Painting With Shotguns #60

Painting With Shotguns

It’s A Weird Time To Be A Writer

First, the whole James Frey Full Fathom Five contract comes to light, revealing (for me) the weird world of book packaging. (Want more info? “Ask Daphne About Book Packagers!” Click that link, please.) Then, it turns out that Amazon is going to begin its own… uhhh, crowd-sourcing film development studio thingy. Where you could, as a newbie screenwriter, maybe have a new way into the industry. Then, finally, you get this Hollywood Reporter roundtable discussion (video) where Todd Phillips and Aaron Sorkin tear into the Writer’s Guild… while the Writer’s Guild president sits there, mute.

My broad strokes comment is that writers are sort of always the low man on the totem pole. Screenwriters rarely get lauded the same way as directors. Television writers are generally even given even less appreciation. Novelists are sadly, ultimately niche (and don’t generally make a ton of money off their works). You write a comic or a novel, you’re essentially providing a fertile R&D ground for the film and television industry. If you’re a freelancer, you’re essentially just a soldier crawling through the mud and the blood in the trenches. Covered in the gore of your comrades.

As such, nobody will endeavor to protect the writer because, ehhhh, nobody really cares all that much about writers to begin with. It’s an overdramatization, but not necessarily inaccurate.

Writers should do whatever it takes to protect themselves. Get an agent. Check in with a guild. Talk to people. Find some answers. The community is there for just such a reason.

Mind you, I’m not saying some risk doesn’t carry the potential for reward. In short strokes, Frey’s contract sounded like it could payoff huge. But deeper drill-downs reveal how twisted that contract was away from the writer’s own benefits (essentially allowing FFF to get out of paying the writer the meat and potatoes of the money owed).

Amazon’s thing is a whole other enchilada of weirdness. Again, it might be worth it for upcoming writers, but dang, crowdsourcing films before they get made? Listen, I don’t actually believe democracy is the best arbiter of art. I think it has its place, and that place is in the marketplace with finished products. But the reality is, I don’t think people know what they want until they get it (in terms of film, book, television, and so forth). If crowdsourcing was the primary mode of filmmaking, would we ever have a Midnight Cowboy? A Hurt Locker? Might the Dark Knight be too dark? What about Straw Dogs? Or Let the Right One In?

Finally, the WGA kerfuffle. Sorkin’s position seems to be coming from a fairly… elite and elevated roost, which damages his argument. An argument that might have validity, I dunno.

Again, it’s a weird time to be a writer.

It’s why it confounds me that any of us even want to be writers. And yet we do.

Writers may be very intelligent, but we’re perhaps not very smart.

The Walking Dead Is Only Six Episodes?!

I know, I know. I just found out. I’m a little slow.

But seriously — six episodes?

That’s not a season. That’s a mini-series.

Pssh. Pff! Feh. Color me disappointed, AMC. Though — though — to play Devil’s Advocate, it is a pretty grim goddamn show. It’s not happy. It’s not triumphant. It does not fill you with the warm and gigglies, and rather, fills you with a sense of human disgust and uncertainty. If the show goes in even roughly the same direction as the comic, it’s just a slow slide into Miserytown for these characters. (I actually had to quit reading the comic. It became so ceaselessly grim with zero counterbalance that I could no longer stomach the way it treated its characters.) So maybe a short first season is a good way to go, I dunno.

I do hear that the second season could be 13 episodes.

I will say it’s interesting to see that a show this popular has many detractors. Not a bad thing, mind you — I have complaints about the show myself, but for the most part find it a fairly elegant and well-put-together show, if a little hasty with logic and character motivation. It’s interesting, though — the more popular something becomes, the louder its detractors become, too. Not a good or a bad thing: just a thing.

Consider the Beatles news the other day. Blahblahblah, the Beatles are on iTunes — fine, whatever, pbbt, it’s long past due. A car brand wouldn’t advertise, “Now with CD players!” because the rest of the automobile world already has CD players in the cars and has since — *checks math* — the year 1879, by my calculations. I get it, the announcement is kind of a non-announcement in terms of What Should Be News.

Still, it then seemed to become this thing where suddenly the Beatles themselves were… mysteriously under fire, which is kind of insane. It’s no surprise and it’s certainly not new, but “I Don’t Like This” fast turns into “This Sucks,” which is fine. I’m sorry, I didn’t finish my sentence — it’s fine if you’re five years old. Otherwise, grow up and enter the “we can discuss things like mature primates” realm, if you please. Am I a huge Beatles fan? Hardly. Some songs still stick with me in powerful ways, but overall I can’t say I hunger for their music. But I can still recognize that they have a very fundamental place in rock-and-roll history. (And yes, the Beatles were rock-and-roll.) It’s like taking a classical music class and being all like, “Yeah, Mozart sucked.” Do you really mean that? He sucked? Don’t you actually mean, “Actually, I don’t much care for his work, but horses for courses?”) I don’t particularly enjoy watching The Battleship Potemkin, but I’m smart enough to recognize that it is a fundamental piece of cinema. I’m not all like, “Pshhh, Eisenstein was a talentless hack. Whaddadouche!”

I know, I take potshots at Jane Austen. I kid, though — I still consider her a fundamental novelist.

Of course, it cuts both ways. You say, “I don’t really like this,” and suddenly people are all up in your shit as if you insulted them personally, as if they are the Beatles, or the Walking Dead, or Star Wars or some shit.

What I’m trying to say is, let’s all take off our diapers and discuss art and pop culture like it isn’t subject to some kind of false dichotomy of Awesome versus Suck. Put on your Big Boy Pants.

The Damage Done: An Itty-Bitty Review-Flavored Snidbit

Man, Hilary Davidson looks so nice. She’s very sweet. All smiles and big bright eyes. But make no mistake: she’s demented. She’s got a whole twisted brain under that hair of hers, and that twisted brain isn’t just concerned with your murder, but how to make your murder as tangled and iniquitous as humanly possible. Hilary Davidson is an engineer of sin, deception, and madness.

What I’m saying is, I got stuck at the car dealership the other day and sprinted through the last half of The Damage Done on the ol’ iPad. I won’t spoil anything, except to give you the fundamental setup: woman comes home thinking her sister has died, but she swiftly discovers that the corpse they find in the apartment is not her sister but has been masquerading as her sister. And oh, her sister is missing.

And you have no idea, I assure you, of where it’s going. It is delightfully Hitchcockian.

Go now and purchase, my little word-hungry varmints.

Lancelot Links, Secret Chimp

High Security, Low Bother. On the Israelification of US Airports.

The Nazi Invasion of North America has begun!

The Seven Deadly Rings. And also, the Seven Deadly Drinking Glasses.

Finally: Joe Lansdale (hisownself) talking noir over at the ever-excellent Mulholland Books site.