[THREE CENTS] Sounds Like… A Different Band Entirely

Alex Turner and Niall Horan

Different Bands Entirely
Not the same guy

A few months ago I was listening to the radio and heard a new song I was sure was by the Arctic Monkeys, or at the very least a solo tune by the lead singer of the Arctic Monkeys.

Turns out, I had no idea what I was talking about.

It also turns out that I had no idea who the lead singer of the Arctic Monkeys is (it’s Alex Turner) or most of One Direction (we won’t list them here, but for sure you can Google it if you’ve got the time).

The song in question was Nice to Meet Ya by Niall Horan (of One Direction, apparently). It’s catchy. I like it. Nevertheless, I propose it should become part of the repertoire of the aforementioned Monkeys instead.

I mean, right?

I suspect I’m not alone here. In the broader, conceptual way at least.

It’s a pretty common experience to attribute songs to the wrong band. You hear something on the radio, or maybe in the mall, and you’ll swear it’s by artist A. Only it’s not. It’s by Artist K. Sometimes P. Who knew?

I think it’s time for radical action.

To clear up any confusion in the future, and – more importantly – have the world make a little more sense, I recommend these soundalike songs be annexed by the groups they sound like.

Please write your local representatives.

Check out the examples below. Of course, seeing the videos kind of undermines the mistaking notion, but I think the idea still stands.

Maybe close your eyes and just listen…

How can you hear Stuck in the Middle With You by Stealers Wheel and not think you’re listening to Bob Dylan?

Dylan Doppelganger

How is it possible that Sister Hazel‘s Hard to Say isn’t really by Blues Traveler?

The low rez video really ups the confusion level

And most of all, tell me that The HolliesLong Cool Woman in a Black Dress isn’t actually a Creedence Clearwater Revival Song?

(turns out this is actually kind of by design)

Creedence Clearwater Redundant

Come to think of it, former Creedence lead singer, John Fogerty, actually got sued because his solo song The Old Man Down the Road sounded too much like his CCR song, Run Through the Jungle. That lawsuit was like an Escher drawing.

Did I mention The Great Commandment by Camouflage should be by Depeche Mode? It’s true.

Just can’t get enough? Here’s more of the same, but different

Speaking of the 80s, there was a song by Regina called Baby Love that for all intents and purposes was Madonna. I don’t even think Regina would fight me on that.

A Madonna by any other name

And just the other night, I realized Love is Like Oxygen by Sweet should actually belong to ELO. At least the chorus…

I’ve got nothing pithy to say here. I just love this song.

Sometimes these are happenstance, and sometimes there’s intention.

There’s a bit of a fine line between homage and plagiarism. Some might say Blurred Lines. If you’re trying to literally sound like an existing song, you’re risking a lawsuit or worse. On the other hand, just sounding like an existing band might keep you out of trouble. It might even get you a hit single.

Some musicians manage to successfully thread the needle.

Billy Joel‘s whole An Innocent Man album was designed to pay homage to various artists. The vast majority of Lenny Kravitz‘s career is an homage to the 1970s.

Conversely, Lady Gaga‘s Born This Way might’ve cut a little too close to the way her inspiration chose to express herself.

It’s all in the ear of the beholder. And possibly their attorneys.

Any songs you were sure were by another artist and feel that second artist should just absorb it into their catalog? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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[THE NETWORK] Fame-Ish

FAME-ISH movie poster with Jeff Nimoy and Margo Graff at an anime Con.
Fame-Ish

Pandemic or not, it’s never a bad time to highlight a new project by a friend and fellow creative in the entertainment trenches.

The network is life.

This month, the person in the spotlight is Jeff Nimoy and his freshly-released comedy feature, Fame-Ish.

Although this is his feature directorial debut, Jeff has been a voice actor, writer, and director for years.

I met Jeff almost a decade ago at a weekly Sunday softball pick-up game in Studio City. The 8 am game I played in ends at 10, which is when the next group starts their game.

Anyway, as I regularly packed up my gear before leaving, I started to notice a guy from the 10 o’clock game frequently wearing Mets gear. This always catches my eye. There are a lot of transplanted New Yorkers in Los Angeles, but not nearly enough of them are Mets fans.

Eventually, I overhead this guy mention going to NYU. Clearly, he was just a different version of me, so my hand was forced. I went over and introduced myself.

Razor Kidd from Mutant League
Razor Kidd – words by Smiley, voice by Nimoy

Turns out we had even more in common than it seemed.

When I mentioned his name to Rhonda after getting home, she revealed that they had actually worked together years before.

As Jeff describes it, Rhonda gave him one of his earliest big breaks when she was working as a Co-Producer on the animated series, Mutant League. She cast him as Razor Kidd, the protagonist’s best friend, and just like that he had one of his first regular voice acting roles.

And regular paycheck to go along with it.

Years later, I found out through Facebook that Jeff was friends and former NYU classmates with actor and producer, Anjul Nigam, who I had worked with in the late nineties on Mowgli: The New Adventures of the Jungle Book.

Anjul Nigam as Namas in Mowgli: The New Adventures of the Jungle Book
Anjul Nigam in Mowgli: The New Adventure of the Jungle Book

To quote the Magic Kingdom, “It’s a small world after all. It’s a small, small world.”

This, of course, is a great illustration of the way that almost everybody is connected in this industry. Which both blows the mind and makes complete sense at the same time.

Be good to the people you work with, for, or who work for you. You’re connected in more ways than you might realize, so it’s in everyone’s best interest.

Wait a second… What was I talking about? Oh, yeah, Jeff Nimoy.

Throughout his career, Jeff has worn many hats (and not just Mets or Canarsie ones). He’s a paleo enthusiast and chef as the Cooking Caveman, created a dating site based on dietary preferences called Sameplate, and even won an Emmy for his work with NFL Films (the Emmy makes a cameo in the movie. Did I mention he made a movie?).

Writer and director of Fame-Ish, Jeff Nimoy
Mets Gear = Fellow Masochist

The thing he’s most well-known for, though, is all his work in the world of anime.

In addition to his behind-the-scenes credits, he’s made a name for himself as the voice of Tentomon in various Digimon series, as well as the iconic role of Nicholas D. Wolfwood in Trigun.

It’s the Wolfwood character and the fandom that comes along with it that dovetails into the storyline for Fame-Ish.

Playing a fictionalized version of himself in the movie, Jeff struggles through the trials and tribulations of a stalled entertainment career.

Here’s the logline:

A washed-up voice director succumbs to the pitfalls of small-time celebrity at an anime convention.

Nicholas D. Wolfwood of Trigun
Nicholas D. Wolfwood… or is it Jeff Nimoy?

Rhonda often talks about how fascinating it can be to get a glimpse inside a subculture. This one – a dramatized world of anime voice actors at a convention in the virtual-middle-of-nowhere – is no exception.

The making of the indie movie itself has an origin story, but you should hear that from the man himself in his post on Medium.

Anyway, Fame-ish is a fun watch, and slickly produced for a micro-budget indie (it’s officially Not Rated, but I’d call it maybe PG-13 equivalent for language and adult situations).

It’s available for rental or purchase on a ridiculous amount of platforms right now. Check it out for yourself and support independent filmmaking!

This picture moves and makes sounds when you click on it

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[IN THE TRENCHES] Chris Cluess – A Man for All Formats

Emmy-winning screenwriter, Chris Cluess, is not easily pigeonholed. Does he do sketches? Sitcoms? Hour-long? Features?

Screenwriter Chris Cluess
Chris Cluess, making it look easy

How about animation? Novels?

Yes. Yes, he does.

If a format exists, Chris has more than likely written for it at one point or another.

In fact, his list of credits is not only long, but filled with work on iconic series like SCTV, Cheers, Newhart, and The Simpsons.

He’s been a Creator with Madman of the People, Producer on Night Court, Beggars and Choosers, and MADtv, even a Creative Consultant on Homeboys in Outer Space.

Talk about variety…

Clearly, Chris has been doing something very right for quite a few years now.

What’s your writing “origin story?”  Do you remember the first thing you wrote that wasn’t a school assignment?

When I was in the Navy I had a semi-girlfriend, who is a very well known writer today, and I used to write her letters from the front. Now, “the front” sounds exciting but in reality it was wherever I was. I was hoping that by being witty and interesting on the page, that she would be waiting for me with open arms, ready to be swept off her feet when I got out of the service.

That didn’t happen.

I’d do two letters a week, most weeks. Long story short, her arms were tightly closed when I arrived back on the scene, but she urged me to consider being a writer. Because, she said, you already are one. So I let her go but intently listened to her. Thanks to her for all of this.

What do you consider your professional “big break,” and how did it come about?

National Lampoon Magazine. 1975. In ’74 I had formed a writing partnership with a guy named Stu Kreisman. We had similar senses of humor and, for both of us, there was
a sense of comfort in being a team. When you failed, you didn’t fail alone. We had been writing sketches together for a year or so when a late night TV show appeared on the scene. It was called “NBC’s Saturday Night” which (as you’ve guessed I’m sure) became “SNL.” We had never seen anything like it. The inmates were running the asylum.

The 1982 Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program goes to SCTV
Winning an Emmy for SCTV. Or the red bowtie. Unclear.

The Monday after the Saturday premiere, we showed up at 30 Rock looking for writing jobs. We were directed to the third floor office of a very young Lorne Michaels. Upon arrival we found his assistant, a fine young woman named Kathy Minkowski and introduced ourselves as two hot young writers and, without hesitation, asked for writing jobs on the show. She looked at us not as “hot young writers” but as two turnips off the turnip truck. Which is what we really were.

We offered a binder full of our labor, probably 50 of our finest sketches. She said that she could not accept them, they had to be submitted by our agent. Our agent. Didn’t have one of those. Quandry. She suggested we take our binder and try to get an agent with it. Then resubmit. We would hear none of that. We were cute and funny guys and we would bring a lot to the show. Fifty sketches ready to go. We urged her to take it and read it. She said no. She said if left behind, the binder and its hilarious content, would end up in the trash. We challenged her and left it behind. On her desk. She sighed. We smiled and told her we would be waiting for a call from the producer and left.

Newhart Main title Graphic
Working with a legend on a show that would become legendary

When we got in the elevator, we looked at each other and knew quite well that that binder was headed for the city dump. A few hours later, my partner was driving to his Long Island home. I was in the passenger seat, about to be dropped off at the 57th Street subway station to head back to my luxurious distant Queens apartment, when a miracle happened.

As we were stopped at the 7th Avenue red light, I noticed a door open from a building on the north side of the street. Three men came out and walked directly in front of his car and into a taxi right in front of us. The men? John Belushi, Danny Aykroyd and Garrett Morris. We knew this was Kismet. I said the line from the ’30’s movie…“Follow that cab!”…and he did. We followed it all the way to Fifth Avenue, where we all made a right turn and headed towards Rockefeller Center.

The cab pulled up by the Atlas statue in front of 30 Rock. We pulled up behind. A cop signaled my partner to drive on. As I dove out of his car he said “If you’re ever going to make an impression on anyone…do it now!” and drove off at the annoyed cop’s urging. I worked my way through the five o’clock crowd on the street and approached the cab. Morris was out, Belushi was out and Akroyd was paying the cabbie. As I approached, I said in a very loud voice…“Stop! I’m not going to hurt you!” They heard “I’m going to hurt you!” Morris ran off, Belushi covered up and Akroyd prepared to fight me.

Night Court Executive Producers Chris Cluess and Stu Kreisman in front of Warner Brothers
From staff writers to Executive Producers on Night Court

I quickly explained what had transpired that day and mentioned Ms. Minkowski’s name and he lowered his hands. I told him the whole story and how we were sure the binder was in the trash. He took my phone number, Belushi muttered “asshole” under his breath and they went inside.

When Stu came around for the third time of circling the block, I jumped in the car and reported.

That night at 12:24 am my phone rang. It was Akroyd. He said I found your binder in the trash. I read some of the stuff and I have to say, a lot of this is purely crap. Not what I wanted to hear. However, he then said “…but some of it’s not bad.” He then invited us to come up to the office the next day and hang out with him.

We were there a lot over the next few weeks. Danny picked four or five things and asked us to rewrite them. When we were done, he would present them to Lorne and pitch us for the show. We did as he asked and finally gave him what he wanted. He kept his word and presented them to Lorne, who told him there would be no new hires this season. That this would probably be the only season. So, no thanks.

Now, what does this have to do with National Lampoon from an hour and a half ago? Upon breaking the news to us that we were not getting hired, Danny called Editor In Chief, Sean Kelly, at NAT LAMP and said “I think I might have two guys for you.”

We spent the next three years there. Got us an agent and the title “Hot young writers.”

What are the pros and cons of working with a partner vs. working alone?

Think I answered that already. See above. The down side is you don’t have your own identity. You’re one of “them.” Walked away from “them” after 25 years.

MADtv 2006 Cast
MADtv, the other late-night sketch show that could

You’ve written for a lot of different formats – sketch, sitcom, feature, etc.  Do you have a favorite?

Most fun is sketch. You set it up, you hit the joke and you get paid.

I actually enjoyed the novel that I wrote last year very much.

Is there a character or actor you enjoyed writing for more than others?

John Laroquette. He never missed. Eugene Levy. Always correct. John Candy. Could make anything better. Catherine O’Hara. Key & Peele. Bob Newhart. Quite a few.

Too many bummers to mention.

Is there a television series you wish you wrote for and why?

The Sopranos. When my partnership of 25 years broke up I was still part of “them.” I had to write a spec script(!!!!) to identify myself. The Sopranos had just started. I totally fell in love on first view. I wrote a Sopranos. Gave it to my agent on a Thursday. He got it out to producers on Friday. Had two job offers by Tuesday. Sadly, not from The Sopranos. I would have killed on that show…you know like everyone else.

You won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program with SCTV.  How did it feel to hear Milton Berle call your name?

That was a trip. He had a good size list to read and he stumbled all through it. We had a
blast.

What aspect of working in the industry are you better at now than when you first started out?

Chris Cluess Writing Credit on The Simpsons - "Donnie Fatso" (2010)
A credit with a classic backdrop on The Simpsons

I am a much better writer than I have ever been. I never want to “produce” anything ever
again.

Have you been doing any writing during the quarantine, or do you have another creative outlet?

I have recently written an episode of “Modern Love” for Amazon. That was fun. I’m currently employed to write a movie musical with director John Carney (“Once” “Sing Street”) for legendary producer Irwin Winkler. He makes me say legendary.

What kind of advice would you give to writers looking to follow in your footsteps?

Don’t give up your day job. But, if you have to, work hard, listen to your notes and find
yourself a mentor. I’m not available.

SHORT ATTENTION SPAN ROUND

Baseball or Stickball?

Baseball to watch, stickball to play. Started a league in LA 11 years ago. Still going today.

Unpopular movie you actually love?

Little Cigars” It’s a movie filled with gangsters played by mi…dwa…“Little People” and a big blonde named Angel Tompkins. Also, Lawrence Of Arabia. Angel is not in that one.

Scorsese or Coppola?

Amazon Original Modern Love
Streaming into the future on Amazon Prime

One is a Catholic stained romantic who loves violence and one makes fun wine. They both make great movies.

Favorite Deli Item?

Nice lean pastrami or Matzo ball soup. Or both.

iPhone or Android?

I phone. No joke.

Favorite Yankee?

I’m a white guy of a certain age: Mickey Charles Mantle. Read his bio by Jane Leavy : “The Last Boy” magnificent. OH, and Thurman Munson.

Thanks so much to Chris for taking the time – during these uncertain times – to share some wisdom. Something he wrote is likely playing or streaming at every moment of the day, with new work being produced all the time.

Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for his upcoming episode of Modern Love on Amazon Prime. Season Two is tentatively set to premiere this Fall.

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[THREE CENTS] What Now?

The End Graphic from Casablanca
Hopefully not really

If there ever was a point where a question felt most appropriate, it’s today. What now?

Not where are you going to find toilet paper, or how best to hide from your children, or whether you’re more of a “summer” or “fall” mask.

No, the question is – what are you going to write next?

If you’re like me, you’ve got a million ideas for various screenplays, novels, shorts, comics, webisodes… maybe even blog posts.

In fact, I’ve got them everywhere. There’s dozens of loglines spread across several docs on my laptop, a handful of started-and-abandoned treatments, another bunch of thoughts on scrap paper, receipts, and coffee shop napkins. Not to mention the notes on my phone.

Ideas are cheap, though. They don’t really have value until you make something of them.

But if you have a dizzying number of starting points, how do you decide which one to bring to fruition next?

Hopefully, the potential end of the world has given you some impetus to think about those ideas and realize you’re probably not going to get to all of them before you shuffle off your mortal coil. Or even die.

Maybe imagine yourself on that hypothetical death bed (this is fun, right?!). What’s the idea you’re disappointed you never worked on?

I was at a recent Q & A with Steven Spielberg where he was asked how he decides which film to direct next when he has numerous projects in development.

The answer was, basically, the one that haunts him. That he can’t get out his mind. The one he dreams about when he’s sleeping and then daydreams about when he’s awake.

Does one of your ideas stand out above the rest? Consume you?

No? If they’re all neck-and-neck, I’d definitely lean towards the most commercial one.

Barring that, you could always throw a dart, I guess.

There’s no one single way to decide what now. Though obviously, if you’re a writer, it needs to be done. Hopefully, again and again.

Whatever your method, a virtual quarantine seems like a good time to give it some thought.

Thankfully, I feel fine. For now.

Remember, be safe and smart. We need to be around to make as many of these ideas happen as we can.

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[IN THE TRENCHES] Tech vs. Spec

Motorola Bravo Pager
Cutting edge… circa 1991

In the never-ending war of tech vs. spec, tech wins almost every time.

Not too long ago, a production company liked a script Rhonda Smiley and I wrote, but the scale was a little too small for them. They asked if we had anything else that might fit their mandate, so we quickly pitched an older spec.

They liked what they heard.

Which – surprisingly – is where the trouble started.

When we took a look at the script (for the first time in a while), we realized that the years had thrown us a curveball.

So much of the tech written about in the script was completely outdated. Not to mention… was Occupy Wall Street even a thing anymore?

As it was, I had previously done a pass to get rid of characters plugging into a wall for the internet, but progress had undermined us once more.

There was a mad scramble to update, and we were lucky to turn it around before the company lost interest.

This is a cautionary tale.

AT&T Public Phone.  By Brownings - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1069794
Today, these fit in your pocket

At some point soon, you might find out a production company or studio is looking for a certain kind of project, and you think the spec you wrote a few years back nails it.

Let me stop you right there.

You need to check for damage first.

That script may have been perfect when you finished it, but you’re almost definitely gonna need to revise it anyway. Time has taken a toll.

The easiest fix is updating cultural references. Make sure nobody is using the Yellow Pages, is excited to watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones, or yearns to become a celebrity couple like Brangelina.

Simple, but necessary.

The more complex problems are likely to be technological sabotage to your intricately woven pages. Tech is always changing and now even faster than ever before. Don’t let an old script show its age.

In the movie, The Firm, a huge tension-filled plot point revolves around a fax that could doom Tom Cruise. At the time, faxes were printed on specialized paper that tended to curl up after printing. This particular one fell on the ground, rolled underneath the machine, and out of view.

The Firm (1993).  Hidden fax printout.
Not gonna happen in 2020.

As a result, it wasn’t immediately found by the bad guys, leaving Tom more time to save the day… or make a deal with the mob… or something. I’m not quite sure. It was a little confusing at the end there.

What I know for sure is you couldn’t use that plot device today. Info now comes by email, text, or social media, and it comes instantaneously. Often to multiple recipients.

In fact, delays of transmitting information or difficulties getting in touch with people are probably the most significant issues for old scripts. If that kind of beat is in your spec, you’d better figure out a way to replace it.

Some contemporary substitutions are lost phones, dead batteries, and “no bars.” If none of those can fix your issue, you might have to rethink entire sequences.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to technology making a script dated.

In 2020, characters doing research rarely require scrolling through microfiche at the local library… Documents don’t need to be stolen for evidence, when a 4K picture can be taken by a smartphone… Speaking of photos, no longer do characters have to wait for film to be developed or worry about it being exposed to light and destroyed… And a broken-down ride can be resolved with a mere click or two.

Uber and Lyft stickers on car windshield.
No car? No problem.

If you’re overwhelmed by the changes required in your script, you might be tempted to salvage what you already have by making it a “period piece.”

But if there really isn’t a thematic or story motivation for it, it’s just gonna feel wrong.

Let the shortcut go and do the work required instead. The result will be worth it.

In the end, when it comes to digging into that spec library you’ve created over the years, make sure to always do your due diligence. And amend before you send.

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[IN THE TRENCHES] The End of the Road

The End of the Road
Fading out?

Writing is hard. Making a living writing, is almost impossible.

So, have you imagined a time when you’d stop? Stop writing. Stop trying to get discovered. Stop trying to get hired, produced, or published.

Have you imagined a scenario where you’d actually move on?

Some people even start their pursuit with a potential end in mind. “If I haven’t sold something by 40, I’m calling it quits!”

Is it 40 for you? 50? 60?

The entertainment industry is rough. Crazy competitive. Even if you’re an amazing writer, it still doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to find a place and thrive. It helps, of course, but it’s no guarantee.

When I first graduated from film school, I moved across the country to L.A. to try and make it in the biz as a screenwriter. A lot of fellow alumni did the same.

Surrender Dorothy
Sadly, the industry is more Wicked Witch than Glinda.

A lot of them didn’t last.

Some left after only a few years. Some took a decade or so before switching careers. One of my friends came for a couple of years, then left, then came back again, and then finally left for good.

My understanding is that he’s currently living a happy life in the Pacific Northwest, far away from the madness. Good for him.

It’s hard to keep going when you’re not getting the response you’re looking for. Even if you’ve been a working screenwriter for years, sometimes things slow to a standstill. Contacts retire, story editors have more writers than they have assignments, burnout sets in.

You can really being to wonder.

Am I done? Is this the end? Do I actually want this to be the end?

Obviously it’s a personal choice. There’s no right or wrong way to chart your course.

So, if you think that going back to school to become a therapist, or getting your real estate license, or opening a coffee shop is the way to go… Then that’s the way to go.

Never give up. Never surrender.
Never give up. Unless you want to, of course. Do you.

We only get one life (as I understand things so far). Do what works. What pays the bills. Ideally, what makes you happy.

So if that means continuing to channel your creativity into words, and stories, and scripts, despite a current lack of “success,” then age and bank accounts be damned.

Toni Morrison was 40 when she had her first novel published. Courtney Hunt‘s screenwriting debut earned her an Oscar nomination at 44. Angela’s Ashes was published when Frank McCourt was 66.

Not that these are common scenarios, of course, but it’s proof of what can be done at almost any age.

Ultimately we should all do what’s best for us.

For me, I don’t think I’ll ever be done trying to make things happen with my writing. I’m proud of what I’ve done so far, but I’m also still excited for all the things I’m going to do. As long as I’m living, I think I’ll continue striving to do more, better, bigger.

At least until I don’t.

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[ETCETERA] Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon… and Me

At this point, I’d say that we’ve pretty much all heard of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. The idea being that almost every actor can be connected to Kevin Bacon via his co-stars in six steps or less. Despite an extremely limited acting resume, even I can pull this off.

In fact, according to The Oracle of Bacon website, I have a Bacon number of three. Regardless, I don’t really count those particular connections as they start with me as a voice in an animated project. Not a solid foundation.

Instead, I’ve upped the degree of difficulty slightly, by only using live-action movies and connected actors who actually shared screen-time.

The end result is my Bacon number of five…

Kevin Bacon and Tom Cruise in "A Few Good Men"
Kevin Bacon and Tom Cruise in “A Few Good Men”
Tom Cruise and Frank Whaley in "Born on the Fourth of July"
Tom Cruise and Frank Whaley in “Born on the Fourth of July”
Frank Whaley and John Travolta in "Pulp Fiction"
Frank Whaley and John Travolta in “Pulp Fiction”
John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in "Grease"
John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in “Grease”
Olivia Newton-John and Michael Beck in "Xanadu"
Olivia Newton-John and Michael Beck in “Xanadu”
Michael Beck and James Hereth in "Jungle Book: Lost Treasure"
Michael Beck and James Hereth in “Jungle Book: Lost Treasure”

I assume they’ll lead with this in my obituary one day. Have a Happy New Year.

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[THREE CENTS] Thanks for “Nothing”

Woodstock and Snoopy split a Thanksgiving meal.
Woodstock being happy he isn’t a turkey

Pursuing a career as a working screenwriter is challenging at best. And maintaining an existing one is no walk in the park either. More like a walk through broken glass (while also eating it).

There can be days – years even – when it seems like my professional writing is on life support.

At this point I’m all too aware of what burnout feels like.

So how do you find hope or optimism in your writing journey during the dark days? How do you feel thankful when you’re pretty damn sure there’s nothing to be thankful for?

Back in the day, before he was creepy (other than the standard self-help-guru hucksterism weirdness), Tony Robbins had an exercise in his Personal Power tape series that addressed this.

Stack of Blowback Graphic Novels
Looks good vertically and horizontally

(yes, after enthusiastic recommendations from my roommates at the time, I actually ordered a set of tapes off late night television and found them about 80% helpful and only 20% nonsense).

In this exercise, Robbins instructed the listener to look around the room they were in and find and remember everything that was brown. Then he asked us to close our eyes and name everything in the room that was red (a tricky redirect as you might imagine).

After that, he had listeners open their eyes and actively look for everything red. Naturally, this time around, significantly more red objects were found.

The idea being that you tend to only see the things you’re looking for, leaving you blind to the things outside that adopted point of view.

Whatever you focus on is what you’ll see.

2019 Award Screeners
The annual swag pile. Still growing…

So that’s the essence here, really. If you only dwell on the things that make you miserable, that’s all you’re pretty much going to think is there.

On the other hand, if you devote some time and energy to direct your attention to the more positive things in your life – and career – you’ll tend to find them.

The seasonal point, of course, is to stop focusing on the brown parts of your career, and focus on the red instead. Metaphorically speaking.

What are you thankful for this year, screenwriting warriors? Here’s my list (with another month still to come)…

  • Did a small “test run” of Rhonda and my graphic novel, Blowback, while searching for a publisher Looks awesome (we even sold a few).
  • Got a script read by a production company thanks to the WGA submission portal (created as a result of their Agency Campaign). It ended up not being a fit for their mandate, but they liked the writing and it generated a new industry relationship.

So while – no – I didn’t get any award nominations myself, or sell a million dollar spec, I still had things to be upbeat about. And today, that’s what I’ll focus on.

Now please pass the stuffing.

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[ETCETERA] The Wilhelm Scream

Wilhelm Scream in Star Wars: A New Hope (1977).
Wilhelm, rebooted

Most audiences are onto the fact that much of the sound they hear in movies and television isn’t made on set while the cameras are rolling.

The gunshot wasn’t actually recorded live. The song at the High School dance wasn’t coming through the on-screen speakers. Even something as straightforward as the footsteps of people walking down a hallway wasn’t likely captured at the actors’ feet.

Instead, most sounds are carefully selected from a sound effects library or recorded on a foley stage and then painstakingly placed by a SFX Editor during post production.

This is the world of make-believe, after all.

The sonic smoke and mirrors are even more prevalent in animation, where every bit of audio you hear, from dialogue to fist fights, to birds chirping in the distance is chosen and assembled on an edit system or audio software timeline.

The first Wilhelm Scream in Distant Drums (1951)
1951’s “Distant Drums.” Before Wilhelm was Wilhelm.

With that in mind, the question is: can a stock sound effect become legendary?

It can. It has.

Through the decades, a particular sound effect – a scream, to be specific – has come to find its way into an endless series of films.

This effect, known as The Wilhelm Scream, has been in even more shows and movies than Michael Caine!

Hard to believe.

According to Wikipedia, The Wilhelm Scream first appeared in the 1951 movie, Distant Drums. Oddly enough, it wasn’t screamed by the character Wilhelm until the Western, The Charge at Feather River, a couple of years later.

Life is complicated.

From there, Wilhelm’s scream has gone on to show up in over 425 more productions, from Reservoir Dogs to Toy Story to Terminator: Dark Fate.

Although a viable (though perhaps melodramatic) sound effect, its popularity is not quite by happenstance. At least, not at this point.

The first Wilhelm Scream by Wilhelm himself in The Charge at Feather River (1953).
An arrow to the thigh. A small price for fame, Wilhelm.

Iconic sound designer, Ben Burtt, first used it in the original Star Wars, and went on to popularize it throughout his career.

In short, it’s now become a bit of an “inside joke” among filmmakers. Though today, with everyone knowing the ins and outs of all things pop culture, it’s not nearly the secret it once was.

One of the things about this that fascinates me most, is that the actor behind this cinematic gem – reportedly Sheb Wooley – is still “alive” and well and performing in new movies all the time, despite being dead since 2003.

That’s no mean feat.

In short, I raise a glass to the immortal Wilhelm. Few have experienced more frequent and varied suffering on the silver screen merely for our entertainment.

If you weren’t already, be sure to keep an ear out and see if you can find it in the next movie you watch. Granted, if it’s a story about collecting butterflies, it’s probably not going to pop up. But anything a with a little action, and you’re likely to strike gold.

Enjoy!

It should really get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

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[IN THE TRENCHES] That First Gig

That Familiar Flying Logo

I think the primary question for most impending college graduates is: What now?

That was in the forefront of my mind as a senior in the film and television department at NYU.

I had a couple of thoughts.

There was a student I knew whose aunt coordinated parking for film shoots in the New York area. Maybe I’d start my professional career as a parking P.A. A few of my friends had done it over the previous summer break and ended up on Goodfellas. Not too shabby.

I’d also acted in a PSA during high school for a small production company on Long Island, and thought I might be able to get a job there. Maybe an internship. Something industry-related until I could sell my million dollar spec.

The Vault of Weird Goodness

Thankfully, there were then (and still are today) lots of entry-level industry positions to be had if you’re already in a city with media and entertainment companies.

Places like New York and Los Angeles are the obvious epicenters. But there are plenty of others throughout the country, to varying degrees. You just have to do some research on what’s in your particular area (or the area you’re going to. Particularly).

The types of industry jobs available just out of school are a bit of a smorgasbord as well, as my NYU peers illustrated quite nicely.

One friend started out as an assistant at a production company. Another friend, a camera operator on low-budget features. Still another started by doing script coverage for a producer. Beyond that there are P.A.s, personal assistants, receptionists, and coordinators, to name a few more. None of those jobs are going to get you a Tesla right out of the gate, but you’ve gotta start somewhere.

Before I pursued any of the local jobs I was thinking of, I got an offer from my friend, Tim, who had left school after the previous semester. He was in Los Angeles, working in development at a company called Franklin/Waterman Entertainment and there was a job to be had on one of their shows.

Back in the day, this was High Tech. Maybe Medium Tech.

(Note to everyone in every industry: Your friends are your network, and you are theirs).

The show was Night Flight, a weekly two-hour block of music videos, film shorts, and other odd odds and ends. It had originally been an overnight block on the USA Network, but this version aired nationally in late-night syndication.

My job was as a Segment Producer, which sounds mighty highfalutin for a kid fresh from college. What it really meant, though, was that I wasn’t on salary. Instead, it was my job to conceive of and pitch segments. With the approved ones, it would be up to me to edit them for airing on the show. Then I got to invoice.

Most of my segments were cobbled together from music videos, electronic press kits, public domain movies, and assorted other video weirdness from the show’s vast tape library.

My favorite piece was a dance montage called Hip Hop ‘Til Ya Drop, set to (and including) MC Hammer’s U Can’t Touch This, which was painstakingly stitched together to the beat from more than 25 music videos on a linear editing system. Please hold your applause until the end…

Night Flight graphics also Medium Tech.

When Night Flight finally invested in a professional grade Hi8 camera, I got to shoot bumpers, band interviews (The Sisters of Mercy, The Godfathers), and eventually even a short “film” of my own for the show (to be entailed in a future post).

In short, it was a great start for me – A reason to move to L.A., a landing place with an “endorsement, ” and a gig on a “brand name” series.

Granted, it’s been a roller coaster ever since, but it was a welcome entry point

The main thing to remember, is that you shouldn’t think of your first job as a life-and-death decision that will define the rest of your career. Not that you should take just anything. But primarily, it’s a place to start working, develop your network, and then figure out the best path to your ultimate goal.

Mine is to be cartoonishly wealthy and get anything I dream of produced.

I’m still working on it.

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