High Concepts

Photo by Artem Podrez from Pexels

My wife and I recently bought a shelf and unpacked our DVDs and Blu-rays. Physical media seems a little quaint in this day and age, but there’s something really cool about seeing all those spines arranged in alphabetical order. A variety of fonts and colors. Lots of good memories in those cases, and a few things that you can’t reliably stream on demand.

This afternoon, while sitting on the couch and pondering those DVDs and Blu-rays, a fun little game occurred to me. A twist on the classic “[movie] meets [movie]” formula, using adjoining cases. Totally arbitrary, and definitely limited by the 250 or so titles that remain in our collection after occasional pruning.

Okay, Hollywood! I have some boffo socko ideas for you. Call my agent, we’ll do lunch:

The Edge meets Ed Wood

Imagine a low-budget film crew taking a really shitty charter flight somewhere to shoot a crappy sci-fi movie. The plane crashes in the middle of nowhere, no one knows where they are. Night one, as everyone huddles together for warmth, our enthusiastic yet not-terribly-talented director hammers out a new screenplay. Gone is the sci-fi–this is a survival story! All they need is an appropriate threat for the starlet to deal with. Cue the bear.

Josie and the Pussycats meets The Karate Kid

A transfer student tries to join the school jazz band, but lacks the chops. The other musicians bully him. He meets an old musician (think Tommy Chong as a Keith Richards-type) who takes him under his wing and teaches him how to shred. The student forms a band of other misfits, and they take on the jazz band at the All-Valley Battle of the Bands.

The Lost Boys meets Magic Mike

This may be the best one. What if Magic Mike and the boys were all vampires? They’re already creatures of the night. Stunt cast someone like Kiefer Sutherland to play the Matthew McConaughey head vampire/emcee role. Our Alex Pettyfer/Jason Patric-type is the new dancer, brought in and turned by someone with all the charisma of Vampire Lestat and Channing Tatum. (Bonus points if you can get the great Tim Cappello on the soundtrack!)

Romancing the Stone meets The Room

Did I say the last one was the best one? Ha ha ha, what a story, Mark! What should be a fairly straight forward, big budget adventure/romance has a decidedly odd, borderline Adult Swim-esque treatment. Get weird. Cast Nick Kroll in the Kathleen Turner role and Kate McKinnon in the Michael Douglas role. Make it incredibly anti-romantic. Same basic structure: prolific self-published erotica writer has to find some lost relic to save his sister. Wackiness ensues.

Second Cherry Revision

person-using-typewriter-1448709
Photo by Min An from Pexels

The boring, unglamorous work of screenwriting
Seems, to me, a fitting metaphor for being human.
The bits and pieces of ideas, snippets of dialogue,
Coalesce into a rough draft. Notes from trusted eyes
Clean up the zealous, adolescent narrative
And over time we’re ready to present the “White Draft.”

Decisive black letters on crisp white paper.

But as the demands of production come in,
As roles are cast and locations secured,
As the dialogue between writer and director continues,
Pages are rewritten.

To make things easier, only the edited pages are replaced.
As this process continues, if you follow the WGA pattern,
You wind up with a sheaf of rainbow-colored pages
(At least metaphorically, since no one prints on cherry-red paper)

Clunky dialogue is replaced.
Leaps of logic, cleaned up.
Plot holes, filled.
Extraneous nonsense, removed, replaced by all-caps OMITTED.
But many early words are retained. The heart of the story, retained.

Every now and then, you see a finished movie
That clearly needed another draft.
Every now and then, a page-one rewrite is called for.
Sometimes a screenplay goes into turnaround,
And new partners are found to work with.

But here’s where the metaphor breaks down:
Most screenplays don’t benefit from change.
They gather dust in a pile of other abandoned screenplays
Or worse, are tossed in the trash, forgotten, irrelevant.
While the ones that get made are forever fixed in one form.

That’s not you. That’s not me.
There are further revisions to be made.
Further revisions are being made, all the time.
What pages are you on?

Going All-In on David Pumpkins

David_S._Pumpkins_dance

I was slow to the David S. Pumpkins party. I haven’t really watched an episode of Saturday Night Live in at least a decade, finally succumbing to that stage of life where you find yourself tut-tutting, “the show isn’t as good as it used to be.” I don’t know these kids on SNL, and damn are they annoying. (I’ll be yelling at a cloud next.)

I was in a burlesque show with my wife, a tribute to the great Tom Hanks. All Tom Hanks-inspired acts. My wife and I did a little duet inspired by The ‘Burbs. This was one of the last shows we did in Los Angeles before the big move, in February, a decidedly un-Halloween time of year.

The last act of this particular show was typically an improvised striptease to a randomly chosen song. This time, they sprung David S. Pumpkins on the unsuspecting crowd. It’s difficult to put into words exactly how they pulled off a striptease version of David S. Pumpkins, and I’d hate to deny your imagination the chance to run with the concept. All I can say is, it was baffling and hilarious.

Naturally, the wife and I immediately searched out the clip of David S. Pumpkins from SNL. It was as baffling and hilarious as we could have hoped. Later that year, SNL broadcast the animated David S. Pumpkins special, and we were in stitches for days. Reviewers were not so kind to the special, but I sincerely hope it becomes a holiday staple. (Ironically, the chief complaint seemed to be that SNL went “all-in on David Pumpkins.”)

Mass-Produced Novelty

Why my devotion? Because David S. Pumpkins is the embodiment of everything wrong with Halloween. Whether intentional or not, Bobby Moynihan, Mikey Day, and Streeter Seidell created a scorching satire of the over-trendiness of Halloween. It’s always been a commercial holiday, at least as long as I’ve been alive, but sometime around the turn of the millennium, Halloween became truly manic.

Halloween became blowing out your house decorations with “Hollywood” special effects, sexy version of everything costumes, Spirit Halloween Stores popping up like toadstools after a rainstorm, and the haunted house mazes–MY GOD THE HAUNTED HOUSE MAZES!!!

And yet, with all the mania, there is a certain generic quality that has creeped in. I think it started before the 2000s. From the late 70s into the 80s, filmmakers gave us idiosyncratic icons of horror. Freddy Krueger, Jason, Michael Myers, Pinhead, Chucky, Killer Klowns. They had their own verisimilitude, and a commitment to high concept that sometimes defied any attempt at logic.

1996 rolled around, and Wes Craven, one of the great filmmakers of that movement towards whimsical horror gave us a new nightmare: Ghostface of Scream. A boogeyman born from an off-the-rack, unlicensed, generic halloween mask. Don’t get me wrong, it’s brilliant. Scream is brilliant. But, it heralded the place we find ourselves today, where the same person who begged their parents to help them make a dinosaur costume in the 80s can casually drop $60 at Walmart for an inflatable T-rex costume.

I hope this doesn’t come off as cynical. I do adore the absolute nonsense that lines the racks this time of year. I can browse a Spirit store for hours, marveling at the quality of the wares, and the assortment of costumes and props both licensed and clearly not licensed while obviously that thing from that show everyone knows. I also never get tired of sexy version of everything costumes.

As much as I adore the novelty, it’s a mass-produced novelty. Novelty in bulk. Penn Jillette once opined that “Halloween is for amateurs.” He’s not wrong. At the same time, “amateur” literally means “someone who does something for the love of it.” Love is good, and I would never look askance at those who are enjoying themselves.

The Spirit of Party City Halloween

I do reserve the right to find Halloween mania ridiculous, however, and in David S. Pumpkins, I have a new sort of idiosyncratic icon. This icon is born of the mass-produced novelty that has sanded off Halloween’s edge. He has no carefully crafted backstory. He’s his own thing, man. His motives are inscrutable. His sidekicks are “part of it.” He is the spirit of Party City Halloween.

Pumpkins and his two skeleton friends are as off-the-rack as you can get, like amateurish, postmodern descendants of Ghostface. They fully commit to the gag in a way reminiscent of the transcendent scenery-chewing you could rely on from Robert Englund. The anti-humor of Pumpkins is an echo of the absurdity of 80s comedy horror, from the Evil Dead flicks to Killer Klowns. By somehow bridging the gap between bespoke horror and mass-produced novelty, David S. Pumpkins is also the embodiment of everything right with Halloween.

He can be enjoyed ironically and unironically at the same time. It’s a joke we’re all in on– that might not actually be a joke. It’s ephemera of substance. A straightforward paradox. I’ve gone all-in on David Pumpkins.

Any questions?

Hollywood Burlesque Festival!

Image

Tonight begins the First Annual Hollywood Burlesque Festival. I’m proud to say my wife and I are among the few who have been involved in this shindig since the very beginning. The culmination of years of efforts hits the stage at the Hayworth Theater in Hollywood mere hours from now.

Last night a group of us paid a visit to one of the Festival’s sponsors, the inimitable Richard Simmons. We presented him with a pair of Snapper-built burlesque fans as a thank you for all his generosity:

1496287_10201731361618613_1639646710_o

I absolutely adore Uncle Dickie. There are few people I have met who are as unabashedly caring and giving. He’s pretty much the top.

Tonight Red Snapper performs, and tomorrow night, Mr. Snapper & Mr. Buddy take the stage. There’s something like 200 performers from around the world performing this weekend through Monday night. (I exaggerate, but only slightly.)

There may still be tickets available. If you can make it out, do so!