Updated Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday

Monday, May 31, 2010

Oh man, that was fun

It's funny, back when I was a kid I made a deal with myself I'd see my own country before traveling off to see the rest of the world.

A sort of 'get a base-point' ideal that, well, unfortunately never quite happened.

(apparently a 2 week, all-inclusive trip to Cuba is cheaper than a week-long jaunt to the coast... sad).

That said I've always had this dream of seeing my country and I still have dreams about the 3 month road-trip that almost was -- driving from Saint John's, Newfoundland to Victoria, BC.

Anyways, all this to say that I found myself quite enamoured with my trip to Québec City and Montréal.

The drive there... not so much.

See, we figured out a wonderful way to save some money on the trip: We took the bus. And hell yeah, if you want cheap, it was real cheap (we grabbed the tickets during a Megabus sale, $60 total for both of us, return!) but I felt every minute of that 8-hour bus ride.

When we were planning things out we figured we'd just sleep on the bus since we were taking the overnight route... yeah, that didn't happen.

It's kind of funny 'cause I realize now just how much I'd romanticized this awesome road trip across Canada -- I found the 8-hour trip there long and (at times) frustrating... I can only imagine what it'd be like when I'm driving the Trans-Canada for hours at a stretch.

That said, at least in a car we'd be able to hop off the route and explore on our own.

But I digress...

In the end I actually ended up enjoying Québec City more than Montréal -- I think that may be because we walked pretty much everywhere and by the time 'party time' rolled around in Montréal we were ready for bed.

My feet are still sore, tho' I do feel like I've gotten a life-time's worth of Cardio.

People-wise, I couldn't have asked for a better experience. Everyone we met seemed genuinely nice and friendly -- with the exception of one bus driver who gave me a curt 'I don't speak English' but softened the moment I apologized with 'I'm sorry, my French isn't that good' in French.

Yes, my language skills en Français are definitely far spottier than I remembered. I don't know if I was conversational or not when I was in school but man... yeah, let me just apologize here for butchering the language.

Also, Life lesson #679: If you ask someone a question in their native language, 9 times out of 10 they're going to answer you in that language. <-- this is a problem if you had a hard time asking the question in the first place and have no idea what the heck they're saying to you in response.

I DID try to keep up the French where I could but to say that I got my fair share of confused looks... well, yeah... often it ended up with me dropping back to English and saying what I really meant.

Most were pretty cool about it though, one even said I spoke without much of an accent... so hey, cool beans there.

Side note: Iced Cap = Cappuccino Glacé in French... just so you know.

Travel-wise I definitely want to make sure I hit the coasts even though, unfortunately, it looks like the road trip I had in mind isn't in the cards. Still, maybe we can find some cheap seats or something and do a pop-over for a week or so.

Cheers!
Brandon

Friday, May 28, 2010

AutoPilot Day 5: Viva La Montréal!





I thought this was pretty cool!

Gonna be heading home soon... hope I didn't miss too much ;)

Cheers!
Brandon

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

AutoPilot Day 2: Storm





This has nothing at all to do with my trip.

I just really like this poem.

Cheers!
Brandon

Monday, May 24, 2010

AutoPilot Day 1: I Bet This Is How I Feel Right Now




Mon Français est tres formidable! Oui?

...

Oui??

*silence*

Oh, and the song at the end? Louis La Grenouille...

Oh yes, the memories they come flooding back.

Cheers,
Brandon

Friday, May 21, 2010

Oui, C'est Ca!



Hey folks,

Well, I'm going to be away all next week -- off on a wonderfully-romantic vacation with my wife to La Belle Province.

Yes, this'll be my first time travelling to Québec but I'm really glad that I finally have a chance to check it out. We don't have a whole lot of time, unfortunately, only 6-ish days to split between Québec City and Montréal so we're open to suggestions on the best places to see (or eat) while we're there.

Please feel free to shamelessly promote in the comments section.

On the other hand, the preparation for the trip's been a bit interesting as I try to dust-off my public/high-school-level Français.

Okay, let's just say there are more than a few layers of rust.

Which means I've been struggling to re-acquaint myself with the language I once loved.

Yes, many moons ago, there was a time when I was actually pretty good at speaking the language -- You see, back in public school I was on the 'French Team' (GEEK!).

We'd travel across the county going from school to school challenging other 'French Teams' to brutal battles of vocabulary in our second official language. It was a whole lot of fun and I was actually pretty good at it.

Okay, really good. Heck, we won a whole bunch of matches.

In truth, we were a bunch of bad-ass 12-year-old wanna-be Francophones.

I was young though, and the good times? I thought they'd never end.

But, as they say, C'est la vie.

Soon I was graduating and being shipped off to bigger ponds.

High school.

To be honest, when Grade 9 rolled around I couldn't wait to get into a French classroom, to dust off the ol' skillz and get into the swing of it again.

That was until 'she' came along.

Though her name has long escaped me, the image of her face is burned into my brain.

Simply put:

My Grade 9 French teacher killed the French Language for me.

The very first time I met her all I saw were those cold, narrow eyes. She was a veteran, one of the old guard and she'd totter around the classroom with that... limp.

It soon became obvious that whatever the kids before had done to her had left scars (mental or otherwise) that we would be forced to deal with.

The thing I remember most about her was the thick, nasty retainer she always wore, it clicked around when she yelled at the class and caused her to always seem to have this thin line of drool running down the corner of her mouth.

That drool, more specifically, was her weapon of choice and she used it with flair. Whenever I mis-pronounced something she was there and she was mad, as if personally offended that I would dare defile the language.

She'd stand there fuming for only that brief moment before getting in my face and letting loose. I'd recoil, of course, watching in horror and disgust as, with every hard 'P' or 'T', she showered me in little droplets of salivary rain.

*shiver*

Yeah, somehow I eked my way through the course, pulling off a solid 'B' but when the time came around to choose next year's classes... I just couldn't do it.

I decided 'never again'... and I vowed that for as long as she was teaching there I'd never take French class.

Unfortunately, that turned out to be pretty much the rest of my high school career.

So, yes, this trip is, in a way, exactly what I needed - a chance to pick up where I left off and maybe re-ignite an old flame.

Hopefully all goes well on my trip but I feel I should probably apologize in advance to Québeccers, 'cause as things are going right now... yeah, it's going to be interesting.

Cheers!
Brandon

P.S: Feel free to pop on by next week as I've set up a few things for auto-pilot while I'm gone... nothing too big, but hopefully worthy of a few minutes of your time in my absence.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Big Day For Some

Today was the first of a different kind of protest.

I'm not entirely sure I agree with it... but again, it's about Free Speech -- and as far as protests go, it's about as non-violent as you're going to get. So kudos to them on that part at the very least.

That said, to say that I've seen some... offensive images... today in regards to this protest is an understatement. I don't think they all necessarily help the discussion but hey, that's how the cookie crumbles. When given to protest, people don't always take the high road.

I did see one image today that, while I don't agree with everything in it, I thought 'hrmm' and decided to share with you:

What bothers me about this image is that -- like the whole protest itself -- it punishes those who haven't really done anything wrong; Again, I'm talking about moderate Muslims getting caught in the crossfire.

It's unnecessarily confrontational and aggressive towards an entire swath of people.

And I would consider this image 'light-hearted' compared to what I've seen today.

Which brings me to my point about this protest which is that, essentially, it realizes my biggest worry about what this day would become: a vague but intensely angry statement that does nothing but incite and perpetuate anger on both sides of the argument.

Yes, I guess in a way it was to be expected -- 'cause it's far easier to demonize a whole religion rather than just picking out the Fundamentalists/Extremists who've created this situation.

And yet I can't help but find myself disappointed here 'cause I think the protest that people are really wanting to have is legitimate (calling for Free Speech and Tolerance) but I think if you're going to protest you should do so having taken some time to educate yourself about why you're protesting.

Of course, that's not exactly a sexy sell -- you know, having to do research and read or 'focus the fury'.

A great deal of the images I've seen today were obviously drawn by people who cared more about pissing people off and insulting Muslims than provoking discussion.

And that's a shame.

At least this picture -- again, as needlessly confrontational and overly-generic as it is -- offered a message and an attempt to quantify some of the feelings prevalent in the movement.

So, how would I change the timbre of it if I could?

I think, rather than targeting all Muslims with something like this and insulting or offending the wrong people, maybe we should be asking the moderates to stand up and help denounce those who're obviously not the majority.

But, then again, how can we ask the moderates to stick their necks out to denounce some very scary people if we can't even bring ourselves to tell the difference between them?

Unfortunately, I find myself worrying that a protest like this will end up doing more harm than good -- by continuing to put forth the image that all Muslims and followers of the Prophet Muhammad are extremists and by further narrowing any hope for intelligent discussion amongst those who do cordially (and/or quietly) disagree.

Cheers,
Brandon

P.S: Apparently Pakistan has banned Facebook over this. Not sure how that helped the Free Speech cause. Push-and-push-back. What's the next escalation?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Freedom from Speech

A whole lot's been said about the concept of 'Freedom Of Speech' over the years, by people far smarter than myself with far more brain-cycles invested.

In a way it's not unlike the concept of 'religion' -- a whole lot of people have a whole lot invested to the point where it defines their ideals and perceptions of the world.

Sometimes to self-destructive ends.

See 'Freedom' of any sort is a tricky thing 'cause it seems that often in our expression of our needs to be 'free' we find ourselves stepping on the needs of others.

And, unfortunately, it seems that 'watching where you step' is the least of a lot of people's worries these days.

I bring all this up because I've found myself thinking about 'Freedom of Speech' a lot lately. Not only about how this idea is impacting the world around me but also where I stand on the concept.

You see, I've always been a huge proponent that we should be free to say whatever we wish whenever we want -- no matter what little tidbit we have on our minds, we should be free to it shout from the rooftops at our leisure.

With one proviso: As long as we're willing to accept the consequences.

And think that's really getting toward the heart of what's been bugging me about this whole 'Free Speech' argument lately.

To me it seems like a whole mess of people have it in their heads that because it's called 'Free Speech' and because it is 'their right' that they should somehow be released from the ramifications of their actions.

That we should be able to say whatever we want to whomever we want and if you don't like it... well, suck it up 'cause 'it's my right'.

I recently saw a video that I thought I would take differently -- it disturbed me on a number of levels but not in the way I thought it would. I'm still figuring it out... but I think a lot of it comes down to these thoughts of mine that I've been having.

Warning: The video below has lots of yelling, swearing, angry people - some violence and some nudity.

In the video, Swedish artist Lars Vilks shows a video of Muhammad as a gay man (complete with man-on-man tongue-kissing and more) - to a room full of Muslim men, woman and children.

And yet, when this situation was described to me that part was left out. It was given to me with the context of a bunch of angry Muslims beating the crap out of a poor, simple artist.

And that's true. Well, at least the 'beating' part.

What they forgot to mention was that, to a room full of previously quiet people he blared an obnoxiously loud, aggressive piece of film that was utterly designed to provoke outrage in Muslim people.

Simply put: I wasn't given the whole story. I got one person's spin on what I was 'supposed' to see.

But I didn't see that.

Heck, even now, after doing my own research into it I'm sure I don't have the full story -- were the Muslim people there with their children knowing he would be playing something like this? Was it a bait and switch? What happened before Mr. Vilks started to play the film?

There are a lot of unanswered questions.

But to sit there and paint it as one innocent man beaten for no reason... I'm sorry I can't say that I agree. This video may have been designed to inspire thought and discussion, but the artists use of it... well, it felt like an attack to me.



As Thumper once learned a long time ago - and as so many grandma's are wont to say:

"If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all".

And I think it's a sentiment that's gone into hiding as of late as so many agendas try to push themselves to the forefront. EDIT: To clarify, this is not necessarily the idea that we should 'shut up' but more to the extent that we should be 'mindful' of each other.

See, while some have gone on to declare a 'Everyone draw Muhammad Day' to protest the anger at Muslims not being cool about their Prophet being depicted (even though, historically, Muhammad's been depicted by their own artists for hundreds of years), others have done a lot worse, beating on and/or hurting the first 'Muslims' they see.

While some have gone on to attack (or kill) those who would dare to 'deface' their Prophet, others have quietly written that this all getting out of hand.

It's like we're on the edge of a divide that's only growing, pulling in moderates from both sides as each side pushes things farther -- with bat-shit crazy antics like the recent 'South Park' threats turning hundreds of thousands of people into hating 'Muslims' when, in actual fact, most moderate Muslims were just as shocked and appalled by the threat as anyone.

And I feel like its a situation that's being created needlessly; That there's this push-and-push-back mentality that's growing for no other reason than to be confrontational or to force one's will against the other.

It's like there's this culture clash where both sides are saying 'this is how we believe the world should be' and a whole lot of people who normally wouldn't give a shit are being pulled into the crossfire as each side escalates their actions.

No we shouldn't have to curb the way we talk or think for extremists -- and certainly those who lost their shit over the original Muhammad cartoon (which, in my opinion was in bad taste) were extremists -- but now we're getting into a situation where some of us who disagree with the extremists are becoming belligerent and rude for no other reason than to spark anger and outrage.

Yes, some call it 'sparking debate'... sure, call it what you want. But it's obvious that a growing number of people don't want to debate this right now. It's still a sensitive topic.

I guess what I'm saying is that, really, it comes down to Respect.

And you don't have to 'understand' something to respect it.

Muslims - not all, but enough - have shown they're not cool right now with their Prophet being depicted in pictures; Certainly not as a terrorist (which is what that original cartoon was) and definitely not as a gay man.

Is that 'right'?

That's not our call, it's their culture.

I personally don't agree with some of the ideas and actions that are prevalent on Islam's treatment of women -- but it's not up to me to solve their problems. When women have had enough of this treatment (and there is a growing movement) they will free themselves. Does that mean I don't care about them? Absolutely not. Does that mean that I'm not outraged over 'honour killings' or gay men and women being beaten to death? No.

If someone asks for help, that's a whole other story.

However, for right now we've been told that it's a wound and that it's still sore -- yet many are out there still punching at it.

If that's what you want to do, that's fine. Say what you want. But know that you're doing so AFTER a whole whack of people have asked you not to.

Be honest with yourself, acknowledge and accept WHY you're doing these things.

Are you REALLY doing it to 'educate' and 'protect'? Are you trying to impose your will on a 'lesser' way of life or thought? Or are you venting an intense anger over a situation that feels both oppressive and beyond your control?

I mean, think of it this way for a moment:

It's like if I came up to you and started yelling in your face for no reason (subliminal message of the day: not all Muslims are extremists).

You ask me to stop but I just laugh at you because 'it's my right'. (It's not, but sure, why not, let's roll with it for a second.)

I've got that freedom to speak, sure.

But now I'm just being an asshole.

And where does that get anyone?

I think we need to take a moment and just breathe here - let the pulse rates drop a tad and just try to look at things from each other's perspective. There's a line of communication that's not being made.

And hey, if that connection can't be made right now then I think we should all just do our best to default to being the same decent human beings we (okay, most of us) usually are.

'Cause just because you can say something, doesn't mean you should.

Cheers,
Brandon

Monday, May 17, 2010

Music To My Ears




I spent this last Sunday out in Cobourg with some family, rooting for my step-mom as she rocked out violin-style with the Northumberland Orchestra & Choir -- of course I finally make it out to a show only for it to be their last of the season... go figure.

On the bright side, she was brilliant out there and I truly had a fantastic time -- there's just something amazing about being in a room with an orchestra, watching each section build their part of the piece as the conductor weaves it all together.

Classical music isn't something I've always had a connection to, it's something I've discovered over the years -- and even now I wouldn't consider myself a connoisseur... but still, it's a growing appreciation.

A special treat came at the end of the show with the appearance of world-class Canadian Violinist Adrian Anantawan.

Of course I say 'treat' in hindsight because I'd literally known nothing about him before he stepped into the room.

With that said, and now that I've heard him play: I have to know more.

You see, though Mr. Anatawan was born without a Right hand, he's pushed past what most would consider a 'disability' -- or what any other violinist might call an 'impossible situation' -- to become not only a master of his craft but an inspiration for a whole whack of kids (myself included).

At 26 years old, his resume already inspires awe:

National Spokesman for The War Amps of Canada? Check

Played at Carnegie Hall? Check
Played at the White House? Check
Played for Pope John Paul II? Check

Oh, and as if that wasn't enough, he recently did a little gig performing in the opening ceremonies for the 2010 Paralympics.

Not too shabby...



There's a lot I've yet to learn about appreciating fine music, but I'll be darned if Mr. Anantawan doesn't make it just a tad bit easier.

I had the pleasure of meeting him after the show, sneaking in for a bit after the crowd had dispersed, getting a moment or two to chat about what I had experienced.

To say that he's a down-to-Earth guy is an understatement -- I stood there and watched him engage with every single person who took the time to meet him. He'd chat and listen and sign autographs with dozens and dozens of people with nothing but a genuine smile on his face.

When I approached him we talked for a bit and I asked him about how much time he practices every day (4-ish hours - with maybe 2-2 1/2 actually being 'productive') and what he'd have loved to have done if he hadn't gotten into the Violin (become a Pianist) -- we wandered into an interesting chat about dedication and how hard it is to keep at it no matter who you are or where you're at in your career.

And, yes, we even talked about TV.

(Apparently he's a fan of Lost.)

So, please, take a moment, listen to him play. Hopefully you'll find his work as intriguing and exhilarating as I do.

Cheers!
Brandon

Saturday, May 15, 2010

You Say You Want A Revolution: My Review Of 'The Trotsky'

So last night I went out to see The Trotsky with some friends at the Scotiabank here in downtown Toronto and right off the bat I have to say I was pleasantly surprised to enter a theatre already over half-full.

One that was almost entirely filled by the time the lights went down.

Folks, this is what happens when you take time to promote a film properly: people show up.

Crazy idea, I know... but it works.

The Trotsky, while not exactly a barn-burner at first glance -- the title holds the painful duty of saying everything and nothing about the film -- turns out to be a Comedy that's not only funny (?!) but charming (and even a touch stirring) in the very best sense of the word.

As you may or may not know by now, the plot revolves around Leon Bronstein (Jay Baruchel) a seventeen-year-old kid who believes that 1) he's the reincarnation of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky and 2) he needs to re-live that former life to a T -- from marrying an "older" woman named Alexandra all the way down to his exile and untimely icepick assassination (hopefully while visiting someplace warm).

Luckily for our hero many of those things are far beyond the scope of this film, which is good because Leon's far too busy worrying about other things.

You see, after a (hilarious) failed attempt to unionize his father's shipping company young Leon finds himself a revolutionary in search of a revolution -- but not for long. Soon he's been shunted off to public school where he's only too delighted to rise up and confront the 'Fascist' principal who rules his students with an iron fist.

Colm Feore and Domini Blythe bathe in their roles here as Principal Berkhoff and Mrs. Davis (his faithful minion); acting as hard-nosed foils for our lead and making him infinitely more likable in every scene they're in. There's not much for them to do but provide a cold authoritarian grip for Leon to wrestle but what's there is played with gusto and panache. (Mr. Feore even gets a great lil' speech about the 'apathy' of youth).

What really elevates this film, however, is the relationships that surround our hero.

Emily Hampshire nails the landing as Leon's love-interest Alexandra Leith, masterfully blending revulsion and intrigue as the "older woman" Leon believes he's "destined" to marry. Together they share some of the funniest scenes in the film as he tirelessly works to wear down her defenses.

His family is, of course, modernly dysfunctional -- right down to the issues with his father David (Saul Rubinek). Thankfully the love and support from his mother Anne (Anne-Marie Cadieux) and sister Sarah (Tommie-Amber Pirie) is never in question and offers a nice beating heart behind it all.

That said, the chemistry between his would-be revolutionary cohorts is palpable and exciting to behold. Tiio Horn and Ricky Mabe are excellent as Caroline and Tony, bored student union reps slowly awakening to the power they wield thanks to Leon's urgings.

Yes, there's definitely a lot going on here but it all manages to come together thanks to the skillful guiding hand of writer/director Jacob Tierney. Each of his characters have been given their moments to shine and while this is obviously Mr. Baruchel's film, it never seems like a one-man show.

It's not all wine and roses however, and if there are any complaints to be made it'd be that I found the movie does seem to drag a tad in the 3rd act and the wrap up takes a bit longer than I'd like... but really these are small things in the grand scheme of it all.

The Trotsky is the kind of film I wish I'd seen when I was 17 or 18 and still full of that post-pubescent piss and vinegar.

To me, it's a film about self-empowerment; getting off your butt to make the changes you want to see instead of waiting for them to be given to you. It's about drive and passion and standing up for what you believe in, even if it means you're standing alone.

That it manages to share this message while keeping us laughing and without bashing us over the head or resorting to histrionics is a true credit to Mr. Tierney and his team.

In the end, a large part of this movie rests on a simple question: "Apathy or Boredom"?... and as I sat there watching the credits roll I couldn't help but find myself putting this question to a larger focus, more specifically: the Canadian (non) 'response' our film industry in general.

Is it that we truly, as a people, just don't care to see Canadian films? Or are we waiting to be wakened from a slumber?

There, surrounded by the crowd, laughing with strangers in the dark, I came to realize a simple fact:

It's definitely not apathy.

The Trotsky is a film that's worth your time and every cent of your money.

You can find show times in your area over here.

Go see this flick in the theater, with a crowd, while you can.

Cheers,
Brandon

Friday, May 14, 2010

Off To See The Trotsky

Big night tonight in Canadian Cinema:

Much-acclaimed film 'The Trotsky' is getting a proper opening weekend and I'm heading out to see it tonight with as many folks as I can.

I'm proud to get out there and support our Canadian films... especially the good ones -- and man, people just won't shut up about how great this film is.

Hopefully it lives up to the hype.



Often the hardest part for me is knowing when a film is coming out 'cause, really, one thing we're not known for in Canada is the 'full-court press' when it comes to promotions.

That's why I'm tickled pink that this film seems to be getting some love.

Unfortunately it appears to be the exception to the rule.

I recently checked out another Canadian film called The Wild Hunt and thought it was quite good as well... but I'd never have known about it if it weren't for my good buddy, and fellow Inkie, Rich Baldwin telling me how interested he was in seeing it.



Promotion in Canada is a tough nut to crack and it's something I've talked about a great deal before but hopefully, thanks to the rise of things like Twitter, we'll see more web-savvy filmmakers getting out there to kick some ass with their films.

That said, if I could just take a brief moment to talk to our Canadian filmmakers -- don't worry, this'll just take a second:

It's not 'selling-out' to get out there and hit the streets and web and radio to get people to see your movie.

As someone who spent a decent amount of time promoting indie artists back in the day, sometimes that's all you got: your passion.

I've seen people don sandwich boards and walk down Yonge street to promote their work.

Was that selling out? Maybe. Did it get people to come in and see their film or listen to their CD? Absolutely.

We know you have the passion, you managed to slog through all the crap to get your film made. Slog through just a bit longer to get people to see it.

That's all I'm asking.

And believe me, there are lots of people out there like myself who - if you're serious and have a good film - will help spread the word.

Come out from hiding, do some networking... we don't bite.

Anyways, yes. Seeing 'The Trotsky' tonight, will have a review up on it later tonight or tomorrow.

Cheers!
Brandon

Thursday, May 13, 2010

How do you like your oil?

Sorry folks, but this whole thing's got me biting back bile of another sort.

This picture sums it up for me though.

(The rest of the set can be seen here)

British Petroleum, thanks to their massive profit margin, will take 4 days to make back the $350 million they've spent thus far on the recovery.

Unfortunately we're going to be living with this, on a global level, for decades.

Seriously, all eco-tree-hugging-save-the-whales-and-planet stuff aside:

For a whole crap-ton of people, this is their new 'normal'.

Fuck you BP.

EDIT: Apparently the dead have been washing up on shore in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama for a while now. How bad is it? Well, apparently 'all bets are off' as to how far-reaching the devastation's going to spread 'cause -- and get this -- 'oil is bad for everything' in the ocean.

And Then Sometimes You Need Perspective



Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sometimes You Fall Down

Sometimes you can run a race, clear every hurdle only to land smack-dab on your nose an inch from the finish-line.

That's not exactly what happened to me.

See, today was the deadline for CFC applications.

And though for the last couple years it's been an excited, mad-dash for me to get out the door and up to the CFC to deliver my package... this year is different.

Though it's ready to go, I won't be submitting my application this year.

Simply put: It's just not good enough.

You see, one of the things I've learned over the last couple years is how to be honestly critical of my own work. How to gauge how others will react to what's on the page.

I'd like to think that it came about as some offshoot of my inner need to make people turn pages and want to see more; to want to know more.

I'd like to think that it's some internal tool I've developed to guide me as I hash things out on the page.

If that's true, then I want a refund.

See, this last weekend, as I read over everything, looked over the package that I'd created... I dunno. I felt... nothing. I wasn't just 'not excited' about it... I felt nothing. Every logical check-mark in my head told me it was good. And yet, there, looking it over as a whole, as one unit... dead air. I read through it and I found myself skipping over parts.

Not because I knew them by heart as a writer but because they bored me as a reader.

To say that I felt a sudden rush of panic... yeah, that was an understatement.

Especially considering that this is my third turn at bat.

On my first application I got a wicked reception, I had people at the CFC truly interested in me as an emerging writer. I didn't get in, but I was on their radar.

My second time, the line was set in stone and -- according to the bit in info I've been able to glean -- apparently I fell far short. A friend of mine even intimated that I had phoned it in, that I didn't try hard enough, thinking I'd be a lark to get in after my success the previous year.

On some level it made sense; THAT's why I didn't get in.

And for a long time I've believed that that's what happened.

But I don't think so now.

See, the second time around, my pilot - 'Healer' - was flawed but I still believed in it. Not a whole lot of people did, but I was still willing to stand behind it 100%. It was my baby and, lumpy flesh and all, I loved it. Even now, even when I see all the flaws, I still have a soft spot for it.

This year I really wanted to shine... so I put in the work; I thought hard about it and pushed myself. I thought I'd made serious headway, I thought I was pushing the envelope and showing my growth as a writer... but I dunno.

When it all came together I took a look at what was there and the only words that were dancing in my head were: "What's there, on the page... it's just not good enough."

And no matter how I frantically tried to rationalize it, to pick it apart and look at it from another angle... it wasn't getting any better.

I sat down, tried to re-write it, tried to fix it. But nothing stuck. I found myself making it worse, letting my emotion get me lost inside my own work to the point where I couldn't even tell which beams where structural anymore. I deleted things and 'fixed' things only to forget why I'd tried to fix it.

Not my smoothest moment as an emerging TV scribe...

It's a funny thing when you're trapped, digging at the bottom of a hole; how you forget to ask for help; To call in the Calvary to help save you from yourself.

For all the 'thinking' that was done... yeah, forgot to think about that one.

A couple friends've since tried to 'talk me down' -- saying it can't be that bad, that I'm just being dramatic -- and I love'em for it, but the thing is, it's not just my butt on the line here.

I had a couple very, very cool people on board who were willing to stick their necks out to write letters of reference on my behalf.

Yeah.

It's one thing to have high expectations for myself... but to let down people who unequivocally believed in me...?

Ugh...

But if I can't stand behind my own work 100%, how dare I ask them to?

Writing those letters, thanking them for their support but telling them I decided not to apply this year... well, yeah... that sucked. Moreso: Trying to make it sound all positive when every knot in my gut is squeezing on that throbbing 'you-fucking-loser' button.

Every little scratchy voice in the back of my head saying 'well, congrats, you blew it'.

Not fun.

I'm done my tears over it though -- I've had my fair run through the emotional gamut these last few days... and I just can't beat myself up about it any more.

As far as things go, there's a lot for me to learn... most of which I'm still dissecting as I write new pages for my own internal 'how-not-to-lose-my-shit' series bible.

Score 1 for writer neurosis.

For now.

S'okay tho', I'll get it back.

Cheers,
Brandon

This Started Out As A Comment Reply

But it got too long so I decided to post it as a whole new posting.

No, I'm not being lazy, there's another one coming later today.
__________________________
Hey G and John, thanks for popping on by!

GMajor: Yeah, going to the movies is a tough sell for families these days - especially considering the $12-18 ticket prices (if you wanna watch 3D) per person. Add in food and a few rambunctious rugrats and it's just too much to swing for most people.

That said, the FCC just gave permission for folks at the MPAA to start streaming first-run movies over 'secure' cable lines... so they're obviously aware of this and have been trying to address it.

http://filmtvindustry.suite101.com/article.cfm/fcc-decision-allows-studios-to-send-movies-straight-to-households

So, as long as they don't start charging $40 per movie or something this might actually end up being a good thing for them.

John: Piracy is a weird thing - especially considering the harsh vilification of them all as 'thieves'.

I mean, sure, some of them are criminals but some are dumb-ass kids too; Kids who've been told that if you 'go here' you can get stuff for free (which is a whole other problem).

However, if you think about the larger picture, those who most people would call 'pirates' are actually just people who WANT good quality content and are willing to spend an enormous amount of their free time tracking it down (and building massive networks - on their own dime - to share it with each other).

In a way, these pirates are the new critics... especially when it comes to film and TV.

They've become the vanguard of what's actually worth watching - because they're finding it, watching it and, if it's really good, pushing it out to everyone else (or, if it's crap, slamming the hell out of it).

Looking back on it, I think piracy of this level started because of the rising sense of 'crap' coming out of the Music Industry and Hollywood -- eventually growing into TV.

Specifically for movies, I think people got sick and tired of being lured in by flashy trailers or buzz only to be disappointed by films that the studios and/or distributors knew weren't good (as they tried to squeeze as much money out of the viewer as possible).

-- A recent example: Clash Of The Titans. That trailer made me want to dive into the theater... but damn that movie was not worth $15.

That said, there are times where I have to wonder if a lot of the furor over 'piracy' isn't more about studios getting angry that people are watching the bad films and shows ahead of time and warning others before they can try and recoup their losses.

Now, to be clear: there's nothing wrong with that (trying to recoup your losses). Movies and TV are an extremely expensive and risky business - sometimes movies and shows just don't turn out - it's not (always) the studio's fault that a production ends up as an uninspiring mess (or just 'meh').

They deserve to try and get some of that money back.

Where I think it all fell down was in treating the audience like a bunch of slack-jawed yokels who weren't intelligent enough to figure out they were getting played. Consistently.

Some of them figured out how to fight back - and with the rise of personal recording technology (and 'unlimited bandwidth'... remember that?!?) it was just a matter of time.

Yes, this sounds like I'm taking a 'legalize it' stance... and in a way I am. Surely not in the most egregious of cases -- there are people who deserve to be punished here -- but I think a lot of what people call 'piracy' is just an untapped audience that's wrongly vilified.

If you look at classic examples of 'piracy' -- especially software piracy -- hell, that's how entire empires were built.

*cough* Windows, AutoCad, Photoshop *cough*

Of course it didn't hurt that they had a decent product... but there were a lot of decent programs back then (OS/2, Corel, etc). In the end it was because these products came with no protections, because they were easy to share, that they earned and built upon an active userbase of people who lent each other their floppy disks and CDs -- long before BBS's and USENet and Warez and Torrents.

(One could even say the same for the rise of Linux... which some still see as 'piracy'.)

Anyways, yes, like I said earlier, there will always be idiots who exist to screw the system... and that's life. There will always be Car Thieves and Purse Snatchers too.

But I truly believe that if we find ways to acknowledge and work with 'pirates' a lot of good will come from it (on both sides of the argument).

I think that the industry is moving too slow for these elite media consumers and rather than trying to catch up, or bring them on board, they're being tracked and sued and arrested.

There has to be a happy (or at least 'content') medium -- and I think it's just a matter of WANTING to find it.

Personally, I think you can start to find it by first treating them with respect and maybe even some authority. Change the tempo of the argument and play to their needs: feed them content at a fair price, before anyone else gets to see it. Involve them, interact with them and show them that their opinion (the one we're always clamouring for anyway) is valuable.

And who ever does that -- first, best or whatever -- the first to successfully bridge that gap, wins the internet content war.

But, again, just my 2 cents.

Cheers,
Brandon

Monday, May 10, 2010

Copy Fight

As the copyright debate flares up in Canada once again, our good friend Mr. McGrath makes the excellent point that there aren't a whole lot of people thinking about the 'creator' side of things.

In truth, I'm finding it a difficult dilemma indeed - as both a future content creator and current consumer.

I don't have a whole lot of answers for us content creators... well, not directly... but I've been thinking about something that might be interesting to consider for the whole 'piracy' angle.

One thing I've learned as I've gotten older is that the less personal investment I have in something the less I care about it.

I remember saving up for weeks on my paper route to buy a copy of Chrono Trigger for my SNES, I played that game into the ground and I loved every second of it; Found every secret, unlocked every ending. It wasn't just that it was an amazing game, even as a kid I felt the need to get my money's worth. I'd paid for it, worked hard to get it... so I wanted to make sure I got every last cent out of it.

This was true even of my favourite movies. I saved up to buy Back To The Future on VHS and watched it until the tape broke.

I invested of myself to get something that I wanted.

And yet here I am, even today, flipping through videos on YouTube without a care.

Now I know a few of you just rolled your eyes - certainly there's no correlation. But man, I can't even be inspired to click on the ads for some of the very well-produced or funny ones. Even though it'd only take one second of my valuable time.

I feel like there's this been this consciousness shift... like there's so much content, so freely available that very little of it really matters anymore. It's something I've been noticing for a while now and it's happening all over - I know people who have these massive, massive collections of music -- that they download from Limewire and the like -- but they don't even listen to it.

Why? Just to have. To collect.

Sure, they've got their playlists or whatever but that doesn't explain the 100+ gigs or more of 'stuff' kicking around.

Heck, I know more than a handful of people off the top of my head who've given up on watching TV at all. They don't need P2P, they hop on any number of the video streaming sites and just watch what they want when they want. Whether it's iTunes or not (often not).

And I know I'm not the only one.

I've seen the reports of movies and shows live on the web months before release or within minutes of airing... the truth is that - at least for the moment - there's no way to stop the people who want to circumvent the system.

And there are a lot of them. And their numbers are growing.

I guess what I'm thinking is that we, as creators, need a consciousness shift as well.

Like most businesses I think we're going to have to accept a certain amount of 'breakage', understanding that no matter how hard we try we're never going to get dollar for dollar return on everything we put out there.

Perhaps -- and I'll do my best to take my egging in stride -- what we need to do is change, or at least update, the way we look at our content and our audience.

What if we looked at file-sharers and 'pirates' as, well, boons to the industry?

And, if that were true, if we looked at it from that perspective, how could we take the 'problem' they represent and make it a solution?

Perhaps even get them to work with us?

I mean, what do we really sell these days? The content? Sure.

But what about the experience?

I know that in the West end of Canada there are a fair amount of people who love their time-shifting... why? Because they get to see their shows before everyone else. It's a simple thing, but it's something. It's neat. A privilege, even -- especially if you have thousands of hungry fans sitting there jealous of you 'cause you got to see it hours or days before them.

Now, granted, what I'm about to propose may not solve every problem in the pipe... but it might offer some glimmer... something to build off of.

Why don't we offer people like our 'pirates' the 'privilege' of seeing shows before they go to air?

And, I mean at a reduced rate.

Why not treat them like they're out there on the vanguard? As being special? Pioneers even. The first to discover the next big hit.

I mean, since they're already out there actively searching out content, doing the legwork for you - they're creating entire networks on their own to talk about and recommend your shows by passing them off to one another. (See: Battlestar Galactica)

What if, for 99 cents and for a limited amount of time, your user gets a one-time, HD, commercial-free link that takes you to your show, streamed from the cloud into a stand-alone player.

Maybe you fill out some surveys, maybe you write a review... but you get to see a show that won't air for a few months.

Sort of like that preview screening they do in LA and Vegas but online and not just with 'new' shows.

I'm talking every show. From The Mentalist to Sons Of Anarchy to Top Chef or CSI.

Heck, maybe you get to see it Tuesday night even though it airs on Wednesday.

I know people will pay for that.

Maybe it's as simple as the average consumer getting access to the kinds of publicity discs usually reserved for reviewers or something.

But the best part is that these people -- if it's a new show, and they like it, become your champions. They create your community for you. They get eyes and PVRs glued for the actual air date and, hey, at 99 cents a pop you're even making a bit of cash.

Cash that maybe - just maybe - can go to... you know, creators.

Broadcasters/Studios/Distributors, don't balk. Seriously: It's win/win.

I mean, hey, if it's an established show you're still building word-of-mouth advertising (which anyone will tell you is the strongest form -- and thus, to me, most expensive).

The best part is that, really, I think this is a model that anyone could use... given time. I mean, even if the technology's not entirely here yet it's definitely coming down the pipe.

Granted, maybe this is just me saying 'can't we all just get along'... but maybe there's something there too.

Perhaps if we can cut down on the 'piracy' stuff, or, more specifically, change our perception of it -- find a way to make it make some sort of return then... well, maybe it'll pass on down; People won't be so pissy about locking shows down to various formats and players and the like.

Maybe we'll all find a way to get our fair share of the pie.

True, this doesn't deal with the tendency of people (Gate Keepers) to be greedy SOBs... but maybe it gives something for creators to swing for. Something to ask for. Or demand, if you've got a great lawyer or agent.

I'm just saying that maybe treating the 'pirates' like your elite audience is a step in the right direction.

Then again, maybe I'm just off my freaking rocker.

In closing, true, you're not going to get everyone - there will always be people out there who's entire life's goal is to molest the system... but I think you'll see more return from following something like this.

Or as so many grandma's have said:

"You'll catch more flies with honey than vinegar".

Just my 2 cents.

Cheers,
Brandon

Thursday, May 06, 2010

How V Won Me Back

I've had my head down for the last while, working on my CFC app, trying to make this sucker sing but it's frustrating the heck out of me... so let's talk about something else for the moment.

A redemption tale... of sorts.

A tale I'm surprised to find myself telling.

'Cause, truth be told, I don't know why I stuck with V.

With so much good TV on these days I certainly don't have the time or patience to sit through bad dialogue and hackneyed plots.

And yet I did. Every Tuesday night my PVR's kicked in to tape another episode and I haven't stopped it.

A part of me thought it might be a hold-over from my Firefly days, that I'm just happy to see Morena Baccarin on TV again -- and that part's true -- but recently I've found myself thinking about the show.

Not a ton, but there's definitely a growing intrigue.

Heads up, this post is going to be rather V spoiler-riffic so if you care and/or don't want to know some stuff, you should probably stop here.

I found myself talking to a friend today about the show, and they were telling me about how they stopped watching at episode 3.

And that's when it happened: I found myself saying "Actually, it's gotten better".

I went on to describe the most recent episode of the series to them, and some of the newer arcs that have come up.

You know what? They were intrigued. They wanted to know more.

To be truthful about it... I do too.

You see, in the last episode the 5th column (the 'resistance') caught wind -- thanks to a spy on the V mothership -- that the head Evil Alien (Anna) was going to send down a ship-full of super-specialized 'tracker' aliens.

Some breed of V that, if they made it to the surface, would disperse and be utterly unable to be stopped... it would only be a matter of time before these 'trackers' figured out who the leaders of the resistance were -- why they weren't used before now, I dunno, but it was played as a legitimate threat and so our 'resistance' knew the only thing they could do was make sure that ship never landed.

Through one of their 'magic man' connections, they got their hands on a stinger missile and loaded it with the 'V shield' codes pilfered thanks to their ship-spy and set about blowing said ship out of the sky.

Only thing was - and this was the part that made me sit up straight: Anna had, thanks to her own spy, found out this was going to happen.

So she loaded the ship with people.

Her plan was simple and brilliant: The 'resistance', by blowing up this ship of unarmed men, women and children, would become an official terrorist organization in the eyes of the Human populace.

And it worked, brilliantly. Anna stood before the world spouting her bit about how 'they were of peace' but then added how since she'd never wanted to incite violence, it was time for all the V's to leave the planet -- which caused the world to stand up as one and say 'No! Don't Go!'; which lead to the formation of a President-backed Human anti-5th-column initiative.

One that has our main character (one of the secret leaders of the 'resistance') and a V at the helm. Unfortunately, that V is loyal to Anna.

Ruh roh.

So... how did they do it? How did they get V back on track (or ON track)?

1. They made Anna a brilliant, ruthless psychopath.
Yes, this was intended from the get-go... but they finally made it work.

We sci-fi geeks like to romanticize how Vulcans 'don't get' Human emotions... but this is exactly the kind of stuff we should've been witnessing from them.

Anna 'gets' human emotion but only in the scientific sense - a sort of 'If I poke here they scream like this' thing. She can smile, she 'empathize' but it's all a mask... one that she can wear and drop at a whim. It's insanely creepy and Morena Baccharin pulls it off with style. You WANT to believe her even though you know she's going to kill you. Horribly.

1.1 They gave Anna's Daughter (Lisa) conflicting human emotions
She was originally a soulless lackey, a pretty little puppet for mommy. But the creators made her actually start to fall for the whiny sack of meat called Tyler (more on him later). Slowly Lisa's become aware of exactly what mommy's been doing to the Humans she keeps aboard her ships. And that her boy-toy has been part of Anna's experiments.

Lisa's starting to realize that something's amiss. She's starting to feel. And mommy's not happy about that.

She's become the show's Spock/Data/Odo/7 of 9 - the outsider waking up to this world around them, trying to process what it means to have emotions and 'feel' and 'be' human (even if you're not). And it's putting her into direct conflict with mommy... in a good way.

Points 1 and 1.1 were exceptionally illustrated in the most recent episode where -- and this is absolutely fantastic -- Lisa's failure to bring Tyler on board (because she 'cared' for him enough to break up with him and save him from Anna) caused Anna to bash her daughter's face in and order the guards to break her legs.

Her rationalization? She'll tell everyone that Lisa was hurt in a terrorist attack and that'll bring Tyler running back to her. *blink*

Damn!

2. They defined the Human strength as their weakness.
Humans are fighting an enemy who have no concept of conscience. The V's will do whatever it takes to move their goal forward. The show has taken great pains to illustrate just what the 'resistance' won't do. For example, in the last episode, one resistance member's moment of kindness (warning the wrong person not to travel on the V ships today) ended up creating the situation that got them all painted as terrorists.

His one moment of caring for the wrong person could very well bring down the entire resistance.

Brilliant.

3. They shut up the brat.
Tyler's been an inconceivable teenage wanker from the get-go. He's an irrational caricature -- some adult imagining that that's what kids must be like 'these days'. An impudent, reckless teen but the worst possible iteration.

And they've finally shut him up... at least for now. I don't know how long it'll last but my gawd I hope he never speaks again. Hopefully, now that Lisa's crushed his widdle heart, he'll grow up a tad and chill the hell out. Maybe he'll wise up and be a freedom fighter, maybe have to try taking out his girlfriend. Maybe he'll get blown up or hit by a bus. I dunno, but we can hope.

Anyways, yes, the show's not perfect, but it's definitely on the upswing. Things are getting better and I'm finding myself intrigued.

Maybe there's hope for V yet.

Cheers,
Brandon

Monday, May 03, 2010

What's that? Sunlight?!

Progress!

My NSI application is done - like, 'wow, this is really freaking good!' done.

Seriously. I'm all proud and stuff.

This whole last weekend was a testament to sitting down, putting my nose to the grindstone and just trying to get'r done. Things were 'done' but not 'finished' you know?

Heck, even Sunday night I was doing another pass over my pilot script, making sure as much of it as possible was as perfect as possible; incorporating last-minute notes and finding grammar mistakes or dialogue to punch up or ways to make things clearer.

Sometimes it's as simple as the order of a sentence.

One line that reads perfectly fine to me ('cause I wrote it) but confuses the heck out of someone who, well, isn't me.

It's something that my producer has no qualms telling me about.

And really, that's just one of the many reasons why she's top notch; why, if nothing else, this whole application process has been such a phenomenal experience for me.

As someone who's always sort of toiled alone, I feel very privileged to have met someone who not only understands what my show is about but is as excited and passionate about it as I am.

As a team we've adopted a motto -- it's simple, and it's one that I've learned from listening to much wiser people than myself, but it works:

"The show comes first. Always."

What that's meant for us as a team is that when it's time to work, our egos are left at the door. There are no 'yeah but!' or 'you can't' moments - our response thus far has always been a very predictable "okay, how can we make it better?"

And through that we've come to a place of mutual trust - we get each other and we get that we're both here to put the show on a pedestal. Every idea, even the not-so-good ones (and we both have them) are valuable. They all lead us somewhere good eventually.

Thus, when my producer has notes for me I look at them as if she's trying to help make the show better.

And she is. And she does.

My job as a writer is to, yes, tell a great story first but I also have to make things as crystal clear and easy to follow as possible; whether it's for the reader or the 100+ people who may come along and try to realize this crazy fever-dream of ours.

I figure that, hey, if she's bumping on something or is confused by something then it's on me to make sure it makes sense.

There's no anger or resistance there. It's my job. (and I love my job!)

When she offers a note and I don't quite feel that it works, I talk to her and try to understand what's really important about it - what's at the heart of it.

And we can do that, talk to each other honestly, because we've created an environment that allows for it; we built that foundation, that trust in each other, first.

[SIDE NOTE]: Again, this is all stuff I've learned over the years by listening to advice from wise, wise people like Mr. Denis McGrath and Mr. Peter Mitchell at their various public appearances - it wasn't hard to implement, it just took a genuine want from both sides. [/side note]

For example, one last-minute note I had about my script was that I had this big moment set up and I had my main character say "and I know just where to get it" before storming off with purpose to take on the bad guy.

She felt I shouldn't have them say anything at all, just give a determined look and head off.

So I tried writing it that way.

But I found it still needed something. It needed a recognition or a statement or a reaction that was verbal. It was too jarring otherwise.

What was her note really about? Well, in this case, she (and such is her gift as a note-giver) told me exactly what she felt the problem was.

She said she felt like the dialogue was too much of a setup. That it came off like "haha look how clever I am going to be".

Essentially, that I'd get a better 'reveal' if I didn't push it so much.

So, with that in mind I went back and re-wrote that scene. I pulled it back and changed it to 'a scowl' and a very simple but determined "Okay".

The result? When the 'reveal' comes, it IS a stronger scene. When I showed it to my producer? She thought it was great too - a full-on thumbs-up.

The intention of her note had been realized, I had found a way to make it work AND the script was stronger for it.

Can't argue with that.

All-in-all, I've gotta say that it's such a refreshing feeling to have someone in my corner on this; both of us cheering each other on and helping to make the show the best it can be.

Cheers!
Brandon