Monday, September 30, 2013

Adventures in the ePublishing Trade

As you can see by the ads hawking books to the right of my blog posts, I have entered the eBook business. My first title, THE JOKE'S ON YOU: HOW TO WRITE COMEDY, is producing about $500 a month in mailbox money. Three new books are in the works on comedy history and the first will be done before the end of this year.

Here are some things I've learned along the way:

1. Copyright your work. The online copyright service is only $35 and there are numerous advantages to registering your book (stipulated damages if copyright is violated, proof of authorship, etc.). It's simple to do (though the copyright's office website is about 20 years out of date) and cheap.

2. Kindle. Kindle uses 'mobi' formatting and is the best route to go for your ebook. The split is 70/30 in favor of the author with the book minimum pricing of $2.99. Amazon pays timely, makes it easy to update your books, and allows you to track sales and modify pricing as needed.

The formatting was a bit difficult for me, so I used a formatting service who took the Word file and added hyperlinks for chapters and did a proper book layout for $165.

Kindle updates the book for previous purchasers so they can keep track with the latest edition.

3. CreateSpace. Within the last couple of months I decided to update THE JOKES ON YOU with photographs and additional material in the appendix. A graphic designer friend (Cat Stewart) assisted me in getting clearance rights for photographs. Some of these were difficult to obtain and we used substitute photos. The book then had to be laid out as a 6x9 paperback.

I was so pleased with the results, we went back and updated the Kindle edition as well.

I priced my paperback at $11.95 and the hard cost to print the book is approximately $3.50. Surprisingly adding the paperback DOUBLED my sales. Apparently there are many folks who don't like eBooks and want the paperback version. Writers are leaving a lot of money on the table by not adding a paperback option for their prospective audience.

4. ISBNs. A separate ISBN is required for both the print and eBook edition of the same book. So that's two per title. I suggest buying them in bulk to save money - at least ten. CreateSpace offers ISBNs to customers but they aren't 'portable' - meaning if ten years from now you want to take your ISBN with you somewhere else, you can't. It'll pop up as an 'out of print' title. It's a somewhat controversial issue, but I decided to spend the $250 for ten to maintain full control over my book.

Buy them here:

5. You might already have a book written. I went back and found a book I'd co-written in college on a chess variant (Bughouse Chess) and published that. I found a number of sketches, short stories, and other humorous items to compile into yet another book (The Comedyphiles). I don't expect either of these titles to be huge sellers, but every bit helps and having a number of titles published helps establish you as an 'author.'

Right now I'm working with cartoonist Jonathan Brown (verrrrry talented guy) to add another twenty pages of cartoons and chapter/cover illustrations to THE COMEDYPHILES before going to a paperback edition.

6. Editors. One of the few advantages of the traditional press is the use of editors to give you feedback, corrections, and guidance in improving your book. I'm fortunate to have some talented writer friends who gave me feedback along the way and did hire an experienced editor to go through the book for errors. Far too many typos and grammatical errors pop up in self-published books. Spend the money and make your work look professional.

7. Marketing. BookBub is an excellent resource for novelists who have a series of books featuring the same lead character. I likely will be trying Kirkus Reviews soon for more exposure. My marketing efforts included this blog, my facebook page, Twitter, and simply the Amazon search features. Comedy writing is a niche topic and I now pop up #1 on that search, so that helps.

My goal is to have a dozen titles posted and to have them on related topics (comedy, film history, television comedy, an interview book with screenwriters and TV writers). Getting to the 'bills paid this month' level income from eBook and paperback sales each month would be a home run. I don't expect to ever do some of the crazy numbers some fiction writers have had in terms of sales, but $2,000-3,000 a month is a realistic goal.

Post if you have any questions, comments, or additional information and best of luck!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Comedy of Breaking Bad

The epic television show dark comedy "Breaking Bad" has finally come to its conclusion and our favorite anti-hero/villain, Walter White, well...spoiler alert!

What, did you expect a guy with terminal cancer to ride off into the sunset?

If you're one of those people that hasn't seen the show yet, then this post isn't for you. Go catch up and then come back, as there's probably going to be spoilers ahead.

One of the reasons why a show like "Breaking Bad" works, and why a show like "Low Winter Sun" doesn't, is because of the humor injected into the drama.  Creator Vince Gilligan is noted for his dark humor which he brought to the X-files.  That sharp wit, paired with his dark humor led his meteoric rise from show writer to co-executive producer in just a few years.  Gilligan has been quoted as saying, "comedy and drama as "two muscles in the same arm."

Although "Breaking Bad has always been a dark comedy more than a drama, it has been able to shift gears because it is a dark comedy with dramatic elements.  Writing dark comedy is one of the most difficult genres to write effectively.  If you go too dark, you run the risk of losing your audience.  "Breaking Bad" succeeds because even though it is a dark comedy, its dramatic elements are so incredibly well done, the audience is tricked into "drama mode" without being none the wiser.

Very few shows could have two junkies talking about their idea for a "Star Trek" episode and then switch to high drama without skipping a beat.  Speaking of that "Star Trek" idea, someone went and animated it:

Vince Gilligan also chose to have actual comedians play in dramatic roles. Bob Odenkirk was already a good actor prior to his stint on "Breaking Bad," and has forever earned his comedic stripes for "Mr. Show," but Odenkirk turned what was supposed to be a one off role into a reoccurring role and one of the central characters to the show. He's even getting his own spinoff "Better Call Saul."

But long before Odenkirk was a criminal attorney he was involved in a half million dollar drug deal.

Gilligan also cast stand up comedian Lavell Crawford in the role of Huell.
Lavell Crawford interview

As well as veteran stand up comedian Bill Burr. Bill Burr interview

Unless you purchased the dvd sets (or rented the physical sets) or were a super fan, you might have missed the Breaking Bad minisodes.  The minisodes aired on the web and were included with the boxed sets of "Breaking Bad."  The minisodes were a lot more light-hearted than the overall series. 

One episode featured Hank dressed in a "Boss Hogg" outfit about to marry Marie, having a man to man discussion with Walt about how he slipped up and accidentally cheated on Marie after his bachelor party.  Unfortunately for Hank, the bar was the "Ivory Swallow" with a girl named "Joan Crawford."  (For those of you who don't know, Joan Crawford's name was a stage name selected by the public for the up and coming actress Lucille Fay LeSueur via a contest.) You can watch all of the minisodes here on AMC

There have also been endless memes and comic also created for Breaking Bad:

"70's comic book Twinkie ad" 

There is even a "Breaking Bad" cartoon generator that anyone can use to make their own cartoons:

 And, of course, "Breaking Bad" has spawned a lot of spoofs, or mash ups.  Some of them have been very well done:


Although everyone is sad that "Breaking Bad" is now over, and there's really nothing on t.v. that's equivalent to it.  I am glad that Jesse did get away, and wasn't forever "Meth Damon's" Meth Slave.

We'll miss you, "Breaking Bad" and your Baby Blue dark comedy.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Saturday, September 21, 2013


Today the news came across the net that Sam Raimi was working on an "Army of Darkness" sequel.  The exact quote was:

"The pressure is on them now. Because as far as I know, and heard, Sam is really determined to get Army Of Darkness 2 happening. He is actually writing [it now]."

Which is a far cry from the previous twenty years of "Sam and his brother are sort of, maybe, working on an Army of Darkness sequel."

"Army of Darkness" is one of those movies that splits not only its own fanbase, but those non-Evil Dead fans that have seen it have a "love it or hate it" attitude regarding the movie.  Some of the (original) "Evil Dead" fans felt that AOD was too divergent in tone from the original "Evil Dead" movies, and too lighthearted, and lacking in the overall horror that the original two films contained.  This was done on purpose by director/creator Sam Raimi, as he and those involved in the production of "Evil Dead 3" wanted to have some fun, and try something different, as they had already done the same horror movie twice in a row.

AOD just barely made back its $11.5 million dollar budget upon its release in 1993, this was due in part that it was originally supposed to come out in summer of 1992, or at the latest, fall (Halloween) of 1992.  Unfortunately, there was a dispute between Universal Pictures and the exec. producer of AOD, Dino De Laurentis over the rights of "Hannibal," so AOD got dumped in what is the traditional movie graveyard that is known as February.  February is where movies go to die.  (**COUGH, "Robocop Reboot"**)

However, in the past twenty years AOD has developed a very large cult following, and arguably produced more versions of the movie on home video than any other movie, with over twenty different versions of of the movie floating out there, including a Hong Kong Director's cut that runs 96 min.  DVDACTIVE has a nice breakdown of the different versions on dvd, but there are even many more versions than they list on the site, including the new Blu-Ray versions.


AOD star, Bruce Campbell has been getting asked the same question day after day, year after year, "Are you making a sequel to 'Army of Darkness?"  Often Bruce would be told about a sequel by an audience member at a convention, and Bruce would ask, "Where did you hear that rumor?" where the audience member would respond, "The internet," upon which Bruce would hilariously chastise the person for not believing everything he reads on the internet.  One of the big reasons for this "tough love," was that up till the successful reboot of "Evil Dead," the chances of an AOD sequel have always been next to zero.

One of the reasons a sequel to AOD has been on the ropes can best be summed up via a quote from Bruce Campbell a few years back when (once again) queried about the sequel to AOD, "Would you really want an AOD sequel?  Come on, how are you going to top the original?"  Campbell did have a point.  But also there was the lingering fact that the original AOD did poorly at the box office twenty years ago.

BUT, that was twenty years ago, and a lot has changed since AOD was released.

First off, Sam Raimi has gone from indie darling director to the AAA list; an unexpected outcome for a guy who directed a movie where a woman gets raped by a tree, and also where a guy chops off his hand and installs a chainsaw in its place.  Of course, Raimi finally made his mark via the very successful "Spiderman" franchise, and has gone onto direct even family movies like "Oz the great and Powerful."

Ironically, it is probably (in part) because he directed "Oz" that an AOD sequel is now a possibility.  Why you ask?  Because "Oz" and AOD are the same movie!

The old adage in Hollywood has been, "Give me the same, only different."  Now with Raimi's clout, and the parallel success of the (Ash-less) "Evil Dead" reboot, AND that "Oz" was essentially AOD, Raimi can scrape together a budget from somewhere and make a sequel to AOD under the guise of, "Hey, we just made AOD again with "Oz," and it made $500,000,000!  BUT, in truth, any AOD sequel won't really be a sequel of to AOD, as AOD was only a loose sequel to The Evil Dead to begin with.

This is where the alternate ending to AOD comes into play. The original ending to AOD had its hero Ash wake up in post apocalyptic London in the far future; he had taken one too many drops of the magical elixir and slept too long.

This alternative (original) ending was scrapped for the S-mart 'happy' ending.  This opens up the idea that perhaps the S-mart ending was just a dream, and Ash wakes up in the far future. In March 2013, in EMPIRE magazine, Bruce Campbell offered his thoughts on what Raimi might be cooking up for an AOD sequel:

 "It's random ideas in Sam's head. Let's not go crazy here. He's just finished doing Oz, and he's going to take some time off and he says he's going to work on it this summer with his brother. He could be smoking cigars at a lakeside cabin for all I know, or he might actually be working, who knows?  I would think the post-Apocalyptic because it gives great possibilities for an Omega Man movie, and who he might be fighting against," he says. "It would be a very interesting world. But I'm fine either way. I'm sure Sam will concoct some ridiculous story and an outrageous journey, so I don't really care where it starts and ends."

 However, at the "Mad Monster Party Gras." convention in New Orleans last week, Bruce Campbell when queried about Army of Darkness, and which ending he preferred, had this to say:

"Now the cool thing was that the original sequel to that was Ash was going to lead an army of machines to take over the robots; leading like Spartacus."  

Bruce Campbell at Mad Monster Party Gras on Sept. 14, 2013

Original Video - More videos at TinyPic

 Perhaps Campbell meant to say Ash was going to lead an army of machines to fight against the deadites of the future, instead of robots, as robots are machines.  I don't know, but it does fit the possibilities and logic for a sequel to AOD.  They already did Ash in the present (Evil Dead). Ash in the past, (AOD). And now they could do "Ash vs. The Army of Machines."  Ash fighting robots is just as cool as him fighting the dead.

It would be very interesting to see if Raimi can get an AOD sequel off the ground.  The great thing is that them movie has garnered twenty years of goodwill and home video sales and a huge cult following.  Also, Bruce Campbell is has gone from a B-movie star to a B+ movie star and has racked up seven years on "Burn Notice," so he's no longer just "that dude from that movie."

A similar success story can be seen in the sequel to "Tron."  "Tron: Legacy," picked up thirty years after the original movie which only did okay at the box office to begin with.  However, ironically, the original "Tron" despite its cult and mainstream following, was looked upon as a pariah by Disney execs who decided to "Derezz" the original Tron just months prior to the release of Legacy.  Apparently with  the millennials, the original Tron was not viewed with the same endearment as was the case with Generation X, and Disney made Tron vanish till after the movie was released; only releasing the eagerly anticipated Blu-Ray months after the release of "Legacy."

Fortunately, AOD plays well with just about everyone these days.  Everyone from Gen X/Y/Z to the Baby Boomers still love Ash and his BOOM STICK! :)

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Algonquin Round Table

"The Algonquin Round Table set the standard for literary style and wit beyond its ten-year duration.

After World War I, Vanity Fair writers and Algonquin regulars Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, and Robert E. Sherwood began lunching at The Algonquin. In 1919, they gathered in the Rose Room with some literary friends to welcome back acerbic critic Alexander Woollcott from his service as a war correspondent. It proved so enjoyable that someone suggested it become a daily event. This led to a near-quotidian exchange of ideas, opinions, and often-savage wit that has enriched the world's literary life. George S. Kaufman, Heywood Broun, and Edna Ferber were also in this august assembly, which strongly influenced writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Perhaps their greatest contribution, however, was the founding of The New Yorker.

"The Ten-Year Lunch," which won Aviva Slesin an Academy Award in 1987 for best documentary, offers a vivid introduction to the Round Table and its unparalleled wit."

From the PBS press from the documentary in 1998:

Robert Sherwood, reviewing cowboy hero Tom Mix: “They say he rides as if he’s part of the horse, but they don’t say which part.”
Dorothy Parker: “That woman speaks eighteen languages and can’t say ‘no’ in any of them.”
George S. Kaufman: Once when asked by a press agent, “How do I get my leading lady’s name into your newspaper?” Kaufman replied, “Shoot her.”

The period that followed the end of World War I was one of gaiety and optimism, and it sparked a new era of creativity in American culture. Surely one of the most profound — and outrageous — influences on the times was the group of a dozen or so tastemakers who lunched together at New York City’s Algonquin Hotel. For more than a decade they met daily and came to be known as the Algonquin Round Table. With members such as writers Dorothy Parker, Harold Ross (founder of THE NEW YORKER) and Robert Benchley; columnists Franklin Pierce Adams and Heywood Broun, and Broun’s wife Ruth Hale; critic Alexander Woollcott; comedian Harpo Marx; and playwrights George S. Kaufman, Marc Connelly, Edna Ferber, and Robert Sherwood, the Round Table embodied an era and changed forever the face of American humor.

It all began with an afternoon roast of the NEW YORK TIMES drama critic, Alexander Wollcott. A number of writers met up at the Algonquin Hotel on 44th street and had such a good time that the event was repeated the next day, and the day after that, until the lunch table at the Algonquin was established as a ritual. The core group of friends was sometimes joined by others who attended for short periods or drifted about the periphery of the group, including such notables as actress Tallulah Bankhead and playwright Noel Coward. The Round Table was made up of people with a shared admiration for each other’s work. Outspoken and outrageous, they would often quote each other freely in their daily columns.

Round Tabler Edna Ferber, who called them “The Poison Squad,” wrote, “They were actually merciless if they disapproved. I have never encountered a more hard-bitten crew. But if they liked what you had done, they did say so publicly and whole-heartedly.” Their standards were high, their vocabulary fluent, fresh, astringent, and very, very tough. Both casual and incisive, they had a certain terrible integrity about their work and boundless ambition. Some of the most notable members of the Round Table came together to work on significant collaborative projects. George Kaufman teamed up with Edna Ferber and Marc Connelly on some of his best stage comedies, including DULCY and THE ROYAL FAMILY. Harold Ross of THE NEW YORKER hired both Dorothy Parker as a book reviewer and Robert Benchley as a drama critic.

By 1925, the Round Table was famous. What had started as a private clique became a public amusement. The country-at-large was now attentive to their every word—people often coming to stare at them during lunch. Some began to tire of the constant publicity. The time they spent entertaining and being entertained took its toll on several of the Algonquin members. Robert Sherwood and Robert Benchley moved out of the hotel in order to concentrate on and accomplish their work. In 1927, the controversial execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, whose case had divided the country and the Round Table for six years, seemed to cast a pall over the group’s unchecked antics. Dorothy Parker believed strongly in the pair’s innocence, and upon their deaths she remarked “I had heard someone say and so I said too, that ridicule is the most effective weapon. Well, now I know that there are things that never have been funny and never will be. And I know that ridicule may be a shield but it is not a weapon.”

As America entered the Depression and the more somber decade of the 1930s, the bonds that had held the group together loosened; many members moved to Hollywood or on to other interests. “It didn’t end, it just sort of faded,” recalled Marc Connelly. A decade after it began, the Algonquin Round Table was over. Not forgotten, the Round Table remains one of the great examples of an American artists’ community and the effects it can have on its time."

Watch it here on Youtube:
 Also be sure to read ACT I by Moss Hart and GEORGE S. KAUFMAN: AN INTIMATE PORTRAIT by Howard Teichmann.

Rare Tex Avery Documentary

Sound goes out on the last five minutes, but still worth a watch:

Chaplain, Keaton and Lloyd behind the scenes of genius

I wanted to give recognition to a fantastic blog by John Bengtson – “the great detective of silent film locations” that has done incredible work discovering and archiving the behind the scenes work of the films by Chaplain, Keaton, and Lloyd.

Bengston has done some incredible detective work cataloging and researching the original shooting locations of Chaplain, Keaton, and Lloyd's films.

A great example of this can be see in Bengston's blog on Harold Lloyd's "Safety Last."

Bengston's blog can be viewed here: