18 posts tagged guest post
18 posts tagged guest post
Acclaimed comics writer Ron Marz (Green Lantern, Silver Surfer, and Amazon Studios’ own Blackburn Burrow) knows about telling stories visually. Here are his three rules for doing it well:
By Ron Marz
I write comic books. Yes, that means my job is to write the words that go in those little “bubbles” on the pages … though we actually call them “balloons” (bubbles are in bath tubs and champagne, not comic books).
My job is also to try to figure out the most visual way to tell a story. Comics are visual documents. They are words and pictures together, making something more uniquely powerful than either could accomplish separately. A comic-book script is like a long letter to the artist, most often breaking down the action by page and even by panels, suggesting pacing and storytelling to the artist. The artist interprets the script, bringing his or her own sensibility to the page, choosing how best to convey the visuals. The magic lies in the collaboration; the creative energy of two (or more) minds working toward the same goal.
A generation ago, comics were artist-driven, often to the detriment of sensible stories and three-dimensional characters. Now the pendulum has swung the other way, and comics are writer-driven, often to the detriment of visual excitement. The comic industry needs to get back to more of a balance between writing and art, as in the 1980s, when seminal works like “Watchmen” and “Dark Knight Returns” were created. One of the ways we can do that is for writers to be more attuned to writing visually, and making artists full partners in the creative process. Which brings us to …
Three Rules for Writing Visually
Rule #1: “Show, Don’t Tell” This one seems obvious, right? But I’ve had more than one comic artist say this exact thing to me: “If I have to draw one more scene of people sitting around a conference table talking, I’m gonna lose my mind.”
Yes, there’s a certain amount of necessary information that must be conveyed via dialogue in every comic. But just showing people talking is generally the most visually dull way to do it.
Issue #4 of “Blackburn Burrow” opens with a flashback sequence, showing ancient Mayans summoning, battling and entombing their “god,” with Colonel Richards narrating what’s happening. It’s considerably more interesting to show those events, rather than just two pages of Richards talking.
Vincent Zandri is the bestselling author of Murder by Moonlight (currently the subject of a book trailer contest at Amazon Studios). Zandri offers this dispatch from the intersection of movies and noir:
I don’t go to the movies.
Wait, scratch that … I love the movies. Or, films, I should say. It’s just that you’re going to be hard pressed to find me spending a Saturday night at the local mall, buying over-priced popcorn and sitting through the latest Adam Sandler flick while some high schoolers are chatting it up behind me and the seven-feet-six basketball player seated in front of me blocks the entire screen.
OK, I know, going to the movies isn’t necessarily for the guys, but more for the gals. And it’s what you do for someone you love who is constantly doing things for you that she doesn’t necessarily enjoy doing. Like bellying up to a bar for instance.
But while we’re on the subject, I have a serious confession to make. Until recently, I’ve been single for a long time, dating here and there, enjoying some short-lived relationships, living the George Clooney life more or less, only without the bucks or the Hollywood good looks. In any case, I always find myself telling my date, or prospective date, how much I love to go to the movies. It works like a charm, every time. All I have to do is ask a girl if she’d like to go to a movie this Friday night and dinner afterwards and her eyes will light up and boom, I’m in.
So what I do after that is wait a few days and then I’ll sort of suggest we save the movie for another time since I can only get an early dinner reservation at this really cool restaurant. Usually she agrees and from that point on, I keep promising a movie, but it usually never happens. And that’s usually when the relationship fizzles out … go figure.
Problem is, in my business, I can watch movies all the time, anytime, via Netflix or Amazon Instant Video or even YouTube. In fact, I probably watch and re-watch half a dozen movies per week. Watching movies and reading books are essential as a fiction writer. Like a musician listening to other bands, watching movies not only sparks my creativity but it also makes me a more enthusiastic writer. I find myself watching not only as a professional, but as a fan.
The movies I like to watch and, as I’ve already pointed out, re-watch, almost always fall into the noir or hard-boiled categories. The top-5 noir films I simply cannot stay away from are as follows:
1. Chinatown: Hands down one of the best hard-boiled, wise-guy detective flicks ever made. The Robert Towne script is said to be perfect but the performances are even better with Jack Nicholson playing the sarcastic gumshoe and Faye Dunaway the femme fatale. Look for the scene in which Jack slaps Faye around while trying to figure out if the kid upstairs is her sister or daughter. “My sister, my daughter, my sister…!!!” Classic.
Derek Haas is a writer of movies (3:10 to Yuma, Wanted), creator of TV series (Chicago Fire), and acclaimed novelist (the just-released The Right Hand). In this exclusive guest post, Haas explores the ways in which storytelling varies by form:
I was once asked: what are three things you can do in a book that you can’t do in a movie or TV series? An interesting question… a. because why three? Why not 5 or 7 or 1? And b. because there actually are three main things you can do in a novel you can’t do in a movie or TV series. How did my interviewer know the exact number to ask? Anyway, here are my answers.
First, you don’t have to worry about a budget. At all. If you want to write that the main character drives a motorcycle through the biggest earthquake ever to strike Los Angeles, have at it. If you want to have characters jumping from Russia to Prague to London to Washington DC to LA, no one is going to stop you. If you want five-hundred assassins attacking the Olympic Opening Ceremonies … all you have to do is put it down on paper. Of course, you can’t do that in a movie script or you’ll give the President of Production at the studio a heart attack. Unless you have Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp in the movie together, then you can do anything.
Second, you get to move inside the heads of your characters.
Edward Jay Epstein, entertainment industry expert and author of The Hollywood Economist 2.0: The Hidden Financial Reality Behind the Movies (one of the best books on the business of film) explains the realities of the weekly box office “horse race.” Who’s No. 1 doesn’t necessarily align with who’s making money, and here’s why:
Even the numbers themselves are misleading. The reported “grosses” are not those of the studios but the projected sales of tickets at the movie houses in the U.S. and Canada (which is counted by Hollywood as part of the U.S.). Whatever the amount actually is, movie houses remit about 50 percent to the movie distributor, which then deducts, off the top, its out-of-pocket of costs, which includes advertising, prints, insurance, local taxes, and other logistical expenses.
For an average big-studio movie, these costs now amount to about $40 million. So, just to stay in the black, a movie needs $74 million in ticket sales. … Most Hollywood movies nowadays actually lose money at the American box office and make it from ancillary markets.
Meanwhile, the outcome of the box-office race has little importance to theater owners, because each of the major multiplex chains books all of the studios’ wide-release movies. Their only concern is the total number of people who show up and how much popcorn, candy, and soda they buy, since that’s where their real profit comes from. In numerical terms, the movie-going audience has been shrinking since 1948.
The studios focus on the cumulative revenue their movies take in over many platforms, including both domestic and foreign movie houses, DVD stores, pay-TV output deals, and TV licensing. Even though its ancillary benchmarks can be higher when a movie is No. 1 at the box office, the film can fare very badly in its cumulative results.
By Noah Hawley
Eight days. That’s how long the ride lasted. On Thursday, September 23, 2010, at 8 p.m., my second show, My Generation, premiered on ABC. It was cancelled eight days later, on Friday, October 1st. The show, which ABC had spent millions to make and millions more to promote, aired twice. This despite the fact that the network had deemed us their flagship show of the fall season, by which I mean the new show to which they gave first dollar priority in sales and marketing.
Which is why, if you were in LA or New York that summer, you couldn’t escape
the billboards and subway ads. If you went to see a summer blockbuster movie that July, chances are you saw a two minute trailer the network and studio had paid to make for us. A month later, Rolling Stone Magazine threw us a party on the roof of a Sunset Boulevard hotel. The night of the premiere, Warren Littlefield and I rented a bungalow at the Chateau Marmont and threw a premiere party. Over a hundred people came to watch the show and celebrate. Heading up to the launch, the folks at ABC marketing had designed the first interactive iPad app for a television show, and people had their iPads out as they watched.
Halfway into the show, one of my writers showed me a live Google statistic that said My Generation was the #1 Google search for the hour. So as the show ended, we were feeling optimistic about our numbers.
This despite the fact that, for the last two weeks I had been privy to the network’s ratings projections, which, honestly, were pretty soft. Television networks compile “awareness” numbers and “intent to watch” numbers, and our intent to watch was lower than anyone liked. Plus, our time slot was a notorious kill zone, pitting us against four established, returning shows (Big Bang Theory, Bones, Community/30 Rock and Vampire Diaries) with no lead-in to help bring in an audience. So even as we celebrated our premiere, we knew that the odds were stacked against us.
And then the ratings came in. I don’t remember the precise number, but it was in the high ones for the critical demographic, which is a low number (a hit these days gets anything over a 3.5.) But the brass at ABC told us not to worry. They’d expected a number like this, they said, and they were prepared to ride it out and let us build an audience. Seven days later episode two aired, to an even lower number. And the next day we were cancelled.
That’s the TV business. Most shows fail. And as we move from Premiere Week 2012 to Week Two, I’m sure there are a lot of nervous showrunners. It’s almost impossible to launch a hit show these days in our crowded TV landscape, with network audiences shrinking consistently every year. And so, as a showrunner, you try to do the math. How patient is my network? What do they have to replace me with?