Friday, February 28, 2014

Re the film MIDNIGHT RIDER, Sarah Jones' passing and crew/performer safety.

From 1988 to 1997, I worked predominately as an extra and stand-in (becoming a member of SAG in late 1991 after being given dialogue on a scene from CHAPLIN that was cut from the final version). 

Between 1998 and 1990, I did occasional volunteer production assistant work on American Film Institute first-and-second-year video and film projects.  One of those projects was a few days on the shoot of a short titled MARILYN HOTCHKISS' BALLROOM DANCING AND CHARM SCHOOL, directed by Randall Miller.

Yes, the same Randall Miller who recently began directing a Gregg Allman biopic titled MIDNIGHT RIDER, where Sarah Jones, a camera assistant, was killed in a tragic accident involving a train and a bed (being used in a dream sequence) on the tracks.

[Recalling the AFI shoot in 1989, I had no real contact with Randall Miller; instead I worked with one of the producers and other crew members.]

This article by Sheelah Kolhatkar for BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK summarizes the MIDNIGHT RIDER tragedy and its aftermath so far:

And here's a key paragraph:
Making movies often involves complex stunts and the use of potentially dangerous equipment operated by people who are typically sleep-deprived from 16-hour work days. Film productions are run like the military. If a director arrives and announces that he or she wants to do something that sounds crazy, like dangle the camera from a high rooftop during a windstorm, people are unlikely to object. One film worker and an acquaintance of Jones called for a national safety campaign to be named in her honor.

Now for a true happened-to-me anecdote:
I was a stand-in on a film (shot in Los Angeles) in 1995 (a family comedy which will go unnamed here).  The first assistant director (who will also go unnamed) made it clear to the stand-ins that they would occasionally be required to do production assistant work--making it clear that to object meant being fired.  This was due to the production company's eagerness to cut below-the-line costs when possible.  (Towards the end of the shoot, it even extended to not using all the stand-ins on certain days, even when all the principal cast members were working.)

One day, the first AD had me climb on the top of the set to (as I recall correctly) hold a certain object through a hole (so actors would have an "eyeline" to focus upon).  The scene involved family members in the basement suspecting they were being spied on.

Fortunately for me, the set was well built, I did what was asked of me and I didn't crash to the floor and suffer injuries.

I'll close with a link to the story of another young woman who worked as an extra and was persuaded to drive a car during a scene where stunts were occurring.  This film I'll mention by name: TRANSFORMERS 3.

[UPDATE 7/3/14: Randall Miller, his wife and co-producer Jody Slevin and Jay Sedrish, unit production manager and executive producer, were charged with involuntary manslaughter in Sarah Jones' death.  Here's a link to an article from the London GUARDIAN:]

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Alec Baldwin explains MSNBC for you.

In the midst of a lengthy confessional/rant/explanation /denial of homophobia on NEW YORK magazine's website, Alec Baldwin has some interesting, potentially controversial things to say about his short-lived MSNBC talk show.  The full Baldwin article can be found at Without further delay, here's the pertinent excerpt:
My “career” as a talk-show host started with a perfectly simple ambition. In my WNYC podcast, “Here’s the Thing,” I wanted to conduct interviews based on appreciation of my guests and their work. Or, in the case of those like George Will, a respect for their careers, whether I agreed with them or not. To think that something as uncomplicated and innocent as that led to the MSNBC debacle is still surreal to me. My goal was always to take a talk show to the network. I never wanted to be on MSNBC. My contacts at the network said to me, “We don’t have a slot for you on the network right now.” And I told them that was fine. And they said, “Maybe you go on MSNBC for a year and we’ll hone and refine the show?” And I said okay.
I watched MSNBC, prior to working there, very sporadically. Once I had signed a contract with them, I wanted to see more of what they were about. It turned out to be the same shit all day long. The only difference was who was actually pulling off whatever act they had come up with. Morning Joe was boring. Scarborough is neither eloquent nor funny. And merely cranky doesn’t always work well in the morning. Mika B. is the Margaret Dumont of cable news. I liked Chris Jansing a lot. Very straightforward. I like Lawrence O’Donnell, but he’s too smart to be doing that show. Rachel Maddow is Rachel Maddow, the ultimate wonk/dweeb who got a show, polished it, made it her own. She’s talented. The problem with everybody on MSNBC is none of them are funny, although that doesn’t prevent them from trying to be.
My pitch to them was: I’m going to bring the WNYC podcast to MSNBC. And that show is going to be eclectic—guests who don’t often get the microphone. I want to keep it simple. I get somebody in a chair and I shoot the shit with them for an hour and a half and we cut it into a one-
hour show. Dick Cavett was my hero who allowed there to be pauses in the show. He put ­people on who were somewhat unconventional.
So I’m going to go on MSNBC, and people are speculating, “Oh, here he comes! Crazy liberal! And what’s he going to do? Is he going to try to give Bill Maher a run for his money? Is he going to try to give Jon Stewart a run for his money?” And I think, Are you out of your fucking mind? Those men are stars of established, highly successful shows. That’s never going to happen. My show was meant to be as harmless and inoffensive as could be. There was one theme to the 52 episodes of the WNYC podcast and only one way it worked—the show was about appreciation. I wasn’t out to get anybody or make anybody look bad, because I know what that’s like.
MSNBC assigned a producer to me, Jonathan Larsen. Like (Dan)Sullivan with  (the short-lived Broadway revival of the play) Orphans,  Larsen didn’t get me or the show and didn’t want to be there. When I told him I wanted to interview Debra Winger, Larsen looked like, We’re here on a set, with an expensive crew and studio time, and you want to talk to Debra Winger? There was nothing less interesting to him. Most of the guests I suggested—Ellen Barkin, Neal Barnard from PCRM, JFK-conspiracy icon Mark Lane—he couldn’t care less. As we went along, Larsen would simply stare at me after everything I’d suggest and say, “Well, let’s see what Phil says.” Larsen was sent there to babysit me.
Phil Griffin is the head of MSNBC, and when I saw that Griffin didn’t have a single piece of paper on his desk, meeting after meeting after meeting, that should have been my first indication there was going to be a problem. Phil is a veteran programmer who knows well the corridors and chambers of television programming—and couldn’t give a flying fuck about content. All he wanted to talk about was Giants tickets, Super Bowl tickets, restaurants, movies. The conversations about the set, about the physical production of the show, cameras, lighting—it seemed like he wanted to get those over with as quickly as possible. He didn’t care. He had four monitors on the wall. They were all on, muted. He never listened to them. He never watched them.
The meetings with Phil were brisk and convivial. Eventually, however, we got to the point where he asked, “So you really meant it when you said you wanted to do your podcast on the air, on TV?” And I told him, yes, that was my idea. That was when he explained to me that TV, with its visual component, was different. When viewers turn the channel, they want to see something. They want to see Robert Redford. They want to see Justin Timberlake. TV “captures” the audience with the visual.
He said that we needed to change it up. At first I thought, This is not working. It was a mistake and I need to get out of here. And I told Phil so. Then I stopped and I said to myself, They might be right. I would try it their way.
The first name they came up with was Rob Lowe. They said, Rob Lowe’s going to be in the building. Do you want to interview Rob? I said, “Not particularly.” Rob’s a famous star of films, TV. He’s Rob Lowe. He’s famous. But there’s no shortage of outlets for him. And they looked at me like, You really don’t get it. I think they thought, You should have just said yes, simply to play the game.
I should have simply said, “Sure, bring in Rob Lowe.”

Eulogizing Piers Morgan's CNN career.

Most Americans are still contentedly unaware of Piers Morgan's UK tabloid past (including being questioned about phone hacking that occurred with Rupert Murdoch publications).

Instead they may remember his US television breakout as  Omarosa's blustering nemesis on THE CELEBRITY APPRENTICE, followed by a judging stint on Simon Cowell's AMERICA'S GOT TALENT.

Morgan came to CNN prior to Jeff Zucker's current "trivia is News too" regime.  The apparent reason for the hiring of Piers was that he would be a younger, more vibrant alternative to Larry King.

Essentially, Piers Morgan was obsequious, Tory-leaning and not too probing an interviewer.

The exception was his post-Newtown advocacy of gun control--something that caused CNN executives to reach for smelling salts.  Unfortunately, Morgan tossed some of this goodwill away by giving airtime to the kind of pro-gun advocates he could engage with via cartoonish confrontation. But, as CNN/HLN viewers know, outsized guests and panel "experts" are considered "good television."

Apparently former NIGHTLINE host Bill Weir is being considered for Morgan's CNN slot.

And recently, CNN tried some pilot shows tailored for Don Lemon's new social conservative persona.

 Regardless of its flaws, we'll now be looking at LARRY KING LIVE as part of an era in CNN history where news was treated with the relative sobriety of, say, Edward R. Murrow's SEE IT NOW.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Harrold TX still proud of making teachers carry weapons to stop school shootings.

Two addendums to the above:
First, Harrold is located between Electra TX (where I grew up and graduated from high school) and the Wilbarger County seat of Vernon.

Second, someone I went to school with at Midwestern State University (now a teacher) is in the video.

Nonetheless, I still feel teachers should do no more than teach and the small farming town of Harrold should be willing to pay for armed guards and other fortifications if people feel their children are that susceptible to threats from potential shooters.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Shia LeBeouf: acting out or performance art?

Here's a link to James Franco's NEW YORK TIMES Op-Ed on fellow thespian Shia LaBeouf:

As a simpler counterpart to Mr. Franco's observation, here's a poem I wrote in 2008, around the time Shia LaBeouf was getting press for more typical young actor behavior such as a car accident in Los Angeles:


inside you're John Lennon
but they want you to be Paul McCartney

Spielberg depends on you
Paramount depends on you
Michael Bay really depends on you

you know the laws
of Show Business by heart:
be reliable
and don't make
your coworkers nervous

remember to not be rude
to your fans

and tell Megan Fox
hello for me
when you're on the set

Monday, February 17, 2014

That awkward moment when I wasn't allowed to talk about June Melby.

June Melby doesn't live in Southern California these days (as far as I am aware of), but she's a popular performance poet who has been known to make use of humor and props when on-mic.

Nearly two years ago, I went to the Redondo Poets reading at Coffee Cartel in Redondo Beach CA.

Sidebar: Years before, I had (after a long time of being a sort of regular and occasional feature) ruptured the good relationship I had with the reading's hosts by becoming upset on-mic and during the break with a then-Renowned Poet who now lives in another country.  I apologized to both hosts.

A few months later, I was reading in the open and following a poet who threw her pages on the floor in dramatic flourishes after finishing her works.  When I stepped up, I started to make a joke (in what I intended as good nature) comparing her to another Renowned Poet who now lives in the Southeastern part of the U.S.

One of the Coffee Cartel hosts,  fearing I would say something offensive, shut the microphone off.  After the host and I expressed unhappiness with each other (plus the host starting to come towards me in a manner befitting Popeye confronting Bluto), I departed.

During the months between my offense and the host's overreaction, I was well-behaved when at Coffee Cartel.  I'd read my poems and sit down.  And I'd cordially visit with friends/acquaintances.

But I sinned once, and that was more than enough.

Now, back to the June Melby story:
This was an all open-mic night at Coffee Cartel, which in this case meant that no regulars were present.  Several people I didn't really know were participants.

Only one of the two hosts presided over the evening--not the one who turned off the mic.

The host was discussing upcoming features--and June was to be there the following week.

So, the host, recognizing me, asked me to say a few words about her.

I started to speak, saying nothing that could be considered out of line,

But the host must have feared I'd be uncouth--so he cut me off fast.

At least this time, no microphone was turned off since I was speaking from the other side of the room.

Later that night, I left Coffee Cartel, "as quiet as a mouse."

And I have never returned.

Thursday, February 6, 2014


when the excitement of creation
became nothing more than clock-punching
to create the next psychedelic pop song
that would be acceptable
to both teenagers and radio
he became the rock-and-roll
version of Bartleby The Scrivener
where he would show up at concerts
and mainstream TV shows,
stating "I would prefer not to do this"
maybe he hoped the other band members
could be bent like a Plastic Man doll
but they were as hard as sterling steel
and liked seeing a Technicolor rainbow
and the ability to buy mansions
and cars for any mood of the day
so he wrote a song with a lyric like this:
"thanks for telling me I'm not here"
and something in his subconscious
told him to make his own music--
then, when the muse whispered
goodbye forever,
go back to Cambridge
and create other kinds of art
without the clock-punching
"what will the fans
and the executives think of this"
headaches of 1967

Sunday, February 2, 2014

RIP actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and Maximillian Schell.

NEW YORK TIMES article on the passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman:

London GUARDIAN roundup of clips from several of Hoffman's films starting with THE BIG LEBOWSKIand ending with the now-posthumous release A MOST WANTED MAN:

GUARDIAN obituary of actor/director Maximillian Schell:

Clip of Schell discussing his performance in Edward Dmytryk's THE YOUNG LIONS (which starred Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and Dean Martin):

Clip from Schell's Marlene Dietrich documentary MARLENE:

Trailer for Stanley Kramer's JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG (1961).  Schell won the Best Actor Academy Award for his performance: