Friday, January 31, 2014

20 Random Things I Should Have Written About a Long Time Ago

As you know, 2013 wasn't a great year for the blog. For many reasons that I am too bored about to recount here, I wasn't regularly delivering content like I had in previous years. 2014 has started out much better, but I've still pulled off a few disappearing acts on some days. What this means is that I often have things I'd love to rant and rave about, but I end up locking them up in the brain vault for another time. Another time seems to keep on being held up in traffic. So, in an attempt to end the false starts and officially kick-off the new era of the International House of Spicer I've decided to offer up 20 thoughts on some random things that I'd meant to discuss here in the past. I'm actually going to be doing this as they come to me, so I'll likely be missing out on many things I'd have normally written about if this last year had not been plagued by the writing demons.

1.  First thing I wanted to address was that I feel awful that I didn't even bother to write up a three line blurb to acknowledge the passing of one of the most iconic and important figures of our time, Nelson Mandela.  There are several famous people that passed away in the past year who I wanted to acknowledge, but the person who has been one of the most integral in shaping crucial parts of modern times was Nelson Mandela. In a hundred years there will only be so much room for important modern figures to be fit into history books, but Mandela will not only get a substantial write-up but will warrant his own classes. He was a complicated man just like any figure who became great, and there is no arguing that he transformed a nation and left a lasting impact on our world. He will rightfully be remembered alongside Gandhi and Martin Luther King as revolutionaries that forced massive change in civil rights. There is little I can say that can compare to the greatness of this man, so I'll just end by saying I am proud that I got be alive during his lifetime to see the changes he created.


2.  Those that have been following my film reviews from the start will remember that it wasn't until 2012 that I incorporated star ratings. I was always hesitant about using them, because I realized they were subjective and didn't want them to take away from what I'd written. I also knew there would be issues where I'd end up giving three stars to one movie that clearly wasn't as good as a picture that I gave two and half. I saw it as an opening of a door to many headaches and arguments, and lot of that would just come from my inner voice as I try to justify my choices. I eventually came to terms with the fact that star ratings weren't scientific and it was just arbitrary, but it did allow the readers to at least get a rating system of where I put a particular picture. I also started to constantly be asked to implement a system, as some felt it helped better understand and compliment the reviews.

Over time I started to realize the star ratings weren't gospel and just a barometer to go with my written reviews (written being the most important part). I also started learning that not all two and half rated films were created equal. I slowly came to terms with the fact that a person reading a review about Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones wasn't interested in knowing how it stood up against a movie like The Place Beyond the Pines but rather where it stood against other found footage horror movies. Yes, I gave Marked Ones three stars, but that doesn't mean it was only one star in quality below Pines, but rather it was of that value in that particular genre. I try to review a movies based off who the film is being marketed to and what kind of movie it is trying to be, so I'm likely much easier on a goofy action picture rather than a historical drama where the expectations I have are much higher.  The three for one and the two for other may still mean I'd rather see the two star historical drama again rather than the guy smashing through windows for two hours. Anyway, I wrote all this to link to a rather interesting piece about Roger Ebert explaining how he arrives to his own star ratings and film recommendations over at /Film.  Ebert is probably one of the biggest influences on my film criticism career, and it is an interesting look at how to approach the star rating.

3. Since I'm now sort of writing about writing, it seems like a great time to bring up Chuck Wendig. He is a novelist, screenwriter, comic book writer, and game designer who is currently far more successful than me. He also likely gets asked how to be successful at writing far more than I do. Considering how often I get asked at my very low level of success, I'd think it is almost a full time job going through those emails for him. Anyway, I always tell people you've got to write. Write lots. Keep on writing. During that time you have to pitch and scramble and hustle to try to sell that work. Oh yeah, and write. Well, Wendig says the exact same thing except he has several decades of experience and some great success stories to strengthen his advice. For all aspiring writers that are wondering why they haven't hit it big yet, here is a really important post to read.

4.  I was going to try to cover a whole bunch of major news issues that I never got around to discussing in 2013. To be honest, it is now getting so far removed from them that I don't have the energy or passion to write anything interesting about them anymore. Let's just say that if a bearded mallard says anything controversial or a mayor I once interviewed puts his head firmly into his ass again then I'll try to throw in my two cents in 2014.

5.  It's interesting how one's current life situation makes it hard to remember what things were like before the change. I look back at life before Everett, and I don't understand how I wasn't writing six novels a year and still having time to make my own margarita recipes. Now, I'm not sure how in the old place I ever thought shovelling the driveway was time consuming when our new house has something much larger than some streets. If anyone wants to just give me a snow blowing as thanks for all the years of free content on this blog then that is a gift I'm willing to accept. Or as I analyze the currently snow covered lawn, I'm also open to accepting riding lawnmowers as my current push mower means I'll need to pack a sleep-over bag and a three meals to get it all done. Once again, Christopher from one year ago really shouldn't have complained about the chores. Hey, at least I can laugh at him, because I have a much bigger house. Also he doesn't actually exist anymore, so I have that over him as well.

6.  I've currently found myself being smothered by a backlog of film reviews again. I'm not going to bother with the excuses because it is complicated, and I'd rather just move on with life. Many of the films that I missed written reviews with a byline (not ghost written) have or will be covered on the Breakdown. As for the others, I'll just have to let them float in the abyss until the time comes for me to rewatch and properly reviews them. For now, I'll state that Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and Olympus Has Fallen are prime examples of movies that follow a successful formula but do it in the most tiresome, predictable, and lifeless way possible. Though I will say that one is more guilty of being forgettable come the end of the year, and the other would have made my worst of the year list if I'd seen it in time. I'll let you sort it out which is which.

7.  Everett ended up getting several train sets for Christmas, because apparently, it is time to get his career path set now that he is two. His career obviously being one that somehow finds a way to get paid while playing with train sets. The plan had been to return some of the sets and exchange them for things that didn't inspire my son to scream out "choo-choo."  Not that we were opposed to that, but there is more to life than train noises. There are always airplane noises and cow sounds too. Anyway, Emily went back to work and Everett went hard to work convincing me to open up one of the train sets that we left in the living room. He convinced me with the solid and impossible to beat argument of "Open peese daddy."  I challenge you to find a counter.

So, we opened the box, and I quickly realized it was not one of those magically assemble on their own sets. I told Everett he had to put the train track together himself, and he responded by going off to sit on the dog's head. I was left staring with my mouth wide open at the box and trying to figure out which of the various configurations would be the easiest. While building with things that aren't words and ideas is far from my passions or skill set, I actually found myself engrossed in trying to get a track set-up. To the point it became my toy while Everett made stuff cats fly and blue cars dance.

Eventually, I accomplished my task, and I have to admit to some pride of actually successfully assembling something, even if it was designed for those between 4 and 10. It looks great, and the toy train ran on it fine.  Everett was quite happy to see a fully functional train track. He quickly realized it looked just like the one we have in the family room.  So, he ran off to look at that one. He then came wandering back with the train from that set in his hands. He made the "choo-choo" sound while the train chugged along its new track.

It actually fit on the track fairly well, despite being a different make.  The really important thing to Everett was if it could fit in the tunnel. Except it didn't. He tried pushing, jumping and singing to convince the train from the other set to fit through the tunnel.

During the fracas, he remembered he had a third train. It was a Fisher Price train that popped up coloured balls, and was about 10 times bigger than the other two trains. But it was a train. Everett decided that it should go on the track and go through the tunnel. His face scrunched up when discovering the massive toddler toy couldn't fit through the tunnel. He asked for assistance, because he obviously mistook me for Rick Moranis from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

This was the day Everett learned not all trains are created equal.

8.  I've talked before about my plans to launch a major movie news site in the coming year. The plan would be to house all my reviews, podcasts, and box office predictions over there. I'd also like it to be a site that contains film history, essays on the current state of cinema, and opinion pieces on current major film news.  In an attempt to try to grow that particular audience, I'll likely try to increase the movie news I do on this site until the launch. I don't quite know what that means yet. I still want this to be a place where I write about everything. I'd like to actually increase my "slice of life" type writing along with parenting pieces and also start writing a bit more about politics and world news again. For the next little bit I'm going try to sort out exactly what I can handle along with my pay copy and pantless boy aspiring to ride Summit.  Expect even more focus on movies over the next bit with more reviews and discussion of news, so either be excited or consider yourself warned.

9.  For what may be the 10th winter in a row, I've appeared to have lost my mittens. I blame it one mitten trolls, and assume somewhere there is a bridge constructed out of my winter clothing.

10.  It is about two months old, but I never wrote anything about last season's Survivor: Blood vs. Water. I should have, because it turned out to be one of the best seasons ever. Tyson went from being the snarky and witty comic relief character to a player that controlled the game and was absolutely dominant. What makes his win more impressive than other returning players who won like Boston Rob was that Tyson was surrounded by people playing really hard to win. It was a lot of fun seeing a season where no one seemed to be playing just to make merge or just happy to go deep. Everyone did backstabbing and arguing and manipulation to try to make it to the every end, which made for an incredibly fun season. It also made Tyson one of the surprising great players in the history of the game, when there wasn't any sign of that from his previous two seasons. I won't go into details since the season is so distant now, but I wanted to just throw in that this was an all-time favourite and one worth tracking down if you missed it. If CBS actually made high quality box sets of this series I'd try to get this one and review it from the start, but they only make the flimsy to-order variety, which is only a step-up from burning it off a torrent.

11.  About two months ago, I knocked over some smelling oils all over the kitchen island. Considering this isn't where they are supposed to go, I uttered something like, "Oh no, mommy is going to be mad and I'll be dead." Everett thought that was a great thing to declare and yelled over and over, "Oh no! Mommy! Dead!" For the rest of that week, any time I dropped or spilled something, or it could possibly look like I accidentally laid something down, Everett would yell out, "Oh no! Mommy! Dead!" It isn't usually good to teach your 2 years old that his mommy is a homicidal, but it was fun.

Then before Christmas, Summit decided to help himself to an entire box of chocolates. Considering chocolate is toxic and deadly to dog, it may have been less stressful if he ate the entire turkey instead. We decided we wouldn't call the vet, but just keep on an eye on him instead. The next day I was talking on the phone and Everett was doing his usual laps around the house. I then suddenly heard him yelling over and over in an exasperated tone, "Doggy! Doggy! Doggy!" I then went into the living room to discover the side effects of a dog eating an entire box of chocolates. It was quite the unpleasant mess that I now had to focus my attention on.

Since I was not expecting it and probably because it is always good to identify what you see, I blurted out without thinking, "Oh Shit!" Luckily, Everett seemed to mishear me, and instead said, "Oh Sit!"  He then promptly sat down. He then had a moment of clarity come across his face and he jumped right back up to yell out, "Oh No! Mommy! Dead!"

I then got to hear him yell out that chant while I tried to prevent a stain on our rug in what is supposed to be the fancier room of the house. Nothing quite says class like a giant brown stain on the carpet. As I continued to scrub, Everett helped by doing his new chant. He then realized one of the words in his chant, "Dead!" Then every time after saying that word he'd dramatically throw himself to the ground and lay out just like he'd been shot.

12.  You may have also noticed I haven't talked about football at all this season. If this seems odd then consider that I'm trying to adopt the "if you don't have anything nice to say then don't say anything at all approach" and then look at the Chicago Bears' record.

13.  This may be too late for many, but for all aspiring writers in Ontario, I wanted to remind you that Toronto Star is once again doing their Short Story contest with $5,000 as the top prize. It is a great way to get some exposure for your career, and even if you don't place, it is good to learn to try to write on deadline and come up with ideas on a relatively short time frame. Even with less than a month left, it might be a good thing to consider.

14.  I tried starting up TV reviews on the site again.  You may also notice just as quickly that I stopped again. There is a part of me that feels that when I enjoy entertainment that I must justify it by writing about it. I once again realized writing TV and book reviews is too time consuming if I also want to do several film reviews a week and other writing on top of that. I may try again in the future, but for now, I'll likely just keep TV writing to opinion pieces or reviews for sites like BuddyTV (where I currently write Rake reviews).

15.   I didn't do a New Year's resolution piece this year, because I didn't want to discover that I had the exact same goals as the year prior. Admittedly, career wise 2013 wasn't as successful as 2012, so some of the lack of goal achievement was trying to recover from a few unexpected hits in terms of clients. The biggest unachieved goals are much more easily blamed me. I've been talking about writing more fiction every single year, and I'm still as far along with my novel now as I was three years ago.  This is to say I have ideas and dreams but nothing that any publisher would even think to buy.

This year I'm hoping to have an actual complete novel. Now, if it gets sold is a totally different story, as typically it takes a novelist several manuscripts before they have something a publisher deems worthy of purchase. The writing of a novel is a very different beast than just the writing of articles or reviews or ad copy or any other thing I currently make a living at doing.  Simply put, I have ideas and like to tell stories, but don't have any concrete proof that I can actually write a full length book. I'm making it clear that will be the objective this year along with trying to make a name writing some shorter fiction as well. The goal will be to write some occasional progress reports on this site to reveal the brainstorming process and how I turn the idea into the story and all the other creative aspects of creating long form fiction.

Of course, what ends up working or failing for me doesn't necessarily mean anything to another writer other than it failed or worked for me. I am learning writing and creation is a very personal process.  Many people can go about very different routes and still achieve the success someone down another path met. It is also helpful to hear how other people arrived to a story and trying to sort out if that works for you.

The other major process will come after I complete the novel. I'll need to sort out if I go the traditional publishing route or try the self-publishing route.  Self-publishing is no longer just a hobby or something done by hack writers. It is a real option.  One that has the benefit of retaining more profits and rights. At one time I only wanted to do traditional publishing because it would be a sign that I made it and that someone accepted my work. Self-publishing means the actual completion just shows I could write a book and not that anyone liked it. It would then rely on my own self-marketing and generating actual sales.  As I grow older with a family to support, I stop thinking about the ego and more about the actual financial end. There is the time factor and some other costs related with self-publishing (like making a cover), so in the end my decision will likely be more practical rather than attempts to feed the ego. Hopefully, this is something I can write about further when the time comes to sorting out the future of the novel I'd have finally completed.

I'd also really like to get a non-fiction book moving.  But then I reveal how overly-ambitious I am. I should probably just get projects moving forward and reveal them when they're closer to completion.  Hey look, a fuzzy squirrel!

16.  2013 marked my first full year as a stay-at-home-dad.  I'd largely declare it a success.  Spending time and watching my son grow is always going to be rewarding in itself. I'm truly blessed to see him hit each milestone and see how much he has changed from even a month ago. It also has allowed for me to have a special and close relationship with my son that I really wouldn't trade in for anything.

The big factor is how looking after Everett has affected my writing career. Everett isn't a big fan of daddy on the computer when he is running about.  Well, let me correct that, if daddy isn't showing him Michael Jackson music videos or Disney songs then he isn't a big fan of me being on the computer. I'm pretty sure Everett thinks work is watching YouTube. I find I can get him distracted by toys or food for a maximum of a half hour and then he comes prowling.  The half hour is a good day. For the most part, I get up early, because Everett isn't up until 7:30 to 8. He luckily sleeps from an hour and half to sometimes even three hours in the afternoon (counting an hour of singing to his stuffed toys). Then Emily is home in the evenings and can take over the Everett party. It is now about trying to sneak in as much writing in those available windows as possible. Some weeks are magical and other weeks I have an entire weekend spent trying to cram in deadline sensitive projects.

The time with Everett is the real magic. Emily makes a good living, so I have to remind myself my own career is the financial gravy. The most important thing is making sure Everett isn't just stuffed with jelly beans or setting the dining room table on fire. I've achieved that, so I'd consider my career a success.

Personally, I do have a strong desire to feel like I am contributing outside of caring for Everett. I have dreams and goals and ambitions. For my own emotional well-being I still need to push for my writing career while looking after Everett. It has been hit or miss, but I hope 2014 is where I get much better. I'll likely try to track my progress and adventures as a stay-at-home dad more regularly this year. I'm sort of missing my weekly "Dad's Eye View" column, so I may try to something similar here but with a bit of a managing work focus as well.

17.  I'll likely be mentioning Star Wars on here a lot if I try to track the major movie news. The film is pushing forward to the end of 2015, and so much should be happening over this next year if they stick with the release date. The script is now completed and the big hubbub on the Internet is that the focus is on the original trilogy characters rather than the next generation as had been assumed. People are nervous about the focus being on ageing characters and point to how Obi-Wan Kenobi was a supporting character and it wouldn't have worked as well if he was the hero. I admit it would be awkward seeing an older star playing the role of the hero and jumping about with his lightsabre, and you just have to look at Sylvester Stallone to see how well that works for the box office. This is where we also need to admit we don't know squat about the story, because J.J. Abrams has been super secret about it. This is also the guy who denied up and down that Khan was in the new Star Trek picture, so he isn't past lying for misdirection sake.

I assume new characters will need to be introduced. I am sure a proverbial passing of the torch is planned. I don't necessarily want Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia to be the driving force of the narrative, but I also have to admit that nostalgia dictates I sort of want to see how they all turned out after the event of Return of the Jedi. I am not ready for any nerd diatribes until I know more about the picture. I am still optimistic and excited for this.

The thing I am more concerned about is Disney's push for it to be December 2015. It doesn't seem like enough time for a picture that just finished the first draft of the script. The special effects and innovations have always been a major part of the story. Fans expect to be introduced to new worlds and an assortment of bizarre creatures. All those things take time to create. I'd assume the special effects alone probably take most of a year if not more. It seems to be really optimistic to have the film so close with so little worked on.

I'm also leery of all the spin-off they want to churn out, but I'll leave that talk for another day.

18.  A city trapped under a dome, and nefarious fellows try to exploit the circumstance to their benefit. Depending on your entertainment tastes, you either thought about The Simpsons Movie or Under the Dome by Stephen King (or the TV series based on the novel). My point is that an idea is nothing more than just that, an idea. I find it interesting how closely some writers will guard their kernel of an idea when on its own it isn't much. Nobody would mistake The Simpsons Movie for Under the Dome other than the towns being trapped, because one is a comedy and the other is a very dark tale about secrets of a town. The stories are drastically different but with a similar initial idea.

I personally am not really scared about giving up an idea. I trust that even if a writer then decided to run with my idea that the story would turn out drastically different. The idea isn't sellable or entertainment. It is the story that matters. If someone comes about their idea honestly, then I'm pretty sure their final product will be very different than any other writer.

The sacredness of an idea is something I've had to get over myself. I used to think that it was what held the magic. I was so proud of the ideas that popped into my head. I'd cherish them and try to keep them away from the greedy. I now know that they don't mean anything until the story gets uncovered. They have nothing until I transform it into a tale. This is an important lesson that I have to remind myself. The fruits and treasure are buried in the story that I must be written.

19. 2015 was looking like one of the most bloated years ever for blockbusters. Some acquainted the unrolling of big, budget spectacles from major well-known franchises as turning the year into the best. This is only if trying to make massive profits is now what we call the best. I like blockbusters just fine, but I tire of endless sequels and special effects got tiring by June this past year, so I don't look forward to even more crammed in a year, I like nuanced and complex storytelling that is character driven, and that doesn't really exist in the realm of the blockbuster. 2015 actually is a year I dread as it looks like we are headed for some massive blockbuster burnout.

The year is crammed with The Avenger: Age of Ultron, Tomorrowland, Jurassic World, Fantastic Four, Ted 2, Terminator: Genesis, Despicable Me Minions, Ant-Man, The Bourne Identity 5, Fast and Furious 7, Hotel Transylvania 2, James Bond 24, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, The Good Dinosaur, and Star Wars Episode VII are just a few of the movies hoping to be massive hits. The list I just gave is far too many movies hoping to rack in billions in the global market, and I'm sure many have budgets that will need massive success. There is just no way that enough people will have the energy to see that many movies. A few of those listed are animated, so it is a different crowd than the teen action pictures, but I also left out several family films scheduled that year that come from major franchises.  If I had to guess I'd say The Avengers, Star Wars, and The Hunger Games are the sure things.  Good Dinosaur as a Pixar movie should turn out fine, and the Minions likely have enough life to get close to Despicable Me 2 numbers.  After that movies like Ant-Man and The Bourne Identity better have modest budgets to get by as midlist hits. Fast and Furious 7 comes out early in the year so it should turn out fine. We'll see how fondly people really remember or more importantly how eager they are to revisit, Terminator and Jurassic Park after a long layoff and amidst the heat of the summer movie season.

Batman vs. Superman (which from constant reports is sounding more and more like a Justice League picture) was the first movie to lose the game of chicken. It has been reported that due to the work it will take to create the world that the picture has been moved to 2016. I partly believe it is also an acknowledgement that things are just too crowded and thus too risky in 2015. It now has the chance to look like the big movie event of the year with the move. It also has two years of build and anticipation, which it has over the Marvel movie that at this point is untitled and unknown. Of course, none of this speaks to the quality of the movie, which outside of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, has been more than spotty for DC pictures. The film itself is sounding a little crowded with the promise of Wonder Woman being included, and I'm sure a trillion villains.

My prediction is that at least two more of the movies on that list will move over to 2016.  Maybe even a few will great scrapped depending how the box office turns out this summer. At this point I am more intrigued about the box office battles than reviewing the majority of the blockbuster movies coming up in 2015.  Except for Star Wars, I can't wait for that.

20.  Remind me to never have a spotty year at blogging, where I then feel compelled to do a post like this again.            

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