Supporting Local artists of film through empowerment, inc.
By: Lucas Cuny, MFA
August 5, 2017
I think the last time I wrote one of these I hadn’t left for my honeymoon yet, which was back in June. Then, I had three presentations to do at the annual University Film and Video Association Conference. Those are done, so here we are, together again. Moving forward with this blog the hope is that not only can it be critical, but hopefully offer those getting ready to make a web series some valuable insights.
While at the conference last week I presented on the topic of writing a web series, as a matter of fact. Some things come down to the principle of KISS, not the band, but the acronym: Keep It Simple Stupid. The version of this that tends to not cause micro-aggression is to just drop the second “S”, so it’s just: keep it simple.
As some of my research indicated, as the better shows that do exist, the quicker you get to the action in your web series, the better chance you’ll have at keeping an audience. This week I stumbled upon a new web series to me anyway, “B.More Chicks.” This series takes place in Baltimore and is written and directed by T. Styles. Because I’m dedicated to this blog, I shall suffer through others’ art. Cut your opening credits. Now, it seems by watching this that they also put this up for distribution on Amazon, so maybe that is why there is a typical opening credits sequence. But even in standard broadcast TV, those are becoming less prolific as introductions can get in the way of advertising revenues. You are competing for views and you don’t necessarily have time to do a standard credit sequence. Get their attention fast.
This first episode is all over the place with story lines. Presumably when you first drop your web series onto YouTube, you need to understand to build audience fast, you need to maintain basic story lines and focus on no more than 2 characters. Broad city is a great example of this as is another one my favorite series ‘Mondays’ (#watchmondays). This is the building of your brand, not your brand in its entirety. T. Styles would have benefited from focusing the plot on one or two characters for the first episode and the first season. It needs to be about the main character’s overall prize at the end of season one, then how they deal with each episode peril. Again, the beauty of the better web series are their reliance on simple constructed stories that avoid a lot of camera work.
The writing and most of the performances kept me watching as the dialogue was good, but too much. Get in late get out early, as Lajos Egri and others say about screenwriting. Trying to make a 20 minute episode without the appropriate budget or resources inevitably shows up in the final product. Finances can impact your aesthetic. So to paraphrase Clint Eastwood, “a filmmaker has to got to know their limitations.”
Mondays and Circumcision
By: Lucas Cuny, MFA
June 8, 2017
Well friends, I’ve returned to the weekly Web Series Review Blog. What’s cool is that posting on my Twitter to find new series’ to review really works! Three words came to mind after watching this pilot episode: quirky, funny, and hipster. Not necessarily in that order. Like Tarantino has said, I’m into sub genres. With “Portlandia”, a new sub genre seems to be prevalent in the zeitgeist. The comedies of the hipster-millennial subculture that pokes fun at life and themselves. Recently I completed reviews on “Eighty Sixed,” “Mondays” brings that similar tone and feel. This is not a bad thing, as I tell my writing students, what makes anything unique is not the story or the concept, but the characters.
I try really hard to not get political, but in this day and age it’s a challenge not too. But a good thing, if you will, of the recent power shift in our nation’s capital is an increase in women auteurs in media. Am I pandering right now, I hope not, I enjoy the differences we have in our nation, there our greatest strength and are what make us great. Last night after watching “Wonderwoman” with my wife, I commented that was really a call back to first wave feminism in a sense during the climactic scene (no spoilers) she literally roared. With that said, this show offers us a true heroine in every sense of the word as our main character, Kelly, played by the shows writer and Co-Creator, Kelsey Bascom. She drives the action of the episode, no pun intended especially since she drives the whole episode. As with many of us, she finds herself in that already awkward position of dating in the 21st century.
The century is important because we know we have certainly technology that makes life both convenient and well, not to belabor a point here, but awkward. Being the conscientious millennial that she is, Kelly answers the phone while driving, but she’s completely legal and answers via bluetooth technology. Of course, it is her mother. I can only imagine my mom calling me during a date, that’s one stressor, but what lends it to comedic joy is it’s on speaker phone with your date sitting next to you. She answers out of concern as her date points out her mom called three times in a row. The conversation seems to be a monotonous conversation and mom really had nothing urgent to say, until mom asks about the date. All I can say is after a series of misunderstandings, you will hear the mom say “circumcision,” and if the audience can hear it, so can the date. Yes, modern dating has many facets. This only escalates with more awkward and inappropriate discourse from mom. The voice of Mom, Cean Okada, is brilliantly played, she has no remorse for her comments and as with any good mom, only wants to know if the dating could become something serious.
Great media requires a strong sense of aesthetic and conflict. This first episode provides both. Smartly the producers understand that they have a limited budget of sorts and keep it short and sweet in one location, a car. There’s one set up: a two shot. I’ve noticed this in other web series pilots, “Broad City’s” first show is all done in one set up as well. This works because you want to focus on setting up your story’s tone and characters. Too many cuts in a two to three minute show can be jarring, especially in the first episode when you need to set up everything. Then of course, is the conflict our main character has with the antagonist, Mom. We are already set up for initial conflict with a date but the writer gives us one we don’t really expect and that pays off well. Lastly, the episode ends open ended. This, as we know, is more and more prevalent in our landscape of serialized media- leave audiences wanting more.
That’s what I tell my students all the time in their: writing every scene should end leaving your audience wanting more. That’s why writing these minisodes for a webseries is not only a great way to develop your brand as a writer, but to practice the basics. As an exercise I’ll give my students a scenario and an event to develop into a story. This is a great example of a writer working within parameters. In a tight location, on a date, and then mom calls, what could happen? Well, one thing that could happen is that your mom talks about circumcised penis’ and your date can hear.
Lucas Cuny has a Master's in Screenwriting from California State University Fullerton, runs a film festival in the Inland Empire, Teachers Film and Media at The Art Institute, and Produces Video for California State University, Los Angeles.
“Stand with Ransom Stoddard.” May 26, 2017
By Lucas Cuny, MFA
I know this is a bit of a change from my more recent posts, but after a few recent encounters with Trump voters and republicans in general, it made me think about one of my favorite films- “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” Of course, on the surface, it is a John Wayne movie. That would certainly fit into the narrative that modern republicans try to sell us. Of course, they see themselves on the side of John Wayne and what is right. Well as it seems, they are actually on the side of Liberty Valance.
Liberty Valance stood on the side of the cattle barons in the territory then known as Texas when the story picks up. These barons are, as George Carlin might refer to them, “the owners” of the country. They aren’t interested in sharing in the overall wealth of the community, but keeping more for them. But then comes this uppity lawyer from the east that wants to bring law and civil rights to the west. I might also add that some of the settlers who long for statehood in the film are, of course, immigrants. Does this narrative seem too ring true today? Liberty for the cattle ranchers is a necessary evil.
Liberty Valance, the film’s title villain, is a man that stood against the progress and rapid economic change of the era through the expansion of the railroad. The homesteaders wanted protection under the law as they began to immigrate and settle in the wild west. A west, at the time, ruled by those who enjoyed the open spaces to freely move their cattle. Any infringement on that old way was seen as an attack on their livelihood. Liberty Valance is the man they hired to keep it that way, even if he was rough around the edges. Then you have Jimmy Stewart’s character, the Lawyer from the East Ransom Stoddard who wants to bring justice to the west through the law. In the middle of this, of course is John Wayne, Tom Donaphin. Donaphin in many ways is like many Americans now- we want to value each other’s privacy and mind our own business, but if you push us hard enough we may have to be drastic. Stewart’s character actually makes him stand up for something. I suppose you could see Bernie Sanders in that role and the Democrats or Moderate Republicans such as John McCain or Governor Kasich of Ohio as John Wayne, at some point they have to stand for something.
It just seems that every interaction I have with a Trump Republican is this longing for a time before the major economic disruptions came to be, the late 70’s to early 80’s. That’s the railroad in the “Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” for us it is trade and digital. The train west was a major economic upheaval, for years the west was open, but soon that feeling collapsed under statehood. The control of their own way of life gave way to government interventions. As America expands, so does it’s government. It seems if I just said to a Trumpilican in frustration, “why don’t we just go back to the old west,” they would agree with that assessment. Hence they hired Liberty Valance to take them there.
This is why this film stands the test of time. It is more that just the surface. It is about something. Films or television must be more than surface, there must be a meaning behind it all. Which is why I cringed slightly at Bill Maher’s assessment of Comic Book films. John Ford could not directly state in his films that sometimes we need to support government intervention to protect civil rights and progress in the early 60’s, but he could tell a tall tale about facing push back of old power against the progress of a new economy. You can’t directly talk about the police state we face in a film right now but you can tell us about how Batman and Commissioner Gordon may have to sacrifice freedoms to get the Joker. These are morality plays and they are often hidden.
"Maybe Ian Malcolm was Correct"
One2Four - Episode 1 - Season 1
By: Lucas Cuny, May 20, 2017
“They were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they never considered whether or not they should.” Yes this is about dinosaurs but also has to do with the democratization of cinema. Food for thought as my latest scouring of the interwebs and YouTube for a new web series to review, I found “One 2 Four.” This series is put out by a company called Soundzsogood.com. From near as I could tell, they are heavy into promoting something called “Lit Lyfe.” My research on this lead me to discover that this is a company promoting the music of Tyhem Commodore who plays the lead in this series, Lit. Coincidence? I think not. If you’ve read any of my reviews so far, you know I like to compare modern serialized TV or media to old school cliffhangers.
Right away, we as an audience, discover what this story is all about- these are guys on the street. The scenes and shots are reminiscent of “Wired.” Lit seems to be the center of the group we are first introduced to. There seems to be some interesting banter going on among Lit and his buddies, but the audio in the scene is pretty poor and that’s a shame because it seems like there’s a lot of naturalistic dialogue happening. The fun and games end as soon as they notice someone selling dope on their block. The guys go and confront the nuisance that’s trying to invade their space. He runs off and then they head off to the leader’s place.
Lit is informed by “the boss,” I’ll call him, I didn’t get a clear sense of his name, that they need to go take care of some business. It seems things will escalate quickly, but they rush off to another apartment to have a conversation. Nothing really happens. This is something I always talk to my students about in my screenwriting classes: the lack of urgency. Why are we watching this show and what is the conflict? If conflict does not exist, then you have lost the audience. I kept watching because I review webseries. In essence, though, they took an elaborate moment to set up something with no pay off.
This goes to the idea of rising conflict. We don’t know as the audience who is Lit’s true antagonist. There are plenty of “henchman”: his philandering girl friend, mother, who was hilarious, and potentially other drug dealers in the area, but not one clear opposing force getting in Lit’s way. If you set up a big showdown, you’d better show me a big showdown at the end. Conflict comes from a clear antagonist with a clear opposing goal.
Understanding, of course, that this is seemingly as independent as you can get there are still many flaws with the story. As I mentioned, there was no clear goal for Lit. Again, going back to a cliffhanger as a model to follow when writing, what is the prize of the season for Lit and thereby, what are each of episode’s perils that get in the way of Lit’s prize? In the first episode of “Breaking Bad” we learn right away Walter White’s prize: money. And his peril at the moment: cancer. You don’t have a lot of time in a first episode for exposition so you need to set up quickly and clearly. Because of that, you can’t afford to have lag time. Hence, there were moments where the story lagged; too much talking and not enough action. We watch series’ because it leads us to somewhere, I never got a sense of where the story tellers were leading me, other than to buy their music.
Creating media in any form is a challenge, but you need to connect with your audience and treat us with some sophistication. Two main rules of video production- can I hear it, and can I see it? I could see fine, but the audio was terrible. Also, the actors were clearly new to the process. Work with what you have and use as needed. Not everyone needs a full set up scene. Rely on images with amateur talent. That said, Tyhem Commodore has a natural presence and when the episode focused on his story line I was much more interested. I noticed a bunch more episodes and would love to see it better developed before I watch further. Don’t just film to film, but film with some better intent.
Eighty Sixed Part 4:
The New Cliffhanger the Webseries
By Lucas Cuny, MFA -May 4, 2017
A drone strike, a broken hearted woman, and two creepy twins is where this final episode of Cazzie David’s web series Eighty Sixed ends. Last episode ended on the proposition of Remi, Cazzie’s character’s name, asking a guy to compare vagina tightness. Well, we have no idea if that happened, but we do know, or at least can infer, that she’s still reeling from a break up.
What attracted me to the series initially was of course the connection to Larry David, the writer creator of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and claims of other bloggers that this was the millennial answer to Curb. Perhaps this episode shows the most self awareness of that comparison to come. Some episodes of Curb, and seemingly it’s season finales, leaned heavily on broad comedy moments that lead towards an anti climatic climax. The use of music as Remi attempts to thwart a drone flying over her back yard is reminiscent of the type of playful music that can be heard over certain scenes of Curb. It made me think of an episode when Larry tries to get to the doctor’s office before a fellow patient, or moments when Larry breaks up a baptism. Beyond the evident nepotism here, Cazzie illustrates solid comedy performance and writing ability, which beyond her dad, can draw an audience to further episodes.
In examining cliffhangers or serialized forms of storytelling one element must be true: does it stand as a piece of work that promotes further episodes or viewing? In this case it does. Remi eventually grabs the drone that pesters her peaceful use of pot and her attempts to search social media masked by a large book. This forces her to meet her assailants, two wonderfully creepy next door neighbor twins who finish each other's thoughts and reminded me of the twins from G.I Joe (Tomax and Xamot). She then takes this opportunity to find a truce of sorts and use these two and their drone to spy on someone we can only infer is her ex-boyfriend. The reason we can only infer this as she spent three episodes talking about this one character and the talks have all centered around what this person is doing. The creators in their storytelling have laid the ground work wonderfully in this development. Cliffhangers need to build and maintain suspense-she does that wonderfully here.
So there’s Remi and these creepy twins headed to the ex-boyfriends for some good old fashioned spying. In terms of a cliffhanger again, these are “allies” of the hero. They just get the drone into the house when, of course, it malfunctions. Early in the episode it was about broad humor: her jumping to try to get the drone, sight gags of her hiding a cell phone behind a book pretending to read, when the drone disappears and is in the hand of her foe, the ex, the snarky one liners appear and we get back to the character of the show. Such as when talking about the money the twins spent on the drone her reaction is, “it’s not combined if you’re not two different people.” At this point she heads towards a peril. To keep her ex from seeing shot footage of the drone previously to this. But alas, it’s too late and they discover he has found the footage and see’s Remi. We know the ex has the drone as all aspects of the ex are filmed from his POV. The twins go to the door to get their toy back and as the door opens Remi runs by screaming, “Fake News,” at that we almost expect to see the ex, but it fades to black from there. The spying failed and backfired.
The series falls nicely along with serialized storytelling that relies heavily on open ended climaxes. Also, a web series of minisodes; smaller episodes no longer than 10 minutes, must be a showpiece for a new writer, director, or actor. I do hope for more. Who knows if it gets the viewers, maybe HBO will pick it up. Nepotism does work that way, but I almost feel Larry would hate that in some way. I think Cazzie has her own voice here, mainly because I know my own voice is somewhat sardonic and sarcastic, it is just not all Larry David. This last episode felt a little like an homage to Larry and his work with Curb and Seinfeld. I felt that is is a nice touch and way to respond to thoughts of it being a Curb for millennials. The series can just be known as sardonic satire on millennials that just so happened to feature Larry David’s daughter. So as a serial series it pulls off what it needs to, maintains a consistent real time thread and makes you curious about the next episode. That ought to be a goal when writing and making a serialized series. Also, I do look forward to more, especially if she keeps up such pop culture references as “MySpace” in her work.
The Web Series is our Modern Flash Gordon - The Art of the Web Series Part 3
By: Lucas Cuny, MFA
April 22, 2017
Still reeling from her recent break up, Cazzie is out to prove that she’s happy and healthy and moving on in her life. Cazzie and her besties are at a party as the episode starts. She’s away from the action, not really wanting to be there, as she first says to her friend, “look we got dressed and came out.” If you can land that first laugh in a comedy, you may be well on your way. So the ongoing story line of this first season must be about her break up and various steps towards healing that happens during a break up. Every great web series or new TV show right now has this: the one constant story line that we tune into every time to see how it might get resolved. Within this story line comes many potential minor conflicts, or as I like to call them, perils. These represent obstacles in the way of our main character’s purpose. Cazzie wants to show the world she’s a strong healthy woman, that proves how she deals with this break up.
The perils act as set ups to the jokes with comedy. First for this episode, “Tight Vagina”, it is when Cazzie tries to leave the party early by changing the music. Then it’s acceptance of being at the party, but making it work for you. So if you can’t leave a party early, your next step is to get a picture of you having a good time. Sure enough though, you can’t post your own picture so it’s finding someone to upload it and tag you in it- all first-world and millennial challenges. It’s in this finding someone to upload and tag that a conversation ensues about the new girl her ex has hooked up with, known to have a tight vagina.
This all culminates in her confronting a guy that’s been with this other woman and Cazzie’s desire to compare the tightness of vaginas. Comedy is a great tool to measure your understanding of rising conflict. The jokes have to get bigger just as the stakes in drama need to rise. The increase in how the joke lands is indicated by the tangible actions that set it up. You can’t just have conversation and get information, but there has to be a driving action. Cazzie’s friend’s refused to upload that photo, which lead her to a stranger, which is an escalation and from there we learn about said “tight vagina”.
The best part is Cazzie may let someone who’s been with the ex boyfriend's new love interest, compare tightness. The guy, understandably confused at this, Cazzie does not make it easier when she implies it's just like a medical procedure. Cut to credits. So we will see where this goes? Who know's that's why it's modern "Flash Gordon."
The Apple and the Tree - The Art of the Web Series Part 2
By: Lucas Cuny, MFA
April 22, 2017
The nature of a web series is quite prevalent in this show. There is one basic set up or storyline, minimal settings, and minimal camera set ups. In this case, the characters are at an ice cream shop and Cazzie brings the attention onto her by contrasting how her and her friends enjoy their ice cream. The theme, calls back to the first episode similarly in style to old school cliffhangers of the 1930's and 40's, in that Cazzie realizes one of her friends is still Snap Chat friends with her ex-boyfriend. When you put that in context it feels like Cazzie is setting them up to knock them down as some sort social betrayers.
Still reeling from her breakup, and out for ice cream with her friends. These two friends, who by the way, are wonderful millennial archetypes, both seemingly disconnected from reality (and that could be because they’re in LA) and woefully ignorant of others’ feelings and in doing so lack introspection for those in the world around them. A phenomenon that my generation, Gen X, finds unable to avoid, and is perhaps why Gen X’ers harbor a certain amount of ill will toward their millennial counterparts. As a show set to be by millennials “for millennials”, it illustrates one of their great strengths though, tolerance. This is a show that has a majority female cast and the diversity represented and celebrated is also a very “millennial” trait.
It’s hard in a second episode to follow up such a phenom as the interwebs portrayed of the first episode. There are some lagging moments, perhaps played for comedic effect, but as the late Don Rickles said, “they all can’t land.” There’s a joke about coveting others’ ice cream that seems to go on too long.Transversely, back to the show’s opening moment that illustrates Cazzie’s distrust of her friends’ enthusiasm for ice cream out of a cup versus a cone. The touch of Larry David or “the tree”, if you will, is there once again. But why not capitalize on that sardonic quality? Get the quick jokes first, like about ice cream cones versus ice cream in a cup- this keeps your audience.
Eventually, Cazzie’s own version of sardonic humor gets revealed with the line, “so I’m hot for an ugly person.” She sets up the audience early in the episode with an easy joke about ice cream cones. With an easy joke out of the way can land a bigger line, “hot for an ugly person.” That’s what you need to do with a second episode, at some point you have to make a bigger statement than you did with the first. So move over “#citypants”, now its “#hotforugly”.
Lucas Cuny has a Master's in Screenwriting from California State University Fullerton, runs a film festival in the Inland Empire, Teachers Film and Media at The Art Institute, and Produces Video for California State University, Los Angeles.
The Apple and the Tree - The Art of the Web Series Part 1
By: Lucas Cuny, MFA
I just watched the new web series by Cazzie David ‘86’d’. In case you weren’t sure, she is the daughter of Larry David, my curmudgeon spirit animal. I must say the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree. Right off the bat we meet her in bed moping about a break up, as her two friends enter suddenly to cheer her up. In that moment she gives us a bit of the David honesty, or speaking without a filter comes to the surface immediately. Cazzie tells her friend not to sit on her bed, “as she has city jeans on.” Referring to the fact that those jeans have been exposed to the germs and dirt of the city, and who really wants that on your bed?
Other articles I noticed about this is show is how ‘86’d’ could be the millennial equivalent of ‘Curb’. Maybe? I definitely enjoyed the commentary on digital age or social media enriched world we live in today. Cazzie dealing with her break up discovers another friend tagged her in inspirational thoughts to help her get over her break up, exactly what Cazzie did not want. As we all know going through a breakup, we want to appear to be completely over this person and put on a public persona of strength. This is where the show really connects in a timely manner, all of the sudden because of the digital media age, we all have a public persona. This leads a confrontation with this friend which devolves into searching all social media outlets to see how her ex is still connected with her world. A world of social media webs, no pun intended, that show just because you break up with someone now, it isn’t as easy for them to get out of your life as it was for the previous generation.
Storytelling is about connecting to an audience to have a shared experience. If you can connect with an audience by illustrating the similarities of your main character then your story telling has succeeded. Cazzie created empathy between the audience and her character while giving us a bit of her dad’s sardonic qualities. A ‘Curb’ for a new generation I don’t know, but definitely a mirror to the present day society.
The Charles Brothers, February 28, 2017
By: Lucas Cuny, MFA
Life is really funny. I grew up in New Haven, Indiana, a small farming community about 10 minutes east of Fort Wayne. Indiana’s second largest city. Fort Wayne was once home of the now Detroit Pistons, International Harvestor (the company that passed on the mini van and then went out of business), and is home to Shelley Long. If you’re a TV fan you know her for “Modern Family,” then her adaptation of Carol Brady in the “Brady Bunch” films of the 1990s, and lastly you better know her for her role as Diane Chambers in the classic sitcom “Cheers.”
But so what? Why does it matter that I am from basically the same town as Shelley Long, well that in and of itself would be quite unremarkable. What is remarkable is where I’ve called home for about 20 years since living the midwest for Southern California, and that is Redlands, California. Redlands, as I like to tell people in Los Angeles, is the only city along the 10 freeway you pass on your way to Palm Springs that has trees. Redlands, not too dissimilar from my hometown of New Haven, was known for agriculture, oranges. It was once where old Hollywood went to vacation before Bob Hope found Palm Springs. But lastly, Redlands has a small University, the aptly named, University of Redlands, which produced through its hallowed halls, the Charles brothers, the co-creators of “Cheers”, which starred Ms. Long.
The interesting thing about the University is that it has produced at least three rather impressive screen writers: the aforementioned brothers and Daniel Petrie Jr. But you wouldn’t know it when you enter the city or the University. That might have to do with other factors. Petrie also had his big splash of success in the 1980’s with the superstar making film of “Beverly Hills Cop,” which he wrote. Walking through Redlands the other day with my fiancée, she noted something I’ve often thought of but never said out loud, Redlands seems like something out of a movie. Unbenounced to her, I immediately thought of the film, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” the Clint Eastwood Directed film starring Kevin Spacey and John Cusack. Cusack is a reporter that goes to do an article for a the home garden magazine in Alabama and notes to himself that the town is like, “Gone With the Wind on acid.”
I wouldn’t go to that extreme in my description of my new home. But I would say it compares more to Amity Island in the film Jaws. They keep telling the sheriff, you may have moved here, but you’ll never be an islander. That’s kind of Redlands. I’ve now been in the area for about 20 years, but I’ll never be a Redlander. It is quite New England in that way as Jessica Fletcher discovered oft times in “Murder She Wrote.” I don’t mind being the outsider in this town, I’m curious to look at it from afar. A town incidentally founded by two guys from the Midwest, who aptly named it for it’s red soil. From that sprang a town full of Victorian homes, old money, and a marvelous outdoor theatre scene. But also sprang from it perhaps a brilliant TV show.
So, moving forward I’m going to attempt to trace “Cheers’” roots from Redlands to Boston and back to Hollywood. As a writer myself, you take from places and events in your life and exaggerate to make things interesting. There must be something of Redlands in “Cheers.” I mean listen to the theme song for crying out loud, “sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.” The Charles’ were in a small town during their undergrad years, those aspects just like being an outsider in New England holds true to Redlands. There’s a connection here and I am determined to find it.
As a blog about media it seems impossible not too discuss politics especially when TV has given us two presidents within the last 40 years, Reagan and GE and Trump. Like I say in this article if you don't like the channel please free to change it.
"Bill, Milo, the extreme left, the 1st Amendment, and what the hell happened to my damn remote?!" February 19. 2017
By: Lucas Cuny, MFA
“This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it's nothing but wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful,” Edward R. Murrow.
If this latest entry into this blog seems as though I’m summoning my inner P.J. O’Rourke, you are correct! It is mostly due to the fact that I find myself missing P.J. right now. One of my favorite reads from him, “Don’t Vote: It Only Encourages the Bastards,” seems to be a reality with the ‘cheeto in chief ‘ and now his regime is really encouraged. Look at what those Dixie-crats are up to now, oops, I mean republicans. Here we stand with these two political parties so driven by their extremes, that the great middle that moves this country forward is shut out and now we are even getting testy with one another. Fights with your right of center friend on Facebook, getting blocked by a sibling, to annoying all your other friends, because it seems the rational voices that make this country strong are punch drunk. I’m going to do my best to explain this here and now.
How did we get to this point? Well I, for one, blame Richard Millhouse Nixon, part 1 of the descent from conservatives of Teddy Roosevelt and Eisenhower (Ike) into pandering party of white European angst, which got their prominence from Nixon’s southern strategy. See, tricky Dick was the first republican who realized that if I go after disenfranchised southern whites, I might have a chance at being elected. He was also the first to say, “I’m the law and order candidate.” What he figured out is that there is a segment of the nation that really hate the events after 1861, because that meant the nation was really going to try to live by the idea of all being equal, and that does not sit will with European marauders who like it when it is just the men who are in charge and the rest of the country is in bondage. But I ask you, does that rationale work at home? If not for our more nurturing tendencies, our homes would be a disaster, men in general are well, impulsive, and get injured easily. As we see with the current regime beyond physical injury, so to do ego’s feel pain. But those damn progressives in the Republican Party from 1861 to 1960 sought to instill federal authority to fight for the union first then for equal protection under the law. That pesky progressive Ike sent troops to Arkansas so kids could dare to go to school. The north prevailed, but equality does not prevail. So some powers that be, Nixon mainly felt enough angry white people would vote against social equality. These poor and disenfranchised, were mad about- the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and any movement in general that seems to keep them living in some sort of squallier. Nixon creates the politics of ‘us verse them’ and he won. So a feeling remains among that portion of the electorate they bought into the politics of old Tricky Dick, who let them know, sure you might be poor white trash, but at least your white.
As it does, time marches onward, inflation increases, we are in a national crisis, "I’m still mad as hell and no one seems to speak my language." Like a cowboy he played in movies, here comes ol’ Ronnie riding his white horse into the national scene, but this time he’s not promoting General Electric, but a city on the hill. He seems to be a compassionate conservative. Look, it is grandpa and he just wants to show you how to fish so you can eventually fish for yourself. The best way to do that, he tells us, to cut taxes to an extreme amount on the rich because they will make more money and so will all of you. Gee that sounds really good. What no one wants to realize is what Ike knew, to keep the corporate big wigs at bay, they had to pay their fair share at about 90%. So the party of Ike is now the party of Nixon in the person of Reagan, and we’re going to give you law and order and more money. We are also going to give you back some states rights. So you don’t really have to maintain certain percentages of the schools that are more equitable, you can segregate again, just don’t tell anyone that’s what we’re doing. Blame the bad inner city schools on the crumbling cities and the crack cocaine epic. So let’s double down on this drug problem through harsher criminal penalties and keep folks separate as much as possible. While we continue in our new prohibition, never mind that history shows us that prohibition doesn’t work, but like an insane person, we will keep doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result. While the rest of the civilized world looks at drugs as a health issue, we will keep it criminal and save our country and lock up all those bad people who use and sell it. Well, I don’t want to get too far into this rabbit hole, go watch the film “The 13th.”
So all of this brings us to part three, the current regime that sits in the White House now. You know what they said, “to heck with the niceties of part two, we’re going to be dirtier and trickier than part one”. So it seems fitting to quote a comic book villain at the inauguration. And what did they tap into, the southern strategy that is now all the way up to Idaho. That’s right, the place where we get our potatoes has become an enclave for white nationalists and are we surprised, we all saw that electoral map in November. So we have two nations it seems, one that knows the economy has changed and will never go back to 1850-1861, and the other that wishes it could. So part three figured out that they would sell a post civil war economy to their base and hoped enough people would be districted by emails that they wouldn’t notice their basic rights coming under siege. (Freedom of the press, social security and medicaid privatized, and your new health care, etc.)
God I got really long winded in this one, you saw Milo and Bill in the title and were like “When the heck does he get to those two?” Okay, maybe about here. Somewhere as progressives marched for everyone’s rights and got big sweeping justice laden pieces of legislation written something happened and the that's where we might have lost the message battle, the left attached free speech they got persnickety about language. I’m not going to try to be George Carlin here, cause only George can be George. But progressives deemed that we are really offensive to one another, and our language needs to change. We need to be sensitive to everyone ‘s feelings. So instead of talking about our diversity we devised a way to disguise it so it makes those of us that like everyone feel good, and those that don’t like everyone feel insecure. The insecurity leads to anger, and finally shows up as hate. So now, the poor whites feel like this, “while you’re fighting for Kaitlin to pee in the ladies room, I still don’t have a darn job, so to heck with the whole thing I’m voting for part three, ‘the cheeto regime’.” So now here’s where we get to Bill and Milo, sounds like a cute Disney movie I suppose.
Because of our new “safe language”, a comedian so subversive as Jerry Seinfeld does not feel comfortable playing at a college campus. Bill Maher, for all is failings as a human being, along with Howard Stern and other satirists, have sat on the progressive side saying “stop attacking language, we love to use it to make points about the ridiculousness of hate, if you keep up the attack on language and freedom of speech, you’re going to lose an election.” So, what happened? People said, “Yeah I’m going to vote for the guy that says whatever he wants, he expresses himself honestly.” So Milo, a provocateur, goes on Bill’s show, they find common ground on what needs to be a progressive issue always the 1st Amendment. But some of us are outraged cause this guy Milo’s speech can cross lines. But did we get this mad when Jerry Springer had David Duke on all those years ago; no, I don’t think we did. Duke actually went out to physically hurt people as the leader of the KKK. Milo just uses words and we take the bait every time from folks like Milo then we create “safe zones”.
We also get mad at Bill because he criticizes Islam, albeit not the most eloquently at times, but remember his first job, comedian-satirist. But the point I feel he tries to make is that we criticize our fringe western religious folks when they show up at soldiers’ funerals with banners that they say “God Hates Fags”, or we criticize radical Christians when they murder abortion doctors, so why are we not allowed to criticize the extremes of Islam? This, I think, is Bill’s point about Islam. So we claim a social evolution behind clever language that doesn’t hurt feelings, but in that we fail to move our society forward and we just offend people either way because we point fingers like a left wing church lady. We cannot be safe out in public, go home to be safe. When you’re at home or in your car, I implore you to use discretion when listening or watching certain programs. If you don’t like what’s on the radio, turn the station, because you may not agree with it. But if the speech isn’t dangerous, just offensive or annoying, it is allowed. When Milo gets booked somewhere, don’t show up, or show up, as our last POTUS suggested, listen to what they have to say and then when appropriate, question and challenge it. If you don’t like Bill, grab your remote and switch it to something maybe on CBS, their shows tend not be offensive, unless Charlie Sheen is on.
Super Bowl a Metaphor for an Election
By: Lucas Cuny, MFA
So the 51st Super Bowl has come and gone. To paraphrase “Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome,” two teams entered, but one team left. The Super Bowl is a media event and as I sit here on my train into LA for work, I think the Monday after should also be a national holiday. Because no one is going to do anything today, from either being hung over, tired, or as a big fan of football myself, look up my favorite team and see just how, maybe they could finally win again.
As I watched last night with some of my friends, for us there was a glaring difference between this Super Bowl and others. For me, that difference reared it’s ugly head Friday night during “Real Time with Bill Maher”. During his final commentary, he brought up the fact that Tom Brady, the Quarterback of the Super Bowl Champs New England Patriots, was an early supporter of Donald J. Trump, sporting a make America Great again cap. Maher rightly picked up with an immediate visual of Brady with his Super Model wife that his life was already great.
This feeling, though in my small, cramped apartment, was as if we were watching election night all over again. Because not only does the Patriots quarterback support this president, but the head coach, and the owner are avid supports as well. It’s a pandemic in New England. It is like when I asked a friend not too long ago about the Midwest that vastly went for Trump, who like me is a native of Indiana, “when the hell did we start liking people from New York?” I still remember with Fondness the Reggie Miller and Spike Lee feud. Then New England folks supporting something from New York, it is as shocking as the election itself. Last night I had slightly hoped would be a vindication.
The lowly Atlanta Falcons would shock the world. On one side of the stadium sat VP Mike Pence, rooting it seemed for New England and the other side, John Legend, rooting for Atlanta. Then the game starts. Atlanta went up fast, it appeared that it could be at least a solid win and possibly a blow out of the mighty New England Patriots. But Tom Brady drove his time to a 5th Super bowl and, of course, the president it seemed was there to gloat.
I take solace though in the fact that, that was the POTUS’ only thing to cheer about this week as a Federal Judge shut down the Ban and more and more of my fellow countrymen were shouting down his beliefs and actions. So let this unhappy, unruly man have a moment of happiness because he has another long week ahead of him. So enjoy this win POTUS, because if the resistance has anything to do with it, it will be one of your few wins moving forward, and the American People will win despite you. #RESIST
The OA: The first Binge Experience that I was like, “Ehh” 01/19/2017
by: Lucas Cuny, Slate Inc. Founder
At the start of the new year, I completed watching two new Netflix programs: “Cinco”, Jim Gaffigan’s 5th comedy special and their series, “The OA.”
In Gaffigan’s special he comments on the phenomenon of binge watching. The act of getting through hours of television in a day or a week, depending on your pace, and your desire to a have a life outside of your living room. The pitfall, of course, is the amount of time you invest on something that may lack in quality. You’ve spent 8 hours on something you kind of feel like you have to finish it. That’s how I felt with “The OA."
The first episode really gets you hooked right away when you see a woman jump out of a moving car and jump off a bridge seemingly plummeting to her death in the river below. She lives, miraculously, and it is discovered that this young woman has been missing for about 7 years. Her vigilant parents watch the footage of this event that of course is captured on YouTube and recognize their lost daughter. So immediately there’s a strong hook with this show, what causes this woman to jump off this bridge? Well, we find out eventually that she’s been held captive over these past 7 years. Already the show incorporates some timely elements, YouTube and abductions. Certainly with the story of folks like Elizabeth Smart and others in the zeitgeist, the shows opening moments capture those types of feelings and anxieties well.
As the show progresses, it reveals the layers of an onion that make our main character, Prairie. Those parents that waited for her return are indeed her adoptive parents and Prairie is actually the daughter of a powerful Russian Oligarch. But because of threats to him, he had to send her off to America. Oh yeah and at an early age Prairie had a near death experience (NDE). Through this experience as a young child, she loses her sight. Years later when she returns and her parents see her, she also sees them for the first time as her sight has mysteriously returned since her abduction. The remainder of the show’s story lines center on some high school students and one of their teachers. How these folks become connected is somewhat unexplained. The angry high school student, Steve, who sells ritalin and other over the counter narcs to fellow students, meets Prairie and becomes physical with her as she stands up for one of his customers.As Steve tries to push her around she touches him like Christopher Walken in ‘The Dead Zone’ and immediately this agro high school student becomes a disciple of Prairie who wants him to get 4 others to join her for some sort of circle group. Through this group she reveals her backstory, tells complete strangers how she got imprisoned by some sort of mad scientist whose studies NDE and is with a group of others who also had an NDE.
This is where the show midway through jumps its own shark. At first, the story starts off as an interesting ‘who done it’ with deconstructing the effects of being held captive. Then, all of the sudden, the supernatural creeps up and all these NDE patients may have powers they never realize they had. I lost interest the moment they started making “movements” that they believe send them to another dimension and the movements look like some sort of weird cross of Yoga and Pilates. Apparently these “movements” can heal and/or resurrect life. Of course, the show ends with the cliffhanger, did Prairie make all this up to protect her psyche from the trauma of an abduction, or does she really have super powers? When the tone of the show shifted from believable drama about the trauma of abduction to some sort of supernatural show about the existence of angels, yes “The OA” stands for the Original Angel, then it lost me. I wanted to see the journey of the folks locked up and how one of them escapes and maybe works toward finding the others. With last year’s “Room”, seems Netflix thought of capturing that kind of energy but became more interested in cannibalizing the success of “Stranger Things,” with “The OA.”
This show signifies, of course, just because a piece of film, tv, or streaming entertainment or whatever we call it exists, does not make it good. It is okay for not all of these shows to work and it is also okay to not finish them. We need sub par art, because at least through Netflix and Amazon adults are given art to consume, the same cannot always be said of the adult theater experience. So maybe it’s like a bad novel you get started but realize it is kind of “ehh” and just read the last chapter then move onto the next book. “The OA,” seems to fall in the trap that M. Night falls into after the “6th Sense,” everything he did after that had to be a cultural landmark. I think when an artist sets out to make a cultural landmark they produce mediocre stories. Just set out to make great work. So congrats to the streaming world you've hit mediocrity, you are now a legit art form. Type your paragraph here.
"America, Flags, Beer, Movies, and McDonalds."
By: Lucas Cuny, MFA - 01/26/2017
On Saturday January 21st, I joined thousands in the Inland Empire and millions across the world in a defiant stand for women’s rights and a stand against a ego maniacal president. Yeah, I went there. It was actually a beautiful day all said, March against tyranny, followed by some Mexican food, a local brewery, then a film, all together a great Saturday. Only in America.
As strange as things are currently in the United States, I got to enjoy two things that are nearly recession proof industries: entertainment and beer. Anecdotally, of course, during the recession the brewery that I would frequent in the Inland Empire at that time, Hanger 24, was always full and busy. The film industry also during that time also kept making movies and kept making money, especially with emerging digital markets and the advancement of streaming services. See, these two industries know something that some do not realize: America moves forward and innovates, we do not go backwards.
That is certainly the case when you consider the film I viewed on that Saturday in my celebration of America, “The Founder.” The story of the rise of McDonalds or rather how a persistent, greedy man stole a family business and used that name to become a real estate mogul. McDonalds the restaurant started in San Bernardino California by two brothers named McDonald, Mac and Dick. If I was to summarize their situation when Ray Croc (Michael Keaton) meets them, I’d used my Col. Aldo Ray’s voice from “Inglorious Bastards,” cause as he said about killing Nazi’s, “business was a booming.” So much so that the brothers wanted to buy 8 of Ray’s milk shake mixers. This drove Croc to take old Route 66 all the way to San Bernardino and see what these two were up to.
Prior to his arrival at the McDonald’s, a wonderful montage is built that illustrates the inconvenience, long waits, and inconsistency of drive up diners along America’s highway systems in the early 1950s. When Ray arrives in San Bernardino, food is ready in thirty seconds and the order is accurate. Also, Ray found that the burger was one of the best (he obviously did not stick around So Cal long enough to try an In N Out burger). Introductions are made and Ray sees the entire operation and the innovative style of the brothers to bring you a food order in thirty seconds.
Up until this time, Ray’s existence was that of a slightly more successful version of Willy Loman (Death of Salesman). A door to door salesman floundering to hit it big. Ray is in his early 50’s when the film starts, a spot where most might consider retirement. Ray still had that desire to make a big mark, and he feels he will with McDonalds. He gets the brothers to agree to franchise their restaurant and Ray coincidently opens his McDonald’s Number 1 in Illinois. Stores open across the Midwest, but Ray struggles to make his mark let alone a fortune. The points of his initial contract with the brothers in San Bernardino don’t allow him the type of growth he wants, he figures out through a *herald in the story, that if he buys the land the restaurants are built on, he can make more money and gain control of McDonalds.
The brothers initially are hesitant to go in on the franchise concept, but Ray is a snake oil huckster and sells them on the idea. He explains to them that McDonalds can be as American as the flag and church steeples he sees as he drives through the United States in every small town. This imagery is important for Americans. We like our standards: the pick up truck, the church, the flag, and, just as Ray thought, we would love McDonalds too.
Even though McDonald’s stock actually lost value a couple of years ago it is now as implanted in America as Flags, Churches, movies, and beer. But that is the wonders of the pluralistic culture we live in today, there is something for everyone. I’m now a total Southern Californian, even though I’m a midwestern implant. My fast food experiences consists of walk up Mexican food or In N Out. I cannot remember the last time I went to McDonald’s but it’s been since W’s last term.
Certainly when I saw the ego and drive of Ray Croc in the film, I couldn’t help but think about the person we just elected to the highest office in the land. Someone that often worked to attract the everyman when all the while he was just looking to make money off their backs. Keaton’s performance amazes and you cannot help to be engaged by his characterization. I remember when he stopped playing Batman his idea was that he did not want to get pigeon holed in that role, well I think since his career reinvention with “Birdman”, “Spotlight,”, and now “The Founder.” He can now safely reclaim his post in the comic book movie world. It is because of this that he understands reinvention that he can play it as well as he does in “The Founder.” America after all is the land of reinvention.
*FootnoteHerald as defined by Joseph Campbell in his writings on the Hero’s Journey define this as a character archetype that issues challenges to the main character.