Friday, May 6, 2011

Ron Swanson’s "Visions of Nature" art show grand opening speech from Parks and Recreation

Ah Ron Swanson, you are a wonderful creation. I heard this little speech on Parks and Recreation, and I thought: now this is a superb example of a comedic monologue, full of character and point of view; a whole world view hilariously encapsulated:

"Ok, everyone, shut up and look at me. Welcome to Visions of Nature. This room has several paintings in it. Some are big and some are small. People did them and they are here now. I believe that after this is over they will be hung in government buildings. Why the government is involved in an art show is beyond me. I also think it's pointless for a human to paint scenes of nature when they could just go outside and stand in it. Anyway, please do not misinterpret the fact that I am talking right now as genuine interest in art and attempt to discuss it with me further. End of speech." -Ron Swanson

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Mother’s Prayer for Its Daughter

I love this piece below by Ms. Fey-
funny and poignant...

The Mother’s Prayer for Its Daughter

First, Lord: No tattoos. May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches.

May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty.

When the Crystal Meth is offered, May she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half And stick with Beer.

Guide her, protect her
When crossing the street, stepping onto boats, swimming in the ocean, swimming in pools, walking near pools, standing on the subway platform, crossing 86th Street, stepping off of boats, using mall restrooms, getting on and off escalators, driving on country roads while arguing, leaning on large windows, walking in parking lots, riding Ferris wheels, roller-coasters, log flumes, or anything called “Hell Drop,” “Tower of Torture,” or “The Death Spiral Rock ‘N Zero G Roll featuring Aerosmith,” and standing on any kind of balcony ever, anywhere, at any age.

Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes And not have to wear high heels.

What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You, because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit.

May she play the Drums to the fiery rhythm of her Own Heart with the sinewy strength of her Own Arms, so she need Not Lie With Drummers.

Grant her a Rough Patch from twelve to seventeen. Let her draw horses and be interested in Barbies for much too long, For childhood is short – a Tiger Flower blooming Magenta for one day – And adulthood is long and dry-humping in cars will wait.

O Lord, break the Internet forever, That she may be spared the misspelled invective of her peers And the online marketing campaign for Rape Hostel V: Girls Just Wanna Get Stabbed.

And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister, Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends, For I will not have that Shit. I will not have it.

And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 A.M., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back.

“My mother did this for me once,” she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental Note to call me. And she will forget. But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.


-Tina Fey (From her new book 'Bossypants')

Thursday, January 6, 2011

"My Favorite Thing in the World..."

"My favorite thing in the world is when i look at a piece of art
or read a story or watch a movie,
where i walk away feeling like:
Oh my God I have to do something,
I have to make something or I have to talk to someone--
or things are not the same anymore.

And so i try to make work where you walk away with that feeling.

Yeah, you're thinking about what you just saw,
but even more than that you feel able--
you feel propelled."

-Miranda July

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Beautiful Losers of Cinema, Part 1: Marty (1955)

As we go through the process of revising HAPPY FUNERAL, I find myself looking at films that possess similar thematic threads.

One archetype I've been studying is that of the "beautiful loser," a perhaps awful shorthand for that character who is beautiful in his brokenness. We can't help but love these compelling misfits, brimming with unrealized potential. You know the type- he can't quite figure out how to navigate his way through life, or is always allowing others to run it. It's the guy who says lines like "I coulda been a contender." It's the character James Dean and Marlon Brando made careers out of playing, and in our time, Juaquin Phoenix and Johnny Depp have had their own go at it... And back in 1955, Ernest Borgnine won a Best Actor Oscar for his own doughy take of it in

Ernest Borgnine in Marty

We first see Marty (from whom the film takes its name) working in a local butcher shop. He is a 34 year old bachelor, hectored by his own customers about his single life even as they force him to detail the various nuptials of his own siblings. He's a sad, but noble figure, clearly principled with a desire to better his life and surroundings, yet without a sense of agency in his own life, especially when it comes to the question of finding his life partner. It doesn't get better when he gets off of work and meets up with his group of friends at a nearby diner. Their trivial pursuits only further remind him of his own aimlessness.

Perhaps the moment most emblematic is this exchange with Angie, Marty's best friend:

Well, what do you feel like doing tonight?

I don't know. What do you feel like doing?

Well, we're back to that, huh? I say to you, "What do you feel like doing tonight?" And you say to me, "I don't know, what do you feel like doing?" And then we wind up sitting around your house with a coupla cansa beer, watching Hit Parade on television...

This conversation reminded me of a lot of the ones I would have with friends in high school- but maybe that's the point, the "beautiful loser" is stuck in an extended adolescence.

This sense of being stuck only worsens when Marty returns home to his mother. But instead of the anxiety he and his friends were trying to distract themselves from, his loving Italian Catholic mother confronts him with it directly:

Marty, I don't want you hang arounna
house tonight. I want you to go take
a shave and go out and dance.

Ma, when are you gonna give up? You
gotta bachelor on your hands. I ain't
never gonna get married.

You gonna get married.

Sooner or later, there comes a point
in a man's life when he gotta face
some facts, and one fact I gotta
face is that whatever it is that
women like, I ain't got it. I chased
enough girls in my life. I went to
enough dances. I got hurt enough. I
don't wanna get hurt no more. I just
called a girl just now, and I got a
real brush-off, boy. I figured I was
past the point of being hurt, but
that hurt. Some stupid woman who I
didn't even wanna call up. She gave
me the brush. I don't wanna go to
the Stardust Ballroom because all
that ever happened to me there was
girls made me feel like I was a bug.
I got feelings, you know. I had enough
pain. No, thank you.


Ma, I'm gonna stay home and watch
Jackie Gleason.

You gonna die without a son.

So I'll die without a son.

Yet in spite of himself, Marty does as his mother advices and as he has done innumerable times before, and goes off to the Stardust Ballroom. There again he is rejected in typical fashion, then forced to watch his best friend Angie dancing. But fate takes a turn when a guy tries to bribe Marty and pawn off his own homely date. Upright as always, the very suggestion offends Marty. Instead he watches as the guy moves on and finds another chump to hand his unwanted girl too. But the attempted hand off goes badly, and in a long take we watch Marty as he watches the transaction go sour. The young woman is devastated and the two jerks wander off bickering about the money. The young woman walks out to the balcony and Marty follows her. It's then the two connect.

Look at this lovely stream-of-consciousness discourse that stumbles out of the mouth of Marty, as he tries to console the dejected Clara:

Now I figure, two people get married,
and they gonna live together forty, fifty years. So it's just gotta be more than whether they're good looking or not. You tell me you think you're not very good-looking. My father was a really ugly man, but my mother adored him. She told me that she used to get so miserable sometimes, like everybody, you know? And she says my father always tried to understand. I used to see them sometimes when I was a kid, sitting in the living room, talking and talking, and I used to adore my old man, because he was so kind. That's one of the most beautiful things I have in my life, the way my father and mother were. And my father was a real ugly man. So it doesn't matter if you look like a gorilla. So you see, dogs like us, we ain't such dogs as we think we are.

Marty went on to sweep the Oscars that year and was a huge sleeper hit. A huge reason for Marty's success, I'm sure, was the formidable writing of Paddy Chayefsky, whose incisive dialogue is perpetually timeless and always in the now. These days, when cineastes think of Chayefsky, they think of Network (1976), but even back in the 50's, Chayefsky rendered powerful, nuanced dialogue and was king of the monologue.

To this day, Chayefsky's influence looms large. A notable example: Love the stylized and rambling dialogue of Paul Thomas Anderson? The poeticized monologues especially on display in Magnolia? Well look no further than Chayefsky to discover Anderson's own aesthetic roots.

Chayefsky is perhaps most noted for the words that come out of his characters mouths. He stays consistent to their voice and ever faithful to the language and expressions of his time. But look at how he takes these forms and elevates them to the level of music. Look at the rhythmic patterns underneath the monologue. Marty speaks from his heart and wears it on his sleeve. This is dialogue at its most "on-the-nose." But the earnestness works because it is truthful. And a lot of "rules" fall away when we are simply truthful- as long as that verisimilitude takes on the appropriate aesthetic form of its medium.

And in the case of this particular "beautiful loser," his earnestness gives earthiness and texture to our own pain and longing. The truth that shines through in Marty is that people can be beautiful in their brokenness. And that "beauty" is what we call resilience...

Sunday, April 4, 2010

This just in...

Sheri Davani, the fantastic producer and AD who will be producing HAPPY FUNERAL, was just featured in a blog post on

You can read the article about this wonderful midwife of indy films here.

Friday, April 2, 2010

And then you will think to yourself,

Perhaps I am not as broken as I thought I was.

Perhaps I am not broken at all.

Injured yes--
But healing.

Tired yes--
But awakening.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Director's Statement (March 2010)

(NOTE: This director's statement was prepared for a Screenwriting Lab, and part of what I was asked to do was to describe our project status- something I won't go into when the revised version of this statement is posted on the HAPPY FUNERAL website)


I have always been fascinated by how people meet their deaths. I had observed in my personal encounters, and later confirmed in my reading, that often people who are approaching death experience a new sense of inner peace. About two years ago, I began to reflect on what it would be like to have these experiences at a relatively young age. The exploration of these themes evolved into HAPPY FUNERAL.

HAPPY FUNERAL is a window into the last days of a troubled young man racing to mend the broken ties in his life before a brutal neighborhood loan shark-- or his terminal cancer-- get a chance to kill him. At it's heart it is a trans-cultural, trans-generational story of forgiveness and redemption. I drew on my own Persian and Iraqi family and heritage as I developed the character of Sulayman “Sully” Hakim, who became the vehicle through which the themes of mortality and atonement are lived out. While the story is undeniably culturally specific, it is not a Middle Eastern-American story. It is a human story with a Middle Eastern-American protagonist. My goal is to create an honest portrayal of people with a full spectrum of human emotions.

In this regard, the Turkish-German director Fatih Akin is a major influence, who manages in films like Head On to illustrate Turkish characters whose lives are train wrecks, but are also fully human and never mere caricatures. Others filmmakers, such as Ramine Bahrani (Chop Shop) and Jacque Audiard (A Prophet) have served as superb tonal and aesthetic references as I craft the outer world that Sully is journeying through in HAPPY FUNERAL. My aim is to take this restrained, understated neo-realist approach and combine it with the kind of hopefulness and light that permeates films like Europa Europa or Shawshank Redemption.

The audience will also experience the world as Sully experiences it-- both emotionally and also at a subjective sensory level, much the way we see the world through the protagonist eyes in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Sully’s condition causes his brain to misfire, and as a result, harrowing visions, sometimes beautiful, and sometimes horrifying, visit him. These episodes will hearken to the poetic interludes found in the stunning films of Andrei Tarkovsky.

In choosing to tell Sully's end-of-life journey, I realized I was in grave danger of wandering into a vast wasteland of cinema clich├ęs. So I began to do as much research as I could. One of my resources was in my friend Daniel Spurgeon who is a brilliant poet, playwright and hospice physician. His insights were so helpful to me, I was compelled to ask him to become a co-writer of HAPPY FUNERAL. He has proved to be an able collaborator and we are both committed to doing are very best to make HAPPY FUNERAL a film of the highest quality. Towards that end we submitted our film to the January 2010 Sundance Screenwriting Lab for which were finalists in consideration. Additionally we had a table reading with a near full cast of actors to further assist us in our revisions of the script.

In the interest of a smooth transition into fundraising, development and eventual pre-production, we realized we needed to begin assembling our team. It was while I was at Sundance this year that I watched the film Night Catches Us and noted that the name of the Associate Producer and 1st Assistant Director for it, Shahrzad “Sheri” Davani was Persian. I later learned that she has worked as a producer and AD on a number of Sundance favorites, and has also worked with many Indy film powerhouses. Thinking she might connect with the material and that she would also bring the necessary know-how as a producer, I tracked her down and persuaded her to read the script. Happily, she enthusiastically came on board as a co-producer for our film.

As many have rightly pointed out, in the aftermath of the distribution meltdown, it is necessary for filmmakers to integrate a marketing and distribution strategy into their approach from the inception of their project. For this reason, we decided that planning for marketing and distribution needed to go hand in hand with our revision process. For that purpose, I asked my friend Kristy Thomley, a successful young publicist who works under the radar for many filmmakers and production companies, to come on board as the Producer of Marketing and Distribution. Our aim then is to smoothly transition into social network marketing when we have a final draft of the script in Summer 2010, and it will be Kristy who will execute the strategy we develop together.

As we slowly assemble our team, our primary goal is refine the screenplay of HAPPY FUNERAL until its craft and art are as solid as possible. When we arrive at a final draft, we will bear full steam ahead in filling all of the primary roles necessary to make the film a reality. Along with this we will do everything in our power to target niche audiences, carry out our social media marketing and pursue crowdsourcing. First the aim is to raise enough money to create a trailer and shoot selected scenes, and then based on the strength of these samples, continue to build the crowdsourcing community, and also to pursue more traditional avenues of fundraising.

After finishing the script with Daniel, I will continue on as a producer for HAPPY FUNERAL and will eventually direct and edit it as well. I plan to shoot HAPPY FUNERAL on location in Los Angeles. The bulk of the film will most likely be shot on the RED, but Sully's vision sequences will be shot on the Canon D7, both because of it's nimbleness and its beautiful look. However, I must confess that committed as I am to making this film, I'll shoot it on my own HVX-200 if necessary. I project the budget to come in under $300,000, a budget which also reflects costs for marketing and self- distribution after post-production is complete. Fortunately I edit for a living and believe that this skill- set will prove invaluable in making this film as inexpensively and efficiently as possible, whatever the budget or the format that we will eventually shoot with.

Re-reading what I have written about our plans, I must be honest and state frankly that I am daunted by the work ahead. However, I do not know what to live for, if not to strive to make films that bring joy and meaning to our world. At its core, HAPPY FUNERAL is about the human heart’s struggle to find peace with itself and an often cruel and violent world. As Sully makes his rapid march towards death, he rediscovers what it is to live. My hope, above all else, is to create a film where the audience experiences something similar.

-- Samah Tokmachi, Writer/Director, HAPPY FUNERAL