Saturday, July 26, 2008


My previous post, railing against the term Graphic Novel received quite an insightful comment. I think it is very accurate.

I also think it shows how a variety of different interpretations on a similar theme can generate a varying array of ideas that enhance and develop a character.

started by quoting me, and then elaborated...

"Christopher Nolan's THE DARK KNIGHT -- is NOT!!! based on [The Killing Joke]."

while perhaps literally true this hides the fact that it was definitely influenced by it as goyer admits in this article:

“I think that there are elements from The Dark Knight, elements from The Long Halloween, elements from The Killing Joke,” he says. “But it’s not like we were specifically adapting one specific comic book or comic book arc.”

and nolan admits in this one:

"MM: I take it will be less Cesar Romero and Jack Nicholson than the Joker we saw portrayed in a comic like 'The Killing Joke'?

Nolan:Yes. I would certainly point to 'The Killing Joke' but I also would point very much to the first two appearances of the 'Joker' in the comic."

and then both goyer and jonathan nolan talk about here:

"MoviesOnline: Not a lot of Killing Joke in this one.

DAVID GOYER: There’s a little bit of that dynamic between the Joker and Batman.

JONATHAN NOLAN: I think there’s a ton of it if you look at it from a slightly different perspective. What is the Joker trying to do in The Killing Joke? He’s trying to drive one of Batman’s allies crazy.

DAVID GOYER: Yeah, I think we definitely called that relationship from the Killing Joke.

MoviesOnline: What other comic books did you reference?

JONATHAN NOLAN: It’s easier to say what didn’t we reference? It felt like we read all of them. I grew up a Batman fan and David did too. So, there’s a lot of that already in there and when you embark on these things, DC sends you everything.

DAVID GOYER: Obviously there’s some of the Long Halloween in there. There’s some Miller stuff. I think in this one there’s less though than the first one. Some of the Denny O’Neil stuff. But it’s like yeah, we were looking at stuff from the 80s."

so not based on, but certainly influnced by.


I started writing a response in the comments and realized it was far too big a topic for that little column.

It's a chicken and an egg argument.

"...while perhaps literally true this hides the fact that it was definitely influenced by it..."

Of course, it is influenced by it. The Dark Knight is an adaptation of a pre-existing character with over 60 years of material. Even, in the pieces quoted above, they state they went back through everything.

The early Joker influenced Alan Moore's THE KILLING JOKE. The central tension between The Joker and Batman is the same tension that has always been present between these two adversaries. It isn't specific to The Killing Joke.

How far does Batman have to go to stop The Joker? How far is too far?

The Killing Joke is just a variation on that central theme. So is Jeph Loeb's recent HUSH. So is THE DARK KNIGHT.

The difference is in the details -- mainly the plot.

You don't see people touting "The Dark Knight was based on HUSH." People bring up The Killing Joke (my personal opinion, is because they think it makes them look savvy, even when your average person hasn't read it).

The most notable facet of The Killing Joke is that it is the FIRST TIME the Joker is given a backstory. An origin. His features are altered in a vat of bubbling acid. And from that he shoots and paralyzes Barbara Gordon.

Johnathan Nolan sites influence from The Killing Joke, "If The Joker had a past, he'd prefer it to be multiple choice," which is why The Joker gives multiple variations on how he got his facial scars.

But that interpretation of The Joker is completely unique to The Dark Knight movie.

This gets to the central point of this post:

Where is the line drawn between creation and derivation?

Are we to assume that everything based off a pre-existing franchise is influenced by what came before it? Or are there grey areas in which old ideas are expressed in new and unique ways?

Isn't that the essence of creation?

How much "authorship" and credit are we to give these new writers? How much is to be given to the writers of the past?

I find this an interesting question.

If you look at the art of Batman, the way people drew him -- you can definitely site influence on how the next artist interprets the character.

Neal Adams drew what is probably the most definitive Batman. Jim Lee's work heavily draws from it. But you can also see some Frank Miller Batman in Jim Lee's work. And yet, Jim Lee's work stands alone -- and is very recognizable in its own right.

Where is the distinction to be drawn between influence and an artist's own personal take on the subject matter?

I'm not sure there is an easy answer to this.

I, obviously, don't think The Killing Joke had as much influence on the movie as your average fanboy likes to tout. But I won't argue that it is completely non-existent. It's definitely there. More in, The Joker's attempt to drive Gordon crazy is a similar parallel to what The Joker does to Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight.

But that's a small part of The Killing Joke. And it's really just a piece of The Dark Knight.

My personal taste, is to give the benefit of the doubt to the newer versions. To say, this is something new. If you like it, if it feels fresh and entertaining, then mission accomplished. To me, the 1989 Batman seems much more based off of Alan Moore's 1988, The Killing Joke, than this new 2008 Batman movie.

And things get even muddier.

In an interview responding to The Joker's lack of a psychological reasoning for him to be the way he is, Johnathan Nolan says:
...a specific backstory to [The Joker] -- authoritative, would be, kind of, reductive to his character.
In this interview, he is actually siting The Killing Joke as a specific influence he was responding to.

Which is ironic, in that The Killing Joke is the first book that gave The Joker a specific and defining (authoritative) backstory. Before the accident with the Batman, The Joker was a two-bit hoodlum. After, he becomes the powerhouse of evil and insanity that we know today.

In the same interview:
When, for me, the most interesting version of [The Joker] is the one that was never made at all. Just an elemental force. In my imagination, there is no beginning or end to this character. He has, kind of, always existed. That first frame in IMAX, where you see him from behind and he's holding a mask -- to me, it's as if the moment before that shot, he just... was conjured out of thin air.
He used The Killing Joke as a reference for something he didn't like. And yet, the line from The Killing Joke about Joker's past being multiple choice, sparked Nolan's idea on how he was going to handle this problem.

The origin of ideas gets very muddy.

We can all agree, that elements of The Killing Joke are very present in Tim Burton's Batman (I hope). And yet, Johnathan Nolan makes a comment that makes the idea of influence even muddier.
I mean, I love the Nicholson take on it...Even in the Nicholson performance, the Burton film, that character, Jack Napier -- we don't ever really know what made him in the first place. He's already a sociopath, before he falls into the vat of chemicals. It's a foregone conclusion. It's the icy on the cake. I think the Joker is, and always will be.
To summarize the muddiness with a long run-on sentence --

Johnathan Nolan likes Jack Nicholson's performance of The Joker in Tim Burton's Batman, which was based directly from The Killing Joke, not because he has a definitive backstory, which is the big piece the 1989 movie took from The Killing Joke, but because Nicholson's take was that this character had always existed. It wasn't the vat of chemicals that made The Joker, which it clearly was in The Killing Joke.

He is influenced by an influence that was a completely different take on the original influence.

And that sentence above, is the main reason why I give the benefit of the doubt to the new writers. You really want to say it was "based on" from that? I wouldn't. You can site influence from anything that has pre-existing material for any reason. For the reason WHY something was done. For the reasons they WEREN'T.

THE DARK KNIGHT feels like something new to me, while completely understanding the material that came before it. That is what I think is important.

What's your take?

Did You Know...?

...that the term Graphic Novel was created as a marketing device?

It really irritates me to hear people say, "It's not a comic book. It's a graphic novel."


It's a comic book. That's like saying, the Season One DVD Box Set of The Sopranos isn't a television show. It's a box of moving portraits.

The term graphic novel rears its head every time a comic book movie gets some traction as anything other than pop entertainment. And that's a good thing. Comic books, as a medium, are capable of much more than the simple superhero genre that they are so widely known for.

Back in the day, when comic books were "pulp" magazines, it wasn't a big deal for anyone to plop down a nickel to thumb through a comic book. But in the late 80s and early 90s, comic books were becoming something of a fad.

Many out of print comic books were being reprinted in larger issues called Trade Paperbacks. Or TPBs for short. With the rise of Indie comics in the late 80s and early 90s (not unlike the rise of Indie films at the time), some smart well-minded indviduals, decided that their product was a little too dissimilar to the superhero pulp that was selling like hotcakes.

So they reprinted their books and decided to call them GRAPHIC NOVELS in the hopes that people would be fooled into thinking they weren't comic books. That maybe they were something more -- that they were literary pieces of work.

And apparently, it worked.

Now, my gripe isn't that it worked. It's not that I don't think comic books are literary works of art. Quite the contrary. I KNOW they are literary and visual pieces of art.

What I despise, is that it takes a gimmick to make people realize it.

I ripped this quote off Facebook, from someone, who probably shouldn't be quoted (ever)-- but, it proves my point about how ingrained the term graphic novel has become --

...the only reason I think we are saying that it raised standards is because we still identify batman as a comic book hero despite the fact that this story was taken from a graphic novel, which allows for an edgier film. There have already been a plenty of graphic novels made into films with a serious tone (V for Vendetta, 300, Sin City), so if we actually consider the film against these films (and not comic book films), I would say that it did as good a job as the other graphic novels while not setting any new standards.
So much misinformation.

The graphic novel he is referring to is Alan Moore's, THE KILLING JOKE.

  1. First off -- Christopher Nolan's THE DARK KNIGHT -- is NOT!!! based on it. In fact, if any Batman holds any resemblance to that book, it is Tim Burton's original 1989 BATMAN.
  2. Second -- It is NOT!!! a graphic novel. Nor is it a Trade Paperback. It was a ONE-SHOT.

The term one-shot is used to denote a pilot comic or a stand-alone story created to last as one issue. It was later reprinted INSIDE a TPB. They don't normally shove "graphic novels" into other graphic novels.

It being a "graphic novel" doesn't allow for "edgier content." It being a comic book allows for edgier content.

It's the medium that houses the content. That "edgier content." Not the gimmick used to try and trick people into buying the product.

Comic books have always been on the fringes of pop culture as a form of entertainment. As Alan Moore has so eloquently put it:

The only place that you seem to find anything of any value is at the margins of any of these cultures, at the fringes of pop and of cinema and comics and books. That's where the real action's going on, not in the kind of Oscar-winning or Booker-prize winning enclave.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

King of the MacGuffin

I like J.J. Abrams.

I simply like the types of shows he likes to put on air. The types of movies he likes to make, back, produce, direct, write, whatever. I think, my personal taste in cinematic entertainment is very similar to his, which is probably why I like his stuff, even when it isn't always perfect.

I just like it.

So I am looking forward to seeing FRINGE. But this synopsis just cracks me up.

When an unlikely trio uncovers a deadly mystery involving a series of unbelievable events, they discover it may be part of a larger, disturbing pattern that blurs the line between science fiction and technology

That is very, very -- VAGUE.

I am not making a value judgment. It is not good, nor is it bad. But it is vague. And that vagueness makes me laugh. I'm not even completely sure, why.

To me, it seems like its hook is that it doesn't even have a hook.

Look -- it could be a mystery -- it could be science fiction -- it could be X-Files -- it could be...

Please note the cow. Moo!

I just have to see it.

P.S. MacGuffin, really has nothing to do with this post. I just think J.J. Abrams is the King of the MacGuffin and as such, have dubbed him with that title. I may go into detail as to why, and how he uses MacGuffin(s) to their utmost potential and why they heavily favor TV over film. But that's for a later post.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Back to My Roots (Part 2)

I am the aspiring screenwriter. Like the overwhelming majority of screenwriters, I am looking for a job.

I don't mean writing. Sure that would be great. But anything to keep a roof over my head.

I had a job interview last Wednesday with ACTIVISION.

Yep. For the position of QA Tester. I'm under an NDA not to discuss what I saw, but in fairness, it wasn't like they were showing applicants every single one of their next and greatest video games ever. I saw -- um -- a break room. And uh, lots of computers.

The irony is that, I called many, many video game companies prior to this, inquiring about potential for "writing" jobs in video games. Seriously, check out PORTAL. That game is amazing, in terms of writing and characterization. A robot that is sarcastic as hell. Most of these companies had no clue what I was talking about. No surprise, there.

The trainer, Rich, was a nice guy. We hit it off. Personality-wise I think he really wanted to hire me. But I can barely beat Medium on Guitar Hero III, let alone go flawless on Dragon Force at EXPERT. Unfortunately, there was this guy... I don't want to say anything bad about him... but you know the type, the guy with absolutely no life, that could beat Dragonforce on EXPERT blind-folded, playing with his feet.

I haven't heard back. But I left, pretty sure I didn't get that job. Anyway, the point to all this is --

On my resume, it says I was a Marion Knott Scholar at Chapman, which granted me the privilege of learning from Tom Mankiewicz.

As I handed in this ridiculously technical quiz to Rich, he asked:

"How was working with Tom?"
"Great." I said, thinking he thought that was some bullshit I had fabricated on my resume.
"Superman, right?"
This caught me off-guard. "Yeah. Most people think it's Mario Puzo."
"If you know writing, you know it's Tom."

Holy f---! This guy was badass.

To point out just how badass this was, I refer you to Robert McKee, who refers to Superman and talks about how MARIO PUZO was such a genius for the manner in which he structured the screenplay.

Um, sorry Mr. Robert McKee screenwriting guru -- that was Tom. Tom Mankiewicz. His uncle was Herman Mankiewicz. Perhaps you've heard of CITIZEN KANE? Rich from Activision QA Testing Department just handed you your ass on a silver platter.

Gonna take a slight knock at Mystery Man on Film too~ He knows this is out of love -- and maybe it'll get me a link on his blog :p.
Let me just address one other aspect that no one else has mentioned. I love how they took a page from Mario Puzo’s Superman and aimed for a greek tragedy of sorts with Hancock and his love interest.
Cough*Tom Mankiewicz*cough.

Here would be a good place to place to segue into how I met Tom Mankiewicz. I wrote a story on the subject almost two years ago.

I refer to Tom as my mentor. In this day and age I feel like we are severely lacking in this department. And Tom, for all intents and purposes, was very much a mentor to me.

NOTE: I figured this was a good midpoint for a story. I put off finishing this blog for a couple days, because in all honesty, linking the story you wanted to tell (after realizing you had already told it -- well... Sort of leaves a huge void.

In taking this time off --

Activision called back.

I got the job. I am now a video game tester. I guess, the industry term is QA tester.

I play video games until they break. Or better yet, have permission to try to actively break them!

Rock on!

Sorry about the schizophrenic nature of this post. Such is the life of the aspiring screenwriter.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Back to My Roots

This blog was set up as a portal, for you, the unassuming reader (and potential screenwriter) to watch a wanna-be screenwriter struggling to reach his dreams and become miserably squashed by the enormous weight of said dreams.

Well, I've been skimping on the dirt. So...

Let's start from the beginning.

  • After some failed attempts at college, I decided film school was the thing for me.
  • I graduated 4 years later than I should have from CHAPMAN UNIVERSITY with a BFA in Film Production. I can tell you without a doubt in my mind, that film school is for all intents and purposes a waste of time and money.
  • The majority of my learning came from the library. Not from classes. Nor from assigned reading.
  • The rest of my learning came from actual experience on sets and from internships in L.A. Not from school, sadly.
Note: John Badham (director of Saturday Night Fever, Short Circuit, War Games) is intimidated by me. This blew my mind. I am shy as all hell.

During one class, he said "I could take any one of you to set and show you how to be a director."

He meant this as hyperbole. But I, of course, went up to him with my friend, Nick Porreca, and asked him to prove it. He laughed. And politely nodded. I said, "No, really. Take me to the set, and show me how to direct."

More polite laughter. But he was uncomfortable. Oops.

This actually resulted in Nick and I ending up on the set of HBO's BIG LOVE. James Glennon (now deceased sadly) was the DP. He had presented an open invitation to students to come to the set. Nick and I bolted at the opportunity.

We got to the set, and nothing was really set up for us. It was basically, roam around and do whatever you wanted. But in a really good way. Just be quiet when the bell rings!

The bell rang. We made our way over to the craft services table. OMG. My first experience with real craft services tables. It was stocked. But before we could stuff our faces, we realized James Glennon was sitting right there.

At the craft services table -- while the cameras were rolling.

To which I simply said, "Aren't you the DP?"
"Yeah, I remember you from Chapman. How are you guys liking it so far?"
"Great!" Nick poured on thick.
I said, "No, I mean... who's shooting the show?"
Glennon shrugged.

This was my first lesson on both television and the nature of the cinematographer. He had two camera ops and a third guy that shot Steady-Cam. He didn't even have to put his eye to the eyepiece. Later, he would pull out this ancient camera and have us try to crank at 24 FPS, but that's neither here, nor there.

James Glennon's claim to fame was that he was fast. Let me tell you, he was more than fast. His father was Bert Glennon. The guy shot a ton of John Ford's movies. Not to mention small little flicks like, Cecil B. DeMille's THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. James Glennon exuded confidence, in such a laid back way, that I have yet to see since. In fact, most cinematographers I have met since, are quite the opposite. But his persona, was a formative one for me.

We met Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Chloe Sevigny. The only one I recognized, at the time, was Jeanne Tripplehorn.

BTW -- Jeanne Tripplehorn -- still hot. Doesn't she remind you of Katherine Heigl? Now, I'm a big guy, standing at 6'4" and I just so happened to be in her way. I juked to one side. Unfortunately, she went that way too. Then to the other. Once again she went that way too. So, of course, I froze.

She kept walking. Reached out with both hands one on each side of my hip -- softly said, "Excuse me," and walked to a side. OMG! In a weird way, it was highly erotic.

At least in my mind, it was. In hers, it was probably more or less: "Get out my way jackass!"

Anyway, back to the star -- Bill Paxton --

I didn't really know who Bill Paxton was.

This is the funny thing about the movies. As soon as I looked up his filmography on IMDB, I could picture every character he ever played. Hell, from time to time I had even quoted lines from him, "Game over, man! Game over!" And Simon, from TRUE LIES, is simply a classic. I'm not sure anyone could have played that character any better.

He told us to wait in his trailer. He was almost done for the day and had some cold beers in the fridge. Told us to help ourselves.

Here's a little bit of trivia. Bill Paxton directed FRAILTY. He used a small barber shop across the street from Chapman as the small sheriff's office in the movie. He was a nice guy and just wanted to chat us up. See what was going on.

He was finishing up a scene, in which he wasn't even in the shot, but had lines, and really wanted the other actors to have something to play off of, rather than the script supe.

Between every take Bill would come over to us and just chat us up. It was fun. He was a funny, light-hearted, spirited guy. We were sitting next to the camera department. They were shooting 2 cameras - TV style, so there was 2 cam Ops, 2 ACs, James Glennon, and a dolly grip. Essentially, between every take, it was this little pow-wow, and it was fun.

I didn't know how different this scenario was. I thought it was normal.

He started talking, cracking jokes. Telling us how great it is to be in the film business. I forget the exact setup -- But he had started to talk about the state of film. And how things were on a downhill trend. He started saying that he loved smaller films and the whole independent movement was freeing to him. He went on about how much he liked working smaller scale.

To which I said, "Yeah, then maybe we could get some decent actors in student films."

The obvious insinuation was, that Bill Paxton should be in one of my short films. It was so far out of left field, that he was taken aback. He was visibly shook.

...Oh I forgot to mention. The director, was the same director that had just had HUGE success shooting the pilot of DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES. Charles McDougall. He was British and, I shit you not, wore a suit and tie to direct the actors. Which is even funnier, considering half the time he wasn't even in the same room as they were. He was watching from a monitor on the other side of the set.

Yeah, he was pissed.

The best part, was -- James Glennon cracked up. He started laughing. Immediately. And didn't stop. He literally had to hold his hand over his mouth during takes. For three takes in a row, as soon as the director called "CUT!" Glennon would bust up laughing, just the same intensity as when the words first left my mouth.

The sad part of this story comes when I was too embarrassed to stick around to chat to Bill Paxton. Looking back now, I should have.

Glennon told us to come back anytime we wanted. I believe he meant this in all sincerity. I never took him up on the offer. I was too shy. Still had too much school. And thought a degree was the answer to my dreams.

The irony of all of this -- was Nick and I were the well behaved group. The group that went the next day got kicked off the set and no one was invited back.

From that point on:
  • I actively petitioned the school for classes that I thought were more important to the overall development of a film student, but was repeatedly shot down.
I could simply say, there are things they don't teach you in film school -- but that wouldn't even be the tip of the iceberg. There are real life issues, social, economic, class, and otherwise that college actually shelters the individual from.

There are parts of me that would much rather have had an apprenticeship right out of high school, than to have wasted my time, trying to figure out what I wanted to do, when I really knew all along.

My real problem was, I didn't know HOW to even approach achieving those goals.

I'm still not so sure. But the knowledge I did gain, came from working and not from schooling.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Wall - E is brainwashing your children!!!

Look out for Wall - E and its leftist propaganda!!! Protect your children! Lock them in their room 'til they're 18!

Okay, okay. Hold those chuckles, back. I know it is silly.

Don't ask me why I was watching MSNBC. I swear, it was just on in the background.

I wonder if opinions will change on how "anti-captialist" this movie is when those youngsters who's poor minds are being brainwashed into believing consumerism is bad, throws a temper tantrum because their parent won't buy them the latest Pixar / Wall - E merchandise.

Is it me, or was that argument completely overlooked?

It's not like Disney / Pixar movies don't make any money off ancillary rights and merchandising. Right...

You know, that plastic crap that was making the Earth unlivable in "Wall-E" is the same plastic crap your kids buy because they just went and saw a cute little robot movie.

That, actually would have been funny. If thousands of Mr. Incredible action figures were the reason for Earth becoming uninhabitable. Damn you, Brad Bird!!!

The moral of the story is: Don't condemn Disney for telling your kids that commercialism is what will destroy the planet. Condemn them for destroying the planet.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


I like writing with the television on. I like having some sort of white noise going. For some reason my thoughts solidify in this state. But this advertisement dragged me out of my creative state.

For the life of me, I thought this was a parody.

Apparently, it's not.

WWF (not the World Wrestling Federation -- I know, I was hoping too) has put some commercials on television depicting the blight of polar bears.

It is one of the funniest things I have ever seen. I thought the casting of Sharon Lawrence and her "acting" was spot on for the perfect charity spoof ever. It just nailed the tone of spoof, dead on.