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Archive for May, 2013

Koch–Tribune Demonstration

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At a demonstration on Wed., May 29, Guild staffers and members joined local activists to protest the potential sale of Tribune Company newspapers to the conservative Koch brothers. Filmmakers Tia Lessin and Carl Dean, whose film Citizen Koch was recently pulled from PBS—David Koch is a donor to and trustee of WGBH-Boston and WNET-New York, two of PBS’ flagship stations—predicted a “chilling” effect if the Kochs were able to preside directly over their own media empire.

Whether you are telling a story about the Koch brothers for PBS or producing a show for Discovery, our union is committed to protecting your rights and the rights of all the creative professionals who work in this industry. Those rights include the right to bargain collectively over the terms and conditions of your employment and the right to have your work shown—even when it is critical of the influence of billionaires.

Ingrid Jungermann, Creator of “The Slope” and “F to 7th”

by Justin Samuels

Ingrid Jungermann is co-creator of the award-winning Web series The Slope, as well as F to 7th, a “Homoneurotic Web Series.” Originally from Palm Bay, Florida, she is a thesis student in the Film Program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Justin Samuels: What originally got you into the film industry?

Ingrid Jungermann: My first film job was as a casting assistant for the Tim Burton film BIG FISH. I learned a lot on that film – and John’s August’s screenplay, before things were altered/shot/edited, was pretty much perfect. That script was an inspiration.

The set hierarchy also struck me. The director sets the tone. I wanted to set my own tone because I understand how people feel at the bottom of the barrel. Most of my jobs have been there.

 

JS: What do you think new media specifically does for filmmakers?

IJ: It’s true freedom. You call the shots, and what you wind up is imperfectly yours. I’m a firm believer in disappearing into your own head — working out all the details and seeing how that comes off rather than sharing the process with a lot of people. That said, I’ve learned how to give and take notes, and I had to experience intense insecurity – a creative breakdown. I had to fail numerous times to understand how I needed to work.

I will continue to fail and move forward. New media provides a space to do that and try again, all the while making public your artistic flaws. It proves that online audiences don’t necessarily need slick – they just need personal; they need a voice.

The trade-off is that you don’t make money on it. There are companies popping up that will offer royalty structures, but that’s far from making a living. If you want to make money, there will always be some sort of creative compromise, and that’s okay as long as you’re prepared to give up some freedom.

 

JS: What was your goal in doing Web series?  Is your Web series an end to itself, or your wanting to build up a platform for other things as well?

IJ: The goal with THE SLOPE was to practice, to make something fast and hard. We wanted to have fun and get our work out there without waiting on a festival to reject us. With F TO 7TH, my goal — along with practicing — was to build a platform for a television series or feature film.

 

JS: How do filmmakers use new media to either make money or launch mainstream careers?

IJ: There is no money unless you want to pitch a show to a company like Above Average, but even then, it’s ultra-low-budget and you’re not going to pocket much. You also have to pitch an idea that caters to their audience. Another way is to do branded content, which I think could be cool if you plan it before you start writing. For example, if I believe in animal rights, I don’t mind writing an F TO 7TH episode where one of the characters talks about or works at PETA.

Another way is doing what I mentioned before and signing with companies like Indieflix, who offer producers small royalties, wider distribution and some marketing opportunities.

 

JS: You’ve spoke on the need for filmmakers to make money from their work.  What are the best ways to do this, new media–wise?

IJ: Besides the above, I would say –  write yourself and the producer(s) into the budget. When you do your Kickstarter or Indiegogo or Seed and Spark campaign, along with crew and food and equipment, etc., you should say – I need to get paid.

There is a very flawed attitude toward paying the very people who make content – that it’s shady or selfish. People think the filmmaker’s payment is: You get to make your work. That doesn’t make any sense to me. I go broke to make this stuff, and yeah, my work’s out there, but that means I won’t make more stuff until I work another job I don’t like so I can go broke again to make more stuff. And you know who has accepted that process? Artists.

This country generally doesn’t believe in supporting artists financially, and I’ve always thought if you don’t respect the arts or education, you’re screwed. Thankfully, there are the Sundance and IFP labs, Tribeca All Access, Cinereach, Chicken & Egg, Astrea, etc. – companies that are extremely supportive and invested in filmmakers’ futures. But everyone I know applies for those, so best of luck.

 

JS: Do you think the Internet has broken barriers for LGBT filmmakers and other talent?

IJ: Yes. LGBT filmmakers — any filmmakers — were at the mercy of film festivals. Understandably, festival programmers are into coming of age and coming-out films – those stories are important and I get it – we still have a long fight ahead of us. Go, Minnesota.

There’s a “but” in there. With breaking down barriers comes a whole lot of crap — LGBT or otherwise. A lot of lazy scripts because the director likes to go with the flow and “improv.” A lot of bad comedy with bad actors. A lot of heavy drama about 20-something lesbians who judge other 20-something lesbians at 20-something lesbian parties. A lot of gay men who have hot sex and more hot sex and then text about it. Each is own, but all that bores me and I think it bores the kind of audience members I want to have a drink with.

I’m ready for the “LGBT” to be dropped from LGBT filmmakers and for all of us to be challenged and rewarded by the same rules.

 

JS: Were you excited when you joined the WGA?

IJ: Super excited. I still don’t know what it means, but I love it.

 

JS: What sorts of things should we look out for from you in the future?  Any feature film or television plans, or do you intend to stick with new media?

IJ: I’ve written a feature film based on F TO 7TH, but it’s a crime comedy. It’s sort of a Brooklyn Murder Mystery – same tone and characters as the show, but with more sadism. I’m talking to producers now and hope to shoot within the year.

But I don’t like to place all my bets on one thing, so I’m working on a TV version and working on another feature. New media is always there for me, so if I get inspired and we find production funds for a season two, I’m all about it.

* * *

Justin Samuels graduated from Cornell University with a BA in History. After working in financial services for three years, he worked at various temp jobs before deciding that he liked writing. Justin has published four books and filmed three documentaries, which are available on Amazon.com. He continues to work on his screenplays, and he is taking graduate classes at Lehman College.

Exile in Goyville, Part III

by Bob Schneider

Read Part I
Read Part II

On subsequent recon trips, I expanded the perimeter as far east as Fifth Ave., as far north as 49th Street. Tad’s, between Broadway and Sixth, was dark, mysterious—with flocked, red-velvet whorehouse wallpaper (though I didn’t know brothels from broccoli at the time). It smelled like a charnel house; yet it made my mouth water and my soul yearn for a taste of the proscribed, charred flesh. The kid’s room in the library of the double lions (which later turned out to be the logo of my favored Lebanese hash) initiated me, through circulating picture books of gods and goddesses, into the mysteries of the pagan mythos.

On Sixth between 42nd and 43rd, there was a used periodical dump, a treasure trove of back-issue comix—Uncle Scrooge, Plastic Man, Sgt. Rock, Blackhawk, and banned ECs—as well as secondhand stroke-zines which I would eventually get up the courage to buy and secrete back at cellblock Schneider. Next door was a record outlet where I got my first earful of the New Lost City Ramblers, Dave Van Ronk, Cisco Houston, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Woody Guthrie, as well as Italian baroque and be-bop.

On Broadway, the Pepsi sign (the lighter refreshment) featured a built-in waterfall, the Camel  sign a dude blowing a smoke ring. To my mind they just had to be two of the who-knew-how-many wonders of the modern world. (The year after I first saw the smoke-blowing sign, I discovered the principle art follows life, when I made the womb take me to the first run of Artists and Models and saw the sign and the smoke, inside and out, used as a Technicolor prop; the plot had an ur-Philip K. Dick premise—Jerry sonambu-screeches actual rocket-science supersecrets and becomes the target of bad-guy spies; and it featured a standing room only, Frank Tashlin busload of childhood faves: Martin and Lewis, Comic Books, commie spies and Shirley Maclaine.)

No voyage to the va-va world would have been complete without a visit to Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium, where the Iron Maiden, an inquisition torture/murder device (that I didn’t know at the time was built for the likes of this little Yid), always gave my spine a tingle and sent me into a meditative swoon on the nature of man’s inhumanity to man and (more to the solipsistic point), on the question of how would I/could I, through either cunning, daring or deus ex machina, survive an encounter with this objeto del dread.

But it all served as mere sideshow to the truly awe-inspiring main attraction—those ten movie theaters. It made me dizzy to look at all of those marquees so close together, like I had discovered the elephant graveyard of cinema. But none of the ten theaters sold tickets for children under thirteen. This vast mass of spinning celluloid would remain so close, yet so far away. And, by the looks of the paying customers it might be another dozen years before I could take my seat before the altar of the grindhouse gods.

Meanwhile, back in the world, I had treasured latchkey larks to the movies. There were three—the Apollo on Clinton featured westerns and war movies; the Loews Canal screened newsreels, serials and cartoon marathons; while top-of-the-ticket features would travel from Radio City to my part of the city to play at the Loews Delancey. All three had sections reserved for kids, sections ruled by an iron matron, short, squat, mean, dressed in white like a nurse out of a Hammer horror film. Armed only with a flashlight, a booming voice and a requisite hatred of children, she ruled her world through fear like any good movie monster, like Kong, Rodan  or the Blob.

Short of the womb acting as matron—she too possessed a sincere hatred of children—movies on the Deuce were beyond my reach. But since necessity is the mother . . . and since it was absolutely necessary for me to be in rapport with the flickers (once again, see Creation of the Humanoids, see the hero/simpleton Cregis belch “My sister is in rapport with a clicker!”), I developed a system by which I could vicariously enjoy the Deuce’s bounty without ever crossing the threshold of any of its theaters.

© 2013 Bob Schneider

Unions Make the Middle Class

White-collar workers who face greater job insecurity, worsening wages and benefits, and diminished control of their jobs and influence with management will be the “next wave of union protesters,” according to a recent article from the Los Angeles Times. It is yet to be seen whether this mass movement of white-collar unionization will materialize, but the problems of the lawyers, judges and insurance agents profiled in the article echo many of reasons why WGAE members say they need the Guild in order to maintain a middle-class lifestyle.

A new video series from the Center for American Progress Action Fund demonstrates what union membership means for white-collar workers by profiling two WGAE members, writer Susan Kim and Vice President Jeremy Pikser.

WATCH:

 

Kim explains:

We are all dealing with health issues, with family issues, with trying to save money for our retirement, with trying to save money when the job market gets really terrible and all the things the Guild does very much addresses these things.  It draws a line in the sand so that everything we fought for over the years doesn’t get rolled back every time an individual needs to re-up a contract, because you have more power when you are bargaining collectively.

Unfortunately, union membership rates are at record lows—largely because the legal and political environment prevents workers from freely exercising their right to join a union. As unions have become weaker over the past four decades, the middle class has suffered, with the share of income going to the middle class falling along with the percentage of workers in unions.

Critics of unions like to argue that unions are a relic of the past and largely irrelevant in today’s economy. Still, last year, more than 14 million American workers exercised their right to participate in a union, thereby allowing them to maintain a middle-class lifestyle—that is, 14 million Americans  used their collective voice to ensure that they are paid fair wages and benefits, receive the training they need to advance and are considered in corporate decision-making processes.

And increasingly, unions are helping workers respond to the shifting economy by organizing in growing sectors of the economy—including both professional workers and  low-wage, service workers—and helping workers with non-traditional employment relationships, such as freelancers and independent contractors, win important benefits.

Exile in Goyville, Part II

by Bob Schneider
Read “Part I”

But first I had to get past the parentals.

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The grunts in the Nam spoke of home as back in the world. The Lower East Side was my back in the world. And there I had been a latchkey kid. I fully expected to be so on Mongo as well. Womb and seed had a different idea. But after a lot of breath-holding and blue-turning, they relented and so, on a lazy Shabbos afternoon, they gave me a key and laid down a pair of categorical imperatives before releasing me into the wild: I was not to talk to strangers, and I must not conduct my cloacal business anywhere but home base—529 Ninth Ave.

As I left the house that afternoon, I was super-excited. In my hyperbolic mind I was Rob-it Magellan about to map my Brave New World.

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 One day in the twilight of the sixties, my Friend-the-Film-Critic and I were strolling the Deuce trying to decide between a blaxploitation double feature or a pair of spaghetti westerns, when we noticed that Freaks was headlining a theater on the north side of the street, closer to Seventh over by the porno Bijou and the Ilse-She-Wolf/Olga’s-House-of Fleapit. J waxed rhapsodic: Do you realize that Freaks has been showing non-stop on this street for the past forty years?

While what J said was not literally true, he totally nailed the it-ness and that-ness of Times Square: Freaks and the Deuce were made for each other, like Barnum and Bailey, like Martin and Lewis, like the turkey and the axe.

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I stepped out of the house, turned the corner on Ninth Ave., walked a block north, crossed the street, entered the Port Authority Bus Terminal. I walked east past the Food Fair, past the Book Bar and Leisure Time Bowling, past the massive bank of elevators and the always-busy ticket windows, and past the vast newsstand opposite Walgreens. There I took an escalator down into the bowels of the 42nd St. station of the IND. I headed north toward the uptown turnstiles, past the umbrella and sundries kiosk and the Latin Music emporium; opposite Cushman’s—where I would later discover that the best chocolate-cream-covered devil’s food cupcake on earth could be had for a mere ten cents—I walked up the stairs and through the pocket penny arcade. The mechanical howling from the Shoot the Bear games served as soundtrack as I climbed the exit steps. Finally, I emerged again into the light and saw for the first time the tack-tastic grandeur of Times Square.

Thousands of miles away, Disneyland-ia, Walt’s wet dream, built on the bones of an ancient orange orchard, was under construction. He envisioned it as the final frontier of fantasy, where kids of all ages could enjoy risk-free adventure; could experience Tío Walt’s bucolic vision of tomorrow, today. But here, on Mongo, the theme park of the Hell Planet was up and running, kitschy and crowded, as vibrant as the neon lights that shone everywhere, and all the time.

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ts-1952The street teemed—there were people on the stroll and people on the go; there were people gobbling fast food, people gabbing to and past each other, people who looked as late and loony as the Mad Hatter. There were movie houses, ten of them all told, on both sides of the street, all claiming to be Cooled by Refrigeration. If it were a 50s Sci-Fi movie I had found myself in (I was on Mongo, after all), it would have been titled The Cinemas That Conquered the World.

Between the theaters were businesses, but like this nabe’s butcherias, they were heretofore unimaginable variations on the ones I was familiar with. Back in the world I went to restaurants—I had three delis that I frequented, the one on Rutgers for their French fries, the one on East Broadway for their pastrami and corned beef, and Isaac Gellis on Essex for their franks. If it was milchidigs or pareve I craved, there was always the immortal, much mourned Garden Cafeteria, where I would invariably get my ticket punched for a vegetable plate—mashed potatoes, baked beans, and creamed corn—and wash it down with unlimited seltzer from the communal fountain, a stainless steel tub affixed with U-shaped push taps beneath the spouts. Here on Mongo, things were very, very different. Bizarro delis like the Grand Luncheonette and Grant’s had flat-griddle franks, but they also had onions (onions?), cheeseburgers, and malteds. Grant’s even had beer on tap! There was the incontrovertibly treyf—a diner on the northeast corner of 42nd and Eighth was named Ham and Eggs! Flame Steaks smelled like char, Worcestershire, and A-1, and Romeo’s Spaghetti Kitchen had a vat of boiling water just inside the window from which pasta was pulled and sauced non-stop: it was meta-entertainment—an action set-piece, framed for viewing, on the grindhouse strip.

There was Hubert’s Flea Circus and Museum of Freaks, admission 25 cents, closed Tuesdays, (its denizens documented for posterity by Diane Arbus who said: Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats), and nearby, Fascination, a penny arcade whose back wall was Skee-Ball alley. Across the street were two stores whose inventory consisted solely of gravity knives, R&B 45s and 33s, and Holocaust porn—paperbacks with titles like Auschwitz and Treblinka—a couple hundred pages each of black-and-white atrocity photos.

© 2013 Bob Schneider

Exile in Goyville, Part I

by Bob Schneider

1954 in The Naked City: You could lay down 15¢ for a subway token, take the AA or the CC to 49th Street, flash your G.O. card and pay just four bits for a side-balcony seat at an NBA doubleheader or a Rangers game; 15¢ was the going price for a slice of pizza or an order of fries—always fresh, never frozen; a quarter got you a frank, mustard-and-sauerkraut; a chocolate malted and a pair of pretzel rods would set you back 20¢, cherry lime rickeys were a dime, a 6-1/2 oz. Coke was 6¢ with a two-cent deposit (sodas were a nickel in subway vending machines); and who ate Hershey’s when you could get a Chunky, a Knickerbocker Bar or one of Hollander’s sublime full-sour pickles for the same price—5¢?

Although I lived in a tenement on Suffolk between Grand and Broome, and my family might be (generously) described as lower middle class, I always had enough gelt in my pocket to get anything I wanted—candy bars, cartoon marathons, comic books.

In 1954, the NBA introduced the 24-second shot clock, Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile, and in the World Series that year (The Jints swept the Tribe), there was The Catch—the Say Hey Kid chasing down a blast off the bat of Vic Wertz in deep centerfield, snagging it over his shoulder, his back to the batter, cap flying as he spun round, firing the ball back to the infield—a mindboggler even when viewed on a twelve-inch DuMont console.

In Creature Feature news, Gog was a killer robot, Them were giant ants; The Creature from the Black Lagoon surfaced, carrying a damsel in distress, while Gojira roared out of Tokyo Bay to claim the title “King of Monsters.”

My favorite adult-type TV show, which I watched on my DuMont with the religious fervor appropriate for a kid starting the second grade in yeshiva (Jew parochial school), was I Led Three Lives, in which Herbert Philbrick (Richard Carlson) found commies lurking like zombies ’round every corner. I rooted for him all the way, because in 1954 I was also quite concerned with the Soviet threat to our way of life.

And even though it wouldn’t impact me in a big way for a bar mitzvah’s worth of years later, I would have been very upset, very gung-ho, had I known that in 1954 Vietnam had been partitioned North and South along the 17th parallel after the fall of Dien Bien Phu, which signaled the end of French colonial rule in Indochina; and that it was also the year in which the domino theory, the conceptual foundation for our tragic, mass-murderous, military intervention in Vietnam (and the cause of my Indochinese tzurris those many years later), was first floated.

I was a proud member of the tribe, and a bull-goose Zionist as well, and I surely would have been out-of-my-mind pissed had I understood the significance attached to the fact that Nasser had beaten back the Muslim Brotherhood and grabbed the reins of power in Egypt, or that Alfredo Stroessner had taken over Paraguay and made that country safe for Nazi war criminals including Mengele, Auschwitz’s Angel of Death.

But what I knew all too well was that in 1954, the father-mother (see Creation of the Humanoids, 1962) moved the mishpuchah from our edenic shtetl on Suffolk Street to Hell’s Kitchen, so that we might live above the store which made possible for us that day, and all other days, our daily babka. It was our own melting-pot Downton Abbey, and I was little Lord Rob-it. We even had a pair of tenants. There was an enclosed kiosk attached to the side of the building where a jovial ginger named Red, of course, shined shoes, and an extension at the rear of the building with a barber shop presided over by Lenny the Tonsorial Artiste, where I had my first experience with the joy and majesty that was the tittie magazine.

All we had done to get there that muggy summer morning was take the D to West 4th and there change for the A to 42nd Street. But the moment I stepped out of the Port Authority, with its cavalcade of belching buses, it seemed more like we had boarded a Stratosled with Flash Gordon, Dale Arden and Dr. Zarkov, and landed on the Planet Mongo.

times-square-1953

The legendary Bosco Brother Butchers—where sixteen years later Peter Kubelka bought numerous haunches of lamb, schlepped them up to the Southern Tier, and cooked All Through the Night an unforgettable feast for a cadre of enthralled avant-garde film acolytes who had already been captivated by his masterwork Unsere Afrikareise (Our African Trip, 1966)—was first among a brace of butcher shops that dotted the nabe, unlike any I had ever experienced in the kosher precincts of the Lower East Side. These places overflowed with offal and other exotic cuts—chunks of fatback covered in crystallized salt, oxtails, whatever the hell they were; bloody pans overflowed with livers and kidneys and brains and sweetbreads from lambs, pigs, cows and calves.  And hearts, hearts!  They didn’t let anything go to waste. There were cows’ hooves and pig trotters; dead, furry rabbits hung from hooks by their little lucky feet, big floppy ears pointing straight down; outsized rounds of cheese hung right beside them.  One had a pie slice cut out of it, had black flecks all through it. I asked my father what they were.

“Maggots, Rob-it, maggots. The Telainishe like maggots in their cheese, dey say it makes the cheese taste better.” (Many, many years later, I learned that the cheese was provolone, the specks were black peppercorns, and they were dee-lish.)

I subsequently learned that the Telainische were part of the Bad Element, which included anyone who wasn’t a member of the tribe, all of whom, in times of deep economic or military crisis, would show their true, genocidal colors and scapegoat the chosen people at the behest of some latter day Führer, whose coming they await with as much conviction as we do that of Moshiach (Messiah to you members of the Bad Element).

I had been programmed to never forget the six million from the time I was a zygote. Now I found myself living on Mongo among the Bad Element who were itching to add the nukes and me to the body count. I had no friends, nor did I have the prospect of any; I was a displaced person on an alien planet. Is it no wonder my survival instinct kicked in and I became determined to get the lay of the land I had been dropped into? And so I went exploring.

© 2013 Bob Schneider

 

May Day March

mayday1On May 1, the 125th anniversary of the campaign for the eight-hour work day, WGAE led a march in New York City to Atlas Media, a nonfiction TV company known as a flagrant union buster and violator of overtime and labor law. Convening at Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan, WGAE members and staffers joined ranks with hundreds of other union members to protest Atlas and other companies who are trying to suppress the fundamental right to organize and who are committing wage theft.

The rise of Nonfiction and Reality Television has been dramatic in New York City. While profits are being made hand over fist, many thousands of employees in the industry — part of the new freelance economy — are obligated to work 50, 60, sometimes 70 hours a week without overtime pay, healthcare, pensions, vacation, sick days or any basic protections. Atlas Media is one of the biggest offenders, with a notorious reputation as a postmodern digital sweatshop.

mayday2Atlas Media is well-known throughout the television industry as one of the worst places for producers and associate producers to work. That reputation has been earned from a history of overtime violations, low pay, lack of benefits or any basic protections — and a general disrespect towards employees. Moreover, to this rap sheet Atlas has added union busting as they have recently flouted labor law to suppress union-organizing efforts by their producers and associate producers.

“As the hundreds of activists made clear rallying outside Atlas’ offices, wage theft is wrong, it’s a crime, and New Yorkers will not tolerate it,” said Lowell Peterson, Executive Director of WGAE. “The company needs to stop exploiting its employees and it needs to respect their right to negotiate improvements in their benefits and working conditions.”