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.

15 comments

  • Oh wow, six episodes?! Totally didn’t know that, so you’re not the only one that just found out! I love zombies (is that even possible?!) and this show, when I first heard about it, pretty much made my life. Being a huge fan of the dark television shows (Dexter, True Blood etc) I was stoked, to say the least. So far, I am not hating, in fact, I’m quite enjoying the darkness that it is so good at portraying. That whole Apocalypse thing is a good way to bring out some sort of emotion from anyone that is not a complete sociopath.

    So, I’ll gladly take those six episodes and digest them until next season. It will be interesting to see where it goes (obviously intentionally downhill!) and to see how many seasons they can pull off… or tear off. Yay for cheesy zombie vs. flesh reference.

  • “Writers may be very intelligent, but we’re perhaps not very smart”

    Or perhaps we’re too busy concentrating on our own little worlds to pay much attention until we’re forced to surface for some fresh air and another chai latte. . .

    Something about playing with words hits our pleasure centers just right. Or fmaybe, for some of us, our pain centers. Either way, what bliss . . .

  • I’m loving The Walking Dead. As for the season being only 6 episodes, I don’t love that, but I’m used to arbitrarily weird season lengths because of one of my other favorite shows: Rescue Me. I realize that The Walking Dead has faults but, you’re right. The detractors are setting up with loudspeakers on street corners.

    As for the Apple announcement, for me it was a non-event. I like The Beatles, but I own almost everything they did in multiple formats thanks to inheriting my brother’s music collection when he died. My fellow Geekcentricity writer,Jonathan, enlightened me on how Apple fanboys felt when they saw the announcement. They thought it was going to be a momentous technological advance to feed their Apple-crack habits. I’m not a fanboy. I own some Apple products (when I can afford to) because of the quality and usability of the product.

    • @Darren:

      Yeah, that. The announcement wasn’t much of one. For Beatles fans I guess it’s exciting — but even my wife, who loves the Beatles, was kind of equal parts “So?” and “Finally.”

      Not an Apple fanboy either. But I had hoped for more.

      Like a robot.

      C’mon, we all want one.

      – c.

  • C’mon Chuck. Name me one other job where you could drink as heavily, and touch yourself as frequently, as you can working the freelance. It’s this, drug dealer, or bent cop, and as those last two, people straightup hate you. As a writer, they only ignore you.

    -G.

  • November 18, 2010 at 10:15 AM // Reply

    “Put on your Big Boy Pants.”

    You’re a asking a bit much from the Internet, don’t ya think?

    I love having the sorts of intelligent discussions that lead to expanding my awareness of new points of view. I wouldn’t have encountered some amazing things in my life if I hadn’t, books, music, movies, people.

    I love debate, I hate argument.

    On the other hand I have this pathological desire to sometimes poke the crazy bear, those people who take things waaaaaaay too seriously.

    I used to know this guy who fit the bill of conservative intellectual. Bright guy. Knew his history, knew what he was talking a about. Made a point of making up his own mind most of the time and was actually an excellent debater who could talk persuasively about his point of view.

    But. He was so adamant about his particular political choice that I could turn I’m into a knee jerk, slavering, frothing at the mouth, OMYGODTHERUSSIANSARECOMINGREAGANWILLSACEUSALLCLINTONSAMONSTERHIDETHEWOMENANDCHILDRENAAAAAAAAAAAGGHGHGHGHGH!!!!!!! in about a minute and a half.

    Yeah, we don’t talk so much, anymore.

    • I think it’s good to not like things. I think it’s good to have opinions. I think it’s totally awesome to rock the debate and play devil’s advocate and have a sense of humor about the whole thing. Problem is, a lot of discourse loses any and all of that and becomes this kind of polarizing dismissal (or pedestal elevation) of art and pop culture. It’s often frustrating.

      – c.

  • Just read your link about Israelification of airport security, and it actually sounds a hell of a lot better than what’s going on here. My favourite part? -Not giving up privacy or personal freedom in the name of ‘security’!- Combine that with -actually- being more effective? If only our two countries weren’t too chicken-shit about change (or else using fear to control the populace? Mayhap my social paranoia is running rampant here.)

    At any rate, I’ve got a friend heading out that a-ways who I can ask to give me an informal report re: airport security experience.

  • If you think writers get shit on, work at a newspaper. Thankfully I’m not a writer. Only worse job is copydesk. Thankless.

    Beatles on iTunes. *joygasm* Or not. Like Darren, I got most of my Beatles music already burned from CD. It’s hardly a selling point.

    Breaking Bad season 1 was seven episodes. 13 episodes is a typical full season for original cable series. As they get more popular they get extended sometimes.

    Sucks having to wait till next year though for those next 13 episodes. But you know, time flies and there are sure to be plenty of distractions in between.

  • I read through the posts & comments here with the realization that being a writer is like being a pin cushion mentally the metal just keeps poking me in the brain. Writing movies by audience? WTF is with outsourcing of the various properties? Shakes his head & walks back to the real world. Wait this is the real world. Very odd.
    What the heck is going on Walking Dead? Is it the Roots mini series of undeath?

  • I don’t feel educated enough to comment on most of this, LOL. Probably residual NaNoWriMo Brain Fry. But I do feel that in the arts we must have a form of humility in order to grow. I read everything and every genre. Some things I like, and some I don’t but I believe a mark or genuine artistic maturity is the ability to always learn “something.” Even if we don’t like something or grow bored…why did that happen? I do this with movies all the time, and sometimes cinematic mistakes offer powerful insight into writing.

    Probably a dumb example, but I am going to toss it out there anyway. I didn’t care for “The Crazies.” What is tragic is this could have been a much better film. But why didn’t I like it? Well, they spent zero time in normal world, so I didn’t have time to connect with characters that would, over the course of the movie, go crazy and die in terrible ways. It would have been a simple remedy. A tad longer to connect with characters. But, they didn’t and what resulted was contrived melodrama.

    But, I have profound respect for other writers and artists. It isn’t easy doing what we do. If you aren’t going to earn loads of money for your efforts, you at least have earned my respect.

  • I feel completely the same way about democracy in art, which is why I don’t watch American Idol or Dancing with the stars or any of those shows.

    Also, even though it’s only six episodes, I hope it opens the doorway for more zombie related shows and shows based on comic books.

  • Yes, but to think that this would be “art via a democracy” is incredibly naive. If you ever study political statistics it will just jade you forever. American Idol doesn’t represent America. It represents people who watch American Idol…a highly motivated cross-section of society with nothing better to do that vote for their favorites over and over and–oh, busy signal–oh, yeah, and over.

    There was a social media site for writers a few years ago called Gather. They got the same idea to vote for the best novel. Winner would get a book deal. And who won? All the douchebags who’d already been on Gather long enough to have a zillion followers. They won because a bunch of groupies voted for their novel whether they’d read it or not. As an editor I could look at the “winning” submissions and just throw up a little in my mouth. These didn’t represent those who wrote the best, who offered what “America” wanted to read. They represented the tastes and preferences of a highly motivated group on Gather.

    Art by committee is not for me.

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