A Rocky Mountain Oscars: Al Sharpton Is At It Again

The Grand Tetons in winter make for a majestic skyline, photo by NPS
The Grand Tetons in winter make for a majestic skyline, photo by NPS

“Hollywood is like the Rocky Mountains, the higher up you get the whiter it gets and this year’s Academy Awards will be yet another Rocky Mountain Oscar,” said Sharpton.

State of Affairs In Tinseltown

Even though Al Sharpton let loose with this zinger over a month ago, the sentiments in this sentence have taken on a life of their own and now with the Oscars just around the corner, (tomorrow night to be exact) many folks are talking about the “whiteness of the upcoming Oscars”.  In fact, as things stand now, this presentation of awards, could be greatly overshadowed by the lack of minority participation. Furthermore, I wouldn’t be surprised if most major news outlets, cover the 2016 Oscar Awards from Sharpton’s viewpoint. Since the real-life event is just over 24 hours away, not only will we soon be aware of the new winners, but also we will know just how this whole scene plays out in the eyes of the national press.

Several years ago, Al Sharpton appeared on SNL in a short skit satirizing lack of racial diversity on the popular TV program.
Several years ago, Al Sharpton appeared on SNL in a short skit satirizing lack of racial diversity on the popular TV program.

Al Sharpton’s Wit

“Bush said after Sept. we have to go and get bin Laden. Yet he can’t find bin Laden. He can’t find bin Laden, he can’t find the weapons. Now we’ve got to take pride that Saddam Hussein is still alive; we can’t find him.  Now I promise you that if I am elected, President Bush will not be in charge of the bureau of missing persons.” Al Sharpton 2003

With many Movie and TV appearances, plus numerous involvements in various political events, Al Sharpton has been in the public eye for a long time. Over the course of time, what stands out is his lucid and biting wit. Perhaps, one of the most vivid examples of Sharpton’s skill at satire, comes from his unsuccessful run for the presidency in 2003, when he lauded George W.’s inability to locate bin Laden and even though his run for the White House did not go very far, he did gain an appearance on SNL. In fact, looking back over the years, it may be that Al Sharpton’s innate gift for ridicule and satire is his most popular attribute. Certainly, his recent comment on the Oscars emphasizes this skill.

The 2016 Oscars

By chance, two of the major 2016 films competing for awards, are set in the snow-covered Rocky Mountains of the western USA. Though I have not actually seen The Hateful Eight and The Revenant, I do know that both films are stories from the 19th century high mountain West and do contain many snowy scenes, shot at higher altitudes. In fact, these two snowy Westerns may be competing for Best Picture and various other awards. By the secondhand accounts that I have read, The Revenant, which is based on a gruesome true story, may win out, but we won’t know for sure until Monday night. Personally, having worked in High Rockies, as a ski lift operator, I am intrigued by this outcome and I do hope to see both these movies sometime soon. Please keep in mind that this year’s criticism is not necessarily misplaced….as it is also possible that one or even both of these films could turn out to be epic and iconic films of the 21st century.

Russell Means playing Chingachgook in the Last of the Mahicans
Russell Means playing Chingachgook in the Last of the Mahicans

The Sad State of the Native America Cinema

It is also important to note that the above criticism does not solely apply to the African-American community, as there are similar situations throughout the Non-white population, especially among Native Americans. At least Chinese, Asian Indian and Hispanic people have films originating in respective home countries, though having more American representation would be a good thing. For American Indians, a host of cinema releases (Pow Wow Highway, Smoke Signals, Skins (2002), Thunderheart etc.)  in the latter years of the twentieth century, seem to suffice as the latest cultural import to mainstream America. And most of these films seem centered around the Sioux nations which gave rise to the late firebrand and actor, Russell Means.

What Needs To Happen

“How Is It Possible For The 2nd Consecutive Year All 20 Contenders Under The Actor Category Are White?”  Writer/director Spike Lee

A short scene in the movie, Boyz In the Hood, may provide the positive direction in which this discussion has to go. In this 1991 hood classic, the father of the main character, has a brief discussion with some associates about the economic success of their nearby Korean residents. A the same time, he bemoans the fact that his own black community has a much tougher time with this most basic challenge of producing successful start-up businesses. Though hood dramas may be an overused cliche that current Hollywood minority actors may what to avoid, there is a lot to be said for, not only building strong financial backing, but also a network of screenwriterswriters, directors and authors that can hone raw experience into a viable entertainment product.

 

 

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Tarantino’s New Movie

Quentin Tarantino's new Movie is a post Civil War Western entitled, The Hateful Eight, image from wikipedia
Quentin Tarantino’s new Movie is a post Civil War Western entitled, The Hateful Eight, image from wikipedia

The Hateful Eight

Due out next month, The Hateful Eight (sometimes printed as the H8ful Eight or The Hateful 8) is about eight persons, who take shelter in a Wyoming stagecoach stop during a raging snowstorm. Tarantino, the writer-director, claims he was influenced by such western TV programs, as Bonanza, The Virginian and The High Chaparral. This may be true, but after watching the trailer and reading a brief write-up, I can’t help but think that the 50s cinema classic, The Bus Stop, (which starred Marilyn Monroe and Don Murray) also shows some resemblance to this new release. By the way, the release date for this movie is Christmas Day, 2015.

The Controversy

The controversy that has arisen just recently, is not so much about the movie itself’, but instead, it revolves around some remarks that Tarantino made while participating in a NYC protest march concerning Police Brutality in Greenwich Village in late October. The march was organized by Black Lives Matter. It was during this march that Tarantino made the following comment to reporters; “I’m a human being with a conscience, And if you believe there’s murder going on then you need to rise up and stand up against it. I’m here to say I’m on the side of the murdered.” Since these remarks, police organizations have responded by demanding a boycott to The Hateful Eight and even promising a vague sort of unnamed surprise for Mr. Tarantino before the movie opens up in December.

Generalities Are Dangerous

My first reaction was that Mr. Tarantino should be a little bit more specific about where and when the police were accused of being involved in murder. Today, there are over 320 million American citizens and according to answers.com, over 1 million are involved in some sort of paid police work. With these kind of numbers there are bound to be some deaths, as a result of police actions…and as more recent events in Louisiana have so sadly proven, American police officers are not immune to being charged with murder. So in reality, Quentin is correct in his statement, just maybe not very tactful.

The Police Response

When I first heard about the police response on the news, I thought the organizations involved were responding to the nature of the movie. Only later did I learn that The Hateful Eight was a Western set in the late 1800s. Still, the police have every right to promote a boycott. However, the story does not stop here, for they also promised a little surprise for the Hateful Eight writer/director before the Christmas Day opening………Maybe the police organizations also need to be a little bit more specific about what their surprise might entail. Some how I don’t think it was egg nog or bread pudding.

The Biggest Irony of All

The biggest irony of all is that The Hateful Eight is a big budget movie made in one of America’s most popular film genres, the Western. I would not be at all surprised that once this movie is released, Americans from all walks of life will find their way into the theater to enjoy the film. This might even include a few police officers.

Telluride, CO is an old mining town now converted to a major ski area and tourist destination, photo from wikipedia
Telluride, CO is an old mining town now converted to a major ski area and tourist destination. It is also where The Hateful Eight was filmed., photo from wikipedia

 

Feminism In Films

The movie, Carrie, which has been done three separate times, made the list of 250 Feminist films.
The movie, Carrie, which has been done three separate times, made the list of 250 Feminist films.

March Is Woman’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month and since it is just about over, I would like to take a look one last look at the presence of women (or lack thereof) in the film industry. Inspired by an article and list of 250  feminist films over at Blacklist.com, I thought that this might be a good time to look at how women fare in this huge business. Since the original release of the list of feminist films, the good folks at Blacklist have reconsidered their original compilation and now added another 150 films to the 250 bringing the grand total to 410. This was done largely in response to the large number of blog followers, who complained about certain films being left off the list. And then a second revision was done to bring the grand total to 500.

When I first viewed the first 250, I noticed a few glaring omissions. Most of these were added in either the 2nd or 3rd round, but I still could not find one of my favorite films, The Swimming Pool, on the list does anybody agree with that?

 

Does Anybody Remember Lina Wertmuller?

Lina Wertmuller is an Italian director and filmmaker, who gained a lot of popularity with moviegoers in the 70s and 80s with such efforts as Swept Away and Seven Beauties. Her films usually included strong female leads, but she was often accused of always portrayed her characters, as  a comical men-as-dogs/women-as-whores perspective. With this in mind it is no great surprise that none of her major films made the original list at Blacklist. However, at least two of her films, Seven Beauties and Swept Away, were added later, though I still harbor the opinion that they could have been left out.

 the high-spirited Scarlet O'Hara where's a very different sort  of red dress in Gone With the Wind
the high-spirited Scarlet O’Hara where’s a very different sort of red dress in Gone With the Wind

The Day After the Oscars

A Collage of Gowns from 2015
A Collage of Gowns from 2015

The Morning After

I woke up this morning and was surprised to learn that last night was Oscar night. I don’t think I missed very much and it came as no surprise that this years awards had the least number viewers in six years. The 2015 awards have also been criticized as the “whitest” group of nominees since 1998. Also by the looks of things, the array of colorful gowns were probably the most conservative in quite a while. A sign of the changing times……..or perhaps just coincidence. My thoughts are that one year does not make a trend. Over the past decade black actors and actresses have been fairly well represented at the podium, while their Hispanic and Asian counterparts have been much less conspicuous. And Native American participants have been almost non-existent. It’s too soon to tell if this is a trend, but if this continues over the next few years, the people who put on the show may have to do some re-thinking.

Highlights

Just from looking around the web on the morning after, the highlights can be described in one short sentence. Birdman won best picture and screenwriter, Graham Moore, gave an impassioned speech about his main subject, Alan Turing and the screenplay he wrote for the Imitation Game. Other than that the Oscars may have been more routine than usual.

Is There More Competition Out There

Naturally, the question arose in my mind about whether the increased presence of Indie films and online venues such as Amazon Prime, Netflix and Hulu is taking its toll on our much-cherished national institution. Just from what I’ve seen of Amazon Prime, I would say that there may be something to this argument. Especially, Amazon, which seems to be gearing up in a big way to possibly challenge the dominance of Hollywood……or at the very least providing a viable alternative in the way we are entertained.

Two Questionable Films

Fifty Shades of Grey is tearing up box office sales at the theater almost in the same that the story did, when it was first released in book form. However, at the Oscars, the film was kind of snubbed (though Dakota Johnson did get to present an award). Besides being snubbed the film has been attacked as being misogynistic and misguided. There have even been boycott efforts, but these appear to have little effect, as the film is still the number one grossing film in its second week at the box office. However, 50 Shades did receive support from one star, Julie Andrews, who said she didn’t mind a red room of pain. (really)

And the other source of controversy is the recently released action/thriller called The Kingsman, in which there is a scene, where the head of a black president explodes. Critics here point out that the resemblance to our current Commander-in-Chief is way too close even if it is, just a movie.

It seems to be that a close look at these two questionable films may be symptomatic as to why Hollywood may have a problem with the content and overall caliber of its product. Only time will tell.

 

M104: The Sombrero Galaxy  Image Data: NASA, ESO , NAOJ, Giovanni Paglioli - Processing: R. Colombari
M104: The Sombrero Galaxy
Image Data: NASA, ESO , NAOJ, Giovanni Paglioli – Processing: R. Colombari

 

 

The Interview

 

North Korean Troops Marching London Korean Links Covering Things Korean in London, from London, since 2006
Cheesecake on Parade       North Korean Troops Marching
from London Korean Links
Covering Things Korean in London, from London, since 2006

A Brief Overview

The Korean protest against the showing of a movie, called The Interview, is kind of old news now, especially after the tragic events that just unfolded in Paris, France, just a few days ago. Still, I would like to explore how SONY inadvertently explored some new ways of releasing a film…and how they surprisingly recouped most of their production costs (estimated are at around 44million), once they did decide to go through with the Christmas Day release.

Timeline

On Nov. 24, about a month before its scheduled theatrical release, SONY got seriously hacked. Within a few weeks, SONY announced that it would not release The Interview, even though the Dec. 11 West Coast premiere did take place. Then, right before Christmas, SONY had a change of heart. They would release The Interview both in the theater and through online venues like Google Play and Video on Demand. Though the cinematic showing was limited, the online streaming and downloading of this feature length movie then go forward, as planned.

Some Facts and Figures

As of Jan. 6, the Interview has pulled in 31 million through Video On Demand and another 5 million through its limited theatrical debut. I’m sure the film would have done better at the box office under normal conditions, but right now the film sales must in what can be best called a salvage operation. The film cost only 44 million to make, but add distribution and marketing and now you have a film that runs close to 75 million. And this doesn’t even touch the expenses that were run up, after the SONY Corp. got so badly hacked, for there’s no telling what that cause the entertainment giant.

Has the Interview Enhanced Online Viewing

Even so, there is a definite silver lining in this cloud. And that would be how the enhanced VOD sales, courtesy of a very, ticked off head-of-state in North Korea, saved this movie and perhaps changed the playing field, when marketing a feature length movie. This was happening even before the ‘Interview’ fiasco, but even more than before, producers now must be taking in and discussing how to maximize both types of viewing and sales, when releasing a new movie.

Summing It Up

I’m sure this is big news to Netflix and its upstart challenger, Amazon Prime, who both have tapped into the online streaming market, while completely ignoring (thus far) the virtual reality of showing a full-length movie in a brick-and-mortar movie theater. I can’t help to contemplate that the news that Woody Allen is now in cahoots with Amazon Prime, somehow indicates that dual (theater and online ) releases may in the (near) future plans.

NorthKoreantroopsmarchingfromgunboards.com

Is Hollywood Passé?

A Hollywood based business in New Mexico, photo by author
A Hollywood based business in New Mexico, photo by author

A Unique Photo Op

This abandoned business in Northern New Mexico, got me thinking about the present fortunes of tinsel town. Though the West Coast film mecca is very much economically alive and producing popular films, there is no doubt about it, the film industry is going through changes. People just don’t attend movies like they use to…..but to compensate for the lack of moviegoers, the industry has found a healthy market in foreign countries and at the American home. This and the ability to lead the field in special effects have enabled the popular industry to remain an important force within the entertainment industry. ……. And don’t forget cartoon characters almost always sell well.

Quotes On the Nature of Hollywood

1. “The classy gangster is a Hollywood invention.”  by Orson Welles

2. “Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.” by Marilyn Monroe

3. “Hollywood is like Picasso’s bathroom.”  by Candice Bergen

4. “Mark Twain’s old saying ‘Never let the truth get in the way of a good story’ still reigns in Hollywood.” ― James Morcan

5. “Sometimes it’s good to be the smartest rat in the sewer.” ― Michael Houbrick

6. “Whether you’re talking about the Egyptian pharaohs or Hollywood movie stars, it all ends the same way. DEATH.” Neal A. Yeager

7.  “I feel very adventurous. There are so many doors to be opened, and I’m not afraid to look behind them.” – Elizabeth Taylor

8. “Hollywood didn’t kill Marilyn Monroe; it’s the Marilyn Monroes who are killing Hollywood.” – Billy Wilder

9. “It’s actually great to shoot far away from Hollywood because we don’t have the distractions of the parties and premieres and all that. And, of course, you can save money – there are no good shoe stores.” – Katie Holmes

10. “But the West did not last long enough. Its folk myths and heroes became stage properties of Hollywood before the poets had begun to get to work on them.” – Christopher Dawson

11. “Independent films are where you really get to cut your teeth and have some fun and do the things that mainstream Hollywood doesn’t want to do.” – Anthony Anderson

12. “Hollywood isn’t your cesspool, America. It’s your mirror.” – Bill Maher

13. “In Hollywood, the real stars are all in animation. Alvin and the Chipmunks don’t throw star fits, don’t demand custom-designed Winnebagos, and are a breeze at costume fittings. Cruella DeVille, Gorgo, Rainbow Brite, Gus-Gus, Uncle Scrooge, and the Care Bears are all superstars and they don’t have drug problems, marital difficulties, or paternity suits to blacken their images.” ― John Waters

14. “Hollywood is loneliness beside the swimming pool.” – Liv Ullman

 

Did Hollywood peak in 1939?

No way around it, Hollywood had a great year in 1939. Some even say it was the best. While large parts of Europe were falling to a fascist regime, our American moviemakers put out a short list of great films. Among the 1939 greats are such classics, as The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and Wuthering Heights. Looking at the titles, one might think the country was oblivious to world events, but Hollywood has always been a bit of an escapist and surreal enterprise. If America was in a cloud during the last year of third decade of the twentieth century, they would soon find themselves rudely awakened by events in the Pacific, nearly two years later.

Moviemaking In New Mexico

Actually, film directors are more often coming to the Land of Enchantment to film parts or all of their movies. The Spanish state has always had great desert scenery and recent economic incentives from New Mexico seem to be working well in attracting film companies. Just a few years ago, Lone Survivor, was shot almost entirely here because the landscape resembled Afghanistan so well. Other film crews that have spent all or part of their time here include The Lone Ranger, True Grit (2010 version), The Avengers, Crazy Heart and the 3:10 To Yuma.

Do E-query Services Work?

Publicity shot for Dr. Steel and his robot band from wikipedia
Publicity shot for Dr. Steel and his robot band from wikipedia

All writing is discipline, but screenwriting is a drill sergeant.”  ― Robert McKee,

My Experiment

Last year, I used two different e-query services to seek representation for two different screenplays. Here’s what happened. Over the course of several years, I had written two, feature length screenplays. Each one came in at about 120 pages, a tad long for a feature film, but still workable if I could find the right party. One adventuresome tale took place in Central America during a period of political unrest, while the other story was set on a dairy farm in the northeastern U.S. Both plays had strong comedic elements, so I thought I had a chance at optioning one of the stories, though it was definitely a long shot.

My Plan

Besides, if I could not find a buyer for the scripts, then I could always (1) enter them in screenplay contests, (2) put them up on Black List or (3) use them as an outline for a novel or novella. Since I had already invested 20,000 words in each script, I thought that I already had a pretty good draft for a short novella. Nonetheless, the idea of selling a script to Hollywood (or elsewhere) was tempting and possibly lucrative, so I chose to go down that road first.

The E-query Services

Conventional advice says not to use an e-query service for seeking representation for a screenplay or anything else literary. According to popular opinion a writer is much better off, submitting query letters to individual professionals, whose field of interest most closely matches your story. But I had tried that method with no significant results, so I decided spend a little money on an e-query service. The dairy farm script went out through Scriptblaster and for the Central American story, I chose E-query Direct. The price was 39.99 for E-query Direct (300 recipients) and 89.00 for Scriptblaster (650 recipients). Each service produced one contact worthy of mention, which is more interest than I had received from sending out queries one at a time and personalizing each query to the appropriate party. Following are my results.

An Ongoing Relationship

One development company, located in Los Angeles, requested a PDF (standard fare for screenplays) for the Central American story, then over a year later, they requested the other script, even though I had not promoted these screenplays at any other time. The readers gave very favorable comments about each story, but at this point in time, I have not received any offers on either story. However, when I do complete my next script, I will definitely be contacting this group about my latest effort.

The Phone Call The biggest surprise of all came when a successful Hollywood producer called and asked for a paper copy of the dairy farm script. I sent the script by U.S. mail and when I returned the call, I was shocked to find out that I gotten his first name wrong. This upset the man immensely and I have not heard from him since. It is likely that he didn’t like the story, but the other the side of the coin is also possible…….that is he blew me off for unprofessional behavior.         Moral of the story: Don’t screw up the small stuff.

Quality Still Counts

Don’t be fooled by the high number of movie professionals that are on the mailing lists of these online  services, for you still have to have your writing skills down pat, if you want to connect with the film industry. These skills include writing a good query letter, as well as a good movie script. Surprisingly, writing a good query letter might be the most difficult and the most important of these two tasks. Though only a page long, these letters have to be right on. Good karma and Zen enlightenment are a must if you are to succeed with this task.

One More Thing

And then there are those minute, little things called Loglines and Taglines. Consider these the Haiku of screenwriting, for a good one  can go a long way in selling the story.