Tag Archives: movies

GREAT Back Stories about the Movie ‘Big Wednesday’

All week, I’ve been blogging about the importance of knowing and sharing back stories to help readers or audiences see the full context of the work – or present a different, deeper perspective.big wed-poster

On Friday night, got to witness the great benefit of this first-hand. My long-time friend, 1976 world surfing champion Peter Townend, gave about 100 people at Bird’s Surf Shed in San Diego a wonderful trip down memory lane, telling some fantastic behind-the-scenes story about the classic Hollywood surf movie, “Big Wednesday,” on the 35th anniversary year of its theatrical showing.

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Besides being forever emblazoned in surf history as the sport’s first professional world champion, PT is also one of the sport’s greatest and most important ambassadors. He reminds me directly of another friend, Bill Rodgers, who dominated the world marathon scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s (winning the Boston and New York marathons four times each), but continues to do everything possible to educate the masses and advance running globally. In my opinion, based on 35 years of watching these two and having worked with both of them, PT and Billy are the two greatest ambassadors of their sports/lifestyles. And they both religiously continue to hit the water and roads, respectively.

So, everyone from old-timers to young kids turned out at Bird’s, and watched the movie. What a back story treat we received! While I won’t share all of PT’s stories, since he has other plans for them, I will share a couple of great tales from the “Big Wednesday” set that made most of us shake our heads.

The movie starred Jan Michael Vincent, Gary Busey and William Katt. All went on to enjoy strong careers in film, TV, or both. Since they were friends, Vincent wanted PT to be his surfing double for the wave-riding scenes. PT, then the reigning world champion from Coolongatta, Australia, was stoked to take a leave from the then-fledgling pro tour – “I made $1,000 a week on the movie, for a year; while I got free surf trunks for being on tour,” he quipped – and take the money and exposure Hollywood had to offer. It changed his life; he’s called California home since.

However, when director John Milius walked in the room and saw PT sitting next to Katt, he decided otherwise. For good reason. “We looked like brothers back then,” PT said of he and Katt. Billy Hamilton, the father of mega-big wave superstar Laird Hamilton, and Malibu great Jay Riddle shared duties as Vincent’s double, while great Australian surfer Ian Cairns handled Busey’s water scenes. Katt and Vincent “were actually pretty competent surfers,” PT recalled, “but Busey didn’t surf at all.”

big wed-sunsetNow for the fun stuff – and the reason why we love back stories. During the epic final act, the “Great Swell,” they shot at Sunset Beach, Hawaii for two months, holding out for … well, a great swell. They got it – thunderous 10-12 foot waves with some faces topping 18 feet. If you’ve been to Sunset Beach, you know that on 10-12 foot surf, the waves break as much as a half-mile from shore, and enough water moves to flood a small town … on each set. It’s a heavy scene, and no one wants to deal with a wipeout, especially when you take off deep, at the center of the wave.

But, Hollywood and movie fans love wipeouts. For starters, PT recalled, Australian pro Bruce Raymond was paid $200 per day – a month’s rent on the North Shore in 1977 – to “eat shit,” he said to loud laughter. He paddled out on boards partially sawed through. Every time he dropped in and set up his bottom turn, Raymond felt the board snap in half beneath him. So, while Raymond was tumbling in the world’s gnarliest washing machine, dealing with hold-downs that could last up to a minute, the board was washing to shore. An interesting way to earn money …

PT had his turns, too. His surfing scenes are among the greatest in the movie, with his beautiful soul arches and sharp, smooth maneuvers a generation of wave-riders can picture just by closing their eyes. However, during the heavy Sunset days, Milius instructed him to speed down the line of the set waves – and pitch himself over the nose of the board. Eight times. I can feel every reader who’s surfed Sunset right now, cringing when they read this. Great water photographers Dan Merkel and George Greenough captured the resulting thrashing sustained by PT and another well-known surfer of the time, Jackie Dunn.

big wed-bear“Big Wednesday” depicted a story of three Malibu locals, one a local surf legend, and their wiser, older surfboard shaper friend, Bear (played by Sam Melville). Here comes some more back story, and Hollywood magic: “Malibu” was actually reconstructed at The Ranch, a famous and well-protected stretch of beach between Santa Barbara and Point Conception, while surf scenes were filmed in El Salvador (then basically unsurfed), The Ranch and Sunset Beach. Milius also reversed the footage of Banzai Pipeline.

I’ll leave the rest to PT to bring out later. What fun it was, though, to watch the movie, and then have PT pop in with behind-the-scenes stories over the soundtrack. “Big Wednesday” is a true classic, and the fact younger surfers love it just as much as those of us reliving our younger years through it speaks to what PT described as “the real message: that surfers are community, and that just about every surf spot has groups of friends, as well as a ‘Bear’ who shows them some of the ropes.”

What a way to spend a Friday night – and to close a week of blogging on back story.

Now, for those of you in California, paddle out … surf is up big-time this weekend! Have yourselves a Big Weekend.

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Previewing a Book for National Poetry Month … and A Book for Life

Closing out a month that I will forever remember as the Month of Voluminous Editing. Never have I worked on so many great books simultaneously – novels, memoirs, travel narratives, my own projects. It just goes to show that, in this age where traditional publishing, self-publishing and e-publishing all offer viable paths of publishing success, good writing will rule out in the end. There will never be any shortage of well-written, well-conceived books. In fact, from where I sit, it seems that we’re back on an upward curve when it comes to overall quality of writing. Let’s keep it up.

Now we come to April: . I want to profile a couple of books that are on their way to bookstores and online Print

The first is The Hummingbird Review, the literary journal for which I’ve been editor for three years (except for the Spring 2012 issue, when I was teaching at Ananda College). Publisher, poet and author Charles Redner, who always keeps part of his heart attached to his dramatic arts past, decided to paint a Hollywood theme this time – combining movies and literature. For his part, Charlie wrote a short piece on those dramatic arts days … and a fine actor who emerged from his class. (I’m not telling you: you’ll have to read The Hummingbird Review).

The result is the Spring 2013 issue, our annual National Poetry Month issue, which features Hollywood-themed poetry and essays by our esteemed cast of new and established authors, including Dances With Wolves author Michael Blake, extraordinary poet Martin Espada, screenwriters Adam Rodman and David Milton, and a special lyrics package from my friend and client Stevie Salas, who scored Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventurein the late 1980s as his musical career was beginning to take off. Now Stevie is producing a documentary film on Native Americans in rock and pop music. We also have stirring lyrics from the solo work of legendary X frontman, lyricist and poet John Doe, who has appeared in more than 30 films and TV shows and series. (We did ask John to furnish the lyrics to one of X’s greatest songs, “The Haves and Have Nots”, which also appears).

We also pay tribute to an old friend of mine, the late Idaho Poet Laureate Emeritus Bill Studebaker, a man whose outrageous humor and sense of adventurism (especially white water kayaking) was matched by two things: his love of family, and his poetry writing. He was a fantastic poet whose works will live on for a long, long time. We present a half-dozen of his poems in a special tribute. Bill died in 2008 in a kayaking accident.

In addition, the spring issue features three dozen fine poems from new and regular contributors from throughout the country. It opens with one of the more memorable conversation-interviews I’ve conducted, with former Poet Laureate of the United States Billy Collins. The interview features plenty of Billy’s trademark humor, while also touching on subjects near and dear to his heart – such as bringing contemporary poetry into the schools through his Poetry 180 project.

The Hummingbird Review will be available through bookstores, on Amazon.com and on the website at www.thehummingbirdreview.com in mid-April, which is National Poetry Month.

• • •

51wvY-lQbaLAbout 18 months ago, the person who would later become my literary agent, Dana Newman, asked if I would be interested in editing a very special memoir that she was representing. I took a look at the manuscript, and knew it was a book I would never forget.

Now, here it comes. Cracked … Not Broken is the story of Kevin Hines, a young man from San Francisco, diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, who attempted to end his life at age 19 by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. He survived. Halfway through his plunge, he realized he wanted to live, and by the grace of God, his body turned in such a way that he survived impact.

From there, Kevin started embracing life. It was tough, and painful, but now, he is a dynamic, nationally recognized speaker and advocate for suicide prevention, a man whose story has inspired countless thousands. Maybe millions. This memoir is a testament to the will to live, and to learning to fall in love with life – after nearly ending it. There’s no sugar coating in this book: it is tough, gritty, emotionally raw, and leaves nothing to chance or speculation. Which makes it a great book.

Cracked … Not Broken is available on pre-order from Amazon.com.

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Catching Up … Conferences, Poetry, Kayaking & Kerouac’s Spontaneous Prose

While clearing off a busy desk … Am starting to prepare my presentations for the Southern California Writers scwcConference, which will bring editors, agents, publishers and authors together Feb. 15-18 at the Crowne Plaza Hanalei in San Diego. This is one of my favorite writer’s conferences, full of very current writing, promotion and marketing tips. Not to mention the read & critiques, where peers and faculty members offer up constructive feedback to help work get published.

• • •

Had a moment this week that made me take pause — and remind myself to keep in touch with people I’ve befriended and deeply respect. About 10 years ago, I attended a New Year’s Eve party in Twin Falls, Idaho like no other. The party was hosted by revered Idaho poet Bill Studebaker, whose poems of passion and place are known worldwide. His “On The Bank of Love Creek” is one of the finest love poems I’ve ever read.

Poet, kayaker & lover of life, Bill Studebaker

Poet, kayaker & lover of life, Bill Studebaker

During the festive night, Bill played Gene Autry recordings from 1915, showed us photos of he and his son kayaking in glacial melt in Greenland (imagine if you roll the kayak!) and engaged in a midnight Amazon blow dart fight across a crowded room with his friend, archaeologist Jim Woods. (Fortunately, the blow darts were not tipped with poison!) Finally, he tried to talk me into kayaking with him the next morning, New Year’s Day, on the icy Snake River in Twin Falls — right beneath where Evel Knievel made his failed attempt to soar across the canyon on a motorcycle in 1976. “What will the air temperature be?” I asked.

“It’s supposed to get up to five above.”

“Uhhh … no thanks.”

After that bash, Bill and I stayed in touch, exchanged poetry and shared a lot of laughs. His sense of humor knew no bounds. Nor did his sense of adventure with his kayak, or his 30 years of dedication to his writing students. He was an expert kayaker, sometimes careening down 40- and 50-foot waterfalls. As I got going with Voices, my novel that will be out later this year, I decided to memorialize the New Year’s Eve party, and Bill, by re-enacting it with my main characters. (See Chapter 23 when the novel comes out.)

This week, I decided to get in touch with Bill after some years of being out of touch, to let him know that the infamous party, and his graciousness, were coming back through my novel. Also, I wanted to see what new poems he was writing, and share a few of my own. Sadly, I learned he died a few years ago in a kayaking accident on the Salmon River.

Regrets? Right now, I sure have a few.

• • •

Just finished a very enjoyable project: writing an online companion to the Jack Kerouac novel “The Dharma Bums”

The original Dharma Bums cover, and Gary Snyder, the inspiration of main character Japhy Ryder, circa 1956

The original Dharma Bums cover, and Gary Snyder, the inspiration of main character Japhy Ryder, circa 1956

for Barnes & Noble. Those who have known me for awhile know I am an unabashed Kerouac fan. I’m also a huge proponent of the spontaneous prose technique he mastered – right down to effusive 1,200-word sentences in novels like “The Subterraneans.” While I was teaching at Ananda College last year, I even designed a course on Beat writing, starring Kerouac, for my senior creative writing class. With “On The Road” just released as a movie co-starring Kristen Stewart, Kerouac books are once again flying off bookshelves. It’s quite impressive: he wrote these books 55 to 60 years ago.

The Companion piece took on many shapes and forms. It’s far more interesting than the Cliff Notes we used as crutches for countless novels in our school days. The point was to show the contributing factors to “The Dharma Bums”, how it was put together, its philosophy and narrative style, and discuss the central characters.  For me, this last part was particularly enjoyable — and personal. Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder, the last surviving person Kerouac used to build his characters in the autobiographical novel, gave me some invaluable assistance. Snyder was the model for Japhy Ryder, the hero of the book. Over the years, as we’ve talked to each other, Gary has shared fond memories of Kerouac, with whom he hung out extensively in 1955-56 – and which is chronicled, though fictionalized in many places, in “The Dharma Bums.”

Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac

So,  for everyone who wants to know Kerouac’s secrets, here are the 30 essentials of spontaneous prose — as presented by Kerouac himself, in a 1953 article entitled “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose”. If you want to write with abandon, or need to break yourself out from writing too conservatively, cut loose with a few of these:

  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
  2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
  3. Try never to get drunk outside yr own house
  4. Be in love with yr life
  5. Something that you feel will find its own form
  6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
  7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
  8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
  9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
  10.  No time for poetry but exactly what is
  11.  Visionary ties shivering in the chest
  12.  In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
  13.  Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
  14.  Like Proust be an old teahead of time
  15.  Telling the true story of the world in interior monologue
  16.  The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
  17.  Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
  18.  Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
  19.  Accept loss forever
  20.  Believe in the holy contour of life
  21.  Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
  22.  Don’t think of words when you stop but to see picture better
  23.  Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
  24.  No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
  25.  Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
  26.  Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
  27.  In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
  28.  Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
  29.  You’re a Genius all the time
  30.  Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

 

 

 

 

 

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A Royal Farewell to Harry Potter

Since today is the premiere of the final Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this book and movie franchise’s contributions to literature, entertainment, culture and reading. Then, this morning, I saw an article from GalleyCat, “Harry Potter Lives Forever in Fan Fiction,” with a statistic that stunned me: Fanfiction.net now hosts 420,000 fan-written stories inspired by Harry Potter.

That’s four hundred twenty thousand stories.

Time to share my deepest appreciation for J.K. Rowling and the most important series of books to grace the children’s publishing world since Dr. Seuss (although, of course, Harry Potter books are for grades 5 and up). While grossing billions of dollars in book and film sales and selling books by the hundreds of millions, plus earning its own theme park at Universal Orlando, the numbers behind Harry Potter only make us sit up and pay attention. Especially those 63 publishers who passed on Rowling’s first manuscript before Bloomsbury gave Rowling a $20,000 advance. Seems pretty crazy now, doesn’t it?

My appreciation for Harry Potter began in 2001, when I was talking with a schoolteacher and artist who was home-schooling her 11-year-old son because of her differences with a school system that had cut compulsory reading by 50%. She handed me a copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the second book in the series, and said, “These books are making children want to read again. One day, we’re going to be crediting J.K. Rowling for making reading enjoyable for millions of kids like it was for us.”

What a prophetic comment. The combination of adventure, sorcery, danger, fantasy, compelling stories, teen romance, villains, and main characters just as dorky, intelligent, curious, silly and courageous as all kids in their awkward years created a fan base just as ravenous as Trekkies or Star Wars fanatics … only younger. Rowling’s magical storycrafting and her populating of characters in these worlds was just as meticulous and well thought-out as George Lucas’ creation of the alternate universe of Star Wars.

In an era when we were losing kids (and the printed book itself) by the millions to endless TV, video games, mobile devices and, at the end of the run, Facebook and Twitter, Harry Potter gave them a reason to read, imagine, dream and fantasize.

But what I really like about Harry Potter’s impact is the second component — the writing. It’s one thing to read books, but it’s another to sit down with a piece of paper and write creatively — something that seems to be phasing out of more and more schools as students approach high school age. As the GalleyCat post makes clear, the Harry Potter franchise has sparked writing by young people big-time.

I submit that today’s incredible number of highly talented, highly determined fiction, memoir and narrative non-fiction writers in the 14 to 25 age range were directly or indirectly influenced by reading Harry Potter books. All of the popular genres of this group — graphic novel, horror, fantasy/supernatural, romance and adventure — are “grown up” offshoots from Rowling’s narrative premise. I’ve worked with a lot of these kids in various schools and writer’s conferences, and seen some incredible works along the way — works of incredible depth, imagination and emotion.  In addition, some of these writers illustrated their own books and already know how to brand them through social media, blogs, websites and the like.

Yes, today is the grand finale of an incredible youth literature franchise. While I admit to only reading four of the books, and seeing five of the movies (I’ll see the new release, for sure), I just want to be sure we always hold J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter books very high in our hearts as writers, readers, parents, teachers … and the young writers who were sparked creatively for life by a band of pesky students with supernatural powers at Hogwart.

Indeed, as the GalleyCat article proclaims, Harry Potter Lives Forever.

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