Dec 4, 2009

The Test of Time

In December 2005, I was asked to give a speech about Christmas. Well, after some soul searching I decided to talk, not about Christmas itself, but about the longevity of a message. It’s about storytelling and how one story survived the Test of Time. It’s about a young Jewish man, a rabbi who claimed to be the “Son of God.”

Today, claiming to be the son of a diety doesn’t sound so unusual because we all claim to be the sons or daughters of our maker - the great universe - our God. But two thousand years ago this was quite an outrageous claim because no one ever claimed to be the “Son of God” before, and to be so emphatic and insistent about it, well, it was blasphemy.

But this young man’s claim was taken to heart by a select group of people who also took his teachings to heart. That his teachings were of such great consequence, this must have been a very special man, worthy of greatness. He was charismatic and he spoke a different message from the other rabbi’s of his culture. And his message was: “God is within us all.” Quite different indeed.

The story, we hear, tells that he was of the people, born in a stable, visited by men, perhaps kings from the east, carrying many presents: gold, frankincense and the essence called myrrh. It was a sight to behold. This little baby surrounded by goats, and sheep and cows and kings; in fact surrounded by life itself.

The story then heads into obscurity for many years. We don’t know if he was a contentious teenager or a spoiled brat. But we do hear that he learned to be a carpenter and a rabbi, that he became a teacher and a preacher, until eventually capital punishment caught up with him. Some followers called him the "Son of God" and others called him "King of the Jews," but this went against Roman law. He was accused of being a rebel rouser, of being a dissenter of the basic rules of his own culture, and of course, blasphemy. He also was accused of sedition against Roman law. He was flogged, abused and crucified.

Not many great stories survive the Test of Time because not much was ever written down in ancient times. Or if it was, it was most likely written in a single volume that could be lost or destroyed. Of course, story telling in speeches and fireside chats has long been passed down through the generations. But the followers of this charismatic man specifically set out to spread his story. Then there were others.

One new follower picked up the story not to long after it happened, and he believed in it. This man, Saul of Tarses, was a soldier who hunted down followers of the rabbi to kill them, until one day on the road to Damascus he experienced an epiphany; a sudden bright light of spiritual inspiration. He then lay down his sword, changed his name to Paul and became a follower himself. Later to be known as Saint Paul, he made it his quest to spread the WORD of the young rabbi as far away as he could. He wrote about him and his aim was to transform his memory into something greater.

So was it legend, embellished pontification or just good storytelling that it has come through the centuries to us? The story survived the Romans, through the Dark Ages, through the Renaissance in a big way. It survived kings and kingdoms and great powers and wars. And it caused wars. And every time they fought a war about it, it spread more. Again, it’s a compelling story of this good man from the Middle East who was born and was executed in Israel at the time of the Roman occupation, and who, in a very few years compiled such a resume of great teachings. Those teachings along with the Jewish Bible, became the essence of the literature of mankind. A remarkable accomplishment for a remarkable story.

Why did the story survive? Well, there was more to it. There was magic that grabbed the hearts of the masses. It had panache, kings, inept kings, peace and violence. Oh! Such violence. It had miracles and enchantment, love and sex. No, sorry, no sex. And this is where the story gets it's impetus. Because the story told that he was born of a virgin mother; that an angel came and told her that she would have a child. The story also told that during his life he performed miracles: Walking on water, turning water into wine, healing people, raising people from the dead. And after he died on the cross, he arose from the dead to motivate his friends to go out and preach about his teachings. However, there was something else. If it wasn’t for the two divine related magical occurrences, the virgin birth and his resurrection from the dead, the whole story of this young man may never have survived this long.

As the story moved from man to legend, Saint Paul, Saint Peter and others turned this simple story from a Jewish sect, into a break-away religion called Christianity. They thought so highly of the claim of this man from Israel, that he, indeed, was the “Son of God”, that they deemed him to be the Savour, a Christ, which means: both God and Man "the Messiah" sent to save the human race from sin. So the birth of this man was celebrated as a Christian Mass. Hence, Christ Mass or Christmas. And the religion spread to Rome where after much slaughter and blood spilled, three hundred years later it was finally given legitimacy by Emperor Constantine to become an official Roman church.

Again, I am not talking religion. I am simply trying to explain how a simple story lasted through the ages to become the most well known story on earth.

Through the Middle Ages, the Roman church of the followers of this preacher employed many monks to translate the story into books known as bibles. They sat in the back rooms of their churches and monasteries writing up great words of story, poetry, songs and prayers, and great embellishments to make it even greater. And like most stories, there were mistakes made when translating from one language to another. From the original Aramaic language to Greek, to Roman, to German, to English. It took so much time to hand write these volumes that there weren’t many of them made.

But the word spread anyway, to the day in 1452 when a man named Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press and the press was used to make two hundred copies of this book, this bible, and then they made more. The story spread to the farthest reaches of humanity. Spread by believers sent to tell their tale of their faith in the story.

It’s a story that was passed through the centuries, through the cultures and peoples. Every religion and every human on the face of the earth has heard this story. And this story has survived for over two thousand years, sent down to us, to you and me, in a very personal way with words of wisdom, of metaphors and inspirations, of motivations and great courage. It tells of how to be a good person and how to get along with people. These are the traditions of great storytellers; that to get the point across we must tell a story well and from the heart, grab the emotion and tell something that people can relate to, and be in AWE of.

This story also caught the imaginations of many artists, and it’s the artists who reflect on society of the times; the magnificent churches and cathedrals built across Europe, the wonderful inspirational music of Beethoven, Handel, Mozart, Schubert, Bach and Jingle Bells. The stain glass, the paintings and all this combined with the Jewish celebration of lights (Hanukkah), the pagan celebration of winter solstice and the decorated trees from Germany. And who can forget St. Nicholas, the giver of gifts, who was enrolled in this celebration as Santa Clause (Saint Nicholas).

So, all this celebration from many cultures came to magnify the story of Christmas as we know it. And all around the world this story has taken over to add color and life at this bleak, cold, sleepy time of year. Shop decorations of red, white and green, the great Santa Clause parades, the homes full of Christmas trees, lights and treats, of turkey and mistletoe, kids faces and grandmother cookies.

And through all this, the message of this young Jewish man prevails. It still shines through. This man who wanted to tell us that to be good is to be of the universe, of your God. Who ever that may be.

This is the story of civilization. The universal message of good over evil and the celebration of life. A baby who brought us the birth of change, of spring, of hope for the world. And that’s what makes the story so compelling. It’s so simple.

In the end, as good storytellers know; "It's all about the story." That to tell a good story will always propel the message forward. And hopefully the truth, or an interpretation of it, is in the simplicity of the message itself.

This message also has a call to action. Peace on Earth - Good will to all.

At this very special time of year, the message from me is that no matter what holiday you celebrate or what your faith is, may I wish you a very happy holiday season.

And to all, a goodnight.

"The destiny of the world is determined less by the battles that are lost and won than by the stories it loves and believes in."
- Harold Goddard

"All human beings have an innate need to hear and tell stories and to have a story to live by ... religion, whatever else it has done, has provided one of the main ways of meeting this abiding need."
- Harvey Cox, The Seduction of the Spirit

"Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact."
- Robert McKee

Nov 16, 2009

Global Warming

November 16/2009

Recently I took part in an on-line poll at Facebook, that asked: “Is global warming a myth?” I was astonished to learn just how many people, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, actually thought that global warming is a myth. The poll numbers were astounding: 49% YES, 46% NO and 5% DIDN'T CARE. This triggered the following response from me.

“For so many people on this poll not to understand the nature of this world is overwhelming. They all must live in cities where they think of nature as some far off distant planet or be totally ignorant and uncaring about learning about something so significant. Yes, global warming is happening and it doesn't take much to travel to where you can see it first hand. Please open your minds and learn something. And learn that you can do something about it by intelligent research and acting to help the people trying to keep the ecosystems that keep us alive, working. Stupidity is not bliss.”

While I know this poll is not scientific and most polls on Facebook usually attract a certain amount of juvenility, I still find the response incredible, if for no other reason than almost sixty thousand people participated in the poll. Can the 49% who voted YES, all be that ignorant, or uneducated or are they just playing the devil-may-care attitude and having fun with others on Facebook?

Some approach the subject as political, but global warming is not a political matter. It is a human matter comprised of real science, and most scientists are extremely worried about the time it is taking for some governments to understand and work toward trying to solve the problem. This is an impending danger to all humanity on the planet. And the sooner everyone in all countries know this, and gets working on a solution, the better prepared we will be to minimize global destruction by taking extreme measures to slow the process. And as long as it is being politicized, people on the skeptical side of the issue will continue to sway many unthinking and uninterested people into believing that this is all a hoax.

Reason and rational thought are a product of the maturing mind, which combines research and investigation to discover the rationalization of truth; i.e. discovering mathematical theory or reading a map to find your way around the globe, or learning to boil an egg. The ancient Greeks believed that our soul has two parts: an Irrational part with emotions and desires, and a Rational part, which is our true self. So before we humans can understand the world, we first need to understand ourselves, through rational thought and moral development. In doing so, we compel ourselves to seek our own integrity and the truth. However, when we don’t do the research, and we act with our emotions and desires (wishing for another outcome), we fail to see the ‘forest for the trees’ and we tend to bypass the truth. Thus, we can remain ignorant of something that, for the sake of a little research, is within our own grasp.

The truth of global warming is out there for all to see. The science is logged for all to read. The evidence is ready for all to explore. Yet, too many people continue to hinge on the side of misinformation and they keep themselves intentionally ignorant. They are willing to accept what they are told without question.

As science has improved, the detection of global warming has found that we are accelerating toward catastrophic consequences for our planet. Those of us who do realize what is happening are getting more worried. Hence, the real message needs to be stronger to educate the skeptics and the uninformed. Because, if we fail the earth, we fail humanity.

Life as we know it is going to change drastically in the next few years. And just as there aren't many people left who think the earth is flat, it won't be long before everyone will know that global warming is real. We will all be able to see it in our own front yards. I just hope it will not be too late to save the billions of people who will be displaced, hurt or wiped out in the process.

My hope is that at least some part of humanity will be saved from this horrendous consequence of misguided and mismanaged technology gone wrong, and our knowledge, past and present, will be available for future generations.

"Global warming is too serious for the world any longer to ignore its danger or split into opposing factions on it."
- Tony Blair

"We have many advantages in the fight against global warming, but time is not one of them. Instead of idly debating the precise extent of global warming, or the precise timeline of global warming, we need to deal with the central facts of rising temperatures, rising waters, and all the endless troubles that global warming will bring. We stand warned by serious and credible scientists across the world that time is short and the dangers are great. The most relevant question now is whether our own government is equal to the challenge."
- John McCain

"With all of the hysteria, all of the fear, all of the phony science, could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? It sure sounds like it."
- James Inhofe

"Believe nothing just because a so-called wise person said it. Believe nothing just because a belief is generally held. Believe nothing just because it is said in ancient books. Believe nothing just because it is said to be of divine origin. Believe nothing just because someone else believes it. Believe only what you yourself test and judge to be true."
- Buddha

"People tend to focus on the here and now. The problem is that, once global warming is something that most people can feel in the course of their daily lives, it will be too late to prevent much larger, potentially catastrophic changes.
- Elizabeth Kolbert

"To gain that which is worth having, it may be necessary to lose everything else."
- Bernadette Devlin

Nov 10, 2009

Celestial Lighthouse


The tall lighthouse greets the night, it’s full mission on earth realized.

Like the ticking of an endless clock, the light beacon flashes through space and time, shining far across the miles of ocean moods. Never ceasing, never still. Bright illumination roving and searching and attracting and warning, far from it's own imprisonment on the tiny, lonely rock it calls home. Solitary in it's own importance of coastal navigation.

Through light, darkness, summer storm and winter blizzard, time marches and life keeps pace. Physiological clocks tick eroding the short passage of a human age. Year after year the only constant is change. Seasonal moods change with the tilt of the planet and the call of the wind.

Night envelops the moment and the crisp clear sky unveils forever. As if riding across the milky way on another world one can reach out to the universe and the star clusters just beyond grasp. Across the cosmos, time and space is infinite. Time has no beginning, no end. Eons pass undisturbed in the stillness.

On planet Earth time travelers measure the moments of human existence based on the daily revolution of the globe and Earth's trip around the heavens. The globe turns and the cold blue of twilight undresses the dawn.

And still the great light revolves.

A faint hue of orange glows across the hemispheres, strengthening as the great ball of sunshine rears it's head out of the cold ocean like a hungry dragon bursting fiery light toward land, beginning it's ascent and celestial journey across the sky to light the new day.

Thus the reason for the lighthouse is extinguished until night returns and the great cycle is resumed.

"You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old."
- George Burns

"...and you finish off as an orgasm.”
- George Carlin

The years teach much which the days never knew."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Anythin' for a quiet life, as the man said when he took the situation at the lighthouse”
- Charles Dickens

Grow old with me! The best is yet to be.
- Robert Browning

Nov 3, 2009

96 hours

It was a journey outside the boundaries of North America, outside the comforts of home, outside the civilization that we know, to where the rest of the world does not live as comfortably as we live. The whole experience was just 96 hours, a long weekend, a drop in the bucket. But it’s an experience that will live with me for the rest of my life, and it challenged me to try to inspire people, with my talents, to help others.

For many years I traveled the globe as a documentary film maker with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I was sent to the farthest reaches of humanity, to places you’d never heard of where we’d spend two or three weeks filming a story. We’d get to know people intimately: we live with them, eat their food and film their life styles. Then we’d be yanked back to civilization, never to see these people again except on the films we produced about them.

We went to the rich places and we went to the poor places. Each had their charms. But that was many years ago. In the mean time, my career took me filming television drama and feature films and now corporate video. So the journeys ceased for quite a while, until 2005 when I got “deja vous all over again.” And the feelings of the experience returned.

We landed at just after six in the morning. It was hot and muggy in this Central American country, with the aroma of fresh flowers drifting across the sunrise. We were on a mission with a group of Rotary Clubs from around the Los Angeles area so they could see what was happening to the dollars they had been contributing to individual charities they were supporting. Fourteen clubs and each club had different charity, and each was a subject/a problem, to grab at your heart strings. What I saw was personally awe inspiring.

El Salvador is a country of about six million people, the smallest of the Central American countries. There are two rows of volcanoes that cross the country from east to west and some of them are still active. On the others, people are active because on the slopes that hot lava used to roll down is the best type of soil to grow coffee.

Coffee. The energy boost of the western world. It’s this El Salvador coffee that ends up in places like Starbucks. Yes, we pay a fortune for something that was hand picked by a group of coffee harvesters who have barely two cents to rub together. No, the poor don’t get the great gobs of money that we lay out for our caffeine fix. No, they don’t even have proper facilities high up on those lava slopes. They even have to send their young daughters walkng for hours down the mountain sides for fresh daily bread. And the reason they send their daughters is so their sons can go to school to have an education.

A Rotary Club from Downey California, who had originally given a bakery oven to over 300 or more coffee harvesters in one plantation, were now seeing their money go toward fresh daily bread. The day we were there they baked us a pizza. Rotary are now supplying six more bakeries along the coffee slopes, along the mountain sides, and their daughters are now getting an education.

Across the country past a long row of volcanoes to the east, lies the remote town of San Miguel where another Rotary Club is funding a hospital. Inside the operating theatre, a team of doctors from North America are creating miracles.

The problem with all out poverty is malnutrition and debilitating diseases, and the people who suffer most are the children. Dragging around in the dirt unable to even hobble to school, some blind others with club feet, stricken with polio or other such plights including some hurt from stepping on landmines left over from the savage civil war a few years ago. But there’s hope, as some of these kids are given a new lease on life when Rotary supported doctors straighten out their feet or clean up their sores. And they get up, they can hop, they can walk and run and play. They can even go to school to learn because just down the road another Rotary project is funding an eye clinic started by wealthy and concerned women who saw the need.

Sight is our window on our world and the eye clinics are helping bring these wonders to people everywhere. To poor school children who need glasses. Here the Rotary Club of LA is a prime funder. And they are making a difference helping kids to just be kids.

A film maker, like a journalist looks for a good story to tell and people helping children of the world is a wonderful humanitarian story to bring to everyone. In 1985, Rotary International committed itself to immunizing all children around the world against polio.

With 1.2 million members in 166 countries, Rotary has been the largest private-sector contributor to the polio eradication campaign worldwide. Over 600 million dollars has been spent and it is working. By the end of 2006 polio could be gone. A remarkable accomplishment.

Remarkable? Just a few years ago the Wheelchair Foundation was established and as of today they have delivered hundreds of thousands of wheelchairs around the world. In many places Rotary International has teamed up with the Wheelchair foundation to share the costs.

“In compassion lies the world’s strength.” Or so the Buddha said. The feelings, oh! the feelings when filming someone in need being helped into a wheelchair for the first time in their life. A child smiling and crying at the same time. They speak a different language, but they communicate as they grab on to their helpers with appreciation in their eyes. Oh! the joy, the exhilaration, the experience, first hand. Somehow, being a documentary film maker and showing these acts of kindness makes life worth living.

That is some of my journey to El Salvador. It was 96 hours. A long weekend. But a life changing moment that inspired me to use my talents as a film maker to help people in need.

From this trip, I produced the multi-award winning film "Rotary Helping Children of the World in El Salvador" and two subsequent films, "Mission to Costa Rica - What is a Rotarian" while in Costa Rica and "A World of Peace and Understanding - Arch Klumph" while in Panama. These three films were offered to the Rotary clubs of the Los Angeles district for recruitment, inspiration and as a call to action for Rotarians who, on mass, have the power to change the world for the better.

"It is every man's obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what he takes out of it."
- Albert Einstein

"Anticipate charity by preventing poverty; assist the reduced fellow man, either by a considerable gift or a sum of money or by teaching him a trade or by putting him in the way of business so that he may earn an honest livelihood and not be forced to the dreadful alternative of holding out his hand for charity. This is the highest step and summit of charity's golden ladder.
- Maimonides

“He who obtains has little. He who scatters has much.”
- Lao-Tzu

Oct 29, 2009

Monty Python and being silly

Congratulations Monty Python on the occasion of your 40th anniversary.

My first impression of Monty Python’s Flying Circus was to wonder what all the fuss was about. To me, these guys weren’t very funny, they were just a wild bunch of juvenile and amateurish grown-ups acting silly, like I used to do at school.

The school kids in England, where I grew up, were all silly. We used to do the silly walks and play around with stuffed birds, like the parrot sketch, way before Python was ever thought of. In fact, those of us who were arty and who liked theatre were even sillier. It was really quite normal to act silly in England, to talk in puns and to be able to banter back and forth in non sequiturs and (almost clever) funny, non sensical dialogue. However, I remember one of our teachers telling us that as maturity was a major part of learning and growing up, we shouldn’t be acting like silly girls. “Get to it lads, and act like real men.” Of course, in North America (USA and Canada) boys were taught to be macho. Build your muscles, pretend you like stupid sports, don’t become like a sissy or you’ll be beaten up in the school yard. But it could be like that in England too, where somehow silliness was accepted. When I moved to North America in 1969, I put away some of my childish things and as I worked my way up in the film and entertainment business, I became more serious.

As for Monte Python, even though some of my friends were rolling in laughter at films like The Holy Grail, I really didn’t appreciate their style until I saw The Life of Brian in 1979. By that time it was ten years later and I was now into my profession as a cinematographer in Canada, and I began to appreciate any movie that was different from the regular Hollywood fare. I loved foreign films and I especially loved French films. Then a girl friend dragged me to see The Life of Brian. Well, who can fault a movie where the theme is to always look on the bright side of life? This was my attitude entirely. And the silliness? Well, I'd missed it.

The film parallels the story of Jesus but it takes us on a different journey, to follow the life of another individual who people want to flock to as a leader. Here we see a population who can't seem to think for themselves. They must have a Messiah to follow and they think they have found one in Brian (no relation). But Brian isn't interested in being their Messiah.

My favorite line is when a crowd calls for Brian to come to the window and show himself. His mother opens the window and tells the crowd: "He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy."

It was great to laugh at situations that, when seen from the Python’s satirical point-of-view, were quite nutty and funny. I no longer minded the silliness. The film focused on humanities longing to belong and to follow a leader. We are all sheep. We must flock and we must follow. We are all constantly searching for that Messiah to lead us. And yes, we see it in the modern world where good leadership is quite deficient. The crowds roar together, "Yes, we are individuals." "Yes, we must think for ourselves." But do we?

The film reinforced my philosophy as a free thinker and I will always thank the Python’s for that. Blessed are the free thinkers.

I have now learned to appreciate the Python series and when last in Las Vegas, we loved Spamalot. Yes, congratulations to Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Terry Gillium, Michael Palin, John Cleese and Graham Chapman. Thank you for showing the world that we can all let our hair down and be really silly.

“Silly is you in a natural state, and serious is something you have to do until you can get silly again.”
- Mike Myers

“If I can get you to laugh with me, you like me better, which makes you more open to my ideas. And if I can persuade you to laugh at the particular point I make, by laughing at it you acknowledge its truth.”
- John Cleese

"We don't deliberately set out to offend. Unless we feel it's justified."
- Graham Chapman

"I always wanted to be an explorer, but - it seemed I was doomed to be nothing more than a very silly person."
- Michael Palin

Oct 24, 2009

Free Thinker

October 24/2009

I don’t think I could ever be just a Liberal or just a Conservative or just anything. That idea goes against everything I hold dear. My freedom. Freedom to be a free thinker.

To be so one-sided and closed about differing ideas and opinions, no matter how good, well-intentioned or true the party line claims to be, could not attract my total way of thinking or my loyalty. I am very curious and I need to know all sides of an issue. The world is not black and white. I see it in multi shades of colour. So, no, I firmly believe that I could never be so rigid so as to block out other opinions.

I do search for the truth of an issue, however difficult it is to find. But many people can’t change from one side to another, even if the truth hits them in the face; even if they are thinking or voting against their own self interests, even if they discover deception, lies and corruption. So, in effect, they are cutting themselves off from the freedom they were given: The freedom to think openly, rationally and with thoughtful reasoning.

Throughout most of our lives we’ve been told so many “truths” by others, and we mostly accept them without reason. But who are we not to question these “truths”, beliefs, prejudices and assumptions? Nothing is as it seems in this world. Nothing is cut and dried. When so many untruths are thrown around without people questioning, then individuals, corporations, political parties, religions, culture, governments, etc. corrupt or not, get away with telling you anything, and you will believe it.

Within us all, is a free thinker. It is what we were given by our maker.

The Universe. The big, wide, abundant, undiscovered, Universe. So is there life out there or not? I think we can presume that there is. But how far away? How long will it take to find, the others? And will they be like us?

We live on a planet brimming with life. Everywhere on the planet is alive with organisms and micro-organisms. We share this planet with life of all kinds: animals, fish, birds, bugs. micro-things we can’t see. We have also been given an intelligence, of sorts. By this I mean a built-in intelligence that governs the way we are; our genetics, our makeup, everything that keeps us going without us knowing. In fact, we have very little control over the way our bodies keep us alive, and all living creatures have this. It’s under our radar, like the battery in the Energizer Bunny.

All life is steadily employed. We all go about our daily lives programmed to live and to survive in whatever situation or climate we are given. And if that’s all we had, this simplistic complication of life, life on earth would be very simple. We would all be like robots, programmed to do whatever we were here to do. However, in all the Universe, as we know it, in all the world, in all our minds, we homo-sapiens, human beings, were given something extra. We were given the power of creativity.

More than the animals, more than the trees, the birds or the micro-organisms, we were given the power to think creatively. To analyze, to examine, to deduce and to reason. To come up with ideas and solutions, for everything.

It’s an extraordinary gift - to be able to think up ideas, to communicate with each other, to plan, to dream, to create whatever comes into our heads or our hearts. To create our own future with new ideas. The whole world is an open book for us to do and to be anything we want to be. Think of the endless possibilities and opportunities.

Yet, we get lazy. We want to do the same thing, the same job, meet the same people, listen to the same music, the same TV and worship the same religion and politics. And most of us do things just to "look good" to others. We find our comfort zone with the people who surround us, our community: culture, religion, politics, tribe. Then we conform and spout other people's opinions to "look good" to others in our tribe. We live in a sleeping state and we give up any potential for the opportunity with which we were born. We become robots without a reasoning brain. Unless something happens to shock us and wake us up.

So let's wake up and be.

I am espousing that we open up to our free thinking minds and be more curious about the world and it’s charms: Walk away from the small corners we choose to live in. We live in a mansion yet, we choose to live in a small dark corner of the basement of that mansion. We must be like the turtle and stick our neck out into the world and discover that it’s not such a scary place after all. More important, we must discover ourselves. Self discovery. Who are we? And once we discover who we are, who is our authentic self, we must embrace ourselves, open up to the real human experience we were given. We must open up to the world of discovery, to find our own world views, values, integrity. And our own voice. Then we can steer away from the small-minded, tribe mentality that rules our rigid ways and be open to the world and the Universe that has made us.

As free-thinking humans we can teach ourselves and others to be more creative, compassionate and thoughtfully open to new knowledge and intelligence. In this way, we set ourselves up to openly respond to the junk we are continually being fed, and make better choices and judgments based on our own awareness and reasoning of the things that concern us. So my call to action is: be curious, speak up, try new things, don't copy others, be inspired by others, be creative and don't just follow the crowd. Be the free thinker and the inspiration you were born to be.

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”
- Oscar Wilde.

“Every human has four endowments- self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom... The power to choose, to respond, to change.”
- Stephen R. Covey

“These things will destroy the human race: Politics without principle, progress without compassion, wealth without work, learning without silence, religion without fearlessness and worship without awareness.”
- Anthony de Mello

“What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.”
- Abraham Maslow

Oct 21, 2009

The Third Man (favorite films)

October 21/2009

Film Noir at it's best. A web of mystery and a begrimed adventure winds through shadow then light and back into shadow. An air of tension, ambiguity and corruption. Across a canvas of Vienna following WW2, American novelist Holly Martins, a pragmatist, innocent abroad, prances like a bull in search of veneer, only to find horrific meaning from the characters and the atmosphere of a bombed shell of a once great, yet now divided city. He came to see his friend, Harry Lime, a charismatic, charming friend who’s life seems to extend and captivate beyond his accidental death, but from the time Holly arrives he is being lead in search of Harry's ghost and is stabbing at shadows.

Then there's the girl. She loved Harry and she morns his allure. British Army Captain Calloway investigating Harry's death, finds Martins at Harry's funeral. He wants to know more but realizes Martins has nothing to offer. Martins is just a very ordinary guy getting mixed up in something so totally over his head, and Calloway wants him to leave Vienna before Martins succumbs to the danger of it all. However, as Martins learns more about Harry's death, certain inconsistencies begin to unravel. The story unwinds compelling him to stay and discover that truth and justice take on a greater meaning.

This is a great film with such atmosphere that old Vienna is a main character. And of course the ubiquitous zither music that never ceases. Fog, shadows, wet streets and underground tunnels are the background to this Graham Green fantasy. Well acted by Joseph Cotten, Trevor Howard, Alida Valli and of course Orson Welles playing Harry Lime. Graham Green's great story and screenplay, Carol Reed directing at his finest and the best cinematography by Robert Krasker.

The most famous line in the film has the self-righteous Harry Lime try to rationalize his own evil.

“In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed. They produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace. And what did they produce - the cuckoo clock.”

- Harry Lime (Orson Welles)

“The truth has never been of any real value to any human being - it is a symbol for mathematicians and philosophers to pursue. In human relations kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths.”

- Graham Green

"I started at the top and worked my way down."

- Orson Welles

Oct 20, 2009

Ten basic tips for a short video

January 4/2009

Producing videos is a very competitive business and I’m often asked, “Why should I hire a production company to shoot my video rather than get a friend or a student with a camera to make my video for less money?”

Most people have no idea that getting someone to shoot a consistently well photographed, editable production with a camera and then edit the footage into a creative and succinct video that incorporates the nuance of story, feeling and character, is like asking a nurse to perform brain surgery or hiring a high school band to replace the Orpheum Symphony on Beethoven’s Ninth. There is a learned skill, creative talent, artistic flair and years of producing films and telling stories that come with a professional.

This being said, I will try to provide some tips and pointers on producing a short video. These ideas may help you understand ways to focus yourself toward creating something for an audience, and for you to find your own basic storytelling needs, and the needs of getting your message out in the best possible way.

One - Communication.
I belong to an organization called Toastmasters, which not only teaches people to get up and speak, but how to formulate a message through structure, theme and practice. The first speech manual is a foundation for good communication skills, and it guides people to think through how to formulate their first ten speeches. To me, these communication ideas are an excellent example and the cornerstone for making good videos, or presenting any kind of storytelling idea, display or performance. I modify them to illustrate the basic steps in learning to tell stories well.

The basic steps:
1. Break the ice with your audience and tell them who you are and what your message is.
2. Organize the structure of your story. Beginning, middle, end.
3. Get to the point and be succinct with your message and what are you trying to say.
4. Ensure your script is well written, delivered and your performance is proficient. Both as a film maker and whoever is on screen representing you. Remember to "direct" your on screen talent.
5. Your visual presentation should sparkle. How do you look and how do you present your ideas?
6. Tell your story by using a variety of emotions and feelings to grab your audience.
7. Research your topic well and give plenty of information. Get the facts and get them straight.
8. Be proficient with all the technical devices, camera, lights, editing software etc., and learn the creative side of photographic arts, editing arts and dramatic pacing.
9. Use powerful ideas to persuade your audience.
10. Inspire and motivate your audience. Make them want to come back for more.

Two - Story.
A film maker/video producer is a storyteller first. Know the story you want to tell. Know what you are trying to accomplish with your presentation. Know your audience. Although this all sounds very obvious to the experienced storyteller; many people don’t know what they are trying to say. What kind of ideas do you want to implant in your audience? What do you want them to take away from your message? Do you want to inspire them to be better, follow your teachings, carry your message to others? Find the significance of your message and work on inspiring the people who you want to receive and remember it. And remember, you do not have the option of boring people to death.

Three - Inspiration.
A communicator's job is to get a point across by inspiring his or her audience. As a film maker you must grab an audience with inspiring content (a good story), visuals, sounds, music and feeling. This is what a film, a video, a PowerPoint or any kind of presentation is: It is something for people to experience. And the way we all experience is through feelings. Grab at the heart of your idea and express it with passion and inspiration.

Four - Style.
An audience will make the first and the fastest impression about something based on what they see. The look of the subject is very important. You don't have to be Cirque du Soleil but it may help. In a corporate film, for example, is the person on camera dressed smartly? Do I trust this person? Do I trust this film maker? Is he or she communicating to me personally and visually? What are the colours of the backgrounds? What does it sound like? Are the locations speaking to me?

Five - Environment.
The environment is where you place your subject. What do you see behind your subject? The location. Are we in the desert, the ocean, the mountains? Do we see a view of a whole city outside a window in the background or is there a white wall? If there is a white wall, has it been lit and shaded so there are some shadows that contribute to a pleasing atmosphere? Do you have the opportunity to place your subject in the setting of your choosing? It doesn’t take much nudging to ask the subject to sit on a park bench or stand in an atrium with plants in the background; perhaps on a sofa or at the kitchen table. The point is, the world is filled with interesting environments that will help bring your video to life.

Six - Lighting.
Make sure your subject’s face is lit correctly. Invest in a lighting kit with at least three lights: Key light, fill light and back light. Bring the sparkle to their eyes. Bring the image quality up to standard with the help of lights. Among many things, there are two large stand-out things that make a bad production: The lack of good lighting and bad sound. No one goes out to make a bad video, but, THEY DO. Usually it’s because of ignorance and lack of control of the medium. There is no excuse not to invest in good lighting.

Seven - Sound.
Hearing is our second most important sense when it comes to participating as an audience. Hollywood spends a huge amount of money making sure that the soundtracks are up to excellent standards on their productions. In video, sound is much more than just hearing or listening; it is comprehension. Bad sound means bad production and audience dissatisfaction. Especially when it comes to recording a speech, an interview or an on camera personality, sound is (almost) everything; Invest in a good lapel/lavaliere microphone, clipped at about one foot from the subjects mouth, either with a long cord connecting to your camera or recorder, or a radio lapel/lavaliere microphone that lets your subject roam. Sound, like lights, must help sparkle the production. Invest wisely.

Eight - Camera.
Cameras and technologies come and go, and next week you will probably find a better camera for the same price that you bought your latest camera for last week. It doesn’t matter; Buy the best you can afford. Or rent the best you can afford. You need a camera that is going to give you good image quality. It should have a good optical zoom lens (not electronic zoom) and you should be able to alter the aperture and sound inputs separately (plug in a separate microphone). Also, invest in a good tripod with a fluid head. Steady pictures with smooth pans and tilts will help keep your product looking professional. Aim for good composition, size of shot, look of subject, lighting of subject, background behind the subject and overall feeling and quality. The photography should be based on the story you are telling.

Nine - Editing.
Story, presentation, photography and sound. That’s it. Right? Well, no. Then comes your editing and that is a whole different story. Editing your footage and piecing together scenes and sequences that bind together into a succinct, and skillful story-line, that grabs, excites and entertains your audience, is the essence of film making. Editing is the art of reaching out to your audience through the manipulation of select and focused information, and, like a composer working at a symphony, the film maker is constantly molding, carving and building the shot footage, sound and other media to produce a clear uncomplicated yet nuanced idea. Yes, controlling and influencing a point of view, to lead the viewer on a journey to wherever you, as a film maker, want to lead them. More than any other aspect of film making, please read up on editing, study the editing of movies and TV programs you like.

Technically, editing depends on the computer and software you are comfortable with, and of course, your storytelling abilities. There are many software programs like Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere and these will help when it comes to creatively assembling your shots. So plan to shoot good pictures with lots of angles. And make sure your story is told completely.

Ten – Use of the medium.
The technicalities of producing a video are about creativity, art, photography, sound recording, lighting, environment, editing, music etc. The idea is to stimulate through the quality of the story, image, sound and use of the media. These, in turn, help manipulate feelings.

On You-Tube you can see some of the finest films ever made. You can also see most of the worst. With visual storytelling, you need to be better than the next guy. There is no way your production is going to look like ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ but that is what you are competing with in some people’s imaginations. You must be able to propel your message with good photography and good sound. Look at print advertising or fashion photography and see how one image tells the story. Many times the message comes from what you don’t see; through nuance, imagination and metaphor.

When it comes to producing a video, there is a lot to learn, but after the basics you can then study the arts, sciences, theatre and the business to produce good videos. You can become quite proficient with much practice. Like learning the piano: listen, read, try new things and practice, practice, practice.

Remember, producing a film or video is always about your audience and how you inspire or motivate them. Know the story you are going to tell, and tell it with quality, style and creativity.

It takes great skill to tell a compelling story in under 60 seconds. These five directors have mastered the format, using their talent, craft and imagination to provide us with some of the most innovative filmmaking out there today.
- Michel Apted

A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet.
- Orson Wells

Eighty percent of success is showing up.
- Woody Allen

Oct 16, 2009

Tea at the Empress

October 16/2009

Last weekend we wanted to create a lasting and fond memory for someone special in our lives, so we went to Victoria for tea.

There are certain places in the world that evoke nostalgia. For instance, when one hears the name of a certain hotel, the imagination is transported to a different time and era, and that folklore and fantasy is sometimes kept alive by the hotel that created it. A few years ago before I left on a trip to Singapore, my father planted a $20 dollar bill in my hand and said, “Have a Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel, on me.” Raffles is where the Singapore Sling cocktail was invented in 1915, and the hotel has catered to the daily ritual of tourists wishing to partake in the romance of the British colonial era, and the original drink at the Raffles Long Bar, ever since. In fact, hundreds taste the drink every week and many wander around the old hotel building and inner courtyard in awe of the place where writers like Noel Coward and Somerset Maughm wrote many of their stories and novels. Novels my father loved to read.

Tea service at the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia evokes a similar feeling and it’s just as popular. The idea of Tea at the Empress, conjures up old world charm, expensive opulence and train travel across a continent to a far away place. In truth, the Empress is just that sort of place where people journey from around the world to enjoy the experience of afternoon tea and being treated like Royalty. A simple idea lasting over a hundred years, were Royalty, world traveling celebrities and adventurers have congregated since it's inception.

Although much more expensive than a Singapore Sling at Raffles, Tea at the Empress is from the same era. But rather than just a drink, customers are treated to a complete tea service: A continuously filled pot of the special Empress blend tea served in the Empress China tea set that has been around since King George the Fifth, a three tier tray with small sandwiches of BC salmon, cucumber and other delicacies, traditional English scones with strawberry preserves and cream, and an array of little deserts, cakes, fruit tarts and treats of many shapes and tastes. What more could one ask than to be surrounded by the beautiful setting of the charming Victorian front lobby tea room, and a wonderful view of Victoria’s harbour? All this adds up to a magnificent culinary delight and an atmosphere of fond memories. And the extremely courteous servers usually deserve a large tip for the process.

The $20 dollars my father gave me for my drink at the Raffles bar, wouldn’t go very far at the Empress, yet, if you are in the vicinity and have the money, spend it on a memory that will last a lifetime. Memories are important and if you have the inclination or the passion to live with special moments, shared or alone, then Tea service at the Empress is a really good idea. Remember to make a reservation. And if you like it, go again.

“A Proper Tea is much nicer than a Very Nearly Tea, which is one you forget about afterwards.” - A.A. Milne

“Each cup of tea represents an imaginary voyage.”

- Catherine Douzel

“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the

ceremony known as afternoon tea.”

- Henry James

Oct 10, 2009

What is a Hero?

October 10/2009

The word hero is thrown around so much. People get caught up in sports figures, actors, politicians and others as heros. But the best description of a hero came from an internet dictionary that described a hero as: “A man or a woman distinguished by exceptional courage, nobility of purpose and strength, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, and the will for self sacrifice for a greater good. So the hero is an ordinary person doing extra-ordinary things.” We all have it in us to do what is right. However, many of us do what is wrong.

There was a hero, an American hero. A man named Hugh Thompson. He died a couple of years ago. We could have brushed shoulders with him. He was a helicopter pilot – a captain of men in his charge.

It was a day like any other, but just different enough to make a real difference in the lives of so many. And it change the course of history.

Captain Thompson and his crew were flying a reconnaissance mission over a Vietnamese village when he heard gun fire below. He decided to investigate. As they landed they found a scene, so dreadful that it defied comprehension. American soldiers were firing on unarmed citizens. Women and children. Babies. Old men, old women. People were lying dead in ditches, fields and on roads. Some who weren’t dead were being systematically shot by a company Captain.

Thompson and his men entered the village and confronted a Lieutenant who was preparing to blow up a hut full of cowering and wounded Vietnamese. He ordered his own men to cover the company with their heavy machine guns and orders them to fire on any American who refused the orders to halt the systematic massacre. None of the officers dared disobey, yet Thompson was outranked by all the commissioned lieutenants. Thompson then ordered two other helicopters to ferry the wounded Vietnamese to hospital. Some children who were still alive were extracted from the bodies and taken with the rest of the Vietnamese to the hospital.

The village was called My Lai. It was a massacre of over 500 unarmed civilians including women, children, and the elderly.

Lt. William Calley had ordered his men to enter the village firing, and according to eyewitness reports, several old men were bayoneted, praying women and children were shot in the back of the head, and at least one girl was raped and then killed. Calley was said to have rounded up a group of the villagers, ordered them into a ditch, and mowed them down in a rain of machine gun fire.

There was a trial and one man, Lt. Calley was convicted. He testified that he was ordered by his Captain to kill everyone in the village. Until Captain Hugh Thompson and his men arrived on the scene, there was no one to stop them. They saved the lives of hundreds.

So was this man a hero? Some said no.

For years, the U.S. military tried to cover up the My Lai massacre, and Hugh Thompson was treated not as a hero, but as a traitor, an outcast, a turncoat, because he had dared to question his fellow GIs who said they were just following orders. Thompson got death threats.

When Thompson testified about the murders to Congress in 1970, his testimony was kept secret. He said they didn’t want the story out, and one of the senior Congressmen in the secret testimony said, “... if anybody goes to jail here today, it'll be that helicopter pilot.”

There is a huge difference between right and wrong and the cover up of corruption. It was the ability of these men, Thompson and his crew, to do the right thing, even at the risk of their personal safety, that guided these soldiers to do what they did. This story was enough to turn the tide of the Vietnam war. Within couple of years the war was over.

On March 16, 1998, Captain Thompson and his crew were invited to My Lai where they were recognized by the Vietnamese government for their valor. They were given letters and gifts and thanked by the survivors, and the people in the area.

They were invited for a feast by the people of My Lai and a lady at the table turned to Captain Thompson and asked, “Why didn't any of the ones who participated come?” Thompson didn’t know what to say, he was so ashamed. He asked her, “Why, would you want to see them?” "So we could forgive them." She said.

To me, someone who can forgive others for such atrocities, is also a hero.

"One can not always be a hero, but one can always be a human."

- Johnann Wolfgang von Goeth

"Show me a hero and I will write a tragedy."

F. Scot Fitzgerald

"That's what it takes to be a hero, a little gem of innocence inside you that makes you want to believe that there still exists a right and wrong, that decency will somehow triumph in the end."

- Lise Hand

Oct 4, 2009

Who are we?

October 4/2009

I ask just one question.

Who are we?

So, let me excite your mind.
There is no past - there is no future - there is only NOW. Now is less than a hundredth of a second, less than the blink of an eye and much less than a heart beat. And that is all we know. The past, even a fraction of a second ago, is assigned to history and lost forever. The future is in constant flow of arrival. Therefore, the future is totally liberated from the past and the past is totally liberated from the future. We live in the liner moment between. The moment we call, NOW.

With our automatic brains, we glide with the flow of time as if we never knew it was upon us, and we go on and on as if life goes on forever. Our future is so connected to our past in our minds, that we forget it’s arrival, only to morn it’s passing when we feel the loss of something. Yet, in that fraction of a second between past and future, life begins and life ends, and when we end, we have entered into another future we know not of. As William Shakespeare so eloquently said, “... that undiscovered country from whose borne no traveler returns, puzzles the will.” In that fateful moment of time, does the future still continue to unfold for us or do we cease to be? Forever? Puzzles the will indeed.

We are a consciousness of life; born in a fraction, living from moment to moment in a free flow of existence.

But sometimes it seems to be guided, as if planned. Why did we travel across half the world to meet someone who will be our friend for life? Were we destined to find each other out of the millions who roam this globe? Is there a greater guiding force, a greater consciousness? A planned destiny? We may think so, based on the belief of others, but have we really discovered this ourselves? We have the reasoning power to control our world and our thinking, so we have the means to figure it all out individually.

Out there, beyond our bodies, is nothing. Yet, we make meaning of everything. We impose our own meaning and values on all we see, hear, feel, decipher, by what we have learned in the past. Whether it’s right or wrong. For instance: A wooden chair. When initially asked, one person may see the wooden chair as the tallest tree that grew in the primeval forest. Another person may see the chair as being the art form and craftsmanship of a carpenter who spent days building the structure and carving the ornate patterns in the back of the chair. While another person may see the chair as a seat of power. This chair sits in the study of the President of the United States of America and it has been sat on by numerous presidents who have given the orders to go to war, fix the economy, signed into law many bills or conducted important meetings with international leaders.

We all have the capacity to think differently. Rational thought, reason and free will make us individual. These are functions of the brain we are given by the Universe (or, to some, our God), and it’s this individuality that make us different from all the other people we connect with. We all have unlimited potential and endless opportunities to change and grow, and what distinguishes us as human beings is our intellect, our curiosity, our emotion, our quest for something out there. Ambition and hunger drive us to find and pursue what ever goals we want to create for ourselves. Life is totally open for us to use our freedom. To create, us.

However, some will never know or understand that freedom. While some excel to greatness through individuality, others will never realize their true potential because they can’t escape their way of thinking and their surroundings. They will be stuck in ignorance and nurtured by their environment to become products of that environment. No matter what it contains. Good or evil. With a broad stereotype brush, we might say that poor neighborhoods breed crime and rich neighborhood breed philanthropists. But as we now know, we have the individual power to change all that.

The United States calls itself the land of the free, yet, are people really free? Most have been indoctrinated in culture, patriotism, society, politics, religion, family or some other thing that dictates how people: think, feel, do, be. We are all trapped in our own minds.
We must break free, to be free. Be ourselves. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see.” We must find that curious individual inside us. The individual that we really are. We must nurture our own way to think creatively within ourselves. And we must try to mold ourselves into the person we really want to be.

It’s not easy, but as soon as we “GET IT.” Get that we are really the masters of our own destiny, then there is an endless realm of possibilities and opportunities before us.
My question at the beginning was: Who are we?
My answer is: We are what we make of ourselves.
I leave you with this thought: Life, is getting actively involved in everything you do, and thinking your way to freedom is the best investment you could ever make in yourself.

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
- Friedrich Nietzsche

Whatever my individual desires were to be free, I was not alone. There were many others who felt the same way.
- Rosa Parks

It is only to the individual that a soul is given.
- Albert Einstein

Oct 3, 2009

Eternal Echoes (favorite books)

October 3/2009

I needed space and solace while chilling after a broken marriage in 2001. Ireland had been on my list of places to visit for many years, so off I went. But I soon found conversation. “Where are all the Americans?” This was a month after 9/11 and the Americans were just too frightened to travel.

As a tourist I saw some spectacular places: Dublin, the Ring of Kerry, the Dingle Penninsula, Cork and the Port of Cobh, where the Titanic last saw land before her ill fated Atlantic crossing in 1912. I kissed the Blarney Stone on top of Blarney castle and I found the long way to Tipperary. These were new experiences and very invigorating.

On one of my stops I met a lady from County Sligo in the north west. What a spectacular place that is. And there was one important thing she told me as we chatted over tea. “Read the book Eternal Echoes by John O’ Donohue,” she said. So the book became my traveling companion.

This book is from the soul. We all need soul food every now and again, and it spoke to me like no book had ever done. With prose written like exquisite poetry, John O’Donohue touched me with a true taste of spirituality. He explores our longingness of souls to belong in this cool world of ours. We need to seek the comfort of others. And as we do, we must find the self within. His thesis is very inspirational. It’s a wonderful read and a work of art that is almost biblical in it’s ability to motivate. The book speaks metaphorically, pragmatically and is grounded in common sense.

This book has a very special place on my book case and I’m looking forward to reading it again, and then sometime later, again.

Eternal Echoes: Celtic reflections on our Yearning to Belong. by John O’Donohue.

Last year, January 2008, John O’Donohue died suddenly in his sleep at the age of 52. What a loss for the world. He was a gifted philosopher and a Celtic mystic who left us such inspiring writings. I also have his other books “Beauty”, “Anam Cara” and his book of poetry “Conamara Blues.” I can recommend them all.

We all seek inspiration from the far corners of life. I traveled miles to discover John O’Donohue, then he was left at my feet for me to find his inspiration. Perhaps he can inspire you too.

“It is strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you alone. Behind your image, below your words, above your thoughts, the silence of another world waits. A world lives within you. No-one else can bring you news of this inner world.”
- John O’Donohue

“Everyone is an artist. Each person brings sound out of silence and coaxes the invisible to become visible.”
- John O’Donohue

“When one flower blooms, Spring awakens everywhere.”
- John O’Donohue