Finding Old Writing

Spending so much time at home during the pandemic, I’ve finally opened some storage boxes and plastic bins of odds and ends with mixed results.  Listening to an audio book or a commentary track, I’ve been able to get into the groove of this tedious task of deciding what can be thrown out and what is a great forgotten find and what might have been too damaged from a flood a few years back.  It reminds me to more urgently find a place that can extract digital files like scripts from a floppy disc.  I keep finding more of those as well.

Along the way, I can’t help but scan my eyes over any documents or partial drafts or full stories and scripts that can still be salvaged or that might even read as better than the drafts that followed.  I can see some attention to detail and manic energy that went into some decent output.  It may have been a mistake to participate in some screenwriting groups that threw off my own process.  Material that would have said what I meant fifteen or twenty years ago might still ring true but would also be in conflict with the temper of the times.

A love for cinema itself motivated most of my writing. I would say storytelling but story is a container for the stuff that I would care about.  I might find the unrequited love story or any variation of it and think it is cringe-worthy and overly personal.  Maybe it isn’t quite me anymore, and I could still honor it by combing through it for craft clean-up but would I even be brave enough to maintain the original intent for the sake of others who might still identify with it?  Or would I fall prey to the same process that so many notorious IP follow-ups do, the ret-con or the revisionist approach to a story or character that undermines it with false modern spin?

I’ve also found some strange visual support for one of my scripts, where I had cut out groups and individuals whose pose or expression could be imitated by actors for a montage of alienation at a party.  It is like found storyboards.  I know I have to do that sequence one way or another.  Even if a bland, politically correct story thread supports it.  Along with writings and magazines and excessive books weighing down so many storage bins, I’m reminded how many cameras I have and some gear I rarely use that has to stop going to waste.  Minding manuals that make me sleepy to even think of studying, but that is a process I have to go through. It feels like excavating someone else’s life.  It forces a gentle personal inventory.


Community Standards

I got a message from an actor who had featured in a number of my shorts and videos asking what happened to the youtube channel associated with it.  Almost all of the shorts and monologues were on it.  I checked and it was gone.  The channel itself had been up since 2009.  A couple of the shorts were older, the original from 2007 and a simpler one from 2008.  I hadn’t logged in to it for a long time, and had only used it to get the links for sharing the shorts wherever appropriate.  I checked the associated e-mail account and sure enough that same day I had received a notice that the account had been suspended for reports of “violating community standards.”  I followed the link to their form to post an appeal, and apparently got an automated acknowledgement of the appeal’s receipt with an “as soon as possible” reassurance of processing it.

No doubt that having more people sit at home during the Covid-19 lockdown has attracted more busybodies false flagging anything that doesn’t suit their own tastes ostensibly as volunteers helping youtube improve the site.  It gives the lie to the concept of community standards.  Is youtube a resource of a community?  Like Twitter, the comment sections can be a cesspool.  But ideally if it were a community that might mean that your neighbor two doors down could be watching content that is not to your taste and that should be okay.  The one gray area in this is that having not logged in to the account for a few years I did not get the alert and link to click “not intended for children” which has been a recent addition to youtube because they got fined for hosting a video that drew complaints from the usual busybodies.  If the channel is restored I will see to clicking that, although the problem would not exist if the DEFAULT were “not intended for children” so that in the rare case that something is meant to be kid-friendly the content creator posting it can designate it as such.

I’m still crossing my fingers at the time of this blog entry.  We will see.  Maybe faith will be restored in reason and comprehension.  Content creators should be protected from busybodies and also perhaps from our personal enemies and rivals.  We sometimes hear about self-styled pundits on youtube getting false flagged by each other.    When a channel is “reviewed” we, the users, content creators, or community, don’t know by whom and what that review entailed.  Was an individual or team playing back each of the sorts and monologues on my channel?  Because if they did, and they were all adults, they would have recognized that even though the channel centers around Porno the Clown (played by Jay Ould) and is called pornotheclownDOTcom it does not contain porn. They would see that it is all satirical and motivated by a sense of whimsical mischief that is becoming more and more rare in hyper-sensitive times.  The channel has been up for 11 years, even beyond 2013 when colleges began to takes seriously the quirks and the demands of the lunatic fringe and pander to them and when that began to seep into pop culture in general.  Dexter and Breaking Bad ended in 2013.  Robin Williams and Harold Ramis died in 2014, as did Bill Cosby’s public persona. So it becomes a different world every few years.

One person’s food is another person’s poison.  As I have said before, since we are likely not sharing the same screen or monitor I can enjoy Dave Chappelle’s latest video and you can enjoy RuPaul’s Drag Race and neither of us has to interfere with the other.  There is so much content out there it is almost impossible to catch up.  We all usually want to reinforce or validate our own views, even if we pay lip service to the importance of exposure to conflicting opinions to “sharpen the blade.”  You can agree with someone on most every issue and get unfriended (as recently happened to me) by someone you have been supportive to and stood up for….. and the transgression in my case was telling someone there is no reason to blame Bernie Sanders if the DNC chooses a mediocre nominee to support and Agent Orange gets a second term.  People have to vote FOR something more than AGAINST something to be engaged and committed.

My initial plan was that the shorts and monologues would continue and the channel would have been used to help increase awareness of the character Porno the Clown in anticipation of the feature length movie I had written and story boarded.  My impulse is to double down and still do it.  That may still happen.  But something has to be adjusted on the “community standards” end of things.  A cycle of content being created and unceremoniously deleted is unworkable.  It was bad enough during the Stephen Harper years of Canada that Canadian production companies got spooked by a pending bill that could see TV shows or movies denied a tax credit if the resulting project was deemed to not fit the community standards of the time.  Content can not be one size fits all.  Too many cooks do spoil the soup.     There is something to offend everybody.  Unless the reactionary trend snaps under its own weight even the most low budget and independent content will be suffocated.



Phantom Edits: Blade Runner

Back in the late Nineties, before there was a The Phantom Edit (the Mike J. Nichols @TheEditDoctor ), I experimented with an off-line VHS editing suite at a workplace after hours and made my own versions of a few movies.  The first was Blade Runner which I admired for its look and for dramatic scenes that work autonomously but which were buffered by languid pacing and traveling where the atmosphere is no longer supporting story but it feels like filler.  I also did a re-edit of Hook, which had too many epiphanies for Peter Banning and also wallowed a bit in some of the weird body paint manifestation.  I trimmed down Malcolm X and I did a combination cut of Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns by shuffling the order of a few scenes and ultimately using all Batman and Bruce Wayne scenes and trimming villain stuff where possible.  Those only exist as VHS tapes somewhere and have had mixed reactions when I’ve foisted them onto people.  One friend’s kid noticed the baseball park scene from Hook was missing.

But the Blade Runner re-cut I tried again when testing a Pinnacle Studio editing software. This time I rented a copy of the theatrical cut of Blade Runner from a store I won’t name in Toronto and because it was a bootleg (Only the Director’s Cut was officially available on DVD at the time) I could rip and import it into my editing program.  The picture quality was still pretty clean.  By applying only the cuts I felt were needed, it still came down to a reasonable length.  Transitioning the sound became a challenge but that was all part of learning the software without any pressure.

What follows is a video that only points to the order of cuts.  I honestly believe the movie would be improved even now if these changes were applied.  Which of course will be considered a sacrilegious idea, let alone exercise.  We fans of course don’t own the things we like, but we can tinker around with them and I have seen some very arbitrary fan changes made to other people’s movies.  I will say that if you can get a bootleg of The Phantom Edit or Attack of the Edit the commentaries tracks of Mike J. Nichols are like a Master class in how the removal or shifting of a scene can change perception of something that previously had seemed to be a problem.  But for now, I can just show this indication of what I messed with on Blade Runner with a description of each cut if you want to keep stopping or re-checking.  As if you have that much time.  But this sample video is pretty short.

0:06 Cityscape reverse shot cut earlier to seem like same vehicle from another angle

0:13 From Leon gunshot to billboard and spinner. Then to Deckard already finished with paper and coming to the food vendor
0:30 From “No choice, pal” to OPENING TITLES
1:00 From “If the Machine doesn’t work?” and billboard with Spinner going frame right to left, cutting to OWL flying screen left to right for criss-cross transition that gets us to Tyrell’s earlier and skips languid pacing.
1:23 From “You’re talking about memories” CIRCLE WIPE to tunnel.
1:35 From recording of GUNSHOT heard while Deckard is in tunnel, AUDIO transition to THUNDER CLAP outside of Leon’s building
2:11 From Batty asking “Where would we find this JF Sabastian?” CUT to JF’s vehicle pulling up in front of the Bradbury building
2:18 Indicate cross-cutting between Rachel and Deckard (originally 8 minutes) to JF’s place with Replicants (also an originally 8-minutes) to weave 4-minute scenes.
2:33 From Rachael and Deckard intimate at blinds, here there is a wipe to Tyrell’s and the elevator but ideally it should be a “blinds” transition which works with the horizontal information of the Tyrell exterior and those in the previous scene.
2:43 From the window JF implicitly jumped out of and Batty’s reaction CUT TO Deckard’s car as his radio describes JF’s body so it is clear that he fell/jumped.

That about sums up the major cuts that I had a strong opinion about.  The middle section where the Rachel and Deckard stretches could inter-cut with JF, Batty and Pris had specific edit points I found but the important thing was that those sections could be woven without losing anything.  I don’t think the current Disney Star Wars movies can be helped much by fan edits, even The Last Jedi, because the controlling ideas are so contradictory and the way legacy cast were used, especially Luke, may have been appropriate for characters from some other intellectual property but seemed, er, forced shall we say?  Blade Runner was this imperfect movie that I had to dive into and challenge myself with in terms of editing without harming the core of it.  The sequel Blade Runner 2049  has a longer running time but does not feel as long.  However, the running time hurt its number of screenings and its box office so I would have trimmed quite a lot from the beginning to get us to Harrison Ford earlier.  But off hand I do not know where the fat was.  There would be many time-cuts within scenes.  I have all of the versions that have been put out, so it’s not like I have lost Warners money. I’ve gotten that out of my system long ago.




Easter and The Jesus Rolls

This month sees the release of John Turturro’s movie The Jesus Rolls, a spin-off from The Big Lebowski.  The character is a loser and a pervert, but a memorable movie scene stealer. Must be strategic to bring it out at Easter time.  (Update) I just saw it. So the Jesus hangs out with Audrey Tautou who played the DaVinci Code heroine who comes from (in one theory) the bloodline of Chtist. Cute.  Susan Sarandon also almost pays homage to Thelma and Louise (and looks to have not aged since then).

I supposedly have a ritual of watching The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson each Easter or Good Friday.  Last couple of years I have remembered and maybe just watched the Making of documentary material or just listened to one of the four commentary tracks on the Definitive Edition.  Gibson seriously has a sequel planned, written by Randal Wallace (Braveheart) which may involve Jesus’ trip through the underworld or hell before Resurrection. From The Man Without a Face onward, any movie Mel Gibson chooses to direct I initially think it sounds like a terrible idea and then the execution wins me over. So I’ll have to reserve judgement.

My own variant on this began as a script in 2004 around the time it was relevant to talk about The Passion of the Christ or reference it in any way. But it wasn’t shot until 2011. Lessons learned:  Don’t forget a tripod.  And even if the sound person can’t make it, find some other external sound recorder to get the sound because your built-in mic will be too omni-directional.  Eve when I bought a shotgun mic, there was some compatibility setting or other issue that lever let it work.  This final version has some ADR and some sound filtered as well as possible.  The upside: it was a pretty quick shoot.


Control, Victimhood, and Strategy

Fail to plan, plan to fail, they say.  This goes for a responsible creative process but it can also be a toxic plotting in society overall. Some people will say to a movie director don’t storyboard because there are so many other angles to notice. James Mangold gave a long interview where he mentioned receiving photos from the stills department and thinking their images were better than what he had planned and shot, but then a stills photographer doesn’t have to worry about things cutting together and context and one person crouching for a low angle is easier than a full crew trying to achieve the same thing for what might just seem like a showy image.  Sometimes even storyboarding what seem to be bland shots in a sequence is better than just showing up and winging it when under the gun there will always be pressure to do the simple or standard thing for time. And storyboarding allows you to anticipate equipment needed to achieve a shot or how much vertical or horizontal information or depth you need in the physical space and how various colors or textures of costume and background will come together.  Knowing the relationship between those things is a measure of movie making skill.  To not care about that would make moviemaking drudgery and something worse – fraudulent posing: a status instead of a craft.  Better to think of the art you love and obsess over that than be drawn into the controversies of the moment.  There are plenty of booby traps.

It may be left out of the popular narrative today, but there is a history of survivors or victims of trauma or abuse eventually acting out against others and also a history of people who have felt restrained or confined exerting control over others. If this principle is kept in the back of your mind, much of what we see on the internet reads differently. Talk of de-platforming and smash the patriarchy and the death of the old guard has both specific worthy targets and a lot of collateral damage.
Pushing back against this one post at a time, one issue at a time, one person at a time is impractical. There is the threat of emotional blackmail, rejection as a person over an opinion, and implied (at least attempted) ostracism from a circle of friends, community or peer group involving your vocation. Any interjection which questions a presented view is not going to be assessed for its own reason but instead it will be categorized as to whether it indicates which imaginary oversimplified “side” the speaker must be on, it becomes about personalities involved and not principles. It is a binary, digital way of thinking, ones and zeros; you are part of the in group or an infiltrator from the out group.  If you post on a dissenting view on someone’s Facebook, they can easily curate their page and delete the remark.  If instead they choose to scold you and threaten un-friending,  they likely don’t value, care about you, in the first place. Don’t delete your post; just wait for her or him to unfriend you and then you should BLOCK the person so there won’t be interjections elsewhere. Also, this person will suddenly see that your controversial posts are now invisible to them.  Interesting to find this Russell Brand comment that “I am not my thoughts.”  Especially when people will hate or discard you for an idea shared.

Control tools used are terms meant to throw shade on a given input. Mansplain, whitesplain, check your priviledge, sexism, racism, global judgements of character based on the verbal DNA of a word or opinion you have presented. The natural impulse might be to flail and object with evidence that is already so commonly cited that it is deemed false in advance, like, “I’m not bigoted, I work with or have a friend or family member who belongs to that oversimplified category.” Defend a celebrity who is accused of something bad, and this will be played up as outrageous indifference to the alleged victims even if it is in fact a respect for getting to the truth. On-line, if someone is perpetuating a false narrative against Woody Allen the response can be a link to any of Robert B. Weide’s fact-checking articles about the case. But in person it means a lot of paraphrasing and repetition. Too much effort. You can end up fighting fans of Oprah and her friend Gayle King. And you don’t want to piss up that rope.
The endgame just might be something intolerable. It becomes clear that someone’s goal for example may not be to promote a system of equality but to invert the system – a process that is already well in progress – where your perceived advantage will work against you. A diversity of ideas may not be welcome but a statistical and superficial inclusion of skin tones or cultural affiliations and genders may help the metrics of public relations. If you love english word play of witty comebacks this compels casting people who are comfortable with speaking the language and won’t have cause the audience to strain through a strong accent. The same principle would exist in each language or culture around the world. Nobody wants an english-speaking actor butchering their home grown prose.
Some well intended movies get a sarcastic moniker, the “white saviour” trope. This despite the implied call for sacrifice in telling someone to “check his/her priviledge.” Or worse, to just step aside and not take up so much space in the discourse or in leadership or status regardless of your own perceived gifts or qualifications because you are somehow to blame for others who shared your complexion or gender did years ago. This is where some use the term “white guilt” which is not an obligation even if the spin suggests that it should be. Should all successful applicants for a job or grant or investment carry the stigma of affirmative action just because they belong to a supposed critic proof permanent victim class? And should all who are deemed  privileged suppose they are being magnanimous by choosing to work with someone from the underdog varieties of the moment?
If you are making a film, for example, and an actor or crew member may be a load bearing pillar of the project it is incumbent upon you to choose a reliable team. You can be raised in a mostly white small down and it is assumed that most of your family and friends are the same colour, same basic religion, and speaking the same language but also your criminals and bullies also share the same colour, claim similar supposed beliefs and speak a fashion of the same language. Even living in a multicultural city, if I were to make up a Homer Simpson revenge list the names on it would be people who have the same language and complexion.
If you are a straight white male, especially over age 30, don’t bother taking a film directing course. Too many people are interested in that vocation for the status and without an eye for ideally how to direct the audience with use of the frame. In Canada especially, there will be an ostensibly progressive prejudice that favours what are called “new voices,” in other words diverse or female, even though it could be expected that voices come from the writers more than the directors. To truly infuse cinema with new voices and discoveries would mean to grade screenplays and stories entirely on the written work so that it could come from any place and not require a writer to also be a strong producer or director or to move to a large city. A movie director should have a knack for using the frame for psychological impact and to support the moment or state of characters. This might not be a skill of a writer who might be more introverted.
A professional director who knows how to hustle and play the game but may not be especially talented with the direction itself may claim that every talent but direction is necessary to be a success – and they may prove it.

A director who climbed the ladder from Assistant Director work most often will sound like an Assistant Director, or Stage Manager, efficient and practical. They may enforce the rule that you must climb the union ladder. If that person is a musician or stand up comic, he or she will claim that in order to direct you must be a musician and a stand-up comic. They will have stories of undeserving hacks who got hired because a friend owed them a favor, which in turn helps justify the narrative that – as goes the pitch for some workshops – “You don’t need talent to be a director.” Or the most basic instruction, “Are you covered?” which just means that if you record a scene from every angle top to bottom any edit can be made and your lack of talent will not be an obstacle. If someone says that belief in the motivated camera decision and the motivated frame makes you a sucker, they in tern are selling something.
That example is meant to show how people will build traps to support whatever gives them an advantage. Proving that someone’s argument is false or flawed will not get a thankful response. An instructor may say the success of a film is all about the pitch and then give the example of Jaws – a shark torments a beach community – and I’m in!! Except that the same premise and title was used with less success following that film because the original director was a genius. The direction is a star of Jaws as much as any other element. Today some studios and filmmakers are believing the Twitter activist spin so strongly that it is as if they believe the star ingredient of a new movie is its political posturing and gender flipping. A star of Terminator: Dark Fate remarked, “There is no trace of the male gaze in this movie.” This may have been reassuring to someone but it translates as, “throw a potato sack over any attractive woman, lest she be photogenic.”

When colleges began initiating their own rules regarding safe spaces, it seemed laughable but it is also a method of shutting down the competing voice. When they started saying enthusiastic consent is necessary and not merely the legal requirement of simple consent for sex to not be deemed rape, this could have been shrugged off as a minor distinction. There would be little point in debating it. Some argue that it is another step toward matriarchy in led by the woman’s libido and not a man’s, which would be bad news for those of us who are not the “bad boy” or giant male specimens. But in any case, these are issues between individuals in relationships and the broad strokes are a distraction. It is not worth taking the bait. Colleges will constantly try to cover themselves from lawsuits. Nonsense is to be expected. But it is worth just being aware that some of the issues are not abstractions but threats to your survival.

The challenge therefore isn’t to ingratiate ourselves to people who don’t share our priorities but to recognize that people who start each day googling their trigger words to see what blogs will educate them are frequently engaged in a pathology and strategy about how to gain advantage, and those of us who are not competitive and merely want to communicate and be understood can be steam-rolled. Better to discover who likes what you like and has the same priorities and compatible goals. No point in a tug of war where you have left a page full of argument fragments with your name on it for people to spam. There is that Polonius advice, “Give everyone your ear but few your voice.” Honour what you have to say, or “your truth” if you can stand calling it that. But make sure the seed falls on good soil and not rocks.

Shorts and Trojan Horses

I’ll post a few shorts here every now and then.  Some touch on topics that are generally considered serious but are rendered silly.  In an episode of Fatman Beyond or whatever iteration of it on the Kevin Smith youtube channel Marc Bernardin (Castle Rock) was hosting and at about 1 hour and 49 minutes in the conversation got on my raw nerve. That podcast needs a voice from at least the middle of the political spectrum.  Tactics matter. Mr. Bernardin advocated what he calls “Trojan Horsing” an element that a target demographic would not like into something they do like.  A horse by any other name could be bait and switch.

He went on to use as an example the Solo iteration of young Lando Calrissian said to be “pansexual” as if that is a step forward. (Never-mind Billy Dee Williams more recently responding by saying “What the hell is gender fluid?” since his iteration of Lando is heterosexual (as are the depictions in three novels from the early eighties, a number of other books that include the character and comics where unusual  traits would have come up by now if anything other than the default of straight behaviors were part of his character.)  Ret-conning a character to pander to a perceived shift in social media or the whims of people who live on Twitter disrespects characters, especially those that have been around for a while.

Black Panther was used as an example of under-represented audiences coming out to support something they rarely see, but Black Panther was part of the juggernaut MCU, introduced in Captain America: Civil War, and had a decades long legacy as a comic book hero so there was nothing compromised or co-opted about the character.  He diminished nothing and replaced nothing and only added to the MCU. It was an example of doing right by a property.  The same director, Ryan Coogler, had previously provided another rare example of getting something right, the Rocky sequel Creed which respected its history and added new dimensions to the ongoing drama.

I don’t know about representation for the sake of representation.  I am not James Bond or Lando or Rocky Balboa.  If I buy ice cream I don’t want someone Trojan Horsing crushed cauliflower into it.




Movie Business Destroying Our Myths ?

I pretty much agree with this rant by Doomcock, a youtube pundit with style.  I can’t say the same for every video he puts out but he seems to nail the concerns about Star Wars and Star Trek.  I don’t follow Dr. Who but the argument seems sound.  I don’t quite share the outrage level, but I think it can also apply to the latest Terminator and somewhat possibly Superman and so on.  Are they targeting the wrong audience, one that doesn’t exist for the material, at the expense of alienating an established fan base?  I don’t know. But there is a thoughtfully composed argument by Doomcock worth sharing as food for thought in any case.



After college in the Nineties I had a good run of monologue writing, some of which I performed and most of them I cast others to play either at coffee houses or a college or on community access TV.  It felt natural, and I was about 26 years old so that might indicate it is what I should have kept pursuing as my vocation.  I like cinema too much but I am fairly happy with most of those monologues. I had wanted to do stand-up comedy but could not settle on a persona.  My own would be too bland.  Writing monologues is a satisfying exercise and it allows you to work with actors using simple production trappings and deal with each beat of the rant or scene and also have the experience of discovery and interpretation without the baggage of making a movie. It may also be handy for a performer to demonstrate the ability to plow through a whack of material in one take.