Go See “Inside Out”!

July 20th, 2015

If you have not yet seen “Inside Out” – go. I’ve seen it twice now, and I think I could easily see it another dozen times and continue to find new layers of nuance, wit, and beauty.

inside-out6

I’ve written extensively on the topic of chronic physical illness. This is an important topic to me for many reasons, one of which is that chronic physical illness is something of a taboo in our culture. And yet I find that mental illness is even more stigmatized, and the idea that people can just “snap out” of something like depression is horrifyingly pervasive.

“Inside Out” is a fantastic and endearingly nuanced way to introduce children to the concept of depression, which unfortunately so many of them will have to deal with later in life. Some of them may be going through it already, and they deserve the knowledge from day one that it isn’t trivial, and it isn’t their fault.

The kids in my life loved this movie, but if anything, adults appreciate it even more. Most of the people I’ve spoken to have received the gifts of this movie’s themes on an extremely personal and cathartic level.

I have much more I’d like to write about this movie, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers. So perhaps a part two will follow sometime soon. In the meantime, if you haven’t already – go see “Inside Out”!!

A Tribute to James Horner

July 7th, 2015

Last week, I was devastated to learn of the untimely death of James Horner, an extraordinarily prolific film composer, and my personal favorite composer since I was twelve years old.

James Horner

Second only to John Williams, James Horner is likely the most well-known film composer of all time. And even if you do not know the name of James Horner, you are most certainly familiar with his music. “My Heart Will Go On” from his hauntingly beautiful Titanic score. “Somewhere Out There” from An American Tail. The scores to hundreds of films, including Braveheart, A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, and Avatar. James Horner’s music blended the hauntingly ethereal with the emotionally available, creating scores that brought me and millions of others movie and music fans to another level, and often another world.

The goal of the film composer is to walk the delicate line between serving the visual story and existing independently – between guiding an emotional journey and not being noticed. I can’t think of a single composer who mastered this line better than James Horner. I have loved every single film that he composed – and yet in every case, I discovered the soundtrack months, and more often years later. Yet the themes were there, latent in my subconscious, so that when I listened to these albums for the first time, it was with a sense of blissful familiarity.

There is one notable instance where James Horner failed in maintaining this balance – a failure that led to the creation of what I believe to be the most beautiful piece of music ever written. When composing the score for Avatar, James Horner wrote a piece called “Night Iridescence” (have a listen below; note how he introduces the simple theme in an ethereal Dorian mode, and how this same theme re-enters with incomparable beauty, driven by the soaring melody and accompanying chimes, at 1:53.

If you watch Avatar, however, you will notice that the aforementioned segment is not in the movie. The story goes that this piece of music was so good that it needed to be taken out of the film, and replaced with something less noticeable. “Night Iridescence” was distracting from the visuals of Avatar; quite an accomplishment, as Avatar pioneered the use of visual mastery never before seen on film. And yet James Horner’s music was more powerful. The piece was taken out of the film, and moved to the menu of the DVD instead. And of course, it is on the soundtrack, where even now, on probably my 1,000th listen, I still get chills.

The world of film and music will be different without James Horner, and all the scores he was yet to write. But I am so grateful for the hours upon hours of musical legacy that he has left behind, for the inspiration I have received from his music, and fpr the countless times that his work has brought me comfort and calm. I would like to say that in his memory I will be setting my Pandora station to him, but honestly, I already do that more days than not. So if you feel so inclined, I would urge you to do so yourself, and experience firsthand the beauty of James Horner’s music.

Rest in peace, James Horner – and thank you for your many, many gifts.

New Parody Video: “Clorox Urine Remover: Fake Infomercial (Real Product!)

October 18th, 2014

I’m thrilled to announce the release of my new parody about…well, it’s pretty self explanatory.

This video is probably one of the crazier things I’ve ever done (which, between you and me, is saying something), and was written, directed, and scored by me. It also marks my first collaboration with Felicia D’Ascanio, a phenomenal photographer who co-directed this sketch with me. I am thrilled to add her to the team, and hope this will be the first of many exciting collaborations in the future!

Speaking of which: I’ve just set up a donate button on the front page of www.michaelbihovsky.com, specifically to help fund these videos, which do take a whole lot of time and expense. The ideas are endless – the sky (and our budget’s) the only limit. So if you’d like to see more videos, please help us out! And of course, don’t forget to share this new video with all your friends, family, and those CIA agents disguised as your neighbors.

A City of Light – September 11, 2014

September 11th, 2014

In a city of light, two narrow white beams pierce the night sky above the southern skyline – just as thirteen years ago, two columns of black smoke darkened the most beautiful blue sky I have ever seen.

There is no other day in my life that I remember so vividly as September 11th, 2001. Not just images, but videos play over in my mind. It was my second week of high school when the world as I knew it changed.

In the weeks that followed, I saw things that I had never seen before. My father took me to the World Trade Center, where a pile of dirt and rubble had replaced the iconic towers that had always marked our trips to New York. I saw grief, anger, and confusion. But I saw something else as well.

I saw a truly united nation. As my friends and I held a car wash to help raise money for the United Way, I proudly waved an American flag along Lancaster Avenue in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. The cars that passed rolled down their windows and cheered, and honked in triumph, in mourning, and in solidarity.

There were no Democrats. There were no Republicans. There were only Americans – and I was, and remain, so proud to be one of them.

Planes, Pains, and Minty Asphyxiation

August 25th, 2014

So here’s a fun horror story, presented to you by American Airlines:

Yesterday I was flying out of O’Hare Airport, on my way to Minnesota. I was on an American Airlines flight, but not really. It was one of those smaller airplanes that the major airlines use for flights where no one in their right minds would want to go. You know, like Minnesota.

Short of my model airplane hobby as a kid, this was the smallest plane I had ever seen. I was waiting for a dozen clowns to pop out of it. I literally could not have lay down horizontally on this plane (which eventually I would have been more than happy to do).

It all started at the gate, when the desk attendant told us to board the plane – or at least, that’s what I think she said. To quote, verbatim:

“Guf abdanun labesan gendle. We willnobordinz onen.”

Everyone looked at each other blankly. The attendant got annoyed, and repeated, loudly:

“WE WILLNOBORDINZ ONEN!!”

“Did you catch that?” I asked a friendly looking elderly woman.

“If that woman is speaking English,” she replied in a delightful British accent, “then I’m a Dutchman.”

Uncertainly, we boarded the plane, the desk attendant giving us the evil eye. As it turned out, we probably should have stayed put, because shortly after we got on board the pilot announced that the air conditioning unit was broken, and that the cabin pressurization wouldn’t work without it, causing us to – you know – die. They needed to call maintenance. “The pilot says it should be about fifteen or twenty minutes,” the flight attendant told us, adding that it was her first day.

An hour later, maintenance showed up. Now seems like a good time to mention that during this hour, I had accidentally swallowed a sour cream and onion potato chip whole, and it had caught in my throat. My throat hardened and inflamed painfully, and remained that way while we sat in an unairconditioned plane in 84 degree weather.

But I digress. Maintenance finally arrived, and accessed the problem via the seat in front of me. It turned out that the blame lay with a metal spring, which, over the course of events, had ceased being a spring and apotheosized into a long piece of flacid metal.

“How the hell have they been flying?” one of the maintenance guys asked the other.

Nothing like a touch of confidence.

Maintenance went away to look for a replacement spring, and didn’t come back or return calls for about an hour. Finally, the pilot managed to get a hold of them, and he filled us in on the good news:

“Well,” he started (this is never a good start), “maintenance went back to their warehouse, and unfortunately they don’t have a spare part. But they think they might be able to come up with another temporary fix.”

‘Duct tape?’ I wondered.

The pilot continued. “There aren’t any spare planes, unfortunately. There might be one coming in about an hour, but we’re not sure. I think this temporary fix is our best bet, but then again, I’ve been wrong about everything else.” I swear to God, he said this.

Now some of you might be wondering: “Shouldn’t they have let you off the plane while they dealt with all this?” I would encourage anyone who wondered this to please go apply for a job at American Airlines. They could use minds like yours.

So back came maintenance – this is now two hours after we boarded – equipped with the ultimate power tool: an iPhone. They snapped a picture of the problem and sent it back to their office, to get their opinion on whether or not this fix would actually work. Apparently they got a “yes,” or at least a “maybe,” because whatever it was, they did it.

The pilot came back into the loudspeaker. “The maintenance guys are just filling out some paperwork,” he said. (“We hereby deny all liability for the forthcoming flight, or for that matter that we are even certified maintenance men.”) And then came the big moment:

“Welcome to American Airlines,” they said. Which is what finally pissed me off. What kind of a host welcomes you two and a half hours after you get there? Manners cost nothing.

We got treated to the usual: the weather (hot); the air time (roughly one third of the time we’d already been on the plane); the safety lecture (the first time in my life I gave it my undivided attention).

And then, like a majestic bird, we…stayed put.

“Well,” said the pilot. “Another plane just landed and parked behind us, and now we can’t get out.

…?

I used the additional time to text my mother what was going on. She totally flipped out, but I reassured her that there was probably only a 30% chance we’d asphyxiate.

And then, at last: we were off. And all seemed fine, until we reached our first cloud, and water started seeping through the ceiling, accompanied by an inexplicably minty smell. Fortunately, I love mint, and it struck me that it would probably be my first choice of odors to die to.

The flight attendant came rushing to fix the problem, bumping into all the seats on the way (it was her first day!). She carried a secret weapon: napkins!

‘Napkins?!’ I thought. ‘How about a parachute???’

But the rest of the trip went just fine, and I don’t appear to have suffered any lasting brain damageudnnsgsyxd. We landed in an airport with a grand total of two TSA guards, which is fine, because my feeling is that anyone who wants to blow up Minnesota is probably justified.

Hi Minnesota! It’s great to be back.

In Memory of Robin Williams… My First Hero

August 12th, 2014

When I was 11 years old and first discovered that I wanted to be an actor, there was one man I admired beyond any other. One man I wanted to be when I grew up. That man was Robin Williams.

Robin Williams as the adult Peter Pan in "Hook"

Robin Williams as the adult Peter Pan in “Hook”

Robin was my first hero. Aside from my closest friends and family, there was no one more consistently in my life than he was. Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Popeye, Jumanji, Hook…These movies weren’t just the happy foundation of my childhood. They were on constant repeat as I drank in the glorious talent, joy, wonder, and commitment of Robin Williams. In happy times, Robin’s movies were something to study, and emulate. And in troubled times, these same movies were places I could turn to for escape and elation. As I witnessed what Robin did for me, I made a very conscious decision that I wanted to do that same thing for other people. That same dream keeps me going to this day.

As I got older, I also got to know Robin through his standup comedy, which I was listening to just hours before I got the horrible news of Robin’s death. Robin is best known for his manic transitions in and out of characters and accents (something I began replicating at a very early age), but much of his comedy was extremely dark. But Robin was able to use this darkness, to put it out for display without shame or censorship, so that his struggles could become the world’s laughter. I am inspired that Robin Williams, like so many comedians, was able to use his pain and create something good out of it for millions upon millions of people around the world. But I am so very sad that this same pain became too much for him.

Depression is a disease. Robin’s may have taken his life by his own hand, but in reality he died of a disease that society just doesn’t take seriously until it is too late. But even so, there is more to this story.

Robin Williams’ wife just revealed that in addition to his substantial psychological struggles, Robin was also beginning to experience the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease – something he had not yet felt ready to share with the public.

Depression and addiction recovery are hard enough on their own…add on top of that a serious physical disease that is 100% guaranteed to get worse? The scenario strikes a deep chord with me, and I am profoundly sad.

I’m sad because I wish we lived in a universe where people’s mental and physical states were solely a reflection of their own acts and choices. I’m sad that a man who probably made more people laugh than anyone else who has ever lived was not allowed to be happy. I’m sad because of the cruel irony that a man who virtually never stopped moving would have been permanently stuck in a state of uncontrollable movement.

What an unimaginably difficult fate to live with…and though I wish with all my heart that Robin’s mind would have allowed him the hope to persevere, to become inspirational on an entirely new level – how could anyone possibly blame him for his choice?

I just wish that these weren’t the choices. More than anything, that’s what I wish.

I never got to meet Robin. My sadness is of course nothing compared to the friends and family who knew and loved him. But I’m sure going to miss him too. I think we all will.

Thank you, Robin – for changing my life, and for making this world a happier place to live in. It truly won’t be the same without you.

Announcing www.OneGrainMore.com!

April 7th, 2013

Hi all! I’m very excited to announce the release of a new website, www.OneGrainMore.com! We’ve put together all the behind-the-scenes info you could want on the film, including commentaries, cast and crew bios, press, behind-the-scenes photos, and much more! Be sure to check it out, and to send it on to anyone who craves more info on the project (cravings are common in food allergy land).

Enjoy, and happy spring!

-Michael

Les Misérables: A Way-Too-Detailed Movie Review (No spoilers!)

December 25th, 2012

It was with tremendous excitement and years of waiting that I entered the movie theater today to see my favorite show up on the screen for the first time.

 

Overall, my position on this movie is right in the middle, leaning toward it being very good. But it isn’t that I’m indifferent: Rather, it’s that I absolutely loved about half of the film, and thought the other half could have been done better. The parts I loved and disliked were interspersed, though I felt that the first 30 minutes or so were more consistent than the rest.

 

There are a few reasons for my ambivalence, and they go hand in hand. For example, the vast majority of the movie was filmed in close-ups of the characters. On the one hand, this created an incredible depth of character that I have never before seen in staged versions of Les Mis. I found myself knowing these characters in new and amazing ways, which is a tremendous achievement considering that I’ve been listening to this show on loop since I was five. On the other hand, these frequent close-ups meant that the director didn’t really take advantage of the sets much of the time, and the characters tended not to move around a lot, which sometimes came off as a little boring.

 

Another impression from all the close-ups is that there was a little too much weeping. I realize the irony of pointing out that the characters in a show called Les Miserables are too miserable, but nevertheless I wanted to see the characters smile once in awhile, if just for a moment. Something I teach my students is that one of the most beautiful things that an audience can see on stage or on screen is a person trying to smile through their tears – it shows that they are still fighting, and that they want to be happy, which makes us appreciate all the more the fact that they are so distraught.

 

Next, consider the live performances (for those of you who don’t know, Les Mis is the first musical movie in which all performances were recorded live on set). The benefit of this is that it made for an unprecedented level of believability (Anne Hathaway in particular took the gold for a breathtakingly vulnerable performance – see below).

 

Anne Hathaway as Fantine in Les Mis

 

The negative consequence of live singing, however, is that much of the singing was not its best. This was probably unavoidable, though – as someone who has sung Les Mis countless times, I know firsthand that it is an incredibly challenging score to sing, let alone to sing any given song the 100-times-in-a-row that is necessary for a professional film shoot.

 

I don’t want to say anything negative about specific actors, but the consequences of live performance included:

 

1) Overuse of vibrato (in some actors)

 

2) Underuse of vibrato (in others)

 

3) Lack of dynamic range – the volume was relatively stagnant throughout the movie. My theory on why this happened is that the singers each had an earpiece playing live piano music, but the movie was orchestrated later on. This means that each singer is singing the way they would to a piano, and not the way they would to an orchestra.

 

All in all, however, I think that the positive outweighed the negative. Les Mis has always held a very special place in my heart, but I don’t think that it’s ever been as real for me as it was today. So by all means, see this movie, and drop a comment about what you thought!

 

PS: For those of you wondering – Yes, it was extremely weird for me to hear “One Day More” and for it not to be about gluten-free food substitutes. I’m thinking they should have used my lyrics instead – it would have made for an interesting plot twist : )

The Creation of “One Grain More”

July 24th, 2012

It all began on New Year’s Eve.

 

Mournful of the fact that I would be unable to enjoy any party desserts due to my recently discovered allergy to pretty much everything, I began baking myself some chocolate chip cookies made of neither wheat nor chocolate chips. I was listening to Les Misérables at the time, and as I tend to do, I was singing along, inserting some of my current activities into the lyrics of the song “One Day More.” When I sang the part about “This never-ending road to gluten free,” I immediately cancelled my plans for the evening and started writing.

 

I did my best to include every major food allergy, and researched the various substitutes that are used in each case. Most of these substitutes range from disgusting to flat-out terrifying, and lend themselves to parody just as easily as the Les Mis characters that I decided to use and mock to tell this story.

 

A few hours later, I had finished my first draft of “One Grain More” (my mother actually came up with the title), and made my first call to Lily Bayrock, a multi-talented actress and director who had recently assistant directed scenes from Fresh! in its Off-Broadway presentation. Lily has a number of food allergies herself, and was actually the person most responsible for leading me on the road to getting tested in the first place – so naturally, she was the first person I thought to call.

 

“I’ve written a new song,” I told her. “It’s a parody of Les Mis and food allergies, and you’re either going to think it’s brilliant or that it’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever had.” To my delight and partial shock, she took the former position (having several food allergies herself), and agreed to co-direct the project with me and play the role of Cosette.

 

I then went about casting the other two parts. I had directed Michael DeFlorio in a production of RENT the previous summer, and his powerful voice mixed with his charming silliness were perfect for the role of Marius. My final recruit was Megan Ermilio, a student of mine whom I had seen play Fantine in a production of Les Mis, and whose phenomenal belt and tremendous acting were a sure hit for the role of Eponine (whom Lily brilliantly decided should be named “Epipen”).

 

Unimpressed with the karaoke recordings available, I recorded an original backtrack. The four of us then recorded our vocals, and spent the next few weeks studying our own performances in order to re-create them in filming. (A lot of people have asked if we are lip-syncing in the film; the answer is yes and no. Yes in the sense that in a musical film, you almost always pre-record vocals ahead of time in order to preserve the quality of the soundtrack. No in the sense that the film contains our real pre-recorded voices, and during filming we were still singing at the top of our voices. Just ask our neighbors!)

 

We filmed “One Grain More” in two days across three different locations. The second day involved most of the “night” scenes, and required us to black out the entire house in order to make it look convincingly like evening. This was fun, as it was both a windy and rainy day and the tar-paper we had placed over the windows and skylights had no interest in remaining attached to the house. I also spent a lot of time on a ladder in the backyard with our two incredible production assistants, Matthew Dorsch and Liz Sanders, using a 15-foot pole saw to lift bedsheets over the skylights. Thanks to the wind, we had the opportunity to do this roughly ever fifteen minutes.

 

We had already devised a detailed shot list ahead of time, and since we only had one camera to work with, Lily and I had gone through every shot one at a time to determine exactly which angle each shot would be filmed from. But the credit for the perfect clarity and beautiful framing and lighting of the shots really belongs to Dena Blumenthal and Bernie Langer, without whom “One Grain More” would probably look extremely grainy (haha). Somehow (I think by magic), the two of them managed to make everything look phenomenal using only two portable lights. We also owe a lot of thanks to Matthew and Liz, who in addition to their manual labor kept a keen eye on continuity, and kept us singing at something resembling the right time.

 

Lily and I split the directing, working together on group shots or scenes with just Michael and Megan, and waving authority to the other in any shot where one of us was on camera so that we wouldn’t have to direct ourselves. Dena and Bernie would spend about 20 minutes setting up the lighting of each shot, and then coming up with creative ways to keep the lights from falling and burning the house down. Often this required one or two of us to hold the lights, Statue-of-Liberty-style; this meant that our hands were frequently burned, but at least the house was okay. One of the amazing things about the people involved in this production is that even though we each have our specific credits, every one of us shared each others’ responsibilities during the shoot. The directors held the lights; the lighting designer acted; the actors went up on ladders to block out the light; the camera operator/editor directed. Without that collaborative atmosphere, there is no way this project could have turned out the way it did.

 

All in all, “One Grain More” is a wonderful example of what can be accomplished when you assemble a team of talented, passionate, funny people who love what they do and the work that they create. I am so proud of the ridiculous piece that we have created and the attention that it has been getting. I would also like to thank “millet” – I’m still not sure what it is, but if it hadn’t provided me with the opportunity to make gluten free cookies, none of this could have happened.

 

**UPDATE**

If you would like to acquire a “One Grain More” DVD, blooper reel, and/or a poster poster signed by the entire cast, check out the fundraising campaign for my original musical Fresh!

 

The Cast and Crew of
From left to right: Dena Blumenthal, Michael Bihovsky, Megan Ermilio, Lily Bayrock, Michael DeFlorio, and Bernie Langer
(Not pictured: Matthew Dorsch and Liz Sanders)

“One Grain More” – Available Now!!

July 18th, 2012

I am thrilled to announce the release of “One Grain More” – the Les Misérables food allergy parody that will knock your hypoallergenic socks off!

 

This project has been a *long* time in the making, and features the incredible talents of Lily Bayrock, Megan Ermilio, and Michael J. DeFlorio.

 

We already have a national media campaign planned – but I need your help to make this video a success! Here’s what you can do to help “One Grain More,” and make the food allergies go viral:

 

1)      Check out the video on YouTube

2)     If you like it (and you will!), post a link on your Facebook wall and/or Twitter account, and on the walls of anyone who you think will get a kick out of it!

 

With your help, we believe we can make this video go viral – so grab a plate of quinoa and a glass of oat milk, and help us spread the word about “One Grain More”!!

 

I am also pleased to announce my new website, www.michaelbihovsky.com, featuring slick new designs and loads of new songs, videos, and other content! Check it out, and best wishes to all!

 

-Michael