Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Prodigal Stories

Friend Jeff has posted an to-the-heart take on sin, forgiveness, and the importance of story.

Check out his blog: The Daily Hopper, and scroll down to "A Prodigal Son Hypothetical."

Snippet therefrom:

" Here's the problem for those who would reduce the life of faith to moral behavior. What do we do with failure?"

Go, Jeff!

Just my thoughts,


Monday, October 30, 2006

Everybody Loves Phil

My good friend Scott sent me this article on Everybody Loves Raymond creator, Phil Rosenthal.

He sent it primarily because of this quote:

"If he had to pin down a reason for so many failed comedies, he said, it would probably be that writers keep looking to get the next laugh instead of trying to “tell a great story.”"

Check it out. As I will be checking out Mr. Rosenthal's book, You’re Lucky You’re Funny: How Life Becomes a Sitcom.

Just my thoughts,


Friday, October 27, 2006

I'd Like an Order of Chaos with a Side of Tyranny, Please

I’ve been working with a couple of organizations lately that have made me think of this quote from Bob Briner and Ray Pritchard’s The Leadership Lessons of Jesus:

“Contrary to popular opinion, order does not stifle creativity, but promotes it. It does not restrict freedom, but enhances it for the greatest number. Disorder is a kind of tyranny in which good things seldom happen. When disorder reigns, people suffer in many ways.

“There is a vast difference between order and regimentation. Jesus didn’t tell the five thousand to sit down in groups, organized alphabetically by last name, to count off, and remain silent until addressed. Instead, he created order that was not ominous and restrictive, but pleasant and liberating.

“Regimentation stifles creativity, and restricts freedom, but order creates an environment where freedom and creativity flourish.”

Order but not regimentation. A fine balance – yet having worked recently as an artist for hire in both disorder and regimentation, I have to say that Bob and Ray are on to something.

Just my thoughts,


Thursday, October 26, 2006

15 Cents a Day

NPR is in its pledge drive, which makes it hard to listen to. I try keeping the dial tuned to their station anyway, figuring it is the least I owe them (beats writing a check), but some days it is harder than others.

Like today, when the female beggar -- uh, I mean fund raiser-- suggested a donation level of $15 a month, and her chipper male partner pointed out that the amount worked out to "about fifteen cents a day!"

With the voices of math teachers Tolomay and O'Leary screaming in my head, I changed channels to a less literate but hopefully more numerically sound station.

So that’s how I ended up on the talc music channel. (Think about it, wait, wait – there it is. What, you expected a better pun from me?)

I was not assailed with politician math there, but their sense of history baffled me.

The announcers were giving clues about a musician, offering the listener a chance to guess the artist. Since one of the clues was an event that helped create “one of the greatest musical careers of the century,” I was thinking in terms of Bono, or Sting, or some other contemporary one word moniker.

It was somebody I never heard of, which didn’t surprise me as much as learning that the performer’s first song aired in 2002.

If my math is less fuzzy than the fun-drivers, that makes his “greatest career of the century” only four years long.

Which I suppose qualifies on a technicality with a century only six years in existence. But still, it feels like politician math to me.

Just my thoughts,


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Cud Stuff

A few rather diverse things in Entertainment Weekly (October 27 issue) struck me as worth ruminating on.

Maybe you will ruminate some as well.

Apropos to my entry into the world of sit-coms, Dalton Ross says this in a review of The Addams Family television series:

“It doesn’t sound like a big thing, but therein lay the key to the 1960’s sitcom: Sure, it was irreverent and off-the-wall, but unlike pretty much all the comedies on the air today, these characters genuinely loved and cared for one another.”

From a guy who has run for office, I found this tidbit from Clint Eastwood on the current political climate interesting:

“We’re living in a kindergarten. It should be on issues, and that’s the thing that makes you sick about the political scheme of things right now, regardless of which side.”

And another actor who is clearly a smart cookie, Masi Oka says this about his character in Heroes, Hiro:

“I play him like a big kid, inspired by Tom Hanks in Big.”

Just triggering my thoughts,


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Holding Out for a Hero

As long as we are talking about superheroes, here’s a little thought provocation from Kurt Busiek, in his introduction to Astro City: Life in the Big City.

At this point in the essay, Kurt is talking about the complaint he often hears about the superhero genre, that the characters are too simplistic and that they are nothing more than symbols. He then lists several of the figurative views of heroes – Superman as the weak child wishing for strength; Captain America as American ideal, etc.

Then he says this:

“However – and you knew there was going to be a however, right? – what charms me about that objection to the superhero is the way it points out, in the guise of criticism, what to me is the greatest strength of the superhero genre – the ease with which superheroes can be used as metaphor, as symbol, whether for the psychological transformation of adolescence, the self-image of a nation, or something else. A genre that can do something like that – is that really a limitation?”

For a compelling introduction to Busiek’s work, check out Marvels, or my favorite graphic novel of recent times, Superman: Secret Identities – Busiek’s own take on the Heroes question “What would happen if someone discovered super powers in a non-superpower world?”

Just my thoughts,


Monday, October 23, 2006

Just Super, Thanks

(Warning: Heroes contains material of violence and sexuality. It also contains scenes of super powers and situations that make comic book geeks get giggles of joy. You have been warned.)

SPOILERS contained within.

When Jennifer Schuchmann and I first embarked on collaborating on a musical for American Heritage Academy three years ago, the kids at the school said that they wanted a play about superheroes.

But not just about superheroes; they wanted a show that was about what makes a hero. The kids knew that super powers do not a hero make.

Heroes on NBC also know that super powers do not a hero make, and they too are interested in what it is that makes a hero.

In a world without folks in tights running around representing for truth, justice and the American way, some people are starting to realize they have unusual powers.

A cop hears people’s thoughts.

An artist draws the future.

A nurse thinks he can fly.

But does this make them heroes? Certainly not for the guy who uses his powers to become a serial murderer.

The single mom whose alter ego kills with remarkable ease and glee might not be on the side of the angels.

Or how about the indestructible cheerleader that takes the rapist for a ride into a brick wall at 90 miles an hour? Is that heroic? Or is that just vengeance?

I don’t know; but I do know that Heroes is a marvelous, compelling and entertaining way to explore such questions.

And that it makes this comic book geek giggle with joy.

Just my thoughts,


PS Save the cheerleader. Save the world.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

It was risky; last season's ender was one of those, “this changes everything” stunners – but when a show is great, is changing everything a worthy risk?

In this case, yes.

Battlestar Galactica remains one of my favorite shows on television, representing the best of what sci-fi can do. Deep, socially relevant, intensely challenging – all wrapped up in a compelling story with driving action. What’s not to love?

This show is still the most significant study on the post-911 world that I have encountered to date – in fiction or non-fiction. The story gives complex viewpoints on all sides of right to life, suicide bombings, just war, the nature of love, politics, nationalism, religion, loyalty and on and on. No easy answers, no obvious choices, just thought provoking intensity.

Even without the brain, the brawn of the series would keep me tuning in.

The second episode of the season ended with a scene straight out of The Great Escape (no accusation here, I believe it was homage not theft). Key members of the resistance being trucked to a destination unknown, let out of the vehicles for a leg stretch as their captors line up with the machine guns… Edge of the seat action.

Or the echoes of issues from the Jewish ghettoes of Poland: the population under occupation being asked to police itself – does that make the police traitors, or supporters of their people? Compelling drama.

Yeah, I’m sticking around for more.

Just my thoughts,


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Dearly Departed

(Warning: This is a Scorsese film, chockful of violence and flowing with foul language.)

Martin Scorsese is trying for another Oscar bid with The Departed, and many of the critics are raving. Not me, and here’s why.

The Bad: Don’t expect a lot of coherence. Several scenes seem randomly placed, and you will only hurt your head trying to figure out what they are doing there. (What’s the deal with the opera scene, and Jack Nicholson tossing cocaine around? Is it because every movie about the Italian mob requires an opera scene, and Marty didn’t want the Irish to feel left out?)

There are many set ups with no payoffs (as you watch, do not become invested in the envelope that DiCaprio leaves with the psychologist, telling her to open it if something happens to him and that it is very, very important. It isn’t, and the envelope is never mentioned again.)

This is a movie that needs no deus ex machina, yet somehow manages to squeeze several in during the last fifteen minutes. Taped conversations never hinted at before, a lawyer that missed mention, an act of trust that makes no sense, a cop choosing to make an arrest in the stupidest way imaginable… Again, don’t think about it – it will only make things worse.

Jack Nicholson’s performance is too far over the top. And we are talking about a movie where everything is intentionally over the top; you have to go a long way over before it becomes annoying. Yet Jack reaches that height.

The Good: I’d hate to be the guy trying to decide which actor should be up for the Oscar. Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, and Alec Baldwin each deserve a statuette. Leonardo DiCaprio is a revelation in this movie; and Matt Damon maintains his status as one of my favorite smart action stars. And all five work off of each other -- each making the other guy look good (which is another reason that Jack’s performance was so disappointing.)

There are scenes that are explosively compelling; as well as scenes that are quietly beautiful. Martin Sheen inviting DiCaprio to sit and eat, “We’ll talk in the kitchen.” Beautiful.

The Ugly: So, there’s some good stuff, and some not good stuff. What’s the tipping point for me?

Ultimately, this is a movie that doesn’t matter. It has been compared to Shakespeare – mostly because a lot of people die in the end. But in Shakespeare, the lives of those killed mattered.

Verona was left a sadder but wiser place because Romeo and Juliet foolishly lived out their story. Denmark was transformed by the action of Hamlet. Even the dark deeds of Macbeth left us survivors altered, with more to ponder and carry away.

Shakespeare's characters left a mark. Their existence mattered.

Yet The Departed doesn’t matter – the characters do not leave a mark. It is reminiscent of Shakespeare more in embodying the line: “Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Martin Scorsese has been accused of having too much Good Friday in his films, and not enough Easter.

Maybe that’s it.

Just my thoughts,


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Quote of the Moment

"Only if we are secure in our beliefs can we see the comical side of the universe."

-Flanner O'Connor, Mystery and Manners

Monday, October 16, 2006

Seriously Funny

In response to my post on Banned Books Week, Rob said... “I agree, Sean. But for me, it's not a laughing matter. Banning books belongs to the Nazis and the Taliban…”

Rob, I will whole-heartedly support your stance that this is a serious matter, and that is why I will continue to use humor in confronting it.

While I will grant that there is a form of humor that “makes light” of its topics, I find that wit is actually the strongest form of defense (and offense!) in exploring serious matters. Social criticism is a pill better swallowed, and often more effective, when presented in the form of comedy.

You will find that folks like, say, the Nazis (since you brought them up) tolerated no lampooning of their ideas – not because they thought them too serious of a subject matter, but because they knew that their propaganda could not stand up to the scrutiny of the comedian.

It requires someone with the ability to laugh to point out that the emperor has no clothes; and we have too many emperors running around this world. We require more laughing and pointing.

As Heywood Broun pointed out, “Humor is the grit in the evolutionary process. ‘Does it matter?’ is the underlying mood in almost every expression of humor. And of course it does matter.”

Just my thoughts,


Friday, October 13, 2006

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Great Scott

Friend Bryan pointed me to this article by acquaintance Scott Derrickson. Well worth the read.

Some quotes that caught my eye:

“Trying to be both an artist and a Christian involves one in an inevitable tension. While religion draws lines and sets boundaries, the role of the artist is to stretch boundaries, to find new ways of looking at things, to question, to break free of constraints.”

“Christian films are often resistible because Christian screenwriter have the habit of writing about what they believe instead of about what really moves them.”

“Many Christians in the film business have developed a unique ability to compartmentalize their faith. Their lives are like a TV dinner, and their faith is like the upper-left-hand section where the corn always goes.”

Just my thoughts,


More Sinister

My children's book, Larryboy and the Sinister Snow Day had another printing -- now up to 31,000 copies in print.


Just my thoughts,


Happy Birthday Sean!

My favorite guy...

(Snorkeling off Maui in August. Way too much fun!)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Sleepless in Atlanta

Not getting much sleep here in Atlanta. After full days and evenings of script readings and think tanks, there has been “unofficial” late night screenings of movies that other symposium attendees are involved with.

Friday night was Sensation of Sight, a gorgeous film by Aaron Wiederspahn, produced by Buzz McLaughlin. The film is deeply moving, a collage of seemingly disparate yet connected stories of those trying to make sense out of life’s seeming senselessness.

This is one of those films that you watch the first time for the story – and yearn to watch again to dig more into the visual metaphors and poetry.

Aaron’s flick is helped out by a truly astounding and understated performance by David Strathairn, as well as a surprising deep and emotional turn by Ian Somerhalder.

Last night was a choice between two films. The more serious Trade (starring Kevin Kline) is a multi-language look on the sex-slave trade in the Americas. Devastating and appropriately harsh, the movie speaks to an important issue with a compelling and driving story.

I was able to see a special preview of Trade in L.A., so this go around I opted for the somewhat less intense option, The Proper Care and Feeding of an American Messiah. This mockumentary from Chris Hansen is a hilarious look at a fella that believes he is a messiah.

Not the messiah, just a messiah. For this region.

The dvd we were watching glitched up ¾ of the way through the viewing, so I’m not quite sure how this one wraps up. We shall have to wait for a full review.

But the important thing is this: I haven’t slept. Too much art going on.

Gotta get me some less compelling art.

In fact, I’m sunk into a couch watching Sunday Night football as I type this. Ah, less compelling art.

Just my thoughts,


Saturday, October 07, 2006

Quote of the Moment

Creative Writing Weekly reminded me of this classic quote:

"Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers." – T.S. Eliot

Friday, October 06, 2006

Quiet Time

As many of you know, I am in Atlanta with ArtWithin, attending their writer’s symposium this weekend.

(Alice, I think I am going to miss you by a few hours on Sunday – tell Clare that I said hello. That should freak her out, as I would have just seen her a few hours earlier…)

The symposium is a wild ride as always. A very smart bunch of people gathered in the room to wrestle with issues of art and faith and creativity and humanity and where to eat lunch.

Also a bunch of script readings, and late night screenings.

No sleep, but a hoot.

Just saw a screening of an unreleased movie, He Was A Quiet Man, produced by Mike Leahy, starring Christian Slater and William H. Macy. A very timely film, strong story and nice direction. Christian Slater has never been better in a film, completely disappearing in the role.

Mike Leahy is a friend, so I was very pleased that his movie is so good. Hate it when friends make bad movies. Becomes kind of a strain.

“Wow, that was… was… well that sure was what it was, wasn’t it?”


Just my thoughts,


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Pushing 60

Since I am known to be a fan of Aaron Sorkin’s writing, I suppose I should comment on the “controversy” in his latest show, Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip. Let me limit my comments to answering a few questions:

Does Aaron Sorkin’s show have an agenda against certain Christians? And does that interfere with the quality of the writing?

The answer to both questions is: yes. Mr. Sorkin is passionate about many things, including aspects of the faith community. But this passion is a good thing – a writer needs to have a little fire in their belly to drive their craft.

However, there are times when Mr. Sorkin gets lazy or simply allows his opinions to interfere in his craft. For example, episode three of Studio 60 includes a rehearsal of a sketch showing various faiths ignoring scientific evidence that contradicts their beliefs.

The glaring thing about the sketch isn’t the point that it is trying to make; no, the standout is the fact that the sketch doesn’t even try to be funny. There is no attempt in the writing for wit, or surprise, or irony – it is simply a recitation of belief and counter evidence.

Later in the show, when the actual performance is done in a montage, there is a funny joke from this sketch, so we know that it could have been funny if the writers wanted it to be.

But instead they tried to get us to believe that shows like Saturday Night Live are content having a sketch without humor.

Is it good or bad for the kingdom for the show to have a practicing Christian character?

Good. Is the character flawed? Sure. Incomplete? Yep. Ring hollow at times? Yeah.

And yet, there is a character on prime time television that is a believing and practicing Christian who – and this in the critical part – is admired and respected by her peers. She is not merely tolerated, or simply endured, she is respected.

Her cast mates care for her, protect her, and value her opinion.

A Christian who is respected as a person? For me, that is a step in the right direction.

Mr. Sorkin has problems with Christians in general; but he is willing to show respect to a Christian in particular.

A step in the right direction.

And by the way, this isn’t the first time a practicing Christian has been given a position of great respect by Aaron Sorkin – let’s not forget the leader of the free world, President Bartlett.

Will you be watching this show?

Warts and all, yes. I will tolerate the sections of poor and pointless writing to get to the sections of solid and inspiring writing. Sorkin is a great writer when he wants to be, and I have much I can learn from him.

Just my thoughts,


ps For a smart take on Studio 60, hop on over to Quote the Maven

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Toddling Along Blind

My short film, The Importance of Blind Dating, just keeps moving on up. We now have an offer from a distribution company to handle commercial distribution. (Hmmm, would a distribution company handle something other than distribution?)

Knowing the market for short films, I imagine that I will be independently wealthy in a month or so. And then I'll finally be able to forget all you little people...

Just my thoughts,


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Democracy and Art

A friend of mine (Bryan Ballinger) has entered his artwork in an online poll.

Go and vote.

I won't tell you which ones are his, so as to not influence you. I will mention that I voted for #22.

Take advantage of scrolling through the art one picture at a time -- there really are some thought provoking pieces in there.


Just my thoughts,


The Road to Nower Part 6: Giggles Gone Wrong

From Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip:

Harriet: I got a laugh at the table read when I asked for the butter in the dinner sketch. I didn’t get it at the dress. What did I do wrong?

Matt: You asked for the laugh.

Harriet: What did I do at the table read?

Matt: You asked for the butter.

In my last update on Nower, I explained the first of two approaches that Joel and I took that guarantees our failure – making it a three camera sit-com. The second is our comedy style.

Our script generates the required three laughs a page, but they are apparently the wrong kind of laughs.

As one television veteran explained in critiquing our script: “Too many of your laughs come from the story and from character. Sit-coms today have a set formula – setup, punchline; setup, punchline; setup, punchline. Your script is too much like theater. In theater, the jokes serve the story. In television, the story and characters serve the joke.”

Of course he is right – that is the way most sitcoms are structured.

But that is also what Joel and I agreed was why most sitcoms don’t feel funny – despite the jokes. They aren’t about character or story, they aren’t places that one wants to spend time, they aren’t compelling.

Seems we aren’t the only ones to think so. The October 6th Entertainment Weekly included an article called “TV Comedy Is Broken” – a collection of interviews with a television producer, writer and actors.

An anonymous actress summed up the problem thusly, “I’ve seen sitcoms…rely on very empty jokes that were not character-related or plot-related in terms of telling a story about something real.”

The writer said, “As for multi-camera comedies, the networks seem to care less about story, character and content and more about style.”

So Joel and I made a point to do funny that came from plot and character.

It’s working against us; but I think we can live with that.

Just my thoughts,


Sunday, October 01, 2006

More TV talk - from Cath

Okay - I'm not the story expert in the family - but I do watch TV and am interested in what works and what doesn't and why.

So...these aren't the final authoritative statements about these shows - but they are early opinions.

UGLY BETTY - I was excited about this show. But found myself disappointed. Why? Well, while I really enjoyed America Ferrera's character, and appreciated that the writers didn't fall into the trap of the "ugly duckling" stereotype, I felt that everyone else in the show was a total caricature. When the show is about seeing worth in things that we are unfairly labeling (the "don't judge a book by its cover" idea) - why on earth would you make the other characters so obvious and unreal? Makes no sense to me. A shame.

BROTHERS AND SISTERS - I knew nothing about this show before watching. I watched it right after "Ugly Betty" (Oh, the joys of TiVo.). While some characters could be stereotyped (Calista Flockhart's character is a conservative radio host) - it was more about subtle layers - about being real, despite what people think is going on. And I was actually blown away by the acting in a scene with Sally Field and Calista. Wow!

Feel free to share your thoughts if you've seen the shows. (I'm not interested in arguing any points - but an open electronic discussion could be fun.)

Just Cath's thoughts...