Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Contamination Nation 2020
by Janet J. Lawler
Los Angeles, CA
April 28, 2020

Burbank, CA at rush hour during the Coronavirus Pandemic 2020
A lot sure has happened since my last post.

Who cares about screenwriting or movies?  The world has ended.  Well, almost.

It's as if someone put a finger on a spinning globe.  Just stopped us all cold.  Life, as we know, seems over from coast to coast, continent to continent.

Just back in February, I attended an Oprah Winfrey live event here in Los Angeles with 14,000 in attendance at the Forum!  The year was young and optimism was in the air!  A new decade had begun. It was an all-day event of celebrating life and hope for 2020!

But then, the coronavirus invaded America.  The crowds went away overnight.  Events postponed, canceled, schools shut down, March Madness became a reality.

Now today, six weeks later, the US economy is still closed for business.  Movie theaters in LA and around the world are dark.  Film projectors are collecting dust. Box-office grosses no longer matter.  Nobody is going to the movies anymore.

Except at home.

Disneyland is closed, for heaven's sake.  Tomorrowland, folks, remains truly uncertain. 

Sports arenas are empty.  No crowds.  No fans. The streets and freeways show nothing but empty lanes.  No smog and wild animals are roaming freely where humans once roamed (I saw two coyotes in my residential neighborhood the other night!).

For once in LA, there is plenty of parking, everywhere! except there is nowhere to go as all the shops, clubs and restaurants are closed.

We can get fast food at the drive-thru or order in.  Delivery men and women come to your door looking like they've scrubbed up for surgery -- mask, gloves, goggles.  What in the world?  They still didn't remember to put my salad dressing on the side... but I'm not complaining... ever again about take-out orders being messed up!  Nowadays, we're just thankful to eat something besides tuna out of a can or pasta again!

Thank goodness for all the essential workers -- bless YOU all -- the doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, school teachers, store clerks, package carriers, postal carriers, truck drivers, store clerks and stockers, moms and dads balancing child care and work duties at home,  and to the news media (yes, it's still where we get updated information on this monster virus.)

And forgive me while I go a little Alanis Morissette on you, but isn't it ironic?  We are now appreciating and seeing blue-collar, hourly workers (who may have been invisible before this pandemic) now being celebrated as everyday heroes.  Those men and women who labor in the agriculture field to pick our fresh produce?  Those undocumented human beings who work for pennies?  They matter.  Supermarket customers are suddenly being quite respectful to the local checkout cashier instead of berating her over some incidental mistake (like missing those savings of .10 cents on my Greek yogurt!).  And the RAINBOW -- most identified with pride in the LGBTQ community for decades -- is now the UNIVERAL symbol for strength in numbers and hope.  That was the point all along.

Is there a bright spot in all this craziness?  Yes, the Internet.  We can stream movies galore, download TV shows and series, watch vintage sports events, and Zoom each other silly.  Social and video conferencing sites are keeping us connected with our families and reuniting TV and movie casts (the latest this week, The Goonies!)

Our screens are keeping us closer to each other.  Again, ironic, huh?  Weren't we all aiming for less screen time just a few months ago?  And now kids are talking to their teachers on them.

We can't volunteer outside our homes to help society but we can donate.  We can make a contribution to food pantries or small businesses.  

Isn't it wonderful and inspiring also to see all these kick-ass, amazing artists (rock stars, Broadway divas, philharmonic superstars) offering free performances from their homes!).  Hats off to Lady Gaga, Melissa Etheridge, Bruce Springsteen, and others.

It's so intimate and inspiring to see mega"stars" in their natural habitats (at home) with bed head and in casual clothes like the rest of us.  It's Sunday every day of the week now. No need for dressing up, makeup or even showering if you don't want.  Everybody is keeping it REAL -- including late-night comedians and theater folks.  I'm grateful.

I'm wearing a mask at work, driving around LA, and running quick errands.  It's hard to breathe as the Southern California temps rise.  And it's hard to eat a snack, chew gum or take a sip of water without touching or lifting my mask.  And there is something mysterious about having on a mask.  Fashion statements (fancy scarves, sports logos, flags)... others wearing bandanas like Western bank robbers.

What about creativity during Coronavirus times?  Do we abandon our ideas and just vegetate in front of our laptop or TV?  Read for pleasure?  Not write a word until it's all over?

I can't.  I still feel the need to write, create, and hope.

I managed to bang out a new screenplay.  It's a comedy (don't we need more laughs).  It's called RITA RPM.  It's about a middle-aged woman who takes up competitive cycling to overcome her empty nest syndrome.  It's a Rocky-like story for those facing loneliness.  Talk about perfect timing!  We're all feeling lonely, disconnected, scared, angry, confined, and trapped nowadays. 

But we will make it through together, we WILL.  That's not just a slogan for the times.

This too shall pass, God-willing.  It's a horrific time with mass deaths caused by this virus.  My heart goes out to all those who have lost loved ones during the Covid-19 crisis.  So deeply sorry, especially for those in my beloved hometown of New York City.

How can this happen in modern times with our modern-day medicine?  How can the United States be the richest country in the world and yet so unprepared to fight this monster?  What is this virus here to teach us?  What is the ah-ha moment? That may sound like an Oprah-ism to you, but it's true.  What will we learn from this unprecedented shutdown, shut-in, global crisis, and human tragedy?   Will it force us to take inventory of our lives, reconnect with friends and family, let go of grudges and ill-will, create more, not take life, and leadership for granted?  Will it teach us anything about ourselves?  You and me? Are we better out in the world or being at home?  Where are we making a bigger difference?
Help on its way in NYC
Yes, it's a dark, very bleak time in human history.  For each of us.  But one thing we can count on is the human spirit loves to thrive and rise over adversity -- we did it after WWII, we did it after 9/11, we will do it after this epic battle.

Meanwhile, let your VOICE be heard, whatever you have to say or need to say, do it now!  Pick up the pen, the phone, a musical instrument or device and create like your life depends on it.  Because maybe it does.  Keep a journal (your grandkids will thank you, maybe history too).  Take photos of the good and bad.  Document living through this historic time of human struggle and economic devastation.  Others will learn from your experience.

Before long, the world will once again spin again at full speed, and these isolating days with time on our hands will be over.  What will we have to show for it?  What will we have learned?


Until next time -- good health!

Thursday, February 13, 2020

THE BIG GOODBYE:  CHINATOWN and the Last Years of Hollywood

"Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown."

That's one of the most memorable ending lines in Hollywood film history.

If you're a devotee of this classic movie CHINATOWN (Paramount Pictures, 1974), be sure to pick up this new book THE BIG GOODBYE: CHINATOWN and the Last Years of Hollywood by Sam Wasson.

The book has amazing details about Jack Nicholson, as private detective Jake Gittes, insights about 70s movies and insider stories about Hollywood's top directors, producers, and stars from that era of moviemaking.

I bought my copy already and had it signed by Sam Wasson at his recent talk at the Burbank Public Library in Burbank, CA.
Author Sam Wasson and AD/Producer Howard "Hawk" Koch, Jr.
The Big Goodbye focuses on the production and legend of the Los Angeles iconic film.  The screenplay for Chinatown was written by Robert Towne.  Wasson refers to it as the "the Tora of screenwriting".  He explained why this came to be.  When screenwriting guru Syd Field wrote his first book about the writing craft titled SCREENPLAY (1979) he chose Chinatown as the best example on how to professionally craft a script. The movie and the screenplay are still today referred to for its stellar storytelling on screen and on the page.

First assistant director on Chinatown, Howard "Hawk" Koch, Jr. joined Wasson to offer inside tales about Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, Roman Polanski, and others.  I met Koch at the book signing for his recent memoir "Magic Time: My Life in Hollywood."  Kock was the AD and producer of over sixty films.  He produced some of my favorite films of all-time including "The Way We Were", "This Property is Condemned" (script by Francis Ford Coppola), and "Barefoot in the Park".  He's worked with the best in the film industry and also served as former president of the Motion Picture Academy and the Producer's Guild.

In closing, I'll leave you with another well-known movie line from Chinatown spoked by the film's director Roman Polanski in his cameo as Man with a Knife:

"You're a nosy fella, kitty cat, huh?"

And then, Man with a Knife slices Jake Gittes' nose open with a knife. 

Koch said that famous scene took twelve takes, with Polanski pretending again and again to slice Nickolson's nose open.  Finally, after the twelfth take, Nicholson said: "That's enough." Koch noted the director used the first take in the movie. 

Hollywood power games.

Until next time.