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So You Want to Work in a Bookstore: Lesson 1 | Joan

Lois Duncan

Lois knows what you did last summer, Joan

I pick up the phone.  I know the customer’s voice.  She likes to call and talk about RL Stine’s ‘Fear Street‘ series and to ask about Lois Duncan novels.  Once we tell her what couple of titles for each may be in the store she’ll hang up.  Then she’ll call back and claim ‘some girl’ told her we had every title ever written by those authors on the shelf.  She does this even when the same person answers the phone the second time.  One day I had six conversations with her. 

She calls us liars.  She asks for a specific book, describes the book’s plot at length, and then when we look them up and offer to order them, will ask us to read the synopsis and all available critic reviews to her.  While we’re looking up the first book she’s already talking about the next one.  When it comes to mostly out of print titles this gets time consuming.  She asks us to look up authors and print up a list of every book they’ve ever written so we can mail said lists to her.  We don’t do that anymore. 

She’ll order multiple books at a time and but after weeks of having them on hold will only purchase one or two.  Most of the books she’s read already.  Most of them she either owns already or takes out from the library.  Her name is Joan.  We all know her voice now.

Joan: I need this book by Taylor Lautner.

Me: I don’t have anything written by him.

Joan: It’s about werewolves.

Me: Do you know the actual author’s name.

Joan: Taylor Lautner.

Me: Nope.  It isn’t.

Joan:  It’s called “Twilight’s Fearless Werewolf.”

Me: I see that title, it’s “Taylor Lautner: Twilight’s Fearless Werewolf.”  But it’s written by Elaine Landau.  We can order it but it is not in the store.

Joan: Ok.  Can you tell me what it’s about?

Me: It’s about Taylor Lautner.

Joan: And he’s the werewolf right?

Me: Yes, he’s a werewolf.

Joan: How long would it take to come in.

Me: About a week.

Joan: ….

Me: Did you want—

Joan: I’ll have to call back.

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Twilight the Animated Series, fingers crossed…

the Third of Four Mild Invectives on Originality

Everybody’s up in arms about originality, especially with the moving pictures where Hollywood seems to be trolling through books, graphic novels, and potential remakes, sequels and reboots at an alarming rate.  Yeah, you’re saying they’ve always done this; books have always been targeted by Hollywood, and the explosion in popularity of more independent graphic novels is the natural evolution of this.

Remakes and reboots are nothing new, so get over it.  Cecil B. DeMille remade his film The Buccaneer twenty years later, although due to his illness he had to turn most of the control over to his son in law.  And his film The Squaw Man, based on the play of the same name?  He remade that one twice.

Demille’s most famous film, The Ten Commandments?  He did that one before too, as a silent film in 1923.  That remake is the sixth highest grossing film of all time after inflation, and was nominated for seven Academy Awards.

But no, no you’re right, remakes should be outlawed.

I’m not saying every remake is gold, and there are plenty of lists out there ranking the best and worst of them.  Oddly enough, The Departed shows up on both lists.  Most people agree that among the worst remakes out there are Psycho (for no other reason than what was the point—Gus, if all you wanted was to watch  Psycho in color, I think there’s cheaper ways to do it than remake the entire movie shot for shot) Planet of the Apes, Swept Away, and the Wicker Man.

But without remakes we wouldn’t have True Lies, the Thing, the Fly, or the Maltese Falcon.  Or the Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which was remade in 1993 and then again as the Invasion.  That latest one shows up on some ‘worst remake’ lists because it was more a Prozac overdose than alien invasion compared to the ’78 version and because it has a happy ending.  Mostly it was the happy ending.

Remakes and reboots, trolling graphic novels and tween vampire fan fiction isn’t all Hollywood has in its sights now.  Apparently one does not need a narrative, characters or a plot of any kind to adapt into a movie these days.

For proof of that see the rumors that Summit Entertainment is looking for any way to keep their Twilight franchise going beyond the last film, from spinoffs to remaking the entire series with a new cast.  Summit claims this isn’t true, and while they’d back Stephanie Meyer if she continued the series, they’re not planning anything else.

I’m sure they’re simply concerned about fan reaction to a spinoff and undermining the artistic impact of the vampire/romance genre.  They’d like to keep Twilight pure.  Or maybe they’re just hammering out the final details for the Beetlejuice-esque cartoon series.

They really wouldn’t have to change much.   And just for the record, that is totally Robert Pattinson’s hair.

Studios have their hands full right now anyway.  They don’t have time to write Twilight spinoffs—not when they’re sending their interns into bookstores to ask where the nonfiction section is.

For the last few years self-help books and other guides have become the new farmlands of hack script writers living in the studio rom-com machine.

He’s Just Not That Into You?  Act Like a Woman, Think Like a Man?  What to Expect When You’re Expecting?  Self help books lobotomized and crowned with a title that already has an established recognition factor?  Queen Bees and Wannabees was partly the basis for Mean Girls, and that worked out pretty well.  Mining the self help shelves for the next ensemble comedy project seems like desperation to a certain degree, but they’re making money.

He’s Just Not That Into You was made for $40 million and took in over $178; What to Expect When You’re Expecting had the same budget and after three weeks in theaters is up to $45 million.  Think Like a Man was made for $12 million and after almost two months has taken in $92 million, knocking the Hunger Games out of the top spot its opening weekend.

I picture a handful of people sitting around a boardroom table bored out of their minds with nothing to pitch, until their conversation meanders around to whatever self help fad paperback their equally bored wives are reading this week; after each making fun of their significant others for a few minutes they realize they can spend a day and bang out a script based on what little they’ve gleaned from their wives’ incessantly babbling about the book.

Ninety-percent of the script is probably spliced together from the handful of rejected or shelved idea they’d already come up with.

That’s how we almost got a sequel to Se7en—some crap-assed script about a psychic FBI agent that they rewrote as Somerset to market it as Ei8ht.  At least David Fincher had the good sense to point out that it was a fucking stupid idea and made no sense, so that was scrapped.  Until someone asked, “Why don’t we just film the original script, you know, the one that had nothing to do with Seven?”  And now Anthony Hopkins is apparently starring in it under its original title.

My point is, there’s a shit-ton of scripts lying around.  Who’s going to notice if you take a male lead here and a female supporting character there, throw in some crap from abandoned Ashton Kutcher flick, ask yourself, “What would John Hughes do?” and then do that in the shittiest way possible.

No, that can’t be how it’s done, right?

Why not?

It isn’t about making movies anymore; it’s just about marketing a movie ticket, and with bestselling self-help books that’s pretty much in the bag already.

All that’s left is finding a leading man with some abs and a good smile, an actress hot enough for guys to sit through with their girlfriends but not too hot that the girlfriends will hate her, and whatever happens between the opening and closing credits is altogether inconsequential.  As long as there’s a handful of stereotypical jokes about how guys are like children and would starve to death in a day on a pile of dirty laundry you’re good.  Then the smiling abs guy apologizes in some overblown grand and romantic fashion.

Think of the ending for How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days where Matthew McConaughey has to jump on his super cool motorcycle and chase down the one cab out of over thirteen thousand in New York City with Kate Hudson in it.  He finds it of course; stopping traffic on the George Washington Bridge so he can convince her his abs would be way more satisfying than achieving her lifelong dream of writing about politics in Washington DC.

No, it’s totally cool that there’s already construction on the bridge constricting traffic, making a hellish commute even worse—he has to bring her their love fern and save the day.  Then make out.  And make you late for work.  But that’s cool; you didn’t need that job anyway.

Remaking the Reboot of the Sequel of a Flop

the Second of Four Gibberings on Originality

And what’s really wrong with selling out?  With proclaiming “Unputdownable” Patterson as your god and mapping out your own beach read mystery series with a spunky female lead and loveable animal sidekick?

Sell out—everybody’s doing it.  Go for the quick buck, the easy money.  Artistic integrity?  I don’t think my creative writing classes ever covered that. 

Good literature doesn’t sell.  Most of it will sit on the shelf until maybe the spine catches someone’s eye.  Unless you’re on a talk show or a big name already, you’re probably not going to get noticed.  Then you’ll get returned and recycled into the next Alex Cross Christmas giveaway novella.

On the other hand, if you write some bondage filled Twilight fan fiction you’re set for life.

People seem to have learned their lesson somewhat between Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey.  With Twilight all you heard was women and teenaged girls squealing about how it was the greatest book every written, oh my god! the story is so good, and it’s so well written—you have to read it!  By the time 50 Shades of Grey those squealing voices proclaiming the next Nobel Prize for Fiction have quieted a bit.  Everyone admits the writing is shit, but there’s sex in it and a rich guy telling you what to do.  Might as well win a Pulitzer.

Name one of the finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction.

Name Bella Swan’s hometown.

Now go fuck yourself.

Clearly originality is overrated.  Can you still be creative working with someone else’s idea, taking their work and using it as a foundation for your own?  Inspiration from the already inspired.  New writers are brought in on TV shows and movies, and no one cries foul on their reworking of someone else’s idea.

There are anthologies out there of short stories inspired by songs and whatever else.  Why is that acceptable?  Stories inspired by works of art are fine, but not stories inspired by other stories.  Movies inspired by other movies.  Why not borrow from them, they’ve already borrowed from somewhere else.

Copies of copies of copies of copies.  Merging,copying, adapting, constantly rewriting what we don’t like.

Isn’t that what the human race is anyway?  If art imitates life then it makes sense that we should constantly be borrowing and adapting, remaking, rebooting.

Covers of songs are acceptable.  Remixes two weeks after the original is released is completely run of the mill now.  Completely normal there, but announce the Amazing Spiderman, and suddenly everyone’s saying, “Whoa whoa whoa, too soon!”

Two homes can have the same foundation, the same exterior walls, the same shape.  But the interiors can be completely different, with different rooms of different sizes, individual layouts and distinctive decors.

From the outside they may appear to be the same house, but take the time to walk through them and each will show you another world.

Or maybe the only difference is where they put the shitter.

Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere centers around an ordinary guy in London getting drawn into this mysterious world below the city.  He has to travel into this London Below to save a woman.  Grand fantastical adventures and such ensue.  Heard that before.  Not very original.  Sounds like a hero’s quest into Hades.  How many myths reused that idea, the quest into the underworld?

Anyone ever see the first Troll movie?  Probably not.  The sequel to it is considered one of the worst movies of all time, but the first one, staring that kid from the Neverending Story, centers around the Potter family moving to a new apartment in San Francisco.  The original ADA from Law & Order is in it too, he plays the senior to Noah Hathaway’s Junior Potter—and their first name?  Harry.

Yeah, one of the worst film series of all time has ties to one of the most successful film series of all time, the main characters’ names are Harry Potter.

Way to go J.K. Rowling.  Real original.

It will follow the plot of the original, just a lonely laundry room troll looking for a friend to play ball with.

And while we’re on the subject of Troll, there’s a remake planned for a 2012 release with the same director as the original and a budget of $65 million.

So while roughly 12 million people are unemployed in this country, the worst film series of all time gets to give it another shot with a budget over sixty-five times the original.  The best of the series, the first one, which a handful of people have actually reported sitting through in its entirety, only made $5 million.

$65 million.

That seems about right.

The director and producer of that original 9th place opening weekend box office juggernaut try to stir some shit every once in a while by claiming Rowling ripped their film off, not only with the name of her character but several other details or scenes. 

What other elements did she steal from you?  Magic?  I don’t think that one’s yours.

Of course she denies that their piece of crap in any influenced her, and how would it?  When would she have time to watch some shit American movie that barely ranks above Manos: the Hands of Fate?  Plotting one’s conquest of the entire planet can be time consuming.

If anything, they should both be thanking her, because without the near god-like status Harry Potter has achieved, they wouldn’t be remaking anything.

Have I mentioned Sonny Bono is in Troll?  He gets turned into a tree penis.  Or something.  It’s been a while since I tried to watch it.

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