Monday, May 28, 2012

Inspiration for Stories

The stories I write tend to be pieced together over a long period of time by many small ideas. Many of the ideas come from daydreaming, but many others are inspired by details of things I experience in life. Here is one small example.

Here is one of the late Frank Frazetta's greatest paintings, in my opinion. I have a print of it hanging on my wall. As awesome as the warrior is, the bit that set me to thinking (for many years actually, since the thought hit me when I was very young and first saw this paining) was the skeleton lying at the warrior's feet. My thinking was, "What is his story?"

This poor fellow once lived and had dreams and a family just like all of us. What is the story that led him to be lying in this awful place, being trampled unnoticed by this fantastical barbarian warrior?

This led me to incorporate a scenario during a Dungeons & Dragons game that I DM'd as a teen, and the spookiness of the party traveling through a dark forest littered with mysterious skeletons always lingered in my imagination.

So while writing my first fantasy novel, I reached a place where the party finally escapes from the terrors of passing under a mountain and they come to what seems to be a pleasant forest. I decided this was the perfect opportunity to inject a supernatural element into the book.

I dreamed up a scenario in which, five thousand years earlier, a battle had taken place in the wood between an evil wizard and his minions against an outnumbered army of dwarves and elves. The wizard's army seemed to be winning, but Dwarven reinforcements issued from their mountain city and came in time to turn the battle. As he escaped, the wizard cursed the battlefield, and ever since then the remnants of the battle have refused to crumble away as they should.

There's more to it than that, but the party finds out what that is later. For now I will give you a fragment of the chapter where they encounter the ancient battlefield. Geldrath, Alekas, and Antos are teenaged budding warriors.


Geldrath felt nervous and walked slowly.  He had always enjoyed spooky stories as a boy, but he had no desire to meet any real ghosts.  He looked at the brothers and asked, “Do you believe in spirits and curses?  Are they real?”

“I don’t know,” Alekas said.

Antos said, “I know an old crone in Welby town who says she can speak to the dead.  She’s a nice lady, but I always thought she was a tad crazy.  I always said I don’t believe in spirits, but I have to admit I’m not so sure right now.”

“I’m with you,” Geldrath said.  “It doesn’t feel right.  Why is there mist in the trees?  Why is it so dark with the sun directly overhead?”

Both brothers shook their heads and everyone fell silent.  Their footfalls sounded more muffled than usual, and there were no sounds from birds or animals.  The birch trees here all had bare branches, while the ones behind had full green canopies.

Soon Geldrath saw the first of the corpses.  Half of a ribcage rose from a tangle of grass, mushrooms growing where a heart had once lodged.  Rusty ring mail armor lay about the torso in tatters.  He looked closer at the skull and saw needle-sharp teeth on an elongated jaw.  A goblin, he thought.  He shuddered and stepped past the remains only to nearly cut his foot on a rusty, curved sword blade hidden in a tussock.

“Watch where you walk,” he called out.  “I just stepped on a sword.”

Now the bodies were all around.  He saw skeletons of dwarves and goblins everywhere he looked.  Here and there he saw the remains of a horse.  He saw taller corpses, but without stopping he wasn’t sure if they were orcs or elves.  All of the remains looked ancient, but when he thought about how long ago the war was--more than five thousand years--he knew there should be no sign of the battle.

Alvanaria knelt down near one tall skeleton and traced a finger over the skull’s cranium while murmuring softly to herself.

Alekas and Antos stopped abruptly and Geldrath went to see what they were looking at.  It was the skeleton of an enormous troll.  This one was much larger than the ones they had seen in Kaldorn.  The ribs jutted up nearly to shoulder height.  The rusty iron head of a huge mace lay in the grass nearby.  Geldrath stared into the empty eye sockets of the skull and shivered.

“Let’s move faster,” he said.  “I want to get out of this place as soon as possible.”

Alvanaria rose and joined the boys.  Geldrath saw wet streaks on her cheeks.  She said, “I’m afraid this was a large battlefield.  Even moving quickly we will not pass it by this day.”

“You knew some of these people, didn’t you?” whispered Geldrath.

“Many were my friends.”

Walking became ever more difficult as individual remains gave way to piles of bones and weapons.  Some of the weapons--the ones made by dwarf or elven craftsmen--were in perfect condition except for a coat of grime.  Once Ismar tripped on something and landed in a pile of mixed dwarf and orc bones.  He shoved himself out of the pile, shrieking in horror, not even concerned about the deep scratches he sustained from the fall.

The afternoon was the longest one that any of them could remember.  It became a numbness of one unsettling scene after another; a banquet of death such as none of the companions--save Alvanaria and Xax--had ever imagined.  The sun dropping behind the mountain was a blessing, as a deeper darkness settled over the forest and the band could no longer see clearly.  All wished to go on and put this place far behind them, but it was impossible to continue without the risk of injury.

Midas called a halt when he came upon a small clearing.  The company worked by torchlight for more than an hour to move all of the bones, armor and weapons from the clearing so they could set up camp.

Geldrath rolled out his blanket next to Alekas’s.  When he sat down, something sharp bit into the heel of his right foot.  He lifted the blanket, felt around the spot where his foot had been, and uncovered an arrowhead buried in the dirt.  He thought for a moment of pocketing the arrowhead, but thought better of it and tossed it away into the trees.  This place is cursed indeed!  I want nothing to do with it.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Let There Be Rock

A couple of years ago my family had a blast. We flew to London and first saw Green Day in front of 80,000 people at Wembley Stadium, then saw Pearl Jam in Hyde Park, and finished it up with Paul McCartney. It can't get much better than that!

Now that my two sons have gotten deeper into more great music, they are even more interested in seeing some great concerts. They hadn't really been into Pearl Jam when they saw them last, though after the concert they began listening to them more, and now they love them.

I started looking at concerts in Europe to see if there was something affordable. There were a number of good choices, but all pretty expensive--Soundgarden, Metallica, Bruce Springsteen, Green Day...all are having concerts this summer over here, but in places that are a little costly to get to. Okay, The Boss is coming to Prague, so that isn't too bad, but frankly, my sons aren't really into him yet.

So, the one I found that is affordable and I know the boys will love them is Pearl Jam Prague. Yep, we just visited Prague two months ago, but hey, it's the most beautiful city in the world, so why not?

Europeans do their dates backward from how we do them, so this means it is on July 2. The boys have seen concerts in a stadium and in a park, but this will be their first one in an arena. I hope Pearl Jam are in great form that night!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Excerpt from The Immortality Game

One of the trickiest aspects of writing is to get across important details without lecturing the reader. Amateur writers tend to put far too much exposition into their stories. I did it myself when I first began, but I learned quickly from the blogosphere and changed my ways. I cut out all of my exposition and found more subtle ways to seed in bits and pieces here and there where it made logical sense.

I try not to do any overt exposition within the first few chapters. It's still not good to do it much later on, but at least when you have already captured the reader's attention you have earned the right to get away with a little bit of it.

Below is the chapter of my WIP that gives the most exposition, but it isn't too early in the book and I try to make it flow. Most of the book is a fast-paced thriller, so this chapter represents a break for the reader, a chance to catch his or her breath. I hope you will let me know where I go wrong!

Tyoma is a Russian scientist, part of a team that has been working on a top secret government military project for several decades. The military is more than a little unhappy that their massive amount of funding is not providing quicker solutions.


“Over here, Gosha.  Come on!”  Tyoma beckoned to the steel-plated chimp that hung by one hand from the jungle gym in the corner of the lounge.  “Come meet the general.”

Gosha tilted his head to one side and stared back and forth between Tyoma and General Andreykin.

“He won’t come,” Tyoma said.  “He only does for Volodya.  Shows how bad his taste is.”

“Do you always criticize your colleagues behind their backs?” said the general, a tall man completely devoid of hair but for bushy gray eyebrows and long lashes.

“Only Volodya,” Tyoma said, “and I criticize him plenty to his face, I’ll have you know.”

The general didn’t look amused.  “It’s no wonder this project never makes progress if your team can’t get along.”

Tyoma grinned.  “We’ve made plenty of progress,  General, even with Volodya in the group.  I like to think it shows how--”

“I don’t like you, Dr. Komarov.  This is a serious project, and you are never serious.  Why did Dr. Aseev leave you here to meet me?”

Tyoma put an injured expression on his face.  “Ah, but you are my very favorite general.  I am distressed that you...”  The stony look on Andreykin’s face told Tyoma he was pushing his luck.  He waved his hand toward the chimp.  “Look, General, one of our recent successes.”

“A monkey.”

“A chimpanzee.”

“We’re not spending billions of rubles to create toy robots, Doctor.”

“Oh, but it’s no robot.  Watch the way it behaves.  It’s too realistic.  Have you ever seen a robot that didn’t behave like a robot?”  Tyoma jumped from his chair and reached out to scratch Gosha behind his ears.  The chimp’s lips pursed and tried to kiss Tyoma’s wrist.  “Gosha here was our first full success of capturing the data from a chimp’s mind and layering it onto a digital interface that allows it to mimic a real brain.”

General Andreykin squinted his eyes at Tyoma.  “Don’t blather at me.  How does this relate to my needs?”

“You want super-soldiers.  We can capture the minds of your very best men and reuse them in robot bodies...or eventually in clones of human bodies.”

“Clones.  Human bodies.  That’s what I need.  When can you show me that?”

“General,” Tyoma said.  “Can you imagine how difficult it is to conduct tests on human subjects?  We can’t reconstitute an adult mind within an adolescent body, so we are forced to wait until a clone body reaches full maturity before we can even conduct a test.  And there are the questions, of course, of what to do with partial successes.  Would you have us dispose of a nearly complete human?  When does it become murder?  Forget that--what about a full success?  Any problem with having a duplicate of a living person running about?  How will that work?”

The general waved a hand dismissively.  “It’s only soldiers I need.  They’ll belong to the army.”

“You going to supply us with test subjects?”

“What are all those crèches for that we funded?  Haven’t you been aging clones already?”

“Absolutely, General.  We’ve been working on perfecting the cloning process.  It’s a different matter altogether to actually give the clones a mind.  We need DNA and mind dumps from some of your men.”

Andreykin rose from his seat and towered over Tyoma.  “That’s not a problem.  What is a problem is that General Potkin lost his job due to lack of progress here.  I don’t intend to lose mine.  I want to see real progress, Doctor.”

“You know, General,” Tyoma said, “there are cures for baldness now.”

“You are not funny, little man.”

“General, let’s go down and visit the crèches.  I’ll explain our progress on that part of the project.  Then I have something else that is fully ready.  I think you’ll like it very much.”

Tyoma led the grim-faced general to the grav tube, which whisked them down to the third basement level.  The lights flicked on to show an enormous room, antiseptically clean, about half the size of a football pitch.  Rows of crèches lined the floor like huge silver and glass coffins.  The room smelled strongly of glass cleaner.

Neither man spoke as they approached the nearest crèche.  Tyoma could never help but marvel at the features of each clone, no matter how many times he visited.  The first crèche contained what looked like a naked teenage version of his friend Kostya, though hairless and with much smoother skin.

“Ah,” said General Andreykin, with the first smile Tyoma had ever seen on the man’s face. “It’s Dr. Sakaev, yes?”

“Yes.  This row here contains six of his clones, each a year apart in age.  This one will be ready to test in around four more years.”

“How can they look so healthy?  I would think lying in these boxes for years would produce little more than pasty corpses.”

Tyoma slid a finger along one of the tubes that ran through the glass and into the clone’s right arm.  “The miracles of modern medicine, General.  Each of us has billions of nanobots doing anything from preventing colds and other diseases to scar repair to...”  He raised his eyes to the general’s bald dome.  “...preventing baldness.”

“I like being bald, Dr. Komarov.”

“I’m sure.  Anyhow, we have our own special nanobots here.  We’ve spent decades coming up with new ones for all the problems we’ve encountered.  We need them for muscle development, bones, lungs, basically anything that would typically atrophy if unexercised.  The brain was the toughest.  It gets almost no stimulation, yet it’s critical that it develop properly.  We’ve perfected it with chimp clones, and we think we are ready with humans now.”

General Andreykin walked to a new row of crèches.  “Who is this?  I can’t place him.”

“That was Dr. Anatoly Vorobyev.  He was our psychology expert, but he died three years ago.”

“Why do you keep his clones then?  I want to get started on my soldiers.  We don’t need to waste space on him.”

“It’s not a waste, General.  If anything, he’ll be the most important least from a moral perspective.  We intend to try him first.  We have some successful mind scans for him.  If we do manage to successfully reconstitute him, we won’t face the issue of having two of him in existence.”

“Why no women?  Surely there are female scientists every bit as brilliant as any of you?”

“Naturally.  We had two women on the project initially, and another we added later.  They all dropped out due to disagreements over the morality of what we were trying to accomplish.  Not to say that only women have moral qualms about this stuff.  We lost a splendid male neurologist also.”

“Why clones of your own people?  It should be my soldiers in here.”

“The project cannot succeed without many tests.”

“I’m not stupid, Doctor.  But, why not use my soldiers for your tests?”

“We can start soon, General.  I asked you already for some DNA and mind scans from your chosen soldiers.”

“I’ll send some men over.  Scan them and use them in these bodies.  I need--”

“General, we can’t use them with these.  The rejection rate is very high unless we layer the mind into a body made from the same DNA.  It’s too costly to have so many failures during the testing phase.”

The general threw up a hand.  “This is too slow.  These take what?  Eighteen, twenty years to grow?  I need my soldiers now!”

“This is but one of the projects we are doing for you, General,” Tyoma said, holding his palms up.  “We’re working on speeding up the aging process for the clones to make this one workable, but we have other projects that will bring more immediate results.  Remember, I said we have one ready now?  How about I show you?”

“Here?” the general said.  “Where is it?”

Tyoma fished a data card from his pocket and held it up.  “Right here.”

The general reached to take the card, but Tyoma withdrew it and snapped it into his own slot.  “General, you will receive a connection request to your wireless.  It’s the only way to see how this works.”

General Andreykin frowned.  “What do you mean?  No one uses wireless with strangers.  It’s too dangerous.”

Tyoma gave what he hoped was a calming smile.  “We’ve all heard that, General, but have you ever actually known anyone to have their wireless compromised?  This program runs off of our protected wireless here at this facility only, and its range is purposely limited.  You are perfectly safe.”

The general stared, scowling, at Tyoma for a full minute before thrusting a finger in Tyoma’s face.  “My people know I am here.  Nothing better happen to me.”

“You’ll be fine,” Tyoma said, and sent the handshake request to the general’s slot.

The general jerked in surprise as he saw what Tyoma was already looking at.  A soldier in full combat uniform stood at parade rest only a meter away.

“Oh,” the general said.  “It’s like those porn programs so many are using these days.  How does a fake soldier help me?”

The soldier came to attention and saluted.  “Permission to speak, General?”


“Sir, I am a virtual squad leader.  My mind was scanned from one of the very best combat NCOs from the Moldovan front.  I get visual cues from each member of my squad, so I am able to assess any situation and use my experience to pass orders to my men.”

“General,” Tyoma said.  “Headquarters would never admit it publicly, but you and I both know the primary cause of problems at the front is bad leadership at the squad level.  We don’t have nearly enough good NCOs.  This program ensures you have the very best squad leaders at all times for all troops.”

General Andreykin nodded slowly.  “I can see some use for this.  But, what if the soldier carrying the card is killed?  It’ll throw the squad into disarray.”

Tyoma waved a hand as if shooing away a fly.  “I used this just to demonstrate the program.  In the field each squad would carry a bomb-proof transmitter.  It has an effective range of up to a hundred meters.  More than enough for anything the squad leader needs to do.”

The general sighed.  “Look, this isn’t bad, but it’s small.  I need more, and I can’t wait twenty more years for it.”

Tyoma nodded.  “General, we have some other projects nearing completion that will amaze you.  I promise.  We also have an idea that we think President Shirov would like.”

“That sounds to me like you want to wheedle more money out of us.”

“It’s totally up to you, General.  We think the president will love the idea.”

The general twirled a finger to tell him to get on with it.

“We can win the space race.”

“Space race.  We have no space race.”

“China and the Western U.S. are racing to be the first to reach New Eden, as the Americans call it.  Their ships are ponderous and will take centuries to arrive.  We can build small and fast and beat them both.  New Eden can be ours.”

“What do we care?” General Andreykin said.  “Let the fools fight over a planet centuries away.  We’ll fight for this one.”

“Perhaps, perhaps.  But perhaps the president would feel differently?”

“If small and fast would work, why are the others only building huge ships?”

“Because they must send thousands of people.  They don’t have what we have, General.  We can send a ship with no living beings on it.  A far faster ship.  Once it arrives and scans the planet to ensure it truly is habitable, well then the auto crèches can kick off the cloning process.  When they are fully baked, we can inject the clones with copies of their own minds.  Instant colonists, General.”

“Sounds like a fantasy to me.”

“You saw Gosha the chimp.  We can already do it with robot bodies.  All we need is a few more years and we will be able to do it with human clones.”

“What good does it do us to win this race?  So we put a few Russian colonists on this far distant world.  Who cares?”

“We could arrive centuries before the others can get there, barring some amazing advance in propulsion technology.  If we carry enough different sets of DNA and mind chips, then we will have time to establish a sizeable colony there.  It would be no small accomplishment for Russia to be the first to claim a habitable world.”

The general looked skeptical.  “I’ll bring up the space idea with Minister Grischuk next time I see him.  If that’s all you have to show me for now, tell me what my guard stole from you.  I’m told it was two data cards.”

Tyoma paused to consider how to proceed.  “General, while the robbery itself was truly regrettable, what was taken will not harm us.  One card was a simple mind scan...of myself actually.  No one can use that, at least not without doing serious damage to themselves.  The other was one of our combat chips.  Like I said earlier, we are still working on perfecting those.”

“What does it do?”

Tyoma blew out his breath.  “Ah, it does so many things, General.  The idea is to transform any raw recruit into a fully ready soldier.  It provides all the data any soldier should know, identification and functionality of all weaponry, training sims on all martial arts, and so forth.  The user will see colored auras around anyone in a combat zone for instant differentiation of friends, foes, and unknowns.  The most useful bit, in our opinion, is what we call combat reflexes.  During high adrenaline situations the code all but takes over the soldier’s mind, feeding it data at such a high rate that time appears to slow down.  The soldier will literally experience combat as if everything is moving at about four-fifths time.  The program will project likely lines of fire, anticipate the movements of enemies...there’s so much involved I can only touch on all that it does.  It’s very exciting...but not fully ready for use.”

“One of these chips is out there?  If it falls into the hands of our--”

“No, General,” Tyoma said.  “The code is highly encrypted and protected.  No one could copy it, even if it were fully ready.  We’ll keep searching for the missing chips, but you shouldn’t worry too much about them.”

General Andreykin stared into Tyoma’s eyes for a long moment.  “At least you’ve stopped joking with me, Doctor.  I hope you are telling me everything.”

After the general took his leave, Tyoma put a group call through to Big Dima, Volodya, and Kostya on the wall screen.

“So?” said Volodya.  “Did it work?”

“I believe so,” Tyoma said.  “He allowed the wireless connection.  I can test my code to see if I can hack his firewall.  I’ll be shocked if I can’t.  Wireless simply can’t be protected the way Sentry code does with direct Web connections.”

“Good,” Volodya said.  “And the rest?”

“He didn’t seem much interested in the space idea, but he said he’d pass it along.”

“We need that extra funding,” said Big Dima.

“We’ll see,” Tyoma said.  “Let me go test my hack.  I’ll let you know if it works.”
“Then we’ll have him,” Kostya said.  “Even if he does learn the truth about the lost combat chip, we can protect ourselves.”

Monday, May 14, 2012

Die Hard Set in Budapest

Here are a few photos so you can see what has been going on outside our embassy every day for the past few weeks.
Here you can see the parliament building in the distance. Nearby are fire trucks on standby due to pyrotechnics in use on the Die Hard 5 movie set.
The above picture is me turning to the left from the first picture. The embassy is behind me here. Ahead you see the set, and both buildings are in use. The one on the left is where both the NY police 9th precinct and the airplane scene were set, so it's the building I 'worked' in as an extra last Monday. A number of other scenes are being shot in the building on the right, though I don't yet know which scenes. I think there may be a restaurant scene there.
Here is a closer shot of the building on the right from the second photo. They were doing filming under the gray covering you see in the center to the left of the tree.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Double Die Hard

Friday was an good day (Aren't Fridays always good days?). I was a bit bummed after getting all dressed up as a detective on Monday only to not get used (for those who haven't read my previous posts, this is for the Die Hard 5 movie that is filming now here in Budapest). Friday morning made up for it when I got a message from an assistant director asking if I would be willing to come out on June 4th for a 'New York' airport scene. Of course I would! Are you kidding me?

Then while walking around the movie location after lunch, my buddy and I ran into Stuart Wilson (whom we had met on Monday on the set), who has long been Bruce Willis's stunt double. He's a super nice guy, and he told us he would be coming to the marine house event Friday evening.

So, I dragged my oldest son with me (my youngest is on a school trip to Bucharest) to the marine house, which is located in a gorgeous building within the castle district overlooking the Danube river and parliament building. Stuart showed up and also brought Mike Papac, who is he weapons expert for the Die Hard movies. He's the one who outfitted me with a pistol for Monday's shoot.
Mike Papac, me, and Stuart Wilson
I got some pictures, though I looked bad in all the ones with me in them (isn't that always what happens when you get pictures you really want?). Stuart and Mike told us some amazing stories from the various movies they have worked on.
Actors dressed up as NY police officers
*sigh* I'd so love to actually get a minor role in a movie. That would be a blast. It's not likely to happen, but I'm having fun even being just peripherally associated with this film!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tidbits About Yesterday's Movie Set Experience

Yesterday I wrote about being an extra on the set of Die Hard 5, which is filming here in Budapest. I'm still trying to round up some cool photos taken by buddies who were there, but I haven't received them that gives me an excuse for another post another day!

One thing that surprised me was how some details meant so much to the filmmakers, while in other ways they were very careless. When I mentioned I had a much nicer suit that actually fit me, they said they needed me to be in a Russian-made suit. They also made sure we had tiny details like extra ammo cartridges for our guns, even though they were unlikely to be seen. On the other hand, I saw a sign in Russian that was inaccurate; I saw 'Russians' with wedding rings on their left hands, when they are supposed to be on the right; and they made one of my buddies carry a McDonald's bag while exiting the 'police station', when it seems more logical to me that he would be bringing it into the station from the outside.
When it came to choosing extras for scenes, I would have thought a director would have looked over the extras and picked out the ones who fit the scene perfectly. Instead they just grabbed them randomly.

So, my buddy Bob was one of the detectives chosen to walk up the stairs holding a McDonald's bag (again, out of the station, which made no sense to me), while Bruce Willis was walking down the stairs into the station. It was a very simple scene of just a few seconds. Bob thought the first take went well. He was supposed to pretend to be talking to another detective and avoid looking at Bruce. So he was taken by surprise on the second take when Bruce jokingly tried to grab his McDonald's bag from him!

Besides seeing Bruce Willis, I saw another one of the stars, though I didn't know who he was at the time. I just found out he is Prison Break star Amaury Nolasco. He was super polite to the people working with him, so he seemed like a nice guy. The marines are inviting cast and crew to their gorgeous house on Friday, so I'm hoping some of them might show up to meet us (come on, Bruce, you know we love you!).

When the day was done, we were brought out to the street to wait for the bus to take us to get out of our clothes (and get paid!). Lots of people stared at us, since we were all decked out in various costumes--policemen, detectives, thugs, prostitutes, etc. A tourist bus was slowly approaching on the street, so one of the policemen got the idea to frisk some of the whores. He got them up against the wall and had some of his buddies begin frisking them just as the bus began going by. You should have seen all the people jamming cameras up against the windows. I wonder what they were thinking about this crazy city!

Monday, May 7, 2012

I'm in a Movie!

I blogged about this last week, but I really didn't expect to have any chance to get involved in the new Die Hard 5 movie. Then on Friday a call went out to Embassy folks looking for anyone who speaks good English to come out. Naturally I volunteered, and I volunteered my wife as well! Here is one of the forms I had to fill out.
Early Saturday morning we visited the movie base camp, well hidden in a fenced off deserted lot behind a mall. Most of the Embassy folks were fitted out for roles at a New York city police precinct, but they took my wife and me and dressed us up as Russian businesspeople for an airplane scene. We were excited. Below is a cast list showing us, though I've blanked out other names so as not to get into trouble.
Very early this morning we showed up and they had switched things around for the day, so my wife was dressed as an office worker in the police precinct and I was dressed as a police detective, gun and all. Sitting through makeup didn't take long, since they didn't put any makeup on me, but messed around with my hair to give me a conservative look. You can see by this photo my wife took of me with two of the 'hookers' that they did my hair really funny. It was taken with a phone camera and there are odd light circles in the low res shot, so forgive the low quality.
There was a lot of waiting around, though it was fun when a guy read the script of the scene we were doing today. I saw Bruce Willis, who I had always thought was short, but he turned out to be at least as tall as me (6' 1") if not a bit taller. In the end we ended up not being used today, which was a letdown, but there are many more days of shooting, so I suspect we'll end up being used. I'm keeping my fingers crossed and having fun anyway!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

How to do the Conan Movies Better

Has anyone noticed that the movies never get sword & sorcery right? Name one great sword & sorcery movie? I don't mean one that you enjoyed, but one that is actually really, really good. I mean, fantasy movies in general were mostly pretty pathetic until Peter Jackson came along and showed that a fantasy movie could be done well. Game of Thrones has continued this new trend, and I assume The Hobbit movies will, too.

The first big budget sword & sorcery movies that I can think of are the Conan movies. I didn't hate the original Conan movie, but it wasn't very good either. It may have had a decent budget, but it felt low budget. The director didn't bother with trying to make the world seem realistic; it felt a bit cheesy instead. And don't get me started on the miserable second try.
I was thinking about how I would do such movies if I were in charge, and I really think my way would work far better. The movies tried to tell too much and be too big. Conan stories always worked best in more intimate episodes. Don't give us his childhood and how he developed (you can save that for later movies). Focus on telling simple stories.

I would take stories in logical chunks, such as a couple from his early days in Zamora, Tower of the Elephant and Rogues in the House for example, and blend them into one great movie. Make a second movie of, say, Red Nails. Be true to the actual stories and get actors who can portray the stories faithfully, the way Peter Jackson lent gravitas to Lord of the Rings (only don't do world shattering the way LOTR did; keep it intimate!). Make it gritty and grim and dark, the way Conan was always meant to be. Find great unknown actors rather than use famous ones like Ahnold.

Once you've captured the audience by doing a couple of well-done movies following this pattern, then continue it. You can take a couple short stories or arcs from different areas of the world and make great movies from them. Shadizar the wicked. The Turanian war. Belit. Eventually after a long James Bond-like run of great movies you can finally get to where Conan becomes king.

Heck, I'd be even more happy if someone would do a realistic job with Fritz Leiber's sword & sorcery heroes Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. Ill Met in Lankhmar would be a great starting movie for this pair!