John Ostrander: The (Im)Possibilities of Christmas

NOTE FROM LB: Exhausted human beings that we at TVWriter™ are, we were vacationing (in my case lying in bed trying to catch up on some of the sleep I lost for a variety of reasons last year) Christmas week and missed the chance to publish John’s Christmas column at the appropriate time. Here it is now, in all its nostalgic glory. Thanks, John, for making me smile:

by John Ostrander

“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew. “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

                                        -Nephew Fred, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Christmas has also always been my favorite time of year. More precisely, it’s Advent – the time leading up to Christmas – that I’ve enjoyed the most since I was a kid. Advent was full of possibility; there was the anticipation of what Christmas was going to be. What was I going to get, what could I give within my limited funds that the recipient might actually like, what would it all feel like?

Part of Advent was the Advent Wreath. It was made of evergreen boughs and laid flat on the table. Four candles stuck up out of it; each representing one of the weeks in December leading up to Christmas. Three were white and one was purple; the purple one was for Gaudette Sunday, the third Sunday in Advent. You’d light the candles at the start of dinner, say a prayer, and dig in to the food, hoping the candles wouldn’t fall over and set fire to the wreath and perhaps the table as well. Ah, Holiday cheer!

In 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired on TV. The following year, How the Grinch Stole Christmas debuted which was even better. (I am, of course, referring to the TV special created by Chuck Jones and narrated by Boris Karloff and not the bloated movies since made.) I have both on Blu-ray and they continue to be a part of my lead-up to Christmas every year. Both are very much a part of my own personal Christmas.

We also had an Advent calendar. For those who don’t know, these are large cards usually with the picture of the Nativity scene on it and windows set in it that can be opened, revealing a picture of a toy or a piece of candy or a portion of a story. Ours had the Nativity story from Luke. The windows were numbered from 1 to 24, going from December 1st to Christmas Eve. That’s when the whole Advent schtick climaxed. We didn’t use the one that had chocolates behind each window because I think my Mom instinctively knew they’d never make to December 24th. They probably wouldn’t have made it to the 3rd and I most likely would have been the reason. I was only as patient during Advent as I was forced to be.

Part of our family Advent ritual was to go downtown to State Street, that Great Street, and see the Christmas windows at the big stores, especially Marshall Fields. They always did up Christmas in a grand style and, if you want, you can take a peek here

Back then, the Christmas shopping season started the day AFTER Thanksgiving. No running out on Thanksgiving dinner to be the first in line. No Black Friday sales in the middle of August. (Okay, I exaggerate but only for effect.) 

Church did play a large part in the holiday for us; how could it not? It was literally right across the street. I grew up in the shadow of St. Jerome’s. My brother and I were part of the boys’ choir and that meant every Christmas, we stayed up and sang at Midnight Mass. If I recall correctly, we had to be back for the 10 AM performance. . .err . . .service on Christmas day itself. In between the two we had to have sleep, breakfast and, before we went to bed, our own family Christmas ceremony.

This was largely a production of my mother as such things were wont to be. It started with us kids gathered on the stairs going up, youngest at the bottom, oldest at the top. The youngest carried the Baby Jesus for the nativity scene in the creche and we were all supposed to walk down behind her, singing a hymn reverently, until Baby Jesus joined the Holy Family. We were decidedly NOT the Holy Family and, the older we got, the more we resisted the Procession until we outright refused.

We then would sit together and share reading The Night Before Christmas followed by Dad, taking his assigned part, reading the Cratchit dinner scene from A Christmas Carol. It wasn’t his idea but he was pretty good at it and it was my favorite part of the goings-on. I think that’s where my love for the Dickens’ classic began. Milk and cookies were left out for Santa (with the hope that neither I nor the dog would nibble them) and those of us going to bed went to bed and those of us going to Midnight Mass prepared for that.

Morning came and we hit the presents. There was the thrill of acquisition always followed the little sadness that we never got everything we asked for and wanted. Like most things, the anticipation was greater than the realization.

We had one more shot at the brass ring – dinner at Grandma’s house and then gifts afterward. We didn’t have to go over the river and through the woods; we simply walked next door. The food was great and the loot was pretty good but, after that, Christmas was done except for the leftovers and taking out the trash and breaking in the new toys and reading the new books and wearing the inevitable new clothes.

There was always next year. Hey, I was raised a Cubs fan. You live on possibility and that engenders hope.

Merry Christmas to you all. Happy holidays. Io Saturnalia.

John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. It’s been awhile since he’s been here, but now John’s back with a new column at a new blog, PopCultureSquad, where this piece first appeared (before Christmas even, but we’ve been on a break so you get to relive the holiday now). You can learn more about John and his many masterworks HERE

John Ostrander: Welcome to 2019

by John Ostrander

So. New Year’s Day. Happy 2019. Traditionally, a time to look backwards and forwards, see where we’ve been, take a guess where we’re headed.

I wish I could say I was optimistic about the future but I’m not. I’m going to hit 70 this year; cranky old man time. Not, I think, unwarranted.

Let me state my prejudices upfront; I’m a Democrat, a liberal, and I despise Trump. I thought he was a joke the first time he ran for President and now I think he’s a disaster. He’s a narcissist and a liar; he must think we’re fools because we can fact check a lot of the lies. They’re on video. He doesn’t care. He lies, lies some more, and double downs on the lies. He is racist, homophobic, misogynistic and delusional. As the old gag goes, “And those are his good points.”

His presidency is going to do a lasting damage to this country. While I think there’s a fair chance the Democrats in the House will impeach him, I think there’s little chance the Republicans in the Senate will convict him. Unless he ups and quits or just drops dead, Trump will be in the White House, continuing his mischief, until at least 2020.

And I don’t think the damage can be undone. 

Trump’s election and the number of his supporters (usually somewhere between 30-40% in the polls) reveals fissures in our Body Politic. He didn’t create the fissures although he is certainly exploiting them. The fissures were already there. And they’re serious. Trump is saying what his followers are thinking and feeling and that is a large percentage of his power; the bad blood was there before he went to the White House and it will be there after he leaves. We fought the Civil War to settle the question of slavery but it has not settled the question of race. You would think that Wade v. Roe settled the issue of abortion and a woman’s right to control her own body but we live in a time when the court decision could be reversed. A Handmaid’s Tale could become a documentary.

I’ve read a fair amount of Civil War history and our current level of national antagonism reminds me very much of what this country was like just before the Civil War erupted. There are too many people, both in our country and outside of it, that are looking to exploit the anger and the hate for their own purposes. Our institutions are under attack and trust in them are being degraded, sometimes unwittingly, sometimes deliberately.

I don’t know as it can be undone.

It’s like my other big concern, climate change. Report after report have come out just this year of the degrading of the planet and what its effect is and will be. For those who don’t believe the reports, there’s the evidence of your eyes. The number and severity of hurricanes, the rage of wildfires, the droughts around the world – as a writer, I take what is given and I project what could be and it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to look down the road. We have twenty years, maybe only twelve, maybe less than that, to change before – we are told – the damage is irreversible.

I don’t see that change happening. I don’t see the political will to make it happen, at least not in this country. It would take a mammoth effort and there are too many people with a vested short-term interest in those changes not happening. It would negatively affect their bottom line.

I think, similarly, the degradation of our Body Politic is also going to be irreversible. Elect who you will; the fissures will still be there and so will the bad blood, the underlying anger, the hate – wounds that haven’t, that won’t, heal because it suits some folks that they continue and these people stoke the flames. It benefits somebody.

Right now, we are still the pre-eminent country in the world. Right now. But every great civilization, every empire, in the history of the world has declined or died. Every. Single. One. We have at least two Big Powers (Russia and China) who are gunning for us (IMO). They won’t be the ones who bring us down; we’ll do that ourselves.

Sorry to be a downer on New Year’s Day. Generally, it should be a day of hope – a brand new year full of promise. I don’t feel that way, however, and if I don’t write honestly of what I see and feel and believe, I shouldn’t write at all. I’m not ready to stop that just yet.

And maybe I’ll be proven wrong. You have no idea how much I want to be wrong.

Let’s see where we are this time next year.

Happy New Year, y’all.

John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. It’s been awhile since he’s been here, but now John’s back with a new column at a new blog, PopCultureSquad, where this piece first appeared (before Christmas even, but we’ve been on a break so you get to relive the holiday now). You can learn more about John and his many masterworks HERE

Bri Castellini: 2018: The Opposite of 2017 – @brisownworld

by Bri Castellini

Last year, I:

  • Lost my job at MTV, a job I loved
  • Moved apartments
  • Released my short film and the second Brains Extended Universe project
  • Attempted to film and release a new web series, called “Why Isn’t Bri Making A New Web Series?”
  • Failed at that
  • Went broke
  • Wallowed in self pity
  • Started working for Stareable, first for free, then part time, then full time
  • Crowdfunded for two projects in one month
  • Wallowed some more
  • Shot and released Sam and Pat Are Depressed season 1

This year, I:

  • Shot and edited a brand new short film (January)
  • Spoke at a web series panel/screening in New Jersey (February)
  • Moved apartments, unplanned (February)
  • Produced the web series The Mother Lode (February-April)
  • Produced the web series Stray (February-July)
  • Organized a film festival from scratch (January-July)
  • Spoke at a film festival in Toronto (May)
  • Launched a podcast with Stareable (June)
  • Crowdfunded for Sam and Pat season 2 (June-July)
  • Produced and shot Sam and Pat season 2 (May-August)
  • Started a podcast for Sam and Pat (July)
  • Spoke on a panel at FlameCon (August)
  • Hired as the digital media professor for my old grad program (August)
  • Spoke at a film festival in New Jersey (September)
  • Starred in a one-act play (October-November)
  • Started a DnD podcast (October)
  • Started planning another film festival from scratch (November)
  • Hit 1000 followers on Twitter (December)

“I am dedicated to making this year my most creatively fulfilling one yet, and so far, I’m as on track as possible.” -Bri, January 2018

Last year, the only new thing I created was Sam and Pat, a show I love and that continues to bring me joy. But I made it late in the year, after a year of professional and financial setbacks that nearly overtook me. Yes, my short film and a Brains EU project came out last year, but both were already completed and just needed releasing, so they don’t count as “new.”

Last year, I was miserable. Trump was newly elected, I was newly laid off, and I was floundering. I wasn’t creating, I didn’t feel productive, and everything sucked.

This year, whatever the opposite of that happened. As you can see from that list, I was building something every month, whether it was a film project for me, a film project for someone else, a podcast, or a major work event. I traveled all over to speak at festivals and film schools, was hired as an adjunct, and despite that, I still only completed half of my New Years Resolutions. I wanted a busy 2018, and I got it, but I’m looking forward to calming the hell down next year.

I’ve never been great at balance. Some (much) of this years’ busy schedule was out of my control, but plenty came from choices I made. I am… exhausted. Yes, I feel better about this year than last year, but I am so, so tired. I need a break. I need a vacation! I haven’t had a vacation all year- every day I took off of work was spent working on something else. Half my weekends (probably more) were overtaken by meetings, being on set, traveling to speak somewhere, or post production. Not again.

Since Brains came out in 2015, I like to think I’ve proven myself in the indie production arena. I’ve made two seasons of Brains, two extended universe projects, two seasons of Sam and Pat, and two short films, all in three years. And that’s not counting the projects I’ve personally produced (Relativity, the first two episodes of Vloggers, History, The Mother Lode, Stray). But I think that that phase of my life is coming rapidly to an end, for two reasons:

  1. My means haven’t changed. While every project has of course improved in production value and marketing strategy, I still have no real, sustainable way of paying my cast and crew, let alone myself. And I’m past the point of the “passion project” defense. I’ve got plenty of no-budget work that I’m proud of on my resume, but unless my means change, every subsequent project is going to be more of the same.
  2. I don’t want to be a producer. I really, really don’t enjoy logistics, particularly when it’s not my project. I love the work I’ve gotten to do, and the people I’ve gotten to help, but I do not love producing, and continuing to produce will only make it harder to do the work I actually want to do: write and direct.

I don’t want to continue to make no-budget work, begging friends to volunteer their services, and go further into debt every time I do. That’s not getting me to the next stage of my career, and makes me a shitty friend. With very few exceptions, unless my means to pay people (including marketing people) increase, I’m taking off my producer hat for a while.

So what does this mean for 2019? You’ll see in more detail when I publish my new New Years Resolutions on the 1st, but as a teaser:

  • More writing. Like, by a lot
  • More table reads, to keep in touch with actor friends despite likely not seeing them on set
  • Releasing two projects (Buy In and Sam and Pat season 2) and giving them a real shot at success with all that I’ve learned about marketing, film festivals, and more
  • Even more writing. I’m a writer, I should be writing, and not just how-to blogs for work
  • Vacations. I didn’t take any time off in 2018 that wasn’t explicitly for an indie production, and I can’t do that again. I need to actually take non-work time because being this tired all the time isn’t healthy

2019 will hopefully be defined by boundaries and balance, two things I’m The Worst At. Since there is no finish line in sight, I’m going to try not to put so much pressure on myself to become a household name by 30. I am enough as I am right now, and killing myself to hit a “more impressive” level of success by a “more impressive” age is short-sighted and dangerous.

I’m an adult. And I need to start acting like one.

Bri Castellini is an indie filmmaker and Community Director at Stareable, our favorite web series hub. Watch the remarkable Ms. Castellini’s award-winning web series, Brains, HERE. See Sam And Pat Are Depressed HERE. This post first appeared on Bri’s wonderfully refreshing blog.

Herbie J Pilato Remembers ‘Laverne & Shirley’

by Herbie J Pilato

Actress/director Penny Marshall passed away on Monday, December 17, 2018, but certainly not before making her mark in the world, particularly in the entertainment world.

Marshall was best known for her role opposite actress Cindy Williams with Laverne & Shirley, the hit ABC sitcom of the 1970s and early 1980s.  Essentially, Marshall and Williams were “Frick and Frack” without the Swiss connotation or the ice; and Lucy and Ethel for a new generation.

Set in the late 50s and early 60s, but presented with a 70s state of mind, Laverne & Shirley featured Marshall as Laverne Dafazio, and Williams as Shirley Feeney in a series spinoff of another one of ABC’s other popular period sitcoms of the day: Happy Days, which starred Ron Howard (once the lovable little tyke Opie on The Andy Griffith Show; CBS, 1961-1968) as the All-American Richie Cunningham, best friend to Henry Winkler’s Arthur Fonzarelli, AKA “The Fonz” or “Fonzie”—the hood-with-a-heart.

For an early episode of Happy Days, the show’s writer/producer Garry Marshall, older brother to Penny, was in need of two women to play “fast girls” as dates for Fonzie and Richie. Garry, who died in 2016, explained it all during an interview in 2015 with The Tolucan Times, published in Toluca Lake, California, where he owned and operated the prestigious and popular Falcon Theatre (now under management by his daughter, following his death).

As the elder Marshall explained it, “I wanted to do a show about girls from the other side of the tracks; we needed Fonzie’s friends… and Richie needed it! Penny and Cindy were a writing team. I asked them to do one episode and they were good together….”

Read it all at Geeks.Media

Herbie J Pilato is the Founder and Executive Director of The Classic TV Preservation Society and author of several classic TV companion books.  He has been part of TVWriter™ for 20 years and is Contributing Editor Emeritus. Learn more about Herbie J HERE.

The Latest News About ‘Cargo 3120’

EDITOR’S NOTE: What is Cargo 3120? We’ve written about this project many times over the past couple of years, but the best place to go to understand what Aaron Walker Sr. is up to is HERE.

by Aaron Walker, Sr.

Hello again!

It’s been a while since I last posted about Cargo 3120 on, but a lot has been going on behind the scenes.

So, let’s start with this:

Cargo 3120 Ties that Bind Part 3 Coming to Amazon on December 17, 2018 Pre-orders are available now on Amazon for only .99 cents.

While the book won’t be offered at .99 cents forever, I always like to debut for as low as possible to encourage new and existing readers to check it out.

In other  Cargo 3120 news…

This last year has been a wild yet fulfilling ride to say the least. While the first draft of Part 3 was completed a few months after Part 2, I felt it wasn’t quite ready. I was satisfied with the overall narrative, but it still needed a lot of polish.

Sometimes when I work on something for so long, I start to lose that creative edge, which is a clear sign that it’s time to take a break. So, I put the manuscript for part 3 down for a while and started working on future content for the Cargo 3120 Universe.

During that time, I was fortunate enough to receive helpful advice and words from none other than Larry Brody himself. To Larry, I would like to pause to thank you and your TVWriter staff for your continued support of this project!

Between Larry’s advice and the hard work of Team Cargo behind the scenes, we’ve been able to deliver a sci-fi universe that is vibrant, timely, and full of memorable characters that readers care about.

Novel writing is not easy but having a talented creative team behind me has been a huge help. Every member of Team Cargo is truly the best at what they do, and I couldn’t imagine doing this without them. After working on future content for the first half of 2018, I returned to, and finished the manuscript for Part 3.

It was a long road, but the end result is a book that I am sure readers will love. Be sure to check it out!

Accomplishments for 2018…

As I mentioned earlier, there’s been a lot going on this year. Here are the three big ones:

  • We mapped out and outlined future stories in the series.
  • Finished and released Cargo 3120: Ties that Bind Part 3.
  • Finished the first draft of the 4th and final installment in the Ties that Bind story arc.

Looking toward the future…

We have big things coming up for Cargo in 2019, including work on a new website. The new site will include detailed character profiles, new artwork, and a sample comic strip, just to name a few. The biggest addition will be a fully voice acted audio skit based on the Cargo 3120 teleplays.

In addition to the website, we’re planning for an early 2019 release of Ties that Bind Part 4. Near the end of 2019, we plan to combine the four novellas and release it as one complete novel.

Like I said, we have a lot planned for the future.

2019 is all about exposing Cargo 3120 to the world like never before. I believe it’s only a matter of time before we achieve our ultimate goal: seeing Cargo 3120 released as a television series.

My advice? If you have a dream, chase after it. Don’t wait around for someone to validate you, or to hook you up. Make your own way if necessary… that’s what we’re doing!

Time to get back to work. See you at the top!