Archive for March, 2013

Joan Rivers, we’re so sorry

Wednesday, March 27th, 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.)

(UPDATE: Very sad to see Joan passed away September 4, 2014, but I stick by this story as I know one tough and funny broad would appreciate)

Dear Joan,

Remember this letter in the Los Angeles Times Calendar section for June 17, 1984:

HERE’S JOANY

When is NBC going to wake up and give Joan Rivers her own late night talk show? They don’t have to get rid of Johnny Carson – just put him on after David Letterman. Then Joan could have the best laughs, Johnny the last one, and we’d all be happy.

I was moved to write the letter because Johnny Carson’s show had been getting a little stale of late, and every time you had guest hosted, the energy lifted, the gossip barbs flew out like cluster bombs, and I was entertained.

And I guess my letter entertained you, because the day after it ran in the paper I got a phone call from your assistant in Las Vegas, where you were currently performing. The assistant said you saw the letter, were very grateful, and you wanted to personally invite me to attend your next nightclub show when you were in L.A.

Was I being punked? It turns out not. I got another call soon after saying I had been put on the V.I.P. guest list for your appearance at Carlos ‘n Charlie’s nightclub on Sunset Strip. Did I have any guests I wanted to bring? Well, my girlfriend, Danette, of course. We had been dating for a little more than a year, and wow, this would surely impress her.

We dressed in our finest 80’s nightclub wear; me in skinny tie and a textured jacket of multi-colors with the narrow lapels; my girlfriend with shoulder pads and the hair teased big.

When we arrived we were escorted to the front row of the club, just like the scene in Goodfellas where Ray and his main squeeze get the V.I.P. treatment. And for the next hour or so we heard you call every famous woman on the planet a ‘bitch,’ with scathing tales of venom, spite, gossip, and frankly, hilarity. Kathy Griffin owes everything in her act to you. Donald Rickles, who also knocked celebrities down to size in his act, was tame by comparison. He only called them ‘hockey pucks.’ You wielded the “B” word like a light saber. And we laughed our asses off. Or maybe we just felt compelled, since we were so conspicuous in the front row.

The show ended and, sure enough, we were invited backstage to meet you. You didn’t even wait for us to get to your dressing room. You came charging out of the room with a big smile on your face and your hand extended in generous friendship.

And that’s when it happened.

My girlfriend fired the “B” word right back at you.

“There’s the BITCH,” Danette loudly announced as you approached. I guess I forgot to mention that she was an actress, had just watched your act for an hour and a half, and probably wanted in on the fun and was playing it back to you. Don’t they say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery?

But it was something you definitely didn’t expect, and you stopped cold in your tracks like a mime hitting an invisible wall. Your smile disappeared. Your extended hand drooped faster than a granny tit from an unhooked bra. There was what seemed like an eternity of awkward silence.

But you’re a professional, and it took you only a few more moments to recover, put the hand up again and address me with gratitude.

“I read you letter in the Calendar,” you said, “And you made this old broad very happy.”

I don’t remember much past that. I’m sure you looked at Danette and shook her hand and tried to say something pleasant. But the bloom was off the rose. It was obvious at this point we weren’t going to be invited to party on any further that night with you or your entourage at the Beverly Hills Jockey Club, or go for blintzes at Cantor’s Deli, or anywhere else, for that matter.

You had been bitch-blocked. You weren’t that hot on meeting us anymore.

And for that, I’m sorry. Once you got past being playfully called a ‘bitch,’ you might have found us a fun couple. We could have had a few laughs.

But I guess you didn’t have quite the sense of humor when you were given a taste of your own medicine. What’s that they say, “You can dish it out, but you can’t take it.”

So for possibly dampening your evening, and not being welcome to hang out longer, I’m sorry.

But there’s no way I’m sorry for my girlfriend calling you a ‘Bitch.”

That was classic.

I had to marry that girl.

Twenty-six years later, we’re still together, and we recently went to a Kathy Griffin concert and listened to her call every other more famous woman a ‘bitch’ for ninety minutes.

 

Despite the laughs, I won’t be writing a letter to the newspapers praising her anytime soon.

And as far as bitches go, you’ll always be our “Number One.”

— A. Wayne Carter

James Cameron, I’m so sorry

Monday, March 18th, 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.)

(A true story)

Hey Jim,

It’s Wayne. Remember me? 1982. We both live in L.A. You’re just getting your feet wet as a director. I’m getting some good assignments as a screenwriter. We have the same agent … Gene L-. He’s got a one-room office on Beverly Blvd. His suit, shirt, shoes and shag carpet are still left over from the early ‘70s. He’s got no partners. No secretary. No class.

But he has us.

You are the art director on a Roger Corman sci-fi production called Battle Beyond the Stars, and you just directed your first feature called Piranha II.

I recently scripted a couple of features for National Lampoon at Universal Studios to follow up on the surprise success of their release, Animal House.

We are two rising stars.

Anyway, the reason I’m writing this blog is to apologize for costing you $100,000 at this time when you really needed it.

Gene L was an agent past his prime (in Hollywood, that’s around 28), but he did get us both a feature motion picture deal on the basis of my latest spec script, and on you’re being from Canada. A Toronto-based film company was going to get $1.5 million in matching funds from the Canadian Film Development Board toward the budget of the movie partly on the basis that the picture be shot there, and the director be from there.

The deal was built around my screenplay, M-PATH. You remember that script, don’t you? It was a pretty good one.

M-PATH, or Multi-Purpose Advisor for The Home, was a story about the development of a new computer that spoke to users in a completely natural voice. A voice with empathy. Thus, the dual meaning of the title.

The hero of the movie invented the computer and was beta-testing it in a small Colorado mining town that had gone bust after the local mines dried up. The locals were desperate … desperate enough to agree to be re-trained in new economic skills, as well as to receive emotional counseling and therapy from the same home computer; M-PATH.

And the experiment works. Eventually all the test subjects in the town begin to turn their lives around with the help of the M-PATH. HE teaches them new skills. HE listens to them. HE tells them he understands them. And HE solves their problems. M-PATH is always there for them. And they become emotionally dependent on HIS presence.

M-PATH

M-PATH’s creator, Brad, of course, realizes this is a DISASTER … Human beings becoming addicted to a machine to the point where their lives are no longer private, their minds are no longer free, and their time is no longer their own? That’s not at all what he intended. It’s diabolical. But M-PATH assures everyone this is all a good thing.

So Brad tries to pull the plug on this experiment he sees as gone astray. Naturally, M-PATH won’t let him, and begins manipulating its users to block his efforts. When one of users goes too far and puts Brad in the hospital, M-PATH is already there controlling the ER. The creation has HIS own creator’s life within control.

Let’s just cut to the chase and remember the hero escapes and lives. And M-PATH? HE wins, too, by analyzing data to uncover a rich new mining source that bails the town out of its economic crisis. All is forgiven amid the flush of financial success.

The end of the script finds M-PATH being delivered to nearly every home in America. And the hero realizes you can’t stop the march of technology … even when it’s sometimes trying to kill you.

The script sealed the deal, the producers were happy, and you were happy. You saw the story somewhat as a religious metaphor, and were eager to direct the picture and add your own original touches. We both had no doubt it was going to be a blockbuster.

But you were also going through a divorce and had ended up at an apartment in the exile land of cheaper rents known as San Fernando Valley, with NO furniture and mounting financial obligations.

You could really use $100,000.

And that’s what the deal was: $100,000 for you, the director, and $50,000 for me, the screenwriter. Decent money for a low budget (under $5 million) picture at the time. Less the 10% agent fee to Gene, of course. And I would also be splitting my earnings with a friend and computer professor from USC, Buzz, who I had brought into the project as a technical consultant, but wound up giving co-writing credit to on the basis of the valuable ideas he brought to the project. We thought we were on the cutting edge. And perhaps we were right. There’s STILL no computer like M-PATH to this day.

A date was set for production of the movie in Canada

One of my spec feature scripts was going to finally get produced. I was ecstatic.

But there was one small glitch.

The producers decided they needed a more spectacular ending. One with, you know, a lot of dead bodies.

“Couldn’t M-PATH start, like, zapping people through their keyboards? Electrocuting them … Like ‘Jaws,’ the computer?”

I took one look at my esteemed computer genius writing partner … and have never witnessed someone grow so pale with horror. “Who are these … imbeciles?” his expression screamed.

“Is THIS what screenwriting is all about? Sacrificing logic and principle and originality at the drop of dime (or, in this case, $25,000)? ‘Zapping’ people? Are you shitting me? The ending we have where the computer has psychologically enslaved everyone is ten times more horrifying. You can’t get any more creepy or insidious.”

Okay, maybe this wasn’t all Buzz’s doing. Those were undoubtedly my own thoughts while staring at Buzz’s incredulous face.

So, weeks into negotiation and pre-planning and you, Jim, probably already thinking about how you were going to spend that lovely $100,000, Buzz and I backed out of the deal and walked away with our script.

And, looking back now, I really feel bad about it.

I probably didn’t need the money as much as you did at the moment. I guess I didn’t think it through. I suppose I wasn’t … empathetic. Ironic, isn’t it?

 

And we had become good friends. We shared our hopes and ambitions, and stories about our budding careers in the business. We ate breakfast routinely at the Omelette Parlor in Santa Monica. We flirted with the waitresses. We talked about all our favorite movies and television programs. We had the same all-time favorite TV show; The Outer LimitsWe were only two months apart in age. You were almost purely visual. I was all story. It was a collaborative match made in Hollywood Heaven.

And then, I fucked it up by giving our lottery ticket back.

I don’t know what came over me. Integrity? Ethics? Arrogance? Stupidity? All of the above? I guess it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that I’m sorry. I know it must have seemed like a betrayal at the time, but it had nothing to do with you. It was all me, being a little selfish, and trying to show a buddy and a budding writer that we writers don’t have to compromise our principles.

I’m not apologizing because I’m in “The 12-Step Program”, or, like the character in My Name Is Earl I have a list of people I need to mend fences with to restore my good karma. Well, okay, maybe it’s a little bit of that.

But I really do mean it.

And I really did like the script you showed me when we were hanging out as friends. You were a little unsure about the writing on the script, but you had total confidence in your ‘vision’ of the script. You carried around this drawing with the script of a half-machine, half man with the top of his head and an eye and his legs blown off, dragging himself across the floor relentlessly still in pursuit of someone to kill them. You called it, The Terminator.

Whatever happened to that script?

I got frustrated with life in Hollywood after about 50 scripts written, 12 sold, and none of the major studio ones produced, and took my beautiful wife and left Hollywood forever to start a family in a normal environment somewhere else and never looked back.

But I’m still sorry about the $100,000.

And I wonder. How did things work out for you?

— A. Wayne Carter

 

 

I think it’s gonna be a long long time

Sunday, March 10th, 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.)

I live less than 50 miles from Cape Canaveral, formerly Cape Kennedy, and formerly Cape Canaveral before that.  Talk about an identity crisis.

And now it’s going through another one: What’s the mission?

This week there’s a scheduled launch of an unmanned Ares rocket, which could replace the Shuttle, now on its last scheduled flights in … well, forever. NASA has submitted several mission proposals and budgets to the government, but the government’s got its own budget problems. How can we send a spaceship to Mars when we can’t get our own Earthship in order? Why should we go back to the moon when we’ve already been there? And are we content to just send astronauts up like janitors to regularly empty the Porta Potty on the Space Station?

I find these choices and questions somewhat sad.

Fifty years ago, in 1960, I was playing with my Cape Canaveral toy set as an excitable young boy growing up in Maryland and dreaming about our great big space adventures to come. Our rival superpower, the Russians, had beaten us to space with Sputnick, and now President Kennedy was promising we would beat them to the moon within 10 years.

And, by golly, we did. In the most amazing run of technological breakthroughs, NASA team dedication, personal sacrifice, and fast track government and popular support this world has ever witnessed, we went from stranded on Earth in 1960, to stepping on the moon in 1969.

But we dreamed much bigger than that.

Our favorite prime time television cartoon at the time was The Jetsons, where a family like ours lived in a penthouse perched in the sky and traveled around in their own personal flying saucers. They also had a cool robot pet dog that fetched the newspaper. (Paper newspapers? In the future? Now that’s science fiction).

Our favorite books were science fiction treats like The Martian Chronicles and R is for Rocket by Ray Bradbury, who wrote of international space travel, aliens and other worlds as if they were already here, and a natural part of our daily life experience.

We went to the movies and watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, which evo-leaped us in the single tossing of a bone from raging primates to commercial
passengers on celestial spaceships waltzing through the galaxy to “The Blue Danube.”

David Bowie sang about Ground Control to Major Tom in Space Oddity, and Elton John picked up on Ray Bradbury’s working stiff astronaut theme by singing as a Rocket Man, who punched a clock and did his job five days a week, but also had time to ponder why he was, “burning out my fuse up here alone.”

Star TrekSpace 1999, and Star Wars delivered us warp speed to a time where we had so distantly moved on to exploring (and fighting with) other worlds that living on Earth wasn’t even an afterthought anymore.

And beyond going to the moon … none of these things happened.

And none of them likely ever will. At least the way we’re headed now.

It was all just a fever dream fueled by huge leaps in rocket technology, hope, and great expectations.

My childhood imagination soared on those expectations.

And now, as an adult, I don’t even want us to spend one more dime to go anywhere else in the universe. I just want us to get Earth … right. I don’t want us to burn one more drop of ultra high octane rocket fuel further depleting the ozone layer and exposing the Earth to deadlier levels of radiation. I don’t want us to send one more man or woman into space unless it’s for some reason to really help us back here on Planet Earth, today. It’s not enough to live on the fantasy of what travel through the universe can deliver us anymore. We’ve got to deliver here, first.

This isn’t some tree-hugging idealist writing.

This is … merely a realist.

A realist who doesn’t think we need to completely abandon our dream of space, but just abandon the last century’s model and method of how we get there.

The next leap in evolution could be some matter-anti-matter dylithium crystal
device breakthrough that beams us throughout the universe without burning fossil fuel or using any more precious resources, but it won’t be constructed from any blueprints left behind from the existing technology paradigm. It will be another great leap of imagination that re-invents the way we meet the stars.

You see, I’m still hopeful that we will explore the space beyond, and maybe even live there one day. But the realist in me now understands we must the find the way way out by better exploring the space within.  That’s where we’ll find even greater answers to the questions of what’s out there. That’s where the bigger mysteries wait to spark our inspiration and be revealed. And that’s where the next phase of space exploration can begin.

Maybe Cape Canaveral will still be the harbor for this new evolution and rename itself Cape Higher-Consciousness.

I can’t wait for that play set.

 

— A. Wayne Carter

 

 

Watching Bill Maher, religiously

Sunday, March 3rd, 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.)

I watch Bill Maher, religiously. Every week. Like church.

He speaks truth to power in a manner so cool and rational and funny, it’s refreshing and entertaining beyond shit.

No matter who the guest or panelist is, he has a way to instantly disarm them with pure reason. It’s hard to argue when someone is brandishing the cold, hard, indisputable facts.

Unless, of course, the subject of religion comes up.

Suddenly, this cool, calculated rationalist begins ranting and raving; practically foaming at the mouth about gullibility, ignorance, stupidity and the ‘fairy tales’ of the believers.

To quote Shakespeare, “Methinks thou doth protest too much.”

How is a raving atheist spewing contempt and intolerance for believers in Jesus or any other faith any different than an evangelical Christian on the other side spewing condemnation and intolerance for heathen non-believers?

They are really mirror images of the same basic intolerance.

Who CARES what someone else believes? Nobody really knows. Why does it bug you so much, Bill? If someone wants to believe in Jesus, Mohammed, Scientology, Leprechauns, or the magic underwear of Mormonism, what’s it to you?

Sure, if someone uses religion to incite hatred and violence and war (as so often has been done throughout history, past and current), then expose it and condemn the hypocrisy of the agenda behind it. But don’t become one of them.

CNN has a religion column and 90 percent of the people who post comments to the column appear to be atheists angrily mocking or condemning the idea of faith, God, or religion. Religious columns online provoke more responses from atheists than actual followers of one faith or the other. What does this say?

Again, methinks they doth protest too much.

I have a theory that many atheists, and probably Bill Maher included, are burned believers. Why else would they get so riled up over what someone else believes?

At some time in their lives, perhaps in the early devout Catholic upbringing of the half-Jewish Bill Maher, they fervently believed in something. Maybe it was the power of prayer. Maybe it was the saving power of grace. Or maybe it was a miracle that just didn’t come through. They lost a parent or precious loved one or even a pet; the bully unjustly got away with his crime; or their parents stopped loving each other and divorced. So they threw away prayers or faith in anything beyond belief in the random cruelty or callousness of life, and embraced pure rationalism.

And now, any time someone else brings up faith or religion, it stirs their blood and those inner emotions and triggers a deep anger at something they once might have believed in and have since lost. How DARE someone else have faith in something?

It’s just a theory.

But I would also remind atheists or non-believers attempting art that almost every great masterpiece in the world of art or music was inspired by faith in something bigger than, or beyond the ego or rationalism of the artist.

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (that’s Jesus in man’s ‘Joy’ there)

Mozart’s Requiem

The Beatles “Let It Be”

Michelangelo’s Pieta or David or Sistine Chapel

Even a secular artist such as Paul Simon found his greatest inspiration in gospel music when he composed, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

And what would Soul Music – think Marvin Gaye, Al Green or Otis Redding – be without the ‘soul?’ Probably just lifeless, uninspired programmed crap like the Black-Eyed Peas, “I Got a Feeling,” who’s only inspiration appears to be greed for a dance floor remix that has a shelf life about the same as milk.

John Lennon sang “imagine no religion” in his classic, “Imagine,” but he wasn’t talking about God or faith. He meant the use of religion by men as a form of control over others. And keep in mind he wrote this song after extensive experimentation in primary therapy writing cathartic songs like, “God,” and “Mother,” where he was screaming about the loss of … well, his mother. It happened when he was young. He probably prayed to have her in his life and felt betrayed. And he got angry. And later … he protested too much.

But he must have made his own peace eventually forgiving everyone else their silly beliefs in faith or God or religion or alcohol or pills or magic underwear, because one of the last NUMBER ONE hit songs he ever had was the very positive and cheerful, “Whatever Gets You Through the Night.”

It’s all right. It’s all right.

Here’s a simple test to determine whether you believe in some form of God or spiritual life.

Have you ever meditated? Do you believe in the power of meditation?

We’re not talking prayers. Prayer is ASKING for something from above or beyond yourself.

Meditation is LISTENING for something beyond yourself.

If you believe in the power of meditation, then you are not an atheist.

Because meditation is going within yourself to find a silence or inner peace beyond the chatter of your own mind.

It’s letting go of the ego or mask of identity you’ve created for yourself that pretends you really are separated from anyone or anything else.

It’s going within to find that inter-connectivity.

In physics, it’s called The Unified Field Theory. Everything in the universe; solid, gas, or liquid is really just dancing particles of energy suspended in space. Everything really is just ONE thing in a field or matrix.

In metaphysics, this inter-connectivity is called the Collective Unconscious, or Universal Consciousness.

In religion, followers call it God.

And to poets and dreamers, it’s called … Love.

Believe in that, Bill, and you just might find the inner peace and tolerance that evade holier-than-thou zealots who simply can’t “live and let live,” or “Believe what you want, and let believe.”

Believe in that, Bill, and you just might believe again.

I believe in you, Bill.

— A. Wayne Carter