music, technology & life in pasadena, california

In Defense of Writers

Isn’t it interesting that in almost every endeavor in which a writer participates, be it books, essays or plays in the theatre, the writer is the one who owns his own words, the owner of his own copyright. I said almost because this is not so in movies and television. When a writer works in those media he is an author for hire and the studio and/or producer owns his creative output.

The theatre model never really took off in Hollywood's early days and was adamantly opposed by its then-moguls. Attempts to organize writers in the 1930s and 1940s were branded as Communistic by the Hollywood establishment, looking to cash in on the greatly shameful Red scare tactics that were brewing in our country.

Sean Mitchell, of the LA Times, recently wrote:

“…as if unions and the whole idea of collective bargaining were anathema to the American way of life…that having all those writers working under one banner would mean the creation of ‘a writers soviet’“.

Unfortunately, in 1942 when the Writers Guild was founded, the prevailing contract did indeed note the studio as author, with the screenwriter seen as selling a service.

Now, of course, as anyone who sits down to understand the Hollywood hierarchy or any other creative hierarchy will quickly come to understand, there is nothing without the words on the page. The words stem from the imagination of the creator and make it possible to proceed to the next step whether it be a book, play, television series or movie. No producer or director is responsible for the germination of the idea, nor the intricate workings that emanate from that idea on its way to becoming a dramatic work. Hollywood’s strange altar of worship makes sure we remember the director while the actual author of the work floats in the ether of obscurity. Here’s Sean Mitchell again:

“Everbody knows that Steven Spielberg directed E.T….but how many of us can name its screenwriter, Melissa Mathison?”

Sure, many screenwriters are highly paid for their work, but since it is indeed their work that ultimately decides a project’s success, why shouldn’t they share in the sale of DVDs and subsequent broadcasts and other uses of their work, when said uses are reaping huge profits for the studios? DVD sales and international distribution far eclipse the highly trumped domestic grosses that appear every Monday morning, turning the entertainment sections of our newspapers into vulgar scorecards. David Mamet has written that the dirty, little secret of Hollywood is that every movie makes money, regardless of the studios crying “poorhouse” after the disappointing opening of their current darling.

Yet, the studios whose combined operating income grew from $8 billion in 2000 to $18 billion in 2006, pay 50 cents to manufacture the actual DVD package while the residual payments to the writers, director and actors combined equal about 20 cents.

The studios need to take a long look at how they treat their customers and their artists lest they end up in the dustbin of history along with the record companies.

November 28, 2007 | Link to this entry

Rothko's Words

When I was a younger man, art was a lonely thing. No galleries, no collectors, no critics, no money...yet it was a golden age. But we all had nothing to lose, and the vision to gain. Today it is not quite the same. It is a time of tons of verbiage, activity, consumption. Which condition is better for the world at large? I will not venture to discuss. But I do know that many of those who are driven to this life are desperately searching for those pockets of silence where we can root and grow. We must all hope we find them...

November 28, 2007 | Link to this entry

The Road To Hana

Maui is a hugely diverse island, with giant volcanoes at its center surrounded by fertile agricultural fields, tapering off to beaches, nature reserves and, of course, the ever present resorts at its shoreline. Time moves slower on Maui, much slower than on Oahu, which is home to Honolulu, a big bustling city (and the only other place in Hawaii I’ve visited).

Everyone kept telling me that I had to visit Hana, the small town synonymous with the east coast region of Maui. The road to Hana is legendary among travelers and seems to be spoken about with a kind of hushed reverence. I had to find out about it for myself, so one day my brother-in-law and fellow traveling companion, David, and I set off for adventure in our rented SUV.

Although Hana was only 80 miles or so from our Ka’anapali base, it took us nearly 3 ½ hours to make the drive. Along the way, we encountered cliff-hugging roads of extraordinary beauty, mountainside groves of thickly planted bamboo, cliffs that dropped off more than five hundred feet to secluded beaches, waterfalls that fed pools and streams that were the source of water for more waterfalls below. It was magical and awesome to behold so much beauty, so much green contrasted with the constantly changing blue and green hues of the ocean.

Every few minutes we’d come across a one-lane bridge, for which we’d have to stop and make sure no one was coming from the opposite side, before proceeding. We encountered nearly sixty of these on the trip and in the middle of almost every one we’d find the perfect picture-taking opportunity, but alas, there was no place to pull over. Eventually we found one or two places on the road just before we got to a bridge that seemed safe for a few minutes of snapshooting. I had hauled my 4x5 large format camera on the plane along with a tripod and all the attendant gear, but there wasn’t even enough room to fit a tripod by the roadside until we got to Hana.

When we finally arrived, we were tired, hungry and excited. Hana seemed to be much smaller than we imagined, with a few small local buildings, a gas station, a general store and a walk-up-and-order fast food restaurant. On the main road, we saw a crudely hand-lettered sign that read Pranee’s Thai Food. We followed the arrows through several local streets, all very rural and posted with signs that read, ‘If you don’t live here, you shouldn’t be here’. We finally found Pranee. She was a Thai woman cooking food in a wok on a propane burner, along with her young American helper. The whole operation was run from two tents; one was her kitchen and the other, a place for customers to sit and enjoy their meal. The atmosphere was Hawaiian-friendly and it smelled terrific; an incredible local find and some of the best Thai food I’ve ever eaten.

As we headed out after lunch, with no plans or itinerary, we followed our instincts (actually, we followed David’s instincts because he has a nose for finding out-of-the-way places, dirt roads and other potentially exciting/dangerous situations!) and ended up in a state park at the end of a long entry road. There, spread out before us, was an amazing sight. A black sand beach and cliffs perched high above a wildly violent ocean. A huge blowhole sprayed saltwater high in the air every few minutes. Large black rock outcroppings rose from the water below in shapes that were otherworldly, formed from molten lava probably more than a million years ago.

As I set up my camera on the cliff, upwind from the blowhole, I was able to expose a few sheets of film, though it was very windy. I had to make sure that the folding bellows of the camera didn’t turn it into a kite, taking my whole setup and dashing it onto the rocks below, a caveat I’ve read about many times from other photographers. The wind blew and altered course, at the same time as a giant blowhole snort 200 feet behind me, and before I knew it, a huge fount of saltwater drenched the camera and me. Fortunately my back was turned to it, as was the camera, so the lens didn’t get the full brunt of the watery hit, nevertheless I took out a soft microfibre towel, the secret tool in every photographer’s kit, and dried everything as well as I could.

Later that night, safely back in Ka’anapali, it took some time to clean the saltwater brine from the tripod, camera and lens, but I was happy that we had taken the long trek and was hopeful that I had made some good images and memories of our long day.

November 15, 2007 | Link to this entry



I just got back one week ago from a vacation on the island of Maui, which explains the previous and possibly cryptic Mai Tai Thoughts entry.

A vacation is an amazing thing. It rejuvenates, uplifts, realigns and lets you catch up on some sleep…even if you’re in the company of a four year-old. Many freelancers, especially musicians, are wont to take a vacation for fear that they’ll miss their next gig, because after all, since a week or two (or longer!) can go by without the phone ringing, they feel the need to field every single call and be available at every single moment in order to sustain their career.

I’ve been there, done that and I’m here to tell you that the benefits of taking a break, whether or not you’ve worked in the preceding weeks, is as big a favor as you can do for your body and mind. It’s so easy to lock yourself into a rut in both your everyday and creative life, and through the power of denial (in the name of the almighty grindstone) you may not even be conscious of the fact that you need to relax.

So, take my advice and chill out. Your attitude and your playing will benefit in so many ways and get the creative juices flowing again…

November 12, 2007 | Link to this entry


Paul Viapiano is a guitarist working in film, television and live performance based in sunny Pasadena, California.

You can email me here.

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