Archive for the ‘Reality’ Category

The Facebook Funk

Monday, August 19th, 2013

 

What we always suspected has now been confirmed by a university study – Facebook actually depresses people. Frankly, I was completely depressed when I saw in the news that the first thing the abducted teenage girl did when she was returned home after her mother and son were murdered by her kidnapper and he was gunned down by the FBI, was to go on Facebook to answer questions from her “Friends.” Is this how we now process grief in America, by giving a virtual press conference on matters most personal? I’d argue that nothing gets processed virtually except the shallowest aspects of one’s own ego, need for attention, or vanity.

The study, conducted through the University of Michigan by psychologist Ethan Kross not only revealed that a person’s mood fluctuated depending on their Facebook usage, but that, “the more you used Facebook, the more your mood dropped.”

Is that really any surprise when you consider this form of social media is used more like a depository of bragging rights for the computer literate suburban set, just as rap music is used for the urban street? But instead of bragging about how many bitches, bling, BMWs, size of your crib, or members in your ‘posse’… it’s children or grandchildren, career or scholastic achievements, bling, size of your crib, and members in your posse, otherwise known as “friends.” When you base your self-image or life on comparison of material possessions, number of friends, and where you career is on the food chain like it’s some kind of scorecard, it’s no wonder most people become depressed. Remember, there’s only 1 percent in the 1 percent, and even if you consider yourself lucky or privileged enough to fall into that category, there’s always someone within the 1 percent who’s going to be doing better than you are.

Wouldn’t it be an amazing leap in evolution if we measured success in terms of emotional balance, empathy, conscientiousness and selflessness? But than those qualities, too, would somehow turn into a game of one-upmanship, as well. There would be a competition to see who gave the most to a charity, or volunteered the most, or gave the most humble acceptance speech at a humanitarian award ceremony. Our Hollywood ‘royalty’ already plays this game.

But as long as we measure anything or buy into such comparisons, we put our self-image into play. Dr. Thomas Harris once authored a national bestseller, called, “I’m OK, You’re OK,” yet Facebook fosters a paradigm shift that promotes “Look at how much better I’m doing than you, but I hope you’re still okay with that and will ‘Friend me.’”

I hate to break it to people running up their ‘friends’ score, but that’s not how ‘real’ friends roll.

According to the study, Facebook users wound up feeling worse about themselves after two weeks, and their moment to moment-mood-darkened the more they browsed the social medium, no matter how large their network was, or how supportive they thought their ‘friends’ were.

The fact that businesses and corporations now feel compelled to have Facebook pages only serves to emphasize even more obviously that Facebook is used more to promote, than to actually connect.

Eventually – and there’s evidence it’s already happening as people drop off or move on – Facebook will fade away and some other new-fangled way to ‘keep in touch’ or ‘connect’ will emerge.

There’s this thing called the telephone where you can talk to people live, actually hear the context or sincerity in which they are saying something, and have a real give and take conversation, where, hopefully, you listen as much as you talk.

I hear it’s a fantastic device to lift a friend’s spirits when they are depressed. Just try not to brag that you thought of calling first.

– A. Wayne Carter

(And I’m hereby vowing to call at least one long distance friend per week as penance for writing this blog)

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Summer Reading Round Up

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

 

Joyland by Stephen King

A better title might be “Summer of ’73.” Stephen King’s jaunt into crime pulp fiction has a hauntingly familiar theme about a writer who nostalgically remembers back to a summer in his youth when he lost his virginity to an older woman, whose husband was recently killed in the war. That’s right, it’s “Summer of ‘42” re-do, but the war is now Vietnam, and the setting is an amusement park on the coast of South Carolina instead of the coast of Long Island or wherever that beach town was where our hero Hermy lost his. (Ironically, the film “Summer of ‘42” came out in 1971 shortly before the events of this novel). I happen to love crime pulp fiction, plus stories about carnies, so I give the Big Bang plot a pass and applaud King’s tremendous restraint here. This book’s a mere 287 pages, whereas most of his recent novels are short stories padded with another 700 pages of unnecessary exposition, lately. You can read this one by the time the hoister (Ferris Wheel) comes back down and dumps you and the other rubes back off again into the Midway.

The Revolution Was Televised by Alan Sepinwall

If you subscribe to the belief that television is now the place where great characters dwell (unlike feature’s addiction to comic book heroes), and also, thanks to “The Sopranos,” that the protagonist in a TV series no longer has to be like you or even likeable, then this is the book for celebrating the true age of writers ruling television: Vince Gilligan (photo top with Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul) with “Breaking Bad;” David Chase with “The Sopranos;” David Milch with “Deadwood:” David Simon with “The Wire.” The shows covered in this book look like they were cribbed directly off my DVR viewing queue for the past decade. Of course, all of television’s dramatic show runners are now trying to follow this formula of morally questionable lead characters (who is Ray Donovan but a thinly-veiled West Coast version of Tony) but it all started with James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano: a brute and a killer, but a man who also suffered the slings and arrows and disrespect of trying to be a regular family man with a ‘real nagging housewife of New Jersey,’ and two rebellious teenagers whining him down to size.

The Unwinding by George Packer

Here’s your more serious read for the summer – a documentation of the last 40 years of America and its decline through the stories of several real life characters from the depths of Youngstown, Ohio projects to the heights of Wall Street and Silicon Valley. This is territory the great Studs Terkel used to mine so well, and it’s a beautifully written and worthy successor to his theme volumes (such as “The American Dream,” or “The Great War”). Packer doesn’t so much re-create his subjects’ dialogue in interviews as Terkel used to do, but instead encapsulates their stories in finely woven and succinct updates that alternate throughout the volume. Expect to see this one on Pulitzer or National Book Award lists at the end of the year. Equal parts depressing and uplifting, perhaps no book this year will give you a better sense of what we’ve been through and the toll it’s taken, but also one that showcases the spirit that might just drag us out of the mire and wind us back up.

Stop Feeling Lazy: How to Break the Procrastination Cycle Once & For All and Excel by Carol Look

Okay, I admit to a bit of procrastination getting around to reviewing a book that was sent to me:

I don’t really consider myself a procrastinator, at least not for work. Early on during my school years I learned that the sooner you got your work done, the sooner you can play, while all the other kids were waiting until the last minute stressing over their projects. I carried that attitude, for the most part, into my adult working life. But, as the basic dynamics of parenthood would have it, my 16 year-old son is one of those who puts homework assignments and projects and trumpet practice off until the last possible moment before getting around to it. It drives me nuts. But that’s the point, since being a teenager is all about establishing your own identity and driving your parents nuts. And, the process doesn’t seem to stress him out at all. He knows he’ll get to it, and that’s all he needs. You can’t force your will upon a teenager without it biting you back, so if he doesn’t see it as a problem, I will learn to accept that it’s not a problem.

But, as the writer of this book points out, if it IS a problem – if it does affect your productivity, you financial situation, your stress level or your happiness, then why not do something about it?

The surprise to me was finding out the technique advocated in the book was Meridian Tapping. I had experienced this form of therapy before during grief counseling after my mother died, but here it was tapping me in the face again in a book on procrastination. Meridian Tapping, for the uninitiated, works on the flow of vital energy, or as the Chinese term it, ‘chi,’ through your body and how to keep it from getting blocked or stagnating. Anyone who practices or believes in yoga, meditation, acupuncture or acupressure should be familiar with the concept. Tapping is a gentle form of acupressure for various meridian points on your face, torso, or head that seek to open up or keep open the flow of that energy while you are also ‘meditating’ or focusing on a desired goal or thought. You are stating the problem and also the emotional state you wish to be in to overcome that problem while you do the tapping. I’ve seen the value of this with the practice of “I Ching,” where you toss coins while focusing on an issue in your life that you want resolution for, and then read a proverb relating to that alignment of coins. These techniques are really just forms of forcing you to intensely focus on what you want to resolve, and to apply your own consciousness through these conflict-resolving meditative techniques to bring you a solution. It’s not as far out mystical eastern hooey phooey as you might imagine. And the surest way to test whether something’s whack or not is to at least give it a try.

You don’t need to be a procrastinator to enjoy the potential benefits of Carol Look’s book. Personally, I used the tapping to focus on overcoming any projected anxiety over the unknown variables in my life; to stop worrying about them so much, and to reinforce that I am a basically grounded individual with reservoirs of talent that can bring me unlimited financial and emotional happiness. Simple, right? What do YOU want to accomplish? Why not pick up this book –  it’s a mere 71 pages – and apply the simple tapping techniques to see if they resolve any blockages or stagnation you are experiencing, or to achieve any outcome you are desiring. What can it hurt, right? Just be careful and not too hard or you might tap yourself silly.

– A. Wayne Carter

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HE is legend

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

Richard Matheson
1926-2013 

This blog wouldn’t exist without him. This writer wouldn’t exist without him. Richard Matheson was my earliest inspiration to become a writer. I devoured his fantasy and science fiction short stories in paperback collections such as Shock! (previously published in men’s pulp magazines) as a normal suburban child starving for something completely different. The first story I vividly remember called “Children of Noah” had a city dweller driver pulled over in a speed trap in a way out-of-the-way town, arrested, and confined in a metal box of a cell that kept getting increasingly hotter, until our protagonist finally realized he was being cooked by a town inhabited by the descendants of cannibals.

Smokin’ twist. I was hooked.

Then there were the infamous “Twilight Zone” episodes. Think of the most memorable ones and chances are some were episodes he wrote, including: “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” where William Shatner can’t convince the crew of the passenger plane he’s flying on that a monster gremlin has been peeling back the wing fuselage. Or “Third from the Sun,” where two families desperate to escape a big brother government flee in a rocket targeted for a planet called… Earth. Or “The Invaders” episode, where a mute farm woman fends off the relentless attack of tiny spacemen with ray guns until she beats them and their spaceship to pulp with an ax and we hear their final distress signal calling… Earth. These perspective-shift stories might seem predictable today, but they weren’t back in the fifties and sixties when writers such as Matheson, Rod Serling and Charles Beaumont invented them.

My first published stories were pale Xeroxes of Matheson-style stories and perspectives, appearing in magazines like Creepy and Eerie. I wasn’t alone. Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Stephen King and all the pioneers of our contemporary fantasy fiction and cinema acknowledge the overwhelming influence of those early Matheson stories. Spielberg even directed a TV movie based on a Playboy magazine story by Matheson called “Duel” about a hapless driver stalked by a maniacal truck driver along barren stretches of desert highway. These were stories derived from our own deepest anxieties and experiences – dangerous truckers on highways, fear of small town speed traps –  but played for maximum suspense and unexpected pay offs.

I have the original first edition paperback of his seminal vampire novel, “I Am Legend.” It seems everyone’s tried to make a film out of it, from the laughably race-charged version, “The Omega Man,” with Charlton Heston, to the over-the-top CGI version with Will Smith. The truest version is 1964’s “The Last Man on Earth” with Vincent Price. It maintains the ultimate creepy quality of the book, where the plague vampires flail with planks beating against your boarded up house all night trying to get in while you hole up listening to classical music on vinyl. That version preserves Matheson’s own devout appreciation and love of a composer’s music (he was a huge fan of Richard Wagner) as something still worth living for in an apocalyptic world.

I never met Matheson. I met his contemporaries, Ray Bradbury and Robert Bloch, at book signings at the Change of Hobbit bookstore in Santa Monica. I went to Alfred Hitchcock’s funeral (I first read some of Matheson’s stories in collections published under Hitchcock’s name). I arrived in L.A. too late to meet Rod Serling or attend one of his writing classes before he died. But I haunted the bookstores and studios that housed original copies of Matheson’s books, or that filmed versions such as, “Somewhere in Time,” “What Dreams May Come,” “A Stir of Echoes,” “Hell House,” or “The Incredible Shrinking Man.”

I lived in the same city and plied at the same trade as my unmet writer hero and mentor. I strived to write stories with relate-able characters and good twists and I tried to have them turned into movies. I continually improved at my craft, but never attained his prolific output of published or produced work, or his notoriety. And I’m fine with all that. He IS legend. I remain fan.

A. Wayne Carter
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The Dark Night never ends

Monday, June 10th, 2013

America has been in a dark mood for a long time now and, frankly, I’m ready for some light at the end of the credits.

The history of America’s mood can be measured by Batman. He began in the comics just before World War II as a capitalist billionaire patriot crimefighter sworn to uphold justice in Gotham City against insane megalomaniac villains. This no doubt helped comfort young readers facing a world potentially overrun by Hitler. Just shine a beacon in the sky if you need his help, Batman promised. By the 1960’s, no one could take such one-dimensional altruism seriously and he was played for a joke by pudgy Adam West in bright Technicolor on national television. Crash! Boom! Pow! He was later reclaimed in the 80’s as a brooding, nihilistic vigilante in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight series, and that’s the vision our present culture chose to embrace in a trilogy culminating with The Dark Knight Rises last year.

But this dark virus hasn’t just infected Batman; it’s everywhere. The latest Star Trek feature is also subtitled; Into Darkness. Talk about a 180-degree attitude adjustment. It uses the loveable, benign, peace seeking, optimistic characters created by Gene Roddenberry from the original series in the mid-1960s, but recast under the pall of domestic terrorism overshadowing their every move or instinct. Dammit, Jim, we’re supposed to be do-gooders, not a downer!

Turn on your television and you’d think the world were more populated by mindless zombies, hedonistic vampires and serial killers than anything resembling your ordinary family, friends, or neighbors. Psycho serial killers Norman Bates and Hannibal Lector now have their own prime time network TV series. What’s next, The Charlie Manson Family Hour?

Don’t get attached to any characters on Game of Thrones because, as George R. R. Martin constantly reminds us; noble acts are futile, justice is blind, and everyone dies randomly without purpose or redemption (but we’ll cut him more slack than his characters get until we get to the final body count by Book Six).

Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan tells us the character arc that inspired his series was taking a mild-mannered teacher like Mr. Chips and turning him into a violent and maniacal Scarface. Congratulations, Vince, you did a brilliant job and certainly hooked me. But now that you’ve lead us into that dark abyss of Walter White’s mind, how about reminding us there’s also a way out? Rumor has it he wants to do a spin-off on the slimy, moral-free, self-serving lawyer, Saul Goodman. Here’s an idea for a twist: How about going the opposite direction with that show and taking this unredeemable ambulance chaser and transforming him into a respectable Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court by the end of his character arc? Couldn’t we believe that twist is possible?

I’m not suggesting our culture need return to the carefree optimism of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, Happy Days, or even the truth, justice and American way of Superman. Shit, even George Reeves, the original TV Superman, blew his own brains out for some dark-shrouded reason. But, Jesus, can’t we have a little bit of sunlight as a cultural trend for a while; heroes who aren’t mentally tortured more by their own self-doubts than by this week’s villain?  (Don’t even get me started on the new brooding, bloated take on Superman in Man of Steel.)

Yes, we get it; life is complex, we all have self-doubts, threats abound. But do we have to wallow in this dark, brooding cloud as the only self-reflecting form of entertainment that prevails… and goes on… and on?

When Batman became silly in the 1960s, the world was anything but. Our president had been assassinated, bodies of our young men were coming back from Vietnam by the scores daily, and Russia had more than 4,500 ICBMs with nuclear warheads aimed down our throats with both our countries only a hair trigger away from mutual annihilation. And yet we still had the ability to not take everything so damn seriously, and laugh at ourselves and our heroes.

The people who create our movies, television shows, and literature enjoy the rarified privilege of making big money doing something fun that they love. So why are they so fucking pessimistic? Shouldn’t their output somehow reflect their good fortune rather than projecting some deep, often misperceived, collective funk?

Are they afraid if they actually show us the light at the end of the tunnel it might inspire or illuminate the way for us to create our own entertainment that replaces the dark brew they keep trying to spoon feed us?

It’s been said before, and much more eloquently, but maybe we should approach what we consume with our eyes and ears the same way we take care to watch what we eat. Feed on pessimism and darkness and you eventually create a self-fulfilling prophecy of how you look at life and what you can expect. Most healthy stuff grows under the sun’s light. Mushrooms are the only thing I can think of that grow in shit and darkness.

It’s time to Lighten our diet.

– A. Wayne Carter

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The Realities of Screenwriting

Friday, May 24th, 2013

Wayne at Paramount

CONSIDERATIONS

TALENT. You will need a good visual imagination, confidence, perseverance (most important talents), outside encouragement and confirmation of your abilities and character (if you don’t want to go nuts, this MUST be balanced first.)

EDUCATION. School can teach you discipline, encourage talent, and demonstrate format and technique, but it will not prepare you for the realities.

IN PRACTICE

PRODUCT. Remember, no matter how brilliant you think you are, your first three screenplays exist only to vent your own personal obsessions and hang-ups. Don’t throw them out – because you can always re-write them later when you’re successful – but don’t take them too seriously. If you’ve written three, that just means you are BEGINNING to get serious. If you’ve written one or two, you’re still messing around, you know nothing, you are nowhere, you haven’t even stepped up to the plate.

AGENT. In the movie business they are worthless until you are already established. An agent is not going to get a first-time screenwriter a job. YOU have to get the job. THEN the agent will be interested and can negotiate the deal. I guarantee you that if you walk into the office of an agent of your choice and tell them (fill in the name of big studio) wants to buy your script or idea, they WILL sign you. Once you are established, agents are good for Christmas cards and perhaps a re-write job or two, not much more. Fortunately, they earn their money above what you thought you could get for the deal, once you are marketable.

EXPOSURE. Getting read. Using an tenuous connection you can. An encouraging note, response or phone call is a crack in the door. Push politely but not too hard or you may find the encouragement was merely a form letter. Use your intuition about PEOPLE. This is where character comes in. If you have it, you will attract like-people you can trust. If you don’t, you will be used, exploited, and trodden – as easily and as superficially as you have sought to use, exploit or trod the people cracking the doorway for you.

FIRST BITE. Don’t let it go to your head, it could be a fluke. But, more importantly, it is a validation that you CAN sell.

THE UN-PRODUCED SCREENPLAY ZONE. What is your goal? To write and make a good living at it? To get your vision to the screen no matter what? Chances are, you WILL accomplish your goal, but remember, the un-produced zone is comfortable. No one will ever sue you for stealing their ideals or their life in an unproduced movie. An un-movie protects you from critics and the responsibilities of a higher visibility success. Carry these thoughts because, ultimately, for screenwriters, whether it gets produced or not is outside your job description or powers and is almost completely serendipitous.

DISAPPOINTMENTS. ALWAYS have something else in the fire.

PITCH MEETINGS. Once you are a known screenwriter, you will get the chance to pitch your own movie ideas to studio executives before you ever have to write them. You have less than five minutes to convince them your idea is worth spending upwards of $25 million to make a movie on. Here’s the big tip… Turn it around on them. Pick their brains before you say anything. Make THEM want to be acceptable to you and to please you (it’s not that hard considering the neurosis and insecurity inherent in their always-shaky positions). The bottom line is they don’t know what the fuck they’re doing (because who can really predict what the audience wants), and you will most likely be pitching to someone else in their same job next week.

RE-WRITES. Get used to them. You get one shot at your own version before you have to do ten others for the development executive, producer, director, actor, distributor and the producer’s girlfriend.

DO I HAVE A CAREER? Chances are you will never ever be sure of this no matter how many credits you’ve stacked up or how much money you’ve made. This is perhaps the greatest reality of screenwriting, acting, directing or even the free lance creative life.

But… compared to most everything else… It’s a Wonderful Life.

– A. Wayne Carter

Hollywoodaholic: Confessions of a Screenwriter  … the book

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When did we become so mean?

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

(A post worth reprising)

Go to any of your favorite websites and read the posts or comments to the original blog or article. Try not to get distracted by the illiteracy and just focus on the mood or the message:

“He’s like this weird combination of gay and white-acting black. It’s really unappealing.”

This one’s from Kitalyn posting on Defamer.com to a story about Justin Timberlake.

“If only it was to death.”

That’s how Texas Tranny reacts to the Superficial.com headline, “Britney is starving herself.”

“good riddance, ya die hard commie.”

That love note from a sensitive poster known as government is killin, posted in response to this obviously provocative headline on Politico.com: “Walter Cronkite dead at 92”

And these are the polite ones.

When did almost everyone in this country develop a vicious, foul-tempered opinion about every other person or event, and feel self-importantly compelled to express it publicly? Is it just the veil of anonymity on the web that allows these putrid and toxic blossoms to flourish? Or have Americans really become that hateful and, well, mean?

In more than 30 years of passively monitoring the culture, I can’t remember a time when anyone and everyone seemed so impassive about contributing their own bile to the topic, or “target” of the day. Gossip or political websites that spew poisonous diatribe and serve as a platform for hundreds or thousands more to do the same are sprouting up faster than fungi on feces.

I’m no Mr. Manners – I’ve been on the cynical bandwagon before the theme song ever started playing, but there used to be some restraint and, dare I say … art to putting someone else down.  Now it’s just pit bulls fueled on Red Bull in an open field with fresh meat tossed out hourly.

I wish I could explain what happened or why, and offer some way out of this dark and ugly mess. But then no one can figure out how to get out of Afghanistan, either.  Some shit holes (and assholes) defy any meaningful comprehension.

Perhaps it’s enough, or at least a start, to just notice that it’s happening. To take a closer look, even in the mirror, and admit we’ve slid down into a slimy pit. We can continue to read and watch and surf the things that interest us, but must we contribute to the negative, bitchy meanness of it all? Does the simple right and access to post a comment mean we have to crawl onboard? It’s so easy to toss something cruel, cutting or vile out there when you’re hiding behind some anonymous user name in an online forum. Imagine if you were standing up, fully revealed, in a well-lit room full of living, breathing, sensitive human beings …

… like a town hall meeting on health care.

Would you really still make those same comments?

Oh. Shit. It’s much worse than I thought.

— A. Wayne Carter

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Day-glo shoes are the next big hair

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

This blog arrives possessed by the curmudgeon spirit of Andy Rooney, where I find myself admitting this current invasion of day-glo, neon-colored athletic shoes just reminds me how those fashion fads we rush to embrace one day, can become shockingly embarrassing by the next decade.

Sure, I get it. White or black sneakers never really went with anything else in your ensemble either, so if you’re going to clash, you might as well clash BIG. And nothing clashes BIGGER with anything you’re wearing than a nice fat pair of day-glo electric chartreuse running shoes. Shoes that don’t just make a fashion statement, they SCREAM one. It goes something like this: “I just paid $150 for a pair of kick-around shoes that will immediately distract you from the fact that the rest of my ensemble came off the rack at Target.”

I kids. Or, for you boomers; I Keds.

But remember Nehru jackets and bell bottoms from the 70’s? Or how about big hair, porno moustaches, wide lapels and skinny ties from the 80s? Oh, wait, this just in: Skinny ties are BACK in again. And so are skinny lapels, tucking in your shirt, and wearing a suit that is pinched at the second button up so it accentuates… what? That you’re busting at the gut if you’re not a starving television personality?

Now imagine ten years from now looking back at neon-colored sneakers that people were paying more than $150 for. I can remember once paying $120 for a pair of high-top Air Nikes, but at least those were supposed to help a white man defy gravity and dunk a basketball. Sadly, not only did they not help me dunk, but they fell apart in less than three months. I had to send them back to the Nike factory, which, forgive the reminder, is probably a sweat shop somewhere in Indonesia paying kids ten cents an hour. Even sadder now is the fact those kids are now probably going blind stitching and staring bug-eyed at day-glo fabric all day.

If you’ve been to a rave lately (so late 90s, or early 00s), no doubt your shoes look great dancing around by themselves under a purple UV light while Skrillex does the same thing to your ears that your shoes do for your feet. But if you’re walking around day-to-day in these shoes, here’s the dirty little secret… day-glo sneakers really look bad when they get dirty. Not only do they lose their glow, it just seems to accentuate the effect of making them look… kind of gross.

An old, scuffed pair of white tennis shoes somehow just pegged you as somebody who got good economical use out of your shoes and were proud of where they had taken you and how far. But dirt and wear on day-glo shoes tarnishes the glow, so to speak. They only seem to say, “I’m not quite ready or cash-rich enough to rush out and buy a gleaming bright new pair yet, so bear with me on this pair that looks like I swallowed plutonium and vomited all over my shoes.”

As far as fads go for pioneer trend-setters, I guess day-glo athletic shoes are silly, but ultimately harmless. Cops are sure to love them. If pants hanging around your knees doesn’t slow you down enough for the police to tackle your underwear-baring ass, now they can just chase you down following the streaking phosphorescent glow of your shoes in the dark.

— A. Wayne Carter

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Bruce Springsteen, I’m so sorry

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

brucespringsteen_live1975-1985_lp

(No, it’s not Summer, but I’m playing a few re-runs for the uninitiated while I am in heavy script mode on a feature. Here’s a favorite. Don’t forget to check the archive.)

Hey Boss,

The year was 1991. You had divorced the Hollywood actress wife, married the New Jersey hometown girl (Patti Scialfa), and relocated to California. The timing of those events appears a bit off (why didn’t you relocate to L.A. for the Hollywood wife and stay back East for the New Jersey wife?), but let’s not quibble. Those of us who had already moved to Los Angeles were glad to have an authentic, working class living music legend among us, emphasis on the ‘authentic’ part. You helped validate our own struggle and choice to be there.

A college buddy of mine who worked as a microbiologist cancer researcher at the Scripps Institute in La Jolla was visiting. Cruising down Main Street in Santa Monica, we spotted a relatively new food joint called Joe’s Diner, where we assumed you could get an authentic, working class cheeseburger. The unpretentious name and promise of American diner food must have also attracted your attention, because no sooner had we sat in our booth when I spotted you sitting with your very pregnant wife in the booth directly next to ours.

Now my buddy was a bit star struck and had been itching to spot celebrities on his abbreviated visit with me in La La Land. How could I indiscreetly tell him the back of his head was less than a foot away from Bruce Springsteen’s in the booth behind him? Well, not wanting to create any kind of scene, or disturb your lunch, I couldn’t, of course. So we just continued to calmly eat our lunches.

Now I’d seen plenty of celebrities in my business and entertainment excursions around L.A. almost every day – it was just part of the scenery, but I rarely had any interest in actually walking up to or meeting most. I don’t know whether it was my own pride, or perhaps wanting to appear just as cool as everyone else in the industry, or simply from a lack of interest or respect. But this was an entirely different case. This was ‘The Boss,’ – more revered than the Pope, more honest or authentic than any president, and more awesome than any other rock star then living in Los Angeles.

So when both our lunches ended and we happened to converge at the cash register around the same time, I couldn’t resist.

And that’s when it happened.

Being from New Jersey, you naturally disdain credit cards and carried around what could only be sociologically and anthropologically be described as a ‘Jersey Roll.’ Italians, Catholics, PRs, gangsters, punks and priests and just about everyone else in North Jersey carry their cash around in a flashy roll, usually wound with a rubber band. That your ‘Roll’ happened to flash a huge and tight wad of hundred dollar bills just spoke to your native trait status level. You can take the boy out of New Jersey, but never quite take the New Jersey Roll out of the boy, no matter how rich or recognizable that boy becomes.

So when I reached to shake your hand, it looked like I was actually reaching for your … Roll. Your teeth clenched, and a momentary, blood-drained look of flinch and fight crossed your facial expression. It only lasted a brief second until you realized I was simply a friendly fan trying to shake your hand and not steal your Roll, but it probably caused you a minor stroke flashing back to your Jersey shore survival days.

And for stressful moment of trauma, I’m so sorry.

You peeled off a hundred, paid your bill, shook my hand and I smiled and said, “I just wanted to welcome you to California.” You smiled back and replied, “Thank you, man. Good to be here.”

You walked out of Joe’s Diner, and my friend and I stepped out to the sidewalk and he turned to me and asked, “Who was that – a buddy of yours?” And I grinned at my friend and said, “No. Didn’t you recognize him? That was Bruce Springsteen.”

My friend nearly had a coronary right there on Main Street. He started freaking out getting all excited and asking me over and over, “Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you tell me?!”

“Well, for one reason,” I explained, “this exact reaction.” I told him his head was a foot from yours the whole lunch, almost to the point where follicles might have brushed through each other. How calm or comfortable would both our lunches have been if my star struck friend knew all along?

But you were definitely uncomfortable when you thought I was about to grab your Roll. So, for that moment, and whatever tense, dark Jersey alley flashback it might’ve caused you, I’m sorry.

You made the right move going back to live in New Jersey a couple years later.

Everyone there knows how to stand clear when someone pulls out their Roll.

— A. Wayne Carter

R.I.P.  – Clarence Clemons 1942-June 18, 2011

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Robert Duvall, I’m so sorry

Monday, April 8th, 2013

(No, it’s not Summer, but I’m playing a few re-runs for the uninitiated while I am in heavy script mode on a feature. Here’s a favorite. Don’t forget to check the archive.)

Dear Robert,

Think back to late summer 1971 and you are hanging out in Pompano Beach, Florida spending time with your ailing father (or, at least, that was your story). My family is vacationing at the Lighthouse Cove Resort in Pompano, and I just joined them from spending three months as a foreign exchange student in Peru prior to my senior year in high school.

My mother, Gwen, is about 44 at this time, but still quite good looking. She was the lead baton-twirling majorette at her high school back in Iowa. Apparently, you struck up a conversation one late afternoon with her while in the restaurant at the resort, which also has a bar. You told her about your father and why you were hanging out there, and some of the stories about your acting career. This was probably close to the time you had just been cast to play the part of the consigliore, Tom Hagen, in Francis Ford Coppolas’ classic “The Godfather.”

My mother, besides her beauty, always had the uncanny ability to attract conversations from almost anyone anywhere. She was an open, bright spirit, with major(ette) social skills and an Iowa politeness and innocence. She could even summon great conversations from the usually non talkative. She somehow summoned a lot of conversation from you about your life, your father, and your acting, and later mentioned it to her son (“He’s an actor, Wayne, maybe he can help you with your scriptwriting.” “I doubt it, mom,” the obstinate teenager replied). She wasn’t quite sure who you were, even though we had no doubt seen you in countless television shows from the 60’s such as “The Outer Limits,” “Route 66,” “The Virginian,” and many more. But you weren’t a ‘movie star’ yet.

Cut to nearly 20 years later. I’m living in L.A. working as a screenwriter and my mom and dad, who have been married nearly 40 years at this point, come to visit. I want to take them to all the hip places. Dudley Moore and Tony Bill had recently opened a restaurant down the street from where I lived in Venice called “72 Market Street,” and all their movie star friends liked to hang out there, so I took my parents there to eat.

No sooner have we sat down, when my mom looks over to another table nearby and spots you. She gets very excited. She remembers the conversation you had all those years ago with her in Pompano Beach, but now you are a big movie star. I tell her she should go over and say hello. But my mom is way too shy. My dad is usually even shyer, but at some point he says he’ll go over and say something.

My dad steps over to your table, stands just behind and above you, and, very nervously and tensely starts to say, “You met my wife at a bar in Pompano Beach several years ago …”

And, at this point, it all suddenly dawns on me and I think, “Oh, shit.” Of course. You were an actor hanging out in a local hotel restaurant bar where tourists stay in a town while no doubt being bored in between visits with your father (if that story was true) and you were trying to pick up my mother. God, it was suddenly oh, so obvious.

And here was this six foot-tall stranger stepping up behind you towering over your seat and very tensely saying, “You met my wife in a bar several years ago ….” And I believe I saw your face turn a whiter shade of pale.

Was this guy about to clock you for having an affair with his wife? How could you have had a clue or known otherwise? That must have been one tense moment. I could see it in your expression and in the way you tensed up.

But then my father continued, adding something like, “… and I just wanted to thank you for having such a nice conversation with her that helped make her vacation so much more memorable.”

What????!

I guess at this point you were wondering just what the hell happened, but you’re being thanked by a strange man for having a ‘conversation’ with his wife. Still, you looked visibly relieved. You smiled politely. Looked over to where my mom and I were sitting and nodded politely, and that was it. You weren’t about to die.

But if that moment cost you a few more strands of hair, or a near stroke, or some possible indigestion, I apologize. It was all very innocent.

Unless of course you really WERE trying to pick up my mother that afternoon in Florida; in which case, the apology’s off.

— A. Wayne Carter

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Ray Bradbury, I’m so sorry

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

(No, it’s not Summer, but I’m playing a few re-runs for the uninitiated while I am in heavy script mode on a feature. Here’s a favorite. Don’t forget to check the archive.)

(We lost Ray Bradbury last year, but his legacy is immortal.)

Dear Ray,

Okay, this is really embarrassing. You are the legendary science fiction author of Fahrenheit 451The Martian ChroniclesDandelion WineSomething Wicked this Way Comes, and hundreds of classic short stories such as The Illustrated ManI Sing the Body ElectricThe Fog HornThe Veldt. I read them all as a kid. I watched them adapted into episodes of my favorite television shows, on The Twilight ZoneAlfred Hitchcock Presents and Suspense. They were a key inspiration for me to write short stories in my youth and to pursue a career as a writer.

Your brand of science fiction was different than many of the technological or hardware-oriented genre writers of the day. Your stories were humanistic. You were less concerned with some new gadget or where a planet was located in the galaxy, and more interested in what effect that invention or discovery had on humans and their relations to one another. It was science fiction with soul. And it moved and inspired me. You were an idol.

And I diss-ed you to your face.

Oh, it wasn’t deliberate, or premeditated, or by any means intentional. I didn’t even realize it was supremely disrespectful at the time, heck, I was in my twenties, but I do now. And that’s why I’m writing this note to say I’m sorry.

Cut to 1983 and I’ve already had a little success as a screenwriter in Hollywood. I wrote a couple comedy feature scripts for National Lampoon that were going to be produced by Universal Pictures, but never quite made it to the screen. You first tried your hand at screenwriting as early as 1956, when you were hired to adapt Moby Dick for the screen, starring Gregory Peck. I was following the same path.

I had a meeting with an independent producer to possibly adapt a science fiction novel called Space Vampires by Colin Wilson for a feature. These weren’t your usual bloodsucking vampires, but vampires from another planet that sucked the very life force or energy out of your body until you were a withered piece of crust. I liked the story and the inherent metaphor of ‘energy vampires’ who drain you (we all know one or two), and was very excited about working with the director, Tobe Hooper, who shocked audiences with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

But Cannon Films, which was going to oversee, market and produce the picture had another project they wanted me to interview for instead that they were also excited about. This was going to be a 3-D extravaganza called Escape From Beyond about a bounty hunter in space. There were already a director and producer attached who just had success with their previous ‘revolutionary’ new 3-D picture, Comin’ At Ya! This would be their big science fiction follow up, and they were interviewing well-known veteran science fiction writers for the gig and some up-and-coming hot screenwriters. I was one of the up-and-coming hot screenwriters who interviewed for the gig. And you were one of the veteran science fiction writers.

But I got the job.

Now, of course, I understand the decision made was not entirely based on merit, or just because I might have a younger or hipper approach to the material. The deal with me was undoubtedly finalized because the budget of the film had been targeted at about $2 million total, and my negotiated fee was about $17,000 and your agent was probably asking somewhere around $100,000 minimum. Your fee was definitely a factor, if not the factor.

I didn’t know that you were up for the same film until after my deal was in place. They didn’t even want to pay me as much as they did, but I was already a Writer’s Guild member and my agent and I insisted as part of the deal that they become signators of the Writer’s Guild (make a formal agreement to abide by union rules and minimums for professional screenwriters) and pay me the union minimum for a writer on a feature motion picture. I had some clout as the hot newcomer. I was always very proud of the fact a company that had previously underpaid and probably abused screenwriters for scores of projects finally went legit with my deal. Of course, $17,000 is still a LOT less than $100,000, but that didn’t make me any less proud. I had successfully ‘scored’ a screenwriting gig over a childhood hero.

Now, if it makes you feel any better about losing this particular gig, you will be pleased to note I was seriously abused for this victory. The fact they became WGA signators and had to abide by union fees, didn’t mean they couldn’t take their pound of flesh out of me in other ways. I eventually wrote about seven full drafts of the screenplay, working with an Italian director who spoke little English, and a temperamental actor-producer. The film went from a space bounty hunter picture to a medieval Spain chariot picture to-, well, at one meeting with the president of the film company, he said to me in the most serious and dramatic Israeli dialect and tone possible, “Vee got Charles Bronson.” Yes, could I somehow turn this original science fiction epic into … Death Wish IV?

Escape From Beyond poster in Reporter

The Charlie Bronson part of the deal never came through. His fee would have chewed up about $1.5 million of the $2 million budget (minus the $17,000). And by the time they had hired the chariot stunt crews and started building the sets in Mexico to film the medieval Spain version, the budget started to look more like $10 million and they pulled the project as being too costly. But not before they had pre-sold the film at the Cannes Film Festival using posters and art with my name as screenwriter, along with two other ‘producers’ who had nothing to do with the script. More abuse.

The money they didn’t have to spend on Escape From Beyond probably went to the budget overages for Space Vampires, which had gone before the camera earlier. This film was eventually released as Lifeforce; a film most horny science fiction fans will remember as the movie starring this unbelievably voluptuous naked chick walking around sucking the life energy out of every man within kissing distance. (She was Israeli, didn’t speak a lick of English, and was the company president’s girlfriend at the time, I’m told).

This brings me to the moment where I unfortunately diss-ed you.

You were making an appearance at a local science fiction bookstore, A Change of Hobbit, to sign copies of your books along with another of my writer heroes, horror scribe Robert Bloch (Psycho).

I waited patiently in line with paperback copies of your Golden Apples of the Sun and Bloch’s Stuff that Screams Are Made OfAnd when I got to the front, I shook your hand, effusively talked about how you had been my childhood inspiration; how I was now successfully making it as a writer in Hollywood; and how I had even got a job you were up for.

You betrayed no distress at my hideous lapse of manners, and graciously signed the book, but the conversation quickly and awkwardly ended. I grinned excitedly at finally meeting you, and under these unique circumstances, and walked away on air.

And later felt like a total douche bag.

My only excuse is that, I was just so excited about finally getting somewhere trying to walk your very same path, I didn’t realize when I was stepping on your toes (or heels). It was the move of an ego-pumped amateur. An upstart. And I’m sorry.

Karma caught up with me on the nightmare that was the rest of that project, and I have no doubt that neither you nor your agent would have put up with the blood I was made to spill on those seven different drafts (when the WGA supposedly only allows one revision per fee).

And I never made it much further up the path you blazed in terms of fame, fortune, or movies produced or adapted from your own stories or novels.

But for that brief moment, I felt like I could look a childhood hero in the eye from the same height and share the rarified air up there.

Thanks for not calling me a punk, and kicking my ass off that cloud.

— A. Wayne Carter

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