Archive for April, 2012

Stage Fright

April 23rd, 2012

Levon Helm of The Band passed away on April 19. He was a great drummer with a distinctive voice, played multiple instruments and acted as well. That's him singing lead on "The Weight" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." But whenever I think about The Band, the song that sticks in my mind is "Stage Fright," which conveys the kind of feelings I have about writing for an audience.

Some people -- like Levon -- seem completely at ease performing in front of crowds or cameras. Not me. Even when I wrote for newspapers, I'd get nervous about what readers would say the next day... or not say. The only thing worse than criticism for a writer is complete indifference. Actors, musicians, writers, for the most part, want to see their work get reactions from others. But there's a price to pay for wanting to be in the limelight. You feel like you're always walking on a high wire, and all it takes is one misstep to send you crashing to earth. There's a new book out about creativity ("Imagine: How Creativity Works") that says a high percentage of artistic types are manic depressives, which doesn't surprise me. That also ties into the correlation between addiction and people who choose the creative arts as their profession. Life on the tight rope brings high highs and low lows.

Every time I start a new screenplay, my stomach gets tied up in knots. The sensation never leaves, even after I type "Fade Out" at the end of a script. Actually, that's when my "page fright" gets more intense. Whether I'm sending it out to a fellow writer or asking my wife for feedback, there's the nagging voices in my head telling me it's good no matter what others think -- or it's crap no matter how good they say it is. Then after more rewrites, I'll send it out to agents, managers or producers, and wait nervously for their responses. I know 90 percent of the time, their response will be "not for me" or the soft pass (they simply never get back to you). Yet once in awhile I do get the positive response or news that my script has advanced in a screenwriting competition... and I'm back on top of the world with renewed visions of Hollywood success in my head again.

Last night, my wife and I were about to watch Mad Men and The Killing on AMC. However, the power in Kailua went out briefly, knocking out Oceanic's cable service. The electric service for everything else was still working though, so I fished around for a DVD to play until the cable box rebooted. I blew the dust off my copy of "The Last Waltz" in honor of Levon Helm. It's one of the great rock concert films of all time (filmed by Martin Scorsese in 1976), mainly because it features one of the best rock bands of all time. Listening to those songs reminded me how times have changed. The Band actually played their own instruments and could play just about any style, from classical to jazz, blues, rock. But they were also students of history, writing about things like the Civil War and the hardscrabble life of farmers, or humorous takes on characters who seemed like real folks. You just don't hear much music like that these days because the people who are big stars now prefer to write about how hard it is being a star or the "tragedy" of getting dumped by a boyfriend, or want to brag about their macho ways and pimped-out lifestyle.  They have the opposite of stage fright -- they can't imagine life not being in the spotlight.

When I heard the news Levon died, I didn't feel sad. I was happy he lived a relatively long life doing what he loved (not to say he didn't have struggles and problems, including throat cancer). Watching "The Last Waltz," I did get a little misty-eyed though when the Band launches into "Stage Fright." I remembered meeting Richard Manuel at the Lone Star Cafe in NYC, where he was performing way back in 1984 0r 1985. There used to be a giant iguana sculpture on the roof, and I saw some great musicians play in that club. Anyhow, while hanging out, I met a writer who was working on a piece about Richard and The Band. He told me that Richard was drinking hard again, and not doing very well. But when the writer introduced me to him, Richard was gracious and soft spoken. He was the guy in the song:

Now deep in the heart of a lonely kid
Who suffered so much for what he did,
They gave this ploughboy his fortune and fame,
Since that day he ain't been the same.

See the man with the stage fright
Just standin' up there to give it all his might.
And he got caught in the spotlight,
But when we get to the end
He wants to start all over again.

I've got fire water right on my breath
And the doctor warned me I might catch a death.
Said, "You can make it in your disguise,
Just never show the fear that's in your eyes."

See the man with the stage fright,
Just standin' up there to give it all his might.
He got caught in the spotlight,
But when we get to the end
He wants to start all over again...

And that's how I feel every time I sit down to write. But I no longer do it for the accolades, or because I need affirmation from others. Sometimes I just want to share what's on my mind. Thanks Levon... and Richard, for the songs and the music. (For those who didn't closely follow The Band after they broke up, Richard committed suicide in 1986.)


BTW, my Career Changers TV show has been getting preempted by lots of high school sports on OC16 the past month. However, you can see past and current episodes by using Oceanic's interactive on-demand channel. Go to either Channel 951 or 15 and use the scroll bar at the bottom. Then select the episode you want. This month's episode is 12-04 (for April 2012) which is our chocolate-themed show. To see it on regular high def, please visit www.CareerChangers.TV or check out video segments on the CCTV YouTube Channel.

Guns Versus Cameras

April 13th, 2012

At heart, I'm a libertarian who doesn't want government meddling in my personal affairs -- unless what I or someone else does may harm others. I also believe in the free market system... up to a point. There are too many crooks and greedy bastards out there who will game the system, or take advantage of decent hard-working people just to make more money. When it comes to law and order, however, my liberal values become compromised. The national debate over the Trayvon Martin "self defense" shooting and local news about criminal activity around Otto Cake in Chinatown are two sides of the same coin, although they may seem totally unrelated on the surface.

What connects them is the failed War on Drugs. What's the number one reason for robberies and burglaries? Addicts -- and unemployed/low-income people who turn to drugs for escape -- need money to pay whatever dealers can charge, based on supply and demand. It's why we feel the need to have Neighborhood Watches, and carry guns or install security cameras. Which are just bandages that do nothing to address the underlying problem: taking care of the addiction first. In other countries where drugs are treated as a health problem, the government takes steps to supply drugs or treatment to addicts -- so it's less necessary for those addicts to commit crimes to feed their habits. Doesn't that make more fiscal sense?

Some of you will say: but that will lead to MORE addiction! Not true. Studies show that while making drugs legal may lead to a short term increase in usage or experimentation, the addiction rate stays pretty much the same. Legal or illegal, there will always be roughly 10 percent of the population that gets addicted to alcohol, drugs or something. Tougher laws -- even death sentences -- do not change that statistic. It's a genetic thing.

The urge to defend our property is instinctual. But carrying a loaded gun on a Neighborhood Watch? That's asking for trouble. Yet for people in crime-infested areas, what are the options? That's why I sympathize with Otto (real name Scott Michael McDonough) who has been harassed and assaulted by drug dealers in Chinatown. He took pictures and video of the alleged criminals. Then last night on TV news I saw a Honolulu police officer say you should NOT take photos or video of drug dealing or other illegal activity because the bad guys might seek retribution. Instead, the officer said you should call 911. Right. This coming from the same police department that says it's too busy to respond to every complaint, while they're out writing tickets for jaywalking or setting up speed traps in the middle of the day.

I've been in Otto's shoes. My wife and I live next to a park, where kids will congregate and break out joints or pipes to smoke one thing or the other. When they do it right behind our house, they've crossed the line. I have called 911 before, but the kids are usually gone by the time the cops arrive... and when the men in blue do respond quickly, they can easily spot the police cars entering the parking lot, and just walk away. So I started taking photos and video of the kids first. Then I tell them they better leave before I call the cops. One or two will always mouth off. That's when I hold up the camera and ask them to continue talking so I have more evidence to present to the police. That usually shuts them up, and they split. For good.

It got me to thinking that Trayvon would still be alive if George Zimmerman was carrying a camera instead of a gun. Yeah, I can hear the NRA saying that's ridiculous because the bad guys are all carrying lethal weapons. Unfortunately, the gun doesn't make any judgement on who is good or bad once it is fired. Dead is dead. So should Otto arm himself and presume he must be willing to shoot someone just to protect his business? Or would it be more sensible for him and other shop owners to install security cameras -- maybe hook them up to a monitoring room in the Chinatown police station. If HPD doesn't have enough manpower to walk the beats, perhaps a pair of eyes can watch a bunch of streets at one time on video monitors. And that is where my views on personal liberty become conflicted...

I hate the idea we have to surrender our rights to privacy just because of a few bad people. But until we decide to get real about the underlying causes of crime -- addiction being high on the list -- I don't know if we have any alternative, other than packing heat or carrying a camera. At least in the latter option, if you shoot first and ask questions later, no one gets killed.

ADDENDUM (4/18/12): To commenters who claim there hasn't been a significant increase in the number of guns owned in Hawaii, check out these statistics from the State Attorney General's office:

REPORT FROM THE ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE – The Department of the Attorney General has released its annual report detailing state firearm registration statistics for calendar year 2011.

A record high total of 15,375 personal/private firearm permit applications were processed statewide during 2011, marking a substantial 20.1% increase from the previous record high of 12,801 applications processed in 2010... Firearm registration activity increased dramatically over the course of the twelve years for which these data have been systematically compiled and reported.  From 2000 through 2011, the number of permit applications processed annually climbed 136.9%, the number of firearms registered soared 170.3%, and the number of firearms imported surged 148.3%.


The current episode of Career Changers TV is being preempted by high school sports this weekend, but you can still DVR it on other days or watch video segments on the CCTV YouTube Channel. Lots of chocolate-related stories in this month's show! Check it out on OC16.

Sweet Rewards

April 4th, 2012

Old Sugar Mill

The new April episode of Career Changers TV begins airing Thurs. night, 8:30 PM on OC16 -- and if you like chocolate, you won't want to miss this show! We've got segments on the 2nd Annual Hawaii Chocolate Festival that drew hundreds of people to Dole Cannery, a close-up look at the Waialua Estates cacao orchard on the North Shore, a feature on Madre Chocolate in Kailua, plus a piece on how they used Kickstarter to help launch their biz. Hint: their campaign took off in part because of a video created by Chop Chop Media.

We had so much chocolate-related stuff, I had to hold back one segment about Chocolate On A Mission for next month's episode. There's a brief bit about them in the Chocolate Festival overview, but I was so moved by what they're doing that I felt it warranted a separate, more in-depth story. When I saw their banner and display of delicious candy samples, I asked Wendy Loh what exactly their "mission" was. It turns out she's working with the River of Life Mission in Chinatown, to help teach job skills to needy folks. That includes former prison inmates and homeless people, who are now producing high quality chocolate products. They do fundraising gift packages, chocolate-covered fortune cookies with customized messages, and offer popular items such as chocolate-covered mini Oreos.

This is River of Life's first business venture, and they've already landed big orders from Bank of Hawaii and other local companies for their Great Hawaiian Fortune Cookies. They also have plans to launch two other businesses while training clients skills to get jobs in those fields. Without these types of programs, there's not much hope for released prison inmates or the people you see living on the streets, to get a second chance at finding work. So if you're Downtown or in Chinatown, please stop in to buy some chocolate for a worthy cause. They might even take you up to the second floor in what they claim is the second oldest working elevator in Honolulu. (It did make me a little nervous though when the elevator seemed to get stuck for a moment.) For more info, click here.

Coincidentally, the Taste of Waialua event is happening this Saturday at the Old Sugar Mill -- which is where we shot this month's show and segment intros with our host, Theresa Tilley. The guys at Island-X Hawaii, who run the funky store pictured above, were great to us. They even offered free samples of Waialua Estates coffee and chocolate, which can also be purchased there. Next time you're on the North shore, check them out! Here's a link to the Taste of Waialua page.

For daily viewing times of the new Career Changers TV show, visit our website. You can also watch video segments from past and current episodes on the CCTV YouTube Channel. Mahalo!