Friday, March 31, 2006

Department of Homeland, er, Producing?

The restriction of official images is troubling indeed. Can we no longer write about, say, the FBI or CIA in ways that aren't strictly flattering? (And who wants to write or read ANYTHING that's strictly flattering about its subjects?).

I'd read some time ago that LAPD was considering copyrighting its name and logo so writers would have to pay a fee or get approval to use them. I'm not sure if that's fact or paranoid urban legend, but the topic seems to be very much in the wind.

I don't have an update on the outcome of Schulman's complaint, so if any of you do, I'd be curious to hear it....
A Los Angeles screenwriter is claiming that the Department of Homeland Security has informed him that he may not use the agency's name "or any of the Department's official visual identities" in the script for his film, Lady Magdalene, despite the fact that the film presents a positive image of the DHS. The writer, J. Neil Schulman, said Tuesday that he had received a notice from Bobbie Faye Ferguson, director of the NHS's office of multimedia, informing him that his "project does not fit within the DHS mission and that it is not something we can participate in." In response, Schulman wrote to Ferguson that he had already received assistance from a special agent of the NHS's air marshal service while he was preparing his screenplay and that the agency's notice to him now represents a violation of his First Amendment rights. "Merely the claim that you have the power to restrict such official images is chilling to the process of writing and producing a movie -- and certainly to an independent film in pre-production with a start date for principal photography only six weeks away," Schulman wrote.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Another Sordid Cult Tale

Yet another fine cult tale, emailed to me from a fan. As they say on the magic box, names have been removed to protect the innocent....


Dear Mr Hurwitz,

I enjoyed your book The Program. Good job on nailing those culties

Here's a cute story.

In 1980, or somewhere around there, my sister's blissed out friend talked me into a ____ seminar. I was only 20 or so, and thought it pretty weird from the beginning; hundreds of people jammed into a hotel ballroom; loads of rules about going to the bathroom, too much intimacy with strangers. Still, I stuck it out pretty well until Sunday-- the graduation day. That morning, I'd felt a little sick and then during the training things became dire. I got up during some exercise, confronted the six foot ten inch guards at the door and told them I needed a break. They said no, that breaktime was coming up in forty-five minutes. So I told them if they didn't let me out, I was gonna puke on their shiny shoes.

They let me out.

And they had to keep letting me out about every forty minutes for the next few hours.

Finally the break came. And The Trainer, the big guy, brown-grey hair, ice blue eyes, threads of his slate grey suit creating what looked like the perfect human being. I was nervous as hell in his presence. He looked like a God or something-- his shit so together it was like some cosmic singularity. He took me outside and we sat by a planter of bouganvillas while told me I was disrupting the training and that the reason I was doing it was that I was avoiding something profound and traumatic. The implication was clear. I was way more fucked up than I could even imagine, and worse yet, if I didnt' stop, he was gonna throw me out. I leaned over and puked in the bouganvillas.

I didn't stop, but with the help of my sister and a paper bag, I was able to hide.

The next day, after it was over, I called in sick to work. Later that day my minder-- a handsome plucky blond guy with tragic eyes-- called, trying to get me to drop another six hundred bucks for the next level seminar. I had my checkbook in my hand, all ready to mail off my deposit, when I looked at the calendar. Goddamnit, how long HAD it been since I had a period? Holy Fudd. The puking... it was, it was... morning sickness. I was knocked up, not nuts.
I was in no position to have a kid, and didn't. But you know, all the hassle that ensued, the moral qualms, everything, it was all kind of a relief. It could be taken care of. What couldn't have been taken care of was the fact that a sharp suited trainer had just about convinced me that I was such a psychological wreck that if I didn't proceed with _____, there was now and never was gonna be any hope for me.

Life's funny, ain't it?

Again, thanks for a good read.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Oscars! And the Problems of Hosting...

How many of you watched? If you skipped it, why?

How'd you think John Stuart did?

I think he's a brilliant commentator, but I think desk comedians have a harder time seizing control of the Oscars in all their unruly (ordered?) glory (Letterman wasn't as funny on stage as he is nightly smirking behind his desk). My favorite of recent years was Steve Martin, but I think he was too dry and smart for the average viewer. Chris Rock couldn't quite find his rhythm - he's the best stand-up comedian around, I think (except for maybe Sarah Silverman, whose Jesus is Magic strays so far into hysterical irreverency you can't believe how funny it is), but he couldn't quite nail the format. I saw Rock live a few weeks before his Oscars - he came into a small comedy club - a surprise guest much to the delight (and then horror) of Midwestern tourists - to work out his material, and it was excellent. He was more relaxed - he said he came in to practice not swearing. He failed.

I think the best Oscar MC of recent years is Billy Crystal. No one can compare to his blend of humor, schtick, and dance - he is Mr. Entertainment, and a true performer. It's such an odd skill set that makes the proceedings really soar...

Who's your favorite Oscar host?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Christopher Hitchens on Cartoons and Free Speech

Christopher Hitchens may be a divisive figure, but he's also a brilliant, incisive, dynamic thinker. He never stoops to dogma or peddles ideas under the banner of "common sense." When asked on tour, I regularly name him as one of my favorite writers, though it often draws confused looks from my readers, who are looking for me to name crime-fiction authors. The quality and elegance of his writing are staggering, especially considering that his articles are time-sensitive and written to more intense deadlines than many of us writers face.

For two razor-sharp articles on free speech and the cartoon "debate," check out:

Stand Up For Denmark!

And Cartoon Debate