Posts Tagged ‘ movies ’

And the winners are…

My ballot:

Picture: Argo

Director: Steven Spielberg

Actor in a Leading Role: Daniel Day-Lewis

Actress in a Leading Role: Jennifer Lawrence

Actor in a Supporting Role: Christoph Walz

Actress in a Supporting Role: Sally Field

Original Screenplay: Django Unchained

Adapted Screenplay: Argo



Falling Barriers

october surprise coverI’m a writer. I write for work, strictly professional stuff. I’ve always wanted to write fiction, though, or rather, I wanted to tell stories. I started as a 10 year old kid, listening to the soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar and dreaming of recreating the movie, shot by shot, in my desert home of Hermosillo, Sonora, where my father served in the American Consulate. I only had a Super 8 movie camera then, and the camera I had didn’t have the luxurious feature of sound. My plan, then, was to shoot a silent version, with my actors lip synced to the soundtrack LP (ask your parents if you don’t know what an LP is). That dream never came about because my family moved back to the States before I could get my act together.

Back in the States, I made little films–mostly special effects shots that never matched the beauty that inspired me in Star Wars and Space:1999. I blew up a lot of plastic models with cheap firecrackers shot against a black piece of fabric. When I got to college, I enrolled in film classes, and shot a crappy 16 millimeter movie with some friends. The exposure was all over the map, but it was fun.

I gave up film making at the urging of the professional diplomats in my family who told me my affinity for languages and time living overseas made me a good fit for political science or area studies. I dutifully studied Russian, and then Chinese. They were right. I found a good job as a researcher, and was pretty happy. I got to write for a living, telling stories, but I never got over my love of movies.

On my birthday in 2001, my then-wife gave me a slim book about screenwriting. She told me to follow my dreams. It was a very kind gift. I read the book, and followed its step by step instructions on how to turn my story ideas into a screenplay. Three years of writing during vacations later, I had a finished draft of a screenplay, Honor Bound. I shopped it around, entered the script in contests, and won some. It didn’t sell, though. I didn’t care. I was proud of having written a viable work. I knew that the thing that separated writers from everyone else was text on a page.

Older and wiser, I had abandoned the idea of being an auteur. Having managed people as an Army officer, I knew that being in charge wasn’t the most fun one could have. Telling stories was cost-free. All I needed was a word processor and my imagination. I had produced a viable story, and I thought about the next one.

A few years passed, and I made another realization: I didn’t have to be a screenwriter. I just needed to tell stories. I could lose the very particular style of the screenwriter and just tell a story. I was seized with the alarming changes I had seen in American politics, and wanted to tell a story that captured what I saw. I thought about telling the story of an American coup, but couldn’t see a credible plot. I just didn’t see any group in government organizing to depose a sitting president. Then it struck me: a coup might not be possible, but clearly private citizens were trying to engineer elections in their favor. I started drafting a story in the spring of 2011, and tinkered with it over the following months.

As the 2012 election got going in earnest, I saw some of the ideas I had coming to pass. I thought to myself that if I didn’t do something fast, my prescient story idea could quickly seem like hindsight if I ever committed my ideas to print. At the same time, I noticed that Amazon was giving authors the freedom to publish their work and sell it in the world’s biggest bookstore.

I had an insight: I could get my story out to a huge audience in chapter form. This would also  force me to get off my ass and finish my story.

Months later, I’ve published each chapter of October Surprise as it was finished, giving it away for free thanks to Amazon’s brilliant Kindle Direct Publishing plan, and now the whole book is available as a Kindle download for 99 cents on Amazon. I’m extremely pleased to have finished my first book, and I’m amazed that I’m in the world’s biggest bookstore without having to convince a publisher that my story is any good. The audience can decide.

That said, the market has spoken. When the book was free, 435 people downloaded it. Now that it’s 99 cents, I’ve only had three downloads. I’m learning about marketing, something that a publisher would normally take care of, but it’s not that big a deal. I have a campaign going on Facebook that is beautifully tailored. I pay only for clicks to my ad, and I don’t spend more than $10 a day. Likewise, I have a campaign going on Twitter. Similar deal. Compared to the money I would have spent sending my manuscript to publishers, there’s no question about the way to go. Wish me luck, and read my book!

The Film(s) That Changed My Life

This cool book asks 30 directors to name a film that changed everything for them. I cheated and came up with two. My answers are Jesus Christ Superstar and Star Wars. The former was the one that told me “I can do this.” I only saw the movie once, in a theater in Mexico, but I had the soundtrack and played it to death. Since it was a rock opera, the records ran the entire length of the movie. That allowed me to visualize the movie in real time, and my young imagination led me to start planning a shot-for-shot remake that I would film with my friends. Never got further than that, but the experience made the idea of making movies real for me. In the following years I started reading books about how to make movies. Two years later, Star Wars was the movie that changed everything, that made me burn to make movies. I read about it in Time magazine’s cover story the week it came out. I clearly remember each publicity still, because they were so alien, so unlike anything I had ever seen in a movie. I hounded my dad to get me the novelization, and I tore through it. I was spending the summer with him in LA, and insisted that he and my brothers see the movie in the biggest theater I could find near his office in Westwood. I stood in line outside the theater, holding places for them. Once the lights went down, the Fox fanfare hooked me, the silence of the blue letters on screen hushed the audience, and then a massive star field filled my view. The blast of the theme’s first chord grabbed me in the chest as I watched “STAR WARS” fly away and finally fade into infinity. I had just finished reading the prologue, when the camera suddenly tilted down and my jaw dropped as this giant wedge of a ship filled the screen and I heard the hot, cracking sound of what would come to be known as pew pew pew. From that point on, I didn’t dare blink for fear of missing something amazing. Things would never be the same.

Review: Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 isn’t better than the original, but considering it doesn’t have an origin story to drive it, the film more than satisfies in moving the franchise forward. The film does suffer from a proliferation of characters, a common mistake of sequel producers who think they have to provide more of everything, and Mickey Rourke is surprisingly flat as the new villain, Ivan Vanko. Scarlett Johansson is beautiful but deadly dull and completely unbelievable as a super spy/martial arts expert. She gets so many great movie roles yet does so little with them. Nonetheless, these weaknesses don’t bog the movie down because Robert Downey is so fun to watch. He makes it look effortless, but it’s important to note how much better he does compared to others who have tried out the superhero mantle. More than Tobey MacGuire or Christian Bale, Downey has made Tony Stark into a believable human being.  This is in good part because Downey is so well suited to play a brilliant, charming, wealthy man with deep flaws. He knows it and makes it work, bringing real sparkle and personality that keeps the movie from becoming a total cartoon, a job was made harder by overblown and overlong action scenes.

Bottom line: if you liked the first one, you should like the sequel. It’s a fun way to start the summer movie season.

Now that Iraq War movies sell…

…how about taking another look at my screenplay, Honor Bound?  It’s the story of a young Latina US soldier in Iraq who heroically saves the lives of her men in combat, but is traumatized by the experience. When she returns home to civilian life in America, she struggles to control the violent skills learned in war when faced with brutal injustice. I wrote it because as a veteran, I could see early on in the war that the multiple combat tours my fellow veterans were serving would inevitably lead to an explosion of psychological casualties. I won some awards for my work, but couldn’t get anyone to buy the script. Following the lead of Josh Klein, I’ve now decided to give my screenplay away through a Creative Commons license to anybody who wants to adapt or produce it. Check it out, Hollywood! You can download a copy of this award winning script here.

Down and Out at the Movies

I hadn’t been to a movie since I saw Star Trek in Imax at the beginning of the summer, and I had wanted to see District 9, so I snuck out this afternoon to the AMC theater in my neighborhood. I settled in for the previews and got a string of reminders of how the movie industry has lost its way.

Of the previews I saw, two were for vampire movies, one was for a zombie movie, and another was for Pandorum, a movie by the producers of the Resident Evil series that looks almost exactly like any other of the indistinguishable Resident Evil series. This last movie stars Dennis Quaid, who managed also to appear in the trailer for Legion, which is about a group of misfits in a diner saving humanity from an onslaught of angels. Right.

Is this the best Hollywood can do? I mean, really, do we need two vampire films in the same set of previews? And is anyone in the business noticing that one of the summer’s more original movies, Up, and a well-written comedy, The Hangover, made tons of money?

While I’m feeling cranky, let me also point out how I increasingly prefer watching movies using the projector and Blu-ray player I set up in my basement over going to the theater. Today’s reason is image quality. I have a five year old projector, hardly top of the line, but at least the image I project is in focus. I got to see District 9 with an odd focus problem–the bottom center of the screen was out of focus, but the rest was more or less OK. For $7.75 (and that’s the discounted matinee price) it would be nice to see a nice image.

Rachel Getting Married–Hated it!

I like Anne Hathaway, and was looking forward to seeing her in her Oscar-nominated role. I had to turn Rachel Getting Married off about 45 long minutes into the movie, however. The Jonathan Demme (who should know better) film is painful to watch–not because Hathaway’s character is just out of rehab, but because the actors, including the usually interesting Hathaway, are so precious and annoying. Precious is the word that kept running through my head over and over again: precious, self-consciously improvised dialogue. Precious mugging by the miscast Bill Irwin as Hathaway’s father. Precious mugging by everybody in the unending wedding rehearsal scene. Bleahhh, as Snoopy would say.