Tuesday, December 29, 2009


…with apologies to Dante Alighieri

The First Circle of Hell – Writing About Ivana Trump.

The Second Circle of Hell – Flying These Days – You know, things like: having to get to the airport three hours early so you can stand in line to be humiliated by cold hands and colder glares, unless you're into that sort of thing. Not to mention the strip tease you have to do – if only they would add a stripper pole to the lines…

The Third Circle of Hell – Pack Your Single Allowed Bag Expecting to be Searched and having your intimates gone through three times in the course of getting to a single destination.

The Fourth Circle of Hell – Not Being Able to Have Anything on Your Lap the Last Hour of Your Flight – What does this do to the Mile High Club – get your fun in before that last hour.

The Fifth Circle of Hell – Terrorists.

The Sixth Circle of Hell – Children in Airports – See Number Five.

The Seventh Circle of Hell – Children on Airplanes – See Numbers Five and Six.

The Eighth Circle of Hell – Flight Attendants who do Nothing about Screaming, Running, Yelling, Spitting, Crying, Children in hermetically sealed tubes with stale air, stale food, stale restrooms and no parachutes to escape.

The Ninth Circle of Hell – Sympathizing and Empathizing with Ivana Trump for getting P.O.'d at Children who Run, Scream, Yell and Cry on airplanes and Flight Attendants who do Nothing about them.

But even so Ivana Trump should be drawn and quartered or worse yet made to spend an hour in Chucky Cheese or Gymboree, just because she's Ivana Trump.

Friday, December 18, 2009

What do writers and actors have in common?

They're both searching for their characters.

I once had a producer tell me that character is "picking your nose with a .38." He meant the pistol, of course, unless he had something else in mind, which I'd rather not know about. But character is not "picking your nose with a .38;" it's not wearing a fedora or a handlebar moustache, driving a tricked out Mini or even carrying a .44 Magnum, "the most powerful handgun in the world". Though many people, like this producer, seem to confuse superficial attributes with character.

Character is the decisions and choices the character makes. But to get to that you have to ask yourself and your character some basic questions. What does your character want and/or need? And why? To what lengths are they willing to go to get it? Will she choose X over Y? What is he willing to sacrifice to get what he wants? Plus other questions such as these and the usual basic backstory questions about everything from their background to their eye color.
Even in Dirty Harry's case the Magnum is only a character attribute or "tic," if you will. But it isn't Harry's character. Harry's character comes out of the choices Harry makes, choices to defy the system, do things his own way and get justice at any cost, not giving a damn about the legal niceties.

But how do you get to know your character? One way is to get to know your character's backstory. And that backstory will guide you to your character's decisions and make him consistent. Actors, like writers, want to know their character's backstory so they can know how and why the character reacts this way or that in a certain situation and thus how to play the part. Writers and actors have a lot in common. The main thing is that they both have to find the heart and soul of their characters.

And even though actors are handed a script most scripts are like a blueprint for a building. The basis for the building is there but right now it's just lines on a piece of paper or a computer screen. In this sense writers and actors have a lot in common and they can learn from one another. Not too long ago I did a review of "The Right Questions for Actors" by acting coach Jeanne Hartman. In it she asks fifteen questions that actors should ask themselves when considering their character. Some of these can help us writers see our character's secrets, while others will help in seeing the power relationships (who's dominant and submissive) between characters, etc. Most, if not all, of these questions are good things for writers to consider when writing our characters. Spiral bound and with worksheet pages, it's not a bad guide for writers as well as actors. And it might also be good if we put ourselves in the heads of our characters the way an actor might.

The bottom line is that we can both learn from each other's crafts. Even if we're not writing for the visual arts, stage, screen, television, the art of the actor can help us get into the heads of our characters.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

John Lennon

Today is the 29th anniversary of John Lennon's death. Below is an article I wrote about his death on the one year anniversary. It was published in the Los Angeles Daily News. I still have the same populist outrage as I did then, though there's been a lot of water under the bridge and I've changed in many ways. Still, it's interesting to see what the world -- my world -- was like back then.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Alice Cooper said "welcome to my nightmare." And I say "Welcome to my blog," and it's all sort of the same thing, isn't it?

I didn't know what I would write about for my first blog post. Do I tell all three of you out there reading this what I had for breakfast, how fabulous my shower was today or about the case of mistaken dog identity that almost landed my pup in the clink (a true story and maybe for another time)? Or I could even talk about writing. Instead I want to talk about the incident with Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the real reality unreal couple who crashed President Obama's dinner a week ago.

I guess a pretty face and blonde hair goes a long way toward making a Secret Service agent smile. "Hey Big Boy, is that your Sig 9mil or are you just happy to see me?" Whatever, something in the way she moved – or he – opened the doors to the White House for Tareq and Michaele.

I remember an incident from the last millennium where I was at a dinner with then-President Gerald Ford, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and a horde of other guests. We had arrived early, gone through the Secret Service checkpoint at the entrance and went to our table in the first row off the head table. We were impressed that one seat had a note on it that said "Reserved for Secret Service." And you can believe no one sat in that seat, though I'm sure that that little seat sign wouldn't have stopped Tareq or Michaele Salahi had they thought that was the best seat at the table. After all, reality show stars – or hopefuls – are more important than the Secret Service anyway and I can just see them surreptitiously switching the sign to another seat.

After about 45 minutes and the hall filling up, one of the people at our table wanted to go back out to his car to get his camera. Ten minutes passed; he still hadn't returned. Twenty. Thirty. Forty-five. Almost an hour. The place was already full when he left so it's not like he had to stand in line to get back in. The wayward wanderer finally returned.

"Where've you been?" we asked.

"I was stopped by the Secret Service at the door."

It turns out that the eagle-eyed Secret Service agents remembered our buddy, one of the first people to arrive, leaving without a jacket when he went to retrieve his camera. When he returned with the camera he'd also brought his jacket. The agents noticed and wondered why. It certainly hadn't gotten any colder. They interrogated him for almost an hour to make sure he wasn't sneaking in a hydrogen bomb or illegal fruit.

I've been impressed with the Secret Service ever since, to have remembered one man and his jacket (or lack of) out of hundreds of people seemed an amazing feat. If only those same agents had been on the door to greet the Salahis. And hopefully what happened at that event is an anomaly and not a sign of a new, kinder and gentler Secret Service. We went on to enjoy the rest of the evening with a steely-eyed Secret Service agent at our table, who kept a keen and steely eye on our wandering friend.