Thursday, January 30, 2014

"A Man Confesses To A Deep, Dark Secret"

(Note:  This post was written on December 19, 2013.)

It’s an annual tradition. 

Throughout the entire month of December, the members of the Writers Guild receive complimentary DVD’s of what somewhere has been determined to be that year’s awards-worthiest movies. 

I am not certain of the precise purpose of this generosity.  I believe it has something to do with the Writers Guild Awards influencing the winners’ chances in the later, more important Oscars competition.  I will not, in fact, be voting for the Writers Guild Awards, but what the heck.  You get free stuff – you take it.

I have written before about the differing status levels of the various DVD packages that are sent out.  The bigger you are in the business, the more your employer flatters you with extravagant marketing, the “Platinum Presentation” including a the DVD of the movie accompanied by the screenplay plus a glossy promotional brochure, the sub-basement level of pampering represented by a printed message on a quarter of a sheet of paper informing the recipient how they can download the film’s script from the Internet. 

Even the delivery systems exhibit gradations of ego-servicing.  Some of these DVD what they call “screeners” arrive directly in the mail.  Others come hand-delivered and slipped quietly into your mailbox.  In the “Rolls Royce” version, a FedEx representative rings your doorbell demanding an electronic signature before surrendering the “screener.”

For the past at least three years, my recurring FedEx representative has been an eye-catching “looker” with a dazzling, Pepsodent smile.  If you happened to pass my front door when the signing and handover was taking place, you could have witnessed a man making a tongue-tied fool of himself in front of a politely disinterested uniformed stranger.

So, okay, December’s almost over, and the “screeners” are piling up – we have, to date, received close to a dozen of them.  The “prestige” movies of 2013 – American Hustle, Nebraska, Captain Phillips, Inside Llewyn Davis, and a handful of others, all of them, significantly, recent releases.  Nothing from the summer.  No Wolverine.  No Iron Man 3. 

And they wonder why nobody watches the Oscars.

“It’s the host.”

It’s the movies!

Sitting in our front hallway is an attractive wooden bench with arms on it.  At this moment, our stack of free movies can be found perched on one of those arms.  If any of our kids wants to borrow one to watch – we are a “Lending Library” with strictly enforced regulations – you take one home, and when you bring it back, you can take home another one.

Do we watch these “screeners” ourselves?

No we do not.

And why would that be?

I just paused in my writing.  I am about to make a difficult confession, triggering, you will agree when you discover what it is (unless you’re ahead of me and you already know what it is) an understandable moment’s hesitation. 

Imagine you have a friend whom you think you know well.  But there’s one thing they’ve held back due to deep-seated feelings of embarrassment and shame.  What is their unrevealed secret?

They can’t read.

Imagine how that non-reader feels harboring that secret.  That’s exactly how I feel harboring this updated version of the “Stain of Illiteracy.”

We have three DVD players in our house.

And we cannot reliably work any of them.

There.  Finally.  It’s out.

I know it’s not hard.  You change the setting on the TV to “Video…something else”, you insert the DVD, and you press “Play.”

But somehow

We cannot pull it off.

We don’t always fail.  But our efforts have been frustratingly uneven.  Sometimes, we press “Play”, we hear a distinct “whirring” sound, and then in this little window of the DVD player it says,

“No disc.” 

“There is a disc.  I just put it in!”

We do it again – “No disc.”  Do it again – “No disc.”  Do it a third time – “No disc.”  Finally, we eject the disc they keep telling us is not there,

And we go to bed.

Sometimes it, unexpectedly, works.  In the beginning.  But then, you’re watching the movie and suddenly, without warning, the picture dissolves into tiny, little pixels.  And it freezes!  Leaving us with a broken-up picture that’s not moving!  And before it goes totally silent, a soundtrack reminiscent of a deflating balloon.

What’s going on?

Is it the disc?  Is it the DVD player?  Is it us?  

What difference does it make?  We press “Fast Forward”, we press “Reverse”, nothing happens, we give up,

And we go to bed.

It’s humiliating!  We’re smart people.  I have a B.A. from an accredited university.  My wife has a PhD.  We have been known to accomplish things, some of them indisputably remarkable.  But, for the life of us, we cannot master that machine. 

And now… I don’t know, it’s like those people from the “horse and buggy” era, they tried driving a car, they experienced some traumatizing mishap, and from then on, it just sat there in the garage.

Fast Forward – I am having dinner with my writer friend Paul, and he starts asking me – because he gets them too – which “screeners” I have watched so far.

And right away, to conceal my technological insufficiency, and protect myself from his unspoken but inevitable pity and distain, I reflexively start tap-dancing. 

“Did you see Dallas Buyers Club?”

“One of our kids borrowed it.”

“How about Saving Mr. Banks”?

“We’re reserving that for an outing in Hawaii.”  (We had not gone yet.)

“Did you watch August:  Osage County”?

“It’s on top of our DVD player.  We are watching it tonight.”

Like all prevarications, there’s some truth in my answers, except for August: Osage Country; it’s not on top of our DVD player, it’s in the hall with the rest of the movies we can’t watch because we can’t work the machine.  (Although it is unlikely I would watch August:  Osage County regardless.)

I concocted the lie on the spot to sound persuasively convincing.  But I’m a terrible liar.  And I have a gnawing feeling that Paul sees through my substandard subterfuge and he instinctively knows The Truth:

“I cain’t read!”

Hey, you know how they say when you admit to a fear, it loses its power over you and you immediately feel better?

Well so far, at least,

It’s not happening.
Today marks the sixth anniversary of "Just Thinking."  I don't know if anybody but me has been here since the beginning - let me know if you have, or how long you've been a reader - but I want to thank everyone who ever read this even once.

Wait, "once"?  Really?  Was I that terrible?

I can't believe this!  Who doesn't give somebody a second chance?  I mean, if you knew the time and attention I give to writing each and every one of these...

Wait!  Is this supposed to be a celebration?

Oh...yeah, I forgot.  Anyway, really, thank you.  And let's keep going until...whenever.  I hope it's not soon.  But you never about "wherever".  That's why they call it "whenever."



Rebecca said...

Wow, six years? Really? I'm pretty sure I've been reading from pretty close to the beginning. It was when Ken Levine mentioned you and I came over to look. Congratulations on your longevity. Most people who start blogs don't manage to keep them up. Me included. But I hope you will continue at least another six years!

angel said...

Happy Anniversary Earl! I have been here since Ken Levine mentioned you on his blog. I think that is almost the beginning. It amazes me how the years fly by with a blog...6 years, seriously? I wish you many more.

CCroom said...

I've only been reading for a few years and I also came after a mention by Ken Levine. Really enjoy your insights into just about everything and your tidbits about things behind the curtain. May I also say that "Best of the West" is one of my all-time favorite programs. Should have gone on for years.

Frank Paradise said...

Happy 6th Earl. I been here from the beginning thanks to Ken Levine's plug. Cheers for all the laughs over those six short years and I hope there are many more to come.

Jim Azzara said...

Regarding your dvd problems:

Please do the following:

Throw out your dvd player. It's too old and does not read recordable-dvds.

(only dvds mass-produced at around 999 discs or more are "glass-mastered" (hollywood type-dvds)

Fewer pressings are "burned" on recordable-dvds.
When you look underneath, the disc looks purplish as opposed to the silver/gold-ish color of the regular dvds we are used to renting and purchasing.

Now that the recordable discs have become more popular, the newer players can play them without a problem. Older/cheaper players do not have the proper software and will play poorly. (freezing, pixelating, etc.)

In short, it's not you. It's not the discs. It's the player. Buy a new deck (not a ridiculously cheap or expensive one) and you should be fine.


The Pearl said...

About 3 years following your blog.

I too was going to recommend a new DVD player. I'm a big fan of Samsung and have 2 of them. The newest was less than $100. at Target so it's probably even cheaper at Walmart. This player plugs into my Samsung TV (one plug) which automatically switches the TV to the correct video mode. I've had it for a couple of months and am an avid Netflix dvd renter - no problems with any disc so far.

New TV models hit the market in March so if you're thinking of a new set, now's the time to do it.

And finally, thanks for doing this. It can't be easy to keep it going day after day after year. Congrats!

GC said...

Joyeux anniversaire "Just thinking"! And thank you, Monsieur Earlo ! i have enjoyed reading your blog for 2 years now. Of course i knew your work as tv writer before i got here.
I think it's very interesting to know your two voices, as tv writer and blogger.

Bonne journée

Wendy M. Grossman said...

No, no, no. Invite us over to your house to watch the screeners. We'll get the machines working.

Happy birthday.


Julia Patrick said...

I'm also technologically insufficient, although I still thnik that electronic signature solution still works better than notes from 19th century.