Tuesday, July 29, 2008




... thats right. And I mean stuff made before 1989. Get used to it. You learn about acting, story telling, directing, and how to carry on a reasonably intelligent conversation if you know a little something about those who preceded you. If you grew up watching Roger Moore as James Bond, and think HE is the quintissential Bond, guess again. Watch the originals with Sean Connery- HE is Bond; Moore is a poseur.

If you grew up watching Family Matters or Home Improvement, watch I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, and The Dick Van Dyke Show and All in the Family to see how excellent TV comedy can be.

Watch all of the AFI Top 100 films of all time. Yes some are in black and white, but YOU CAN DO IT. You'll be amazed what you can ideas or characterizations or visualization you can borrow from these performers, writers and directors... and how moved you will be by some of these classic stories.

Make it a point to keep current NOW. Watch 2 1/2 Men, as well as America's Top Model. You want to be really funny? Know whats happening in current pop culture, and, beyond that, know key pop culture iconia from the 20's, 30's, 40's, 50's, 60's, 70's, and 80's, too. I can't think of what makes the 90's distinct - I guess the dot com stuff - but the other decades sure are distinctive.



Your "spec script" is your calling card. I know, I know. Its the dialogue that counts, or the comedy, or the characters, or the clever plot. Yeah yeah yeah. But if the script looks like it was written by a beginner, psychologically a reader is apt to have lowered expectations. And when there are 100 scripts on the pile, you don't need any stinkin' lowered expectations (an homage to a line from Treasure of Sierra Madre - on the required viewing list!).

Final Draft script software program is the industry standard. It is little pricey. Second best, and at least adequate, for me, if you have Microsoft Word, is a free script template you can download called ScriptMaker. I have links to both sites on the right column. Or you can
Google it. Or, since it's July 2008, should I start saying you can CUIL it. It gives you the basic sitcom and screenplay formatting, which you can of course adjust.

Few things are more disadvantageous than handing in a spec script with unprofessional formatting! It may not seem like a big deal, or your stuff can be genius, but psychologically, it screams AMATEUR! in the minds of readers and downgrades your chances, on a subliminal level. YOU HAVE ENOUGH HURDLES.

Monday, July 28, 2008


"Where do you get your ideas?" I'm asked that mostly by non-writers, who are in such awe of the craft, but also by many young writers. What PROMPTS (stimulates, generates) ideas for stories, scenes or a piece of dialogue? Of course the biggest tip in finding such prompts is: KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN. And maybe keep a pen and paper, or a little tape recorder, on your person at all times. Comedy (and drama) is happening all around you, stuff that you can't make up. And you never know when it will come in handy - usually at 3 AM during a desperate re-write. My best ideas are simply from my own life experiences on a micro level, meaning not so much things I see while driving or at a restaurant, but conflicts, tragedies or even celebrations within my birth family, my own family, or among my friends. Or ex-friends. Think of the worst arguments your parents had, and you may find that is script gold! I find what's not so funny in real life is apt to be very funny in a script... or at least fodder for a scene, funny or not. The things we laugh at on a sitcom, or the classic "pompous banker slipping on a banana peel" you might see in a Charlie Chaplin film, are painful in real life.

As a psychologist once told me, comedy is manic denial. We laugh at human frailities to deny our human frailities.

For example
I tell this story about an old girlfriend who I was taking to San Francisco on a romantic trip to see her beloved 49rs play at Candlestick Park. I sent a car to pick her up, reserved a nice hotel room (with flowers waiting). But while we waited for our plane at the airport, she was being very morose. I said, after some time, Uh, problem? It seems the man with whom she was having an affair and wasn't supposed to talk to him anymore, (per her psychologist) had left a message to call her. She didn't know what he wanted - or wouldn't tell me- but I surmised he got wind of he trip north with a Man. I said, "Well of course I know what he will say that he is splitting with his wife."
She said, "Well if he's splitting with his wife, I'm there!!" Imagine her saying such a thing to me at that moment!; I thought I knew this person (well actually I didn't really). I was, of course, dumbfounded, heart-broken, stunned, all of the above. What a time to bring this up! There was very little hesitation on her part when I said, "Well, perhaps we shouldn't go on this trip." Nuff said! She couldn't get out of the terminal fast enough, either through eagerness to see her lover, or, because of embarrassment, to get away from me. We didn't have long to wait at the curb... off she went on the Valley Flyaway shuttle.
Now this was real life, you cannot make this up! And often when I tell this story, I remember the pain of her leaving me - I really liked her! - but the listener is generally laughing, or otherwise amused at her the audacity of it all. Yet it was all "written" for me, as it were, so I put the saga to use in a subsequent script. I got paid, at least, for my pain. And, months later, she sent me an e-mail which simply stated, "broken hearted!" HAHAAAHHAHAHAHAA! So my real life scene has a happy ending after all. Karma is a bitch!

is where ideas come from.


After judging at the World Championships of Performing Arts, and talking my head off to numerous wannabe actors and dancers - giving freely of my incredible experience, strength and hope based on 30 years in the highest echelons of the television business - I decided there is a crying need for the basic information I can provide. And lord knows I have a s***load of anecdotes. Some of them are just gossip, which is juicy of course, but much of it amounts to volumes of do's-and-don'ts when it comes to getting your foot, hands, head and bank account thru the show business "door", and once in, staying there with some success. I always say be humble, be kind to all, and, above all, have an attitude of gratitude.
So on a frequent basis I will share tidbits of information. Eventually, I will have online, and in person, seminars or workshops with some interaction, Q&A and all that. I will evaluate scripts and, for actors, your "audition dvd's". And I'll probably sell books and T-shirts, too. The info won't all be free of charge, but it will be affordable. Remember, the Funny is Money radio show is on nightly at 7 PM Pacific time on www.shokusradio.com. I will also offer up for sale CD's of past radio shows. I hope this is helpful, and or least entertaining.


First I must say THANK YOU LISHA RIGNEY. Last week, I was a "VIP judge" at the preliminary and semi-finals of the vaunted World Championships of Performing Arts, held at the Bonaventure Hotel July 21-25, in downtown Los Angeles (4th and Figueroa to be exact). My area of concentration was in the junior acting competition, so my call time to downtown LA was 8 AM (for the scrumptious "continental breakfast" provided for the judges in their "hospitality room" - the Hollywood Ballroom on the 3rd floor). Since I had to give a ride to my agent and friend, Rod Seagal of Exposure Actors and Models, who lives in Culver City (whereas I live in Santa Monica), all this backtiming required me to arise at the ungodly hour of 6 AM. This is where my thanks to Lisha comes in. Since she regularly arises at 5 or thereabouts, she would give me the daily wake up call. What a sweet way to wake up - her smiling voice. Lisha is a video editor, a mom, and a dear friend.

Rod Seagal is a good friend, and fine agent. But extraordinarily high maintenance. He doesn't drive, but he was happy to buy me gas. This we did each day before we left for downtown. But he two days in a row forgot his valued cellphone (requiring a backtrack to his office!). That, coupled with being late in the first place (7:15 departure became 8:10), prevented my damn Original Pantry breakfast, as promised. (Eventually, on Thursday morning, we DID got to the Pantry - more on that later).

A bit of a background about the World Championships. This annual event is the brainchild of Griff O'Neil. I'm not sure of Griff's background, but I am sure it is illustrious. Talent from around the world is invited (for a fee) to be part of the competition. Regional auditions are held, worldwide. About 1000 individuals from all over the world participated. These include actors, dancers, singers, and models. About 50% come from the United States, and few of them reside in the Los Angeles area. And most are under 25. I met kids from Arizona Michigan, Ohio, Washington state, Utah, and Idaho. Many of the remaining contestants are from Canada. Also represented were large contingents from South Africa, New Zealand, Jamaica, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the former Soviet Union. Also represented were Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Denmark, and the Philippines. O'Neil complained at the finals that hundreds of kids from other countries were denied visas by their own state departments. So there seems to be some controversy.

The first part of the process (Monday thru Wednesday) is that of winnowing down contestants for the semi-final and finals, sort of like the Olympics. The judging process, for me, was arduous. We (myself and about five other judges - the show business credentials of whom I am not sure) sat down on Monday at around 9:30 AM to judge child actors ages 11-15. This took the better part of four hours. Many of the contestants performed in up to six different scenes (limited to one minute) - comic acting, dramatic acting, classical acting, "open" acting (which was usually a commercial), and even combined acting (duos, trios and larger groups). Almost every child had at least a modicum of talent, and a few were truly gifted.

But what they are really looking for at this competition are the "go-sees", aka callbacks, which were held on Thursday afternoon. These are the performers selected by judges (who are generally agents, producers and casting agents) for one-on-one meetings. The performers want to get their feet in the door, and that is through agents or producers. The World Championships itself offers no such education, or information. It simply puts on a competition, and hands out trophies (and some scholarships to something called the New York Acting Conservancy). So at these preliminary judging sessions, I would fill out "go see" slips for various actors I thought my agent friend might want to work with.

But the elephant in the room for these competitors, of course, is that many do not live in Los Angeles, or even close. And additionally, for the foreign competitors, they would require work visas for any sort of extended stay. So that is the first thing these folks had to know, if they didn't know already. You gotta be where the action is!

That is why I wonder of the true value of this institution. But Rod happens to be a wizard at acquiring visas, and has signed a number of these contestants to his stable. One of the guys I discovered myself last year - who happened to live in Orange County - is currently up for a leading part in the stage presentation of Disney's "Aladdin". Rod will have to pay be 5% of the commission for that.