iTotally Recall The Future

This is a little known fact about me, but I am a huge sci-fi fan. Where Godard once said, “All you need to make a move is a girl and a gun,” my personal creed has been all you need is a thin premise, a helmet and a spaceship hallway shot from 37 different directions.

Maybe it’s because I was 7 when Star Wars came out. Maybe it’s because I saw Tron at an impressionable age. But I have always yearned for a life lived amongst the stars and all the scientific technology and inventions that go with it.

All that future tech! I ached for it. I’d look down on my three speed chopper bike and wonder why it couldn’t have been a land speeder. Or why Mum had to cook stuff instead of it just materializing at the push of a button. Life would be perfect when all that technology was just as common as oxygen from my jet pack space suit.

Colin Farrell was just in a redux of Total Recall. I’m a big fan of the original. It really pushed what a mainstream sci-fi movie could be. And who could forget Arnie’s immortal line, “I got a tooo-mah!”?

And to be fair the new Colin one wasn’t as bad as Rotten Tomatoes would have you believe. It actually looked really good. And the so-so script was fine enough. Let’s face it, no one’s going for the story. They want to see some great futuristic, dystopian hovercar chases, shit blowing up and Colin’s hair. All done with CGI. Especially the hair. It’s just too good.

I was watching the movie on my iPad in a hotel room when the story reached a really interesting part. Colin puts his hand up on a glass surface and turns the whole thing into a screen. He flips information around with the tips of his fingers. He’s just about to find a clue, when someone calls me a Skype.

I pause the film, pinch the screen, flip it way, push open Skype and talk to a friend on the same screen that I’d had Colin on moments before.

After I hung up, I reversed the swiping, pinching and operating motions one-handed, and dropped back into the film just as a phone call came through for Colin on that glass surface…

Hang on…

Didn’t I just do that?

I rewound and watched the scene again. There wasn’t a single thing he did in it that I couldn’t do on my iPad. I’m not a spy, I write ads. I’m not an intergalactic explorer, I commute to Nashville.

All I did was buy something that a million other people already owned too. OK, yes, the tech worked faster in Total recall, so his character obviously wasn’t on AT&T. And yes, his hair was better, but we’ve covered that.

Yet there it was, the technology of 2075 in my hand. We had finally caught up.

But what a strange feeling. The tech I had yearned for all my life was a Xmas present.

It made me think back the first time I saw Colin Farrell in a film, Minority Report, probably 10 years ago. Those gloves of Tom Cruise and that screen were all anyone talked about. Not because no one can work out the triple twist, double back stab story ending to this day, but because that technology was so unimaginable, so far away from our cell phones that just made phone calls, it seemed like something our grandchildren might invent.

So now that we’re all caught up, I guess that means the future has already arrived. So prepare for the arrival next week of hyperspace, robotic implants, Soylent Green snack crisps, cylons that look just like us, beaming up to the Enterprise and 742 different types of invading aliens and a big hello to anyone reading this from your home on Mars.

And if any of your extra terrestrial neighbors need one, iPads are $369 at Best Buy, Fedexed to your spaceship door.

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I Discover That Musicians Are Whores

Music, music, music. If you aren’t in LA for film, music is the other great altar that people from all all over the world fling themselves upon in the hopes of being discovered.

New York used to be it when it came to music in the US. But then Giuliani cleaned up the streets and swept all the note lovers out west. LA is the music hub of America, and everyone plays LA.

Everyone from Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Jay-Z level artists, to guys with guitars just doing a room can be found tuning up, testing sound and belting it out into a microphone every night of the week all over the City of Angels.

There’s a lot of bands that you never heard of who make a fine living touring and playing gigs. The internet means it’s even easier to gather your fans into one page and tour around. And considering that pretty much anyone can be on iTunes (and definitely on myspace) fans can be listening to your songs and wearing your merchandise t-shirts they bought at the gig you played in their one horse town.

But what if you are the band who literally just arrived? Four people getting off a plane from who knows where and trying to make it in LA? That’s a tough start. You got to find a rehearsal space, get some buzz, get some gigs, keep writing new songs. And all the while you have to eat and pay the rent on the one bedroom in Hollywood that you all share.

So it didn’t surprise me at all one night when I was sitting on the patio of a restaurant and glanced across the road to see musical whores.

At least, that’s what it looked like.

Four young guys, all dressed up in their gear, carrying guitar cases and a tambourine just loitering about and scanning the windows of every car that came by.

And people were slowing down to scope them out. It reminded me of the back streets of Sydney, the Reeperbahn in Hamburg, any alley way with a window in Amsterdam.

These musicians were whoring themselves out. But to who?

Wait! It totally makes sense. If you’re cooped up at home, married with kids, your stereo stopped being yours a long time ago. Gone are the days where you could rock out to Aerosmith, Rage Against the Machine, The Smiths and just hang out. Nowadays that Sonos system you dropped $2000 on just plays Top 20, Ryan Seacrest endorsed, “nice songs, sung by nice people, nicely,” and rappers with names that are spelled some way you can’t get your head around with at least one $ sign in it.

You need to cut out for a little rock out.

And that’s where the Musical Whores come in. Just cruise on up, roll down the window. And let the negotiations begin.

Lead SInger: Hey there, you looking to hear something?

Driver: How much?

Lead Singer: Depends what you want… $20 for a song, $50 for three, and $100 if you want a whole album.

Driver: You guys do rock?

The Band laugh amongst themselves.

Lead Singer: If you want a little Gangnam Style, K-Town is that way. This is Hollywood man.

Guitarist: (zipping open guitar case) See that? That’s an ’83 Telecaster. Cherry.

Bassist: Fender P-Bass backing that up.

Driver: You mean like…

Bassist: …like John Paul Jones had for Led Zep. You want to feel this one in your eardrums?

Lead Singer: Of course he does. What do you need papi? A quick single? We’re doing a special on EPs.

Then the driver sees the drummer clutching his tambourine.

Driver: Hang on?! What the hell is this? I need some rock. Not some bullshit Partridge Family tease.

Drummer: Calm down John. I got a whole kit set up in the back alley, it’s really close by. We can go all go there right now.

Driver: Out in the open?

Lead Singer: It’s LA baby, permanent sunshine. C’mon, we’ll do a special performance just for you.

There’s a moment of indecision, the Driver takes a few looks around.

Drummer: I’ll let you hold the drumsticks.

Driver: Done.

The Band climb into the car and the lead singer takes the front seat. Of course.

Lead Singer: By the way, no photos, no autographs and no singing from you. I only duet with regulars. Got it?

Driver: Got it.

Lead Singer: Let’s rock.

Now I could be wrong and maybe the scene that I saw was just a band getting a ride to a gig. But I’m pretty sure I’m on to something here.

I mean, how did Cheap Trick get their name?

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I’m fluent in a new language; Boardroomese.

When I went in for my job at Chiat, they had a look at my work. We talked a lot about MINI and other car brands that I’ve worked on. We talked about Nissan and the future and where the brand could go next. We discussed the trials and tribulations of managing a large group of people.

So I pretty much felt like we’d covered all the skills that I’d need to become a CD on the account. But there was one thing they didn’t ask me about, a skill so integral, I can’t believe no one quizzed me.

I cannot speak Boardroomese.

I was laboring under the false belief that English was the first language of business in America. But how wrong I was. Which I discovered in my first meeting.

It started out well enough. Met a few folks, chatted about where I’d been before, made a little small talk, cracked a few jokes.

Then somebody said, “Ok, let’s get this meeting underway…” and everything after that was in German. Or Swahili. I really have no idea, it was all Greek to me.

There is a whole dialect spoken in boardrooms that you literally will never hear outside the walls of a building in Corporate America.

Snippets of that first conversation:

“… efforting to bring that to light…”

“ … circumvent expectations…”

“ … go for some blue sky thinking…”

“ … socializing that thought…”

I stared slightly sweatily into the ring of faces around me as they all chatted fluently away in this strange tongue that used English words, but was nothing like English. I was attempting to translate but was alway a good few Boardroomese phrases behind.

Then you hit the initialization speed bumps. KPI, ROI, KIV, RFP, QNR… c’mon, WTF? Lips in the room all keep moving while I ponder the meaning of these strange clumpings of vowels and consonants. KJD, um, ok…. Keep Just Doing? Key Junctions of Debate? Know Judo Dummy? Oh hang on, those are my initials.

I would have given anything just for an acronym.

So instead, I smiled and nodded my head politely, occasionally throwing in an, “uh-huh” and, “right” so that my new co-workers would think I had at least some semblance of comprehension of their conversation.

But there was nothing normal about this at all. Can you imagine a trip to the supermarket? “These red apples are on my radar. I’ve been KIV on these for months, they are very brand centric for us,” or, “Operationalizing these leeks is key to our overall soup strategy, with a halo effect over the entrees,” or even, “Identifying and incorporating this merlot into our outward facing communications efforts will show that we have an edge whilst honoring our core pillars.”

Then, as abruptly as this meeting began, it came to a close and everyone returned back to something that I could understand again, “Where do you sit? Have you got your business cards yet? We should go to that lunch place on Washington.”

Everyone else is down with the program, I thought, so I’d better get there too. But much to my despair, there was no Rosetta Stone or Berlitz for Boardroomese, so I just had to immerse myself with the locals and learn it native speaker style.

But if someone wants to make a Boardroomese Translator App, I’m your biggest backer.

Send me an RFP on it ASAP.

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Karl Justin Dunn, where have you been young man…?

Greetings readers. So, WTF happened that I disappeared from the radar for 15 months? I did the unthinkable. I took a full time job.

Yes, that’s right a gig. A job, an anchor, a paycheck, a punch in-punch out.
And the rest, as they say, is a tsunami.

I’m now officially the CD of Nissan for the Americas at Chiat Day in Los Angeles, a large and rather famous advertising agency.

So why, oh why, would I do such a thing? Manned up with Paul, writing screenplays, doing freelance, swimming yoga, bit of travel; all seemed to be going so well.

To be honest, I had to try something new.

I’ve been in LA for 7 years now. I’ve written a dozen screenplays. Most weren’t great, but a couple went up into the stratosphere of agencies. Actors read them. Financiers read them. Producers pretended that they’d read them.

I had calls with actors to go over lines and character. I had directors on speed dial. These are actors and directors whose films I had seen. And liked very much. And they told me my work was some of the best stuff they’d read in years.

But after two screenplays fell over two weeks out from principal photography the jobs went toxic.

There was a writer for hire job in Germany, bits and bobs of writing jobs and a couple of false starts writing poorly chosen spec scripts thanks to managers that I fired.

But here’s the thing with Hollywood. You’re really not anyone till you’ve had something go up on the big screen. My dozen or so years of screenwriting don’t really amount to anything because you’re the guy who hasn’t had anything made. You’re a musician who has stepped into the booth many times, done all the sound checks, checked his levels and then never recorded.

Basically, I was beginning to think that the original plan I had in coming here to LA wasn’t working. My naïve thoughts at the start were that I would be discovered in 6 months and by 2013 I’d have picked up at least one Oscar. Probably a BAFTA too. And I’d been to Cannes a lot. I love yachts.

But that plan wasn’t panning out.

On the bright side I was at least doing advertising contract work in LA, which made a nice change. I could drive to work instead of taking a plane to some far-flung locale.

I went in to TBWA/Chiat/Day here for some freelance. Which went well because they offered me a job. And not just a little job. A big fuck off job. This is cool because this is an agency whose work I have been watching since as long as I can remember.

Ego officially stroked. As I’ve written about before, in the film world screenwriters are the equivalent of surrogate mothers in the 90’s; just drop the script off and go away so that we can raise it without you please. Quickly. Quickly.

So when one of the best agencies in the world offers you a huge job, invites you in instead of shooing you off the set, it’s tempting indeed.

And of course there’s the money. I’m not going to lie to anyone or myself here; a regular paycheck is a very fucking tempting thing indeed. Advertising is one of the few industries where creative people can make a regular paycheck.

But I had been freelance for 8 years already at that point and been down to my last $100 many times. I knew I wasn’t going to die if I said no.

And though my ego was doing backflips, being offered the job was enough. That alone made me remember how good I am at the ad game.

So why do it then?

Well, because the same voice that told my to pack my bag and head to LA and start a new life here with nothing but a bag of clothes was telling me, say yes to this.

Was it a sell out? For a while I thought it was. Did I give in? For a time I thought I did. Did I regret the decision? Many, many times.

But I’m still here in it. And I’m glad I am.

So why so long between LA Stories? Time was part of it for sure. I walked into Chiat and it was like I’d been abducted by aliens. My time went out the window.

However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I felt like I’d made a mistake and not one that I was comfortable writing to all of you about. Honesty has always been the one guiding principle of the stuff I write here. And I didn’t know how to explain myself. So it was better for a long time to say nothing at all.

But now 15 months in, I know I made the right choice.

The definition of stupidity is to constantly do something the same way and expect a different result.

I want to make films. But I needed to take a different path. And it turns out that this was the right one.

So expect a recap of the last year or so of my life over the next few episodes as I explain this ridiculous thing called American corporate culture.

And thank you all for your patience and your hassling me to pull my finger out and start writing these again. Even typing this reminds me of how much I enjoyed having this voice in my head come alive on a page.

Quietly, I’ve returned.

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Women Raised In LA – The Bubble Creatures

When you live somewhere for long enough, things that seemed odd to you at first become the norm. What was glaring is now wallpaper, what was bizarre is now day-to-day. It’s only when you have visitors come to your town that the veil is lifted and you see things afresh through their eyes.

We’ve recently had a couple of friends through town, Karen from Australia and Uli from Berlin. And the two of them immediately honed in on the LA Woman as one of the odder creatures on the earth.

I’ve made jokes about them before. I mean, how can you not? Made famous by Hollywood and immortalized in countless films and shows as the vapid high school/co-ed/young woman, perpetually blonde and valley girled in accent. Ripe with fodder for laughs.

But that’s just it. I did make jokes about them. But now I don’t, because I don’t even see them anymore.

So we’re out at dinner with Karen the other night and she is taking in a table of women who’ve rocked up for a birthday. To the other side of us we have a Kardashian look-alike contest going on. There’s a lot of make-up and sequins and hair and shoes ablazing.

Of course there is the obvious. The vapid conversations, the video clip styling, the war of accessories. But it was Karen who made the observation that they all felt the same. Not looked, felt.

And right she was. Physically, they are all variations on a theme of what it is to be a girl in the city of angels. But what I’d never noticed before is that they are energetically the same girl. The vibe they project is that of a princess.

Raised to believe that they are special, entitled to the nth degree, taught that every second outdoors you must project your correct image which has been accorded from on high by the movie industry. So you must glitter and glow as you look down on all around you.

As royalty has been reared for a life in the court, so too has the LA Girl been raised for a life in Tinseltown. Where royals may have the odd hunting trip or ceremonial visit to town, The LA Girl has the odd trip to a resort in Mexico and dinners at the Roosevelt Hotel.

The difference though is that a royal is to the manor born, whereas the LA Girl spends a lot of her life trying to get into that manor that’s she’s been raised her whole life to think she automatically deserves. So perhaps the vibe of a princess in waiting is closer to the truth.

Like every court on the planet has an accent that is reserved for it, so too is there a special dialect that the LA Girl practices. Uli was the one who commented that there is no other place on the planet where women speak in that Mickey Mouse voice.

“Thank you” becomes, “think yew”. “I love that” becomes, “aye lah-ve thyat”. And “So awesome” becomes, “soo ahh-sum”. All cranked up and tweaky, like an elf sucking helium.

Zone in on any conversation and the discussions are alarming. As members of the chattering class, there are never any serious issues being debated. Conversation largely revolves around celebrity news and he said, she said. But the most alarming thing is that the level of vocabulary is so limited. Words tend to be no further along than when they were at high school. And there is something immature about the emphases and where they land in the sentence; it gives the impression of a toddler trying to make a point as opposed to an adult holding a conversation.

In Japan, there is a male and female accent and even special words reserved for only one of the sexes. Women there very much know that the women’s Japanese foisted upon them is a cage in which they are kept. Women here in LA are clueless to this. The accent, the behavior, the everything keeps them in a bubble they don’t even know they’re in.

It got me wondering about how a woman like this might do in other cities around the States. LA girls would literally be crushed in the street by the New York woman. A woman from Seattle would wonder why this LA girl can’t play in instrument or raise a chicken. And the women down South would wonder why she can’t cook or throw down in a fist fight.

As for the rest of the planet, forget it.

So amazingly, this city has produced a woman who can only survive within its city limits. A pampered creature who grazes the strip malls, wears dresses too short and knows every manicurist in a 10 mile radius of her home.

The crazy thing is that after five years here, I think she’s what a normal woman is like.

Oh My Gahd LA, like, think yew.

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When The Children Become The Parents

Despite everything that I said in my last post about how children are being raised these days, I take my hat off to anyone that actually has children of their own.

Every diaper changing I sit near, every bumped head that’s soothed, every mid conversation sleeve tug that a parent endures, makes me want to call my own parents up and thank them for the ten million unremembered moments where I now see I owed them a “cheers for that”.

But there is a shift in this relationship that I see happening amongst all my friends. Whereas in highschool you competed in the schoolyard over whose parents were coolest, then in college whose are the most embarrassing, then in your early work life over whose parents were the most financially sound with advice, the conversation has moved on once more.

Now when I hear people talk about their folks it’s with a twinge of concern and a mildly furrowed brow. The kind of tone that… a parent takes.

Suddenly, the day-to-day life of our parents is something to be vexed about, lose sleep over and bite nails away.

First, there’s their health. While they worried about our measles and mumps, we now wait for a diagnosis of the worst things we can think of to the strange nagging things that just don’t heal. I hear myself telling my mother to look after her throat that never seems to get better. I research medication online and look for Chinese remedies that are supposed to help. Just the way that my mother used to do for me.

I’d think nothing of traipsing off to the far ends of the earth when I was younger and the parental fretting that went into imagining what horrors might lie in the jungles of Borneo was half the fun. I’ll be fine, I’m in a resort by a pool, but knowing that my parents might imagine me in the jaws of a jungle dwelling beast somehow made it a little sweeter. Now I fret when they go to a cabin in the National Forests. Or drive. Or walk to the shops.

Then of course there’s the horrific divorce rate. It’s not just amongst the young ‘uns. More of my friends’ parents are single and dating every year it seems. The odd thing is when you take on the role as guide. One friend I know has started giving dating advice to her father. It’s a brave new world out there and she’s talking him through it. Amazing when you consider that it was only a couple of decades ago that our parents were the shoulders we cried on when we had that first broken heart. Now we have to explain to them why she didn’t call.

We settle the disputes between them, do their finances for them, encourage them to go out and play in the world, take them home when they’re tired and panic if we haven’t heard from them in a few days.

We tell our parents to not worry about work so much and travel more, we tell them to watch what they eat and exercise, we get them started on the internet and then marvel at the fact that they’ve conquered Skype and do things on it that we didn’t know you could.

And somewhere along the way, we start repeating back to them all the things that they said to us when we were growing up. Sometimes whole complete verbatim quotes, the ones we swore we’d never, ever say. And then you realize that maybe your whole life you get ready for a time when you’ll swap jobs.

I feel like I’m on the turn with my parents, that there’s a timing that’s happening right now where there is a baton being passed between us. I can’t put it down to anything in particular. There’s no ah-hah moment where I think this is the half way mark. It’s more a sense that there’s been a shifting in the tide. I’ll probably look back and see the signposts with the wisdom of hindsight, but right now I walk past them and barely perceive their shadows.

Don’t get me wrong, my folks are alive and well and have a lot of kick in them. But I think everyone in their forties realizes that the time you only grasped intellectually, is now physically upon you.

On one hand I want to do everything I can for the people who made me the man who I am today. On the other, I want to stick my head in the sand.

Then I do the usual thing when I’m in strife and think about what my parents would do in this situation. And they’d tell me that you have to guide someone, pick them up when they fall, listen to them, offer a little advice and then send them on their way because they’re going to be just fine in the end.

They’re going to be just fine.

A big hug to you and the two people who made you.

Posted in Aging, Children, Family, Friends | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Kids vs Parking Officers

Kids today are a train smash.

Indulged by doting parents and told they are little gods, I look at the army of the entitled that are filling the ranks of children, tweens and teens and I wonder what the future holds. I’m sure that every generation complains about how little the next one resembles them, and I have friends who are raising outstanding your kids but c’mon you all know what I’m talking about.

However, despite all of this, there is something magic kids can do that transcends any nurturing method, social class or time that we live in.

Paul and I were hanging out having a coffee one day when a particularly loud family took a table next to us. Three kids, all bored, all with next to no interest in being in Santa Monica on a Saturday and fairly vocal with their parents about their extreme lack of enthusiasm for this particular shopping trip. Parents who I might point out have not taught their kids the concept of “restaurant volume”.

Just at the point where I think OK, I’ve had enough, let’s go, the funniest thing happened.

A Parking Officer pulls up in one of those golf cart things that they ride around in and stops next to a car parked there. The car has a Disabled Tag hanging from the rearview mirror, which usually means you can park inside a store if you really feel like it. But lo and behold, the guy gets out and starts writing the car a ticket.

I think it’s far to say that everyone in the world hates Parking Officers. Let’s face it, it’s the douchiest job on the planet. And we’ve all seen those scenes on the side of the road where someone arrives back just in time to see that they’re getting a ticket and they fight for all they are worth to get out of it. But it always goes one of two ways; the person accepts their fate like a mouse stared down by a hungry snake and silently takes the ticket, shooting a death ray look at this brown suited bastard.

Or else, they take the ticket and call the Parking Officer everything under the sun before telling them that they might consider a career change and to get themselves a real job.

Parking Officers are trained to deal with both reactions so that they are water off a duck’s back. As much as I dislike them, I have to admire the fact that they never get ruffled despite the fact that, unlike every other public servant out there, they don’t have a desk and a six-inch thick piece of plexiglass between them and a hostile public.

But on this day something magic happened.

As the Parking Officer prepared to write the guy a ticket, the loud kids from the next table got up to watch. They stood there on the curb, right by the car as the guy punched in $58 worth of pain for the car owner.

The kids said absolutely nothing as they watched, but the sound was deafening.

The Parking Officer clocked them. Then he pretended that he couldn’t see them. He tried very hard to pretend they weren’t there. But children have that wide-eyed stare that can bore into the very core of your soul, because their unjaded little hearts know instinctively what is right and what is wrong.

And this guy could feel it. Five minutes before he was taking silent passive aggressive delight in writing up people who are 3 minutes late getting back to their car. Now he was questioning his very existence.

There was nothing in his training to combat this. Anger, trying to evoke sympathy, even a bribe; these were all things that he was ready for.

But the doe-eyed stare from these kids stripped him bare and found him wanting. As he finally looked at them all watching him, he had a shocking realization that he hadn’t had since his first day on the job 8 years ago; he was a bastard who fined disabled people.

Without a word, the kids had won a moral victory of incredible proportions. They had struck a blow for every single person who couldn’t find enough change, was waylaid by a lackadaisical waiter or just plain had one of those emergencies that life throws at you sometimes.

He finished up his business, guiltily slid the ticket under the windshield and looked at the children one last time as he thought to himself, I had dreams once too.

With that, he climbed into his toy town vehicle and sped away from those truth dealing eyes as fast as he could.

Not one of us could have woven that same magic. I was wrong, the kids are alright.

Posted in Children, Driving, How LA Works, LA Characters, LA Customs, Money Problems | Leave a comment