Monday Blog – The Saddest GIF Ever



This GIF is taken from a “making of” video from the latest Hobitt movie, with the voice over “I didn’t know what the hell I was doing and needed a plan.”

Gee, you think?

The video, which I’ve embedded below, shows Hobbitt director Peter Jackson and many of his production team speaking earnestly (oh, so earnestly) about why, in essance, The Hobbitt movies were no good. I don’t know if they were any good, honestly, as I bowed out after the first one. Word of mouth and a completely unnecessary 45 minutes with the elves in the first movie kept me away. But with this video, it might be time to reconsider the artist, if not the movies themselves. I have no interest in watching them and doubt I ever will.

Peter Jackson used to be in the Pantheon. He used to be one of the great for three really important reasons.

  1. Bad Taste/Dead Alive – Whatever you want to call it neither you nor I nor anyone else has ever seen a horror movie with such glee in the gross, such joy in the guts, as Peter Jackson’s breakthrough “Dead Alive”. Even if it’s too gross for you, which is absolutely possible, you cannot deny that movie is like watching a 6-year-old boy who just learned the lyrics to “Great big gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts” and shouts them at his Dad’s office Christmas party. The absolute revelry and imagination and craft on display makes the movie an instant midnight classic and one I revisit every few years.
  2. Lord of the Rings – Not just a series of films, but an chievement, “Lord of the Rings” changed the game. It holds up and the less I say about it the better. You know “Lord of the Rings”.
  3. He’s One of Us – Of course, that’s not really true. Fans aren’t filmmakers with landmark cinematic achievements under their belt, but Jackson always seemed like he started where we started, by falling in love with genre films. Like Guillermor Del Toro or Rian Johnson, it’s always great when someone who started as a fan became a creator.

But by the looks of this video, this Pantheon level director got swallowed, whole, by a system that demanded movies to fill release dates. That’s no way to do art but it’s also no way to do business, especially when your blockbuster franchise starts a year and a half behind.

Of course, “laying track just in front of the train” can produce masterpieces (without deadlines, I’d get very little accomplished). But when you’re writing, that’s one thing. When you’re a $400 million film with Oscar winners and a small village making armor and everything else, you have to plan this out. It just doesn’t happen.

The moral of the story is Peter Jackson may have laid a couple of turdburgers but it might not have been his fault but the fault of the system that needs blockbusters for their quarterly earnings reports. And the take away is I’ll pay attention to what the dude does next, even if it does say “From the Director of the Hobitt”.

Here’s the video.


Monday Blog – Getting Paid



Two social media powerhouses, Wil Wheaton and The Oatmeal (Matthew Inman) used their platforms this week to talk about “exposure” versus actually getting paid, both coming down on the idea that if someone creates something and someone else wants to distribute it, the artist should get paid. This is controversial, apparently.

This is also the week I got paid. I don’t like telling people this and I don’t like going into it too much but the first half of my advance check came and, though it’s not a lot of money, it represents something monumental for me. Someone is paying me for fiction I wrote making me –tadadadaaaa- a professional writer. It’s an amazing feeling and gratifying as hell.

Of course Inman and Wheaton are leagues and leagues and leagues away from me in terms of success and we’re not talking about the same game here, but I want to throw my lot in with them and agree. Artists should get paid, especially by large corporations who want to use the artist’s work for their own monetary gain and I say this as someone who used to be on the other side of the equation.

I used to work at a newspaper where part of my job was to run the entertainment section. I had some talented, very knowledgeable and proactive folks come through and ask if they could write columns and such. Every time I went to the higher ups and asked if we could pay these writers who were sinking significant time and talent into their work, I got the “see if they’ll do it for exposure” argument. Unless my memory is completely failing me, I was able to talk a paltry sum out of management, but the thing that struck me, even then, was how quickly the idea of paying writers who were contributing content to our publication was dismissed (a quick aside- I know the challenges of budgets, costs and the difficulty in monetizing the newspaper industry and know some amazing folks making hard decisions each and every day). It’s easy to justify not paying a small amount to someone making a small to medium contribution and that attitude is a scary one for people who create or who aspire to create.

The Internet age has exacerbated this problem, of course, and early online precedent didn’t help. But artists deserve to be paid for their art, full stop and that extends beyond writers. I am dying to watch the rest of Ash vs. The Evil Dead (the first episode was free) and equally desperate not to spend money on cable TV, meaning I’m going to have to wait until it’s available to buy. And I’m fine with that. I’m also fine with paying for movies, music (sometimes more than once which is kind of crap) and software because I recognize that blood and sweat and inspiration went into it. Even if it’s a movie I think is crap, I’m still going to get it legally because literally thousands of good jobs are created whenever Michael Bay cranks out a Transformers movie.

I don’t make my living writing novels but it’s something I aspire to. I agree with the Wheatons and Inmans and Devin Farcis of the Internet who say, unequivocally that money needs to be part of an exchange for creative property and art. The further into the process of writing and publishing a work of fiction I get, the more fervently I agree.

Monday Blog – Short, Controlled Bursts



We’re about in the middle of NaNoWriMo and I bet a lot of your feeds are full of posts like this – “12,000 words, a good start” or “didn’t meet my goal today! ARRRRGH!” While I am a huge fan of anything that pushes writers to write there are a few things that bug me about the exercise. I think very few writers object to the “fix it in post” mentality, which is to say, get the story down and then fix the problems once you have something to work with. It’s how almost every writer out there works. If you edit while you go, there’s a good chance you’ll never finish so getting something down and working on it after the bones are in place is extremely valuable. No doubt.

My problem with NaNoWriMo as an exercise is two-fold. First, with so many success stories out there, the pressure to do this very hard thing is immense and the failure rate, I imagine, is very high. I know some fantastic writers who consistently can’t make the goal. Add to that international word count competitions (like the number of words is somehow indicative of quality or creation of a story anyone would actually want to read) and charts with the number of words you should write a day and suddenly art stops feeling like art and feels more like sport. It’s nonsense.

Second, in my experience, a month is not a reasonable amount of time for someone with a life and a job and possibly a family to crank out a book. The deck is immediately stacked against you and if you finish, great job but you will have to sacrifice and what you be rushed. Follow all the charts you want, that first time the kid is sick or you have to stay at work until after dinner or that meeting runs super long and you’re out of luck and this project which many have used as a springboard to their dream of writing fiction is suddenly out of reach.

I have what I think is a better idea for me and some of the writers I know, though it lacks the catchy name and marketing of NaNoWriMo. It’s also based, in part, on the Colonial Marines from “Aliens.” Here’s what I do.

  • Write in short, controlled bursts – When you are a “time starved” person it’s a hard truth that three hours will never magically appear before you so you can get a good chunk or writing done. Time comes in half hour to 45 minute increments. These are scraps of time that could easily be spent doing something else but if you want to write a book, start identifying these chunks of time and using them. Getting your oil changed? Bring the lap top. Can you schedule a trip so you know you’ll arrive an hour early? Do it and knock out some chapters. WRITE OVER YOUR LUNCH HOUR! Again, if you’re busy time is not going to magically appear. You have to carve it out and you have to be consistent about it.
  • Stay frosty – When I first started writing fiction I tried staying up late and getting up early. For me, it didn’t work and I’ve heard from others it can lead to middle of the road to poor results. If the early/late thing works for you, bless you and ignore this advice, but if your brain is sometimes shut off at the end of the day like mine is, the late shift isn’t an option. Write when you are alert, awake and ready to tackle that sucker with the mental energy and focus your story deserved.
  • Never trust the robot – I know this doesn’t fit because Bishop was the best robot whoever robotted in a robot story and Lance Henricksen is awesome. I’m talking about work count. The industry standard for a novel is 70,000 to 90,000 words and while that’s important when you start don’t let the word count generator dictate your story. Be a slave to the characters and situations and story that you’re telling, not the word count. You can always fix it in post.

I would also recommend if you have two strong points and one weak one not to stretch it out like I just did.