Why We Write: From Bylines to Blue Streaks

Last year, a colleague of mine at the Future Journalism Project (a collective of reporters, editors and documentarians exploring “disruption, opportunity and innovation in journalism”) received a reader query that asked: “What is it about journalism that you love? Why did you become a journalist?”

The FJP’s brain-trust, Michael Cervieri, turned the question over to his various contributors, as well as to journalists on Twitter, which resulted in a panoply of answers that you can look up with the hash-tag #whyjournalism, and at futurejournalismproject.com. Most responses trended toward the heartfelt, expressing a desire to manifest change and better the world.

“I love journalism because, by design, it’s an exercise in sustained learning,” wrote Andrew Nusca of CBS. “Because to change the world, journalism is an immediate ‘short-term weapon,’” Jayel Aheram opined.

Continue reading “Why We Write: From Bylines to Blue Streaks”

How to Make an Indie Film in Sonoma

I have an iPhone app called “Location Scout” that couples the device’s geo-location ability with the Internet Movie Database. What this means is that wherever I am, I can activate the app and instantly know what movies were shot there. On Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the app’s usefulness is well below, say, “potato salad,” which, frankly, isn’t even on the list. However, it can occasionally win a bet, solve an argument or brighten an otherwise dying conversation. In the case of Sonoma, California, however, it points to an interesting trend—one which I hope to address.

Daedalus Howell, writer-producer
When you activate Location Scout here in Wine Country, you’ll learn that bits of the teen-screamer I Know What Your Did Last Summer, and Rob Schneider’s reverse-anthropomorphic groaner The Animal, were shot here. Neither were great, nor do they utilize the fact that this is Wine Country. Of the two that did, 2008’s Bottle Shock and its predecessor by 13 years, A Walk in the Clouds, Sonoma was used as a double for our Wine Country rival Napa. More to the point, no film shot in Sonoma has ever been about Sonoma. So, I wrote one. Along the way, I learned why there aren’t any films about Sonoma–nothing terribly dramatic ever happens here and if it does, no one wants to talk about it. Consequently, I had to take some liberties. Many—perhaps too many. The result is something akin to Sideways meets Caddy Shack, with a little Karate Kid and Star Wars thrown in for good measure.

So here’s the set-up: When cocky Johnny Lee loses his job at the battery factory, he discovers testing nine-volt batteries with his tongue has turned him into a super-taster—someone who experiences the sense of taste with greater intensity than the average Joe. A wino with a past and a pretty tasting room manager believe Johnny’s raw talent can bring their Wine Country town a taste of victory at an international sommelier competition and best a corrupt businessman set on pumping in cheap plonk from out of state. Johnny’s learning curve, however, involves more than wine. He’s on a crash course in life and love and… You see where this is going, right? No? Okay, here’s a scene where I delicately crammed in all of the exposition.

A bistro. The place is abuzz with waitresses, waiters, patrons and commotion. Johnny Lee the 20-something super-taster and Drake Holiday, a charming rake and Wine Country magazine writer, huddle in a booth. A matronly waitress approaches.

WAITRESS: What’ll it be, boys?
HOLIDAY: The Sonoma scramble but easy on the Sonoma.
WAITRESS: We stopped serving breakfast three hours ago.
HOLIDAY: Remember Pearl Harbor?
WAITRESS: You mean World War Two?
HOLIDAY: (looks at watch) It’s still breakfast time in Hawaii, so let’s honor their sacrifice.
WAITRESS: (rolls eyes) And you?
JOHNNY: I’ll have the Sonoma Scramble too, but with extra Sonoma.
HOLIDAY: He can have my Sonoma.
Waitress absently nods and leaves the table.
JOHNNY: Thanks.
HOLIDAY: Least I can do. You gotta’n interesting story. A local entering the sommelier contest. Good underdog angle.
JOHNNY: Why does it have to be an underdog story.
HOLIDAY: Because you’re a townie. I don’t mean that in the pejorative sense. It’s just that —
JOHNNY: I’m a townie. It’s all right. I’m proud of being a Sonoman, born and raised.
HOLIDAY: And you’re in training?
JOHNNY: Start today.
HOLIDAY: Why would a master sommelier need to train?
JOHNNY: For starters, I’m not a master sommelier. I worked in the battery factory. Got canned. Met a wino and now I’m in training.
HOLIDAY: So it was a calling?
JOHNNY: I guess, you could say it was a calling.
HOLIDAY: Like that. Great quote.
JOHNNY: And I’m a super-taster.
HOLIDAY: (jotting; to himself) Has good taste. Who’s the wino?
JOHNNY: You shouldn’t call him a wino – he’s more of a wine enthusiast.
HOLIDAY: Hence, the bottle in the brown bag. If you’re a rich drunk you’re a wine enthusiast. If you sleep off your morning bender face-down in the Plaza, you’re a wino. Got a name?
JOHNNY: Charlie Laube.
(Holiday smiles incredulously, shakes his head.)
Funny, Johnny. Charlie Laube is your wino trainer. Who’s your bullshit trainer? Pinocchio?
JOHNNY: Now I’m nervous. Is Charlie a whack-job or something?
HOLIDAY: Oh, crap, you’re serious. Whack-job? Not at all. Well, actually, yes. But… he hasn’t told you his rap? The man lives in an abandoned wine cave, you didn’t think to ask why?
JOHNNY: I don’t know, figured he was a Yeti or something.
HOLIDAY: You mean Sasquatch. Yetis are Himalayan. And they don’t exist.
(The waitress returns with two steaming plates, that she unceremoniously drops on the table.)
JOHNNY: So what’s Charlie’s deal?
HOLIDAY: Charlie was once a major winemaker. Years ago. Had his own winery, vineyards, everything. He was at the Paris Tasting of ’76.
JOHNNY: Was that a big deal? I wasn’t born yet.
HOLIDAY: It was the first time a California wine beat a French wine in a blind tasting. It’s what Star Wars is based on.
JOHNNY: You’re kiddin’ me.
HOLIDAY: Oh, yeah. Bunch of rebel California winemakers take on the Death Star of winemaking in France. And blow it up. Star Wars is totally based on the Judgment of Paris. Came out a year to the day, my friend.
JOHNNY: Holy crap.
HOLIDAY: More importantly, it’s why there’s a wine industry in California and specifically, it’s why we have the biz in Sonoma. The French used to dominate.
JOHNNY: And they’re the Dark Side?
(Holiday nods, sagely.)
JOHNNY: And Charlie was there?
HOLIDAY: He was Luke Skywalker. For 15 minutes. Had great wine, rumor was he would’ve swept. But there was an issue. His partner was pissed his own name wasn’t on the label. When Charlie refused to put it there, the partner sabotaged the wine. With merde-mort.
(Holiday sips his coffee.)
JOHNNY: What the hell is merde-mort?
HOLIDAY: It’s French. Literally means “crap death.” It’s a fungus that smells so bad, they say if crap could die, that’s what it would smell like. He put it in the wine. The judges basically exiled Charlie from France.
JOHNNY: Holy crap.
HOLIDAY: Holy crap-death, Batman. Charlie pretty much gave up after that. Moved into the cave.
JOHNNY: And what happened to his partner?
HOLIDAY: Malvino?
JOHNNY: Malvino.
HOLIDAY: You know him?
JOHNNY: He just bought the battery factory.
HOLIDAY: Typical. He made millions bottling plonk and selling it to rich shitheads. Now he buys up independent wineries and puts his name on them. Batteries, eh? Ambition knows no bounds.
JOHNNY: What I don’t get is why Charlie just didn’t keep going. Who cares if he didn’t win a contest?
HOLIDAY: The man was destroyed. He was leveraged to the hilt, put everything into winning that thing—then gone. It was all taken away from him.
JOHNNY: What about the authorities? I mean that’s cheating, right?
HOLIDAY: What authorities? Brother, the world of wine is probably the most cutthroat game there is. They say blood is thicker than water, but wine is thicker than blood. I think Jesus said that.
JOHNNY: That’s why they have communion.
HOLIDAY: And that’s why they have communion.
JOHNNY: So, this thing is kind of bigger than just the contest?
HOLIDAY: Jesus? Yeah he’s huge.
JOHNNY: No, I mean, everything else…
HOLIDAY: Oh, yeah, right. It’s big. But you, you’re the big story. You’re a Pulitzer waiting to happen. This is an exclusive, right?

This scene, and the rest of Super-Taster, is presently moldering atop a studio executive’s desk in Hollywood. However, if that good ol’ indie spirit of the early ’90s happens to come back, you might just find me in the Plaza with a digital camera, a couple of maxed-out credit cards and a dream. The real quandary is who to cast as the dashing writer? It’s a role that demands complexity and subtlety and a certain je ne sais quoi, not to mention the ability to nonchalantly drop French phrases into one’s patois. Hmm. I’ll have to gaze into the mirror and think about it a while.

Via Sonoma Magazine

Daedalus Howell is the author, most recently, of I Heart Sonoma: How to Live & Drink in Wine Country. His films can be seen on YouTube. To request an investment kit for “Super-Taster,” email him at dhowell@fmrl.com.

Writers with Drinks Named After Them

Writers with Drinks Named After Them

Besides a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, those in the entertainment business are often honored with the dubious (or delicious) distinction of having a deli sandwich named after them. In the writing game – it’s a drink.

The reasons for this are manifold. There’s writers’ alleged propensity for alcoholism, of course, as well as the fact that most can only afford the liquid part of their lunch. In the rarefied world of delicatessens, sandwiches are the province of movie stars. And why wouldn’t they be? Both are in the business of hams and cheese.

So be it. Let move stars have their “glamwiches;” writers need stronger fare. I used to drink “pintos” at the girl and the fig, which was my coy term for a half-pint of beer. That is, until a Brazilian friend told me “pinto” was Portuguese slang for (insert term for male anatomy here) and berated the size of my glass. So, I switched to wine – magnums of it. Did I say, magnums? I meant jeroboams, Nebuchadnezzars. Anyway, after hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars spent, I have yet to get a proper drink named after me. Perhaps I need to die first. Of liver failure.

A fate worse than being a writer without a drink named for me would be sharing my byline with a non-alcoholic drink. For some, being in the company of cowboy crooner Roy Rogers, Shirley Temple and Arnold Palmer wouldn’t be so bad. To me it sounds simultaneously like the drinks menu and guest list at a cocktail party hosted in Hell. The menfolk would sip their dandy drinks whilst tossing horseshoes in a sand trap and that curly-headed kid would be tap-dancing all over the place on a grenadine-fueled sugar rush.

Some writers, however, win the drink-name-game. Kind of. Consider novelist Graham Greene who has his eponymous martini, the “Graham Greene.” It’s a variation on the traditional gin and dry vermouth with a dash of crème de cassis. Albeit, this concoction will likely raise an eyebrow when ordered anywhere but Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, where it will just as likely raise a glass to the author, who was a foreign correspondent in 1950s-era Vietnam (wherefrom his inspiration for “The Quiet American”). San Francisco Chronicle confederate Gary Regan tried to recreate a version of Greene’s namesake drink and was “sorely disappointed.”

San Francisco’s historic Northbeach hangout, Vesuvio, apparently serves a “Jack Keroauc,” which strikes me less as an homage to the erstwhile Beat writer than a cynical means of extracting cash from naive 20-somethings who crave “authentic” experiences to fail at writing about. The drink is comprised of rum, tequila and orange juice over ice, though I personally think they should throw in a Benzedrine inhaler. In fact, they should do away with the drink entirely and just serve the inhaler with a typewriter and Teletype roll so the kids can get all “Kerowhacky” before getting busted on narcotics charges.

This brings us to the so-called Hemingway Cocktail, which, according to TV chef Michael Chiarello, contains ruby red grapefruit, four additional grapefruit slices, sugar, vodka and simple syrup. First you juice the grapefruit into four glasses. Then you top each with a half ounce of vodka, followed by the simple syrup (to taste) and garnished with a grapefuit wedge that has been dipped in sugar. Then, I presume, you throwback all four resulting drinks and start rummaging your cabana for a shotgun. I mean GLASS – a shot glass – into which you pour a moderately priced rye whisky to wash away the taste of the four preceding cocktails and memories of Brett Ashley.

I’ll leave it to you, dear readers, to suggest a recipe for the Daedalian Howl. I will try them all, naturally.

Sign of the Times: FMRL Parking Edition

You know you’re legit when you not only have your own parking space but a big f-off sign saying so. Behold, the official FMRL Parking Sign. Now we no longer need to fight for parking with Danny Glover and his Carrie Productions, which, seriously, takes up 70% of the lot. Meh. Perhaps I’m just spiny because his crew hasn’t accepted my LinkedIn invitation to take on the Zaentz Media Center as the East Bay’s nexus of indie media-making. So be it, someday we will have TWO parking spaces and Carrie Productions’ parking lot domination will begin to crumble. Meanwhile, our street-parking initiative is in full-force ??soon you’ll have to sublet metered parking from us, for we are lords of space and time. Another hour, another dollar…

The Daily: Murdoch’s iPad Newspaper Can’t Wrap a Fish

For a media magnate whose empire first began to bubble in vats of newspaper ink, one might think launching the first of its kind iPad-only newspaper app would not be in their best interests. Unless, of course, the magnate is Rupert Murdoch of News Corp. whose vats runneth over ? and now with ones and zeroes.

Led by veteran newspaperman and editor-in-chief Jesse Angelo (late of the New?s Corp-owned New York Post), The Daily is being billed in-house as ?a category first: a tablet-native national news brand built from the ground up to publish original content exclusively for the iPad.? This one can glean from the new apps?s website (even apps have websites apparently) but that?s essentially where the new venture?s relationship with the web essentially ends. The Daily is meant to be consumed entirely within the sleek interface of Apple?s tablet phenom as a discrete standalone experience forged from words, images, video, infomatics and animations baked fresh daily and delivered piping hot direct to your iPad.

Sentimentalists wax fondly that ?newspapers are a daily miracle? (or in some cases, a weekly miracle), however, The Daily, for all its journalistic aspirations, serves more to remind how miraculous the iPad is. If ever there was a proof that there exists a unified field theory of media delivery ? supplanting television, radio, print, cinema and daily newspapers in its wake ? this is it. That said, Murdoch?s quotidian quota of bleeding leads and the sundry other tropes squeezed from ye olde printing press is quite impressive ? not least of which for sinking $30 million in development (and $500,000 in weekly expenses) into what amounts to a video game with news.

?My first impression is very positive,? said Roger Fidler, program director for digital publishing at the Reynolds Journalism Institute who also oversees the Digital Publishing Alliance, which brings together media industry leaders and innovators, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal. ?Team Murdoch has done what I?ve always hoped newspapers would do with their tablet editions ? create an interactive hybrid of print and web that is visually rich and enjoyable to read. It clearly demonstrates the value of involving publication designers in the production process.?

For Fidler, The Daily has been a longtime coming. Internationally recognized as a new media pioneer, Fidler first envisioned tablets and digital newspapers back in the 1980?s. Now that they?ve arrived bundled as The Daily for a mere 99 cents a week, or $39.99 a year, they might just save newspapers.

?The app has a lot of advantages, one I think simplicity for people, more of a feeling of being a curated package of information with a beginning and an end,? observed Fidler.

Or perhaps, The Daily is a so-called ?killer app? that will actually destroy newspapers but in so doing free their spirits to live in the Digital Age. Sure, the app might not save all newspapers but it will certainly help Murdoch?s newspaper holdings eventually transition into the light.

?I think newspapers have to realize that the publications being developed for the iPad may, in fact, become the dominant forum for reading news content in the not too distant future,? said Fidler. ?We clearly are seeing a steady trend of declining leadership of printed newspapers and of steady migration to digital.?

?Digital? is an abstract concept, the iPad is $600 of cold, hard cash in the midst of a recession. At that price point, will Murdoch?s new format find the ubiquity of the traditional media upon which his empire has previously relied?

?You know, people felt the same way about television when it first emerged in the 1940s and 50s, that only rich people would have it,? said Fidler. ?Now they have people with television sets in almost every room of their house and it?s become the common medium. My sense is that the tablet will evolve intro a common reading device and media device for education, for business, for a host of applications and that reading newspapers on it will be just one other important use for that device.?