December 6th 2014
You settle into your plush stadium seat, dead center, fourth row up. Arm rests down, there’s a half-cherry-half-Coke Icee with two straws in the cupholder to your left and a $6 box of Junior Mints to your right. The pre-movie featurettes rotate onscreen, your cue to start dipping those pretzel bites into their atomic-yellow cheese sauce. Nothing naturally occurring on Earth is that yellow, but hell, it’s part of the experience.
Minutes disappear—along with two thirds of your extraterrestrial snack food—and then, the lights dim. The crowd quiets as you take a long, double-barrel draw on your Cherry Coke slush.
Trailers, trailers, trailers.
Trailers, trailers. Is this the last one?
Trailers, trailers. When will this end?
Trailers, trailers, trailers. Just kidding, I like trailers.
Right as you feel the moment may never come, the room goes dark. Black curtains slowly glide apart to reveal the widescreen.
Silence falls across the audience, only interrupted by a faint crunch of popcorn and a few comical slurps of soda. You can taste the excitement in the air.
Welcome to “The Ultimate Action Movie.”
If I made “The Ultimate Action Movie,” you know it’d come out the gate with a high impact opening scene. A dozen movie trailers have hypnotized your audience into a calm steady state at this point. They’ve likely finished $13.50 worth of snacks and nestled into whatever preconceived notion of what the upcoming 126 minutes will entail. Translation: it’s the perfect time to knock’em off their block. I’m talking “Fast & Furious” (the fourth in the series). Vin Diesel stomps on the accelerator, gunning a 1987 Buick GNX beneath a flaming oil tanker as it flips through the air, preserving just inches of clearance.
I’m talking the first fight scene of “Haywire.” In a split second, friendly diner banter transforms into Gina Carano utterly dismantling Channing Tatum. Two words: arm bar. And who could forget “Mission Impossible III?” Fade in from black. Tom Cruise is strapped into a chair amidst an interrogation. Captors threaten his wife with a gun. “Where is it? Where the hell is it?!” barks Phillip Seymour Hoffman (RIP). Oh you don’t know, Tom? Say goodbye to your ladyfriend. Gun shot. “NOOoo…” [cue opening credits]
Obviously, acting in “The Ultimate Action Movie” would be top notch. Remember that scene in “Gladiator” where Russel Crowe takes off his mask in the coliseum?
[removes helmet and turns around to face Commodus]
“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the TRUE emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”
[Commodus trembles in disbelief]
–Maximus, “Gladiator” (2000)
Bottle that sh*t up and multiply it by a thousand. We’d win numerous Academy Awards. Audience members will lose their minds over the sheer number of A-list actors sharing screen time. (Think “The Departed” not “The Expendables”). Christian Bale would deliver the highest Bale-caliber acting (minus the Batman voice). Tom Hardy would serve up a “Bronson”-level performance. Denzel would captivate moviegoers with his best showing since “Training Day.”
Actors would get Hugh Jackman jacked, lose extreme weight a la “Sixth Sense” Donnie Wahlberg, and spend months method acting characters. The audience would laugh, cry, shutter, gasp, heave, faint, twitch, implode, you name it.
If I made “The Ultimate Action Movie,” the story would be mind-bending. If “Inception” had layers, this movie would have layers on layers. It’d be an onion of Inceptions, a matryoshka doll of cinematic surprises, the turducken of plot twists.
I revisited “The Matrix” for the first time in years, and as the opening credits flashed across the screen, a feeling of concern washed over me. Would this movie hold up? Is it still the film that middle school Kevin watched 11 times on the plane during his first family trip to Asia?
“I know Kung Fu.”
–Neo, “The Matrix” (1999)
Just as fear was about to get the best of me, Trinity rose up like a marvelous, hell-bent crane in the opening sequence and all was right in the world. “The Matrix” unequivocally held up. All of it—the characters, the plot, the suspense. Who knows, “The Ultimate Action Movie” may even be adapted from an immeasurably kickass novel. Great stories are hard to come by, but if we’re making a book into a movie, you know damn well we’re going to be “The Lord Of The Rings,” not an “Ender’s Game.” Regardless, “The Ultimate Action Movie” is built on a story that has lasting power. It has longevity. It stands the test of time.
And the action in “The Ultimate Action Movie?” You’ll have to see it to believe it. We’ll trade in the Michael Bay “Transformers” explosions for good ol’ fashioned stunts. Real stunts. Close your eyes and relive that feeling when you witnessed Jackie Chan actually leap off of a building onto an adjacent fire escape in “Rumble in The Bronx.”
Parkour? No-brainer. Sprinkle in a James Bond “Casino Royale” Madagascar chase sequence with a little “Bourne Ultimatum” rooftop scamper. And, let’s not even get started with the fight scenes. Dear Lord, we all knew you were waiting for that Dwayne Johnson Vinny D. face-off in “Fast Five.” Well, picture that, then blow it out of the water after we add some impeccable martial arts wire work, paying homage to the likes of “Iron Monkey” or Jet Li’s “Once Upon a Time in China.”
If I made “The Ultimate Action Movie,” the soundtrack would light your brain on fire. I’d do what Pharrell did for “Despicable Me” but in a film that replaces all of those yellow mini monsters with ass kicking. Have you listened to the “Drive” soundtrack? The music alone is reason enough to see Ryan Gosling take names in that sweet jacket. We’d go “TRON” on this project.
Partner up with a Daft Punk equivalent (if one such band exists) to deliver an unprecedented original score. Even if we can’t throw down tracks from scratch, we can at least establish a killer movie mix. “Guardians of the Galaxy” boasts the first soundtrack at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100 to only be composed of previously released songs. That’s what I call good taste.
“The Ultimate Action Movie” is hilarious, like a classic buddy-cop flick. If I could replicate 2% of the onscreen chemistry shared by Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in “Rush Hour 2,” we’d be in good shape. Hell, “The Ultimate Action Movie” probably has Jackie Chan and Christ Tucker in it. The 1997 cult classic, “The Fifth Element,” may however be the true holy grail of action-comedy. Bruce Willis and Chris Tucker are untouchable.
What could be better than a former major in the special forces turned flying cab driver in 2263 coming out of retirement to team up with a futuristic talk show host that has a bleached fro in the shape of a microphone in order to save the world from a giant ball of evil black fire. Do we even need to mention how the costume design was done by Jean Paul Gaultier? What?!
Villains in “The Ultimate Action Movie” would be unforgettable. The late Heath Ledger as “The Joker” in The Dark Knight epitomizes movie evil. For such an outrageous character set in a comic book world, the performance was so convincing, hence even more frightening. I prefer my bad guys ruthless, surprising, and efficient. Sprinkle in a little silver fox Tom Cruise from “Collateral,” a relentlessly efficient hitman. Take a slice of the quietly haunting retired Thai cop slash killing machine played by Vitaya Pansringarm in “Only God Forgives.”
Jot down a few notes from Ben Foster’s sinister role as a kidnapper in the 2005 B. Willis flick, “Hostage.” The best villains take you on a chilling ride, holding you at the edge of your plush cinema seat until the last moment.
The ending of “The Ultimate Action Movie,” boy the ending, what can I say? The ending would be like nothing ever seen. Do you remember what it felt like to fixate your eyes on the spinning top duing the final scene of “Inception” for the first time? Did you recover all of the remaining brain shards after your mind exploded at the end of “The Prestige?”
Have you ever seen anything more satisfying than a restrained “Live Free or Die Hard” Bruce Willis killing the bad guy by shooting a gun through the bullet wound in his own shoulder? The ending of “The Ultimate Action Movie” will turn you upside down and shake you senseless, leaving you as a parched mass of brain mush thirsty for more.
Most importantly, “The Ultimate Action Movie” is unapologetically what it’s meant to be, an action movie. “The Rock” solidifies itself among the action movie elite because it has no disillusions with regards to its cinematic identity: a no frills, Bay Area based, cheesy-quote-slinging quirky duo action flick. Sean Connery delivers as a badass spy game retiree and Nicolas Cage pretty much plays himself. End of story.
Commander Anderson: Have you ever been in a combat situation?
Goodspeed: Define combat, sir.
Commander Anderson: Shep?
LT Shepherd: An incursion underwater to re-take an impregnable fortress held by an elite team of US Marines in possession of 81 hostages and 15 guided rockets armed with VX poison gas.
Goodspeed: Oh. In that case, no, sir.
–“The Rock” (1996)
It doesn’t matter that it received a 66% on Rotten Tomatoes. “The Rock” doesn’t care because “The Rock” is true to itself. Likewise, “The Ultimate Action Movie” stands tall in the face of scrutiny.
A Blockbuster beacon of action, it scoffs at the try-to-hards and the wannabes. “The Ultimate Action Movie” expands with all of the “Transporter”-car-chasing-“Pitch Black”-monster-slaying-“Book of Eli”-machete-wielding-“True Lies”-horseback-riding-“Independence Day”-alien-punching-“Equilibrium”-double-gun-toting-“Captain America”-shield-throwing-“300”-hole-kicking creamy goodness movie magic has to offer and jams it into a neatly packaged, easily digestible 126 minute hurricane presented for you–in your triple plush reclinable stadium seat, equipped with two arm rests and a XL Icee–to sit back, relax and enjoy.
[Cue post credits movie sequel teaser]
Movie mentions (in order of reference):
- “Fast & Furious” (2009)
- “Haywire” (2011)
- “Mission Impossible III” (2006)
- “Gladiator” (2000)
- “The Departed” (2006)
- “The Expendables” (2010)
- “Batman Begins” (2005)
- “Bronson” (2008)
- “Training Day” (2001)
- “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009)
- “The Sixth Sense” (1999)*
- “Inception” (2010)
- “The Matrix” (1999)
- “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001)
- “Ender’s Game” (2013)
- “Transformers” (2007)
- “Rumble in the Bronx” (1995)
- “Casino Royale” (2006)
- “Bourne Ultimatu”m (2007)
- “Fast Five” (2011)
- “Iron Monkey” (1993)
- “Once Upon A Time In China” (1991)
- “Despicable Me” (2010)*
- “Drive” (2011)
- “TRON: Legacy” (2010)
- “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014)
- “Rush Hour 2” (2001)
- “The Fifth Element” (1997)
- “The Dark Knight” (2008)
- “Collateral” (2004)
- “Only God Forgives” (2013)
- “Hostage” (2005)
- “The Prestige” (2006)*
- “Live Free or Die Hard” (2007)
- “The Rock” (1996)
- “The Transporter” (2002)
- “Pitch Black” (2000)
- “The Book of Eli” (2010)
- “True Lies” (1994)
- “Independence Day” (1996)
- “Equilibrium” (2002)
- “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011)
- “300” (2006)
*Technically not what I would consider an action movie.
November 5th 2014
“If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”
This month, CreativeMornings plans to celebrate its 100th city. Somewhere, a group of volunteers will be granted with the license to start a “chapter,” and eventually that team will wake up bright and early to setup breakfast and open the doors to their first morning lecture.
I became the first employee of CreativeMornings Headquarters when there were monthly events in four cities: NYC, Zurich, LA and SF, with a charge to expand the organization. Today, volunteers in 42 countries host these mini-conferences for their local creative communities free of charge.
This work really came to a head for me last month when my team brought 200 of these event organizers to Brooklyn. Finally gathered in one room were the individuals that represent CM from Bogotá to Berlin. The Summit was filling, electric, and unforgettable. I laughed, cried, and–for the first time in a healthy bit–contemplated what this experience has amounted to.
The blur of those two and a half days was more jarring than I expected (in the best of ways). I still struggle to describe its personal significance. Bottom line, bringing these people together was an incredible reminder of what it means to connect face to face.
Here are my favorite moments that were captured at the 2014 CreativeMornings Summit by a variety of talented photographers: Bekka Palmer, Ace Boothby, Kait Ebinger, Jérémie Fontana, and Heriberto Noguera. Videos by Bas Berkhout and Ben Derico.
October 18th 2014
I’ve always found myself organizing events. From planning the dance to helping with concerts in college to the dozens of CreativeMornings lectures in the past few years, I gravitate towards the magic of the live show.
I landed in New York on July 4th, 2011. Based on a hasty calculation, I’ve had a hand in 50 events for about 15,000 attendees since my arrival, of course with the help and guidance of many fine folks. These events were mostly talks, a couple multi-day conferences, and a sprinkling of parties, with anywhere between 150-600 participants each.
Here are a few (potentially) less obvious lessons I’ve learned that have helped me keep my head on straight, survive the stress, and make the most of the experience.
1. Eat beforehand
When I’m hungry, I’m irritable. When I’m busy, I forget to eat. Poor combo. Do yourself a favor and make time beforehand to grab a bite. For the morning events, I wake up early to make breakfast. If you’re running late, I suggest assigning a friend the single responsibility of making sure you eat amidst the chaos.
A pro-tip I learned from Ryan who produces events at BAM: pack apple juice. Those slow, sugary calories will keep you standing.
2. If something’s wrong on the stage, fix it
Speaker not holding the mic to his mouth? Say something. Confusion about how to use the clicker? Get up there and demonstrate. Weird object obstructing the camera’s view? Get that sh*t out of there. You don’t get any points for timidly sitting by, hoping a situation will remedy itself.
Nobody wants to see you cautiously approaching the stage in a moment of need. The audience would rather watch you quickly and confidently fix the issue. You must never hesitate. I learned that from Nickey who runs Preview Events and has handled over five years of production at the Times Center. She had no fear when it came to addressing a problem. Even if a speaker is mid-soliloquy, I say get up there and fix the lapel mic. The audience is begging for you to save the day.
3. Test the media. Test all of it.
I don’t care if every animated gif, Keynote sparkle animation and This Is Spinal Tap movie clip worked last night. This’ll be the best six minutes you spend before showtime. If there’s some sort of presentation or media involved, test all of it once the tech is setup. Better yet, test it with the speaker watching too.
Trust me, fumbling through your email in front of an audience while searching for that original .mov file is no fun.
4. If you forget someone’s name, own up to it.
You’re going to meet a lot of people, and you’re going to forget some names. That’s okay. Unless it’s a VIP (you should have done your homework), I say own up to it. “I’m so sorry, I’m blanking on your name,” is a great go-to. There are plenty of other tricks including the classic I’ll-intro-you-to-someone-else-and-listen-closely play but if all else fails, just be honest. In my experience, people will actually respect you if you’re genuine about it.
On the flip side, when approaching someone you’ve met a few times, make it easy for them. My boss loves it when people kick off a convo with their name and company (e.g. “Hey! I’m so-and-so from where-and-where”).
5. Dress up
“We’ve been working long nights for months all leading up to the next three days. There’s no way we’re gonna look like crap.”
Those were Devin’s poignant words when we were producing The Feast Conference in 2012. Dress up, buy new shoes, wear your favorite shirt. Whatever makes you feel unbeatable. Part of holding everything together is making sure you’re put together. You don’t want to be running around on game day looking ragged. You’ve worked so hard, make the moment count.
In my case, Devin literally took me shopping. I have to say, we looked great…even if we wore the same clothes two days in a row because we slept in the venue.
6. The best thing you can do at your event is participate
It’s not always possible, but if you can muster the free time, I believe a perfectly executed event means you’ve distributed responsibilities well enough to allow you (or whoever is heading the show) to meet, mingle, and participate in what’s going on. Ask questions to attendees, welcome sponsors, and nurture new relationships. That was something Bonnie, who’s produced TED and more, said when we worked together in 2012 that always stuck with me. Doesn’t that sound better than freaking out about every little detail until the room is empty again?
I like to think about the planning process like an asymptote. No matter how hard you work, you can never achieve “complete preparedness.” Eventually, further preparation leads to diminishing returns. You’re better off getting a good night’s rest to stock up some brain resources for the big day.
7. Make a habit of celebrating with your team
Honestly, I’m not a great celebrator. When I’m left to my devices, it ends up being work work work work work. However, I’ve learned a bit about the importance of celebrating a job well done. A team deserves to decompress, debrief, and enjoy each other’s company outside of a stressful showtime environment. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Maybe just start with a regular meal or drinks following an event. Together, you’ve completed a goal. Mark that moment, and make some time to be proud of what was accomplished.
Events can get a bit hectic, no doubt. But that’s part of the thrill. There will always be a crunch time and eventually it will be all over. Finished, fineto, cold stop.
Work your tail off, get some sleep, and enjoy the ride. If all else fails, at least you’ll learn some valuables lessons along the way.
August 6th 2014
My late grandfather wrote poems throughout his life. I remember my mother showing me dozens of these sheets of paper filled with his handwriting that mom had kept safe and started to transcribe, even translate. She has often said, “The arts run in your blood” (while my father would say, “You get that stuff from your mom’s side.”)
The following is a poem I wrote in the 8th grade in its original form. For the sake of artistic integrity, I’ve resisted the urge to change a few puzzling word choices and correct the grammar. I’m proud to present to you the poetic stylings of my middle school self.
The Monk, the Monkeys, and the Moo-moo Tree
By Kevin Huynh, February 2002
Good day today my merry friends
It seems that I am mandate to tell you a story from beginning to end
So please mellow out and minder around as I tell you for free
The story of The Monk, The Monkeys, and the Moo-moo Tree
It was a murky Monday in the month of May
A muster of monks were to migrate to their dismay
The magnate of the monks was a wise old man
Who made many decisions for his loyal old clan
The journey was to take many days
Through the merciless jungles of the Mildimay
Little did they know of the many dangers that they would meet
Including the merciless band of monkeys which was a meticulous feat
So the magnate and his monks made their way
Beginning there methodical migration as some would say
At midday they would eat their meager meals
In a mere attempt to grease their wheels
The magnate had warned the monks of a mysterious Moo-moo Tree
That held much maliciousness in its treachery
The methodical magnate told of the monkeys of the Moo-moo Tree
Whose whereabouts were shrouded in mystery
The Moo-moo Tree was a mark of evil
With mouth watering fruit that seemed almost medieval
The fruit resembled a mango, a most enticing greet
But actually possessed a mephitic meat
The mephitic and poisonous Moo-moo Tree
That makes these animals monstrous murderous monkeys
That murder the men and eat their meat
Eventually burying them below their feet
After many days of arduous moving the monks came to a mangrove where they could see
And there in the middle, lying in the center was a mysterious looking mango tree
Surrounding it were many monstrous monkeys staring at the men
The monks counted, one, two, three, four…maybe up to one hundred and ten
The magnate meticulously moved near the tree and asked him self, could this really be?
Could this really be a magnificent mango tree to mitigate their hunger along with their worries?
Or could it be the Moo-moo Tree
Whose mephitic meat could kill both you and me
After a moment of mediation the magnate said,
“This is the Moo-moo Tree, if eaten you shall be dead”
The monks soon minded their magnate’s words
Is he speaking the truth? Or is he miserly stealing hors d’oeuvres?
But in a moment the monks came to
They followed their magnate’s words as they should do
For they have much manner towards their monk
And manly trust him, as a tree trusts his trunk
At about midday, a miniscule monkey made his way
To the feet of the magnate in a morose yet mundane way
He asked “What is the matter you moronic monk?
Why didn’t you eat those mesmerizing mango chunks?”
The magnate answered, “Me would think that with such a merry mango chunk
Someone would munch on the mango growing off that tree trunk
Especially with such a massive menagerie of monkeys among the mango tree
Without even a marked bite taken from this luscious mango tree
One simply must muster to one self, Could this be, Could this be the Moo-moo Tree?
The Moo-moo Tree that menacingly murdered so many for none to see?
So you see my mini, morose yet mundane monkey
There must be some kind of mischief in the milieu of this unmarred mango tree”
The mind boggled monkey was so very impressed
By the mental capacity of this monk which exceeded the rest
So the miscreant monkey confessed it was a trap
And with a respectful bow he marched off, as if it was a mishap
The magnate and his monks continued on their merry way
Completing their mission across the Mildimay
But they shall never forget what they learned for it is impossible you see,
To forget their magnate, the monkeys and the Moo-moo tree.