October 29, 2015

Afraid of the Dark, or some thoughts about my novella, Nite-Lite

As an engineer, I'm sort of turned on by complexity, which is both a blessing and a curse when you're a writer.

When I first started working on my MFA at the American Film Institute, the first screenplay I wrote was a big, sprawling modern fantasy piece with multiple layers of reality and a deep secret history.  It was pretty trippy.  When I presented it to my writing group, I remember my instructor pointing out that my classmates who loved weed were the ones who appreciated it the most.

The major piece of advice that my instructor gave me consisted of one word: "Simple."

It took another script before I really began to take that advice to heart.  And, as most of us in the film industry know, the simplest kind of movie to get made is a horror movie.

Now, you know I love horror.  So I set about to work on the most direct, straightforward horror story I could imagine.

Which, of course, led me to think about my childhood, where, let's face it, just about everything is scary.  Dogs are scary.  Strange people are scary.  Weird looking food is scary.  Clothes are scary.  Plants are scary.  TVs are REALLY scary.

But the single scariest thing of all was the absence of light.

I'm not sure how old I was before I stopped requiring the hall light to stay on to ward off the darkness before I went to sleep, but it was definitely a while.  So I started to mine that base fear to find a simple story to tell.

And, since I'm a research nut, I started looking up the history of things that scared children.  And I started talking to friends and family about their experiences.  As it turns out, for many of them, that fear of the encroaching darkness didn't end with childhood.  If anything, for some, adulthood only crystallized it into something hard and fast and unrelenting.

But it wasn't until I started writing an outline that I started having night terrors.

Imagine lying in bed, suspended in a sort of waking sleep, where my mind, and, in some case, even my eyes are aware of the room around me, but control of my body has left me.  I can't turn.  I can't move.  I can barely breathe.

Now, imagine being in that state, and sensing, no, KNOWING that there is something else in the room with me.  And, let me be clear: not someone else.  SomeTHING else.  Something so awful that its very presence made me tremble.  Something that, if I were to find the strength to roll over and meet it face-to-face, I knew, at the core of my soul, it would result in the end of me.

And now imagine being in that state, KNOWING that is there, and trying to scream.  Trying, and failing.  Trying, where the only thing to come out of your mouth is a faint, breathless whisper that doesn't even amount to the only word with any meaning at that moment.


So, that happened to me at least three times, maybe more over the course of writing the first iteration of what is now my first horror novella, aptly entitled, "Nite-Lite".

I'm sure those with sharp eyes will catch some of my influences, which I'll talk about at a later date.  Let's just say, of everything I've ever written, this is the one piece, after all these years, that I've never tried to re-write.

I'm not sure that IT would let me.

I don't have night terrors anymore.  I actually sleep pretty well.

As long as all the doors are closed.  No need to look the darkness in the eye,

Click the link or the image yourself, then.  Read.  Enjoy.  And sleep tight.

August 09, 2015

Why all Fantastic Four movies fail

It's very simple: the idea of Reed Richards is just completely alien to most of the people who can greenlight something in Hollywood. A renegade science genius so smart and crazy that he'd steal a spaceship and ask his girlfriend and her kid brother to be his co-pilots, but is still a dedicated husband and father who just loves to explore and occasionally saves the world? I mean, the guy named himself "Mr. Fantastic". 

He's not motivated by greed or lust or ego, but curiosity and joy of finding new things. They can't handle it. They don't even understand it. It's the same reason why Mark Zuckerberg is allegedly driven by rejection in The Social Network. 

So they make him an awkward geek or a nerdy kid because the notion of  a good, smart, honest, loving man seems devoid of drama. These movies fail because they don't accept the basic premise of the book. It's an adventure story, like a Scifi Indiana Jones. Marvel studios would get it right. But until Fox or whomever else holds the rights accepts the central conceit, these movies will always bomb. 

February 27, 2015

for Leonard, or The Most Human

It's my brother's fault.

Since he's a baby boomer, his formative years were in the wake of Kennedy's New Frontier, when being an astronaut was considered the pinnacle of individual human achievement.  So, within that context, a television show about The Final Frontier couldn't help but be his favorite.

Needless to say, since I didn't come around until 4 years after the original "Star Trek" had been cancelled, we pretty much watched whatever my brother wanted to watch.

Which, frankly, was fine, because that show is still, probably, my favorite of all time.  I'm sure can practically recite entire episodes by heart.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that, when I was 9 years old, the whole family, cousins and all, went to the theater to see "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan".

As I've said before on this blog, I cried my eyes out at the end of that movie, when Spock died.

 I mean, we went home, and had dinner, and I was still crying, to the point where my father had to take me from the table, sit my down on the living room couch, put an arm around me, and say "I'm sure Mr. Spock is going to be alright."

Which, was, of course, true, all the way up until today.

Now, as I mention in my book, The Savior Inside You , I absolutely wanted to be Captain Kirk.  I mean, who wouldn't, right?  He was the hero.  He was in charge.  Everybody looked up to him.  He was smart and cool and brave.  He got all the girls.

But everybody knows that Captain Kirk needs his best buddies, Dr. McCoy and Mr. Spock.  Now, most people have someone in their lives who can provide the folksy, down-home, irascible wisdom that DeForest Kelly spun each week as the ship's chief surgeon.  But no one had ever met anyone quite like Mr. Spock.

 Mr. Spock was the true soul of "Star Trek".  If the mantra of the show was to seek out new life and new civilizations, we, as the viewers, could literally do that every week just by tuning in and spending time with Spock.

The weird thing about TV characters is that, you see them week after week, you inhabit their fictional lives, you are compelled to care about them, to the point that some of us lose the ability to distinguish between the character and the actors that portray them.

So, beyond "Star Trek" reruns, I also spent a good chunk of my early 70's TV watching with Leonard Nimoy being my guide to the mysteries of the world through the old TV series "In Search Of."
In short, Leonard Nimoy, a man I'd never met, came to feel like a true family friend.

That is the beautifully weird alchemy that happens when you mix writing with performance to create a character that moves you like the living, breathing people in your life.

Oddly enough, on this day, when the world mourns Leonard Nimoy's passing, I find myself  filled with more wistful gratitude than sadness.   I am so very grateful how Mr. Nimoy's skill as an actor helped open my mind and heart to so much over the years.  In a very weird way, I'm grateful for his virtual companionship, as I suspect are so many others.

Thank you, Leonard.


February 23, 2015

Getting Saved

My apologies for the long absence, dear readers, but, to make amends, here's a very brief excerpt from my latest, a non-fiction book entitled "The Savior Inside You: 18 Daily Essays on Hollywood, Self-Help, and Other Illusions."
There’s a minister in Nigeria whose personal net worth is presumed to approach $150MM.  
Money from nothing.  
I guess I was wrong about there never being a class of people who could reasonably expect to acquire wealth without having done any real material work to attain it.  After all, mass media wasn’t invented with radio and TV. 
 It was Gutenberg with the printing press, and the first product was The Bible.  
The irony is that, like so many other money making products, as soon as something is successful, people immediately set out to copy it.  After Hunger Games, the market was flooded with young adult actioneer novels.  After Karloff’s Frankenstein, the theaters were filled to the brim with monster movies.  
And, for better or for worse, after the success of the Christian church, everyone and their mother wanted to sell you on salvation.

 If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll probably recognize some familiar themes, but I think it's safe to say that I've gone a bit deeper and, frankly, even more personal than usual.  As always, if you're a fan of my writing, I definitely encourage you to pick it up.  And, if you like it, please share it and add your voice via comments and reviews on Amazon.com.

Thanks, as always.

October 06, 2014

Returning to Twin Peaks

I graduated from high school on June 11, 1991 and as important as that milestone happens to be in my life, the date has double significance because the next most important thing I had to do that evening was camp out to watch the series finale for Twin Peaks.

The logline is simple enough: an investigation into the brutal murder of the local homecoming queen in a seemingly idyllic Pacific Northwest town draws in esoteric FBI agent to uncover all of the mysteries, seen and unseeable, hidden within.  

Landmark for both its cinematic style (when most tv was still being shot like theater) and it's completely original tone (how can one show be both the most hilarious and most terrifying thing you've ever seen in your living room?) nothing really compares to the impact that show has had on pop culture. 

So I nearly jumped out of my seat to learn that David Lynch and Mark Frost are bringing back, just like Laura Palmer promised, 25 years later to Showtime.

I love this show and these characters, but I hope my nostalgia doesn't blind me to the high wire act this could be. Mixing old and new casts in revivals rarely works ("Dallas", "Get Smart", "Star Trek: Generations", and soon "Star Wars"?) And as much as I would love to see Sherilyn Fenn return as my high school crush Audrey Horne, I hope the creators realize that the vibe and the atmosphere is what made that show work. Audrey and Cooper and Dr. Jacoby and Bobby Briggs can't be who they were 25 years ago. But that doesn't mean new characters can't fill those roles and that these old characters don't have a place beside them. 

Keeping my fingers crossed 

August 02, 2013

Midnight Riders

Since I met my wife nearly five years ago, my life and social circle has taken on a decidedly more global and international slant.  I often find myself as the the only American in the room, which, frankly, has become much easier to handle when Barack Obama was elected president.  But when I'm in a room of international folks, especially lots of Africans, I find myself realizing just how uniquely American we African-Americans are.  Despite our (to put it lightly) troubled history with this country, we still have cultural traditions that are unique to our experience in America that we should rightly feel proud of.  For instance, I come from a family that, for years, has taken deep pride in military service, and that is a strain in African-American culture that weaves itself through American history all the way back to, I suspect, Crispus Attucks.  And at every step of this long experiment, in every corner of every story that is part of the American epic, African Americans are there.

I absolutely love all of the cultures of Africa that I've encountered, particularly exploring the differences and similarities between Ghanaians and Nigerians and Ugandans and Kenyans, et. al.  I share in their irritation when someone ignorantly speaks of "Africa" like a single country and denies their distinctiveness.  But I also bristle a bit at African-Americans who speak wistfully about "returning" to Africa.  Africa, the continent, and the 50+ nations within it are about as new and different to the average African-American as Europe or Asia.  We can immigrate there to join our extended family in the diaspora, but the only African-Americans who can return there are recently naturalized visitors and our long dead ancestors.

Anyway, I've been recently a bit obsessed with modern Western culture after stumbling across a rodeo event on cable - which was quiet thrilling, btw.  It's a side of America that I think is most considered and imagined outside of our country, but exists as it's own world within our world, often hidden from the broader American media discourse.  So, this video I found on Vimeo really grabbed me, both for its cinematic beauty and its content.  Enjoy.

Wildcat from WHAT MATTERS MOST on Vimeo.

What's equally interesting to me is that the cowboy tradition is really just the most recent version of the Vaquero trade that was brought over to the Americas by the Spanish, so even something as uniquely American as the cowboy has his roots in a culture of color.

July 29, 2013

The Fruit of Our Dreams

Nearly six years ago, I wrote a post called "What Happened To The Future?" where I cried and moaned about the lack of imagination in much of what passes for modern sci-fi. Basically, we're all just retreading ground already laid by Ridley Scott and Philip K. Dick instead of introducing and proposing new worlds, new frontiers, new questions, etc.

Now, my complaint was born largely of boredom and artistic longing.  But engineer/entrepreneur/would-be NYC mayor Jack Hidary suggests something deeper in this great little video from The XPRIZE Foundation (the people who sponsor competitions for innovations that can provide solutions to some of the world's most pressing problems).  Hidary suggests that science fiction serves a social purpose beyond mere entertainment.  And, frankly, I agree with him.

There's a line in the pilot for David Goyer's new show "Da Vinci's Demons", where the fictional Leonardo says that anything that can be dreamt of can eventually be built by someone.  But you have to have the dream first, and it's the responsibility of artists of all stripes to seed our imaginations so that there actually are dreams to harvest in the autumn of our worlds.

After all, winter is, in fact, coming.

July 24, 2013

Tumbling into movie trailers

So, I just started a Tumblr blog that's dedicated exclusively to one of my not so secret guilty pleasures, movie trailers.  You can check it out at www.trailerfeast.com, but, to give you a taste, here's the latest post I made regarding the trailer for the abyssmal "John Carter":

John Carter Teaser Trailer
#johncarter This was the best trailer I'd seen in years.  Why? Because it made me want to watch a movie I had to turn off after the first ten minutes.  They get around the big explosions problem by finding a piece of music that perfectly captures a FEELING that's at the heart of this story (after all, the original book was called "A Princess of Mars"), and then they cut the highlight scenes to match the building pace of the music.  It effectively hides the horrible cgi characters that overpopulate and kill the movie. You feel like you get hints of something sweeping and romantic.  It feels like David Lean doing a sci-fi film.  Which says to me that there is actually an opening in the marketplace for a film just like that: something epic and grand and passionate set on other worlds. But, frankly, it hasn't been made yet.  Star Wars: Episode II wanted you to think that it was it.  Alejandro Jodorowsky's Dune could have been that (if he'd made it a 4 hour movie w an intermission, where the first half was Dune, the 2nd have was Dune Messiah, and the love story is about Paul and Chani).  But no one has done it yet.

July 23, 2013

What Baby Cambridge has taught me about The Press

KI'd written a long screed about how the media frenzy around the birth of the latest royal baby was just another example of our decadent culture when I suddenly had a moment of clarity. 

I realized I was only writing it because I thought it was provocative enough to get people to read it. Moreover, I realized that the content I was putting into the atmosphere was venal and had no redeeming value other than to boost views for my blog. 

Just like the very culture I was condemning. 

And all of this shallowness over something beautiful and profound. 

Much like this very post. 

I guess I can only get so far outside of this particular box yet.  But recognition is the first step to resolution for any problem. 

So, for now, let me just say this. 

To the Duke @ Duchess of Cambridge, you have my congratulations.