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by Nikki Tranter

1 Jan 2008


Welcome back to Re:Print.

It’s been a big week, yeah? I’ve spent much of it stifling at work, in an un-air-conditioned DVD shop, hating every single face that says to me: “Wow, it’s hot in here!” Really? We hadn’t noticed. And neither had the last 35 customers to sweat their way through the latest releases. Global warming is well and truly under way, and has landed smack on Australia. Here I am, 11.09pm on New Year’s Day and the air blowing through my office window is filthy and hot. It stinks of dirty grass. No relief, not even at home, not even at midnight. Actually, the split-system in the living room is brilliant, but my partner refuses to let me move the computer next to the TV. So, here I am, and it’s hot. 

New Year’s was a slow one. I spent it watching Wild Palms, of all things. Scouring the ‘net today, though, I see a good time was had by most elsewhere in the universe. We heard fireworks going off, which excited me, until a little boy came into the shop this morning with a “Missing Dog” poster—the terrier named Bonnie ran away in fear of those fireworks, apparently. So, there’s that tradition ruined. Here’s hoping Bonnie finds her way home safely. My pup, Fulci, feels her pain. He spent the noisy clock-turning under a blanket by the couch.

As always, my New Year’s resolution is to “read more”. I say it every year, and usually wind up reading roughly the same amount of books as the year before. With a new house, and a new library all set up and looking awesome in the other room, I’ve decided that even if I read the same amount of books as last year, I want some of them to be those steadily yellowing over there, that I already own. I’m toning down the book-buying, and digging through the existing stockpiles for new and exciting reads. I’ll let you know how I go as the months progress. At the moment, I’m still knee-deep in movie tie-ins, with The Assassination of Jesse James… on the go now, and Death Sentence coming up next. I just finished Reservation Road by John Burnham Schwartz—a quick read, horribly morbid and sad. Jesse James is proving a harder task—Ron Hansen’s language is true to the time period, and I’m wrapping my tongue around old west words more sluggishly than expected. After the movie books, it’s classics all the way. Well, long-standing shelf-dwellers, at any rate.

Here’s to a great 2008 in books. Myself and my co-blogger, Lara Killian, will be here to capture the highs and lows as we see them. For now, here are some articles to read to get you ready for Books ‘08:

Read all about the best books of 2007 set in New Jersey.

Who will be who in 2008 according to the Guardian.

Compare Ty Burr’s reading resolutions to your own, like this one:

Read at least one book that is not being adapted into a major motion picture. In 2007 I really enjoyed reading The Golden Compass and Atonement and No Country for Old Men and Persepolis and The Kite Runner (OK, the last one not so much). Was there anything else that came out last year? Can someone tell my wife I’ll get around to The Omnivore’s Dilemma when Cate Blanchett is signed to star in it?

Hmm, yes.

 

by Nikki Tranter

20 Dec 2007


It’s been a strange week in Book World, something I didn’t exactly anticipate when searching for news articles to post in our first News Round-up, set to continue Fridays in the New Year. I’m excited, though, that a simple Google news search using the word “author” can yield such interesting results. Either Google itself singles out the best stuff, or Book World strives never to bore. I’ll go with the latter, and leave you with Re:Print‘s very first news round-up.

Terry Pratchett struck with on-set Alzheimer’s:
Much has been written on Pratchett’s revelation. This article from the Bath Chronicle is particularly significant as the author is a former staff writer. Pratchett’s response to his condition is light-hearted. More can be found on Pratchett’s website.

George Bernard Shaw‘s biographer murdered:
Britain’s Ham & High newspaper reports: “Allan Chappelow, freelance photographer and the author of several books on the playwright George Bernard Shaw, was found dead in his home in Downshire Hill in June 2006 under a pile of papers”. The more you read, the more curious things get. Accused of Chappelow’s murder is a financial trader. The case may be the first murder trial heard in Central Criminal Court with cameras barred. Chappelow’s home was so badly in need of repair tthat it was on English Heritage’s At-Risk Register—it mysteriously burned down during the murder investigation.

Author of The Snowman remains flummoxed at book’s success:
The 25th anniversary of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman has forced the the author to comment on something he never wished to discuss ever again his life.

David Walliams of Little Britain signs children’s book deal:
Another one. Reports tells us the book will be aimed at 12-year-olds and will feature “an engaging boy hero”.

Laura Archera Huxley dies:
Aldous Huxley’s fascinating wife passed away this week. This brief article mentions many of her wonderful eccentricities, including her yoga and treadmilling into her 90s, and her dedication to “the nurturing of the possible human” through her children’s charities.

Pope hates The Golden Compass:
Not really a surprise. The Daily Telegraph reports that the Pope has ‘slammed Nicole Kidman’s latest movie The Golden Compass, with the Vatican labeling it “Godless and hopeless”’.

and finally ...

Lisa Welchel from The Facts of Life is proud of pregnant teen star, Jamie Lynn Spears:
Christian book author and former child star, Welchel (aka Blair), says “good on you” to Jamie Lynn for keeping her baby. Welchel is quoted on the ABC News website: “I’m so proud of her for stepping up and being courageous and taking responsibility for her choices, and I believe she’s being a good role model—a good role model in that situation, to choose to have the baby, and … I am supportive of her in that situation.”

by Raymond Cummings

17 Dec 2007


System of a Down: Right Here in Hollywoodby Ben MyersDisinformation, 2007

System of a Down: Right Here in Hollywood
by Ben Myers
Disinformation, 2007

Heirs apparent to Rage Against the Machine’s abdicated rap-metal throne, fellow Los Angelinos System of a Down exploded onto the national scene right around the time (a) those willfully monotonous agit-proppers parted ways and (b) terrorists crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center, lending the lyrics “self-righteous suicide” an eerie prescience. System radiate a political, social, and cultural disgust as intense as that of their forebears, but there are a few key differences: System’s conception of metal is both dizzyingly psychotic and pan-global, reflecting the activism-friendly quartet’s varied musical interests, shared Armenian-American heritage, and appreciation of the value of rock spectacle through a cracked prism. With hit singles like pop-thrash, mock anthem “B.Y.O.B.” (from 2005’s Mesmerize) or the alternately lush and abrasive “Chop Suey!” (from 2001’s Toxicity), System had their cake and scarfed it, too, on a level most artists pray to hit—delivering surreally subversive steaks under dazzling sizzle and making the charts. While Right Here in Hollywood certainly won’t be the last word on the group, it serves as a handy repository of media reports to date, many of which U.K. author Ben Myers penned for Kerrang!. Scholarly, this ain’t: there’s an unnecessarily nasty, partisan edge to the walls of cultural exposition Myers builds while relating System to the general cultural climate of the late 1990s that leaves a bad aftertaste; a shame, since the windows opened into band members’ individual lives reveal a lot.  Who would have thought that pre-System, inventively histrionic lead singer Serj Tankian founded and ran a business customizing “accounting software systems for the jewelry industry in California”? Or that System, early on, were known as Soil? Or that these four go cuckoo the chronic? Answer: anybody with a day to kill and access to Google. But Myers’ deserves credit for compiling all these separate strands and interview pieces into a compelling narrative—and this is important—really exploring the nuts, bolts, emotions, influences, and impacts of System recordings and related side-project output, something super-fan’s biogs like this one usually can’t be bothered with.

Rating: 6

by Nikki Tranter

14 Dec 2007


From the LA Times last month:

Under the Dramatists Guild contract for playwrights (first agreed to in 1919 and largely unchanged to this day), no changes can be made to a script without the consent of the author, who must also be involved in selecting the cast and director.

The studio bosses insisted, however, that the process of creating movies was fundamentally different and more like an industrial assembly line designed to maximize profits (this predated the notion of film as art). The way they saw it, a playwright sold a product while a screenwriter sold a service.

Oooh. Where does it come from, this idea that screenwriting is, somehow, not real writing? That the screenplay itself is not a singular art form? It’s not considered unusual, is it, for a writer to pen a play simply for the purpose of writing that play. Can a writer not also pen a film script for the exact same purpose, simply for the existence of the script, the creation of a story in a particular structure and style? Or does a screenplay exist only to be filmed? This would appear to be the case when looking back at the evolution of the writer in Hollywood.

Sean Mitchell’s LA Times piece attempts a look at both sides of the story here. I don’t know if I agree with his approach, negatively slanted against the writer, and I don’t know if his arguments regarding early Hollywood writers hold too much weight (at least, I found he could have chucked in a few more verifiable stats), but it does get one thinking.

Writers made this uneasy bargain decades ago, choosing, as humans often do, money over principle. The first playwrights and authors who came west in the 1920s, answering the demand for scripts, discovered that in Hollywood they could make five to 10 times what they could earn for a play or a novel. Who cared about ownership or copyright protection?

So the sins of the fathers should be visited upon the sons? Because artists chose to allow themselves to be exploited in the 1920s, doesn’t mean that artists today should still be paying the price. What if Mr. Chandler read that? Mitchell continues:

As long as there’s enough money to go around, writers can afford to forget what they gave up in the way of artistic rights and can live well while working within the system. It’s only when some new studio math or unforeseen media expansion alters the financial equation, as is happening now, that their relative powerlessness is again exposed—to their understandable consternation.


Understandable is an understatement. Writers in Hollywood have been cheated for years, the expansion of the Internet and home video markets have simply paved the way for Hollywood to screw them in new and exciting ways. If they don’t fix the problem now, writers will continue to lose. But Mitchell doesn’t appear altogether optimistic:

DVD percentages aside, it’s hard to imagine how this awkward reality is going to change any time soon based on the historical record and hegemony of big media.

So the beast is too big, don’t bother fighting? That’s not what Hollywood has taught me over the years. One man can make a difference says John Briley’s Oscar-winning Gandhi screenplay, Steven Zaillian’s Oscar-winning Schindler’s List screenplay, Eric Roth’s Oscar-winning Forrest Gump screenplay, and, my golly, doesn’t the list go on.

Speaking of Mr. Chandler ... from his essay, “Writers in Hollywood”:

Its conception of what makes a good picture is still as juvenile as its treatment of writing talent is insulting and degrading. Its idea of “production value” is spending a million dollars dressing up a story that any good writer would throw away. Its vision of the rewarding movie is a vehicle for some glamorpuss with two expressions and eighteen changes of costume, or for some male idol of the muddled millions with a permanent hangover, six worn-out acting tricks, the build of a lifeguard, and the mentality of a chicken-strangler. Pictures for such purposes as these, Hollywood lovingly and carefully makes. The good ones smack it in the rear when it isn’t looking.

Oh, I hope the picketing writers of today are holding their placards with similar sensibilities.

To finish up, I’m recommending William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade (Grand Central, 1989) [especially the bit where Robert Redford suggests Goldman take a look at an alternate script of All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Nora Ephron], John Irving’s My Movie Business (Random House, 2000), and Alice Walker’s phenomenal The Same River Twice (Simon & Schuster, 1997), in which the author looks back at the film version of The Color Purple ten years on.

 

 

by Nikki Tranter

11 Dec 2007


Welcome to Day Two of Re:Print‘s tribute to screwed over Hollywood writers. It’s another day I’ve had to listen while a co-worker complains there’s no Office to download. I know—I miss The Office, too. But I can wait ... as long as I have to.

I wasn’t planning to post this much of it, but Raymond Chandler’s letter to Charles Morton of The Atlantic Monthly, but I felt I had to. It is such a rare document, so raw, honest, and representative of the wall today’s screenwriters continue to thrash their heads against. This is an except, albeit a long one, that outlines Chandler’s reasons why he could not complete a piece for the Atlantic on the very art of screenwriting. “I have no honesty about it,” he wrote. Remember, too, this letter was composed in 1944:

1. There is no mature art of the screenplay, and by mature I don’t mean intellectual or postgraduate or intelligentsia-little magazine writing. I mean an art which knows what it is doing and has the techniques necessary to do it.

2. An adult, that is dirty or plain-spoken art of the screen, could exist at any moment the Hays Office (Title for an Essay on same: Dirtymindedness As a Career) and the local censorship boards would let it, but it would be no more mature than Going My Way is.

3. There is no available body of screenplay literature, because it belongs to the studios, not to the writers, and they won’t show it. For instance, I tried to borrow a script of The Maltese Falcon from Warners; they would not lend it to me. All the writer can do is look at pictures. If he is working in a studio, he can get the scripts of that studio, but his time is not his own. He can make no leisurely study and reconstruction of the problems.

4. There is no teaching in the art of the screenplay because there is nothing to teach; if you do not know how pictures are made, you cannot possibly know how to write them. No outsider knows that, and no writer would be bothered, unless he was an out-of-work or manqué writer.

5. The screenplay as it exists is the result of a bitter and prolonged struggle between the writer (or writers) and the people whose aim is to exploit his talent without giving it the freedom to be a talent.

6. It is only a little over three years since the major (and only this very year the minor) studios were forced after prolonged and bitter struggle to agree to treat the writer with a reasonable standard of business ethics. In this struggle the writers were not really fighting the motion picture industry at all; they were fighting those powerful elements in it that had hitherto glommed off all the glory and prestige and who could only continue to do so by selling themselves to the world as the makers of pictures. This struggle is still going on, and the writers are winning it, and they are winning it in the wrong way: by becoming producers and directors, that is, by becoming showmen instead of creative artists. This will do nothing for the art of the screenplay and will actually harm those writers who are temperamentally unfitted for showmanship (and this will include always the best of them.) 

7. The writer is still very far from winning the right to create a screenplay without interference from his studio. Why? Because he does not know how, and it is to the interest of the producers and directors to prevent him from learning how. If even a quarter of the highly-paid screenwriters of Hollywood (leaving out all the people who work on program pictures) could produce a completely integrated and thoroughly photographable screenplay, with only the amount of interference and discussion necessary to protect the studio’s investment in actors and freedom from libel and censorship troubles, then the producer would become a business co-ordinator and the director would become the interpreter of a completed work, instead of, as at present, the maker of the picture. They will fight to the death against it.

 

 

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