Friday, March 31, 2006

Jay and a Not-So-Silent Bob

I heartily recommend that you stop by Kevin Smith's online diary, and soon. He's up to the third part (of four, I think) of his heartbreaking account of Jason Mewes' downward spiral into, and then recovery from, a massive drug addiction. Parts of it are funny, because it is Kevin Smith and, say what you will about his movies, he is a funny dude. But much of it is sad, in a helpless sort of way.

I've never had a friend who abused himself to that extent, so I've never had to rationally be harsh to someone I love. I do, however, know all too well what it feels like to have a family member struggle with a condition that, essentially, only they have the power to reverse. And I've learned all you can do is give them every erg of support you can muster, every possible resource you can enlist, and remove every obstacle set before them so that, in the end, salvation is only a matter of will.


For those of you thinking to yourselves, "Hey, whatever happened to that comic book that Marc was talking about so much when he first started this blog and hasn't mentioned in the past three months?" it's-a-coming. Buncha stuff cropped up around and after the holidays that brought production to something of a grinding halt, but now we're kinda back on track. Starting to see rough layouts—which is a pretty phenomenal experience, as anyone who's ever written a comic and seen it drawn will tell you.

But, because of the temporary work stoppage, we're probably not gonna make a 2006 release. Which makes me a tiny bit sad, but not overly so. I should still have a raft of pages to bring with me to San Diego in July and, hey, 2007 is just as good a year as any, right? It even sounds slightly more futuristic than 2006...because it is.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Where's My Money?

I'm doing this for two reasons.

1) Because I wanted to see if embedding video would work.

2) I think it's funny.

What's Your Fantasy, Baby?

Came across this in a piece Neil Gaiman wrote for The Irish Times:

“Movies now have, to all intents, an infinite special effects budget. (I was writing a script for Beowulf last year and, worried that a climactic airborne dragon battle was going a little over the top, I called the director, Robert Zemeckis, to warn him. 'Don't worry,' he said. 'There is nothing you could write that will cost me more than a million dollars a minute to film.')"

That bears repeating: There is nothing you could write that will cost more than a million dollars a minute to film.*

So why aren’t we seeing images of such detached grandeur that make everything else ever put on film pale in comparison? If you can do anything, why don’t you? Why aren’t our minds being blown on a routine basis, the way moviegoers minds were when The Wizard of Oz exploded into technicolor, or when Red 5 dipped into the trench to start his attack run, or the first time we saw wire-fu?

We now live in a world where the cinematic imagination can run free, in the same way that novelists and, yes, comic book artists’ can, unburdened with things like impossibility.

I saw Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s low-budget CG-heavy fantasy MirrorMask and, while I didn’t really respond to the material, I was flabbergasted by some of the images. They didn’t have the money to live the million-a-minute dream, but there were still sequences the likes of which I’ve never seen before.

Now, I’m sure that a certain cost-profitability matrix comes into play—a movie that costs a certain amount needs to make back a certain amount—and if you hatch something totally untethered to “reality” you’re cutting down the potential audience.

But fuck it, I go to the movies to see stuff I’ve never seen before, be it spaceships or aliens, Lawrence of Arabia or Escape from New York, The Iron Giant or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I want to see something new. I want to see the cinematic equivalent of The Lord of the Rings books: a whole-cloth story that takes place in a world I’ve never seen, showing me things I never thought possible.

Movies are, first and foremost, a medium of fantasy. Bring it.

* If that figure is legit—and I’ll give Zemeckis the benefit of the doubt—what the hell are they spending $300 million on for Superman Returns?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Flying 'United'

Saw the United 93 trailer over the weekend. Not entirely sure how I feel about it. I know how others do, as both my wife and my mother expressed the very opposite of interest: They were repulsed at the very idea of a 9/11 movie. (I didn’t have the heart to tell them that there were two coming within 6 months of each other.)

I was sort of excited by it. By the looks of it, United 93 seems to be a tale of heroes. And I’m a sucker for heroic stories. And I don’t mean superheroes, since few of them actually feature the defining characteristic of the hero’s story: choice.

One becomes a hero in the moment when they make the choice between safety and danger, when they choose to risk themselves for something else. So many so-called superheroes don’t make that choice. If Superman made that choice, it was a long time ago (and still sort of questionable since he is, for all intents and purposes, an invulnerable orphan with a secret identity, and therefore can’t actually risk anything). Batman is a psychopath, and one can’t trust the motives of the clinically insane. Wonder Woman, again, invulnerable, though her willingness to ostracize herself from her people and her home to do good works in man’s world probably tips the scales.

What interests me is the idea of trying to divine what made those people on board United Flight 93 decide not to go gently into that good night, and not give up without a fight. Is it the fact that they were able to face their mortality, in a very real way, and knowing they were already dead, had nothing to lose? Perhaps, though there were still people who stayed in their seats, rather than storm the cockpit and by so doing save thousands of lives. And that’s heroism: choosing to do that which you ordinarily wouldn’t for the sake of someone else.

(I know this'll get me in trouble in lots of quarters, but I don't think the firefighters and police officers who rushed into the smoking Towers should be considered "heroes." They were doing their jobs. Same with Secret Service officers who jump in front of bullets. It's right there in the job description and they are expected to do as such. No, their heroic moments came when they took the entrance exams.)

It is probably too soon for a 9/11 movie, but, still, I really do hope United 93 is good. Because, if nothing else, those people deserve a good movie.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Crash Landing

I know, it’s probably some sort of job-related crime, working where I work, that I hadn’t seen the Best Picture winner until a week or so after the Oscars. But, I finally caught up with it, and I’ve got a theory:

Race is the new Holocaust.

To clarify: For years, if there was a film about the Holocaust in any given category, it was going to win the Oscar. Period. That’s just the way it went. And that’s fine. Many of them were good, they were all worth making—it was a corner of history that lay unilluminated for far too long. But some of them also got by on the sheer emotional impact of the Holocaust without doing the filmmaking heavy-lifting required to actually be a good movie.

And now, I think race relations in this country is starting to be examined in much the same way. (And, I firmly believe, if someone ever manages to make a film, a great film, about the Middle Passage, it’ll change lives, much in the way that Roots did.)

So Crash won the Oscar. And it’s not a good film. Well-intentioned, I suppose, but still not good. It’s a movie populated by complex cariactures that do and say things that defy reality. To wit:
  • Don Cheadle’s detective has enough of a relationship with his hottie partner to not only bring her to the coroner to identify his brother’s body, but to sleep with her. Then, he calls her, essentially, a dirty Mexican (knowing, as one who must’ve spent hundreds of hours in a squad car with her, that she’s Puerto Rican). But he’s a good guy, because he buys his junkie mom groceries.
  • An employee of the Los Angeles DA’s office says to Cheadle’s detective (who, by the way, he needs something from), “That’s what’s wrong with you black people.” Who the hell says that? Out loud? Outside of a Klan rally?
  • It’s not enough for Matt Dillon’s character to be a racist sexual offender, but he’s also gotta be a saint who rescues a woman from a burning car…and helps his dad piss at night.
  • Terrence Howard’s TV director tries to make up for being emasculated at the hands of the LAPD by leading two squad cars on a high-speed pursuit and then, taking the gun from his would-be carjacker, trying to goad them into shooting him. Why? Because, apparently, he just got incredibly, mysteriously stupid.
The plot holes are just as bad. The Persian shopkeeper who, by his own admission, can’t read, tracks the hispanic locksmith back to his home…through the phone book. Sandra Bullock, a rich woman who probably had her very expensive hardwood flooring buffed to within a millimeter of weapons-grade optics, doesn’t know better than to walk through her house with socks on…just so she can take a tumble down the stairs.

And the insistence that every character, in some fashion or another, be intricately connected to every other character smacks of bad romantic comedy. Remember Serendipity, when John Cusack never hooks up with Kate Beckinsale because he keeps missing her in elevators and taxis and planes? Turning an incredibly lazy plot device on its ear doesn’t make it better, just different.

There’s some decent acting in Crash, especially from Ludacris and Larenz Tate, but it’s real problem is its abject failure to resemble reality. A film about a topic as real as race that exists in a concocted fantasy version of reality teaches no lessons, imparts no wisdom, forces no one to examine themselves and their own feelings. It does little but, conversely, allow people to feel safe in the knowledge that They Are Not As Bad As Matt Dillon.

And that doesn’t do anyone any good.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Living for the City

I am built for cities. I have lived in or around New York City for my whole life and I never really feel as comfortable as I do when I’m in Manhattan.

And it’s not because I haven’t left it: I’ve done my share of travel, both at home and abroad. I’ve driven across the United States, letting my stomach choose the route (hence, the stops in Memphis, New Orleans, and Austin). I’ve been to Boston and Seattle and San Francisco and Philadelphia and San Diego and Los Angeles (not really a city because you can’t walk in it, but every rule needs an exception). I’ve been to London and Paris and Rome and Venice (my overseas favorite because it’s so damned stupid). I’ve been to Port-au-Prince, which is worth braving the risks to see; poverty is a defining characteristic of the urban condition, and no place is poorer than Haiti.

But my first true love is Manhattan, introduced to me in all her grandeur by my grandmother, who insisted that we take a Circle Line tour around the Island when I was 7. And I love this city because it scares me.

I’m not scared of being mugged, or shot, or harassed, or molested. My fear is not a physical one. It’s not even an emotional one. I was here, on the ground, during 9/11. I caught the last train into the city, able to see the smoking first tower right before we entered the tunnel. I walked down a Broadway completely devoid of car traffic to get to Penn Station to catch a train home that night. I had my shoes hosed off by the fire department, just in case I was carrying any carcinogenic dust into my New Jersey suburb. I didn’t lose anyone that day, but I still felt the loss. But I still come into Manhattan every day, willingly and gladly.

No, what scares me—and in turn, captivates me—is that there’s just so much I don’t know about this place. Walk down almost any block and you’ll pass, literally, hundreds of doors, all leading somewhere. And there are thousands of such doors. What goes on behind them?

I once passed a door, maybe on West 54th, perfectly maintained, totally non-descript, save the words “Manhattan Nautical Club” stenciled in gold lettering on the glass. And it was nowhere near the water. Where did it lead, who was inside, and what were they doing?

This city is a hive of mystery, and that’s what I love about it. What scares me is that I’m not really the kind of bloke who cares to solve them.

Friday, March 17, 2006

I Needed a Hero, Part V: The Manager Strikes Back

Where were we? Ah, December 2004. I had a manager, one who was excited about my script, but who was forced upon me through contractual obligation. He wanted me to rewrite it a little—add a little story beat here, streamline a little there—but he was excited to spec it.

So I rewrote. I agreed with some of their notes, and disagreed with others…and since no one had paid me for it yet, it was still mine and I wasn’t gonna sabotage my own work unless someone backed up the money truck first. In January 2005, I went to LA on weekly- entertainment-magazine business (inasmuch as it’s “business” when I travel: I was covering a crappy Martial Arts Expo that neither Wesley Snipes, Chuck Norris, nor Steven Seagal—all invited guests, mind you—bothered to show for) so I met the Manager, dropped off the rewrite, soaked up some of the “totally stoked to be in the Marc Bernardin business” love, and went home.

A week later, the Manager dropped me as a client.

As it was explained to me, while my rewrite fixed what little there was to be fixed (his words, not mine), he had a very abrupt change of heart regarding Hero Unlimited’s prospects. He just didn’t think he could sell it. And because he couldn’t sell it, he wanted nothing to do with me.

Now, I knew that Hero probably wouldn’t sell. Because it’s a hard thing for a studio executive to wrap their minds’ around. Hero is funny, but it’s not a comedy; the cast eventually travels on a spaceship, but it’s not the future; it’s science fiction, but without any lasers. And it would be expensive (though not as expensive as they’d think). I was under no illusions that I’d wake up and be Shane Black, cashing seven-figure checks and becoming the darling of Hollywood. I was in it for the meetings.

When a script hits the town, and people seem to have some genuinely positive response to it, whether it sells or not, the development execs will want to meet you. Because that’s what they do: have meetings. Meetings for D-girls and boys are like billable hours for lawyers: It’s how they prove they’re doing their jobs.

All I wanted was to get in the room with people and let them see my face, get to know, in 30 minutes, that I’m not a schmuck. And the Manager didn’t even want to get me those meetings. He didn’t really want to develop me as a client, he just wanted to sell my script and get his 10%. Which I understand, but was still disappointed by.

So we parted ways. I was free of any contractual mumbo jumbo. And, in the span of a month, I went from having two literary managers trying to represent me to having none.

Luckily, Circle of Confusion meant it when they said they wanted to be in "the Marc Bernardin business." They took me back and, after another rewrite, sent the script out...and got me the meetings. (No, it didn't sell. I know this because I'm not driving a Boxster.)

I spent a week shuttling from studio lot to studio lot, meeting, greeting, and doing lots of valuable market research. It was explained to me, very early on during Meeting Week, that no one was gonna buy a pitch from me, an unproduced, untested writer, unless it was the idea equivalent of sliced bread...that also gave blow jobs. But they would listen to those ideas, and I should use that time to see which ones got the best response and use that info to help decide what to write next.

(A little aside: The best moment of Meeting Week was on the Universal lot. I was sitting in my car, a little early for my meeting with a DreamWorks exec, when I saw the Universal Tour tram come rolling by. And, as they were passing the production company bungalows, the Tour Guide said, over the loud speakers, "Thousands of screenplays come to Universal every year. Of them, only about a hundred are bought. And of those, only 10 get made into motion pictures. I wouldn't want those odds... Am I right?" Nothing like a little reality-shot-to-the-nads to warm you up before a pitch meeting.)

So, that's what we did, Adam and I. Collated our notes, settled on the idea that got the best response in the room, and went to work. For three weeks, and then put it on the back-burner so we could devote three months to writing a comic book.

And that's the end of the Hero journey. I've still got it, sitting on my hard drive, waiting for the adventurous studio exec to take a chance. But, I've gotta tell you, I wouldn't have written it had John Rogers not dangled the Global Frequency carrot. So, for that, I am eternally grateful. He'll get a shout-out when I win an Oscar. Or a Razzie.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Matrix...Explained

Found this on John August's site and it is, indeed, interesting. An explanation, written by an engineer, of what the hell the machines' grand design was for humanity, free of any Wachowskian philosophical hooey. What were the Architect and the Oracle doing, and why did they need Neo and Agent Smith to do it?

Be forewarned: Reading it won't make Reloaded or Revolutions not suck.

Monday, March 13, 2006

I Needed A Hero, Part IV: A New Hope

If you know anything about either Global Frequency or me, personally, you already know that the show didn’t happen. The pilot was finished, it tested well, and had the support of both the studio and the network. That is, until the president of The WB was replaced. The new guy wanted nothing to do with anything the old guy had a hand in and so Global Frequency was doomed. (For more, check out John Rogers’ excellent blog and this post in particular.)

So I was left with a lot of time and money invested in trying to write for a show that now didn’t exist. But I had this spec script. I liked it. My friends liked it. Even John liked it. Might as well try and do something with it.

I bought a book called Writer’s Guide to Hollywood Producers, Directors, and Screenwriter’s Agents and combed through the appendix, which listed hundreds of different production companies and agencies, their contact information, as well as whether they were looking for new clients and willing to take a flier on unproduced writers. I made my list, checked it twice, and started emailing. (Like a high school student applying to colleges, I had my dream get: Circle of Confusion, the management firm that represents, among other folks, the Wachowski brothers. They were NY-based, very science-fiction friendly, and willing to work with rookies.)

I got a few pings back, thanks to a relatively funny query letter; three to be specific: one from a production company and two from literary managers. And, yes, one of them was from Circle of Confusion. They all wanted to read the script. One of the management firms had a release that needed to be signed before they’d read it. Fine. Whatever it takes to get it in front of the right eyes. (Famous last words.)

The production company passes. They liked it, but had no experience with sci-fi and didn’t want to start with Hero. But Circle called, and totally dug it. They think it’s completely sellable and want to run with it.

The Dance of Joy was danced and danced well. And long.

Then the other management firm calls. They had the script evaluated by their own readers and it got some pretty fantastic scores. They, too, want to represent it.

An embarassment of riches. A very high-class problem to have, two different managers wanting to take you to the prom. But I chose Circle, since, A) they got back to me first and B) they’re really who I wanted to be in business with.

The Other Manager respected that decision, but informed me that, buried in that release I signed was a clause that said, essentially, If They Liked the Submitted Script, They Could Exercise the Right to Exclusively Represent It, Regardless of What I Think.

They exercised that right. And, legally, there was little I could do about it. I told Circle about the development and, while a little ticked, they took being kicked to the curb with good spirits and said they hoped we could work again in the future.

So, somehow, I found myself represented by a manager who loved the script and would only take on material he knew he could sell...and pissed off at the same time.

Not so much dancing.

Next time: It all comes full Circle.

EDIT: So we're all on the same page, and for those of you coming in late, the events detailed above took place in fall of 2004. We're all good now, ja?

Galactica: Coda

I will say this, and then not another word on Battlestar Galactica until October: It takes balls the size of armadillos to end a season like that, to totally twist your TV show on its axis and send it in a completely different direction. To quote my man Bill Cunningham: “What’s a war without a prison camp?”

I don’t know where it’s going, but I know that trying to write a spec episode of Galactica would be a pointless endeavor. I mean, how do you even try and tell a story that would fit in with the rest of the series when the series keeps changing?

Man, it’s gonna be a long seven months.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


I have a teenage-girl crush on Battlestar Galactica. I love this show so much that I actually have trouble writing about it. The lead review I wrote for the magazine was the hardest review I've ever done. (For me, it is always harder to write about something I love than something I hate. The venom just flies easier. It's like Spock said, "It has always been easier to destroy than to create.")

So, while I would like nothing more than to explain, in detail, the many and varied ways I admire Galactica, I won't, for it would read like the rambling love letter you sent to that little red-haired girl in homeroom before she crushed your burgeoning ego by frenching that stupid jock wrestler under the bleachers.

What I will say is that the Galactica podcasts are pure gold. For every episode, executive producer Ronald D. Moore records a showrunner's commentary track and releases it as a podcast through the Sci-Fi channel website (easily shunted into iTunes). If you're both a fan and, like me, a writer, it's bursting with insight into what is, easily, the best, most complex show on TV.

And here's the thing: I have never listened to the podcast while watching the corresponding episode. While some of Moore's comments are loosely scene-specific, the experience isn't tarnished by not having the scenes in front of you. Instead, you just get to just roll around inside a showrunner's head, learning how things went right and, more importantly, where they went wrong. (One of my favorite tracks was for an episode called "Black Market," which Moore felt failed on a fundamental level and then candidly dissected, fully shouldering the blame.)

These podcasts are an invaluable learning tool for any writer who's even casually thinking about serial storytelling, be it TV or comics. The fact that they're free is just icing on the cake.

Here's an idea that I'll just give away: Why don't the studios release feature film commentary tracks as podcasts? They're already recorded and, while won't be nearly as popular as an episode of The Office, would be like crack for cinephiles. It'd be great to have them for nothing, like most podcasts, but I'd drop 99 cents to listen to James Cameron on Aliens, or Martin Scorsese on Goodfellas, or Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Milius on Conan (seriously, one of the most entertaining tracks I've ever heard) on my commute into The City.

Look at that: an untapped revenue stream derived from material already produced and just lying around that wouldn't cannibalize from DVD sales in the slightest.

My gift to you...the magnificent seven of you who read this.

Monday, March 06, 2006


Don't really care anymore. I mean, professionally, I have to "care," since it's prime feed for the weekly entertainment magazine that cuts my checks. But I don't, personally, care...not the way I used to when I was in my early 20s, staying up late and watching all the Billy Crystal-shepherded bidness go down, giddy with the idea that at some point I could be there, accepting my own statuette. I know better now. (It may still happen, but giving a toss over what happens during the Oscars won't get me there any faster.)

Maybe I'm just jaded. Or, more likely, bored. Because it is still, regardless of what they change each year, a horribly programmed show, far too beholden to tradition to be genuinely interesting and far too reliant on the attendance of the beautiful people to be remotely real.

So, until I or someone I know gets nominated, I'm not gonna care. (Sorta came close this year; what with one of my bosses mis-IDed as Eric Roth because he was sitting next to his husband, Tony Kushner, nominated for cowriting Munich. But I've never met Tony, so doesn't count.)

Don't ask, don't care. Too busy nursing this stupid cold I got from one of my offspring in lieu of gratitude for caring for them solo (while my wife went skiing). Too busy trying not to cough an eyeball out.

Shit. Okay, nobody move.

I Needed a Hero, Part III

Where were we? Ah, yes. I was the schmuck who didn’t drop off his writing sample spec to the showrunner of Global Frequency when he had the chance. Luckily, Mr. Rogers was swell enough to make good on his invitation to the set when they shot the pilot.

So, off I flew to Vancouver, a city with all the beauty of the Pacific northwest and all the grime of an urban slum, both at the same time. I was going to stay for just one full day, since I was paying for this out of my own pocket. (Most of my trips to the West Coast end up being on the company dime…and the company dime will get you into some rather nice hotels. My dime? Something else entirely.) I would’ve opted to stay at the Canuck equivalent of a Red Roof Inn, but the GF production was headquartered at the way more upscale Sutton Place Hotel. Apparently, every production is headquartered there. Don’t know if there’s a dearth of decent hotels in Vancouver, but this is the one.

Flew in, met John and a colleague for dinner, had a quick drink in the hotel bar — where I saw the entire friggin’ cast of The L Word gathered to celebrate the arrival of the director of the next episode, Ernest Dickerson — and went to sleep early for what was surely going to be a busy tomorrow. I should’ve known better: I would be spending the day on the set and, as I’ve said here before — and others have said better elsewhere — a day on a set is a mind-numbingly boring affair.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a huge fan of the comic, and was totally impressed by John’s script for the pilot. (Some of you may have seen the finished product, oh, somewhere on the internet.) So it was kinda cool being there, hanging out in video village (the pavilion of playback monitors), meeting the cast, watching director Nelson McCormick plan his shots like a military operation (and with good reason; apparently, he was a combat photographer), and shooting the shit with GF creator Warren Ellis, who planted a phrase in my head that I still haven’t been able to shake free (“Godzilla bukkake”).

But being on a set is a lot of waiting: waiting for the lighting crew to swivel their gear around, waiting for the camera crew to get their focal lengths right with the stand-ins, waiting for any one of a thousand things that have to happen before a single frame of film could be shot. And, not being intimately involved with what was going on, no one asked me any questions. So I sat and watched and, like everyone else, waited. Waited to talk to John about my chances of actually writing for the show. Finally, grabbed a couple of minutes before dinner and he gave me the low-down: he’d be happy to have me come in and pitch, when the time is right, when they wrap the pilot and start filling out the stories for the first season.

Sweet. A very expensive tentative “yes,” but a yes nonetheless. (The lesson I drew from this: Chase down every lead, so long as you can afford it, and even if you can’t. It cost me almost a grand to fly out there to get five minutes of John’s time…and it was worth every penny.)

Before I left the set that night — where they started shooting the very cool opening scene, on a “San Francisco Chinatown” street — I tucked a copy of Hero Unlimited into John’s briefcase. No way I was not doing that again.

On the flight home, I scribbled down eight ideas for Global Frequency episodes. That’s how jazzed I was.

Next time: The conclusion of my Global trek and why even real-world endings should leave room for a sequel.