Austin Film Festival offers plenty of insights, but lacks in drama

by G. Robert Frazier

After listening to countless hours of interviews, panels, and presentations courtesy of my virtual pass to the 28th Annual Austin Film Festival last week, I was left wanting more.

By that, I mean I want more substance.

Don’t get me wrong. The various stories from incredibly talented writers, producers, showrunners, and directors were at times inspirational, awe-inducing, and chockful of valuable insights about breaking into and thriving in this singularly peculiar institution called screenwriting.

Austin Film Festival is regarded as having the best writers conference on the planet and for good reason. The staff do a phenomenal and, sometimes, thankless job coordinating dozens of speakers and panelists over four intense days every October for hundreds of writers. The best of the best screenwriters – everyone from David Self (Road to Perdition, Thirteen Days) to Jeff Nichols (Mud, Midnight Special, Loving), from Derek Kolstad (John Wick trilogy, Nobody) to Glen Mazzara (The Walking Dead, The Shield) — appear to unselfishly share their wisdom, timeless advice, and incredible stories about the business.

Earlier today, Austin sent out an email survey to attendees – real and virtual – to ask how they did. And while there was plenty of reason to give kudos, the truth is I was left longing for something more.

The parade of speakers touched on everything from persevering in your craft, telling the story only you can tell, the importance of making connections (hard to do in a virtual environment), and, of course, doing the work.

All valuable advice, but after a while, it all sounded the same.

I was left wondering, where was the drama?

Where were the impassioned debates over posting loglines on Twitter for all the world to see?

Where were the answers about whether to use FADE IN or bolding your sluglines?

Where were the conversations about screenwriters’ rights and pay rates in the face of changing mediums?

There’s plenty of “drama” on #screenwriting Twitter from week to week. All the AFF organizers must do is monitor it and ask their pool of panelists to expound on it. Wouldn’t it be impressive if next year AFF assembled a Screenwriting Tribunal of experts to hear arguments pro and con and then issue a decisive end-all ruling on the debates?

Of course, I jest. Everyone knows there are no rules in screenwriting.

But it would be fun, wouldn’t it? And it might help break up the monotony of the interviews a bit.

Speaking of fun, I would be remiss if I did not mention my favorite panelist/speaker for the week. Meg LeFauve, who wrote Inside Out and Captain Marvel, marveled her crowd with an informative and thoroughly entertaining discussion about writing character emotions.

Whatever you do, Austin, ask her back next year!

Until next time, keep writing!

#ScreenPit sends screenwriters, Twitter into a fabulous frenzy!

by G. Robert Frazier

Regular readers of this blog will recall my earlier entry touting my love of #Screenwriting Twitter. Yesterday, there was an abundance of love – and a bit of drama — over on the platform: Hundreds of writers pushing their screenplays upon an unsuspecting world!

In case you missed it, it was an event called #ScreenPit.

The idea was simple: Post tweets containing the title and a one-sentence description of your screenplay with the hope that a director, producer, agent, or manager would see it and want to read the completed screenplay. Or even better, they might actually want to buy your script or hire you to write a script.

Each tweet would include a set of hashtags to help further identify the screenplay you were tweeting about, from its genre to the type of production itself (whether it was a for a full-length feature movie, a limited series, TV pilot, or short film).

The screenwriting world answered the challenge.

Throughout the twelve-hour challenge, tweet after tweet scrolled by advertising everything from action-adventures to horror to serious dramas and hilarious comedies. Whether it was a haunting story about witches or an emotionally moving story about aging parents, you could find a logline for that screenplay.

The ideas were virtually limitless.

Some of the ideas, admittedly, were not particularly original. Some of the loglines were a bit rough and failed to convey exactly what the story was about (hey, it’s hard to condense 100 pages of screenplay into one sentence!). But some were incredible in both their descriptions and originality.

In reading them, you couldn’t help but sit up and imagine the screenplay flashing across the silver screen as a movie someday.

All of them represented the boundless pool of talent across the world and stories begging to be told.

Taking the plunge

I was initially a bit hesitant about joining in.

In the first place, there was no guarantee that anybody in a position of filmmaking power would even see it. If you have ever been on Twitter, you know how quickly your Twitter feed flashes by. If you blink, you’ve missed it. Even a hashtag search resulted in an endless sea of scrolling tweets.

The organizers invited a slew of top agencies, managers, and other movers and shakers in the industry to participate, but there were no clear commitments.

Instead, many warned against the idea.

Hollywood, you see, is afraid to look at unsolicited loglines or ideas because they fear it could lead to lawsuits from those claiming their ideas were stolen. Since you cannot copyright an idea, doing so is akin to giving away your fantastic movie idea to anyone else who wants to use it.

So, the whole idea of posting loglines would possibly fall on deaf ears.

Despite all of that, hundreds of screenwriters posted their loglines anyway. One after another after another.

I jumped in and posted a few of my own.

Why not? I thought. There are few paths into Hollywood as it is.

You can write your scripts, enter them into contests and hope against all odds that a reader likes it enough to send it up the ladder to the next level; you can cold query managers, agents, and producers in hopes that someone might give in and say, “OK, send it to me and I’ll take a look;” or you can network back and forth at social events and through social media in search of that one elusive person that will even look at your script.

Or you can post your logline to Twitter and cross your fingers. Who’s to say one method is more effective than the other? And, believe it or not, there have been Twitter success stories.

Writing a screenplay is a risky venture regardless. You put hours and hours of your life, your blood, sweat, tears, and every emotion you have into the product. Why? Because you have a story to tell and a story that only you can tell.

It’s a passion. It’s a curse. It’s a fool’s game.

So, why not play it? Why not take a chance? Try a new thing. Try something different.

#ScreenPit was that thing, and hundreds of screenwriters agreed to take the leap.

I posted a tweet commending the screenwriters on their trove of ideas and imploring Hollywood to take a chance on something or someone new. With the constant parade of reboots, remakes, and rehashes flooding the screen (big and small), and with the plethora of streamers in need of content, it is clear Hollywood needs people, ideas, and scripts, and I am not the only one that feels that way. My tweet obviously resonated, drawing more than 350 “likes” and nearly retweets over the next 24 hours!

The drama begins

By mid-afternoon, the naysayers in the screenwriting world began to grow more vocal. They began lashing out at those posting their loglines as foolish and amateurs.

The drama had begun.

Organizers of the event point out that authors have a similar Twitter day four times a year called #PitMad, in which they post the premise to their novels or books in hopes of attracting publishers or agents.

Proponents counter that book publishing and screenwriting are two distinct things, two vastly different industries. What works for one won’t necessarily work for the other.

Organizers say the event presents an even playing field for those who may not have the money or resources to enter the countless screenwriting contests or paid pitch events out there.

Proponents counter that contests, in the least, help sort through the riffraff and highlight the standout scripts and writers without having to wade through an endless slush pile.

As @TheZeusJuice put it in his Twitter HOT TAKE: “If all these execs were SO willing to read our stuff, we wouldn’t NEED to #ScreenPit anything.” His thread includes a few more choice statements worth reading if you want to check it out.

Jessica Kane @jesskane31 also has an interesting take on the controversy.

For better or worse

Now that the dust has settled, we are left to wonder if it was all worth it. I picked up dozens of new Twitter followers and followed dozens of others. That’s all part of that old networking thing, right?

Did #ScriptPit get anyone interest from the powers that be? The organizers are trying to audit its success now, as well as consider ways to improve on future events.

At the very least, I got a few “likes” on a couple of my loglines and a bunch of new followers. No one’s been knocking down the door to option my scripts or sign me as a writer. Not yet, anyway.

But my tweets are out there. My scripts are out there. I’m putting myself out there.

Maybe that counts for something, I don’t know.

Screenwriting Twitter is a thing

Screenwriting Twitter is a thing that can be educational, empowering, and oftentimes amusing.

For those uninitiated, screenwriting Twitter is where all the would-be, hopeful, and think-they-are-expert screenwriters, along with a few actual industry folks, hang out when they’re not writing because, well, writing is procrastinating for most and Twitter is the epitome of procrastination.

In any event, on any given day you are likely to find robust debates on all things screenwriting, from copyrighting your work to whether you should share loglines with the rest of the world to how to format your sluglines (bold!). Keep in mind there is a camp of writers who contend there are no rules of screenwriting, that you can do as you like because no one, including Hollywood (which some say isn’t a thing), knows what they want or can agree on how they want it. There are “guidelines” and “conventions” and patterns, but if you trust books like Save the Cat you should be shunned and shamed. That’s because it follows a proven formula of how movies have been made and, heaven forbid, if your story should follow an existing pattern or formula and not think outside of the box (but that’s fodder for another article altogether).

Bottom line, you must take everything you read or hear and ultimately make up your own mind because no one in this industry really knows anything.

Screenwriting Twitter (#screenwriting) is also great for networking and building relationships with other like-minded screenwriters. I’ve followed a few Twitter “regulars” and interacted with some of their tweets, but I haven’t really developed any “friendships” or “connections” yet. These things take time. I did draw the attention of Stage 32 (an online screenwriting site that provides script services, webinars, and pitch meetings with execs – for a fee, of course!) who sent me a nice message saying they’d seen me on Twitter and invited me to contact them to help further my career.  I haven’t taken them up on the “offer” yet. It seems there is money involved and, well, I don’t have any.

I also enjoy Twitter for its occasional fun tweets. You can often find threads about favorite movies, movie tropes, and jokes about screenwriting. It’s somehow comforting to know that others are going through the same feelings of doubt and insecurities about writing as you are and that you can laugh about it.

Additional reading: The power of Twitter for screenwriters

Most of the time, the screenwriting community is supportive and encouraging. Members routinely chime in to help celebrate even the smallest of individual accomplishments, whether that is finishing a first draft of a script, placing in a contest, or, better yet, landing a manager, agent, job in a TV writers’ room, or a spec sale! I’m in this camp because I firmly believe in supporting creatives regardless of where they are in their careers.

That can’t be said of many in the Facebook screenwriting community who can be downright rude, insensitive, and condescending. This group would much rather malign you for your incomplete loglines, your pesky questions about the craft, or your requests for feedback on your work. It’s gotten so bad in a couple of the screenwriting Facebook groups that I’ve quit the groups and have had to block some users. I just don’t have time or patience to put up with haters and “better-than-you-alls.”

That’s not to say that all Facebook screenwriting groups behave that way. The Tennessee Screenwriting Association, of which I am a page administrator, strives to be supportive and always encouraging. We know screenwriters are at various levels of their career and if we can help them out or point them in the right direction to furthering their craft, we’ll happily do that.

I guess what I’m saying is, pick and choose your friends and groups carefully. No one likes a hater, no one likes a know-it-all.

So, enough about that. Time to recap the week:

Writing update

So, last week I had a goal of finishing a spec script based on the TV show What We Do in the Shadows (the new season starts next week on FX!). I’m still not there yet, but I’m closer. Maybe this week will see me cross the finish line.

I also had planned to outline a new comedy pilot, which is a spinoff to my 2019 Austin Film Festival finalist screenplay ZARS: Zombie Apprehension & Relocation Service. I’ve already got the teaser or cold open written (that’s generally what is known as the first scene of the script that serves as a tease to the episode ahead). I also have a couple scenes mapped out, but I still need to come up with the connective tissue that will hold everything together.

Both of those projects will be at the top of my to do list for this week. Then it’s on to my feature script Jerry Lonely and planning/outlining/character work for a mystery novel I’ve got up my sleeve.

Reading update

I finished reading The Good Death by S.D. Sykes and Lightning Strike by William Kent Krueger and wrote a book review for BookPage. I’ll let you know when it gets published. In the meantime, my review of Small Favors by Erin A. Craig has been posted on Chapter 16’s website.

Next up is City on Fire by Don Wilson (it doesn’t go on sale until April but I’ve got an ARC!) and Horror Library Vol. 1, a collection of horror short stories newly republished by Dark Moon Books.

And on the comic book front, I’m reading Batman: The Adventures Continue, Season One, which reprints the first eight issues of the comic book series continuation of the Batman animated TV series.

That’s it for this time out. Tune in again next week as I ramble on about something else.

Skipping Killer Nashville conference a difficult choice

Some devious and cunning minds will gather in Franklin (TN) this week for the Killer Nashville writing conference. I wish I could be with them, but this whole Covid pandemic thing has convinced me otherwise.

I’m fully vaccinated (although apparently a third shot is in the cards), and KN organizer Clay Stafford promises the conference and hotel are taking precautions, but I’m not comfortable taking any chances. Heck, I’m still masking up everywhere I go and I’m still using Walmart’s pickup service for my groceries until this all blows over.

Killer Nashville founder Clay Stafford poses with guests Joyce Carol Oates and David Morrell.

Killer Nashville is one of my favorite events every year, which makes missing out so difficult.

The four-day event held each August (this is its 15th gathering after skipping last year because of the pandemic) attracts some of the best authors from across the globe for informative, educational, and entertaining panels on writing mystery, crime, and thrillers across a variety of mediums, including novels, short stories, and screenplays.

Anne Perry

The event is typically headlined by a few best-selling authors. Past guests have included Jeffery Deaver, William Kent Krueger, Joyce Carol Oates, Otto Penzler, Max Allen Collins, Anne Perry, and Janet Evanovich, to name just a few. This year’s conference honors guests Walter Mosley, Lisa Black, and Tennessee’s own J.T. Ellison.

In addition to a nonstop slate of panels presented by attending authors and other guests, the event features an awards banquet for best published and unpublished novel in numerous categories, a mock crime scene to test your deductive skills, and pitch meetings with agents and editors.

But perhaps one of the best aspects of the conference is just meeting and networking with folks. I’ve met numerous authors and am fortunate to call them friends. The writing community at Killer Nashville is just that – a community of writers who genuinely support and encourage each other in all phases of their writing journey.

Clay Stafford

The event, of course, wouldn’t be the success it is without the vision of KN founder Clay Stafford (there’s a great interview with him here) and dedication of his staff. I’ve been fortunate to work alongside each of them over recent years as a book reviewer, Claymore contest reviewer, and volunteer. I even served on a panel one year, which still blows my mind.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference.

Writing Week in Review

My co-writer Jay Wright and I finished some revisions to our crime feature script Kings of Mississippi and submitted it to the Finish Line Screenplay Contest. We got some excellent feedback on our first read through from one of their readers that strengthened some of the emotional elements of the script. Now we wait and see if the revised script makes the quarterfinals cut.

I also tweaked a short horror script I wrote called Kurupira and entered it in the Fresh Blood Selects contest.

My other short horror script Skin, which just narrowly missed the Finals stage in the Nashville Film Festival’s screenwriting competition, failed to even make it to the quarterfinals in The Script Lab’s Free Screenwriting Competition. Sigh. Of course, there were 13,000 entries overall and only the top 1,000 made the first round of cuts. I’m sure Skin must have been right there knocking on the door, though, probably at No. 1001. Yeah.

And I made a little more progress on my spec script episode of What We Do in the Shadows. If you’re familiar with the FX show, you know it’s about a trio of vampires living in Staten Island. In my episode, Nandor and his familiar Guillermo attend a “Vampires Anonymous” meeting, while Laszlo and Nadja go to a Little League baseball game. To coin a phrase, hilarity ensues.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I had planned to start on my feature script Jerry Lonely, but I’m still outlining it. Hopefully, I’ll have all the major plot points worked out and be ready to do the actual writing in September. The title has piqued the interest of several readers who want to know more, but all I will say about it at this point is that I’ve been watching The Godfather movies as prep work.

Which brings me to: My writing calendar.

Every couple of months or so I revise and prioritize my list of ongoing writing projects. I have a list of screenplays (shorts, TV pilots, and features) and other writing projects (shorts stories and novels) that I try to juggle. I try to match it up with upcoming contest or submission deadlines and then go from there.

Often, my plans go to hell, and I find myself having to reconfigure them a couple months later. But at least I’m trying.

I plan to use these weekly blog posts in part to help hold myself accountable to my writing plans by posting updates on my progress each week. My goal in the week ahead is to finish the first draft of the What We Do in the Shadows script and outline a TV pilot script. Check back here next week and I’ll let you know how I did.

What I’m Reading

Last week, I posted about the importance of reading and I’ve been making progress on my to be read pile.

I read the pilot script for the Emmy-nominated Hacks and listened to a streaming panel with the creators and actors, courtesy of Deadline’s Contenders series. There are more than a dozen other panels with the creators and stars of other Emmy-nominated shows on the platform, all free to view online.

I also finished reading a screenplay from one of my fellow Tennessee Screenwriting members and will be sending him some notes after I post this.

Meanwhile, I’m reading Lightning Strike by William Kent Krueger, which I should finish by the weekend. I’ll then start on The Good Death by S.D. Sykes. I’m reviewing both books for BookPage.

Until next time…

Nashville Film Fest a fun, great learning experience

By G. Robert Frazier

The Nashville Film Festival concluded its most recent run Saturday after 10 days of movies, informational panels about the film industry, and parties celebrating the creative minds behind the films and scripts entered in the event. As a script reader for the screenwriting competition, I earned a gold laminate that provided free access to as many of the events I could stand.

IMG_20160423_130115061

By all accounts, the fest was a roaring success both in numbers of entries in the film and script categories and in attendance. There were more than 3,500 film entries and 1,500 script entries across numerous categories, from shorts to features, from dramas to science fiction.

The event was the culmination of my third year as a script reader and, coincidentally, NaFF’s third year to hold a screenwriting competition. I began reading as a way to learn more about the screenwriting process, while also helping out a good cause. I can honestly say that I learn some new technique or become aware of something to avoid with each script I read. That knowledge can only help me as I continue to write my own scripts and send them out into the world.

IMG_20160417_211650283The fest also provided a key opportunity to study the mystique of the short film. As I am co-writing a short screenplay with a friend and fellow member of the Tennessee Screenwriters Association, taking in as many short features on the big screen was an invaluable learning experience.

I have a new respect for the filmmakers who put so many hours and so much work into their projects. Hopefully, we will be able to put this knowledge to good use and produce our short on film as well.

One downside this year was the decision to allow ScreenCraft to sponsor the writer’s conference portion of the festival. Not that I have anything against ScreenCraft. They certainly brought in a stacked and talented roster of industry professionals to share their knowledge over two days with festival-goers. But it was the added $300 admission price that was a put-off for me.

NaFF 2016 PostersIn the previous years of the festival, my script reads were enough to gain free admission to a few writing panels held at the fest. This year, however, because the event was held by ScreenCraft, my reads got me free film access but no access to the writer’s conference. That was more than a bit disappointing to someone who would like to learn more about the craft of writing and is reading specifically with that in mind.

I sincerely hope that the NaFF organizers rethink or renegotiate the deal next year to better benefit their readers.

Still, I’m happy for the experience of reading scripts and for helping determine the winning scripts in the competition. I read 140 entries in the competition. Of those, 13 went on to attain semifinal status and four reached the finals. Two of those four were winners in their categories and the other two were runners-up in their categories!

Below are links to the winning films and winning scripts in the competition:

2016 NaFF Shorts Awards Recipients

2016 NaFF Feature Awards Winners

2016 NaFF Screenwriting Competition Awards

 

 

Decision made: Killer Nashville this year, Austin next year

A few weeks ago I had something of a dilemma: Attend the Austin Film Festival or the Killer Nashville writer’s conference. Both are coming up this weekend.

The big difference between the two is that Austin’s writer’s panels focus on screenwriting while Nashville’s is a novel writer’s conference. I’m more than interested in both avenues of writing. I’m working on a mystery-thriller novel and I am writing a couple of screenplays. In other words, I desperately want to attend both conferences.

Austin Film Festival logoMany of my friends suggested Austin as the better of the two, and I certainly was leaning that way as well. It’s been around a lot longer and it’s a much more prestigious conference. I also had earned a conference badge to attend all four days of panels and events at Austin for my work as a reader in its script competition over the summer. You can’t beat free admission, right?

Well, as it turns out, I guess you can.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t planned on attending Austin’s fest this year. I only got the gig reading for the fest thanks to a surprise recommendation from the folks at the Nashville Film Festival, for whom I also am a script reader. I was initially asked to read just twenty scripts in exchange for a one-day conference pass, but I wound up reading over fifty scripts in a two-month period. The folks at Austin upped my reward to a full four-day pass. It was an unexpected privilege and an incredible opportunity, and there began my dilemma.

Killer Nashville logoUntil then I had my sights set on attending the Killer Nashville conference. In fact, I nearly bought my Killer Nashville registration back in the spring (if I had, the whole debate would already have been settled). I held off, partly because I wasn’t sure what my plans would be by the end of October and I didn’t want to make a commitment I wouldn’t be able to keep. And partly because of the cost of admission in the first place. Writer’s conferences aren’t cheap, as you may well know.

Well, as noted above, the decision ultimately boiled down to affordability. Even though admission to Austin was free, I’d still have to find cheap air fare and an inexpensive hotel. But if I stayed too far off the beaten path from downtown, I was afraid I would miss out on a key part of the Austin experience.

The Nashville gig, on the other hand, is right in my backyard. No hotel, no air fare to worry about on short notice. What’s more, there are plenty of panels, a bookcon, agent/editor roundtables, and parties to attend.

I suppose I could have made Austin work with some thrifty shopping, scrimping and saving. Fortunately, AFF competition manager Matt Dy has already extended an invitation for me to read again next year. With that in mind, I feel a bit better about skipping Austin this year. I can plan ahead and make certain I get to Austin next fall.

So, decision made, and one that I am comfortable with. Killer Nashville, here I come.

 

 

WIP Wednesday: NaNoWriMo perfect time to finish crime-thriller novel

by G. Robert Frazier

I’m following in the footsteps of another blogger who posts updates on their works in progress every Wednesday. I think it’s a great way to let you know what I’m working on, how I’m going about it, and maybe hold myself accountable to getting something done each week so I’ll have something fresh to write about. So, without further needless introductory verbiage, here goes:

I’ve been working on a crime-thriller novel – River’s End — for a couple years now. The novel writing has been through many surges and stalls, but my goal is to have the first draft done by the end of November. I’m probably 30 percent toward that goal, but I’ve outlined and/or written numerous partial scenes to come that should flow pretty quickly once I set my mind to it.

National Novel Writing Month also happens to be in November, so I’m going to use it as the catalyst to completing my novel. NaNoWriMo, as it’s affectionately called, encourages writers to hammer out a novel (or at least a solid start to a novel of 50,000 words) in a month’s time. As I’m already out of the gate, I’m setting my sights on finishing the final 60,000 words of River’s End.

I’ve already introduced all of the main characters – my protagonist, the antagonist, supporting characters, and the like. I’ve got a grisly murder, a teenager who has plunged off a cliff into a river after being attacked by police dogs, a huge stash of hidden drugs, and missing confidential informant for my protagonist to contend with. My Beta readers – which consist of my various writing groups and my brothers – all seem to like the intrigue and building suspense, so that’s encouraging.

I’ve allowed a few other projects to interrupt the actual writing of this novel, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. At least I’ve been writing. Specifically, I’ve spent a vast amount of time of late on a screenplay I’m writing along with one of my brothers. We’ve finished the first draft and are now in the process of revising/rewriting to strengthen the story and erase any plot holes. We’re happy with how it’s going and eager to get to the finish line. Of course, we say that, but we know that we must also be patient. Great writing can’t be rushed and we’re taking our time to get it right.

I’m also always working on a short story or two. I’ve got a drawer full of them that I go back to from time to time to finesse and rework. My goal is to get at least one short story per month into shape so that it can be entered in a contest or submitted to various markets for publication. Last month I sent one off to the Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Contest, so we’ll see how that goes.

Until next week, happy writing!

Review: Ant-Man’s silly fun works for fan boys, kids only

I’m apparently not the comic book fan boy geek I used to be.

Antman movie posterOtherwise, I should have loved Ant-Man, the latest Marvel super-hero opus gracing your local Cineplex. But, for all of its efforts, I was bored, annoyed, and just plain uninspired by the film.

Oddly, it’s getting pretty decent reviews from most of the entertainment media and critics. Not the incredible rave reviews that Guardians of the Galaxy fetched last summer, but plenty of kudos nonetheless. A number of critics have stated the film is fun and features a terrific third act.

After watching the first two acts, it desperately needed something to save it. I can’t speak to whether the third act did the trick or not, though, because after 90 minutes of the dreck that is Ant-Man I walked out. Mind you, I don’t normally walk out on movies, so that says a lot right there.

For starters, Ant-Man is already a hero you can’t take seriously. Even Saturday Night Live once lampooned the character in a skit featuring Garrett Morris as the diminutive hero at a gathering of heroes. When asked about his power, he replies: “I shrink myself down to the size of an ant while retaining my full human strength.” To which The Flash (Dan Ackroyd) replies: “Oooh, that’s really impressive. Size of an ant with human strength. You must be able to clean house on those other ants, huh? Hey, Hulk, check this guy out. .. He’s got the strength of a human!”

IMG_20150724_153513431 (950x1280)So, to be fair, I didn’t give the movie much of a chance right out of the gate. The previews had left me less than excited and Ant-Man was never one of my favorite comic book heroes. How could he be when there are heroes like Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor around?

Maybe I shouldn’t have gone to the movie in the mood I was in. Did I mention it was my birthday and I was feeling old? But, I was bored at home alone and I wanted to do something to mark my special day. And, it wasn’t like there were a lot of alternatives at the theater to see. Well, there was Minions 2…

In any case, you’re probably wondering, what’s wrong with Ant-Man? Why didn’t you like it?

I think, in part it has to do with the mood or tone of the movie. I couldn’t tell if it wanted its audience to take it, and its little hero, seriously, or yuck it up for laughs. I mean, who is the target audience of this film? If it’s comic book fan boys, OK, parts of the movie should have satisfied them. References to the Wasp, the fight (if you can call it that) with the Falcon, and its continuity within the Marvel world of movies were all points to savor. But, on the other hand, it was chockfull of silliness you’d expect from a Disney film. (Oh, wait, Disney owns Marvel now, right?). Paul Rudd, as one critic put it, is “laughably unheroic” in the role.

The film also plays all the right notes when considering its story structure, following the hero’s journey/character arc from reluctant no-good conman to redeemable superman by the end. There are parallels of father-daughter subplots between Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter and between Scott Lang (Rudd) and his daughter. There’s the slighted pupil turned evil bad guy against his mentor (Pym).

But for all of that, the film seemed flat and boring. All the plot points seemed to come about more by rote (as in, story structure says such and such an event must happen next) than through the organic growth of the characters and plot. The result was a very dry, predictable romp for the first 90 minutes of the movie. I kept waiting for the movie to surprise me, and it just didn’t do that.

Favorite quote:

Paul Rudd as Scott Lang (Ant-Man): My days of breaking in places and stealing stuff are over. What do you want me to do?

Michael Douglas as Hank Pym: I want you to break into a place and steal some stuff.

What other critics are saying:

Update (Aug. 12): I just came across this trailer from Werner Herzog on his interpretation of Ant-Man, in which Scott Lang is trapped in the insect world and experiences the grim brutality of nature. This could have been a cool take on the Ant-Man movie. No silly super-villains. Man against nature. Much more interesting.

So, have you seen Ant-Man? What did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Reading and Writing Around the Web for 7/21

Has this ever happened to you? Today I had as many as 16 tabs open on my computer at the same time in my web browser, and, naturally, the browser crashed. Fortunately, when you reopen the browser there’s a neat little tool called Recent Tabs that, once you click on it, will go back and fetch the tabs that were last opened. Of course, I foolishly brought this crash on myself by having too many tabs open in the first place. Hey, I’m doing it all for you, the faithful reader. So, herewith are some cool sites and articles about reading and writing I explored today:

Author Sarah Waters offers up Ten Rules for Writing Fiction, courtesy of the Aerogramme Writers’ Studio.

According to Dave King, who is co-author of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and a former contributing editor at Writer’s Digest, “the most effective stories are completely transparent, with readers blithely unaware of the author’s behind-the-scenes manipulations.” Learn more about the art of transparency in your writing here.

Whenever I bring pages to my Nashville Writers Meetup groups, one thing that everyone agrees stands out is my dialogue. That’s enough to encourage me to think about entering this year’s dialogue-only writing contest  by Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine. Entrants are asked to create an original story of up to 2000 words composed entirely of dialogue. The magazine’s editors are also good enough to include some helpful tips on writing dialogue. There are even links to past winners in the contest, all of which I intend to read and digest fully. You should too.

Since we’re talking about dialogue, here are a couple more articles from Bang to Write answering the question, “Is good screenwriting about great dialogue?” Join the debate: Click here for Yes or here for No.

Nashville Writers Meetup member Sherry Wilds interviews guest author Ricko Donovan on the art of dialogue on this week’s edition of The Method and the Muse, a weekly online radio show all about the craft of writing.

Now that I’ve got you hooked on this new blog feature, take a moment to read up on why the hook is so important to writing a successful screenplay in this article from scriptmag.com.

Have you come across any great articles on writing or reading? Please share them in the comments section below and I may include them in the next edition of this blog, along with a link to your site!

Reading and Writing Around the Web for 7/20

I tried to keep the distractions to a minimum today and limit my time online so that I could do a little bit of writing. Couple of things did catch my eye and they are listed below for those interested in a bit of writerly advice or an interesting read:

First up is a thoughtful article about the psychology of flow in storytelling. There’s a fine line between keeping a reader’s attention and losing it altogether, and this article explores how writers can strive to keep that reader turning the pages.

One of Geoff Dyer’s top 10 tips for writers is to keep a private diary or journal. I started a daily journal back in December and kept forgetting about it. I’d add a few thoughts every couple weeks or so and try to recall all that had transpired in between. I haven’t touched it since April. On the other hand, I have at least been posting from time to time in this blog, so there’s that.

If you’re struggling with what to write next, actor Brett Wean recently shared how improvisation can provide your story the spark it needs.  The article addresses screenplays, but obviously can be put to work for your novel in progress as well.

In case you missed it, July 17 marked the 60th anniversary of Disneyland, “the eighth wonder of the world!” The Hollywood Reporter celebrated the occasion by reprinting an article published the day after the Southern California park opened on July 18, 1955. Admission, by the way, just $1 for adults and 50 cents for children.

Sticking with the theme of anniversaries, today marks the anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s moon landing.

And finally, author and NASA engineer Homer Hickam (of October Sky fame), shares his writing advice on his website at Homer Hickam online.

If you see something worth sharing, please do in the comments section!