What Am I Doing Wrong ?

I’m being distracted from doing my own work. Lectures on Transcendental Meditation talk about the busy ocean surface and the quiet stillness of the depths beneath.  When we spend any amount of time on social media or the internet in general it is the surface, choosing our words carefully but knowing that inevitably someone will challenge, reduce, misinterpret or misrepresent what you have said.  You can end up communicating more with people you dislike than supporting people you love. You can debate whether or not a movie studio deserves your admission fee and whether you should boycott Star Wars because JJ decided that the Death Star you saw incinerated into a cloud of tiny cinders has chunks that landed intact on Endor without bursting into flame entering the atmosphere and that the Emperor you saw dropped into a shaft and explode is still alive.  Even in these blogs, I have mentioned that too much.

You can enjoy the new trailer for Ghostbusters: Afterlife which seems like a respectful follow-through on the 1984 and 1989 films, perhaps the 2009 video game that involved the same cast.  Or you can be further distracted by dimwits who are now taking their turn at sour grapes upon realization that the 2016 Paul Feig iteration – a remake that pretended the events of the Eighties had not taken place – is wiped from canon with the corrective measure of the new Jason Reitman film. It is not worth engaging. There are some witty youtubers riding the coat tails of anything that has a marketing campaign, anything trending on Twitter. They have to because that is their full time job, uploading something with a headline that might get clicks.  It doesn’t mean that any of us need to know the judgement or expectations of these pundits.  A significant number will lure me in to listen about Hollywood trying to coax non fans of various IPs traditionally appealing to males by flipping them or using them as a vessel to carry an eye-roll ostensibly feminist message expecting to alienate the original built in fan base or shame them into accepting the change “because it is good for society.” I don’t think as a movie buff since about 1980 I have ever paid to see a movie for the good of society.

I once belonged to a screenwriting and script reading circle in which I was eventually asked to leave because I had not taken the same course as the rest of the group.  I had sat in to help read as a guest and they liked my reading and input; I had shot a film in the home of one of the members. It was years later before I learned that the reason someone in the group spoke against me was that I had written something that was not P.C. or was not advancing a progressive agenda.  This is both horrifying and comforting.  At least it wasn’t necessarily the work itself.  But I don’t know – especially in Canada which tends to lean to more ostensibly progressive and insular in terms of the left – whether I will get the traction required to beat the system and get my stuff out there.  Self marketing is the worst part of any creative life.  I have a book to publish, but have not yet reached out. I have several screenplays, but I don’t know for the life of me why anyone would invest money in them.  Even a good film is a huge risk. And am I willing to play ball, to change the nature and intention of a work to appease the taste or politics of an investor or collaborator?  Not really.  And that may well be a character flaw on my part.  It may also be the saving grace that allows me to continue seeking out and properly vetting collaborators who want to make the same movie or create the same final result or enjoy the same challenging process.  I don’t thrive on chaos. I don’t even trust what people call chemistry. I’d rather go from unknown to known.

I don’t have the power to say:  The next Star Wars movie will be Mace Windu starring Samuel L. Jackson. He has been consulting The Whills about an incident where someone has violated the World Between Worlds and messed with time portholes to throw off the balance of the universe and the birth or death of the wrong players.  Master Windu accepts their challenge to enter the World Between Worlds and set events back to to the way they play out in the (now non-canon “Legends”) books.  Mara Jade properly is allowed to meet Luke Skywalker as in Heir to the Empire.  Leia ends up having twins with Han, so she is already pregnant at a time when she might have conceived Ben Solo. When Windu is done setting time into proper motion again and undoing the damage, he destroys the tample that houses the World Between Worlds so nobody can infiltrate it with mischief again.

That would be my pitch to set Star Wars right. It would infuriate Kathleen Kennedy and the Lucasfilm Story Group that she hired.  But if I had the power, I would find a way to politely fire them anyway.

I don’t know what the result will be of changes to the James Bond world in its upcoming new film No Time to Die.  A woman taking the 007 designation may or may not work. I would have been happier to see what Danny Boyle would have done as a traditional Bond film.  You don’t pick up a sleeping baby.  Sometimes people get restless with formula. Mork and Mindy season one is great, and naturally fish out of water. Dexter season one has him seeming far more alien than following seasons.  Time is bound to soften a premise or eliminate the strangeness that defines it or even compromise the reality around it.  Some ideas can’t be sustained for a long haul.  That is a drawback of the Daniel Craig iteration of Bond using a continuing story and stretching to create connective narrative tissue. It will then feel the pressure of time.  When Bonds were barely connected (maybe having Richard Keil as the hit man “Jaws” in two movies), the episodic approach kept the character eternal.  An actor would age out and someone new could come in.  Dame Judy Dench as M was actually a smart move that in no way compromised the series.  She was able to bring a scolding tone to Bond without seeming like a reach.  Previous men as M were taken for granted and could not make much impression.  Desmond Llewellyn as Q, and eventually John Cleese were able to express irritation with Bond over the likelihood that he will destroy whatever gadget they give him. After this iteration of Bond, if there is a reset it should be to explore whatever Danny Boyle had in mind.

I would have accepted a Naiomi Harris Eve Moneypenny standalone film or a Jeffrey Wright Felix Lieter standalone.  Some wouldn’t but they could have been done for Netflix. It would be a leap to spend $200 million on a movie about the new actress playing an agent that takes over the number 007.  That would be a bridge too far. The brand is James Bond 007, not ________007. And if sexism is part of the appeal, frankly that should not be a concern.  Bond is a fast living character and may attract men who read Maxim or “bros” as you want to call them.  Even “assholes” should be allowed to enjoy your movie.  They shouldn’t have to pass the Phil Donahue Character test. And much of life’s humor is in the theme that the best laid plans of mice and men may not work out.

As I stare down the barrel of my own writing work, I admit I am spooked by “the moment we are in,” as Stephen Colbert once repeatedly put it to each guest.  Do I have to wait until the bubble of progressiveness bursts?  Is there a road back? Do I just sit back and enjoy my DVDs of movies from the Eighties?  There are still three major feature projects immediately on my plate.  One is in progress but being re-configured, another was cancelled but is still on the back-burner.  These, arguably the most important goals of my life, get sidelined from time to time either out of work or those ever-present surface distractions of the turbulent ocean.  Time to, as they say in Fight Club, turn down the volume on all of that.  When I am in process, and scrutinizing something in a scene or letting the urgency of a moment push it into shape I am feeling on track and engaged in something meaningful.  I am also in my comfort zone.  I know that actually making a movie is outside of that comfort zone, because of time pressures and coping with what might go wrong.  So before the crunch I have to stick to my principles and make sure that I am defining the project and not let it be set off balance by the interjection of inorganic input.  Engaging people can be the real challenge, because the project makes it conditional. We have to be up to compatible mischief.

Right now it is about dealing with what is in front of me, the things I can control, the progression of ideas and the shaping of a coherent premise and narrative people can grasp and dialogue that might amuse. I feel like I should roll back the clock 30 years. Don’t say “someday” to yourself.  Time is of such value. I love watching movies and TV series and tell myself this is all productive but even that needs to be a reward for making progress in my work. I might be doing a music video in coming months, and might help someone tidy up a long gestating script.  But these things will have my focus when they need it and I can’t be in suspended animation waiting for a shoot. If I had money tomorrow I likely would easily prep my suspended clown movie. That is in the best shape. And the novelization would be published with some of that money.  But even basic housekeeping has to be tended to.  I have old scripts and other writing on floppy discs (hard ones from late Nineties and early 2000’s). Have to extract files from Microsoft and Mac discs in a world where those slots for floppies just aren’t available so much. I have to also convert more VHS material to DVD or data with a new VHS to DVD machine. I have to sit through some poorly labeled tapes and get some of that done.  All big things are made up of little mundane things.

It could also be argued that I should get my personal life in order or all of my writing is about – one way or another – having no life.  But I’m prepared to accept that.  I mean I have no interest in just getting by.  There is that scary part of the brain that could dispassionately step off the planet earth at any moment unless there is a concrete follow-through on all the work I’ve done to this point.  So even if I have set some things aside from time to time I have not given up.  I am however prone to being seduced by the killer of time and the sapper of energy and vitality, wrong viewing, wrong reading, wrong food, wrong exercise.  I can be supportive of other artists, but even that has narrowed somewhat thanks to ideological divides and potential pissing contests that get in the way of the intricate goals on the horizon and not revising what is in the mind’s eye as excellent and worth working toward.

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Filmmaker, from North Bay, Ontario, currently in Toronto. Graduated from Humber Film and TV Production in the Nineties. Made countless short films.

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