Search Results for: short film

Never Happy

We’re never happy. I read this article today and now am resigned to actively root against my favorite books, favorite comics, old movies, old novels – because I’m contributing to the downfall of my way of life…

Or something like that.

Instead I’m here to say: enjoy it while it lasts. Instead of looking forward to a time when superhero movies don’t make billions at the box office, just find a way to be happy. I waited twenty years to see Spider-man actually look good on the big screen. I read Avengers comics and never thought I’d ever see any of those characters up there. That the gifts from my youth would become things that could bridge the generations of old fans to new ones.

Nostalgia is not seen as a good thing. That’s the refrain of many. The proliferation of it means that it makes money… that it is no longer done for the “love of the game” so to speak.

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But it doesn’t have to be.

We’re nostalgic for the old things. Yet we forget the bad in there, when we were called names because of what we liked.

Woo hoo! Good times!

Yeah, I don’t think so.

We want to be nostalgic and then get angry when someone co-ops that passion. We want to stand off to the side and be apart and talk about how you liked something more BEFORE.. back in the day.

Why?

Hey man, movies used to mean something. Movies used to make you think. Hey man, books used to mean something. Hey man, music used to mean something.

Hey man…

Shut up. Stop whining.

Yes, money helps to trigger all of this. If Iron Man flopped we probably don’t get the Avengers movie (and we definitely don’t ever see a Guardians of the Galaxy grace our screens). For every Pixels which feeds on those old ideas (video games) we love, but apparently fails to connect with an audience – we also get a novel like Ready Player One which embraces it and forces you to embrace it and remember how much you loved the same things.

How many comic TV shows are too many?

I don’t know, but let’s f-ing find out!

How many video game related items from the 80s can be referenced in something. Who cares? I love them all?

footloose

Hey, let’s redo Footloose!

Ok, maybe they’ve gone too far.

A friend of mine and I lament that Game of Thrones hasn’t launched a thousand fantasy things (comics, movies, tv shows, etc.). We both cut our teeth on Dungeons and Dragons so we enjoy those type things, but so far it hasn’t penetrated as far as I would like. However, if in 5 years everyone is doing THEIR fantasy story… well, that will be great. Why should I be upset with that? The bad ones will get weeded out, and the good ones will be consumed and enjoyed.

I think we trick ourselves into believing that things were always better “back when”. Oh yeah, it was awesome to go to the library and stumble through pages upon pages of text before finding that nugget of information for that report I’m doing. Yeah, that’s ole’ internet just is garbage compared to that, eh?

Everything is cyclical. You need to enjoy it while it lasts. Hollywood knows that better than most. And while today it’s superheroes or geek culture, but before that were the musicals and the westerns and the war movies and gangster movies and the epics and the 80’s action movies and the slasher films and the…

You see what I mean?

And I’m not without my own biases. I wish there was more rock out there that I liked. I wish MTV hadn’t strayed so far from it over the last twenty years. But I also know that if I tried hard enough, I could still find a thing or two to like.

Much hand wringing and teeth gnashing is done because we are only seeing things that have been done before. People cry out “where are the new ideas?” But we forget about all the good things which do make it to the screen (or to the bookstore or to the… you get the point). Straight out of Compton. Ex Machina. It Follows. And hopefully The Martian (a movie based on an “Indy” book). We only want to lament that… “ugh, everyone likes everything I like. It’s not mine anymore to enjoy.”

Isn’t that what we wanted? Isn’t this thing we like becoming more popular (which means MORE of it) what we’ve been waiting for?

Dragon Con 2014

This weekend thousands of people will descend upon Atlanta, Georgia for Dragon Con (and others will be here for the start of college football and have really odd looks on their faces at those of us at Dragon Con). While I’m certainly not a fan of long lines and fighting people to get a look at dealer’s booths this is the price I pay for OUR geek stuff finally getting its due. Yes, we could crawl back into the basement spending our time organizing our comics and watching thrice-dubbed imports or we can embrace the idea that while we will need to feed the machine, we also will get more voices out there to help make up the slack. The other refrain is that it has never before been easier to “Create”. Anything you want: movies, tv shows, podcasts, books, comics, stand-up, music, poetry.

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Do you want to go back into the darkness? Really?

 

It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.

Except, it doesn’t need to be the worst.

Stop focusing on the BAD… ALL OF THE TIME.

Just stop!

Things change. Eventually, the times will change and all the Eyores will wonder – “why don’t people like X thing? Remember when everyone liked that thing? It was awesome. I wish we could go back to then.”

This is THEN. This is NOW. Embrace it. Love it.

 

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John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Grab Bag: July Edition

The following will be randomness to the extreme. Much like falling down the internet rabbit hole, this is my brain this day and some of the days before that and on some of the days before even that. You may exit the blog post feeling confused and possibly have a hint of madness now occupying part of your brain. I apologize in advance.

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I got a chance to watch the Kurt Cobain Montage of Heck documentary. My quick review would be to watch until about the point Courtney Love shows up and then turn it off. And that is not because I dislike Courtney Love, but mostly because of the way the documentary is set up. The first half has tons of stuff about Kurt’s early life, tape recordings that they animate, shots of his journals, etc. But once Courtney shows up things get weird. The animated stuff stops being informative, and I think we lose track of who he is (and who he is trying to be).

Maybe the director is making the movie weird because that’s how Kurt’s life suddenly became? It just didn’t work all that well for me.

But my favorite little moment from the film was a shot of his journal which read as follows:

Don’t read my diary when I’m gone

When you wake up, please read my diary

Look through my things

And figure me out.

 

I love this idea that sharing the thoughts you would save for your diary… instead you want people to really know you by reading those strange and maddening and difficult and every other kind of thoughts. We all struggle to be understood by those we love, and sometimes it only takes telling them what our fears and wishes are.

Sometimes.

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I’m obsessed with Pirates right now. I don’t know how it happened or why exactly (well, part of it is Edge of the World that I’m desperately trying to finish up). I’m scouring the web for good pirate movies to watch or rewatch (last week I worked my way through the first 3 Pirates of the Caribbean movies (shut up, I like them) and bought the 4th one, because why not (and Amazon put it on sale for cheap). I need to rewatch Master and Commander, but then I don’t really know if we’ve had any good ones for decades. I also need to watch Black Sail (sadly I don’t have Starz).

Anyone know any other good Pirate related movies or tv shows? Gotta ride this wave for as long as my obsession lasts.

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Edge of the World continues to be this monster of a novel that has forced me to examine how I do things and come up with better options. And while I’ve been doing an editing pass over the first 2/3 of the book – I haven’t done my full 1st pass edit on it. That’s when I basically do a search and destroy for various words that can be removed or replaced. Crutches that I might have when I write. That sort of thing. I have a Word document with my list compiled from the 10% Solution and random other sources.

Then I stumbled onto this and saw many of the words and phrases I try to locate, so hopefully I’ve been on the right track!

writing-editing

Never hurts to have a second opinion.

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Lastly a link for you to also send you down the Rabbit Hole of the Internet:

What If?

Basically if there is some random question you had about the universe or people or habits or whatever… chances are you aren’t the only one who’s thought of the question and these nice people have decided to do their best in order to answer it.

At the very least it will give all of us more useless knowledge to bust out at parties or at work or when you want to torture someone.

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That’s all I have for now. Go read. Go write. Go explore.

 

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John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Movies I Should Have Seen By This Point

This post was spurred on by a moment with my wife a few weeks ago where she mentioned she’d never seen any of the Alien movies. I had two responses:

“You haven’t seen them? What are you doing with your life!?!”

And…

“Don’t let Amanda Makepeace know, she may stop being your friend.”

We’ve all had that conversation – “You haven’t seen XYZ thing? How is that possible?”

Sometimes it is a classic and sometimes it just is one of those movies you assume that everyone has seen (unless you are talking with Chad Shonk, in which case he HAS already seen it and he’s probably shaking his head at your ignorance – and by “your” I mean “my”). In fact, once he gets done reading this post he may go Clockwork Orange on me.

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This is what I’m worried about.

Listen, I’m not being too cool for school here. I’m not pulling some weird power play and not watching them for some kind of agenda (like I’ve heard people say about the Star Wars movies “I haven’t watched them yet, so why should I bother?”). This is more to do with us all leading busy lives… and me needing to watch Office Space for the 97th time instead.

Clear?

Big Lebowski – So I’m not familiar with The Dude. What little I do know about the movie… well, now that I think about it – I don’t know ANYTHING about the movie. I know that Jeff Bridges is in it. And I know…

Uhm…

Well…

Lots of people seem to quote it a fair amount.

Sadly, I own the movie after seeing it in a $5 bin at Wal-Mart and still haven’t opened it up yet and watched it. Which is kinda strange since it is Veronica Mars’s favorite movie in the show and my wife hasn’t sat us down to watch yet.

Scarface – Al Pacino as a mobster/gangster in Miami. That could be enough.

It is my brother-in-law’s favorite movie.

I have seen the “say hello to my little friend” moment. But then again, that moment is apparently so iconic that you could be deaf and blind and still would know every beat, ever bullet which Pacino empties into his enemies.

life of brian

Monty Python’s The Life of Brian – I have seen The Holy Grail. And I like it. I figured that would be enough. But over the years I’ve heard others talk about this movie. How it is funnier than Grail (impossible). And then more and more people mention it. Very much a “yes, Grail is excellent, but what do you think about Life of Bryan?” And I have to shake my head and suffer under their disappointing stares.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High – This feels like one of those movies my sister and I should have been watching when we were binge watching the John Hughes films. But at the same time, I was fine not having seen it. But more and more time passes and now other movies and tv shows are referencing moments from it – and again, I feel a little left out of the cultural conversation.

And then I saw the other day it was written by Cameron Crowe. Now I have no excuses left.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show – I just, you know… something about this… I can’t figure out what it is about. Why should I feel like I should have watched it by now? Maybe it is really just a cult film and I’m not going to be one of the cool kids.

And then there is the idea that you need to see it in a group to really enjoy it. I mean, why would that matter?

Yet, I am intrigued. Not yet intrigued enough to have watched it, but enough to put it on this list… so that is something.

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So many Westerns – The Magnificent Seven, The Man with no name trilogy (I have seen The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, but not the others), Lonesome Dove, and so on. I love westerns. I actually would like to write a western. I have a bunch in the Netflix queue as “research” (the great equalizer  – “honey, it’s research!”). And I have seen a whole bunch, but the biggest ones have mostly avoided me. But slowly I am working my way through them.

And I have some time before I’m going to write that western.

The Godfather – I think I should keep this one a secret. Men have lost their “guy card” for admitting this much. But I am brave enough to admit it. And to note that I bought this one probably 2 years ago to solve this problem. I mean, it is considered one of the best, if not THE BEST movie of all time by many. And I like movies. And I like mob movies. And this is the big one.

So it too sits on my shelf, collecting dust. This is a movie who wants to be watched.

But I also have a fear… what if I don’t like it? There have been “classics” that I have not been over the moon about. Is it better to have this image in my head of what the Godfather MIGHT be or have the real thing but dislike it?

Just another excuse, really.

 

So there they are, all my movie sins… OK, some of my movie sins on display. I promise, they are on the list to be watched.

Really.

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John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

The Lord of Infinity – A Creative Interview with Dylan Kinnett

This week’s interview is with Dylan Kinnett. He’s a Baltimore denizen and creative writer extraordinaire, and his visit is special for the Tessera Guild. The reason: Dylan is the taller, younger, and better looking brother to J Edward Neill (yep, that’s me.) I was first introduced to Dylan’s fascinating style of writing in his original release of Infinity’s Kitchen. And now that he’s gone global, he’s up next in our ongoing Creative Interview series.

So let’s get started!

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Hey there, latest Tessera victim. Tell us about yourself, where you’re from, and what you love:

Hi, my name is Dylan Kinnett. I’m from Baltimore, Maryland. I’m not originally from Baltimore, but I wonder: after spending 10 years in a place, do you become “from” that place? What does it really mean to be “from” a place, anyway? Does it just mean that you live there, that you’re proud to live there? In any case, the place where you live is part of who you are. Despite whatever repetitive loop you may have seen on cable TV lately, Baltimore is a charming place to be, and I love it here.

In layman’s terms, describe your unique style of writing:

That’s a difficult question because the layman’s terms aren’t particularly accurate for what I’ve been writing lately. If you ask a layman what “poetry” means, they’ll probably describe rhyme, meter, rhythm, and they may go on to say that it’s supposed to be about romantic themes and imagery. I’m trying to avoid all that, and to write something else, something new. I’ve discovered that the laymen are actually quite open to these new things, so long as I don’t use too many confusing old words for those things. Is it poetry? Sure, but I don’t go out of my way to call it that. In general, I’m just trying to do new things. I also like to write short plays, stories, and I dabble in performance art.

Please describe for us your fascinating new release, Litanies and Reiterations:

Litanies and Reiterations is a chapbook, which is a small book of writings. The works within the chapbook got their start as a collection of commonplace phrases. I’d find the phrases in everyday conversation, in song lyrics, blog comments, and catalogs: all over the place, really. Then, I worked the phrases into some writings that are repetitive, reiterative, or chant-like, and that’s what the title is about. One of the pieces, for example, is about how often politicians talk about the world and their work in four-year increments, and about how arbitrary and absurd it is to think about the world that way. Another one makes fun of how many love songs are on the air. It’s a playfully sarcastic little book.

Talk about Infinity’s Kitchen and the interesting things readers might find therein:

Infinity’s Kitchen is a literary journal that I started a few years ago that has grown into a quarterly reading series as well. As the editor, I’m looking to feature works that are somehow the product of an interesting new recipe. In order to contribute to the publication, its website or reading series, authors and artists are asked to answer a question: what is experimental about your creative work or process? The word “experimental” is a difficult one; some examples might help. Some of the interesting things we’ve published include a film and pirate radio project, poems made with Jello letters, and a reading from gigantic broadsheet printings revived from the 18th century.

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Do you have an ultimate artistic goal you’re pursuing?

Yes, but I don’t know what it is yet. I’ll create something, it doesn’t reach the goal, so I keep creating.

Creatively speaking, what’s next for you?

I’m on vacation this week, but I do hope to finish writing a ten-minute play that I’m working on. The play is a follow-up to a morbid parody about astronauts that was performed a few years ago, but I’m finding that to be a tough act to follow.

* * *

It’s a real treat to have a talent like Dylan stop by, and it’s especially neat to encounter his awesome style of artistic expression. Here’s a few more Dylan-related tidbits and links for you to devour:

Artistic statement: http://seks-ua.blogspot.com/2013/08/dylan-kinnett-artist-statement.html

His latest release, Litanies and Reiterationsavailable in paperback and in e-book formats from Apple and Amazon.

Infinity’s Kitchen

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Thanks again to Dylan for stopping by!

Everyone stay tuned for the next Creative Interview!

J Edward Neill

Author of the brain-tingling Coffee Table Philosophy series.

Creative Interview with Author and Illustrator Michael Blackbourn

I’ve met more than a few amazing creative people via Twitter.  One of those is Michael Blackbourn, an author and illustrator (just for starters). He agreed to let me shine a spotlight on his creative endeavors this week!

Cindercast - Chapter 1Tell us about yourself, where you’re from and your journey to being a published author and illustrator.

Thanks for this interview and thanks for asking. My journey on the road of published author and illustrator is really just beginning. I’ve had a creative inclination for a long time and It’s only recently that I’ve channeled it directly into telling my own stories. After finishing high school I spent a few years jumping out of planes blowing stuff up in the army. The idea of combining camping with guns seemed attractive and I was fortunate to have been stationed in Italy while I was enlisted.

I didn’t really want to wake up one day and realize I was forty and still sleeping in a puddle. So I used my time wearing camo face-paint to figure out what I wanted to do next. Since I’d already tried the combination of camping and guns I figured I would take two other passions and see how they worked together. Art and computers were up next. I went to a 3d animation school and am now employed as a 3d visual effects supervisor, I’ve been lucky to work on films like Iron Man, District 9, Mocking Jay and many others.

Have you always loved both writing and illustration?

I’ve always loved drawing. Telling a visual story is what drew me into 3d animation and effects. The writing is more recent. It’s a way to communicate the storytelling in my head without needed things like the huge budget needed for film. It’s definitely been the hardest part for me to learn. As a voracious reader I could have always told you what novels I liked, but its so much harder as a writer to craft those words into something someone else may want to read.

Can you tell us a little about your process and your choice of medium?

My process for my first book was a mess. It was a single idea, What if you were small and lived on a beach, what would that world look like. From there it took a couple years to turn sketches and notes into a narrative and art that was a finished product. Along the way I learned so much about books, publishing, ebooks, art, and writing. In the end most of the art was done with pencil and paper and then finished using a digital paint program. The cover of my kids book, Cindercast, was a fully digital oil painting. From my feature film work I’ve become accustomed to having an ‘undo’ to rely on.

Cindercast

Are there themes and/or subjects you find yourself drawn to again and again in both your art and writing?

I’m not sure yet. I’ve completed a kids illustrated adventure book and I’m putting the finishing touches on a sci-fi short story (non illustrated). One is a journey of a tiny girl having to survive on the beach between the tides and the other is about the madness triggered by an AI researcher about to launch a super intelligent thinking machine. The similarity between them is that I like to transport the reader somewhere and challenge their thinking on a subject. Both stories show the world from a perspective that isn’t our usual experience.

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What are you working on now? Where can we go to view/purchase your work?

Cindercast by Michael Blackbourn

My sci-fi short story is in progress. It needs another month or so of editing and then I’ll put it up on Amazon for sale at 99 cents. My kids book is available here: http://amzn.com/B00T2T9PYW

You can get it as a paperback or as a kindle ebook. I put in a lot of effort to make sure the formatting of the art would look great as an ebook and in paper. Also please check out my website www.michaelblackbourn.com or www.cindercast.com for other news about me or my work or my art.

A Few of the Million Things I Should Have Written

We all those moments where we see something or read something or hear something and the only response is to slap our foreheads and exclaim “How obvious! Why didn’t I think of that?”

I mean it could be as simple as the Pet Rock or the windshield wiper on the back of your car, but for me it tends to take form in the movies and TV I watch or the books and comics I read. So here are a few of the culprits that have me shaking my head at myself.

Ready Player One

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A newcomer to this list, the book is the crazy quest set in a future where everyone effectively has checked out of the real world and lives the majority of their lives online. That’s what the book probably says on the back cover (I’m too lazy to double-check, but take my word for it).

That’s not what the book is about. It is about being a love letter to everything good and holy from the 1980s. Hey, did you like War Games (the movie with Matthew Broderick)? Random Japanese monster movies? Dungeons and Dragons? Joust!?!

Then this is the book for you.

And guess what… I loved all those things. Constantly as I read there would be some reference to something I not only recognized, but flat-out LOVED. In many ways it was like my subconcious wrote the book and then gave it to this guy so he could slap his name on the thing.

Damn my subconcious!

The Walking Dead

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Hey, I liked zombies before they were cool. In that between time where they had become a joke. Long after Romero had become a name only a few people might have known. I was watching those terrible movies and the good ones and everything else inbetween.

But The Walking Dead… that could have been me. And it isn’t just the idea of printing money with the release of the tv show or the comics or the spinoff or whatever may be next. No, the problem is that now, no matter what you do in “zombie” comic fiction, you can’t be better that The Walking Dead.

The frustrating part is that it took one guy to realize we all liked the story of survivors. We like the idea of a world trying to destroy us. And we love a story that isn’t going to end anytime soon.

The zombie movie that continues after the credits begin to roll.

So obvious!

A Game of Thrones

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Again, not because of the TV show, but because this is a book (series) which has finally managed to bring Fantasy back to the forefront. Sure the Lord of the Rings films helped put the spotlight on the genre, but it wasn’t until the better part of a decade later that the world stood up and noticed.

I mean, fantasy novels are mostly what I read in middle school and high school. But the main problem with much of those pulp/D&D novels were that they derived from the same original source… Tolkien. Everything was really just a riff on those core ideas. Elves are mysterious. Dwarves are grumpy. Hobbits are called Halflings because we don’t want to be sued. Goblins and Orcs and Dragons and…

You get the point.

Game said that you could choose a different path. Something more realistic, less magic based and still be lauded for it.

Sadly, it may have done its job too well. It might be the new standard, and a new stand-in for Tolkien… instead of breaking the old rules it merely created a whole new set of them.

Cabin in the Woods

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The movie I certainly could have written. Especially in light of Scream being one of my all-time favorite movies (not just horror movies, but overall). The deconstruction of the genre by that movie is really taken to the next possible level here. In Scream you ask What are the Rules?

In Cabin you ask Why are their Rules?

It is an important difference, but one that I think I’ve been trying to find for a while. Something that might look at the horror movies of the 70s through today and anticipate what the next trend might be.

Cabin asks the questions better than I could have thought.

Damn it!

Let the Right One In

let the right one in

At a time when Vampires were not really the creatures of the night of our youths. Heck, they weren’t even the mysterious creatures from Anne Rice (they must have a decent publist). Let the Right One In gets back to both the idea of the unknown… this otherworldly THING who must be feared, and combines that with the idea that lonelyness is not just a human trait. That our need for connection with someone, with something will always triumph over everything else.

And that true friendship is one of the most important concepts in the world. So why not be friends with a vampire!

It’s like, how do you write a Monster horror novel with heart? Well, this is the way.

 

Well, that’s just a taste, but really, I need to go and try to write something so that my brain doesn’t forget to write the next one of these “obvious” ideas.

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John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Mad Max – Fury Road Movie Review

ImmortanJoeDisclaimer: This review is mostly spoiler-free.

Last week I reviewed understated sci-fi marvel Ex Machina. This week I saw another sci-fi movie, Mad Max, Fury Road.

It’s a sci-fi movie. Sort of.

And George Miller’s battle-tastic epic is the opposite of Ex Machina in almost every way.

It’s likely the original Mel Gibson Mad Max was among the pioneers for how we treat post-apocalyptic stories in the modern age. Earth population: drastically reduced. Nuclear fallout: yes. Crazy people fighting for survival in a crazy world: check.

Fury Road honors that tradition…and jacks up the awesome by 400%.

So you say you like action films? And that you don’t have much patience for movies slowing down in the middle? And that you crave movies which pull zero punches? Yeah? Yeah. Fury Road is for you.

Tom Hardy’s Max Rockatansky, blood-bag to a cult of fallout-diseased but utterly badass oil and water hoarders, really gets the shaft. I mean really. Every situation he’s in is bad. I mean, not that there’s much good in living in a irradiated desert wasteland dominated by spiky-car driving warlords, but Max might have it worst than most. He’s a universal blood donor, meaning he’s viewed as nothing more than a fuel-sack for the baddies, who suck his veins nearly dry just to extend their short, violent lives. Good luck, Max. Good luck.

Even when Max meets a truckload of the most beautiful women left on Earth, he still gets no play. Sucks for him.

Enter Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, badass among all badasses. While her motivations aren’t really known until the end, her willingness to crunch bones is evident from the beginning. I suppose if I were driving a truck brimming with such hotties as CapableThe Dag, and Toast the Knowing, I’d have a completely different goal in mind. Luckily Furiosa is all business, all woman, all tough, all the time. And I confess, while the stunts she pulls are over-the-top, it’s all entirely believable. Fury Road wears no kid gloves. When people die, good or bad, it’s visceral. Just the way it should be. I’ve heard complaints that this is more Furiosa’s film than Max’s. Bullshit. It’s everyone’s movie. There is no one superstar. Everyone does awesome shit. No one’s left behind.

Now let’s talk about the bad guys. Hugh Keays-Byrne plays the skull mask-wearing, willing-to-do-anything-to-get-his-beautiful-concubines-back Immortan Joe. In a way I can’t blame Joe. He’s got water. He’s got a loyal-to-the-death cult. He’s got several stunning concubines. And he’s got a monster truck with a freakin’ cannon on the top. If someone stole your hotties, you’d probably go bat-shit crazy, too. And if you had a skull mask, you’d probably wear it.

Don’t forget Nicolas Hoult’s Nux. This guy is proof that matter how much white body paint you wear, how many times you spray your mouth with silver paint in preparation for the afterlife, you can still find redemption. And honestly, it’s in Nux we find the movie’s true soul. It’s there. I promise. You might have to squint to see between all the carnage, but you’ll see it, and when you do, you’ll love it.

Max

Max ridin’ shotgun on the hood of Nux’s battle wagon.

Where Mad Max, Fury Road really scores its win is in its pace, its ruthlessness, and its sense of purpose. It’s relentless. It’s the loudest movie I’ve ever seen, so loud that even if you’ve got jerks in your theater talking or whatever, you will not hear them. You’ll tune them out…easily. Junkie XL’s superb soundtrack backs the sometimes absurd, always entertaining feast of destruction. I’m listening to it right now, and it’s boomtastic. And when Fury Road does manage to ease up on the gas pedal, the moments between the world’s most epic chase manage to be meaningful, tense, and believable. You may find that hard to swallow. You may think, “Action movie = no plot worth caring about.”

You’d be wrong.

There’s both glory and substance here.

But even if you don’t care about that stuff, you’ll get all you asked for and more in what’s sure to be the best action movie of the year.

Go now. Drive fast. Put explosives on your hood and spikes on your fenders.

J Edward Neill

If you like violent, epic stuff, check out my Tyrants of the Dead series here.

Southern Culture on the Skids

Or What it means to me to be from the South (specifically Georgia)

1 – It means being made fun of both far and wide.

How many times does a comedian or a late night talk show or radio DJ or whomever use “The South” as a punchline to some joke? When the stereotype of where you were born is almost never positive… it makes for an interesting experience.

2 – It means making fun of Yankees, no matter if they are from New York or the Midwest or just “north” of wherever we currently are standing.

Because of #1’s abuse, we have to try and poke fun back. It is a moral imperative.

3 – It means that so many times your sports teams end up underachieving. And it doesn’t matter if we are talking about the Braves or the Falcons or the Bulldogs or Yellow Jackets or Hawks or…

Yes, it is depressing to see those other teams win on our fields. Please stop bringing it up.

4 – It also means that no matter how many people show up for any given game (regardless of the sport) someone will make an issue of it by saying that we don’t support our teams.

Hey, stop trying to spend my money for me!

5 – It means that you definitely shouldn’t get into hockey, because they will just take your toys away from you and move them to somewhere in Canada (The North-North).

Atlanta is kinda like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football with this one.

6 – It means that winter is normally only bad for a couple of weeks… even if we do freak out at the first snowflake.

snow

Though I contend that we get ICE more than snow and show me anyone who can really drive on ICE.

7 – Though our Fall weather is the envy of everyone (or it should be) by not only ushering in football season, but just being the nicest days ever (seriously, ever).

Really, the weather is amazing from September to late November.

8 – It means that most of the people you end up meeting seem to be from somewhere else. Which is odd to me that since it stinks to be from the South that so many people would leave their homes and relocate here.

Could it be that it is secretly awesome here after all?

9 – It currently means that we might be the most prepared for the potential Zombie Apocalypse with the Walking Dead being filmed here.

Or at least we know what Atlanta will look like when it happens.

10 – It means that traffic will be awful (in Atlanta), but because people are from various other places originally, they will gripe all the more about it (we know, we know). And it really means scratching your head when New Yorkers tell you that you drive crazy (after you’ve ridden in a NYC taxi cab!).

atl-traffic

Seriously, just use your turn signal, and we’d all be so much better off (this is for everyone that loves to cut me off regardless of where you originally come from).

11 – It means that other people question why we don’t take the train more places without realizing that our subway only goes from north to south and east to west and doesn’t always have a stop at the place you actually want to go (Turner Field anyone?).

We just like our cars… a lot.

12 – It means having really good food… that will probably end up killing you (fried chicken, mashed potatoes, country-fried steak, biscuits, sweet tea).

 

southern-food-1

Excuse me while I go have a heart attack from this gravy.

13 – It means that we call it having a Coke no matter what you are actually drinking.

Not soda or pop, you whacky Northerners!

14 – Finally, it means trying to convince your wife, who’s lived here for all but 3 years of her life, that she is actually Southern at this point.

And failing… 🙂

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

The World’s Greatest Comics Magazine…

The trailer for the new Fantastic Four was released today, and I really don’t have anything much to say about it. In fairness it was more of a teaser than it was a trailer. But I wasn’t upset by it, I wasn’t blown away by it… mostly I thought it was “Safe”.

fantastic-four

Through the grapevine over the last few months, in those places we comic nerds like to scurry to in order to read about the latest goings-on in comics, there has been a lot made of that this movie is a… I want to put this politely… a dumpster fire. They are currently (or maybe they are done at this exact moment) back in Lousiana to reshoot some scenes, which those who are anti-FF movie take to mean that things have completely spiraled out of control and the studio is even considering not releasing the film (yeah, I think the trailer today dashed that rumor). The others are out there waving their hands and telling everything there is nothing to see here, just standard operating procedure.

And so we’ve been left with a trailer that is ok.

But I was wondering as I watched it… are they trying to capture the imagination of those people far and wide? Do they assume that we know who those characters are? Even the final logo was just “FF”, not Fantastic Four.

All that seems weird to me.

I normally use my wife for these types of questions about comics and what the general public “might” know about them. This is less effective today versus about a decade ago, but I might ask her what Spider-man’s secret ID was and she’d respond with Peter Parker. If I asked (pre-movies), what the name of his wife was she’d probably shake her head.

And if I asked her to name the characters from the Fantastic Four, prior to the two previous movies, I know that she would have no clue about them. Even now, if I went into the bedroom, gently woke her up, and then popped that question I’m not entirely convinced she could name all 4 members.

This isn’t to say that Marvel (or Fox or Sony) shouldn’t do movies with characters that you don’t know. I believe Guardians of the Galaxy proved that if the story is good enough that we’ll fall in love with a walking tree and a talking racoon. But if you remember that particular trailer they went ahead and gave you a little bit of information about the characters within it.

Again, the FF trailer doesn’t do this. It is fast shot of people and moments that make little sense to me, and I know who they are.

Dr-Doom

I am worried about this character in the new movie. The term “social blogger” and Doctor Doom do not belong in the same sentence.

So it had me scratching my head more than anything else. Just trying to figure out what the marketing campaign for this one is all about.

And its a little worrisome because Fantastic Four was, for much of my life, either my favorite or second favorite comic that I read month in and month out. During college there was a stretch of about 6 months that the only three comic series I collected were Fantastic Four, New Warriors, and the Flash. It is one of those franchises I want to see do well. I want those characters to become household names in the same way that Wolverine or Iceman or Iron Man or Thor has become in the last decade.

The previous 2 movies don’t help with this either… though I will say that Chris Evans nailed the character of Johnny Storm (aka The Human Torch – another big-time favorite of mine) in every way through those 2 movies. But it is almost like people can’t figure out what the FF is about. They want to take one aspect of it and then change everything else, and it is seldom for the better. It even happens in the comics when new writers take over. They mention that they are going to go back to the core concept, back to those Stan Lee and Jack Kirby books… to differing success.

In my mind the Fantastic Four are different from all the other superheroes because:

They are a family!

That’s the biggest one. No matter how much they may disagree or f!ght amongst one another, I never doubt that they are that family, bound together by their love for each other. Too many times I think the stories are written so that the characters are driven apart because of some reason or another, and while that may work for a little while (very short while), they always come back together.

During Jonathan Hickman’s run on the book (I’m about 1/2 way through it as I’ve fallen behind on my FF reading) he made a bigger point of this by putting emphasis on Reed Richards and Sue Richards’ son and daughter. He made them integral to the stories that made them more than just another “superhero book”. In fact, one of my favorite moments in a comic was an issue he did just after the Human Torch appeared to be dead. Spider-man stops by to try and help Franklin deal with his uncle’s death… and does it in a way I wouldn’t have thought of immediately, but it is definitely one of those slap your head “of course” moments.

Fantastic Four-Spidey and Franklin

 

fantastic-four-5-uncles

 

Hickman got it. I hope this new movie does too.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. Each episode is only $0.99. But you can go ahead and purchase the full novel (all 6 episodes) right now for $4.99 with the above link!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

They Can’t All Be Bad, Can They?

Sometimes this blog of mine needs to become something of a confession. I feel like I live a life in the shadows where only the late night glow of the computer can sustain me. During the day I am one person, making decisions in my job, in my life, in my very conversations, and then there is the person that only a few people know.

He’s the one I want to talk about right now.

You see, this person has a problem. Actually that’s not entirely accurate. If you asked him he might not even acknowledge the problem as he sits there on the couch watching TV. We live at a time where almost every classic you’d ever wish to watch is available within seconds through some streaming service or by actually renting the item in question. Instant access.

And yet there he is, this version of me who I don’t want to claim, he’s watching the worst movies… over and over and over again.

It has to be a sickness. There is no reason that every time he sees movie X on the TV that he should watch it again. The only thing I can figure out is that he’s comforted by them in a way that others would not… could not ever understand. So in an effort to out this problem to the world, these are my favorite “Bad” movies. These are movies that without fail I find myself watching at 11 PM (who am I kidding, pretty much whenever they actually come on). And I understand that they aren’t good movies… I really do. I just can’t stop myself.

Note that this list does not include things that I actually feel are genius in some way – Office Space, Happy Gilmore, Tommy Boy, etc. nor does this list include romantic comedies that I would say are good – While You Were Sleeping. And it definitely does not include Side Out (the GREATEST VOLLEYBALL MOVIE OF ALL TIME – it is never on tv… ever).

No, these are just the worst of the worst… or maybe just the best of the best.

red-dawn-movie-poster-1984-1020191147

Red Dawn – This is the original. I have no seen the remake, and I’m pretty sure it would only degrade the original in my head, so what would be the point.

Why do I love this movie? Well for starters it has C Thomas Howell in it, so it has that going for it. Seriously I think that this was one of those movies that capitalized on that inate fear of many in the 80s… this could actually happen. But the real reason is probably that it was teenagers who were fighting off the Cuban/Soviets. That sense of trying to think, even for a moment, that if the shit went down, maybe you could make a little bit of a difference. That appealed to the 12-18 year old me (and still appeals to the 38 year old me).

And who didn’t want to shout WOLVERINES? Put your hand down, you’re lying. We all wanted to do that.

Point Break

 

Point Break – I think this movie is amazing, if only for the most stilted line in movie history:

“You crossed the line. People trusted you and they died. You gotta go down.”

Considering everything that’s occurred between them, Keanu couldn’t muster a little more effort in delivering that line (or maybe they could have gone with another line).

But really, I love every moment of this movie. From the idea that the Ex-Presidents are surfers, to the fact that the FBI is paying Johnny Utah to go undercover, to the very real possibility that having a top notch college quarterback be “undercover” in anything would be a terrible idea (at least it seems like a terrible idea).

The-Replacements.2

The Replacements – Hey, Keanu makes the list twice. I love sports movies. Hoosiers is one of my all-time favorite movies, The Natural is amazing, and Bull Durham makes me wonder exactly how it is on those minor league teams. I love the idea that the majority of the time the guys we are watching are going to succeed and yet I still am engrossed in the movie.

And then you take these misfits, these cast-offs, and watch them come together under a washed up QB and a coach that was out of the league. I mean, these are the storylines they focus on every week on ESPN and here it is in a film. Make those over-paid divas the bad guys and let’s mix it up with those guys who are just happy to be there on the field.

Those are the guys I want to watch.

A-Knights-Tale-2001-movie-poster

A Knight’s Tale – I have no defense for this one. It is blasphemus to have Rock and Roll music as the soundtrack to a medieval adventure – though the dancing to Bowie’s Golden Years is good. It is terrible to have Geoffrey Chaucer in this film and make it seem like he wrote some of his stories based on Sir Ulrich Von Lichenstein’s adventures – though I like how they make him a gambling addict. There is so much bad that if I just talked to you about the movie in person, you’d wonder if I was preparing a Mystery Science Theater style mocking of it.

I still watch this one EVERY TIME it is on. I like the stuff with the Black Prince throughout the movie and then when Will is knighted. I like that this guy is trying to figure out what being a knight is all about, when he just needs to be himself.

I know, I know… very sappy. I can’t help it.

Bedazzled

Beddazled – This is the Brendan Fraser one, not the original one, which I feel like is much more sinister in its approach. I had forgotten about this movie until this past weekend when it came on and suddenly found myself watching it. This is one that actually has inspired me in my very first attempt at trying to write a novel. Now, not much more than the basic outline of a few chapters took place, but I love the idea of portraying the Devil as someone who is not just the boogeyman in our minds, but as someone who could actually have depth and caring.

But I also think that the Devil would try to screw over someone making wishes to the best of their ability. You’d need to be a top of the line lawyer in order to actually be able to make a wish and not have it backfire on you. And I’m guessing that the person/being who has been around since the beginning of time might still have more experience.

roadhouse-poster-mt

Roadhouse – “Pain don’t hurt”

“I want you to be nice until it’s time not to be nice.”

“A polar bear fell on me.”

Patrick Swayze at his most Zen-like (well maybe 2nd most to Point Break). Let’s go through the checklist? Bouncer who is legendary? Check. Falls in love with the local doctor who patches him up? Check. Evil rich guy who controls the town? Check. To the death fight on the shore of some creek/river with the number 1 henchman? Check. Everyone getting a one-liner? Check.

If that’s not enough for you, then I don’t know what you want.

So that’s my demons. My skeletons in the closet. Exposed for all to see. I don’t claim that I will stop myself from watching them the next time they are on. I don’t claim that I won’t love them just as much. I mean, why deny ourselves the things we love…

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. Each episode is only $0.99. But you can go ahead and purchase the full novel (all 6 episodes) right now for $4.99 with the above link!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Let’s All Go To The Movies!

Like many of the Tessera Guild members, I love movies. I love watching them, discussing them, buying them, collecting them, etc. Being able to chill and enjoy a great flick from the comfort of your home is always great. On the flip side, catching a great movie at a theater can also be fun.

Going to the movies has always been an “experience” for me. Whether it be a crappy slog of a film, or a great, bombastic summer time blockbuster, I enjoy catching flicks at my local multiplex. Maybe it’s the high priced popcorn. The trailer’s for upcoming movies. The expectation created when the theater lights dim. Or the collective sigh, laughter, or clapping from the crowd when a movie hits its mark.

More than likely it’s a combination of all of the above, with some other things added to the mix. Whatever it is, I love heading to the theater. So if you’ve got a moment or two, sit back and read on as I do quick run through of some of my most enjoyable experiences at the cinema.

::Cue lights dimming as the projector reel starts::

movie-theater__120101040258

Jurassic Park, June 11, 1993

Shortly after my brother and I moved to Georgia, the summer movie season was in full swing. Standing out from the pack like an alpha-movie blockbuster was Stephen Spielberg’s adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel “Jurassic Park”.

Let me lay something out at this juncture: I was never a big dinosaur fan as a kid. Learned about them in school, thought they were awesome looking creatures, but never got caught up in the dinosaur obsession that apparently a lot of boy’s hit growing up.

So with this little nugget of personal history, my mind was still seriously blown when I began to see commercials for Jurassic Park.

Jurassic_Park_posterSpielberg had once again mined movie magic from the awesome depths of Crichton’s popular novel, and created a film that could possibly kick butt on a variety of levels. I distinctly remember going to a sold out show at the AMC Northlake Theater,in Tucker, GA.

As usual, Spielberg killed it. I remember the sense of wonder the first time I saw the Brachiosaurus grace the screen. Or the terror when the T-Rex destroyed  the roof of the SUV with Hammond’s grandchildren in it. And the joy of the numerous Jeff Goldblum-ism’s.

I primarily remember just having fun with my family, as everyone else around us jumped at the appropriate times, laughed during the light parts, and gripped their seats in nervous anticipation of what monster might appear around the next corner.

Thanks Mr. Spielberg.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phanton Menace, May 19, 1999

So we started with the good. Let’s move on to the opposite end of the spectrum.

I was in the home stretch of finishing high school, and it was a glorious time. I’d been accepted into college, I was working with my school’s literary magazine, and life was just friggin’ awesome.

And then there was The Phantom Menace.220px-Star_Wars_Phantom_Menace_poster

Not saying that this one movie destroyed my life, as many fanboys often declare. But it left a sour taste in my mouth when it came to the Star Wars franchise for a while. I’ve always been more of a Star Trek fan, but the sense of adventure and wonder that you get from watching the original trilogy is one that can’t be matched.

The Phantom Menace was billed as being the start of this generation’s Star Wars trilogy, as Episode’s 4-6 were for folks who’d been there at the series’ inception. Episode I was getting face time on MTV, Entertainment Tonight, a Weird Al Yankovic music video, and was just appearing all over the darn place. People were buying tickets in droves. It was insane.

And I’d never experienced anything like this. It was basically pop culture overload to the maxed out level.

So at the time I had a group of friends who were big Star Wars fans, and we decided to head over opening day to see it, right after school. We piled into someone’s car, swerved out of the high school parking lot like maniacs, and made it to the AMC at North Dekalb Mall with plenty of time to spare.

To say that being a part of something like this, on opening day, kind of shocked my nerd senses is putting it mildly. See, I’d always been sort of by myself when it came to such geeky pursuits. Sure I had friends who were into some of the same stuff that I grew up loving, mainly comics. But I found that before I hit middle school it was hard to find those guys and gals who were as hardcore about comics, sci-fi, cartoons, fantasy, videos games, etc. as I was.

fanslineupatSo when we hit the lobby of the theater, and I saw numerous folks dressed as young Obi-Wan, Darth Vader, or even Princess Amidala I thought to myself, “I’m home”. This was further solidified when we were let into the theater, and some of those same fans ran down the hall to get to our screening, as if compelled by the Force itself.

The geek expections were at a heightened pitch, as fans held mock light saber fights in front of the movie screen, and talked amongst themselves with excited voices.

Shortly after, the lights dimmed…….

That familiar word crawl began…….

And………

Well, you know the rest.

At least the light saber fights were awesome.

starwar1

The Matrix, March 31, 1999

It was spring of 1998. My cousin Tia was visiting from Chicago, and we’d decided to check out a movie. I’d been seeing a lot of commercials for an action movie with a lot of leather, slow motion, back flips, and the dude from Point Break. I thought it might be ok to check out, as I don’t remember anything else catching my eye. At least if it sucked, I could get a student discount on the ticket, and get a chance to hang with my cuzzo.

The movie was The Matrix.

Everyone in the theater had their collective mind’s blown. I mean, dammit, I’d never heard so much gasping, clapping, excited whisper’s, in a theater before that point. The experience I had watching that flick was a great one, and has only been topped by one other.

The_Matrix_PosterThis particular film has gone a long way in influencing my writing career, but also just kicked so much butt as a film going experience. I think that for most folks the movie was like nothing they’d ever seen before. Sure, Hong Kong martial arts filmmakers had been doing this style/ brand of fight choreography in the years preceeding The Matrix. And maybe a lot of folks saw the mash-up of the goth/ techno/ computer hacker culture hybrid and said “its been done before”.

But to get a movie of such stature, created by two nerdy brothers from Chicago who seemed to have filmmaking swagger for days, was a helluva beautiful thing to watch.

And to anyone who tells me that when they saw Neo fly away at the end of that flick, sort of saying “yeah, you just saw all of this mind bending awesomeness, but here’s a little something extra”, they didn’t collectively clap at the end of this flick, as it happened in my theater, y’all are lying.

And the biggest thing that stands out about this movie is that this came out pre-Internet, or at least pre- SPOILER era. I was genuinely surprised at what I saw, as I feel most folks in my theater were. And our movie going experience was all the better for it.

So those are some of my top movie going experiences. I’ve got a couple of others to add to the mix, but for now, I’ll leave you all with these to reminisce over, Please add your own movie going experiences to the comments below, and hope you enjoyed this.

Notes from my Nightstand

If you read my post last week, you know I have full schedule at the moment. Even so, I find time to read. Reading is my pre-sleep ritual. It’s how I wind down. Here’s what I’ve read over the last couple months and also what I’m reading now.

Books

The Martian by Andy WeirThe Martian by Andy Weir (Kindle)

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first man to die there.

The astronomy lover in me and young girl who grew up with a NASA cousin devoured this book. I can’t recall the last science rich novel I read. It was a treat! The Martian wasn’t all science though. There was plenty of tension, but Watney’s humor helped keep things balanced. The ending may not have been much of a surprise, but I was still gripping my Kindle till the end.

The book is already being adapted for film. Matt Damon is playing Watney. I’m not so keen on this choice and now that I’ve read the book, I’m not sure I even have a desire to see it as a movie. I already know what’s going to happen!

The Genome by Sergei LukyanekoThe Genome by Sergei Lukyanenko (Kindle eARC)

Five months after the horrific accident that left him near death and worried that he’d never fly again, master-pilot Alex Romanov lands a new job: captaining the sleek passenger vessel Mirror.  Alex is a spesh—a human who has been genetically modified to perform particular tasks.

More Science Fiction! This time from one of my favorite authors, Sergei Lukyanenko, author of the Night Watch series. The Genome was not what I expected but I still enjoyed the story. Reading translated works is sometimes a challenge. Translations can alter the original flow of a sentence or a scene, but I was able to overlook that here. What I enjoy most from Lukyanenko’s novels are his characters. The Genome is a quicky SciFi novel that weaves a galactic mystery (there’s a Sherlock Holmes spesh!).

 

What to read next… I’m never without options on my Kindle or even the bookshelves in my room. The top three books in my Kindle are: Beyond the Gate (featuring a story by Tessera’s John R McGuire), Engraved on the Eye by Saldin Ahmed, and The Imago Sequence by Laird Barron. All of these are short story collections.

Comics

My current pull list at my local comic shop features:

 

 Art Related

Fantasy IllustratorI always have art related reading materials close at hand, though they are not usually my first choice for bedtime reading. My newest purchase is the latest installment of Fantasy Illustrator from ImagineFX. This is the traditional media edition (pencil, oils, acrylics and more). I have never bought an issue of ImagineFX that didn’t teach me something. These magazines are worth every bit of that $17.99 (and more for the big issues).

Harry Potter for #TBT

I began reading the Harry Potter books when my daughter was three or four years old. They weren’t books I had to think my way through. I read them to laugh, to escape, to have fun.The first four books I read before I moved to the UK 2004, another two while living in London and The Deathly Hallows when I returned to the US in 2008. Several memories stick out over course of those eight years.

1. I watched the first film on a flight to Paris in 2002.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

In 2002 I graduated from the University of Georgia, a few years off my original target but I graduated nonetheless. I’d left college in 1997 due to a slew of bad choices, then married and had the child doctor’s weren’t sure I’d ever have. After my short attempt at marriage ended, I wanted to finish my degree, not something all single mother’s would have the courage to attempt, but I beat Cancer, it couldn’t be as difficult as that, right? The trip to Paris was a gift from my mother and step father for beating the odds.

The seats, on my first international flight, had monitors built into the back of the headrests. When I found Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on the movie list I could hardly contain my excitement. I’d not seen the movie because I didn’t have anyone I thought would want to see it with me. I wasn’t as brave then as I am now. With the earphones plugged in, I escaped into another world. It was my half contained giggles throughout the movie that eventually pulled my mother into the films too.

Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban2. I took my daughter to see The Prisoner of Azkaban in London.

My daughter wasn’t reading the books yet, but she’d caught onto the Harry Potter craze. (Up until a couple months ago we still had our VHS copies of The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets.) When we moved to London in 2004 The Prisoner of Azkaban was still out, little did I know how creepy the Dementors would be! But it didn’t phase her one bit. She’d obviously inherited my iron will. This also happened to be our first movie going experience at our local Odeon on High Street Kensington. I’ll never forget it.

3. My daughter and I read The Deathly Hallows together (or rather simultaneously).

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows

When we moved back to the US in 2008 my daughter decided it was time for her to read all of the Harry Potter books; which is an easy task for a child who can read a 300 page book in one sitting. I’ve seen her read three such books in one day! While she caught up, I re-read The Half-Blood Prince. Then we both read The Deathly Hallows. Until Part 2 of the film released, we both felt as if we belonged to a secret club. My mother has seen the movies, but not read the books. Yes, she’s one of those people. My daughter and I were careful not to give anything away, but when she wasn’t looking we gave knowing smiles. We knew the truth (about Snape).

And now, you know the truth. It was my fault. I sucked my entire family into the wizarding world of Harry Potter!

No Ethanol Required

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Look. I’m going to be square with you. I’m nobody. I talk and write like I am, but I’m not. And that’s okay. I wrote about that a couple weeks ago. And there’s really no reason to listen to any writing advice I have to give. Some of it may be right, some may be wrong. But there are far more accomplished writers out there worth heeding. Read Stephen King’s On Writing. Follow Brian Michael Bendis’s Tumblr. Men whose high levels of success give weight to their advice, methods, and opinions.

That said, I have been asked in my life for advice by young writers. Occasionally online, sometimes during the brief moments (film festivals, panel discussions) where I am draped in the illusion of being someone worth listening to.

On this blog I have, between telling Hollywood stories and bashing America’s Game, occasionally doled out a thought or two that I have on the writing process. No, not process. I don’t like to talk or read about process. I’m not sure replicating anyone’s process will get you anywhere; it’s something you need to find on your own. But I have talked about some of my theories when it comes to writing like my 10% rule and the principal of Aiming to Fall Short. But those are just theories, talking points that I’ve cooked up when I should be actually writing instead of thinking about it.

With this post, though, I’m going to share the one piece of writing advice that I believe to be an absolute truth. A nugget that I wish someone had told me when I was 23 or 17 or 12. Something that you must learn and embrace in order to have any chance of writing for a living. Advice that anyone who reads this should take to heart, even if it’s coming from a nobody like me.

But I am still me, which means I’ll take a little bit of a roundabout way to get there.

It starts with booze.

I used to write at night. I used to write at night with a bottle of Captain Morgan. I used to write at night with a bottle of Captain Morgan and a pack of Camel Lights. I used to write at night with a bottle of Captain Morgan and a pack of Camel Lights and a young man’s myopic passion. I used to write at night with a bottle of Captain Morgan and a pack of Camel Lights and a young man’s myopic passion and not stop until I collapsed.

Used to.

Over time alcohol became something I no longer enjoyed. In fact, it began to really make me feel sick. Over time I realized how dumb it was to smoke cigarettes and even if it made me look “cool”, no one could see me being cool at 3:00 in the morning in my apartment. Over time I realized that my mind was sharper when I wasn’t exhausted, that writing is both mentally and physically draining and requires more energy than someone looking at it from the outside may think.

Over time I became a sober day-writer.

I have been lucky enough for a great number of years to be able to focus on writing as my primary profession and activity, even during the times when I wasn’t making any money (which is most of the time). I know not everyone has that leisure. When you’re working a day job, when you have a family, a social life, other obligations, I understand that sometimes the only chance you get to write is after everyone else has gone to bed.

But to me that’s a hobby, not a job. Now, I appreciate the fact that most people, including friends of mine, who do this are hoping to turn that hobby into a job. I again restate that I know how fortunate I have been to be able to concentrate on writing full-time for a long time.

One of the most famous quotes about writing comes from the great (and I know I mention him a lot) Ernest Hemmingway:

“Write drunk; edit sober.”

And I used to agree with that. Part of me still does. It makes perfect sense.

A writer is always their own worst critic. If they’re not, they will never get any better. A writer wants every sentence to shine, ever paragraph to flow like water, every line of dialogue to feel genuine and sharp and clever but not too clever. Ideally, every word you put down on the page or screen should be the best it can be.

That quest, that search for the perfect turn of phrase, that expertly constructed paragraph, that never-before-seen action sequence, is the #1 enemy of a writer’s productivity. It is so easy to get caught in its trap. How often have you (if you have ever tried to write something) stared at the sentence you just wrote for five, ten, sixty minutes trying to figure out how to make it better? Can I find a better synonym for that word? Can I make that sharper, leaner?

The problem is, this isn’t perfectionism. It’s procrastination.

My inner critic is so strong, the part of me that wants what I’m writing to be great is so powerful, that I could literally write once sentence and ponder it for hours. I used to do that. I wasted a lot of time doing that. My brain, my critical brain, the brain that picks apart poorly scripted films and will put down a novel (even an acclaimed one) after 30 pages if I think the prose is boring or sloppy, will easily get caught up on what I just wrote and not understand that the most important thing to do in that moment is to write the next thing and leave the suspect sentence in the dust.

That’s where booze comes in.

Alcohol melts away your inhibitions. That’s what we like about it, right? How many people would do karaoke, dance in clubs, make moves on a potential mate, jump off a roof into a swimming pool (do NOT do that one), without being drunk? It loosens you up, makes you less aware of your surroundings, and lets you give into parts of yourself, both good and bad, that your conscious, critical, responsible self rightly inhibits when not under the influence.

Alcohol does two things for artists. The first is the quelling of inner demons, but that’s a conversation for another day. The second is that it shuts up your inner critic. When you write with a buzz (if you get all the way drunk, I think it’s a disaster. I always tried to keep myself on a consistent level of tipsy) you immediately forget about the sentence you just wrote and move onto the next. You just write and write and write and write. You don’t care about grammar; you don’t care about structure. You just let the ideas pour out of your head. They may not all be good ideas; in the cold light of morning you may be embarrassed by some of the things that you thought were brilliant the night before. But you’ve got stuff down on paper. Things you can work with.

And, as any writer knows, a large majority of the fight (and it is a fight) is just getting stuff down, taking a square piece of granite and chipping away enough so that it starts to look like something, slaying the demon that is the empty page.

Booze is a valuable weapon in that epic battle. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but what happens when the pen itself is your enemy?

You drown it.

“Write drunk.”

Once you have chipped away at that stone and made it look somewhat like something, then, with all of our faculties intact, you bring out your chisel and do the fine tuning. Start molding what your unchecked mind spilled onto the page into something worth reading. Bring those critical skills, the ones Mr. Daniels or Mr. Smirnoff helped you suppress, to bear to create a polished, readable work you can be proud of.

“Edit sober.”

This process absolutely works. It is a tried and true method that has been handed down through the generations. Mr. Hemmingway didn’t come up with it. He just, as he was apt to do, found the best and simplest way to express it.

Does that mean people who don’t drink can’t be good writers? Some probably think so. What about other substances? I’m sure if you’re going for sheer volume, cocaine could be a big help, although anyone I know who has written anything on cocaine has written unreadable unredeemable garbage… but they did write a lot of it. Marijuana will just make you frustrated when all the writing gets in the way of your Taco Bell runs.

Oh? What’s that? Superbad is on? Maybe I’ll watch it for a—I could go for some toast right now. Do I have any bread– I’ll take a quick nap, I think. A nap, and then I’ll get back to writing I swear.

I don’t think you have to get messed up to write. Or make music. Or paint. I mean, yes, it worked for Hemmingway and Hendrix, but it didn’t turn out so well in the rest of their lives, did it?

If you enjoy drinking and writing, or just drinking in general, more power to you. I have no opinion either way, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. But, for those of us who don’t partake for whatever reason, be it a religious belief or a lifestyle choice or a problem with abuse and addiction, there is a very simple work around for Mr. Hemmingway’s “Write drunk; edit sober” credo. Simple, but hard to swallow.

Here it is, my best piece of writing advice:

Understand that you suck.

You. Suck.

This is antithetical to the mindset of most artists. Think about the ego we must have. The ego I have. I believe, actually believe, that the bullshit rolling around in my head is not only worth your time, it’s also worth your money. That my thoughts, my stories, my philosophies, even this damn blog post, hold value. More value than those of others. It’s egomaniacal and absolutely necessary to be a professional artist.

It can kindly be called confidence. I am not feeling kind.

So that’s why this bit of advice can be hard to take. I simply stunned a teenaged boy at the Phoenix Film Festival when I told him this. But I truly wish someone had told me the same when I was his age.

Here’s the skinny. No matter who you are, your first draft is going to be a piece of shit.

I’m going to repeat that a few times.

Your first draft is going to be a piece of shit.

Your first draft is going to be a piece of shit.

“But Chad, I worked really—“

YOUR FIRST DRAFT IS GOING TO BE A PIECE OF SHIT.

It just is. Novel, screenplay, copy for the Sears catalog (do they still have a Sears catalog?), it’s going to suck.

Hear this. Accept this. Embrace this.

And let it free you.

“No, I get it. Of course in later drafts I’ll make it better. That’s the point of—“

No, no. Stop right there.

A. Piece. Of. Shit.

If you can embrace that, internalize it, then you will actually get things done. It will silence your inner critic better than the finest Scotch. It will allow you to lay down word after word, scene after scene, chapter after chapter without a care in the world. Why? Because you know it sucks. There’s no sense fretting if you know it’s not any good. Just write a sentence and then write the next one. Write whatever comes to mind, even if you think it’s dumb. Why? Because it’s all dumb. Overwrite. Repeat yourself. Beat that clay into whatever lopsided shape you want like an angry third grader would.

And don’t look back.

One thing I’ve done since I started writing novels is make sure to contain each chapter in its own document file. When the first draft of that chapter is done, I put it in a folder marked ‘completed chapters’ and I don’t look at it again until I’m done with the whole draft.

If I come up with something in a later chapter that I want to implement into an already-written one, I don’t go back and dive into the original Word file. I make a note of it, something to do when I do my pass between my rough and “first” drafts. But I don’t look back. If I did, if I’m in Chapter 12 and just casually look at Chapter 8, I’ll see a million things I want to change. I’ll want to tinker. I’ll think “This is bad. I need to fix it.” But tinkering doesn’t move you forward. Tinkering doesn’t get that all-important first draft done.

Tinkering is stalling. It gets you no closer to your goal.

Just accept that what you’re writing is bad and trust that you will make it better when you edit and revise.

I know this sounds simple and rudimentary and maybe pessimistic but I’m telling you the sooner you embrace it the better. I didn’t understand this for a long time. I spent days on two-page scenes. I took ten minutes to write a sentence. I wanted every single thing to be perfect and it took forever to get anything done.

And the things I got done were still lousy. Because they were still the first draft. And first drafts are lousy. And I wasted so much time writing them.

I truly do believe this. The first step in being at all productive as a writer is embracing the fact that you’re not going to get it right the first time so there’s no reason to try.

This is what “Write drunk; edit sober” means. Some people are fundamentalist about this and think the only way to greatness is through the bottle. But there is a less literal way to  interpret this that requires ingesting absolutely no ethanol:

Your first draft is going to suck.

There is nothing you can do about this, so don’t let it bother you.

Just. Get. It. Down.

And fix it later.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go. This shitty chapter I’m working on isn’t going to write itself.

Romantic Movies That Won’t Rot Your Teeth

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Are you one of those dicks who hates Valentine’s Day? Do you recoil in horror the moment Walgreens’ seasonal aisle explodes in an inescapable barrage of red and pink? Do you scoff and say “You should express your love 365 days a year!”? Do you refuse to be a slave to the greeting card-candy-flowers industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about? Do you think it’s a dumb celebration made up by the evil empire known as Hallmark?

Yeah, me too.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t like romance and I most definitely love a good romantic film. And, since V-Day falls on a Friday this year (this Friday in fact. what fortuitous timing!) I figure that between dinner and gifts and romantic walks and… you know… that some folks may also want to snuggle under the covers this year and watch a movie, especially if you’re trapped in one of the forty million snowstorms that are blanketing the US right now.

So I’m going to recommend some modern romantic films that should appeal to both the cynic and the romantic in your relationship. They are not “everything is shiny and cute and funny” romantic comedies, nor are they “sap disguising itself as sentimental sincerity” dramas. None of them are based on Nicholas Sparks novels. Reese Witherspoon, Ryan Gosling, Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts: nowhere to be seen.

I find the films listed below much more in touch with the idea of love and relationships than the fantasies created by so many “romantic” films. But they are also not “fuck love” films. No Blue Valentines or Revolutionary Roads here. If I had to settle on a single word to tie them all together, I think that word would be “bittersweet”. Which is not only a type of chocolate but also the adjective that best describes many of the most romantic storylines in my life.

If you’ve seen these movies, then cool. If not, check them out. Hell, at the very least, maybe it will keep you from having to watch The Notebook, Notting Hill, The Empire Strikes Back (very romantic to some), Titanic, or the 85 hour Colin-Firth-porn-disguised-as-miniseries version of Pride & Prejudice.

(And, since I am recommending these films for you to watch, I will do my best not to spoil anything. But be warned: setting up the premise, mentioning something that takes place in the first 15 minutes of a film, is not a spoiler. It’s simply a description.)

Let’s start off with an easy one:

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ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (Michel Gondry, 2004)

Eternal Sunshine is already regarded as a classic. And rightly so. Charlie Kaufman, the most original screenwriting voice of perhaps all time, coupled with Michel Gondry, visually gifted French auteur. Jim Carrey in his greatest performance. Kate Winslet in one of hers (but honestly she has so many it’s impossible to rank them). A great supporting cast. It call comes together in what is the first of three films on this list that I consider true “21st Century” romances.

The IMDB logline: “A couple undergo a procedure to erase each other from their memories when their relationship turns sour, but it is only through the process of loss that they discover what they had to begin with.”

This beautiful piece is, like the last film on this list, a work of science-fiction, but that element is only used as a device that Kaufman uses to navigate through the story he wants to tell. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a heartbreaking masterpiece about love, loss, memory, sex, relationships, and fate, all wrapped up in a story and mood and style uniquely its own.

I’d probably be wasting words dishing out praise here. You’ve most likely already seen Eternal Sunshine. But if you haven’t, do. If you have, watch it again. I just gets more and more rewarding.

Now, on to something you maybe haven’t seen:

—–

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IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (Wong Kar-Wai, 2000)

Hong Kong’s Wong Kar-Wai is my favorite living director. I toyed with recommending 1994’s Chungking Express, but I think In the Mood for Love, which many consider his best film (a point hard to argue), better fits the theme of this list.

The IMDB logline: “A man and a woman move in to neighboring Hong Kong apartments and form a bond when they both suspect their spouses of extramarital activities.”

An accurate description, yes, but there are words missing: sumptuous, gorgeous, moody, atmospheric, mesmerizing, elegant, transcendent. A million more. This period piece, set in 1960’s Hong Kong, is a buffet of unbelievable costumes (especially the cheongsam dresses that will make Maggie Cheung haunt your dreams, no matter which sex you fancy), pitch-perfect production design, and masterful cinematorgraphy by Christopher Doyle.

At the center of it, though, are the performances by two actors who are as talented as they are easy on the eyes, Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Maggie Cheung, as the wronged spouses, whose unique ways of dealing with their common problem will break your heart. After watching this film, you will want to find more work by these actors. And you should. They are phenomenal and have made a lot of great movies. But they are never better, as beautiful, or as perfect as they are here.

If you like In the Mood for Love, check out the film’s predecessor, Days of Being Wild, and its sequel, 2046. I would also recommend David Lean’s Brief Encounter, a film I believe was an inspiration for Kar-Wai’s.

—–

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THE “BEFORE” SERIES (Richard Linklater, 1995, 2004, 2013… 2022, 2029, 2038, 2047?)

We first met Jesse and Celine in 1995′s Before Sunrise and have now checked in on them twice since, with Before Sunset in 2004 and again in this year with Before Midnight. I love these films so much. I have grown up with these two characters and, while they are smidge older than me, every time I feel like what they’re going through (Jesse in particular) reflects what’s going on in my life.

Hawke and Delpy bring their own lives with them when they shoot these films, and it shows. In the first film they were young and brash (no woman in their thirties would get off a train with a stranger like that; no man in his thirties would ask), so full of bullshit “deep” ideas and naïve passion. When we catch up to them in the second, they are wiser, less idealistic, and we see how their lives have been affected by their first meeting. It also features one of the best endings of a film I’ve ever seen. In part three we check in with them after another nine years. They have known each other for nearly two decades now. They are a touch more weary, more resigned, disappointed, but on the brink, perhaps, of coming to terms with life the way it really is.

These films are short and could easily be consumed in one night. But be warned, they are each just 90 minutes of people talking while walking around European cities. And talking. And talking.

But for me, I hope they keep talking forever. I love Jesse and Celine. I can’t wait to see where they are in another nine years.

—–

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LOST IN TRANSLATION (Sophia Coppola, 2003)

The second film on here I consider a pure 21st Century Romance.

The IMDB logline: “A faded movie star and a neglected young woman form an unlikely bond after crossing paths in Tokyo.”

Sophia Coppola’s first film, The Virgin Diaries, was a gem that not a whole lot of people saw. But that changed with her second, the Academy Award winning Lost in Translation. Coppola is the poet laureate of bored girls and women. Every one of her films to date feature a protagonist who is bored (some would say “spoiled”) with her (or in the case of Somewhere, his) current situation, whether it’s being queen of France or trapped under the thumb of oppressive parents or stuck in a hotel in Tokyo. And each chooses to alleviate that boredom in different ways: robbing the homes of the rich and famous, throwing parties so elaborate that they foment revolution, or striking up a flirtatious relationship with an aging movie star.

What really makes this film is the mood, the music, and the chemistry between the two leads. This is the first of two times Scarlet Johansson will be mentioned here, but the only time for Bill Murray. Damn is he great in this film. Torn between being this beautiful and fascinating young woman’s friend, father, or lover, he is just so… sad. But touching and real as well. It’s my favorite non-Ghostbusters version of Bill Murray.

Anyway. Watch this movie. I guarantee the end will give you chills.

—–

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WAKING THE DEAD (Keith Gordon, 2000)

The least-known film on this list is also one of my most cherished.

The IMDB logline: “A congressional candidate questions his sanity after seeing the love of his life, presumed dead, suddenly emerge.”

The description makes it sound like a ghost story, but it’s not. Except that it is. A small film that nobody but me saw when it briefly hit theaters, it’s one that I pushed on people for years. Told with a fractured narrative, this tragic story of love, grief, politics, and hope, is a movingly flawed film by director Keith Gordon, who I wish would make more movies.

Not wanting to give away much of the story, I will discuss the real reason to see this film: the actors. At the time this film was made, Billy Crudup was unknown and Almost Famous had yet to come out. From the first shot of Waking the Dead, I was a fan. I was so sure watching this that he would become a major movie star and a world-class actor, but that never really happened. I have some inklings why, and they have nothing to do with what he can do on screen. Either way, his performance as Sterling in this movie moves me to tears every time.

This was also the film where Jennifer Connelly, the, let’s face it, most beautiful woman who ever lived, showed me she could act. This was a few years before she won the Academy Award for A Beautiful Mind and everyone else realized the same. I love her in this movie. So, so much. It’s a complicated character, one that I wasn’t sure the girl from Career Opportunities was up for playing, but boy was I wrong. Simply stunning.

Warning: this may be the film on this list most likely to make you weep.

—–

HER

HER (Spike Jonez, 2013)

The last film I’ll mention is also the most recent. In fact, it’s still in theaters and would make a great date this coming Friday. It is also the last of my so-called “21st Century” romances.

The IMDB logline: “A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that’s designed to meet his every need.”

Her was my favorite film of 2013. For the purpose of laziness, I will copy/paste what I wrote on my “Best of the Year” post:

“Not only does Her rank as one of the very best films of the year, it is also the 2013 film I most wish I had made. Every year there’s one: a film I would be most proud of to have on my resume, something that aligns with my sensibilities, says what I want to say, is made the way I would want to make it. The film I love the most and am also the most jealous of. This year, it’s Spike Jonez’s amazing 21st Century romance.

Yes, it’s a film about a guy who falls in love with his computer. But it’s actually not a film about a guy who falls in love with his computer. It’s so much more than that. It’s a great romance. It’s great science-fiction. It’s a great allegory for love and relationships today, about how technology has altered that landscape forever. I mean, really, in a world of text messages and online dating and everything, is it even necessary to have a body in order to love? People are forming relationships all the time based on words on a screen; Her just takes that a step further. It is a gorgeous, sexy, smart, and thought-provoking treatise on love and loneliness and humanity that I can’t recommend enough. It is the best film of Jonez’s career, and I’ve loved all of his films.

Oh, and I’m one of those people who thought Andy Serkis should have been nominated for an Oscar for The Two Towers, and I am even more so convinced that Scarlett Johansson deserves to be as well, despite never appearing on screen. It’s not going to happen, but it should.”

Addendum: Scarlett was NOT nominated for an Oscar. Neither was Phoenix. Those are both miscarriages of fake, meaningless justice. But still.

—–

LINUS, SNOOPY, CHARLIE BROWN

Anyway. That’s my list of films for those who plan on watching something this coming Valentine’s Day but who don’t want to sit through something unbearable like the actual film Valentine’s Day.

And if you don’t watch any of these Friday, watch them some other time. A good romance film is good 365 days a year, not just on that commercially motivated fake-ass exploitative sexist ridiculous so-called holiday that we call–

Shit. Doing it again. Sorry.

later

chad

PS. I would be remiss to not also recommend, especially to folks between, say, 16 and 25, the wonderful indie romance Dakota Skye. It features great performances, awesome music, and a screenplay that feels like it was penned by God. Buy the DVD on Amazon here.*

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*PPS: I feel dirty now. Forgive me.

Livin’ Small

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:

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Or this:

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Or this:

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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 MatrangaJonah 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:

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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.)

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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.

Top Ten Villains of all time

The Skull

 

It’s simple. To achieve perfection, abandon morality. I’ve been doing it for decades.” – Archmyr Degiliac, Pale Knight of Thillria

 

It’s no secret. I love, love, love the bad guys. I love to read about them, write them, watch them, and (gasp) root for them. I’m the kid who got pissed off every time Skeletor lost to He-Man, the teenager who pulled for the Alien to wipe out everyone (except the cat), and the guy who wept a little bit inside when Sarah Conner flattened the Terminator. I find a strange sort of beauty in antagonists’ raw emotion, be it their mania, their arrogance, their self-loathing, or their cold, cold dedication to being evil. Better still are the rare little moments when the sunlight cuts through the shadows and the bad guy glimpses himself as a better man…and then plummets straight back into darkness.

I’ve looked forward to this for a while. And so, without further delay, I present to you my top ten villains (in film, literature, and video games) of ALL time:  

Shrike

 #10: The Shrike – Hyperion 

 Memorable Quote: None. The Shrike has no voice

 Bio: It time travels…backwards. It slows time for itself, but not for its victims. It moves at will through the universe, vanishing on one planet only to reappear an instant later on the other side of the galaxy. It’s nine feet of shining, stabby chrome, and it’s nigh invulnerable to conventional weaponry. Among all the villains on the list, the Shrike is probably the most powerful. It enjoys the luxury of emotionless power, which most other baddies should be jealous of.

Moriarty

 #9: James Moriarty – Sherlock Holmes short stories (and one novel)

 Memorable Quote:You stand in the way not merely of an individual, but of a mighty organisation, the full extent of which you, with all your cleverness, have been unable to realise.” – Speaking to Sherlock Holmes 

 Bio: The evil genius of all evil geniuses. The puppetmaster prime. Even though the Professor appears in limited capacity, he defines his antagonist role flawlessly. What he lacks in raw evil power, he makes up for with his wicked wit. I envy his genius, if not so much his obviously tortured soul.  

Spacey

 #8: John Doe – Seven

 Memorable Quote:What sick ridiculous puppets we are, and what gross little stages we dance on. What fun we have dancing and fucking, not a care in the world, not knowing that we are nothing. We are not what was intended.”

Bio: John Doe is a sick, sick man. He’s not the sort of villain even I could root for. That said, he’s marvelously effective at what he does. Grimmer so, he believes in what he does. And his speech about the innocent (a bit too long to post here) still gives me chills. What’s in the box, John? What’s in the box?!

 Harkonnen

 #7: Baron Vladimir Harkonnen – Dune

 Memorable Quote:Alone and vunerable at the edge of the universe, Duke Leto Atreides will finally come face to face with fear. When I’m done with him, he won’t know who to trust, not even that Bene Gesserit whore he sleeps with. They’ll all be turning on another like rats in a flood. By the time the traitor is fully revealed, the fate of Atreides will already be sealed.”

Bio: The universe’s hugest hedonist. The Jabba the Hutt of the Dune milieu. He’s rich, he’s hideous, and he’s chock full of good (bad) ideas. He sprinkles sleeper agents around like candy. He delights in imprisoning his relatives. He corrupts his enemies and makes them his allies. Hell, even after he’s gone and his imperial army crushed, he’s guaranteed to live on in his enemies’ bloodline. We need more baddies like the Baron. He’s just so…damn…thorough about his work.

Ganon

 #6: Ganon

 Memorable Quote:My country lay within a vast desert. When the sun rose into the sky, a burning wind punished my lands, searing the world. And when the moon climbed into the dark of night, a frigid gale pierced our homes. No matter when it came, the wind carried the same thing… Death.”

Bio: Zelda’s antagonist takes many forms: a pig-faced mutant, a blue-skinned desert nomad, a godlike warrior. He’s the only video game villain to crack my top ten. Ganon is not particularly mysterious. He just wants the Triforce (and who can blame him?) Link whips him again and again, but he doesn’t care. Another entry in the Zelda series due out soon, and he’s up for it.

Dracula Book

 #5: Dracula – Bram Stoker’s

 Memorable Quote:Listen to them—the children of the night. What music they make!”

 Bio: Dracula is the best kind of villain, leastways to me. He’s ancient. He’s terrifying. His desire is not to do evil simply for evil’s sake, but for vengeance against God, for the preservation of  his immortality, and for love. He’s much more romantic in the movie than in the book, but both versions have villainous value. Bram Stoker wrote him indelibly. Gary Oldman played him perfectly. Forget Twilight, Vampire Diaries, Nosferatu, etc. Vlad Dracul is where you want to be. And better still, some of his most brutal acts are based on real events. Chilling, just the way I like it.

 Satan

 #4: Lucifer – Paradise Lost

  Memorable Quote:Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”

  Bio: I have to tread lightly here due to Tessera Guild policy regarding religion. That said, I believe Lucifer is history’s most easily sympathized-with villain. I plunged into Paradise Lost some dozen times during my high school years. It’s no easy read, but more’s the better. Poor Satan. He’s tormented by his position of servitude. In the beginning he desires freedom, but by the end…hmmmm. His journey through the abyss might be considered a noble quest were it not for the religious aspects of his rebellion. By no means is John Milton’s work canon as far as Christianity is concerned, but I urge everyone, religious or otherwise, to try it out. Shove aside what you think you know. No evil is absolute.

 Darth Vader

 # 3: Vader

 Memorable Quote: “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

 Bio: Forgive me this, my most obvious of entries. For a long while, Vader was the standard by which I held all other villains. He has everything. He’s a warlock. He’s a swordsman. He’s physically intimidating. He casts a huge shadow (literally and figuratively) across every room he’s in. What better story (I’m looking at you, Empire Strikes Back) than one in which the bad guys win? And what villain has ever entered a room with such Force (pun intended) than Vader?

Darkness

 # 2: Darkness 

 Memorable Quote:Every wolf suffers fleas. ‘Tis easy enough to scratch!” 

 Bio: Now we’re getting somewhere. If Darkness is so high on my list, it’s because he’s the purest embodiment of an antagonist. He’s not a man corrupted by tragedy or an angel cast down by his creator. He always was, always will be. And yet…even so…I find him worthy of sympathy. He hungers, as we do, to be loved. He suffers just like mankind. Like so many of us wish we could, he is passion, fire, and he wears it all on his sleeve. No matter that he wants to cover the world in eternal night. Never mind that his fits of rage shake the foundations of the earth. He is who he is, and he never regrets it. It doesn’t hurt that his voice (Tim Curry) rattles the movie screen every time he laughs, nor that Darkness’s appearance (transcendant considering the era in which it was filmed) awes and terrifies. If they ever re-release Legend in theaters, somebody call me. I’m there. I don’t care about Tom Cruise or Mia Sara. I want Darkness.

Sauron_Tolkien_illustration

 #1: Sauron

 Memorable Quote: None directly.

 Bio: The watercolor illustration here was painted by JRR Tolkien. It’s not exactly what you probably expected (giant fiery eyeball). In literature, Sauron was man-like. He was the chief lieutenant to the very Lucifer-like Melkor, but every once in a while the second-in-command becomes more terrifying than the master. Thousands of years old, driven by the not-initially-so-awful desire to put everything to order, Sauron becomes more terrifying as time rolls along. He’s willing to sacrifice his physical form to create a relic of absurd power (the One Ring). He doesn’t hire his armies, but breeds them. He means to clear out all the imperfections (men, elves, and almost admirably, dwarves) and afterward sit godlike atop his tower…forever. If not for his hubris (and those damn snooping hobbits) he would’ve gotten away with it, too.

Honorable mentions:

Anton Chigurh – No Country for Old Men

Pinky Demons – Doom (F those guys!)

Oh, and if you want bad guys galore, check out Down the Dark Path.

Who’s your favorite villain? Drop by in the comments and let me know!

Until next time,

J Edward Neill

Chad’s Theory of 10%

a good muffin

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?

Chad’s (Insignificant) Hollywood Tales : “Too Sci-Fi”

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There used to be this thing called the Sci-Fi Channel. It had great potential, but it never really applied itself. It had a few brilliant moments, one in particular, where it showed itself to be the entity it should have been. But mostly it just ran away from its destiny, tried desperately to get people to like it, and struggled with its identity to the point of changing its name, forsaking its heritage. As it stands now, it is a joke to most people, only known for its most outlandish and ridiculous of efforts.

This is a quick story about my brush with the Sci-Fi Channel.

Several years ago I had a colleague (and friend) whose father was a very, very powerful man in the history of television, a near-god in the NBC-Universal family. This friend was an aspiring producer who I worked with on several projects that never got off the ground, unfortunately, although he did option a screenplay of mine once, for real money, and that was something I’ll never forget. We talked about doing this, about doing that. He almost hired me to write a script for him, but it fell apart. We were going to do a series of shorts for FunnyOrDie, but they never materialized.

One day he calls me and asks “Do you have ideas for shows we can pitch at the Sci-Fi channel?”

Hells yes, I do, let’s fucking do this, I want to do this so damn bad, it’s about time we got into something like this, woo-hoo! I thought. “I’ll jot down a few things,” I said.

So over the next couple weeks I worked on several ideas in which I thought the Sci-Fi channel might show interest and presented my list to the producer. After talking a bit, he fell in love with one idea in particular, which also happened to be my favorite of the bunch.

“That’s the one,” he said. “Let’s get cracking on fleshing it out and I’ll set up the meeting.”

I’m not going to say what the concept was because I still think it’s a very viable idea and have plans to resurrect it. So I can’t give it away for free. But I will say… it’s pretty great.

So while I was putting together my pitch -figuring out the pilot, plotting out the first season arcs, creating the cast of characters, coming up with a half-dozen sample episodes, putting down a rough idea of what future seasons would bring- I learned that we would not be meeting with some low-level exec over at Sci-Fi. Oh no. We would be meeting with the VP in charge of original programming.

In charge. Of original programming.

Meaning, if he liked the show, he could probably green light it himself.

That upped the stakes, so I upped my game.

We went into the meeting with what I think was a solid, entertaining pitch. We also had a back-up project, something that I had tried to get off the ground in several mediums (film, comics) but had never followed through on. It was a back pocket pitch, only to be used in case we got the dreaded “what else do you got?” question after the exec was unmoved by our marquee concept.

I was nervous as hell. It wasn’t my first pitch meeting but it was, at that time, my biggest. And I knew that the only reason I was going to be pitching to someone that high up was because of the man walking in the door next to me, and mostly because of his last name. Because Sci-Fi is an NBC-Universal channel and the name that he carries can probably get him through any door that falls under that massive umbrella of media.

I got to the meeting early and hung out outside the massive skyscraper in Century City. I met my producer in the courtyard, and we went over some things. The way pitches usually work for me is simple: I need a straight man. Someone to keep the conversation, the presentation, on track. Then, when we need to inject energy, ideas, and just the creative thrust of the thing, it’s my turn to talk. If you know me and are reading this, you know I talk too much. And I ramble, repeat myself. Especially if the subject excites me. So I always need a baseline yin to my erratic yang.

So my producer would yin while I yanged. No problem.

bsg-number-sixNow, at the time, the Sci-Fi channel’s sole artistic triumph was nearing its end. ‘Battlestar Galactica’ had its problems, especially towards the end, but it’s impossible to deny that it was a good show and, at the very least, considering what had come before, a great science-fiction show. It was the type of program we had all hoped the Sci-Fi channel would be bringing us since the beginning. And, with its critical (but not ratings, that’s important) success, I think a lot of us were excited for a new era where this channel, that claimed to specialize in a genre we loved, was about to break through in an HBO/AMC/FX sort of way.

But BSG was expensive. And not enough people watched it.

So it was going away. To the channel’s credit, most people would have pulled the plug after the first two seasons (and by ‘people’ I mean ‘networks’) but they stuck with it. But it never found enough of a mainstream audience to justify the amount of money they were spending.

And, at the same time, Sci-Fi had a new show, a very different show, that was doing much better in the ratings. More on that in a bit.

So we go into the very nice office of this very powerful man and I’m sure my voice shook for the first ten minutes or so. He was very nice, this exec, as was his assistant, who also sat in on the meeting.

After a few platitudes, I went about pitching my television show.

And it went really well.

I talked for a while, describing the premise, the characters, the show. What drew me to the material. What passions of mine were wrapped up in its conceit. While I was doing this, my producer was chiming in on logistical things, comparing it to other successful shows and films, trying to stress why letting this babbling (although in that case, effectively babbling) guy that had no right being in that room create a show would not be a terrible business decision.

One of the ways you can tell a pitch is going well is if it gets interactive. A rule of these types of meetings is to never bring in any of your ideas on paper. I wrote up tons of stuff for this idea, did research, plotted out stories, but brought none of it with me. Because when you’re in the room, what you want in the exec to get engaged. To start chiming in with his own ideas. You also want to be able to read what’s working and what’s not and cater your pitch, improv if you will, to appeal to the pitch-ee. The goal is to have, at the end of the meeting, sold the producer a show that he or she wants, not a show you want.

So you never leave behind a document that lays out what you came in there with, because most likely you have had to change some things to appease your audience and the last thing you want them to do afterwards is read a synopsis or treatment that is not exactly the show you just pitched them.

It is a hard and fast rule for pitching: never leave behind a document. If they want one, go home, revise what you’ve got, then send it in. But never leave it in the room.

Anyway. I got what I wanted out of this guy. He was engaged. After responding very favorably to the main conceit, he started asking questions and it turned out he and I had a lot of similar interests. He started adding things, suggesting episode ideas, tweaks to the story, different angles on things. The show had a large ‘alternate history’ element, which is a very hardcore sci-fi subgenre, but the real history I was riffing off of ending up behind something this exec was a huge fan of. Actually, he knew more about it than me and I had to work hard to keep up with him.

At the end, we had laid out what I think would have been a fantastic science fiction television show, a worthy successor to Battlestar Galactica.

“Chad,” the exec said, “I love it. Love the concept. I think it’s original, smart, and if done right, could be really great.”

Yes yes yes!

“And if that show was on TV, I would watch it every week.”

Oh no oh no oh no…

“But it’s just too sci-fi for us.”

It’s too what now?

Looking back, it feels like I stared at him dumbstruck for at least a minute, although it was probably only ten seconds. I do know, though, that I looked up to the big Sci-Fi channel logo up on his wall and then back to him, and that he noticed that. I tried to play cool.

Too sci-fi?”

He went on to explain that they were looking for things with broader appeal and that my idea was a little too hardcore for general audiences. That they needed shows that were more user-friendly, that my mom or someone would want to watch.

eureka-tv“Like what?” I asked, seething inside.

“Well, we’re looking for more shows like ‘Eureka’.”

I did not watch ‘Eureka’ so I don’t have an opinion on it either way. I know several people that watched it and one of the writers, Eric Wallace, is a friend of a friend of a friend who I also once sat on a writing panel with. But I do know the concept of ‘Eureka’ and I know what kind of show it was. And I have nothing against it. But…

“You already have a ‘Eureka’,” I said.

But they wanted another. Why? Because it was doing well. Because their numbers showed that people who normally didn’t stop on their channel were tuning in for it and only it. It was the crossover hit they’d been looking for.

“I would love to make your show, Chad. I would. But I just can’t.”

The rest of the meeting was cordial. We pitched our backup idea, which they responded to and we promised we’d send pages but we were never able to break that concept. I’ve pretty much scratched it. It sounds good on paper but I’ve never figured out a way to make it work.

At the end of the meeting, I think I asked if they still planned on making any more ‘silly monster movies’, because I played D&D and I could lock myself up for a month with my Monsters Manual and write them like four of those.

He said they were trying to move away from those.

Guess no one else got the memo:

Screen-Shot-2013-07-12-at-8.33.55-AM

I walked away feeling good about the meeting and shitty about the outcome.

“Too sci-fi”?

“TOO SCI-FI”?

In the days that followed I had one of those “man I wish I would have said this” moments where a speech popped into my head that if I would have actually said in the room, I would have blown the meeting entirely:

“WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU MEAN ‘TOO SCI-FI’?!? This is the Sci-Fi Channel. Let me break this down for you. My mom is NEVER going to stop on your channel while surfing. NEVER. I don’t watch hockey and have never once flipped to the NHL channel. You don’t see them trying to crossover to more popular sports: “Tonight on the NHL Network…the 1998 Home Run Derby!”. No. They are niche. What they do is in their name. NHL. That’s it. You are the fucking SCI-FI channel. Stop being ashamed of the genre that you are named after. Because there are millions and millions of TV viewers that aren’t going to check you out simply because of that phrase: sci-fi. Deal. With. It. Embrace it. Because you know what? Science-fiction fans are LOYAL. Geeks are LOYAL. If you give them good genre shows, they will flock to you. BSG should be your model. Was it too expensive? Okay. Fine. You can do something cheaper. Is ‘Eureka’ sci-fi? Absolutely. Keep it. But you have the corner on this: you are the only Sci-Fi Network. We WANT you to succeed. We WANT you to be viable. We also want you to live up to the promise you made when you chose that name. ‘TOO SCI-FI?’ FUCK YOU!”

Saying that would have been dumb beyond belief, but that’s how I felt.

So, a few years after my meeting at Sci-Fi, they did indeed address this problem. Did they unveil a slate of awesome-looking genre shows? Um. No.

They changed their name to SyFy.

syfy2

Which, of course, means nothing. But at least it’s not promising science-fiction anymore.

So stupid and cowardly. And meaningless.

Because my mom still doesn’t tune in.

Looking today at SyFy’s programming for today I see: 11 hours of ‘Face Off (a reality show), a shitty horror movie for Halloween (The Ninth Gate…ugh), and an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’ (can’t fault them on that).

And I’m sure this weekend they’ll treat us to the tale of some sort of aquatic predator crossed with some sort of dinosaur chasing and eating people during some sort of natural disaster, starring has-been TV actors and other Hollywood cast-offs.

Man, that’s some good SyFy.

This post isn’t about bitterness. It’s a lament. Not for my own career, but for a cable channel that I really wanted to succeed. But it’s now a joke, only known now for its stupid, stupid new name and its even stupider schlocky monster movies. A junk channel, traitor to its conceit like Discovery and History. What a waste.

For all its faults, failures, and foibles, the one thing you can never accuse SyFy of is being…

Too Sci-Fi.

Because I Had To

Ernest-Hemmingway-quote1

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.

Writing_Quote_20Like a fool.

Why?

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?

Anyway.

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.

Why?

Because I had to.

faulknerWhen Mrs. Harrison put down the last (I’m assuming) terrible attempt at fiction, I raised my hand, nearly pulling it out of the socket, two pieces of wide-ruled paper in my hand.

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.

But it is lost to the ages, like Sulla’s memoirs, Love’s Labour’s Won, Hemmingway’s suitcase, and Orson Welles’s cut of The Magnificent Ambersons.

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’?

tumblr_mi884kaOEf1s07stbo1_400Because 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.

I will not be writing about politics or religion. I may do that on my own blog, at some point, or on Twitter, but we’ve decided to avoid that here at Téssera. Which is a good call.

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.

Writing_Quote_298My 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.

Because I–

Well, you know.

Chad J. Shonk
October 2013

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.