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March 7th 2010

The Oscars are here again. I shan't stay up and watch them through the night, but I will go to our annual dinner, on the following evening, for the London members, where we have a bevy or two, very good meal and we watch a recording of them in a large room with screens all around. Generally a jolly evening. I watched ‘Hurt Locker’ again yesterday, what an extraordinary film it is and if it wins - great- but if not - ah well. It is riveting and one of the most perfect and truthful films I have ever seen. Do see it if you can, get on DVD. There is one scene which sticks strongly in my mind - the leading character has just come back from de-fusing IED’s (improvised explosive devices) in Irag, he’s shopping with his wife and she tells him to get the cereal. We see this extraordinary shot of this long aisle full of cereals and the hero standing, looking, completely lost and confused by the choice. Says it all really.

My cup runneth over, this great film and I saw “Enron” last week. What an amazing, brilliant play it is, Lucy Prebble, a mere baby at 30, clearly has a classic career ahead of her. Her understanding of the corporation culture in the US is really astonishing and the play comprehensively and entertainingly lays out what happened in this grim story and gives us all a better look at how the collapse happened and how in a similar way the banking crisis came about. Of course there was an actual product at the end of the line in the housing market, a property and nothing, but thin air with Enron. The human ability to be gulled and kid itself over and over again is mind boggling. The South Sea Bubble? The 20’s stock market crash? And the 2008 banking crash?

I think we are just too lazy to do the research and too insecure to know our own minds, it’s the Emperor’s new clothes, over and over again. We need more children calling “ but he’s got nothing on”! Where are they? Coming up, I hope, to rule the world.

I see that one of my old LA shows: “St Elsewhere” is on IMDB, courtesy of "See Saw", a new Video-on-Demand web site, although I doubt there'll be any residuals for me from that. This was what the proposed Screen Actors Guild strike was to be about, getting re-run fees from Internet screenings? It’s a real problem, especially for US actors and writers, many of whom have retired and rely largely on their residual income for their twilight years. If you made a series as a star or ongoing featured actor and that series was a success, you could look forward to a very handy income in your old age.

A scene from "St Elsewhere". The cigarettes set up a VERY funny in-joke but you'll have to watch the episode to find out what it is!

Bill Bixby, with whom I worked quite a bit - good friend - told me that if you made three successful series in an ongoing role, you were made financially for life. I wonder if that would hold true nowadays, with so many contracts being a “Buy out”, especially for commercials. You have to be a clever business person, or have a very good agent nowadays to be assured of getting residuals. This is also the reason why so many major stars get massive salaries up front, because if they are given a share of Producers profit as part of their fee, the chances are that they will never see them, with all the cross accounting that goes on; ie loss making films written off against profit making films. Then of course, most of the actors give away much of the salary in agent’s fee, manager’s fee, publicist’s fee, business manager’s, minders’ fees, etc etc!

It was a lot simpler when I started, you had a good agent, you gave them 10% and that was that. We were much less sophisticated and street wise than our American cousins, you just got offered the job, did it, got paid and that was that, there were no residuals, until a bit later.

The business has changed radically and ways to make a living in it are challenging to say the least. This is one reason I have gone into writing and producing as well as acting. It’s small scale at the moment, but I believe it has potential, especially if we can produce the product for lower cost and maintain the right quality. Digital filming has made a huge difference and has kept the costs of shooting on film down considerably. The new digital star is the Red camera, Films that were shot on it includes “District 9” and “Lovely Bones”. Endorsement by no less than Peter Jackson, cant be bad.
More soon, all the best
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