Saturday, December 22, 2012

My Country 'Tis

It's time to face facts. We are a violent, shallow people, whose government is hostage to a small, but very vocal faction of extreme ideologues who are beholden to lobbyists, large corporations, and the impossibly wealthy. We do not, in fact, care about our fellow man or our national identity. We care about our right to bear arms and to refuse to pay taxes while expecting the government to do only what we, as individuals, want it to do. We do not want to extend a helping hand to those in our country who are less fortunate, we want to cut aid, so the wealthy can keep tax cuts.

Lost in the wash of press about deadlocked political negotiations and the NRA posturing is the fact that congress authorized over six hundreds billion dollars of spending on defenses for the coming year.

Six. Hundred. Billion.

Social spending is a small proportion of that figure, but social spending is what's going to get cut.

We are a violent and small people. We are a nation of bullies, operating at a third-grade mental level and demeaning those who aim any higher. What would the founding fathers think of us?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A lot of thought...

Cinematographers, process junkies, gadget-coveters, film-lovers, geeks: this one's for you.

Film vs. Digital.

I've been giving this a lot of thought lately, and doing a fair amount of reading, too.  This morning, I reached the tipping point when the BFI tweeted a quote attributed to Martin Scorcese.  “No matter where the cinema goes, we cannot afford to lose sight of the beginning."  My simple rebuttal to this is: why?

I suspect it has more to do with tradition, stagnation, and fear than it does with anything else.  I don't mean Scorcese personally in this case (although even the notion that there is one coherent "cinema" is ridiculous), but the whole cadre of tradition-bound folks who seem determined to choke off the forward  progress of movies.

The "beginning" of cinema is a time of great unevenness, much of it lost, and the great bulk of what remains is really, really boring to today's general audiences.  I agree with the idea you can learn from great films, but I dispute the notion that anything achieves greatness and deserves reverence simply because of its place in the timeline.  With that mentality, we'd buy bottles of leeches instead of Advil for the collective headache we've gotten over these traditionalist arguments.

Which brings me to film vs. digital as a method of originating a cinematic story.  "Originating" because the use of film in theaters -- except in specialty theaters -- is essentially over.  The business decision has been made and the film corpse is leaving the theater.  So, how do artists originate their stories?  What is the best way?  What is the true way?  What is the way they did it in "the beginning"? (Just kidding with that last one.)

The real answer is: you'll always have choice and it should be your artistic decision.  Like vinyl in the aftermath of cds, film isn't going away, but it's going to be more of a specialty, more of a particular artistic niche.  For the layman, without a color scope, and watching a film on their home flat-screen (on which they haven't bothered to change the factory picture-settings), there's simply no difference in the end result.

The real answer is: when you evoke the "beginning" of cinema, you imply that all the collective learning of the past 130 years isn't encapsulated in today's forms, which is backward thinking.  Future generations of filmmakers are going to take "cinema" in directions the early progenitors never thought of and you can either go along or become increasingly an historian rather than artist.

The real answer is: Skyfall.  Shot digitally, projected digitally.  It's simply beautiful.  The visuals run a complete dynamic range and serve the story in a synchronization that contributes to the audience's pleasure in the film.  As a filmmaker, what more would you really want?

The real answer is: digital.

Now, let's all move forward, shall we?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

On Being Informed

After a year of subscribing to the home delivery of the New York Times, I'm struggling with the question of how, exactly, it impacts my life.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

One Last Customer Service Push

Tomorrow night is the premiere event for Customer Service, the short film I wrote and co-produced.  If you're thinking of coming, but not sure how to get there, you can get directions here.

We're hoping for a large turnout.  In addition to cinematic good Karma we'll be offering, we've got cases of sparkling wine and 10 freakin' trays of chocolate to make you giddy and bubbly.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Film Premiere!

In a few brief days, the short film, Customer Service, which I wrote and helped produce, will be having its premiere in Philadelphia.  "Labor of Love" doesn't begin to qualify.  It's been a long road since the first lunch meeting on a rainy Philadelphia day that started the project, but I hope friends from near and far will come and share the excitement of a premiere.

Friday, October 12, 7:00 PM
University Crossings Large Screening Room (Basement)
15 N. 32nd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

E-mail me if you have any questions or need directions.  I hope to see you there.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Self-Promotion Interlude

Customer Service, the labor-of-love short film I wrote and helped produce, will be premiering in Philly in October.  More deets at!

Monday, September 3, 2012


Summer, swift in its exit from the stage, leaves the usual mixed bag of debris behind.  As with all things, there is good stuff and bad.  Looking back on this last day, labor day, here's how I sum it up:

The Summer Gold:

Traveling with the family, ending with a stop at the beach the last week of August.

Cocktails with friends.

Summer movies that really provided something for everyone.  If you couldn't find a movie to see this summer, you probably don't like film.

Lots of books read! (Hmm, maybe in a future post...)

Many pages written.

The Summer Dross:

The oppressive heat killed just about every desire to tackle those house projects.

The death of my step-brother.

Not one, but two sets of friends moving from the neighborhood. Should I take it personally?

Dwindling bank accounts.  Traveling is expensive.

No matter how many pages you write, you always feel like you should have written more.

No really big revelations here, I suppose, but summer is at its best when you're in the moment, and that moment doesn't always have to advance any agenda.  Summer, for me is about rest and reflection, and there's never enough of either.  I tried to consciously capture that spirit this year, and at least partially succeeded.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Addendum on Thinking

Someone recently pointed out to me that the admission in my previous post that I think too much about food and drink should not be limited to those categories, but should include just about everything, as in, "You overthink everything."  So, after thinking about that (yes, irony noted), I asked myself, at what point do you think too much about something?

First, I'll say that most people don't spend enough time thinking.  If they did even a little more of it, especially before opening their mouths, life would sure be different.

Beyond that, my conclusion is that the only time you think too much is at the point where it prevents action.  Whatever you want to achieve, if you spend time thinking about it, but don't actually do it, there's a problem.  Which is why I'm keeping this blog entry short, to go and write today's script pages.

Let me know what you think.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Bean Me

In a break from the political snark I post on Facebook, and the writing on films, let's talk chow.

I spend way too much time thinking about food and drink.  As my father always says, "it's the one indulgence that's also a necessity, so you may as well enjoy it."  That sentence can be used to justify a multitude of sins, but I'll save that for a post somewhere down the road where I'm feeling a need for contrition.  This morning, let's just chat about coffee.

Many people have written about this brew over the years and taken both high and low opinions of it.  I've gone through long periods of not drinking it, only to return as if to an old friend with open arms, or mouth, as it were.  As I vaguely remember, there's a chapter on coffee and the rise of coffee houses in Tastes of Paradise, that covers both the social and economic implications of coffee.  Partially, coffee was a reaction against alcohol with the added benefit of being a stimulant that coincided with a rise in worker productivity and work ethic.

I personally see no need to even consider the either/or coffee/alcohol debate.  Both are beverages that are a part of my daily life and I take them both seriously.  Caveat: by seriously, I don't mean I'm a snob about it, I just spend my time thinking about it and, when the opportunity presents itself, I make my coffee in a variety of ways.  The only bad coffee for me is coffee that's too weak.

It may seem excessive, but right now, I have three choices in my house every morning.  There's the standard drip coffee maker, which has the advantage of having a timer, so bleary mornings don't require  even basic culinary skills.  I'm fueling that with a bag of coffee brought back directly from Panama by a friend for us.  It has a nutty, sweet flavor.  Then, there's the big pitcher of cold-brewed iced coffe base (see sidebar for simple instructions) which I cold brew every week from Cafe Du Monde's coffee/chicory blend.  This is for those really hot, sweaty mornings.  Finally, there's my French Press, which is proof positive that the simplest methods often provide the best results.  In the press I'm brewing locally roasted beans in a light/dark mix from Burlap & Bean.

I am not a coffee expert, and I don't spend a lot of time tasting different varieties.  But I do like a strong cup of joe to get me going in the morning.  In the see-saw of medical advice, the pendulum has swung back in coffee's favor.  Even popular entertainment recognizes the import of coffee: Jerry and Larry debate coffee v. tea in this episode of Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.  Who am I to argue with those guys?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Summer Ennui - Armchair Sportsman

It wasn't so long ago that I used to write about baseball pretty often, or at least make facebook and twitter posts about it.  This foul season (pun fully intended) I've had plenty of time off because I have been able to disengage.  My hometown Phillies just haven't been the reliable sideshow they have in years past; this time around, they're the train wreck you CAN look away from.

Their fall from grace, from the commanding top position in their division to one of the worst records in major league baseball hasn't even been interesting.  Their lackluster playing makes it seem like just another day at work for them.  They can't even flame out spectacularly.  But for some strange reason, the front office thinks there's still a championship team there.  The evidence was in the Tuesday trades - getting rid of Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence, seemingly at a loss, while holding onto players who are clearly underperforming and who represent clear weaknesses.  For instance--

Ryan Howard.  It's time for Reuban Amaro and everyone else in the organization to just admit that Howard's career as a daily player in the National League is over.  Send him to the AL where he can serve out his time as a DH and be done with him.  His career has been in decline since he signed his multi-year deal and since his injury, he simply can't move at major league levels.

Roy Halliday.  The great pitcher is in decline.  His ERA is bad this year and his mental grip seems to be shaky at best.  Get rid of him while he's still worth something.

Chase Utley.  I understand he and Howard were key elements in the 2008 season, but that season is long gone, as are his knees.  You're either creating a championship team or you're trying to jerry-rig a championship team from the past.  Only one of those options leads to new championships.

Charlie Manuel.  He may be a great hitting coach, but it's not showing in the offense.  He may be a great manager, but they're not winning games.  The blame can't all be found in the outfield.  Manuel needs to retire gracefully, before it's clear to everyone that his taciturn press conferences aren't revealing homespun wisdom but a detachment from reality.

The flip side to clearing space is developing new talent.  That, of course, implies there's new talent to develop, or that your scouts and minor league managers are able to spot it.  The solution is not to spend more time on guys like Dominic Brown, who have already had more than one shot at the show and been unable to cut it.

I'm going to miss Shane Victorino, who was a bit of heart and soul on the field.  He always brought his A-game, and he always had a smile while doing it.  He may be the only guy to be happy playing.  He was certainly more happy than I've been watching.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Monday Mornings

There are people who spring out of bed Monday Mornings, ready to face off against the world, renewed and refreshed from a weekend of recharging.  Let's just agree I am not one of those people.  Mornings have never been my thing and Mondays seem to present the most opportunity for procrastination because you've got an entire week to catch up on the things you blew off on Monday.

Friday, July 13, 2012

And the result...

After all the morning multi-tasking, my eventual salade nicoise looked like this.

Food Multitasking

Because of the recent hellish heat in the Philadelphia metro area, I've made the switch to my summer cooking style -- eating in restaurants.  Well, that's a slight joke, but our take-out consumption dramatically increases along with the temps and my oven gets little gas between mid-june and mid-september.  It is with great reluctance that I heat the kettle to feed the french press demon coffee maker. I only do it in the early mornings when the sun hasn't quite turned everything to burning plasma.

However, adaptation is survival, so I've developed some other hot-weather cooking skills.  There are very few things that I haven't tried to grill over the years and I'll make most anything in my Weber Kettle.  Also, I'll make dishes that can be served cold later in the day and do any prep-cooking early in the morning when it's still cool.  Which brings us to today's planned meal -- salade nicoise from the current issue of Saveur.  I think this will be really refreshing come 6:00 PM, with the temp solidly in the 90s.  That means, however, there are a bunch of things to cook this morning -- potatoes, beets, green beans.

The perfect part of the "cooking in the morning" thing is the multitasking aspect of it.

I can throw a couple of pots on the stove and check in as needed, but none of this is labor-intensive, so I can go back and forth with the food prep and writing. "What?!!" you say.  You aren't sitting at the computer, staring at the screen the whole time, sweating blood and dreams onto the keys?  Well, um, no.  My writing process involves a lot of walking around.  I can't stay sitting for too long and when the flow seems too slow, I walk around, fiddle with stuff.  That's why the cooking is good, 'cause I have something to check on when I'm pacing, and I don't get too distracted.

So, right now, I've got two pots on the stove to boil/blanch things, music streaming to a bluetooth speaker, and I'm off-and-on cleaning veggies.  The music is coming from my laptop in my summer home office -- my dining room table.  On the monitor, I've got this blog, the Soulwalker script draft, and the novel draft open on the desktop, as well as all the other usual internet distractions.  When a good thought comes, I type it up, then head back to check on the food.

If it's a good writing day, the food will be done before the writing, so then I need another distraction and I can focus on cocktail prep. I'm going to haul out the juicer to make fresh orange/lime juice for desert sunset cocktails to serve before the salad.  Booze, food, music, and writing.  That's my idea of multitasking.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Thing With Prometheus...

People always ask me about films.

This, despite knowing that part of my academic job is learning and teaching how to rip films apart.  Not necessarily in a negative way, but in a critical way that examines how the films are put together.  This is a core component of know how to make a film.  Also, people ask me what I think about films even knowing what a cynical bastard I am.

So, you know, if you ask me about a film, fair warning: I'll tell you what I think.  Perhaps I overthink it, but you asked.  If you'd rather not have an actual answer, then just asked whether I liked a film, don't ask me what I think about a film.  See, I spend the head time that most people devote to Roth IRAs, stocks, and performance reviews considering movies, so you're going to often get a detailed answer if you ask.

Prometheus is a case in point.  LOTS of people asked me about Prometheus and I kind of dodged an answer because frankly, I don't want to spoil your enjoyment of the film.  However, a bunch of people know my admiration for the original Alien, my fondness for Sci-Fi in general, and my peripatetic admiration for Ridley Scott.  So, they asked.

Let me first say, there is much that is wonderful about this film: the beautiful visual extravagance of the opening 3D images and the imagining of the alabaster aliens in general was stunning, there were some wonderful performances from Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender, and the sheer optimism that we will ever be able to build a ship that can travel like Prometheus was refreshing.

It is however, despite all talk of sequels, a disappointing story.

People have argued with me over this, but I bet I can ask you five questions about Prometheus that will change your view of the film.  If you don't want your view changed, then stop reading now.

1. What kind of "doctor" is Elizabeth Shaw?  Many are tempted to say archeologist, but at various points in the film she discourses on astrophysics, medicine, biology, sociology and more.  The real answer to this question is that she's a doctor of exposition -- a convenient mouthpiece to explain whatever plot point needs explaining at a given moment.

2. If you have hovering, wireless, 3d mapping robots, why wouldn't you toss those into the big, dark, dangerous alien ship BEFORE you actually go in yourself?  It may be the future, but apparently no one has ever played a video game.

3. Why are the archeologists forever rushing blindly into new discoveries without any remote hint of site protocol?  Moreover, why are the touching everything, including the moving black goo?

4. I can't imagine ever designing my own trillion-dollar spaceship, but even if you were, would you think it smart to make your quarters look like a spa?  I get the Weyland's are rich, but why must they be stupid as well?

5. Does anyone really believe you can give yourself an auto-surgical cesarian, then just hop up off the table and run around like an action hero?  Talk to a woman who's actually had a c-section, or do some basic anatomical research: cut the abs and you're doing no moving for a while.  Drugs strong enough to kill the pain will also knock you out.  I honestly thought this was going to be a dream sequence it was so outrageous and, when it wasn't, I couldn't seriously stay engaged in the movie.

These are really only the top of the heap.  I could keep asking these questions on and on and that, to me, is the sign of a flawed film.

Now, you asked me what I thought, so what I really think is I'm really no longer too excited about the rumored BaldeRunner sequel.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Simple Pleasure of "FADE IN:"

A lot of writers will tell you the best part of a story/novel/script is when you get to "The End" and you've put that baby to bed.  Some cynical (and successful) people will say the best point is when you cash the check.  Many writers will tell you of the terror of the blank page, staring at that pristine white expanse and wondering how to fill it with little pieces of their brain.

As with a great many things, it seems, I'm of the contrary opinion.

I find no greater pleasure than empty pages and the opportunity with any script to write the words "FADE IN:"  It's the only point in the writing process where everything is right.  The story is all ahead of you and the possibility of perfection still exists.  That very possibility is like a time-travel device that allows you to feel the bursting invincibility you had as a teen, when your life was ahead of you and you still had the illusion that all doors could open.  "FADE IN:" is a reboot of all your dreams, hopes, and aspirations -- the chance that this time you'll get it all right.

So, when I'm looking at that empty white page (or screen, you literalists out there), I take a deep breath, pause to enjoy the potential, then I write "FADE IN:"

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Summer Pleasures

This summer is an echo of those long, hot months of my youth: plenty of reading, plenty of fun - if not quality - movies, baseball, drinking and leisure.  Since I ridiculously over-worked myself during the regular academic year, I find myself with a summer clear of teaching.  That meas I have time to actually explore some books I want, see the movies I want, follow baseball as much as I want, and experiment with cocktails as much as I want.

There's a lot of potential to go off the rails here, and wake up after an 11-week bender, but I'm pretty sure I can handle the freedom.

I'm going to try to get back to blogging regularly as well, as a warm-up to my regular writing in the day.  See, I opened with that paragraph all about leisure, but honestly, I'm using the extra time this summer to get down to some creative business.  I've started writing a novel for the first time since college, have a new script to draft before fall, a short film to finish, a film trailer to shoot, a novella to revise, etc. etc.  I'm listing this not to throw down any gauntlet for comparison, because any creator always has a backlog of projects they want to get to, but as an illustration of -- I don't know -- my idea of leisure.  Also, those are the things I'm warming up for as I write these little ditties.

I'm going to cover each of these particular items in blog posts -- fair warning.  Right now, though, I'm going to go away and write "FADE IN:"

See you soon.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Price Of Freedom

Politics and religion -- to paraphrase David Bowie -- are like fire and gasoline.  They seem to be unavoidably attracted to each other, but incendiary when combined.  Incendiary like say, I don't know, when you burn copies of the Koran.  Before I get too far into this, let me say for the record, yes, this was a stupid and insensitive action.  However, this incident has more shades to it than the popular media are willing to paint.

The most obvious starting point is the overall context.  Although details on the whole incident are murky, the burning itself doesn't seem to be a calculated statement by the soldiers, but rather that they were disposing of items confiscated from detainees.  Also, it's difficult to determine the actual extent of the burning.  When you flash the words "Koran Burning" in the media, it evokes images of truckloads of books dumped into a blazing bonfire, lighting up the night.  That does not seem to actually be the case.

Depending on where you fall on the religio-politico spectrum determines your ability to chain logical arguments together (clearly in evidence in Rick Santorum's campaign for president).  That's the only explanation I see for the logical conundrum that comes out of the religious extremist view on the sacred nature of every single copy of The Koran.  It's one thing to believe it contains the word of God, another to assume God's printing them up himself.  As a manufactured item, is the book sacred while its component parts are not?  The paper, the ink, the entire supply and printing pathway?  Why is it an affront to God when the book is burned but not offensive to him in any way when a suicide bomber could be killing those very men and women who printed and distributed it?  (Of course, I'm guessing most suicide bombers are incinerating their own copy of the Koran when they touch off the explosive and where does that leave the holy martyr?)  Beyond that, I find it over the edge of sanity to claim a book is sacred, while casually dismissing the value of human life.

To give an analogy that may help illuminate how far off the reality chart the fanatics are: imagine I barbecue a whole bunch of sacred stuff in my backyard including a Bible, a Koran, the American flag, a copy of Bambi, etc.  Then, the reaction I get is that US Senators, on the floor of Congress, insist the army be dispatched to my door and call for private citizens to kill me.

Thankfully, that's not the way America works.  Our freedom is is a guarantee that I can burn whatever I want as long as I'm not violating local fire codes.  I can't imagine the circumstances under which I'd ever be moved to burn a book or a flag, but the point is that it's my choice.  The price of that freedom is tolerating those you don't agree with.  Until that tolerance exists, freedom is bound as surely as if with iron shackles.

Tolerance does not imply agreement.  I tolerate Republicans, but rarely agree with them.  I would never willingly trample someone's religious beliefs, but at the same time I cherish my right to speak freely in dissent.  American soldiers are steeped more deeply in freedom than most, since they fight for it every day, so the actions that are so abhorrent to the fanatics can not be evaluated solely through the eyes of those fanatics.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Images, Not Words

Occasionally, I try to teach writers the value of closing scenes with images, rather than a line of dialog.  This morning, as I was having my coffee, I came across this quote from someone who can speak more eloquently about the power of images than I ever can.

"And you who claim to demonstrate by words the shape of a man from every aspect of his membral attitudes, dismiss such an idea, because the more minutely you describe, the more you will confuse the mind of the reader and the more you will lead him away from a knowledge of the thing described.  Therefore it is necessary both to illustrate and describe." -- Leonardo Da Vinci

This quote appeared in the opening of a chapter in a book called Field Notes on Science & Nature, edited by Michael R. Canfield.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Eyes On The Ball, People

What passes for a new year's resolution for me is more like a general intention to do something.  This year, it wasn't to lose weight, or to be a better person, or to clean the house, because I like selecting somewhat attainable goals so I can, you know, feel good about myself while ignoring those unattainable goals like losing wei-- well, you get the picture.  This year, I want to keep up with reading the paper along with the news and magazine webs I cull from the internet.  A modest goal.

So far, so good, but it's only been about two weeks, so I can't really pat myself on the back, yet.  What I can do, though, is highlight the stuff I don't really give a shit about but that seems to dominate the news.  Should you care?  Maybe not, because it's just one guy's opinion, right?  I don't expect us to agree on everything, but the point of this is that you should always be questioning the media you consume.  Here's the current list:

  1. Tim Tebow.  Seriously?  A mediocre athlete gets front page coverage in the New York Times because of his very public religious worship.  
  2. Republican debates.  It's like watching monkeys fight over bananas.  The only thing less interesting is the endless churning coverage on the TV news.
  3. Penn State.  Joe Paterno behaved poorly on a number of counts.  People who need their jobs a lot more than he did lose them every day.  Move on, alums.  Rebuild your institution on a better model.
  4. iPads in the classroom. This is going to revolutionize education?  Sure it is.
  5. Catholic School Closings. I feel sorry for the kids who are going to have to find a new school, but not for the institutions.  If we spent this much effort on public schools, your neighbors would be freaking out.
That's the tip of the iceberg, by the way, but you should be asking: why is this anything more than a personal rant?  Because these stories are a bit like stage magic: they're mis-direction which draws your attention away from the really important stuff.  Like our economy.  Like the clear evidence that Iraq is collapsing and that we have officially flushed the last 10 years of money, blood, and effort down the drain. Like our trade deficit with China.  Like climate change.  Like income disparity.  See what I'm talking about?

Keep your eyes on the ball, before it nails you between the eyes.