Having An Average Weekend

It’s March, 1990.

I’m in Toronto, visiting a friend, and we’re embarking on our ritual of heading downtown to cruise the record shops, the comic book shops, the food courts, and to generally goof around.  It’s something we’ve done since grade-school, and resumed when I moved from the States back to Canada.  We are all of driving age now, but due to convenience, we take transit, which involves a walk to the bus stop, a long bus ride to the subway, and a long subway ride downtown.

We don’t mind the length of the ride though.

It’s all part of the ritual.

But this time things are different.  There is ONE THING I’m determined to find.  It’s what took me back to my old stomping grounds (three hours on a train to the city).

We make our first stop, mid-way.  We hit our first comic store and peruse the shelves.  We don’t buy anything – there are more stores to come and our spending money is limited.  We do make sure to pay a visit to a favorite burger joint for lunch.  We eat more than we should, we annoy the other patrons.  We’re teenagers.

Next stop, downtown, the heart of the city.  Two years from now I’ll live here, but this day I’m just another tourist.  Three of the biggest record stores in the city share the same intersection, and I tear through them on the hunt, only to go away unsatisfied.  None of them have the album I’m seeking.  I begin to despair.  If none of THESE stores has it, what are my chances anywhere else?  One of the clerks takes pity on me.

“Try Queen Street” he says.

Queen Street – the hippest, coolest stretch of two lane blacktop in the city.  Home to the coolest comic store anywhere, home to music stores galore, gateway to a much bigger world, and one I’ll be immersed in only short years from the here and now.

We cruise the strip, up one side, down the back.  We hit the comic store.  We hit the record stores.  One by one, I’m disappointed, and this disappointment mounts until we reach the last one.  The last chance.

They don’t have it.  Nothing on the shelves.  Sure, there’s a poster of the band on the wall, mocking me.  I sigh, and resign myself to going home (to my friend’s home first, then to my actual home) empty handed.  As we leave the store and make our way back to the subway for the long ride home, one of my friends says “hey, isn’t that the album you’re looking for?”

I follow his gaze to the record store window, and the cassettes, CDs and vinyl on display.

And I see it:

Since their pilot aired in 1988, The Kids in the Hall has been part of my weekly ritual; every Thursday from 9:30 to 10:00 on CBC.  I watch every episode, and tape every episode, and on those rare instances I miss it, I set the VCR timer to tape so I can watch it later.  Like Much Music’s ‘City Limits’, the Kids were my life-line to a world much larger, much weirder and infinitely cooler than my small-town life.  Music was performed by a Toronto outfit called Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet (their theme to Kids, ‘Having an Average Weekend’ has become legend).  It was the show I introduced my friends to, and I simply could not return home without a copy of Savvy Show Stoppers by Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet.

Back inside, I approach the clerk at the cash.  I ask him if he has any copies of it in stock anywhere.  He asks me if I want the album.  I nod.  He reaches over, grabs the copy sitting in the window, and sells it to me.

Mission accomplished.

We listen to it when cruising in my friend’s car later that night.  I listen to it on my walkman on the train ride home.  Word spreads at school that I have a copy of “that Kids in the Hall album”.  I dub many, many copies, ones for friends, ones for complete strangers. For someone used to having to get others to make copies of music for me, I get that one taste of having something everyone wants.

It’s March, 1990

*          *          *

It’s March, 2012.

I’m in New York.  I still take the subway downtown.  I don’t own a car.  Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet CDs go for big bucks on eBay.  Only two members of the band are alive.  The Kids in the Hall finished their run in 1996 but you can watch episodes on Netflix. Watching them gives me the same feeling I got watching reruns of 20-year old shows in 1990, but its different this time — I was alive in 1990, when Kids in the Hall were fresh and new.  Back then I wasn’t 20 — now I can remember what being 20 felt like, but that was a long time ago.  Years have a funny way of slipping away from you.

I have a lot of tapes from bands you won’t find on iTunes or Amazon or even YouTube.  They may exist on dusty shelves of record stores, but those are disappearing too.  Once the tapes fade or get chewed up, I probably won;t hear that music ever again.

Our lives are made of rituals, but rituals fade, and change; sometimes for the better, sometimes for worse.  Now we wait for the download.  We tweet about it, or post a picture of it.

It makes me wonder.

Do 17 year old kids take the same bus-ride to subway ride downtown with their friends, as part of their ritual?  Do they cruise the comic book stores, the music stores, and the food courts?  Do they goof around?

I don’t know.

But I hope somewhere they still do.

 

And I still have that tape.

Sell, Baby, Sell

You may have noticed the new Mixtape banner at the top of this page.  It was made by David Buceta, a Spanish artist.  David and I are collaborating on a short 2-page comic for a Fanzine he’s editor of.  It will appear everywhere when done, starting with this page and spreading like wildfire from there.  It was lots fun to write and was totally based on a thing that happened.  If it’s well received, we may do more.  If it’s not, we may do more anyway because we aim to please ourselves first.

Anyway, here’s the full version  of the banner.  It had to be cropped slightly to fit the above space).  And if you’re asking, yes I will happily trade banners with other creative types out there, provided there’s some common ground between us.  While there is great use for porn in this world, I’m not interested in promoting “Backdoor Sluts IX” or “Schindler’s Fist” here.  Likewise the multitude of spammers who keep posting messages that get themselves deleted before anyone reads them, you won’t get any love here.  But, say if you’re an indie comic book creator looking for exposure, or an indie band with a new release, or an indie artist … shoot me an email and we’ll talk.

Enjoy!

Lovefool

First bit of business; new publication dates for MIXTAPE (print and iTunes versions) are forthcoming.  We just need to work out a few details, to avoid announcing a new date and having that be untrue.  But you can look to the end of March-beginning of April for release in one, if not both formats. Again, the announcement will drop here.

If you’re frustrated by the delay, well, join the club, and be thankful you’re not me, who’s frustration burns like the brightest star in the heavenly firmament (i.e. the Sun —  seriously, try and stare at it and you’ll share my pain).  Delays happen, and they’re not through any malicious intent on the part of anybody, but they do monkey with the works; to wit, some reviews are being held until we get the release sorted out.

On the positive side, the delay has allowed us the additional time to get the word out about the book, and the good news in that is that we’ll be getting much more media exposure, on the web, and radio, and even TV sometime in May.  media have actually been contacting me about the book, which is a great sign that word is starting to get out about Mixtape.

So for every negative, there’s a positive, and the latest came in the form of a review that did slip out onto the web from Playback.Stl.  Click the link to read it.  It was a positive one, and quite in-depth, but one part really lept out at me:

Abraham’s teens are equipped with large dashes of stupid and, well, frankly, they’re not very fun … which means that they’re telling stories so eerily similar to actual teenagers that it’s frightening.”

If you look at movies or TV or, yes, comic books focusing on teens, you’re always forced to choose between one extreme or the other.  The first is wish-fulfilment; characters who always know what to say and how to say it, how to act and so on  The teens/twenty-somethings of the Scott Pilgrim universe fit that category — they have the same foibles as real people, albeit with kung-fu and video-game powers.  It’s a fantasy, but an appealing one (and the fact the Scott Pilgrim saga unfolds against the backdrop of my old hometown gives it a particular resonance for me).  If you look at “teen” based TV or movies — the cool teens (i.e. the ones we like, not the snobby jerks) have cool parents and hip friends and are, like, so above the High School shenanegans it’s funny (see Easy A and Ferris Bueller).  Who wouldn’t want to be that cool, that together, that much a winner?  It’s a fantasy, but an appealing one, and lord knows we could all use a little more in our lives.

The other type are the “slice of life” ones — the “After School Special” approach where “real teens ” (written by 40-something men and women) deal with such burning issues as suicide, alcoholism, drunk driving, drugs, bullying, peer pressure, divorce, and a host of other traumas.  These stories are frequently traumatic bordering on horrific, but all end on the same note; with survivors, having learned the lesson of the day, live to struggle onward.  John Hughes specialized in stories like this (and more than one reviewer has compared the Mixtape sensibility to that of The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, filtered through an alt-rock haze).  There’ve been some queries about movie and TV rights for Mixtape, though I can’t see Mixtape working in either format the way it does in comics.  Good luck spinning a weekly series about teens just hanging out and shooting the shit about nothing in particular; in TV you need conflict and story arcs and crises to deal with, and while we deal with those in real life, Mixtape (the comic) feels more separated from those Big Moments.  They happen, but they happen off-screen, not exposed for everyone to watch.

Mixtape aspires to be neither Ferris Bueller or The Breakfast Club.

It aspires to be “slice of life” but life as it’s usually lived.  The day-to-day grind of getting through intact.  There is drama and conflict, because it would be deadly dull without that conflict, but Mixtape is, and has always been, more about what happens after the party is over, after the diplomas have been awarded.  That’s not to say there won’t be things like suicide or alcoholism or drugs addressed as the series progresses, but I hope I’ll be able to address it through the prism of surviving those moments, of not being consumed by them.

The Mixtape saga begins with the words “I discovered it on the morning of the funeral” and will end with that funeral, as the four surviving main characters reunite to mourn the one of their number who was lost.  The journey to that moment will comprise the series run and, hopefully, arrive at a conclusion where we can all learn something about this journey we call life, and the soundtrack we carry with us through it.

It’s been the big challenge in writing Mixtape, and one I’m sure I’ll grapple with — to not have it sound like one of those books or movies or TV shows that sounds like it’s being written from a 40 year-old’s perspective down to an 18 year-old’s, to come across as preachy or (the worst possible crime; ironic).  I hope it feels authentic.

The reviewer ends with another telling phrase:

Reading Abraham’s musings on music and teenage romance, [I] wouldn’t be 16 again for all the tea in China and a guaranteed Molly Ringwald ending.”

That’s mission accomplished, in my book.

 

The Picco Incident

You want to know the big secret about movie making?  Heck, the secret behind any creative endeavor?

Nothing.  Ever.  Goes.  According.  To.  Plan.

As I mentioned here, amidst all the Mixtape stuff it’s easy to forget I have a day job, which is being a highly paid and prolific screenwriter.  Just subtract the “highly paid” part — I do okay but I’m not earning A-list money, yet — and “prolific” as referring to work I’ve done, not work “produced”.  I’ve worked steadily since January 1999, though due to the ways of the movie biz, “work done” doesn’t always translate into “work produced”.  As an example, a screenplay I wrote in 1996 and was optioned in 2003 went to camera in 2011, with its release coming sometime this year. In human terms it would be a 15 year old, smoking cigarettes and calling me an asshole.  Someone once described movie-making as a marathon you run like a sprint, and that’s as apt a description as any I’ve heard.

Part of the sporadic nature of my work and my credits are self-inflicted.  From 2003 through 2006 I focused on “breaking into” Hollywood – using my then six years of low-budget indie Canadian experience to open doors.  What that got me was a lot of meetings, a lot of pitching, and that was about it.  It felt like was spending more time on pitching concepts or “takes” on properties the producers or studios were developing, that I wasn’t spending enough time writing.

Amidst all this I did land work.  One was writing a remake of a 70s horror film, and my writing partner and I delivered what ended up being unproduced. The other “hire” was Stonehenge Apocalypse.  I worked on Stonehenge from 2007-2008, before my duties were no longer required. It went to camera in summer of 2009, and aired in summer of 2010.  Three years from pen hitting paper to airing.  Some may say that’s a really long period of time.  Compared to a lot of projects that’s fast.  It would have gone to camera sooner had the economy not cratered in fall of 2008.

Point being, movies are never easy to make.  I’ve had so many near misses with work, where had the wind shifted direction just a touch I’d be living in a sprawling home in the Hollywood hills, or in an alley in Saskatoon.  Things happen.  Money falls through, a producer dies, a butterfly beats its wings in China — any of those will determine whether your movie is made or not.

But what I decided shortly after Stonehenge was that I was done with spending years in development, and years of working on projects.  Life is too short, and careers are even shorter.  One of the joys of Mixtape has been how streamlined the process is.  There’s me, the publisher, and the artist.  I write the script, the editor gives it a once-over, the artist thumbnails the book, then pencils and inks, my graphics guy letters it, and we’re done.  Contrast that with film, where even a low-budget project requires a good few dozen people just to cover the basics on set.

The other thing about Mixtape; had I not decided to plow ahead with it as a creator-owned book, if I’d sat and waited for “ideal conditions” to present themselves (hello, DC, pleased to meet you Marvel), the project wouldn’t exist in any form outside the idea of it.

So when Little Engine Moving Pictures approached me late last year about joining their in-development Sci-Fi thriller THE PICCO INCIDENT as co-writer, I jumped at the chance. Partially because I’d worked with them before (they’re good people), largely because of the concept and challenges of delivering Sci-Fi on a shoestring.  But a large part of my agreement was based on their approach.  They had a start date.  They were going to camera.  They had the money.  They weren’t waiting for funding to come in, or “permission” to make their movie — they were going to make the movie.  Period.  As of this writing they’ve already started casting, have begun creating the “things” that terrorize the Picco family, have already begun filming test reels for FX.  They’re going through the usual channels to raise additional funding, but they’re shooting come hell or high water.

A filmmaker films.  A writer writes.  An artist draws, or paints, or sculpts.  What they don’t (or shouldn’t) do is talk about all the great work they’re going to do, if only someone would give them the money and freedom to do it their way.  Calling one’s self an artist lies in how willing you are do nut up and create when conditions aren’t ideal.  When you’re coming home after a punishing day of work, but still finding time to work on your art when they aren’t paying you.

The Picco Incident is in pre-production, and going to camera in May 2012.  It’s going to be a wild ride.  You can follow progress of the film on Facebook, and Twitter.

The Good, the Bad, and the Apocalypse

February 2012 set a record for numbers of visitors to this website.  I trust it’s because I’ve been updating it with greater frequency than previously, all detailed in my “screw this internet garbage” post.  I know it’s also because of MIXTAPE, which was unfortunately delayed.  On that front I should have details on the new publication dates for stores and iTunes in the next week.  Or not.  Bear with me.

But amidst all the MIXTAPE happenings and goings on, it’s easy to forget that I have a day job, which happens to be writing movies and TV.

Movies like this:

I co-wrote it, it aired on SyFy, and scored huge ratings.  Like, 2.14 million viewers huge.  It got big ratings around the world in face.  Reviews were … well, not that bad, overall.  Hint: If you’re expecting hard science fact from a movie called STONEHENGE APOCALYPSE, I don’t know what else to say than “it must be wonderful there on your world.”

[Oh, a note about that pic?  I took it at at a Barnes & Noble here in Enn Why See a month back.  I went to that same B&N last week, to find it was gone, meaning that at least one person in the Tri-State area owns Stonehenge Apocalypse on Blu-Ray]

So yeah, I’m a writer, and currently what I’m writing as my day job is movies.  Two of ’em as a matter of fact; one sci-fi, one fantasy (with a third on the boards, depending on which way the wind blows).  That’s my bread and butter, really.  There’s also the matter of the third (a horror) due in theaters sometime this year.

Well, in New Zealand at least.

I am ridiculously fortunate to be able to do what I love to do, and actually make a living off it.  People would chew off their own arms to have the life I have, even the ones who gave negative reviews to Stonehenge Apocalypse and RoboCop: Prime Directives.  I realize this, and accept it with a great deal of humility.

Writers are notorious for their ability to bitch about how their work is received and reviewed.  Sometimes we’re justified, sometimes we’re not, and we’re not always right.

But ovies are a collaborative process.  There’s no way around it. Movies take a lot of time and a lot of money, and involve the efforts of hundreds of people, from the cast and crew down the line to the distributors and marketing people.  One of the things about doing MIXTAPE as a comic series was its streamlined nature.  I write the scripts, the editor gives notes and suggestions, the artist draws them, I approve everything, and that’s it.

It’s been said that nobody ever sets out to make a bad movie.  That bears repeating:

Nobody sets out to make a bad movie.

True story.  Years back I was watching some TV talk show (Canadian) about movies, and it was one of the worst circle jerks I’d ever witnessed.  The general gist of it was “it’s better to be critically acclaimed than financially successful”.  One filmmaker who’d had some degree of both said he’d rather have the critics on hsi side than the audience.  I wish I could tell you what he’d done recently but (big surprise) he’s fallen off the map.

Because how does one define “bad”?  If taste is subjective, why does one person’s voice take precedent over another’s?

Another true story.  Years ago I was listening to some radio call-in show right around Oscar time (you know, the months-long industry circle-jerk that culminates in the awarding of a bronze statue of a naked dude).  People were calling in and naming their favorite films, and among the usual suspects – Star Wars, Gone With The Wind – some dude, without a hint of irony or dishonesty, chose Bloodsport as his all-time favorite movie.

If you’re unfamiliar with Bloodsport, this’ll jog ya:

Yeah, that one.

Thing is, this guy was completely sincere — this was his favourite movie.  And know what?  I make movies for that guy.  I respect that guy more than someone who picks Dr. Strangelove or The 400 Blows as their favorite, regardless of whether it is their favorite film, or just the film they know is the “correct” answer. I don’t know who this dude was.  I don’t know where he lived, or what he did for a living, but I can see him on some rainy weekend cracking open a beer and saying “fuck it, I’m watching Bloodsport”.

Guys like him are in the majority too.  They’re what keeps the movie biz going.  Not the critically acclaimed art-films, but the meat and potatoes that keep the engine running.  I’ll take one of those guys over a hundred self-proclaimed intelligensia any day of the week.

So, for filmmakers aspiring or otherwise, take heart when you consider the odds.  Of the estimated 6,840,507,003 people on this earth (and given that we know at least one of them thinks Bloodsport is the greatest movie ever), then it’s a certainty at least one who thinks Stonehenge Apocalypse is the greatest thing ever committed to celluloid.

And yes, that makes me damn proud.