Adventures in Modeming

Helping an author with some background info on Ernest Lehman, I ran across this article about the WGA's BBS system from October 1991. (Early days of the internet.) 

As published in “Written By” October 1991.

Ah, VHS.


It was over a year ago when I discovered the voice in my phone Modem. I was recovering from the stinging reviews of a film I had co-written and directed called Limit Up when I discovered that Gene Siskel was the resident critic for Prodigy - the Sears computer network that includes subscribers from across the country.

I thought that Siskel had been overly critical of the film in his review, and owing to the fact that he and Ebert disagreed on every other film on their show but mine, I realized he might have been giving it a "thumbswayyyy down" in the excitement of being able to agree with Ebert on anything.
Dean Stockwell, Nancy Allen
But I was able to tell him so in front of a national audience. I posted a letter to him on the Prodigy service using my computer and phone modem, telling him what I thought of his review, and specifically what I thought he had missed in the story. And at computer terminals all across America, subscribers signed on co find the writer/director of a film publicly proclaiming that a reviewer was wrong and it was up to the audience to make up their own minds.

Siskel posted a reply that he hoped he would appreciate the next movie I make more, and explained that he wasn't paid to root for films, only to critique them. But nonetheless, what I felt had been a mean spirited attack on a friendly spirited film had been countered by the film's parent.
Ray Charles, Danitra Vance
Finally a film critic could be criticized in public for his critique. After that, Gene Siskel didn't app ear on the Prodigy service for a couple of weeks; perhaps he had a vacation coming to him. I prefer to think that he took time off to cool his hot toes.

Not much later I signed up for the MCI mail system so I could file my occasional music reviews that I was writing for Variety (which I approach with trepidation and over conscientiousness), and in perusing the MCI system I found Roger Ebert's mailbox.

Ray is God. Nancy is a Soybean Trader.

I sent him a copy of the rave Limit Up re¬ceived from Entertainment Today, rating it a B+, and asked him to consider giving the film a second viewing for his next foray into compiling movie reviews. He replied that he felt he had bent over backwards to give the film a fair review, I said that I thought calling it 'dumb, dumb, dumb' hardly constituted bending over backwards. He eventually told me that he, too, was stung by the reviews of his book about Cannes from his own newspaper.

I was happy to be able to discuss it. Usually the artist is skewered, his work ridiculed, his fortunes dashed - perhaps justifiably so, perhaps because the reviewer wasn't in the mood for that type of film on that given day - without any recourse but an angry letter to an editor or a pithy telegram.
One of our movie posters

I'll leave the values of honesty in reviewing to an in-depth study of criticism in general, I was just happy to find a voice through my computer, enabling me to have a dialogue with those who review my work.

But there are other voices to be found in my phone modem. Recently I was auditing a writing class at USC, when the subject of act breaks came up regarding the film North By Northwest. The teacher handed out an outline of where he considered the act breaks to occur, and I didn't agree with him about the end of the first act.

So when I got home to my computer I dialed up the Writers Guild BBS and left a note to Ernest Lehman, the screenwriter of North By Northwest. What ensued was a series of letters and an on-line discussion of what constitutes an act break and whether these rules apply to his film, as well as some great stories about what it was like to work with Hitchcock and Grant. (About the first act, Ernie happened to agree with me, and I was able to report back to the class, a la Woody Allen pulling Marshall McLuhan out of a ticket line to refute a point in Annie Hall; I was able to find the voice of irrefut¬able proof inside of my modem.)

The realm of communication that was first dominated by long distance runners, then handwritten wax sealed envelopes, Western Union telegrams, and eventually faxes, now has a faster, farther-reaching, and more convenient carrier.
Ernie and Hitch

The modem has provided a way to have a long distance conversation- or at least an exchange of letters in a short amount of time - so anyone with a phone modem, computer and an ounce of determination can participate. And perhaps all parties can come away with a better understanding of each other's point of view. It may be just a matter of time before they launch a United Nations BBS so world leaders can chat each other up from time to time, and find out exactly who meant what, when, and why they said it.

Richard Martini wrote an directed “You Can't Hurry Love,” and co­wrote (with Lu Anders) and directed “Limit Up.” His modem resides in Santa Monica.


Talking to the Flipside in Real Time aboard the USS Midway

I've been speaking to people on the Flipside in real time.

With medium/intuitive Jennifer Shaffer
That is, I'm with a medium, we ask questions to, and get answers from, people no longer on the planet.

I work with Jennifer Shaffer,, Jennifer works with law enforcement agencies nationwide on missing person cases.  My point is, she's effective enough to have helped solve cases for law enforcement, and I've had personal experience verifying many of the details we talk about weekly.

We meet up weekly and confer with folks no longer on the planet.

We interview people who I knew, or that she knew - and ask them questions about their own experience on the flipside.  That might seem counterintuitive to some - but in my case, I'm asking the same relative questions that I ask everyone who has traveled to the flipside, so I can compare the answers.  I've asked the same relative questions through a variety of mediums, so I can compare the answers.
Outside the USS Midway

In other words, if everyone we "spoke to" on the flipside said different things about the journey and the path, that would be one result.  But what I've found is that no matter who is the medium (if they have the ability to do so) the answers we get from people on the flipside are consistent.

"Who greeted you when you crossed over?" might be one question.  I could get answers like "no one" or "Satan" or "Jesus" or "nothing" - which are all in the realm of answers - but I don't.  I get answers to the question in terms of "my father/mother/brother/sister etc" - they give me a name, and I then do the research to find out when that person died (if they've died) and then I ask the same question to the same person via a different medium.  If I got varying answers - "I was met by my Rabbi" and then "I was met by a priest" - I would report that.

But that's not what I'm getting.

Outside the Midway, a statue to Admiral Sprague (who knew Amelia Earhart was on Saipan)
I'm getting consistent answers no matter who is doing the asking or giving the replies.

Then, as people have seen me do with a number of folks, I ask average people questions about their journey or their path, hone in on one particular detail of that event, and see if it's possible to learn "new information" from what that person experienced years earlier, or decades previously.

I've done it with people who've had a near death event, but also with people who've had an odd dream or some other experience.  I just ask them questions based on my understanding of the architecture of the flipside, and see where we can go.  I have no idea if we can get anywhere - but in all the times that I've tried to do this, people do "get somewhere."

Take this weekend for example.

I tried to order a cappuccino and a slice, but this dude didn't hear me.

I was on the ship the USS Midway when I had the idea to ask a docent a question about ghosts.

We're on board the giant aircraft carrier, and I'm in the inside of the ship, down near the Captain's Quarters, and an elderly veteran is answering questions and showing people around.  I have my camera on, recording our conversation.

I thought I heard someone ask about "haunting" on the ship - and turned around and went back to record the answer.  Turns out that was not the question so I asked it; "Do you have any reports of ghosts on the ship?"

The docent laughed and said "No."  

I said "Really? Not one?  Not anyone saying they saw or heard something? You haven't seen any ghosts?"  He said "Well, I saw some ghosts once during a near death event that happened to me, but they weren't here. When I was in the hospital, and I had a heart attack."

What are the odds that I would get that answer?

I said "You had a near death experience? Who did you see?"

He said "I saw some friends of mine who died in combat."  I asked if he can remember that visual; he said he could.  I said "Well, can you see them now as I talk to you?"  He nodded, said "Sure."  I said "See if you can do this - freeze frame their image.  Can you see them clearly, like the color of their eyes?"

He said "Yes."

He said "I see the four of them in front of me."  I said, "Okay, so go closer, see if you can walk up and take one of them by the hand?"  The veteran nodded and said "Okay."  I said "Is there any sensation when you do that?"

He said "Yes there is. We were drinking buddies."  

I said "Pick one of them. What's his name?"  He said "Brad."  I said, "Is there any emotion associated with him?"

The veteran said "He sayin' "What are you doing here?"  He laughed, surprised.  

I said "Well that makes sense.  He would have known that during your death event, you weren't supposed to be there. Now see if you can walk around standing behind Brad's shoulder.  Look back at yourself.  What do you see?" 

He said "Wow. I look like I'm about 18." (He's currently in his 70's).

I said "Okay, that's interesting. Here you are your age now, looking back at yourself as a young man." 

I said "Let me ask your friend Brad a direct question and Brad, I want you to put the answer in our friend's mind. Brad, do you still exist?  Are you still around? Do you reach out to our friend here sometimes?" 

The Veteran said "He said, "Where have you been?"  

I laughed. "Does that sound like the kind of thing that he would say?"  Tears came into his eyes and he nodded. "Yeah."

I said "Okay, Brad, this is the kind of work I do, helping people to get in touch with their friends no longer on the planet. Can you do me a favor and could you put a sensation in our veteran friend here, somewhere he can feel it? Can you put a feeling in his body so that he knows that's you reaching out to him?"  

The veteran nodded. "Okay, I feel it."  

I said "So whenever you want to think of your friends, whenever you have this feeling, that's their way of reaching out to you. My research shows that when we leave here, we go home. You're the one that's still on duty. You're the one that's still on deck. Working. They went home. They're all okay."

I said "So boys. Whenever your pal here is feeling blue, lonely, whatever, tap him on the shoulder and give him that sensation. Can you do that for me, Brad? Give me a thumbs up or a thumbs down." I asked the veteran; "What do you see?"

The veteran said "He just gave me a thumbs up."  

I said "Brad, is this weird for you to be having a conversation with your old pal here on board the Midway?"  

The veteran laughed, "It is weird. But you were able to make the connection."

I said, "Well I can't see him. I didn't see his frequency - but you did and still can. And he knows yours as well. But let me give you a formula to stay in touch. 1. Say Brad's named. 2. Ask him questions you don't know the answer to. 3. When you hear an answer before you can ask the question, you'll know you've made a connection."

He smiled, took my hand in a "soul shake" - looked me in the eye and said "Thank you."

I said "Thank you!  It's what I do. And thanks to Brad and your friends for playing along."

All in five minutes below deck on the USS Midway.

Not a real docent.  An animatronic near the Captain's Quarters. He's a recording.

Whether it is the subconscious speaking or the people on the Flipside speaking - it doesn't really make a difference.  

There's no harm in paying homage to our loved ones who've gone before us, and in essence we bring them back to life when we interact with them in this fashion.

My two cents. 

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