Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Fox TV's "Gotham" and My 2010 Pitch to DC for "Arkham Academy"

Ideas are a dime a dozen, it's often said; what matters is what you do with them. 

In that spirit, I felt a little frisson of déjà vu when I read the most recent revelation regarding the plans for the upcoming "Gotham" show on Fox TV. Why? Because back in July, 2010, I proposed a Batman-based mini-series to DC Comics called "Arkham Academy," which was intended to explore the previously-unexplored teen years of the young Bruce Wayne. For reasons that were never made clear to me, and despite what appeared to be some initial enthusiasm at DC for the project, "Arkham Academy" never proceeded past that proposal, and eventually the concept mutated into a Cthulhu Mythology-based young adult novel I'm finishing up for publication next year by Black Dog Books.

I'm sure this is just a coincidence, and that the writers developing "Gotham" will take the series in their own unique direction. Like I said, ideas are a dime a dozen -- it's the execution that matters. Still, I did discuss "Arkham Academy" with Geoff Johns, DC's Chief Creative Officer, who oversees DC's efforts in film and television. And DC has had access to this proposal for four years. That said, I doubt we'll see much similarity between what I propose below and what will appear on our TV screens later this year. Comics and TV are different mediums, with different story-telling dynamics.

For those of you who might be interested in such a thing, here's a copy of my pitch proposal for the teen Bruce Wayne "Arkham Academy" mini-series from 2010 (note my comment regarding "Smallville" at the end).


Mini-Series Proposal by Gerry Conway


    We know Bruce Wayne had loving parents until both were murdered when he was a young boy.  We know he spent his late adolescence and early manhood traveling the world, learning the skills that would enable him to become the world’s greatest crime fighter.

    What we don’t know, really, is what happened to Bruce in the years between his childhood and late adolescence.

    Now we will.

    As Batman investigates a murder with links to the “lost years” of his mid-adolescence, we’ll learn what happened to young Bruce Wayne during his first year at the “special school” for the troubled youth of Gotham’s wealthiest — and, some of them, most corrupt — citizens.

    We’ll learn about Bruce Wayne’s first encounter with the “velvet prison school,” Arkham Academy.

    A child traumatized as Bruce Wayne was by witnessing the murder of his parents can react in a number of ways — by withdrawing into himself, by acting out violently and aggressively, by losing his ability to create and maintain functional relationships.  

    Bruce, between the death of his parents and the year he turned 14, reacted in all of these ways.  First, he withdrew into the safe cocoon of Wayne Manor, into the loving care of Alfred Pennysworth and, at times, Doctor Leslie Thompkins.  He shunned contact with the outer world.  He attended school only sporadically, preferring to study at home, away from others.  Under the legal guardianship of the Wayne Foundation board of directors, his increasing alienation from the world around him suffered from “benign neglect” — until an incident on his 14th birthday sent his life in an entirely new direction.

    Attending the dedication of a new children’s wing named in his father’s memory, a sullen and too-tightly-wound Bruce overhears one of the younger patients make an adolescent wisecrack about Doctor Thomas Wayne: “How good a doctor could he’ve been if he’s dead?”  Years of pent-up and submerged rage explode.  Bruce attacks the wheelchair-bound boy, shoves him over, and in tears, runs from the hospital.  Stumbling blindly into the busy street, he causes a several-car pile-up.  While no one is seriously injured, there are obvious legal and financial repercussions.

    Determined to put Bruce on the “right track” (and to soften the Foundation’s financial liability for Bruce’s actions), the Wayne Foundation Board — as his legal guardians — ships Bruce off to a special school for troubled youths.  This school is Arkham Academy.

    Founded by an offshoot of one of Gotham City’s most prominent families, Arkham Academy — on the surface — is an idyllic retreat.  Situated on a small island upstate on the Gotham River, Arkham Academy can be reached only by a single small bridge from the mainland.  The bridge is gated and guarded by the school’s uniformed security patrol for “the students’ protection.”  

    In reality, Arkham Asylum is a velvet prison.

    The co-ed student body at Arkham is composed of sons and daughters of the wealthiest families on the East Coast, along with “scholarship” kids added to the mix to promote ethnic and social diversity.  (A requirement forced upon the school’s board of directors by its original early 20th-Century charter.)  

    Most of these “troubled kids” are victims of ordinary adolescent angst and parental neglect; trophy children of wealthy couples too self-involved to raise their offspring themselves, they’ve been shipped off to a variety of boarding schools over the years, and for one reason or another, they’ve ended up here.  Some students are exceptionally bright, a few are emotionally damaged ordisturbed, and a handful are out-and-out sociopaths.

    But the student body is only part of the troublesome mix that makes Arkham Academy a volatile environment: The faculty is equally… diverse.

    Among the handful of caring and idealistic teachers are those who are not what or who they appear to be.  Several teachers conceal dark pasts.  

    At least one member of the faculty is a secret murderer whose ghoulish appetites will put everyone at Arkham Academy in deadly danger.

    Welcome to high school, Bruce.

    Time to start growing up, fast.

    Over a twelve-issue arc, the “Arkham Academy” mini-series will follow two story-lines: the present-day murder investigation by Batman with origins rooted in his first year at school on that remote island; and a parallel story, exploring that year as Bruce Wayne experienced it.

    Along the way, Bruce will gradually develop relationships with the others students, and with the teachers.  These relationships — first friendships, first romance, first conflicts with rivals and enemies, a first experience with an older mentor — will put Bruce on the path away from withdrawn, angry loner, and toward the more integrated (yet still damaged) man he’s destined to become.

    When Bruce arrives at Arkham Academy, he has one goal: to get out, to escape, and to remain untouched and unconnected to others.

    By the end of the twelve-issue arc, however, he’s made friends with fellow students and at least one of the teachers, developed a romantic relationship with a young woman, and learned what it means to be part of a larger social group.

    He goes from potential sociopath to an integrated member of society — though still somewhat a loner, he recognizes that he’s not, ultimately, alone.

    At the end of this first year, after solving a murder mystery and helping to save the lives of people who’ve become important to him, Bruce is given the opportunity to leave the Academy.  He’s given the chance to fulfill the only goal that mattered to him when he arrived at the isolated island school.

    To his own surprise, Bruce makes his first real, autonomous decision as a young adult.

    He decides to stay.

    “Arkham Academy” operates on several levels: as a Batman-driven super-hero murder mystery; as a Bruce Wayne-driven coming of age story; and as a (hopefully) fun teen soap opera with mystery adventure overtones.

    Arkham Academy is a combination of Hogwarts and Smallville, with a touch of “Shutter Island” and “Lord of the Flies” tossed in for spice.

    As such, it creates an opportunity both to expand the Batman/Bruce Wayne story, and, outside of comics, has potential for development in series television or film.  (I can easily see “Arkham Academy” replacing “Smallville” on the CW schedule when the later show ends.)


    But most important, it’s got the potential to be a damn good story.

    You think?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Why "revealed religion" can't be trusted

An article in today's New York Times prompts this post.  (Here's the link.)  Briefly, a well-known conservative Catholic who's written strongly against gay marriage has reversed himself and said, well, maybe he was wrong. There are probably those who'll attack him from the right as a man of weak principle, and there are undoubtedly people from the left who'll praise him for his change of heart.

Me, I believe he's simply confirmed the idiocy of his entire belief structure and world-view.

When you put your reasoning powers at the mercy of "revealed religion" -- ie: when you accept as baseline "facts" the supposed revelations of some prior prophet or religious founder -- you fundamentally abandon your responsibility to assess the world based on your own perceptions and your own ability to process the information at hand. Basically, you make yourself into a child who accepts the dictates of authority because, in essence, "Mommy and Daddy say so." As a result, when facts and evidence finally force you to change your beliefs, you're forced to do a fancy emotional two-step so you can convince yourself that Mommy and Daddy were never wrong in the first place, and you merely "misinterpreted" their perfect and all-wise words.

The fault, you say, isn't in the "revelations" that you used to justify your lack of reasoning; the fault, you say, was that you didn't fully understand the "revelation."

To which I say, bullshit.

Look, all we need to do is review the history of supposedly-immutable religious beliefs that have been abandoned in the face of new information to know that revealed religion is a pretty poor foundation for building a moral life. Two hundred years ago religion was used by Southern Christians to justify slavery. Other religious sects used it to justify polygamy. Others used it to justify racism. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans, Mormons -- you name the religious belief and it's been used as the basis for some pretty repressive and reprehensible behavior. Is that the fault of the religion as such? No, because there is, in my opinion, no such thing as a uniform, stable, continuous and consistent "revealed religion." Every religious belief in history has been constantly reinterpreted to suit the current needs and prejudices of its believers. Even the Bible (especially the Bible) which so many fundamentalists hold as inerrant and never-changing, is constantly being reinterpreted by those who hold its "truths" to be plainly self-evident.

Case in point, the Catholic conservative below who once used Catholic theory to justify his anti-gay marriage beliefs and now finds he can use that same theory to justify the opposite.

If you can use the Christian Bible (or the Book of Mormon, or the Talmud or the Koran or whatever) to justify two completely opposite beliefs, then it's worth no more as a moral guide than a handful of pebbles tossed into the air to see which direction the Gods want you to follow.

So stop it. Just stop it. Think for yourselves. Recognize the world is a complex and contradictory place without an overriding logic, take responsibility for making it more humane, and grow up.

Mommy and Daddy won't spank you.

Mommy and Daddy aren't here.

There's just you, and me, and the rest of the human race. You want to be a good person? Be a good person. It isn't that hard or complex. Start by accepting you don't know more than the rest of us.

Here's the link:

Sunday, July 28, 2013

San Diego 2013

Many many many thanks to the wonderful folks who honored me as a guest at San Diego Comic Con this year. A grateful tip of my Dodgers' cap to Janet and Beth in Guest Relations - particularly Beth, who helped my daughter Rachel achieve her dream of seeing Jennifer Lawrence in person at the Lionsgate panel. (And the Fox panel, too, of course.)

And thank you, everyone, for the Inkpot award.

I haven't been to Comic Con in San Diego as a guest in, well, ever. The last time I attended was about six years ago when Rachel wanted to see what it was like (as did I). It was pretty amazing but also, I have to admit, pretty stressful. I don't feel comfortable in large crowds. And San Diego Comic Con is practically the definition of a large crowd, to put it mildly. So when I was invited to attend I was worried I'd soon find myself cowering in a corner popping Xanax like tic-tacs.

But, in fact, the entire experience was a delight. Janet and her crew made me feel extremely welcome, and the panels I appeared on were lots of fun (though I was amused/upset to learn I'd traumatized Mark Waid with the death of Gwen Stacy, among the many other readers whose childhood I unintentionally ruined). And the fans -- the fans, meaning you, we're great. It was a pleasure to meet all of you, and I hope we have a chance to talk again soon at other conventions.

And, of course, there was this, my personal favorite moment of the whole con, when Rachel made a new special friend:

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Need to Believe

Sitting in a coffee shop, overhearing a conversation about the Boston Marathon bombing. As of now there are two announced suspects, one dead, the other being pursued. Information is spotty but what we have been told indicates the people involved were alienated, operating alone in a sad and violent and muddled "political" act.

And of course, the talk I'm overhearing involves the "probability" that the bombing is the result of a government conspiracy and the "suspects" are framed patsies.

Much is made of apparent sinister "inconsistencies" -- why was the MIT security guard shot, what did he see, what did he know, was someone trying to silence him? (Seriously, this person I'm listening to is actually saying this.) And so on. It's hard to describe this even as speculation since speculation is usually dependent on extrapolation from facts, and this conspiracy proponent isn't even suggesting he possesses any facts. He just has "questions" which in themselves imply answers.

Obviously, he's nuts, but he's trying to sound so thoughtful and reasonable, and really, what he's suggesting follows logically from the usual paranoid ramblings of all anti-authority conspiracy theorists. Now he's talking about gunshots, and how those shots aren't properly connected to other testimony about the bombing, and so on, making all of it up out of whole cloth, just spinning and weaving without regard for how any of this connects to what we laughingly refer to as our shared reality.

It occurs to me, listening to him, that what he's expressing through his paranoid conspiracy theorizing is the secular version of orthodox religious belief.

In both conspiracy theory and theology, the proponent is trying to make sense of something frightening and inexplicable -- the possibility that life and death and evil are random and meaningless. Faced with the bleak reality that the universe really doesn't care whether we as individuals live or die, or whether good or evil is triumphant, the religious man theorizes that life operates according to the incomprehensible plan of a loving god. Because we are in the hands of a loving god, the theory goes, bad things happen for what must ultimately be a good reason. Therefore the terror we feel when faced with random cruelty and evil is ameliorated by the reassuring fantasy that God Has A Plan. In this way, the godly man (or woman) is comforted.

Similarly, the paranoid conspiracy theorist, faced with the evidence that we are at the mercy of random events and that our authorities are powerless, ultimately, to protect us, creates a theory to reduce the anxiety this sense of vulnerability creates. Because he or she wants to believe the authorities are powerful enough to protect him or her from random evil, when the authorities fail to do so, the conspiracy theorist concludes that failure was part of an incomprehensible plan. Just as the godly man assumes that God is in charge, despite all evidence to the contrary, the conspiracy theorist assumes the Authorities are also in charge -- again, despite all evidence (or no evidence) to the contrary.

In both cases, the believer believes because he needs to believe. The alternative -- that we are at the mercy of forces beyond our control -- is too horrible to accept.

Fantasy is so much more comforting.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The loss of secrets

I'm in Montreal for the next twenty or thirty minutes, until I board a train for Toronto. I've been here two days, but it's been so cold I haven't seen as much of the city as I'd hoped. (The truth is I'm a bit tired from traveling a lot the last couple of weeks and I've embraced the cold as an excuse for some down time.) But the cold did give me an opportunity to experience something I might not have otherwise -- the underground passages between buildings in downtown Montreal, a necessity for a city that apparently spends a good part of the year locked in a pre-glacial Ice Age.

I loved it, and it filled me with a crushing sense of sweet nostalgia for (bear with me here) a secret New York that doesn't exist anymore.

I haven't lived in Manhattan in almost forty years, so I may be completely wrong about this, in which case I expect I'll hear about it from more well informed New Yorkers, but what I'm about to describe is, I believe, a secret city that was on its way to being buried and/or locked away before 9/11, but was certainly shut down soon after the Towers fell.

Let me explain.

Way back, in the late 1960s, I discovered something that other New Yorkers had undoubtedly known for decades. It happened when DC Comics moved into a building in Rockefeller Center. One afternoon I went with a group of friends to get a bite in the building's basement lunch room, and afterward several of them decided to wander over to the underground concourse at 30 Rock to get magazines at one of the new stands there. They showed me how our building connected to the concourse through an underground tunnel. This wasn't a "secret" in the sense that it was hidden, it was a "secret" because it wasn't something you'd know about unless someone actually showed it to you. It wasn't on any public map that I was aware of; no prominent signs in the 30 Rock concourse showed you the way (I think there was one small sign near the tunnel exit). It was just... something most people didn't know about. A group secret. A privilege for the special few (hundred) who had a "need to know."

Midtown Manhattan, I soon discovered, had lots of secrets like that tunnel. Underground passages linking one building's basement to another, hallways that connected forgotten subway access tunnels, stairwells that led down one side of the street and up again a block away. In fact, by the mid-1970s, I'd learned it was possible to negotiate your way from Grand Central Station halfway across midtown Manhattan almost to 53rd and Broadway without once stepping on the sidewalk. (This was incredibly useful during snowstorms, much as it must be in Montreal during, say, mid-April. It's snowing outside as I write this.)

I left New York in the late 70s, but when I retuned for visits in the 80s and 90s, most of the "secret" passages were still there. Still secrets waiting to be discovered by the curious or the initiated, little gifts from New York to those who cared enough to explore.

9/11 slammed and locked the doors on those secret tunnels, in the name of "security" and "safety." Padlocks and chains, rusty gates, steel fire doors permanently sealed, and armed guards with suspicious glares, are what greet the urban explorer nowadays under New York. The secret empire of underground Manhattan is no more.

I miss it. I'm not sure what we've gained by giving up our secrets, but I know what we've lost.

Monday, April 08, 2013

I love train travel, and here's why

Mostly, because it's slow.

Most people would consider this a negative, but most people are in far too much of a hurry to get nowhere in particular. Life speeds by and the destinations we seek are far less interesting than the journeys we take to get there. Traveling by plane short circuits the best part of the journey, which is the sense of traversing space and time, going from here to there, and processing the experience in real time. When you fly from, say, Los Angeles to New York, your experience of the journey is this: you arrive at a building filled with anxious, usually frustrated people; you stand in lines and have your personal space invaded repeatedly in the name of "security"; you wait with other anxious, potentially frustrated people in a room to find out if you're going to have to wait for a longer period of time, or whether you'll just have to wait the regular period of time; you get in a small crowded room with hundreds of other anxious, potentially frustrated people, and spend four to five hours scrunched in an uncomfortable seat, hoping that when you need to use the bathroom you won't find yourself trapped behind a food cart; you exit this small room and walk through endless corridors without windows to another big room filled with anxious, potentially frustrated people, and wait to see if you're going to get the baggage you handed over hours before to strangers who really don't care if you ever see your shirts again. Then you leave this building and take a bus/car/taxi/train to your "final destination." Where, exhausted and emotionally drained, you spend the next couple of days adjusting to the change of time zone, change of weather, and change of pace.

Yeah, that's traveling in style.

To sum up:

You pack and prep on, say, Sunday for an early-morning Monday flight. It has to be early because you'll be fighting traffic to the airport. And you have to get there at least two hours before your plane takes off to be sure you can get through security in time. So you leave your home on Monday morning at, say, six a.m., which means you have to be up by five a.m., which means you've probably not had a good night's sleep. So, before you even start on your trip, you're emotionally drained and exhausted.

Monday, you travel. Forget Monday. Monday is a lost day.

Tuesday, you recover. You try to do stuff on Tuesday but you're dealing with jet lag and general trip exhaustion, so whatever you do, you more or less do it in a half-stupor. Maybe you tell yourself you're having a good time because you're in a great city and being tired doesn't matter, you're fine, what a wonderful time you're having, let's all go to that museum, let's have dinner, let's see a play. Tuesday night, to your surprise, you crash early and you're asleep hours before your usual bedtime, and when you wake up Wednesday, you're a little disoriented, but you're beginning to feel a little better.

By the end of Wednesday, you finally feel about as good as you felt on Saturday.

And you tell yourself you're having a great time. To prove it, you pack in a lot more activities, fill the hours up with tours, more museums, more restaurants, more touristy things. Surprisingly, none of this will make much of an impact on you in memory, which is why you'll take a ton of pictures, to prove you were actually there at the Statue of Liberty. But you've got to rush to catch the boat back to the city because you have a Broadway show to see at eight and the traffic is a killer going uptown.

Now, in contrast, here's your train trip:

You pack Sunday and get a good night's sleep because your train doesn't leave till eleven and that's well after rush hour, and you don't have to get to the station before ten thirty because there's no security line. And that's Sunday.

So on Monday, you leave home more or less relaxed and you get on the train and you unpack, walk around, have a coffee, read a little, take a nap, enjoy the scenery, talk to your fellow pretty-relaxed passengers, watch a video, do some work (in my case, writing), have a meal, watch the scenery. The scenery is pretty damn nice. And you can see where you've been, you know where you are, and you can imagine where you're going. You have a sense of moving through space. You're not in a small room crowded with other passengers. You're in a moving vehicle passing through places, through towns, over hills, under hills, across fields, past garbage dumps and baseball stadiums and school yards and lakes. You're moving through America. You're traveling in the rhythm of time.

Tuesday, more of the same. The climate is changing, the towns are different, the people getting on and off the train are from a different place, and they occupy a world different from the one you've always known. They aren't rushing to get somewhere, they aren't compelled to see something, they're here, they're here right now, and so are you. Surrounded by rivers and mountains and long fields of grass. And are those cows? Yes, yes, those are cows.

Wednesday, it's night when you move through a large Midwestern city, and the city is a sculpture of light and shadow. You see people moving in lighted windows. You see cars passing on bridges. The trees are different here, the homes are different, it's a different place, and you can see it because you're here, right here in the middle of it all, passing through, slowly, like a long drawn breath.

Thursday, you reach your "destination." But you don't feel pressed to see everything Right Now because you've already seen so much, so you can take your time, you can experience the moment, you can be in the now.

Tell me that's not a better way to travel.

And that's why I love trains.

Also, on a train, you can write a blog post like this while watching the countryside sweep and roll past your window. And then you can post it. Like I'm about to do... Right now.

Travelin' man mini-review of "The Place Beyond the Pines"

I haven't forgotten the implied promise in my previous post to continue a discussion of "Big Dumb Movies." For the last couple of weeks I've been in Family mode, accompanying my daughter on a series of college tours ranging from New Orleans up to New York, and haven't had the time or energy for a Big Think post. (Actually I'm considering a Big Think post about college tours before I get back to BDM, but we'll see.) However, after seeing Rachel off on her way back to LA yesterday (I'm continuing my own trip further up New England to do some location research for my upcoming YA novel), I caught a movie last night, and want to share a few quick thoughts about it.

The movie was "The Place Beyond the Pines," and while it has a lot to recommend it superficially -- great filmmaking technique, an interesting and underused location (upstate New York) -- it is, ultimately, a pretty weak, if not outright bad, movie pretending to be A Film.

Take away the directorial grandstanding, the big name male leads, and the unusual location, and what you're left with is a remarkably vapid, ill-conceived cliche of a story that relies almost entirely on a ridiculous coincidence and undeveloped character moves to create one momentary dramatic crisis that seems completely unattached to anything else in what's come before. Plot lines are introduced only to be abandoned almost instantly, moral questions are raised and left to dangle without any development, characters appear and disappear and do things that don't matter but are convenient for the plot, an entire story arc is introduced without any credible character underpinnings --

It's a mess.

What astonishes me is that this is a well-reviewed film by a supposedly "serious" film maker, with a script that wouldn't pass muster for an episode of Pretty Little Liars.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Big Dumb Movies

Step into the Wayback Machine with me, Sherman, and take a trip to the ancient era of 1982, when yours truly and his writing partner, Roy Thomas, were briefly Warm in Hollywood.

Thanks to a script we'd written for Ed Pressman (which would eventually become the less-than-we'd-hoped-it-would-be "Conan the Destroyer") Roy and I enjoyed a momentary notoriety as the go-to screenwriters for Big Budget Fantasy and/or Science Fiction Films. We were pursued by top agents, we were offered hot (or warm) projects ranging from The Mad Magazine Movie (don't ask) to John Carter of Mars (we wanted that one desperately). We wrote a script for Orion Films called X-Men: The Movie; we sold a science fiction film based on a one-line pitch (which was later became an entirely different movie when the studio head decided he didn't think audiences would turn out for a movie based on time travel -- this was the year before "The Terminator," "Back to the Future," and "Star Trek IV"). We were for a time the Alex Kurtzman and Bob Orci of our generation, though with considerable less long-term success than those snot-nosed punks, probably because they're much more talented and business savvy than we were.

(Hi Alex, Hi Bob; love you guys!)

Anyhow. In our capacity as Momentarily Warm Writers (otherwise known as Flavor of the Month, though in our case it lasted a couple of years) we had a ring side seat to the spectacle of Hollywood's earliest attempts to quantify and formularize what at least one producer we met called The Big Dumb Movie.

We have all lived in the Big Dumb Movie world for the last thirty-odd years, so it might be fun to have a look at what some people were thinking back in the prehistoric days before the Big Dumb Movie became a fully-fledged category of Hollywood-processed entertainment.

I'll post more about this era in future blogs, but for now, I'd like to explain the concept of the Big Dumb Movie as it was explained to us by a Hollywood Producer who'd been around a while, and to put the time period I'm talking about in historical context.

First, the context: Roy and I sold our first screenplay in 1979, while Hollywood was still trying to get its collective head around the triple whammy of "Jaws," "Star Wars," and "Superman: The Movie." We owed our first sale to the fact that an assistant at the production company we pitched to knew our work from comics and vouched for us with her producer. Hard as it may be to believe today, but in 1979, a history of success in comics was actually an obstacle to overcome for the eager new screenwriter. Most producers of the time were in their 40s and 50s and their cultural references, at best, were formed and frozen in the 1950s, or maybe the early 60s. The younger producers, like Ed Pressman, were products of the 60s counter-culture, and imagined themselves to be "hip," but there was a world of difference between hip in 60s terms and the geek-hip of today. Roy and I were extremely lucky to find a sponsor-producer who was willing to overlook our shady comics career to buy our first script. Even luckier that he had an assistant who went to bat for us based on that shady comics career.

After that first script, we became acceptable commodities, allowed a seat at the grown-up table, though we were relegated to the then-ghetto of fantasy and science fiction films. Producers and studios were all floundering about, trying to get a handle on Big Budget Fantasy, with mixed success. (Anyone here remember "Krull?" Anyone? How about Disney's "The Black Hole?") Independent producers and low-budget productions had more success -- Ed Pressman and Dino de Laurentiis made "Conan the Barbarian," Jim Cameron made "The Terminator" -- but generally speaking, Hollywood producers had No Clue how to make the kind of Big Dumb Movie that has become a summer staple the last three decades. Primarily because they thought of it as a Big Dumb Movie, is my guess.

So, what exactly, in the mind of the producer who explained it to me, is a Big Dumb Movie? A Big Dumb Movie is a movie with a big budget (the big part) based on what the producer perceived as a dumb idea (ie: a rebellion against an evil Galactic Empire led by teens with light saber swords). (Alternately, a Big Dumb Movie could also be a big budget High Concept Action Film. That takes us into Die Hard territory, which I'll approach in another blog.)

How, you might wonder, do you approach making a Big Dumb Movie as a producer if you cynically believe you're making a fundamentally dumb film? Good question, which is why Roy and I got hired for several writing gigs during this period, and why we were momentarily Warm: hire people who've written or directed other Big Dumb Movies and hope they know what they're doing. Of course, since you believe the entire idea is dumb already, you won't really respect anything they say or follow their actual suggestions, but at least you can explain yourself in terms other cynical producers will understand. You hired the guys who are supposed to know these things! Is it your fault they made something dumb? (Actually, yes, because you wouldn't let them do anything smart, since, by definition, you were making a Big Dumb Movie, and the dumber the better, right?)

I mention all of this because last night I saw "Olympus Has Fallen," which is the very apotheosis of the Big Dumb Movie approach to filmmaking. And in my next post, I'll explain why I think that.