You might think being a farmer is a pretty sweet gig. From a cubicle, things look pretty nice: you’re working outside, one with the land, a Wendall Berry poem come to life. But being a farmer is an insane profession; the job goes out of its way to make itself as terrifying as possible for the weirdest of reasons. Like… Continue reading
The room was regal for the Midwest.
There were plaques and awards on the walls, and shelves full of unread books. A typewriter sat on the desk, the newest, best, and lightest model, given to him by the local paper on the day of his mayoral victory. Tobacco smoke lingered, thanks to all the cigars stuffed into the ashtray. The moonlight was bled away by the incandescent bulbs that were installed only a few years ago, after the boys came back from France.
“It’s Roosevelt, I’m telling you.” The mayor took a long, nervous drink at the seat of his desk. “He gets elected, and he gives these fucking Communists ideas,” he said as he set the glass down. He poured himself another with the decanter on the desk. Sweat was pouring through his collar, which was loose. “Why can’t they just go to work like everybody else?”
The chief of police sat across from him, uncomfortable but buttoned up. His back was ramrod straight. “Mister mayor, it’s dynamite out there. You got to bring them both to the table.”
The mayor looked up at the ceiling, like he were trying to find God. “I told you, we don’t need anybody at any tables.” He stabbed his finger at the chief on the beat of his words. “Your boys need to disperse the crowd.”
The mayor glowered. “Mister Mayor will do fine.”
“Mister mayor, I told you before” said the chief as he swallowed. “We’re not strikebreakers.” Continue reading
A good book on writing needs to do a couple of things.
First, and most books get this right, is to instruct. It should teach you something about the craft of writing. It should tell you things you didn’t know before, or make the invisible visible.
Elements of Style is a great old stand-by of this type, and probably one of the first writing books you read. ‘Omit needless words’ still rings in my head every time I try to edit something.
The second, and this is harder, is inspire, to actually make you want to write.
I always looked at Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury as a shining example of inspiration. It’s really, really hard to read it and not want to write with gusto. It’s less successful in instruction, but that’s not what he’s going for, really. Ray Bradbury let all his subconscious do the work; we mortals need to know how to build houses before we burn them down.
The book Starve Better: Surviving the Endless Horror of the Writing Life by Nick Mamatas is one of the few that does a good job of both. It’s an excellent book, well worth the time of any writer interested in writing things so other people will read them. Continue reading
(Continued from Part III)
In Which a Librarian Tells Movie Executives How to do Their Jobs, Is Handsome
So this begs the question: why can’t they seem to pull off on the big screen what they did in cartoons? Why does it seem like their movies seem to get worse instead of better?
They have the people that can conceive, write, and execute awesome Batman, Superman, and Justice League stories. It’s clear they can build a universe. It’s clear they can make the weirdest, dumbest DC characters into awesome stories too (One of the best Justice League shows was one about Booster Gold. and I can bet all the money I make off this Traditionalistic that only a few of you know who that is.)
Well, the problem really comes into play when you look at how Warner Brothers understands how their movies succeed, because, after all, DC is owned wholly by Warner Brothers. If the execs believe something, it goes.
But I don’t blame them. Honest, I don’t.
Say you’re a studio executive at Warner. Think about the success over the past decade. You just made three Batman movies that were, by the account of the critics and fans, excellent movies. The Dark Knight even had people talking about comic book movies on the same level as classics. Even their newest Superman movies, Man of Steel and Superman Returns, did all right.
These movies, what they all had in common, was that they were a darker, grittier version of the superhero movies we know and love. They were ‘realistic.’ It’s only natural that, given that run of success, that making dark, gritty movies would be a sure-fire way to the next mega-hit at the box office. You keep the director of the Batman movies on as a producer. You give the director gig to Zack Snyder. You’re set.
After all, Disney is printing money with this crap.
The crazy thing about this is that the studio learned the wrong lesson, like they so often do. They think Superhero + Grit = Money (just like Deadpool is teaching people Superhero + R Rating = Money). Only catch is this grit works really, really well in a Batman stand-alone movie, because you basically make Batman an insanely rich film noir detective with colorful villains. Perfect.
It falls flat, really really flat, when you have a shared universe with Superman or any other heroes with superpowers (i.e. they turn into Scary Assholes).
Still they keep trying, because the cost of these movies. Because they cost so much, it’s only natural that studio executives want to maintain control over them and stick with what works. People give studios grief over this, but their paycheck, and the paychecks of thousands of people, depend on these movies being huge successes. They can’t be flippant about it.
The Timmverse, by contrast, didn’t need the kind of oversight the films do because they don’t need to make billions of dollars to be worth it. Thus, people were able to experiment, people who knew and cared about the characters. And they were able to do that over decades, starting with Batman, going into Superman, then into Justice League in a natural progression.
By the time these guys got to a Justice League series, they had been working with these characters for almost a decade. They were able to explore all sorts of cool stories, I suspect, because they didn’t have this monumental pressure. They were able to develop as a team.
Warner is not going to give up DC, like a recent Cracked article thinks they can. And their execs are not going away. The best thing they can do is to focus on making cheap comic book movies. This will allow teams to focus on stories, and giving creative teams time to actually understand and believe in the characters.
If they’re cheaper, you wouldn’t need every one to be a billion-dollar success. Then you could build the combined cinematic universe while giving the people working on these stories time to grow up within that universe, just like Bruce Timm and Paul Dini did. When those smash hits come, that’s the team you want to helm a Justice League movie. Think of it as letting writers and directors work through the minors before they graduate into the big leagues.
Deadpool is a perfect example of what most studios that make superhero movies can’t do. It was a movie made on the cheap, at 58 million. It grossed 782 million worldwide because it was an interesting, new sort of superhero movie, not that it spent a ton of money. It’s not enough that we get to see Batman and Superman, or really any guy in tights. You have to give us something new, something interesting, something we can sink our teeth into.
This, actually, could give them a one-up over Marvel, because if they were to do this, they would be able to give their movies unique voices. As much fun as the Marvel Cinematic Universe is, the movies all look and feel the same (which is why I’m so excited to see Doctor Strange this November; it really does look like something new).
Warner could go way, way beyond that, making all sorts of movies with all sorts of different tones and styles, while still adding to a larger narrative. But you need to allow your talent to develop.
With the DC Animated Universe, they did that. They gave these iconic characters to an awesome team, and gave them years to work through new and exciting stories.
There’s no reason, even with all the stuff they have going now, that Warner couldn’t do this again.
If anything, just don’t let Zack Snyder near anything, ever again.
He’s directing Justice League?
Well, at least we have Ben Affleck.
Because Conclusions Why Not?
You look at our favorite movies, the reason that they’re great isn’t because of how they look. It isn’t because of the proverbial, and actual, punching. It’s because we connected with the people in these stories. We understood them, rooted for them, wanted to see them succeed against great odds. It was true for normal people and the ones that can leap tall buildings in a single bound (or kick through a brick wall with a magic knee braces.)
Hell, I hope I’m wrong. Maybe they will pull off a Justice League movie. But they won’t until they focus, not on the punching or the grit or the washed out colors, but the characters. That’s what makes a story.
That is the hardest way to make a movie. But when you get down to it, it’s the only way that works.
* There’s going to be a lot of hyperbole in this series. Mike always warns me against hyperbole, but we’re Kenny Loggins’ing this shit.
** Not actually pizza.
Sales is a tough racket.
There are business writers that say everyone is in sales now, and in a sense that is true. Everyone needs to trumpet their accomplishments and know their worth. Everyone needs to serve.
But I know there is a secret.
I know there is a path to success!
I know there is a way to become the Greatest Salesman in the World™! Continue reading