Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Polanski versus Gibson: Crimes of Passion?

It is hard for me as a father of a teenage girl and a husband for over 22 years to put the atrocities of either Mr. Polanski or Mr. Gibson into the same category.  A rapist is a spiritual and emotional thief of women and any crime against a woman or child no matter how long ago, is unpardonable. To think otherwise, one would imagine you could condone the evil and sadistic acts of the Nazi Regime or any other worthless racist or bigoted organization.  That brings us to Mr. Gibson, a man emotionally tormented in so many areas. His words were hateful and wrong, and yet as a flawed Christian he worships the God of Israel with more reverence than you will find in most Jewish reformed secularist synagogues in America.  As an artist, he is deeply attached to his work. I wonder if the small yet despicable minority of Jewish criticism that publicly raked him over the coals for his film, The Passion of the Christ, in any way helped create his drunken spewing of hateful verbiage. One will never know the complexities, one should only learn to forgive vicious words that should fall on deaf ears over vicious acts that can physically and emotionally scar for life

Monday, December 28, 2009

Seinfeld/ The Face Painter: The moment I was fully onboard.

I couldn’t tell you the season, or even the year, but I will never forget seeing Patrick Warburton on Seinfeld painted up as the New Jersey Devil. At that moment I despondently realized that Seinfeld had been on TV for years and not one friend had invited me to the party. I began to watch the show with religious fervor realizing that the premise of this show was changing broadcast television by mocking societies unbridled selfishness.  By candlelight I slowly learned to write the English language so that I could some day join the NBC writing staff, become insanely rich, and ultimately impregnate Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
            Every sequential brilliant season, those creatively written characters would show up for a few episodes, vanish, and rise from the dead a year or two later. The show about nothing suddenly meant everything. The undeniable draw for me was that I lived and worked with a long list of television worthy characters that I would delightfully watch come alive every Thursday evening.  The next day, they and their clever repetitious dialogue would invade our job site and give us a reason to bear the backbreaking work and share a moment to laugh. They even carried Larry David’s secret idiosyncrasies on their sleeves that allowed me to realize that maybe I’m not so bad after all

Sunday, December 27, 2009

From Security to Hollywood

Before the oil embargo of the early seventies, Detroit was a wonderfully encapsulating city on par with New York or Los Angeles. Like the beacons on each coast, it had all three of the basics tenets for a successful metropolis. Financially, the American automotive industry was still king. Creatively, the city attracted the most talented artists and famous stars of all mediums, and above all, the stars of the sporting world played and resided with the city limits. My friends and I grew up at Tiger Stadium and Cobo Hall. A year or two before the automotive industry took its first step into oblivion, my father took a job that required him to travel to Los Angeles. He was gone all week, but on Saturday mornings over pancakes, we would discuss the sports week and the wonders of Southern California. My favorite stories were of the magical Hollywood studios that pumped out the television shows and films that shaped the fantasies and lives of my friends and I.
              We were the first generation to grow up in front of our TV's. Everything we saw or heard on television or on the movie screens was acted out by my friends and I the very next day, right down to parroting of any memorable or coarse dialogue. The next season a new show would climb the Nielsen ratings mountain and we would adapt our improvisational play accordingly. When I was 12 years old our family flew out to join my father for a week of vacation in Sunny LA. After the required pilgrimages to established historical tourists sites, we spent a wondrous day at Universal Studios. Walking amongst the monstrous buildings and magical sets, the crews and actors scurrying around like busy ants under the clear blue skies, I was hooked for life. After this first trip, I knew that I would end up back out here in Hollywood, just not pounding nails for a living.
              After going back to film school in my early forties, the attraction is stronger than ever. As you get older life's sandpaper can cause a burr of cynicism, and if your not careful, it can consume your childish wonder like any ravenous cancer. The pomp and circumstance of television hits and blockbuster films becomes tarnished and blase. The only attraction left for a worn old sole is a great story, the foundation of what makes entertainment wonderful and inspiring. By creating and developing those stories, I get a chance to see the magic again. I want to scribe stories that become the facilitator for adults to look again through those magical spectacles. I want my words to give them something to think and talk about the next day. Growing up is hard, that's why I'm interested in spending the rest of my life crafting stories to make it just a bit easier to swallow.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Uncomfortable Sex on Set

In Los Angeles the Craig’s List ads for actors or “talent” can stretch for virtual miles. Naturally to be chosen from the thousands of actors submitting for the treasured role could be misconstrued as a major career accomplishment. Since casting director’s choices are prejudicially weighed by looks, you buoyantly thank God that you weren’t born butt-ugly as all your friends back home in the Midwest. On the other bipolar extreme, days without any callbacks will push the skilled thespian to audition for student films or sleazy back page productions that have the word underwear in every other scene description. However, with a phone call from any production office the career demons are temporarily exorcised. Justifiably, the eternal consequence of any bad film choice becomes warranted, because this is the first step to becoming a bona fide star.
             Since moving out to Los Angeles on the artistic merit of one short film, I have obsessively hit the Craig List ads at least five times a day looking for my big break. Somewhere there has to be solid statistical evidence that my headshot and fictitious resume have touched every casting directors garbage can in Hollywood. On the rare occasion that I received a call back, I used this golden ticket to justify the hours my wife knew I had wasted surfing the Internet. The ad simply read: Man with Tattoos needed for feature film. My shifting eyes stopped and focused. Let’s see, I have a tattoo, and I am recently out of work. So I now have the time for a feature film, possibly getting “bumped up” to an excellent scene stealing character role. The Oscar nominated role that allows me access into the elusive Screen Actors Guild club of gratuitous wealth and industry acclaim. I’ll work for years till TMZ displays pictures of my adult diapers sneaking up over the fat ass of my low-rise designer jeans. “I’ll do it”, I blurted out before the na├»ve Production Assistant was able fill me in on the details of my exclusive scene with the star of the film. “Whatever, just send me an email with all the details,” I said. My ego welled up and I soared off the living room couch looking for anyone to brag to. Damn. I’m stopped dead in my tracks. The PA’s description of my scene becomes crystal clear: BEDROOM – EARLY MORNING: A Tattooed naked man is draped over a large breasted nude woman wrapped in passion stained silk sheets. “Hey honey, who was that?” my wife asked. “Nothing, just some extra work” I answered. “Good we need the money,” she trailed off as she went in for her evening bath. Yeah, I thought. Till this scene ends up on the front page of some celebrity gossip rag with the headline of: Background Extra escorted from multi-million dollar movie set for gawking at film star’s legendary breasts.
            Productions found on Craig’s List can range from the first rate $100 million studio picture, to student films where the director is delivered to the set by his proud parents. At the lowest level you’re just a pawn sent into the celebrity battle, and all you hope for by the end of the long workday is a bit of an artistic cuddle to soothe your delicate ego. This B-film took me out to the desert on a small-dilapidated horse ranch that could replicate any white-trash homestead found south of the Mason-Dixon line before 1975.  For a $125 and the chance for a featured extra part with the star of any film, I’d drive anywhere in the state of California. I found the obscure address and quickly parked. I noticed a young man with deep circles under his eyes and eight cigarettes in his mouth frantically yelling that I had parked in the “shot”. Introducing myself, he called out obnoxiously on his walkie-talkie, “the naked man is here”. I was quickly manhandled out of the next scene set up and into the trailer office of the Producer who hand picked me for my integral scene. My cinematic importance was underscored when I was instantly sequestered in my own trailer, a fungus invested converted portable bathroom with a sheet of painted plywood to sit on. After a stack of legal papers were signed, I waited for my makeup call while gorging on cellophane wrapped snacks that were probably picked up at the nearest hick gas station.
            The knock on the door took me by surprise. “Just a minute,” I yelled with a mouthful of pretzels and frenzied hiding of crinkling wrappers. I open the thin aluminum door and an attractive PA led me to the makeup trailer. Cautiously, I enter a bright room walled with mirrors, and weird smell I could only associate with my dead Grandmother. After the obligatory hellos, the makeup crew eyed me up and down. “Well, take it off so we can see what we have to work with,” mutters the woman in charge. “What?” I ask. “Everything,” snickers her gay assistant. I slowly take off my shirt wondering if all those snacks I consumed in the last few minutes will be noticeable on my soft abs. “He’s a damn carpet!” someone yells. Looking into the depth of mirrors I wonder if I am the bastard child of Chewbacca. “Do you mind shaving?” asks another assistant. Well having been addicted to weight lifting since witnessing my first Arnold centerfold in Muscle & Fitness, my lack of flexibility has hindered me from even washing anything behind my shoulders, let alone shaving.  Finally someone mentions that this film is set in the seventies, and men had hair back in those days. Damn right, I am a real man, not some pansy pretty boy Brad Pitt with a waxed body. After applying a few fake tattoos probably obtained from a quarter gumball machine, I am whisked back to my toilet trailer to wait for my earth-shattering scene.
            A “Ready Mr. Cales” came through the tinfoil door. Who the hell is Mr. Cales? Am I really that old or did my deceased father join me in the trailer? Grabbing a few extra snacks for later, I’m led to the transportation van and it’s finally off to the set. My short day had now become a long night and it was hard to make out any set features or faces of distinction. The dark hallway of the house was filled with lights and other sharp objects that painfully ripped into every vulnerable spot on my body as I bounced off them. As we reach the door of the bedroom, the PA yells “Naked man on set!” Is there another word in the English language that gathers more attention than the simple word of naked?  Hesitantly, I enter the extremely small room that is stuffed with hundreds of production crew and is lit as bright as the surface of the sun. Other than the few young newbie’s on the crew who were trying to sneak peeks at the aging actresses’ sagging breasts, all eyes were on me. I start to disrobe when I hear from the bed “Can you just get your clothes off and get in bed so we can get this over with?” the lead actress yells while sitting up in bed and exposing her once legendary breasts. I finish undressing to the quiet choruses of “sasquatch” and “oh my God” and quickly slip into silk sheeted bed. The once famous actress with makeup that was probably applied by the set plasterers extends her hand and gives me a greeting that does little to soothe my anxiety. The young director pushes my body up against hers and drapes my tattooed arm over her frail back. “Sound up”, “Camera rolling” and finally “action” are yelled. “Cut, that was great,” yells the director. What was great? I just laid there. Years of training and thousands of dollars in headshots and this is it? The star is ushered off the set with her breasts in a wheelbarrow, and I’m left to dress in a room that empties faster than if I had farted. The once nice PA shows up and gives me a “get the hell back to the van” look.  Walking to van stuffed with wardrobe and props, I am dropped off at my vehicle that is parked in the lot next to the sanitation truck. “Thanks” she said, “your check will be in the mail.”  She quickly slams my truck door and hurries off to get drunk and laid at the nightly wrap party.
            Driving down the bumpy dirt road, I feel cheap and used. I have prostituted myself to a national audience for a hundred bucks.  What will my nephews in rural Michigan think when they find their beloved Uncle is involved in a sordid Roger Corman film? What will I tell my wife who thinks I was an extra in a modern film-noir western? Heading home, the highway is emptier than my stomach. Pulling over I hit a lone drive-thru and hastily order everything on the menu. Miles down the road, I am happy as a lark with all the carbohydrates and fat slugging through my constricted arteries. Picking up my ringing cell phone I notice it’s my wife. “Hey babe” I answer, “How did it go?” she asks. Thinking for a second, I answer “just your standard extra work, see you in an hour.” Hanging up, I notice an old Snickers sticking out from between the seats. I rip into the ancient candy bar as shards of stale chocolate litter my thighs and cover the front seat. Turning up the static laced classic rock, I think to myself, excellent, my career is heading in the right direction.