Sunday, October 22, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 493: The Days The Music Died



Gord Downie's death this week turned into a national outpouring of grief. We all remembered our favorite "Tragically Hip" song or how'd we'd caught them in a bar one night before they were famous. Every newscast and talk show discussed the local landmarks, arcane hockey moments, regional turns of phrase and national traits mentioned in their lyrics.

For a while there it felt like no politician, athlete or kid on the street was without profound thoughts on the Legacy the music would engender and the change in our collective consciousness that would evolve as a result. 

It made me wonder how much of this was genuine -- given that less than 10% of the country had ever purchased one of the Hip's albums. And far fewer when you consider that the core of any fan base owns all of their favorite band's output.

Not that there's anything shabby about selling just over 5 million copies of anything. And God knows there were Summers and camp grounds where the tunes from their 14 albums were everywhere.

But given that Shania Twain has already sold more than 8 times as many copies of one album  ("Come On Over") alone, how overwrought is this nation going to become when her turn to shake off this mortal coil rolls around? 

"Bobcaygeon" might choke me up personally whenever I hear it. But millions more were/are just as moved by "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under".

Or are the wakes we hold for our pop stars more media generated than genuine? 

Yeah, I know it hurts to lose someone who influenced your formative years. But trust me, I was around when Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison died -- and none of them ever made the front page of any newspaper I picked up or garnered more than a moment of the nightly news.

The tragedies of their passings didn't dominate the zeitgeist and the word "legacy" never crossed anybody's mind beyond hoping people would be a little more careful about what drugs they took.

Still -- like a lot of you I'm sure -- in my sadness, I ventured onto YouTube to re-watch a few of my "Tragically Hip" favorites. And you know how, when you do that, YouTube comes up with a list of other clips you might want to see...?

That list included the one I'm attaching below because a couple of things struck me watching it.

1. Every single star participating in it has passed on. Each of them giants in the industry. 

And...

2. This kind of thing used to turn up on television with regularity -- unprompted by anyone's impending mortality or the need to opine on their context in the grand scheme of things.

Perhaps the innocence of "entertainment" being the point of entertainment is one more thing that we've lost.

Enjoy Your Sunday...



Sunday, October 15, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 492: Walk Off The Earth



The following video was done in a single take -- after six solid days of rehearsal.

Here's Burlington, Ontario band "Walk Off The Earth" proving the reality that we all need to forego
the option to "fix it in post".

Far better to fix it in Prep.

Enjoy Your Sunday...




Sunday, October 08, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 491: The Fire's Out


After the worst forest fire season in recorded history, which scorched an area of British Columbia four times the size of Vancouver and the rest of our urban mainland, the flames are out.

Crews that came from across Canada and all over the world to fight the wildfires are going home. Some leave quietly. Others make you wish they'd stay forever. Not just because of their courage and commitment. But because they hold onto something we've lost.

Remember when people used to sing at work? 

And I'm not talking about chain gangs but that sense of community and communal labor that caused all kinds of people to get together in song. 

As a kid, I remember railroad crews busting out a tune to set the rhythm of their hammers or some cowboy bringing out his guitar at a campfire after the branding was done.

When you took your car to a garage, there was always a radio blasting back in the repair bays and one or two of the mechanics joining in.

Every police force and fire department had a choir or a band or both. Geez, even coal miners sang between coughing fits as they hacked up a lung.

But people don't even turn on a radio at work anymore. Workplaces have become these quiet hives, where even the crappy muzak in the elevator is being replaced by tiny TVs offering stock quotes and snippets from CNN.

And those who do their jobs to tunes do it with earbuds, seldom to experience the delight of a shared song.

When did work become all about work and lose the joy that made working with other people worthwhile?

What follows is a Samoan Crew of Firefighters leaving the woods after killing a wildfire. They're hot and tired. Bruised and sore from the back-breaking labor.

But they've got a song in their hearts.

This is special.

Enjoy Your Sunday.


Sunday, October 01, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 490: Editing as Punctuation



I've always held that it is a storytelling power of three that makes cinema what it is. Those three story tellers are the writer, the director and the editor.

The writer creates the original story on paper. The director lifts it from the page so it can be retold in the physical world. And finally, the editor uses the captured images and sound to re-tell the story in cinematic form.

No good film story can be realized if one of the three storytellers is missing.

Without a good script, the director's skills can still achieve a level of sound and fury, but the result inevitably signifies nothing. And no matter how well the writer and director have told their tales, without the storytelling skills of an editor, the audience won't be taken on the intended journey.

Whether those story tellers are embodied in one person or many doesn't matter. The story still needs to be told three times to make a movie.

Now -- everybody thinks they can write and those with healthy egos are certain they can direct. But editing is a more mysterious craft to most, practiced in darkened rooms by people who seldom speak about what illusions they can concoct.

One of the easiest ways to understand what editors do is to look at their work through the eyes of a writer and one of the skills writers rely on -- punctuation.

The image above is the first half of one of the most famous cuts in cinema history.

Or is it just a comma...

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Editing as Punctuation in Film from Max Tohline on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 489: The Good Time Girls



There used to be a T-shirt popular among people who worked on movies (probably still is) that read "What I really want to do is direct". Like the movie set memes that now populate social media, it reflected the reality that a lot of people who wrote, produced, acted or crewed films actually didn't want to be a small cog in the big mechanism of film creation. They wanted to run the thing.

As I writer and producer, I can't count the number of scripts that were dropped on my desk by actors, grips, stuntmen and extras, almost all of them hoping a sale would vault them out of the position they held into a credit closer to the beginning of the picture -- with virtually all of them silently hoping a script credit would get them one step closer to their true holy grail -- directing.

I've often thought that when the desire to direct arises in people with a regular crew job, it comes from working under a director who isn't that good at what they do. Like those scripts I mentioned, I also can't count the number of times I've seen a director struggling to make his or her day when everybody surrounding them knows exactly what the next shot should be.

That said, it's still rare when the desire to run the show comes from someone who's not only exceptional at their niche within the production community but is much sought after by the very best directors out there.

Courtney Hoffman was the Costumer on "Magic Mike", "The Hateful Eight" and "Baby Driver". A year ago, she availed herself at an opportunity offered by Production entity Refinery29 to create a short film as part of their "Shatterbox Anthology" effort to find emerging female directing talent.

She created a film entitled "The Good Time Girls" and shopped it around. The result impressed a lot of people, including Steven Spielberg, who just hired Ms. Hoffman to direct a feature called "Ruthless" for Amblin Entertainment.

Which seems to prove that if you really want to direct the best path to that goal is to just go out and direct something.

Maybe it's really that simple.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 488: Hurricane Shapiro


You don't know who to trust these days, do you?

Actually, nobody's ever really known who to trust. At one point in my life I spent a lot of time shadowing cops -- cops who relied on confidential informants to do their jobs. Most of these CI's were scumbags, low-lifes, petty or major criminals. A few were even lawyers. Actually, more than a few. That attorney-client privilege thing isn't held in the high esteem you might expect.

I learned that when one of them dropped a little information on a police officer, the cop made a mental note of it and went on with his day.

"Hey, didn't he say some guy was getting whacked this afternoon?".

"Yeah. We'll see..."

No urgency. No way of verifying what was offered. It was just -- information. Perhaps ill-informed. Perhaps intended to settle a grudge.

If said cop then got the same information from CI #2, he might take out his notebook and make a note. But there was still no indication he was acting on what he'd heard.

But if CI #3 showed up with the same news. Then it was time to spring into action.

I feel like one of these cops every time I watch the news these days. I'm never sure how much trust to have in what I'm hearing. So I tend to look for other sources. If it turns up in three or more places that don't share the same ideology or political agenda, I'll go along with it. Otherwise -- we'll see...

Last week, as Hurricane Irma bore down on Florida, CNN was wall to wall with the doom and gloom of a storm more dangerous than the planet had ever seen -- one that would level several American cities and then cut to anchors standing in the rain as approaching breezes tousled their hair.

Either CNN anchors are suddenly a dime a dozen and ten feet tall and bulletproof -- or maybe Irma had blown it's load in the Caribbean.

But that doesn't sell ads for Cialis, does it?

And this goes on all over the place. One week, Donald Trump is worse than Hitler. And the next, the very people who've called him unhinged and a Fascist are sitting down to have dinner with him. And the media who've promulgated those opinions are suddenly using terms like "eminently presidential".

Am I the only one who feels I'm being played?

Meanwhile, as Hurricane Irma threatened one coast, another storm dubbed Shapiro was threatening to bring death and destruction to Berkeley, California.

At least that's what CNN and a lot of people on Facebook wanted me to believe.

For those not paying attention, Ben Shapiro, a Fascist, White-Supremacist, was booked to speak at UC Berkeley, the birth place of the free speech movement, and after failing to prevent his appearance, the college and city had required Shapiro to spend more than $600,000 to make sure the students attending his speech did not come to harm.

For those who've truly been paying attention, Ben Shapiro is about as far from a Fascist, White Supremacist as you can get. He's actually an Orthodox Jew married to a Moroccan woman with whom he's had two kids.

He's also, according to the Anti-Defamation League, been the target of more anti-Semitic attacks than anyone else on social media. Attacks that came from both the Left and the Right.

He's also written a couple of books about how the media participates in the creation of our current culture of fear. Something, you'd suspect people in the media do not take kindly to.

So, he's labelled with the worst things you can call people these days as vast numbers on social media parrot the terms and demand he be silenced.

But Shapiro went ahead and spoke -- and nothing happened.

Oh, a few hot heads got arrested and some people who heard him might've had their opinion changed. But the culture of fear took the real hit because it turned out the guy isn't somebody to fear.

You can find Shapiro's entire speech here, including a half hour of engaging with people who disagree with him. Engagement that is intelligent and respectful and honest on all sides, proving that people can hold differing views without demonizing one another or pedaling falsehoods.

Below is a small snippet that will hopefully start some of you questioning the sources from which you get your news. Maybe it's time for you too to seek some additional sources.

And -- Enjoy Your Sunday...

Sunday, September 10, 2017

LAZY SUNDAY # 487: GONE COUNTRY


A lot of people have trouble understanding my love of Country music. It just doesn't fit with the understated sophistication and intellectual acumen which are my trademarks. Which not only reveals how little they know me, but Country music as well.

There's as much depth and variety to Country as any other musical genre and maybe more than some. You just gotta find that part of the pasture with the grass that appeals to you. Trouble is, given the picture of Country folk that's always been a mainstay of the media (particularly Hollywood) most people don't bother to give it much of a listen.

I like to think I came to it honestly. My formative years were spent in rural Saskatchewan, where it was everywhere, with the same guys in pick-ups listening to Hank Snow and Marty Robbins were just as likely to pick up records by Perry Como and the Mills Brothers. 

It was just there. Another song on the only radio station you could get.

Later on, I lived in LA when "The Eagles" were taking flight, among other Country influenced artists like "Linda Ronstadt", "Kris Kristopherson","Poco", "Little Feat", "Loggins & Messina" or "The New Riders of the Purple Sage". And trust me, when your only alternatives were Disco or some lounge singer ruining "The Doobie Brothers", listening to those guys was way better.

More often, Country songs are stories, as the old Nashville radio adage goes -- "Listen long enough and somebody sings your life". But sometimes, it's just fun too.

Friday we lost two giants in the world of Country. Don Williams and Troy Gentry.



Williams (top photo) was in his late 70's. Long retired from a career that saw him top the charts 17 times and have much of his song writing covered by other top selling artists.

Gentry died when I helicopter ferrying him to a concert in New Jersey crashed. His Duo "Montgomery Gentry" formed in the 1990's with singing partner Eddie Montgomery also had a couple of decades of hits and Country Music Awards.

Each, in their own way, represented those two sides of Country music, the stories and the fun. 

If you enjoyed their artistry as much as I did, here's a sample of each. If you weren't a fan, have a listen to what you missed.

And -- Enjoy Your Sunday...



Sunday, September 03, 2017

LAZY SUNDAY # 486: RETURNING THE FAVOR



I got an amazing reaction this week on a Washington Post article I posted about the response of the so-called "Cajun Navy" to the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Houston.

You can read the entire article here. But basically it was about a bunch of responsible, resilient and resourceful people doing what any decent person does for their neighbors.

Most of the feedback I got was positive.

But in these divided times, I also got reactions from those who refer to themselves as progressive, or as some call them, "Social Justice Warriors" pointing out the Cajun Navy is made up of Southerners who fought in unjust foreign wars, wear a police uniform, probably don't like Gays, Muslims or Black people and doubtless voted for that douchebag Trump.

We've apparently come so far or are so far gone that people simply helping people is suspect and apparently you actually can tell a book by its cover.

Some of that can be explained by our political divisions. But I think much of it devolves to a divide between rural and urban, where the skills of one aren't appreciated by the other, as well as an additional schism between those who seek higher education and those who do not.


A champion of the latter group is Mike Rowe, a TV Host who gained fame with a series entitled "Dirty Jobs" where he got hired to do all those jobs most people just won't do.

That led him to developing a foundation to increase the number of people being trained to do skilled jobs. Jobs like being a plumber or electrician or house painter in a world that reveres rap artists, athletes and hedge fund managers while espousing the essential need for everybody to attain a college degree.

A few months ago, Mike was awarded the first "TV series" that would be produced and distributed by Facebook. That series is called "Returning the Favor" and its one of the most uplifting things I've seen in a long while.

I can't post the first episode of "Returning the Favor" here because it's still a Facebook exclusive. But if you're on Facebook, you can access it here.

What I can post is a video Mike also did this past week after somebody made the mistake of calling him a "White Supremacist" online. It's from Fox News, so those of you who feel you're somehow dirtying your hands by doing that can find a print version of Mike's response here.

Either way, d+o yourself a favor and reach across these seemingly unbridgeable divides by watching "Returning the Favor" on Facebook. At the very least it'll encourage them to spend more of their ad money on content.

And -- Enjoy Your Sunday...


Sunday, August 27, 2017

LAZY SUNDAY # 485: LUVVIE



The actor, Vincent Price, was also an accomplished painter. Atop the favorites of his own work was a canvas depicting a beautiful garden awash in sunlight and filled with thousands of beautiful flowers. The garden is seen from inside a darkened room where a man stands in the shadows, his hand hovering expectantly over a telephone. The painting is titled -- "The Actor".

It's the perfect representation of how much of life an actor sacrifices for their art.

I was a professional actor for 15 years before I transitioned to writing and producing. I worked a lot in the trade and became relatively well known. So, after the switch, people frequently asked if I missed it.

Well, to some extent I did. But more often I felt that my new efforts were creating work for a lot of actors instead of just one.

And there were a lot of things I didn't miss. The constant waiting for something to happen or somebody to make a decision. The endless casting calls, occasionally to audition for people without a clue about either the craft or how to create a marketable product by harnessing it. The constant financial insecurity that didn't allow for any rest between gigs. Continually dealing with those who thought the characters you played were who you were in real life.

All of that is captured perfectly in a short film entitled "Luvvie" by Canadian actress, writer and director Annie Briggs.

Captured as well is the love of the work that gives most actors the desire to keep going no matter the disappointments, no matter the odds, no matter the hardships.

If you want to know what an actor's life is really like -- this is it.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

LUVVIE from Annie Briggs on Vimeo.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 484: DIEPPE UNCOVERED



Somebody once said, "The only reason truth is stranger than fiction is because fiction has to make sense".

We all spend a lot of time trying to make sense of something. And a lot of times we fail because we're so busy applying logic or science that we don't look any deeper.

So imagine my surprise on learning that a mystery I've been trying to figure out for a long time would be solved by a guy I wrote about last week -- Ian Fleming.

Let me begin 75 years ago this week, August 19, 1942 when Canadian soldiers raided the Nazi held French port of Dieppe. The attack was a military disaster resulting in more than half of the invading force being killed or captured.

I don't remember learning about the battle in school, maybe because some school supervisor thought the story would be too painful in a place where many of the lost men had once lived.

But later in life I was cast in a musical about the raid entitled "Gravediggers of 1942" written by well known Canadian playwright Tom Hendry. Now, you might think a musical about a military disaster would be in bad taste. But such shows as "Oh, What A Lovely War" were much admired at the time and this was our version.

But all of the cast spent their free time in rehearsal reading books about the raid where the prevailing opinion was that it was badly planned by the British generals in charge and that the Canadian troops were merely canon fodder sacrificed to learn how not to conduct an invasion.

The show was a huge hit and I can't count the number of times I met an audience member who'd lost a member of their family and was as obsessed as I was on discovering why such a tragedy had been allowed to happen.

A couple of years later, I revisited Dieppe again on stage by way of Peter Colley's "The War Show" where the first act climax depicted the slaughter on the beaches. Often the curtain dropped not to applause but to silence and the sound of someone weeping.

One night, during the intermission, there was a knock on the Green Room door. Being the only actor who wasn't in the middle of a cigarette, I answered it. A huge, muscular man in his late 50's filled the doorway with tears streaming down his face. He reached out and dropped several crumpled 10's and 20's into my hand. "I lost a lot of good friends at Dieppe," he said, "Have a drink to 'em on me."

He started away, then turned back. "And Bless you all for remembering. It means a lot."

That lack of remembering seemed to be the official stance at the time. Part of it might've been the feeling that perhaps our boys let the side down. Maybe it was because we didn't want to be impolite and accuse the Brits of using us.

Whatever the reason, you knew the whole conversation was being avoided. And because of it, thousands of men who had survived the battle were abandoned, forever to wonder how an event that had so negatively impacted their lives had been allowed to happen in the first place.

Only a handful of those men are alive as the 75th anniversary of the battle is marked, all in their 90's now and perhaps past understanding of why their sacrifice had been needed.

A couple of years ago, the mystery of Dieppe was finally solved. For it turns out, the raid was a cover, almost a diversion to distract from the real mission. One which might have shortened World War Two by months, if not years, had it succeeded. A mission planned and commanded by a young naval intelligence officer by the name of -- Ian Fleming, the man who would one day create James Bond.

The truth is a tale only a writer of fiction could concoct, perhaps knowing that said truth needed to be couched in an official story that would not make sense. 

What it doesn't explain is why a generation of warriors couldn't have had their burden of regret recrimination and guilt lifted after WW2 was over. Perhaps that's the real mystery of Dieppe.

Learn the true story of Dieppe below and please catch the full version if you can...

And -- Enjoy Your Sunday...



Sunday, August 13, 2017

LAZY SUNDAY # 483: SPY VS SPY


On a hot, prairie afternoon in 1962, I was introduced to the world of espionage.

"Dr. No" was screening at Regina's classiest theatre, The Capitol. I'd never heard of Sean Connery or the film let alone the book from which it was adapted and knew nothing of a genre that would come to have a profound effect on my life.

"Dr. No" absolutely blew me away. After the movie, I stood staring at the lobby cards in the poster windows outside, enervated, reliving the scenes depicted. I then shot down the street to the nearest bookstore to buy a copy of the novel that the credits had indicated was written by some guy named Ian Fleming.


To my surprise, there was a whole shelf of Ian Fleming's Bond books. By Christmas, I'd read all of them. Maybe too young to fully understand all the finer points and certainly the sexy parts. But in addition to opening my eyes to an exciting adventure genre head and shoulders above Tarzan and Treasure Island, I suddenly started paying closer attention to the news, the cold war and the hotter one taking shape in Viet Nam.

James Bond had led me to wanting to know more about how the world really worked.

Of course, I saw every Bond film, usually on the day it was released and might've been Connery's biggest fan. Then, in 1965, a new spy arrived on the scene -- Alec Leamus, personified by Richard Burton in John LeCarre's "The Spy Who Came In From The Cold".


Despite Burton's consummate skills as an actor, "Spy" troubled me. Leamus didn't seem to enjoy his job as much as Bond and he had this guy named Smiley hanging over him as that boss who never tells you the whole story. I picked up Le Carre's novel too, but honestly found it hard going, depicting I world far darker than I imagined could really exist and with not a lot of charming characters or lighter moments.

Luckily around the same time, a new actor and a new spy entered my life -- Michael Caine as Harry Palmer in Len Deighton's "The Ipcress File". I was about 16 by then and Harry Palmer matched me to a T. He was working class like I was, wore exactly the same glasses I wore. More important, he had a healthy mistrust of authority -- the same one I was developing.


Somehow, in an era prior to entertainment magazine shows and social media, I learned that the director of "The Ipcress File" was Canadian -- Sidney Furie. Fifteen or twenty years later, while still an actor, but trying to learn to write, I got to meet Furie and peppered him with questions -- which mostly came down to why it had been his only espionage film.

For me, so much of that movie had been perfect for the genre, the moving masters in the corridors of power, the film noir touches, the grit of real spycraft combined with lighter moments that kept the story personal and engaging.

I think I was looking for something resembling hope for the genre, for we met not long after I'd seen "Moonraker", a film so egregious I was certain the Bond franchise had run its course. Like that unforgettable sunny afternoon in front of the Capitol theatre, I stood in front of an equally classy theatre in an equally sunny Los Angeles -- only this time holding back tears and angry at what a character and world I loved had been allowed to become.

A short time later, My careers of writing and acting at a tipping point, I was hired as the story editor on a new CBS series entitled "Adderly". Adderly had been a minor character in a novel by American writer Elliot Baker. But he was unique enough that the TV powers that be decided he'd be worthy of a television series.

And so for two seasons he was, with those of us responsible for creating his adventures constantly pulled between the more popular cultural icon of espionage created by Ian Fleming and the more realistic version provided by John LeCarre. Oddly, or maybe because of my own bias, the compromise usually ended up being somewhere in the Harry Palmer ballpark.

But still, a half century after all these characters entered the culture, the debate about which of the key creators, Fleming or LeCarre, was better at story telling and creating the world of spies still continues. To be honest, the more mature me likes them both but for far different reasons.

Check out the confrontation that follows to make your own choice.

And -- Enjoy Your Sunday...

Monday, August 07, 2017

LAZY SUNDAY # 482: SMOKE ON THE WATER



The folks on Canada's West Coast have been watching the skies a lot more than usual lately. And it's not for the usual purpose of seeing if there's some blue among the rain clouds.

Big chunks of British Columbia are on fire and have been for more than a month. Thousands of fire fighters have been deployed. Entire cities have been evacuated. Newscasts are full of shots of pick-up trucks fleeing flaming forests.

The Sun and the Moon are bright red from dawn to dusk. And smoke blankets everything...

Yesterday, I ventured off my island to watch my beloved Saskatchewan Roughriders get their gridiron asses handed to them by the BC Lions. And the taste of ashes that comes from such a colossal loss was this time quite literal on the boat ride home. 

But smoky skies suggests something else to a good number of us -- smoke it up some more!

Because this week also included Vancouver's "Celebration of Light" one of the world's largest fireworks competition. Saturday concluded the show with a spectacular presentation from Team Canada.

We like to think of it as fighting fire with fire.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Monday, July 31, 2017

LAZY SUNDAY # 481: ZYGOTE



Okay, so I'm burnt, dehydrated and beyond tired -- recovering from one dead solid perfect day. Which means I don't have much left -- except this...

For all this talk about the old way of doing things dying, there's also a ton of new ways being born. New ways of telling stories. New ways of getting those stories around. Less dependence on gatekeepers and grand bureaucratic plans. More reliance of getting back to what really matters -- telling the story.

One of those newish things is Neill Blomkamp's Oats Studios. Here's one of the first offerings. No doubt there will be more...

Pass the Aloe and a beer and...

Enjoy Your Sunday.