Saturday, November 29, 2008

X Films:True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker

Here's a Christmas gift idea for yourself, or that filmmaker complicating your life. I have this book and just finished reading it to get my mind momentarily off the clown-car onParliament Hill driving around Ottawa. Alex Cox has made some of my most admired and favourite movies out there. Especially Repo Man, Sid and Nancy, Walker and the little seen El Patrullero (Highway Patrolman). Not only does he walk you through the nuts and bolts of getting these ten fantastic oddities on to the screen (including financing), but he still possesses a lot of passion and inspiration. For example:

"Talking to students and younger people now, I get the impression that they think a film is 'given' to a filmmaker - by a studio, or a production company. This is not so. If you are a real filmmaker, a film is something you personally conceive, and then, in partnership with similarly minded colleagues, make yourself. ... It is entirely within your power."

Cox and myself have a similar love for Once upon a Time in the West, The Searchers, The Clash, Mexican food and a DIY attitude. Some of the stories are spicy, including getting punched in the face by an extra...who waited until the last day of photography to do it. The only dirt I wished he had touched upon, was getting fired from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He's also a huge activist when it comes to fighting lousy copyright laws.

"On Paul Robeson's tombstone are the words ' The artist must elect to fight for freedom or slavery. I made my choice. I had no alternative.' What this great actor said applies to writers, to journalists, and indeed to almost everybody. But not everyone is in the fortunate position of the artist, able to weigh the political implications of each possible job, and to accept or reject the work accordingly. The choices that we make, as artists, hackers, or filmmakers, are visible in our work. No one is forced to make a film. Slavery is profitable. Freedom is difficult. Money is plentiful for those who promote obedience; it's in short supply for those who disobey. And yet, all over the world, people refuse to be slaves, and give up careers, and even lives, because their sense of self-worth, or their communities survival obliges them to. Another world is possible."

His ideas for a new film or digital world will get your gears turning. You may not agree with all of it, but it does get the blood flowing. If you run across the book, pick it up. You won't be disappointed. If you want to know more about the man go to his website.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Burn It Down

Finished a last pass of screenplay called 'Final Girl' and sent off to my writing partner to clean up. Then off it goes to Corus...if there's any money left in the last draw-down. Contractually there is. For the next few months I'm done with it. I'm creatively tapped out. In other words...I got nothin'...for now. Do I think it's perfect? Nope. But it's a hell of a lot better than scripts falling across my desktop and cloggin the email that are going into production and frantically trying to 'fix it' as they prep. Anyway, other projects call my name, one of which has received some dough. I'll write about them later.

Meanwhile, Canadian Broadcasters are culling the deadwood and trying to build a new business model in an economic crisis. Or hold onto the old's hard to tell. While I'm sure some folks I know will be hurt by the moves, my empathy is there, but I have little sympathy. See my old post 'Blood Clots in the Revenue Stream' from October. All of us, consumers and content creators have been barking for changes, so here they come. Will they all turn out like you hoped? Probably not, but maybe...just can become leaner and meaner and start rewarding success instead of failure. But it took a crisis and a CRTCruling to burn down the barn and get the old horses running off. Jim Henshaw makes some good points on hisblog. 

So, are we driving down a disappearing lane with a dead end? Broadcasters will inevitably stink up the place with howls of 'Now we can't even afford Canadian content'. Maybe, but that's an old song that's been sung for years. They have barely provided Canadian content anyway. Maybe it's an excuse to pull a few licenses on channels that claim they are providing new content. Every time I turn on the friggin TV I have so many channels that have the same four shows showing over and over that my head swims with resentment. The three Canuckbroadcasters that double and triple dip the consumer and then reported billions in profit. They are the skunk under the house who just keeps coming back with the same smell.

I know what your thinking. Trevor, you should be concerned because now all of these broadcasters have no money to help put your scripts in front of the camera. Really? They never did in the first place. Speciality Cable companies, Americans and Europeans put dough in my work. Not the Big-3 Canadian broadcasters. And that just doesn't include me, it is friends, family and fellow workers in the industry. Yep. Times will be lean, but when aren't they.

The real keys are timing, good work, and the learned ability to know a hot wire when you see one. People who count on luck don't last long in this business of defusing bombs and Canadian broadcasters have been churning out bombs, depending on luck and free money. They connected the wrong wires this time. But, like all human beings and nature's predators, they followed the path of least resistance.

Maybe that makes me an anarchist who wants to watch it all burn so that something else takes it place. Maybe. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that I have a dark sense of humour. Which reminds me, it does my heart good when I see Heath Ledger already being pushed as a 'Supporting Actor' candidate in the up coming Oscar votes.

So, that's about it for my half-assed wisdom for tonight. Right now I am focused on going out in my back yard and shooting a metaphorical bear who weighs five hundred pounds and is in a feeding frenzy. He wants my time, my money and sympathy. I don't have any. Not tonight. Just a shotgun and a 'redneck' attitude. I don't want to kill the bear. Just sting it in the ass and make it move along and stop digging in the garbage. I'm a territorialman. I don't mind sharing with him, but the bear is rude and he makes a mess when he eats. I'm sure you can guess what the bear is.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Stitches in the Bone Garden

Here we are. Cool fog raising goose flesh on your arms. The full moon shining up above. Gnarled branches scratching the night sky. A forest of marble monuments and tombstones looming before you. You recognize the scene, don't you? Sure you do. Any horror writer worth his salt recognizes Dr. Frankenstein's favourite bone garden. Just as you remember why the good doctor invariably makes the cemetery his first stop, it's the mad scientist's first rule - if you're gonna make a monster, your gonna need parts.

Creating a script isn't much different. Just as Frankenstein's Monster is a crazy quilt of dear-departed humanity, your script will be an amalgam of influences. Which is why you must...get read widely. Mad scientists open graves. Writers open books. Books? 'Why I have all the screenwriting books in the world!" you say.

Recently I have been catching up on my reading. I've learned a great deal from novelists in all kinds of genres. For me, crime writers are a big influence in developing elements of my work. I learn a great deal about pace and plot and have found my best teachers in writers such as Elmore Leonard, Jim Thompson, John D. Macdonald and lately Duane Swierczynski. Now please, don't get the impression that I'm telling you to imitate other writers, especially when it comes to style, but you could learn a thing or two from these folks. For instance, take Elmore Leonard's ten rules for writing:

1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than ''said'' to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ''said'' . . .
5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
6. Never use the words ''suddenly'' or ''all hell broke loose.''
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
Not all of that can be applied to screenplays, but it is inspiring. Leonard says his most important rule is one that sums up the ten: "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."

Now, back to the monster you want to create, and you're still determined to make a go of this mad scientist business. You're stitching it together, working everyday. You're reading. You're writing. You're putting in the time. But you don't want to overdo it. What do I mean? Too much 'mood' and an extra dollop of flowery description and your story will read like a parody. It's the 'hey Ma, look at me write' syndrome and it's usually from over-thinking and creating prose. Too much of a good thing is indeed too much of a good thing.

But also remember that even Dr. Frankenstein had his failures. That nasty bit of business with Igor and the abnormal brain, for example. But the good doc wasn't a quitter. When things didn't work out the way he'd planned, Victor Frankenstein always got out his shovel and headed back to the cemetery. So don't give up. Put in the time. Write and READ something other than this blog and get the fuck off facebook for a while and stitch that monster together. Would it kill you to read a book?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Donkeys and Flares

" There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it," said theultimate master of terror, Alfred Hitchcock. I read a couple of my favourite blogs this morning, Boot in the Pants and Dead Things ON Sticks. Both writing about imminent disaster, canceling Christmas and the down-sizing of Canadian networks and images of buildings being demolished. Read 'em. They're good. Don't be lazy, just go to the sidebar.

Today a pretty young woman came knocking on my door and she had brought her kid with her. Who could this be? I opened the door and said " Hi." She smiled, said hello, then quickly asked "How do you define success?" "That's a pretty big question" was all I could say. Then I looked at what she was carrying in her hand, and...well...I'll get to the rest later, but above is a picture of what she gave me.

Millions of people around the world are watching headlines these days, most of them are getting pumped full of fear. Good news is out of the question in this brutal year of our Lord 2008. This, it would appear, to be the time of the Final Shit Rain, as Nostradamus predicted in 1444 A.D. I think the Aztecs, according to their calenders, have all of us croaking around 2012. Anybody who thinks these prophets and media-types are kidding should strut out, like some all-American girl with a head full of hope, and try and get a job. Yes sir, little sweetie, just walk right up here and get what's coming to you. By all media accounts, welcome to bombs and poverty. You are about to start paying for the sins of your gas-guzzling fathers and yummy mommies with credit cards.

The deal is going south and we're down to our last cannonball. Don't even get started on Christmas and the retail market. Nobody ever seems to have money on Christmas anyway? The only difference is that the rich are begging for bailouts and jabbering frantically into their cellphones and Blackberries about Santa Claus and suicide or joining a church with no rules. We the taxpayer are about to become Santa Claus for these nitwits. Who knows why? But politicians will have their reasons. They'll fashion some horrible Kafka-like economic story to convince us it's a good thing. But in the end, it won't matter any more than a full moon behind the clouds. These folks are like that drunken friend who keeps wanting to borrow money...just for that they can get better. They say that they're in a 'transition period' and just need a few bucks to get them through. Then they keep coming back every few years pleading the same case.

Anyway, it appears (according to the media, banks and my mystery visitor) I should invest in a mule, saddle it with pots, pans and other provisions and wait for the coming collapse. It'll be like going to the bridge inApocalypse Now...magnum phosphorus flares in the air, weeping, no one is in charge and all you can do is pray. Speaking of praying, back to my visitor this morning.

If you haven't figured out by now, she was a Jehovah's Witness. She asked if I define success by fame, money or power? I didn't have an answer. But my guess is this: get on with foot in front of the step at a time.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Professionals and Amateurs

When I say professional, I don't mean doctors and lawyers, those of 'the professions'. I mean the Professional as an ideal. The professional in contrast to the amateur. Consider the differences. Here is what Pressfields 'The War of Art' states:

The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps. To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it's his vocation. The amateur plays part-time, the professional full-time. The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week.

The word amateur comes from the Latin root meaning 'to love.' The conventional interpretation is that the amateur pursues his calling out of love, while the pro does it for money. Not the way I see it. In my view, the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his 'real' vocation.

The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full-time. All of us are pros in one area: our jobs. We get a paycheck. We work for money. We are professionals. Here are the principles:
- we show up everyday
- we show up no matter what
- we stay on the job all day
- we are committed over the long haul
- the stakes for us are high and real
- we accept renumeration for our labour
- we master the technique of our job
- we receive praise and blame from the real world

Now consider the amateur and how he pursues his calling:
- he doesn't show up everyday
- he doesn't show up no matter what
- he doesn't stay on the job all day
- he is not in it for the long haul
- the stakes are illusions and fake
- he does not get money
- has not mastered technique because no work is committed to
- he does expose his work to the real world, only support groups, friends or family

Nothing is as empowering as real-world validation, even if it's for failure. Someone asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. "I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp."

That's a professional. Maugham was saying a deeper truth: that by performing the mundane physical act of sitting down and starting the work on time, he set in motion a sequence of events that produced a result. He knew if he built it and did the work, the Muse would come.

Unfortunately, we are in the time of the amateur in my profession. Below is a satirical report from The Onion. Funny as it is, this satire works because it is based on a truth.

YouTube Contest Challenges Users To Make A 'Good' Video

Funny, but satire has a whole load of truth.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Breakdown

When I'm hired to do breakdowns or schedules for producers based on a screenplay they have in development, I'm always blown away. Why? After reading the screenplay several times and 'tagging it', there are SO MANY SCENES ABOUT NOTHING. Followed closely by crap that is unfilmable.

These 'breakdowns' are also referred to as 'boarding', a process of organizing the film into a literal or theoretical shoot. This helps in budgeting, of course, and logistics...really, it's all about how much money are we spending? Some of you may know this, but a board is made up showing the scene numbers, the characters, physical elements (cars, stunts, effects etc). The scene is identified by both number and by logline, a description of the scene just sufficient for its ID eg., Johnny looks at the map. Will Dixon falls down the stairs. I was preparing one this weekend and have done so many I have lost count. I looked at the board when it was finished, reading the loglines, and saw that three of the scenes had the 'same logline'. Actually, A LOT of the scenes had similar loglines. I re-read and realized that those scenes are indeed about the same thing.

What's my advice? If you can't figure out what the scene is about CUT IT. If it is necessary, than only once.

They say you get to make a movie three times. When you write it, when you shoot it, and when you cut it. I believe one really doesn't start to learn how to write a script until on has been on a set. On the set you learn the difference between what is filmable and what are merely pretty words. Some screenplays I breakdown as a First AD read like a personals column. The descriptions of characters are: beautiful, smart, funny, likes long walks in the park, honest, sexy. Others are about what can be seen out the window in a particular office. Better yet,'She's the kind of girl who....', which you can write all day but neither helps an actor or director or me in helping to implement it. All of these scripts read like begging letters that are trying to please. What's wrong with trying to please? Nothing. But all that gobblygook has worked not to please the audience but some co-dependent or mysterious 'other' that has little baring on the story.

Another says it better than I....

A script is a succession of scenes, each scene must end so that the protagonist is thwarted in his/her goal - so that he/she is forced to go to the next scene to get what they want. That's it . That's all you really need. The scene need not be ' interesting', 'meaningful' 'revelatory of character', and so on, all of these are synonyms for 'it stinks on ice'. - David Mamet

Another peice of advice: Use some of your development money to do a preliminary breakdown and have your screenplay 'boarded'. It'll be an eye-opener in terms of what is filmable and give you a fighting chance to see it going beyond gathering dust on your book shelf.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Show, Don't Tell

One of my favourite movies is Michael Mann's "Thief" . It is from a different time, 1981 to be exact. Today, hard boiled noir and thrillers have been devalued by the routine repetition of the same dumb chases, sex scenes, and gunfights. Not that I don't like that in a cheap sort of way, but "Thief" is completely out of the ordinary. And there is not aCGI car crash or stunt in sight. Then again, filmmakers did not have those tools at their disposal. So am I just being nostalgic? No. There are other reasons.

The movie stars James Caan and as the movie opens, he's been free four years, and lives in Chicago. He is a highly skilled professional thief -- a trade he learned behind bars from Okla (Willie Nelson), a master thief. The film's opening sequence establishesCaan's expertise as he cracks a safe with a portable drill and an 8,000 degree thermal lance used to cut through a nearly impregnable safe. Some of the bit parts are played by real-life, highly successful jewel thieves, who acted as consultants. And their presence informs the superb dialogue, as every word rings true. To add to the fun, Mann cast real ex-cops to play the criminals. The movie leads up to one final caper, a $4 million diamond heist in Los Angeles, and then it ends in a series of double crosses and a rain of violence.

I keep going back to this movie every few years for several reasons. One is that "Thief" is able to convince us that it knows its subject, knows about the methods and criminal personalities of its characters. Another is that it's well cast: Every important performance in this movie successfully creates a plausible person, instead of the stock-company supporting characters we might have expected. And the film moves at a taut pace, creating tension and anxiety through very effective photography and a wound-up, pulsing score by Tangerine Dream. Though only slightly dated, it is still one of those soundtracks I'll write to, along with Vangelis' 'Blade Runner'.

Thief was Michael Mann's first theatrical film, and all the elements that characterize his later style (and this is a very stylistic film) are dominant. I love the story . It is simple and well-realized. The opening sequence and it's music remain one of my favourites. Visual story telling at it's best with so little dialogue you could count the lines on one hand. Something I still struggle to aspire to in my own screenplays. We participate with the Thief's plight and the movie shows instead of telling. That's why it still stands up today. The first ten minutes are posted above, but do yourself a favour. Find. Rent it and enjoy it on a bigger screen than this.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Cold Weather and Boneheaded Predictions

It's playoff time and with it comes the weather. Rain and hopefully snow. I wish I were at Taylor Field (fuck the Mosaic-pesticide-Stadium moniker that hurts my ears every time it's spoken) with a thermos full of hot rum. Here are my predictions this week. Last week I was awful (1-3). but, for the most part I've been dead-on this year. But...BUT...the playoffs can be a whole different world in the CFL and making predictions about it seem boneheaded. Here it goes anyway...

1:00 PM Saturday, November 08, 2008

This game could go either way, but I was not impressed with the play of Edmonton last week against Montreal team that sat a lot of starters. It was an exhibition game in my books, and as I've stated before, I can't recall a first place finisher EVER benefiting from sitting starters in the past five years. Especially in the playoffs. It has amounted the stale play and horrible choking when the time counts. But more on Montreal later, onward. In a playoff game with lousy weather, we all know the running game can be the difference between winning and losing. For Edmonton to win, they need to stop the combination of Fred Reid and Joe Smith. Both running backs from September through October have played very well. If either of these backs have a big afternoon, Winnipeg can beat Edmonton. Of the six teams that are in the playoffs, it is the Eskimos that have displayed the highest level of inconsistency complimented by poor coaching. When you look at what happened between the two teams this season, they split their season series with each team winning at home. Can Winnipeg establish Reid and Smith? Can Ray play as well this week as he did last week? Of these two questions, I think the latter is more likely to have a positive answer. Ray outshines Glenn in this one. And I HATE the Eskimos. Edmonton moves on to the East Final in Montreal. Prediction: Edmonton 26, Winnipeg 17.

Final: Edmonton 29. Winnipeg 21. The score flatters Winnipeg. Could a home playoff game and it's fans and team look more flat even at kick-off? Milt Stegall and The Press say Kevin Glenn considers himself part of the leagues under-appreciated QBs. Well, those top tier QBs win games when it counts and you, Mr. Glenn, have not EARNED that title. This attitude is what awarded Glenn a trade and release from Saskatchewan years ago. He thinks he deserves things without earning them. Edmonton rightfully moves on. Winnipeg should fire it's rabid/asshole coach who only inspires flaccid play and bring in fresh eyes on a mouthy bunch who do not understand hard work.

4:30 PM Saturday, November 08, 2008

Oh boy. Toss a coin. And why the hell are the Lions considered under-dogs? You can read all the papers and the pundits about this game. The Roughriders have the definite advantage playing at home, as they have a unique energy level at Taylor Field. The energy level will be higher than ever before, along with heavy drinking and an ugly attitude in the stands. Police and security have been tripled for this game. The Lions have won two-of-three against the Riders this season. Going into this game, there is a nasty point to make, and that is the Lions have recently won in Regina and were pelted with booze as a result. Riders' quarterback Michael Bishop is going to make some mistakes. The Lions have the best defensive line in the CFL this season. The Riders defensive front four has looked long in the tooth. Chick is back, but will he make a difference? If Bishop repeats his four interception performance of last week's game against Toronto, this one will be over very quickly and B.C. will move on to the West Final in Calgary by half-time. You've heard it a thousand friggin' times, but to win games, you eliminate the mistakes. For the Lions, their biggest challenge will be the Rider defence and more specifically, the linebackers. The Riders' linebackers and defensive linemen need to be ready to play because it will be up to them to win this game.The Lions' combination of Buck Pierce and Jarious Jackson provides an edge at quarterback over Bishop. What is NOT being discussed are special teams. Neither team set the house on fire in this regard, but Saskatchewan is probably the worst in the League in terms of coverage and returns. My hands tremble as I write this and I will be flogged by Saskatchewan pals, but in the end, I think the Lions will advance to next week's final. Prediction: BC 33, Riders 28.

Final: BC 33. Saskatchewan 12. To say the Riders under-performed is an understatement. The better team a long shot. I'm not surprised and you have proof by reading the above. Eric Tillman is not a dumb man. Look for Miller and him to recruit or sign a major QB. Solidify an aging offensive and defensive line. The special teams fumbled twice tonight and Micheal Bishop's career is over as a starting QB. The rest are all stars.

Happy betting and Your Welcome!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

EAGLES OF DEATH METAL - I Want You So Hard (Boy's Bad News)


Eagles of Death Metal Gets a Heart On

While I've been working on ' Final Girl', I can't top listening to this band. Eagles of Death Metal is was formed by Jesse Hughes and Josh Homme. Despite the name, Eagles of Death Metal is not a death metal band. Josh Homme inspired him to write music that he thought would be The Eagles crossed with death metal, and their debut album was the result. The sound of the band is a combination of bluegrass slide guitar mixed with stripper drum beats and Canned Heat vocals.

EODM's latest fabulous weapon, 'Heart On', is a top-secret music missile, a sonic warhead sexually tipped for her pleasure, shot from the deck of USS Mantastic Fantastic.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

45 RPM

Here's a cool little 'coming-of-age' movie called ' 45 rpm'. I worked on the show last year and it should be showing up near you soon. Was I damn excited to work with Michael Madsen? Oh yeah! As First AD, I hid my silly fan boy awe. A pro and a fantastic guy.
Here's the synopsis:

It’s the Autumn of 1960. Fifteen-year-old Parry Tender doesn’t know where to turn. Hassled by the local cop, Parry wants out of his small town hell. He’s lived in Goose Lake all his live. It isn’t much; about two hundred folks in all give or take. It’s five hundred miles north of nowhere which to the satisfaction of the
United States Air Force makes it only five hundred miles south of the “DEWLINE”,
a continent wide chain of early warning radar stations constructed across
Canada’s Arctic during the paranoia of the Cold War. With its four-thousand-foot
gravel runway, Saskatchewan’s Goose Lake is the perfect spot to airlift men and
materials into Canada’s frozen north. It’s all very secret – all very boring – and no
one wants out more than Parry.

Parry isn’t asking for much. He only wants a little more that he already has which
is an old Cree grandfather named Peter George who isn’t even kin, and his best
and only friend Luke, a thirteen year old girl who looks and acts more like a boy.
Parry knows the dangers of small town life. Suicide cured his mother’s troubles,
and his father? Well, that’s another story.

When a fluke atmospheric condition allows a fifty thousand watt Manhattan radio
station to pump its infectious rock’n’roll signal into Canada’s far north and out
through the small paper speaker of Parry’s RCA radio, Luke can’t believe their
luck. WABC – New York, 770 on the AM dial is running a radio contest. The
winner and a guest will be flown to New York City to attend Alan Freed’s Fourth
of July rock’n’roll party at the Brooklyn Paramount. It all seems simple enough.
Parry and Luke will win their escape from Goose Lake. But when Debbie Baxter,
the pretty daughter of an American Army Air Force Major steels Parry’s heart, no
one is certain what will happen next.

Check out the movie's website if you want to know more here.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Slashers and Back Roads

A Final Girl as defined by Carol J. Clover in her book 'Men, Women and Chainsaws': The final girl is a horror film (particularly slasher film) trope that specifically refers to the last woman or girl alive to confront the killer, ostensibly the one left to tell the story. 

The final girl is typically sexually unavailable or virginal, avoiding the vices of the victims (sex, narcotic usage, etc). She sometimes has a unisex name (e.g. Teddy, Billie, Georgie, Sidney). Occasionally the Final Girl will have a shared history with the killer. The final girl is the "investigating consciousness" of the film, moving the narrative forward and as such, she exhibits intelligence, curiosity, and vigilance.

I'm diving into another round of 'Final Girl' this week, based on notes from my collaborator, Noel Baker (Hard Core Logo). Killer first act. Nasty, fun third act. Guess where the problems are? Yep. Second Act. But I look forward to it. It's chance to fix plot holes, flesh-out motives, speed up the pace...and knock-off more characters. In other words, more layers to this blood-soaked layer cake. For obvious reasons, that's all I can reveal about this script. There is Movie Central development money behind it.

The script is brimming with sex and violence - dismembered limbs, buckets of blood, and gratuitous pantie shots. But under that (the surface elements, not the panties) is a sly sense of humour and 'girl-power'. It's also about small towns.

Growing up in Saskatchewan I can identify with my female protagonist. Small towns and two small cities - the isolation, repression, and all the other plights of being on the prairies. My childhood is haunted by racists, gun-crazy hunters, drunk hordes of football fans, John Deere caps, old high school chums and endless stretches ofunlit gravel back roads. And above all - the fear that one will be eternally trapped in a rural wasteland dying of boredom and routine. But the best of the slasher medium is all about confronting our fears with humour, absurdity, and over-the-top sensibilities. Final Girl taps into that, turning a tired genre on it's head. You may have noticed there is a blogspot in the sidebar called Final Girl. No relation, but check it out if your a slasher genre fan. It's fun to read.

Now, onto that second act.

Monday, November 3, 2008

One Blood Shake and a Side-Order of Blame

And quick please. What am I and a few other 'content creators' blogging about? Well, check out this article about a killer filmmaker. I love horror movies, thrillers and pulp...but here's part of a real story from today's newspapers:

Edmonton filmmaker heads to court in script-written murder-case


November 2, 2008 at 6:44 PM EST

EDMONTON — In a case police call a diabolically cruel convergence of art and life, local filmmaker Mark Twitchell will appear in court tomorrow charged with first-degree murder.

The 29-year-old fervid fan of the psycho-slasher TV show Dexter is accused of luring now-missing JohnnyAltinger to a garage and killing him in a scenario that resembled Mr. Twitchell's latest film project – in which a man is abducted, tortured and hacked to bits.

“We have a lot of information to suggest he definitely idolizes Dexter and a lot of information that he tried to emulate him during this incident,” alleged Edmonton police homicide Detective Mark Anstey.

Dexter, a program on the Showtime network, follows Dexter Morgan, who studies blood spatters for Miami police but leads a secret life as a serial killer, hacking up victims in the name of vigilante justice.

One recent comment on Mr. Twitchell's Facebook social networking site noted he “has way too much in common with Dexter.”

Wow!? Not since my induction into horror screenwriting, marked by a secret blood sabbath and ceremonial branding, have I seen anything more painful. Not only does this old chest-nut of blaming the usual triggers sell papers, but some actually believe it. The usual 'triggers' are blamed for someone with bad fucking wiring. In 1957 it was comic code, Rock and Roll in the 50s and 60s. Rap lyrics in the 90s and now video games, and today...Dexter. As always, the entertainment industry will see collateral damage. It's all done in the name of protecting children, but in reality it's just an insidious form of blaming something deeply troubled in an individual. While I'm sure it's true, he was obsessed with all these things, to blame a TV show is founded on ignorance, fear and dubious evidence.

Let me ask you, my fellow horrorphiles, what springs to mind when I use the word 'romance'? Knowing next to nothing about romance stories myself but full of prejudices anyway, my gut conjures up images of lurid Fabio muscles, heaving bosoms and Shatner-esque line delivery. It has hardly brought out the romantic in audiences and made them sex-starved. But another article bags to differ. This one in The Winnipeg Free Press:

Teen pregnancies tied to tastes for sexy TV shows
November 3rd, 2008
CHICAGO - Groundbreaking research suggests that pregnancy rates are much higher among teens who watch a lot of TV with sexual dialogue and behavior than among those who have tamer viewing tastes.

"Sex and the City," anyone? That was one of the shows used in the research. The new study is the first to link those viewing habits with teen pregnancy, said lead author Anita Chandra, a Rand Corp. behavioral scientist. Teens who watched the raciest shows were twice as likely to become pregnant over the next three years as those who watched few such programs.

Of course media is convenient. I'm curious to see these serial killer and sex-starved teens histories explored. Family influence (or lack of it), peer influence, inner emptiness, lack of a moral compass, economic background and histories of mental illness should be the first place to start. But for now, the entertainment industry will do. Until some journalists and 'experts' actually start REALLY exploring and actually dig further, all you can take from it is another sad case that will be forgotten in a few days. At least, until the trial where the same half-assed theories rear their ugly heads once again. Maybe it's a savage brain stew that involves all of the above. But, for me, some of us humans just aren't 'hooked-up right' and there's no figuring it out.

I think horror entertainment can empower us to endure the hardships of life, which we all face without exception, whether we be literature snobs, Trekkies, or devotees of bodice-rippers, monster-shlock, or Clue. And please do what the supposed experts cannot: take the time to separate the issues instead of lumping them together into bad journalism and histrionic jumble. Be sure to acquaint yourself with the players while your at it.

And in case your wondering and have trouble distinguishing between reality and fiction, that bit about ceremonial branding and blood sabbath was a lie based on a stereotype. Now, off on another draft of my horror script. And as one of my favourite authors, Hunter S. Thompson said, "Welcome to The New Dumb."

For other opinions go here.
And here.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Surveillance - international trailer

A movie I loved working on with Jennifer Lynch...heck...all of the cast and crew. Check it out...Popout

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Canadian Feature Film Solution? (Part 3)

Part three of three. Again, this article by John Harkness was first published in 1995, is a bit dated. But what it has to say is not. As usual, I have interjected with my own two-bits.

3. Federal and Provincial Governments Should Stop Funding Feature-Film Production

My fingers tremble as I process these words. I can’t believe that I’m about to say what I’m about to say. Well, God hates cowards.

The governments, federal and provincial, should stop funding feature-film production. The Canadian government has been pouring money into this financial dry hole for about a quarter of a century now, and exactly what have we gotten for the millions “invested” – a film “industry” that lies continually in intense care, tubes running in and out of its body, dozens of specialists running in and out of the room to monitor its pulse, blood pressure. It’s a Karen Anne Quinlin of a film industry that one one’s willing to pull the plug on.

I once spoke with a producer who had made films on both sides of the border, and he said to me that in the U.S. industry, to be successful as a producer, at some point one must satisfy an audience. It may be an audience plunking down $8 to see the movie in a theatre, it may be an audience renting a video for $3, it may be people turning into you movie when it shows up on television, but an audience must be satisfied or the film is a failure.

In Canada, he said, you never have to satisfy an audience. You have to satisfy Telefilm Canada, the Ontario Film Development Corporation, the CBC, the National Film Board of Canada.

That is, you have to satisfy a group of well-meaning, highly educated cultural bureaucrats. This means three or four things. It means that a filmmaker would be far likelier to get approval for a move that espouses whatever liberal cause is fashionable at the moment than for anything truly audacious, unsettling or interesting. I suspect that the entire career of the terminally tedious Anne Wheeler is based on the fact that she’s a “two-fer” – a woman director and a regional director in one package, fulfilling a big chunk of whatever unconscious quota system exists in the minds of the culture-crats. (and that system exists. A few years ago, I was talking to one of the principals in Deepa Mehta’s Sam and Me, who told they had a devil of a time getting funding because, someone at Telefilm Canada told them, Telefilm already had an Indian film that year.)

When something daring comes through the English-Canadian offices of Telefilm, like John Greyson’s Zero Patience or Srivinas Krishna’s Masala, one can bet that it is being funded not because it is daring, but because it fulfills some minority quotas.

Why does the government fund films? If the intent was to create a viable, working film industry that creates products that audiences want to see, then almost three decades of government funding has been an abject failure in English Canada. Good films have been made, but I would suggest that most of the best films have been made by people so obsessed with their visions that they would have been made whether the government funded them or not. People who need to make the films will make films, whether they get a grant or not. And people who are successful at making films that they have to make will continue to make them.

The government has never done the one thing essential to create a working film industry. It has never guaranteed Canadian films theatre space. How can we have a working film industry without control of the exhibition? On those occasions in the past three decades when the various federal government have made noises about quotas or box-office levies, Jack Valenti, Hollywood’s lobbyist/enforcer, has shown up and got the government to back down.

If the government really wants to create a viable film industry, they shouldn’t be funding production. They should build a theatre chain that would let people see Canadian films in an environment comparable to that in which they see Hollywood films. Perhaps 60 screens to start, and then match distributors dollar for dollar on promotion and advertising. Then we’d see if there’s any sort of market for Canadian films in Canada, rather than who is committed to getting grants, bridging loans and development money.

Here's where I differ, but times have changed since this article. I don't believe theatres are the answer anymore. Canada lost that battle in the 1930s when we sold our theatre chains to the U.S. (on a promise that Hollywood would make Canuck themed-pictures). DVD, BluRay and other formats are accounting for at least 60% of a features revenue anyway. Technology has opened up some opportunities. Even Hollywood films are not making enough dough at the theatre to cover their budgets or marketing expense. It is now treated as an expensive form of advertising dominated by 'tent-pole' $100 million to 200 million dollar movies.

And do I really want a Crown corporation involved in how my film is marketed? That's something filmmakers should be asking. Ask farmers how much they liked the Wheat Board running their business for them.

When it comes to concluding these three parts, a better writer than I has the best quote as to whybureaucracies like Telefilm and others exist. And as long as they exist in their present form, we can expect more of the same.

A film is, in fact, only a courtesy under this system. It functions, as do the endless and proliferating committees of Government, as a repository of bureaucratic power. This power exists, and can exist, only in potential - for should the committee ever come to conclusions, its task, and so its operation as a bureaucratic fiefdom, would cease. So the bureaucrat, studio or otherwise, learns not only of the inadvisability of any test or completion but also of such conclusions absolute foolishness. This lesson, we see, was learned very well by the folks at Eron et al. - executives who saw power to grow wealthy stemmed from the brave decision to stop making anything at all."
- David Mamet (Bambi versus Godzilla)

Reproduced from the archives of Take One Magazine with permission. Web

Copyright © 2007 - All rights reserved.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Canadian Feature Film Solution? (Part 2)

Part two of three as we explore John Harkness' article. In his second 'modest proposal', he explores film festivals. My thoughts are at the end.

Three Modest Proposals for the Canadian Film "Industry"
By John Harkness, from Take One No. 7, Winter 1995

2. Stop Relying on Film Festivals

The idea has grown that the best way to launch one’s film is to get it properly positioned in a major Canadian film festival. At least two or three times a year, some poor neglected filmmaker complains that the selection committee at the Toronto International Film Festival’s Perspective Canada program has some personal or profound lack of taste that has led them to ignore said filmmaker’s magnum opus. They’ve done you a big favour.

It is actually a terrible idea to launch your film in English Canada at a film festival, for the following reasons:

Film festivals have evolved into a weird, self-contained exhibition circuit. It is almost possible for a filmmaker to spend a year or so trucking around the world, being stroked and interviewed at festivals from Cannes to Ouagadougou to Toronto to Sudbury to Vancouver to Delhi, from Tokyo to Telluride, from Park City in January to Havana in December. And what does the filmmaker get for all this, apart from a lot of frequent flyer miles and a certain exhaustion at the sound of his or her own voice and cosmic jet lag?

Not much – some festivals have a certain cachet in their own market – a prize at Cannes will help a film in Europe, though Jesus of Montreal tanked when it opened in Paris immediately after Cannes. But does a film’s presence in the Toronto festival add to its credibility or salability when it comes to getting into a Cineplex in Windsor? I doubt it, frankly. I suspect people outside the film-festival circuit are far less impressed by film festival honours than people inside the film-festival circuit.

But what about all the publicity? Let me show you that one looks from the point of view of someone who does the interviewing. A film gets launched at Cannes – Atom Egoyan’s The Adjuster, say, or David Wellington’s I Love a Man in Uniform. The Canadian press pays appropriate attention, talks about the film, interviews the filmmakers and/or stars, such as they are, and files stories home to a grateful public. For four months, nothing happens, and the film fades from memory because the public has had, afterall, no chance to see the film that they have heard about.

In September, the film gets a gala spot at Toronto, or a good spot in Perspective Canada, and the dog and pony show starts all over again. At this point, the papers do their profiles, the film has its gala, and then finally, a week, two weeks, three months, six months later, the film finally opens, with a small advertising budget and one screen in Toronto’s Carlton Cinemas or the smallest of the Cumberlands, and we in the press are offered the film one more time, at which point we are heartily sick of it. We are not your publicists. The distributors get shocked when we in the press don’t get all wet at the thought of putting together a big spread on a picture that we’ve already covered, sometimes twice. It has become, before opening, an old movie.

The desire to see one’s film play in a film festivals screws up the release schedules big time, with all the independent distributors trying to get their films out in the three weeks following the Toronto festival, at the exact moment when their natural audience is really tired from two weeks of film festivaling.

Finally, here’s something practical to think about. During the festival, people who really want to see the film will see the film – two shows in 300-seat theatre are 600 tickets, and no one penny of it returns to the film or its distributor. Do you help the film by giving away seats?

Makes sense to me. I've done the festival thing. Rejected by Toronto, but excepted in Montreal...and New York. I was so broke after making my production and going to festivals, that I had to borrow $20.00 for the airport fee in order to get back home. Next time out the gate, my plan is to tour with my next project (and hopefully my cast can come along because they have a stake in this as well). A punk-rock/garage band form of touring combined with the Internet and new media. Fold that in with good old fashioned leg-work will help connect with a Canadian public who has not a sniff about they're helping to finance. Nor getting to see it. If I'm going to go broke doing the festival 'fuck-off', why not do it on my own terms?

While festivals maybe a form of marketing, it's becoming prohibitive, political and inbred. Marketing is the key here, and in Harkness' next modest proposal, perhaps the most controversial of all, he discusses why the Canadian government should get out of funding production and get into helping with marketing.

Very interesting. The Rider game's on in an hour. Beer, football, food. Later.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

After All the Broken Bones, The Riders Will be Playing in B.C.

Here are my predictions for this weekend. I have shamefully neglected them, due to life and work circumstances. Here they are:

7:30 PM Thursday, October 30, 2008

One team has everything to play for, the other, will be flogged in the off-season, both in terms of players and management. Michael Bishop will be a very pissed-off and motivated QB on Thursday night. He did not feel as though he should have been traded and will try to prove the Argonauts were dead wrong on that decision. A 12-6 season would be a major accomplishment. Frankly, I thought the Riders would go 9 and 9 this year after all the changes. Saskatchewan 29 Toronto 15

Final: Saskatchewan 45. Toronto 38. How does one explain this game. Besides the soul-sucking commentators and Skydome, I can only say that both defenses looked friggin' awful. Each team seemed to be deciding on who was more incompetent. I'm glad the Riders won, but

9:00 PM Friday, October 31, 2008

This is an important game for both teams because neither wants to enter the playoffs with two consecutive losses; Especially Edmonton. The 55-9 loss in Regina was similar to the 40-4 loss in Montreal back in Week 13. The Eskimos have allowed 512 points this year, and in my books is straddled with a lousy coach...second only to Doug Berry. The key to stopping or slowing down Montreal is not to concentrate on the quarterback, AnthonyCalvillo, but to play the receivers tough and force Calvillo to make difficult throws. More important for Edmonton to move into the playoffs with a win, but I doubt they'll get it. All year I've been saying Edmonton is over-rated, and they are. Montreal 36 Edmonton 27

Final: Edmonton 37. Montreal 14. Could I be more wrong on this? Montreal sat 6 starters, including Calvillo. An exhibition game for the most part. I wonder about first place finishers sitting starters? I can't recall in the past five years where that has helped in the East and West Finals.

2:00 PM Saturday, November 01, 2008

At 7 wins and 11 losses it has not been a good year for the Bombers. But if they want to dominate Edmonton the way that Saskatchewan did they need another good game to enhance their confidence. Quinton Porter will be the number one QB come June of 2009. The Ticats will want this one to end as fast as possible. The Bombers are playing with a playoff purpose. Winnipeg 31 Hamilton 18

Final. Winnipeg 44. Hamilton 30. Off season for the Ti-Cats. Send Printers packing and get two better receivers and they're liable to make the playoffs next year. Winnipeg plays Edmonton in the East-Semi Final in the battle of poor coaching.

5:00 PM Saturday, November 01, 2008

It will be interesting to see how Stamps head coach John Hufnagel handles his players as compared to WallyBuono. I think that Buono plays everybody all game long. I think that Hufnagel gets a good half out of his key starters. BC should win this one because Calgary doesn't have any QB close to Henry Burris in ability...and he'll be pulled by half-time The last place that the Lions want to play a semi-final game is in Regina. The home of theRoughriders has the best fans in CFL football and their drunken/fist-fighting energy transfers to the players makes a difference. BC plays hard all game while Calgary plays it safe in the second half. BC 29 Calgary 24.

Again. Wrong about this one. Hufnagel actually got great performances out of his back-ups for the second half. Buck Peirce helped by throwing three stupid interceptions...and he looks hurt. Expect Jarious Jackson to start as BC travels into hostile Rider territory. Who would have thought?

The Riders will be heading to B.C. Place. I hate the idea, but that's what's going to happen. Your welcome and happy betting.

The Canadian Feature Film Solution? (Part 1)

The following is part one of three. The article you are about to read was first published in 1995. I'm reassessing it because it seems just as relevant today, as did thirteen years ago (even though some of the film references are dated). I've put my two-bits in at the end. Why? Because it's my blog. If you want to read the article in it's entirety, go here. Anyway, here is Part One.

Three Modest Proposals for the Canadian Film "Industry"
By John Harkness, from Take One No. 7, Winter 1995

After looking at it for a long time, I’ve decided that Canadian cinema is just fine. We make exceptional films like Jesus of Montreal, Dead Ringers and 32 Short Films about Glenn Gould. We make interesting movies like Masala. We make deadly dull films like The Lotus Eaters and The Burning Season. In the long run, it doesn’t matter much what anyone says about the film industry, which will continue to lumber along, much as it has for the past decade or so.

Instead, I’ve decided to offer a series of proposals that I think would do the film business and the Canadian soul a world of good. They will do doubt be ignored. I prefer to think of myself as being ahead of the time.

1. Close All Film Schools for at Least Five Years

We have more filmmakers than we have projects for them to make, yet our film schools keep churning out little baby directors.

Jean Renoir, Kenji Mizoguchi, David Lean, John Ford, Howard Hawks, Orson Welles, Steven Spielberg, Federico Fellini, Billy Wilder, David Cronenberg – none of these people went to film school. More great films have been made by people who never saw the inside of a film school than by people with graduate degrees infilmmaking.

I also have considerable doubts about what they are being taught. A few years ago, a friend of mine was working for the Academy of Canadian Cinema on their director-observer program that took young filmmaking students and put them on the sets of actual, in-production films. During the course of interviewing the applicants, she discovered that an inordinate number of students wanted to be the next Patricia Rozema. The idea that there were dozens of little filmmaking students out there, waiting to unleash their version of White Room on the world steals my sleep.

But what, you ask, about people who really want to make films? How can we deprive them of an educational opportunity? People who really want to make films will make films. If they are truly driven to make films, they will find a way. Personally, I’m with the American writer Flannery O’Connor, who, when asked if he thought that university writing programs stifled writers, said that it didn’t stifle enough of them. The same thing is true of filmmakers.

Broadly speaking, universities have two objectives. The first is to develop an educated human being capable of thought and ready to contribute to the well being of society. The second is to g
give a person the necessary skills to make a living.

Canada’s best and most successful filmmakers tend to make a film every three years or so. Denys Arcnad, one of our most successful serious filmmakers, took four years to get from Jesus of Montreal to Love and Human Remains. Film schools give students all kinds of skills, then turns them loose on a world where they can scrape together bits of money to make films that will never be seen. Before she hit with I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing, one could find Patricia Rozema’s name in the credits of one of those kiddie shows (either “The Elephant Show” or “Polka Dot Door”) as third assistant director. I once asked her what the third A.D. did on a show like this, and it turned out that she was basically a kid wrangler. For this you need to go to film school?

When I say film schools, I include the Canadian Film Centre, whose chief contributions to Canadian cinema was its first class, which gutted Canadian cinema of a generation’s worth of superb documentary filmmakers – Janice Cole, Brigitte Berman, Peter Raymont – who have produced damn little since their tour through NormanJewison’s Ă‰cole de Haute Schmooze. The Centre’s most prolific graduate following six years of existence is Gail Harvey, whose two films, The Shower (aptly described by the Toronto Star’s Norm Wilner as “No Exit stage byMolson’s”) and the “erotic thriller” Cold Sweat would be an embarrassment if anyone had seen them.

The American Film Institute program on which the Canadian Film Centre models itself works because there is a large and centralized film industry to absorb its graduates. The Canadian Film Centre has had almost 100 residents since its birth, and there is no industry in Canada capable of absorbing that many filmmakers, producers, writers and artistes.

I went to film school in Regina and Calgary. One was a University, the other a tech school. From a film school perspective, I guess that's balanced. I also did not take out a huge loan, only what I needed and had to work to pay the rest. What am I saying? Skip film school. And like Harkness' article, it's not that they are bad, it's what and who they are churning out. I know I might be pissing on people's dreams here, but if you want to work you need a skill a production can use when starting out.

First ADing paid my bills and allowed me to buy a house. Writing and Directing has not, but I'm making progress in these areas after 12 years. One can even make an argument that film school can never teach you to tell a story. You don't want to learn that from them anyway, or all you'll do is tell stories like everyone else. You learn to tell stories by telling stories. You learn by doing.

Film schools use a model that is Hollywood. They do not teach you how to make a movie when you have no money and no crew. They teach you how to make a big movie. Nothing wrong with thinking big, but get real. You'll make your first film with next to nothing.

It is true that you can make contacts. But that will only get you through the door, but it won't keep you there. You must have something concrete to offer. If I had to do it all over again, I'd take my hard-earned dough and make something of it. Grab a camera and some like-minded folks and make your movie/short/doc or animated film. You don't need permission from anyone or any institution to do that.

Next post will be an exploration of film festivals. Are they of any use and why are there so many of them? Mr. Harkness has some interesting ideas about that as well.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Beef and Glory Holes

"The difference between the right word and the almost right the difference between lightning bug and lightning." Mark Twain said that, so let me clarify a few things about my previous entry 'Killjoys and Dog Shit". I was disappointed with the WORDS in the headline, "Gross's Passion No Porky's" in the October 21, 2008 print edition of the Globe and Mail. It seemed mean-spirited by design. Not the sort of stuff I expect nor desire from my choice of national newspaper that claims to be Canada's best...if by the best, we mean Central Canada.

Let's get one thing straight. I'm not blindly endorsing Paul Gross's "Passchendaele". I'm not saying anyone should not criticize a movie because it's Canadian. I'm not saying 'go to a Canadian movie because it's good for you, just like eating your veggies.' I DID state in my previous entry, that if a movie is crap, it's crap. My beef is with the article, it's wording and the pissy attitude at The Globe. By the end of James Adams's article, I was confused. Why? Because "Passchendaele" is not an 80's relic like Porky's? "Passchendaele" is not seeking the same audience as those who vend films for beer-swilling University boys who find sticking their dicks through holes in the shower wall as a source of amusement.

What have we learned from this article? That apples are not oranges? With logic like that, I look forward to The Globe's future article on why Canadian beef is not apple pie, and therefore fails to be worth eating.

If you'd like to see another opinion, go to Jim Henshaw's blogpot.

Now, for the down-side. Money. "Passchendaele" will most certainly have huge problems making it's money back, and most likely will not. Not ever. That makes it a failure, something that should not be rewarded. Unfortunately, we keep rewarding film and television failure in this country. In Mr. Henshaw's blog, he blamesTelefilm for this veil of tears, and I'm inclined to agree.

He has four rules to improve Telefilm. Here they are, with my own two-bits to improve those rules:

Rule One: Anybody who wants to make a movie gets $100,000 from Telefilm. No track records. No rigid application dates. No binders of support material. You got an idea you get 100 grand and one year to make your movie. Telefilm keeps the same budget so when that many hundred grands are gone, the wicket is closed.

You'll need a script and a budget, to show where you are spending the money. No mystery 'juries' assessing a project's merits. If Telefilm wants to behave like a 'studio', then it must make decisions and stop trying to be everything to everyone. Also, if Telefilm continues to back failures, then we have a personnel problem, and people are let to pursue other opportunities. This should not be run like a social safety-net.

Rule Two: You don't make your movie you have to pay the money back and you never get to apply for anything ever again.

Can't improve on that.

Rule Three: You make your movie but it can't get released or doesn't earn its money back, you get to put your name in the hat for a bonus draw of the final hundred grand envelope next year. Hey, it's showbiz, not everything is going to work, but we're also not here just to keep your doors open anymore.

A lottery may not be the best answer, but at least gets rid of the regional bickering and the same faces getting dough to put out another failure.

Rule Four: You make your movie and it makes money. You automatically get $500,000 to make another one. If that one makes money, you get a million the next time around and so on.

Sounds fair. Rewarding success. And that's what it should be about. "Passchendaele" has story problems. It was expensive to make. It's Paul Gross' second kick at the can and there shouldn't be any more if this movie does not make money. But kicking sand at it before it's done it's run, by a newspaper that already had it's chance at a review? That's bullshit.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Killjoys and Dog Shit.

" Sometimes it appears to me that Canada, even an intact Canada, is not so much a country as a continental suburb, where Little Leaguers govern ineffectually, desperate for American approval"
- Mordecai Richler

You can debate the above quote, but I would most certainly put the Canadian media in that category, especially this week.
Here is an article that appeared in the Globe and Mail this week. Monday, Oct. 20th to exact.

Gross's passion no Porky's


October 20, 2008

Actor-director Paul Gross's First World War epic Passchendaele failed to notch a breakout hit for Canadian film at the box office this weekend. The movie was the second highest-grossing film in Canada on the weekend, earning an estimated $940,000 from its debut on 202 Canadian screens, according to its distributor Alliance Films. The movie had a budget of approximately $20-million as well as at least a $2-million marketing budget.

Howard Lichtman, the veteran Toronto-based box-office analyst, said Passchendaele's performance wasn't "an unmitigated success ... but in perspective it did just fine," since it's aimed at an older audience and is being released in the fall, traditionally a time for either "art films" or "adult-oriented fare."

"Is it a commercial blockbuster like a Quantum ofSolace [the new James Bond film opening Nov. 14]? It's not - but I don't think it was intended to be," Lichtman noted. "If you take the just-under million dollars it generated and divide that by the average ticket price, there's still an awful lot of people that went to see a Canadian piece of history. Which isn't too bad."

"We're thrilled with the box-office," said Carrie Wolfe, Alliance vice-president of marketing, publicity and promotion, yesterday in Toronto. "Canadians across the country have embraced the film," which opened this year's Toronto International Film Festival.
Print Edition - Section Front

Passchendaelewas bested for top spot by Max Payne, a new Mark Wahlberg action vehicle shot mostly in Toronto earlier this year. No specific Canadian weekend gross was available yesterday for Payne but Box OfficeMojo estimated its North American receipts were $18-million (U.S.) from a total of 3,376 screens. Using whatLichtman calls "the 10-times factor" - that is, movies in the U.S. tend to have, on average, 10 times the box-office of Canadian releases - then it's likely Max Payne opened on 250-300 screens in Canada and earned $1.5-$1.8-million here.

It appears Passchendaele isn't en route to surpass Porky's (1982) or 2006's Bon Cop, Bad Cop as a Canadian box-office champion. (Porky's earned more than $11-million in theatrical receipts, while Bon Cop's take was more than $11.5-million.)

Nor is it likely to best Men with Brooms which Gross also directed, co-wrote and starred in. That comedy, budgeted at $7.5-million, played on 207 screens on its opening weekend in the winter of 2002 and earned $1.125-million. Its eventual total take from its theatrical release was $3.9-million.

Lichtman, however, said a film's performance needs to be evaluated in terms of its release date and its competition. He suggested the more apt comparison for Passchendaele should be with W., Oliver Stone's biopic of the current U.S. president. W grossed $10.6-million on slightly more than 2,000 screens. "It's right in the range [of the 10-times factor]," said Lichtman, meaning W.'s weekend box-office in Canada probably totalled about $1-million from approximately 210 screens - very close to that of Passchendaele.
Now if this isn't a supremely asshole thing to do. A Canadian movie breaks box office records in it's OPENING WEEKEND, and the headline is negative and goes on to compare it to American product. And it's compared to a teen sex-comedy when it's aiming at a different audience. If this isn't Little League thinking by the entertainment desk at the Globe and Mail, I don't what is. Instead of celebrating our culture, the donkey who writes this article decides to put a negative spin on it, after all...negative sells to the public. Right? 
The headline could have read: 'Passchendaele beats W. at the box office! Passchendaele BEATS dog movie at box office! Now let's be clear. I don't like blind patriotism, nor should you like any show because it's Canadian. If it's crap, it's crap. But publishing facts and statistics like box office and giving it a negative spin like a review is bullshit.
Here is another example of Little Leaguers at work, this time in the National Post:
'Between exotic and obscure': The Office comes to Winnipeg (via LA)
Posted: October 25, 2008, 9:42 AM by Brad Frenette

Winnipeg is about to get a star turn on an upcoming episode of The Office when Michael Scott (Steve Carrell) goes on a business trip to the capital of Manitoba.

With budget constraints in mind, the show decided that instead of shooting on location, they would recreate the city in their Los Angeles studio. According to CP, the show's writers chose the 'Peg "because it struck the right balance 'between exotic and obscure.'"

To help make things more authentic, Lori Walder of Destination Winnipeg sent shipments of Winnipeg curiosities to the producers of the show in L.A., including a variety of Old Dutch chips and beer from Winnipeg brewer Fort Garry.

Walder told CP that she doesn't think the city will become the butt of the jokes: "I don't think that's the humour of The Office... It's really about the characters ... I would be very surprised if the joke is on Winnipeg. I think it's more on Michael."

Manitoba Premier Gary Doer, however, doesn't think that remaking Winnipeg makes a fair substitute for the real place: "We want the real deal. We're real people. We want reality actors here not virtual actors."

The last U.S. TV show to visit Winnipeg was The Simpsons. The show's plot saw Homer visiting the city in search of cheap prescription drugs.

The Winnipeg episode of The Office is scheduled to air November 13 on Global.
This is a friggin' NEWS STORY?! Denis McGrath does a fine job of displaying his displeasure on his blog Dead Things on a Stick, which you can find in the sidebar. Like him, I find this sad and embarrassing. The Canuckmedia only writes a story when Americans notice us. Meanwhile, there is a wicked, funny series called 'Less Than Kind' that shoots in Winnipeg. It employs Canadian cast and crew. And get's actually set and shot here! Oh yeah, and the film 'My Winnipeg' by Guy Maddin played here for FOUR theatres. That's worth celebrating and covering.

I know what your thinking. Cunningham, why so angry about this? Well, after a year with Bill C-10, arts and culture wars and cutting, I'm feeling a bit savage. Our national media is doing no better than Harper, they are feeding the bears who think Canuck entertainment is not worthwhile.

In a recent poll during the election, 60% of Canadians felt that arts and culture are worth supporting. To me that's not good enough. Those of use who work in the cultural industries have a lot of work to do in educating the public about what we do. And these kind of articles undermine the work.

To make sure Canadians remain Canadian, we rely on rules. We threaten legislation to keep American football out. We enact laws to promote Canadian music and give Canadian magazines (and newspapers) a leg up. We tie film and book publishing funds to Canadian content. We set up massive bureaucracy to ensure that Canada gets its fair share of the television and cable world. We establish foreign ownership controls to keep our communications and arts industries away from outside clutches.

And then, having duly protected ourselves from the rest of the world, we sit back and read British mysteries, rentHollywood movies, watch American TV shows, read New York magazine, listen to rock music from London and country music from Nashville on devices manufactured in Asia. 

Anyway. Back to Passchendeale. It is something to celebrate, no matter what you might think of the movie. Because, if it succeeds, all of us in this threatened industry succeed. Get it? It's like the first snow. It's clean and pretty for the first twenty minutes around dawn, but after that it's churned into filthy mush by garbage trucks and shitting dogs. And journalists, this week, and in my books, were the shitting dogs. Hopefully they rise above low-rent gibberish. There is something to celebrate here!