Salary Caps and Super Stars

For those of you who don’t know and still care, I am a hugely ardent fan of the Los Angeles Kings. I’ve followed the team since I was in my very early teens (like, way earlier than 12) and grew up with some of the best players in the game: Gretzky, Yari Kuri, Dave Taylor, and, of course, Marty McSorley. It was a sad day indeed for me when Luc Robitaille retired, almost like the end of an era. Oddly enough, I don’t think I’ll have the same reaction when Rob Blake, the last bastion of that team from my youth, retires most likely in the next two years. I can’t even say why exactly.

But perhaps you can now understand my dismay when I was reading a hockey blog by one of my favorite nhl.com writers, John Buccigross, and, in a hypothetical trade between the Kings and Penguins, he recommended that Pittsburg give up Sidney Crosby, arguably the best young player in the game, for both Anze Kopitar and Jack Johnson, along with a 6th round pick. What?! How dare he! Yes, I understand the whole thing is a hypothetical based on a rumor that Pittsburg was considering trading some of its star players to make room under the salary cap for a “rounder” team, but come the fuck on! Kopi and Jack? Two of the youngest, hottest players the Kings have drafted in the past 10 years? Yes, these are dark times for the Kings, holding down last place in the ENTIRE LEAGUE. And yes, desperate times call for desperate measures. But, I mean, these guys are the Robitaille and Taylor of the next generation! These are the players that kids who are now 10, 11, 12 are going to look up to, stick with, and get all depressed about when they retire 15 years from now still wearing a black and purple jersey.

It got me thinking about the whole notion of a franchise nowadays, a conversation I’ve had concerning various sports with several of my friends. With the rising cost of talent, the lowering of salary caps, general economic inflation, etc, it’s harder to keep backbone players – much less entire lines or rosters – that a city can really grow with and rally behind. It gets harder and harder to invest in a player, and by extension a team, when you’re constantly worried that any day they may get shipped off to Dallas, or Minnesota, or, worst of all, DETROIT. Egads. Where’s the sense of permanence? Where’s the reward for investment? It’s perhaps no wonder that fantasy sports are becoming more and more popular, because you end up following the individual player as opposed to one particular team. I suppose I could make a larger statement about how this isn’t totally surprising given the increased focus on the individual vs. the benefit of the group in America over the past 20-some-odd years. I suppose I could argue how the attainment of short term, ridiculous wealth has generally eclipsed the idea of physical achievement and long-term investment. I suppose I could bemoan the desire for the long-ball hitters at the expense of a solid, well-balanced and organically whole club. I suppose I could do all that. But I’m just talking sports here, right?

So general philosophy/wistful thinking aside, the Kings could definitely use someone like Crosby. As they stand, the Kings are a team of role players without one central figure spearheading the club. Rob Blake as captain has always been an anchor but never much of a leader. Cammalleri is a solid goal scorer but lacks the creativity and panache of a firm central player. And Kopitar, while perhaps the most incredibly skilled forward the team currently has (I once saw him score in a shootout without ever actually shooting the puck – he just deeked the goalie so bad that the puck slipped past him inside the far post), is better as a play maker and finesse player than he is a driving force the team can rally behind. Right now, the only up-and-comer I can see potentially filling that role who’s already on the roster is Jack Johnson. The kid has the promise of power and skill that, once he gets a good balance between his defensive and offensive games, might propel him into the arena (but not epicenter) of strong defensive players like Niedermayer, Pronger, and Lidstrom.

But we’ll see. Either way, I’m not getting invested, since chances are he’s gonna get traded in the off season anyway. At least he’ll always be on my fantasy team.

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Published in: on March 25, 2008 at 7:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Perfect Screenplay

This comes from my old Myspace blog, dated 4.7.2006

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Nobody ever talks about the perfect song, the perfect novel, the perfect poem. Because to do so would presuppose that there is an ideal of any of these art forms, and that would be preposterous with such a variety of voice and style inherent in all artistic mediums. Yet, with film there is this frustrating tendency to classify some films, and particularly screenplays, as perfect – the perfect structure, the perfect plot twist, the perfect character development. Forget that most of the criteria that determine these ideals of “perfect” ignore the virtues of some of the greatest films made outside the United States (Antonioni, Wong Kar-Wai, to name two). It doesn’t matter when you’re trying to create a product that will reach the largest audience and, by consequence, garner the largest profit.

Film became a business model in the eighties with the fade of old school film producers/executives who were brought up in the “industry” and the rise of business school CEO’s as studio bosses, corporate take-overs, media conglomerates, and my personal favorite, the test screenings. This is not to say that film wasn’t a business before that. The studios have always tried to predict the tastes of their audiences and then give them pleasing and unchallenging movies as a result. However, older film executives also understood that, without having numbers at their disposal, they had to go off their gut reaction to a story and produce from there. That’s what allowed us to have the film noir movement through the 40’s and 50’s, it’s what allowed us to have the Hollywood renaissance through the 60’s and 70’s. But since then, the bulk of the most interesting films made in America have come out of the independent movement (which in itself is now slowly being devoured by the studio system – we’ll see what happens).

Guys like Syd Field, Robert McKee and the like have responded to the idea that there is an ideal business model for the creation (not the production) of film stories, and consequently we get books like Screenplay and Story that try to mathematically break down how a story should be told. There are even people who try to provide a systematic method for creating stories, not just showing how those stories should be told. By creating essentially a mathematical formula for an artistic form, we now have an “ideal” to which we as writers should aspire. Bullshit. What a way to stifle artistic expression and creation.

While I agree with these mountebanks in that the way you tell a story is just as important as the story itself (see Inside Man as an example of this), we need to realize as both a business and an audience – yes, this includes those of us that still go to movies – that not all films need to be all things to all people, that it’s okay for some films to have small audiences just as it’s okay for some films to have huge audiences. More than that, if you’re just showing people what they want to see, how are you holding up your side of the artistic bargain, or even the commercial bargain for that matter? Aren’t you as either an artist or a salesman supposed to show people something different, something they didn’t realize they needed, and let them decide whether to like it or not? There’s something that happens at this moment – dare I say mind expanding? – that you never get if your values are just re-enforced by telling the studio you want more action movies with Bruce Willis (which is not to say I don’t enjoy those films…).

Just as in music, books, poetry, painting, sculpture, performance art, theater, and any other artistic form that falls between or outside, we as artists, audience, and business people need to break from the idea of an ideal film that almost everything will fall short of. In doing so, we might start enjoying things that are just a little (or even a lot) imperfect.

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(note: the following was a response from friend Jeff Crocker. I liked it at the time, and still do – I mean, when else are you gonna get a Napoleon Dynamite and Total Recall reference in the same paragraph – so I thought I’d include it. Enjoy.)

I think where your argument shifts it’s tracks is when you start talking about Syd “Big Joe Campbell” Field and Robert “Billy Joel” McKee. Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Meyer, the points you are making are accurate and unfortunate. But Field and McKee exist only in the world where we have accepted COMPLETELY that film is a business. There was a gap and they filled it. They subconsciously were convinced that only a certain screenplay sold consistently and then saturated the market with their own brand of, shall we call it- “screenplay scientology-” a self-help program for the weak and greedy, the quick-bucks and the Big Momma’s Houses.

Syd Field and Robert McKee are trying to make money themselves with their own soul-stealing business models. They realized a long time ago that selling a screenplay is one in a million, but there are thousands of Starbucks that need aspiring screenwriters to go into their coffee shops with their laptops and read “Hero with a Thousand Faces” while their modified MS Word idles on page 4 of their screenplay. It’s good conversation.

But again, you’re absolutely right that the exceedingly creative side of things has been in the independent sector, which will always result in a metaphorical and emotional strip-mining of these people, with Hot Topic shirts, Burger King Tie-ins, and MTV contests “To BE Napoleon Dynamite for a day!”

The only comfort I can take in this is that the pendulum will always swing back and someday in the near future, between Demolition Man and Total Recall, we will be begging people to care about movies to one-sixth the amount they do today.

Published in: on March 14, 2008 at 7:11 pm  Comments (1)  

Mission (Tortilla ™) Statement

Dear reader,

So my main problem with the blog world at large is the implicit ideology that every opinion on any myriad of topics is just as important as the next. I’m sorry, it isn’t. It’s that kind of thinking that got G.W. into the White House. Some people are better social critics than others. Some people are more artistic than others. Some people have a better eye for business and finance than others. Voices of authority are not only important but necessary. It’s a fact with which our society needs to come back to terms sooner rather than later – that the idea of “All men are created equal” doesn’t mean that we all have the same abilities and talents. Of course, we all have a right for our voices to be heard, we all have the right to find our own individual talents. I’m not arguing against that. What I’m saying is that, just because we can all publish our words, we should not let that freedom lull us into thinking that every printed word is just as profound, insightful, or important as the next.

Here’s my point for bringing this up: I’m not writing this blog for you. Of course, I’d love for you to take from it what you can, and at best it can be another voice in the crowd on whatever issues I feel like bringing up. (Let’s not forget that, no matter how much I’d love to spark conversations within my comments sections, I’m still the one dictating the topic of the argument. I say that with no small amount of self critique.) But I’ll be writing this whether 1 or 100 people start reading it, because I’m using this opportunity for me to figure out my own opinion on matters, why I care about things. If you have something to add, if you want to challenge anything I say, if you want to pat me on the back and say I’m a genius, well, you are more than welcome. Any and all reactions are invited. Just keep in mind that I don’t consider myself any kind of authority on any of these matters, that just because I went through the trouble of putting it in print doesn’t make it awesome.

I’m also a writer, and this is a good way for me to practice writing and feel like I’m accomplishing something. So there.

Don’t expect regular postings, as I’ll only write something when I have something to say or figure out. I’m not trying to slight people who do update their blogs on a frequent basis – in fact, there are several blogs out there that I enjoy reading and check multiple times a day. But since I personally don’t think everything I have to say is that important, nor am I interested in keeping a daily public journal, the postings will be sporadic. In the meantime, I’ll periodically put up some old posts back from the days when I thought Myspace was cool.

So there you are. And here I am. And that’s what my blog is about. Hope you enjoy it from here on out.

Oh yeah, and shout out to my corporate ideology sponsor, Mission Tortillas ™! Thanks for letting me use the word “mission” in my blog title. You guys are the best!

Published in: on March 13, 2008 at 6:03 pm  Leave a Comment