Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films

I am of the Electric Boogaloo generation. I tell you this only as a point of information. I do not claim it as a source of pride. A lot of bad movies were made in the 80’s, and I saw most of them.  I was too dazzled by karate kicks, horrible special effects, and explosions to pay attention to the studio that created these schlock-sasters. I just eagerly watched them with equal parts awe and regret.

As it turns out, these movies were produced by a company called Cannon Films, a independent production company co-founded by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, and to their credit, they built the model by which modern independent film works. They just didn’t make that many great films with their model. They made a few films that are considered good to even great. Barfly came from their studio, and Runaway Train is another one that critics loved. But these movies were accidents. Golan and Globus made one crap-tacular movie after another on a shoestring budget, and when the trades would pummel them in the media for making horrible films, they’d throw money at an art house director and give him free rein to make any movie he wanted. That resulted in a few accidental hits.

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films is a documentary about the crazy and baffling antics of Golan and Grobus, and it is endlessly entertaining. For me it was just fun to see the collection of clips from movies I’m embarrassed to admit I watched as a kid, and to be completely frank, I watched them because they had nudity. I had very little parental supervision growing up.

By far the funniest part of the documentary is the section about Clyde the orangutan, made famous by the classic Clint Eastwood film Every Which Way But Loose. Golan had an idea for a movie that would be perfect for Clyde, so what does he do? He schedules a meeting with Clyde. Did I mention that Clyde is an orangutan? The meeting is as hilarious as one would expect. Clyde arrives with his trainer because he’s an ape that can’t drive or negotiate his own deals. It starts off as normal as a meeting can with an orangutan. Golan addresses questions and comments to the trainer. But, as he excitedly starts to talk about the story idea, he turns to Clyde and talks to him as if the orangutan understands English or human speech. It’s so outrageous it’s funny.

I highly recommend Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. It’s educational, funny, and yes, it has nudity.  I still have no parental supervision.

 

 

A Haunted Ball or Haunted Pond?

 

The Haunted Ball?

Early yesterday evening, Shorty and I were returning from our walk.  Instead of taking the long way around a couple of our neighbors’ houses, we cut through a small patch of woods and walked around the banks of a small pond, a path that leads directly to our backyard. As we made our way around a bend in the pond, we noticed the above ball floating in the frigid waters.

Shorty, being a small terrier mix with territorial issues, immediately started barking at it. She approached it suspiciously. When we reached it, I could see that it was stuck in some debris in the pond, and Shorty quickly lost interest. I planned on leaving it there with the thought that someone may return for it. It was, after all, a perfectly good ball.  I moved down shore about five feet and unhooked Shorty from her leash so she could get a taste of freedom before we went back in the house.

That’s when I turned to the left and watched the ball do something that didn’t seem natural. It pushed back from the debris and then accelerated in my direction until it came to dead stop in front of me.  It was… strange.  I pulled the ball out of the water expecting to find a fishing line attached to it and a desperate fish trying to release itself from a hook, or a motor that is operated by remote control. Maybe someone was playing a prank on me. Much to my dismay, there was nothing. It was just a ball, a ball with a mind of its own, a ball that seemed interested in getting my attention.

So, now I am left wondering if it is the ball or the pond that is haunted. Thoughts? And does anyone know the number of a good priest… or a bad priest, anyone authorized to perform an exorcism?

But, seriously, what the hell?

That Time I got the Jennifer Aniston Name Drop

aniston

No one wants to see Jennifer Aniston die at the end.

All this talk in the news of a Friends reunion reminds me of an experience I had at a reading of an early version of One Bear Lake. This was a few months ago, and I had reworked the opening scene into a 10-minute play format.  After the reading, I was approached by a man who identified himself as an agent. My ears perked up because I assumed he meant theatrical agent since we were at a playwright’s workshop. I have a literary agent that represents my work in the world of publishing and film, and I have no interest in changing horses midstream, but theater is a different stream, so I was very interested in hearing what he had to say.

Well, it became apparent very early in the conversation that he represented screenwriters, and while I was flattered that he would approach me, I tried to look for an opening in his pitch to tell him I wasn’t interested. I didn’t want to waste his time. Just as I was about to engage thrusters and get out of the conversation he said two words that intrigued me. He said Jennifer Aniston.  Now I had to hear him out. For one simple reason. He had just dropped a major name, and I sensed this man was about to give me some excellent material I could one day write about.  Here is the gist of that conversation:

AGENT: Hi. I just wanted to tell you I really loved your piece.

ME: Oh, well thanks. That’s very kind –

AGENT: Let me ask you, does the lead have to die?

ME: Well, she doesn’t actually die –

AGENT: The reason I ask is because I’m an agent. (Hands me his card)

ME: Oh, you work with playwrights?

AGENT: (Ignores my question) Like I said, I loved your play. I just – I’m concerned about the lead dying.

ME: She doesn’t die –

AGENT: That is a hard sell if you want to get an A-List actress to play the role. Does she have to die?

ME: She doesn’t –

AGENT: And I’m little concerned that she has cancer. You’re going to have to show her going through chemo, and it’s just going to be very hard for the audience to take.

ME: The entire play just covers a few days. You don’t actually see any of the treatments –

AGENT: The lead will have to lose weight over the course of filming to make it realistic.

ME: Filming? I don’t understand. Do you work in theater?

AGENT: No, no, no – I represent screenwriters.

ME: Oh, well this – I have –

AGENT: I think this would be perfect for Jennifer.

ME: Jennifer?

AGENT: Aniston. I could really see her doing the lead. She’d be perfect. The audience wouldn’t want to see her die though. She can’t die at the end.

ME: As I said, she doesn’t die – That is to say the character doesn’t –

AGENT: And no one wants to see Jennifer Aniston look sickly and going through chemo.

ME: No, no one wants to see Jennifer Aniston go through chemo I agree. That would be horrible. But if it was just a part she was playing – A character – But beyond that issue, no one dies from cancer or goes through chemo in my play –

AGENT: Do you have more than what I saw here tonight?

ME: I’ve got a second scene. I’m planning on making a full-length version –

AGENT: Good. Send it to me when you’re done, and I’ll get it to Jennifer’s people. Remember, rethink the cancer. Or if you have to give her cancer, make sure she gets cured at the end. No one wants to see Jennifer Aniston die. (Walks away).

ME: She doesn’t die. – I mean the lead character doesn’t die at the end – the play only covers a couple of days. This isn’t – No one goes through – You understand this is a stage play, right?

The agent walks out of earshot.

Now, the guy was super nice to come up to me and compliment my work, and I appreciate him doing so, but I thought it was comical that I couldn’t get him off the notion that Jennifer Aniston was going to die at the end of my movie, when, A – It’s not a movie, and B – The lead doesn’t die at the end of the story, regardless if it’s Jennifer Aniston playing the part or not. He was fixated on letting me know that he could get Jennifer Aniston to play the role if I changed the play he loved. He’s probably very good at what he does because by the time he walked away I was convinced Jennifer Aniston was going to have me fired from my own movie that I didn’t write. Why did I have to give her cancer and have her die at the end?

BTW – I should clarify that he never claimed to know Jennifer Aniston. He was just confidant he could get the material to her people.

One Bear Lake -The Reading, The Fun, The Carrot Cake

obl-posterWe did the semi-staged reading of my play One Bear Lake last night. I say semi-staged reading because it was literally the first complete read-through of the material, and only one of the actors had seen the play in its entirety before hand. A few of the others had seen and performed bits and pieces here and there in various workshop environments. Thankfully, they’re all super talented, and they settled into the material from the opening bell. It was so much fun watching them bring their own little touches to their individual characters. I’ll list them below so they can take their much-deserved bows.

The storyline features three siblings and their spouses, which means beyond being able to competently read and deliver lines, there has to be a chemistry between all the characters in order to make the material believable. I was fortunate to have that kind of group because the overwhelming response from the audience was “this reminds me so much of my family,” or “I could totally see this happening with my family.”  Which, given how outrageous and rare the concept of the story is, says a lot about the folks doing the reading. Many thanks to them for lending their talents to my work.

For those of you who’ve never attended a reading before, do it at least once in your life. I go to as many as I can. I find it one of the coolest artistic events ever. It’s a play in its rawest form, and the audience gets to participate in the development of the work. I didn’t get an official count, but I’m guessing we had close to 30 people, counting the cast, at the reading. If you’ve ever seen a behind the scenes show about a sitcom or television drama, you’re probably familiar with the table-read, where the cast and crew sits around and reads the script for an upcoming episode. That’s very much what this is like.  After the reading, everyone gives their feedback.  You get comments on what worked, and what needs tweaking. People will comment on structure and character. Some in attendance are just fans of theater while others are involved in theater production, so you get a great variety of perspectives on all aspects of the material.  I’ve been writing in some capacity for 30-years and this is by far the most rewarding and collaborative writing medium. If you’re a writer, my advice to you is to get involved in a theater/playwright group. You’ll never have more fun putting words to paper.

What I learned from last night’s reading is that the family dynamic of the play works. The humor works. The few dramatic scenes were received well. In fact, it was suggested that I go to the drama a little sooner in the story to give it more balance. Right now, it’s frontloaded with humor and the tearjerker material comes in the last third of the play. The puzzling part about readings is you will get competing opinions. I had a few audience members who told me privately that they liked the current balance between humor and drama, so my job now is to engage my spidey-senses and rewrite accordingly. Frankly, I think it does need an “almost dramatic” scene earlier in the play, for no other reason than to let the audience know that you are going to dive deeper at some point in the story.

My goal was to tell a story that reflects the reality that even though they’re raised in the same family, each sibling goes through their own shit, and they come out of it with completely different childhoods. Thanks to last night’s reading, I know I’m just a few tweaks away from achieving that goal.

The Talented Cast (in order of appearance):

Lily – Blair Cadden

Paul – Ian Bonner

Freddy – Jason Olson

Rachel – Kate Tooley

Tom – Robert Frank

Gayle – Sarah Daniels

And let us not forget the very lovely and talented Mia Ridley reading stage directions impeccably.

Many thanks to all those who braved the cold and attended, and a special thanks to 5th Wall Productions for hosting and facilitating the reading. If you’re in the Charleston area, they have a new play opening on February 19 called Like Drowning by Brian Petti. It was first featured in their Rough Draft Readings program, so when I say “new,” I mean new as in debut. How exciting is that?

BTW – I also got reports that the carrot cake was delicious, so thanks to Publix for their baking skills.

 

How to laugh about cancer

readingI wrote a new play. It’s a comedy called One Bear Lake, and it started out as a ten minute play that I developed with the help of the good folks at South of Broadway in Park Circle through their Second Sundays at Seven playwright workshop, and it blossomed into a full-length play with the guidance of my friends at 5th Wall Productions  in West Ashley via their monthly Writer’s Bloc meetings. Writers helping writers. It’s a beautiful thing.

If you are in the Charleston area, and you will be around this Sunday, I invite you to come to our first public reading of the play at 5th Wall Productions at 6:00 PM. What’s the play about? It’s a comedy about two things that aren’t usually associated with laughs, cancer and carrot cake. Contact me on Facebook for directions and details.