Happy birthday to my son, Nemo! He is fourteen years old today!
“For a long time now, I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.” ~~ Ernest Hemingway
I’m often asked how I write and what I write and how it all fits together. I have a variety of different answers for these questions, usually based on what I think the questioner is fishing for, but overall I have only one go-to answer: I write my work.
What does this mean? It means that I write what I want to write, when I want to write it and how I want to write it, and I pay absolutely no consideration to anyone else while I’m doing it. Now I may be writing to a specific level of marketability, or to an audience, but I’m writing my book in that vein. Not someone else’s book, not the book I’ve been told to write, but the book that came from my head in a way that only I could write it.
I read a book recently called Steal Like an Artist and the author, Austin Kleon, says that all creative artists start off as thieves. We have someone, or many someones, whose work we admire, and we set out to emulate them in our own work. This is what people mean when they ask, “Who are your influences?” So the first hesitant steps a writer makes when trying out his or her craft is to write something like what they’ve read and enjoyed previously. Not a pastiche, mind you, but something like it. These are different things.
Eventually those aspects of your work that are recognizably your own start to push forward and the theft recedes. Or at least it’s supposed to. There are writers who have never been able to escape the gravitational pull of their influences. There’s a writer I know of whose work is basically just reheated Cormac McCarthy, to the point where reviewers have to mention McCarthy in every review he gets. Not because he and McCarthy are equals, but because what makes him unique hasn’t overcome what he’s borrowing. But, hey, he keeps getting work and people buy it, so who am I to judge?
What blows my mind about Miami Vice, and this remains true to this very day, is just how incredibly dark the show could get. We’re talking about 1984, here, people. Television shows did not do dark. I’d argue they still don’t, at least not on network television, unless you’re talking about something like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which seems to pride itself on being as unpleasant as possible.
Miami Vice was — at least on the surface, anyway — an episodic cop show like pretty much every other cop show that there ever had been. Prettier to be sure, and much more expensive to make for the music and fashions and everything else that had to be just so, but a cop show. I sincerely doubt that the NBC executives who approved the making of this program ever thought in a million years that there would ever be an episode of Miami Vice where one of the main cast gets raped. Yes, raped. And, yes, I know that’s a spoiler, but it’s something that must be discussed.
There’s a lot happening in “Give a Little, Take a Little,” what with the return of Noogie and the absolute smorgasbord of regular guest stars, from Burt Young (Rocky!) to Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs!) to Terry O’Quinn (Lost!). During the course of the episode Crockett manages to squeeze some cooperation out of an informant, played by Lenny Von Dohlen (Twin Peaks!) but, when he’s called upon in court to identify Von Dohlen’s character, chooses to stand in contempt of court and do jail time. Ostensibly it’s this case, including the subsequent scramble to find something new to pin on Michael Madsen’s bad guy, that’s the thrust of the episode, but what is supposed to be a B story involving Gina and Trudy turns out to the be powerhouse section.
If you dial back the time on this blog almost three years, you’ll find a review I did for the movie Haywire, starring MMA sensation Gina Carano. I was mostly positive about the movie, with some caveats, but for the most part I was happy to have seen it and eventually I bought a copy of the film. I can definitely say it’s grown on me over the years. More than a few people have even said that they can see Carano playing my character, Camaro Espinoza. I can think of worse casting.
Haywire was not anyone’s idea of hit and Carano did not become the next big thing. She sort of bounced around a little, doing small parts here and there, until finally she landed in the movie In the Blood, which provided her a starring role once more. The catch: the film would go straight to video where the Jean-Claude Van Dammes and Steven Seagals of this world dwell. I’ll admit I was tempted to pick it up, sight unseen, based on Carano’s presence alone. I’m glad I didn’t.
Let me first say in regard to In the Blood that this is not a bad movie. When I say I won’t probably ever pick up a copy to own, this is not an indictment of the picture as a piece of garbage. As it happens, it’s very well-shot, surprisingly well-acted and has a mostly compelling storyline. And that’s the niggling little bit of trouble: mostly compelling.
In the Blood features Gina Carano in a surprisingly meaty role as Ava, a recovering heroin addict with an exceedingly dark past. When we meet her she’s defeated her drug demons with the help of the wealthy Derek, played by Cam Gigandet. Derek is also an addict, and the two are a mutually reinforcing unit, very much in love and very much committed to staying clean, sober and happy. Derek’s family isn’t thrilled, especially Treat Williams as Derek’s father, but the dream wedding happens at the start of the picture. After the vows, the blissful couple are whisked away to an island very much like Puerto Rico (the movie was filmed there), where they can bask in an island paradise.
It’s kind of amazing to me how poorly slasher horror is done these days. If you look at this horror subgenre on a macro level, we hit Peak Slasher in the 1980s and then it was a slow, steady descent into PG-13 fare that eventually didn’t really contain any slashers at all, or so few that it hardly budged the needle.
The formula for a slasher horror movie is not a complicated one. First, you have a cast of attractive young people who may or may not be playing teenagers, hence the derogatory term coined by Roger Ebert: Dead Teenager Movies. Second, you have a slasher with some special hook that defines their actions in the film. In the case of a classic figure like Jason Voorhees, it’s the hockey mask. For Michael Myers, a pale white Captain Kirk mask. For Freddy Krueger, a handful of sharp blades. Things like that. Third, you ladle on the boobs and butts in gratuitous shower scenes and the like. Lastly, you murder all of them in as creative a way as possible.
I find it bewildering that anyone could look at this formula and say, “I don’t know how to make one of these movies.” Or, worse yet, “I think we can improve on this.” Even movies that supposedly reinvented the slasher genre, like Scream, still adhered strictly to the established elements for this kind of movie. If you’re interested in making an effective slasher horror movie you don’t mess with what works. Believe me, fans like myself won’t care one whit that we’ve seen these elements before. Mix them up in inventive ways and you have a movie we can get behind.
Despite the fact that horror filmmakers seem completely incapable of making a classic slasher movie, I get a little excited whenever I run across a new one. This one could be good. This one will make me a believer again.
This doesn’t ever happen.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a figure in the entertainment field more beloved than Jim Henson. This is the man who gave us Big Bird and Kermit the Frog and countless other cool, interesting puppets. He fueled our childhoods with Sesame Street, made us laugh with The Muppet Show and turned out a couple of genuinely classic films, including The Dark Crystal. I think if any of us imagine what we’d be like as a creative individual working in the television and film media, we imagine ourselves as Jim Henson. Everybody loved Henson and he loved everybody else. Who could ask for a better boss/friend/collaborator?
I’m not here to shatter that impression of him. I’m here to talk about Elizabeth Hyde Stevens’ Make Art Make Money: Lessons from Jim Henson on Fueling Your Creative Career, a Kindle Serial-turned-book that tries to break down the history of Henson’s career into teachable moments that will enable all of us creative types to be more like him: fun, happy and successful. If I say Make Art Make Money is not a perfect exploration, that’s not damning it in any way. I think Make Art Make Money is a terrific read. I will explain.