Review: SLEEPLESS IN HOLLYWOOD by Lynda Obst (Simon & Schuster)

ObstL-SleeplessInHollywoodAn excellent follow-up to Hello, He Lied

Over the past decade, producer Lynda Obst gradually realized she was working in a Hollywood that was undergoing a drastic transformation. The industry where everything had once been familiar to her was suddenly disturbingly strange.

Combining her own industry experience and interviews with the brightest minds in the business, Obst explains what has stalled the vast moviemaking machine. The calamitous DVD collapse helped usher in what she calls the New Abnormal (because Hollywood was never normal to begin with), where studios are now heavily dependent on foreign markets for profit, a situation which directly impacts the kind of entertainment we get to see. Can comedy survive if they don’t get our jokes in Seoul or allow them in China? Why are studios making fewer movies than ever — and why are they bigger, more expensive and nearly always sequels or recycled ideas?

Sleepless in Hollywood is an excellent, accessible explanation of the ways in which Hollywood has evolved since the 1980s. This is an account of emergence of the “New Abnormal”, as Obst calls it: the shifting practices and ideologies that dictate how the movie and TV industries operate. Continue reading

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DC Comics’ TV Universe Expands Even Further…

Hot on the heels of the Lucifer trailer, two more trailers have surfaced online these past couple of days, for two new series that will be hitting small screens soon.

First up was the lengthy Supergirl (CBS) featurette, which has divided fans online — some see it as a welcome breath of fresh air in an otherwise grim-‘n’-gritty TV and movie universe, which has seen heroes become darker and more grey, walking the fine line between champion and violent vigilante. Others see it as twee and lame. Personally, I am reserving judgement, but it looks like this series could offer something lighter, and appeal to both the super-hero and (loosely) the teen drama fandoms — both of which are highly lucrative. I’ll wait to see how it shapes up, but I’m certainly interested in giving it a fair shot. Here’s the featurette:

Secondly, and spinning out of the hugely successful Arrow and The Flash, is DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (CW), which features the aforementioned Flash, plus a number of other guest stars and villains from those two shows (both of which I’m now way behind on). This looks like it could be fun, and maybe even a venue for the now-cancelled Constantine to show up? That’s pure speculation, probably inspired only by the fact that the time traveler in the trailer is from London, and so is Constantine… (What a lazy route to a hypothesis…)

It’s a grand time to be a fan of super-heroes and TV, but I worry that this is the first step towards the comicification of TV: endless spin-offs, tie-ins and crossovers that have novelty value the first time, but eventually just make everyone annoyed…

Teaser: Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan’s THE STRAIN (TV)

The teaser trailer for upcoming TV adaptation of Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain was unveiled by FX during the Super Bowl. Here it is:

Guillermo Del Toro’s SIMPSON’s Opening Credits Sequence…

… is riddled with awesome SFF references. This has been doing the rounds on the SFF blogosphere, but I thought I’d share it as well, because it’s quite brilliant. Check it out:

Guest Post: “Confessions of a TV Series-aholic (Or, What Writers Can Learn From TV Series)” by Rowena Cory Daniells

Rowena Cory-Daniells discusses her addiction to certain TV series, and how they’ve inspired elements of her own fiction…

I’ve discovered I prefer TV series to movies, series like Boardwalk Empire, Deadwood, House of Cards and now from the UK the Peaky Blinders. (So named because according to some sources they sewed razor blades into the peak of their caps to slash across their enemies’ faces).

PeakyBlinders-CillianMurphy

(Cillian Murphy plays gang leader Thomas Shelby)

If a movie is the equivalent of a short story (Minority Report was a story by the same title by Phillip K. Dick), then a TV series is the equivalent of a book in that a series has time to develop complex story arcs and in-depth characterisation.

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(Breaking Bad: Walt and Jessie taking a break in between cooking crystal meth)

As someone who writes big fat fantasy books, I know the craft involved in creating interesting characters and interweaving narratives. When Walter White first found out he had lung cancer and needed money for his pregnant wife and disabled son, I could appreciate the way the audience were positioned to identify with Walt and sympathise even when he broke the law. We go on his journey with him as we see the roll-on effects of his decision to cook crystal meth. Breaking Bad raised the question: Would you break the law to protect your family?

Raising difficult moral questions makes the viewer/reader ask themselves the same question. In the first book of King Rolen’s Kin, Byren instinctively protects his best friend and this gets him in no end of trouble, but we understand why he did it. We can even like him for it.

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(Deadwood’s Calamity Jane was nothing like Doris Day).

When my husband said he wanted to watch Deadwood, a western series set in a gold rush town, I wasn’t keen because I immediately thought of the kind of westerns that Hollywood produced in the ’50s or Spaghetti Westerns. But I discovered that Deadwood was probably closer to what the Wild West was really like. With no law other than brute force, society degenerated into dog-eat-dog. Suddenly the rules no longer applied and the survival of characters we liked became a whole lot more challenging.

The art to keep the reader turning the page is to give them flawed, but likeable characters, then put those characters in danger. In King Breaker, Byren faces his greatest challenge yet to win back his father’s kingdom, which is ironic because he never wanted to be king.

HouseOfCardsUS

(Kevin Spacey was in his element playing Frank Underwood)

As we watch House of Cards, we see Frank Underwood manipulate and connive to build himself a powerbase while undermining those around him. If we met him, we’d probably find him charming, but we wouldn’t want to get in his way. Clearly, he loves his wife, played by Robin Wright. At the same time he is an utterly ruthless power broker and we find him fascinating from the safe distance of the television screen. When driven by a hunger for power, people can justify many things.

A strong villain is important for the protagonist to test himself against and Byren knows he must defeat his cousin, Cobalt. Byren starts out trying to do the honourable thing, but as set-backs mount, he must make compromises. What will Byren do to win a throne he does not want and will the journey corrupt the man?

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The best of TV series deliver interesting characters, caught up in threatening situations which force them to make decisions that test their morality. I hope readers find Byren’s dilemmas as compelling as I did while writing King Breaker.

***

Rowena Cory Daniells’s King Breaker is published by Solaris Books, and is available now. Here’s the synopsis:

THE CONCLUSION TO THE HUGELY POPULAR KING ROLEN’S KIN SERIES!

The story of Byron, Fyn and Piro picks up immediately where the cliff-hanging ending of The Usurper let off!

When Cobalt stole the Rolencian throne, Byren, Fyn and Piro were lucky to escape with their lives; now they’ve rallied, and will set out to avenge their parents’ murder.

Byren is driven to defeat Cobalt and reclaim the crown, but at what cost? Fyn has sworn to serve Byren’s interests but his loyalty is tested when he realises he loves Byren’s betrothed. And Piro never wanted to win a throne, but now she holds the fate of a people in her hands.

TV: “Downton Abbey” Season 1

DowntonAbbey-Season1UKFinally watched it…

Set in England in the years leading up to the First World War, Downton Abbey tells the story of a complicated community. The house has been home to the Crawley family for many generations, but it is also where their servants live, and plan, and dream, and they are as fiercely jealous of their rank as anyone. Some of them are loyal to the family and committed to Downton as a way of life, others are moving through, on the look out for betterment or love or just adventure. The difference is that they know so many of the secrets of the family, while the family know so few of theirs. But for all the passions that rage beneath the surface, this is a secure world, serene and ordered, and, at first glance, it seems it will last forever. Little do they know, family or staff, that the clouds of the conflict that will change everything are already gathering over their heads.

So, I haven’t owned a TV for many years. Instead, I’ve relied on DVDs, iTunes, and friends. Coupled with my peripatetic existence, I managed to miss Downton Abbey entirely. When I was in Los Angeles in September 2011, though, the show cleaned up at seemingly every awards show. Despite being somewhat intrigued, it took me until now to actually get around to watching it. And, I must say, I really enjoyed it. I had no idea really what to expect – I have never been particularly smitten with British period dramas (while still watching plenty), and expected More Of The Same. Instead, I got one of the best acted, best-written TV shows I’ve seen in a good long while.

I’m not really sure the series needs a full review, but I just wanted to give it a little shout-out on the blog. This is really good. And Maggie Smith really is That. Awesome throughout. So many hilarious, inappropriate lines from the grand dame of the family. All of the actors in the show were superb, from the Crawley family members on down to the new scullery maid. Even the peripheral and bit-parts are written and acted superbly.

Despite all of this, I still can’t tell quite why it’s taken the United States by storm – or, at least, as much as it has. It is very British. Which is probably why I love it, and I’m sure a fair few Americans love it for the same reason, but the universal acclaim seems unusual. If it keeps the show going, however, I am all for it. I will have to order the next two seasons, to be ready for season four…