One Step Closer

After two weeks of waiting for notes from the investors, I finally heard from my director saying they had agreed the script was good to go. (I have no idea what the investors concerns were, or how the producers overcame them.) They have a casting director on board, and are now moving toward a sales agreement.  As one producer said, “I feel like we have some good momentum going forward.”

This is generally good news.

As the option was due to expire at the end of May, the producers asked to extend it while they proceed. Not an unusual request. My last two options needed to be extended because things started happening just as it was coming down to the wire.

I’m feeling encouraged.  It’s ‘found money’ in my pocket. But the champagne is still on ice.

I’m cautiously optimistic, because this has been my experience with the option and development phase in the past. It’s a heady moment to have someone say, “We LOVE it, and want to BUY/OPTION it!” Because, hey – a money offer is a great validation. It sits heavier in your hand than the trophies, accolades and plaques from contest wins.  And when the option check clears the bank, I DO allow a bit of a celebration. “One step closer.”

But I’ve been here before. “Just… This… Close…” to  a BIG deal, with a BIG name… only to have it slip away.

I’m not complaining. As an actor, I know how great it feels to get a callback to an audition. And then a second callback with maybe a screen test read with the lead. You can ‘smell it’, the role is real. Then, for whatever reason – they go another direction. Maybe the funding fell through. Maybe they’ve decided on a different take. It’s not ‘personal’, as hard as it is to understand that. You pat yourself on the back for making it that far. You learn from the process. What did you do right? What might you have done differently? What can you use the NEXT time you’re in this position?

It’s the same thing basically, with the option process. You have to let go of what you can’t control. My most difficult lesson to learn, always.  Work on what I CAN control; the next script, how I pitch, my daily writing routine.

I have to rest in the assurance one of the producers gave me.

“Thanks for your patience with us, we’re busy working behind the scenes and want this project to be the strongest it can be while staying true to the world you created.”

True to the world ‘I created.’

That’s heady stuff.

Another dark day.

 

Another shooting, this one close to home, literally. Santa Fe, Texas is about twenty five miles from where I used to live in Seabrook, Tx. I would buy round bales from a hay farmer there. I have friends who live nearby to this town. The town were I live now, is about three hours south on the coast.

When I saw the story pop up online, I immediately thought of my friend. She has two high-school aged daughters. Did they attend that school? I sent her a quick email, and a text.

I found myself missing Facebook – for the first time.

It’s sad to say, but over the past couple of years, Facebook had become a good way to quickly assess who was safe when a disaster occurred. “So and so marked themselves safe in the mass-shooting at (fill in the blank). Or – “Anyone hear from ‘Susan’?” – “Yes, I talked to her, she’s fine…”  Like the old ‘phone trees’ of yore – but almost instantaneous.

After a tense hour, my friend texted back. “Yes we’re safe. They go to a different school, but how awful!”

So yeah, I missed that.

But I’m not missing the inevitable diatribe on gun rights that is sure to follow. No one is going to change anyone’s mind on Facebook.  And the fact that it’s likely a great many memes and ‘meetups’ were generated by Russian bots in the past – in order to foment dissension and division in the country – just makes me glad not to be seeing it scroll across my feed.

In other news – movement on the screenplay front. I’ll post more next week when I’ve got more to say.

So far, so good.

It’s been two weeks since my hiatus from Facebook began. I thought I’d post an update on how it’s going.

Fine. Just fine.

The world didn’t crash. I’m not ‘jonesing for a fix’.  But I have noticed a few things since I left.

First, I hadn’t realized how often I hit “F Enter” in my browsing habits. I have a set of websites I visit whenever I log in. My email addys first of course, then some ‘news’ sites. I use several different news aggregators – including some foreign sources so I get a different objective. My ‘business’ sources – meaning my script listings, and some filmmaking/screenwriting pages – and then, I hit ‘F Enter’ to open my face book page.

I kept on doing that, without even meaning to. Of course, what it brings up, is my Facebook LOGIN page, with the name and password already filled in. I’d have to LOGIN again, and everything would be just as if I’d never left.

My muscle memory, my ‘browsing routine’ had integrated the Facebook search pattern into my habit. Slowly, I’ve been dropping it. Two weeks now, and it only happens maybe once a day, usually when I’m distracted. It takes three weeks to make/break a habit, so I think it’s working.

I really noticed it a lot, in the middle of the night.

Like most humans, I tend to sleep in two ‘shifts’. A first, and second “sleep” of approximately 3 to 4 hours each. It’s a good night to log a total of 7 hours of sleep. If my fitbit is to be believed, I’m doing better than average “For a man my age”.  But instead of reading a book, I’d usually pick up my phone, and do a quick scan of the usual suspects. Again, the search pattern was routine.  Emails, News sights, Business, and FB….

Very occasionally there is an email worth reading in the night. But here’s the thing. News sights are RARELY updated in the middle of the night. I mean, if I read a headline at nine pm – it’s likely going to be the same headline at two-thirty in the morning. So… there’s really no NEW news to read.  Whereas if I had been on FACEBOOK at three in the morning, there is no doubt that some friend somewhere in the world would be awake at that hour, and posting some ‘update’. Hell, even updates from local friends saying “Why am I awake? Is anyone else awake?” would stream across my screen.

FACE BOOK NEVER SLEEPS.

In the past, that led to lots of perusing threads, maybe even making comments or engaging in conversations. And that led to EXTENDED ‘wake times’ between sleeps. Not to mention the fact that you really should NOT be looking at the blue light from a phone or computer screen anyway – it disrupts the sleep cycle.

So – now that it’s no longer in my search pattern, my ‘midnight rambling’ really only lasts a few minutes, instead of a half hour to an hour.

And this improves my sleep cycle.

More and better sleep – is a good thing.

I’m missing some of the social engagement. I find myself wondering ‘what’s so-and-so up to?’  But you know what? I just sent so-and-so an email. If they don’t respond, it’s on them. I also received emails from a few friends, asking some insight into business or personal issues. So – I’m still ‘connected’ to people I want to be connected to.

I also find that I seem to have less stress, overall, in my daily routine. I AM writing more. And hell, just doing things around the house. More and better chores. Getting things done.

So at this point in time, I’d say it’s a net gain.

Noteworthy

 

When it comes to notes, I always think about something Neil Gaiman is alleged to have said. “When someone tells you it’s not working, they’re almost always right. When they tell you how to fix it, they’re almost always wrong.”   I think that’s an excellent way to approach notes.

If there is something “not working” for a reader, well then it’s not working for them. You can’t argue with them about it. The question then becomes “why”?  And that develops into “Is this a UNIVERSAL problem or a personal one?”  If it’s personal, then what “need” of theirs is going unmet, and what is my “strategy” for meeting that need?

Back when I was hosting screenwriting salons of six to ten writers, we would workshop one script a meeting. As we went around the room getting notes, I limited the participants to discussing a maximum of three or four notes each, in two separate categories. “Housekeeping Notes” and “Story Notes”. The housekeeping notes were easy to give. Typos, faulty headings, missed transitions, bad punctuation. Everyone screws up and it’s great to have a fresh set of eyes to spot something you’ve looked at a thousand times. There’s rarely any ‘ego’ involved in finding or fixing these. Practical housekeeping notes are a blessing to get, and easy to fix. It was interesting too, to see which typos were picked up by some readers, and which were missed by others.

The “story notes” were where the rubber met the road. These were notes about the structure, the dialog, the plot, the action. These were things that each reader had a ‘problem’ with. For one reason or another, something wasn’t working for them. As we worked our way around the circle, it was important to recognize when a note seemed ‘common’ and when it seemed ‘personal’.

”I got lost here in this scene, did he know that she had the gun before?”  ”I had the same problem, I got lost…” someone else chimes in.  Okay, it’s a problem; people are not seeing something clearly.  Listen for the echoes of ‘me too’ with the other readers. This is a solid note.

The ‘lone note’ – may or may not be valid.  “I just didn’t find Susan’s motivations to be strong enough.” If someone else chimes in with, “Oh I thought she was PERFECTLY clear…”   You’re likely looking at something personal at work in either of these note givers. Maybe they ‘know’ a Susan. Maybe they’re married to one, were raised by one, or WORK with one.  Something about their complaint strikes a very personal chord. It’s not working FOR THEM.  But is it working for everyone else? Is it working for YOU? Is it a singular problem or a universal one? I once got a note, “Families don’t act like that after the death of a loved one…”  Well, I assume this person’s family wouldn’t, but I know for a fact, that MY family did. So yeah – it worked FOR ME. And it served the needs of the plot.   Now… multiply that note by potential hundreds of thousands of viewers. Is it something that needs to be addressed?

Maybe the note giver has a real, valid inside track to the problem.   Maybe it’s some inside baseball note.  “They don’t use that model anymore, they use a Mark 7”  or “That’s not a Sergeant’s job – that’s the lieutenant’s.”  Okay great. That’s an easy fix, akin to housekeeping. No problem. These are valuable. Perhaps it’s something you missed in your research. Well great. The pros out there in the audience are going to have an issue with this element. Usually it’s some technical issue. What percentage of your audience, is a professional in this area? Do you change it?

CAN you change it?

If it’s a simple thing like the type of gun, or military rank or a technical term – then sure. Easy peasy.  But maybe its – “I’m a Doctor, you don’t get those tests back in four hours, that’s going to take a week, at least.”

Okay, realistically it takes an entire week to get these results back, but the bomb goes off in twenty four hours, so… No. You can’t. You need this plot point to work EXACTLY the way you need it to work. The professional might tell you “Make the bomb go off in a week, stretch the story out. That will fix it.”  Well… that fits in with their world view of medical tests. It meets THEIR need for reality and veracity.  But it won’t serve the dramatics of the story.  “Is there ANY way this test can be fast tracked?”  you ask.

“Well…. Maybe, if you had a ZEMO machine on premises… but no one keeps those…”

FINE, we’ve got one on premises. Next problem?  You just finesse it. Usually it can be passed off with a one line mention. “Good thing we have a Zemo machine next door!  Good thing my uncle manufactures Zemo machines!” Be creative, INVENT a “New ZEMO MARK II processor that does the test in twenty minutes!” (It’s fiction, remember. A liberal application of handwavium is useful.)  Or even hand it off to the tech and simply say, “Expedite this, STAT!”

No one wants to spend precious screen time watching the hero look for a parking space. Of course there is one right in front of the building. This is screenwriting shorthand. (Hell, do we need to see him park at all?)

Then there are notes that really strike close to home.  “I didn’t like the ending…”  Well again, is this personal? Is it a one-off? She didn’t like it, because in her world, they did NOT wind up happily married? Or – HE has an issue because he wanted the hero to miss the meeting, and the best friend to wind up with the girl… because he’s the best friend in his own life.  Yeah, again – it’s a real problem with these people. Their idea on how to ‘fix’ the script – is to make it end correctly with their world view.  Is the ending working for OTHER people? Is it working for you, in terms of answering the main question of the theme? Yes? Don’t change it. Or keep your strategy, and ADD a girlfriend for the best friend. Find a strategy that meets their need, but keeps your own vision intact. (Especially if that need comes from a producer.)

These are just notes you get from group meetings, good friends, people you might pay to read your script and give you feedback. All good stuff to know, hear and decide to deal with.  This is how you hammer out a script that gets to the point of submitting to the gate keepers.

Once the script has caught the attention of producers, we’re at a whole new level of notes.

I’m speaking as someone who has optioned several screenplays, and done numerous rewrites as part of those options. I’m not currently a WGA writer, so I’m not protected by the number of rewrites, or even PAID for doing them. As a low-mid level writer, usually I’m doing the rewrites as part of the option. On occasion, I’ve had an incentive to do the rewrites, in the form of a higher pay-out if no one else is called in.

Once there is money on the table, ‘Shit gets real’.   You’re STILL going to get notes. And they’re STILL going to come in two flavors, more or less.

“Budgetary” notes.  Hopefully at this point, the script has been gone over with a fine toothed comb, and there are no actual housekeeping typos or mis-slugged scene headings. If they crop up – change them without comment or explanation. What you’re more likely to get are budgetary type notes. These are notes to make alterations to the script, usually for some practical budgetary reason.  “Cut three pages, I don’t care where.” – No, don’t cut them by altering the margins. Cut them by CUTTING them. Come in later, leave earlier in each scene – will usually do the trick. This is the least painful alteration. None of your “perfect” scenes are removed; you’re simply tightening them up.  Or maybe it’s practical, “We can’t shoot this goodbye scene in the airport, can we have it happen in the car, outside?”  Well, that’s how they would fix it, but maybe you can get what you wanted back at the restaurant, before they leave. Save on one whole location. “Do we need another cop? Or can this all be done by one?”  Sure, cut and trim dialog, combine characters. You’re saving a day-player rate or maybe another location. None of this should be dinging your ego. It might even be challenging your creativity to RISE up to the limitations. Recently, I dealt with a “Rating Change” note. It’s currently an R rated thriller; can we get it down to PG-13?  Take out the “fucks” – dial back on the sex.

Some seemingly major changes will be easier than others. “Can the hero’s gender be switched?”  Unless their gender is germane to the story line as in “A woman in a man’s profession, or a man in a woman’s place at home,” – the fish-out-of-water trope – then sure why not change the gender?  And for this reason, I seldom signify the RACE of my characters anymore. Unless it’s central to the story line, then it really doesn’t matter. These are battles not worth fighting and in fact, might possibly raise the stakes. Be open to them. This is the sausage making, nuts and bolts part of working with the team. Roll up your sleeves, and make the fix.

Then, there are story notes…

“I really am fascinated by the villain. Can he come in earlier? Can we START on him?”  Well…. Maybe.  But then again, maybe not. I once did numerous re-writes on my thriller, “Walking Wounded”. The producers kept asking for different takes on the villain. Originally, he was a banal street thug. For me – it was a comment on the banality of evil. And he didn’t show up on scene until the third act.  He was pursuing the heroine, who was on the run, and rescued by our hero.  The STORY was about the impact this heroine, and her preteen daughter, had on our hero’s life. They were three lost souls, looking for help. The villain showed up late, like a force of nature, and created the final confrontation that led to the solution for our new ‘family’ of characters – binding them together. In helping one another, they found their individual salvation.

But over the course of not one, but TWO options of this script – no less than five different producers saw the story as a vehicle to examine different types of villains. He was alternately, a banal street thug, an evil street prophet, and a super-villain Drug Lord who runs an International Pedophile Ring. In each case, the villain got bigger, and meaner, and entered earlier, and earlier, until the story morphed into a different vision than I had intended. Instead of SAM rescuing KRYSTAL and her daughter MIA from a terrible life on the road… It became about KRYSTAL running from a VILLAIN, who was after the package (Mia, the McGuffin) and just happened to be rescued by a generic Hero named Sam.  In short, it morphed from a thriller about a middle-aged vet with PTSD, into a “Woman in Peril” film.

Was it good?

Was it better?

It was the best version of a “Woman in Peril” film I could write.  But it also inspired me, in my frustration of being sidetracked into meeting their need for their vision of my story – into writing yet another take on the film.  The evil villain -“Daddy” as he was called – Never. Shows. Up.  He never makes an appearance, AT ALL, in the script. In fact, he exists as a figment of Krystal’s imagination. This strategy, MY strategy,  altered the final sequence, and the ending – but it remained true to my original vision of the story, and supported the original theme.  When I ran this version past the investors, they were blown away. “It has never been about ‘Daddy’” I said. “It’s always been about Sam, Krystal and Mia.”

And sometimes, you have to hold your ground.

I once explained the rewrite process to my father, as the same process you enter into with the architect of your home.  The screenwriter is the architect. The Producer is the buyer of the plans.  “Can we have brick, instead of siding?” they ask.  Sure –but that will cost more. “Can we have the back door by the fireplace?”  Sure, I can do that; just put it where the window was. “Can we KNOCK OUT THIS WALL?” – No. That’s a load bearing wall. Knock it out, and the entire house falls down.

As the architect of the film, you have to know what walls are load-bearing in your script.

In the same script above, the character Mia – is described as being lost in the ‘preteen years’ – somewhere between six and ten. Her age is never stated. But part of the horror, is that her worldview has been warped by living in a sexualized lifestyle driven by her mother’s choices.  Several producers asked, “Can we push her age to maybe 13 or 16? We can cast an 18 year old actress, and save money on a tutor on the set.”  That SOUNDS like a budgetary note, but really – it’s not.  They were looking to lower the ‘ick factor’.  My response? “ That story was already done in “Taxi Driver”… so ‘no’ we can’t. And yes, it’s uncomfortable knowing a child has been living in this world. But raising her age, lowers the dramatic impact of the character’s actions and choices.” As one producer finally relented, “I get it. It’s the difference between shooting a dog, and shooting a puppy.”  They finally understood that keeping the character’s age as young as we could possibly cast it, was essential to the impact of the story line. That raising her age, lowered the stakes.

And now, I have FOUR versions of this script. Which is the ‘best’ version? The one the investors want. Personally? I like the simplest version. The  “All in Krystal’s Head” version.  But working with the notes I was given, doing my best to find a solution to ‘what wasn’t working’ for THEM – led me to employ different strategies for meeting their needs, which led me to new ways to see the script.

This week – I’m waiting on what should be final notes from the money people on Epsilon Echo.  I’ve already jumped through hoops on this script, working with notes from three producers and the director.  A recent email said, “We may have one or two notes coming your way based on feedback from the investors. They should be minimal; we’re fleshing that out with them now. They did agree the script was much stronger, as we all do!”

There’s that word, “Minimal”.  To me, that would be some small budgetary changes or additions. Perhaps cutting/combing some locations or scenes or trimming dialog to meet ratings restrictions.  If it involves a new ending, or a major thematic shift … then it will be all about meeting THEIR needs, by coming up with my OWN strategy.

Forward, through the fog.

The Man Who Walked Away From Facebook.

Starting later today, April 30th, I’ll be suspending my Facebook account.

My plan is to do without the social media app for the duration of the month of May.  My reasons, are many.

For one, I’m tired of the petty back-biting and political sniping that passes as ‘discussion’ on the platform. Try as I may – and I DO try – about once a week, I’ll be sucked into some discussion based on a seemingly logical statement I’ll make in the course of the thread. The “debate” – and I use that term loosely, that follows is usually painful and pointless. And the fact that it transpires in “slow motion” only exacerbates it.  Checking back, to see if there is a response – over and over – during the course of a day – is simply too time consuming.

A time suck, that’s what bother’s me most. It is a carnivore of attention. Time I COULD be spending doing something productive.

And it’s not just the acrimonious debates, it’s the ‘need’ for affirmation. Sure, I’m a performer, and a writer, and a middle child. I’ll freely admit I LOVE attention and affirmation that comes from an audience. Hell, most of the time, it’s all one gets from one’s efforts, the pay being so meager in the performing world.  But again, the time it takes, could be better used to CREATE. In particular, stories and screenplays.

This month, the script I currently have under option, “EPSILON ECHO” will pass through one more checkpoint towards production. Either it will receive the funding the producers are asking for, or it won’t. If it does, it will likely go into production this summer, and I’ll likely be doing more rewrites.  If it doesn’t, I MIGHT need to tweak it a bit more – to get it. The option expires at the end of this month. Either they’ll RENEW the option – likely because they think they can get funding elsewhere ,  or they’ll allow it to lapse. In which case, I’ll need to rededicate myself to marketing the script, which will take more of my attention.

The fact that Facebook’s privacy policy is… laughable, at best, also plays into my decision. I’m not so sure I WANT to give Corporate Big Brother any more of my magnetic ink than is absolutely necessary. I don’t trust Zuckenberg. One more reason to leave.

They say it takes 21 days, to form a habit. It’s my hope that in the course of the month while I suspend the account, that I will develop different habits in my daily routines. It will be one less thing , one less reason, to look at my phone. One less thing to occupy my attention. One less virtual online persona that will require maintenance and attention.

If, after a month of abstinence, I feel their is a net “gain” in the quality of my life and creative output, I’ll likely actually DELETE the account.  If I find that there is no marked difference, and in fact, if I find that I require access to the network of friends and acquaintances then I’ll re-activate it, and deal with it as best I can.

Meanwhile, I’ll post my professional updates, and my thoughts on “Breaking the leash” here on this blog, which virtually no one will read. My good friends and associates know how to reach me directly. And of course, there’s an email addy here under the ‘contact me’ page.

Wish me luck.

All things come, to those who wait.

I’m not particularly good at waiting.
I don’t ‘do’ waiting very well.

That’s not to say I don’t know how to kill time, or spend time, or waste time, or invest time. I can do that.

I’m just no good at waiting.

To my mind, there are two kinds of waiting. One, the type I’m good at, or at least have some facility for, is filling in the time between. Imagine you’re waiting for the train to arrive, or the test results to come in. There is an assigned “end point” for your waiting. Be it in two hours, or next Thursday. You know (as much as such things can be known) that the end of your wait will come at that point in time. In such cases, it’s easy to fill the time with other chores, busy work, idle amusements, and peaceful contemplation. Even if you’re awaiting possible dire news – it’s still some comfort to know that by “Next Friday” – you’ll have your answer. There will come a time when you will “know”.

This sort of waiting, I can handle.

It’s the waiting for the unknown that drives me bug nutty. Waiting for someone else to control your destiny by making a choice on their own time is maddening.

“We’ll get back to you…” “We’ll let you know…” “Things will happen, as soon as THEY make a decision…”

My life is full of the later point right now.

I’m waiting for someone to make a decision on funding the script I’ve optioned. “Hopefully we’ll know soon.”

I expect more rewrites will be needed. Someone once said the script isn’t finished until the movie premiers. And even then, the “Director’s cut” will be included on the DVD. (Unless the director IS the screenwriter, there’s never a ‘writers cut’.) Knowing that this particular script might require my complete and undivided attention – likely with a deadline attached, I am loath to invest any creativity into writing a new script. And yes, I do have ideas for new scripts.

When I was young and hitchhiking across America and Canada – I used to sit on the side of the road with my back pack and thumb out. I could only sit a short while, before I’d pick up my pack, and carry it down the road on my back. Sure, maybe I’d only get a mile or two closer to wherever I was going. But at least it’s movement.

And so I’m writing this little essay, while I wait. At least, I’m writing.

Returning to the Scene

I haven’t been very active on this, my personal blog and website, for… well hell, it looks like over a year.

As the last post indicated, it was simply easier to communicate with “The Internet” via FB, than post here, and have my insights and pearls of wisdom ignored and by-passed by the virtual Super Highway of comments that is Face Book.

The recent developments regarding Cambridge Analytica, Facebook, and the entire toxic political discourse, has given me pause regarding my FB presence. Is it really conducive to staying in touch with friends, family and business contacts? Hell yes. Is it really conducive to spending quality time in creative endeavors? Hell no.

So, I’m going to start paying more attention to this blog. I won’t be posting pictures of my dinner plate, or cat memes. I think this is more suitable to essays and musings on the creative process. In fact, I’ve got some professional developments going on, that ARE going to require more of my time and focus.  I will post more about those, as they develop.

Right now, if you’re a friend of mine from either the “Real” world or the virtual, why not leave a comment to this. Just a note saying “I’ll keep an eye out”.  Nothing too creepy.

I need to manage the comments section, cull the spam crap out.  One more thing to manage.

Peace out.

Back in the saddle again

Riding in New Jersey

Riding in New Jersey

It has been over a year since I’ve updated my website. I can only offer the usual excuse, “Life happens”.  Last year was very busy, full of major life changes. To top it off, most of it was spent on the road – directing and performing medieval jousts once again for Noble Cause Productions.

In the middle of all that – I turned sixty and optioned a screenplay.

I’d like to say I simply didn’t  have the time to write. Or that I wasn’t in a place where access to the internet was cheap and easy. (Though often that was the case.) Instead, what I’m forced to admit is that FACEBOOK is the great carnivore of my creativity.

I love it because it allows me to feel connected to lots of friends and family scattered across the globe. It’s great to get updates about  things both important and trivial that occur in the lives of my loved ones.

And it’s all too easy to post a quick photo – and dash off a clever paragraph or two about  something important or amusing that has just occurred in my own life. A quick hit of “ENTER” – and I’m likely to have a ‘Like” in a minute or two – sometimes a good long stream of comments and suggestions might follow. On the rare occasion – even an exchange of points of view, without name calling.  For someone who is a performer at heart – having a response of any kind from an invisible audience is all too addicting, I’m ashamed to admit.

But it has also become a place for long diatribes on political topics, and endless rants about cultural mores. It wearies me. Sure, I don’t always agree with the viewpoints espoused by some of my family members or friends – but I find myself pausing before responding. Asking myself, “Do I really want to engage in ‘slow motion’ dialog where nuance and subtlety of tone will be lost? Do I want to spend my day – checking back to see if my point has been made… to see if I’ve changed someone’s mind – or been misunderstood?” No. It is, as I say, a carnivore of time. Time I could spend creating something more lasting and creative. A new book. A new screenplay. Or even rewriting an old one.

Which brings me to the point of this post. I’m hoping to reboot this website. I plan on posting longer pieces here. I’ll soon be embarking on the creation of my first feature film. I hope to write updates while on the set and post them here. I’ll also blog a bit about the events of last year – the jousting and the festivals, the move from California to Texas and back.  It’s my hope that utilizing THIS space for my blogging – will force me to discipline myself, and be more thoughtful about my efforts. The same way shooting with film forces oneself to compose images more carefully than shooting digitally.

Plus, it’s a new year. So there’s that.

Watch this space.

All Hallows’ Eve

“The Christmas Closet” is a coming-of-age Christmas story. But that doesn’t mean its all about Christmas – or that it even takes place entirely during the Christmas season.

Think back to when you were a kid. Remember how you marked time? You kept track of important dates and times. Christmas – certainly – the ‘most important date on the Kid’s calendar’ to paraphrase that perennial favorite “A Christmas Story”, was at the top of the list. But other dates are important too. “The Christmas Closet” explores that theme, by starting on the last day of summer. It examines the excitement and fear of the first day at a new school, and it incorporates  both Trampas’ and Jenny’s birthdays – perhaps the second most important date in a kids calendar.  Thanksgiving is in there, but also that special holiday that every kid looks forward to with ghoulish delight. Halloween.

With All Hallows Eve nearly upon us, I thought I’d post an excerpt from Chapter 15, one of my favorites from the novel. It also inspired the photo I shot for the back cover of the book, utilizing a local Victorian mansion as a stand-in for the house in the story.

What was YOUR favorite costume, when you were a kid? And is there a ‘perfect’ age for Trick or Treating?CC-Banner

The Christmas Closet –  Available via Amazon.Com, Barnes and Noble

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

It was a perfect full moon. The sort of crystal ball moon that loomed so large and clear, it made the night sky glow like a Maxfield Parrish painting. It rose behind the Morgan Mansion, casting the façade in darkness.

On the street in front of the house, shadows darted in and out of hiding. A low moan drifted on the air. The sound came again, louder this time, as it rose in pitch. Two figures stumbled along the sidewalk, lurching and reaching forward, their hollowed eyes rolling in their heads. A tiny princess and superhero screamed in fright, and darted away from the staggering zombies.

“Dude, did you see those kids run?” Marcus chided Sam.

“Yeah, but they didn’t drop their candy. Man, I still say we should just grab some sacks and head out,” Sam suggested. He scratched at his face, certain the makeup was causing him to break out.

“No way, we’re too old for trick or treating. Let’s head over to the community center. They’re supposed to have a band and a haunted house.” Mention of the haunted house caused the pair to look up at the Morgan Mansion.

The old cast-iron gate was chained and padlocked. No one knew who last held the key. The lock itself was from an era unfamiliar to anyone on the block. The full moon projected the dark outline of the cupola across the yard, shading the overgrown brick path leading up to the rickety old front porch. The looming presence of the old Victorian mansion stimulated the boys’ imaginations. They pressed their faces against the gate. A stiff breeze blew dry leaves across the lawn, causing a creaking groan to emanate from the rickety porch supports.

“Aieee!” a Banshee’s howl pierced the night. The boys screamed in unison and spun around to face their terror.

Jenny stood behind them, dressed in black, her face whitewashed into vampire makeup, with a streak of blood artfully painted on one corner of her ruby lips.

“Jesus, Jay! You scared the crap out of me!” Sam laughed.

Jenny smiled with wicked delight. “Did I?”

“Not me. I wasn’t scared. I knew you were there,” Marcus said. Jenny and Sam rolled their eyes. Just then, a spotlight hit the trio.

Two younger children, swinging their sacks of treats walked by, followed by a mother carrying a flashlight. She paused to regard the older kids, and then swung the light up at the old mansion. “You kids stay away from that house, now.”

“Yes ma’am. We will.” they mumbled assurances. After the woman and children had passed, Marcus turned back to the gate and looked at the house.

“That’s a great idea! Let’s break into a real haunted house!” He was already examining the lock and chains on the gate.

“No, that’s a dumb idea. Let’s just go to the party,” Sam replied. He tugged on Marcus’s tattered zombie suit coat and was shrugged off in response.

“We’re supposed to wait for Trampas,” Jenny offered.

“Screw him. Let’s go!” Marcus dared them. “Are you guys afraid?”

“No, I’m not afraid. I mean, not of ghosts, or monsters or anything. But, you know, we could get arrested for trespassing or—”

“Chicken!” chided Marcus.

Jenny tried to derail the challenge. “Come on, let’s go swing by Trampas’s house and then go to the party.”

“Why?” Marcus sneered. “You got a hot date with your boyfriend or something?”

“You want another kick in the face or something?” Jenny bowed up in front of the older boy.

“Hey, guys. GUYS!” interrupted Sam. “I think I saw something in there.” He pointed through the gate at the house.

“What?” Marcus spoke to Sam over his shoulder as he eyed Jenny. He was a little afraid to turn his back on her. And there was something strangely alluring about her makeup.

Jenny broke her staring contest with Marcus. “A ghost?” she asked Sam.

“I don’t know. Like somebody was inside the house, looking out maybe.”

Marcus turned back to Sam. “Bullshit. You didn’t see nuthin. The windows are all boarded up.”

“No…I think on the porch, in front of the windows.”

“Come on, let’s go to the party,” Jenny tried in vain to refocus their attention.

“Y’all are a bunch of chicken shits,” Marcus pronounced. Grabbing the iron gate, he jammed one foot into a cross bar. He hoisted himself up to the edge of the gate, and swung one leg over the top, then the other. Marcus dropped down to the path on the other side. “Chicken—both of you,” he taunted. “Go to your baby party. Go stick your hands in jello and pretend it’s brains. I’m going real ghost hunting.”

“You’re as stupid as you look,” Jenny announced with astonishment.

“Go on baby. Go find your fairy boyfriend,” Marcus pressed his face against the gate.

“That’s it!” Jenny lost it. She scaled the fence like a possessed vampire, leaping from the top to confront Marcus.

“Guys, guys!” Sam shouted, as he looked about the street.

Marcus took a step back, moving out of Jenny’s kicking range. Sam was having more difficulty scaling the gate. “Wait up, guys,” he huffed.

One of the gate spikes snagged the tatters on his zombie jeans and ripped the pant leg clear off, dropping him unceremoniously on his head.

“Crap!” he shouted.

Jenny stifled a laugh, but Marcus didn’t bother. Sam pulled the tattered pant leg off the gate and tried to replace it like a sock on his left leg. Jenny finally laughed aloud.

“Leave it, doofus,” Marcus instructed. He turned his attention up the path. “Okay. So, uh…let’s see.”

“There’s nobody inside,” Jenny insisted.

“How can you be sure?” asked Sam.

Jenny shrugged.

“Well let’s just go see.” Marcus began to stride boldly up the walkway. The other two kids followed him. Moonlight made their shadows dance on the old laid-brick pathway. As they neared the porch, they entered the deep shadows.

“What if somebody sees us?” whispered Sam.

“Nobody will see us on the porch,” hissed Jenny. “I can’t even see us.” The three stepped carefully up onto the old wooden steps.

The porch creaked and groaned as they approached the door. They huddled together to look at the padlock hanging from an old, rusted-iron hasp.

“Locked, see?” whispered Sam. “Nobody inside. Now let’s go.” His voice was full of tension.

Marcus put a hand on the old lock and gave it a solid jerk. The hasp ripped off the door and remained dangling on the lock in the boy’s hand.

“Oh shit,” was all Jenny could manage.

“Hey! Now we can go inside,” Marcus said.

“Okay, now we’re breaking and entering,” groaned Sam. “Let’s just leave before things get bad. We’ve gone far enough.”

Marcus pushed on the old front door. It swung slowly in, with a creak that would satisfy any horror fan. The three kids crowded closely together, peering into the gloom. Marcus stood in front, Jenny to his right, with Sam on tiptoes behind the both of them.

Back-Cover-Moon-2

 

Order here:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Christmas-Closet-Richard-Alvarez/dp/0990021963/ref=sr_1_1_bnp_1_pap?ie=UTF8&qid=1413583785&sr=8-1&keywords=the+christmas+closet

Through The Lens Again

I first picked up a camera and tried my hand at ‘serious photography’ when I was about fifteen years old. A good friend from my Civil Air Patrol squadron, was very serious about it. He had a darkroom and everything. He loaned me a camera one day, (A Pentax as I recall,) and we went shooting. Probably black and white, Kodak Tri-X. At the end of the day – we went back to his place,  We crowded into his bathroom – with towels draped over the windows and jammed under the door – and DEVELOPED the film! Then we PRINTED IT!

Damn, that’s MAGIC!

10428001_10152234534748842_1884730605839297722_n

“Selfie” at seventeen.

I was hooked. I could never draw worth a damn, but I had pictures in my head – and I saw pictures everywhere I went. I shot with borrowed cameras, and joined up with the photographers in my High School. By senior year, I was on Yearbook staff – shooting with my older brother’s NIKONOS – yeah, an underwater rangefinder, which I also used when scuba diving. It was stolen from a locked car while I was cheer-leading at a basketball game.

But that’s another story.

Ric's first beard

Scratching at my first beard – hitchikiking through Yellowstone park. Camera case on my hip.

My next camera – the replacement – was a Minolta SRT 202. I shot with that for another two years I think. I’m pretty sure it’s the camera I took with me when I hitch-hiked up to Canada, and across the US. It was ALWAYS on my hip in a Vivitar hard case. It was in my hands when I shot my first front page photo for the Houston Post. An assassination attempt on one of my professors at the U of H, I happened to walk into the building just as the assassin ran out .

But that’s another story.

It was stolen when someone broke into my apartment. Along with my brother’s 12-string guitar. You’d think he would have learned to stop loaning me things. God bless you, Tom.

I replaced it with my first ‘professional grade’ camera. A Canon F1. This was the real deal. This was what news photographers, fashion photographers, sports photographers, National Geographic photographers shot with. (No – don’t sell me a Nikon – I’m a Canon man, born and bred. Back in the day, this was like arguing Mac or PC. Don’t.  Just… don’t.)

Nineteen or twenty year old aspiring photo-journalist.

Nineteen or twenty year old aspiring photo-journalist, complete with dangling telephoto lens.

I scraped my pennies together and bought it with the BEST lens available. A 50mm 1.2 FD lens.   That’s a HUGE chunk of glass. And very, very fast. But I was shooting a lot of theatre and portrait work, headshots and such – and natural light was all I could afford.

That camera served me well, up until the mid nineties I think. I had moved away from photography as an avocation – it was simply another skill in my arsenal for ‘storytelling’. Not my main focus – pun intended. While I was away for a summer, jousting – I left the F1 on a shelf – with that beautiful lens exposed – in our house in Seabrook, Texas.

The salt air is not kind to optical glass, nor camera interiors.

The camera more or less died at that point, and I stopped shooting film.  Not too soon after, the digital age was born – and I’ve owned a number of cheap-ish point and shoot digital cameras. Including a lovely little Lumix, and of course my current Android Phone.

Out for a sail on Galveston Bay. Linda, Travis and my father in law, Harold Graham. Shot with my old F-1

Out for a sail on Galveston Bay. Linda, Travis and my father in law, Harold Graham. Shot with my old F-1

Two months ago, my wonderful father-in-law passed away. I was offered a choice of some of his possessions. I knew that he ALSO shot with an F-1. So I asked my mother-in-law Veranne, if it was still around, if it wasn’t too much to ask – I’d love to have it.

It was.

It wasn’t

I do.

Unlike me, Harold took SUPERB care of all of his kit. When it got to me, it was in top notch F1-Kitcondition, and came with his lovely 100mm FD and 35mm FD lenses.  Together, with my legacy 50mm 1.8,  24mm 2.8 and 70-210 f4 zoom – I now had a wonderful well rounded classic Canon kit.  In fact, it was the kit I always wanted as a kid.

Thanks Harold.

As it happens, my good friend Gary Watson – fellow filmmaker and writer – has recently jumped back into shooting film. He’s gone off the deep end, shooting large format 4X5, and toting a vintage Leica 35mm camera.  http://gwatson4x5.com/   Seeing his work on Facebook – inspired me to go down to the local camera store, and buy two rolls of film. I was itching to ‘get back into it.’

Rebel-KitAs it ALSO happens – I’m a serious ‘junker’. I love going to thrift stores and salvo’s. I’ve been MEANING to get back into photography for a while – with an eye towards buying a Canon 5d Mark III top of the line – digital camera. So while I stroll through the junk shops, I keep my eyes open for Canon EF lenses. People get rid of ‘old film cameras’ when they clean out their garage – and a keen eye can spot these beauties under the counter and pick them up for as little as thirty dollars or so. Often, with a camera body attached. This happens because “No One Shoots Film” anymore.

Yeah. Not.

The EF lenses can be used on the newer Digital camera bodies. So I’ve been collecting EF lenses for the eventual day when I will own a Canon 5d. (no, don’t sell me a Nikon…)

I also had a couple of EOS Rebel bodies stuffed in a sack, with good intentions of recycling them on Ebay. After a google search, I pulled out the ‘newer’ body – the Eos Rebel 2000, and downloaded the instruction manual. I went down to the drug store and bought two batteries. ($20? Seriously?) And loaded it up. Everything seemed to work – so along with my stack of CANON EF lenses – I was loaded for bear!

I bought a roll of Illford 400 and a roll of Illford 100. Mostly as a chance to compare the grain – while working with different cameras. I loaded the faster 400 film into the F1, and the roll of 100 into the Rebel, and headed out on a Photo Safari.

I couldn’t have chosen a more perfect day.

IMG_20140926_120342559

Golden Gate Bridge shot with Android phone.

Beautifully warm for the Bay Area – with large puffy cumulous clouds to give character to the sky. Planning to shoot Black and White – I was thinking in terms of sweeping contrasty vistas – sea and shore – maybe. Also – big architectural edifices. Easy enough with the Golden Gate less than an hour away. So – my creative eye was already saying “Don’t think color – think shadows. Think contrast. Think TEXTURE. Think shapes and patterns. THINK GRAPHICALLY…”

My mind was in the black and white zone.

First stop as I headed up highway one – was the Montarra light house. A little B&B cum youth hostel with a tiny lighthouse in the parking lot. No, it’s a real light house – or used to be. Lovely image against the stark sky.  The support buildings are on a bluff overlooking a gorgeous beach.

Montara Light House and Youth Hostel. Eos Rebel Illford 100.

Montara Light House and Youth Hostel. Eos Rebel Illford 100.

The first few frames I shot, were with the old Canon F1. Like riding a bicycle, the skill never really disappears. My hands found the focus and aperture rings easily, I matched the ‘ring and needle’ for the proper exposure – and fired away.

Eos LightHouse 41

That satisfying “CLICK” – the sound of the shutter releasing, the mirror flapping, and then – RATCHETING the film advance.

Oh yeah, I was back – baby!

EOS House Seascape 35

I switched off to the EOS. Framed a shot – Oh- look AUTOFOCUS – CLICK WHIRRR – Auto Advance.   Huh. This is a new experience. The EOS was also much LIGHTER than the F-1. Somehow – this felt less ‘reassuring’ to me. Less steady in my hands. No question the body and lenses had a lot less steel in them.  But the set-and forget  – Either Shutter priority or Aperture priority – was something I was familiar with in videography – so that was a nice touch.

Back to F1- and …. ooops, I forgot to advance. So, switching BETWEEN the fully manual camera – and the more or less FULLY AUTOMATIC camera – was a bit of a stumbling moment. And a good test for what I liked, and didn’t like about the old old school, and the old ‘new’ school of film cameras. I had skipped right over that EOS era.

Bachelor Officers Quarters Presideo F1 400Second stop – the Golden Gate Bridge. I parked in the lot to the southeast of the bridge – out in front of the old Bachelor Officer’s Quarters of the Presidio. With such a day, the lot was swarming with tourists. With such a bridge – their hands were all full of cameras.
IMG_20140926_114614632

I decided to hike DOWN the battery trail, to the water beneath the bluff. This was the way down to the old civil war fort, Fort Point. Again – just gorgeous views of the bridge, the bay, Alcatraz Island and Fort Point.

Bridge and Breakers F1 Illford 400 13

Golden Gate Bridge and Fort Point. Shot with Canon F1 – Illford 400. 24mm

Brick Stone and Steel  F1 Illford 400 copy

“Brick, Stone and Steel ” Shot with Canon F1 70-210mm Illford 400

South Tower Sky F1 Illford 400 copy2

“South Tower Sky” – F1- 70-210mm Illford 400.

The Rock

“The Rock” Canon F1

Before I knew it, I was running low on film. I knew I wanted to shoot the Palace of Fine Arts – not far away. So I hiked up the hill, and loaded out for the old remnant of the 1915 Panama Pacific Exhibition  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palace_of_Fine_Arts

IMG_20140926_133736563

This beautiful location is a favorite for Bridal portraits. It’s a rare day you don’t see one being shot here. It’s also a location that pops up a lot in films.

Water Collumns Palace of Fine Arts 2 b F1 Illford 400

“Water Columns” Palace of Fine Arts Canon F1 24mm Illford 400

Water Collumns Palace of Fine Arts 3

Water Collumns Palace of Fine Arts F1 Illford 400

“Water Columns” Palace of Fine arts Canon F1 24mm Illford 400

Palace-Dome-F1-400

 

I grabbed a few more shots with both cameras – running out of 400 on the F1- and headed home. Before I took the film in – I snagged some very low light – very hand held still life shots with the EOS. Should have put the camera on a tripod and increased the depth of field a bit.

Shell and Stone Still life Eos2

“Shell and Stone Still Life” – Canon EOS Rebel

I dropped the film off at Kaufmanns, in San Mateo, and had the rolls developed overnight. Grand total of ten dollars for both.

Canon f1 - 400070

Montara Light – Low Rez scan. Canon F1

On first glance at that negative sleeves – I could see that the F1 roll was ‘thinner’. The negs not as ‘dark’. This means either of two things – under exposure OR under development. (or possibly both)  The negs weren’t TOO bad. Maybe a half a stop or so? I remembered when I checked the meter battery on the F-1, that it was on the ‘low’ side of ‘good’. How long had it been in the camera? Years, undoubtedly.  It’s possible the meter was erring on the side of me under exposing. I was careful to center the ring and needle. The EOS negatives looked solid – so I’m going to give the lab the benefit of the doubt – and change out the camera battery on the F-1.

Canon f1 - 400075

Low Rez thumbnail scan – Canon F1

I took the negs home and did a quick set of low rez scans on my Epson 2400 Photo scanner. This damn thing is ANCIENT. At least eight years old. I looked at the low rez images, and sorted out the ones you see above. Another pass at the selects, scanning at 3200 dpi. Funny – it takes about as long to get the image from scanned to the finished file on my computer – as it would be to get from the enlarger easel through the developing treys to the wash. About six to seven minutes total for each negative.

Of course, I can set the scanner to scan while I go take a shower – so there’s THAT convenience.

CanonEOS200 - Illford 100008

Interior Dome, Palace of Fine Arts Canon EOS Rebel 2000. Illford 100 film.

What I did notice, was that the images I have now – are not nearly as sharp as they should be. Looking at the negs with a lupe – they are sharper than they appear above. I’m convinced this is because of the scanning process. The negatives sit in a plastic holder, slightly above the glass – and the scanner scans them. I just don’t think it’s as sharp as focusing on the easel through a grain magnifier.

If I’m going to continue this course, I might need to invest in a high-quality photo scanner. And of course – a nice photo PRINTER.

I’m not really a Photoshop wizard – and I’ve only got a version of PHOTOSHOP ELEMENTS to work with – so the images in this article are with minimal manipulation. Basically cropped, and exposure adjusted. Also – the cloning tool is great for the occasional dust spot !

I prefer the darkroom experience. But I’m no Ansel Adams.

404496_10150491786458842_649856101_n

Ansel Adams gallery in his home.

I do miss the tactile sensation of handling the negatives in the enlarger. There’s something about physically MOVING the easel around in order to crop the image. The smell of the chemistry in the dark.  Slipping the paper into the developer and watching as the image magically appears. That’s as close to ALCHEMY as I think I’ll ever get in my life. I was fortunate enough a few years back to visit Ansel Adam’s home in Carmel, and see his darkroom exactly as he used it. The walls in his house were hung with the Master’s prints done by his own hand. This is a photo of me taken the last time I was in a darkroom

I’m in Ansel Adam’s darkroom – holding his own DODGING tool.

380082_10150491807363842_899969523_n

But that’s another story