5×5 With The Hook: Sue Baldaro.

I’ve done quite a few of these 5×5 interviews over the years, kids, but today is a milestone of sorts – and hopefully, a turning point.

The greatest challenge to interviewing anyone in the film/television industry is actually reaching them; most folks are so gosh darn busy they have to be selective when it comes to granting interviews. In other words, if you’re a nobody like me… you’re pretty much screwed. This is especially true when it comes to publicists. PR reps have to weigh their firm’s standards and their client’s best interests and career trajectory carefully when responding to interview requests.

So when someone like Sue Baldaro shines her social media light in your direction it’s a true godsend. You see, my friends, Sue brings a unique perspective with her today. She travels to the places that exist behind the cameras we all adore so much. She walks in the shadows cast by the glare of the spotlights. She whispers behind the microphones that record the voices we treasure. She is the bridge between what others create and a world desperate for an escape from an increasingly-hostile and fragile environment.

If it isn’t clear yet, Sue Baldaro has worked in Public Relations for the past 25 years putting her particular set of skills to good use in film, television and publishing. Yes, I said TV, kids, so get ready for plenty of behind-the-scenes pics of your favorite shows like Cardinal and Saving Hope.

Yes, I am the best. You’re welcome. Here’s a shot of Sue on the set of the nail-biting hit drama Cardinal:

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Photo Credit: Steve Wilkie.

(Who says Canadian TV isn’t glamorous?)

And one more, this one is a bit more revealing:

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Courtesy of Brooke Palmer.

Before we get too far into the illustrious history of Sue Baldaro, let’s take a quick look at just what she does. She currently lists her occupation as Communications Specialist, Unit Publicist, Event Planner and EPK Producer, but the truth is, Sue is the person you want in your corner when you want to get the word out – about anything. I’d literally kill to have her in my dusty, neglected corner.

But I digress ( I do that). The unit publicist works on the film, TV series or movie while it’s in production to provide the broadcaster, distributor and production company (in other words, the folks with the $) all the publicity and marketing materials they’ll need when the show or film launches, ie. Gallery photography, social media videos, arrange EPK shoots (behind-the-scenes electronic press kits). The unit publicist also books/manage EPK crews, chooses all the episodic photo days, books photographers, and works with the cast on their photo approvals, photo selects with captions, delivers press kit materials (bios, synopses, character descriptions, production notes, etc) and organizes and manage all on-set media visits (to be banked for launch.)

Sweet Zombie Jesus, a production would never get off the ground without people like Sue!

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Behind-the-scenes of Designated Survivor, care of Sue. Damn it! (That makes sense if you’re a Kiefer Sutherland fan.)

I know you were told there would be no math, but at last count there are about 20 unionized UPs in Sue’s home base of Toronto  who belong to IATSE 667 (the same union that the unit photographers and anyone working in the camera department belong to.)  And yes, I am pulling back the curtain on the Canadian TV/film industry, thank you ever so much for noticing. Sue’s presence here today is a rare educational opportunity that I’d be foolish to waste.

But back to Sue. She spent over a decade in publishing working for Bantam Books, Macmillan of Canada and eventually ended up at Key Porter Books as Director of Publicity, Promotion and Advertising. (Way to climb that corporate ladder, Sue!) In 1998, the television industry called out to Sue in a dream, possibly brought on by a bad egg roll (we just don’t know) and she began her career in television, beginning with a contract position at YTV as the Media Relations Supervisor. Once there she rebranded the network, launching the kids’ network’s fall schedule while crafting a “Keep It Weird” media event that was so epic the authorities, including SWAT units, were called in after eighteen hours. (Oh, that Hook!)

Since 1998, Sue has also been a freelance Unit and Launch Publicist on numerous U.S. and Canadian television series and movies, loaning her talent to clients like ABC, Alliance Atlantis, Showtime, and Entertainment One (eone). Sue’s been an integral part of the TV movies Crossed Over with Diane Keaton and Jennifer Jason Leigh; Life with Judy Garland, staring Judy Davis; North of Hope starring The O.C.’s Kelly Rowan; and Diverted starring Shawn Ashmore and David Suchet (Agatha Christie’s Poirot.)

Skipping ahead to August 2003, Sue joined Shaftesbury Films (getting excited yet, Murodchians?) where she was the Communications Director for eight years and raised the company’s fortunes exponentially. Sue worked on the corporate, launch and unit publicity for most of the company’s productions, including the internationally successful series Life with Derek, The Listener and a little show I may have mentioned on this blog before… Murdoch Mysteries.

010_on-set-of-murdoch-mysteriesAnother behind-the-scenes gem, courtesy of Steve Wilkie again.

Sue Baldaro also worked on one of my daughter’s favorite made-for-TV movies Terry, starring Shawn Ashmore as Terry Fox. 

In 2012 Sue worked with the good folks at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF to us cool kids) to coordinate an appearance by Juliette Lewis for the In Conversation with… series and coordinated her media interviews to promote this event. In 2014, she also produced the Bill Murray Q & A and live panel with the cast at the premiere of St. Vincent at TIFF.

Fun Fact: Bill Murray is one of my all-time favorite actors, so Sue is my hero for that achievement alone.

At this point in her journey, Sue runs her own public relations business in Toronto where she represents individual actors. Now that my boundless admiration for Sue has brought us this far, let’s turn the wheel over to the lady herself: Take it away, Sue!

 

ONE)  It’s safe to say that social media is integral to a publicist’s efforts; in your opinion, what’s the greatest challenge of trying to connect with potential viewers on the web?

Once the unit publicist has done their job and provided the broadcasters with the appropriate content they require to conduct a successful social media campaign (e.g. photography, press materials, videos, etc.), it’s up to the broadcasters and social media teams to get the info out on the appropriate social media platforms. This can sometimes include the help of “influencers” to reach the target audience. Two of the newest dramas from CTV and CBC, Cardinal and Workin’ Moms respectively – have effectively used “influencers” as part of their marketing and publicity campaigns.

Social media has been a game changer for the relationship between fans and their shows. Broadcasters now depend on this virtual water-cooler – with real-time conversations around TV shows – to enhance and drive ratings. Though one challenge remains: how to quantify and tell to what extent the conversation is driving ratings.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is ensuring that content and conversations are interesting and fun, while at the same time giving viewers insider information that feels authentic, real and engaging. It’s a great way to reward viewers for spending time on their favourite shows.

(If you haven’t seen Cardinal yet, get on that! It’s an amazing show. Saving Hope rules too.)

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 The set of Saving Hope with director Jason Priestley and Erica Durance. Photo credit: Steve Wilkie.

 

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TWO)  You watch A LOT of TV for work, but what was your favorite Canadian television program growing up?

Because my dad, Barrie Baldaro, appeared in comedies in the ‘70s, we would stay up late on Saturday night and catch the shows he was on after Hockey Night in Canada. We watched Comedy Café, Comedy Crackers, Zut! and Let’s Call the Whole Thing Orff. I also watched him in the children’s series Coming Up Rosie! with Dan Aykroyd, John Candy and Catherine O’Hara from 1975-78.

After growing up with a comedian, I love comedies and two of my favourite Canadian series are Made in Canada (starring Rick Mercer) a parody of the television production industry, which ran from 1998-2003, and Ken Finkleman’s TV series The Newsroom, which ran on and off from 1996-2005. Both series starred Peter Keleghan, whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with on Murdoch Mysteries and Saving Hope.

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THREE)  If you could visit any fictional universe in any genre where would you go, Sue Baldaro?

This might not be a “fictional universe” but I think I would go back and visit the ‘60s and work at Sterling Cooper on Madison Avenue!!

I’m a huge Mad Men fan and credit that series for me lusting after the fashions, the architecture, the cars, the music and liquid lunches. 

 

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FOUR)  You were the unit publicist for Murdoch Mysteries for a few years; did you ever appear on-camera as an extra?

No I didn’t, but the Murdoch Mysteries art department asked me if they could name a circus act after me. I think it was the Baldaro Bros. and they made a poster that was placed in a scene – wish I could get a copy of it now!!

 

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FIVE)  As the ultimate insider, what’s the coolest thing about the modern Canadian television landscape, Sue?

The coolest thing about the current Canadian television landscape is how strong the writing, acting and filmmakers have become over the past few years. And the Canadian conspiracy continues as actors, directors and writers have been able to work here, at home, while also infiltrating productions around the globe. Additionally, over the past 15 years, I’ve witnessed many trends come and go and come back again. We’re currently experiencing a return to event television, with premium limited series programs, like Cardinal on CTV, and live TV musical specials on the U.S. networks.

This truly is the golden-age of television in Canada.

(No argument here.)

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Another cool perspective of the Cardinal set, care of Sue again.

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I know I’ve taken up a lot of your time, friends (can you tell I’m a huge fan of Sue Baldaro?) so I’ll take my leave of you now. My thanks to today’s guest for the most enlightening 5×5 ever.

See you in the lobby, kids…

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5×5 With The Hook: Dennis Andres.

Let’s face facts, the world isn’t exactly the funnest place to be these days, is it?

In my humble opinion, anyone who can help us forget the fires burning outside our door is a hero. To that end, today’s guest, Dennis Andres, is  genuinely worthy of our respect. Not only is Dennis (“D-Man” to me, because we’re buds now) an integral part of CBC’s game-changing Workin’ Moms, he’s a helluva nice guy.

Being an actor is tough enough (I can’t even sell a white lie to my wife, never mind try to convince millions of strangers I’m another being all-together) but Dennis is also a producer. But the road to the here and now can only be accessed through the past (yes, I can be deep and poetic when I want to be, shut up) so let’s look at Dennis’ past, shall we?

Dennis spent his formative years in Germany before his family immigrated to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada in 1995. (Immigrants rule, Trump!) Once he settled in the Great White North a young Dennis needed an outlet for his boundless energies and since Canada has never had a thriving masked adventurer industry, football and martial arts became a worthy substitute.

D-Man earned a black belt (they were out of plaid) in Ju Jitsu, Wado Kai and Kickboxing and at the height of his career he competed in the World Karate Association where he placed sixth in Canada and first in Ontario in Mixed Martial Arts. (Note to self: Do not screw this 5×5 up. The vertebrae you save will be your own.)

Ten years of competitive football led Dennis to the inescapable realization that his skull and its contents were only capable of taking so much punishment and so Dennis joined the Canadian Armed Forces to give back to his adopted country. D-Man served for one year with the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry.

Told you he was a hero. Didn’t believe me, did you? Silly rabbits.

At any rate, a convo with his high school drama teacher sent Dennis down yet another path (a well-traveled man is a better, stronger man) one that would define his existence. Dennis soon threw himself into acting and spent a few years cutting his teeth as a volunteer in community theatre. A friend introduced Dennis Andres to his current agent and several commercials, TV and film roles later, he was a full-fledged member of the professional acting community.

Dennis has acted alongside Michael Madsen (who let him keep both his ears, luckily) Daniel Baldwin and Malcolm McDowell, to name drop a few. For you fanboys out there, D-Man has also appeared in Guilllermo Del Toro’s The Strain. (Scary stuff, kids!) In additon to his role of  Ian Matthews in the aforementioned Workin’ Moms, Dennis can be seen in the next season of the mega-hit Dark Matter.

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Photocredit: CBC

(In other words, my tax dollars. You’re welcome.)

And now that the formalities are out of the way, let’s hear from the man himself…

ONE)  Workin’ Moms has taken CBC and all of Canada by storm, so kudos on landing the role of Ian. I’m sure you’ve had a blast onset, but can you share one behind-the-scenes tale that stands out?

Well first of all, thank you very much.

Set was great, and everyone got along really well, which doesn’t always happen, so I feel very lucky to be part of such a kickass team.

There is one memory that particularly stands out to me… It was a scene with my onscreen wife, Jenny (Jessalyn Wanlim – who’s a rock star and made every day going to set awesome) and myself. I can’t give much away, but it’s a scene later in the season that Catherine (Reitman) directed, and did an incredible job guiding the scene into the emotional direction it should go.  She managed to create a moment so surreal that I had forgotten I was on camera, and when they yelled, “cut!” I looked up, and the first thing I saw was Lainie Knox (our wonder woman camera A operator) wipe a tear from her eye.

It’s for moments like that that I’m grateful I chose to be an actor, and that I get to be surrounded by a cast and crew who are not only phenomenal at what they do, but that also support the team they work with. It’s one of those moments that really stick with you through your career.

 

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TWO)  Your résumé screams “action guy”. (I maintain that Chris Pratt stole your look and career.)  Do you enjoy psychical roles more than strictly-cerebral performances?

I definitely enjoy the physical demands behind an action part for the simple reason that I’ve been an athlete for the better part of my life. I started off doing stunts, but it was acting that I fell in love with along the way and that ultimately took over my career. The more I began discovering my love of creating a character and becoming emotionally invested in my roles, I realized that I wanted to do more and more of that.  

Don’t get me wrong, I still would love to sink my teeth into a great action role, but it’s more the mental aspect of the character I’m interested in. Currently, I’m working on a character that is almost entirely driven through emotions and life events, with little-to-no physical demands involved. So hopefully people will enjoy watching that kind of character too. 

Ha ha yes, I have been getting a lot of those comparisons lately, which is extremely flattering. But the next person that says it, I’m handing him a comedy script about two brothers!

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THREE)  If you could be any cartoon character for a day, who would you be?

Batty from Fern Gully… he’s just such a free spirit – “Human tails? Humans don’t have tails. They have big, big bottoms that they wear with bad shorts, and walk around going, “Hi Helen!”

Hats off to Robin Williams, the best.

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FOUR)  What’s it been like walking the streets post-Workin’ Moms? Have you been recognized or received any feedback from viewers?

I’ve had a lot of great feedback from the friends and family who have supported me since the beginning, and that continue to follow my career. I’m so happy, and feel very fortunate to have that kind of support.

In terms of being recognized, my most recent moment was when I was out buying lunch at a more regular spot, and the lovely lady serving me said that she’d just watched a show called Workin’ Moms with my twin on it. I told her that that was me!

She didn’t believe me.

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FIVE)  Are you drawn to clever-but-offbeat projects like Bed of the Dead or was it simply another acting challenge like Workin’ Moms?

For Bed of the Dead I enjoyed the character that I played in that film, and it’s largely the reason I wanted to be a part of it. I had also heard that the team was great and I really wanted the chance to work with them, so that’s also an aspect I look for in a project. It was definitely a great experience for me, and also very different from my character Ian Matthews in Workin’ Moms. So I think the acting challenge is more of what I’m drawn to, and that motivation leads me to a variety of really interesting projects.

 

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If you don’t think Dennis Andres is one of the coolest mammals on the planet after reading this 5×5… we ave nothing more to say to each other. Except for this: Not only has Dennis been blessed with heroic good looks (seriously, the guy looks like a super hero) and super acting ability, he is represented by Jessica Martins of Hero Artists (www.heroartists.com) thus completing the package.

My eternal thanks to Dennis for making the time to be today’s 5×5 victim subject; he really is a great guy. Thanls to all of you, of course, and a big thank you to Jessica Martins of the aforementioned Hero Artists for being an invaluable resource and an all-around sparkly human being.

See you in the lobby and on the CBC, kids…

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It’s A Wonder I Survived Elementary School…

If you thought my cringe-worthy, unbelievably-embarrassing moments with the opposite sex started in high school… well then, you really need to rethink everything you thought you knew about The Hook, friends.

I’ve been a loser since birth: My mother once frantically raced a newborn Hook to our family MD after realizing I was orange. No, not a shade of orange… my skin had actually turned orange. Yes, I had the stereotypical Rockwellian childhood, didn’t I?

KARIN:  What’s the matter with him? Did I break my baby?

(Yes, she did, but not at that point.)

DOC:  Calm down. Karin. What have you been feeding him?

KARIN:  Carrots.

DOC:  And…

KARIN:  Carrots.

DOC:  (Sighing. One would imagine.)  Just carrots?

KARIN:  That’s what you said to feed him!

I can only imagine the doc let out a simultaneous sigh and eye roll that lasted at least a full sixty seconds. But you get my point, right? Karin meant well, but from the get-go, women have always loved to mess with me. What’s that you say? From what you can tell I appear to be the architect of my own undoing? In that case, this next tale isn’t going to help my rep at all…

My years at Westdale Public School in St. Catharines were memorable for all the usual reasons, none of them academic in nature, of course. It’s not that I was a bad student (not that a bad student would admit to being one, or even realize it) but I was too socially awkward to be academically exceptional. Nowhere was my social outcast status more evident than at the mental hazings disguised as tribal rituals known as school dances.

I’ll never understand why school administrators didn’t streamline this process of mental degradation. It would make more sense to simply strap kids to chairs, tape their eyelids open and wheel one of those old school metal contraptions with a television on it over; I’d rather have watched five hours of car crashes and baby seal clubbings than have to endure three hours of a school dance. I hated the damn things. I’d stand against the wall and listen to good music while my fellow prisoners gyrated like ducks on a hot plate.

One dance in particular was especially traumatizing, though it certainly didn’t start out that way. I remember it well. (I just wish I could say that about every event in my life. Memories are like a fistful of sand sometimes.) A few of my friends were milling about on the sidelines as what passed for the beautiful/popular kids back then bounced around to some diddy by Jackson Browne.

Then she appeared. A vision of elementary school loveliness; so willowy an actual willow tree would’ve been jealous, hair as black as a Kardashian’s soul (which was pretty cool when you consider the Kardashians hadn’t been freed from Hell and unleashed on an unsuspecting populace yet) and eyes that, well, to be honest, it was too dark for me to see her eyes. Plus, I was too busy checking out her chest.

Well, technically, she didn’t have a chest – but I knew something interesting (two somethings, to be clear) was supposed to be there, so I kept looking.

She was an elementary school Olive Oyl who pulled me from the loser pile and into the sea of underage bodies just as the tempo slowed down…

You know what means, right?

Yes, I was slow dancing with an actual female. And not just any female (who smelled like whatever sex was supposed to smell like) but a female from an older grade! Yep, I was the cock of the walk, though I had no idea what the hell that meant. Sadly, my manliness was all in my head, and as you’ll soon see, somewhere else.

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I was so overwhelmed with my newfound popularity that I failed to take into account two very important details:

  1.  Young ladies don’t like it when you stare/search for their chests.
  2.  Slow dancing consists of partners holding each other closely – not at arm’s length.

Yes, I had no idea how to slow dance. Admit it, you’re shocked, aren’t you? In what would become a pattern in my life, the girl took the initiative and readjusted my grip while pulling me in close. Veryclose.

I was shocked!

I was gobsmacked! (Quite a feat for a Canadian kid.)

I was being pressed against a girl! Who actually smelled like a girl! And who had real girl parts!

I was being pulled even closer to a set of girl parts and so my boy parts were… changing. To be clear, they weren’t actually changing, it was that suddenly, they were bigger. And throbbing.

Naturally, I had no idea what the hell was going on – turns that is my default setting- and so I attempted to make conversation with my dance partner but all that emerged was gibberish so I gave up on that pretty quick and succumbed to Betty or Whatever-The-Heck-Her-Name-Was’ plan. I’m assuming this broad lost one helluva bet, because she just kept pulling me in closer until my elementary school penis became a perfect fit for her elementary school vagina. At the same time, we were dancing (although it looked more like something you’d see on the Freaks of Nature Channel) and so our respective parts were rubbing against one another…

And rubbing…

And rubbing…

Can you see where this is going? Because I sure couldn’t. And I’m guessing she didn’t, otherwise I’m assuming she would’ve stopped before I began to convulse as though someone stuck a cattle prod up my young arse. I remember thinking, “Holy cow, this is weird… but so cool!” (It was the Seventies, remember, “awesome” hadn’t been invented yet.)

My dance partner just kept moving – for about another five seconds. Then a puzzled look came over her face [Insert dirty joke of your choice here]. She looked down between her legs. She then reached down and felt between her legs. (Which, I’ll admit I would’ve found hot if I was still aroused.) She looked back up at me expecting an explanation of some sort but all I had to offer was an expression that screamed, “Search me, sister! As far as I’m concerned, this is all your fault!”

Fortunately, the song ended and my partner beat it the hell away from me. (Appropriate, don’t you think?) I went back to my pals without giving a moment’s thought to the wet spot on my kid’s Levis. The gym was still dark so no one noticed it anyway. I spent the rest of the dance back against the wall until I went home and unstuck myself from my crusty jeans. Incidentally, there are twelve more equally eloquent pieces of imagery hidden throughout this blog, so you have that to look forward to.

My buddies all thought I was cool – until the next morning when the little temptress that had made me squirt like a can of pressurized cheese wouldn’t even look in my direction when we passed in the hall.

Oh well, it was fun – and wet – while it lasted.

TAKEAWAY:  I’m sure you can’t wait for this one, right? To begin with, if you’re concerned about being so mentally overwhelmed by a situation you lose physical control and blow your top (in my case it was the midriff) it wouldn’t be the worst idea to add extra layers of undergarments. In my case I find four pairs are most effective.

Better safe than sorry, right?

Then there’s the matter of my “mannequin dance moves”. Regardless of what Steven Tyler advises, taking a big chance at the high school – or elementary – dance is in fact a terrible idea if you can’t back your play up with any actual skill. At that point in my life I could barely walk, never mind dance. And when you add the FYF factor (Fresh Young Female) well then, it’s no wonder everything went to hell in a hand basket. One dance lesson from my mom, regardless of how awkward it may have been, would’ve worked wonders for my rep. At the very least, it might’ve helped me build a rep.

Ah, who am I kidding? I could’ve put Travolta to shame on that dance floor and my not-so-little explosion would’ve been all that mattered the next day in the hallways and teacher’s lounge.

Which it was.

See you in the lobby, kids…

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5×5 With The Hook: Marc Saltzman.

The next time you think your schedule is jammed waaaay past capacity, just remember there’s always going to be someone out there who’s taken on far more.

Which brings us to today’s guest.

Tech guru extraordinaire Marc Saltzman has reported on the high-tech industry since 1996 as a freelance journalist, author, lecturer, consultant, and radio and TV personality. He’s the Western world’s coolest and most recognizable specialist in consumer gadgetry, web trends, interactive entertainment and underwater machine knitting. (Oh, that Hook!) In addition to weekly syndicated columns with Gannett (100+ publications a week) he writes for a gazillion periodicals (okay, over forty) in North America, including USA Today, the Toronto Star, CNN.com, and Blind Psychic Cat Lovers Monthly.

Okay, so I may not be right about that last one; I’m still waiting on a federal grant to fund my research department.

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In June 2006, Marc Saltzman was invited to join celebrities such as Donald Trump, Al Gore and Stephen Hawking to answer a question for the “Ask The Planet” promotion sponsored by Yahoo! Answers. Marc was tapped as a leading consumer technology expert.

He’s authored sixteen books (which unlike mine, have actually sold) and his smiling mug can be seen on various taped segments like CNN’s Gadget and Games. If you’ve ever been to a picture show you’ve seen a larger-than-life Marc Saltzman extolling the virtues of all the tech your kids are going to be begging for on Gear Guide. In fact, Marc has achieved demi-god status in my house because of Gear Guide. Running about five minutes before the feature film begins, the 1-minute Gear Guide clip airs daily on more than 1,650 theater screens, 6 times a day per screen, resulting in approximately 7 million “captive” impressions per month.

Marc’s a regular guest on CNN, CTV’s Canada AM, and various network affiliates like ABC, CBC, and NBC. And in a bid to usurp Howard Stern as the King of All Media, Marc Saltzman hosts a syndicated daily radio spot across Canada called Tech Talk. Also, Tech Talk with Marc Saltzman” is a nationally syndicated radio vignette (60-second interstitial) that airs daily Monday to Friday, on 35+ AM and FM radio stations across Canada, the U.S. Armed Forces Network and on XM Satellite Radio’s NHL Centre Ice channel (roughly 1 million listeners weekly).

Marc Saltzman is one of the busier technology experts on the circuit.

Speaking across North America on a wide variety of topics, he enjoys talking to groups big or small, consumer- or business-oriented, and ranging from kids to seniors – and even blogging bellmen who ask him to subject himself to an anything-can-happen 5×5 interview.

Some of Marc’s recent speaking topics include: the latest technology trends (for consumers and businesses); future technologies worth getting excited about (self-driving cars, space tourism, domestic robots, etc.); the app revolution; embracing social media; how to break through to mainstream journalists (PR do’s and don’ts); women in technology; “child-proofing” the digital world (video games, social media, netiquette, bullying and sexting); retail strategies in the digital age (including how to combat “showrooming”); online shopping safety tips; tech tools for students and educators; getting the most out of digital music, and more.

Finally, I don’t know how he does it, but Marc has some how found time to raise a family of three awesome kids with  his beautiful spouse. Okay, she raises the kids – but Marc helps.

But back to Marc and his accomplishments. Let’s face it, technology has become the cornerstone of modern society; take it way tomorrow and the results would make the landscape of The Walking Dead look like a paradise.

In this day and age of social media and indispensable technological wizardry we need beacons of knowledge and hope like Marc Saltzman to light the way. He’s not selling you the latest innovation… he’s making your life easier by ensuring you don’t get left behind. In fact, the day we spoke by phone (Bluetooth, of course) Marc was preparing a segment designed to help seniors and their caregivers utilize technology such as video screens and sensors to make their lives more efficient and vibrant. Personally, this would have made my father-in-law’s last years much easier, so in my mind Marc Saltzman is a true hero.

All right, now that we all know more about Marc Saltzman than even he does, let’s get down to the 5×5 portion of our program, what do you say?

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ONE)  In addition to “Tech Talk” and “Gear Guide” and numerous media appearances, you contribute to more than 40 publications. (I can barely blog twice a week and I still haven’t finished the basement of a home I moved into 13 years ago.)  How do you decompress, Mark?  Do you decompress, Mark? 

Ha! Not really! I work for myself, so my mind is always racing. I usually work eighteen hour days; in fact, I’ll get up early during family trips and work for a couple of hours answering e-mails before getting back into dad/husband mode. Luckily, my wife and kids are extremely understanding.

When I do take some time to relax, I like to read, listen to music, watch and watch movies, of course.

(Makes sense to me. He is the “Movie Guy”, after all.) 

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TWO)  If you could be any breed of dog for a day what would you be?  (Told you the questions would be unique.)

Wow, that is a good question! The funny thing is, I love dogs, and my family even boards them… but I’m allergic!

I’m loyal so a Bernese Mountain Dog springs to mind or maybe a poodle. But if I had to think about it, I’d have to say a Golden Retriever would be my choice.

980xYes, this is weird – but I couldn’t resist.

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THREE)  As someone who doesn’t own a cellphone (you’re either gasping or staring at your screen in utter disbelief) I’m constantly puzzled by society’s reliance on tech; do you think we need to achieve a better balance in that regard?  (The only grass some kids ever see in on Google Maps.)

Absolutely. The pendulum has swung the other way and even my kids get anxious if they’re away from their phones for too long. Teens are losing their ability to socialize face-to-face and this could even affect their ability to get through an in-person job interview in the future.

I consider myself an Technological Evangelist, but I’m the first to admit there is no substitute for the human connection.

 

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FOUR)  People seem very willing to indulge in angry tweets, raging Facebook posts and so on these days, especially where politics are concerned: Do you think social media has made us a more hateful society?

Well, certainly the anonymity of social media has allowed people to post anything they like with no fear of consequences. Even celebrities and the current president of the United States have gotten in on the act.

I remember my kids were shocked the first time they read a negative comment about me online. They thought everyone loved me! I’d go to their school and be mobbed by their friends who knew me as the “Movie Guy” from Cineplex and online they’d see people posting negative comments about me simply because they disagreed with my opinion.

But platforms like Twitter have gone to great lengths to battle the problem presented by trolls, so I think we’re heading in the right direction.

 

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FIVE)  As North America’s #1 tech guru (honestly, if he were real Tony Stark would be working for you) what new device/trend are you most looking forward to this year, Mark?

 In my opinion tech is becoming evolutionary rather than revolutionary, but I’m most excited right now about the Moto Insta-Share Projector. They’re called Moto-Mods and they transform your smartphone into a projector with a 100 inch screen, or a speaker or a zoom lens.  The screen feature is an amazing innovation. Not only does it allow you to create instant, convenient power point presentations, you can use it to transform a hotel room into a movie theater.

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Technology is a never-ending work-in-progress and so this is an amazing time for consumers.

 

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If you’ve just become an instant fan of Marc Saltzman (you know you have, don’t fight it) he’s made it easy to find him:

Friend Marc: facebook.com/marc.saltzman

Follow Marc: twitter.com/marc_saltzman

See Marc: instagram.com/marcsaltzman

Watch Marc: youtube.com/c/MarcSaltzman

Hire Marc: linkedin.com/in/marcsaltzman

 

All right, kids, this is the part where I thank Marc Saltzman for taking part in the most ironic interview in 5×5 history. (He’s a Technological Evangelist and I don’t even own a cellphone.)  Marc is by far one of the coolest people I’ve ever interviewed and my daughter even thinks I’m cool for doing so.

And yes, you’re right… that won’t last long.

See you in the lobby, friends…

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My American “Cousins”.

To say Canadians and Americans have a complicated relationship is to suggest the Trump presidency has been somewhat controversial.

Back in the late Seventies (the “Dark Ages” as kids today refer to that period of history) I spent a lot of time in Toronto (“The Big City” or “TO” as it was known throughout the sleepy hamlets of the Niagara region) with relatives. For a “small town” kid like me, nothing could compare to Toronto in the Seventies. Yonge Street smelled like thick, black exhaust, weed, urine, dirt cheap hookers, street meat and broken dreams. And the people responsible for creating those odors were just as diverse: junkies, hookers, pimps (I just thought they were the hooker’s “boyfriends”) metal heads, punk rockers, preppies, cinephiles, even nerds like me.

I loved it.

2015313-rio-exterior-1Forget Neverland, this was the stuff of childhood dreams…

My Toronto family lived in a sprawling townhouse complex where something was always happening. Poor/middle-class people are never boring, kids. My cousins and I were heavy into irony at the time and so our favorite thing to do was leave the complex behind and walk to the corner store, located in a massive mini-mall. This was during an economic golden age – compared to these days at least – when a few dollars was a king’s ransom for a kid.

And yes, there is such a thing as a massive mini-mall. Shut up.

But back to my childhood: with two dollars I could buy the following at Mac’s Milk, which was a chain of convenience stores located all through Canada: fifty one-cent packs of gum (I wouldn’t poop right for a week after that) a glass bottle of Coke (none of this recycled plastic crap for us, we wanted our beverages in a container you could whip at things after you emptied it) six Coffee Crisp chocolate bars, a length of rope, a grappling me, (get it?) industrial work gloves and a ski mask. Yes, afterwards we would become junk-food-scarfing cat burglars. It was awesome.

Anyhoo, one particular visit to Mac’s was memorable for more than just the huge haul of gut-rotting candy and pop I walked away with. On this day we encountered a neighbor whose American cousins were hanging around outside the store like a pack of Yankee hooligans. These guys were dressed from head-to-toe in denim. (The socks must have been uncomfortable as hell, to say nothing of the underwear) These guys were massive, the product of an assembly line rather than a womb. These guys were quite fascinated with Canadian customs and merchandise.

YANKEE COUSIN #1:  Why are you Canadians so weird?

I was with two of my female cousins but he addressed this question to me directly. For some reason people always thought I was the smart kid. They had no idea…

ME:  Uh, I don’t know…

Told you.

YANKEE COUSIN #2:  Seriously! Your milk comes in bags, you faggots!

For those of you who are unaware of this, in Canada milk can be purchased in plastic bags. (Yep.) The bags are then placed in plastic containers and a hole is cut into one side for pouring. milk-bag

And yes, we also drink blood and danced naked around a roaring fire while wearing snow shoes and worshiping various Pagan gods.

It’s a trippy scene but we like it.

These four young guys from the other side of the border were having none of it though. They were convinced all Canadians were brain-damaged souls who would never have survived without constant American intervention. “You’re our retard cousins from across the river!” was how they tactfully put it.

YANKEE COUSIN: #3:  And your milk’s not only in bags… it’s actually made for homos!

My cousins and I just looked at each other in amazement. What were these guys talking about?  I should have known better, but I charged ahead anyway.

ME:  What are you talking about? Our milk’s not for… those types of people. (I hated terms like “homo” and “faggot”. Still do)

YANKEE COUSIN #1:  It sure is! Says so right on the bag!

We thought about it for a moment and then realized resistance was futile. Here’s why:

103855751_72d4da708cThe name was eventually changed to “homogenized milk”. Go figure.

As you can see, while my life certainly became more interesting when I became a bellman it was always miles away from boring. Incidentally, if you’re still not convinced the Seventies were a wild and wonderfully-trippy time to be living in Canada, check this out:

Longest thirty seconds of my life. This commercial messed me up bad and I wasn’t alone.

See you in the lobby, kids…

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Seven Travel Hacks For Morons.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting you’re a moron if you recognize yourself as someone who needs to follow my guidelines.

But I am saying that we all make mistakes that make our lives more difficult than they need to be, and when we do so we’re engaging in moronic behavior. So don’t be a moron. Read carefully. In fact, here’s what I suggest; read each hack individually, click away and return for the next. If you do this several times a day for at least six months I think we’ll both see the benefit.

Let’s begin, shall we?

 

12-openthedoorEnter freely and of your own will…

 

ONE)  Edumacation is key, kids!  Don’t request a top-floor room if it’s raining felines and canines out and then act surprised when you get to the window and see… nothing but dense water vapor. Scour the web before you arrive and arm yourself with a double-barrel shotgun… of knowledge.

  •  Check your destination’s long-term weather forecasts daily.
  •  Do your homework when it comes to deals; book directly with  your hotel’s reservation line and you’ll be amazed at how much cheddar you can save. Third-party sites aren’t the online orgy for the wallet that they pretend to be.
  •  Make absolutely certain there is no – and I mean zero – construction happening at your hotel if you’re the type of person who can’t tolerate that sort of inconvenience. Make sure you’re the only one doing any hammering, you know what I’m sayin’?
  •  Make a checklist of details that are important to you and be damn sure you cover those bases when you’re at the front desk. Personally, as a bellman there’s nothing I hate more than a guest that begins complaining about the room after I’ve already unloaded my luggage cart. He who hesitates is lost – and is doomed to suffer my wrath.
  •  If you have any questions… ask a grown-up! Or in this case, ask a hotel representative, we’re here to help. After all, hat’s what they pay us minimum wage for.

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TWO)  Forward-thinking is the way to go. Always.  When you pull onto a hotel’s valet deck and the doorman ushers you off to the garage – which is a good distance away from the entrance – consider the walk to the front desk with all your luggage. Always ask if you can unload (stop giggling!) before you park. Or better yet…

 

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THREE)  Get a bellman to help you!  We’ll save your back, we’re delightful, no one knows the property better and we can score you anything you need. (I won’t score you drugs, but I could if I wanted to.)

 

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FOUR)  If you plan on swinging from the chandeliers, engaging in animalistic cosplay or any other extremely loud form of coitus… get a corner room!  This one pretty much speaks for itself if you really think about it – but most people don’t. Most folks are so horny they simply take whatever room they’re given because they can’t wait to get to said room and rip into each other’s loins.

And to be honest, there are a lot of people who can’t wait to get up to the room before getting down.

So make sure you consider the details behind the mechanics of the coital act before all the blood rushed away from your brain-box, friends. Hotel walls are far from soundproof. No one likes to be interrupted by hotel security responding to a noise complaint as the carnal carousel they’re on is “climbing the mountain”, so to speak.

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FIVE)  Be nice – to everyone!  Treat the housekeeper with respect. (AND TIP HER! SHE’S CLEANING THE SHEETS YOU’VE SPOILED WITH YOUR BODILY FLUIDS, FOR PETE’S SAKE!)  

Always be cordial – at the very least – to wait staff. Ryan Reynolds wasn’t kidding in that movie; the people who serve your food will always find a way to even the score. You just won’t be able to prove it.

Front desk staff can really mess you up if you cop an attitude. (Although they’ll understand if you’re tired or cranky from the rigors of travel.) Just don’t forget they can ‘accidentally’ book a five am wake-up call for you if they feel so inclined.

And of course, the bellmen are connected to everyone throughout the hotel, so stiffing us is the equivalent of fellating a shotgun.

 

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SIX)  Slipping the front desk clerk a twenty isn’t as foolproof as you’ve been led to believe.  Many travel experts will recommend this tactic and consider it a “can’t miss” scenario. 

These people have never actually worked in a hotel. And if they did, it was a pretty bad one. Slip a clerk a bill under your credit card at my hotel and you’ll find yourself… right where you started. Some clerks receive kickbacks for upgrading you “on the books”, and if they don’t, they may even wind up getting admonished for not reaching a quota. Plus, modern chain hotels use more cameras than the NSA these days, so any funny business does not go unnoticed by management.

As I’ve already said, be nice and the hotel will be your oyster. The pearls will be the reasonable upgrade, the free breakfast vouchers and any of the endless perks the clerk has at their disposal. Put your jet lag, your frustration with your traveling companions and your emotional baggage aside when checking in and the results will astound you.

 

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SEVEN)  Ditch the white trash attitude!  Yes, I’m resurrecting this term; with all the hoopla about immigrants these days we forget white people can be jerks too.

But as for this hack: This means many things. Don’t behave like a leering idiot, drooling uncontrollably at everything in a skirt and tight top, especially if you’re traveling with your family. Don’t bring enough booze to supply a frat house though the school year (you can only drink so much at once). 

When it comes to saving money by bringing food for the kids, be smart about it. Many folks bring bread (but inexplicably, nothing to put on it), Walmart candy and baked treats, and tons of junk food and sugary, sugary pop, or if you prefer, soda.

Hear me now… YOUR KIDS WILL NOT CONSUME THIS GARBAGE!  THEY WANT ACTUAL FOOD WHILE ON VACATION!  GIVE THEM THIS CRAP AND YOU’LL TRANSFORM THEM INTO RAGING HELL-BEASTS BENT ON WANTON DESTRUCTION!

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Seek out a grocery store, or if its the height of summer and you’re in a region with a farming belt, head out to the fruit stands and get some real food! You’ll be amazed at how physically fit your entire family feels afterwards. The healthy option may be more expensive but its worth it.

Remember what I always say: if you can’t afford to take a vacation, and do it right, don’t go!

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As I often tell the wife, that’s all I have for you today… so I hope it was enough.

See you in the lobby, kids…

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A Return To Form For Throwback Thursday.

“People keep asking if I’m back, and I haven’t really had an answer. But, yeah, I thinking I’m back.” – Keanu Reeves as once-retired assassin John Wick.

There’s an old saying, “Give the people what they want.”

It worked in Salem, Massachusetts back in the day, right?

Right?

Okay, maybe not… 

My point is, there are a lot of people (okay, maybe ten) who miss my stories from the hospitality trenches, and while I have a good reason for putting those tales on the back burner, one or two brief anecdotes can’t hurt, right? So here, in honor of the social media event known as Throwback Thursday, are a couple of mini-adventures from the halls of hotel land.

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As much as I pride myself on being a cool customer at work (while in my goofy bellman duds, no less) there are times my facade drops. It is during moments like these that I’m reminded of something my beautiful bride once said to me: “You may be ‘The Hook’ to everyone else… but you’ll always be a dumbass to me.”  To be fair, she knows me better than anyone else – and she’s not wrong.

So I arrived at a top-floor room during the height of the Sunday morning check-out frenzy feeling confident in my luggage slugging abilities only to be reminded of the “man” in “bellman”. The door opened to reveal two middle-aged but remarkably fit couples. They began bringing bags over to me one by one and then disappearing into the other end of the two-room suite until only a statuesque, raven-haired beauty remained.

She rolled a suitcase with a bag situated on top of it over to the door and bent riiiiight over to reveal cleavage so ample Kim Kardashian would be foaming at the mouth with envy. Now, as a forty-something male with ample access to television, films and pornography, I’ve seen my share of cleavage. To top it off, I’ve been a bellman for two decades, and let me tell you, folks, hotels are meat markets these days.

So I shouldn’t have been phased by a little (okay, a lot of) cleavage, right?

Well…

RAVEN-HAIRED BEAUTY:  I’m concerned these bags will fall over if I put them on the cart, they’re top heavy. What’s my best option to put these bags on the cart, sir?

ME:  Well, your breast option is…

Yes, I went there. Unintentionally, I swear… but I went there nonetheless.

At that point, I could’ve apologized outright and potentially opened the can of wordplay worms  wide open or I could’ve ignored the busty elephant ion the doorway and stayed the course. Discretion being the better part of valor (apparently) I stayed the course.

ME:  I mean, your best option is to let me separate the bags, miss.

To her credit, she simply utilized a wide-as-Texas grin to let me know I wasn’t fooling anyone… but she was okay with it.

Bullet… dodged. Again.

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Now let’s see what happened when I met up with an African-American family from Watts. Yes, I said Watts, and yes, they were every bit as black as black can be, Lord bless ’em.

There were nine of them; two parental units and seven kids of varying ages, though not that varied. (I’m guessing most people don’t have televisions in their bedrooms in Watts.) A little guy about nine years of age emerged shirtless from the bathroom as I was shuttling bags to my cart. He was drying his Afro with a towel when he took notice of my presence.

LITTLE COOL DUDE:  Who’s the cracker? What the hell’s going on?

I couldn’t help but bust out laughing – but his momma? She was not happy, not one bit.

MOMMA:  Who do you think you are, speaking to this man like that? And cursing too?

She walked right over to him and slapped him across the face. His shock only increased, so much so that he took no heed of her words…

LCD:  HOLY SHIT!

Out of the mouth of babes, right?

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I hope you enjoyed my bellman chronicles, friends. Fair warning though; I won’t be back this way anytime soon. Unlike John Wick, I’m not really back, I’m just passing through.

See you in the lobby, kids…

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