Old Tweets

Man I went through my old Tweets, and none of them were racist or anything, but they were terrible!

If you don’t look back on your old writing without disgust you’re not growing, so healthy enough I guess.  But you’d think for something I spent so much time doing I’d’ve come up with some better ones.

Here are the only ones I felt like might be worth saving, putting them here as much for myself as for my small but influential readership.

When I don’t like writing it’s usually because it’s too writingy.

The Biblical story of Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dream: first case of a Jewish psychiatrist?

If there were a restaurant in LA that sold angel meat, Jonathan Gold would eat there.

Today’s surprising Supreme Court Fact: Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a high school cheerleader.

Whenever I’m in New York, I visit this little shop know, down in the Flatiron, and have my shoes professionally tied.

Addition to Hely’s Great Things: When an old person says “blankety-blank” instead of swears.

An airport? A state forest? An interchange? All fine things to have named after you. But only Melba has a peach thing AND a toast.

One thing I’d like to see is a giant eating baked potatoes, one after another, like grapes.

Ate a piece of gum today that was in stick form, instead of hard, candied pill form.  It was like visiting Old Sturbridge Village.

If I’m gonna see a play, by the end the stage better be a MESS.

What real-life show is “Game of Thrones” the porn parody of?

The taste of a drop of air conditioner water landing in your mouth. #mynewyork

There’s only one political issue I’m deeply passionate about: colonizing the moon with convicts. I’m opposed.

Let’s argue!  I’ll start!  All jazz is perfect.

my favorite cob food? corn, no brainer

It’s unreasonable of Don Cheadle to expect the other members of Ocean’s Eleven will understand his ludicrous slang.

Most of my money ($660) comes from my 1992 dance hit “It’s OK To Dress Up (When You’re The Birthday Girl)”

I think I could sell idiots salted coffee.

“Fine, FINE, we’ll just name ANOTHER one after John Muir, then we can all go home.” – another tense meeting at the US Forest Service.

In this age of baby carrots it’s such a power move to eat a regular carrot.

If you’re into immutable laws you pretty much have to go with physics, right?

TRIVIA: What is the most spilled beverage in the world?  Give up?  It’s water.  (Trick question because I was counting waterfalls.)

Vali rolled with it admirably when he came back to our seats at the Arclight and found me telling the history of IKEA to a stranger.

Was bowling invented so teens of different genders could examine each other’s butts?

“I like your shirt!” = “I noticed your shirt!”

LA etiquette: it’s rude to point out that someone’s production company has never produced anything.

The most important ingredient in any recipe is money.

Movie pitch: Fuckboi Academy

Nothing pisses me off more than when some fuckface in my Instagram is having a nice vacation

My best hope for Olympic glory would be as the falling down guy someone helps in a true display of sportsmanship

What did the TV writer say when he arrived in Hell?  “How’re the hours?”

You know what sounds terrible but is actually perfectly nice? The stall in the bathroom of the Yucca Valley Walmart, where I wrote this.


What is moral?

Goya, Death of the Picador

How do we decide what’s good or bad, right or wrong?

A interesting question obvs.  One every person answers for themselves somehow.

But how many of us can articulate our answer?

Would you come up with something like “not harming anyone else”?  Living with honor and honesty and compassion?

Really, I doubt most of us bother to articulate a moral philosophy or definition of morals.  We sorta just go with what feels right or wrong.

Right?

About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.

This is a quote attributed to Hemingway.

One thing I think is wrong is quote sites that don’t include the source or context for the quote.

(Brainy Quotes has the nerve to suggest how you can cite Brainy Quotes itself as the source.)

As always, hunting the source proves enriching.  Hemingway said this in chapter one of his book Death In The Afternoon.  

Back up just a few pages.  Here’s how Hemingway starts the book:

In Hemingway’s day, what was most repugnant about bullfighting was the suffering of horses.

Horses (this is described in the book) would get gored and have their entrails hanging out and trailing like grotesque ribbons.

At what bullfights remain this problem has been mostly eliminated, I believe, by armoring the horses.  At the only bullfight I ever saw in person, the horses were unharmed, though nine bulls were killed, one of them especially tortured because of the incompetence of the matador (lit. “killer”). (This video is upsetting if you don’t like seeing bulls hurt, but you can see how horses are now protected.)

Hemingway continues, justifying why he got into bullfighting even though he likes horses:

I was trying to write then, and I found the greatest difficulty, aside from knowing truly what you really felt, rather than what you were supposed to feel, and had been taught to feel, was to put down what really happened in action; what the actual things were which produced the emotion that you experienced.

A theme Hemingway came back to frequently.

He mentions Goya’s Los Desastros de la Guerra.

Plate 44: Yo lo vi (I saw this)

Hemingway continues:

       So I went to Spain to see bullfights and to try to write about them for myself.  I thought they would be simple and barbarous and cruel and that I would not like them, but that I would see certain definite action which would give me the feeling of life and death that I was working for.  I found the definite action ; but the bullfight was so far from simple and I liked it so much that it was much too complicated for my then equipment for writing to deal with and, aside from four very short sketches, I was not able to write anything about it for five years — and I wish I would have waited ten.  However, if I had waited long enough I probably never would have written anything at all since there is a tendency when you really begin to learn something about a thing not to want to write about it but rather to keep on learning about it always and at no time, unless you are very egotistical, which, of course, accounts for many books, will you be able to say: now I know all about this and will write about it.  Certainly I don not say that now ‘ every year I know there is more to learn, but I know some things which may be interesting now, and I may be away from the bullfights for a long time and I might as well write what I know about them now. Also it might be good to have a book about bullfighting in English and a serious book on such an unmoral subject may have some value.

So far, about morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after and judged by these moral standards, which I do not defend, the bullfight is very moral to me because I feel very fine while it is going on and have a feeling of life and death and mortality and immortality, and after it is over I feel very sad but very fine.  Also, I do not mind the horses; not in principle, but in fact I do not mind them.

Just thought is was interesting, this succinct definition of morality came in the context of why it shouldn’t bother us to see horses mangled during the ritual killing of bulls.

 

 


Is E. M. Forster “wrong”? (or, maybe, are our meanings different than his?)

Let us define a plot. We have defined a story as a narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence. A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality. “The king died and then the queen died” is a story. “The king died, and then the queen died of grief” is a plot.

So says Forster in Aspects of The Novel.

But this is the exact opposite way I feel most professional TV writers talk about this.  Shorthanded, “plot” means the events and “story” is the emotional journeys of the characters.

Over here commenter Kenny Chaffin, a writer himself, puts it succinctly:

I’m not sure I’d say Forster was wrong, but these words seem to have an inverted meaning in 2018 Hollywood.  When you have plot and no story, the audience will be bored.


Interview: John Levenstein

I thought I might interview John Levenstein, “retired” television writer, for Helytimes.  His takes and philosophies as expressed on his Twitter are really interesting and perhaps a Q &A would be of value to younger or aspiring writers.

Away we go!

John, you’ve been a writer on a million cool shows, and with your podcast, John Levenstein’s Retirement Party, and your Twitter feed, and in real life, I feel you’ve taken on a kind of mentoring role to a lot of young writers. Can you give us a roundup of some advice you give to young writers of comedy, people who are interested in comedy, or curious about a career in showbiz?

I feel like a lot of people unconsciously take the approach that they’re not in it to achieve their goals so much as to have a story about how things almost worked out. There’s a difference in what it takes to succeed versus what it takes to tell your parents you tried. Actors used to be advised to drop off headshots at every agency in town and keep checking back. That’s not an example of how to get an agent. It’s an example of how to tell your parents you did everything you could so get off my back! You need to take a more unorthodox and original approach to your career. And lie to your parents. Who cares? You can’t approach this by trying to be “correct.” It’s hard to stand out. Don’t go through life with the story that you were almost an Olympic athlete except you broke your ankle when you were 14. Failure can be great to learn from. But don’t hold it too dear. My last talk to a college class was called “the fetishization of failure” and I scared the shit out of a bunch of kids.

Why are executives so frustrating and how have you effectively (or ineffectively) dealt with them?

I’ve gotten better at dealing with executives, but also they’ve made more allowances for me as I’ve gotten older. I’d say take the note or don’t take the note, But don’t project so much power onto the executive that you become rebellious. No one is making you do anything. They won’t take the keyboard away from you. They might get mad. They might not pick up your project.

I try to treat executives as peers. I think language is important. I try to get the executives I work with to call their notes “pitches,” because that’s what they are and are all coming up with hundreds of them every day. And rejecting them for various reasons, some frivolous. But call a pitch a “note” and it is supposed to get due consideration or answered on its own terms. Not everything has to be responded to on its own terms.

I’m dictating onto my phone. Please clean this up a little if necessary, buddy

If you were starting over what do you wish you knew?

I wish I’d known (if I were starting over) that my efforts counted. I was planting seeds, even as I thought I was bombing out. People would remember me from years earlier. I was becoming a better writer. I was gaining life experience. I thought I was invisible, but I was making an impression.

What makes people care about a story?

I think for people to care about a story, they have to identify with someone, preferably more than one person. I’d rather have the audience intensely relate to aspects of character or behavior than feel fondness for a character. I rely on the actor to win the audience over—they live for that. And then the series of incidents has to be surprising. That’s a moving target. More misdirection is required these days to stay ahead of the audience. In television I think too much attention is paid to making sure stories are clear and not enough effort is put into obscuring them. There should be a final story step where you hide your work, if you haven’t already.

What does it take to succeed?

I’d say cultivate the side of yourself that is different from what anyone else has to offer. Figure out the strong points of view that you have that you assumed everyone had. Push up against the world enough to know that you’re different. That’s your voice. 20 years ago you could get a writing job by writing a strong sample of an existing sitcom. Now you need to express yourself in an original pilot script or video or some other form. I would choose the format that leads to the fullest expression of your voice, at least to start.

And (lowers voice) no one else will tell you this, but a good way to stand out is to choose arenas where other people are not being irreverent. An appropriate email is wallpaper. Be funny. Take a chance in a business correspondence. You won’t get a staff writing job by being the best writers assistant. You’ll get it by being the funniest writers assistant.

What makes you mad in the entertainment or comedy business?

Not much makes me mad in terms of results anymore. I can deal with little injustices. But process stuff can still make me crazy. I don’t like rules. I don’t like tyrannical show runners. I try not to put myself in positions I won’t like. In terms of my career, I have not gotten a shit deal, so I try not to act like I have. Some very successful people have chips on their shoulders

Beautiful. Well I think we have enough for a Helytimes post. Anything you wish I’d asked or you’d like to answer?

No I am good. I have not reread my responses. I’m living with them, Steve. Thanks!


Montenegro in the news

Montenegro in the news:

made me think of:

Gatsby is finally telling his backstory to Nick:

       “Then came the war, old sport. It was a great relief and I tried very hard to die but I seemed to bear an enchanted life. I accepted a commission as first lieutenant when it began. In the Argonne Forest I took two machine-gun detachments so far forward that there was a half mile gap on either side of us where the infantry couldn’t advance. We stayed there two days and two nights, a hundred and thirty men with sixteen Lewis guns, and when the infantry came up at last they found the insignia of three German divisions among the piles of dead. I was promoted to be a major and every Allied government gave me a decoration–even Montenegro, little Montenegro down on the Adriatic Sea!”

Little Montenegro! He lifted up the words and nodded at them–with his smile. The smile comprehended Montenegro’s troubled history and sympathized with the brave struggles of the Montenegrin people. It appreciated fully the chain of national circumstances which had elicited this tribute from Montenegro’s warm little heart. My incredulity was submerged in fascination now; it was like skimming hastily through a dozen magazines. He reached in his pocket and a piece of metal, slung on a ribbon, fell into my palm. “That’s the one from Montenegro.” To my astonishment, the thing had an authentic look.

“Orderi di Danilo,” ran the circular legend, “Montenegro, Nicolas Rex.”

“Turn it.”

“Major Jay Gatsby,” I read, “For Valour Extraordinary.”

#teammontenegro


Best ever cover of a Penguin book


Succession

Watching (and enjoying) HBO’s Succession.  Reminded me of something I heard Francis Ford Coppola say in an interview (with Harvard Business Review of all places) about how he tries to write down the theme of a project in one word on a notecard.

ALISON BEARD: And when you get stuck creatively, if you don’t know where a script should go or how a movie should end, how do you get yourself unstuck?

FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA: Well, if my intuition and asking the question just what feels better to me doesn’t give it to me, I have a little exercise where any project I work on, I have what the theme is in a word or two. Like on The Conversation, it was privacy. On The Godfather, it was succession. So I always have that word, and I encourage my children to do the same, to break it all down beyond everything else. Don’t tell me it’s a coming-of-age story, because that’s not specific. What, specifically, is it?

And if you have that word, then when you reach an impasse, you just say, well, what is the theme related to the decision? Should it be this or should it be that? Then I say, well, what does the theme tell me? And usually, if you go back to that word, it will suggest to you which way to go and break the roadblock.

Is succession the one-word theme of Succession?

How about this part: