Wednesday, January 17, 2018

EP55: Let’s Do Lunch!


Power lunches are a Hollywood tradition and this week Ken examines the rituals and which restaurants mean you have a viable career.    Ken also shares some personal lunch tales -- some good, some not so good but all entertaining. 

 


Listen to the Hollywood & Levine podcast!

RIP Hugh Wilson

So sorry to hear that Hugh Wilson has passed away. He was 74 -- waaaaaay too young. Hugh created WKRP IN CINCINNATI, some other terrific series like FRANK’S PLACE, EASY STREET, and THE AMAZING TEDDY Z. And he became a movie director, megging the first POLICE ACADEMY (hey, it was a huge hit and spawned 37 sequels), FIRST WIVES CLUB, BLAST FROM THE PAST, and one of my favorite rarely-seen-today films, RUSTLER’S RHAPSODY.

I first met Hugh in 1977 when my writing partner, David Isaacs and I got our first staff job, which was on THE TONY RANDALL SHOW for MTM. Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses were the showrunners, but the other two staffers were Gary David Goldberg (sadly, now gone too) and Hugh Wilson.

Hugh could not have been more welcoming and fun. We were nervous, needless to say, but Hugh really helped us come out of our shell. I believe he was originally from Atlanta (although my memory might be faulty). In any event, he had kind of a good-old-boy demeanor. He never lacked for confidence but instilled confidence in you as well. And he had a unique comic way of getting across his message. In wondering if David and I were Jewish he said, “So are you a couple of them boys from the college?”

Another thing about Hugh, he really knew his stuff. His suggestions were great, his joke pitches hilarious, and it all seemed to come so easily. He also directed some episodes for us and was the same unflappable guy we saw in the writers’ room. When he later graduated to film directing I wasn’t surprised in the least. Nor was I surprised by his success.

We left TONY RANDALL to join the staff of MASH after the first season so really didn’t get the chance to spend much time with him over the subsequent years. As a radio guy myself I loved WKRP and called him on several occasions to praise the show. And over the years we would each offer writer recommendations.

I’ll remember Hugh Wilson for his talent, his spirit, his David Letterman gap-tooth grin, and kindness to a couple of young rubes. And I’ll think of you more than just “once in a while.”

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

If they ever did a re-boot of MASH

The new TV trend is to do reboots of classic TV series. WILL & GRACE, X-FILES, ROSEANNE, FULL HOUSE, and others are in the works including MAD ABOUT YOU.

So what about MASH? Why not? As a former writer of MASH, I hope they enlist me to write it. A couple of scenes might look something like this:

INT. SWAMP – DAY

HAWKEYE IS FIDDLING WITH THE STILL. BJ IS ON HIS BUNK.

HAWKEYE
I don’t think this is going to work. The prunes gum up the works.

BJ
I’d walk over there and help you but my arthritis is too bad.

HAWKEYE
Save your hands for surgery.

BJ
I’ve lost every patient for the last month. I wish someone would invent a drug to relieve arthritis, even if the side-effects were death, blindness, suicidal tendencies, nausea, and seizures.

HAWKEYE
This damn war. I hate it.

BJ
How long has the Korean War lasted so far?

HAWKEYE
Two years, but I swear it feels like 65.

RADAR ENTERS HOLDING HIS TEDDY BEAR.

RADAR
Have you guys seen my teddy bear?

HAWKEYE
You’re holding him.

RADAR
Oh. Right.

WE HEAR CHOPPER SOUNDS, LOUDLY.

HAWKEYE
Choppers.

RADAR
Where?

HAWKEYE
Overhead.

RADAR
I don’t hear them.

BJ
Trust us.

RADAR
Okay. Say, have you seen my teddy bear?

CUT TO:

INT. O.R. – LATER

HAWKEYE, BJ, AND CHARLES ARE OPERATING. HOT LIPS AND OTHER NURSES ASSIST.

BJ
Damn! Lost another one.

CHARLES
How long is this inhuman nightmare going to continue? I’ve been on my feet for forty-five minutes.

HAWKEYE (to Hot Lips)
Hey Margaret, after this, how about we go back to my place and share a heating pad?

HOT LIPS
Sorry doctor. We’re having a party for Nurse Bigelow who’s walking for the first time since she got a new hip.

HAWKEYE
Well, I’ll keep my teeth in just in case.

KLINGER ENTERS in a dress.

HAWKEYE
Klinger, when did you go back to wearing a dress?

KLINGER
I am?

HAWKEYE
I hate war.

EVERYBODY
I’ve taken enough shrapnel out of this kid’s chest to build a Buick.

HAWKEYE
I’ve said that before?

EVERYBODY
Yes!

BJ
So what’s everyone going to do after the war?

CHARLES
Me?  Well I plan on becoming the Chief Surgeon at Massachusetts General. And hope I can go three months before forced retirement.

HAWKEYE
Become a role model for the sensitive man. (to Hot Lips) Did you get that X-Ray of my groin I sent you?

KLINGER
I’m going back to Toledo. Sure wish I didn’t have four heart attacks and could still eat Paco’s hot dogs.

HOT LIPS
I’m going to do dinner theater.

HAWKEYE
BJ?

BJ
Well, as you know my daughter Erin was born after I was shipped out. So I’m going to see her for the first time and also my granddaughter who’s now twelve. God, this has been a tough two years in Korea.

RADAR ENTERS WITH HIS TEDDY BEAR.

RADAR
Choppers.

AT THE SOUND OF NO CHOPPERS WE:

FADE OUT.

THE END

Monday, January 15, 2018

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI -- My review

Okay, first of all I’m not a STAR WARS fanboy. I couldn’t recite the legend. I don’t remember if Chewbacca is really Princess Leia’s nephew or R2D2 is Darth Vader’s life coach. I just go to enjoy a rollicking space adventure film. I know who Luke Skywalker and the gang from the original STAR WARS are. And I know that family trees are important and everyone is searching for their father and when they find him they cry. Since we already have Ancestry.com and STAR WARS is in the future, you’d think it’s just matter of signing up for the six months free subscription. But I digress.

Point number two: I loved the original STAR WARS, clunky dialogue aside. I saw a preview screening before it was released and knew nothing at all about it. So I went in with zero expectations and was just blown away. No episode since has had the same affect, but that’s to be expected. So I don’t go into a STAR WARS movie ready to be knocked on my ass.

Point number three: These latest chapters are not targeted to my demographic. They throw us a bone by including Luke Skywalker and Leia and our favorite droids, but this is STAR WARS 2.0. It’s Rey’s world and Adam Driver has graduated from going backdoor on Lena Dunham to the new Darth Vader. Supporting rebel fighters prove that the Resistance now embraces diversity. And creatures in rubber masks round out the players. So if I don’t walk out of the theater with my world rocked, Disney is not going to give a shit.

But I do go into these movies wanting to like them. I want thrilling action scquences, swashbuckling lightsaber duals, space dogfights, overcoming incredible odds, dazzling special effects, heroics, villains dying horribly, magic, cliffhangers, exotic planets, comic moments, betrayal, mythology, advanced technology, a club scene featuring bizarre benign-looking aliens, combat, force fields, laser beams, explosions – and THE LAST JEDI had all of those. Every one.

And I was soooo bored.

Everything was expertly executed. But it was like watching ROCKY 17. The same tropes, the same storylines, the same jeopardy, the same goals, the same everything. They could have cut up the last two STAR WARS movies and reassembled them in a different order and I’d be hard-pressed to know the difference. Sorry. On it’s own or if it had been the first STAR WARS chapter I might have been completely awed. But all I could think during the movie was “why am I so bored? Giant alien ostriches are stampeding through an enormous casino sending space creatures flying while Rey and Adam Driver are using their lightsabers to chop down red storm troopers on a set left over from BARBARELLA and John Williams score is blaring and I’m checking my watch.

The movie was also bittersweet because of Carrie Fisher.

Disney will keep making these chapters until they drive the franchise into the ground.  And for now they make still take in big bucks although a new STAR WARS movie is no longer such a big event.  And as well-crafted as these new chapters may be, to me they still feel a little, well... forced. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

How STAR WARS was saved in the edit

You got eighteen minutes to watch something very cool? This video really illustrates the value of film editing. It's how the original STAR WARS was saved in the editing, and along the way you'll learn a lot about dramatic flow, story structure, building tension, and what not to do. Check it out.

And tomorrow I review the new STAR WARS chapter, THE LAST JEDI.  

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Tips for winter travelers

Traveling is a nightmare anyway, but during the winter it gets even worse.  And this is one of the coldest on record. (But there's no Global Warming.)  Anyway, fear not, blog faithful. Here are some suggestions for winter air travel:

Check the weather forecast. If it’s not 72 degrees and clear EVERYWHERE in the United States, reschedule.

Do not call the airline for a weather update. You’ll learn it’s cool and overcast in New Delhi.

Allow two hours before the flight, ten hours for the tarmac, two hours for the unscheduled fuel stop, and two hours to retrieve your luggage. And if you’re flying from LA to San Francisco, 45 minutes for the flight itself.

If you print your ticket on one of those self-help stations realize that the chances of it working are the same as five cherries coming up on a slot machine.

Best to print your ticket at home the night before along with the flight schedules of every other airline going to your destination, airport shuttle schedules, Amtrak schedules, and the 1-800 numbers for Ramada, Holiday Inn, Hilton, Marriott, Quality Inn, Best Western, and the YMCA.

Never turn in your rental car until it’s the final boarding call on your flight.

Never fly to, from, or around Chicago.

Always use skycaps. And if you choose to ever see your luggage again, tip.

Remember: “the white zones are for assholes in SUV’s only”.

You are allowed several little three-ounce bottles of something but not one three-and-a-half-ounce bottle of the same thing.

You might want to put that Astroglide into a nondescript little bottle.

Don't book connecting flights in the winter, even in Hawaii.

Don’t have children if you plan on flying anytime in the next fifteen years. Even if it’s one trip.

If they announce they’re overbooked and are looking for volunteers to take a later plane for free trips take it. The flight is going to be cancelled anyway. And you’ll have a jump at getting reservations at the airport Hilton.

Have your laptop, ipad, iphone, 3DS,  camcorder, transistor radio, electric razor, hand held fan, and pacemaker fully charged. Ten hours on the tarmac is a long time and there are only outlets and they're in first class.

Upgrade.

Before you get on the flight take Airbourne, water, Xanex, Oscillococcinum, Clariton, Ambien, and tequila.

Fake a limp so you can pre-board and guarantee there will be room in the overhead compartments for your stuff.

Bring your own downloaded movies, music selection, food, blankets, pillows, reading light, water, magazines, newspapers, coffee, toilet paper. And just to be on the safe side, your own oxygen masks and floatation devices.

Play the drinking game. Take a swig every time you hear “we apologize for the inconvenience”. Not recommended for those unwilling to get completely shitfaced.

Drinking game #2: “We thank you for your patience.”

Don’t kid yourself. EVERYONE is flying “stand by”.

The scary part used to be the landing. Now it’s pushing off from the gate.

Beware of free WIFI hotspots in airport terminals. Hackers use these to break into your computer. Not a joke.

It’s quieter and smoother in the front of the plane. And screw what they say, if you’re in Coach and you want to use the bathroom go to the ones in First Class.

And finally, always remember: it’s NEVER the airlines' fault. It’s the weather, air traffic controllers, mechanical problems, baggage handler strike, FAA rules, homeland security, airport restrictions, lawmakers, the billy goat curse, lunar eclipses, and most of all -- the media.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Friday Questions

Here they are:

Walter starts us off:

I read that Gary Burghoff was a nightmare on the set of M*A*S*H -- "Love Radar, hate Burghoff" some of the cast have been rumored to say. Is there any truth to that?

I’m glad to get these questions because they give me a chance to set the record straight.

No, he was not a nightmare. And take that from a guy who was there. There were times he might have disagreed with a director or questioned something in a script, but most actors do that. And he did it very infrequently.

But I found Gary to be always pleasant on the set and always prepared. Trust me, I’ve worked with monsters. Gary was farrrrr from one of them.  (And NO, that was a not a dig at Jamie Farr.  He too was a joy to work with.) 

Liz asks:

Have you written a script for a movie or TV series with Hollywood and the people living there as the basis?

I have written a comic novel, that just happens to be available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback versions. It’s called MUST KILL TV. I’m actually very proud of it and it’s gotten great reviews.

You can find it here.

Thanks for asking. I always love excuses to shamelessly plug my stuff.

From Phil:

You have worked on Simpsons.

How was it working with voice actors? I mean it would be really fascinating to work with Hank Azaria - Duffman, Chief Wiggum, Skinner, Chamlers, Moe, Disco Stu.... The way they go about their work of changing voices. Please share your experience.

It was great fun, especially the episode where I did a voice as well. They all have great concentration and can slip in and out of various voices with relative ease. And remember, it’s not just the voices – they all have great comic timing and are good actors.

Besides Hank, I should also mention Harry Shearer and Maggie Roswell.

And finally, Sheila wonders:

I have been reading articles on how writers write a script and send it to all studios and have a bidding war for it by the end of the day or week.

Have you and your partner ever done that? Set a deadline for the executives to give an answer or have them bid against one another?

Yes. To try to pump up interest in the project – since perception is everything in Hollywood – agents will essentially do a roll-out campaign for your script. They’ll alert studios and producers that it’s coming and they only have 48 hours to read it, etc. And that can generate buzz and lead to a bidding war – IF the screenplay delivers. All the hype disappears if the reader doesn’t like the script.

I’ve been relatively lucky. I’ve sold two spec screenplays. Neither resulted in bidding wars but I was well compensated. And there have been other specs that didn’t sell. Unless you’re the super hot flavor-of-the-month you probably have three or four or fifteen unsold screenplays to go along with the ones you did sell.

When it doesn’t sell it’s a lot of time and work for nothing. But when it does, you’re an alchemist – spinning straw into gold. You take 100 blank pieces of paper and turn it into a lot of money.

What’s your Friday Question? Leave it in the comments section. Thanks!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

THE DISASTER ARTIST -- My review

Movie review week continues!

First off there is a cloud of controversy hanging over this film because of the James Franco sexual harassment charges. (This harassment issue has been in the forefront so much lately that I can now actually spell harassment without the use of spellcheck.) Did he do these things? Did he not? Will seventeen other women accuse him in the time it takes you to read this? I don’t know. So at least for the moment, I’m going to recommend this movie on its own merits, and if it turns out Franco ultimately makes Dustin Hoffman seem like a Boy Scout I take it back.

Now to the review...

My all-time favorite book is called CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES. It’s a huge comic novel written by John Kennedy Toole that had me laughing at practically every sentence. And yet, lots of people I know and respect hate the book. Why? In order to love it you must embrace the central character, Ignatius J. Reilly who is a sloth and at times infuriating. Some people can’t get past that. I can and find him hilarious. (Obviously I’m not alone. The book won a Pulitzer Prize.)

But I bring that up because THE DISASTER ARTIST asks you to find an over-the-top outrageous character both sympathetic and funny. Even though you’re asked to laugh at him you’re also asked to care about him. If you can, THE DISASTER ARTIST is a treat.

James Franco directed and stars as Tommy Wiseau, a real-life person (as hard as that is to believe). Wiseau wrote, directed, produced, self-financed, and starred in one of the worst movies ever made, THE ROOM. It’s one of those “so bad it’s good” films that has since become a cult classic. Tommy Wiseau is the Ed Wood of the new millennium.

So on one level this is a film about the making of a film. It’s PROJECT GREENLIGHT on steroids. And a razor-sharp satire on Hollywood. But it’s also a film about friendship and dreams. Yes, you’re laughing at ineptitude and hubris but the movie is never mean-spirited. It would have been so easy to make this a hatchet job but Franco steers clear of that.

And his performance is amazing. I’d say he deserved winning the Golden Globe but those are such idiotic awards, who cares? It’s not easy playing over-the-top AND real but Franco pulls it off.

Much credit for the success of THE DISASTER ARTIST should also go to the screenwriters – Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber.

Some final notes. Like LADY BIRD it’s primarily set in the early 2000’s. Boy, don’t you feel old when films from the 21st Century are now considered period pieces?

You don’t have to see the original movie of THE ROOM to fully appreciate this movie.

Smartly, THE DISASTER ARTIST is played straight. It’s not campy, there’s no “wink wink” to the audience. And that’s what it makes it funny.

It’s only about 90 minutes. Imagine! A comedy that’s not 2 ½ hours.

And kudos to Judd Apatow who turns in a nifty performance as a Hollywood power player who Tommy ambushes in a restaurant.

This and the BIG SICK would be my favorite two comedies of the year. And I’m going back to say THE ROOM is now my favorite comedy of 2003.