Category Archives: Culture, Arts and Popcorn

Do you want it to be good, or do you want it to be yours?

A speechwriting lesson from House of Cards

I’m (finally) watching the convention episode (“Chapter 48”) of season 4 of House of Cards. And early on, there’s a great exchange between a new speechwriter and the pair of writers who’ve been with the Underwoods from the beginning.

They complain about his revisions to the convention speech: “You changed everything we wrote.”

“There was no imagination to it,” he says. “No rhythm.”

They counter, “We’ve been writing their speeches since they took office. We know what we’re doing.”

And he replies — devastatingly — “Well, do you want it to be good, or do you want it to be yours?”

It’s kind of a rotten management style, but it’s a great TV moment. And as advice goes, it’s every bit as important to heed as it is hard to swallow.

As speechwriters, we care about words. Our liveliest work often comes because we’ve dug deep and found a primal emotional connection to it.

But if that work doesn’t work for our clients — if it isn’t in their voice, or isn’t true to their message — then it’s our job to scrap it. And (maybe even more painful) if someone else comes along with something that works better, then it’s also our job to set ego aside and use that instead.

The speaker is the one who has to own those words, imbue them with life and answer for them later on. (And speakers have to do the same thing, by the by. If they’re in love with an anecdote or turn of phrase that doesn’t serve the speech well, they have a responsibility to turf it, too.)

House of Cards gets it absolutely right. The moment you realize the speech you’re writing for a client isn’t yours, the moment you surrender ownership and embrace working in service to the speaker, message and audience… that’s the moment your speech turns toward being good.

The (drawing) pen is mightier than the contract

This is my favourite news story in a long time. At a concert last Saturday in Quebec City, the Foo Fighters demanded that news photographers sign a contract allowing news outlets to print their photos exactly once, after which over all rights to those photos would pass to the band’s management company. Photographers would never see another dime, or even necessarily get credit.

Oh, and according to Global News, Foo Fighters’ management had the right to nix any photos before publication.

So how did Quebec City newspaper Le Soleil respond? Continue reading

Putting Your Best Foot Forward

Self-promotion for comic artists: insights from the VanCAF panel

Last weekend’s Vancouver Comic Arts Festival was pretty much everything I’d hoped for, with one predictable exception: getting to exhibit for the first time meant missing a lot of terrific panels.

But thanks to some terrific and talented neighbours (Nikkie and Cam Woo, Alex Steacy and Patrick Wong), I was able to leave my patch of table to catch one panel I’d found particularly interesting: Best Foot Forward: Promoting Your Comics and Yourself.

Animated by Lucy Bellwood, the session offered advice and insight from Kel McDonald, Shannon LeClerc and Ken Steacy (Alex’s dad, as it turns out!)

Lucy has posted the session online, which is terrific – not only for comic artists, but for anybody thinking about how to better promote themselves and their work.

And if you’re the kind of person who needs something to look at while they listen, well, my friend, have I got the sketchnotes for you:

And speaking of self-promotion… there’s still a little merchandise left over from the festival! I’ll be posting shortly about a few STAGGERING DEALS that could be yours at STARTLINGLY LOW PRICES. (Cartoonists hate him! Vancouver man’s weird trick puts humorous cartoons right into your hands!!)

Interesting Vancouver

Interesting Vancouver: November 7

I’m going to be one of several folks on stage on November 7 at Interesting Vancouver. Check out this lineup:

  • A seven foot tall drag queen obsessed with bingo
  • An indigenous multidisciplinary artist working to reverse the decline of Squamish language speakers
  • A soft-spoken senior with a passion for photographing punk rock shows
  • A 14 year old national champion YoYo-er
  • A speech writer and communications specialist who is a closet cartoonist
  • A composer who heals people through improvised music as they lay under his pian
  • A mechanical engineer turned clown who has the balls to live a professional life of PLAY!
  • A genderqueer youth who dabbles; from roller derby to making ukuleles to transforming t-shirts
  • Canada’s first Sikh commanding officer who passionately believes in the ripple effect
  • An engineer who went from making microscopic brain implants to two story tall racing robots
  • A popular film and TV actress who credits Vipassana meditation for saving her life
  • A paramedic/magician/artist who will change your life before you leave the room

Come on out! Tickets are just $25, and with folks like these, you can expect to surpass interesting and hit downright fascinating.

SFU Woodward’s
Goldcorp Centre for the Arts
149 W Hastings Street
Vancouver, British Columbia V6B 1H4
Friday, November 7, 2014 from 6:00 PM to 11:00 PM (PST)


You are cordially invited to come see me make jokes

Comedy sensei David Granirer has teamed with Vancouver comic Al Hassam to launch a new open mic night Wednesdays at La Fontana Caffe. It debuts tonight.

And I’ll be hitting their stage for a set at their October 15th show, to which you are cordially invited. It starts at 7:30 pm. There’s no cover charge, and the venue (on Hastings Street at Boundary) gets a lot of love on Yelp.

Book your free seat now at 604-298-4004. See you there! Continue reading

A truly thorough takedown (and a little personal honesty)

It’s impossible not to compare John Oliver to Jon Stewart. My take on his guest-hosting The Daily Show stint was that he actually delivers a more cogent, sophisticated and nuanced rant than Jon Stewart, and that’s still the case now that he’s at HBO with Last Week Tonight. Witness this blistering (and funny) attack on FIFA. And I love that his conclusion acknowledges the ambivalence so many of us face, torn between our love of sport or culture, and our revulsion at the ethical sewer that often lies just underneath.

Correction: there is no “CSI: Sesame Street”

CSI: Sesame Street - Brought to you by the letters D O & AOwing to an inadvertent and unfortunate combination of prescription and over-the-counter medications, our TV columnist’s last “Best Picks for Kids This Week” column contained several errors. To clarify:

  • There are no television shows entitled “Real Housewives of Busytown” or “CSI: Sesame Street.”
  • The latest season of “Curious George” did not end on a cliffhanger episode in which George contracts rabies and barricades himself in the cottage with a terrified Allie, concluding with a grief-stricken Man in the Yellow Hat quietly telling Wint Quint to “take the shot.”
  • Martin Kratt did not lick a cane toad. Nor did he activate a creature power suit using Kodiak bear DNA, black out for half an hour, and then come to only to discover Chris missing and the Tortuga awash in gore.
  • The Super Readers are a group of friends and not an elite paramilitary strike team, and there is no impending coup d’état in Storybrook Village. We categorically disavow the opinion that “the power to help” is “a sop thrown to the sheeple to distract them from Whyatt’s naked New World Order ambitions.”
  • Poko‘s ability to create things out of thin air by drawing them with his finger may be viewed as either magic or the product of his vivid child-like imagination. It does not to the best of our knowledge denote affiliation with Satan.
  • There is no “hidden feature on every school bus” that will summon Ms. Frizzle and activate its Magic School Bus capabilities if the emergency exit is opened while the bus is moving at 45 MPH or faster.

We apologize for any inconvenience.

(For more accurate guidance on kids’ TV and other children’s media, may we recommend Common Sense Media?)

Cartoon-blogging Cory Doctorow and William Gibson

Here are my notes from Saturday’s event with Cory Doctorow in conversation with William Gibson. (I attended with Dave Eaves, which meant I got to experience two terrific conversations that afternoon.) The hour and a half ranged over everything from the First-World problems of book tours to American gun culture — and of course intellectual property and those who use it to stifle the exchange of ideas and creativity.

The full-size version is 1,600 glorious pixels wide. Just click this smaller one to see the whole thing:

Sketchnotes from Cory Doctorow and William Gibson in conversation at the Vancouver Writers Festival

Quick footnotes:

  1. Many thanks to the Vancouver Writers Fest, one of the great things about living in this city.
  2. Leading with big faces is a bold move for a man who can’t actually caricature. Any resemblance to the actual individuals is purely fortuitous.
  3. July 1982: I bought a copy of Omni Magazine and read “Burning Chrome,” and I don’t think I’ve really recovered from it, nor do I want to. Thirty years ago.
  4. Cory Doctorow’s latest book is Pirate Cinema, and it’s part of the amazing Humble Bundle of e-books. It’s a staggering good value. I’m off to buy it.