Sunday, October 19, 2014

A pertinent question from Bleeder & Bates

"Should this go in the same bag or a different bag?"
An acerbic Detective Del Henderson (played by Kip Parrott) asks Lt. Bates a question about the victim's severed head as he cleans up the scene of a homicide in Bleeder & Bates...

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

This is Maddie Howard


This is Maddie Howard performing Action/ReAction in a preview of The Best Friend--a one-woman show I've been writing for her. Having a one-woman (or one-man) show to your credit as an actor is an extraordinary accomplishment and it is quite a feat to be able to pull it off. Every moment must be what we would call in literary circles a 'page turner'. The most famous in my recollection was the extraordinary show Mark Twain Tonight! conceived and performed by Hal Holbrook in the 50s.

Holbrook's performed his one-man show Off-Broadway in 1954 and took it to Broadway in 1966. He later won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play and an Emmy Award for the 1967 television version produced by David Susskind on CBS. In all, Holbrook has performed the piece more than 2000 times since 1954. This year marked the 60th consecutive year that Holbrook has performed Mark Twain Tonight! Quite an annuity...

Others who have attempted one-man shows are Spalding Gray, Chaz Palminteri, Holly Hughes, Julie Harris and Patrick Stewart.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Another Sidney story--vaudeville lives

(Dan, my brother-in-law, and Sidney playing Gin Rummy)

For a significant period of our lives, my father and I independently bought and sold automobiles for a living and for sport. For a living because the activity remunerated us nicely and for sport--well, that's more complicated.

The sport for me was that I was buying cars that I enjoyed driving during the time I had them--everything from Ferraris and Maseratis to Porsches and Corvettes at the upper end of the spectrum to Mustangs and Camaros at the lower end. My bargain-basement, high-volume specialty items were Volkswagens. For my sins, I bought and sold two Chevrolet Corvairs (one of which I've already written about and the other provoked the following exchange between me and a girl with whom I was on a date: She, "Is this car on fire? Me, "Not yet."

I preferred the VW Beetle and Super Beetle but sold the occasional VW Squareback with what was known as the 'Pancake' engine. I had one particularly troublesome VW notchback--the only notchback I ever bought--which I detested but somehow managed to own on three separate occasions for reasons that defy explanation and each time contriving to buy it back for less than I had previously purchased it and then selling it for more than I had managed to get in previous sales. That I maintained an antipathy for this particular car speaks to the degree that I disliked it for, ordinarily, one would think that a car that keeps coming back into my possession only to make me more money on each exchange would be the prize of my inventory.

Though we had distinctly different styles, policies and inventory, my father and I would accompany one another when buying our cars. The companionship was one reason for this but, as anyone who has ever bought and sold cars in this manner knows, it helps to have someone along who can drive the new acquisition home (assuming it is drivable). And here we come to the complicated aspect of buying cars for sport as my father practiced it. My father had his own approach, mindset and protocol in the buying of a car. To him, these transactions were not just a competitive sport in trying to get the best deals, it was also a form of vaudeville in which he incarnated W.C.Fields. It began with his approach to me.

I would receive a call from my father who would say, "There's a car near you I want to look at. What if I pick you up in twenty minutes?" I always said yes but I quickly came to realize that the phrase 'near you' could be relied upon to mean only that I needn't pack an overnight bag. If the car actually was in my area, I could rely on the fact that he would have a second or third car to look at in addition to the one near me and that, often as not, the rest of my day was shot. On one occasion, I responded to his "There's a car near you I want to look at" with "Fine, go see it and pick me up afterwards if you buy it", which wasn't at all what he had in mind. He had another use for me on these forays.

Being the salesman that he was, my father understood the value of having a 'accompanist' along whether buying or selling. It just seemed to facilitate the proceedings like the good cop/bad cop, straight man/foil partnerships that work so well in other domains. So, along I went. The scenario was always the following: He was buying the car for his daughter (who was getting married soon). She didn't have enough money to buy the car but my father would be covering whatever the shortfall might be. The daughter was always referred to as 'Corky'. The senior rule was to never find fault with the car. It was always a great car that 'Corky' would love. That didn't stop my father from negotiating the cost of repairing the car's deficiencies from the seller's asking price. When all had been properly discounted, my father would find that he was still somewhat short of meeting the seller's price, at which point my father would offer to split the difference between the price he had arrived at after negotiating the seller downwards from his asking price and another, entirely arbitrary, figure that my father had come up with. If the seller agreed to splitting the difference, that became the new asking price and we would move into Phase 2 of the transaction.

The purpose of Phase 2 was to make the seller forget that there had been a Phase 1. Just when the seller thought he had a deal with a negotiated price, my father would start going over the car as though he had just arrived asking me to look at this or that and engaging me in conversation about the car. The seller was never aware that he was watching a bit of vaudeville and, I must say, my father could be quite imaginative and entertaining and all this with a straight face. When he had exhausted his repertoire and felt that the seller had been properly distracted, my father would come back to the 'split-the-difference' price as though it were the original asking price and, once again, offer to split the difference. Usually, the seller went for it, having forgotten how we started or in what manner we had arrived at this juncture, and we had a deal. Likely, he just wanted to be done with the whole episode and get us out of his life.

At this point, having successfully negotiated out all the repair costs and having split the difference twice, my father would turn to me for the finishing touch by asking me, "Do you think 'Corky' will be okay with this?" One day I wasn't particularly happy to be playing my part (probably because it was the third car he had bought that day and we were off in Irvine or some other equally distant locale), and I answered him by asking, "Who is 'Corky'?"

You should have seen the look on his face!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Adding a little 'business' to The Matriarch


I am working with Judy Go Wong writing a one-woman show (The Matriarch) for her. Since we live in different time zones, our collaboration has been taking place on the Internet via Skype. Here, we are working on a little 'business' with props--in this case her bracelets--as she addresses her extended family via a video that will come as a very unpleasant shock to them. Her preoccupation with the jewelry is meant to convey her disdain for the family members that may be watching her missive.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Marilynn Wales, Rest in Peace

Marilynn Wales passed away on Tuesday, September 16.

Marilynn and her husband Gary Wales had been friends of mine since I first met them back in 1967 when they invited me to their home for dinner. The dinner almost didn't take place as I parked the Lusso at the curb and went to the Wales' front door and knocked. I'll pause here for the laughter to subside from all those who have been to their house.

Somehow, I made it inside and we spent an enjoyable evening; a teenager, a stock broker and his wife who shared a passion for interesting cars and uncommon people. Over the years, we spent a lot of time together and there seemed to be one adventure after the other with no let up in the enthusiasm we all had for our chosen interests. Marilynn was a perfect match, not just for Gary but for his friends and lifestyle as well. In all the time I've known them, I never had the sense that Marilynn was anything less than a fully-committed car enthusiast and Gary's unrepentant co-conspirator in life. I was quite fond of her and the thought of Marilynn has always put a smile on my face.

To think of Gary is to think of Marilynn as, to me, they are inseparable. Together, they have provided me a lifetime of memories--and then some...

Sunday, September 14, 2014

My "French Connection" Lincoln Mk III

The other day, I was asked how many cars I've owned and the answer was 'too many to count'. Best known for my adventures with Ferraris, my first car was a series 1 Jaguar E-Type coupe and I've enjoyed other Jaguars over the years as well including a Mk IX sedan I acquired from my friend Gary Wales and a few XJ6 sedans that I thoroughly enjoyed. The Mercedes 450SEL I drove impressed me as being bullet-proof and very comfortable for the long, high-speed rides into the desert where I was shooting one film or another and the air conditioning kept me ice cold regardless of the 100+ temperatures the desert was inflicting upon us.

I bought a lot of cars overseas beginning when I was 16 or 17 buying older Bentleys in London and Maseratis in Milano. Traveling to places like Bromley, Surrey or Southampton and one especially memorable drive to Parma in Italy with Tom Meade to purchase a couple of Maserati Mistrals made the acquiring of these cars as exciting to me as owning them. It seemed that each transaction had a story to go with it that gave pleasure long after the car had passed to another. Also part of the package was driving these cars before they were picked up by the shippers--the Bentleys taking me around London in the 'Swinging 60s' and the Maseratis guiding me through what remained of Italian Neorealism in Milano.

I sold a few cars that required a particular sort of buyer or, to quote my father, "What you need for this one is a sap!" he would say without treading too heavily on the fact that I was the sap who bought it for resale. One of these was a terrible Chevrolet Corvair that, if memory serves, still had a bit of compression in one of its cylinders. In the morning when the engine was cold, you could hear gusts of wind escaping from the chambers as the engine cranked over and it was futile to think that the spark plugs would generate enough heat to cause the metal to expand sufficiently to seal the heads and the block. I was able to find a happy buyer for this amazing machine when I experienced a confluence of good luck.

The first bit of luck was that I discovered an aerosol spray at the auto parts store that was so explosive you couldn't use it within miles of a house that had central heating. This product one would spray into the carburetors standing as far back as my arm length would allow while my father would crank the engine over from the relative safety of the driver's seat. If you have ever seen the jumbo size of Aqua Net hairspray (available in gas station mini-marts everywhere) you have an idea about the size of the can I was using. Early morning starts usually required three of these. The gentleman who showed up at eight o'clock one morning as I was attempting to fire up the engine from cold was as impeccably dressed as any I had ever seen in Los Angeles and had uncommonly fine manners in addition. Also, he was drunk, which I count as my second bit of luck. He sat good-naturedly on a nearby fire hydrant as my father and I continued to crank our way through the second and third aerosol bottles of Ka-Boom or whatever it was called wondering if we would run out of the spray or battery power before the engine started.

I had parked the car at the top of a hill to facilitate the car's first morning steps, so to speak, believing as I did that the car would have to journey a ways before level ground should be attempted and especially eschewing anything that could be seen as an incline. My new found gentleman friend was delighted by the car and was soon pressing cash into my hand. I counted it and gave him back his change as he had overpaid in his excitement. It was then that he said he was buying the car for his ex-girlfriend; an astonishing admission that brought the proceedings to a halt. This really isn't the sort of car one buys for an ex-girlfriend, I told him. It was one thing for him to buy the car for himself after witnessing the morning start-up ritual but to pawn it of on a woman for whom he had cared was quite another. The more I tried to dissuade him, the more insistent he became about buying the car and, in the end, we concluded the transaction, which brings us to the third bit of luck. I don't think he was ever able to remember where he had purchased the car.

As a buyer, however, the most interesting purchase for me was when I bought a 1971 Lincoln Continental Mk III. I had wanted one ever since seeing William Friedkin's film The French Connection in which one is featured. By 1989, I finally decided to see if I could find one knowing that the odds were against me locating one that was in 'as new' condition and I wasn't wanting a car that needed a restoration or that had been poorly restored. When I found an ad for an example that sounded like what I wanted, I called and received the strangest phone interview I've ever received or given during a car purchase. "Why do you want a Mk III?" "What kinds of cars have you owned?" "How will you be using the car?" "Do you hand wash your cars?" I had the feeling that I was adopting a child rather than buying a car but I began to have an understanding of the seller. I asked him if I could come look at the car. He told me he would think about it and call me back. The next day, he did and I was given directions to his home.

I arrived to discover that this man kept his Mk III in a carpeted garage; the other family cars were relegated to the outdoors. There was nary a scratch on any of the paint or bright-work and the black leather interior was flawless. This car looked as though it had just been driven home from the Lincoln dealership! The mileage on the car was negligible given its eighteen years. He offered me the service history worksheets and receipts for inspection. I knew I would never find such a Mk III anywhere else. I had absolutely no leverage on this transaction whatsoever. What are you asking, was all I could say. I wanted this car. He looked at me and said, "I don't know." He promised to call me after he had thought it over and I left more than a little perplexed.

Later that day, the man called me and quoted a price that was about a third of what I had been expecting. I was flabbergasted. "I wasn't really going to sell the car," he told me "but I'll sell it to you because you are the right person for this car." I didn't question him on his reasoning or motives but I got over to his house in Woodland Hills just as fast as I could with cash. It was an unusual transaction, to say the least, and I realized how lucky I was to experience another transcending confluence of luck in an extraordinary automotive experience.

I believe I was the right person for that Mk III but I must admit that I'm glad the seller never saw his car on the poster of my film Dead Right in which the car was featured. Seen, as it is, on the dusty dry lake bed of El Mirage, the poor man would no doubt have suffered a heart attack.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The 'Audition Set' and how to do a cold reading


I created the 'Audition Set' protocol because, very often, an actor does not get to see the sides until he or she is in the room reading the scene as a cold reading. I wanted as much of the audition performance to be set, rehearsed and perfected even if the actor has yet to see the dialogue.

Therefore, what we create is four responsive reactions from the Action/ReAction technique that help define and demonstrate the actor and his or her brand that can be blended into any scene regardless of the dialogue. To underscore this point, I changed the dialogue sequence in this video creating different scenes but with the same series of pre-rehearsed reactions.  The dialogue and emotional reactions create a different 'back-story' each time and provide nuance and something unexpected in each performance that Maddie Howard delivers in this exercise video.

I create an 'Audition Set' tailored to the brand signature of each actor with whom I work via Skype. No two are the same and they are designed to highlight that which is special about the actor.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Confessions and the 'Lightfield' effect


There is quite a lot to be said for surrounding oneself with creative people. They provide an energy exchange and an atmosphere in which an irreverent and innovative approach to what has been standardized and sanctified is understood, encouraged and even admired. Imagine this reaction to a particular film that was released in 1960 by the non-creative element: But Monsieur Godard, you don't have any transition shots! Furthermore, you jump ahead in the middle of a take without so much as a cut-away!

Someone once responded to one of my screenplays by saying it was poorly written. I asked what she didn't like about it and she told me the margins weren't the correct width. I smiled realizing I was dealing with someone who was more concerned with the blank spaces surrounding the page than the content written on the page. Literally and conceptually, we weren't anywhere near the same page. Never mind that the feedback I was getting from the major production companies in town was that it was the most entertaining script they'd ever read; one even asked me to autograph the script for them. Anyone giving such importance to the empty white spaces on the page would never have understood what I had written and would have made a dog's breakfast of it had they ever gotten hold of it as a property.

One creative influence on me was an out-of-control young man who I found very entertaining and who went about making videos--short films of all sorts--using a Panasonic S-VHS video camera. His name is Lightfield Lewis and his personality is as distinct as his name. He came from a show business family (his father being Geoffrey and his sisters Juliette and Dierdre) but he seemed completely his own person and was capturing a unique vision of the world with his camera. Lightfield would come to my house and show me his latest footage and I, in turn, would expose him to films like
Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger.

One thing that caught my attention was a particular feature of Lightfield's camera; it was a Gain Up button that, when activated, altered the video image causing it to look less like video and more like a very grainy film stock that had been colorized in the fashion of Andy Warhol's poster of Marilyn Monroe which Warhol had made from silk screens based on a publicity photo from the film Niagara. I especially liked the evolution of references from digital to silk screen to film icon. I wanted to make use of this effect.

When shooting my web-based soap opera Confessions, I was delivering layers of truth and reality. There was the reality of the confessional booth and for that we used 'straight-ahead' video. Then there was the reality and relative truth of the confessions that were being revealed as flashback and composite shots featuring the in-the-booth reality combined with flashback. I decided to use the 'Lightfield' effect for the flashback and composite shots to differentiate them from the truth of the confessional encounter and to provide a dream-like illusion of the penitent's memory or fabrication.

I think the effect worked very well and gave an unusual visual texture to the program. The video seen here is a poor transfer taken from a VHS copy of the original and has lost some resolution along with much of the color's original vibrancy. I can't look at it without it bringing to mind the whole 'Lightfield, Warhol, Marilyn, Niagara' chain of events.

Friday, August 1, 2014

250 Ferrari California (ex Roger Vadim) in Paris


My friend Peter Helm had a couple of these back in the day. Imagine the California, my GTO and Matthew in the Ferrari Breadvan cruising around Los Angeles in the 60s and 70s...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cyrano on the Sunset Strip

The celebrated bit of road known as the Sunset Strip has gone through a lot of changes since I first made its acquaintance by watching 77 Sunset Strip on television and having customary Sunday brunch with the family at Scandia or occasionally reserving Scandia's wine cellar for exclusive dinner parties where one is attended by staff separate from the service in the restaurant upstairs. In the mid-to-late 60s, I visited the Strip on weekends--cruising night--in my Ferrari GTO and spent afternoons having (pre-Starbucks) cappuccinos at the Via Veneto hanging out with friends and people-watching--much as I do at Caffe Primo today--and using the Ferrari Breadvan and GTO with Matthew Ettinger to maximum effect, if you can imagine. Gazzarri's would later be memorialized in John Cassavetes' The Killing of a Chinese Bookie where it was seen as The Crazy Horse West. Nicky Blair's still occupied a spot near Sunset Plaza Drive and Dino's Lodge, featuring the likeness of Dean Martin on the front of the restaurant, was a going concern. Long before it disappeared to be replaced, ultimately, as my favorite Strip restaurant by Le Petit Four (where I filmed my 'talking heads' for Elysée Wednesday: Drive!), my dining room on the Strip was Cyrano.

The elegant, mahogany paneled brasserie with low-key lighting offered delicious, continental food and the service was excellent. I always had the same waiter who, given his accent, might have been French, more likely he was Belgian but--if you are a betting man or woman--you would put your money on the probability of his being from Nebraska. He was very attentive and knew our preferences. More often than not, he could place our order without being told what we wanted. Furthermore, he never told us "Enjoy" which is one of the characteristics of a truly great waiter, if I may say so.

Gio, which everyone seemed to pronounce as 'Gee-oo' rather than the correct 'Jo', was the maître d' who knew a thing or two about the restaurant business and hospitality. Many was the time that I arrived at the peak of their busy hour--alone or in company with friends--finding myself behind a crowd of people at the door waiting for a table. Gio would see me and motion us in through the crowd seating us immediatamente. There's no place like home!

Evenings at Cyrano were memorable for the food, the service and the company. I remember one evening conversing with Matthew Ettinger and Warren Oates at the bar. You would think we would be talking about movies but it was more of a philosophical discussion and I'm not sure any of us knew what we were talking about, which made it no less memorable.

If one were to ask me what made Cyrano particularly special, I would have to say that, whenever I dined there with Matthew, it was always a contest to stick the other with the bill. I don't know that either of us kept score but we were well matched as competitors in this game. Since we both knew what was coming, the point was to make our escape in a manner that was unpredictable.

I believe I scored the last shot before Cyrano finally closed. Matthew and I were having dinner with our girlfriends and as the meal was winding down, I advised Judy, my girlfriend at the time, to excuse herself as though she were headed for the powder room and wait for me in the car. A moment or two later, I made the same move but not before letting the waiter know in an aside that it was Matthew's birthday and would he please bring a cake with candles.

Matthew was making his own plan to sneak out with his girlfriend before Judy and I returned to the table but before he could make good his escape, he was met with several waiters singing Happy Birthday and expecting him to blow out the candles. By this time, I was down the road wondering where to go for desert. My car phone buzzed (pre-cellphone) and I confirmed Matthew's suspicions and thanked him for the meal. Let it be said, though, that Matthew gave as good as he got...

There are all sorts of attributes that make a restaurant special. Cyrano had them all.