July 30, 2014

I Was A YouTube Superstar And Didn't Even Know It

Recently, I got an email from a fan who'd seen my short POOL DAYS on YouTube. My films get uploaded from time to time without my consent and when it happens, I usually ask folks to limit them to 2-3 minute clips. When this fan sent the link, I was surprised to see that my film had an astounding number of views--nearly 1.1 million, and over 1,500 comments too. I was a YouTube superstar and didn't even know it!

Unfortunately, the uploader of the film had titled it "Gay Short 033" (!) and did not include any information about me, the actual title, or links to my other films. The situation was both frustrating and somewhat exciting, given the number of people who were responding to my work. When the original film was released as part of BOYS LIFE in the 1990s, it was a big success and seen by maybe 100,000 theatre goers over the course of a couple years in realease. But now, in mere months on YouTube, more than 10 times that number had watched it. Of course, if I had a dime for every click...but that's another story.

Anyway, this time I thought I'd take a different approach with the errant uploader. I messaged the guy and told him he could keep the full clip online but on one condition: he needed to properly credit and tag the video with my information and links to my other work. I figured if all these people like my short, they should be able to find my other films too! These days, in the indie world, it's all about building and bringing your audience with you so this seemed like a way to do just that. He replied to my message in a couple hours and changed all the info and, since then, we've had a lively discussion about my film's sudden viral life.  

What's most interesting in all this is that I've had to sit in countless meetings with executives, producers, and investors over the years about gay-themed projects and the general response is that there's little to no audience, especially if there's teenagers involved. In fact, one of my fellow young adult authors John Green (THE FAULT IN OUR STARS) has an infamous and terrible story of a producer meeting where he was told, and this is a direct quote, "The only thing Hollywood hates more than smart teenagers, is smart gay teenagers." Yet there on YouTube, one of my movies about a smart gay teenager gets over a million plus views with no promotion or publicist or anything. Go figure.

This is all the more timely as, currently, I'm working on a new project, a 12-part series adapted from one of my YA books called BEST SUMMER EVER. It's based on my novel TALE OF TWO SUMMERS about two best friends, one gay and one straight, who have their first big romances over the course of a summer. It's being done independently, for now (see above)...or at least until someone wises up to the audience that is out there. In that same interview John Green said, "I hope Hollywood will prove this movie producer wrong someday." Not sure if/when that will happen, but I think the Internets has maybe done this already.

So make sure you check out BSE on other social media spaces (FB, Twitter, YouTube) for more details to come. In the meantime, you can watch POOL DAYS below.

July 21, 2014

Weird Al Is Back, Educating Fans About "Word Crimes"

Weird Al Yankovic is back! It's been a while since he made fun of pop music so vigorously--3 years since "Polka Face" skewered Lady Gaga. But now he's back with his 14th album which he spent the last week debuting with 8 new videos over 8 days on his Vevo channel.  

As a writer, my favorite by far is "Word Crimes" which is not only hilarious but also quite educational when it comes to common grammatical mistakes. And, at the same time, it sorta takes the piss out of one of my least favorite pop songs of all time "Blurred Lines". Enjoy as you laugh and learn about the Oxford comma.

July 18, 2014

That Time I Tried To Cast Elaine Stritch

Yesterday, Broadway legend Elaine Stritch died and social media blew up (at least mine, that is) with toasts, tributes and many recollections by people in New York who knew her over the course of her long and distinctive career. Not only was I a great fan of her work both on stage (A DELICATE BALANCE on Broadway in 1996, extraordinary) and film (if you haven't seen WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR, see it) but I also tried to cast her in a movie once. The part seemed a perfect fit for her, a boozy but wise and spunky aunt who befriends a gay man at a wedding. I mean, isn't this what she did for a living?  :)

Anyway, the producer of my indie comedy I THINK I DO called to make an offer. We were a low budget film offering scale for 5 days work. So when he called the number the casting director gave him he was somewhat surprised to find that he was talking directly to Elaine Stritch. For many years, she did not have a manager or agent and performed this role herself. Well, if you can imagine Ms. Stritch as her own agent then you can probably imagine where this story is going. She was tough, contentious, demanding and frank about what she needed. But as a low budget film, we didn't have much to offer, other than a fun role. Needless to say, after a short negotiation, she did not take the offer.

I was disappointed to hear this news and wondered if maybe a personal call to her directly might change the situation. The producer gave me a strange look, like someone who had been in battle, and said "I don't think so." I was recently watching a wonderful documentary called SHOOT ME about Elaine's last years in New York and Tina Fey talked, somewhat warily, about Elaine on the set of 30 ROCK, saying "you never knew what you were gonna get". Elaine was famously abrasive and tough and unpredictable...which is probably why she was so good too. And she was funny as hell, especially on 30 ROCK.

The TIMES has a lengthy obituary which ends with a fitting quote from her one-woman show. However, they neglected to mention her agenting herself which I think says a lot about this inimitable woman who made her own way and set her own unique course in an unforgiving business. She was an amazing actor and outsized personality whose talent and spirit, not to mention her way with a Sondheim song, will be dearly missed.

July 1, 2014

Rick Springfield Wrote A Novel And Is Still Singing

I was at the gym yesterday and "Jessie's Girl" came on the radio. 33 years later, it still holds up remarkably well. Listening to it, I noticed it's not only an tightly crafted pop song but an amazing story song too. It's easily one of the most memorable songs of the 80s.

So today, over on the Hollywood Reporter's website, I notice that not only is Rick Springfield still singing, he's actually writing prose stories too. His first novel MAGNIFICENT VIBRATION is out and it's gotten some pretty good reviews too. It's about a guy who discovers God's cell phone number but also has themes about the (dim) future of the planet given the way we treat it. Heady stuff for an 80s heartthrob who is now (gulp!) 64. It's doing so well he's already penning a sequel as well. Could be some fun summer reading perhaps. 

I also enjoyed a comic little ditty Springfield recorded for the THR podcast "Off The Cuff". It's a song called "If Wishes Were Fishes" and, though maybe not as catchy as the song that still pays his bills, it's a very clever and country-style song about, well, himself....at least it seems that way. You can listen to the song here as well as the podcast too. 

June 30, 2014

First Out Eagle Scout Marches At Pride...And Is From Kensington MD

I missed the beginning of the annual Pride Parade yesterday but saw this amazing article and photo (below) in the TIMES today of Boy Scouts as the parade's opening color guard. Since scouting finally changed it's policy after a decades-long battle, you can now be openly gay and a member of the scouting organization though if you are 18 and/or a scouting leader, you are not allowed to be openly gay and involved in scouting. 

Though there's clearly some work to be done with the bizarre second half of that policy, what is incredible is that America now has its first out Eagle Scout who marched in yesterdays group as well. Even more amazing is that he is from my hometown in Maryland! Pascal Tessier, 17, hails from Kensington, MD where I was a scout myself back in the day with Troop 460. My troop is no longer active but Pascal's troop is actually located in Chevy Chase and has a long, storied history too as one of scouting's oldest operating troops. He became an Eagle Scout there earlier this year after six years of hard work and 27 merit badges. 

I thought it was so cool to read about this kid and his accomplishments, and that he is actively advocating for scouting to revise that terrible second half of its new policy. When people wonder why we celebrate pride it's because of incredible stories like this!


June 27, 2014

In 2014, Some Actors Still Have An Issue With Playing Gay

There were two stories this week about male actors and their reluctance to play gay. I found this news a bit surprising given how much things have changed in the last 10 years, with many straight actors like Jared Leto and Jake Gyllenhal doing some of their best work playing gay roles. I thought maybe actors' nervousness, both professional and personal, was maybe a thing of the past. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

On the HBO show TRUE BLOOD, the actor Luke Grimes reportedly left the show when he found out his character was going to have a gay romance in the new season. While his agents contend the reasons for the move were strictly professional (ie. he booked bigger feature gigs), it does seem to be a case of curious timing.

On an NBC show, Brendan Fehr is playing a gay doctor on NIGHT SHIFT. However, he admitted in a recent interview that he had great difficulty with the intimacy that the role requires.  His comments about having trouble kissing onscreen partner Luke Mafarlane (?!) were maybe taken a little out of context. But it's still troubling that an actor would publicly admit to something like this...unless it was some strange reverse attempt at publicity for the show during gay pride month. The old adage of there being no such thing as bad press may be at play (especially when it comes to a summer show on NBC!).

Anyway, that this is still even part of the conversation in 2014 is troubling to me as a filmmaker who often writes gay characters. In fact, I recently had an experience in auditions for a new project where one of the actors was great and said he was totally comfortable with the role. Then, after he read the script which does involve kissing another guy, he balked and took himself out of consideration. My advice for him? If he can't do his job as an actor, which is to play other people...all kinds of other people, then he may want to consider a career in catering. Just saying...

June 20, 2014

The Cast Of ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK On LAW AND ORDER

I've recently been catching up on the Netflix original series ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK. It's a unique show set in a women's federal prison with some fascinating and memorable characters. For me, one of the additional thrills watching it is that the show was cast and shot in NYC so the actors playing all these roles are some wonderful and familiar faces (like nightclub singer and Bway songstress Lea Delaria). And, like all New York actors, they've all "done their time" on NBC's LAW & ORDER. 

A clever woman named Stef at the website Autostraddle (?!) has gone through IMDB and found most of the major characters in their appearances on the NBC staple, along with screen grabs from their roles. The pornstache prison guard, played by Pablo Schreiber, had a major recurring role on LAW & ORDER:SVU stalking/torturing star Mariska Hartigay's character. The only one it seems who wasn't on the show was oddly enough series star Taylor Schilling. 

One of my personal favorites on the show is the mom Aleida Diaz, played by Elizabeth Rodriguez, who I directed as the spacey sister of Lauren Velez in my romantic comedy I THINK I DO. Her role on OITNB couldn't be further from her hilarious work in ITID but it's great to see her one the show in such an impressive lineup of talented ladies.

June 17, 2014

ALL BY MYSELF Gets Epic iPhone Music Video In Airport

This is one of more viral videos of the month--a self-made music video to Celine Dion's version of "All By Myself".  Though it was shot entirely on an iPhone what's more impressive is that it was entirely shot by the guy performing in it, Richard Dunn

He was an Atlanta visitor to Las Vegas who got stuck in McCarran Airport overnight and, instead of whiling away the hours til his 6 a.m. flight, he decided to get creative and make this video to amuse his wife. He strapped his iPhone to a wheelchair using some baggage tape he got before the airport shut down and then had fun, lip-synching and over-emoting to Celine's classic (with a Celine cameo too...sorta). 

The video has been seen more than 11 million times on Vimeo, YouTube and other platforms. And even Celine saw it herself, and loved it too! Not bad for a night's work...

May 28, 2014

Robert Morse Sings And Dances Again On MAD MEN

This week's episode of MAD MEN was one of my favorites. As the end of season 7.1 (the second half of the final season airs in 2015), there was great stuff all around; from Peggy's moment with her neighbors' kid, to the McCann maneuvering, to gallows humor about the moon landing and Peggy's triumphant pitch. But what truly floored me was the episode's final scene when Robert Morse, who plays firm head Bertram Cooper, got to sing and dance his way off the show.

There's a great interview with Morse in todays' TIMES as he discusses his role on the show and his musical exit. He made his name in the 60's as the star of the Broadway show and later film version of HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING. So his work on MAD MEN has always been a wry treat, as the eager scheming office boy J. Pierpont Finch truly took over the company. On a visit to the MAD MEN set in 2008, I was lucky enough to meet Morse and told him how I was in the pit band of my high school production of HOW TO. He was charming and chatty and it was one of my best celebrity encounters ever--save Olivia Newton-John at the XANADU opening!

Anyway, Morse's character passed away in this week's episode and as a final send-off Don had a vision of him singing and dancing in the office. It was such a wonderful moment and really beautiful to see Morse still had that boyish charm that made him a star years ago. Many characters have died on MAD MEN, but none has ever done it with such grace and fleet-footed moves.

May 23, 2014

A 1986 Video Tour Of RuPaul's Meatpacking "Penthouse"

I came across this video on YouTube of RuPaul giving a tour of his NYC "penthouse" back in June of 1986. He lived for a while in a round rooftop room above the formerly seedy Jane Hotel, soon after he moved to New York for the second time apparently. Not only does "baby Ru" look amazing, the footage itself is incredible for it's slice of Meatpacking life (which I've posted about before) from waaaaay back in the day. Nelson Sullivan is the videographer, who lived around the corner at 5 Ninth Avenue, a town house which is still there surrounded by the commercial insanity that "MeaPa" has become.

The most remarkable thing watching this now is how utterly empty that area of the city was during the day. I had my own first hand experience with this back when I was in film school at NYU and we shot one of my classmates' films entirely in the area. We had no permits and no one bothered us, as no one was around, except maybe a couple hookers who stayed away (knowing we were students w/no cash!). We even shot a car chase sequence through the bumpy streets there with no police intervention at all. 

Anyway, this video is a great trip to the lost world of the old West Village with some great views of the the city and gay life at that time.