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Posted in directing, personal with tags , , , , on January 5, 2010 by barryshapiro

The Blue people really racked up some big numbers at the box office last week. They racked up over $350 million in under 3 weeks, not bad for a film that most of the critics loved to hate. But the real story, or should I say reel story, is not about fantastic plants on a fantastic planet or special effects or very tall aliens or whether or not Sigourney Weaver’s character smokes cigarettes. The amazing thing about Avatar is that it got made and that is a testament to director James Cameron. I have to admit, the guys got a touch. Let’s see, some Cameron classics include Aliens, True Lies, The Abyss, Terminator and, of course, Titanic. Not a bad track record.

What Cameron shows us is that talent combined with vision, dedication and an unwillingness to compromise can add up to greatness. I know a few people in the biz who just don’t like the guy, say he’s a prick. We’ll, maybe he is and maybe he isn’t but he gets a clear vision of what he wants and then he makes it happen – no matter what the odds. When everyone says he’s crazy and that he’s doomed to fail he just cranks it up a notch , dumps a few million more into it and makes it happen. That’s chutzpah! That’s putting yourself on the line. That’s brilliant!

I’ll probably go back and see it again next week. Now that I’ve enjoyed the film I think it would be great to go back and look at it from purely the technical point of view. This is a work of art and a technical masterpiece and will probably change the look of films in the years ahead.

I was moved by the story, awed by the visuals, impressed by the technology and delighted by the 3D. But I was really struck by the story of the guy who created the whole thing – who “saw” us and what we wanted to see. If you haven’t seen it yet I say get out to a theater and make sure you do the whole 3D thing. You will not be disappointed. When your there take a moment to think about Cameron’s incredible accomplishment, what it must have took to get this made and be inspired to go make your own masterpiece. I know that it has inspired me.

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Rating Movies

Posted in art, directing, personal on August 9, 2009 by barryshapiro

Last night we went to the movies. Since I was a kid watching a film on the big screen has been one of my very favorite things to do. More than a concert, a play or the opera, I enjoy sitting in a dark theater for a couple of hours watching some tale of adventure, some sappy love story or some politically poignant drama unfold. I can turn off my mind and lose myself in the characters. I love movies.

Last night it was Julie & Julia and we loved Meryl Streep transforming into Julia Child. Very enjoyable. As is my practice, when I come home from a film I enter it into a small book I have been keeping for years, tracking the films I see, the date, director, primary players and bestowing upon it a simple rating system I have devised.

One * means the film has at least one thing about it that made the movie going experience worthwhile. Two ** means decent to pretty good. Three *** notes a film I perceived to be very good and recommendable. Four **** is excellent and I would go see that picture again. The very rare Five ***** can only mean that the film is magnificent, a classic to be and a must see for all.

Then there are films, too many of them, that receive an NG which, duh, means just plain No Good. And finally there is the dreaded YUCK which is a nice way of saying SUCK, as in that film really sucked and how the hell did they get anyone to finance that piece of crap?  I also designate if the film is foreign, what country it’s from and if animated note the studio that created it, such as Pixar.

I have been keeping this scorecard since November 12, 1997. I was having dinner with my friend Brian Keller when I noticed he was making entries into a diary he kept. We had been to the movies earlier and he was making note of the film and the director in his book. I thought that I it would be a great idea to keep a movie diary myself. Brian notated all the events of his day but I just wanted to keep track of films, in part because as a member of the Directors Guild I would vote every year for the DGA Best Director Award and this would be a great way to remember what I liked and didn’t. At that time in my life going to the movies was a regular occurrence. On average I’d see about 90 films year. Every Wednesday I’d go to the DGA and see 2 films and during the ‘voting season’ I’d see a movie almost every night of the week. I have to admit that I am one of those people for whom the multiplex was invented. I would often go to see an early film and then, instead of leaving the complex, I’d sneak into another theater for a double feature. The movie notebook made absolute sense.

And so it was that on November 12 I made my first entry: Mad City directed by Costa Gravas with Dustin Hoffman and John Travolta. I gave it three ***. Two nights later it was The Jackal with Richard Gere and Bruce Willis directed by Michael Caton-Jones and rated by me as NG.  Two nights later it was A Life Less Ordinary directed by William Boyd with Cameron Diaz and Ewan McGregor (***) and two nights after that L.A. Confidential by Curtis Hanson with Russell Crowe and Kim Basinger (only ** for what was to be a Best Picture Oscar nominee).

Since moving to Florida my movie going has dwindled down to 20 or 30 films a year tops. It’s just not as easy to get to a theater from where we live and frankly the movies they show at the multiplex here are not ones I am dying to drive a half hour to see. Hardly any foreign or small independent films ever make it here unless they catch on with mainstream audiences the way Little Miss Sunshine did (8/24/06 *** 1/2 directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris with Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin and Steve Carell – no mention in my notebook of Miss Sunshine herself, the soon to be household name Abagail Breslin) or Juno (a rousing ***** on 1/12/08 from director Jason Reitman with Ellen Page and Michale Cera).

Fortunately I would travel alot, mostly on business and whenever possible, especially on trips to New York or L.A. I would try to catch some films that I knew wouldn’t get to the mall at Vero Beach. That’s how I got to see some gems like Once (2/16/08 by John Carney – who also wrote the screenplay – from Ireland with Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova and ****) or The Wackness (8/15/08 by Jonathan Levine with Josh Peck and Sir Ben Kingsley ****). Every once in a blue moon a small interesting film does get down here and I always make an effort to see it, which is how I caught a film on May 11, 2008 by one of my favorite directors, Wan Kar Wei. That film, Blueberry Nights with Norah Jones and Jude Law and rated it ****.

There are a lot of ones *, twos **, and threes *** on my list of course and many fewer fours **** or fives *****. Surprisingly though, there are also fewer NG’s than you would think. Perhaps this is beacuse  as someone who considers himself sort of a film maker, I intentionally look for the craft and often find at least that one thing the director pulled off. I have to give him or her credit at least for that. And there are some films I just won’t go to see because I know that I am going to hate them. Going to the movies is a special experience for me and I am not going to intentionally waste it on something I know I will dislike but will probably wind up watching anyway on TV in 3 months.

I have only walked out of a film once as far as I can remember. That was Stepmom, with Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts by Chris Colombus (12/18/98 NG). I have sat through many stinkers but that one I just couldn’t take for another minute. Even though I hate the European Dogma movement, finding it pretentious and over-hyped, I have sat through The Celebration from Denmark (12/11/98 by Thomas Vinterberg *) but didn’t bother writing down the names of the actors. And I even stayed to the painful end of At First Sight (1/20/99 Director Griffin Dunne with Mira Sorvino and Val Kilmer NG). In that one Kilmer plays a blind guy and believe me that movie made me want to pluck my eyes out. In retrospect, I should have given it a YUCK. Even Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ (3/3/04 with Jim Cazaveizel, which I found appalling on several levels got  one * from me because he dared to shoot it in Aramaic.

Of course it’s all subjective but that’s what makes going to the movies with a friend so much fun: you can argue later over a bottle of vino. I fondly remember seeing Pretty Woman when it first came out with my friend Allison who was at the time the editor of now defunct SHOOTmagazine. She was appalled by the film and thought it objectified women. I liked it alot and saw it as an updated version of Pygmalion. I think we argued over two bottles and a great meal at LaCojou (pardon the possible misspelling but the restaurant doesn’t exist anymore either).

Looking back, here’s a list of the best and worst. Only my five ***** films followed by my absolute YUCKs.
*****s:
The Grey Zone by Tim Blake Nelson
Amadeus (director’s cut) by Milos Foreman
Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring by Peter Jackson
A Girl With A Pearl Earring by Peter Weber
Whale Rider by Niki Caro
Farenheit 911 by Michael Moore
The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind by Micheal Gondry
Hotel Rwanda by Terry George
Vera Drake by Mike Leigh
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Tim Burton
Good Night and Good Luck by George Clooney
An Inconvenient Truth by David Guggenheim
Babel by Alejandro Gonzalez
Flags of Our Fathers by Clint Eastwood
Hairspray by Adam Shankman
Sicko by Michael Moore
Juno by Jason Reitman
Stop Loss by Kimberly Peirce
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Julien Schnabel
La Vie En Rose by Oliver Dahan
Gone Baby Gone by Ben Affleck
Wall-E by Andrew Stanton
Slumdog Millionaire by Danny Boyle

Yucks:
Waking the Dead by Keith Gordon
Save The Last Dance by Thomas Cater
The Wedding Planner by Adam Shankman
American Outlaws by Les Mayfield
Devine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood by Callie Khouri
8 Femmes by Francois Ozon
Gigli by Martin Brest
The Other by Brian Helgeland
Beyond Boarders by Martin Campbell
King Arthur by Antoine Fuqua
The Longest Yard by Peter Segal
Apocolypto by Mel Gibson
Stepbrothers by Adam McKay

I know there is a lot to argue with here and that’s the fun of it. Also, I know that some would argue that there are three docs, two by Michael Moore on my best list and how can you compare a doc to a feature? Well, I saw them all in the theater and they were significant enough to me that I gave the my highest rating. Also interesting is that Adam Shankman  made both lists, the only director to do so.

Tee Time

Posted in directing, marketing, personal on May 6, 2009 by barryshapiro

It’s 10:55 PM and this is the first time in a couple of months that I am not either working or utterly exhausted at this point in the evening. I’ve always been a night person, even as a young kid I could never fall asleep until morning. I remember laying in my bed after my mother had sent me to my room just lying there staring into the dark and letting my imagination run wild. Sometimes I’d read but one of the folks would see the light on and make me put my book away and “go to sleep!” Sleep did not come, at least not until everyone in the house had been down for the count for hours. In the winter months, when it was cold in my room (mine was above the garage and apparently not well insulated) I’d sneak into the bathroom with a book, crawl up on the floor next to the heat vent and read until I passed out. That’s where they’d find me in the morning. My parents thought I was weird. I believe this was all a natural response to my bio-rhythms. I was also lactose intolerant but no one figured that out until I was in my 50’s.

Needless to say I am also not a morning person and I don’t do well with people first thing in the AM. I need at least an hour to fully wake and coffee really helps. Since I’ve given up caffeine it now takes me a tad longer. Many of my relationships with women have ended by a remark I didn’t even know I made upon arising and finding a “bright-eyed, bushy tailed” young thing lying next to me wanting to be sweet and cuddly and talkative. For me that’s “shutthefuckup time.”

I guess that’s one reason I always stunk at golf. All my buddies wanted to get up at the crack of dawn to get a favorable early tee time. I wanted to sleep in, have brunch and get in a late round. Besides the rates usually go down after 12.

I live with a woman who thinks that the appropriate time to go to sleep is somewhere between  8:30 and 9:30 PM. She does stay up for parties and events but most evenings she’s in dreamland well before 10, leaving me to Facebook, blogging, Rachael Maddow and old movies. I don’t read that much any more at night cause my eyes get tired fast, especially after a day in front of a computer monitor. I try to draw but I have to say it’s hard to get my head wrapped around a project unless I can really absorb myself for 4 or 5 hours. Lately that has been impossible. That’s why tonight is great. I’m at the computer, my eyes don’t feel like they are bugging out of their sockets and I have some real energy. Just not much to say!

I will say that I just completed the 2009 radio campaign for the New York Shipping Association and I think we did a great job of bringing the plight of the New York-New Jersey ports into perspective. Great job by voices Alan Pratt, the lovely and charming Carolee Goodgold and the hysterical Brad Zimmerman. I love how Brad always tells me how great his career is. I kind of discovered him when he was a waiter at Chat ‘n Chew in New York’s Flatiron District. He was a very funny waiter for a lot of years. I put him in 2 or 3 commercials (one for Rush Limbaugh) and then his career took off doing stand up. His routine is all about being a 50 year old waiter. Catch him on You Tube – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kc2IIxQxB6E.

I’ve worked with alot of comedians over the years. Going back to my beginnings in the ad biz I remember doing a spot with Morty Gunty when I was a PA. If you know who Morty Gunty was then you are Jewish, from New York and at least 50 years old. I was on a shoot with Gabe (Welcome Back Kotter) Kaplan. He wasn’t funny. In fact he was one of the biggest assholes I ever encountered in the business. I’ve been on the set with Stiller and Meara, Jay Leno, Gilbert Gottfried (has to be one of my favorite afternoons ever – what a freak!), John Ratzenberger (though I doubt he considers himself a comedian) Pat Cooper and my all time favorite, Henny Youngman.

Here’s a story about Henny Youngman I’ve told a million times but worth telling again. I just hope it translates to the printed word (try reading it with a New York Jewish accent – it might help). The scenario was this: I was a Production Manager for the Normandy Film Group back in the mid-80’s and we were shooting a big package for New York Telephone (aka ATT, aka NYNEX, aka Verizon). This was before the breakup of Ma Bell into the Baby Bells and this job was a plum for my boss, Norman Cohen. He wanted everything to be perfect, especially for the several minor celebrities employed (does any one remember Alison Steele the Nightbird? She was in the spot too.) And the agency, which was Y&R, also wanted A+ treatment for these people, especially Henny Youngman, the King of the One-Liners. I was told to call Henny’s agent in LA and find out what Henny’s wishes would be – special food, drink, whatever. I spoke to an older gentleman with a think LA Jewish accent who told me that Henny would be happy with whatever we fed him, he just liked to have a little black coffee, especially since he was coming directly from the airport to the set.

I relayed the info to my employer and his clients who got pissed off and told me to cal back and find out what Henny really wanted in his dressing room and on the set – they didn’t want any complaints. I called back the guy in LA and he told me the same thing: black coffee. I pressed him and after pondering the situation he said simply “a bagel and cream cheese would be nice!” I went back to the producers with  the request and again they were pissed off, certain I had done something wrong and was not getting the correct info. Finally Norman called himself and got the same info. So I was told to fix up a special dressing room for Henny, arrange a limo from the airport and have the best bagel and cream cheese spread this side of the Carnegie Deli in his dressing room.

Now here’s where it got interesting. We were shooting on location that day at Sarah Lawrence College (by the way, one of the young actresses on the set was a then totally unknown Courtney Cox – I hit on her of course cause she was really cute but she was leaving for a big audition in LA that week so I didn’t ask her out  – she had just done the Springsteen video). Henny’s scene was to be shot in a dressing room at the school’s auditorium. On the location scout, and I have witnesses to this story, we were all pretty stoned but I managed to find a small library room near the location that had stone walls, red velvet curtains over beautiful stained glass windows, a beautiful leather couch and 2 great wing chairs. On the morning of the shoot we set up a banquet table with 2 giant silver serving bowls which I piled high with dozens of assorted warm bagels I had brought in from Ess-a-Bagel in the city, silver platters of lox, Nova, white fish salad, chopped liver, a pickled garden salad, potato salad, pastrami, corned beef, 3 kinds of creamed cheese, lox spread, a gigantic urn of fresh hot coffee, an urn of decaf, and urn of hot water and a selection of imported teas. We had all sorts of pickles and condiments too. In the center of the table was a beautiful floral arrangement and for good measure I had the NY Times, Wall Street Journal and daily Variety on the table near the sofa. It looked like a banquet for King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table if King Arthur had been an Eastern European Jew. We all anxiously awaited Henny’s arrival.

Finally I saw the limo pull up and ran to meet him. Out stepped a very tall, very disheveled old guy carrying a worn out violin case. He had dyed hair, a crumpled old black suit with red pinstripes which he must have slept in (several times) and a white shirt and red tie with food stains all over. He graciously shook my hand and introduced himself as Henny Youngman, King of the One-Liners and gave me his business card. “Here, have a picture of my pride and joy!” he exclaimed and sure enough on the back of the business card was a photo of Joy dish soap and Pride furniture polish. I knew then it was going to be an interesting afternoon. After all the big shots came over to meet Henny and take a few snaps I was asked to escort Henny to his dressing room where he’s have to wait for a few hours while we finished up the last scene.

We walked over to the building where the dressing room had been staged. I told him we had a special room just for him and anything he wished I would arrange for him (I was hoping he didn’t ask for a girl but soon realized those days were long gone). I opened the big wooden double door and led him in to the room. the sun was coming through the beautiful stained glass windows, the flowers smelled great and the food looked scrumptious. Henny took one look around, turned to me and asked “Who died?” turned around and walked out. He never went back into the room. When I asked him where he was going he said he wouldn’t stay in that room alone, it gave him the creeps and he spent the next hour with the crew at the craft service tale having a plain bagel with cream cheese and a black coffee.

He spent about an hour in makeup and about 20 minutes on the set and he was done. He popped back into the limo and headed back to the airport. I packed him an extra bagel for the trip. And that was Henny Youngman, the man who said “Take my wife… please!”

OK, off to bed now.

Having a Lamb Moment

Posted in directing, personal on March 18, 2009 by barryshapiro
Baby lambs are pretty cool. Once we were shooting commercials, for what is now Comedy Central, and we had vignettes with baby piglets. The piglets squeeled and pissed everywhere but they were cute. The animal wrangler, Steve, was a friend I’d worked with many times (sometime I have to relate my adventures with the Dreyfus lion) and he asked if I’d mind if he brought other animals to the set so he wouldn’t have to rush back to New Jersey to pick up the lambs for that evenings performance of Gypsy. (I had already shot the promos for Gypsy with Tyne Daley so I was happy to be helpful). The lambs were in a small cage under a tarp so they would sleep and not make noise but when I saw them I said let’s play with them – life of the set between takes can be very boring. Anyhow, I never had held a lamb before and in about two minutes I was purring, stroking it’s coat and about as passive as can be – or as ever I get. My producer, Heidi Gottleib, came over and was instantly in love – she HAD to hold that lamb – so then she was transfixed. We were having a lanolin overdose.
Next came the grips, the big guys with muscles that do the heavy lifting. The the electrician wanted in and the best boy and the prop master and so on… everyone wanted to hold the lamb. Someone asked Steve what would happen to the lamb when the show closed and he mentioned that they only keep the lambs a few weeks. By then they are too big and they send them to the butcher. I thought he wouldn’t get out alive – there would be a murder on the set. That lamb was going to live, damn it! Even the teamsters were up in arms. With Steve’s agreement we decided to have a contest whereby whoever came up with the best name for the little lamb would get to keep it after it’s Broadway run. We formed an independant panel of judges.
There were many names: Lamb Chop; Fluffball; Lamikins; Elia (Lamb); Lambaramadingdong, etc. The winner was a grip named Doug who came up with “Rack-O.”
I wonder what he ever did with that lamb?

An Actor and a Gentleman

Posted in directing, personal, political on January 12, 2009 by barryshapiro

“Steve Gilborn, a ubiquitous stage, film and television actor best known as Ellen Degeneres’s sweet, befuddled father on the TV sitcom “Ellen”… died on Jan. 2 at his home in North Chatham, NY. He was 72.” – NY Times January 12, 2009

There are times when ordinary people can make a big, important difference in this wacko world of ours. Reading this obituary in today’s Times took me back to a time when a bunch of ordinary people stood up to make just such a difference in the war on homelessness and poverty. Steve Gilborn was not just one of that group but he was a key player, someone who really cared and by his caring touched a lot of lives on a cold wintery day in Manhattan.

It was the 80’s (I apologize but I cannot seem to recall the actual date) and my production company was just starting to take off. We were shooting some cool spots and making money and my partner, David Wilson was looking for an idea we could put on the reel. He came to me with an concept for a spot in support of the Coalition of the Homeless. He knew of an actor he had worked with before named Steve Gilborn who would be perfect and he had this off the wall concept. I didn’t know Steve at the time, except by his face which I had seen many times on spots and in the theater. Steve read the script and was in favor immediately. They worked on the script together. He never asked for anything – just to be sure the scheduling would work out for him.

It was going to cost a few bucks but if it worked it seemed like it would be good for everybody so I decided to pay the freight. We approached the Coalition who loved the idea and we got to work. First we would need a crew and so we reached out to one of our favorite DPs, Mike Negrin. Mike brought along his camera assistants and electrics. Jimmy Grubel, a big, gruff, curmudgeny key grip jumped on too and brought his guys. The shot required a crane underneath FDR Drive and so we needed help from the City (which we got) and General Camera (which we got in spades!) Everyone from the PA’s to the sound crew to the makeup artists worked for free and seemed happy to be involved. We got a Honey Wagon for the day and night for something like $400. We even got a ton of film from Kodak and processing from Joey V at Technicolor for free.

The afternoon of the shoot we lucked out with the weather and though everyone was cold spirits were high. Steve was made up as a homeless guy and gave a great performance. The copy was about a man who had once had a job on Wall Street but through some misfortune found himself on the streets. The spot could run today and be as poingnant as ever! Maybe more so! They should runthe damn spot now and see if it strikes a chord.

Steve Gilborn stood out in the cold dressed in a shabby overcoat and wool cap holding his hands over a fire we lit in a barrel and delivered those lines over and over until we got the crane move and the dialog synced just right. He never complained or asked to take a break once, despite the cold and the monotony of the seemingly endless takes we required.

The spot was a great success. Sally Kellerman did the perfect voice over. It ran for quite a while and helped bring attention to the work of the Coalition. In the end, as we had hoped, everyone benefitted. Steve Gilborn went on to more success in TV and on the stage. I never watched Ellen so I never had the pleasure of seeing him shine on that show but our paths would cross from time to time and we’d always say hello in that knowing way that says, “Remember when we did that crazy shoot in the cold?”

Steve Gilborn was more than an actor. He was a guy who cared about the world he lived in and though I am sure he did many other wonderful and generous things in his life on earth, I will always remember him as the guy under the highway freezing his ass off and fighting for the underprivilidged with dignity.

Remembering the Bus

Posted in directing, personal with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2008 by barryshapiro

The response to my first letter about the New York City Relief Bus has been overwhelming and humbling. It’s amazing but I have some great friends and family out there who have responded with a total to date of over $1600. That’s just the first few days. I expect we will have that engine purchased before the month is out.

All this writing about the Bus and the wonderful work of Richard and Dixie Galloway and company made me a bit nostalgic and I remembered how I first came into contact with New York City Relief. At the time, my production company, NohHands Productions, was probably at it’s peak. We were doing 4 or  5 million dollars of business a year which I thought was fantastic for a little nobody like me. My biggest agency client at the time was Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor and the client that was paying the biggest bucks was Quaker’s Life Cereal. We were doing those spots around 2 or 3 times a year and we had the method down to a science, whereby I was making more money than I even should have. The work was fun and the spots were very good and I was feeling very good about myself at the time.

And then I got a call from a guy named Tom who was a writer at the agency but someone I had never met or dealt with before asking me if I would come in to talk to him about a special project. I was eager to do more and I was in his office the next afternoon. Tom was a junior copywriter and his was a small cramped office but he seemed like a nice guy and we got right down to business. He had heard about me from someone else at the agency and decided to ask me to work on a pro bono piece that was the pet project of Pat McGrath himself. I didn’t know McGrath but his name was on the door so I thought this would not hurt my status at the agency at all – of course I’d do it.

The project was to create a promotional film about a Christian organization that owned a bus that goes into the streets of the worst neighborhoods of the city with a skeleton crew of volunteers and tends to the homeless with food, medical attention and counselling. It was right at the word Christian where I stopped the conversation. As I told Tom, I like to think of my self as open minded but I can’t support any group or organization that is espousing some religious agenda, especially a born-again Christian agenda. He said he understood but that it would be a great favor to Pat McGrath if I would just go down to watch them in action and then make up my mind. Reluctantly I agreed and told him I would be in touch. As I was leaving the office I ran into the head of production, Peter Cohen, who inquired as to what I was doing there on that given day and when I told him he paused for a long moment and then said “Take my advice and don’t do it.” I was kind of stunned. I asked him why but he just walked on.

Now at that time I had such a great relationship with most of the people at JMCT that I often would just walk into the production department unannounced and strike up conversation with anyone I ran into. That included Peter Cohen, Judy White and almost all of the other producers and several of the creatives and even some of the account people. I felt pretty cocky and confident in my powers of persuassion but I should have been smart enough to listen carefully to the head of the department that was giving me about 3/4 of a million in billing every year. I did ask Judy her opinion but she didn’t have one so I decided that I would go down to see what the fuss was all about.

The next Wednesday morning the bus was scheduled to be at a particular spot near the Port Authority Bus Terminal at Times Square and I got there early. To my surprise, at the area where I was told the bus would be, there was a large group of homeless types already gathering. They were for the most part dirty, smelly and many of them looked to be either drunk or drugged out or simply disturbed. Men and women, the majority were black or Hispanic. I kept walking around the block until the bus arrived so as not to draw attention to myself.

Right on time the bus pulled up and the volunteers began to prepare it for servicing this motley crew. The side opened into a soup kitchen. The rear opened up into a mini medical station and the front, according to signs now being hung on the side of the bus, was open for counseling to anyone who desired it. They were able to connect people to any sort of help they might need. They had one of  those big clunky cell phones, courtesy of AT&T and after getting to the bottom of a person’s story they would find out of this or that detox center had a bed for them or if another organization might have some work or whatever. It was quite impressive.

Also impressive was how the people on the street, their numbers growing as the smell of coffee and soup began to fill the air, lined up in single file, quietly and effeciently with no fuss or muss. They seemed so happy and appreciative to be getting their soup and bread that they would do anything to cooperate. As some the volunteers began to dish out the food, others began to mingle among those on line and talk about their problems and see if there was anything else that could be done and get them set up to see the counselor inside the bus. Once inside the ‘counselor’, at that time a guy named Pepper Potter, would try to get to the bottom of their demons to find out what they really needed to do. Conversations went something like:
C “What’s going on with you?”
H “I need a job.”
C “What were you doing before?”
H “I had a job but I was fired.”
C Why were you fired?”
H “I dunno”
C “There must have been a reason.”
H “They tought I was doing drugs.”
C “Were you doing drugs?”
H “Yeah, sometimes.”
C “Are you doing drugs now?”
H “Yeah a little.”
C “What kind of drugs are you doing?”
H “Whatever I can get, smack. I was on methadone.”
C “If you want a job you’ll have to get off that stuff. Do you want to go to a detox?”

This conversation would actually go on much longer but would end up with the counselor saying something like:” OK, I can get you into ___ place today at 2 PM. It’s in the Bronx. Can you get there? If not we’ll have someone get you there.”

At one point I walked around the back of the bus where there was a makeshift medical clinic. People were lined up to see the nurse, a short blonde woman with a face that exhibited both grit and kindness. She was attending to the feet of a very large, very dirty, very grubby man whose unkempt hair was tangled up in dreadlocks and was wearing only a filthy grey blanket over his tattered shirt. Carefully she unwrapped the rags that were his shoes and uncovered his swollen and bleeding feet and ankles. I almost passed out from the smell and the sight of his grossness. But the nurse didn’t blink. She handled what must have been his very painful appendages like they were delicate orchids and began to gently sprinkle water over them and clean his wounds. She then dressed them and swaddled them in some clean cloth she had pulled from a shopping a bag she had with her. The large man thanked her twice and hobbled away. At that moment I began my long association with New York City Relief.

We made the film and later a TV commercial that ran for several years.  With that film we raised lots of money. I also helped organize a benefit and every year help raise as much as I can to donate to the cause. The ‘Christian’ thing was never an issue. As I told Tom, it didn’t really matter to me what their point of view was if they had the heart and the  guts to go down into the streets and do the dirty work then they were getting my support.

There is more to the story but that will be for another entry.