Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Scary Business of Saying "No"

I'm not at all a tough negotiator -- but, at my attorney's urging, I made counter-offers to the two places that were looking for an option that they would eventually turn down.

So now I've got no active option offer.

Part of the reason I was willing to stretch it like this is that someone else came in expressing interest -- and if that works out it'll be a substantially better deal than the others.

But there's no option offer yet and so that leaves me in the rather tense circumstance of waiting to see what this guy's partners/contacts will say.

In the past I played it safe and found out that I didn't need to -- so this time I'm not playing it safe and we'll see if that backfires.

I wouldn't refuse an option "on principle" -- because it was too low or whatever. If it's the only game in town and it's not looking too likely that someone else will come knocking, then sure, it's the only rational choice. And even low/no money options bring other advantages: you might be able to score an attorney or get a reference to some kind of representation; the no budget producers of today could be development execs at a mid-sized place in a couple years; and even if their careers don't work out, they still can get your script in front of other people, who might appreciate your writing style or ideas.

But accepting an option locks up your screenplay -- perhaps for a very long time. And if it remains available, sometime down the line one of these places that made the initial option offer might be in a better position to make another request -- in these cases typically because they'll have finished up with their current project and thus might be better able to put your script on what counts as the fast track for us beginners. Moreover, you would have waited for this anyway, since even if they did option your script now, they'd still need to get their current business out of the way.

Also, a lesson learned from Velvet Steamroller, beginning companies are prone to teething problems as they arrange their legal advice, set up their offices, and figure how they're going to handle the internal workings. This is fine -- that's what starting something is all about. But if you can keep the shopping rights to your script while they work those issues out, why not?

That said, even when the option money is microscopic, there's a psychological and time investment that companies put into scripts they've optioned. After the option it becomes partly theirs -- and that makes them love it more -- and that makes them work harder to get it made.

Friday, May 26, 2006

My Favorite Book Cover

Off to the right is my favorite book cover image ever. It's for some edition (who can keep track of them?) of the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game published by Chaosium.

After I found this nice high-res image on the web I chopped out the middle bit to 800x600 and made it my desktop. Now I just stare at the screen and mumble unspeakable oaths all day.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

This Just About Pisses Me Off

Toke away you hippie bastards -- a recent study shows that even heavy pot smoking doesn't increase the risk of getting lung cancer.

There's not much that will piss off an un-reformed but on indefinite hiatus smoker more than knowing that the least lethal method of imbibing fire is illegal and exacerbates my already excessive fondness for Doritos.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Golden Age of Geek TV

I know I've seen it mentioned around the web a bit, but it could have been mentioned more strongly -- the new BATTLESTAR GALACTICA series ROCKS!

I had stayed away from it because I wasn't a fan of the original series -- too much of that 80's goofiness and a little too space opera-y. But the new series has a gritty intensity to it and that human drama grounds it in realism despite all the science fiction elements surrounding the characters. I think the approach of the new series has also given the show its own identity, whereas the first series showed too much of its roots as a Star Wars knock-off.

Anyway, not only is the series good and watchable, but it's one of the best things I've ever watched, right up there with Lost and Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, and a little bit better than 24 and Alias (all in my geeky opinion of course).

Galactica, Lost, and Buffy are all examples of shows I like better than even big, successful and great films. In the end, I also like them better than the X-Files, as a series. And I think the reason for this is the excellent writing attached to the ongoing serial nature of the stories. I get into this position, like in an engrossing book, where I can't wait to watch the next episode, which works fine because I'm watching them on DVD.

Or at least works fine until I catch up to the current season -- then I have the long, awful wait until the next season comes out on DVD.

And I have to say this: the TV shows, particularly the dramas, we've had in the last decade are much better than the stuff I had growing up. You kids today don't know what it was like back then, everyone had big hair, the show had to close on a corny joke, and there was always this underlying goofiness to programs. Really, you'd have to go all the way back to The Prisoner to find a show that could compare to today's sci-fi.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Immigration Debate: Where Reason Goes to Die

The immigration debate fascinates me with the frequency it provokes comments that are completely at odds with reality.

About a month ago on Anderson Cooper 360 he brought out a couple people to give the two sides of the story. Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, who argued in favor of relaxing immigration laws, made the following statement:

VALDES-RODRIGUEZ: And this is taking -- it's really not a valid debate because this was an issue two years ago -- it was three years ago. You need to -- you all need to ask yourself why this is an issue now because it's deflecting attention from the White House onto brown people.

-- as if she's trying so hard to be a liberal that she completely fails to realize that this is the one issue on which she and the White House agree.

Brad DeLong, a Berkeley economist, has a weblog where he posts various interesting bits and makes me think that I should have gone into Economics instead of Philosophy way back when. He recently posted about the Open Letter on Immigration, drafted by a bipartisan collection of economists.

In the comments on that post I see things like the following:

"Immigration in recent decades of low-skilled workers may have lowered the wages of domestic low-skilled workers, but the effect is likely to be small, with estimates of wage reductions for high-school dropouts ranging from eight percent to as little as zero percent."

I'm sure that "studies have shown" this, but I do not believe the studies. In any case, immigration is only part of a continued, multi-pronged attack on American labor, and not just unskilled labor. Hence the country-club conservative support for immigration, along with the other parts of the attack. -- link

Here it's the country club conservatives supporting immigration loosening -- oh, them and Brad DeLong, the guy who calls for Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld to be impeached in every third post.

I'm particularly fond of the "I do not believe the studies" comment. It's emblematic of an era where, despite volumes of careful data collection and scientific study, we'd prefer to form our opinions without looking at any facts whatsoever.

For the philosophers out there, this is the modern version of the contingent a priori.

This whole discussion misses the point. The main problem with too many immigrants is not a matter of economics--it's the blight of overpopulation. This country is too crowded already. We don't need a whole bunch more people here. Our natural environment does not need a whole bunch more people here. I shake my head when I hear economists say that Americans benefit from immigration. Not American plants and animals, not American wilderness areas. -- link

There is a point here, but it just seems orthogonal to the debate. We should keep immigration down to protect the environment? Have these people seen the environment in developing industrial nations? Also, maybe the poster lives in Manhattan, but looking around from where I'm at I see almost nothing but open land in a 200 to 800 mile radius (save for Austin). I figure we could fit a few more people in somewhere.

Help me out here, radek; if I'm supposed to be in favour of bussing in union-busting blacklegs when they're from the next country over, why would I not have to support it when they're only from the next town over? Yes, yes, we understand that *you* think undermining workers is a good thing, but explain again why *I* should, in terms that don't make a religious appeal to the panglossian Adam Smith Fairy.

When did destroying the power of the poor to strike for a higher income ever get the poor a higher income? -- link

I'm continually puzzled why so many people think they're the champions of the union-protected working class when the unions have lined up on the other side of the fight:

  • United Farm Workers
  • Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
  • Hotel and Restaurant Employees (HERE)
  • and the Laborers' International Union of North America

All the above support relaxing the immigration laws, see here and here.

Does anyone know or have links to what unions are on the other side?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

How Writing is Like Being a Wizard in Dungeons & Dragons

Big congratulations out to Richard!

He not only received a couple option offers, but also a manager (!) via InkTip, within a few days of posting something there again for the first time in a while.

Richard has recently done well in some contests, had a short produced, and done some writing on assignment: Dog in Space. He's a terrific example of how putting in the time, i.e. constantly writing, can make something happen, even in the wilderness.

If you clicked on the "Dog in Space" link above you'll likely see a somewhat disturbing looking dog. And it certainly sounds like Richard had his doubts about that assignment as well. But he soldiered through it, made a little money, and gained some invaluable experience (and perhaps a writing credit).


In Dungeons & Dragons it can be awfully tempting for a low level wizard to sacrifice two of their wizard levels to pick up something like some monk training. You get a +3 to all saves, good skills, and the always valuable evasion. Moreover, all you sacrifice for these benefits is maybe one magic missile spell and a cantrip.

And, assuming you're playing that character for a while, that'd be a terrible mistake.

Because once you hit 17th level you'll realize you traded all that off for a power word, kill or timestop.


Writers are in a similar situation. As a beginning writer (either novels or screenwriting) even if that book/script does pay off, it'll likely be around a few thousand dollars. And getting that couple thousand dollars will take months of work.

Clearly, working at practically any other job for a few months will earn you a bunch more money than writing, so the rational choice would be to scrap the writing. I imagine more than a few of you have been told this repeatedly by your relatives.

But the value of that first sold book or screenplay is like the value of that first wizard level -- it makes everything you do later more valuable. Moreover, for novels, the book itself becomes more valuable as you build your career. If it's decent, even a moderately successful pro writer can earn money off it for years.

Even if what you're working on doesn't sell, it helps push you through to where you write stuff that does get published/picked up. Then, once you do establish a career, all that stuff you wrote earlier gets a second chance. Some of it won't deserve a second chance, but I'm confident that some of it will.

So, if you have some confidence in your ability to make a career at writing, and have an opportunity to trade off a little extra money now for the time you need to get an additional novel or couple scripts written, I think choosing the writing is not just a starry-eyed matter of following your dreams, but a rational long term investment.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Tom Cruise Beat Down

Former Rutgers anthropology grad student, Kathryn Kluegel, didn't care much for Tom Cruise -- but she did like the movies where he got beat down, such as Magnolia and Eyes Wide Shut.

This struck me as a sharp insight. I caught the intense Mission: Impossible III tonight (had to pry my claw-like hands off the arm-rests afterward -- who'da thought you could have a 2 hour movie with only 3 five-minute slow periods; I wanted a cigarette afterwards).

Tom Cruise plays his fairly usual role: a cocky, over-confident sort who smiles a lot, then a sequence of increasingly awful catastrophes destroy that confidence and reduce him to his rawest self. He plays both ends of this range perfectly -- especially for a spy character like this who is initially putting on a show about being normal and in control of things. Cruise's exagerrated smile, his almost urgent need to appear happy, looks just right for a character who's pretending at a normal life and pretending to be happy in his new, mundane digs.

In the second half of the film that's all gone, and Cruise has a few techniques of showing emotion that I find extremely effective. There's one scene where he's walking into an unsafe area; however, he's not afraid for himself, he's afraid of failing because of the consequences it will have for someone he cares about. This is a very different kind of fear (a really good one for larger than life action movie heroes), almost like nervousness pushed to the extreme. When playing this, Cruise's hands jitter and he looks around with sharp little jerky head motions.

There's also this one way he has of looking out from under his eyes and appearing entirely lost, like he's just discovered that nothing he believed is true. This works particularly well because, with a slight change (the final reversal before the good guy wins) that look in his eyes switches from devastated to true-confidence -- not the fake stuff from the beginning of the film but the honest stuff that we like to think comes out of surviving one's darkest moments.

And I think this plays off his entire public persona. We see him so much in the media and tabloids appearing just like the early version of the characters in his films. Then, the character travels into the underworld and the audience sees what I suspect many of us think might be the real Tom Cruise -- and that vulnerability keeps him human.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Hell Freezes Over

Despite temperatures ranging from 90F to 100+F over the last couple weeks -- and a current temperature of 86 degrees (30 Celcius) -- I am watching hail the size of mothballs pummel central Texas.

It's now 6:37, roughly an hour after the core of the hailstorm hit, and the temperature has dropped to 65F (18C).

You see, the reason why it's okay to teach Intelligent Design in the middle of the country is because science doesn't apply to the middle of the country.