Sunday, December 11, 2011

Top 20 Favorite Films

Occasionally, I'm asked which movie stars I see playing my characters when I write a screenplay.

I never approach creating characters that way. It's only when I know a story from start to finish do I start writing the script. By then, the characters are fully formed, unique individuals.

After I've completed a screenplay, I like to host a table read with actors to hear what dialog works and what still needs tinkering. I'm constantly amazed by how actors bring characters alive, making them their own living creations in unexpected ways.

It's obvious casting a film can make or break a production.

Below is my list of top 20 favorite films, which certainly would have been quite different if other actors had played the leads.

 1. La Belle et la Bete - Magic, Jean Cocteau, French surrealism.

 2. Chinatown - Crushing corruption.

 3. The Last Picture Show - Fading dreams.

 4. The Maltese Falcon - Lies, seduction, more lies.

 5. To Have or Have Not - Desperation, romance, Nazi intrigue in Africa.

 6. Dark Passage - Revenge, jealousy, love, madness.

 7. Rebel Without a Cause - Troubled teens, spiritless adults in stifling 1950's America.

 8. The Wizard of Oz - The archetypical hero's journey.

 9. Annie Hall - Love, connection, rising above those who first raised you up.

10. Bringing Up Baby - The best screwball comedy. Ever.

11. Parting Glances - The best American gay-themed film. Ever.

12. Rear Window - A peeping tom nearly bored to death.

13. L. A. Confidential - Lies, corruption, love.

14. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - Free spirits living on borrowed time.

15. It's A Wonderful Life - Sometimes, you need to be reminded how good you have it.

16. 2001: A Space Odyssey - Evolution.

17. Blade Runner - Don't ask questions. Love your maker.

18. The Matrix - Life is but a dream.

19. Donnie Darko - Bizarre and sad. Only film this century I watched twice in a row the first time I saw it.

20. Close Encounters of the Third Kind - Aliens are our friends.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I was a Video Producer in the Fashion Industry

From February, 2008 to February, 2010, I was the producer of online videos and website content at Winston Retail Solutions, which has become an industry leader in its niche in the fashion industry.

I produced, directed, edited in Final Cut Studio and sometimes wrote online videos, which were client introductions, product delivery introductions and training/instructionals.

I wrote voice-over scripts to PowerPoint presentations, which I also produced, directed, recorded and edited into online tutorials.

I edited, proofed, and wrote, as necessary, then converted into HTML the content of its internal website used by more than 600 employees and contractors across the United States.

Premium clients with whom I worked included American Living, Apple Bottoms, Ben Sherman, Bootheel Trading Co. (Sheryl Crow), Carhartt, Chaps, Coast, Converse, Converse by John Varvatos, Dickies, Dockers, Ecko Red, Emporio Armani, Harley, Hot Sox, Hugo Boss, Lauren by Ralph Lauren, Lucky Brand, Luxottica, Mavi, Nike, Not Your Daughter’s Jeans, Silver Jeans, The North Face, Tommy Hilfiger, Timberland, Tumi, and William Rast (Justin Timberlake).

While there, I worked in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, Apple Final Cut Studio and Techsmith Camtasia Studio.

I honed my skills as a copy and script writer and kicked into high gear my experience working on others' feature-length films, deepening my command of digital video equipment, filming and lighting techniques.

I had a great time but realized after a while that working around the clock was not giving me the time to focus on my true passion: writing.

Since resigning, I finished co-writing a screenplay, about which I'll discuss in a future post.

I also put more time and energy into my blog Male Models Vintage Beefcake and was pleased when that extra effort was rewarded with it being featured in January, 2011 in Bradford Shellhammer's post on the Sundance Channel's website.

And I started this blog.

Among other projects, I am excited to wrap a video interview I'm doing with a very, very (oh, very) minor celebrity and to start working on a short horror film I'm breaking into 3-minute segments.

Both projects I'll post here when they are completed.

I'm also interested in working as a freelancer – You can reach me here.

Monday, November 14, 2011

I Could See The Future

When I saw A-ha's video "Take On Me" on MTV in 1985, I knew I was seeing the future, when animation and live action would merge seamlessly.

And I again knew I was seeing the future the first time I saw Madonna's video "Ray of Light," which came out in 1998.

The cuts were so fast, so energetic, I felt myself set ablaze by the video's kinetic power.

Both were nominated for MTV's award, Video of the Year. "Ray of Light" won.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

“I Chose a Roman Helmet and Short Sword:" Interview with a Physique Model

Rick Alexander (who used his real name, Rich Sternberger, while posing for Champion Studio) was a popular physique model in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. 

Searching online for photographs of one of his favorite physique models, Rick stumbled upon my blog Male Models Vintage Beefcake, where he was delighted to find photos of himself taken by Champion Studio.

I was thrilled when he introduced himself.

We soon sat down for an online conversation.

I started with the question: why did you pose as a nude model?

Actually, at the first studio, Champion Studio, I thought I would be doing posing-strap modeling since that was the norm in 1967. However, the photographer told me nudity was going to be legalized in 1968 and he wanted me to do nude photos, too.

So, we did both.

I was a little hesitant about doing the nude work because I was afraid the wrong person (a family member, school acquaintance, etc.) might see the photos. In the end, I figured the chances of that happening were pretty remote, so I agreed to do it.

Anyway, I decided to try my hand at physique modeling because the whole idea seemed very erotic and appealing to me. I admired the guys in the physique magazines, and I felt like I looked as good as some of them.

I wanted to be a part of that world: wearing a posing strap, being oiled up and flexing for the camera seemed erotic and glamorous to me.

I also wanted to have professional photos taken of my physique at that time to keep as souvenirs. I'm glad I have those now. It's been fun to look back at them forty years later.

I did it to earn some extra money, too.

How was the experience of posing nude different for you at Champion Studio, COLT and the Western Photography Guild?

I got comfortable pretty quickly with nude modeling. It felt a little awkward during the first session, but after a few poses, I just forgot about the nude part and concentrated on the poses.

By the time I did work for COLT and the Western Photography Guild in the 1970's, I fully expected to pose nude, and the idea didn't bother me at all.

The three studios had different takes on physique modeling.

Champion Studio was known for its boy-next-door types. Its models were mostly preppy looking and didn't have huge builds.

COLT, of course, was famous for its ruggedly masculine, muscular models. I had that look when I posed for them in a few photo sessions and one movie, in which I was either paired with another man or was part of a group.

The Western Photography Guild was into an artistic, muscular look, with its models doing more classical, flowing poses.

What memories stand out from these shoots?

I had fun. I found posing a wonderful form of self expression. I felt very liberated.

The photographers suggested poses for the most part, but were open to my ideas, too.

When I posed for Western, we shot in the Rocky Mountains. It was wonderful to stand nude on a rock with the wind and sun caressing my body among the beauty of the mountains. I really felt in touch with nature.

The most difficult part was holding a pose until the photographer had the proper lighting and liked what he saw through the lens. Often, incremental adjustments had to be made to a pose, such as moving my arm a little lower of higher, or turning my body a little to the left or right. It could take five minutes to get the best results out of a pose.

What were the photographers like?

They were really into their work and very pleasant. Most physique photographers weren't muscular themselves, but they had a wonderful appreciation for male muscularity and masculine glamour.

I admired their creativity.

Don Whitman [owner of the Western Photography Guild] did the photography on my shoot. He had an assistant along to help with the lighting and to help me with some of the poses.

Don had a wonderful artistic eye. He told me he admired driftwood and liked to get his models to pose like driftwood in some photos.

You can see that imagery in many Western photos, with the models' arms and legs acting like tree branches and going in different or symmetrical directions.

He also admired the more classical poses.

He used flashbulbs in his outdoor photography, and that gave the models a marble-like look.

There are hardly any shadows in his photos.

I think the popularity of shows about the early 1960's like Mad Men is in part due to younger people today only knowing about that time period through history books and old television shows.

It is a bit shocking how radically different the 1960's became from the 1950's.

How do you think gay life in America in the 1950's, '60's and early '70's differs from today?

Having lived through the 1950's, I can speak from first-hand experience. It was for the most part a white-bread decade. Lots of conformity and wholesomeness.

The exception was the rebel breed, the leather-jacket crowd that appeared around 1955. They added a ruggedness and bad-boy flavor to the masculinity of the time.

Gay life was pretty private.

There was little gay porn. The physique magazines were one of the only ways to view the nearly nude male body.

The early 1960's were pretty much a carryover of the 1950's.

Things started to change in the mid-1960's, with the British Invasion of The Beatles and other British rock groups.

Men's fashions changed, and there was a feeling of self-liberation in the air intensified by the Civil Rights movement and numerous anti-establishment groups.

Things really got interesting in the late 1960's with the anti-Vietnam War protests, race riots and the emergence of the drug counterculture.

Gay life was still rather subdued because of the fear of bar raids and of being outed.

Of course, things changed in 1969 with the Stonewall riots [the defining event that marked the start of the gay equal rights movement in the United States].

By the 1970's, gay life was becoming more acceptable.

Gay bars were rarely raided, and lots of gay bars opened. There were even after-hours places and gay bathhouses.

By this time, the photography of nude adults was legal, and most of the physique studios had died out, having been replaced by more sexually-explicit studios.

More men joined gyms as the muscular look went mainstream.

And a lot of gay men adopted the "clone" look, which included facial hair, flannel shirts, Levi's and boots.

So, in the years prior to Stonewall, physique magazines were frequently one of the only outlets for gay men. Who were your favorite models?

Charles Zunwalt, Ron Rector, Richard Reagan, Keith Lewin and Phil Lambert. All had good, rugged builds and masculine faces.


Bruce of Los Angeles, Kris of Chicago and the Western Photography Guild. They used quality models and presented men in a manly manner.

What did you do over the years between modeling at these studios and today?

Actually, the last physique-modeling session I had was in 1975 at the Athletic Model Guild.

To my knowledge, none of the photos were published, though I thought they were pretty good. I have in my album one photo from that session.

It's possible Bob Mizer [owner of the Athletic Model Guild] kept the photos for his own use or sold them privately. By that time, I think his taste in models had changed to boyish, slimmer guys.

Bob did the photography at my shoot.

He was pleasant and more laid back than Don.

Before the shoot, he showed me the famous pool area and his "central wardrobe" closet with the various costumes he used in his photos.

He asked me to pick out what I wanted to wear in the photos.

I chose a Roman helmet and short sword.

I always had respectable jobs while modeling. Few guys could make a full-time living at modeling unless they did escort work, too.

In 1976, I opened my own gym in Los Angeles.

It lasted a little over six years, when the rent got too high and I was forced out of business.

It was a lot of fun owning that business in the field I loved.

I worked in retail after that and am now semi-retired.

I still work out a few days a week.

I'm glad I had the chance to be a part of the physique-modeling era. It's something that we probably won't see again since I don't think most photographers today are into that type of imagery.

If I had the money, I would love to resurrect that era by having my own studio and finding suitable models. I bet there would still be a market for it, but not as great as it was back in the 1950's and 1960's.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

So, Come and Go

This is one of my favorite songs.

This is "The Face of Love" performed by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam.

This song is from the film, Dead Man Walking.


Jeena kaisa
Pyar bina
Is Duniya Mein
Aaye ho to
Ek Duje se pyar karo

What is life without love
Now that you have come to this world
Love each other
One another

Look in the eyes
Of the face of love
Look in her eyes
Oh, there is peace
No, nothing dies
Within pure light
Only one hour
Of this pure love
To last a life
Of 30 years
Only one hour
So, come and go

Saturday, October 29, 2011

How I Accidentally Interviewed Matt Damon for ACCESS HOLLYWOOD

In 2002, I went to a screening of The Bourne Identity attended by Matt Damon at the Kabuki Theater in San Francisco, California.

After the screening, Matt sat on stage and answered questions from the audience, which seemed to be mostly students in acting school.

I'd just finished co-writing my first screenplay, Inclusion, a supernatural thriller set in Paris, with my friend, Isis Bouhraoua, an American who grew up in France. So, I stepped up to the microphone and asked Matt what was the best and worst thing about filming The Bourne Identity in France.

He said it was France, so it was gorgeous, and it was France, where no one seemed to care they were making a movie on a tight timeline, so there were delays in acquiring permits, etc.

After the Q & A period, my friends and I wandered up to the stage, where Matt was talking to audience  members. My friend Michael gave Matt his camera and asked that he take our photo.

That's the one you see here.

The next day at work, I was very surprised when co-workers and vendors across the United States called me to say that they'd seen me on ACCESS HOLLYWOOD interviewing Matt on his latest film.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


After months of rewrites, a great script read with friends, family, actors and film industry pros, and a final round of rewrites after receiving notes from lots and lots of people, I recently completed co-writing a feature-length, sci-fi/family adventure script, whose journey around Hollywood I'll describe in a future post.

I'm excited to return my attention to an unproduced Twilight Zone spec script I wrote a few years back. Its title is Go Back. I wrote it to demonstrate I could follow hour-long television formating. Now, I'm going to rewrite it as a feature-length supernatural thriller.

The television script never sold but did serve as an excellent calling card, getting the attention of producer Justin Wicker while he was working at SONY Television under president Steve Mosko. Justin and I co-wrote the pilot and bible to a children's half-hour animation series, which hasn't sold...yet.

I like to write a script while listening to one song on repeat. The song typically finds me while I'm hashing out the outline of the script.

I wrote the Twilight Zone version of Go Back while listening to Beck's "Deadweight."

I'm writing the feature-length version to Len's "Steal My Sunshine."

Two very different songs, I know, but both fit the story.

Stay tuned for news on the script's progress.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Content Marketing Online

In 2004, I started auctioning on eBay, at first specializing in first-edition books and out-of-print CD's. A few years later, I opened an eBay Store (which sells items at fixed prices) and honed my focus to what most interested me: magazines tuned to celebrities, fashion, GLBT themes and vintage beefcake.

Early on, I realized I needed to make my listings stand out online.

Even when eBay supplies a stock image for an item I want to list, I take my own photograph.

I carefully detail the contents of each item and note its condition: BRAND NEW, LIKE NEW, VERY GOOD, etc.

My eBay Store soon did well enough to enable me to open an online store,

After years of collecting vintage beefcake photographs, I turned to Yahoo! in October, 2007 to start a group, where I could share my images with other enthusiasts of male bodybuilders and physique models from the Golden Age of Bodybuilding. The group links back to my online store.

In January, 2008, I started the blog Mike and Phil on the Hill. It is not only a journal on my passion – our gardens in San Francisco, California – but also links readers to my eBay and online stores.

In January, 2009, I started the blog Male Models Vintage Beefcake to feature images of my favorite vintage beefcake photographers and models. Not surprisingly, this blog proved to be the most powerful conduit for customers interested in purchasing vintage beefcake from me.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the visibility of your website or web page in search engines' results through search results you don't pay search engines to artificially achieve for you. SEO is important because the higher your website or page appears in someone's search result list, the more likely that person will click on your site or page.

In my eBay and online stores, I perform SEO every time —

– I create and name the photograph of an item (Search engines read the names you give your photographs.),
– I describe in detail each item, and
– I do not discuss anything irrelevant to the item for sale. I've seen other eBayers add words like "Marilyn Monroe" or "Disney" to their listings on irrelevant items such as auto parts. People use this tactic, known as "keyword stuffing," so that their items turn up in a greater number of search results. In the end, I believe this damages their brand, which is their reputation, as frustrated customers repeatedly find these irrelevant items in their search result list.

Another SEO technique I've strongly employed is backlinking. Because I want to bring customers to my eBay and online stores, I have links to these stores on my Yahoo! group and blogs, which I in turn heavily promote in order to create enough interest from other sites that they link directly to my Yahoo! group and blogs. This steady increase in backlinking – or the number of inbound links – improves the visibility of my sites in search engines' results.

Excellent examples of backlinking to the blog Male Models Vintage Beefcake can be seen in Bradford Shellhammer's post on the Sundance Channel's website as well as in Alfred Hickling's article about Tom of Finland on the, in which he links to the blog with the word, "beefcake."

To date, I've created one ad banner (as seen at the bottom of this blog) that links consumers to my online store. So, when I write I'm heavily promoting my Yahoo! group and blogs, I don't mean I'm using ad banners to advertise on others' sites. Instead, I mean I am generating content for my Yahoo! group and blogs, which is the marketing strategy known as "content marketing."

It is the way I expand my brand – my reputation – as a knowledgeable resource on gardening in San Francisco, California and on the photographers and models of vintage beefcake. It also makes my brand more visible online and, ultimately, leads to more sales.

Whenever someone confides to me they want to sell on eBay but aren't sure how or even what to sell, I tell that person to sell items they are excited to invest a lot of time and energy into learning about, that they will enjoy having around their home until they are sold, and for which they will find pleasure in becoming an expert and consultant for others.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"Smalltown Boy" by Jimmy Somerville (Bronski Beat)

It is a bit shocking how far away 1984 is from today. It took nearly thirty years for a handful of states to legalize gay marriage and for the United States government to permit gay men and Lesbians to serve openly in its military.

I had recently graduated from high school, when I first saw Jimmy Somerville (of Bronski Beat) sing this song on MTV. Nothing before had come closer to telling the story of my life growing up in a small town in Maryland.

Only a few years later, I returned to San Francisco, California, where I was born.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

More Than a Screenwriter

I am more than a screenwriter.

I began writing short stories in the fourth grade. My first story (which I carefully illustrated and bound with red yarn) was about a group of shipwrecked friends trying to escape a magical world hidden inside an iceberg.

I have always been drawn to stories involving magic, mythic beings and heroes who must navigate alien worlds to survive and, once transformed by their adventures, often find the people around them have also changed.

My all-time favorite film is Jean Cocteau's La Belle et La Bête (Beauty and the Beast), which was released in 1946.

It is everything I crave from film – from great storytelling.

I started screenwriting in 2001 and learned a lot online, most notably from Project Greenlight, which was a television contest with extensive online forums. It was produced by Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Sean Bailey (a television and film producer now the President of Production at Disney) and Chris Moore (a film producer whose biggest hit to date is the Academy Award-winning Good Will Hunting).

For a year or so, I spent a great deal of my spare time commiserating with other newbie screenwriters on the hardships of learning our craft. I pursued several pros I suspect PGL paid to patiently share their knowledge with even the most recalcitrant of us newbies on the forums. And I read a lot of scripts from first-time writers and compared them to those of classics like Bladerunner and Chinatown.

I learned how to write in the proper script format and, most importantly, honed my writing until my voice was my own: concise, a bit ironic and more than a little darkly comedic.