Archive for the ‘Reality’ Category

That ol’ black & white magic

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

(Revisit this oldie but goodie – the kid’s now 20! – or check out the archive while I commit my beleaguered brain cells to finishing a thriller feature screenplay in the next few weeks. )

Whenever I hear someone say they can’t watch a black & white movie or television show, I cringe … with pity. No student, lover or fan of cinema ignores the 50 plus years of artistry and lighting evolution that went into perfecting the black & white image on film … before color became the common palette.  And all that brilliant contrast of light and dark went the way of that gold dust blowing away into the wind at the end of Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Citizen Kane.  The Third Man.  The Maltese Falcon.  Casablanca. Strangers On a Train. Night of the Hunter. I’m sure you have favorites. And it wasn’t the lack of technology that made these classics black & white.  Color was around long before Dorothy landed on the Yellow Brick Road in 1939. In these and many other films, it was often the artistic choice of the director or cinematographer.

Many directors more recently have tried to recapture that look. Peter Bogdonavich with The Last Picture Show in 1971. Robert Rodriguez with Sin City in 2007. And even Hitchcock revisited it as late as 1960 with Psycho.  The very translation of the classic style of Film Noir is Film “Black.” Black as night. Full of inky black and veiled gray shadows, in alleys and across faces. There’s just nothing quite like it in color.

Especially for horror.

I wondered if my young son would ever watch black & white, let alone come to appreciate the gothic style horror lighting so perfected in black & white long before his time and even long before mine.

Just yesterday (it seems like), when my son was seven years old, he collected Yu-Gi-Oh bubble gum cards that included ‘monster’ cards. They reminded me of cards I collected as a kid from a science fiction horror TV anthology series in the early 1960’s called The Outer Limits. Each week a disembodied ‘control voice’ took over your television set and introduced a gothic-style horror or science fiction story with new characters, and featuring at least one new monster.

Because this was 1963 and most television sets could only play black & white, the show was filmed and broadcast in black & white. But this was the ‘perfected’ black & white shot by a master cinematographer (Conrad Hall), who would later go on to win Academy Awards. I was only about eight years old when the show first aired and I remember that it scared me out of my wits. I went to bed every Saturday night with nightmares, and yet I couldn’t wait until the next week to have some new ones. Perhaps this was the beginning of an adrenaline addiction. I just know I wanted to be scared silly, and The Outer Limits never failed to do the job.

So I retrieved the treasured deck of monster cards I had collected back in 1963 to show my son. Each card featured a hideous creature from one of the episodes. There was the bug-eyed alien with the razor sharp boomerang from “Fun and Games;” the shimmering, negative image radioactive man from “The Galaxy Being;” and the one that gave me the worst nightmares of all … the over-sized crawling ants with human-like faces known as “The Zanti Misfits.” In this episode, these insect monsters crawled out of their spacecraft atop a military post headquarters in a deserted Western town named “Morgue” and attacked everyone in sight. I couldn’t sleep for weeks.

I went straight to my DVD box collection of the original series and put the episode on to show “The Zanti Misfits” in action. My son took one look at the rather primitive animation of the ants crawling out of their cheap, tin-looking aircraft and immediately scoffed in ridicule, “That’s not scary.”

I was crushed. What could be more terrifying than loudly buzzing, over-sized ants with human-like faces crawling up your leg and biting you with poisonous teeth?

I cued up another episode called, “The Mice,” that featured what appeared to be a man on two legs covered from head to waist with a huge blob of snot-like gelatinous material with two protruding, claw-like hands. It was obviously a man in a costume fitted with a huge glob of fake jelly slapped on top.

He watched this ‘Jelly Man’ picking up lake scum with its claws and stuffing it in what appeared to be a slit-like mouth. He watched the Jelly Man running through a forest back to a laboratory. He watched the Jelly Man use its claws to attack and kill one of the workers in the laboratory where the creature had first been transported to Earth. And he watched as they eventually captured and sent it back to the planet it came from in the same transporter. And that was it. No major reactions from my son. But somehow he couldn’t take his eyes off of the Jelly Man until he had seen its final moment on screen.

That same night he insisted his mom come and lay down with him in his bed when he prepared to go to sleep. He told her to leave the closet light on. And when he finally and fitfully fell to sleep, his mother came out to the living room with a sour look that and scolded me for scaring him with the ‘Jelly Man.’ She went to bed mad as hell. And, as soon as the bedroom door slammed closed, I found myself grinning from ear to ear.

An old black & white TV show that had scared me as a kid more than 40 years ago could still scare a kid today.

It may have been the ‘Jelly Man’ and not the human-faced crawling ants with poisonous teeth, but it still counted. That old black & white mojo still worked.

I shouldn’t be proud about scaring my son with this stuff, but when he so easily scoffed at one of my most powerful childhood fears with, “That’s not scary,” well, I couldn’t help but feel glibly vindicated. And so I grinned.

And a week later he was still insisting on sleeping with the lights on in the closet and secretly talking about the ‘Jelly Man’ to his mom (but never admitting his fear to dad, of course).  I apologize to him to this day. I’m deeply sorry.

But wait until he sees the episode with the space rocks that come alive and cover your face with smothering black goo.

– A. Wayne Carter

Destruction of the Clay Man

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A brief rant on men’s fashion

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Okay, I’m the last guy in the world qualified to talk about fashion since I haven’t been seen out of loose-fitting, soft T-shirt, shorts and socklets with sneakers since I gave up bosses. But sometimes a trend so abominable it rankles your senses just forces you to go rouge, er, I mean, rogue.

I’ve always had a problem with men wearing suits, anyway. Did we really evolve and fight for our freedom over thousands of years to wear a colored noose around our necks? Do we really need a suit to proclaim we are a successful hunter-gatherer? Obviously some people don’t think so, and they are usually the richest and most successful in Hollywood. Take a look at Larry David, who’s worth about a half a billion dollars, and see if you ever catch him with a noose around his neck, or anything that remotely looks uncomfortable.

So what’s the trend that’s got my wrinkles rankled? It’s overly tight suits with overly short tight pants. And where are we seeing it? Such fashion mavens as Nick Cannon on America’s Got Talent, and Bill Maher on HBO’s Real Time. Are they really fashion mavens? They seem to think so. And what exactly is a maven? A raven with a hair lip?

First, Nick Cannon and Bill Maher both obviously take pride in their fashion sense. You can tell that immediately by their peacock strut that screams, check out how fit I am to wear this ridiculously tight suit and pants. Suits with narrow lapels buttoned in the middle, but so tight the gap under that button exposes their narrow ties hanging out like a loose tongue gasping for air. Pants tapered down and coming up short above the shoe like they’ve been shrunk in the wash. Who is the inspiration for this fashion trend? They have to be delusional (or at least their fashion consultants) to they think they impress.

We all know the deal. At least for men’s fashions. And how what once was considered hip is soon considered laughable. Take a look at the pastel-colored suits and wide ties and lapels of the 70s. Johnny Carson’s checkered sports coats. Skip to the 80’s and look at the slick tight pants with a sheen, shiny fake leather, tight suits, big hair and narrow ties. Skip to the 90s and look at grunge. Skip to the 00’s and see very few actually following any trend, but the five-day beard stubble is big (have you ever HAD a five-day stubble? Not comfortable), as are shaved heads that have to be shaved more frequently than a woman shaves her legs. That’s just a little OCD, if you ask me.

And then realize that no matter what the fashion is, like the neon day-glow sneakers everyone wears now, sooner or later it all looks ridiculous.

Which is why I stick to non-descript loose-fitting T-shirts, jeans and whatever sneaker is the most light or comfortable. It’s true, I’m no peacock seeking to attract a mate or any other kind of attention at this late point in my plumage, but it’s also because, as a writer, the last thing we want is anything that can possibly distract us from the ridiculously deep focus task of writing. We look for any excuse not to face the blank page of oblivion, so a tight collar, scratchy underwear, overly warm sock, and any presence of finger rings or neck jewelry is just going to interfere with the process. Shit, I bet I could feel a year-old tattoo on my skin. Sensitivity is our gig and it’s also our bane. To create characters and invest them with life, we literally, or at least figuratively, have to walk in their shoes.

So when I see a Nick Cannon or a Bill Maher walking around in an overly tight suit, colored noose, and clearly uncomfortable tight shoes with scary high lifts, I feel their pain. And I wish they could feel the pain I feel for them.

Now I realize any woman reading this right now is laughing out loud at what I feebly characterize as an uncomfortable outfit for the sake of fashion. But that’s a whole other conversation. We’re talking about men here. Or at least men who for some reason want to wear tight suits and short pants that could have only been inspired by that maven of all fashion mavens; Pee Wee Herman.

– A. Wayne Carter

 

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A most unusual horror film

Monday, August 26th, 2013

John Frankenheimer’s cult masterpiece “Seconds” just came out on Criterion Blu-ray and it’s even more disturbing than when it was released almost 50 years ago in 1966. Especially if you’re close to the age of the picture itself.

I remember seeing this picture on television probably around the time I was in college because the first screenplay I ever wrote for a film course was heavily influenced by it.

But first, the plot. A bored, middle-aged Wall Street banker, Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph), is slipped a business address on a piece of paper before boarding a commuter train at Penn Station for his Scarsdale home. His job is numbingly dull, his marriage is devoid of any passion, his daughter is gone off on her own life, and his life is… lifeless. A call from someone claiming to be a close friend from the past eggs him on to go to the address, but how does this complete stranger’s voice know so much about him?

Curiosity piqued, he goes to the address; a cleaners, where he’s shuffled into the back of a truck and taken to a meat-packing plant, and then to a secret business location. It’s revealed this company offers life do-overs or “seconds” to high-paying customers. They substitute a corpse for your ‘untimely death’ in a fire or car crash, perform complete reconstructive plastic surgery and physical conditioning, and then set you up in a completely new life direction that you may have always regretted not pursuing.

And, just to make sure you keep your mouth shut about a business that requires secrecy (and as a surefire deal closer) they drug you and shoot staged blackmail footage of you in a compromising or criminal situation.

A gruesome operation, grueling physical therapy, dyed hair, and months later you come out looking like Rock Hudson, are a successful but unknown painter, and live in a house on the beach in Malibu among the hedonistic and hard-partying California set. What’s not to like? You’ve had your ‘seconds.’

But, of course, no one changed your brain or your mind or the way you think, and you are haunted by your former life, and these new ‘friends’ seem just as phony as you are, and when you get overly drunk at a party and start blabbing information about your former life, those new ‘friends’ are not so friendly because your loose tongue is jeopardizing all of their ‘second’ chances.

And when you go AWOL back to your old town and try to see the woman you were married to for 20 years who has no way of recognizing you, but painfully reveals the depressing truths of a passionless relationship to a veritable stranger, it’s like being a witness to your own worst funeral. What happens next when Arthur decides he wants a ‘third’ chance completes the ultimate horror.

It’s a shockingly powerful and apocryphal tale that completely subverts what so many people bored with their lives think would happen if they had a second chance. The black & white photography, framing and camerawork by Oscar winner James Wong Howe are bizarrely unnerving, and the ending is as disturbing as anything you will ever see in film.

I don’t know why this film resonated so powerfully and horrifyingly to me as a kid. I think it must have been shocking for a suburban kid to see the main character who had everything we were taught in America to cherish; plenty of money, a nice family, and a beautiful home in the suburbs… be so desperately empty. And even when he gets a second chance with a new face and as a painter, he’s still stuck suddenly longing for his old life. Maybe it’s the ultimate ‘grass is always greener’ story, that is revealed as an inevitable nightmare.

The first screenplay I ever wrote (at 18) influenced by this tale was called “Pay the Devil His Do,” about a bored school teacher with disrespectful students, who makes a deal with the Devil. In a twist, the Devil is a Calvinist, who believes in predestination, so he doesn’t have to buy souls since you are either pre-destined to go to heaven or hell. But he will commission people to speed up the fate of those who are destined to go to hell. The teacher, ‘Arthur Banks,’ commits one of these deeds, and his wish is to go on live national television and give a speech that shakes the rafters and wakes everyone up and tries to stir their souls into more passionate living. It’s the typically amateurish and overly philosophical tale every first-time screenwriter tries (and as a professor of screenwriting, I read hundreds of them). The speech was almost entirely the thrust of Howard Beale’s “Mad as hell and not going to take it anymore” rant from Paddy Chayefsky’s classic “Network,” though not nearly as beautifully written. It was written a couple years before “Network,” though, and it was inspired by the frustrating horror of “Seconds.”

(Later, in Hollywood, I was commissioned to write a screenplay called “The Donor,” where the brain of a rich old dying guy is transplanted into the body of a young stud basketball player. That one didn’t work out so well, either.)

I guess the obvious moral to these tales is to live the one life you have with all the gusto possible and without any regrets, but that’s sometimes easier said than done. I consider myself lucky I got this heads up message early enough in my own development to boldly go for the ‘artist living and partying in California’ life soon after college. But I feel even luckier that I got that life out of my system first, and ultimately found myself happier back in the quiet comfortable suburbs with a nice family, where Arthur had begun (only he had no real perspective to appreciate it). He also didn’t have the luxury of pursuing alternative lives through the craft of writing and the characters we can create in our heads and in our stories. It’s a hell of a lot safer. And you don’t have to make a deal with the Devil to do it.

– A. Wayne Carter

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The Facebook Funk

Monday, August 19th, 2013

 

What we always suspected has now been confirmed by a university study – Facebook actually depresses people. Frankly, I was completely depressed when I saw in the news that the first thing the abducted teenage girl did when she was returned home after her mother and son were murdered by her kidnapper and he was gunned down by the FBI, was to go on Facebook to answer questions from her “Friends.” Is this how we now process grief in America, by giving a virtual press conference on matters most personal? I’d argue that nothing gets processed virtually except the shallowest aspects of one’s own ego, need for attention, or vanity.

The study, conducted through the University of Michigan by psychologist Ethan Kross not only revealed that a person’s mood fluctuated depending on their Facebook usage, but that, “the more you used Facebook, the more your mood dropped.”

Is that really any surprise when you consider this form of social media is used more like a depository of bragging rights for the computer literate suburban set, just as rap music is used for the urban street? But instead of bragging about how many bitches, bling, BMWs, size of your crib, or members in your ‘posse’… it’s children or grandchildren, career or scholastic achievements, bling, size of your crib, and members in your posse, otherwise known as “friends.” When you base your self-image or life on comparison of material possessions, number of friends, and where you career is on the food chain like it’s some kind of scorecard, it’s no wonder most people become depressed. Remember, there’s only 1 percent in the 1 percent, and even if you consider yourself lucky or privileged enough to fall into that category, there’s always someone within the 1 percent who’s going to be doing better than you are.

Wouldn’t it be an amazing leap in evolution if we measured success in terms of emotional balance, empathy, conscientiousness and selflessness? But than those qualities, too, would somehow turn into a game of one-upmanship, as well. There would be a competition to see who gave the most to a charity, or volunteered the most, or gave the most humble acceptance speech at a humanitarian award ceremony. Our Hollywood ‘royalty’ already plays this game.

But as long as we measure anything or buy into such comparisons, we put our self-image into play. Dr. Thomas Harris once authored a national bestseller, called, “I’m OK, You’re OK,” yet Facebook fosters a paradigm shift that promotes “Look at how much better I’m doing than you, but I hope you’re still okay with that and will ‘Friend me.’”

I hate to break it to people running up their ‘friends’ score, but that’s not how ‘real’ friends roll.

According to the study, Facebook users wound up feeling worse about themselves after two weeks, and their moment to moment-mood-darkened the more they browsed the social medium, no matter how large their network was, or how supportive they thought their ‘friends’ were.

The fact that businesses and corporations now feel compelled to have Facebook pages only serves to emphasize even more obviously that Facebook is used more to promote, than to actually connect.

Eventually – and there’s evidence it’s already happening as people drop off or move on – Facebook will fade away and some other new-fangled way to ‘keep in touch’ or ‘connect’ will emerge.

There’s this thing called the telephone where you can talk to people live, actually hear the context or sincerity in which they are saying something, and have a real give and take conversation, where, hopefully, you listen as much as you talk.

I hear it’s a fantastic device to lift a friend’s spirits when they are depressed. Just try not to brag that you thought of calling first.

– A. Wayne Carter

(And I’m hereby vowing to call at least one long distance friend per week as penance for writing this blog)

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Summer Reading Round Up

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

 

Joyland by Stephen King

A better title might be “Summer of ’73.” Stephen King’s jaunt into crime pulp fiction has a hauntingly familiar theme about a writer who nostalgically remembers back to a summer in his youth when he lost his virginity to an older woman, whose husband was recently killed in the war. That’s right, it’s “Summer of ‘42” re-do, but the war is now Vietnam, and the setting is an amusement park on the coast of South Carolina instead of the coast of Long Island or wherever that beach town was where our hero Hermy lost his. (Ironically, the film “Summer of ‘42” came out in 1971 shortly before the events of this novel). I happen to love crime pulp fiction, plus stories about carnies, so I give the Big Bang plot a pass and applaud King’s tremendous restraint here. This book’s a mere 287 pages, whereas most of his recent novels are short stories padded with another 700 pages of unnecessary exposition, lately. You can read this one by the time the hoister (Ferris Wheel) comes back down and dumps you and the other rubes back off again into the Midway.

The Revolution Was Televised by Alan Sepinwall

If you subscribe to the belief that television is now the place where great characters dwell (unlike feature’s addiction to comic book heroes), and also, thanks to “The Sopranos,” that the protagonist in a TV series no longer has to be like you or even likeable, then this is the book for celebrating the true age of writers ruling television: Vince Gilligan (photo top with Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul) with “Breaking Bad;” David Chase with “The Sopranos;” David Milch with “Deadwood:” David Simon with “The Wire.” The shows covered in this book look like they were cribbed directly off my DVR viewing queue for the past decade. Of course, all of television’s dramatic show runners are now trying to follow this formula of morally questionable lead characters (who is Ray Donovan but a thinly-veiled West Coast version of Tony) but it all started with James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano: a brute and a killer, but a man who also suffered the slings and arrows and disrespect of trying to be a regular family man with a ‘real nagging housewife of New Jersey,’ and two rebellious teenagers whining him down to size.

The Unwinding by George Packer

Here’s your more serious read for the summer – a documentation of the last 40 years of America and its decline through the stories of several real life characters from the depths of Youngstown, Ohio projects to the heights of Wall Street and Silicon Valley. This is territory the great Studs Terkel used to mine so well, and it’s a beautifully written and worthy successor to his theme volumes (such as “The American Dream,” or “The Great War”). Packer doesn’t so much re-create his subjects’ dialogue in interviews as Terkel used to do, but instead encapsulates their stories in finely woven and succinct updates that alternate throughout the volume. Expect to see this one on Pulitzer or National Book Award lists at the end of the year. Equal parts depressing and uplifting, perhaps no book this year will give you a better sense of what we’ve been through and the toll it’s taken, but also one that showcases the spirit that might just drag us out of the mire and wind us back up.

Stop Feeling Lazy: How to Break the Procrastination Cycle Once & For All and Excel by Carol Look

Okay, I admit to a bit of procrastination getting around to reviewing a book that was sent to me:

I don’t really consider myself a procrastinator, at least not for work. Early on during my school years I learned that the sooner you got your work done, the sooner you can play, while all the other kids were waiting until the last minute stressing over their projects. I carried that attitude, for the most part, into my adult working life. But, as the basic dynamics of parenthood would have it, my 16 year-old son is one of those who puts homework assignments and projects and trumpet practice off until the last possible moment before getting around to it. It drives me nuts. But that’s the point, since being a teenager is all about establishing your own identity and driving your parents nuts. And, the process doesn’t seem to stress him out at all. He knows he’ll get to it, and that’s all he needs. You can’t force your will upon a teenager without it biting you back, so if he doesn’t see it as a problem, I will learn to accept that it’s not a problem.

But, as the writer of this book points out, if it IS a problem – if it does affect your productivity, you financial situation, your stress level or your happiness, then why not do something about it?

The surprise to me was finding out the technique advocated in the book was Meridian Tapping. I had experienced this form of therapy before during grief counseling after my mother died, but here it was tapping me in the face again in a book on procrastination. Meridian Tapping, for the uninitiated, works on the flow of vital energy, or as the Chinese term it, ‘chi,’ through your body and how to keep it from getting blocked or stagnating. Anyone who practices or believes in yoga, meditation, acupuncture or acupressure should be familiar with the concept. Tapping is a gentle form of acupressure for various meridian points on your face, torso, or head that seek to open up or keep open the flow of that energy while you are also ‘meditating’ or focusing on a desired goal or thought. You are stating the problem and also the emotional state you wish to be in to overcome that problem while you do the tapping. I’ve seen the value of this with the practice of “I Ching,” where you toss coins while focusing on an issue in your life that you want resolution for, and then read a proverb relating to that alignment of coins. These techniques are really just forms of forcing you to intensely focus on what you want to resolve, and to apply your own consciousness through these conflict-resolving meditative techniques to bring you a solution. It’s not as far out mystical eastern hooey phooey as you might imagine. And the surest way to test whether something’s whack or not is to at least give it a try.

You don’t need to be a procrastinator to enjoy the potential benefits of Carol Look’s book. Personally, I used the tapping to focus on overcoming any projected anxiety over the unknown variables in my life; to stop worrying about them so much, and to reinforce that I am a basically grounded individual with reservoirs of talent that can bring me unlimited financial and emotional happiness. Simple, right? What do YOU want to accomplish? Why not pick up this book –  it’s a mere 71 pages – and apply the simple tapping techniques to see if they resolve any blockages or stagnation you are experiencing, or to achieve any outcome you are desiring. What can it hurt, right? Just be careful and not too hard or you might tap yourself silly.

– A. Wayne Carter

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HE is legend

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

Richard Matheson
1926-2013 

This blog wouldn’t exist without him. This writer wouldn’t exist without him. Richard Matheson was my earliest inspiration to become a writer. I devoured his fantasy and science fiction short stories in paperback collections such as Shock! (previously published in men’s pulp magazines) as a normal suburban child starving for something completely different. The first story I vividly remember called “Children of Noah” had a city dweller driver pulled over in a speed trap in a way out-of-the-way town, arrested, and confined in a metal box of a cell that kept getting increasingly hotter, until our protagonist finally realized he was being cooked by a town inhabited by the descendants of cannibals.

Smokin’ twist. I was hooked.

Then there were the infamous “Twilight Zone” episodes. Think of the most memorable ones and chances are some were episodes he wrote, including: “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” where William Shatner can’t convince the crew of the passenger plane he’s flying on that a monster gremlin has been peeling back the wing fuselage. Or “Third from the Sun,” where two families desperate to escape a big brother government flee in a rocket targeted for a planet called… Earth. Or “The Invaders” episode, where a mute farm woman fends off the relentless attack of tiny spacemen with ray guns until she beats them and their spaceship to pulp with an ax and we hear their final distress signal calling… Earth. These perspective-shift stories might seem predictable today, but they weren’t back in the fifties and sixties when writers such as Matheson, Rod Serling and Charles Beaumont invented them.

My first published stories were pale Xeroxes of Matheson-style stories and perspectives, appearing in magazines like Creepy and Eerie. I wasn’t alone. Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Stephen King and all the pioneers of our contemporary fantasy fiction and cinema acknowledge the overwhelming influence of those early Matheson stories. Spielberg even directed a TV movie based on a Playboy magazine story by Matheson called “Duel” about a hapless driver stalked by a maniacal truck driver along barren stretches of desert highway. These were stories derived from our own deepest anxieties and experiences – dangerous truckers on highways, fear of small town speed traps –  but played for maximum suspense and unexpected pay offs.

I have the original first edition paperback of his seminal vampire novel, “I Am Legend.” It seems everyone’s tried to make a film out of it, from the laughably race-charged version, “The Omega Man,” with Charlton Heston, to the over-the-top CGI version with Will Smith. The truest version is 1964’s “The Last Man on Earth” with Vincent Price. It maintains the ultimate creepy quality of the book, where the plague vampires flail with planks beating against your boarded up house all night trying to get in while you hole up listening to classical music on vinyl. That version preserves Matheson’s own devout appreciation and love of a composer’s music (he was a huge fan of Richard Wagner) as something still worth living for in an apocalyptic world.

I never met Matheson. I met his contemporaries, Ray Bradbury and Robert Bloch, at book signings at the Change of Hobbit bookstore in Santa Monica. I went to Alfred Hitchcock’s funeral (I first read some of Matheson’s stories in collections published under Hitchcock’s name). I arrived in L.A. too late to meet Rod Serling or attend one of his writing classes before he died. But I haunted the bookstores and studios that housed original copies of Matheson’s books, or that filmed versions such as, “Somewhere in Time,” “What Dreams May Come,” “A Stir of Echoes,” “Hell House,” or “The Incredible Shrinking Man.”

I lived in the same city and plied at the same trade as my unmet writer hero and mentor. I strived to write stories with relate-able characters and good twists and I tried to have them turned into movies. I continually improved at my craft, but never attained his prolific output of published or produced work, or his notoriety. And I’m fine with all that. He IS legend. I remain fan.

A. Wayne Carter
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The Dark Night never ends

Monday, June 10th, 2013

America has been in a dark mood for a long time now and, frankly, I’m ready for some light at the end of the credits.

The history of America’s mood can be measured by Batman. He began in the comics just before World War II as a capitalist billionaire patriot crimefighter sworn to uphold justice in Gotham City against insane megalomaniac villains. This no doubt helped comfort young readers facing a world potentially overrun by Hitler. Just shine a beacon in the sky if you need his help, Batman promised. By the 1960’s, no one could take such one-dimensional altruism seriously and he was played for a joke by pudgy Adam West in bright Technicolor on national television. Crash! Boom! Pow! He was later reclaimed in the 80’s as a brooding, nihilistic vigilante in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight series, and that’s the vision our present culture chose to embrace in a trilogy culminating with The Dark Knight Rises last year.

But this dark virus hasn’t just infected Batman; it’s everywhere. The latest Star Trek feature is also subtitled; Into Darkness. Talk about a 180-degree attitude adjustment. It uses the loveable, benign, peace seeking, optimistic characters created by Gene Roddenberry from the original series in the mid-1960s, but recast under the pall of domestic terrorism overshadowing their every move or instinct. Dammit, Jim, we’re supposed to be do-gooders, not a downer!

Turn on your television and you’d think the world were more populated by mindless zombies, hedonistic vampires and serial killers than anything resembling your ordinary family, friends, or neighbors. Psycho serial killers Norman Bates and Hannibal Lector now have their own prime time network TV series. What’s next, The Charlie Manson Family Hour?

Don’t get attached to any characters on Game of Thrones because, as George R. R. Martin constantly reminds us; noble acts are futile, justice is blind, and everyone dies randomly without purpose or redemption (but we’ll cut him more slack than his characters get until we get to the final body count by Book Six).

Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan tells us the character arc that inspired his series was taking a mild-mannered teacher like Mr. Chips and turning him into a violent and maniacal Scarface. Congratulations, Vince, you did a brilliant job and certainly hooked me. But now that you’ve lead us into that dark abyss of Walter White’s mind, how about reminding us there’s also a way out? Rumor has it he wants to do a spin-off on the slimy, moral-free, self-serving lawyer, Saul Goodman. Here’s an idea for a twist: How about going the opposite direction with that show and taking this unredeemable ambulance chaser and transforming him into a respectable Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court by the end of his character arc? Couldn’t we believe that twist is possible?

I’m not suggesting our culture need return to the carefree optimism of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, Happy Days, or even the truth, justice and American way of Superman. Shit, even George Reeves, the original TV Superman, blew his own brains out for some dark-shrouded reason. But, Jesus, can’t we have a little bit of sunlight as a cultural trend for a while; heroes who aren’t mentally tortured more by their own self-doubts than by this week’s villain?  (Don’t even get me started on the new brooding, bloated take on Superman in Man of Steel.)

Yes, we get it; life is complex, we all have self-doubts, threats abound. But do we have to wallow in this dark, brooding cloud as the only self-reflecting form of entertainment that prevails… and goes on… and on?

When Batman became silly in the 1960s, the world was anything but. Our president had been assassinated, bodies of our young men were coming back from Vietnam by the scores daily, and Russia had more than 4,500 ICBMs with nuclear warheads aimed down our throats with both our countries only a hair trigger away from mutual annihilation. And yet we still had the ability to not take everything so damn seriously, and laugh at ourselves and our heroes.

The people who create our movies, television shows, and literature enjoy the rarified privilege of making big money doing something fun that they love. So why are they so fucking pessimistic? Shouldn’t their output somehow reflect their good fortune rather than projecting some deep, often misperceived, collective funk?

Are they afraid if they actually show us the light at the end of the tunnel it might inspire or illuminate the way for us to create our own entertainment that replaces the dark brew they keep trying to spoon feed us?

It’s been said before, and much more eloquently, but maybe we should approach what we consume with our eyes and ears the same way we take care to watch what we eat. Feed on pessimism and darkness and you eventually create a self-fulfilling prophecy of how you look at life and what you can expect. Most healthy stuff grows under the sun’s light. Mushrooms are the only thing I can think of that grow in shit and darkness.

It’s time to Lighten our diet.

– A. Wayne Carter

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The Realities of Screenwriting

Friday, May 24th, 2013

Wayne at Paramount

CONSIDERATIONS

TALENT. You will need a good visual imagination, confidence, perseverance (most important talents), outside encouragement and confirmation of your abilities and character (if you don’t want to go nuts, this MUST be balanced first.)

EDUCATION. School can teach you discipline, encourage talent, and demonstrate format and technique, but it will not prepare you for the realities.

IN PRACTICE

PRODUCT. Remember, no matter how brilliant you think you are, your first three screenplays exist only to vent your own personal obsessions and hang-ups. Don’t throw them out – because you can always re-write them later when you’re successful – but don’t take them too seriously. If you’ve written three, that just means you are BEGINNING to get serious. If you’ve written one or two, you’re still messing around, you know nothing, you are nowhere, you haven’t even stepped up to the plate.

AGENT. In the movie business they are worthless until you are already established. An agent is not going to get a first-time screenwriter a job. YOU have to get the job. THEN the agent will be interested and can negotiate the deal. I guarantee you that if you walk into the office of an agent of your choice and tell them (fill in the name of big studio) wants to buy your script or idea, they WILL sign you. Once you are established, agents are good for Christmas cards and perhaps a re-write job or two, not much more. Fortunately, they earn their money above what you thought you could get for the deal, once you are marketable.

EXPOSURE. Getting read. Using an tenuous connection you can. An encouraging note, response or phone call is a crack in the door. Push politely but not too hard or you may find the encouragement was merely a form letter. Use your intuition about PEOPLE. This is where character comes in. If you have it, you will attract like-people you can trust. If you don’t, you will be used, exploited, and trodden – as easily and as superficially as you have sought to use, exploit or trod the people cracking the doorway for you.

FIRST BITE. Don’t let it go to your head, it could be a fluke. But, more importantly, it is a validation that you CAN sell.

THE UN-PRODUCED SCREENPLAY ZONE. What is your goal? To write and make a good living at it? To get your vision to the screen no matter what? Chances are, you WILL accomplish your goal, but remember, the un-produced zone is comfortable. No one will ever sue you for stealing their ideals or their life in an unproduced movie. An un-movie protects you from critics and the responsibilities of a higher visibility success. Carry these thoughts because, ultimately, for screenwriters, whether it gets produced or not is outside your job description or powers and is almost completely serendipitous.

DISAPPOINTMENTS. ALWAYS have something else in the fire.

PITCH MEETINGS. Once you are a known screenwriter, you will get the chance to pitch your own movie ideas to studio executives before you ever have to write them. You have less than five minutes to convince them your idea is worth spending upwards of $25 million to make a movie on. Here’s the big tip… Turn it around on them. Pick their brains before you say anything. Make THEM want to be acceptable to you and to please you (it’s not that hard considering the neurosis and insecurity inherent in their always-shaky positions). The bottom line is they don’t know what the fuck they’re doing (because who can really predict what the audience wants), and you will most likely be pitching to someone else in their same job next week.

RE-WRITES. Get used to them. You get one shot at your own version before you have to do ten others for the development executive, producer, director, actor, distributor and the producer’s girlfriend.

DO I HAVE A CAREER? Chances are you will never ever be sure of this no matter how many credits you’ve stacked up or how much money you’ve made. This is perhaps the greatest reality of screenwriting, acting, directing or even the free lance creative life.

But… compared to most everything else… It’s a Wonderful Life.

– A. Wayne Carter

Hollywoodaholic: Confessions of a Screenwriter  … the book

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When did we become so mean?

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

(A post worth reprising)

Go to any of your favorite websites and read the posts or comments to the original blog or article. Try not to get distracted by the illiteracy and just focus on the mood or the message:

“He’s like this weird combination of gay and white-acting black. It’s really unappealing.”

This one’s from Kitalyn posting on Defamer.com to a story about Justin Timberlake.

“If only it was to death.”

That’s how Texas Tranny reacts to the Superficial.com headline, “Britney is starving herself.”

“good riddance, ya die hard commie.”

That love note from a sensitive poster known as government is killin, posted in response to this obviously provocative headline on Politico.com: “Walter Cronkite dead at 92”

And these are the polite ones.

When did almost everyone in this country develop a vicious, foul-tempered opinion about every other person or event, and feel self-importantly compelled to express it publicly? Is it just the veil of anonymity on the web that allows these putrid and toxic blossoms to flourish? Or have Americans really become that hateful and, well, mean?

In more than 30 years of passively monitoring the culture, I can’t remember a time when anyone and everyone seemed so impassive about contributing their own bile to the topic, or “target” of the day. Gossip or political websites that spew poisonous diatribe and serve as a platform for hundreds or thousands more to do the same are sprouting up faster than fungi on feces.

I’m no Mr. Manners – I’ve been on the cynical bandwagon before the theme song ever started playing, but there used to be some restraint and, dare I say … art to putting someone else down.  Now it’s just pit bulls fueled on Red Bull in an open field with fresh meat tossed out hourly.

I wish I could explain what happened or why, and offer some way out of this dark and ugly mess. But then no one can figure out how to get out of Afghanistan, either.  Some shit holes (and assholes) defy any meaningful comprehension.

Perhaps it’s enough, or at least a start, to just notice that it’s happening. To take a closer look, even in the mirror, and admit we’ve slid down into a slimy pit. We can continue to read and watch and surf the things that interest us, but must we contribute to the negative, bitchy meanness of it all? Does the simple right and access to post a comment mean we have to crawl onboard? It’s so easy to toss something cruel, cutting or vile out there when you’re hiding behind some anonymous user name in an online forum. Imagine if you were standing up, fully revealed, in a well-lit room full of living, breathing, sensitive human beings …

… like a town hall meeting on health care.

Would you really still make those same comments?

Oh. Shit. It’s much worse than I thought.

— A. Wayne Carter

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Day-glo shoes are the next big hair

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

This blog arrives possessed by the curmudgeon spirit of Andy Rooney, where I find myself admitting this current invasion of day-glo, neon-colored athletic shoes just reminds me how those fashion fads we rush to embrace one day, can become shockingly embarrassing by the next decade.

Sure, I get it. White or black sneakers never really went with anything else in your ensemble either, so if you’re going to clash, you might as well clash BIG. And nothing clashes BIGGER with anything you’re wearing than a nice fat pair of day-glo electric chartreuse running shoes. Shoes that don’t just make a fashion statement, they SCREAM one. It goes something like this: “I just paid $150 for a pair of kick-around shoes that will immediately distract you from the fact that the rest of my ensemble came off the rack at Target.”

I kids. Or, for you boomers; I Keds.

But remember Nehru jackets and bell bottoms from the 70’s? Or how about big hair, porno moustaches, wide lapels and skinny ties from the 80s? Oh, wait, this just in: Skinny ties are BACK in again. And so are skinny lapels, tucking in your shirt, and wearing a suit that is pinched at the second button up so it accentuates… what? That you’re busting at the gut if you’re not a starving television personality?

Now imagine ten years from now looking back at neon-colored sneakers that people were paying more than $150 for. I can remember once paying $120 for a pair of high-top Air Nikes, but at least those were supposed to help a white man defy gravity and dunk a basketball. Sadly, not only did they not help me dunk, but they fell apart in less than three months. I had to send them back to the Nike factory, which, forgive the reminder, is probably a sweat shop somewhere in Indonesia paying kids ten cents an hour. Even sadder now is the fact those kids are now probably going blind stitching and staring bug-eyed at day-glo fabric all day.

If you’ve been to a rave lately (so late 90s, or early 00s), no doubt your shoes look great dancing around by themselves under a purple UV light while Skrillex does the same thing to your ears that your shoes do for your feet. But if you’re walking around day-to-day in these shoes, here’s the dirty little secret… day-glo sneakers really look bad when they get dirty. Not only do they lose their glow, it just seems to accentuate the effect of making them look… kind of gross.

An old, scuffed pair of white tennis shoes somehow just pegged you as somebody who got good economical use out of your shoes and were proud of where they had taken you and how far. But dirt and wear on day-glo shoes tarnishes the glow, so to speak. They only seem to say, “I’m not quite ready or cash-rich enough to rush out and buy a gleaming bright new pair yet, so bear with me on this pair that looks like I swallowed plutonium and vomited all over my shoes.”

As far as fads go for pioneer trend-setters, I guess day-glo athletic shoes are silly, but ultimately harmless. Cops are sure to love them. If pants hanging around your knees doesn’t slow you down enough for the police to tackle your underwear-baring ass, now they can just chase you down following the streaking phosphorescent glow of your shoes in the dark.

— A. Wayne Carter

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