Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Remember Pearl Harbor

For many it’s getting harder to do. 1941 was a long time ago. Even before MY time, if you can believe it.

And it doesn’t help that Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor movie was such a trainwreck it’s not like anyone has any reason to see it.

Do they even still teach it in high school?   

For me, Pearl Harbor Day is especially poignant because I’m currently in Hawaii. It’s not just a memory to the Hawaiian people who are still around – it changed their world.

Clearly this was one of the darkest days in our country’s history. On the other hand, it rallied the country and led the way to some of our most shining hours.

I take some comfort in that since I feel our nation is being tested yet again. My hope is that, as in times of darkness before, we will prevail and even triumph.

But for today, I want to just remember Pearl Harbor, the brave men who fought for our freedom and brave women who contributed so much at home. You’ve been called the Greatest Generation. My sincere wish is that we can live up to your example.


Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Going to the theater with Jackie Kennedy

With the Jackie Kennedy movie out this Oscar (I mean “holiday”) season, I am reminded of the time she and I went to the theater together.

Okay, pick yourself off the floor.

We didn’t go together in the sense of “arrive” together, but we did sit together.

You’re still not buying it, but it’s true.

Backstory: Larry Gelbart had a play on Broadway called SLY FOX. (Needless to say it was hilarious.) My wife and I were in New York and Larry arranged for us to have his house seats.

We sit down, third row center, settle in and I glance to my left. Holy shit! It’s Jackie.  In the seat right next to me. 

During intermission I decide to get up and go to the lobby. As I pass by her I rub up against her knees (which were bony by the way).  Okay, that was a dorky thing to do, but that was my brush with greatness.

The next day I called Larry and thanked him for the tickets. I mentioned that Jackie O. sat right next to me. He got very excited. “Did she laugh? What did she laugh at?” I said, “Yes, and hey, you never asked whether my wife and I liked the show.” He apologized, asked us, then wondered if I could remember any specific lines Jackie laughed at.

I’d like to say that’s my favorite Jackie/theater story, but it’s not. Supposedly she was at a theater and bumped into Stephen Sondheim. She asked what he was working on. He had to really hedge. How do you tell Jackie Kennedy you’re working on a musical called ASSASSINS?

From what I hear, the movie JACKIE is supposed to be great and Natalie Portman is amazing in it. I’m sure I’ll see it (although probably not in Maui). I’m curious as to whether they got the bony knees thing right.

Monday, December 05, 2016


I was reading the current copy of WRITTEN BY (the WGA’s monthly magazine) and something caught my attention. It was an article about Erin Cressida Wilson, the screenwriter of THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN.

One of the film’s producers was discussing the evolution of the book becoming a movie. There was studio interest even before the novel was released. Now I suspect this was the author of the article speaking, not a quote from the producer.  But in talking about Dreamworks snatching up the project this was the explanation:

Like everyone else in Hollywood at the time, the studio was seeking the next GONE GIRL, another female-driven mystery told by an unreliable narrator.

Wow. Talk about reducing art to formula.

And that, friends and neighbors, is how Hollywood thinks. Reducing someone's narrative to a silly logline. Another female-driven mystery told by an unreliable narrator.

Really? THAT’S what you got out of it?

Let’s see a movie tonight. What are you in the mood for, honey?” 
 “I dunno. Something with an unreliable female narrator.” 
 “You’re in luck!”

And as they say, “Imitation is the sincerest form of Hollywood.”

The end result, in the case of THE GIRL ON A TRAIN, was a movie you’ve already seen thirty times. It wants to be BASIC INSTINCT, it wants to be BODY HEAT, it sure wants to be GONE GIRL.  It's none of them. 

I hadn’t read the book but halfway through the movie I completely figured out the mystery. What I didn’t figure was how utterly absurd the climax would be.

Emily Blunt, a wonderful actress, basically plays one-note the entire film. The rest of the cast was... in the movie. The story was disjointed, bouncing around in time, but that was a choice to stay true to the book. Every ten minutes I was questioning another logic point. It was one of those movies where characters did things because the writer needed them to, not because they organically decided to. The pace was slow and the erotic scenes felt programmed.

Hollywood needs to make movies based on original ideas and great stories regardless of whether it’s male or female driven, and whether the narrator is unreliable or not.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Notes on giving notes

Getting notes is rarely fun. But as all TV and screenwriters know, it’s part of the gig. And more often than not, the notes are coming from authority figures who have no creative instincts or are just clueless in general. Again, not all executives fit into this category. Some are terrific and their input results in a much better script. But for the most part, you’re getting notes from people out of their league. And it’s not that they’re not bright or wonderful people; they’re just not qualified for this task. It’s as if I had to give notes on choreography. “Do we like her when she kicks in that direction?” “I feel there’s too much hopping.” Seriously, what the fuck do I know?

That’s not much different from getting script notes from former business affairs veeps, former lawyers, or 2010 graduates from Smith.

The best notes are the ones seeking clarification. “I didn’t understand this?” “Why is she mad?” If you’re having trouble tracking the story then I haven’t done my job. I will always address those notes.

The second best notes are the ones that are SPECIFIC. If a concern is pinpointed, I can respond to it. Either I can do the note or not, but at least I know what the note is.

There was a longtime executive at a major broadcast network who was notorious for giving the most obtuse notes imaginable. These are two actual notes that I have received from him.

1. (He holds his hand in the air) “Your script is here.” (He raises the level of his hand) “I’d like it to be here.”   Huh????
2. “You’ve given me the meat the vegetables. But it needs more candy.”

How the hell do you write that? You spend half your rewrite just trying to decipher what to do? Have we raised it to this level? Or merely this level? Have we put in too much candy? Have we spoiled the meal? What is candy?

A Supreme Court Justice, I believe, coined the worst note ever. Justice Potter Stewart in 1964 ruled that Obscenity is not covered under the First Amendment. When asked the obvious question, “So what exactly is Obscenity?” he replied:

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard-core pornography"]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it,


Talk about shooting at a moving target. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received this note. And it’s totally useless. I’m not a mind reader, and even if I were, what good would it do me if you don’t have a thought in your head?

Obviously, you can’t always articulate what your problem is or exactly what you’re looking for. And it’s my job as a writer to provide fresh ideas, surprise you once in awhile. But give me some clues. Give me some parameters. Point to some examples. What was a previous instance and what satisfied you that time? What, do you know for sure, you don’t want?

The answer to I KNOW IT WHEN I SEE IT is...


Give specific notes!!!  Thank you on behalf of the entire writing community.

This is a re-post from five years ago.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Best album cover EVER

Now this is who I want to see perform on AMERICA'S GOT TALENT.

And to make sure her fingers are properly manicured, what better salon to frequent than this?
Now there are some who claim the album cover is a hoax but I could swear she was playing last night at the Grand Wailea lobby bar. 

Friday, December 02, 2016

Friday Questions

Here are some Friday questions as we roll into December.

sophomorecritic starts us off:

You mostly see yourself as a writer and TV producer. At the same time, you've directed but you seem rather non-chalante about it. How many steps were you away in training and experience from being the kind of director that gets nominated for Oscars and gets recognition for a distinct style. For example, if the same exact production team existed but you were substituted in for Danny Boyle, Sophia Coppolla or Martin Scorsese, do you think you could have directed Lost in Translation, The Departed or Slumdog Millionaire and got close to the same result?

Are you kidding? Have you ever seen one of my CONRAD BLOOMS?? Those guys are HACKS!!

But seriously, no. They are all extraordinary directors. I couldn't hold Scorsese's viewfinder.

I will say this, though, from a technical standpoint: Although I have shot single-camera scenes, most of the time I direct multi-camera shows. It's quite tricky camera blocking four cameras all moving at once to capture all the action, all the angles, reactions, masters, and sizes, not to mention having cameras move in anticipation of characters entering the scene. And sometimes you have large scenes. Five or six actors, lots of movement, and only four cameras to cover it all on the fly. It can be very complicated and daunting.

Seasoned veterans in both forms seem to agree a multi-camera director can be taught how to direct single-camera in about a half hour. On the other hand, single camera directors sometimes need months to get the hang of multi-camera. So if Scorsese wanted to do a CONRAD BLOOM I still could whip his sorry ass.

From Matt:

Several of the MASH scripts in my collection contain the Call Sheet and Shooting Schedules. On the shooting schedule, I've noticed under "Cast. & Atmos." an item called "Mini Mash"

Is this a reference to the Stage 9 set?

Yes. We had the entire camp set up on that stage. Once Daylight Savings ended we stopped filming at the Malibu ranch. There was just not enough daylight to accomplish all the scenes we needed to film. In the summer we had 6 AM to 8:15 PM. But in the winter our window was 7 AM to 4:30 PM.

So if exteriors still were needed we shot them on Stage 9. Did it look great? No. Maybe one notch above the Brady Bunch backyard.

Night scenes looked better. Dark is dark.

In planning the season, we held back the episodes that did not require much outdoor shooting and moved forward the ones that did. And that made plotting out the season that much tougher. We might break a great story but have to sit on it while scrambling last second to get the script ready that was going into production the next day.

And finally, from Michael:

Is there a strong correlation between the episodes you wrote that you feel are your strongest and the ones that were nominated for Emmys?

Not necessarily. I do think the scripts that were nominated deserved to be, but there were others that I felt were as good or better that didn’t get any real recognition.

Of all the CHEERS we wrote I feel our best was called “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before”. That was the Frasier bachelor party episode (“Everybody have fun tonight… everybody Wang Chung tonight.”). I’m especially proud of that one because we worked off no outline. As an experiment we wanted to just riff and see where it took us. We knew the broad steps but nothing else. I think it came out great.

There’s a TONY RANDALL SHOW we wrote where Tony runs for office against the old incumbent. During the campaign Tony’s opponent dies and still beats him. It was a very funny show.  And ironically, this exact scenario took place in California during the last election. 

The best FRASIER we ever wrote – “Room Service” (Niles sleeps with Lilith) – never got nominated for anything. There were also a few episodes of ALMOST PERFECT that David and I wrote with Robin Schiff that I felt were nomination worthy.

But generally, unless you write for what we like to call a “tuxedo show”, your chances of getting a nod are slim. That is why we thought our agent was kidding when she said we had been nominated for a WGA award for one of our OPEN ALL NIGHT’S. By the time of the ceremony the show had been cancelled and the production company disbanded. We had to buy our own tickets and find someplace to sit. No, we didn’t win. The Guild wasn’t that crazy.

But I will say this, all the drafts we submitted, whether they were rewarded or not, were at least 90% ours. Lots of shows room-write and just assign credits. Others rewrite scripts extensively and keep the original writer’s name on it even though there’s nothing left of his work. There have been times in our career when teleplays we wrote were rewritten and sometimes even made better. But we never submitted those. So I’m proud to say that the awards we lost, we lost because of us.

What is your Friday Question?

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Those little pleasures

Especially now, I’ll take all the pleasures – little or otherwise – that I can get. Here are a few of mine. What are some of yours? 

You’re listening to the radio and a song comes on that you really love and haven’t heard in awhile. Just the first few notes make you smile and you know for the next three or four minutes you’re going to be happy.

You're in a restaurant and get one of those tables at the window with a view.

You upload some computer program and it actually works. (This pleasure, by the way, has never happened to me.)

Same restaurant, you look around and see you have a better table than Beyonce.  

Your kid plays Tree #3 in the school pageant and gives a bravura performance.

You don’t need X-Rays until your next visit to the dentist.

Coke with real sugar. 

You’re trying to find a parking space in a crowded mall and someone pulls out just in front of you.

They honor the Group-On even after the expiration date.

You drink a Coke out of the bottle on a staggeringly hot day.

You get upgraded.

You take your first bite of a food you’ve been craving for weeks. And it tastes as good as you had imagined.

You’re watching reruns of a classic show, you’ve seen every episode ten times, and suddenly one appears that you’ve never seen before.  

You find a cherished toy from your youth at a flea market.

The Tylenol kicks in.

People you don’t even know wish you Happy Birthday on Facebook.

You have time for a nap.

You find a seat on a crowded subway car. And it’s next to someone who bathes.

You get TSA pre-check.

Your printer jams and you actually fix it yourself. Is there a greater sound than a printer resuming its print job?

You order medium rare and it comes out medium rare.

You stumble upon a new TV show you really like. And you set a season pass immediately because you know you’ll never find it again. What is Epix anyway?

You find that favorite cozy sweatshirt you thought your mom/step mom/spouse/lover threw out.  


UPS shows up with the package you’ve been waiting for.

The automated kiosk in the parking structure works. That rush of excitement and relief when the wooden arm goes up.

And finally… a new blog post where all the photos are of Natalie Wood.