Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Conan-Sweet Kisses Texas Connection

It constantly amazes and weirds me out how all of the things I love--really love--in pop culture end up connecting to one another. I'm watching the E! True Hollywood Story of Jessica and Ashlee Simpson right now, and I didn't realize that, even though Jessica was born in Abilene, Texas, she was actually conceived--that is, her parents lived--about 80 minutes southeast in Cross Plains. For those of you who don't know, Cross Plains is the home of Robert E. Howard, the greatest pulp writer who ever lived and one of my favorite authors. Life is fun sometimes. Posted by Picasa

Attention White Men

I see it in movies, I see it in commercials. Get a group of lame-ass whiteys together, and one of them will start doing it. I am commanding you all at once:


You don't look cool, you don't look fun, you look like a guy in his mid-thirties who started working at UPS "until college starts" and are still there, you pathetic, lumpy, sack of lame.

The Making of "Grave Robbing"

In 1999, my friend Carl and I wrote a screenplay we called Grave Robbing. It was kind of a lark, actually; I wasn't in school at the time and I hadn't written fiction in too long, so he offered to give me a fragment of something he had started--revolving around the ghost of a gunfighter who had returned to the site of his death--and see if I could make it work. I asked if I could combine it with a short screenplay called Unfinished Business, which was also about a haunting, but featured two great paranormal investigators named Terry and Juli. I set to work, and I was so excited by the project that it only took me about a week to combine both and set up a fairly decent story.

The story was really Carl's, let me make that clear. I included pretty much all of Unfinished Business word for word (I believe--it's been half a decade since I saw the original, but I think that any additions to it were for the sake of combining it with Carl's other treatment). I fleshed out the characters and situations from the fragment/treatment (most notably we changed the gunfighter, Flint "Sixgun" Murphy, entirely, as well as his motivation), and I added maybe a little more comedy than Carl seemed to care for. But either way, it was fun...screenplay in a week.

I handed the disk over to Carl, who took issue with a couple of scenes (I thought Terry hypnotizing and punching a bloodthirsty bank robber was funny, but as often happened, he thought my sense of humor tended towards the obnoxious--and, to be fair, he's absolutely right). Carl took about two weeks (his job was more involved than mine) to write the second draft. He tightened it considerably, making it more horrific than funny, and toning down some of my more outlandish bits. When I got it back, it already looked better and read very well. It was fast-paced but, I think, it took itself as seriously as it needed to. Scenes that were meant to read emotionally read with some gravity and, in my opinion, an almost surprising tenderness in a screenplay that was dripping with blood and laughs. Carl played to his strengths--humanity, a sense of realistic supernaturalism, and a little bit of sadism--and I played to mine--humor, a total lack of seriousness, and my uncanny ability to poke holes in anything remotely somber. The mesh was perfect; each of us brought something to the table that the other lacked.

Around that time, we made Grave Robbing the title. To me, it was a play on words--not only was this about a dead bank robber and such, but I also had robbed the story of gravity. I wrote over it again, and I believe that Carl did, too, and I guess we felt we were finished. And then it never went anywhere. I don't believe that Carl was ever truly happy with it, but I read it again the other day and I think about 80 to 85 percent of it still works. Another rewrite or two, and it could be something on a par with The Frighteners--a horror film with strange moments of comedy.

Anyway, I was just feeling nostalgic and thought I'd mention it. I liked working with Carl on writing projects. What got me thinking about it was an interview with Richard Curtis on the Blackadder Goes Forth DVD (Curtis wrote the series with Young Ones creator Ben Elton, and he also wrote Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones's Diary, as well as writing and directing Love Actually, and he is one of the funniest writers alive). Richard Curtis was talking about the process of writing, and how he and Ben Elton, in a room together, would talk about music, or films, or other TV shows, but would never actually get down to the bloody writing. Therefore, it became easier to save on a disk and just trade back and forth, each having a turn at writing. Carl and I had exactly the same problem, which is why we finally did it the same way.

It is almost impossible to be a writing team any other way; all the interesting conversation takes precedence over the work.

Friday, August 12, 2005

A Giant Passes

Matthew McGrory, 1973-2005. Seen here as Karl the Giant in "Big Fish," McGrory was a warm, likable actor seen most recently in "The Devil's Rejects" as Tiny Firefly. At 7 foot 6, McGrory was not only listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the tallest actor, he also had the world's biggest feet--size 29 1/2. When he graduated from kindergarten, he was 5 feet tall! A drummer who once attended law school, he was found dead of natural causes on Thursday at the age of 32. I really, really liked seeing him in movies. Rest in peace. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Boy, can I call them, or what? Remember how MGM was betting the store on their remake of "The Pink Panther"? Well, it missed its July 22 release date, and apparently it's so bad they've dumped it to February 10. Ouch. Excuse me while I revel in ill-deserved self-satisfaction. Ahhhh, there it is. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

John Canemaker on Traditional Animation

John Canemaker is one of animation's most important historians; click on the link to read a New York Post article about the demise of traditional, hand-drawn animation at Walt Disney Feature Animation.

And given the direction of animation at DreamWorks SKG, I think Spielberg's final quote is pretty damn funny.

Wax Jessica

I think it's cute the way they took the wax Jessica Simpson, dressed her like Daisy Duke and put on a patriotic spin, replacing the mop with a flag. It's sweet.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

I Renounce Network Television

Man, what a summer for TV, eh? Okay, yes, I'm being sarcastic, because I love watching the idiot network model go down in flames like we all secretly want. Who among us really likes the network's condescending method? Show 22 episodes stretched out over something like 40 weeks (meaning lots of reruns, filler episodes, &c.), and then a quick rerun of the highlights over the 12 weeks of summer. That's total crap.

Can't we find a better way? I ask this question because I found myself getting caught up in Lost, but last week, they skipped an episode. I mean, I was really, really getting wrapped up in the mystery of it, and they just skip episode ten? Well, fuck that--I just won't watch it anymore. I'm perfectly happy to wait until the DVD of the first series comes out in September. I'll watch it then, and then I'll skip the second series and wait for that DVD to come out, too. Sorry, ABC, but I have better things to do than wait until it's convenient for you to air your programs.

That's really the point, isn't it? The networks assume we're at their beck and call, and that we'll happily lose the momentum of shows that build on their tension while they show seven weeks of reruns in the winter. They assume that we're all wetting our pants in excitment when they announce "four new episodes of ER... IN A ROW!" Wow, thanks NBC. What a gift.

So, I was taking a look at the ratings, and I see that there's some real failures on the networks this summer (traditionally a time for "alternative programming"). The biggest loser seems to be reality television; Fox can pretend So You Think You Can Dance? is a hit all they want, but the simple fact is that it isn't. There's no hook to it. These days, reality TV needs some kind of hook, or it needs to mine new ground. I know this show is from the producers of American Idol, but it's really just a rip off. Big Brother 6 is also a failure--come on, do you even know anyone who watches it? And David E. Kelly couldn't work in his "lesbian kiss" gimmick to save his reality legal drama, The Law Firm. Are people finally tired of lawyers?

There are a couple of reality shows that were hits this summer, but I think it's because of the freshness of concepts. ABC hit with Dancing with the Stars (which I think really did well because people wanted to see celebrities break their legs) and Brat Camp (who doesn't like watching rich kids get what they deserve?). And Fox scored well with Hell's Kitchen, a show I enjoyed the whole way through; making it a competition and putting on a man as polarizing as Gordon Ramsay was genius. Remember The Restaurant? No one cares how people run a restaurant--they want to see the competition.

The other big hits of the summer were on cable--The Closer on TNT, and Entourage on HBO. Obviously, these shows hit a chord with the audience. I don't think it's integral, but I have to point out that these shows are new every week, not reruns. I think that means a lot to the viewer, and here is why the network model is a failure. Rather than show new episodes all in a row, the network tries to grab as many ad dollars as they can by releasing a show in sections. Say, nine straight weeks, and then a rerun. With every rerun, they hope that someone who hasn't seen the show yet will want to catch up or sample it, so they show intermittent reruns so that people can catch up. But with a show like Lost, which depends on careful viewing to maintain its tension, skipping a week or eight with nothing but reruns completely cripples the momentum. By the time the new episode comes on, it takes time to work back into the mindset you had when you were watching it in succession. This is why TV shows are so popular on DVD; because you can watch them all at once, not breaking the tension or dramatic (or comedic) build-up without the long delays. This is where decent shows are separated from crap, by the way--Arrested Development and Farscape work extremely well as long, continuous experiences better than they do as weekly segments.

I've been watching every series of Black Adder this past week (for the first time, and I have to say it's one of the funniest things I've ever seen). Each series, separated by about two years between, is a mere six episodes long. But those are six tight episodes, bereft of filler, with no need to stretch things out to 22 episodes. They don't have to slow to a crawl, like ER did, until you lose interest completely. Nine episodes of Coupling a season? Brilliant. Because it's quality, I don't care that I might have to wait an extra year for new episodes. I have it all at once, and it's all brilliant. It's what I've been saying for years: take a network show, pare it down to 10 episodes a year, and then show it all within 10 weeks. It creates a momentum that is compelling and rewarding to watch. No one complains about how short a season is on HBO, do they? No, because the shows are usually good.

Networks would never do this with reality shows. Know why? Because it would break the momentum, and who's going to tune in to Joe Millionaire once you've had a week to intellectualize it and lose interest completely. So, why should dramatic series be treated worse than Princes of Malibu? Anyone?

I'll just wait for the DVDs from now on, thank you. Farewell, network television. You will not be missed.

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

Fuck it, I'm not going to do it now. Blogger lost my original post, and I don't feel like rewriting it again (it was a long one). Here are my ratings:

Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) ****
The Roaring Twenties (1939) ****
White Heat (1949) ***
First Daughter (2004) no stars
The Dukes of Hazzard (2005) ***
The Trojan Women (1971) no stars
The Stepford Wives (2004) no stars

Fuck you, Blogger.