Wednesday, September 22, 2010


We all make 'em.

But the problem - if you're the one who made the mistake - is that its hard to let go. Self-forgiveness is tough to come by.

Ironically, if the mistake somehow impacted somebody else, they'll probably forgive you quicker - if you cop to it right away.

So if you've made any mistakes lately, don't play the excuse card, don't play the blame game. You did it. So admit it. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Remember Andy Kaufman? If you watched TV back in the 1970s and the early '80s, you probably do. He would show up on Saturday Night Live and do bizarre one-man skits, including the hilarious "Mighty Mouse" dub where he put a record on a turntable and stood in anticipation as the Mighty Mouse theme song played, punctuating the heroic lyrics with an extended hand. It was funny as hell. But what was really funny was that you couldn't make any sense out of it. And that was key to Kaufman's foolishness.

Kaufman then developed this "foreign" character named Latka and ended up on the sitcom "Taxi," as a lovable naif. At around the same time, Kaufman also developed this other character named Tony Clifton, who was an audience-abusing lounge singer. He was combative and cruel. Clifton even went after Kaufman, claiming that Kaufman was trying to ruin Clifton's "good name" for money and fame. Amazingly, people bought it and didn't know if Clifton was real or not. Some people didn't even realize Clifton was Kaufman.

Kaufman then insinuated himself into the wrestling circuit blasting the "sport" for its inauthenticity. He mocked professional wrestlers and made claims that anybody could do what they do, including himself. So he forced himself into the ring and eventually challenged women wrestlers in an over-the-top and aggressive manner.

Eventually he stepped into the ring with Jerry Lawler who supposedly "broke" Kaufman's neck using a move called the pile driver. For months after, Kaufman made appearances wearing a neck brace while threatening to take Lawler down while exposing him as a fake. Kaufman appeared on the David Letterman show in 1982 ranting about Lawler. Lawler himself showed up on the set and punched out Kaufman. Again, audiences were stunned into believing what they saw was the truth.

It wasn't true. Not one minute of it. It was brilliant and lengthy performance art.

Which brings us to Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck. In the Affleck-directed documentary, I'M STILL HERE, Phoenix is shown as a drug-abusing, self-possessed, self-destructive, ego-maniac gone insane, turning his back on acting to pursue a career in rap music (seriously?). Phoenix actually told the press he was quitting acting and made an appearance on Letterman in February 2009 that was baffling (but not as incoherent as first reported) at best.

The I'M STILL HERE documentary was released in mid-September and reviewed by critics who weren't sure about its authenticity. Roger Ebert questioned it but also took it seriously as a film, hence the nature of his review. (See Ebert's follow-up here)

At the time of its release, Casey Affleck said I'M STILL HERE was 100% true. Phoenix said very little.

Two weeks later, Affleck revealed the documentary as a fake. Says Affleck in the New York Times, "I never intended to trick anybody. The idea of a quote hoax unquote, never entered my mind." Affleck then praised Phoenix for "the performance of his career."

The film, in very limited release, isn't gathering an audience because, frankly, most people don't care about the antics of two privileged Hollywood brats. The reporters and film reviewers who were duped are, more likely, simply embarrassed that they took the bait. These writers are crying foul and some are calling Affleck and Phoenix "knuckleheads" who have "a lot of explaining to do." (Patrick Goldstein, Los Angeles Times).

But why explain anything at all? And so what if Affleck and Phoenix are "knuckleheads?" They didn't hurt anybody. They made a stupid movie that wasn't really a documentary. They did something that Kaufman did some 30 years ago. (And, yes, Kaufman was a "genius," and Affleck and Phoenix are "knuckleheads" - big difference, blah, blah, blah...)

Goldstein makes the claim that Affleck "won't get to direct another movie any time soon." Really? Affleck's joke was that egregious?

All in all, this little antic was a diversion. A brief moment in time subverting the entertainment world's puffery and self-importance.

Here's to Affleck and Phoenix - a couple of "knuckleheads" exposing how stupidly unreal their own profession really is.

By the way, people are wondering if Letterman knew about the ruse when he had Phoenix on in February 2009. Turns out it was all part of the plan. Yes, Letterman knew.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Life defining moments can come in simple packages found under a Christmas tree. For me, one such moment was exactly that - a Christmas present in 1980.

The present was Bruce Springsteen's 1978 album, "Darkness on the Edge of Town." By 1980, I was already a Springsteen fan and already had "Greetings from Asbury Park," "The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle," and "Born to Run" in my collection. I also had "The River," which had been released in the Fall of '80. Until that Christmas morning, I didn't have "Darkness."

The album cover was stark and Springsteen, in white t-shirt and leather jacket, looks like he just woke up with a killer hangover. He actually looks like a burned out 50's holdover without the grease in his mussed up hair - a wasted throwback.

I remember dropping the needle on the record and "Badlands" exploding from my DLK speakers. I listened to the record all the way through over and over that day and through the night, shunning family on Christmas Day.

But I wasn't in the mood for holiday frivolity. My father had passed away two weeks before, John Lennon was murdered a week before that and my girlfriend at the time broke it off with me when she realized she couldn't take being with somebody in obvious mourning.

From the first line in "Badlands," I knew I was in the best hands possible at that time in my life: "Lights out tonight, trouble in the heartland."

It really was lights out for me at the age of 20. I didn't know what was happening in my life or how to deal with it. So "Darkness on the Edge of Town" was my refuge.

Now there's this massive box set called "The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story," which includes the original album (digitally mastered for the first time), two additional CDs of music culled from that period and three DVDs (Blu-ray is available) of sessions and concerts during the making of and immediately after the release of this masterful record in 1978. It also includes an 80-page notebook with facsimiles of Springsteen's notes from the recording sessions, including lyrics, song ideas and recording details. 

This historical release can't possibly capture my time in 1980 but what it does is show an artist at the peak of his power not only as a lyricist but as a musician. Its the rare moment when you can enter an artist's creative process and this set is truly an open invitation.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


If you're looking for film writing and its place in history, look no further than filmmaker Paul Schrader's amazingly rich website. At first glance you may think this is purely a vanity project (which - let's face it - it is) but its so much more.

The site delves into Schrader's writing and, specifically, Schrader's film criticism from the 1960s and 1970s. But what's really great is that you download the original articles scanned from their original sources ranging from the Calvin College Chimes and the Spectacle to the Los Angeles Free Press and Cinema Magazine to Film Quarterly and Film Comment.

Remember that Schrader has become a formidable and well-respected screenwriter and director in his own right. After all, this is the man who wrote TAXI DRIVER and directed such films as HARDCORE, AMERICAN GIGOLO, AFFLICTION, AUTO FOCUS.

His vision, in his criticism as well as in his films, is dark and astute (even though his book, TRANSCENDENTAL STYLE IN FILM: OZU, BRESSON, DREYER is almost impenetrable).

And you gotta love Schrader's own comment about his website:

"The following articles and reviews are listing chronologically and without comment. Some are youthful, some are wrongheaded, some are pretty good."

Go there:

Sunday, September 5, 2010


When I was in college I sat behind a girl in a linguistics class who told me (for no apparent reason) that she was working on her "novel." This made me feel completely inadequate adding to an already rising stockpile of college-age inadequacies. A novel? Seriously?

I don't know if she ever wrote that novel. Maybe she did. Maybe she's written tons of novels since then. But she had something - at least at that time - I didn't. Conviction. And she was letting anybody know within earshot that she was doing this thing.

I was supremely unfocused during my college years. I was a writing major without an eye toward the future. Without a clue, I slogged through my classes and certainly didn't attach the title "novelist" to my name, let alone "writer" of any kind.

All these years later, buried under my official work title that bears the word "communications," is, indeed, that of "writer." A major part of my day is spent writing, whether writing for client web sites, newsletters, promotional materials, and numerous social media feeds (both on the client side and personal). I've also written magazine articles, technical articles, newspaper features and freelance film articles. I write this blog.

But I haven't written a novel. Or a full length book. So I decided it was time to make a pitch for a book that was not related directly to my job. I decided to pitch a film-based book to a publishing company called Pocket Essentials.

Why Pocket Essentials? Because they are open to ideas and their product is based on the writer's passion that's connected directly to the reader's passion. Whatever those passions may be.

Pocket Essentials submission guidelines include initially pitching your idea. And your idea should be based on marketing potential, audience potential, topic relevance, and "buy-ability."

They want your idea submitted as a proposal first. If they like your idea/proposal, they'll ask for a breakdown, which is basically how your book will layout chapter-wise.

I suppose this isn't any different from any other publishing house but Pocket Essentials seems particularly open to writers wanting and ready to leap to that "book" level.

I'm not going to give away my pitch here (at least not yet) but I went through the process like this:

  • I jotted pitch notes down on a piece of paper using the "clustering" method where I took one word and used that as an idea springboard.
  • I wrote my opening pitch line with the possible title of my book and defined it clearly.
  • I wrote a second paragraph stating the book's purpose, touching on possible chapter breakdown.
  • I focused on current relevance and "market-ability."
  • I closed with references to my background.
  • I cut anything that seemed extraneous and made sure the pitch was around 300 tightly constructed words.
  • With the pitch, I included previously published work. 

I followed Pocket Essentials' directions closely, which you should do when submitting ideas to any publishing house or company you'd like to do business with. Directions are there for a reason and they provide an ideal road map.

I bundled everything together and sent the pitch via e-mail, the Pocket Essentials preferred method of delivery.

The proposal is in Pocket Essentials' hands now. And, at this point, I've done just about all I can do.

Well...I guess there is one other thing I can do. And that's keep my fingers crossed.