Writing screenplays, Part II: Big films

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By 2005, I had placed four full-length screenplay scripts online, as well as several shorts.  I’ve discuss some of them here, to set up discussion of a major incident when I was substitute teaching toward the end of 2005. There is a link showing almost all of the screenplays that were available to the public in 2005, here.


My Arlington screenwriting class had emphasized that Hollywood follows a “third party rule”. That is, studios don’t accept screenplay manuscripts directly from writers, and will respond rudely (with automated legal disclaimers) to unsolicited material, even loglines.  The reason for this is to avoid risk of copyright infringement, but that sounds silly in the Internet age.  That means everything goes through an agent.  But any third party can become an agent, a moviebiz “Jerry Magure”, perhaps as a retirement “second career”.  I rather chukle at Ellen De Generes’s remark at the 2014 Oscars that showbiz is for people who don’t have families.

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The “third party rule” could logically raise a question about the “purpose” of posting a screenplay online for free viewing by the public if one intends to present it to agents later.  But this angle has been little discussed.

Before diving in, let me mention a couple of references on screenwriting,   Here is the “three-act structure” by Syd Field, link.   Here’ an account my Nathan Marshall, “3 Acts and 5 Points”, link Michael Hauge has a piece on the 5 turning points here.

He analyzes “Gladiator” and “Erin Brokovich” according to this plan.

One of the four big feature scripts “Baltimore Is Missing”, was discussed here Jan. 29, 2014.

The feature sceenplays share some common elements:

(1)    Bill has written his “Do Ask, Do Tell” book and would like to get it filmed

(2)    Bill had the help of several friends in publicizing the book after publication, and these friends have their own ambitions, which might include Hollywood careers.

(3)    Bill’s self-broadcast on the Internet presents certain legal and practical risks to himself an others.

(4)    One of these risks is the possible attraction of hackers who might leverage his sites with steganographic messages for future attacks.

(5)    The workplace is changing in contradictory ways.

The first screenplay that I actually developed is called “Make the A-List”, and it is the longest.  I wrote it in the first part of 2002, on the iMac, in Screenwriter.  I did table-read parts of it with the screenwriting club in Minneapolis.  It runs 187 pages, too long – rudely so.  But it seemed like the most comprehensive way to lay out all my ideas at the time.

The screenplay starts by recreating a dinner meeting in Minneapolis between “me” (at 55) and a graduating college student, called Toby, who set up my televised speech. Soon we realize that the meeting is itself a recreation by the college student for a movie audition, where the perspective director was the roommate present at William and Mary when Bill got thrown out of school.  In the course of all this, it’s possible to reconstruct the sequence of the 1961 expulsion.

The film is divided into several parts, and one major section traces the career of Toby, who goes to law school anyway, while doing his auditions and male model gigs.  His girl friend gets into ambulance chasing Bill a couple years later when Bill outs someone in the military in his book and gets sued for invasion of privacy or some such tort.  Things get even more convoluted as Bill finds Toby’s film on P2P, but at about the same time his site is hacked and taken down by his ISP as a nuisance.  At the same tme, Bill is experiencing “conflict of interest” and difficulties over his double life in the workplace when a company walks in the door at work to conduct “career audtis.”   All of this sets up some courtroom legal battles.  A significant subplot concerns a gay male couple where the civilian works for the CIA and has to be out (post 1996), but where the military partner has to stay in the closet.  (This would have been possible from 1996 until the DADT repeal in 2011.)   Another battle concerns “trademark trolling”.

Eventually the former roommate (called Syd) enters the fray.  All of this leads to a “Bill of Rights 2” symposium in Williamsburg, and Toby eventually gets a big movie part and no longer needs to bottom-feed as a lawyer.

I can’t think of a Hollywood movie about making it as a star right now, at least with the subterfuge that Toby shows in this script.  I do recall “A Star Is Born” (1954), which I saw in Dallas at a special benefit in Fair Park in 1984.  The ABC show “Nashville” is rather about this.  I think of “20 Feet from Stardom” and even “Inside Llewyn Davis”.  Actually, the gay sci-fi about a filmmaker undergoing time travel, “Judas Kiss” is maybe a possible comparison.

American Epic” (also 2002) is a little shorter, 140 pages, and deals with some of the same issues, but focuses more on the terrorism, hacking and Patriot Act issues.  It starts with a lawyer Allison and lesbian partner Suzannah trying to adopt a foreign child.  Allison is also active with the issue of how to rebuild the WTC area in New York.   Bill and Toby are introduced, along with a teen computer hacker Erich (who had also played a similar but smaller role in “A-List” above).  Bill is experiencing some social issues in bars with his tendency to notice younger but adult men.  Erich invites Bill to his rural (parents’) home in Wisconsin and teaches Bill a little bit about hacking.  But eventually (as above) Bill’s own sites get hacked.  When there is a major but localized EMP attack near Las Vegas, the FBI traces steganographic instructions back to Bill’s site.

Bill is defended by Allison.  There is a sequence in the middle of the film where Allison visits Bill’s “Drogheda” in the DC area and a flashback recreates what the entire 9/11 day was like specifically in Arlington.   Eventually Bill is tried, and the government claims that Bill actually led Erich into hacking.  In the meantime, Erich winds up on the no-fly list, and gets off by hacking.  At Bill’s trial, a juror overhears what happened and hacks himself to find out the hidden story.  Bill winds up doing community service and being kicked off the web but staying out of jail.

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The third screenplay is “69 Minutes to Titan” (early 2005).  This script is under two hours, and has gotten some attention in the way of emails and phone calls.  The title refers to a possible length of time it would take light to reach the largest moon of Saturn from Earth, in a more optimistic orbital situation.

The script opens with “Bill”, named Clem here,  about to get out of jail. He meets with his young adult friends, Toby and Erich.  Then the action shifts back six years.  I’m not sure that this is the best way to start now;  Hollywood often embeds many films as mostly back story (start with Dr. Zhivago) but it may be better to start a story at the beginning and let the audience wonder where you will go.

Clem has befriended Toby, who is a teacher in this story, and has converted to Mormonism, and will marry Shelia.  Erich is one of this students, and Erich can speak in tongues.  As in the other scripts, Clem’s domain has been hacked.  Clem meets Erich at volunteer event and is invited to visit Erich at home.  There is some mild intimacy.  Clem’s job comes under fire, and winds up in a “re-education” Academy in West Texas.  Back home for a weekend, Erich shows Bill how to hack into a computer system controlled by extraterrestrials, known only to the NSA.  Erich comes to an “initiation” ceremony for the academy and “goes up” (into space).  When Bill returns home again, he finds he has been evicted and is arrested.

The government has the option of prosecuting him for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, in order to hide the UFO secrets he had hacked.  He winds up with several years to be followed by probation.   In prison, he is forced to undergo very intimate monitoring and then found to have heart disease, and gets coronary bypass surgery.

In the meantime, Erich journeys to Titan and finds that the largest moon of Saturn is being set up as a receiving post by angels for people from Earth from some great cataclysm expected to happen in the not too distant future.  There is a parent angel. Roger, who had given Erich his psychic gifts and enabled him to recover from an otherwise devastating medical problem himself earlier in life.

Erich “falls to Earth” (like “The Man Who Fell to Earth”, David Bowie) and returns, and Bill is prepared for early release with compassionate parole (returning to the beginning of the movie).  He will see Toby’s wedding and return to the straight and narrow.  On Titan, Roger shrivels up as Erich prepares to replace him as a master angel.  As the film ends, there are troubling warnings of a possible apocalypse.

The screenplay has a shorter version, that emphasizes the hacking aspect (compromising of classified UFO data, Snowden, Assange or Chelsea Manning inspired) and gets Bill put in prison for that, removing the charges of possible underage activity.  (It’s important that the film describes or shows no explicit sex, but suggests that some sort of preparatory intimacy could happen.)  The shorter version is online right now, and replaced the longer one after my 2005 debacle, to be explained soon.

 

I start writing screenplays (Part I)

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I first started developing screenplay scripts for my “Do Ask, Do Tell” material in 2002 while still in Minneapolis, shortly after my “career change” had started with “The Layoff”.  I often attended a screenwriting seminar in a local college building on Hennepin in downtown Minneapolis, where we did table readings for some of our materials.  Some scripts got selected for formal table readings, as at the Jungle Theater near Lyndale and Lake St., or sometimes in one of the theater auditoriums in Block E on Marquette.

I did get one “film” shown at the Flaming Film Festival in May, 2002, shot on a Sony Camcorder.  It was called “Air Raid” or, alternatively, “Bill’s Clips”, and runs about six minutes.  The simplest way to present the films is to give the first link, here   all the way through “airraid4.mpg” and also “plane2.mpg”.  The idea is that someone is walking on the streets near the University of Minnesota campus when an apparent enemy attack starts.  Post 9/11, it was pretty effective.  The festival was sponsored by Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis (on Lyndale)

Once I came back to Arlington VA, I took at least two adult education classes in screenwriting offered by the public school system (small tuition), taught by Carolyn Perry.  I started renting films from Netflix, and the very first film I watched this way was “In Praise of Love” (“Eloge de l’amour”, 2001), a New Wave film in two parts by Jean-Luc Godard. It’s interesting because of its birfurcated, two-part structure, black-and-white and then color, the second part occurring before the first (as opposed to “beginning, middle and end” in conventional screenplays). The film is meta-styled and layered, about an author’s making a film about several couples, including a particular person with connections to the past connections to the resistance in Vichy France.  It seems scattered rather than tightly focused, and that’s an idea that comes back in my own work.

I’ll add that on a cold Saturday in early 2002, I tried out for a part in the short film “The Retreat“, by Darin Heinis, in which some allied soldiers at the Battle of the Bulge encounter ghosts of Germans, and other supernatural artifacts.  I almost got a part of one of the Nazi ghosts.  I’m not sure what to make of that.  I would eventually see the film at Bryant-Lake Bowl in Minneapolis at an IFPMSP monthly screening party.

This train of thought, regarding my scripts, will continued soon.

Published: Sunday, March 2, 2014 PM 4:50 PM

 

Filmmakers often explore the problem of underage relationships, especially in smaller movies

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The issue of adults being (often wrongfully) perceived and accused for intimate involvement with minors comes up quite often in film.  I’ll cover a few of the major films here, setting up a later blog posting about another incident when I was substitute teaching.  I cover many of these films on one particular page, here.  See related posting here Feb. 13, 2014 on a controversial NBC Dateline series.

The most important of these films is probably “Student Seduction” (2003), a film from Lionsgate and usually aired on Lifetime, directed by Peter Svartek.  I saw it on cable the day after had started subbing on 2004.  The film presents a married female chemistry teacher, who makes the mistake of tutoring a high school male and then accepting help starting her car from him, and having a snack in a restaurant.  When he comes on to her and rapes her at school, she is accused of inappropriate behavior with an underage minor and prosecuted, and the boy’s wealthy parents keep the charges on.  It makes teaching look like a risky job.

One of the most important foreign films in this area is “Bad Education” (“La mala educacion”, 2004, Sony Pictures Classics) from Pedro Almodovar.  The film is layered  A young Spaniard presents a screenplay “The Visit” about an earlier episode of possible abuse in the Catholic priesthood.  Enrique uses writing to solve a real life mystery.

Strand will release a BluRay DVD of the 2005 drama “Mysterious Skin”, by Gregg Araki, based on the book by Scott Heim, which tells the story of two victims of a high school coach as they grow up and lives intersect.  One of these is a hustler played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and the other is a sensitive kid (Brady Corbet) with an interest in UFO’s.

Frisk” (1999, Strand), by Todd Verow, based on a novel by Dennis Cooper, tells of the graphic crimes of a serial killer, from letters written by someone with the same name as the author, so it could be seen as possibly exploring the odd legal problem of self-libel or implicit content.

The Woodsman” (Mew Market, 2004) by Nicole Kassel, presents Kevin Bacon as going on parole after prison for a crime involving a small girl.

Capturing the Friedmans” (2003, Magnolia) has prosecutors on Long Island going after a family relentlessly for perhaps unfounded accusations of abuse.

Just Ask the Children” (2001) presents an overzealous prosecution of parents in California, where Gregroy Smith plays the grown teenager.  Smith would play in another film, “Kids in America”, about free speech in a high school, a film I would see in an auditorium by myself shortly after my own debacle.

L.I.E.” (“Long Island Expressway‘) , by Michael Cueta, presents a pedophile Brian Cox who has a relationship with a disadvantaged teenager whom he catches trying to burglarize his home.  I saw the film at a screening on Sept. 11, 2001 at the Lagoon Theater, and met the director afterward, who as stranded in Minneapolis for three days because of 9/11.  Later the film would be edited to remove a shot of the old World Trade Center.

Hard Candy” (Lionsgate, 2006) presents Patrick Wilson as a photographer who gets caught in a Dateline-like sting looking for a young girl, but the enforcer is the girl herself, ready for revenge.

Notes on a Scandal” (2006), from the UK presents Judi Dench taking advantage of another women whom she catches with a teen.

In “Whole New Thing” (ThinkFilm, 2006),  a gay English teacher in Nova Scotia develops a platonic relationship with a shy teen, and it is misinterpreted.

Edge of 17” (1999, David Moreton), tells a coming of age of a high school student who falls in love with an older college student in Ohio in 1984.  The title would suggest illegality in some states, however.

Deliver Us from Evil” (2006), by Amy Berg, is a documentary of the coverup of the pedophile scandal in the Catholic Church, told through the story of a particular priest in the California Sam Joaquin Valley.

The Country Teacher”  (“Venkovsky ucitel“), by Bohdan Siama (2008), from Czech Television and Film Movement and Netflix, presents a somewhat ungainly young teacher (Pavel Liska) taking a job in a rural high school, living on a farm and getting into an inappropriate relationship with the 17-year-old son (Ladislav Sedivy), which the boy suddenly rejects.  The consequences are not as severe as they would probably be in the US.  But some European countries may have more lenient age standards in this regard than the US and UK do.

Lolita”  has been made twice, once in 1997 by Adrian Lyne for Trimark, with Jeremy Irons, and earlier back in 1962 by Stanley Kubrick in black and white for Columbia, a setting that is somewhat comical.  In the later film, a middle aged man marries his landlady to get to her tween daughter;  in the earlier film, the oaf is a college professor played by James Mason.  It was also made in Germany in 1984.  There was also a TV movie in 1993, “Casualties of Love: The Long Island Lolita Story” about Joey Buttafuoco.

Picture: winter, childhood, Arlington VA, about 1948.

Posted: Saturday, March 1, 2014, about 10:20 PM.

 

Films about gays in the military: Hollywood could do much more with this theme

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It’s logical to have expected activity in the film world over the issue of gays in the military.  Most of the films have been small, and there may have been missed opportunities.

One of the oldest was a television film, “Matlovich vs. The U,S. Air Force” on NBC in 1977, about Tech Sgt. Leonard Matlovich.

One of the first important Clinton era films was “Serving in Silence” on NBC, about the case of Washington National Guard colonel Grete Cammermeyer, as played by Glenn Close.  I remember a scene near the end where the Army  JAG lawyer for the government describes her as a fine person.

There was talk in the 1990’s that there would be films about both Joseph Steffan and Keith Meinhold, but they did not come about.

An important film about tension within the ranks. would be “Any Mother’s Son” on Lifetime, in 1996, about the murder of gay sailor Allen Schindler, from the Belleau Wood, by off-duty sailor Terry Helvey in Sasebo, Japan, in 1992, a killing that was in the same league as that of Matthew Shepherd.

In 2003, Showtime aired “Soldier’s Girl”, the tragic story of a solider (Barry Winchell) who fell in love with a trangendered person (Calpernia Adams) and was bludgeoned to death by unit mates, at Fort Campbell, KY.

In 2008, Johnny Simmons produced an important documentary “Ask Not” giving the history of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy,

There is a similar film in 2009 by Tom Murray, titled “Tell”, having mostly interviews of soldiers, and attorneys including Dixon Osburn.

Ned Farr’s “A Marine’s Story” presents a lesbian kicked out of the Corps telling her backstory as she trains a delinquent girl with tough love.

“Out of Annapolis”, by Steve Clark Hall, presents gay alumni of the Naval Academy.

In 2012, Marc Wolf produced the film “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on Snag Films, his monologue based on his play “Another American: Asking and Telling”, which I had seen at the Studio Theater in Washington DC in April 2000.

The best history film on the policy is probably “The Strange History of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”  (Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato) on HBO, airing in October 2012.  The film did a particularly good job of distinguishing between the “privacy” issue and “unit cohesion”, which is a bit more subtle.

And there is the one hour history “Do Ask, Do Tell: The Documentary” on YouTube by Ali Sue.

There are many films in the past that have tangentially brushed the issue of gays in the military, including the 1929 silent classic “Wings” set in WWI, and even “A Few Good Men” in 1992.

Books about gays in the military, and the history of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

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In view of the content of my own books, it’s useful to survey the major books on gays in the military, including the history of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which was effectively passed into law at the end of 1993 and officially repealed in 2011.

The basic reference was by journalist Randy Shilts, “Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military”, originally published by St. Martins in 1993, and reissued, slightly updated, in paper by Fawcett Columbine in 1994.  Really, this is a history of gays in the US military, all the way back to the Revolutionary War, up to the beginning of DADT.  A critical time came in 1981, just before President Reagan took office, when the Pentagon came up with the notorious “123 words” (“Homosexuality is incompatible with military service” and the following litany or word salad), and a uniform absolute ban on gays in all the services, technically including the Coast Guard and Surgeon General corps.  Shilts also gave a history of the Vietnam era, when the Army had to try to stop men from claiming homosexuality to get out of the draft.  Shilts included a case of a man thrown out of a civilian college in Illinois in 1995 (officially “flunking out”), getting drafted and discharged again.

There was also a “book” by the Rand Corporation, the official study commissioned by Les Aspen in the Clinton Administration, “Sexual Orientation and U.S. Military Personnel Policy”.  The book surveyed many other countries, including Canada, Britain and particularly Israel, before concluding that “sexual orientation was not germane to assessing fitness for military service” and recommending a “code of military professional conduct.”

But the really interesting books were the autobiographies by the individual gay and lesbian soldiers who had to deal with the ban

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The best of all of these books was “Honor Bound: A Gay Naval Midshipman Fights to Serve his Country”, by Joseph Steffan, from Villard (Random House) in 1992.  I actually bought this book at a signing party at Lambda Rising in Washington in September of that year and met the author, I read it in one night and couldn’t put it down.  It woke me up.  Steffan was about to graduate third in his class in 1987 when, in a bizarre set of circumstances, he was outed, and did tell the honor board and cadre that he was gay, and was denied graduation.  He had many accomplishments, such as signing the National Anthem at the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia.  He did a summer cruise on a submarine without incident, and was apparently quite skilled at chess.  There was a great line in the book: “Personal honor is an absolute. You either have or do not have honor”.  For all its importance, I’m surprised that this book is no longer in print and seems to be available only from resellers.

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Marc Wolinsky and Kevin Sherrill authored “Gays in the Military: Joseph Steffan vs. The United States”, Princeton University Press, supplements Steffan’s book with all the legal papers.

Mary Anne Humphrey authored an anthology of cases “My Country: My Right to Serve” (Harper Collins), again, pre-DADT.

James Hollobaugh, in “Torn Allegiances” (1993, Alsyon) told the story of his life as an ROTC cadet.  Discharged after outing himself, he was pursued for recoupment of scholarship monies. One of the most harrowing passages, though, occurs in civilian life when he gets lost in a blizzard in the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina (yes, it gets cold there).

Soldier of the Year: The Story of a Gay American Patriot”, by Jose Zuniga, 1995, Pocket Books, is the story of the Sixth Army Soldier of the Year who enlisted at Fort Bliss in 1989.

Serving in Silence” is the story of Grethe Cammermeyer, to be covered in another posting.

Rob Graham’s “Military Secret”, published in Dallas, was a first-person account of Desert Storm.

One of my favorite later books is Reichen Lehmkuhl’s “Here’s What We;ll Say: Growing Up, Coming Out, and the U.S. Air Force“., from Carroll Graf.  By clever manipulation, Reichen survived his four years at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and graduated.

Of special interest as Scott Peck’s “All American Boy” (Scribner, 1995).  Peck was the gay son of a Marine Corps general who opposed lifting the ban and who hosted a radio talk show about gay rights on Sunday nights in 1993.  He one time had a discussion with Frank Kameny on his program about security clearances for gays.

There were books by men in civilian fields similar to the military. There was Frank Buttino’s “A Special Agent: Gay and Inside the FBI”.  Mr. Buttino describes his meeting with the closety J. Edgar Hoover, and his own relationship with a gay sailor, who never was discharged and served without incident.

There are a couple of books by gay atheletes:  “The Dave Kopay Story”, and then Esear Tualo’s “Alone in the Trenches: My Life as a Gay Man in the NFL”.  There is also Mark Tewksbury “Inside Out: Straight Talk from a Gay Jock”, by a Canadian Olympic swimmer (sorry, that means “all that body shaving”).  And there is Greg Louganis, “Breaking the Surface.”

My own “Do Ask, Do Tell: A Gay Conservative Lashes Back” (1997) inverts the usual story, where I was thrown out of a civilian college (William and Mary) for admitting homosexuality in 1961, then took the draft physical three times and eventually was drafted in 1968 and “served” two years without incident.  But Shilts relates a somewhat similar incident at one point.

We should mention John Barrett’s “Hero of Flight 93; Mark Bingham: A Man Who Fought Back on September 11

Regarding the history of the Repeal, I recommend Aaron Belkin and the Palm Center (at UC Santa Barbrara), “How We Won: Progressive Lessons from the Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’” on Kindle.  Previously Belkin had authored “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Debating the Gay Ban in the Military” (2003).  I met with Dr. Belkin at his office in Santa Barbara in February 2002.   Another book of important is Nathaniel Frank’s “Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America”  (2009). Vincent Cianni will publish a photographic book “Gays in the Military” April 30, 2014.

Some prescient sci-fi series in the 90s: “Earth 2” and “Seaquest DSV”

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I thought I would go through a couple older sci-fi television series and a few of the associated newer films.

One of these was “Earth 2”, 22 episodes in 1994-1995.  The series supposes an expedition to an Earth-like planet 22 light years away, because Earth has become uninhabitable and most people have to live on space stations.  Also, many children have a bizarre illness and cannot survive, raising the possibility that man could become extinct (as in the 2006 film “Children of Men”).   Apparently this was a private expedition that government wants to control/

On the Earth 2, the colonists find a primitive race of people who live mostly underground called the “Terrarians”.  The government would want to remove them, but they are essential to retaining life on the planet.  This is sort of the reverse of the NBC series “The Event”.

Antonio Sobato, Jr., later popular in the gay community, was a very visible star.

Actually, the stars thought to have earth-like planets within 25 light years of Earth are all red dwarfs, or M-stars, which means that the planets would have to be close to the stars and to be tidally locked, with the sun shining on one side only, and an annular twilight zone where temperatures are mildest.  However, if the planet has an ample atmosphere, wind currents might make the climate for the much of the entire planet relatively uniform. If a planet like this had been colonized by another civilization (the hypothesis of “Prometheseus”) the politics could be interesting indeed.  Will another planet with a civilization comparable to ours have money and a financial system?

A few recent cable films follow up on some of these ideas.  NatGeo produced a 90 minute documentary called “Evacuate Earth” where society has 75 years to build an ark to move 250,000 people to another solar system because a black hole is approaching the solar system.

Alien Planet” from the Discovery Channel imagines an Earth-like planet only 6.5 light years from Earth, with a living ocean, and creatures who more or less resemble humans.

PBS Nova has a documentary “Alien Planets Revealed”, and the BBC has a documentary “Titan: A Place Like Home” about the largest moon of Saturn, with a thick atmosphere and methane lakes.  In 2013 there was a film from Magnolia, “Europa Report” (referring to the moon of Jupiter with a large subterranean ocean), where a crew’s sudden evacuation is enabled by a subterranean creature’s helping them escape.  Actually, several satellites of Jupiter and Saturn, including Titan, may have subterranean water seas.

In 2005, NatGeo aried a one hour “Extraterrestrials”, where it pondered what life would be like on a tidally locked M-star planet.

Most Sunday nights, “Earth 2” was followed on NBC by “seaQuest DSV” (“Deep Submergence Vehicle”), a drama centered on a science submarine in a world, after 2018, where Earth’s resources have been depleted.   The series was notable for having a dolphin character, almost human, living in a tank on board, and for a civilian teenage computer genius Lucas Wolenczak (Jonathan Brandis) living on board.  In the middle 1990s, this might have sounded like an important point because the “intimacy” of people in closed environments like ships and submarines had become a political issue in the debate on gays in the military,

Posted: Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 7 PM EST.

“Jerome’s Razor”, “Slices of Life”, “Five Lines”: some enigmatic examples of local independent filmmaking

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have to build up an account of my own online presence in around 2005, when a major incident happened as I was substitute teaching. I’ll be getting to accounting for my own screenplay scripts that I put online.

When I lived in Minneapolis (1997-2003), I started to network with the Independent Film Project in Minneapolis-St. Paul  (link ), going to festivals, screenings and events. 

Shortly after my end-of-2001 layoff, (in January 2002) as I started to live on “severance”, I went to a particular function near the University of Minnesota, and saw the film “Jerome’s Razor”.  That evening, I met one of the leading players, Mark Parrish, in the reception in the bar afterward.

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The film, by Jon Swon, is bifurcated, starting with an office romance by the protagonist Jerome (Marcus Edwards) in Minneapolis.  Marcus journeys to New Mexico and goes on an adventure with some people in a commune, where Parrish plays the ring leader, Thomas.  The film was shot in digital video and at the time seemed very “on location”, everywhere.  The New Mexico scenes look like the country around the Lama Foundation, which I had visited twice while living in Dallas, in 1980 and 1984 (the second time was for a “spring work camp”).  The film does not have a happy ending.

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There were a few other films then with this structure, which some people compared to Roman Polanski’s “Knife in the Water” (1962).  One of these was “Kaaterskill Falls” by Josh Apter and Peter Olson, a suspense film set in the Catskills.

During my substitute teaching experience at the Career Center in Arlington, there was a film class.  I had a chance to show the teacher the website for “Jerome’s Razor” in late 2004, and he and some of the students were impressed.  At the time, it was not on imdb yet, but much of the film could be watched at its own site.  I don’t recall what the “razor” in the title refers to.  In the Army, we used to say that a razor is a great equalizer.

The Arlington Career Center produced a couple of student films, called “Slices of Life: The House Party” and “Slices of Life II: The 50-50 Club”.  The films merge separate story lines about teens facing various levels of responsibility.  In the second film, the issue of homophobic slurs comes up, as does the idea that one character has to take a part-time job to help support his siblings and parents instead of pursue his music.

The school systems and local churches did some other noteworthy short film work.  In 20605, at West Potomac High School near Alexandria, VA, a well-equipped school with a separate building for media technology (and an “Academy”) the AP chemistry students produced a short to teach chemistry to middle school students, called “Reltonium.”  The students dressed up as clowns and atoms, to demonstrate how radioactive elements can decay.  A local church produced two spoof “horror” shorts, “Friday’s Aliens” and then a sequel. “Sunday’s Aliens”.

The idea of converging characters inspired a suspenseful film set in the DC Metro, “Five Lines” (or “5 Lines”), by Nocholas Pangopalus, Brainbox Pictures (a studio in Silver Spring MD which seems to have disappeared) with characters riding different color-coded lines in the Metro.  One of the characters is an Army soldier who beats up a gay man near the Arlington Cemetery station as part of an initiation, and his commander tries to cover it up. The film was shown at the AFI Silver in Filmfest DC and got local media coverage.  A similar Hungarian film was “Kontroll”, set in the Budapest Metro.

Let me get back to Mark for a moment.  I came back to DC from Minneapolis for a ten day visit and arranged to drive my rent car up to Boston to meet Mark for lunch (in Legal Seafoods in the Prudential Center), in a cool spell in early May.  I remember staying at a Comfort Inn in northern Connecticut and watching “Smallville”.  I got to Boston around 11, and reached Mark on my Qwest cell phone as he was getting close to the “Big Dig”.  I don’t know Boston’s tunnels.  Anyway, we did talk about movie ideas for my first book, and in subsequent postings I’ll be showing what ideas I’ve come up with.  Yes, it’s been a lot of years, but movies take a long time.  I remember the drive home, thinking of the possibilities as I approached the Maryland Bay Bridge.

Mark Parrish shows some other films on imdb.  One of the larger ones is “Mustang Sally” (Iren Koster), where again he plays ring-leader to some college boys as the visit a “house of ill repute” outside LA in the mountains.  The film opens with Mark’s character telling the story from a hospital bed, as had escaped with a broken leg.  His companions did not fare so well in what was a takeoff from “House of Wax”, so to speak.  I’ve seen the baseball film “The Pitcher and the Pin-Up” (aka “The Road Home”) where he makes a brief appearance as a teammate.

There’s a couple other films to mention here, preparing for a later posting on a critical incident when I was substitute teaching.

One of these is “The Most Dangerous Game” (1932), based on a short story by Richard Connell, often read in high school with the movie often shown.  A madman owning an island arranges a shipwreck so he can hunt down the travelers for sport after lodging them.  Real youth fare?  It’s about “brains v. brawn”, when that’s a good message.

The other is the curious British satire “A Canterbury Tale” (1944) by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.  where a “land girl” and two soldiers delve into a mystery related to Chaucer’s destination after the girl suffers a “glue attack”.  The film, after various philosophical musings, ends with an enormous musical triumph invoking “Onward Christian Soldiers”, as war descends on Britain.  The entire play, based on six of Chaucer’s tales, was presented at the Kennedy Center around 2006.  It’s common reading in high school senior English.

My speech at Hamline University in 1998 (with cable rebroadcast, and videos)

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I’m going to start introducing my own work in this “Media Reviews” blog, in order to build up to my future plans, and to supplement the “footnotes blog” for my new “Do Ask Do Tell III” book.

On February 25, 1998, I gave a lecture on my first book to undergraduate students at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN.  Students took notes, like they were going to turn in themes to professors.  The lecture was arranged by a graduating senior from Hamline whom I had met through the Libertarian Party of Minnesota after moving to Minneapolis on September 1, 1997 – actually at a reception (and informal booksigning party) somewhere around one of the lakes in town in late October (it was still mild that Sunday night, which I remember well).

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The 56-minute talk was carried on Channel 6 on Minneapolis Cable in March, 1998.  I have made a DVD of it.  Using older technology of over a decade ago. I extracted some videos from it.  I’m not sure yet how easy it would be to get this onto YouTube or copied onto this site, so I will give the link to the first file on the “doaskdotell” site.  There are 34 such files, each well less than a minute.  I do think I talk constructively about the “Relationship Paradox” (file 30) and that there is tension between independence as a virtue for the individual and interdependence as necessary for society,

The MPG link to the first file is this:

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I would be accompanied at some libertarian book fairs by Edmund Contoski, who published under the imprint “American Liberty Publishers”, link here.

One of these is “Makers and Takers”, the title of which is self-explanatory.  Yes, it does remind us of Ayn Rand.  The other is a novel “The Trojan Project”, where the author imagines a telephone virus.  I thought it was fanciful at the time, but then Stephen King came up with “Cell” in 2006.  And now, smart phone malware is a big security issue, and certainly fits well into the NSA spying scandal revealed by Edward Snowden.

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I would later give a similar speech at the University of Minnesota March 31, 1999, and a related talk to the Dakota Unitarian Fellowship in Rosemount, MN in February 2002.

(Published at 11 PM EST Sunday, Februrary 16, 2014).

Update: Oct. 20, 2014

Thumbnails for DVD of the Hamline lecture. I’ll start working on YouTube transcription soon.  See Nov. 30, 2015 post.

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Big threats to electric power grid covered in several books and academic papers, not much in movies yet

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A number of books and professional papers in the past few years have discussed the dangerous and possibly existential threat to the electric power grid for North America and most of the developed world, from both natural and hostile sources. I would expect major films (not just typical overdone “disaster movies”) to explore this possibility in the future.

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Civilization, and the whole concept of the rule of law, has evolved with technology and now could not function if electricity to a large percentage of the country or to a major area were lost for many weeks, months or years.  But this is indeed possible.

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Concern about this idea has risen in recent weeks, since the Wall Street Journal drew attention to a physical rifle attack on the Metcalf substation in the Silicon Valley in California in April, 2013, which actually caused very little disruption to companies and homes in the area.

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There are two major fiction works that present the grid vulnerability.  One of these is “Gridlock”, by Byron L. Dorgan (former senator from North Dakota) and David Hagberg, from Forge.  Dorgan envisions a major conspiracy theory, involving Russian and Middle Eastern enemies, who (with the help of a psychopathic young hacker in the Netherlands) can take out the grid with cyber attacks in stages, demanding ransom.  But the incident starts with shooting a power station, and then the electrocution of a repair person by manipulating the way the line is energized by a computer virus. The link is here  and the visitor can follow the labels to other books that take up related issues.

The older fiction is “One Second After”, by William Forstchen (2009, from Doberty) with a foreword by Newt Gingrich and an afterword by Bill Sanders.  The novel follows one family in the North Carolina Blue Ridge when, one April afternoon, the lights go out suddenly for the whole country, as a result of three simultaneous electromagnetic pulse (EMP) explosions from nuclear weapons launched from a commercial ship in the Gulf of Mexico to high altitude.  I wondered, would Norad find and would the Air Force intercept these missiles?    Civilization in rural areas returns to the 19h Century, but almost everyone in large cities perishes within a year.

The major non-fiction book is “A Nation Forsaken: The Escalating Threat of an American Catastrophe” by F. Michael Maloof. From WND Books.

Maloof covers all the major possibilities, including EMP from missiles, but also explains how a coordinated EMP attack could occur on the ground from smaller, non-nuclear “magnetic flux compression generators”, a possibility pointed out in a Popular Science article in 2001, originating with New Scientist, link here.

Maloof also covers the possibility of a solar flare, followed by coronal mass ejections that could arrive at Earth two or three days later.

The National Academy of Sciences has published two important works, “Terrorism and the Electric Power Delivery System”, in 2012, as well as “Severe Space Weather Events: Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts”.

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Oak Ridge National Laboratory has published “Geogmagnetic Storms and their Impact on the U.S. Power Grid”.

On October 27, 2013, National Geographic Channel aired the docudrama “American Blackout” about how the US would recover in ten days from a total cyber attack on the power grid.

On Feb. 21, 2010, CNN aired a similar film, “Cyber Shockwave,” enacting a cyber crisis with officials discussing what they would do in a manner similar to war games that the media used to stage for nuclear crises in the past (even the Cuban Missile Crisis).

There have been a few B-moves on the solar flare issue, like “Air Collision“,  “Solar Strike”, “Solar Crisis” and “Solar Attack” that aren’t very effective or credible.

But “Perfect Disaster: Solar Storm” from the Discovery Channel is pretty scary.

I have heard rumors that Warner Brothers has looked at “One Second After”, and Dorgan probably has the connections to get “Gridlock” considered by studio agents.

(Initial publication: Saturday, February 15, 2014 at about 11:45 AM EST).

NBC Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator” ought to have a followup report now; Chris Hansen no longer at NBC though

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There was one particular reality television series on NBC Dateline which also help set up a climate change in Internet law and awareness issues of Internet safety.

That was NBC’s “To Catch a Predator”.  The concept was to work with a volunteer phone group called “Perverted Justice” (link ) Members of the group would pose as legal minors, and enter chat rooms.  Men would contact them and then go to a particular home for a liaison.  In all but the first two of the episodes, police or the sheriff’s department would arrest the men as they left.  Chris Hansen, the lead journalist, would appear in place of the intended minor, and quiz and scold the visitor.  (“Why are you here?  I want to go over the chat logs. This isn’t a gay-straight thing.”)

NBC does not appear to have an active link for the show now, but there are various links for specific episodes, such as here.

The first episode occurred on Long Island in November 2004.  The next episode did not air until early November 2005, but had been taped in mid August 2005 at a home in Herndon, VA.  One of the most awful cases involved a rabbi named David Kaye, who had worked in his faith in education in suburban Maryland.  He had actually used his work computer in the chats, some of which (reproduced by peej) became quite graphic.   He tried to get NBC not to air his segment, which of course he could not prevent. He resigned from his job right before the airing.  At the apparent prodding from Peej, the FBI began to investigate him.  He was contacted and told to surrender in late May, 2006.  He never saw home for 12 years.  Despite the lengthy time before bringing charges, he was denied bail, and convicted in a most interestingly written opinion in federal court in Alexandria, VA.  He served about six years and would follow with ten years supervised probation. The Washington Post story by Jerry Markson of the Dec. 2, 2006 sentencing hearing, where Kaye sobbed, is here.

Stings were set up in a number of states: Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas,  California.  In California, a cancer researcher fell for the trap.  In Texas, an assistant DA was caught and committed suicide. That led to litigation, as reported in the Los Angeles Times here.

One of the most important moral points was that the “entrapment” defense could not work, because most states will punish attempting to contact a person that the perpetrator believes to be a minor.  There may have to be a specific person, but the person can be a decoy.  Stings run by police departments are common now, particularly in the Washington DC area in all local jurisdictions.  In one case, an Army general was arrested in Union Station by Metro Transit Police in trying to set up an encounter after traveling across the country on government expense.

It’s very important to note that about 90-95% of the men who came to the sting houses were looking for females.  This was mostly a heterosexual thing (Vladimir Putin’s recent comments, as well as the Kaye case,  notwithstanding).

A disturbing comparison could be made to the case of Justin Berry, who started answering requests from chat rooms to make his own videos, as reported in the New York Times video here.  Berry has since cooperated with police and the DOJ.

NBC would follow up with a sequel later called “Predator Raw” with excerpt from the series, on MSNBC.

Chris Hansen would author a book, “To Catch a Predator”, published in 2007 by Dutton, link for my Blogger review here.

Hansen would eventually be “dumped” by NBC, according to a New York Post story, here.

Arrests of teachers for improper conduct with students seemed to be reported in the media much more often starting in 2006.

NBC Dateline (which sponsored the series) should report on what happened to many of the convicts, many of whom would be released by now, especially Kaye.  This would be a disturbing but important project for an independent film documentary.

ABC 20-20, on Feb. 14. 2014,  reported on a troubling case in Florida about a n 18 year old girl in a relationship with a 14 year old, and not realizing that it could be illegal, link here.

(First published Thursday, February 13, 2014 at 11 PM EST.)

 

Comparative media reviews on hot topics