Thursday, June 18, 2015

All Rise buzzed (exercise)

Taking three phrases from the one-woman show I am writing for her and orchestrating the elements of Action/ReAction to convey the character (a superior court judge) as slightly inebriated is an interesting exercise that Antoinette did to good effect in our Skype session.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Ferrari GTO and Norman Jewison in the rain

It isn't every day that one can indulge two major passions in a single day but when it happens, a memory is created that lasts a lifetime. The photo of me in my GTO at the top of Benedict Canyon reminded me of just such a time. One of my favorite directors, Norman Jewison, was to give a talk at a screening of his film In the Heat of the Night presented by the Writers Guild of America in a small, private theater on Melrose Avenue one rainy Saturday back in the late 60s. I was looking forward to the occasion as the film had become an instant favorite of mine for its acting, direction and unforgettable score by Quincy Jones. Haskell Wexler was the director of photography whom I had met when I looked at a dark blue Ferrari Berlinetta Lusso he was selling.

In those days, I had two cars from which to choose when I left the house to go someplace; the first was a Ferrari GTO and the second was a 1965 Alfa Romeo Giulia Spider Veloce. I would usually take the Alfa when I knew I would be leaving the car unattended for long periods of time or when I wanted to enjoy some top-down driving but my first impulse was always to take the GTO. On this rainy Saturday, The GTO won out.

The route I took was the Ventura Freeway to the San Diego Freeway southbound to Sunset Boulevard eastbound. Notice that people who grew up in Los Angeles in those days rarely used the numerical designations like 'the 101' or 'the 405'; we said things like 'the San Bernardino Freeway', 'the Arroyo Seco' or 'the coast highway'. Neither did we ever say things like 'the OC' (for Orange County) until that television series came along and imposed the absurd moniker on southlanders. Try saying 'the VC' and people in Ventura County will think you've gone all Walter Sobchak on them.

My GTO came to me with a set of Goodyear Blue Streak racing tires, though it may not be quite accurate to call them a set as the front and rears were different sizes; the rears being much wider and higher in profile than the fronts. All four were of the dry compound/dry tread pattern (very close to being like dragster slicks) which meant the car stuck to the road as though the tires were made of Super Glue--in dry weather.  Wet weather was another matter entirely and though Albert Hammond says "It never rains in southern California", by the time I made the transition to the 405 southbound (I know) it was pouring buckets thus contributing to a memorable quality of this day.

In subsequent years, grooves--known as tining--have been routinely cut into highway pavement which facilitate water draining and minimize aquaplaning. No tining combined with slick, dry compound racing tires meant that aquaplaning was not a risk but a certainty. As I steered the GTO down through the Sepulveda Pass, I was aware that certain movements of the car did not correspond with my movement of the steering wheel. It was the slightest of perceptions at first but within seconds, it became apparent that any connection between my steering inputs and the direction taken by the GTO were entirely coincidental. Picture kids sliding down icy, winter slopes on snow discs and you will get the idea of how much directional control I had as I tried to guide this magnificent race car down the road. Somehow, like a good horse returning to the barn, the GTO seemed to find its way knowing which of the curves could be ignored and which needed to be navigated so as to avoid disaster.

I managed to make it as far as Sunset Boulevard without incident by which time the downpour had let up a bit and I was able to get off the freeway and make my way along Sunset to Doheny where I turned right to Melrose no worse for wear but feeling like the pilot of an F-4 Phantom who had survived a particularly harrowing run over Vietnam. My senses were on high-alert and I enjoyed every minute of Norman Jewison's film and his talk.

Did I ever change to wet weather tread and compound tires as a result of this experience? No--"It never rains in southern California."

Saturday, June 6, 2015

"Do you understand?"

This is a run-through of a monologue I am writing for Belen that I recorded last night. With it, we are working on the basic levels of Action/ReAction--phrasing, emphasis, cadence, orchestration of emotions as well as some less obvious branding elements that are no less impacting and meant to convey her essence to the audience. This was her third session with me and she is taking to the technique like a fish to water.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Have a Whiskey...

This is a rehearsal of "Have a Whiskey...",a one-man show I am writing for Mark Lee Adams and rehearsing with him on Skype...

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Monday, April 20, 2015

Action/ReAction at Paper.Li

I love great films, fast cars, engrossing books, compelling art and conversations about any of the above. If you are of like mind, I think you will enjoy Action/ReAction at Paper.Li.

Today's issue features William Friedkin, Harvey Weinstein, Meryl Streep, Jean Negulesco, David Lynch, Reed Morano, The Third Man, The Lady From Shanghai, The Film Portal and Stage 32...

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

GTO or..?

Life is a series of choices; some are trivial and others heavy with consequence. Some are just plain fun, like deciding which car to drive when leaving home for the day (or evening). More often than not, it was an amusing act that could set the tone and supply context for whatever adventure was in store.

One day, I was going to lunch at The Brown Derby in Hollywood with an aspiring writer who, at the time, was a bartender at Matthew Ettinger's nightclub the Plush Bunny. On that day, I threw the decision to him about which car to drive. The selection included the GTO, a standard steel-bodied, dark blue S-Type Bentley and a silver and black James Young-bodied, R-Type Bentley. He chose the R-Type; I think he liked the understated elegance of the James Young lines and the rich burled walnut dash and trim complementing the sumptuous leather upholstery--an appropriate conveyance for two gentlemen on their way to a proper luncheon. After lunch, we exchanged the Bentley for the Ferrari and spent the rest of the day tear-assing around L.A. in the GTO.

One evening, Matthew Ettinger and I decided to drive to Palm Springs for dinner (4 hours round trip) with our girlfriends. We could have taken the GTO and Breadvan, as you might expect we would, but that night we took the James Young R-Type. I don't know why because the road from L.A. to Palm Springs is great for traveling at high speeds and cutting up the moving chicanes also known as freeway traffic. In any case, we all went together in the Bentley and sang songs in the car (not) and as Matthew explored a running stream-of-consciousness that touched upon lugubrious comestibles (butter, for example) and other less quotable topics in a desultory fashion, I held the Bentley rock steady and true at over 90 mph in the pouring rain until we reached Palm Canyon Drive. When Matthew and I were out together, dinner was always something of an articulated, three-ring event often conscripting diners we hadn't previously met and by the time we closed the restaurant, the rain had stopped so I didn't have to drive quite so carefully on the way home.

During a later era, my selection included a Maserati Quattroporte, two Maserati Mistrals and a bright yellow, 327 Corvette Stingray with mag wheels. Each of these would set a different tone and tenor for the outing--even the two Mistrals had different personalities, if you can imagine, one being a little more raucous than the other. I really liked the Quattroporte--a series one with the rectangular headlights--and would sometimes go for rides up the coast at night and my father would come along. I liked this car so much that I drove it in spite of not knowing where to find reverse. A week or so after it arrived from Italy, I finally found reverse in a spring-loaded position alongside first gear; until that moment, I would have to push the car out of parking spaces or park at the curb in a red zone (leaving an 'out of gas/gone for gas' note on the windshield) where I wouldn't need to back up to leave.

You might think that deciding upon the right car for going on a date would be something of a fine art but, apart from a landmark occasion when I was working in Palm Springs on Dean Martin's film The Wrecking Crew where I suspect that the Ferrari Berlinetta Lusso may have had an influence on a woman in her thirties accepting my teen-aged invitation to dinner, I never got the impression the car I was driving factored into the situation.

On one occasion, I was on a first date with a very attractive woman and I was inexplicably driving a seven-year-old Chevrolet Corvair with (very) leaky seals that was pumping large quantities of oil onto the engine and exhaust pipes. It was a real treat for those keen on the smell of burning fossil fuels and the theater of stopping at red lights and having a mile or so of trailing smoke catch up with the car and engulf it was spectacular to say the least. Finally, my date asked me if the car was on fire. "Not yet," I told her.

I found that if you drive whatever car you have as though it were a Ferrari, there will never be a dull moment and who can ask for more than that?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

How to Shoot a Feature Film in 15 Days (And Survive to See Profits) cover art

When How to Shoot a Feature Film in 15 Days (And Survive to See Profits) was published, I wanted a cover that expressed the irony that is the film business. I thought the optimism of the title should be contrasted by the cynicism of the graphic image. The implied expletive worked nicely but I always intended to add a splash of color that spoke of the blood, sweat and tears that went into the making of this or any film. I think we have done that and I want to thank Tom Gurnee and Louella Ladybug for their contributions to this cover.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Ferrari GTO shifting mechanism

There are some whose interest in the Ferrari GTO stems from its financial value in today's world where exotic cars are portfolio items rather than objects of fun and adventure. Years ago, I ran into a fellow GTO owner in a New York-style piano bar/restaurant in Santa Monica (they even had their own version of Bobby Short) and we traded reminiscences and anecdotes focusing on our GTOs. He wanted to talk about finances--what he paid, restoration costs, what he received when he sold, its (then) current value, etc., etc.--and I wanted to talk about driving the car at full-chat on the way to 'Vegas.

As I look back on the exchange, it dawned on me that I never saw him drive his GTO; it was always in pieces undergoing restoration. When the long process was complete, he sold the car. His interest and attachment to the GTO were no less genuine than mine; the car simply provided us with a different sort of satisfaction. I wonder if he ever spends a moment savoring the gearshift action on his GTO...

What most people remember about their time behind the wheel or as a passenger in a Ferrari is the sound of the engine and the GTO--with its lack of insulation and unfiltered velocity stacks on the six, 2 bbl Weber carburetors--provides plenty of thrilling sounds to make the experience unforgettable. The thrill of speed and acceleration is greatly enhanced by these sounds and the fact that the engine is nervous and high-revving provides sensations that a Maserati, Aston-Martin or Shelby Cobra could not match. Driving the car is pure, relentless pleasure.

Though not commonly discussed, the gear change mechanism is one of the car's subtle, aesthetic components and provides a definitive aspect, of driving a GTO. Looked at one way, the DNA of the GTO brand as a mechanical design is manifest in the shifting mechanism. It is simple and straight-forward using a thin chrome lever emanating from a slotted, chrome gate and topped by a round, turned-aluminum knob. No effort whatsoever is required in moving the lever through the gate and the lightly spring-loaded action ensures that only the slightest hint from the driver to the shifter is required to send it into the next slot, which the lever seems to seek out on its own whether shifting up or down. In comparison, changing gears in a Corvette of the same period felt as though one were operating heavy equipment.

Every aspect of the GTO’s functioning seemed to have built into it an ease of operation that was designed to make any driver look like an expert and this fact, as much as the financial worth of the car as an investment, is what defines for me the essence of this extraordinary race car from Ferrari. The GTO was made to ensure success.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Writing for an actor's brand

It was not unusual for writers in the Hollywood studio system to know for which actor they were writing as they created a character in a script. This one is for Gable. That one is for Garbo. Though they had crafted a screenplay as a vehicle for a certain actor, it didn't mean that another actor wouldn't end up playing the part by the time the film was finally shot, however.

Nevertheless, when you write for a particular actor you want to include the special qualities he or she possesses so as to make the character more authentic and believable. You write for the actor's signature or brand, if you will, and then add an element that brings something new and unexpected into the mix so as to surprise and fascinate the audience without violating the actor's franchise.

I have had the pleasure of knowing the actors for whom I write since I first started in Paris with Montmartre and having the opportunity to continually develop and expand an actor's signature is one of filmmaking's special pleasures.

The clip seen here is a work in progress I am writing for Erin Nordseth, which is destined to be part of my Series of One--a collection of one-man/one-woman shows featuring a variety of personalities and situations.

It is rather like (Interview) without the interviewer.