September 9, 2014

9/11 Doc OUT OF THE CLEAR BLUE SKY Now Available Online

Over the years, I've posted on here about the progress and screenings of a documentary I worked on as an associate producer called OUT OF THE CLEAR BLUE SKY. It tells the story of Cantor Fitzgerald, the financial trading firm that had offices on the top floors of the World Trade Center. After a successful film festival tour in 2012-13, you can now watch it online this week as it debuts this month on a variety of platforms including iTunes, Amazon and even YouTube.

On 9/11, more than 600 of Cantor's employees died in the terrorist attack on the building...more than two-thirds of their work force. Amazingly, the CEO Howard Lutnick survived and vowed to save the company against the odds to help support the families of those left behind. Many people know Howard Lutnick as the face of the company when he appeared on all the TV networks in the days after the attack talking about his extraordinary loss. This documentary delves deeper into that story as well as the stories of others who survived and helped get Cantor back on its feet.

The film is directed by my good friend and colleague Danielle Gardner, who lost her brother Doug who worked at Cantor. Danielle spent nearly 10 years making the film and I was working with her as an associate producer on the project for almost 5 years. I'm very proud of this project and I hope you will check it out and see a different side of the 9/11 story that it presents.

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 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


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, 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


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.

May 15, 2014

Reel Estates App Finds Famous Film/TV Locations

I was reading my NYU Alumni magazine this week and came across an article about an app for finding famous movie and TV locations. Put together by an NYU grad Gadi Harel from the class of '93, Reel Estates started from his own curiosity about visiting the real locations of pop culture touchtones, like the Brady home in Studio City, LA.

The app is location based and will show you what notable filming sites are nearby... perfect when tooling around NYC or Hollywood. But also, the app covers the rest of the country too with places like the BREAKING BAD house in New Mexico.  Harel has more than 600 famous sites listed in the app. I need to add this one to my iPhone and, finally, go in search of the Archie Bunker residence in my now-native Queens.

May 7, 2014

Kicking Off Prom Season, A Podcast About My Prom Novel

It's May and that means prom season is in full swing. So for your listening pleasure, Simon & Schuster has a podcast on YouTube that I did a few years ago about my debut novel A REALLY NICE PROM MESS. This is my first novel for young adults which tells the story about a gay couple who goes on a secret double date to the prom which doesn't stay secret for long and then complications/chaos ensue (see police, drug dealers, strippers, et al). The book was nearly banned in 2009 by a library in Wisconsin just because there were gay characters in it. Anyway, the podcast is about 4 minutes long and, in it, I talk about about the book and my prom experiences, as I went to a few! You can purchase the paperback on Amazon and I guarantee it makes for fun summer/beach reading.

April 28, 2014

A Live TV Version Of GREASE On Fox in 2015

In TV and movies, success always inspires imitation. So after the smashing return of live musicals to television with NBC's SOUND OF MUSIC last December, now other networks are getting in on the game. 

EW reports today that Fox is going to do a 3-hour live version of the classic 50s musical. The film version's John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John have always been the Danny/Sandy combo to beat. So it will be interesting what sort of casting craziness they try to spark some similar chemistry. 

Already, some suggestions out there in the Twitter-verse are Zac Efron and Taylor Swift. While that sounds good on paper, there might be that problem of acting which caused a lot of critical concern with the theatrical novice Carrie Underwood "playing" Maria in SOUND OF MUSIC. But then again, it's live TV so it's really all about the number of eyeballs they can get to the sets for a show that everyone knows backwards and forwards. Let the casting games begin!

April 23, 2014

Day And Date (And Festival) Release For Joss Whedon's IN YOUR EYES

As the film world continues to go digital, a new model of getting films out to the public has taken off this year. In recent years, so-called day-and-date releases where a feature would be made available on all platforms theatrical, VOD, download, on the same day was becoming popular and increasingly successful.

Now the latest twist in this happened on Monday when a new Joss Whedon's feature IN YOUR EYES (which he co-wrote and produced) opened at the Tribeca Film Festival while, on the same day, was made available on Vimeo as a digital download for $5. The release was a bit of a surprise, promoting many to compare it to Beyonce's recent out-of-the-blue album drop on iTunes.

As strange as it may seem to drop a movie out there with no advance warning, it's a model that makes some sense in that when a film is riding a wave of reviews and press coverage at a festival, it's the prime time to make the film available to the public at large who is reading about it everywhere. Netflix realized thiswhen they released the documentary MITT a week after its Sundance premiere. And, when you're Joss Whedon, with a sizable social-media footprint and devoted fan base (me included!), that helps spread the insta-word rather quickly too.

Here's the preview of the film below...
In Your Eyes - Trailer from Bellwether Pictures on Vimeo.

April 14, 2014

Breaking Down The Title Sequence For MAD MEN

The Washington Post did a fun video breakdown of the title sequence of MAD MEN, as it started its 7th and final season last night. This was part of a longer story in the Arts section about how, in the current golden age of television, it's also a golden age for title sequences as well.

The iconic MAD MEN opening started with an idea by creator Matthew Weiner that was originally going to be live action and not animation. It would have followed the real life Don Draper on his daily commute from the 'burbs and into Manhattan, up to his office where he would then proceed to jump out the window. The falling-man element stayed but the rest became much more impressionistic while still making clear the 1960s setting (utilizing period snapshots) and the advertising milieu (with large ads projected on the buildings).

A great deal of thought and production goes into these 1-2 minute segments that become essential for setting the tone of the show and also branding the content too. The article states how in these days of DVR-ing people rarely fast-forward through them, appreciating the effort and artistry of the titles. In addition to MAD MEN, I personally love the time lapses of DC that start each episode of HOSUE OF CARDS on an ominous note. Anyway, here's the segment below from PostTV which breaks down MAD MEN.

April 7, 2014

An Oral History of HEATHERS...and HEATHERS 2

On March 31, 1989, New World Features released their last film before going out of business, a dark high school comedy called HEATHERS. It only grossed a little over a million and was considered a flop. Until, that is, home video made it a high school cult classic with some very quotable lines. I didn't wait for home video and saw it that April in DC (at the Outer Circle) and it blew my mind. Even more exciting was that a friend I'd done summer theatre with was in the film with a couple lines too!

In honor of HEATHERS 25th anniversary, and the recent opening of the HEATHERS musical off-Broadway, Entertainment Weekly has put together a highly entertaining oral history about the making of HEATHERS.  Winona Ryder sounds somewhat obsessed with the film, stating she's seen it over 50 times and always watches til the end if she catches it on TV. And to think that her role could've gone to Jennifer Connelly or Justine Bateman, both of whom turned the part down before it was given to Winona.

There's also some great details here about an idea for a sequel to HEATHERS that writer Daniel Waters was toying with in which Winona's character ends up in Washington working for a "Senator Heather" (played by Meryl Streep!) and goes on to assassinate the president. It almost sounds like a very special episode of HOUSE OF CARDS!

March 31, 2014

The Original "Cliffhanger" Is 100 Years Old

My favorite NYC history blog, The Bowery Boys, had a great story this weekend on the 100th anniversary of the "cliffhanger". The term comes from the famous silent films series THE PERILS OF PAULINE, the first of which debuted 100 years ago this month. 

Even more fascinating is that the cliffs that Pauline hung off, which is where the term comes from, are the Palisades in NJ (pictured here). New Jersey and New York City is where the film industry began and thrived for a couple decades before migrating towards better weather (and cheaper real estate for growing studios) to the West Coast.

Also somewhat notable is exactly where Pauline's adventures took place. Before Gov. Christie made it famous for a traffic jam, Ft. Lee was the site of filming for the first of these serialized adventures in which a young girl with an inheritance is lured towards danger by a man seeking her money. Below is the original film in this series, available on YouTube.  

March 27, 2014

A Cinematic Clip Tour Of Dirty Old New York

Over at The EV Grieve, they've posted the fifth in a series of cinematic clip tours of New York from back in its less glamorous period. These were created by cinephile Jonathan Hertzberg, who is obsessed with the dirty old NYC of the late 60s, 1970s and 1980s. His latest 25 minute tour de grit is put together with a number of notable films (TAKING OF PELHAM 123, SUPERMAN, TAXI DRIVER) and some lesser known films, some of which even I couldn't guess (what is Barbra Streisand doing with a bunch of thugs cruising down the East River?!).

Some of the clips are classics, others curiosities, but the real interest is often the background or the location itself. There's one remarkable shot of 1970s Times Square that shows not only the old HoJo's (one of my favorite spots) but also a still-operating Horn & Hardart automat. And there is a great sequence of shots around the 8:00 minute mark of Jessica Lange and King Kong at the old World Trade Center, ending with Kong dead on the wide beach that used to abut the site made from the excavation of the twin towers and later developed into Battery Park City and the World Financial Center.

Make sure you stay 'til the end for an Oscar-like tribute to actors associated with NYC who are no longer with us.
Dirty Old New York aka Fun City, Part V from Jonathan Hertzberg on Vimeo.

March 24, 2014

New Doc Delves Into Mystery of Photographer Vivian Maier

Since first hearing about her in 2010, I've been fascinated with the mystery of now legendary urban photographer Vivan Maier. She was a mid-century professional nanny, living in NYC and then Chicago, who took nearly 100,000 photos that were all stashed away in a storage locker and never seen by anyone. The locker was auctioned off in 2007 and the man who bought it, John Maloof, started posting the pictures online (the one here is from her New York days), showing the world a remarkable body of work that drew comparisons to contemporary artists like Evans, Arbus, Weegee and even Cindy Sherman. 

Now Maloof, along with producer Charlie Siskel (Gene's nephew!), has made a documentary which looks at the curious story of the woman behind these remarkable photos. The movie, profiled in yesterday's TIMES, comes out this Friday that IFC Center and I can't wait to see it. The trailer is great, hinting at the revelations about her extremely private life from the children she cared for. 

March 21, 2014

RuPaul and John Waters Crack Wise and Talk Show Biz

When RuPaul is not busy encouraging and judging America's up and coming drag queens, he can be found driving celebrities around L.A. in his car and chatting with him.  "RuPaul Drives" is the latest in the mobile celebrity talkshow format that started with Jerry Seinfeld's web series. What makes this new show special is her guest, filmmaker John Waters. Waters consistently cracks Ru up and literally leaves her laughing with a NY POST headline that's a personal favorite of his. 

The best part of this though was a story which I had never heard before, about how John Waters got interested in "the biz". The answer? Howdy Doody. As an impressionable 10-year-old, he got to sit in the Peanut Gallery at a taping of the classic kids show at Rockefeller Center in the 1950s. He was fascinated by how fake the whole thing was and got instantly hooked on show biz. Who would have guess Howdy Doody inspired the genius behind PINK FLAMINGOES and FEMALE TROUBLE?

March 14, 2014

A New Roller Coaster For Coney On A Famous Film Site

Construction began this week on a brand new $10M roller coaster on the boardwalk in Coney Island. The Thunderbolt is the name of this all steel ride part of the new Luna Park which features inversions, loops and twists making it the first coaster to flip patrons at the seaside park since 1910. Built by the famed Italian firm Zamperla, the ride will rise 115 feet and then plunge cars at speeds of 80mph through the twists and turns of this new thriller.  

What's notable about the ride, though, is also its location. It's on the site of a kinder, gentler wooden coaster that was also called the Thunderbolt. That ride dated from Coney's early midcentury heyday and was shutdown in the 1970s but remained standing until Mayor Giuliani illegally knocked it down in the middle of the night. That Thunderbolt was famously featured in Woody Allen's classic ANNIE HALL as the childhood home of Alvy Singer, who family fictionally lived in the odd house that jammed under the corner of the ride. 

I was always fascinated by that house on my trips to Coney when I first arrived in NYC. The TIMES article says it was destroyed by fire but just the interior--from the outside it did look like a house someone could live in. Surely, once the ride shut down for the evening, you could get some shuteye but I imagine hanging out there during the day would have been close to the famous scene in Allen's film.  

March 6, 2014

Randy Rainbow Does John Travolta In New Video

The amazing Randy Rainbow has joined the pile-on re; John Travolta's infamous gaffe during Sunday's Oscars, but with inspried results. He has taken Idinia Menzel's nom de Oscar "Adele Dazeem" and smartly matched it to the song "La Vie Boheme" from RENT (in which she famously got her start) to create a musical mishmash of mispronounced celebrity names. It's like a musical version of the SLATE Travoltifier that went super-viral on Monday, giving that news site its most viewed story ever (nearly 4 million hits). Randy is one of my favorite online comedians and with this one, including a hilariously slowed down version of Travolta's clip, he has knocked it out of the park.

March 4, 2014

The Oscar Pizza Guy Gets His Tip

The biggest question post-Oscar, besides what Matthew McConaughey or John Travolta were thinking, was what happened to all that money Ellen collected for the pizza guy? 

Well, after a flurry of social media concern, the answer came yesterday during Ellen's post-Oscar show. The lucky guy Edgar Martirosyan sat down for a chat and Ellen presented him, not just with the $600 she collected from folks like Brad Pitt and Harvey Weinstein but also an additional $400 she threw in herself for a cool 1K. In addition to that, Ellen ordered countless boxes of pizza for her audience, which was surely another boon to his family-owned Big Mama's and Papa Pizza in Hollywood. 

I was curious about the outcome of this and couldn't find much on the interwebs. But leave it to MTV News who knows there audience (pizza!!!) to report the story. The interview with Martirosyan is pretty cute too as he reveals that Julia Roberts was his biggest movie crush and he got to hand her a slice. Some people were critical of the pizza bit taking up too much time on a ceremony that is always overlong, but I thought it was fun and (as Ellen mentions) quite practical as all those actresses were hungry, having starved themselves for weeks to fit into their dresses. 

February 28, 2014

SCANDAL and FELICITY Star Scott Foley Is Kinda Cute

Scott Foley is getting a TV second coming lately, with his role on SCANDAL. But I will always think of him at Noel from FELICITY, one side of the pained love triangle that was at the center of that show's existence. I was sorta hooked on this show for the first season or so. I know--it was a little cheesy, a little ridiculous, but it was J.J. Abrams pre-LOST and had its charms to say the least. At the end of the show's 4 year run, FELICITY chose Ben (sorta) but now it looks like she chose wrong. 

In a new spread for some towel company called Charisma (!) that was featured on Logo's blog, Foley shows he is quite an equal match to the hunky Ben (played by Scott Speedman). So I would say that qualifies Noel not just for the Hi-Fi Bri Kinda Cute hall of fame, but sorta elevates him to "Kinda Hot" as well. Just make sure you watch the somewhat cheesy video too of a behind the scenes look at his shoot. It's a borderline SNL-skit about how much Scott likes fancy towels and how he never feels sexy, except when his wife tells him. Oh yeah, he has a wife. Well as Billy Wilder once wrote, "Nobody's perfect." :)

February 25, 2014

The YANK! Cast Recording Is Now Available And It's A Classic

Last night, I went to the York Theater to celebrate the official release of the cast album for YANK!, a musical about gay soldiers in WWII written by my colleagues David and Joe Zellnik. (You can download it today via iTunes for just 10 clams!) From when I first heard about the idea for this show, I've been a big fan and I've seen it more than a few times, in it's many incarnations, from a reading in a rehearsal studio on 42nd Street to a beautiful production at the Gallery Players in Brooklyn.
But these did not prepare me for how amazing this recording is.

With rich orchestrations by Bway vet Jonathan Tunick and a jazzy Big Band sound, listening to these songs is now somewhat like discovering the old '40s era journal that kicks off the show's opening scene; these songs sound like a time capsule from a long lost past that is familiar yet strikingly different too. If you like your musical theatre old school, this show is like something from the 1940s except for the fact that it's memorable songs, especially the aching "Reme'bring You", are about two men who fall in love during WWII.

I was a supporter of the Kickstarter campaign that made this beautiful CD possible. Now that its available to the public, David and Joe are hoping that as this music gets out into the world, more productions of the show will happen and eventually the show will end up where it deserves to be--on Broadway. Hey...if the gays can play for the NBA, anything is possible!  :)

February 11, 2014

Today's The 50th Anniversary Of The Beatles First U.S. Concert At Washington Coliseum

While The Beatles' NYC appearance on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW gets most of the attention for their American debut, the Fab Four's first live concert for a paying audience took place in Washington DC. Two days after being seen by nearly 75 million Americans, the group played for 8,000 screaming fans at the Washington Coliseum a few blocks from Union Station, where they arrived by train in a snowstorm.

Today's Washington Post has a fantastic oral history of that first Beatles show, with attendees like Al Gore (who grew up in DC) and Albert Maysles (who shot the concert) and Sir Paul reminiscing about it all. There are some great details, like the chat Ringo had with a child on the train and the teen screaming which had police officers putting bullets in their ears. You can also watch footage from that show on iTunes new Beatles channel, along with two of The Beatles SULLIVAN segments.  I watched these uncut broadcast segments after the CBS tribute on Sunday kept showing tantalizingly short clips. They are really remarkable...the screaming is annoying but also electric, especially during "I Wanna Hold Your Hand". At one point, Ed himself cannot quiet the audience down to speak in intro'ing the second segment.

Finally, a live celebration of the anniversary is happening tonight at the old Coliseum itself (which now goes by its original name U Line Arena). It's been brought back to life for a one night only restaging of that first show with a Beatles tribute band. They will play the exact same set list and the show will start, as it did then, at exactly 8:31pm.  And just like the original, it is also sold out.

February 7, 2014

B.J. Novak Is A Funny Guy And A Great Writer

Actor B.J. Novak, known for his funny roles in THE OFFICE and, more recently, as Richard Sherman in SAVING MR. BANKS, is now taking on a somewhat different role; that of a newly published author. He has a collection of short stories that just came out this month called ONE MORE THING: STORIES AND MORE STORIES.

I haven't read the whole book but I did read one of his stories recently and thought it was really great. It's called "Kellogg" and is about a boy who thinks he has won a cereal sweepstakes contest. It's classic short story writing with a modern twist to the proceedings which made it an engrossing and wickedly funny read. You can check out "Kellog" on the literary website Nautilus and the book is now available on Amazon.

February 5, 2014

The Epic Super Bowl Commercial Seen Only In Georgia

There has been lots of talk about how this year's lineup of Super Bowl spots were cute and cuddly and non-offensive. Budweiser's puppy ad seemed to be the gold standard for a kinder and gentler advertising onslaught, with not the usual raunch of the past.  However, there is one Super Bowl commercial you probably have not seen that it sorta out there. Not raunchy really but raw and kinda kickass, like a music video from the '80s. 

This ad was for a personal injury attorney in named Jamie Casino, which already makes it sounds like he's in an '80s crime movie. I mean, you know you are in for something unique when a TV commercial starts off quoting the Bible. What follows is an epic (for ads anyway) 2-minute long heavy metal music video story of redemption and vengeance, not to mention flame throwing and slow-mo sledge hammering. It is awesome and, despite being shown as a local spot at a Fox affiliate in Savannah, it is racking up the hits on YouTube (almost 5M today). My only question--is that really his actual son in the video too? The Daily News has more details on how this all happened, if you're interested

January 31, 2014

Two 2013 Fest Faves Are Now Available: G.B.F. and STRANGER BY THE LAKE

Now that awards season is in full swing and the studios have their prestige pics playing theaters everywhere, January and February are often a slow time for mainstream films. Unless that is you have interested in naked Zac Efron in THAT AWKARD MOMENT... whose Tomato Meter hovers around 20%! However, if you're looking for a couple good indies, there are two films that were popular on the festival circuit last year that are now available in various forms of commercial release.

G.B.F. is Darren Stein's hysterical high school comedy about a teen gay who a sough-after prized possession, or Gay Best Friend, by the three most popular girls in school. The film is a romp filled with some great one liners and a hilarious performance by Paul Iacono (from MTV's HARD TIMES OF RJ BERGER) with Megan Mullally as his very progressive mom. Also, I'd recommend checking it out in a theatre near you if possible as its fun to see with an audience--their FB page has more info. Or you can stream it on iTunes too.

The other film is about 180 degrees from G.B.F. in terms of content and style but is still a must-see. The French film STRANGER BY THE LAKE, directed by Alain Guiradie, caused a sensation at Cannes last year for it's bold depiction of an all-male cruising area in which some nefarious deeds take place. I caught it at the NY Film Festival and thought it was great. The dialogue is sparse, the scenery is gorgeous, and the sex is serious--this film would actually deserve an NC-17, whereas G.B.F.'s "R" rating still baffles the mind. Anyway, STRANGER is a sexy and atmospheric dramatic thriller that is pure cinema with shades of Hitchcock as well. It's in theaters this week with trailer below.

January 24, 2014

It Was 30 Years Ago Today--Apple Introduces Macintosh

30 years ago today, just a few days after a remarkable Super Bowl commercial touting it's new product, Apple introduced the Macintosh computer to the world and personal computing would never be the same. Below is the video of a very young, charming Steve Jobs introducing the new machine to loud hoots and hollers and he slips in a 3.5 inch disc (remember those!) and the small B/W screen starts to some some graphic and letters. By our standards today, it seems pretty ho-hum and the audience reaction over the top. But this was the first personal computer with a graphical interface...and it truly blew people's minds.

I have fond memories of the original Mac. I remember a guy in my college dorm who had one, which amazed everyone (it retailed for nearly $2500 bucks!). And then, a year later, the computers were available to everyone in the Boston College computer center. I remember writing my first short stories and crafting the plots for my first films using the Mac. I even used it to draw some characters for an animated cut-out film (ala SOUTH PARK) that I shot on Super 8. I'd like to get that one online one of these days! In the meantime, here's Steve Jobs and the Macintosh...

January 22, 2014

Paramount Will No Longer Make 35mm Film Prints

This week the LA TIMES reports that Paramount Pictures has officially announced that it will no longer release its films on actual film. ANCHORMAN II would be the last of its movies to hit theaters as standard 35mm release prints and, conversely, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET would be the first of its flicks to be distributed only digitally. This is big news and marks the beginning of a big transition for the major studios that began nearly 10 years ago with the introduction of digital projection technology.

Originally, digital projection was seen as a potential boon to indie filmmakers. In summer of 2003, BOYS LIFE 4 (a project I executive produced which included my short BUMPING HEADS) was released digitally in 20 cinemas across the county. It saved a lot of money on the cost of striking film prints but, at that point, it limited our release somewhat as a lot of theaters were not yet equipped for digital screening. A decade later, some indie cinemas are still trying to make that expensive upgrade because if they don't, they may have to go out of business.

The NEW YORKER has put together an interesting and beautifully shot short film about such a theatre in Hudson, NY. The Fairview is a small 3 screen art house that shows indie fare but is struggling with the upgrade. Fortunately, the local community there has helped support the transition but it might not be enough to make it happen. A compelling look at the changes and challenges in commercial cinema today.

January 21, 2014

FROZEN Viral Video Has Twins Singing "Let It Go"

I'm a big fan of the new Disney animated film FROZEN, which cleverly reimagines the standard princess story and has some great Broadway-style songs to boot. In fact, there was a recent official announcement that Disney is developing the movie as a stage musical though there is no date on when it might hit the Great White Way. 

Since it's release in November, there has been some serious viral video action based off of FROZEN's big hit song, "Let It Go" originally recorded for the film by Bway star Idina Menzel. Now, there are all kinds of kids singing the song on YouTube, with various stages of professionalism and polish. But the one that really caught my eye was first posted on Vimeo where it has racked up more than a million hits. Now it's on YouTube where it passed the half-million mark today.

Maddie and Zoe are twin 4-year old girls singing the song as a duet for their dad, cinematographer Aaron Mendez. They perform the song with such heart and verve and excitement (including the awesome yawn halfway through!) that it has clearly taken the crown in the viral derby for "Let It Go" covers. However, this take does require some previous knowledge of the song/lyrics to fully enjoy the girls truly unique version. At least, that is, until someone adds subtitles. 

January 15, 2014

A TIMES Profile For Sundance Head John Cooper As Fest Hits 30

There's a great NY TIMES profile of John Cooper, the director of the Sundance Film Festival which kicks off it's 30th edition in Park City this week. Though Robert Redford usually serves as the public face of the festival, John has been with Sundance for more than 20 years. I met him back when he was programming the short films in the '90s.

He selected my film POOL DAYS for the festival in 1994 which was quite a boost to my career as a young filmmaker just starting out after finishing film school at NYU. I didn't realize that he actually helped create the idea of screening shorts at Sundance, which originally was playing only feature films when it started. Anyway, he's been such an integral part of the festival for many years as the head programmer that it's great to see him getting more recognition for his tireless efforts promoting independent film as the festival begins it's third decade.