Daredevil and Agent Carter and Bellerophon

April 14th, 2015

The Daredevil series on Netflix was awesome. I loved it, and it stands alongside Agent Carter as the best (ie, “my favorite”) superhero-related shows on TV. Flash is fun but uneven; Gotham is increasingly mired in flawed characterization; Agents of SHIELD can’t decide what it wants to be or how it wants to get there. Their quality fluctuates so wildly that I have essentially stopped recommending them to people. Daredevil, on the other hand, was tightly written, start to finish, with a clear vision of who its lead was, why we should care, and how best to present that lead in a story and style that brought all its themes together; the same can be said, pretty much word-for-word, for Agent Carter. Both shows were strong ideas executed well. And it’s telling that those shows worked so well while SHIELD continues to fail so shockingly; my guess is that Daredevil and Agent Carter succeed because they’re allowed, if not actually forced, to stand on their own. SHIELD is presented as “the TV version of the MCU,” while Daredevil and Agent Carter are “Marvel stories connected to the MCU.” That’s a key difference. SHIELD has to carry this giant banner and connect all the movies and it’s never allowed to be its own thing, while the peripheral shows can do whatever they need to tell the best story they can.

The other thing Daredevil and Agent Carter have in common, however, is that they started to fall apart at the end, brought down, in part, by weird villains. Yes, I know, I know, Vincent D’onofrio was amazing as Fisk in Daredevil–he’s a great actor who showed us a fascinating, vulnerable, even tragic take on the Kingpin. He was a great character. But he was a really crappy villain. Agent Carter’s ultimate villain, the goofy hypnosis guy, was weird for different reasons, but still didn’t work, and still managed to bring down a show that should have gone out on a much higher note.

Why do the villains matter? Because a hero’s heroism is directly proportional to the obstacles he or she overcomes. The Greek hero Bellerophon is the classic example of this: he was described as the greatest slayer of monsters in the world, primarily because the monster he slew, Chimera, was described as the greatest monster in the world. Bellerophon could have used exactly the same skills and talents and courage and cunning and fortitude to slay a lesser beast, but no one would have cared; he wouldn’t be the Greatest Monster Slayer Ever, he would have been That Guy Who Killed That Goblin.

Agent Carter the show presents us with a number of compelling conflicts for Agent Carter the person: she’s fighting a vast shadow conspiracy of spies and assassins, her colleagues don’t trust her, and (more than anything else) she’s a woman in a society dominated by men. One of the first shots of the series is a crowded street full of identical men in identical gray hats walking away from the camera, with Peggy Carter in vibrant blue and red walking directly toward it. Not only does the framing make the men faceless and ubiquitous, it highlights the idea that Peggy is moving against the current and making her own way. This is one of the greatest visual statements of heroic identity ever made, and the show follows it up with story after story hitting these same beats and themes, over and over again. When Dottie is finally revealed as a villain she fits this idea perfectly–a funhouse-mirror version of Peggy, with all the same skills but controlled by men instead of rebelling against them, and hidden under a veneer of stereotyped, airheaded femininity. This was awesome…and then that hynotist showed up. He didn’t fit the story we’d been told all season because he came out of nowhere, related to Hydra but never a believable crux to their plan; he was brought into the SSR not because Hydra had a brilliant scheme but because Peggy made a series of impulsive, unpredictable decisions, and if Hydra was relying on that to carry off their grand scheme then their plot was doomed from the beginning. More to the point, his powers of super hypnosis came out of left field both narratively and thematically–nothing he did felt like the satisfying culmination of a series arc, he was just a monster-of-the-week who hung on for a few extra weeks and turned out to be the Big Bad. Instead of watching Peggy pull it all together and strike a major blow against the secret organization she’d been fighting, they just personified that organization and let her beat some random guy, using skills that hadn’t mattered to the rest of the season. The climax showed her talking down a hypnosis victim flying a plane, which was a tense scene and a nice callback to her climax in Captain America, but what did it have to do with anything the show had promised us? They teased a Chimera, but delivered a goblin.

Daredevil’s villain problem was, as I said, different, but just as frustrating. Wilson Fisk stayed right in line with the established series themes of Inner Demons and doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, but he failed as a villain because he simply wasn’t villainous enough. His criminal organization ran in circles, accomplishing no crimes aside from a self-eating snake of nested cover-ups, and then slowly imploded just in time for Daredevil to punch it in the face. Matt Murdock didn’t actually defeat him as a vigilante or as a lawyer, he just did flip kicks for twelve episodes while the criminals defeated themselves. Showing Fisk as a damaged little boy was great, and watching him stammer his way through a puppy-love courtship was an audacious choice for a story about a mob boss, but without any real villainy to balance it out he came across as weak and inept. Instead of a terrifying mastermind we saw an incompetent recluse whose super-mob conglomerate started falling apart literally the first time we saw it in action; he had lackeys do all the grunt work, a chief lackey who came up with most of the plans, and then he sat back flirting while his mismanaged empire dissolved around him. His occasional forays into mastermind-hood, like tricking Daredevil and the Hand Ninja into killing each other, were born from anger instead of brilliance, and despite their cleverness never actually strengthened his empire in any way; that one, in particular, started its final destruction. His one and only moment of unfiltered awesomeness came in the last fifteen minutes of the season, when he finally embraced his role as a monster. That makes this season an origin story for Kingpin as well as for Daredevil, which is cool in its own way, but in the process it made them both look pretty useless: Daredevil never had to defeat his Chimera, because the Chimera kept biting off its own heads, and thus Daredevil never became the Bellerophon we wanted him to be. And since the fight choreography, gorgeous as it was, never got back up to the bar it set in episode two, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed by the anti-climax. The final fight was just two guys punching each other, drained of tension because we knew who was going to win, and devoid of the artistry that had marked most of the earlier fights.

I want to reiterate: I loved Agent Carter, and I loved Daredevil. Even with lackluster finales, they provided the best stories and the boldest visions in our current bumper crop of superhero TV. But they could have been so much more than they were. Going out on a high note has always been a problem for TV shows, and genre TV shows in particular, but those few shining diamonds who’ve pulled it off have shown us that it’s possible. I want every other superhero show out there to learn from Daredevil and Agent Carter and up their game, and then I want Daredevil and Agent Carter, in what I dearly hope will be their second seasons, to pull out all the stops and really fulfill on their promises. If these shows have a chance to live up to their potential, next year’s crop of superhero shows will make this year’s sea of plenty look like a drought.

My four cents on the Hugo thing

April 7th, 2015

Here we go. I don’t like arguing, especially not on the Internet, so I don’t intend to say much about this topic. The short version is that I am somewhere in the middle, seeing merit and fault on both sides. The longer version can be condensed to four main points:

1) Larry Correia is my friend. I’ve known him for years, and he is a good guy, a good husband, and a good father. I don’t agree with his politics in almost any category, and I don’t like the way he’s handled the Sad Puppies thing (which is why I asked to be removed from it after he nominated me last year), but I am adult enough to see two sides of a person at once. It makes me sad to see people calling him a racist, misogynist, homophobe, when in reality I know that he’s none of those things–he’s an a-hole online, I’ll totally grant you, but let’s cool it with the character assassination. I realize that a lot of people won’t bother reading past this paragraph, or will just straight up hate me regardless of what the rest of this post says, but there you go. If it comes down to disavowing a friend in order to impress my readership, I won’t do it.

2) The other side of the fight has plenty of its own a-holes. One of Larry’s first and biggest complaints about the Hugo crowd was the way they ostracized him right from the get-go: he was nominated for a Campbell, came to WorldCon in Reno, and was treated like a pariah because he’s very, very conservative. It’s only gotten worse since then, and a lot of that is his fault for hitting back so viciously, but a lot of it is just straight-up unwarranted, and I didn’t really understand how much until my own Sad Puppies nomination last year. I was on the slate, didn’t take it seriously, and then when I actually ended up on the finals list for novella I was attacked almost instantly. Bloggers who’d never met me or read my work were calling me out as a racist based solely on the fact that Larry like my story. I’ve been going to WorldCons for years, been nominated for multiple Hugos, and even won one the previous year, but all of a sudden I was an outsider, intruding onto sacred space, based not on who I was or what I did but simply on my association with an undesirable element. To be fair, a majority of people reacted more evenly, and I was delighted by how many reviewers described my novella as “much better than expected,” but the attacks were real and they were prevalent. I’m a big boy, so I can handle them, I’m just saying that we can’t assume either side in this is perfectly good and right.

3) I do not like what the slate-voting model has done to the Hugos–I think it has removed any legitimacy the award once had, and reduced it to a two-party system that will, in the future, only nominate a narrow subset of the field. You’ll have Sad Puppies and Anti-Sad Puppies, and we’ll pick our ticket and campaign for it for months, and anyone not on the ticket will be out in the cold. I honestly don’t see how that CAN’T happen next year, unless we change the voting rules. And no, that’s not what it was before: what it was before was a group of like-minded people who tended to vote for the same authors and themes every time, which is pretty standard for any voting award anyway, and a far cry from a curated ticket of “this is the slate we should all vote for.” I am sad that this has happened, but I hope we can find a way to fix it.

4) No matter how much I hate the slate, and how sad I am for the people and stories the slate bumped off, I think that voting against everyone on the slate regardless of merit seems like a terrible idea. Guardians of the Galaxy, for example, was a favorite for the category going in, and probably got just as many normal nominations as Puppy nominations, but now we’re all going to vote against it as some kind of protest? Kevin Anderson and Jim Butcher are excellent authors–giants in the field, and mentors to half the authors working today–but now we’re supposed to shut them out completely just because the wrong people nominated them? Toni Weiiskopf and Anne Sowards are exactly the kind of brilliant, talented editors the “recognize more women” crowd (in which company I include myself) has been trying to recognize for years, but now we’re supposed to ignore them just because some conservative white guys got them on the ballot? THIS IS INSANE. Some of the people on the ballot are terrible people, and some of their work is terrible fiction, and I’ll be voting accordingly, but punishing Anne Sowards because I want to punish the people who put her on the slate is misguided and cruel. These people did good work, worthy of reward, and I’m going to reward them. Let’s fix this problem in a way that doesn’t trample innocents.

As a final word: I will be at WorldCon this year, not wallowing in controversy but celebrating science fiction and fantasy. I love the genre, I love the stories we tell, and I love the spirit of hope that those stories express about the future. Let’s try to be as good as the heroes we write about.

Reader Mail #8 – I’m doing a stage play!

April 3rd, 2015

Several years ago I self-published a historical horror farce, in large part because “historical horror farce” is kind of a ridiculous category that no publisher really knew what to do with. It’s called A Night of Blacker Darkness, and mostly just to pitch it to people as An Extremely Ridiculous Horror Novel. The basic premise is this: in England in 1817 a young banker is jailed for fraud, and escapes by faking his death, but when he emerges from his coffin to try to steal an inheritance, somebody sees him and assumes he’s a vampire. Hilarity, as they say, ensues. The book has sold okay, nothing amazing because I don’t really promote it much, but I’ve spent the last few months adapting it for stage and I’m excited to announce that we will be debuting a play of A Night of Blacker Darkness this very Halloween, with one production in Utah and one in Tennessee. More details in this awesome video:

Yo respondo a sus preguntas de Partials

March 23rd, 2015

Dear English speakers: sorry, this post isn’t for you. Because I’m going to Argentina in May!

Espero que ustedes pueden entender mi espanol–estoy practicando para que pueda hablar bien cuando llego a Buenos Aires en Mayo, pero todavia necesito hacerlo mas perfecto. Aun asi, ma da mucho gusto a contestar estas preguntas, los cuales vienen del grupo de Facebook Saga Partials:

Reader Mail #7 – Creature Design with Todd Jones

March 18th, 2015

Another behind-the-scenes video! People have been asking a lot about the monster–how will the movie portray him, how will we do the effects–so while I was up in Minnesota I took the opportunity to interview Todd Jones, an absolute giant in the industry of movie creatures and effects. The lighting is terrible, and partway through a cell phone rings, but that’s just part of the charm of recording in a hotel ballroom movie-production headquarters. (Also, for continuity purposes: remember Jakk, from the last video? She’s just off-camera in this one, and at one point you can hear her laughing. We’re all a big happy family.)

Reader Mail #6 – Behind the Scenes with Jakk

March 7th, 2015

I’m on the set of the IANASK movie, and getting flooded with requests for more behind-the-scenes info, so here you go: Jakk is the Line Producer, which means she oversees the whole behind-the-scenes process. I was able to steal ten minutes of her time to ask a couple of questions about our movie, and movie making in general.

More movie casting news

March 5th, 2015

Ready for some more I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER casting news? Today we get to look at the two characters who really make up the heart and soul of the story: Kay and April.

Kay CrowleyKay Crowley is a minor character, in some ways, but her role in the story is incredibly important. Lurking behind the surface is a love story, almost 50 years old, about a woman so wonderful she convinced a monster to give up everything and become human, to see our world with completely different, sympathetic eyes. Our Kay is Dee Noah, a wonderful local actor who captures that aspect perfectly, and she and Christopher Lloyd play off of each other like a pair of young lovers who wake up every day just thrilled to be with their best friend. Dee does a lot of theater; her imdb page only has two credits, because most of her work has been on stage instead of screen. What I really love about her is how well she knows Kay–she talks to the wardrobe department and the art department all the time about what, exactly, Kay’s clothes and home would look like; she’s become the resident expert, because she’s internalized the part so thoroughly.

(And no, don’t think that I missed the beautiful coincidence that our character who’s name is a letter is being played by an actress whose name is a letter. IT’S LIKE FATE IS WATCHING OUT FOR US.)

imageApril Cleaver is John’s mom, and next to John she is by far my favorite character in the series. I didn’t intend for her to be so important at the beginning–in the first draft of the novel she was just there, more of an obstacle than anything–but as I revised the story and honed in on the key features and emotions, her role just kept getting bigger. Nobody in the world loves John as much as April, and even though she’s not always good at being a mom she is always trying her best, with her heart on her sleeve, doing everything she can think of to help her son in any way she can. Our casting for April leaked early, and a lot of you knew who it was even before I did, but it’s now official and confirmed and I’m delighted to report that April Cleaver will be played by Laura Fraser. You are most likely to know her from one of three places: as Door in Neverwhere, as the blacksmith in A Knight’s Tale, and most recently as Lydia in Breaking Bad. I haven’t met her yet, because we haven’t gotten to her scenes in the schedule, but I’m a big fan of her work, and her wonderful mix of strength and frailty–she excels at playing women who plow ahead, in the face of all odds, even knowing that doing so could kill her. She’s going to be a wonderful mother to John, and she even looks like she could be related to Max Records. I can’t wait to see what she does with the role.

There are still a handful of big roles left to announce, and one of them in particular hasn’t even been cast yet–Dr. Neblin, the therapist, is down to two actors, and Billy is skyping with them this weekend to do a final interview. They’re both awesome, and I don’t envy him being forced to choose. As soon as I can, though, I’ll let you know who we got.

Cast Announcement for I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER

March 3rd, 2015

I’ve been talking about this movie for years, and talking EVEN MORE about that over the last several months, ever since we secured real funding. What I have not been able to talk about is the cast, because up until the point where everything was absolutely final, there was still the possibility that it might change. Well, now it’s final. Let’s talk about the cast.

John CleaverWe sold the option and started working on the movie about five years ago, and while I am not actually, technically involved in the film, I’ve become very good friends over the years with Billy, the director, and we consult with each other all the time. About this same time I saw the movie “Where the Wild Things Are,” and instantly thought that the kid in it would be a perfect John Cleaver. He was young, but I knew it would be a few years before we filmed, and I loved the way he was able to express such incredible loneliness. I called Billy and told him I’d found our John Cleaver, and he said he’d look into it. Before he even had a chance, though, one of our producers called Billy as well, and said “I just finished a project with a kid who’d be perfect for that movie you’re working on!” That kid was…the same kid. The producer and I, independent of each other, had both cast our dream John Cleaver, and both of them were Max Records. Billy met him and agreed with us, and for five years now Max and his parents have been on board, uncontracted but planning on it. Max has read all the books, he knows the character inside and out, and now that he’s all grown up he looks the part perfectly. We couldn’t be happier with our John Cleaver.

Mr. Crowley was much harder to line up, and that ties back to the five years we were trying to get funding. Take a script to Hollywood where the two leads are 15 and 75 years old, and they will laugh in your face. Nobody in either age group is a “star,” as defined by the kind of people who give money to movies. The movie Gravity, for example, languished for years, completely unable to get made, because even Sandra Bullock doesn’t count as a “star” either. Finally George Clooney, who was a big supporter of the film, stepped in and attached his own name to it, and it didn’t matter that it was a minor role–as soon as it became a George Clooney movie, it got paid for almost instantly, because now there was a “star.” Our movie doesn’t have a role for George Clooney, so standard Hollywood wisdom is that it will not make any money and we shouldn’t even bother.

imageWe bothered anyway, and managed to get funding from outside of Hollywood altogether. Once that was lined up, we were able to pay a Crowley actor what he was worth, and we set our sights on a long, long list of actors. You can’t name an old man actor we didn’t have on our list–we were thorough and exhaustive, and in the end it didn’t even matter because we were able to get our pipe dream actor from right at the top. Our Mr. Crowley is Christopher Lloyd, and we couldn’t be happier. Lloyd has done a lot of amazing stuff in his career, he can do happy and simple and vicious and evil and sad, sometimes all at once, and we think he’ll be perfect for Crowley. The role that really got me excited about him, though, was Reverend Jim from Taxi–not that Crowley is anything like Jim, but because it’s such a fantastically minimal performance. Lloyd played that entire role with a single facial expression, and that’s the sign of an incredible actor. He’s playing Mr Crowley as friendly, kind, and gentlemanly, but with terrifying undercurrents of desperation and despair. It’s wonderful to watch.

Most of the rest of the cast is being drawn from local actors in the Minneapolis area, and they’re all wonderful, and I’ll tell you about them soon, but I had to get the two leads announced before I exploded with excitement. I’m on set for the next nine days, so I’ll be posting snippets and photos and videos as much as I can.

I hope you’re as excited as I am.

Updates on Extras Casting

February 17th, 2015

Many of you responded eagerly to the possibility of being extras in the I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER movie, and I’ve been forwarding all of your emails to our Background Coordinator, Michelle Nagell. Finally we just decided to cut out the middleman: if you want to be in the show, you can email her directly!

Important Notes:

1) We can’t pay you. We’re a small indie production, and we’re not offering jobs–we’re offering the chance to be a part of a project you love as much as we do. You will have to provide your own travel, hotel, meals, etc.

2) We’re filming in Minnesota. Just outside Minneapolis, for the most part. If you can get there, awesome.

3) We don’t have a solid schedule yet. We realize this might make it impossible for some of you to plan far enough in advance, and I apologize. We’re working as fast as we can :)

Here’s a quick note from Michelle herself:

I would love to have you guys as extras on I Am Not A Serial Killer.
We don’t have the exact dates yet. Most of the filming will take place the month of March .
I know it is really important for Dan to have you guys on set and I will do my darnest to accommodate you so that happens! Filming can get tricky as time and days are subject to change with very little notice. I know many of you are traveling from a distance, so I’m open to keeping a dialogue over phone and email to keep you in the loop! If you are serious about coming please send a snap shot , email and phone number. Please put in the subject line IANASK so I can put you guys on my separate list . Feel free to ask questions! I look forward to seeing you on set !!!!!!! Thanks for your time!!!
Michelle Nagell
Background Coordinator
michellenagell@gmail.com Read the rest of this entry »