Alexander Film Works

Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

This Has Not Been A Test…

In blogging, Just Because..., no excuses, writing on June 20, 2015 at 9:48 pm

I should be writing more.

This is something I do not dispute.

Now there’s an incentive for me to write more… The Clarion Writers Workshop, which moved from Michigan State University in East Lansing to the University of California San Diego within the past few years, is holding their sixth Clarion Write-a-Thon.  They explain it using the walkathon model as an example; the more steps toward a goal that the writer gets, the higher total of pledges the writer piles up to go to charity.

My Beautiful Wife, who holds a much higher opinion of my writing talent than I do, has convinced me to sign up to participate in this endeavor; I have set myself a goal of 75 script pages completed by the end of the period – 22 June to 1 August.

For your part, I ask that you go to the site, Clarion Write-a-Thon, and pledge something to my account.  If you pledge fifty cents a page, and I complete all 75 pages I have undertaken to do, you would be donating $37.50 to charity.

Not an exorbitant amount, right?

You are free to pledge any amount you wish, and there are a choice of 69 authors (so far), including myself, who have signed up.  If you don’t want to pledge for me, then maybe there’s another you do want to pledge to.

Hey, I’m easy.

Just do this, okay?  Thanks.

Times That Bind…

In blogging, no excuses, screenplays, writing on December 3, 2014 at 10:03 pm

Here it is, early in the month of December, and I haven’t written a post since August.
I could dither about, offer lame-sounding excuses, and try to place blame other than where it belongs… squarely with me.
I have not posted. I have not seriously thought about posting. I have been moving from my ancestral domicile to our new (to us) home, and I was entered into a screenwriting contest where I get a genre, location, and object to use, and have 48 hours to produce 5 pages of script. The first two rounds are judged, scored, and the top 5 scores from each group of writers advances to the next round. After that, the top 5 from Round Three groups advance to the finals in Round Four.
Today, the third, is when the scores from Round One come out… and they probably won’t appear for two more hours, Eastern Standard Time.
Oh, my.

Breaking Down (In Case of Production)…

In Think About It on November 6, 2013 at 10:13 pm

http://twentythreeninetyseven.wordpress.com/2013/11/03/writing-a-script-is-not-as-easy-as-you-think/
The above link is to a blog post on my *other* blog about the process of “breaking down” a script during pre-production. I have a couple of short scripts I’ve managed to finish recently, and I want to prepare to cast, scout, and film them.
You will find out more about this as I get my act together.

Stringing It Together…

In arts, blogging, Just Because..., no excuses, writing on March 22, 2013 at 10:11 pm

Words, and the way they fit together to make visible our thoughts, have been a preoccupation of mine for most of my life, even before I knew how to do anything of the sort.

The visions that the proper combination of words can produce verges on the magical; in fact, as I’ve heard it defined, magic itself is produced or controlled by the proper combination of words, placed in the proper order.  Like computer programming and magic, writing is entirely dependent on the correct choice of terms, placed in the correct sequence.

“It was a dark and stormy night.”  How often has that phrase, the first in the novel Paul Clifford by Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Baronet, been quoted, misquoted, and misattributed?  But it is remembered.

Words can weave a spell to transport the reader to Middle Earth… or to the cradle of the Foundation… or to the outer reaches of a red giant star… or in a General Products hull in a hyperbolic orbit around a neutron star.  Words can create vistas in your mind that a Super-70 mm Ultra Dolby 7.1 3D Imax extravaganza couldn’t match, even with a budget the size of the Gross Planetary Product.

And yet… Reading is becoming less and less popular, from what I hear.  Twitter limits posts to 140 characters, which I exceeded in my third line, if I’m not mistaken.  Attention spans fall dramatically year by year.

Few there are who would even try Nova or Dhalgren by Chip Delany; and I couldn’t think of anyone who would try reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace, or Dostoievski’s Crime and Punishment.  Dickens’s Bleak House, one of his more acclaimed works, is a doorstop in paperback, and even more recent works, like William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, approach it in sheer volume.  Reading tomes such as these is hardly considered as entertainment anymore, and even the shorter-form writers like Fitzgerald and Hemingway get shorter shrift.

It is a crime and a shame to ignore the writers of the past; the stylistic flourishes of a Dickens give way to the spare prose of Hemingway, which inspired writers of more recent times like Capote, Ken Kesey, Thomas Wolfe, Mailer, Gore Vidal, and some we see in magazines today.  Only by reading the words of others with your own “inner ear” can you find the “voice” that informs your writing.  It’s akin to learning to talk by listening to those around you.

I do not condemn others for their lack of breadth in reading, but invite them to widen it on their own.  Read J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, James Joyce, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sir Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Mark Twain, Garrison Keillor, Dave Barry, Woodward and Bernstein, Nora Ephron, Erma Bombeck, Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, or any number of other authors I could name.  Expand your horizons.  Question your thinking patterns.  Question your choices.

It could be an illuminating experience…

 

Conventions, Science Fiction, and Me…

In Just Because..., Think About It on January 24, 2013 at 11:02 pm

One of the two remaining science fiction conventions in the Detroit area was this past weekend.  ConFusion, the younger of the two, had its thirty-ninth iteration; the new con committee, volunteers all (as true fannish conventions are), decided to forego one-day memberships – good from midnight to midnight on one of the three days of the convention (Friday, Saturday, or Sunday).  This seemed to be a big mistake to the old-timers in the area, but they weren’t consulted.

They also moved from the hotel in Troy they had been using for the past eight or ten years (the exact number escapes me) to another down in Dearborn.  Again, this seemed to be a mistake to the experienced conrunners, but again, they weren’t consulted.

This is, unfortunately, the way things go with fannish conventions… every new con committee insists on reinventing the square wheel.

I have been a fan long enough to both shrug at these occurrences, and to wish that they didn’t make the same mistakes the last six committees have.

I have “pubbed my ish”, as they say… several editions of my fanzines scopus:3007 and Lightning Round are available on efanzines.com.  I have been active in con committees off and on since 1987, including working on Worldcons (the World Science Fiction Convention, the annual gathering of fans from around the world).  I have been involved in costuming,  bickering about whether a Worldcon bid should be made for Detroit (our last successful bid was for 1959), and many other fannish discussion gatherings.  My wife Megan and I have become slightly involved with steampunk (I have pictures from the 2012 World Steam Expo, where we were vendors), and have listened intently to “filkers” (science fiction folk singers, whose name came from a typo in a program book back in the day).

I look with pride at my autographed copy of Warhoon 28 (the omnibus collection of Walt Willis’s fannish writings, published in bound mimeograph form by Richard Bergeron), value my friendships with such luminaries as Mike Glicksohn (Fan Guest of Honor at the first Aussiecon), Fred Pohl (who should need little introduction), and George R. R. Martin (whose acquaintance I owe to both Mike Glicksohn and my wife Megan).

But the “traditional” fannish values of yore seem to matter little to the generation currently running things… General cons, where everything is on the agenda, is falling victim to specialized cons, such as “steampunk”, costuming, gaming, media, and even a couple of cons honoring the “old school” fanzines of yore.

This Balkanization of fandom may just lead to its eventual demise, but I hope not.

The Hero Concept

In Think About It on October 28, 2012 at 3:24 pm

This past weekend was Detroit FanFare 2012, a comics and toy expo, and the chance I had to meet and speak to legends of the comics world, like Allen Bellman, who worked at Timely/Atlas/Marvel Comics starting in 1942, a contemporary of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Carl Burgos, and Bill Everett, was something we just couldn’t pass up.

I was inspired to write a piece on the concept of heroes, and tie it in with the comics industry… which follows immediately.

***

            We, as story-listeners, always seem drawn to the concept of the mysterious vigilante… the outsider who does what ordinary citizens, or even the authorities, can’t.

The legends come down… Gilgamesh, Beowulf, Robin Hood, Charlemagne and Le Chanson de Roland, tales of Arthur Pendragon and the Knights of the Table Round, the tales of Siegfried and the Rhinemaidens that became Wagner’s Das Ring Des Niebelungen, the labors of Hercules, the Iliad and the Odyssey, Dumas’s The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, the Scarlet Pimpernel, Johnston McCulley’s stories of the wily El Zorro battling the corruption and oppression in Spanish California, Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Professor Challenger, the heroes of the “penny dreadfuls” celebrating the non-existent Code of the West, which set the archetypes of the cowboy heroes we see up until now, and especially the four-color heroes, the superheroes and superheroines of the comic books.

With ancestors from the “pulps”, the mass-market books printed on lower-grade paper dedicated to a single subject, like Doc Savage and his five assistants battling the forces of crime, G-8 and his Battle Aces endlessly fighting the Great War in the air, costumed crimefighters like The Spider – Master of Men, The Bat, and, most notably, The Shadow, they burst forth on the consciousness of the public in the 1930’s, starting with a certain red, yellow, and blue figure flashing across the sky, who became the exemplar of truth, justice, and the American Way – SUPERMAN.  His name may have had unfortunate resonances with the theories of Nietsche and the übermenschen that helped inspire a failed artist to attempt the “purification” of Germany and Europe into the Aryan Fatherland, but the execution of the concept of Superman was purely American… not only that, but truly Midwestern American.

Jerome Siegel and Joseph Shuster were both from Cleveland, Ohio when they came up with the concept of Superman… and the Midwestern ethos they were raised with helped inform their creation from his genesis.  He did good deeds, expecting no reward, and used his titanic strength in service to mankind in general.

Following shortly thereafter, from Fawcett Publications, whose lineup before this contained how-to books and the Great War’s anodyne, Captain Billy’s Whiz-Bang, a joke book compiled and published by the founder of Fawcett Publications, William Fawcett, came C. C. Beck and Bill Parker’s take on the super-powered man, CAPTAIN MARVEL.   Where Superman had his powers and abilities for pseudo-scientific reasons, Captain Marvel’s powers came from magic; when Billy Batson shouted the name of the wizard who gave him his powers, a bolt of magic lightning would strike him, transforming him into The World’s Mightiest Mortal, as he came to be known.  The magic word “SHAZAM”, the ancient wizard’s name, granted him the following powers of legendary gods and heroes:

  • S – the wisdom of Solomon
  • H – the strength of Hercules
  • A – the stamina of Atlas
  • Z – the power of Zeus
  • A – the courage of Achilles
  • M – the speed of Mercury

Following these two progenitors came many others… The Flash, Wonder Woman, The Batman, Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Crimson Crusader, Captain America, the Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner, Skyman, the Blackhawks, Doll Man, Plastic Man, Uncle Sam, Airboy, the Sandman, Starman, Green Arrow… The litany rolls on.

The ‘30’s and ‘40’s became known as the “Golden Age” of comics… with such heroes as Captain America, Major Victory, the Patriot, Uncle Sam, Liberty Belle, and other, lesser known red-white-and-blue metahumans, it seemed almost anyone was donning patriotic garb and battling the Axis powers… but it was not to last.  The Congressional investigations sparked by Dr. Frederic Wertham’s 1954 book, The Seduction of the Innocent, headed by Senator Estes Kefauver and his Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, threw many of the comic publishers into disarray; many went out of comic publishing, and those that remained banded together in self-defense, cooperatively instituting the Comics Code Authority.  The CCA lasted until 2009, and in 2011, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, an organization devoted to defending the First Amendment rights of comic artists, writers, and publishers, acquired the intellectual property rights of the CCA, including its seal.

The Seal of the Comics Code Authority

For almost fifty years, this seal was on virtually every comic sold.

After the institution of the CCA, fewer titles existed… Fawcett settled a long-standing lawsuit with DC Comics to suspend publication of Captain Marvel; most of the heroes of the Golden Age faded from sight… and from memory.

Then, in 1956, DC Comics revised and reimagined The Flash, followed by Green Lantern, Hawkman, Wonder Woman, and many others.  In 1961, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby of Marvel Comics (previously Atlas Comics, which sprang from Timely Comics, the 1940’s era publisher of Captain America, The Human Torch, and The Sub-Mariner) started a revolution in the industry with Fantastic Four, heroes with no secret identities, no glamorously perfect physiques (especially in the case of “The Thing”, transmuted Marine pilot Benjamin J. Grimm), and a penchant for arguing among themselves.  This “realistic” approach became the norm in the industry, as time went on.

One can honestly say the world hasn’t been the same since.

And the newer generation just keeps on writing and drawing…

Why I Write

In Think About It on October 16, 2012 at 5:24 pm

A periodic reassessment of the reasoning behind my habits of self-torture

The glib answer to the titular question is as follows:  “I don’t know how not to write.”

If I dig a little deeper – and I usually don’t try to – I say that I feel I have something to say.

I don’t think I’m consciously trying to impress anybody, and I certainly don’t expect to become rich and famous from it.  (That would be a bonus, however…)

Basically, I try to tell stories.  The medium by which I do this can vary from just words, to words and pictures (in a comic strip/graphic novel format), to motion pictures.  I try to get these stories told.

But “self-torture”?  Is that my view of the entire process?

At times, yes… You see, anything committed to paper (or phosphors on screen, or magnetic bits on a computer drive) is rarely, if ever, my very first draft.  It may be my first written draft, but it’s been recirculated countless times in my brain before that, and each written draft will undergo many stages of revision before its final form emerges.

A standing joke in my house is “Stop me before I revise again!”

Does all this revision and rewriting make my work better?  I can truly say “sometimes”… Sometimes a revision cycle pares a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter down to its irreducible minimum, letting the central thought shine like an expertly faceted gemstone… and at other times, revision squeezes all the juice, all the life, out of a passage.

It’s a hard determination sometimes.

If you are as afflicted with this malady as I am, the best thing you can have is someone who will read your work and give you an honest opinion, rather than the one that salves your ego.

You then have at least one person who will tell you when your figurative britches are around your ankles.

This is a valuable asset.

What else you need is the discipline, the will, or the gumption to stay with it and keep writing.  The general consensus of many professional writers I know, your first million words (or so) are crap, and you progress faster once you get this apprenticeship process out of the way.

So, aspiring writers, cheer up!  It could be worse…

Other Things I’ve Done…

In Just Because..., Roughly About Films on March 17, 2012 at 8:03 pm

… and maybe regretted.

There are some things, for those of you who’ve joined this blog in progress, that you might not know.  (For that matter, some who’ve been with me from the beginning may not know some of these things.  Such is the way of things.)

Aside from my age (mostly irrelevant), and the fact that I am currently a last-term film student at Wayne State University (outside Detroit), not many people know I actually did a try at stand-up comedy back in the day, when I was still in high school.  (Note: this is a LOT longer ago than many people can conceive of, especially since many of them weren’t conceived themselves…)  I’ve done radio in a few different places as an “air personality” (polite talk for the guy who spins records, talks on the air, and answers phone calls in the studio), worked as a security guard in many different states and many different sites, for different companies (some of which might still be in business), worked as a JCL Analyst on Ford Motor Company’s mainframe computers (mostly boring, except when a job “bombs out”, terminating before it’s supposed to), worked as a letter carrier for the Post Awful for eleven years, wrote, edited, and distributed a “fanzine” (a small-circulation magazine devoted to science fiction and science fiction fandom – samples are still available at http://efanzines.com ), and got an article published in an online microbudget filmmaking magazine (link to come).  I have also tried, from time to time, to draw a continuing comic strip about my fannish family, with mixed success.  (I might subject you to an example or two after I do major surgery on it.)

Mostly, I write.  I write because I don’t know how NOT to write.

And this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Cheers!

The Ratings Are In…

In Film and Related on September 17, 2011 at 10:50 pm

In 1967, the old Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America became the Motion Picture Association of America, under the leadership of Jack Valenti, who had been a staffer in the Johnson Administration.  The MPAA instituted the ratings system, another attempt to circumvent the threat of federal and state censorship.

The system has undergone some changes over the years, but it is still essentially the same, rating for sex (bad) and violence (acceptable).  This is not what the country wants to know.

My suggestions for informative ratings for movies:

N  — Good looking people (male or female) naked.

U — Ugly people naked.

B — Blood, lots of it.

E — Explosions.  (Most of Michael Bay’s films would be placed here.)

K — Lots of use of edged weapons (knives, axes, swords, machetes, etc.)

C — Chainsaws.  Could be a subset of K, but who knows?

D — Drugs.  Usually enough to give chromosome damage to a bus.

The list could go on from here.  Who knows?

If It Ain’t On The Page…

In Film and Related on September 9, 2011 at 11:30 pm

My screenwriting class this term is more along the lines of the organic development of story, rather than the mechanical following of invariant paradigms.  This is a good thing, since story develops from character, and character is formed by the actions of the story.

Circular reasoning?  You might consider it so, but no less an authority than Henry James codified it.  “What is character,” he observed, “but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?”

When you write a character, you end up knowing her or him better than your spouse, better than your kids, possibly even better than you know yourself.  You must be psychologist, anthropologist, sociologist, demographer, accurate recorder of events, able to extrapolate human behavior (or, at least, depictions of human behavior) from inadequate information, to intuit surprises from information that leads a dispassionate observer to expect a totally different outcome.

It’s not an easy job.

Also important is the realization that writing a screenplay is a severely limited form.  There are only two things you can use  in order to put the story on the screen, its ultimate home… what the audience sees, and what the audience hears.

That’s it.

When you do it wrong, you get some piece of dreck like Dude, Where’s My Car?  When you do it right, you get something like The Godfather.

A hard target to hit… but worth the attempt.  If it wasn’t worth it, nobody would do it if they didn’t have to.

“I write for the same reason I breathe – because if I didn’t, I would die.”  Noted writer (on almost every subject in the Dewey Decimal System catalog) Isaac Asimov said this when asked why he wrote.  I am of the same opinion.

This is what I do.  This is who I am.

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