I told myself that I needed to write something on the blog, even if it’s a quick note. So, here’s a quick note.
It’s a busy time of year for me. Several writing projects going on at the same time, plus marketing my previous two books. By the way, The Final Round and There is a Season are available on Kindle and in trade paperback at Amazon.com.
Anyway, a quick note isn’t noteworthy unless it has something of noted value, most notably wisdom. What to share? Nothing political. Who cares about that nonsense. Besides, no one agrees on anything anyway. Also, my politics has nothing to do with party politics and most people are rabid about one side or the other. I can’t talk to you people.
Books! I could always share something about books I am reading. Nothing exciting. Reading three different ones right now. I recently read a short story by Phillip K. Dick. I hated it. HATED IT. Tried to get through Ulysses by James Joyce. Couldn’t handle it. Other than that, nothing profound or worth bragging about.
Movies! Best movie I’ve seen thus far is The Grand Budapest Hotel. Loved it! Ralph Fiennes is brilliant, as was the rest of the cast. Wes Anderson is a wonderful director. He’s yet to disappoint. A fine artist, indeed.
Life lessons! Blazing ahead, chin down, leaning against the wind. That’s the lesson of life, I guess. It just keeps going until one day it stops. Speaking of stopping. An old high school friend of mine died this past week. I remember him being a quiet boy with a great sense of humor. He played the drums in marching band. At his birthday party one year, his grandfather gave him a card that said, “Hinkle Dinkle Dee, A Good Boy You Should Be.” We all laughed hysterically while he turned a deep shade of red. Hal Ehrlich was 41 years old and his life went by too fast.
That’s it. Enjoy the rest of whatever it is you do. I know I will. Thanks for reading.
Today is my birthday and this is my annual birthday lamentation. Regular readers of this blog are familiar with it. I’m normally reflective and remorseful on this day. However, I’m going to change things up this time around. Why? Because I’m 42 and I now know the meaning of life.
In the 42 years that I’ve lived, I’ve witnessed some fantastic and even unbelievable things in this world. They are what made me the man I am today. Sort of.
Here’s a list of some of the strangest:
I once saw a 13 foot Burmese python attack a man and nearly bite his arm off.
I had a friend in elementary school that had a glass eye. He would charge kids a nickle for the privilege of watching him take it out then letting them hold it.
I saw two elephants getting it on in a zoo.
I watched a comedian lose her mind on stage and start screaming at the audience, only to ask “You think you can do this?” Then watched an audience member take the stage and kill.
I once sat on a film set for two hours doing nothing after the film’s director stormed off in anger, declaring, “I can’t work like this!” The finished film didn’t turn out so well.
A toothless prostitute once asked me, “Whatchu want, baby?” To which I replied, “Absolutely nothing.”
I saw two old men fight and it was the funniest thing I’ve ever witnessed.
I saw a bear dance and drink vodka.
I played a game of poker where the pot grew to $6,000, a pistol, a gold tooth, a nipple ring, a Mickey Mantle card, two checks that would eventually bounce, half a bottle of Crown Royal, a stuffed fox, a box of Grateful Dead albums, and a title to a car.
I saw a naked woman walking down the middle of a street.
I saw a naked man walking down the middle of a street.
I saw a naked baby walking down the middle of a street.
The above three incidents happened on the same street during three separate occasions.
And finally, I saw a zombie walk out of a cemetery on a late summer afternoon in Detroit. She was as dead as Elvis. If I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’.
That’s it for my annual birthday blog. Here’s to the rest of my short life. Thanks for reading. Live it.
I write the article below knowing well enough that I will be crucified by many and loved by some. Then there will be those that could give two squirts. Let me preface my argument below by saying that I don’t look down upon anyone, but I do look down upon some things. Not because I don’t think that they are invalid, but because they are not well thought out. This article may be a great example of that. However, I’m going to post it anyway, because I think it raises some valid points with a suggestion of how to improve, which is generally missing from the counterpoint to this argument.
THE WORLD IS ROUND.
I’ve been following the gender movement within the film industry for some time now and a few things bother me about it. I agree that films centered around women are far and few between; however, I disagree with the call to arms, mainly due to the perspective of said call.
Something like 2% of films released have female directors or DPs, if we would like to see more female peers in these categories then more women need to pursue these industry positions. I admit that I don’t know how many women actually long to be DPs or directors, however, there seems to be plenty of women working as producers and writers. Oh and let’s not forget actresses.
The idea that audiences desire to see and pay for female driven films because, as the box office shows, they make money is silly. How else could we explain these money making films? I’ve got an idea. Maybe, just maybe, these female driven films are good stories. I’m of the belief that audiences will pay to watch anything if it is a good story. It doesn’t matter if the film centers around men, women, or cats and dogs. We caught a glimpse of this faulty reasoning last year with the release and success of The Best Man Holiday, which featured a predominately starring black cast. Many people wondered out loud if audiences were finally warming up to black films. The answer, of course, was and still is no. It’s not about black or white films. They just like good films with good stories and characters. Many people will go see The Best Man Holiday, only a few will go see Pootie Tang. Poor example, but you understand. It’s the story, man. The story.
The gender inequality that many are shouting about these days is generally followed by zero suggestions on how to rectify the situation. We are merely pointing out the symptoms of the problem and not the problem itself. Some writers have suggested writing only female scripts generally geared toward traditional male roles. Okay. Why not just write a good story, whether male driven or female driven? Simply replacing one gender with another isn’t the answer. Making a character female just because they are underrepresented isn’t the answer. It raises too many questions like does it serve the story well, for starters. I’ve even heard some say that the Academy needs a Best Female Director and Best Female Cinematographer category. That’ll do it! Talk about insulting female directors and DPs. Here you go, ladies. You don’t measure up to male directors and DPs, so we’re giving you your own categories.
Well, what about the Best Actress category? They are part of the same group of onscreen talent.
Mm, nope. Men don’t generally play female roles and women generally don’t play male roles. Despite the suggestion that we are all the same, men and women are still very, very different. However, a director is a director, regardless of gender and the same goes for DPs.
The present approach to the gender question in Hollywood is like declaring a cure for AIDS only because we have meds to prolong the life of someone who is HIV positive. No! We’re just addressing the symptoms, not the disease. Until I hear valid suggestions and examples of gender inequality within the Hollywood system, it is nothing but clanging cymbals to my ears.
My suggestion, and I’ve already addressed it, is to start at the beginning with story. If you are a writer and you want to do something about this problem, write a damn good story with a lead female character and not some plug in for the sake of gender equality.
That’s my male driven perspective, for what it’s worth.
Writers, at least those that seriously pursue the art, have countless stories. One of the biggest problems a writer has isn’t necessarily which story to write, but how to write a story. I’m talking about first or third person problems here, folks.
Readers like a good first person story. It’s more personal for them. I get it. It’s like a good friend is telling a tall tale and that good friend is one hell of a storyteller. I think first person stories work better for short stories. That hasn’t always been my thought, though, and there are exceptions.
Here’s the problem with first person stories: they are long winded and unbearable.
I’ve only come to this conclusion recently. I’m currently reading a novel by a famous author about a famous character, the kind of character they make movies about. It’s the first book in a series and it is written in the first person. The rest of the series is written in the third person. The first book is also this famous writer’s first novel.
The book is good, the story gripping, the character is a lot of fun. I’m enjoying it; however, I find myself rolling my eyes and skipping description. For example, the main character talks about the police arresting him in a diner and he goes on to describe what the diner looked like. I don’t care. It’s as if that good friend is dragging his tall tale out and you’re like, “Come on! Get on with it! Cut to the chase! I don’t have all day!”
The truth is, no one tells a story like this. At least, not a long story. But here’s the problem that novelists run into. The novelist needs to hit a certain word count in order to qualify the work as a novel. And the only way to do that is for the character to be a windbag. This is why I think first person storytelling is better suited for the short story. The description can be light and to the point. Whereas, the novel needs words, baby, so you better cram them in there, because no one likes to publish short stories or novellas.
Of course, this is just an opinion. Other writers may disagree and it really is a matter of taste. Or actually, it’s a matter of serving the story. Yes, this is what I have concluded. The question regarding first person or third person is answered with what will serve the story.
I’m currently working on my third novel, a crime thriller with a messed up main character. I mean, he has problems. I was writing it in the first person. I thought it would be fun to write it in the first person. Nelson DeMille writers many of his novels in the first person and I love his books. However, I got a third of the way through and realized that I’m an idiot. First person was the wrong choice. I can’t tell the story from this twisted mindset and have the reader empathize with him. The story needed to be told from the outside looking in. So, I did what any sane writer would do and immediately started writing in the third person, knowing that I’ll have to heavily rewrite the first third of the novel. It had to be done and shame on me for jumping in without giving it some serious thought. Serves me right.
If you’re a writer and you’re getting ready to put pen to paper, a word of advice. Don’t take for granted what POV you’ll use. It’s serious business.
Before I get into that which I am about to get into, let me preface it by saying that I am writing this in the heat of passion, and not the good kind. In other words, this is an unedited spew of hatred and extreme loathing. Enjoy.
If you had ever written a script and had it eventually go into production then blazed upon the silver screen, you most definitely had to get by the Hollywood Reader, first. You’ll then understand the context of what is written here.
If you are not a screenwriter, but are thinking about it, prepare yourself for some godawful reality checks.
If you are not a screenwriter and have no desire to write one, then sit back and enjoy the rant. It should be entertaining and you’ll learn something new about how the film world works, to some extent.
First, let’s define a Hollywood Reader. In the film industry there are many layers that a writer must climb through in order to get a script produced. Normally, the very first person a writer must go through is their agent or manager. It’s okay, because they are on the writer’s side… sometimes. However, by the end of this article, you’ll realize that they are also full of shit half of the time.
After the writer convinces his/her agent or manager that the script is good enough for them to shop around, the said agent or manager starts calling the producers they know. Once a producer says that he/she is interested, the agent or manager sends the script to the producer’s office.
That’s great, right? I mean, do you know how tough it is to get a producer to agree to read anything that they didn’t think of themselves? But this is a slight of hand. The producer doesn’t read the script. A Hollywood Reader does.
A Hollywood Reader is someone who is just starting out in the film business that got a job at a production company reading scripts, giving them a yes or no, and chucking them or passing them along to the producer to skim. The Hollywood Reader is underpaid, overworked, and reads a lot of garbage. The Hollywood Reader is also a know-it-all that doesn’t realize that he/she doesn’t even know shit.
They use a point system on a scale from 1 to 10. This scale is used to rank the premise of the script, the dialogue, the plot, the setting, and the overall script rating. The reader will usually write up a log line (1 or 2 sentences about the script), a synopsis (the story in a nutshell), locations and budget; then the reader will comment on the strengths, weaknesses, and prospects of the script. Sounds like a plan, a full-proof way to weed out the junk and get to some cinematic gold, right? In theory, yes. Here’s the problem. Ultimately, it’s based on money then taste, both of which are subjective. In other words, a reader looks at a script from a marketing point of view (what he/she believes will put people in seats) first and at story second.
I can hear the readers now. That’s not true! We want good stories, too!
Yes, but the marketing of a film is foremost on your minds. It has also been said that a reader doesn’t look at characters in a script but at roles for A list stars to play. Further proof that marketing is numero uno.
But, of course, it is the film business. They are out to make money and the film business has fooled themselves into thinking that they know the best projects to make money. We writers are told that if we want to sell a script in Hollywood, we should concentrate our efforts on comedy, action, thriller, and horror. We should forget adult dramas, because nobody watches them. At the same time, we are told to write within a genre that suits our voice and not to pay attention to what sells. Well, just burn us with cigarettes while screaming I love you at us, why don’t you?
So, does the system work? A resounding no.
According to stats from 2011, roughly 800 films were produced in Hollywood, with fiction leading the way, then animation. There were, at that time, about 40,000 screens in the U.S. and around 1.2 billion people went to the show, raking in $10 billion for the studios. What did the box office look like in 2011? Here’s a list of the the top 20 films of that year:
20. Horrible Bosses – $117,538,559
19. Rango - $123,257,581
18. Super 8 – $127,004,179
17. The Smurfs - $142,614,158
16. Rio - $143,619,809
15. Puss in Boots – $143,935,000
14. X-Men: First Class – $146,408,305
13. Kung Fu Panda 2 – $165,249,063
12. Bridesmaids - $169,106,725
11. The Help – $169,461,566
10. Captain America: The First Avenger – $176,654,505
9. Rise of the Planet of the Apes - $176,711,822
8. Thor - $181,030,624
7. Cars 2 – $191,452,396
6. Fast Five – $209,837,675
5. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – $241,071,802
4. The Hangover Part 2 - $254,464,305
3. Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 – $273,445,000
2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon – $352,390,543
1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – $381,011,219
Total box office for top 20 films of 2011: $3.7 billion
As you can see the top 20 films of 2011 account for a third of total box office for that same year. That leaves $6.3 billion divided among the remaining 780 films. That’s roughly about $14 million dollars per picture. Not too bad, you say. Here’s the bad news, though. The average budget for a film in 2011 was $78 million.
Now the blame cannot fall on the Hollywood Reader alone. That wouldn’t be fair, nor accurate. A lot of factors play a part in the failure of the majority of films in Hollywood, from execution to marketing. Yes, it is true there are a lot of hands in the cookie jar that involves star input, new writers on projects, director’s visions, studio handling, and test screenings at malls. But it certainly does start with the Hollywood Reader. These are the folks that give the initial green light to producers for them to pursue a script.
This is what happens when marketing is number one and story is second. It is a business, true, but it is also a form of art, and art does not have an all encompassing formula to success. The truth, as they say, is in the pudding.
I’ve had my share of Hollywood Reader clashes. Notes can be brief and they can be lengthy. They are almost always full of contradictions and confusion. Some of that blame falls on me and some of it on the Hollywood Reader. It’s a valuable tool, but one that should be taken with a grain of salt. The bad news is that these bitter and underpaid scriptworms are the first line of defense and there is little wiggle room to work around them. So, what does a writer do?
I’m afraid we go back to the old advice of write what you know and love. There is, unfortunately, no other way, except, that is, to either produce your own film or get in good with a producer directly. However, even a professional friendship with a producer doesn’t guarantee that the producer will read your script. The producer, most likely, will still use the services of a Hollywood Reader.
Occasionally, I will pay for a reader service in order to get a feel for how a script is working or not working. This can be a hit or miss strategy. As William Goldman said in his book Adventures in Screenwriting, “Nobody knows anything.” This, of course, includes the writer. But as a writer, we do know one thing, and that is that we know how to tell a story. It is, after all, what we do. Readers, on the other hand, do not tell stories, but read stories. Hell, they don’t even make movies. They tell the people that do make movies what they think is a great idea for a movie. They are little Caesars giving thumbs up or down on the hard work of some talented and not so talented writers. What a writer does not know is what kind of story will do well and what kind will not. Neither does a Hollywood Reader, producer, or studio executive know, for that matter.
So, who does know? The audience and they are a fickle bunch. How else can you explain the top 20 films of 2011? Put it this way, how many of the 800 or so films in 2011 do you remember? Better yet, how many of the top 20 films in 2011 do you remember?
What’s the lesson then? The lesson for writers is that we go into this knowing we don’t have a chance in hell making it, that we do this not because we want to make movies, but because we want to tell a story. The moment you start writing for the reader and not yourself, you have already begun the journey to disappointment and failure, creatively and professionally. This, of course, doesn’t pertain to write for hires. I’m strictly talking about speculation projects, or spec scripts.
Screenwriting is a soulless and thankless job, dependent upon everybody but the intended audience. A writer could write the greatest love story known to mankind, but if it doesn’t have some sort of paranormal activity or explosion, mankind will never be the wiser. That’s the lesson.
So, here’s to working in the film business, fellow screenwriters! Good luck, keep writing, and remember, nobody knows anything. Nobody.
Ever lie in bed at night and let the past wash over you like a freakin tsunami, flooding your brain with every poor decision, what if, and I wish I would’ve? Of course you have. We all have. It eats us up, tearing our guts apart, replacing them with a giant, mutant pit. That’s a gift from the shit monster and he’s happy to dish out some more.
How do you say no to the shit monster?
Great question. I’m glad you asked.
There are several ways to deal with the monster’s shit, but there’s one I like to use and it works perfectly well for me. Maybe you could give it a try.
Now this isn’t easy, it isn’t fun, and it takes discipline and practice. Here’s what you do: say to yourself, “Who cares?” Then you go about your business, improving yourself, writing off the past, and looking forward to the future. That’s it. Done.
This is a technique that requires several uses before its effects take hold. You cannot expect peace of mind the first time out, nor can you expect it every time. However, you can expect it most of the time.
How can this work?
Boy, you’re full of great questions today.
Here’s a secret. Don’t tell anyone. It’ll just be our shared little whisper. You ready? Okay, here it goes. No one cares or loves you more than you.
It’s the truth. Your mamma, your pappy, your brothers and sisters, not even your friends love you more than you love yourself. They may say that they do, but they don’t. Yeah sure, they have your best interests in mind and they do love you, but only you have your best interests in mind like you. Only you love you like a crazy person. And if this is true, then why do you work so hard at trying to get others to match that unquenchable love? It’s unfair to them and it’s unfair to you. You’ve set them up for failure and you’ve set yourself up for disappointment. Talk about working against yourself. That’s no way to love you.
Who cares? You care, but don’t mistaken your care for the care of others.
Who cares? No one. So let it roll off your back, get to living life to its fullest everyday. Forget the ones that are dragging behind. They’ll catch up, and if they don’t, you’ll run into others that are just like you along the way.
Who cares is a reminder that nobody else remembers your past, so why do you? What is done is done, and what will be has yet to happen. Forget yesterday, live today, and plan for tomorrow.
Okay, one more secret and it’s a doozy. Ultimately, everything in our lives belongs to us. That is, our thoughts, our emotions, our reactions, our love and our hatred, they all belong to us and us alone. No one can make you feel, think, or react a certain way. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen. We give that power to some, but we should choose wisely who we give it to, and we should know when to take it back. That power lasts only as long as we allow, no more.
We all go through some shit, there’s no way around it, because the only way to get to the good life is to go straight through it.
Note: this is not a substitute for handling clinical depression. If you suspect that you have clinical depression, seek medical help immediately.
Are you down and out? Thinking about giving up on that dream? Tired of fighting the good fight and want to take a dive? Yeah, you don’t say. Hey, man, that’s life.
Here’s the secret to winning: prepare with training, take your licks, and never give up.
You dreamed the dream. No one can bring it to reality but you. You can’t give your dream away and nobody can snatch it from your grip. There are those that try to fool you into thinking that they can take it way, but they are liars and finks. Just because you’re down and out at this time in your life, it doesn’t mean that the bout is over. You get a ten count. Take the count then get up, go to your corner, get some words of wisdom, rest, then when the bell rings, fight like hell.
Those voices in your head and around you telling you that you can’t, well, they’re liars and finks, too. Some people like kicking the can of dreams of others because they never had the guts to do something other than file papers, wipe a counter, or stack a shelf. Then there are those that are afraid you might succeed, because your success means that they have failed. And even still, there are those that don’t want you to succeed because you’re competition. Finks! As for the voices in your head, that’s your little man (or woman), frightened of failure. He doesn’t want to be embarrassed, humiliated, or the subject of whispers in corners.
Here’s the secret to winning: failure.
You’re going to fail, and if you’re going to fail then fail with style and fail big. But don’t be afraid of failure. No one ever fails trying to do nothing. Anyone that says that they have never failed, they aren’t trying. They are coasting through life, trying to make it to eighty, waiting to die. Boring. Fail, you dreamer. Fail big! Then when you succeed, it will be that much sweeter and a giant thumb in the eye of the finks. Yeah, the finks.
It’s officially 2014 and it isn’t what I expected, but it’s here and now.
I don’t have my flying car or robot maid, my food doesn’t come in a pill, and we still haven’t sent a human being any further than the moon. These are a little disappointing, but hey, so what. I’ve more important things to think about, like my resolutions for this year.
I, like many of you, have put together a list of goals and changes that I would like to see this year. Among them are character goals like think before speaking, try seeing the good more than the bad, and be more empathetic. I also have physical goals in mind, such as: eat better, but less; up the ante on my exercise routine; and increase my outside activity. There are mental goals, such as: read more books and watch less television; appreciate more art; learn something new every day; and improve my vocabulary. I have hobbies that I want to actually attend to this year, such as: golfing, fly fishing, hiking and traveling. Then there are the professional goals: write more, publish two books, sell a script, publish in the New Yorker, and challenge my creativity.
These are lofty and worthwhile goals. It is my opinion that if goals are not lofty then they are not worthwhile, nor are they even goals. But in addition to these rather self-serving goals, I have one primary and very important goal: experience life to its fullest.
This year, I will be 42 years old. Elvis died when he was 42; Jesus was dead and alive again long before he even thought of hitting his mid-thirties; and most great men have accomplished longstanding works by their forties. Looking back on my annual day of reflection (yesterday), I lamented the time lost on trivial pursuits and years of mind wandering, rabbit chasing, oh look, something shiny living. We all say “if only” now and then, but we are the lucky few that still have time for rebirth. I’m still young enough to be daring, to seize every moment, and to experience as much as possible. Over the years, I’ve done this little by little, pushing myself closer to the edge, but not too close. Fear of embarrassment, what people will say, and losing whatever it is I’m afraid of losing keeps the edge far enough away, though. What a terrible way to live. Of course, there is balance, too, that is needed.
So, there is a new motto but an old saying: damn the torpedoes! This is what I will remind myself of every day. What does it mean? It means, if there is music and dancing then I will dance; if there is opportunity to partake in the unexpected, I’ll raise my hand; if spontaneity rears it’s beautiful head, I’ll drop everything and go. Some moments come and go, never to return again. I won’t lose to the old me. I will whip him at every turn.
Take the time, today, to choose your new path. Be daring, be bold, be adventurous, and don’t leave anybody behind. Because that’s what makes it all worthwhile. For what good is a life of adventure if you have no one to share it with?