Thursday, August 31, 2017

"Why Are Successful Television Writers Rarely Successful Movie Writers?"

The Simple Answer:  “Proactive Debilitation.”

The Explanation Of That Simple Answer:  If you learn specific “Task A” and then try to learn specific “Task B”, your successfully mastering of specific  “Task A” will forwardly (“proactively”) inhibit (“debilitate”) your ability to successfully master specific “Task B.”

Example:  If you learn to play badminton, which is a wrist-dominated activity, you will have greater difficulty mastering tennis, which is “all arm”.  (You “wrist” a tennis ball rocketing at you and your tennis racket flies backwards.)  Just one of many examples, the others eluding me at the moment but I know they are out there.  My unawareness does not mean that it doesn’t exist.  I do not know the capital of Djibouti but I am pretty sure they have one.

There are three accompanying concepts to “Proactive Debilitation”:  “Proactive Facilitation”, “Retroactive Debilitation” and “Retroactive Facilitation”, but I will not waste your time explaining those now.  Consider my explanation of “Proactive Debilitation” the Rosetta Stone, where you employ your understanding of one concept to “crack the code” of the others.

I know you can do it.  If you know Greek, you can decipher hieroglyphics and cuneiform.  This is the same thing, without the Schliemann.  (The man who discovered the Rosetta Stone.  You see what you’re learning today?  Okay, I am not revealing the secret to making a flaky piecrust like you can discover on ““  but look what you’re getting.  I bet those “flaky piecrust” people are all green with envy.  Not to mention covered in flour.)

Now where was I?  Oh yeah – TV writers who don’t make it in movies.

Dispensing quickly with the “Usual Suspects” crossover exceptions – Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart, James L. Brooks – hm, was there anyone born after 1940?  Seth MacFarlane, I suppose, but what has he done that wasn’t drawn or animatronic?  Hosted the Oscars.  But I am not talking about successful television writers who later hosted the Oscars, or successful television writers who later hosted the Oscars and the majority of the audience wish that he hadn’t.  (Final Tally on Those Aforementioned Categories:  Both “one”.)

Considerably more representative are the likes of Diane English, the comedic mastermind behind television’s Murphy Brown whose successful film credits include… I don’t think she has any successful film credits.  Wait, I’ll look it up… nope, I was right.  (And I actually knew that already and I could have come out and said so but I didn’t because I’m weak.)

My longtime colleagues, the Charles Brothers, responsible for television juggernauts like Cheers and Frasier – in the movies, “One and Done” – that’s not the name of their movie, that’s their cinematic track-record trajectory.  Their movie, Pushing Tin, was a commercial disappointment, and that was that.  A quintessential example:  Excellent in television.  (Glen and) Les(s) so in movies.  (A lot of brackets to minimal effect.)

Who else can I think of who never successfully made the move from TV to movies? Oh, yeah, me.  I did pretty well in TV.  But f I had instead put my aspirational eggs in the “screenwriting basket”, I’d have been back in Toronto, thinking “I should have done television.”

The thing is… for me, at least, unlike other TV writers I know, although certainly not all of them, movies was never my passion, with television, just an advancing steppingstone.  For me, it was always about television.  Growing up, I may have regularly attended movies, but my TV viewing was virtually “wall-to-wall.”  Eating, sleeping, school, homework, attending to personal bodily functions… the rest was entirely television.  (Which, if you were wondering, did not adversely affect my eyesight.  My eyes were terrible with radio.)

Although I wrote a handful of screenplays, all of which ultimately went nowhere, which I attempted because… you know what?  I don’t remember why I attempted them.  I may have simply believed that that’s what accomplished television writers were supposed to do next.  Plus, everything was bigger in movies, and I figured if I worked in them, I would be bigger too.  Bottom Line:  It was there and I tried it and it didn’t work out… is what it finally comes down to.  And that was okay.  I was a devoted “TV Guy”, and I did fine in TV. 

To some degree, I believe I was influenced by a former employer, nine-time Emmy-winning TV writer Ed. Weinberger, who once proclaimed, “I’ll work in movies when I can have a career in movies.” 

Since nobody promised him one – or me either – we remained gainfully remunerated in television.  Maybe it was timidity.  Maybe it was familiarity.  Or maybe it was that, deep down, we knew we were already where we generically belonged.  Or more likely still, it was the idea that I meant to get to today but I annoyingly I ran out of time.

Covering all the bases…

Screenwriters who abandon the “Big Screen” to work exclusively in television?  I imagine there are the same number of those as there are successful tennis players who switch exclusively to badminton.

And with a similar explanation.  (Beyond “There is no money in badminton.”)

Tomorrow: How “Proactive Debilitation” keeps good TV writers from becoming successful screenwriters.  And this time, I promise.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

"Putting It To The Test (Though You Do Not Really Want To Know So You Deliberately Confuse Yourself Instead)"

Yes.  Tell it all it the title and then tell it again in the story.  People love that.  They go, “Didn’t we hear that already?”  But they are just pretending to be grumpy, while offering a camouflaged a compliment.  For which, by the way, you are very welcome, indeed.  End of italicized foreword.)  (The Eddie Izzard influence continues.)

There is a steep hill heading up from Rose Avenue on Fourth Street.  (There is, of course, the same hill heading down, but since that’s much easier to negotiate, you – meaning me – somehow do not think of it as a hill.  I wonder what actual hills think about that. 

FOURTH STREET HILL:  “It is only a hill going up.”

EAVESDROPPING NEIGHBORING HILL:  “Hills are all over the map on this one.”


“Never get in a crossfire between disagreeing hills”… counsels the Wise Old Man, after numerous encounters with dueling elevated topography. 

Okay, so there’s this nasty, big hill.  And when I walk home from Groundwork, carrying my Venice Blend “Pour-Over” in a cup with a lid on it, it is, for a man of my age and relative fitness, no easy, “slam dunk” of an ascent.  I can do it.  But I am breathing heavily when I get to the summit.  Which passing pedestrians frequently take note of as they are descending the hill, and maybe secretly feel sorry for “the old geezer.”   I, however, feel sorry for them, because I’m standing at the top of the hill and they have to climb back up.

So there.

Ever since my heart-valve repair surgery… I will always remember that date… when was it again?  Oh, I forgot.  Not a joke, I actually forgot – sometime in late October of 2009.  You think you will always remember… and then you don’t.  Anyway…

At some point, I determined to use that daunting angular incline as kind of a cardiological barometer, to see if I could negotiate it with a reasonable amount of effort, or if I needed to call my heart specialist, Dr. W and say…

…. nothing.  Because I am gasping desperately for air.

And she’ll say, “We are sending an ambulance.  Who are you, and where are you

Note:  Though all the relevant signals are positive, one thing is strangely different since my heart-valve repair surgery.  When I am going to sleep, my heart beats concerningly loudly, though Dr. W reassures me, “It’s nothing.”  Dr. W is incredible that way.  After she talks to me my blood pressure goes down thirty points.  That is not metaphorical.  It actually does.

I go in for a check-up, they take my blood pressure, and they say, euphemistically so they won’t frighten the patient, “It’s a little high.”  Dr. W comes in and chats for a while, and, when she re-measures my blood pressure, the number has plummeted thirty points.  I want all my doctors to have that comforting effect on me.  I don’t care if they know anything; they have to be able to calm me down.  Although how calm would I be if they were incompetent idiots?  So I guess they have to know something.

Despite hearing, “It’s nothing”, my noisy heart reminds me of 1950’s “Indian Pictures” where the townspeople are gathered in the adobe church, the Indian tom-toms beating relentlessly in the distance, driving the terrified townspeople crazy.

“Those infernal drums!  Why won’t they stop?”

The thing is, the cavalry scout explains to them,

“When the drums stop, they attack.”

Suddenly, they are rooting for the drums not to stop.  It’s the same thing with my heart.  It sounds ominously scary, loudly “lub-dubbing” in my chest.  But I vote for “Keep going.”

Okay, so it’s yesterday.  I have purchased my Venice Blend “Pour-Over.”  I am walking back home…

And there’s the hill.

The thing is…

It is an uncharacteristically – for Santa Monica – humid morning.  It’s, like, “Florida” humid.  I’m on the lookout for gators.

Plus, I am recovering from a cold, feeling still congested, borderline feverish, and substantially energy depleted.

Standing there at the bottom of the hill, I begin worrying – worriers inevitably worry ahead of time, ignoring the salient evidence – like the fact that I have had no serious difficulty climbing that hill for more than seven-and-a-half years.  Totally meaningless.  For chronic worriers, nothing impedes an incipient anxiety attack.

Standing down there at the bottom – stalling, because I am not ready to start up – but also seriously thinking,

“If I have an inordinate difficulty climbing this hill, will it be because of my cold, the excessive humidity… or my valve-repaired heart?

I inhale an energizing breath, and take my first steps up the hill.  And, as I worryingly anticipated, the climb feels substantially harder than it usually does.  When I thought I had made it to the top, I looked up… and I was still somewhere in the middle.

When I finally did slog my way to the summit, I felt – by my approximate calculation – fifteen percent more physically exhausted and out of breath than I generally was.  That’s a lot, fifteen percent.  Six and two-thirds more “fifteen percents” and I’m a goner.  That’s not even seven “fifteen percents.”

It takes more than two blocks for me to regain regular breathing.  I am understandably concerned.  Fortunately, a trio of explanations are happily available to me – the real scary one, of course, but also my ongoing cold, the abnormal humidity or a combination thereof.

Reasonable Conclusion:  Whoop-de-do!  I am not dying for certain!

How fantastic it is to have two non-life-threatening possible alternatives.  I am happily two-thirds in the clear.  Of course, I know that it is not going to last.   In time, my cold symptoms will recede and cooling ocean breezes will more typically return.

And I’ll be back again down to one factor.

For the moment, however, I do not know for sure why I’m exhausted.

And that’s exactly the way I like it.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

"The Trip To Spain"

The idea behind “The Trip” movies…

Two fiftyish, English “mates”, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, one of them more successful in his career than the other (you can tell by which one you’ve heard of), the other more domestically comfortable (you can tell via the process of elimination), travel by car together, visiting “high end” regional restaurants in various countries and eating in them.  Because why would you go there, if you were not going to eat?  You’d be better off visiting historical landmarks, where at least you could learn something.  Although, unless there was an accompanying gift shop selling stale sandwiches or packaged pound cake, you would unlikely get anything to eat. 

Okay, that’s me, rambling.  Which is pretty much what the two fiftyish, English “mates” do, as they motor meanderingly from restaurant to restaurant. 

There have been three “The Trip” movies, all products of a previously produced English television series, whose episodes were subsequently edited and turned into movies. 

Years ago, when it was harder to take pictures – the cameras were heavier, you had to sprocket in the film, you were unable to “correct” shots you are unhappy with afterwards, you kept losing the strap – I learned the simple secret to taking quality photographs.

You throw out the bad ones.

Same thing with the improvisational comedy of “The Trip” movies.  You take six hours of television material, winnow it down to a third of that length, and then suddenly in the movie, “Every one is a winner!”

(The excluded stuff littering the cutting room floor, going, “Comedy’s only a matter of opinion, you know.”)

Of the three incarnations of “The Trip” – wait.  Let me first make this comment.

You make a TV series where you go to Five-Star restaurants, sampling their magnificent cuisine.  Which I am sure they did not have to pay for, or leave a tip even.  In fact, they were probably paid handsomely to do the TV series.  Then, without further time or involvement on your part, edited versions of those TV shows are transformed into movies, which you are then paid for once again. 

Are these guys geniuses, or what?  They probably got free gas for the car!

Okay, where was I after that envious harangue?  Oh, yeah.

Of the three incarnations of “The Trip” movies – the first one set in Northern England, the second, in Italy, and the third outing in Spain – I enjoyed this last offering the least because in the first two movies – and I have never said this before when distinguishing movies – I liked the food better.

Apparently, a lot of haute Spanish cuisine includes crustaceans and other anemones culled from the bottom of the sea, which, for reasons never clearly delineated to me, the Old Testament insistently frowns upon Jews eating.  Plus, the prepared delicacies, despite what they experienced in the kitchen, appear like, at any moment, they could slither resuscitatedly off of the plate.

What I was then left with, in terms of my appreciation of the Trip to Spain was the impressive inventiveness of the improvised comedy.


Each of us has his or her own “Limit of Endurance” when it comes to dueling imitations of Roger Moore, as well as of Michael Caine, at various stages of his career, both of which Coogan and Brydon are remarkably adept at.  (Though they may be seriously dating themselves in their mimical selections, and dating me in the process, because I know exactly who they are “doing.”)

Because they were visiting Spain, which for a time was dominated by the Moors, the mere mention of the word “Moors” triggers an unsolicited barrage of Roger Moore imitations.  Though the two comedians consistently nail the actor’s “casual insouciance” – after a while, they venture perilously close to “Enough, already!”   Although “tediously annoying” may have actually been the point.  The thing is, I am not at all interested in that point.  Not to mention, amused.

Compensation arrives, however, courtesy of other inspired comedy imaginings.  Of which, I shall happily recount two:

Since Spain is the historic home of the Spanish Inquisition, the two comedians do a routine, based on the lesser appreciated attribute of “The Rack”, which is that, while you were unquestionably being tortured, you were concomitantly also being made taller.

Coogan and Brydon turn the hideous “Rack Experience” into a typical “Game Show”, in which the unctuous compere (host) asks the contestant, “You have now reached the ‘Five-foot-nine’ plateau.  Would you like to go for ‘Five-nine-and-a-half?’”  And the contestant enthusiastically shouts, “Yes!”

The other bit – this one teeters on the border of bad taste – as if “The Rack” material doesn’t – but I have to admit, it still made me laugh.  In some “I no longer remember” context, Brydon pretends to be hard of hearing, and Coogan, trying to drive his “mate” bonkers, moves his lips without actually saying anything while simultaneously emitting a screeching, high-pitched, “EEEEEEEE” sound, his “hard of hearing” companion, struggling to eliminate the “feedback” from his defective “hearing aid.”

If such comedy silliness is not exactly your cup of tea, Trip to Spain also includes magnificent landscapes, Iberian “beach babes” and garlicky sanddabs.  (Which I myself have never tasted but the culinary travelers went, “Mmmm.”)

Watching gifted comedians working “off the top of their heads” – there is nothing better when it’s good.  Jonathan Winters.  Robin Williams.  Eddie Izzard.  And Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, with the help of assiduous editing. 

At its best, Trip to Spain is as rewarding as its predecessors.

It’s just that I think they eat Nemo.