Before the review, let’s get the two elephants out of the room.
Elephant One. This is not a short film. It is a video game trailer. That said, for a video game trailer, it does an amazing job of being a well-considered short film.
Elephant Two. I’ve never played the video game because reviews indicate that it does not live up to its trailer’s potential. This review is just for the short film/trailer.
If you broke this film down to hashtags, they would read:
Dead Island Logo
A young mother, father, and their tween daughter are on an island vacation when zombies!
[If you type “zombies” is there a need to type “attack”? What else will zombies do? “When zombies text.” “When zombies channel surf.” “When zombies vote.” No zombies do those things!
… er… hmm…]
The film’s premise is straight-forward which allows the storytelling to be intricate.
The film is wordless but not mute. The emotion is built by the soundtrack and well-acted characters (“well-acted” within the limits of six year old CGI. What looked triple-A in 2011 looks unpolished today). The storytelling is a reverse chronological order tale – it literally runs backwards – intercut with flashbacks.
It’s an unfolding action-horror sequence but the amazing part is, for so brief – 3 minutes and 6 seconds – a tale, it pulls hard at the heartstrings with more skill than many productions. That’s because of the star of this film, the editing. The editing elevates the storytelling from a straightforward horror scene to an emotional story worth seeing.
Not sure I’m right about the storytelling and the editing being the stars? Compare the original cut to IGN’s chronological edit that runs from the logical start to finish. Seeing the story from different perspectives triggers different emotions. Watch them both and you decide which is better?
The movie has one glaring plot question (not a plot hole, just a question that goes unanswered) – Why was the tween daughter out of the parent’s room while the zombies were rampaging across the resort? The parent’s room only has one bed so it’s easy to assume they got their daughter her own room to sleep in but… where? That answer may be way the girls was running down the hall in the first place.
Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by:
Check out John McGuire’s The Gilded Age steampunk graphic novel on Kickstarter!
Technically this is a music video, but if after watching it you don’t feel like you want to see a whole movie made in this style… well, I don’t have words for you. It’s done well enough that I think it’s ok to call it a film.
“Eye of the Storm” – By Lovett, from the album Highway Collection, 2011 – Directed by Christopher Alender
The story centers around a sky captain making his way across the sky, making peace with what came before and steadying himself on what may come next. Accompanied by a large dog-sized dragon, he sees the green glow just past an oncoming storm and must make his decision on how to deal with it. Whether he should avoid it or push through to the other side.
This feels like the end of his journey. Whether that implies his death or simply his last grand adventure, I’m not entirely sure.
Using a technique that reminds me a bit of Sin City with that mixture of animation and stylized actors. His goggles remain on his face, the orbs acting as two beacons in the dark night. They are our proxy to his eyes, able to still convey emotion even without being able to see what lies beneath.
This film has no spoken dialogue, but the song itself acts as our emotional center. It builds slowly, quietly, a simple peace. And then, when the storm crashes into the ship, and he is fighting the currents, the volume raises… crashing into the listener. Once through the rain and the wind, he sees the green light in the distance and pushes his machine directly toward it.
On my second watch, I brought up the lyrics and listened to the song only, allowing my memory of the scenes to supply the visuals.
For all that it cost
In the end there was no price to pay
For all that was lost
That storm carried it away
The storm carries all the mistakes he made. It carries the past away. And then it carries him onto his next (final) destination.
Or, perhaps he rids himself of those things. And by unburdening, he allows himself to actually become truly free.
Check it out and you tell me. Is this the end or the beginning?
You can find more music from Lovett on his website, as well as a behind the scenes for this video.
Sword and sorcery speaks to me. Those never-existed fantasy worlds and characters speak to me. In my regular blog series, I write about my quest to buy a resume that will elevate me from a tabletop role-playing game wanna-lancer to freelancer. I want to enter that field because I have sword and sorcery stories that I want to tell.
Where does The Birch fit into that? [SPOILER WARNING – The film is linked below so skip ahead, watch the short and then come back for my thoughts.] The movie takes place in the modern-day UK so you have to squint just a bit to see it as fantasy sword and sorcery. If you squint you’ll see a spellbook and magic and an elemental and the enemy uses a knife and the final battle takes place in the woods. Sword and sorcery veiled by modern clothing and backpacks and streets and a bedroom.
In D&D* terms, The Birch is about a young wizard who is given a spellbook by his dying mother in order to protect him. He is being bullied and she cannot save him but she knows a secret that can. After studying the spellbook, he uses magic to summon an earth elemental to be his protector and surrogate mother.
If this were D&D, it would be an excellent backstory of what drove a character to become a wizard. It delves into the origin of their spellbook, their mystical lineage, what motivated them to cast their first spell and why they can never turn back from that path.
This origin story leaves open future campaign plot points. Did the boy get away with the murder? What happened to the birch? Does it still obey the wizard or is there a darker, more tragic end to their relationship. The deepest reach might be, what killed mother? There are worlds of possibilities generated by 4 minutes and 31 seconds of story. Need a bit of horror magic for the New Year? I recommend:
The Birch (2016) – Horror Short Film Directed by Ben Franklin and Anthony Melton
Written by Ben Franklin and Anthony Melton and Cliff Wallace
Full credits and production details at BloodyCuts and at IMDb.
4 minutes and 31 seconds of horror:
*For sword and sorcery, Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) provide so much of the glossary.
You are in for a treat today! Code 8 is a short film that was created as a proof for a feature film. The creators ran an IndieGoGo back in March of this year–a mega successful crowdfunding campaign. This is a movie I want to see! Here’s a description from that campaign:
The film takes place in a world where 4% of the population are born with some type of supernatural ability. Instead of being billionaire superheroes, most ‘specials’ live in poverty and resort to crime, forcing the police to become more militarized.
The story follows a young man with special powers (Amell) struggling to find work as a day laborer. After a dispute over payment, he finds himself in a confrontation with a police officer (Kang) and the autonomous robots backing him up.
Gate 128, a mysterious place, promising salvation from the extinction of the female species, draws two struggling survivors (Rose and Camilo) in a post-apocalyptic world. The last known female on earth, and her protector must finish their dangerous journey past the world outside of Gate 128.
One of the highlights from Dragon Con 2014 (besides being in the art show!) was taking some time out to enjoy the Dragon Con Independent Film Festival. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t even know there was a film festival. Dark Origins is from the Horror track (Demons, Ghosts, Aliens, & Monsters). This 12+ minute film was one of my top three.
A psychologist discovers the terrifying trauma haunting her young patient may in fact lurk beyond the girl’s fractured mind.
Directed by Evan Randall Green; Produced by Evan Randall Green; Written by Evan Randall Green
Let me clarify. From the comfort of my couch, I watch about five grown-up movies every week (Latest top picks: Gone Girl. The Wolf of Wall Street. Latest disappointments: Foxcatcher. Monuments Men.) But in that same one-week span, I also gobble up about seven kids’ movies. Minimum. You name it, my 4-year old and I have seen it. I look at my DVD collection these days, and my favorite Scorsese flicks are buried under an ocean of Wreck-it Ralph, How to Train your Dragon, and Big Hero 6.
This is not a complaint.
Look. I like most of the kids’ movies these days. I even love a few. But the real treasure, and something both junior and I have recently discovered, are the awesome mini-movies appearing at the ends of almost every Disney and Pixar title. These things are amazing. For me. For the kid. For everyone.
And here are five of the best. Click each one to follow the Youtube link:
La Luna. About a little boy, his dad, and his grandpa. They go to the moon. With brooms. And beards. No one says a word. It’s beautiful.
Paperman: my personal favorite. Another short during which no one says a word. I’m the world’s biggest anti-romantic, and yet this one somehow budged my black little heart.
The Legend of Mor’Du: It might help to watch the full film ‘Brave’ before seeing this, but it’s hardly mandatory. My kid loves this little 6+ minute short more than more feature films. Not surprising considering how dark it is.
Feast: About a dog, his owner, and tons of good food. I think maybe 10 words are spoken. If dogs were always this fun, I’d have one.
Silly Symphony. This one goes wayyyyyyy back. It’s ridiculous fun. And naturally, being full of dancing, prancing skeletons, it’s more than a little weird.
Seriously. Check these out. They’re as good as the feature films they appear with. And sometimes they’re better.
PS: Tessera is currently looking for weekly and bi-weekly bloggers to contribute. Interested? Need free exposure? Get in touch!
I saw all the Hobbit films in the theater, and while I’m not the biggest fan of the book, I find I’m watching bits and pieces of the movies here and there as I flip through the channels again and again. Some more than others. However, there is one scene that I must turn to and watch in its entirety every opportunity I get:
Smaug slowly reveals himself from under a treasure trove that would invoke Dragon Sickness on Thorin. Smaug talking with Bilbo, toying with him, showing him exactly how impressive he might be. And the extremes he goes to prove that the dwarves will never retake the mountain.
I love every minute of it.
Yet, the other night I was watching these sequences and a strange thought popped into my head:
Why does Smaug (or any dragon) need all that gold? And it isn’t just him – so many of these creatures throughout our myths are guarding a treasure horde. It is a staple such that in Dungeons and Dragons it is not questioned. The only questions anyone has any real concern to answer are: how much is the horde worth? Are we powerful enough to kill the beast guarding it?
But I feel like there is more to this idea.
So What’s He Going To Buy With All That Gold?
The cavern shone whenever the tiniest glint of light broke through. In those instances, the gleam would bounce from coin to coin, making them sparkle. It would illuminate the lighter colored gems so they became tiny lanterns dotting the golden mound. Under this light the true spectacle could be seen. Appreciated. Gold and diamonds and coins and gems and… a myriad of skeletal forms cooked to a crisp inside their metal armor.
That same treasure acted as a beacon to some. Bands of adventurers who wove odd stories about how the dragon claimed their birthrights… their home. How every coin buried there was theirs to recover. Indeed, all of it would be restored to its rightful owners.
Yes, the cavern might have once belonged to dwarves or mountain men or even an orc herd, but it was the dragon’s now and had been for decades. It was his home. And more importantly, so were the riches it used as a bed.
For while the previous owners certainly contributed to its girth, not everything was from a singular conquest.
Krench moved into the cavern. Ever a creature of habit, he made sure to bring along a lantern, even if the act was worthless. At the outer chamber a familiar warmth ran down his leg. Long gone were the days he might have made excuses for such an action. How it could have been explained away as an involuntary response to the immense fear coursing throughout his body.
If his nephew smelled the urine, he did not show it. For that, Krench was grateful. There was far too much left to teach the lowly creature for them to become bogged down in such a trivial thing.
“The thing that no one understands is exactly what the Great Wyrm does with all his riches. The outsiders believe he simply slumbers on them. They make up superstitions where he extracts some form of nourishment from the metals in the coin allowing him to generate his awesome flame. They suppose he is vain and loves the way the gold and silver flicker in the darkness.
“Does that even make any kind of sense? It is up there with those who claim he stole the entire amount.
“Lies! And I have the numbers to prove it.” Krench patted the large book tucked under other arm. “A quick reading of this would inform everyone that of his original horde, only thirty percent was from what the dwarves possessed. Then there was the twenty-five percent in tribute from the lizard men. Another ten percent from random caravans he assaulted when bored. The last thirty-five percent an investment with the orcs that paid him quite well upon their successful campaign against the elves.”
The tunnel tightened enough that they both were forced to duck. His nephew passed through the narrow opening first and took the lantern and book from him while he made his way. Holding the items, the younglings resembled him decades earlier. His mind would be a swirl, a jumble mass of expectations, questions, theories, and who knows what else. To his credit, no questions were posed, but Ketch knew the sermon was far from finished. There was just too much to prepare him for. To explain how the world really worked.
“Once a week the Dragon’s Accountant must journey here to give a full account on all his holdings.” That got the boy’s attention. “I know your question: how would his horde ever change? He’s sleeping on the lot of it.
“And that’s the secret. He’s not. That’s small level thinking. For a creature such as this, who counts his life in decades or even centuries, you must expand on all of that. And this one has holdings as far east as Silverpool, as far north as the great seas… where ever money might exchange hands the likelihood is very high some of the coin originated here.”
“That inn located at the crossroads of Madras and Danan. Where all the caravans stop. Where lords and ladies and even princes have stayed… he owns a fifty percent stake. The blacksmith shop in Butte has worked out a nice living for himself because of a certain anonymous investor.
“A fleet of ships supporting the Merchant Guild in Silverpool.
“And the latest Duke of Parthan, who somehow found enough of a foreign inheritance to afford the new title and the lands which come with it.”
Krench let it all sink in.Watching his nephew’s eyes dart back and forth, a mind at work. After a few moments, a toothy grin emerged.
“Not to mention the coinage itself. Think about it, most of the coinage will be old. Then after a time it will be very old. Then ancient. Kingdoms and empires rise and fall in the blink of an eye (well, from His point of view). They mint new coins, phase out the old ones… and no one wants to have worthless coins. So periodic exchanges have to occur. In small enough amounts not to arouse suspicion, but in enough transactions so that you actually gain some ability to pay for what you want to invest in.”
The first of the outer doors appeared at the end of the tunnel. Remnants of the previous owners. A loose stone along the right side of the door, halfway down, provided the opening mechanism. Krench pushed until he heard the click and the engraved doors shifted open.
“What people don’t understand is dragons are ancient creatures. On a long enough timeline, barring random adventurers stumbling in and murdering them in their homes, they might well live forever. Even the ancient elves appear to wither in the eyes of dragons.
“But forever is a long time. And while they may share more in common with cats in their sleeping habits- they still wish to be entertained. And with the level of money they possess… well, pulling the strings on some of the humanoid peoples is a pleasant distraction.
“More than anything else, he knows history will repeat itself if you let it. So he can push and pull. Nudge things along for the better. Well, for his better.
“You see, dragons have gotten a horrible reputation as being evil. But what no one will tell you is the word is made up. They simply don’t realize have the perspective to appreciate everything as it moves and twists and turns. The elves… yes, they might, but the lower races, the dwarves and humans and halflings and gnomes and orcs… the lot of them just don’t live long enough. So they make up new stories to explain the world around them. And more often than not they only have the vaguest of memories as to what came before. The devastation, the wars, the armies… evil.”
They were getting lower now, the tunnel’s slope increased to the point Krench had to hand the lantern over to his nephew. They both stumbled a bit, but neither lost their footing. A hundred feet or so later things flattened out once more, and he took the burden back.
“Of course, they don’t know about the art. Creatives need funding as well. Ancient dragons need songs and maybe stories to be written about them. To be retold for the next generation. And who’s going to pay those bards to make such beautiful art? He is.
“Exotic animals? Seems strange, but my father explained it to me. Some days you want beef and some days you want Minotaur. Nothing wrong with either. And when you exist at the top of the food chain and have this level of wealth…”
Richard Caton Woodville, Jr. [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“My great-grandfather realized one undeniable truth: wars cost money. Conquests. Paying armies to conquer the world. It’s a terrible business plan. First you outlay all of that money on the mercenaries. You pay to feed them. To forge weapons for them. To build the forges. To build the siege equipment. And all of that work and gold guarantees absolutely nothing.
“Up to that revelation, the Dragon’s Accountant merely handed out the sacks of gold to the mercenaries and kept a log of it all in the book. But it was a drain on the coffers, and no amount of caravans would cover the loss. That pile he sleeps on will surely drain until he’s sleeping on stone like some commoner. No! That would not stand! So he dared to pose a single idea: if the Great Wyrm really wished to take over the kingdom, then why not buy it instead?”
Careful to turn the key two times to the left and then once to the right (no one wanted a face sprayed with acid from a trap set to keep the undesirables out), Krench led them into the cavern proper. Pausing to let the younger of them take the sight in, he pushed his spectacles back up his long snout. Long ago the glitter was enough to nearly blind him. Too many restless nights were spent trying to determine exactly how one might extract such a mass from the mountain. When his own father passed the Book onto him, he spent more than enough time to understand how moving even one coin was as important as the whole of it.
Later, when he took a full account of the book, Krench realized some of the investments had gone sideways. A small war between human kingdoms, a great flood, and suddenly there was a loss to report for the fifth year in a row. Such a glorious day filled with fire to signify the passing of duties to the next Accountant.
“Krench…” The Great Wyrm stretched out his name so that it appeared to come from everywhere and nowhere all at once.
The two of them moved over to the large platform where he would deliver the latest news. As they climbed the steps, crafted so long ago by rough dwarvish hands, he pushed the book into his nephew’s arms. There was no need for it anymore.
Dragons were patient creatures, but above everything else they did not like to lose money.
I don’t live in Los Angeles anymore. I’m reminded of this all the time, of course. Whenever I board this city’s competent mass transit. Whenever I eat Bay Area “Mexican” food. Whenever I look off in the distance and see a big red bridge that for some reason is called “golden”.
I miss Southern California for lots of reasons and I could list a hundred of them, but that’s not what this is about. But one thing I miss very dearly, that is relevant here, is film culture. Not “The Business.” Not the Hollywood Community. Film Culture.
Los Angeles is a town that makes movies but is also a town that loves movies. Especially the movies that not everyone loves. The ones not in English. The ones with small budgets and big ideas. The ones that are not deemed marketable enough to open in thousands of theaters but still need to be seen. A lot of these films make it to other cities, but they ALL play in L.A. And not just the new ones. Several theaters, including the legendary and place-I-miss-most New Beverly Cinema, specialize solely in playing older films. Golden age masterpieces. 70s grindhouse. Silents. Cult classics.
One of the things I miss most about living in Los Angeles is that fact that there was always a movie to go see. Not on TV. Not on Netflix. Not at home. But a movie to go out and see.
I’m typing this while watching the Academy Awards (Chris Rock took an angle on the #OscarsSoWhite thing that I did not see coming) and I usually like to put out my Best of the Year list before the Oscars air. Not that anyone cares, but that’s just usually my deadline. But this year it was harder to see all the films I thought I needed to see. It’s just not as easy up in here in the land of Giants, Warriors, and 49ers. I’ve still missed a few things that I think might have had an impact on the list, but I’ll catch them when I catch them. So, after some pointless rambling, here’s my list of the best films of 2015.
(Oh, note: Star Wars. I liked it. I did not love it. I have too many problems with it to name it one of the best films of the year, despite its success, despite people’s love for it. It’s the film from 2015 that I will probably see a hundred times before I die, but it was never close to making this list. So consider this an honorable mention for STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (J.J. Abrahms), I guess.)
I: THE GREAT
SICARIO (written by Taylor Sheridan, directed by Denis Villeneuve)
My first instinct when beginning to write about Villeneuve’s Sicario was to just rattle of a list of adjectives, but they were all just synonyms for one word: bleak. This is a dark, dark movie. You will not walk out of it with a jaunty spring in your step. You won’t call your mom to tell her “you NEED to see Sicario!” You can watch it on a date, but don’t expect it to put anybody in an amorous mood. Sicario is (and I say this as a man with a degree in film therefore know the terminology better than anyone) a fucking bummer, man.
It’s also extraordinary.
Okay. I found some more adjectives. And made up an adverb.
Sicario is a film you think is one thing then you find out it’s another and then “whoops!” it’s a completely other thing and it’s frustrating and confusing and you can’t stop watching it. On the surface, it is about the futility of the drug war. Benicio Del Toro is not officially reprising his Oscar-winning role in Soderberg’s Traffic, but it’s not hard to imagine a sequence of horrible events that would change 2000’s beleaguered Tijuana cop into 2015’s mysterious government operative.
He’s equally great in this film as he was in Traffic. Blunt is fantastic. Brolin is amazing. It looks great. It sounds great. It will have you scratching your head and gnawing your nails. I know I’m being vague but I really think the best way to see this film is in the complete dark.
And some people will come out into the light hating it. It is a polarizing film, mostly due to its stunning last act. I come down on the “pro” side; I think the whole point of the movie is the last act. But the last minutes of the film leave you feeling pointless, impotent, and oh so small. That makes it hard for some people to enjoy. And I totally get it. This movie so absolutely fucking frustrating.
But I absolutely fucking loved it.
CREED (written by Ryan Coogler & Aaron Covington, directed by Ryan Coogler)
Here’s the thing about Creed. There are a million ways to do this movie wrong. A million understandable decisions that could have produced a piece of shit movie. But Ryan Coogler found all of the ways to make this picture absolutely right. It is reminiscent of Rocky without being a complete rehash. It jumpstarts the franchise (I hate to use the word but it’s the world we live in) while honoring what came before it. It rewards you if you’re a Rocky fan but doesn’t punish you if you aren’t. It’s nostalgic without being fan service. It’s young and fresh and fun without being cloying or alienating to older fans.
(Actually, as I write this, I’m realizing that the makers of Creed and The Force Awakens had nearly identical missions laid out before them: and Creed, I really do feel, was more successful.)
But what really makes Creed work is that, despite its new protagonist and indie feel, is a straight-up, no bullshit, Rocky movie. And probably the best one this side of the 1976 original.
Oh, and Stallone is great here. (note from the future: he didn’t win the Oscar. The guy who did is a phenomenal actor but I really wanted to see Sly win this one). And Michael B. Jordan is a big giant motherfucking movie star. I would say it made everyone forget the travesty that was Fantastic Four, but that would be implying that people actually saw that garbage. Mr. Jordan is going to be just fine.
I love, love, love this movie. Thank you, Ryan Coogler. My favorite moment in any movie in all of 2015 is in Creed. If you’ve seen it you know it: the last round, the bell rings… and the music comes.
For that moment and many more, I can’t help but put Creed in my Top Three. It’s the most crowd-pleasing movie I’ve seen in years. If you didn’t see it in a packed theater, you missed out.
EX MACHINA (written and directed by Alex Garland)
This past December, millions of people around the world understandably fell in love with a dashing X-Wing pilot named Poe Dameron and the handsome actor who portrayed him. But more savvy film goers have been a fan of Oscar Isaac for some time now. I first noticed him as Prince John in Ridley Scott’s lackluster Robin Hood, but it was the quirky 2013 Coen Brothers gem Inside LLewn Davis that made me fall in love. The following year he starred opposite powerhouse Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year, a movie I really wish people had given a chance. And earlier in 2015, before Isaac became the new Han Solo, he appeared in Ex Machina, the directorial debut of acclaimed screenwriter Alex Garland.
Ex Machina is smart, minimilist science fiction that treats its audience like adults. I’m noticing that several films on this list heavily feature smart people doing smart things. The Martain. Spotlight. Bridge of Spies. Steve Jobs. As well as my favorite film of 2014, The Imitation Game. In a world that sometimes feels like it’s on the express train to Idiocracy, there’s comfort to be found in stories that romanticize knowledge and intelligence.
I really don’t want to say any more about this film. Just watch it if you haven’t. If you already have, you know. You don’t need me telling you.
* * * * *
II: THE EXCELLENT
ANOMALISA (Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson)
Praise be to Jebus. The most unique voice in American cinema has finally returned to the screen. Seven years after his heartbreaking directorial debut Synecdoche, New York, Academy-Award winner Charlie Kaufman returns with an animated film that can only be described as, well, Kaufman-esque. As much as I loved this movie, in a real, deep down way, I know that I’m going to like it even more the next time. Because no one rewards repeat viewings better than Charlie Kaufman.
VICTORIA (Sebastian Schipper)
Turn the lights down. Silence your phone. Close the laptop. And just watch Victoria. Don’t have it on in the background. Don’t second-screen it. WATCH IT. This film wants to take you on a little trip. Take it up on its incredibly generous offer.
ROOM (Lenny Abrahamson)
If you’ve managed to not know ANYTHING about Room, keep it that way until you see the film. When I sat down I had no idea what it was about (with a small part of me hoping it had something to do with Tommy Wiseau) and was better off for it. I suggest you do the same if you can.
DEADPOOL (Tim Miller) NO! WE’RE TALKING ABOUT LAST YEAR. GET OUTTA HERE!
INSIDE OUT (Pete Docter)
Whenever we want to count Pixar out, they come up with a masterwork like this. Their most mature film. I’m not even sure how much it appeals to children. But as the father of a nearly three-year-old girl, this movie, on multiple occasions, conjured up a weird moist substance that leaked from my eyes. I should probably see a doctor about that. Inside Out is so smart. Clever. But it’s also honest in a way that “family entertainment” rarely is. Painfully honest. I wish the movie was longer; kind of wish there was more to the story. But it’s a wonderful film and a tough yet beautiful sit for any parent.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (George Miller)
Do you know how good Mad Max: Fury Road is? I like it less than almost everyone I know, and I love it. I think it’s overrated and amazing. I’m on the low end of people who liked this movie and I can’t wait to watch it again and again. That’s how good this movie is.
Also worth checking out: DEADPOOL, STEVE JOBS, THE BIG SHORT, MI: ROGUE NATION, TRUFFAUT/HITCHCOCK, FURIOUS 7, DEADPOOL, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, TRUMBO, ANT-MAN, AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, AND DEADPOOL.
Apologies to: THE DANISH GIRL, JOY, CONCUSSION, BEASTS OF NO NATION, DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL, SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE, AMY, SPY, CRIMSON PEAK, 99 HOMES, 45 YEARS, BROOKLYN
Oh and the best Television Show of 2015 was Season Two of “Deadpool”:
I mean “Fargo”:
Now that I’m done, I’m going to tear up the fucking dance floor, dude. Check it out.
I’m going to be straight up with you guys and gals, I’m kind of biased on how much I respect the subject of today’s creator interview. She’s talented, driven, and she’s my lil’ cousin.
Who I’m unabashedly proud of. 😀
Gabrielle Aliké Hawkins has studied the craft of film making internationally in London, on our own shores in the great NYC, and has honed her craft working on such indie productions such as “Alto” and “Global Tides”. In addition to being an accomplished photographer, Gabrielle is currently conducting an Indiegogo campaign for a sci-fi dystopian short film she’s written and will direct called “Criminals”.
The filmmaker recently took the time to speak with the Tessera Guild about her career, the campaign, and indie film.
Can you start by telling us a little about yourself, your background in film, and just being a creator overall?
I became drawn to the arts at a young age, focusing on dance. After suffering a severe dance injury, I decided to continue my passion for arts and focus on filmmaking. I have always been drawn to films and when I was about 12 years old, I used to write stories that I wanted to see on the big screen. At that time, I wanted someone else to direct them. Then, I realized I could direct the stories I wanted to see.
I have a B.A in Film Production from Brooklyn College and a Certificate of Completion from the Met Film School in London where I studied film producing. I started working as a Production Assistant on music videos and feature films. I recently worked as an Assistant Director on a wonderful feature film called “Alto” directed by Mikki Del Monico.
What drew you to filmmaking? What about the medium drives you to create film?
Filmmaking is such a beautiful and powerful medium. It influences our society. As a teenager, I didn’t realize how much film and media influenced me. How I saw myself on screen or if I didn’t. What I watched influenced how I interacted with people without me even knowing.
That is one of the reasons that I became a filmmaker because I would like to see more diversity on screen. Not just in terms of race but also telling unique stories. I feel that watching a great film is like watching a painting come to life.
Talk to our readers about your short film “Criminals”, and the Indiegogo campaign. What about the science fiction/ dystopian future arena appeals to you as a filmmaker/ screenwriter in terms of storytelling?
I have always been drawn to abandoned buildings and characters that are seen as outcasts from society. There is great beauty in darkness if you can see the light.
The film takes place in 2040. Our characters, Ian and Ariana, are the last surviving members of an underground movement called the E.G.O. A massive manhunt for their capture takes place, in response to their infiltration of the notorious officer program and stealing confidential government files. They escape into the woods fighting to reach their last hope for survival. Will they make it to Nuevo Acuerdo, a society untouched by the government?
I have always been drawn to science fiction/dystopian future films and novels. Octavia E. Butler is one of my favorite authors and her work has greatly influenced me. For this particular film, I wanted to write within this genre because in some ways I feel as a society this is where we are moving towards, unless we experience a serious wake up call. Climate change, violence and so much more is something that shouldn’t be ignored by the masses.
We currently have an Indiegogo campaign running to raise money for this film. All of the money raised will go to the making of the film. There is a breakdown on the site, and the campaign ends on April 2. Check out the link for more info here.
Is science fiction a particular favorite in terms of film genre’s to create in, or does this include a variety of other genre’s?
Science fiction is one of my favorite genres to watch and write but I am also heavily influenced by other genres, such as film noir and even comedy. So depending on the story, I like to combine genres.
“Criminals” is definitely science fiction but with a film noir touch. I have a super random taste in movies so I think that helps a lot. My goal is to write a film in every genre.
Once I write a story and create the characters then I come up with the genre. I always have an idea of where I want it to go but usually the characters tell me what type of film it should be. For example, “Criminals” started off as a modern drama, but once I knew the characters and developed the story further, the genre had to change.
A common saying nowadays is that the field of independent filmmaking has become more level, with the advent of new technologies, greater access to information etc. Do you feel that this is the case? Why or why not?
I think there are two ways to answer this question. I think in terms of making an independent film, you do have greater access thanks to digital filmmaking. There are also so many ways for people to watch films now. You can upload to websites, like youtube or vimeo and people can view your work. Also there are so many festivals, that accept many different genres and stories.
However, if you want to have your film in theaters, I think that is still pretty tough for indie filmmakers. Not that it’s not possible, because it definitely is, but it’s harder for an indie film to get wide release in theaters than a Hollywood film.
Are there any filmmakers, or films that you feel have been an influence on you as a creator? What about those creators, or works speaks to you?
Tom Tykwer is an incredible filmmaker and his film “Run Lola Run”, is one of my favorites. The story is just so different and the moment I saw it I was in love with it.
Gina Prince-Bythewood directed “Love and Basketball” and most recently “Beyond the Lights”. I love her work because you become so emotionally attached to the characters. I love how naturally she writes and directs human interaction.
The television series “Breaking Bad” to me was just pure brilliance. The writing, the acting, the direction, just everything. I was blown away by this series and needed a support group when it ended.
There are so many other films, television shows and filmmakers that I can go on and on about because there really are so many. I love the classics like “All About Eve”, “Alien” to comedies like “Friday”. I love films that make me think and sometimes I just need a good laugh. I am all over the place with the types of films and TV shows that I watch.
All of these artists work speaks to me simply because it makes me feel something and makes me think outside of the box.
What can fans look for from you in the future, and where can they find your current work?
After this short I plan on working on a web series, and then work on a feature film that I wrote. This would be my first short that I directed so the current work I have has been on some great projects where I worked in other departments. I am also a photographer and my work can be viewed on my website.
Gabrielle Aliké Hawkins as Assistant Director on the feature film “Alto”
Film is my favorite art form. Always will be. I see lots and lots of movies every year, and every year for over a decade I’ve put out a list. So here’s my list for 2013.
The format I use is one I stole from the 1994 “Best of the Year” issue of Film Comment magazine. It’s a 3-tiered list. Tier I consists of 3 films, the ones I consider above and beyond my favorite of the year. The second tier has 5 films that I think are absolutely great. The last section has 13 films that I think are very, very good or at the very least were hella enjoyable. Within each tier, though, there is no order of preference. There is no “number one” film on this list. There are three.
These are not necessarily the “best” films of 2013, despite my impeccable good taste. I haven’t seen every film that was released last year, so I can’t definitely declare any film the objective best. I’m sure I missed some good ones. But here are my favorite films of 2013, of the ones I saw, along with some thoughts to go along with some of them:
(written and directed by Spike Jonez)
Not only does Her rank as one of the very best films of the year, it is also the 2013 film I most wish I had made. Every year there’s one: a film I would be most proud of to have on my resume, something that aligns with my sensibilities, says what I want to say, is made the way I would want to make it. The film I love the most and am also the most jealous of. This year, it’s Spike Jonez’s amazing 21st Century romance.
Yes, it’s a film about a guy who falls in love with his computer. But it’s actually not a film about a guy who falls in love with his computer. It’s so much more than that. It’s a great romance. It’s great science-fiction. It’s a great allegory for love and relationships today, about how technology has altered that landscape forever. I mean, really, in a world of text messages and online dating and everything, is it even necessary to have a body in order to love? People are forming relationships all the time based on words on a screen; Her just takes that a step further. It is a gorgeous, sexy, smart, and thought-provoking treatise on love and loneliness and humanity that I can’t recommend enough. It is the best film of Jonez’s career, and I’ve loved all of his films.
Oh, and I’m one of those people who thought Andy Serkis should have been nominated for an Oscar for The Two Towers, and I am even more so convinced that Scarlett Johansson deserves to be as well, despite never appearing on screen. It’s not going to happen, but it should.
(written and directed by Joel & Ethan Coen)
The Coen Brothers have one of the best batting averages in American film history. I can only think of one of their movies that I actively dislike and maybe two or three that I think aren’t great but I like anyway. And, after nearly 30 years of filmmaking, Joel and Ethan, unlike so many artists of all stripes, don’t appear to be running out of steam or ideas. It’s remarkable.
Inside Llewyn Davis is a Coen film in the vein of Barton Fink or A Serious Man. A put-up, not very likable protagonist, who over the course of a short amount of time has a whole lot of bad shit happen to him. Does he deserve it? Is it some past sin biting him in the ass? Is God out to get him? (A Serious Man can be read as a Job story) Or is our hero the only sane man in a world of random insanity? This film offers no answers of course. Llewyn Davis is just a folk singer trying to make his way in 1960s New York. Oscar Isaac delivers a star-making turn as the titular character, bringing just the right amount of talent, desperation, and over all asshole-ishness to the part. With strong supporting performances by Carey Mulligan, Adam Driver, Justin Timberlake, and Coen-stalwart John Goodman, I just loved the hell out of this movie. I don’t want to spoil too much, but be ready for a sad, beautiful, funny, and sometimes surreal experience.
There is also a small plot element of the film involving Llweyn’s former partner that connected very strongly to something in my personal life. It’s not overly played in the film, but it’s always there in the background and it helped me relate to a very non-relatable character.
(directed by Martin Scorsese; written by Terence Winter)
With the one-two punch in 1999 of losing both Stanley Kubrick and Akira Kurosawa, Martin Scorsese assumed the mantle of the world’s greatest living filmmaker. And since then he has proven to not be a false king. A few missteps aside (Bringing out the Dead), he has made impressive film after impressive film, with budgets he could have only dreamed of for the first 30 years of his career. He has found a new muse in Leonardo DiCaprio and is making films with the energy of a 25 year old man.
Wolf of Wall Street has been controversial but I can’t for the life of me figure out why. This film is simply the third (fourth if you count Mean Streets) in Scorsese’s series of films about organized crime. Wolf of Wall Street falls directly in line with Goodfellas and Casino, both stylistically and thematically. I mean, sure, gangsters are bad, but they’re nothing compared to the predatory stock brokers depicted in this movie. From the use of voice-over, to the frenetic camerawork and the wall-to-wall pop music soundtrack, Wolf is very clearly a successor to Goodfellas and Casino. The Departed was a fine film (I like the original, Infernal Affairs, way better though), but it wasn’t a gangster movie. Wolf of Wall Street, on the other hand, is. Another tour-de-force from the world’s filmmaker laureate.
By the way. If you think this film glamorizes its subject’s behavior, you need to look at yourself. DiCaprio, playing a character less sympathetic than his slave-owning, mandingo-fighting, plantation owner in last year’s Django Unchained, is awful (the character, not the brilliant performance) in this film. Just because Scorsese presents all of his behavior in a comedic light, it doesn’t mean he is endorsing or glorifying it. In the film, the characters participate in dwarf tossing, a ridiculous amount of drug abuse, objectifying and exploiting women, infidelity, insider trading, and, oh yeah, knowingly conning thousands of people out of their life savings for their own benefit. If at any point you were watching the film, no matter what the tone (it’s called point-of-view people), and thought to yourself “Man. That looks like fun. I want to be that guy!” then you’re the problem, not the movie.
12 YEARS A SLAVE (directed by Steve McQueen; written by John Ridley)
The story of Solomon Northup is so terrifying, incredible, sad, and amazingly moving that any more-than-competent Hollywood filmmaker would have made a really good movie out of it and found him- or herself busy come awards season. But in the hands of art house director Steve McQueen, whose previous two films are loved by cinephiles but unknown to many others, 12 Years a Slave became much, much more than the Oscar-bait pic it could have been. It is a difficult film. It dares you to look at it. It is bold and unique. I will never forget one shot (it’s the shot of the year): a very long take involving a tree. If you’ve seen the film you know what I’m talking about. Only a confident but aggressively challenging filmmaker would even dare such a moment. That is what McQueen brought to the film that a journeyman filmmaker would not have. A stunning film, one that will be valued for ages.
BEFORE MIDNIGHT (directed by Richard Linklater; written by Linklater, Hawke, & Delpy)
We first met Jesse and Celine in 1995’s Before Sunrise and have now checked in on them twice since: in 2004 and again in this year. I love these films so much. I have grown up with these two characters and, while they are smidge older than me, every time I feel like what they’re going through (Jesse in particular) reflects what’s going on in my life. This installment never quite matched the perfect ending that Before Sunset had, but it made up for it with maturity and a little bit of sadness and disappointment. I love Jesse and Celine. I can’t wait to see where they are in another nine years.
LA GRANDE BELLEZZA(directed by Paulo Sorrentino; written by Sorrentino & Contarello)
I say it ad naseum but Rome is my favorite city in the world. But Sorrentio’s sad, beautiful, and surreal film showed me a side of the Eternal City I had never seen: one of nightclubs, avant garde performance art, and seedy strip clubs. Maybe this Rome exists; maybe it doesn’t. Only a Roman could tell you for sure. It’s a hard task to summarize this story of a 65-year old night-clubbing member of Rome’s high society and the crisis of age and existence he goes through. If that sentence didn’t make sense, I apologize. The Great Beauty is a hard film to put into words. It simply must be experienced. With great performances, stunning photography that shows off both the better and lesser known sights of Rome, and a surrealism that sometimes reminds me oddly enough of Fellini’s Satyricon, this film has already won a Golden Globe and will probably be the favorite for Best Foreign Language film come Oscar time. And it’s definitely a film I will have to see more than once to full appreciate it, but the first time around I absolutely adored it.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (written and directed by Joss Whedon)
As a long time Joss Whedon acolyte, when I heard that he had made an adaption of my favorite Shakespeare comedy BETWEEN shooting The Avengers and editing The Avengers, well, I was stoked. And even more so after seeing the results. True to the original but shot in a Cassavetes-like black and white, the film is funny and alive. The cast is peopled with Whedon alum, most importantly Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof, whose doomed romance on “Angel” gets a sweet redemption, much to the joy of Whedon fans everywhere.
LA VIE D’ADÈLE(directed by Abdellatif Kechiche; written by Kechiche & Ghalia Lacroix)
If you went to see a boxing movie and there was an 8-minute boxing scene, would you bat an eye? How about 8 minutes of cars chasing each other at high speeds in a film that has either the words “fast” or “furious” in the title? Or a hilarious 8 minute set piece in the middle of a comedy? No, probably not. Then, tell me, what is the big fucking deal about, in the middle of this beautiful story of a French girl falling in love while discovering both her sexuality and her homosexuality, an 8 minute scene of two women making love? Is said scene graphic? Sure. But so are the dozens of beheadings in the PG-13 Hobbit films that are supposedly for families. Is it exploitative? Only if you download the clip on its own for masturbatory purposes instead of watching it in the context of the film. Forget all of the nonsense. “Is it pornography?” Rubbish. A film about sex is allowed to have sex in it. Get the fuck over it. Blue is the Warmest Color well deserved its success at Cannes and I can’t wait to watch it again on Criterion Blu-Ray later this year, three hour runtime be damned. And Léa Seydoux, who I’ve seen in a few other things, is probably my pick for Best Actress… not that she’ll even get nominated.
SHORT TERM 12 (written and directed by Destin Cretton)
A great little indie film you may not have heard of but should seek out immediately. Brie Larsen gives a wonderful performances as a woman running a center for troubled teens.
BLUE JASMINE (written and directed by Woody Allen)
2013 seemed to be the year of unlikable protagonists, and not just the guys. Cate Blanchett’s Jasimine is tough to love, or like, or root for, but by the end of yet another Woody Allen masterpiece, I did find myself caring about her. Pretty sure Blanchett will bring home Oscar #2 for this one. Because that’s what Woody Allen does. He writes parts that win women Academy Awards.
CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (directed by Paul Greengrass; written by Billy Ray)
I’m a Paul Greengrass fan and this is another great addition to his filmography. And there is no mistaking who made it; nobody does shaky-cam verisimilitude better. But what I will remember about this fine film more than anything is the last two minutes, in which Tom Hanks delivers the most human and heartbreaking piece of acting I have seen in years. Remember when Forrest Gump, upon meeting his son, immediately gets choked up, terrified, and asks Jenny if the child was smart or like him? No matter what you thought about the movie, it was powerful stuff. Well, in the closing minutes of Captain Phillips, I think Hanks eclipses that moment and creates what might be my favorite piece of acting he has ever brought to the screen.
GRAVITY (directed by Alfonso Cuarón; written by Alfonso & Jonas Cuarón)
If you didn’t see Gravity in the theater, in 3D, in IMAX, I’m not sure you should bother seeing it at all. I liked it quite a bit, but I will never revisit it. Not unless it gets another run on the big screen. Maybe it will get picked up by aquariums and planetariums that have IMAX screens, because no matter how big your TV at home, it just won’t be the same.
THE CONJURING (directed by James Wan; written by Chad & Carey Hayes)
The scariest movie I’ve seen in a decade. Well done, Mr. Wan.
THE DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (directed by Jean-Marc Vallée; written by Craig Borton & Melisa Wallack)
Two of the best performances of the year anchor this moving and fascinating true-life tale, told simply and effectively. I still would rather see Ejiofor win Best Actor (Okay, really I would rather see Phoenix win Best Actor, but he’s moronically not nominated) than McConaughey, but I’ll be completely in agreement when Jared Leto walks away with gold.
THE WORLD’S END (directed by Edgar Wright; written by Wright & Simon Pegg)
Wright, Pegg, and Frost finish out their Cornetto Trilogy in style. Fun and funny all the way through, what really carries it is the performance of Simon Pegg, the best of his career. At least so far.
AMERICAN HUSTLE (directed by David O. Russell; written by Russell & Eric Singer)
This film stars Batman, Hawkeye, Lois Lane, Rocket Raccoon, and Mystique. But it is not the greatest superhero movie of all time, it is an entertaining period con piece that is a good time loaded with great performances. And did David O. Russell know he was making a Scorsese knock-off or was it subconscious?
FRUITVILLE STATION (written & directed by Ryan Coogler)
A film that could not have been released at a more relevant time.
BLACKFISH (directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite; written by Cowperthwaite & Eli B. Despres)
Horrifying. I’m going to have some tough decisions to make re: Sea World, aquariums, and zoos as my daughter gets older.
THE SPECTACULAR NOW (directed by James Ponsoldt; written by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber)
My favorite youth romance of the year, largely because, in addition to fantastic lead performances, there is more going on than just puppy love. Kind of a serious version of She’s All That if you will. Beautiful little movie.
Just a quick note about FAST & FURIOUS 6. I love the FF films. Love love love. While part 6 didn’t quite live up to the previous installment, I still enjoyed the hell out of it. Honestly, it should be on this list, but I think the 20 titles above are better movies. But Furious 6 (as director Justin Lin wanted to call it), was a blast and a film I will return to many times. Like so many, I was saddened deeply by the death of Paul Walker. He was by all counts a good and generous man. I am unsure about the future of the franchise without him (and without Lin, honestly) but I’ll be there opening day for number 7.
Before I get onto the subject at hand (the bravest and boldest thing I’ve ever done: praising the most-praised thing of the last decade), three quick bits:
1) I missed my last two posts due to the holidays, traveling, lack of wi-fi, and a harsh but luckily short head cold. Won’t happen again.
2) More importantly, I want to say congratulations to John McGuire for releasing his first novel, The Dark That Follows. I was one of the few that got to read the first draft, and I can’t wait to see what he’d done to it since. Pick it up and support the next square in this artistic quilt called Tessera we’re trying to sew.
3) Belated Happy Holidays.
Now that that’s over with, I move on to the point of this post:
I FINALLY GOT TO SEE THEBOOK OF MORMON THIS WEEKEND.
WARNING: We at Tessera have a No Religion / No Politics rule (which I endorse – I say enough biased and antagonizing shit in my own life), but, due to the nature of The Book of Mormon, the topic of religion will come up, but only in passing. However, if I say anything that I think anyone can at vaguely-kinda-at-all interpret as being maybe offensive to someone anywhere, I will write it in bold. Hopefully I won’t have to use that, but I figure it’s good to have it as a fail safe. Okay? Cool. Onto talking about the play…
So I don’t believe in God.
Wow. That came in useful right-quick, huh?
I state the above not to provoke, but because I think it’s pertinent when I talk about how much I love TheBook of Mormon. Because, contrary to the opinions of a few, it is not an anti-religious work. Far from it, actually. It actually endorses having some sort of belief system, and a community based around it, to help you get through life. It’s primary thesis seems to be that while, yes, most religions look super-silly from an objective view, that doesn’t make them any less real to their practitioners, and it doesn’t mean they’re not an important part of the human condition. It is actually a plea for religious tolerance; the most Unitarian, “whatever gets you there gets you there” piece of popular art I have ever seen.
What The Book of Mormon is, though, is a searing screed against fundamentalism. It, not religion, is the true target of its derision and cutting humor (as well as a number of other topics).
But see, I’m just not non-religious. I am also largely anti-religious.
And again, I say that only to express that I should hate TheBook of Mormon just based on its general conceit.
But it is impossible to do so. To hate The Book of Mormon. And not just because it is hilarious and smart, with curtain-to-curtain memorable songs and characters, and manages to be shockingly funny and genuinely moving…sometimes at the same time, but because it makes its case so well it almost wins me over to it. It makes me see the value of faith and religion. More than anything ever has, really. At the end of the play, for a few brief moments, I felt like a person of faith, moved by the words and sounds and ideas presented on stage. I shrugged it off quickly, but still, for a man like me, that’s quite an accomplishment.
To those unfamiliar, The Book of Mormon is the multiple-Tony Award winning musical created by Trey Parker & Matt Stone (“South Park”) and Robert Lopez ( Avenue Q ). It opened on Broadway in 2011 to some of the best reviews in the history of theater and became an instant sensation. Tickets were both nearly impossible and impossibly expensive to get. The production I saw, at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco, was part of its second U.S. tour. And it was still sold out, three years later, and the balcony seat I had was not cheap. This is a production that will be going on for a very long time.
The play is the story of two young Mormon boys about to go out on their first mission. Elder Price is a superstar and is destined to change the world with the power of his faith, destined, he believes, to do “something incredible.” Elder Price is awesome. Just ask him.
Elder Cunningham, who Price is paired up with on their mission, is not awesome. Well, he is, really, but he’s not an awesome Mormon. In fact, he hasn’t even read the book. And he’s also a compulsive liar, prone to making things up and telling stories, most of them cribbing characters from things like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. He is not a model Mormon; he is not a model anything.
The two men are sent to a village in Uganda to convert the Africans there to Mormonism. The place they arrive is in desolate shape: poor, hungry, ravaged by AIDS, and under the boot of a vicious local warlord obsessed with female circumcision. Elder Price, despite his iron clad faith and God-given ability, has a very hard time seeing how he can baptize these folks into the Church of Latter Day Saints. Drama, doubt, and disappointment ensue.
And also lots of singing and dancing and jokes and profanity and a hundred other things that will make you smile ear to ear.
That’s all I’m going to talk about the story. I knew most of it going in. Not from doing research, but from downloading the soundtrack from iTunes several years ago and listening to it constantly. I know every word of the soundtrack. Just the songs alone, without the benefit of the play, are still amazingly funny and tell a story. So, to be honest, I was already a fan of TheBook of Mormon before I ever saw TheBook of Mormon.
Obviously, this late into the show’s run, most of the original Broadway cast have moved on. The cast I saw was not the cast that originated the parts. But the players in the San Francisco production acquitted themselves fabulously (sorry. musical review. must use “fabulously” at least once). The Saturday night audience ate it up and I loved every second of it. One of the best musicals I have ever witnessed, maybe the best, my other favorite being Spring Awakening.
So, in other words, “thumbs up”. I’m SURE the folks from the play will be relieved to get my endorsement. It may be the thing they need to put them over the top.
But what I really want to talk about isn’t TheBook of Mormon (“Could have fooled me, asshole!”) but how Book of Mormon made me feel afterwards. On the train back from the theater, I fell deeply into a state of joyful melancholy that I call the “Genius Hangover.”
It’s a feeling I have encountered many times.
Experiencing something so brilliant – a play, a movie, an art exhibit, a TV show, a video game, a concert, a public speech, anything – always leaves me with conflicting feelings. Firstly, I am elevated, inspired, and, well, fucking jazzed. I walk out punching the air, ready to go. Determined to run home and write. Juices flowing. Basking in the glory of art and what it can do and the limitless heights it can reach. You can’t wipe the smile off my face. I probably skip down the street. It is quite a high.
I mean, a HUMAN BEING made that. A human being like me–
But not like me. Uh-oh. This is where the second wave of emotions comes in to ruin the party, creeping up through the cracks in my joy and strangling it like weeds:
Jealousy and despair.
Because I will never make anything that good. Oh man. I just won’t. I mean, that is world-class. That is classic. It will be remembered for all time. It’s not that I just won’t make something like that, it’s that I can’t . The person or persons who made that are more talented than me. And that’s a hard pill of an egomaniacal narcissist (read: artist) like me. I know I’m talented. I think I’m very talented.
But I’m not For Whom the Bell Tolls talented. Not Seven Samurai talented. Not “West Wing” talented.
I’m not TheBook of Mormon talented.
So the high I get from seeing something amazing and the depression I get from seeing something amazing come together to create the slurry of a mood I call Genius Hangover. It usually sticks with me for a day or two. A combination of an overwhelming desire to create something great and a sadness that I’ll never create something as great as whatever inspired me.
Weird, I know. But it happens every time. I’m used to it. I just embrace it, let it happen, and it passes and I move on.
It also lead me to another one of my philosophies of writing, which I think makes the second one I’m going to bore you with, the first being my Theory of 10%.
This philosophy can best be summed up thusly: Aim to Fall Short.
I know it doesn’t seem very motivating; it will never be featured on a kitten poster in your office.
Here’s the thing. I will never be my artistic heroes. That’s okay. Because my heroes are bad-ass and legendary. Nobody is them but them. I’m sure most days they weren’t even them. I’ll take two examples from my list above: For Whom the Bell Tolls and “West Wing”.
I will never be Ernest Hemmingway. I will never be Aaron Sorkin.
But every word I ever write is and will be a futile attempt to be.
I believe that you should strive to be as good as your idols. Look at them (artistically) as what you want to be and go for it. You will fail. Oh, you will fail. I’m never going to write like Ernest Hemmingway. Do you know how I know that? HE’S FUCKING ERNEST HEMMINGWAY. It’s as simple as that.
But what I think is this: of course you will fall short of your heroes. And when you do fall short, when you’ve maximized your talent and done your best, that is where you find your voice. You will discover the parts of your work that are innately you, the things that come out no matter how hard you’re trying to be someone else. You’ll learn your strengths and weaknesses and how to capitalize on both.
Every sentence I write, I want it to be a good as my favorite passage in all of literature:
“The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.”
Not one of them ever has been. Again, HE’S FUCKING ERNEST HEMMINGWAY.
But in that failure, in those cracks, I find myself.
This concept may not work for everyone, but it works for me.
Anyway. Aim to fall short. That’s a piece of writing advice you didn’t ask for and probably shouldn’t heed.
So, to wrap it up: Sorry I missed some posts, Book of Mormon kicks ass, and I’ll never be Ernest Hemmingway.
Over the next weeks I’ll be delivering my annual Best Films of the year list, as well as something on 21st Century Romance films (spurred by seeing Spike Jonez’s Her – talk about Genius Hangover), and maybe something about having fans or the closing of Blockbuster or what I made for dinner. I don’t know. Making this up as I go along.
Stories from our Future is the official name for something that was originally going to be Little Black Mirror. Released on June 10, 2019, to help celebrate the release of Season 5 of Black Mirror, it took three short films (each less than 10 minutes each) that were all told in the vein of the television show.
One thing about these shorts: there is no spoken dialogue. The music, the beat, or soundtrack helps propel the stories along. In addition, there is a bit of text here and there to help push the narrative along. The other thing I just now realized is how the themes of these shorts mirror (Black Mirror?) the episodes of the season.
EP 1 – Getting to Know You
A virtual landscape to escape the drudgery of your daily life. Who hasn’t seen the video games that end up sucking their players into a life that effectively ends up being wake up, work, and then get online to interact with people you may or may not really know. Unless you meet them in real life, what do you really know about their people? How much might you have in common with them? Are they someone you could see yourself with in a relationship?
And what happens in your real relationships? When does your digital world become more real than your physical one?
And does it even matter?
EP 2 – The Healthy Alternative
Addiction comes in all forms and flavors. It could be a type of food, sodas, alcohol, drugs, sex, and just about anything else you could possibly think of.
And while it is very easy to recognize many of the bigger ones, that doesn’t mean the companies who make and sell this stuff aren’t trying on a constant basis to tweak your mind ever so slightly. They are trying to get their names burrowed within your brain so that you don’t see it as something bad or good. It becomes almost background noise to you.
The sneaky thing is if they can convince you that what they are selling is not only good for you but literally can improve your life in ways that you might not even realize.
And in this future, they can always upgrade the system to make sure they are dealing with your every ailment.
The rut of our lives. The constant sameness. Day in an day out. You wake up, go to work, maybe you have a hobby or distraction, and then bed before doing it all again. It makes it where you have to wonder if you actually do see time in a linear fashion, or maybe after a few years of this routine, those days do not fall in a real order.
Throughout all of that, if you are doing it by yourself, then comes the loneliness. Being with someone else. Having them share in some of those experiences, no matter how mundane they may be. That is how humans were supposed to see this world. Not through their own eyes, but through someone else’s eyes. That is how we grow and love and make our days just a little better.
This was my favourite of the three.
To see these episodes, check them out on Youtube here. I’m not sure if this is a one-of experiment or if it something we can expect to see more of in the future. I hope so.
John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy,go here!
Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?
Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by a variety of companies:
I started doing this series of blog posts at the beginning of July. My thinking was two-fold:
1 – Check out who might be producing Steampunk comics.
Obviously, I write a Steampunk comic (The Gilded Age), so I’m already interested in the genre. However, aside from the DC covers they did that one month or something else random to come out which might mimic the ascetics, I really didn’t know what other indy creators might be doing within the genre.
2 – Help potentially spread the word for those creators.
Comics should be this thing where we are always helping each other up. And if I like something why wouldn’t I try to get another person to like it?
3 – Content for the blog.
Some weeks are easier than others to figure out a topic. This really gave me a direction that the Wednesday blog sometimes doesn’t have (which I like the free-form, but this is focused – or as focused as I’m going to get).
4 – See what was successful for other Kickstarters (especially those in the Steampunk realm).
As I was pretty sure I’d be kicking off a Kickstarter sometime in the Fall, this was an excuse to start to drill down and see what might be working and what wasn’t. Looking at the pages for how they were laid out, the various Reward levels, and just the level of artwork on the page. I took notes of what I liked and what I didn’t like.
So if you missed any of the weeks, here’s a handy recap of 2017!
What I wrote in the introduction still holds true:
There are moments when you start reading a comic and you just know there is something about it which speaks to you. And maybe you don’t understand every little thing which has been set out in front of you… maybe those are the things you’ll figure out on a reread. But when you lock in, that’s all it takes.
When I sat down to check out some Steampunkish comics a couple of weeks ago and came across Hinges by Meredith McClaren, I thought I’d read a few pages and move on with my life.Bauble and Orio had other plans for me.
Everett Forge is in the mold of many of those same Westerns. He’s clearly a man on a mission to destroy Omega’s entire livelihood. He’s a myth, a ghost story the Robots tell each other at night – make sure you lube all your joints of Everett Forge will get you.
Take the X-Files, set it in an alternate history of Boston, and force the characters to have to deal with a different set of social mores and expectation than we deal with today. BMS has run a handful of successful Kickstarters (and have 6 issues collected in their trade), so you are going to get your full story.
As part of my month-long Gilded Age Kickstarter campaign, I collected the various interviews I’d conducted with much of the team over the previous year. There are still a couple of people left to talk to… it’s on the to do list.
Monstrous stems from a lifelong fascination with monster movies and their misunderstood heroes. Even when they’re completing evil, monsters are always the most compelling thing about the stories they occupy. I’ve always loved the Universal Studios monsters and Ghostbusters and the Hammer Studios movies. I threw all of those influences together with plots from John Wayne westerns in this strange steampunk hybrid. Monstrous is like all of these things I’ve loved for years having a party together.
The Jekyll Island Chronicles is a graphic novel adventure series blending historical fact with heavy doses of alternate history and adventure. Book One, The Machine Age War, opens the story in the days following The Great War – a time when a brief glimmer of peace and hope quickly fades as a cryptic organization moves to threaten fragile governments and their people with a campaign of chaos and terror.
This was the first of the series, focusing on Victoria who crafts words. Through the use of this magic, she is able to affect the world around her. This Kickstarter ended up funding, and I have my digital copy!
Edgar Allan Poe has lost everyone he ever loved and now he is losing his mind. Haunted by his wife’s ghost and his many literary failures, the poet tumbles into a fantastical world created by his genius…and his madness. This world called Terra Somnium is a nightmare region that merges his macabre literary creations and mythological gods and monsters of old, all hell-bent on stopping him from escaping the land of dreams.
This Kickstarter funded and I believe the second issue was funded as well, so if you missed them, keep an eye out for issue 3.
The Old West is really that last bastion before the industrial revolution kicks into high gear. But there is plenty of bleed between the two areas, the same as Steampunk and Weird West style stories. That Gothic Horror feel of monsters being in a place where, by all rights, they should not be. And whether it is a Steampowered invention needing to put the darkness back in its place or the sidearm of a cowboy – it feels all connected even if it isn’t a 100% match of genres all the time.
In 1894 London, a 20-something H.G. Wells and a 40-something Bram Stoker meet and have a very unexpected 48-hour adventure that leads to the creative inspiration for both writer’s first great success – THE TIME MACHINE for Wells and DRACULA for Stoker. It is not only a thrilling, scary, fun, and beautifully drawn adventure tale, but also a story about putting aside fear and insecurity and stepping into your true identity.
1879 is FASA’s steamweird roleplaying game, that takes the place of Shadowrun in our cosmology. Due to a weird science experiment that opens a stable wormhole, Earth’s magic cycle gets jumpstarted in the late Victorian era, leading to a Gilded Age with elves, dwarves, snarks, and trolls. As the world adjusts to its new races, technological progress races forward, as the Age of Steam begins to give way to the Age of Electricity. Clockwork computers exchange data over telegraph wires, steam-powered airships chug through the sky, and industrial applications of magic churn out new wonders daily.
Westbound is a game of adventure on the frontier. You’ll explore the magical wild west, encounter other frontiersmen, fight strange new creatures, and strike gold or die trying. Robbing trains, shooting up saloons, and rescuing damsels is all apart of a days work for a Westbounder.
As I said in the breakdown of the RPG Quickstart rules: Take the best parts of John Carter, Warlord of Mars, a mix of the crazy-fun science fiction of Jules Verne and HG Wells, and top it off with some of the pulp stories from the 30’s and 40’s about adventures on other planets (before pesky real science ruined it for everyone). The Imperial nations of Europe decided to look to the stars to appease their appetites for materials for Queen and Country (or Kaiser and Country as the case may be).
As I was coming up with this list of 5 Steampunk movies, I had to admit that there aren’t as many as you might think there are considering the number of costumes I see posted all over the web (or at conventions like Dragon Con). The following aren’t necessarily the best, but these are ones who contribute in their own way to the genre.
This is a music video. This is a short film. This is amazing looking.
The story centers around a sky captain making his way across the sky, making peace with what came before and steadying himself on what may come next. Accompanied by a large dog-sized dragon, he sees the green glow just past an oncoming storm and must make his decision on how to deal with it. Whether he should avoid it or push through to the other side.
With the trailer for the animated movie debuting, I thought it was more than time to give a little focus on a Batman related Steampunk story… that I have not read as of yet. Share in the story of my failure…
“Contribute to help create, publish and distribute the CAVALIERS OF MARS tabletop roleplaying book.
Live, fight, and love on Mars, a world of red death and strange mystery, a world of savagery and romance.
Return now to dying Mars in its last age of glory. A planet of flashing swords and choking sands, of winking courtesans and lantern-lit canal cities.
Mars, where fortune and heartbreak are two sides of the same obsidian chit, where lost cities and dry oceans stretch between the last bastions of civilization. Where the First Martians, the monument-builders, are but a haunted memory. Where the Red Martians become decadent and reckless in their last days. Where the Pale Martians rule the wastes, remembering a history whose weight would crush a lesser people.
Mars has canals… therefore, Mars must have Venice!
Cavaliers of Mars is a swashbuckling adventure setting from Rose Bailey, longtime developer of Vampire: The Requiem and other World of Darkness titles. Cavaliers draws inspiration from pulp fantasy and historical fiction, adding a modern edge and an exotic setting.
Cavaliers of Mars is powered by the DEIMOS system, in which a hero’s motivations and approach to problems strongly influence her chance of success. In combat, heroes face off with their enemies in contests of tactics and chance.”
Onyx Path is a large publisher and this game is a part of their creator-owned line. I dig that they are offering that business option and partnering with creators to produce new products.
“Cavaliers of Mars is a new entry in Onyx Path’s lineup of creator-owned games, produced in partnership with Rose Bailey and written by Rose Bailey, Benjamin Baugh, Dixie Cochran, Storn Cook, Steffie de Vaan, Meghan Fitzgerald, Jordan Goldfarb, Danielle Lauzon, Ethan Skemp, Lauren Stone, Travis Stout, Audrey Whitman.”
This RPG uses the DEIMOS system – traits of varying dice sizes rolled in dice pools against a difficulty number – that attempts to recreate the John Carter of Mars/Barsoom experience as a RPG. But do the system and setting work? You can get the Jumpstart Rules for free and, if you back the campaign, they have the complete text for CoM available as a download now.
“To learn more about Cavaliers of Mars, you can check out the CAVALIERS OF MARS JUMPSTART RULES here at DRIVETHRURPG.COM:
“Battlelords of the 23rd Century, Seventh Edition is a full color, hardcover tabletop RPG book. New & Streamlined Core Rules.
What is Battlelords?
Battlelords is a game set in a dangerous future. An Alliance of Humans and aliens is fighting for survival. The Ak-Nar-Ryn (aka “Arachnids”) have destroyed worlds and decimated populations as they advance into Alliance territory. Against the backdrop of war, players can take the fight to the Ak-Nar-Ryn, become explorers seeking new aliens species for allies and technology or participate in espionage to further the goals of their corporate backers.
There are many core species and each has their specialty and their own story. You can play as a Chatilian so you can read minds and use mental powers. Be the ultimate infiltration specialist as a Mazian transforming to look like a Human, or a tree, or a desk, or pretty much anything else you can think of. If you’d like to go with brute strength, pick a Pythonian and throw someone for distance. Play a cunning and ruthless Phentari and make your enemies suffer. There are 15 different species to choose from!”
Have you played Battlelords before? “The first edition was released in 1990 by Lawrence R Sims,” and this is the Kickstarter for the 7th edition, so it has a lengthy pedigree. 23rd Century Productions believes in their game enought to have a free playtest for you to sample and see if this is the game you’ve been waiting for.
“We’re creating a new Casebook for the Baker Street RPG, and our first Adventure book for Hood: Swashbuckling Adventures in Sherwood!
Fearlight Games is bringing you two new collections of cases and adventures!
We have a new collection of cases for use with Baker Street: Roleplaying in the World of Sherlock Holmes. Our investigators find themselves dealing with unusual circumstances and locales out of the ordinary in Strange Cases & Distant Places. This is the third casebook for Baker Street. We also have a new release for Hood: Swashbuckling Adventures in Sherwood. Adventures Beyond the Forest is our first collection of adventures for Hood and it has our Merry Men setting off on a series of swashbuckling adventures!
If you aren’t familiar with either of the games, scroll on down to the appropriate About the Game section for a brief introduction to the system, or check out the original campaigns here:
A preliminary layout of the cover and interior pages.
Do you want to play Robin Hood or Sherlock Holmes? Fearlight Games has you covered. In one Kickstarter, they’re offering case files and adventure for these two settings. As a GM, I’m excited for mystery-adventures that are at a high enough level for Sherlock Holmes. That’s a win!
That other win is that Bryce Whitacre, the Spectrum System, Baker Street, and Hood creator, is a nice guy and, best of all, he hired my pal, Jonathan Thompson, to do…
“The Haunted Mill, by Jonathan M. Thompson
Tom, the Miller, is having some trouble with the little people. They are killing his cats, destroying his grain and otherwise making a mess of things. Sir William has offered to buy the mill, maybe the denizens of Sherwood can aid Tom before it’s too late.”
I want this to fund to see how the adventures and mysteries turn out!
You can see examples of their work at DriveThruRPG here.
“Post-apocalyptic campaign setting, tools, and scenario… gonzo, eldritch, science-fantasy, mutant wasteland. O5R by Venger Satanis.
For those who don’t know me, “Hi. I’m Venger Satanis, High Priest of Kort’thalis Publishing. What’s up?”
I believe this is my 13th Kickstarter. Want to see what I’ve been doing the last 4 years? Check out my old school gaming blog: http://vengersatanis.blogspot.com/
I haven’t explored the post-apocalypse genre that often, so this is a big deal to me. I want to get deep in there and do it right, coming up with weird, outlandish things in a world devastated by cataclysmic forces. PCs will be eating crock-rat and scorpion-skunk roadkill, drinking their own piss, giving hand jobs for precious gasoline, and pretending to worship the glowing faces of a malevolent and insane god that floats somewhere in the yellow smog of the forbidden zone. Not everyone will survive. In fact, some won’t even want to. That’s just the way things are now.
There are already a lot of cool post-apocalyptic RPGs out there. Gamma Turquoise: Santa Fe Starport will focus on making your after-the-bomb gaming experience more awesome. I strive to hit that sweet spot between rules-light and rules-non-existent, where flavor, story, ideas, artwork, scenario seeds, and random tables dominate. Indeed, this book will have utility far beyond the scenario presented. You’ll want to give this to your grand-kids when they go off adventuring in post-apocalyptic lands.
I provide you with the finest tools so that YOU can create your own irradiated landscape full of mutated skeezoid scum dogs (tentacled, of course). But this won’t be a lame outline that you have to flesh out. No, you’re in good hands – Venger’s warlock hands!
If you want a lot of crunchy, bloated, system nonsense that has no business being in a toolbox like this, then move along. Nothing to see here…”
Gonzo gaming. Venger Satanis of Kort’thalis Publishing is the living embodiment of gonzo gaming. NSFW work gonzo gaming, but gonzo gaming all the same. Venger is also one of the most helpful, ready-to-give-back-to-gaming individuals in the industry.
Do you need a post-apocalyptic world that’s deeply rooted in grindhouse? Gamma Turquoise is going to give you twists and turns and unexpected craziness from after the world ends!
You can see examples of their work at DriveThruRPG here.
“Discover the Ninth World, then fulfill your destiny to lift it from an age of darkness. Two new corebooks for Numenera.
They say there have been eight worlds before ours. Eight times the people of this Earth, over vast millennia, built their civilizations, reaching heights we cannot even fully imagine now. They spoke to the stars, reshaped the creatures of the world, and mastered form and essence. They built cities and machines that have since crumbled to dust, leaving only their barest remnants.
This is the Ninth World. The people of the prior worlds are gone—scattered, disappeared, or transcended. But their works remain, in the places and devices that still contain some germ of their original function. Some call these magic, but the wise know that these are our legacy. They are our future. They are the…
Set a billion years in our future, Numenera is a tabletop roleplaying game about exploration and discovery. The people of the Ninth World suffer through a dark age, an era of isolation and struggle in the shadow of the ancient wonders crafted by advanced civilizations now millennia gone. But discovery awaits for those brave enough to seek out the works of the prior worlds. Those who uncover and master the numenera can unlock the powers and abilities of the ancients, and bring new light to a struggling world.
The original Numenera RPG was launched via a 2012 Kickstarter campaign that shattered every record (at the time) for tabletop RPGs. The corebook has seen four printings, and Numenera is enjoyed by tens of thousands of gamers in an active global community. We have published over 60 supplements and accessories, and released a terrific starter set for new players. The Ninth World has spawned a critically-acclaimed hit computer game, board games, an excellent short film, a line of novels, and other licensed items, and Numenera has been translated into many languages including French, Spanish, Italian, Korean, German, and Portuguese.
Numenera is a game in which player characters explore the ruins of aeons past to gather amazing treasures and help build a new future for a world struggling in darkness. Since the launch of Numenera in 2013, we have delivered well on the first part, but we’ve always wanted to do a more thorough job exploring that second part. That desire has led us to Numenera 2 and this Kickstarter campaign.
Through this Kickstarter we’re going to replace the existing corebook with two new corebooks. The first is called Numenera Discovery and the second Numenera Destiny.”
It’s Monte Cook, it’s Numenera, it’s breathtaking art, it’s (as of this writing) over 2,400 backers and over $450,000, it’s one of the five 6- or 7-figure RPG Kickstarters running in October, 2017, and it’s going to be epic in every sense of the word. At this point, in the comparison between the five big games of the month, Numenera 2 is in the lead and, I believe, likely to stay there.
Never tried Numenera? Well, Monte Cook Games believes in their game and they have 17 free Numenera previews on DriveThruRPG. If you’re unsure, Monte Cook has enough samples to knock you off the fence one way or the other.
You can see examples of their work at DriveThruRPG here.
Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by:
Every year I want to make October something cool. I want to watch as many horror movies as I possibly can. I want to fill the excess time with scares and vampires and zombies and whatever monster lives under my bed.
Yet, every year, I look up and it’s basically Halloween.
But not this year. This year I’m determined to do something every day. Whether it is a movie or a short film or a short story or a game or whatever… I’m going to embrace it!
Day 1 – Honeymoon
(currently streaming on Netflix)
Directed by Leigh Janiak – Staring Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway
There are four characters in this movie and two of them only appear for about a total of 5 minutes of screen time. The entire focus of this movie is on the newly wedded couple who have gone to her cabin in the woods for the week. A week of isolation, and sex, and fishing and strange lights outside, and wandering around in the woods and…
But really, this movie owes more to something like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Gaslight than anything else. It is really about how much do you know the person you’re with. And if they act “strange” is something actually wrong with them or is it you, being paranoid. As the viewer, you are there with Paul, trying to figure out if there is something legitimately wrong with Bea or if we might be dealing with a situation more different than we think.
This is one of those movies where I enjoyed it right up to the end, but the coda was probably unneeded in its present form. Definitely worth watching if just for the slow build of things being just wrong.
Day 2 – The Things
By Peter Watts
You can read this short story at Clarkesworld for free here.
If you have read John W. Campbell, Jr’s novella Who Goes There? or seen John Carpenter’s The Thing, then you might have an idea of what this short story is about. But instead of a strict retelling from another of the humans, this is from the POV of the Creature.
Watts does a great job in almost making The Thing into a sympathetic character who is as confused about our world and our ways as we are of it. There is true anguish as it tries to decipher what it can about humanity’s nature, why we would choose to become stuck in one form, and all the ways it thought it could potentially survive the encounter.
If you’ve seen the movie, Watts also has an answer about who might have been human and who might have been a Thing at the end.
There isn’t anything unique about the story. A girl is alone in her house… or is she? Even if we’ve seen that movie a thousand times, when it comes to the horror side it really boils down to, is this thing scary?
Through the use of the soundtrack, slow shots, a couple of jump scares, and an occasional camera shot that is just off-center making you watch the background more than any character in the foreground.
It has a viewing suggestion that I will echo here: watch alone, in the dark, with headphones.
Every day that I keep at this – the writing, the editing, the story-telling – I’m hopefully getting a little better. But much like an athlete who trains by themselves, eventually they must turn to others in order to truly gauge how good they are, where their deficiencies might lie, and what things they can do to simply improve overall. They say you can never improve unless you are playing with people who are better than you are.
It’s not that much different on the writing side. Except that writing lends itself more to the solo aspect. You could go days or weeks or months without any feedback on the next project you’re writing. The only comfort you gain is knowing the story is progressing. That, too, can be just as maddening.
I think it is why I not only like to collaborate, but I seem to seek out such opportunities whenever I can.
During the earliest days of Terminus Media, when it was just a group of 5-6 guys trying to figure the whole “writing” thing out. Times where we might not even know what we did not know. Every week was a new potential project, every week was a new idea presented by someone at the table, and we did our best to foster that sharing. You could see where other people were having problems, and hopefully, not make the same mistakes on your own work (you inevitably did, of course).
I started to learn how to accept (constructive) criticism by sharing my words with others. I learned that the best way to learn was to DO the work. If there was a project that needed something written, the following week was spent figuring out how to actually write a short film script, or a TV script, or a comic script.
One week I had no idea and the next, knowledge replaced the nothingness.
Years later, Mr. Neill and I were talking about a serialized possibility. Here we both were trying to finish novels or start new ones, but there was something about getting our heads together and seeing what could happen.
The biggest benefit, unseen by me (and probably cursed by Jeremy later) was editing. You effectively add a partner in this realm as well. Hopefully their strengths can fix your weaknesses and vice versa. Perhaps you are a little too sparse in your descriptions and your partner too sparse on the dialogue – now’s the perfect opportunity to learn from each other.
In those first drafts, which Jeremy edited to the bone, my prose got a little tighter. When I got new chapters in from him, it forced me to push to get better. I wanted him to be excited when my emails came rolling in. We all need to be pushed. Having a partner, someone you are accountable to, means that when you aren’t hitting your deadlines then you’re letting someone else down. Building the world through these characters in a way that makes the whole work really about those characters more than about the “Big Events” which may be going on around them.
Getting better with every keystroke.
In the last couple of years, I’ve worked with Robert Jeffrey on a pair of projects. Each of us bringing some ideas to the table and we settled on one idea from each list: The Crossing & Entropy.
The thing is that with another head there, you obviously have double the potential ideas. However, you are really forced to push your own ego aside… for the betterment of the story. When it is only you, it means a singular vision, but it also means you’re pretty much confined to whatever the old brain comes up with. With another person contributing ideas, you have more opportunities to find the best idea. You’re no longer insular… BUT you have to be willing to allow the other person to have that idea. If you are the type of writer who can’t deal with writing “someone else’s story” then you might as well stay a solo act.
To live in someone else’s world where much of the original idea was someone else’s, but you could still be a cog in the machine and help it get further than it could have done on their own. The ability to make something better than one person simply through the ideas being shared and passed back.
But the best part is being able to lean on someone else to help carry a bit of the workload. And when Writer’s Block threatens to show up, you simply give your co-writer a call or email. That way they can talk you off the ledge, getting you back to work all the sooner.
The dirty secret about all of this, whether it is short stories, novels, comics, film, or whatever… it doesn’t have to be such a lonely pursuit. You DON’T HAVE to go it alone. You can help your fellow creators, and they can help you as well.
Hopefully each learning a little bit more through the experience.
Time again for my look ahead/look back. It’s where I like to sit down and judge what I managed to do, what things didn’t get done, and then push onto next year.
I have so many things that I would like to do. So many ideas for books and stories and comics. Most of the time I’m not fighting time or money, but fighting my own brain. Trying to get focused can be the biggest problem of them all.
[Of course having more time and money wouldn’t hurt. :)]
So first, the look back at 2015:
The Edge of the World – Finish the 1st draft. Finish a 2nd draft. Get to Beta Readers. Possibly get an editor by end of year.
Yeah, if 2015 taught me anything it taught me that a story will take as many words, as many pages, and as many hours as it wants. My desires and schedules will be damned in this process. I wrote about it a bit here, but the big thing was that I thought I was closer to the end than I really was, so not finishing the 1st draft until November was difficult.
[The always fun thing of “When are you going to be finished with that book?”… “Soon.”]
That said, I did end up doing a partial edit on about 2/3 of the book. I wouldn’t call it a 2.0 edit, but it might be 1.25 or 1.5.
Regardless I am extremely proud of having finished another draft of another novel. I know that these things don’t just appear overnight but take tons of “butt in chair” time. So I’ll give myself an A.
The White Effect – Revise the current draft with all the Beta Reader notes I have. Identify potential Editors/Agents to Query. Draft query letter. Start that process.
This has begun, but that’s about all I can say at this point. Work in progress type of thing. We’ll call this one “Incomplete”.
Veronica Mars Kindle Worlds Novella II – We have the outline, I just need to put some words on the page now. It is 3rd on the list for a reason though.
Finished the 1st draft. Waiting on the co-writer’s edits/thoughts. This gets a solid B.
Hollow Empire II – Begin those discussions in the next couple of weeks. Begin outlines, drafts, and maybe, just maybe get it out by end of year? Maybe it could be a Fall release every year?
No movement on Hollow Empire. I was busy with Edge of the World, and he was busy with… not sleeping and writing 1 billion words this year. So, yeah, it might be time to start bugging Mr. Neill again. I get an F on this one.
The Dark That Follows Sequel – Originally I wasn’t going to try to fit this in this year, but I have an idea for this and a third book, so I’m hopeful to have a 1st draft done.
Wow… I had this on the list? Whoa. Yeah, this didn’t happen. A big ole’ F for that one. Talk about eyes bigger than my stomach!
Unstuck – A series of novellas I would like to get done about people who are outliers in the timestream… abandoned by their own timelines. Each one would be about 25k words, and right now I have 3 of them roughed out. My guess is having one done by end of the year is a resonable goal (though I could easily see it getting squeezed out by the above).
I knew this was on the list… not started, but lots of notes being gathered. And it got pushed back because of another project (see below). So I’ll say I get a D minus for this one (but with a legit excuse).
S.O.U.L. Mate – Something that did not exist in any portion of my mind last January. A full outline has been written. The damn thing came in a blur over the course of a day. Fully formed. Beginning/middle/end… just like that. And that really caused the Unstuck stories to get slid back on my schedule.
Work has commenced on it.
Shorts – 4 more shorts, to be finished. Online magazine submissions (get on it McGuire!). Start that train a moving.
3 shorts written. Two of which are in a short story collection: Machina Obscurum (you should check it out!).
I have started the online magazine submissions. No success yet, but it is in progress. I’ll call this a solid B (unless I can write one more short in the next couple of days!).
Gilded Age – It is my hope to have issues 2, 3, & 4 out this year. Of course, that was my hope for this last year. Either way, I will be finishing up the scripts for 3 & 4 in the next couple of weeks.
I am Jack’s broken record. The issues aren’t out.
However, I did finish issue 3 and 4. Issue 2 and 3 have been drawn, inked, and colored (they merely need the words added to their pages and they will be all but done). Issue 2 even has a cover.
So I’m going to give myself an A for getting my part done, and continue to cross my fingers about the last issue.
Tiger Style – Issue 2?
I must admit, this is completely out of my hands at this point. I may be 100 before this comes out (sad Panda).
The Crossing – A comic I’m co-writing with Robert Jeffrey II… if we can secure an artist, then I think we can get something going. I don’t want to put an absolute number on issues or scripts or anything. If this is solid this year I’d be happy.
No real movement, but lots of good work done on the first issue due to Oni Press’s open submissions. So a little bit of movement, but I believe we can make something happen in 2016 if we push it hard enough. Sadly I need to give me a C on this one.
Blogging – Let’s keep it going for another 52 weeks.
And with this post I made it! A++++!
Mystery Short Film
I mentioned this one during the Halfway Blog Post. A pleasant surprise, and perhaps a little bit more work set in that world coming up in 2016. Again, one of those things I had no idea was coming, but am so happy it did!
Goals for 2016
Finish 1st draft. Finish 2nd draft. Hire editor.
A big piece of next year. One thing that should help is that it isn’t nearly as long as Edge ended up being.
The Dark That Follows 2
It’s well past time to write the sequel. 1st draft of that to be done.
The Crossing Comic
I think having an updated pitch and sample script shopped out there is probably the goal for this year.
The White Effect
To send out query letters. To investigate publishing options.
I can’t control whether or not an agent or editor might take me on. But I can control getting this into some people’s hands to increase the chance of such a thing happening.
The Edge of the World
Finish 2nd draft. Hire Editor. Get cover done.
Right now I’m leaning towards self-publishing this one, but that may change as the year goes on (if things break one way or another).
The Mystery Comic is based on the Mystery Short Film above. My goal on this is to get that first issue done, and then cross my fingers that more will be asked of me.
Really I just want to be Calvin, I already have two orange cats.
Write 4 more shorts. And really set up a system for getting them out into the world (submissions, etc.). Plus these can provide a nice break from the longer formatted things.
As ever, I want to continue to put out a weekly blog. Not miss a week. Keep the streak alive. In hopes of achieving this I’m going to try to have a couple in the bank at any time as there are those Tuesday nights when inspiration has been a bit lacking.
I want to add like 4 more things to this list. My writing To-Do is a long string of plans and hopes and dreams. I just have to put butt in the chair.
It’s the little slap of reality. It’s a progress report. It’s my road map.
It’s an excuse for my cat to block me from writing.
Most of the time I’m writing the blog to share some idea or thought (random many times), a favorite movie or book or whatever. This blog is more for me. A way to mark how I’m doing on my own (at times) uphill struggle to be a writer in the way I want to be. At the beginning of the year I wrote a “to do list” and now it is time to check in.
The Edge of the World – So close yet so far away. I feel like I’m stuck in the mud on this one. Not because of any story difficulties, but because of the way I wrote the thing. I jumped around a fair bit and now have decided to fill in the gaps that I left myself. So at times I’m half in editing mode and half in writing mode (I know, I’m not supposed to do that). So the word count goes up a little slower than normal because I’m tweaking and trimming and writing and…
It’s going to be done, but it is not yet. Sigh.
The White Effect – Nothing yet. I’ve wanted to finish up The Edge of the World 1st. But my plans have not changed: Revise the current draft with all the Beta Reader notes I have. Identify potential Editors/Agents to Query. Draft query letter. Start that process.
Short Stories – Aha! Finally got some more done. 3 more to be exact. I took much of May and sat down to write some shorts… that need to be able to write the words: The End being the most blissful thing. I have 1 more to write to reach my goal for the year, but I’m extremely happy how this has gone. I have also received my first reject for publishing one of them, so I’m taking that as a sign of progress as well (as in, at least I am trying!).
Other Prose (Novels, novellas) – Aside from adding more notes to Unstuck’s file and Lightning’s file and The Dark That Follows II’s file, nothing concrete has happened.
Gilded Age – Issue 2’s colors are 1/2 done. Issue 3’s pencils and inks are done (barring a minor tweak). Issue 4 has not been begun. However, I did finish both issue 3 & 4’s scripts, so another success. Fingers crossed these comics get done in the near future.
The Crossing – A tiny bit of movement. Robert and my project needs to have a sitdown just to get the pitch up and running.
Blogging – Still haven’t missed a week (though I must admit that last week I almost forgot… the beach does strange things to the brain!).
Mystery Short Film Project – Finished. Can’t say much more about this one other than it kinda came out of nowhere and I feel really good about the final draft I delivered. And as soon as the client is ready to make it public, I will do a blog on what exactly it is. Just very excited about that opportunity. And it is yet another example of how I don’t always know what the next months are going to bring… what opportunities they will provide.
So that’s it so far, and honestly, aside from Edge of the World not being done, I’m decently happy about my progress so far this year. I definitely don’t have that kick in the gut feeling like I wasted 6 months or anything, which is exceptionally nice.
Now I just need to make sure I don’t waste the next six either.
It’s difficult to have content for your blog when you can’t actually talk about things that you are working on. It’s both a good and bad problem to have since one day I will not only be able to talk about them, but I might be able to show them off in their various formats (to say anymore will invite the Men In Black to come to my house and hunt me down… or at least use the “flashy thing” on me).
And the stuff that is already done, well I’ve said a ton about them up to this point. Well except for some comics that are done, but not done.
And other things (novels) are either done and waiting for edits or are close to done, but seem to have been that way for far too long.
So it presents the conundrum.
There is a lot of waiting. A lot of time that has to pass in order for things to have “happened”. In a month I’ll have this thing or that thing completed.
It reminds me of when I was younger. So many things are placed in front of you as barriers. And most of them have to do with age. Sometimes it was as simple as a movie or TV show you might have heard about. Sometimes it was extending that glorious bedtime another half an hour so that I could feel like a “big kid”.
Writing feels like that as well. When I get to THE END, that’s the moment that acts as something of a catharsis to me. It cleanses. It makes me realize how much time something has taken, and then makes me appreciate what I have done.
The problem is always the in between times. With no THE END in sight, what am I to do? So in addition to a couple of To Be Named Later things, I’m trying to devote May to short stories. I keep wanting to get a few of them done. Hell, I have a folder on my USB that is dozens of ideas, partially written stories looking for an ending, bits of dialogue, etc.
But it is definitely a different muscle again than the Novel muscle, or the comic script muscle, or the short film script muscle, or… You don’t have forever and a day to try and make your point. You don’t have to take month after month to try and figure out where the story needs to go. No, you can get in there, really figure everything out, and then get the heck out of there. And you get to write THE END at some point.
A small victory, but sometimes enough to help propel you on in the next project (or in a project that you might be a little bogged down in). Something to spark a different part of my brain in order to free up that space for something else. I fully think that by being creative, you end up spurring on even more creative thoughts that many times our day to day lives can seek to grind out of us.
I look at the folder now and it says there are 51 files. That’s 51 potential stories fighting in my brain for a chance to tell their own tales. And for far too long I have left them fallow, only contributing a few lines here and there, a couple of pages, a handful of words… a pittance. I think I owe it to those lost dogs to maybe try and make them into real boys and girls. Unleash them on the world.
For today’s creator interview installment, we sit down with the prolific, and award winning author, Bobby Nash. The author of such works as Alexandra Holzer’s Ghost Gal: The Wild Hunt, Snow Falls, Evil Ways, Domino Lady: One Shot, and the recipient of the 2013 Pulp Ark Nominee for Best Novel, Earthstrike: Agenda, Nash show’s no signs of slowing down, with a host of other titles scheduled to be released in 2015.
To begin with I just want to say this: you write like a mad man! And I mean that in a good way. Do you get that a lot?
I have heard that a time or two, yes. [smiles]. When I decided that this was the path I wanted to travel, I set goals for myself and headed toward them. My stubbornness came in handy with helping me to keep going and I never looked back.
Tell us about yourself. Where you’re from, what got you into writing professionally, and some of your training.
I was born and raised in Georgia, which is where I still live. I fell into writing, oddly enough, because of my desire to be a comic book artist. Turns out that my art skills leave a little something to be desired, but I was writing stories that I could draw. Somewhere along the way, other artists I knew started asking me to write for them so I decided that maybe I could be a writer/artist. Thankfully, a friend of mine pointed out that writing was my real strength and suggested that I focus on it instead of splitting my time between writing and art. He was absolutely right. Then one day I sold a comic book story to a publisher. It’s been a roller coaster ride ever since.
I don’t really have much in the way of formal training. I’m mostly self-taught, although I’ve picked up some hints, tips, and tricks along the way from others. I took some night classes at UGA focused on creative writing, which were quite useful. We would bring our writing in and read in front of the class. That instant feedback came in handy plus there was the happy side effect of helping me to get past being shy and awkward in front of a room full of people.
What’s the first thing that you remember writing?
WOW. That is a tough one. I wrote some truly horrendous comic book stories back in my elementary school days, but the less said about them the better. I started writing short stories in high school. I remember we used to be given a list of words each week to use in a sentence. I was bored one week so I actually wrote a story and used the words in it. The teacher thought it was neat and encouraged me to keep it up. I had fun doing it and even set up the challenge of ending stories on a cliffhanger that I would have to resolve the following week when we received our list of words. I learned a lot about writing doing that.
Is there a particular genre that you prefer to play around in, and why?
I do like to play in multiple genres, but I always find myself drawn back to crime thrillers, although they can have other descriptions added to them like pulpy crime thriller, action crime thriller, sci-fi crime thriller, you get the point. I grew up with PI’s on TV, books, and movies so I developed a love for the genre. I like solving crimes, at least in my writing. It’s not something I really attempt to do in real life.
How does a typical writing session work for you? Do you have any “tools of the trade” that you use?
Typical is a relative term. I used to write full time so my day generally went, wake up, write for several hours, take a dinner break, watch TV, write, go to the gym, watch TV or read, bed, then repeat. Now that I’m back among the corporate working life, my writing time is pretty much limited to the weekends, which goes much the same as before. I spend a lot of time sitting in front of the laptop.
Not sure if I have any specific tools of the trade handy. I write on an old laptop using an outdated version of Word. Everything else is just in my head.
You’ve done a bit of screenwriting (the web series Star Trek: Farragut), and acting (Camp Massacre, The Following, Fat Chance). How have your experiences been working in this realm both behind and in front of the camera? Do you feel the practice of speaking in front of your writing critique groups prepared you for jumping into this arena?
Well, I’ve dabbled. I have a few screenplays under my belt, but three produced, two with my name on them and one that I did a script doctor job on that doesn’t bear my name. Each was unique in the way they were worked. Of those three, 2 have been produced and the third, a short film, is in production. It’s a lot like writing comic books in terms of how I set up the pages, focus on dialogue, and things like that. I will say though, that it is really cool to see actors delivering your words. I hope to do more screenwriting in the future.
I don’t think of myself as an actor. Most of what I’ve done on The Following, Satisfaction, Dumb and Dumber To, Halt and Catch Fire, Three Stooges, etc. is work as an extra. That involves a lot of walking back and forth most of the time, but I’ve had some fun times doing it. Working with Kevin Bacon , almost knocking Matt Passmore down with my carry on bag, and standing next to Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey as they did a scene are definitely three of my highlights.
Working as an extra also gave me a chance to meet a real life FBI agent (while I was playing an FBI agent on The Following) and that led to a nice meeting where I got some really interesting insight into the FBI for my upcoming Evil Intent novel. That was a nice bonus.
Learning to read my work out loud absolutely played a role in helping me do this type of work. If you can’t look up and stare straight ahead on a set, you’re no good to the filmmakers. It’s hard to be shy on set.
Congratulations for receiving the 2013 Pulp Art Award for Best Author. Can you talk a little about winning the award?
Thanks. It was quite an honor. As you know, I’m not often at a loss for words, but when I read off the list of winners on the old All Pulp site, I actually scrolled past it before it sunk in what I had just read. I was literally speechless for several minutes as I tried to digest the news.
Winning an award is an odd thing. Even though you don’t write any differently than you did before winning, having an award adds a little extra something to your work for many readers so hopefully, it helped open up my work to a wider audience. The biggest change is having people refer to me as “award-winning author Bobby Nash,” which is pretty darn cool, but it did take some getting used to as well.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received from a fellow writer?
I don’t remember exactly who told me this, I want to say it was Beverly Connor, but I could be remembering it wrong. Regardless, the advice was that no one was going to care about my work more than me so I should not expect anyone else to promote it more than me. There is a lot of truth in that and it’s one of the reasons I taught myself how to market my books.
What can folks look forward from you in the near future?
Oh, 2015 looks to be a good and busy year. I don’t have dates for any of these yet, but here are some books to be on the look out for in 2015:
Prose: Snow Storm, Alexandra Holzer’s Ghost Gal: A Haunting We Will Go…, V-Wars vol. 5, The Ruby Files Vol. 2, Evil Intent, Blood Shot, Freelancer: The Traveler Sanction, an as yet untitled Nightscape novel, and a few others I’m sure I’ve forgotten.
Comics: the graphic novel adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ At The Earth’s Core (art by Jamie Chase), Domino Lady Threesome (a new team-up series I’m co-writing with Nancy Holder with art by Marco Santiago and others), Operation Silver Moon (art by Rick Johnson), Strong Will (co-written with Mike Gordon with art by Wendell Cavalcanti and Rob Jones), All-Star Pulp Comics #3 (a Lance Star: Sky Ranger story with art by Rock Baker and Jeff Austin), and a few others in the works.
Yeah. Looks like a busy year ahead of me.
Readers can keep up with the progress and release dates for all of these projects and more at www.bobbynash.com
Thanks Bobby for taking the time to sit with us and talk about your career.
I used to love the Oscars. Some of my favorite memories of my life in Los Angeles involves getting together with my friends, anywhere from six to ten to fifteen of them, grabbing junk food and booze, firing up the TiVo, ordering a pizza, filling out our ballots to gamble on the winners and losers, and watching the show designed to celebrate everyone in the room’s favorite art form. We’d have a good time bullshitting, laughing at the good jokes, tearing apart the bad ones, arguing over who deserved to win what, getting real competitive over the stupid pool, and getting hammered enough that by the next morning we had already forgotten who won Best Picture.
That group of friends, though, is now scattered to the winds. Those get-togethers, at least at that scale, are a thing of the past. And every year I have enjoyed the ceremony and the show less and less. This has little to do with which films are honored. There have only been a few times when a particular film winning has elated me and a few more times when a particular film winning enraged me. In general, they pick fine films that are not always my favorites of that year, but are quality nonetheless. (With some exceptions, of course. <cough> Crash <cough> .)
My lack of enthusiasm about the Academy Awards has been created by, over the last 20 years of caring about film and chasing my Hollywood dreams, witnessing the cycle of sameness and lameness from which they seem incapable of escaping. It’s wearing thin. They do the same thing every year, make the same mistakes, and, on the rare occasion when they do something edgy, usually involving a “hip” host, a few people complain the next day and they immediately respond by at least three consecutive years of safe, uninspired hosts that offend absolutely no one because they are incapable of doing it if they tried.
Some of my friends still enjoy watching the Oscars and that’s great. I, less so. So, being a selfish, selfish, man, here is a quick list of the things I would change about them to make me like them better. Just me: a film lover, film expert, and filmmaker. Some of these things may only satisfy me, but I know some would be welcome by others as well. But I don’t care about them. This is all about me. What I’d change. For starters, I’d…
1. Dump the outdated and time-consuming “Best Song” category. This award is a remnant from the days when musicals were a viable genre and for some reason we’ve kept it going. There are two major problems with this category. Firstly, it is not about film. It is about music. And it’s often times not even about music in a film. So many of the nominated songs don’t even appear in their respective movies until the end credits. Most of the rock songs are ones not good enough to put on the respective band’s album. If they could find five songs a year that are actually used IN the movie, in a meaningful and artful way, then maybe I could see keeping it, but they never do. It’s usually two songs like that and three by famous musicians that you probably only heard if you’re one of those people who stays for the whole credits, like me.
Problem number two, of course, is that this category is a horrible time suck. Because the producers feel the need, every year, to have the nominated songs performed during the ceremony. With five songs, plus the actual giving of the award, you’re looking at maybe 20 minutes that could be cut from a 3 ½ hour show. Now, I don’t really care about the length of the show, but I’m a movie geek and I live on the West Coast. But for those in EST, that half hour is a big deal, especially since the awards are always on a school/work night.
Also, this makes “Best Song” the most important award of the night, proportionately. “Best Director” takes up maybe four minutes total, but “Best Song”? It’s 10% of the show! Seems like a lot of time wasted on something that really has nothing to do with making movies.
2. Speaking of wasting time, let’s cut the short film categories. I know this sounds harsh and rather un-filmmakery of me, but let’s be honest. No one cares about these awards except for the nominees and their loved ones. But this show is an entertainment, meant to celebrate the glamour and art of Hollywood, and, to use last night as an example, STEVE MARTIN received an honorary Oscar off-screen in a previous, untelevised ceremony while the winners of “Best Short Documentary” got to speak on TV. I know, I know. Let these folks have their moment. I get that and I understand. But, again, this show is supposed to be entertaining and I know very few people that don’t use those awards as an excuse to use the bathroom. We don’t have to cut them entirely, just lump them in with the technical awards, the ones they do earlier on that celebrate the stuff that they don’t want to bore you with on TV. That’s where they belong. Sorry.
3. Restrict the host to just… hosting. I like Ellen DeGeneres. I thought she did a pleasantly bland good job Sunday night, with a fairly decent ratio of hits to misses. Thought her opening monologue was good and safe, which is fine, and several of her interjections here and there were good for a laugh. My problem is with the sketches. Especially when we get into hours two and three. The costume changes. Going into the audience to get Meryl Streep to take a selfie or make Martin Scorsese eat pizza. It makes the show too much about the host and not about the films. And I just don’t find them funny. The pizza bit last night just made me feel uncomfortable and awkward. That far into the ceremony, sketches like that just make the whole thing seem unnecessarily longer. I want my host to have a monologue to greet us, then spend the rest of the night introducing presenters, throwing in jokes here and there to make us smile. But that’s it. I don’t give a flying fuck if they “broke Twitter” with their group photo.
4. Diversify. Apparently Oscar voters are 94% white, 76% men, with an average age of 63. And boy does it show. Both nominee Julie Delpy and my friend Bob Ray pointed this out in the last few days. Are those numbers representative of Hollywood in general? Yes, and it’s one of its great shames. And it’s nowhere more apparent than in an Oscar broadcast. It explains the same people being nominated year after year. I mean, Meryl Streep is a great actress but not every film she makes is worthy of recognition. They refuse to acknowledge the work of Andy Serkis in Lord of the Rings and Scarlet Johansson in Her as “acting”. They have one category reserved for “quirky” films, “Best Original Screenplay”. Nearly every year it is given to the year’s “weirdest” or “edgiest” film as a consolation prize, because there’s no way we’ll ever give Pulp Fiction or Lost in Translation or Her or Django Unchained or Eternal Sunshine “Best Picture.”
Two words sum up to me why the Academy needs a demographic overhaul:
I mean, what the fuck?
“Wind Beneath My Wings”?
Are you shitting me?
I’m sure some people loved it but it just showed me how out of touch these people are. You choose to honor the dead (including Phil Hoffman, who was not mentioned by anyone except for the In Memorium montage) by having her come out and sing a song that was corny as hell five minutes after it came out three hundred years ago?
Felt so lame to me. But just to me. Again, this list is all about me.
5. Drop the “Themes”. The last several years, each Oscar broadcast has chosen a theme. Last night’s theme was “Heroes”. Never mind the fact that 90% of Hollywood Films are about some sort of hero, therefore making the theme of the night “movies”, it is the reason we got three uninspired montage-tribute things that were just a bunch of shots of “heroes”. They had no narrative to them, no energy. They served no purpose other than for people to go “hey, I’ve seen that!”. I just thought they were horrible. I haven’t seen any of these “themes” really work, but this year’s was so boring and vague. Again, wasting time.
6. I know I mentioned this before but it bears repeating: Seven songs were performed and three short films were given awards, but the Lifetime Achievement awards, given to real Hollywood legends, have been pushed off the broadcast into the same purgatory as the tech awards. Wouldn’t you have rather heard Steve Martin talk than listen to Pink sing “Over the Rainbow”?
7. Have them earlier in the year. This may not be possible, but one of the bummers about the Oscars these days is that all of the major categories are decided well before the ceremony. Sunday night it felt like all four actors had already won and were just showing up to collect their trophies. There was absolutely no suspense last night until “Best Picture” and even that was only between two films. With the Globes and the Spirit awards and the countless critics’ awards, it has started to feel like the Academy awards are simply reactive. That the members vote based on what has already won other things. I think the inevitability of the awards this year was the key factor in me not being excited. They have to do something to bring in some suspense. Because there wasn’t one minute last night that I found to be compelling or surprising.
8. My last point is probably untenable and stupid but I couldn’t help thinking about it last night. I think the Oscar broadcast would be a whole lot better if it went…
Live to tape.
“Live to tape” is what shows like the “Tonight Show” and “Daily Show” do, which is record a show like it’s live, with commercial breaks and everything, but then air it later. Very little TV that look live is actually airing live.
What this does, in addition to not making the creators of these shows live like vampires, is give them the chance to make little tweaks. Ever notice on “The Daily Show” when there’s a weird cut in an interview? You notice it, it’s weird, but it means the conversation went long and they had to trim it down to get to their network mandated runtime.
But it gives them the chance to have the interview and, if it goes over, cut it down to the parts they think are most interesting.
In the age of Twitter and the internet, I don’t think this is a possibility, but I would love the Oscars to do the same. Go live to tape the afternoon of.
Think about it. Record the whole thing, including letting the damn winners give full speeches and not playing the less famous ones off in 30 seconds. Then, once it’s on tape, the producers can make decisions. “Okay. Spike Jonez’s speech went long so let’s cut the pizza bit. Oh, that montage didn’t go over to well. Let’s cut it.”
They could deliver a fat-free entertaining broadcast if they could have five hours to make some cuts. And they could get it down to 3 hours, easy.
Problem is, of course, that the winners would get out into the interwebs before the show ever aired and no one wants that. But, to be fair, for years the West Coast (where the Oscars are held) got the whole show on a tape delay every year so that it fell in primetime. It’s a recent development that it airs here live at 5:30. And we dealt with it. If you really, really care, there are ways to avoid knowing what happens.
I just think it would make a better show.
But it will never happen.
So those are some things that would make the Oscars more enjoyable for me. As much as I bitch, I still do love the Oscars. I will watch them next year and the year after that. But I am consistently disappointed by their resistance to change. One can mark it up as “tradition”, I suppose, but to me it’s just stale.
As I wrote last time, “For those not in the know, Black Mirror is an anthology show. Each episode stands alone to tell a story about how our technology or something perhaps not too far from our grasp affects people.”
After a long wait, we managed to get a 5 episode season this year. And while it has its ups and downs in terms of the actual episode stories, what was more surprising was that these mostly looked backwards as opposed to where technology might lead us, this instead tried to show us where older technology might fit into our lives (and potentially make it a better or worse experience).
Ep 1 – Joan is Awful
This episode is probably my second favorite of the season if only for how unique the initial premise is. A woman named Joan suddenly finds her life broadcast on the Streamberry App. It is cleverly done by cutting back and forth between our Joan and the TV version of Joan (played by Salma Hayek).
Initially Joan tries to find a way out of it, but that goes nowhere since apparently those “Check the box to say you’ve read the Terms and Conditions” are really well written to the point that they can just use your likeness for anything. She then decides to try and be as over the top as possible to maybe get the show off the air (it is disgusting what Joan does). But at every turn she finds more and more obstacles.
Seeing as how AI artwork and imagery is currently a big deal in Hollywood as well as for any artist trying to ensure their works isn’t stolen… this episode feels exceptionally timely. The best Black Mirror episodes are the ones where the leap in how technology is being used/portrayed doesn’t feel all that strange. This one has that in spades.
Sadly, this is my least favorite of the season, and not because it does anything particularly wrong. The basic set-up is that Davis and Pia are a pair of film students who come back to Davis’s home town and decide to investigate a serial killer who not only did his crimes there, but was indirectly/directly responsible for Davis’s father’s death. During the investigation which follows, they begin to learn more and more about what really happened all those years earlier.
It is very straightforward to the point that the reveal near the end didn’t feel like a reveal at all. Instead, it was more of a thing that really was the only way the story could have gone (considering the various hints the episode drops throughout). And maybe that’s why it’s my least favorite. It weirdly didn’t feel like it was taking any chances with the plot.
Ep 3 – Beyond the Sea
1969. A pair of astronauts, David (Josh Hartnett) and Cliff (Aaron Paul) are in Deep Space on a mission for six years. Luckily, they have technology which allows them to still be in robotic replicas back on Earth. However, when David’s replica is destroyed and his family is killed, he begins to spiral into a severe depression. So Cliff offers him the ability to use his replicant. What follows is some of the best acting you’ll see as Aaron Paul is effectively playing 2 different characters. And considering that there is only 4 main characters in the episode (with Kate Mara playing Cliff’s wife and their son being the last), this one feels like it belongs on a stage more than it does on the screen.
While I’m not sure I like the overall ending, it was definitely one which forced me to really think and feel what each of the characters were thinking and doing in each moment.
Ep 4 – Mazey Day
Set in 2006, this follows a paparazzi named Bo who is on the hunt for a picture of one of the larger acting stars who during the filming of her lastest movie did too many drugs, got behind the wheel of a car, and killed someone. And ever since, her life has spiraled completely out of control.
I appreciated the idea of the camera being the real focus point for the technology. With the mobile phones we carry around in our pockets, you can forget that it wasn’t all that long ago you had to carry an entirely seperate device to take pictures of any real use.
This episode is fine. I don’t mean to damn it with faint praise, but had it not been for the final act twist, I’m not sure what I would have thought about it (or would I have really given it any further thought). Instead the twist puts evertything into a different light and changes the story being told from one genre to another (and yes, I’m trying to be as vague as possible here).
The last entry this season was Demon 79 and I have to say this was my favorite episode of the year. Though, I’m not entirely sure how or why the technology aspect really plays during this episode, I didn’t care.
Set in 1979, the story focuses on Nida, who deals with some manner of both racism and sexism in her day to day life. We see flashes of moments where she shows us what she’d like to do to her coworkers (driving their head through the glass display), we understand this is the fantasy she allows herself. But when she stumbles upon a relic which summons a demon to her side, her world twists into something completely foreign.
You see, the demon informs her that she must kill one person a night for the next 3 nights or the world will end.
It was in this moment, I suddenly had 3 versions of what might play out:
1 – Everything with the Demon is simply another hallucination from her fantasy mind. Something she’s built in order to regain some level of control. There is no Demon and now she is truly wrestling with her own concious.
2 – Everything is real except for the Demon’s story about needing to kill people. Instead, he is trying to prey upon Nida in order to corrupt her and gain his (bat?) wings.
3 – Everything is real, including the End of the World clause, and that means Nida is going to have to kill.
The episode does a great job of straddling those three ideas for a lot longer than you might think before finally revealing the true nature of everything. I was extremely engaged while watching this one, and it may be in my top 5 episodes of the show
The only bummer now is that it might be 3 years or so before we get more episodes.
A few years ago I came up with an idea for a book. I’d always been a fan of time travel… of What If stories… of Groundhog Day shenanigans… and this idea combined them all in a way that just made sense to me. I sat down to write this story about a man who lives his life only to die and have everything restart sometime in his adulthood. The world would be different, an alternate timeline would have been created somewhere along the way, but most of the fundamentals would still hold the same. So while the Allies might have still won World War II, you might be married to someone else in this new world.
How unnerving would that be? How would you go about trying to find a way to center yourself within this new life? What about your friends? Your family? The woman you were once married to… do you have to leave all of that behind this time?
And what about next time things reset? Or the next life?
And then what if you found out you weren’t the only one experiencing this?
All of those thoughts and feelings about our actions in the world and how each of us are sometimes tied together in ways we would scarcly believe… all of that went into my novel: The Echo Effect (available here for purchase). I’d not see a version of all of this in anything I’d consumed until I started watching The Lazarus Project.
What I discovered was a show that I might have written in another lifetime. The basic plot is that George is a regular guy – he develops apps for a living (or he hopes for a living). He has a girlfriend who he is massively in love with. And in the background of this nice, pleasant story, the news is beginning to talk about a virus spreading. A few months pass and some very familiar images begin to show up in his life: masks, excess deaths, fear, paranoia… until the day that his now pregnant girlfriend gets sick and dies.
And then the world resets about 9 months.
Only George doesn’t forget what happened before. Yet he’s the only one. So he starts preparing for the worst, scaring his lady and friends, and basically acting like a crazy person. It isn’t until a woman shows up (Archie) who informs him he’s not the only one who can remember the previous timelines. That she works for a Lazarus Project who has been tasked with ensuring the big, world ending threats, don’t end up destroying the world. She tells them that the catch is they can only go back to July 1 of the current year, and if the clock strikes midnight on June 30, then that new July 1 becomes a new Save Point.
And she offers him a seat at the table to help them avert the civilization endings.
The thing I love about this show is that within the first episode I was all in on George and his plight. Maybe it was due to writing a book that felt somewhat like a twin to this story, but I could really sympathize with his struggle to try and retain his sanity at the beginning. And then later when he is forced to do some really, really, terrible things… I still found myself rooting for him to find a way out of the mess he’d made. Even if that meant falling short of his true goal.
Each episode trys to focus on various other characters who are apart of the Project. In this I’m reminded of the flashback sequences from Lost. Here, they look at some of the aborted timelines, where we see the issues each of them have stuggled with in the past while also doing a nice job of still connecting to George’s journey throughout. These are flawed humans dealing with some level of shit which can only wear and tear on your pysche.
These shows do a masterful job of making small connections mean nothing when they are introduced, but soon enough you begin to see how every little thing connects. Sometims you expect it and other times you will be completely caught off-guard by how a reveal in act 1 of an episode suddenly changes everything about something you previously thought you knew and understood.
The only bad thing I have to say about the show is that it is only 8 episodes so far, and the cliffhanger they left us on after season 1 had me completely in shock wishing my DVR had one more episode. However, from what I’ve read, they are in the process of filming right now, so the wait may not be quite as long.
If you like any of the shows or movies I referenced above… if you like really good science fiction with solid character work… if you like paying attention and having it pay off later – then this is the show for you.
After watching Guardians 3 a couple of weeks ago (I’m only a little behind the times), it got me to thinking more about the Marvel Cinematic Universe again… and more specifically those moments within the movies where I will rewatch the scenes over and over because they are so good.
I Am Iron Man – Iron Man 1
We can start with the biggest moment within all the movies, which is Tony Stark admitting that he’s the one in the suit. Supposedily this line was ad-libbed as the writers had planned to go with the Body Guard story. What’s interesting about this is that for so much of Iron Man’s career, that was the cover story within the comics. Iron Man was simply a hired body guard… who also happened to be in the Avengers…
Which never made a ton of sense other than the “it’s a comic book, what do you want?”
So many heroes over the years have this secret ID to protect their loved ones, but with Stark it felt a little more odd since he could legitimately protect those people with the weaponry and technology he invented.
With that one moment though, the movies told us that this was going to be a little bit of a different take on the character… and what is even more amusing, I feel like the comic version has pretty much adopted a form of the Robert Downey Jr. version.
Art imitating Art?
Cap jumps on the grenade – Captain America – The First Avenger
What’s the best way to show the deep down parts of someone? What happens when you put someone in a life or death situation. With one moment, we can see who Steve Rogers is. We can see why he is deserving of the power he eventually possesses. And we can see that he is someone to inspire others around him because he’s willing to make the sacrifice if that’s what is needed.
Black Widow Interrogation – Avengers
Black Widow has a ton of great moments in the film, but the key one is the very first one. We find Natasha being interrogated by Russian Mob. And the old thoughts from a thousand movies begin to work their way into our brain: how is she ever going to get out of this mess?
Instead, we see very quickly she was always in control. Much like with Captain America in the grenade scene, this one tells us so much about the character, why she is so trusted by Nick Fury and SHIELD, and that her connection with Hawkeye is extremely important (and personal).
Punny God – Avengers
The Hulk slamming Loki against the floor over and over again.
What more do you need?
The funny thing about the actual line “Puny god” was that I didn’t hear it on my viewing in the theater. Nothing could be heard over the laughter and cheering. It was only after I sat down to rewatch the movie at home and got to experience the full scene. Which made it go from good to great.
The Team is Assembled – Avengers
This is not only the culmination of Phase 1 with all the characters striking their hero poses and truly becoming Earth’s Mightest Heroes. However, for me it was something I wouldn’t have ever dreamed would have worked. It shouldn’t have. Putting those characters on the screen and having it make sense. To have the other lead in movies manage to do well enough that it could propel us to this movie. That should have been impossible.
My inner 12 year old was/is glad that wasn’t the case.
Of course, there are a ton more, but these were the first ones to come to mind.