Sunday, December 31, 2006

There are certain bands...

...that define you as a person. I don't know what it is or if you can define it, but this band right here was and is, me. It's how I feel, have felt, and will feel. Saw them live in 1983 on the Sunset Strip as a teenager, and they codified my love of ska. Enjoy...

Friday, December 29, 2006

Tired of these movies...

The White Savior Educator:

Definition: The white savior comes into a ghetto school full of underachieving poor black and brown students and saves them, despite the ignorance and resistance of the callous black administrators (who inevitably come around at the end because the white savior has proved that his/her methods are so much better and these kids are now worth something). The white savior is then carried out on the shoulders of the black and brown student.

It is Kipling's white man's burden personafied in film. It's also Hilary Swank in the new movie: Freedom Writers.

My objection is not that there are extraordinary white teachers teaching inner city youth. My objection is that they're overrepresented in film. I can only think of two films: Stand and Deliver and Lean on Me, that contained minority teachers as the hero. Other than that, white folks saving black and brown folks. I'll pass, in honor of the extraordinary black teachers who taught me.

A little 80s New Wave

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Night Before Xmas...

Xmas shopping done. The wife is easy to buy for. She loves gift certificates, and that's real cool with me. The boy is a little different. I stopped buying things that I liked as a kid and got with the program. He wants electronics. So it was the Nintendo Wii and DS this year.

I'm writing about 3K in words per night for the book. Tiring, but getting it done. More later...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Bestsellers...Done

It came in at 101 pages. Now, I finish Iconoculture obs. Then the book.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

About once a week...

Okay, I'm one scene from being done with my 434 script, with a two week break from writing Iconoculture articles from my editor Hans (my new hero!). So for the next couple of weeks, it will be nothing but my book until January 9th. And then, I will have accomplished the impossible: A one hour television pilot script, a feature script, and a non-fiction manuscript, all in about six months.

But for the next two weeks, I will blog about once a week. I will have complete focus on the book, so I won't have too many times to blog, but I know you'll understand. Holla at ya later!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Funniest Line of the Night...

Paraphrasing a line from Wesley Snipes' character in New Jack City given Snipes' current trouble...

"Am I not my brother's bookkeeper?"

From Crunk and Disorderly

Monday, December 11, 2006

Next Weekend...

I didn't go to a hotel last weekend to finish the book, but I'm definitely doing it this weekend. Figured I'd finish the 434 script first. Deadline for that, Friday. Working on it now. I want to go to class on Wednesday, but with no babysitter for Langston, I may have to drop off some pages at class, and then roll. I need some feedback on a scene. Don't know if it works or not. Oh, I have a KILLER idea for my next 434 script. April even came up with the KILLER title.

On Thursday, I have a trend article due for Icono. Since I'm devoting Saturday and Sunday to the book, I'm going to do about two or three observations per day, versus waiting until the weekend. Might actually work a bit better. I'm finding that I'm losing my relaxation time on the weekends as I get my obs done.

So let's recount: First draft of USC script done. 434 script about thirty pages away from being finished, but at the end of the night, it should be done to fifteen pages left. Icono, on track and up to date. TheYack: I have a few authors lined up for chats, and I work on it a bit more after Xmas. The Book: A lot closer to being done that my meter says.

Once everything else is done, I can clear my mind and make my book feel the way I want it. I will relax a bit and vow to NEVER overload like that again. But hell, at least I will know that I can do it. Oh, now that I think about it, I should be receiving my copyedit for the fiction manuscript.

Later...producing the annual UCLA Screenwriters Showcase...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Variety...and my email chat...

Below is an article that posted in Variety a couple of days ago about "progress" in Hollywood. I then had an email exchange with the author. Pleasant man, and of course, this is about ideas rather than anything personal. But I thought this would be good to read.

First, the article:

NAACP should acknowledge TV gains

'Ugly Betty'
America Ferrera as 'Ugly Betty'
HERE'S A NOVEL THOUGHT: Before the NAACP launches another campaign against television's perceived ills, would it set the cause back to pause and savor the group's recent victories?

Apparently so. Because after fatuously contending that Michael Richards' comedy club tirade is "a symptom of a much bigger problem" and emblematic of "an underlying current of racism in America," the NAACP scheduled, then canceled, an event this week to assail the TV industry for insufficient minority representation.

Certainly, TV still exhibits its share of shortcomings regarding race, but the NAACP chose a dubious time to level such criticism against television, coming in the midst of a very good fall for people of color based on those symbolic measures where the medium ultimately wields the greatest influence.

Such calculations are invariably subjective, but the two breakout stars of the new TV season are "Ugly Betty's" America Ferrara, who is Hispanic; and "Heroes'" Masi Oka, who is Asian. My third choice would be Lennie James, the black Brit who is the most mysterious character on CBS' "Jericho."

NBC's restored Thursday comedy lineup, meanwhile -- once attacked for lily-white casts on New York-set shows like "Friends" and "Seinfeld" -- now showcases diversity on "My Name Is Earl," "Scrubs" and "30 Rock." As for "The Office," that series not only boasts a multi-cultural cast but has brilliantly lampooned racism, as it did last week when an African-American employee was revealed to have done time as a white-collar criminal.

Some programs have also gone global, a la "Heroes," featuring natives of India and Japan. That's especially noteworthy given the narrow view U.S. television has historically assumed looking beyond its borders.

THE NAACP has singled out low employment levels within TV's executive and producing ranks as its next potential crusade, while the Rev. Jesse Jackson pithily lambasted news for being "all day, all night, all white."

Whatever the raw numerical data, though, once again, the symbolic advances are hard to overlook. As a prime example, consider producer Shonda Rhimes, an African-American, who presides over TV's hottest series in "Grey's Anatomy" -- a program that effortlessly displays a thoroughly diverse universe.

Hiring levels are of understandable concern to those pursuing jobs within the industry, but evaluating minority gains requires a more contextual analysis. In the past, equal attention has been paid to the separate question of onscreen imagery, recognizing that while the industry directly employs thousands, from a cultural perspective its product is watched by tens of millions.

Because there are never enough entertainment jobs to go around, the business's insular nature makes breaking down barriers difficult -- one of the hard realities of any closely knit club where merit can be subjective, and nepotism and connections frequently dictate who receives keys to the kingdom. As a consequence, the NAACP and other lobbying organs have every reason to keep reminding industry honchos to cast a wider net than the children of golf buddies and those they encounter at private-school PTA meetings.

Lobbying groups diminish their moral authority, however, when they appear unwilling to acknowledge when real strides are made, including those programs that convey messages about our ability to live and work together.

THERE IS ALSO HARM done by overreaching to generalize an incident such as the Richards episode. Beyond proving that the former "Seinfeld" co-star engaged in an ugly moment worthy of condemnation, seizing upon those slurs as evidence of an "underlying current" of racism in Hollywood or anywhere else makes as much sense as suggesting that Mel Gibson's drunken rant against Jews is proof of anti-Semitism among action stars or Australians. Nor does it bolster anyone's credibility, frankly, when cash settlements magically help soothe any wounded feelings among the aggrieved parties.

By exaggerating the significance of transgressions and turning a blind eye to progress, the NAACP risks doing a disservice to its legitimate gripes -- among them the occasionally distasteful depictions of minorities, through the wonders of editing, within reality TV.

In terms of symbolism, those programs warrant discussion, precisely because the portrayals are often the opposite of "Ugly Betty" and "Heroes" -- series that, in the best sense, represent genuine advancements within TV toward people of color.

Now, my response:

Hello Brian,

I read your article on the progress of minorities in television, and I was instantly reminded of a quote by Malcolm X. He once stated that if I have a knife in my back, and you pull it out half way, you can't call that progress. It's only when you pull it out completely and heal the wounds can you say you've made progress. This year, I'll graduate as an MFA screenwriting student from UCLA, and I'll be one of two African Americans in my class of 25 students. This is an early indicator of the odds I'll see in television. The fact that a Shonda Rhimes is so unique shouldn't be a cause for breast beating, but a reason to wonder why? In an age where mediocre writers, actors, producers, etc. are creating shows that air once and then get cancelled, who is going to give qualified African American writers/producers the opportunity to make shows that stretches convention and just may appeal to a diverse audience? No, the NAACP is right to ring the bell about the conditions of television today. The barriers to television for African American writers, producers, and actors are enormous. And the fact that television is just beginning to pull the knife out of the back is no cause for celebration.

Brian's response:
Well, for starters, thank you for the response. Here are a couple of points
to consider:
- The people currently in a position to employ you aren't the ones who
jammed the knife in when Malcolm was around, and not even 20 or 30 years
ago. So given that they've been bashed for this for some time, failing to
acknowledge progress is a piss-poor strategy. In the case of the NAACP and
especially Jesse Jackson, it's led to them being largely tuned out. I don't
see how that helps anyone.
- Shonda Rhimes is only significant because it sends a particular message -
namely, that if you can or have delivered a hit, people will line up to be
in business with you, regardless of color. She proves it can be done.
- Yes, you face a HUGE hurdle to breaking in. But so does everyone else who
doesn't have a mom or dad who runs a studio. The odds against ANYONE making
it are extremely long.
- Those 2 out of 25 odds sound terrible on the face of it, but just by
percentage of population, African-Americans are at about 12% of the U.S.
Would three out of 25 make a significant difference? And how many Latinos
and Asians are in your class? In most cases, blacks are overrepresented, at
least in terms of performing roles, relative to population, while those
groups are underrepresented.
- Finally, I'm sympathetic toward anyone trying to break in, and I wish you
all the luck in the world. But if you think the NAACP or Jesse Jackson are
going to help your cause employing their current approach, I don't think
that's the case, and most of the reaction I received from those within the
industry tends to support that conclusion.

Brian Lowry
media columnist/chief TV critic

And then, my rebuttal:
I'm a bit puzzled. Are you saying that before Shonda Rhimes, there weren't African Americans who could have delivered a hit? I'm fine with celebrating Ms. Rhimes' success, but to point to one successful black writer/producer as a trend, or indicates something larger than one instance is disingenuous. It is not about the success of one, but the lack of opportunity for the many. Too often, African Americans are supposed to be satisfied with the bare minimal gains in television employment, while we watch the less talented get opportunity after opportunity. And you're right, my analogy wasn't about whether or not that people employed today are the same as were around when Malcolm X lived. I wasn't born then. The analogy was about how we should judge progress.

However, the film and television industry is one of the few places were access tends to be limited to ones peer group, or personal interest. Fine. That's life. The schools I've attended, the organizations I've joined, and the contacts I've made, probably gives me a lift over someone else. But without diversity in the industry, you've automatically relegated individual minority success as aberrations in an industry designed to stamp out aberrations.

Without higher level African American executives employed by either the studios or networks, who understands pitches that may not fit the narrow personal experience of a white executive? Sure, you might find someone who understands the "universiality" of a story, but what if that story is as narrow as a "Seinfeld"? And before we point to projects like Ugly Betty, which is simply an adaptation of a show done on Mexican television, let's understand that they are rare and infrequent.

As for over/under representation of African Americans, what is the representation of white executives in television? Are they over represented via the population? Actually, since film and television mainly occurs in California, what is their representation versus the population of California, a majority minority state? My point being is that African Americans/Latinos/Asians are looked upon as adjuncts to the main body of the entertainment industry, which are white employees. Inroads into the industry for these groups is looked at as being a "necessary evil" rather than a way to for the corporation to reflect society. Their presence has to be justified, while white employees don't have to do anything like this, simply because their presence is a given, almost a right.

As for the huge hurdles, I'm not worried about that. One doesn't write for pay without understanding the huge hurdles involved. Call it confidence or arrogance, but I'm optimistic about my television future. But that's neither here nor there. I'm fine with the playing field being tough, unrelenting, and geared toward the best quality possible. However, when I pitch, or send a spec script, or interview for a job, it is the industry's responsibility to make sure that the decisions being made about who to buy, who to reject, and who to employ, are done with a staff that looks like the audience they're serving.

I'm not surprised you've received a lot of reaction against the NAACP or Jesse Jackson. One, Jackson is a polarizing figure, so for some, regardless of the topic (milk for school children, food for the poor), if Jackson advocated it, people would be against it. Fair enough. And I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the respondents led off their posts to you with the "I'm a black..." as they agreed with you. For some African Americans, the idea that someone is stirring up controversy, or is drawing attention to the Hollywood's difficiencies, is a threat to their own employment. Who wants to walk into a room having to answer for the views of someone you've never met? But that's not the point. For all of his faults, and he has many, Jackson has the national voice to place attention on a subject that network executives would rather not either talk about or have to deal with. And I would suggest that network executives tune out at their own peril. One of the most loyal television watching demographics is the African American market. Whether those eyeball watch "Smith" or "Grey's Anatomy" can be the difference between a show being successful or cancelled. And one last thing. Never forget that the first major protest for the newly formed NAACP was against the entertainment industry. The reason? D.W. Griffiths' Birth of a Nation.

Hey, besides all of that, thanks for the luck!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Friday all ready?

Had a bunch of Iconoculture work to do this week, and more this weekend. I killed about twenty more pages for my 434 script, and I'm about thirty pages from finishing. But I have to put that aside to finish my book. This weekend, I'm going to get a hotel room and bang out some major work. I may have to do that a few times until the first week of January. That's when I said I'd get 'er done. Over the next couple of weeks, I'm going to retry to contact interview subjects who have been incredibly elusive. If I can't find them, then oh well, I'll move on.

So the priorities now are: Icono, the Book, my 434.

Got notes back about my USC script from Dave and as always, his points were on point. He said that it reads more like a cable script versus a Network script, and that my act breaks need to have POW! type action. Also, there's a lot of talk about actions versus the actions themselves. And I need to broaden where the action takes place. Right now, it all stays pretty much in one place. I agree. But then again, it's a first draft. After icono, the Book, and my 434, I'll deconstruct the script and rewrite it with those hard breaks. He'd sent me a couple of scripts to look over and I'll do that too. But it's definitely not ready for prime time yet.

Lectures: For some reason, for the first time in six years, my February is pretty bare when it comes to Divine Nine lectures. Folks are interested in booking March for some reason, but February is pretty empty. Normally, I'm booked about ten or fifteen times in Black History Month. But there's still time. We'll see.

The wife got a job this week and it's back in the industry. The time away was good for her because I think she was burned out on music companies getting bought out or dissolved under her feet. So I'm adjusting to the daily pickup of the kid, and getting back in the kitchen. My kitchen skills are a bit rusty, although I rolled a beautiful stuffed chicken breast last night (my version of Chicken Kiev: Garlic and Herb soft cheese, crabmeat, scallions, all stuffed into a chicken breast, and then covered with a light mushroom sauce. It's slap ya momma good.)

Oh, but this month is royalty month, and boy do I like that! So those checks were put in savings.

That's all for now...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Halfway done...

Okay, this weekend, I finished the USC script. It's a first draft, so ya never know how it really turned out. It's hot out of the oven, full of plot holes, a bit of on the nose dialogue, some novelistic description, and a couple of underdeveloped characters. But other than that, delicious from first word on.

Krystal will get me notes on it in two weeks, so that gives me an opportunity to finish what's next on my list, which is 434 script. I'm not done yet, and I may have to ask my teacher if I can bring Langston to class. April just got a gig, so I need to pick him up on Wednesday. We'll see. It's our last class, and it may be easier to just miss it and get Langston going on his homework, dinner, etc. Three hours is a bit much for a seven year old after having been in school all day.

On the immediate: Finish writing my final tonight and then write on the 434 script. Turn in the final tomorrow. I'm going to try to finish my 434 script by this weekend. After that, I will do nothing but work on my book. Anita gave me another extention, but this is the last one. I need to get it done by first week of January. Funny, but I've never missed a deadline, but this is one SLOW book to write. That said, I will have successfully completed all of the writing projects I overburdened myself with after the book is written.

Next quarter, I'm going to take it easy. I'm going to take my time and write my 434 script, and then add a spec script to my portfolio. That's all. Close to graduation in June, I will start thinking about my next fiction and non-fiction projects.

I don't know if I mentioned it, but TV-One, the black cable network, approached me about producing a show. Along with my boy Ben in the producing program, and MK, we're going to start work on it summer 2007. It's a great opportunity, and the PERFECT post graduate project to work on.

So the future is so bright, I've gotta wear gazelles.

PS: The Lakers are winning regularly, Manchester United are first, and Cal just beat Stanford, again. The only downer: The Raiders are putrid. At least Bob Newhart isn't our offensive coordinator anymore. Just about seven games too late.

Happy Alpha Day everyone! 1906-2006

Friday, December 01, 2006

Finishing my USC Script...

Right now, I'm finishing my USC script and it's rolling right along. Krystal needs it by Sunday and it'll get done by then. I like Krystal. She's all about keeping to her schedule, and is the perfect counterpoint to my methods of working. This is going to be a first draft, and a rough first draft, but I think by the time I get notes and get it honed in February, we'll have a nice little drama pilot.

BTW, I received the cover for my Kensington fiction manuscript, and I must say that they hit it out of the park. REALLY nice. I won't say the name of the book due to my Iconoculture work, but it really fits. It's provocative, but so is the book. I'm guessing that these two books will eliminate me from office, but that's probably a good thing. lol