Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Perfect Smile

Are you a dentist?

No. But I do suggest getting some dental work as well. After all, what good is your smile if your teeth look bad.

My teeth look like teeth.

Yes of course. But just a few improvements here and there would help.

Ok. Forget the teeth.  What can you do for me.

First I must suggest you try every avenue you can to have your smile without any of the contrivances we provide.

What? Therapy?

Therapy, yes. But also, a vacation can help. Some people find peace in faith, spirituality, meditation...

I'm not religious in the organizational big money church sense.

No, I understand. Spirituality has nothing to do with religion. It's internal and personal. That's why I mention meditation.

You're saying to believe in myself.

Believe in yourself.

Ok. I get it. I do believe in myself. I'm spiritual. But in the corporate world, it's all about a false front. There is no honesty. It's all about face time, and anytime is face time. You close your eyes and meditate for 20 minutes; people will think you're on drugs or something.

Well that's why we're here.

So will this be permanent?

I think so.

You think so?

We haven't had anyone go through the procedure long enough to determine how long it will last. 

Oh great.

Not to worry, we do have a guarantee.  We think it will stay with you for at least five years.  After that, things may revert back. But I highly doubt it. Five years of the procedure will probably alter your internal muscle memory and you'll become so used it that it will stay with you. My theory is that it would take another five years to wear off.

Look, all I need is to get hired and maybe established for a few years. I'll worry about the rest when the time comes. So what is it that you do exactly?

In simple terms it the latest in plastic surgery. But we don't like to use that term. We call it physical mirroring. In other words, you will look as good as you feel, or want to feel, as the case may be.

Alright. You're going to plant a permanent smile on my face like The Joker.

Yes. That's very funny.

But specifically what are you going to do?

Plant a permanent smile on your face like The Joker.


We will reshape your face, give you a permanent smile. Pull up your eyebrows a bit depending on what kind of look you're going for.

Oh right. I'm kind of torn between the wide eyed girl and the sultry lady.

Yes. Well those are very different looks. Perhaps somewhere in between.

You can do that?

Oh sure. And with the just the least bit of effort you will easily transfer from one look to another. One minute the bright eyed girl. The next minute the sultry lady.

Oh that sounds wonderful. That's exactly what I was hoping to do. Are there any side effects?

Well, climbing the corporate ladder, we hope. But seriously, nothing that mild medication couldn't help.

Mild medication?

Well if you prefer, a few shots or drinks after work, and even during if you can sneak it by. Maybe a joint at lunch, if that's your thing.

Sounds like going back to college.

There you go. Just let go of yourself. No more worries. No matter what stress or internal misery you're experiencing, you'll look like the happiest person on earth on the outside.

How about cost?

We do offer a payment plan through our credit affiliate.

Of course you do.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Moneyball, Written by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin

The Scott Hatteberg walk off scene.
This is a very typical sports underdog makes good scene, with a winning move at the climax of the movie. What’s interesting with Moneyball is that it’s main premise is that very thing, how overlooked underdogs actually have talent that can make all the difference. There is very little dialogue. Though we see the coach have to coax Hatte out to bat. Hatte isn’t expecting this at all. The build up is great. And in fact, it’s this sudden lack of dialog that makes us pay attention and gives the feeling of suspense and anticipation. Note that in the locker room Billy watches a MUTED TV, adding lack of sound to the lack of dialogue. There is something to be said for silence.


The scoreboard shows us that it’s still tied in the bottom of the ninth. Nobody’s out. DYE grabs a bat and walks to the plate. Then, inexplicably, Howe turns to-

Hattie. Grab a bat.

SCOTT HATTEBERG actually points to himself and mouths, Me?

Let’s go.

SCOTT pulls a bat from the rack and heads to the on-deck circle. He only manages a warmup pitch or two before –

Billy is watching on a muted television as he sees Dye fly out to right field. As Hatte approaches the plate, he kills the TV.

As ROY STEELE’s booming voice echoes:

Pinch hitting for Eric Byrnes–Scott

Scott’s wife, ELIZABETH, watches from the VIP seats. She clutches her face. SCOTT lets the first pitch go by.


Art Howe looks like he can’t stand it any longer. In the dugout, Koch looks like a psychopath ready to kill.
SCOTT steps out of the box to catch his breath. He steps back in and stares at the exact spot in space he thinks the pitch will leave the pitcher’s hand.

The pitch. SCOTT swings.

Crack! 55,000 erupt. The A’s leap to the front of the dugout steps and watch.

We see the ball ascending on a strong trajectory, but before we can know for sure where it’s headed, TIME SLOWS TO A CRAWL-


BILLY’s sitting on the floor with his back against the wall, trying to breathe. He looks like he’s in pain. He can’t move.

He hears the crowd ERUPT outside. His Blackberry buzzes: “hatte homered. a’s 12, ryls 11″
Billy flips on the TV. With sound off, he watches silent images of his team swarming the mound in (archival footage) mixed in with Art Howe celebrating with them.


The place is going crazy. ELIZABETH is screaming as she watches her husband get mauled by his teammates at the plate.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Hacker World: Did you hear about the Sony hack?

That was you?

Hey, I was just having some fun man.

You busted open a major corporation. It must be worth billions.

What'd they ever do for me?

Look man, you could get jacked up for this. They think it's an entire Asian country that did it. This could start a nuclear war, man.

I can't help what the government does. If they start a war, they were going to do it anyway. This just gives them a scapegoat to blame it on.

Not cool man. Why you wanna be a freakin' goat?

I don't. But that's what they do. And this is what I do.

Man, you could bring down a lot of movies.

They suck anyway.

You should take a powder to Mexico or something till the heat dies down. Didn't you see what happened to that snow boy guy?

He hacked into the government. This is Hollywood. The government hates Hollywood. They'd probably give me a medal.

Yeah. I don't see anyone paying much attention.

There you go.

Look you can't talk about this to anyone. You can't text about it, email or anything.

Lighten up man. Don't be so paranoid. If they actually come after me, it means they don't have a freakin' clue. It will prove how retarded they all actually are.

Man, what's with you? Is this a vendetta or something?

You mean like the mask? Like "Anonymous?"

No. I'm not that stupid. I mean how dumb do people have to be to think a group called Anonymous exists and actually takes credit as an organization which is the exact opposite of what anonymous means?

It's genius. Isn't it? Any hacker can hack up a post that claims responsibility as "Anonymous," which throws off suspicion on real hackers and makes people think there's some kind of terrorist organization around. It's what people live for. It gets their blood circulating. And the news media eats it up. A perfect cover, with built in publicity and perpetration. Plus amateurs actually claim membership. Imagine.

Yes, and then get caught. This is what I mean. You can't go around talking like that.

Give it up man. Anyone who hears me will think I'm looney. In fact, I should probably talk it up as much as possible. What ever happened to "Anonymous" anyway? They seemed to have conveniently disappeared into thin air, and replaced by some newcomer called Guardians of Peace. Isn't that convenient as the name of a terrorist organization possibly connected to an act of war?

I suppose Anonymous finally decided to remain anonymous. God, I hope I don't have to bail you out, assuming they even allow bail.

Hey. There is no evidence. Nothing. It's the beauty of it. It disappears into thin air. The snow boy just has too big an ego and had to get his face in the papers.

They don't make papers anymore.

You know what I mean. He's all about vanity, ego, fame. I wonder if he stashed a fortune away somewhere before he decided to go all martyr.

Maybe he's actually proud. In most countries, he's a world hero. But you won't be. There's nothing heroic about hacking into a movie studio.

Hey, the extreme right loves it. How do you know it isn't one of them?

You're a closet right wing extremist?

No man. But why do you believe me when I say I did it, which by the way, I never said?

Yes you did, You said...

I said I was having fun. I never said if I did any hacking, was any kind of participant, or anything concrete. And if I did, all that is, is my words. There is no evidence.

Yes. You keep saying that.

Ok. I don't know it for sure. But I think it's quite obvious that if there were evidence they'd have the guy, or girl, by now. Unless it's a hoax or some kind of plant.

You mean like goat-scaping for war.

War is a huge business. That kind of money will drive people to try anything. If they can sell a war, you can bet they'll do it. We're talking tens, maybe hundreds of trillions.

I hate it when you make perfect sense. I hate you.

No. You love me because I just gave you an education.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Want to go out?

I'm tired. Been working all day.

I've been couped up in here all day. I want to go out.

Fine. So go out.

Fine. I will.



Fine, I'll wash up. Maybe a shower will make me feel better.

Need any help?

Mmmm. Well, yeah. But then we'll never get out of here.

Ok. Fine.

I didn't mean...

No. No. That's Ok. Take your shower. By yourself!

Fine! I will!


....Feel better?

Yeah. Anything else you need to do? Wash the dishes? Do the laundry? Dust the blinds?

Ok. I'm sorry. Let's go.

Where are we going?

Where do you want to go?

I don't know. Where do you want to go?

It was your idea to go out.

Fine. We'll stay home.

I just took a shower.

Oh. So you only take showers when we go out, in case you see a hot girl?

No. Come on.

Oh yes you do. Like that time we were at Jake's and that woman with the skirt up her ass walks by and drops a spoon and bends over to pick it up? I thought you were going to fall out of your chair.

No I wasn't.

Everyone else saw you look at her too.

Hey. Can I help it if she made a spectacle of herself?

You didn't have to look.

What was I supposed to do? Make believe she wasn't there?


Ok. Fine. Next time I won't look. I'm sorry. So you want to stay in then?

No. I want to go out. I've been couped up here all day. All week. You spend the whole day out there doing stuff. I'm stuck here.

I work all day. I'm not out having fun.

Oh really? You don't pal around with your friends or that girl, Angela.

Angela? How do you know about Angela?

Oh. So there is something going on. What is it? An office affair? You guys do it in a closet or something?

What? No. I hardly ever even see her.

But when you do, I'll bet it's hot and heavy for at least three minutes.

When did you ever hear about Angela?

You told me about her. She has a husband. They have an open marriage. They always talk about science and technology.

Oh yeah. Right.

Is that what you want, an open marriage?

What? No. I just thought it was interesting.

Well guess what mister? It ain't gonna happen. You want to have sex with other women then just go do it.

I don't want to have sex with other women.

So you're gay?

I don't fucking believe this conversation. Let's go out somewhere.


How about a gay bar?

Oh. So you know where all the gay bars are.

Yeah. Right.

I knew it! I see how all those gay guys looks at your with their gaydar.

Really? They do?

Yeah. You look good.

Oh great. Just what I need.

Women look at you too.

No they don't.

Why do you think that girl dropped her spoon in front of you. You guys are unbelievable. A woman has to sit on your face before you get the message.

What am I supposed to do?

Take me out once in a while.

Ok. So lets go.



It's raining.

Oh yeah. I forgot. That hurricane's supposed to hit.

Everything will be closed.


You took a shower for nothing.

No. I feel better. And I like staying in with you after being out working all week.

You want to stay in and I want to go out.

I'll take you out. Come on.

What are we going to do? Drive around in the rain in a ghost town. Everybody left for higher ground.

So if you knew that, why did you want to go out?

Because I'm couped up in here all week.

So lets go out and watch the hurricane.

Isn't it dangerous?

Nah. It could be dangerous here.

That's why everyone left town.

The hurricane lost a lot of ground. It's only gusting to like 65 miles per hour. It's not going to kill us.

Well lets wait it out and see if it passes by.

The cable is out.

Oh great. Where's that stupid beeping message that comes on in the middle of a movie?

Probably the people who made it somewhere safe, hundreds of miles away, are getting it.

Must be exciting for them.

Maybe we can go out and find one of those newscasters being blown around in the wind.

Monday, December 8, 2014

L.A. Car Chase

And now breaking news as we cut to Roger Irvine in our News 27 chopper. Roger?

Roger Shirley. What you are looking at is some poor lost soul sucker about to have this head beat in when we cut to commercial right after he gets caught. Whoa! Did you see that?

We sure did Roger. How fast do you think he’s going there?

Well Shirley, I’d say 97.3 to 99.2 miles an hour, definitely.

So he’s almost able to keep up with the people in the HOV lanes.

That’s right Shirley.

Roger, is he a white guy? He kind of looks like a white guy.

Yes, Shirley I think he is indeed. Once he’s caught we’ll be able to get more info after the cops beat it out of him, for sure. But yeah. Looks white.

Of course that would mean he’d be white trash then.

Oh absolutely. No typical self infatuated self entitled money grubbing white guy would dare to get caught up in a chase like this. Image is everything. You know Shirley, having money in the bank to make life easy makes all the difference.

Absolutely Roger. I know I could never get by with less than the low seven figures I pull in. And you do a nice healthy six figures too.

Absolutely Shirley. I don’t understand why anyone, especially a white guy like this, can’t pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get a job selling useless Obamacarea, balloon payment loans, or something. I mean if he were black or brown we’d expect as much.

That’s right Roger. As you know the majority of the prison population is black and male. What do you suppose drives people to drive like this Roger?

Well, beats me. The guy must be a looney tune. But I’m sure that beating the shit out of him will straighten him right up and send him off to jail where he can get the skills of real criminals.

Roger I see the police are holding back. Why don’t they deploy a spike strip or something?

Well Shirley, a spike strip at 95 miles an hour might cause one hell of a crash into a lot of cars besides the one the driver is in.

Right Roger. I remember the time they tried something like that and a young boy got killed.

Live and learn. Kill and learn. That’s right Shirley. Very bad PR for the cops and PR is all important you know. They have to be very careful to avoid being seen as racist or sadistic.

Well thank God for commercials. Ha ha.

These guys live for this stuff. They spend years waiting around doing boring police work, writing tickets and whatnot. And then one day the call comes. It’s huge adrenaline rush. Drugs can’t beat t.

And I just love the pretty flashing lights, and the sirens. Oh so sexy.

Shirley it looks like he’s cornered. Yup. The car has stopped. He’s on foot. Looks like the cops are catching up to him right now…

Roger, sorry to interrupt. We have to go to a commercial and we’ll be right back with more breaking news on the car chase coverage on the poor white guy.


Joe vs the Volcano, by John Patrick Shanley:
Joe comes in. Dede is typing away. Mr. Waturi is on the phone. Joe hangs up his coat. He misses with the hat again because of Dede’s typing. He leans over and switches the typewriter off. Then he picks up his hat, dusts it off and throws it in the garbage can.

(on phone)
No. No. You were wrong. He was wrong. Who said that? I
didn’t say that. If I had said that, I would’ve been
wrong. I would’ve been wrong, Harry, isn’t that right?

Mr. Waturi’s attention is split between his call and Joe, who is walking around the office like a tourist.

Listen, let me call you back, I’ve got something here, okay?
And don’t tell him anything till we finish our conversation, okay?

Mr. Waturi hangs up the phone. Joe is looking at the coffee set-up.



You were at lunch three hours.

About that.

Joe wanders away, into his office. Waturi looks after.

Joe is staring at the big wheel valve sporting the sign that says Main Drain. Mr. Waturi comes in as Joe moves forward and, with great effort, rotates the wheel to its opposite extreme. This scares Waturi.

Joe, what are you doing?

I’m opening, or closing, the main drain.
Nothing happens.

You shouldn’t be touching that.

Nothing happened. Do you know how long I’ve been wondering
what would happen if I did that?

What’s the matter with you?

Brain cloud.


Never mind. Listen, Mr. Waturi. Frank. I quit.

Joe starts to take some stuff out of his desk. He looks at his lamp, gets the cord, plugs it in, and turns it on.

You mean, today?

That’s right.

That’s great. Well, don’t come looking for a reference.

Okay, I won’t.

You blew this job.

Joe takes in the little room.

I’ve been here for four and a half years. The work I did I
probably could’ve done in five, six months. That leaves
four years leftover.

He’s been filling up a shopping bag with stuff from his desk: three books (Romeo and Juliet, Robinson Crusoe and The Odyssey), an old ukulele and his lamp. Now he’s finished. He walks out of the room without even looking at Waturi. Waturi goes after him as he exits.

Joe is walking towards the front door. Waturi follows him in. Joe stops at Dede’s desk. She’s typing. He looks at her. She stops typing.

Four years. If I had them now. Like gold in my hand.
Here. This is for you. (gives Dede the lamp)
‘Bye-bye, Dede.

You’re going?

Well, if you’re leaving, leave. You’ll get your check.
And, I promise you, you’ll be easy to replace.

I should say something.

What are you talking about?

This life. Life? What a joke. This situation. This room.

Joe, maybe you should just…

You look terrible, Mr. Waturi. You look like a bag of shit
stuffed inna cheap suit. Not that anyone would look good
under these zombie lights. I can feel them sucking the
juice outta my eyeballs. Three hundred bucks a week, that’s
the news. For three hundred bucks a week I’ve lived in
this sink. This used rubber.

Watch it, mister! There’s a woman here!

Don’t you think I know that, Frank? Don’t you think I’m
aware there’s a woman here? I can taste her on my tongue. I
can smell her. When I’m twenty feet away, I can hear
the fabric of her dress when she moves in her chair. Not
that I’ve done anything about it. I’ve gone all day, every
day, not doing, not saying, not taking the chance for
three hundred bucks a week, and Frank the coffee stinks
it’s like arsenic, the lights give me a headache if the
lights don’t give you a headache you must be dead,
let’s arrange the funeral.

You better get outta here right now! I’m telling you!

You’re telling me nothing.

I’m telling you!

And why, I ask myself, why have I put up with you? I
can’t imagine but I know. Fear. Yellow freakin’ fear.
I’ve been too chicken shit afraid to live my life so I
sold it to you for three hundred freakin’ dollars a
week! You’re lucky I don’t kill you! You’re lucky I don’t
rip your freakin’ throat out! But I’m not going to and maybe
you’re not so lucky at that. ‘Cause I’m gonna leave you
here, Mister Wa-a-Waturi, and what could be worse than that?

Joe opens the door and leaves. Mr. Waturi and Dede are frozen. The door reopens and Joe comes halfway back in.



How ’bout dinner tonight?

Yeah, uh, okay.

Joe smiles for the first time since we’ve met him, and closes the door again.

Wow. What a change.

Who does he think he is?

Notes: The first thing that strikes me is the honesty of the character in the dialog, basically merging the subtext with the action. He says what he thinks and feels. Usually this might be considered too ‘on the nose’ type of dialog. But it works here because we want to see him tell off his boss. Otherwise that tension of Joe needing to release, might take some other form, such as going postal or taking it out on someone else.

And he doesn’t do this at first. He’s about to walk out. But then he decides he will have it out. The whole time he walks around, the prelude to the monologue, we feel the building of tension. Something is going on inside and we don’t know what it is. But we can guess it has to do with his facing death and realizing how he’s wasted his time at this place (or maybe he’s just lost it). When he does talk, it comes out like some kind of classic scripture or epiphany about the meaning of what little time we have in our lives.

This scene marks the turning point that propels Joe into the adventure of the rest of the movie.
In a later scene Joe sits in amazement of the life he’s apparently missed and his companion Patricia remembers her father saying that most people in the world are asleep except for a very few who live in constant amazement. Here again we have a scriptural, spiritual sort of statement about life.
John Patrick Shanley also wrote Moonstruck which has life changing event themes as well. I think he is highly underrated.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

My Interview with Shaun Epona of Screen World International

SE: Jon first off I want to thank you for this opportunity to gain insight into the life and methods of a renown working screenwriter.

JR: Thank you Shaun. I'm not too sure how renown I am, nor working in the sense of actually making a living.

SE: We all have to start somewhere, and believe me, you are plenty renown in the circles I move in internationally.

JR: Yes well I guess most people in the US aren't aware of what little work I have that has made a bit of a splash. Around here, if you're not a Hollywood name, you're pretty much nobody.

SE: Jon, around there people still listen to the American media and don't have a clue about the rest of the world. But lets not get into politics. Although I understand there's a lot of, how shall I say it, theory, I guess, on how one should go about becoming a working writer, a success in the business or even on how to go about writing stories, regardless of where you are in your career. 

JR: Or if you even have a career. Yes Shaun, that's is certainly true. There are so many books, classes, blogs, you name it, on how to write, be it stories, novels, or even letters to your kid's teacher excusing him from missing school.

SE: Have you written a lot of those?

JR: Yes of course. And I can tell you, I don't make an outline first. I don't use three act structure. And I don't have the protagonist save a cat.

SE: And yet your kids are excused from missing a day?

JR: Yes. Quit amazing isn't it. Ha. But really Shaun, the same applies to screenwriting or any kind of writing for that matter.

SE: So what then is your approach? You must have some kind of convention, structure or routine, right?

JR: Shaun, I wake up every morning precisely at 4:45 AM, shut off the alarm, without snooze, go back to bed for an hour and then get up. Then I make some coffee, put it in a thermos, make my son breakfast and let it on the stove, since he isn't up yet. I make a peanut butter sandwich. I drive for an hour and a half in the rush hour mania, while munching on the peanut butter sandwich, drinking my coffee, and listening to some successful writer talk about writing. Anyone who follows this routine, I guarantee, will become at least as successful as I have.

SE: So you work in an office.

JR: Yes I do Shaun, down in white people's country, where everyone has religion, believes in America, and wears a permanent smiley face; and where gas is always ten cents cheaper than anywhere for a hundred miles. Nah, just kidding. I have no clue what other people do with their lives. I don't think they do either.

SE: So you have your own office.

JR: Actually no. I work for a company which shall remain nameless. But here's the interesting thing, while I'm there I rarely actually write anything for more than an hour. Most of my day is observing other people and doing other things on the computer. Now I don't overtly or explicitly observe anyone. It's just that being around others, you can't help to see and hear them. I think this is the very best environment imaginable for a writer. You are constantly in situations or observing situations that deal with things other than writing. Those things are what become the soul of your work. Even if you don't write directly about them, they inspire or give insight into the things you do eventually use.

SE: Jon, are we talking about a writer's room here?

JR: Well if any room you write in, or exist in as a writer, is a writer's room then, yeah I guess. Here's the thing. It does not matter if you wait tables, sell insurance, or whatever you do to stay alive. Anything you do can inform your writing if you let it. But if you are a writer, not only should you let it, but you had better. Otherwise you get stale. And that's why seasoned writers sometimes end up writing stories about life in Hollywood, or about a writer's or actor's life and so on.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Take this guy I know. His job is to cast actors, or even just get them side jobs. He deals with agents, bosses, job recruiters, the people he hires and so on.  Sounds boring right? But how about he gets kickbacks? In return for casting or hiring someone they kick back to him, say $20 every paycheck, every two weeks. Lets say he hires 100 people that way. That's $2,000 every two weeks beyond his own salary. Does that sound like a boring job? No. He could get caught. A deal could go bad and someone might want him killed. People who lose jobs can go postal. What happens if he hires someone who is not really qualified, but willing to make the payoffs?

SE: Gees. What are you saying here. Are you saying you dramatize these things from mundane jobs, or do these things actually happen?

JR: What do you think? Are people really all that happy to get by on a living wage? You think they wouldn't devise scams like this if they could? This is what American ingenuity is all about. This is what America is all about. In fact, other countries are much better at it. America has become the land of government handouts and corporate welfare, not to get into politics or nationalism. But America is generally known as the land of the fat, dumb, happily lazy.

SE: And this is why your work is so popular.

JR: Exactly Shaun. People around the world generally resent America and Americans for their false sense of entitlement. They love to laugh at them behind their backs. All you have to do is expose real American life. It's too easy.

SE: Ok. But lets get back to the process. What's your take on the so called Hollywood novice convention of outlines, three act structure, archetypes, and so on? You know what I mean.

JR: Yes of course. Shaun, as I say, there is a massive tertiary industry of programs, schools, books, blogs; you name it, on how to succeed in anything Hollywood related, especially acting and writing. Ironically, most everyone involved will claim there are no formulas or rules, as they then list a plethora of formulas and rules. Use an outline. Use three act structure. Use archetypes. Save the cat. Make the protagonist likeable. Give the characters an arc. In screenwriting, it's break the first act around page 17. Build the chase in the second act. Come to a climax and conclusion in third act. Pay off the first act set up in the third act.

SE: But don't most stories follow those patterns?

JR: Only American made Hollywood stories Shaun.  Since Hollywood is good at international marketing, this seems to be the rule. But really it's just a proliferation of the fairy tale syndrome, which as you know, was coined by Professor Max Von Itchenstein, in his social media survey studies of world media culture.

SE: Yes of course. A brilliant survey and study.

JR: Yes of course. And banned in America.

SE: And banned in America. What is that all about?

JR: Shaun, I don't know. But I don't care. Maybe the guy is a Muslim or something. Regardless, the ban makes my work all the more marketable.

SE: On the world black market.

JR: Ha. That's funny. Yes, black market if you like.

SE: But Jon, you still haven't touched on your actual ways of writing, your structure or routine. How do you actually write when you write.

JR: Shaun, as a writer, everything I do is part of my writing, every experience every waking moment. It all feeds in.

SE: You're evading the question.

JR: Ok Shaun. Perhaps I am. Here's the thing. I have no structure, no convention, no style, nothing. I just sit down and write. What ever I write it just happens. Something comes to mind, I put it down. A story evolves. Characters evolve. There is no inherent or universal structure. It's different every time. And here's another thing. I do have successful and great writers I look up to, who I've studied, and listened to, and through the world of modern technology, you could say mentored me virtually. And in regards to your questions, none of them have any inherent structure either. When they talk about it, they may come up with something to appease the interviewer, so as not to be considered eccentric or freaky.  But when pressed on it, every one of them gets there in some different personal way, often which they can't talk about, maybe because it's personal or maybe because it's irrelevant, or maybe because it's so abstract that words fail it.

SE: Words fail a writer?

JR: Yes. Absolutely. We think faster than we can write. We feel things and know that we can't express them clearly or understandably enough, and something like the meta-process of writing is like that. Think of it as maybe spiritual. Can you clearly define spiritual things in a way that is universally understood?  No. What is God? There are as many answers to that question as there are people willing to attempt to answer it. Same for love. What is love? Well one answer is, God is love. So the answer to the former is "love." The answer to the latter is "God." And this leaves us with no idea of what either one is in is terms of lexical thinking. Because some things are not lexical. Some things are not even things. As humans we may have a limit to what we can understand and what we can communicate.

SE: Jon, you could say that to answer any question you don't want to answer.

JR: Yes exactly, and that I don't know how to answer or can't answer. I admit to the limits of what I can and cannot do, or am willing to do.

SE: OK. Now my mind is reeling and I need to soak all this in. So I'm going to end it here, for now. I hope we can do this again sometime.

JR: Of course Shaun. Anything for you. It was indeed a pleasure.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Not Now

You look familiar. You come here often?
What? Are you kidding?
No. Seriously. It's like a deja vu or something.
Does that line ever work for you?
No. You're my first time.
Ha. I don't think I've ever been anyone's first time.
Well, there's a first time for everything.
Yeah, and there's a last time. Nice to meet you.
Wait a minute. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. Look, it wasn't... Ok. Let me just say, you have beautiful eyes.
Thank you. But...
Can I buy you another drink? You don't have any pressing business do you? I mean... Well never mind...
Rum and coke. But not the Bacardi shit.
Black Barrel?
They have that here? Oh wait, let me guess. You get a cut.
Yes they do, and no I don't... Rum and coke with Black Barrel for the lady?
Thank you. Again.
Look, it's not like that. I'm not expecting or planning...,
Yeah, you don't look like your expecting, maybe more like first trimester.
Hey, I could use more exercise, I know.
You like to go for walks?
Depends where. I seldom have any motivation.... OK, I'm motivated. You have a nice smile.
No don't say it. I'm just saying...
Thank you.
Ok. You're welcome.
Yeah I'm married.
Oh I see. To a woman?
Yeah, and I love her.
I'll bet.... I don't care. I mean, I'm glad you're happy.
Well I didn't say that.
Sounds complicated.
That's an understatement.
Got kids?
Are we girlfriends here? Yeah, I got kids. And I love them to death.
And you're not happy.
That has nothing to do with them. That's all on me. I'm not making excuses either. It just could be a hell of a lot better.
You got that right.
You married?
I don't know you well enough to answer that.
Hmmm. Sounds complicated.
I don't get it.
I think it's society.
Oh yeah?
Yeah. All the marriage stuff, taxes, jobs...
Death. Illness. Fucking cancer. Fucking health care. Fucking insurance. Fucking traffic. Fucking assholes every fucking where.
Got that right.
You have pretty hands.
Will you shut the fuck up?
No really you do.
It's not my best feature.
Oh no?
You call that a kiss?
Welll..... Mmm. Damned.
I still don't know you.
OK. Got it. I swear I know you from somewhere.
You watch porn?
Get the fuck out of here.
Damned. But no, that's not it. I know you from somewhere in real life.
Real life huh?
Wait a minute. Acting class. Five years ago. Who was that guy?
Vance yeah. What an asshole.
No shit. How do you think I ended up...?
But you were pretty good. What was that thing.. I don't remember. But you were pretty good.
Just not too memorable.
Hey come on. I use go to that class loaded. I'm lucky I remember anything.
So you don't remember the Christmas party...?
Holy shit. That was you?
No that was my friend, Jean. But I watched.
Get out a here. I don't remember...
No shit.... You had a nice body.
Yeah?  What you mean, had?
Well obviously...
Hey, the light's bad in here.... I'm..
Hey lighten up. I'm just fucking with you.
You're pretty cool.
Alright, that's enough. I gotta go.
Want another drink?
Oh now I see. You're an alcoholic.
I'm not a fucking alcoholic, mother fucker. I just enjoy a few drinks.
Got it. I don't think there is such a thing anyway. It's just some trumped up societal label for people who need to feel superior to beautiful women, and maybe smart good looking guys. And you're pretty when you get mad.
Ha. You're funny.
Another rum and coke for the lady?
Thank you.
You don't have to be so polite.
I know I don't have to be.
I know I don't know you. But I know I like you.
I like you too. Just keep your fucking distance.
The drinks must be working.
Yeah. Totally. Pretty soon I'll be so blitzed, I'll probably let you have your way with me.
Sounds like a party.
Yeah, one night stands. Story of my life.
Not this time.
Oh. Too loyal to the wife.
Yeah I am. But that's not what I mean.
I know a good place to go walking.
Yeah? Me too.
Anywhere with you.
Ha. You're funny.
You're repeating yourself.
Thank you.
Ok. You're gone.
You call that a kiss?
Maybe I should practice more.
Yeah, maybe you should. 
This is going nowhere, isn't it.
Nowhere and everywhere.
An interesting paradox.
Or deja vu.
You're funny.
Thank you.
What were we talking about.
Ah, we weren't talking.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Population: 7 Billion

Yes there are way more films released than any one person can possibly see. But there are 7 billion people in the world. Perhaps there are huge numbers of people who have not seen many or even any of them. Even with 50,000 annual indie films, it should be mathematically easy to find audiences of 100, 000 for each one. Why is there a problem with marketing? Perhaps we are the problem. Perhaps we need to find our audience beyond the normal places we've been looking. Perhaps we need to consider more universal languages. YouTube is doing it. And that's not about production value or talent or feature length films. But maybe it could be, or maybe filmmakers could morph into that format.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Review: A Serious Man

Originally posted on the Black List

Title: A Serious Man [download a PDF version of the script here].
Year: 2009
Writing Credits: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
IMDB rating: 7

IMDB plot summary:
Bloomington, Minnesota, 1967: Jewish physics lecturer Larry Gopnik is a serious and a very put-upon man. His daughter is stealing from him to save up for a nose job, his pot-head son, who gets stoned at his own bar-mitzvah, only wants him round to fix the TV aerial and his useless brother Arthur is an unwelcome house guest. But both Arthur and Larry get turfed out into a motel when Larry’s wife Judy, who wants a divorce, moves her lover, Sy, into the house and even after Sy’s death in a car crash they are still there. With lawyers’ bills mounting for his divorce, Arthur’s criminal court appearances and a land feud with a neighbor Larry is tempted to take the bribe offered by a student to give him an illegal exam pass mark. And the rabbis he visits for advice only dole out platitudes. Still God moves in mysterious – and not always pleasant – ways, as Larry and his family will find out.
Tagline: …seriously!

Nominated for Oscars for Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture;
Nominated for Golden Globe for Best Actor, Michael Stuhlbarg
Nominated BAFTA Best Screenplay
Won AFI Movie of the Year
Nominated Eddie Best Edited Feature
Nominated Art Directors Guild Excellence in Production Design Award
Won Independent Spirit Award Best Cinematography Roger Deakins
Won Robert Altman Award
Nominated Independent Spirit Award Best Director Ethan & Joel Coen
Nominated WGA Best Original Screenplay
Numerous others

Analysis: What stood out to me immediately was the detailed camera directions in the script, and very much a big part of telling the story. Of course the Coens are director-writer-editors. It makes sense that they might see the film at the script stage in terms of how they intend to direct and cut it. The film is 107 minutes. But the script is 133 pages, which testifies to the added camera direction, despite a page or two of cuts at most. I looked at two other Coen scripts and saw a similar treatment at the beginning of Fargo and Raising Arizona. But A Serious Man is a bit more so. I think there is a tendency among novice filmmakers to write this way until they are corrected to leave that detail to the director, even if it’s themselves. But this is not generally recommended. They also ignore conventions like INT. or EXT. in the scene heading. Instead they just put the location there. They do not place the character name line when the same character speaks with action lines between. It makes for easier reading.

I watched the film after reading the script. Though I had seen it before. But I didn’t notice much difference from the script, except stuff that was cut. It’s impressive that the script is pretty much exactly what the film is. The theory on making movies is that there are three versions, the script, the one you direct and produce, and the one you edit. Not so with the Coens. What they write is what the final product is.

It’s been said that film has a long way to go, that the best films are yet to be made. I like to compare film to music, which has been around since the classics, about 400 years. I like to think that film could be more like a classical composition with the various instruments, melody, bass, rhythm and so on, analogous to image, sound, dialog, effects and so on. Could film be done more harmoniously as music is? The Coens seem to approach this concept, especially considering their script as the composition, is strictly adhered to as a musical composition is. The idea that the writer(s) control everything from image, to effects, to music. to dialog, in the script, the direction and the editing; makes this kind of harmony more likely than relegating these things to separate people, or at separate stages.

The theme of A Serious Man is quirky and magical for me; about the futility of being concerned over things in your life you cannot control. The setting is a period 60s Jewish community. The characters are both religious and irreverent, and perhaps naturally hypocritical. They are all either shallow or self centered. This reflects on the protagonist as someone who isn’t really close to anyone, considering everyone is seen through his perspective. The film even seems to say that irreverence is a part of life and a part of Judaism, at least among lay people. In this way it pokes fun at being serious or at taking religion literally. And this is the dilemma of the protagonist who wants desperately to understand things in his life that affect him and that he can’t control, and who looks to his religion for answers.

The protagonist goes through nearly all of the film with no real arc or change. He is simply put upon by his family and people around him. He mostly accepts his fate and everything his wife tells him to do. He is pushed around. Yet at one point he decides to take a stand. But this has absolutely no effect, which makes him even more frustrated. He looks to Rabbis as mentors. Externally they appear more as tricksters who tell him there is no answer. Yet internally they are telling him not to be concerned over such things. By the end he does arc ever so subtly. He accepts that he cannot understand these things and must move on.

The film is very unusual and original in having a passive protagonist and no real dramatic overcoming of an obstacle. It’s all very subtle and even easy to completely miss. I think this is why the film is misunderstood, underrated and even considered a failure by people who are used to being lead by the hand through a more conventional traditionally structured story, with a strong arc or strong climax. On the other hand, if you can accept the originality, it’s a film that makes you really think.

In this clip the protagonist sees the junior Rabbi, who talks about the inner world or the expression of Hashem (translated as the Name or God) in the world, as opposed to seeing Hashem as externally living only in shul (the synagogue). I see this as a parallel to inner world and outer world of the protagonist, and his inability to reconcile them. By the way, this script sent me to the dictionary. Though the word meanings are apparent in context.

The Jefferson Airplane song ‘Somebody to Love’ is used as a device in the film and echoes the theme with the line ‘When the truth is found to be lies, and all the hope with in you dies…’ You could even say the entire film concept stems from that line. It’s a simple genius. Another rule the Coens break is to explicitly use known songs in the script.

Most Memorable Moments: The second Rabbi tells Larry the story of a man with inscriptions in his teeth, that turn out to be meaningless. Larry doesn’t understand the point of why he was told the story. And the Rabbi basically responds that here is no point. That’s the point. It is wonderfully comedic. This also echoes encounters with others characters.
Larry: So what did you tell him?
The rabbi seems surprised by the question.
Rabbi Nachtner: Sussman?
Larry: Yes!
Rabbi Nachtner: Is it. . . relevant?
Larry: Well—isn’t that why you’re telling me?
Rabbi Nachtner: Mm. Okay. Nachtner says, look. . .
The consultation scene again, with the rabbi once again narrating in voice-over. He silently advises the fretful Sussman in sync with his recounting of the same.
. . .
Rabbi Nachtner: The teeth, we don’t know. A sign from hashem, don’t know. Helping others, couldn’t hurt.
Back to the rabbi’s office in present. Larry struggles to make sense of the story.
Larry: But—was it for him, for Sussman? Or—
Rabbi Nachtner: We can’t know everything.
Larry: It sounds like you don’t know anything! Why even tell me the story?
Rabbi Nachtner: (amused) First I should tell you, then I shouldn’t.
Larry, exasperated, changes tack:
Larry: What happened to Sussman?
Sussman, back in his office, works on different patients as the rabbi resumes the narrative in voice-over.
Rabbi Nachtner: What would happen? Not much. He went back to work. For a while he checked every patient’s teeth for new messages; didn’t see any; in time, he found he’d stopped checking. He returned to life.
Sussman, at home, chats with his wife over dinner.
Rabbi Nachtner:. . . These questions that are bothering you, Larry—maybe they’re like a Toothache. We feel them for a while, Then they go away.
Sussman lies in bed sleeping, smiling, an arm thrown across his wife.
Back in the rabbi’s office, Larry is dissatisfied.
Larry: I don’t want it to just go away! I want an answer!
Rabbi Nachtner: The answer! Sure! We all want the answer! But Hashem doesn’t owe us the answer, Larry. Hashem doesn’t owe us anything. The obligation runs the other way.
Larry: Why does he make us feel the questions if he’s not going to give us any answers?
Rabbi Nachtner smiles at Larry.
Rabbi Nachtner: He hasn’t told me.
Larry rubs his face, frustrated.
 Most Memorable Dialogue: The last and elder Rabbi, Marshak, at the end talks to the Bar mitzvah boy, Danny, and returns the transistor radio confiscated from him by his teacher.
Marshak: When the truth is found. To be lies.
He pauses. He clears his throat.
At length:
Marshak:. . . And all the hope. Within you dies.
Another beat. Danny waits. Marshak stares.
He smacks his lips again. He thinks.
Marshak:. . . Then what?
Danny doesn’t answer. It is unclear whether answer is expected.
Marshak clears his throat with a loud and thorough hawking.
The hawking abates. Marshak sniffs.
Marshak:. . . Grace Slick. Marty Balin. Paul Kanta. Jorma. . . somethin. These are the membas of the Airplane.
He nods a couple of times.
Marshak:. . . Interesting.
He reaches up and slowly opens his desk drawer. He withdraws something. He lays it on the bare desk and pushes it across.
Marshak:. . . Here.
It is Danny’s radio.
Marshak:. . . Be a good boy.
What Did I Learn About Screenwriting From Reading This Script: I learned that camera direction can be very useful and can help to visualize the story cinematically. One criticism I’ve heard about some screenplays is that they aren’t cinematic enough. I think screenwriters have to be conscious of this, and able to picture the script on the screen. Reading this script is like watching a film.

I learned that there is something very beautiful in simplicity. Something like a phrase from a song you love, or even the basic theme of a bible story (like the story of Job), can inspire a cool movie.
I learned that ambiguity and subtlety can make the audience think and make a film much more interactive that way. Those are the kinds of films I tend to like the most. The idea that some people can get something out of it, while others may not, gives the film a controversial reaction and starts a conversation.

Finally, don’t be afraid to break rules and conventions. You just might invent something very original.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Sadism of American Health Care

Let's Review

  • Insurance is not healthcare.
  • Insurance is premiums and co-pays
  • Insurance companies are known to deny claims for expensive catastrophic conditions, such as cancer treatment.
  • 61% of bankruptcies are due to medical debt.
  • Many people in debt had insurance when they first got sick, but claims were denied.
  • There are no regulations to require insurance companies to honor claims, or to regulate premiums.
  • Cancer is a multi-trillion dollar annual industry
  • Most all processed foods and chain restaurants sell carcinogenic foods.
  • Good food, such as organic food, is more expensive than bad food.
  • Health care costs are multiple times higher for the insured than the uninsured. 


Ask Your Doctor

Just check with your doctor on what the charges are for you when you are insured versus when you are uninsured.  The same goes for your pharmacist.  I have heard reports (and have personally experienced) pharmaceutical costs at three to ten times higher when you are insured than when you are not insured.  Why should I pay $600 per month to get "free" medications (plus a small co-pay) that cost $500 when I'm insured?  But if I am uninsured, I pay for the same medications outright for $100 and I save $500 monthly, because I pay no premiums.  I can use that money to buy high quality foods that prevent health problems.

Insurance is the Catastrophe

If I should face a catastrophic health care claim, I would have no insurance and therefore be billed at the uninsured rates of one-third to one-tenth the rates I would be billed if insured.  Suddenly catastrophic costs are not as high and are somewhat affordable.  If I go to the right hospital, they will provide a social worker to help me work out payments or get alternative insurance.  I don't need to have catastrophic insurance in advance.  I can live without insurance and get it when I actually need it. If unemployed, there are state programs (like Medi-cal in California) that will cover everything. So it becomes very clear that having insurance is more expensive, more risky, and downright life threatening, compared to not having it. With no health insurance I can afford a better healthier life with better foods, and prevent the need for insurance.

Insurance companies may or may not deny coverage. So you are gambling that your exorbitant premiums might cover you and your family when you need it the most.  But there is no guarantee.   Insurance companies do not guarantee they will cover you for anything.  We know that many people die for lack of coverage even when they have insurance. Why buy it? What we really need is insurance for insurance companies that will cover you when they don't.

Is your life and your family's lives worth the risk of insurance that is worse that not having any?  At least without insurance, you qualify for care under numerous social service programs. But with insurance you run the risk of being denied care and left to suffer and die. The cost of care when you are insured is also many times higher, making it more unlikely for you to get care.  Just tell your doctor, hospital ad pharmacist that you have no coverage and your bills will be cut down drastically.



The ACA (Obamacare) is supposed to make insurance affordable for people who previously could not afford it. In fact Obamacare insurance is hardly less expensive. Poor people who can't afford even low cost insurance are left out in the cold, having to buy cheap foods that are actually a health risk.  California's Prop 65 lists over 900 carcinogenic chemicals that may be found in our food, air, and environment.  The law merely requires establishments to post a notice that these chemicals exist in their products. Most every food chain, including McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell,  Carl's Junior, Starbucks, Wendy's, Chili's, Applebees and many more, sell food with carcinogens.  Some of them post the required notice. Most do not. Any processed and prepackage food is a likely candidate for carcinogenic chemicals or malnutrition.

Even with Obamacare, children over 26 do not qualify to be on their parents plan. In our lousy economy, it is most likely these kids are unemployed, grossly underemployed, or faced with extravagant college loan payments, and cannot afford insurance on their own, no matter how cheap it is.  This is a blessing in disguise as insurance is more of a liability than a protection.

We choose our own fate. We can choose to deny insurance companies our money and support, instead of paying for them to deny us coverage and charge us both exorbitant premiums and exorbitant health care costs.

Insurance is not what we should be discussing. As activist Dr. Margaret Flowers says, we need to change the discussion to be about health care, not insurance.  Care for your health.  Eat nutritious, organic, non-carcinogenic foods.  Your food is your medicine. Your medicine is your food. Insurance is just a sadistic business based on keeping people sick. Don't buy it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


When we watch a documentary I think we feel that we are getting insight into something happening in the real world, as opposed to fiction. Yet I question the truth and honesty in most documentaries, especially when they bring in some known authority [By the way I hate the same old tired parade of credentialed talking heads on news channels like MSNBC to the point where I can't bear to watch them anymore, even if I do agree with what they say].

How do we know what is actually known. Scientists and even social researchers use hypotheses to test theories.  They never say they know something as fact. As a masters candidate in communications, I learned that it takes many researchers doing years of study and having the same conclusions before you can say that a certain theory has some validity. So how then can we watch a documentary film, made by a handful of people (usually not scientists or scholarly researchers), and expect to come to a conclusion about certain things being a certain way?

And this is not a criticism of audiences. It's a criticism of filmmakers, including me. I recently screened a doc for a small group of activists. They couldn't have had better criticisms, and accolades as well, of my film about healthcare reform. But one criticism that bothered was that the film left one person confused. So what? Am I a school teacher or something? Things are confusing.

Anyway, there is no truth. There is only perception. In True Detective, a recent HBO buddy cop series, the main characters come to a conclusion about the world coming down to just one age old story about the struggle between darkness and light. In a world of cops and robbers, or detectives and serial rapist killers, that may be very true. But few of us live in that world of extreme drama. In reality it's more likely people have shades of gray. The good guys have bad in them. The bad guys have good in them. It becomes absurd to label one or the other. Yet I loved watching True Detective.  It had deep characters and extremely intense dramatic moments. It's entertainment.

We are conditioned to expect documentaries to be entertaining. Even Michael Moore suggests to filmmakers that a successful documentary is entertaining. That may be true for audiences that have come to expect what they are conditioned for. But that is not necessarily honest. Perhaps that's why he is harshly criticized by opponents to his conclusions. Filmmakers like this do your thinking for you. They basically tell you what to think. I like Michael Moore and I like his films. But I think he is pandering to the base audiences that expect resolution and certainty, which may conventionally be the most marketable audiences. Distributors and gatekeepers don't want to promote films for thinking people, where you have to consider what you've seen and maybe even then not be sure what it was about exactly. But isn't that what art is?

When a documentary filmmaker writes a script with themes, resolutions, questions, and expected answers, and then goes out to find people who fit into that written mold, that is dishonest. It is a contrivance. It is as fictional as any work of fiction. An honest documentary should merely capture what it finds through open questions and exploration, such as, "What are you concerns?" "Why are you here?" and not, "Do you agree with single payer?" or "Is healthcare a right?" Those are loaded questions.

Even in doing that, any filmmaker has their own bias which comes through to create a sort of narrative. But at least it is found and not sought after. An honest filmmaker would seek unexpected findings as well, to question the expected. At least such things should be revealed. But I think it is wrong to judge or to comment on what is found as most filmmakers do in narration. Keep that bias to yourself. Let the audience look at your characters and make their own judgements, if any, and create their own interpretations. Respect that your audience can think for themselves.

In fiction, good actors strive for honesty in a performance that's true to the character they play in whatever circumstance they are in. A screenwriter avoids expositionary dialogue, which would too conveniently reveal exactly what a character is thinking or what circumstance prevails. Honest characters don't talk that way. They hid emotions or try to. They lie. But the audience sees through them. So do screenwriters avoid convenient coincidences that explain exactly what is going on in the story. But not so in most documentaries where the filmmaker is conveniently at the right place and time to get the story.

In this way, a narrative fictional film could be more truthful than a documentary. In exploring characters, actors (and cinematics) can reveal what's in the mind, unlike in a typical documentary where characters are on guard to keep their personal lives secret. But an audience may be able to read into documentary characters just as they read into fictional characters, if the filmmaker can capture nuances in their emotions, gestures and expressions, and if the filmmaker allows them to do so; or perhaps catches them in an uncomfortable moment or even a lie. I remember a psychotherapist who suggested a mental diagnosis of George W. Bush, just based on observations of his gestures. But we are used to news analysis and narrators telling us what we've just seen, instead of making these sort of judgements for ourselves.

Screenshot from got healthcare?
Arrest of Drs. Paris and Flowers
footage by William Hughes
You wouldn't expect a narrator to tell you what's going on in a fictional film, nor would you want to. The mystery is part of the entertainment. But it's also part of the honesty. After the film we have pie or wine and argue about what we saw, everyone has a different opinion.  This should happen with documentaries as well. Allow the audience to put their heads together to compare notes and observations, just as researchers do when they observe subjects. To me that is much more entertaining than expositionary narration.

This may leave the documentary audience confused, wanting more, and unsatisfied. It's like an ambiguous ending in a fictional film where we can't figure out what happened for certain, or what will happen in the future. There is no closure. This is true to life. In life we have no closure. We simply accept and move on. But we might come away with a new insight from the filmmaker perspective. We may be lead to think about things and see them in a light we hadn't seen them in before. That should be good enough.

I haven't seen Big Men yet. But it looks promising.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Film Investment Index Futility

Colin Whitlow of the Cinema Research Institute has an interesting article, The Clarity and Color of Film Finance1), on how to devise an investment index for films. Great idea, except the typical business indicators he speaks of amount to only 5% of what might make a film successful. The other 95% is the script and cast, as any filmmaker knows.

Regardless of all these indicators, even if you came up with a useful index, it would indicate that less than 50% of mainstream films ever break even, and less than 1% of indie films ever see any return at all, let alone a profit (Leipzig, Sundance Infographic 2014: Are Indies the “8th Studio”? 2). Such an index would turn investors way and probably make things worse than ever. It is a known fact in the industry that films are highly risky investments and that most investors are there for the glory and glamor, not for profit.
On the other hand, an index that exposes the poor performance in the industry, might incentivize and pressure the business minded MBA ridden industry execs to make films with great scripts and great cast, instead of following the piss poor business market indicators that they use now. Filmmakers know that cast and script are the two main elements that account for 95% of what makes a film successful, and that industry execs have no clue as to what a good film is. So if you did ever want to turn around the poor performance of the industry, you'd have to remove all business minded execs and replace them with well experienced filmmakers (producers and directors). As Steven Soderbergh said at the SF Film Society 3:
....I think there are too many layers of executives, I don’t know why you should be having a lot of phone calls with people that can’t actually make decisions. They’ll violate their own rules, on a whim, while making you adhere to them. They get simple things wrong sometimes, like remakes. I mean, why are you always remaking the famous movies? Why aren’t you looking back into your catalog and finding some sort of programmer that was made 50 years ago that has a really good idea in it, that if you put some fresh talent on it, it could be really great. Of course, in order to do that you need to have someone at the studio that actually knows those movies. Even if you don’t have that person you could hire one. The sort of “executive ecosystem” is distorted, because executives don’t get punished for making bombs the way that filmmakers do, and the result is there’s no turnover of new ideas—there’s no new ideas about how to approach the business or how to deal with talent or material. But, again, economically, it’s a pretty straightforward business; it’s the third-biggest export that we have. It’s one of the few things that we do that the world actually likes...
Case in point, The Grand Budapest Hotel written and directed by Wes Anderson, with Ralph Fiennes, Adrian Brody, Willem Defoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, and Owen Wilson; to name just a few of the stellar cast. But marketing powers opened this film in only four theaters. Yet it grossed over a million dollars on it’s opening night, putting it eighth on the charts beating out many films playing in 1000 theaters4. How is it that industry business marketing geniuses couldn’t figure this one out ahead of time?

In the meantime it makes the most sense for filmmaker business plans and investor due diligence to rely on the right objective script readers and cast experts to evaluate projects based on script and cast. But they would have to base evaluations based upon what is considered artistically great, not what the current industry erroneously considers marketable. Art precedes business. You have to have the art before you can sell it.

1 Colin Whitlow. (March 2014). The Clarity and Color of Film Finance. Cinema Research Institute, Retrieved 3/14.2014, from
2. (January 2014).Sundance Infographic 2014: Are Indies the “8th Studio”?. Cultural Weekly, Retrieved 2/14/2014, from
3 Steven Soderbergh. (April 2013).Steven Soderbergh – The State of Cinema Video & Transcript. SF Film Society Blog, Retrieved 3/14/2014, from

4 Peter Knegt. (March 2014). Friday Box Office: ‘Budapest Hotel’ Jumps Into Top 10 In Just 66 Theaters (And Beats ‘Veronica Mars’). IndieWire, Retrieved 3/15/2014, from

Your Sickness is Someone's Payday

got healthcare? is the title of my documentary film, which chronicles the media ignored national street debates in 2009 over the creation of what we now know as Obamacare.  I recently screened the film for a healthcare reform activist group and got some valuable feedback. Most notably, some found the film confusing. They couldn't tell for certain if one person interviewed was a progressive reformist or a conservative in favor of the status quo. They wanted me to label the people interviewed as one or the other. My response was that I didn't know for certain who was who. Do people walk around with labels on them that say "conservative" or "liberal"?

There were people on both sides, for example, that did not like the government's handling of healthcare reform. There are gray areas. You cannot draw a clean line with people taking one side or the other. Even if they stand on one side they have ideas that cross the line. And there are more than just two sides. There are as many sides as there are people.

The media would have you think that proponents of Obamacare are liberals or progressives, and that opponents are conservatives or Republicans. In fact most liberals and progressives disfavor Obamacare as much as conservatives, and sometimes for the same reasons. Are people always strictly liberal or conservative? We are conditioned to think in terms of right or wrong,  one team against another, or liberals against conservatives. It is a paradigm of competition. But not everything is in competition. There are gray areas. There are gentile endeavors where there are no winners or losers. There are only humans who live life, or try to.

Health care is the maintenance and sustainability of human life. It is not a game. It is not a competition. It should not be a business where human life is in play for profits. There are gray areas. You may live in pain. You may live with the best care money can buy. You may have the most expensive insurance money can buy, and be denied care. Money cannot buy life. Health insurance is a business. It is a matter of money, except in civilized countries where life takes priority over money and everyone is guaranteed health care by their government. That is what single payers does. This is what America does not have.

There are those who don't understand Obamacare. Who does? In reality, Obamacare was designed to be confusing and to create chaos.  It was effectively written by the insurance industry (primarily Liz Fowler, a former Wellpoint Insurance executive who became an aide to Senator Max Baucus). It guarantees insurance companies more subscribers. It guarantees no one health care. Insurance is not health care. Insurance is premiums and co-pays (as Maureen Cruise, our executive producer and effective narrator says). It continues to evolve with more and more regulations added to it all the time. It is a massive piece of legislation and regulation that can't possibly be fathomed by anyone. The alarming stats in 2009 concerning the pain, suffering, and death in America over lack of healthcare have increased, not decreased. If the state of healthcare insurance in America is chaotic and confusing, how could it be possible to make a film about it that is not confusing? The film defines the confusing elements, such as lack of care, denial of care, pain, suffering and death at rates that rank America 37th in world healthcare performance (and much worse now).  But the film does offer a simple, clear and understandable solution: Single Payer (Medicare for All). That is all you can know for certain about healthcare reform, and the fact that our government will not consider it.

The other thing about my film is that it is unconventional in not taking the audience by the hand and down the garden path to understanding, as most documentaries appear to do. We are used to telling our kids about Santa Claus and other fantasies about how wonderful life is. We expect Hollywood endings in films. We don't want to hear that there are no viable answers under consideration. We don't want to hear that our government is made up of narcissistic greedy individuals that care only about themselves. In the real world, we don't really know all the answers, and there are few Hollywood endings. In the real world we don't live in a democracy. We live in a corporatocracy, a corporate welfare state, where government answers only to Wall Street.

Documentary filmmakers make profound statements concerning how things are, when in fact, their sources may not be as credible as they appear.  Historically, even the greatest minds and scholars have been incredibly wrong. At one time the greatest minds believed the world to be flat. How is it that a documentary filmmaker can choose unreproachable sources? Everyone is reproachable. Everything is questionable. Statistics change with time. So how is it that by the end of a documentary you would have a clear understanding of the subject at hand? More likely you would have clearly defined questions. Great scholars are students, not authorities. There is no final human authority. A documentary is one view and that view may be somewhat abstract.

I am considering adding a disclaimer at the start of the film:
The film you are about to see may leave you confused, because it is about American health care. 
There is nothing more confusing and chaotic than American health care. But there is a clearly defined resolution known as single payer. With single payer the government is the insurance provider for all people in America, just as it protects people from fire with fireman and from crime with policemen. Just as you have a drivers license or a credit card, you would have a healthcare card to pay any and all heath care bills.  Until that happens, expect confusion and chaos in all things health care and sick care related. Your sickness is someone's payday.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Build Your Movie Website

Movie Website
A movie website should typically have just enough information to explain what the movie is about and intrigue people to want to see it.  This is where sales agents and distributors will go to get an idea of how marketable your film is.  It is where you audience and crowd-funders will go to find out who is on the cast, what the roles are, what the story is, and who the people are who are making it.  It's where prospective talent and crew will come to see what the roles are and what is involved with making the film.  There are a few basic elements you should have (basically a pitch deck).
  1. The logline
  2. A trailer, concept trailer, or poster art
  3. A five minutes scenes reel of key scenes if you want to attract sales agents or distributors
  4. An about page with film story summary, a pitch with a comparison to a similar film, and the director and key team bios
  5. A director's statement and writer's statement
  6. Characterizations or bios of the main characters in the film
  7. A contact form so people can get in touch
  8. An email sign up form so people can subscribe to your newsletter, but more importantly, so you can amass a list of emails to send out notices to, for things like your crowdfunding campaign
  9. Links to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest
  10. If the film is completed, a reviews page with testimonials and reviews
  11. A store to sell the DVDs, Blu-rays or digital downloads if available.
You can look at other film sites to get an idea.  But you have to think about what you need for your film, depending on what stage you're in.  If in development, you need to attract crew or cast.  If you're self distributing you don't need to attract sales agents or distributors. 

No matter if you build the site yourself or hire someone, you need to work out this stuff in advance.  You should decide how many page you want, what goes on each page and which one is first.  It's typical to have the poster or trailer on the front page along with a logline, and maybe a short summary.  You want to intrigue people to look through the rest of your site.  

For posters on a webpage, it may be better to use a horizontal format instead of typical poster vertical, because webpages are horizontal.  However, if the poster is on a page with other material it may make sense to have it vertical with the other material next to it.  You can hire designers or graphic artists to decide this stuff for you and design it.  For early stages of development you can use concept art, which might include obscure images that don't clearly show faces if the cast isn't attached yet.  You could get royalty free images form various web services that provide it.  You can also get royalty free greenscreen and other video clips that you can use to create a concept trailer.  You could use gaming software to do the same thing.

You have to decide if you want to build it yourself or of you want to pay for someone to do it, and how much you can afford.  If you go with online free software, like Blogger or WordPress, you can do those yourself or likely hire someone fairly cheaply to do that, since very little programming, if any is required.  There are also some free flash website builder web services around. 
Blog sites like WordPress and Blogger are useful because you can incorporate a blog as a news page.  They are also very maintainable and you can easily pass them on to a new designer or webmaster as needed. These sites also have built in widgets and plugins for things like social media links, like buttons, RSS feeds, and many more.  These sites also let you post links to your RSS news feed and comment feed.

  You should incorporate social feed links like these with image buttons for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and RSS.  This can be programmed with simple HTML in a text widget.

Pinterest is great for sharing picture book ideas for your film, especially useful to cast, wardrobe and makeup.

You should have an email blast server like MailChimp, which has a free level.  MailChimp has a widget plugin that places an email signup form on a WordPress site.  They also have one for Facebook pages.  They also provide the HTML for you to place into a text widget.  MailChimp also has an RSS feature that schedules an email blast every time you add a new post to your blog.

Google Translate offers text for you to place into a text widget so that visitors can choose to auto translate your entire website.  They also have a WordPress plugin.  Considering that the foreign film market is huge, this is important.

With blogger sites you don't have to use the blog page as the front page.  You can create additional pages for all the items listed above and put whichever one you like up front, such as a trailer or poster.  You are also able to have a page menu item display a different website, either by jumping to that site or possibly in a frame inside a page on your site.

You can create custom RSS feeds for topics other than your website blog.  Delicious has this feature.  You sign up to Delicious and then you can save other website URLs to your Delicious feed with tags.  Lets say you want to have a feed for 4K.  Every time you come across a website or article that you want in your feed, you save it to Delicious and tag it with 4K.  Then when you want to send that feed to others or display it in a widget, you get that RSS feed URL for that tag from Delicious.
On Delicious you choose the TOOLS link at the bottom and then the RSS link, which explains how to create the RSS feed link.

My 4K link is  You simply place this link inside an RSS widget in WordPress, Blogger or your own feed reader.  A feed reader is sort of like email.  You install one on your computer.  You subscribe to a feed like this one.  Then every time a new item is added to the feed it pops up at the bottom of the screen of whoever subscribes to it.

The cost for a website builder is typically around $1500.  But this can vary based on what platform you use, how many pages, and how complex and customized you want to get.  The big studio sites usually use complex flash programming. You can do your own free web builder site or blog site.

Actor Website using ASP.Net and JavaScript
I build my own sites using ASP.Net with frames that display pages and WordPress blogs as news feeds.  I would not suggest ASP.Net.  It is overkill for this purpose.  But I'm used to it and can do some interesting things incorporating frames and JavaScript. Simple blog sites are much easier and faster. Here are some examples of sites I have done with WordPress and Blogger.

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