Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 45

It's Crunch Time for the next month, as Ensley F. Guffey and I get the bulk of Wanna Cook? a bit further along the publishing hopper.  He's still doing Meth Monday (did you see it this week?) and I'm continuing with Walter White Wednesday - and we're both glad you stopped by to visit!

This week, for Walter White Wednesday, I want to take a moment to examine the sound of Breaking Bad.

Way back when, TV shows had theme songs - Gilligan's Island or The Beverly Hillbillies - c'mon, you know the words!  (In fact, you're probably humming them right now!)  That's less in favor now, but music is still a major part of most shows.  This is especially true of Breaking Bad.  Once you hear it, you won't forget it.

There are two people who are primarily responsible for the sound of the show - composer Dave Porter is tasked with coming up with the original music and music supervisor Thomas Golubic, whose job involves getting clearances to use prerecorded music - such as this brilliant gem.

Golubic also serves in the music supervisor capacity for Walking Dead, so he's a particularly busy fellow.  This interview details one of the most striking uses of music within Breaking Bad - the narcocorrido about the cartel's plans for Heisenberg.  It also includes Golubic's ideal playlist for . . . well, read the interview.  

Dave Porter prefers to keep sounds fresh and ever-evolving, and therefore tries to stay away from motifs associated with a particular character.  Yet, as he says in this interview, "Sonically,you always know you're watching Breaking Bad."

True, true. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 44

The dreaded red pencil!
We're in the midst of multiple deadlines right now, so it seems like a good time to give you an update on the actual "nuts 'n' bolts" of co-writing a book on a deadline.  

Review:  First up, be careful with whom you choose to collaborate.  Technically, I'm an academic and Ensley's an academic in training.  Therefore, you'd expect us to work with an "academic publisher" and we both have.  Now, academic books have a different market - those publishing houses primarily aim at college/university libraries rather than mass-market booksellers.  Small publishing runs are the norm and money is not your chief objective (seriously - I've run the math on my first book and if you divide the royalties I've received by the amount of hours I spent bringing that book forth, I'd have made more cashy money by picking tomatoes.  Not kidding.).  Writing an academic book (or chapters in several edited collections) is an important feather in your cap if you're prepping for a tenure review, but neither of us are.  Wanna Cook? is far more mass-market, meaning that it is intended to reach a different audience and that it's written in a different, less jargon-y style.  We needed a publisher who would let us write the way we wanted to (after providing them with samples, of course!) and who also understood the market we're trying to reach as well as having the resources and contacts to get us there.  We're very happy with ECW on all of those scores.

Side note:  If you're co-writing (or co-anything), be careful!  We've both heard, if not outright horror stories, unpleasant stories of folks who can be quick to snip at students with late work but have a hard time making their own deadlines.  At multiple points in a project like this, you have to trust your co-author to get their stuff together.  Deadlines shift and we've had to sit down with calendars more than once in the last year and map out when we reasonably thought we could get chunks of this project completed - and it always takes longer than you think it will, but at no point have I fretted that Ensley would leave me high and dry.  Nor, I think, has he fretted that I would.

Speculation:  You write a book like this in chunks - each episode has its own entry and each entry has its own parts.  You watch, you annotate, you double-check, you draft, you read each other's parts, then you edit and repeat.  Then, when you have a season drafted, you send your baby off into the cold, cruel Canadian world.  Then you wait.  And sometimes you wait more.  But don't worry, when your editor wants you to kick it into a higher gear - you'll know!  We're in that weird place now of not having all of the seasons drafted, yet working on refining and polishing early season drafts after they've gone through the first round of edits, and not knowing how the show will actually conclude its run, so we may need to go back and point out little things that bubble back up in the final eight episodes.  You sometimes need to remind yourself of what day it is.  

You also worry that you haven't caught everything - rest assured, you haven't.  That's one reason a co-writer is a good idea - you get a new set of eyes.  Ensley picks up on things that ride right on by me and I do the same for him.  But you also have to accept that there's some readerfan in Peoria who is going to see something that you both either flat-out missed or that you saw, but had to cut for length.  Deal - in the case of "you missed it," well, that's what makes Breaking Bad such a good show - there's so much there.  In the case of "too long, cut it," well, it's a guide, not a scholarly treatise and your publisher is serious about the word count.  If you keep "A," "B" is probably going to have to go.

Underline:  Don't forget to have fun.  Yes, this is work and yes, there are deadlines and yes, people expect you to put the emphasis on the first syllable of that word "deadline."  But it should also be fun - writing a book (ANY book) takes a tremendous amount of time and that's time that you could be spending on anything else - so make sure it's worthwhile.

That's where we are today.  Season 4 needs some attention and we plan to have that drafted and off to our intrepid editor by the end of the month.  We've line-edited season 1 (and boy! Is it eye-opening to see how our approach has changed from that first short season!) and will probably get season 2 for the edits by the end of the week.  Busy, busy time.

Don't forget to check in here every Wednesday and also make a standing date to check out my co-author Ensley Guffey's "Meth Monday" posts!  This week features our first ever guest posting as physicist and Breaking Bad fan Shimon Lerner explains some of the deeper meaning behind Walt's non de meth, Heisenberg.  It goes in some very interesting directions!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 43

For this week's Breaking Bad post - it's the Valentine's Day edition!  Now, Breaking Bad isn't exactly a hearts-and-flowers sort of show, but there are a few things worth examining here, so settle in with your heart-shaped box of Whitman's chocolates and ponder the following:

Review:  To quote another favorite show of mine, "Love makes you do the wacky."  I suppose it can be successfully argued that it's love that makes Walt "break bad" back in Season 1 when he throws his lot in with Jesse, but I'm not so sure about that.  Walt's much more about power (wanting it, anyway) and control.  Hank and Marie have a stronger - and certainly a "realer" - marriage.  Heck, even Wendy's more upfront about what she's out for.  Also on the plus side, Jesse has shown himself to be capable of deeper feelings, although he's careful to (mostly) keep them masked with a hearty "Yo, bitches!" 

Speculation:  Junior idolizes his dad (hmmm - that smells like teen spirit trouble).  In fact, when that breaks, I think the Johnstown Flood might look like a summer shower.  And, despite his undeniable loyalty to "Mr. White," Jesse's wrath if/when he learns of Walt's involvement in what happened with Jane and with Brock is likely to be white-hot.

Underline: Walt is undeniably brilliant as a chemist and throughout the run of Breaking Bad, he's been shown to be learning the steps of a dangerous dance as he moves from milksop high school teacher to badass drug kingpin. But as with all beginning dancers, he steps on toes and sooner or later, someone's not going to shrug it off by saying that Walt's too important, so just deal with it.  Then things are going to get very interesting for Walter White.

Don't forget to check in here every Wednesday and also make plans to check out my co-author Ensley Guffey's "Meth Monday" posts!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Something Old, Something New . . .

So this week, I'm taking a different approach.  Originally, I was thinking of doing a sort of Valentine's Day post, but I didn't really want to go all hearts 'n' flowers, so consider this the Bridal Fair posting.  I'll be discussing four films here - a something old, a something new, a something borrowed, and (yes) a something blue.

Up first - the "something old."  This is a classic film that deserves a look.  For this one, I chose Ball of Fire, which stars Gary Cooper as a stuffy professor and Barbara Stanwyck as a floozy nightclub singer with the truly unforgettable name of "Sugarpuss" O'Shea.  The film is loosely based on the Snow White tale, with a few gangsters thrown in.  Great fun, with a fast-paced story and some amazing slang that will make you shake your head and guess what's actually been said.

Next, the "something new."  Seven Psychopaths came and went this past summer and is now available on DVD.  It's a quirky little thing and I can easily see why it wasn't a huge hit.  However, it's a funny film and Christopher Walken alone is worth the price of the rental.  Add to that Colin Farrell speaking with his natural Irish accent, Woody Harrelson as a dog-loving gangster and Sam Rockwell playing (sort of) two roles and the rental price is an absolute bargain.

I decided that "something borrowed" could be defined as a foreign film, since that's something borrowed from another country.  (I decided England didn't count, so no Monty Python.)  I'm going with a classic here - Kurosawa's Ran.  A re-telling of the King Lear story (with samurais!), Kurosawa's use of color in this film is just breath-taking.  Don't let the "foreign-ness" throw you - Ran is a gorgeous film and after five minutes, the subtitles don't throw you at all.

Last, the "something blue."  In this case, the "blue" means "sad."  I didn't want to go all weepy-wailey, and I feel comfortable putting The Wrestler in this category.  Mickey Rourke blasted onto movie screens in the mid-80s and he always worked, but his projects became smaller and less "A list" over the years.  He left acting to work as a boxer for a while and those experiences lend a dark realism to this film, which was Rourke's re-emergence onto the A list.  He's astonishing in this movie - his character is a washed-up professional wrestler who knows nothing else and honestly, can't not wrestle - he's put nothing aside for a rainy day.  Or rainy decade.

I have nothing for the "lucky sixpence in her shoe" part of the rhyme.  I guess you could dig the loose change out of the couch before you watch these movies.

That'll do!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 42

I enjoy a good glass of wine &
talking too much . . . 
Breaking Bad won't be airing those final eight episodes until summer, which makes this a perfect time to catch up!  Since Breaking Bad is a show that constantly picks up threads that were laid down waybackwhen, it makes sense to go all the way back to Season 1 today with this post.

Review:  Season 1 gives us Walter White, a sad-sack, high school chemistry teacher who seems to be channeling the late Rodney ("I can't get no respect") Dangerfield.  Walt loves chemistry, but he's stuck teaching bored high schoolers who don't see the beauty and mystery of it.  His wife loves him, but their life together has fallen into a deep, deep rut.  His brother-in-law has an exciting job as a DEA agent and is all rootin', tootin' cowboy, who makes Walt feel less than he'd like.  Then Walt gets a devastating diagnosis out of the clear blue sky (lots of clear blue sky in Breaking Bad, by the way) and decides to do something outrageous (and highly illegal), justifying this path with his desire to leave his family a decent nest egg.  But as we make our choices, our choices make us, and somewhere along the way, Walt changes.  On a fundamental level, he becomes Someone Else and that Someone Else is a very foolish, dangerous, and near-psychotic person.  In short, Walt "breaks bad."  And a tremendous amount of sorrow, blood, and death trails in his wake.    

Speculation:  Will Walt survive Season 5B?  This is one of the questions steaming up blogs and chat rooms.  If Walt doesn't survive - who (or what) takes him out of the meth game?  If he dies, is it just retribution or dumb fate?  The speculation on this is nearly endless, including some truly off-the-wall theories that are fun to poke holes in.  (For a general rundown, click here.)    

Underline:  Note what happens every time Walt gets sloppy.  Just two quick examples:  in Season 3's Fly, Walt is drugged and talks too much, nearly confessing to Jesse his role in Jane's death.  In Season 4's Shotgun, Walt drinks too much wine and talks too much, putting Hank back on the trail of "Heisenberg."  Walt just has too much guilt and pride to keep his lies going.  

Quick Wanna Cook? update - Season 4 will be drafted by the end of this month and we're starting to get back drafts of earlier seasons from the editor, so we'll also be beginning to put a high shine on things.  It's going to be a busybusybusy few months as we get everything through Season 5A plumb and square, but we plan to keep up with these weekly posts!  

So please check in here every Wednesday and don't forget my co-author Ensley Guffey's weekly "Meth Monday" posts!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Romero & Juliet

February can be the time studios dump not-so-good movies on the unsuspecting public.  Of course, this is also the time when little "under the radar" gems find the light of day. Warm Bodies is in the second category.  What starts as a humorous twist on the zombie tale by giving us the undead perspective switches toward the end of the first act to a broad re-telling of Romeo & Juliet.  Stick with me here.  It's not just the names of the lead characters, although "Julie" is the daughter of the head honcho of the surviving humans and "R" is a sensitive "corpse" who kills anything with a heartbeat but is conflicted about it.  In this reading, this means that John Malkovich is cast as Father Capulet, which  (I admit) I didn't see coming, but is probably far from the weirdest role the man's ever tackled.  Also, Julie's best friend and confidant is Nora, a sharpshooter who harbors a desire to be a nurse, which I thought was a particularly sly touch.

At the heart of Warm Bodies is an idea lifted from E. M. Forster's Howards End - most of the problems in in this naughty world are caused by our failure to really see each other.  If we could only connect! As Julie and R begin to form these connections, despite being beyond star-crossed, R's condition of being undead begins to reverse and the reversal (or "exhumation," as the film calls it) begins to spread.  One indicator of this is R's emerging ability to feel - to feel cold, to feel loss, and to feel pain.  In Romeo & Juliet, Juliet tragically discovers that her love, thinking Juliet dead, has (spoiler alert!) poisoned himself just moments before, for "thy lips are warm!"  When Julie and R kiss and she discovers that his lips are warm, it signifies that he has returned to life.  And with that, there just may be hope for the rest of us, but those walls we've built - both the physical ones that separate us from each other and the more diabolical internal ones - have got to go.

Honestly, not a bad little movie at all.