Manifestly faulty Manifesto

Manifesto-movie-poster

I had my reservations before purchasing a ticket for Manifesto, a film that seeks to manifest the great thinkers and philosophers of the modern age through the mouths of 13 archetypal characters. I mean, how can you go wrong with a 90-minute Learning Annex lecture?

Honestly, the selling point for me was Cate Blanchett playing all 13 roles.

As we waited for the film to begin, the Nashville Film Festival host (emcee?) gushed about his chills on seeing the film at Sundance. My first clue that I had bitten off more than I could chew.

He then laid his bet that Cate was a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination. Put your money down now and plan that dream vacation.

Then the lights went down, the film illuminated the screen, and 13 Shakespearean soliloquys rolled out. Except, these thinkers were not Shakespeare and even Shakespeare put his soliloquys within the context of a narrative; something completely lacking here.

There was so little context for any of these scenes that I have no idea, no memory of any of the speeches less than 24 hours later.

Although the Great Cate did manage to inhabit her many and varied characters—vapid news host, drunk punk rocker, deranged homeless man, etc.—dissolved in my brain as quickly as she spoke the words.

Many Cates

There was humour. We laughed at the odd comment—mostly non-sequiturs—and tittered like children when the gentile sacred mouth of Ms. Blanchett uttered words like “shit” and “fuck”, but I’d be surprised if anyone other than a philosophy major could name 10 of the 13 thinkers reflected.

This was less Art Film than Performance Art, and ironically, it may have suffered from the transformations by Blanchett, whose visual distraction allowed my ear to remain confused. Perhaps with a lesser performer, the words would have had a fighting chance.

Was Blanchett’s transformation enough for that Oscar nod? Unlikely, as the complete lack of over-arching narrative will keep it off most Academy lists.

This is truly a festival film, where manifestos and pointlessness not only thrive but are lauded for their unintelligibility by audiences afraid to not “get it.”

[How’s that for inverse snobbery?]

The_Search_for_Signs_of_Intelligent_Life_in_the_Universe_VideoCover

In some ways, Manifesto is reminiscent of Lily Tomlin’s The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, which was also a series of pointed commentaries on modern society, all performed by the same artist.

Where Tomlin went right was in presenting each commentary within a powerful story of a nuanced character with a unique perspective. Manifesto, sadly, chose a verbal sledgehammer over story, eliminating any opportunity for nuance no matter how well Blanchett performed the characters.

A damned shame, really, as she lived up to her billing. If only Academy voters could see it through all the rest.

Belated laurels

Ah yes, almost forgot. This showed up in my in-box back in December. The laurels for my Best Animated Feature Screenplay at the 2014 Nashville Film Festival.

The winner was my screenplay for Tank’s, a story that proves even a fish in water can be a fish out of water.

Tank's for the love!

Tank’s for the love!

To read the opening pages of Tank’s, visit:

Tank’s (Part One)

Tank’s (Part Two)

Our story so far…

Bradbury

It’s been roughly two years since I stepped off the ledge of the normal world and into the free fall of who I am…and perhaps it is not surprising that I am still discovering who that is.

 

For the uninitiated, a brief recap:

After spending the better part of my adult life as a scientist, magazine writer, communications manager and ad copywriter/creative director, I realized I wasn’t happy. Adding fuel to that fire was the death of my beloved grandmother and of my marriage (thankfully not an acrimonious separation). But where I might have let these events take me to darker depths, I realized that I had never been freer in my life…and the freedom felt good.

Thus, with nothing to hold onto and therefore nothing to lose, I stepped into the abyss of uncertainty and am pursuing my life as a storyteller. And nicely, two years in, I am starting to see dividends.

 

After taking screenwriting classes for a while, I now feel confident that I know what I am doing and have no problem trusting my instincts when it comes to storytelling. I’m good at this.

My latest and possibly most commercial screenplay to date, The Naughty List, awaits external validation in 4 different screenplay competitions. (I may be good at this, but my name is hardly renown at this point.)

My first screenplay Tank’s has slowly climbed its way up the “charts” of screenplay competitions over the past year, and after being a Second Rounder at the Austin Film Festival, it took top prize in the Nashville Film Festival as Best Animated Feature Screenplay.

SomeTV!, the sketch comedy show that I co-wrote, is in front of cameras, and I am told by our Producer/God-head that the initial cuts look amazing. You’ll see the footage as soon as I can send you to it.

Eye of the Beholder, the novel I am co-writing with Agah Bahari—based on the real events of his life in Iran—is starting to write itself (a wonderful moment for a writer) and already has anticipatory buzz in New York entertainment circles.

Eye of the Beholder

I wrote a short children’s book, Butch Goes To Work, that teaches children about working dogs and the abilities of people with disabilities. It is currently seeking a publisher.

Really, really slowly (sorry Kevin Scott), I am co-writing a comedy album in the understanding that what doesn’t lend itself to YouTube is perfect fodder for iTunes!

I almost signed an agreement to develop a screenplay treatment of a mystery novel, and even though this project didn’t come to fruition, I will continue to work with the novelist on future projects.

And I am in the process of taking my new life to the next level by moving to Los Angeles. When the move will take place is still a question.

I am grateful to the folks involved in the magazine and advertising work that continues to pay my bills. And I am over-the-top grateful to all of my friends, family and other supporters who applaud my journey at every turn.

I am a storyteller. I tell stories. And I have never been happier.

PS I don’t know if Bradbury actually said the quote at the front of this piece, but he or whomever was right.

And that’s the (mostly) truth – my new bio

Okay, so my producer for SomeTV!, the sketch comedy insanity currently in production in Toronto, asked me to provide him a short bio for the group’s web site.

Keeping in mind the sheer brilliance/stupidity of what we are attempting, I sent him this:

A born story-teller and punster, Randall told his first knock-knock joke in the Obstetrics Department of a Toronto hospital at the ripe old age of today. His early comedic repertoire consisted of poop jokes, fart jokes and snot jokes, but on learning that Vaudeville was dead, he learned how to write. After several failed attempts at living other people’s lives (scientist, journalist, press agent, ad man), he has more recently focused his energy on sketch comedy and screenwriting. In 2014, Randall won the Nashville Film Festival award for Best Animated Feature for his screenplay Tank’s. His influences are caffeine, Mel Brooks, sleep deprivation and human frailty.

Would love to hear your thoughts!

Randy (the one in the middle)

Image

Life on campus – Vanderbilt University

I took my camera with me when I attended the Nashville Film Festival and wandered the grassy lanes of nearby Vanderbilt University.

These are some of the plants and animals I found on campus.

Music and the soul

Alive Inside movie poster from the Sundance Film Festival

Alive Inside movie poster from the Sundance Film Festival

I am not a musician. I do not play an instrument, nor do I sing (not well, at least), and I do not understand how music is constructed. I do, however, like music and firmly believe that if we ever discover proof of a human soul, it will translate itself to us in the form of music.

I have, of course, no evidence to support this belief, although a recent experience at the Nashville Film Festival suggested I may be on the right track. The event was the showing of a documentary called Alive Inside: A story of memory and music.

The film, directed by Michael Rossato-Bennett, follows the story of social worker Dan Cohen who has spent the last several years bringing iPods to nursing homes across the United States. Cohen has found that even with the most neurologically shut down senior (e.g., clients with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia), revive when they music from their youth.

Director Michael Rossato-Bennett (l) and social worker Dan Cohen (r)

Director Michael Rossato-Bennett (l) and social worker Dan Cohen (r)

Slowly, as the story plays out, we are introduced to human husks that reside in these homes and palliative care centres. People who had once been husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, but who have been reduced to masses of barely interactive biological matter by their medical conditions.

And yet, when the headphones are placed over their ears and music pours down thin white wires into ear buds, those husks are infused with life. Like a balloon that only shows its true form upon inflation, the inert bodies and death masks take the form and substance of the human beings they once were.

Henry comes alive again as the music reaches inside

Henry comes alive again as the music reaches inside

Eyes glow with life, spines regain flexibility, paralysis becomes movement, and disengaged spirits connect with the world. If only for a few hours, the catatonic fog lifts and a human is reborn.

The science—discussed in part with Dr. Oliver Sacks—suggests that the familiar, beloved music of the individual’s past activates that part of his or her brain as yet left untouched by disease, effectively relinking the connections between their worlds within and without. That may be true, scientifically.

What was certain to me was that the music either reignited the spark that makes us human or provided the fuel that converted a seriously diminished spark into a sputtering flame. The results were miraculous.

Even in cases where disease hadn’t erased the person’s individuality but dampened it with manic-depression or multiple sclerosis, the music seemed to quieten the internal maelstrom enough for the person to re-emerge. The woman immobile without her walker, shoved it aside to dance to Spanish guitar.

The story of Alive Inside had a personal connection for me as I immediately thought back to my now-deceased grandmother Dorothy who fortunately had maintained her mental faculties except at the very end. Her apartment, as I remember it, was constantly filled with music, her CD player rarely turned off. New CDs coming into her home every Christmas, every birthday. Elvis, Michael Buble, The Mills Brothers, Motown and light opera. She was at her most contented when listening to music.

The caregiver...

The caregiver…

...becomes the care-receiver.

…becomes the care-receiver.

But the world was completely different when she was in the hospital—a life of cardiac issues catching up with her eventually. In the anemic, lifeless wards where wonderful warriors did their best to stave off the inevitable, I could see Dorothy’s spirit wane with each passing day. Even if I didn’t always think she was physically ready, my happiest days were knowing she was going home.

When something upsets the norm, ceases to function correctly or goes completely dormant, it is easy to set it aside and forget about it. When that something is a loved one, setting them aside is never easy but it is often easier than coping with the problem. And once set aside, forgetting becomes that much easier.

Seeing that a person is still inside that morbid husk of a human, however, changes everything. Knowing that we have committed a living, breathing, connectable loved one to solitary exile becomes less palatable, less conscionable.

Music isn’t the solution. It doesn’t reverse what has happened to the person biomedically. Within minutes or hours of the music ceasing, the individual typically deflates to his or her former shell.

But we who have witnessed the transformation, we have been permanently changed because we can never see that human shell the same way ever again.

We know that shell is not lifeless, and once we know that, there is no going back.

If you get the opportunity to see Alive Inside, please do. And be sure to bring plenty of facial tissues.

Winner @ Nashville Film Festival

Me sharing the red carpet with friend and writer Larry Shulruff.

Me sharing the red carpet with friend and writer Larry Shulruff.

Late yesterday, my screenplay Tank’s won best animated feature at the Nashville Film Festival.

Pretty stinking stoked about this as it was a screenplay I had contemplated retiring for a bit to seriously rewrite it later. Still needs a rewrite, but happy to let it rest on its laurels for a bit.

Thanks to all you lovelies who had to listen to me kvetch about this thing for the last couple of years, and in particular to Marsha Mason, whose incredible reading and analysis helped me make this a massively good read.