JOHN OSTRANDER: WALKING TALL ON THE SMALL SCREEN

by John Ostrander

theriflemanI was not always a big fan of Westerns. My knowledge/memory of them were largely drawn from TV shows of my childhood – and not always the best ones. They were dominated by The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry (although I was never a big Autry fan) and shows like them. Westerns dominated TV in those days in ways that I don’t think any genre dominates any more.

It was my late wife, Kimberly Yale, who really schooled me in movie Westerns and the difference between a John Ford Western, ones by Howard Hawks, and Budd Boetticher’s Westerns. I finally learned and grasped what powerful movies they were, Just a few years ago, I got to see John Ford’s masterpiece The Searchers on the big screen and it was only then that I really understood how powerful it was and why its star, John Wayne, was such an icon. In the close-ups, where Wayne’s face is two stories high, he seems like a figure off Mount Rushmore. And the famous final shot, where his character is framed by a closing door, is haunting. It’s also interesting to note that both here and in Howard Hawks’ Red River he plays something of a bastard.

It’s only been in recent years that I’ve returned to some of the Western TV shows and rediscovered them. What I discovered was some very good writing and acting, especially in the half hour shows.Have Gun, Will Travel, starring Richard Boone, featured him as a traveling gunslinger, Paladin, and a memorable and haunting title song. Wanted: Dead or Alive starred a young Steve McQueen right around the time that he broke out in films in The Magnificent Seven.

Of all of them, my favorite discovery has been The Rifleman starring Chuck Connors. Connors was a 6’6” former athlete, playing basketball for the Celtics and baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs. In the show he played Lucas McCain, a homesteader who was fast with a special rapid fire Winchester. McCain was a widower although he had a son, played by Johnny Crawford. His best friend was the Marshall of the town of North Fork, Micah Torrance, played by Paul Fix. (Trivia note: Mary and I so liked the name “Micah” that we gave it to one of our cats.)

The show was also a proving ground for actors, writers, and directors who would later go on to other things. Sam Peckinpah directed several episodes and wrote a few, too. Budd Boetticher directed an episode, as did Ida Lupino. Richard Donner, who would later direct the first Superman movie with Christopher Reeve,directed seven episodes.

A number of famous (or to be famous later) actors also appeared – Agnes Moorehead did a turn, as did Martin Landau, Buddy Hackett, and Harry Dean Stanton. Sammy David Jr. acted in the series twice, once as a gunslinger. There was a time that I would have questioned the probability of that but my later researches into the history of the West revealed that there were a number of black gunslingers in the Wild West.

Connors was a better actor than I remembered and the stories were varied and almost always interesting. His Lucas McCain was a stern father but a loving one and usually reluctant to be drawn into a fight. The stories weren’t the simple good/bad confrontations I knew from shows like Roy Rogers. The characters were more complex which made the stories more interesting.

You can catch the shows on DVD and I would guess on Netflix or Hulu. They’re worth a shot. So to speak.

Cartoons: “Lost Ideas”

So this is why we can never seem to write them!

lostideasbygrantsnidercapture

See more of Grand Snider’s cartoon brilliance at Incidental Comics!

Mark Zuckerberg Calls the ‘A-Ha!’ Moment a Myth

Funny, we like to think of Mark Zuckerberg as the myth. Oh well:

mzuckby Geoff Weiss

During Mark Zuckerberg’s first-ever trip to Bogota, Colombia — where he touched down yesterday to herald the launch of Internet.org — the Facebook founder made a rather surprising admission: “I’m a big fan of Shakira. A really big fan,” he blushed. “I don’t speak Spanish, but I like her Spanish music.”

Zuckerberg, who seems more visible than ever of late after kicking off avirtual book club and rolling out a series of public town hall-style discussions, spoke of his love for the pop star — among more serious topics — during the third-ever installment of Q&A with Mark, which can be viewed in full right here.

In his latest talk, Zuckerberg took the time to share some fascinating thoughts about entrepreneurship, including common misconceptions that surround founders. When asked about the ‘exact moment’ that he came up with the idea for Facebook, Zuckerberg paused quizzically and said, “I don’t think that’s how the world works.”

“Ideas typically do not just come to you,” he said. “It’s a lot of dots that you connect to make it so that you finally realize that you can potentially do something.”

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There’s more, but we think this is the part that matters to writers.

Oh, and we also think Marky is, you know, wrong. (As in he hasn’t delved nearly enough into the details. Hmm, kinda like Facebook, now that we think about it….

Leesa Dean: Adventures of a Web Series Newbie #90

Chapter 90 – Kill Your Darlings
by Leesa Dean

Bye, darlin'!

Bye, darlin’!

Short post this week cause I am BUSY!! Mostly doing rewrites, tightening, tweaking and finishing up the final few episodes of the Lele Show relaunch which has proved more daunting than I counted on.  I’m preparing a ridiculous amount of material and there’s so much to organize, write and polish.  But the one thing that stands out is: Kill your darlings.

What does that mean? It’s a phrase (possibly) coined by writer William Faulkner (“In writing, you must kill your darlings”) and, in general, known among a lot of writers, particularly screenwriters. It refers to throwing out jokes, lines, phrases, writing that you absolutely love love love but that don’t further the narrative. And that take away from it being tight and cohesive. Argh! It’s very tough to do. Especially when you’re writing comedy. And have to crank out joke after joke.

I’m raking the scripts over the coals. Tightening the narrative. Driving myself insane by cutting, tweaking, cutting.  Mourning the loss of certain punchlines. Making sure the tone remains intact. And redefining and settling/on accepting that tone. Reading different versions to a select group of trusted friends for opinions. And the conclusion I’ve come to is: The only thing that really helps is…time.  To give the piece space to gel and remove myself a bit so I can what really truly works. And…kill your darlings.

I go through this with all my scripts. And it never gets easier. It’s called: Prepping the shooting script. Gulp.

Granddaughter of Batman’s Original Writer is Fighting for Justice

Bill-Finger

What’s that? You think you got screwed out a writing credit? Bet it didn’t hurt as much as what happened to Bill Finger, co-creator of Batman.

Go, Athena Finger, go!

The True Creator of Batman Never Got Credit, and Now His Granddaughter Fights to Correct History
by Kyle Swenson

…A short, 37-year-old woman with a burst of curly hair…, her 12-year-old son at her side, Athena Finger, single mom and a math instructor at Broward Community College, is the granddaughter of Bill Finger. The shy writer was the creative engine behind arguably the greatest of all superheroes: Batman.

Experts in the comic industry have conceded that Finger created just about every one of the Dark Knight’s signature details, from the Batmobile to the Joker to the backdrop of Gotham City. He also put a complex psychology between the bat ears, injecting serious themes into comics for the first time. But for decades, Bob Kane, who drew the images, got sole credit. Finger was served one of the rawest deals in entertainment history.

“Everything about Batman except the word ‘Batman’ came from Bill Finger,” says Chris Sims, a comic historian. “If you are a fan of the comics and you know what’s going on, you’re a fan of Bill Finger over Bob Kane.”

“Without the stories,” Athena is fond of saying, “Batman is nothing.”

Athena, with the help of Tamerlane and others, aims to correct the mistake of history. But millions — if not billions — hang on that mistake, and fixing it will pit the quiet Broward woman against one of the most powerful entertainment companies in the world: Time-Warner. It’s just the kind of bruising battle for justice that would inspire the Dark Knight to strap on his utility belt.

Can you say, “Holy multimillion-dollar settlement, Batman?!?!”

The two young mensches from the Bronx huddled over a desk. The cartoonist clutched a sketch of his new creation, the dollar signs already spinning in his head like flakes in a snow globe. The writer was just happy to be working.

Bob Kane, slick and elegant, liked to remind his friends he looked like the big-screen swashbuckler Tyrone Powers. Bill Finger was a book-smart shy brooder who loved storytelling and German expressionism. Kane showed Finger his idea for “Bat-Man.” On the desk was a sketch of a red-suited figure with veiny bat wings. He had flowing blond hair.

“He had drawn a character who looked very much like Superman, wearing a small domino mask and swinging on a rope,” Finger recalled years later in an interview. “He had two stiff wings sticking out, looking like bat wings.

“I got Webster’s Dictionary down from the shelf, hoping it had a drawing of a bat. Sure enough, it did. I said, ‘Notice the ears. Why don’t we duplicate them?’ I suggested Bob give him a cowl — to make him look mysterious, and not show any eyes at all. I didn’t like the wings, so I suggested he make them into a cape with scalloped edges. That way it would flow out behind him when he ran and look like bat wings.”

It was early 1939, and there was an arms race going on in the comic world. The previous summer, Action Comics had run a strip featuring a beefcake in blue tights who could leap tall buildings in a single bound. In nine months, Superman doubled its monthly sales, and other comics likewise saw bumps. Publishers swung their focus to this new superhero fad. One Friday afternoon in the offices of National Comics, which published Superman, an editor told the ambitious Kane that the cartoonists who’d invented the hero were splitting $1,500 a week.

Kane said he’d have an idea for a superhero by Monday. “I said for $1,500 a week, I can come up with anything, believe me,” Kane told an interviewer in 1989.

Kane had been born Robert Kahn, the son of a Jewish engraver at the New York DailyNews. Before 1939, his cartoons were mostly of talking animals.

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Did GIRLS reveal the truth about college writing courses?

Um…probably. But should we really be surprised at what they’re like?

hannahwritesby Molly Hannon

In episode two of the new season of Girls, Hannah, played by Lena Dunham, attends a workshop in which classmates applaud a story by second-year African American student DeAugust. They love its spare language and how it addresses gender issues in an “almost offensive, but not offensive” way.

“I would cut off my arm to just read three more pages. I just have to know what happens,” one student gushes.

“I thought it was obvious,” Hannah says. “The mom dies.” The room falls silent.

When Hannah gets around to reading her own story, it’s immediately lambasted. She’s accused of trivialising abuse and lacking sympathy for the male perspective. When she tries to defend herself, her teacher cuts her off and tells her to wait until everyone’s done critiquing.

Ironically, it’s DeAugust, the unspoken class favorite, who unexpectedly defends her. “That’s her voice,” he says. “We can’t squash what she’s trying to say.”

The episode, which shows workshops as places where moaning comes ahead of critiquing and in which questions about gender are a minefield, made me grateful I’d chosen journalism school over an MFA program. In journalism, editors are the bottom line, ahead of wannabe writers. And teachers don’t cut you off.

Hannah’s first foray in MFA-land also brought to mind Chad Harbach’s MFA vs NYC n+1 essay about the pros and cons of graduate school in terms of making it as a New York writer.

In Girls, Hannah has left the New York hack scene behind and moved to the seemingly cosy atmosphere of graduate school. She’s a perfect fit for Harbach’s essay, since he focuses on rising enrolment in American MFA programs and wonders whether the industry can support the rising tide of writers.

Just what kind of writing does an MFA program hone, asks Harbach? Does it train a writer to improve, or just to write more acceptably in eyes of fellow wannabes?

Though Girls is not a mirror for everything in American society, Dunham does a solid job in showing how aspiring writers tend to respond to what they read based on personal bias and pre-established preferences. The critique of Hannah’s writing seems to have less to do with what she’s written than her background. Social class, perceived entitlement, gender and political correctness all play a part.

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