August 22, 2014

The MPPA Gives Another "Instant R" To A Film With Gay Leads

Today my friend and colleague Ira Sach's film LOVE IS STRANGE opens in New York and LA. This festival favorite, which has received some amazing reviews (and awards buzz too!), is about a mature gay couple played by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina. Yet, once again, the MPAA slapped an "instant R" on the film due to the fact that the lead characters are gay. Earlier this year, it happened with another friend of mine's movie G.B.F., which had no explicit sex or nudity but also centered its story on a character who happened to be gay.  

Predictably, there has been yet another outcry over this persistent problem, both on Slate and other entertainment sites. There's also a great essay on NJ.com where the critic Stephen Whitty sizes Ira's film up against other offerings this weekend that are also rated R, like Frank Miller's SIN CITY sequel and JERSEY SHORE MASSACRE(!). Both feature a lot of nudity and explicit gun violence and somehow they have the exact same rating as a story about a gay couple and their families?! The MPAA is truly getting absurd with this sort of classification that equates the simple fact of homosexuality as shocking as the violent and sexually exploitative material of these two unabashed B-movies. 

With gay marriage becoming more common and now legal in a third of the United States, I think it's safe to say that the general public would not find this sort of story that shocking. Even more ironic is the fact that those under 17, who recent polls and studies show have a greater understanding and acceptance when it comes to LGBT issues, are actually banned from seeing the film due to it's restrictive rating. So the question is when will the ratings board stop this sort of institutional inequality when it comes to films with gay content and characters? Hopefully soon as they seem more and more out of touch with the reality of American audiences today.

August 21, 2014

A Land Of Lost Movies In Midtown Manhattan

There was a surprising and somewhat disturbing story in the TIMES arts section today about DuArt film labs collection of "lost movies". The lab, once a mainstay in the NY indie film world, worked with many filmmakers back in the days when one actually made films--on celluloid, with sprockets, chemical baths, and all that 20th century photochemical jazz.

However, after they stopped processing film a few years ao, they realized they still had something of a film problem in that there were thousands of unclaimed negatives in their possession that filmmakers or the companies that made these indie films in the 70s, 80s, 90s left behind.The good news is that the lab's founders have hung onto these materials because they just can't bear to throw them away knowing they are someone's artistic work. The bad news is many filmmakers don't even know that they have film in their storage facility.

So to try and get these films to their proper owners or to a proper place for archiving (like the Library of Congress of the Academy in LA), they have started working with IndieCollect, a archiving clearinghouse started by a former producer who is trying to get these films out of limbo. I encourage other filmmakers to seek out DuArt's collection as I went through this process myself last year, tracking down my first feature I THINK I DO to a Technicolor vault out in the Valley and getting it to the UCLA Film/TV Archive in Los Angeles, via Outfest's Legacy project. The negative for my short POOL DAYS was a bit easier to track down--it was under my bed! But still it got sent off to L.A. as well where it was properly archived.

August 7, 2014

If You Like DOG DAY AFTERNOON, You'll Love THE DOG

One of the best documentaries I've seen in a while is opening Friday. It's called THE DOG and it's about the real life guy who robbed a Brooklyn bank on a sweltering summer day nearly 40 years ago, the story of which became the basis for Sidney Lumet's classic DOG DAY AFTERNOON. John Wojtowicz was the man behind the crime that gripped the city that August and ended up having a hold on him for the rest of his life too. What's just as fascinating about John's story is his life leading up to that moment, particularly how he was involved in some of the protests of the nascent gay rights movement, including a wedding action at City Hall caught on video in the early '70s.

The film was directed by two good friends of mine, Frank Keraudren (here on the left) and Allison Berg. I've known them both for quite a while, Frank since we were students at NYU film school!  Frank also he worked with me as the editor of my first feature I THINK I DO.

As they developed this film painstakingly over the course of 10 years, I've been privileged to see it grow and change as they followed "The Dog" (how John refers to himself) around New York,  dealt with his crazy voice mails (some featured in the film), and went through various edits of the film. The final version which I saw before it headed off to the Toronto Film Festival was really moving in its depiction of this unique man's life. Whether you know DOG DAY or not, I can't recommend this film enough as it really captures the life of a true New York character.

THE DOG opens here at the IFC and Lincoln Center tomorrow August 8. And other theaters around the country this fall. Check it out!

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.