November 7th, 2009


The Pendulum Swings...Not Far Enough Back

I would love to be a screenwriter and write movies.  Unlike most people looking to break into the biz, though, I not only had realistic expectations, but I wanted them to be realistic.  I figured I would be writing genre flicks, like what Roger Corman does.  I would have been perfectly happy doing that, making scale but writing several scripts a year and seeing my stuff at the video store.  I didn't have to be some screenwriter lunching with the Power Elite, I wanted to be the Bruce Campbell of screenwriting.

The problem is, I embarked on my campaign at the worst possible time.  Miramax had figured out how to make a run at being a successful company.  They had a boutique approach.  They went to Sundance, acquired films for a song (because they were low budget, it was almost impossible for the filmmakers and Miramax to make money), and released them.  Box office didn't have to be super to be profitable, and there were so many awards pouring in, everyone wanted in on the act.

Suddenly, indie movies were mainstream.  You had major stars making personal artistic visions and crowding out the true indies.  Genre flicks moved to cable to survive, and taking flyers on new talent was not done anymore.  You had a staff you knew could deliver within the narrowly defined landscape.  Anyone looking to go with video (i.e. Troma) had to make sure their stuff had the appeal needed to justify the expense.  The days of making movies for home video crowds were over thanks to the major studios turning home video into another marketing business and crowding those without a bankroll out.  Check out the book Down And Dirty Pictures to a forensic examination of the trend.

Time marches on.  At first, people thought the blockbuster movies couldn't get any bigger.  Then came the super hero movie craze.  They are now crowding the mainstream indies out of theaters.  And unlike genre films, the avenues for home video and cable are far more limited (there's a kajillion channels, on cable and regular UHF, that love to fill their schedules with cheezy flicks.  Mainstream indies have IFC, Sundance, and that's about it).

Proof that mainstream indies are almost dead came in the form of Miramax.  Miramax had a slate of three movies per year to aim for the indie crowd.  They were Adventureland, The Boys Are Back, and Extract.  They all underperformed (a Mike Judge movie that almost no one knew about and buried on the last summer weekend?  Did they learn nothing from Idiocracy?).  The Weinstein Company, by the by, isn't doing that much better, with Inglorious Basterds just barely keeping them in the black.  Daniel Battsek, president of Miramax, is stepping down.  Remaining employees at Miramax are being moved from New York to Burbank.  The writing is on the wall -- Miramax is going to be assimilated into Disney.  The pioneer of the brave new world is history.

Miramax, to its credit, did look for new and unusual talent, from Kevin Smith to Robert Rodriguez.  It just would have been nice if things kept moving in a direction to allow other indies to get their shot at success.

That's Not Spending Your Money Very Well, M$

M$ has gone berserk trying to force Linux off the netbook market.  Selling ultra-cut rate XP licenses and trying to create a netbook market where the machines can actually run Fista (of course, this means they are more expensive, so they don't go anywhere.  Why buy a tiny machine for $550+ when you can get a regular laptop for that?).  And they started bragging that Linux had only 7% of the netbook market.  Most of us observers already knew that was bullshit, but we didn't have proof.

Now, we do.  ABI Research has been digging and found that 32% of the netbook market runs Linux (roughly the same as servers).  Despite:

1)  M$ and Intel twisting Asus' arm to kill off the Snapdragon

2)  MSI claiming that their Linux netbooks had a four time higher return rate than the Win machines

3)  $7 licenses for XP on the machines

4)  Companies like Dell charging more for the Linux and XP machines than the Fista and Win7 machines

M$ tried to catch up with Linux when, at the launch of the netbooks from Asus, the market was 50-50.  So, they gained roughly 18% on Linux despite shelling out so much cash.

Combine this with M$ trying to "help" Eclipse (I suspect because people aren't interested in shelling out for the VStudio licenses), and M$ is in bigger trouble than they admit.

Oh, wait.  We have proof that they are in serious trouble.  M$ is "open sourcing" (it's not FOSS, but it is open source) part of the Win7 API's.  So there are coders acting as volunteers to make Win7 better instead of the people being paid to do it for a living.

When M$ embraces open source to make a better product, they are definitely in trouble.
Peter G

Feel The Byrne, Baby!

You know, I talk a lot of smack about a lot of people.  So when someone does something classy, I have to mention it and salute them.  I've already extended some sympathy points to Rob Liefeld.  Can't stand the guy or his artwork, but when Yellow Hat Guy tried to humiliate him, he reacted with a lot of restraint and humor.  It would make me a terrible person if I didn't acknowledge something like that.

And today, I must salute another person I really don't think much of:  John Byrne.

I'm not going to rehash my complaints about Byrne, because it is very easy for me to fall into trash talk about the guy.  He has fantastic talent, but his personality is very toxic and self-righteous.  Which makes this story even more surprising to me, and why I have to tip my hat to this act of genuine class.

First, the background:  in 2006, a Doctor Strange fan named Gerry Turnbull decided to commission a sketch.  It was from Michael Golden, who has done lots of classic work, including Rom The Space Knight, Micronauts, and Doctor Strange.  Turnbull went through Golden's agent and paid $500 cash up front for a Doctor Strange commission.  He was told it would take six weeks.

Took lots longer than that.

Turnbull sent e-mails and called, asking about the status of his commission.  Meanwhile, Golden was still hitting conventions and doing other commissions.

Finally, after ten months, the $500 commission from Golden arrived.  And it looked like this:

If you click to enlarge, you'll see it says "Patience is a virtue virue".  Talk about an insult.  Golden has gone on message boards defending his actions.  "Mr. Turnbull's account of events regarding the art he received is, in-and-of-itself, reasonably accurate, as far as I'm aware. He does take some liberties with a few specifics, however. He requested an inked SKETCH of Dr. Strange on 11X17 art board, period. Finished, cover-quality commissions started, at the time, at 2K. The price agreed to was based on my then-current pencil sketch rate multiplied by his request to have it inked and tweaked a bit more than the usual fare I was obliged to generate at conventions. He (and several of his associates) then proceeded to publicly trash, insult, make slanderous insinuations, and even threaten legal action against me (via LEI) if I didn't basically drop what I was doing and deliver the work he (they) demanded," and "What Mr. Turnbull received is an inked sketch, just shy of a finished drawing. It is clearly and unquestionably the character, Dr. Strange. It is Mr. Turnbull's right to be dissatisfied with the work, but to base that dissatisfaction on the fact that I drew the character enveloped in his cape speaks to his agenda, not mine. Perhaps Mr. Turnbull should request characters that don't wear capes. That Mr. Turnbull takes exception to a portion of the character being in heavy, dramatic shadow may suggest that he is unaware that such rendering is intrinsic and maybe even necessary to depicting this particular character in the context of mood and impact."  Thanks for being upfront about what he was going to get.  It's truly worth $500 for that when, because of the vagueness of the commission request, you could have just done a stick figure with some Doctor Strange embelishments.

Well, word got around (I heard the story last year and my jaw dropped).  But I didn't hear the part about Byrne's involvement.

Byrne heard the story and saw the finished artwork.

He got Turnbull's address.

He created a Doctor Strange piece (full figure, background, inked), worth far more than $500 and sent it to Turnbull.

For free.

Not a dime.  Nyet.  Nien.  Nothing.

Gets better.  I haven't tracked down the name yet, but supposedly another pro convinced Turnbull to give him the sketch.  The pro then colored the piece professionally and sent it back without charging a dime, not for shipping, not for time, nothing.

All as a gesture of friendship and an apology on behalf of professionalism.

So, much as I might not like to do it, I have give mad props to John Byrne and the colorist for doing right when they had no reason to be involved.  It's nice to see humanity still exists somewhere in the world, and in places you don't expect.