Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

My 20 Favorite Beatles Songs

Anyone who knows me knows I am a huge Beatles fan. I believe John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr recreated popular music in their own image and pushed the self-contained rock and roll instrumental line-up of drums, bass and guitars to its limit. In addition to their innovative music, they also changed the music business itself, and how rock and roll was perceived by the culture at large. The band's greatest strength was the songwriting. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were among the best composers of the 20th century, and their junior partner, George Harrison, also managed to come up with some classics on his own. The Beatles as songwriters were also well served by the Beatles as singers.

I suppose I never grow tired of the band because of their profoundly different "periods." Sometimes I focus predominately on their psychedelic period, only to surrender to more raucous rock and roll on The White Album. Then I return to the harmony singing of their earliest days, only to yield to the studio perfection of Abbey Road. I can always find a perfect place to match my mood in their recordings. Additionally, with each musical instrument I have learned to play, I have gained a new level of appreciation for their work.

If my list is a little heavy, proportionally, on George Harrison numbers, it might be because those songs remain fresher to me today. In my foolish youth, I gave them little regard. Now I appreciate them.

Here's the list (which, on another day, could be entirely different!):

(20). FREE AS A BIRD - 1995
A sentimental favorite that edged out a number of more worthy songs. However, I will never forget the excitement surrounding the release of this song along with Anthology television series and albums. I waited in line at a record store in Towson at 12:01am to buy the album. I do like the song, too. Ringo is a bit restrained because of the nature of the recording, but, overall, it succeeds better than it should. Still waiting for Paul to release the third song....

(19). OLD BROWN SHOE - 1968
I first remember really hearing this song, originally the flip side to The Ballad of John and Yoko single, on The Beatles 1967-1970 compilation (aka The Blue Album.) My first thoughts were: Why is this song on the album? If it were on a CD instead an album, I probably would have hit skip every time it started. It wasn't until I started playing the bass that I really started appreciating this nifty number. The vocals might be mixed back a little too far for my taste, but, instrumentally, the song is a little wonder.

(18). I'VE GOT A FEELING - 1970
I bet you this is the only Top 20 Beatles song list featuring this song. Most people would place this track in the throwaway category. Lyrically, it isn't much, but the song has tremendous energy. The band really seems to enjoy playing it on the roof top concert. More than any track, this song captures the spirit of their original concept for their Let It Be album and film. (Too bad that version isn't available on YouTube.)

(17). I WANT TO TELL YOU - 1966
The lyrics express George Harrison's frustrating inability to describe the insights he received while taking acid. But you don't need to be on drugs to enjoy with complex, dissonant composition that opens with a pretty cool, descending guitar riff.  George apparently even invited the E7b9 chord while writing the song.  This was his best song to date, and one of my favorites on the album Revolver.

(16). REVOLUTION - 1968
When he recorded the original slower version for The Beatles (aka The White Album,) John hadn't decided whether people could count him in or out when it came to destruction. When they recorded the faster version, which was the flip side to Hey Jude, he decided that you could count him out, an attitude that angered the radicals of the time. Politics aside, this is one of the Beatles' best rockers and they are ably aided by the fabulous Nicky Hopkins on the piano.

(15). DEAR PRUDENCE  - 1968
This gentle ballad was written by John while the Beatles were in Rishikesh, India, as a plea to Mia Farrow's sister Prudence to join them rather than spend all day in her cottage meditating. I love the intricate layered guitars and bass. Paul played the drums because the song was recorded after Ringo had quit the band. Fortunately, he soon returned (and fans have long debated whether he overdubbed the drums on the coda.)

This energetic Chuck Berry pastiche would prove to be one of Paul's best rockers ever. I'm surprised they dropped it from their live set list as early as they did. Tellingly, it was the song John chose to play live with Elton John at Madison Square Garden.

(13). I AM THE WALRUS - 1967
The nonsense wordplay was reportedly written by John to befuddle English professors who were treating Beatles lyrics as literature. But was it nonsense? Or a piercing but oblique protest song? I'll let you decide. Musically, it is a masterpiece. One of their best productions.

(12). HERE COMES THE SUN - 1969
George Harrison wrote this classic track in Eric Clapton's backyard on a respite from the chaos of the late-period Beatles. A truly lovely and uplifting song, even if I have a hard time clapping along with it.

(11). TICKET TO RIDE - 1965
This is a really tasty mid-period Beatles single. Great instrumentation, particularly Ringo on the drums, and singing. Tried playing this one with my band The Atomic Enema. We sucked, but I always liked singing the middle eight.

Paul was the Beatle ballad king and I believe this song was his best ballad recorded with the band. His partner John, who was notoriously stingy with his praise, called it one of Paul's best compositions. Thoughtful lyrics, perfect instrumentation and wonderful harmonies lift this song to the top tier of Beatle compositions.

(9). NOWHERE MAN - 1966
The lyrics of this song really resonated with me upon my first hearing of the song. I also liked that John introspectively pointed the finger at himself and not society in general, as he was wont to do later. The song features fantastic three part harmony and a great, trebly guitar sound. Really loved the simple but effective guitar solo played in unison by George and John on their dual Fender Stratocasters.

(8). ELEANOR RIGBY - 1966
Yesterday didn't make this list because, although it is a great song, it just never felt like a Beatles song to me.  The track always felt out of place regardless of what album it was placed on. I do not feel the same way about Eleanor Rigby. Although none of the Beatles plays on the track, it has the right attitude. A great lyric with a sad but satisfying conclusion and scored to perfection by producer George Martin.

(7). SOMETHING - 1969
George lifted the title of a James Taylor song for the first line of this song.  James didn't seem to mind. Neither did the world. John said it was the best song on the album Abbey Road, and Paul said it was the best song George ever wrote.  After Yesterday, it is the second most covered Beatles. A beautiful song and performance.

(6). IN MY LIFE - 1965
This is one of the rare songs that John and Paul disagree about. John says he wrote it entirely. Paul says he wrote the melody. It's easy to see why they both want to claim it. It is a fully-realized, thoughtful song. It was one of John Lennon's first true forays into personal songwriting. What surprises me is the depth of nostalgia he felt at the tender age of twenty-six.

(5). HELP! - 1965
John described this song as a genuine cry for help. Quick and to the point, this song features no middle eight and no guitar solo. Instead, George provides a number tasty little hooks. Also, rather than employing their normal stacked vocals, Paul and George provide an amazing counterpoint backing track. It is one of my favorites.

(4). SHE LOVES YOU - 1963
Although I Want To Hold Your Hand was the song that finally broke the Beatles in America, this song always epitomized the Beatlemania period to me. Starting on Ringo's toms, the song is manic energy from start to finish with their trademarked the stacked vocals piled on top. There was nothing like this song on the Top 40 charts in the United States when this single was released. No wonder they took the country by storm.

(3). HEY JUDE - 1968
I am old enough to remember when the Beatles released this single. It was all over the radio and I didn't like it. Not at all. Although the song expresses a hopeful message, I always gloomed on the "sad song" aspect of the opening. (I seemed unusually susceptible to melancholy songs in my youth.) It wasn't until I was much older and had experienced some serous loss that I came to appreciate the therapeutic nature of the song.  This is Paul's masterpiece, but, unlike some later singles such as Let It Be and The Long and Winding Road, it feels like a true band song.

This dreamy ode to childhood is one of John's most personal songs, but expressed in a universal enough manner to speak to a kid in Baltimore. This is a great composition and vocal married to great production and imaginative instrumentation. Plus, it was scary as hell, too. I remember listening to this song late at night with my head between the speakers listening for the "I buried Paul." It was quite an experience. And the flip side was Penny Lane.... What an amazing single that showed the abundance of riches within the band.

(1). A DAY IN THE LIFE - 1967
The song, part matter-of-fact recounting of the news/part rock and roll apocalypse, is perhaps the high water mark of rock and roll music in general. From the gentle acoustic guitar open to the chaotic orchestral swirl and the final, resounding piano chord, this track presents the band and producer George Martin at their best. Great teamwork with John and Paul as songwriters, with Paul's woke up bridge melding perfectly with John's song. Anyone dismissive of Ringo as a drummer should pay attention to his playing here.  A masterpiece.

Speaking of masterpieces, be sure to check out my memoir:

Friday, February 9, 2018

LIFE LIKE is coming.....

Progress continues on Life Like, a graphic novel I am working on with Jim Proimos, based on my screenplay Life-Like. Jim is a very well-known illustrator and the author of children and young adult books.  He even did a book, Year of the Jungle, with best-selling Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins. He is very optimistic we will be able to develop the book into a movie or television series.
I am equally optimistic.

 Here is a taste of the responses I got when I first sent the script around Hollywood: "What the script has going for it most is its genuinely unique, high-concept premise -- as opposed to most other comedies, the material does not seem the least bit derivative." "A wonderful premise and unique to boot." "The material should be applauded for its quality characterizations." "Realistic and sharp dialogue." "The dialogue is endearing." "Strong character development." "It's entire third act stands out as the most invigorating part of the script." "A pretty funny and surprisingly emotional story about closure." "It's a fun and exciting read with a captivating plot and a happy ending!" "This project's prospects are rather bright." "Sure to get industry attention."

While you are waiting for Life Like (and Chapel Street), feel free to check out my memoir,  The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God, published by Touchpoint Press.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Yippee Ki Yay Mother Podcast #8: The Spanish Prisoner

In this episode of the Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother Podcast, an inter-generational look at the movies, our special guest writer/comedienne Michele Wojceichowski brings us David Mamet's 1997 classic film The Spanish Prisoner. The crew loved the film and enjoyed exploring the intricacies of this cinematic con game, which features a surprising dramatic turn from Steve Martin.

Here's the trailer of the film:

And here is our Podcast on Youtube:

Or you can listen to it on our webpage:  Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother Podcast

Our Podcast is now available for download on iTunes. Please subscribe!
Like us on Facebook:  Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother Podcast.
Follow us on Twitter: YKYPodcast

Check out Wojo's webpage: Wojo's World
And follow her on Twitter: @TheMicheleWojo

Other Episodes:

Monday, February 5, 2018

Writer Tip #20: Cross Purposes

As you progress in your writing career, you will discover that people whom you expect to look out for your best interests aren't necessarily doing so. You should always take into account the motives and interests of the people on your team when you make decisions.

Consider agents. On the face of it, what could be more straightforward than the relationship between a writer and an agent. It is built on mutual benefit. The more money the agent gets for your script, the more money he will make as a percentage. What could be simpler? Of course, your agent will act in your best interests.

Well, maybe not. A writer who produces sell-able work is indeed a valuable commodity to an agent, but their ongoing relationship with studios and production companies is even more valuable to them. You may only write on screenplay a year. The agent, on the other hand, has to represent scripts by dozens of writers each year and there are only so many A-list buyers. Except in rare circumstances, like a bidding war for an extremely hot script, your agent is not going to alienate a studio or production by pushing them too hard for your interests. This is especially true if you are represented by a major agency that plans to package the film. The commission they receive on the sale of your script will be peanuts compared to the overall package. You and your concerns will not be their chief concern.

Here's an example from the book world.  A friend of mine wrote a children's book. He got an agent that normally didn't deal with children's books. The agent got him a nice advance from a publisher. As his career progressed, he discovered that his first advance was larger than the advances normally offered by the publisher. He found out why. His agent didn't have or need an ongoing relationship with the publishers of children's book. She knew she wouldn't have to be sitting across the table from them again in a week. Therefore, she didn't have to accept the status quo. Her only interest was in getting her client the best possible deal and she did so.

I never had a manager so I have no personal experience on that front. However, I have heard about the concerns other people. Managers often like to position themselves as producers on the projects they shepherd. This can be good for you, but it can also be bad. Suppose a production company likes your script, but doesn't want another producer..... Also, suppose two companies are interested in your script. One of them doesn't want your manager as a producer, but the other one does and they are willing to pay him a fee to act as such....

Lawyers have well-defined rules concerning conflicts of interests, but that doesn't necessarily mean they always act in your best interest. Let me give you an example. Once upon a time we needed a producers' representative, many of whom happen to be lawyers. We picked one who had handled some well-known movies in the glory days of independent film. He would receive a certain percentage of the final negotiated deal. That would make you think he would be interested in getting us the best possible deal, but that's not the whole picture. Since he was a lawyer, we were also required to pay him a retainer of $5000. His work on our behalf was desultory at best. Why? Because any sale was irrelevant to him. He repped a ton of films. He was making a living on the retainers alone. The money he made from percentages was just gravy.

Sometimes you can even get in trouble with a co-writer. Suppose your partner is also a director. Will he be willing to sell the script to a production company that doesn't want him to direct it? These are the kind of questions you have to ask before you start a project.

Okay, okay. You sold your script and you were very happy with the deal. Everything is okay now, right?

Don't count on it.  Things get even crazier in pre-production and on the shoot. This is when most scripts get yanked and pulled out of shape. Why? Because everybody above the line wants to twist the script into what suits their career needs best.  Sometimes this can be a good thing, sometimes not so much.

I saw this in the commercial world before I even wrote my first screenplay. Directors would bid on a three spot campaign because they saw one script they thought would be good for their reel. Then they would pour all of their resources into that single spot and do a desultory job on the remaining ones. The same is true of feature films. Most aspiring directors will jump on any project just to work even if they don't have a feel or heart for the material, and then try to bend the film into something more to their personal liking.  I know directors who took projects simply with the hope of getting a sequence or two for their demo reel.  You don't want that kind of director on your project. You want someone who believes in the script.

You can also have the same problem with actors. It is not uncommon for an actor to see a role differently than the writer or the producer or the director. And if they're a big enough star, they'll get it their way even if it destroys the original conception of your story.

Let me give you an example how a story can change due to unexpected cross purposes.

I co-wrote a film called The Encounter with Timothy Ratajczak for PureFlix. It was a faith-based film about a group of strangers who end up in a diner with a man who claims to be Jesus. The extremely low budget film was directed by, but not starring, PureFlix co-founder David A.R. White. At the time, the film was definitely the redheaded stepchild on the production slate. PureFlix poured most of its limited resources into the higher budget end times film Jerusalem Countdown, which starred David A.R. White. More than anything, David wanted to be an action star and Jerusalem Countdown was a chance to achieve that goal. (He only had a small cameo at the end of The Encounter.) However, upon release Jerusalem Countdown was met with indifference while The Encounter found an enthusiastic audience and became the company's most profitable film until the God's Not Dead series.

Obviously, a sequel was needed for The Encounter.  Tim was on a temporary hiatus from PureFlix and left me to work on the sequel alone. What the audience loved about The Encounter was that it gave characters they could relate to a chance to ask Jesus real world questions. It proved to a tremendous evangelical tool. Everyone agreed that the second film should answer the questions that trouble young people. Since most PureFlix films at the time were rip-offs of successful secular films, we decided to do a Breakfast Club style film, except this time the delinquent high school students would find themselves stuck in a classroom after hours with Jesus.  Time to cue Simple Minds....

But not so fast!

Since the first film was so successful, David A.R. White chose to star in the second film and, because he owned the company, no one could say no. The only sizable adult role in the original concept was that of Jesus and, sadly, that role was already taken. Therefore, it was time to say bye-bye to The Breakfast Club. New orders were issued. David wanted to be an action star, so The Encounter had to become an action film.  He wanted to play a criminal or corrupt cop.

A new plot was quickly developed. David became the head of a gang that robbed a company. His younger brother is wounded in the robbery. David takes him to the home office of a rural doctor and holds the staff and other patients hostage while his brother is treated. And guess what! One of the other patients happens to be Jesus. Okay, okay. If that's what the producer/star wants, that's what he gets. Granted, the storyline didn't seem to have the same everyman appeal as the original film but David would be able to shoot and punch people.

But not so fast!

I was already writing that version when a new directive came down from on high. Now the film had to be shot in Thailand. Why? Because some PureFlix folks (not David!) had met girls in Thailand during another production and now they wanted to shoot another film there so that they could visit them again on the investor's dime. Who was I to stand in the way of love? And that's how a little film about people talking to Jesus in a diner got a sequel about a morally corrupt cop chasing a drug smuggler in Southeast Asia. The Encounter Paradise Lost worked better than it should have mainly because of some fine direction and heartfelt performances, but it definitely was not the sequel the original audience wanted or expected, despite having the distinction of being the first film where someone points a gun at Jesus. (Tim later wrote the script for a second sequel based on the Breakfast Club concept. However, that film was not shot because PureFlix chose to make an Encounter web series instead.)

The journey between The Encounter and The Encounter Paradise Lost is a perfect example of what happens when different people work at unexpected cross purposes on a project. Does that mean that you, the humble screenwriter, should not trust agents, managers, lawyers, directors, producers or stars?  No, of course not. Film is a collaborative business, and sometimes your collaborators will discover possibilities you missed and enhance your vision. However, you must always be aware that everyone involved in your project will be looking after their own interests. Hopefully, you will be able to juggle them more successfully than me!

Other Tips:

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother Podcast 7: Black Dynamite

In this very special episode of the Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother Podcast, an inter-generational look at the movies, we receive a visit from producer Matt Richards to discuss his cult classic action/comedy/Blaxploitation spoof Black Dynamite. The crew all really enjoyed the film and got to discuss the fascinating path this independent film took from inspired creation to a botched theatrical release to comic books and an animated series. Take a look inside Hollywood with this fascinating episode.

Here's the trailer of the film:

Here's the video of the podcast:

Or you can listen to it on our webpage:  Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother Podcast

I had attended the New York premiere of Black Dynamite with producer Matt Richards.  I discussed that evening in an earlier blog.  Read it here:  Black Dynamite

Here are a few photos:

Sean Murphy, Matt Richard and director Scott Sanders.
Deborah Murphy, Michael Jai White, Sean Murphy, Matt Richard

And here's a shot of Matt Richards with Fred Willard on the set of our film Holyman Undercover.

Our Podcast is now available for download on iTunes. Please subscribe!
Like us on Facebook:  Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother Podcast.
Follow us on Twitter: YKYPodcast

Other Episodes:

Friday, January 12, 2018

Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother Podcast 6: The Night Watchmen

In this very special episode of the Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother Podcast, an inter-generational look at the movies, we receive a visit from actor/producer Ken Arnold Ken Arnold to discuss his recently-released horror comedy The Night Watchmen. The crew all really enjoyed the film and got to discuss the fascinating path this independent film took toward completion.  We also learn the drawbacks of using corn syrup as blood make-up on a day-to-day basis.

Here's the trailer of the film:

Here's the video of the podcast:

Or you can listen to it on our webpage:  Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother Podcast

And if don't mind me ringing the bell, as it were, here's Ken in the title role of our short film that won the 48 Hour Film Festival International HD Showdown:

Our Podcast is now available for download on iTunes. Please subscribe!
Like us on Facebook:  Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother Podcast.
Follow us on Twitter: YKYPodcast

Check out Ken's webpage: Ken Arnold
And follow him on Twitter: @kenarnoldactor

Other Episodes:

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Writer Tip #19: Readers

Trust me, dear reader, there is an endless supply of charlatans lined up waiting to separate unwary screenwriters from their money.

I strongly advise you to run, not walk, from any so-called manager, agent, or producer who asks you for money. I also believe most screenwriting contests are rip-offs, too. I have never been to one of those paid pitch-a-thons I see advertised online. I can't believe they are worth the money either. Who wants to be the 97th person in line to pitch some poor schmuck from a production company five log-lines? Not me. That said, I do believe it is worthwhile for a screenwriter to invest in a good reader.

I have always been blessed to have friends and associates who were both willing to read my scripts, and qualified to offer an intelligent opinion. Screenplays are not books. They are not an end product, but rather the blueprint of a film. People without an knowledge of screenplay form and structure may be able evaluate the quality of your story, but not necessarily the quality of your script.

For example, I recently read a script from a promising young screenwriter. She had been getting generally good feedback on the script, but she knew something was wrong with it. I read it. The script indeed featured the kind of lively characters that production companies want to see, but it had a glaring structural problem that relegated it to the "Thanks, but no thanks" pile. She was very grateful for my feedback, and made the necessary corrections. She only wished someone in her immediate circle who could have provided the feedback earlier.

My main reader today is my friend Trish, who worked in Hollywood as an assistant to well-known directors and producers. In addition to the knowledge necessary to evaluate scripts, she also possesses the honesty necessary to express it. That's what you need: Honesty. Brutal honesty. Remember, when you pitch your script, you won't just be competing with the local schlubs from your screenwriting class. You will be competing directly with pros like David Koepp, Shane Black, Ron Bass, and Joss Whedon. You better really make sure your script is honed.

One of the reasons I rarely read scripts is because most unproduced writers do not really appreciate or want honesty. They often get defensive and fight every little criticism and suggestion. I think most them have this fantasy that I will be so blown away by their writing that I will shower them with praise and send their script along to all of my contacts as is. Ain't going to happen. Sorry.

(Just as an aside, I never use readers for commissioned work. The producers who hired you are the readers!)

Aside from some reviews I had to purchase when I put a script on The Black List, I have not bought reviews from any of the multitude of script reading services online. I am sure there are many good ones.  If my friend Trish wasn't available, I would certainly trust the opinion of my friend David Warfield, who consults via his website StorySolver.  He is a successful writer with great Hollywood experience and a skilled teacher.

I am extremely skeptical of readers who claim to connect screenwriters with whom they have given a "recommend" with Hollywood producers. These services are factories dependent on repeat business to make a profit. They only get repeat business by encouraging their clients with recommends, and the more recommends you give, the less credibility you have. How many scripts do you think these companies can recommend to producers and still be taken seriously?  Not many.  If they do actually forward their recommends to producers, it must be in the form of a mass emailing that goes straight into the spam folder. Don't pay for that. You can email those same producers yourself.

One final word of advice: Don't believe everything everyone tells you. Sometimes you have to go with your gut. I ignore the opinion of the mighty Trish when I disagree with her. I realize that if she has a problem with something that other people will too, but sometimes you have to follow your vision.

Other Tips:

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.