My Last Breath

cropped-Allencropped-1.jpgMy last breath will be poetic justice,
With poetry, I plan, finishing me off.
I will inhale all the letters you wrote me, exhaling them into words.

My last breath will be dramatic,
As dramatic as any Shakespearean play.
I will give new meanings to new words, created just for you.

My last breath will be music.
Each note wholed, halved and quartered. Then semi-toned.
Sung on the A’s, the E’s, and the I, O, U’s.

My last breath will be a dance.
Not a dance of death, nor the Foxtrot, the Boogaloo, or the Running Man.
You will be held in my arms, ever-so tightly,
In a waltz.

My last breath will be with you,
holding me tight, saying words, singing songs.
Embraced, in a kiss.

My last breath, my love,
will be spent with you.

You Can’t Stop the Music

R-3690878-1340535756-5254.jpeg.jpgHave you noticed with some films, no matter how uninterested you are in the story or the characters, if it has the right music, and a good soundtrack, you will be humming the tune in the shower, pub, or, God forbid, at the local Karaoke pit-stop? Take for instance, The Wizard of Oz and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Officially, these two films were box office bombs and didn’t make money until well after they left the theatres. Yet ‘Over the Rainbow’ and the ‘Time-Warp’ have etched their way into the history of ‘classic’ songs.

Realising that I had to write something remotely interesting in this week’s blog, I thought the blending of the visual with the audio might do the trick.


It all started with the era of silent film.

While it would be a nice to think that in combining music with film, the early directors and producers in Tinsel Town were forward thinking with artistic endeavours, in fact music was used to drown-out the noise of the very loud projector and a talkative audience. However, the accompaniment of music began to play a larger role in the presentation and entertainment value of the film. Unlike today, there were no sounds affects, meaning the music had to be used to further a story’s plot, pace and energy (which is the function music continues to play in films). As a result, the music that accompanied a film could either make or break it, insomuch that it could either vastly improve the quality and enjoyability, or completely shipwreck it.

As the industry moved from the usage of a solitarily pianist pounding away on the black and white keys, to a full blown orchestra, and eventually, to recorded sound affects and music, the relationship between film and music was guaranteed, and moving images cemented its status as the most important audio-visual medium of our time.


The Jazz Singer, which marked the first time dialogue and music were synchronised, began the very quick decline of the silent film era.

What’s interesting, is the film was based on the play; the play was based on the legendary Al Jolson’s life; and the star of the movie was – wait for it – Al Jolson. Even more interesting was that the early Hollywood moguls at Warner Brothers chose a pseudo-musical as the first film to introduce synchronised sound to film. In doing so, they created a new need for music – sheet music. This new need led to movie studios buying music publishing companies, gaining both catalogues of music and experienced composers.

Not only did the music in films lead to an increase in the sales of sheet music, but with the introduction of the gramophone, songs used in films could also see a dramatic increase in sales. For example, “Sonny Boy” a song featured in the second Al Jolson movie, The Singing Fool, led to 2 million records being sold and 1.25 million sales of the sheet music for the song.


Even poorly constructed films, with bad acting and unbelievable story lines can use music to have the same affect.

Take the porn industry for instance –

I know you’re thinking, “how very dare you! I have not, nor will I ever watch anything so disgusting.” I beseech thee, do give me a couple minutes to make my point.

While I would never dream of insinuating that any of you fine, upstanding, worldly citizens would watch anything so unnatural, the porn industry does generate around $13+ billion in the USA alone; Hollywood generates $20+ billion. If we do the maths that means, while none of you are watching something so nasty and immoral, at least half the American population are. And those nasty, immoral degenerates are reaching deep in their wallets to get their … ummm… juices … flowing.

Have you ever tried getting ‘busy’ with your better half without making a sound? I mean NO sound. No sighs, no grunting, no shouting ‘you’re the daddy’ while daintingly swinging from the chandelier? It would be pretty boring. From what I have been told, the same is true for pornographic films. I wouldn’t know, but from what I have been told, sound and music play a major role in the cinematic enjoyment of pornographic films. While porn groove (term used to describe the music in porn), won’t make or break the film, it could change the aesthetics of the film (so I have been told).

When Talent Isn’t Enough


For the past week, I have been having several interesting conversations about creative artists with some friends who asked the question ‘is formal education needed to become a creative artist?’ While my initial, knee-jerk reaction was to say, absolutely not, I think it is important that a difference is made between formal education and training. There are many well known, and unknown, artists who have had no formal education. However, you would be hard pressed to name many artists who have not had any training whatsoever- be it with an independent teacher, on the job training or an apprenticeship. I readily admit that there are some artists that are so naturally talented, they did not require any formal education or training (Jean-Michel Basquiat, Ella Fitzgerald). However, these artists are the exception, and not the rule.

Igor Stravinsky said, ‘Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal.’ I believe this to be very true. An artist’s raison d’etre is to express themselves through their artistic output. Without the basic tools of their craft they will be limited in their self-expression. When you borrow something, it is, and will never be, yours. When you steal something, you make it yours. An artist receiving training is borrowing the techniques and rules. They will never be able to call these their own. Once an artist has had training, they are able to use those techniques and rules to create something in their own voice (that’s the stealing bit, just in case you didn’t realise). Don’t get me wrong, I don’t subscribe to the ‘one-size-fits-all brigade’ (although as an aside, I do subscribe to the ‘shut your face, you silly dumbarse brigade’ – they’re a fun group). I do think that one shouldn’t be a creative artist if one doesn’t have respect and a desire to learn the foundation of their craft.

Some believe there is an argument that a creative artist can develop without being informed or constrained by the classic forms; that passion and talent is enough. I clearly don’t hold this view, and would demand that anyone with such base ideas be summarily shot at dawn (harsh, I know – that’s how much I care). Why? That kind of thinking doesn’t take into account that the foundation of the creative arts – be it film, street dance, hip-hop, etc – is built on the history (classic forms) that came before it. We wouldn’t dream of disregarding what we learned from the great masters and allow a skyscraper, no matter how passionate or talented the builders are, to be built without tried and tested building techniques being used, so why would we not accept the same for the creative arts?

So going back to the original question – ‘is formal education needed for those wishing to enter the creative arts?’ No, it’s not needed. But having it, along with passion, talent, and hard work, wouldn’t hurt.

What Would Debbie Allen Do?

5c810e9ebe8ffcd5ab1a0b350af11754.jpgEvery time I watched Fame and heard Debbie Allen encouragingly tell her pupils, week after week, “You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying … in sweat.” My first thought was – mind your friggin’ business! a) I don’t want fame, and b) only the morbidly obese sweat.’

I know that in her heart, Debbie was trying her best to offer inspiration, guidance and a good kick up the arse for her United Colors of Benetton band of misfits. However, one thing Ms Debbie never did was to tell her students that they were crap (although in hindsight, someone should have laid down that truth on those songwriters – have you listened to ‘High Fidelity’ and ‘Mannequin’ lately)?. In this, Ms Debbie was living up to the age-old adage….


Never, ever critique someone’s work unless you are asked. If you start a sentence with, ‘if you want my opinion’, you are asking to loose friends, family members, or your job. If you are absolutely dying to critique something, or give advice, the best way to do this is to ask pertinent questions to allow the person on the receiving end of your meddling to find solutions for themselves. Doing it this way will also allow you to seem less patronising, giving the illusion that you don’t have all the answers (which of course you do).

You should frame the questions around the five Ws: what, when, why, who, and how (yes, I know, but ‘how’ ends in a w). Your W questions stand the best chance of being effective if they are specific. For example:

  • What the hell were you thinking when you wrote that?
  • When are you going to get a grip and learn how to write dialogue?
  • Why are you so stupid and why haven’t you listened to my advice I’ve given you? Or, Why do you think you write sh**ty dialogue like that?
  • Who in the hell do you think you are not listening to the advice I’ve given you?
  • How can I help you when you won’t help yourself and listen to the advice that I’ve given you?


The following is true story that I made up for this blog.

Back in 1980, when I was auditioning to get into New York School for Performing Arts, I met my current BFFs Doris, Coco, Bruno and Danny. Of course, I got into the school and from that point onwards, my high school experience was one big dance number. One minute we’d be eating our lunch in the canteen, and the next, from out of nowhere, a pianist would start banging out an unknown tune, to which Coco would start singing, flawlessly making up the words as she went along, while the rest of the school would join in with an unrehearsed, impromptu dance number.

In my senior year, I had been offered a spot in the Alvin Ailey dance company. In order for my acceptance to be final, I needed to graduate – which was not looking good as I had found out that Mrs Robinson, my English teacher had failed my final essay, ‘Spiderman: Fact or Fiction’ and I would not be graduating. Looking to confront Mrs Robinson, I miraculously found her at a local hospital where her husband’s was recovering from a heart attack. One thing led to another and several hours later, we found ourselves in my bed exhausted from our love-making (it was fortuitous that I had turned 18 two days beforehand). Falling into my arms Mrs Robinson, proclaimed, ‘That was out of this world! For that you get an A+, I looked lovingly into her eyes and replied, ‘But I didn’t think you even liked me’. Smiling, Mrs Robinson said, ‘I was talking about your performance during the shag. For that you get an A+….. outside that, I still think you’re a prick.’


I don’t want to be too harsh on Mrs Robinson. In her defence, she did what any good critiquer should do – she used positive language, started her critique on the strengths, and then addressed the weak and/or problems areas. But, looking back, I think that Mrs Robinson could have given a clearer indication on how on I could improve. Wouldn’t it have been better if Mrs Robinson gave me comments that didn’t leave me guessing on what she was trying to convey? Instead, I’m left with the fact that I don’t know the scale of her criticism.

To this day, I still don’t whether am I a big prick, or a little prick? I guess only time will tell.

The Craft of Writing Comedy

b609db55bd1a885c141f4d53c32a8b11.jpgI must admit, when listening to a story, I’m one of those people whose attention span and patience can be somewhat lacking. Unknowingly, my facial expressions and trademark head-nod, make it clear that I’ve stopped listening and am thinking about my evening meal, or if the Jeremy Corbin will last as the Leader.

That said, I think it’s appropriate that I use my second blog post to allow me, to help you, to help yourself to tell funnier stories.

BREVITY IS THE SOUL OF WIT – William Shakespeare

Shakespeare said it, now I’m saying it – keep it simple. Most people that tell and write stories, especially ones that are meant to be funny, tell them very badly. They either give too much information, too little action, or – sins of all sins – both. So the first thing to remember is to keep it simple. I find it amazing how a child will laugh over and over again at the ‘pull my finger’ joke. Why? Not only because they are children and any opportunity to openly laugh at a toot joke won’t be missed, but because you don’t have to explain the joke. ‘Take my wife. Please!’ is another example. I know those jokes are a bit dated for most of you (or even not funny for some), but the point I’m making is that these jokes don’t overload the listener with irrelevant information. Whatever you write must be relevant to the plot. If it is relevant, determine if it will help the audience better understand the characters or situation. If it does, then determine if its inclusion is going to make the story / situation / character funny. If not, I think you know what you need to do – ditch the bitch.


 Some time ago, a colleague asked me to look at his comedy based script, as he was struggling to get it to work (i.e. to make it funny). After suggesting that he strip out all the unnecessary information that wasn’t relevant to the story, situation or character, he started to see his idea – which indeed, was very funny – come to life. However, after re-reading the script I still felt a couple of things weren’t right. The script read as if he was solely writing for the lead-up to the numerous punch-lines or gags. While that technique works for stand-up comedy, for script writing, it can make the script plot too obvious and in most cases, clichéd – which is dangerous when writing comedy. To get around this issue, my next suggestion was for him to get some friends (preferably actors) around to his place and read his script out loud. This would afford him the opportunity to check he had written the script with the necessary pace and energy. In addition, hearing his work being read by others would safeguard him against the mistake that writers so often make – having the characters speak only in the writer’s voice, rather than in the character’s voice. 

 After following my last suggestion, I received the re-written script last week. On the last reading, I’m happy to say, I was in stitches the whole time.


Art imitates life. Storytelling imitates life. Living is all about conflict. Storytelling is all about conflict. Without conflict, life would be boring. Comedy writing is storytelling, therefore comedy without conflict is just darn right un-comedic . 

Once you’ve guaranteed that you’ve only written what is relevant to the plot, and you’ve given each of the characters their own voice, your next task is to make sure there is conflict. To carry-off a longer comedy script, you’ll need several conflict situations in the story. A simple example is boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. Romeo and Juliet is a prime case in point of how this works. 

Shakespeare presents conflict after conflict as to why these two should not be together – he’s Jewish, she Catholic; he has turrets, she’s the town bike; he’s a little bit country, she’s a little bit rock-n-roll. Ok, maybe this isn’t the exact plot of the play, and while Shakespeare didn’t write Romeo and Juliet as a comedy, he did have all the ingredients to do so.

That brings me on to another point about conflict – turn that sad conflict story into a funny conflict story. For example, chaos ensues at a family funeral when a man tries to expose a dark secret (‘Death at a Funeral’ – both the English version and the American re-make). Or, chaos ensues after the USA’s recently elected first female president from Alaska announces, after walking-in on her husband pleasuring himself in the family toilet, that masturbation is a form of adultery and successfully brings in laws to ban it (tragic, yet funny). 

Regardless which conflicts you choose, remember – keep it simple.


To learn the craft of writing comedy, you have to be prepared to research, research, research. There is a whole range of television sitcoms and films that will allow you to turn on, tune in, and drop out. You should be watching as many of these as possible. And not just current sitcoms or recent films. A lot of the older productions are just as funny (if not funnier) than their current counterparts. Indeed, you’ll find many of them have been remade to fit current fashions (The Longest Yard, The Nutty Professor, Father of the Bride, The Preacher’s Wife, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Lady Killers, etc). 

Don’t forget your drama film / programmes. Sad conflict stories can make for excellent comedy conflict stories. Indeed, in watching drama films or programmes you’ll learn how to tell a good story with sound dialogue, strong characters, and of course, excellent conflict situations.


 You now have enough information to aid you in keeping me and your audience riveted in your storytelling. So next time you’re telling me a story and I break into my head-nod, it will be a case where I can honestly say, “It’s not me, it’s you’.