My First Industry Job

A brief bit of news from me. This week has been a big week, because this week I got my first paying job in the film industry.

I have been interning at a distribution company since September, and just got picked up as a part time employee, where I will be assisting around the office. It is a great place with a great bunch of people.

Today the paperwork was signed, so I will be getting that first industry check at long last.

Forgive me for being more than a little psyched about this. I am happy about this for a number of reasons.

Firstly, my retail job is getting cut way back. Now instead of working there four days a week, I will only be working two, and it will no longer be my primary source of income.

Secondly, this will make me look very attractive to other employers in the industry. All of my positions up to now have been unpaid internships. Now that I will be having a steady income from work in film, that is going to look very nice.

Thirdly, this will be my primary job. No longer retail. I am an employee in the world of the movies.

Hopefully this will be the first of many achievements to be had this year.

Doing a Struzan

There is an old saying. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

While this saying certainly has a lot of merit, one must remember that a book cover is a very important piece of advertising. You can have a dull cover wrapped around the greatest story in the world, but if that first image doesn’t grab a reader’s attention, how can you expect someone to take an interest in it while skimming a book shelf?

My first book has had a difficult journey. Fantasy is a very difficult genre to sell not because it is hard to get out there, but these days the market is pretty saturated with many fantasy epics, it is hard to make one’s own work stand out as something unique. Fortunately, I believe we have succeeded with that in the writing. It is undergoing its final edit, and once that is done, the query process will continue.

There were two things I wanted from this cover. I wanted it to reflect the love that everyone put into this project, and show this story was different from the rest of the bunch. Funnily enough, the concept for the cover I actually had a pretty clear idea of when we started illustrations. I wanted to do a Struzan.

You all know his work even though you may have never heard his name. The man whose stunning paintings captured our imaginations from the 70s to the 90s, the artist whose works may well be more recognizable by the general public than the works of greats like Da Vinci or Picasso, a talent who was able to sum up some of the greatest stories ever told with a simple stunning image. Drew Struzan

I can already hear some of you saying ‘Who?

Let me jog your memory.

I can totally see that look of recognition through the screen. Yes, Drew Struzan is the man behind the poster. He is the Poster Guy of the movies in much the same away that Don Lafontaine was the Trailer Voice Guy.

Struzan’s work is nothing short of stunning. His distinct penciled style is breathtaking and the way he puts an image together manages to let the viewer know exactly what they are in for with nothing more than a glance. Even though it is uncommon to see painted film posters anymore, Struzan’s style of constructing an image has been very influential in film advertising. These posters for Lord of the Rings and The Force Awakens bear his style of composition.

Yes, Struzan gave many of our favorite movies a face to remember, and influenced the collage artists who came after.

The book we are currently working on is heavily influenced by many of the films Struzan advertised, most notably the Indiana Jones series. That is the main difference with this book. It is largely action oriented, featuring set pieces that one would expect to see more in a Harrison Ford action vehicle than a sword and sorcery epic. It is an active book, and Struzan always creates active images. It seemed appropriate for our cover to reflect that style, at least the way the image is put together.

One of the things Struzan likes to do is find production photos of the actors and sets, using them to create a collage which he projects onto a canvas and uses as his template. He doesn’t begin with a single image. Rather, he picks the elements he likes, experiments with how to put them together, then does the final illustration.

So that is what Joe and I are doing. We are drawing one element at a time, starting with the characters and moving up to the background. Once everything is in place, we will use whatever styles and colors we can to blend it into one unified mural that will hopefully tell the story.

Our last two meetings have been pretty successful, with two of the most significant characters already almost finished. Shown here is our deuteragonist, young River. Below him is the hardened soldier, Major Celice Arietta. Though our illustrator does not have photos to work from, he has done a good job capturing the essence of both characters. We did use the faces of some actors for initial inspiration before moving off in our own direction.

Cover_River_01

Cover_Celise_01

As you can see, these two characters have been drawn separately. Once the images are completed, we can reposition and resize them at our leisure in order to come up with something that works. This makes the revision process very easy, getting it done in a matter of minutes. We will complete these two and begin work on two more characters this coming Sunday.

I must say I am very happy so far. River especially looks very lifelike. It is a very promising start to a cover we all hope will be a special one, and serve as a nice little homage to a great artist.

Horror is a Noble Genre

A few days ago I was at one of my favorite hangouts when a friend of mine received a gift, a mural of actor Crispin Glover. The recipient was understandably thrilled. As we talked about this mural, I mentioned one of my favorite films with Glover, a little scary movie named Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. My friend recoiled at the mention of the film, in spite of having never seen it.

“I am not really in to horror stories.” she said.

It is something I hear far too often, and I was never sure why. I hear many of the same arguments. Why not spread some positive feelings? The real world is scary enough, so why should our stories be scary too? Isn’t it almost sadistic to do something just to scare someone? Isn’t that delighting and profiting off of someone else’s suffering? I disagree. Horror may well be the most noble genre of all.

Funny thing for me to say since horror isn’t even my favorite genre. That honor would go to stories of swords and sorcery. Still, just because that is my favorite genre though doesn’t make it my best. As much as I love a good fantasy, the story of Zhyx the dragon and his cohorts is the only one I have, and probably the only one I ever will.

Horror on the other hand has always been close to me. Those were the first stories my demented six year old little mind concocted whilst bored silly finding out what 12 X 32 was. I had a collection of drawings of movies I wanted to do growing up, and pretty much all of them were horror stories. It Came from the Bog, Thunder Eyes, Slasher, Shark Flood, Under the Sahara, titles and concepts that were as ridiculous as they were creative. Since I have an attachment to this genre that is more than little sentimental, I would like to take this time and make the case for horror.

One of the reasons horror is great is because it takes us into another world, like all great stories do. I remember growing up and being a big fan of the Land Before Time series. Whenever the movies ended I was always so sad the characters I loved were going away yet again. Even sadder when it dawned on me I would never meet them. I am sure all of you have read or watched or played the stories you would like nothing more than to live. We all wanted to go to Hogwarts, trek Middle Earth, ride in the Millennium Falcon, explore the stars in the Enterprise, be a Pokemon trainer or fight alongside the Avengers. Horror has one key difference.

Nobody wanted to be Sally running through the Texas underbrush with Leatherface at her heels. The difference with horror is it isn’t a world you would like to stay in. We all have had those days where we wish we could go to another world and escape our troubles, but what horror does is it shows you another, more cruel and frightening place, so the life you are currently in doesn’t seem so bad anymore. You get up at 5, go to your 6 to 3 job in retail, then come home exhausted with no idea how to spend the rest of your day, but then you think ‘At least a phantom pedophile burn victim isn’t trying to kill me in my dreams.’

At least we all hope.

Horror makes you appreciate what you have by reminding you things could be a whole lot worse.

Horror is also one of the most imaginative and creative of genres. I can name plots from some horror stories that will make your head spin, stories like Videodrome, Call of Cthulhu, Nightmare on Elm Street. Horror is ripe with creativity and inspiration. It would have to be, as you need to get very creative to scare someone proper.

Some of you may disagree and point to those so called ‘Screamer’ videos and a slew of modern horror movies where the baddie makes you jump out of your skin with little more than a shriek and a loud noise. That isn’t horror. That is startling the audience. You can do that with pretty much anything from a blow horn to throwing a kitten in someone’s face. Once you are startled, it is over and you feel an immediate sense of relief. What successful horror does is stick with you even after the turning of the final page or the fade to black at the end of the movie.

Horror boasts some marvelously inventive ways to make your skin crawl, and a lot of them help us deal with some of our most intimate fears. Alien for example deals with the fear of sex and molestation. Halloween deals with losing your sense of security in a familiar place. The Shining deals with our fear of our relatives and ourselves.Fears of the body, of the unknown, of mutilation and molestation. Horror teaches us about these things, personifies them in the form of a villain, and helps us better deal with them since it now has a face we can stare down.

Most importantly, horror deals with the ultimate fear of that inevitable thing that will eventually happen to us all. Stephen King said it best when he said horror was a “rehearsal for death.”

It is more certain than the sun rising the next day. Death is something that will happen to all of us. Sure, some of us believe that a spirit of some sorts survives bodily death, and that may be true. Unlike death however, that is uncertain. Right now, what lies beyond the veil of death is the ultimate unknown. Does consciousness just end? If so, for how long? Does it start back up somewhere along the line? Will we experience an altered state of being after death? If there is life after death, will we still persist as individuals or will we become unrecognizable from our former selves?

These are questions all of us ask about death. It is the unknown thing that lies in the dark, awaiting the day it makes a fateful visit to us. We are all going to die. Our bodies are going to get old and decay, or we will die from some kind of illness, or God forbid we will all die in some violent accident or crime. Horror takes all of these things, brings them out into the light and says “This is what will happen to you. I know you are scared, so let it out.”

Horror helps us deal with that fear by giving us a release valve, so when our time comes, maybe it won’t be so bad. Once all is said and done, you always just kind of feel better. I have heard horror called many things. One person said horror was the story equivalent of a sadist, taking glee in watching its audience suffer. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, horror is like that friend who takes you out on a camping trip and tells you a scary story over the fire. It may give you a scare, but it is always out of love.

 

SHORT STORY – Mare

I mentioned this a few weeks ago, and this short story is finally done, my tale of aquatic horror.

Mare tells the story of the four man crew of the Carpenter who dredge up a mysterious artifact while on a routine fishing run. They retrace their route to uncover the artifact’s origin, in spite of one crew member warning them with tales of the strange goings on in the area. They laugh it off at first, but soon find an abandoned yacht adrift in the sea. It seems what is going on here isn’t just another fish story.

Have a spooky good time.

SHORT STORY – Mare

SCRIPT – Distant Horizon Act 1

This one has been a long time coming. My second feature script from 2015, and hopefully the start of a long partnership with my dear friend, writer/producer Marc Cubelli, this is a script that I have been thinking about making since the age of 12. It is honestly pretty surreal to see it done fifteen years later.

It began a long time ago when I saw the movie The Day After, and first realized that humanity was capable of destroying itself. The futility of it all instilled in me a morbid curiosity, and I wanted to do my own story on the subject matter some day.

Now it is done. Distant Horizon, by far the darkest thing I have ever written or ever will write, is the story of Louis Wade, a free spirited young man just moving out into the world when he is caught in the middle of a nuclear war. Surviving with his best friend, he and a few other survivors make their way across the country in search of a mysterious radio signal that may mean help. Problems arise en route however as Louis becomes more and more controlling of the caravan, his obsession with survival costing him his health, his sanity, and perhaps even his humanity.

Distant Horizon was a difficult script, but in many ways writing it was very therapeutic. I was going through a bad depression at the time, and this grim, almost nihilistic story of hopelessness actually helped me flush some of that negativity out of my system, so I could focus on more optimistic stories like I wanted.

I am quite proud of this little number though, and have Marc to thank for helping me finish it as this is also a project he believed in. Written with low production values in mind, it plays as a character driven drama in a world going through an agonizingly slow apocalypse.

The first act is available here for all of you to read. Hope you enjoy it and be sure to offer any constructive criticism in the comments.

SCRIPT – Distant Horizon Act 1

Heavy’s Facelift Continues

The work for our fantasy novel moves ever onwards, with the talented David Spada working on some design tweaks for the villainous dragon, Heavy. Heavy was an interesting character to create, the original intent to make him a very animalistic dragon that was in sharp contrast to the other two in the story. The process by which the character was created can be read here.

Heavy

Unsatisfied with some of the design, David decided to take another crack at it. This is the piece he turned in just this week.

Heavy Redesign 3

And this is the original design for Heavy turned in last year.

Heavy WordPress

Both designs have elements I like. The new look has Heavy’s body and hands much more articulate, so he isn’t quite as awkward as before. However, the large head, the thick neck, and the spikes that line his arms and legs in the original speak of something that is much more beastly than the protagonist.

Zhyx & Heavy Comparison

Heavy is not an elegant character like the hero. He is a hulking and ugly monstrosity. Ultimately, the new design has a lot of good about it, but I felt it made the character a little too elegant. What we are going to do is combine these two designs in order to make him a little more beastly.

Chapter 1 and 15 Illustration Updates

Our fantasy adventure epic moves ever onwards, and as is the case with writing, occasionally illustrations will be subject to revision.

Since some designs have changed in the concept art and the manuscript, those of us working on the book have done some small updates for the illustrations for Chapter 1 and Chapter 15.

The first is the Chapter 1 illustration, in which Celice meets Zhyx the dragon for the first time. She was far too large originally. Rather quickly, she was shrunk down to be more in line with the scale of River in the Chapter 3 illustration, as well as the scale picture that was done earlier. The effect is to make Zhyx all the more menacing during this first encounter.

Zhyx Chapter 1

The alterations for chapter 15 were a bit more complicated. The scales on Zhyx’s horns had to be elongated a little amidst some changes in the concept art. More challenging however was the added iridescent shine to Saar’Jya’s scales. In the book, her scales are described as having an opal like glint when the light catches them at the right angle, similar to a rainbow boa.

We worked on it for a little while, but were able to come up with this here. We added shades of violet, blue, green and a very subtle orange, the same sequence of colors found on a rainbow boa. The end result is something we are very happy with. It may be tones down in the future, but for now, this will do nicely. All in all, a well spent two hours.

Zhyx Chapter 2

You can see the creation of both illustrations as well as the previous versions in the links below.

Chapter 1 Illustration Concept to Completion

Chapter 15 Illustration Concept to Completion

The next illustration we work on will be the cover of the book, and after that we will move on to the next in story illustration.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the pictures.

What’s in a Name? The Final Title

What’s in a name?

Name. It really is such a funny thing. A string of syllables and sounds that once heard or said can conjure up a wealth of images and memories. It is something that every author must ask when naming a character or a story. A name shouldn’t just be a title to make something easier to find when sifting through your library. It should say something about the story, about the characters, and maybe even about the author.

Titles to me are such a wonderful thing. The images and feelings they summon when you hear names like Raiders of the Lost Ark, To Kill a Mockingbird, Apocalypse Now, Lord of the Rings, all of them contain such a wealth of treasures in such a small string of words. If the words work, your reader will know what awaits them.

This can make the title one of the most difficult parts of telling a story.

Funnily enough for me, the title is usually one of the easier parts. I can name lots of titles for lots of stories that just blinked themselves into existence. Hook Echo, City of Wolves, Abyssus, The Phantom in the Pit, The Ant Hill, all of them coming so quick and so easy for so many stories. So ironic that it should be such a chore to name the work that meant most to me.

The epic adventure of Zhyx the dragon and his cohorts is the best thing I have written to date, and I am hard pressed to see myself ever surpass it. Honestly, that doesn’t bother me. It is a world that has been such a joy to create, with rich characters that were such a privilege to see come alive. There certainly is no shortage of ideas in this world, and should I ever so desire to stretch my writing legs again, a journey back to Tygan wouldn’t be too difficult to manage.

Yes, it was a world so full with characters so rich, it almost seemed criminal to condense their story to a mere few words. It had to be done though, so I accepted the challenge. But try as I may, none of the statements I wrote seemed worthy.

I tried finding creative ways to say ‘dragon’, trying to sum up a relationship with a sentence, using the MacGuffin as the title, often times looping around and trying the same thing over again, with no signs of improvement as the list grew longer.

It was a journey that lasted three months, and it really got under my skin at times. I started to feel like that kid from The Neverending Story who had to give a new name to the Childlike Empress. The fate of this entire world I created depended on giving it a new name.

As the list and my frustration grew, I gave myself a limit. It became clear that without that limit, I would be stuck on this one aspect of the story for the rest of my life, never an opportunity to begin work on the next chapters of the saga, never a relief that the job was done. With over three hundred titles to chose from, at least one of them would be passable.

I was on a vacation to see friends and family at the time. I made a deal with myself, that if I did not come up with that title upon my return to Los Angeles, I would pick my favorite from the list and go with it.

The day finally arrived for my flight home. I had a two hour layover in Dallas, got myself some cruddy fast food chicken, and prepared for the four hour flight to come. Since I had some time to spare, I figured it was a good opportunity to take one last crack at the name for the story. I was heavily leaning towards Seekers of the Dark Shard, in spite of it bearing far too great a resemblance to the work that inspired this mythos, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

I thought back to a few titles, like Jaws, Alien, Predator, and I realized that while those titles had now become iconic, at the time they were just words. Before 1974, jaws was just the name of a part of the skull. By 1976, everyone thought ‘killer shark’ upon hearing the word. That’s because the material was so great, it elevated an otherwise bland title to greatness itself.

That was the most solid bit of inspiration I had during this entire ordeal, and it was from there that the first sentence of the novel caught my attention.

“Dragons are never heroes.”

There is so much in that statement. Firstly, it is demonstrably false by merely looking at past works of fiction, and even reading the novel itself. It reflects the character’s cynical attitude at the start of his long journey in that he says something so untrue. It is that tone through which the story is told, something that, as a writer, was one of the most enjoyable parts of writing the story. To write it in Zhyx’s voice, a voice that patronizes and often outright insults the reader, it made the story come alive. And finally, that statement is somewhat of a punch line, because a hero is exactly what Zhyx becomes by the turning of the final page.

Truly analyzing that statement for the first time, the final two words came to me. They seemed to float off my computer monitor.

Never Heroes.

They were so blunt, so final, so deceptively simple. Those two simple words which said everything about the hero, about his journey, about it all. They even seemed to hint at their false nature. In spite of the narrator’s best efforts to convince you otherwise, this is the story of a hero.

When the plane touched down in Los Angeles, the decision was made. The title of this manuscript is Never Heroes. Is it a great title? Perhaps not, at least not yet.

It is like many titles that came before. It may not look or sound like much, but there is a lot in it. I spent far too much time trying to find the perfect title, as if expecting to snatch something out of the air that already had the rich impact on popular culture the story hasn’t even had a chance to make yet. It may not be a great title, but maybe that isn’t the point. Maybe the point is to find a title that the story can make great.