Monday, May 28, 2012

The book signing

Well, I'm finally back. I'm still in Manitoba and about to do the big book-signing for Emperor of Mars today in Winnipeg. During the past week, I made my way from Sherman Oaks to Nevada, Idaho and Wyoming. I helped rescue a 3-week old calf whose leg was crushed, spent a day rounding up cattle in Montana, drove through a snow blizzard and reconnected with an older "great" cousin and his wife.

The pic above is in Jackson Hole, one of my favorite places. 

But right now I'm nervous. Not a bad reason, but having to face people at the book-signing. I have these images I've seen at bookstores where some unknown writer sits waiting for someone to buy their book as people walk past him/her.

Screenwriting is much easier; you write the script and hand it in and they pay you.

But for novels, you gotta show up in a bookstore and meet some friends and some strangers who are curious about watching a writer literally beg for them to buy his/her book. 

Okay, maybe it's not that desperate. Actually the book-signing I did in my home town turned out to be a lot of fun, and over half the buyers were strangers. But I had a somewhat captive audience there as many of the strangers were curious about the book, as the book was was set in their town. 

Today I have the big book-signing, at a city bookstore but fortunately with friends. Will see how it goes and hopefully I sell a few books.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Still here...

Sorry for disappearing, I left for Canada to my home town and then to Winnipeg where a bookstore group will sell Emperor of Mars in their stores. It's also a chance to "visit" as they  say. Also have a dozen DVD's of Ghostkeeper for the Deer Lodger Hotel. Seems they will keep a few and sell the others to guests.

Not a major sale to HBO, but hell, it's still a sale.

Tomorrow I will be one of those sad authors sitting at a desk in a little bookstore in Swan River (Pop 4800) which is a farming community. Next Tues I do the same thing in Winnipeg. I really, really don't like it as I've seen too many authors sitting alone in the back of a bookstore hoping someone will buy their book.

I'll be here for 2 weeks, then back to LA and will now resume blogs. Thanks for hanging around.

BTW, the pic above was taken in Idaho, a really well built house even though it's old

Monday, May 14, 2012

On the subject of Editing.

I've recently been doing some editing for some friends. Not writing editing but actual video editing. I use a software program designed for Macs called Final Cut Pro (nickname FCP) and started using it back in 2002. 

The screen above is my project for Emperor of Mars, very simple as FCP goes, I had photos and some artwork and narration. The blue areas are the photos and the 2 green lines are the audio. Excuse the sunlight reflecting on the screen.

My editing experience started back in 1970 at a local TV station in Windsor, across the river from Detroit. Back then everything was 16mm film for the station; movies, commercials and some TV shows were all used and reused until they were either out of date or had so many scratches from being run in the projectors that they  had to be replaced.

There was video but it was limited to local TV shows we produced. News stories were all filmed on 16mm black and white film.

Going back to the first edit jobs, I would take 16mm commercials and insert them into a TV show or movie by hot splicing. That involved cutting the film and gluing the commercials, sometimes as many as 4, into the movie.

Editing, like filming and writing and probably acting, is a creative process. Splicing commercials was hardly that, but I learned how to find the places in a movie, for example, to best put the commercials.

In later years, I was more of a writer/producer/director at all the TV stations I worked at and didn't really edit myself, rather a technician would make all the cuts on video, sometimes actually cutting the tape to join to another piece of tape.

It wasn't until 2002 that I started to edit again, with FCP, which was slightly higher than consumer video editing softwares, it cost $1200 and I needed to buy a Mac besides having a PC laptop.

My first experiences were revolutionary to me, I could actually cut and edit and add music and effects. Really amazing stuff. But the hardest part was learning it, and it took a good 2 years to figure out the software to my liking.

One of the biggest problems with digital editing is that there are many ways to do it and many ways to mess it up. That's where I came into conflict with technology again. I came from film editing which, technologically was simple; you had an editing machine that had 4 functions; forward/fast forward and reverse/fast reverse.

With FCP you have dozens, maybe hundreds of different functions and dozens of ways to screw it up. Today, to edit features or just family movies, you have to know how digital works. To my credit, I'm okay on the tech side, but much more creative on the artistic side.

And those don't always get along with each other.

I remember working with a tech video guy at a TV station; he was editing, I was telling him what to add or cut. Kind of like my dad teaching me to drive. Lots of arguing.

At one point, I was looking at the color on one monitor and the tech was looking  at his tech screens filled with scales and lines. I said the color on my picture monitor was off, he said, looking at his screens, that it was perfect.

I was looking at people, he was looking at lines.

What's the point? Well, I have found that creativity and technology don't always go together. 

Example; I recently edited a demo reel for my director friend Paul. It consisted of TV shows he had directed when copies were made from 1" video tape. Now I was putting them on digital. And that meant having to translate the old video to digital video. Not an easy thing to do and I had to enlist the many FCP forums to help me.

That's another thing about digital editing; it always has problems. There are 125,000 people using FCP (probably more but that's the number on the official Mac site) who are having problems. Every day. And there are at least a dozen different help sites including Youtube.

When we edited film, there were only those 4 functions I described above. And sometimes you had to change the light bulb in the screen.

Now you have to be the editor, the engineer and at least a dozen functions that were done by other individuals. If you wanted an optical effect, say a fade to black, you had to get the lab printer to do that and it cost money.

Now I just make a single click and there's the fade to black. All of 2 seconds. 

And that brings into question this; if I can do almost any kind of optical visual by myself then what is happening to the people who used to do this?

For on example, I sometimes go to a dubbing company that makes copies of dvds, etc. They had 3 different offices in LA. A month ago I called for a pricing on a video and they now have 1 office. What happened? 

Guys like me happened, people who can do practically everything by themselves.

It's an odd situation, knowing that I and thousands of others are taking away jobs from people. FCP now costs $299 as compared to the $1200 it used to cost.

As the saying goes, "good news is that everyone can now make a movie--- bad news is that everyone can now make a movie. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Ghostkeeper and more...

Had some nice email over the wk-end about Ghostkeeper, seems that it's doing very well for Code Red so far.

One of the reasons Bill at Code Red decided to sell direct rather than through a distributor is basically because distributors can really rip you off. My initial experience was with a company called International Cinema Marketing, out of NYC.

That's when I learned one single thing; they will take your money. In fact you don't look for a company that will be be dishonest, you look for one that will be the least dishonest.

But a distributor will always say "we're selling your movie".

And they're right. But what they don't say is how they decided on the "expenses" necessary to sell the movie. That might mean taking a buyer for an expensive dinner, or flying their partner/wife/husband or friend to Cannes along with them.

And you pay for it.

So why do you allow it?

You have no choice. Their expenses are so complicated on paper that it's almost impossible to find the real cost. This is why you often see bigtime producers and directors sue the major studios for money owed to them.

And it becomes a matter as to who can stretch it out longer in the courts.

Having said that, while Code Red gave me a good deal, it remains to be seen how much that deal will cost me. To their credit, they did find the 35mm prints and they were very helpful in helping to put the commentary together.

But distribution is changing and for the better, what with streaming video ready to take over from DVDs just as quickly as DVDs took over from VHS. It's getting harder for studios and sales agents to hide their expenses. The greater problem is the rampant copying of movies that is killing the studios.

I know I have written about how surprised I was with Ghostkeeper's sudden revival but it continues to amaze me. It was the last thing I ever expected.

And I have written a sequel of sorts as most of you know, but getting it financed is a tough one. John Holbrook, the DP from the original GKPR came up with a crew budget that's pretty good, and for under $1 million.

The original GKPR was filmed for around $650,000, which is the equivalent of $1.4 million today. But with new DV cameras it can be made quite well for a lower budget.

Got some nice comments in the previous blog, which always makes the day a little brighter.

And what else today?

A company is interested in Deadhead, a story about 8 people flying on a jetliner destined for the bone yard when strange, ghostly things begin to happen.

This from a guy who writes Hallmark movies?

But there's nothing like a good ghost story at 32,000  feet.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Emperor is moving...

It's been a slow week here in Sherman Oaks, the weather has been overcast since Sunday and as the joke goes; "everyone is calling their therapist". Besides the Ghostkeeper news I also have made a deal with a bookstore company in Winnipeg, Manitoba for Emperor of Mars.

As most of you know (I wonder how many times I've said that?) Emperor of Mars, or EOM was originally a screenplay I wrote in 1989 and it was almost made into a film several times, with the money falling out at the end.

Then a friend of mine suggested I novelize it and so I did. It came out just before Christmas 2011 and did "brisk" sales, meaning ok but not really as much as I hoped.

That changed a few weeks ago when I decided to go back to Manitoba where I grew up to visit my parent's graves, among other things. Then my friend Nicole in Winnipeg finally had her book published through McNally/Robinson, a book store company with bookstores in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New York.

Nicole's book was based on her experiences with internet dating and the book combines her experiences, some of which are quite remarkable and a general guide as to how to work the internet dating scene, some of which is not very pretty. I've attached her link in the materials area.

Nicole strongly suggested I contact them and I did. To my surprise they were enthusiastic and eager to work with me. It helped that my book was set in Manitoba and thus made it easier to get it into their store.

In the course of a week, we made a great deal, I get 60%, they get 40%. The catch is that I purchase my books in the U.S. as the cost of printing in Canada is almost 3 times as high. And at $15.95, I'd be getting less than $2 a book.

So the next thing is the "book launch", which I dread. I've seen too many of those things where an unknown author sits at a desk waiting for someone to buy their book. As the saying goes; "I'd rather have hot needles poked in my eye". I think "Jack" said that.

However, the company assures me they will do their end of the publicity and in fact, are doing quite a lot. They will make the posters, set up the table, invite guests and do newspaper ads among other things.

In short, it's quite amazing how they can put these things together even down to coffee and tea and desserts.

I still dread doing it, but am getting a good amount of support from several cousins I have there as well as friends, so maybe it'll be harmless.

And all I hope for is to sell at least 5 books,  usually the average is 9. Thus is the fate of the beginning writer and after 32 years of writing screenplays and more if you count the other writings I did, none of it matters now.

Now I am the "new author". I asked if they can say "writer" but they think "author" is standard.

By the way, I will be posting all the time, in fact I'm making a video of what I'm calling the "First Last Roadtrip" for my legendary Ford Explorer with 225,000 miles on it.

And it's a "2-fer" as well as I will also be selling Ghostkeeper DVD's to the people at Deer Lodge, who have requested some for themselves and for selling to hotel guests at the hotel where the film was shot.

So, it's gonna be a busy trip and at the price of gas, a little costly. But interesting.