Sunday, April 26, 2009

Nobody Knows Anything

Screenwriters need better publicists.

Really. I mean, name five great movie directors. (Coppola, Allen, Scorcese, Egoyan, Truffault).

Now name five great screenwriters working right now. (Charlie Kaufman,Diabolo Cody,Tony Gilroy, Larry McMurtry, Willam Monahan).

Everyone knows the first five. Movie geeks know the second five.

All the screenwriter usually does is completely create the universe and the people and the tone and the tempo of a movie--and then watch as the critics, academics, studio heads, talking heads, Larry King, politicians, rock stars, bloggers and people on the street rave about the directing, as if the story and the world emerged, untethered, out of the fertile imagination of some 32-year-old film school graduate best-known for directing a memorable series of Infiniti car commercials. (We'll exempt directors who direct from their original scripts, like Allen or Tarantino).

Check out the Writer's Guild West website sometime. There's some advice for credited screenwriters who are having a movie shot: be sure to be included in the interviews when they do all those extra features for the DVD package, because it's your union-negotiated right to be part of the DVD extra features--and there have apparently been more than a few times when they forgot to call the screenwriter up and invite them to the set that day.

Anyways, William Goldman--give or take Billy Wilder--is the godfather of modern screenwriting. He wrote Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (Oscar winner, highest grossing film of 1969); All the President's Men (Oscar winner), The Princess Bride, Marathon Man (based on his novel), Magic (ditto) and has been a highly, highly-paid script doctor for 30 years now.

He also wrote Adventures in the Screen Trade in 1983, a memoir about his Hollywood experiences, where he coined the legendary piece of Hollywood wisdom: "Nobody knows anything."

And if you think that's an outdated piece of insight, consider that in 2008, studio suits tried their hardest to send Slumdog Millionaire straight to DVD without a theatrical release, and you'll see that it's still as relevant as it ever was.

He also is a celebrity screenwriter, someone whom the producers would never forget to call up the day the DVD extras were being shot, because having Goldman on your picture is a selling point--something other screenwriters ought to remember, particularly during those award speeches when some emotionally overwhelmed actor or actress remembers to thank their agent and their high school drama coach, but forgets/neglects to thank the writer. (But would an actor ever forget to thank the director? I think not!)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Slowhopes Hearts Slowhomes

Not everyone loves a McMansion.

John Brown is a University of Calgary associate dean of research in the faculty of environmental design who is the anti-McMansion man. He's spreading a new vision of the idea of home: it's smaller, more sustainable, and from the sounds of it, eminently more human-sized.

On his website, Brown posts a vlog a week discussing his vision of what a slow home is. Basically, it is a place that is simple, light and open.

Versailles it isn't--which is pretty much right in tune with the times. (See today's first blog, about the epidemic of bossnapping in France. They're feeling downright revolutionary these days.)

I have always wondered who wrote the book of interior design that said to fill every available space with something. It seems like such a lot of work when nothing quite often works just as well.

(Somehow, judging from a few of the photo spreads I've seen, Elton John, who is a notorious collector of objets of every sort, will not be dropping by the Slowhomes website anytime soon, either).

This is a Lisa Rochon piece that ran in the Globe & Mail earlier this week about

Word of the Day: Bossnapping

Maybe I've just been too caught up in trying to discover whether or not the Susan Boyle saga is real or just reality TV at its staged, written, pre-meditated best, but there's a new trend breaking out in France that I totally missed: taking your boss hostage.

Apparently, layoffs and mergers don't go down so well for a lot of employees in France. So far, from the sounds of it, no one has gotten hurt--they're basically using these bosstages (another new word!) as a negotiating ploy.

(Not that I'm suggesting anything to those Canadian Auto Workers being asked to take wicked pay cuts to keep Chrysler afloat).

Now, hostage taking is never a solution, and is, in fact, against the law and can get a hostage-taker in serious trouble.

And lest any of you disgruntled employees out there who find the prospect of taking the boss hostage, tossing a hood on his head and letting him gather moss in some drop cellar for a few weeks a prospect that appeals to you, just remember The Stockholm Syndrome. That's the one where kidnapped people fall in love with their kidnappers.

By taking your boss hostage, you might be unleashing a whole world of new emotional complications to your life--let alone legal ones.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Jam Band Optometrists

I remember the first time I saw Government Mule. It was, appropriately enough, in a field, at the New Orleans Jazz Fest. I had never heard of Government Mule, but their guitars spoke my language and we soon fell in love.

I don't know if guitar-loving optometrists experience this when they come across another guitar-loving optometrist, but it seems there is a new sub-genre of garage band springing up--one I'm in favour of.

Optometrist jam bands.

After all, these guys aren't trying to change their world with their jam band. They're just trying to work off the stress of the work week. They've discovered that playing music, when you're not relying upon digital downloads to pay the mortgage, can be hugely psychically healing.

We've tried electroshock therapy to cure our blues. We've tried psychoanalysis. We've tried Eastern Meditation. We've tried multiple marriages, kids, no kids, cocaine, bling, reality tv, real estate porn, real porn--so why not a jam band?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Bemidji State Hockey!

Slowhopes has always had a soft spot for Minnesota and Wisconsin and Michigan, the states dad spent many summers driving the fam through en route to our summer sojourns living in a campsite, circa 1967-1970. (More about that at another date)

While the people aren't what you'd call lookers, the states themselves are quite gorgeous. They're green, quiet and modest places--well, Minnesota and Wisconsin, anyways. Michigan is a little more torn up. But Michigan has its charms as well.

Still, pop culture manages to pretty much avoid this verdant corner of the planet. Apart from the film Fargo and Prince at the top of his game, you never really come across these places.

Until tonight, when the NY Times website featured Bemidji State's hockey team on its front page. I have been to Bemidji any number of times, and of course the first thing I thought, upon seeing the word 'Bemidji' on the front page of the NY Times website was: the statue of Paul Bunyon was sleeping with Babe the Blue Ox!

But no. The college hockey team is on a win streak for the ages, and all the town's t-shirt shops are selling out of Bemidji State memoribilia.

To which, all I can say is: go Bemidji State!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Stuff Blue Eyed People Like

Throughout this latest economic crisis, we've been desperate to find someone to blame.

After all, there is a lot of lag time to fill, a lot of op-ed pages to opine on, between a multi-trillion dollar crash and eventual recovery.

As any studio head worth his seven figure paycheck can tell you, it's hard to hate a system. There's no payoff when the evil villain is all of us.

When bad things happen to good countries, there's got to be someone to indict--(and we haven't yet figured out how to make A-Rod take credit for the credit crisis.)

For a while, there was Richard Fuld, the former CEO of Lehman Brothers. He looked like a bad guy--heavy brows, a pompous manner. There was even something mildly Nixonian about his jowls that just made the hair stand up on the top of Andy Rooney's eyebrows.

But then the Fed let Lehman go under, and Fuld was out one multi-billion dollar brokerage house.

Then, there was Henry Paulson, the secretary of the federal treasury, but that was so unsatisfying, really. Let's face it: he had just taken over the job from Alan Greenspan.

Alan Greenspan actually may be the man most responsible for this mess, but he's so kindly-looking--particularly for someone who revered Ayn Rand.

Bernie Madoff stole $65 billion, a lot of it from charities and foundations. He was good to hate, but then he pled guilty and went to jail and he's already 70.

When each of the auto giants flew corporate jets into Reagan International to ask for a federal bailout, GM CEO Rick Wagoner became someone to hate--but it's hard to really, really hate anyone whose primary residence is Detroit. I say this with all sincerity. (And now I suspect Rick is just another unemployed Michigan guy looking to scalp some Final Four private box seats).

Over the last few weeks, anyone associated with AIG has been feeling the hot, sticky breath of a planet full of angry, broke people--but at the end of the day, these are insurance people. The optics suck.

It would have been nice if we could have pinned it on Dick Cheney, but he's gone hunting.

No one quite worked out as a bad guy--until Lula met Gordon.

Lula is Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the President of Brazil. Just the other day he met with Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister of England, and this is what he said.

"This crisis was caused by no black man or woman or by no indigenous person or by no poor person," Lula said after talks with the prime minister in Brasilia to discuss next week's G20 summit in London, (according to a Guardian article by Nicolas Watt).

"This crisis was fostered and boosted by irrational behaviour of some people that are white, blue-eyed. Before the crisis they looked like they knew everything about economics, and they have demonstrated they know nothing about economics."

Challenged about his claims, Lula responded: "I only record what I see in the press. I am not acquainted with a single black banker."

Finally, the credit crisis has a face, and a gender. It is, to be blunt, white guys.

As a white guy myself, whose book The White Guy: A Field Guide comes out in the U.S. May 1, my reaction to Lula's comments can probably be summed up in a single word.


Now this is a broad, ultimately superficial verdict based on the lowest-common denominator factors one can judge a person by--their race and gender. (All things I am sure critics of my book will enjoy pointing out to readers).

However you want to parse the facts, there is an essential truth to what Lula says: this crisis was created by white people--the same white people who spent decades telling everyone else how to manage the economies of their (broke, indebted, poorly-regulated, corrupt) countries, no matter what the human or political cost.

Who could have forseen the delicious irony that the single most broke, indebted, poorly-regulated, corrupt country of them all is the not-so-good, old, U.S.A?

Besides, it will help when Oliver Stone decides to film his version of The Credit Crisis: he can cast a real A-Lister to play the bad guy. (Anthony Hopkins as Greenspan? Frank Langella as Fuld? Leonardo DiCaprio as Wall Street?)

Memo to the banking industry: next time you're up on Capitol Hill, testifying to save your annual seven and eight figure bonuses, spare us the garbage about how those bonuses are necessary to attract the best and brightest.

What you really mean is best-(connected) and whitest.


I wasn't a fan of Anvil the first time around, in the early 1980's. But now, 25 years later, they are the subject of a documentary look at their most recent world tour which they undertook on behalf of journeymen rockers everywhere, encountering a slew of tiny, perfect, personal indignities along the way.

Anvil are slowhopes kind of rock stars.