Problematic, Triggering Tribes and Spin

Controversy doesn’t interest me much more than a blizzard unless I have to wade through it on the way to something I care about, be it movies or living life without a target on my back.

I thought about leaving this post for a different blog, maybe a dormant one, so it won’t contaminate the constructive spirit of this one.  But I’m here and I have the time and something to at least attempt to say.  Words can fall short of communicating the nuances of parallel concerns on a debate, so any time I weigh in on someone else’s thread I feel like it is less about pooling our perspectives in a search for truth and constructive solutions and more about someone extracting verbal DNA to reconstruct in their mind the whole person with whom they interact.

Even people I respect (otherwise they wouldn’t have been in my FB feel in the first place) will say, “Watch out for these phrases” as indicators of somebody’s political leanings and worthiness of deletion. Some are looking for the wolf in sheep’s clothing among their circle.  I have never worn sheep’s clothing.  I am not what you would call a whiteknight, nor an SJW (social justice warrior) as these terms are understood in web discourse. I may love many of the same things you do (Star Wars, and much of cinema in general) and hate the same politicians (Trump and his confederates, Doug Ford and his) but I will have feet of clay trying to – as they say – unpack the divides.

Within the same few days, there were two apparent controversies that split people.  I eventually saw the Gillette commercial ostensibly about toxic masculinity. Had I seen it without hearing that it was sparking a hubbub, I would not have thought anything about it considering that most advertising today has an element of virtue signalling. Having followed some of the discussion, be it from Joe Rogan or Ben Shapiro or more moderate voices, there seems to be a concern about using propaganda to soften men in general and steer them toward being more feminine, and the content about ridiculing “freaks” appears to be the driving force conceived and fueled by the “pink mafia” trying to reverse-bully men who feel okay with “punching down” jokes at their expense.  That seems to be the fuel of the blowback from some men.  I don’t know where I land on the matter.  I don’t feel any of the fashionable outrage for jokes about even the most sensitive subjects.  I am only annoyed by walking on eggshells.  There have been actual PSA’s not selling any product that have had the guys at the barbecue who shame a friend who boasts non-consensual conquest of a woman or some sort of domestic abuse.

The second apparent controversy is mostly artificially bolstered by Forbes magazine’s Scott Mendelson and The Hollywood Reporter’s Kyle Kizu who are upset with the fantastic and delightful news that the 2020 Ghostbusters 3 movie directed by Jason Reitman will ignore the presumptuous 2016 re-set by Paul Feig and instead it will be in-continuity with the Nineteen Eighties iteration Ghostbusters (1984) and Ghostbusters II (1989).  This choice by Reitman and ultimately Sony is a welcome corrective measure.  This is a subject upon which I have no problem offering an opinion.  Around 1999, there had been talk of Harold Ramis taking over as director of a new Ghostbusters movie, since Ramis had new heat as a director following Analyze This.  But Sony didn’t believe enough in it.  That would have been ten years after Ghostbusters II.  So ten more years were wasted by corporate dithering and lack of belief in that property.  Until 2009, Sony/Columbia had no enthusiasm about a third Ghostbusters.  They expected the back end for the main legacy cast to be too high so they thought the brand was dead.  But the video game of 2009 which involved voices and animation of the original cast sold very well and signaled to Sony that yes, duh, there was still potential interest in the brand.  The video game scenario was set only two years after Ghostbusters II.  Dan Aykroyd was most vocal about a planned third movie checking in on the original characters decades later in modern day.  Even the biggest hold-out Bill Murray in October of 2010 appeared in full Ghostbusters uniform at the Scream awards to support his appearance in Zombieland the previous year, which itself had him playing make-believe Ghostbusters with the younger cast of that film in a cameo.

Sigourney Weaver had spoken with optimism that a script in development would bring the team back together.  There was an appetite being stoked among fans for the return of Venkman and his iteration of Ghostbusters.  February 24, 2014, Harold Ramis died after months of illness.  As a co-writer and one of the core 4 Ghostbusters, his loss was enough for Ivan Reitman at the funeral to lose interest in directing the third movie.  Some of the fanbase felt you can’t get the whole band back together so maybe it was too late.  Bill Murray had been blamed for his reluctance to even read proposed script drafts during the vital four years while Sony had renewed its faith in the brand and Ramis was still alive.  This may be invalidated by Murray’s early references to the IP in Zombieland and at the awards show just as Sony’s interest had returned.  The jabs at Bill Murray are the only element I would dispute of the RedLetterMedia video Mr. Plinkett’s Ghostbusters 2016 Review, which otherwise is a vital and useful assessment of that misguided and wrongheaded remake. Feig was the flavor of the month after a few profitable moderate budget movies, and so he inherited the director’s chair and created an overly improv-laden, clueless, and self-congratulatory mess.  More proton pack blasts and cartwheels do not this kind of movie better, nor does coming up with new tech that can shred ghosts or “kill” them in a movie where they should be busted but where there is not even a containment facility until the end and the only trapped ghost is freed due to silly goading.  If you are only concerned about the excitement of seeing women as “scientists” or in “parapsychology” look back to 1982’s Poltergeist.  Beatrice Straight as Dr. Lesh is believable and also funny. (She won an Oscar for five minutes on screeen in Network (1976).) In the 2015 remake of Poltergeist, Jane Adams played an equivalent character called Dr. Brooke Powell – a year before Paul Feig would pat himself on the back for introducing the idea of female scientists in movies.  I mean, if you are willing to go further into make a full time job of it you can start with Kate Reid as Dr. Ruth Leavitt in The Andromeda Strain (1971) just for starters.  The point is that there are far better movies with far more engaging examples of women as scientists. Laura Dern as Dr. Ellie Sattler in a little movie called Jurassic Park, anyone? I’ll just leave this here:

The announcement that Ghostbusters 3 would ignore FeigBusters was a breath of fresh air to fans like myself.  And I’ll date myself.  I was 16 years old in 1984 when the classic Ghostbusters was released, and the year was so full of good movies that it wasn’t at the top of my list. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom came out that year.  Romancing the Stone was fun.  Beverly Hills Cop may have been the top earner at the box office. In 1989, Ghostbusters II would have to compete against Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, as well as Batman and Back to the Future II. That year I was well into adulthood and less easily absorbed by movies, but as the decades passed the Eighties pop upon second look.  Maybe it wasn’t just my age, because directing seems less delegated and more amusing in much of the Eighties films. There was also an element of mischief that is lacking in the less human approach of today.  But the idea of the director of Juno doing a Ghostbusters 3 is very reassuring.  Somebody with vision who can also present quirky characters.

It is a shame that a guy like Kevin Smith defends hard reboots like FeigBusters by saying, “The original isn’t going away.  It’s on DVD.  You can watch it any time.” Well, the same can be said about FeigBusters now.  You can watch the 2016 movie as many times as you like.  It hasn’t gone away.  But the truth is that the “fans” or FeigBusters are not so much supporting a movie but a movement and their only interest is taking imaginary ground in a make-believe war with The Man, specifically a character I did not hear about until 2016.  The DNC deflected Bernie Sanders supporters by calling them – among other vile things – BernieBros who must only be objecting to Hillary Clinton’s gender and couldn’t possibly be inspired by Bernie’s history and clarity on principles.  Sony marketers and trolls came up with the term GhostBros for anyone who rejects FeigBusters, because after all it must be an objection to “funny women.”  Even though many of us loved the same year’s release Bad Moms which was genuinely funny but didn’t appeal to SJW movie critics – it made about five times its production budget and spawned a profitable sequel. It wasn’t bloated by the expectation that all fans want is a logo, a familiar song, and a light-show. Paul Feig had said, “We made a list of things to keep, the car, the logo and the song — we didn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Therein lies the problem with Feig: He doesn’t know what is the baby and what is the bathwater. Feig and cast members Melissa McCarthy and Leslie Jones characterized the detractors of their film as “mother’s basement-dwelling man babies with neck beards and fedoras,”  not to mention the equivalent manufactured stigma that associates rejection of a mediocre movie with right wing or sexist sensibility.  Reprehensible tactics. This began somewhat with the well-documented case of Sony’s marketers or whoever curated the comments under the first trailer culling the posts that had reasonable and articulate responses and leaving only the most childish and racist or sexist posts to create the jumping off point of their narrative: if you don’t like FeigBusters, this is what is inside your soul.

I would stop short of saying that the same principle is at work with fallout from the Gillette public image upgrade.  Looking outside of my bubble or where my Venn diagram for movie discussion overlaps those on a Facebook page I check, there are indeed guys claiming to boycott Gillette or giving the link to order a batch of re-fill blades for the Vector 3 from China so it won’t financially profit the US end of it.  There are some who see it as the currency of being male, the benefit of the doubt coming through the door, to be devalued.  I would argue that having a President like Donald J. Trump has drawn a huge spotlight on the truth of the old boys’ club of Cryptkeepers who need to be disbanded and in some cases jailed. Among those with whom you can be candid, there will be rolling of eyes when something insane happens – like when you realize that indeed Matt Damon was removed from Ocean’s Eight because when asked about the PoundMeToo movement he said what everybody else was saying privately, that there must be a distinction between the gravity of sin in rape versus the slapping of someone’s behind.  Careers were taking hits that perhaps did not deserve that.  But it is like the history of revolution – it happens not in countries where there is a firm totalitarian system but in places where progress has begun and people are hungry for more. Hashtags that easily spread a message on twitter have helped radicalize people in a general sense at the expense of specifics.

Ocean’s Eight was in continuity with the George Clooney trilogy, so I was in full support of it until they cut Damon. Then I wanted for DVD.  In 2016, I refused invitations to see the supposedly re-titled Ghostbusters Answer the Call in cinemas but I did stream it illegally from a bootleg. Months later, I borrowed a DVD from the Toronto Public Library to listen to the commentary. That’s the one where Paul Feig can’t remember the title The Wizard of Oz and referred to it as, “some Disney movie.” I gave it a chance, but gave it no money.  On the other hand, it has taken a lot of my time and attention as all of these circular and imaginary tribe-driven arguments have played out.  I buy razors that are on sale, usually the cheapest. Gillette could put their money where their mouth is and charge the same for a lady shaver as they do for a men’s razor.  The co-writer of Ghostbusters 3 has on his imdb page the 2015 remake of Poltergeist, which is the only wrinkle. As with Ghostbusters, I prefer the “original” or at least the one that was well directed. But I know I’ll see it ASAP in the cinemas and happily fork over the admission.




Working with Murphy on Movies 3: Grants and Bigger Stakes

Back in 1999 there had been a pitch event run at the time by the Worldwide Shorts festival.  Sometimes taking a plunge into the most nerve-wracking exercise can reap benefits that were unexpected.  Had I been smart, I would have made that principle more standard operating procedure in my creative life rather than mere flashes of bravery.  Each of us participating had to pitch a short to a panel of representatives from the various television platforms of the day.  I was pitching “Klepto the Clown” and one of the panelists thought my physicality acting it out was suitably sleazy.  I think I got the best response from CBC, Vision, and Judy Gladstone of Bravo!  Michael O’Hara was also there pitching his own short called The Tackle Box.  A pair of ladies who were also filmmakers and may not want to be name dropped here went with us afterward for coffee and to absorb the experience of pitching.  Michael offered to produce Klepto the Clown.  Sounded good.  And ultimately, it all turned out well.  One of the better experiences and with no serious battle stories.  Michael put in the application with my initial storyboard thumbnails and script as well as the idea of setting it to music by his sister Mary Margaret O’Hara.  We got the grant, which was that stamp of credibility because it was FOR someone.  It officially paid for half of a short’s budget in those days. We coasted expecting funds or a loan to come from the money fairy, but ended up getting an extension for the deadline and by then I had a couple of thousand to loan the production from personal savings renting a room and working in security.   This got the wheels going.  My friend Deborah Bojman allowed me to use her mother’s house as a location, and we had to get a permit from the city for shooting on the street out front for one shot but that worked out. Initially my storyboarded rendering of Klepto looked like a friend of mine who I had in mind for the character.  But he had become union and we were looking at non-union because Michael’s daughter Maddie was not yet in the union and was likely going to be the co-lead who foils the plot of Klepto the Clown.  Michael had seen an article in Toronto Life magazine about Gino Empry, so he arranged for us to visit Gino’s place.  That might be a story Michael will want to tell some day.  Gino showed us a tape from his episode of Made in Canada, the Rick Mercer series he was on.  Quite fun. Worthy of note is that Gino answered the door in housecoat and red trunks like briefs. Michael asked me to design how Klepto should look if Gino plays the role and I drew something up that utilized Gino’s qualities.  But when I showed up to shoot, the hair and make-up looked kind of like many traditional clowns and I didn’t push the issue.  Gino’s maybe real, maybe fake hair might have been a sensitive issue.  During the shoot I remember being taken aside by the AD and the DPs and reminded to just roughly show the blocking with the actors and then leave so it can be lit.  But the shoot went smoothly due to it being heavily storyboarded and easily scheduled for moves downstairs and upstairs. Michael had posted for kids to come to Klepto’s party, and we were fortunate to have a wall of parents present during the birthday scene that required children.  I had to get used to working with an audience.   I shot more than I needed and could have trimmed more just for running time. I was lucky to have a friend who could access a CBC off-line system so the movie could be delivered on broadcast quality tape format. But I should have let the editor be more ruthless.  I also failed to put a time code onto that tape or a copy for the composer Rusty McCarthy to synchronize the score. I had done off-line straight-cut editing in community TV back home, but did not know this aspect of the process and didn’t ask my intrepid editor about it or the control likely would have been added to an additional copy.  Rusty did a good job matching the visuals regardless of me making the job harder.

Since it is a purely visual short it is not fall-down funny.  Nobody has commented, “Hey, that opening shot seems to be a reference to the Hitchcock movie Marnie starting on the “baggage” toted around by the kleptomaniac.”  Our short played well with an audience at the National Film Board John Spotten theater, but when I first saw it it was on a TV in a coffee shop where I was the only crew member to show up.  At least I witnessed it airing on Bravo! for the first time.  Ironically, I had to make the tough choice to use only Rusty’s score as audio and not include the vocals of the great Mary Margaret whose name likely helped get us the grant.  The soundtrack had to be all about punctuating the visuals, and Mary’s experimental vocals were occurring at random intervals that were a distraction.  She did however fit well into the verbal theme Rusty created for the end credits on some versions of the movie.  The more detailed account of the project can be heard in the commentary track video.

Shortly after Klepto had been completed, I had submitted another short around that I had carried and refined for years.  This was not part of the whack of short scripts I had written in 2000 or so.  It had taken many forms.  Big Babies was a musical satire.  Initially I wanted to submit it to the Ontario Media Development Corporation Calling Card program.  The first hitch was that it was producer-driven and the producer could not also be the director.  So I put the word out for producers, and presented the script to a more than I might remember.  One lady who read it and heard the CD of songs turned me down and a year or so later got nominated for an Oscar for her own short.

The demo CD of songs had been produced by Rusty again who had bee given a short window of time to set my crazy lyrics to music.  I had been focused on the Calling Card deadline. It had become the Al Waxman Calling Card program.  But it ended right after I missed what appeared to be the last deadline.  I was still getting response from potential producers and going through with interviews.

I did finally get an Emerging Artists Grant from the Ontario Arts Council.  I figured if I follow through maybe it can be submitted to CBC’s Canadian Reflections.  In hindsight, that might have been naive considering the outlandish nature of my project.  I still felt I should have a woman as producer considering the heat I would receive tackling a topic like the abortion debate with satire. So I did end up going that way and making a leap of faith, careful to state outright what I expected to spend in total but withing I had put a lot more on paper besides a script and storyboards.  A formal before-the-fact budget should have been worked up ahead of production.  There is too much to say about Big Babies.

When I was gearing up to shoot, I was a volunteer stuffing envelopes at LIFT (Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto) when then coordinator Roberto Ariganello asked what I was up to.  He then told me that he had been on the OAC committee choosing projects and had fought for Big Babies because he was the only male and everyone else was against a male dealing with the sensitive topic.  He pointed out the storyboards and song demo CD and believed in it.  He asked why I was just stuffing envelopes to make up my volunteer hours.  He suggested that I take over the Directing Actors for the Camera workshop that the usual instructor Bruce LeBruce had taken leave from.  That was a mostly positive experience, but when you state that there will be a camera to work with you had better make sure one is available and that you are talking to the right people about whether it can be moved from one room to another.

Before shooting Big Babies, I could confidently prepare a class and spend a weekend playing teacher.  Even if it meant arranging a bonus session a week or so later to actually give hands-on experience. After shooting Big Babies, it cleared my head and energized me to write several feature screenplays I had been noodling with.  But there was also a downside resulting from the principle that all must be made to understand the idea of a FINITE figure when it comes to the cost of a movie.

And, no matter how burned out I was after filming I should have been more demonstrative and make triple sure everyone hears each other.  The producer on this film felt like she was my stooge and I hadn’t realized that.  Communicating between the lines on a film crew is not communicating at all.  I have to remember to tell everybody that.  Anything that MUST be known must be said directly and with full attention.  Also, I’ll just say that when an actress said she was allergic to sesame seeds I was LUCKY to notice that the individual who had been told as much delivered an assorted bag of bagels to the craft services table, which included a couple with the dangerous seeds.  I had to warn the actress off of eating bagels. Personality conflicts shouldn’t lead to a medical emergency.  Also, maybe find a way to ask whether any key crew might be on medication or hormones or anything that might cause unusual behavior.     Even though they don’t legally have to disclose.

If someone arrives on set to take photos officially, five that person the film rolls or data chip necessary and ensure that you receive it personally before they leave.  You do not want to be hounding a middle person for copies of photos you have paid for. Especially under the time crunch of sending out your film to festivals.

Here is a short that was inspired by nutty things that were said in e-mails.  I put them into the mouth of a parking valet to generate the script for this sketch:

My grant was $4000.  I expected to match that out of my own guard job savings, making a total budget of $8000. This was agreed verbally twice. Also, the plan had been that actors, the sound recordist, the Cinematographer, and second assistant camera would be paid positions but I would do my own continuity and have no First Assistant Director and the rest would be volunteer positions. By increments, this formulation was compromised and I failed to clamp down.  The producer on a low to no budget project would be expected to not be the head of a producing department but instead to be production manager, line producer, and location but next thing you know I’m being told the producer’s condo/office has production assistants for co-op and that they were being delegated tasks like phone calls and call lists and so on and their hours would be charged to the production.  Apart from some contact numbers that didn’t work when I tried them (and may have been wrong only on my copy of the list, since the producer refused to give any information citing “ways and means of doing business”), the production assistants were capable young women and were just caught in the middle.  But ultimately, there was budget overage beyond $12000 and then $500 for a lawyer and $500 for a website it turned out I had no control over.  That and whatever incredible stress and abuse is worth.  Here is a video where I read an old issue of the LIFT newsletter I wrote based on this experience.  The day it was published and sent out to members I got a silent hang-up call from an unknown number.  May be unrelated, maybe not.

After a series of e-mails requesting production stills and the removal of the website, for example, you don’t want to get a voice-mail from a police constable ostensibly giving friendly advice to stop. Even if it is a distinct yet lyrical name that had been dropped months later by his acquaintance during a less contentious time.  This meant going down the rabbit hole of finding out the term for Canada’s version of internal affairs.  It all represented a tremendous drain on the spirit and the hours of my one life.  And ultimately, attending a Legal and Business Affairs For Filmmakers and Producers workshop at LIFT only resulted in more stress.  The instructor before class said it sounded like I was in the right. Then just before class my nemesis shows up and I neglected to address the proverbial elephant in the room, so the instructor (now an annoyingly successful filmmaker himself) thought I should have advised him right away, which in hindsight is right.  Even though it might have created immediate drama.  He didn’t return my call when I through about engaging him. But when I did find someone to send a registered letter, guess which lawyer responded on behalf of my nemesis.

For the next fifteen years or so, there would be trollish little internet shenanigans that were supposed to be of unknown origin but were not.

This is another case where it might be more informative to listen to the commentary video below.  Even if it is the more polite version: