Saturday, December 29, 2007

At a Theater Near You

With a few moments of time off at year end, Cath and I have been able to take in a number of films – many which we should have seen months ago.


Here are a few brief thoughts – first with those still in theatres:


I AM LEGEND: Very fun, worthy of record breaking box office. Will Smith proves his place within a handful of actors that can be the sole human on screen for extended periods of time without making the audience wonder/pray for another actor to enter.


Imperfections? Sure – mostly in a third act that is a wee bit too rushed to fully hit its impact.


I’d like to have seen more time spent with the home defenses, for example. And the relationship between the captured creature and the main antagonist seems to be a missed opportunity.


But over all? Worth the price of admission.



SWEENEY TODD: Tim Burton allays any fears that he wasn’t the right person to make this musical’s transition from the stage to the screen. The look and tone are pitch-perfect; the music a seamless blend with the action.


This production avoids all the mistakes of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, which added to the story in hope of softening the impact of its titular villain. No, Todd is here in his full protagonist-gone-bad glory; and the warning of good turning sour is visually stunning and just as strikingly twisted fun as the original.


Depp is wonderful; Rickman rightfully makes the skin crawl no matter how tight your plastic surgeon has already pulled; and for me Bonham Carter rose to the occasion quite nicely (although my viewing partner – not Cath, this is a bloody film – couldn’t quite let go of the memory of Angela Landsbury).


Imperfections? Sure. The only one that got in my way (and preventing the film from rising to “worth any price”) is the treatment of the slitting of throats. (This being a musical about the demon barber of Fleet Street, I don’t think I’ve broken any spoiler rules here – throats will be slit galore…)

The throats are slit with close-up gore, the way any slasher movie would do it. But this isn’t just any slasher movie, and Burton should have put more artistic effort into letting the gore be more than gore.


So even with that distraction, it is still: Well worth the price of admission.


BUCKET LIST: Great actors being wasted on a schmaltzy script that does a disservice to schmaltzy movies.


This one would fit nicely as a made-for-tv movie with B-level actors, which is a shame given the presence of Morgan Freeman and Sean Hayes – each doing better work than the material warrants.


There are some really nice moments in act three, such that if the whole movie were written like act three, we’d have a winner on our hands.


Imperfections? The majority of the second act has the two leads fulfilling items that are NOT on either’s bucket list. And thus we spend most of our time wandering the world, wasting time – which by the movie’s very premise should be the one commodity we dare not waste.


Over all? Not worth the price of admission.


Just my thoughts,


Sean

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Writer of Week #9: Wilder At Heart

There are thousands of influences that go into making a person’s character: people, events, instructions and stories.

One influential story for me came early in my childhood via the television on a Saturday afternoon. I remember it was old, one of the black & white burn offs that they put up on Saturday since no one was watching television anyway.

I could never remember the name of the flick, or the stars (it was one of the big guys, you know – Peck or Grant or Douglas, or someone like one of them…)

But I remember the story, and what a sucker punch to my pre-teen brain it was.

There was a reporter, on vacation or fired or somesuch, and he happens to be near a mine when there’s a cave-in. One guy is stuck inside, and the reporter crawls in to where the guy is pinned down and starts talking to him, and they become friends.

Word gets out, and suddenly this is a national story – and here the vacationing/fired/whatever reporter has an exclusive with the story of a career. And by this point, the guy trapped in the mountain trusts the reporter and no one else, so the story stays exclusive.

Then a decision needs to be made – there are two ways to get the guy out, and he asks his reporter buddy to decide which way. Both have their drawbacks, but one way – a visually spectacular drilling operation – would take longer.

Which means the story would go on longer…

The reporter’s choice and the consequences – whew-ee. For decades, when faced with a choice that can help me but might inconvenience another, I was haunted with the image of a drill arcing in the sky, boring a hole down into the earth, piercing more than dirt…

The name of the film is ACE IN THE HOLE; after decades of coming to believe I dreamed the whole thing, it came out on DVD this year. (The reporter was Douglas, in case you were wondering.)

Which brings me to this week’s writer: Billy Wilder.

Billy was a Jewish writer trying to make a career for himself in Berlin when Hitler came to power, which suddenly made the United States look attractive. (His mother and several other relatives ended their days in Auschwitz.)

Once here, he pretended to know enough English to get a job in Hollywood, a pretense that became true enough as he eventually garnered twelve Oscar nominations for screenwriting. For a nice piece of irony, check out BALL OF FIRE, a screwball comedy about a group of Professors perfecting an English encyclopedia.

The ever versatile Wilder not only mastered screwball, but is credited with creating the first true Noir film – DOUBLE INDEMNITY – which set the standard for all to follow.

Of course I should mention that he didn’t stop at writing, becoming a director and producer as well. One of four people to win an Oscar for writing, directing and producing on the same film.

Two of his movies consistently make my personal top twenty movies of all time – and I’m not even referring to SOME LIKE IT HOT or SUNSET BOULEVARD.

The benchmark for beauty in a Hollywood starlet for me was set in SABRINA; if she can’t make my heart go pitter-pat like Audrey Hepburn up in that tree, ever on the outside of the party, well then the girl just ain’t worth the effort.

And the bitter-sweet APARTMENT – the nice guy coming in last, just like in real life. And realizing that maybe last isn’t the worse place to be, just like in real life.

Those two movies alone would secure Billy Wilder my sincere adulation; add that to the score of other great films he is responsible for, and dag-nab it, the guy is just too good to be true.

Well, nobody’s perfect.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Rose Bambi Rewrites

Things are slow at work. The agencies are closed; most execs are off on holiday; and the only real work is cleaning up the year about to be past and setting up for the year about to be present.

A few things have made my day merrier.

My sister sent a short video of my nephews opening (and enjoying – whew!) the Christmas present Cath and I sent them. What a great way to say thank you!

Now I am waiting for brother Mark to send the video of him opening the macramé fruit-cake I combo knit/baked for him. I bet he was surprised!

And while here at work, I got a chuckle archiving a recent project.

Once a movie is in production, the rewrites are labeled by color – and actually printed on paper matching that color – to avoid confusion on set. You know you are looking at the wrong script if you are holding white pages and everyone else is holding pink pages.

The colors cycle through a standard order: white, blue, pink, yellow, etc.

The folks on this particular project got a little more creative, and broke from tradition with more colorful colors.

Some of my favorites:

Pumpkin Martini. Midori Sour. Purple Chicken.

And, of course, Bailey’s Irish Cream.

Now that was a good day for rewrites!

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Monday, December 24, 2007

Linus and Lucy - CB Part Six


For this next section, I need a dance break. Play the dance music from A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, choose a character, and dance like them.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Wasn’t that fun?

That iconic music it is the most recognized song in all of Peanuts history. Many people call it the Charlie Brown theme.

Actually, the song is called “Linus and Lucy.” There is no “Charlie Brown Theme” in this show.

Which brings me to the sixth and final reason why A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS is the best holiday special ever:

It’s not about Charlie Brown.

By that I mean it’s not about you.

Or, more to the point, it’s not about me.

“I am learning that the church is at its best when it gives itself away… God doesn’t choose people just so they’ll feel good about themselves or secure in their standing with God or whatever else. God chooses people to be used to bless other people. Elected, predestined, chosen – whatever words people use for this reality, the point is never the person elected or chosen or predestined. The point is that person serving others, making their lives better.” - Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis

Charlie Brown is a vessel – and the real heart of the show isn’t about how Mr. Brown is changed or helped; it is about what he does for his community.

To understand the full impact of this, I must ask you to follow the blanket.

Did you know the term “security blanket” comes from the Peanuts? That’s the blanket we need to follow.

In the special, Linus’ blanket is featured in five scenes:

In the opening ice skating sequence, Snoopy tries to steal the blanket. Linus will not let go, and they end up wrapping up Charlie Brown and sending him skidding into a tree.

In the snowball scene, Lucy says that Linus will have to let go of the blanket someday – when he becomes an adult. Linus explains he will simply make a suit of the blanket.

When the parts are handed out, Lucy threatens her brother, saying he has to let go of the blanket to be a shepherd. He instead makes a costume of it.

The writers out there already know this, but three is the magic number, the number of completion.

If you want to make a point in a story, you show it once.

If you want to reinforce the point, you show it twice.

If you want to establish the point as Gospel Truth, you show it three times.

Here is Schulz’ message: under no circumstances will Linus give up his blanket.

This is critical; if we don’t get that, we cannot understand A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS.

So let me repeat: under no circumstances will Linus give up his blanket.

And then he does.

First, when reciting the Christmas story. For a moment, and just a moment, Linus forgets about the blanket.

More exactly, on the words “Fear not,” he lets go of his other security; retrieving the blanket as soon as the recitation is over.

And then at the end, Linus gives up his blanket completely to wrap around the base of the tree.

“I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.” -Linus, A Charlie Brown Christmas

A little sacrificial love.

Linus tells Charlie Brown earlier that he knows what Christmas means; then he shows that meaning in action.

Sacrificial love.

Linus is changed by Charlie Brown’s search for meaning; the whole community (which joins in decorating the tree) is changed; even Lucy – who admits that the blockhead did get a good tree after all -- is changed.

Why is A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS the best holiday show ever?


“Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness.” - Psalm 30:11

Merry Christmas.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Friday, December 21, 2007

Hark! - CB Part Five


Okay, for the writers out there: let’s admit it. A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS has a rather odd structure. It’s almost as if it were a bunch of newspaper strips strung together…

Oh, wait. That’s right.

Even though its construction may not be tight, or traditional, when Mr. Schulz strung together those strips, he did use a structure.

Earlier, I pointed out that Charlie Brown begins the show making his complaint known. “I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess… I always end up feeling depressed.” (And I showed this as appropriate behavior by comparing it to the opening of a Psalm.)

For the rest of the show, Charlie explores that complaint, and at the end comes to the conclusion that G-d is greater than his worries. The special even concludes with a hymn of praise to G-d.

“Hark, the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn king! Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinner reconciled!”

Which brings me to reason #5 for why A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS is the best holiday special ever:

The show is a Psalm.

That is the format of many of the Psalms – from complaint through exploration to praise.

Notice that Charlie Brown’s circumstances haven’t changed – everything that depresses him is still there.


“But the lament psalms never show us an external improvement in the situation. We know such improvement can happen through prayer, and the Bible attests to it, but not in these psalms. They attest to another reality: the change that takes place in the psalmist in the act of praying.” -Ellen Davis, Getting Involve With God

Charlie Brown’s circumstances haven’t changed, but, Charlie Brown has changed.

But more importantly… (to be continued)

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Thursday, December 20, 2007

What Child is This? CB Part Four


My fourth (out of six, for those counting) reason that I think A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS is the best holiday special ever:

I love the non-answer answer.

When Chuck hits the end of his rope, and demands if anyone knows what Christmas is all about, Linus steps forward and gives his famous little speech.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shown around about them. And they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which will be to all people.”
And that is what it is about. Tidings of hope. Glory. And, in a word: Jesus.

There is no pablum here about we all need to feel good, or Christmas is about giving, or Christmas is about all humanity learning to get along.
It’s about divine hope in the mystery of a divine child.

“One of the great ‘theologians’ of our time, Sean Penn, put it this way: “When everything gets answered, it’s fake. The mystery is the truth.” -Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis

Linus’ words are not a logical argument.

They are not a direct answer.

Linus doesn’t say, “Charlie Brown, you are struggling in this area because G-d is building such and such a character trait in you.”

Really, it just points in the direction of an answer.

But it is an answer that works – not just for Charlie, but for the audience. We are satisfied that the question has been answered.

It is just a little bit of light, but: “It is as if the smallest amount of light is infinitely more powerful than massive amounts of dark.” -Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis
Linus gives just a little bit of light.

And it is enough.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Writer of Week #8 - As Time Goes By

I have the script for ARSENIC AND OLD LACE sitting on my desk.

I never grow tired of that movie, or of Cary Grant’s double, then triple, then bazillaliple takes on discovering that his kindly aunts have a body in the window seat.

Which brings me to this week’s writer – writing team, actually. Julius and twin Philip Epstein, screen adaptors of ARSENIC, and forever planted in movie history for one film that had lines like:

“We’ll always have Paris.”

“Round up the usual suspects.”

“I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship.”

And the line that they never wrote, that doesn’t appear in the film, but enough people think it does to give it mention:

“Play it again, Sam.”

(I believe the actual line is more akin to: “You played it for her, you can play it for me. Play it!” Did I get that right?)

Those lines came about because the brothers Epstein were on contract at a studio, and were assigned as part of their daily duties the adaptation of an un-produced play: EVERYBODY COMES TO RICK’S.

We of course know the result as CASABLANCA.

The Epsteins wrote quite a few money makers for their studio, but the relationship was more akin to family than business – and by that I mean love/hate yet can’t quite stay away.

Julius often criticized his own work there, including CASABLANCA, calling it full of corn.

And the brothers apparently were irascible practical jokers, often incurring the wrath of the studio heads.

Perhaps the relationship is best summed up by Julius himself. When asked in a House of UnAmerican Activities questionnaire if he belonged to a subversive organization, he responded:

“Yes. Warner Bros.”

So Julius and Philip, here’s looking at you, kids.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Skating - CB Part Three


So good old blockhead Charlie Brown has admitted his depression, and is on the search through it to the other side.

Which brings up reason #3 as to why A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS is the best holiday special ever.

Charlie does some good exploration.

He could choose to just sit and moan (or “share the truth in love” – thanks Omar) and feel sorry for himself – but instead he seeks help.

Now Lucy may not be the wisest choice, but really, where can a five year old go to get psychiatric help for only a nickel?

(I see Lucy as being akin Job’s friends – trying to be helpful, but keep getting in their own way.)

And while Charles Schulz has some fun with the easy answers, he lets Lucy stumble upon a really good one:

Seek community.

“The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” -GENESIS 2:18

Sure, there are times when you need a little space, or even a bit of “alone with G-d” time. Heck, the kid who’s birthday we close banks for sought a little alone time every morning.

But it isn’t good to be in life alone.

Seek community. Yeah, Lucy, maybe I could do with a little involvement.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas Puppy - CB Part Two


My niece has discovered A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS. She has a different title for it. She calls it:

“Christmas puppy I want.”

Me too.

Here is the second part of my argument for why A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS is the best holiday special ever.

I left off last time stating that declaring one’s unhappiness (especially in the season of joy) goes against social expectations for churched Americans – we have Jesus, how could we possibly feel incomplete?

However, it is Biblical to grouse about our lousy state of mind.

Especially to G-d.

“Hear my prayer, O Lord, let my cry for help come to you. For my days vanish like smoke; my bones burn like glowing embers. My heart is blighted and withered like grass; I forget to eat my food. Because of my loud groaning, I am reduced to skin and bones.” -PSALM 102: 1, 3 & 4

I’m planning on packaging those verses as the California Biblical Whining Diet. I’ll make a fortune.

The Bible is chock full of people talking about feeling depressed, or unfulfilled or disappointed. Claiming that they just don’t understand Christmas – well, don’t understand G-d anyway.

And these are the prophets and saints – from Moses to David to Peter to Paul – all questioning G-d.

Now before you go off whining and making everyone around you miserable – all while saying, “Sean made me do it,” -- I have to warn you that not all complaining is Good Book approved.

In fact, there are scores of complainers in the Bible that are struck down from above for their bellyaching.

There are two tricks to the G-dly questioner: one, is being willing to admit you don’t have the answers. Which requires turning over control:

“Questions, no matter how shocking or blasphemous or arrogant or ignorant or raw, are rooted in humility. A humility that understands that I am not God. And there is more to know.” Rob Bell, VELVET ELVIS

Charlie Brown is definitely in a position of humility.

The second trick is to keep it real.

By that I mean keep it from just being griping – moaning for moaning sakes or just to whine isn’t a Biblical notion – that’s desert moaning. That’s “hey, let’s incur the wrath of the Almighty” moaning.

This other, goodly kind of complaining is a searching – looking to move through the mood.

“This book of Job hints at a strange truth that is never explained, and probably cannot be explained: the full admission of pain opens the door to hope.” -Ellen Davis, GETTING INVOLVED WITH GOD
Heading towards hope is a good kind of melancholy. And that goes to who we make the admission.

In the Psalms – it is always directed to G-d; in the desert, it is always a means to an end – gossip to make the speaker feel better for having spread his/her misery.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas Time is Here - CB Part One


My job here is simple: I am going to explain to you why A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS is the best holiday special.
Ever.

I have six reasons (well, seven, but reason 5.5 is more personal than universal). So let’s get started.

“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess… I always end up feeling depressed.” - Charlie Brown, A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS

Reason #1: The show speaks the Truth.

In the midst of Season of Joy, it is rather unfashionable to be depressed. A somber aspect will bring on cries of, “Come on, get in the holiday spirit!”

As for me, I always get melancholy this time of year. It’s as traditional as caroling, decorating the tree, and sneaking downstairs at 5 am Christmas morning to swap the butterscotch pudding from my stocking with the chocolate pudding in Mark’s stocking.

A lot of people get yuletide depression; more than we know, as so many of us are putting on merry Christmas masks. And the reasons are abundant in this season-

Family blues – from those who can’t be with their loved ones for the holidays.

Or those who are forced to put up with their loved ones for the holidays.

The pressure of expectations – I’ve got to find that perfect gift for our neighbors, Gladys Kravitz, or she’ll send her dog over to my yard to do his business!

Failed expectations – I bought Gladys an i-phone, but she still sends her dog over to my yard!

And this season isn’t just for religiously commercial holidays – coming in December, it is a reminder that we’ve wasted another whole year.

Sigh.

Charlie Brown was boy enough to admit he was feeling blue. In fact, he kinda made it okay to say it. A little hip, even.

In the seasonal dumps? Just say:

“I’m feeling a little Charlie Brownish”

People will understand.

I realize that this borders on complaining, which goes against the American Christian work ethic of grin and bear it, but…

We’ll save that but for reason #2.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Hiro Nakamura walked by my office window today.

Of course he was in disguise as actor Masi Oka.

I felt all safe and warm, knowing he was around to protect us.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Monday, December 10, 2007

Writer of Week #6 – Vacation to Mordor


Got a much needed laugh on the way to work this morning, listening to the Loh Life, as Sandra Tsing Loh talks about her vacation to Mordor.

Yep, that Mordor.

Check out the podcast.

Which brings me to the featured writer of the week: The team of Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh.

This writing duo, in fellowship with Philippa Boyens, are responsible for one of the best adaptations from literature to screen around: THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy.

Not an easy task, as the lifeless animation project from years gone by can attest.

One aspect of this writing duo (now trio?) that makes them worthy of special mention is their diversity.

Peter and Fran first made a name for themselves (okay, the “name” goes to Peter since he was also the director, and writers rarely get “named”) with comedic horror, including a pre-Fran BAD TASTE about aliens running a human-as-food farm, and MEET THE FEEBLES, a muppet based gross out comedy.

Not quite the Oscar contending pedigree you would expect; neither did anyone else as the pair tackled a sensitive adaptation from reality, HEAVENLY CREATURES, which did indeed attract an Oscar nomination for writing.

My introduction to their work was the Michael J. Fox ghost comedy, THE FRIGHTENERS. I remember laughing a lot, wondering at the mish-mash of genre, and unsure of why the critics seemed to dislike it so much.

I also caught FORGOTTEN SILVER, a fake documentary where Jackson (in reality) convinced much of New Zealand that he found early reels of innovative movies by the esteemed Ziwi director, Colin MacKenzie.

So convincing was the documentary, that several Universities added the material into their film studies classes.

Before realizing that there was never a person called Colin MacKenzie.

So we got splatter-horror comedies, quiet drama, adult muppet behavior (pre-dating AVENUE Q), a failed Hollywood flick, and a television released mockumentary.

Sounds like perfect training for a big budget Hollywood ten-hour epic.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Friday, December 07, 2007

Life Behind His Eyes


My brother Mark has reminded me that being cynical is distracting me from Life.

And by that, I mean LIFE, the NBC show on Wednesday nights, and one of the best premieres of the season. The show has procedural action; it has great character depth and interesting character conflicts; it has a mystery per show AND a great mystery arcing over the season.
But most of all it has an incredibly well-written and well-acted lead.

I realize that I am speaking to a generation that isn’t familiar with Steve McQueen, folks that never experienced his brand of slow cool. Well, here’s your chance.

When you watch Steve in character, you know he is always thinking – maybe about what he is saying, maybe about something completely different – but there is a vivid life going on behind his eyes.

And Steve was always so cool, that he wouldn’t rush that thinking – slow, steady, and dangerously provocative.
Whether MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, TOWERING INFERNO or THE GREAT ESCAPE, whether a bright character or a dimmer bulb (face it, for all his exciting action, Cooler King Hiltz wasn’t the quickest on the uptake), his characters were always coolly thinking.

Damian Lewis’ Charlie in LIFE is channeling Steve McQueen.

A few weeks back, I watched a clip from THE GREAT ESCAPE in prep for a spiritual retreat (hey, you spiritual retreat your way, I’ll spiritual retreat mine); shortly after that I watched an episode of LIFE – and I got shivers, the acting style was so uncannily close to McQueen.

And this isn’t just a theory.
Recently I had the opportunity to sit next to an AD from LIFE (at a WGA informational event, but let’s not think about that). I shared with him my feelings about Steve McQueen, he smiled, said he would pass that on because…

It ain’t a coincidence. Apparently Damian read the part of the revenge seeking Zen detective, and it so reminded him of McQueen that he intentionally approaches the role that way.

Check out the design as well -- from the cars he drives to the camera angles to hints in the fashion…

The King of Cool is back.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Where Ideas Come From

I just did another e-mail interview -- this time about creativity. (I didn't have to talk about the strike -- woohoo!)

This was from a college student who directed a production of my play, FOOLISH WISEMAN, at her school. As part of the process, she wrote a paper that included answering some questions about the author.

I thought y'all might want a brief insight to the creative process, so here are two of her questions and my answers:

What inspired you to write "Foolish Wiseman?"

While I was working for Taproot Theatre in Seattle, we needed a Christmas themed play to tour to Japan. The one we were planning on touring had fallen through, so we had a matter of days to come up with a replacement before rehearsals began.

The limits were stiff – small cast, set and costumes that could travel on a Japanese subway, lots of physicality (as it would be performed for people learning English), etc.

I’ve always been drawn to stories about the “other” guy, the one we never heard about, such as Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guilderstern Are Dead” (what were they doing behind the scenes while Hamlet was soliloquizing)?

So that got me to thinking about the friends of the magi – did they support their pals’ odd behavior? And that led me to Ogion – the friend who wished he went at first time around, and now has to catch up.

I guess there is a part of me that identifies deeply with just that – regretting taking so long to get on board, and racing to catch up.

I love VeggieTales! How did you come to write for them?

I wrote my first VeggieTales script on a dare, and never thought it would actually become a video.

Back when Bob and Larry were still fairly new, I was arguing with a friend. His position was that they were great and all, but so very limited, because there are so many Bible stories that can’t be told for children.

I dared him to name one, and he did: David and Bathesheba.

So I wrote “King David and the Bath Ducky” just to prove him wrong.

Another friend, artist Bryan Ballinger, was interviewing with Big Idea, and passed off my script as he negotiated his fee. They liked it enough to offer to buy it -- even though it took a year to figure out how to market it. Seeing the same problem as posed earlier, they wondered how to handle parents of the kids that looked up the original story and then asked questions about adultery and the like.

It took over a year and a massive rewrite by Phil Vischer, as well as a change in era, location and title – but I was now in the Big Idea house.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Before Fade Out

I just answered some question via e-mail regarding the strike (a college student interview).

Mostly repeated what I've already said here -- how the writer's deserve more money, how neither side is acting like nice children, etc.

Here's a question I haven't answered for y'all, so here goes:

3. What do you feel will be the final outcome of the strike?

Here’s my prediction: Both sides will announce how they totally humiliated the other side and got a deal so sweet that their a. guild members or b. stockholders should lift them on their shoulders and parade them around town as heroes.

Then in three months, it will be back to claiming that our side (whichever side you want, as both will say this) got totally hosed in the deal, and just wait until next time when we really show them!

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Monday, December 03, 2007

Depends on what the definition of "is" is...

The strike isn’t looking to end any time soon.

After Thursday, the WGA asked for a lift on the news blackout, so they could talk to their members about the negotiations. But before chatting with their members, they released a statement blasting the studios.

Just like that, we’re back to mud slinging.

I suppose reading my blog, one would either assume I am anti-WGA, or wonder where I fall in this issue. So let me restate for the record:

I think the Guild is right that the writers deserve a bigger piece of the pie than they are currently getting – especially in the area of new media.

So, ironically, I get even more hot and bothered when they aren’t upright in how they are trying to get that piece of the pie.

Such as this weekend, as they are outright lying in reporting that the studio is asking for rollbacks.

I’m not saying that the Studios is saying that they are lying – as far as I’ve heard, the Studios haven’t responded at all to the WGA attacks.

No, it is the WGA that says that the WGA is lying.

The dictionary defines a rollback as a reduction to a prior level. In terms of contracts, this would be if the workers are currently being paid ten dollars an hour, and the bosses say they want to move it to nine dollars an hour.

Prior to the strike, the WGA claimed (correctly so) that the writers were being paid zero dollars for many of the uses of their material on the internet.

The writers now are saying that the Studios have offered to pay a mere couple of thousand dollars for something written for the web.

From zero to a couple of thousand.

And the WGA is claiming this is a rollback – in other words, in the math of the WGA, 2,000 is literally less than zero.

Here’s an old joke: A college student pushes his overflowing cart into the “Ten items or less” checkout aisle in Boston. The checker glances at the cart, then at the “Ten items or less” sign, and quips, “So, are you from MIT and can’t read, or from Harvard and can’t add?”

I’m thinking that the representatives of the Writer’s guild know what the term “rollback” means, being wordsmiths and all.

Here’s the deal folks: if the dollar amount is accurate (and who knows with the level of honesty being shown here), then it is a small amount. A half hour of prime time television nets over $20,000 for a writer. For prime time television.

And if the Studios were suggesting a cut in that amount, it would indeed be a rollback. But this isn’t a rollback, just a paltry offer – from zero to two thousand.

So why doesn’t the WGA come out and say, “Hey, the studios made an offer, but the amount is a joke?” Why lie instead and call it a rollback?

It’s not as if writers are too stupid to know that a pittance is only a pittance; it’s not as if the writers will fold if they aren’t lied to.

Then why?

Because the point isn’t to report a lack of progress, the point is to make the strikers angry. And if the Studios are perceived as trying to take back money already given, then the strikers will get Hulk angry.

Angry strikers make good, long strikers.

A goal apparently worthy of the lie.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Saturday, December 01, 2007

A Little Direction, Please


There’s a lot of hullabaloo surrounding THE GOLDEN COMPASS.

I’m not going to comment a whole lot on it, except to direct you to sources I trust.

Here’s Jeffrey Overstreet’s words of wisdom.

Jeff Berryman’s odyssey through the books – entry one and two.

And an Atlantic article that more than fairly covers the film and book.

Enjoy or ignore as you wish.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Friday, November 30, 2007

Cartoon Christmas


From Cynopsis for Kids:

Boomerang month-long holiday celebration takes off this weekend Saturday, December 1, and every weekend through December 23, 4-5:30p, as the network features a host of favorite Christmas Classic animated specials. Additionally, on Christmas Eve Boomerang will offer holiday themed programming all day long 9a-6a, and Christmas day 6a-2:30p. What can kid (and kid-like folks) expect from the annual Boomerang Christmas Party Stunt? Glad you asked weekends will include - Yogi's First Christmas (12/1); A Flintstone Christmas Carol (12/2); A Jetsons Christmas Carol (12/8); Yogi Bear's All-Star Comedy Christmas Caper (12/9); Smurf's Christmas Special (12/15); Christmas Comes To Pac-land (12/16). Christmas Eve and Day will offer Justice League Comfort and Joy (12/24, 6:30p); and A Flintstone Family Christmas (12/25, 8a) among others.

Ah, the classics.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Apparently there was movement in strike talks today, with the producers making a proposal, and the WGA taking the weekend to think about it.

We shall see.

In the meantime, a striking writer gives advice on how strikers can protect their marriage.

I know how annoying a writer at home all day can be. Wait, that didn't sound right...

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Wednesday November 28

I have titled this entry of random thoughts by date, because I spent my morning thinking -- and telling people -- that today is Thursday.

It isn't.

The WGA and the Studios are back in talks, and there are rumors that the strike may be over soon. Which is a good thing, because I still have a rant or two in me, and would rather not dwell on ranting.

At work, Jason always posts a quote on his white board. My favorite in a long time:

"I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world, because they'd never expect it."

-Jack Handy, Deep Thoughts

On Monday, I was called upon to give a devotional for my church drama group. I used my time instead to explain why A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS is the best Holiday show ever. I will be blogging pieces of that talk in December; but if anyone is in La-la land on December 9th, I have been asked to repeat the chat with Beacon up at Bel Air Pres.

Overheard today on the lot: Someone made an incorrect bank withdrawal -- despite leaving home without her purse, running late, and a host of other irritants that should have prevented her from banking at all. Thinking that maybe someone was trying unsuccessfully to protect her from her error despite herself, she announced:

"Free will is a b**ch."

Amen, sister.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bad Theatre / Good Film

Every now and then I see a piece of theatre that I wish was a movie, solely because then I could own it on DVD.

Such is ATLANTA: THE MUSICAL, opening this weekend at the Geffen in Los Angeles.

Wait, I am afraid my opening may be misleading. You see, I often teach writing classes, and am on constant look out for examples to show my students.

And ATLANTA is a near perfect sample of not doing a single thing right when writing a musical. And negative examples are a priceless learning tool.

For those of you who are not writers, here is the most basic thing that any writer learns in Story 101: Every story needs to start with three basic ingredients:

1. A main character who

2. Has a want (which drives the story), and

3. An obstacle to that want (which gives the story “drama”)

Dorothy Gale wants to get home, but the witch is in the way.

John McClane wants to save his wife, but the robber posing as a terrorist is in his way. (My shout out for the Christmas season…)

Little Miss Muffet wants to eat her curds & whey, but that pesky spider keeps scaring her off her tuffet.

As I was leaving ATLANTA, an elderly woman was angrily announcing about the creators: “They didn’t even know who the story was about!”

To be fair, at the end of Act One it is revealed who the main character of the story is – and his major story arc takes up about ten minutes total of a two hour play.

And none of the characters have a want that drives the action. And of course, if you don’t want anything, there really is no obstacle. Hence no drama.

Which is too bad – because the idea is rife with dramatic possibilities.

The story is ostensibly about a Yankee soldier, who kills a Reb then hides from the Confederacy by stealing the Reb’s uniform. In the dead man’s pocket is a packet of love letters – and through the missives, the Yank falls in love with his enemy’s lover.

Sound good? Yeah, to me to.

But the creators of this show ignored that the guy in the southern uniform is a Yankee; ignored the conflict of loving the girl of someone you killed; ignored the conflict of false identity (SPOILER ALERT: the Yank and the Girl never meet, and she never finds out he has taken her lover’s identity); and on and on.

And the music – yikes! In the program notes the writer talks about what he learned from Stephen Soundheim – how every song is a play of its own, progressing through three acts.

If only the writer chose to use what he learned! I can think of only one song in the whole show that even remotely has a progression.

On the other hand, I also saw ENCHANTED this weekend, which showcases a song with the first line “How will she know you love her?” and ends with the line “That’s how she’ll know you love her!”

Progression!

Yeah, a simple Disney fairy tale ends up running dramatic circles around a highly publicized Civil War drama.

I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed ENCHANTED. I had a few things going for me:

1. I knew nothing about it going in, other than Susan Sarandon was in the cast, and Amy Adams was rumored to be delightful in it.

Okay, I only had one thing going for me. But it was enough. I saw no commercials, read no articles, really had no interest in seeing the flick.

Yet giggled my way gleefully through the whole thing.

So, take my advice: go see it knowing as little as possible about the show.

Then write to me about it, and let’s discuss why Amy Adams deserves a best actress Oscar nom (and why she won’t get it).

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Traditionalists

With Thanksgiving comes traditions – like turkey and college ball and the Macy’s parade.

But what about non-traditional traditions?

New York insiders skip the parade; but they do gather the night before with a little wine and carryable foodstuffs to walk along the park where the balloons are inflated. The game is to guess what shape the mass of plastic on the ground will become once filled out.

I heard a fella on NPR (this is why I am not a journalist – my sources are “a fella”) that was bored with the traditional Thanksgiving meal, but found that deviating from the standard menu caused turmoil in his household.

So he did the menu with a twist – everything Polynesian style. From the more simple “volcano mashed with lava gravy” to a complex turkey meatloaf shaped like a tiki – everything was altered to fit the themed Turkey Tiki Thanksgiving.

It is traditional to gather with family – which has created another tradition which I’ve experienced since my college days: The Orphan Dinner. Friends who can’t make it home for the holiday gathering to celebrate with their family of peers.

My friend Kara Lee has evaluated the tradition of stuffing oneself, and realized that a new tradition was needed: Eat Dessert First.

On Eve before Thanksgiving, friends will gather for their favorite desserts – knowing full well that the next day they won’t enjoy them quite so much, being sick on giblets and gravy and all.

I especially like that one.

Have you got any non-traditional traditions to share?

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Quotes For the Moment

"It's easy to make a buck. It's a lot tougher to make a difference."
- Tom Brokaw


"If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever."
–Thomas Aquinas

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Quitters Never Win

For a strike to work, you have to hit the company where it counts –in the bank account.

It’s a simple idea: the workers in an auto factory walk out, production stops, and the auto company has no more cars to sell.

So unions take very seriously the notion of scabbing – someone coming in and taking the job of an union worker, thus keeping production going.

The problem with the WGA strike is that the factory isn’t just making cars. Or in this case, television and movies.

They are also making entertainment in areas where the WGA has no jurisdiction, such as in animation and on-line content.

Which isn’t stopping the Guild from trying to shut down writing in those areas. They initially told all of their members – and all non-members – that they would be punished for doing any animation work.

They pulled this strike rule at the last second, because it really ticked off the union of animation writers – part of IATSE. And the WGA is slowly learning that it isn’t necessarily smart to purposefully poach work from other unions, then turn around and look hurt when they don’t get support from said unions.

But there is no union for people that write for the web, so the Guild is demanding that all writers – union and nonunion – stop writing for the web.

Union members who write for the web will be fined and expulsed; non-union members who write for the web will be banned for life from joining the union.

Even if the writer is contractually obligated to do so.

A WGA member who is refusing to work at WGA jobs is protected from being fired or retaliated against by the studios.

A writer who is breaking a non-union contract for no other reason than because the WGA is bullying him to do so has no protection – legal or otherwise. They are simply breaking a contractual promise, and can be fired or sued.

The WGA will not protect them. The WGA will not stand up for them. Because these are not WGA members or WGA jobs, and they are working in a non-WGA area.

Again, I am not talking about scabbing. This is not a case of someone taking the job of a union writer while they are on strike, this is the case of a non-union writer keeping a commitment made before a union in which they have no say decided to strike.

It is akin to our auto workers telling the janitors that if they don’t quit (it’s not going on strike, it is quitting), then they will hound them for it for the rest of their lives.

And the WGA has made it clear – “we will find you!”

It is one thing to ask for solidarity of others in the biz – many actors, writers, directors and the like have joined the WGA in their cause.

But it is another to force someone to do so without any say in the matter.

And the moral high ground sinks a little lower.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Thursday, November 15, 2007

United We Stand... Or Else!

When I became an administrator at Columbia U, I started work the week the union representing my position took a strike vote.

I and several other new employees – too new to have joined the union yet – went to an informational meeting sponsored by the union.

The first thing we were told when mentioning that we hadn’t joined yet was that we had to join the union – not an emotional imperative, but a legal one. If we didn’t join, we were told, then we would be fired.

That didn’t sound right to me, so I checked. No, we were not legally required to join the union, nor were we compelled to do so by our employers.

I called the union, who after much hemming and hawing, confirmed that there is no legal or contractual requirement to join.

So why were we told that? The guy on the phone made it clear: the union is not in any way responsible for the statements made by the people representing them at these meetings – as the speaker was volunteering, and not on the union’s payroll.

If they were pushy, or confrontational, or dishonest – well, this is a hard time, it was explained, and that sort of thing is simply going to happen. The larger goal – repairing the injustice put upon the worker by the powers that be – out weighed any use of intimidation or dishonesty.

In effect, the union while not condoning lying to increase its membership or power, was adverse to the positive effects such action may bring.

So at a young age I learned the simple truth: Unions are only powerful if they can control people – their workers and those around their workers.

And ethics are very pliable in face of the end result – maintaining union power.

I know it is true – but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Or believe that this is the way people who claim to be representing me should behave.

There is a part of me that looks on dishonesty on any side of an issue as an admission by the perpetrator – that underneath it all, they don’t fully believe they are right. And thus they have to sweeten their side a little bit.

A Vice President that truly believes in the evidence that a dictator is too dangerous to be left in charge shouldn’t feel the need to punish a dissenting voice by blowing the cover of a relative spy.
Or a President who truly believes that sexual congress between two consenting adults is nobody’s business but their own shouldn’t feel the need to lie about the affair and start a smear campaign against the other consenting adult.

In criminal court, an attempt to cover-up a crime is seen as proof that the perp knew what they were doing was wrong.

So, how does this apply to the WGA, who by all evidence should feel comfortable sitting on the moral high ground (but instead is spending a lot of energy digging a hole in the moral high ground)?

Tune in later…

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

You Can't Make a Living...

...But you can make a killing.

As a counter-point to the studios' argument that they don't know if there is money to be made on the internet -- and therefore they can't pay the writers -- here is an argument from...

The CEO's of the companies that own the studios.

Maybe they didn't get the memo...

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tightwad at 20,000 Feet

On the lighter side of giving...

My church drama group's latest take on the annual fundraising appeal.

Enjoy.

-Sean

Panda Express


Why has it taken this long for this kung-fu idea?


The trailer alone made me laugh.


Just my thoughts,


Sean

Monday, November 12, 2007

Strike News Before the News Goes On Strike

More Writer’s Strike News and Notions:

In the “Really? You Picked This Week for This?” category:

NBC.com chose now to launch their NBC Direct program – offering free, ad-supported downloads of many of their television shows.

Exactly the type of new media that the writers are striking about.

The networks are claiming that ad-supported, computer watched material is “promotional” in nature – meant to drive viewers to the television show. And therefore they are not required to pay any of the people that work on those episodes from the money they make on selling advertising.

Hey, I never claimed that the networks were logical…

In the “But How Will We Know How The Strike Is Going?” category:

Unless you stay up past 11, your television viewing probably hasn’t been impacted yet by the strike. That may change for those that stay up past 6 – writers of news shows may go on strike soon as well.

News writers are covered under a different agreement than the one being argued about now. But the news writers apparently have been operating without a contract since 2005.

Of course, fewer programs trying to create entertaining news 24/7 might be better for us all.

In the “You’re Blaming Who?” category:

As part of a WGA rally on Friday, one tv showrunner blasted his network as “bullies” because they announced that they will be laying off the writer’s assistants.

The people whose only job is to assist the writers.

The writers who, by their own choice, aren’t working.

Hey, some of the networks are bullies – I won’t even attempt to argue that.

But not providing a never-ending paycheck for an assistant to a guy that won’t come to work – that doesn’t sound like bullying to me. Sounds more like the common sense outcome the showrunner knew would happen when he chose to stop working.

Don’t want to surprise anybody, but when one strikes in an attempt to shut down an industry, a lot of out of people will be out of work. That’s kind of the point.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Walk the Line

So far I haven’t had any problems with the picketers at the studio where I work.

They have been polite, orderly (if not loud – which is the point so no biggee), and haven’t done anything to endanger anyone else – again, only speaking to those I have seen.

I fear that is changing.

At my studio (and I am only speaking about one of the studios – no idea about the others), all employees were given strict rules of conduct in dealing with protestors – rules that called for a respectful attitude.

Do not argue. Do not yell at or confront any picketers. Be especially careful and slow when driving around them. Respect their space and right to be there.

It was almost a reminder that these people are still part of the family – these are the guys that we worked alongside yesterday, and will work alongside again tomorrow.

I wonder what kind of memo the picketers got. Or if all of them got it.

One guy, writing in response to a blog about the producers, said that he has been nice on the picket line, but now he is so mad he is going to “make them hurt” any way he can. And since he doesn’t have access to the big boys, he plans on taking his anger out on the people going to work where he is picketing.

He acknowledges that these people are not the ones in control; but whatever happens to them at his hands, he claims, is not his fault.

The responsibility for his actions on the innocent lies squarely at the feet of the head negotiator for the producers.

In other words, he plans on sinning big time tomorrow, and has already absolved himself from blame for his actions.

This is mob mentality, folks. And there were plenty more like him in the blogosphere, venting and making claims to going brutal on the lot workers.

One guy already started – but I think his work was more out of boredom than righteousness. His picketing didn’t hold enough drama, so he created his own – and bragging about it on his blog.

He started out by claiming that two women that were crossing the street near him were doing so with a silent attitude that he found offensive, so he argued with them.

Please note that these women were not speaking to him – but he was interpreting their posture and the position of their eyelids as if they were. And he was vocally responding to their lack of gestures.

In other words, he was speaking (actually, he proudly says he was “yelling like an idiot”) at these people while they were standing waiting for a walk signal.

Apparently one of them eventually responded in something other than just his imagination, which gave him license to escalate his language. And then to his pride (and the pride of his guild, under his way of telling it) – a security guard came out and politely asked him to tone it down.

The politeness of the guard is his admission by the way – a politeness that he found offensive enough for him to joyfully spend the rest of his time screaming.

Oh, and his dialogue all along – obscenities. Although I don’t know exactly what they were, as he said that he wouldn’t repeat the language he was using because his mother reads his blog.

So in other words, this striking wordsmith was hurling obscenities at women who were ignoring him, and then a guard politely asked him to watch his language – which made him even prouder to get crasser.

And he brags about it as a moral victory for him and his cause.

Sigh.

A friend at another lot (with an office near the street) says that she grew tired of the lack of imagination by the writers marching in her earshot – as their chants were mostly sexual in nature.

And it’s not like either side of this issue has been acting anything like adults in their press time rhetoric. But it has been the big shots at the negotiating table, and not the folk at the street level that have been making it personal.

Which had to come to an end sooner or later, I guess.

Oh, and the parting shot of the cursing guy from above? A satellite photo of the lot, and a request that someone “make some more noise” using the bombing target he superimposed on the photo.

I wish I knew that he was kidding.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Friday, November 09, 2007

To the Shores of Tripoly...


Apparently the Marine Corps turned 232 today.


Doesn't look a day over 220.


Happy Birthday, MC.


Just my thoughts,


Sean

Heroes and Stuff

Okay, a few quick things.

First, HEROES, a fav of mine from last season, but not so much this season. Haven't even watched the last two weeks (yet) -- but that is about to change:

http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20158840,00.html

Love it when a creator has a chance to be honest, and isn't just about spin.

And on the strike: Before I comment, here's some word from the street.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6hqP0c0_gw

Oh, and to get an idea of what the writers' are fighting for:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJ55Ir2jCxk

And later, when I'm a little less work-stressed, I will tell you how this all plays into my job, and my take on why both sides of the argument should be ashamed of themselves.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Second Acting

Acclaimed playwright Moss Hart learned writing from the end backward.

When a young man desperate for work, he signed on as the drama director for a summer camp that promised to put on full productions of the latest Broadway shows.

A few problems with that. Moss had never so much as been in a play, let alone knew how to direct and produce. (He exaggerated his resume a bit.)

And the camp was too cheap to pay for royalties or scripts.

So during the winter months, Moss and his friend would “second act” Broadway plays – sneak in after intermission with the smokers. Then they would race home, and write up everything they could remember about the second half of the play.

And then, through guessing and a little bit of logic, they would write the first acts to match the second acts. Voila! They had the Broadway scripts ready for camp!

Mr. Hart claimed that a few years of this practice gave him a great sense of story structure. (Makes sense – Arthur Miller suggests that playwrights should start by writing the last scene of their plays…)

Thought of this as I archived Moss’ script for the Judy Garland starrer – A STAR IS BORN.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Body Outline On the Sidewalk -- Must Be Good Candy


For any who doubt that Marines produce them tough, here is my niece toddling all alone through a crime scene, probably ducking bullets and taking on gangs, all for the hope of a roll of smarties.

Hoo-ha!

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Friday, November 02, 2007

Alien Reversal



My first thought in seeing this pic was that an alien human was busting out of a reptilian belly.

Turn about is fair play, no?

My nephew would make Ripley proud.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Buckle Up

Bumper stickers my wife saw while driving around town today, the first is good advice; the second an insight to the deep thoughts keeping physicists busy these days:

“Buckle up. It makes it harder for the aliens to suck you out of your car.”

“Photons have mass? I didn’t even know they were Catholic.”

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Show and Tell

I am attending a short artistic retreat this weekend, where we will explore such questions as:

"What Do You Want to Create?"

"What Do You Want to Say?"

and "Who Do You Want to Be?"

I have been asked to contribute, in the words of my requester:

“I was hoping you might share a scene from one of your favorite films -- something that inspires you, that gets your juices flowing, that stimulates you to keep creating in this crazy town.”

It need not be from a film.

Some of you know me better than I know me.

What would you suggest I show?

What would you show?

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Quote for the Day

A theologically sound reminder of our larger obligations to the world, from good friend Scott Nolte:

"Give a man a fish, and you'll feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish, and he'll buy a funny hat.
Talk to a hungry man about fish, and you're a consultant."
- Scott Adams

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Some Reel Thoughts

I attended a bit of the City of Angels Film Festival this past weekend.

Some as an excuse to hang out with Jeff Overstreet while he was in town accepting the Dribble Glass of Spiritual Honor. (I may have gotten the name of the award wrong.)

And some to sit through a screening of my flick IMPORTANCE OF BLIND DATING so I could exercise my abs by cringing at all the lines I should have rewritten before the picture shot.

And some to attend the Reel Spirituality television panels under the theme: Just TV?

Speakers included Nancy Miller (writer for such shows as The Closer, creator of Saving Grace and Any Day Now) and Larry Wilmore (creator of The Bernie Mac Show, writer/producer for The Office and Senior Black Correspondent on The Daily Show).

Dean Batali (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, That ‘70s Show) gave a little talk on whether he thought that television comedy was just entertainment or could be something more. I need to ask him for a copy, then blog about it more times than I did that Shanley play – it was that good.

So I’ll wait on that.

Michael Taylor spoke (he’s a producer on Battlestar Galactica, and no, I wasn’t geeking out to an embarrassing level; or at least tried not to show it too much). Funny guy; and he confirmed something I suspected. Battlestar doesn’t go into their writing with an agenda (although clearly Michael has his own opinions on politics).

When asked about the shocking result of the trial of Gaius Baltar, he said that the writers debated at the start of the season about the outcome for a long time, and then decided…

That they would have to wait and see how the trial went.

In other words, they waited until the trial scenes were written, and THEN decided (based on the evidence and testimony, ‘natch) what the result would be.

They let the story lead them, rather than manipulated the story.

Interesting, thinks I.

Another tidbit came from Valerie Mayhew, a writer for X-Files (and The Invisible Man, Fugitive and Charmed). She shared a simple strategy from Chris Carter to make the drama more compelling and register stronger with the viewer.

First, they always started with the villain – and not the evil actions of the villain, but instead a great need of the character. So great a need, that their actions would be so bad.

Evil, in the show’s eyes, wasn’t about the bad actions, but rather the tiny steps leading from the need to that action.

Nice.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Monday, October 29, 2007

Viva Lost Laughlin


VIVA LAUGHLIN is among the first casualties of the new television season. And with its demise comes the inevitable: “Musicals can’t work on television.”

Which is a rather irrelevant thing to say, since – and please listen closely here – VIVA LAUGHLIN was NOT a musical.

Sure the characters sang and danced to no known source of music – generally a sign that one is in a musical. But VIVA has an important distinction – one that contributed greatly to the show’s failure.

First allow me to make a distinction between background music (or “scoring”) and a musical song.

Songs used for background have long added greatly to a scene, even when brought to the foreground – whether carrying the audience through a forensic montage in C.S.I., or setting the proper reactive mood as the perp is taken away in COLD CASE.

Such songs are intended to give color to a scene, to enhance the audience’s experience.

In a musical, however, the song is the foreground. The rule of thumb is this: when words are no longer enough to express the needs of the character, they break out into song.

For musicals, then, the song isn’t about coloring a scene, rather the music IS the scene.

Which brings us back to VIVA. In this show, when a character breaks out into music, a song is played (say, Elvis singing “Viva Las Vegas”), and the actor sings along to the song.

Note, the actor isn’t singing the song, they are singing along to a recording.

Hugh Jackman isn’t telling us how the character feels by interpreting an Elvis song; rather Hugh Jackman is singing along to Elvis telling us how Elvis feels, which happens to coincide somewhat with Hugh’s character.

This is exactly how C.S.I. uses music, Elvis singing along as the action plays out. The difference being, of course, that Catherine Willow doesn’t tend to sing and dance along.

VIVA used background pretending it was foreground, without providing any foreground.

If this was a musical, we wouldn’t be hearing Elvis’ interpretation with Hugh getting in the way; we would be hearing Hugh’s interpretation. (I was dying to hear Hugh. Alas.)

Want to see how the musical form can work on television? Feel free to go back to the musical episodes of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (it worked) or even the musical episode of SCRUBS (it mostly worked).

Better yet, catch the “Dummy” episode of PUSHING DAISIES, and watch Kristin Chenoweth bring down the house with “Hopelessly Devoted” – to an orchestra only she (and the audience) could hear.

Seriously; you can see it online; the song is around minute 18. Play through so you don’t miss the dance with the floor scrubber.

All Kristin; not a peep from Olivia Newton John. And thus, all DAISIES, not just an echo of GREASE.

A musical moment done right.

So VIVA messed up the whole notion of what a musical is, and got cancelled for it.

Well, to be fair it also had lousy writing, bad dialogue, mediocre acting and a “who cares?” story line.

But messing up the music didn’t help.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

And They Shall Know You By...

My small group spent a night listening to lectures by Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio. In his lecture, he played with the notion along these lines:

“What if, instead of what we are currently known for, Christians were known for something that is more an extension of Biblical principles?”

For example, he wondered what it would be like if we were known as the people that share meals together all the time; or the people that were constantly inviting others in to share meals.

He wasn’t going for earth shattering; or even improbable. But practical – how does the world see us based on our actions? And what if instead of the name we've earned we earned a different reputation…

Another of Ken’s examples: What if we were known as the people where the generations got along? Where people would say, “Their young people actually seem to enjoy hanging out their old people. How strange!”

I immediately thought of Genesis, and wondered if we could someday be known as the people that take care of our planet, almost as if we were assigned stewardship.

I stumbled on a quote from one of my pastors, Kim Dorr (also an agent):

"When somebody comes out as a Christian, there is this immediate stereotype of what falls into place behind that. 'Well, you must be right wing, and you must be Republican, and you must be X, Y and Z.' And that is really what so many of us in entertainment now want to redirect. When somebody says, 'I'm a Christian,' what we want the culture to hear is, 'I point toward beauty, truth and grace, rather than these political agendas.'"

Suppose you would already guess that I am a fan of the idea that someday (ah… someday!) Christians would be known as the supporters of art and beauty.

“Those wacky religious people, they’re constantly promoting art and culture. How weird!”

So, if you could change the behavior of the religious culture (mine or yours), what would you hope it could be known for?

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fire

I know some of y'all have been wondering, so:

Catherine and I live safely away from the areas on fire. It is very unlikely that it will make it our way.

We are between the north and west fires -- but the hills closest to us are currently untouched.

Prayers for the hundreds of thousands displaced by this event.

-Sean

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Rainbow Connection

When Fall comes, it is marked by a change in the colors.

In California, it is the change of peoples’ skin tone from natural deep tan to bottled orange. Although with temperatures reportedly returning to the 90’s this week, I may see natural tan on into December.

With my sister’s family in upstate NY, it is the changing leaves on the trees from green to red. And apparently the abnormal growth of Raggedy Ann and Andy into killer giants preparing their rampage through Tokyo.


For my relatives in Colorado, it was this:



Everybody now: I’m dreaming of a white Halloween, just like the ones I used to know...

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Friday, October 19, 2007

Dating Angels

For those that keep saying they want to see the short I wrote, THE IMPORTANCE OF BLIND DATING, here's another chance.

We will be showcased next weekend in The City of Angels Film Festival in L.A. as part of their short programs. Screenings are free; two other films will show with mine.

While you are at it, check out friends' shorts also being presented that weekend: "The Infamous Buddy Blade" (Short Program 1) and "Fool4Love" (an actual winner, showcased Thursday night).

If anybody is going, I will be at the TV session on Saturday (Just TV?) and probably the Sunday panel (Where's the Love?: The Critic and the Religious Audience). There is a rumor that a certain favorite critic will be in town; it would be interesting to see his take on the topic.

Info on my program (let's get our priorities straight) are below.

Just my thoughts,

Sean


Short Program 2 (Oct. 27 & 28 – 5pm – Theater 3)

“The Importance of Blind Dating” (2006 – 29 min.)

How hard is it to hook up with your soul mate? We find out as a pair of internet romancers end up at the wrong table for a hilarious mess of a first meeting.

Directed by: James Buglewicz

Produced by: Susan Carol Davis & Tim Woodward

Written by: Sean Gaffney


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sensational Sensation



I had the opportunity to see a preview of this film a while back, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It hasn't yet had a wide release, so here is an opportunity to jump on the bandwagon early.

If you are NH, I recommend you take the time to join the premiere.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

And You'll Never Walk Alone...

Omar the wise says:

“Yes, but someone living in so-called isolation still has a relationship to God and their environment (the natural world). I think there are things that can be learned about oneself in isolation (cf. the movie "Cast Away.")

I don't think isolation is a path for everyone, but I wouldn't dismiss it out of hand.”

Sean the wizened says:

Agreed.

I was hoping someone would bring up whether one can be alone... And what it might mean if you are by yourself and therefore believe you are alone.

And for someone who learns something when they are in isolation -- doesn't that have to be applied when they are no longer out of community to be real? I think that is why "Cast Away" decided to not end the movie when Hanks got off the island, but played out his life upon his return.

I had a spectacular silent retreat once, and I wouldn't discount its effects. But I had to wonder a month later if that was -- in spa terms -- just a backrub rather than massage therapy.

THE DREAMER EXAMINES HIS PILLOW goes a step further. The father character in explaining why he had an affair said that he loved his wife so much that he was afraid that when he lost her, he would lose everything. So he “saved” a part of himself away from her.

(Note: Shanley is not trying to claim this as a valid reason for cheating; he is making a bigger point here. So don’t judge just yet!)

What the overly self-aware father (all the characters are overly self-aware – it is a conceit of the play to allow them to dig deeper than most) comes to realize is that such “saving” was a painful waste.

That the part he saved wasn’t worth saving – but would have been worth giving and sharing.

I think Shanley is exploring the idea that our identities are fueled and nourished by intimate communion in love with others – spouse, parent/child, friend. (I’m not talking physical communion here – which is why the affair was an ineffectual substitution.)

And that deliberate isolation within those relationships is a form of self-starvation.

If I had to guess, I would say that Shanley had seen his share of marriages of isolation.

Haven’t we all?

Just my thoughts,

Sean