What I’ve learned on my Vegan Vacation: Part 1

Posted in people, places, things you should know on November 16, 2009 by wfon

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meeting T. Colin Campbell, author "The China Study"

Hollywood is almost always all talk. People talk while ‘doing lunch’, people take ‘meetings’ to talk… people in Hollywood really just like to talk. After awhile you get used to the fact that 99.9 percent of the ‘talks’ you’re having will produce absolutely nothing… but more talk. So, when my nearly-life-long friend Julieanna Hever (a.k.a The Plant-Based Dietitian) called with an idea to combine our talents and produce a television program as a guidebook for those interested in going vegan (Plant-Based), at first I thought, “well, that sounds interesting, sure, a year or so from now we’ll still be thinking about it…” Okay – Julieanna is not Hollywood. She is not about ‘talk’… although she loves to talk. I say this because within a month of that first call, we were climbing aboard a Continental flight to Newark to begin conducting interviews with prominent vegans, Dr. Joel Fuhrman in New Jersey and T. Colin Campbell in Ithaca, New York. For Julieanna the experience was akin to me getting to sit and chat with George Lucas or Steven Spielberg, or so she tells me. Our guest subjects were incredibly warm and welcoming and their associates, families and friends certainly made us feel at home right away. Again, this is Julieanna’s territory, I’m either a pilgrim in a foreign land or an infidel. I went so far as to dub myself “Broccolini” so I could blend in with the vegans a little better. Here’s the scoop: I’m not vegan. I’m not even vegetarian. But I also don’t chew on cows regularly. So it begs to be asked: what have I learned on my Vegan Vacation so far?

A few interesting facts: 80% of Americans are deficient in Vitamin D. Protein is plentiful in vegetables, you don’t have to eat animal products to get it, and in fact the protein you get from vegetables is better for you. The ‘statistics’ you get from the FDA and other groups, especially when it comes to Daily Values is corruptible and influenced by lobbyists like the Dairy and Beef industries (imagine that, something else that is manufactured by big business.) I also learned that if meat wasn’t subsidized by the government, beef would cost $90/pound. Roadkill and euthanized animals are re-processed into feed for cattle. Yum. When it comes to food, there really is no room for a Free Market. I still don’t like Tofu.

As a filmmaker, this project is intriguing. I’m used to working from a script. Here we’re making the script up as we go. We’re off to a good start: Google names like Dr. Joel Fuhrman, T. Colin Campbell, John McDougall, Mike Anderson and you’ll find that we’re sitting down with the biggest names in the vegan world. The time is right for this collaboration. And it’s a project with its heart in the right place, my producing partner is on a mission to save the world… I’m on board to document her efforts. I will continue to let you all know what we learn.

In the meantime you can follow our progress and adventures at www.goingveg.net. You can also keep up with Julieanna HERE. More to come!

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New Video from the Naperville Independent Film Festival

Posted in people, places, things you should know on November 2, 2009 by wfon

A little memento of the trip to Naperville in September. Thanks again to Edmond, Glessna, Daniel, Gary, Ed and, of course, Pat Trapp!

Art Imitating Life Imitating Art?

Posted in daily musings on October 30, 2009 by wfon

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When I sat down to write worldfullofnothing, I didn’t intend to write a screenplay about teen suicide. It was a component and certainly the inciting incident in the story but the overall piece was more about negative influences in peer groups, the media and absentee parents all leading our heroine to face the world alone whereupon she begins to reach out in a vaguely anonymous fashion using video blogs to parse out personal information in tid-bits along the way. The true initial inspiration was a little internet phenomenom called LonelyGirl15 – at first believed to be a real girl, telling real stories about herself and the strange religious cult her family belonged to. For a few months, “Bre” became a web sensation and the YouTube generation came of age. Upward of 300,000 hits a day were pinging LonelyGirl15 until a few enterprising hackers decided to find out the truth about Bre and it all came tumbling down: Bre was a Kiwi actress named Jessica Rose and LonelyGirl15 was a viral webisodic television experiment. Strangely, even after the truth was revealed, many of Bre’s fans still wanted to believe she was real and the ‘show’ lasted another year. At least we got Jessica Rose out of it, she’s pretty radiant. That, my friends, was the start of worldfullofnothing, the notion that a movement could come to life due to an internet-perpetrated event and my opening scene in the script became a teenager’s last will and testament before sticking a 9mm pistol in her mouth and blowing herself to infamy, kicking off a horrific craze of copy-cat teens killing themselves on camera, leaving the videos behind for others to upload to the world. Dark, yes, but not what my entire premise was about. The film goes on from there to introduce Rachael, a fifteen-year-old who feels plenty of peer pressure but is not really a follower… she’s not quite sure what she is, in fact, and her adventure leads her to certain conclusions. Along the way, she becomes the prey of an online predator and the object of an FBI profiler’s ‘savior’ agenda (the agent herself a woman not entirely formed).

I bring all this up because in the three years worldfullofnothing has been around, there have been at least three high profile teen suicide epidemics, one in Palm Desert, California, one in Wales and now an ongoing problem in Palo Alto, a leafy green suburb of California’s Silicon Valley. In all cases, just like the fiction I wrote, authorities are at a loss to find the cause for these copycat deaths. Currently in Palo Alto, four teenagers aged 13-17 have walked in front of racing trains at the same railroad crossing since last spring (a particularly eerie worldfullofnothing connection since one of the film’s suicides happens in the same manner). Also familiar to people who’ve seen worldfullofnothing will be the rhetoric and terror coming from police, school administrators and the media in this northern California city as all attempts are being made to counsel the teenagers there, propping up their self-esteem, pointing fingers at possible reasons (academic pressures, depression) yet unable to stop a trend that may or may not be happening. This is the problem with a scenario like this, answers and reasons can be looked for all day long, but the only people who truly know the ‘why’ are the ones who aren’t around any longer to talk to.

I found a comment in today’s LA TIMES article about the problem in Palo Alto to be right in line with worldfullofnothing’s approach to the suicide dilemma (the third leading cause of death among teenagers apparently). “Teens are suggestible and impulsive,” said Dr. Mel Blaustein, who has studied suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge, and if the first death “was romanticized and seemed like something special, that can start a cluster.” Exactly as the film suggests. I’m not writing this to toot my own horn and tell you all that I’m obviously some sort of genius for being so right-on with my characterizations and assesment of teen lives (but if you want to think it, please do), instead I’m looking into the whole art-imitates-life-imitates-art thing. There were teen suicides before worldfullofnothing, there have been since and unfortunately there will be more to come… I wonder, however, if when teenagers who might find themselves on the threshold of ‘the end’ get a chance to see worldfullofnothing, if they might hear a voice in the darkness, that of Rachael and her coming to terms with life in a world that seems to be void most of the time. I wonder if they might find a kindred soul in this character the way so many found interest in Bre during LonelyGirl15’s high-point. I wonder if a film can get through in ways that authorities can’t, a film that reflects a viewer’s own sense of hopelessness but shows them there is light at the end of the tunnel, not just the headlamp of an oncoming train. If any of that was possible, then perhaps life could imitate art for a better outcome this time around.

U2 360 Rose Bowl

Posted in people, places, things you should know on October 26, 2009 by wfon

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As always, an evening with U2 is a bit of a religious experience, a communal give and take between the band and the audience. It’s arguable that any stadium show is too big and the case can be made for that with the current 360 Tour, but with its open architecture and in-the-round feel, it’s hard to imagine anybody being able to bring the show closer to the masses than this outing. Unfortunately, this tour suffers from having to support U2’s weakest effort since Pop and the inclusion of six of No Line On The Horizon’s songs seemed only able to dampen the energy stoked by the show’s best moments: a cathartic Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, furnace-hot Vertigo, funky Elevation and one of the more moving takes on One that I’ve heard live in awhile. Hard to say why the band continues to flog With or Without You since Bono seems so uninterested to the point of barely bothering to sing it. The true star of the 360 show is the stage, the well-documented and discussed Claw that manages to put all the stadium-show superstructure up out of the way, on top of four legs, allowing for a 360 degree view (or pretty close) in the vast setting. It’s every surface lights up, pulses, expands and contracts; concentric rings allow some of the audience up close while also bringing the band members within reach even to the 50 yard line. An incredible 550,000 pixel, 880 light LED array brings sharp live images to a round screen over head that expands downward making a screen twice its size. There’s even a disco ball at the very top, 179 feet above the ground. Band? What band?

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Our vantage point near one of the rear legs gave us a good look at the behind the scenes and an up-close-and-personal view of the scale of this endeavour. We were also just above the VIP tunnel and got to wave at a number of celebrities as they came out before U2’s set. Among them: Pierce Brosnan, Barbra Streisand, Paris Hilton, Ben Stiller, Pau Gasol and Slash (who did a rocked up Sweet Child O’ Mine with openers The Black Eyed Peas). A start-studded event, no doubt.

It was a long day spent at the Rose Bowl but a spirit of positive energy and the immensity of a pure rock and roll show pervaded the Arroyo and for a little while all was good.

Dead Peasants (update)

Posted in things you should know on October 18, 2009 by wfon

Dead Peasant insurance policies are taken out by companies as life insurance against the death of an employee. I first heard about this while watching Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story. After mentioning it, a commenter to the blog stated that employee’s know absolutely well that such a policy is being taken out by their company and that they ‘have to sign the forms.’ This is an opposite opinion to the views expressed in Moore’s picture by two families who had loved ones die and found out later that their respective employers had cashed in on the loss. So, I dug a little deeper and found further information HERE, HERE and HERE – all discussing the fact that Dead Peasant policies are usually taken out WITHOUT the employee’s knowledge. Why are some people so quick to always defend these monsters? It’s only obvious that profit motives really only reward the people at the top. Worker bees are just that. Hmmm…

Capitalism: A Love Story

Posted in daily musings, rants, things you should know on October 18, 2009 by wfon

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This entry should probably go on the ‘movies’ page, but there are few important things to discuss with regards to this film, information that needs to be proliferated. I know that if you’re still reading this blog after seeing the title and the image herein, then you’re on the side of liking Michael Moore’s work and probably not in the other dug-out wishing he would get crushed under Rush Limbaugh’s even larger ass. The thing is, Michael Moore is an everyman, or at least that’s the role he plays in his ‘documentaries’ which are always incredibly well-researched and edited and just as often created. It’s a trick employed in most documentaries (see; ‘re-enactment’) but Moore takes it further, by putting himself into the mix and acting as his audience’s surrogate. Truth be told, his films work better for me in the sequences he’s not in or isn’t physically pushing the action forward.  Capitalism: A Love Story is a very strong indictment of America’s turn away from democracy, as outlined by the founding fathers, and toward a wealth-based plutocracy: a nation where the richest 1% control everything. Interestingly enough, Moore makes the case for the remaining 95%’s culpability in their own victimization at the hands of those who would exploit every opportunity to increase their wealth upon the backs of the unsuspecting masses, who have been lulled into thinking that they have a chance at ‘the American Dream’ as propogated post-World War Two and spoon-fed time and again during the Reagan and Bush years. Folks, the same people who tell you you’re entitled to great wealth are the same folks who are behind the political rhetoric that wants to take your entitlements away. And you continue to go shopping, line up outside the Best Buy Thanksgiving night, sign on the dotted line without reading the fine print and then put your hands out when the bottom falls through. There are some among us who think the left leaning efforts of Roosevelt was the beginning of the end, but the truth is found in a much more recent history starting in 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan. Where FDR put programs in place to get people to work after the Depression and before the war, the Reagan era worked to undermine the American workforce, get people on never-ending lines of credit and eventually marginalize them to the point where their only options are food stamps and welfare. Why? you ask… it’s a good question. Why would someone do this? The only answer is ‘corruption’… the corruption of greed has blinded this 1% to the fact that when things get bad enough, not all the standing armies and private security contractors will be able to stop the coming revolution. It’s a movement of grassroots protests now, but for how much longer? And when the arms are brought up, who will be fighting who and why? Even God won’t be able to help quell the angry hoards… ’cause, of course, He’s just a figurehead these days for a religion that is all about power and money. Chances are God checked out of this one a long time ago.

This film also introduces us to something that has been bouncing around in my head since I saw it last night with Markus at the WGA. Companies (WalMart, McDonnel/Douglas, Hershey, Nestle, Bank of America and CitiGroup among them) have a practice of taking out “Dead Peasant” life insurance policies on their own employees. When an employee dies, the company collects on the policy. The employee is unaware that he means more to the company dead than alive, and his family never shares in the payout. Two examples of this are made in the film. Companies use their “Dead Peasant” projections to bolster their bottom line. In other words, they count on a certain number of employee deaths to bring in a certain amount of capital. This is an absolute disgrace!

Or is it? Walking away from the film I was struck by the thought… I work too hard. I slave over people’s movies, providing sound editorial, hiring vendors and renting huge mix stages. I spend tons of money on my own film projects hoping that the investment will make a return. Americans and American companies used to work hard, too, until during the Reagan years a program was started to reduce the amount of jobs and increase profits, which eventually led companies to move the work to other, cheaper countries and rid Americans of the jobs they’d been doing for forty years. Those who have continued to strike it rich in the last two decades have done so by doing nothing. They push paper around. They bet on risk, other people’s misfortunes, natural disasters (please read Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”) and when their own bets come up snake eyes… they put their hands out. You go from privatized profit to socialized loss.

It’s a love story alright… a co-dependent, dysfunctional mess… I had one of those for five years, won’t be doing that again. If only people could see the situation from the persepective of a mirror in their faces, then they might be able to avoid the trap that this system has laid for them time and again.  Until then… it’s the sucker who keeps going back to the abusive spouse. We’ll read about you in the paper when it goes too far.

Educational…

Posted in daily musings, places on October 14, 2009 by wfon

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Nothing trumps experience. All the reading, TV watching, wikipedia-searching and fireside tales cannot teach what can be learned by having your boots on the ground. Can I get a witness? Yes, I can. I’m always amazed by the statistic that some seventy-five percent of Americans never leave the country and quite a few of those folks never leave their immediate geographic locale. Yet, just as many seem to be well-versed in all matters of the world at large and are very vocal about it. This is not to say there aren’t important things to learn from books and teachers and schools, of course there are, but until you’ve actually breathed the air, tasted the food, exchanged the currency, navigated a train system or slept in a bed in a foreign land can you really understand… and one of the most important things you will understand quickly is; we’re all the same, one people under the sun and moon, dealing with the same problems, excited about the same mundane Reality shows, sharing the same fears, shaking our heads at man’s folly and his ability to act in such selfish and cruel ways but also in such compassionate and empathetic ways. The only distance between us is the physical one. Traveling also teaches you to observe and consider your actions and beliefs, to temper your reactionary nature. People who never leave America and have their worldview handed to them by political pundits and TV pitchmen might be fascinated to know that in Italy if you break a bone or catch a disease, you will be treated, fixed up and nursed back to health without incurring a single cost (same goes for most of the western European countries) and why? Because for some people in the world, the general wellbeing of a nation’s people is seen as a moral obligation to the state. It might also be of interest to know that pharmaceutical companies aren’t allowed to advertise on television in Europe. They aren’t given the opportunity to convince an entire population that they now suffer from a disease the ad agency created. Trains run on time. Airlines give food and drink. Bathrooms are clean and plentiful, even if it costs a Euro to use them. New construction projects are focused on their environmental impact, using materials and designs to consume less energy. No, this is not a rant on ‘how everything is better over there’. It doesn’t take long to find out that there are plenty of people suffering financial burdens, that there are immigrant problems in outlying neighborhoods. The unemployment rate in Spain (after the election six or so years ago of a Socialist governenment in retaliation for the previous administration’s support of Bush-era policies and the terrorist attack on Madrid) is higher than ever recorded. The shining example of Irish economics (much ballyhooed by conservatives over here) is currently flatter than a pancake. Even U2 can’t finish their big building in Dublin. (Geez who ever thought that bringing in cheap Eastern European labor to increase profits and marginalize the Irish middle class would have a negative effect?) So, no, not everything is better over there… just the things that count. There is a demand for balance between quality of life and capitalistic endeavours, something we could certainly learn more about over here.

The last three weeks have been a whirlwind of travel, airports, lengthy plane rides. We went to Chicago for the film festival in Naperville and came away with a gold statue, new friends and another place to add to the list of favorites (and that one’s here in the US!). Twelve hours after returning from Chi-town, we turned around and flew to Munich to experience the Oktoberfest. And did we! Tens of thousands of people, daily, filling the fourteen beer halls, downing liter upon liter of beer, noshing on endless pretzels, sausages and roasted half-chickens. Quite a few probably don’t remember the experience… I don’t think the adage is true that if you remember Oktoberfest you weren’t there. From Munich we took the ICE train up to Berlin and stayed in what twenty-years ago was the East. The years between the fall of the Berlin Wall and now have obviously been a bounty of growth and prosperity, even in light of the world’s financial difficulties. The building is endless. Our neighborhood at the Spittlemarkt train stop appears poised to be the next upwardly mobile urban haven. If I had cash, I would be investing right now.

Following the path of the Berlin Wall gives more perspective than any lesson I learned about it in high school, even with Mr. Williams’ slide presentations of pictures from his trip through Checkpoint Charlie into the East. It goes without saying that as you walk along you wonder ‘how could it have happened?’ And I think the answer is that it happened because in the haze of propaganda and mis-information, while people were struggling with their daily lives, the rug was pulled out from under them and one morning their entire world changed. This is a lesson that every single American should keep in mind, always. There are some here who have the wisdom to see the forest for the trees before them and there are others who are lost in the darkness of the wood. They might very well wake up one morning to find themselves on the wrong side of the wall and they will only have themselves to blame. To quote my beloved Miley Cyrus: “Wake up America”

Pictures from all these adventures are to your right at the Flickr link. Enjoy.