Luke Reads Evelyn Waugh's Black Mischief
A hilarious book, though I am appalled by the racism.
Chaim writes: Instead of reading racist "literature" by some shiksa, why don't you spend that free time studying torah?
Curious writes: Am I the only one that senses Luke is becoming more secular as he drifts further and further from the Orthodox culture? Can non-kosher protein bars be next???
Luke replies: How did you know? Damn, have you been prying into my private cuboard?
Curious replies: I sense these things. Tell me this. Are you wearing your fringes daily?
Luke: Not exactly daily, but about once a week. When I go to shul. I need some new ones, perhaps you could buy me some...
Curious writes: Do you wear them in or out? If out. Then I shall consider such a gift. If in. Then who the hell cares?
Luke: I wear them out.
Chaim writes: Luke, let others wear the fringe. You LIVE it.
Helpful: Are you any closer to finding a bride than you were a year ago?
Walter Doniger Update
I got a call Monday afternoon from TV director Walter Doniger, born 7/1/17 in New York, who spoke in a whisper. He's recovering from surgery. We should do an interview in a week or so. His credits range from writing the 1941 movie Mob Town to directing the 1983 TV movie Kentucky Woman.
Triumph Of The Spirit
Catherine writes: Luke, The movie I mentioned the other night that you weren't sure you'd heard of is named Triumph of the Spirit. It's really a wonderful movie. Maybe you could invite one of your girlfriends over for dinner and a movie and watch it together. It's the kind of movie that makes girls cry and want to hold their lover close :o)
I spoke by phone to producer Alan Sacks Friday, October 26. Sacks, who won an Emmy for his movie The Color Of Friendship, chairs the Media Arts program at Los Angeles Valley College.
Luke: "You were going to make a film with Gabe Kaplan reprising your TV show Welcome Back Kotter?"
Alan: "We're still working on that."
Luke: "Tell me about The Color Of Friendship."
Alan: "In 1990, I read this story about California congressman Ron Dellums."
Luke: "The most left-wing congressman."
Alan: "I don't know about that. He's most definitely a man of the people. When he and his wife went back to Washington D.C. in 1977, they decided to bring over an African exchange student. Because he was dealing with apartheid, he wanted his family to experience a real African student. And by mistake, they got a white South African racist girl, the daughter of a South African policeman whose job included enforcing apartheid.
"I contacted Dellums, wanting to develop a movie based on this story. And I pitched it to Michael Healy, a director of movies for TV at CBS. Michael said he loved the movie but it wasn't the kind of movie they were doing at CBS then. They were doing women in jeopardy type stories.
"Then, Michael became an executive at the Disney Channel. He called me up in 2000, asking about the Ron Dellums idea. He said that if I could get the rights to it, he'd put it into development. So, within an hour, I had the rights back to the story and was on the phone with Ron.
"The movie won an Emmy, an NAACP image award, and numerous other prizes."
Luke: "What happened with the white racist South African girl?"
Alan: "In the movie, she learned something. Her character arc was that she went back a changed person. In reality, she did go back a changed person but the Dellums family has lost contact with her. So we don't know what happened to her. It could've been a political thing."
Luke: "What was it like for you to receive the Emmy and the other awards?"
Alan: "It was great, particularly the recognition I had from my students and fellow faculty."
Luke: "Was Friendship one of your favorite projects?"
Alan: "Every time I work on a project, it's my favorite one. I'm almost like a method producer, like a method actor. I totally live the project and they all become a part of me. Though some projects I look back on more fondly than others."
Luke: "Are you saying that every project was a good experience?"
Alan: "I always find the good in every project. I believe that every time a project happens, it's a miracle. The system is so difficult. I always feel that it is something higher than me that has made it happen."
Luke: "Your method producing and total personal immersion in the project..."
Alan: "That's my lifestyle. I made a punk movie (1984's Du-beat-e-o). I was a hardcore punk while I was doing it and I had an arm full of tattoos that have since been laser removed. But I was really part of the punk scene. And I made a skateboarding movie (1986's Thrashin) and I was really a skateboarder. I was truly with those guys and still am. I love every kid on that skateboard. I produced and directed a documentary for PBS on Cowboy Poetry. And I became totally immersed in the cowboy world. And still am. Some of my closest friends are true cowboys.
"I love getting into different cultures with my projects. I'm working on a TV series now, Dance Dance Revolution, on a new dance phase that's big in Korea and Japan. It's a game that kids play in the arcades and a whole culture has developed around it. The kids have their own language, dress code, clubs. And I'm totally into it. I'm down there with the kids, in the arcade, and it's really a trip. This is about to explode in this country, with my help."
Luke: "Could you describe what it is?"
Alan: "If you could imagine going into the arcade and there's a screen you're looking at. And on the floor in front of the screen is a pattern of dance steps. So you look at an animation figure dancing on the screen. And you have to match your steps to what you're seeing on the screen. It's eye-foot coordination but these kids have their own music and style..."
Luke: "I saw kids doing that in an arcade in San Jose. When did you get into punk?"
Alan: "I was born December 9, 1942. Growing up in Brooklyn, I was too young to be part of the Beat generation. But I liked to go into the Village and emulate the generations before me, like Alan Ginzberg and Kerouac. Then I got into the hippie thing. The punk thing happened in the late 1970s and it all seemed the same to me. I looked at it as an art thing and today it's mainstream."
Luke: "How did you come to make your punk film?"
Alan: "Somebody had to come to me wanting to get into the entertainment business. They wanted to do a movie about Joan Jett and they had some footage of Joan Jett. They gave me the footage to make the movie. While they were doing it, they changed their minds midway through it and cut off the money. So I was stuck with half a film, some footage and something I felt passionate about. I went out and completed it myself with stills, stock footage and some bizarre stuff. But it's totally different from where my mind is today.
"I was talking to my daughter who lives in New York and who happened to have seen that film in a cult video store, and she was laughing because I make movies for Disney now.
"It's ironic. I created this TV series in 1975, Welcome Back Kotter, about a teacher. And today, while I'm still producing, I'm also a fulltime college professor."
Luke: "Was your punk film influenced by the movie Snuff?"
Alan: "No, I never saw Snuff."
Luke: "How did you come to make Welcome Back Kotter?"
Alan: "It's in the E! True Hollywood Story. Gabe and I went to different schools in Brooklyn. We didn't know each other. But we had similar experiences. I had always been interested in tough kids, hence the punk thing. I'm still interested in juvenile delinquents and teen culture. I was influenced by the movie Blackboard Jungle, about tough kids growing up in Brooklyn. And the Bowery Boys series of comedic movies also influenced me.
"When I came out to Los Angeles, I thought about developing this TV series about these tough kids in Brooklyn. I was producing Chico and the Man at the time. Freddy Prinze, the star of Chico, brought me down to the Comedy Store one night to watch him work. [Prinze committed suicide in 1979.] And performing was Gabe Kaplan. And he was talking about these similar kids I wanted to develop a series around.
"I said to Gabe that we should get together and create a show. So we had lunch. I said you and I have these kids in mind. How do we get you into the act? You should be their teacher. That was the genesis of the show.
"I pitched it to ABC executive Michael Eisner who bought it. Eisner wanted to make Epstein the Animal, the Jewish character, half Puerto Rican. I did it hesitantly because I'd never heard of a Puerto Rican Jew. But a few years ago, my cousin visited us from Miami. She's married to a Puerto Rican guy and her children are half Puerto Rican and half Jewish. Yet again reality imitates art.
"I left Welcome Back Kotter and the show fell apart because of many different egos. The executive producer James Komack had conflicts with Kaplan. I totally enjoyed working with the Sweathogs but all the other egos around me were way more than I wanted to deal with. Between Komack and Kaplan and I created this and I did that. They were arguing and it wasn't a joyfull experience. I was offered another deal at Warner Brothers, which was a mistake on my part, to do a ripoff of Welcome Back Kotter. And I learned to never rip yourself off.
"You'll see in the E! documentary that I was totally screwed on Welcome Back Kotter. I got the credit and it was good experience but I got no ownership of the show and no money.
"Komack, who's passed away, said to me when Eisner finally bought the pilot, said 'You need an agent. We need to make a deal with you.' I was totally green, after just getting off the boat from Brooklyn to Hollywood. I asked Komack and he recommended his own agent at William Morris. That didn't make any sense for me."
Luke: "How did you get involved with Chico and the Man?"
Alan: "I was a development executive for Komack. And he was messing up on the script. He spent more time dealing with the politics of the show and creating publicity. There was a controversy that Freddy Prinze was not Chicano, because he was half Puerto Rican and half Hungarian. And Freddy played a Chicano from East LA. Jimmy spent more time dealing with the politics than concentrating on the script. So the network wasn't happy with the script. So the network called me into their office and stressed that to me. 'We need to put a new producer on to the show. We should put you in.' I was at the right place at the right time. Jimmy became the executive producer and I became the producer."
Luke: "What did the punk scene create that's lasting?"
Alan: "Fashion. The music is still there today. Limp Bizket. The style and attitude."
Luke: "How would you sum up the punk attitude? Nihilistic? Anarchic?"
Alan: "A combination of both. Nihilistic and anarchic. I'm going to do my art my way, and f--- you. I can't live that way today."
Luke: "Anarchy and nihilism is a frightening combination to most of us bourgeouis types."
Alan: "My values are bourgeois too. I'm not the guy to talk about politics. I'm just rolling along trying to educate my students and create some television programs.
"Our Media Arts program at Los Angeles Valley College has $19 million to build a new Media Arts center. We're working with Dreamworks and an organization called Workplace Hollywood to develop a curriculum, internships, job shadowing... And here's the punk attitude. Our school charges $11 a credit. That's what attracts me to it. It's a school for the people. If you have the motivation to get into it, you can go there. And we offer a state-of-the-art program in the new media.
"I teach a class one day a week at the McLuhan Institute at the University of Toronto via video conference. I have students here in Los Angeles and graduate students at the University of Toronto interacting. It's a class in how the media affects people's minds and society.
"The class was organized by the guy who replaced Marshal McLuhan, Dr Derrick de Kerckhove. He's the smartest guy I know, an intellectual philosopher."
According to the class's website: "Derrick de Kerckhove is Director of the McLuhan Program in Culture & Technology at the University of Toronto. He worked with Marshall McLuhan for over ten years as translator, assistant and co-author. Among his many published titles is The Skin of Culture (Somerville Press, 1995), a collection of essays on the new electronic reality, Connected Intelligence (Somerville, 1997) that introduced his research on new media and cognition and this year, The Architecture of Intelligence."
Alan: "I have a kid coming in on Wednesday afternoon to talk about digital animation. He's 15 years old. Donovan Keith. I read about in Wired magazine."
Luke: "How long have you worked with the McLuhan Institute?"
Alan: "When I did the movie The Color Of Friendship, Disney wanted me to shoot it in Canada. It was smack in the middle of my semester and I didn't want to miss any of my classes. We have a high tech room in the college, a smart classroom. So I called the McLuhan program to find out about video conferencing. I met Derrick once and he tossed me the key. So every night for three weeks, after I was done with my production, I went into a classroom and video-conferenced back to my class at Valley College. It was an incredible experience to teach that way.
"My students loved it. They'd known me in the flesh before I went up. Then when I got up there, I showed them dailies every day. I took them through the production. And then the movie won these awards."
Luke: "What do you remember from your 1997 film Me And My Hormones?"
Alan: "That movie was an ABC After School special. The director of that movie was Melissa Gilbert (who played Laura Ingalls Wilder in the TV series Little House On The Prairie). I was running down some names and my mother suggested that I get Melissa Gilbert to direct the movie. Melissa had never directed before. I called up Melissa and she wanted to do it.
"This is a movie that I can't relate to personally. It's a movie about a woman going through menopause and her daughter going through puberty. We hired an entire female crew. I was the only male on the project."
Luke: "You produced a 1991 TV series for CBS Riders in the Sky."
Alan: "They're three singing cowboys out of Nashville, Tennessee. They appear often on National Public Radio. They're great guys and have become some of my closest friends in the world. I read an article about them in People magazine. I said, they should make a television series. So I tracked them down and met them. We hit it off like brothers. Then I put a showcase on for them here and invited various network executives. We sold the show to CBS. It went on for a week. It was a puppet show, like PeeWee Herman with cowboys. It replaced Pee Wee Herman. It didn't do well and was cancelled. I'd love to work with them again.
"When I was doing that, I wore cowboy hats and cowboy boots. They invited me to this cowboy poetry gathering in Elko, Nevada. It was like Cannes Film Festival or AFM, but for cowboys. I did the tenth anniversary in 1994 as a documentary for PBS."
Luke: "What's the story behind your 1986 Thrashin' skateboarder movie?"
Alan: "When I did Du-beat-e-o, LA Weekly did an article about me. And on the same page of the story about me, there were four punk girl skateboarders. So I researched skateboarding and found a scene going on that was close to the punk thing. Then I tried to figure out how to set a movie in this world. Romeo and Juliet, and West Side Story, were some of my favorite stories. Let's do West Side Story on skateboards.
"Then I went out and sold that. People thought I was crazy. I'd bring a skateboard under my arm to the meetings. We made the movie for $1.6 million. New Line distributed it the wrong time of the year, on Labor Day weekend, when kids were going back to school. They should've put it in theaters at the end of July. The profit statements are probably still negative on it but that's Hollywood accounting. I know that every kid in the world who's on a skateboard has seen this movie. I can walk into skateboarding stores and say, 'Ever see Thrashin'? I made that.' And I get all these props for it."
I sat down with director Steven Feder at his Black Sheep Entertainment office in Studio City October 25.
Feder wrote, directed and produced 1996's comedy The Cottonwood and 2000's romantic comedy It Had To Be You.
Born April 3, 1958 to a Jewish mother and an Italian father, Feder grew up in Brooklyn. He got a scholarship to play basketball for Jacksonville University in Florida, dropping out six units short of his degree.
"I was horrible in English," remembers Feder. "Every English teacher I had said whatever you do, don't do anything with a profession that requires the English language. I didn't think about anything other than playing basketball. I majored in business because I heard the major was the easiest.
"At the end of the season, with six credits left to graduate, I called my dad and said I was done with college. I had come to play ball. I traveled with the Maccabee [Jewish] team.
"For a while, I worked for the family business in the textile industry then I went into merchant banking for nine years. That's where I learned about producing and financing. This is a business. It's not art. We don't spend our time in a loft painting a canvas. It's a grind it out business. It was good that I spent a lot of time in the trenches in New York learning how to make money.
"In 1987, the stock market took a mean crash.
"As bad as I was in English, I'd been writing feverishly since high school. I didn't show it to anyone. While I worked in the acquisitions business, I found myself, as an escape, writing short stories and prose. And then on a dare, I did standup comedy.
"It was 1987 and comedy was going through a weird change. The whole 24-hour channel stuff was not quite there yet. Most guys were still making money by hitting the road. I wasn't going to hit the road. By day I went to work at my office, Black Sheep Marketing, and at night I worked the clubs. Then I got involved with guys putting on off-Broadway plays."
In 1990, Feder married model Tracey Morton and devoted himself fulltime to producing. In 1992, they moved to Los Angeles.
Steven: "This theater stuff was great but you couldn't make a living at it. I didn't want to go on the road as a comic. We came out here in December, while it was freezing in New York. It was warm here. We thought Hollywood would be accepting. Boy, were we wrong.
"Someone suggest I go to USC and get on set of the student films. I met one of the teachers, Jeremy Kagan, who directed The Chosen. He asked me what I wanted to do and I said producing. He invited me to sit in on one of his classes and he introduced me to this hot-shot student director Jeffrey Nachmanoff. We wrote a script together and I produced his senior project film The Big Gig. I raised the $30,000 for the six day shoot on 35mm.
"These kids spend $100,000 to go to film school. I'm going to raise $30,000 so I can get film school in six days. I don't have the time that these kids do. I have to crash course this thing and find out whether it is for me or not.
"We took the film to a bunch of film festivals. We won awards. I got such a kick out of the process of putting together a film. When you produce a movie that small, it's not like you're sitting in a director's chair or a producer's chair. You're doing everything. I ran around with the PAs and picked up the food from McDonalds.
"I decided to make my own film. I knew that most of the time when you made these low budget films, you never make your money back. I wanted to make it cheap enough so I could go to certain guys and say, 'Look, you're never going to see your money back. But if you want to come to the set and hang out and meet the actresses...' Some of my friends said, 'That's not exactly how you sell something, Steven.'
"They say you should write what you know. When I was in New York, I used to hang out with this group of actors. We'd put a dollar a piece in the middle of the table and buy lotto tickets together. And we said that if we ever won any money, we'd make a movie.
"I'd been out in LA for five years and I hadn't met anybody. That was typical me - not bother with the system. Not find out how this thing works. Not go to the lot at Fox. I decided I just needed to make a movie. I didn't need to talk to anybody. It wasn't arrogance, it was stupidity.
"I spent six weeks casting, two of those weeks in New York. We saw about 800 actors. Every time someone came in for an interview, we talked. I got to know them. I loved the process."
Luke: "You weren't just boffing a bunch of actresses?"
Steven: "Absolutely not. Most of the people we were casting were guys anyway. We shot the movie in September in New York. My wife was about to give birth to our first daughter. I was alone in New York. That's a trusting and loving wife. A woman about to give birth and her husband alone in New York City shooting a movie. Some of those phone calls at night were not pleasant. Anyway, actresses are a crazy bunch."
Luke: "I'm just projecting."
Steven: "A friend of mine was casting. The first girl, a beautiful girl, comes in. He calls me to say that he's got the lead. I say, 'The lead? You just got started. How could you have the lead? Isn't this the first girl you've seen?' He says, 'Yeah, she's great. She's gorgeous.' I replied, 'They're all good. They're all gorgeous. That's the problem. That's why you have to have someone with you in the casting. Are you doing this alone?' He says yeah. You can't be alone because it's dangerous.
"I put several of my New York friends who were struggling actors into SAG (Screen Actors Guild). I was short $175,000 for my film and I hustled everyone I knew (for the full $288,000 budget). My biggest fear on day one of the shoot was that I would never get to go through such an exciting process again.
"A few weeks before the movie started, we had to change the cast. We lost somebody."
USA TODAY's February 16, 1998 edition gave these details: "Daniel Baldwin, who suffered a cocaine overdose Feb. 2 in New York, won't return to the set of It Had to Be You. Writer/director Steven Feder issued a statement Friday: ``Due to the situation and scheduling constraints on our production, all parties involved mutually agreed that we needed to continue filming.' ' Baldwin will be replaced by actor Michael Rispoli."
Steven: "Producer James Baffico battled about me playing the lead role in the movie. I said, 'I'm going to fill this thing. I can do this thing.' At the last minute, just before we start shooting, he said, 'I don't think you should do this. You're taking on something that you've never done before. On top of directing and producing.'
"I would never make this decision again. And when I made my second film, it did not even cross my mind for a second to cast myself. But my theater background. When you're in theater and you're live, it's the connection you have with the other actor that saves you. It's the net. It's not so much that you're remembering your lines but that you're hearing his. That reminds you of what you're supposed to say. I thought that if I was going to sit at the table with those other guys, I would feel if the scenes were right and going well.
"Looking back on it, that was ridiculous to think I could be the barometer. Now when I talk to first time directors, you've got to realize that when you watch a scene, you may think that looks real and live, but when you see the dailies, it may look slow or too fast. That inner sense saved me. It turned out to be the greatest move I did. Crazy in terms of exhaustion and concentration level."
Feder and his first film appeared in a two minute segment of Australian Showtime's short "The Director's Cut":
"Feder plays the lead character Charlie. Charlie's a big of a chum. He deals in counterfeit designer labels while waiting for his big break as an actor writer. His three other buddies are pretty much in the same boat, playing off-off-off Broadway gigs. That is, until their ship comes in in the form of a three million dollar lottery prize. In true showbiz edition, they can now realize their dream of making a movie that will catapault them to stardom. The only problem is, they don't have an original idea in their heads.
"In hilarious sequences, they end up scripting a movie that has the grit of Rocky, the morality of the Lion King, the action of The Fugitive, the appeal of Enchanted April, and the commercial success of Home Alone, by blatantly deriving 52 scenes from 38 Oscar-winning films. There are some wonderful tributes to Saturday Night Fever and Broadway Danny Rose.
"But like the fake labels that Charlie deals in, these scenes are simply not authentic, and end up landing the boys in deep trouble with the Writer's Guild. The Cottonwood is named for the real Cottonwood Cafe in Greenwich Village where Steven Feder and his actor buddies hung out in real life. And a lot of the film was shot there too after Feder promised the owners that he would pay tribute to the place in the title.
"It wasn't the only deal that Feder struck. Watch out for the street scene shot with the assistance of a police officer who closed off an entire block in return for a cameo role. There's a terrific performance here too by Australian actress Gia Carrides who pulls off her sassy Bronx character Kathy with great gusto. And from Pruitt Taylor Vince who gave such a potent performance as Victor in the 1995 film Heavy."
Steven Feder: "When you make an independent film, everything's great until the time you finish it. You have no sense of marketing and distribution. That year, 1995, was the end of the independent film trend. The greatest lesson I've learned in this business is how hard it is to get a theatrical release. You get passionate about your work. One night I sat with an audience at the Hampton's Film Festival and we sold out for several nights. And it was a high. People were laughing. We had numerous write-ups in local papers, and four stars and all that crap. And I thought, this is it. And then we do a couple more festivals with the same reaction. And then I realize that we're not going anywhere. When it's all said and done, we're going home.
"Two years later, the picture was picked up and got some foreign distribution.
"You have to do this business for itself. And then if you get the recognition, that's cool. The rest of it is just going to work like everyone else. If you're working to make one hit movie, you're working against yourself. When it doesn't happen, you get disappointed. The talented people who don't make it in this business are the ones who quit. And the ones who do make it, are the ones who don't go away.
"Making my second movie (It Had To Be You) for $5 million was a whole different story though I probably had more fun with the first movie. Looking back on it now, it's weird that I didn't send the script out on spec. But the minute I finished the script, I asked, 'How can I make the movie independently again?'
"We got a hold of a sales agent who told us to get him a list of the stars who were on the project. If you can sign up one of these girls, I can get you the financing. The first name on the list was Natasha Henstridge, who I really didn't know. I knew she'd done Species.
"I had great actors in the first movie but at the end of the day they weren't saleable. As much as I was in this business for all the creative reasons, it was time to put my business hat back on.
"Independent filmmaking is the ultimate in the creative process. You go into dailies that night and see things you like, things you don't like. And you make adjustments and you don't have to fax the studio for permission to make changes.
"It's not like we want to make films for $300,000 but nobody's going to back them. If a studio backs you, it's because you've either done one already or you've sold a huge spec. Or you've shot a lot of music videos.
"Do I want to go through the independent process again, raise my own money to shoot the movie? No. Because at some point in your career you have to wake up and say, I've proved that I can make a movie. I'm not asking for any favors. I've paid my dues. And I need to step up and make a studio film. I have many friends in the business who made it through that process.
"It Had To Be You was shot in February 1998. We finished post production in December. Then the distributor New Star went into bankruptcy. The movie sat until finally I worked with Regent Entertainment to get it out of bankruptcy (which was no small feat). The film finally premiered at the 2001 AFM [independent film festival in Santa Monica] in February where it was selected to the A-list by the Hollywood Reporter, a list compiled by buyers responses of the five films with the most buzz at the market. After the AFM it then began it's release. First foreign, airline, then domestic this March, 2002.
"I remember when I took it to AFM. I drove over there with the posters for the film and call my wife. 'Ten years ago, I was selling soda and cookies at intermissions at my theater in New York. Five years ago, I'm running around on a student film. Now I'm running with the trailors and the paraphenalia.' And I'm laughing, this is the independent business. If you're not willing to do this, don't make a movie.
"Now it's playing all over Europe. It's been playing on 75% of US and international airlines since September 1st because of a deal with What Women, Want, Chocolat, and my movie. Then September 11 hits, and all planes are grounded.
"On September 20th, I was sitting in the kitchen with my wife and kids and she said: 'I just thought. I know this is awful, but your movie. Nobody's flying and nobody's watching it.' And I said, 'Tracey, that's just the business.'"
John Badham Interview
I spoke by phone Wednesday afternoon, October 24th, to director John Badham (Saturday Night Fever, War Games, Blue Thunder).
Luke: "How did you come up with this new director software Shotmaster?"
John: "I was working on this 1990 movie Bird on a Wire starring Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn. And I began to think, why am I here still preparing my shots with a yellow pad, which I laboriously scratch on and hand over to some poor soul to type up, then go through making copies. I've got this nice new computer. Let's make it behave and do some work for us.
"I started with a MacIntosh program called Hypercard. It's designed as programming for the masses. Ordinary people could understand how to program. Many good things have been programmed in it, such as the entire game Mist. It became workable after several years, and got better as I became more sophisticated with it. I was trying it out with every movie and using it to plan my day's work.
"In an article in the Director's Guild magazine appeared, I commented that the biggest problem was that it was only available for MacIntosh because I didn't know how to program anything for IBM PCs. I then got a call a few weeks later from Paul Messick who said he could program for PCs. He took what I had done and began to build it properly in C++ [a computer programming language] in a way that would switch from platform to platform and work on either Windows or MacIntosh.
"We're now in the process of developing version two."
Luke: "Who else uses it?"
John: "Whoever buys it off the website. I never know who it is. But you open your mail and find checks for a $100. We get a lot of feedback via email. Beta testing was a horrible discovery that not everybody worked the way I did. I made a breakthrough this summer by finding a way to incorporate digital camerawork into it. So for example, when we go location scouting and decide on such and such, I start photographing it with my little digital camera and dump those pictures into the computer and then use them as the background for all of the pre-drawn figures that we have in there.
"It started as a way to just make little birds-eye view drawings. Then my wife, a skilled graphics artist, did 500 drawings of various figures, props, automobiles and all kinds of things. She threw her hands up one day and said, 'That's it. I'm not doing anymore. My back hurts.' You take these pre-drawn figures which you can enlarge and reduce, you can change the wardrobe colors, make different racial groups... You put these cutouts on top of the digital photos and you've got a good thing to show to the crew the next day. We print them out so they're the size of four postage stamps. So people see what we're doing that day.
"When you're dealing with visual things, there can be a lot of disagreement if you're just talking verbally. You have to have a picture to get everybody on the same page. The crews love it because they can see what they're going to be doing that day. Many of my colleagues are not so generous with the information usually because they don't know what they want to do. I'm too methodical and nerdy to wing it."
Luke: "What have you been working on this year?"
John: "For almost two years, I was working on a film (Ocean Warrior) in Amsterdam, a big $40-million picture about Captain Paul Watson, the head of the Sea Shepherds Society. His mission in life has been to stop illegal whaling which he does with his cheap huge boat. When he finds people whaling illegally, he rams their ship. He's never killed anybody and never done any major damage but by God he gets them to respect him. After 25 years, he's still whaling everywhere.
"We were in Amsterdam for six months, spending a lot of money refurbishing boats. In February, three days before shooting, with out full cast in Amsterdam, the two Dutch producers said, 'Gee, we don't have the rest of the money to start.' I say, 'You're kidding me? We've spent $15 million and we don't have the rest?' No.
"The producers initially worked with Dutch tax money. The Dutch government gave a generous tax break to encourage motion picture production. Let's say that you invested $100. You'd get a tax credit of $140.
"Nobody's come up with the money and given the events of the last month, I don't believe anybody will be anxious to finance a movie that has a guy ramming other people's boats, no matter how well intentioned."
Luke: "You did undergraduate work at Yale in philosophy? Has any of that stayed with you?"
John: "I'm proud to say that I had to give a speech today before 500 people to The Taskforce On Violence In The Media. I found myself quoting Plato. I made as much of a joke of it as I could. I said they were going to get their little bit of culture for the day. But here's what Socrates said about the poets in Athens and why they should all be thrown out of Athens.
"Of course philosophy always comes in handy. It's a way of looking at the world. Anything a director learns comes back to be handy at some point."
Luke: "What did you say in your speech?"
"I told the people that it is easy for us to say that we shouldn't be doing violence and having guns but we have to recognize that it is an extremely complicated issue. You're dealing with commercial and non-commercial media. You're dealing with artists' rights and responsibilities. How responsible should a filmmaker be to the public? If you know that children are going to imitate what you show them, should you try to be responsible in what you show? How does this impinge on your freedom as an artist? If you're working for a network, they have total control and they will tell you what to do.
"We're a pretty liberal bunch in Los Angeles and so we're happy to see the statistics that people don't want to see guns and violence. But you also have to take into account people in Montana, Alabama, Mississippi and so on who would like to string us all up now for being complete idiots. Because their beliefs about guns are 180 degrees from ours."
Luke: "How were your remarks received and what did your peers on the panel say?"
John: "I got a lot of laughs. It was a good way to start. I was the first guy out of the barrel. Then I was followed by director Peter Hyams who talked about how he was going to change his approach since September 11. He'd probably make fewer movies with the government as the bad guy. Yet he had made his career with the government as the bad guy. Then Laurence Andries, who produces HBO's Six Feet Under, talked about the way they will try to handle violence. The network guys talked about how they promoted series and so on."
Luke: "Did you hear about director Robert Altman's remarks that Hollywood served as an inspiration for September 11th's terror?"
John: "To quote Peter Hyams, 'That guy's a putz.' Peter was asked that question today and that was his remark. I think it's silly to place the blame on that. We're going to blame the IRA and the Arab-Israeli conflict on the movies? Here we're talking about a country (Afghanistan) where they're not allowed to go to the movies and they're not allowed to watch TV or listen to the radio. We're dealing with a different animal and it is too lazy to dump it all on Hollywood like Altman or Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell... Yeah, let's blame all on the gays. It was all their fault."
Luke: "You don't think it was the gays who caused September 11th?"
John: "Oh yeah, sure, it was the gays who were out there doing it. I hope you understand that I'm being sarcastic. 'And John Badham said of course he agrees that gays are all terrible people and this is Jesus's way of punishing them.' Geez. Man."
Luke: "That would get you kicked out of Hollywood. I finally got my scoop."
John: "That would do it."
Luke: "Do you have a philosophy of life?"
John: "Not that I can articulate in a brief period of time. I believe in the Golden Rule. In Plato's Republic, there's a section about the true test of someone's virtue. They don't murder not because they fear punishment... But what if nobody knew what you were doing? He posited a magic ring, called the Ring of Gaiges, which made you invisible so you could do anything. And what would you do? That would indicate what sort of person you were."
Luke: "Does your personal philosophy enter your films?"
John: "I don't think they can help but enter the films because my paw prints are all over them for better and worse. The way I think about things affects the way I do things. In Saturday Night Fever, about 90% of the way through the picture, there's a gang rape of one of the girls. I did not want to shoot the scene. I thought it was distasteful and unpleasant and unnecessary. We were not going to miss the point of the movie by not having this scene.
"And the producer, Robert Stigwood, the 600-pound gorilla, who had the final cut and was a terror, said, 'You're shooting it. I don't care what.' So now the question became how to do it. Here I now had to go as delicately as I could, if you can say good taste in a rape scene without being ridiculous. How can you do it without being grotesque and gratuitous? I had to put a lot of effort into that so that the point got made but we didn't do it the way some people wanted.
"Overall, the film was great fun to do. It was one of those few scripts that I loved the second I saw it and I couldn't wait to do it. Even though it had to be done on an extremely low budget ($3 million) and quickly (52 days), with few resources, it was still a terrific experience. Doing musicals is about the most fun a human being can have. I think it's better than sex. Shooting dance numbers is so exciting when you get the music going loud and the cameras going and the dancers going."
Luke: "It then grossed hundreds of millions of dollars."
John: "Close Encounters (made for over $20 million) came out around the same time and they were predicting big grosses for it. And somebody at Paramount commented, 'Yeah, but we're going to be in profit way before they are.' We made our budget back after the first weekend."
Luke: "When you put your body of work together, what are the common themes? Disciplined unobtrusive unostentatious commercial filmmaking..."
John: "Pictures that I like telling the story. That's my guiding principle. If I like the story. If the characters appeal to me. That's what I am going to make. And I don't think about guiding principles and themes. I don't want to get stuck doing the same picture time after time. Sometimes I've gotten roped into doing three techno movies in a row - Blue Thunder, War Games and Short Circuit. Just what I was trying to avoid. Your creativity goes down the tubes as you do the same thing over and over. You might as well be on the Chevrolet assembly line sticking wheels on the cars. You start to think automatically instead of creatively.
"The approach to America of a foreign director is going to be different from somebody who sees America all the time.
"Saturday Night Fever for example. I've never been to Brooklyn in my life. Thank God my mother sent me to dance classes when I was in high school. Thank God I spent the previous six months preparing a movie that I left - The Wiz. I left it the day they insisted Diana Ross was going to be the star. When you have a story built on a six-year old child's point of view of the world, and in the original Wizard of Oz film, they'd already stretched it by putting Judy Garland in there. You're looking at a child's vision of scarecrow, a cowardly lion, a tin man.
"And now you propose putting a 30-year old woman into that same part with her worldliness and knowledge of the world. And as good an actress, dancer and singer as Diana Ross is, she's in the wrong place. It was not going to work. I told the people at Universal, 'I have no idea what I would say to her on the stage. It makes no sense to me. I'm the wrong person to be there. I'm sure there's somebody who will have something to say.'"
Luke: "How many films have you walked off?"
John: "I think that might be it. I try to not get involved if I don't like it. When I got involved in that, it was a more open playing field. But the assorted partners got together and decided they needed this giant star. Sydney Lumet directed it."
Luke: "Are any of the films you've directed particularly dear to your heart?"
John: "Stakeout, Whose Life Is It Anyway, The Jack Bull. These films worked well. I think I did a good job. They were enjoyable experiences to make. Much of a director's attitude towards a picture is the time you went through to make it. It can be a horrible miserable time or it can be an interesting creative time. The picture can turn out great but if you had a horrible time making it, you're always going to have a jaundiced view of it. It's like your children. It's not an objective thing."
On his third marriage, John has one child. "If you can't get it right the first time, try, try again."
Luke: "You started picking up credits as an executive producer with Stakeout in 1987. Why?"
John: "I realized that I wanted more control over filmmaking. I was into a film with producers I didn't know and I thought this was a wise thing to do. Until this point, I had the fortune to work with experienced skill producers and I had no need to encroach on their territory. But starting with a couple of movies before Stakeout, I could sense a sea change, and I decided to get in there where I had more clout. Rod Cohen and I produced several films where I did not direct."
Luke: "Is it hard for you to produce films you do not direct?"
John: "It's hard to be on the set. I am going to have strong opinions. But I am determined to let the director do his job. If the film's not working, you've got to have another conversation and try to guide the director to more effective paths."
Luke: "Do you like working with actors?"
John: "I'm writing a book on how directors work with actors and how not to do it. How to do it. How to understand the psychology of the actor. Because it is easy to get yourself into a contemptuous mode with actors. Their artistic temperaments and weird behaviors and make fun of them without understanding where the behavior comes from. Why are actors not like well behaved electricians and grips who do exactly who you tell them to? Why do they have to always fuss about, 'I don't understand this line and why do I have to do this?'
"I believe that 99% of young directors are terrified of actors. They understand cameras and lenses and everything technical but that weird animal called the actor scares them. They don't know what to do and many of them are intimidated and they run away from them. I thought, let's talk to a lot of directors and see how they deal with actors. We've interviewed Sydney Pollack, Mark Rydell, Arthur Hiller, Michael Mann and on and on... And we've interviewed actors to see what they're looking for from a director.
"Actors are a great asset. A good one is like gold. You cannot create them. The greatest director in the world can not make a good actor out of a mediocre actor. All you can do is try to cover up the mediocrity. You can inspire an actor and bring the best out of them. But you have to like them and earn their trust and be on their side. They're not going to do their best work if they're in an atmosphere of fear."
Luke: "What's your attitude towards movie critics?"
John: "I like Samuel Beckett's little part in 'Waiting For Godot' where the two guys are calling each other names. It starts out, 'You silly person,' then, 'You're a dickhead.' Then it escalates. Finally, they've run out of insults to each other. And one looks at the other and says, 'Critic.'
"I made a decision many years ago to not read them and to not pay any attention to them. It so depended on how they felt when they got up in the morning. Whether they liked or didn't like your movie didn't mean anything. If you could so something about it, that would be one thing. If, three months before the movie came out, somebody could come in and give you some opinions, that might help. Generally, I try to pay no attention to them. I can't be thinking, 'Ohmigod, what's Ebert going to say when he sees this?' If Ebert likes it, it does mean something for your box office.
"It's a sensitive area. It's something you've worked on for a year-and-a-half and here a guy tosses a review off in a couple of nights and throws phrases out that drive you crazy."
Luke: "Do you socialize much with the industry?"
John: "I have friends in the industry all over but I'm not a big socializer."
Luke: "Thanks for your time. I will send you something in a few days and let you correct the mistakes."
John: "If you could only do that with your life, wouldn't that be great?"
Amalek Baits Levi Into Posting Yggdrasil
Amalek: You should post his essay on lukeford.net as a warning to the comfortable "Modern Orthodox" careerists you choose to hang out with on yontif. Also would be a good way to tell them to go ---- themselves.
First, let us look at Bin Laden's demand or ultimatum. He has repeatedly and consistently stated that there will be no peace in America until:
We withdraw American forces from Arabia.
Notice that all three of these demands relate to our activities within Arab territory. Bin Laden is not demanding that the U.S. surrender Dearborn, Michigan. In fact, we could concede the above three demands with no adverse impact whatever upon America or its interests. Indeed, if public debate were allowed, it could reasonably be argued that Bin Laden is merely demanding that we take actions that are broadly consistent with our self interest. The very reasonableness of his demands is a public embarrassment, causing our government to issue an unusual man-bites-dog demand to its boss, the controlled media, requesting that Bin Ladin's utterances be kept off the air. Reason enough indeed to re-frame the issue and relentlessly pound the American public with a message that Bin Laden is not, contrary to his words, demanding our exit from the Arab world, but rather that he is demanding that we change our own essential values.
The propaganda campaign is absolutely absurd on its face. Bin Laden hates us because of our freedom and our democracy? It is a blatant insult to the intelligence of the American people, and a wildly improbable story as there is no connection whatever between the condition of the Arab world and whether we choose freedom and democracy for ourselves. To argue that Bin Laden and the terrorists hate us because of our freedom and democracy is to argue that there is nothing we can do to halt the terrorism other than to destroy the population base from which the terrorists arise. It is the belief predicate to genocide. How could Bin Laden or the Arab world expect to benefit from our rejection of democracy, or our elimination of our own freedom? Is this really something that could enter into the calculus of a dissident Arabian multi-millionaire? Are they really going to plunge themselves into the dreadful consequence of a war with us for the abstract and incorporeal purpose of liberating us from the clutches of democracy and freedom?
National interests have fallen off the table of public discourse, and the NWO version of international relations has been reduced to the white hat - black hat simplicity of Hollywood - ascriptive status meriting death for those upon whom we paint black hats. And it is a very odd sort of democracy which does not allow public discussion of what is in our national interest. Hence the American ultimatum to the rest of the world Hunt down and deliver your terrorists to us. We will not negotiate. Fail to deliver them, and we will destroy you.
In response to four hijackings by a small group of men that our controlled media calls "cowards," the government decides to shut down the entire air traffic system and the securities markets for a week. The government response was stunning in its disproportion and self-destructive effect. It was immediately obvious after the initial terrorist onslaught, that further hijackings with knives would not work. To commandeer a plane, the hijackers would have to fill more than half the seats, producing a statistically improbable passenger profile that would have been immediately visible to the pilots, who never would have pushed back. It was obvious by mid-day on 9-11 to anyone with an IQ above 100 that the terrorist hijackings were a "one-off" event. The terrorists had "shot their wad" and were done with airplanes.
The objective of our government on the morning of 9-11 should have been to minimize the damage caused by the attack. There was nothing the government could do at that point to prevent the collapse of the towers and the consequent destruction of 30 million square feet of office space. Cheap steel with a low melting temperature had done its work. The suicide squads which slammed those planes into the towers could not have imagined in their wildest dreams that 7 office buildings would collapse as a result. Much less would they have imagined that our government would shut down half the economy and magnify the damage a hundred fold.
One failing of democracy is the need for "bread and circuses" as the voting franchise inevitably degrades. In his classic work "The Collapse of Complex Societies" Joseph Tainter observes that all complex societies must invest in "legitimizing activities" and that maintaining legitimacy becomes more and more costly the more complex and diverse the society becomes. The costs of these "legitimizing activities" can lead to collapse. To be effective, action against terrorists must be carried out in secret by relatively small numbers of government agents. Effective anti-terrorist actions are invisible to the population and thus ineffective as a legitimizing display.
So apparently, our government felt compelled to "do something" on 9-11 to show the masses that it was in control, and it apparently concluded that shutting down the air traffic system for a week would show the people that it was "doing something" to protect them - a legitimizing display with huge costs. Many bearish investment pundits have identified the danger inherent in our debt balloon that has been financing the Empire's economic growth during the past decade. What most of these bearish analysts ignore is the relative ease with which the Fed or Treasury can monetize this debt now that all currencies are purely imaginary. The Federal Reserve can purchase the paper of a new government agency which will use the proceeds of the Fed purchases to buy up defaulting debt and create new dollars in the process.
Our bearish analysts would argue that this process is inflationary, but forget two things. First, the amount of debt monetized can be controlled so as to keep the supply of dollars relatively stable by replacing only those dollars disappearing in defaulted debt. Second, most goods production has moved to Asian and third world countries which compete to export goods to us based on their abundant supplies of cheap labor. Thus, the Empire's international economic system has been structured so as to insulate American monetary and debt policy from inflation of goods prices, and it is clear that Alan Greenspan and Bob Rubin - the architects of this system - think they have the debt balloon wired and that defaults can be monetized with far less inflation and interest rate risk than most analysts suspect. The imbalances which the Empire is not equipped to handle are more physical in nature - the excessive numbers of computers and routers purchased by business that are no longer needed, and which have caused a bear market in tech stocks of epic proportions. (Another that we will encounter in the future is our replacement with new discoveries of only 60% of the amount of oil we have used over the past 25 years.)
As a consequence of moving most manufacturing off-shore, our economy has come to depend on "business services" - the vast armies of upper middle class Americans working as investment bankers, accountants, consultants, and lawyers all frantically laboring 14 hour days preparing and delivering wildly expensive spreadsheets and Power Point presentations which supposedly deliver valuable "information" but which are, in reality, nothing more than worthless sales pitches. Shutting down the air traffic system strikes at the heart of the business services sector of our economy, demonstrating to all just how dispensable these Power Point presentations really are. This sector has metastasized far beyond any reasonable need, and our prosperity now completely depends upon it. The business services sector provides the lions share of high paying jobs - it employs the outer party, the 20% of our population which the inner party must keep happy. And without thinking, our government shut it down for a week.
I often joke privately that it will be time to unleash Thor's Hammer and begin the revolution when the FBI paychecks are late. It is a timetable that has always seemed utterly fanciful until the week following 9-11. Government reacting badly makes all things possible. Twenty years hence, when the costs of supporting 70 million aging and unhappy boomers collides with the costs of buying peace from disgruntled minorities, maintaining a vast infrastructure of public employment and armies of police along with ever more frequent campaigns of high altitude bombardment, all things are possible.
One thing, however is certain. The Moslem world clearly recognizes that our economic prosperity is part of a culture that has produced dying populations throughout Russia, Europe, North America and Japan. They see our talk about democracy and freedom as glitzy wrapping around a package that delivers prosperity joined at the hip with advertising and entertainment which propagandizes females into rejecting monogamy, embracing sexual hedonism and behaving like irresponsible adolescent males. If hedonism leads to pregnancy, this seductive package of "democracy and freedom" applies its economic pressures to ensure that the woman kills the baby before it gains the wind to cry. They see a culture in which immigrants are imported to keep wage rates low for working people, and in which the working people are distracted from their plight by constant free entertainment glorifying and impliedly promising instant gratification, hedonistic pleasures and perpetual adolescent irresponsibility.
Most members of the upper middle class work frantic 14 hour days to escape the economic and cultural effects of this "democracy and freedom" they so ardently urge upon their lesser brethren and, lacking the time or energy to indulge in the promised vices themselves, nonetheless seem to take immense satisfaction from the idea that these corrupt entertainments are available to them in an abstract and largely theoretical way as "alternative lifestyles," "options" or "choices."
The Moslem world sees very clearly the catastrophically low birthrates of 1.3 per woman (Italy and Japan) and about 1.6 per woman (Euro Americans) - and recognizes that these races are doomed to disappear and be displaced within 200 years if they remain upon their present secular and modernist course. For a tribe or a people to propagate itself over time, it must repel aliens, reject alien vices, and reinforce among its members the willingness to make the personal, individual sacrifices necessary to keep its collective cradle full. Any race that fails this central mission of life dies out.
So how would you expect devout Moslems to react to an invitation to join the living dead? In all social primate groups, young males at the margin of the group are pre-programmed to sacrifice their lives to ensure the survival of their own kind. Anthropologists categorize it as the ultimate in altruistic behavior, because it so obviously and mortally conflicts with the young male's individual self interest. Their unplanned and spontaneous aggression is warfare of the most elemental and pure kind. It matters not whether his name is Muhamed Atta or Eric Rudolph. Unless such young men are socially programmed to ignore plainly observable facts, a significant number will perceive just how threatening our modern consumer culture is to the long term survival of his tribe or his people, and they will react in a predictable fashion. This true warfare bears little kinship to the typical European war full of "command and control" in which huge numbers of peasants are propagandized into a fighting frenzy with ideological abstractions and then herded to their deaths for some unnamed objective of alienated and invisible elites directing that "command and control."
Consistent with its most recent traditions, our government has undertaken a second very expensive legitimizing display by bombing Afghanistan. It is a display that is utterly irrelevant for the purpose of rounding up terrorists who reside in the United States or preventing new ones from entering. But it is nevertheless essential to legitimize the Empire's rule and show the people that it is "doing something." And of course it will show any marginal young males among the Moslem billion who do not already understand, that slow death through vice and luxury is not an option but is mandatory, and is enforced by smiling blond pilots who cheerfully give the thumbs up sign for their media overlords after each delivery of quick death from safe and comfortable altitudes. We all know who the cowards are. And hell will come again to breakfast in New York.