American Zoetrope: 827 Folsom, San Francisco

Original ZoetropeI’ve developed an interest in spaces where a shit ton of creativity went down – then poof! – they’re gone. Maybe they moved, maybe the money ran dry or the place was overrun by cossacks, or hipsters or something. In the Bay Area there were hundreds of such places around the dot-com boom/bust, however, none have the provenance of say, 827 Folsom Street in San Francisco – the original site of American Zoetrope. The initial incarnation of filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola’s Hollywood-north premise was something of a hippie haven and, predictably, crashed and burned before being reborn in its present (and better functioning) form in Northbeach’s Sentinel Building. SF Weekly’s Sherilyn Connelly wrote an interesting piece about 827 Folsom (apparently a “legendary gay bathhouse” prior to Coppola’s tenancy), in which she appropriately dubs the joint “The City’s First Dot-Com.”
Continue reading “American Zoetrope: 827 Folsom, San Francisco”

5 Beatles Movies That Should Never Be Made

Beatles Movies

In the two years since Disney pulled the plug on director Robert Zemeckis’ long-gestating, 3-D, CGI redux of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, the filmmaker has finally grown philosophical about the project. “That would have been a great one to bring the Beatles back to life,” the director told Total Film Magazine. “But it’s probably better not to be remade – you’re always behind the 8-ball when you do a remake.”

That said, it’s impossible not to imagine what a new Beatles flick might be like. Now that Zemeckis is out, who might pick up the mantle for a new Beatle-inspired film? Me.

Should one be made? Well, to quote John Lennon’s “Strawberry Fields,” “I think I know, I mean a yes but it’s all wrong, that is I think I disagree.” Equivocating aside, here are some Beatle-ly pitches I just made up …

1. Paul is Undead

Paul is UndeadThink Eddie and the Cruisers meets Night of the Living Dead. Inspired by the infamous “Paul is Dead” meme of 1966, this supernaturally-enriched fable assumes that Paul was indeed killed in a suspicious car wreck and was replaced by a double/government puppet for reasons only known to MI5, MI6 and Number 9. Forty-years later, a couple of occultist uber-fans locate the real Paul’s tomb and bring him back from the dead. The plan was to have zombie Paul help solve his murder and avenge his death. What he really wants to do, however, is mount a comeback tour. Before his limbs fall off. Note: Just learned there’s a version of this title for Kindle with an actual movie in the works!

2. A Spaniard in the Works: the Movie

A Spaniard in the WorksAdaptation meets Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Among the books thought impossible to translate to the screen are James Joyce’s Ulysses, the dictionary and, I surmise, anything written by John Lennon. Given his surreal word play and avoidance of traditional narrative, it might be best to steal a page from screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s playbook and create a “meta” story that conveys a screenwriter’s frustration with making Lennon’s pithy doggerel and surreal pen and ink drawings screen-worthy. Total running time: six minutes – two on titles, four spent on the writer lying on a couch, one on end-credits. The entire budget will be spent on licensing the music rights to “Act Naturally” so Aimee Mann can do a crappy cover of it.

3. Imagine in Imax 3-D

ImagineInspired by the Fluxus art movement of which Yoko Ono was a prominent personality, Imagine in Imax 3-D draws from Lennon’s lyrical motif, “Imagine there’s no …” but takes it to the nth degree when it asks audiences to “Imagine there’s no movie,” which is easy if you try since the film exists only as a work of conceptual art. With a $300 million budget. Critics will heap piles of imaginary praise upon it and you can stream it right now on Netflix by closing your eyes.

4. Ringo Unchained

Back to the Future meets A Fist Full of Dollars. Ringo activates an experimental time machine and ends up touring the antebellum South in a medicine show led by Klaus Voormann. Meanwhile, the aberrations Ringo caused in the timeline find Paul dumping “Sgt. Pepper’s” in favor of a pirate musical (“Capt. Blueheart’s Sing-A-Long Sailor Brigade”) and John quits the band to work on his existential memoir “Nowhere, Man.”

5. Yellow Submarine 2: Dude, Where’s My Submarine?

Yellow SubmarineThe Blues Brothers meets the Hunt for Red October. The Beatles “get the band back together” when the Lord Mayor of Pepperland learns Blue Meanies have built a submarine of their own – one loaded with nuclear warheads. And it’s headed toward Pepperland. Reluctantly drawn back into the fray, the Beatles salvage their sub, overcome interpersonal conflicts and set off to thwart the vessel. Given his facility for wordplay, John handily decrypts an intercepted message and realizes that the killer sub’s captain is actually trying to defect to Pepperland. No one believes him. It turns out all you need is love and thermonuclear devices to conquer your fears and pretty much everything else.

3 Creative Lessons a 24 Hour Musical Can Teach You

One Night Stand
My daily schedule is a minefield of playdates, meal-makings and writing deadlines. But in no particular order. And with little consistency week to week, despite the valiant efforts of my editors to at least get my column in on time. They could put me on a train in Mussolini’s Italy with an Underwood under my fingers and a gun to my head and I’d still file late.

Consequently, if I want to explore my creative side, I have to do it quickly – in the few minutes I can steal between missing a deadline and picking my kid up from Ollie’s (which sounds like a bar now that I think about it). Thusly, I’ve become a fan of time-constrained creative events like National Novel Writing Month (been there) and 24-Hour film festivals (done that).

Sure, haste makes waste, but one person’s waste is another’s art (and if you don’t believe that you weren’t paying attention to the National Endowment for the Arts in the 80s – “Piss Christ” anyone?).

I recently learned of another way to contort the art-time continuum – the 24-hour musical. And like everything else in my life, I learned from the movies.

Directed by Elisabeth Sperling and Trish Dalton, “One Night Stand: Creating a Play in a Day,” is a snappy, 90-minute documentary peek behind the curtain of one of the New York theater scene’s greatest innovations – the 24-Hour Musical. In it, writers, composers, lyricists and performers work through the night to create a script, music and lyrics and learn lines then open (and close!) their production in a single evening. What can musical theater with the lifespan of a fruit fly teach you?

1. Work with What You’ve Got

Among the many obstacles creative types put in their own way, is focusing on what they don’t have. Time, tech or tuppence are the big three, but the 24-Hour Musical proves that creative gold can be spun from a tight deadline and little more than one’s talent and a prop or two. In the case of the musical, the creators brought various items to inspire them, from a zoot suit to a pop-up phobia book. It worked. As did the talented cast, many of whom are recognizable working class actors better known as, “you know, that guy from that movie.” It serves to remind that you don’t need marquee names to do something interesting, just the will to do it.

2. Avoid Toxic People

Rachel Dratch… Or more specifically, avoid Rachel Dratch. And people like her. The Saturday Night Live alumnus was among the 20-strong cast of the 24 Hour Musical and damn near torpedoed the efforts of her team by insisting that her song be rewritten no fewer than six times. This kind of insecure, prima donna foot-stamping is hostile to achievement no matter how low the stakes. Creative collaborations are probably the second most satisfying form of human interaction (you could do the first most satisfying form of human interaction over the course of 24 hours too, but you might not ever walk the same). Try to avoid those whose ego-needs eclipse the esprit de corps of your project. And if this is you – stop it.

3. Iterate Quickly

In terms of producing a “minimum viable product,” the works the four creative teams created in the course of a single spin of the earth are exemplary. Here’s the deal – I’d venture to say that the result differs little from a draft that might otherwise have taken months to create. When I recently braved a peek at the opus that resulted from NaNoWriMo last November, I was pleased to find that it was no worse (and often better) than the kind of first attempts that once took me years to complete. The upshot? Work fast, fix it later. Better to have something janky with which to work (or even share) than be bridled by your own perfectionism.

Two themes arose in the post-show audience interviews that conclude One Night Stand: A) They were impressed and surprised by the quality of the entertainment and B) Some were inspired to attempt something similar themselves.

What could you do in 24 hours? Build Rome? I dare you.

• • •

Eating Glass

Eat GlassI occasionally use Help A Reporter Out when looking for leads, experts for interviews or, as often, to gin up some press for a pal or a project. It is one of the bright spots the Digital Age has wrought upon the media, though it can also remind me where it’s all gone wrong. Like when this happens: “Do you eat glass?” and “Do you eat dog or cat food? National talk show is currently seeking people who eat dog or cat food! We want to hear from you as soon as possible!”
These HARO requests came courtesy of Amanda R. for an unnamed national talk show. Some triangulation between IMDBpro and LinkedIn, however, indicates that she’s an associate producer on the Dr. Oz Show. Yes, Oz the great and powerful. It got me thinking (if I only had a brain) that if corporate prankster activists the Yes Men can get themselves booked for bogus interviews, perhaps I could do the same. I responded: Continue reading “Eating Glass”