Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

I think it’s gonna be a long long time

Monday, July 14th, 2014

(Summer reruns while I work on a script. Here’s a favorite. Don’t forget to check the archive)

I live less than 50 miles from Cape Canaveral, formerly Cape Kennedy, and formerly Cape Canaveral before that.  Talk about an identity crisis.

And now it’s going through another one: What’s the mission?

This week there’s a scheduled launch of an unmanned Ares rocket, which could replace the Shuttle, now on its last scheduled flights in … well, forever. NASA has submitted several mission proposals and budgets to the government, but the government’s got its own budget problems. How can we send a spaceship to Mars when we can’t get our own Earthship in order? Why should we go back to the moon when we’ve already been there? And are we content to just send astronauts up like janitors to regularly empty the Porta Potty on the Space Station?

I find these choices and questions somewhat sad.

Fifty years ago, in 1960, I was playing with my Cape Canaveral toy set as an excitable young boy growing up in Maryland and dreaming about our great big space adventures to come. Our rival superpower, the Russians, had beaten us to space with Sputnick, and now President Kennedy was promising we would beat them to the moon within 10 years.

And, by golly, we did. In the most amazing run of technological breakthroughs, NASA team dedication, personal sacrifice, and fast track government and popular support this world has ever witnessed, we went from stranded on Earth in 1960, to stepping on the moon in 1969.

But we dreamed much bigger than that.

Our favorite prime time television cartoon at the time was The Jetsons, where a family like ours lived in a penthouse perched in the sky and traveled around in their own personal flying saucers. They also had a cool robot pet dog that fetched the newspaper. (Paper newspapers? In the future? Now that’s science fiction).

Our favorite books were science fiction treats like The Martian Chronicles and R is for Rocket by Ray Bradbury, who wrote of international space travel, aliens and other worlds as if they were already here, and a natural part of our daily life experience.

We went to the movies and watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, which evo-leaped us in the single tossing of a bone from raging primates to commercial passengers on celestial spaceships waltzing through the galaxy to “The Blue Danube.”

David Bowie sang about Ground Control to Major Tom in Space Oddity, and Elton John picked up on Ray Bradbury’s working stiff astronaut theme by singing as a Rocket Man, who punched a clock and did his job five days a week, but also had time to ponder why he was, “burning out my fuse up here alone.”

Star Trek, Space 1999, and Star Wars delivered us warp speed to a time where we had so distantly moved on to exploring (and fighting with) other worlds that living on Earth wasn’t even an afterthought anymore.

And beyond going to the moon … none of these things happened.

And none of them likely ever will. At least the way we’re headed now.

It was all just a fever dream fueled by huge leaps in rocket technology, hope, and great expectations.

My childhood imagination soared on those expectations.

And now, as an adult, I don’t even want us to spend one more dime to go anywhere else in the universe. I just want us to get Earth … right. I don’t want us to burn one more drop of ultra high octane rocket fuel further depleting the ozone layer and exposing the Earth to deadlier levels of radiation. I don’t want us to send one more man or woman into space unless it’s for some reason to really help us back here on Planet Earth, today. It’s not enough to live on the fantasy of what travel through the universe can deliver us anymore. We’ve got to deliver here, first.

This isn’t some tree-hugging idealist writing.

This is … merely a realist.

A realist who doesn’t think we need to completely abandon our dream of space, but just abandon the last century’s model and method of how we get there.

The next leap in evolution could be some matter-anti-matter dylithium crystal device breakthrough that beams us throughout the universe without burning fossil fuel or using any more precious resources, but it won’t be constructed from any blueprints left behind from the existing technology paradigm. It will be another great leap of imagination that re-invents the way we meet the stars.

You see, I’m still hopeful that we will explore the space beyond, and maybe even live there one day. But the realist in me now understands we must the find the way way out by better exploring the space within.  That’s where we’ll find even greater answers to the questions of what’s out there. That’s where the bigger mysteries wait to spark our inspiration and be revealed. And that’s where the next phase of space exploration can begin.

Maybe Cape Canaveral will still be the harbor for this new evolution and rename itself Cape Higher-Consciousness.

I can’t wait for that play set.

— A. Wayne Carter

 

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Time Enough At Last?

Monday, January 6th, 2014

timeenoughatlastHappy New Year!

The classic The Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough At Last” features Burgess Meredith as a harried bank employee and henpecked husband who longs to have peaceful time alone to read his beloved books. When nuclear annihilation of the world occurs while he’s safely hiding in a bank vault reading during his lunch hour, he emerges to a new dawn where he has no responsibilities other than ‘all the time in the world’ to read. He gathers books into piles on the library steps assigning each pile a future year to read, and then clumsily drops and shatters his Coke bottle glasses, essentially leaving himself blind.

Baby boomers didn’t grow up with Aesop’s Fables as their moral compass or their primer on the karmic twists and cruel ironies of life – we got all those lessons on The Twilight Zone.

And there is no more cruel irony than realizing you are in the fourth quarter of your life (sorry, boomers, but it’s not the ‘third act’), and though you may have carved out considerable more time after relinquishing child-rearing duties and full-time job constraints, there just isn’t enough time left to enjoy all your favorite media you’ve accumulated again and again.

I love music and I love movies – to the point where, over the years I’ve collected thousands of LPs or CDs, DVDs and now Blu-rays (I never collected VHS tapes because it was just a poor ass inconvenient medium). Media LibraryAt some point I began restricting the collection to about 500 CDs and 500 movies on DVD or Blu-ray. Shelf space was a consideration, so any time my collection exceeded the space, I had to weed out the less essential and trade them in. It was a good system that created an ever-evolving library that kept me re-defining exactly what was ‘essential.’ But now I know that, even at this level, the time I have to review all the television series or films or albums I love is limited to the point where I’ll never hear or see all of my library again. Not unless that was all I spent my time doing, which, of course, is not going to happen. I actually watch less television now than I did as a kid (maybe 3-4 hours a day versus 6 as a kid). And the only time I listen to music at the levels I want (loud) is probably in my car or through my ear buds at the gym.

There used to be a time where, when a new album by one of my favorite artists came out, I would wait for the perfect unencumbered 40-50 minutes to listen, position myself between my 80-pound ESS Speakers, lie back, and just fully devote myself to the listening experience. The only equivalency to that today is if I have a drive over 30 minutes alone in the car. Otherwise, it’s just songs here and there.

We like to accuse millennials or our children of shorter attention spans and less focus on reading an entire book or listening to an entire album. But if we are honest, we know it’s not them that have changed, but the culture they are dealing with, where there is just ten times as much media competing for our attention at all times. Media BombardmentThey don’t buy albums; they just buy a song on iTunes. So is it any wonder they don’t collect physical media like CDs or books? Because the nature of everything now is so micro-transitory and momentary. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, and it keeps us more in the moment. But I can’t help but think that by trying to absorb everything that’s coming at us in smaller and smaller bits and pieces – songs, films, television, youTube, texts, gossip, twitter, news, etc. – we are actually absorbing NOTHING.

Wayne w Scripts sWhen I write a screenplay, I spend maybe hundreds of hours focusing on the structure, story and character to deliver as deeply rich an experience of the tale as possible. But no producer, agent or studio exec has two undivided hours or wants to read 120 pages, so they skim it or just read a two-page coverage. And, even if they love the story and buy the script, they provide notes based on a very superficial understanding of what went into the story. That’s why films are so bad today. The deal is everything. Nobody reads, or takes the time to grasp the full vision.

The pure experience of melding with the intention of the artist has been reduced from the time it takes to read a novel, or a screenplay, or listen to a full album, to about the length of one song or a YouTube video. With so many things competing for and dividing our attention, that’s about all we’ll give it.

Where this goes or ends up, I have no idea. But I enter the New Year a bit sad that I won’t have the time to fully re-experience all the great movies, albums and books that really combined to make me the artist and person I am, and with the full attention I once devoted to them. time enoughAnd that my son will never share all the same interests or devote his time to going through my library. But why should he? He has to create his own persona.

One of my resolutions this year is to put some filters on, use extreme discrimination, and realize that 90 percent of what’s being blasted at us through media is just useless distraction. And, beyond all the other more essential life experiences – family time, friends, work and travel – try to give the films, music or books I actually choose to re-visit the time and attention they deserve. Like old friends, they’ve given me so much.

– A. Wayne Carter

 

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Linda Ronstadt “Simple Dreams” – Book Review

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013


Dear Linda,

When will you be loved? Now and forever. Thanks for your magnificent talent.

Okay, on to the book.

I guess I must have been dreaming if I thought we were going to get a story about sex, drugs and rock n’ roll from my favorite all-time rock goddess. But sadly, you pretty much dismiss your rock n’ roll years in this sweet little memoir that is strictly about your musical evolution from barefoot Tucson mariachi granddaughter, to country, to rock, to standards, to opera, and back to mariachi again.
And the rock records – the stuff you’re most known for – gets the short shrift. You practically disown your period in rock because you claim you were naïve about the technicality of your instrument – your voice, and that your singing was terribly flawed through all those classic songs we grew up with; “You’re No Good,” “When Will I Be Loved,” “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” etc.

Well, excuse me, but it’s precisely because you weren’t so technically-oriented on hitting every C sharp with precision that those songs have the resonance, character and raw appeal to those of us who love them. There’s a down-to-earth realness about them. I continued to support your journey and bought all your standards LPs such as “What’s New,” but then promptly handed them over to my mother. I’m sure you hit every note correctly, but there was a sterile coldness about them precisely because it came off more like some technical stretching exercise rather than genuinely from the gut. Those are the songs of a different generation, who earned the right to own them through different experiences. Even my mother preferred the original singer versions.

I even bought “Canciones de me Padre,” your first mariachi collection. And Si, you can yelp with the best of them. But again, even though you have Spanish heritage roots, it’s obvious this was not your natural first language and you were also attempting a physical stunt by trying to recreate these classic mariachi songs. But, again the stories they told didn’t come from your gut. Those songs weren’t written by someone with experiences such as yours.

“Heart Like a Wheel,” “I Believe in You,” “I Never Will Marry,” (you never did) “Hasten Down the Wind…” Maybe these songs weren’t technically perfect, but they were chosen specifically by you or for you (by your insightful producer, Peter Asher) and they fit the life you were going through at the time, as the hippie chick hooking up with songwriters, hiring future Eagles members as your backup band, checking out the scene at the Troubadour, and finding your way through the strange and lost world of Southern California.

I understand your reluctance to get into any gossip, or tell more detailed stories about your liaisons with former beaus such as California governor Jerry Brown, author Pete Hamill, songwriter J. D. Souther or others, but I would have been interested in hearing the positive aspects of what each of these mentors meant to you and how they affected your progression. That’s some pretty heady company.

I remember walking by and seeing you having dinner with Jerry Brown at Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood one night back in the 80s. What I would’ve given to eavesdrop on that conversation, or to even ask you for an autograph at the time, but I was far too respectful of your privacy.

The main beef I have with this book is that so are you. You don’t have to get into the saucy stuff, but what an incredible set of experiences you could have talked about; more than just fretting about the instrument, the instrument, the instrument. People read books to find a point of intersection to relate to either enrich or inform their own lives or interests, but who of us can relate to having so singularly powerful or beautiful an instrument as your voice? We KNOW that part. What can you tell us that you learned personally from your loves, triumphs and losses? I realize this isn’t People magazine, but it doesn’t have to be gossip. Just human.

You apparently wrote this memoir prior to finding out you have Parkinson’s disease, which has abruptly ended your singing career. This is crushing information and I can’t even begin to imagine how that diagnosis has affected you and your passion to interpret music through your voice. Personally, I think you should write a book about coping with this disease and, hopefully, how you find more strength and other passions to move forward. Baby boomers everywhere are going through similar types of experience, having life challenges and chronic conditions that force us to adapt how we live, love and move on. Your journey can inspire you forward and also help the rest of us. Whether you own it or not, the mantle of being an icon to so many of us fans requires some stewardship.

Ironically, or perhaps cynically because of the disclosure of your condition, you have finally been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this very year. I’ve ranted that you should have been in there ages ago. But after reading you so disclaim your own rock heritage in this book, I now understand the Hall might be reluctant. No matter. I think you get in, and I look forward to seeing you accept the award at the ceremony, and also to some of the other powerful women vocalists of our time (Trisha Yearwood?) try to recreate some of your hits. They might do well, but, just as when you tackled the standards with Nelson Riddle, it won’t be the same.

No one else can own your sound on those rock and roll hits.

So, can you? Please?

Sincerely,

A lifelong fan

– A. Wayne Carter

(P.S. – Please issue a compilation release of all the covers you did of Neil Young songs (and include the songs you sang with him on his albums) and call it “Forever Young” or something like that. We believe in YOU!)



 

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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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Ray Bradbury, I’m so sorry

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

(No, it’s not Summer, but I’m playing a few re-runs for the uninitiated while I am in heavy script mode on a feature. Here’s a favorite. Don’t forget to check the archive.)

(We lost Ray Bradbury last year, but his legacy is immortal.)

Dear Ray,

Okay, this is really embarrassing. You are the legendary science fiction author of Fahrenheit 451The Martian ChroniclesDandelion WineSomething Wicked this Way Comes, and hundreds of classic short stories such as The Illustrated ManI Sing the Body ElectricThe Fog HornThe Veldt. I read them all as a kid. I watched them adapted into episodes of my favorite television shows, on The Twilight ZoneAlfred Hitchcock Presents and Suspense. They were a key inspiration for me to write short stories in my youth and to pursue a career as a writer.

Your brand of science fiction was different than many of the technological or hardware-oriented genre writers of the day. Your stories were humanistic. You were less concerned with some new gadget or where a planet was located in the galaxy, and more interested in what effect that invention or discovery had on humans and their relations to one another. It was science fiction with soul. And it moved and inspired me. You were an idol.

And I diss-ed you to your face.

Oh, it wasn’t deliberate, or premeditated, or by any means intentional. I didn’t even realize it was supremely disrespectful at the time, heck, I was in my twenties, but I do now. And that’s why I’m writing this note to say I’m sorry.

Cut to 1983 and I’ve already had a little success as a screenwriter in Hollywood. I wrote a couple comedy feature scripts for National Lampoon that were going to be produced by Universal Pictures, but never quite made it to the screen. You first tried your hand at screenwriting as early as 1956, when you were hired to adapt Moby Dick for the screen, starring Gregory Peck. I was following the same path.

I had a meeting with an independent producer to possibly adapt a science fiction novel called Space Vampires by Colin Wilson for a feature. These weren’t your usual bloodsucking vampires, but vampires from another planet that sucked the very life force or energy out of your body until you were a withered piece of crust. I liked the story and the inherent metaphor of ‘energy vampires’ who drain you (we all know one or two), and was very excited about working with the director, Tobe Hooper, who shocked audiences with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

But Cannon Films, which was going to oversee, market and produce the picture had another project they wanted me to interview for instead that they were also excited about. This was going to be a 3-D extravaganza called Escape From Beyond about a bounty hunter in space. There were already a director and producer attached who just had success with their previous ‘revolutionary’ new 3-D picture, Comin’ At Ya! This would be their big science fiction follow up, and they were interviewing well-known veteran science fiction writers for the gig and some up-and-coming hot screenwriters. I was one of the up-and-coming hot screenwriters who interviewed for the gig. And you were one of the veteran science fiction writers.

But I got the job.

Now, of course, I understand the decision made was not entirely based on merit, or just because I might have a younger or hipper approach to the material. The deal with me was undoubtedly finalized because the budget of the film had been targeted at about $2 million total, and my negotiated fee was about $17,000 and your agent was probably asking somewhere around $100,000 minimum. Your fee was definitely a factor, if not the factor.

I didn’t know that you were up for the same film until after my deal was in place. They didn’t even want to pay me as much as they did, but I was already a Writer’s Guild member and my agent and I insisted as part of the deal that they become signators of the Writer’s Guild (make a formal agreement to abide by union rules and minimums for professional screenwriters) and pay me the union minimum for a writer on a feature motion picture. I had some clout as the hot newcomer. I was always very proud of the fact a company that had previously underpaid and probably abused screenwriters for scores of projects finally went legit with my deal. Of course, $17,000 is still a LOT less than $100,000, but that didn’t make me any less proud. I had successfully ‘scored’ a screenwriting gig over a childhood hero.

Now, if it makes you feel any better about losing this particular gig, you will be pleased to note I was seriously abused for this victory. The fact they became WGA signators and had to abide by union fees, didn’t mean they couldn’t take their pound of flesh out of me in other ways. I eventually wrote about seven full drafts of the screenplay, working with an Italian director who spoke little English, and a temperamental actor-producer. The film went from a space bounty hunter picture to a medieval Spain chariot picture to-, well, at one meeting with the president of the film company, he said to me in the most serious and dramatic Israeli dialect and tone possible, “Vee got Charles Bronson.” Yes, could I somehow turn this original science fiction epic into … Death Wish IV?

Escape From Beyond poster in Reporter

The Charlie Bronson part of the deal never came through. His fee would have chewed up about $1.5 million of the $2 million budget (minus the $17,000). And by the time they had hired the chariot stunt crews and started building the sets in Mexico to film the medieval Spain version, the budget started to look more like $10 million and they pulled the project as being too costly. But not before they had pre-sold the film at the Cannes Film Festival using posters and art with my name as screenwriter, along with two other ‘producers’ who had nothing to do with the script. More abuse.

The money they didn’t have to spend on Escape From Beyond probably went to the budget overages for Space Vampires, which had gone before the camera earlier. This film was eventually released as Lifeforce; a film most horny science fiction fans will remember as the movie starring this unbelievably voluptuous naked chick walking around sucking the life energy out of every man within kissing distance. (She was Israeli, didn’t speak a lick of English, and was the company president’s girlfriend at the time, I’m told).

This brings me to the moment where I unfortunately diss-ed you.

You were making an appearance at a local science fiction bookstore, A Change of Hobbit, to sign copies of your books along with another of my writer heroes, horror scribe Robert Bloch (Psycho).

I waited patiently in line with paperback copies of your Golden Apples of the Sun and Bloch’s Stuff that Screams Are Made OfAnd when I got to the front, I shook your hand, effusively talked about how you had been my childhood inspiration; how I was now successfully making it as a writer in Hollywood; and how I had even got a job you were up for.

You betrayed no distress at my hideous lapse of manners, and graciously signed the book, but the conversation quickly and awkwardly ended. I grinned excitedly at finally meeting you, and under these unique circumstances, and walked away on air.

And later felt like a total douche bag.

My only excuse is that, I was just so excited about finally getting somewhere trying to walk your very same path, I didn’t realize when I was stepping on your toes (or heels). It was the move of an ego-pumped amateur. An upstart. And I’m sorry.

Karma caught up with me on the nightmare that was the rest of that project, and I have no doubt that neither you nor your agent would have put up with the blood I was made to spill on those seven different drafts (when the WGA supposedly only allows one revision per fee).

And I never made it much further up the path you blazed in terms of fame, fortune, or movies produced or adapted from your own stories or novels.

But for that brief moment, I felt like I could look a childhood hero in the eye from the same height and share the rarified air up there.

Thanks for not calling me a punk, and kicking my ass off that cloud.

— A. Wayne Carter

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Who wants to survive a Zombie Apocalypse?

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

I don’t know why zombies are all the rage these days. They’re more popular than when Val Newton directed I Walked With a Zombie in 1943, or when George Romero redirected them at us in Night of the Living Dead in 1968.

Is it a manifestation of our global pessimism? Is it a reflection of a culture that often seems devoid of passion and ‘going through the motions’ – working, shopping, school, and groceries? I believe Shaun of the Dead covered that territory quite hysterically. The fact it took Shaun days to realize that everyone around him had already turned into zombies said everything. We are self-involved and clueless. More often than not in our daily routines, we’re just going through the motions.

My son has played Left 4 Dead on xBox for a couple years now. He’s a veteran zombie killer. I even bought him a Zombie Survival Guide for Christmas one year. It’s fun to strategize exactly where you’d best hold out against the zombie hoards longing to eat your flesh or brain: Someplace accessible to food, but also where you are inaccessible asfood.

At times, my son revealed a fear of zombies, as if they could be real. No scientific or biological explanation of the impossibilities of reanimated flesh or organs after brain death can ease such anxiety once repetitive media viewings without any real science or biology have taken hold. Just ask the climate change and evolution deniers who get their information from FOX News.

But my question isn’t about how zombies actually function, or whether they move fast or slow, prefer human brain to animal brains, or why our culture is so agog with them.

My question is why anyone would want to survive in a world overrun by zombies after some apocalyptic event or plague. Not your run of the mill plague, mind you, but some global catastrophe where 95% of the world is either dead or infected: A scenario such as the one in Colson Whitehead’s new bestseller, Zone One; or in the popular AMC series, The Walking Dead.

One of the characters in the TV series, Andrea, is denied access to a gun because, God forbid, she might actually want to kill herself rather than go on dodging brain munchers. But in the face of an unrelenting world of the walking dead, where everyone you ever loved is either dead or infected, and any chance of some quality of life is long gone … what’s so crazy about that? She may be the last rational human on Earth.

The idea that there’s this inner drive to live no matter how horrific the circumstances strikes me as no better than being a zombie yourself; As if we also have some emotionless, soulless drive to keep moving, keep devouring flesh, and without any general purpose. We live just to move and continue living? Is that really enough? One of the surviving characters in the show even says, “is living just a habit?”

Oh, what, you think you’re going to re-populate the earth like Adam and Eve? Good luck with that fantasy. Again, you’re talking about some basic mindless drive to propagate the species, and not any reasonable grasp of the situation. You think romance will bloom among the rotting corpses and devastation surrounding you? Only in the movies.

The despair, the horror, the loss, the physical degradation … the lack of anything life-affirming, the relentless pursuit of you by nightmarish walking corpses … Is that really the scenario for turning on your auto-pilot to keep pushing on?

Am I off way base here? Am I all alone in the world with this idea? Is Andrea in The Walking Dead wrong for contemplating the quickest exit? Or the tormented father at the end of The Mist (okay, bad example, he doesn’t realize help is on the way and the monsters were just in the mist).

Holocaust survivors who survived concentration camps in World War II at least knew there was a world outside the camps where family and life might actually still be continuing and could return to normal after the conflict. But we’re talking Zombie Apocalypse here. The entire population of Earth is wiped out. You know this because you heard the reports up until the moment there was no one left to give the reports. So now you think you’re going to walk along The Road, or find an army base 28 Days Later where things are going to vastly improve? Where you can start your comic book collection again?

Writers and filmmakers are always going to create stories about The Last Man on Earth. It’s an irresistible fantasy in a world where we are so often annoyed by those living all around us. Richard Matheson, my favorite author growing up, did just that with that last man classic (remade as The Omega Man, and later with his original title, I Am Legend).

It’s an author’s conceit to destroy and re-imagine the world in his head, and then on paper, or for your Kindle. But let’s be honest. In a world where you spend your days alone, your loved ones dead, your food sources reduced to expired canned beans, and the never-ending grind of zombies shuffling slowly (or rapidly) after you to devour your brain; wouldn’t it ultimately be the worst fate of all … to survive?

— A. Wayne Carter

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Nobody listens anymore

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

Am I the last person on the planet who actually monitors how much they talk versus how much they actively listen during a ‘conversation?’ Somewhere along the way, dialogues left the building and we are stuck listening to people unload monologues on us without any clue or consideration. The sound you hear is the energy leaking from your body as they drone on sucking the very life out of your ears. And in the rare moments they aren’t talking, they just zone out from actually listening to you respond while they plot what they are about to say next. I know you are aware of this phenomenon. And I know you are either a perpetrator or a victim of it.

Blogs and Twitter and Facebook are all manifestations of this imbalanced sense of entitlement where everyone now feels that every minutiae of their life or every opinion they have is worth reading, whether they know how to put a complete sentence together or not. At least with written monologues, you have the choice to ignore or skip over them. Just as sleazy fashion trends have made it harder to tell a high schooler from a hooker, actual writers now have a much harder time reminding everyone – “Hey, I’m the professional here!”

Here’s a book that simply explains conversation hogs as ‘stealers of energy.” That’s what they do – like an energy vampire, they are sucking your attention from you like blood from your veins. If you are a good listener, you’re well aware just how much energy it takes to actively listen to someone. To care enough about that relationship to follow what they are saying, invest some emotional concern, and maybe even ask a relevant question or two, instead of hijacking the conversation to go off on your own tangent.

Rhythm, Relationships, and Transcendence: Patterns in the Complex Web of Life by Toru Sato reminds us that, on a subatomic level, all matter is just a boundless bundle of energy, and “the only boundary between you and the other person is really a boundary made in your mind.” So why would you want to steal energy from yourself?

“Energy flows where attention goes.” And attention “is the basis for acceptance, respect, influence and care, all of which we crave in our daily lives … We feel energized when others pay attention to us … We feel depleted of energy when others do not pay attention to us.”

“We live in a rhythmic cycle of giving and receiving in all of our relationships … We give and take energy in varying degrees. We can take massive amounts of energy if we take little by little for a prolonged period of time without giving back. This is why we feel exhausted if someone talks to us incessantly for a long time without letting you have your turn. This incessantly speaking person is not yelling at us or physically assaulting us but we feel tired and very lower in energy after a while. This usually does not work well in a relationship because there is no rhythm of giving and taking. There is just taking.”

“We live in a competitive world. We compete for ‘energy.’ This is why many of us want to be famous, want to do heroic things, want to be powerful or influential, want more money. These are all means to gain energy. Being a hero or being famous makes us attract a lot of attention and admiration and sometimes respect. In other words, we receive energy.”

The book goes on to explain how to balance this rhythm of taking and giving, and that the more we let down the artificial boundary between each other and become attentive in a more balanced way, the more we can share consciousness and feel unity. It can happen on an individual basis, and it can happen with groups, countries and even this whole rocking planet.

And it all begins when you start to realize what you are taking from someone when you dump without listening, and what you gain when you trade attention and respect in balance.

Try it sometime. Try it all the time. And read this book for some more insights that can reduce the conflicts in your life to a simpler understanding of the way we compete for energy, and how we can transcend the anxiety and separation such competition creates.

— A. Wayne Carter

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Lost in the Seventy

Friday, July 1st, 2011

Where were you in 1970? The joke usually goes, “If you can remember, you weren’t there.” But then again how memorable a year WAS 1970?

In 1968 we had the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. People rioted in the streets and burned parts of every major city down. And that’s not even counting the violence that went down at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

In 1969 we had the first landing of men on the moon, and three days of peace, love and music at Woodstock.

On a personal level I can remember attending a Fourth of July concert at the Washington Monument in D.C. that headlined the Beach Boys and Bob Hope. There were more than 250,000 people gathered there, many with long hair, wearing flags or fringe, smoking grass, and chanting against the war in Viet Nam. I was there with some foreign exchange students from Austria and Australia who were staying at our house and who wanted to see some ‘hippies.’ They got more than they bargained for.

At one point, a bottle got tossed at the police, tear gas got tossed back, one protester picked the canister up and threw it back at the police, and suddenly A BARRAGE of tear gas canisters exploded around us. The next thing you know I’m trying to stay low to the ground to let the gas pass over (as I had read to do somewhere) and I’m getting trampled to death by hundreds of people stampeding away directly inside the drifting cloud of tear gas. Finally, I give up, get up, and run along with them inside the cloud of tear gas as our eyes burn and the tears feel like flames running down our cheeks. Hours later we re-unite with my dad at the parked car rendezvous spot and he was completely unaware of all the tear gas attacks and commotion that took place outside the area where he was blissfully watching Bob Hope. He had a pleasant experience. And I had quite a memorable one. I was 15.

But 1970, as it turns out, was quite the memorable year for other reasons, as you discover in David Browne’s nostalgic  time capsule of a book, Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970.

He uses the device of following four pivotal music icons from that period in time as they all peak out within the same year.

The Beatles record their last album, Let it Be, and then break up.

Simon and Garfunkel record their masterpiece, Bridge Over Troubled Water, and then break up.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young come together like superstar free agents to form a band and record their masterpiece, Déjà vu, and then fall apart again and break up. 

James Taylor somehow reverses the process and, after having a nervous breakdown and spending time in an asylum and some more time as a strung-out junkie, he records “Fire and Rain” for his breakout album Sweet Baby James.

Jimi Hendrix dies of an overdose, drowning in his own puke. Janis Joplin dies the same.

But the most important deaths of the year turn out to be, “four dead in Ohio.” Kent State University. The National Guard under President Nixon’s administration responds to another Viet Nam protest using something a bit stronger than tear gas canisters or rubber bullets, it turns out: live ammunition.

It could have happened at any of the Viet Nam war protests and moratoriums going on around the country at the time, but it happened there. And it forever made our country and government think twice about how they respond to scruffy young protesters in the streets again.

Countries all over the Mid-East are now making those same calculated decisions, for better, or for tragic worse. Tunisia and Egypt refrained; while Libya, Syria and Yemen fired away, forever branding memories of violence and suppression on their own younger generation of dissidents and protestors (revolutionaries are almost ALWAYS young).

So it turns out 1970 WAS a pretty significant year after all, not just for music, but for the conscience of America herself.  And chances are you will remember so much more of it after you drift through stories of these four musical touchstones of that year as they burn like super novas, careen through greatness,  and then collapse.

It could only happen in 1970, right?

— A. Wayne Carter

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Two Grits

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

Somewhere around the time between the first True Grit in 1969 and McCabe and Mrs. Miller in 1971, westerns, along with the rest of Hollywood genres and cliches, started getting re-invented as darker, grittier, and supposedly more realistic. Around the same time John Wayne was trying to re-establish the myth of a noble war in The Green Berets, the youth of America was soundly rejecting the notion there was any real purpose for being atwar in Vietnam, and all the other rosy myths starting collapsing along with it.

John Wayne, after a vast career playing the iconic, stalwart cowboy John Wayne was squarely ridiculed by the youth of America for trying to stir up patriotism for a futile effort to put America’s stamp on the outcome of Vietnam’s internal struggle. But the very next year, in a possibly symbolic rebuke to that rejection, the aging voters at the Academy Awards gave Wayne the Oscar for best actor in True Grit. Of course, everyone acknowledged that he got the award more for being John Wayne than for his usual stiff, awkward acting, but the role was anything but a stretch: He played a drunk, crabby old bastard who’d sooner shoot you than spend any time trying to reason with you. So perhaps the award really was for the 40-plus previous years of nobly holding his temperament.

I don’t question the Coen brothers choice for wanting to re-make True Grit. I love westerns and I never mind seeing them reinvented. My favorite HBO series Deadwood pretty much fed every previous TV series western to Wu’s hogs as dead cadavers. But anytime you re-make something, you invite a scorecard comparison. So here’s mine:

Jeff Bridges vs. John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn

I have to give this one to John Wayne. By the time he played the role, Wayne WAS a mean-spirited crabby old bastard. And no matter how much Jeff Bridges tries to approximate one with his grime and girth and generally sour disposition, well, somehow the Dude still abides. And I just don’t buy it. There’s still a gentleness about him no grit or eye patch can mask.

Hailee Steinfeld vs. Kim Darby as Mattie Ross

The 14 year-old girl narrator and center of the story is a marvelous invention of novelist Charles Portis to re-examine a great western adventure from a different perspective. And to have all the usual suspects from a western react to her unexpected willpower is an ongoing treat. Steinfeld does a praiseworthy job reciting the long, stoic dialogue from the book without flinching, but Kim Darby is just more … unexpected. There’s just not much little girlish about Steinfeld which, I suppose, is the point after she’s had her father gunned down. But shouldn’t we see the 14 year-old girl peek out once and a while to really contrast with the harsh setting and characters of the western environment she has pursued to enact her revenge? The irony is that Steinfeld really is 14 and Darby was about 21 when she played the role. What does that say about how fast kids grow up today? I used to joke that a nine year-old anywhere else was a 30 year-old in Los Angeles. It wasn’t a joke. Just ask Roman Polanski. This one goes to Kim Darby for being the real 14 year-old.

Matt Damon vs. Glen Campbell as LaBoef

Hands down this one goes to Matt Damon. Glen Campbell holds his own as a decent enough actor playing the self-important Texas Ranger, but come on, his part was immaculate. And, of course I’m talking about the one in his hair helmet. And 40 years later it’s still hard to get the high-pitched clarion call of his TV series intro, “Hey everybody, I’m Glen Campbell” out of my head. Kudos to him for introducing us to the Smothers Brothers and Steve Martin, though. Matt Damon plays the role with just the right panache of preening narcissism you would expect from … Texas.

Sets, production values, and costumes go to the new True Grit. Everything was just a bit too bright in the original, which is always a good reason for revisionist westerns. It probably has a lot to do with technical specifications or lighting necessary for the film stock back then (I’m ignorant in such matters). But a dim set is, unfortunately, a more believable set in these non-electric instances.

Scenery goes to the original. Come on, it was so purty. I get that the harsh realm of the environment was the point of the Coen brothers take on Mattie’s adventure. But gosh, dangit, it’s the big beautiful West. I want to see purple mountains majesty and all that good stuff.

Side characters go to the original. Robert Duvall as Ned Pepper. Strother Martin as the horse trader. Jeff Corey as Chaney (so much more like a perverted older uncle than Josh Brolin in his scenes with Mattie). No contests.

The Ending

Again, I gotta go with John Wayne hooting and hollering and jumping his fat rumpus over the fence on his horse. It’s such an iconic image that old Hollywood must have just lapped it up thinking, “Yup, we still got it.” Contrast that with the somber cemetery scene of the new version with Mattie minus her arm (from the infected snake bite) grimly pondering all the dead, including Cogburn and LaBoef. Sure, it’s closer to the novel, but for misery sakes, at some point you gotta lighten up and realize it’s just a movie. Did I watch Rooster Cogburn for nearly three hours (in the original) just so there could be no fond goodbye between him and Mattie and he’s just out of the picture and worm food by the end? That’s a lousy return on my investment. You just spent three hours making me grow fond of the crabby old bastard. And, watching it again the other night, I did. Great roles deserve a final bow. The original had one; the new one doesn’t. Except for the one-armed (instead of one-eyed) Mattie, who’s now … the crabby old bastard.

Okay, I get it. Nice touch. But I still prefer the original.

— A. Wayne Carter

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