Degrees of Influence


This week I went to a conference for women, which included a reminder that even us just being present was an influence on other people.  While I was there, actor David Hedison passed away.

Who’s David Hedison?

If the name sounds familiar, he starred on the TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and the original movie The Fly.  He’s the guy screaming, “Help me! Help me!” as the spider moves in for lunch.

He was also my favorite actor growing up.

KTLA TV showed a science fiction afternoon with Tom Hatten hosting (who also passed away recently).  There were films from the 1950s and 1960s.  At 4:00, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea came on, followed by Star Trek.  I liked both shows even though they were quite different.

Star Trek was like a Western in space with more cerebral content.  It took modern-day politics and built futuristic stories about them.

In its later years, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was a hark to those science fiction movies I also watched.  We had monster and aliens and even a mermaid.   David Hedison was one of the starring actors and he played the action hero.

Some of the memorable episodes included him walking through the inside of the whale to save lives and turning into a werewolf because of a scientific experiment gone wrong.

Suddenly the show disappeared from the air.

The first season was in black and white, so stations discontinued running the entire show.  The fans were left to meet at cons and correspond through mail and writing fan fiction. I collected photos and joined his fan club.  None of us had access to him.

Except on film and TV.  When there were fewer channels, TV Guide would include a short summary of the shows and the guest stars.  So when it came in the mail, I went cover to cover and found David Hedison in other shows.  Variety was at the local library, so I looked at the casting announcements and found more.

Because of this influence from a person I never met, I read books about Hollywood.  There was the book Making a Monster that described how David Hedison was made up for The Fly.  I looked for behind the scenes photos because that was more interesting to me than posed photos of characters holding ray guns.

I’m ALSO writing a mystery set in Hollywood after World War II.

Enter the Internet

Then the internet changed everything.  In 1997, I started David Hedison’s official website, which I ran with another person until 2007.  After that, it became too much work because it was competing with my writing, so the other person and her son took it over.

This was in the Gold Rush days of the internet.  No one knew what they were doing.

But we knew one thing: It was the public face of this actor.  Agents or producers might see the site.  So we had to represent him professionally.

Drove the new base of fans crazy.  They wanted dirt.  They wanted personal.  They wanted intimate.

The site always amazed David Hedison, I think.  He didn’t really understand why people would visit.  We provided a nearly complete credit list vetted by him, as well as frequently asked questions and upcoming appearances.  This was a very different experience then hunting through TV Guide and Variety.

The fan base also changed with the internet, and not for the better.

In print, we were a bunch of fans who wanted more adventures from our favorite TV show.  It was hard work and it scared a lot of people off.

On the internet, the fans were far less friendly (an early sign of what we see today).

One time, a fan sent a note on the mailing list asking how to learn to be better.  In hindsight, she was probably fishing for praise.  Then, I thought if you wanted to write–because it is something that takes a lot of time to do–you wanted to learn.  I got verbally smacked when the fan sneered and said, “Not everyone can afford editors to fix their writing.”

Uh, I use a copy editor to catch the dumb stuff.  I don’t use a developmental editor to tell me how to write.

Between the website and the fan behavior, it started to very apparent that I needed to stay away from the fan politics.  Eventually, I dropped off the list.  It was no longer fun if we couldn’t have a conversation without people melting down.

It was a lesson I learned again when I was on the writing message boards.  About ninety-five percent of the writing community fits into two categories.  They pass around advice that’s plainly wrong and say the best sellers (who are in the other two categories) don’t know anything because the wrong advice is so common.

When someone on the writing message boards asked for advice, I always felt like I had to not say what I knew was true, or be very careful about what I did say.  One time I got my hand smacked by another writer because I “you don’t understand a thing about outlining”–this after I said “This is my experience with outlining” and said why it didn’t work for me.

I’ve ended up doing some of the same things for Facebook.

Meeting David Hedison

The first time I met David Hedison, two other core fans and I drove to Massachusetts to see him in a play.  I was so nervous!  I was convinced I was breaking out in wrinkles all over.

We told the theater we were friends of his and they sat us in the second row the first night and the first row the next night.  The stage was so close to us we could have reached out and touched the actors.

And then David Hedison walked out on stage.

My first thought?

Holy cow!  He’s three-dimensional!

I hadn’t realized how flat film made actors look.

After the performance, we got to meet him.  He was bouncing around–lots of energy–and got us sodas and chatted with us.  He was very nice and friendly.  The next night we got to see a photo session with all the actors.  They goofed around and mugged for us.

I met him numerous times after that. He knew he could trust the core group of fans.  We saw him in more plays and at conventions.

Because of this influence, I started to see actors as people as not celebrities.  I’d see actors who were professional and ones weren’t.

I’d get that lesson in professionalism over and over.

David Hedison was at one con where they did a Q&A on stage.  The interviewer wandered off-topic, asking about other actors (sort of like if you write a mystery and the interviewer starts talking about Michael Connelly and not you or your book).  He diplomatically found a way to end the session and had the audience laughing.

If I picked up a magazine with an interview, I knew what I was going to get.  He never dished gossip on anyone.

When I started focusing more on my writing and my personal website, all those things I learned from the degrees of influence filtered in.

One of the classes I attended at the conference brought up the degrees of influence.  But at the end of her second workshop, the instructor did something she didn’t intend to.  She brought up politics on one of her slides.

Politics was part of the conference because you have them at work and even within your family or the church.  The other speakers kept it at that level.

She inserted personal opinion.

I’m sure she thought everyone agreed with her (I didn’t).  But it had an unintended influence.  If I see her name on an agenda, I won’t take a class from her again because I can’t trust her.

We all influence someone else, every day, all day.  I doubt if David Hedison knew he influenced me, but I knew.

 

Smiling David Hedison

 

 

5 Reasons Not to Use Movies for Research


I grew up reading about movies and TV.  The libraries were filled with books on the subject, and it was always fascinating reading.  I remember one TV producer saying “They’ll never notice!” 

Unfortunately because so much of this is part of our culture, a whole lot of writers think it’s a good idea to use movies for research instead of either hitting the books, asking an expert, or going out to experience a place.  Here are some the reasons why it’s such a bad idea.

Hollywood loves stereotypes and cliches

Every film and TV show has one problem going in: Time.  They have to make the movie fit within a certain amount of minutes.  So stereotypes become a quick shortcut.  A thug has a certain “look” so that when he walks on screen and the ominous music is cued, we know he’s a bad guy.

Cliches are another shortcut.  If a producer spots something cool and neat, every movie will repeat it as if it were TRUE for everyone.

Just about every TV show and film with a blind person has had the character touch the face of another character to “see” what he looks like.  I have no doubt that there was probably a newspaper article on a blind person who did this.  But Hollywood latched onto it and put it into nearly every film and show that followed.  A friend who is blind says that they don’t do all the touchy feely stuff.

Problems with accuracy

Films depicting actual events or historical events aren’t always accurate.  Many “biopics” have annoyed the original source because details were altered to tell the story.  Sometimes there isn’t a reason why they got changed.  Historical stories might be loosely told.  Heck, even the costuming may not be accurate. A friend checked the medals a military character wore.  It was obvious the prop guy grabbed a handful, since it was impossible for the character to be fifty years in the future and be in WWII (well, unless he was a time traveler).

The Hollywood Action Scene

Let’s be realistic here—Hollywood action scenes are designed to be eye candy.  Sometimes some scenes may even be designed to be put in a trailer to get audiences to see the movie.

Those scenes are done with wires and harnesses and stunt men.  To show Wonder Woman (the Lynda Carter version) jumping up into a window, the stunt woman had to jump out of the window backwards.  Then the film was reversed so it looked like she was jumping up to the window.

For those sword fighting scenes where the hero is attacked by multiple bad guys, it’s a one second delay before each man attacks. You wouldn’t think that second would make a lot of difference, but it does.  I saw a demo with the delay and then the real thing from re-enactors.  With the delay, the lone man could defend himself against all the attackers.  With no delay, he got overwhelmed alarmingly fast.

Shooting a criminal in the leg

You know the scene.  Bad guy runs away.  Good guy pulls out his gun, takes careful aim, and shoots bad guy in the leg.

Right.  Looks great.  Makes the audience think the detective is a good guy for not letting the bad guy live.  And very hard to do.

I was taught in the military to aim at center mass.  That’s biggest part of the body.  The basic reason? You’ll likely to hit it.

A leg’s a really small target.  Add moving in a running motion, and it’s even harder target.

Why do what Hollywood is doing?

Hollywood is very unoriginal.  Why be unoriginal?

Video: History of Technicolor


This is an interesting video on both the technicolor process and some film history.  Contrary to popular belief, The Wizard of Oz was not the first technicolor movie.  But watch on:

The Shaky Camera


Woman holding a clapper board
Lights, camera, shake!

Every now and then I run into a show where the director used the “shaky camera” filming technique.  It’s where the camera is hand held or simulates hand held.  The camera might be focused on one actor, and it jiggles and moves around.

It probably originated from The Blair Witch Project.  According to stories at the time, the camera was so shaky that people got ill from motion sickness.

I think some directors use it because it creates a sense of urgency.  You get all this camera jiggling–pay attention!  Pay attention!

It also evokes a sense of realism.  If you film a home movie, it’s going to have the same shaky effect.

For me, I don’t like it, except maybe very sparingly.  I could see it in a big action scene where things are moving fast because it fits there.  One of the things producer Irwin Allen did was what was called The Seaview Rock and Roll.  He banged a metal bucket, the camera would tilt, and the actors would all lurch to the left, or even fall to the deck.  It was a very effective special effect.

The shaky camera works here because it’s only a few minutes, and then goes back to the normal stable camera shots.

As an entire episode or movie?  No.

One of the problems with the shaky camera is that if used in excess, it constantly disrupts the suspension of disbelief and reminds us that is a film.  I know that the new version of Battlestar Galactica is highly praised, and I’ve been able to watch it.  Just a few minutes in of shaky camera and I was paying more attention to the camera movement than the story.

Sometimes less is better.

Fall Library Sale Spoils and Con News


Floppy eared dog carrying a trick or treat pumpkin basket
Dog treats please.

This week, we went from hot, humid and uncomfortable to cold and windy.  We got the very edges of Hurricane Michael, which meant lots of rain.  I was in my car, waiting for the light to change.  Rain started to come down so hard that I thought it was hailing!

We didn’t get any damage, though we always have a problem with flooding.  There are a lot of streams in the area, including one that marks the boundary of George Washington’s property.  I might take a short hop over to that one and see how bad it is.  But it really is cold enough to be uncomfortable, and my heat is not yet turned on.

But I did manage a trip to the county library sale this week.

I like looking for research books rather than fiction.  I also try for writing craft books, but I appear to have exhausted the supply (I suspect the ones I got two years ago have been waiting for a home for a long time).  I look for:

  • Hollywood (TV and 1940s)
  • Space
  • Ocean

The last two are generally hard to find.  There are books, but not necessarily ones that will be useful for me.

In no particular order, this is what I got:

  • The Andy Griffith Show by Richard Kelly (I can’t seem to help it after going to Nostalgia Con. I just want to find out more).
  • Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach (an interesting find in the science section)
  • Glued to the Set: The 60 Television Series and Events that Made Us Who We Were, by Steven D. Stark (and somewhat dated by current events; Cosby Show is listed, but it’s likely the show will never been seen again).
  • Ethel Merman by Brian Kellow
  • The Star Trek Compendium by Allan Asherman
  • Red Star Over Hollywood: The Film Colony’s Long Romance with the Left by Ronald Radosh and Allis Radosh
  • Warner Presents: The Most Exciting Years–From The Jazz Singer to White Heat, by Ted Sennett

And some other news.  I mentioned that I was appearing as a panelist at Chessiecon.  I now have the panel names!

  • How Not to Get Published
  • Real Life Military vs SF/F
  • The Effect of Catastrophic Events on Literature
  • Time Management for the Overachieving Creator
  • Put a Pretty Face on It – Cover Design in the Age of Digital Art
  • From Wesley to Wheaton: Celebrities Who Broke Type
  • How and Why People Create Self-Publishing Communities
  • When did Sci Fi Become so Political?

Gender Swapping in Films


I’m not a fan of these shows where they do a reboot and change the gender of the character (usually a woman).  Like the suggestion here to do James Bond as a woman.

(Shudder.)

But first things first: I’m all for having great roles for women characters in films, TV, and books–and a range of ages.  The Wonder Woman movie was huge because it was an iconic character and they did it right.  Some TV shows on now that work:

  1.  The Orville.  Huge cast with a lot of women.  They’ve dressed all the women in the same uniform as the men (Star Trek: The Next Generation, I’m looking at you!).  And the roles are good for all the actors.
  2. The Good Place.  I don’t want to say too much about this one because if you haven’t seen it, it’s way too easy to give the story away.  Again, the whole cast–men and women–have good roles.

Onto my issues with the gender-swapping…

Characters are not interchangeable. 

If a reboot switches out a character with another type of character, it’s going to change the story in fundamental ways and, likely break something that people liked about the original.

Some roles don’t fit the opposite gender

And I know there’s a group of writers out there who think the genders are interchangeable.  But there are some roles where if they were flipped, it would not look good on that gender.  I’d like to do a story about a woman lone gun like Jack Reacher, and I’m having to really think about how to do it properly so people enjoy the story, not hate the character.

It disrespects the old show or movie. 

It’s like saying, “It wasn’t good enough because it didn’t have this type of character.”  There’s been a lot of that conceit from all these reboots, where it’s obvious the studios only saw the title as a moneymaker and made no effort to understand why audiences liked the original.  I still remember discussion about the Fantasy Island reboot where the studios said they wanted to “improve” it by making it darker.  They entirely missed the point of the original show, and it got cancelled pretty fast.

Finally…

Why can’t they create new original works?!! 

Seriously.  We don’t need gender swapping in reboots or ongoing franchises.  Create new stories with the characters they want and make new films and shows that might be one day be loved the same way.

 

The End of Filming on Location


During the filming of Star Trek, the special effects people used miniatures for the spaceships.  This is a photo I took of the miniature on display at the Air and Space Museum.

Front view of enterprise
Warp Six!

With the new technology, a lot of science fiction shows and movies went to digital instead of building miniatures because there were so expensive.  And you can generally tell the difference.  There’s a flatness to the images that the miniatures don’t have.

Now there’s talk that movies might be headed for filming in a studio against a blue screen and adding the location in:

I watched a TV show recently where they added rain via special effects.  It didn’t look real…it was kind of like it was raining in front of the actors, not on the actors.

Yes, you can build an island paradise with computers, but it’s not the same as going to the real place and shooting there.  There are some things you can’t and shouldn’t create out of thin air.