Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Go Into The Story Interview, Part II - MICHAEL F-ING BAY is "the Tyler Perry of China"

Part I

My interrogation at the hands of Scott Myers continues over on Go Into The Story. Scott really hits me with the challenging questions related to my book MICHAEL F-ING BAY: The Unheralded Genius in Michael Bay's Films.

Jerry Lewis is maligned in the United States, but beloved in France. Given the ginormous success of Transformer movies in Asia, does that mean Michael Bay is the Jerry Lewis of China?

You know how every year, Tyler Perry makes a movie that opens huge? And then the next Monday, the trades fill up space with the standard article of, “Oh my god! Black people go to the movies too! Studios are now actively going to court this financial goldmine?” Then usually nothing changes. Studio films remain as un-diverse as ever until some six months later when the next Lee Daniels-directed or Oprah-produced film come out and everyone feigns shock over this “undiscovered” audience that no one realized was out there.

The genius of Tyler Perry is that he makes films for an under-served segment of the audience. A great many of these films may be critically dubious, but that doesn’t hurt him because people want to see representations of their experience on-screen. That’s why it confounds me from a business standpoint that we don’t market more to African-Americans and women, two of the most unrepresented demographics in studio filmmaking.

Bay’s a smart guy. He knew that if he set some of his last TRANSFORMERS film in China, it would do huge business there. And it did. So in conclusion, Michael Bay is not the Jerry Lewis of China, he’s the Tyler Perry of China.

Plus, I pitch the Michael Bay version of Boyhood, Scott asks me to give advice to the next generation of Transformers writers and demands I resolve the eternal question of "Michael Bay = Steven Spielberg minus what and plus what?"

All this and more in Part II.

Buy the book here.

Find my announcement of the book here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Go into the Story interview about MICHAEL F-ING BAY, I pitch "Michael Bay's 'JUNO'"

Scott Myers is one of a kind in the screenwriting blogosphere. The man works tirelessly, putting up a half-dozen new posts a day covering everything from script analysis, spec dealmaking and famous lines of dialogue. If there's something you want to learn about screenwriting, there's a good bet you can find it on his site, Go Into The Story.

Scott's been a good friend to the blog and I always enjoy talking to him, but rarely have I enjoyed it as much as this interview he conducted with me about my book, MICHAEL F-ING BAY: The Unheralded Genius in Michael Bay's Films. Scott asked some of the tough questions I haven't gotten elsewhere, such as

And then there was this gem, for which I probably owe an apology to Diablo Cody:

Michael Bay does Juno. Go!

Michael Bay and Diablo Cody on the same film? I’d love to see the trailer for that if for no reason other than the fact that Diablo Cody has a name that was meant to be pronounced by a Don LaFontaine-like trailer narrator. Try it – it’s impossible not to make it sound kickass!

Okay, so the first thing to understand about how Bay develops is that he’ll often start with the action set-pieces first. There’s always action in a Bay film. Even the lower budgeted Pain & Gain has a couple footchase scenes and some explosions. And what do you know – Diablo’s one step ahead of the game with the high school track team’s running scenes. The slow-motion shots of the young men’s privates undulating with each stride also hits the Bay quota of male homoeroticism. So this part of the film is definitely the same – except there’ll be a lot more of it.

Also, Michael Cera’s part is now played by Jai Courtney.

For the rest of the pitch and part 1 of a wild interview, mosey on over to Go Into The Story.

Buy the book on Amazon here.

Read my announcement of the book here.

Monday, November 17, 2014

I talk MICHAEL F-ING BAY on the Broken Projector podcast

Continuing my press for MICHAEL F-ING BAY: The Unheralded Genius in Michael Bay's Films, I appeared last week on the excellent podcast Broken Projector. Host Scott Beegs of Film School Rejects was kind enough to ask some good questions about my book and Michael Bay's oeuvre in general.

On any given week, Broken Projector is a must-listen, but I especially hope you'll check out this week's show.

You can find the episode embedded at Film School Rejects here.

Download the episode directly here.

Buy MICHAEL F-ING BAY: The Unheralded Genius in Michael Bay's Films here.

Here's my post announcing MICHAEL F-ING BAY: The Unheralded Genius in Michael Bay's Films.

Jon Stewart's ROSEWATER deftly provokes thought without preaching or pandering

There's little debate that ROSEWATER's promotion has been aided in large part by the existing profile of its first-time writer-director Jon Stewart, moonlighting from his day job on The Daily Show. As I consider that, I can't help but ponder if the writing and directing might be getting even more praise if it was coming from a truly unknown quantity. With a cast full of relative unknowns, Stewart has crafted a film that leaves an impression on the viewer well after the final title card has run.

ROSEWATER is the story of how journalist Maziar Bahari was imprisoned by the Iranian government on suspicion of being a spy after appearing in a satirical segment of The Daily Show that covered the 2009 Iranian election. Bahari himself had returned to his home country of Iran to cover the elections for Newsweek. For a while, it appeared that encumbrance President and all-around oppressive madman Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might lose to Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who - perhaps not coincidentally - was favored by the west, as well. Ahmadinejad's election was believed by many to be the result of a rigged election, sparking protests.

When Bahari is first detained by the Iranian government, he assumes his coverage of those protests is what brought him there. It's an utter surprise when his interrogator confronts him with a Daily Show segment where correspondent Jason Jones pretends to be an American spy and interviews Bahari. Bahari's jailers absurdly believe this to be evidence that Bahari himself is a spy collaborating with American spies, despite Bahari's futile attempts to explain the satire behind The Daily Show piece. (This may come as a surprise, but Iranian officials are not known for their sense of humor.)

One scene hints at possibly an additional motivation, as another clip of Bahari's appearance on the show has him saying that "Iran and America aren't so different." The Iranian interrogator is incensed that one of his own people would equate their country to what the Iranian government likes to term "the Great Satan." Governments generally crave war more than their people do, and so a government like Iran, constantly fearful of American intervention that will upend their oppressive regime, needs its people to hate the West. The foundation of their rule is based on ensuring the people fanatically hate a democratic way of life.

For an Iranian to speak well of America is a vile a notion to the Iranian government as it would be for an American citizen to say "Y'know, that Hitler guy might have been on to something." Furthermore, for an Iranian-born individual to have such little fear of repercussion that he would say this openly on a TV broadcast likely only galls his jailers more. Revolutions happen when people no longer fear the consequences of speaking openly. And so what we come to see are jailers desperate to break Bahari.

It'll be interesting to see if ROSEWATER provokes any debates about torture similar to what Zero Dark Thirty incited a few years ago. The films depict markedly different versions of torture. Zero Dark Thirty's torture scenes were dehumanizing and viscerally degrading while most of the abuse depicted in ROSEWATER is of a more banal nature. During his 118-day imprisonment, Bahari spent a great deal of time in solitary confinement. While it's not the most cinematic of tortures, it definitely is a horrible thing to isolate a person from all other contact for extended periods. Though the film shows the occasional physical beating, it appears that the efforts to break Bahari were more psychological than physical.

The film strongly demonstrates something I've believed for a long time - that torture is an incredibly ineffective way of eliciting useful information. It holds its greatest power when it comes to punishing someone or forcing their compliance. Last year I wrote about some powerful moments in 12 Years a Slave that demonstrated just how quickly a person will break and stop fighting when they just want the physical pain to end. They'll say things they don't mean and believe things they didn't before just so they won't have to hurt any more.

You don't have to go far to find documentation that torture is incredibly ineffective and unreliable, to the point that anyone who argues it is a valuable tool for intelligence purposes is lying, either to themselves or to everyone else. ROSEWATER supports this in spades, for eventually, Bahari confesses to crimes he never committed. Why would someone do that? Because he's hoping his cooperation betters his situation, perhaps increasing the chance that he'll walk out of there and back home to his wife.  Torture makes people compliant, not truthful.

But as we've discussed, The intelligence gathering may only be one facet of Bahari's imprisonment and torture. If the goal is to punish the prisoner and gain power over him, then it becomes clear why his captors would so readily work to break Bahari's spirit. This is about power as much as it is about investigation. Bahari is taken from his home on incredibly flimsy pretense, denied any kind of due process and then is psychologically and physically abused all because state officials must demonstrate their might against an enemy they fear.

There's an analogy that's begging to be drawn there. It might surprise you that the film doesn't try to find a way to compare Bahari's imprisonment with any number of "suspected terrorists" who found themselves rounded up on thin pretenses by U.S. officials and tossed into the legal limbo of Guantanamo Bay. There, government officials enthusiastically had interrogators use dehumanizing interrogations that ultimately degraded this nation as much as they did the suspected terrorists. And eventually, given the nature of how torture works, it likely yielded as much bad information as good.

Stewart doesn't go near this territory, likely in part because it would widen the scope of the story beyond Bahari's experience. Even if there had been a way to deal with this notion more directly, it would have given the idiots at Fox News an easy talking point to attack the film with. Perhaps not every viewer will come away drawing the same comparisons as I did, but it is hard to watch this film and not be swayed on how torture is a tool that more effectively brings compliance and submission rather than credible information.

It's to Stewart's credit that he made a film capable of provoking these questions. Perhaps some viewers will come out of the film pondering what they would have done in Bahari's situation. How much would they give in just to retain a little bit of hope?

Among many powerful scenes is one that comes late in the film. (SPOILER ALERT. Don't say you weren't warned.) After Bahari's been imprisoned for quite some time, a guard mentions to him that Hilary Clinton has been talking about him. We are then treated to a rapid montage of news channels discussing the outrage over the detainment of a journalist. A great deal of this is due to an effort from Bahari's wife to keep the imprisonment in the public eye.

The Iranians are furious at the efforts of this woman, eventually sending Bahari's interrogator in to tell Bahari to "control his woman." The interrogator gives Bahari a phone and makes him call his wife to tell her to stop. It's the first time in months that Bahari's been able to speak to his pregnant wife and the emotion overwhelms them both. He whispers "I love you" and before he can even say anything about the media coverage, the interrogator takes back the phone. He verbally berates his prisoner, trying to intimidate him, but Bahari literally laughs in his captors face.

The Iranians tried to take his hope away, but in making him tell his wife to call off the dogs, they showed their hand. Bahari saw their fear, and in that moment, the power shifted. The interrogator showed he didn't have total control, for if he did, nothing Bahari's wife could do would be of any concern. He might still be a prisoner, but in that moment, the torturer restored one thing for him: hope.

There are so many strong films from this year that it's hard to call anything a sure thing. That said, it would not be surprising for ROSEWATER to nab a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, and I wouldn't entirely count out the fine work from Gael GarcĂ­a Bernal as Bahari. He gives such an empathetic performance that when one particular title card delivers the coda, it's impossible to not be moved.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Amanda Pendolino interviewed me about my Michael Bay book

I did an interview with Amanda Pendolino about my book MICHAEL F-ING BAY: The Unheralded Genius in Michael Bay's Films.  She asked a number of good questions about why I wrote the book, what my favorite Bay film is, and if there's any sort of sequel in the works.

What's your favorite Michael Bay movie? 

This is probably going to be clear to everyone who reads the book, but THE ROCK wins hands down. It's got one of the best premises that Bay's worked with, and probably his strongest cast. Sean Connery is basically doing a riff on James Bond, how do you not love that? Nicolas Cage is also the perfect counterpoint to Connery's character and there's a lot of smart writing in their dynamic. The dumb version of this would have been Connery as an unstoppable badass and Cage as the tag-along comic relief, but they're both fleshed out beyond that. It's also a stroke of genius that while Ed Harris is the antagonist, he's not a terrible person and you kind of feel sorry for the guy. There's a part of you that can really empathize with why he's taken these hostages and what he's after. It makes for a much richer story when characters aren't reduced to two-dimensions just to keep things easy on the audience. 

You can definitely make a case for some of Bay's films having deeper, more profound readings, but THE ROCK is the clear favorite.

Head over to Amanda's site for the rest of the interview.

As always, you can find the book on Amazon here.
For my blog post announcing the book, go here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

How to get a free copy of my book, MICHAEL F-ING BAY!

So maybe you've read about my new book, MICHAEL F-ING BAY: The Unheralded Genius in Michael Bay's Films, and while you'd really like to read it, you can't spare the $4.99 to buy it. (First - REALLY? You can't skip one day's worth of latte's? You could probably scrape together $4.99 out of the loose change in your couch cushions.) Well, I'm here to help you with that.

Today, the Black List twitter account at @theblcklst will be giving away FIVE free Kindle copies of my book. All you have to do is follow @theblcklst and be the first person to correctly answer one of the five trivia questions they tweet out throughout the day.

If this gets a good response, I'll try to arrange a few more free giveaways.

Also, since I forgot to mention this last week in my Franklin Leonard post, I want to remind L.A. residents that this Saturday is another Black List Live event. It's a live reading of Brian Duffield's script YOUR BRIDESMAID IS A BITCH and they've got a great cast that includes Adrianne Palicki (Friday Night Lights, John Wick), Tessa Thompson (Dear White People, Selma), Zachary Levi (Chuck) and Lamorne Morris (New Girl.) Tickets are $30 and you can get them here.

For more information about my book, go here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Announcing my book: MICHAEL F-ING BAY: The Unheralded Genius of Michael Bay's Films. On sale now!

Starting today, you can purchase my first book, MICHAEL F-ING BAY: The Unheralded Genius of Michael Bay's Films on Amazon. Yes, that's right, for the mere price of $4.99, you can be downloading and reading this first-ever examination of Michael Bay within seconds!

His movies have cumulatively earned $2.4 billion in the domestic box office, making him the second most-successful director of all time, right behind Steven Spielberg. If one gathered the top six directors in that category, that same man would be only one of the half-dozen to not also be in possession of an Academy Award: Michael Bay.

Commercial success and meaningful art don’t always go hand-in-hand, but is it possible for a filmmaker to consistently hit his mark with the audience without truly doing something right artistically? Professional critics have long taken aim at Bay’s music-video-honed visual style, full of fast cuts, moving camera shots, hot women. The internet is full of negativity and scorn for the director too, but has anyone truly given Bay’s oeuvre the benefit of the doubt?

Michael F-ing Bay: The Unheralded Genius in Michael Bay’s Films is the first-ever attempt to approach the Bay catalog from an intellectual standpoint. Come ready to find the deep subtexts and profound meanings in Michael Bay’s filmography.

EXPERIENCE – the controversial discussion about man’s relationship with God buried within Armageddon!

DISCOVER – how Pearl Harbor demonstrates that emotional truth is far more vital than strict adherence to actual historical events!

LEARN – how The Island is a pointed allegory attacking the proliferation of remakes and reboots that Hollywood produces!

UNDERSTAND – the vulnerable confession that Michael Bay offers under the cloak of a true-life Miami crime story in Pain & Gain! And much more!

With the holiday season coming up, it's the perfect stocking stuffer for your friends and family. You can even gift the Kindle versions if you only want to spend an Abe Lincoln.  If you love Michael Bay, you will find something to enjoy in this book and if you hate Michael Bay you'll probably still find plenty to love here. Every movie Michael Bay has directed is covered here, in all-new in-depth examinations.

This is not a greatest-hits compilation of posts, nor is it a how-to screenwriting book. The only segment that's seen the light of day before is my analysis of Transformers: Age of Extinction. It became one of my all-time most-popular posts, so you've probably read it already. If you haven't, give it a read for a taste of what you're in for with MICHAEL F-ING BAY.

And all this is yours for $4.99! If you have been a long-time reader of the blog, that's like tipping me less than a dollar a year. It's a tiny drop in the bucket. You can cover the cost by skipping your latte, maybe not necessarily your essential morning latte, but the one you get in the afternoon just so you have an excuse to leave the office a bit.

But what if you don't have a Kindle or a tablet with a Kindle app? Good news, you can still read MICHAEL F-ING BAY! Go here and download the Kindle reading app for your computer.

Here are the instructions for the Kindle for PC program.
Here's where you go for Kindle for Windows 8.
Here's the site for you Kindle for Mac people.

So you're looking at those sites and it still seems complicated and confusing. Or maybe you're just the type of person who likes to hold a physical book in your hands. I'm looking out for those few of you, which is why I have made it possible to buy a physical, dead-tree edition of MICHAEL F-ING BAY as well.

Link roundup:
Amazon Author Page here.
Kindle version of the book here.
Dead tree edition here.

Your support would really mean a lot to me, guys. E-books like this succeed through word-of-mouth, so please sound the trumpets for my first book. I really hope you enjoy it.