The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Awww Well...

"Success is the art of going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm."

Churchill? I forget who said that, but I sure understand it, and that's damn near a major guiding principle in Hollywood. Yesterday we finally had our phone meeting with Fox Searchlight on "The Good House" script--which we wrote last year. We were told it was "fantastic"--but there's a little problem, see...the problem is that no one in Hollywood knows what to do with a horror script revolving around a black family. It's pretty much never been done, and no one knows if there's a market for the project. No, it wasn't racism on the part of the execs--the exec in question is black! Purely market driven. So there goes a couple of years of work (although the project will undoubtedly be recycled and will serve our careers at some other point.


But anyone wondering why I think so much about race in cinema, there you go. I have to try to think a step ahead of where the crowd is going, and get out in front. Of course, I could just write about white people. Done that. And it grinds at my nerves, thinking that I'm not doing my part to heal the world. Maybe I'm wrong about that. But we're all made the way we're made, and this is a rock my heart really wants to roll. Back off, rest up, try again.


How do you do it? How do you keep your hopes up, keep falling in love with projects, keep putting your heart and soul into everything you do? The more you care, the more the disappointments hurt. Most of the time, I work for equanimity (as opposed to equine enmity. I don't like it when horses get pissed at me) because I don't like the roller coaster ride. But...if the call had been terrific yesterday, there would have been serious celebration. So...I took the chance. And after the bad news, felt like I'd been punched in the gut. Ah well, it's been worse. Feeling like you've been KNIFED in the gut is worse. Worse still when they twist the knife. It happens, trust me.

But not yesterday. Sigh. It's just back to the drawing board.


Nothing scientific about this, but of the yoga poses I have Jason do in the morning, I have a sense that headstands help his behavior most. Some combination of intensity, balance, calmed breathing, and perhaps even inverted perspective? Not sure, but it's certainly fun to gather data.


I take a six-sided die and throw it five times a day. 1-5 are the five basic Prasara flows, and #6 is the Warrior Wellness series (shortened a bit). And I do whatever comes up. I like not knowing what is next: it forces my body to stay prepared for any damn thing. That randomization seems healthy to me. Life, after all, is a series of unexpected changes. The combination of dynamic flexibility, balance and strength in yoga is wonderful. The major thing Coach Sonnon did is apply his breathing scale, and then to sequence the asana so that the movements BETWEEN poses are as important as the poses themselves. Transitioning from plow to shoulder bridge is really fascinating, especially when you slow it down and let yourself really feel the compression on your diaphragm. I've found that the Prasara sets are great for fighting Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), and boy oh boy, am I happy about that! A major bugaboo for me.


suzanne said...

How do you keep your hopes up, keep falling in love with projects, keep putting your heart and soul into everything you do? The more you care, the more the disappointments hurt.

it doesn't have to be this way . . .

Mike R said...

Ah sorry to hear that Steve.

So there has never been a Hollywood horror movie around a black family, but have there every been any independent horror movies around a black family? Or even a direct to video/dvd one? Seems like there has to be some market niche there.

Better luck next time. And there is always a next time.


L. R. Giles said...

Mr. Barnes, I'm sorry to hear about the disappointment yesterday. I don't know what to say . . . that just sucks. There is an audience for it, myself and plenty others I'm willing to bet. I hope you know that, despite this setback, you're still an inspiration to many of us who are struggling to get close to your level.

Pagan Topologist said...

Is this decision the sort of thing that could be reconsidered if you arranged some outside backers to finance making the movie? Or is that not how the business works?

John said...

"I work for equanimity (as opposed to equine enmity. I don't like it when horses get pissed at me)"


Sorry to hear about the project delay. Does Tyler Perry have his own production company?

Althea said...

I am truly sorry to hear this. It's frustrating. Rom and I saw this mystery thriller years ago called "Uninvited Guest," that apparently went straight to DVD. The movie has an all-black cast including Mekhi Phifer, Kim Fields, Mel Jackson, Wanya Morris, and Malinda Williams.

That was the only reason we could see why the movie went straight to DVD. It would not have won any Oscars, but in doing a Google search, I found that it won the Audience Award at the 1999 Urbanworld Festival and the Grand Prize at the Acapulco Film Festival.

And in an interview I found with Mekhi, he said the following:
"The most fucked-up thing about Hollywood is that every executive is trying to save his job, so they never like to be innovative. There
are no risks [being taken]. There's one nuance every 10 years, and then everybody rides the bandwagon."

Travis said...

Sorry to hear about the basd news on the project...

Seems to me like 'fantastic' out to be enough to carry the day regardless of the ethnicity involved...

maybe someday...

Travis said...

clearly I meant 'bad' not 'basd'... darn fat fingers...

Anonymous said...

"...the problem is that no one in Hollywood knows what to do with a horror script revolving around a black family. It's pretty much never been done, and no one knows if there's a market for the project".

Really now? Kind of begs the question of what Tony Todd and the producers of the Candyman series would have to say on the subject. Now granted that the Candyman's family tree went from chocolate to vanilla in 100 and some odd years of generations, but still. Jeez. They've surely made enough sequels to know by now that there's SOME KIND of market for who in hell ever. Amazing.

Steve Perry said...

You, uh, got paid for the work you did, right? So while it might not be as big a success as you hoped it would be, it can't rightly be called a failure.

We all have projects in turnaround, dude.

No, strike that. Only a few of us who come here do, and we know folks would kill to have gotten that far.

Remember that next time you pass a guy leaning on a shovel next to a pile of steaming asphalt on a hot summer day; where we sit, we don't get to bitch much ...

Christian H. said...

I've found that the way to get movies like that made is to put up some of your own money.

Hell, you can shoot two really good scenes and have somethign to show how well the movie will perform.

That's what it's all about. Unfortunately, most execs are totally out of touch with the audience. Look at Fast and Furious. No one expected it to do $78M in one weekend. Or Sex and The City. Or Juno. Or a whole host of others.

Admittedly I write movies with whites for the money to make movies with blacks.

Maybe soon I'll sell one. Good luck though.

To me it's just like the job I have. If you love it, you'll never stop.

Steve Perry said...

I got a fortune cookie once at a Chinese restaurant, and I had the pithy little saying inside enlarged and posted over my desk, next to the other two sayings I like:

Fortune said, "Minimize expectations to avoid being disappointed."

(The others? "And in the the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."

And "Better the world's worst artist than the world's best critic ..."

Bumper-sticker philosophy, but hey, it works for me.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about that Steve. Rejection stings, no matter how 'grown up' we are. Like someone else said though, there is always next time. I guess that's what gets me back up on whatever horse I'm riding. I got to wake up again today so I get another chance to do it again/differently. AND every once in a while I take an hour or two or even a day and just wallow in it. I get bored and straighten up and get back to work.

Hang in there my friend.


Anonymous said...

The film business apparently works much like scientific research, where one invests time, energy and passion on pet projects, and sometimes it all vanishes in vapor. Still, most apparent losses yield are actually rich harvests of invaluable lessons packed with insight, connections and new directions. The nature of the tedious and painful, yet always fruitful march of progress was best expressed by Lenin: "Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back".

Unknown said...

That sucks, and I'm sorry to hear it. Being told that the thing you've been working on for the past X years was a waste of your time (at least in the short term) is one of the worst things.

I don't watch horror films, regardless of the race of the characters, but I'd watch "The Good House" if it were made.

Travis said...

So, Steve Perry brings up fortune cookies...

Just yesterday I was at a Mongolian resteraunt but they had fortune cookies. The cookies were in a jar with a sign that said, "From now on you chose your own fortune."

I liked that so much I didn't even bother with the cookie.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

Really sorry to hear it, Steve. Would have been nice to walk into a theater and see your & T's names up there on the screen.

Marty S said...

Its amazing how we humans can take a meaningless difference and turn it into a big deal. I inadvertently, demonstrated this the other night at our passover sedar. Its traditional at a sedar for person conducting the sedar to hide half of the middle matzoh and for the children to search for it. The child who finds the hidden matzoh gets a monetary reward. This is okay when there are several children as there are a lot of losers, but since only my two grandsons were at our sedar we decided to give both of them five dollars whoever found it. When they came back with the hidden matzoh I jokingly told them that we were going to give each of them the five dollars, but the one who found the matzoh would get to pick which five he wanted. The older one who found the matzoh now actually started inspecting the two fives, found some reason for preferring one five over the other, and the younger one started complaining it was unfair his brother got the better five. So why should we be surprised that racial differences cause the problems they do.

suzanne said...

that's a great story, Marty!
having raised two sons
it makes perfect sense
that that would happen!

Exquisitely Black said...

Frustrating, I hate hearing that there is only a market for one type of book, movie, short story, etc. I refuse to believe the execs - I have to believe that people are not so shallow as to only be able to enjoy a story by or about someone who look/talks/acts just like they do.

This is an outdated sentiment, and I think Hollywood and the Publishing industry fall back on this thought too easily.

Steve Perry said...

Devil's advocate here:

Of ten thousand movie scripts submitted for approval, only a relative handful will be green-lighted.

Of that relative handful -- call it a hundred -- only a few will actually reach the screen. Some will be paid for, but put into turnaround; some will go into production, but run out of money, or lose a star, or fail for various reasons. Some will wind up made, but go straight to video. Some will be made, but shelved and released years later -- or not at all.

This is how the biz works, and it happens every day. Executives will give a plethora of reasons why it happens, and sometimes what they say will be valid and sometimes it will be blown smoke.

Why this particular project didn't go forward might be due to racism, and I'm sure that's what Barnes was told. But: That doesn't mean it's the real reason, even if it might be.

One black guy telling another one, Hey, the white folks don't know what to do with it -- that might be the reason. Maybe he believes it is.

On the other hand ...

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry Steve and I must say I'm not surprised. I'm a newbie screenwriter and I've been to countless seminars and pitchfests and I've been told the exact same thing. Don't write a script with a predominately black,Asian or any other minority cast. I pitched a comedy screenplay that a few production companies loved until they read it and found out a black character was leading the way for most of the screenplay. After that I start writing screenplay's with white people in them and I'm already getting a better response to my work. I feel like I can't write what I feel, I guess in this business you have to write what sells. If audiences in America will not watch movies with an all black cast maybe we haven't progressed on the subject of race as much as we think we have.

Christian H. said...

I'd have to say that perhaps execs are more concerned with "economies of scale" than "racial\cultural sensitivity," but admittedly selling to the largest group when you're in that group may be second nature, not malicious.

There are plenty of people making any type of movie that's good so playing the odds with cinema is just like any other job market.

As an aside, Steve, if you can trust that I don't need your ideas I'd like to read it.

mjholt said...

I am really sorry to learn of this. Although not much of a horror fan, I would have spent my $5 for On Demand. It seems like the movie industry is just like the book industry: scared and ineffectual.

Steven Barnes said...

I don't think there's anything malicious. I think it's just fear. "Candyman" just has a black man as a monster. The core characters are mostly white. That's VERY different from building a film around a black family with hopes and dreams and loves.
If I worked with outside backers to arrange financing, it is possible to make movies, sure. That's called being a producer. I'm a writer. Producing is another entire ball of snakes: I know some of them, and they deal with other issues. As I make more connections, I wouldn't mind doing some of that. But man oh man, is that ever a crap-shoot. And the money people always want to have a say about the movie you make. Just a different set of issues.
I know that in a very very real sense I am blessed to be where I am. Doesn't stop it from hurting...but my realization of the rarified air I breathe can cut the healing time.

Angie said...

[Sorry this is late -- for some reason Google tends to save your posts and then dump them into my blog reader six or eight at a time.]

First, empathy on the disappointment. :( That always sucks, but having it be for such a reason is that much worse. It's so ridiculous; I don't know anyone, of my friends who are into horror movies at all, who would pass on a movie just because all the major characters were Black. I have to wonder whether Hollywood actually does regular surveys on this topic, or whether they're just going by historical data, which tends to be fundamentally biased based on existing assumptions. After all, if there aren't any non-comedy movies with all black or brown casts, then obviously no one's watching them, right...? [sigh]

How do you do it? How do you keep your hopes up, keep falling in love with projects, keep putting your heart and soul into everything you do? The more you care, the more the disappointments hurt.Yeah, they do. For me, I look at everything I write as practice, as an opportunity to work on my skills, try new things, figure out what works and what doesn't and how to improve. If I sell something, that's awesome. But if I don't, the work I put into it wasn't wasted because every word I've written since I was a kid has helped make me the writer I am today, the writer who has sold a few things and has had some good reviews and has made the short-list finals of an industry award (and lost to a book which was awesome, so that's okay).

It's tough when something I loved and worked hard on gets rejected, yeah. And right when it happens, I feel like crap; I can't help it because I'm human and that's just how we tend to be wired unless we've reached a state of enlightenment and tranquility I sure haven't hit yet. :) But eventually I just remind myself that even if no one wants that story right now, it was practice, and I'm a better writer for having written it, even if only by a tiny increment.

It's not perfect, but that's what works for me. Hang in there; we're all hoping Hollywood and American society in general will soon pull enough of its head out of its ass that race won't be an issue with movies like yours (or like the live-action Avatar movie, or the mini-series of Earthsea, or the Twenty-One movie, or.... [sigh])