Saturday, April 21, 2007

Two Tims

This is Tim Curry from Rocky Horror. Sorry for the confusion. I have been admonished.

This is Tim Burton, the film director- Batman, etc.... I know the difference between the two men, thank you.

About 15 years ago I was sitting at the bar at the Formosa Cafe in Los Angeles. It was early and only three of us were at the bar- me, a tall, kind of strange looking man dressed head to toe in black and a guy who looked vaguely familiar. They were talking very seriously about movies and the man in black was making little sketches in a notebook. The other man smoked cigarette after cigarette. After awhile the man in black got up and I was left chatting with the smoker. Nice enough guy I guess, then I realized he was Johnny Depp. The man in black was Tim Burton and the sketches he was making were for the film Edward Scissorhands.

Between the three of us we have made some pretty good films.


Keeper of the Kohn

Al Gore's internet (or is it the Information Superhighway? The Interweb?) does a fantastic job connecting people who would otherwise not know each other. Hardly news, but
I am still amazed by it.

A friend of mine from the gym told me about his friend, David Gaynes, in New York. David is also a filmmaker and we struck up an e-mail friendship. Last week we finally got around to trading DVDs. I sent him a copy of what's two +three?, my film about a learning disabled family member, and he sent me Keeper of the Kohn, his film about a challenged man who manages the Lacrosse team at Middlebury College in Vermont. It's a terrific film- funny, touching, sometimes sad. David does a great job humanizing Peter Kohn, you see him warts and all. It has won awards at film festivals. I encourage you to check it out.

Like many jobbing filmmakers, David is shooting for the Food Network and others as he raises money for his next film about the Hubble Telescope.

Please check out the link.


Friday, April 20, 2007


My post on Stop Making Sense got me thinking of music in films. I am not talking about musicals like Singin' in the Rain, or documentaries like Woodstock, but movies where musical performances push the story forward and show us something about the characters we haven't seen before. Here is a chronological list of some of my favorites. Please add to it or tell me I am full of it.


The Beatles- Can't Buy Me Love from Hard Days Night. Great sequence of them in the field goofing off.

The Yardbirds- Blow Up. They tear it up in a scene critical to the film- they tear it up, literally. A really young Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck trade licks on Train Keeps a Rolling.

The Monkees in Head. Yes, The Monkees. Jack Nicholson co-wrote this film. Worth it to see The Monkees on acid. There are some good Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith compositions. I like Circle Sky.

The Who- Rock and Roll Circus. Their performance of the "mini opera" A Quick One While He's Away steals the show. The distributors wanted to rename the film The Who's Rock and Roll Circus. They blow the Stones away. Look for Pete nudging his microphone up with his nose.

Tim Burton as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in Rocky Horror Picture Show. Sweet Transvestite- great song, great performance- Dammit Janet!

Diane Keaton singing Seems Like Old Times in Annie Hall. Great performance and the song really frames the whole film.

Dexter Gordon in Round Midnight. It takes a French man, Bertrand Tavernier, to make a great film about the American music form- Jazz. Great performances

Spinal Tap- Big Bottom and others. I love the scene where they open for a puppet show.

Meryl Streep singing the late, great Shel Silverstein's (A Boy Named Sue) song, I'm Checkin' Out. A key song to the character Streep plays in Postcards From the Edge.

Jack Black and The School of Rock covering AC/DC at the end credits of School of Rock. It's a Long Way to the Top (If You want to Rock and Roll). They cast kids who were real musicians, not actors to play the roles. They are really playing and singing.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


It was strange walking through the halls at school yesterday. In my mind I kept wondering what it would have been like to be at Virginia Tech. Fortunately for me my imagination is not good enough to conjure up those horrific images.

The closest I have come to a serious crime on campus happened maybe eight years ago. A young woman student was raped in an alley next to one of the buildings on campus. It made the news and there were all sorts of warnings around campus. A sketch of the suspect was posted and everyone was nervous. It was one of those rare semesters where I has about as many women in my class as men and I felt obligated to talk about the events and to see how the students were feeling. The discussion was very somber and everyone spoke in hushed tones. It was a healing session, I thought.

Two days later it came out that the student had made the entire event up. She was freaked out about something in her personal life and she told this tale. To me this was worse than the rape. The entire campus felt betrayed and worse, the imaginary suspect was a person of color. In my class two days later we had a very different sort of discussion. There was a lot of anger. The African-American students were especially upset. It was bad.

But not as bad as what happened the other day in Virginia.

I am going to end on a better note. A student of mine is part of a team of four Columbia students who are in San Diego as part of the National Collegiate Film School Championships. 20 college film school teams were given a five minute script Wednesday night at 9pm. They need to deliver the film by 9am on Saturday. The event is being tapeed for a future TV show. Good luck Andrew and team. I'll report the results next week.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007


I am taking the day off from blogging to honor the students, faculty and family who lost loved ones at Virginia Tech University.



Monday, April 16, 2007

Story Time

Students often talk about not knowing what to write about. There are several stock answers- write about what you know, create a character first, then have your story spin out of that. In one of the best screenwriting classes I ever taught we created an entire feature length treatment on the fly just by discussing character types. Our lead was a 90-year old Boston woman on her death bed who revealed a secret. The rest of the story was told in flashbacks- her husband was part of Irish organized crime. Think Rose Kennedy meets Citizen Kane. Most commonly, I think, writers start with a plot idea and create everything around that.

To test this theory I am going to provide a set up and you can take it from there. Please add your comments and we’ll see where this takes us. By the way this really happened to me this past Saturday.

I found a wallet just off the sidewalk about half a block from my house. The wallet had one dollar bill, a CTA pass and several business cards from an art and design school. There were two forms of identification both Colombian. From the ID the man’s name is Mercurio Velasco. He is 22 years old and has a closely shaved head. There was no other form of ID, BUT there was a fingerprint scanned and imbedded on the back of the ID.

I couldn’t find him in the phone book, but two hours later a sign was taped to our front door saying he lost a wallet and leaving a phone number. Nothing was mentioned about money, but there was great importance placed on the immigration documents. We met on the street- he know smy phone number and where I live.

Your job is to create a story around this character.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Start the Revolution

It wouldn’t be all that hard to convert this blog into a small TV show. A DV camera, Final Cut Pro, Quick Time and I would be in business. And if enough of you click on those ads at the side and bottom of this page, I just might do it. It would be extreme narrowcasting, the audience would be only people who cared about me, but it would be computer television. I could call it Narcissus TV.

This is yet another version of the future of film and TV. Why can’t we have all have our own TV stations? I could link to all the TV shows I like- I have watched Lost on my computer- legally and for free at I can watch live baseball games at Budweiser has and GE has GE Imagination Theater on its website. A former student of mine has an episodic show. I am not talking You Tube here, these are legitimate original programming. Who needs the networks or cable?

In 1961 Newton Minnow, FCC Chairman said this, “But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit and-loss sheet or rating book to distract you--and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland.”

Has anything changed, except we have more channels of nothing?

In honor of Patriot’s Day, let’s start the Narcissus TV revolution. Are you with me or agin' me?