Previous Posts: May 2013

Build A Bigger Megaphone Dept.

On Amazon's flash sales creating breakout bestsellers:


Daily Deals Propel Older E-Books to Popularity - NYTimes.com

Consumers are flocking to flash sales, said Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s vice president for Kindle content, because the deals whittle down the vast number of choices for reading and other forms of entertainment. “In a world of abundance and lots of choice, how do we help people cut through?” Mr. Grandinetti said. “People are looking for ways to offer their authors a megaphone, and we’re looking to build more megaphones.”

Good news: Amazon seems to have some intriguing ideas about how to get people to stand out from the pack.

Bad news: It's Amazon, and it's essentially a lottery.

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Tags: Amazon.com promotion publishing


Love The Art In Yourself, Not Yourself In The Art Dept.

Know thyself, especially why you create in the first place.


The Overjustification Effect « You Are Not So Smart

Getting paid for doing what you already enjoy will sometimes cause your love for the task to wane because you attribute your motivation as coming from the reward, not your internal feelings.

It's hard not to think about how this applies to, say, an author, self-published or otherwise. I started writing because it was something that felt right, and later on I realized it was something that gave me meaning and purpose in a way almost nothing else did. I would be writing even if not a single person ever read a word I wrote.

That said, a writer without an audience isn't much of a writer, more of a diarist, and so it is perfectly justified to go look for people to read what you do. Hence: publishing, blogs, what you see here in front of you, the whole bit.

What's not healthy is when you lose sight of your actual motives, or when you never had any to begin with and ignore that fact.

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Tags: creativity neuroscience psychology writing


Science Fiction Repair Shop: Clean the Slate Dept.

Should SF be "nuked back to year zero?"


Is There A New New Wave of Science Fiction, And Do We Need One Anyway? | Tor.com

... right now if you ask me about science fiction I’d suggest it was burnt down to the ground. Nuked back to year zero so we can all start again. It’s just, largely, lost its way. It's stopped being about ideas, the present or even the future and has just become another slack-jawed asset of the escapist entertainment industry.

Such are the words of SF author Tim Maughan, and I think I agree with him — and with Michael Moorcock, also quoted in the piece:

... our day-to-day world has in lots of key ways become science-fictional. No, we didn’t get personal jetpacks, but we’ve got the internet and mobile phones. How do we write about this? The realistic novel in its strictest sense doesn’t seem equal to the task, but nor funnily enough does science fiction. Solution? As ever, think about stuff, then try stuff, see what works.

That's more or less the approach I've been advocating: get SF and straight-fic (so to speak) to teach each other the right lessons. Get the former to pay a little more attention to human beings as they actually are; get the latter to give more cred to the way things could be. Get a little ecumenical accord going, willya?

I am leery, however, of creating a formal program out of these impulses, something to describe as a Movement with a list of undersigned and a slogan in Latin on the letterhead. That might just be a reflection of my reflexive resistance to sticking a hard-and-fast label onto things, since the minute you label something it stops becoming a living thing and becomes just another category into which you can consign (or discard) other things.

The ideal cure for SF and litfic's mutual hardening of the arteries does not seem to be  a specific set of directives, but rather "votes cast in the form of individual books," as Dale Peck put it in his own essay on a similar problem. No one book alone will remake SF, or literature, but each one in its own way can point a bit further up the road we need to be walking.


Tags: science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop


Manufaketuring Dept.

Let's not confuse the process of describing something with the process of creating it.


With all my talk recently about the problems of template-driven storytelling, an insight emerged. We have a tendency to confuse the process of describing something with the process of creating it.

Meaning, we seem to have the idea that if we can document in detail what something is, we can therefore reverse-engineer the creation process (and, by extension, the work) and come up with a way to make any number of things that operate the same way and have the same effect on the audience.

The varieties of fallacious reasoning at work here are so diverse that I scarcely know where to begin.

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Tags: creativity marketing storytelling


Science Fiction Repair Shop: Pacific Who? Dept.

Why Guillermo del Toro's Cthulu-zilla-vangelion film will tank with mainstream audiences.


My current joke about Pacific Rim (which all things considered, I am looking forward to) goes something like this:

Guillermo del Toro couldn't make an H.P. Lovecraft film (R-rated, natch) because no one wanted to back the project. He couldn't make a Godzilla film because someone else was already on that job. And he couldn't make a Neon Genesis Evangelion movie because that project's been stuck in development hell for god knows how long now.¹ So he got Warner Brothers to give him the money to make a combination of all three!

That said, why is it that every time I see trailers or posters for Pacific Rim, I keep saying to myself, "This film is going to tank bigtime"?

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Tags: Guillerimo del Toro Man of Steel Pacific Rim Superman Zack Snyder


Science Fiction Repair Shop: Classics Not Spoken Here Dept.

Creators have to cultivate a sense of history.


Had a conversation yesterday with some other SF fans about the problem of folks who live in a world where they have immediate access to the whole history of a given genre — to just about everything, really — and don't avail themselves of it. Fewer people reading SF know names like Clarke or Asimov; I get the impression most people reading "SF" today think it's "all the stuff on bookshelves with the names of video games and TV shows and movies on them".

That brought to mind a bitter question: Why would people want to try and keep up with the backlog of classic movies, books, etc., which they have no emotional connection to in the first place, when they can just sit back and bathe in the firehose of what's being released anew every day, every week? Not everyone who watches a lot of movies is a lover of movies; some of them are just there because they want something moving in front of them on Friday night.

Now, I can stomach such passivity from rank-and-file audiences. I can't choke it down when it's the behavior of people who call themselves creators. I always felt a big part of the point of being an artist of any kind was to also be a student of your chosen art form. Not just in the sense of examining the stuff produced in the field before you, but to look at as much of it as possible, and to understand why and to what end things were done that way.

Some projection on my part may be at work here. This is why I always felt books on how to write were unintentionally misleading or limiting: they can give you a recipe, but that doesn't make you into a chef. The books that made the most difference to me were the ones that were about writers rather than writing per se — and, of course, the books by those same people. By studying them, I felt like I was better able to develop a program for how my own work had to evolve than if I had simply been handed a checklist and told to follow it.


Tags: books classics movies writers writing


Science Fiction Repair Shop: I've Seen The Future (Again) And It (Still) Doesn't Work Dept.

Gadgetry is not futurism.


Star Trek and the shiny, boring future — Adventures in Consumer Technology — Medium

If we spent the last thirty years inspired by what we saw in Star Trek, what’s going to inspire us for the next thirty? If Hollywood’s fixated on the now, then the only futurism we have is funded by Silicon Valley venture capitalists and massive tech companies.

And that's exactly the same complaint I've made myself.

Actually, I cast my net even wider, and demanded that SF not simply be content with showing us the gadgetry of the future. Anyone can do that now, and they're not even obliged to do it particularly well for it to be salable.

What's far harder is to imagine the human being of the future. All these "futuristic" toys tell me nothing about the kinds of human beings that would be wielding them — or, rather, it tells me that the human beings using them would be even duller and more materialistic than the ones we have now. That's not a future I want.

SF is always a product of its moment in time, but that should be a constraint to be pushed against and transcended, not capitulated to. But when you have technocrats like J.J. Abrams in charge, people who are hired not to be imaginative and visionary but to simply use their skills to maximize the profitability of a franchise, I'm not sure anything else is possible.


Tags: futurism science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop


By The Numbers Again Dept.

Template-driven storytelling strikes again (and again, and again).


Look no further for  perfect example of the problems I have with template-driven storytelling than some recent movie remake news:

Remake Bits: ‘Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance,’ ‘Poltergeist’ Plot, ‘Seven Samurai’ Hints | /Film

... [here are] some details of the Poltergeist remake script, by David Lindsay-Abaire. It doesn’t sound like a straight re-do of the original film. Rather, it features a family headed by a guy named Eric Bowen. He loses his job, after which he and his family “relocate to a new town to start anew. His daughter, Madison, is abducted, making him truly understand what’s important in life: family. In the new version, Eric’s wife, Amy, can communicate with the dead.”

First off, the mere fact that they are remaking Poltergeist —  not to mention Sympathy for Mr. Vengeancenor Seven Samurai  — is insult enough. Well, even there I'm willing to bend a bit: Seven Samurai did get remade as The Magnificent Seven, and if we're going to remake Korean cinema we might as well aim high, right? (See my comments about the Oldboy remake.)

But let me zoom in on the real irk-maker — the bit about how having his daughter kidnapped "[makes] him truly understand what's important in life: family." Is there one single movie in the past thirty years that hasn't pounded this treacly lesson into us a dozen different ways, along with a whole slew of others (follow your dreams, break the rules, listen to your heart, kiss the girl, etc. etc.)?

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Tags: Akira Kurosawa Hollywood movies remakes storytelling


The Heart Of The Matter Dept.

On love being the highest law.


My friend Tony Schmidt posted about something I don't normally deal with, because it's outside my métier: the concept of following of the Commandments.

... we should be asking ourselves in everything we do this question… Is this an act of love?  Makes sense, doesn’t it?  I mean, if Jesus asked us to love one another, then perhaps we could do little wrong if we ask ourselves whether or not the actions we are about to take are those out of love ...

Tony is an Episcopalian Christian; the closest spiritual path I could say I'm affiliated with is Zen Buddhism. But the way he talks about the issue reminds me that with many matters of spirit, most of the differences are just the way the discussion is framed.

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Tags: belief Buddhism Christianity dharma morality religion Zen


Your Characters Would Be Cooler If Only They Wore Designer Jeans Dept.

Is formula storytelling "better" just because it's more commercially successful?


Every so often I run down my arguments about why template-driven storytelling fails us all in the long run, because it displaces everything else. I typically get a counter-argument that runs something like this: Isn't the reason those formulaic works displace other, non-formula works is because they're just plain better?

Well, that depends on your definition of "better", doesn't it? If by "better" you mean "more easily marketed", sure. That's a definition of "better" which appeals to a salesman, but less so to someone who wants something truly interesting to read or watch. It's a little like saying the carcinoma cell is "better" than its non-cancerous neighbors because it does such a great job of multiplying.

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Tags: media ecology promotion storytelling


Fan Faction Dept.

Amazon helps fanfic goes "legit" -- or is it about fanfic?


Lots of folks have jumped on the announcement that Amazon is setting up a system by which content owners can license what they have to allow officially-sanctioned fanfiction. I don't see this so much as a triumph of fanfic as I see it as Amazon, and maybe the content owners as well, sensing an emergent market ... and perhaps also trying to keep the next Fifty Shades of Gray from getting produced (or at least prevent it from not returning them any money to them in the process).

What's most striking to me is not the fanfic side of it per se but the process being put in place. In essence, this isn't a "fan fiction mill"; it's a streamlining of the pitch process for tie-ins and spin-offs — things the creators usually set up on their own and then hire in people from the outside to write for them. But if they have a veritable army of people willing to do the job, why not let them have at it? (Assuming that doesn't tick off the established professionals who worked hard to write for such a thing, only to be displaced by a bunch of upstarts, etc.)

And what more, it's not the content creators that seem to have been the trigger for this process. Rather, it's the pipeline — Amazon — sensing a market that has yet to be created, and doing what it can to bring it into being. Shrewd work on their part. From here, they could go any number of places — e.g., partnering with musicians to allow tracks to be remixed or sampled (and further monetized by all three parties). Just as long as the original content holders have the last word ....


Tags: Amazon.com fanfiction writing


The World Crashes In, Into My Living Room Dept.

Why the pipeline that deliver us the culture we have to live with is failing us.


The Somewhat Clogged Culture Pipeline | Steven Savage

The Pipeline isn’t doing it’s job.  There’s a flattening, blanding, ahistorical problem in our culture.  We’re not getting sold things of deep value, we’re getting sold something again and again. Our culture is too important to be left in the hands of simple profit-loss calculations.

The pipeline, as Steven and I have come to call it, is everything that gets culture to you. Mainly, it's the mix of distribution mechanisms that are owned and run by some corporate concern — the Wal-Marts, Amazons, Best Buys, theatrical chains and so on. They're the ones who are actually buying what's out there, which is what makes them so important.

What hasn't gone too closely examined, I fear, is the long-term cultural-ecological effects of this system. Every now and then someone comes along and bleats about "mass culture" (pace Dwight Macdonald once again), scores a few points with exactly the wrong sector of society — mostly the folks who would be happier if everyone threw Harry Potter on the bonfire and picked up some good clean Shakespeare instead — and vanishes in a puff of footnotes. As a result, it's difficult to talk about "cultural pollution" without sounding like a fuddy.

But with each post I write about this topic, with each new slice I take off a different side of it, I see more and more that the ecological analogies are not at all out of line. To talk properly of "cultural pollution" requires we go less into what is being produced than how. We don't worry as much about a factory that is carbon-neutral, solar-powered and cradle-to-cradle with its raw materials, but we have good reason to worry about a factory that dumps sludge into a river and churns out products destined to sit in a landfill and leak heavy metals into our water table. If the world crashes into our living room, doesn't it stand to reason that it'll take out a load-bearing beam or two in the process if we're not careful?

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Tags: distribution entertainment marketing media media ecology


Science Fiction Repair Shop: Waves of the Future Dept.

If SF is "the literature of the future", shouldn't we be using the media of the future to deliver it?


Steve wonders if the more traditional formats for delivering SF (prose, video) are the best ones:

Science Fiction: The Old Ways Are Best. For Now. | Fan To Pro

... as I read a solid SF novel and muse over what forms work, it seems apparent to me that the forms of novels with a physical footprint and singular/episodic video (television shows, but maybe online) are the best methods at this time.

By this, he means in comparison to "new media" like webcomics and such. I agree with this idea up to a point, but only so far, for a couple of reasons. (Addendum: Rob Barba has his own reply here, which is well worth reading.)

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Tags: literature media new media science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop storytelling video games


Science Fiction Repair Shop: Not A Soul In Sight Dept.

Abhorring a Vacuum | New Republic it is an urgent task of contemporary American fiction, whose characteristic products are books of great self-consciousness with no selves in them; curiously arrested books that know a thousand different things—the recipe for the...


Abhorring a Vacuum | New Republic

it is an urgent task of contemporary American fiction, whose characteristic products are books of great self-consciousness with no selves in them; curiously arrested books that know a thousand different things — the recipe for the best Indonesian fish curry! the sonics of the trombone! the drug market in Detroit! the history of strip cartoons! — but do not know a single human being. Such books, congested and anxious, resemble the millipede mentioned by Meyrink, which, when it realizes it has a thousand legs, is suddenly unable to move an inch.

The first time I read these words, I couldn't help but think of the same problem facing SF. If anything, SF has this issue, only even more acutely. It has hypotheses about terraforming, quantum computing, faster than light travel, et any number of als, but it has the worst time thinking about how a single genuine human being who is not an authorial stand-in would live with such things. The shining exceptions get little recognition in either SF or mainstream circles, since they break unspoken rules for both domains.

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Tags: fantasy science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop


Template In The Head Dept.

Why checklist-driven, beat-structure construction works in the short run but is ruinous in the long run.


Regular readers of these pages know I have issues with the way mass-market entertainment is pounded out according to a series of predictable formulas. With movies, it's the three-act script structure (the "Syd Field" template), which has become so standardized that not only screenwriters but producers take lessons in how to write scripts like everyone else, less they not know what to look for. Other examples abound, but that's one of the most egregious and obvious of the bunch.

Some folks manage to make the templates work with them, not against them. PIXAR are masters of this sort of thing — well, at least they used to be, until Disney's commercial pressures got the better of their storytelling impulses.

For a long time I had trouble explaining why three-act beat-structure storytelling bothered me so much, aside from the obvious indictment that it was storytelling-by-formula, and that when you do anything by a formula you get nothing but variations on the formula. It took a conversation with a friend the other night to put better words to the objection: it's a conflation of an explanatory device with a generative device.

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Tags: creativity John Cage movies screenwriting storytelling writing


Look, Ma, No Subject Matter! Dept.

Just having an audience doesn't mean you have something to say to it.


From the comments to Science Fiction Repair Shop: A Defect Of Character Dept. (Genji Press), where I lamented the way SF&F authors seem to be untrained in (or discouraged from) digging into personal experience and thus establishing an intimate rapport with their readers:

Going from the idea that there's a loss of intimacy and connection [between audiences and creators in their works], then is it possible that need is acknowledged - in other media? Authors blogging, connecting on twitter, showing up at conventions? Is that in part a substitute for a lack of intimacy in the media itself?

I suspect this problem has been around since long before the recent explosion of social media, so while those things didn't create this problem, they certainly haven't been of much help alleviating it. The root of the problem seems to be the way we confuse merely having an audience with actually having something to say.

Every author¹ craves an audience, and not always for reasons they themselves fully understand. Some write simply because they have a vision to communicate, one with more appeal to the senses or the emotions than the intellect, and where any intellectual content is most likely discovered after the fact or attributed retroactively by others. Some write because they have a specific agenda to advance, whether aesthetic, political, social, or personal. And sometimes that personal agenda is nothing more than the cultivation of an audience: they want to write so they can be heard.

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Tags: audiences media ecology writing


Mass Market, Crass Market Dept.

How economics supplants culture: a failure of marketing, and of imagination.


In an essay named "Economics Not Culture", my friend Steven Savage asserts that economic processes have replaced cultural ones. I agree, and I believe the problem is even worse than the way he describes it.

I admit this is not a new concept, or a particular profound one. But it has taken on a new and virulent form in the last few years. It is the idea that there is no better way to determine the worth of something culturally by how well it performs in the marketplace — and by that token, the only things worth producing are those which get mobbed on by enough people that no unusual efforts (aside from efforts of scale and scope) have to be made to sell it.

The idea of economics as a cultural force (at least as it is most relevant here) can be traced back to — who else? —  Marx. His concern was that capital reduces the individual to an integer in a system that inevitably exploits him. That all had a germ of truth to it, but he missed several other things which severely undermined the predictive power of his work.

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Tags: books culture economics marketing media ecology movies music


Science Fiction Repair Shop: A Defect Of Character Dept.

SF&F's problems with character development are cyclical; we teach ourselves bad habits.


The other day I was talking to a friend, doing my usual back-of-hand-to-forehead routine about SF&F, and out came this bit: "I feel like the whole way we go about exploring ideas in SF and fantasy these days is so depersonalized. Not [just] in the sense that there are no characters, etc., but in the sense that there is none of us, ourselves."

The first germ of this complaint sprouted back when I read Harlan Ellison's discussion of Charly a/k/a Flowers for AlgernonThe book embodied for him a major, ongoing complaint he'd had about SF — the way the genre had consistently failed to deliver characters worthy of being remembered. Here we have a Paul Atreides, there an Ender Wiggin, but for the most part character in SF is relegated to the back seat, if not the glove compartment, in favor of concept and gadget. It took TV and movies to deliver memorable characters for SF, in big part because you have to go big or go home with such things in those media.

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Tags: characters Fyodor Dostoevsky science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop storytelling writing


Made Over Dept.

Creativity, once again: it's at least as much about observing as it is "making stuff up."


From the comments to Indie Pandering Dept. (Genji Press)

I think we both discount and overemphasize imagination at the same time. On one level it's viewed as "making stuff up." On the other hand there's the emphasis on how supposedly imaginative people make tons of cash.

And if you think making stuff up is the fast road to riches, I have various water-spanning properties in the Five Boroughs for sale.

I don't think most people believe in the get-rick-quick part of this stuff anymore — well, they'd better not, or they're in for some major letdown! — but I do think they are just as often, if not more so, under the sway of a delusion that is no less damaging, the idea that imagination is nothing but "making stuff up."

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Tags: creativity creators


The Sounds Of Salesmen Dept.

What self-publishers need most: big data?


5 Questions for Paul Rhodes [INTERVIEW] | BookMachine - the book publishing portal - events, views and publishing tips

... there is one truism that augurs well for publishing: Great marketing is no longer enough – if your product, be that a book, game or other storytelling project, is substandard, you will be found out, and the days of getting by on reputation alone are numbered. Basically, make a great game/book/product, and build your marketing with confidence from that point.

On the other hand, I no longer believe you can expect a great thing to accrue its own marketing on its own. The magic word-of-mouth we all like to assume exists, the kind where the stone you nudged downhill with your toe turns into a landslide, is as much a product of sheer luck and network effects as it is effort.

That said, I suspect there are very good reasons why those things are a product of sheer luck and network effects. In other words, the code can be cracked if we're diligent, but I suspect it requires access to the kind of metrics and stats that most self-published authors are either not in the habit of harvesting or simply don't have access to.

The fact that each self-publishing platform is an island unto itself doesn't help — it's next to impossible to harvest data from them, since they don't publish it. Maybe a sort of coalition of performance data sharing between self-publishers could be created — a way for individuals to tap into the collective data created by so many people working solo, side by side.


Tags: promotion publicity publishing self-publishing


Science Fiction Repair Shop: Human After All Dept.

More on how SF should be about a new kind of person, not a new kind of gadget.


If We Need SF, What’s The Best Form? | Fan To Pro

... my theory is we need the kind of SF that inspires people to explore science and technology and invent new things. Good SF gives us ideas to aim for as it imagines solutions we want in some relatively conceivable manner, or it extrapolates on existing technology that gives us a rough idea of where to go and how to get there. Having these goals and at least vague directions, we get inspired to do things with science and technology.

Steve and I have been going back and forth about these issues (1,2,3) for some time now. My feeling is that every time we start talking about a concept of the future that revolves around what to invent or how to invent it, we are doomed to fall short if we don't think first and foremost about who is going to be inventing those things and whywhat kind of human being. The real things we need to be thinking about inventing are not gadgetry or infrastructures. They will be new ways of living, of which those gadgets or infrastructures will play a major role.

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Tags: science fiction Science Fiction Repair Shop sociology technology


Bakshi to the Future Dept.

Ralph Bakshi is alive, well, and angry in a good way.


Ralph Bakshi is alive, well, working on a new film (which you can fund on Kickstarter), and very, very angry in a good way.

Ralph Bakshi: Still Railin After All These Years | AWN | Animation World Network

I never went and did a film to make audiences feel good or happy.  I could care less what my audiences cared about.  What every big director in Hollywood today is really doing, most of them, they’re creating lies.  Now what do I mean by lying?  It’s that they get together in a room…I was there so I know…they get together in a room and they say, “OK, how do we make audiences happy?  How do we make a film that gets them excited?”  So they forget the truth.  The truth isn’t the issue anymore.  It’s all smoke and mirrors.  That’s the reality.  A lot of them are very, very successful.  When I approach my films, I’m asking myself what am I angry about, what do I want to say to people? Who cares what they think.  That’s always my approach.  And I’m dying for them [the audience] to show up and see it.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’d like a Ferrari.  I would love to buy a Ferrari and drive around America, you know what I’m saying?  There’s nothing wrong with money if you make it honestly.  I always wanted audiences to come, I wanted them to like my films.  Every artist wants you to like their work.  But I didn’t bend my work towards what I thought they would want to see.

Sitting on my desk right now are a few books that embody the obverse of this argument, all of them books on screenwriting I picked up from the dollar rack at a bookstore I frequent. Their argument, which I believe I am not caricaturing too badly by phrasing it this way, is that a story not worth selling to a large number of people is not worth selling, period.

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Tags: animation Hollywood marketing movies Ralph Bakshi


Trust Me, I'm A Marketer Dept.

A new venue for one-to-one curation: gaming.


BattleBlock Theater devs say digital releases, crowdfunding won't 'stabilize' indie scene | Polygon

"I think as more content becomes available you are going to see individuals who are not devs and maybe not working at hardware companies becoming the 'trusted source' of what is good out there in the mass of games," Baez said, noting he thinks digital platforms will adopt curated feeds in the future. "This will differ than just ratings or being a reviewer; I think it will become more like your favorite radio DJ who you listen to because you like their taste."

Sound familiar? Granted, it's an entirely different venue from the bookstore or record store, but it has the same flavor. We never really had a culture of indie gaming stores — or, rather, they were subsumed into other things like comic shops and whatnot — but if there's a way to make curation happen that serves audiences of all kinds, to get them interested in the genuinely new and inventive rather than simply straitjacket them into buying a minimally-revved version of what was out last year, let's see it.


Tags: audiences curation games marketing


Paint By Letters Dept.

The number-crunchers have arrived in the screenwriting department. Pray.


Solving Equation of a Hit Film Script, With Data - NYTimes.com

For as much as $20,000 per script, Mr. Bruzzese and a team of analysts compare the story structure and genre of a draft script with those of released movies, looking for clues to box-office success. His company, Worldwide Motion Picture Group, also digs into an extensive database of focus group results for similar films and surveys 1,500 potential moviegoers.

Yes, this is every bit as gruesome as it sounds. It's applying the Nate Silver quant-crunching approach to creativity.

Among the gems unearthed by this crew: movies with bowling scenes in them tend to tank, so don't include them. So much for The Dude, then! And yes, The Big Lebowski did not do well in its original release, but it's been consistently reissued on video multiple times since and has become a cultural touchstone — something which they achieved, I add, with relatively minimal risk given the movie's budget.

Or what about There Will Be Blood, whose final scene took place in — yes — a bowling alley? The absurdity of this approach just stretches on and on.

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Tags: audiences creativity Hollywood movies screenwriting writing


Big Picture, Little Picture Dept.

Why do we let the business of creativity pass into the hands of the most uncreative people around?


Steven Soderbergh has made a few films I admire (Traffic) and others I haven't, but the man has seen enough of the industry from the inside to comment on it quite deftly, as he does in this remarkable lecture:

Read Or Listen To Soderbergh’s STATE OF THE CINEMA Address… | CHUD.com

... the meetings have gotten pretty weird. There are fewer and fewer executives who are in the business because they love movies. There are fewer and fewer executives that know movies. ... You’ve got people who don’t know movies and don’t watch movies for pleasure deciding what movie you’re going to be allowed to make. That’s one reason studio movies aren’t better than they are, and that’s one reason that cinema, as I’m defining it, is shrinking.

...  One thing they take into consideration is the foreign market, obviously. It’s become very big. So that means, you know, things that travel best are going to be action-adventure, science fiction, fantasy, spectacle, some animation thrown in there. Obviously the bigger the budget, the more people this thing is going to have to appeal to, the more homogenized it’s got to be, the more simplified it’s got to be. So things like cultural specificity and narrative complexity, and, god forbid, ambiguity, those become real obstacles to the success of the film here and abroad.

... The sort of executive ecosystem is distorted, because executives don’t get punished for making bombs the way that filmmakers do, and the result is there’s no turnover of new ideas, there’s no new ideas about how to approach the business or how to deal with talent or material.

Emphases mine.

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Tags: business marketing movies publishing self-publishing storytelling


Indie Pandering Dept.

The little guys in creative fields are being just as lockstep and predictable as the big guys.


Bill Mechanic, former head of Fox (under whose reign X-Men and Fight Club came to be), left that company to become a producer, and found the green grass on the other side of the fence was something of an optical illusion:

Bill Mechanic On Moguls' Bad Decisions - Deadline.com

... the independent world, which should be aiming to do things better and different from the Studios, doesn’t have that as a mandate at all. If anything, the only thing that independent distributors and financiers look for is the SAME. Maybe costing a little less than the Majors, but they want what the Studios want, or in FIGHT CLUB speak, they want copies of a copy.

I now understand that unconventional choices like X MEN and ICE AGE would barely have a prayer getting made independently. Why? Because at the time, they didn’t look like anything else.

It’s disrespectful if not downright dumb to think audiences can’t tell the difference between the original, which occasionally might even have some fresh faces, and the copy, which almost always is populated with retreads. It’s like thinking you can sell yesterday’s news under a different banner.

My notes about self-publishing often being a cesspool of retreads comes back to mind. Here we have a fantastic system for getting truly independent and truly creative work out to audiences, and the overwhelming majority of what's pushed out to people through that particular pipeline is the worst imaginable string of knock-offs of whatever's currently clogging up the bestseller lists.

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Tags: marketing self-publishing writers writing


In Their Faces Dept.

Just "being a writer" isn't enough anymore -- and maybe it never was.


When I first started self-publishing, I did so out of the sense that what I was doing was not going to be something that could be easily condensed to fit a target market — what I called the "if you like that then you like this" crowd. I didn't want to deal with the henpecked dithering of marketers and editors who would sit there and mutter to themselves, well, it's not this and it's not that and it's not over there, either, so therefore we can't sell it. Sorry.

Me, I figured if I sat at a table and made my sales pitch directly to the people that mattered — the readers — I could do an end run around all such stupidity. I was half right. You can perform such an end run, and you can get books into the hands of an audience directly. But there are two issues.

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Tags: publicity publishing self-publishing writing


Ubik Witty Dept.

Once we've bonded through our mutual fandoms, then what?


I have wondered, on more than one occasion, whether or not the fact that something is widely loved is a function of its quality or simply its availability. By this last I mean more than just the fact that it's on TV every time we turn it on or what have you; it's that people enjoy having something to bond over, and a shared taste can become more than the sum of its parts — more so than something which struggles to find any audience at all because it's not shared so broadly.

The more people know about a given something, the easier it is to bond over it. Dig down and find a group of people who are passionate about something obscure like Gojoe (I seem to be in a fandom of one for this film), and the feeling turns ... well, clandestine. Even if it isn't something that obscure, one still feels like the love for the thing in question is being stoked as a way of protecting it from a world that neither understands nor cares for it. This is why most every fandom of repute has such a wildly protective fanbase: if anyone's going to mess it up, it ought to be them.

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Tags: aesthetics fandom



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