OCON Cleveland, like OCON Pittsburgh and OCON Chicago, makes the most of its centrality of venue and location. I think today’s audiences are art-deprived, as I’ve written. So this year’s arts theme, pegged to the anniversary of a collection of Ayn Rand’s arts and literature essays, undoubtedly helps.
The best aspect of the conference is its venue, the Hilton Cleveland Downtown, which was built for the 2016 Republican National Convention (read my review here). Overall, the sponsoring Ayn Rand Institute’s best conferences in terms of the whole experience are the ones held in mid-American cities. OCON Cleveland squandered the opportunity to capitalize on the history of the location, unfortunately. There were no lectures on John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil, for instance, or other obvious Objectivism tie-ins. Tours of Cleveland are another missed opportunity.
OCON increasingly tends to be oriented to a lighter, less intellectual and educational and more social experience, so this is not surprising. Gone are the deep dive courses of yesteryear, when I could delve into details, nuances and aspects of my favorite artists such as Hitchcock, Hugo and Hawks. In Chicago, I studied Aristotle with an Aristotelian scholar for several sessions. In Cleveland, the same scholar was reduced to a single session.
I’ve heard it said that “young people” are to blame. I don’t accept it. Certainly, I think it’s true that the incessant and ubiquitous technology glut often depletes or mitigates one’s ability to focus. But offering less is a self-fulfilling prophecy. OCON ought to offer deeper, longer and more serious studies with streamlined teaching. Not in fragments that often turn into advertisements for whatever the speaker’s selling. There were too many ads, or plugs disguised as something other than ads, for my money at this year’s OCON. Let the trader principle play out and have an Austen Heller room in which to showcase, mix and trade. Also, the full schedule ought to be announced and advertised in advance, not doled out in spurts as if prospective customers are inclined to act on a whim.
Here are other criticisms: no greeting, let alone orientation, at conference registration — an announcement of the death of a prominent Objectivist intellectual mentioned as an aside (which turned out to be false and was retracted without apology) — and the worst part: an intellectual who’d denounced Leonard Peikoff was admitted and is sanctioned by the ARI, which is unfortunate.
Visiting and making new friends is a top value. I gained the highest value at OCON Cleveland in the lessons on bacteriophages (with a nod to Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis), PrEP, the scourge of mosquitos, CAR-T, Rachel Carson and CRISPR by the brilliant if breathless Dr. Amesh Adalja — behaviorism and Ivan Pavlov — Christianity’s dubious origins — interesting advice with cogent thoughts on Bob Dylan and criticism of being “inquisitorial” within the context of what the speaker calls personal, as against optional, values — and a lecture on Aristotle with insight into Rand’s thoughts on his philosophy of art.
Though I was unable to attend several major lectures and courses, I enjoyed Shoshana Milgram’s newest work on the splendor of Victor Hugo and I would’ve liked to have seen Dr. Milgram, an English literature professor and Rand’s biographer, on the arts panels. My personal favorite presentation was Stephen Siek’s marvelous, two-part lecture about and biographical introduction to Sergei Rachmaninoff, whose struggle, work and life are as larger than life, passionate and inspiring as his music. This type of mini-course makes OCON uniquely enriching. OCON ought to let those who attend be greedy for more.
This is my fifth year of delivering writing and media adult instruction in Southern California. I’m pleased to announce a new summer series in both Writing Boot Camp and Maximizing Social Media. I enjoy teaching the courses, which I created to foster practicing virtue in media and writing. Recently, I extended an offer to my ‘alumni’ to attend private networking mixers near Burbank’s movie studios. This week, I will share details of my recent literary agency representation.
Recent developments integrate the lessons from both courses; specifically, my thesis in Maximizing Social Media that one must commit, create and cash in using today’s media to advance one’s self-interest. Writing Boot Camp‘s thesis is the same idea in reverse; that the writer must devote himself to the writing process and to being explicitly social in disseminating his work.
Details of my discovery by a literary agent prove that both approaches yield results.
In the meantime, I’m happy to report that I recently interviewed one of my favorite filmmakers. Stand by for details on my exclusive interview with the director of Paramount Pictures’ Grease, Randal Kleiser, in Hollywood. We talked about his new virtual reality series, his stories for television, including episodes of The Rookies and Marcus Welby, M.D., as well as his movies The Blue Lagoon and Summer Lovers, a new book on Grease, his studies at the University of Southern California (USC) and working with the late Patrick Swayze. Mr. Kleiser is an amazing man of ability. What a privilege to meet and interview one of Hollywood’s best directors.
I’m currently writing articles about new books, events and old movies, including this season’s 10th annual Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. The annual festival celebrated the 25th anniversary of Turner Classic Movies with a visit from Cable News Network (CNN), TBS and TCM founder Ted Turner.
So, look for new analyses of Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah (1949) and James Stewart in Winchester ’73 (1950) as well as a roundup of last week’s events. I also plan to write an analysis of the motion picture version of Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel, Gone With the Wind, starring Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable and Hattie McDaniel.
Seeing David O. Selznick’s production of Gone With the Wind (1939), directed by Victor Fleming, on screen at Grauman’s Chinese Theater for the first time, I found the movie simply brilliant and astonishing. The epic remains powerful, vibrant and penetrating. This time, watching with an appreciative audience of hundreds, I noticed new aspects. I discovered new insights. Seeing the remarkable four-hour movie again, this time inside the grand Chinese Theater, made me want to re-read the novel, which is better than the movie. That I saw the movie which initiated Turner Classic Movies 25 years to the day after the breakthrough channel’s debut was the ideal way to honor what TCM does, is and means at its best.
I never know who’s going to sign up for my communications courses.
Last semester, I was pleasantly surprised when one of my former Los Angeles Times colleagues, an award-winning photojournalist, enrolled in my course on social media.
“I want to let you know that I’ve enjoyed the class tremendously, and I sure learned a lot…,” the student wrote to me after the course finished. “Thanks a million!” The pleasure was mine. In her case, connecting, re-connecting and deepening familial relations was a major goal for studying how to advance her grasp and mastery of social media. Others seek fulfillment of goals to make money, start a business or switch to a new career.
Helping each student reach a goal is its own reward.
Besides professional social media managers, screenwriters and entertainment industry executives, I’ve had doctors, engineers and lawyers enroll in the course, which now includes membership in my alumni network. We gather with my Writing Boot Camp students and alumni from time to time for social meeting, mixing and networking.
Young and old adults alike enroll in classes, which often include Hollywood cast, crew and, sometimes, those considered by some to be screen legends, including an Oscar-winning makeup artist and the actress who served as model for the animated character Tinkerbell in Walt Disney’s 1953 classic Peter Pan. This year marks five years since I created the course, which I made to show why one’s self-interest drives successful social media.
The social media courses run during a few months in wifi-ready classrooms on a campus near Bob Hope Airport. I coach writing, editing and marketing to students at Burbank Adult School, providing step-by-step instruction with my Writing Boot Camp, also in its fifth academic year.
My writing course features in-depth study of literary works, including poems, short stories and essays by Darwin, Rand, Kipling, Angelou and Bradbury and, of course, detailed analysis and feedback on student writing.
This fall, my media course returns in Burbank, Southern California’s Media City, with a new focus. Originally conceived as a workshop for predominantly self-employed artists in LA’s mid-Wilshire district, the 10-week course on social media functions as a media self-defense kit. I’ve re-formulated what was once a tutorial on essential ideas for general social media for branding, purposing and self-defense.
The Maximizing Social Media theme that rational social media is created, used and applied as the means to the end of one’s selfish pursuit of happiness remains. This means that students create, examine and discuss profiles, posts and campaigns on sites, apps and technology such as Tinder, Instagram and Snapchat as well as Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Quora and Facebook. I also instruct the class in the origins of each company and impetus for startup in addition to success and acquisition, so a company’s motives, potential conflicts of interest and record of privacy also get attention, from Microsoft, Lynda.com and LinkedIn to Comcast, NBC Universal and Snapchat, for instance. But it’s not a business class, so one’s personal and professional profile and development come first.
This is why I’ve come to appreciate social media as a tool for self-defense. Bearing in mind the privacy implications of any among today’s tech tools, which is an important caveat (Edward Snowden advises against using Facebook at all, for instance), media which is social in purpose and origin can buttress one’s values, arguments, body of work, reputation and philosophy. Reasons why this might become necessary are rapidly changing in today’s world, thanks to changes in technology, work and the culture. Today’s dominant or trending catastrophe, fact or news cycle can be tonight’s opportunity for advancement, management of expectation or aversion of unwanted attention. I’ll engage students in this new exercise for the first time this fall in Maximizing Social Media. (Get details and register online for my Maximizing Social Media and Writing Boot Camp courses here).
Writing Boot Camp returns, too. With emphasis on my seven-step writing process, the 10-week course affords opportunities for each student to think, formulate, re-think, finalize, detail, research, draft, edit and read aloud new pieces of writing. Then, the student gets feedback. It’s called boot camp for a reason, so I engage the student in a serious endeavor to think hard and for longer periods than many of today’s adults may be accustomed to and there’s enough practice, repetition and participation to undergird what’s learned and gained.
Students also read, break down and study excerpts, stories and great works of literature. Among the short stories, articles, essays, authors and poems past boot camp enrollees have evaluated for topic, theme, research and outline are Berton Braley, “The Lottery”, Charles Darwin, Invictus, Maya Angelou, The Early Ayn Rand, Rudyard Kipling, Leanita McClain, “The Last Leaf” by O. Henry, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and science fiction by Ray Bradbury (as well as some of my own unpublished short stories, blog posts and LA Times articles).
One of my recent boot camp “alumni” members, who enrolled and attended both of my courses, was employed by a Burbank studio as a talent scout. She recently announced on LinkedIn that she’s now a literary agent. Other past students have been published in poetry and story collections, do standup comedy and pitch pilots, movies and series to studios. Students have also been peace officers seeking to write clearer reports, lawyers, businessmen, immigrants studying English and entrepreneurs.
Next month’s course includes a new lesson integrating what I’ve learned from my 30 years of freelance writing. But, really, the whole Writing Boot Camp cashes in on that subject.
If these courses sound interesting, I invite readers to come to Southern California and attend the courses at the Henry Mingay campus near Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport. Class size is small and intimate. Tuition is low, thanks to Burbank Adult School, which pays for these courses entirely through the fees. Also, feel free to tell others and share this post, tag me on Pinterest, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and spread the word. Classes accept waiting lists when capacity is reached and I’m happiest teaching to a full classroom, so if you’re unable to attend, help me fill each class.
Last year’s best movie, Lionsgate’s La La Land, debuted in certain theaters a year ago next week and, though I’ve parenthetically included the movie in my blog’s first Christmas gift guide, I have also added a link to buy the DVD. With the director, whose first film, Whiplash, garnered interest and recently announced that he’s making a new movie about the Apollo 11 landing of man on the moon, I think the musically-themed 2016 movie warrants serious consideration.
La La Land is a spirited and stimulating depiction of America’s pioneering individualism in general, and of Southern California’s productiveness, resilience and can-do youthfulness in particular, with songs by the team that composed this year’s hit musical, Dear Evan Hansen (and this month’s upcoming The Greatest Showman). Emma Stone (Aloha, Battle of the Sexes) and Ryan Gosling (The Ides of March, Blade Runner 2049) co-star as the young, ambitious artists of ability. I know others disagree whether the movie’s any good. Nevertheless, I am confident that La La Land deserves honest appraisal as a great film.
A new center for the study of Los Angeles opened this year at Occidental College in Eagle Rock. Earlier this year, I was asked by the local edition of the LA Times to report on the academy, so I went to the campus where Terry Gilliam, Ben Affleck, Jack Kemp and Barack Obama once took college classes and met and interviewed the director. I previously posted about the assignment this summer. In a wide-ranging discussion, we discussed the history of the humanities college, which was founded by Christians, the region and the ethos of Southern California. The director, a son of two college professors, told me about his own background, from a childhood in Alabama to living in downtown LA. I’ve added the article, which was published in the Los Angeles Times, to the archives here.
This week alone, there’s been an editorial purge at the Los Angeles Times, the Village Voice announced an end to its print publication and fan favorite and self-proclaimed feminist filmmaker Joss Whedon was arguably smeared by an essay written by his ex-wife in the pages of … the San Francisco Chronicle, a trending tidbit which caused his online fan group to totally disband within hours of publication. With today’s fast-moving media developments, including the President’s Tweets, Facebook’s new video platform and LinkedIn under Microsoft, being media savvy requires study and contemplation.
Balancing, integrating and making the best of today’s media is the focus of my fall social media course. Lessons include: fundamental features, safeguarding and managing your reputation, planning for the long term across multiple platforms, pitfalls and putting visuals into a proper context. We work through several different scenarios and, using past and current examples, role-play and practice various drills. The premise is producing media in one’s self-interest.
The 10-week course, Maximizing Social Media, runs from 6PM, Monday, September 11th through November 13th at Burbank Adult School’s San Fernando Valley campus near Bob Hope Airport. Besides basic tutorials, visual presentations, demonstrations of various sites, apps, tools and content, every student gets an opportunity to test, examine and evaluate his social media presence and production. Space is limited (and last semester’s waiting list was long), however, so it’s best to register early to reserve a seat in class.
My writing course tends to fill up, too, and I’m planning to invite more published authors as guest lecturers this fall. Generally, Writing Boot Camp includes adult students that write for work and as screenwriters — one writer in this summer’s class came in with what he described as writer’s block and now reports on my ‘alumni’ Facebook page that he’s writing and outlining a new movie script — studio script readers, actors, comedians, studio executives, talent scouts, managers and agents as well as coaches, instructors, published authors and others.
The series is an immersion in the writing process as a progression in six key steps. Students read their work aloud in an analytical, encouraging and purposeful class. As the instructor, I read and examine each student’s writing, offering notes, suggestions and feedback. Additionally, each student who completes my 10-week Writing Boot Camp earns admission to my closed writing group on Facebook, a networking and productivity center for tips and leads on publishing and production and literary, entertainment industry and other opportunities, resources and related events such as the LA Times Festival of Books and TCM Classic Film Festival.
Maximizing Social Media is a relaxed, exhaustive series covering essential media brand management. Lessons include how to foster an enduring social network. Every class features visual display or demonstration, as well as opportunities for guided instruction and screenshots. Register online for Maximizing Social Media here. The 10-part Writing Boot Camp takes place this fall at the same campus.