Sunday, September 30, 2007

Moonlight and Love Songs, Never Out of Date


MOONLIGHT: Television Review:
I happen to be a fan of the vampire genre (I am working on a Drac adaptation, afterall), and vampires with a twist appeal to me. So a good-guy vampire detective? I’m there!

The MOONLIGHT pilot, however, wasn’t all that impressive. It was an okay ride, nothing too special, and didn’t bring a whole lot new to the table.

But where it really missed the boat was in trying too hard – it has a built in emotional hook (meant to be a surprise twist) that could be seen from a mile off.

Worse – the cloying music at the end when the “surprise” is revealed; an attempt to make the audience feel and emotion that is so blatant, it is a sign that the makers of the show were aware that the prior 40+ minutes of action did not earn the emotion on its own.

I will probably give it another chance, but this isn’t appointment tv.

On a scale from the Buffy Movie to the Buffy Television Series, this vampire tale, alas, rates a Buffy Movie.


Just my thoughts,


Sean

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Unusual Piloting

My friend Danny was asking about the television pilot I wrote (“My Babysitter Is an Alien”) that should be shooting in January. He was wondering if there was a network attached – which there isn’t. Of course that prompted the question: “Is it typical for pilots to be filmed without studio or networking behind it?”

It's actually rather unusual. It costs a butt load of money, and in some ways hinders the studios liking it (as they would not have had any input).

If it is made independently, there is often an understanding that it will be re-shot if a studio picks it up; or it is going off-net (off network -- to a cable station) – which is often more tight with budgets.

In the case of “Babysitter”, the financer has enough money that it didn't matter to him -- and he wants his kids to star in it, which would never happen if they weren't already proven. Miley Cyrus, daughter of a country recording star, had to fight tooth and nail to get the network to consider her at all for ”Hanna Montana.” And she already comes with connections.

If my producer makes the pilot and it tests well, he has proven that his kids can do it.

[Lucille Ball did this way back when -- after the networks said that America would never accept a mixed race marriage (Cuban to white) on television. She and Desi toured a version of "I Love Lucy" across the country, proved it was a hit in fly-over states, and shut out the studios argument that they needed to cast a pretty white man as Lucy's husband.]

More and more writers are following that example these days, making their mark by filming their scripts (rather than depending on a read) -- usually making it for the internet, creating a buzz there, and hoping that translates to a studio gig.

So unusual, but a growing trend.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Benefits of Reaping

I have to say, I went into REAPER (one hour action comedy on the CW) not expecting much. But it is a fun show – breezy, enjoyable action, and a bit of depth – but not too much, as a show about slackers can’t make you think too much without being hypocritical.

The basic idea: Sam’s parents sold his soul to the devil, and now Sam has to work as a bounty hunter tracking down hell’s fugitives.

But Sam is rather ill-equipped for the job, being a slacker near-loser who still lives with his parents and works a minimum wage job. Not quite the Dog type.

The drama isn’t too wrought, whether darkly funny as Dad tries to explain why he would sell his son’s soul all the while maintaining a shrugging believe that he is a good parent; or Sam mending a major riff with his best friend with an (appropriately) one line scene.

And I like the devil – not over preening, not the ranting “I will win in the end!” screamer of the movies. This guy even acknowledges that he knows how it will all end (not well for him); but he still has a job to do, so why not enjoy the perks?

His last line in the pilot is great theology: “That was nice. I can be nice!”

For all those Christians out there who still believe that the hallmark of a believer is being nice, look out, you have competition.

On a scale from Caveman to Battlestar, REAPER rates just a notch below ANGEL (which is not a bad place to be).

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Monday, September 24, 2007

KID NATION -- Just Kidding

SPOILER ALERT Plot points from the pilot are revealed below. But face it, you aren’t going to watch this show anyway, so why be concerned?

First, the controversy around KID NATION. There has been much brouhaha over sending these kids out to a ghost town with absolutely no adults around. What if there’s an emergency? A kid could die before any adult even knows about it!

Of course, this all assumes two things: 1. Cameras and sound equipment run by themselves and 2. Networks don’t have lawyers.

I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but there are more adults than kids in Bonanza City.

There is an army of cameramen, lighting guys, sound guys, script supervisors, pa’s, producers, etc. As well as caterers supplying food for all those adults (and don’t you go believing that the best boy’s union is going to allow him to live off sticky pasta).

And there is an on-site medic, if not a team of on-site medics.

Being in Kid Nation is no different than Boy Scout Camp – except safer and more overrun with adults.

I actually like the idea of Kid Nation; it seems more interesting to me to watch a group closer to innocence try and tackle surviving than their more insidious actor wannabe counter parts on the grown up shows.

Seriously, would leaders from an adult show give Sophia the award for being the hardest working member of the team – just moments after she publicly criticizes the leadership? Even the White House knows that you reward incompetent loyalty over capable detractors.

Watching this flock of kids rally around their youngest member when he wants to quit (survivor of the fittest this ain’t) could give one hope that our species deserves survival. (Also priceless: Jimmy refusing the offer to be Greg’s wingman – choosing loneliness over alliance with someone he considers “not nice.”)

But the show ultimately doesn’t work, because the (adult) producers are dishonest about the premise.

You see, it is sold on this concept: In a century past, grownups couldn’t make this town work. If kids could make their own society, would they do any better? (The pilot even features quotes from the kids about how our current world/government is screwed up.)

Great concept. Would the kids devolve into LORD OF THE FLIES, or create a better world that only the eyes of the innocent could conceive?

Of course the adults that rule the show aren’t about to let kids have that much power; so by the end of day two, the producer enforce their own community structure on the kids – including a social order guaranteed to create unnecessary conflict (they create four classes, the top one doesn’t have to work and gets paid the most; the bottom does the brunt of the labor and gets paid the least).

And speaking of pay, that is another area of social science forced on the kiddies – a monetary system, with prices and goods determined, not by the society of kids, but by the invisible adults.

I get that this is the way the real world works – the privileged get more privilege on the backs of the lesser born (“them that’s got shall get…”) But isn’t the whole point to see if the kids are smarter/better/more ethical than the adult world?

In what way are we seeing if the kids can survive (or even thrive) if they are being forced to do so in flaws not of their own choosing?

So if you want a mini-version of SURVIVOR, here you go.

If you want the show promised by the KID NATION promos, you’ll have to wait for another time.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Friday, September 21, 2007

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Finally...

Continuing on with the list of why you, personally, were not chosen for your church’s drama team:

2. They have you already.

This goes under the heading of: It Ain’t Always About You.

You’re talented and they like you, and you nailed the evening gown competition. But your real strength is baton twirling while discussing the need for world peace, and they have five such twirlers already.

And since most churches only have three baton twirling/world peace themed days per year (according to the orthodox liturgical calendar), two of those twirlers are already underutilized.

Remember that whole thing about the body? The body doesn’t need a pancreas pretending to be a left foot, right? But it also may not need two left feet.

So it really may not have anything to do with you…

(I cast a Christmas show in Seattle with a cast of four: two men, one young girl, and one woman. I only cast one woman in the one woman role. It took a half hour to explain to one of the other auditionees why I didn’t cast all the women who auditioned in the one woman role. Frankly, I didn’t have a Mary costume big enough for all of them to fit.)

3. The timing is wrong.

Time of life timing. The team may be feeling a prompting of “not now,” without any good reason – which happens more often than you might think.

Of course us not knowing the reason doesn’t mean there is no reason. It may mean that you’re being poised for something better. Or you have something you need to clean out of your system before coming on board.

Or the team itself isn’t ready for you. Maybe G-d is planning on using you to help the team leap forward in their craft and service – but He still has some prepping to do on the team.

Who knows? Well, we know the answer to that, so I’ll move on.

4. You know that song that they used in American Idol every time they booted someone – “So you had a bad day…”?

We all have them. And if yours landed on auditions, well, that’s a bummer. Sometimes auditors aren’t wise enough to gauge the diff between an off performance and an off performer.

I’m convinced that my group has missed out on real quality because we saw a flubbed monologue, or (even worse) an uncharacteristic bad mood at the break table.

So if that was you, I hope you got over it, moved on, and plan on trying again later.

5. And most important to keep in mind, another reason that you weren’t chosen for the drama team:

The drama team screwed up.

They were supposed to pick you, but they didn’t. They didn’t see the talent, missed the depth, mistook your work ethic for overeagerness, didn’t realize that when you were swearing at craft services it was because you were showing off your Mamet monologue.

The Holy Spirit prompted them, and they didn’t get it right.

Happens all the time.

The early church voted in Matthias to be the twelfth apostle, replacing Judas. They prayed about it and everything.

Except that G-d had already picked Judas’ replacement, and his name didn’t begin with an “M.”

Oops.

As for myself, I’ve screwed up in casting/hiring/commissioning/partnering a lot. It comes with the territory.

All I can do is pray that I don’t make the mistake of passing over you the next time around…

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Monday, September 17, 2007

Diva-inity

(All right, just a few more posts on auditions, and I can put these wicked thoughts behind me.)

Dear Sean, I am the most talented person EVER, and spiritually deep to the max, but I still didn’t get into my church’s drama group. The trauma I now have in telling my mother that I wasn’t able to get into a lousy church group is debilitating. Who should I sue?

-Deflated

Dear Deflated,

Before you get all litigious on my butt, you should understand that while the primary qualities of a good sacred artist are artistic excellence and spiritual depth, they aren’t the only attributes.

Here are five other things that help or hinder conscription onto a drama team:

1. Attitude

As blog reader Angela puts it:

“...heart, commitment, and the will-they-show-up-for-a-two-hour-practice-even-though-it's-their-third-week-on-in-a-row-and-they-just-got-off-work factor. I think quality is incredibly important. InCREDibly important. But if I have standing before me a great singer who has a negative chip on her shoulder and a pretty okay singer has a great work ethic and a strong sense of community then I may go with door #2.”

Much of the world is willing to bend over backwards for artists who are “difficult” and rude in exchange for their talent.

But that is because much of the world is masochistic and mentally unbalanced.

Hey, given a choice between being miserable for months, but having a well-received forty-five minute Christmas show; OR having a great amount of joy creating for months and having a well-received forty-five minute Christmas show (because let’s face it, the divas really aren’t as crucial as they think they are, and are rarely missed): I’m going for joy.

I did an ensemble comedy show in New York with my church. A very funny and talented comic wanted to be part of the show – but made it clear prior to casting that he would only play feature parts in the sketches, and under no circumstances supporting roles.

So I didn’t use him.

He was shocked, and made it clear that the show would stink without him.

And he sat and waited for the revolt to come –from those cast who would soon recognize how they couldn’t live without him; and from the audience that couldn’t laugh without him.

He’s still waiting.

I’ll be honest – his talent could have greatly helped the show.

But he also would have hurt the show. His attitude would have created tension; his need for the spotlight at expense of others would have undermined other performers; and his lack of vision for the team would have sapped much of the joy from the process.

Maybe one would have outweighed the other.

But why bother enduring the pain to find out?

My friend Karen is often accused of casting her friends in plays she directs.

Her rebuttal: No duh!

She casts a lot of strangers, but if at the end of the rehearsal and performance process they don’t like each other, than something is wrong.

In other words, if the people she casts don’t want to be together, then she feels no obligation to reunite them on another project.

The Bible tells us that there is more than enough trouble in the world.

So don’t go out of your way to create trouble for yourself.

Reasons two through five later…

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Compounding the Fun

Catherine and I had a marvelous time at the theatre this past weekend, watching THE COMPOUND DOG by Haynes Brooke. (It’s running for three more weeks at the Eclectic Theatre in L.A. Catch it if you can!)

It is a wild, funny, moving, eccentric piece, played out in the most theatrical of manners, with four actors alternating as narrators, characters, and characters playing characters.

Haynes presents his story as a thesis project for a fictional student (from the San Fernando Valley Life Studies Institute) – a common device in his recent plays. The story is told by the student and faculty – as the student hopes his tale earns him a passing grade.

The wrap-around is very Brechtian, allowing a distancing for the audience; Haynes uses that device to then sneak in under the emotional skin of the audience, making the story all the sweeter.

And all the more resonate.

The themes of grace, lost faith struggling to return, and meaningless meeting meaningful connection play with subtle yet surprising persistence. Which is another sign of Haynes’ craft – the show is presented in the framework of a faux educational piece, convincing the audience that the fluff is pure entertainment with no educational content, all the while carrying deep Truth.

Oh, and be warned: The show is not a musical, per se; but that doesn’t stop one of the characters from breaking out into song and dance. And oddly (an oddity within an odd landscape), it works.

If you want to see what theatre can do that film can’t (and want to be reminded of why theatre will never actually die), head out to THE COMPOUND DOG.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Monday, September 10, 2007

3 At a Time

You can see my church's drama team in action on you-tube.

If you look closely, you can see Cath and I looking incredulous in one of the back pews.

The real trick was getting the Trinity to appear in the video. You don't want to know what union hassles He brings to the table.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Sunday, September 09, 2007

We've Got Spirit, How About You?

The practical reason to look for spiritual depth in your drama team – or any artist, really, is a simple one.

The Spirit makes for better artists.

Early in my days at Taproot Theatre, a gifted Jewish actress starred in one of our plays. During a talkback with the audience, she was asked why she would work for Taproot.

After all, we had an openly Christian staff, and we held pray sessions prior to rehearsals and performances for anyone who wanted to join in. What’s a nice Jewish girl doing in a place like that?

The actress laughed at the question, and admitted that it took her several shows to trust that she wasn’t going to be dragged into the alley and Bible-thumped. (We had a strict anti-thumping policy – at least in the alley). Eventually Taproot became her favorite place to work.

Why? Because Taproot was the only theatre in town that brought the spiritual into the acting process. In fact, the actress had led the prayer that very night.

Now let’s be clear, when I say that Taproot brought the spiritual into the process, I don’t mean the way our subcultural defines the spirit: where we perform religious material, or have intellectual conversations about the meaning of the trinity.

I mean that the Holy Spirit was literally invited into the process of creating.

Which makes sense. The Creator himself invited the Ghost into his creative process (Genesis 1:2, Job 33:4, Psalm 104:30).

It’s no coincidence that G-d required his artists to be filled with the Spirit (Exodus 31:3). “Inspiration” means a divine influence that allows a person to receive sacred revelation (thanks Mirriam-Webster).

Ever wonder why every culture prior to the Luther division put their arts and artists in the church? Now you know.

Artists in tune with the Spirit have a leg up on the rest of ‘em. Be a shame if the church wasn’t taking advantage.

Just my thoughts,

Sean


Friday, September 07, 2007

Ta-ta Ti Ti Ta

I want to take a slight break before part two of my “spirit” discourse to talk about ta-tas.

Okay, get your mind out of the gutter, I’m not talking about that kind of… oh, wait. I am talking about that kind of ta-tas.

Acquaintance Julia Fikse got a shout out from Newsweek for her t-shirt business: save the ta-tas. The biz sells clothing with phrases like, “I Love My Ta-Tas,” “Super Ta-tas” and “Saving Lives Two Ta-tas At a Time.”

A portion of every sale is donated to breast cancer research.

I like the biz not only for the cause, but for the way it approaches the whole topic of cancer with humor.

(This is a good time to remind you of friend Laura Jensen Walker, who turned her sense of humor loose in books like RECONSTRUCTING NATALIE.)

Julia’s t’s make me smile, coming in as the second funniest gazumba-related shirts in my mind.

(Spot #1 goes to the woman at the ComicCon, who corrected the eye-line of many a nerd with a shirt disclaiming “These are not the droids you are looking for” across the chest. The shirt made Catherine stop in the middle of a crosswalk to laugh. And she didn’t even know that was a quote from STAR WARS.)

So if you know someone dealing with breast cancer (and you do), support the cause.

And save some lives, two ta-tas at a time.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Thursday, September 06, 2007

We Got Spirit, Yes We Do...

Our church drama team touts that we look for: “Artistic excellence and spiritual depth.” (Please remember that we don’t say we always achieve excellence and depth, only that we strive for it…)

There are two big reasons to look for “spiritual depth,” one practical, and the other stupid. I will start where I feel most comfortable – with stupid.

It’s not a stupid reason, so much as a reason because of a stupid thing. And the thing is:

People, like cats, chase after shiny objects.

People want to be like shiny people -- movie stars, celebrities, sports personalities – pretty much anybody up in the lights.

There is a synaptic misfire in the brain that goes from, “Gee, that person can walk all around the set without bumping into the furniture” straight to “therefore, their life philosophy must be fantastic, and I want to be just like them!”

Thus the sportsman who said, “I’m not a role model, I just play baseball,” may have understood his own psyche, but not that of the rest of humanity. “Role model” is not a job one applies for.

A person is a role model just ‘cuz people are looking at them.

Whether you are Mother Theresa or Madonna.

It’s not logical; in fact, it’s stupid. But there it is.

Even on a smaller stage – like the front of a church.

That’s why Paul said, “Hey, if you want to be a leader in the church, you have to work harder at being Christ-like than everyone else. ‘Cuz people are stupid, and no matter how many times I tell them that I ain’t a saint, they copy me. And they are going to copy you as well, thinking that you’re ‘all that.’ So if they copy you copying me copying Christ, we have a shot at becoming better people rather than people who go out partying and drinking and then drive on the freeway the wrong way with a suspended license.”

I may have paraphrased that a bit.

So, the church drama team. The team stands in the lights in front of the congregation.

People see them and say, “Oooh, shiny. I gotta get me some of that shine.”

And they start Xeroxing. Not just what they see on the chancel, but what they see in the nave, the apse, the grounds, the parking lot (where Christianity is rarely found), the freeway, the restaurants, the workplace, and, well, pretty much everywhere.

Now if the people in the lights have spiritual depth, maybe (just barely “maybe”) they will be copying Christ while in the parking lot, and it won’t be such a bad thing to have people chasing after them.

More likely, when the shiny people screw up in the parking lot (by using words like “screw”), their depth might lead to a level of humility or grace or contrition that shows that even though we are all screw-ups, we can always be striving to be better.

And maybe, just maybe, we’ll get fewer copies of the screw ups, and more copies of the grace.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Either Or Or

So, a few more things on auditions:

Some of y’all have been reading my ramblings on quality, and have thought to yourselves, “Wait a minute, I’ve seen Sean’s work. If his church is interested in quality, how did he get on the drama team?”

Okay, first off, thanks.

Second, never use me as an example. Good golly miss Molly.

You don’t look at my hot wife, and say, “Gee, to win someone that amazing I need to get a pot belly, watch way too much television, and be very random about steady work.”

No, instead think, “Well, there goes the exception that proves the rule.”

If it makes you feel any better, I am not the leader of the drama group, nor the most qualified artist in the room. Still I got in, which brings me to:

Third, quality isn’t everything.

Yep, that’s my controversial statement for the week.

Quality isn’t everything.

Last time I said that in regards to worship leaders and church musicians, I was rebuked in the bloggersphere. And then people who read those blogs (and not mine) attributed all kinds of things to me that were much more rebukeable.

The thinking went like this: if Sean doesn’t think that quality is the most important thing ever, then Sean must not think that quality matters at all.

We as a culture seem to only be able to hold “either” or “or” in our heads.

This is especially prevalent in politics and religion.

Listen to the talking heads on any partisan news station (pick your own party – the statements are interchangeable and the logic identical).

As far as they are concerned, a person is either for the war, or hates all soldiers.

One is either pro-children and hates women, or pro-women and hates babies.

One is either for fiscal responsibility or for social justice, but they must pick just one.

If ever in D.C., try the political equivalent of cow-tipping: walk up to someone running for office, and tell them that your take on [insert any issue here] is too complex to fit on a bumper sticker.

Then stand back and watch their heads explode trying to understand such heresy.

The church tends to be the same way.

Which is kinda funny, since Jesus was rarely the “either/or” kind of guy.

And the Bible doesn’t support “either/or” thinking. More often it is “both/and” or “neither,” or (more often in Jesus’ case) “what a stupid distinction.”

Should we have faith or works? (Both)

Is the sign of a Christian deep poverty or heaps of prosperity? (Neither)

Which one is the true way – sprinkling or dunking? (Stupid question)

Remember when applying “either/or” to Christianity that you are talking about a gig brought to perfection by a three-beings-in-one figure that was one hundred percent Man and one hundred percent G-d – and never saw any of that as being contradictory.

All to say, when it comes to the arts in church, quality isn’t the only thing.

It is very, very important. But there are other things to consider, things that carry equal and some times even more weight.

Such as…

Just my thoughts,

Sean