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Monday, April 26, 2010

Book #5 Teaser

I’m making more progress on Book #5 than Book #4–

Okay, enough of the secrecy.

I always play my cards real close to the vest when it comes to upcoming titles. I usually don’t want to spoil the reveal for readers. This isn’t final art; just a quick sketch and some Photoshopping of what I’d like for Book #5’s cover. (TEASER IMAGE COMING UP!)

All About Nikki is the companion to All About Marilyn. It’s written in the screenplay format and the storyline for the First Season is split among eleven episodes. (Truncated from 14 episodes due to page counts) The concept is The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Meets Clueless. It’s written and designed for a Tween/YA audience, so there’s no profanity, sex or any adult themes. But there are plenty of laughs. Nikki is a sitcom, and jokes come with the medium.

The draft for this cover art uses the same abstract style as Marilyn, but adds a splash of Tiffany-esque color to the mix. I couldn’t use the official Tiffany blue (trademarked) so I substituted light blue for it.

The concept for this book is DVD boxset meets paperback. Just like in Marilyn, there will be bonus material to help aspiring screenwriters learn the proper form for writing their own TV episodes.

I’m excited about this book; it’s a project that kinda came out of nowhere when I was editing All About Marilyn. I wanted to do a couple of bonus Nikki episodes for the back of Marilyn, but the writing went in its own direction. By the fall of 2009 I had 14 episodes completed and Nikki got her own book.

I’m cleaning up the grammar and working on the layouts for the cover and the interior. It should be ready for print by the end of this year or next year. Season 2 is in the works as we speak.

Now I only have to get my finances in order for a print run…

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Thoughts on Tyler Perry

Thoughts on Tyler Perry

Tyler Perry is a very gifted man. I respect what he’s trying to do as a playwright and a film-maker.

I just don’t like how he’s doing it.

My issues with Perry regarding his films are his lack craft when it comes to screenwriting. What’s worse is he’s making no efforts to improve the quality of his writing. Almost ten films in and he still hasn’t grown enough in his craft to effectively tell a story on the screen. After seeing him make a series of disastrous mistakes in the recent Why Did I Get Married Too I can no longer support his films.

Perry continues uses a stage play model for his films and this is hampering the quality of his work as a film-maker. Using the stage model for storytelling in his screenplays slows down the pace of his films and prevents him from effectively telling a story onscreen. Screen and stage writing are two different performance mediums; each has its own unique structures and form for storytelling. Perry needs to learn the basics about screenwriting before making another film.

Perry’s first mistake in writing his screenplays is telling instead of showing. On stage, characters can tell the audience about fine ladies going to church, Drug dealers selling crack in the neighborhood or a woman being slapped. On film, these expository sequences DRAG a film to a CRAWL. It’s BORING.

For film to have an IMPACT on the audience they need to SEE the church ladies in THEIR SUNDAY BEST PASTEL SUITS headed up the steps of the FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH, the audience needs to SEE the CRACK DEALERS ON THE CORNER OF FIFTH STREET PEDDLING ROCK. They need to SEE the WIFE BEING BACKHANDED BY HER HUSBAND FOR BURNING THE DAMN GRITS AGAIN.

Films are about ACTION. They’re about SHOWING what’s going on NOW. The actions the people take in a screenplay NOW define their CHARACTER. On film, CHARACTER is what people DO not what they SAY. There’s no need to TELL the audience what’s going on, SHOW THEM.

Second, Perry’s plots and storylines are weak. Again, this is because he insists on using a stage model for the screen. In a stage play a writer can have several storylines going on at once. However, on film, the main storyline has to get started FIRST, and the SUBPLOTS later. Movie audiences need to know immediately: Who is the main character? What do they want? What’s keeping them from getting what they want? And more importantly: WHY SHOULD WE CARE?

In most of Perry’s films there is little to no focus on the main character in the first ten minutes of the film. We meet supporting characters like Madea, Joe, Mr. Brown…and then ten or twelve minutes later the main character shows up to start the movie’s primary storyline. This confuses viewers. It prevents the audience from getting to know the main character and caring about their story.

Seriously, Perry needs to introduce us to the main character in the first frame of the film, and let that character show the audience what she wants to achieve BEFORE bringing in Madea, Joe or Mr. Brown.

Third, Perry’s dialogue doesn’t work on the screen. His characters talk too much, and in many cases they talk about nothing. In a stage play dialogue can say exactly what they’re doing, but in a screenplay it’s called “on the nose” and it’s a sign of a bad screenwriting.

In a screenplay, dialogue has more than one purpose. Dialogue in a screenplay not only advances the plot, but it reveals the characters to the audience. Dialogue shows the audience a character’s personality, their “voice”; the words they use have a subtext. The audience has to read between the lines of what they’re saying to get to know them and what they’re really about.

Fourth, Perry doesn’t develop his characters into three-dimensional people. In most of his films characters are either one extreme, good or bad. This one-dimensional portrayal of people turns most of the characters in his films into caricatures, not real people the audience can identify with and relate to on a human level. In real life people aren’t black or white, good or bad, they’re shades of gray. And it’s these various shades of gray that create depth, texture, and layers and give characters a unique complexity that intrigue viewers.

Because of this lack of complexity in Perry’s characters, the people in his movies come out of the story at the conclusion just like they went in at the beginning. No one ever learns a lesson from their experiences, issues and conflicts are never really dealt with, and the audience never sees anyone growing into a stronger person from their ordeals. In most Perry movies, the heroine never really does anything to help herself; the man of their dreams beats the bad guy, sweeps her off her feet, they get married and live happily ever after. Real life isn’t that simple.

And neither is life in good movies.

In good films, characters undergo irreversible changes at the climax of the story. These turn of events transforms the characters into people who are totally different than the people who started at the beginning of the film. It makes the audience think about what they’ve seen and drives the writer’s message home.

Now my other series of beefs with Perry are his lack of craft as a filmmaker. His sequences are often clumsy. In his films a series of scenes don’t lead into another sequence of scenes and these transitions prevent the story from being told effectively onscreen.

Perry often shoots his films similar to the way his stage plays are filmed in a “Master Shot”. While a “Master Shot” works well for a stage play, shooting action on film is different. Action in one scene takes place with numerous shots: Pans, close-ups, Cut, smash cuts, A single scene in a movie is made up of twenty or different frames of film, not just one or two. Action is going on all around the viewer, and they need to see it all. Perry needs to invest in a good cinematographer and film editor so his stories have a distinct feel that is clearly Tyler Perry.

Tyler Perry has come a long way, and I respect the brotha for that. But he really needs to take some time to learn more about the craft of screenwriting instead of churning out poorly written and poorly made films for black audiences. Short-term he’s making lots of money on audiences of desperate black moviegoers starved for product by providing a large quantity of movies. But he’s hurting the long-term quality of his brand.

Perry can’t build his studio’s reputation on just films and television series from his stage plays. To expand his business, he needs to further develop his skills and craft. Perry has to transition out of a “stage” mindset into a “screen” mindset. That’s going to require that he learn an entirely new set of skills.

To get in a “screen” mindset I’d suggest Perry read Syd Field’s Screenplay for starters. And Follow it up with Robert Mckee’s Story. Then I’d suggest he read some classic screenplays like Sunset Boulevard, The Hustler, Marty, Big, Chinatown, Summer of ’42, Training Day and Do The Right Thing so he can learn how a good screenplay’s storyline is structured, and how characters are developed.

Instead of insulting Spike Lee, I feel he should listen to the brother’s criticisms. Lee has over 25 years of experience and knows how films work. His movies are classics. His comments about “coonery” are valid. The African-American audience is diverse and there is more than one “black” experience; Perry needs to learn about what his audience wants. Long-term, Perry’s single-minded focus on entertaining the “Southern chitin circuit” with urban stories about downtrodden women won’t help him get the national and international support needed to expand his expand his burgeoning film studio into a competitive media enterprise. To take his business to the next level, he’s going to have to offer audiences something other than Madea.

In addition to hearing Lee out, Perry needs to network and hire other black directors like Debbie Allen, the Hudlin Brothers, the Hughes Brothers, Denzel Washington and F. Gary Gray. Learn some tricks from seasoned cinematographers like Ernest Dickerson. Talk to seasoned screenwriters like Spike Lee and Keenan Ivory Wayans, Robert Townsend and Darryl Roberts. Film-making and screenwriting are crafts. The more he learns from people who have been there, the better quality of films he can provide for the African-American community.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sabotaged Book Promotion- Where Do I Go from Here?

Unfortunately, my second attempt at an appearance on the radio with Dr. Thompson to promote All About Marilyn was sabotaged by paranoid insecure family members. I don’t know if I’ll get another opportunity like this again. I’m trying to figure out where I’m going from here.

I wish I could get everyone to understand how hard it is for self-published authors to promote books. Most bookstores don’t want to stock self-published books on the shelf, due to their inability to return them. Readers are often wary of self-published titles after being burnt by other self-published titles with poor writing and even worse grammar. Reviews are almost impossible to get. It’s an uphill battle, but three books in I was making progress.

For this book to get the interest of one talk radio show spoke volumes about how strong it was in terms of the quality of the writing and the topic I was presenting. The show targeted the core audience for the book; African-American women. It was my shot at taking my writing to the next level.

And it was blown by insecure people who have no idea how the publishing industry works.

Talk radio interviews are an opportunity for an author to sell their product and themselves. I’d perfected the pitch for this book; I was using it as a platform to get African-Americans talking about screenwriting. There’s a desperate need for more African-Americans to learn this craft. Less than two percent of all the 14,000 screenwriters in the Writer’s Guild of America are African-American. With only 500 writers out of that 14,000 working at any given time, this means less than four people of color are working as screenwriters regularly.

I also wanted to discuss how the lack of black faces behind the camera is affecting what blacks are seeing onscreen. How this shortage of black screenwriters is causing a shortage of material, and how this shortage of quality scripts is leading to a lack of work for black actors and actresses. How a lack of black producers and executives is preventing quality projects from being greenlit, financed and distributed. How black actors and especially black actresses have next to no advocates at the executive level at the six major studios.

I was also going to discuss the drought of quality roles is especially hard for African-American actresses. Marilyn’s story put a human face on all those talented sistas who struggle for work in movies and TV. The story detailed many of the obstacles black women face in the entertainment industry like racism, sexism, misogyny, and studio politics. On the show I wanted to discuss in detail why we don’t see great black actresses in other roles on the movie screen or TV on a regular basis.

Sadly no one is gonna hear me discussing these topics. And they really needed to be discussed in an open forum.

A generation of Brothers and Sistas is growing up with racist movies like Monster’s Ball, Training Day and Precious or poorly made Tyler Perry movies and TV shows as the only images of what it’s like to be African-American. Kids are growing up reading poorly written Street Lit and Erotica believing this is the standard for African-American literature. Instead of our arts taking a step forward with our first Black President, African-American art, media, and culture is taking a huge step back.

I’m really frustrated. I want to bring positive stories to the Black Community. I want to write stories that inspire, uplift and make people think. I want to publish material featuring a diverse array of African-American experiences on the bookstore shelves. But I keep running into roadblocks. From family, and from the black community itself. Everybody’s got money and support for the thugz, ballas, and hustlas and every other black who fits a stereotype, but where are the helping hands for regular hardworking Brothas like me?

I was building strong momentum over the past year from the release of the Cassandra Cookbook into Marilyn’s release. Getting the good reviews, building the network of contacts. Working on my craft to get better at writing. Preparing new titles for future release.

That momentum has all but stopped because I’m trying to figure out a new way to get promotion and sales for my books. It’s hard enough to get books in the hands of readers when they do know about them, harder when they don’t know about them. I’m just wondering where I’m going from here.