two characters are supposed to be in the SAME CAR at the same time. What film school did these directors go to?!

In both of those TV series, the vast majority of shots are from the shoulder up. About the only time you see the characters’ legs is when they are running after someone or in fight scenes. Which is unfortunate, because good acting involves using the entire body. How a character moves or holds himself, their posture, fidgeting, can tell us a lot about who they are and what they’re really thinking or feeling. But the younger generation of directors (and writers, I think) believe it’s all about facial expressions and spouting snarky lines that are meant to show off the writer’s wit — not the character’s. It’s literally in-your-face, all surface, instant reactions. There are no bodies in their body of work, which makes their scenes as forgettable as the GIANT FACES that keep flashing on the screen.

Look at any of the classic films or TV series — especially comedies and sitcoms — that have stood the test of time, and you’ll hardly see any close-ups of talking heads, unless it is a particularly important or dramatic moment. That’s what used to make close-ups special. Now it’s just arbitrary. And unforgiving, especially for older or less attractive actors, thanks to high definition coupled with huge widescreen TVs in millions of homes these days. Moreover, the audiences are missing out on potentially funny or interesting bits of business they could be seeing. Watch some episodes from Seinfeld, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Bob Newhart, M*A*S*H, any Hitchcock movie, and you’ll notice the subtle interplay of supporting characters… or even things in the rooms or setting that are interesting. Then turn on The Following or Hawaii Five-O and you’ll get to count nose hairs and moles on BIG HEAD SHOTS instead.

Anyhow, just wanted to get that off my chest. I wish more critics and viewers would publicly complain via Twitter and Facebook sites connected to movies and TV shows. It’s like people who SEND EMAILS AND WRITE FACEBOOK POSTS IN ALL CAPS ALL THE TIME. Gets kind of annoying, doesn’t it?

Plastic Fantastic Lover

January 19, 2013

I was going to write a follow-up to my post about the new Black List script service that’s getting buzz because it offers another means for unrepped screenwriters to be discovered by Hollywood. Then former manager Jason Scoggins, who’s been tracking script sales through, launched Spec Scout, which also gives writers a chance to have their screenplays rated by professional readers, so I was waiting for my reviews to compare the two (between contests, BL and Spec Scout, I’m beginning to wonder if there are enough qualified readers to go around). In short, I had mixed results with both, which I’ll eventually write about.

However, the big news here in Hawaii is all about Manti Te’o and the revelation that his dead girlfriend never actually existed. They interrupted regular programming to broadcast the Notre Dame press conference because his life story had been built up to mythical proportions in the lead-up to the college football national championship game when number one ND got shellacked by Alabama. Manti is a terrific linebacker and by all accounts is a model citizen — such a good guy that you almost could feel he was going to get blindsided. Early into my recovery, one of the things I learned from AA is that we shouldn’t idolize any role models or put anyone on a pedestal, because humans are, well… human. We all have feet of clay, and to some degree we are all delusional. Especially writers and artists.

Ironically, the ones who have been the hardest on MT, are the so-called sports fans who spend most of their petty lives wrapped up in their own fantasy world of athletes and teams they follow as devoutly as religious fanatics or groupies that bow down to the “gods” they each worship. On sports message boards, these grown men hide behind made-up tough-sounding screen names and often post images of nubile young ladies they lust after in their own puerile fantasies. Yet they blast MT for being naive and gullible, and ask how he could be so stupid to fall for a girl he only met online and spoke to on the phone. This coming from guys who walk around in public wearing shirts with the names and jersey numbers of men they follow in fantasy sports leagues, while going into very real fits of anger or depression when “their” team loses.

It also reminded me of something a professor said in my Philosophy of Art class at Montclair State College, many years ago. The topic was Platonic love, I think, and he pointed out that the essence of love is desire. And what is desire? It’s wanting something you don’t yet have or cannot attain because of obstacles that make the yearning even stronger. In the Age of Facebook, it’s even easier to succumb to desire and yearning for someone who isn’t physically attainable because of actual distance or self-imposed limitations (oh, yeah, the dreaded lost love or first love from school days who reconnects via FB!). Little messages and email exchanges take on a life of their own in our imaginations as we fill in the details to suit our delusions and need to feel loved or appreciated. The problem with real flesh and blood relationships is they get messy because our flaws become all too apparent when we come together in the physical world.

Which brings me to the delusions of writers. It’s both necessary and unfortunate we must create fictitious identities for ourselves to survive criticism by others, who in their own universe deem themselves worthy of judging our work (for a small fee, of course). It’s necessary to believe in your own talent when no one else does, because in the end, it doesn’t really matter what others say. Life will go on, you will succeed or not on your own merits, and we all die sooner or later.

Having read the feedback from “professional” readers at BL and Spec Scout, I can honestly say some had good suggestions and pointed out things that could be improved; and some didn’t seem to know much about screenwriting or writing in general. It was as if they took a few film classes in college, read a smattering of books, cribbed notes from agents/managers, and voila —  they “knew” what constituted great writing. What they’ve really learned is how to come up with more creative ways to say “no” and pass on stuff they personally didn’t like or get — or more precisely, didn’t think the agents and producers they work for would like.

Now don’t misquote me… I’ll be the first to say 90 percent of the scripts and book drafts out there aren’t very good. But when I first began writing scripts, we talked about the goal being “workable material,” which I think is much closer to the reality of movie making. Screenplays aren’t novels. They are blueprints for directors, producers, actors and crews of people to construct an elaborate illusion from. True, bad scripts will never become good movies — and good scripts sometimes become terrible films. But rarely do any scripts, be it Nicholl Fellows or Oscar winners, achieve greatness on the page alone. It takes real people to breathe life and energy into our words. It takes conflict between directors, producers and actors to find — or create — actual subtext as opposed to what some reader thinks is subtext (or lack thereof).

You want proof? Take a list of movies made from Black List scripts or films written by Nicholl Fellows in the past few years, then look at their Netflix ratings by the general public. What you will find is the vast majority of movies — even the most popular rentals — are usually coming in at between 2 to 3 (on a scale of 1 to 5). Also, many of the films that do get 4 or 5 stars are documentaries… such as CATFISH, which I was recommending to people on Twitter and Facebook two years ago. Maybe it’s because reality is often more interesting than comic book stories that producers want to remake into modern myths (most just turn out to be tedious, overblown CGI exercises that require wearing plastic glasses).

Funny how CATFISH is now part of the lexicon, while so many blockbuster summer movies were forgotten the week after they came out. When it comes to judging original material, the truth is Hollywood agents/producers/readers aren’t very good at predicting what will be a hit, or what will stand the test of time. If they were as smart as they would like you to believe they are, 90 percent of the movies released would be rated higher than 2 or 3 on Netflix, and would have made more money than they did.

Anyhow, for some reason, the old Jefferson Airplane song, “Plastic Fantastic Lover” came into mind just before I wrote this blog. It may be about television… or computers? I’m not sure, but after all these years, it seems relevant again. That, my friends, is art.

Her neon mouth with the blinking soft smile
Is nothing but an electric sign
You could say she has an individual style
She’s part of a colorful time

Super-sealed lady, chrome-color clothes
You wear ’cause you have no other
But I suppose no one knows
You’re my plastic fantastic lover

Your rattlin’ cough never shuts off
Is nothin’ but a used machine
Your aluminum finish, slightly diminished
Is the best I ever have seen

Cosmetic baby plugged into me
And never ever find another
And I realize no one’s wise
To my plastic fantastic lover

The electrical dust is starting to rust
Her trapezoid thermometer taste
All the red tape is mechanical rape
Of the TV program waste

Data control and IBM
Science is mankind’s brother
But all I see is drainin’ me
On my plastic fantastic lover