Category Archives: TV

Robots I Can Recall and the Robo Force I Can’t

I’ll be the first to admit it –– I had an amazing childhood.

Being the baby of the family, my Mom, Dad, and siblings always wanted me to have the best. In fact, some of my fondest childhood memories are of family trips to the Toys R Us in the neighboring town of Union City (or is it North Bergen? –– There’s some weird border issues around those two towns) and picking up the latest Transformers or M.A.S.K. toys.

Other times, I’d go with my Dad to the dollar shop across from the Pathmark in Weehawken where my sister worked part-time as a cashier, and I’d spend some of the hard-earned money I made bagging groceries at the back of her aisle on Saturdays.   Spoiled? Perhaps just a little.

But last month while I was searching for some images for one of my upcoming blog posts, I stumbled on this poster:

roboforce1
I was propelled into my past. I remember sitting Indian-style in my playroom (formerly my brother’s bedroom) at the apartment where I grew twenty-six years tall and strong surrounded by cardboard boxes that once held Löenbräu and Carlo Rossi burgundies and instead held my Masters of the Universe, Star Wars, and Secret Wars action figures, and fumbling around with these awkward-looking suction-cupped robots, with accordion-style arms, stickers on their chests, and ridiculous names like “Coptor” and “Vulgar.” My favorite was Hundred the Conqueror because of his evil slotted red eyes and the hidden guns that lay beneath his visor. I never really liked Maxx Steele the Leader simply because he was the one of the lot who just couldn’t hang upside down –– his suction cup was a bit “sucky” compared to all the rest (I had to…)

I don’t quite recall these bots being my favorite toys; they were a bit effeminate, with Hundred the Conqueror, in particular, looking very much like a bustier version of Rosie from The Jetsons; back then, this would’ve been reason enough to steer clear of the toy line –– during a time when boys were not interested in playing with girl toys; that is girl action figures like April O’Neil from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Playmates toy line or Wonder Woman from the Super Powers figures by Kenner. However, I did own Teela from Mattel’s Masters of the Universe, which was the closest to owning a Princess Leia figure I ever got back in those days.

rosie-thejetsons

Good ol’ Rosie the Robot from The Jetsons, one of my favorite cartoons growing up.

But the interesting thing is this: I can tell you to this day where I got most of my action figures and vehicles, and oftentimes from whom, too, but I can’t, for the life of me, recall where the heck all of these Robo Force protagonists and antagonists came from! I remember clearly my sister Renee buying me the original first generation Optimus Prime Transformers figure and my Uncle Chris getting me the Millennium Falcon one Christmas in the early ’80s; and I can still see my brother and sister-in-law bribing me down the aisle on their wedding day with a brand new Whiplash figure and unwrapping He-Man’s Talon Fighter at another family gathering around 1885. But these Robo Force figures? I can’t even remember the packaging these things came in, and certainly not the family member who bought them for me.

What’s the deal with robots, you ask? Although I’m a fairly rabid science-fiction fan, robots were something that took me a while to fully appreciate. I mean, I only saw The Day the Earth Stood Still last week. To this day, I’ve yet to watch an episode of Battlestar Galactica even though thanks to some good friends on Facebook I realized that a figurine I’d held onto for years was actually from the original TV series. As a matter of fact, the only TV show I ever watched show that featured a robot was Small Wonder. No Six Million Dollar Man. No Bionic Woman. No Star Trek: The Next Generation until I was much older.

But I am intrigued by the idea of robots, cyborgs, androids, and other forms of artificial intelligence, and even more so now than ever before since our own world is inching closer and closer to making these once staples of science-fiction storytelling an everyday reality. Drones are one thing, but other things like Google Glass and Oculus Rift, which allow the Internet to have an up close and personal seat in our psyches to control at the blink of an eye, is simply one step away from putting that Internet inside of us? Borg, anyone? For me, it’s a little too RoboCop for my comfort.

The only robot I had any remote liking to back in my younger days was C-3PO, and I think it was because, besides Transformers and even the GoBots, Threepio was all-too human deep beneath his golden shell. Then you have robots like the nameless one from Lost in Space, Robby from Forbidden Planet, and the Daleks from Doctor Who, which are not humanoid in any way, but intriguing in shape, function, or even its purpose for existence.

Forbidden Planet (1956)

Forbidden Planet (1956)

So it doesn’t surprise me that I really can’t remember where these Robo Force figures from my younger years had come from. But I do remember playing with them on a somewhat regular basis whenever I tired of my SilverHawks flight laps around the apartment and the Ghostbusters adventures during my weekend visits to my brother’s house in Bergenfield.

And just as I don’t remember where I originally got this particular line of toys from, I also don’t remember how they left me, either. It’s as though they appeared when I needed some robotic buddies most, then exited through the gift shop just as mysteriously as they came.

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So remember that figurine I mentioned earlier? This it is: the small figurine that partially spawned this blog post. Thanks to my friends Ian Dangerfield, Geoff Mosher, and Patrick Boyle, we discovered that it’s an original 2-inch Cylon Centurion figure from Mattel’s Cylon Raider vehicle from 1978 –– the very year I was born.

Here's my Cylon Centurion, which has been with me for as long as I can remember.

Here’s my Cylon Centurion, which has been with me for as long as I can remember.

What vintage toy robots did you grow up with, that you either remember fully or vaguely. I’d love to know!

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A Tale of Two Cons, Part Two: VidCon 2013

Last month, I was in Anaheim from August 1st to 3rd. For those of you who don’t know, Anaheim is home to Disneyland (which my excellent friend Troy got me into and showed me around) and … well, that’s probably about it, really. But once a year, every YouTuber who is anyone swarms to the Anaheim Convention Center for a massive community experience called VidCon.

VidCon_3A_Logo_Rectangle_Large_White

VidCon started back in 2010 by Vlog Brothers John and Hank Green as a place where YouTubers could gather together with their fans and where the YouTube industry could come together and discuss where the future of online video  is headed.

This year’s VidCon pried open my eyes to the possibilities that YouTube has for digital content creators and fans alike. It’s set up a lot like San Diego Comic-Con: There’s a showroom floor, which showcases everything from MCNs (Multichannel Networks) like Maker Studios, Big Frame, and Fullscreen to YouTube service provides like LootCrate and social media websites like Lovvvit. VidCon showcases everyone from Smosh, Toby Turner, and iJustine to musical acts who found their start on YouTube. (Rebecca Black ring a bell?) The best part for someone like me were the keynotes and panels like the one I was on about advertising and branding while raising funds for your projects. Lots of learning mixed with lots of fun.

There are also tons of happening parties, epic rap battles in the foyer, signings, and giggle-screaming tweens galore, and even a giant “Sharkzilla” (no, not promoting the second installment of Sharknado, thankfully, but Discovery Channel’s Shark Week –– Whew!)

<< Rewind <<

A brief flashback about my prior relationship with YouTube: I’ve been the kind of person who’s never understood YouTube. When I first discovered it, I remember my friend Raul Garcia showed me a Simpson’s spoof video, and I said to him “this is what you wanted to show me?!” I can’t remember what exactly it was I watched, but I remember I didn’t enjoy it all that much.

> Fast forward >>

Then I spent some time working with my filmmaking comrades Alain Aguilar and Joe Whelski on this idea for a series of one-minute skits centered around a character simply called The Fool, a war vet who’s back from an unnamed war and tries humorously to fit himself back into society.

After six well-shot episodes, the series went nowhere. No virality. No five million hits. Nada.

>> Fast Forward >>

Years after The Fool, my girlfriend Marinell and I started up a short-lived but very fun movie review show called Trafflick, in which we’d watch movies, then drive home and talk about what we thought for a minute or so.

We got some views on our YouTube page, but nothing to warrant my thinking that YouTube could serve as anything more than a place to host silly videos.

> Playback

VidCon, 2013 –– the event that showed me just how wrong I was. Here are three brief misconceptions about YouTube I’ve since debunked:

Misconception #1: “YouTube is a video-sharing site.”

It’s not, it a video social network, and when used properly, it’s probably the most powerful social network out there. And only a select number of people use it right. Some even make some decent money uploading YouTube videos.

Misconception #2: There’s a lot of shit on YouTube.”

There’s not a lot of shite on YouTube, but rather a lot of niche. Today, if you can think it up, you can make it happen because somewhere in the vast universe of online content, someone will want to see your video, and like it, which creates the convincing illusion to many that there’s “a lot of shit” on YouTube.

If you mine for what you like, you can find gold on YouTube.

Misconception #3: “It’s too late to start my own YouTube channel.”

Absolutely not. YouTube can be an intimidating space, that’s for sure. I’ve learned a great deal about how it works during my three days at VidCon, and even though the space seems to be ruled by a handful of mafia-like MCNs, there are also thousands of gigabytes of user-generated content creators out there

My key piece of advice is to just do you.

Perhaps I’ll be getting back to doing movie reviews on the go with Marinell (heck, I bought an iPhone car mount from iPole for that reason). Maybe I’ll start a web series if the right idea presents itself. Who knows –– what I do know is that VidCon has completely transformed my perception of YouTube and this entire culture of content, and I’m glad there are folks like Ray William Johnson, Natalie Chan and Ashens doing their thing and inspiring others to do the one thing this world fosters most of all these days:

Create something.

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“Where Do You Find the Time?” Six Steps to a More Productive Life

The other day, my very good friend Troy sent me a message on Facebook, and in it he asked me (and this isn’t the first time he’s asked this) how I manage to find time to do all the things I do.

As many of you know, I’m a bit of a Renaissance man when it comes to the arts. I’m a published poet who plays a decent hand at DIY filmmaker, with one solid feature-length screenplay written and ready to shoot, plus another in 1st draft mode, and who’s now trying to squeeze an original graphic story into the comic book arena. Oh, and I’m also the author of an upcoming book Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, and that ushers in a whole slew of new titles, from guest blogger to crowdfunding consultant. And I also try to maintain a solid standing as a loving boyfriend and responsible kitty daddy who occasionally enjoys some time at the café or bar with my closest friends, actors, writers, and acquaintances from Facebook, the real world, and beyond.

Sheesh! Now that I wrote all that, I actually do quite a bit, don’t I? So how do I manage to do it all? Well, here are six steps that I live by, which may ensure a rich journey onto a more productive path in life:

Land yourself a job that doesn’t get in the way I’ve been very fortunate (at least for the past ten years) to have an occupation that doesn’t interfere with my writing and filmmaking endeavors –– freelance professor. I teach at an average of three universities across as many counties in my home state of New Jersey, putting in a max of fifteen hours a week and raking in enough coin to cover rent, car insurance, student loans, and cell phone expenses, plus a little extra for food shopping and an occasional dinner with my girlfriend Marinell. The more responsibilities we have at the office, the more money we’ll receive, but it’ll be at the expense of our free time.

Don’t follow what’s on TV When I was a kid, I followed a lot of TV, as outlined in a prior blog post. That was enough to last a lifetime. Today, you won’t catch me waiting with uncurbed enthusiasm for the next season of Mad Men the way I’d once hurry through my homework to stake it up with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. These days, if I catch any shows at all, it’s usually a quick rerun of Big Bang Theory, an episode of Toy Hunter, or the occasional webisode of The Booth at the End on Hulu. Anything else, like The Walking Dead, I’ll catch up with on Netflix a few months later. How can I live without TV, you ask? Easy: I can’t afford it. And when we can’t afford TV, the only station we can tune to is the Productivity Network, Channel 247.

This was before the “Rabbit Ear” revolution, so my signal-less 23″ tube TV isn’t so outdated.

Use guilt to your advantage Like yin and yang, pleasure and guilt coexist in everyone’s lives. Whenever I have too much of a good time, guilt starts to creep up my spine, and I’m immediately pulled back into my realm of intense productivity. That’s really the secret of how I’m able to do so much in the course of a single day –– I’ll feel guilty if I don’t, and I don’t like the feeling guilt produces. If I sit around looking at LOLCats for longer than five minutes in the course of a week, I feel like I’ve wasted much more than that in the course of my life. We’ve only got so much time to do all the things we want to do in this life, so we should spend the bulk of our time doing them.

Plan your day everyday, and never deviate I plan out each day the night before on small sheets of paper or an occasional napkin from my neighborhood café. Once I get up the next morning, and after I stretch, work out, eat breakfast, and shower, I turn on my computer and start red penning each item on the day’s “To Do” list. If I get to the bottom and they’re not all Xed out, guilt sets in. But if I do (and I always do), I’m free to enjoy whatever else I want to do with the remainder of my day. Notes like this can keep us organized enough to get through the things we need to do so we can do some of the things we want to do. (More on needs and wants shortly.)

Red Xed and ready for the evening ahead.

Choose your significant other wisely Have I mentioned how fortunate I am? One of the most wonderful things that’s ever happened to me was meeting Marinell. She understands my writer’s needs and has been super-humanly supportive of me for the past seven years. That said, and since healthy relationships are a necessity to almost everyone, if you want to remain productive, you should choose your significant other wisely. And while it’s true that we can’t help who we fall in love with, if we love ourselves enough to see whether or not he or she is a help or a hindrance to our creative or productive lives, we can make the proper choice to stay in or opt out of a particular relationship if it gets in the way of that productivity.

Understand the difference between need and want I tend to do only what’s necessary in all things, from my eating habits to my writing regimen. I only travel when I need to. For me, writing and telling stories are as essential as food, shelter, and clothing. What I need is time to write, submit pitches, revise screenplays, and create new ideas. Everything else is want, and while it’s nice to get the things we want, it’s more important to focus on the things we need; and when we get what we need, we can more fully appreciate all those things we want when we finally get them and see them for what they are: gravy on our meat loaf instead of honey on already frosted cake.

There are lots more tips that I have, from avoiding Words with Friends to doing one’s laundry once every three months, but perhaps those can be divulged in a later post or in an ebook I’m tossing around in my head, tentatively titled The Martlet’s Guide to a More Productive Life. Let’s see if these tips prove helpful (and if I can find the time to write it!)

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What are some tips YOU can offer that might help keep people on the path to a more productive lifestyle? Share them in the Comments section.

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From Television to Tomorrow’s Vision

Happy 2012, folks!

So the other day, I did something I rarely do. I went to Hulu and watched a show that my good friend Troy Romeo recommended called The Booth at the End, a web series about a guy who sits in a diner and helps people get what they want. I watched the first episode and I was hooked. That night, I watched the remaining four episodes, and for the first time in a long time, I can’t wait for season two of something. This same sort of thing happened once before when I finally made time to watch another web series, The Mercury Men, a short sci-fi series that was eventually picked up by SyFy, about men from the planet Mercury trying to destroy the Earth in the 1950s and shot in a campy, Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon style (only with much better special effects, I must say.)

Sci-fi fans, past and present, will get a kick out of The Mercury Men.

Now those who know me well know that I do not watch TV. This is partially because I don’t subscribe to Cable or DirecTV, but also because I haven’t found anything on TV or the web that can keep me engaged past than the first episode. I tried a few recent shows like HBO’s True Blood during my research for my feature-length vampire script A Beautiful Unlife and the first episode of Californication at the request of an acquaintance; both of these programs had absolutely nothing to keep me wanting to watch.

Then I thought back to when I was a happy, healthy little boy going to grammar and eventually high school, coming home and doing my homework with much interest in every subject, then spending the remainder of my day with my head tucked into A Tale of Two Cities and Madame Bovary. Then right before bed I would read an act of Coriolanus or whatever work of Shakespeare I could take out from the local library (for fun, of course).

Wait––! That’s not how it was. Not. At. All.

I was a happy, healthy kid, that much is true. But everyday I would rush home from school and finish my homework with Flash-swiftness I could so I could adjust the rabbit ears and tune my eyes to Channel 11 for two action-quacked hours of DuckTales, Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers, TaleSpin, and Darkwing Duck. The tops of my mornings through the late 1980s up until 1992 started off with some Looney Tunes, The Jetsons, and the first ten minutes of Conan the Adventurer before I’d journey up the hill toward Weehawken High.

Classic. 'Nuff said.

It’s strange even for me to think that I don’t watch any TV today when, looking back, I watched a lot of TV throughout my entire life. With a television set in every room of our apartment (except the bathroom, of course), I suppose it was easy. I started out much the same as kids today, only instead of Barney and Friends I was taught my A-B-Cs by Cookie Monster and my 1-2-3s by The Count. And even now I can easily recall some of the many cartoons that lit up my living room most –– The Flintstones, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Transformers and G.I. Joe; I watched this last show not for the “Real American Heroes,” sadly (Duke and the gang were kind of boring), but for the villains: Cobra Commander and Destro hidden behind their masks, Zartan and his sun-blued flesh, and those strange twins Tomax and Xamot (and let’s not forget about Serpentor!)

Totally bad-ass, 1980s-style!

Saturday morning cartoons have always held an extra special place inside. On certain Saturdays, when my Dad would drop me off at my Yiya’s apartment (yiya is “grandmother” in Greek) whenever he’d have to work the early shift at the diner, I would spend those mornings happily sipping a Nestle Quik chocolate milk from a bendy straw and watching Superfriends, Dungeons and Dragons, Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies and Captain N: The Game Master, plus the occasional episode of The Smurfs, Fraggle Rock, and yes, Pee-wee’s Playhouse.

Eventually, I moved onto live-action TV programming. Early on, my shows of choice were game shows (well, not my choice, as my Dad was master of the remote, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy them.) Mornings in summertime meant watching classics like The Price is Right (Bob Barker is the only host of this show, by the way), Family Feud with Ray Combs and The Newlywed Game with Bob Eubanks, back in the days when we kids didn’t know what “making whoopee” meant. At dinnertime, my Dad and I found ourselves so immersed in the fist-to-jaw escapades of action shows like Knight Rider, The A-Team and Baywatch, that once the smoke cleared from the explosion right before a commercial break, the smoke rising from our dinner plates had cleared as well.

The original KITT, which inspired so many of my sci-fi tendencies today.

Around the same time I discovered sitcoms, as well. The ones I enjoyed most were Family Ties, Growing Pains, and Small Wonder, but later on I would start staying up extra late in my Dad’s bedroom (he had a better TV in his room than I had in mine) and watch reruns of 1970s classics like All in the Family and Taxi. On many occasions, my Dad and I would sit in the kitchen chuckling away at The Cosby Show, Cheers, Perfect Strangers, Who’s the Boss? and especially Three’s Company. Later on, I would take a peculiar liking to The Wonder Years, Doogie Howser, M.D. and other situational dramedies. But perhaps the only two shows I remember ever making me laugh out loud with every episode were Married with Children and Seinfeld.

When my sister lived in Union City, only a few blocks away from my apartment, I’d visit more frequently and she’d cook us up some chicken cutlets and we’d  watch Law & Order (or CSI –– I can’t tell the difference to this day between any of those crime dramas; even then, I didn’t care for them, but it was about quality time; that, and the chicken cutlet). On weekends, I went through a brief stint in which I sat up with my sister-in-law Patti watching classic programming that originally aired in the late 1950s through the early 1980s on Nick At Nite. Shows like Leave it to Beaver, Bewitched, I Love Lucy, The Munsters and Gilligan’s Island, and even a few episodes of Mork & Mindy and Laverne & Shirley, bounced splashes of grey and eventually Technicolor all along the living room walls until I couldn’t laugh anymore and fell asleep.

And after ten or twelve years watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles battle Shredder and Krang while Jason Priestley and Shannen Doherty tried to fit themselves into Beverly Hills, 90210, plus late nights on the edge of my seat as Dr. Sam Beckett tried desperately to find his way home in Quantum Leap, I got hooked on what would become the very last TV serial ever to leave an indelible mark (or two) on me –– Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Vampires and Sarah Michelle Gellar? 1997 - 2003 were good years.

As you can probably see from the thirty-something titles listed, I’ve spent an enormous amount of my own wonder years situated in front of the tube transmitting images, stories, humor, adventure and even personality into my very being.

Today, there are no shows I feel an all-encompassing kinship with, none that might inspire me with the sudden urge to speed home, sit in front of a flat screen and get my fix. No stories being told in today’s digital TV universe have moved me to that sort of zealous devotion to any one title or writer or story arc. The only show I do “follow” with some interest is The Walking Dead, but even that’s not enough to make me pull together a “boy’s night in” with Doritos and red wine to watch each episode as it happens; I’ll catch up with season two when it’s on Netflix. And while I have a subtle curiosity about HBO’s Bored to Death, mainly because of Jason Schwartzman, it’s remained in the same position on my queue for months. I have no care to play catch-up on Lost, Breaking Bad, Rescue Me, Mad Men, It’s Always Sunny in Philidelphia or any of the other shows that win Emmy Awards for writing or “Best Original Series.” The truth is, TV writing is not what it was when I grew up with television, and no story is original (quirky, yes, but not original.) As a matter of fact, the only shows I will watch whenever I can catch them are food reality TV shows (of all things!) like Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations and especially Man v. Food.

By far the most fun I've had in front of a flat screen to date!

I’ve watched enough television to help me shape, mold and constantly recreate the person I am today: My fascination with vampires comes not only from Hammer Films and Joss Whedon’s Buffy franchise, but from late nights spent with Dracula: The Series and Forever Knight; my penchant for sci-fi stems from following Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and catching a few Twilight Zone marathons on New Year’s Eves past; my predilection for duality and parallelism comes from watching Beauty and the Beast and random episodes of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

So instead of spending any more of my time sitting on a couch or kitchen chair with a remote control in hand surfing for something to sustain my attention, I’d rather spend that same amount of time and energy creating something that will make others give me the benefit of their attention for a change. This is not a trashing of contemporary TV programming, nor is it a song of praise for the shows of all my seasons past; it’s a prelude of things to come, a glimpse into what all those years spent watching TV can create in us, if we choose to let it, that is.

In the epic battle between Man and Tube, this one goes to Tube…and to Man.

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What are some classic (or contemporary) TV shows that have made a long-lasting impression on who YOU are?

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