The Sandman. Let’s not waste this character anymore.

14 10 2009

OR “The coolest damned thing I’ve read all week.”

I love The Sandman. Not the song, not the mythical character, not the ECW wrestler, but DC comic’s Sandman. There are several versions, but two which stand out. One is the 90’s Neil Gaiman version, all pale and goth and eternal and powerful and emo…well, maybe not emo so much. A great character, and an amazing series.

The other is the classic Sandman, Wesley Dodds, who was at his best also in the 90’s under the careful hands of Matt Wagner. Wesley Dodds is a pulp hero, donning a fedora and trenchcoat, and a little advanced (for the 30’s) technology to fight crime.

Gaiman’s Sandman has powers galore. He’s basically the creator of dreams. Wagner’s Sandman has no powers save to nightmares portending real crimes, that will torture him until he intervenes.

But both those Sandmen are dead. The one we have now is…well, he’s okay for what he is, but he’s underused. He’s got an interesting character design. He’s back to the hat and coat, but it’s a very superheroish hat and coat. He’s got Dodds’ nightmares and gas gun (sorta), but from what I’ve seen so far, none of the drive to do anything with them. He also has sand-based powers from a decades old continuity misstep. He fights evil so he can get a good night’s sleep. Dodds at least had a sense of justice about him. Now, this isn’t to dog Sandy Hawkins, but he’s underutilized, and a mishmash of continuity mistakes. Basically, the DC universe has been crumpled into a ball so many times, that flakes flutter out, and Sandy Hawkins is one of those. A flake. All due respect to Sandy Hawkins, but The Sandman deserves a fresh start.

    My Idea

This man.

This man the new Sandman?

Do you recognize this man? Have you ever dreamed of him?

If you have, you’re not alone. This site asserts that every night hundreds of people around the world find this guy in their dreams. Does he just have one of those faces? Is he a psychological archetype? Is he the face of God?

Who cares? I mean, it’s an awesome theory, but the whole thing could be bunk for all I know. But what I do know is OMG IT IS AN AWESOME IDEA!

So my idea, real quick, is to have the Sandman be an unwilling agent of Daniel (Gaiman’s new Dream) who’s job it is to hunt down and capture rogue dreams. Just like how Gaiman’s Sandman had to track down the Corinthian, and Fiddler’s Green, so does this Sandman have to find a new breed of escapees (and throw in the Corinthian too. Everyone needs an arch-nemesis).

The character design is based on that guy above, which is nice because he’s got such an every-man quality that Dodds had (for a multi-millionaire). Keep the hat and the trenchcoat and the gasmask. Update his tech, but not by too much. Give him a “works out of his garage” feel. It should remain a noir comic of a sort.

And update his powers. The gas gun is standard, as are the nightmares, but I would add “sleepwalking” to the mix. Allow him to travel from point A to point B through people’s dreams. Like, say he had to get to Denver, so he finds a person dreaming of a picnic with their family. He manipulates it slightly to make them dream of camping. He then leaps to someone dreaming of buying camping supplies in an REI with a climbing wall, which leads to mountain climbing, which leads to skiing in Colorado, which leads to Denver. Like 6 degrees to destination, or something.

I don’t know. Maybe that’s overly-complicated. But you only have to explain it once or twice, then him popping into someone’s head in Minneapolis, and popping out in Tibet is sort of as-read. The point, though, is it gives him a global angle, which also lets him stay under the radar. Even if the people of the world (and some of the readers, possibly) will recognize him from their dreams, he’ll remain a very underground character, which means he wouldn’t even have to replace Sandy Hawkins. He could just be a Vertigo title.

Anyway, I had to get that out. Somebody forward it to DC Comics.


Not like that! Like this!

14 10 2009

My first real education in film making (not that I ever make films) came in the form of a Dov SS Simens weekend film crash course seminar. It was good. I highly recommend it. The most important thing he taught me was that no one needs a license to make a movie. But that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is the second most important thing he taught me: let actors do their jobs.

On set, everyone has a job to do. The director envisions a project and tries (often in vain) to steer the project in that direction (see? that’s where they get the word). The lighting guys do lighting. The cinematographer does the camera work (yes, I’m drastically underplaying their roles, but I don’t want to get off on a tangent), and the actor is charges with pulling life and humanity out of the words on his/her script.

The writer, often enough, isn’t even there. And when they are there, they should not go around telling people how to do things. You’re stepping on the directors toes by doing that. And you should never repeat a line back to an actor (say it like this: “YOU”RE out of order. This whole COURT is out of order!”). It’s stepping on his toes.

Some actors get insulted by that. Others don’t. Even if they aren’t insulted, still don’t do it. Because all that’s going to happen is they’ll start taking their cues from you, and you’ll be the one doing the performing. They’ll be your puppet. And yes, they may start saying lines just the way you want them, but you’ll be losing out on different, often better takes on your characters.

This is a rule I’ve lived by in scripting, and why I often don’t even go to shoots. However, I’m starting to reexamine my position on this, slightly.

Last week, pretty much because I wanted to get out of the house, I went to a Transylvania Television shoot. They were shooting my material exclusively, and I technically went under the pretense that I’d be available for consultation and rewrites, but I really didn’t expect anyone to want my help. It’s not because they’re rude, but because everyone on this show knows their jobs.

They filmed a couple of short bits with Charles, and though he did an outstanding job, he wasn’t hitting the same tone for the character that I intended. In fact, there was one or two jokes he didn’t get at all. Firstly, that’s my fault. If you have to explain a joke to someone, it’s not funny, or at the bare minimum it’s not clear. Scripting is tough. You can’t really write in the inflections much. And a lot of people in the business frown on even italicizing words. You just have to be as clear as possible, and let the director and actors add their magic.

But eventually it did come up that someone wanted me to chime in on a line. Again, I was very uncomfortable with saying the line the way I wanted it said, but I did tell them which words in the line I’d like stressed. And the line came out better. In fact, the producer said having me on set for that was a big help!

So where does this leave us? To interfere or not interfere? Is it helpful, or stepping on toes. I suppose there’s no good answer; everyone is different. So the answer is, find out who you’re working with before you chime in. Would they find it helpful?

Second, do your job in the scripting stage. Make it as clear as possible. I don’t want to use the term “idiot-proof” but that’s sort of what you have to shoot for. Have someone else read it and give their take, or read it dry. If the comedy comes from the inflection and performance and not the writing, then you’re not really writing comedy, are you? You’re acting on paper.

Third, take some time to have a read-through with the director if you can. He calls the shots on the performance, but if he doesn’t know what the writer is thinking, then that’s information he can’t bring to the set. He might find it useful, and if he doesn’t like you’re take, he’ll have a jumping point to take it somewhere else.

And just to twist the knife, I got a preview of the first bit they filmed, before I chimed in, and while I think people will like it, I know it could have been better if I chimed in at some point. So lesson learned…hopefully.

Understanding and respecting source material

1 05 2009

There’s a Solomon Kane movie being made. Solomon Kane is one of my all time favorite characters, and it goes without saying that Hollywood isn’t interested in source material as much as it is im marketability. That’s fine and it’s something that writers have to understand. In fact, it’s why we should keep marketability in mind when writing. However, one can make changes to the source material all they want, as long as they stay true to the characters and concept. There is no sin in this. The new Star Trek movie is a perfect example. It changes a lot, but Kirk is still Kirk, etc. When you stray from the premise, and when you don’t understand the source characters, not only will your project fail, but it may as well be considered theft.

There is no similarity between Howard’s Solomon Kane, and this movie’s Solomon Kane, save for the name and the funny hat. In effect, someone stole the name and the funny hat for their own, entirely different character, and that’s sad.

Here is the summary of the new Solomon Kane:

Based on the character created by Robert E. Howard. CAPTAIN SOLOMON KANE is a brutally efficient 16th Century killing machine. Armed with his signature pistols, cutlass and rapier, he and his men unleash their bloodlust as they fight for England in war after war on all continents. As the story opens, Kane and his men are carving a bloody path through hordes of defenders of a city in northern Africa. But when Kane decides to attack a mysterious nearby castle to plunder its rumored riches, things start to get strange. It turns out that the castle is inhabited by evil demons but Kane and his men push on deeper into the keep, hell-bent for of treasure. His men are picked off one by one and eventually Kane is left alone facing down a ten-foot beast … THE REAPER. The demon tells Kane that he’s come from Hell specifically to get him. Though Kane manages to escape the demon, he knows that he must redeem himself by renouncing violence and living a life of peace and purity. It isn’t long before his newfound spirituality is tested when he journeys across an England ravaged by diabolical human raiders who fight under the command of a terrifying, masked Overlord. When he fails to stop the slaughter of a family that has befriended him, Kane vows to free their daughter, who has been enslaved—even if it means putting his own soul in peril by renouncing his vow of peace. His search brings him face to face with the brother he thought dead and the evil sorcerer who has manipulated him for his own ends. In the process of saving the girl and defeating the magician, Kane learns that he has been saved from the Reaper in order to fulfil a new destiny—to defend the innocent and fight evil wherever it may occur.

This is an origin story explaining how Solomon Kane became who he was. It is utterly unnecessary to the viewer, just as it was unnecessary to the reader. Solomon Kane is a puritan and holy warrior. He’s cut from the Oliver Cromwell cloth. He’s not about God’s love, he’s about God’s wrath. He’s a killer, but he’s a just killer. Nothing is mentioned about why he’s the way he is, and if I had to guess, I’d say he didn’t suffer any major tragedy. He’s not crazy. He was never crazy. He’s simply a believer. A very zealous believer.

In fact, it does Kane a disservice to explore his emotions and motives, because questioning the nature of reality, and his world view is the cornerstone of some of the best Solomon Kane stories. For instance, he stumbles upon an African village where witchdoctors are able to possess other people and reanimate the dead. This so completely blows Kane away that he actually travels with a fetish staff, something demonic in his opinion, to remind himself that he doesn’t fully understand the world, no matter what his experiences are. That’s powerful.

There’s this pathetic fashion in todays entertainment that we either have to know (and justify) precisely why someone kills, and we so limit the acceptable excuses. He can kill because he’s because he’s greedy, because he’s crazy, or because he’s in some kind of emotional pain that excuses (if not justifies) his actions. That’s about it.

Take the punisher. There have been two recent Punisher movies, with two different takes on why the punisher kills bad guys. The first was because he was in emotional pain. His family was killed, and he wanted revenge, and to avenge their deaths. This movie was a failure, and this is not why The Punisher kills bad guys.

The second movie I didn’t see. I heard it was fun, but not a good movie, and the Punisher came across cartoonish and, well, basically crazy. There are two possibilities here. One, that the makers did intend for him to come across as crazy, which is not the reason the Punisher kills. The other possibility is they nailed the reason the Punisher kills, and the elitist, sensitive, pansy movie critics couldn’t fathom the reason, so they just assumed he was crazy. I really hope it’s the latter.

The Punisher kills because… wait for it… he’s punishing killers. Duh. The world is better off without the bad guys in it, so he kills them. He’s not motivated by revenge, or grief. What happened to his family should never happen to anyone else, and he does his part to make that dream come true. That’s it. It’s simple. It’s basic. It’s visceral. And it’s completely over the heads of most creative writers today. They think the concept is overly-simplistic, black and while, immature, whatever. No, it’s not. It’s just something they don’t understand.

Solomon Kane is the same way. He kills bad guys because they deserve it. That’s it. Understand it. Respect it. And then write about what that’s so intersting, because it really, really is interesting.

Part 2 is up! Yay YouTube! Yay Comedy!

12 01 2009

Part 2 is up. Here it is. Please check it out and the other videos. Comment. All that fun stuff.

I really like this one. It’s paced well and is a good follow up. The thing I like the best, however, is that it played better than it did in my head. The delivery was better, but the adlibbing was great. The actor who voiced Le Shoc, Charles Hubbell, improved on it.

This is exactly how things should go when dealing with actors. When I was learning screenwriting and directing a lot of people, including myself, wanted to tell the actors how lines should be read. “Don’t say it like that, say it like this.” The pull to do that is so strong because you wrote it (or you’re directing it), and it’s your baby and you know how it’s supposed to go. But you can’t. You have to stop yourself. It’s not your job; it’s theirs.

The actor’s job is to give you what you want, but also to give the character life, and that means letting him/her do their job. If they don’t deliver the line right, then tell them. You want it more sarcastic. More dire. More passion. Dryer. Whatever. Tell them, but don’t do it for them.

One, it’s rude.

Two, it bites you in the ass. Sure, they’ll deliver the line the way you want it, but they’ll be stiffled from offering new takes that could benefit the characters in ways you’d love but have never dreamed of. You turn them into acting zombies, and that’s not cool.

Let them do their job. You concentrate on doing yours. Write well.

TVTV Update

24 12 2008

Another quick update on my work on Transylvania Television.

I’m working on two things, and I might even have time to do it now that my job description has changed to the point where I might get some writing time in (assuming I use it to write. I need to investigate ways to crack my own whip).

One is commercial work. A local company who has been good to us in the past wants to include us in their new advertising contract. The guys have made me their go-to guy for commercials…probably having to do with the fact that when TVTV asked, I was the only one who wrote up any commercial pitches. So that’s good, because that could actually mean money into the show.

The second is I’m rewriting the pilot episode. I was actually told not to do this (in the sense of “lets not concentrate on that right now”), but I think I’ll have the time, and I really thing I can give them a script that’s not only more dynamic, punchy, and funny, and not only a better launchpad to a show, but one that can use maybe half or more of the existing footage, which should make it really easy to shoot.

Keep them coming back. Every week. Every day.

21 12 2008

TvTv news.

Here’s the blurb for posterity:


12/13/08: Thanks to the sheer industriousness of the writing staff, we have a new multi-part web episode debuting Jan 1. Matthew Gallagher has translated years of screwing around on the internet and produced a five parter called “LeShoc Goes Online.” The first episode airs January 1st, and we will be releasing a new one every week or so throughout the year starting with Matt’s series. The upshot of all this web production is that a DVD with all the TVTV episodes will be made available mid year that can be purchased via the website or at one of our many convention appearances throughout the year, including Orlando Florida’s own MEGACON!

For just about the past six months I’ve been pushing the guys at TVTV to do these 5-part online episodes. The responses have ranged from “Great, that’s something we’ll toss on the pile when we get rolling” to “Whatever, just write what you guys want.” And yet, I pushed on.

TVTV has great potential, but it’s not getting a lot of attention for television at the moment, so they have dragged themselves, kicking and screaming, to the internet. Initially they wanted to throw everything up against the refridgerator and see what stuck. The point was to get examples up to show people what they could do. I’ve been pushing for a much more focused product.

If you’re going to write for the internet, you have to write for the internet. It’s wholey different from television. The pacing is different. The expectations are different. The possibilities are different. So embrace that. In that vein, I’ve been writing 5-part episodes. Each part is only one or two minutes long. They’re not cliffhangers or anything; just five connected episodes. I wrote them so they could be shot with whatever was on hand, same location, wham bam we’re done. The reason being that we have so little time (and no money) to make product for the show, that we have to maximize our output.

Still, for various reasons, the reception has been cool…until they shot one.

A couple weeks ago they shot my first 5-part series, LeShoc Goes Online. They got everything done in less than seven hours. This week, during our meeting, we all had explicit instructions to keep doing them.

Score one for Team Awesome.

I’m not going to say I know much about internet marketing. In fact, I’m desperately researching on how to get YouTube hits (without being tacky). But what I do know is common sense, and for something as fast-paced as internet TV, you need to have product. It’s more important to have something crazyapeshit  funny, but in lieu of that, you need something that’s at least consistantly funny, and consistant, period.

I really think TVTV has a unique potential on the internet. It can’t be the sitcom we envision for television, but you can actually showcase the TV station aspect. You don’t have to write 22-minute episodes about how people are struggling to put on good programming. You can just slap up the good programming. The YouTube site can BE the television station. So now it’s a fight for branding.

Yay for branding!