December 30, 2007

Striking while the iron is hot

You knew it was bound to happen.

Well, at least, I did. :-)

So, for February Sweeps, the WGA is asking it's members to start producing webisode series en mass, that will all be broadcast online at MySpace TV under the moniker of "Strike TV" - the content will be free and the ad revenue generated will go to support many of the other members of the industry (directors, actors, below-the-line) who've been put out of work because of the strike. But the creators own all of the content and, I believe, are free to put it up on other venues where they can pull their own ad revenue.

Details at

So, if you or someone you know is a member of the WGA, they'd better hop to it.

Hell, if I was a member of the guild, I'd be rolling out my web series (i.e the one I want to start shooting next month) as quickly as possible in the hopes of being one of the first new hits on this brand new "network". Opportunities like this don't come often.

December 24, 2007

My Gift To You

I have three gifts to give on this Christmas morning.

But first, a statement of the obvious:

I'm a writer.

I wrote my first screenplay when I was 21, at the end of my senior year in college. I'd taken some film and video production classes, I owned a camcorder, and I figured I'd just round up my family & friends as cast & crew and just shoot it.

No lights. No editing equipment. No budget for food or craft services or costumes. No rehearsals or stunt coordination.

Ah, to be young and naive.

Anyway, it never happened, largely because I think the guy I most wanted to play the lead probably believed I cast him because he was too similar to the unsympathetic character he'd be playing (which is, of course, why I wanted him), so he turned it down. Could never get these non actors and non film crew to be totally motivated to labor for me for free.

But, after the production sort of fell apart, I started to look at the script a bit closer, and something about it just didn't seem quite..... real.

I realized that I didn't really know enough about acting to truly evaluate whether my script was good material for someone to create a good performance. Thus began my introduction to acting as a student at the 12 Miles West Theater company in Montclair, New Jersey's Luna Stage under the tutelage of my dear coach and thespian extraordinaire Jackie Knox.

Funny - as I'm writing this and looking for the links, I see all the changes that have happened in the last 11 years since I first walked into that little black box theater. Jackie left the company, started a family, & moved them and her acting studio down to my alma mater, Old Nassau. 12 Miles West lost their lease and is looking for a permanent home, temporarily housed in Madison, NJ. Luna Stage has become its own company, with its own classes. And I, of course, have moved to the City of Angels.

11 years.

One of my little cousins just celebrated her 10th birthday last week. She didn't even exist when I took my first acting class. Tonight, she was passing out her own Christmas cards and wrapping gifts for her relatives. A whole little person with her own agenda.

11 years.

During that class, I had the opportunity to read Sanford Meisner on Acting, by the great American "Method" coach. And, aside from the various techniques and methods described, there was one passage in that book that fundamentally altered my life. To paraphrase, Meisner said that the key to any art is understanding that it takes 10 years of doing it, constantly, to become a master.

10 years.

Up to that point, I'd lived my life in these neat little 4 year increments. 4 years of high school. 4 years of college. I was in the middle of what would eventually be 4 years as an IT consultant during the internet boom that coincided with an on-again, off-again long distance relationship that finally went nuclear after 4 years.

10 years just seemed like an outrageously long time at the time.

And yet, in the ensuing decade, life has happened.

And what is art, if it is not about life?

I recently saw a Flamenco show at El Cid in Los Angeles, and, while all three dancers were fantastically skilled, there was a weight to the older woman, a profoundness, a substance to her performance that her younger, faster, more agile counterpart lacked.

She was real.

She was


Before that, I saw this music video

Somewhere around the 2:45 mark in that video, Beyonce starts a dance routine that literally had me rocking back on my hips with my mouth open saying "I want to WRITE like THAT!!!"

Before that, as I was about to start the umpteenth re-write of the project I mentioned in this post, I recruited my significant other at the time, who is an incredibly accomplished (I mean, Award-winning) actress to help me do a little read-through of the script. I knew it was good, but, just like my 1st screenplay back in the day, I knew it was missing something.

So, before we read it through, she sat for a moment and, for lack of a better term, CHANNELED THE SPIRIT of my central antagonist.

Let me repeat that: she CHANNELED THE SPIRIT of my central antagonist.

I mean, literally, for a few moments, she became him.

I've been working on this particular script since 8 days before 9/11, but, that day, I actually met the villain of my movie, face to face, in my living room.

And I'm not afraid to say, that scared the piss out of me.

And, afterwards, she told me that things like that are part of the reason she took a break from acting, because letting someone like that get inside you begins to take its toll after a while.

Now, I'm sure I know what some of you are thinking. And if you can't go there with me on this particular Macroscope post, trust me, I understand. There was a time not long ago when even I wouldn't have read past this paragraph, so don't sweat it if you're not prepared for where I'm going with this. To paraphrase Jesus, "The Word is only intended for those who can hear, and those who can' was never intended for them in the first place."

Of course, those who know me know that probably my favorite Bible verse is the first verse of the first chapter of The Gospel according to John:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

In other words, God is a writer.

Not only is God a writer, but God is also The Story.

And The Story was already there from the very beginning.

Just like Alan Moore and Warren Ellis seem to be suggesting in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier and Planetary, respectively, the stories we tell already exist before we ever put pad to pen. If we want them to be MORE, we have to align ourselves with what they truly want to be.

When I wrote my first screenplay while in film school, I'd had it outlined and structured down to the Nth detail. But when I actually started writing it, something happened. As I like to say now, when I write, there's a point at which a threshold is crossed and, even though my flesh & blood body are still sitting at a keyboard, and then going to the dinner table and then maybe watering my front lawn, I am now, at that moment, actually INSIDE the story. So, by the time I came up for air and delivered my first draft, not only was is an outrageous 153 pages long, but the final 30 pages has nothing to do with my original outline at all. The story jumps off of the path I'd laid for it and literally snowboards down the side of a mountain into an area of my own soul that I didn't even know existed.

At the time, I told my writing group that I really don't know how that happened. I mean, it's almost as if I'd taken a nap and someone else had written the final act of the film.

Today, I often find myself advising my other writing friends to stop fighting with the story. It's a fully formed thing with its own agenda. And, just like I advised one of my aunts who's stressing out because her child's future may not be what she had planned, your babies have their own path. You just have to relax and be there to help illuminate it for them.

So, as I began to embark on the final round of re-writes on this film before we try to put it in front of a camera next year, I realized that, for this script in particular, even though I'd spent much time inside the story, I'd never really tried to actually live inside the main character. And that was the missing piece. As John Travolta said in the teaser trailer for "Face/Off": I must become him.

I tried it, and suddenly, I saw the film in a whole new light. It's like, the spine of the story had always been there on the page, I'd just been too blind pursuing my own agenda to see what it really wanted to be.

But, then, to start re-writing, I also had to do what my ex had done - I had to be inside the villain for a time, too. I had to make him just as real and as human.

It was a meditation.

And, after breathing through it and turning inward, when I'd let myself personally experience the horrors that made that character into a monster.... when I finished the mediation, I was aware that my face was sore.

Because my mouth had been open in a silent scream the entire time and I hadn't even realized it.

I'm not even going to get into the story about how a Tarot card told me that THIS was the script I had to write at this moment. :-)

As I was having lunch with a friend who's a network exec, I told her that I finally understood that storytelling and writing at the highest level, the one that actually moves hearts and touches souls, is actually an exercise in magic.

It's why so many people in Hollywood who pay the bills don't understand, and, consequently, don't respect writing. They know it's necessary, but it's not something you can really break down and measure and computate. To them, it's witchcraft. Literally.

So, my first gift is for every writer out there, and it's little piece of self-knowledge: If you are a writer, and you ascribe to the highest that our art has to offer, you are a magician. Like Merlin. Plain and simple.

And even if King Arthur didn't understand what Merlin did, he damn well knew he couldn't rule without him, which is why Merlin ALWAYS had a preferred seat near the King at the Round Table.

AMPTP, take note. The writers are the ones who make it all possible. The motion picture industry as we know it today simply would not exist without writers. The debt that everyone who makes their fortunes in filmmaking owes to writing can NEVER, EVER be fully repaid.

But I'm willing to bet that the WGA will gladly put the producers on some sort of installment plan. :-)

My second gift is for everyone, and it's this: If you have ever told a story to another soul, even if it was as simple as calling your sister and complaining about your day at work, then you, too, are also a writer.

Raw & lacking formal training? Perhaps. And not necessarily in the sense of a paid script doctor or bestselling novelist. But you are a writer, nonetheless. And all rights and privileges as described above apply.

So write.

Tell your story. Who cares if it's not in iambic pentameter? So what if it's just about how much your mother-in-law is driving you mad? Nothing, literally nothing, is more important than opening your soul and sharing it to let the sun shine in. I know some say "It won't change things if I say it". And my response is, you have no idea how much your life can change by simply expressing what's in your heart. How could you if you've never done it?

And my final gift is a hand-me-down, but maybe the best one I've ever gotten. And this is for all the writers (i.e. everybody)

When my previously mentioned ex was still just the cute but strange girl in the cubicle next door, she once told me that she could tell that I believed that the screenplay I was working on was going to save my life. And, as much as I wanted to deny it, she was right. "THIS script will be the one that sells and brings me money, accolades, respect, success, love, and eternal happiness." All in that order.

And she pointed out that, because I was so fixated on the script, I was neglecting my life in the process. And, again, she was right - I was broke, overweight, and dying in a dead-end job at the time.

But, as the scripture says "The Word IS God".

In other words, you ARE The Story.

And the story is only a reflection of you.

So, before you put all of your energy into writing that screenplay, or that song, or getting that part, or that promotion, or that bonus, or that car, or that house, or that man, or that kiss, or that new pair of shoes.... before you devote your entire focus to all of these things outside of yourself, take care of yourself first.

Write your life.


Write down what you want to happen in your life. If it's your dream date, write down how it all plays out perfectly. If it's the launch of your business, write down how easily and smoothly and beautifully and successfully it occurs. If it's selling your screenplay, write down and describe the moment when you get the call, what the check looks like when you're holding it in your hand.

If you're a member of the Writers Guild of America, fire up that copy of Final Draft and write a scene where YOU, the screenwriter, are the main character, and you are getting residual checks for iTunes downloads of your show that are phatter and richer than you ever dreamed possible.

(In fact, maybe the folks over at UnitedHollywood should put up a wiki or something where the WGA rank & file can log on and write down their positive strike resolution fantasies, i.e. the ones where you get a shitload of money & respect, not the ones where you draw & quarter Nick Counter, because, after all, it's not about him, it's about YOU, so stop giving him all of your power. He's like Freddie in the original Nightmare on Elm Street. Stop giving him the power to be your Bogeyman and he'll become irrelevant. Just a suggestion).

And when you've written these beautiful scenes, read them to yourselves as many times as you can. And feel good just imagining.

"Wouldn't it be nice if this were really happening exactly the way I wrote it?"

All of that good energy has got to go somewhere.

In short, this Christmas, practice some magic on yourselves.

After all, this is the season of miracles.

This is my gift to you all.

Now I can go to bed. :-)

Ho, ho, ho.

December 22, 2007

While we're talking about sci-fi....

I blogged about this over the summer, but I really feel like this was one of the most overlooked films of the year. This is something you should really see in a theater, but catch it however you can.

December 21, 2007

What Happened To The Future?

So, I'm going to do something a little different with this particular post. This time, I'm actively seeking your opinions.

But first, of course, comes MY opinion. :-)

I think this particular train of thought started for me after watching the special features on the anniversary DVD for Ridley Scott's Alien. In an interview with the original screenwriter, Dan O'Bannon, he mentioned that he drew from a number of influences for inspiration for that story. In particular, a wild '60's Italian sci-fi film called "Planet of The Vampires" by Mario Bava, and "Strange Relations" a collection of short stories about the, shall we say, complications created by human/extraterrestrial sexual intercourse by sci-fi novelist Philip Jose Farmer.

At one point, O'Bannon was also involved in Alejandro Jodorowsky's attempt in the mid 70's to adapt Frank Herbert's "Dune" for the screen, and had actually been trying to adapt "Total Recall" from Philip K. Dick's short story, "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" with Ron Shussett at least since they worked on "Alien".

What really struck me was that O'Bannon had drawn on an incredibly diverse body of written work in science fiction for his films and, as such, had helped usher in a real renaissance of sci-fi films: really original, groundbreaking ideas coupled with major studio-scale budgets for films aimed at adults as opposed to just more expensive Saturday morning cartoons like the original Star Wars.

Fast forward to a month or so ago, when I finally got to see the remastered version of "Blade Runner" on the big screen. And, as beautiful as that film is to behold, I was suddenly aware that Blade Runner represented a somewhat sad milestone, because virtually every sci-fi film that's been made ever since seems like it occupies the same world as "Blade Runner". It's like, it's so amazing, that everybody decided they weren't interested in exploring any new worlds anymore - this one will do just fine.

Consider for a moment why the original "Star Trek" has managed to survive for 40 years, but why "Enterprise" died a painful death: Roddenberry was creating and exploring a totally new world, while "Enterprise" was simply retracing the lines on a masterpiece.

Personally, I find this trend of "inhabiting" instead of "exploring", bleeds over into all sorts of genres & mediums. As Mark Millar stated recently, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby were introducing a new world, or dimension, or race in almost every issue of their 100 issue run on "Fantastic Four" during the late 60's, but most of the writers who've followed them on those books have simply found new ways to recombine the same elements that Stan & Jack created rather than adding to the pantheon. Someone once argued that George Lucas should open up the licensing for "Star Wars" so that other filmmakers can tell stories in the world he created (as opposed to creating their own worlds). And, aside from perhaps "The Dark Tower", who has recently written anything that can actually be considered legitimate fantasy that doesn't look like just another province in Tolkien's Middle Earth?

What's curious to me is that, particularly in the realm of comics, most prominent American writers are more than happy to reuse & repackage old superhero stories & characters, while the Brits like Moore, Millar, Grant Morrison, & Warren Ellis seem much more willing to throw something new and crazy out there (e.g. We3, The Filth, Invisibles, Ocean, Ministry of Space, etc.)

But what really drove the point home to me was the latest segment in Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill's "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen": "The Black Dossier". Moore just floods the story with sci-fi, fantasy, and pop culture figures from the turn of the century, and it's just a world teeming with life and new ideas. At the beginning of the modern scientific age, it seemed as if nearly everyone had an idea of what was possible and just let their imaginations run wild.

So, I have two questions:
1. has the technology advanced so far that, as William Gibson suggested at the time he released "Pattern Recognition", we now actually live in a sci-fi world, so there's no more room to imagine a big future? (Personally, I think that's a load of B.S., but I'm open to hear arguments to the contrary)

2. Where are the new, big ideas of the future coming from now? Are there books or magazines that I'm overlooking?

Consider this an open discussion. So, wherever you happen to see this post (email, macroscope, facebook, or myspace) feel free to comment or pontificate out loud.

November 27, 2007

The Spirit of The Age

A few months back, one of my myspace friends brought to my attention a pair of online feature length films - "America: Freedom to Fascism" and "Zeitgeist".

Now, as some of you know, I've pulled back a lot from my "Dean for America" days, in terms of my political activism and such, but I'm a sucker for a good documentary and I always obey instructions from beautiful women (ladies, take note, but don't abuse! :-)), so I checked them out.

Now, "America: Freedom to Fascism" is, for the most part, a tax protest film. Again, for long time readers of my other blog, you all know that tax policy is a pet peeve of mine, and not the way that you might expect. Even as someone who's had my own run-ins with the IRS over the years (and thank God THAT'S finally cleared up), I firmly believe that paying fair taxes is, in principle, a fundamentally patriotic act. Citizenship is a privilege, blessing us with all of the things contained in the Bill of Rights and, for those of us fortunate enough to make it, the promise of prosperity in a free market economy. Of course, free markets only work if certain people don't succeed, so it is the responsiblity of those who do succeed, largely at the expense of others, to return a portion of that prosperity to promote, as they say, "the general welfare" - which largely includes things that are in the best interests of everyone in the society, but, more often than not, there's no profit to be gained by doing it so no private entity would ever try to make a business out of it. Things like public assistance, infrastructure maintenance, etc.

In short, America is a club, and your income taxes are your membership fees. And, the higher your club status is, the higher your fees.

And, let's be honest, compared to the rest of the industrialized world, our tax rates are extremely low.

Is the system perfect? Clearly not. There is tremendous inequity in the tax code right now, where labor & wages are taxed at a higher rate than accumulated wealth. And don't even get me started on corporate or farm subsidies. And government funds are perpetually misappropriated by lawmakers for pork barrel spending and the seemingly generational cycle of frivolous wars.

But, the fact of the matter is, all of those issues could be largely corrected by a more informed and engaged electorate who made their representatives act in a more responsible manner with their money.

So, the minute that film opens with a guy actively looking for the law that requires him to pay taxes... well, clearly he and I are coming from different perspectives.

(incidentally, the law he's looking for is The Internal Revenue Code of 1939).

Did I mention that the filmmaker in question, Aaron Russo, had about $2 million in tax liens he owed to the IRS, prior to making this movie?

"Me thinks he doth protest too much"

But I'll get back to Mr. Russo in a minute.

Point being, I kind of slammed that first film, and since I could never seem to find any information about what exactly the other film, "Zeitgeist", was about without actually watching the entire freakin' movie, I kind of let that one go.

Until about three weeks ago, when, as a result of a chance meeting during AFI FEST, I got to go to the closing night gala of the Artivist Film Festival - basically, a festival for films focusing on social & political activism. It was a rockin' good time (especially the reception afterwards, where I was deliberately trying to get a cute girl to give up her dirty secrets in front of her boyfriend during a game of "I Never" - like I said, I'm naughty sometimes. ) - but the big winner of the festival was, you guessed it, "Zeitgeist".

My new friend who helped organize the event said he'd gone to AFI FEST to avoid the protests outside of his own festival, especially since the director of Zeitgeist was allegedly getting death threats.


Since they had some free copies, I got a DVD and finally camped out to watch it this weekend.

The 2nd & 3rd sections of Zeitgeist are kissing cousins to "America: Freedom to Fascism" - it's all about 9/11 conspiracy theories and how the Federal Reserve and the Income Tax Code are all a massive scam intended to extract wealth from the population at large to finance the construction of a one-world government that controls the population with implanted electronic trackers.

So, first a comment about 9/11 conspiracy theories: I remember when the whole thing first happened, and one of my friends immediately said that he thought the Federal government had something to do with it. And, at the time, I just rolled my eyes and said, "Come ON, man! Even if you think Bush is a bad president, do you really think he would actively allow the murder of THREE THOUSAND AMERICAN CITIZENS?!?!?"

That was 2001.

As of today, three thousand, eight hundred, and seventy-six American citizens have been killed in Iraq.


I don't know the details of the physics and the arguments about airplanes and NORAD and missiles and controlled demolitions. Frankly, I don't care.

All I know is, the president has demonstrated that he is a man who will do just about anything that will advance his own agenda.

And a man who will do anything, by definition, is a man who cannot be trusted.

Section 3 of Zeitgeist is interesting, because, in one instance, they site someone who interviewed this guy Nicholas Rockefeller, who's supposed to be part of this international banking cabal, where he basically admits that, yes, we want to enslave the world. And, who was the interviewer? AARON RUSSO, the director of "America: Freedom to Fascism"!

Having said all of that, the idea that the US Treasury actually outsources the creation of our currency to a gi-normous private bank is, to put it mildly, unsettling.

But, the section of Zeitgeist that was far and away more interesting to me was the first, which compares the gospels about Jesus' life to other mythological saviors in other, earlier cultures around the world, all of which seem to draw their essential features from various elements, symbols, and positions in astrology.

Of course, he ends by saying that Jesus is, in fact, yet another hoax constructed by the church and the powers that be to control the masses.

I'm reminded of a time, years ago, when my brother and many of my cousins had a real mad-on about the Book of Revelations and the Anti-Christ and the end of days. It seemed like every time I came home, there was new evidence that some new person was really the Anti-Christ. One time, it was The Pope. Another time, it was Prince Charles. Before that, I think it was Ronald Reagan.

Until, I finally asked my brother, let's pretend that someone could give you irrefutable proof that a given person was the Anti-Christ, and you had an exact date and time for The Rapture. Assuming that you know all of this.

How would your life be different?

You're expending all of this energy trying to uncover this hidden knowledge (or, more specifically, to uncover substantive proof to verify something that you're already convinced is true). How would obtaining this proof change your life?

He didn't have an answer.

And it occurred to me that, for conspiracy theorists, the proof isn't for them. It's for everybody else. They already know the answer, but no one else believes them. So they're trying to find the proof that will make everyone else say "OMG! You were right all along! How could I have been so blind, when you saw it all so clearly?!?!"

In short, they're evangelists.

And, like so many evangelists, they're own faith is completely dependent upon everyone else believing what they believe. Because, of course, they're right.

But, in the end, it's an empty pursuit.

Whether Jesus was an actual, flesh & blood historical figure or not (and, in the end, does it really matter? Just like those brothers who are trying to argue that Jesus had to be of African descent because Revelations 1:16 said he had "feet like unto fine brass".... while ignoring the rest of the description in verses that said he had "eyes as a flame of fire" and "His voice as the sound of many waters And He had in His right hand seven stars: and out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword" - sometimes, I wonder how much religious intolerance and argument could be eliminated if we just made a class called "Reading and Interpreting Poetry" a graduation requirement in every school in America so people can recognize a fucking figure of speech when they see it? But I digress....)

Whether he was historical or not, one of my favorite quotes from Jesus is (and I'm seriously paraphrasing) "The Word is intended for those who can hear it. And those who cannot, it was never intended for them in the first place".

So many of us spend so much time trying to convince everyone else that we're right. We advocate and plead and build flowcharts and make 2 hour movies that we give away for free on the internet or blow an entire day writing incredibly elaborate blog postings on the desperate hope that someone, ANYONE, will listen to us and believe.

Imagine what our lives would be like if we redirected all of that effort back into ourselves. How much more powerful we could be. How transformed we would be. How inspirational our very presence would be.

Our very lives could say more, and move more people, than any film ever could.

I told my brother, as far as you're concerned, irrespective of the signs, for you, the end times are the day you die. So, rather than expending all of this energy, like Prince said:
Instead of asking him how much of your time is left
Ask him how much of your mind, baby!

And, at that point, when you REALLY know who you are, and what you're capable of, who gives a fuck about the fucking Illuminati or the Tax Code or Building 7?

And that's what I love about the very end of Zeitgeist - because, in the midst of all of this awful evidence, the filmmaker offers a moment of inspiration, to recognize our true selves, our true divinity, with a quote from Carl Sagan where he says that the concepts of division are fading away to a sense of a universal whole, and that a single organism at war with itself cannot survive.

I think the Zeitgeist guy is on to something bigger than even he may realize. And when he understands that, when he speaks to the Nicholas Rockefellers of the world, at that very instant, Rockefeller is listening to God, at the same time that the Zeitgeist guy is speaking to God....

...when he understands THAT fact...

Well, let's just say, I want to see THAT movie.

And, when I get to the point where I look at George W. Bush giving a speech, and I know that, in that instant, God is watching God talking to God....

Let's just say, I'll have a different kind of blog post to make that day. :-)

p.s. Thanks, songstress.

November 09, 2007

Strike Bullet Points

  • For those of you who don't live in Los Angeles, the skyscraper that has its top three floors vaporized at the end of the movie "Die Hard" is, in fact, the corporate headquarters for 20th Century Fox. Can I say it was more than a little surreal to take part in some direct action on the doorstep of Nakatomi Plaza. It's an interesting neighborhood, Century City: the bohemeth talent agency, CAA, and MGM are all on the same street as Fox Plaza, within about two blockf of each other. HBO and Comedy Central are in the skyscrapers around the corner, and I believe Endeavor (another big talent agency) is around the other corner. At the end of the block is the Fox Studio lot.
  • So, I parked at a nearby mall and hoofed it the rest of the way - Showrunner sighting 1: Carlton Cuse, co-executive producer for "Lost", had the right idea and brought his bicycle, zipping past the rest of the pedestrian scribes.
  • They say that 3,000 guild members have been walking the lines in front of every studio around town, but, today, they asked them all to come to Fox as a show of force.
  • Who knew a strike could be so entertaining? Tom Morello & Zach De La Rocha from Rage Against The Machine showed up, pledged their support, and did a little impromtu show, including an acoustic version of "Bulls on Parade". That rocked!
  • I think that was Jonathan Gries just over my shoulder. Saw Larry David & Dennis Haysbert in the crowd. SAG is also making their presence felt today, although I overheard one writer say that, because former SAG president Melissa Gilbert negotiated an interim agreement with the studios during the last contract renewal, she pushed the SAG negotiation period ahead by 9 months - effectively cutting our negotiating power in half. Thanks, Melissa. No wonder she didn't get re-elected.
  • More treats - I'm about 20 feet from the main stage, and the next speaker is Jesse Jackson! Now, y'all can say what you want about Jesse - the man is still a hero and a legend, if, for nothing else, his work during the civil rights and black power movements. And, just like the Rage guys, he made the point that this is just another chapter in a larger story about workers rights in the face of increasing corporate consolidation.
  • I clearly need to put a new camera on my Christmas List :-)
  • Showrunner sighting 2: Seth MacFarlane takes the stage and risks litigation by giving us the Stewie voice to proclaim victory is nearly at hand.
  • Lots of helicopters overhead. The last time I remember being with this many people out in the open for some overtly political rally, I think, was the Million Man March back in 1995. Although, I had much less fear that SkyCopter 5 was really an Apache assault chopper in disguise today than I did back in front of the Capitol Building with Farrakhan. Less, but not none. But, as Cornel West said, being Black in America requires a baseline level of constant paranoia.
  • Which leads me to another point - I think this is the first time I've ever participated in some direct action where the majority of the people were white. As a recovering Howard Dean activist, it was just a bit..... odd. But in a good way.
  • Ran into my man Alex Endeshaw (P'96 for you tigers out there) ( for the first time in, maybe 13 years in the middle of the strike. Turns out we basically lived around the corner from each other up in Hollywood for 3 years and had no idea. Go figure. Check him out on "My Name Is Earl". Also caught up with Big Shawn ( in full WGA regalia. As a result, it sounds like CBS Radford is my next strike target.
  • Showrunner sighting 3 - noon approaches, the permits expire, and there's Battlestar Galactica's head honcho, Ronald D. Moore, chilling on the curb. I resist the urge to genuflect. :-)
  • Apparently, if the studios just rolled over and gave not just the WGA, but SAG and the DGA everything they're asking for, with no concessions, the additional amount of money they would have to pay to every single writer, actor, and director in all three guilds combined is still less than the salary of just ONE of their CEOs. A lot less. Like I said, it's greed.
  • So, the studios are clearly in the wrong, but, as is often the case, swallowing their pride to even admit that my coming back to the table is a bitter pill. If we're all about getting back to work, someone on the WGA's side should be looking for an olive branch that let's the studios save a bit of face to entice them to come back to the table. Because greed is often coupled with pride.

November 07, 2007

Strike Lessons

I was 15 years old and starting my 5th year in a private all boy's school when my father went on strike with the Amalgamated Transit Workers against Greyhound Bus Lines, his employers for the previous 20+ years. To this day, I don't know exactly what the issues were that led the bus drivers to walk off the job, but I vividly remember Dad's working conditions. For some time, he'd been on the so-called "extra board", which basically meant he was a driver on call to fill in whenever another driver was unable to complete his route at the given time. He would leave at all sorts of irregular hours, drive potentially hundreds of miles, and then be forced to sleep in a lounge with no bed for a few hours before driving all the way back and hoping he could get a full night's rest before the next call came in.

He'd been exhausted for, seemingly, years. He has back problems and repeat stress injuries in his forearm to this day, some 18 years after he last drove a big blue bus.

I can still see the orange placard with this black letters that he would wear around his chest as he and his fellow drivers walked the picket line. It was the first time I'd ever heard the term "scab". I was a gifted kid in a working class family going to one of the most expensive schools in the country on scholarships and loans floated directly on Mom and Dad. Losing one of the two incomes in the house was not a nice thing. But, Dad knew, if they didn't make a stand there, then the ownership would know they could just roll over the drivers and have even worse conditions.

Sadly, after nearly 18 months of walking the line, the union caved. Scab drivers were easy to find. They received no support from their fellow drivers at Trailways and the other unions, to my knowledge. And, if I remember correctly, Amalgamated Transit's headquarters was actually IN Greyhound's corporate offices. Dad never drove a bus again and found a new career in the local DMV, where he earned a reputation seemingly around the entire city as a model of fairness & decency within an otherwise heartless department.

Point being, collective action cannot survive in a vacuum.

I am not, as of yet, a member of the Writers Guild of America. I hope to be, one day. But I'm also a producer, and one of the reasons why some of my projects haven't shot yet is because it's important to me to make sure I can actually PAY my cast and crew. Filmmaking is a collaborative process, and, yes, producers take a measure of financial risk on projects and should be rewarded accordingly. But producers, as the ultimate owners of a title, have the capacity to resell the original creative work of artists in a million different ways. A finished film can literally keep making money for a producer for ever, as long as there is someone, somewhere, who'll broadcast or screen it for a paying audience. And if I'm reselling your story and your words and your ideas (as a writer), and your vision and presentation (as a director) or, even, in the case of an actor, images of YOUR FACE, it's only fair that you reap some of that benefit.

So tomorrow afternoon, I intend to put on my track shoes, head over to Paramount Pictures, pick up a sign, and walk the line for a few hours.

Because the reason that the studios don't want to give the writers an extra FOUR STINKING CENTS on the sale of a $10 DVD, and don't want to give them ANYTHING for the sale of a movie over the internet, which literally costs NOTHING, is the same reason Greyhound didn't want to buy a cot for Dad and all of the other drivers. It's less about who's rich and who isn't (and don't sleep - the studios are banks awash in cash - for every star that gets $20 million to star in a film, there's a producer somewhere who's cutting that 20 million dollar check), and more about what's just simply right.

Fairness. Decency.

See you at Paramount.

October 03, 2007

Baltimore Bullet Points

I keep trying to write some elaborately lyric blog post about the last week I've spent here in Baltimore, but, at this rate, I'll never get it done, so, here's my stream-of-consciousness beat sheet for the week:

1. My Uncle Will turned 70 on Saturday, so we threw a surprise party for him back at my family's traditional home: the small rural town of Cambridge, MD, on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Hence and therefore, the primary reason for the Baltimore leg of this trip.

2. My uncle lives in Milwaukee, as do all 8 of his children (Ernie, James, Don, Al, David, Veronica, Fred Jr., & Wayne), ranging in age from ~49 to 37, as well as the majority of his 17 grandchildren. And, of his 8, #6 is the only girl. Of his 7 sons, 4 are ex-Marines, one is ex-Air Force, two are currently cops, and one is in and out of jail a lot. Point being, there's a lot of beef over there.

3. So, if you're trying to throw a surprise party, where the guest of honor and most of the attendees are all coming from out of town, maybe you shouldn't book everybody in the same hotel. Just a thought. My cousins demonstrated their quick wits by inventing increasingly elaborate explanations for why they just happen to be in Maryland, in the SAME FREAKIN' HOTEL, when my uncle would run into them in, say, the elevator, or the front lobby, or in the hallway because THEY GOT THE ROOM RIGHT NEXT DOOR.

4. In the end, he was still surprised. Go figure.

5. I considered having a bit of mercy on my brother for forgetting my birthday. After all, since his return from Iraq, he's had to get bifocals because of the strain on his eyes from looking through the sight on a 50-caliber machine gun turret for the better part of a year. He says he fell down the stairs once because he misjudged the distance to his feet. His new car is a stick shift, and he hasn't driven stick in years. My sister-in-law says she doesn't want to ride shotgun with him anymore because she's afraid she'll get a concussion from all the gear stripping. As I said, I considered mercy.... but thought better of it. :-) His response to me was, "just wait - you'll be old some day." My response? "Yes, but I will never, EVER be as old a you." Life does have it's little pleasures.

6. After all the DAY Day festivities, I thought I'd take it easy on the food while I'm home. Not like I can just run to Trader Joes and get something healthy and/or organic here in Baltimore. That was, of course, before I had my first piece of authentic Eastern Shore fried chicken at the surprise party. And some homemade iced tea that literally made me do a double take.

7. Said party was the first time in nearly 30 years that all 12 of my grandmother's grandchildren (Uncle Will's 8, me and my brother, and my aunt's two daughters) were in the same room together. We got pictures.

My cousin Wayne made the point of reminding me that I'd never been to Milwaukee on my own, just to visit. Commence shame. This is, after all, practically half of my family, from a pure numbers perspective. Point being, I'm going next spring.

8. Whenever he comes to Maryland, my cousin David buys at least one box of TastyKakes to take back to Milwaukee, since apparently they, much like Utz Potato Chips, are strictly a mid-Atlantic thing. I'm going to have to introduce that brother to I didn't even remember what TastyKakes looked like. Since Saturday, I've had two. They're big. I'm ordering when I get home. :-)

9. The Milwaukee entourage followed us to church the following Sunday. To put it bluntly, me & God are Kool and the Gang, but me and church? Eh, not so much. However, whatever issues I may have with the institution, that particular church is just an extension of my home and my family. And, after finally getting rid of the former moon-bat-crazy pastor (i.e. the one my mother basically had to perform an exorcism on in the middle of Sunday service to calm down after she had a hysteria attack - I kid you not. Favorite quote - "Jessica, go get the oil!!!"), I wanted to lay eyes on the new guy. Newsflash - he's not moon-bat-crazy. He's actually kind of fun.

10. Of course, things broke down when my cousin Ernie passed out in the middle of service. Short version: dude had just had surgery to replace BOTH knees at the same time and apparently lost a lot of blood on the operating table. He's blacked out from the pain 6 times in the last three months. And, when my cousin from my MOTHER'S side of the family who's a doctor offered her help, he:

a) refused to get into a wheel chair, insisting on walking out of the sanctuary
b) refused Advil or any kind of pain medication, and
c) refused ice to numb his swollen knees, opting instead to roll up his pants legs and splash two cups of fountain water over his surgery scars.

And then lit up a cigarette. Go figure.

11. OK, so, Mom & Dad took us all to the Country Buffet on Friday, and then we had the surprise party/dinner on Sunday. But the REAL eating didn't begin until Sunday afternoon, when the whole lot of us (that is, those who didn't have to go back to work like Wayne, or escape to Ocean City like Al & Fred. Jr.) went to the Windsor Inn Crab House. Now, those of you who aren't from Maryland probably don't understand how much of a sacrament crabs are back here in the old Line State. We had to separate the party into the crab eaters' tables and the non-crab eaters' table. They cover the crab tables with heavy paper, and bring out a set of buckets and little wooden hammers. Oh, and plastic bibs. And then the waitress brings an entire tray stacked to the ceiling with crabs smothered in Old Bay seasoning and dumps them in a pile on the table. And then, it's just on. My brother claims that he prefers crabcakes because he's not interested in cracking open crab shells to fish out the meat. I say he's just a lazy bum who doesn't appreciate the satisfaction of the work involved. It's a singular experience. By the time I'm done, my fingers are literally tingling from the Old Bay. Oh, and the dinner is all-you-can-eat crabs, along with corn on the cob and buffalo wings (the mentioning of which made my niece squeal like she'd just seen Elvis). One of my cousins' young sons, unskilled in the crabbing ways, sounded like he was building a freakin' house the way he was beating the crab shells with the hammers. When it was all said & done, three trays of crabs later, my aunt ate the rest of us under the table. When she left the restaurant to get a snowball for her drive back to D.C., the girl at the counter remarked that she could smell crabs. It was glorious.

12. After the Milkwaukee crowd left town, we spent Labor Day at a BBQ at my mother's sister's house. If my father's family is big & loud & boisterous, my mother's family are just laid back & chatty. More food: bratwursts and deep fried chicken and potato salad and god knows what else. No wonder everybody is, shall we say, "healthier" than I remember. The food is too damn tasty and there's too damn much of it. Anyway, the conversation turns political, then existential (my territory) and goes until 1AM.

14. On Thursday, Mom starts reaching down deep to pull out all the stops in the kitchen. This time, homemade Cod Fish Cakes!!! The boy is in heaven. And there's the promise of homemade Crab Cakes for a big Sunday dinner.

I've got to say, I didn't fully appreciate the term "comfort food" until this trip. Something about being home, where it's nice and green from all the trees everywhere (unlike L.A.), surrounded with ALL of my family, and just indulging in food I haven't really had in this quantity & quality since I was a kid, it's just feeding my soul. It's fired my creativity.

I don't think I fully realized how exhausted I was from the summer and, perhaps, just life in general, until I laid in this little twin bed in what used to be our room but is now so clearly my mother's office, and consistently slept past my alarm clock every single day I've been here.

And, no, most of my family is not where I am, spiritually or emotionally. I do things and live a life that most of them don't understand. And yet, they are still my family. And, for all their faults and foibles, I love each and every one of them with all my heart.

In short, you CAN (and probably SHOULD) go home again.

15. So, my grandmother lost the lower half of her right leg to diabetes a few years ago. A grim reminder of the consequences of a life lived ONLY on down home black comfort food. My father, ostensibly retired, is her full time caretaker here in their house. But, he has a nurse come in twice a day to give him a hand, particularly for getting her into and out of bed every day. Dad, ex-Army, is a hard taskmaster of a boss, and has gone through easily half a dozen of these girls over the years. But the current one has finally met his approval and has lasted for at least the last year. She's Nigerian, and, when she heard that I wasn't married, she said to Dad, "Oh, your son can marry my sister!"

It may be just about time to go. :-)

August 09, 2007

Sistas, move beyond "The Ratio"

A friend brought to my attention yet another news article about how there's no hope for Black women to find a decent Black man to marry, so they're forced to start marrying white men.

Personally, I've had enough of this crap.

Now, before I proceed, let me first state a few things for the record: I have absolutely no problem with interracial dating, except when a Black woman that I personally desire for myself chooses instead to date a white man. :-)

Frankly, I'd have a problem if she choose to date a brother, too, but because she picked a guy with whom I have less in common with (at least, physically), it just really drives home the point that I don't suit her tastes. Beyond that, I say, you love who you love. Just be true to yourself.

But when I hear sisters complain about brothers who are cocky and who think they're all that because they know the numbers are in their favor, so they just throw up their hands and say "forget it", to me, that says that they don't really want a successful Black man because they're unwilling to raise their game to get him. Now, does that mean compromise your principles (i.e. he'll only talk to you if you blow him first)? Of course not - that would make him a bad Black man instead of a good one. And any man who makes you feel less than you are isn't worth your tears if he picks a white girl. However, if you're willing to acknowledge that, from your POV, it's a seller's market, you need to bring your A-game, which is more than just education and credentials, but personality, spirit, physical & emotional beauty. And I'm not talking about hitting the pilates classes or getting breast implants or wearing a super-slinky outfit. I hear all this talk about looking for a husband, but are you actually ready to receive one? Are you ready to open your heart and share your life with someone else, or are you just checking something off of a "things to do before I'm 40" list? Are you actually ready to love? Give love AND receive love?

Which brings me to the larger point - all of these articles talk about how many interracial marriages there are and how many unmarried sisters there are and how low our marriage rates are - but, as far as I can tell, the majority of Black people who get married are still marrying Black people. So, despite "The Ratio", Black men & black women are still finding each other and getting married. I've been invited to a ton of Black weddings over the last 10-15 years, and not a single one of them involved an interracial couple. NOT ONE.

It's all about perspective and state of mind. I vividly recall a moment in college when a beautiful dark-skinned sister was complaining about how she'd been at a party and was ready to cry because all the brothers where dancing with light-skinned sisters..... the very same party where I had been dancing with her that night!!!

My point is, if you have an idea in your head, you'll always find evidence to support it. It's like that movie "The Number 23" - once you start to think that the number is everywhere, you start seeing it everywhere. But you only see it because you focus on it.

Everyone wants to focus on the successful Black men married to white women, but I can name just as many successful brothers married to sisters.

Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy (past & future), Chris Rock, Boris Kodjoe, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Courtney Vance, Reggie Rock-Blythewood, Barack Obama, Denzel Washington, Will Smith, etc., etc.

Have I made my point?

So, I would suggest that, all of these people who are complaining about this subject, take a look in the mirror. There are Black people who can't find other Black people to marry, and there are Black people who can. It's a very simple equation - DECIDE which one you want to be, and then BE it. Period.

And, honestly, is marriage even the point?

I had a real epiphany at this time last summer, as I was ending a very beautiful, fairly long-term relationship that, at one point, was very much moving towards marriage. But it was a forced movement - we wanted to get married because we basically wanted to freeze time and capture this moment forever. We were terrified of letting so much love end.

But, the reality is, things born out of fear only create more fear.

All things end. Even love. But just because it's finite, doesn't make it any less valid. And just because something ends doesn't mean it's been destroyed. Our romance may have been finished, but the connection of two souls - true friends for life - will live for an eternity. We just needed the courage to let go and let it be.

And that's when I realized that I had drunk the Kool-Aid and was fitting damn near every women I'd ever dated for a wedding dress in my mind. I suppose it starts with being a child produced from a 40+ year marriage. Props to Mom & Dad, but there's no trophy waiting for anybody in Heaven just because you got and stayed married until one or both of you died.

Joy is the point. Happiness is the point. Love is the point.

We're so fixated on the norms and forms that these things take that we lose sight of WHY these institutions were created in the first place.

I know a couple who've been married over 20 years - produced two beautiful childen, live in a lovely house - a portrait of happy Black buppie affluence.

And, as far as I can tell, they've never had a single moment of true, shared bliss between them from the second they said "I do".

I wouldn't wish a marriage like that on my worst enemy.

Everything has a life of it's own - when you put two people together, the relationship that gets formed is a separate entity, with it's own energy & personality & life expectancy. Case in point - most people will say that I'm generally a fun, jovial, generous, caring soul. But there is one ex-girlfriend of mine where we really just brought out the most malicious, vindictive, and evil aspects of each other's personalities. Away from each other, we're totally different.

Needless to say, we don't talk anymore. :-)

Personally, I'm no longer focused on marriage. I'm interested in having relationships that are aligned to my intentions (love, joy, fun, growth) and living them to their fullest potential. If that full potential is a marriage and 6 kids, great. If that full potential is one really good a cup of coffee, beautiful.

Sisters - I hear you, and I know your pain. But be honest with yourself about what you really want and why you want it. And take stock for a moment - does that which you desire truly nourish your soul? Because, if it doesn't, find the courage to let it go.

You'll need your hands free to pick up the manna that's been waiting for you.

July 16, 2007

Keep on Talking to Me

So, I got a good group of folks this weekend to check out "Talk To Me" this past Friday night here in L.A. at the Arclight. I'll have alot to say about the film in a bit - in short, I absolutely love it, the emotional intensity is more spin-tingling to me than any number of explosions I saw last week in "Transformers", and Meshell Ndegeocello has a rediculously good track in the end credits with Terence Blanchard called "Compared to What".

But, I would like to point out the statistics:
on 33 screens nationwide, Talk to Me brought in $391,000, for a per-screen average of roughly $11,848 for the weekend. "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix", on 4,285 theaters nationwide, brought in $77,410,000, for a per screen average of $18,065.

Let's say they took a 10th of those Harry Potter screens and played "Talk To Me" instead, for a combined number of 461 screens - assuming the same per screen average (which is, admittedly, a huge assumption - but when my friends in Chicago are telling me that the movie's not playing, well, there's clearly a market) - they could have earned $5,461,928, which would have placed it at 6 for the weekend box office, above "1408".

Actually, a better comparison would be, instead of taking ~400 screens away from Harry Potter, a Warner Bros movie, how about taking 200 each away from "Evan Almighty" and "Knocked Up", both of which are distributed by Universal Studios - who owns Focus Features and also distributed "Talk To Me". The highest per-screen average Evan ever did was $8,654, and Knocked Up's was $10,690. Knocked Up opened on 2700 screens, and Evan Almighty on 3600. And both those films, as of this weekend, were still in 1700 and 2700 theaters, respectively. My point is, Universal left money on the table this weekend by giving Talk to Me such a limited opening. I do, however, expect that it will expand in a week or two.

I'm just sayin'.

July 13, 2007

The Silver Screen

t's funny - I just went to see "Pirates of the Caribbean" last night (which was much better than I expected), at a Q&A screening from Creative Screenwriting magazine at Harmony Gold's theater on Sunset. My fellow fanboys from the '80's will remember Harmony Gold as the people who brought us "Robotech". Oddly enough, for all my African-American brothers & sisters out there, WE remember Harmony Gold for bringing us "Shaka Zulu".

If I may digress for a moment - Robotech & Shaka Zulu. "two great tastes that taste great together", right? :-)

Since it wasn't a regular multiplex or theater, there were no ads projected on the screen before the show, and the curtains were open so all you could see was this huge white empty space.

There's that word again.


Begging to be filled.

And it reminded me that, as a filmmaker, it's my job to fill that space - and you can't do that with close-ups all day. :-)

I think it's very easy for those of us still in the early parts of our careers, looking to create opportunities to show our stuff, to just want to shoot and be seen anywhere. TVs. IPods. Cell phones. Computer Monitors.

And we keep whittling down our visions to fit into these smaller screens.

I think about Ridley Scott.

He's a graphic designer by training, and, after working in commercials for a few years, he made his first feature film, "The Duellists". Adjusted for inflation, he spent less than a 4th of the money to shoot in France and achieve a richly textured vision of the Napoleonic era comparable to anything those guys at Merchant Ivory have done as they spent on that rotten "Boogeyman" movie that got made a few years back.

Right before I shot "5", I spent a great deal of time watching Ridley Scott films - I learned so much on how to pimp your budget for maximum effect (particularly in "Alien" and "Gladiator") listening to his DVD commentaries, I should pay that dude tuition.

Say what you will about "Pirates" - the money is definitely on the screen. Now, again, being a history nut and coming from a maritime city, I'm a sucker for tall ship movies (go see "The Bounty" with Mel Gibson & Anthony Hopkins - it's a gem) - but production design can make or break a film. And the design on pirates is so rich.

And then, last night, I caught a peek at the trailer for "The Golden Age", a sequel to Shekhar Kapur's 1998 film, "Elizabeth", which earned Cate Blanchette her first Oscar nomination.

First of all - I'm so impressed that an exquisite mid-budget film that was a moderate box office hit gets turned into a franchise.

But, again - just look at the freakin' trailer! Isn't that just delicious!

But you don't have to do period pieces to get richness. Think of all of David Fincher's films. I once heard George Lucas say that part of the reason why he made "Star Wars" was that he'd been doing so many tiny, guerrilla films ("American Graffiti" and "THX-1138", for example), but that he loved old Hollywood, and wanted to do a costume drama.

Filling the space - I think, in some cases, "Pirates" clearly went overboard. But isn't it better to err on the side of excess?

Again, I'm just musing out loud.....

July 08, 2007

go see "Talk To Me" this Friday

Now, I know you COULD go see "Harry Potter", or you could watch Elisha Cuthbert get tortured in "Captivity", or you could even go see "Transformers" again.

But, quite frankly, Harry & Optimus Prime are gonna be a'ight as far as opening weekend box office grosses go. There will be sequels. And no matter how well or poorly "Captivity" does, people will continue to make garish horror films.

On the other hand, there's "Talk To Me".

Check out the trailer here.

It stars Don Cheadle, along with Taraji P. Henson from "Hustle & Flow", Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Cedric the Entertainer.

It's co-written by Rick Famuyiwa, who wrote & directed both "The Wood" and "Brown Sugar", and Michael Genet, who wrote "She Hate Me" for Spike.

And it's directed by one of my filmmaking heroes, Kasi Lemmons.

You may recognize Kasi as Clarice Starling's best buddy at the FBI Academy in "Silence of the Lambs", or even as one of Tony Todd's victims in the original "Candyman". But the sister has really been puttin' in work for the last ten years as a filmmaker, who, most notably wrote & directed a little gem called "Eve's Bayou".

Point being, here's a great film where virtually all of the above-the-line talent are Black, that gives all of us a bit of our history.

Now, "Captivity" is going to be in 1,500 theaters around the country. "Transformers" is already in 4,000, and Harry Potter is going out to 4,100 on Friday.

Focus Features is only releasing "Talk To Me" on 31 screens.

That's not a typo - only 31 theaters in the entire country are going to get this movie.

My point is, if we want more films like this, made by more filmmakers like these, we need to speak the studios' language by buying tickets. Preferrably on Friday night.

Go see it.

And, while you're at it, if you haven't had the chance, check out Kasi's last feature film, "The Caveman's Valentine", with Samuel L. Jackson as a former concert pianist who's become schizophrenic and homeless, but is still trying to solve a murder mystery. It's good stuff.

June 26, 2007

On Chris Benoit

Anyone who's read the official bio that my agents circulate about me around town knows that one of my prized collection pieces is a commemorative folding chair I got to keep as a souvenir from Wrestlemania XIV, held at Safeco Field in Seattle back in March of 2003.

"Prized" because, ever since I gawked with my kindergarten buddy Tito at the sight of Pedro Morales going into fake convulsions after being tossed over the top rope and onto the concrete floor by Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, I've been a fan of professional wrestling.

I suppose, being a short, nerdy kid with a hyperactive imagination and not much natural athletic ability, wrestling was right up there with comic books as sort of inevitable.

But it was something that never really went away. My mom would tell stories about growing up watching Slave Girl Moolah cheat her way to victory over poor Daisy Mae when the female wrestling circuit found it's way into her small town of Cambridge, MD. Some of my fondest memories of my late maternal grandfather involve sitting next to him one row back from his favorite seat in the upper deck of the Baltimore Civic Center to watch Hulk Hogan narrowly escape defeat at the hands of Killer Khan. Or going with the son of some of my parent's Amway associates (long story) to the 2nd row of the 5th Regiment Armory to see the Road Warriors bulldoze The Four Horseman. I'd even gone so far as to design my own wrestling role-playing game my freshman year in high school using paper character markers, sheets of graph paper marked off like an arena, and a bunch of 10 and 20-sided dice I'd swiped from my "Dungeons & Dragons" set - oddly enough, it was such a big hit among my classmates at my all-boys private school, that the study hall proctor threatened to shut it down because he thought I'd set up some sort of adolescent gambling ring.

I WISH I'd been that devious. :-)

And, by the time I was an adult, that just meant I now had the cash and freedom to indulge in as many pay-per-views and live events as my heart desired.

I'd pulled back the last few years, largely because there were only a handful of characters that I still enjoyed watching. The Rock had left to make movies. Steve Austin had injured himself and pissed off enough people in the business that he'd clearly worn out his welcome. Hulk Hogan was past his prime 15 years ago. Ric Flair is a shadow of his former, glorious self.

And then, there were the deaths.

And I'm not talking about the old timers who gracefully exit this mortal coil after a long and illustrious life like Classy Freddie Blassie or "Big Cat" Ernie Ladd or Gorilla Monsoon or Stu Hart.

It's the early deaths of apparently healthy people who are clearly being eaten away on the inside.

Brian Pillman. Crash Holly. Louie Spicoli. Miss Elizabeth. Mr. Perfect. Eddie Guerrero. Ravishing Rick Rude. The Big Boss Man. Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy. Owen Hart. Davey Boy Smith.

And that's just in the last 10 years.

Let's not even get into "Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert or Adrian Adonis or Dino Bravo from way back in the day.

Hell, in just the last year we'd lost both Bam Bam Bigelow and Sensational Sherry, and poor Kurt Angle just looks and acts like he has a freakin' death wish.

It wasn't as fun as it used to be, and the specter of the grim reaper seemed to loom larger every year.

But this Chris Benoit thing.....

So, let's back it up for a minute.

Chris Benoit was an extremely intense in-ring performer. Former champ & announcer Larry Zbyszko once said "Benoit hits guys like they owe him money". He was also one of the most technically proficient and gifted and dedicated performers ever. Dude had to have his neck surgically reinforced a few years ago after a spinal injury, and he continued to finish matches with a flying head butt off the top rope.

Back in 1996, I had a bit of a family outing to WCW's Great American Bash at the renamed Baltimore Arena - the usual suspects of me and Grandaddy, but, this time, my younger cousin, my mom, and my 10 year old nephew also came along. And one of the highlights of the night was one of the very earliest true "Falls Count Anywhere" matches put on by a major promoter on a pay-per-view. As the name implies, the two wrestlers can battle it out wherever they want - there's no countout, and the referee has to follow them wherever they go. So if, say, one guy wants to pin the other guy on the announcer's table instead of inside the ring, that would count towards winning the match.

This particular night, "Falls Count Anywhere" pit Benoit, nicknamed "The Crippler" after he dropped the Tazmaniac on his head and put him out for nearly a year with a broken neck, against old school crazy guy Kevin Sullivan. The storyline was that Benoit's valet, a hot little sumthin' who called herself, simply, "Woman", was Kevin Sullivan's wife and that she'd started shagging Benoit on the side, so this match was about payback.

The scary thing was that it wasn't just a storyline. In real life, "Woman" was named Nancy Daus and she really was Kevin Sullivan's wife, and she really HAD started shagging Benoit on the side! And Sullivan was, what they call in the wrestling business, a "booker", which is essentially a writer for storylines and match outcomes. So, it looked as if Sullivan had booked himself in an especially dangerous match with the guy who'd been creeping with his wife behind his back.

And the match did not disappoint - Sullivan came out to the ring first and then met Benoit with a fist in the middle of the main entrance. They stood there swinging on each other for, like, a minute, before tumbling over the guardrail and into the crowd, where they continued to fight their way all the way up the arena steps, PAST our section in the lower mezzanine, THROUGH the doorway to the concession stands, and INTO the men's room. A camera crew followed them the whole way and never bothered to clear the bathroom before hand. There were guys literally hanging root at the urinals as these two duked it out.

My nephew begged my mother to let him follow them into the bathroom. I'm sure you can guess her response.

Announcer quote of the night - "Head first into the commode!"

Benoit was a fan favorite and a bigger star at this time than Sullivan. And, let's face it, just like in the movies, audiences always cheer for the girl to go with the younger, better looking guy over her creepy husband. So Sullivan booked the match for Benoit to win and for one of Benoit's buddies to join him in kicking Sullivan's ass some more at the end of the match.

Talk about externalizing your emotional pain.

Kevin Sullivan kind of faded into quasi-retirement after that. "Woman" also eventually stopped as an in-ring performer and married Chris Benoit a few years later. When Benoit, after nearly two decades in the business, won the world championship in the main event of Wrestlemania XX at Madison Square Garden, Nancy joined him in his post-ring celebration with their young son Daniel and Chris's children from a previous relationship. In the video, you can see him kiss his son and hold him in the air with his newly won championship belt hung over his shoulder.

That was his family, back in 2004.

This weekend, after sending a text message to one of his co-workers about a "family emergency", Chris Benoit roped up Nancy's feet & hands before strangling her. A day later, he smothered 7-year-old Daniel with a plastic bag in his bed. And then, a day after that, he laid a Bible next to each of their bodies, went into his weight room downstairs, and hung himself with the cable from an exercise machine.

There are lots of untimely, unnatural wrestling deaths. Given the amount of stress they put on their bodies and spirits, even suicide is not entirely unthinkable, although, sitting here, right now, I can't really recall any instances of wrestlers intentionally taking their own lives.

But murder?

I mean, we can be mad at Lex Luger for inadvertently causing Miss Elizabeth's death because they were screwing around with too many prescription drugs. But Luger was stupid and reckless. That was an accident.

This is murder.

And, even though, I suspect, it will probably fall under the category of "crime of passion" - there is an element of pre-meditation here that, if it had ever gone to court, probably would have earned Benoit the death penalty anyway.

Who knows what might have set him off to kill Nancy in the first place (although, knowing the history, I'm sure a picture is now forming in all of your minds) - but, doing what he did, in his addled frame of mind, knowing what might be waiting for him in the judicial system, Benoit may have thought he was mercy-killing a soon-to-be-orphaned Daniel.

Who knows?

But (and I'm really reluctant to say this, but, what the Hell), everything has an energy that is intrinsic to itself, no matter how it evolves. And when you start wrong, it's real hard to end right.

Chris Benoit - may God have mercy on your soul, and the souls of your victims.

June 13, 2007

"the space in between...."

Like with so many things that are artistic in nature, a single moment can carry my mind in a million directions, but they're all fruit from the same tree.

This is a record of such a moment in my mind. It probably won't flow. The thoughts come as they please. But, in the end, they're all connected.

So, a few weeks ago, I was at a club here in L.A., and I met someone.

She was a vision.

We didn't talk much at all.

Which is unfortunate, because, if we had, I would have asked her, "did you feel that?"

Because when I wrapped my arms around her on the dance floor, and she put her hands on my side, a spark jumped.

Not one of those static electricity "I just dragged my feet across a wool rug and shocked the shit out of my fingers on a metal doorknob" sparks.

It's one of those kind of sparks like when, back in college, I ran into an ex-girlfriend in a computer lab, and I just put my hand on her shoulder.... and every inch of skin on my body remembered an entire relationship in an instant.

Those slender hands from my dance partner were like a pair of jumper cables giving a little "God is here" boost to my stalled out soul.

Now, don't get me wrong - it's not like I was unhappy with my life just before this whispered moment of divine shock therapy. Quite the contrary. My movie just got accepted into an international festival. My brother finally came home from Iraq with all of his fingers & toes and in his right mind. Business is picking up. My writing is accelerating. It's nearly summer.

My life is filled with joy.

No, the spark between myself and my dancefloor companion was literally just a way for the Divine to speak to me directly and say "all of that energy that your gathering through your good mood is supposed to go right here - in the space between."

And that is what has had my mind and soul trembling with excitement ever since.

"the space between".

In those old movies from the '30's, where the mad scientist is about to resurrect the monster, you always see the two round electrodes, full of energetic potential - but it's when they're brought together, that the lightning arcs and brings life to the monster.


The distance between two things is where creation happens.

I'm a filmmaker.

People like me are all supposed to know about Sergei Eisenstein: an early Russian film scholar who is the father of modern day editing & film montage. In one of his more famous experiments, Eisenstein filmed a shot of a renowned actor looking down, then cut it next to a shot of a baby, then a shot of the actor looking down again, then a shot of a plate of food, then a shot of the actor again, then, finally, a shot of a dead animal. When he showed this little film, people heaped tremendous praise on the actor - "he's so amazing! With just the slightest look, he can convey love for a child, hunger for a meal, or even disgust over a corpse!"

Of course, it was all the exact same shot of the actor's face in all three instances, and Eisenstein's specific direction to the actor was to be expressionless.

In each case, by placing these two separate images next to each other, a brand new, THIRD thing was created.

The space gave birth to a feeling.

Which is why Leon Tolstoy said that the first thing you, as an artist, must master before anything else if you intend to write the great novel (or, for that matter, poem or speech or screenplay), before theme or plot or character, is transitions.

It's why the editor Walter Murch always takes a still image from every shot of the movie he's cutting, and lines them all up on a wall in the order he receives them, regardless of story order - by laying unrelated images next to each other, he finds inspiration to cut in ways he would never have seen otherwise.

It's why any musician worth his or her salt will tell you that the action happens in the space between the beats.


Scientists say that, what we thought was just trillions upon trillions of square light years of emptiness between the stars and planets is actually filled with.... something. It doesn't reflect light or give off radiation, so it can't be detected directly. But because heavenly bodies move in a certain way as a result of gravitational forces where there aren't other heavenly bodies to exert said gravitational forces, they know that something else MUST be out there, filling the space.

There are some who interpret quantum physics theories that all solid matter is really just energy vibrating at specific contradictory frequencies that prevent, for instance, my fingertips from passing through this keyboard like a phantom, as proof that the entire universe is really just one single presence, folding into relationship with itself to create all that is.

As they say "nature abhors a vacuum". Which is why the universe is always looking to fill in the spaces with new things.

An empty canvas. A blank page.

Creation only occurs in contrast.

Now, don't get it twisted - "contrast" does not always mean "conflict", because "harmony" is about the space created between two complementary frequencies.

But space requires boundaries. We have to make room to define the space.

The fence of a playground.

The rules of a game.

Three act structure.

Iambic Pentameter.

A dancefloor.

Two pairs of lips.

I have a friend up in Santa Barbara who's, for lack of a better term, a medium. She used to have a giant open space in the wall above her living room, and she refused to decorate it or populate it with artwork or anything of that nature. She wanted to physically manifest space in her life to make room for new spiritual things to arrive, like prosperity, or new revelations.

I'm told that the term "feng shui" literally means "wind-water" and, according to Wikepedia, it's cultural shorthand for a verse in the "Book of Burial" that reads:

"The qi that rides the wind stops at the boundary of water."

Ultimately, I don't have a specific point I'm trying to make here or a big summation to wrap it all up. Not everything gets tied up with a neat bow. I'm just exploring.

But, as long time readers of my blog know - if it's important to be MORE (spiritually, transcendentally), then you've got to give it room.

"The Art of Allowing" says that, sometimes, we spend so much time praying for the things that we want, we never give the universe the time to actually deliver. It's like being in a restaurant, and constantly placing orders without letting the staff actually cook and bring your food.

I'm not entirely sure what Space really means. I'm just sure that it's presence matters.

And as for me, the space between me and her reminded me that I am a Creator, not just of words like these, or films, or pieces of art.

First and foremost, I am here to create my life.

Next time, I'll just ask her.

May 24, 2007

Weak on Defense

So, for anyone who's swayed by my opinion on things, I just want to state, for the record, that ANY Democrat in Congress who votes for this supplemental appropriations bill that basically lets the President continue this rediculous war policy with no end date & no restrictions whatsoever will NOT be receiving my vote next year.

More specifically, I'm talking to you, my Federal representatives: Congresswoman Watson, Senator Boxer, Senator Feinstein.

But I'm especially talking to you, the Democrats running for President, specifically, Senator Clinton and especially Senator Obama.

I, like quite a few people, have placed a fair amount of faith and hope in the junior Senator from Illinois, and, basically, he's gotten a free ride for it.

The buck stops here.

If you lack the courage to do, not only what is right, but what nearly 70% of the nation that you want to lead is demanding, you, sir, are unfit to be President.

And if that means that the Democratic Primaries get quickly wittled down to John Edwards, Bill Richardson, CrazyMan Mike Gravel, and, in all likelihood, Congressman Kucinich, then so be it.

As one of my favorite comic book anti-heroes, the FoolKiller, used to always say:
"Actions Have Consequences"

[Update - 5/25/07 8:39 AM] - so, it looks like Hillary, Obama, Barbara Boxer, Chris Dodd, and Diane Watson got the message and voted the right way.

Biden & Feinstein? You're dead to me.

[Update II - 5/25/07 6:18 PM]
- in fact, I'm a little excited about Brother Obama's response now....

May 10, 2007

Televising The Revolution of our Minds

So, I get alot of junk through MySpace - mainly real estate scams or internet porn sites cleverly disguised as beautiful half-dressed women who want to be my "friend". But I've also met a number of very cool people, many of whom I've never met in the so-called real world. One of them, who I think I'll actually see in the flesh this weekend, brought this first YouTube spoken word bit to my attention, and I think, ultimately, it speaks for itself.....

Which is funny, because, just earlier today, I was thinking about the flip-side of this argument: for all of the artists who do work that embarasses or humilitates a portion of the black community, when people attack them for selling out, I wonder why no one has tried to flip it, i.e. "why should I sacrifice my dreams for your dignity?"

I'm not saying I agree, but, as an artist myself, it's been something in my mind.

Anyway, when I went to the actual URL for this video, I found a link for this OTHER video:

April 23, 2007


Some time ago, I co-wrote a screenplay with a good friend of mine that I'm hoping to make into my feature film directorial debut sometime in the next year. The film is set in Nebraska, and when I talk to movie people about the project, I keep hearing about all of the ways to make the movie without actually going to Nebraska (i.e. shoot in central California so you don't have to go so far, shoot in Louisiana for the tax incentives, shoot in Romania for the cheap labor, shoot in Canada because everybody shoots in Canada now, etc.).

Which is all well and good, but, even though I've never actually BEEN to Nebraska, if there is a way to make the logistics and economics work, I would much rather shoot it there. I mean, I'm really not convinced that I can get production design like this....
....for free outside of the heartland of America.

Which is why, when I happened to strike up a conversation with a native Nebraskan over breakfast at, of all places, San Francisco International Airport last month, my ears were standing at full attention.

His name was Sam, and, in many ways, he was a living embodiment of all the good things we associate with the Midwest. A tall, burly, silver-haired fellow in a cowboy hat, he told me that he split time between a stretch of land he owned up in the wine country in Sonoma County, CA and his real home in The Great Plains State, where he builds (I kid you not) waterfalls.

So, just a bit of context: the year before I moved to California, I read Bill Bradley's memoir, Time Present, Time Past, where he talks about his own fascination with the politics of water in The Golden State during his time in the U.S. Senate. For those of you who know the actual history behind the movie "Chinatown", you know that Los Angeles wouldn't even exist were it not for people like William Mulholland (as in "Mulholland Drive" Mulholland) straight-up jacking the water from (and, consequently destroying) whole farming communities in the central valleys in the so-called "California Water Wars".

For you long-time Macroscope readers, you know by my previous posts, New World Water and New World Water: The Sequel, H2O is an extremely big deal, socially, politically, economically, and all of the above.

And, more to the point, a big part of my Nebraska movie deals with the so-called "Dust Bowl" - where years of drought & ecologically irresponsible farming techniques, coupled with near Biblical wind storms, literally blew ALL of the farmland in Nebraska & neighboring states into the Atlantic Ocean.

When I mentioned my project to Sam, he replied that his home state was, at that very moment, STILL in the grip of a drought that had actually lasted LONGER than the Dust Bowl.

Now, mind you, the Dust Bowl and the stock market crash in 1929 were the two biggest catalysts for the Great Depression. I watch and read ALOT of news. How could something of that magnitude be happening right under my nose?

Well, let's ignore the obvious counterargument this presents to my claims of omniscience for a moment.

The real issue is that we have, in many ways, become a city culture nationwide, in the sense that very few of us are directly involved in the regular production of the raw materials we need to survive on a daily basis. We just go to Ralph's and buy it. Most of us don't need to devote much thought to where the food actually comes from. As such, most of us don't really think about farms, farmland, or anything really related to it.

Having lived with a women allergic to wheat AND corn for going on 2 years now, I, on the other hand, have become extremely aware of the origins of the food on my table.

Which is why, when I read this article on Salon by Michael Pollan, I immediately bought his latest book, The Omnivore's Dilemma. Pollan is a professor at Berkeley who regularly writes about what my roommate called "the politics of food". And, in his book, he describes how the mass production of corn has basically reshaped the human race.

Consider this: when you go to MacDonald's, something like 90% of that meal was originally corn. That includes the beef, because cows, who naturally eat grass, are being force-fed corn on these big industrial farming collectives and then pumped full of antibotics so that they don't puke up the corn that their digestive system isn't built to process in the first place.

Why are these cows being fed corn? Because there's so much f'n corn now, it basically costs nothing.

And because the corn makes them get really fat really fast.

So, if that same corn is used to blow up the cows, is anyone out there surprised that we now have a skyrocketing obesity rate in this country?

We live in Leimert Park, a predominantly black neighborhood here in Los Angeles. And we've been complaining that we have to drive for miles to find any kind of restaurant that isn't MacDonalds, Jack in the Box, Burger King, or Taco Bell. And let's not even get into the local soul food chains, all of which serve their own brands of disguised corn gift-wrapped in a delicious layer of lard.

So, is anyone surprised that we, as Black people, have both an obesity problem AND a diabetes problem? After all, doesn't non-hereditary diabetes occur after your body has been so overloaded with sugar that it breaks and can't process it anymore? And most of us eat most of our corn today in the form of high fructose corn syrup, which has an unnaturally elevated sugar content and is used as a sweeter and flavoring in EVERYTHING.

But, as Michael Pollan points out in this article from the New York Times that I've linked to in the title of this post, food politics goes way, way deeper than health.
  • Because we've artificially depressed the market price of corn to virtually nothing, we've, in essence, destroyed the corn industry in every other country, most notably, Mexico - so now, with millions of corn-based farmers out of work, they try to make a living by legally or illegally crossing the border into the United States.
  • All that corn is being fertilized with the nitrate-based by-products of crude oil processing & refining. so, it's not just our gas mony, but our food budget is helping to line the pockets of the Saudis and the like, and, consequently, financing terrorism.
  • And why do you think my friend Sam is building waterfalls in Nebraska? Because the current irrigation systems that are put in place by the massive farming collectives are completely screwing up the water table beneath the surface, with environmental impact for decades to come.
Why am I talking about this now?

Because there's a new "Farm Bill" coming up for approval in Congress very soon. These things get renewed every 5 years, and this is year #5 for the current one. And, for most congresspeople who are not actually from a farm state, the minute you say the word "farm", they immediately check out of the conversation.

But this one bill has massive ramifications for health care, immigration, energy policy, and environmental policy.

So, you may want to drop a line to your congressional representatives in the House & the Senate and ask them to actually pay attention this time.

I'm writing e-mails to Madames Watson, Boxer, and Feinstein right now.

On his way out of the restaurant, Sam just paid for my breakfast that morning before I could say a word. I thanked him profusely, and he just tipped his cap before we shook hands, and went our separate ways.

Maybe next year, if I can get the financiers and producers to see things my way, I'll get to return the favor.

Did I mention that the restuarant's breakfast specialty was New England Clam Chowder?

So, if a young brother from Baltimore breaking bread over a bowl of New England Clam Chowder with a native Cornhusker in San Francisco doesn't just make you want to have a Yakov Smirnoff moment and shout "what a country?" I don't know what will.