Tag Archives: movies

Friday Update #6: The Branding Betrayal and Other Briefs

I haven’t posted to the Friday Updates in a couple of weeks, mainly because I haven’t had much to say since my last post, but also because I’ve had other commitments and time got away from me. More on that later.

In Support of Branding

I wanted to kick off this post with a slight nitpick. As some of you may know (if you know me personally), I’m a fan of movies. I enjoy a good movie as much if not more than a good book. I enjoy them for the stories, sure, but I especially enjoy them for the experience they provide. And I’m especially a fan of movie franchises, as I can continue to reenter the worlds of my favorite characters and experience something new while hanging on the edge of my seat to the exploits of people old (but not necessarily those of old people, except for maybe Clint Eastwood, and only if he does another Dirty Harry, which I guess would be hard to watch nowadays given that he’s the same age as my grandmother, who just recently passed away—more on that later).

However, one of the things I depend on in my movie experiences is continuity, and that’s especially true of those that actually continue into sequels and more sequels. Franchises like James Bond can get away with actor changes because there are so many of them that eventually the actors will get too old to play the part, like Sean Connery, who’s the same age as my grandmother, who just recently passed away—still, more on that later). The only thing we really must have in a James Bond movie consistently is the tracking gun barrel sequence at the start of each movie, and the opening credits sequence with the dramatic song and the nearly naked women superimposing the movie’s weapon of choice. There are story points that must be addressed, too, but those are related more to the genre than to the franchise itself. At any rate, James Bond has a specific brand we expect each film to adopt, and those are the things we expect—oh, and of course the James Bond theme song by Monty Norman. Other movie franchises like Mission: Impossible also have an expected brand, with the lit fuse marching toward an explosion and the classic theme by Lalo Schifrin (I almost mixed the two composers up—I’ve watched these franchises so many times that they sometimes run together on details like that). It’s also well-known for its anti-brand of style by changing directors and storylines so much that each movie barely resembles the one before it, and really only has Tom Cruise and the opening fuse to bind all five together. Weirdly, this works out great for that series.

If you’re paying attention, then you’ve noticed that I’ve addressed two of the top three blockbuster spy movie franchises currently running. The third franchise, the Bourne series, also has a brand, with each film taking the exact title from the book that corresponds with its entry number (The Bourne Identity is the name of the first book and movie, The Bourne Supremacy the second, and so on through The Bourne Legacy, which changes the lead character but stays firmly in the established cinematic universe), and this keeps them all in the same family.

Or, at least this is true of the first four films.

Now, I just saw the latest Bourne film, Jason Bourne, on Wednesday, and even though I enjoyed it, there are a few things about it that annoyed me. And it all has to do with its branding.

Movies like this remind me why branding in a series is so important. On the outside, novels in a series establish brands by having similar covers and similar fonts from one installment to the next. Their internal content can also establish brands, with recurring themes and recurring popular characters populating them. But they also form brands by the titles they use. Novels do this. Movies do this. Even the names of television episodes (something many audiences will never even see) do this. The show Scrubs, for example, would title each episode as “My [Something].” That puts every episode into a family. My favorite show, Community, would title each episode after a fake and ridiculous course title (“Advanced Complaining,” for example, was never a Community title, but it could’ve been because each episode was titled something like that). I think branding among titles is a good idea, but keeping a continuity among titles to establish that brand is vital if the series has three or more installments and the first two are of the same style.

Before I saw Jason Bourne, I watched the Honest Trailer for the original Bourne film trilogy, and I think it does a fine job highlighting many of the trilogy’s repeat items, enough for me to recognize them when I see them in new installments. I must also say that plenty of elements within the newest movie match those of the older films (the use of the word asset, for example) quite faithfully. And I was pleased to see that the end title song, “Extreme Ways” by Moby, makes its fifth appearance in the series, over the usual hi-tech background graphic where the credits flash, with its expected differences in style from its previous incarnations. And, of course, the story is basically the same as it is in the first four movies. Even though it brings nothing new, it’s still most everything I expect from a Bourne film. Well, almost everything.

Going back to the title, there are two expectations that people like me will have whenever a new entry into the series is released: 1. The title will be The Bourne [Something]. This is how it’s lain out in the previous four films. It’s how the fifth movie should’ve been presented. It’s what we expect when we set up our DVDs and Blu-rays beside each other on the franchises shelf. 2. The title should coincide with the book that matches its installment number. In this case, the fifth book is called The Bourne Betrayal, so the movie should’ve been called The Bourne Betrayal. Even its IMDB entry mentions this inconsistency in the trivia section. What’s worse is that the movie’s plot actually supports this title.

So why change the name? I don’t know. I suspect that the studio dipped its hand where it shouldn’t have, as it often does, and decided that it would make more money or be more appealing to feature the main character’s name instead of what audiences actually expect. I mean, it worked for Jack Reacher, right?

Here’s the thing. The movie is the same regardless of what title it’s given. My complaint is about as OCD and nit-picky as OCD and nit-picky get. But I also think this inconsistency is as annoying as snot. Just give it the expected title. As long as it has the name Bourne in the title, we’ll know it belongs to that franchise. The title change has single-handedly taken a franchise I love and made it into something I love a little less. It just feels like a detached entry now. Being that it takes place 12 years after the previous three just isolates it even more.

Now, if the next Bourne movie is called Jason Bourne 6, and not The Bourne Sanction (the sixth book’s title, and the sixth title to maintain consistency), then I’ll have to stop caring what decisions the studio makes for this franchise. Seeing as how they aren’t changing the formula a lick from movie to movie, either, I’m guessing the series has had its heyday and is ready to take another long nap. I don’t know. Makes me sad, though. This really was one of my favorites for the longest time.

For those of you who write series books or make series movies, please stick to your established brands. Changing them by even the slightest angles derails the momentum you’ve created. Don’t do it. Change the stories instead. That’s what we care about being new.

Other Non-Writing Things

So, I missed last week’s post because I was distracted. We had my grandmother’s memorial the following day, and I was mentally checked out from doing anything creative or informative in the hours leading up to it. I was also exhausted from two straight days of walking several miles on the soggy beach during the hottest time of the day, so I ended up sleeping through most of it. So, sorry if you were expecting news. But I really didn’t have any.

The week before, I was supporting a friend at a cocktail party on the 29th floor of a beachfront condo about an hour from where I live. I was tired when I got home. Plus, I didn’t have any news. I did have fun though. I don’t get invited to cocktail parties like that too often.

Smashwords Sale

For those of you who might’ve been interested in buying my e-books during the Smashwords sale, the sale is over, and everything is back to full price. But, you can still find coupons for discounts and freebies in the Promotions sections in the header, so don’t worry about it. Thanks to those of you who bought something, or will buy something.

(I just noticed that most of the existing coupons are expired or soon to expire. I’ll generate a new batch at some point soon. Keep checking back.)

And that’s it for this week. I’ve spent the last few days working on my computer game, Entrepreneur: The Beginning, and I’ve been reading a lot on the Story Grid website, catching up my knowledge on how to edit, so I haven’t been writing much lately. I will soon, though. Don’t worry. I did write a poem called “My Fading Silence” a couple of nights ago, however. You can read it in my previous post. I don’t write poetry often, so it’s a rare treat.

Oh, and I’ve officially cancelled my preorders for Teenage American Dream, Sweat of the Nomad, and Zipwood Studios until further notice. I will be reinstating them at some point, but not before I get an email list together or something substantial toward their development. I also need to figure out if I want to release their original short story versions under their existing titles and their novel versions under new titles. Check back here often for new information.

Don’t You Forget About Me

October 22, 2015

Even though “Back to the Future” Day was yesterday, the celebration continues with a look back at my favorite movie of all time.

In the year 1985, the same year that Marty McFly first adventured with the DeLorean into another time, a movie was released that would change the landscape for take-charge teenagers forever. Well, two movies, if you count Back to the Future. That first movie, The Breakfast Club, changed my life.

But that’s vague, so let’s paint a backstory here.

In February 1985, the month that The Breakfast Club was released, I was still just a kid, not even in the double-digits yet. High school was still many years away. And, most importantly, it was an R-rated movie, and my parents were too responsible to let me, their young child, see something with such language at the time of its release. So, I didn’t see it in 1985. Or, really, any time particularly close to 1985.

In kid’s terms, “particularly close” might mean a few weeks, or at the most, a few months. In kid’s terms, two years is a lifetime, and I’m pretty sure it had taken me a lifetime to finally get the opportunity to see it. But sure enough, sometime in the mid-late ’80s, a local independent station, which later became a FOX affiliate, started airing the edited-for-television version (Bender’s spirited curse becomes a spirited support for a university when “F**k you!” becomes “Fam U!” for example), and now, finally, I got a chance to see it.

I was blown away. And I don’t know why, exactly. As a nine- or ten-year-old, I had no reason to find power in the story of five teenagers who were way older than me and went through things I was still years off from experiencing myself. But I did. Maybe I was moved with anticipation. Maybe I thought all high schools were like Shermer High, and maybe I thought all teenagers were like the archetypes presented in the movie. Realistically, I was grabbed hard by the throat by the awesome soundtrack–I mean, that opening on black title cards and a montage of static empty high school scenes, so simple yet so thematic. But at my core, I think I was moved more by the dynamics of these people, the friction between styles, ideologies, and backgrounds, even with the one common thing they all share is universal: our parents help shape who we are. For a ten-year-old, that’s quite a lesson to learn.

On the one hand, I think it did probably have some bearing into helping me understand the person I’ve become, based on the instruction my parents had offered me. Both had vastly different levels of style, personality, and responsibility when it came to raising me. Mom was always very economical, responsible, intent to raise me to respect others, follow the rules, and so on. Dad was basically carefree and pretty blasé about most things, and more or less the dead opposite of my mom. In some sense, they were like a two-person Breakfast Club, two completely different archetypes trying to reach the same goal: not to accidentally wreck my life or kill me. I’m still alive and functional, so…I guess they succeeded.

But that’s not all I got out of the movie.

The characters in The Breakfast Club have a three-dimensional arc we can all learn from, even though the substance in their arcs may seem shallow at times–Ally Sheedy’s character, for example, grows from being a weirdo to being a pretty weirdo. But they still exhibit change in the nine hours they’re forced to sit together in a high school library. For most of us, change takes longer, but the fact that we can change is well-documented in this brilliant John Hughes movie.

And speaking of John Hughes, this is the movie that made me a fan of his work.

I’ve probably seen this movie 40 times or more by now. I don’t recall if I had done this on my first viewing, but at some point I had recorded a VHS copy of the edited-for-television version, watched it at least ten times in the three or four years following, bought the soundtrack on cassette, noticed a theme I hadn’t heard in the movie, rented the real movie (on VHS) when I was finally a teenager, was surprised to see that the edited-for-television version had cut a few scenes (including the joint sequence, which featured the theme in the soundtrack I hadn’t heard in the movie previously), eventually bought it on VHS when I was old enough to carry a job, bought it on DVD years after that (as part of a triple pack with Sixteen Candles and Fast Times at Ridgemont High), and I even had the opportunity to see it in theaters last year when Cinemark put The Breakfast Club in its Classics Series lineup for that season. And let me tell you, it’s amazing what we miss on the small screen that’s so much more defined on the big screen. I feel like seeing it in the theater brought me full circle. And even if I never watch it again, I feel as though I’ve definitely gotten my money’s worth, and life’s worth, out of it.

I could keep going, but that’s the point. There’s so much to get out of this 97-minute movie that its impossible to cover it all in a single blog and still keep it short. So, rather than dive into character studies, cinematic tricks, relevant themes, and so on, I’d rather open this topic up for discussion.

Have you seen The Breakfast Club? What was your favorite part? I still get a kick out of Allison throwing the salami slice at the statue and watching it stick to the amorphous head. Just funny stuff.

Thanks for joining me on this nostalgia trip. Come back in an hour for my essay about hoverboards.

That Kid Who Drives a Yugo

Originally posted to Blogspot on:

April 1, 2009:

It’s hard to say how wrong Hollywood gets life. I mean, obviously, some things aren’t likely to happen, things like Monsters attacking Aliens, or Vin Diesel outrunning a train. But what of the life stories? Stories that unfold when Harry meets Sally? Those things that could, feasibly, actually, possibly happen?

I watched that movie Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist this morning. And it got me thinking, How much of my life did I waste?

I suppose I should elaborate on this question. But first it’s important to know what the movie’s about.

Imagine you’re a member of an indie rock band in the Tri-State area. You’re a high school kid, your best friends are all gay, and the girl you were in love with dumped you. You might think your life is normal, or you might think you’re going through an identity crisis. You’re not sure where you fall. You appease your angst through your favorite hobby, through building mix CDs for the girl who no longer wants you, for the girl who no longer takes your calls, for the girl you never leave messages for anymore. But it’s not enough. You’re depressed. And this goes on for a month.

Then your gay band mates come to your doorstep with great news. Your favorite indie band of all time, a band notorious for staying deep underground, is rumored to be in New York that night. It’s a message that does just enough to add some normalcy, nay, joy to your life. You decide to go with them.

Now, your car sucks. I mean, it’s terrible. If it manages to even coast off your driveway, you run the risk of never coming back. It’s, unfortunately for you, a Yugo. But it’s faithful. It understands your patience. It understands that you’re a high school kid who can’t afford anything better. It takes care of you, getting you into New York and to the club where your band is performing. It tells you, “I’m gonna make sure you enjoy your evening. I will not screw you over.” In their own special way, your gay band mates tell you the same thing.

So, I think I’ve given you a fair picture of how this movie starts, and more importantly, how Nick (played by Michael Cera) begins his road to recovery. He’s a nice guy who fell for the wrong girl. We’ve all been there. He deals with it, even though it’s hard. Even though the girl he loved shows up at his performance with another guy in tow. No one ever said infatuation played nice.

But good news for Nick: Hollywood intervenes. Norah also goes to the show that night. And he doesn’t know her, and she doesn’t know him, but she does know his ex, and she does know his mix CDs, and she does know that the guy playing rhythm guitar for that band called “The Jerk Offs” is candy for her eye. And in some odd twist of fate, in some desperate effort to defend herself in the eyes of her friend—the girl that Nick used to love—she meets Nick, puts on a show to ward off her friend’s accusations using Nick’s mouth, and realizes just a little too late that she just lip-attacked her friend’s ex.

And Nick, of course, doesn’t know what to do, but he’s pretty sure he liked what just happened, if not incredibly confused by it.

So he ends up driving Norah around town looking for this elusive band called “Where’s Fluffy,” because, you know, they develop a connection.

Okay, so that’s the summation of the movie. Why bring it up?

Well, as I said in the beginning, it got me to question if I ever really lived.

I didn’t do much as a teenager. I had indie rock friends, sort of—well, they were band geeks who listened to a lot of indie rock. But I never really went anywhere with them. We went to Taco Bell once. That was about it.

I spent more time with my church friends in those days, playing video games, going to Taco Bell—yeah, that was the thing to do if you were tame and living in the mid-90s—but never did anything adventurous. A few guys went to some warehouses to play paintball at midnight every Saturday, though I never went with them. Sometimes in the summer we’d play beach volleyball. But there was no indie-rocking. There was no mission to find an elusive band through extensive detective work or side missions to find missing drunk friends. And there was certainly no matchmaking going on—at least not in a boy-meets-girl romantic kind of way. Looking back, it all seemed kind of sheltered.

Now, I don’t regret my youth. I do regret much about by twenties, but not about my teens. I lived life the way life was given. I did what I was told, refrained from strange indulgences, and avoided that party lifestyle. And I came out of it without any baggage or addiction. So, yeah, I don’t regret those choices.

At least, not entirely.

I think I do regret my lack of adventure. Not that there was much I could do about the travel or financial costs involved, but a part of me feels like the shelter damaged me for adulthood. Psychologically speaking, I think I grew timid toward risk, and even more so toward failure. I didn’t start riding rollercoasters until I was twenty-three (after I’d spent four months playing RollerCoaster Tycoon and loving it) because I thought they’d make me sick. I didn’t drink my first cocktail until I was twenty-eight because I spent my youth being paranoid over developing an alcoholism. To this day, I still haven’t thrown up after a rollercoaster, or gotten drunk off an alcoholic beverage, and I don’t regret trying either. In truth, I feel stronger for having taken the risk.

On Halloween night 2003, I experienced a taste of life that I never really knew for myself, but did know in movies. It was a life I saw mimicked in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. It was a night where I hung out with some friends, cramming for stools in a smoky second-floor bar, listening to indie rocker friends performing under the dim lights penetrating what little there was of the brick-walled cave. It was a night that ended with one friend getting a tongue pierced, another getting a tattoo, and some random stranger popping out of a costumed crowd of thousands in downtown Orlando, ripping off his clothes and dancing like the Party Boy from Jackass, and it made me think, this is one unusual evening.

And that’s when it hit me. For most people, it was just another night on the town. For me, it was surreal.

For all the adventure I thought I had in life, I realized I had nothing to connect me with anyone else. And it bothered me.

In the end, I still don’t go out much. I try to do it more often than I used to. But nowadays I can’t help feeling that it’s too little too late. I still don’t have a Norah in my life (and that’s too bad, because Norah’s a cool chick). I’ve never spent an entire night hunting for an elusive band (though, in fairness, that was never a desire of mine to begin with). And I’ve only had to deal with a drunk girl once or twice.

No doubt, my life’s been pretty safe. But it’s also been pretty boring.

I hope there’s still room to fix that before I’m too old to care. Until then, it gives me something to think about.

So, what have I learned from Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist?

1. I need some gay friends, as they seem to do a better job attracting women.

2. I’m lucky to have a Honda.

3. Just because I’m depressed one day doesn’t mean the night has to end on a bad note.

4. Hollywood still gets the high school scene wrong.

5. Life goes nowhere if I’m sitting around the house all day.

Anyway, I’m thinking of going out for some food now. Don’t know how adventurous it’ll be, but at least I’ll get some sunshine in the process.

Oh, and great movie.

That First Taste of Creative Payoff

Originally posted to MySpace on:

April 22, 2007:

Last night I got to experience something that in times before I could only imagine: a chance to see something I wrote brought to life.

It was a beautiful thing, actually, to suffer countless hours, countless days, weeks, months and years under the same breath, hoping for a moment where it could all make sense, to have it all finally come together in one kiss of inspiration, an artist’s dream, as minimal as it may seem, sparking a sacred fire as the first taste of payoff came to light. It was beautiful, indeed.

But not that the taste missed the buds before, of course—the first true payoff hit me when my dad read my first story, called “City Walker,” out loud. The story was terrible, as one might expect from an amateurish thirteen-year-old. But to hear the characters and the lines spoken audibly—something that started from my head—was a cause for goose bumps.

Those goose bumps continued during my high school creative writing class whenever the teacher picked my short story out of the pile to read aloud. Most writers could identify with those early moments of public display, when the author was anonymous, but the story rung out like a chorus of “Jingle Bells,” getting laughs and hoots as if it were ushering in the biggest holiday of the year—or the hurt feelings that followed whenever the audience didn’t give a crap. The formidable years of writing often launched frenzies of turbulent emotion, and most writers in those early stages turned their emotion into new stories, to which he or she had another chance at wowing the class.

Such beginning regions were common fare to the growth of a writer—or any artist, for that matter—but the payoff still fell under the artist’s control, and thus the joy of sharing it became less prestigious over time.

In college, the next great “first” became reality, upping that dying level of prestige a notch: I published a poem called “Dungeon Johnny” in the college literary magazine. Again, the thrill returned, seeing the words I wrote laid out on a glossy sheet, accompanied by the drawing of a mysterious figure framed in shadow—a picture I didn’t choose, but could see how it fit with the poem, sort of. Just getting the pairing with another artist’s creation added to the bliss of seeing a project come to life. And, like the first out-loud reading of my story six years earlier, it was beautiful.

And yet, the thrill was limited: I was on the editing staff of the college literary magazine. Poems and short stories went in by vote, and I contributed one of the votes. Control was out of my hands, but not entirely. I knew it was coming. It was a first, but the wrong kind of first.

Nearly a decade later, another first hit me, another product of my own control: I printed my first collection of short stories in paperback. Up until this point, this had been the singularly best moment in my writing career, as now I could see what my name looked like on the front cover of a book. And to see my short stories in printed form—all of them from that first volume, with professional headers and everything—just felt like the coolest thing ever. For any writer, that’s like walking along the beaches of Utopia for the first time. And yet, no publisher had a say in the matter, nor did any editor. To see my name in print was cool, but the fact that I put it there myself felt like cheating. The bliss had power, but didn’t last very long.

And that was the way it had stayed for several years.

Artists often get the most satisfaction from just seeing their thoughts come to life. I have to admit that the joy I get most in the writing process is not so much in the showing it off, or doing something fancy with the design, but just getting it finished. It takes such a load off my shoulders when the project is done—and even more so when the editing process is finished, too. But there’s something special about sharing one’s thoughts with a group and having that group validate it with a laugh, or an “ooh,” or something that elicits the desired effect. My books might’ve done that, but I wasn’t there to hear it.

Last night I finally got to witness the moment I had only dreamed about in the past: I got to see a line of dialogue I wrote spoken in a movie. It wasn’t my movie, nor was it my characters, nor was it even my scene. But the writer/producer/director asked me to critique his script on three different occasions, and on the last one (the second before shooting), I gave him a handful of lines to make some scenes better, not really expecting him to use any of them.

Well, as I sat in the theatre, watching this local indie-film playing out—a story that I first read in the ‘90s, and was thrilled enough for this friend of mine to see his own vision come to life—two things happened: First, I saw a copy of my first book on the screen (which I new was coming, but still found it cool to see) and was happy just to have some contribution to the scene; and second, and more importantly, I saw my advice played out in action, which added to my satisfaction when I saw that it had worked. Perhaps the greatest satisfaction for me—and I know it sounds a bit like pride, but I felt such a weight lifted when I saw it that I’d consider it more relief than ego—was to see a line of dialogue that I wrote for the director (as a suggestion for the ending of a scene) played out by the on-screen actress (which, for the first time, was used outside of my control), and having at the end of the last word the entire theatre bursting from laughter. Though it was my friend’s movie, and though it was his scene, his character, and his production talents that brought the two to life, I still had to smile when the line I contributed received such a big response. For a moment I could feel what it was like to sit in Ben Stiller’s shoes (if one could sit in shoes) after viewing Zoolander with an audience. It was enough to get me thinking that maybe I can still do this.

Yes, there are still plenty of firsts to go in this volatile hobby of mine, but each journey, as distant as they can be, reminds me that they’re still in reach. I should’ve known that reality from the days of my living room when my dad read out loud a scene involving charred steak, putting in all the bravado that a thirty-seven-year-old man in his underwear could produce. But seeing my name in the special credits section of a movie (in the movie theatre), along with hearing the lines I’d contributed (which according to my critique, there were more than one—I just forgot about a couple of them: I thought the director’s use of a character responding to the line “k-i-s-s-i-n-g” with “k-i-s-s-off” was brilliant, until I went home to discover that it, too, was one of mine; then I just felt sick with pride) just made the future seem a heck of a lot shorter.

In the end, I realized every little moment is worth it because any of it can come back when you least expect it and make you smile. It took a lesbian character embarrassing her “friend” at the end of her poem to make me (and the audience) smile. What a strange way to get a “first.”

Maybe I should send out that novel of mine now.