Friday, December 19, 2014

The best of 2014

All categories included here, so this is the best of the best. Five things from the pop culture world of 2014 that resonated the most for me.

Most inspirational album

“1000 Forms of Fear” by Sia.

The electropop artist followed up her 2012 monster David Guetta produced hit, “Titanium”, with a new album jam-packed with catchy feel-good melodic anthems and adrenaline-stirring lyrics designed to make you want to get up and move. The ultimate workout playlist.

Best sequel since “The Empire Strikes Back”

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” built upon its character driven prequel, taking us on an adrenaline filled emotional roller-coaster, creating epic imagery and intimate character moments that stay with us long after the final credits and the strains of Michael Giacchino’s moving score have faded. This is brilliant, tight, cinematic storytelling at its finest.

Best science fiction film since “2001”

Christopher Nolan’s epic received many of the usual cynical (and often ignorant) reviews that accompany all complex, ambitious, cerebral attempts at science fiction. It is a remarkable film, a wondrous journey filled with exhilarating moments of grandeur. It is also one of most emotionally affecting father/daughter stories you will ever see. Makes for a perfect double feature with “Contact” (1997).

Lana Del Rey

It seems like I was the only one on the planet who got Lana Del Rey during her fabled (and widely despised) SNL appearance back in early 2012. But this past year saw a sold-out (and nearly impossible to get tickets for) tour, a critically praised and commercially successful new album, “Ultraviolence”, a short film, a new batch of hypnotic cinematic music videos, and two outstanding cover stories in mainstream magazines (Rolling Stone and Maxim).

Best feel good show ever

CW’s “The Flash” is one of the most confident television series you will ever see. The casting is spot on. This show knows exactly what it is because the writers know exactly what they are doing; hitting every story beat and emotional crescendo with perfect timing and just the right touch, all of it underscored by composer Blake Neely’s outstanding music.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Ten random, revealing, and ridiculous facts about the author

1) Pop music

I love pop music. The most played artists on my iPod are Garbage, Pink, Katy Perry, Zedd, Lana Del Rey, One Republic, Charlie XCX, Ellie Goulding, John Williams, Michael Giacchino, and Sia.

2) First story ever

The first official typed out and fully presented story I wrote was for a school project in the spring of 1977 (at the age of 12). It was a hilarious, over the top epic space opera called “Among the Stars”, inspired by the classic “Star Trek” episode “The Gamesters of Triskelion” and year two of “Space 1999”. One of these days I’ll get it digitized and make it available.

3) Evolution in reverse

I am missing the human gene ally that caused the hominid predecessors of Homo Sapiens to begin losing their fur (very roughly beginning about 1.2 million years ago). That is why I am such hirsute barbarian bastard.

4) Primal essence

This is what I would look like if I ceased all grooming measures.

5) Odd jobs

I worked in a steel mill, a cemetery, in security, was a stockbroker, and pitched screenplays in Hollywood.

6) I watch soap operas

It used to be “General Hospital” but now I am hooked on “The Young and the Restless”. Hey, Victor was in “Escape from the Planet of the Apes”, so that has to count for something. Out of the prime time soaps, I used to love “The O.C.”.

7) Must get faster

Currently trying to work on my explosive speed to get faster in the 50 and 100 meter sprints.

8) Smart and dumber

I used to be smart (with an I.Q of 147). But the ravishes of time and age have left me somewhat dim-witted and sluggish. But I do still have an excellent grasp of temporal physics and still remember every movie credit, chart, or sports stat I ever saw and even can recite old articles and reviews I read as a kid. Bizarre.

9) Legacy

My next novel (a new “Caitlin Star” adventure that will bring the current trilogy to an unforgettable conclusion) will be my tenth published book. Proof that indeed I did exist.

10) What I really want to do is direct

 If I could do it all over again—yeah—I’d be a director.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Action writing 101

I love action scenes. I love reading them, watching them, and most of all, I love writing them. When an action sequence works it can rip and roar and flow and take you away into a fictional world of excitement and adventure. It can make your heart race and your adrenaline surge as you turn the page or stay glued to the screen—perched on the edge of your seat with euphoric exhilaration as you anticipate what will come next.

When an action scene works, it moves and flows like an expertly choreographed dance number. When an action sequence hits all the right visceral and emotional notes, there is nothing quite like it. It can be a true work of art.

But as every writer (and director, choreographer, comic-book artist, and film composer) knows, creating a great action sequence takes work—a lot of work. It can be a daunting, and at times overwhelming task. And like all intricate and labor intensive tasks, the best way to attack it is with planning and preparation. Lots of planning and preparation. As a mentor of mine once told me, “You want to be the best? Then outwork and out hustle and out prepare everyone else. Do what no one else is willing to do.”

Here a few tips that may help when trying to create that killer action scene.


This is the tried and true technique used by filmmakers throughout the ages. There are a ton of great books out there on the subject. Put simply, storyboards are comic book style panels that visualize the scene or sequence. It is a great way to get a feel for the visual flow of the action and keep the imagery of the scene organized. Once you have your images down and sequenced, it can provide an excellent reference when novelizing the scene—keeping you organized and insuring the reader can follow the flow of the action. Always remember, confused readers become ex-readers.

Remember these storyboards are for you—a writing tool. No one else has to see them so you do not have to be Jim Lee or Jack Kirby. Spielberg was famous for doing stick figure storyboards—and created some of the most exhilarating action sequences in cinematic history.


A cousin of the storyboard and an option for those who hate to draw and think in more mechanical or mathematical terms. Essentially this means using a chalkboard or marker tablet (or digital tablet), and drawing up the scene as if you were executing a sports play in soccer, basketball, American football, hockey etc.

Get Physical

If you are physically able and healthy, do some type of exercise. The best time to visualize action scenes and work out all the details, is when working out, literally. I write several scenes a day during my two-a-day training sessions.


Oh you know exactly what I mean. Nothing, and I mean nothing is more a powerful creative enhancer than music. Listen to your favorite action music, and let it flow over you as the scene plays out. Learn to let go—really let go. Let the music transport you and take you inside the scene.
If this sounds a bit crazy then so be it. A creative writer is an artist and an artist needs to be a bit insane. You are creating imaginary worlds and making them real. If you want sane and normal, forget about writing and look into becoming an accountant or insurance salesman.

Get into character

I prefer to write novels sequentially—at least through the first two drafts. But often I will just leave some of the more complex action sequences to later. Writing a proper action sequence requires intense mental preparation. The storyboards and the diagrams and the music all help, but ultimately one must get into character. You need to FEEL the action. When you write an emotional scene your eyes better be filled with tears. When you write an action scene your pulse should be pounding—your heart ready to beat out of your chest. You need to live this stuff. If you do not feel it, then trust me, neither will your reader.


Read screenplays, in particular action screenplays. I will not tell you to go to the various well sites known to house various drafts of hundreds of thousands of scripts since technically these are illegal copyright violations. Instead, look into the officially published versions—almost all the best ones are available on the retail level. James Cameron writes (and directs) the best action scenes and his screenplays read like novels. Anything written by Shane Black is worth tracking down.  I have a copy of the “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” screenplay (officially published by Lucasfilm in the true screenplay format) and I often read to get the juices flowing. Remember action scenes are all about planning and structure—the essence of screenwriting.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

'Battle Beyond the Stars'

"Battle Beyond the Stars" is the best "Star Wars" ripoff ever. The film possesses a unique and colorful charm leading to its enduring status as a cult film; sort of a low budget (very low budget) "Guardians of the Galaxy" of its day.

Of all the “Star Wars” inspired ripoffs, “Battle Beyond the Stars” (1980) has a unique place in film history. The Roger Corman produced space opera opened (mostly at drive-ins) on September 8, 1980. The only mainstream publicity the movie received was on “Siskel & Ebert at the Movies” where it earned their infamous dog of the week. Actually, that is a complement when one considers some of the other films Siskel and Ebert gave that award to, including David Croneberg’s prophetic masterpiece “Videodrome” (1983).

Several factors make “Battle Beyond the Stars” unique among the post “Star Wars” late 1970s sci-fi shlock. First is the “Seven Samurai” inspired script by acclaimed independent filmmaker John Sayles (“Lone Star”, “Eight Men Out”). Sayles was a master of low budget genre writing at the time. He also scripted two of Joe Dante’s early classics, the “Jaws” (1975) ripoff “Piranha” (1978), and arguably the greatest werewolf movie ever made, “The Howling” (1981).

Second is the bizarre and colorful cast full of Hollywood legends and cult actors including John SaxonSybil Danning, Richard Vaughn, Darlanne Fluegel, and George Peppard. Casting Richard Thomas, John Boy Walton himself, as the young swashbuckling hero who must lead this band of adventures into battle is easily the greatest casting coup in the history of low budget cinema. This movie knows how to have fun.

Third, there is the special effects and art direction, specifically the design of the spaceships. The ships have a very similar look to the vehicles in “The Terminator” (1984), “Aliens” (1986), and “Avatar” (2009). That is because they were created by none other than James Cameron who was hired as the movie’s model maker and ended up taking over the art direction and production design.

Fourth, and most significantly, what gives “Battle Beyond the Stars” its special allure is the rousing musical score composed by a 26 year-old James Horner. Like the rest of the movie, the music was made on a low budget. But even though the score was created in less than ideal conditions with an undersized orchestra of 62 players, the soundtrack has an astonishingly big sound.

The heroic main theme from “Battle Beyond the Stars” is a stirring march. It is a triumphant, pound your fists in air kind of theme wrapped up in a crescendo of soaring nautical flavored adventure music. The score is often referred to as “Star Trek II: The Warm-up” and indeed much of material that Horner would use for his 1982 classic “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn” gets a trial run here.

“Battle Beyond the Stars” has a wonderful, fully developed, irresistible love theme, one of Horner’s best. There is also some exciting action music that would serve as the template for later, far more polished scores such as the aforementioned “Star Trek II” (1982), “Krull”(1983), and “Aliens” (1986).

The music from “Battle Beyond the Stars” remains as popular as ever among soundtrack collectors and Horner fans and has been released twice on CD. First in 2001 by GNP Crescendo. Then in 2011 a new, expanded album was released by BSX records.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

'Land of the Lost', soundtrack review

Franchise starved Universal Pictures blew a tremendous opportunity in 2009 with “Land of the Lost”. Inter-dimensional travel, temporal mechanics, lost cities, menacing humanoid lizard creatures, and rampaging dinosaurs were some of the mainstays of the Sid and Marty Kroft produced NBC Saturday morning live action series “Land of the Lost”, which ran from 1974-1976. It may have been a children’s show, but this was a serious adventure series. Despite the low budget there was a creepy other-worldly sense of mystery and wonder to the show. Many of the scripts were written by the best science fiction writers of the day including Theodore Sturgeon, Larry Niven, Ben Bova, Norman Spinrad, Dorothy Fontana and series co-creator and story editor David Gerrold.

This was a show ripe for an intelligent update ala J.J. Abrams. But instead the producers decided to turn it into a Will Ferrell comedy—and a wretched, offensively unfunny one at that. Note to the producers at Universal: The best way to launch a franchise is not to insult the fan base by mocking them.

Perhaps the greatest irony is that these same tone deaf producers hired Michael Giacchino to write the score for the “Land of the Lost” movie. Giacchino is of course the composer of “Lost”—a serious (and wildly successful) approach to the same themes as “Land of the Lost”.

Thankfully, Giacchino does take the material seriously, creating an exciting score in the Jerry Goldsmith tradition by scoring the film that should have been made, as opposed to the awful one that was.

The “Land of the Lost” soundtrack album is jam-packed with 32 tracks of orchestral blast—an exciting and colorful array of “Lost” style adventure music.

Among the highlights are “Swamp and Circumstance”, a creepy suspense motif, “The Lighter Side of Archaeology”, actually a scary “Lost” style danger motif, and “A Routine Expedition” which introduces the main theme, an irresistible  “The Incredibles” style James Bond  rift complete with a banjo and electric guitars.

“Never Trust a Dude in a Tunic” begins with big, lush, romantic golden age style string swell before morphing into an escalating danger cue with a wonderful sense of mystery. Then, the track transitions again finishing off with a gorgeous “Lost” style sentimental motif that is developed throughout the score as the soundtrack’s emotional theme. As has been said in these pages many times, no current composer brings more accessible emotion to the table than Michael Giacchino. His ability to create deeply affecting music, (even within the context of a putrid project such as this one), is astounding.

Giacchino also writes some of the best action music in film and television today, and “Land of the Lost” is no exception. This is more than anything, an action score, and one that is brimming with exciting, propulsive, adrenaline inciting cues.  The absurdly entitled “When Piss on Your Head is a Bad Idea” is a rousing piece of music, as exciting as anything you will hear on any soundtrack today. “Undercover Sleestak” is a pulse-pounding statement of the main theme and primary action motif.

Bottom Line: “Land of the Lost” is a colorful, entertaining soundtrack full of exciting adventure music and further evidence Giacchino is the closest thing to the modern version of a Williams/Goldsmith/Horner.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

'Island in the Sky'

Aside from two outstanding scores—Michael Giacchino’s moving epic music for “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and Alexandre Desplat’s bombastic fury for “Godzilla”, it has been a dismal year for fans of memorable film music. The year’s biggest blockbuster, “Guardians of the Galaxy”, sent moviegoers scurrying to their smart phones as the credits rolled to buy the catchy (and brilliantly utilized) collection of joyful ‘70s pop classics—as opposed to the original score actually playing on the credits—a functional but tepid assembly of weak, undeveloped musical meanderings barely heard during the movie.

It is hard to believe that nearly fifty years ago music was being written for the debut of a CBS television series called “Lost in Space” with a level of astute musical craftsmanship and complexity far beyond anything likely to be seen at a multiplex—or anywhere else—in 2014.

John William’s music for the Irwin Allen television trio of the 1960s (“Lost in Space”, “Land of the Giants”, and “Time Tunnel”) is a stunning body of innovative work that helped lay the groundwork for his legendary career scoring many of the greatest blockbusters and acclaimed dramas of all time. In many ways, Williams used utilized these shows as an experimental canvas in the same way Michael Giacchino used “Lost” to create musical ideas he would come back to and develop further in films such as “Super 8”, “John Carter”, and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”.

Of the three Allen shows, it is “Lost in Space” where Williams spent the most time honing his magical artistry, and there is perhaps no better example than in “Island of the Sky”, the third episode in the show’s glorious black and white first season.

“Lost in Space” is now famous for its campy style featuring the buffoonery of Dr. Smith. But during the first season—especially the early episodes—this was a serious, dramatic, (and wonderfully melodramatic) adventure show, and John Williams (under the guise of “Johnny Williams”) scored it as such.

The score to “Island in the Sky” can be found in its entirety in the 40th anniversary soundtrack by La-La Land and in a less than complete form on Volume One of the old GNP Cresendo set.

“Island in the Sky” opens with “Strange Planet/John’s Descent”, a powerhouse suspense cue that builds with a pulsating wave of brass, flourishing with both vertical and horizontal movements beyond the grasp of most composers working today. Immediately there is a sense of danger and mystery. The amount of musical depth packed into this short cue is amazing. Many moments feel like they could be out of the darker shadings of a “Star Wars” or “Indiana Jones” movie.

“Helmet It” is downright scary. Among the many treasures to indulge in here are some of William’s best horror music moments foreshadowing later work in “The Fury” and “Dracula”.
“Strangle Hold/Landing” is the showcase piece of the score; an absolute knockout action cue bursting with layered motifs, propulsive brass, escalating rhythms, and a relentless sense of excitement. This 6:27 cue is a precursor of many set pieces featured in future William’s blockbusters. This complex, intricately action music that is always accessible and goes somewhere with a sense of purpose.

“Lil’ Will and The Robot” continue the suspense and dramatic tension with escalating swings of brass in what became the trademark music of this series, and reservoir of motif gesturing used in later works by Williams, especially “Jurassic Park” and “The Lost World”.

“Search for John” is a full-fledged, beautifully crafted dramatic suspense cue with a building sense of mystery and danger. The excitement and shimmering wonder continue as the score soars to its finale in “Monkey’s Doo”, “Operation Rescue”’ and “Personal Chauffeur/Electric Sagebrush/Will Is Threatened”. Every moment in this score has something musically rich for the ear to hang on to. As with his future works. Williams always develops his ideas and knows where he wants to go with them.

Bottom line: “Island in the Sky” is an exciting, propulsive, colorful, avant-garde musical masterwork and a wonderful chance to explore the musical formations of John William’s blockbuster style of scoring.

My top ten everything

There is something irresistible, something addictive about top ten lists. I am incapable of passing one by if a link pops up on a page I am browsing. I love reading them—and writing them. As always these are favorites, highly subjective, and intensely personal in a “hey dude you need to get a life” kind of a way.

TV shows (all genres and formats)

24 – FOX (2001-2010, 2014)
The X-Files – FOX (1993-2002)
Unsolved Mysteries – NBC (1987-1997)
Mad Men – AMC (2008-2015)
Star Trek – NBC (1966-1969)
Homeland – Showtime (2011-present)
The Simpsons – FOX (1989-present)
The Walking Dead – AMC (2010-present)
Fringe – FOX (2008-2013)
Bewitched – ABC (1964-1972)


Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Videodrome (1983)
Falling Down (1993)
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
JFK (1991)
Empire of the Sun (1987)
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Wall Street (1987)
The Bear (1989)
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Books (fiction)

Brak the Barbarian (John Jakes)
Logan’s Run (William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson)
The World Inside (Robert Silverberg)
The Bastard (John Jakes)
Conan the Adventurer (Robert. E. Howard)
Batman comics (Dennis O’Neil, Neal Adams circa 1970)
Crash (J.G. Ballard)
Contact (Carl Sagan)
Brainwave (Poul Anderson)
Firefly Lane (Kristin Hannah)


So Close - Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz performed by Jon McLaughlin (2007)
Gods and Monsters – Lana Del Rey (2013)
Viva La Vida - Coldplay (2008)
Live and Let Die – Paul McCartney and Wings (1973)
Push it – Garbage (1998)
California Dreaming – The Mamas & the Papas (1965)
Kokomo – The Beach Boys (1988)
American – Lana Del Rey (2013)
Make That Move – Shalimar (1981)
I See You (Theme from Avatar) – James Horner and Kuk Harrell performed by Leona Lewis (2009)


Amy Adams
Eva Green
Viola Davis
Mia Kirshner
Julianne Moore
Kate Beckinsale
Dakota Fanning
Naomi Watts
Zoe Saldana
Brit Marling


Denzel Washington
Michael Douglas
Al Pacino
Tom Hanks
Christian Bale
Samuel L. Jackson
Gene Hackman
Morgan Freeman
Jeff Bridges
Vin Diesel

Related links 

Hollywood Search for ‘Caitlin Star’