Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Don't Call It a Comeback, I Been Here for Years...

A close friend used to remark that I often acted as if there was a camera following me around, right down to me making sarcastic asides and raising an eyebrow Spock/Belushi-style to an imaginary fourth wall. She was right.

I was thinking about that last night, imagining my life as if it was THE TRUMAN SHOW, only significantly less pleasant.  Each year would represent a virtual TV season.  My pre-adolescence (a.k.a. the Seventies) would be a more dysfunctional version of THE WONDER YEARS, as in “I wonder how I survived those years” being the ultimate precocious smart-ass dealing with semi-hippie parents and the dissolution of their marriage.

My Eighties Era switches gears to the prototypical teen angst of a show like MY SO-CALLED LIFE, but as much as I’d like to claim kinship to either Angela or Jordan, OF COURSE I’d be Brian Krakow.  But maybe considerably more worse for wear, so mix in a little of the below-the-poverty line feel of GOOD TIMES? 

And as I fast-forward through the next twenty years, the tragic-comic moments quickly pile up like so many DVD box sets. So many stories – but all for another day.

Which brings me to the last two years.  What, you thought I’d keep up with the lame analogies for every period of my life?  Please, this is a blog, not a memoir.  But speaking of lame analogies, I got a doozy of one coming up for 2012…

Out of work for the first time in twenty-five years, I became disconnected from most of my friends and I felt vaguely disoriented on a daily basis. It was as if my own personal show-runner got canned and the TV series of my life was subsequently put on hiatus.

Thus, it was a year of tinkering and retooling, and I spent most of it working on my third screenplay: DO NOT DISTURB. When I wasn’t tapping away at the keyboard (wish it was still the typewriter era, for “pounding away” would have sounded much more visceral, albeit unintentionally sexual), I was constantly discussing the project with my friend Keith in L.A.

Acting as both my editor and conscience, Keith (or Mayhem, as I nicknamed him based on the Allstate TV spots) kept me on the right path.  Sure, I've yet to get over the fact he suggested the last line of the script five seconds before I would have come up with it myself – even as I type this, the memory still sets my teeth on edge.  Writers and their fragile fucking egos, what can I say, I’m a goddamned cliché.  Putting my pettiness aside, what’s happened over the past year is almost entirely due to his determination and perseverance.  I’m sure he’s gonna read that and smirk, as he knows I’m unlikely to ever be that gushy and nice again.  After all, I do have a rather nasty and spiteful reputation to maintain.

And then there was 2013. 

If this is the latest “TV Season of My Life” – it’s certainly been front-loaded with more than enough plot and character development than I thought my delicate flower-based system could ever handle.

I spent the first month and a half of 2013 resolving some personal issues, and while it may have been the hardest thing I've ever had to do, it was also the right thing to do. I'm happy to say it was truly all for the best, and it looks like a genuine friendship has emerged from those ashes. That pleases me to no end.

Meanwhile, news about the screenplay was starting to heat up again, as Mayhem and his fellow producer Mike (who was one of the producers of the two American versions of THE RING movies) were having meetings on a near weekly basis.  Several agencies (such as UTA, William Morris and ICM) had really liked the script and were submitting lists of possible directors. was a fortuitous twist of fate that led to a copy of the script being sent to two brothers who were keen on finally collaborating on a feature film together.  Who were these cinema-loving siblings?  Tim and Jeff Cronenweth.

Tim’s been one of the leading commercial directors for a number of years.  Jeff is a two-time Oscar nominated cinematographer whose body of work includes such films as FIGHT CLUB, THE SOCIAL NETWORK, HITCHCOCK, ONE HOUR PHOTO and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.  Hell, their dad was a legendary cinematographer who shot visually stunning films like BLADE RUNNER.  It must be "in the blood".

Mayhem and Mike got word in March that the brothers wanted to have a meeting.  A few days before my birthday (which was the 23rd for all those belated birthday card senders out there), I was told they loved the script and were on board. But, there was still the not-so small matter of actually SIGNING them. Names on a dotted line carry a fuck-ton more weight than a nod and a handshake.

In the midst of all these updates about meetings and negotiations, discussions about casting, rewrites and so on – I get a call from my old place of employment!  

Could I fill in for someone who was on medical leave? 

It was like a retired ball player being asked by his old team if he could suit up one mo' time for the stretch drive!  I agreed, not knowing a week later, I’d be juggling the responsibilities of a daily office job with the stress of working on the latest rewrite of the script.  Outside of watching GAME OF THRONES and MAD MEN on Sunday nights, I don’t think I had ever had more than an hour or two of "down time" over the final twenty days of April.

But as insane as that was, it was surpassed in sheer awesomeness (a word I saw so many times today I feel compelled to now use it myself) last night. That’s when Mayhem called to inform me that the Cronenweth Brothers were OFFICIALLY signed for the picture.

Needless to say, this is a huge step.  Not simply Bigfoot-big – we’re talking King Kong big.  The casting director is slated to be signed today as well.  Once that’s done and the latest revisions are discussed – it’s on to issues of casting and financing.  Those two subjects, plus a third -- I'm simply not at liberty to discuss in a public forum just yet.

But trust me, it's freaking Gosh-darned exciting.
Hell, it's even fucking God-damned exciting too.

So that’s my news.  That’s my life.  The idea that my name could appear on a movie screen, at the bottom of a movie poster or even a DVD sleeve – that boggles my mind.  The thought that I might record DVD commentary for a film I wrote takes that boggled mind and blows it across the wall.  And the opportunity to meet people, to get representation as well as membership in the Writers Guild, to be considered for future writing jobs in either film or television – I am both shocked and excited by such a prospect.

But it’s the fact that the next time someone asks me “what do you do” – I can honestly say “I’m a writer” – that’s truly the best part of all.

PS: Today also marks FIVE HUNDRED DAYS without a cigarette.
Add that to the list of "things I never thought I'd be celebrating".

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Feels Like I'm Slipping Into The Twilight Zone...

Submitted for your consideration...

There are over 150 Twilight Zone episodes, but I've narrowed them down to the 20 that I feel are ESSENTIAL VIEWING. 

I've listed them chronologically, as I couldn't bear the thought of ranking them in preferential order (even though I have a pretty keen idea what would constitute my top three).

It's the very first Twilight Zone episode, setting the standard and tone with a one-man tour-de-force performance by Earl Holliman. Older folk may remember him from the 70's cop show POLICE WOMAN (where he co-starred with Angie Dickinson). Eagle-eyed film fans will recognize the town sets that were used 25 years later when filming a little film called BACK TO THE FUTURE.

Amazingly, this delightful gem was the very next episode. Starring Ed Wynn (the funny floating fellow from MARY POPPINS) and Murray Hamilton (best known as the asshole from JAWS) as Death (who would be personified quite a few times in this series), it let us know that while Serling's series could thrill and chill the audience -- it could also make us smile.

Possibly the most iconic episode of the series, it is the first one of several to star future Bat-Villian extraordinaire Burgess Meredith. I find it interesting to debate whether Henry Bemis truly deserves his ultimate fate or not. Either way, it's as must-see as they come.

One of the many episodes where Serling explored social issues in the realm of science fiction. Man's fear of the unknown, the inexorably easy slide from paranoia into rampant violence that has infected society throughout the years, from the Salem Witch Trials to the era of McCarthyism.

Mannequins, mannequins, mannequins. Marsha, Marsha, Marsha. Creepy, creepy, creepy.

Ed Wynn's son Keenan (among his hundreds of roles, you may recall him as the soldier who is ordered to shoot up a Coca-Cola vending machine in DR. STRANGELOVE) stars as a playwright with a unique ability to make anything he records into his dictaphone -- come to life. Without a doubt, this episode features the most amusing ending of any Twilight Zone episode.  

Other than Time Enough at Last, this is the Twilight Zone episode most cite as one of the best remembered of all time. Sure, you may see the twist coming a mile away, but it's still a classic.

William Shatner becomes obsessed with a fortune telling machine. A fantastic example of "doing a lot with a little". And rest assured, this is not the first time the Shat will appear on this list.

Other than classic cartoons like The Grinch, Rudolph or Charlie Brown -- this may be one of the best Christmas themed half-hours of television ever produced. Starring Art Carney (a.k.a. the beloved Ed Norton) as a department store Santa with a magic bag that just keeps on giving.

Room for one more, honey. When I think of Twilight Zone episodes that gave me nightmares as a child -- THIS is the first one that comes to mind. Fellow classic Sci-Fi geeks will immediately recognize the doctor as Jonathan Harris a.k.a. Dr. Zachary Smith from LOST IN SPACE.

Dennis Weaver (later to achieve his greatest fame as TV's McCLOUD) stars as a man who keeps living the same dream over and over and over.  Trivia time: during the sequence in VANILLA SKY when Tom Cruise is driving through an empty Times Square, I'm fairly certain Shadow Play is playing on the Jumbotron screen.

People stranded in a diner try to determine the title question. Known for the "double twist" ending.

Jack Klugman (Oscar Madison himself) in my personal favorite of his many Twilight Zone appearances.  Jonathan Winters in a rare dramatic role.  Jeez, what else do you need?

The actual short story by Jerome Bixby is one of the most terrifying things I've ever come across. I even read it to an ex-girlfriend as a bedtime story fifteen years ago and scared the living bejesus outta her as well. This episode is an excellent adaptation, and if I WAS to pick the best episode, you can be sure I'd be giving this one very serious consideration. It's a good's a very good episode.

Strange to find a program with that title that's actually really well written. Starring the silent screen icon Buster Keaton, it's a rare comedy gem one can find in the Twilight Zone treasure chest.

It would be hard to dispute TSM having the most classic Twilight Zone ending of all time. Like most other episodes, it no longer matters if you see it coming -- it's still extremely satisfying!

Yes, the creature on the wing now looks rather silly, but everything else about this Richard Matheson penned episode is as high caliber as it gets. The Shat appears again in what might be his most famous screen performance that didn't involve a Starfleet uniform.

Other than his one-time stint playing the Bond villain Blofeld, this is probably the most unlikable role Telly "Kojak" Savalas ever undertook. Many say the Devil Doll segment of THE TRILOGY OF TERROR inspired the CHUCKY movies decades later. But I say that franchise owes more to this TZ episode than anything else. "I'm Talking Tina, and I'm going to kill you…"

Another big-time iconic classic.  Dying rich man leaves his greedy family their just desserts.

I came oh-so very close to including The Dummy (episode starring Cliff Robertson as a different ill-fated ventriloquist) on the list. However, I find this other talking dummy episode (starring Jackie Cooper) to be far more frightening and just plain nasty.

Feel free to comment about all the classics that didn't make my cut, and the truly magnificent episodes that did.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

No, I'm Not? Please. Yes, You Are.

When someone insists that they're NOT something, it usually means that they are. And they usually know it too. Unless they're just dumb -- but we'll get to that in a second...

"I wouldn't lie to you." That really means "Not only would I ABSOLUTELY lie to you, I'm doing it right fucking now, moron."

"It's not you, it's me." Clearly, this translates to "Of COURSE it's you -- and if you were someone else, we wouldn't even be having this conversation."

"I could never do/say such a thing." Yes, you could. Yes, you did. And yes, you will again. Once the word "never" gets tossed into the mix -- then all bets are off. Nothing is never, trust me.

"...doesn't mean I'm dumb/doesn't make me dumb." Guess what? More often than not, it DOES. Maybe you're not all that savvy, street smart or book smart; maybe you lack sufficient intellectual depth to see beyond the surface; maybe you lack a certain amount of sophistication. Or...the most likely "maybe" of all: maybe you ARE dumb. Is it less or more shameful NOT to realize this basic truth? I'm not sure. But it's alternately entertaining or aggravating for everyone else who's being subjected to such idiocy.
Thus endeth my mini blog-riff-rant. I'd like to say I'll never post something like this again, but we all know I'd be lying...