Monday, May 05, 2008

Movie Monday musing...

Before I get to how much my daughter Rachel and I enjoyed Iron Man this weekend (and apparently we weren't alone in that department), let me update you a bit on what's been happening since the last time I regularly (ha) updated this blog.

As some of you know, I'd been working as a writer-producer on Law & Order Criminal Intent for several years, which was pretty much the culmination of twenty-plus years working in the film and television industry.  About two years ago, the show's executive producer, Rene Balcer, the man who hired me, left the show as the result of a contract dispute.  (A polite way of saying, he wanted to be paid what he deserved to be paid, and the studio wanted to cut costs, so they replaced him with a producer who was willing to work for a third or less of what Rene was getting.)  The new management decided they didn't want to work with a bi-coastal writing staff, and since I (and the only other LA-based writer) were already under contract, the studio decided to pay us off.  That's probably an oversimplification; truth is, I didn't much get along with the new producer, who had his own ideas about how to run a show, so the decision to write off my contract was probably a combination of convenience and preference.  It came as a shock, though, I'll admit.  I'd written for L&O CI for five years; my episodes had done fairly well; one had been nominated for a Mystery Writers of America Edgar award.  But all things end, and that part of my writing career was over.

Best thing that ever happened to me.

Because I was under contract, the studio paid me for an entire season -- in effect, they gave me a year's vacation.  During that year I went through the motions of meeting with studio and network executives, pitching shows and being pitched shows, getting offers for various positions, etc.  And pretty soon I realized I was just going through the motions.  My heart wasn't in it.  I couldn't convince myself that writing for any of the shows I was being offered, or any of the ideas I was proposing, was really a worthwhile use of my time.  Sure, I would've been paid well, but thanks to some judicial money management the last five years -- mainly, resisting the notion that being paid a lot of money meant I had to spend a lot of money -- my family's financial future was pretty secure, and Karen's business was doing very well, and there just was no sense of... urgency... about getting another job.

And gradually, reluctantly, and finally joyfully, I decided I didn't want another job.  At least, not another job writing television.  The previous five years, as gratifying as they'd been, had also been incredibly stressful and emotionally draining.  The year I spent away from the business allowed me to decompress, to relax, to gain perspective on what was important to me.  I became a more attentive husband and a better father.  I was less sarcastic and critical (I say "less," but that's relative -- I'm still sarcastic and critical, though I'm working on it, believe me).  Generally speaking, I became a more pleasant, nicer person.

So, after talking it over, Karen and I decided it was time for me to let that part of my career as a writer go.

What I'll replace it with, I still don't know; I'm tooling around with a novel, I'm going to start updating my blog, a friend of mine is planning to republish two of my earlier novels (fingers crossed), and I'm trying to let the desire and passion to write seep back into my soul without the crazed pressure of needing to write for a living.  It's liberating, let me tell you.

I'll talk more about this as time goes by, I'm sure.

Right now, a word about Iron Man:


In my mind, there have been only a handful of really successful super-hero movie adaptations.  The first two X-Men films, the first Superman film, the first Batman movie, and of course, Batman Begins.  The first Spider-Man film, and part of the second.  The rest fall into the categories of either "nice try" or "what were you thinking?"  But, with the exception of Batman Begins (and I'm not sure it's entirely an exception), even the best movies have left me with the feeling that they were, well, patched together.  By that I mean, there's usually a clear transition from traditional movie making (building character, structuring a story, designing a dramatic arc) to comic book movie making (introducing the super-powers, introducing the costume, introducing the "first night" of action, introducing the super badguy, etc.).  Some of the movies I mentioned did it well, but all of them did it, with greater or lesser ease.

Iron Man, on the other hand, feels like the first super-hero movie I've seen where the transition from traditional movie to super-hero movie is so seamless it is, for all practical purposes, invisible.  Iron Man works as a movie, period.  Sure, it's about a guy who builds a red and gold metal suit and fights another guy in a bigger metal suit, but that's like saying The Maltese Falcon is about a detective who unravels the mystery of a missing onyx bird.  (Okay, Iron Man may be good, but I admit it's not in  The Maltese Falcon league; but you get my point.)  It's a genre film that somehow lifts itself out of the genre and is a genuine, legitimate story, first and foremost.

 What can I say, I liked it.

And if it's any indication of what we can look forward to with the summer's other genre films, I'm excited.

Keeping my fingers crossed.

See you tomorrow.

1 comment:

Ron Hanna said...

Wow, I've heard a LOT about IRON MAN, and it's great to know that a comic book writer like yourself enjoyed it so much. My friend gave it a 9 out of 10, and wants me to see it with him. I rarely go to the movies anymore, and just wait for the DVD, but this sounds like a real winner! Now I can't WAIT to see it...!!!