Ron Howard Comes Home for Han Solo

Like you, I was happy to read about Ron Howard directing the Star Wars Han Solo project.

Not only is Howard a talented director / producer (We won’t talk about the Dan Brown projects), he’s got history with Lucasfilm that I think will work to his advantage. Here’s how:

People know and love ‘American Graffiti’ but did you also know that it was Lucasfilm’s first project as a production company? The film is a classic for several reasons, but Ron Howard’s contribution gave the story an emotional weight it otherwise wouldn’t have had. Here was the kid who finally broke the ‘child actors can’t get work as adults’ curse. ‘Ronny’ Howard took his first steps toward ‘Ron’ Howard with Lucasfilm. Now, forty-four years later, Ron Howard is working on a Lucasfilm project. To me, it’s like the student coming back as the master, as a healer rather than an executioner. The circle is complete, and in a good way.

Personally, I’m happy for him. This move feels like good juju and I wish Howard, Lucasfilm and the project success.

Why Wonder Woman Isn’t Just a Superhero Movie

Here’s the moment when I knew superhero movies have changed forever.

Before we get to that, let me just say this. Every time I announce my work, I feel like I split a fine line between spitting in the ocean and coming across as self-promoting. I got some suggestions on Reddit, and if you have something to add I’d love to hear it.

As I was saying, superhero movies have changed, and changed for the better. A few years from now, people are going to still be talking about this movie, and here is my take on why that will be. Mild spoiler alert – there’s a scene in Wonder Woman where Gal Gadot runs across No Man’s Land as part of her journey through the horror of World War One.

As she’s climbing a ladder to enter the battle, the camera gives us the standard detail shot. The lens lingers over her armored wrists, her tiara, and her boots. I sat there, watching, and instantly my cinematography/male brain goes “Here’s the booty shot, here’s the booty shot.” Then it happened; no booty shot. You know what I’m talking about: the booty shot. Wonder Woman has no booty shot.

Up ’til now, it was accepted that every major female character’s screen time would include some moment where the camera remains focused on their bum. That has to be annoying, not only to the actress but to every girl who sees this and the sloppy grins of every boy in the theater. It’s become a thing that every girl has grown to accept, to the point of parody. Objectification and unnecessary sexualization have been sore points in the sci-fi and superhero fan communities. Now here comes Wonder Woman (WW).

At the moment of battle, Gal Gadot climbs the ladder, the camera shows everything about her that tells us visually that she’s a strong, fierce warrior, and then poof, she’s off into the war zone. Not only is she fighting the bad guys on their terms, she’s defeating them. Everything we’ve come to expect from a Captain America or Iron Man, in Amazonian form. Booty shots are off the table, and the gloves are off for us.

I applaud Patty Jenkins for this decision. With two seconds of film, she turned Wonder Woman from another superhero movie into a culturally significant film. Movies have the power to motivate thought, action and change. At the crossroads between art and commerce, many compromises are made in the name of pragmatism. Toxic ideas fester in the gray areas between liberty and license. In one fell swoop, Wonder Woman resets the dials to zero. This film shows us that a movie with a female protagonist, helmed by an underknown actress, can succeed in Hollywood. This story shows that girls can be powerful, gentle, brave and resilient. But then, Wonder Woman gets even better.

Any other ‘girl-centric’ movie seems to sell us short. Case in point: the Ghostbusters reboot from last year, but there are other examples, too. Fight scenes that pull punches. Sexy misunderstandings. Tired speeches that try to marginalize the male characters instead of just being themselves. Wonder Woman pours gasoline on all of these cliches and drops the match.

We’re so invested in the story, the characters and the action that all of these issues fall away. As a former member of the IDF, Gadot puts a startling amount of realism into her fight scenes. WW exits the first act having navigated the treacherous worlds of sexuality, mother-daughter relationship dynamics, Mean Girls, and child bearing with equal amounts of strength and sincerity. Throughout the rest of the movie, WW is equally comfortable whether she’s throwing punches or pitching woo. When she isn’t throwing shade, she’s throwing tanks. You come out of the theater cheering for her as a person, and I think that is why Wonder Woman isn’t just a superhero movie.

Sitting in my chair, I was thinking about how readers and viewers *must* be invested in the story. This is an important point for me, especially if I want to be a successful storyteller myself. WW reminded me that if I’ve connected with the reader or viewer’s emotions, nothing else matters after that. Think about this: old blockbusters are famous for having plot holes and film goofs, but Star Wars is a classic *because* it connected with our emotions. Jaws is a classic *because* it connected with our emotions. WW connects with the audience’s emotions using grace, and style. One day, we’ll look back at this moment and realize that we were witnessing history.

In a world where we’re fighting to be ourselves, to be appreciated for who we are, WW steps out and does just that. It’s got heart, it’s got action, it’s got fun. A lesser film-maker or actress would allow themselves to be sucked into the pointless battle of gender issues. WW relegates those issues to the dustbin where they belong, saying: “watch the movie and have fun. That’s all you should have to worry about.”

Darn right.

 

 

Enemy at the Gatekeepers

Reddit teaches you so much; I discovered the /r/gatekeeping/ forum and instantly fell in love. Gatekeeping is when someone takes it upon themselves to decide who does or does not have access or rights to a community or identity. Science fiction, as I’m sure you’re aware, is full of people just like this.

Don’t get me wrong: I welcome healthy boundaries. The Sci-fi genre definitely needs them. However, gatekeeping rarely seems to be about maintaining healthy boundaries as it is about pointless displays of dominance. Open discussion and spirited debate routinely get sabotaged by edgelords who think every exchange is an opportunity to practice their ‘alpha male’ behaviors.

All of this conflict does not make our community more healthy. Our behavior comes across as immature, rather than urgent. Obnoxious, rather than upstanding. Participants sabotage cooperation by going out of their way to find things to disagree about, presumably for moral posturing and virtue-signalling reasons.1  

Look, I get it. I know we’re not the most socially-developed tribe on the planet. God knows I’m dealing with my own baggage and telling stories about the future helps me deal with all the things I can’t solve today. But we should be aware of what makes our tribe work. We’ve become what we are because Elder Geeks created a community based on togetherness, inclusion, curiosity, and openness. This gatekeeping? It’s messing with that. We’re literally chipping away at the cornerstones of our community, and that will have grave consequences.

To be clear: I’m not advocating a ‘right’ way of thinking or being for the sci-fi community. Rather, I’m hoping we can be ‘less wrong.‘ Like other communities, we’re in the ‘discovery business.’ As this letter says, “[E]veryone is an active and responsible participant in the overall process, that every individual becoming “progressively less wrong” is an invaluable part of the global doing so.”

So with that in mind, let’s establish that gatekeeping isn’t working for us. Gatekeeping is turning people away from droves. Like sunflowers who can turn in any direction they need to face the sun, new sci-fi participants are turning away from traditional sci-fi. They’re seeking out mainstream movies branding themselves as ‘science fiction.’ It’s easier, it’s less drama, and it’s more fun. This is going to kill us. Science fiction is going to disappear into the maw of the Marvel/Disney Industrial Complex. Yes, sci-fi stories will still be told, but fewer readers will find them. Is that the future we imagined for ourselves?

Ours is not the only tribe who suffers from internal squabbling. I found myself making direct connection between the frustrations experienced in the LGBT community and what I face with my fellow geeks and nerds. Like that person, I just quite frankly don’t entirely feel like I belong in that community. Don’t get me wrong I’ve tried joining the tribe but I never felt totally accepted. I don’t identify with this tribe, but I need this tribe in order to survive. I’m not sure what the answer to this problem is.

The longer we wait to take control of our tribe, enforce healthy cultural norms, and eliminate the cliquish bullying, the more likely it is that our tribe will remain lost on the prairie. Our community is only as strong as we require it to be. Like other tribes that cannot survive contact with the outside world, we can and will be lost to time if attackers with advanced knowledge of toxic behaviors slip past our undeveloped social immune system.

It’s hoped that this post will foster some conversation and perhaps some self-awareness within the sci-fi community. Let’s work to be less wrong together. Let’s be active and responsible participants in the overall process. I’m willing to do my part to foster a healthy and self-aware sci-fi community, and I hope you will be, too.

Horizon: Zero Dawn is NeoClassic SciFi

Horizon: Zero Dawn has been taking a chunk out of my productivity as a writer. After four weeks and several dozen hours, I’m finished and I have a few things to say. To begin with, don’t consider this a video game review. Other people have reviewed the game, and my only comment is that ‘yes, it deserves the rating.’ To call HZD a ‘good game’ is like calling Stranger Things a ‘good Netflix show.’ This is a disrupter, a game-changer, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it achieve neoclassic status as a science fiction story.

What I want to discuss, is why HZD is great science fiction unto itself. Grab one of the wallpaper-sized pictures I’m including in this post, settle in, and hear me out:

  

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Dear Netflix: Here’s How You Do ‘Reverse Iron Fist.’

Was all set to say something about how to save Netflix’s beleagured show, Iron Fist, but then theMarySue.com beat me to it. All I have to say now is ‘that’s what she said.’ But then I thought about how you would do it. That’s where my juices got flowing.

First off, I can totally imagine this show as a period piece produced by Quentin Tarantino, starring some underknown Asian martial arts actress. The premise is super easy: Plane goes down in Texas in the 20s and she comes back to China in the thirties as this gunslinging martial arts warrior princess. It’d be an awesome way to talk about history that’s a blank space to Western high school history classes:

The more I thought about it, the more obvious it becomes. Sam Elliot already works on Netflix projects, so you cast him as ‘the cowboy as samurai master.’ Then you cast Michelle Yoh as her elder sister and either Donnie Yen or Jet Li as ‘The Bad Guy.’ First eight episodes write themselves: all about her training to be a gunfighter while maintaining her stance as a martial artist. Last four episodes are about her returning home and kicking butt.

Imagine how cool this would be. Take all of these worn-out story tropes and give them a completely fresh take by flipping them, it’s easy! Not only would the show have an instant market overseas, it would overcome all ‘whitewashing’ complaints in one swift move and reinforce Netflix as the driving force behind entertainment innovation for the next three or four years. I’d be happy to jump on board as a screenwriter, too. I’m an unknown talent so I’ll work cheap.

C’mon, Netflix, what do you say?

Fame and Money Velocity

Fame and Money VelocityWas reading an interesting tidbit on the Internet yesterday about the misbehavior of the CEO of Chipotle. I’ve never cared for or about Chipotle, personally. You don’t need them after you to go the El Paso Taqueria on Blair Street, anyway. The negative notoriety reinforces something I’ve known for a long time about fame and why it’s not something I’ll personally chase, regardless of what happens with the writing.

To help understand this, I drew from something in my high school economics class, the velocity of money, or VoM for short. VoM measures the speed at which money changes hands, and is an indicator of the health of any economy. You can actually make money off of the VoM, if you time it correctly. If you understand that, you can also understand that fame also has a velocity, and that people make money off of this, too. The speed at which the public becomes aware of something, positively or negatively, is about 99% of the infotainment industry.

Fame and Money VelocityTMZ, Radar Online, Perez Hilton … they all make their money off of turning scandals and lurid stories into news. The teen pop superstars of 2016 are the teen diva meltdowns of 2017. ‘Cause Marketing’ turns cancer victims into a profit center. Now, as the unfortunate CEO of Chipotle demonstrates, companies and corporate execs fall into the same bucket. Yesterday’s Wall Street darling is next week’s Bernie Madoff. Yesterday’s Jared from Subway is today’s Jared from Subway. Media outlets time their activity so they profit either way. The news cycle is designed to make money when your star rises. They’ll be back when your star is ready to fall.

I could easily fall into this mess and I don’t want to. So yeah, even though I want to get my name out there, and for people to read my work, I need to hold onto my skepticism and cynicism of media. I want to be precise about how I engage with people. Viral media is a bell you can’t unring. Precision takes time.

The Path to the Dark Side

Sigh …

Another week, another round of stories about reboots. Disney is planning to reboot TRON and Scarlett Johansson is starring in a reboot of Ghost in the Shell. Despite my hopeful words about reboots a few weeks ago, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that reboots and legasequels are still a thing. The ship of our genre doesn’t corner on a dime.

I’m sorry, I just don’t get it. Reboots. Why? I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what rubs me the wrong way about the situation. Part of my personal recovery is about being mindful. If I like something, or dislike it, I try to understand what’s going on in the background. What am I really trying to say? How do I really feel? That exercise has led me to some conclusions, and some of them aren’t pretty.

All too often, the science fiction community acts in hypocritical ways, to their deficit. We’ll complain that ‘Hollywood running out of ideas’ on one day and line up to see the new Spiderman reboot on the next. I don’t mind if you’re hypocritical, let’s just be honest about it, okay? I don’t mind having an open dialogue about it. Clearly some people are okay with reboots. That’s okay. Some people can also be happy with an ‘official Thomas Kinkade reproduction’ in their home, too. I’m just not one of them.

Here’s the thing: Art means a lot to me, and therefore I have some pretty high standards. Science fiction is an art form and a form of creativity. Art and creativity are expressions of the human experience. In this endeavor, laziness will not do. I use MY art to to speak in MY voice and when I experience YOUR art, I want to hear what YOU are saying in YOUR voice. I don’t want to hear YOUR interpretation of what someone else said, I want to hear what YOU are saying.

Reboots are speaking in someone else’s voice. Reboots and legasequels are the tribute bands of sci-fi. Reboots may be great cash cows for movie studios, but they’re lazy in terms of creativity. Reboots are also a form of creative cheating. Reboots cheat your audience out of that a-ha moment when a new stories and characters resonate. You’re cheating yourself out of the opportunity to grow as an artist. You’re cheating new sci-fi out of the opportunity to find its place in the sun. Arguing for reboots is like telling me I should be spending my money on an Elvis impersonator when I can be out discovering new music.

Now look, I’ve heard the arguments in favor of reboots. Too often, the argument in favor of reboots boils down to ‘this is good because it’s popular and therefore it’s popular because it’s good.’ It’s cool if you want to use an argumentum ad populum, but that’s a logical fallacy. Some of us need more out of life.

History will not be kind to our era of reboots and legasequels, but all is not lost. It’s actually a simple fix. Sci-fi needs to take the advice of Dr. Ian Malcom: now is not the time to be preoccupied with thinking we could. Now is the time to consider whether we should. Reboots are the quick, easy path to money for the studios. They’re quicker, seductive ways to immerse yourself in classic stories without investing the time or effort. That path, as Yoda told us, leads to the Dark Side.

So yes, the fix is simple, but the choice will be hard. We – the sci-fi community that we are – only have so much time, energy and attention. We’re taking the stage in the drama about life, the universe and everything else. This is our moment in the spotlight. What will our story be?

Precision Takes Time

Some brief thoughts after finishing the first draft of ‘Victoria Crater.’ It took me MUCH longer than I expected to write this short story. I took breaks to re-focus my brain on telling the right story and use the right style. It’s harder than it looks. I asked myself over and over again, am I losing my mojo? Am I losing steam on writing? I think the answer is no, and here’s why.

I’m not sure if it’s a personal thing or not, but the words aren’t flowing like they used to. That might not be a bad thing. In the past words when flowed out like water from a broken faucet, I didn’t like what they said. I took Bruce Lee’s mantra about ‘being like water,’ to heart but I wasn’t cutting stone so much as I was making a mess on the kitchen floor.

Starting over again has renewed my appreciation for doing things the right way. So I’m focusing on the fundamentals. There’s no point in writing a hundred-thousand words no one will read. Writing Tweets helps me remember that much can be conveyed in a small space. Now I’m trying that discipline on the page.

Weight lifters have to focus on getting their form correct before adding weight. Writers do, too. There’s a certain level of precision involved, and it takes time and effort to master. I’d love to say that all of this comes as naturally as golf does to Tiger Woods, but the fact is that this is actual work. Calories are burned. So while I don’t want to be that guy who hangs out at Starbucks with his Mac Air in a turtleneck and calls himself a ‘writer,’ I want the work that I do to mean something.

So to sum up, this is a process. I’m not there yet, but I’m learning to love the ride.