Monday, February 27, 2006

It was a big ol' messy mess

Yeah, the New York Comic-Con was a bit of a nightmare. They underestimated both the amount of space they'd need and the audience who'd show up (because, apparently, no one knew that there are lots of people in New York friggin' City). So on Saturday, they closed off the floor, leaving fans, professionals, and even the press barred from the place that most of them paid to get into. There are plenty of comics sites that extensively covered this debacle (this is a good starting point), so I won't get into it. I'm just glad that I took the day off on Friday and did what I needed to do then.

I'm not mad about how I was treated, even though I eventually had to do the thing I didn't want to—get in on the strength of my press status rather than the professional badge that I paid for. I just feel incredibly sorry for the poor souls like my sister-in-law and her boyfriend, who endured a crappy bus ride from Boston to come to the show...only to be told that they couldn't get in.

And I will go to the next one, simply because it's in my backyard. But unless they get more space (which, allegedly, is in the works), I'm going to avoid the whole damned island when they open it up to the fans.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Off the Grid...Sorta

Heading to the inaugural New York Comic Con. Seeing some old friends, hopefully making some new ones, and trying to scare up new opportunities. (Though, I'm not trying super-super-hard: had a meeting last night—which I can't tell you about, not yet—which may result in Adam and I being very, very busy for the next few months.)

But I'll report back if I can, when I can. So be good while I'm gone, and try not to mess up the internets too much.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Pleasantly Strange, Is All

I was flipping channels last night, down deep in the dial, and I saw that Sin City, Hellboy, and Tank Girl were all on at the same time.

Not that it means anything in the grand scheme of things, but there were three comic-book derived films on television
(and only one of them any good), none of them featuring superheroes...and I just think that's kinda cool.

Comic book characters have become mainstream enough to serve as cable TV programming wallpaper.

(And while we're devoting any space whatsoever to the fact that Tank Girl exists as a feature film, let's take a moment to imagine just how phenomenal it might've been as an animated film, directed by Jamie Hewlett with all mad energy he would eventually bring to the Gorillaz...but younger. Stupid Lori Petty.)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I Needed a Hero, Part II

I’ve never really been an outliner. I’m pretty sure that it goes back to my inability to study. All through both high school and college, I never really learned how to study. I never had to. See, I’m smart. I say this not as a boast, or to impress, or even bludgeon lesser beings with my Khan-like superior intellect. (As with all things, I’ve met people so much smarter than I that they literally make rooms brighter with the luminescence of their big brains.) I say this to help illustrate this point. I’m smart and, unfortunately, also lazy. The former helps enable the latter, like the friend who orders dessert even though he totally knows you’re on a diet but will still eat half the damned brownie sundae just because its on the friggin' table. Taunting you.

If I was just smart, I’d be a millionaire by now. Seriously. (I know guys—okay, one guy—who was not all that sharp and just sold his internet company for millions. Plural.) But the lazy is my kryptonite, lodged about 17 inches up my arse. So, in school, I was smart enough to be able to just reread the notes I’d taken and pass almost every test. Not excel, mind you, just pass. I was a solid B– underachiever, which, naturally, annoyed my parents to no end. I didn’t study because studying was hard and, again, me lazy. (My father is an immigrant from the poorest country in the Western hemisphere who carved a very, very nice life for himself through a combination of smarts and ball-busting hard work. You can imagine how pleased he was with me...)

When I started writing, I never much dug the index-card method. My writing partner did, because he was both smart and not lazy. I’m pretty sure he’s running Houston right now. I was always more inclined to wing it, which explains why I always dried up at page 40. I had the good characters, the good beginning, and the kick-ass ending, but no way to connect the dots.

But for Hero, I wrote an outline. Sketchy, sure, missing a couple of whole scenes, definitely, but I knew where I was going and, more importantly, knew generally how to get there. And it made all the difference. Writing is a high-wire act, no doubt. There’s a ton of risk, up there. Plenty of ways to go awry, lose your balance. It also provides a terrific stage to show off with some ninja-like acrobatics. But it’s worth remembering, always remembering…

The outline is the wire.

So, I finished Hero Unlimited, the story of a private investigator and his hand-picked team of misfits and ne'er do wells, hired by humanity to find the alien bastards who stole our sun and bring it back. A big-budget, sci-fi action story that was just funny enough to confuse more than one studio exec. And writing the last 50 pages of that screenplay were more fun than anything else I’ve ever done at a computer. (Yes, including playing Doom. What four-letter word were you expecting, you preverts?) It was downhill racing through a trail that I knew well, the wind of story racing through my hair.

My last for-me revision was completed a week before my son was born. I brought it with me to that year’s San Diego Comic Con, knowing that I’d see John Rogers there, doing a little Global Frequency schtick at a Wildstorm panel. And I did; spoke to him before and after his panel and, like a dick, didn’t give him the script. (For a small but totally understandable reason: He didn’t want to carry anything. Having done that Con three times now, I know the feeling. I used to ask each and every publisher who wanted me to look at their product to drop it in the mail. Walking that floor is enough of a Bataan Death March without having to serve as your own pack animal, weighed down with pounds of comics.)

I probably should’ve pressed him, but didn’t want to come off like a pushy schmuck, forcing my one and only Hollywood contact to do something he didn’t want to do because I desperately wanted, needed him to read my script.

So I FedExed it to him once I got back home. And it got lost on his desk. Because that's what happens. But I finally managed to get it to him. Of course, I had to fly all the way to Vancouver to do it.

Next time: Why movie/TV sets are the most boring places on Earth and the Sutton Place Hotel is the nexus of the showbiz universe.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I Love Fear

I read a lot of comics. Thankfully, most of the publishers I used to deal with as my weekly entertainment magazine’s Head Comics Geek in Charge have kept me on their comp lists, so a lot of stuff crosses my desk. Most of it isn’t very good. But that’s par for the course: most of any medium’s offerings aren’t very good. (I’ve still got the C. Thomas Howell direct-to-DVD version of The War of the Worlds on my shelf. Why? Because it’s too bad to let fall into the wrong hands.)

Where was I? Ah, comics. My new favorite comic is Image's Fear Agent, written by Rick Remender and drawn by Tony Moore. I could say I love it because it’s smart, or because it’s funny, or because with each issue it gives you the kind of story-dump you don’t seem to get much any more.

But I love it because it’s sci-fi. (Not to mention manly-man sci-fi, with swaggering, drunk heroes and pretty girls and dastardly bug-eyed monsters.) And there just aren’t many good sci-fi comics out there.

Many smarter people (or, at least, more invested people) have decried the myopia of the American comics industry: that it supports one genre (superheroes), to the exclusion of all others. Sure, there are people doing fantastic work in other story-spaces published by independent companies, be it horror, or Westerns, or slackers trying to get laid. But after Warren Ellis brought Transmetropolitan to a close (and besides Y: The Last Man) there hasn't been a lot of real, thinking man’s science fiction out there for mass consumption.

Granted, Fear Agent is cut from a different cloth than Transmet, and they are aiming to do different things, but they both engage on one level or another. Which is more than I can say for most.

Monday, February 13, 2006

I Needed a Hero

As with all things, my first solo script started with the merest whiff of an idea, jotted down in my idea folder and left to ferment:
“It was a day like any other day. The bed was one notch softer than it was last night. The two day-old coffee grinds were still bleeding see-through brew. The news in yesterday’s paper didn’t get any more interesting. It was your average run-of-the-mill Tuesday morning—until somebody stole the sun.”
As usual, that’s all I had. At first, I thought it was gonna be a sci-fi noir thing: What if Philip Marlowe lived in a world where the Roswell landings were both real and overt? What if the 1950s were a retro-tech playland, full of jetpacks and private eyes, hover cars and Smith and Wessons? That way lie madness, or at least the kind of madness I couldn’t shoehorn into a screenplay. There was too much, too many things to establish and then discard. (Maybe, now that I think of it, it’d work for a comic book…so don’t none of you bastards steal it or I’ll rain down the fury of a thousand berserkers upon your tender little asses.)

So, it sat there for a couple of years, occasionally to be looked at, puzzled over, and then returned to its cubby.

In the meanwhile, I’d convinced the Books editor here at the weekly entertainment magazine that cuts my checks to mix in a few comics reviews, when the book merited coverage. One of my first reviews was for Warren Ellis’ Global Frequency. The kicker for my A– review was “Part Buckaroo Banzai, part X-Files, Global Frequency starts in the middle of a mind-bending nuclear crisis and hauls ass straight through to the close. I'd say it would make a great TV show but for the sad truth that Hollywood would surely screw it up.” This was in 2002.

Flash forward to January 2004. I get my daily installment of Warren Ellis’ Bad Signal e-newsletter. In it, he talks about GF’s translation to the screen for a pilot, tentatively for the WB. And he mentions that screenwriter John Rogers is the showrunner. I hunt down Mr. Rogers’ email and send up a hail mary: I tell him that I reviewed this book, way back when, and thought that it’d make for a great TV show and, what’s more, according to Warren, he wasn’t screwing it up. I wanted to write for this show. Badly.

Now, if you know John, as I do now, this next bit probably won’t surprise you, but it surprised the hell out of me. He said that he was a bit of a ways from staffing the show but, when the time came, he’d be more than willing to read my spec and consider me. They were hopefully going to shoot the pilot in August; I was welcome to come out to the set and get a vibe for the show and, after that, “we’d talk.” I didn’t expect even the courtesy of a reply, let alone one as promising as this.

Thing was, I didn’t have a spec, not one that I was proud enough of to send out as a sample, and not one that—most importantly—I had written by myself. So I needed to get myself one of those, toot sweet.

And I remembered that “somebody stole the sun” idea and, well, it just clicked. Lost the period aspect. Still a private eye story. Contemporary, with a bit of a spy-tech slant. The hero's name would be, well, Hiro. It would be called Hero Unlimited.

I had six months. I gave myself that deadline for two reasons: 1) I’d be heading out to LA in July, stopping there before the San Diego Comic Con, so I could drop off the complete script with John then, and 2) my wife was pregnant with our second; she was due in early June and once the baby arrived, there’s be no time for anything besides sleep deprivation and flying poop. (Seriously, that shit can get some air.)

So, six months...

Friday, February 10, 2006

Words to Live By

"Yes! You know what it is, don't you boy? Shall I tell you? It's the least I can do. Steel isn't strong, boy, flesh is stronger! Look around you. There, on the rocks; that beautiful girl. Come to me, my child...


That is strength, boy! That is power! The strength and power of flesh. What is steel compared to the hand that wields it? Look at the strength in your body, the desire in your heart. I gave you this! Such a waste. Contemplate this on the tree of woe. Crucify him."

Back in the Saddle

To the seven of you who actually read this blog, I must apologize. I haven’t been giving it the sort of love one must to foster a long and healthy relationship. Why? Because my mistress is back in town.

I’m writing again.

It’s funny, for a long time, I didn’t really enjoy writing. It was something I could do, so I did it. There was no inherent pleasure, for me, in the process itself. It was always something I wanted to have finished doing, not actually do. (I felt the same way about my wedding: I wanted to be married, I didn’t want the hassle of getting married. But I did. Huzzah.)

Then I started writing my first solo spec. (For a while, right out of college, I wrote with a partner who didn’t have a day job so he was able to spend long hours doing the heavy first-draft lifting while I could swoop in and do the rewriting. I’ve always been an editor.) And it was fun. I didn’t feel that page-60-barrel-stare that I had in the past. I even stayed up way past my bedtime. To write. Never did that before. Never liked it before.

And then I didn’t write, not for a good long stretch. Lots of reasons: work, newborn, toddler with newly diagnosed autism, the attendant mental exhaustion. In the middle of all of that came the Monster Attack Network comic book opportunity, which was fun, but the aformentioned shifting of gears (from writing in the screenplay format to the comic format) took a lot of work. One of life’s constants is that learning to think differently is hard—occasionally, so hard that most people never do it.

Adam and I wrapped M.A.N. up in November. In the time between then and now, I’d been experiencing something of a malaise and I wasn’t sure why. Career fatigue? Not quite. Depression? Nah. Sloth? A little, but gluttony is my achilles deadly sin. No, I finally realized I was unhappy because I wasn’t writing. Imagine that.

But we are now. A spec and a TV pilot, both to be wrapped up by spring. And it’s still hard, but it feels good. It feels fun. And, man, does fun count for a lot.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Negro Problem

Two things floated across my eyes today, and together, they got me thinking. The first was Glory, that fantastic Ed Zwick Civil War movie starring Denzel Washington (in the role he won his first Oscar for), Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher, and Matthew Broderick. Its Black History Month, so you're bound to catch this on basic cable at one time or another. Fantastic film, if you haven't seen it.

The second was a trailer for a film called The World's Fastest Indian, starring Anthony Hopkins as a colorful New Zealander who tries to break the land-speed record on a motorcycle of his own invention. True story, apparently. Probably pretty decent, since, at the very least, Sir Tony's worth watching in almost anything. (Having said that, I vividly recall renting Zardoz, spurred by the thought "It's got Sean bad could it be?" Ooof.)

And what do these two films have in common? Not too much, except that they point out a strange Hollywood blind spot. There are not a lot of big-budget movies erected around black stars. (Will Smith is, really, the only exception to this rule.) The popular wisdom is that black actors don't pull people into movies, especially overseas. Even Denzel, fresh off his second Oscar for Training Day, had to watch as a film he was set to star in called American Gangster (directed by Antoine Fuqua, also rebounding from Training Day) fell apart because the budget was over $100 million.

As I watched Glory, I got to thinking, Where's the Martin Luther King biopic? Where's the Jackie Robinson film that Spike Lee's been trying to make for a decade now? Hell, Spike had to beg for money to complete X. (Inside the Actor's Studio is, by now, pure knob-smoking farce, but if you've never seen the Spike Lee hour, in which he tearfully recounts how Bill Cosby and Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey wrote him personal checks so he could finish editing the film, track it down.) There are great stories about the black experience out there to be made, why is Hollywood so reluctant to make them? Why can a film about some Kiwi motorcyclist get a theatrical release, with ads during the Super Bowl, but a movie like Boycott—starring the witheringly talented Jeffrey Wright as Dr. King—has to be made for HBO? The World's Fastest Indian isn't gonna make any money, no way, no how. But someone bankrolled it, anyway. Because they loved the story.

For a while, January was seen as a dead month for magazine newsstand sales. Nothing sold. And nothing we did would change it. (Things have since changed a bit.) So, when faced with the reality that no matter what we put on the cover the magazine wasn't gonna sell on the newsstand, we realized that we could put whatever we wanted on the cover. Things we would never try any other time during the year. It was liberating, and we got some terrific covers out of it.

There are stories out there, crying to be told. And if no one's gonna see your movie anyway, why not make the best one you can? To quote that wizened cinematic sage, Wesley Snipes, in Passenger 57, "Always bet on black."

EDIT: I see that New Line is moving ahead with a Duke Ellington film, The Jazz Ambassadors, starring Morgan Freeman and directed by (apparently, the only black filmmaker working in the studio system) Antoine Fuqua. Good on ya.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Wanna hear something really scary?

It was, today, 55 degrees in midtown Manhattan. In February. It was 60 last week. Sure, it takes some dips, every now and then, but it's an even 25 degrees warmer than it should be.

This kinda frightens me.

A relatively reliable friend told me that there have been butterfly sightings, at a time and in places where butterflies shouldn't be sighted.

Let's pretend we're living a science fiction film, something like The Day After Tomorrow or The Core or Independence Day. Right about now is when the hunky, unorthodox-but-super-brainy scientist starts to get a weird vibe: There's something not right here.

Said hunk-o-brain then does a whole mess of very quick but totally error-free research and learns that Impending Doom is about to happen. Then he begins the daunting process of getting Someone to Listen. Invariably, he talks to the President and he either doesn't get it or doesn't want to get it until it's too late. (I know, in Independence Day, POTUS does get it and does something about it. Give me this one.)

What's scaring me out of my spats is that we've currently got a commander-in-chief who wouldn't get it...and there would be no convincing him.

Sleep tight.