Archive for September, 2010

Low Budget, No Stars — Big Box Office

The Blair Witch Project
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Budget: $60,000
Theatrical Box Office to Date: $240,500,000

As the writer/producer/director of one low-budget feature who’s now working on getting his next movie project off the ground, I am constantly contending with the Myth of the Star-Driven Big Budget Movie.

In a nutshell, I’m repeatedly told that unless the movie I make has a budget high enough to pay for lots of elaborate stunts, pyrotechnics, and CGI — plus several “A List” stars to put on the movie poster — nobody’s going to buy tickets for it.

Oh, really?

Napoleon Dynamite
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
Budget: $400,000
Theatrical Box Office to Date: $44,540,956

I know why this myth persists, despite repeated demonstrations that it’s just provably false.

If I can make a movie for a half million bucks that can compete at your local cineplex with a movie made for a hundred million bucks — well, that’s the game ender for a bloated parasite-infested industry which prefers remakes, sequels, and movies based on old TV shows, toys, video games, and comic books — the entertainment values of which is mostly dick and fart jokes, tits, torture, fuck, fuck, fucks, explosions, crashes, and cute animated robots — instead of original storytelling, nuanced acting, heroes without superpowers or elaborate gadgets, and an appeal to the audience’s minds and hearts rather than to their groins and adrenal glands that — oh, for lack of a better term — grown-ups might like to see.

Paranormal Activity
Paranormal Activity (2007)
Budget: $11,000
Theatrical Box Office to Date: $182,917,283

Every once in a while an independent filmmaker manages to disprove one or more of these premises — not necessarily all of them — by making an inexpensive movie without stars that sells a lot of movie tickets. This makes agents whose income is a percentage of the millions of bucks the stars they represent are paid — and movie execs whose lavish lifestyle is based on skimming off the movies made for megabucks — work overtime coming up with reasons why such movies are freaks rather than marketplace proofs that huge audiences can be found no matter how cheaply the entertainment is made.

Fireproof (2008)
Budget: $500,000
Theatrical Box Office to Date: $33,451,479

Some of these agent/exec explanations:

  • It’s a one-time stunt.
  • Hey, it won Sundance.
  • Sure, if you can get every religious nut to go out and buy a ticket.
  • You get Steven Spielberg to rave about your eleven-thousand-dollar movie, then we’ll talk.

YouTube has to be more frightening to movie agents and execs than a horse’s head showing up in their beds. You put up a video of a baby biting his brother’s finger and tons more people watch it than bought a ticket for their summer blockbuster or tuned in to the network’s latest season premiere. And here are the scariest words they’ll ever hear: for free.

Charlie Bit My Finger – Again! (2007)
Budget: $0.0
Views to Date: 232,839,391
Notice the streaming Google ads in this
YouTube video? There is cash flow from this
zero-budgeted production!

I have to admit, YouTube is as scary to an indie filmmaker like me as it has to be for the head of a major studio. How is a cheap whore like me expected to make back even the half million bucks I spend on making a feature film if all these amateurs keep giving it away?

It does prove my point, though. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to make entertainment that lots of people will like.

You just have to make entertainment that lots of people will like. And somehow get their attention in a way that doesn’t involve prison time.

This article is Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.

My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Video On Demand. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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Homophobia Defeats Gays in the Military

In The Navy
From The Village People music video
“In The Navy”
filmed aboard the USS Reasoner

It’s not all that well-remembered by the general public, but in 1979 the Department of the Navy liked The Village People’s song “In the Navy” so much that it gave the Village People use of the USS Reasoner, several aircraft, and the crew of the ship for use in the making of the music video, and intended using the song in the Navy’s TV/radio recruiting campaign — until protests killed that idea.

Today the acceptance of gays into the mainstream of American life suffered another defeat as the United States Senate voted down an amendment to an appropriations bill that would have allowed gays to serve openly in the United States military. All Republicans and two Democrats voted against allowing gays to serve. It’s not good news for Republicans when they claim in their talking points not to be bigots.

It’s even worse for Democrats who lose elections when they can’t energize their base to walk precincts for them.

I’m not one to throw around the term “homophobia” a lot — if for no other reason than the construction of the word suggests to me as much a fear-and-loathing of homo sapiens — a synonym for misanthropy — as it does fear and loathing of homosexuals. But, honestly, that’s just the nit-picking pedantry in me; we do need a word which means that.

Clearly homophobia is real. Gay-bashing — and even murder cases like Matthew Shepard’s — demonstrate the historical utility of gays remaining in the closet. Even today the Montana Republican platform supports a state law making homosexual acts illegal even though the Montana Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional thirteen years ago.

The usual objection to gays serving openly in the military is the premise that it will be disruptive to military life and military discipline. This is an actual fear held by many heterosexual men that in close quarters homosexual men will make sexual advances to them — or worse, rape them.

This is not an entirely irrational fear. Homosexual men are the same species as heterosexual men: homo sapiens. A search of gay porno will find plenty of story lines where a gay is attracted to a supposedly straight friend and seduces him or her. Same-sex rape is common in other confined populations, such as prisons; and certainly — as the Roman Catholic Church tried to cover up for decades — even priests who had taken vows of chastity were not immune from acting out sexual desires on altar boys. The United States Senate, itself, has had scandals involving the seduction of Senate pages by United States Senators … and not all of them were heterosexual.

If we’re honest about it, a lot of men will stick their dicks into anything with a hole, and every male human being has at least two servicable holes.

Of course the same objections to allowing gays to serve openly were previously used to object to allowing women to serve in the military. But during World War II 150,000 WACS served in the uniform of the United States Army — General Douglas MacArthur praised these women as “my best soldiers” — and other women served the United States Navy in the WAVES and the Coast Guard SPARS.

Since 1994 women have successfully served in forward combat areas, and most recently are now being assigned to submarine service.

So is the fear straights have that a gay will break military discipline so disruptive that the service needs to be deprived of their talents?

I don’t think so. If the military can’t enforce something as basic as barracks discipline, are they even combat ready in the first place? If straight soldiers are so afraid of having a pass made at them, are they brave enough to face the enemy?

It’s time for straight men to man up. Fear of gays is for sissies.

Note: Please read the enlightening comment below (#1) by Iraq-war combat veteran, Brian Singer.

This article is Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.

Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Libertarian Ideals from the 2011 Anthem Film Festival! My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available free on the web linked from the official movie website. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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Mama Obama Cares About Your Health

The Mama Obama rolled out of bed, and she ran to the police station
When Obama found out, he began to shout, and he started the investigation
It’s against the law, it was against the law
What the mama saw, it was against the law.

French Fries Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama is the prettiest First Lady in close to half a century. She’s Jackie Kennedy with a better tan.

She’s got school-age kids, which makes her the Nation’s First Mama, too.

So when Michelle Obama addresses the NRA — in this case, the National Restaurant Association — on the topic of preventing childhood obesity leading to adult diseases like hypertension and Type-II Diabetes, she’s not speaking as a private citizen but as a mouthpiece for Big Daddy Obama, President of the United States of America. Proof: her speech is on the official White House Website — a Dot Gov.

I was a fat teenager. Now I’m a fat guy in his fifties. I was skinny in between but I could only fight the battle of the bulge for so long before Herr Hamburger got me in the gut.

These days — if Michelle Obama took a look at what I actually eat — it’s supposed to be pretty healthy. Dr. Atkins said beef, cheese, and eggs weren’t going to cause my cholesterol to rise — the problem was carbs. Old Doc Atkins must have been right because I haven’t cut back on red meat, cheese, or eggs and my cholesterol and blood pressure are right where they’re supposed to be, despite my being what’s called “morbidly obese.” I do suffer from Type II Diabetes, which means I severely restrict high-glycemic-index foods. I haven’t had a sugary soda in decades. The ice-cream I eat is sugar-free and low-fat. I’ve learned to like broccoli and cauliflower, cook with olive oil, don’t eat rice or pasta, seldom eat a potato, and even bread is a rare luxury.

So aside from her being less familiar with the health benefits of an Atkins’ diet than I am, I can’t find much to fault with Mama Obama’s suggestions to the restauranteurs that a lot of what they put on our plates is bad for our waistline.

Still, I wish Mama Obama would shut her damned pie hole. It’s no business of the White House what I eat and whether it’s bad for my health. I already have a mother of my own and I don’t need a surrogate mother in Washington D.C. trying to shove her health care down my throat. My own daughter ate Mac and Cheese off the children’s menus in countless restaurants and today — at age nineteen — she’s in such good shape with such impressive upper body strength she could kick the asses of the White House staff without breaking a sweat. defines totalitarianism as “Form of government that subordinates all aspects of its citizens’ lives to the authority of the state, with a single charismatic leader as the ultimate authority.”

What’s more personal than what we eat? Why is the First Lady using her official charisma to talk to restaurant owners at all, with the always-present veiled threat coming from the center of power that if you don’t do precisely what we want we’ll point guns at you until you do — using the swarm of bureaucrats at the FDA, Department of Agriculture, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and EPA as shock troops?

Eat what you want, babe. Feed your kids what you want. Tell the White House Chef to cook what you want. Order the Veggie Plate on Air Force One.

If I want your diet advice I’ll invite you to my table. Until then, I’m supersizing an order of fries in your name.

This article is Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.

My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Video On Demand. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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A Lazy Movie Reviewer Misses the Point to My Movie

Shot in Pahrump in 2006 and finally made available years later online, J. Neil Schulman’s Lady Magdalene’s already seems a little dated, with its storyline that relies strongly on references to 9/11 and Homeland Security (complete with heavy-handed conservative political commentary). The movie is an awkward combination of goofy comedy and political thriller, and neither element really works. The idea of an IRS agent (Keogh) having to take over a brothel because it’s in receivership for unpaid taxes is a potentially amusing one, but it’s quickly derailed by a larger plot about said agent foiling a terrorist plot with the help of the brothel’s employees. Add in incongruous (and terrible) musical numbers courtesy of Nichelle Nichols (best known as the original Star Trek’s Uhura) as the brothel’s madam, and you have a mess, albeit an occasionally amusing one.

–Josh Bell, Las Vegas Weekly, September 8, 2010

Cover of Las Vegas Weekly

I’m writing this on the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 al-Qaeda attacks. On the ruins of the World Trade Center today — nine years later — there is still a memorial ceremony reading off the names of almost 3,000 victims.

If I were to board a flight at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas today — or any other city’s airport — I’d have to take off my shoes, and I could be detained by agents of the Transportation Security Administration — a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — for possessing a long list of ordinary grooming items in my carry-on bags. There are No-Fly lists of people who have names similar to suspected terrorists who are not even allowed to board a commercial flight.

Today there are 94,000 American military personnel — and thousands more private contractors — mired in Afghanistan, which the United States invaded a month after the 9/11 attacks in response to the Taliban’s refusal to turn on its al-Qaeda allies.

I have long suspected that among the thousands of financial workers who died in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 were the brains who might have foreseen and prevented the economic meltdown of the United States economy seven years later.

In the past week there was a publicized controversy about a proposed burning of Qurans at a previously obscure church in Gainesville, Florida — a threat that wasn’t even carried out — yet it provoked demonstrations in Afghanistan and Pakistan in which American flags were burned and protesters shouted, “Death to the Christians!”

For weeks and weeks there has been a national debate about whether the religious freedoms of Muslims to worship at a proposed mosque to be erected near the ruins of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan trumps the emotional wounds of the families who lost loved ones due to New-York-hating Muslims.

Yet, Josh Bell — reviewing my movie Lady Magdalene’s in this past Thursday’s edition of Las Vegas Weekly — begins his review by writing “Shot in Pahrump in 2006 and finally made available years later online, J. Neil Schulman’s Lady Magdalene’s already seems a little dated, with its storyline that relies strongly on references to 9/11 and Homeland Security (complete with heavy-handed conservative political commentary).”

Is Josh Bell living in a cave? Doesn’t he own a TV set or a radio to catch the news once in a while? I know he has a computer with Internet access because it was his email to me that got him the review copy DVD of Lady Magdalene’s I sent him a couple of weeks back. So how can he think that a movie “that relies strongly on references to 9/11 and Homeland Security” is dated?

Even if “references to 9/11 and Homeland Security” were dated, so what? Was Gladiator of no interest to movie-goers because it relies strongly on references to the Roman Empire? Or was The Da Vinci Code boring to Josh Bell because it relies strongly on references to the Roman Catholic Church’s extermination of the Knights Templar?

I hate to descend to psychoanalysis of writers, but the parenthetical comment Josh Bell throws in — “complete with heavy-handed conservative political commentary” — reveals a hidden agenda. Las Vegas is a gambling town. I’ll put money on Josh Bell being left-of-center in his political views — and a movie that portrays al-Qaeda as bad guys — and federal agents as nice — strikes Josh Bell as “heavy-handed conservative political commentary.”

Never mind that Nichelle Nichols is a left-of-center Democrat who made sure nothing of the sort made it into the script before she agreed to take the starring role and be an executive producer on the movie … and the guy who wrote and directed the movie — me — is on the record opposing Neocons, suggesting that Israel is a lost cause as a Jewish homeland, wishing Americans never again put a drop of Middle Eastern oil into their cars, and calling President Obama’s one-upping President Bush’s war in Afghanistan Obama’s own “phony war.”

Never mind that my script shows the federal agents as being on a wild-goose-chase for most of the movie because they can’t think outside of a box — and the whole point to my plot is that the Feds get precisely nowhere until a prostitute at a legal Nevada brothel gives them the one clue they need to figure out what’s actually going on … and the Feds’ only chance of foiling the actual al-Qaeda plot is relying on the Madam of a Nevada brothel and her girls.

Never mind that Lady Magdalene’s, written and filmed in 2006, anticipated this news story published just yesterday:

A new report to be released later Friday says that in the nine years since the Sept. 11 attacks, the terrorist threat against the United States has fundamentally changed. The biggest threat is no longer coming from the dusty landscape of Afghanistan or the mountains of Pakistan border regions. Instead, experts say, the threat now comes from within our own borders, in the form of homegrown terrorists.

“A key shift in the past couple of years is the increasingly prominent role in planning and operations that U.S. citizens and residents have played in the leadership of al-Qaida and aligned groups, and the higher numbers of Americans attaching themselves to these groups,” a new report by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Preparedness Group says.

Did Josh Bell — who was supposed to be noting the value of locally-produced movies so he could tell his Las Vegas readers about them — bother noting that a Nevada-produced movie had beat out all of Hollywood by being the only feature film to date to center its plot on homegrown American al-Qaeda?


Merely choosing the ongoing conflict between Muslims who wish to put one of their own in the Oval Office and Americans who prefer not to live under a theocracy based out of Mecca — as the subject matter of a movie — is enough for a lazy movie reviewer to conclude he’s watching a commentary by Sean Hannity or Michelle Malkin.

Josh Bell missed the whole point of the movie.

Then — having concluded he’s watching Neocon propaganda — Josh Bell trashes everything else about Lady Magdalene’s … starting with my storytelling and ending with a cheap shot at one of the best musical performances Nichelle Nichols has given in a singing career launched by Duke Ellington, praised by Parisian music critics who compared her to Josephine Baker, and supported by the fabulous Rahn Coleman.

Then Josh Bell misses the rest of the Lady Magdalene’s musical soundtrack, with nine original songs, and classical violin by my dad, Julius Schulman.

Yeah, I know. Any minute I expect an email or comment posted here from Josh Bell, which inevitably will state something like this: “I’m an objective journalist with no hidden agenda and your movie just wasn’t good enough to get a better review from me.”

I’m willing to let the audience decide for themselves — starting with Nichelle Nichols’ singing “Rahab the Harlot” in the music video we put on YouTube:

If there’s a Razzie or Golden Turkey Award for movie reviewers, Josh Bell has one coming.

This article is Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.

Author’s Note, May 2, 2011: The day after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden in his secret lair in Abbottabad, Pakistan, I’ve posted a new article titled, “Oh Yeah, Josh?” which links to a video excerpt from Lady Magdalene’s in which “The Director of al-Qaeda Speaks.” Just to rub it in that shooting a movie in 2006 set in the historical aftermath of 9/11 is neither dated nor uninteresting to moviegoers even in 2011, 2012, 2013 ….
–J. Neil Schulman

My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available as a DVD on and for sale or rental on Instant Video. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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Stop the Quran Burning — Compost It!

But let me be clear: as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Christians have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to burn a Quran on private property in Florida, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable.

OK, that’s not what President Obama actually said. The President was actually talking about Americans being tolerant of building a Muslim religious center and mosque near Ground Zero in New York City, to be named “Cordoba” after an historic Muslim defeat of Christians.

I’m sensing a double standard. Christians need to be tolerant of Muslims practicing their religion — but Muslims can stick their fingers in the eyes of Christians and Christians are just supposed to offer the other eye?

The proposed “International Burn a Koran Day” planned by Pastor Terry Jones (no relation to the Monty Python) planned for September 11, 2010, by Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville (no relation to the Gaines who founded Mad Magazine) Florida has provoked a firestorm of protest — literally. An Associated Press news story tells us that “Hundreds of angry Afghans burned an American flag and chanted ‘Death to the Christians’ to protest the planned burning of Islam’s holiest text.”

Yep. When I think of demonstrations in support of religious tolerance, burning an American flag and shouting “Death to the Christians!” was the picture I had in mind.

Afghanis burn American flag

Meanwhile, the Vatican, President Obama, General Petraeus, and Sarah Palin have all condemned the proposed Quran burning. Now there’s a hands-across-the-water that only Pastor Jones could have given us.

Of course the Pastor’s religious freedom is sort of shaky. Four FBI agents visited his church today. Now that’s not at all chilling of the First Amendment, is it?

Fine, fine, fine.

It strikes me that if Iran can bend Sharia law by proposing to hang an adulteress instead of stoning her to death, Pastor Jones should likewise show his Christian tolerance — and his patriotism — by composting the Quran instead of burning it.

Hey, Ellen Page — got a problem with that?

This article is Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.

My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Video On Demand. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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