Genre Favorites Blogfest

As hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh.

Favorite Movie Genre—Romantic comedy, I think. I watch plenty of other kinds of movies; in fact, I probably watch more other kinds of movies, but rom-coms are my favorite.

Favorite Music Genre—Pop/rock. Yeah, I’m not edgy. I’m mainstream and pretty boring. I grew up with Jimmy Buffett and The Eagles and Paul McCartney & Wings . . . And now I listen to stuff like Matchbox Twenty, Maroon 5, Train, and The Script.

Favorite Book Genre—This is actually really difficult because I like to read a lot of different kinds of books. It mostly depends on my mood. But if I have to pick just one? Historical fiction, probably.

A Guilty Pleasure—(can be from any of the three categories) . . . My Best Friend’s Wedding. I love that movie. Its soundtrack, too, holds a special place in my heart for very specific reasons that I won’t go into here. (As a secondary guilty pleasure, I’ll admit I read a fair number of biographies, which is rather voyeuristic of me, I feel. Also: self-help/psychology books.)

Now go get your free Amazon Kindle version of “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of Ichabod Reed”!

Freeman . . . s (or, A Post About Old Guys)

I suppose I’ll start by saying Happy Birthday to Martin Freeman. He was already old, but now he’s, you know, even older. (Good for you for still being alive! Have some cake!)

And speaking of people named Freeman, last night I went and saw Raiders of the Lost Ark on IMAX. First movie I can ever remember seeing in a cinema (at age 5, there, now who’s old?) and last night I had the treat of getting to see it even bigger than before. It’s a classic, after all. And my favorite scene is the one between Paul Freeman’s Belloq and Ford’s iconic Indiana Jones at the bar in Cairo. Freeman holds that scene. He owns it. In fact, when it comes to Raiders, Freeman holds pretty much every scene he’s in. There’s a sort of center of gravity to him, a cohesion. It’s pretty cool to watch, really.

I also always get a kick out of seeing young Anthony Higgins as Gobler. He cuts such a dashing figure for a Nazi. Of course, Tony Higgins is older than my dad, so . . . You know, if we’re going with the “old guys” theme today. Which we seem to be.

Speaking of which, my dad’s birthday is in a couple more days, too. Gotta get on that . . .

Judges, Gatekeepers & Independence

I entered one last screenwriting competition. I don’t even know why, what I hope to prove or accomplish. I just really feel like this script was a good one, and I can usually trust my instincts, but . . . Anyway, I e-mailed the competition to ask about the judges. The site says that key industry people (agents, producers) do the judging. But I’ve learned, after so many competitions, that this kind of statement can be misleading. So I asked whether the industry people read ALL the rounds or just pick the winners. And of course the answer is that the industry people only read the finalists. The competition’s “staff” does all the initial reading.

One has to wonder, then, who these staff members are and what qualifications they have. I don’t necessarily want to antagonize the competition’s organizers by e-mailing back and demanding to know. But to think whether I get my script in front of a major industry insider rests pretty much on whether one little underling likes what I wrote . . . But then again, it’s the same in any agency office: interns and assistants reading scripts and tossing aside the stuff they don’t like or don’t think (in what? their great experience and understanding of the market?) will sell. It’s all pretty stupid. And it’s one of the reasons a lot of bad movies, and a lot of the same kinds of movies, keep getting made.

I suppose gatekeeping is a problem in any creative industry where there is more material than money to publish or produce it all. Just as Hollywood producers and agencies haphazardly sort scripts, so do literary agents and publishers sort manuscripts. There’s this sort of arbitrariness to “worthy” versus “not worthy.” A crappy book by a bestselling author can get published, but a really great book by a no-name gets the boot. And so it goes.

I’m glad to have an outlet for my books. Indie publishing has certainly allowed me to find a kind of niche, an audience. If I had the money, I’d go make my little indie movie, too. But movies are still too expensive and labor intensive for me to do by myself. A writer can work alone, but a movie requires a crew. And even “cheap” ones cost tens of thousands of dollars to produce.

Still, it would be awesome to see my mental vision come to life. That’s why one writes plays and screenplays, after all. It’s like getting to play pretend with real people.

But I can’t say I hold out much hope for this competition. Given my past performance in such, the odds of finding a reader who likes and “gets” the stuff I write seems pretty small. And I could pay for “notes” but from whom? Some underling? It’s not worth the cost. I’m not above rewriting, learning, developing, but I’d like to know the teacher is someone who can honestly help me.

Meanwhile, I have two big projects facing me: a full-length play due at the beginning of October, plus I need to finish The K-Pro because I have a publisher waiting to read it. No promises in either case; I was “invited” to submit the play, but that doesn’t mean it will be selected for production, and just because someone wants to read my manuscript doesn’t mean they’ll want to publish it. I gotta stay realistic. But I also gotta keep moving.

Here Be Dragons (or, My Mother the Dragon)

Each night at bedtime, I have been reading The Hobbit to my son. Last Christmas, just after his sixth birthday, I allowed him to watch The Lord of the Rings trilogy on DVD, and he became very invested in the story. So I thought we would read The Hobbit before the movies came out, and he has quite enjoyed it. We have finally, after much questing, come to Smaug, and this has been the part my son has most anticipated. He has long been drawn to—and simultaneously terrified of—dragons. He has wanted to know the differences in Eastern (Asian, Oriental, Chinese) dragons and Western ones. Which ones have wings? Which ones breathe fire? Five claws or four? What colors do they come in?

This is in large (and unwitting) part my own fault. When he was not quite four, I let my son see the Disney Sleeping Beauty. It has always been one of my favorites; as a child, I used to waltz around singing “Once Upon a Dream” to the great irritation of my parents. I had, alas, forgotten how truly frightening Maleficent could be—particularly at the point in which she transforms into a dragon. Not long after having seen the movie, one day as I became upset with him for something, my son yelled, “Don’t let your dragon come out, Mommy!” I was momentarily baffled and attempted to assure him there was no dragon. Still, periodically, whenever I began to be angry about something my son would say, “Is your dragon coming out? Don’t let your dragon come out!”

I thought we had put it behind us at last, but recently my son (the oldest) informed his two younger siblings that Mommy is, in fact, a dragon. They have gone on to tell their nanny and teachers this in turn. Without context or prompting, they will announce, “Sometimes my mommy turns into a dragon.”

Well then.

My six-year-old, meanwhile, has decided he too is a dragon. He has asked me to teach him to fly and breathe fire and transform. Sometimes he tells me that he does transform when no one is looking. He has also told me that his “personal god” is a dragon. (He has been trying to wrap his decidedly advanced mind around theology lately, asking to hear stories of gods and to know what various religions believe.)

I have to say, as far as dragons go Smaug has always been one of my favorites. He has such personality. Reading about him with my son has been fun, though I suspect my son is blueprinting his idea of what dragons say and do based on Smaug. Well, there could be worse examples.

If nothing else, this idea of dragons as creatures to be both feared, and perhaps slightly revered, has given my son a sense of respect for something. Here is something he stands in awe of, something of which he wants to be part . . . And I take it as a tangential compliment that he counts me among their number. And that, more or less, his desire to be a dragon, just as he thinks I am a dragon, means in some way he’s striving to be like me.

Alexander’s First Movie

My son Alexander has made his first movie. He’s six, so cut him some slack here; he at least had the idea of using a green screen for part of it. I’d tell you to grab some popcorn, but the movie is only 1.32 minutes long. Here it is. And no, I don’t know why he chose to call his production company CPS. He’s been telling me for over a year now he plans to have a company called CPS. When I asked him what it stood for, he said, “Well, what can it stand for?” I have yet to convince him that usually the name comes first, then the acronym. (Not a hard and fast rule, I know, but . . .)

Mister Frost

There was, many years ago, a Jeff Goldblum movie titled Mister Frost. It was an understated little flick, something I’m pretty sure only I, my best friend, and my father ever saw. And we didn’t see it in the cinema, no, it was something we found as a rental, back in the day.

Jeff Goldblum plays the title character, a serial murderer who might or might not actually be Satan. The bulk of the film (as I recall it; it’s been so many years since I’ve seen it) takes place in a mental institution where Frost terrorizes a psychiatrist played by Kathy Baker. The movie had lots of those terrible lines that are fun to quote. One of them came early on when Frost is found working in his yard. I can’t remember the exact context, but a visitor (he’s still at home at this point) asks him about something, and he answers in that offhanded, Jeff Goldblum kind of way: “Oh, the bodies. I was just burying them as you were walking up.”

That may not be the exact quote, but you get the gist. Later on Frost tells Baker’s character: “. . . But soon . . . Soon you’ll be on my side of the mirror.” It’s a dumb line, yeah, but Goldblum has made a career of delivering dumb lines quite well.

Like The Prophecy (which I talk a bit about here), Mister Frost is no great film, but I still like it. In both cases they got the right actors, which is key. Both Goldblum here and Walken in The Prophecy are spot on. Playing to type, sure, but a lot of actors build decent careers that way. They do the kinds of things they (a) know they’re good at (i.e., their strengths), and (b) know their fans, such as they are, will want to see.

Then again, sometimes actors take roles because the part is not a challenge and therefore an easy paycheck. And/or they have holes in their schedules to fill. Or nothing else in the offing. Or the movie sounded better on paper. Or it’s a director or co-star they’ve wanted to work with. Or they’re just bored.

And sometimes actors get offered roles not because they’re the best fit but because no one else would touch it.

Ah, Hollywood. Every movie tells a story—even if some of those stories are not very good or are not told very well—and behind every movie is another long story of how it got made.

The Prophecy

Anyone remember this movie? I loved it. That’s not to say it was a good movie—it wasn’t. But then, neither was Highlander (sorry, folks, but really), and yet Gregory Widen still managed to capture a huge cult following for that one. Less with The Prophecy, but what interesting ideas Widen has. I like the way he thinks.

And of course I adore Christopher Walken.

I’m trying to remember the first time I saw Walken, and though it seems like the kind of thing you should clearly remember, I can’t. Saturday Night Live maybe? (That sketch with Tim Meadows as the census taker is classic.) But I’d seen Walken well before that. I remember catching part of an old movie set in Italy (Venice?) . . . The Comfort of Strangers. Now that was a strange movie. But again, I already knew who Walken was when I saw it (on television, at about age 15—I’d stopped flipping channels specifically because I saw Walken and wondered what the movie was).

Ah, well. Some people and things in your life just seem to be from forever, I guess. Like there’s no point of origin; they are omnipresent.

Then again, the idea of an omnipresent Christopher Walken is slightly disturbing.

But that’s what he’s great at as an actor, too. It’s what made him so great as Gabriel in The Prophecy. Angels are amazing creatures, and can be very good, but like anything holy and supernatural there is also something terrible about them. Walken managed that fine line very well in his role as Gabriel.

Did I see the other Prophecy movies? I think I saw the second one but I’m not convinced I saw the third.

Oh, and by the way, I can absolutely tell you the first time I ever saw Viggo Mortensen, and that was as Lucifer. Fucking creepy.

Tidbits

Have a couple script treatments to write, but with my office not even half unpacked and sorted I totally don’t feel like it. My physical space isn’t right, so my mental space isn’t right, either. Gah.

Wondering what I thought of Frankenstein? Wonder no longer: my thoughts are here.

And if you’re wondering what I think of Matchbox Twenty’s “She’s So Mean” you can read a short musing on it here.

Now I am off to continue excavating, and to possibly even do some work (namely writing).

Frankenstein Comes to Dublin (California)

A couple months ago, I got a notification from the National Theatre in London (I and a lot of other people I’m sure) about how the filmed version of their staging of Frankenstein starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller (two Sherlocks!) would be returning to UK cinemas in June. You see, I’m usually in London in June, but this year I went in April instead because I wanted to avoid all the Jubilee and Olympics hoopla. So I sent them (and their distributor) a note that I would very much like it if they’d send that little reel of theirs over here to San Francisco. (More than one, actually. But less than many.) And they (bless them, and so terribly polite, too) said they’d look into it.

Which they did. And now Frankenstein will be available for viewing at a number of US locations in the first full week of June. I’ll be going on June 6th, and possibly also the 7th because they are, in fact, showing both versions at the Dublin, CA, location nearest me—a different one each night. YOU can see the show, too; just toddle off over here to find out where it will be showing near you.

First Loves Blogfest

First Movie

My parents have told me my first movie was Bambi. I don’t remember this. And I don’t like Bambi, so even if I did remember it as my first movie, it certainly wasn’t my first love.

The first movie I can remember really having an impact on me—a movie I loved and still love—is Raiders of the Lost Ark. This is, in fact, the first movie I can actually recall seeing in the cinema. I was all of five years old and, say what you will about my parents’ judgment or lack thereof, my childhood would be defined in large part by Steven Spielberg movies, Raiders being just the first in what would become a long list of loves. Raiders introduced me to “movie magic” and made me fall in love with movies as a whole, and in a way that would define not only my childhood but my path in life.

No pressure there, Mr. Spielberg.

First Song/Band

I grew up listening to my dad’s records. By the time I was three or four, I knew how to work the turntable on my own, and there were three albums I played often enough for my parents to want to hide them from me:

  • The Eagles, Greatest Hits
  • Paul McCartney and Wings, Band on the Run
  • Jimmy Buffett, Volcano

I don’t know which of these I’d count as my “first love” in the music category. I’ve always liked music in general. Now, if we’re talking about music I liked well enough to buy for myself? Using my very own allowance? Music I for which I would sacrifice the chance to purchase a brand new My Little Pony? Well, the first cassette tape I ever bought for myself was Invisible Touch by Genesis. That was the first time I liked a band different from what I’d grown up with, what my parents listened to. So that one probably wins the prize.

First Book

Ooooh. Geez. I grew up in a house full of books. My parents are readers, and I was reading for myself at age three. I remember really liking I Can Read With My Eyes Shut by Dr. Seuss . . . I was also known to sit down with my two-volume World Book dictionary and read that. So maybe there’s no accounting for taste.

But the first book I remember really loving, the one that had a huge impact on me, was The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. I didn’t know at the time the book was controversial, and I’m guessing either my parents also didn’t know, or else they didn’t know I had a copy, because I’m sure my mother would not have let me read it otherwise. All Snyder’s work had a strong influence in my childhood because, reading her stories (The Changling is another that really stuck with me), I had for the first time in my life the feeling that maybe I wasn’t the only person in the world who felt the way I did, or thought the way I did. Sure, I read my share of Judy Blume, too, but I had a very different experience in terms of “the social,” and so while I understood and enjoyed Blume, her work did not resonate with me in the same way as Snyder’s. The Egypt Game (and The Changling) spoke to the kind of imagination I carried with me and the kinds of games my best friend and I made up and played. It was wonderful to know that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t so strange—or, rather, that my brand of strange was worthy of acknowledgement, and that I had just as much of a story to tell as the popular girl down the block.

First Person

Oh, sweethearts. At the risk of getting existential, do any of us really know whether we’ve truly been in love?

Fine, okay. The first person I might have had semi-romantic feelings for (or maybe just attraction)—and I’m thinking of people in my life, not actors or pop icon crushes—would be Joel. That is to say, he was the first boy I actively sat around (if one can “actively” sit around) and thought about for long stretches of time. I was 11 at the time. But I had also just moved to a new town and had nothing much better to do than read, watch television, and daydream. So Joel may only have been a way to kill the boredom. Thanks, Joel!*

*Joel and I did become a couple near the end of the school year, after he kissed my cheek while we were co-captains at Field Day. But after that year I switched schools and his family moved, so . . .