Me & A Friend

I was going through photos for the book I’m agent shopping — “How To Live Bullshit Free: A Practical Guide To Not Killing Yourself” — and found this one of a much, much, MUCH younger version of me and a… “friend”, let’s call him, The Crypt Keeper.

From season three till the bitter end, I wrote every word the Crypt Keeper, um, “said”. It was a strange gig — pulling my hair out to come up with words for a puppet to speak (in addition to writing and producing the Tales From The Crypt episodes).

The Crypt Keeper was designed by special effects wizard Kevin Yagher (who directed all the Crypt Keeper segments) and was actually the product of 6 separate puppeteers. One was the CK’s right hand, one his left, one controlled his head movements and the others worked the animatronic controls that gave remarkable life to the Crypt Keeper’s face.

Everything was synched to the vocal track I’d recorded with Jon Kasirer, the actor who provided Crypt Keeper’s voice. Working with Jon was always great fun. With the vocal track playing, Kevin would call “Action”, the puppeteers would go to work and The Crypt Keeper would seem to fill with life.

I don’t believe in magic but… our minds play tricks. While he was moving and talking and acting like the Crypt Keeper, there was no puppet. There was only the Crypt Keeper.

Then Kevin would call “Cut!” The take would end. The puppeteers would sit back — and the Crypt Keeper, now lifeless, would sag to the surface of his table like, well, a lifeless puppet.

It was like watching him die each and every time. It’s still disconcerting how disconcerting it was.

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Have You Heard The One About Meatloaf When He Met The Crypt Keeper?

Seeing Meatloaf on Morning Joe this morning brought to mind a story included in How To Live Bullshit Free: A Practical Guide To Not Killing Yourself, the book I’m now agent shopping. I once cast Meatloaf in a TV show.

How To Live Bullshit Free is also a memoir — the story of how I came within inches of offing myself (but got better). I’ve had a very unusual showbiz career. I wrote and produced HBO’s Tales From The Crypt and Showtime’s The Outer Limits. I’ve written and produced feature films. I have crossed paths with an amazing amount of people (as one does in show business) — many of them very, very famous. I’m not afraid to name names.

One of the stories I tell in How To Live Bullshit Free is about Meatloaf — and how we cast him in an episode of Tales From The Crypt called “What’s Cookin” about a down on their luck couple about to lose their incredibly unsuccessful diner. The homeless guy who works for them shows up one day with steak — that attracts so many customers they can stay open. In fact, they’re suddenly making money hand over fist. The problem? The steak is all human flesh.

Hey — it was Tales From The Crypt. Anyway — without further ado — this is from my book (which I’m agent shopping — or did I say that already?)

As the Crypt Keeper would say: “Bone appetite!”

We got Chris Reeve to play the lead with Bess Armstrong and
Judd Nelson in the supporting roles (Chris, remember, had done ‘Superman’ with
Dick Donner, one of our Executive Producers). 
Chris was experiencing a strange phenomenon – where an actor becomes
hyper-associated with a character in the audience’s mind.  Superman had done that to a degree to Chris
and he was having trouble getting cast as ‘other’ characters (something that
apparently plagued Chris’s Superman predecessor, the 1950’s TV Superman, Steve
Reeves).  
Chris’s hyper-awareness showed while we discussed his
wardrobe.  Our initial choices were a
little too ‘Clark Kent’; he didn’t want to go there.  To us it was just a blue Oxford shirt and a
pair of khakis but, to be fair, Chris had walked around a lot more in Clark
Kent’s (wardrobe-provided) shoes than we had. 
When ‘Superman’ tells you ‘It’s too Clark Kent’, you listen.
For the part of the Landlord, we cast the singer MEATLOAF.  I think I laughed for about a half hour when our casting director first mentioned his name.  I mean, c’mon – how funny is that – casting MEATLOAF in an episode about CANNIBALISM – where his character gets eaten?
There’s a scene – toward the middle – when Chris – freaking
out about their financial hardships while still dubious about the crowds
pouring in to gobble up the steaks his wife keeps tossing onto the grill –
follows Judd’s homeless guy to the walk-in refrigerator for more steak.  As the walk-in door opens, Chris sees their
LANDLORD (Meatloaf) literally hanging from a meat hook, naked and dead.
While Chris freaks out, Judd picks up a meat cleaver and hacks
a couple of ‘butt steaks’ from the carcass. 
Tossing them onto the metal tray he’s brought, he heads back to the
front of the restaurant to give them to Bess who’s busily barbecuing away.
“Don’t leave the fridge door open,” says Judd’s drifter as
he goes – to the still too-horrified-to-move-or-speak Chris – “He’ll
spoil.”   
This was going to be a tricky special effect to pull
off.  The body had to look super
real.  The way the steaks came off the
carcass had to look real.  The way they
looked when they hit the tray HAD TO LOOK REAL. 
Sounds like a Job for Todd Masters…
One of the reasons I loved doing ‘Tales’ was that I got to indulge in some really horrible behavior –
betraying people, killing people, ‘eating’ people – and all without actually
hurting anyone.  Some of my favorite
moments were when I got to sit down with our Special Effects Maven Todd Masters
– with a couple of pathology textbooks and a shitload of bad intentions between
us.  After the first time my assistant
found me in Todd’s work space, cackling away like lunatics, she never looked at
me the same way again.  
The problem with great special effects though is that (in
addition to money), they take time. 
Having cast Meatloaf so late into the schedule, there simply wasn’t time
for him to come in so we could do a body cast of him.  Necessity – and a rigid shooting schedule –
forced us to hire a body double who we thought would approximate what Meatloaf
would look like hanging naked in a meat locker. 
Now, I knew what Meatloaf (the singer and actor) looked
like.  When I was in college, Meatloaf’s
‘Bat Outta Hell’ was one of THE albums we all revered (there in the Drama
Department).  C’mon – “Paradise By The
Dashboard Light’ is classic.  And it’s
funny.  Meatloaf was a big guy.  A heavy guy. 
A guy who could probably afford to lose a few pounds.  But that wasn’t our problem.  We cast the Meatloaf we knew and got on with
our lives.
And then, the day before he was due to work, Meatloaf – the
actor – arrived at the studio for his wardrobe fitting.  And we realized we had a problem.  ‘Mr. Loaf’ (as Christopher Lee called him
when they appeared together on SNL) had just finished a crash diet and had lost
60+ pounds.
He looked nothing like the body double – which he wanted to
see.  
Having worked very, VERY hard to lose all that weight – and
wanting to show it off – he was NOT happy that the old, ‘heavier’ Meatloaf was
who we had cast.  He insisted that our
body double was a good twenty pounds heavier than he had ever been.  I got to know my hands very well – staring at
them for as long as I did while Meatloaf circled his ‘not-exactly’ body double.
In the end, Meatloaf sucked it up – being a pro first and
foremost.  His history of being heavy
helped too.  He even agreed – graciously
– to wear a fat suit under his wardrobe so that it wouldn’t look quite so
jarring when we saw him ‘naked’.

Like I said — I’m agent shopping. There’s lots, lots, LOTS more where that comes from.

Movies I Adore: “Don’t Look Now”

Every now and then you have to quit bitching and moaning and shout your love for something. Being a filmmaker, movies have always “spoken to me”. I adore it as a form of storytelling. It’s so easy to get wrong. Soooooo easy.

But when a movie is right. It lives inside your head. It’s the storytelling and the look and the characters and the dialogue and the music and the casting and even the greens and set dec — it’s all sublime. There are lots of “directors” but only a handful of artists. I’ve had the pleasure of working with an artist — Bob Zemeckis.

In a way, Bob’s an “artist of the impossible”.

Bob was one of my Executive Producers when I did Tales From The Crypt for HBO. I wrote most of the episodes he directed. For starters, he is an incredible collaborator. He truly knows how to get the very best out of everyone he works with. Which is where the “impossible” comes in. At some point, in a Zemeckis piece, there’s going to be at least one shot that — if you’re looking and realize you’re watching it — is impossible. Meaning — yeah, the shot’s there in the movie but how the hell did they get it? It’s impossible!

When I was a young buck, a terrific documentary filmmaker I had the honor to know — Greg Shuker — turned me on to Nicolas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now” — a psychological thriller starring Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland.

Don't Look NowI don’t want to give away a great ending but — that the ending works as effectively as it does, that it’s as memorable as it is — it’s a testament to the masterful work director Nic Roeg has done up till then.

Water plays heavily.  The color red, too.  Sutherland plays John, an art restorer preparing for a project he’s about to start in Venice, Italy.  He and Christie’s Laura own a farm out in the country where their two young children are playing on a rainy day.  Their young daughter drowns in the pond — something her father “senses”.  He rushes outside but too late.  He pulls her body — clad in its red mac — from the pond with a doleful wail.

It’s a few months later.  They’ve buried their child.  Their son is at boarding school as the restoration project in Venice begins.  On their first night, Laura and John make love (for the first time since their daughter died) then go out to dinner.  At the next table are two elderly English sisters.  One is blind.  They happen to be in the ladies’ room when Laura enters.

The blind sister is psychic.  She says she’s seen Laura and John’s daughter.  She was happy.  Laughing.  Laura is blown away.  She doesn’t know what to think.  But John — when Laura tells him — thinks it’s all nonsense and wishful thinking. 

And yet.  As the movie goes on, John begins to catch glimpses of a fleeing figure in red.  Is it the spirit of his daughter — or something else?

Roeg was a director of photography before sliding into the director’s chair.  His films look great.  He captures Venice’s wateriness — its dullness.  Its greyness and fog.  He captures the feeling one gets — being there — of wandering in circles — hopelessly lost.  But the Roeg’s real genius as a director was in how he cut.  He had a way of intercutting two scenes that no one else could touch.

An excellent example — the scene where John and Laura make love for that first time since their daughter’s death.  Roeg intercuts the sex — which is very intimate (there have always been stories that the sex between Christie and Sutherland was real) — with John and Laura, post-coital, get ready to go out for dinner.  You really get the feeling that they’re a couple — which makes the sex we keep intercutting back to feel more organic and real.

For my money, the sex scene in Don’t Look Now is one of the best 2 or 3 sex scenes in all of movie history (the caveat being that most sex scenes suck).  And — here’s the kicker — it’s between a married couple.  That’s a sex scene you never see — between married people.

Nic Roeg died a few months ago.  I still owe Greg Shuker — for introducing him to me.

Wouldn’t Ya Just LOVE To Give Conservatives The World They REALLY Want?

CryptKeeper-1200x675

Remember this guy?  The Crypt Keeper?  Friend of mine actually.  For real.  He used to say “Be careful what you wish for, kiddies, you may just get it!”  Then the Crypt Keeper would laugh — kinda like this —

And then he’d get on with the episode.

Now, of course, when the Crypt Keeper warned that you’d ‘get’ it, he didn’t mean that you’d ‘receive the thing you wanted’.  He meant, ironically, the opposite.  You’d ‘GET IT’ and wish like hell you hadn’t.

That’s how republicans would feel — in a very short amount of time — about The World they have been trying to foist upon the rest of us:  “Wait — we didn’t realize THIS would happen if we had our way — send it back to the kitchen!  Is it too late to order something else off the menu?”

American conservatives — if we take them at their word — want to CONSERVE a world where:

  • The Rich Get Richer
  • Everyone else gets poorer
  • A dwindling Social Safety Net (to pay for the rich guys)
  • White Christian Male Cultural Hegemony rules
  • Abortion is illegal & so is Birth Control
  • All non-European immigration is illegal
  • The Free Press is not Free
  • Guns are even MORE ubiquitous than they are already
  • Anyone who isn’t Straight, white, Christian & male is automatically suspicious.
  • Might makes Right
  • Ignorance is bliss

A lot of conservatives want to bring religion (theirs) back to a Central position it really never had in American Life — except in Currier & Ives prints.

A lot of conservatives want to restrict education to ‘special white people’ only.  Everyone else is going to work the gig economy while their faltering, compromised standard of living gets harder and harder to maintain.

A lot of conservatives think guns should be everywhere.  Literally EVERYWHERE (except republican party events).

American Conservatives now think conspiring with a hostile foreign power is no different than cleaning hand and finger prints off a gun you just used to murder someone.   No prints, no crime.

Uh huh.  Let’s see if Mr Mueller goes along with that…

If one could really pull off ‘Thought Experiments’, I would LOVE to give Conservatives the world they crave.

First, of course (because it’s a thought experiment), we’d put all the Conservatives in one part of the country (one that’s already hard core red) and — irony — PUT A WALL AROUND IT.

Then we, the progressive world, would go do our thing for, say, A GENERATION while our conservative chums did the same thing inside their world.  Then, at a certain pre-determined time and place, we’d all get together and COMPARE NOTES.  Question:  How would Conservative World have done in contrast to Progressive World?

If we realistically laid out Each World’s approach to education, to diversity, to health care, to birth control & abortion, to financing the commonweal itself, we would find very distinct countries:  One — Conservative Land — would be lots of fun to live in if you were straight and white.  More of a daily grind if you weren’t but that’s by design.

For anyone else, Conservative Land would be the ‘spark’ in their lives going out.  It’d be the voice of Reason sputtering.

For us, it’s just another day in TrumpLand…

Conservative Land would NOT be a place that innovated anything because innovative people would have been dissuaded from going there.  Conservatives figuring that THEIR gene pool would make up the difference are going to be mighty shocked when they discover that White People — fine as they are — aren’t an more innovative than anyone else.  In a world though where few new ideas gain purchase (because thinking the SAME is encouraged), innovation fails to ignite.

Thinking the same promotes acting the same promotes being the same.

And yet — as it teetered toward ruin — because bankrupt, because horrible standard of living, because dwindling tax base — Conservative World would still THINK it was succeeding.  What everyone else called failure, they’d call ‘doing things their way’.  But, no — it’s failure.  Total failure by EVERY other name.

Conservative World would probably attend the meet-up as spiffed up as it could be — but unable to hide how hard things have been.  Holding out their hand to Progressive World — after the hand-shaking was done — probably gave the WHOLE GAME away:  They needed help.

And they knew Progressive world 1) could help and 2) probably would help.

Progressive World would be a very different place — where anything can happen because so many people are creating so many things and thinking so many exciting new thoughts.  Diversity challenges everyone to compete against everyone else on the levelest possible playing field.

Diversity of opinion and process, diversity of point of view, diversity of problem-solving.  The human genome works by favoring strong attributes over weak ones — strong attributes being the ones where you’ll ‘survive better’ for having them.  The irony (cause you can never have too much irony) is that White Supremacists are under the mistaken impression that they can ‘fine tune’ and ‘purify’ their white genes by excluding everything else from their gene pool.

One more dumb white person idea gets revealed for the dumb white person idea that it is.  White Supremacists aren’t stupid.  The aren’t incompetent.  But they do cling on to bad information like it was their last dollar — which is stupid.

While Progressives could never, would never have a place in Conservative World, the opposite is almost never true.  It’s not true now.

One of the most important aspects about Progressive World — what really sets it apart from Conservative World — is that it evolves.  All the time.  It allows people to evolve.  To grow up and mature.  To live and LEARN.  And then to come back to the fold and contribute — hopefully having LEARNED from their mistakes.

There wouldn’t be a single attribute about Conservative World that wasn’t a thousand times better in Progressive World — Food, Entertainment, Art, Technology, Governance.

The only question remaining after this Thought Experiment — if it could be made real?  What to do about the fence we’ve built around Conservative World.  We’re not tearing it down — that’s for sure.  Hell — the question I’m thinking of is — do we build it even higher?  Or do we must mine the damn thing and enjoy the fireworks?