The Guerrilla Rep: American Film Market Distribution Success on No Budget

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In 1909, the first feature film produced in the United States was a four-reel production of Les Miserables. Producers, however, didn’t think that the American public could sit still for any movie lasting more than an hour and, consequently, released it that year in separate one-reel installments between the middle of September and the end of November. Over a century later, movies continue to captivate us…and that’s without even knowing the multiplicity of elements that not only go into getting those films made in the first place but also getting them in front of an audience. Ben Yennie, author of The Guerrilla Rep: American Film Market Distribution Success on No Budget, gives us a peek behind the magic curtain of modern cinema.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: When did you first know that you wanted to play a dynamic part in the making of movies?

A: Despite the fact that I’ve always loved movies, movie making came to me in a very roundabout way. For most of my high school years, I wanted to be a Special Education Teacher. I had spent a lot of time volunteering with the kids in the high school’s program and I thought that was the direction I wanted to head in. At the time, my high school required every senior do a senior project. I had taken a video production course at the beginning of the year and decided that I would do a video on how to take care of one of the kids who was transitioning into a nursing home. While I was editing the video, I realized that I liked the process of filmmaking more than I liked the subject I was making the video on. So, I decided to go to film school.

Q: Did you originally see yourself as an actor, director or producer?

A: As with many others who enter film school, originally I saw myself as a writer/director. I had a knack for writing scenes, but pretty shortly into film school, I realized I was a really talented producer. I loved the social end of producing, and enabling creative people to be creative. As I went further into film school, I found that I understood finance very well for a filmmaker. The processes behind distribution and finance fascinated me. With that in mind, I transitioned more towards the deal-making end of producing. One thing led to another and eventually I ended up as a Producer’s Rep.

Q: Who or what were the influences that crystallized the choice for you?

A: One of the biggest influences was my first producing teacher, Bill Brown. He was also the person who got me to go to the American Film Market the first time. It was really under his tutelage that I took those first steps towards being a producer. There really aren’t many people who go to film school to be a producer. It’s not all that surprising, given most film schools’ producing programs aren’t all that good.

Q: What’s the best industry advice anyone has ever given you?

A: It’s cliché, but it really boils down to this: the film business is really about who you know more than what you know. The film industry relies heavily on social capital. If you are well liked and have good relationships with powerful people in the industry, you’re going to be far more likely to find success. The reason you go to the American Film Market is to meet the people you want to know and establish relationships with them. But remember, while you want to know a lot of people, the real trick is knowing the right people. In order to know the right people, you need to build a good reputation.

Q: So tell us how you made the transition from filmmaker to entrepreneur.

A: Well, if I’m honest, it’s not much of a transition to make. Filmmakers and entrepreneurs have a lot of the same skills. They’re both able to assemble a team, lead that team through long hours, and overcome any obstacle to create a product. However, filmmakers often lack a thorough understanding of marketing, sales, or financing. I happen to be fascinated with these aspects, so the transition was pretty natural. After putting in some time at The Institute for International Film Finance, I was able to see where the existing educational system was lacking and help to create a company that enables filmmakers to pursue a career independent of the studio system.

Q: What do you know now that you didn’t know then?

A: There are two things. The first, success is not a sprint, nor is it linear. It’s a long journey with many ups and downs until eventually something takes off. You just need to keep going, keep trying, and do whatever you can to pursue your goals. It’s not about your daily progress, or even your weekly progress. It’s about your monthly, quarterly, and yearly progress. The most important thing you can do is keep your long term goals in place, and try to move them forward a little bit every day. You can get discouraged if you don’t feel better off than you were yesterday. If you keep building, you’ll grow a little bit every month and year.

The second thing is that as you go, you’ll realize your own imperfections and want to change them. If you really want to move past them, then just decide to do so. Committing to massive behavioral modifications overnight is unlikely to stick. It’s far better to focus on being just a little bit better every single day. Even if you’re only 1% better, it will accumulate over time into massive, sustainable transformation.

Q: Tell us how you ended up as a producer’s rep and what, exactly, does this involve.

A: I have a few relatively rare and highly valuable skills in the film industry. Agents tend to like me, as do many of the distributors I’ve worked with. When it comes down to getting the film in the can, there are thousands upon thousands of details that need to be sorted out, and I lose interest. So, I focus my efforts on helping filmmakers navigate the waters that are generally choppiest, and require a highly specialized skill set that I happen to have a knack for. There are plenty of filmmakers who can make a great film, there are far fewer who understand how to market those films and help them actually make some money.

I shifted focus to enable people to create films and get them distributed. And that’s what a producer’s rep does. He or she’s essentially an agent for filmmakers and films, helping them get packaged, funded, and distributed. I’m still new to this, so I concentrate on packaging and distribution over financing. Financing is a place I’d like to move into in a few years though.

Q: Since you focus on distribution and finance, do you ever miss making films?

A: I do occasionally. But, honestly, I’m more interested in episodic content at the moment. I think that’s the way the market’s heading and I have a few ideas that I’m currently developing. Nothing will be ready for prime time for quite a while, though.

Q: Why did you decide to start going to The American Film Market?

A: I started going to AFM on a recommendation by a friend and mentor, Bill Brown. It took a few years, but eventually I took his advice and booked a greyhound bus ticket to LA. I stayed in a shared bathroom hotel with my then producing partner, and did it on as tight a budget as was humanly possible. The next two years I attended were even more successful. By my fourth year, I had 55 screener requests for the 5 films I was repping. Success builds upon itself.

Q: This month marks the debut of your first book: The Guerrilla Rep: American Film Market Distribution Success on No Budget. What inspired you to write it?

A: A lot of the inspiration was from some continual good-natured ribbing from another good friend and mentor, Tony Wilkins. I attended a workshop of his, where he spoke of how he wrote his first book and then encouraged me to write my own. After a few months, I finally decided to write it. Now, just under a year later, I’m a published author!

Q: So where did the name for it come from?

A: I was on the floor at AFM introducing myself, and I met a fairly powerful series creator who ran a fairly big crime show on Fox. I introduced myself as Ben, and said I was a Guerrilla Rep. He loved the name, and we entered into a bet on who could make money with it first. Well Tony (different Tony), I win.

Q: Give us a brief teaser of what readers can expect to find inside its pages.

A: My own ego aside, the most useful things in the book are probably the parts I didn’t write. The contributions from the 6 distributors and the extended interview with Daisy Hamilton are the best part of the book. It’s practical advice on distribution straight from the horse’s mouth. The first 16 chapters are relatively in depth pieces of practical advice on how to find success at the American Film Market, mixed with some personal anecdotes and advice garnered on the floor of AFM. However, the really useful information is the tips from the distributors and financiers.

Q: What did you learn about yourself over the course of writing the book?

A: I had a fair amount of detractors when I started writing who said that there’s no way I could add anything useful to a book. I almost caved to them. What I learned over the course of writing the book was that I really do understand the subject matter, and on this particularly narrow field, I am something of an expert. It’s definitely a bit of a transition to that role, but it’s an exciting and rewarding one. There’s an excellent quote by Flannery O’Conner that says “I write to discover what I know.” Writing this book allowed me to discover that I know a lot more than I thought I did.

Q: The film industry is really tricky to break into. What motivates you to keep going?

A: That’s a really good question, and I honestly wonder myself sometimes. There’s this sort of compulsion some people have to create. Storytelling is just in some people’s blood, and some of those storytellers gravitate towards the tools that only visual media have. Personally, I love the feeling of being plopped into a sensory deprivation tank and being told a story with moving images, and being a part of that is really exciting for me. I think within every filmmaker lies a dreamer, and it’s the dream that keeps us all going. For me personally, I love being someone who helps people’s dream come true. There’s a certain magic in that.

Q: What qualities do certain filmmakers have that make you want to represent them?

A: There are a few qualities I look for when considering whether or not I want to represent a client. The first is honesty. If you lie to me, I’m not very likely to work with you. If you continually misrepresent yourself, then I’m not likely to invest my time in you either.

The second is stamina and dedication to a project. Filmmaking is a marathon, not a sprint, and if I’m repping you, I need to know you’ll be there to help us promote. The world of filmmaking is becoming more and more about building a community and a fan base around yourself, and if you want to have success, you need to make yourself a part of it.

The third, and the holy grail, is some sort of talent and creativity. Just because you have the tools to say something doesn’t mean you have something to say. However if you have this in spades but not the other two, I can’t help you. This is a business, and business relationships rely on trust.   I need to be able to trust you and know that you’ll deliver on what you say you will. So while you need to have all three of these things for me to work with you, talent and having something to say is not the be all and end all of my search for good clients.

It’s surprising, but it’s not always the best film that lights up the festival circuit. It’s the one that can generate the most buzz. This factor needs talent and creativity, as well as hard work and dedication.

Q: If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?

A: Honestly, I hate the current power structure. The fact that the industry functions on back room dealings at restaurants and film festivals is far from desirable. The general lack of transparency is alarming, and keeps new money from entering the business at the rate necessary for sustainable growth. If you don’t have an in to the industry, it can be very difficult to break in. I really don’t like the fact that if you piss off the wrong guy then your whole career can be kaboshed. I suppose this is true in any industry, but it’s particularly egregious in the film industry. One of my life goals is to disintermediate the industry, even by just a little bit. If I can do that through my ventures, then it’s a career well spent.

Q: Where do you think film production will be in the next 10 years?

A: At this point, even three years out is hard to predict. Ten years is nearly impossible to estimate, even for the most involved in the industry. But, since you asked, I’ll give a guess in broad strokes. If current trends continue, I think the really quality content is going to shift towards the episodic format and there will be an ever increasing focus on mobile and home based viewing. I think that finding success as a filmmaker will involve getting listed on some of the bigger aggregators and growing your own personal fan base to the point that you can build a stable income stream from selling your content to your fans. Then, the filmmaker will need to continue to grow by getting listed in festivals, larger aggregators, host community screenings, and work primarily independently of the major studio system.

Success will require filmmakers to build a cult of personality around their work, even more so than it currently does. The really difficult part will be rising above the ever-increasing level of white noise and oversaturation that’s flooding the market. In essence, the most valuable asset any aggregator or promoter will have is a truly engaged list. I think community and niche market distribution will be increasingly important, and a new realm of community screenings in atypical screening locations will become prevalent. Screenings in the backs of restaurants, schools, anywhere with chairs and a projector will be more and more common, and it will be on the filmmaker and promoters to spread the film.

Q: What would people be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I’m absolutely addicted to Karaoke. I’m pretty far outside the standard demographic for it, but it’s probably my biggest vice. In fact, the launch party for The Guerrilla Rep will have karaoke. Just because I like it.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Quite a lot. We’re really stepping up the game at The Producer Foundry, and I just got promoted to Vice President of Sales at Taal, a mobile app that enables employers to take video interviews on any iOS or Android device. I’m also still repping films, running a blog, and starting to develop the next book. I’m really excited about all of it, but less excited about the lack of sleep it’s sure to lead to.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?

A: I’d just like to thank everyone who made this book possible. I’d also really like to thank you for interviewing me. I’m looking forward to reading Office For One. *

 

Interviewer note: Ben is one of several dozen experts who contributed fantastic chapter content to my upcoming business book targeted to today’s sole proprietors.

Master Shots, Volume 3

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Back when I was 10 and forced to endure a week of Girl Scout camp in the Pacific Northwest (for parental reasons that, frankly, still escape me), I recall a gaggle of us trekking into the woods on a quest for blackberries. “Do you think we’ll get lost?” one of my friends nervously asked. “No way!” I replied, proudly informing them that, “I have a compass!” It was new. It was shiny. It even had the official Girl Scout trefoil stamped on the back as testament to its authenticity.

The fact I had absolutely no clue how it was supposed to work – never having read the instructions which came in the box – was a moot point. Somehow, I thought, if (1) darkness fell in the forest, (2) bears started chasing us or (3) we came upon a strange village where no one spoke English, all I had to do was flip open the lid and it would magically tell me what turns to take in order to get us safely back to camp.

Technology, of course, has given us tools far more advanced than the humble compass. Movie cameras, for instance. Yet how often do the uninitiated fall into the trap of thinking that if they just point it at something, it will always yield picture-perfect results worthy of the finest cinematography?  For aspiring filmmakers of any age, Master Shots, Volume 3 by Christopher Kenworthy is a must-have title for their resource library. Here’s what he has to say on the subject.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: You’ve had quite a “storied” career as a writer, director and producer. How did each of these roles in your creative journey come about and what would you have done differently if any of them were subject to a rewrite?

A: There’s story in everything I do. Whether I’m creating a tutorial, running a workshop or shooting a music video, there is story, and that’s what keeps it interesting.

I made films and wrote stories as a kid, but it’s difficult to know which came first. When I was 17 I decided I wanted to be a novelist, and spent the next 15 years working on that. While writing my second novel, I kept picturing the shots I’d use if I ever had the chance to direct. So I bought a camera and made a film based on my novel. Within a year I was making a living at film.

I did an OK job as a producer, but it wasn’t my calling. I can’t say that I regret it, because it’s made me a better screenwriter and director. Producing my own feature was a mistake. It was probably the only way to raise the budget, but it meant that by the first day of shooting I was already exhausted from 18 months of intense work. My directing wasn’t as good as it could have been, and I swore never to produce a large project again.

Q: Should wannabe cinematographers go to film school to learn their craft or just get a camera and start experimenting by trial and error on their own?

A: The only way to learn is to shoot. If people read the Master Shots books, and then hardly ever shoot, they won’t be able to put the ideas into practice. You need to get hold of a camera and shoot. If you find a film school that’s going to give you a lot of shooting time along with the theory, that’s a good thing. If you go it alone, make sure you read every book that’s relevant, and get onto as many film sets as you can. A good mentor is as good as any film school.

Be careful of being too precious. If you wait for the perfect time or the perfect budget or the perfect script, you’ll wait too long. Shoot something, anything, and shoot it well. So long as you have access to a camera and a handful of lenses you can learn a lot.

Q: What are the three most common mistakes in composition that beginners tend to make?

A: 1. Forgetting that good shots make the most of space by having a foreground, background and middle ground.

2. Over-focusing on the subject. The subject exists within a world, at a time and a place, in relation to other people, and the shot should show that.

3. Assuming that shooting handheld will give it a naturalistic look. It doesn’t. Handheld shots can work, but I get very tired of seeing camera operators hosepipe all over a scene, while claiming that this somehow reflects how we see the world. The same is true of bad lighting. Many newcomers think that underexposed is meaningful, when in fact it’s just dark.

Q: Can great work behind the lens make a mediocre actor look better and, conversely, can a poor job be to the detriment of a stellar performance?

A: When you’re working with weak actors, you can try to hide their lack of strength. By hiding their flaws you can make them look better, but only within certain limits. A wooden performance will still look wooden. You can do a lot in the editing room, but on set it’s difficult.

Ideally, you should rely on your relationship with the actor, rather than on a camera setup. Sometimes, though, no matter how good you are, the actors come up against the limit of their talent, and then your job is to shoot in a way that makes the scene work. To explain how to do this would require a whole book, but in essence you find the weakest point in their performance – whether it’s eyes, mouth, body language – and shoot in a way that emphasizes something else.

Brilliant performances are often lost due to poor camera setups, and because of traditional film-making approaches. Most of the time people shoot a wide master, then some medium shots and some coverage. By the time you get to the close-ups the actors have burned out or got bored. It depends on the actor, because some warm up over time, but many lose their energy. When that’s the case, you need to start with close-ups.

The best shots capture the space, the person within it, and let us see their entire performance. This is really what the Master Shots books are trying to show. How to shoot actors in a way that reveals the meaning and emotion of the scene.

Q: Alfred Hitchcock is credited as saying that the test of a good film is if you can watch it with the sound off and still be able to figure out the plot and the relationships. Can turning down the volume and, thus, not having the distraction of voices and music be instrumental in focusing on angles, distance, lighting and background/foreground elements?

A: This is something I’ve been recommending for years, but I never knew it was Hitchcock who first came up with the idea. It’s not always true, but I’ve found that most of my favorite films work without sound. A great example is Children of Men. The visuals are simple, but so strong, you can tell what’s going on from watching. When they’re hiding, you can see it. When they’re scared, escaping, doubting, or discovering a great secret, you see it all, without a word needing to be spoken. The same is probably true of Gravity, by the same director. It’s worth trying this with any film, though. Just about anything that Spielberg’s directed works without sound, so even if you don’t like his films they’re worth watching without the audio, to see how well he directs attention and lets the visuals do half the work.

Q: Which do you personally consider more of a challenge: to shoot a commercial, a music video or a full-length film?

A: There are always restrictions and there are always opportunities. The challenge with a feature film is holding an overall image in mind for months.

Commercials are generally easy because you’re working to such a tight template. The downside of that is there’s very little room for creativity.

Music videos tend to be quite easy, because you’re left to your own devices.

Q: What was the inspiration behind the Master Shots concept and how did it go from one book to a trio?

A: I’d always sensed that there was a hidden language that directors were using. Consciously or not, they were using setups and moves to create feelings. For years I wanted somebody to read a book that decodes these techniques so I could use them. When nobody wrote the book I wanted, I started watching three films a day until I was able to write Master Shots Vol 1.

It was so successful that it was published as a 2nd Edition. That’s the same book reprinted with enhanced images and a few revisions to the text. Then came Master Shots Vol 2, which looks at dialogue. I really wanted to write that book, because there is so much you can do to make dialogue interesting, to really tell the story and catch the performance. That book was a passion of mine. I loathe those scenes where actors look at each other and talk their lines out. I wanted to cure directors of that.

The popularity of those two books made me wonder if we could create a third, but only if it really went beyond the first two books. So I created The Director’s Vision, which looks at the more advanced setups, so you can learn to create your own signature style. Without style, you don’t get hired, so this is a book that can help directors to make a real breakthrough.

Q: Tell us about the transition you made to an ebook format and how the latter expands on what is already some very comprehensive content.

A: The first two books were made available on the Kindle, but that was just a way of reading the same books on a tablet. We wanted to do something much more inventive, using video to illustrate the shots.

So we took the best 75 shots from the print books, filmed them, and made three enhanced eBooks: Master Shots: Action, Suspense and Story.

The eBooks aren’t meant to replace the print books, but they give you a deep insight into the workings of the shots. Even if you’ve read the books, they can help you decode the shots. If you’ve never read the books, it gives you the core techniques in a much more immediate way.

Q: Despite the fact that movie cameras continue to come down in price, what would you say to a struggling young filmmaker who laments that you can only craft kick-ass images if you have the most high-tech and expensive equipment?

A: The best thing I ever made was a music video I shot on a Canon 7D. I used available light and shot it for $400. We always want more money and better equipment, because it can help, but unless you interpret the story in a creative way, no amount of equipment can save you.

Q: In what ways do you envision aspiring screenwriters using the Master Shots books when there’s such emphasis to not “direct on paper” as they’re writing a script?

A: The better you understand storytelling, the better you will be at screenwriting. Every scene tells a story, every shot tells a story. The better you understand how filmmakers work, the better you will be at crafting scenes for them. It’s not your job as a writer to picture every shot, but if you understand the scale of a scene – whether it’s vast and airy, or close and intimate, you can communicate that without ever directing on paper. When you do, you’ll fire up the director’s imagination and possibly have a hit on your hands.

Q: What’s the difference between a fourth wall and a fake wall?

A: The fourth wall is the imaginary wall that the audience sits behind. In film, that’s the camera lens, which is why – most of the time – you don’t want the actors to look into the camera. It breaks the illusion. We fall out of the story and remember we’re watching people pretend. Fake walls have many purposes. Often they’re used to tighten up a location and make it feel more claustrophobic, or simply as set dressing. In studios, all the walls are fake, and they can be rolled out of the way to make room for the camera. It’s worth remembering this when you’re shooting on location. You can ask yourself, if this was a studio, and you could swing that wall out of the way to allow the use of a longer lens, would you? If so, is there any way you can reposition the actors and camera on location, to get that result?

Q: What’s your favorite opening scene in a movie and what should readers be looking for in order to enhance their understanding of the cinematographer’s craft?

A: The first few minutes of Juno are stunning. They are extremely simple setups, but every one is carefully thought out to tell the story. Within seconds you know everything you need to know, and you care. It would have been so easy to kill this film quickly, but the opening is a wonderful mixture of familiar, strange, mundane and beautiful, which is the perfect setup for the story.

Q: Your books feature squillions of compelling frame grabs for study. Do you have a favorite image and, if so, what is it that particularly resonates with you?

A: There is no single image, because these stills are there to suggest the motion and emotion inherent in the shot. I like images that remind me of the story, and make me remember the feelings associated with the film.

Q: In order to have an effective collaboration, how much should a director know about cinematography techniques and how much should the person behind the camera know about directing the action? (I can’t help but picture the two sides getting into a shouting match of, “No, no, I think it looks better my way!”)

A: Directors can get away with knowing very little, but they are then carried by the cinematographer. If you want to work with the actors and don’t care how the shot looks, that’s one approach. But I think that if you really care about performance, you need a full understanding of how the camera relates to the actors. That’s the only way to capture performance. And if you want your film to look beautiful, why leave that to the cinematographer?

It should never be a competition and the best way to avoid that is to establish how you like to work in early meetings, before you hire anybody. Both people need to be clear on who calls the shots.

A good cinematographer will constantly suggest ideas, but should not shout you down unless you’re so tired you’re missing something obvious. Equally, a good cinematographer should be happy to let you choose the lens, say where the camera goes and even set the frame. If you can show that you’re competent, they should respect your choices and make sure they light the scene in a way that captures what you’re trying to get across.

If you are prescriptive about camera moves and lens choice, give the cinematographer as much scope to work with lighting as possible, or they feel like a hired hand rather than a creative collaborator.

It’s also vital to listen. If there’s a better idea, use it, no matter who suggests it to you.

Q: Thanks to the magic of technology, there’s no question that the look and texture of movies –especially with the incorporation of CGI and 3D – have come a long way in the past century. The question is, where do you see the filmmaking industry going next?

A: I find that advances in technology are usually pushed for commercial reasons, rather than because they help storytelling. 3D was pushed in the last decade, not because it was new – it was ancient – but to force people out of their homes and into the theatres again. High Frame Rate was introduced on The Hobbit supposedly to make 3D easier to watch, but to me it made everything look really fake, so my suspicion is that it was one more way to convince people that going to the theaters was more important than waiting for the DVD. And CG is becoming tiresome. It can be used well, but if I have to watch one more city being destroyed by giant monsters I am going to walk out of the cinema.

The real challenge, however, is dealing with changes to the way movies are consumed. As David Lynch pointed out a while back, art house is now dead, but internet distribution hasn’t really settled into something that’s working for anybody, and blockbusters feel like they’re running out of steam.  Most people are more excited by the latest HBO series than the next big feature film.

It’s impossible to say what will happen, but my hope is that the focus will return to storytelling rather than more spectacle.

Q: So what’s next on your plate?

A: Purely for pleasure, I’m going to make a short film called Catching Sight. It’s about a young girl who catches a disease that gives her great talent, but at the cost of her happiness. She has to decide whether to take the cure and lose her talent, or remain a depressed genius.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your work?

A: Just about everything you could need to know is summarized at www.christopherkenworthy.com

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: These are difficult times for people who want to be directors. It used to be the case that if you made a film, you were one in a million. Now, everybody is a film-maker. There is so much material being produced that you have to look brilliant to stand out, so I hope filmmakers do everything they can to learn the craft behind their art, and create a signature style.

Make Film History: Rewrite, Recut, and Reshoot the World’s Greatest Films

Make Film History

On September 16, 1890, Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince boarded a Paris-bound train, his first stop en route to New York to present an amazing invention that would radically change the way people saw the world. Not only did Le Prince never reach his destination but his body (which seemingly vanished overnight) was also never found despite exhaustive inquiries by the police. Fortuitously, his legacy – a camera that recorded the first motion picture – seized the imagination of kindred spirits who saw the device’s enormous potential as a medium for mainstream entertainment.

In his remarkable new book, Make Film History, author and film expert Robert Gerst, PhD. invites aspiring moviemakers of all ages to learn from the techniques of 25 cinematic game-changers over the past century and recognize how to apply the innovative lessons of sound, color, texture, music and editing to the development of their own projects.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What ignited your passion for movies and what’s the first one you ever remember seeing? In what way(s) did that first movie “speak” to you?

A: High Noon! (1952) is the first film I remember seeing. My mother took me. What she thought a little kid would get out of an adult-oriented revisionist cowboy movie I don’t know, but my mother was someone who ignored what most people conventionally thought. She was willing to go anywhere and try anything. She gave me, I suppose, the capacity to see things my own way.

The film came on the screen.  “Do-Not-Forsake-Me-O-My-Darling” thumped along in the sound track.  I was enthralled. For years, I dreamed about that movie.  At school, when the teacher said, “Draw something,” I drew again and again my version of the landscape of High Noon. The movie, of course, is set in the American southwest, but I imagined it as a New England style foursquare house at the end of a sinuous road. Cactuses and mountains surrounded the house.  Above it, a bright sun with rays pointing to the cardinal points on the compass hung in the sky. (I now live in a house in Massachusetts that could double for the house I saw as the house of High Noon.)

When I viewed the film again a few years ago, it seemed a bit hokey. But when I saw it with my mother, it spoke to me. I remember High Noon, and remembering that movie inspires me to thank my mother for standing by me as I slowly became who I am. I only wish I had told her so while still she was among us.

Q: Are there some particular movies that speak to you today?

A: I like films that affirm, movies in which every element beats with the rhythm of a living heart.  Affirmative movies don’t necessarily talk happy talk. Lives of Others, for instance, is a very sad film. But the movie affirms that you liberate yourself when you liberate others. Writer and director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
infuses that theme into the tiniest features of the music, the camera angles, the costumes.

In Lives of Others, a surveillance man in East Germany begins as a high-ranking officer and ends up, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a lowly postman. The film ends when he enters a bookstore and reads the dedication in the novel written by the artist he surveilled.  The bookstore clerk asks if he should gift-wrap the book. “No, it’s for me,” man replies. Freeze frame. It’s a poignant ending, an ending as affirmative as the final shot of Bicycle Thieves, where the man and his son walk off into the crowd together.

Q: You’ve come a long way from the days when you first cut movies standing at a Moviola. What are three high points along the journey that you feel most strongly shaped your approach to inspiring the next generation of filmmakers to go forth and be creative?

A: At college, Richard Wilbur, America’s first poet laureate, taught me what I know about poetry, and writing poems and stories and novels—all safely tucked away now in a drawer—taught me how to write prose.  Students I taught in a classroom at Mass Art taught me that people learn by doing.  Fatherhood invested me in the next generation.

Q: What would prospective film students be the most surprised to learn about you?

A:  I never went to film school. My film school was bird watching. When you watch birds, you wait and listen. You never know beforehand what you’re going to encounter, so you attend to whatever moves or twitters. That’s the state of mind in which to watch a movie and make one. I recommend bird watching to film students.  And I spent a couple of years learning to cut and shoot film. As it turned out, I didn’t become a professional filmmaker. I earned a Ph.D. in literature instead. But hands-on work making movies taught me how the most miniscule change in a line, a shot, and a soundtrack moves a film in a new direction.

Q: Make Film History: Rewrite, Recut, and Reshoot the World’s Greatest Films isn’t the first book to be written about film history but it may be among the most distinctive. Tell us why – and how – you went about developing and researching this project.

A:  I wrote the book to help you unleash your inner filmmaker. “You” probably started with me. The digital revolution reawakened me. When I had practiced filmmaking years before, movie making felt as esoteric as alchemy. But suddenly a filmmaking studio was opening in everyone’s computer. In my computer, I had this second chance to fiddle with movies. The tug I feel, I realized, others also feel. People who once would express themselves in poetry and dance now crank out You Tube videos. Some of them might want to learn about how actors act, how editors mix sounds, how filmmakers in general gestate movies.

I proposed an early version of the book and interactive website to Ken Lee and Michael Wiese of Michael Wiese Productions.  Michael suggested that I recast the book/webpage introduction to film that I first proposed into a historically oriented introduction to film history and filmmaking.

I blurted, “Twenty-five moments that transformed film history!”

Michael blurted, “Zelig does film history!”

Zelig is that 1983 movie where, with optical printing, Woody Allen, chameleon-like, slips into historic footage from the past. I spent about two years researching and writing.  I spent some time in the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles and visited the film archives and the restoration school at George Eastman House in Rochester, New York.  I thought about the films I was screening for my film history students.  I read printed and digital sources, many contradictory. I tried to distill all this lucidly and accurately.

Once I submitted the manuscript, I worked for roughly another half year getting the web site to a state where Make Film History readers would find it engaging. On the site, reader’s access historic film clips, view film history photographs, and read related documents. The site features film clips that readers can download to solve or re-solve the question a chapter’s exercise poses. To enable even novices to experience the joy of building a movie moment, the site provides step-by-step editing instructions written for the entry-level software already installed in most computers.

Make Film History is a glimpse at twenty-five moments when movies changed. But it’s not an encyclopedia. It’s a love note.

Q: I love your interactive website (http://makefilmhistory.com). How did you come up with this and what was the most challenging aspect of developing it as a complement to the book?

A:  A long ago Mac Plus HyperCard computer game—Cosmic Osmo—inspired the website. Cosmic Osmo was an early attempt by Rand and Robyn Miller to enable people to slosh through a humorous, joyful universe.  Later they created Myst, which became so popular newspapers took to printing daily tips to help wanderers in Mystland progress from location to location. I myself never advanced past the Mystland dentist chair, but in my foursquare New England house my wife and son went everywhere.

Cosmic Osmo was my game, though. It was pure play—a cage operating according to rules that, once you discovered the bars, seemed to disappear and set you free.  Playing Cosmic Osmo felt like dreaming.  There were rooms to click around and planets to visit. The magus of this imaginary universe was one Cosmic Osmo himself, who pervaded the place.  The voice of Osmo, or one of his avatars, would sometimes and chant, “You’ve traveled through spaces, through all kinds of places, now please don’t disgrace, please play with our faces…”

If this sounds like Prospero’s cell, it was. In drawers and under objects you came across what you felt was Osmo’s presence. If there was a higher purpose to this game I never discovered it, but just playing this game unleashed my imagination.

I wanted the website for Make Film History to inspire similar feelings. The sequential chapters constitute a path.  Clicks take you to outlooks. You interact with film clips in the exercises. I developed the site in stages, first creating the navigation bar, then roughing out the master page for each chapter of the book, then adding content as I thought of it. Beyond the chapter structure, I certainly followed no outline. The pages just grew. They continue to grow. The site runs about 350 html pages today, probably about double what it was when I first put it up. Yesterday I put up a couple of pages about the Brox Sisters of the 1920s and maybe tomorrow I’ll add another page about video on the Internet.  I don’t know. Subsidiary pages begin with an image that mesmerizes me. Then I open a blank file and explain what I see in the image. Then I add sound or video for users to activate. I wake up in the morning and rarely know what glen of this forest I’ll be entering. But I know I’ll go somewhere. I use Dreamweaver.  I’m bird watching.

Q: Okay, here’s something I’ve always wondered about silent movies. We can read on the title cards what the characters are saying but they’re obviously speaking to each other during scenes for which there are no cards. Were silent movies fully scripted or would the director instruct them from the sidelines to “act like you’re upset,” “explain that you’ve lost something,” “convey suspicion,” etc.?

A: Silent movies traded in feelings, as music does. But no one feels a comma in an emotion. So no one wrote out scripts for silent films. If you think of a silent movie as a dance, you immediately sense the uselessness of a script. Directors would shout or whisper directions—“Move towards her slowly… Tell her you love her.” Beside the camera, violinists and other musicians often played to summon feelings out of actors. (Garbo favored a violin and cello duet). Directors made very long silent films without consulting a word of script. D.W. Griffith used no script to create The Birth of a Nation. Sometimes, one of his camera assistants asserted, Griffith would step onto the set to dance with Lillian Gish—“Miss Geesh” he called her— and then start shooting. Silent movies are dance or maybe semaphore. Motion makes them.

Though they weren’t scripted, most silent films were certainly written. There were two kinds of silent movie writers. One sort created what they called scenarios—story summaries for directors to chop and frame into bits of story played out in scenes. The other sort wrote intertitles. An intertitle was, in essence, a silent movie tweet. You said it fast and you said it first. The first shot of Sadie Thompson is words on a plain black background, “In Pago Pago—in the sultry South Seas—where there is no need for bed clothes—yet the rain comes down in sheets…” That’s title writing.

What actors said to each other in silent films they pretty much made up in the moment. Sometimes they said unprintable things. Profusely and obviously, characters cursed each other in What Price Glory?, and lip readers supposedly complained. Usually silent film actors tried to say what they felt their characters would say. Improv actors now work that very way.

Q: A recurring theme throughout your book is to “learn by doing” but even more so is the message to “learn by imitating.” Doesn’t this just perpetuate the cycle of reinventing the wheel through remakes, prequels and sequels and, accordingly, becoming predictable?

A: You can never predict where an exercise in imitation will take you because, however obvious the destination, the road keeps changing as you travel it: your own hand is always on the wheel. You start out imitating Fritz Lang and, if you’re made that way, Adam Sandler arrives. Michelangelo leaned to sculpt by copying statues from ancient Greece. Imitating teaches technique and it unshackles you.

Q: How does today’s movie business compare to what it was like in the past?

A: We’ve returned to the earliest years of movie making. It’s as if we’ve stopped the movie history feature mid-reel, rewound it, and George Méliès and the Lumiere Brothers have taken over where Edison left off.  The king is dead and the little guy is king. To me, this moment is unbelievably exciting. The twentieth century factory studio has vanished. Studios mainly market films now, not make them. Today, the studio name preceding a film is a Cheshire cat smiling into thin air. An ad-hoc production company of agents, producers, directors, and mother-in-laws actually made the film.

In today’s film world, you can shoot a major motion picture with a digital camera. Danny Boyle and his cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle shot much of Slum Dog Millionaire on Silicon Imaging SI-2K digital cameras. The camera head weighs 1.2 pounds. You can rent one for a day or week at your local video equipment vendor. Used ones sell on eBay. You can edit your movie on your lap top computer using Final Cut Pro.

There’s a dark fringe to this brightness. The film business, like the book business, has no clear view of where the industry is going. So people can’t make long-term commitments. In its heyday and even afterward, the studio system was more stable. In a documentary about film editing, film editor Paul Hirsch says that he walked into the editing room and when he looked up, thirty years years had passed. People just entering the film business now won’t experience that.

Q: If someone came to you and said, “I want to break into this business,” what would be your three best pieces of advice?

A:

1. “Only connect…” reads the epigraph to E.M. Foster’s novel, Howard’s End. If someone offers you a job, take it. Grip. Sub-titler. Assistant caterer. Whatever. Get yourself an offer. Then take it.

2. Don’t call yourself —don’t think of yourself—as an ARTIST. That’s for someone else to judge. Think of yourself as someone who cuts shots or applies makeup.

3. Live with compassion. May I reblog wisdom Anthony Burgess evidently offered in Inside Mr. Enderby?  Laugh and the world laughs with you. Snore and you sleep alone.

Q: Technology was quite a bit different even as recently as 50 years ago. What are some of the things that today’s moviemakers – who now have access to an impressive array of high-tech tools – learn from past approaches to lighting, sound and cinematography?

A: Watching the light, sound and cinematography in old movies teaches you that there really isn’t any such thing as “progress” in movies. Movies get easier to make and simpler to distribute, but they don’t necessarily get better. Contemporary film making tools are fantastically empowering. Even in software like iMovie, you can transition between shots in about twenty different ways. The great montagist of the 1930s, Slavko Vorkapich, couldn’t achieve more than one or two of those effects because optical printers then were unable to create most of them. But Vorkapich’s montages were diamonds. They express his sensibility, so they continue to communicate, regardless of how dated his films may be. Hearing César express his love for his son in Fanny is affecting, even if the sound track crackles in that early talkie. Watching the early filmmakers teaches you humility. Humility is the great teacher.

Q:  Have all the advances in eye-popping CGI and 3D come at the expense of weaker plots, poorly developed characters, and contrived dialogue?

A: Filmmakers may be de-emphasizing plot, character, and dialogue because movie viewers enjoy all kinds of things that CGI and 3D do well. Filmmakers seeking markets abroad find that memorable dialogue doesn’t translate well. Other elements of a movie—like action— travel better. In a comic book adaption I viewed this spring, the hero kept endlessly slipping in and out of his CGI skin. I struggled just following the story, but millions of people love this film.   The plot conforms, I’m sure, to the three-act structure paradigm that everybody quotes: Something bad happens. Something even worse happens. You deal with it. This movie almost certainly underwent an exhaustive plot point analysis to guarantee that, on page twenty, action required by the three-act formula happens. Good story bones must be there. But when I left the theater, I couldn’t remember what the movie was all about.

That movie is earning prodigiously. In two months, people in America and elsewhere have coughed up four hundred million dollars to view this film. That’s a pretty compelling reason to keep making movies like that. Save us, please, from the culture police. But I confess, my heart isn’t there.

May I float a possibly heretical thought? Plot may not be the be all and end all of movies. People have all kinds of reasons for enjoying performances. Spectacle can often be enough. Masques had minimal plots in the seventeenth century. Movies of the future may not be stories at all. In Brave New World, Aldus Huxley looked into the future and, instead of movies, he saw “feelies.” CGI spectacle movies may be moving the mainstream business closer to the non-narrative poetry of the avant-garde. CGI and 3D do not portend the end of movies. Martin Scorsese’s 3D Hugo, for instance, was beautiful.

Q: Many a black-and-white film has been colorized in an attempt to give it less of an “old” feel. What’s your reaction to this practice and what, if anything, do you feel gets lost in the transition?

A:  The actual number of movies colorized is miniscule. Of the thousands of films made by professional filmmakers since 1895, about two hundred seventy black and white movies—roughly one hundred sixty of them from the 1930s—have been digitally colorized since the early 1980s. For me, even one is too many. I understand why people who own rights to old black and whites consider colorizing them:  many people today say they’d never watch a black and white movie.  Maybe the 2012 Best Picture Academy Award for The Artist converted some of those people.

Black and white movies intrigue me as poetry sometimes does. Myth is universally understandable. Poetry isn’t. Poetry exists in a particular language and doesn’t survive translation. “Fuzzy-Wuzzy was a bear…. Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair. Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t fuzzy, was he?” is untranslatable. John Ford’s The Fugitive would be just as untranslatable. Black and white infuses the worldview of that film. When a director uses black and white effectively, colorizing harms his movie. Maybe movies made by visually uninventive directors don’t suffer much from colorizing. But could you imagine Citizen Kane in color? I gather that Jean Luc Godard once toyed with the idea of colorizing Breathless. Thankfully, he didn’t.

Q:  Your book sets forth the premise that there are 25 pivotal points in the timeline of movie history. What do you predict will be the 26th?

A: The book stops at twenty-five points on a continuum. I think of them as freeze frames in a very long take. I’d love a chance to write about others. The Paramount Pictures School of 1925.  The last days of 35 mm projection in 2012. It’s endless. As the twenty-sixth, however, I foresee smaller, more modular and haiku-like movies. We’ll return to the ten-minute one reeler standard. Nine-hour movies are over. Twitter already circulates films that run six seconds.

Q: Your book contains lots of nifty exercises at the end of each chapter. I’m curious, though, whether a reader has to have extensive experience with digital filmmaking software in order to get the most benefit from the lesson.

A: You need to spend a few minutes familiarizing yourself with basic features of the digital editing software installed in your computer if you’ve never done that before.  Beyond that, you’re good to go. The exercise instructions are written for iMovie and Windows Movie Maker, and I’ll be putting up Adobe Premier instructions shortly. The exercises work fine in more advanced digital editing software, too.  The goal is to unleash the filmmaker in everybody.

Q: Some people think that digitizing movie editing, shooting, and projection portends the end of movies as we know them. What do you think?

A:  I am excited about the future. Ending “movies as we know them” might be a good thing, if what supplants “movies as we know them” is movies we never thought of. Giving more people more ways to experience the joy of making, viewing, and loving movies is an absolute good.

Q: Hypothetically, you’re having a small dinner party and can invite any three of the visionary filmmakers referenced in your book. Which three would they be and what question would you put to each one that has never before been addressed in interviews or biographies?

A: To David O. Selznick: How did you feel about your father? To Dziga Vertov: Did you really believe that movies can make a new humanity?  To Georges Méliès: What do you think truth is?

Q: Can learning about movies help ordinary readers— who aren’t going to be movie professionals—live more imaginative and fulfilling lives?

A: There is an artist in everyone. We enter dreamland every night. Artists are just people who, when they wake, continue dreaming. Learning about movies induces in you the feeling, as love does, that you are not alone. That is, of course, an illusion. You are alone. But we live by that illusion. Movies are the meeting place of souls.

Q: So what’s next on your plate?

A Striped bass and blue fish, I hope. I’m going fishing.

When I finish with that, I’d like to write about husbands and wives who made movies together. Martin and Osa Johnson. Federico Fellini and Giulietta Masina. Phillips Smalley and Lois Weber, for instance, were once the most esteemed movie couple in Hollywood. Now nobody’s ever heard of them.

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?

A: Like me on Facebook. Put in a word on my blog. I love to talk movies.

 

 

Alfred Hitchcock’s MovieMaking Master Class

Hitchcock

Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock may have left the building over 30 years ago but author Tony Lee Moral puts the legendary director/producer’s expertise at every reader’s fingertips in his new book, Alfred Hitchcock’s Moviemaking Master Class. Moral’s admiration for his subject matter is no secret; this is, after all, the third book he has penned about the iconic Master of Suspense.

The amount of detailed research he has done is well evidenced and covers a career that spanned an enviable six decades. (Even though the book doesn’t come with a soundtrack, I’ve been unable to shake the TV show’s theme music out of my head ever since I finished reading it; during the late 50’s, Alfred Hitchcock Presents was one of the few shows I was allowed to stay up late and watch.)

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

******

Q: When did the writing bug first bite you?

A: From a very early age, I’ve been writing ever since I started reading. I loved adventure stories as a child, particularly the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series, such as The Three Investigators, and the Willard Price books. As a teenager, I wrote many short stories, and by the age of 16, had written my first novel (unpublished). Since then, I’ve written three non-fiction books and four novels. 

Q: How about the desire to become a producer/director?

A: Along with my interest in writing, I’ve always been interested in film, and first discovered Alfred Hitchcock at the age of 10 when I saw I Confess. I loved the moral dilemma faced by Montgomery Clift in the lead role and even at that age could recognize Hitchcock’s craftsmanship in storytelling. At college, I really immersed myself in Hitchcock’s Films. My first job after college was working for the BBC where I spent many years working myself up to being a Producer/Director. I’ve now been working in television for half my life and all my professional life.

Q: In addition to Hitchcock (obviously), who were some of the filmmakers that you would say had the most influence on the development of your own vision and style?

A: I would say Ingmar Bergman, Anthony Minghella, Yasujuri Ozu and Quentin Tarantino have been inspirational to me after Hitchcock. Some of my favourite films are Persona, The English Patient, Tokyo Story and Pulp Fiction.

Q: Inquiring minds want to know: What inspired you to write not just one but three books about Alfred Hitchcock?

A: Hitchcock’s films span the history of cinema, so for me, Hitchcock is cinema. After I wrote my first book on the making of Marnie, it seemed natural to follow it up with a book on the making of The Birds for the 50th anniversary this year. The Masterclass book came as an idea from MWP to encompass all of Hitchcock’s films and it’s very timely because the last year really has been the year of Hitchcock with all the biopics and Vertigo being voted number 1.

Q: What do you feel distinguishes Alfred Hitchcock’s Moviemaking Master Class from other books on the market that have been written about him?

A: It’s like a manual or text book on how to make a movie in the style of Alfred Hitchcock, using his principles of suspense, mystery, counterpoint, contrast and putting the audience through it. It’s not a biography – though you learn a lot about Hitchcock the director along the way – and it’s not an academic book – but I think it’s insightful because it’s told through the voice of Hitchcock and his many collaborators, with some great anecdotes.

Q: What was your favorite chapter to write?

A: Interviewing the actors who worked with Hitchcock for Chapter 4, as I was able to interview screen legendaries such as Kim Novak, Doris Day, Eva Marie Saint and Norman Lloyd. All wonderful and gracious human beings.

Q: Conversely, what was the most challenging section for you to pen?

A: I would say the first two chapters because it’s essential to hook and engage the reader so they want to keep on reading. I spent more time and effort on the opening chapters and rewrote them continually.

Q: Who were your favorite people to interview in the course of doing research?

A: I went to interview Norman Lloyd twice at his home in LA. He’s 98 years old, but very sharp and quick witted with an amazing memory. He truly is a classic and classy gentleman and as well as being an actor in Saboteur and Spellbound, he was a producer on the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series for 10 years.

Q: Hollywood has a propensity for cranking out prequels, sequels and remakes of successful films, and Hitchcock’s impressive body of work is no exception, In your opinion, what were the best and worst remakes of his most popular films? Which one has yet to be remade and who would comprise the dream cast to make it a success?

A: The worst remake was Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, because it’s foolhardy to replicate a classic even in the form of a homage, and the original cast is irreplaceable. I don’t think there is a best remake, but I’ll say Rear Window because of Christopher Reeves’ bravery to continue in film after his accident. I’d remake Strangers on a Train with Zachary Quinto and Henry Cavill in the lead roles.

Q: You’ve indicated that your appreciation of Hitchcock’s talent deepens every time you watch one of his films. What’s the latest thing you’ve discovered?

A: I recently interviewed the Assistant Director on Torn Curtain, one of Hitchcock’s lesser movies, who said that Hitchcock took great care to get realism in the reflection in the ship’s dining room window. I’ve never noticed that before which shows that even when working under less than full steam, Hitchcock paid attention to the smallest details.

Q: What’s your favorite Hitchcock movie?

A: I would say the definitive Hitchcock movie is North by Northwest because it has everything that you expect from his films, wit, polish, humour, panache, the wrongfully accused man, and Cary Grant’s star charisma and athleticism. My personal favourites are Vertigo and Marnie because of the psychology of the characters and what those films meant to Hitchcock.

Q: What’s your take on the way he was portrayed by Anthony Hopkins?

A: I enjoyed Hitchcock the movie, I thought it was a humorous and affectionate portrayal and I didn’t feel that the movie was mean spirited. Obviously there were dramatic licenses taken by the film, and Hitchcock is an enormously complicated character to define, but Hopkins brought sympathy and comedy to the role.

Q: If you could sit down for lunch with the late Master of Suspense, what question would you most like to ask him that could not have be answered by anyone who ever knew him?

A: I’m curious to why he was never able to repeat the success after Psycho. It seems that with that film’s monstrous success with the public and also financially, Hitchcock reached his creative peak and I’d like to know why he wasn’t able to top that.

Q: What’s your best advice to the next generation of screenwriters and filmmakers?

A: Know what the studios are looking for, watch a lot of films, develop your own voice, listen to people, work on distinctive dialogue. Nurture relationships as well as your talent. The best stories are out there and it’s all about finding them.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: My fourth (and probably final) Hitchcock book on his reputation and how he is perceived over 30 years since his death. This is going to be very interesting and revealing and I’ve already gathered many interviews from people who haven’t spoken out before.

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?

A: My steps to a Hitchcock education are watch The 39 Steps, Notorious, Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho.

 ***

Tony Lee Moral is a writer and award winning documentary film maker who has written three books on Alfred Hitchcock: Alfred Hitchcock’s Movie Making Masterclass, The Making of Hitchcock’s The Birds and Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie. He has produced and directed over a 100 hours of television for major broadcasters in the US and the UK, including behind the scenes documentaries on films and television.

Onward & Upward: Reflections of a Joyful Life

Onward and Upward

Okay, by a show of hands, who thinks they have the craziest answer to the question, “Where did you spend your 21st birthday and why?”

A guy toward the back who looks like a tall, introspective Dustin Hoffman responds to the challenge.

“And your name, sir?”

“Michael. Michael Wiese. I just wrote a book called Onward & Upward that I’d like to talk about.”

“Do you have any special credentials for being here?”

“I make meaningful films, I publish the works of talented writers, and I live on the Cornwall Coast.”

“Anything else?”

(beat) “Well, I know The Great Ken Lee. I mention that on page 164.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously. I don’t make this stuff up.”

“Now about that 21st birthday story…”

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: At age 12, you had every expectation of the secret of life being revealed to you on Confirmation Day. If as the adult Michael you could travel back in time and whisper in the ear of your younger self, what would you say?

A: There is no death.  The Earth is your paradise.  Look within.

Q: One of your childhood aspirations was to grow up and be an ice cream man. Would you have sold cones straight off a truck and had little kids cheer your arrival on their street or had your own soda parlor and invited ice cream lovers of all ages to sit and linger? (and what do you think your choice reveals about your personality?)

A: Selling ice cream from a bicycle.  I like the element of surprise – showing up unexpectedly with a treat.

Q: You spent your 21st birthday in an unexpected venue and for a reason that could cause many people to raise an eyebrow. What was it, did you ever do it again, and what did the experience teach you?

A: I was in court standing before a judge with my film crew after being arrested shooting a nude scene of a dancing couple in a field.  Did I ever do it again?  Yes.  What did I learn?  To be more careful and never shoot in fields that Girl Scout troops walk through again. (laughs)

Q: Music is a recurring theme throughout the chapters of Onward and Upward. If you were involved in the music scene today, what would you be performing/producing?

A:  Indian tabla, of course.

Q: What was your inspiration to become a publisher and launch Michael Wiese Productions?

A:  Necessity!  Twelve publishers rejected my first book, I had to do it myself.  It sold 50,000 copies and I started publishing other writers as well as my own books.

Q: With so many screenwriting and filmmaking books out there on today’s market, what do you feel keeps MWP sustainable? In other words, do you ever worry about running out of topics to cover?

A:  We provide information that has – until now – been closely held film industry secrets.  We kicked open the doors with our books.  Like Mother Nature, we will never run out of ways to express ourselves creatively.  There are many facets on a diamond.

Q: You recently launched a new imprint, Divine Arts. Tell us about it and the correlation to your own spiritual journey.

A:  We are in service to provide a conduit for sacred knowledge, both ancient and emerging.  Divine Arts books demonstrate how one can bring mindfulness to daily life and reconnect with the sacred nature within.

Q: Having spent so much time behind a camera, which is the greater challenge for you – to direct the energies and skill sets of other people to deliver your vision for a documentary or to exercise the solo discipline of putting your thoughts on paper every day and writing a book as deeply introspective – and humorous – as Onward and Upward?

A:  Having Parkinson’s has made me refocus and reduce my energies toward a one-man band kind of filmmaking.  I no longer have the stamina for crews and 14 hour days.  I may hire assistants to carry the gear or an editor to help put the film together, but my challenge nowadays is to make small, personal, sacred journey films on a micro-budget.  Books or films all require a disciplined and committed approach.

Q: Documentaries that seek to introduce the world to little-known cultures often do so at the price of foisting “civilization” on tribes that were perfectly happy being ignorant of modern trappings and technology. What is your advice to aspiring documentary filmmakers insofar as doing no harm in their quest to bring home a compelling story?

A:  Walk softly.  Don’t leave a footprint.  Be very respectful.  Bring as little equipment as possible.  Leave the ‘video circus’ at home.

Q: How does the Balinese connection to the divine that you observed and experienced in your 20s help you to stay focused and positive in dealing with your recent diagnosis of Parkinson’s?

A:  I focus on the daily miracles of what I can do:  Seeing and smelling the flowers in my garden.  Hearing the ocean and birds singing. Feeling the breeze and warmth of the sun.  Like the Balinese with their constant offerings, I give gratitude daily.

Q: For you, what are the distinctions between being religious and being spiritual?

A:  Religions ask you to believe.  Believing what someone tells you to believe is not very useful.  Having an experience of the divine makes the spiritual real for you.

Q: The chapters of Onward and Upward are replete with anecdotes of famous people with whom you have crossed paths and drawn inspiration. Is there anyone you wish you could have met and if so, what question would you most like to have asked him or her?

A:  I’d like to ask Robert Johnson if he really sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads?  Of Einstein I’d ask how many dimensions are there and who lives there?  And I’d ask Carl Jung why he didn’t publish The Red Book when he was alive?

Q: When you learned that you were going to be a father at age 45, what was your first thought?

A:  Forty-five is the new thirty-five!

Q: Had you met your beloved soul-mate Geraldine 20 years earlier, what would your approach to parenting have been?

A: No difference.  Babies didn’t come with an Operating Manual then either.

Q: Parents often tell their children, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Has Julia shown signs of emulating the wild and crazy days of your own youth? If so, what’s your response going to be?

A:  You bet she has!  It’s natural and healthy to experiment and test the world.

Q: What’s the most recent movie you saw and what did you most love/hate about it?

A: “The Cave of the Yellow Dog”.  A wonderful Mongolian film about a nomadic family.

Q: What inspires you the most about living on the Cornwall coast?

A:  It’s elemental magnificence.  It’s like Big Sur on steroids.

Q: What would most people be surprised to learn about you?

A: Just about everything I write about in Onward and Upward.  I’ve been many people and had many lives.  Most people who know me see only one face.  The book reveals all!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A:  An esoteric quest in Sicily. An interactive e-book.  The first screening in London of my latest film, “Living with Spirits: 10 Days in the Jungle with Ayahuasca”.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I thank you for your challenging and insightful questions.  Sorry to ramble on so. 😉

Onward and Upward is available now through www.mwp.com or Amazon.

 

Writing the TV Drama Series

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If you frequently say to yourself whilst channel-surfing, “I could write a better series than that,” think again. It´s a lot harder than it looks. Pamela Douglas, author of Writing the TV Drama Series, explains why.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Let´s start out with some background on why you decided to pursue a writing career and why, specifically, it turned out to be in television instead of novels or plays.

Writing of any kind is a means to discover truth and tell it. Our currency is the truths of real lives, human desire ranging from the most deeply held passions and secrets to lusts and foolishness and mistakes, or whatever brings a moment of joy. Writers deal in insights people gain through knowing each other. And in today´s fractured society, it is absolutely necessary to make sense of our experience in the way humans always have, by creating stories that explain why things are as they are. All that is within the mission of any serious writer. As for the method you choose to convey the characters and stories that make up our world, it doesn´t matter. Each form has opportunities and limitations, but good writing (or bad) is up to you.

Power does matter, though. Through television, you reach millions of people. And because of the intimacy of the medium – how close and personal it is to the viewer – the creator wields great influence. Even the lowest rated shows are seen by more people than all but the most successful movies; and compared to TV, plays and novels aren´t even on the radar. That´s not to say writers shouldn´t explore all means of expression, or that artistic fulfillment can´t be found in art films, novels, poems and plays. But I have always been keenly aware of the power of stories to raise consciousness, both individually and in addressing society´s critical challenges. TV, especially the best dramatic series, can have an impact beyond anything else.

How did you get your first break and who were your mentors?

I had no mentors. No relatives or friends in the business, and no one slipping me onto a staff as a favor to anyone. Instead, I had opposition as a woman in a male-dominated field, as a person of color when the guys in charge were more comfortable with someone like themselves, and later as a person who insisted on quality when stereotypes or an easy laugh line at the expense of truthful characters might have been more commercial.

I built my career by continuing to write, by writing well and growing as a writer, by learning how this business works, and working it as well as I could. Ultimately, by some people´s measure, I failed. That is, I did not become extremely rich or own an empire of shows. But I´m proud of some of what I wrote and glad my work was recognized by the Humanitas Prize, the Writers Guild, and Emmy nominations – though winning awards was not my motivation.

My first paid TV writing job was when I was quite young — Trapper John, M.D. in the mid 1980s. I got it by realizing that a member of the continuing cast, Madge Sinclair, was being under-used and guessed the producers might be open to a pitch with a story for her. I admired Madge´s work outside the show, and knew she was a great actress, though I´d never met her. So I went in to that meeting and told the producers an honest tale about something her character might experience. They did indeed have a commitment to give her an episode, and no one on the staff had a clue. So they bought it, I wrote the script, it was produced, and Madge received her first Emmy award for my episode.

What television shows were you hooked on as an adolescent? And what programs do you never want to miss as an adult?

I didn´t watch TV when I was an adolescent. In the late 1960s and early 70s I was involved with the Civil Rights struggles, and my interest was in writing what was happening around me. Even while I was in school, I published in newspapers and magazines, ran a community filmmaking workshop, and free-lanced some news segments for a local TV station. My writing included fiction and I was always involved in visual arts as well. But sitting and watching TV wasn´t on my schedule.

But if you´re asking about historic series that I admire, M*A*S*H remains remarkably current and incisive. It was also before its time as half hour dramatic comedy and political comment. Later Hill Street Blues was the great progenitor of today´s best drama, followed by NYPD Blue.

Current shows I never miss include (in alphabetical order) Boss, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Homeland, Mad Men, and I sometimes catch The Good Wife, Girls, Nurse Jackie and The Big C.

Among shows not currently broadcast, I strongly recommend binge-viewing The Wire (all 60 hours), The Sopranos and Battlestar Galactica. Friday Night Lights and certain episodes of House are good viewing too.

Lots of people watch TV series and probably say to themselves, “I could write something better than that!” Would you say that it´s harder or easier for newcomers to break into television writing than it was in the days when creative works were all produced on typewriters instead of computers?

People who believe they could write better than shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Game of Thrones or The Wire are deluded. What are these people viewing? The lowest level of any creative form deserves that sort of derision, and it´s easy enough to point to badly written movies, YouTube posts, lyrics and any other writing. I would tell those people to stop watching garbage and tune in to the brilliant literature that is richly available all over the TV spectrum, especially on basic cable, and try to learn from the best.

Most media stopped using typewriters more than thirty years ago, before I started working in television, so I can´t address that. The news in the 21st century is the multiplicity of outlets. Long ago in the era of three, then four broadcast networks, the number of shows was limited. Then came Premium Cable (HBO and Showtime) with innovative dramas. And now basic cable stations – AMC, Starz, USA, TNT, and many others – are all producing drama series, many of them outstanding. In addition Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Hulu and other Internet entities are going from short gags to full-length scripted shows. This is a great time to write for TV.

What kind of opportunities are open to aspiring television writers and is it mandatory that they live in Los Angeles?

First, aspiring writers should go to a film school that offers a series of classes in writing for television. Be sure the classes are taught by people who have actual industry experience, preferably on quality TV series. Basic courses in screenwriting usually precede the TV classes, so students get essential skills. Then you will be ready to join workshops and find mentors to grow and refine your work. Once you have a professional quality portfolio you can attempt to be represented by an agent (or manager) and find entry-level jobs on shows. Among those beginner jobs, accept anything at all that gets you in the mix, even receptionist or p.a. Higher up the chain are Writers Assistants and Researcher, but those are competitive positions. Joining a staff of a show is the goal, but that usually takes a very strong portfolio, excellent representation and perseverance.

Since most shows are written and created in Los Angeles, even when they shoot elsewhere, it is important to live in Los Angeles. However, once in a while staff jobs may become available in New York, Miami and elsewhere.

Tell us about your book and what inspired you to write it.

The Third Edition of Writing the TV Drama Series is essential to writing current television because it combines three aspects you need: craft, how the industry works, and perspective on the future. Interviews, analyses of script segments, and step-by-step guides to both writing and placing pilots and episodes make this the truly complete book on the subject. It has been adopted by TV networks in their programs for new writers, and is required reading at the major film schools throughout the United States and internationally, where it has been translated into other languages. Anyone who has not read it will find themselves out of the loop.

I was pressured to write it by years of students in my classes, and the first edition was the exact class I teach. Initially I was reluctant to take time away from my creative work to spend on a text. But at the time no source was available that I considered complete and current enough, so I had to write this. Since that earliest version in 2005, I have enhanced the book greatly as the world of television continues to evolve in exciting ways.

What´s your best insider advice for someone who wants to pursue a screenwriting career?

Get into the USC School of Cinematic Arts in the Writing Division, and take the entire television track culminating in creating an original series in the TV Thesis. You will graduate with pilots and episodic spec scripts as well as internships that give you insights into how shows run. If that´s not possible, find another film program that approximates this. In Los Angeles, UCLA extension offers non-degree introductory and intermediate classes open to the public. The Tisch School at NYU is another excellent choice. Search around for offerings at universities near you.

If schools are out of the question, read and watch everything you can find, especially produced scripts, and then join a workshop for feedback as you write.

Which type of writing do you think presents a bigger challenge – TV or movies?

Unquestionably TV is more challenging. A single movie script has an arc that ends, and usually has a single major quest or conflict. Of course there are complications and dimensions of characters, and ideally, a fully developed antagonist. But structurally, it´s relatively simple. That´s not to say movies can´t be entertaining and stimulating. For directors, special effects and stunt people and certain kinds of actors, theatrical films may be more fulfilling. And some kinds of subjects – especially fantasy action – are far better suited to movies.

For writers, TV offers a range of story-telling that is long, complex and multi-layered. Because storylines must be able to continue for 100 hours (in a traditional 5-season run) a larger potential has to be developed in relationships, character depth and story surprises. In “the long narrative” a single story doesn´t end in an hour, but may weave through many episodes, or a full season, as in 12-episode seasons typical of shows like Dexter. Even in procedurals like The Good Wife, House, CSI, and so forth, where plots do conclude in each episode, enough “legs” must be present in the franchise and “juice” in the characters to make viewers want to watch the show again next week and next.

For a working writer, TV is greatly more demanding than movies. If you´re on your own writing a screenplay, you can work your own hours at your own pace and take as long as you need to figure out all the elements and rewrite after getting feedback over and over. But television writers have to be on top of their craft and fast. There´s no time learn on the job; if you´re on the staff of a show you must deliver finished, polished work, on time. The show is on every week, and if you don´t write the script, someone else will, and you´ll be gone.

What are some of the most significant changes you´ve observed in the American television market?

Five great changes have made television better in the 21st century. (1) The proliferation of broadcast outlets, especially the increase in scripted shows on basic cable; (2) The high quality of TV literature that now goes beyond premium cable and extends competitively everywhere; (3) alternates in viewing including DVR and other time-shifting technologies that make shows accessible at any time, and mobile and other devices make shows accessible at any place, thus increasing overall viewership; (4) The rise of the Internet as both a delivery and production powerhouse, adding even more opportunities for original shows including those for niche interests; (5) International production collaborations and international audiences for American shows and American-international hybrids. All five demonstrate that TV is in a growth phases, and where newness and growth prevails so does opportunity.

Given the proliferation of reality TV shows, does this mean that producers don´t have much interest in courting writers that know how to pen original plots?

First, so-called “reality” or “unscripted” shows are neither real nor unscripted. They are written by writers and acted by actors who deserve to be credited and properly compensated for their craft. Those who unfairly exploit writers by defying minimum working conditions and labor laws don´t belong at the bank cashing in; they belong in court, in my opinion. Because stations are now backing away from the legal and economic complications of those shows, the proliferation of them is slowing. I´m not saying the number of new reality shows is being reduced because the producers who profiteer off them have suddenly gained morality. They are dwindling because the profits aren´t what they used to be. And finally viewer fatigue has set in.

Original, professional-quality pilots are very much valued.

In addition to being an accomplished writer, you´re an artist. What has art taught you about writing and vice versa?

Both co-exist as expressions of my insights and visions. Some subjects are better treated with words, especially those that rely on character development and explore relationships and issues over time. Visual arts are immediate and passionate responses, and a chance to have a different kind of visceral impact on individual viewers. Writing is more difficult than painting partly because of sitting long hours at a computer, and partly because writing can´t fall back on physical materials; confronting a blank page is more daunting to me than a blank canvas. But neither specifically teaches the other. They are complementary aspects of a creative life.

Writing the TV Drama Series is available at Amazon as well as Michael Wiese Productions (http://www.mwp.com).

 

What Are You Laughing At? How to Write Funny Screenplays, Stories and More

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“Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps,” wrote English essayist William Hazlitt, “for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are and what they ought to be.”

While pain and loss are the common denominators that universally produce tears, identifying the elements that trigger giggles, chuckles, and rip-snorting, knee-slapping guffaws is much harder. Humor is not only predicated on whether we´re a victim, participant or observer in the hilarity that ensues but also age, gender, education, ethnicity, social status and even where we live. A penguin that walks into a bowling alley in a New Yorker cartoon is likely to generate adult mirth from an incongruous caption that mixes sophistication with silliness. In a children´s show, the same penguin isn´t funny until he gets hit in the face with a cream pie or tries to evade an oncoming rush of bowling balls. If someone trips over the penguin in America´s Funniest Home Videos and smacks his head on the ball-return mechanism, we laugh at the man´s clumsiness, disregarding the realities of potentially knocking all his teeth out or getting a concussion from which a blot clot forms and subsequently kills him.

Humor sits at a complex intersection between context and audience. And who better to explain what tickles our collective funny bones than Brad Schreiber, author of What Are You Laughing At? How to Write Funny Screenplays, Stories and More.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Let’s start with some general background about who you are, what you’ve done, and when did the writing bug first bite you?

I describe my writing background as “psychotically eclectic,” because I have written for film, TV, stage, radio, advertising, fiction, nonfiction and was once hired to write dialogue for a pre-recorded phone line called “Dial-an-Insult” but I´m not so proud of that. I attended Burlingame High School in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I actually became more interested in acting than writing. Then, I eventually was the Editor-in-Chief of the school newspaper and Editor of the school literary magazine as well.

My writing career evolved from medium to medium and I now crossover in TV, film, books and theatre. Writers who work in numerous media find that some pay better than others, but those others sometimes provide greater artistic satisfaction so the trade-off is calculated and very worthwhile. I´ve always advised writers to try and develop their skills in one more than one area.

Some people are funny in person while others are funnier in print. Which category best fits you and why?

I think I am funniest wearing my flannel pajamas covered with the character Stewie from the TV series Family Guy. I think the humor writer who is “good in a room” pitching or has performance experience has an advantage over other comedy writers in TV and film. Success in those media is predicated not only on perceptions of your talent but your personality and ability to adapt to new suggestions.

Thus, the comedy writer who has performed onstage may well have this advantage. I don´t think more introspective humor writers need to be standups or in comedy groups, but I strongly advise taking an improvisation class at least once to loosen up, to expand their abilities, to free associate. When I was 18, I was in a comedy troupe in the Bay Area called the Burlingame Philharmonic Orchestra. Unfortunately, an actual orchestra complained when they saw our name on the bill at a club, asking who we were and why they did not get the gig. Still, performing on radio, TV, stage and in recording studios helped me to gain confidence in meeting new people and promoting my work.

Humor covers a broad spectrum of everything from pie-in-the-face pratfalls to sophisticated wit and sarcasm. Tell us a bit about what kind of mirth appeals to different demographics and how writers can use this awareness to pen funny scripts and stories.

This is a tricky question. As I say in my humor writing book What Are You Laughing At?, humor is as personal as the clothing you wear, and sometimes in as bad taste. I´m not sure of the exact demographic for fruit-pie-in-the-face compared to meringue but I can tell you this: the more people you try to appeal to, the broader and less sophisticated the humor becomes. Thus, a comedy screenplay based on wordplay will not be as accepted in other countries as one relying upon physical comedy.

English male comedians like wearing women´s clothes. Perhaps because women get to wear more silk. I don´t know. But the English also have a love of wordplay, so there is room within the culture for sophistication as well. I think it´s dangerous to make universal assumptions about what kind of humor will appeal to Ecuadorians. Here´s an example of the unpredictability of humor to a specific nationality. After one of my books was published, I went to the Book Expo America in New York City. I met a group of German publishing executives at a party. They were dressed in suits, seemed very intelligent, business savvy and knowledgable about American culture and the corporate world. But when one of them mentioned not liking a type of food because it made him fart, they all erupted into laughter like a group of prepubescent boys. Then, they started talking nonstop about flatulence. But it would be a mistake to think all Germans like fart jokes. Or at least, I pray to God they don´t.

In the end, you should write humor from passion and from strength. As always, it is good to learn about all kinds of approaches to comedy. But I have to quote the great Bill Cosby, here: “I don´t know what the key to success is. But the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

Who did you think was funny when you were growing up? Who do you think is funny now?

My mother, Mona, was an actor and writer and told great jokes, did voices and had a profound effect on my artistic development. I watched way too much TV as a child. I watched stuff that even bored me. But there were no computers then. I loved certain animated series, including Rocky and Bullwinkle, which had jokes for kids and adults combined. An early TV series I enjoyed was My Favorite Martian with Bill Bixby and the great Ray Walston. I don´t think the show would have worked so well if Walston´s humorous intensity, his commitment to the role, wasn´t so focused. The two antennae protruding from his head also helped.

 

I recall seeing Bob Hope early on TV and loving the quality of his material. Of course, he also had tremendous writers, including the great Larry Gelbart, who I was fortunate enough to get to know a bit. One of the great honors of my life was getting a blurb from Larry on my humor book, saying, “Finally, a how-to by somebody who actually knows how to.” Prior to the great Johnny Carson, Jack Paar exhibited not only a brilliant wit but an exceptional intelligence for a talk show host. I could go on and on. Generally speaking, I want humor writers and performers to have a unique approach to the world as they see it: I don´t want something warmly familiar. I want something that feels like it builds on the history of humor.

Tell us about your book, what topics it covers and what inspired you to write it? What’s the takeaway value you want readers to have when they’re finished?

It´s the only book I know of that looks at all forms of humor writing, both in script and prose form. It´s also the only book to have an out-of-focus, closeup of a laughing pig on the cover. You see, there´s a lesson right on the cover: As you laugh at the pig, it laughs at you too.

The book not only has over 75 excerpts from great humor writers but also writing exercises I have created. I used to teach Humor Writing at UCLA Extension and the book built upon my course materials. I also have insinuated some principles that apply not only to humor but to dramatic writing as well.

What are some of the common mistakes that people make when they’re trying to write humorous dialogue and silly scenarios?

Vulgarity for shock value. Cultural references that will become dated. Sketches that do not have a beginning, middle and end but repeat a situation or character flaw over and over. Using exclamation points and all capital letters to make unfunny dialog somehow funnier. DO YOU THINK THAT´S ALL IT TAKES!!

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you about comedy?

I can tell you the worst advice I have ever heard and I have heard it more than once: Analyzing comedy kills it. Wrong. Understanding the flow of words, how juxtaposition creates humor, why shock and surprise work, all these things are important to know. I have a section in “What Are You” called Yiddish Sound Theory, explaining why certain words sound funnier than others that have the same meaning. You require talent to write humor but understanding principles will aid all writers of comedy.

What are some movies and television programs that you think lend themselves well to the study of comedic delivery?

I don´t believe in citing my favorite movies and TV shows and comedians too often because everyone´s taste is different. But I do believe you as a writer and/or performer should be able to tell anyone why you like one person over another. Is it about material or intonation or appearance or facial expressions or topics? If you force me against my will- which you are, damn you, Christina – here are some faves: Verbal dexterity in standup: Robin Williams. Uniqueness as a female standup: Phyllis Diller. TV ensemble acting: The Carol Burnett Show. Uniqueness of sketch writing: MadTV. The last American comedy film that I thought broke new ground was The Hangover. If you disagree with any of this, then I didn´t mean any of it.

What’s the most recent thing you laughed about and why was it funny?

I´m a playwright member of the Actors Studio in Los Angeles. After a recent reading of a darkly comedic play of mine, some folks, including Mark Rydell, who runs things, gathered at a deli. He told me how he knew the meekly humorous actor Wally Cox, who came over Rydell´s mother´s house for dinner once. Mama Rydell kept giving him more food and Cox kept politely saying he was full. Finally, when she ignored him for the fifth time, in his typically timid voice, Cox said, “Shove it up your ass, Mrs. Rydell.” Mark said his father laughed so hard that he cried. Now I ask you, if Cox was anything but mousy, would this line have elicited laughter?

If you could go to lunch with any comedian from the past or the present, who would it be and what question would you most like to ask him or her?

Even though I knew him, I would bring Larry Gelbart back to life and have a nice, long lunch with him, shot on video, to keep for posterity. While he was not a comedian, he was one of the most remarkable comedy writers in history. His career spanned radio, TV, theatre and film. He infused his characters, no matter how flawed, with great humanity. He broke comedic ground with the TV series M*A*S*H, films like Tootsie, his remarkable theatre work, including Mastergate and films like Barbarians at the Gate. His adaptability, his perspective on the changing nature of humor and his brilliance with both comedy and drama in writing made him very special. He was also a mensch and I loved him.

What are you working on now?

I got the rights back to my first book, Weird Wonders and Bizarre Blunders: The Official Book of Ridiculous Records and I published it as a Kindle book on Amazon. My book about Jimi Hendrix is under option with me to write the screenplay. I am also adapting Becoming Jimi Hendrix as a musical and I am attached as screenwriter to a project about Formula One car racing that will be a big, international co-production.

Where can readers learn more about you?

http://www.BradSchreiber.com and also they can enter my name at http://www.RedRoom.com for more video, audio and reviews. THANKS, CHRISTINA! I mean, thanks, Christina.