“Abattoir” director Darren Lynn Bousman serves up horror with noir ambitions

Darren Lynn Bousman

Darren Lynn Bousman (Credit: Momentum Pictures)

Darren Lynn Bousman, best known for directing three installments of the “Saw” series (“Saw II,” “Saw III” and “Saw IV”), has a new film in release, “Abattoir.” The film is a spinoff from his six-part graphic novel of the same name.

The screenplay, which has a noir sensibility (despite the horror-film title), has ambitious real estate reporter Julia Talben (Jessica Lowndes) hankering to write about crime for her metropolitan newspaper. She unexpectedly gets the chance to investigate a real estate-themed crime when her sister (Jackie Tuttle) and her family are brutally murdered.

Julia and her quasi-boyfriend Declan Grady (Joe Anderson) discover the bloodbath is one of several instances when the entire room of a murder scene has been removed from the house where it happened. Who is committing these heinous and strange crimes? Julia and Declan travel to her hometown of New English to find out. They meet the peculiar Jebediah Crown (Dayton Callie) and discover a house of horrors.

Bousman creates an effective atmosphere, from the 1940s style of the apartments and urban newspaper’s offices to the technical wizardry of the ghosts and horrors that lurk in the haunted house at the climax. Moreover, while “Abattoir” is at times as bloody as its title suggests, Bousman is deliberate about how much violence he shows on-screen. He excels at creating a sense of dread rather than emphasizing the gore.

The filmmaker spoke with Salon about his film and what scares him.

So what made you get into horror films? Do you like to shock, surprise, excite or gross out audiences?

Horror to me is more memorable than any other genre. We go through our lives and feel stressed and laugh and cry. We don’t feel fear as much, and fear stays with you more than comedy or drama does. We are used to feeling those emotions. Terror and disgust are shocks to the system. Growing up, I can look back at times when I was scared or thought I was going to die. I don’t remember times that were funny as well.

What inspired you to write the graphic novel and make this film, which are two very different stories featuring the same villain?

I think I’m experimenting in telling stories in a cross-platform — telling different parts of a story in different genres. For “Abattoir,” I had this idea and I pitched it, and I realized the pitch was too much mythology. So we told part of it in graphic novel format, part in TV and part in a movie.

That was my way of telling different parts of the story — like an origin story in the book — and then [something else in] the movie. The book is one story. The movie is another story in that universe. One of the cool things is that the comic is an introduction to the world, the mythology. The look and aesthetics are everything. The comic made me focus on the frames of reference we were trying to create.

What observations do you have about creating a villain like Jebediah Crone?

To me, you have to love your villain. If you look back in cinema, you love the villain in “Silence of the Lambs” or “Saw.” You understand them. At the heart of Jebediah, he is doing this [evil] for the right reasons, which is love. You have to have a great villain. Jigsaw in “Saw” was killing people because they were wasting the opportunities in their lives.

Ironically, we created “Abattoir” for Dayton Callie. He was my archetype. In the first season of “Deadwood,” his character [Charlie Utter] always stayed with me. Then I saw him [as Chief Wayne Unser] in “Sons of Anarchy” and worked with him on “The Devil’s Carnival.” He was a character actor who could play anything, so I really wanted him to be intimidating and soft-spoken.

But he has a way with words. This, in the wrong hands, wouldn’t have worked. One thing we struggled with was how much we show of Jebediah. I didn’t want to see him a lot but to show him sparingly — that makes him more of a mystery. The comic book was just setting up the mystery. I wanted to take the audience on a journey that they never knew what was going on. I never wanted Jebediah to show his whole hand too soon.  

You play into some tropes and stereotypes in the film, such as the 1940s era hard-boiled cop and reporter, but also the small-town folks, like the sheriff in New English. Can you talk about the characters and how you imagined them?

I didn’t want to make another horror film. I am always trying to do new and weird things. Doing a spin on something I’m a fan of, like film noir, and the hard-nosed detectives who talk with repartee. I’ve always wanted to make a film noir, but people won’t give me money to make a film noir. They give me money to make a horror film. Then I will make a horror film that mixes in film noir.

I interjected the tropes of noir in a modern-day film with cellphones and computers, but the characters chose to live in arcane dialogue and dress. I [personally] use typewriters and have old clothes. My office looks like a detective novel. I wanted to show that coolness to a modern audience.

Many horror filmmakers have a moral they are trying to get at in their extreme work. For “Abattoir,” that moral seems to be closure. Julia is investigating the crime and seeking info on her family. Do you believe in closure?

For me it’s a couple of things. Closure is a big part of it. But taking it step further, it’s moving forward and not looking back at what could have been or mistakes we made. The reoccurring theme in the film is always look forward, don’t get caught in the past.

Jeb says double entendres. Audiences misconstrue things. When Julia shows up, he says, “Don’t walk through the doors. Your future is behind you.” He gives her every opportunity not to continue. And yet, her need for closure, to put a button on the end of this, leads her [to investigate]. The message is be present and be in the moment. Julia can’t change her sister’s and her family’s death. There is no closure. I’m in a stage in my life to live more in the present.

Much of “Abattoir” is surprisingly talky. Can you discuss the slow-burn approach to drawing out suspense and developing the plot and characters?

I’m a horror director. It’s a talking head movie. People expect it’s a slaughterhouse film because of the connotations of the title. I wanted to make a throwback to fast-witted dialogue and films where the dialogue is the star. That was the challenge and fun of creating the story.

There are some very violent scenes in the film, but you are careful about how much you show. Can you talk about your restraint in depicting violence and how you decide what to show?

The film’s downfall will be the lack of violence. When you hear “Saw” and “Abattoir” and see the trailer, people expect “Abattoir” to be a more visceral film than it is. But I wanted to make a film that didn’t have the same degree of violence of my other films. I wanted the violence to be an afterthought. Now that I’m a father, I have an aversion to children being killed. So that scene [of Julia’s nephew being killed] happened offscreen.

We watched the first cut of the film and some scenes were missing violence. The first cut was a series of talking heads. So the producers asked me to up the violence. I went back to shoot some of the graphic scenes in the first 20 minutes. I was trying to find that balance to satisfy noir and horror.

What can you say about imagining the film’s ghosts and bringing them, so to speak, to life?

That was the biggest nightmare of my life! We had a different version of the ghosts we shot. There were a lot of tracking shots; I didn’t do coverage. That astronomically shot up the budget. And at the end of a four-and-a-half-minute tracking shot, we had to rethink the idea, given what we shot and the budget we had. What we are left with is what we did.

Before we started filming, I thought, Can I do this without ghosts? I became so in love with the dialogue that I was like, Are ghosts going to cheapen it? Should I keep it just as film noir murder mystery? I opted not to. “Abattoir” is special because of the mishmash of genres. Adding the ghosts helped that.

One of the key lines for me in the film is “There is nothing more dangerous than someone who’s afraid.” What can you say about creating fear?

That’s a hard one. Creating fear . . . I don’t know if I can comment on that. Everyone has something different that they are scared of. I have to look at what upsets me, as a parent and filmmaker and hope it connects with them and me.

What are you afraid of?

The safety bubble I live in bursting. The world I created with my wife and son and creating films. I have this very amazing life, and I am scared of waking up and having something happen — that I can’t make a film or be with my family. It’s the loss of control. Spiders and men in masks don’t scare me. It’s all emotional things. That’s the older wiser guy who’s making this movie.

I just wrapped a yearlong work [for] “The Tension Experience,” a site-specific experience that is about disconnecting from cellphones and having human interaction. We’re losing ourselves to things that control us and move us. I’m concerned about losing human interaction. Can you be somewhere without checking your phone? That’s happening to the world. People are scared about losing the ability to be present. We’re becoming zombies, literally.

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Trump’s war on women: 3 key team members have been accused of physical or sexual violence against women

Steve Bannon; Donald Trump

Steve Bannon; Donald Trump (Credit: AP/Gerald Herbert/John Raoux/Photo montage by Salon)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.


As Donald Trump continues to put together his inner circle — including conspiracy theorist, Islamophobe and white nationalist champion Michael Flynn as national security advisor, school privatizer and public school opponent Betsy DeVos as secretary of education, climate change denialist Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency and entrenched Wall Street money man and former Goldman Sachs executive Steven Mnuchin as treasury secretary — a whole other troubling pattern has emerged. Aside from a number of figures tied to financial corruption and white supremacist groups, the Trump team includes three key players who have been accused of abusing women.

There’s Steve Bannon, the white nationalist sympathizer and propagandist who boasted that under his leadership, Breitbart News became the “platform for” the white supremacist “alt-right.” In an 1996 police report, an officer wrote that Bannon’s ex-wife Mary Louise Piccard claimed Bannon grabbed her by the neck in the middle of an argument. Bannon was charged with domestic violence, misdemeanor witness intimidation, and traumatic injury and battery. He pleaded not guilty to those charges, which were dropped when Piccard didn’t show up for a court date.

Andrew Puzder, the anti-labor fast-food titan and minimum wage opponent who Trump has appointed labor secretary, was accused of spousal abuse by his wife of 16 years, Lisa Henning. During the couple’s divorce in 1989, Henning stated that Puzder had attacked her on multiple occasions, once punching her as they rode in a car together. New York Magazine also points to an incident alleged to have taken place in 1986:

“Henning said Puzder ‘attacked me, choked me, threw me to the floor, hit me in the head, pushed his knee into my chest, twisted my ar​m and dr​agged me​ ​on the floor, threw me against a wall, tried to stop my call to 911 and kicked me in the back.’ Afterward, the couple signed a mutual consent order that prohibited Puzder from entering the second and third floors of the couple’s house and Henning from going into the basement.”

Trump himself has been accused of abuse my numerous women, including his first wife, Ivanka. In a sworn deposition from their 1992 divorce, the former Mrs. Trump claimed that the president-elect — in a fit of rage after a painful hair transplant procedure — began “ripping out [her] hair by the handful” before violently raping her. She later recanted via a letter sent by Trump’s lawyers, which stated, “during one occasion in 1989, Mr. Trump and I had marital relations in which he behaved very differently toward me than he had during our marriage. As a woman I felt violated … I referred to this as a ‘rape,’ but I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense.”

Two other women accused Trump of sexual assault. One of those women, known only as Jane Doe, filed court papers in which she claimed Trump had violently raped her on multiple occasions. She dropped those charges after reporting that she had been targeted with threats. Jill Harth, a Trump business associate from the 1990s who claimed that Trump grabbed her by the genitals during a sexual assault at his Mar-A-Lago estate, gave a post-election interview to the Guardian where she described Trump’s win as “the biggest con possible. Now time will tell what happens next. I’m hoping for the best, I really am, but afraid he will leave many of us as roadkill.”

After the leak of the infamous 2005 footage in which Trump bragged about committing criminal sex acts against women, roughly a dozen women came forward with allegations of sexual assault and intimidation. During the campaign, Trump said he would sue all of those women following the election. Like many of the promises made on the trail, he has not followed through with that action.

Trump, Bannon and Puzder are member of a cabinet that is anti-woman to the extreme. As The New York Times reported, nearly all of his appointees are opponents of reproductive justice and many have also voted to oppose legislation that would afford women equal pay. The triumvirate of powerful men who have been accused of using physical and sexual violence against women is in keeping with Trump’s misogynist actions and rhetoric over the last few years, including the 18 months of the campaign. Having those anti-woman players involved in shaping and deciding on policy will likely be disastrous consequences for millions of women — including the 53 percent of white women who decided to vote for an openly misogynist man as their president.

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My personal Michigan recount: The official vote review is off, but I only needed answers from one family — my own

There is a lot happened since you are gone

(Credit: Getty/GCShutter)

“Get over it already,” Mom said, after I reiterated my shock that she and my father had helped elect Donald Trump and told them I strongly backed the recount in my home state.

“Move on,” Dad added on the other line. “Just worry about your own business.”

While I usually called every night, I’d been too upset after the election to phone. As a Manhattan journalism professor still consoling distressed students of all backgrounds, this was my business — especially after swastikas were found in a Jewish student’s dormitory room at the college where I taught and a black friend’s daughter was texted “N***** Lynching” at her Pennsylvania university.

As weeks wore on, my folks’ candidate kept Twitter blasting “Saturday Night Live,” the media and Democrats’ desire to challenge the election results but could not tweet, “Stop the hate speech and hate crimes” to the Ku Klux Klan and so-called alt-right groups he continued to empower. I felt sick, unable to sleep or concentrate. Never before had I been ashamed of my country — or my parents.

On a tight book deadline, I’d begged off from visiting for Thanksgiving. Hanukkah and Christmas fall on the same weekend this year, but the thought of fighting my family over politics made me panic. My mind flashed to the old Southside Johnny song lyrics: “Whatever happened to you and I/ that I don’t want to go home.”

Growing up in Michigan, I was proud of my mother and father: chic, funny, smart former New Yorkers who seemed more sophisticated than other Midwesterners. On the Festival of Lights, my favorite holiday, we’d light the menorah, eat potato latkes with apple sauce and open a present on each of the eight nights. Yet I never really fit into our suburb. Though my public elementary was filled with fellow Jews, I was awkward and friendless. Luckily, my parents let me attend the diverse, artistic private school I’d picked.

When I brought home a black classmate in sixth grade, my neighbor used a Yiddish derogatory term for blacks.

What’s that, I asked my parents, both from Lower East Side, Yiddish-speaking families.

“It means our neighbors are idiots,” Mom said, insisting we never use that term.

“Ignore the racist assholes,” Dad snapped, surprising me with profanity. “We had relatives murdered in the Holocaust because Hitler scapegoated Jews.”

“We treat everyone equal. No slurs are ever allowed in our home,” my mother told us.

I didn’t understand how this lesson applied to us until, when I was 11, I was traumatized by TV coverage of 1972’s massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich, as well as news of wars against Israel that my cousins fought in. Yet my mom, a beautiful redhead, patronized stores owned by local Lebanese and Iraqi families. She taught me to hate only the enemies who had vowed to annihilate Israel and to never stereotype. My dad is a physician. Working at his Detroit office one summer, I was proud to learn he secretly treated many poor minority patients who couldn’t pay.

After Mom put Dad through medical school, she chose to be a housewife while raising four kids. Like many who get more conservative as they age, he veered right, pushing conventional politics and professions on me and my three brothers.   In junior high, during in my raging Sylvia Plath stage, I was talking to Dad in his den and he said, “Go get me a cup of coffee.”

“You already have one subservient female in the family,” I answered.

“Feminism is an abomination,” my brother joked.

“You know I’m the one paying tuition allowing you to learn that feminist crap,” Dad responded.

I reluctantly fetched him coffee, with sprinkled cookies Mom added to the saucer.

As an English major at University of Michigan, which Dad dubbed “the People’s Republic of Ann Arbor,” and later at New York University, I was my family’s lefty outcast. Dinners with my Republican relatives were acrimonious, especially when my oldest brother turned into a staid doctor, raising four kids in the Midwest like Dad.

Now in my 50s with a liberal husband who gets his own coffee, I have analyzed how my blood relations could vote for someone I see as dangerously nationalistic as Hitler. Since I don’t want to hate my own kin or half the country, I have desperately tried to see their side.

After my father suffered a near fatal heart attack at 80, he had retired. Dad grew up as a poor street kid and put his four kids through college and grad school. Now he was making trusts to help his grandchildren pay for higher education, too, and he was  obsessed with the inheritance tax Trump promised to repeal.

“You’ll inherit more money,” Dad wrote in an email.

That was why he voted for Trump? “Nothing’s worth having a president I don’t respect,” I replied.

“Poverty’s worse.”

Dad shared a story I’d never heard. When he first applied to medical school, he didn’t get in because of Jewish quotas. He worked a fellowship for a year before he was admitted. “It only paid $300 a week,” he wrote. “Your mother worked to support me. We lived paycheck to paycheck for five years, sleeping on a sofa bed. After working hard for 60 years, why should my money go to the government instead of my kids and grandkids?”

OK, that I understood. As they aged, my parents worried about their finances and their legacy. So did I.

Still, I couldn’t fathom their inability to see how Trump went against everything they’d taught me. I loved my parents, but I couldn’t get over my devastation. Depressed and sleep deprived, I felt like I was sitting shiva. When a Jewish activist colleague whom my mom knew died, I called to tell her. Before we hung up, I asked, “Aren’t you afraid of Trump’s sexism and racism and the hate crimes he’s inciting?”

I didn’t know how my Mom, who’d been happily married 60 years, could pardon Trump’s five children with three wives and “grabbing pussy” tape.

“Look, Trump’s rhetoric is disgusting. But I find Hillary dishonest and condescending. I couldn’t stand either candidate the whole election,” she told me.

“Trump’s not anti-Semitic, Ivanka converted and he has Orthodox grandkids,” Dad said. “The right is better for Israel.”

Was that true? As a proud Zionist myself (for a two-state solution), with close cousins in Jerusalem, I’d also been dismayed by what I saw as the left wing’s anti-Zionism. I’d been sickened by the whole boycott, divestment and sanctions or BDS movement against Israel, preferring instead the nickname “bald-faced lies, deception and slander.” When an idiot burned an Israeli flag at the Democratic Convention, I was stunned that Hillary Clinton didn’t publicly denounce it. But even if Republicans were better for the Holy Land and the economy, I didn’t think that should be enough to win my parents’ votes. Then again, who was I to dictate what their main issues were?

Next Dad emailed me a Los Angeles Times op-ed about how maligned Trump supporters feel being called “racist, redneck and uneducated.” I found it hilarious how thin-skinned supporters of the nastiest candidate in history suddenly were. I responded, “Not all Trump supporters are racist. But all Trump supporters decided racism isn’t a deal breaker.”

Dad shot back a Conservative Free Press link blaming rich liberals for the hate crime increase. Oy. I returned fire with a piece quoting Trump’s decree that American Muslims had to “register,” the way Nazis made Jews wear yellow stars. I paraphrased the adage Dad once told me: “All it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing.”

It seemed encouraging that my father kept attempting communication. Was it from guilt? For a month after the election, that was how we maintained contact.

“All identity politics is the mantra of ignorance,” my father said.

Wait! “So you do denounce Trump’s hate speech?” I asked.

“It’s all bluster and bullshit,” Dad answered. “But better than Bonnie and Clyde back in the White House.”

I rolled my eyes at his nickname for Hillary and her husband, whom both my parents saw as crooked. I slowly conceded that Hillary came with too much baggage named Bill and citizens unhappy with Obama wanted change. Though my biggest disdain was actually for the 41 percent of voters who stayed home when I realized that the more than 95 million Americans who didn’t cast a ballot had decided the election.

“So all the kids are coming for the holidays. When are you visiting?” my father asked me.

“Not this year.” I decided to mail my Hanukkah cards and presents instead. I remained despondent, wanting to hide inside my home this December with my Democratic husband, a good book and no makeup, like Hillary.

Scrolling though my Facebook news feed, I took solace in the fact that my middle brother’s 17-year-old daughter posted “Pence Confirms Trump will be an anti-LGBT president” with other anti-Trump screeds. My older brother’s son, a 20-year-old Michigan college student, kept sharing Hillary photos, the Statue of Liberty sobbing and an image of Batman slapping Trump. I responded with lots of hearts. My blonde niece, an NYU freshman living around the corner from me, sent videos of herself at ongoing protests, chanting “Not My President.” At least my family’s next generation would carry the torch for anti-discrimination and diversity.

Sensing my continued distress, my two younger brothers let me know they had voted for Hillary and couldn’t stand the president-elect. I hadn’t known! Then my oldest doctor brother texted me an image of Popeye saying “I Yam Digustipated.”

I thought he was making fun of my hurt. Until he texted, #imwithher.

He was? My eyes watered. When the Michigan election clerks began their re-tally, I calculated my  family’s recount. Fascinatingly, all my brothers, sisters-in-law and their kids were with her, and with me, for the first time ever. While I lost my dream of a female president, this felt like a historic shift. I chose to take these votes as proof that my parents were still the good people I thought they were, having taught us the right values, after all.

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A super white Christmas: The Hallmark Channel gives us TV’s most homogeneous view of the holiday

Hallmark Channel

(Credit: Hallmark Channel)

Over the summer the Hallmark Channel hosted a lavish event for television critics and reporters attending an industry conference. Hallmark throws these parties twice a year and invites members of the press to attend, but this generous invite-only affair is really to thank the stars and producers whose work graces the channel.

A centerpiece of these evenings is the presentation of the network’s sizzle reels — that is, an edited package of clips from upcoming projects set to air on Hallmark and its sister channel Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. For some of us, this is where a drinking game kicks in: We watch these reels and take a swig every time we see an African-American, Latino, Asian or Native American actor pop up in one of the cuts.

If you’ve ever watched the Hallmark Channel, you may understand that cruel jest of this particular drinking game is that it’s impossible to get drunk or even mildly tipsy by playing. The summertime sizzle reel, which featured talent from the two networks’ 26 newest holiday movies as well as cast members of Hallmark series such as “Cedar Cove” and “Good Witch” and specials, gave those of us watching two occasions to sip.


This represent a decrease from the network sizzle reel we watched at Hallmark’s 2016 winter event. During that one we tallied six appearances by minorities, a total derived by drinking twice for Mariah Carey (who starred in and directed “A Christmas Melody” for Hallmark a year ago) and one erroneous sip for “Desperate Housewives” alumnus Jesse Metcalfe, who someone believed to be Hispanic. He’s not.

What’s worse, said tally includes sightings of the black cats shown in the promo for Hallmark’s Kitten Bowl. (There were two in last January’s reel. In July’s reel, there were none.)

“We haven’t done nearly a good enough job,” on the diversity front, admitted Hallmark’s Bill Abbott, the president and CEO of Crown Media Family Networks, which operates both cable channels.  “It has been . . . a difficult undertaking that we are committed to not only improving on but becoming proficient at.”

When asked to elaborate on the nature of his company’s difficulties regarding hiring actors and actresses of color, Abbott cited the fact that the majority of production takes place in Canada (which, last I checked, is still accessible by plane, train and automobile by most people) and the channel’s high volume of production.

“These are going to sound like a lot of excuses,” Abbott said. “But the reality is that it does have a pretty big impact on how well we’re able to cast and what access we have to casting.”

The holiday season officially kicked off on the Hallmark Channel on Oct. 28, which is when the network began its annual Countdown to Christmas. For the past few years it has transformed into a 24/7 headquarters for made-for-TV Yuletide movies, cycling through its increasingly ample inventory of originals from years past in addition to debuting its newest additions.

At the conclusion of this year’s event the Hallmark Channel alone will have debuted 19 new films on Saturdays and Sundays. Out of those new films only one features a minority, “227’s” Jackée Harry, in a major role. Harry co-stars with Dean Cain and Melissa Joan Hart in “Broadcasting Christmas,” which premiered on Nov. 23, and like Hallmark’s other originals, airs in multiple repeats, including Sunday at 8 a.m. ET and Monday at 6 p.m. ET.  Like Harry, Cain and Hart enjoyed their time in the sunshine of celebrity when they starred in popular network series — Cain in “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” and Hart in “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.”

Although Harry is featured in photos on the show’s webpage, however, it’s Dean and Hart on the series poster and featured in the preview trailer. Harry is nowhere to found.

Maybe we can chalk that up to aesthetic; if you see all 19 holiday posters together, which you can on a press site page, you many notice a certain, um, consistency.

“I like the Hallmark channel, but they never have any stories with African Americans. It would be nice to see us sometimes,” observed one post from someone identified as Bernie commenting on an EW.com article about Hallmark’s holiday slate. Another comment simply noted, “It’s obvious what type of audience they prefer.”

Unless you’re a holiday die-hard or a regular Hallmark viewer you may be wondering why this matters. Let’s begin with the obvious statement that holiday-themed viewing plays a huge role in the annual traditions of all kinds of families. So, yes, this is a cultural representation issue and one made especially disheartening when you take into account the way these movies sell a nostalgia for a false, if durable, vision of an America that never existed. But it’s also a problem of hiring and economics.

Sugar-spun traits of “real” America dominate Hallmark’s movie plots through the year, in fact. Plots typically involve characters from or living in the mythological small towns of “real” America, melting the hard hearts of big-city folks or bah humbug grinches with their honest optimism and pure, decent values.

To be fair, Hallmark isn’t the first or only entertainment entity to sell viewers on this kind of imagery. “Dreaming of a white Christmas” isn’t merely a nostalgic Irving Berlin lyric; it’s also a standard television industry practice.

But trucking in such marshmallow fuzziness has increasingly paid off for Hallmark.

Save for the occasional branding slam dunk like NBC’s highly rated “Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love,” which attracted 11.4 million viewers in is recent debut, made-for-TV holiday films are a virtually extinct species on broadcast television.

Meanwhile, Hallmark’s investment in them has made its cable channels prime destinations for viewers searching for family-friendly content. According to the most recent Nielsen ratings, Hallmark’s original films “Looks Like Christmas” and “A Dream of Christmas” placed in the cable top 10. Not only that, they were the second and third highest rated non-sports, non-news scripted offerings on cable, topped only by “The Walking Dead.”

The total audiences for these each of movies — 3.9 million for “Looks Like Christmas” and 3.8 million for “A Dream of Christmas” — is larger than that for most of Fox’s Sunday prime-time lineup and pretty much every show on The CW that isn’t “The Flash.”

Hallmark’s cable channels debut original films year-round, making the company one of the most prolific producers, if not the most prolific, of made-for-TV movie content going. “Really, the Hallmark Channel is more reflective of Hallmark Cards and the retail calendars,” Abbott explained. “So we’ve gone into fall, and winter, and spring, and summer, as well as Valentine’s Day, Kitten Bowl, and a lot of other events that also do really big ratings. We’ve expanded our business and become much more of a 12-months-of-the-year consistent player.”

Christmas is by far the most lucrative time of year for Hallmark’s channels, generating 30 percent of their annual revenue. To give you an idea of how much cash that yields, both Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries raked in more than $400 million in ad revenue this year, according to a network source who did not want to be named. (Parent company Hallmark Cards, which took Crown Media Holdings private in May, had an annual revenue listed at $3.7 billion for 2015, according to Forbes.)

That makes Hallmark a hiring force in Hollywood for recognizable actors and actresses whose days of being highly in demand are mostly behind them. Among those whose careers Hallmark has extended are Andie MacDowell, Lori Loughlin of “Full House” fame, Lacey Chabert (“Party of Five”), Jack Wagner (“General Hospital”) and Marc Blucas (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

And these days Hallmark isn’t attracting talent only from broadcast seasons past, either. This season’s talent roster also includes Academy Award nominee Shirley MacLaine and Oscar winner Mira Sorvino.

But the problem with Hallmark’s hiring, to return to Abbott’s observation regarding production volume, is that it uses the same talent over and over again. That’s great news if you’re a fan of Candace Cameron Bure, Chabert and Danica McKellar, but it doesn’t do much for minority actors who starred in network series that were just as popular during the same era.

“If you look at our roster of talent, you’ll see that it’s ‘Wow, I saw them in a movie last year’ or ‘I saw them in a movie six months ago,’” Abbott said.  “It’s just sometimes a matter of volume, and we need to begin to incorporate a better diverse group into our regular round of activity. I think that that will go a long way toward helping fix the problem.”

Carey, for her part, recently signed a three-picture directing, producing and co-starring deal with Hallmark Channel, and the channel is near to announcing another deal with a high-profile, widely-known African-American television personality.

But beyond those individuals and a few others including Harry, Eddie Cibrian, Rita Moreno and Vivica A. Fox, minorities have been all but absent in Hallmark’s recent scripted projects. And the channel hasn’t featured a minority-dominant cast since 2013’s “The Watsons Go to Birmingham,” featuring Anika Noni Rose and Shameik Moore — and before that 2009’s “Relative Stranger,” which starred Eriq La Salle (“E.R.”) and Cecily Tyson.

Abbott insisted that the network is making a concerted effort to change its practices but seems to be still mulling over what exactly improving the network’s diversity will entail. “The Rooney Rule is a great one,” he said, referencing Pittburgh Steelers coach Art Rooney’s hiring plan specifying “that for every opening, you’re going to have [diversity] as the first consideration. It’s something that I like better than a ‘mandate.’ We’ll see. We’ll see how we do. If we don’t do well, then maybe it’s time to consider something that’s a little bit more aggressive.”

Around 85 original films are currently planned to debut in 2017, Abbott said. Asked whether the network’s sizzle reel will challenge the critics who are trying to keep count next summer, he replied, “I would be shocked if that’s not the case.”

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Breaking: The Greatest Living American Writer: Beware the autocrat: Believe everything Trump says. Unless you agree with it. Then he is lying. Resist now!

Mural Depicts Donald Trump And Vladimir Putin

Vilnius, Lithuania (Credit: Getty/Sean Gallup)

In the weeks since the American election dumped a great big load of fertilizer over the hopes and dreams of a generation, I, the Greatest American Living Writer, have rapidly emerged as one of the smartest and most incisive critics of the Trump Ascendancy.

My article “Rules for Resistance: Resisting the Ruler,” written mere hours after CNN declared Trump the winner, has been shared countless times online and reprinted in a special leather-bound edition by the London Review of Books, which called it “the sine qua non of nonconformity in a conformist age.”

Already, I’ve given five public speeches and personally stopped four professors from going on near-suicidal alcohol binges. I’ve slayed trolls on Twitter and called Jill Stein, the Kremlin’s most useful marionette, a “silly old twit” on C-SPAN. My words and my deeds will serve as a model of informed dissent for years to come. You would be wise to follow them — and me.

When it comes to autocrats, I know whereof I speak. For four years I worked as an assistant press secretary in Putin’s Russia. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, I worked as an assistant to the assistant to the press secretary in pre-Mandela South Africa.

Worst of all, I once worked for Martin Peretz at the New Republic, an experience so harrowing that I barely survived with my sanity. So I understand the autocratic impulse all too well. That impulse has now emerged in a uniquely impulsive American way, one for which the people have been poorly prepared during what I like to call “the eight-year Obama nap.”

Fortunately, I’m here and will never waver. Now I present to you my “Revised Rules for Resistance: Trump Edition.” Feel free to reprint, repost, re-teach, and otherwise lionize. I am available to speak on your campus.

Believe what he says.

When I was working for Putin, one time Putin came into the office and said, “I am going to seize the Crimea.”

“Ha ha,” we all said. “That is a funny joke.”

Then another time he said, “I am going to ride a horse without my shirt on, which we totally thought was ridiculous. What fools we were. I’ve learned that when a man has unlimited power, he will do whatever he wants and that whatever he says he will do. So when Donald Trump says, “We will build a wall and make Mexico pay for it,” believe him.

When he says, “I will put you in jail for a year if you burn the American flag,” believe him.

The only exception to this rule is if he says something that you agree with like “I condemn neo-Nazis.”

If you agree with the autocrat, he is obviously lying and you have been brainwashed.

Nothing will ever be the same again.

Do not be duped. You might be still eating dinner with your family and buying electronics online. There may still be new episodes of “The Voice” on NBC. But people ate dinner in Hitler’s Germany almost every day. There was television in Stalin’s Russia, at least toward the end.

As the Polish philosopher Issac Bublé told me upon his deathbed, “The Communists poisoned me when I thought I was just going out for a nice cup of tea. Only your words have the power to topple their regime. Resist, resist, resist.”

Before he died, I autographed a collection of essays for him.

Reality, as you know it, does not exist.

You may think that there is still a national legislature and a series of state legislatures. Well, you are a sucker. Those are all dummy organizations without real power. The courts ceased functioning years ago. There is no police. The media is literally comprised of the dumbest people in society. All restaurants are a front for organized crime. When you take the red pill, you will wake up in a true nightmare. Only believe my words, always.

Be outraged.

Express that outrage constantly on your Facebook page by quoting Russian philosophers and by saying things like “I am outraged. Why are you not more outraged?”

Feel the outrage flow through you like off-the-grid electric power. Worry constantly that the authorities will soon come to take you away to the dissenting camps because they are watching everything you say in small literary magazines that no one reads. Constantly compare the current situation to Weimar Germany in every conversation. Spray-paint warnings on the sides of buildings before it’s too late. Remain outraged all night long and never sleep, for sleep indicates weakness and failure. You must be constantly vigilant. Do not eat much either because soon the food will all be gone.

Fight everyone, about everything.

At any moment, if anyone disagrees with you, it is because they support the autocrat. Dissenters will not be tolerated and we must crush anyone who thinks differently than we do. Only by adopting the autocrat’s methods will we be able to defeat him. We must enforce the will of the people. And buy my book “A Resisters’ Guide to the Resistance.” Resist. Resist. Resist. It is $12.99 in paperback.

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Robbie Robertson remembers: “People were screaming and booing and throwing sh*t”

Robbie Robertson

Cover detail of “Testimony” by Robbie Robertson (Credit: Penguin Random House)

The Canadian musician Robbie Robertson is best known as the guitarist and main songwriter for the Band (originally called the Hawks), who recorded several classic albums and toured with Bob Dylan, including accompanying him on his controversial electric tour in 1966. The group also hosted the concert memorialized in Martin Scorsese’s film “The Last Waltz.”

Robertson, who has a new memoir called “Testimony,” spoke to Salon from San Francisco, where he was on a speaking tour. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

How does completing a book about your life compare to putting out an album, finishing a tour, working on a movie? What’s the sense of accomplishment like?

This is a whole other extent of depth. It’s one thing to write a tune; it goes by in four minutes or so; you try to get in there what you can. But in writing this book — and I very much wanted to, as I understand, a lot of biographies, autobiographies are written from the point of view of the age of the people writing them. “I remember back when” and “this happened, and that happened.”

I didn’t want to do that. I wrote this book when it was happening. I went into that world, with those innocent big eyes, and I didn’t know what was going to happen next. That’s the way that I wrote it; that was the truth of it for me.

Being able to accomplish that — and I do have some kind of memory chip that allows me to do it — but it took me on an odyssey that every day surprised me. And in some cases shocked me. And it made doing it one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.

One of the things that comes across in the book and from “The Last Waltz” is that you are, hah, a pretty good storyteller. I wonder if you think there’s anything to what Lester Young said — that a solo is like telling a story.

Yeah, I do. I think that there’s an expressionism in telling stories, improvising, being in it. That’s what I recognize a difference in. I see a lot of people who are terrific at recalling things, but if I don’t feel that it’s happening at that moment — if it’s purely a reflection — it doesn’t push the same electricity in me. So I knew in writing this book that’s what I needed to go after.

How did you learn to spin a tale? Family? Friends? Sitting around with other musicians over beers?

I was and am a big reader. And as I write in the book, I was presented with a gift of storytelling, by an elder on the Six Nations Indian reserve. He sent chills through me. He changed that life, in that moment. And I always felt like one of my chores in life was to grow up and hopefully be a real storyteller.

You spent a lot of time backstage before and after shows; you and whoever you’re touring with are just hanging out, drinking, bouncing anecdotes back and forth. . . . Did any of that hone your storytelling?

There wasn’t a lot of downtime. We were playing most of the time, seven nights a week.

Wow, in “The Last Waltz,” it seems like most of your time was spent playing pool and sitting around drinking moonshine backstage.

Not so much!

Well, almost every night of Dylan’s 1966 British tour was just released. This was a controversial but also incredible set of shows. I once paid an enormous amount of money for the Manchester concert [recording] back when it was a bootleg. What was it like to be there? Scary, exhilarating? You’re in your early 20s, people are shouting at you?

Yeah, I was, I dunno, maybe 21, 22. It was all of the above. It was frightening. It was exciting; it was challenging, it was hurtful. . . . It was . . . You just couldn’t wrap it all up in this pile — it was a musical revolution. You don’t know it when it’s happening. When it’s happening you think, “This is impossible. This cannot be happening! That everywhere, every place we play, they boo us and throw things and sometimes charge the stage with anger.” We are playing music that we have come to understand is real and it’s good and it’s revolutionary — and we are going to have to go bold on this, and stand up for this revolution.

And at the end of the game, now they’re releasing this music like it was the greatest thing ever. But while it was going on, believe you me, there were some people telling us we needed to make changes, and we didn’t budge.

Did you play guitar on “Blonde on Blonde”?


Oh man. I don’t have anything interesting to ask on that one. It’s just awesome.

Here’s one though: There’s an essay by Greil Marcus — the liner notes to a Richard Thompson collection — where he says that the ’60s were not really about peace and love. There was always a sense that someone was lurking in the shadows, ready to pull the plug, shut it all down, to stop the show — that it could all end really badly. Did it feel scary and dangerous at times?

I don’t know who else was playing where people were screaming and booing and throwing shit at them. . . . I can speak to that!

But not just musically. I mean, by the end, Nixon was president. There was a backlash among the “silent majority.”

Were you aware of the other side of things?

Oh, yeah. Everybody got it. But what made people rise to the occasion, make a big noise and want to change the world. If nothing’s happening, nothing happens.

I really liked the music you assembled for “Shutter Island” [with pieces by Max Richter, György Ligeti and Lou Harrison]. How deeply are you into contemporary classical music? Do you go out to see this stuff live?

Oh, yeah! There’s wonderful depth in there — and people challenging what’s been done is always exciting. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. The music I try to experiment with, whether I’m doing things in honor of American Indian artists or whatever, I like it when people try to reach outside the boundary. And do something that can have an influence in the interior.

So doing the music for “Shutter Island,” and the other Martin Scorsese films — it’s always a challenge, it’s always fun. And I hope that Marty and I keep doing this forever.

Did you work on the new one — his [Shusaku] Endo film [“Silence”]?

Yeah! Oh, it’s a trip.

Is most of the music Japanese, minimalist or what?

It’s more of a soundscape. Marty didn’t want it in any way a traditional score. So we were trying to find a place, almost like nature is breathing out an interior sound — where it becomes of the heartbeat of the characters.

You guys spent most of the ’60s on the road, some of it with Dylan. . . . You went to [the bandmates’ house] Big Pink and so on. Did you feel after those early Band records, as the ’60s turned into the ’70s, that something was seeping out of the band? That the chemistry was failing?

In the beginning — “Music from Big Pink” and “The Basement Tapes” and all of that — was such a wave of enlightenment, such a beautiful creative feeling. And then after “Music from Big Pink” — after all these years that the Hawks and the Band have been together — success comes along. And success can play tricks on you. We’ve seen it in all kinds of cases, in a million people. And we thought we were immune to that.

Everybody probably does!

Nobody is immune to it, you know? [That] is what we found out. 

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