Thursday, February 13, 2014


Last year around April I began working in earnest on a screenplay that had been in my head for years. Years, I tell you. My writer friends will tell you about how maddening it is to walk around with an idea gnawing at you and you just can't figure out how to complete it. These stories play out in your head and you think, "That's it, I've figured it out after all of these years!" But then life interrupts and the work never gets done.

Or it gets interrupted.

Last year I was some 60 pages into this script and I came up with a new twist for the story. It was just a random "what if" I thought of that not only brought everything to a crashing halt, it froze me up for a good six months.

What did I do in the time while I tortured myself over not being able to complete this one script, a story I've been dying to tell for nearly a decade? I wrote a spec TV script, I wrote countless reviews, I tried to start a new column for Popdose, recorded a weekly podcast, I wrote 3/4s of ANOTHER screenplay, and of course, I tried to be a good father and husband.

When we came home from our holiday trip back east, I was in the shower one morning and the fog cleared. I realized that I had everything I needed to finish writing the original script, and I set off the finish what I'd started.

Today, I printed the first draft of the script. There was no better feeling than holding the 108 pages of my new screenplay.

Finally, a first draft is complete. Finally, I can say I've told my story (or at least started to, depending on how many revisions it goes through). Finally, I can take a deep breath.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

R.I.P. Philip Seymour Hoffman: Today the Beast Won

A few weeks ago, I was out to dinner with my friends Will Harris and Zack Dennis, two of my Popdose colleagues I see a couple times a year whenever Will is in town. As we sat around and got reacquainted, the topic of our favorite films came up. It wasn't difficult for me to pinpoint my favorite motion picture and I told the guys that Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous ranked at the top of my list. It may seem odd for a recent film to be regarded so highly (although, it's now 14 years old), but this wonderful coming of age story speaks the truth about the power of music.

At the heart of the film is Patrick Fugit's youthful face, playing William Miller, a character who is essentially Crowe. The writer/director drew from his own youth, when he was an underage journalist for Rolling Stone, to tell the story of a 15 year old music lover who finds himself on the road with an up and coming band called Stillwater.

Early in the film, William meets his idol Lester Bangs, one of the earliest and most influential rock critics. He's portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman, although embodies is a better way to describe Hoffman's performance. There is nothing false about Hoffman is this small but vital role. He has some of the most powerful dialogue in Almost Famous, words for William that would be intended for just about every kid whose ever fallen under the spell of rock 'n roll and wanted to become a writer.

In this scene, Bangs bestows his first dose of wisdom on William. At the end, he gives William an assigment to cover a Black Sabbath concert, a gig that will lead to him to meeting the band Stillwater, falling in with them, and covering them for Rolling Stone.

Later on, after William finally gets home and has to write the article for Rolling Stone, the editors at the magazine have turned on him and William doesn't know who to turn to for advice. He takes Bangs up on his offer to call anytime, leading to this pivotal scene that explains everything we've all felt at some point in our lives.


Crowe couldn't have chosen a better actor to play Bangs. Back in 1999, when I read about the casting of Hoffman in the film, I was so thrilled because here was one of my favorite actors teaming up with one of my favorite directors.

I'd been a fan of Hoffman since he played a dickhead rich boy in Scent of a Woman and followed his career as he continued to take on supporting roles throughout the 1990s. I suppose there was a dream that maybe I could work with this man someday. After all, he was only a couple years older than me and I was so sure I'd be making movies on a regular basis by the time I was 30.

In the late 90s, Hoffman broke through with roles in Boogie Nights, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Happiness, Flawless and Magnolia. He wasn't a "star" per se, but his presence in those films brought a certain weight to them; he somehow made them better, even if they were already great films to begin with.

The same can be said about Almost Famous. It's already one of the finest films about music and growing up that has ever been made (as I told Zack and Will that night), and Hoffman's performance takes a magnificant film and turns it into a classic. At least, that's how I see it.

After Almost Famous, Hoffman  continued to appear in ensemble films, always bringing his own gravitas to good and bad movies. His supporting turn in Punch Love Drunk, directed by his longtime friend and collaborator, Paul Thomas Anderson (he appeared in five of Anderson's six features) nearly stole the movie from star Adam Sandler. In 2005 he starred in the independent drama, Capote, a role that won him the Academy Award for Best Acting. He would be nominated three other times, for Charlie Wilson's War (2007), Doubt (2008) and The Master (2012). In between films, he returned to the theater, where he continued to grow as an actor, becoming one of the best.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead this morning, news that shocked me when I read it soon after returning from church.  The sad details of what happened have filtered out and it seems as if his addiction to drugs came back tenfold after over 20 years of sobriety.

Addiction is a beast. It sinks its claws into men and women and wipes them of their souls. Doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, the beast needs to feed and it slithers around, searching for someone at their weakest and pounces. For those people who manage to fight back the beast and defeat it, it's always in the shadows waiting to pounce again, just when that man or woman is feeling a slip in their confidence, just when they're feeling down enough, or invincible enough to taste the beast just this one time. The beast is waiting because the beast never likes to lose.

The beast won today, and we lost one of my generation's greatest thespians.

More important, the beast took the life of a father, a partner, a sibling, and a son.

Why does Hoffman's death seem to hit harder than any of the other deaths that have happened in recent months? I believe it's because he was a regular looking guy, what Hollywood likes to call a "character actor." He was "honest and unmerciful" in everything he did, whether it was epics like
 Cold Mountain, piercing dramas like Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, or mainstream blockbusters like The Hunger Games:Catching Fire. Although he didn't have marquee good looks and didn't "open" movies, Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of the "uncool," who'd made it big and continued to give hope that we could make it one day.

With his death today, a little bit of that hope went away.

Fuck the beast.