Author Archives: sheldonbullEB

Skater Dater

I was in Pismo Beach, CA, over New Year’s. The area of Shell Beach where I was staying reminded me of parts of the South Bay in Los Angeles in the 1960’s, back when beach communities in Southern California were often a little ramshackle and run-down, before every square inch of coastal property was crammed with hotels, restaurants, and the weekend homes of rock stars and billionaires.

Somehow, looking at the modest seaside houses and apartments of Shell Beach, the liquor stores, diners, and bait shops, made me remember a short film I saw in a movie theater around 1965 or 1966. The film was called “Skater Dater.” I didn’t remember much about the film other than I thought it had been shot in the South Bay, and I remembered loving it. The film is eighteen minutes long and concerns a group of young boys between 12 and 14 years old who ride skateboards on the streets around Redondo and Hermosa Beach and Rolling Hills. I didn’t go to see “Skater Dater” intentionally. It just happened to be playing between whatever two feature films I had gone to watch on a Saturday afternoon fifty years ago.

Thinking about this short film, I went on YouTube and typed in “Skater Dater.” The 1965 film came right up. I watched it. It was charming. I also loved seeing the Southern California of my youth – the 50’s and 60’s era cars, the bushy blonde haircuts on the boys, the primitive wooden skateboards that all of us had in those days. It was a trip back in time. I was the same age as the boys in the film at the time I first saw it.

Then I read about “Skater Dater” on Wikipedia. I was surprised to learn that the film won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1966 and was nominated for an Oscar that same year. No wonder it showed up at my local movie theater all those decades ago. It was an award-winning short.

I read that “Skater Dater” inspired David O. Russell to become a filmmaker.

For some reason, I never forgot “Skater Dater.” I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was because it’s a coming of age story about a young boy who is ready to move on from his childish pursuits and get interested in girls. That’s where I was emotionally when I first saw the film. “Skater Dater” also has a wonderful soundtrack of surf music. And there’s no dialogue. Every part of the story is conveyed visually, through shots and the looks on the faces of the characters.

I always figured that “Skater Dater” wasn’t much of a movie, and it was probably my unsophisticated tastes that made me like it in the first place. Now I find out it’s a memorable short film that kind of made history.

I’ve learned over the years that many of the movies I loved in my youth, much of the music I enjoyed, and many of the books I read – stuff that I was often embarrassed to admit I liked – was actually pretty great. I wasn’t as uncool as I thought I was.

What did this experience teach me? Trust your instincts. If you love something, maybe there’s a good reason. And likely you’re not the only one.

I think that’s important for writers to remember. Yes, we ought to listen to criticism of our work. What we write can always be improved. But what gets the words onto the page are your gut instincts. If those instincts are good, then you’ve got a shot at having your work appreciated.

I always loved “Skater Dater.” I’m glad that director Noel Black trusted his instincts and made a short film, for $17,000, that meant something to him. It won awards. It opened doors for him. And all these years later, it still means something to me. That’s success for an artist.

 

 

So Long, Wilbur Post

Alan Young, a wonderful and versatile actor, died today at the age of 94.  He is best known for starring in the iconic TV series from the 1960’s, Mr. Ed.  If you’re too young to remember the show and/or have never seen an episode in reruns or on YouTube, may I suggest you treat yourself.

Mr. Ed was a silly show about a talking horse.  And I loved it.  I mean, I loved it.

In the late 1980’s I had the great privilege to work briefly with Alan Young on a short-lived CBS sitcom called Coming Of Age.  It was about two retired couples living in Arizona.  Alan played the cheerful next-door neighbor to star Paul Dooley.  The series also featured Phyllis Newman, Glynis Johns (the mom from Mary Poppins) and Kevin Pollock.

Though the series never found an audience, I had a great time working there for part of the first season.  I was under contract at Universal, waiting for Coach to start.  Coming of Age was being produced by Barry Kemp’s production company.  I was invited to pitch in and was delighted to do so.

I’ve always been a little worried about meeting performers who I loved as a child, fearing that they won’t be as wonderful as I hoped.  Sometimes that concern has been justified, but plenty of times I’ve found the performer to be even nicer than I could have imagined.  Some examples of performers who I loved as a kid and then turned out to be wonderful people in real life were Betty White and Shelley Fabares.  Alan Young was also someone who just made me happy to be around him.

I got to work with some wonderful older performers on Coming of Age, including Bob and Ray and Van Johnson.  If you don’t know who they are, look them up.

I’m sad at Alan Young’s passing, but I’m very grateful I got to know him and work with him.  I loved his show as a kid, and I loved him as an adult.  Alan was one of those people who really do help make your dreams come true.

Wired and Hired

I haven’t put up a post in a long time, and perhaps I’ve waited too long.  There’s the whole matter of having something constructive to say.  What prompts this post is an article I happened to read in the March 23 issue of Wired Magazine.  I hadn’t read an article in Wired in a long time.  I picked the magazine up in a hotel in Hawaii. The cover featured the actors from Silicon Valley.  Since I love that show and had some time to kill, I thought I’d glance at the article.  It’s worth a read for all of you looking to break in to show biz.  The article also seemed to nicely follow a conversation I had a couple of weeks ago with my twenty-something friend, Sam.

Here’s the takeaway from the Wired article about Silicon Valley:  those guys have a hit show but they are all still out hustling every week on other projects.  They haven’t kicked back to enjoy their success.  The article suggested that part of the reason is because they aren’t paid that much to do the series.  But more than that, they have long breaks between seasons, and the series isn’t seen by that many people, so in order to keep their individual brands hot they are all working on other things: stand up comedy, indie films, improv, writing, podcasts, etc.

This brings me to my conversation with Sam.  He, too, is working on multiple projects.  Even though he has gotten his foot in the show biz door, he isn’t resting.  He’s got a lot of irons in the fire.

When I broke in a million years ago, once you got a job writing on a series you didn’t have to work on anything else.  (And there wasn’t time.)  But now, with shorter orders for series, even if you get a gig on a writing staff you will likely enjoy less pay and have much more down time during the months when the series is on hiatus.  The Wired article said to me, “even if you hit it big, you still have to keep hustling.”  So why not start the hustling now?

The people who are going to make it are the ones who have the drive and talent to pursue multiple goals simultaneously.  You don’t want to lose focus, but you don’t want to put all of your eggs in one basket either.

I get it that it’s harder for you to make it than it was for me.  The Wired article told me that even after making it, you can’t let up.  You’ve got to keep reaching for new things.  When you’re in your twenties and thirties, you have the energy.  Use it.