Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Catherine's TV talkie debut

Okay everyone ... I have 3 lines on an upcoming episode of "Passions".

It's a crazy show - you've been warned.

But, if you want to see me speak my first 3 lines on national television, tune in and watch for the head caterer about 1/2 way through the episode.

Episode 1.1963
THURSDAY - March 29th
check your local listings

If you miss it, I think you can watch it online the next day at the "Passions" recap site.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Scrubs' Higher Purpose

(Be aware: SCRUBS contains material both sexual and occasionally vulgar, and their occasional treatment of G-dly things does not automatically mean the show is appropriate for all viewers.)

I consider it part of my duty with this blog to give insight into the inner workings of Hollywood. For instance, many of you may not know how television shows choose their themes from week to week.

In the case of SCRUBS, the writing staff looks at what I am studying in the Lenten season and base their show on that. In this case, “The Reversals of G-d; Seeing Hope through Tears.”

At least I assume that is how they chose their episode for last week, “My No Good Reason” (continuing to this week). Why else would it be so perfect?

(WARNING: Do not operate heavy machinery while reading this blog. Oh, and major SPOILERS of last week’s SCRUBS episode ahead – so if you Tivo’d the show, stop reading now.)

A major subplot last Thursday dealt with Dr. Cox challenging the overtly Christian faith of the Nurse Roberts.

SCRUBS has often dealt with Christianity and faith in broad comedic strokes, sarcasm, and even-handedness (as all topics are dealt with in broad comedic strokes and sarcasm). And faith has tended to hold its own.

This battle between Cox and Roberts also showed faith holding its own.

You see, Cox is down on life, especially as his pregnant wife needed an emergency procedure and is now bedridden – making Cox her slave, providing for her every whim.

And Roberts views all of life with an upbeat attitude, espousing the belief that even the bad things in life happens for a divine reason. Or, as she quotes, “God uses all things for good.”

So Cox tries to dissuade her, even pointing out the 8 year old girl that was stabbed during a robbery. How could G-d use that for good?

Roberts holds her own, and seems to get the upper hand when the doctors uncover a tumor in the girl – one that would have killed the child if she hadn’t been there for the stab wound.

When Cox has had enough, and blasts Roberts with all he has about logic, and Universal unfairness, and the fact that life sucks, the nurse responds in fury. She can only get through her days at the hospital with faith – watching the suffering, the dying, the pain; it is only her belief in a higher power and purpose that allows her to show up every morning.

And don’t you dare take that away from her!

Oh, and she argues with one last example: Dr. Cox’s wife needed the procedure and is now on forced bed rest, a seemingly no-win, unfair situation, true? But Roberts asks how is Cox’s relationship with his wife.

He is forced to admit it: his tumultuous, fiery, often painful relationship – has never been so tender and loving.

Cox is seen snuggling with his wife that night, a new man: he has a fresh angle on existence – everything just might have a purpose after all; he may even have found joy in life.
Until he walks into work the next day to discover that Nurse Roberts has been in a car accident and is now in a coma, one that she will probably never wake up from.

To be continued this coming Thursday.

Just my thoughts,


Friday, March 23, 2007

Miller, McKee and Me

My friend Jennifer is not only good for gritty soap recommendations, but also for finding bon mots online that she knows I will especially appreciate.

Such as this link to a Donald Miller essay on film and structure and Robert McKee. (You'll remember Miller from such hits as BLUE LIKE JAZZ.)

Favorite moment from the blog-- as Miller talks about the importance of story in the Bible:

"Right and wrong, then, are not often taught by lists (truth without meaningful context) but rather through the tools of story. The seminar made me wonder why religious institutions who aim to teach ancient texts don’t have story departments alongside their systematic pursuits. It seems that one might benefit from the other."

Hey, Miller, need a choir? I'm ready for you!

Just my thoughts,


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

For Crying Out Loud

Example #2

There is a scene in the movie where the wonderful Abigail Breslin is talking about being concerned about her mother. Abigail bawls her way through the scene; it is moving, this little girl’s concern for her mom.

But just kinda moving.

Donald Sutherland tells a great story about shooting ORDINARY PEOPLE.

There is a pivotal scene where Donald confronts his wife (played to icy perfection by Mary Tyler Moore). It is late at night; Mary has discovered that her hubby isn’t in bed, and has come downstairs to find him crying in the dining room.

Donald bawls his way through the scene, telling her that they are a family, and they have to make a choice – to struggle on as a family, or be doomed by remaining aloof individuals. Mary turns away from him, goes up the stairs, and packs her bags.

It is a powerful scene, and Donald – mustering all the tears he could – thought it moving.

But just kinda moving.

Months later he called his friend, the director Bobby (Robert Redford to you and me), and said he can’t sleep thinking about that scene and how they did it all wrong. Robert said he was thinking the same thing.

The got back together and re-shot the thing – this time with no tears.

The thinking was that Donald’s character had been crying all night, and had no tears left. That is why he needed his wife – he had nothing left on his own. The tearless cut is the one that made it into the movie.

And when Mary turns and goes up those stairs – devastating. Not a dry eye in the house.

Basic rule of acting/directing: if the character cries, the audience doesn’t need to. If the character can’t cry (or is struggling not to cry), the audience cries for them.

Think about it – a crying baby earns your pity. A baby that looks up at you with eyes welling up in tears, shaking in an attempt to hold them back – demolishing.

There are times when a character must cry, no way getting around it. But that is where the director really needs to step up and not let the audience get release from the character.

For example, in THE QUEEN; at that pivotal moment of breakdown, the director wisely moves the camera – we know she is crying, but he wasn’t about to let us intrude on it.

And that is how you get nominated for an Oscar.

Aristotle in his POETICS warned us against making the crying mistake millennia ago. He said it is the job of the storyteller to give the audience – NOT the character – a cathartic release.

Abigail was directed to bawl through her scene, giving the character, not the audience, a cathartic moment.

So we have an okay, competent scene.

But a lot of dry eyes in the house.

Just my thoughts,


PS I am referring, of course, to scenes where the crying is a way of conveying emotion, as opposed to showing vulnerability. So Glen Close curled up naked while crying in the shower in THE BIG CHILL is a whole other ball of wax.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Setup, Reinforce, Reverse

Nathan asked regarding my review of THE ULTIMATE GIFT: “What are the freshman mistakes you think the director made? I'd love to know what your take is.”

Okay, folks, we are entering the world of “things Sean is interested in because this is his field that you may be bored by.” Like listening to insurance salesmen chat about how rising rates adversely effect claims dispensations.

But here goes.

SPOILER ALERT: In answering how this good movie was spoiled, I may spoil a scene for y’all. I’ll try not to. Honest, I will.

Example #1

There is a comedic moment in the story that goes like this:

A Guy (we will call him Guy for purposes of this essay) goes to the hospital to visit his friend, Patient. The room is empty, except for a Nurse making the bed.

Guy: “Where is Patient?”
Nurse: “I’m sorry, Patient has gone to be with G-d.”

The camera focuses on Guy’s shocked look. Smash cut to:

Patient in the chapel, praying.

It’s a pretty funny idea, in my opinion. Nice play on words, with a visual payoff – perfect for film.

And the scene follows the appropriate three point joke structure – send us in a direction (the patient has died!); reinforce the direction (Guy registers that patient has died!); then give us the reversal (the patient hasn’t died, she’s just gone down the hall to be with G-d).

So what’s the problem? The scene I outlined above was not the scene in the movie. In the movie it went like this:

Guy: “Where is Patient?”
Nurse: “I’m sorry, Patient has gone to be with G-d.”

Smash cut to: Patient in the chapel, praying.

The director skipped part two: reinforcing the direction. The audience isn’t given enough time to register what the nurse said before seeing the Patient in the chapel. In other words, the director told the joke this way:

“Oh, the patient isn’t here, the patient is in the chapel, because she went to be with G-d.”

Joke telling 101 messed up; a freshman mistake.

More examples to follow.

Just my thoughts,


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Truly Gritty

My bathroom soap has grit in it. And for this I blame Jennifer.

I was in one of those fancy Body, Bath and Backagain type stores with my wife. You know, the places that sell shampoos with ingredients like cucumber, pomegranates, beef jerky and the like.

Hint for guys out there shopping for their lady friends: cleansing items containing ingredients normally found in fruit salad are high quality. Even better – ingredients from dinner salads. And foods listed in the Bible? Pure personal hygiene product gold.

So I’m hanging around the store, not really paying attention. My typical method of shampoo shopping includes finding the lowest price at the local supermarket, and making sure it doesn’t have a name from my wife’s disapproval list, like “Gee, Your Hair Doesn’t Stink” shampoo or “Eh, It’s Not So Bad Considering The Price” conditioner.

We had been in there awhile, and my wife was looking to finish off a gift certificate, when my eye caught something familiar.

“Hey, look, soap like Jennifer uses!”

Both Cath and I had spent time at Hotel L’Jennifer, so my wife snatched up the soap, and it now sits on our bathroom sink.

And the soap has grit it. Cucumber, true, but also grit. When washing, one can feel the grit, the feeling of dirt scrapping the hands.

I suppose the grit is there to help make true the label promise of “deep cleansing.”

It puts me in mind of camping with my Dad. When it came time to clean our dishes, Dad had an odd strategy. Whereas my Mom would suggest soap and sponges, Dad had us take up a handful of river dirt, toss it in the pot, and scrub away.

Clean with dirt? Every kid’s dream.

And you know what? It worked. Quite well, in fact.

So looking for a deep clean?

Maybe it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.

Just my thoughts,


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Lockheed and Bread Runs

I met the guy a little over ten years ago, when I was courting Catherine.

He was the quintessential grumpy old man, his opinions stated as facts, his dislikes and prejudices along with his delights worn on his jumpsuit sleeve, his religion less an organized affair as an “understanding” between himself and G-d.

He would always greet Catherine as he had when she was knee-high: with a bear hug that would lift her off her feet, followed by a statement to the effect that she had gained weight since their last meeting. A cute ceremony when she was five; one that appealed only to Otto himself when she reached adulthood.

That is, until he fell too weak for the ritual; I think Cath instantly missed the much griped about way a life-long stoic had of saying, “I often think of you.”

He had a near century of stories, although I don’t think he knew it. His generation of people didn’t tell stories so much as relate facts. The year so-and-so got out of the army and moved to California; the route the trains took from Rapid City to Denver; the changes in Pasadena from the fifties to the sixties.

But in between the data, oh there were some grand stories.

As a boy, he sold pop outside the factory. One sweltering day, a customer wanted the last orange soda – the hot drink that had been on display in the sun. Shoving the searing glass bottle into ice caused an explosion – one that severed a tendon in his hand.

To his dying day, Otto couldn’t bend his middle finger, causing his hand to display a permanent and appropriate bird flip.

Deemed unfit for combat, the military asked him to serve as one on only two men at his Lockheed warehouse during the second war to end all wars. He was the cute one; the other guy, the geezer.

He rode the rails between Nebraska and California old-style, sitting on top of the cars, hopping off at slow curves. A picture straight out of SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS.

He filled retirement by volunteering at missions and soup kitchens. He put his forceful demeanor to work, bullying supermarkets into donating bread that Otto would then deliver to the ministries every morning.

As I said, stories.

I wasn’t able to collect anywhere near all of them; he required a bit of cajoling to convince him that his yarns were of more interest than the best route to travel to Modesto.

Catherine and I spent last Saturday at her folks’ place, memorializing her grandfather’s passing. We then drove down through gold country, as I learned of his cabin there, and the times the family would vacation together.

More stories.

Here’s to you, Otto. And don’t give Peter too hard of a time; I’m sure by now you’ve browbeat him into allowing you to do a bread run down to the less fortunate.

Just my thoughts,


Friday, March 09, 2007


This Lenten season, our church is focusing on the journey of suffering – how pain in life paradoxically brings many good things, including hope.

We storytellers get that. No good story is painless; every true tale of hope means the hero is going to have to pay a big price along the way.

The great theologian, Walt Disney, lamented about PETER PAN (as quoted from the commentary by the goodly monks at Entertainment Weekly) that he wasn’t able to get close to his protagonist because Walt never found Peter’s pain. (Sorry for the unintended pun.)

In Walt’s words, “With every laugh, there must be a tear somewhere.”

Here’s to a few tears, and the laughs they bring.

Just my thoughts,


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Ultimate Opens

My friend, Cheryl McKay, wrote a movie that is opening this weekend -- THE ULTIMATE GIFT.

The movie stars James Garner and Abigail Breslin (of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE fame), Brian Dennehy, and a bunch more. It also won the Crystal Heart at The Heartland Film Festival.

I haven't seen it yet, but I know that Cheryl is a wonderful writer. How good of a writer?

THE ULTIMATE GIFT is based on a best selling book. Cheryl was about the fifth writer hired to try and adapt the thing (typcial for Hollywood). Here's a secret for you non-writer types: a good adaptation requires change -- since it is being translated into a media with a completely different set of strengths.

Oh, and a good adaptation has to stay true to the heart of the original.

Cheryl was the first writer to come up with that winning combination -- different, yet true.

So, back to my question -- how good of a writer?

A novelist (Rene Gutteridge) has been hired to write a novelization of the movie. Yeah, Cheryl did her job so well, that there will now be two THE ULTIMATE GIFT novels -- the original, and the one based on Cheryl's work.

You can see the flick this weekend, AND support my favorite writing class: Act One Writing for Hollywood by buying your tickets online.

Go to: http://www.foxfilmfund.com/
Choose The Ultimate Gift and enter your zip code.
If you find a theater in your area, proceed to GET TICKETS NOW.
It will direct you to Fox Faith’s section of Fandago.
Upon check out, you can enter the Act One code: 500231

To view the trailer - go here.

And enjoy the show.

Just my thoughts,


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Snow Fall

My brother Mark, resident of the snow thumped Upstate New York, recently sent an e-mail I thought worth mentioning.

His 82 year old neighbor got up on his barn, trying to get the snow off the roof to relieve the building of some weight.

Well, his neighbor fell off the roof.

Oh, don’t get this wrong, I’m not writing this as a prayer request. The neighbor wasn’t hurt in the least.

And this isn’t really a praise report either, as there wasn’t much miraculous in an 82 year old falling off a barn and suffering no injuries. Well, at least not this winter.

You see, he fell a total of two feet into the snow drift that had engulfed his barn.

Two feet up.

If you’re gonna fall off a barn, that is the way to do it.

Below is a picture taken on my brother’s property.

Now, don’t go all feeling sorry for my relatives (they’ve been competing, what with Mark’s drifts, Matt and Mike’s windy Colorado snow, Mary’s iced roads, and… well, I have ten siblings with rivaling winter stories).

You see, we’ve had it rough here in Southern California ourselves. As Cath pointed out, it is nearly impossible to shovel snow in eighty degree weather.

You try it some time.

Just my thoughts,


Monday, March 05, 2007

Prepare to be spontaneous

I have absorbed bits and pieces of wisdom about acting from many teachers, friends and peers. One of the most profound and lasting was "prepare to be spontaneous" which I learned from a truly great actor (Jeff Berryman). The concept is that, as an actor, we do all our homework (all the character analysis, script work, etc) but then we must be free enough to let go of it, trusting that the foundation is there, and follow the impulses that occur when we get it on its feet in rehearsal and performance.

I found another quote today that reinforces this thought - but from a musicians point of view.

From the Sunday LA Times, Takacs Quartet first violinist Edward Dusinberre is interviewed.

"Athough many in the audience know this music, we hope to convey a sense that it is being played for the first time, that we are just as surprised and transported by changes of harmony, character and tempo as were its first performers and listeners. Paradoxically, it is repeated rehearsal that gives us the freedom to surprise ourselves and the audience."

I love that. "It is repeated rehearsal that gives us the freedom to surprise ourselves. Cool!

Just Catherine's thoughts!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Heroic Faith

The notion of faith has been popping up a lot on television, and quite prominently on one of my geek guilt favorites, HEROES.

This past week, as the cheerleader sits tied up and in dire straights, her mom attempts comfort by saying that Dad will come save them. Based on what, the cheerleader wants to know.

Faith, says mom.

This, in face of the news that Dad may well be the cause of their danger, that Dad has been lying about his job, that Dad may be the one that gave Mom her brain aneurysm that will likely take her life.

With all of that, how can you have faith, the cheerleader rightfully wants to know.

Because of what I have seen in the past, is the simple answer given by this simple woman.

Faith is based on things seen.

Interesting insight, especially as it comes from someone that calls her dog Mr. Muggles. (Even worse, from someone that calls that ball of barking fur a dog at all.)

No wonder that when G-d would ask his people in the Old Testament to have faith, he most often started with the word, “Remember.”

Earl Palmer says that the call of the artist is contained more in that word from G-d than anything else. We are called to remember, and to help our audience, our people, remember.

We are called to faith.

Oh, and not to give out spoilers or anything, but Dad shows up.

Just my thoughts,