Saturday, February 28, 2015


From the website

jaundiced vehicular pathway!

I nearly expired with delight and relief to finallylocate absolutely the most memorable SPYfeaturette: “Name That Tune, Mr. Spock!” Leonard Nimoy strums his lyre as we read the following (in its entirety, with no explanation whatsoever, as per original, but numbering added):
  1. This celebratory gathering occurs at my behest and I shall be lachrymose if it so befits me.
  2. She chooses to purchase a terraced incline directed toward a postlife paradisiacal region.
  3. I request that you prevent a large, glowing orb consisting of incandescent gas from committing fellatio upon my person.
  4. The leather coverings now encasing my pedal extremities have been manufactured for the specific purpose of ambulatory forward motion.
  5. Allow me the honour of portraying for you a miniaturized representation of a member of the family Ursidæ of the order Carnivora.
  6. Adieu, jaundiced vehicular pathway consisting of blocks of baked clay.
  7. You provide illumination for the period of time delimited by my nativity and the complete cessation of my metabolic functions.
  8. And we will engage in much jubilant activity until such time as the male parent chooses to repossess her vehicle of motorized transport.
  9. The deity had little or nothing to do with the manufacture of minuscule viridescent seed-bearing fruits.
  10. Expresses deep affection toward yours truly in the manner of a hardened igneous object.
  11. Please remove yourself from the immediate vicinity of my visible collection of minute water particles, Dr. McCoy.
Byline? David Yazbek and Howard Korder. Where are they now? Yazbek, an XTC apologist, wrote “music and lyrics” for the play The Full Monty; Korder wrote “1988 male heterosexual coming-of-age play” Boys’ Life; the two collaborate frequently.

Friday, February 27, 2015

My list of memorable 2010-2014 film releases.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

West Coast film/TV extras: now and then.

So I just read Hillel Aron's LA WEEKLY cover story on extras (or, as they'd prefer to be called, background actors).  On the cover of the physical (on-paper) WEEKLY, the headline is PROPS THAT EAT.
Here's a link to Aron's article in its entirety:

The article highlights the very few background performers (who now are in the combined SAG/AFTRA) who successfully network with directors and assistant directors and make large annual salaries.

As for the quite large number of background performers who are nonunion, there's a quote from an unnamed producer who seems rather proud of how little he feeds them on big background calls (pizza, plus a snack table with popcorn and bottled water).

Briefly, here was my experience of extra work between 1988 and 1997:
NONUNION: Generally paid $40 for an 8-hour day plus overtime, though some smaller extra casting companies would pay $35.  As Aron mentions in the article, extras are segregated from the cast/crew at mealtime; some studio productions that employed large numbers of nonunion background would opt for box lunches, which varied in quality.  Without the nominal protections of being (pre-1992) in the Screen Extras Guild (which, if memory is correct, would pay $85 for upper-tier and $42 for lower-tier per 8-hour day), nonunion extras could, on occasion, receive more verbal abuse/threats of dismissal from production assistants and assistant directors.  Nonunion extras, upon signing with a casting agency (or perhaps a calling service which would contact casting agencies for the extra), would often receive a page of on-set etiquette tips with this admonition invariably capitalized:

UNION: I became a SAG member in late 1991 by being given dialogue to speak on the film CHAPLIN by director Richard Attenborough (my moment was cut from the final print, but I still receive occasional small residual checks).  Most extras who make the transition from nonunion to union do it by way of the three-Union-voucher system (still in effect, according to Aron's article); this means a nonunion extra has to receive three SAG/AFTRA pay vouchers before qualifying to join.  In earlier days, AFTRA membership could be achieved by either paying a certain amount outright or applying paychecks for AFTRA work towards the entry fee. 

If background actors felt they needed to talk to the union about the production they worked on, a representative would on occasion show up on-set.  Sometimes, though, background people feared retaliation and blackballing and stayed  silent.  Also, if a background actor was injured and/or incapacitated, he/she could be reluctant to collect Workers' Compensation for fear of--you guessed it--retaliation and blackballing.

SAG extra salaries were shrunk to $65/8-hour day in 1992; by the time I left extra work in 1997, I remember them rising to $90/8.  Stand-ins were paid around $90/8 circa 1993--the rate increased later.  As Aron says, the best pay of union background work--then and now--can come from working on commercials.

Essentially, extra work on feature films and television is equivalent to temp work in an office.  Some environments will be kind and treat background people as professionals who are integral to creating an environment within a scene (when I was an extra, it seemed as if foreign directors working in America such as Philip Noyce, Stephen Frears and Martin Campbell were better about reaching out to background performers than most Americans, who, either for DGA or other reasons, often delegated matters to their assistant directors).  Other times, you're thrown into a tense, high-decibel environment and professionalism/quality of work/nervous system gets tested immediately.

In any event, do your best and stay calm if you choose to go into what one cinematographer called "this madness" that creates entertainment for everyday people and "content" for the corporate owners of major studios.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

SNL 2015 vs. NBC'S SATURDAY NIGHT in 1975.

Excerpted from a GUARDIAN article by Brian Moylan:

The most remarkable thing, however, was seeing the show in its infancy, trying to find the patterns we know today. These days, it chugs along like a train on the same track, the rhythms of the show and the style of the humor established both by tradition and by SNL’s influence over future generations of comics. Those trying out for the show today know exactly what an SNL sketch should look and sound like and they fit their act accordingly. When the show was just starting, the sketches were less topical and more absurd and surreal.
The first sketch ever featured [John] Belushi going to a tutor to learn English – except every sentence he has to repeat is something insane that has to do with wolverines. The premiere also showcased Andy Kaufman and his famous performance singing Mighty Mouse, where he stands next to a record player nervously and only lip syncs “Here I come to save the day”.
These are not things that we would see on today’s broadcast, which is much broader and focused more on well-known characters, repeatable franchises, political commentary and gags ripped from the headlines. Some things have become more refined, like the mock commercials, which are much funnier than one in the first episode about an arthritis drug with a child-proof cap.
 ...we see the DNA of the SNL we have today – possibly because it’s almost always been produced by Lorne Michaels. But it’s like a recipe a chef is still trying to master. He’s playing around with the ingredients, changing them and bringing them out in different proportions. Over time, he finds just the perfect combination and once he does, it calcifies for the rest of time, being served exactly the same way.
That’s what watching an old episode [of] Saturday Night Live is like: appreciating the perfection of the present but missing the messiness of the past. And knowing that, no matter what, everything will be a little bit sketchy.
Link to the complete article:

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A list of potential post-Jon Stewart DAILY SHOW hosts.

It started with Craig Kilborn in the host's chair, then Jon Stewart led the series into its glory years.
Here's a list of potential replacements:
Aubrey Plaza, Samantha Bee, Billy Eichner, Chris Rock, Aziz Ansari, Jason Sudeikis, Dana Carvey, Ed Helms,  Kristen Schaal, Lewis Black, Sasheer Zamata,.John Fugelsang, Lizz Winstead (co-creator of the series), Maysoon Zayid.

Feel free to comment on the above names.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The best summary I've read of Brian Williams-as-Anchorman-In-War.

The really dumb, pitiable thing about Brian Williams’ circumstance today is that he felt he had to do it at all – that his maleness or reportage or patriotism would be enhanced by it. But death doesn’t need a punch-up or rewrite. Nearly 20 years ago, I stood outside a club in New Haven, Connecticut, and some argument resulted in a bunch of handgun fire, and I dove in full chickenshit mode behind a car. It would be infinitely sexier to claim that someone standing next to me took a bullet. (They didn’t.) It would be sexier still to claim that I was in the coffeehouse a block away that got shot-up in retribution. (I wasn’t; I’d left it five minutes before.) But all of that is scary stuff without elaboration.
Being shot near is abnormal enough to hold people’s attention; it’s sad that Brian Williams seemed to think he wasn’t taking a brave enough risk by merely flying over one of the most dangerous cities in the world, in the same kind of vehicle that had been shot down merely an hour before. That he felt he needed to claim to be in that other vehicle and “incapable” of remembering whether it was struck with a goddamn rocket is just dumb as hell.
But what’s especially silly – and what will make his firing sillier still – is that he felt a kind of duty to “authenticity” to zero the distance between himself and the troops. In the very climate that he and other media members helped foster (the one in which all soldiers are heroes by default), the solemnity of his war reporting comes with the prerequisite that he seem, at least in one or two telegenic moments, indivisible from the heroes around him.
Maybe it speaks to some defect in Brian Williams’ character that he felt he needed to be a character as much as a reporter – like his sideshow gigs of being the Disembodied Head of Brian Williams on the TV wall behind Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, or being yet another mega-Springsteen fan journalist, or being a nine-time recurring guest gig on 30 Rock as himself. Given all of that, maybe Brian Williams putting on fatigues was just another form of dress-up and being liked.
There was another option for him – there always was – but, depending on how you define the word, it was always a lot more dangerous. Brian Williams could have renounced feel-good features on the “regular joes” feeding a war machine revved up on lies and focused instead on the lies endangering them. He could have reported more on non-heroes – both the desk bound creators of the war or the volunteers of questionable stability who make the Hadithas every time. Or he could have reported on heroes who worked as contractors for the American occupation and were left behind in a radicalized nation without Uncle Sam’s backing or, even better, on the black-books contractor class that took US payouts and did their jobs with minimal inconvenience and maximal collateral damage.
All of that is less fun and more threatening to one’s contract than a sexed-up trip in a whirlybird in a warzone, but it’s reporting too. Edward R Murrow had his war reporting moment, but then he made a second one by fighting a cynical patriotic narrative in service to posterity and at great risk to himself. Not everyone can do that, but failure at the attempt is nobler than a successful joyride. Besides, it seemed to work out for him all right.
The above passage comes from Jeb Lund's op-ed for the GUARDIAN titled "Brian Williams will lose his job for giving us what we wanted to hear."

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Jane Fonda on female directors in Hollywood.

Excerpted from Jane Fonda's blog; the post is about the recent Sundance Film Festival:
We talked about the reasons there aren’t more women directors (major studios are run by men who feel safer betting on what’s familiar…what looks like them…and with few exceptions, the very few women who have run studios have not been staunch supporters of women directors. So why is this an important issue? Women see things differently. The subjects, the stories that appeal to us are very often different from those appealing to men. Not always but in general, women tend towards relationship-based films rather than violent, special effects-laden movies or what have come to be known as ‘tent pole’ movies with humungous budgets. And it’s not just a question of women not having experience making big budget films. Men who lack that experience have been hired to direct movies with budgets over $100 million. If there were more staunch women heads of studios there’d likely be more films directed by women and more women in the lead roles. When this is missing, the issues, concerns and sensibilities of half the world’s population is missing in action and, since most people don’t even think about it, they view the situation as simply the way things are. Fortunately, women directors have been gaining ground in the independent film and documentary fields and the problem is being discussed more and more so that, eventually, the situation will hopefully change. I hope I’m still around to see it!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Dave Marsh reviews various books on rock.

The following are excerpts from Dave Marsh's RRC EXTRA No. 49 Dave Marsh on Books.  Subscribe to Rock and Rap Confidential by e-mailing

The best book I read all year was Mark Lewisohn's Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years, Volume 1. I expected data collection. I got data, but also interpretation at a very high level, obsessive reporting and high quality music criticism. Lewisohn understands that the Beatles are still important and, more pertinently, why this is so, which has everything to do with their roots in Liverpool, their relationship not just to American rock 'n' roll and R&B but to other kinds of popular music and to each other, their families, neighborhoods and audiences. Far more than anyone could have expected, Lewisohn goes on for page after page, chapter after chapter, and I, at least, never found it boring for a minute. Maybe that's just because he brings along his own enthusiasm so effectively--which is to say, that he's a writer as much or more than an assembler of information. This is a great book, there's nothing like it in music and damned little anywhere else (it makes The Power Broker seem superficial) and it ends not just before the Beatles go to America, but before they even make "I Want to Hold Your Hand."

Which isn't to say that All These Years can be the whole story, but it takes some reach to get to a new one. Vivek J. Tiwary's graphic novel The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story finds his perch in the life of Beatles' manager Brian Epstein. I say it's his book because he worked on the story for years—first as a film script--but artist Andrew Robinson, much better known in the comics field, has done a beautiful job. (Disclosure: I played a very minor role in helping Vivek, a dear friend, get the book done.) Nobody else has even tried to obtain an insight to what tortures and delights the Beatles must have offered Brian Epstein as a gay man (and I am not referring to whether or not he and John Lennon were lovers--passed off here in a single panel, about as much as it deserves). I sometimes complain that people don't appreciate how difficult it was to have long hair or oppose the war in Vietnam (people literally hated you for it and so no reason to conceal their hatred) but that's nothing compared to what it cost to be a gay man in England or the United States when loving someone of the same gender could get you thrown into prison.

Tiwary doesn't suggest that it was why Epstein died of a prescription drug overdose. He just shows him terrified, blackmailed, frustrated, with this one magnificent outlet to which he contributed everything he had. (In this rendition, which I think probably accurate, he died of accumulated tensions, drugs merely a vehicle.) He's even persuaded me that Epstein wasn't so bad a businessman as I had believed.

I hardly need to add anything about music, except that there are two that haunt me: Graham Nash's Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life, the best rock autobiography actually written by its author (unless you believe that hoary old joke about Keith Richards') and living up to its title. My favorite memory, as winter sets in, is Nash and Allan Clarke of the Hollies waiting in a snowfall on the steps of a Manchester hotel for the Everly Brothers, who emerge and treat them kindly. More unforgettable for others will be Nash's description of the utter squalor of Manchester in the 40s and 50s. Dickensian in all the worst ways. (The stuff about David Crosby is Henry Miller-ish in the worst ways.)

            Nash's honest appraisal of his life is exceeded only by Glyn Johns' in Sound Man: A Life Recording Hits with The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Eric Clapton, The Faces . . . This isn't so much a book about recording some of the earliest Beatles demos, or all of the Rolling Stones' albums up to 1975 (as engineer, not producer, because "I don't think Mick and Keith know what a producer is, or does."), Who's Next, the whole of the Faces, the earliest works of the Eagles, Joan Armatrading, on up to the last album of the book, which nobody reading this but me will probably have heard, Benmont Tench's You Should Be So Lucky, a beautiful coda. This is Johns, sometimes a steely presence, at his best. It ends with a wonderful encomium to choral singing (where his life in music began) but I prefer the hilarious page or so in which he plays the unreleased first Led Zeppelin album for Mick Jagger and then George Harrison, and both of them are completely uncomprehending that it might have any value whatsoever. It's full of such yarns and along the way, a grand history of British rock, and the vast ways in which record-making and to some extent music-making have changed in the last half century.