Monday, March 2, 2015

A rebuttal to the Ryan Boudinot MFA article.

There are over 100 comments about Ryan Boudinot's article on THE STRANGER site--which I excerpted for my last blog post.

Here's one from "emmaz" and I've highlighted a certain passage that perfectly summarizes what I've been trying to say for years about "the poetry community."

The irony of this article is that Boudinot seems to genuinely think that he's courageously speaking a truth that no one wants to hear, when he's actually just spouting the dominant ideology that has held sway for a few hundred years now about the arts. That old saw that creativity is best left to a few genius artists who are "born that way," and if most of the celebrated voices are white and male, then that is just an indication of how God distributes talent. That's a western enlightenment attitude that supports the ruling class and the hegemonic status quo. I personally think that the more people who engage in the arts, in any capacity, the better the arts will be and the more interesting and just our culture will be. Why would we ever want to encourage less participation, if not to police who gets to speak?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sifting out the good advice from the bad re Ryan Boudinot.

Recently, an article from Seattle literary majordomo Ryan Boudinot appeared on my Facebook feed---something about what he'll tell you about MFA programs.


Here's the constructive portion:

You don't need my help to get published.
When I was working on my MFA between 1997 and 1999, I understood that if I wanted any of the work I was doing to ever be published, I'd better listen to my faculty advisers. MFA programs of that era were useful from a professional development standpoint—I still think about a lecture the poet Jason Shinder gave at Bennington College that was full of tremendously helpful career advice I use to this day. But in today's Kindle/e-book/self-publishing environment, with New York publishing sliding into cultural irrelevance, I find questions about working with agents and editors increasingly old-fashioned. Anyone who claims to have useful information about the publishing industry is lying to you, because nobody knows what the hell is happening. My advice is for writers to reject the old models and take over the production of their own and each other's work as much as possible.
It's not important that people think you're smart.
After eight years of teaching at the graduate level, I grew increasingly intolerant of writing designed to make the writer look smart, clever, or edgy. I know this work when I see it; I've written a fair amount of it myself. But writing that's motivated by the desire to give the reader a pleasurable experience really is best. I told a few students over the years that their only job was to keep me entertained, and the ones who got it started to enjoy themselves, and the work got better. Those who didn't get it were stuck on the notion that their writing was a tool designed to procure my validation. The funny thing is, if you can put your ego on the back burner and focus on giving someone a wonderful reading experience, that'sthe cleverest writing.

Other times, Mr. Boudinot plays the Tough Guy to grating effect:

If you didn't decide to take writing seriously by the time you were a teenager, you're probably not going to make it.
There are notable exceptions to this rule, Haruki Murakami being one. But for most people, deciding to begin pursuing creative writing in one's 30s or 40s is probably too late. Being a writer means developing a lifelong intimacy with language. You have to be crazy about books as a kid to establish the neural architecture required to write one.
No one cares about your problems if you're a shitty writer.
I worked with a number of students writing memoirs. One of my Real Deal students wrote a memoir that actually made me cry. He was a rare exception. For the most part, MFA students who choose to write memoirs are narcissists using the genre as therapy. They want someone to feel sorry for them, and they believe that the supposed candor of their reflective essay excuses its technical faults. Just because you were abused as a child does not make your inability to stick with the same verb tense for more than two sentences any more bearable. In fact, having to slog through 500 pages of your error-riddled student memoir makes me wish you had suffered more.
The article in its entirety:



Saturday, February 28, 2015

SPY magazine's NAME THAT TUNE, MR. SPOCK

From the website fawny.org


jaundiced vehicular pathway!

I nearly expired with delight and relief to finallylocate absolutely the most memorable SPYfeaturette: “Name That Tune, Mr. Spock!” Leonard Nimoy strums his lyre as we read the following (in its entirety, with no explanation whatsoever, as per original, but numbering added):
  1. This celebratory gathering occurs at my behest and I shall be lachrymose if it so befits me.
  2. She chooses to purchase a terraced incline directed toward a postlife paradisiacal region.
  3. I request that you prevent a large, glowing orb consisting of incandescent gas from committing fellatio upon my person.
  4. The leather coverings now encasing my pedal extremities have been manufactured for the specific purpose of ambulatory forward motion.
  5. Allow me the honour of portraying for you a miniaturized representation of a member of the family Ursidæ of the order Carnivora.
  6. Adieu, jaundiced vehicular pathway consisting of blocks of baked clay.
  7. You provide illumination for the period of time delimited by my nativity and the complete cessation of my metabolic functions.
  8. And we will engage in much jubilant activity until such time as the male parent chooses to repossess her vehicle of motorized transport.
  9. The deity had little or nothing to do with the manufacture of minuscule viridescent seed-bearing fruits.
  10. Expresses deep affection toward yours truly in the manner of a hardened igneous object.
  11. Please remove yourself from the immediate vicinity of my visible collection of minute water particles, Dr. McCoy.
Byline? David Yazbek and Howard Korder. Where are they now? Yazbek, an XTC apologist, wrote “music and lyrics” for the play The Full Monty; Korder wrote “1988 male heterosexual coming-of-age play” Boys’ Life; the two collaborate frequently.

Friday, February 27, 2015

My list of memorable 2010-2014 film releases.

In no specific order, except by year of release: EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP, THE SOCIAL NETWORK, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, TOY STORY 3, THE TRIP, GAINSBOURG, HUGO, RANGO, DRIVE, THE GUARD, ATTACK THE BLOCK, MELANCHOLIA,
DJANGO UNCHAINED, THE RAID: REDEMPTION, THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT, THE MASTER, THE DEEP BLUE SEA, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, FRUITVALE STATION, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, THE WORLD'S END, FRANCES HA, AMOUR, NEBRASKA, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, THE TRIP TO ITALY, CALVARY,  INHERENT VICE, LIFE ITSELF, SNOWPIERCER, THE LEGO MOVIE, WILD, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, CITIZENFOUR

Saturday, February 21, 2015

West Coast film/TV extras: now and then.

So I just read Hillel Aron's LA WEEKLY cover story on extras (or, as they'd prefer to be called, background actors).  On the cover of the physical (on-paper) WEEKLY, the headline is PROPS THAT EAT.
Here's a link to Aron's article in its entirety:
http://www.laweekly.com/news/some-hollywood-extras-suffer-but-others-are-rolling-in-it-5392316

The article highlights the very few background performers (who now are in the combined SAG/AFTRA) who successfully network with directors and assistant directors and make large annual salaries.

As for the quite large number of background performers who are nonunion, there's a quote from an unnamed producer who seems rather proud of how little he feeds them on big background calls (pizza, plus a snack table with popcorn and bottled water).

Briefly, here was my experience of extra work between 1988 and 1997:
NONUNION: Generally paid $40 for an 8-hour day plus overtime, though some smaller extra casting companies would pay $35.  As Aron mentions in the article, extras are segregated from the cast/crew at mealtime; some studio productions that employed large numbers of nonunion background would opt for box lunches, which varied in quality.  Without the nominal protections of being (pre-1992) in the Screen Extras Guild (which, if memory is correct, would pay $85 for upper-tier and $42 for lower-tier per 8-hour day), nonunion extras could, on occasion, receive more verbal abuse/threats of dismissal from production assistants and assistant directors.  Nonunion extras, upon signing with a casting agency (or perhaps a calling service which would contact casting agencies for the extra), would often receive a page of on-set etiquette tips with this admonition invariably capitalized:
DRUGS AND ALCOHOL ARE THE KISS OF DEATH ON OUR SETS!

UNION: I became a SAG member in late 1991 by being given dialogue to speak on the film CHAPLIN by director Richard Attenborough (my moment was cut from the final print, but I still receive occasional small residual checks).  Most extras who make the transition from nonunion to union do it by way of the three-Union-voucher system (still in effect, according to Aron's article); this means a nonunion extra has to receive three SAG/AFTRA pay vouchers before qualifying to join.  In earlier days, AFTRA membership could be achieved by either paying a certain amount outright or applying paychecks for AFTRA work towards the entry fee. 

If background actors felt they needed to talk to the union about the production they worked on, a representative would on occasion show up on-set.  Sometimes, though, background people feared retaliation and blackballing and stayed  silent.  Also, if a background actor was injured and/or incapacitated, he/she could be reluctant to collect Workers' Compensation for fear of--you guessed it--retaliation and blackballing.

SAG extra salaries were shrunk to $65/8-hour day in 1992; by the time I left extra work in 1997, I remember them rising to $90/8.  Stand-ins were paid around $90/8 circa 1993--the rate increased later.  As Aron says, the best pay of union background work--then and now--can come from working on commercials.

Essentially, extra work on feature films and television is equivalent to temp work in an office.  Some environments will be kind and treat background people as professionals who are integral to creating an environment within a scene (when I was an extra, it seemed as if foreign directors working in America such as Philip Noyce, Stephen Frears and Martin Campbell were better about reaching out to background performers than most Americans, who, either for DGA or other reasons, often delegated matters to their assistant directors).  Other times, you're thrown into a tense, high-decibel environment and professionalism/quality of work/nervous system gets tested immediately.

In any event, do your best and stay calm if you choose to go into what one cinematographer called "this madness" that creates entertainment for everyday people and "content" for the corporate owners of major studios.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

SNL 2015 vs. NBC'S SATURDAY NIGHT in 1975.

Excerpted from a GUARDIAN article by Brian Moylan:

The most remarkable thing, however, was seeing the show in its infancy, trying to find the patterns we know today. These days, it chugs along like a train on the same track, the rhythms of the show and the style of the humor established both by tradition and by SNL’s influence over future generations of comics. Those trying out for the show today know exactly what an SNL sketch should look and sound like and they fit their act accordingly. When the show was just starting, the sketches were less topical and more absurd and surreal.
The first sketch ever featured [John] Belushi going to a tutor to learn English – except every sentence he has to repeat is something insane that has to do with wolverines. The premiere also showcased Andy Kaufman and his famous performance singing Mighty Mouse, where he stands next to a record player nervously and only lip syncs “Here I come to save the day”.
These are not things that we would see on today’s broadcast, which is much broader and focused more on well-known characters, repeatable franchises, political commentary and gags ripped from the headlines. Some things have become more refined, like the mock commercials, which are much funnier than one in the first episode about an arthritis drug with a child-proof cap.
 ...we see the DNA of the SNL we have today – possibly because it’s almost always been produced by Lorne Michaels. But it’s like a recipe a chef is still trying to master. He’s playing around with the ingredients, changing them and bringing them out in different proportions. Over time, he finds just the perfect combination and once he does, it calcifies for the rest of time, being served exactly the same way.
That’s what watching an old episode [of] Saturday Night Live is like: appreciating the perfection of the present but missing the messiness of the past. And knowing that, no matter what, everything will be a little bit sketchy.
Link to the complete article: