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What Happened To Your Moral Leader?

Rodger Jacobs aka Martin Brimmer is now writing my old column at www.lukeford.com. Today he writes:

If you're going through withdrawals from not getting your daily dose of Luke Ford's manic ramblings hop on over to www.lukeford.net where Desmond Ford's prodigal son continues to try to force the world to believe that he is (1) a writer of substance; (2) a skilled journalist; (3) a strong moral force in a troubled world; (4) a Jew.

He calls himself Your Moral Leader these days and has been posting an endless series of inane interviews with Hollywood producers, a chore that he hopes to parlay into a book once he discovers a narrative thread beyond "a book about Hollywood producers".

Of the more than one dozen mainstream producers he has interviewed thus far, Luke reports that only one declined on the basis of Ford's rather public past as a purveyor of xxx gossip.

"Luke: Thanks for writing back and elaborating on your project. After doing a little research about your prior publication and your pursuits, I have to respectfully decline an interview at this time. Please do not take this as a personal affront, but rather a professional choice on my part. I appreciate your interest and wish you much luck."

Welcome to the club, Luke. And, yes, you damn well should expect more of those reactions.

Khunrum writes: Luke, What is your reaction to that downbeat piece? It looks as though your old friend is jealous. But jealous of what? Are you upset?

Luke replies: Not upset at all... Rodger Jacobs is an old friend, 3yrs old, and is always sniping at me... Writers are notoriously snippy... It actually takes a whole heckuva lot to upset me...and this stuff never does. Rodger's reflecting bitterly on his own experiences where he's suffered for his xxx writings.

Khunrum replies: I detected grapes of sour taste. Perhaps they are even more bitter considering he is working at a job you abandoned..

"Moral Leader these days and has been posting an endless series of inane interviews." I don't agree. For the most part uninteresting, boring except to the most eager young film student. But inane...NO.

Behind The Scenes Of Smallville

I sat down with a couple of executives at Tollin/Robbins Productions in Studio City November 7, 2001 - Chris Castallo, Director of Creative Affairs, and producer Shelley Zimmerman.

Dressed casually, we sprawl on the couches, chairs and tables of the production company's conference room and have a good chat about the television business.

Shelley: "I grew up in Los Angeles. I got my degree in Political Economy from UC Berkeley. In Berkeley that's just Marxism. Then I lived in New York City and worked in investment banking. But I knew I wanted to come back and work in this industry. I started in the mailroom at Endeavor Agency in 1995 and eventually became a TV/Lit agent for two years primarily handling writers for series television. I met Tollin/Robbins through that and came over here in the summer of 2000."

Chris: "I was a film student at the University of Buffalo and moved out here after school. I got a job working for producer Sara Colleton (Riding In Cars With Boys, Renaissance Man). I found working in features too slow. It seemed to me at the time that the stuff that was new and different and fresh was more in television than film. People were scaling back feature production at the time, and either making $15 million or $100 million movies with nothing in between. You could turn on TV, cable especially, and see all these interesting things people were doing. If you wanted to do stuff out of the box, television seemed the place.

"I worked as an assistant to executive Stephanie Levine at Touchstone TV for 18 months then moved here in December 1998. Our company is structured so that Mike Tollin, Brian Robbins and Joe Davola are the executive producers for everything we put on TV which at the time was a Nicklelodeon series called Cousin Skeeter.

"Our movie Varsity Blues was about to come out. And after it did, we went from producing mostly just cable stuff to a production venture with Warner Brothers Television network, producing material for primetime television. That first year we sold a bunch of pilot scripts to WB and Fox."

Shelley: "I've been working almost exclusively on developing television series. We do kids television and primetime. This past year we developed 13 episodes of The Nightmare Room for the kid's WB which runs Saturday morning. We developed a number of scripts which became two pilots we produced - Smallville and The Hype. The cycle of television begins all over again. Now we're developing again next fall's launch."

Chris: "We've put six shows on Nicklelodeon, three shows on the WB and Arliss is still on HBO after seven seasons."

Luke: "What's the story behind Smallville?"

Chris: "The concept was kicked around as a property within the company. It's based on the comic book Superman owned by Warner Brothers. We went to Peter Roth at Warner Brothers television studio in August 2000. Then we went to Fox. They were interested in buying the show. Then we went to WB because they're the home team. The WB stepped up in September, and because of Fox's interest, the WB had to make a bigger commitment than they normally would've. We had leverage. The WB gave us a 13 episode commitment to the show.

"We wrote up scripts and began casting last November. We shot the pilot in March, 2001."

Luke: "Unlike features, you didn't have to attach any talent to sell the project?"

Chris: "Most of the time in TV, you get a bigger commitment if you have talent attached. The network gets final approval of the cast. You bring several choices who read for the network producers and executives."

Shelley: "The networks have whole casting groups which specialize in who they want for their network."

Luke: "A few years ago, CBS was known as the old people's network. Does WB have a targeted audience?"

Shelley: "Yes, particularly in drama. They've had great success with younger viewers. When Fox became more staid, the WB picked up with Buffy and Dawson Creek, shows that were young skewing."

Chris: "These shows spoke to an audience that nobody at the time was speaking to. When Fox decided they wanted to be the number one network with adults 18-49, creating a vacuum for programming for people 12-34. Buffy was the first sci-fi franchise for the young generation. And Dawson's Creek became the next Beverly Hills 90210. The nighttime soap opera went from Dallas to Mel's Diner to 90210 (Fox) to Dawson's Creek, the WB's signature nighttime soap opera for the next generation that hadn't been exposed to that genre yet."

Luke: "Tell me who gets credited for producing Smallville, etc?"

Shelley: "Producers credits in television are different from features. Writers, as they work their way up through the system, become producers, co-producers on up to executive producers. Most of the names you see are writers who function on set as producers.

"Typically you shoot your pilot in the Spring and deliver it to the network, along with pilots of shows that have no episodic commitment. The network views all of it and decides its schedule in May and announces it to the advertisers. They get their advertising commitments. Then the shows hire their writers and start shooting episodes by August."

Luke: "The networks approve scripts?"

Chris: "Our writers come up with story areas and pitch them to the network. We all discuss them and then ask for ten page outlines. We read the outlines and give our thoughts. Then they go write the script. Then the head writers on the staff will start editing the script."

Luke: "This is a helluva collaborative effort. This is not one man's dream."

Chris: "There are five executive producers on Smallville and about six other producers."

Luke: "And you guys don't get any credits on the show?"

Chris: "Where is there room?"

Luke: "In this huge collaborative enterprise, where do you find your satisfaction?'

Chris: "Ratings. And watching the final product and feeling proud of the show, for its commercial success and because it's a great show, aesthetically pleasing and well produced. Last night's episode was a ratings success and a great hour of TV. We're shooting it eleven months a year."

Luke: "It's cheaper to shoot in Canada because of government subsidies?"

Shelley: "No, because of the exchange rate."

Chris: "All the writers and editors are here. All the post-production is done here. The script gets sent up. They shoot it and the film gets sent down."

Luke: "I know that sitcoms are shot in an evening. How many days does it take to shoot one episode of Smallville?"

Shelley: "Dramas are much more grueling and much more difficult on the actors. Typical is an eight day shoot. If it's an action shoot, it will be longer. It's standard to run 22 episodes in a year. To limit their exposure, networks will typically pick up 13 episodes and then there's the back nine.

"There's a lot of immediate response to TV. It takes one year to put something on the air. The projects we're working on now will or will not go in the next four months. That's satisfying. Every single casting choice and every choice does not linger around for years. You're not infinitely tweaking. These things become huge productions employing hundreds of people yet we have the pleasure to be there when it was four people in a room. It's in the old tradition of putting on a plane in your backyard. It starts with one idea, then people assemble and give their expertise."

Chris: "There's literally layer upon layer of studio and network executives and marketing executives and casting executives. And that's the downside until you become an icon in the business like a David Kelly or Steven Bochco. And even they probably have days where they have to justify what they want to do with the network president. And until you get to that point, you have to go through layers of stuff to get through and hope that your original vision of the project does not get mangled."

Shelley: "For business reasons, television has to be about home runs. Having a show run 40 episodes isn't a financial success. Traditionally, you've had to have done 100 shows to sell to syndication though now they're doing it before that. It's a game of odds and the odds are against you. Few TV shows make it year after year. One hit show finances 20 busts (similar to features)."

Chris: "A show might cost $2 million dollars for a one hour drama. The range is $1.5 to 4 million (The X-Files may be the most expensive). The studio might pay a million dollars and the production company will sell the foreign rights for a few hundred thousand dollars. But there's still a deficit that might build up to $100 million over 100 episodes until you get to syndication."

Shelley: "If you have a hit, you can renegotiate your licensing fee with the network. So instead of paying you a million dollars per episode, they will pay what you can get. But along the way, your actors have become famous and they want to renegotiate too. Foreign can be lucrative for some shows."

Chris: "Like the movie business, action adventure translates well. A bomb blowing up or a car going off a bridge translates in any language. A show about two people in a small town in Idaho probably won't. I'm sure ER sells foreign. Any show that has that franchise of doctors or lawyers or action, something that is universal.

"Say you've got 65 episodes in the can of a show and you've got $65 million invested in the show and the show falls apart and the network doesn't want it back. So what do you do with 65 episodes? It's not enough to sell into syndication. That's the nightmare scenario. Because the closer you get to the finish line, the bigger your deficit gets."

Shelley: "The financing for the type of shows we're talking about usually comes from the corporate parents of AOL Time Warner, ABC, etc... Obviously one way of reducing exposure is to own the network and the studio. Then they control everything. Because of the difficulty of these questions, almost every single TV studio is affiliated with a network. Two independents shut down this summer, Sony and AMG [owned in part by Michael Ovitz]."

Chris: "My wife works in the financing side of the business and she's always complaining about the salaries that creative executives and producers get. But every year we have to find new shows. We can't put out the same product every year and see a return on investment."

Luke Gets Mail

Chutney writes: Luke learns that the Orthodox community is a bunch of closed-minded, restrictive jerk-weeds who can't accept the concept of a little slack. The five watt bulb above his head glows to life. Go Conservative or Reform young man! Like a quasi-observant Horatio Alger. The more you let a little sausage slip into your mouth, the more sausage you'll... By cracky, I'm so proud! Its like my son just went off to reality school to follow in his old man's footsteps.

Greg writes Luke: You seem to have an urge to purge. I admire that and wish you well. We are indeed living in lowly times with ignorance of Divine Law and tremendous hypocrisy. Question: What is your goal in regard to G-d's Law, the Torah?

Luke says: My goal is observance of God's Law, the Torah.

Greg says: The process of getting closer to one's source--HaShem--is the ultimate test. Consolation comes through the purifying process and how much we can handle on the way up. You have a very significant purpose in this world no matter how you cut it. Your experience is not average,consequently your "tshuva" will not be average. There are Chasidim in jails. When you finally find your path, you will access the capability for joy. We all live in deep corruption, darkness and lonliness. We need to learn to fly by instruments when it is this dark. I have gone through a little process myself, having played the game for a few decades. Even Ben Laden could change if he had direction.

A Primer In Rock Star Psychology

NiceJewishGirl writes to alt.music.gossip 7/27/99: "What's with all the Rock Stars with Porn Stars these days? It used to be dimwitted models, now it's dimwitted Porn Stars. F'r instance, Kid Rock and Midori (afr. am. ps), the lead singer from Korn and his g/f the porn star, Ricki Rachtman and Janine, etc. And what's with Porn Stars appearing in videos now? Rap videos, alternative videos, etc. I don't know about you but it's disturbing, sort of. It makes me think that these guys were wanking to these videos when they were nobodies and having serious fantasy lives and no women, then, they become famous and they gotta have that fantasy girl. The fantasy love goddess or whatever. The fantasy love goddess that has had a thousand different people... I don't know what these guys are thinking."

Mepting replies: "Ok. A basic primer course in rock star psychology for you. Most people who are rockstars have become such because (aside from numerous other factors endemic to the record industry which are too obvious tyo discuss here) They are pretty good at what they do. The reason they have become pretty good at what they do is because when they where in high-school NOBODY LIKED THEM AND THEY HAD PLENTY OF TIME TO PRACTICE. A byproduct of that sort of solitude is the proliferation of some very unrealistic conceptions of sexuality: If you were to lack that ugly, dissatisfying introduction to human sexuality in your teen years, it is reasonable to expect that you might have some fairly unrealistic ideas about what is sexy/attractive. And what is more of an epitome of wrongheaded sexuality than a porn star. I'm not suggesting that you should pity these people, but that you should at least recognize the source of the behavior and place you comments within a more comprehensive context."

Luke says: I think Mepting's analysis is spot on. And that it applies equally well to star writers. Nobody likes them in high school. Therefore, they have lots of time to read and write. They become good at what they do.

Nice Jewish Girl Update

Nice Jewish Girl writes: Hi Luke, funny that you should write me since I did read your site. Me being the indie movie queen, knew a lot of the players involved with your last interview, esp. since I had been a huge fan of Vincent Gallo's, and I have seen quite a number of Chris Hanley's films (Hi Chris!). So I personally found this interview very interesting.

I sincerely doubt that Gallo would ever play someone so heinous as Manson. Gallo *is* a Republican, and I think he's Catholic as well; Gallo may be extremely unconventional but, he does have a moral base there. And, I might add very very Italian. It's normal for Italians to go on like he does, trashing everyone and everything and at the same time it could be their best friends they're trashing.

I think he does like Christina Ricci, though I think there was a lot of tension on that set (Buffalo 66). That's one of my favorite movies btw. The interviews I've read Ricci did really care about him (Gallo) but he was very distant. He just seems to me to be extremely tempermental/drama/diva thing going on with him. Gallo is very unpredictable, in older interviews he said that he liked it that she wasn't a stick figure, if you see the movie she is beautiful, glowing even.

Oh and btw, Luke I have a new website up. My url is www.geocities.com/ruthlilycat

Is Manhattan's Chaim Amalek Ok?

Chaim Amalek replies: Thanks for asking, but I do not travel to the Dominican Republic. Regrettably, we are going to have to desensitize ourselves to violence. I am already topped-off on this story, and the fact that they can provide continuous coverage does not mean that they can provide any new and useful facts.

It is incumbent upon you to read the November Issue of Commentary Magazine for the article by Daniel Pipes on Islam. It is equally incumbent on the Juden of Hollywood to read and consider this, even though we all know that they will not.

Daniel Pipes writes:

The Muslim population in this country is not like any other group, for it includes within it a substantial body of people—many times more numerous than the agents of Osama bin Ladin—who share with the suicide hijackers a hatred of the United States and the desire, ultimately, to transform it into a nation living under the strictures of militant Islam. Although not responsible for the atrocities in September, they harbor designs for this country that warrant urgent and serious attention.

For a fuller exposition of this outlook, one can do no better than to turn to a 1989 book by Shamim A. Siddiqi, an influential commentator on American Muslim issues. Cryptically titled Methodology of Dawah Ilallah in American Perspective (more idiomatically rendered as "The Need to Convert Americans to Islam"), this 168-page study, published in Brooklyn, remains largely unavailable to general readers (neither amazon.com nor bookfinder.com listed it over a period of months) but is widely posted on Islamist websites, where it enjoys a faithful readership. In it, in prose that makes up in intensity and vividness for what it lacks in sophistication and polish, Siddiqi lays out both a detailed rationale and a concrete plan for Islamists to take over the United States and establish "Islamic rule" (iqamat ad-din).

Why America? In Siddiqi's judgment, the need to assume control here is even more pressing than the need to sustain the revolution of the mullahs in Iran or to destroy Israel, for doing so will have a much greater positive impact on the future of Islam. America is central not for the reasons one might expect—its large population, its wealth, or the cultural influence it wields around the world—but on three other grounds.

Producer Ellis A. Cohen

Ellis A. Cohen has produced four TV movies (1999's Dangerous Evidence: The Lori Jackson Story, 1985's First Steps, 1985's Love, Mary, 1979's Aunt Mary) and published two books (Dangerous Evidence and the novel Avenue of the Stars).

We spoke by phone November 8, 2001. After 20 years in Los Angeles, Cohen now lives in Washington D.C..

Ellis: "I'm working on a project now on the CIA that will help explain why there was another day of infamy, why we got caught off guard. Here these guys use a little imagination and destroy the world. And with all our technology, we're lost. We can't find a guy in a cave.

"I came across something about a heroic woman honored by President Clinton as a great American hero. She served the country for 15 years at the beginning of the CIA. In developing a relationship with her, I got the rights to her life and to a book she wrote and published in 1947. That book could not be published today, or any time since 1950.

"The book details how our CIA began. And Wild Bill Donovan, who started the whole thing, wrote the forward to the book.

"From there, I created a screenplay and showed it to certain key people in Hollywood. They said there are two stories there, why waste it under one? I'm on the tailend of the research and am polishing a book and movie proposal. I've been asked by CIA people to share somethings because I've soaked in, over the past 30 months, things from World War II when they started the CIA, that our CIA today didn't have a clue about. They weren't even in Afghanistan. Our intelligence agencies were asleep at the wheel like at Pearl Harbor.

"With my last book and movie, Dangerous Evidence, I sat in military courtrooms for five years covering a trial. I was there with many top journalists but none of them had any Hollywood background and none of them could do a book. They were good day to day. I was the guy from Hollywood sitting there with my cowboy boots, jeans and a tie while they're in all the typical Washington outfits.

"I like to go book to movie. I've been out there too many years selling movie proposals. If I have a book, it gives my proposal a step up. My colleagues in Hollywood take my project more seriously. A lot of people can say they're a producer. But when you say you're an author, people jump all around you.

"Only a few authors have been hands-on producers of their book, such as Michael Chricton, Lawrence Shiller, and Stephen King. Tom Clancy and John Grisham get an executive producer credit but they're not hands-on. It was thrilling for me to have close to a final say on my movie based on my book, without writing the check."

Luke: "Do you have any thoughts on how our intelligence agencies let us down so badly on September 11?"

Ellis: "I know what happened. In 1975, President Ford signed an executive order that forbade the U.S. from assassinating foreign leaders. So the CIA had to back off targeted killings. Number two, they let down old fashioned intelligence, which my new project is all about. Donovan's genius was imagination. Donovan was pro getting bad guys on the other side, with bad records, and making him a CIA agent who could join a Bin Laden group. We backed away from that. Now we're trying to get back and recruit but it's hard for us to infiltrate Al Quada late.

"I'm privy to things that I can't talk about now."

Luke: "What was the reaction like to your book Dangerous Evidence?"

Ellis: "Good. Ron Dellums, then chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, the first African-American to hold that high a position, controlled the Pentagon budget. He loved what I did and gave me a helluva an endorsement. A letter that's been excerpted in some of our blurbs.

"Lawyer Johnny Cochran met me during the promotion of it. He hosted two Court TV shows on the case and wrote a forward to my book."

Luke: "Your 1979 movie Aunt Mary. Was that based on a true story?"

Ellis: "Yes. That was my baseball coach. I was ten years old on her team. The real Aunt Mary was alive at the time and the lead actress Jean Stapleton met her.

"Everything I've done has been based on a true story. Except my novel, Avenue of the Stars, which became real. It was based on - what if a Japanese billionaire, still filled with revenge from World War II, wants to get even and takes over a Hollywood studio. I sold it one day before Colombia was sold by the Japanese to Sony. That led Amy Archerd's column the next day because I used real names in my book like Sherry Lansing, Brandon Tartifoff.

"There's one downside to writing a novel. There's still a side of me that likes that purple prose. And I'm doing an important non-fiction story yet there's still that tendency to exaggerate. Then the journalistic side of me has to pull it back. You've got to be Jack Webb, just the facts, mam. But once you have that taste of doing the novel, you don't want to lose that taste.

"I keep wondering how many more successes do I have to have, so that I can lay back and have the next project be easier? I say that rhetorically because it doesn't get easier. Each time I'm starting all over again. The business keeps shifting. It's hard to keep alliances because people keep moving around."

Luke Journeys Across America To Meet Chaim Amalek

I told my friends in shul that I wanted to be an apikoros (heretic). I denied the whole Torah and the entire spiritual world.

I created quite a stir. My shul mates said, "It's quite clear that this is not the place for you to pray. Good luck to you. We don't have to make a scene. We can handle this quietly.

"Now, you can't be an apikoros on your own. You need an apikoros rebbe. You must make a pilgrimage to the great apikoros teacher Chaim Amalek on the Upper West Side of Manhattan."

So, afraid to fly, I packed my van and drove across America, looking for apikoros instruction.

After a week of nonstop driving, I finally get into Manhattan on Friday afternoon, shortly before the Sabbath. I parked and walked to the apartment of Chaim Amalek. I knocked on the door and a modestly dressed Jewish matron, with a wig on her head, and the shabbos candles burning on the table, opened the door. I inquired for the great denier Chaim Amalek. She said her husband was in shul davening (praying).

So, I'd schlepped across the entire country to find an apikoros who davened on Friday night. But I pressed on and walked to the shul. Inside I inquired for Chaim Amalek, the great heretic.

They pointed me towards a portly 450-pound gentleman davening off to the side. I walked up and introduced myself.

"Ah yes," said Chaim. "I read your web site regularly. You must have shabbos dinner with me."

We walked home together, sang Shalom Aleichem welcoming the Sabbath angels, washed our hands, made kiddish over wine and partook in a sumptious shabbos meal.

"I'm confused," I said. "I heard you were the great apikoros rebbe but you seem so frum (observant)?"

"Well," said Chaim, "the answer is in this week's pasha."

And he handed me a copy of Dr. William Pierce's weekly rant.

"That's all?" I asked. "So you have a certain distaste for multiculturalism and inclinations towards white supremacy. That makes you an apikoros?"

"Well," said Chaim. "What do you think it means to be an apikoros? What would you do if you were an apikoros?"

"Well," I said, "I'd rape. I'd kill."

"You're not an apikoros," said Chaim. "You're a pig."