Friday, October 31, 2014

"But first you accomplish paint fence."

Watched 1984’s “The Karate Kid” with my children last weekend.  They were hesitant because they’ve seen the remake and didn’t think it was very good.  I haven’t seen it but they so didn’t like it that I doubt we’ll be able to do another comparison like “Red Dawn.”

TKK aged well.  The styles are out, naturally, and the fit and finish of the film is rough in a couple of places but if we are honest, they were rough in 1984 too.  The biggest thing for me was how young Ralph Macchio was.

I haven’t seen the movie in a very long time.  He was always older than I was.  They all were.  This time around they were kids.  And as an adult, I understand a bit more about what was going on.  Like why mom moved to California, why Ali’s acceptance of the poor kid from Reseda was so unlikely, and just how funny the dialogue actually was – sure, I caught a few of the jokes, but it is really clever.

The family conversation focused on pacing.  #3 complained that we were a half an hour into the movie and nothing had happened yet.  My daughter was incredulous.  “What are you talking about?  He’s moved across the country, gotten beat up by a gang, found a girlfriend, and we just saw the old guy kick butt.”  #3 said, “O.K., but he hasn’t done any training yet or anything.”

That’s a great point.  I don’t think you could sell the TKK script today because it takes so long to get to the meat of the plot.  There’s this idea that you have to rush into the action because the modern audience is savvier.  Forget the insult for a minute and focus on the result of that belief.  A remake that has lots of fighting you don’t care about.  If Daniel got beat up once, what are the stakes?  Why does he have to fight?  If we don’t meat Ali’s parents and her friends, why do we care that she dates Daniel?”  There’s no pay off.  And then what about Mr. Miyagi?  He is destiny and patience and wisdom rolled into one – if you rush him, you lose him.

And that would be a tradgedy.  All weekend I heard Mr. Miyagi quoted and my daughter is still chuckling about the scene in the boat when he falls off the seat laughing because Daniel fell into the pond.

My boys wanted to know if it was really possible to catch a fly with chopsticks.  I told them it was.  So is writing a movie that speaks to your children the same way it spoke to you.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Steal yourself

I discovered a wonderful little book that you absolutely have to read.  When I say little, I mean little.  Your library has it if you don’t like to buy books.  If you do like to buy books, it’s one that your collection yearns for.

That’s right, yearns.

The book is Austin Kleon’s “Steal Like an Artist” and it will both motivate and free you.  He opens by telling us that in his opinion, anytime someone offers you advice, they are really saying what they would do now, in your position.  There’s a bit of obvious but undiscovered truth there and it sets the tone for the rest of the book.

The book itself is pocket sized and doesn’t feel any pressure to fill the pages with words.  What is there is good.  What isn’t there wasn’t needed.  Illustrations, charts, and balloon quotes all get their own pages.

It isn’t because he doesn’t have much to say or needs filler.  It’s to control your pace as you read.  It’s the printed version of my mother-in-law’s apple pie.  You take a bite and just let it sit there for a minute making your mouth happy.

Essentially what Kleon does is articulate, artfully, the difference between inspiration and plagiarism.  His arguments may not stand up in court but they will give you permission to enjoy your creative passions more fully.

And that is the goal of the book – to encourage you to make art that you like.  He breaks convention and says, “Don’t write what you know, write what you want to read.”

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Monday, October 27, 2014


By Jon Stark
October, 2014

Levi did what anyone else would do.  He pretended not to see.  But some problems don’t go away by themselves.  That’s what Hannah would say.  He still wasn’t ready to admit she might be right.

Things were out of hand now, though.  He couldn’t ignore that.  Fall was well on its way to winter.  Time to gather up the mess.  Time to get on with it.

Levi didn’t know how to do that, though.  The trash can was out, he’d never fit it all in.  A gust of wind stirred the mass of leaves in his yard.  Spun them up into a spectral shape that danced a hundred yards before dissolving, drifting back to the ground.  He shivered.

There were branches down in the yard too.  An idea formed.  Then the shape of a fire as he gathered sticks, broke them to size, and constructed a teepee within a log cabin.  That should do it.

No, it wouldn’t.  Levi gathered more wood and stacked it beside the carefully laid fire.  He crumpled newspaper and hid it inside the sticks.

More leaves fell.  Clouds roiled in the sky as night crept upon him.  He glared at the faces of his neighbors, peering from the windows of their warm houses, judging him with their immaculate lawns and orderly bags of debris stacked at the ends of driveways that got fresh sealant every summer.

He didn’t like being judged.  He’d told Hannah that a hundred times.  She had a problem though, involving judging, talking, and not listening.  The quiet was nice.

Dark had come when he was finally ready.  Those who knew him would say it was because he was lazy and started too late in the day, not because he’d planned it that way.  Others would suspect that he labored over the fire, adjusting everything just so, because be he sick in the head.

Once he had a good blaze going he headed to the house and dragged out some of the trash bags.  The rooms were packed with garbage, a warren that both comforted and horrified him.  The neighbors had complained unsuccessfully -- the homeowner’s association only had rules for the outside and to see his mess you had to be a nosey Nancy and look through his windows.

All the same, he’d blocked the windows.  Hannah didn’t like that, but she was too busy running her yap to do anything about it.

A pair of eyes watched Levi from his neighbor’s upstairs bedroom.  He stared back until they went away.  The fire flickered and the rising shadows turned his face to a grotesque parody of a man.

Levi heaved one of the bags onto the blaze.  It sputtered for a moment, hissed, then burned with a sudden furry.  He wasn’t prepared for the smell.  He’d thought it would be horrible but it was more like grilling steak.

Flashing lights caught his attention.  He rushed around front.  A sheriff’s deputy walked from the curb toward the house.  “What can I do for you, Officer?” asked Levi.

The deputy stopped, shined his 6 cell flash light at Levi, then walked over to him.  “Had a call about a fire.”

“Just burning some stuff I cleaned up,” said Levi.

“You’re supposed to call before you burn,” said the deputy.

Levi cursed under his breath.  How had he forgotten that?  “Sorry.  I was rushing to get it done, didn’t think of it.”

The officer nodded.  “That’s alright.  Just don’t let it happen again.”

“It definitely won’t happen again,” said Levi.

The man walked back toward his car then turned.  “What are you cooking?  Smells great.”

Levi stared at him.

“You okay?” asked the deputy.

“Dinner.  I’m hungry.”

The deputy frowned, shrugged, and went back to his car.  “Be careful with that fire.”

Levi didn’t wave.  He ran into his house and through the piles of collected junk to the freezer.  He grabbed a package of meat and put it on his grill out back near the fire.

The grill wouldn’t start.  He cursed.  He hit it.  Again.  He threw it around his deck.  It didn’t start.

The fire settled into coals.  He threw on another trash bag.  It caught quickly with a sickening hiss.  This time flames didn’t leap up, they crawled low and blue.  He watched them dance.  The way he watched Hannah dance.  He felt the same stirring.

It took some puttering but he wasn’t upset about the cop anymore and he got the grill going.  He wasn’t sure anyone ever grilled a roast but nobody would be that close.

He threw more wood on the fire.  He couldn’t afford to let it go out.  Then he dragged out a half dozen more trash bags, one at a time, carefully so that they wouldn’t rip.

One of his neighbors waved from her back deck, a can of something in one hand, a cigarette in the other.  He ignored her.

“You and Hannah having a late night barbeque?” she asked.

Levi snapped his head around.  The woman had come to the edge of her lawn and was watching him.  He glared at her, the fire casting a deep red tint on them both.

She caught her breath and stumbled back inside.

Levi spent hours at the fire, adding wood and trash bags until he was out of both.  He poked at it with a long stick, shifting the ash and bones.

He dozed on a rusting folding chair.  The moon came up and played hide and seek with the clouds.  Still the fire burned.  He startled awake, a curse on his lips.  He looked around.  Nothing.  And the fire.

The flames rose up, formed and reformed.  Arms stretched out and retreated.  A face laughed at him.  The wood was gone but still it burned.  He poked at it again.  He was tired.  How long would it take?

Dawn crept into the sky and the fire burned.  He sprayed it down but the fire kept burning.  He could clearly see the bones now, fire fliting in and out of the empty eye sockets of the cracked skull.

He ran to the garage and fumbled for a rake.  He worked feverishly and dumped piles of leaves on the fire, smothering it.  Smoke poured out, vile, acrid, thick.

Levi went inside.  He ate.  Outside, the fire burned through the leaves.  He went back to work, feeding the fire with leaves and fallen branches.

Every time it burned down he would sift and stir and each time he found the bones still burning, no hint that they were being consumed.  All day and into the night he labored.  He burned all of the leaves.  Still the bones looked untouched by the fire that clung to them.

His phone rang.  He ignored it.  A few minutes later his neighbor was back, with a fresh can and cigarette.  “Where’s Hannah?  I just tried to call and she didn’t answer.  Haven’t seen her in a few weeks.”

“Gone,” said Levi.  “Maybe to her mother’s?”

“Why would she go there?”  A drag on the cigarette.

“Didn’t say.”

“Or you weren’t listening?”  It was playful.  So was the subtle unzipping of the sweatshirt she wore.  “She say when she was coming back?”

Levi shook his head.  He threw some books onto the fire from where he’d moved the stack in the dining room to a pile beside the fire.  “I told her to shut up.  She said I couldn’t make her.  I stopped paying attention after that.”

His neighbor nodded sagely.  Finished her can.  “You let me know if there’s... anything I can do.”

“You can go home and leave me alone,” said Levi.  He threw the rest of the books on the fire.  She zipped up the sweatshirt and huffed away.

The fire burned all night.  He tried soaking it with the hose but the water just hissed and mocked him.  The fire danced and leered at him.

He emptied the house, burning decades of collected treasures but each time the trash was consumed, it left only the bones.  The sheriff’s deputy came back.  He chased the man away.  Promised he was almost done.

But he wasn’t.  When the trash in the house was burned he started on the garage.  Then the furniture in the house.  Then he tore up the floors and broke up the walls.  The fire consumed all of it.

The fire department chief came by and suggested that maybe it was time to put out the fire.  Levi told him he was on it.  His eyes blazed and smoke clung to him and the fireman retreated, shaken.

Levi tried burying the fire.  The bones moved together then, hiding from the dirt.  Scurrying out of the pit and onto his lawn.  He hacked at them with his shovel.  They danced out of reach.

Exhausted, he stopped for breath.  They came together.  Feet, legs, pelvis, ribs, shoulders, arms, hands.  He watched in horror as the bone fingers lifted the skull and set it in place.

A voice, harsh with smoke, hissed at him from the broken jaw.  He fell to his knees, covered his ears.  But he still heard her.

“You can’t make me,” said Hannah.

Friday, October 24, 2014

You never know where you'll end up unless you never leave.

Last weekend I typed Fade out on a script.  I haven’t looked at it since and probably won’t until after Christmas.  I’d better not.  There has to be a “cooling off” period when you work on a project before you can effectively edit it.  The bigger the project/more you change, the longer that period has to be.  In this case, it’s a 113 page feature.

Thing is, typing Fade out was a bit anti-climactic.

I didn’t know why I felt that way, after all, I finished it – something I’d never done until just over a year ago.  I had allotted a month to write the first draft and I only needed 3 weeks.  I had no difficulty getting to the end I wanted without it being contrived (by Hollywood standards, anyway).  And it’s a great story.  I really like the protagonist and she gets to do pretty cool stuff.

So I went deeper.  Why didn’t I feel like I’d actually accomplished something major?  There are literally tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands of people who never get to Fade out.  It was my fourth feature script.  I’ve written a novel.  Getting to the end isn’t the goal anymore.  There was never a question in my mind that I’d be typing fade out within 30 days of typing fade in.

Getting that draft done was only the first step.  I know I have at least one more major revision draft and dozens of smaller passes.  Most likely – despite unwavering confidence in my awesomeness – I’ve got 2 or 3 more major revision drafts.  It probably won’t actually be “done” until next year’s contest season.

I’m excited about the script but that excitement is now tempered by experience.  It’s also a private story for now.  Even harder than the discipline needed to reach Fade out is not sharing the first draft with a trusted reader.  Stephen King knew whathe was talking about when he said NOBODY should ever see the first draft except for you. 

Nicole Sullivan

So it isn’t done, but that’s okay.  I’ve finished another important step on the way to being done.  I take heart in that and am reminded of the speech that Nicole Sullivan gave at graduation.  She quoted Winston Churchill – a man who understood scripting – who said, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The only thing better than a rejection letter is 4 rejection letters.

Long time readers may recall the excitement from about a year ago when I wrote about receiving a rejection letter with personal comments.  I’ve gotten a few more since then and they really cause as much excitement as they once did.

But the one I just got did.  It didn’t have a personal comment from the editor.  It had a personal comment from the editor and the three readers.  I made it almost to publication in a respectably paying market.  The comments were positive about the writing and spot on criticisms of the plot.  Please forgive the hubris, I’m going to share some of them.

“This piece is tense and exciting.  It has a lot going for it.  But I don’t feel very sumpathetic towards the protagonist…  It is a good piece, but I don’t think it’s quite there.”

“Your prose is vivid and well written.  I feel your plot could have a little more exposition added to it, however.”

“The author of this piece has a world view and character clearly thought out before htem.  The staccato sentences, “The mirror was in a very honest mood,” reflect Angela’s own tense and acerbic frame of mind… in part because I wasn’t sure this made a whole story in itself… This feels like the true story’s cold echo.”

I love that last line.  Cold echo.  It was a cold piece and needed warmth to draw a reader in.  I plan to add that warmth.

The key to getting better is honesty.  I have another story being rejected all over the place that I think is good and just needs the right editor.  But this story isn’t there.  Yet.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A new story and and a new contest

I hope you don't consider this cheating.  I wrote a piece for Wendy Strain's new contest last week and now that it doesn't have to be anonymous anymore, I'm using it for the entry today.

Please consider entering the contest.  It's 500 words or less, to prompt, to be posted on Friday with voting over the weekend.

Here's the story -- mine is the one about the fork.

Friday, October 17, 2014

"It's a snow cone maker."

Great movies have something that elevates them above the conventions and standards of their time.  Easy examples are Casablanca and Charade which, while “old” when you watch, are still entertaining for new audiences.  I watched a pair of movies over the weekend that did not rise above their peers.  Actually, I watched 1 and a half movies.  We gave up on Crocodile Dundee.

I know you are cringing at that.  How could you give up on a classic that gave us such memorable lines as, “That’s not a kni-afe.  THIS is a kni-afe!”  Simply put, it wasn’t entertaining after 30 years.  They don’t make movies like that anymore.  If you have fond memories of that film, don’t revisit it.

The disappointment of CD led me to consider an observation I made back in the 90s when I was a fan but not a student of film.  Some of the movies I loved and watched all the time lost their luster and seemed cheesy 5 or 6 years later (or less).  When Iron Eagle came out it was amazing.  Everyone loved it.  There were even a ton of sequals.  But it’s not a good movie.  The year after IE, Top Gun was released.  It’s still good.  Somehow it rose above the genre and became more than just a summer blockbuster.

I freely admit to having been a fan of Steven Segal back in the day.  I must have watched Hard to Kill and Marked for Death a hundred times.  But they got old quickly.  I haven’t watched either in decades because the last time around they were so awful.  Yet other action movies from the same time, like Die Hard and it’s first sequel are still great movies (just remember they’re ‘R’ for a reason).  I’d argue that the first Die Hard is still far superior to the last installment.  (There was also my recent post about Red Dawn.)

So why are Terminator and True Lies so much better than Raw Deal and Red Heat?  What made Kindergarten Cop superior to Twins?  (You don’t get to blame James Belushi or Danny DeVito.)

I think it’s character.  Crocodile Dundee was larger than life, we can’t relate to him anymore.  But we all know somebody we think just might be Harry Tasker.  I certainly have met my fair share of fighter pilots who make Pete Mitchell seem humble.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ask a busy person.

When was the last time you learned something new?  I’m not talking trivia, like how many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop.  I’m talking how to do something, like actually make a tootsie pop.

There is nothing more stimulating than adjusting your perspective by putting on a different pair of metaphorical shoes.  Sure, you may stink at whatever you’re trying to do -- I almost failed 8th grade art and my teacher made me do three water color projects because she thought I was goofing off (which I may have been, but I can’t do water colors) – but the experience will energize your life.

I recently changed jobs and the duties/responsibilities are so different that I spent the first three weeks struggling to keep my (metaphorically again) head above water.  You know what, though?  During that time I started a new screen play and I’ve got almost 90 pages done!

Next month is November.  It’s NaNoWriMo.  Do it.  Seriously.  If you think you’re too busy then you’ve got a better than average chance of actually succeeding.  When December rolls around you’ll be a novelist.

Just one thing --  start from scratch.  Don’t pick up a scrap or a stalled out idea from ten years ago.  It will be easier without baggage.  And I meant what I said about being busy.  The busier you are in life, the more likely you’ll be able to get it done.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Swimming Hole

Happy October Exploitation Day.  Let’s celebrate with a story.

The Swimming Hole
by Your’s Truly
October 2014

Mr. Webster flipped through his manuscript again as the frown that seemed to be permanently etched into his face grew even more pronounced.  “Blasted tarniverous obfuscation,” he muttered.

The woman seated in the chair beside his work table looked up from her needlepoint and peered down her hawkish nose, across the rims of her spectacles, and on to the trouble form of the man who’d won her heart a half century earlier.  “What is it, Dear?”

“I’m missing something,” he said.

She considered his words, then the bulky collection of papers covered in his perfect script.  “I don’t see how you could have.  That book must be a thousand pages.”

“It’s more than that, but there are so many words.”  He thumbed through it again.  “So awfully very many.”

“Then it’s to be expected that you’ve missed a couple and no one will mind.”  She was a sensible woman which was why he’d chosen her over the flighty Mabel.

He considered Mabel for a moment.  Wondered how long she’d be content to sit in a chair with skein and needle.  Once more he counted himself fortunate to be with Merriam.

He looked down.  His breath stopped.  There it was.  “Ahh HA!” he cried out.  “I knew something was missing.  Right here between swill and swindle.”

Merriam, God bless her soul throughout the eternity to which she was predestined upon her baptism at Courtland Abbey, rose from her chair and ambulated to her husband’s side.  “What’s missing?”

He scratched his chin.  Then he scratched his lower back where something had bitten him in the night.  “I don’t know.”

“It seems to me that one word doesn’t make that much of a difference,” she said.

He looked over at two covers for his opus, identical but for the word “Abridged” attached as a subtitle to one of them.  “Sometimes one word makes all of the difference.”

Friday, October 10, 2014

Why isn't there an 'unlike' button?

I’ll jump right to it.  This week I read “The Social Network.”  Despite all of the problems and content that I didn’t care for, it was a well written and compelling script.  I have to say that I liked it, even though there isn’t a single reason I can think of to do so.  There isn’t a great scene, a grand hero, a victory, or anything, really, except a bunch of very smart, very small people being mean to each other.

Thing is, it’s about Facebook, and somehow that makes this story larger than life.

The problem I have with the script is the same problem I have with Facebook itself.  There’s a whole lot of trash mixed in with the lives of people I don’t really know or care about.  It’s a story of over-sharing and back stabbing without a hero.  It’s a story of arrogance and hedonistic self-indulgence.   And once you start it, you have to finish it – drunken drug-induced orgies and all.

To be fair, much like the real Facebook, the worst of the bad is hidden in subtext so the censors don’t have to cut anything out, but I have no intention of ever actually watching it.  What is there in the story isn’t entertainment.  Neither are videos of cats taking a bath, but they still get a lot of views.

Maybe that’s why I liked it?  It was a commentary on how banal the most successful social networking site in the world really is – and has been right from the get-go.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Facebook “hater” but nobody can deny how much more narcissistic it has made our culture.  And at the expense of true knowledge – like what narcissistic means and where it came from.

If you want to write screenplays, read this script.  There are some interesting transitions and it uses flashbacks masterfully.  It also draws characters and settings extremely well.  Then there’s the pacing,  top notch.  It’s technically an outstandingly well executed document.  But if you aren’t writing screenplays, just watch the movie -- if you’re in to that sort of thing.

I know that doesn’t make any sense.  How can I be so down on it and still like it?  Still be thinking about the script days later?  Actually put off writing on my project so I could finish it?  It’s got to be the magic of the site itself, the addiction that keeps us logging in, time and time again.

Facebook really has changed the world.  Perhaps the allure of “The Social Network” is that of any creation legend, one that all mythologies must have.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

There's no dog like an old dog.

Long time readers may recall that last year my youngest son’s science project was to determine which of our three dogs was the smartest.  An interesting side effect of that was the discovery of which one was the dumbest.  But he’s a good, kind-hearted boy, so he described her instead as “the third smartest dog.”

So now, on occasion, I’ll call her #3.  Thing is, I like #3.  She’s sweet and when we got her she was terrified of the world.  Seriously.  She only stopped shaking in dark room by herself.  I often found her in my closet.  She would leap from the dogs’ recliner if I even came close to the shredder.  So I would pet her with keys in my hand.  She’s still nervous about that, but I don’t have to hold her anymore.

#3 is a black Lab.  If you know labs, you know they have a voracious hunger and will consume vast quantities of anything when given a chance.  This one is partial to charcoal and Crayola’s.  It makes for a colorful back yard.  I’ve trained #1-2 to eat only when given permission.  But could #3 learn to wait too?

She can and she has.  It just took longer than the Border Collie did.  I estimate about 1 week of training for the lab per day of training for the collie.  To be fair, the lab is about 7 years old and the collie was a pup, but, well, there’s a reason she’s #3.

My point in all of this is that my family was dubious about my chances for success.  After all, everyone knows that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  Except that I did.

Think about that.

Have you passed on your dream again because now you’re too old?  If I can teach a lab in late middle age to wait for her breakfast, you can do it too.  Not wait for your breakfast, but live your dream.  The thing about dreams is that most people don’t follow them and they’ll tell you all sorts of reasons why you shouldn’t either, one of them that you’re already set on your life path.  Don’t listen to that.  People, in general, are afraid, and what you are hearing are the expressions of their fear, the things that are holding them back.  But you aren’t them.

So what if you’re only third smartest.  Doesn’t mean you can’t succeed.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Jolly Old Party Snack

I think I know what it is to be a professional writer.  I have a large project I’m working on – the script, a short story that I just have to write inspired by the most remarkable wedding I attended over the weekend, and a blog post which, being Monday, must be a work of original fiction.

I don’t want to write the work of original fiction for the bog.  I want to write the short story, even as the script tugs at me as says, “Get me done.  You’re going to love the end.”  The discipline that lets me finish any of my writing insists that the blog must come first.

I know, I’ll just copy an entry from Washington Orville Hampton’s diary.

May 12, 1983 – Budapest.

This is truly a remarkable age we are living in.  I’m staying at the Prague and Pony, unspeakable thousands of miles from home, yet this afternoon upon waking – it was a very late night of  draw – so hungry I couldn’t stand it but between shifts in the hotel kitchen, I found a sort of delicatessen across the street and was able to get not just a pastrami on strange brown bread but also a cup of Pringles.

I remarked to the man behind me how much I loved the processed potato snack and he smiled before buying my lunch.  I thanked him and he suggested we take one of the sidewalk tables and enjoy the early afternoon together.  It was the least I could do for a fellow traveler and he spoke the Queen’s English with such charm that I could think of no more entertaining way to pass the time.

He also had a cup of the Pringles and devoured them with the sort of passion generally reserved for confections coated in chocolate.  The conversation worked its way around, as conversations do and in a moment’s pause I took up the cup and commented on the snack food being labeled a Crisp rather than a Chip.

For his part he shook his head and wondered, obviously not for the first time, why we insisted on calling crisps chips on the other side of the pond.  In good natured fun I assured him that it was because they were chips, not crisps.  We’d invented them first.

“But not the Pringles,” he said.  I thought on that.  On the bottom of the package it said they’d been made in Jacksonville, Florida.  “Is there a Jacksonville in Spain’s Florida?” I inquired.  “No,” he assured me.  “They are made in your Jacksonville.  It was the only place I could find the right ingredients.”

Now, I must admit that my curiosity was aroused. He’d only introduced himself as Christopher.  I looked at him again, could it be?  He beamed back at me and, with a flourish, said, “Lord Christopher Pringle the Second, at your service.”

That made more sense.  He was the heir, not old Chris Pringle himself.

Friday, October 3, 2014


If grew up when I did, you already know what this post is about.

I may be rubbing off on my children.  We were browsing Netflix last weekend looking for something to watch and I came across 1984’s version of, “The Russians Are Coming” – though to be fair, it wasn’t a comedy.  I’m talking about Red Dawn.

I wasn’t sure how my kids would handle such an old film, it wasn’t black and white, but they are leery of anything described as “awesome” by their parents.  I had to explain the general state of mind in America at the time.  And about the Sandinistas and Contras.  They were game and we watched it.  There were a lot of questions, but they loved it.  So did I.  The film is definitely 30 years old but the story was strong.

We talked about the remake.  I was a bit skeptical that you could remake Red Dawn, it was, after all, about the Russians at a time when we were still afraid of them.  Who commands that sort of fear now?  The stateless terrorists?  Nope.  Even the veiled threat of China doesn’t wash in our house – what could the Chinese possibly gain by crippling their largest market?

I thought that was it.  But it wasn’t.  The next night they wanted to watch the remake.  To “compare and contrast, Dad.”  As a budding film student, I was on board, reservations about the film put aside in the name of study.  My daughter insisted that her vote had nothing to do with Chris Hemsworth.

What I enjoyed most about the film was the running analysis/commentary by the young folks.  “Oh, there’s that scene” and “Isn’t this about the time the pilot showed up last night?” offered mere minutes before the experienced fighting men arrived on screen.  The second best part for me was the unanimous agreement that the original was far better.  Not just better.  Far better.  They liked the 30 year old movie.  The one without Chris Hemsworth.

It’s easy to see why.  The driving antagonist in the film was fuzzy – while the original had a tired Cuban we got to know leading a scary Russian assault, the new one had a generic and 2 dimensional North Korean.  Nobody is afraid of North Korea.  There was no menace in the plot and no menace in the character.  Instead of paratroopers landing on a football field we had a… football game.

The movie tried really, really, hard but failed miserably.  I suspect that if they’d devoted a few more pages to story instead of profanity it would have been much better.  But would it have been enough better?  The world is a different place.  It’s not a time for Red Dawn anymore.

When you hear the cry, “Wolverines” it will be inspired by the original and the remarkable performance of Patrick Swayze, not this sophomoric attempt to recapture the “glory days.”

I still rate the original as a great companion for popcorn.  The new one gets a pass.  You’ll feel better watching paint dry.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

When will I get there? I ain't certain.

I recently typed “Fade In” on a new script.  It isn’t the one I spent a month breaking.  It’s the silly idea that came to me nearly fully formed when I was running over the summer.  I was planning to write the other one, thought I should write the other one, but it wasn’t ready.

This one is.

It’s because I know how it ends.  Very clearly.  I’ve heard it over and over – how important it is to know your ending, thought I sort of got it when I was working on Falling Star, but now I own it.  You absolutely have to know how it ends before you begin.  You can write without knowing the ending, and some of the writing may be good, but the story won’t be.  Take all the side roads you want on your way, but you have to know where you’re going.

I love the ending to this story.  I love my protagonist.  I love the technology.  I pitched the idea to my kids and they love it.  So I told them the whole story.  They love it.  “Definitely write that one, Dad.”  They even offered suggestions.  I listened.

I realized that the reason I’m so confident as a writer now is because I’ve seen the end.  When I was younger I just wrote.  Now I write with direction.  I’ve been surprised by some of the side roads, will probably be surprised by some more, but I know where I’m going.

And I love the ending.