myriad pieces of haphazard puzzles

I’m a relentless optimist. I’m also a no-bones-about-it realist. It’s a nice blend. Keeps me relatively stable and sane in what can be a career of dizzying highs (or so I’ve heard) and abysmal lows (first name basis frequent flier here).

And one of the things I’ve come to understand is you need both to effectively move through what can sometimes be the mystifying, frustrating process of being adapted from fiction to film (or TV).

And, believe me, I’m not slamming the process.

What most don’t realize is that moving a project forward in Hollywood, getting from A to B, is often dependent on a haphazard puzzle of myriad pieces somehow finding a way to snap together. It could take weeks. It could take months. It could take years. It could never happen. Some projects click quickly. Others less so. But the pieces need to come together, they need to fit and, as much as possible, they need to be perfect. And the one constant truth linking those two together, and everything in-between, is that you, as the writer, have zero say in how things inch forward. You just don’t.

Nor should you.

But this is the beauty of being a writer and one of the reasons I love what I do: when the no-bones-about-it realist starts to nag the relentless optimist, chipping away at his sunny disposition with perfectly reasonable doubts, the Writer gets to work.

Because not only am I a relentless optimist, a no-bones-about-it realist and a Writer (with that capital W), I’m also blessed with a creative mind that just…doesn’t…stop. The list of projects I have on my calendar currently stretch into 2020. And that’s not taking into account whatever projects land on my plate driven by other people, production companies, my publisher, anthologies, etc.

The Martuk Series. Eidolon Two. Eidolon Three. Eidolon Four. Eidolon Five. The third Martuk novel. A new project about magic and secret realms and dangerous monsters that lurk in plain sight, spanning different timeframes all at the same time. A potential three-book series centered around Mot from the Martuk books. Continued script adaptations for film, for TV.

So when I start to feel a bit grrrrrrrrrrrrr…I just flip it into work. And as I write, as words land on the page, hopefully stretching into paragraphs and then pages, chapter after chapter finally becoming a book or a short story or a screenplay or whatever, all those haphazard puzzles with their myriad pieces, something I can do nothing about, are putting themselves together. Bit by bit. Piece by piece. Phone call by phone call. Rescheduled meeting by rescheduled meeting. Email by email.

But, and this is important, when I get that email or that text or that phone call or whatever by whoever saying “Hey, let’s talk” it makes all the waiting – and furious writing – worth it. It really does.

Because another constant thread with this business is the courage to take a chance. Yes, get those pieces together and make ’em fit. Do what you can to guarantee as much as possible the largest audience possible. (Talk with me ’cause Lord knows I got ideas) But at the end of the day, you’re still rolling the dice and taking a risk.

It’s just what we do.

What’s my point with this? Maybe nothing. I’m not sure.

All I know is, as a writer, I’m lucky I drive the bus and can turn whatever impatience, curiosity or whatever I feel into work. Work that might, at some point, end up being part of yet another puzzle with pieces needing to be put together.

Which will lead me into writing more.

It really is a gloriously vicious cycle, ain’t it? 😊

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where the big stories are

I recently ran across an interesting – albeit brief – read about the current state of Hollywood. In it, the writers says

Part of Hollywood’s current decay was unavoidable. As a monoculture splintered permanently into niche groups, the idea of a film everybody sees and everybody can’t stop talking about fades further into the cultural past. The rise of cable networks willing to spend serious money on shows like “Game of Thrones” further dents Hollywood’s ability to be the main supplier of big stories.

The article then goes on to discuss how the business model they’ve created has painted them in a corner where heartfelt sincerity is out, out, out and big, big, big profits are in, in, in. Where audiences have, when it comes to summer movie-watching fare, either this superhero movie (where things explode, buildings crumble and people are saved -or not) or that superhero movie (where things explode, buildings crumble and people are saved – or not).

And if the superhero movies are all basically interchangeable and easily forgotten, where’s the magic in going to the movies? Short answer: there is none. Which is why people are staying home and watching Stranger Things or Game of Thrones or whatever.

Now, I understand the financial logistics of this. I know foreign markets (China, Russia, Israel, Germany) drive profit. That Hollywood, being a global business – as in the whole world and not just America, a fact we somehow forget here in the States – isn’t necessarily making movies just for the domestic audience which, in truth, feed less and less into their bottom lines.

Really, though, Hollywood knows films that are heavy on action, explosions, dudes in capes and light on dialogue are easily translatable for Chinese, Russian, German audiences. And if your business is making money – and Hollywood’s is – a film that translates easily regardless of borders is, or could be, the way to go.

But they’re forgetting one important fact. They’re ignoring the one thing that makes it harder and harder to get those butts in the seats:

Where are the big stories?

Really. Where’s the frickin’ magic? Why go to the movies anymore? Where’s that one film that slyly incorporates those special effects audiences love while giving us characters audiences care about, feel for and never forget? Because that’s the film this industry needs. Desperately.

Being the relentless optimist I am, I strongly believe you can have action and magic in a film without relinquishing heart and soul.

If you revisit franchises like Harry Potter or even The Hunger Games, those movies ticked a lot of boxes. Centered around strong narratives – remember those? – they both successfully blended the fantastic with emotion. They married action with heart. And they gave audiences necessary, important battles without abandoning reason or hope. Cities didn’t need to crumble, the universe didn’t need to quake and thousands of cars didn’t have to get trampled underfoot for those films to make their point and make an impact on audiences.

You see? If you have a true big story – not just a loud story – you can go simple. If you’re supported by a strong narrative peopled with unique, relatable characters, you can be quiet. And if those people are imbued with hope, heartache, anger, fear, helplessness, frustration, loneliness, doubt, strength, the story they tell, even without the predictable Armageddon, will be unforgettable.

Why? Because no matter how different that person on the screen is from those in the audience, they’ll be speaking the same language. A language which doesn’t rely on translation or destruction or annihilation. A language that can be felt in a place deeper than words.

Emotion.

If you really want to find the big stories in today’s Hollywood, the stories audiences are truly craving – reminder: everyone’s staying home watching cable — that’s where you begin. With what people feel. And if you can bring to life a solid story with a character who is blessed – or cursed – with the impossible and yet is still driven by their hopes and dreams, fears and frustrations, disappointments and dread, a person driven by their emotions, that’s where audiences will go. In fact, that’s where audiences will go again and again and again.

I believe if you can reach into someone’s heart, speak to that part of them that wants to feel – it’s why we go to the movies, right? – and reawaken that innate hope we all have being part of something bigger while still entertaining, still dazzling, still scaring and surprising them, they’ll come. They’ll leave their homes, come to the theater, make a night of it and see that film. They will. We’ve seen it happen before. And, god willing, we’ll see it happen again.

But that journey has to begin with the heart.

Because that’s where the big stories are.

 

Horror 201 … the book

It’s ready, folks. The paperback of Horror 201: The Silver Scream, Vol.2 now on pre-sale. So clickity-click right here and have a good laugh at me trying to sound smart.

Oh, go on, then. You know you want to.

horror 201 volume 2

Hollywood hearts Writers … No! REALLY!

Hollywood. Films. Remakes, sequels, franchises. Adaptations of books. And where are the “new ideas” from Hollywood?

Let’s talk about this.

What most of you — and I’m talking mainly about those in the States — don’t realize is that Hollywood isn’t making films for you anymore. The domestic box office is one of the smaller pieces of the pie when it comes to profits. These days, their money is being made in China, Russian, India. That’s their audience. That’s who they’re focused on when they decide what to put into development or what script/property to invest in.

So, when looking at what films to make and, more importantly, what films they can market effectively to the biggest audience while still ticking all their demographic boxes, they tend to go either for iconic properties (Superman, Dracula, Batman, other superheroes) or earlier films they hold the rights to that they can successfully reboot, remake, rework with a young cast and hot director into something that can be discovered by a new audience.

Why? MONEY!

Let’s face it. We can talk about art and beauty and films being an amazing thing, but, at the end of the day, Hollywood needs to make money. And, as mentioned before, it’s not being made in the States. It’s all overseas.

Wondering where your serious dramas went? They don’t play well in those foreign markets so Studios are a lot less likely to jump onboard and make ’em (unless they’re historical Oscar bait, like Selma, or have Meryl Streep in them). Romantic comedies? Nope. Again, it’s a cultural difference. What Americans find funny or romantic will confuse the heck out of those foreign markets. So, they don’t make ’em. And when they do, it’s usually a box office bomb. And, remember, they’re in this to make money, something box office bombs don’t do.

Now, when it comes to new ideas — and, yes, they do have them! — and especially adaptations of books (which need not be bestsellers, surprisingly), Studios tend to hope for a few things. Or at least that’s what I’ve discovered as Martuk … the Holy and Martuk … the Holy: Proseuche laboriously trudge their way to the silver screen.

1) Is it a franchise? Making one movie, and just one movie, isn’t in the cards. For marketing purposes, tie-ins, building an audience, etc., they’re really hoping you have a story that spans three books and can be told in six films. Having a reliable story they can tell over a decade or so is ideal.

2) IS THERE A STORY?????? Oh, and believable characters who actually talk like real people. Believe it or not, and this is something I hear time and again from friends of mine who are producers, a lot of the books suggested to them from agents and publishers HAVE NO STORY!!!!

Listen, Hollywood isn’t a big reading town. They read scripts and they read coverage (crib notes version of a script or book). But for those who DO read, they get downright giddy when it’s well-written (most books these days, even so-called bestsellers, aren’t) and feel like they hit the frickin’ jackpot when it has an actual story. Beginning, middle, end. Three acts. Pace. Intelligence. Something a screenwriter can actually work into a script because, MY GOD, that NEVER happens!

So, yeah, having a story in your book rather than a random series of events that just kinda happen helps.

3) A sense of mythology. And this one, to me, feels huge. Every successful book-to-film (talking about the tent-pole productions that anchor a Studio for the summer and are usually franchises) has come to the table with a world wrapped in mythology. And I’m not necessarily talking about an established mythology, Greek, Roman, etc. It can be one the author has created. Other worlds, ancient worlds. Gods, goddesses. Superhuman strength. Immortals and monsters. That gives a Studio so, so much to play with because, absent a very American story centered around love and life and drama, there’s now a narrative — one probably based on action, magic, struggle, and strong visuals – foreign markets will readily understand and enjoy.

I think that knowing all this will help you understand why Hollywood decides the way it sometimes does — it’s not about you anymore, sorry — and how you, if you’re a writer hoping to shift your work into film, can maybe hopefully perhaps possibly write something they might be more willing to maybe hopefully perhaps possibly consider.

Seriously, though, it’s a crapshoot. Whenever writers ask me how they can get a “Hollywood Deal”, I always tell them “Don’t. Just write your damn book, and then another, and another, and another, and another. Be a writer. And if you can be a good writer, a really good writer, maybe Hollywood will find you.”

At the end of the day, it’s one of the few things we writers can totally control. What we write and how well we write it. If Hollywood likes it, great! If not, then our Readers will still love us.

P.S. There are always exceptions to the rule, so the above thoughts aren’t written in stone. They’re just thoughts.

P.S.S. The opening weekend success of 50 Shades of Grey is an outlier when it comes to books-to-film (Americans living in a world lacking mythology). The success of the book IS the mythology. That’s what drove the Studios to adapt it to film. The fact that it had done so well as a book is what’s notable about that book series. It’s what they were counting on to get butts in the seat and post some strong opening week numbers. ‘Cause it sure as hell isn’t the laughably bad writing and bizarre lack of a story! And a huge kudos to screenwriter Kelly Marcel for doing what she could with piss poor source material.