“But he is not always alone. When the long winter nights come on and the wolves follow their meat into the lower valleys, he may be seen running at the head of the pack through the pale moonlight or glimmering borealis, leaping gigantic above his fellows, his great throat a-bellow as he sings a song of the younger world, which is the song of the pack.”
I’m in the zone right now. The one where I don’t want to stop painting. I don’t want to do anything that will disrupt my rhythm. I imagine all creative people experience it and the torture when they do have to stop. That drive to create is always there, even when I’m tired. Last night, after clearing a couple TV shows off our DVR, I headed back upstairs to paint just a bit more before bed. But that never happened. Instead, at ten o’clock in the evening I gave my daughter a drawing lesson. In the last year she’s begun drawing more and more and showing signs that she’s inherited the artist gene from her mother and grandmother. I always try to make the time to show her how I do things not because I’m her mother, but because it’s the right thing to do for any young creative person. So when she asked me last night if I’d show her how I draw a tiger, I said of course.
I’m planning a reorganization of my Etsy shop in March, at which time the shop will go into vacation mode for a month (maybe more). Until then, you can get 40% off your purchase of $15.00 or more. Seriously. Truly. I wouldn’t lie to you. Yes, this is an insane sale but several artworks in my shop now will no longer be available. I’m calling this a Pre-Spring Cleaning Sale. Use the coupon code: ILOVEART at checkout to receive your discount. Here’s a sampling of the amazing deals to be had.
The Dragon’s Egg Wood Mounted Print – Regular price: $65.00 – With coupon: $39.00
Here it is at last, my first new painting for 2014, Stone of Knowing. Since I began sharing tidbits about this painting I’ve been asked whether these ravens are actually Huginn and Muninn–Odin’s ravens from Norse mythology. While I didn’t intend for them be I think my subconscious had other ideas. Thought and Memory find a Stone with the power to control a person’s mind. Seems apt or maybe serendipitous, either way I approve! Read more
Above is a song by my friend and role model Jonah Matranga. Listen to it. I’ll wait.
Okay. More on him in a bit
As child I had the usual dreams about what I wanted to do when I grew up. Police officer. Fighter Pilot. Archeologist.
Then I learned the police academy wasn’t nearly as much fun as the movies that bore its name, that my nearsightedness meant I could never be Maverick, and that real archeologists don’t carry whips and fight Nazis.
In the third grade, my teacher told me I was going to be a writer. That ended up being the one that stuck. That piece of advice given to an 8 or 9 year old boy set the course for the next 30 years of his life. For a decade I wanted to be a novelist; after that, a screenwriter and filmmaker. I never considered studying anything else but writing and movies. I never had a fall back. I didn’t go get a safety degree that I could use to pay the bills while I tried get my writing career off the ground. I, naively and some would say foolishly, went all in on this dream. Sometimes I wonder if I should have taken the route some of my friends took: getting an advanced degree that assured them a job and attempt to launch a writing career in concert with their 9 to 5 obligations.
I admire them for doing that. But that’s not me. I have no other skills. Even if I had gotten into Georgia Tech like so many of my friends, which I did not, I don’t have any feel for things like engineering and science. John McGuire builds roads and plans cities. Another friend makes robots; one has risen through the ranks of one of the world’s biggest and most important companies. They have real jobs, like real men, and while I respect and sometimes envy them, I wouldn’t trade for anything.
I married a brilliant woman who is a bio-organic chemist. She loves chemistry and is very good at her job, but still, even after going through enough school to acquire a PHD, her profession is not what defines her. When she gets home she does her best to leave her work at work. It took me years to understand that. I am a writer 24/7. It’s who I am. It is my profession and my hobby and my identity.
I had big dreams. Still have them. I still want to write and direct major motion pictures. A few best-selling novels. I want to be admired and accepted by others. I want to be known: not famous, but known. I want kids, 22 year old writers or film geeks, running up to me like I once ran up to Wes Anderson and Steven Soderbergh. I want to run my own TV show. I want to win an Oscar, a Hugo, an Emmy, and eventually a lifetime achievement award from the Academy.
I want to be great.
None of that has happened yet, but I haven’t given up. But a recent piece of news (which I will not get into) has made me doubt. Made me think about giving up, walking away. Part of me knows I’m never going to reach the heights I dream about. Part of me knows I’m not going to be Martin Scorsese or George R.R. Martin. I look at things happening today, to people in my age group, and think I missed my chance. Drew Goddard is writing a Daredevil series for Netflix: that should have been me. JJ Abrahms shouldn’t be doing the new Star Wars, I should. They’re making a movie about hip-hop legends N.W.A.; I’ve had that idea for years, just ask any of my friends. Joe Wright is making yet another live-action Peter Pan movie, which was for a long time my dream project. Bill Hader, who was the first friend I made upon moving to Los Angeles 15 years ago, is now a TV and movie star. I used to get drunk with him and watch Evil Dead movies all night and now he’s in movies with Tom Cruise and Larry David.
Sometimes thinking about this stuff really gets to me. Fucks with my head. Makes me feel like a loser, a failure.
And then something like this happens:
And it buoys me. Takes my head out my ass. Because all I really want to do is reach people, talk to them, move them. And here are these young people (this is just a small sample) proving that I have done that with the one tiny movie I wrote. It is not a large group of people, although it feels like it to me, given the fact that Dakota Skye never had a theatrical release, never got any press, and has had to rely simply on word-of-mouth to get anyone to watch it. But to the people (mostly young women, to be completely honest) who have found it and embraced it, it is very important. It is a big deal. They see Ian and Eileen as movie stars. They seek out the music. And they do things like this, which brings me back to Jonah Matranga and the idea of Living Small:
Jonah Matranga is a rock star. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, even him. Especially him. He was (and sometimes still is) the lead singer and songwriter of the band Far. Far is one of my favorite bands to ever put music to tape. When they were around, I never missed a chance to see them live and they never disappointed. Their two major albums, Tin Cans with Strings to You and Water & Solutions are legendary pieces of Sacramento emo or screamo or whatever-o rock ‘n’ roll. I don’t define them. They’re just Far. They are two of my most beloved records, those go-to-anytime pieces of music that never cease to entertain, stir, rock, and inspire me.
But Far never reached full-blown mainstream success. I don’t know if they really came even close. But for those of us who knew them, loved them, followed them, Jonah, Shaun, John, and Chris may as well have been John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
After Far broke up, Jonah began recording solo work under the name Onelinedrawing, had two brief stints with the bands New End Original and Gratitude, and then went back to solo work, this time recording under his name. It was at a Onelinedrawing show that the story for Dakota Skye came to me. The whole thing. In a rush. Three songs in particular are responsible for me writing the screenplay:
1) Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away) – my favorite song by my favorite band, Deftones, who are friends of Jonah and Far. Early in the show Jonah played a stripped down cover of it and it send my mind aflutter. The song doesn’t really have a traditional chorus, but it ends with the repeated line “Drive. I don’t care where. Just far away.” If you go back and watch the movie, look for those exact words. I totally stole them. “Be Quiet and Drive” is the unofficial theme song of Dakota Skye and would have been in the film if we could have afforded it.
2) Crush on Everyone – A Onelinedrawing song that is one of the most beautiful, simple expressions of infatuation I have ever heard.
3) My List – A song written by punk legend Kevin Seconds (who was also on the bill that night) that Jonah turned into a beautiful ballad (as opposed to the awesome two-minute original punk version), with backing vocals by Kevin’s wife Allyson.
It’s hard to explain, but I was both fully immersed in the concert AND writing a movie in my head at the same time. So many things from that night ended up informing the film: the character names of Kevin and Jonah (fictional Jonah’s last name, Moreno, is taken from Chino Moreno, lead singer of Deftones and my #1 man crush), the feeling I had that night, the fact that the original title of the film was Far, and, obviously, the music. It thrills me to no end that two of the three songs listed above ended up in the final film. I always hoped they would be, but never thought we could make it happen.
The thing I admire most about Jonah Matranga is his attitude about making things. He has run the gamut in music, from releasing albums on a major label to recording songs alone in his house on his computer, from playing big(ish) rock shows to playing quiet, intimate shows in fans’ homes. His post-Far DIY spirit has been a wonder to me. I’m sure he gets frustrated at times. I’m sure he gets angry. I know he does. I’m sure sometimes he wishes he was Mick Jagger or Bono. He loves making music and loves playing music for people and why wouldn’t he want as many people as possible to hear him? But he seems to understand something that has taken me a long time to come to:
If your art touches just one person, it was worth it. Maybe not financially, maybe not by society’s benchmarks for success, but because it did what you wanted it to. If you get into art to make money, you made the wrong choice. It’s very very hard to get anyone to pay you to write or paint or play music. If those things come, great. You’re one of the lucky ones. And while I still strive for and need to make money creating things, that is not where the joy or motivation comes from. It comes from touching that one person.
Every time I’ve spoken to Jonah, he’s been nothing but kind to me. Early on as a sweaty fanboy after a Far show. Later, as some guy coming and asking to use some of his music in a little movie…for no money. And more recently as a peer, if not a friend, who now lives only about fifteen minutes from me. He is a good man. Sometimes I feel a little conflict in him, but show me a man who isn’t conflicted about something and I’ll show you a dullard without curiosity or passion.
Chances are, unless your name is John or Egg or had something to do with Dakota Skye, you’ve never heard of Far or Jonah Matranga. But believe me when I say he’s touched a lot of people with his music and spirit and will continue to do so. And to me, he will always be one of the biggest rock stars that ever lived.
If this sounds like a love letter, then I guess it is.
“But Chad,” you’re thinking, “When are you going to turn this back into something about you, because that’s what you do, you egomaniac?”
Very true. Sorry. I almost forgot.
Wil Wheaton recently put up a blog post on this subject that I connected with in a major way. I urge you to check it out HERE.
I’m writing novels now, but haven’t given up on movies. I still want to be on the Dead Guy montage on the Academy Awards. I still want to direct Daniel Day-Lewis. I still think I’d write a better Star Wars film than JJ. I still want to make a good living doing what I love. I want to reach as many people as I can.
I still want all those things. But I may never have them. And that’s okay. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way, but it really is. All I can do is do my work and create things I want to create and hope people find and connect with them. On whatever scale. Ten or ten million people. One person. I mean, I moved a person to do this:
I’m not saying I endorse it, but someone thought enough of words that I wrote to have them permanently inked onto their body. That has to count for something. That may be the only Dakota Skye tattoo in the world, but that’s more than a lot of people get. I have to remind myself that. And every day on Twitter and Tumblr I have people reaching out to me about how much the film meant to them.
And I know I’m talking a lot about Dakota, even though it came out five years ago. It’s just at this point the only thing I have out in the world that I’ve gotten a reaction to. Proxy is just an infant and I don’t think my fiction is going to get any attention until I have a few more books on the (virtual) shelves. So the film is the only example I have. At the moment. But I am confident there will be more. I have so many more stories to tell; so many more characters to introduce you to; so many more ideas rolling around in this chaotic shitstorm I call a brain.
But success? I’ve chosen to redefine success for myself. I think for the time being, and maybe forever, I’ll try to be happy livin’ small. Anyway, at this moment in my life, this is what success looks like to me:
(I don’t post these to brag. I post these because they are people being touched by our little movie. They are currency to me. Worth more than any paycheck.)
Please check out jonahmatranga.com and listen to and buy some music.
I’ll leave you with another song, one from Jonah’s short-lived band New End Original, that is the best song for getting me out of bed when my brain and body refuse to do so. I listen to it once a week at least. I don’t always live up to it, but I try. I’ll keep trying.
Last Thursday I’d only just begun painting the base layers for Stone of Knowing. The painting isn’t finished but it is moving steadily toward that line in the sand. Along the way, I decided a few changes had to be made. The more I looked at it, the more discontent I became with the orientation. So I switched back to Plan A with some minor adjustments. I also decided to completely ditch the background I originally envisioned. This happens. Often times the vision is clear from start to finish; while in others it’s more a journey of discovery. Read more
Last week the pencil stage for Stone of Knowing was not quite finished. Since then I’ve completed the drawing, scanned it, pondered orientation and laid down the first layers of paint. Orientation? In this case I’m referring to positioning, location, position, situation, placement, alignment, etc. Read more
I’ve shared a bit about my process in the past, but I thought it might be interesting to go deeper by looking at one of my paintings from from start to finish. This will be a series of four posts. Are you ready? Let’s go!
What is the Stone of Knowing?
In my head: The Stone of Knowing is a powerful crystal created by a wizard several hundreds years ago. Read more
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 THE BOOK 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 The Book 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 The Book 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 The Book of Mormon before I ever saw The Book 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 The Book 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.
I’m not The Book 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.
I’m a bit superstitious when it comes to discussing big projects, and I have a Big Project planned for 2014. I hope to create many things that have never been, but I also hope to grow as an artist and continue develop my skills. Besides the big mysterious project, I have several paintings already planned, personal works for my portfolio, and I’m hoping to attend my first convention as an artist in an art show. Fingers crossed!
Till then, I will exit right, under an enigmatic veil of smoke…. Poof!
Everything in my Etsy shop is marked down 25% off! That includes all art prints, pendants, canvas prints, framed art and my newly listed bookmarks. If you follow my Facebook Page then you may have a coupon code you can use too! I’ve listed my sale with Etsy on Sale. Follow this link: http://www.etsyonsale.com/shop/makepeacestudios to see the before and after prices for every item in my shop.
Sale ends January 2nd at midnight.
You’ve probably heard someone complain about a deadline at least once in your life. The word itself has evolved to have a negative connotation, but nothing could be further from the truth. Deadlines are vital. They motivate us, keep us moving forward, and further our growth. I think back to the deadlines I had as an art student. I created far more in a week than I do now, but I’ve been working to change that, because deadlines are a good thing!
I’m currently working on a book cover commission, meaning I have a deadline set by my client. But you can create your own deadline even when you’re focused on creating art for your personal portfolio. A deadline doesn’t have to stifle creativity, it’s merely a routine for maximizing your output.
Here are my three D’s for tackling deadlines.
1. Devise a Routine – Decide when and where you’re going to create and for how long, each day.
2. Define your Goals – Decide what you want to create and document your progress each day. Keep yourself accountable.
3. Designate a Reward – There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself for a job well done! Whether it’s knowing your going to be paid the other half for your commission, or going out to celebrate with friends, reinforce all your hard work with something positive.
Okay. I better get back to work on my own deadline!
In the summer of 2012 I bought a refurbished Wacom Intuos4 Small (I’m using a Medium now.) with some extra money I earned house sitting for my younger brother. I played around with it for a couple months before I made the conscious decision to devote serious time to learning to paint in Photoshop. Instead of easing into it, I dove head first, deciding I would paint a portrait of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki as a Christmas present for my daughter. I spent all of November and the first part of December learning as I went. There were a few times I thought I’d lost my mind but I finished it in time for Christmas and realized I’d opened a new door for my creativity.
There are so many things wrong with that first painting, Come Home Brother, but it’s not all bad. After wrapping it up and placing it under the tree, I wanted more. Kind of like Kirsten Dunst’s character Claudia in Interview with a Vampire when she has her first taste of blood, “I want some more.”
My second attempt, The Reluctant King, wasn’t perfect as either, but it’s still one of my favorites. I have a 16×20 print hanging in my studio.
I promise, this isn’t a Loki post! I’m not denying I have a bit of an obsession, because I do, but. . . I do what I want! LOL To be honest, painting Loki was a perfect way to learn. I was painting something I loved and I didn’t have to worry about completely mucking it up as it wasn’t something I was going to market. It gave me freedom to experiment. Sometimes the experiments worked and other times they didn’t but it was all about learning. I was determined to improve. Failure was not an option.
Over the last year I’ve explored different painting techniques and experimented with a myriad of Photoshop brushes. In my early paintings it was common for me to use several different brushes for various aspects of a painting. Now I often only use one or two brushes for the bulk of a painting. I save special brushes for little details and sometimes I don’t use them at all. Glancing at the images above you might think the opposite is true. As the year went by my painting style/voice evolved. I like to think my paintings became more rich with detail. My journey also revealed that painting in Photoshop is not all that different than painting in oils or acrylics. The core concepts are the same.
So what’s the point of all of this? The paintings above are only a sample of what I created this year. I’ve painted nearly every day, I’ve read numerous tutorials/workshops, watched videos, studied other artists (both digital and traditional) and adapted my traditional painting skills into a digital medium. I may still have a lot to learn, but I wanted to show other artists, especially young artists, that with determination, passion, perseverance and maybe a little luck you will get to that place you want to be. It doesn’t happen overnight but it does happen. This is true whether you’re working in traditional or digital. I encourage you to take a look back through your sketchbook or portfolio. Find what you painted in December of 2012 and compare it to the last painting you completed. Better yet, go back 5 years and compare what you created then to now. If nothing’s changed then you aren’t creating often enough. You have the gift, but your skill can only improve if you practice, practice, practice.
I’m planning to take my art to the next level in 2014. I have so many things planned, many of which I can’t really discuss yet. You can stay in loop though by following my Facebook Page. I make announcements there and on Twitter before I get a chance to post to my own blog!
When you’re a filmmaker / movie nerd, you often get asked “So. What’s your favorite movie?” They either genuinely want to know or want to roll their eyes at your pretentiousness at naming a movie they’ve never heard of. Having seen thousands of films, it’s a very hard question to answer, so I always give my top three: Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954), Chungking Express (Wong Kar-Wai, 1994), and Miller’s Crossing (Joel Coen, 1990). One classic, one foreign, one (relatively) contemporary. A good list, I think, but it is still normally met with blank stares. Not that I give a shit. If I thought your taste was better than my taste, it would be my taste.
Those tastes do change as you get older, though, and three films have slowly and steadily moved up my charts due to a combination of repeat viewings and my ever-climbing age (If anyone has figured out a way to slow that down, let me know. I’ll send you an autographed copy of my book or a million dollars or my third born (I’m too attached to my first born, sorry) or something). These films, none of which are new discoveries to me, reveal new things every time I watch them and enrich me as an artist, a film-lover, and a man.
Those three films are Red Beard (Akira Kurosawa, 1965), In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-Wai, 2000), and Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975).
A week ago, the Criterion Collection (my favorite company in the whole world) finally released a Blu-ray edition of Nashville, what I consider the greatest film on the 1970s, the greatest decade in American film history, a decade that includes Godfather I & II, Taxi Driver, Dog Day Afternoon, Annie Hall, Star Wars, Jaws, Days of Heaven, and dozens of other unbelievable films.
Why I think this movie, made by perhaps the most consistently singular voice in American film history, is better than all of those films, well, that’s a whole essay, a whole book, unto itself.
(HALF-HEARTED SPOILER WARNING: Nashville came out 38 years ago. That is well beyond the ‘spoilers’ period. But, if you haven’t seen this cinematic landmark, you have three choices: 1) Stop reading and go watch it and come back. 2) Read on and hope it makes you want to watch it. 3) Stop reading because you have better things to do. All three options are valid.)
But what I’m going to do, in celebration of at last getting my hands on a restored high-definition version of one of my most treasured films, is talk about what is probably its most famous scene, which also happens to be my favorite scene in movie history:
1. THE TEXT
Nashville is not a musical, but it is about people who make music. As a consequence, there are a lot of songs. Director Robert Altman had his actors write and perform their own songs, with a few exceptions. It’s one of the things that initially kept the film from being embraced by the city that shares its name. These aren’t “real” country songs. They are the actors’ versions of country songs. Some of them are great; some of them are lacking. It doesn’t take away from the film, in my opinion, but it is a choice the film makes that alienates some.
The first way you have to look at this scene (the text) is as a musical scene in a film about music. “I’m Easy” is a good song. Maybe even a great one. Keith Carradine (playing the character of Tom) is a real-life singer, songwriter, and musician. It was the only song from the film to become a hit; it won an Academy Award. Most consider it the musical highlight of the movie, followed distantly by the ridiculously jingoistic “200 Years” that opens the film and the heartbreaking rendition of “It Don’t Worry Me” that ends it.
Carradine’s Tom Frank is a superstar on the verge of leaving his partners and starting a solo career. He’s the Bob Dylan of the film, the John Lennon. The man who not only is a country star, but who could easily be a crossover sensation. The fact that “I’m Easy” is so much better than the rest of the music in the film makes total sense. He is the guy. The other performers are capable and talented entertainers. But Tom is a star. His music should tower above the rest.
So, first but not foremost, this is a scene of a handsome, charismatic, talented singer-songwriter treating us and a club full of people to a new, touching love song. That is the text of the scene. It’s nice. If that was all it was, it would at least work on a pure entertainment level and would still stand out. But that’s not all it is. Not even close.
2. THE SUBTEXT
If you haven’t seen the entire film, this is all you need to know about this scene:
Every woman who gets a close-up thinks Tom is singing about them.
And only one of them is right.
Tom is a member of a Peter, Paul, & Mary-type group called Bill, Mary, & Tom. Mary (Cristina Raines) is married to Bill (Allan Nicholls) but has been having an affair with Tom for who knows how long and is in love with him. It would probably be a stretch, at least in the narrative of the film, to call Tom and Bill “friends” but this is still a gross betrayal on the part of he and Mary. If the affair was to be discovered, it would truly lead to the dissolution of their band, but, with Tom’s solo aspirations, he may be hoping for that to happen.
Opal (Geraldine Chaplin) is a reporter for the BBC. Or, at least, she says she is. But at one point she refers to it as the “British Broadcasting Company”, not “Corporation”, revealing her to be a fraud and perhaps a crazy person pretending to be a journalist. She falls into Tom’s bed 48 minutes into the film. It’s not presented as anything more than casual sex, at least to Tom, but Opal is drawn to Tom’s charisma and talent. Who wouldn’t be?
L.A. Joan (Shelley Duvall) is a groupie who is supposed to be in town to visit her dying aunt but is actually doing everything she can to avoid seeing her. She is shallow, careless, self-obsessed. She wears a ridiculous wig and has renamed herself “L.A. Joan”, a swipe at the myth of Los Angeles reinvention. It’s not clear whether or not she has slept with Tom, but she is at his side at the beginning of the scene and at the very least expects to end up in bed with him by the end of the night. Because, well, that’s what groupies do.
Linnea (Lily Tomlin in the performance of her career) is a gospel singer and housewife. She has a decent but inattentive husband and two deaf children. Two months before the film, she had met Tom at a recording studio on his last visit to Nashville. It is unclear whether or not anything happened between them then, but he certainly has not forgotten about her. Earlier in the movie, he calls her home and asks to see her. She intentionally throws up the verbal red flags of “children” and “husband” but Tom is undeterred. She is the only woman in the film that he pursues; the rest all come to him. (More on that in section 3)
As Tom starts singing “I’m Easy”, a song that presents its storyteller as a man turned vulnerable by love, Altman delivers a series of shots that are the culmination of Tom’s philandering that we’ve been watching throughout the first half of the film. Mary, Opal, and Joan all start with the assumption that the song was written for them and that it is being sung to them. Although, of the three, only Mary has any right to think so. But Opal is deluded enough and Joan is self-absorbed enough to be completely wrong. But Mary… Mary thinks she’s special to him. Wants to be. She loves him.
The women watch him in various states of arousal, curiosity, embarrassment, pride.
Except for Linnea. Linnea’s expression, as she sits in the back of the club, as far away from Tom as she can, is blank. It is an unbelievably subtle performance by Tomlin. I’ve watched the scene a hundred times and upon every viewing I convince myself that she’s feeling something different. Is she is sexually aroused to the point of paralysis? Or is she terrified of what she knows she is about to do, which is cheat on her husband? Is she transfixed by the song, allowing the sentiment to get to her? Is she angry? Sad? Hopelessly in love? I don’t know. I worked with Lily Tomlin once, and I wanted to ask her, but decided not to. I’d rather guess.
But as the scene progresses, Tom’s eye line betrays him. Mary is the first to notice that he is isn’t looking at her, and she looks around to see who may be his intended, settling on the plain and quiet woman sitting in the back. She turns away, back to her husband, her face starting to redden. We’re not sure if nutty Opal gets the hint, but L.A. Joan does, following Carradine’s gaze to Lily Tomlin.
At that moment, in that shot, a slow push-in past Duvall and onto Tomlin, the scene becomes about two people staring at each other. This is Tom’s attempt to either seduce Linnea or to express his love for her, depending on how you want to look at it, but she is the “someone kind of special” that the song is for. The look on Tomlin’s face is something I will never shake; it earned her an Academy Award nomination but criminally not a win. Even after the song ends, she holds that look; she can’t even bring herself to applaud.
The scene begins with a mystery and solves it using only images. It is almost an anomaly for an Altman film. He usually allows the viewer to see what they want to see, hear what they want to hear, feel how they want to feel. But this scene is specific in its intent and content and is carefully constructed to deliver them. And its placement in the middle of the much more Altman-esque canvas that comprises the rest of Nashville makes it seem that much more important in contrast.
This is as pure an expression of cinema as you will find.
(WARNING: This last section is about MY thoughts about the scene, what it makes ME feel. I have no way of knowing if any of this was in the filmmakers’ minds, which isn’t the point. Art only means what it means to you.)
3. THE CHADTEXT
In addition to everything I have written above, the “I’m Easy” scene conjures thoughts in me that I’m sure are personal and unique.
To me, this scene is about the fraudulent nature of art.
This is something I think about a lot, so maybe I’m projecting, but this scene reminds me of the scene in Almost Famous where young Cameron Crowe…err…William Miller asks Russell:
Billy Crudup doesn’t answer the question, but I will:
It’s a nice fantasy to think that artists always speak from the heart. That every work they create comes with a piece of their soul planted deep inside. That all songs, movies, and books, are a pure expression of their creators’ thoughts, emotions, and beliefs.
But it’s not true.
Fact is, talent and craft and empathy can easily replicate truth. I know you think you can tell the difference, but you really can’t. Not if it’s done well enough. The Beatles wrote I-don’t-know-how-many love songs and I don’t believe for one second that every one of them was written for a particular person, or even in a state of love. All it really takes is a melody and a sweet sentiment and then it gets turned into something special by the immense talents of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr. There are musicians who sing torch songs treat but women like meat when out on tour. Novelists who write about the glory of war who would run to Canada before they’d enlist. Directors who make films about injustice who never look at the homeless people they step over on their way to dinner at Spago’s.
The greatest pop song of all time is the 1969 Jackson 5 record “I Want You Back” (with “God Only Knows” being 1A). It was written by the Motown songwriting collective known as The Corporation, and I can’t testify as to what was in their minds when they put it together, but can anything written by four men really be an expression of pure emotion? Either way, what makes that song great is a vocal performance by an 11 year old boy. That boy brought power and life to that song, especially in the chorus:
Oh baby, give me one more chance (to show you that I love you)
Won’t you please let me back in your heart
Oh darlin’, I was blind to let you go (let you go, baby)
But now since I see you in his arms
I want you back
Written by grown men who I’m sure had experienced heartbreak and longing in their lives, but delivered with feeling by a child who probably had no idea what he was singing about.
But, as we know, that 11 year old was Michael Jackson, a being of immeasurable talent.
Listen to the song. I dare you to not believe him.
I mean, did you know Dr. Seuss didn’t really like kids?
The history of art is full of hypocrites and sons of bitches with so much talent that we’ll never know if they ever meant what they said. And it really doesn’t matter.
Bringing it around to Nashville, Tom Frank (like another one of my favorite fictional Toms, Tom Reagan in Miller’s Crossing) is a son of a bitch. Through the first half of the film we have seen him do nothing but use women, escorting them in and out of his revolving hotel room door. He is fucking his friend’s wife. He sleeps with a woman he doesn’t know and at the very least flirts with another, one who is very close to being a teenager. He is a flat-out womanizer.
But talent, craft, and empathy allow him to write “I’m Easy”, a song about love, vulnerability, and insecurity.
And it might be bullshit.
But what about Linnea? The song is for her, right? Didn’t you say that’s the whole point of the scene?
Earlier, I mentioned that it is unclear whether or not Tom had slept with Linnea the first time they met. I lean towards ‘no’. And if that’s the case, then the song could just be a ploy to catch what got away last time. Women don’t say “no” to Tom Frank; did Linnea? Does he realize the only way he’s going to get her into bed is to present himself as something he’s not?
I don’t know. Tom could really love her, or at least think so, but he could just as easily not. For some, it’s obvious. For me, it’s up in the air.
But, after their tryst, after Linnea has taught Tom how to say “I Love You” in sign language, he gets a call from his girlfriend back home. His girlfriend. She gets dressed; searches the sheets for her underwear and kisses him good-bye while he is still on the phone. She is a grown woman who knows what she has done. She had come to the club determined to sleep with him. “I’m Easy” wasn’t even necessary. The song could have been written for this girlfriend back home. Every sexual encounter he has had in the film has been an infidelity. In Linnea’s case, it goes both ways.
Altman tricks us into thinking Tom may really love Linnea. And Tom tricks us, and maybe her, as well, using his talent and craft. But really he’s just a womanizing son of a bitch who wrote a beautiful love song.
That’s what the scene means to me.
And only me, probably. But isn’t that what’s amazing about art? My Nashville is different from your Nashville, even though we’re watching the same movie.
Now. Watch the scene again. I’ll wait.
So that’s my favorite scene in film history. There are no guns, explosions, or tits. Hell, there’s barely any dialogue. It speaks to me on multiple levels and teaches me more about filmmaking than I learned in film school (although we did watch Nashville in film school, so…).
If you’ve never seen Nashville, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s not for everyone, but I only believe that because Robert Altman’s style, the way he made movies, was so singular that no one has ever come close to copying it and watching his films now can seem as alien to modern audiences as it was to those in 1975. He was one of America’s great filmmakers, and certainly its most unique. Unique in his own work, yes, but even more so in the fact that “the Altman Touch”, to steal a phrase usually reserved for a certain magical German director, has never been replicated. He influenced many, but no one “does” Altman. It’s just not doable.
I’m sure I haven’t done this remarkable scene and even more remarkable film justice. It is a true American classic and words are incapable of truly describing cinema. And “I’m Easy”, both the song and the scene, will forever define cinema for me.
And I’ll never forget this face:
Self-promotion. The necessary evil we do battle with each day. If you sell a product, no matter what product, you walk this tightrope. It’s not as simple as shouting, buy my stuff, from my the highest peak. Self-promotion is hard work and it involves a ton of patience. It’s not always fun and you don’t always see results. I personally dislike the feeling of forcing my art on people. Each time I share something on Twitter I wonder, am I annoying folks? Is anyone even looking at my art? But then I start to pay attention to my statistics. Days I don’t share and talk about my art my views go down. Days I do… You get the point.
What might be the most difficult part about self-promotion for me, is the act of sharing things not about my art, but myself. I’m a quiet person. Not as quiet as I once was in my younger days, but my fellow Tessera Guild members will tell you–I’m quiet. I’m a thinker, and sometimes a loner. I don’t often say something unless it’s worth saying 100%. Ironically, this is key to self-promotion via social media networks. Key.
When you interact with your fans you’re also building trust. Building trust will make your product look far more appealing than someone elses they don’t feel they know. Last year I wrote a blog post about building trust with online buyers after reading an excellent article at EmptyEasel.com. EmptyEasel is geared toward visual artists, but these five rules will apply to authors, musicians and anyone else selling something online.
1. Don’t Make it About “You”
“It’s about the community. People aren’t going to follow you if all you do is try to sell them stuff and promote yourself. Become a trusted resource, instead of a salesperson.”
2. Be sociable
“…the next time you think about listing one of your art pieces, take the time to figure out how you can present that piece in a more social manner.”
3. Show the real you
“Use a photo of yourself for your profile image, not a photo of your art, or company logo. People want to connect with people, not products or businesses.”
4. Respond to your fans
“When you respond to your fans (or customers)…have a conversation with them.”
5. Be consistent
“From how you portray your company across various social networks, to how often you post…”
I’ll be honest. There are days I don’t feel like socializing at all. I don’t beat myself up about that. Tomorrow is a new day and we all have off days. But when I am online I try to follow these rules and above all I try to have fun. I’ve met so many wonderful people since I joined Twitter/Facebook/deviantART and the various other sites you can find me. Some I even consider more than just acquaintances. They’ve become friends who support my creative vision and that’s invaluable.
To show my appreciation here’s a coupon code for my Etsy shop, Makepeace Studios, good for 30% off!!! Use the code DIEHARDFAN when you spend a minimum of $15.00. The coupon code is only good till December 13th.
I invited fans of my Facebook page to ask me anything. Here’s what they wanted to know!
I do enjoy exploring different genres! My interests are diverse as well, so it’s not surprising they bleed over into my art, but if I had to pick one it would be fantasy. Fantasy is a broad genre. It can have elements of Myth, nature and wildlife, people but all with the elements of Fantasy. I particularly love animals and creatures but also portraits. You can expect to see more of a focus in those areas.
2. If you didn’t paint or write, what do you think you would be doing instead?
As I mentioned in the previous answer, I have diverse interests. If I didn’t have any health issues I would love to work in archaeology/geology. See. Even now I can’t pick one! While at university I took Geology, Zooarchaeology, and The Geology of Archaeology. I could see myself digging up the remains of the past.
3. If/when you get “artist’s block”, how do you handle it?
I do sometimes get stuck and I’ve found that most of the time it’s because I’ve lost the inspiration for the painting. Forcing myself to keep painting only makes it worse. I’ve found walking to be the best solution. It helps to get outside, clear my head, enjoy the little things. Then I go back to the painting and think why isn’t this working for me? What needs to change? It usually works!
4. What has had the biggest influence on your work? Is it a particular artist? a genre? some personal insight?
I paint what I love. It’s that simple. As a child I spent an enormous amount of time outside, wandering the woods, drawing, collecting rocks and bits of nature, drawing, riding horses every weekend, dreaming up imaginary worlds and people based on the movies and stories I read. And of course, drawing. Not much has changed!
There are also a few artists that stick out who definitely left seeds of inspiration in my mind. Georgia O’Keeffe is the first artist I consciously remember. My mother kept a book of her art on our coffee table. John Waterhouse’s iconic images weave history, mythology and fantasy into rich worlds. Last, Michael Parkes. I saw a framed print of his painting Gargoyles back in the mid 90’s (in a print shop I’d later work at) and instantly fell in love with the magic.
5. What are your own personal artistic goals?
My main goal is to become a professional illustrator. I’d love to be painting covers for science fiction and fantasy novels, middle grade books, maybe even picture books. I’d also love to create art for card and board games. I’m determined to get there!
ImagineFX and deviantART. Digital painting involves most of the same skills as traditional painting but I did have to learn how the brushes function and how they can be manipulated in Photoshop. Those two resources were and still are invaluable.
7. Are you ever going to come north for a craft show or the like??
Yes! When? No clue. But it will happen.
8. Some artists (Not me) Say that Digital art.. isn’t “real” art.. What is your response to that?
I laugh. Because nowadays painting in Photoshop and Painter is incredible. It’s just another medium. If you can’t paint/draw with traditional mediums, then it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to in those programs. You use all the same skills and more.
9. Were you artistic as a child and what training have you received as an artist? Were you classically trained or only trained in digital arts?
Yes, I was artistic as a child. I have a creative mother and she was the first person to inspire me to draw. I’ve had a passion for drawing and art since I was at least 9 years old. My training as been less exact.
When I was in middle school I unfortunately had an art teacher who demeaned students without any artistic ability. She also used those with ability as an example to belittle other students. I didn’t like being used and it angered me that a teacher could be so cruel. I avoided art classes for a while.
I was an art student at university for a year. I took two drawing classes, a sculpture class, and several art history classes. But I didn’t stick with it out of fear. I kept drawing and painting but finished my Bachelors in another field.
Later, after moving to the United Kingdom, I took a year long course in Creative Painting and Drawing at Kensington & Chelsea College. It was the first time I had to attend a portfolio review as a part of my application. I was accepted and it was one of the best courses ever!
I only began digital painting about a year ago.
10. Matisse said: “Creativity takes courage.” What has been your greatest struggle re: your art?
Painting what I want to paint and not what I think will sell or what’s expected of me.
To enter leave a comment on this blog post and be sure to leave a way for me to contact you if you’re the winner. This time around I can only ship to the US, sorry international fans!
What will you win? I’ve made a fancy collage of four paintings below. You can choose one of those paintings and I’ll send you a 5×7 inch print! You can get a better look at the paintings choices in my deviantART Gallery.
I will pick the winner on Monday, November 25th while I’m drinking my coffee.
There were seven entries, but only one could be a winner today. I assigned everyone a number, from the first person to leave a comment to the last. The winner, according to Random.org is number 2, Sherry Key!
Sherry, get in touch with me via Facebook or email and let me know which print you’d like from the choices above.
Thank you all for entering!
I apologize in advance for the brevity of this post. Sometimes the words flow out of you, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you can’t stop writing; sometimes you can’t start. In this case, sometimes you have too much to write and your weekly blog post gets shuffled to the bottom of the pile.
I am currently adapting two works into other mediums: a novel called Proxy into a treatment for a motion picture screenplay and a motion picture screenplay called Dakota Skye into the first of a series of novels.
I wrote both of those things. So that means I’m adapting myself.
And it ain’t easy.
Partially because I’ve told both of these stories before and it’s hard to get up to tell them again.
But mostly because I’m struggling to find the magic 10%. What the hell does that mean? you ask. I’ll explain.
Novels have been adapted into films since the beginning of cinema. Modern readers are often disappointed with the adaptations of their favorite books: “why did they cut that?” “she wouldn’t say that!” “where is Tom Bombadil?” “that’s not how it ends!” “what are you Hollywood morons doing to my favorite thing?!?”.
Understandable thoughts, I think. I’ve had those reactions myself. Understandable, but quite unreasonable.
You see, the major narrative mediums: fiction, drama, television, film, web series, operas, comics, and, to an extent, video games, are 90% the same. The tenants of storytelling apply across the board. Structure, pacing, conflict, character, tone. Storytelling hasn’t changed much since the days of bards and minstrels.
So, if all these mediums are so similar, if storytelling is so uniform, then what makes them different? It’s that missing 10%. That 10% (obviously just an arbitrary symbolic ratio) to me is what makes each art form its own. Every single one of those storytelling vehicles I listed above have something that the others can’t do. A great book, movie, or play takes advantage of what it does better than its peers.
I believe that you should create your work with only one medium in mind. You shouldn’t write your novel thinking about how it would make a good movie. Don’t make your comic book with visions of a video game in your head. Because that thinking limits you to that 90% and keeps you from realizing the full potential of what you’re writing. To me, that’s where you get boring books, paint-by-numbers films, and mediocre television.
I had an incident two years ago that illustrates this. I had an idea for a web series. A friend of mine has a character, an alter ego you would say, that he has created, and we were always looking for something to do with it/him. So I hit on an idea that I thought would work as a web show. I took into consideration the limitations of the form (and our wallets), but also what I thought could make it unique and interesting and funny by working within those confines. By making something that only made sense as a web series, that catered to the viewing habits of internet watchers, that made it unique.
We both loved the idea, but we thought maybe we needed to bring in a few other people to help, because we probably would need a little money. We met with an couple guys that were looking to get into producing web series. We started talking about the show; they had read the pitch already. We all thought it was a good, funny idea.
But then things went south. They started to talk about ‘opening it up’. Taking the character ‘out into the world’. Varying up the types of episodes. Making it less specific, trying to reach a broader audience. It dawned on me what they really wanted to make:
They wanted to make a mini-sitcom.
Which is a terrible fucking idea.
But what they were looking at this web series as was a means to a bigger end and to me, it was the end. They wanted to make something that could then be picked up as a regular television show if successful. So they wanted to apply many of the (outdated) rules of TV to it.
But this idea of mine, it would have been an awful, unsustainable television show.
But a great web series.
I ended up scrapping the whole thing because these guys didn’t understand new media. Had no idea. I would mention very successful web series like ‘The Guild’ and get blank stares. They had never seen a web series. They wanted to make short-form TV pilots.
They wanted to make a show that covered the 90% and ignored the 10% that would make it special. And in my experience, if you write something in one medium with another medium being your goal, you are going to create something that falls short of both.
The same thing happened when I was working on a comic book with a creator/artist who could not shut up about how much money he could make with the toys and movie rights. I kind of wish he had spent less time dreaming about being Todd MacFarlane and more time actually making the fucking comic because it’s been several years since my departure from it and the book has yet to see the light of day.
When I wrote the screenplay for Dakota Skye, I only ever thought of it as a film. Even though it’s talky, I still tried to think visually, using the language of cinema to tell the story. Film stories are flimsy things; there is not a lot of depth to them based on the limitations of running time. You have to do things, like create a love story, in brief and broad strokes. Luckily, a single image can convey what a novelist would need 5000 words to evoke. The image is at least 75% of film’s 10%.
(Getting tired of the arbitrary percentages yet? Sorry. There will be more.)
So now I’m sitting down to turn this screenplay into a novel and whoa boy. I learned on Proxy that a book requires many more words than a screenplay (a script page is mostly blank space). A lot more writing. Adapting Dakota Skye is reinforcing that bit of knowledge with a vengeance. I sat down to write the first chapter, based on the first couple scenes of the script, and just wrote what was in the script. Didn’t add any dialogue, just included very simple descriptions of what was happening and didn’t go too far into the characters’ thoughts. I did a very faithful version of the scenes that people know from the movie and script.
When I was done I had about a page and a half.
So what I’m doing now while I’m writing the book is searching for that 10%. I’ve taken away the things that make the movie a movie: the ability to convey information with imagery alone, characters coming to life through the use of actors, the ability to augment pace and emotion with things like editing and music. So, what do I replace those things with to make Dakota Skye: The Novel into an actual novel in the way Dakota Skye: The Movie was a movie?
It hasn’t been easy, but it mostly involves adding a fuck-ton more words.
At the same time, a few producers have expressed interest in considering thinking about the idea of my novel Proxy as a film. Before they can even see that, though, they need a treatment (a short prose description of the film, usually written before the screenplay) and eventually a script. So I’ve been working on that at the same time as the new novel and am facing the same challenge: the 10%.
In the case of going from the novel to the screen, the specialness you’re losing is the depth. The ability to dive into a character’s mind, to go off of tangents that may or may not enhance the narrative, to take characters on long, complex journeys step-by-step without having to use shorthand, to build robust worlds for your characters to inhabit.
The main thing you lose is the characters’ internal lives, especially with a first-person novel like Proxy. In a film, you can’t describe what a character is thinking: you need to show it. You can’t meander in and out of the world you’ve created: there’s no time. A characters thoughts, emotions, beliefs, motives, they all have to be on the screen. Sure, you can use voice-over (I did in Dakota Skye) but that’s very easy to do wrong and even when it’s done right (like in Dakota Skye) you have to use it sparingly.
No, film truly is ‘show don’t tell’.
So now I have to take this book I wrote, this book that was the center of my world for over a year, strip it down, simplify it, find ways to convey complex information in broad strokes, get rid of the asides and deviations, and mostly ignore the world I’ve built, and in addition serve certain non-diegetic concerns such as commercial viability, budget, and casting.
What do I get in return for these sacrifices? I get the things I’m having to lose from Dakota Skye. The image. The edit. The visceral experience that a book cannot provide. Do you know what will be better in a film version of Proxy than in the book? Fights. Chases. Sex. Things that you can do fine on paper but that movies excel at. Finding the ways you can take what you’ve done and make them visual filmic is difficult and rewarding. Sometimes you add things; sometimes things have to go.
So remember that the next time you see some stupid filmmaker fuck up your favorite book. A book is not a movie; a movie is not a book. That 10% is 100% the difference.
Taking a book and making a word-for-word film version would not just make a thirty-hour movie, it would be impossible.
Taking a screenplay and making a word-for-word novel version would not just leave you with a 45-page book, it would be impossible.
So, anyway. that’s where I am now. This crisscross of adaptation. I’m not going to lie and say it isn’t difficult, but I am determined to find each project’s special 10% that will help it make the transition properly.
This was going to be a blog post about how I didn’t have time to write a blog post. I ended up writing one anyway. I’m a big fat liar like that. There’s at least a 62% chance that I’ll have something substantial next week as opposed to this unorganized rant about how busy I am and my 10% philosophy, one of my many annoying and I’m sure incorrect ideas about writing and art (I’m sure I’ll inflict more of those on you at another point).
Anyway. Gotta go. My other projects are calling me.
Now, should I work on the adaptation…
or the adaptation?
Over the weekend I met up with fellow guild members J Edward Neill and John McGuire to discuss a project. During the course of our lunch meeting J Edward asked me how I’d developed the idea for my latest work in progress, Her Domain. I believe my initial response was a small snicker. My imagination can be a bit chaotic, at least from where I stand. It always begins with a spark, then the idea grows like a film in my mind and last the most difficult part of all must happen–the execution. Nearly all of my personal paintings develop this way, but let’s take a closer look at Her Domain.
Here’s my current progress:
The spark is often something I’ve seen. It’s like a trigger. The seed takes root and from that seed the idea grows. The spark for Her Domain was this photograph by Mark Walton featuring deviantART artist TheRedBamboo:
I was immediately entranced by this image. I envisioned her submerged in a small pond or river, the bones of her victims beneath her body. <– That’s how my mind works. I see more than what anyone might see at first glance. It’s like a domino effect. The story grows in my mind like a dream. I do not only see the painting, I feel the painting.
Ideas like this one are a never ending stream in my world. I found the above photograph in April of this year. I rotated the image, made a quick sketch, and then refocused on whatever I was painting at the time. When I returned to the sketch early this month the idea was still fresh, but now it needed to be developed. I began working on a more detailed sketch:
As I hope you can see, the original photograph was only a starting point–the spark–the idea involved more elements to be added. The basis of any good painting begins with a good drawing. Because I was expanding out from the initial image I was going to need more reference shots. I needed to know what the shoulders would look like when I angled the arm and hand in front of the figure. Guessing would only create something that looked wrong. So, I held a mini photo shoot in my studio.
I took these photos with my iPhone, leaning back in my office chair. Yes, I did feel a bit silly, but my muse demanded I get this right. At this stage I’m still in the Idea phase. I went back to my sketch with my new reference shots to work out the kinks.
The final phase is where the real work begins–taking the idea in my mind and giving it life. When I begin painting I have just a sketch, but when I look at the sketch I already see colors, tones, shadows, ripples of light, etc. The execution is making those a reality. When you compare the final painting to the spark, you may only see an echo of the original photograph. Through the idea and the execution I’ve created something different, something of my own.
How long does it take me to finish a painting? It depends on the complexity but usually it’s anywhere from 1 week to 4 weeks.
Here are a few more before’s and after’s, the spark and the execution:
The Price of Magic
Primary Tools – Laptop, Intuos4 Medium, ImagineFX Magazines, Windows 7, Photoshop CS6, and more.
I moved house in June; which meant planning a new studio space. My setup hasn’t changed too much since moving, but it’s always evolving. For example, I found an incredible deal on eBay for an Intuos4 Medium. I still have my Small in its box as a backup. There’s also a new tower under the desk (not shown) that I’m upgrading. As you can see from the photos, I have a second monitor that I could not live without. I’m hoping to add another once I’m working from the desktop.
Photoshop is my painting program of choice. I’ve tried ArtRage and Corel, but neither felt “right.” I have everything I want in Photoshop and just how I want it too. The brushes I use are a mix of my own creation and those I’ve picked up from ImagineFX artists.
I may be focused on digital painting, but I haven’t left my traditional roots behind me. I have a closet full of supplies and other storage containers with craft supplies, pens, pencils and paints. It’s difficult for me to paint in acrylics these days due to an autoimmune disorder attacking my joints, so I most often work in pencil and pen.
Secondary Tools – Inspiration, Motivation, and Sustenance.
My secondary studio tools are those that keep me happy and sane; which in turn keep my muse content and those creative juices flowing. I’ve come to deplore silence in the studio. Music is very important to my painting process. I don’t have a stereo or iHome at the moment, so I’m just plugging in via my iPhone. There are definite patterns to my music choice, depending on what I’m painting. I’ll have to write up a painting soundtrack post. Also having something to munch on when I don’t feel like stopping for lunch is vital. My snacks of choice in the studio are walnuts and Newman’s Own Raisins.
Last, being surrounded by things that make me smile. Loki (and Thor) — my figures, comics, artwork, etc. The art you see on the wall above is a painting I did based on Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of the Norse God. What you don’t see in the photos above is my massive collection of pebbles, feathers, nests and whatever else I pick up on my nature walks. Most of my natural history collection is unpacked and sitting on display just behind where I sit.
This is where you’ll find me most days and when I’m not there I often wish I were. Below is my current painting work in progress:
You can stay up-to-date on my creative projects via my Facebook Page. I often share WIP images and tidbits on my process. You may even occasionally see some photos of me in the studio. 😉
This year’s Halloween painting is a portrait of my studio cat Shadow, a.k.a. Attack Cat, who passed away suddenly in June. I still miss her terribly, but when I began thinking of what to paint for Halloween all I could see was her. She loved sitting with me while I painted and often followed me where ever I went, but she wasn’t very friendly with anyone else. Attack Cat wasn’t a misnomer. If a dog, three times the size of the cat, is afraid then you know you’re trouble. But from Shadow’s perspective she was only protecting her mother. The depth of her love for me was amazing.
Black Cats have received a lot of flack over the years, but it wouldn’t be Halloween without them. Their bad reputation dates back to medieval Europe when they were thought to be witches familiars and agents of Satan. Poor kitties! Though opinions on black cats have improved over the centuries, they still face discrimination. They are far less likely to get adopted from shelters and they are far more likely to get euthanized than other cats. Please consider adopting a black cat this Halloween!
Here are some things that I like lots: comic books, Star Wars, the Muppets, Chuck Taylors, video games, porn, Star Wars, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, pop culture T-shirts, sports, technology, angsty music, white tube socks and Star Wars.
Here are some things that I actively dislike: neckties, hiking, auto repair, guns, mornings, cheap scotch, fine scotch, neckties, most sitcoms, plumbing, meetings, sushi, yard work, trying to understand my health insurance, keeping track of my finances, and neckties.
I am rapidly coming up on 40 years old.
I state these things up front so that if anything I say after this comes across as hostile, recriminating, or insulting, you know that I’m one of the injured parties. I am of two minds about all of this. So that when I say something like…
My generation needs to grow the fuck up…
…That I’m talking to myself.
There’s nothing shameful about being an adult (I can no longer dodge that title) who likes any of those things that I like. Except maybe the porn. And the last decade of popular entertainment has provided me with plenty of content to satisfy said list: a seemingly endless barrage of superhero films, a good many of them quality, featuring A-List talent, a new Muppet movie made by someone with genuine affection for those little felt pieces of happiness, games like Bioshock: Infinite and The Last of Us that take video games into realms I never would have dreamed while playing Yar’s Revenge and Tempest as a kid, the MLB Network, dark chocolate peanut butter cups, white chocolate peanut butter cups, Big Cup peanut butter cups, mini peanut butter cups, and, the asshole of them all, the Reester Bunny, a sword-and-sorcery adult fantasy television show with mainstream appeal that doesn’t betray its genre roots, and a man winning an Oscar for playing the Joker.
When I was younger, the things I like came in these forms:
And now, they look like this:
It’s been great to be a ‘geek’.
But this recent slate of Summer films as culture in general have got me questioning whether all of this is a good thing. As I write this I’m still angry at Man of Steel, a film that feels like it’s made by a bunch of teenagers trying to be ‘dark’ and ‘edgy’ and ‘adult’. But that’s a rant for another day, another time, another blog post.
I am most familiar with film; it is my first love and the medium in which I am most well versed. So I will use it most heavily to illustrate my point.
Oh, and I’m just talking American film here. To travel to foreign soil would make this already too-long piece way too-fucking-long.
In the 1960’s, the Hollywood studio system collapsed. The result was, in the 1970’s, the greatest decade of film so far in the history of the medium. Not knowing what to do, they threw their doors open and let the first batch of film school graduates and their peers, the ‘film brats’, take over Hollywood. It is commonly said that in the 70’s, they let the lunatics (and they were indeed lunatics. Brilliant, ballsy, genius, visionary lunatics) take over the asylum. This time is known as The Hollywood Renaissance.
The lunatics in question? Scorsese, Coppola, Ashby, Altman, Kubrick, Allen, Malick, Friedkin, Frankenheimer, Lumet, Spielberg, Lucas, Bogdonavich, Cinimo, Pollack, Polanski, De Palma, Penn. Not to mention the numerous producers, cinematographers, and writers behind the scenes. The actors of that generation are among film’s finest: DeNiro, Pacino, Hackman, Keaton, Gould, Hopper, Hoffman, Keitel, Nicholson, Streep, Foster, Burstyn, Sheen, Walken, Duvall, Rowlands, Spacek, and two personal favorites and underappreciated icons: John Cazale and Warren Oates.
These folks found inspiration in every film made before them, from the silents to John Ford westerns to John Cassavetes to, most prominently in some cases, the amazing work being done in France, Italy, and Japan in the post WWII era, and they created a New Hollywood that transcended the starry-eyed golden age of movies and turned the form into a true art. They (for the most part) made serious films about serious things. Uncompromising looks at life the way it really was, not how they wanted it to be. They were the perfect people to come along and create film for the Vietnam generation.
And the fact that they appeared together makes the me the most impressive collection of American revolutionaries since America’s actual revolutionaries.
Their reign lasted 13 years.
In the 1990’s we got a new wave of fascinating moviemakers, inspired by the work of the New Hollywood movement. It seemed a new Renassiance was upon us. Tarantino, Smith, two men named Anderson, Fincher, Linklater, Payne, Rodriquez, Jackson (okay, not American but English language), Russell, Soderbergh, Egoyan (yeah, also not American). The Coen Brothers came into their own. A lot of these men were associated with the independent boom of the 90’s. I would call them the Miramax Generation. They breathed new life into film, pushing past the entertaining but someone stale cinema of the 80’s. They wore their influences on their sleeves. They pushed limits when it came to violence, language, and just what constituted a ‘film’. Some of them reveled in the profane and immature, but they had something to say, most of them, and made great films that stand the test of time. Several are still making great, relevant films, twenty years later. This is the generation that inspired me to become a filmmaker.
Their reign lasted, by my estimation, about 8 years.
Who are the hot-shot, super-star filmmakers of today? The ones that get the most attention, the ones the studio hands the biggest budgets, the most coveted properties?
Zach Snyder. Chris Nolan. Guillermo Del Toro. Marc Webb. Rian Johnson. Duncan Jones. Joss Whedon. Edgar Wright. Peter Berg. Jon Favreau. James Gunn.
Many talented men in there. (Yes, men. I lament that there is only one major American female film director right now. I do. But it is a fact. One I’d love to see altered. But you want to see a boys’ club? Look no further than Hollywood.) I am a fan of many of them in one way or another. Some, like Whedon and Wright and Jones, I adore.
But this is a filmmaking generation of man-children.
I’m not a person who laments the current state of film often, but looking at the Summer we just came out of, I am forced to. I’m not going to go film by film but I will use one particular film to make my point:
I like Guillermo Del Toro. As a person. He’s ‘one of us’. A real geek. As a filmmaker, for me, he’s hit and miss. I think the less money he has, the better. His projects with considerable budgets, namely the two Hellboy films, have been lifeless, poorly told stories with good effects, even if the Hellboy II creatures seemed to be cast-offs from the overrated Pan’s Labyrinth. He is one of those filmmakers, like Tim Burton before him, who is much better at the visual and the concept than the story and the characters. Which would be fine, if he wasn’t making narrative films. But he is. He is telling stories. And if he isn’t bad at it, he is at the very least lazy.
Pacific Rim is no exception.
I know I’m supposed to love Pacific Rim. I love Gorjira and Robotech, why shouldn’t I love this? Like my beloved peanut butter cups. Two great tastes that blah blah blah.
But I didn’t. Because it felt like it was made by a twelve year old. Watching it all I could think of was a little fat kid in Mexico, sitting in his sandbox, bashing his Godzilla toy into his Optimus Prime toy and imagining the epic battles they would have.
Every generation of filmmakers is influenced by (read: steals from) the generations before, but his is different. These guys aren’t ingesting what came before, gestating it in their minds, then making something completely new and original. They’re regurgitating. Pacific Rim, if you ignore the monsters and robots (a conceit, while cool on the surface, doesn’t hold up to one moment of critical thinking; more later), is just one tired ass action movie trope after another tired ass action movie trope that, when strung together, Del Toro thinks constitutes a story.
It is Top Gun. It is Independence Day. It is Gojira. It is “Voltron” and Gundam. Thrown into a blender and called a Summer blockbuster.
It is not a work by a man with any original thoughts or anything to say.
(I also know why it failed. Geeks may have had super-duper hard-ons for it, but I asked a few guys, guys who go to the movies on a regular basis, who had seen Iron Man 3 and Star Trek and Fast 6, about Pacific Rim and they said “it looks dumb and loud”. That is why it didn’t connect with the mainstream audience. It looked dumb and loud.)
I walked out of Pacific Rim slightly entertained but unsatisfied, then, two days later, after the smidge of enjoyment it gave me wore off, I realized that it’s a bad movie. Just another case of something that has plagued not only film of the last decade, but art in general.
The 70’s were the New Hollywood Generation. The 90’s, the Miramax Generation.
This is the Karaoke Generation.
Some people mistake Tarantino for a mimic, but I disagree wholeheartedly. Pulp Fiction is, behind the surface, about three killers who find themselves saving a life. It is about redemption: that’s what’s in the briefcase for me.
That may not be super deep, but what is Looper about? Other than Johnson showing us a bunch of shit that he likes. 12 Monkeys. The Omen. Back to the Future. Blade Runner. I have no problem with wearing your influences on your sleeve, but, for God’s sake, try to come up with something of your own. Stop singing the words scrolling by on the monitor and write your own song.
Two of the bigger films of the year made two mind-boggling choices that I am still trying to figure out.
JJ Abrams’s first Star Trek was, for me, great. Fresh, entertaining. It told its own story and, while respecting the decades of Trek behind it, started its own timeline. That encouraged me. Opened up the idea of brand new Trek stories not beholden to all that canon. So, what did they do for their next tale, Into Darkness?
They brought back Khan.
Man of Steel was a disaster in almost every aspect, but again. Starting over. Fresh slate. Retelling the origin. Redefining the relationships. Trying to paint a new Clark (one who is a borderline sociopath, but whatever). New look. New feel. New everything. And who was the villain in this re-imagining of one of America’s most enduring fictional characters?
They brought back Zod.
In both cases the filmmakers, in acts of inane laziness, pilfered the most famous and effective parts of previous films and “reimagined” them into their own. This is especially egregious in Star Trek, which not only recycled Khan, but the entire last act of the film. With, you know, a “twist”.
All the money in the world they can spend. Any writer in Hollywood they can employ. With effects the way they are now, anything you want to show, you can show. Any world you want to build, creature you want to birth. The possibilities are literally endless.
Nope. Khan and Zod. Cool, right?
Children, playing with the toys of their youth, with no original ideas of their own.
Like I said above, I love science fiction and comic books and nearly all things geek. Hell, I finally crossed over my final nerd threshold, the thing I said I would never do, which was Doctor Who, and it turns out I love it. But come on, guys. Isn’t it time to grow up, just a little?
That may be why I liked The World’s End so much. Despite its robot/alien subplot (which was really the least interesting part of the film), there was an adult story there. About addiction, about the disappointments of life, about the bonds of friendship, and, yes, about growing the fuck up.
Maybe I’m just an old man, but I do miss the filmmaking of the 90’s. Much like “The Love Boat”, it felt exciting and new (which, oddly, was a show that never felt exciting or new). But now, the only films I get excited for are the ones made by people from previous generations: Scorsese, the Andersons, Fincher, The Coens, Ridley Scott, Tarantino, Payne, Russell.
They are the only ones making films for adults. I think we have embraced the man-child, but have done no service to the ‘man’ half of that hyphenate.
G.I. Joe. Transformers. Batman. Superman. Spiderman. The A-Team. The always-rumored Thundercats and He-Man films. New Star Wars films directed by a Star Wars geek. The Muppets. There is no mistaking the age range of today’s most popular filmmakers. They’re my age. But, unlike them it seems, I didn’t stop watching film and television after I turned twelve.
I mean, come on. Battleship? FUCKING BATTLESHIP?!? Bad enough to make a movie based on a children’s board game (again with the nostalgia), but to make it a Transformers rip-off in the process? This is what studios think people want. FUCKING BATTLESHIP.
What I’m trying to say here is, while the ‘geek revolution’ has pleased me greatly, I’m starting to turn on it. I’m tired of films made by grown men who think they’re teenage boys. And I’m one of those men. But I have another side to me, the side that has accepted the fact that I am also an adult that yearns for mature entertainment and art. These guys live in a perpetual state of adolescence and get paid millions of dollars to do so.
This doesn’t just apply to film. The only books anyone seems to read nowadays are Young Adult fiction. Potter. Twilight. Hunger Games. Mortal Instruments. These are adults reading these books. I have read a few myself (Potter and Hunger Games) but that is all some people read. Do you know more people that have read Harry Potter or The Sound and the Fury? Twilight or The Count of Monte Cristo? Hunger Games or Naked Lunch?
Don’t get me started on music. Have you heard that new Katy Perry song, ‘Roar’? The most asinine and hacky lyrics I have heard in a long time, no matter how catchy the track may be. Plus, she rips off Survivor of all things. You can’t drop an ‘eye of the tiger’ into a song. That phrase is taken, lady. It is only acceptable during a corny 80’s training montage. Lady Gaga literally karaoke’d Madonna’s “Express Yourself” for her “Born this Way.” (Or maybe she Weird Al’ed it).
I’m just tired. Tired of being disappointed by artists who I think should know better. Tired of seeing the same things over and over and over again. Much of the hype about Pacific Rim was that it was a ‘new property’ (that’s what we call our films now: properties), but when I saw it, was just a bunch of things I’d seen before strung together with some big, loud, CG things hitting each other.
(About that: why do they hit each other? they have missiles and plasma cannons. there is no reason not to start a fight with those things instead of charging headfirst into a fistfight. any military strategist will tell you: ranged attacks first. has been that way since the bow and arrow. and the sword? we get 75% of the way through the movie and we reveal that the things have swords that can cleave the monsters in half with one slash? either Del Toro watched too much or too little “Voltron” to understand how little sense this makes. form the blazing sword right away, you morons. it works every time. sigh.)
I worry about the state of film going forward, and film is something I hold very dear. It is a great art form that is still in its infancy. We have yet to see a Beethoven or Van Gogh come along. I don’t know what those guys, their films, will look like, but I hope to see them in my life. But as of the moment, the art of filmmaking is in a state of arrested development.
Much like the men making them.
Did I say ‘men’?
I meant ‘boys’.
Oh, and just to show that I’m not just making fun of the guy up top in the Batman hoodie, here is me in my Boba Fett hoodie. I’m part of this, too.
Hi there. Welcome to Tessera! I’m the artist of this creative guild, the one with the really cool last name. Makepeace isn’t my birth name, but it is by far the best surname I’ve ever had and let’s face it, I should have been born with this name. A week doesn’t go by when I haven’t received a comment about it’s validity or origin. I’ve almost got the spiel down: “Yes, that really is my name. It’s great isn’t it? I can’t take credit though, it was my ex’s name. It’s an old Quaker name. No, I’d never change it!” In all seriousness, it does suit me. I’ve had a passion for art and nature for as long as I can remember. Many of my fondest memories involve the outdoors–one of them is the photo to the right. You can still find me wandering the woods today, collecting feathers, stones and other odd bits of nature. My studio is full of a my collection.
Quite often, bits of my collection end up in my art, but once my imagination has a say you never know what you’re going to get. I am an avid reader of Science Fiction and Fantasy, with some horror on the side. Movies? Same genres. Television? Same genres. I do read (and watch) outside of those realms, but anything from the Avengers to Middle Earth will take precedent over a thriller. Don’t get me started on music. You probably wouldn’t believe how far my tastes swing (Classical to Linkin Park).
I’m also, as was pointed out earlier in the week, a Web-Warrior Princess. Technology doesn’t scare me. If you were to look at the testing they do in schools, my highest ranked subjects were the Humanities and Science. My favorite courses at university were Comparative Literature and Human Osteology. I love both, just another example of my broad interests and skills. I can create with a paint brush (both digital and physical) and I can create with HTML, CSS, and PHP.
I guess all of this combined makes me a tree-hugging geek with a wild imagination. I’m cool with that.
What does this mean for you readers of Tessera? Well. I’ll be sharing a lot of art, some of my process as it applies to creating art for a story, things that inspire me, photos from conventions (I’m going to one this weekend!), books on my nightstand (and comics too), and so much more. I’ll even share a story or two of my own. I don’t think of myself as a writer–I think about art and painting far more–but I do write the occasional piece of flash fiction. I might also occasionally share a flashback from the movies, stories, images and events of my childhood that shaped who I am today. The possibilities are endless.
Five Random Facts
1. My favorite things to draw as a young teen? Horses and Xenomorphs. Not together, but that would have been cool too!
2. My favorite things to paint nowadays? Birds and Faces.
3. Artists I listen to the most on my iPod? Bon Iver, Florence + The Machine, The Glitch Mob, Cry Monster Cry, Imagine Dragons, Of Monsters and Men and Lindsey Stirling.
4. What did I want to be when I grew up? It changed quite a few times. High on the list: Geologist, Marine Biologist, Forensic Anthropologist, and of course an artist and writer.
5. First and last comic I bought? First was Aliens: Earth War (Dark Horse) and the last I bought was Infinity: Part Three (Marvel).
Follow me on the web:
For our first posts, we’re supposed to introduce ourselves. So here goes nothing.
My name is Chad and I write stuff. As of this very moment in time, I have written one (produced) feature film and one (self-) published novel. That would qualify me as a writer, for sure, but, at my age, not an especially successful or prolific one. (Although, to be fair, I only decided to try writing novels last year.)
Do I wish I had more movies under my belt? I believe that I will, even if it takes a while longer. And I know there will be more novels coming, because that’s 100% up to me, not producers and executives and financiers.
So has everything gone the way I’ve wanted in my writing career? Not even close. So many rejections, disappointments. So much time wasted on my part, waiting for something to happen as opposed to making it happen, hoping my talent could take care of things while ignoring the hard work it really takes. A ton of close calls. Films that almost had the money, then didn’t. Pitch meetings at major cable networks that went well, but not well enough. A movie that went to several film festivals, but not the right film festivals to get any kind of traction.
I’ve beat my head against the wall. I’ve cried. I’ve distracted myself with things like video games and politics and alcohol. I’ve fallen into several all-encompassing, crippling depressions, each of which threatened to cost me everything.
I’ve also quit. Flat-out quit. “Fuck this. I’m done. Kaput. Blowing this popsicle stand. This is a fool’s errand and I am not a fool.”
And then I would get up the next morning and continue on my errand.
Because I had to.
Third grade. (MUMBLE) years ago.
I missed a day of school. Sick. The first time I remember that happening. Don’t know what it was. Sore throat. 24 hour bug. Whatever. I missed a day of school.
I remember the odd feeling of coming back the next day and realizing the harsh truth that my teacher and classmates had had the nerve, the nerve, to go about the school day while I was gone. I know, right? They had gone to recess, done math problems, eaten sloppy joes, ALL WITHOUT ME!!!
Everyone has this feeling, right? This bizarre moment where you realize that life goes on without you? Just like before you were born. Just like after you die. Doesn’t matter who you are or what you do or how much money you make or how many children you sire, wars you wage, diseases you cure, or eternally beloved works of art you create, people will still play kickball when you’re gone.
Everyone, right? Or was this just an early warning sign of my adult onset egomania?
One thing that I should have been glad to miss while home sick was homework. But not that day. Because one of the assignments, I found out, was this:
Write a story about a monster coming to the classroom.
“But don’t worry about it, Chad,” my teacher, Mrs. Harrison, said. “It was just for fun. No one’s being graded on it. You can just sit and listen as I read all of the other kids’ stories.”
Mrs. Harrison then proceeded to read through my fellow students’ tales. I cannot testify as to the quality of their prose (although I’m sure it was lacking) because it was (MUMBLE) years ago, yes, but also because I wasn’t listening.
I was too busy furiously scribbling my own story, trying to get it done before the teacher finished reading the others.
Because I had to.
Instead of being angry at me for not listening to the other stories, she took mine and read it.
I won’t claim to recall the details of it. But I do know it involved some sort of bipedal beast that breathed fire and that he burned a hole in the ceiling of our classroom, through which fell the desk and body of the fifth grade teacher right above us, a woman who would, in two years, become my mortal enemy. That’s all I remember. Hole in ceiling. Teacher crashing down. I’m sure there was other stuff in there, too.
All I know is that it killed.
It got laughs. Genuine laughs. I had used names of other kids in the class. Killed my teacher, the teacher above, and the principal, I think, who came in to save us. It went over so well that my teacher had the fifth grade class above us, the one I had partially destroyed in my story, come down to our room so she could read the story to them.
And, that day, at an age far too young to decide on a career path, I did just that. I had never written for fun before but now I knew I would be doing it for the rest of my life.
Because I had to.
Throughout school, I kept writing. Proxy isn’t actually my first book. In elementary school, on another ‘writing for fun’ assignment, I got out my mom’s typewriter and wrote ten chapters (one page per chapter…barely), drew a cover (poorly), stapled it all together, and handed it to my teacher to read. It was about an alien invasion, I think.
I think it was called “Zap!”.
Through high school I wrote fantasy short stories, bad poetry (including a Gilgamesh by way of Poe epic), and even some Star Wars fan fiction before I knew there was such a thing as fan fiction. Some of that I still have and no one will ever read it.
In college I decided I wanted to write movies. So my attention shifted away from prose to screenwriting, although I did take some creative writing classes. But mostly I was trying to master (like anyone actually does that) the art of writing for the movies.
Then I moved to L.A.
I did all of this, never looking back, never getting a ‘fall-back’ degree, never considering failure to be an option, because, well…
Because I had to.
And why do I ‘have to’?
Because my mind is a chaotic slurry of words and ideas and philosophies and characters and voices and chemical imbalances and insecurities and useful knowledge and even more useless knowledge and writing is the only way to keep it at all under control. The only way to keep me sane. I can’t sleep at night if I don’t feel like I expelled enough words that day. The depressions I mentioned before? Guess what I wasn’t doing when those happened. Sometimes I’m not super-pleasant to be around when I’m writing, like most writers, but you should see me when I’m not. When I’m not writing I don’t feel whole and my brain, the loud, non-stop, schizophrenic motherfucker that he is, takes over. And that’s never pretty.
I write because I want to tell stories. To communicate with others. To say things. To make people laugh. To make them cry. And think. To reach for some sort of renown and success. To try to live forever.
Mostly, though, I have to write so that I can sleep at night.
So here I am, introducing myself to you on this new website, this new project I have embarked upon with some friends I have known for over 20 years, some of the only people who have read those high school stories that shall remain locked in the vault that is my hard drive. And every week I’ll be writing a blog post. Some will be short, some long. Some will be interesting, some maybe not so much. Some will be about writing. Some will be about sports, cinema, or television. I have many Hollywood stories, some of which I may share. I’ll be recommending double-bills of films that you may not have heard of, or at least have never seen the connection between. And a whole bunch of other stuff, I’m sure.
Next week I’ll talk about something, although I’m not sure what. Quite possibly an old man’s rant about the state of Hollywood. I’ll also hopefully be putting up some short stories, screenplays, and other goodies in the weeks and months and years to come.
My relationship with writing has evolved over the years. Vince Gilligan, genius creator of the dearly departed “Breaking Bad”, has often said, when asked if he enjoys writing, “No, but I enjoy having written.” I get that. I really do. Most of the time writing feels like work, because it is. But there are moments in it, when magic strikes, when you hit a zone and hours have passed and thousands of words have been belched out and you don’t even remember typing half of them, when it is still a lot of fun.
I still love it. I just love it in a different way these days. And I’m okay with that.
So in between raising my daughter, taking care of my dogs, maintaining my relationships with my friends and family, tearing my hair out over the Cincinnati Reds, trying to stay healthy, buying records, watching movies, reading history, and everything else that makes up my life, I will also be writing. Novels. Screenplays. Stories. Comics. Blog posts.
Writing. One way or another. For the rest of my life.
Well, you know.
Chad J. Shonk
PS – I’m also a stubborn, opinionated, and sometimes pretentious prick when it comes to film and writing and art in general. That will be apparent with next week’s blog post. I would apologize in advance, but I stand by every word, so… No apologies.