World Cup

Sorry American Soccer Haters, Soccer is Finally Here to Stay!

World Cup

Many Americans more adept to watching uniquely American sports such as basketball, football and baseball will now have to contend with a new arrival: professional soccer. Much to the chagrin of the monolingual and culturally isolated, unlike in 1994, actual “football” is not going anywhere!

Nielsen Ratings showed that the World Cup Final in the United States had higher ratings than the NBA Finals, World Series and BCS College Football championship.

After the 1994 World Cup was held in the US, many pundits were predicting the soar in popularity of the sport. The newly launched MLS (Major League Soccer) debuted with ten professional teams playing out of American football stadiums in 1996. Unfortunately, the MLS lost $250 Million in its first five years of existence, and nearly went bankrupt. People were quickly predicting the downfall of the sport only years after predicting its future dominance.

Since the 2002 World Cup where the US Men’s National Team had a better than expected performance, the league has since expanded its reach and has become profitable. Several new teams were also added to the MLS. Additionally, in 1999, the Columbus Crew organization built the first stadium solely devoted to professional soccer in the United States. By 2011, the MLS had a better attendance record than both the NBA and the NHL with an average of 17,872 spectators.

Of course the league is not without its criticism, and coverage of the MLS still palls in comparison to its better domestically covered sports rivals, such as the MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL. The MLS is also considered to be a much weaker league than its European club counterparts, with shorter seasons and less well-developed players overall. The shorter league means players have less endurance and stamina when compared to their European rivals, a criticism made by US Men’s coach, Jurgin Klinnsmann. Rarely if ever do American players compete with major teams in Europe apart from the MLS All Star members. The NCAA system also fails to provide the rigorous levels of development that many European club systems like Bayern Munich and other heavyweight clubs do. MLS has long been dubbed a retirement league for peak players on the decline, with notable MLS players from abroad including Beckham, Henry, David Villa and Kaka. If the MLS is to get bigger, many suggest we need to attract younger talent or develop better players on our own like many poorer South American clubs do. The lack of corporate sponsorship when compared to the European leagues or even the NFL does not do much to help give teams the financial freedom to develop in a more efficient manner.

Yet in spite of the several valid criticisms of the MLS, it does not do much to reduce demand for the popularity of soccer in the United States. As our world has become more connected online, many Americans have had the pleasure of discovering international club teams through online streaming services. Channels like Fox Soccer, debuting in 2006, attempted to cater to this widening audience of soccer enthusiasts looking to support international heavy weights domestically. Still only certain games were made available on the network, and the Champions League failed to generate the kind of enthusiasm here as it has done abroad, especially lacking American participation. Fox Soccer ceased all operations as a network in 2013. However, soccer fans still wouldn’t stop pushing for a change in availability of their favorite sport.

In 2013, NBC Sports Network announced it would carry every English Premier League game live on air. The English Premier League is the most popular European soccer league, attracting some of the worlds best talent, reaching 98% of the world beyond England. Despite Fox Soccer going defunct, the NBC move was a stunning success. The NBC Sports Network, in spite of the time difference, got people out of bed watching English soccer at 7:30 AM on the Eastern seaboard, and as early as 4:30 AM in the Pacific Coast market. It doesn’t often interfere with American sports broadcast locally in the afternoon and evening, providing the perfect filler from a network perspective. Viewership for the final day of the Premier League season was rated by Nielsen to be an average of 4.9 million viewers, a stunning 172% increase. Overall, NBCSN saw viewership of the Premier League across the season go from 13.1 Million on ESPN and Fox Soccer in 2011-12 to an average of 31.5 million viewers in 2013-14.

While the MLS has a long way to go to attract the sort of talent necessary to hold American interest in teams here, international clubs and teams have continued to fuel soccer’s growth in the US. Many cities and regions in the US have local supporter clubs for teams based abroad. Video game FIFA 13 saw a 42% sales increase in the US alone from the year 2012. With the plethora of international talent, and ultimate team play using FIFA players, American’s were further introduced to more star players outside the MLS. FIFA 14 continued the sports dominance virtually, rated one of the best games for the new console systems with an average rating of 9.2/10 by Xbox Magazine. Merchandise continues to fly off the shelves, with major US sports retailer Modells routinely failing to restock enough shirts and jersey’s to satisfy demands during the World Cup. Enrollment in local youth leagues has continued to rise across suburbs throughout the nation and amateur leagues in major cities like New York have seen a large increase in player interest among adults.

It may have taken 20 years since 1994, but soccer will only continue to grow here. The seed was planted and watered through several years of international play in addition to the exposure to new teams and markets with the advent of international streaming services and new cable TV options. The influx of Latin American immigration in certain key communities has also largely contributed to the sports rise in popularity domestically in spite of continued lack of interest in more rural areas of the nation. Even the Euro tournament in between the World Cup has garnered significantly more interest in the US despite the absence of domestic players. And so whether or not the MLS improves, the US has gotten its taste of the world’s game. And while the NFL may continue to dominate domestically because of the bible belt and beyond, real football will only continue to grow in popularity domestically. The world’s game is finally here to stay.

 

The Aftermath

He sat across from me at lunch, chewing over my words, hearing everything I was saying but he disagreed. “Everyone is capable of picking themselves up after failure,” added Alex (the name I’ll go with to protect his true identity). Alex has been studying behavioral psychology in the Netherlands. He was so sure of peoples abilities, he couldn’t understand the prevailing cultural attitude toward why some can recover from defeat while others cannot.

“Social Darwinism is an excuse,” he opined, “anyone is capable of self improvement, of making things better. It’s just hard work.”

Many years before we met my friend Alex here was in a band about to make it big. Drug use was common at just about every level, and he admitted to being entirely too dependent on marijuana to cope with the incredible amount of stress that came with working in the business. Worse than heavy dependence on pot was the cornucopia of pills and other various drugs which studio owners would leave out like some kind of cheese platter for the musicians to sample.

Just as his band was about to make it really, really big — they didn’t. One of his buddies became so hooked on drugs, he nearly killed himself because he didn’t sleep for 48 hours while high on a cacophony of racing substances including cocaine and marijuana to try and bring himself back to the ground. The business had begun to take its toll on him, and those he grew up around. It started with wanting to make something that mattered, only to realize that in the scheme of things you don’t matter at all.

You are replaceable at every level of the entertainment business. It is this constant battle for survival which at times creates desperation and desperate behavior. Needless to say, both hinder ones ability to make art or to make money selling it.

My friend eventually entered rehab for marijuana dependence. He didn’t like that he felt that he was unable to function without toking several times a day. He, like many dependent on marijuana, told himself its really not that big of a deal — its much safer than binge drinking. The problem was that in his gut, he knew this wasn’t true. He was depending on artificial relief for a problem he was unable to face: depression. The long term side effects of chronic use aside, he decided to kick the habit by facing his demons. He no longer associates himself with people that abuse substances, including his former band mates and friends of that time period.

“You have to get rid of everyone that was a part of that life, everyone you used with. There’s no excuses.” This he admitted was the hardest part because he enjoyed more than just drug culture with them. He appreciated music, art and just being “bros.” He knew what he had to do, and made the right decision by going his separate way from them.

His story is one of many. He firmly believes through his own experiences in addition to his PhD studies in Europe, that people can do incredible things with the right mindset and will power. It wasn’t easy to leave a whole group of people and life behind, but he knows he is better for doing so.

It is so easy to feel trapped by ones circumstances. It is so easy to wallow in your own sea of sorrow, not accepting that you are perfectly in control of your own situation. Marijuana or any other drug of choice, even binge eating, will not change your life around. It will provide a temporary pleasure until you repeat the addictive and dependent activity.

Whether dependent on a substance or suffering through a down turn in career or life, the only way to survive the aftermath is to forge a new chapter. Defeat need not come to define us. Find new ways to forge ahead. Be creative, find ways to excel that you haven’t before. Sometimes you may even need to take a step back before you can take a step forward. You might need to humble yourself. We cannot always be at the top all the time. You may need to take a job that signifies defeat, or embarrassment. But you take that job in order to always be moving ahead. Never stand still.

You cannot just perpetually wait on people or for things to go your way. You cannot just sit back and hope that contacts in the past will be contacts in the future. You cannot turn to substances to make yourself feel functional. You cannot start spreading blame without realizing how you yourself contributed to your own downfall. Sometimes it is the fault of external people or things, but there is always the self to blame too. Maybe your temper or attitude keeps people away? Maybe people find your substance abuse off-putting and unstable, thus not wanting to form a professional relationship. Maybe you are surrounding yourself with people who are lesser than yourself and people see that as unprofessional and weak. If you are the smartest person in the room, you ought to find a new room.

If we just sit and allow ourselves to see how we also contribute to our problems, overcoming them is so much easier. Since taking this advice to accept self-blame, I have seen amazing improvement in my own life leading to incredible happiness. The moment we are happy is the moment we are at our creative and professional best. It is never too late to merely accept to defeat and know that is it not permanent. Start today, don’t wait another day to start making a better life. Don’t dwell in the aftermath longer than necessary.

 

 

 

Love is a Force of Nature

Falling in love is a bit like the rules of gravity, that once you begin to fall, you are hopeless to stop the laws of nature. As mere mortal beings we are hopeless to control the forces of nature, only to understand our interaction with it.

If we could control who we fall in love with, we wouldn’t fall at all. If we had any way to stop strong feelings toward one another, romantic or otherwise, we would push back with reason against something which is wholly irrational. We cannot explain how it happens, only that when it happens, we know that is has.

To this day the laws of physics have failed to adequately define gravity. We have hypothesized spacial curvature to begin to provide some known shape to our universe made up from matter we still fail to largely understand. “The big bang shouldn’t have created our universe,” scientists today claimed.

In those few seconds after what has come to be called “the big bang,” the hole should have caved in on itself. Instead, millennia later highly developed complex organisms live to write about it, without ever truly understanding it.

Man is arrogant. He believes he can postulate the answer to everything. The true insanity is not the person who comes to fall for natures laws, but one who constantly tries to explain it.

Humans have always sought to understand things from a highly logical perspective. That when things do not fit our notion of what is logical, it must be irrational, or insane. We live life and try to explain why things happen, striving to find some answer to an eternities old existential question, but the answer is not universal. There is no universal truth.

Not everything can necessarily correspond to logic in the way it is classically defined. Certainly not love. The moment we try to dehumanize the experience of nature is the moment we loose what it means to truly love or be loved in return.

We should merely exist in awe of natures beauty and be happy we are complex and alive enough to even understand what it feels like to love, to feel strongly or to care deeply about another species or human being. The universe is full of many questions, not all of which necessarily must be understood by man.

 

 

To the Girl on Her Cellphone Throughout ‘The Fault in Our Stars’

I took my mother to see the emotional cancer drama and romance film, The Fault in Our Stars the other day. It was the biggest film over the weekend, grossing nearly $60 million on a budget of $12 million. It was a story that resonated with people because of the way it sought to stress the importance of our impermanence here on earth, to value every moment we have, and to love unconditionally and selflessly. Unfortunately not everyone got that message. In particular, one young teenage girl who sat on her phone throughout the film. So I dedicate this post to her, in the hopes that maybe putting the message differently, it will make more sense.

At the age of nine, I almost died. In fact I came within a few heartbeats of being declared dead.

My youth up until that point consisted of travel soccer, softball, playing Nintendo and trips to the movies. I was a healthy, young vibrant kid who loved to make people laugh. I loved movies, even as a kid, and I would watch anything my parents would let me. I was doing exactly that when it happened, just watching another movie my parents had rented me from Blockbuster.

Home sick on a Saturday morning, I was watching the classic comedy film That Darn Cat on the basement sofa when this malaise began to overwhelm me. I tried to move, but I couldn’t. I was trapped on that couch, a prisoner to my own circumstances. I tried to yell for my mother, but my voice quivered, I could only let out a whisper. I tried with every last remaining strength I had left to yell for my mother, tears began rolling down my cheek  because I was so frustrated that I could not move, I struggled to breathe and it felt like everything was shutting down. I was helpless, pinned to that couch without a voice in fear when my mother came down the stairs with a basket of laundry. She dropped it, running over to me. I was almost without color, my pulse was barely detectable.

There was not enough time to wait for an ambulance, and so my father carried me outside to the car. I remember looking at the trees from on my back as my mother raced to the hospital near by. As they passed in a blur I wondered to myself if it was the last thing I would ever see. It wasn’t, before I lost all memory of what happened to me, I remember being rushed down the hall of the ICU on a stretcher with several doctors around me. There were other older patients in that hallway that looked at me with pity, this young girl in distress, who knew if I would have a chance.

It was the last thing I remember seeing. I don’t know what happened afterwards other than the fact that I woke up from wherever I was. I wasn’t dead, but I have no memory of anything. I lost consciousness before being stabilized. I wish I could say that “heaven is for real,” but as close to death as I was, I don’t remember a thing. I don’t remember a light, nothing. It was empty. And it is in trying to form a memory out of that emptiness that brings me to that fear of mortality, to that moment of our impermanence.

Yet I was alive. I had a reaction to a medication treatment I was put on for an unrelated ailment that resulted in ventricular tachycardia, a very serious arrhythmia in the heart that can result in sudden death. I stayed in the pediatric ICU for about a week for monitoring and follow-up therapy. While I knew I was going to make a full recovery, unlikely to have such symptoms again, my roommate in the ICU would not be so lucky. She had stage-four cancer. I don’t know what kind of cancer, but she knew she was never going to survive.

I don’t remember this girls name, but I do remember her to this day. She used to scream in pain, waking me up at night. I remember complaining to my mother about this, and my mother had to struggle to explain to her nine year old daughter about my fortunate situation. This girl, also about nine, was dying in that bed. While I could stroll down the hall to the playroom hooked up to “my robot” (that’s what I called my monitor), she couldn’t leave the bed.

While I went on to lead a normal healthy life in spite of my irregular heart beat, she was on hospice care and eventually died in that hospital. I thought of her when watching TFIOS because I am sure she would have liked to have had more time. I am sure this young teen who sat on her phone would wish she had spent her time more wisely if faced with the same circumstances.

We have become a very self-centered society, too often wrapped up in our own trivial thoughts. We think more selfishly than ever, looking at our phones instead of those around us. This young teen couldn’t spend even two hours apart from her sacred electronic world. And you know what? I am guilty of it too, too often forgetting the ordeal I went through as a child. The movie brought that moment right back to me. We don’t know when our time is up. For me, it could’ve been at nine years old while watching a mediocre comedy on my parents basement sofa. It could be tomorrow, driving back from the set of a commercial, tired of a long day standing on my feet.

All we know is that time is finite and we don’t know how many years we will get, and that is the fault with our stars. I won’t start getting cliche and say we should spend every day as if it were our last, but I will say we ought to be a lot more grateful and live with as few regrets as possible. We should seek out that which makes us happy and share that happiness with others. We should live the life that will make us happy and remind ourselves of what we do have, not what we do not. We should be fortunate to be alive, spending as much time pursuing happiness and putting aside cynicism as possible. We should listen more, not to reply, but to understand. We should pursue relationships because we want to, not because of what others think. And most importantly we should love unconditionally and without shame.

Maybe that young girl didn’t get that message in the theater that day. But I hope that one day she will. I hope that one day people like her realize the fault in our stars is that our time here beneath them on earth is not nearly long enough.

Hollywood’s Women Problem?

After the Isla Vista shootings were over and the killers motivations became clear, social media erupted in support for women’s rights. The hash-tag on Twitter “Yes All Women” filled the timelines of many with heartbreaking stories of what women go through every day in a still male dominant, often misogynist society. In an attempt to better understand our society, many also attempted to connect the issue of male point-of-view dominance to our entertainment culture.

Some of the more candid and vocal supporters of the “Yes All Women” hash-tag were white men working in Hollywood. One writer noted how he was reading and performing notes on a studio script that clearly expressed the white male writer’s sexual fantasies in a way that suppressed the female characters. The writer was appalled at how often he gets scripts from white male agents on behalf of white male clients that have blatant misogynist overtones. Another executive noted that we needed to better represent females on screen (they only accounted for 15% of all top movie roles last year). Many more writers and men in Hollywood embraced the hash-tag, agreeing that Hollywood could do better to both employ more women and treat women better on-screen.

Then why is Hollywood still the way it is?

Why do women only make up 18% of key behind the scene roles in Hollywood, such as writers, directors and producers? This is a figure that has risen only 1% since 1998! Hollywood has long complained on the surface about sexism in its ranks, and that women could be better represented. This is a conversation that has been had for many years. So why should women in this industry feel any more comfortable that something will be done now?

How can we actually improve it? Here is a two-pronged solution I came up with.

1. Yes, you are a part of the problem.

Many writers and executives vocal on the “Yes All Women” hash-tag are actually silent participants in the industries under-representation of women. While they make a great case online and occasionally in the press, their rants come across as armchair activism.

The writer aforementioned likely won’t say anything to the agent or male writer about his misogynist overtones. That writer still wants a pay check, and most in a similar position would not turn away the opportunity to provide notes on a studio script even if they find the message to be abhorrent. The executive could go out of his way to have conversations with other executives and people with decision-making power about why they need to read/make more female stories and acknowledge the data behind the fact that female-starring movies actually do sell.

They do not do this. These folks may feel that under-representation of females in the industry is a bad thing, but they don’t personally risk anything to combat that. They become passive participants in a sexist industry for the sake of a pay check. They likely feel that so long as they know they support women’s rights, they’re not part of the problem — the other guy is.

These folks are a part of the problem. It’s a big problem when no one will risk anything to speak up for those in a disadvantaged position. These men are the equivalent of the white folks who praised the actions of other white people who joined the Freedom Rides against segregation in the south, all while enjoying their segregated life. Sure they supported ending segregation, but they didn’t act on changing anything. The folks who joined on those Freedom Rides and fought with black people for equality pushed forth civil rights laws. You can’t make change without acting on it. Period. Not doing anything or acting to make a change makes you a part of the problem as a passive participant.

2. Subconscious Bias. You look just like me!

Quickly think of three things that come to mind when someone says “female writer” or “female director.” I asked several of my male friends in the arts this question, and their responses ranged from shitty-movies, no action to romantic comedy. These men weren’t trying to be sexist, they support the goal of better female representation in the arts. However they also hold subconscious bias about what it means to be a female writer or director.

Now imagine an executive when they get a query letter from a female writer. Before he even opens her script, he’s already conjuring up an image in his head about what to expect. The same can likely be said of women executives or reps because when I posed this question to my female friends, they answered with the same assumptions. The less you stand out (think your standard white-bread generic name for a young male writer) the less chances there are for someone to read your script or query letter with a subconscious bias. The more generic your name, the less it will stand out. A simple scan of popular working screenwriters shows a common trend among male Anglo-saxon given names and surnames.

We assume as a culture that women are the mothers, the daughters and the wives. No matter how in tune to sexism any executive may be, there will be this subconscious cultural bias. It is why I write with a pen name. No one wants to be judged as a female writer versus just another writer. However it is impossible to detach that subconscious bias as a reader. We need to begin making this subsconcious bias apparent bias, because that is the end result.

Women are capable of writing the same stories men do. Women can write action, horror and even SciFi and fantasy just as men can. Yet so often decision makers are overlooking this possibility in favor of the familiar: the white male perspective.

Executives promote people and hire people that look just like them because it is safe to do so. Hollywood doesn’t really like risk. It tends to go with proven assumptions. However those assumptions lend itself to bias. Executives aren’t thinking twice about promoting a young white male with a similar surname and cultural upbringing over a woman with the same qualifications. He should be! The same can be said when choosing who can direct or be hired to write a major property.

Why can’t a woman write or direct Star Wars, or a comic book film? Likely because the white men who are fans of the property don’t even consider the possibility of hiring anyone but someone who fits the same mold and assumed view points as they do.

In order to break these biases, we need to make them apparent.

Conclusion

We should be looking to equalize the playing field. If white men’s views are the predominant one, we get the same stories over and over again. The problem with that is such stories are also incredibly misogynist, with woman as prize versus woman as character.Beyond the lack of female representation, when we do show females, we show them in a male-dominant light. This is embracing societal stereotypes.

The only way to change this is to allow for more points of view in the creative process. If white men are the predominant cultural force at the top making the decisions, we need to look at diversity at the top. If there’s too many white male writers, we need to hold diversity contests open to women and minorities only. There’s plenty talented women and minorities looking to get into this business, and they are blatantly overlooked in favor of white men. We can lie to ourselves that we are not a part of the problem, but the employment numbers do not lie!

I truly believe many in Hollywood find this trend disgusting, but unless they actively fight it, they are part of the problem as passive participants.

Us women are tired of the armchair activism. We are tired of people constantly spinning wheels on tackling this issue of diversity. We want solutions! So unless you are willing to actively be a part of the solution, step aside. If you’re not willing to actively start fighting this problem, you are part of the problem, plain and simple.

Godzilla v. Hollywood

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Godzilla stomped its way to a $93 million domestic box office launch, far exceeding its expected $75 million domestic gross. These numbers are normally reserved for super hero films, animated family movies or epic sequels. While Godzilla is a familiar property, nobody expected the film to perform this well. Many will argue its success is due in part to a weaker Spider Man film and a brilliant (but misleading) marketing campaign by Warner Brothers. While I will not disagree with that, I think it has more to do with how the film was made itself: it’s a classic Blockbuster.

Godzilla takes on the feel of Jurassic Park at times, with Gareth Edwards being the closest thing to a young Steven Spielberg I think Hollywood has seen to date. This film was not just a CGI-constructed set piece extravaganza like so many other blockbusters released. The film actually emotionally resonated with audiences, in both the chilling trailer and the film itself. American audiences want quality cinema, not just blow-’em-up cape fare light on character exposition and story. Despite being a monster movie, Godzilla delivered. Godzilla is that 1990s-style Spielbergian blockbuster that had you feeling like a kid again while appreciating the human element at the center of the fantasy story.

So what did Godzilla do right that other blockbuster films so often do not? Why is this film outperforming Spider Man? It starts with the man they chose to helm the project: Gareth Edwards.

In 2010 Edwards broke onto the scene with an independently produced film, Monsters. The film was set in Mexico where two young people were trying to escape back to the United States through a quarantined area under invasion by intergalactic monsters. While the whole premise sounds like a B-Movie, the tone was in fact much more serious. The execution, despite being produced on a budget of only $500,000, was near flawless. The world Edwards built was not only entirely believable, but brilliantly crafted with a painstaking attention to detail. The biggest shock of all was when people found out the young British director did all of the special effects on his own personal laptop!

What ultimately made Monsters so captivating was that he created tension using the two main characters; he built up to that monster reveal using appropriate pacing. That is what so many of these modern blockbusters get wrong — they just throw everything out at once, no drama or tension is built up. So often in blockbuster movies we move quickly from set-piece to set-piece without ever feeling that our characters are in danger. Of late blockbuster films have been more about the universe itself rather than the characters fighting or living within it. The human element has been all but wiped out. There is no reason to keep sitting in the theater when everything is given away in the first act of the film.

Like Spielberg, Edwards shows a talent for being able to construct a world on a blockbuster scale, but still have grounded human interest at its core. When Edwards was offered the opportunity to direct Godzilla he stressed the importance of keeping a single human interest at the core of this monster movie. He was a fan of the monster, but also understood that in order to build up suspense and make him more menacing we needed to have humans to relate to. Bryan Cranston’s chilling voice-over in the trailer created a genuine terror. You felt an emotional connection to the seriousness and fear in his voice throughout the trailer. While the film itself eventually deviated in tone from the one portrayed in the trailer, it still kept true to the pacing and human element advertised.

Unlike Pacific Rim (another Kaiju film released by Legendary), Godzilla was only on screen for fifteen minutes or so. Edwards brilliantly built up to the third act finale. When the final fight happened, my theater erupted in applause! THAT is what a blockbuster is supposed to do, elicit that kind of “heck yeah” reaction. There is a reason we have a three act structure, and that is to appropriately build a dramatic story arc. That is what other monster films like Pacific Rim (not nearly as successful with American audiences) failed to do.

So how does Godzilla get the dramatic structure right?

*MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD*

In the first act, we are introduced to the human element and actually do not really see any monsters at all. Contrast that to most super hero films where you would already have had some kind of battle with the main villain or monster. The first act wasn’t slow either, it was very action packed, but it kept you waiting for more. The first act didn’t throw everything at you. Most blockbusters throw the entire kitchen sink away in the first act, build to a downfall (that never actually feels like one) in the second and then works its way to a giant set-piece for the third act. It’s boring, it’s predictable and you get worn out by all the inhuman CGI by the mid-point of the film. I never feel like any of these superheros or characters are in any sense of danger or fear for their lives. In Godzilla on the other hand, the film was not shy about killing off main characters (even in the first act). As a result it made you feel like the characters were in constant and direct fear for their lives.

Even by the time we get to the second act, we still have not seen much of Godzilla, we only know that our characters know he exists. By the first major reveal of the monster, we have seen a number of crafty set-pieces, but ones that quickly come back to the human element. Right after we destroy a city, we are left to see the consequence of the devastation. So often in blockbusters we see the city get destroyed, millions die, but we are never treated to the visual and emotional result of that set-piece action. Not only did we witness the destruction of the city, standing tall in a beautifully shot ghostly silhouette, we hear on the news “millions feared dead.” The director understands that this is not just a monster Kaiju film, but a disaster movie. What would it be like if Godzilla actually were real? That is what this director actually bothered to show, especially so in the second act. He got up close and personal with human subjects in the foreground of devastation. It wasn’t just CGI destruction porn. In Godzilla we learn to appreciate the consequences of the action so much more than in the average blockbuster.

With appropriate pacing in mind, by the time we arrive at the third act we are not yet exhausted. We still need to see what will happen to our characters and what will happen to the city. Edwards hasn’t even allowed our two monsters to fight yet! Most super hero films would have already had several fights by this point between the hero and villain, exhausting the viewer. The third act battle as a result has to be so much more epic, laced with CGI abuse and devoid of human interest to separate itself from all the set pieces that came before it. It is a narrative error in my opinion. You cannot just expect people to feel anything for the characters in most third act blockbusters because you have removed all tension with battle-fatigue and the whole film just feels devoid of any sense of danger, drama and tension. You always know the good guys are going to win. It never feels like the good guys are going to win in Godzilla. In fact because of the way wanton destruction is treated in this film, you feel you might for the first time in a long time be treated to a bittersweet or bad-guys-win (for now) ending. In a way, this film leaves open the potential to return to this universe the way it should: without a totally obvious cliff-hanger. It was a great stand alone film.

So why did I choose to title this article ‘Godzilla v. Hollywood?’ I did so because I feel that this style of blockbuster needs to show Hollywood executives who choose to give the greenlight to large-scale projects that story and pacing is the most important part of any film. This film wasn’t just attracting a niche demographic either, it was a general blockbuster. It was a film about a giant monster but one whose story and pacing could appeal to any audience member. It takes all the algorithm reliant story-structuring and throws it out the window. Godzilla didn’t feel like every other formulaic film in theaters and that is why it earned $93 million on opening weekend.

American audiences will go back to theaters again if you give them reason to. If every film feels like the same, why would I go to see the same film every weekend? Godzilla ought to show that a blockbuster film can be both epic in scale and yet indie-at-heart. That is why Steven Spielberg is so successful. Spielberg understands this style of blockbuster film-making, and has repeatedly called to Hollywood to stop the formulaic tent-poles and get back to proper stories. When a movie is just a giant set-piece people stop caring. It is why The Amazing Spider Man 2 got panned in reviews and is currently loosing out to Godzilla with domestic audiences. Americans are tired of lazy film-making. As a result, I’m hoping that Godzilla will take on Hollywood. I am hoping that after this blockbuster, it will leave audiences begging for more films done right.

 

 

 

 

 

Sunset Boulevard

When someone mentions Sunset Boulevard we immediately conjure up visions of fame, excessive wealth, dreams and most of all, Hollywood. What we don’t think about when someone mentions Sunset Boulevard is the normal people, the middle class and the poor, the day job dreamers and those who never made Hollywood a reality. On May 4th, 2013, I sat on Sunset Boulevard, wondering about my own dreams and version of Hollywood. At least in my case that vision originated with events that unfolded a year earlier in 2012.

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Twitter, 2012.

“Mr. Producer, I’m tempted to challenge you to a 90s rap battle, ‘Your attitudes are futile, oo chile, you’re puerile.’” Mr. Producer? “Brain waves sterile, you can’t create you just take…my tapes laced with malice…”

Meet Mr. Producer, not only a fan of the Fugees, but a man whose career I have admired well over a decade. He’s not your ordinary producer either according to stereotypes, nor is he necessarily very well known by those outside the industry. But for me, he was a man I deeply admired and through social media, a man I came to laugh with, get to know and develop an even greater respect for.

It was only a year earlier I had presumably burned bridges with him by exceeding my levels of persistence. After I ran an account which profiled his latest film in a humorous and creative light he did what few in his position would do and gave me a second chance at a first impression.

“Satellites triangulating your position presently,” he added, determined to figure out the clever author behind the mystery account. It was a game of sort I played with him for nearly a week. I didn’t want to give myself up, assuming he might get annoyed upon discovering my identity. He kept prodding, playfully. All he knew was that I was a female from New York with intimate knowledge of the production (after all my friends worked on set). He asked me all sorts of questions, about my guitar playing, my mutual love for Led Zeppelin, other rock acts I enjoyed in addition to things like what college I attended and where I grew up.

On the day he finally figured out who I was, we had a Direct Message conversation on Twitter that lasted over an hour in spite of a pivotal Rangers playoff game airing at the same time. I figured the opportunity to have a conversation with one of my professional influences was far more groundbreaking and profound than any sports history that could conceivably be made that night. Despite figuring me out, he was incredibly kind and most of all forgiving in spite of my juvenile attempts to contact him a year earlier. His candid interaction was unlike anything I would imagine from someone in his position, and writing about it two years later, it is still the way I choose to think of him: as an amazingly kind and genuine person so unlike the stereotype of his professional title.

The next month he would come to New York for the premiere of his film and I had hoped to meet him. I figured that since we had bonded online and he got to see the real me, the laid back, humorous creative me, that he would be comfortable with such an arrangement. He didn’t feel up to it, at least not at the time. Even if he did, he likely didn’t have much time to make for me between promotions and interviews. Instead I wound up dropping off a charcoal drawing I did of him and the filmmakers with a personal note of thanks for his kindness on the back. I left it for him via his assistant at the time’s hotel. My friends lived near by and so we settled at the lounge there.

I knew that the premiere after-party was down the street at the Ritz, but I would never stalk him so-to-speak. I figured that if he wanted to meet me he would contact me. As I saw the party unfold, seeing his “party tweets,” I was tempted to message him. I was tempted to ask him while he was inebriated to meet, but decided not to out of professionalism. I looked like an absolute 10 too, just in case he did want to meet. I will not lie about the fact that I find him extremely attractive; deep emotive brown eyes, the perfect jaw line, tall with striking silver hair. George Clooney would compare himself to this man. Yet in spite of my massive crush and admiration, I am happy I remained professional.

He messaged me the next day prior to leaving New York, wishing me all the best. We would continue to keep in touch for a while. Unsure of where to take my account, I thought of deleting it. He insisted I keep writing, to not stop, to not give it up or delete the account. He would continue to stress to me the importance of keeping up with my talent for writing. He began to assume the role of mentor.

Finally I decided to casually assert my ability to try my hand at a script, and immediately he endorsed the idea. “Lets see if you’re the exception,” he said, challenging me to do so. Various humorous exchanges and a few Direct Messages over the summer of 2012 and I would send him my first ever feature screenplay in September, a science fiction about the technological singularity. Both he and I enjoy the topic of futurism and technology, specifically the ideas advanced by the scientist Ray Kurzweil. It is one of many things I seemed to have in common with him. Of course it was only my first ever effort and it was not good enough by professional standards.

After waiting nearly two months, he messaged me to say the script wasn’t for him but that he would be happy to call me to discuss it if I wanted to. In that phone conversation he told me I had a “gift with language,” and among other things told me that I am smart and talented. He told me that I should continue to practice, to hone my craft, to “strive to be like Jimmy Page,” the virtuoso guitarist of our favorite band, Led Zeppelin. Most surprisingly he told me that I should write a second script and that he would be happy to read it. I asked if I could work for him at the entry level if he got another project together and he stressed that most of all I continue to keep writing, as that was my most valuable skill but he did say “sure, you can reach out to me online, but keep writing.” That I did.

I was ecstatic that this man seemingly wanted to give advice to me, to mentor me. My mother was ecstatic too because she knew how much the opportunity meant to me. I hauled ass, reading as many scripts as possible in addition to script theory and I continued to build my ideas. Initially I was planning to write a comedy (a script that will today be a part of my submission to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in consideration for graduate admission). He messaged me in response to my suggestion that I was going to come to LA. He asked me where my script was, clearly half-joking, trying to incite conversation along that end. He mentioned that most of all I should emphasize character development, something I failed to do with my first script. I asked him what kind of film he wanted, if he wanted a log line, he said “no just send me the finished product.” This was a position screenwriters would die to be in. Yet here I was, a 24 year old untrained kid writing for a producer I admired since I was 14, writing for him to read what I had to say.

I eventually put the comedy on the back burner as bubbling underneath it was the idea to do a film about the Liberation of Paris. A fan of historical drama, I wanted to write a film that had a good message but was also a film I would want to see. The Liberation was also my favorite part of WWII history, being half French. Surprisingly enough it is also one barely explored in film. I also thought setting a film in Paris would be great if he actually wanted to do it since I know he considers Paris home for personal reasons. It would be convenient to his personal life to potentially work on something closer to home and I considered that. The result was Liberation, a love and action-adventure story between an American soldier and French pianist. It was an incredibly strong effort for only my second script. While it would certainly need some work (in my present day professional opinion) it was one hell of a turn out for someone who just started to write features.

I figured my second script would at least be impressive enough to be considered for future employment as an assistant with him. That was my goal. I knew it would probably not sell, but figured it would impress him enough to keep me around. After all he stressed my writing, not my PA skills or other replaceable entry-level skills. He obviously wanted me for my ability to artistically convey high concept meaning with written words.

Ultimately time went by after submitting my second script to him. Eventually I began to subliminally hint via Twitter that I was wondering what the status of his opinion was. There began this sort of subliminal messaging (or Subtweet interaction) between us on occasion. He passively posted an article, noting “there’s some excellent advice in here,” in response to my earlier tweet seeking advice about my situation. The article was about Louis CK and how he evolved from no-by-way of silence rejection and close to 15 years of struggle to finally become respected by others above the line. It was a great article about what it means to really work hard toward success in this business while accepting the unfortunate let downs along the way. At the time I wasn’t having it. I lashed out subliminally, annoyed that I still hadn’t heard anything. I wasn’t going to accept “no by way of silence,” not from someone I saw as a mentor, someone who was kind enough to give me feedback before.

He wasn’t having my attitude, and immediately replied in exasperation, very upset with my behavior. Yet instead of immediately unfollowing me and kicking me to the curb, he spent an hour giving me hard-knock-life advice. He encouraged me to not wait for him and go it on my own in the interim. He told me to get as many people to read my script as possible. He allowed me to explain myself and was unbelievably kind to allow myself to do so, all while explaining his view of my situation. He told me I needed to learn to struggle, to not be impatient. He told me things about his own struggle that he didn’t even mention a month later in the commencement speech he gave to his alma matter. I truly appreciated hearing it. I needed to hear that it was not going to happen in one to two scripts, that it takes years of hard work to see success.

I created this blog that day. Though I wouldn’t find out until many months later, I discovered that he would regularly read this blog. Not long after, I wound up in LA working a music video shoot. The day after I sat on Sunset Boulevard, hoping he would change his mind about meeting me. I hoped we could finally meet in person, to verify the initial exchanges we had in 2012 and earlier in the year. I had hoped to verify our conversations and finally make him feel comfortable by meeting me in person, to verify that we seemed to get along well. He never answered my request, nor did he ever show up. I was totally bummed.

We barely spoke after that, maybe one more time after and that was it. Or so I thought. The strange thing is, he continued to read my blog and by way of doing so he continued to interact. I discovered this after linking to a post about how I came to admire him professionally. I passively asked him to read this post only just months ago. I realized through the stats provided to me through my blog that he was reading the whole time!

In my defense, I was not trying to be creepy, most all blogs use such tools to note hits. This standard logging of visitor IP information remains the case unless one uses an anonymous TOR browser, proxy server or views the webpage from a wireless device or method by which the IP is different each time.  In such aforementioned cases the visit provides an IP which is not identifiable as a returning user (unless they use the same proxy or reveal other unique header information like an unusual browser choice). It is not something I installed or can disable, despite ethically disagreeing with it. However curiosity got the better of me and the technology ultimately exists in order for page masters to make these connections in order to drive results.

In a way I believe he actually wanted me to know this too, considering he almost seemed to react to my posts occasionally on Twitter (though always without messaging me directly, only implying). I remember him almost asking a question in reaction to one of my pieces on the NSA.  While it might seem crazy for me to suggest he was doing this on occasion, along with making subliminal remarks toward me, my industry friends who mutually followed both him and I also brought up the occasional “subtweets.” It wasn’t just me.

It was also through these friends that I learned other things too, namely that the fallout from his last film allegedly resulted in some frayed relationships. That happens in this business, some times people need to go their separate ways after a disappointing project and only work together again down the road after letting some time go by. It’s not out of disrespect, rather just some time apart is needed for professional reasons. It’s natural. It was not my friends intention to gossip, but to reiterate from their own sources why out of all of the above the line members of that production, he remains sidelined from industry action.

In fact he’s been a ghost. He stopped tweeting over a half a year ago and made his Twitter account private. In industry terms, he is “hugging the cactus.” He is not working on an active project to the best of my knowledge, he is in what is known as “development hell.” It goes to show that no one is immune from the ups and downs of this business. Yet I didn’t care that he wasn’t working. I don’t care what people do or do not think about him or what they say.

More than I miss his mentorship, I miss the rap battles and playful jokes. I miss the exchanges I had with him in 2012 and early 2013 that ranged from Led Zeppelin to Apple stock to various humor. I miss talking to someone I genuinely enjoyed speaking to as an amazing person I really clicked with. I missed talking to someone in a natural and relaxed sense, not ever intimidated by the fact that he was also somewhat famous. I missed talking to him as just another person, as an online friend. But as time went by, this no longer felt the case the way it did in 2012. I just wished we could simply be friends. But this I always knew was not possible given the complexity of the professional relationship. For some reason, he just couldn’t commit to that idea.

He continued to read my blog up until the time he unfollowed me at the end of March 2014. It will always seem so random because of how much time he invested in me right up until the end. He showed that he cared, even after I passively admitted I could tell he read my blog. He kept reading in spite of that reveal. I never said anything that would tick him off. I didn’t do anything he would seemingly disagree with.

Most surprisingly of all, despite the action of unfollowing me implying that he was stepping away, he continued to read my blog several more times after unfollowing. He read my blog up to a week afterwards in Los Angeles. For all I know he may decide to check up on me occasionally, and I hope that he might. However I wrote this to finally accept that this chapter must close and that whether or not he does follow up I must not dwell on it.

I don’t believe his rejection is one which signifies permanence, but for now it is indeed rejection and likely was last May too. I furthermore believe he still appreciates my admiration of him and likely even cares about me. He would not invest the amount of time he has if he didn’t, and his unfollowing me doesn’t undo that fact. Whatever may come in the future, for now I will cherish the advice he gave me. I will always respect him and hope that one day I may still get the chance to work for him.

In the interim it is up to me to not wait on him. I’ve made some great contacts in production and know that this summer when my contact gets on a job (as he does every summer) I will get on too. It’s just a waiting game now. I have also continued to write and will be applying to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts for my Masters in Film Producing and Writing. I have a lot to look forward to.

The nature of this business is that what seems like a secure, wonderful relationship will often come to a halt. This is almost inevitable, and there are many examples of this sort of thing happening throughout the history of professional cinematic relationships. It does not mean that it is an end to such relationships forever, but it does signify a parting of ways. It is often crushing when it happens. I’ve done well to properly contextualize it and not get hung up on it to the point where it negatively affects what I have to do to succeed.

It is especially challenging when you admire the person professionally as I did. Yet when it happens you must not let it stop you. You must not let rejection rue the day. You must trudge on. I have and will continue to do so. If by some chance he were to read this, I would want to thank him for having the faith in me and belief in me as a writer. Without his mentorship, however brief, I would not be on the path I am today. I likely would have quit my pursuit of the industry and gone into some horrible world of finance, so thanks to him.

In the words of Led Zeppelin:

Then as it was, then again it will be
An’ though the course may change sometimes
Rivers always reach the sea
Blind stars of fortune, each have several rays
On the wings of maybe, down in birds of prey
Kind of makes me feel sometimes, didn’t have to grow
But as the eagle leaves the nest, it’s got so far to go.

I wish him nothing but the best upon this change of course and even if it is ten years gone, maybe we will speak again. Maybe we will finally get the chance to meet for coffee along Sunset Boulevard, as rivers reach the sea of opportunity. For now, so concludes this chapter. Now I can end this post with an inner peace and with the utmost respect and sincere professional admiration. As this eagle leaves the nest, it has far to go. Thankfully it was well inspired for its journey along the way.

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