Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Apocalypse Now -- An Appreciation

I recently had the opportunity to watch Apocalypse Now on Blu-Ray. It was an exhilarating experience that reminded me why I got into the film business in the first place.

When Apocalypse Now was originally released, I was a freshman at Towson State University. I already had ambitions to become a writer but not a screenwriter.  Although I loved the movies from my earliest days, I viewed them merely as a diversion. I reveled mainly in comedies, horror and gangster films that didn't demand much from their audience. I had seen many of the classic European art films on my local PBS station, but I still never viewed film as art or particularly important. I was going to be a journalist. That was a noble and important profession.

Then I saw Apocalypse Now the first weekend it arrived in Baltimore. I saw it at the Timonium Cinemas with my college sweetheart Kathy Gardiner. Most of the press about the film hinted that it was a bloated, over-budget mess. The reviews were decidedly mixed. I didn't really know what to expect. I certainly didn't expect it to change my outlook on film itself, but it did precisely that.

I was absolutely blown away by the film. Every frame of Vittorio Storaro's Academy-Award-winning cinematography could have been a painting.  It was so vivid and alive. The locations, costumes and equipment gave the film an aura of authenticity. It was visual storytelling at its best, enhanced by great writing and compelling performances. In a way, the film created its own compelling sense of realism that temporarily overwhelmed my own.

It was as if Francis Ford Coppola had grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled me into the screen to experience the world he created. I remember going out to eat afterwards feeling that my safe, middle-class existence was shallow in comparison. Not that I suddenly wanted to sign up and go to war. However, after seeing this film, I knew that people caught up in the madness of war experienced an emotional and psychological intensity that I would never know. This film was the first one that truly made me consider my place in the world.

I don't know why this tale of one man's journey into the heart of darkness touched me. I wasn't searching. I had everything I wanted. I wasn't questioning. I had all the answers. At the time, I would describe my mood as giddy contentment. That the film managed to break through that mindset made it all the more compelling.

Apocalypse Now was the first film that had that kind of affect on me. Few other films have. Certainly none of the "important" Vietnam films that followed. I found Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket too cold and cerebral, and Oliver Stone's Platoon too obvious and heavy-handed.

Before long, I grew disenchanted with journalism and I switched over to film. Francis Ford Coppola taught me by example it was a subject worthy of serious consideration. Still, I never expected to make a living in the film business. That seemed out of reach for a kid living in Baltimore. So I was also taking computer courses under the assumption I would end up working for the Social Security Administration as a computer programmer, like so many members of my family.  But that was not to be the case. After college I ended up at the advertising agency Smith Burke & Azzam, where I learned the nuts and bolts of film making thirty seconds at a time. Eventually, I turned my attention to screenwriting and here I am.

I doubt I will ever make piece of pure cinema with the scope and power of Apocalypse Now. However, I can take comfort in the fact that I have been involved with films that changed people's lives in many other ways. It's been a good run so far.

Hopefully, I will never get off the boat.

I can't remember if I specifically mention Apocalypse Now in my memoir, but I think it is still worth reading:

Tracy Lindsey Melchior Speaks Out on Sexual Harassment!

Tracy in Hidden Secrets
I was very proud to see Hidden Secrets star Tracy Lindsey Melchior speaking up about the infamous casting couch live on Hannity on Fox News in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Here's the clip:

I just want to add that Tracy isn't a newcomer to the battle against sexual harassment in Hollywood.  She dealt with the topic in her compelling memoir "Breaking the Perfect 10."  I highly recommend the book. Here's the link.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Hollywood Hubris

Harvey Weinstein with see no evil,
hear no evil actress Meryl Streep. Big smiles!
I must confess I am taking pleasure in the fall of Harvey Weinstein. He bestrode Hollywood like an arrogant, uncouth colossus for decades. If the accounts in Peter Biskind's book Down and Dirty Pictures are true, he has been cheating and bullying independent filmmakers the whole time.

Now he's been outed as a serial sexual abuser in the New York Times.  Read the story here.  If you want to hear how this class guy (allegedly) masturbated into a potted plant in front of a television reporter, you can read this story. His feminist lawyer Lisa Bloom apparently jumped ship, although I doubt she will ever be able to wash away the stink of her initial defense of him. (I wonder if Harv is still going to turn her book into a mini-series?) Now actress Rose McGowan, who alluded to Weinstein as "her rapist" in a tweet, is calling out other actresses in Hollywood on their silence.  Good for her. It's about time. I want to congratulate her and Ashley Judd for speaking out. It took a lot of courage, especially in light of all of the luminaries who have remained silent. Bravo.

That's all great, but the truth of the matter is that Harvey Weinstein is not alone. Hollywood is filled to the brim with abusers who will take advantage of people willing to do anything to succeed in the movie or television industry. The casting couch is as old as Hollywood itself. I recently stopped reading a book on David O'Selznick, the producer of Gone With The Wind, because I was disgusted with his matter-of-fact harassment of actresses. But the problem goes far beyond sexual abuse, or even corrupt business dealings. Some of these tin-plated. little gods are so used to having their way in all things without question that they feel they can ignore the law and safety procedures. That's how poor Sarah Jones ended up dead on a railroad bridge in Georgia. And let's not forget Vic Murrow and the two children who died with him on the set of the Twilight Zone movie. Trust me, they are not the only fatalities of the unbridled hubris of producers and directors.

Sarah Jones, victim of filmmaker hubris.
Although I haven't paid the awful price that many have paid in Hollywood, I have, as Mick Jagger might say, received "my fair share of abuse" from these self-entitled abusers*, but that's not what makes me angry now. I am more angry at a Christian producer/distributor who hired a friend of mine to edit a book he wanted to publish and then simply neglected to pay her. I am even angrier at one of the producers of a successful theatrical faith-based film, who now runs and an "advisory film service." An author friend of mine, who is very naive about the film business, called him. He told her that her book, which he had not read, could indeed be a movie. After a four hour sales pitch, this good Christian had her agreeing to pay over $20,000 in advisory services, after which he would try to help her raise the money to make her film. Fortunately, this nearly-retirement age woman called me before she signed any contracts. She was initially shocked that I thought the guy was a charlatan. She asked me how much money I had to pay to have one of my scripts made into a movie. "Nothing," I told her. "They paid me. That's how it supposed to work." Strange, that isn't what her advisor taught her.

Say what you want about Harvey Weinstein, but at least he didn't wrap the cloak of Christ around himself when he abused people.

I would like to think that Harvey Weinstein's downfall came because the film community has become sufficiently "woke" to the problem of sexual harassment, but I doubt that is the case. I believe if Harvey was still enjoying the success he did during the 1990s and the 2000s people would have continued to turn a blind eye to his abuses. The glint of money and fame blinds an awful lot of people to ethical wrongdoing. But now there's one thing I don't have to worry about anymore. Not too long ago, I complained about the business practices of a certain Christian producer. The person pooh-poohed my concerns and said that the producer "wasn't doing anything Harvey Weinstein doesn't do."

Now, thank God, no one will be able to use Harvey Weinstein as an acceptable excuse for bad behavior.

Rest in Peace, Harvey.

*I will tell my own tale of woe in a future book tentatively called "Christploitation: Memoirs of a Movie Missionary."  Until then, feel free to read my memoir, The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God, a tale of first faith and first love and how the two became almost fatally intertwined.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Writer Tip #16: Three Questions

If you're a fan of AMC's hit show "The Walking Dead," you're familiar with the fact that our intrepid band of survivors always asks potential recruits three questions before they allow them to join their group.  Their questions are:  1). How many walkers have you killed?  2).  How many people have you killed?  3).  Why?

Nowadays, I have three questions I ask when I am approached by a budding independent film producer about a writing assignment.  My questions are:  1). Why do you want to make this movie?  2). Where do you think this movie will take you?  3). Who do you see distributing this movie?

I know it may seem arrogant to ask these questions, but if you're hiring me to help make your dreams come true, I need to know your dreams. How can I take you somewhere if I don't know where you are going? Generally speaking, these questions are reserved for people relatively new to the business. When I am approached by a professional, full-time producer or director, I don't bother with the questions.

One of the reasons I ask these questions is because I want to give the producer an opportunity to step back and consider whether the project has a realistic chance of accomplishing his/her goals. My experience goes beyond what you can see on the IMDB. I have also learned from the mistakes of my friends and acquaintances. I often see warning signs oblivious to the budding producer or director caught up in the dream. Generally, their local film making friends, who all anticipate working on the project, are enthusiastically encouraging them and glossing over any potential problems. That's only natural. Everybody wants to work. Sometimes a disinterested third party is needed. That's what I try to be. Many writers are happy to take a paycheck regardless of the final outcome of the project. I'm not. I have walked away from money on the table because I thought it was stealing to take it when I suspected their project was doomed to failure.

Why do you want to make this movie?

This is perhaps the most important question.  If they tell me the film is the story of their life, I know it's time to turn to the waiter and say, "Check, please!" Past experience has taught me that people who want to tell their own story usually don't have the necessary distance from the material to do so successfully. They invariably tie up the process until everything is "perfect." Nothing ever is. Such films never get made and become a colossal waste of time even if you get paid.

Another major warning sign for me is if the producer wants to star in the film.  Granted, if the producer was Brad Pitt, I would jump at the opportunity. However, if the producer is an unknown actor, I walk away. Let's be honest: If the only way said actor can score a leading role is to produce the film himself, then he definitely does not have the box office appeal necessary to earn the film a decent release. (Rendering whatever points I negotiate worthless.) I'm sorry, but I already died once. I'm living on borrowed time and it is too precious for me to waste on an ego trip. (Unless it looks like a fun project.)

I am also more hesitant to work for a director than a producer. Don't get me wrong. I have written films with directors, and I have enjoyed the process immensely and benefited greatly from their perspective.  However, my enthusiasm for a such an assignment hinges on the quality of the director's previous work. I don't necessarily feel the same way about working with a producer who has made some bad films. You can always hope and pray the producer will find a good director this time to take the project to the next level. However, when you work directly for a bad director, you don't have that hope. You have what you have.

That isn't to say I would have a problem working with someone who previously directed a bad movie or two. Sometimes you can look at a bad movie and see a spark of real directorial talent. I have worked with directors who I feel are much better than their finished work would indicate. Sometimes, directors (and writers, myself definitely included) are too hindered by circumstances outside of their control to do their best work.

Who do I want to work with?  People who have a great story to tell, and who are willing to put their egos aside for the good of the project. (And, in return, I try to put my ego aside, too.)

Where do you think this movie will take you?

I work in the indy film world. Pretty much everyone who approaches me to write a film is working a day job somewhere. Whether they admit it or not, their main goal in making a film is to get out of said day job and become full-time filmmakers. That is an admirable goal. However, the chances of achieving that goal with a low-budget indy film is minuscule. Chances are that your first film will not materially change your life. Neither will your second one. Or even the third one. Even if you win the lottery and your film makes millions of dollars at the box office, the distributor, not you, will get the bulk of the money. That's the truth.

Therefore, when someone tells me that they have one hundred thousand dollars and they plan to make a blockbuster that will change their lives, I know I am dealing with an amateur.  Of course, they don't see it that way. They'll point out the success of films like "Facing The Giants" or "The Blair Witch Project."  And, sure, there have been some amazing success stories, but the vast majority of independent films will generate no real income for the filmmakers whatsoever. (That's why you always have to get some money upfront when you write!)  If you're making a micro-budget film, the best you can hope for in return is good enough reviews to get a bigger movie the next time out. It's an old Hollywood adage that you always get paid on the next film for your previous success.

Finally, if a producer tells me they need to make this film to validate himself as a human being, I don't want to get involved either. That's asking too much of any movie. Or me.

I like to work with filmmakers with a realistic appreciation of the odds. I also like working with people who are happy with what they are currently doing. If you can't find joy being a waiter, then don't expect to be happy as a director. There's nothing magical about the film business. It doesn't turn you into a different person. Success merely magnifies what already exists within you.

Who do you see distributing this movie?

Expectations can be killers. Success is much more likely if everyone above the line is on the same page. If the producer believes the script will become a $150,000,000 summer blockbuster released by Universal, but you know in your heart of hearts that the film is at best a low-budget creature feature for SyFy, then it is best to walk away. The reverse can also be true. If you see true art in a concept that producer sees only as a genre programmer, you will also find yourself headed for disappointment. Differing expectations can be very damaging. I learned this first hand. I worked on a project that had three opportunities at financing, but all of the deals fell apart mainly because of differing expectations on the part of the principals.

The executive producer, whose life the film was based on, saw it as a seventy-million-dollar Paramount picture. The director saw the film as an indy romantic comedy that would need to do well on the  festival circuit to get a theatrical release. I saw it as a good made-for-cable movie.  As a result of these differing expectations, and a fear of loss of power by some of the producers, the film blew three chances of being made.  Never again.

Additionally, the answer to this question is very important when it comes time to discuss compensation. You're certainly going to ask for more money if the producer says the film will be a big, summer theatrical release than if it is going to be released straight to Vimeo. And you are going to discuss money if you receive a satisfactory answer to those questions because you should NEVER, EVER, EVER work for free. Remember, if you do not place a value on your time, talent and effort, no one else will.  It starts with you.

For more on that subject, check out my earlier blog: Writer Tip #3: Don't Work For Free!

Take a lesson from sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison on that subject:

Special Bonus Tip:

If a producer takes you out to lunch to discuss a project and then expects you to pay your share of the bill afterwards, be magnanimous pay for the entire meal. What you spend will be a bargain compared to the time and effort you would have wasted on their project. If someone can't afford to buy you lunch, they can't afford to make a movie.

Other Tips:

Monday, October 2, 2017

The History of the Baltimore Film Club

The English Patient, Senator Theater, 11.26.96 
The Baltimore Film Club was born in the creative department of the advertising agency GKE. The department was filled with movie lovers, but many of them lamented that they did get out to the movies enough. The actual idea of forming a movie club came from John Patterson, now the creative director of MGH, but I became the organizer. (I believe John only went three times!)

After the much debate, we decided to meet on Monday nights. No one felt it would interfere with their normal social lives. Football fans were not happy with the choice, but when we started Baltimore did not have an NFL team. We decided we would force ourselves to see a movie every other week, even if it meant seeing a bad one. And, yes, we saw some bad ones. After the screening we would vote on the film Siskel and Ebert style: Thumbs up or Thumbs down. Then we would adjourn to a nearby restaurant or tavern to discuss the film.

We had six people at the first screening: Copywriter Chris Scharpf, Account Executive Michael Marcus, Copywriter Susan Ciaverelli, Art Director Andy Stoller, his wife Paola Stoller, an salesperson for the Baltimore Sunpapers and myself. Over the years our membership expanded to members of the Baltimore Film Community and other movie fans. Regulars included: Deborah Lynn Murphy, John & Maureen Noble, Brian Keller, Jenny Bukowitz, David & Belinda Butler, Kate Butler, Tricia Macneal, Judy & Tommy Thornton, Zach ThorntonClay Valenti, Victor Giordano, Chuck Regner, Mary Holland, Trish SchweersRandy Aitken, Bob Burgess, Timothy RatajczakDave & Teresa Miller, Joel Miller, Chris McCubbin, Mark Redfield, Tom Brandau, Caprice EricsonChris Williamson, Peter MullettStacey Molli, Anita Abbott, Bill & Susan Fidel, Tom Richter, Stephanie Papa, Michelle Costa, Anne SchulteJim ProimosMichelle ProimosJimmy Proimos, Annie Proimos, Tom Loizeaux, Rick Larmore, Jeanne Murphy, David Simpson, Gene Samuelson, Charlotte Ernst, Karen DeBus, and Andi PenaBryan Barnes and Michael Barnes. I attended all but three screening. Chris Scharpf had the second highest attendance. Brian Keller was third. 

I believe our biggest crowd was nearly forty people for a revival screening of The Adventures of Robin Hood at the Senator Theater. Revivals always got the biggest crowds. The smallest crowd was yours truly alone at the Towson Commons for Dragonheart. Bob Burgess maintained a webpage for us. For a while, we also had a branch in New York City. All in all, it was an amazing journey of American cinema during the 90s. Sadly, the club began to decline as the members married and had children. After I married, I eventually gave up the reins and the club drifted into memory. Our last screening was Austin Powers in Goldmember at the Towson Commons in 2002. We had eleven good years.

Now that everyone's kids have grown up, maybe we should try again!

THE GRIFTERS, The Towson Twin, 01.28.91
CYRANO DE BERGERAC, The Charles, 02.11.91
Shot in Baltimore
HE SAID, SHE SAID, The Senator, 02.25.91
THE DOORS, The Rotunda, 03.11.91
DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, The Senator, 04.08.91
BEN HUR, The Senator, 04.22.91
LA FEMME NIKITA, The Charles, 05.06.91
IMPROMPTU, The Charles, 05.20.91
BACKDRAFT, The Valley Center, 06.03.91
THE NAKED GUN 2‑1/2: THE SMELL OF FEAR, The Valley Center, 07.01.91
BOYZ N THE HOOD, The Timonium Cinemas, 07.15.91
TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY, The Timonium Cinemas, 08.12.91
DEAD AGAIN, The Valley Center, 08.26.91
CITIZEN KANE, The Senator, 09.09.91
BARTON FINK, The Rotunda, 09.22.91
SLACKER, The Charles, 10.07.91
Shot in Baltimore
HOMICIDE, The Senator, 10.21.91
BILLY BATHGATE, The Valley Center, 11.04.91
CAPE FEAR, The Valley Center, 11.18.91
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, The Perring Plaza, 12.02.91
HOOK, The Valley Center, 12.16.91
THE PRINCE OF TIDES, The Senator, 12.30.91
RUSH, York Road Cinema, 01.13.92
MEDICINE MAN, The Valley Center, 02.10.92
WAYNE'S WORLD, The Valley Center, 02.24.92
HEAR MY SONG, The Rotunda, 03.09.92
BASIC INSTINCT, The Rotunda, 03.23.92
THUNDERHEART, The Valley Center, 04.06.92
THE BABE, The York Road Cinema, 04.20.92
LEAVING NORMAL, The Rotunda, 05.04.92
LETHAL WEAPON 3, The Valley Center, 05.18.92

HOWARD'S END, The Charles, 06.01.92
Filmclubber Chris Scharpf led a critical rebellion after everyone but him voted thumbs up
on this film. He said, "I know you're supposed to like this film, but did you REALLY like it?"
A second vote was mainly thumbs down.
HOUSESITTER, The Towson Commons, 06.15.92
COOL WORLD, The Towson Commons, 07.13.92
RAISE THE RED LANTERN, The Charles, 07.27.92
UNFORGIVEN, The Timonium Cinemas, 08.10.92
THE BEST INTENTIONS, The Senator, 08.24.92
LIGHT SLEEPER, The Rotunda, 09.07.92
BOB ROBERTS, The Rotunda, 09.21.92
HERO, The Valley Center, 10.05.92
A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME, The Charles, 10.19.92
BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA, The Towson Commons, 11.16.92
ALADDIN, The Towson Commons, 11.30.92
A FEW GOOD MEN, The Senator, 12.14.92
RESERVOIR DOGS , The Charles, 12.28.92
CHAPLIN, The Greenspring, 01.08.92
DAMAGE, The Rotunda, 01.25.92
MATINEE, The Timonium Cinemas, 02.08.93
GROUNDHOG DAY, The Timonium Cinemas, 02.21.93
MAD DOG AND GLORY, The Towson Commons, 03.08.93
CB4, The Towson Commons, 03.22.93
INDOCHINE, The Senator, 04.05.93
THE MONEY TREE, The Charles, 04.19.93
THE LAST DAYS OF CHEZ NOUS, The Charles, 05.03.93
POSSE, The Valley Center, 05.17.93
JURASSIC PARK, The Towson Commons, 06.14.93
SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, The Valley Center, 06.28.93
IN THE LINE OF FIRE, The Towson Commons, 07.12.93
FREE WILLY, The Yorkridge, 09.26.93
Shot in Baltimore
THE METEOR MAN, The Towson Commons, 08.09.93
HARD TARGET, The Towson Commons, 08.23.93
TRUE ROMANCE, The Valley Center, 09.13.93 
AGE OF INNOCENCE, The Senator, 09.27.93
GETTYSBURG , The Towson Commons, 10-11-93
DAZED AND CONFUSED, The Yorkridge, 10.25.93
REMAINS OF THE DAY, The Senator, 11.08.93
RUBY IN PARADISE, The Charles, 11.22.93
A PERFECT WORLD, The Towson Commons, 12.06.93
THE PELICAN BRIEF, The Valley Center, 12.20.93
SHADOWLANDS, The Senator, 01.10.94
IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, The Yorkridge, 01.24.94
I'LL DO ANYTHING, The Towson Commons, 02.07.94
REALITY BITES, The Valley Center, 02.21.94
WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE?, The Towson Commons, 03.07.94
NAKED. The Charles, 04.04.94
Shot in Baltimore
SERIAL MOM, UA Westview, 04.18.94
Filmclubbers Chris Williamson and Trish Schweers worked on this one.
BACK BEAT, The Yorkridge, 05.02.94
THE CROW, The Towson Commons, 05.16.94
MAVERICK, The Valley Center, 05.23.94
RENAISSANCE MAN, The Valley Center, 06.06.94
WOLF, The Valley Center, 06.20.94
FORREST GUMP, The Timonium Cinemas, 07.11.94
THE CLIENT, The Valley Center, 07.25.94
CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER, The Timonium Cinemas, 08.08.94
BARCELONA, The Towson Commons, 09.22.94
A GOOD MAN IN AFRICA, The Towson Commons, 09.12.94
QUIZ SHOW, The Senator, 09.26.94
ED WOOD, The Towson Commons, 10.10.94
A BETTER TOMORROW, The Charles, 10.23.94

CLERKS, The Towson Commons, 11.21.94
I'll never forget Professor Tom Brandau's review of this film:
"It doesn't cost you any more to be in focus."
TRAPPED IN PARADISE, The Yorkridge, 12.05.94
I.Q., The Towson Commons, 12.19.94
LEGENDS OF THE FALL, The Valley Center, 01.16.95
BEFORE SUNRISE, The Towson Commons, 01.30.95

THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE, The Rotunda, 02.13.95
Our 100th screening.
THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE, The Yorkridge, 02.27.95
OUTBREAK, The Valley Center, 03.13.95
ROB ROY, The Towson Commons, 04.10.95
EXOTICA, The Senator, 04.22.95
FRENCH KISS, The Towson Commons, 05.08.95
DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, The Senator, 05.22.95
FUNNY BONES, The Charles, 06.05.95
BATMAN FOREVER, The Valley Center, 06.19.95
FIRST KNIGHT, The Senator, 07.10.95
THE POSTMAN (Il Postino), The Rotunda, 07.24.95
LITTLE ODESSA, The Charles, 08.06.95
DESPERADO, The Timonium Cinemas, 08.28.95
THE BROTHERS MCMULLEN, The Rotunda, 09.11.95
SHOWGIRLS, The Senator, 09.25.95
TO DIE FOR, The Senator, 10.09.95
GET SHORTY, The Towson Commons, 10.24.95
Shot in Baltimore
HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS, The Senator, 11.06.95
Filmclubber Chris Williamson worked on this one.
GOLDENEVER, The Yorkridge, 11.20.96
CARRINGTON, The Rotunda, 12.11.95
12 MONKEYS, The Towson Commons, 01.15.96
DEAD MAN WALKING, The Rotunda, 01.29.96
BROKEN ARROW, The Towson Commons, 02.12.96
BABE, The Yorkridge, 02.26.96
FARGO, The Rotunda, 03.11.96
FLIRTING WITH DISASTER , The Senator, 04.09.96
JANE ERYE, The Rotunda, 04.23.96
LAST DANCE, The Yorkridge, 05.06.96
TWISTER, The Towson Commons, 05.20.96
DRAGONHEART. The Towson Commons, 06.03.96
THE CABLE GUY, The Towson Commons, 06.17.96
THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, The Towson Commons, 07.01.96
COURAGE UNDER FIRE, The Yorkridge, 07.15.96

THE DOBERMAN GANG, The Murphy Backyard, 08.03.96
This film has never been officially released on DVD or Blu-Ray,
so if you want to see it, you have to come over to my house.
TRAINSPOTTING, The Rotunda, 08.12.96
EMMA, The Senator, 08.25.96
BASQUAIT, The Rotunda, 09.09.96
LAST MAN STANDING, The Valley Center, 09.23.96
THAT THING YOU DO. The Towson Commons, 10.07.96
BIG NIGHT, The Charles, 10.28.96
VERTIGO, The Senator, 11.11.96
THE ENGLISH PATIENT, The Senator, 11.26.96
DAYLIGHT, The Towson Commons, 12.09.96
THE CRUCIBLE, The Towson Commons, 12.23.96
SHINE, The Rotunda, 01.13.97
BREAKING THE WAVES, The Charles, 01.27.97
STAR WARS, The Senator, 02.10.97
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, The Senator, 02.24.97
SECRETS & LIES, The Towson Commons, 03.10.97
THE SAINT, The Towson Commons, 04.06.97

PARADISE ROAD, The Senator, 04.28.97
We watched this one with filmclubber Trish Schweers, who 
worked on it as the assistant to director Bruce Beresford
THE FIFTH ELEMENT, The Valley Center, 05.12.97
CON AIR, The Senator, 06.09.97
BATMAN AND ROBIN, The Timonium Cinemas, 06.23.97
MEN IN BLACK, The Towson Commons, 07.07.97
BRASSED OFF, The Rotunda, 07.21.97
SHALL WE DANCE, The Rotunda, 08.04.97
Filmclubber Bob Burgess was inspired to take ballroom dancing lessons after this film.
He dragged me along with him and before long I met my lovely wife at a dance.
COPLAND, The Towson Commons, 08.18.97
THE GAME, The Towson Commons, 09.15.97
SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET, The Yorkridge, 10.13.97
Shot in Baltimore
WASHINGTON SQUARE, The Senator, 10.27.97
THE RAINMAKER, The Timonium Cinemas, 11.24.97
AMISTAD, The Senator, 12.16.97
WINGS OF THE DOVE, The Rotunda, 01.12.98
KUNDUN, The White Marsh, 01.26.98
THE APOSTLE, The Rotunda, 02.09.98
THE ZERO EFFECT, The White Marsh, 02.23.98
THE BIG LEBOWSKI, The Towson Commons, 03.09.98
THE SPANISH PRISONER, The Rotunda, 05.04.98

THE HORSE WHISPERER, The White Marsh, 05.12.98
We got to watch this one with filmclubber Clay Valenti,
who worked as 2nd Assistant Camera on the film
THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO, The Rotunda, 06.15.98
OUT OF SIGHT, The White Marsh, 06.30.98
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, The Senator, 07.28.98
SNAKE EYES, The White Marsh, 08.10.98
PECKER, The Senator, 10.05.98
ANTZ/DEEP IMPACT, The Bengies Drive-In, 10.17.98
THE SEIGE, The White Marsh, 11.19.98
ENEMY OF THE STATE, The White Marsh, 11.23.98
PSYCHO, The Senator, 12.07.98
PRINCE OF EGYPT, The Valley Center, 12.21.98
GODS AND MONSTERS, The Charles, 01.11.99
THE THIN RED LINE, The White Marsh, 01.25.99
CENTRAL STATION. The Rotunda, 02.08.99
AFFLICTION, The Rotunda, 03.01.99
EDTV, The Valley Center, 04.12.99
THE MUMMY, The White Marsh, 05.11.99
RUN LOLA RUN, The Rotunda, 07.05.99
EYES WIDE SHUT, The Charles, 07.19.99
THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, The White Marsh, 08.02.99
BOWFINGER, The Towson Commons, 08.15.99
MY LIFE SO FAR, The Charles, 08.29.99

DOUBLE JEOPARDY, The Valley Center, 09.27.99
Filmclubber Trish Schweers worked on this one
 as the assistant to director Bruce Beresford 
BRINGING OUT THE DEAD, The Charles, 10.11.99 
BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, The Rotunda, 10.25.99
THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGHm The White Marsh, 12.13.99
MAGNOLIA, The Towson Commons, 01.10.00
SWEET AND LOWDOWN, The Rotunda, 01.24.00
BOILER ROOM, The Timonium Cinemas, 02.21.00
WHAT PLANET ARE YOU FROM, The Towson Commons, 03.06.00
HIGH FIDELITY, The White Marsh, 04.03.00
AMERICAN PSYCHO, The Charles, 04.17.00
Our 200th Screening.
WHERE THE HEART IS, The Valley Center, 05.01.00
DIAL M FOR MURDER, The Charles, 06.12.00 
WHAT LIES BENEATH, The White Marsh, 07,??.00 White Marsh
Shot in Baltimore
CECIL B. DEMENTED, The Charles, 08.??.00
ALMOST FAMOUS, Hoyts West Nursery, 09.??,00
PAY IT FORWARD, The Towson Commons, 10.28.00
BEST IN SHOW, The Charles, 11.12.00
BILLY ELLIOTT, The Rotunda, 12.11.00 
YOU CAN COUNT ON ME, The Rotunda 01.08.00
HANNIBAL, The Towson Commons, 02.12.01
MEMENTO, The Charles, 03.19.01
THE MUMMY 2 , The White Marsh, 05.21.01
PEARL HARBOR, The White Marsh, 06.04.01
JURASSIC PARK 3, The Towson Commons, 07.23.01
PLANET OF THE APES, The Muvico Egyptian, 07.30.01
CAPTAIN CORELLI'S MANDOLIN, The White Marsh, 08,??,01
BANDITS, The Rotunda, 10.15.01
AMELIE, The Charles, 11.19.01
VANILLA SKY, The White Marsh, 12.17.01
BLACK HAWK DOWN, The Muvico Egyptian, 01.21.02
THE MONSTER'S BALL, The Charles, 02.25.02
ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS, The Charles, 03.11.02
PANIC ROOM, The Towson Commons, 04.01.02
MONSOON WEDDING, The Charles, 04.22.02
SPIDERMAN, The White Marsh, 05.06.02
STAR WARS II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES, The White Marsh, 05.20.02
THE SUM OF ALL FEARS, The Towson Commons, 06.03.02
MINORITY REPORT, The White Marsh, 06.24.02
REIGN OF FIRE, Hoyts West Nursery, 06.24.02
AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER, The Towson Commons, 07.29.02

I think everyone would vote thumbs up on the Film Club
Here are some tributes to members we lost:

Friday, September 29, 2017

My Wedding 9.30.2000

The Happy Couple
Seventeen years ago I married the lovely Miss Deborah Lynn Crum of Youngstown, Ohio. I would say that it was the happiest day of my life, but it wasn't!  Many even happier days followed!  Below you will find a video our wedding ceremony in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (We had a second ceremony at our church in Baltimore a week later.)

If you want to find out how we got together, read my book:

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

ANDY -- an upcoming graphic novel with James Proimos

Below you will find a little sneak peek of Andy, a graphic novel I am working on with Jim Proimos based on my screenplay Life-Like. Jim is a very well-known illustrator and the author of children and young adult books.  He even did a book, Year of the Jungle, with best-selling Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins. He is very optimistic we will be able to develop the book into a movie or television series.

I am equally optimistic.  Here is a taste of the responses I got when I first sent the script around Hollywood: "What the script has going for it most is its genuinely unique, high-concept premise -- as opposed to most other comedies, the material does not seem the least bit derivative." "A wonderful premise and unique to boot." "The material should be applauded for its quality characterizations." "Realistic and sharp dialogue." "The dialogue is endearing." "Strong character development." "It's entire third act stands out as the most invigorating part of the script." "A pretty funny and surprisingly emotional story about closure." "It's a fun and exciting read with a captivating plot and a happy ending!" "This project's prospects are rather bright." "Sure to get industry attention."

I can't wait to see the rest.

Speaking of books, let me plug my memoir of first faith and first love and how the two became almost fatally intertwined.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Sean Paul Murphy: Master Thespian

Yours truly still waiting for his star
on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Unlike most people in the movie and/or television industry, I never had a great desire to appear before the camera. I do remember trying to get in a talent show in grade school. My friend Bob Burgess and I were big Laurel and Hardy fans, and he wrote a sketch in their vein. I played Hardy to his Laurel. We tried out for the talent show, but we lost to people lip syncing to records. (Yes, I'm still bitter about that!)  I never tried out for plays in high school. I rarely attended them either, despite the fact that I started writing them myself.

Once I started attending casting sessions as a producer at Smith Burke & Azzam, I saw just how hard how it was to be a good actor. Not only did you have to deliver the lines convincingly, you also had to know how to handle your entire body in the process.  Especially the hands. When I would try acting, I always found myself worrying about my hands.  They seemed to have a mind of their own.

Still, despite my wayward appendages, there was a time when my friends would often put me in commercials. Not surprisingly, considering my build and personality, I was usually cast as the jovial, heavyset guy. The commercials came at a rather fortuitous time in my life. Most of my commercial work was done at the dawn of the Age of Internet Dating. A couple of these long-airing spots gave the online girls a chance to see me in action on television. That was essential since the first picture I would send them of myself was the one below. (I felt if they would still go out with me after that, I had it made.)

My Internet dating photo. To quote Charlie Sheen:  "Winning!"
I didn't take my acting career seriously enough to even keep copies of all of my spots, but here are a few that I managed to find. The first one is a promo from WBFF Channel 45 in Baltimore. The spot, directed by my friend Chuck Regner, was a spoof of a popular radio station commercial which was syndicated all around the country.  He needed a heavyset guy who could dance, but he settled for me. (My dancing days were ahead of me.  That's how I met my lovely wife Deborah.)

This next commercial for Towson Towson Center, directed by David Butler and written by John Patterson, actually gave me a line.  I'm the guy who says, "You should see this place."  By the way, this spot is a good example of that hands thing I was talking about.

Director David Butler also gave me a starring role in this spot for the Adventist Healthcare System. They didn't have a harness for me to swing upside down in, so they just tied a rope to my leg. I didn't enjoy that part, but I got to keep the boots.

John Patterson wrote this spot for the Baltimore Zoo during his tenure at W.B. Doner.  This time I got to push a big ball of yarn for the big cats.

My commercial acting career ultimately petered out after I was cast in a national spot for Waccamaw stores by my friend Pam Poertner. I was my third Taft Hartley spot and I would have to join the Screen Actors Guild in order to appear in another one. I opted against joining the union. I didn't feel I could recoup the union fee without actually soliciting work, and I was too busy as a writer and editor to do that.  Of course had I known the union card could get you in the movies for free during Oscar season, I would have done it....

BTW,  you don't have to be a member of SAG to read my tale of first faith and first love and how the two became almost fatally intertwined:

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Writing Tip #15: The Shark and The Dreamer

"I've already got the money in place!"

Those words can come to you in many ways: in an email, on the phone or even face-to-face as the budding producer or director assures you that the film financing in place. All he needs is a script.

If you haven't met that guy yet, you might have met his equally-dangerous brother who knows someone who is ready to green-light the project as soon as he gets the script.

They call Hollywood the Dream Factory. Sadly, too many people in Hollywood are willing to profit from your dreams. There is no shortage of producers and directors who will gladly steal your time and talent by letting you work for free for them. Some of these folks are simply naive. They might actually believe that the production company executive they cornered in a restaurant restroom was completely sincere when he said he liked their idea and wanted to read the script. However, some of these folks are just sharks who want to exploit your talent.  Let me give you two examples of people who recently wanted me to work for free and why I refused.

The Shark

I got a phone call from a Hollywood producer who wanted to work with me. I was in a restaurant with my wife and I couldn't talk to him at the moment. I got his number and said I would call him back.  Before I did, I researched him on the internet. He had no produced credits. However, he had numerous six-figures sales recorded on Done Deal. Needless to say, I decided to call him back.

He found me on InkTip. He liked one of my posted scripts and my resume. He told me he wasn't interested in any of my scripts. He liked to partner with writers to develop his own ideas. He said he had a pile of B+ scripts he needed to turn into A+ scripts. I was cool with that. I am always happy to work on assignment. 

I asked him about the scripts. He rattled off about ten log lines. Three of them sounded intriguing. He emailed me the scripts. I read them overnight and called him back the next day. I told him I would be happy to work on one of them. He said good. Then he said there would be no upfront money. Instead, we would split the money fifty/fifty after the sale. Realizing I wasn't the first writer on the project, I asked what the original writer would get. He said, "Don't worry, he'll take whatever I give him."

In other words, not only was this guy not willing to pay me any money upfront for my labor, he was also probably going to cheat the original writer. I'm sure that writer originally had a fifty/fifty contract as well. Despite the fact that this guy had made some serious sales, I walked away. If there's one thing Hollywood has taught me, it's that a producer who is willing to cheat someone else will eventually cheat you, too. You're either honest or you're not. He wasn't, and I didn't want to be in business with him.

The Dreamer

I was contacted by another producer who read some of my work on InkTip. He was a former photojournalist who spent time in Iraq, Russia and China. He said he had Chinese money in place to produce a film. He already had a first draft of a script he had written himself but he knew it wasn't good enough. I asked him to send it to me.

I read it, and he was right: It wasn't good enough. However, it was a good story. I gave him my analysis about what was right and what was wrong with it. He agreed completely and asked if I could re-write it. I said sure and started discussing compensation. That's when he said he didn't actually have the money in hand now. The Chinese production company was going to give it to him when he gave them the script. I suggested that if they liked the story that much, he could sell them an option on it and use that amount as seed money to pay me.  He said they wouldn't do it.

That means, despite his wishful thinking, the money really wasn't in place. Plus, if the production company wasn't willing to option the story, they weren't really in love with it. So I asked him if he could pay me some upfront seed money to work on the project out of his pocket. He said he didn't have it.

Now think about that: If you knew you could invest five or ten thousand dollars now and get twenty million dollars in return a couple of months later, wouldn't you do it? I know I would. If I didn't have the cash I would sell my car or house to get it. He wouldn't do it. Obviously, his head was telling him something different than his heart.

I liked the guy. I really did. I don't think he was trying to deceive me. I believe he thought he had a real deal. He was caught up in the same dream as so many people in the film business. As it was, I gave him periodic script advice as he worked through the re-write himself. I haven't heard from him in a while. I don't think the film has been made.

It's Really Not About The Money

I know I continually hit the theme that you shouldn't work for free in this blog. However, it's really not about the money at all. Payment is simply a way of sorting out who is real and who isn't. To me, time is more important than money. It should be your most treasured commodity, and I wasted a lot time on other people's vain dreams. People like this nearly derailed my career.

Back in the nineties, I was on a winning streak. I left my job at an advertising agency to pursue my career as a screenwriter, while working as a freelance editor to pay the bills. I took the leap because I knew I was producing good work. Creative Artists Agency was interested in repping my horror script Then The Judgement. Stu Robinson, of Robinson Weintraub and Gross (later Paradigm) wanted to rep my dramedy The Long Drive. I really liked Stu. I had read interviews with him in screenwriting books. He had a reputation for nurturing and developing new writers. So I put Then The Judgement on the shelf and let him handle The Long Drive.

He didn't sell The Long Drive, but it proved an excellent calling card. I got great reviews and people seemed anxious to read my next script. That script was another dramedy called The Fourth Mrs. Jones. It did even better. More great reviews. More importantly, it came really close to being sold for a then life-changing amount of money.

I immediately hurried out a drama about the reunion of a rock band called The Stray Characters. Stu didn't like it. He felt it needed more work, and he was right. I had sent him something that was essentially a first draft. But I never sent him the rewrite. In fact, I didn't send him another script for nearly four years. Why? Because I got hooked into one project after another that supposedly already had the money in place.

All of these scripts were for people I knew and liked, but none of the projects were as a real as the producers imagined. During those years, I wrote five scripts on assignment: House of Sadism, The Delicate Dependency, Roses In June, Jenny and Time. None of the films got made, although one of them did actually get me out to Hollywood for a meeting. What did I end up with in return for those lost years? Nothing. All of the work was based on other people's ideas so I didn't even end up owning the fruit of my labor. The worst part, however, was the fact that I had destroyed the forward momentum of my career in the process.

Did I mention any of these projects to my agent Stu? No, of course not. I knew he would have advised me against them. Now I am advising you against getting entangled in projects like that. If you must work for free, work on a spec script that you love and believe in that will make YOUR dreams come true.

Remember, there are thousands of people in Hollywood and elsewhere who believe they have funding in place or a solid green light. The easiest way to figure who really does and who really doesn't is to ask for upfront money.

It's that simple.

Other Tips:

Friday, September 22, 2017

Great-Grandmom Protani's Spaghetti Sauce Recipe

This is the 2nd post in my occasional series honoring my ancestors.

Vincenzo and Assunta, seated, 1912

My great-grandmother Assunta Mastracci Protani was born on August 12, 1886 in the village of Arnara in the Italian
province of Frosinone.  She was the daughter of Michele Mastracci and Maria Katerina Fiori.

Her future husband, Vincenzo Protani, was born in the same village on December 23, 1873. After many reputed adventures, Vincenzo came to America to make his fortune in 1903. I do not know whether the sixteen-year-old Assunta and the thirty-year-old Vincenzo had any kind of romantic relationship prior to his departure. However, Vincenzo returned to the little village to make Assunta his bride in 1907. 

Her family did not approve of the union. I do not know whether their disapproval stemmed from a fear that Vincenzo would take their daughter away from them forever, or simply because of his reputation as a tough guy. Regardless, Vincenzo refused to take no for an answer. According to my great-aunt Mary Protani Maccubbin, Vincenzo eventually kidnapped Assunta and spirited her away on horseback to the Vatican, where they were married. She arrived in New York City with him in February 1907. After a brief stay in New York, they permanently settled in Baltimore, Maryland.

Assunta with my uncle Tony.

Vincenzo and Assunta lived first on Stiles Street in Little Italy before moving to Montford Avenue just above Patterson Park.  They had eleven children and a horde of grandchildren. Assunta loved her family. Sadly, because of my grandparents' divorce, our family slowly drifted away from the greater Protani family. I only met Assunta once. I have a vague memory of being taken to see her when I was a small child. At the time I didn't know my grandmother had been previously married, so I assumed I was seeing her second husband's mother. Later, when I discussed the memory, I was told it was Assunta.

When I began my journey into genealogy was sadden to discover that Assunta lived until August 24, 1980. Had I known more about the Protani branch of my family, I would have sought her out. I would have loved to have met her as an adult, and I'm sure she would have been happy to meet me. 

Assunta with part of her family on her 50th wedding
anniversary in 1957. 

My great-grandmother may be gone, but I can still get a taste of the life she lived.  My great-aunt Elsie Protani shared Assunta's homemade spaghetti sauce recipe with me.  Here it is, as filtered through Aunt Elise:


Fat Back
Tomato Paste
Peeled Tomatoes

Assunta cooked in fat back. She would render it down to liquid, add chopped garlic, then put it in a can and keep it in the refrigerator for cooking purposes. When she wanted to make sauce, she would put some fat back at the bottom of the pot. Then she would add some kind of meat. She would brown the meat and add salt or pepper as desired. Then, she would add tomato paste. She would let that cook for a while before adding the peeled tomatoes.  If she used two cans of paste, she would add two cans of peeled tomatoes. Three cans of paste, three cans of tomatoes, etc.  For every can of paste, she would add one paste can of water.  You can add more or less water depending how thick you want the sauce to be.  She would next add basil and oregano.*  How much?  Who knows?  It was never written down.  This is more a "pinch of this, a pinch of that" recipe.  Then she'd let it simmer for a couple of hours. 

The key to the recipe is the fat back and meat.  That's what gives the sauce its taste.

I personally found it interesting that she never added onions, then I remembered my cousin Carmen Falstaffi's spaghetti sauce recipe.  She made it for us some while visiting Baltimore and she didn't add onions.  She said she used either onions or garlic but never both at the same time since she felt the tastes fought each other.  Personally, I like both, but I will remain true to the cooking traditions of my ancestral village of Arnara!

Assunta last visited her hometown of Arnara in 1948 while arranging the marriage of one of her daughters. I went to Arnara in 2000 to meet the family.  Here's a little film about it:

*Aunt Elsie always adds some cinnamon at this point.  It cuts back on the acidity.

Read about my 2nd great-grandmother Kristina Bednar Kostohryz.

My blog wouldn't be complete without plugging my book.  Have you read it yet? The Kindle versionj isn't very expensive....