The Control

At the start of 2015 I decided to slow down my blog posts to focus on fiction. I still thought I’d be able to post once or twice a month, but this obviously hasn’t happened. But my time away from blogging wasn’t in vain; I’ve co-written a feature film with Mike Stasko, and we go into production tomorrow.

Mike and I outlined this script for nearly two years, meeting weekly to discuss the broad strokes and working our way down to the finer-grained details. Then we worked on the actual script for more than a year. Now we find ourselves with a whole team of enthusiastic people, a bunch of professional gear, and we’re scrambling to make sure we’ve thought of everything before production starts at 8 AM in the morning.

It’s too early to spill the beans on what the film is about, but what I will say is that it’s a truly independent science fiction thriller called The Control. Being big science fiction fans, Mike and I wanted to put an interesting idea on the table and wrap it up in an exciting structure. We’ve called in a lot of favors, put in long hours, and only now does the real work begin.

Independent movies succeed for fail on the strength of those supporting them. Please check us out on Facebook and Twitter, tell friends, retweet, like, and do whatever it is we do these days to help support indie films.

(Check back for that Facebook link if I can ever figure out how the internet works.)

Dry Sci-Fi

These past few weeks I’ve been frustrated with science fiction movies. There is no shortage of new ones, but almost none grab my attention. Why would I go to the theater for Transcendence when I didn’t even go see The Matrix? Neither trailer grabbed me. Integrating consciousness with a machine isn’t new, and I’m guessing that’s what Transcendence is about. When I saw The Matrix eventually, I was satisfied that it was basically Star Wars meets Lawnmower Man meets Tron meets church, and I saw all that when I was young.

Science fiction may seem the ripest genre for the film industry, as special effects now allow for so much that would have previously been impossible. But far out gadgets and alien planets have never been the pull for me; they are eye candy, the stuff of trailers. What draws me into science fiction are ideas that excite me because I’ve never thought of them before.

These ideas should form a world that I can recognize, though it is different from the world I occupy. That world should give rise to characters I can relate to, but who are different from the people I know. And these characters should guide me through that world and show me something meaningful. I should come away from a great science fiction story questioning the established models of my own world. In short, my mind should be blown.

Great sci-fi is tough because a lot of great ideas have already been taken. 2001: A Space Odyssey came out in 1968 and remains the all-time champion. The absorbing world of Bladerunner was created in 1982, and in 2009 new 3D technology and a $250M budget didn’t bring Avatar even close. Alien and Terminator were solid, but didn’t blow my mind.

Are we running out of good ideas? No. There are more ideas out there than ever, and new ideas come from novel combinations of previous ideas. Inspiration shows us ideas from a new angle. Primer, Children of Men, Moon and Upstream Color are all great modern sci-fi movies that got me excited about the genre again despite the fatuous Hollywood remake of Solaris. Looper was pretty decent too.

But no matter how enthused I get about sci-fi, there’s still something that turns me off from going to the theater for blockbusters like District 9 (which I eventually saw and did not enjoy) or Gravity or Oblivion or Transcendence. Maybe it’s the trailers that turn me off, or the word of mouth, or maybe it’s the audacity of studios putting hundreds of millions of dollars into old, mediocre ideas, but I have no desire to encourage them by seeing their movies at the theater.

I must be missing some gems, so if anybody out there wants to enlighten me, leave me a list of your favorites in the comments.

Jodorowsky’s Dune

Jodorowsky's DuneIn 1974, the new guru of psychedelic underground cinema Alejandro Jodorowsky tried to make a sprawling, trippy adaptation of the science fiction novel Dune by Frank Herbert. The adaptation was never made, but fortunately for us the new documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune gives us the next best thing: an impassioned blow for blow of the creative process by the man himself.

Jodorowsky sells this movie with his magnetic personality, and turns what is essentially a documentary of talking heads and still images into a spiritual quest to transcend the material plane. He explains that he wanted Dune to give audiences an LSD experience without taking any drugs. He wanted this movie to be a prophet, a psychopomp, and a god. He explains it all with a smile and a twinkle in his eye, and he is completely serious.

His mission was to assemble a group of spiritual warriors to make the film, and Jodorowsky brims with enthusiasm as he explains how he assembled his team: writer Dan O’Bannon (Alien, Total Recall, Prometheus); artists Moebeus, Chris Foss and H.R. Giger; Orson Welles; Salvador Dali; Mick Jagger, Pink Floyd, and Jodorowsky’s own son Brontis, who underwent two years of extensive spiritual and martial arts training for the role of Paul Atreides.

Bound up in a massive, glossy tome are drawings for every character, costume and set illustrations in detail, the full script, and the entire storyboard sketched by Moebius of over 3000 windows. Very few copies were made of the book, and Michel Seydoux, Dune’s intended producer, sent the coveted items to film studios as a selling tool.

The lore of this film is massive, inspired, star-studded, and ultra-ambitious. For this documentary, essentially a eulogy for a dead project, I couldn’t ask for better subject matter. But anyone familiar with film production knows that the process is a series of compromises, and often where the ambition is largest, the pressures of the industry weigh the most.

Jodorowsky is a visionary, and nobody has ever made anything quite like his movies. Particularly impressive are the mystical spaghetti western El Topo and the psychedelic film par excellence The Holy Mountain. But re-watching these films (as I sometimes do) reveals slight cracks in the technical edifice, imperfections in the execution, minutely skewed camera angles, dated special effects, and some grating sound design. Jodorowsky is a master, but inspiration and vision are his strongest suits. With studio money and input, I question whether the final product would have satisfied his vision.

As it turns out, Hollywood was afraid of Jodorowsky and no studios were willing to furnish the $15M budget. Watching the expressions of the artists interviewed in Jodorowsky’s Dune, I was impressed by the expansive feeling of “what might have been,” a sentiment shared by everyone so greatly it seemed like a bittersweet triumph that Dune became a legend instead of a film (disregarding David Lynch’s version).

As a consolation prize we see the disparate parts of Dune reflected in a myriad of groundbreaking science fiction works like Alien, Blade Runner, and Contact, and in Jodorowsky’s own comic books. The ideas behind Jodorowsky’s adaptation have resonated strongly through the film world for decades until finally, solve et coagula, we have Jodorowsky’s Dune, a fully entertaining documentary about the passions that drive art.


Dreamscape Press

I have only a brief update this week. A novel, a feature film script, and a handful of short stories have consumed most of my recent writing efforts. I’m encouraged since I learned that Dreamscape Press® will be featuring two of my short stories.

Dreamscape Press is a new publisher entering the speculative fiction market with a number of anthologies. I contributed two very different stories to 100 Worlds, and Nuclear Town USA. The former contains 100-word stories from 100 authors, the latter is apocalyptic science fiction.

My friend Michael Stasko, who made Iodine and co-wrote Things To Do and The Birder, will also be featured in 100 Worlds.

I’ll be sure to post here when these anthologies become available.


NaNoWriMo 2012 – Week 3

Residuum is a psychedelic science fiction story. In a bleak future, an urban shaman goes on the run from authorities and realizes there’s a whole other world out there. Prominent themes are technology, psychology, and ecology. I’ll get back to regular posts after this month is through.

Nov. 14 – 3500+ words. Grueling.

Nov. 15 -1080. Probably as a result of overdoing it.

Nov. 16 -1063. Probably still feeling it. That’s what I’m going with.

Nov. 17 – 2119 words.

Nov. 18 – 3500+ words. Because you have to use the weekend.

Nov. 19 – 1265. I also started a micro-comedy script for the web.

Nov. 20 – 2447. Finished the comedy sketch also. It’s like a sex comedy for pretentious people.

I’m at 32570 as I write this.

Check out this Kickstarter page for the movie The Birder, made by friends of mine at The Dot Film Company.


NaNoWriMo 2012

My posts this month will be a little different. I’ve been looking to make time to write a novel and I recently stumbled on the NaNoWriMo site (National Novel Writing Month). The site and programs seem like a good idea. Not because the world needs more novels, but because an official site dedicated to the cause is motivating. It was only because of a Google+ alert that I even learned about the site, but it’s already inspired me to get started. I’m confident I’ll finish my novel by the end of the month.

The goal is 50 000 words by midnight November 30th. This is a pretty hefty word-count for thirty days. If you start on November 1st, you have to write 1600 words every day. Most of my blog posts are less than this and I only do them once a week. Because I outline my writing projects, I have only starting writing prose this morning, but have a six-thousand word outline to work from which will allow me to write more quickly and ensure I don’t make decisions on the fly that will derail the story as I write.

Residuum is a psychedelic sci-fi novel set in a dystopian future.

Check out their site, follow NaNoWriMo and myself on Twitter, and if you’re not participating, consider it for next year.

So Far:

Nov. 1 – I began serious outlining, roughing out major plot points and working my way up to the inciting incident.

Nov. 2 – Finished outlining the first act and the first two scenes of my second act, had some Scotch.

Nov. 3 – Outlined most of the second act and sat unthinking until my subconscious gave me a hint about the climax and how to interweave the multiple plot lines into a meaningful conclusion.

Nov. 4 – Finished the outline by roughing in the third-act scenes.

Nov. 5 – Got up early and revised the very beginning of the outline, trying to make sure appropriate seeds were planted in the beginning so the themes and character development bloom properly by the end of the book. Roughed out this blog post after work and continued with the outline revision.

Nov. 6 – Started writing prose this morning after missing the Go Train at Union. On my return trip I finished my first chapter (1387 words). Finished this blog post and watched some hilarious and frustrating American election coverage.

I now need to write about 2000 words per day to finish on time. I’ll be focused on fiction for November so I’ll be giving progress reports and hopefully posting more music to my Music page in the coming month.