The World Beneath the Water

Lets roll out the new from last night, first.  It was “I’m Off Night,” last night, because after dinner and a little shopping I had zero creative energy to sit and do anything.  I knew what I wanted to write, but after a good hour of looking at the story, I finally said, “I think I’ll just sit and relax,” and did that until I started falling asleep at ten PM.  It’s not a bad thing:  sometimes you need to recharge your batteries, and if that means a night off, then take it.  I don’t have anything to do today, so it’s a good time to make up for last night’s lost time.

So what I’m going to talk about today is something completely different, and in the process of this discussion I’m going to bring up some things about a rather well known television show about zombies where no one ever says the word zombie.  There will be times when I’m gonna go all Ms. Spoilly McSpoil, so if you don’t want to read something that’s going to cause you to shake your fist at your computer screen while you scream, “Curse you, Cassie!” through clenched teeth, then read a book, listen to music, or watch some good movies–TCM will show Bonnie and Clyde, Jaws, and Alien back-to-back tonight, so you might want to keep that block open.

I have given warning–you know–

Or is that, "Don't Dead, Open Inside"?  Maybe I should check . . .

Or is that Don’t Dead, Open Inside? Maybe I should check . . .

There’s a meme that’s been rolling around Facebook of late, one that doesn’t actually involve some kid getting picked up for a DUI in Miami.  No, this is a picture of a huge iceberg, floating peacefully along while waiting for a ship to smack into it.  As you know an iceberg is pretty much under the water, a huge thing you never see, which is probably good because you’d likely get hypothermia swimming around trying to get a look-see.

The part above the water–the small part–is labeled “Movie”, while the part below the waterline is labeled “Novel”.  You know what they’re trying to say:  the parts you see in a movie are only a small part of the story that’s adapted from a novel–if, of course, the movie is adapted from a novel, and it’s not an original tale.

But this is often true.  One could point to any of the biggest movies of late–the Harry Potter films, the Lord of the Rings, the Hunger Games–had to leave out a lot of the story to get the tale up on the screen.  For some tales you need to do a four or five hour flick if you want to get everything on the screen–or do as was done with The Godfather, which took the early life of Vito Corleone and worked it up as a flash back around original material.  And in doing this, they still left out a lot of the story.  (Maybe due to threats of a lawsuit by a certain Italian-American singer and actor who’d won an Oscar who didn’t like a character in the novel who was Italian-American singer and actor who ended up winning an Oscar, all with a little help from his godfather.  Purely a coincidence, I’m sure.)

When you translate a novel to television, however, you are allowed a little more leeway, because you have, if you’re lucky, more time to develop your story.  Rich Man, Poor Man was a good example of the early television mini-series, where you could take your time moving as much of the story from the page to the screen, and stay true to the material.  Yes, some things don’t get translated well–maybe due to things that are going on inside a person’s head, or, depending on the times, there are things in the story that violate a network’s “standards and practices,” which is a fancy way of saying you’ll never get a particular scene past the censors.

This is pretty much alleviated by the advent of premium cable these days, where one can pretty much get away with showing so much that the joke has  become, “It’s not porn, it’s HBO.”  Yes, there are some things that HBO won’t show–in A Song of Ice and Fire our lovable Mother of Dragons was more like I’m Just Barely a Teen Mommy of Dragons, so she was aged up just a little for Game of Thrones.  And by “just a little,” I mean she could have appeared on 16 and Pregnant–with DRAGONS!  Which is a reality show I’d watch . . .

Basic cable has gotten into the act as well.  Breaking Bad was a true gem of drama, with a story and characters that was at both times compelling and revolting.  This was, however, an original show, and the story could develop as slowly and fully as the creator/producer liked.  And that brings us to the real iceberg of this tale, The Walking Dead.

"I don't speak with an English accent.  I'm from Kentucky; no one from the South speaks with an English accent."

“I don’t speak with an English accent. I’m from Kentucky; no one from the South speaks with an English accent.”

At the moment the AMC show is three-and-a-half seasons into a four season run, with a fifth promised.  It’s done very well in ratings and has a loyal, sometimes fanatical following, but that’s to be expected with any fandom.  The show follows this guy, Sheriff Rick Grimes, who wakes up from a gun shot-induced coma and discovers that, no, he’s not in Indiana, he’s in the middle of the Zombie Apocalypsetm, his family is missing, and everything he’s known has gone straight to hell.  In the process of the first episodes he finds his family, a group of survivors, and most of all his best-I-left-you-for-dead-and-I’m-bangin’-your-wife-friend and former partner from the force, Shane.

The show has followed the meta plot pretty closely:  they find Atlanta messed up, they find  Hershel’s Farm, they find The Prison, they find The Governor, they fight The Governor, they lose the Prison, and as of right now they’re On The Road looked for each other and safe harbor.  Since it’s been stated they run into the traveling trio of Abraham Ford, Rosita Espinosa, and mullet-sporting Eugene Porter, the metaplot will have them heading northward to the Alexandra Safe-Zone, where life won’t exactly become any easier for them.

I’ve only watched the show off and on throughout the years.  I usually haven’t had the time to watch the show, though these days I find there is more time in The Burg for relaxing, so I have watched episodes off and on.  I’ve also been an off-and-on fan of the comic, which has run since October, 2003, and is now up to Issue 120, with a confirmation of printing through Issue 132.

In terms of iceberging, this story is the perfect iceberg.  There is so much that has been set by the wayside in order to get the story on the screen.  About half of the Prison story was removed, for example, which could have been an entire season in of itself–instead of, say, a whole season of hanging out on The Farm.  That season could have seen Hershel losing two of his kids to his zombie kid in the barn, Tyreese’s daughter and boyfriend messing up their suicide pack, the beheading of Hershel’s twin daughters by crazy prisoners, Tyreese giving Rick a beatdown and throwing him off a second-story walkway, Carol deciding to do Death By Walker–

Wait, what?

Like I said, there were a lot changed to move the story from the comic to the small screen.  For one, they got rid of a few characters:  Hershel had a huge family, and he pretty much gets to watch six of them die almost right before his eyes–the last one, his son Billy, does when he takes a bullet to the head during the Woodbury assault on the prison. There are a few prisoners who make it as far at the Woodbury assault but no further, and one of two Woodbury defectors also meet their end at that point as well.  Dale–he of the famous show’s Dale Face–survives well beyond the Woodbury assault, only to be eaten by cannibals while on the road to Washington, D.C..  He is also the one who loses a leg, but since Dale was long-gone by the time of the show’s Prison Time, that leg bite went to Hershel.

Oh, and the Show Rick swears a lot less than that Comic Rick, but that’s because It’s Not HBO, It’s AMC, and while the show may be able to get away with a “shit” and “asshole” now and then, having Rick throw out the word “fucker” every so often wouldn’t go over well, and tell Michonne and Tyreese that the Woodbury folks “have fucked with the wrong people!” is pretty much HBO fodder.  And there’s a few sex scenes, because even when you’re surrounded by the undead, there’s always a moment for sexy time, right?

"This is my resting bitchy face.  I'm really not as bad as I'm made out."

“This is my resting bitchy face. I’m really not as bad as I’m made out.”

And then there is Lori.

If there is a part of this ‘Berg I find way the hell off, it’s the way a few of the women are portrayed.  In the original story, Lori is concerned, she’s protective of her family, she admits to having had sex once with Shane but no more, she makes it through Judith’s birth, becomes a protective mother–and then dies in about as gruesome a manner as one can imagine.  If it’s any consolation, her death–and the death of another–leads to the death of The Governor, but by that time Lori’s a Walker in Training and gives no shits.

The Show Lori, however . . . when your character is made out as the worst thing in a world full of undead looking to eat you and your loved ones twenty-four/seven, three hundred and sixty-five days a year, until the day you join the shambling herd, there is something seriously off.  By the end of Season Two most viewers, given the choice of having their face gnawed off by a hungry Walker, or having Lori ask them if they saw Carl in the house, would say, “Hey, Walker:  you want a side salad with my face?”  No way was she ever getting Mother of the Year awards, and given the narrowness of that field in the story, it’s a pretty damning indictment for her character.

The same thing was done with Andrea.  On the show she was something of an annoying pain in the ass who got separated from the group, was rescued by Michonne, went to Woodbury, hooked up with The Gov, waffled back and forth with the, “Is he good, is he psycho?  I can’t kill him, the sex was pretty good,” line, and ultimately ended up dead due to her own kind of stupid.

"No, I never shot a redneck by accident.  If I shoot him, he ain't gettin' up!"

“No, I never shot a redneck by accident. If I shoot him, he ain’t gettin’ up!”

This is more the way she really was:  kicking ass and forgetting the names as soon as they were dispatched.  And that scar on her face?  That’s from taking a rifle shot to the head, which sort of kinda put her out of action just a little in the final Woodbury assault.  But, in the comic story, Andrea’s still alive, still kicking ass, and pretty much Rick’s girlfriend at this point.  A lot of her personality in the original story got ported over to Carol, who, on the show, you learned not to be near if you had a bad cough.

I can understand some of the changes that were made:  it’s basic cable, you only have so many episodes in a season that can air, you wanna cut through as much of the Peyton Place stuff as possible and stick to the action, and you never know how long your actors can stay with you, so sometimes you kill off ones where they shouldn’t die, and keep around those who should have died because they’re good for the story, which is to say fans like them, and fans equal viewer, so go with that.

That, ultimately, is why you have the iceberg when you translate a story to a screen.  Reading is one thing, the visual medium another, and a lot of the people doing the viewing aren’t necessary going to be doing the reading.  There are a few exceptions to the rule–Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings instantly spring to mind, as well as a few superhero movies based upon other comics–but in the case of TV, it does seem that you have a lot more people who watch the story, and are surprised as hell when one tells them that what they’re watching was based upon a book, or in the case of TWD, a comic.

It’s an interesting thing to look at from the point of being a writer.  I’ve seen more than a few Facebook threads that go, “If your story is made into a movie, who do you want to play your characters?”  A better question may be, “If your story is made into a movie or television show, what would you be okay with getting changed or dropped?”  After all, your story would end up someone else’s iceberg.

And there’s so much water in which to hide.

The Grim Dreams

After such an interesting weekend, here I am back at the start of the last full week of September.  Weather’s cooling off, and things are changing.  It rained Saturday afternoon, and was cloudy for most of the morning yesterday.  Oh, and I managed to write my article yesterday, all twenty-three hundred words of it.

I have things to do this week; it didn’t help that I had some very strange and disturbing dreams last night.

I don’t think there is just one thing that can be said about them, because there didn’t seem to be one thing that stood out and said, “Hey, disturbing.”  It just felt bad and depressing, with a lot of running around and being kept in small places, and feeling lonely and isolated.  It was very strange, ’cause I don’t think I can point to one thing, it was only feelings and sensations.  Oh, and cold:  there was that, too.  The feeling of cold.

Now, some people might say, “It’s because you went up to That Place on Saturday,” but I don’t believe that.  I didn’t feel like that Saturday night, and Sunday I was in a great mood all day.  Maybe it was because of watching Breaking Bad, which is down to its last episode, and is about a grim and dark as you’re ever going to find on television.  Sure, watching Meth Damon blow away some woman on her front porch after saying, “I want you to know this isn’t personal,” wasn’t a good moment, but the end?  Hey, never go on TV and say things that are going to piss off a drug kingpin who feels like getting even.  You’re getting tickets to Belize.

I can’t say, because you don’t know how your mind works, and you know even less about your subconscious.  I stopped trying to understand my dreams a while back, because trying to see if there was some meaning there was making me a little bonkers.  Besides, I’m not good at figuring out stuff like that, so I leave it to others.

But, man, no one wants to get up at two-thirty in the morning feelings like they just ran a race, and knowing that part of the time in your dream you were locked in a cage.  Bummer, man, bummer.

However . . . something woke me at five-twenty, and it was one of those, “Am I sleeping or am I awake?” kind of deals.  But someone was rubbing up against me, and I know who the person was and what part they were using to do the rubbing.  And that was driving me nuts, too, because more and more I’m looking for human contact, and this was definitely the sort of contact that I wouldn’t mind.  Yes, you can see where my mind is now . . .

It isn’t bad to have a grim dream now and then.  It’s when you have them all the time that it becomes a little hard on your constitution.  People want and deserve happiness, and when you don’t get it, you suffer.

Who wants to suffer?  Be happy with all you do–even if you’re forced into some bad dreams once in a while.

Sniffles and Starts

Most of the day yesterday was spent running around.  I shouldn’t say, “Most of the day,” because I was here at Panera in the morning, then later in the morning I ran up about twenty miles north of here to the Appalachia Trail, snapped a few pictures, drove back to The Burg for lunch, did some shopping, and was back in the hotel about one-thirty.  It was quite uneventful, but that’s the way most days are now.  I get up, I get down, just like I’m living in a Yes song.

I’d promised I was going to get into some writing, and in time I did.  I did it slowly, because I had the TV on to give me a little background noise, and I found myself getting drawn into what was happening.  It was easy to get distracted because I was suffering from a stuffy nose and a strange tickle in my throat, which is usually the warning signs that a cold is coming on.  That’s some crap I don’t need; it seems like whenever I get back to work, after a couple of weeks on the job I catch a cold.  This is why I should be a shut-in and work from home all the time:  I don’t pick up strange germs from other people.

So I spent the gathering evening sniff and snorting, getting lots of fluids in my body while I pecked away at my new short story.  Yes, I want to emphasize this:  it’s a short story, one that I already have worked out in my head, so I know there are five individual scenes to write, though I can’t say how many words are going to be in each scene.

I set the Project Target at five thousand words total, and five hundred words for a daily goal.  Hey, easy, right?  Nice and easy, I can write the story in ten days at that rate, and it leaves me time to do other things.  So I got into full screen mode and started writing–

Slowly, carefully.  I didn’t want to get wordy; I didn’t want to get into a lot of things that were going to fill up the story and turn it into another novelette, or worse, novella.  Nope, I set my goal:  five thousand words.  Best stick to it.

The nice thing about Scrivener’s full-screen mode is you can’t bring up your Project Targets every couple of paragraphs to see how you’re doing.  You write on the limited interface you’re given, and that keeps you focused.  Of course you can flip over to a browser every so often, but I didn’t.

Oh, and the TV was still on, and HBO was playing Les Misérables, and there’s Russel Crowe singing to an unrecognizable Hugh Jackman, and before you know it Anne Hathaway is getting her hair done in a boy cut and I’m trying hard not to think of the opening chapter of American Psycho–”Bum, sixteen; bum, seventeen; bum, eighteen,” and the bus with the poster of Cosette with “Whore” scrawled at the bottom–but after a while I started thinking that someone’s already written fan fiction where Wolverine and Catwoman are running through 18th Century France trying to stop SID 6.7 from killing the king before the revolution–and if SID still looks like The Thin Green Duke.  At least Russel’s band’s music wouldn’t be part of the soundtrack . . .

I finally reached the end of the scene, and I went back into normal mode and checked my word count–

1066 words.

Yeah, I thought I’d do five hundred, and I did just a little over a thousand.  Knowing I have four more scenes to write, that’ll put me between five and six thousand words for the story, which isn’t bad.  And that will keep it under seventy-five hundred words, which means my story could end up being eligible for a Hugo short story award.

Now there’s some science fiction for you.

 

Ride the Camp Kaiju Ashore

I’m told that today is the day that the Camp NaNo winner goodies are in the truck and heading up the dirt road, but I don’t see the damn thing yet.  I’ve checked the site twice this morning, but I must be way too early (it’s six forty-nine AM right now), because the truck isn’t here, and the goodies are lacking.

Or maybe Jason got the drivers last night while they were having sex.  You can never tell.

I’m considering what to do with said goodies, because there’s only one I wish to use, and I probably won’t be able to use that one until the software is released, maybe next month, maybe in October.  The last two NaNos those goodies have gone unused and eventually vanished into the aether, though I once gave a friend my Scrivener fifty percent off code so they could enjoy the software, which they put to good use.

Maybe this year I’ll hold my own version of The Hunger Games for the code.  Call it The Hungry Writer Games, and accept submissions for best and most creative death scenes written in five hundred words or less.  Spend two weeks getting them, then narrow the submissions down until there is only one person left standing, who then rips me off for my goodies.  May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor, penmonkeys.

Enjoyed the movie yesterday.  Plenty of jager on kaiju action, and the beatdowns were brutal.  And may I point out that a mecha head, like the bridge atop of the saucer section of a Federation starship, is the dumbest place to put your cockpit.  Sure, it looks cool riding around in the head, but when all but two of the jager pilots died, it came because the head is right there just asking to be abused.  Head shot, head shot, head shot . . . Guillermo del Toro obviously thought the BattleTech hit table was a load of crap, or he rolls boxcars with loaded dice, cause he showed little mercy to the cockpit crawlers.

Also, when they were fighting in Hong Kong I sort of got an idea where some of the action was taking place, ’cause I kept recognizing landmarks there.  It’s been a long time since I was last in the Fragrant Harbor, but I still look at the place on Google Maps, and dream.

After returning from the movies, however, my novel Couples Dance was on my Seagate drive telling me that it’s not going to edit itself.  Yeah, those lazy ass characters, they won’t do anything on their own, so I gotta pull it up and get in there and do some work.  Now I’m getting into the longer chapters, and Chapter Five is around thirty-six hundred words, so I expect to get about half way in and stop . . .

Right.  How did that work out?  About an hour and a half later I was through the whole chapter, having re-written here, deleted a few things there, and ended up adding a new Scrivener status:  “Recheck Revision”.  Because I found some tense issues, and I want to breeze through it again and make sure I’m not bouncing about in time like a faulty TARDIS.

No, I leave my time travel for my science fiction novels, not the erotic horror . . . or do I?

The Kindred Dreamers

If you know movies, you know Roger Corman.  You can’t help but know it, because in many circles of fandom Roger is known as the King of Crap, a guy who has produced or directed at least four hundred movies that can be described in two word:  “Low Budget”.  These days Roger’s work usually ends up on the Syfy Channel (or as I like to say it, “Siffy”), as the Saturday Night Monster Movie, where we have been entertained with the likes of Piranhaconda, Dinocroc vs. Supergator, and that most marvelous of wonders, Sharktopus.

Corman makes movies.  Good or bad, you can argue that all you like.  He has said that he’s never lost money on a film, because he goes cheap and fast.  It is said that he completed filming of Little Shop of Horrors in two days.  A running joke was that he could negotiate a movie over a pay phone, then shoot the movie in the phone booth with the money found in the change slot.

There’s something else he’d done:  he’s pretty much made modern cinema.

No way, you’re saying.  Way, I tell you.  This guy may be a schlock merchant, and he’s done a lot of things on the cheap; yep, no argument there.  He’s also discovered, or gave early roles to, Jack Nicholson, Charles Bronson, Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Diana Ladd, and Sandra Bullock.  He worked early on with screen writer Robert Towne.  And he’s mentored and/or given starts to a few directors you may know:  Jonathan Demme, Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, John Sayles, James Cameron, Joe Dante, and Martin Scorsese.

Roger has always been ready to help people get started, to show them what they need to know to keep making moving and being creative. We have ways of doing that today, though most do not involve making miniature flying piranhas.

I have more than a few friends who are in the creativity business.  The majority of them are writers, like me, but I know a few poets, a couple of artists who love to draw, and one film maker.  I’m all over the place, I am, being plugged into this network of magic makers who, for the most part, struggle to get their creations made so that others may enjoy.

My filmmaker friend is Jo Custer.  Her bill paying job involves driving a cab done New Orleans way, and she’s written about the experience a few times.  She made one short film, Hotcakes, and she’s in the pre-production phase of her second film, Sonuvabitch.  There’s a nice website up for the film, to give you all the information you may need, but there’s something else as well–  See, Jo wants to do things a bit different this time around.  She wants to shoot on locations; she wants better equipment, and she needs more actors, because she has one scene that involves about twenty people in frame.

Jo has put up a Kickstarter to help her meet her budget, because she isn’t exactly getting funding from Universal.  I get involved in Kickstarts now and then, only because I’ll see something come along that gets me interested, and I slide a few bucks their way.  I don’t do it very often, but when I can help out the creative community, I do what I can.

I know what you’re saying:  “Cassie, are you hyping this woman’s project?”  Yeah, I am.  I usually don’t do things like this–hell, I hardly promote my two stories–but I like Jo.  She has something I didn’t have at her age, and that’s tenacity.  She puts in a lot of long hours in an attempt to reach her dreams, and if I had been more tenacious with my creativity when I was her age, I might be sippin’ on cognac right now, thinking about what i’m going to write next–though if I’m sippin’ on cognac at nine AM, I’m probably working on getting drunk by ten.

We should help the dreamers however we can.  I gave money to a young girl who had been accepted into Space Camp, but who didn’t have the finances to travel there, nor to cover her expenses while there.  I gave her money because when I was a kid I dreamed of going into space, and if I could go to Space Camp today, I’d leave in a second.  If there is one thing I could do before I shuck this mortal coil, it would be to go into space.

I know about dreams:  I have them all the time.  Some of them I’m starting to turn into life, and one day, maybe, they will be my life.

Jo’s got a dream.  If you can, help her out.  If nothing else, pass the info along to some friends who might be interested in playing Roger Corman in their own way, ’cause when you make a dream come true, it not only brings you good karma, but it makes the world a better place.

That said, I need to start working on a story treatment I have for a film called Acrocalypse

I heard Roger might need something for Siffy, and I believe I got a winner here.

Next Up on the Film Side

Cassidy Frazee:

Supporting my film making bud (is she my bud?) down New Orleans way, here’s an update on Jo’s next movie:

Originally posted on Sonuvabitch: A Short Stack Series Film:

We held casting for Sonuvabitch in late January and early February of this year and then I sat on the decision-making for a bit. We’re only a third of the way through pre-production and already this film has held a steep learning curve for me as a writer, as a director, and as a producer. The most important takeaway from the process is that as I give more specific character descriptions to the actors, the better the audition will be — monologue included. The pieces can really start to fall into place in the initial audition, with effort.

I’ve also learned that we have an incredible amount of undiscovered talent. I felt like we were holding auditions somewhere just off Broadway. I attribute that mainly to my choice of casting agent. Actor Michael Martin’s interpretative skills galvanized our pool of auditioners, many of whom were seasoned actors with fine arts…

View original 744 more words

Last Night in Mister Moon’s Drive

I was out last night.  It was another in a long line of visits where I go out, have pizza, chat, and watch shows that either invite snarky commentary about plot holes (Prisoner of Azkaban, why walk back to Hogwatts when someone could have apparated Peter back?  Why not have someone go back and get Dumbledore?  Why not just take Peter to Hogsmeade, which was right next door?  Why did Lupin conveniently forget there was a full moon that night?  Why was the story plot hammered like it was being run by a bad GM?) or something more interesting (like two episodes of Season Two of Sherlock).

Then came the drive back after midnight.  For some reason there was almost no traffic, and my drive home was one of just letting the cruise control do its thing just point the car down the road.  There wasn’t a need to touch the brakes, so I drove and thought . . .

I had a waxing gibbous moon on my left shoulder for most of the drive, and it struck me that this would be my last moonlit drive for 2012.  And it was strange because on so many moonlit drives, I’ve been with characters who have made my stories shine, with ideas that drive me on to produce good stories, and plots that I hope work out once I put them to paper.

I had none of that last night.  It was just me, and a few of my thoughts.  Not that there was anything wrong with that, but as perfect as the night seemed, I really wanted to have someone alongside, sharing the experience.

This is has been a long year, with plenty of ups and downs, things to be remembered and forgotten.  There has been exhilaration and doubt.  Particularly the doubt, which has seemed to increase in the last few weeks.  Don’t ask why, because I don’t know myself.  It’s the way my mind works, and it’s not ways a good thing, that.

The thing about being a writer is there is always doubt.  Is this story good?  Are the characters believable?  Does any of this make sense?  Is the cover nice?  Is this damn thing going to sell?  It’s the nature of the beast, these doubts, because creative people are like that.  Nothing is ever good enough for them; everything is “okay”.  Or, if they are really down on themselves, “not so good”.

Quite honestly, we’re all seconds away from an Admiral Ackbar moment, and it will drive you crazy when all the thoughts of everything bad that could happen to you come knocking.  I had a touch of that last night, then kicked them out of the car because I realize the more negativity you embrace, the longer it stays with you.  That was the problem with my last job:  it was a negative environment, and very little made me happy.

I don’t want negative:  I want happy.

It seemed that once I pushed the bad stuff out of the car, a couple of characters who I hadn’t thought of in some time entered my mind, as if to put me at easy and tell me, “It’s okay, love.  We all go thought this:  you’re no different.”  It was comforting that even someone fictional could bring a smile to my face . . .

Perhaps they needed someone to ride with as well.

The Serpentine Dragon’s Flight

Despite the title of this post, you’ll likely be dismayed to discover nary a dragon in sight.  So is there any significance to those four words?  Maybe.  You’ll just have to roll along with me and find out.

Originally I was going to go off on someone.  There was a set of comments I saw the other morning that sorta rubbed me in the wrong way, and I felt like I needed to get on and rant about stuff.  Because that’s the way I am; every so often my bullshit detector red lines and I gotta say something.

The comment had to do with someone who’d apparently seen The Hunger Games, and who’d become upset that people could find a movie about a group young teens being forced to kill each other for the entertainment of others–the others in the movie, that is, not the people in the theater–to be, well, in a word, entertaining.  This person was upset that people were clapping at the end of the movie, and this was, again, another in a long line of indications that there no morality in our society–as, it would appear, there was also no sense of morality in the main character, Katniss Everdeen, either–and it was criminal that a story like this could be considered suitable for young adults.

All they needed to say was, “This is indicative of the Culture of (name of whatever thing it is that pushes your moral buttons) we live in!” and they’d have pretty much hit the trifecta.  Although a comment seen later–”As long as you are doing it (participating in The Games) to protect your sister, it’s okay to kill”–is pretty much a deal sealer.

But there’s no need to get too caught up in this hullabaloo, or spend a lot of time ripping someone apart for a couple of inane lines.  My twelve year old daughter has read the trilogy, and I’ve yet seen her preparing to go after the neighbors with a bow and arrow, nor is she in need of extensive waxing.  If fact, good person that I am, I gave her my copy of Battle Royale to read, telling her, “You might enjoy this.”  I don’t expect her to get into a life-or-death struggle with the kids at school welding only a cooking pot, though I would give her odds to come out on top were such a conflict to occur.

Nor is there any reason to speak extensively upon the morality of Katniss, either.  If you know anything about the story, you’ll know Katniss is directly responsible for keeping her mother, younger sister, and herself feed.  She is, eventually, the breadwinner of the family, and without her they all starve.  She doesn’t go willingly into The Games; she does, indeed, enter in order to save her sister, who was originally chosen by the government to be one of the contestants to fight to the death, and Katniss knew if her sister entered the Arena, she’d quickly end up a bloody statistic.  But the idea that it’s the kids who want to do this, and are okay with the killing?  Please.  This is something forced upon the people by the government, teaching them a “lesson” about what happens when you fight the power.  And the idea that The Games are being used for entertainment is sick?  Um, read a little history, and then tell me that Fox wouldn’t be the one hosting this show if it were allowed.  Come to think of it, American Idol would be a far better show if the Sword of Damocles were hanging over the heads of each person being sent home every week.

And just so we are straight on this, lets go right to a direct quote:  “The idea for the trilogy was based in part on the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, in which seven boys and seven girls from Athens are sent every nine years against their will to be devoured by the Minotaur, a cycle that doesn’t stop until Theseus kills the Minotaur. (Author Susan) Collins, who heard the story when she was eight years old (about the same time I heard it), was unsettled by its ruthlessness and cruelty. Collins said, ‘In her own way, Katniss is a futuristic Theseus.’  Collins also characterized the novels with the fearful sensations she experienced when her father was fighting in the Vietnam War.”  So much for the story being another example this murder-fest being endemic of our immoral culture.

I know the point the person who made the original declaration was going for:  that these stories happen, and people are entertained by them, because there is a singular lack of morality brought about by a singular lack of religion.  I’ve heard this point made a lot, and I’ve been hearing it since I was about 7 or 8 years old–which is to say, I’ve been hearing it for close to fifty years.

And it was as much bullshit then as it is now.

Morality is learned, that is true.  It is also true you can be a pious person and about as immoral an individual as one can imagine.  As an Indiana native I’m very much aware of one of our favorite sons, Jim Jones, he of the People’s Temple and Guyana Cocktail fame, and it’s pretty easy to say he was both a pious man and as immoral and/or crazy as a shithouse rat.  It doesn’t matter how moral you believe yourself to be; if you’re a sociopath, you’re living your own version of morality–and the odds are ever in your favor you’re extremely eager to get other people to bend to your idea of morality.  Ricky Santorum, I’m lookin’ at you, babe.

By the same token, it’s easy to say one can develop a sense of right and wrong while not being very religious, or religious at all.  I have to put myself in this category, as I’ve been an atheist since I was a teenager.  This downward slide stared when I was kicked out of Sunday School when I was 8 or 9, because I kept asking why no one was upset when Lazareth started walking around after having been dead a few day.  Nowadays he’d get a guest shot on The Walking Dead, but back there–you’re telling me no one freaked out?  After class was over my parents were asked to speak with the sister in private, and when they came out they were pissed, because they’d been told I was “disruptive”, and that it would be best if I not return to class because I was “upsetting the other students with my lack of faith.”

Hey now!

I can tell the difference between right and wrong, and do what I can to help others where it is necessary.  And as far as the characters in my stories go . . . well, a large part of Transporting–the whole third book, in fact–deals with helping people out of something that will eventually become, in a massive case of understatement on my part, “very bad” for them.  The person who instigates the action to save these people–she’s an atheist, as is her eventual partner-in-crime, who is not only also a person who lives without faith, but a lesbian as well.  Yeah, I know.  I should burst into flames right now, shouldn’t I?

Strangely enough, I have written about characters who had considerable faith, and used it to guide them.  You can find them in my story Kuntilanak:  Buana, a traditional Balinese healer, and Indriani Baskoro, a paranormal investigator who is also a Muslim.  Yeah, sorry about that, folks, but when one is writing about people in another country, the chances are good they might just have religious views a little different than what might be considered the “norm” here.

I suppose I have gone off on a rant, but it’s not the sort that I have been known to do.  In part because, from my point of view, I only need state my point of view, enter in a few facts, and be upon my way.  It’s not necessary to jump into the fray with both feet, and slaughter the innocent at the Cornucopia, much as Katniss didn’t do when she first entered The Arena.  Personally, I’ll live how I like, because I find it works for me, and I’ll try to ignore the rantings of others who feel we are like the very Worst Culture EVAR, because there is a whole group of tweeners and teenagers out there who are getting enjoyment from reading the modern retelling of a three thousand year old myth.

Hang on tight to that dragon, baby.  It tends to be a bumpy ride.

I’m Ready For Your Closeup

As this is Speak Out With Your Geek Out! Week, I’m going to spend part of the week blogging about things that gets my geek up, that brings out the geeky part of my personality, that has people turn in my direction, point at me and say, “Geek!”

And I wear this title proudly.

So what’s on tap today?  Movies.

As a kid I grew up in a time where TV was the “vast wasteland”, where there was 5 channels and nothing on, and I do mean that: you had the Big Three networks and WGN on VHF, and WDLD, Channel 32, on UFH.  That was it.  And if you think TV bites it these days, hey, man, I was made to watch My Mother the Car, which is about as close to existential horror as once can get when you are 8.

But there was one good thing about growing up then: there were a lot of movies.  ABC showed literally every monster and sci fi flick from 3:30 to 5:00 PM every weekday, and WGN ran old movies from 10:30 PM on.  Since I was home from school by 3:15 PM–and I was the sort of kid who didn’t do homework because, well, it bored me–I sat down and watched things that you almost never see these days: The Monolith Monsters, Teenagers From Outer Space, The Giant Gila Monster, The Mole Men (which really scared me for some reason–it’s the eyes, you know).  But I also caught Them! and Kronos (the giant energy stealing robot) and It Came From Outer Space and Invaders from Mars (another flick that scared me a lot).

At the other end of the spectrum I had a huge amount of exposure to all things classic: the Jimmy Cagney catalog, Humphrey Bogart and George Raft goodness, the Thin Man series . . . it was all there for the taking, and it was free.  Just con your parents (in this case my mom, who owed me big for the mental torture of having to watch her stuff) into letting you stay up late and promise to get up for school the next day (which I could, since I could get by on 4 hours of sleep without a problem), and you were In Like Flint (which I also saw).

It was by using this scam that I was able to stay up until 11:00 PM one night and, with no one else awake, watch Forbidden Planet for the first time.  That was really a bit of magic that, these days, you’d be hard pressed to match that.

But late night TV wasn’t the only place to find this magic.  To me, the 1960′s and 1970′s were a time of major insanity for film, as it seemed like just about everything and anything was up for grabs.  Sure, I didn’t see Midnight Cowboy as a kid (no getting into X-Rated movies then, you know?), but I remember getting hauled off to a drive-in to watch a double bill of Patton and MASH, and how you can get a greater dichotomy on that subject, I don’t know–triple bill it 10 years later with Apocalypse Now, I suppose.  (And my slice of morning trivia: MASH was the first major Hollywood release to drop the f-bomb, done so in an ad-lib by actor John Schuck.  So I was there at the beginning, so to speak.)

I saw The Godfather; I saw The Exorcist two weeks after it premiered in a theater that was nearly empty; I saw Jaws; I saw Silent Running and The Black Hole . . . I conned some friends into going off to see the original Rollerball and wondered when we could see guys on roller skates beating the hell out of each other.  I hauled at least a half-dozen friends off to see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on 5 different occasions . . . let put it this way: if the movie is listed in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, I saw it in the theaters (and if you haven’t read this book, you should).

And as the ’80′s and ’90′s came around, there was the discovery of movies from Europe, of movies from Hong Kong–and if you’ve never seen the pre-Hollywood catalog of John Woo, you should do this while reading Sex and Zen and a Bullet in the Head, ’cause it doesn’t get any crazier.

Sadly, these days I’m not as much a film geek as I once was.  Maybe it’s the feeling that everything these days is little more than an effort to put butts in the seat while convincing movie goers that a billion dollars spent on the production of 3 movies detailing the exploits of a line of 1980′s toys is really a good thing leaves me wanting.  Maybe it’s the feeling that the visual is all and story is something that gets in the way of putting pretty CGI on the screen that bothers me.  Maybe it’s the notion that Touch of Evil and Sunset Boulevard are really a quantum leap ahead in everything when compared to just about anything made today, save that done by Christopher Nolan.

Still, movies have soothed my jones for decades.  They affect each of us differently, and while what you like isn’t likely going to be what I like, never the mind: it’s the magic within that counts.

And this is the glue that real binds all us film geeks together.

Puttin’ the Money on the Screen

First, if it seems like it’s been forever since I last wrote–well, not exactly, but it’s been a few weeks.  Reason being . . . it just has.  Like having a shy character who is shy because they are shy, I haven’t done anything of late because I haven’t.

That said, roll on.

I don’t know why this is pissing me off today.  Maybe because the political season has begun and Teh Crazy has begun full-blown.  Maybe because I’d love to whack me some Conservatives who think playing whore to their moneyed pimps is a great way to live.  Maybe it’s because I’ve finally become completely, utterly, and totally sick and tired of hearing about how “Liberal Hollywood” is corrupting “family values” and the end result of this is that Little Timmy is gonna fall in love with Little Johnny’s butthole and Pretty Penny is gonna have 20 abortions by 19 men and a transsexual when they all grow up if they keep watching TV or going to the movies.

Lets back up on that last shit for a moment.  Liberal Hollywood?  Why is that?  Is it because some actors go out and protest the construction of nuclear plants, or spend a few hours picking lettuce with migrant workers, or get behind their favorite social program for the poor?  Or, worst of all, they are . . . wait, here it comes . . . gay?  Is that really what “Liberal Hollywood” is about?

Let me burst your bubble here: Liberal Hollywood is about a liberal as Barry Goldwater–though I think I hear a Teabagger out there yelling, “He was!”.  Liberal Hollywood has two faces: the actors who are in the public eye and whom need something to get behind (not all, mind you, but more than a few), and the producers and a very few marque directors who are really running the whole damn thing behind the scenes.  And it’s this last group of people who are only concerned with one thing: making money by putting your ass in a seat.

And if it means spending a bazillion dollars on a movie, consider it done.  For example–

You may be unaware of this, but there’s a Transformers movie about to take over theaters for the 4th of July weekend.  Now, I understand there are a huge number of people out there who love these flicks despite them consisting of bad or non-existent acting, racist caricatures that almost make Jar Jar Binks look noble (almost, I said), more shit blown up than you could ever hope to see in one lifetime, and Megan Fox’s ass (said ass now replaced by a that of a lingerie model ’cause–why not?), but who am I to say they can’t blow their $10+ (based on what they charge where I live) on mindless bullshit?

I mean, I like shit explodin’ as much as the next person, though I don’t enjoy it as much these days mostly because the mindless crap between the ‘plody shit drives me crazy.  But there is one thing that really drives me nuts about the Transformer movies, and that’s the one thing that most people never think about:

The budget.

Making movies are a very expensive endeavor these days.  Dropping $150 million isn’t out of the question, and if a studio spends “only” $60-$70 million on a production, they’re in danger of having said flick labeled an “independent production”.  Most of that money goes into “production values”, also known as Special Effects, also sometimes known as the shit blowing up on the screen, and for the most part you do see the money.

So how much did Liberal Hollywood spend so Transformers fans could get their kicks?  Well, that’s pretty easy to figure out, because in the days of the Internets you can look this up.

The first movie had a budget of $150 million, which again seems about average for a SFX-heavy movie these days.  The second movie had a budget of $300 million, which is now moving into rarefied air, because only a few movies have approached Titanic-level spending.  But seeing how much money the second movie rolled up, it was justified–at least by the studios.

And the budget for the third movie?  Well, now, you may as well ask, “What’s the operating budget for Area 51?” cause the answer is very elusive indeed.  There is no “official” listing for the budget just yet, and the best I could find was an unconfirmed report that the budget hit $400 million and was “still going north”, meaning the final tally is probably very close to the magical $500 million mark.

Liberal Hollywood–which, remember, is all about making sure our kids turn into gay atheists who love Muslims–likely spent a half a billion dollars on a movie about toys made in the 1980′s beating the shit out of each other.  Oh, and destroying Chicago, but, hey: it’s either toy robots or giant grasshoppers, take your pick.

And when you add in to this mix the first two movies, you realize that these crazy liberals have spent a billion dollars on three movies.  Think about that: a billion dollars.  Your school system can’t get $150,000 for new computer labs, but banks lined up to fork over cash so robot trucks can be kickin’ ass while low-ballin’.

Hollywood is about as liberal as Wall Street.  It’s all about domestic and international gross.  It’s all about how to go about maximizing products and spinin’ the toys–I’m sorry, the “collectibles market”.

In the end, it’s all about the green.

I can think of a lot of ways to spend a billion dollars, an none of them involve CGIing a couple of robotic Stepin’ Fetchits.  But then, I understood Inception ($160 million to make) and had no problem following it, so what do I know?