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,


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.


Just my thoughts,


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,


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,


Tuesday, October 23, 2007


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.


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,


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,


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,


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:


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,


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

My, I Have an Interesting Bellybutton...


One of the characters is off living in isolation, because he feels he needs to find himself.

Another character is amused by this.

We are only who we are in connection with the people and the world with which we interact, after all – so to seek one’s identity through isolation is a wasted exercise.


Just my thoughts,


Monday, October 15, 2007

Hyde and Personal Law

(Warning: Below, I make reference in a quote to a word improper in some society. If you are part of a society, you may not want to read past the ninth paragraph.)

Cath and I just saw John Patrick Shanley’s THE DREAMER EXAMINES HIS PILLOW as done by Interact Theatre. I saw the play decades ago when I was in NY – don’t remember liking it much then.

Liked it more now.

Shanley (who also wrote the wonderful DOUBT) is a deep thinker, and allows himself to roam in the esoteric with this somewhat ethereal play.

I was mostly struck with the themes in act one (each act is rife with its own themes, in addition to the arching themes of the play; a grad students dream!) of identity rooted in moral action. Mostly because this week my book club tackles THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Jekyll, as you may recall, experimented to separate his more evil self from his respectable self, mostly so he could indulge his darker desires without guilt. You see, in his reasoning, since Jekyll didn’t do those things (it was Hyde! It was Hyde!) then Jekyll would be released from the moral responsibility.

Tommy in Shanley’s play makes a similar argument, claiming that the person who did those awful things (like steal from his mother) wasn’t really him – he isn’t the kind of guy that would do that. Rather, it was done by another him, a part of him that he isn’t responsible for.

The character Donna isn’t buying that, claiming that Tommy needs to learn his identity. There’re the things we want to do – they don’t define us, she argues. Even the things we do don’t define us.

But we all have a personal law that tells us whether to do those things or not, and that personal law is who we are.

Tommy is not excused because he IS the kind of guy that would do those things; and not realizing who he is isn’t a valid defense.

Or as our law would summarize, ignorance of the law is no excuse. (This is the defense in drunk driving and other drug related cases – it wasn’t me, it was the alcohol! Donna would say that is was me that chose the alcohol, and thus it was me that recklessly endangered.)

To paraphrase Bill Cosby: “People say they drink to release their “real” selves. But what if the real you is an a-hole?”

St. Paul talks about this – the struggle between what he wants to do and what he does (the delightfully confusing Romans 7:7-25); and it seems as if he is talking about dual identity.

So who is the real me? And am I really responsible for that Hyde guy?

Looking forward to this week’s book discussion.

Just my thoughts,


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Shifting Shakespeare's Setting

My book club watched Kenneth Branaugh’s recent movie version of “As You Like It.”

Despite some really marvelous individual performances, the movie didn’t really work. In part because Kenneth set the piece in 19th Century Japan (apparently because he liked the look of the setting) – but then did nothing to make it fit the era or location.

The characters were from an English settlement, and behaved as if in England.

So other than some of the look, and the wrestling match being Sumo style, the director ignored his choice of setting – and the film rang rather hollow as a result.

Our on-line discussion group picked up on the larger question: should we ever muck with Shakespeare by playing around with era and settings?

Friend Corrie Moore (co-founder of Seattle Shakespeare Festival) added this to the discussion:

“The audience always wants it done in Elizabethan clothes.

However, that has become tradition in an interesting way, of course. Back in Elizabethan times, they were just wearing very nice street clothes, as if we modern folk were wearing our tuxes and ballgowns, for much of the time. Shakespeare performed them in "modern dress", no matter if they were fantasies or not. Because fashion was part of the deal, and if the Queen attended, one wore one's best in the play, especially if one were the boy playing Juliet. Heh heh.”

Here’s my two cents:

“On the "mucking with Will" question: I think staging a play is a lot like adapting -- there are a few things to hold onto, including Author's Intent and Emotional Core. (See W. Goldman)

But Author's Intent does not always mean staging it exactly as the author did (or his producers, actually). For example, when H.G. Wells wrote WAR OF THE WORLDS, he set it in modern (for him) London, because he wanted his readers to personally feel the threat of the alien invaders. When Orson Welles adapted the book to radio, he could have set it as H.G. did -- in 1890's London -- but that would have been contrary to H.G.'s intent.

Instead he set it in modern (for Orson) New Jersey, so HIS listeners would personally feel the threat of the aliens. (And boy, did they!)

As Corrie pointed out, Willy's producers weren't all that concerned with setting historical pieces in a historical setting. So maybe the question isn't so much "tights or no tights" as much as "what best honor's Shakespeare's intention with the play?"

Setting his play in Japan to draw out the themes in a deeper way for the audience (Kurosawa) would probably please the original author; setting his play in Japan 'cuz it looks kinda pretty (Branaugh) probably would not.”

Just my thoughts,


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Shelve That Thought...

My office has been in disarray since, well, since I started the job.

I spent the first part of last week in orientation, and figuring out what my job is.

I spent the last part of last week clearing out my desk – and my file cabinets, and my book shelves, and everything else. So that on Saturday the studio building services elves could take away all my furniture. And on Monday they could paint the office.

And today they could bring in the new (used, but different) furniture.

Slower process than it was supposed to be (you’ll be able to use your office by Monday afterno… Tuesday mor.. after… Wednesday, for sure!).

I watched the guy putting up the shelf that runs half the length of the room. I thought it would be a standard, book size, dainty shelf. This thing is a beauty -- sturdy and studly – the kind of shelf that no bully shelf would dare kick sand on at the beach.

I admired the craftsmanship of the shelf, and more so the craftsmanship of the craftsman installing it. He cared about where it was in relation to the desk (for utility) and to the room (for esthetic).

He cared about having enough anchoring for the shelf to last, and covered up the holes and screws to make the unit look like a natural part of the wall.

I’m probably overstating the glory of putting up a shelf, but I think we’ve all had workmen, whether the cable guy or the plumber, who were just there for a job and got by on the least effort. I was expecting that.

This guy has probably been on the lot for forty years, and still he takes pride in the work. (Couldn’t care less about me; but the work!)

Then I thought that my brother Chris would’ve liked this job.

It was an odd thought, because if you knew Chris, you know that he would have hated Hollywood. The image of the fancy car, the hundred dollar haircut atop the thousand dollar suit, the nightclub where you have to be “in” to get in – nah, Chris would’ve hated that scene.

But that is only a veneer floating on the top of this town – albeit, the veneer that catches most of our eyes.

But there is another layer here, the guys like my shelf guy – those that value a sturdy pickup truck, barbershop cuts on the head and boots that have worn in comfort on the feet, and bars that regularly sweep the peanuts from the floor.

The number of craftsman on the lot have to outnumber the suits by a large margin.

I could picture Chris fitting in with these union guys, those who look at a shelf stacked with Oscars, and only notice the quality of the wood and the workmanship.

There’s some comfort to be had in that, especially in a place that can be so easily distracted by the weightlessness of glitter.

I’ll try to keep my eye on the quality of the wood and the workmanship.

Just my thoughts,


Monday, October 08, 2007

Six Million Dollars Doesn't Buy As Much As It Used To


Really looked forward to this: good ComicCon buzz, from the makers of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, a fan of the original (yes, I had a major crush on Jamie Sommers – what’s it to you?).

And the pilot was a load of fun, from the opening sequence revealing the first Bionic broad gone bad through the bionic babe brawl. A solid opening, as long as one doesn’t think too much about it.

And too many others made me think about it.

What I really liked about the pilot? Katee Sackhoff, on loan from Battlestar to play the rogue six million dollar girl. Every scene she was in was electric.

Michelle Ryan, the lead of the show was just fine. But not electric.

Her whiny boyfriend was just plain irritating, to be honest.

Miguel Ferrer in the “Oscar” role, very nice bit of casting – makes up for the whiny boyfriend.

So on balance, the pilot is a wash.

Episode two was better. Opens with the funeral of whiny boyfriend – plus one.

Whiny boyfriend replaced by charismatic Isaiah Washington. Plus two.

Whiny boyfriend also replaced by whiny little sister, with a storyline that makes no sense, pops up only when convenient for the plot, and will always be wrapped up by the tag without any effort. (In the original pilot, sis was deaf. Now that could have been interesting...)

This episode jumped straight from “I’m moving out ‘cuz I hate you so much!” to “Golly gee, I just love having you as a sister” with no steps in between. Not even a pretense at making up.

Gotta give a negative two for that.

Show’s still a wash.

Nostalgia and BSG loyalty tips the scale (in the ghost town they visit, the television is tuned to a BSG episode -- thanks for the reminder), but this is one that has to earn a little more cred before becoming a Tivo season pass.

On a scale from Universal Soldier 2 to Terminator 2, this cyborg show rates smack dab in the middle.

Just my thoughts,


Friday, October 05, 2007

The Lot Life

The first week on the new job, and already some highlights:

-Handled some RIN TIN TIN scripts from the 20’s; silent movie time, people. One script had pencil notes on story by Darryl Zanuck. This successful dog hero series made a name for Zanuck, and propelled the studio into the public eye. Nice.

-Archived a script for a flick starring Eddie Foy. For Bob Hope fans, that’s the gent Hope portrayed in THE SEVEN LITTLE FOYS. Ah, history. I love the stuff.

-My studio acquired the rights to distribute the PEANUTS franchise.

A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, the first Peanuts special, aired the year I was born. Growing up, I thought I was Charlie Brown, complete with an inability to do well in sports and a crush on a little red-haired girl.

And now Chuck and are starting work at the same company in the same week.

Life is good.

I’m off to fly a kite now…

Just my thoughts,


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

What Catherine's been reading...

by Jeffrey Overstreet

Magic seeps into a world without color and an adventure begins.

I know Sean will write a more intelligent review of this book (once he has time to finish it!)...but for now, here are my thoughts:

Read it! (really - this is my first thought - mostly because I'm selfish and want to talk to others about the book - but also because I think most people will LOVE it!)

I was absorbed into a gem of a world that reflected dark and light and imagination and sorrow and promise in each of it's facets.

A fantasy. An adventure. A journey. A fully realized other-world.

But no sword fights, or dragons, or old wizards.

Not too girly, not too much war stuff. A good mix.

A great story.

For lack of better words, I shall repeat myself: READ IT!
(You can even click on the title above and there's a link where you can read the first chapter online.)

One warning: Even though it is a gorgeous and complete story - you will want more!

Here are some case mine has not already convinced you. :)

"Overstreet's writing is precise and beautiful, and the story is masterfully told."
- Publisher's Weekly on Auralia's Colors

"It's not often one gets to be present at the birth of a classic,but Auralia's Colors is that kind of storytelling.A true delight on so many levels."

- Clint Kelly, author of the Sensations Series: Scent, Echo, and Delicacy

"The best fantasy novel you've never heard of..."
- The Swivet