A major study, conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, entitled “The State of the News Media,” takes a multi-faceted look into where the news media stands in early 2005, and where it might be headed.
Five major trends were cited as the takeaways from the world of the media, 2004:
* There are now several models of journalism, and the trajectory increasingly is toward those that are faster, looser, and cheaper.
* The rise in partisanship of news consumption and the notion that people have retreated to their ideological corners for news has been widely exaggerated.
* To adapt, journalism may have to move in the direction of making its work more transparent and more expert, and of widening the scope of its searchlight.
* Despite the new demands, there is more evidence than ever that the mainstream media are investing only cautiously in building new audiences.
* The three broadcast network news divisions face their most important moment of transition in decades.
A quick look through the reported trends provides an excellent snapshot of the state of the amorphous and ever-widening concept of media. In essence, the trends make sense in that they reflect everything that I’ve seen and heard over the last year.
The following quote reveals a succinct description of the currently raging blogs vs. journalism debate:
“The traditional press model - the journalism of verification - is one in which journalists are concerned first with trying to substantiate facts. It has ceded ground for years on talk shows and cable to a new journalism of assertion, where information is offered with little time and little attempt to independently verify its veracity.”
And even more crystallized:
“Blogs helped unmask errors at CBS, but also spread the unfounded conspiracy theory that the GOP stole the presidential election in Ohio.”
This points toward the argument that quality content is quality content as quality journalism is quality journalism, no matter where it turns up or whatever form it takes. Of course, the reverse is just as true.
Analysis of news coverage – particularly of the biggest stories of 2004 – again reveals some interesting tid-bits that are certainly food for thought.
“Two stories dominated the year, the war in Iraq and the election, and both were caught in the maelstrom of debate over media bias.”
Interestingly, in the light of accusations of a liberal and biased mainstream media, it was found that coverage of the war in Iraq was fairly even-handed in the face of prolonged combat: 25% negative, 20% positive, 35% neutral.
“Fox was twice as likely to be positive as negative. CNN and MSNBC were more evenly split.”
On the presidential election, however, bias-seekers may have more ground to stand upon.
“Looking across all media, campaign coverage that focused on Bush was three times as negative as coverage of Kerry (36% versus 12%) It was also less likely to be positive (20% positive Bush stories, 30% for Kerry).”
The conclusion to the report points a blunt, accusing finger toward the trend of entertainment news or “infotainment” in many (too many) forms of media:
“As audiences declined, because of technological and cultural changes, news organizations felt pressure on revenues and stock performance. In response, they cut back on their newsrooms, squeezed in more advertising and cut back on the percentage of space devoted to news. They tried to respond to changing tastes, too, by lightening their content. Audiences appeared to gravitate to lighter topics, and those topics were often cheaper to cover. Those changes, in turn, deepened the sense that the news media were motivated by economics and less focused on professionalism and the public interest.”
The final note of the report is quite bleak:
“The challenge for traditional journalism is whether it can reassert its position as the provider of something distinctive and valuable - both for citizens and advertisers…. Somehow journalism needs to prove that it is acting on behalf of the public, if it is to save itself.”
Will electronic media and blogs continue their rush into the spotlight? Is the traditional media doomed?
Yes and hardly. Reports of the death of traditional media are highly exaggerated. Electronic media will continue to increase its role (including blogs), but will have to show a degree of credibility in order to be taken seriously by a wary public.
Quality will prove out over time. Let’s remember that the Internet is still but a pup.
Thursday, March 31, 2005
A major study, conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, entitled “The State of the News Media,” takes a multi-faceted look into where the news media stands in early 2005, and where it might be headed.
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
But that’s really just the start of it.
I rolled through the California desert this very evening, sand blowing my car sideways with with the bite and power of the wind. I was tired, over-caffeinated, peevish, cold and clammy and rattled. I had to make a round-trip of around 250 miles, and thankfully my iPod was souped up and powered up. Random shuffle popped on a spoken word performance by Rollins from the late 90s.
And the rest of the night was cake.
Rollins has the ability to take a fairly ordinary, somewhat interesting musician’s anecdote (in this case a series of incidents in which Rollins desperately wants to outperform fellow legend Iggy Pop on stage) and turn it into a self-effacing, laugh-out-loud tour de force. The story telling begins in a relatively even voice as Rollins doles out only as much information as his audience needs to know. During the first part of the tale, concerning an early 90s concert in which Rollins and Pop were on the same bill, Rollins explains that the far older Iggy “blew my ass off the stage.” By the time the climax of the story hits, during the third attempt of Rollins to upstage Iggy, Rollins is screaming, exhorting, working himself up into the same spirit that fueled his artist-commando siege upon the House of Pop.
A classic vengeance story is born. Rollins carefully, colorfully, and hilariously builds up the conflict in the story: the "aw shucks" one moment, raging rock demon another Iggy versus the single-minded musician-assassin set out upon a course of redemption.
The brilliance is in how far Rollins is willing to go in poking fun at himself. The audience is treated to a word portrait of Rollins in full military/Buddhist/samurai-style training to finally match Iggy's stagemanship at a Finland rock festival in 1998. The bill? The Cure ("Pretty good songwriter," Rollins says of front man Robert Smith, "but what's up with his whole pose, and that hair? How did he pick that?") backed by Iggy Pop and Rollins Band. Rollins lets us see and enjoy how much of a maniac he became in the pursuit of his goal, how others around him were amused or appalled (his own backing band, "real musicians," thought he was an "asshole," Rollins tells us).
The climax sees a mid-30s Rollins giving the performance of his life, and working within an inch of it, to upstage the soon to perform Pop in Finland. "My head hurt, my ass hurt, I couldn't breathe," Rollins says of his rock-'till-you-drop performance that evening. Between sets, a normally infuriatingly aloof Pop sees Rollins and says, "fucker."
But that's just the beginning.
During a five-minute rollercoaster ride of the senses, Rollins explains in visceral, excruciating, hilarious detail the lengths that Pop goes through to maintain his title of punk rock's hardest working elder statesman. Now 50, Pop proceeds to vanquish Rollins' noble quest by crashing off loudspeakers, bleeding profusely from his "serpentine body," smashing spotlights, scaring the hell out of his own band, kicking out light fixtures, invoking the crowd to come on stage, and smashing hell out of the dozens of potted plants set up on stage for The Cure's headlining set.
The end of the sweaty, manic, all on-the-line tale comes when a wild-eyed, bloody, mud-basted Pop walks past Rollins.
Rollins has the ability to take an average story and transform it into a magical and exquisitely unique journey. This is because of his brutal honesty: about others, about the world, but most of all with regard to himself. He's a stand-up philosopher, to steal the term coined (I believe) from History of the World: Part I.
Henry Rollins is an inspiration to anyone who would practice true art.
Monday, March 28, 2005
Sunday, March 27, 2005
Well, I finally did it. I delved into the podcasting / Internet radio game and proudly present to you the debut of Dumpster Bust Radio:
Keep in mind that this is my first foray into broadcasting, so the show will undoubtedly get better. In fact, I rank my efforts as follows in getting everything up and running:
Technical / Back-end / Server stuff / Making the sound not sound like urchins screeching for their very lives underwater whilst wearing tin foil helmets: 90%
So hopefully with your kind suggestions (or not-so-kind and hideous and baldly awful – either way I’ll be pleased pink to hear from you) it will get better. New e-mail address: email@example.com.
Oh, and I know full well (now) that the file size is far too large for a show of this size and length, and that’s something that will be addressed on future shows.
Track Listing for Dumpster Bust Radio #1
For each show, I’ll have open-source music playing in the background, so that you won’t be solely subjected to my scratchy, tortured meanderings and cries into the e-void. This is a great way, too, to promote some of the outstanding but relatively unknown musicians that are Out There.
Track #1 (Show Intro): “Black Star” – Apash
#2 “Achtung (…hier kommt der Schlocker)” –Schlockmaster
#3 “So was willst du?” – Schlockmaster
#4 “Dub o Matic” – Futura Bold
#5 “Bass Melody with Guitar” – Michael Renkema
#6 “Event Horizon” – Michael Renkema
#7 “It’s Like Your Heart’s the Color Yellow” – Heroes That Hurt
DB Notes: There are a number of changes underway at the Bust, all of which I’m thrilled about.
* Very soon, perhaps within a few days, dumpsterbust.blogspot.com will be moving to www.dumpsterbust.com. Unfortunately, because this is a Blogger site, there won’t be an automatic redirect. However, there’ll be a link (hopefully in several days time) to the new site, where everything will look pretty much the same as right here. That said, I’m working on improving the site design, but that’s a little bit down the road at this point.
* I’m available now at a new e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Plans are underway to make the radio show accessible via RSS feed. As soon as I know something, I'll post about it straight-away quick like.
Saturday, March 26, 2005
I’ve been working my tail off for the last two days to get myself schooled up on all the technical aspects of audio engineering and production. I’m nowhere near an expert (read = white belt central) but I’m just about at the place where I can record and mix my speaking voice and some music that plays back as something other than someone screaming underwater while strangling a gurgling robot (I’m thinking Rosie from The Jetsons, but that’s just me).
So I plan on recording Dumpster Bust Radio: Podcast #1 tomorrow. From there, it will be another journey to get the file Out There and available for people to download and listen to. But I’ve come pretty far already, and feel that the goal – while certainly the end of the beginning if nothing else – is well in sight.
That said, I am certainly a novice with regard to all things radio related, so I expect to grow and improve over time. But I’m looking forward to the adventure, and I hope that some of you will stop by and take a look at the trek every now and again.
Friday, March 25, 2005
I’ve changed the name of my weekly television column from The Week That Was, which was a little boring, to Cathode Ray Fray.
Please note some other changes as well: I’m still talking about all of the shows that I’ve watched during the week (peculiar predilections that they are) but I’ll also be linking to many of the other television-related columns and features going on in the wacky wide world of BlogCritics.org.
Please feed my thinly skinned ego and tell me what you think, and for this I thank you.
Lost - ABC
About the sixth repeat in a row, but only one more week until the action starts up again! This week’s episode, however, was a particularly good one (though they’ve all been pretty great) with the strange (and oh so loving) relationship of step-bro and sis Boone and Shannon getting unraveled. Lots of great scenes involving Locke also, who is one of my Top 5 favorite characters on television right now. For anyone who caught the promo for next week's episode: it looks as though Locke’s mystical "gift" and subsequent ascension to top-dog survivor on the island may be in serious trouble… exciting stuff.
Project Greenlight - Bravo
My, how the plot is thickening on this already brilliant look into an attempt to turn first-time screenwriters and director John Gulager into a commercial Hollywood film industry profit-pumping machine. While seeing the dynamic horror-geek screenwriters flip out on Hollywood excess twelve minutes into their professional careers was interesting, all eyes all over were squarely on the red headed awkward-auteur mug of newbie director John Gulager.
Gulager’s a highly talented low budget film (read=no budget) director who is being forced to contend with the much rougher waters of big-time Hollywood players, egos, attitudes, staffs, conflicts, headaches, and money money (ride that pony, Mr. Idol). So far, Gulager is proving to have a peculiar combination of stoic willfulness and little ability to communicate his vision. That he can produce a film with a vision is beyond dispute, but the producers, casting director, and the Dimension honcho-types (read=the money people) are in the midst of freaking out and making early threats because they're not sure that Gulager can make the film they want to make, under budget and within a reasonable quick-buck Friday night date movie timeframe.
It’s shaping up to be a classic clash-of-wills battle, and it’s no sure bet that Gulager won’t quit or be replaced before long. Meanwhile, a mini-battle royale is shaping up over Gulager’s grim against-all-odds insistence that his entire family be cast in most of the major roles in the film (which is called Feast, a movie with tons of explosions and action and lots of monsters attacking a pub, except scarier and better than Sean of the Dead, but that’s not important right now…).
Spring Break: Shark Attack - CBS
I don’t know much about this, because I honestly am not big on the shark thing (though the original Jaws is of course classic). But Matt Paprocki has the scoop here.
Arrested Development - Fox
A good episode. Not one of the best, but still far and away the best comedy on television (detractors be damned, says I!). Big laughs from brother George Oscar “Gob” Bluth (Will Arnett), and it was good to see him with more screen time this week. The videotape promoting George Michael for class president was the highlight of the show. But the pinnacle of hilarity must go to son George-Michael (played by Michael Cera, who is rapidly improving as a comic actor) and his head-geared light saber dance party in the garage. Special mention, as always, goes to Tony Hale’s Buster Bluth, who is getting bold in his old age, getting with the Latino help… and the odd disc-shaped robotic cleaning device. And, finally, how can we forget Tobias Funke (David Cross) and his enormously obvious reenactment of Mrs. Doubtfire. Well, we could forget, as it was one of the weaker plot lines of the night, but Cross has a consistent knack for growing on you.
American Idol - Fox
Lots of American Idol talk this week, as always. I don’t subscribe to the madness myself, but check out the master post here.
The Shield - FX
I caught up on the season’s first two episodes this week, and surprise surprise, police house politics and gritty crime drama is afoot in “The Farm” precinct in Los Angeles. The same grainy, shaky handheld production value also remains, which does lend this generally well written and produced show a level of street cred. It’s a good and consistently watchable show (though rarely great), which by itself places it within the upper five percent of television programming.
Michael Chiklis leads a fine cast and it will be interesting to see if the show can evolve and prosper in its fourth season. New addition Glenn Close will likely have a lot to do with that, and already you can feel the quality level raise a tick when she’s on screen. I already like seeing Close and Chiklis in scenes together, which is a good sign for the show’s future.
Chiklis also has a knack for delivering clichéd lines with such timing and attitude that it feels fresh, and often funny. For example, after a truly grisly scene in which he forces a young drug dealer to vomit up his package in the back of a convenience store, Chiklis (as Mackey) looks up at the pissed off proprietor and says, “Clean up, aisle four.” But it works.
There are several plotlines hanging out there, which will all likely center around the character of Antoine Mitchell, a “former” and possibly current drug lord who emerged from jail preaching the gospel of respect (respect!) and self-discipline.
The second episode also saw a delving into the creepy: forced fellatio, self-titillation (by outgoing Captain Acevedo!) while watching a brutal rape on a security camera tape, and leagues of corruption (aka “we play things old school vice around here”) to dig through.
Let’s see if it remains good times to revel in the dirt.
And in closing, a clip from episode one, between Detective Wyms (CCH Pounder, who I simply love to watch on this show) and a female witness to a shooting:
Detective: You call for help?
Detective: Why not?
Witness: I had dick in my mouth at the time.
Making the Band III - MTV
Welcome to the party, Jason. Jason, the African American, 300-pound, gay “den mother” for the girls that is, while P Didds and crew were down in Atlanta auditioning new talent to shake things up. But Jason definitely stole the show this week with his cries of, “Divas! Divas! Time to make you famous!”
Key line from preview for next week’s episode, which ends in freeze-frame:
I’m sorry… but I’m not gonna stop being Jason!
PoweR Girls - MTV
Ah, to be young and pretty in New York… and Miami, and the MTV Video Awards, and so on. This was Rachel’s turn to be under the gun and take the catty calls of the other young PoweR PR Girls under Lizzie Grubman’s tight tutelage. Rachel ain’t eating, she ain’t sleeping, she’s losing clients, what’s a girl to do? Get rushed to the hospital, is what, and then make it to Planet Hollywood in time for some pre-pre-pre teen group called The Gemz to perform.
The Contender - NBC
Well, it had to happen one of these weeks. Najai Turpin, the boxer and contestant who committed suicide last month, was featured throughout the episode and was, in the end, defeated by Sergio “The Latin Snake” Mora. Turpin – an obviously decent but deeply troubled young man – was shown in numerous scenes with his wife and toddler-aged daughter. He obviously took comfort from them in his loss and, indeed, they clearly were the whole world for him. However, it’s hard not to think that his sound defeat on national television helped to bring him to his tragic fate.
Mora, on the other hand, is a likeable figure and instantly rises from the pack in that he has a personality to match his bravery in the ring. Quoting freely from the likes of Oscar Wilde, Sun Tzu, and Thoreau (and not looking silly at that), he’s an energetic, intelligent presence that should be a factor into the deep rounds.
I give The Contender credit for not shying away from Turpin’s pain and emotions after his loss, and for setting up a trust fund for his daughter. However, it was not cool that they neglected to mention the suicide, choosing again to speak of the “tragic passing.” This is reality TV, folks: don’t pussyfoot and self-censor with the most gruesome – and the realest of real – details.
The Apprentice - NBC
Really entertaining episode this week, as the teams went power saw-a-power saw in a Home Depot do-it-yourself showcase face-off. Craig, enigmatic and power shirking for weeks, turned potential disaster into triumph as PM by making an early decision and staying the course (a microcosm for the Bush administration?).
But it was satisfying down to the core to see self-proclaimed “powerhouse” attorney Erin get canned… for being a “smart guy” in the board room!
Dial back 10 minutes when Miss Smart Gal says:
I’m smart because I’m poignant and articulate.
Okay, buh-bye, Erin.
For more, check out this great wrap-up of this week’s show, by Scott Pepper.
And for much more on the Apprentice past and present, stop by here.
The Office - NBC
Really auspicious debut episode for a television landscape woefully devoid of decent comedy, Arrested Development aside of course.
And the next episode is even more promising. Click here for a preview.
Saturday Night Live - NBC
David Spade’s up to Owen Wilson related phallic nose antics. Check it here from the great Eric Olsen.
Riverworld - Sci Fi Channel
Strange and wonderful machinations afoot, and DrPat brings reason to the madness here.
Thursday, March 24, 2005
There's lots of super cool things going on these days underfoot at the Bust. First off, as you may have noticed, I’ve interviewed two people who turned out to be great and funny and interesting and forthcoming: best-selling mystery author Robert B. Parker and Michael Goeghegan, host of podcasting super-show Reel Reviews. I also interviewed Tom Arnold (not the super caffeinated ex-husband of Roseanne), CEO (and still a grad student!) of an important and compelling environmental company called TerraPass.
On a much lighter note, I instituted a new column on television called The Week That Was. Here’s a link to the first one, and look for a new edition every Friday or so. Also in TV-land, I got a hold of the first few episodes of the new American version of The Office (it premieres tonight, so if you're on the West Coast, I think it's on in about 15 minutes or so).
I’ve also been hired on as a columnist for the Bellflower-Downey Post, a local community paper in Los Angeles. My first op-ed piece looks at Social Security in hopefully a fun and interesting way. It will publish in early April, at which time I’ll be contractually free to publish it here. More Bust for the masses!
And finally… there’s even bigger news in the works:
Dumpster Bust Radio is Coming
If all works according to Plan, the first Dumpster Bust Radio podcast will be recorded over the weekend. If you’re not a techie, no worries: if your computer has any kind of pep to it, a click and a quick download should have you listening and enjoying the joyful sounds of Dumpster Busting from the comfort of your home or car or luxury yacht (up to you, really).
The idea is basically to chat about a lot of the issues and stories and things going on right here in a fun and entertaining and more relaxed fashion. I’ll also be able to talk about and plug some of the things going on at our sister station, BlogCritics.org.
Please: Chime In Early and Often
I know it’s scary to pipe in and add your thoughts sometimes, but Dumpster Bust is about getting other people involved. You’re more than encouraged to check in with your comments and thoughts and stories. And if you want to disagree with me, that’s cool too: maybe we’ll all learn something.
Dumpster Bust is getting pretty decent traffic for a little-weblog-that-could, and it actually spiked like crazy (and is still up remarkably) since I published the Robert B. Parker interview.
Thanks very much to all of you who have become regular readers: I really appreciate it, and work my tail off to provide the best possible Busting. And to all you new people Out There: Welcome. Plenty more Dumpster Busting to come.
Feel free to drop me a line some time at email@example.com. Try to put “Dumpster Bust” in the Subject Line so that I don’t erase you along with the Club for Hair Growth spam and so forth.
I managed to get a hold of advance episodes of the new American version of The Office, the BBC’s modern sitcom classic that featured mockumentary-style realism and the most painful, awkward comedy you’ve ever (loved to have) been subjected to.
So, the question is: does the Yank version measure up? Or does it fall in line with the recent spate of cross-Atlantic sitcom immigrants, such as Coupling, which made me want to snuggle with sandpaper?
The answer is: The Office, American-style, is refreshingly funny, and shows a remarkable amount of potential to get even better.
The success lies in the translation. Instead of even attempting to replicate the true-to-life pauses and empty dead air that play against British societal politeness and mores, the new version, deftly co-Executive Produced by Ricky Gervais (as unique a performer as you’ll ever see, he played boss David Brent in the British version), smartly targets American audiences: the editing is sharp, the jokes well-timed, the production value top-notch, and the performances for the most part are funny and spot-on.
The Office is the story of banal office life in a banal industry (the paper trade) in a banal modern city (new version: Scranton). Steve Carell, a favorite to any fan of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, quickly makes the show his own as boss Michael Scott in a commanding, often funny performance. He plays the role smarter than Gervais-as-Brent, and where Gervais used his physicality as a comic weapon (I’ll never look at someone adjust their tie in the same way again) Carell uses his eyes and his natural sarcasm to great effect.
Jenna Fischer is the other standout thus far, and also plays her role with a bit more intelligence than her British counterpart (Dawn the receptionist). Fischer’s withering looks at the camera as Carell plays for the cheap seats are laugh-out-loud funny, and I’m thrilled to see that level of sophistication and subtlety in the early going of a new sitcom.
That said, The Office is clearly a sitcom, and works hard to generate the laughs-per-minute required by American audiences as compared with the more leisurely, and therefore more realistic, BBC version. Luckily, the laughs hit home often enough, particularly in the second episode, “Diversity Day,” in which the cast really begins to find its sea legs. Word has it that the pilot was a revamped version of the original British-version pilot, and it shows. Situations, camera angles, and even mannerisms (Tim the sales rep is screaming to rip through the belly of Jim, played by Jim Krasinski, early on) closely mirror the original version, with changes made in the content of jokes, if not the jokes themselves.
I’m curious to see how The Office will play out. The original, as classic as it already is, only totaled 12 episodes over two “seasons,” with one special thrown in to tie up the loose ends. There’s much to be explored among this new, talented cast (even the minor parts stood out), and it will be exciting to see if the momentum ball can keep on a-rolling.
The Office premieres on Thursday, March 24, on NBC.
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
In this second of two installments, Michael Geoghegan talks about how he got involved with podcasting and creating Reel Reviews: Films Worth Watching, the connection between podcasting and blogs, and the prospects for new adventurers into the still brand new realm of audio broadcasting over the Internet.
Check out Part I here.
Eric Berlin: How’d you originally get involved in podcasting?
Michael Geoghegan: My original introduction to podcasting was in its earliest days, where completely by accident I came across a mention of something that would automatically download Adam Curry’s Daily Source Code. And having been just about the right age to be familiar with who he was from MTV, my curiosity kicked in and I wondered if it was the same guy, and sure enough it was. And this was probably in the first week of September, when podcasting had been going on for…
MG: Yes, September of 2004. I think Adam had been doing it for two and a half or three weeks at that point. So it was right at the very beginning. There were probably only two other shows at that time that were even in existence.
EB: Wow. Fast growth since.
MG: Yeah, and the day I heard it, light bulbs just started firing off in my head. Being an entrepreneur, I had all these great business ideas for it. This was at a point where it was all extremely new, and I was thinking of ways to communicate with it.
I just got addicted to it right away. I started corresponding with Adam and Dave Slusher, who has a show called Evil Genius Chronicles. Somewhere around the first or second week of October, I really felt like I was falling behind the curve because there were at least 40 shows by then. And I figured that the best way to get involved and really find out what was going on – since I didn’t have a technology background – was just to jump right into the middle of it and start a show.
EB: Speaking of Adam Curry, what do you think of Daily Source Code and its place as the sort of one of the “founding fathers” of podcasting?
MG: There are a number of people who had important roles, especially from the point of view of the architecture that we use to podcast. But for me, it was hearing Daily Source Code and Adam that got me hooked.
Adam is certainly at the center of this whirlwind. Invariably, if you get introduced to podcasting, you’ll eventually find your way to Daily Source Code. But, you know, it’s getting to the point now where there’s over 4,000 shows. And so the nice thing is while his show is by many considered necessary listening, the beauty is you can find what you want out there right now. If all you’re interested in is independent rock, you can go find that.
EB: Podcasting is obviously in an amazing growth period right now. Where do you see it headed from here?
MG: It’s been absolutely explosive, and I see it continuing to go that way. The concept that someone can sit in their bedroom late at night or spare office or whatever it might be and broadcast to a worldwide audience is something that everyone I discuss it with instantly gets excited about. It’s a great concept.
And the fact that with audio you actually get to hear the person – I think that conveys so much more at times than writing can. I had no background with radio or anything, but I felt like I could convey my thoughts much better by recording my voice than by typing up a movie review or something.
So now, people keep getting involved. And the growth curve keeps getting steeper and steeper as everybody realizes that it’s not that hard. The tools are getting easier. It’s still not the easiest thing in the world to do today, but it’s much easier than it was six months ago.
EB: That leads me to an interesting question. Podcasting is a different form of communication, and I noticed that the blog associated with Reel Reviews looks great and works as a place to check out what’s going on with Reel Reviews podcasts. That led me to think about the combination of blogging and podcasting. They kind of seem to work in tandem, and I was wondering if you had any thoughts on that.
MG: Obviously, the early adopters of podcasting were people who were familiar with blogs. I would think that I am an anomaly in that sense. I never had a blog, and frankly didn’t understand why somebody would even want to have one. Like the rest of the public, I had read that there were all these people blogging, but the whole thing just never made sense to me.
Since I’ve been involved with podcasting, I now understand what’s been going on. Because of the ease of communication in that blog network and the fact that Dave Wiener and Dave Slusher and Adam Curry had all been people who had established blogs, they were in that circle of communication. Those were where the first podcasts came from, because it was just one more way to take advantage of something they were already using with RSS, and now they could just add an audio file component to that.
For me, the entire reason to get involved was the audio. But as with anything, the audio has some production value and time behind it. You can’t sit down in three minutes and do a podcast. You can sit down in three minutes and say, “I just read this great article over here on this guy’s blog,” or “Hey, I just got back from seeing this movie – it’s good.” You can convey quick information.
So I think they work well together, and in my case I use my website as the home for the audio files. And I also use it as a way to communicate with the people who are listening and paying attention to what I’m doing, as well as give everybody a little bit of an intro to the audio. So if I do a 15-minute Reel Review on a particular film, I’ll type up four or five sentences just to give you an idea of what it is I’m going to talk about [on that podcast]. So for someone cruising by the site one day, I might attract their interest.
EB: It seems that blogs can work as kind of an outpost to encourage interactivity.
MG: Sure, and obviously the blog component allows for another way for two-way communication to take place. If I put up a review, then generally very quickly after that they’ll be a number of comments about what other people thought of the film. It’s one more convenient way for people to get back to me. I also get a lot of audio comments on an audio-comment line that I have. So for me, I’m happy with any way that we can communicate.
EB: I’m sure you get asked this question a lot, but what’s your advice for potential podcasters out there?
MG: Just do it. Podcasting is exploding rapidly, but it’s still in its early going stages. Given that though, it is very different than it was just a few months ago. There are a lot of really polished shows now, with people who have sweepers and intros and they’ve gone out and bought all their nice mikes and all the audio equipment to make it sound really good.
But don’t let that intimidate anybody or cause anybody to not jump in. All you need is a computer and a mike. Ultimately, it’s the message and the enthusiasm for what you’re talking about that are going to attract listeners. So just start, and down the road you can work on the quality or production value of your show.
That’s the one thing: people don’t want to start until they can match the things that the top podcasts have, and that just means you spend months and months and get further and further behind the curve.
EB: Speaking of production value, I read that you helped some friends of yours start Grape Radio and that you produce it.
MG: Yeah, I’m the Executive Producer of Grape Radio. Those are some people that I had met through some entrepreneurial groups I’m involved in. I had always known that they are big wine buffs, and they really wanted to do a wine show but they didn’t have any interest in learning about blogs and podcasting. They just wanted to know, “How do we record the show and get it up there and out to people?”
My role there was to help them come up with a strategy for a concept for the show. They’re the ones that created the show – but I helped to make sure it was packaged correctly for what a podcast listener would expect, and I also took care of guiding them through the world of podcasting and audio.
Monday, March 21, 2005
While still in its infancy, podcasting is one fast-growing baby (Wikipedia defines podcasting as “a web-based broadcast medium… like an audio magazine subscription.”) Cheap to produce, easy and free to access, and wide open and unregulated in format, podcasts are the new frontier in audio content.
Reel Reviews, hosted by Michael Geoghegan, is already a podcasting must-listen. Armed with a love for film, an easy going and engaging style, and an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema history, Geoghegan has quickly ascended to the podcasting elite.
In this first of two installments, Michael talks about the intimacy and immediacy of podcasting, some of his favorite films of all time and how they fit into Reel Review’s “Cinephile Series, and the best directors his friends have never heard of.
Read Part II of the interview here.
Eric Berlin: How do you go about putting each show together?
Michael Geoghegan: It’s pretty easy in the sense that it’s fun for me. I have a theater in my house, and I’ve got close to 1,000 DVDs down there and God knows how many laser discs. I’ve been addicted to film forever, and so I’ll just think of some movie I’m interested in and I’ll generally watch it, and then about a day or two later if it’s still floating around in my head, and I’ve got some thoughts that have percolated to the top, I’ll sit down and do a little bit of research just to make sure I’ve got everyone’s name correct and that kind of thing. And I write six bullet points, the main things I want to talk about. Then I just go downstairs. I have my audio equipment downstairs in the basement. Basically I just flip it on and go through my show.
I don’t have a script. It’s not outlined step-by-step or anything like that. I’ll generally have something like, “Talk about Robbie Muller’s use of color in the cinematography.” “Talk about Michael Mann and the importance of the scene with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino at the table.”
At one point I tried to come up with all of these great notes, and I found that that just wasn’t a good style for me. I spent more time trying to hit all the notes I had written down.
Ultimately, I’m just trying to record the essence of the conversation you might have with your friends, and encouraging them to see a good film. You want to tell them enough to get excited, but not too much to ruin the movie experience.
EB: It seems to me that’s almost one of the revolutionary parts about podcasting – that you get that kind of a feel to it.
MG: Yeah, and hopefully you can tell when I’m getting excited about something I’m talking about. And if I were to write that, that would never come through.
What I’m trying to do with Reel Reviews is to bridge the gap between the “thumbs up thumbs down” approach – see it or don’t see it – and the approach that a lot of people in Los Angeles who are really involved in the industry have, who know the people and know every little bit about the film. I would call that the much more academic approach.
I’m trying to bridge the gap so that I can flesh out a little bit more than that. My goal is that when you’re done listening to the show, you’ll want to see the film. I think the biggest compliment I ever got was someone who said, “If you haven’t seen the film, listen to the Reel Review first, because you’ll enjoy the movie even more.”
As you hear about some of the characters, as one or two of the critical scenes come up, I’ve given you some background where you can put that whole thing into context.
When I first got involved, I was thinking, “Well, there’s plenty of people who know more about films than me.” There are guys who make films for a living! But the reality is that that’s not necessarily who I’m talking to. I’m talking to my buddies, with that film they’ve never seen and I’m really trying to encourage them to go see it.
EB: Speaking of excitement, how does a film get anointed to the lofty status of ‘Cinephile Series’?
MG: Well, those are a little different. Those are harder to do. [laughs]
I end up watching the film three or four times. I mean, it takes some time! Generally, I reserve that for films that I deem worthy, or have just enough going on that people have something to talk about. It’s important that you saw the film first.
So as an example, it would be really hard to do a Reel Review of Mulholland Drive. It would be too confusing because there’s too much you can’t tell someone, otherwise you’d ruin it. Another example is Memento. In those cases, what we do is announce the film about three weeks in advance, telling everybody this is the movie we’re going to do. It gives everybody a chance to go out and rent it or, if they’ve got it in their collection, re-watch it.
And then the Cinephile Series goes a bit longer, but the idea there is that everything’s fair game. We don’t have to worry about spoilers, We can start out, if we want, talking about the very end of the film. The understanding is that everyone has seen it, or at least when they’re listening to it, they’re agreeing to the fact that they’re going to be hearing everything about this film. But hopefully the kinds of things that we flesh out will make another viewing of the film – even after that – more interesting.
Memento’s a perfect example – I found out a ton of stuff about it going through it for the Cinephile Series that I didn’t even know. When you sit down and really start to study a film – rather than just seeing a film and walking out of the theater and talking about it over a cup of coffee – you’re really going to start to put the pieces in place, because you’re spending some time with it.
EB: That DVD was a puzzle and a huge treasure trove in itself, as I remember.
MG: Yeah. In fact, one of the things I tried to do in that [podcast] was to give instructions to get the movie to play in order. And just other things: finally putting the film together to make sure all the scenes make sense: black and white and color and how they all line up.
The neat thing for me – as much as people seem to enjoy what I’m doing – is that I’m the guy that’s getting the biggest kick out of this whole thing. I get to really find out more about the films that I’m passionate about.
Sometimes I’m asked by reporters why I never pan a film. Well, we started off calling it Reel Reviews, but it’s really more like “Reel Recommendations.” And that’s why I have the tagline, “Films Worth Watching.” Since they’re my movies, and I’ve got to talk about them, why pick something that’s no good? I pick the films that I want to see, and that I want to talk about.
EB: Let me ask you a couple of movie-related questions. What kind of era do you think we’re in for movies right now, and the sort of related question is: what would you consider to be the best era for films?
MG: Well, I’m 36. My favorite films come out of the early to mid-70s. It’s that kind of golden era where you had Robert Evans at Paramount, and some great directors, with [Francis Ford] Coppola coming out, Scorsese’s really starting to put some things together. And so those films from maybe even the very late 60s through the mid- to late-70s. There’s just a treasure trove of great films in there.
We’ve actually done a lot of them. The first film I ever did was a Peckinpah film, The Getaway. I just did Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. We just did Apocalypse Now. We’ve done Patton, which was around 1970 or so, so we’ve done a ton of films in there.
I’m answering the end of your question first. Pretty much across the board, there’s always some good films here and there. I really think though that Hollywood got in this thing where the studio structure hadn’t totally ruined everything yet and there were some fresh voices available. Now, there are so many complicated decisions and so much of an investment involved in film. It’s starting to become so calculated, that I usually find a lot of the more interesting films are some of the smaller stuff that bubbles to the top.
I’m also really excited with the fact that the barrier to entry is dropping so dramatically. Somebody with a video camera and a computer can put together a great looking film. And even if it doesn’t have all the polish of a huge studio production, I don’t think that matters. If you go to see a Spiderman film – and Spider-Man 2 was a pretty good movie – all that money is going toward making it look perfect. There are some of these small films coming out now with just a three-chip video camera that are really making a difference.
It’s a little like in the blog world, where they talk about “democratization of communication.” I think that’s starting to happen with film, and obviously some people are really going to explode. We saw that with [Richard] Linklater and Kevin Smith with Clerks, but even with those films, they had to go out and raise a significant amount of money, given their ages: $50,000 or $150,000.
EB: I heard that Kevin Smith maxed out his credit cards for that one.
MG: Yeah, exactly. So to me, that’s exciting. And the way that that those are going to be distributed – you may not be able to distribute them mass market, but as bandwidth and the computers get faster, you might end up with a lot of nice short-subject films traded back-and-forth on computers.
Much like podcasting, I think you’ll find a situation that really allows people to work through and build a book of work that they can really start to capitalize on.
EB: I’ve been absolutely fascinated by the first episode of Project Greenlight, which is being shown on Bravo. That’s the Matt Damon and Ben Affleck project…
MG: They’re doing a horror film this year, right?
EB: Yeah, and it’s just amazing because it goes into how hard it is to make a good film in Hollywood, with how many barriers there are. How it almost happens by accident.
MG: Had you seen the previous two Project Greenlights?
EB: I have not. I’d like to very much though.
MG: Both the movies turned out to be… no good. [laughs] But it was fun to watch.
EB: Right. Who’s the best director that most people have never heard of?
MG: I’m going to answer that a little differently. I think Sam Peckinpah is the best director that none of my friends have ever heard of. And I know that anybody that knows anything about films is going to say, “Hey, wait a minute, everybody’s heard of that guy.”
But the one thing that you really seem to find out is the difference between the people who enjoy movies and people that love movies. I am constantly amazed at how many people haven’t seen some of the films that seem to be ingrained in pop culture. “Mine goes to eleven…” There’s a lot of people who laugh at that but who have never seen [This is] Spinal Tap.
To me, what I like is to talk about a film like Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. I get a lot of e-mails saying, “I think I heard of that film once,” or “I’ve never heard of that film. I saw it, I loved it, I’m so glad you pointed me to it.”
Another one is Samuel Fuller. That’s a name that probably very few people today even know who that is. And he’s got some tremendous films. Obviously, you can go down arcane little corridors and come up with people that nobody’s ever heard of! But I like the fact that I introduce people to films and directors in which the product is easily available.
EB: It seems that that’s the beauty of Reel Reviews. I can tell you that more than more person – including yours truly – put The Conversation on their Netflix list based upon your show.
MG: You know, as a film fan, I’m thinking, “Who has not seen The Conversation?" Well, in reality, nobody’s seen the movie!
I was talking with Doug Kaye, who does IT Conversations. He’s got a background in audio, which The Conversation focuses on. It’s a favorite of his and mine. We were talking about it over dinner one night. But none of my day-to-day friends have ever seen it, much less heard of that movie.
And so that’s the great thing, that there are just so many super films out there that are available now on DVD, that are easy to get. You can go to Blockbuster or Netflix, or even walk into your local Best Buy, and they’re sitting there on the shelf. And they trump some of the stuff that everyone runs out on a Tuesday to buy right now as they get released!
EB: What films are you excited about right now, and do you see any Cinephile Series potential in any films that have come out over the last few years?
MG: Well, here’s where it gets tricky. I don’t go out to the movies very much anymore. Quite frankly, I have a comfortable set-up at home, so I usually just wait for them to come out on DVD.
There’s been a lot of good re-issues recently. Heat came out again. I’m beating a dead horse, but I was just so happy when Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia came out, and it actually gets released on Tuesday. The Grape Radio guys and I are going to try and do something with Sideways. We’re looking forward to that.
But as far as the Cinephile Series, until I’ve seen the movie, I don’t know whether it will make a good Cinephile one! There’s been a lot of really good recommendations. I’d like to do a Scorsese film as a Cinephile Series, and frankly I’d like to do some [Akira] Kurosawa. I have not done any foreign films yet, and I’ve got a ton of it. I’m addicted to Kurosawa. I really like some of the French stuff, but I’m also aware of the fact that I have to find something that’s accessible. If I try to do something like Hiroshima, Mi Amor, no one’s going to find that. I don’t know that they’ll necessarily go for it.
So I’ll do The Seven Samurai, or for Christmas, my wife got me Throne of Blood. I think Kagemusha’s coming out on re-release, so that might be a good one.
EB: Tough question, and I’ll go Nick Hornby on you: top five favorite films?
MG: Top five all-time favorite films! [laughs] You know, I have to start out good, take it up a notch, and then pull it back down, right?
MG: Citizen Kane, right off the top. I would say right behind that would be The Seven Samurai… and then it gets hard!
EB: Most people don’t get to two, so that’s pretty good.
MG: I can name my top 30! Right after The Seven Samurai, I’d have to say Patton. I can watch that one over and over again, so I’ll throw that one in. Invariably, anybody can debate all of these.
I’d throw in Apocalypse Now, The Wild Bunch, and now I can name another fifteen! I know for sure my top two, but after that it gets hard.
DB Note: Reel Reviews can now be found online at a new URL, http://reelreviewsradio.com.
Sunday, March 20, 2005
I have a blog. It’s called Dumpster Bust. On it, I write about politics, books, music, movies, the media, the Internet, and just about anything else that pops into my head. Its tag line is “Miracles from Mind Trash,” which sounds kind of pretty, but is also kind of true. I like writing it quite a bit, and get a kind word about it now and then from friends, family, and even the occasional stranger.
Why then do I find myself defending my blog as not a blog? I often refer to Dumpster Bust as a webzine, as though most people would even know what the hell that means, let alone “blog,” which a majority of people likely think of as the slimy residue that resides under a bog.
It’s because “blog” does not automatically equate to a soul-searching or even mundane personal online diary or journal. It can be that – and that’s all well and good – but a blog can really be anything, anything at all. If a website is arranged in any kind of chronological order, it’s likely a blog.
Blogs can be based around anything: horses, chimney sweeping, the Queen’s luggage, love of licking stamps, and so on. Dumpster Bust talks about an enormous range of topics (even the Queen’s luggage, when I’m of a notion). And sure, I pour my heart out every now and again to a worldwide yet miniscule audience, but a weepy sentimental portrait of self you will not find on these electronic pages (that’s not to say the personal e-journal variety of blog has to be such, but I liked the sound of that last bit as it had an Alex of A Clockwork Orange kind of a ring to it).
Which brings us to a Salon.com article that centers around the new phenomena of celebrity blogs. Now, blogs from the likes of Melanie Griffith or Moby may indeed be of the I ate Corn Pops this morning, then tripped over Snuggles the Cat variety, but that should not stereotype their non-celebrity compatriots.
There's a theory that no one keeps a diary unless he or she wants it to be read, which is as good an explanation as any for the popularity of blogging. For the people who write them, blogs are a means of self-expression first and foremost, but they also reinforce an individual's sense of being part of a community. Even more important, they're a rudimentary form of validation: I'm being read, therefore I am.
All that goes for civilian bloggers, regular, average types who would be invisible and unknown to us if we didn't read their blogs. But it doesn't begin to explain why Melanie Griffith, minor celebrity and, let's not forget, at one time an incredibly charming actress, would feel compelled to share her tips on connecting with her inner self…
Now, I would think that a sophisticated, indie-minded website (webzine? blog with bylines?) like Salon.com would be hip to the whole blogger thing.
But maybe not.
Maybe that’s why I feel the need to do some educating.
DB Note: The Salon article makes mention of a blog run by none other than Wil Wheaton of Stand By Me and Star Trek: The Next Generation fame. Its pretty good stuff and worth checking out.Matter of fact, the March 19th edition centers around blogs and bloggers getting a bad rap.
Saturday, March 19, 2005
In this third of three installments, Robert B. Parker talks more about his philosophy on writing, the vagaries of the Internet, and the importance of a good cardiologist.
EB: You talked about music with regard to your writing, how it makes sense as music. Does any specific kind of music or films influence your writing at all?
RBP: Probably, but not in any sense that I can tell you. Since the private eye, like the gunfighter, is a fictive creation and at one time or another it occupied predominantly in films. I’ve probably been influenced more by Western movies than by detective movies. I’m a great fan of Western movies. I’ll watch a Randolph Scott Western… I’ll watch the crap on the Western channel, if there’s nothing else! So probably Western movies most of all.
I have the kind of mind – it’s not intentional – where I can’t stop anything even if I wanted to, that tucks away cuts and pieces of experience. I know a lot of literary allusions, I know a lot of song allusions, I know a lot of movie allusions. I almost never go to the movies anymore, yet I can still hold my own in the movie trivia games, just because things stick in my head. And that creeps in and perhaps adds a density to the prose, but conscious influences – after [Raymond] Chandler – I don’t know any. Unconscious influences, there’s bound to be. I have consciousness – I’m alive, still, even though I’m on a book tour!
EB: Do you visit websites often? Are you influenced by the online world?
RBP: No, it doesn’t. To my knowledge, I don’t have a website. I’m not entirely certain what a website is. I write on a computer and I order books on Amazon, and I think that computers are great. I’m not anti-computer.
I know there are websites devoted to me, but I don’t read them any more than I read reviews and everything else.
EB: There’s something called the Spensarium. I’m not sure what it is.
RBP: I’m not either, except that I know that it exists. There’s something called Bullets & Beer, or Beer & Bullets, which I know exists. I once looked myself up on somebody’s website, I think it was in Japan, and I noticed that I was five-feet tall and weighed 250. Maybe they don’t get it all right… the weight, okay, but the height was a little bit of an issue.
EB: That might be a microcosm for the Internet right there.
RBP: [laughs] Yeah, half right.
What would be interesting – and somebody’s PhD thesis could dwell on this – would be what happens to a writer when he moves from typewriter or handwriting to computer. I know that Henry James, in his later years, when he was losing his eyesight, had stopped writing and began to dictate. And what came out was often referred to as James’ “later manner,” which was convoluted, quite difficult. The Ambassadors, The Wings of the Dove, that era. Some professors pointed out that the later manner coincided with James starting to dictate his novels, and suggested it wasn’t his intention.
And I think that’s probably what’s going to happen when you change to a computer. It’s so much easier. Even the physical touch is easier. You don’t have to hammer on the typewriter.
So I do one draft. I’ve always done one draft. But instead of three yards of correction fluid, now I just cut and paste and move it around. So I would suspect somewhere around 1987 or 1988, when I moved to a computer, my style changed in ways that I have no way of knowing. If you decide to do a doctoral dissertation, there’s a free topic for you.
EB: Thank you. Classic question to any author: any advice to aspiring writers out there who are looking to become novelists?
RBP: Write it, send it in. There isn’t anything else to do. Somebody asked me at a signing the other day if I have any tips for a first-time writer and I said, “Yeah, try and write good.” There isn’t anything I can tell them – there are no tips.
There are very successful writers who don’t write anything the way I do. John Updike, who I know, and who is a nice guy and a great writer, does not write in any way the way I do. So you can’t say, “You better write like me!” I mean, you can write like Updike, that will work..
If you need tips, it’s almost too late for you. If you can’t fix it, you can’t send it to me and have me fix it. You write it, you send it in, and if somebody at a publishing house thinks they can make a profit by publishing it, they will. And if they think they can’t, they won’t. And I can’t make them do it, your Uncle Harry can’t make them do it.
I suppose Michael Jackson or somebody can write a bad book and somebody will publish it at the moment. His life story would be swell. But other than that kind of celebrity hogwash, actual writing…
[At this point, we’re interrupted by Mr. Parker’s PR rep. We’re told that that we have five more minutes, and we’re asked how everything is going. Mr. Parker deadpans, “We’re doing my favorite thing. I’m talking about myself.”]
So no, I don’t have any advice. There are still publishers who will read unsolicited manuscripts. They’ll read them all, but they may read five pages in and say, “Ooh…” And I think that works. I think that if you have a manuscript, I can read one page, or maybe half a page, and know whether you have any talent or not. But the odds are long, most people don’t have it. And you’re competing with a lot of other submissions, but some of them are written in crayon. I mean, some are so apparently tripe that you read one sentence and throw it out.
There are also agents listed in the Literary Marketplace. I got published without an agent. You need an agent to get read at some houses, which require agent’s submission – they’re listed in one of those books, Writer’s Marketplace or Literary Marketplace. But they can’t get you published if you can’t get published yourself, except that they can get you read places where you might not get read otherwise. And they’ve done the initial screening: if they take you on, the publisher will give you more attention. The publisher saves the trouble of bothering the initial editor.
It’s been so long since I’ve been a beginning writer that I don’t really know what it’s like anymore. I don’t know what the market is like. I don’t know whether it would really be better to find an agent or just get published and then get an agent. If you get published, you can get an agent easy enough. And you need one: an agent is very valuable.
But the one thing you have to do is to write it. With non-fiction, you may be able to get a deal on a sample chapter and an outline, but with fiction, it’s made on the writing. Non-fiction can be the idea, the story, or whatever. Fiction is in the execution. Write it, and send it to somebody who can publish it. Not me!
EB: Stephen King talks about that there’s five or so great writers, a group with Shakespeare and a few others. There’s a number of very good writers, and then there’s just a lot of writers who are just okay. Do you think it’s possible to improve as a writer, to start at one place and end in a better place, or is the talent just there and you have to develop it, or it’s simply not there and it’s garbage?
RBP: I think if it’s not there, it’s garbage. I think that writers can improve. I mean, a lot of things happen to you as a writer that are not particularly literary that help you improve. The end of poverty being one. I mean, money is not destructive of a writer, but poverty is, because you have to work nights! And the confidence that comes from knowing that what you write will be published gives you freedom to move around, makes you willing to try new ideas and invent things. And the simple practice of it: you do it, and then you do it again, and then you’re probably going to get better. If you don’t get any better, there’s probably something a little wrong with you!
But basically there are those who can and those who can’t. And then there are those who are so clearly superior that you don’t have to argue about it. I could not, for instance, have written The Great Gatsby. And I could not have written the long version of The Bear. There’s two pieces that I simply do not have the talent to do. I don’t think I’m a better writer, I think I’m a little wiser now. I started when I was 41, when my first novel came out, and now I will be 73 in September. I must have learned something, you know? And that translates into the books, I assume. But basically, you can or can’t, and I don’t think it’s a teaching skill.
I made some attempt to teach fiction writing for a while, with no success. Of course, they may have been great writers and I may have been a lousy teacher! That’s one possibility. Yes and no: it’s a digital thing. And that’s what I mean, you can almost tell at the first page if they sound right or don’t sound right. Just as I don’t know what note somebody hit on the piano when it was flat, but I know it was flat. I don’t know what they hit, whether it was a D Minor, or whatever it is. It either sounds like music or it don’t. That’s what you do on the first page of somebody’s manuscript.
I had the pleasure, just very recently… my cardiologist has a daughter who has a novel and he was very useful to me about five years ago after a complicated surgery from which I almost died. It had nothing to do with my heart, which is fine. But I didn’t die, ha ha ha! But I always felt good about him and I like him, and his daughter’s manuscript came to me and it was terrific. And after the first page, I said, “Thank God,” you know? So I sent it to my agent, and she’s going to pursue it.
EB: I hope you’re not encouraging people out there to send manuscripts your way. Only if they know your cardiologist, right?
RBP: I won’t read stuff except if it’s friends. Saving my life was a plus! That gives him one, yeah, I owe him one! He was one of the team that saved my life.
Generally speaking that was the only one I’ve seen… no, there’s one other. A young woman wrote a short story for a class assignment and her father showed it to me and asked my view on it. And I said, “Tell her to keep doing this. If she keeps doing this she’s going to be a successful writer. She’ll publish, she’ll make money.”
Jesus, don’t listen to your English teachers! Just keep doing this and don’t listen to what other people have to say. That might be my only tip: ignore what other people tell you. Don’t listen to them!
Friday, March 18, 2005
Hey kids – I’m instituting a new column that I'll hope to pump out just about every week and that will get posted somewhere in the Friday through Sunday corridor.
The plan is to do a recap, review, and breezy-like analysis of the television that I managed to consume during the week. Keep in mind that I have particular (some might say peculiar) tastes, so there will undoubtedly be, in some peoples’ opinion, gaping holes in the repertoire.
For example, you won’t see anything here on:
Adam Carolla, on radio’s Loveline (consistently one of the funniest, most entertaining, and most interesting programs on anywhere) beautifully crystallized my feelings on the Idol. To paraphrase: the one black judge says, “I’m just not feeling you, dog,” Paula Abdul loves everyone, and then the British guy looks like a genius because he says, “Don’t quit your day job.”
And I just never got into:
Survivor, The CSI / Law & Order Franchise, Extreme Wedding Makeover Home Edition, anything with Kelly Ripa.
If someone can convince me to watch one of these shows, I’ll report back on my findings.
Has the potential to be the best show on TV, for reals. Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Wes Craven and Co. are trying to squeeze a profit out of a commercial Hollywood horror film written by first time writers and helmed by a first time director. Check out my thoughts on the first episode of the new season here.
Before The Contender first aired, we all heard the tragic news that one of the boxing contestants committed suicide after the show had wrapped. I vowed not to watch the show for that reason alone, but Howard Stern’s enthusiastic review and ongoing support (despite disappointing ratings) for the show won me over, and I’m very glad that I joined the bandwagon.
The Contender has improved upon the competitive format pioneered by The Apprentice by encouraging teamwork instead of backstabbing (the teams of fighters work together to win physical tasks and strategize on how best to defeat the opposing squad in the ring), has raw and hungry young men desperate to make a name for themselves, and ends in a truly heart pounding exhibition of talented boxers beating the crap out of one another.
The expert film editing and use of multiple cameras produce the some of the best boxing (at the end of each show, a boxer from the West team fights a fighter from the East, loser goes home) I’ve ever seen. It’s real, but it seems much better than what passes for “real,” which I suppose means it’s good reality TV.
In any event, this week the super annoying guy that has been talking trash for two straight weeks got defeated rather handily. I know I wasn’t the only one screaming cuss words o' triumph at the television screen.
Recap episode this week, which promised a lot more than it delivered. In other words, the promo of the preview of the rest of the season turned out to be the promo of the rest of the season, if that makes any sense. There was some semi-interesting unseen footage shown, but more than anything it was a chance to take a breath and let people who had missed some ‘sodes catch up.
Dialing back to last week’s episode, I (and about half the country) was disappointed to see the final descent and crash-and-burn of John. Pegged by many – including yours truly – to go the distance very early, John’s misogynistic, self-absorbed, and final, fatal lack of charm and imagination led him to embarrass himself in front of the celebrities, not to mention the viewing audience, with his bad jokes, cheap interruptions, and ambition for shallow center instead of the fences with his Bush II laser-like focus on having a band play at somebody’s house.
But that’s not what really bothered me. What really bothered me was Tana and her for shizzle my nizzles routine. Everyone was just “floored” by how “down” she was able to get with her “peeps.”
To quote Monty Python: Appalling.
And, in closing, to quote perhaps the most painful line ever uttered in cinema (performed in cheese-eating singsong fashion, from Clueless): Rolling with the homies…
Still on repeats, so I’m still open to hearing theories on this increasingly dark, complex, and vastly interesting show. The Big Picture question: will the destination be worth it, or is it all in the fun of the ride?
This week (I believe) was a re-airing of the one that reveals Kate as a badass bad girl bank robber. Naughty naughty, and it sets up a much more intriguing triangle between she, Jack, and Sawyer than anyone would have ever expected.
Keeps right on being the best comedy on television today. And I must say that Buster Bluth continues to emerge as one of the strangest, funniest, loopiest characters in television history. The idea to have his hand eaten by flesh-thirsty seals was inspired, as were the constant hindrances that prevented him from joining the army to get shipped off to Iraq: overcoming his fear of the ocean (see: hand eaten by seals), and one of my favorite bits of all-time, from earlier this season, the crane game at the bus station. Ah, glorious. But it’s really Buster’s bizarro mannerisms and awkward, mommy-obsessed demeanor that make him such a pleasure to watch.
Making the Band III
P Diddy’s quest to “make history” by assembling an all-star pop group out of unknowns continues. This time around it’s all girls, all the time in a quest to repeat the Greatness of, say, Destiny’s Child. So far, this season lacks the tension, verve, and sparks of II and its hip hop group Da Band, but it’s still enjoyable, and holds the potential to get better.
A look behind the scenes at Lizzie Grubman’s high powered Public Relations agency in New York City. This week saw tensions flare in the Hamptons as preparations were underway for P Diddy’s “All White” party, where, as Lizzie tells us, “If you’re not invited, you’re nobody.”
This is just about the most brainless show that I catch, but it’s got a fun, catty, airhead spirit to it. A little sorbet for the palate on Thursday nights to get me ready for the weekend.
I have the first episode of Season Three fired up and ready to be viewed on the DVR. I’ll check in with my findings next week.
I’ve actually only seen the first four episodes of Season One, but I liked it enough to want to see more. And, the New Guy Cop who gets shockingly killed off early on is the same guy I catch live at this tiny improv comedy theater in Hollywood, which is kind of cool.
Oh, and Glen Close has joined the cast, which should be very nice.
Please offer up your takes, your suggestions, and your verve and vitriol aimed at the world of TV (or me, I can take it)!
Thursday, March 17, 2005
In this second of three installments, Robert B. Parker talks about his writing philosophy, some of his favorite and not-so-favorite authors, and the intellectual underpinnings of the American detective story.
EB: Your stories are nearly effortless to read and some of the easiest fiction to take in and enjoy. Is that intentional? How much effort do you put into the language and the story and as it flows and moves along?
RBP: Well, it’s all effortful and yet it’s all intuitive. I both know and don’t know what I’m doing. Well, I know a hell of a lot about what I do. I’ve been doing it for thirty-something years, I’ve written fifty-something books. I know exactly what I’m doing and I don’t have a clue about what I’m doing. It’s both, and I don’t know how to amplify that, but it’s both at the same time.
I want it to sound right. Even though I don’t write music, it seems to me more like writing music than anything else. It’s got to sound right in my head, you know? And if the language sounds right and the story sounds right and the people sound right… You know, you don’t have to be able to write music to know when it’s off-key.
There is almost no effort in the sense that I have no plan. If I had a rule of thumb it would be the most meaning with the fewest words. When in doubt, use a simple declarative sentence, which seems right to me. I’m certainly not the first guy to think of that.
EB: Strunk and White, in the Elements of Style, said, “Omit needless words.”
RBP: Yeah, exactly right. And Ernest Hemingway did some of that, and so did [Dashiell] Hammett.
EB: This is a bit of a leading question, but Spenser’s obviously one of the more literate and literary PIs out there. Does it ever bother you to be placed in the “genre” category as opposed to more literary authors and the place that puts you among other popular authors?
RBP: Nah, I don’t give a shit. It used to bother [Raymond] Chandler. Chandler used to complain about it. He used to say the average detective story is no worse than the average “straight novel” except that the average straight novel doesn’t get published. But no, I don’t care about that critics stuff. I don’t read reviews. Wherever this appears, I won’t read it – nothing personal.
EB: No offense taken.
RBP: And there’s a book out about me from some German scholar, and I haven’t read it. Joan [Parker] tried it and couldn’t stand it. It may be “heavy.” I do what I do. I write the book I want to read. They send me money, I write another one, they send me more money. I give the money to my wife and children, and life goes on.
I don’t care what someone thinks of me 100 years from now. I think I’m as good a writer as there is now alive. I mean, there’s no false modesty here! But if nobody else thinks so, I’m okay.
The thing about Joan that’s crucial to understanding me is that when I married her and had those kids, I did everything I ever needed to do in life, and the rest of this is all, you know, syrup on the ice cream. So I don’t complicate it – I’m relaxed about it all. And it comes relatively easy to me. I’m not agonizing – I’m doing four books a year. I’m not pressing myself beyond endurance. I’ve got nothing much else I like to do, so I do that. I don’t play golf, and… I write my books.
So I don’t feel a lot of pressure to make deadlines. My next deadline is six books from now or something, so I’m already five books ahead.
Elmore Leonard said to me once, “This is the best job in the world, isn’t it?”
And I said, “Yeah.”
You stay home, you write, they send you money. People think you’re important.
EB: That kind of leads me to my next question. You talked a little about what you read and don’t read. I wanted to ask you particularly about Elmore Leonard and other authors who you enjoy. That said, I did read once that you don’t read a lot of fiction.
RBP: I don’t read a lot of fiction. I don’t read much detective fiction. I greatly admire ‘Dutch’ Leonard. I read everything he writes and wish he’d write more. He’s a good guy. We know each other, we’re passively friendly. We bump into each other around the circuit and stuff like that. So I read Dutch. That’s about it for detective fiction, pretty much it for fiction.
Every now and then I’ll reread Chandler. I read some non-fiction. I’m currently reading Thomas Friedman’s book, The Lexus on the Olive Tree. I read his previous one. I think he’s got great insight into how things go in the Middle East. I read Jonathan Lear’s book on Freud with classical philosophers called Open Minded. My standard joke is that I didn’t understand it but that it makes a great answer to questions like this. I read that kind of stuff. I read McCullough’s book on Truman – he’s a great guy, I love David McCullough. I’m so pleased it came to him late and he reached his potential. I think he’s a brilliant historian. And I’m halfway through some book on the human genome but I can’t remember the author of it.
I don’t read a hell of a lot at all because I’ve pretty well used up my head by evening and most of the time I like to look at a ballgame. And, of course, Boston is the place to watch ballgames.
EB: I’m a New Yorker – I hope that doesn’t cause us any trouble.
RBP: [tauntingly] Ha ha, ha ha!
EB: Another author, if you don’t mind. I was thinking about who was up there with Spenser in terms of the breadth of what the character has done and popular readership, and that’s John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series.
RBP: I never met him – he was nice. He plugged me in my early career. I frankly was never a great fan of Travis McGee. I don’t quite know why I didn’t like him but I didn’t. I thought he was good but I never really looked forward to reading books by him.
Chandler was clearly the supreme master, in my view. Hammett was great in about two instances. The Maltese Falcon was probably the finest detective story ever written, and it’s downhill from there fairly sharply. I love Rex Stout and he did a batch and they were never not good. And it was such a good idea. He took the English story – Holmes and Watson – and he Americanized them. Do I understand the plots? No, but I loved those characters. It’s like visiting old friends every time I read them.
EB: How about a personal favorite of mine, Stephen King?
RBP: I think he’s a great talent who needs editing. I like Steve, we know one another, we’re kind of friends. I think his talent is enormous. I think he writes too long. He probably thinks I write too short. But I think it was grand that he got a serious award. I think that there is nothing stupider than the tendency of the intellectual community to equate popularity with mediocrity. It is of course self-congratulatory. They can therefore say, “Well, I like this work and all those klutzes don’t, so I must be smarter than they are.” Maybe not.
I mean, I live in Cambridge and I’m surrounded by Harvard people – they’re dumb! PhD does not make you smart, it just means you have a certain amount of endurance. So I think that it was great that King got [the award]. He’s a major spokesperson for the Fuck You attitude toward the literary establishment and says what he thinks about literature. He’s a very smart guy, and I like him. I don’t read him much, because his stuff scares the hell out of me. I don’t like horror and science fiction stories.
I rarely read Steve. I fessed up to this. We once talked about doing a book together, and he said, “No, Spenser’s world would not allow the people from my world.” It was a good point. But I think he’s a genius, in his way.
EB: Back to Spenser for a second and his place in American literature. I thought about what makes him work so well as an enduring character and I realized he was the idealized American male. He’s tough yet sensitive. He has a degree of freedom yet he’s in a loving relationship…
RBP: That’s the autobiographical part – rough but sensitive.
EB: Obviously you took a lot of that from yourself and your own life, but was it intentional to create this idealized guy who walks in a shady world and can get things done?
RBP: Well, it’s less important than it might sound, but my doctoral dissertation was on the evolution of the American hero, from the frontier to the private eye: gunfighter, frontiersman, private eye. I have a whole theory on the Turner Theory and the frontier and the effect of the Protestant ethic and the relationship between a white hero and a non-Caucasian companion, which goes back in our literature almost all the way to the beginning.
I’m a little over-educated… [laughs] I could devote a lot of time to this but it would generally clear the classroom. I like playing with all of those ideas, but having a PhD? Joan says I conceal it better than anyone she knows.
And particularly in the beginning, when I was setting up to do my first novel, you sort of get your ducks in sort of a row, to think, “What do I know, what can I think about? How do I know what to write about?” So that was semi-intentional.
He was intended to be the archetypal American hero. Even Hawk, who fitted in nicely by the fourth book, I thought I had fit in nicely the non-white companion.
Did you ever read Leslie Fiedler’s Love and Death in the American Novel?
RBP: He talks about this at length and he says that it is repressed homosexuality, that the companionship is so close and loving that to cut it down it has to be with a different race so that the homosexual implications won’t be apparent. I frankly think that’s bullshit, but it’s a whole hypothesis that starts back with D.H. Lawrence and is studied across American literature. I just think that it is what it is: a friendship among men, despite race or beyond race, who understand the same things.
Spenser and Hawk are essentially the same guy, Hawk being – and the racial pun is intentional – the dark side of Spenser. And he’s become more practical than Spenser because he had to be. The practical people in this world are the ones with no options. Women are more practical than men; blacks are more practical than whites. So for Hawk, if you need to be killed, he’ll kill you. Spenser’s gonna worry about it, you know?
Anyway, I’m playing with a lot of stuff like that. I don’t do it anymore – it’s like riding a bicycle. When you’ve learned to ride a bicycle, you don’t have to worry about balancing and steering. But that was there at the beginning.
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
If you like movies, or writing, or Wes Craven, or Matt Damon, or Ben Affleck, you need to break quick-like to your TiVo or DVR or other archaic taping contraption to program-ize Project Greenlight (on Bravo – check listings), which chronicles an attempt to pick relative unknowns to write and direct a commercial Hollywood film release.
It’s that good.
And yes, you can not like Ben Affleck and still enjoy the show.
This is the third installment of Project Greelight, the brainchild of the Damon-Affleck WonderTwins Duo. This time around the Twins, along with Craven and American Pie producer Chris Moore, are looking for the next great director and screenwriting team to get a shot at greatness, put together an entertaining and intelligent film, and make a little profit along the way.
Except the reality is far messier and uglier than that. And a hell of a lot more fun to watch.
The reality for this reality project is that because they’re playing with millions of dollars of studio money, they need to actually crank out a profit this time around. The first two Project Greenlight films made in the neighborhood of $100,000, which is, in Hollywood parlance, bubkus. This time out, they’re going for a more commercial enterprise (read = need to make money or no more Project Greenlight) which, at a very early stage, is adding an intriguing level of tension and complexity to the proceedings.
Setup to key scene from the first episode: The team is down to picking a finalist from the best three screenplays submitted to the competition. As everyone knows, the script is the blueprint: it’s everything. If the script is tripe, or hollow, or unfilmable, or not right for the budget or time schedule, it will stink like three-week old cod.
The three screenplays boil down to: an intelligent thriller, an intelligent comedy/sci fi flick about time travel, and a story about monsters attacking a house.
You want to guess which one wins?
Key scene from the first episode: Affleck, and especially Damon, really want the comedy. Or, more than that, they really don’t want the low budget, low concept horror movie. You can see their point: why spend their time doing a project like this if you’re not clearly taking a risk or going for a high quality project? The studio, however, lays down the law: it’s the horror flick and a pander to the teeny bopper date crowd market, or nothing.
Damon: "I've never done a movie based on fucking materials,"
Affleck turns to the camera and deadpans, “So at least this [reality show] will chronicle how things go in Hollywood.”
Damon: “The fucking master of horror (director Wes Craven) is seated two seats away from you and he’s telling you [the script] is shit.”
Affleck is right: it’s a huge lesson in how Hollywood goes for the lowest common denominator nine times out of ten, and how the really good films usually sneak underneath the radar of the studios or are in the hands of the half-dozen mega-powerful directors.
The decision process for the directorial finalist was also a delight. Thank the Lords of Television that Damon – who, to be honest, is an intellectual force compared to the affable, disastrous relationship-prone Affleck – spearheaded the choice to select John Gulager, a middle-aged, awkward auteur of sorts who looks like he will either make an art-house classic out of a nothing script… or be the troubled, artsy captain on a ship doing down, way down.
Feast the film will be. And Project Greenlight looks to be a feast for all of us.
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Americans love their cars dearly and the independence they bring. They drive to work, honk at other Americans in traffic, and drive home again. They drive to the mall, they drive to go bowling, they drive to buy Pez and, when convenient, drive to pick up the mail.
And when they get out of their cars, they try to ignore the fact that they can no longer see the sky through the quickly thickening blanket of smog.
This is why a paradox exists for many Americans: cars are bad for the environment. And while many would like to do something about it, giving up their means of transportation is simply out of the question. Even Austrian-born American Arnold Schwarzenegger, in a recent act of manic inspiration, had one of his eight environment-busting Hummers converted to hydrogen power at a cost of $100,000.
With only seven left to go, it was time to…
Enter the TerraPass
On March 7, a 30-day challenge was issued to six American leaders to purchase a TerraPass and thereby take personal responsibility for the environmental impact of the vehicles they own.
What is TerraPass?
For a fee between $30 and $80 per gasoline-powered car, Americans can assuage the guilt of owning a gas-guzzling beast. The money goes to fund renewable energy resources, thus “wiping away” the individual impact of the vehicle upon the environment.
TerraPass owners get a bright and shiny sticker to slap on the bumper along with the knowledge that they are now good environmental stewards.
Schwarzenegger, of course, is the chief target and Public Polluter #1 in TerraPass’s crosshairs.
“Arnold Schwarzenegger’s an easy target for TerraPass,” Tom Arnold, Chief Environmental Officer of TerraPass said. “He cares about the environment and actually has a pretty good environmental record as Governor of California. But those eight Hummers that he owns are a thorn in his side – he won’t get rid of them.”
With regard to Schwarzenegger’s new hydrogen-powered Hummer, Arnold said, “Why pay the $100,000 to convert one Hummer when there’s a practical solution: buy TerraPass instead.”
Arnold (Not Roseanne’s addled, high-strung ex-husband) claims that the money from each TerraPass sold is used, in effect, to cancel out the emissions produced by an automobile by financing a wide range of environmentally-sound projects, markets, and green energy technologies.
“We as Americans love our cars. They’re how we express ourselves and are part of our lifestyles. You can’t take away people’s cars, but owning a car and taking care of the environment at the same time are not incompatible. We can take responsibility for the emissions that our cars create and still maintain our lifestyles.”
Arnold added that he hopes that the former actor and bodybuilding champ turned Governor sees the fun in TerraPass’s challenge. “We hope he realizes that this is a humorous attack meant to highlight our cause.”
Schwarzenegger isn’t standing alone in the TerraPass spotlight, however. Leaders such as San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and New York Senator Hillary Clinton are also being targeted. “There are leaders with great environmental records,” Arnold said. “We’re looking to highlight these environmental issues, and want to give some of these leaders a chance to stand with us.”
“We’re looking to create a buzz,” Arnold went on. “We’re trying to do something good for the environment, and we’re trying to have some fun at the same time. We think this is a great way to think carefully about the environment, about how each of us has an impact on the Earth, and what each of us can do about it.”
The cost of a TerraPass is based upon the car that it’s purchased for. While a utility/performance vehicle such as an SUV or Schwarzenegger’s Hummers will run a $79.95 price tag, an efficient hybrid vehicle that yields 41 or more miles per gallon of gas costs $29.95. The calculation is made by the amount of carbon dioxide “offset”: a utility/performance vehicle requires 20,000 pounds of carbon dioxide offset, while a fuel-efficient hybrid only requires an offset of 6,000 pounds.
There are also TerraPass offerings for Efficient (29-40 mpg, $39.95) and Standard (19-28 mpg, $49.95) cars.
“Every car – even hybrid ones – have an impact on the environment,” Arnold said. “Pollution is based on the amount of gas you put into a car.”
Each TerraPass package comes with a membership card and several decals and stickers. A car adorned with a TerraPass membership bumper sticker, it is thought, will prevent those (such as Laurie David, wife of Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David) who might look to slap slogan-blaring stickers on low gas mileage vehicles in the name of environmental justice.
In the Fall of 2004, a graduate-level Systems Analysis and Problem Solving class at the University of Pennsylvania was asked to embark on a somewhat unusual endeavor: form a socially and environmental-conscious company, and make it profitable in a short period of time. The professor, Dr. Karl Ulrich, bequeathed $5,000 in seed money out of his own pockets and set his 41 students out to perform brand and market research.
Dr. Ulrich was convinced that the concept of "carbon credits" – or paying back the environment in equal measure for what is taken away from it – would be a popular one with Americans if it was presented in a way that was easy to understand.
Within 16 days of its founding, the class had succeeded in meeting Dr. Ulrich’s challenge: 150 TerraPasses had already been sold, making it a profitable company.
Today, nine students (with the help of Dr. Ulrich and a few others) are still with the company and committed to both preserving the environment and making TerraPass a household name.
Where the Money Goes
The money generated by TerraPass sales is directed into three major areas: wind power, methane abatement, and industrial efficiency. One of the major avenues for wind power proponents is to allow people to select a “green power” option as an alternative and environmentally-friendly way of obtaining energy from utility companies. Methane abatement is a way of dealing with harmful landfill gasses by means of anaerobic digestion.
Finally, industrial efficiency is sought through markets such as the Chicago Climate Exchange, which institutes a cap and trade system via willing industrial participants. “It’s a voluntary framework that adheres to the Kyoto Protocol and seeks to reduce carbon emissions,” Arnold said. “It’s a place where companies can come together to find common solutions to our environmental problems.”
“We’re seeking to combine a belief in scientific research with a broad-based approach to solving our environmental problems.”
While TerraPass won’t solve all of the world’s environmental problems, Arnold believes that it can have a major impact. “TerraPass can solve global warming,” he said. “But local issues – such as the smog problem in Los Angeles – will require additional solutions.”
TerraPass sees itself as more than a student-run one-trick pony, however. As the company is listed under the name Benven LLC (short for Beneficial Ventures), Arnold says that there are a number of new environmentally-friendly initiatives in the works.
Arnold sees a bright future for TerraPass, and for other environmental-for-profit companies as well. “Social entrepreneurship is a growth industry. People are attracted to companies dedicated to making the world a better place.”