Mondo Mandingo

SKU-000141668_XL  I''ve never seen MANDINGO, and I'm certainly no fan of "slavesploitation" movies, but I thoroughly enjoyed MONDO MANDINGO: THE FALCONHURST BOOKS AND FILMS,  the latest "behind-the-scenes" of movie-making book by Paul Talbot, author of the excellent BRONSON'S LOOSE: THE MAKING OF THE DEATH WISH FILMS. 

But what makes this book so special is that it's more than just a look at the making of a particular film. Talbot explores the entire "Falconhurst" saga, starting with the story behind the writing, publication and worldwide success of Kyle Onstott's lurid and controversial 1957 novel MANDINGO and its many sequels over the next two decades…and the two movies based on the books.

But it's the books that, to be honest, interested me most because one of my favorite authors, Harry Whittington, wrote many of the later FALCONHURST novels under the pseudonym "Ashley Carter." MONDO MANDINGO is worth the purchase price just for the publishing end of the story…but you also get the exhaustively detailed examinations of the stage and screen versions of the FALCONHURST novels as well.

The book is jam-packed with interviews and intriguing details. I don't have any interest in reading the FALCONHURST books, or seeing the movies, but I have a strong interest in novel-writing, publishing, screenwriting and movie-making…and on that level, the book is fascinating and informative…and, like the FALCONHURST books, a little lurid too.

If MONDO MANDINGO has a fault, at least for people who aren't diehard FALCONHURST fans, it's all the details on how the books continue, or don't continue, the various plots strands and character relationships. It becomes a dizzying and confusing mess and, frankly, I just skipped right past all of that minutae to the business stuff and the compelling stories of the authors, their heirs, and the fighting over the underlying rights to the property.

MONDO MANDINGO is a fascinating and entertaining look behind-the-scenes of the business, politics and realities of both the publishing and movie-making businesses…but more than that, I found the relationships and machinations of the colorful, eccentric, back-stabbing, creative, and sometimes very shrewd authors, producers, screenwriters, directors, publishers, and the families every bit as complex, interesting, shocking and entertaining as anything you might find in a "Falconhurst " novel. Talbot has written another remarkable and exhaustive examination of a cult-classic and all its various iterations. I can't wait to see what he tackles next. 

The Mail I Get – Writing the Treatment

Bryon Stedman  asked me this question in a comment to another post:

I have a situation where a broadcast entity claims they want to hear my idea for a boxing series or made for TV movie. The characters belong to my family from a comic drawn by my father.

If a narrative is they way to go, what are the key points to include? Do I go as far as dialog and cameas shots and locations or simply text with main characters CAPITALIZED? Advice requested and appreciated.

A series treatment and a TV movie treatment are very different. A series treatment sells the characters and the franchise of the show…the relationships and format that will generate stories week after week. A TV movie treatment sells a story.

If the studio is already familiar with your Dad's comic, I don't know why they need you to come up with a series treatment…the strip itself sells that or they wouldn't be interested in the first place.

A series treatment isn't about telling a story…it's about describing the characters, how they interact within the unique format of your show. Who are they? What do they do? And how will who they are and what they do generate 100 interesting stories?

For a TV movie treatment, you're selling the characters and their story.  At this point, you're trying to sell the broadstrokes…they can pay you to work out the rest. Write up a punchy over-view of what happens in the story, as if you were writing a review of a great movie (only minus the praise). You want to convey the style and tone of the movie. But don't go into great detail. Keep it short, tight and punchy.And whatever you do, DON'T include camera shots or dialogue.

Don't fixate on treatment format, because there isn't one. Tell your story in the style that works best for you. Don't worry about whether the character names are in capitals or not (it doesn't matter). Concentrate on telling a strong story.

(This is a repost from June 2005…and it was a blog post on this topic from Scott Myers that inspired me to unearth it).

Why Daily Variety is No Longer Relevant

Today, Daily Variety reported that the new version of V not only won wide critical acclaim, but also did great in the ratings. In a brief, separate article, they report that the show shut down for a month, and that a new showrunner has been brought in. Those two articles create an interesting contrast…one Variety doesn't bother to explore because that might actually require the reporter do some work beyond retyping a press release. What's missing here is the context and detail that would make this a meaningful, interesting, and newsworthy story. What went wrong with V? Why did ABC bring in a new showrunner? If ABC had trouble with the creative direction of the show, does the wide critical acclaim and high ratings suggest that the network may have made a mistake by benching the series and retooling it? What were the creative, financial, and strategic reasons behind the network's actions? That's the story that a credible and relevant Daily Variety would be reporting. Instead, we get the straight-forward ratings in one article and a short, rewritten press release in another.

Dazed and Confused

I finished writing MR. MONK IS CLEANED OUT, my 10th original MONK novel, last night and delivered it to my publisher. I always feel a little bit dazed  and lost after finishing a book. It takes a few days for me to adjust to not having the story "in my head" all the time and to no longer feeling that ever-present deadline pressure. It's also kind of odd to suddenly have a bunch of hours open up in my day (and nights) for other things. But that will change soon. I've got to start writing a new spec feature script, thinking about the plot of my next MONK novel, and preparing for pitch meetings that I have later this week and early next week… 

The Mail I Get

I've been getting variations of this email a lot lately, so I thought I'd share my answer to this one here:

Lee, 

 I was wondering about your time management. How long does it take for you to write your blog everyday, and what type of writing schedule do you have, and is it iron-clad? Do you keep a notebook with you in case ideas pop up when you are doing errands, etc.?
Do you have moments when you don't know where your current story is going, and how do you fix that?

Love your books,

Thanks,

Teri

I prioritize based on deadlines, Teri. The project with the nearest deadline gets the most attention. Then again, sometimes I prioritize based on money. The project that's paying me the most gets my immediate attention…I mean, I am not going to move a project that's paying me, say, $3000 ahead of something that's paying me $35,000. That said, I've never missed a deadline, even when I had two broken arms, regardless of how much (or how little) I was getting paid.

I don't blog everyday. Sometimes I will blog two or three times in one day…sometimes I will go a week or more without blogging. I use the blog as a way to warm up before writing, or as a way to avoid writing, or as a way to stay at the computer when the writing isn't going well. You can sometimes tell by the nature of my posts how I'm using my blog at any given moment… (well, at least my brother Tod can tell). 

I do carry around a notebook for ideas,  story points or scenes for whatever I happen to be working on at any given time. I never leave the house without a notebook or a book to read. 

What question haven't I answered? Oh yes, I often have problems with my books and scripts. I fix them by, well, fixing them. Often the problem lies not in the scene I'm struggling with but with the bigger story or character point that got me there.

I always outline before I write…so at least I know where i am going and roughly how to get there….but I inevitably deviate from the outline.

The Mail I Get

I got this very odd email today  (I've edited out  his publisher and the title of his book):

This is not a fan letter but just let me say that my folks and I loved Martial Law (my mother was amazed at how agile a fat guy couls be) and Sliders especiallly the episode where Rhys-Davis hunted down babies to kiss in his campaign for public office.

Anyway, a new ebook imprint, XYZ, published a pdf ebook sf/f/h poetry collection by me, XYZ. The poems are comments on the body of work by sf/f/h authors and other creators in the three fields. I hope you consider ordering one.

This is strange but as I am writing this letter an idea for a series idea popped into my head. Before I write it down I would like your permission before I pitch it to you.

I'm not quite sure what to make of this one. At least he was pleasant, polite, and asked me if I was interested in his pitch before he sent it to me. But still...what was he thinking? Did he really believe I'd reply "Oh yes, that book sounds fantastic. I love poetry about sf authors. I'm ordering a dozen copies of your PDF for myself and my family. And please send me any TV series ideas that occur to you. I would love to hear them." I'm simply astonished by how clueless some people are. 

But I didn't say any of that in my response to him. I saved that for you. Instead, I congratulated him on his book, told him I wasn't interested in his series ideas, and wished him the best in all his endeavors.