Party On, TCM

At the 6th annual TCM Classic Film Festival a couple months ago, my better half and I were thrilled to see plenty of old movies on the big screen.

We caught Gunga Din with an informative and humorous introduction by two special effects guys, Craig Barron and Ben Burt, who showed us video of the real-life Southern California locations that stood in for India. (The comparison of the movie’s precarious bridge over the chasm to the actual place was especially revelatory.)

We saw Too Late for Tears, a “lost” noir classic about the most cold-blooded killer you’ve ever seen (played by Lizabeth Scott). We saw Earthquake at an outdoor poolside screening introduced by one of its stars, Mr. Shaft himself, Richard Roundtree.

And we reveled in the classic screwball comedy The Philadelphia Story with a packed house at the fabled Chinese Theater — you couldn’t ask for a grander movie experience.

But our favorite moments of the festival weren’t particular screenings. They were meeting some of the more prolific members of one of Twitter’s most entertaining hashtags — #TCMparty..


RE: When Will the Art Revolution Begin?

SmashCut Talk thumbnailMatt’s call for a new art revolution reminded me of a question I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.  Has our culture run out of steam?  It certainly seems to have run out of originality.

Just look at other art forms than the fine arts and you will see the evidence.  Music and fashion seem to be nothing but rehashes and remixes of past trends.  The last decade of original fashion and music — heck, even politics? — was the 1980s.

Some say the culprit is the digital age, which enables us to make perfect copies of everything from music to video.  The rise of digital media in the ’90s has been an enormous boon for commerce and comfort.  But has it killed originality?  Can anyone point to something genuinely new today?



Breaking Records and the Liberty Lab

Our last (but not least!) mentor for the Liberty Lab for Film is a record-breaking screenwriter.  No, he didn’t set a record for growing the biggest pumpkin or juggling the most chainsaws.  Instead, mentor Bill Marsilii (along with co-writer Jerry Rossio) sold the time-travel thriller Deja Vu to super-producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Touchstone Pictures for an unprecedented $5 million.  The resulting film, starring Denzel Washington, grossed more than $180 million worldwide.

Of course, as with most “overnight successes,” many years of sweat and hard work went into preparing for that moment.  Bill spent years working in improv and theater, acting in and writing plays before he moved onto movie scripts.


Since the Deja Vu deal, Bill has sold several other screenplays and pitches, including 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea:  Captain Nemo to Walt Disney Pictures, and Blood of the Innocent, an adaptation of the Dracula vs. Jack the Ripper graphic novel,  to Inferno Entertainment.  He also adapted the classic children’s novel The Wind in the Willows which is currently in production at Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop, starring Ricky Gervais.

I’ll let you in on a little secret:  whoever is assigned Bill as a mentor is very, very lucky.  And one more secret before I wrap up here:  The final day to apply for the Liberty Lab is May 15 — just two days from now.

If you’re a procrastinator like I am, you may have left your application to the last minute.  Not to worry!  You’ve still got time to write that one-page treatment and turn it in right under the deadline, even if you have to set a writing record of your own.


“Liar Liar” and the Liberty Lab


No, our pants are not on fire.  Instead, we’re thrilled to announce that Paul Guay, who conceived and wrote one of Jim Carrey’s greatest hits, Liar Liar, will serve as a mentor in this summer’s Liberty Lab for Film.


Paul’s movies have grossed more than half a billion dollars.  Liar Liar was Carrey’s second-biggest hit without the word Batman or Grinch in the title (number one was Bruce Almighty, in which Carrey played God — how do you compete with that?).

At the time of its release Liar Liar was the sixth-highest-grossing comedy in history.  The screenplay received an Honorable Mention (along with Fargo, Million Dollar Baby, The Full Monty and Catch Me If You Can) in Scr(i)pt magazine’s list of the Best Scripts of the Past 10 Years.

Paul has been involved in numerous other projects.  He co-wrote the feature film version of The Little Rascals, Universal’s second-highest-grossing movie of the year, and co-wrote Heartbreakers, starring Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Gene Hackman, which opened #1 at the box office, and the rights to which he co-licensed to MGM for production as a stage musical.

Paul is a much sought-after script consultant.  But you can get his feedback for free if you are accepted into the Liberty Lab program.  Apply soon; the final deadline is May 15th.

What do Matt Damon and the Liberty Lab have in common?

Battle of Shaker Heights

It’s really simple, actually.  Matt Damon was one of the producers of HBO’s reality show, Project Greenlight.  The winning screenwriter of season two was Erica Beeney, whose script The Battle of Shaker Heights was made into a movie that also served as the first starring vehicle for actor Shia LaBeouf.

After winning HBO’s Project Greenlight contest, Erica wrote and developed numerous projects including an updated version of the classic teen surf movie Gidget for Sony and the comedy New Sensation for New Line.  She wrote Love & Other 4-Letter Words, a romantic comedy, for producer Chris Moore.  With husband Rupert Wyatt (director of Rise of the Planet of the Apes) she wrote a feature film Ice Road Truckers based on the popular TV series.

Erica has also worked extensively in television, including writing a TV movie for USA Network, a TV pilot for Viacom, and a one-hour drama pilot for Lifetime Television.  She’s currently writing a pilot for Media Rights Capital (producers of the House of Cards series) called True Believers.  Erica researched and developed It Might Get Loud, a documentary on the electric guitar, for Davis Guggenheim, the Oscar-winning director of Waiting for Superman.   She is currently working on Devil’s Canyon, an original screenplay she is slated to direct for Paramount Pictures.

And Erica will serve as a mentor to one fortunate team of filmmakers who are accepted into the Liberty for Film program.  Applications are free until midnight PT, April 25, and just $25 during the week after that.

Comedy and the Liberty Lab

A couple of weeks ago we introduced one of the mentors in Taliesin Nexus‘s new Liberty Lab program, Daniel Knauf, as a producer and writer of horror and other “darker” genre projects.   Today we do an about-face and talk about comedy.

David H. Steinberg took a circuitous route to writing comedy scripts via law school.  David entered Yale at age 16 and earned his law degree from Duke University.  After four years of practicing law, he quit and entered USC’s Peter Stark Producing Program.


David sold his first screenplay, Slackerswhich went on to become a cult classic starring Devon Sawa and Jason Schwartzman.  He went on to write several films in the American Pie franchise (including American Pie 2), National Lampoon’s Barely Legal, and the remake of the 1980’s classic Porky’s.  David has written several animated movies like Pixie Hollow Games.  He’s also written several TV pilots for various networks.

David created and directed the award-winning short film, The Babysitter (with Brie Larson), which garnered more than four million online views on, and made his feature directorial debut on the romantic comedy Miss Dial.  He recently checked off one of his bucket-list items by writing an episode of The Simpsons.

And yes, David will be serving as the mentor to one lucky team of filmmakers this summer who are admitted to the Liberty Lab program.  So apply soon, as applications are free until April 25 (and just $25 after that).


Happy 20th, TCM

Today marked the 20th anniversary of a cable network.   Who would give a damn about a network anniversary?  Frankly, my dear, the rabid fans of Turner Classic Movies do.  In fact, this past weekend thousands of them from all over the country descended on Hollywood to attend a film festival hosted by said network.  Not even Fox News or MSNBC can boast of that kind of partisan dedication.

TCM festival

Kicked off by media mogul Ted Turner on April 14, 1994, the Atlanta-based network has shown uncut, uncensored, un-reformatted (as in aspect ratio, a touchy subject with classic movie buffs) classic movies ever since.  Interspersed between the movies are fascinating shorts from back in the day (the studios made a lot of shorts, ranging from comedy to news reels), along with TCM’s own mini-documentaries on related topics.

Missing from their lineup?  Commercials.  That’s right, TCM is totally ad-free.  Take that, AMC!  When TCM says their movies are uncut, they mean it.  Watching TCM, you will never have the delicately calibrated flow of a story ruined by a Life Alert commercial.  And unlike AMC, they don’t consider movies like Alien vs. Predator or The Core to be classics.  Most of the movies TCM airs were made in the ’30s-’70s.  Watching TCM is like taking a film history class but with the cool professor, the one who holds class on the lawn on really nice days.

Which leads to my theory about why some people don’t like old movies.  Classic film is an acquired taste, like fine wine, abstract art, or Belgian porn.  A mind steeped in nothing but contemporary fare will find the switch jarring, even off-putting.  It’s a different mindset, pace and tone.  As the English novelist L.P. Hartley wrote, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”


What do Dracula and the Liberty Lab have in common?

imagesDaniel Knauf is an executive producer and writer for NBC show Dracula, starring Jonathan Rhys Myers.  It’s not a surprise that Daniel was tapped to work on Dracula,  considering the projects he’s worked on before (and is currently developing).  They include the eerie, Emmy-winning series Carnivale, which he created for HBO.

And if you meet Daniel, you will soon discover that, aside from being a gentleman (in all senses of the word), he is a gifted storyteller.  I have had the pleasure of meeting Daniel at several Taliesin Nexus-sponsored workshops, where he holds students spellbound with his colorful anecdotes, salty humor and hard-won sagacity.

And yes, if you are an aspiring filmmaker and you apply for and are chosen for this summer’s Liberty Lab for Film, you will get a chance to meet the man in the flesh, as he is slated to serve as one of the mentors for the program.  A lucky pair of creative initiates will be paired with Daniel (how I envy you!), who will provide canny advice and push you to make a sensational short film.

But don’t worry; he won’t try to extract any blood.  (Or so he promised.)




Cronies Uber All of Us

A few weeks ago I traveled to DC.  I looked into renting a car but the prices that week were higher than usual for some reason.  So I decided to take a chance and for the first time (for me, anyway), use those ride-sharing services like  Uber or Lyft I’d been hearing so much about.  (I even used Wingz on the way to the airport.)

628x471Turned out I made the right choice.  Got to where I needed to throughout my visit, for less total cost than a rental or the same number of cab rides, and didn’t have to worry about parking.  Bonus:  I felt tantalizingly hip, in a Silicon Valley-nerd way.  (Which is a step or two below Hollywood-hip, but two steps above DC hip.)

Well, you can imagine how rental companies and, especially, cab drivers (who pay thousands for the right to drive in a given city) feel about these new services.  They’re busily doing their crony-capitalist best to limit, outlaw or garrote them through government regulation.  You can imagine which side cities, which earn millions every year from selling cab-driver privileges, come down on.

Enter Nate Chaffetz, a distinguished alumnus of Taliesin Nexus’s Filmmakers Workshop, who produced this short video on just such a political tussle in Seattle, where the city council is being arm-twisted by the cab industry into limiting the number of UberX drivers who can be on the road at the same time.

Watch as council members employ pretzel logic to explain why the cap they imposed on the number of Uber drivers is actually a good thing for Seattle consumers.

She Fought the Law (and Won)

Filmmaker (and Smash Cut Culture contributor) Sean Malone just put up the trailer to his upcoming half-hour documentary film for his Honest Enterprise project.  It’s about Melony Armstrong, a hair-braider in Mississippi who (with the help of the Institute for Justice) fought the state licensing regime and won, opening the door to hundreds of young entrepreneurs in the state and setting a precedent for knocking down similar licensing regimes around the country.
Sean says (and we have no reason to doubt him):  “Honestly, I’m really proud of the film and can’t wait to show it to everyone, but in the meantime, please check out the trailer.”

Free Workshop and Internships for Liberty-Loving Creatives

Want to score a free weekend in L.A., learning the craft of storytelling from Hollywood veterans?  Or how about a three-month paid internship at a leading production company?

Taliesin Nexus is pleased to announce that applications are now open for two of their premier training programs.

The Filmmakers Workshop is TN’s flagship, this year’s being the fifth in a row.  A three-day weekend conference in August, it’s the perfect way to sample what TN has to offer, with minimal commitment.  Best of all, it’s absolutely free.  And TN even helps cover travel expenses and provides free room and board.

Who can apply?  TN is looking for liberty-loving filmmakers, video-makers or screenwriters who have some background in media or have written at least one script or made at least one short film or video.

About two dozen applicants will be selected to come to L.A. on August 15-17, 2014, where the workshop will take place on the campus of UCLA.  The faculty is comprised of seasoned Hollywood professionals who will share tips on craft and career advice.  The focus is on developing powerful stories, which is the root of any great movie or TV show.


If you prefer a longer sojourn in L.A., apply for the Hollywood Internship Program.  This program is more selective than the workshop, as it only accepts about three each year.  Each will work for a leading production company as an intern for about three months.  One or two will work in the summer, and the other(s) in the fall, gaining valuable experience and connections.

The early-bird application deadline is May 1st, so apply soon.  See the “How to Apply” page for more information.

And don’t forget about TN’s new program for more advanced filmmakers, the Liberty Lab for Film.

Put-Up Time

Ever tell your friends, “If only I could have $10,000 for a production budget and mentoring from a seasoned Hollywood pro, I could make a really kick-ass short film”?

Well, it’s time to put up or shut up.  Taliesin Nexus is offering just that to ten lucky young filmmakers.  Go here to find out how the program works and how to apply.

A key part of the application is a one-page treatment of your idea for a short film or video.  The story you want to make needs to address some aspect of liberty as its theme.  And it must be makable within the budgetary limits.  (So forget about that sequel to Braveheart, unless you’re really good at green-screen CGI.)

The judges will be looking for originality.  But they’re not looking for super-esoteric film-school short films.  You know the type — shot in black and white for no good reason, weird for the sake of being weird.  It wouldn’t kill you to give it a coherent narrative.  (And it’d definitely give you a better shot at getting picked.)

So, start thinking up those original story ideas with a coherent narrative and a liberty theme.  With any luck, you’ll be making a kick-ass short film this summer.

And stay tuned to this blog, as we’ll release additional tips and details on TN’s programs.


It’s a Smash Cut Culture

Do we need a new blog on culture?  Well, did we need a new pope?  I think both questions answer themselves.

Webster’s defines “smash cut” as… well, Webster’s doesn’t have “smash cut” in it.  The first suggestion it lists in lieu of “smash cut” is “Siamese cat,” but that’s just silly.

Naturally, Google has a definition:  “A smash cut is a technique in film and other moving visual media where one scene abruptly cuts to another without transition, usually meant to startle the audience.”

Which isn’t so silly.  Because Hollywood is going through an abrupt change that, rather than startling the audience, seems to be scaring the bejebus out of the movie studios and TV networks.

This probably isn’t news to you, but digital technology, which now runs the gamut from production to distribution, has revolutionized the film and TV industry (just as it upended the music business earlier).

Used to be that you needed a battery of refrigerator-sized movie cameras, miles of celluloid film, hanger-sized sound stages, and battalions of crew members to shoot a movie, along with editing suites with bulky equipment that would literally cut and splice together reels of film.

And then, you needed to make thousands of physical copies of these big reels of film and ship them all over the country simultaneously for opening weekend.  And you had to spend tens of millions in TV advertising to get the word out and butts in the seats.

Now?  You can shoot an entire movie with a handheld HD videocamera and a few hard drives that could all fit inside one suitcase.  You can edit the whole thing with nothing but a laptop.  You can distribute your finished product to hundreds of millions of potential customers with literally the touch of a trackpad button and a WiFi connection.  And you can market the whole thing for free with a Twitter account and Facebook page.

Of course, there’s no guarantee you will have the same level of viewership or gross income that the studio movie will garner.  But the playing field is more level than it has ever been before.

Of all of these changes — the lowering of barriers on production, post-production, marketing, and distribution — the most radical is distribution.  The studios were the ultimate gatekeepers on what movies were shown in theaters and sold in video-stores (remember those?), what songs played on the radio, what shows got on TV.  But while they continued to zealously patrol those gates, the walls around those gates have been crumbling.

Gil Scot-Heron was right, in a way — the (digital) revolution will not be televised.  Rather, it will be blogged, podcasted, YouTubed, Tweeted, Vimeo’ed, Pandora’ed, Amazon Primed, and Netflix streamed.  Studios can only stand by (like record-company executives before them) as their business models go the way of the dinosaur.

While the studio system certainly had its advantages and its triumphs, both artistic and financial, it was often hostile to those who didn’t share their paternalistic, coastal-elite point of view.  Having connections –familial, political, or school ties — were crucial to breaking in.  This fostered a group-think mentality, while those with other perspectives were largely locked out.

As Hollywood’s monopoly on the means of distribution fades, other points of view will break through as people outside the system begin to create.

Smash Cut is a group blog that seeks to liberate our culture from Hollywood’s stale, hidebound world view, encouraging more diverse voices and views.

But likely more often than not, we will simply write silly posts and capsule movie reviews, pointing you to the things we like (or warning you off things that we don’t like).  We want to hear from you, so we welcome comments.

We want this to be a conversation.  We will often disagree with each other — which is good, because as I said, we want to see/hear a diversity of ideas and views.  You will not find a lot of groupthink here.  In fact, we are all in firm agreement to avoid groupthink.

Like a Paranormal Activity movie, change is scary but simultaneously thrilling.  The changes underway in the Hollywood system provide tremendous opportunity to those who felt cut out of the old-boys-network because they weren’t willing to surrender their independence of thought.

Fresh new voices are emerging, and there’s no rule that says they must parrot the same tired Hollywood point of view.  We for one can’t wait to hear what they have to say.  And this blog gives us a chance to throw in our own two bitcoins from time to time.