Sunday, January 18, 2015

Serge Dermanian: "308 GT 4 Boxer configuration"

From Serge Dermanian:

"I found in my slides a picture that will interest you. In 1982, when the Ferrari 308 GT4 came out, Ferrari made a very limited number of "308 GT 4 Boxer configuration" cars with (red with lower part of the body black, ivory leather upholstery).

There was only one in the US. This car was in the St Louis Michigan's dealer showroom. My customer asked me to make a deal and with a certified check in my pocket, my wife and I flew on a Friday evening from Boston to St Louis. I remember the sales manager Bud Pessin picked us at the airport. We spent a night in a nearby motel and after carefully checking over the paper work title, we  drove away Saturday morning.

There was a beautiful, practically new black 289 Shelby Cobra, that he offered for 13.000$! A bargain!

While driving in Pennsylvania I stopped for fuel in a hillside gas station, the attendant looked over the car and asked "Hey man is that one of these kits cars?"

We made it back safely to Waltham Mass.on Sunday morning; a great drive across the US at the wheel of this beautiful car.
Hope you can use this picture.

Thank you, Serge!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Carrera Panamericana: The world's most dangerous road race

Looking at the image above--which is a frame capture from the documentary I wrote and directed titled Carrera Panamericana (1950-54)--it is easy to see why the Carrera had the reputation for being the world' most dangerous road race. Cars hurtled past at over 100 miles per hour while crowds stood inches away from them at the side of the road. Often, they would reach out and touch the cars as they passed shouting "Olé!".

Ray Crawford described speeding along and seeing the crowd in the middle of the road in front of him moving away at the last moment to avoid being run over. The legendary John Fitch, who experienced the same crowd behavior when he raced the Carrera, told me that he could only hope that they would get out of the way in time.

John Fitch in his 300SL

The audacity of the men who drove and navigated the Carrera is unbelievable and it is unthinkable in today's world of safety precautions like seat belts and Armco barriers to imagine the dangers they faced.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

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

I have an elliptical style of storytelling that is evident in all of my work and can be seen in the novels I’ve written, the stories I’ve created for my television series (Interview) as well as the movies I’ve made. It is a style in which some pertinent elements are left unsaid relying on the reader or viewer to intuit and project their own thought process into the story in order to have the complete picture. I am asking the reader or viewer to “read between the lines”, if you will.

Bleeder’s final scene features a police commander who murdered the down-and-out prize fighter known as “Bleeder” and whose criminal acts resulted in the death of a detective on Bates’ homicide squad. As he answers the door at his home, he is killed by a shotgun blast and slumps to the floor. The reflection in his glasses shows the figure of the gunman who closes the door. Was the assassin Bates? I’ll never tell!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Ferrari GTO: Left at Old Topanga Road

As I was looking at the image of me in the GTO passing Peter Helm in his SWB California spider on Mulholland Drive, I was reminded of another occasion when I made an illegal pass (crossing a double yellow line) on a narrow, winding canyon road during the same era. As those who knew me well can attest, I always obeyed all traffic laws at all times except sometimes.

I was going up Topanga Canyon from the beach in the GTO taking a maximum of pleasure from the winding road and enjoying the sound of the V12 engine as it reverberated off the canyon walls. The mechanical noises inside the lightly insulated cockpit were a perfect alternative to any music an FM radio or tape deck would have supplied and the sound of six twin-choke Webers sucking air through twelve unfettered velocity stacks always made me smile. It was a good day.

Topanga Canyon is, for the most part, a tighter course than Malibu Canyon further to the north and there are few opportunities to make use of fourth and fifth gears. Slow moving traffic can impede the most adventurous spirit especially in the tighter sections where passing opportunities are rare and a double yellow line is offering the suggestion that passing other cars might be frowned upon even on those stretches where the road seems to be encouraging the act. On those occasions, first and (maybe) second gear is commonly used resulting in a build-up of frustration at the opportunities being squandered by 25 mph cruising speeds. It felt more like loitering than cruising.

It seems I had joined a processional of cars whose drivers were content with what can only be described as a funereal pace. Finally, after dawdling along for miles at minimal revs in second gear hoping not to foul the plugs, we approached the village that is downtown Topanga. This section of road that goes past the Quonset hut market is one of the few straightaways in the canyon that allow for a clear view of the road ahead and what I saw was free of oncoming traffic and inviting if one were inclined to execute a passing maneuver. I was.

I engaged first gear--back from second, left against the spring and back into first--and let it rip. The noise was exquisite! A quick, unrestrained run up to seven thousand rpm provided a sensation of speed and sound that was intoxicating. I had selected a gap between two cars near the head of the procession where I would safely complete the passing maneuver and return to my lane. It was a brief yet joyous few seconds of exuberance. The canyon amplified the sound of the Ferrari engine the way the setting of the Greek Theater enhanced the music of Chicago during their concert there. As I resigned myself to a resumption of the processional, I discovered what had been causing it. Four cars ahead of me was a black and white Dodge belonging to the California Highway Patrol. It had been setting the funereal pace for the rest of us.

Whether the CHP officer had spied my maneuver in his rear view mirror or whether the canyon's acoustical properties conveyed those few exciting seconds to him like they were the last bit of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture (with cannons) I'll never know. What I did know was that he waved the car that was immediately behind him around. Then, he made a similar motion to the next car that was behind him. A pattern of behavior on his part was emerging.

Before any further developments could develop, we reached a curve in the road where Topanga Canyon continued onward towards the San Fernando Valley and the magnificent Old Topanga Canyon Road veered off to the left. The CHP officer carried on, no doubt intent on arriving at some location in the Valley.  For my part, I had seen quite enough of the San Fernando Valley and it had been awhile since I had traveled the old road...

No doubt, the CHP officer would like to have gotten a closer look at the GTO--who wouldn't?--but he had already committed to staying on the main road whereas I was traveling a different road that day and have continued to do so ever since.

Monday, December 29, 2014


These days, I am writing one-man/one-woman shows as branding vehicles and career 'accelerants' for the actors with whom I work, but for twenty years (and 500 half-hour episodes) the vehicle was (Interview). In this short clip, one can see that the look, voice, style and story all convey the actress' brand of a hard-boiled, no nonsense woman who is obviously living with a lot of pain behind a thick veneer of aggressive antagonism. Here are a few quotes provoked by the series:

"The show blew me away." Adrian Lyne, director Fatal Attraction, Unfaithful

"I've never seen anything like it. I was spellbound." Ron Koslov, creator of the TV series Beauty and the Beast

"Mr. Brando would like to obtain a copy of the show (Interview) he saw on television last night." Aiko, secretary to Marlon Brando

"I don't understand why there was an actor's credit at the end of the show, I thought it was real." Christopher Penn, actor Pale Rider

"Methinks he has talent." Bob Rafelson, director Five Easy Pieces, The Postman Always Rings Twice

"Whoever did this deserves an Academy Award." Ron Shelton, director Bull Durham, White Men Can't Jump

"I saw the most amazing show (Interview) on television." Ryan O'Neal, actor

"These TV guests are interviewer's dream." David Gritten, TV critic, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Stephen Mitchell talks about Action/ReAction

Q: Your Action/ReAction is said to be the first new acting technique since the 1950/60s. Is that true?

Stephen: I believe it is though others have developed new 'approaches' to established techniques like Stanislavsky, Meisner and others--David Mamet and William H. Macy's Practical Aesthetics, for example. It's certainly different than anything I've heard of or read about. I think it is also the only acting technique which includes the ability to find and create work as an integral part of the technique. Every other technique I know of is focused only on the moment of performance.

Q: How would you define the technique?

Stephen: Action/ReAction grooms an actor to play leading roles.

Q: What is the major difference between Action/ReAction and other techniques?

Stephen: While other techniques want the actor to be 'in the moment', Action/ReAction instructs an actor to put the audience 'in the moment'.

Q: Is it an easy technique to learn?

Stephen: It is a technique that has many precise levels and each has a different function distinct from the others. No one has yet said to me that it is too difficult and I instruct each layer only after the previous one has been mastered.

Q: What are some of the layers?

Stephen: Phrasing, emphasis, interstitial reactions, cadence, responsive reactions, vocal tonalities, silence, editorializing, and quoting are a few. Of prime importance, though, is understanding the concept of resonating constituent groups in the audience. If everyone in the audience can see something of themselves in an actor's performance, that actor will have an expanding fan base.

Q: What does Action/ReAction do for an actor who is not yet playing leading roles?

Stephen: Since most actors will not launch their careers in the lead role of a feature film (like Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia), it is more likely they will be seen initially in a role that probably has only a few lines of dialogue. Therefore, an actor must learn to deliver what looks like an Oscar-winning level of performance over the space of two lines of dialogue. That is what Action/ReAction empowers an actor to do.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

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

This is my latest book about a film I made under unique and interesting circumstances. I first presented the topic as a webinar for Stage 32 ( A year later, I decided to tell the story in greater detail in book form. The following words are from Richard "RB" Botto of Stage 32.

"I am the CEO of the world’s largest social media site and educational hub for film, television and theater creatives called Stage 32 ( A couple of years ago, we introduced our Next Level Webinar series, essentially 90-minute live classes. I was on the hunt for top draw educators and Stephen with his passion for film and his selfless desire to teach immediately came to mind. 'How to Shoot a Film in 15 Days (And Survive to See Profits)' was Stephen’s suggestion, one I took to instantly.

I heard from numerous filmmakers, screenwriters, actors, cinematographers and other creatives who praised Stephen for giving them the strategy, framework, and course knowledge necessary to push them to go out and film their own material. Further, so impactful was the material, various film conferences and festivals came knocking asking if Stephen would have an interest in teaching it live. So Stephen took the show on the road, leaving audiences dazzled, informed and inspired.

I have no doubt you’ll feel the same way reading this book. So pour yourself your favorite libation and come curl up by the fire because Stephen Mitchell can tell a story. And Stephen Mitchell has stories to tell. A more reliable narrator, you will not find."

 How to Shoot a Feature Film in 15 Days (And Survive to See Profits) is available in paperback and on Kindle on Amazon:

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Ferrari GTO on Mulholland Drive

This photo shows me in my GTO in the late 60s/early 70s taking a corner on Mulholland Drive at speed. It is actually a frame capture from a film I made with Peter Helm that begins with our excursion to Willow Springs Raceway and ends in the canyons of Los Angeles.

Though the resolution is poor, I love this image; it is more like an impressionist painting depicting the speed and excitement of owning and driving the car as it was intended--if not on a race track, at least with exuberance. Notice the attitude, or body English, of the GTO during its turn-in to the apex of the corner. I always thought that my Berlinetta Lusso cornered 'flat' through a turn, but the GTO showed me how 'flat' a race car could take the same corners. This goes to say that the speed with which I negotiated this corner had to be considerable for the GTO to show as much body roll as we see in the photo.

I can almost hear the sound of the amazing Ferrari twelve cylinder engine on full song and, though I cannot be seen clearly behind the wheel, I can assure you I was smiling.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Ignorance is Bliss: Another swordfish sandwich

Senator Bliss at lunch...

“It looks like the jogger killed your wife,” Dornan told Martin over yet another in an endless series of swordfish sandwiches.

“What’s your point?” was Martin’s response. He enjoyed swordfish as much as the next fellow, but Martin was becoming annoyed with the Detective’s puerile eating habits.

“It looks like the jogger killed your wife,” Dornan repeated, assuming that the Senator hadn’t heard him.

“I need to tell you something before the waiter comes back,” Martin told him in a hushed conspiratorial tone, which caused the Detective to lean in closer. “First, don’t talk with your mouth full and, second, the word like isn’t used when a subject and verb are to follow. You should have said it looks as though the jogger killed your wife, which still doesn’t make any sense.”

Dornan was getting to the end of his rope with Martin’s didactical manner, though he wouldn’t have used didactical to describe it.

“You don’t seem to appreciate what’s happening here,” the Detective replied managing to restrain some of his anger. “You have been a person of interest, if not the prime suspect, in what has all the earmarks of a homicide case and I’ve just gotten you off the hook by hanging it on an anonymous jogger. How much more sense does it have to make?”

“To tell you the truth, it may not have to make any sense at all. I have no idea what’s happened to my wife and, as far as I can tell, you haven’t either. It’s all very speculative and if you have any experience with women whatsoever, you would realize the futility of any attempt to understand what they’ll do or when they’ll do it.”

“But, she’s been gone for…”

“Detective,” Martin interrupted him. “I think you’re taking this a little too seriously. If I’d killed my wife, I think I would know it, don’t you agree?”

Dornan was about to launch into a tirade, but remembered that his mouth was full.

“I think everything happens for a reason, like that affair with the Boat People. You should look at this as a sign that you have been put in the right place at the right time.” Pleased with himself, Martin sat back and savored his wine.

“The right place and the right time for what?” Dornan whined. As usual, Martin’s non sequitur progression caused the Detective to lose his train of thought.

"I’m not going to answer that question,” Martin intoned as he signaled the waiter for the check. “Instead, I’m going to let you think on it and I have every confidence you will stumble upon the correct answer without any guidance from me.” It was Martin’s way of ending an encounter that had far exceeded its purpose and time limit.

Monday, November 17, 2014

About branding...

I became interested in branding as it applies to actors after I had founded my repertory company for film and television. My motivation was two-fold: to develop actors who would be more interesting to the public as well as mainstream Hollywood and to make the films our group made with them more salable--our goal was to build a following for each of them. Over the twenty-plus years that the rep company was in operation, I delved more and more into the psychology and nuance of branding and this influenced the development of my Action/ReAction technique, which has as a goal to train actors to play lead roles.

The most frequent question I am asked by those wishing to better understand the seemingly divergent demands of branding and the artistic expression of the actor is: What Is Meryl Streep's brand? I wish I had a dollar for every time I've been asked this question but it is understandable why it is asked. On the face of it, Meryl Streep seems to be all over the map with her performances (in the best possible ways) which would seem to belie the imperative to have a well-defined brand. However, let's take a closer look.

Meryl Streep's brand is that of an intelligent and emotionally vulnerable woman which is most effective when she adds a foreign national identity--French in The French Lieutenant's Woman, Polish in Sophie's Choice , Danish in Out of Africa, Italian in The Bridges of Madison County and Irish in Dancing at Lughnasa. She played this brand for Woody Allen in Manhattan but without the foreign identity. These are the roles that made her legacy and not films like She-Devil where the brand was absent.

Sometimes, having an established brand helps an actor play against it like Tom Hanks where his trustworthy, everyman image made the face of AIDS more accessible to audiences in Philadelphia. Apollo 13 and The Da Vinci Code both took full advantage of his established brand. Julie Andrews' brand of innate, optimistic enthusiasm is another example where the absence of her usual enthusiasm in The Americanization of Emily made its own point. 

You'll notice that Clint Eastwood has had a consistent brand since the late 60s and Steve McQueen was consistent except when he went off it in a film, An Enemy of the People, that was unsaleable and could not find an audience. The Hollywood studios understood this and even had a clause in Clark Gable's contract when they loaned him to other studios that they couldn't mess with his brand. In the same fashion, Kate Hepburn, Cary Grant, Bette Davis, John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart and the other greats of cinema all had consistent and well-defined brands. They set a great example.

If an actor isn't concerned with the protection of his or her own brand, who else will be? It's the same as McDonalds or In-N-Out maintaining quality control on their franchises because, when all is said and done, acting is a business. Unless one acts solely as a hobby, branding is a crucial concept of which an actor needs to be aware.
From a strategic point of view, there are three types of actors in "Hollywood": The Bankable Lead (whose popularity attracts investors and audiences), The Antagonist (whose job is to upstage The Bankable Lead) and Everybody Else (whose job is to be competent without distracting from the interaction of The Bankable Lead and The Antagonist). The first two need to be branded. The last does not as they are interchangeable and disposable.

The two posters here are from Steve McQueen movies--Nevada Smith from 1966 and Tom Horn from 1980, indicating a good run of 14 years for Steve and his brand, until you realize that his brand first made our acquaintance in the television series Wanted: Dead or Alive, which began in 1958, making Steve a popular brand for 22 years. Not a bad run...