Public Domain – when it stops being stealing

In general, I focus on original work; although the biggest payday I’ve ever had as a writer was technically for an adaptation. When I sold Queen Lara I wrote on the title page that it was “freely adapted” from Shakespeare’s King Lear, and the reason I chose that phrasing is because I remembered that it was the same wording applied to the writing credits for the 1995 movie version of The Scarlet Letter which starred Demi Moore and Robert “Yes, I’m wearing a dead deer on my head, why do you ask?” Duvall. It dispensed with a lot of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s portrait of a hyopcritical community and filled in the gaps with a lot of battle scenes and Gary Oldman dong. If that’s what “freely adapted” means in Hollywood parlance, it seemed like the most appropriate description for what I had done to Shakespeare.

I do, nevertheless, see the value in creative work eventually being owned, essentially, by the human race, so that it can be taken into the cultural body to be transformed and re-used. Even work that’s not directly adapted serves as inspiration to the imagination – I have a long-in-the-works sci-fi script that is basically a weird story baby that was born in my brain between the Isaac Asimov books I read as a child and the Louis L’Amour books my father read to me.

Adaptation is a vital skill, too, in Hollywood, although a lot of what is being adapated these days is fiercely-guarded intellectual property owned by media giants. And even if it isn’t, market muscle has a way of cordoning off things that aren’t technically-exclusive everywhere. Want to see what I mean? Try making a movie about Cinderella right now while Disney is spending some $150 Million making a movie from it. Sure it’s LEGAL for you to do that and all…but you might find yourself being mysteriously unlucky. You know…UNLUCKY? In the old days they said the beast must be fed. Now they say: the brand must be enhanced.

Which is a long way to saying that I’ve been pursuing an opportunity for a little gig where I could choose something to adapt, provided it met certain parameters with regard to genre and period, and provided it was in the Public Domain. I’m rather excited by the challenge, because finding translation potential in something is, I think, a real skill of its own. Because I’m a strong believer in inherency of medium, a story that makes a great short story is not automatically a great play, or a great movie. And on the other side, great movies have been made from forgettable sources – if you need an example, just look for the clamor out there to mount stage productions of Everybody Comes to Rick’s (the basis for Casablanca). Keep looking. Keep looking.

There’s an Agatha Christie story I’ve been longing to adapt for years; alas, only the earliest works of her career are Public Domain, and the domain line has been frozen for several years by Congressional legislation. But there are many, many other works out there, both amongst the pre-1923 body of, basically, everything, and work published between 1950 and 1963 that did not see its copyright properly renewed before the expiration of its original term.

Project Gutenberg is at the pinnacle of this operation of keeping such work alive and distribute-able by modern technology. And Amazon’s Kindle store is filled with free classics – they take up most of my own Kindle. When I needed to make a narrower search for this particular assignment, though, I found what I sought through the PDF page at SFFaudio. SFFaudio is a website and podcast that focuses on sci-fi, horror, and fantasy in literature, and particularly in audio form. They review audiobooks and audio dramas, and relatively soon they should be reviewing some of my work for Earbud, so I’m looking forward to their response.

Their PDF page includes work that you can find at Gutenberg or on Amazon – there are ample places to read Lovecraft’s works – but their specialty is in scans of the stories as they appeared in pulp magazines.


Now, this isn’t ever going to substitute for holding the real thing in your hands, but something about the artwork and layout does at least tap at that lovely memory button that prepares you for thrills and wonderment. And by focusing on pulp magazines as sources, you might find indexed here some rare title by a famous author that you might otherwise not have stumbled upon. I know I had never read Asimov’s single-page raspberry to the nuclear age “Silly Asses”, and I have read a LOT of Asimov.

It’s a collection I’ve enjoyed exploring, and (Happy Ending!), I believe I’ve found the piece I want to adapt.

Of COURSE I’m not telling you what it is.

Still alive

Been awhile since I updated here. It’s been a busy time, exciting in some ways, exhausting in others, sometimes frustrating, sometimes with great potential. Any writer knows you can’t eat potential, and that has summed up rather too much of my life, but another birthday passed and I’m still knuckling away at this business; and I am assured this counts.

A few bullet points-

-We’ve closed the 2014 season of Shakespeare Orange County. While it was my third performing with the company, it was the first under the new regime and is effectively an entirely new company behind the scenes. And I am proud to announce that the regime now includes me – I have joined the Artistic Committee and will be focused on developing the acting company and strengthening ties with the local theater community, as well as contributing to the company’s web presence.

-This horror film, The Pact II, is now available for streaming/download on the likes of Amazon Prime and iTunes. I was the assistant editor on it, which was really no more glamorous than three days of logging footage and sorting them into their respective scenes. Still, I got paid; and I nearly became the writer of The Pact III, but didn’t for reasons which are thoroughly Hollywood. Stories for another time…

-I am, to my constant amazement, still pressing forward on my new novel collaboration with MF Thomas. I say amazed just because as a sustained, persistent large-scale writing endeavor it has been far beyond just about anything I have tried to do in so short a period. It is not a sequel to Seeing by Moonlight, but it is, similarly, a blend of thriller and sci-fi, with the sci-fi more prominent this time around. Our working title is A Sickness in Time, and Chapter 15 of it is open in Word even as I’m typing this, begging for my attention.

-My work continues on The Sounds Below, and excitement is high throughout the Earbud brain trust for its potential. October will be a special month for us – in honor of Halloween we will premiere two horror plays, mine and a new piece from Casey Wolfe titled Over Halloween. In addition, nominations are now open for the Audio Verse Awards. Earbud won a couple last year and we have three eligible episodes this year which we consider some of our all-around finest work, so we’re hoping to take a few virtual certificates home. You’ll probably see some tubthumping from me in the near future as the nominations phase shifts into the first round of voting.

-The feature film Bread and Butter, starring my longtime friend (and star of Habitat) Christine Weatherup, is about to make its world premiere at the amazing Woodstock Film Festival. It’s going to screen on the 18th and 19th – details here. I was the boom operator for six out of the sixteen shooting days, Christine did some fantastic work alongside Micah Hauptman and Saturday Night Live‘s Bobby Moynihan, and I became great friends with writer/director Liz Manashil and many of the crew, and I hope that this is just the beginning of a long festival run and distribution in the future.

Busy day in that lair

This is a nice unplanned changeover – the same day I turn in the final cut of my new Earbud Theater podplay, Escape (The End of Humanity Song), we’re all about to gather in the Earbud lair to record my next script: The Sounds Below. There will be a lot more to say about Sounds Below, which we’re aiming to release around Halloween, and is probably the most purely-frightening thing I have ever written. We’ve got a phenomenal cast lined up that includes a couple of Earbud veterans and is headlined by award-winning audiobook narrator/performer Macleod Andrews.

Escape, meanwhile, should be free to rampage around the world starting Friday. You can subscribe through iTunes or directly through the syndication feed at the Earbud website in order to get it automatically. The piece runs about 32 minutes and tell the story of an estranged family that has a very, very limited amount of time to reconcile.

Just to whet your appetite, here’s our amazing episode artwork created, as it was for Habitat previously, by the very talented Kevin Necessary:

Escape final_72dpi

Wish me luck in the lair. It gets weird in there sometimes…

Time waits for no muse

I was chatting with a friend this morning who gave me some intel about an opportunity for a playwriting commission for which I could put myself on the inside track. I had to ask what the timetable was. She said “2017”, which was a huge relief. I mean, a commission means money, and money sooner is better than money later in my life right now, but the strange fact I am coming to realize is that my writing calendar is full for the near future.

On Friday I officially hit the halfway point on the manuscript for the new novel, right on schedule. That fact that it is on schedule astonishes me – the writer I was ten or maybe even five years ago could never have stuck to such a disciplined approach to something this big. But it is going to remain my top priority through November; and I have two Earbud Theater pieces I want to deliver in that same window, one which I’m well into post-production on, the other of which is drafted and cast and ready to record.

I also need to do a polish on one of my screenplays, which I anticipate I will fit in next week during a break from the novel; and there’s some final review and research that needs to be done on the short story collection before I set the publishing wheels in motion there. Those are all massive, time-consuming projects, and while I would love to do something like finish up this short story I have 40% drafted, or a one-act play that’s about that far along, in terms of professional priorities I just can’t put time into them for a little while. That’s a new and strange mindset, to look at something which wouldn’t take all that long to finish but to say “eh, maybe I can get to you over Thanksgiving?”

A lot of that has to do with money, and even when it’s not directly money it’s because I believe the effort will put me in proximity of money. The fact that I get to work on so many large-scale projects is a great sign of payoff for my efforts to raise my profile and forge professional connections. If immediate worries about money were out of the picture, I know I would re-shuffle some things, but the fact that I wake up each day knowing I can’t make any excuses has its benefits.

A summer of faces

These images probably tell the story better than anything. First – as Peter Quince in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Photo by Jordan Kubat

Then, as Josh the Deputy in The Tavern:

Photo by Jordan Kubat

Lastly, as this guy:

Director of Photography, Kyle McConaghy

That guy is “Dale Dailey”, a character in the independent comedy/drama feature film Reclaiming Friendship Park, which wraps production today after a whirlwind two-week schedule under the leadership of writer/director Daniel Holland. I was on for five days, and it was a major step up in the camera side of my acting career, both in terms of the size and complexity of the character. It is exceedingly difficult to know if I did a good job; all I know is that the cast and crew were happy. My final shot was on a sunset-painted rooftop in Venice, and it’s hard not to get a little old pinch of that feeling that you’re living a dream when that’s going on.

Dale’s an odd one – and as the movie gets closer to completion and exhibition I might talk a little more about him; but at one point I was filming him, performing Peter Quince, and rehearsing Josh simultaneously; which requires a certain dexterity (also, a fuel-efficient car).

We’re entering in to a more relaxed phase now. Josh is the only character to keep in my head – and I don’t mind admitting he’s not on-stage all that much. I spend a lot of the play backstage, working on writing projects. And I think those obligations are going to move into the forefront now that there are no more rehearsals in the immediate future. There’s a show that starts rehearsal in October for which I might audition, and I still submit myself for on-camera stuff; but I am sort of looking forward to a little vacation from this summer; a chance to give some more emphasis to writing, to rejuvenate, and to find some perspective on what this crowded year in acting has meant to me. I’m attending an acting class for the first time since college, and some good study and self-discovery will probably do me more long-term benefit than just jumping into another show.

I know I’m going to look back on these months and wonder how I kept so much straight – while simultaneously keeping my novel-writing pace steady as well as my Earbud work and tending to my screenplays. Those pictures will be there as proof, though. Three faces – the same in many ways but different in the ways it’s my job to make different.

In Which I Blog About Facebooking because the Post Would be Too Long for Facebook

The most prominent running gag in my recent life is that, whenever I see someone with whom I haven’t caught up in awhile, within three sentences they will mention without prompting that they have been reading all the stuff I post on Facebook. So I am very aware that I post a lot on Facebook.

I admit this was a conscious decision a few years ago, and not an easy one. It is a long process for someone like me to reach the point where you feel enough confidence to consider your work and accomplishments to be worth announcing and promoting to the world. I have friends who write summer blockbusters for a living – if I have a 10-minute play staging at a storefront in Wisconsin, it doesn’t feel like such a grand thing to be trumpeting. Not only am I hyper-aware of being too audacious or proud for my own good, there are always people out there with the impulse to take you down a peg for their own reasons, or who will just get silently sick of your daily rah-rah.

I don’t regret the choice, though. My posts are largely positive, always apolitical, and mostly self-generated, rather than a blizzard of links and memes; not that there’s anything wrong with that. They reflect a facet of my own life, and I am excited to share them, and appreciate the excitement it generates in people I care about. It’s a good check on my own moods and behaviors to think before I post something sarcastic or angry or passive-aggressive; it helps me process out negative feelings.

And I won’t lie – it has actually helped me professionally. If there is one thing everyone in my Facebook node knows about me, it’s that I’m not sitting around over here. It’s one of those laws of the Universe that people who have jobs they want done will seek out a busy person, and that has been good for me.

I was having lunch with a good friend on Saturday and got a reminder, though, that these facets can be misleading. My Facebook can threaten to become a persona rather than my life. I don’t talk very much about the storm of doubts, or the remorseless grind of never making enough money or having enough money, of a life unbalanced because the need to chase and cultivate opportunities doesn’t leave enough time for R&R. I don’t talk about the introspection that comes from another birthday on the horizon without my having reached a professional plateau I can be satisfied with, or how it triggers an awareness of my life progress when my younger sister gets married.

All that is there, and I express it to friends or via my private blog (still LiveJournaling after all these years.) The culture of the written word has basically been overthrown on the Internet, or at least cordoned off and made hierarchical. People spend more time chucking other peoples’ words around – usually on virtual paper wrapped around cyberbricks. But words still have tremendous value to me because, duh, it’s my, like, lifepath.

I am proud to be a generator rather than an aggregator on Facebook. And whenever people share with me their awareness of my ubiquity, they follow it up by saying how happy and excited they are to read about my “adventures” – frustrating and unprofitable though they may be to me, personally. So I guess I will keep at it; although maybe, to be fair, I should dare to take the grin off more often, and remind people that I am not at all immune to the fact that this is a bloody hard pursuit I have picked. A bloody entertaining one when it gets moving, though…

Strange that they didn’t ask why it was a Rothko

I did a brief interview with the OC-Centric New Play Festival, which is staging the world premiere of my one-act play The Rothko. We start rehearsals this Saturday under the direction of the esteemed Richard Stein, executive director of Arts Orange County and the former Executive Director of the Laguna Playhouse.

From the interview:

“If you are going to write a play, make damn sure that whatever story you’re trying to tell NEEDS to be a play, not a sitcom or a pamphlet or anything else. That means you have to have some personal idea of what the theater is and what it can do, and hone your idea in that direction until the very fact that it is a play is inextricable from what it is.”

The Festival will be presented in late August in the black box theater at the Chapman University campus. I have seen a number of my 10-minute plays staged, and heard many of my pieces read aloud, but this is a big step up for me in terms of seeing a more substantial work get a polished, professional staging which some major imagination and talent behind it. I am thrilled to see what comes of it.

Stop! Hey…what’s that sound?

At last I have a V.O. Reel:

This pulls together clips from my audio dramas, a couple of the video game characters I’ve recorded, a feature film voice-over that was recorded but never used, and that fake commercial I did on someone’s podcast. There are a couple of other things floating out there that I haven’t acquired yet, and at least one hopeful future gig that would add nicely to this, but I think there’s some decent variety and entertainment happening in a minute there.

It’s also on YouTube, since that may be more convenient under some circumstances.

Voice work is known for being a pretty cushy gig at the pro level, and for being REALLY hard to break into the pro level. Nevertheless, I do see gigs popping up on casting notices once in awhile, and have been lacking the means to effectively pitch my abilities. So this is a big step in the right direction.

Now I just need enough of my on-camera work to find its way back to me…

In Which I Consistently Fail to Make Things Easy on Myself

Last night, the Earbud Theater crew went back into the studio to record another audio drama. Our July play, Bea Little (written/directed by Earbud founder Casey Wolfe), is in the final stages of post-production and should be made public in just a few days – and it’s a wicked good time, I can tell you. Last night’s session was for my script for our August play, Escape (The End of Humanity Song). I took the night off from acting and sat in the director’s chair, which was a pretty addicting experience. The cast was strong, playful, and brought all that emotionality that I craved. I think it’s going to be a funny and moving piece, if I can cut it together well enough.

It was a reminder to me just how much the logistics of production can influence the writing. After the long and difficult post-production on Habitat, I pledged to do a number of things with the script for Escape that would make the editing easier. Fewer sound effects, simpler transitions, longer dialogue scenes, shorter script – all conscious choices that played a role in picking what story I would tell and how I told it.

Of course, every solution generates new problems, and what Escape has that Habitat didn’t – three-character dialogue scenes – proved to be its own headache, as the studio only has two microphone set-ups. This meant we did a lot of recording one character in the scene, dismissing that actor, then getting the other two in later. This is basically standard operating procedure in animation, but I think these podplays thrive on a quasi-theatrical energy of real-time interaction between the performers, so I do feel like I’m asking extra of them when they have to imagine a performance from earlier in the gaps of their dialogue.

I have an outline for October’s episode (tentatively titled The Sounds Below), which I am hoping to write a first draft of in two weeks during a break period from the novel. We will probably try and record in late August or early September. I envision nothing but two-character scenes. Of course, it’s going to be a sound effects-heavy show, because it’s Halloween and you want the creepy sounds. You NEED the creepy sounds.

MOVIE REVIEW – Life Itself

Life Itself
: Steve James
Writers: Based on the memoir Life Itself by Roger Ebert
Producers: Steve James, Garrett Basch, Zak Piper
Stars: Roger Ebert, Chaz Ebert, Stephen Stanton

In the greatest movie-going experience, an audience is not an observer but a participant. We go through the screen and share in the wonder, agony, and transcendence of strangers captured on cameras, until we find that in the greatest of these experiences, we cease to be able to separate the movie from our experience of watching it. This was the philosophy of Roger Ebert – film critic, Illinoisan, unlikely television star, defiant cancer foe, loving husband, and (I never knew this before) Steely Dan fan. Is this a point of view he won us over to one fiercely-argued essay at a time, or a real truth he just saw and put into the clearest words? How generous of him either way.

Roger often quoted his late rival and friend Gene Siskel, who articulated the standard that a movie should be better than two hours of watching the same actors eat lunch. Life Itself, based on his memoir, could have provided us ample entertainment just with Roger’s company – with the delicious between-takes verbal brawls that erupted between Gene and himself, with the stories told by friends and loved ones and filmmakers who admired him, and even with Roger, who allowed cameras in during what he did not yet know would be the last months of his life, and whose wit even outlasted his tongue.

But Life Itself is directed by Steve James, a documentarian Roger fiercely championed for his film Hoop Dreams, an epic which covered years in the childhood and adolescence of two kids scooped up and set on different roads by the machine called basketball. And during the movie, Roger is seen praising 56 Up, the latest in Michael Apted’s long-spanning series of films revisiting the same people every seven years of their lives to take stock of their journey. It is clear that, once Roger committed to being in a movie about his life, he was not going to shrink from the task of trying to capture a sense of something bigger. To do so would violate his philosophy; plus, if nothing else, he had to surpass Gene’s standard.