My Novel Wants To Be A Movie

Shelton Bumgarner

by Shelton Bumgarner
@bumgarls

I’m enjoying developing my novel a great deal. But there are times when I wince at how much a movie wants to pop out of it like an alien xenomorph. A lot of the scenes are very visual and require you know songs for them to make the most sense. And, yet, given that I can only use song titles for IP reasons, I have to pick songs whose titles sum up what the songs are about as well as their mood.

Most of these songs, of course, are so well known that even the most clueless reader has at least vaguely heard of them. One thing I know is I really have to explain why my heroine would listen to the music she listens to. The average young person today listens to a very specific type of music that a lot of older people such as myself simply have never heard.

Luckily, however, the novel is set in the immediate past AND I’ve managed to come up with a reasonable explanation for why my heroine would listen to the type of music I need her to listen to. But the issue of how people will know in real terms how a song I want in their mind would play in the context of the scene is something that eats away at me. It would be solved very easily if I was writing a screenplay. But I don’t want to do that right now. I want to write a novel. I just am a very music-oriented person and I’ve structured the entire novel from the ground up so that pop rock music that I know a lot about is a crucial aspect of its universe.

But anyway. I going to try to flesh out my scene summary as much as I can this weekend. I’m shooting for no later than sometime in January to start writing in earnest again. I have a lot of momentum and love the characters, plot, and universe. I just have to live up to my own pretty brutal expectations. Even then, I’m a lot better storyteller than writer.

Why I’ve Walked Out Of Some Recent Movies

Shelton Bumgarner

by Shelton Bumgarner
@bumgarls

I’m of the opinion that a great modern story has to ignore any sort of overt political agenda and simply entertain the audience. Given how existentially political the novel I’m writing is, this causes me a lot of consternation. But my primary goal is write an adult tentpole story. Things blow up. Shit burns down. A little sex happens. And so on.

But let’s go through some movies I’ve seen recently and why I hated them.

Booksmart
I walked out of this movie just between the time Beanie Feldstein’s character started screeching about lesbian sexual actives and when I learned what the “hero’s journey” was going to be. I had only gone to see the movie because I felt shamed by a combination of Entertainment Tonight, E! Network and the center-Left Twitter echo chamber. I knew going into the movie that I was NOT the audience, but I went anyway so I would not feel bad. Turns out, I wasn’t, in fact, the audience. I wanted a modern-day Heathers. I got a woke movie that I felt insulted me on a basic, existential level. There were plenty of ways to express the same political agenda on the sly without insulting me and people like me. I felt the acting lacking in general. I also felt the movie was a bit too cute by half. And it seemed produced by identity politics bean counters who felt rather smug that the had managed to make the girl who would otherwise be hot, not be hot.

The Joker
On the other end of the political spectrum, I bounced pretty quick with this movie, too. I hated this movie. Loathed it. It just seemed too anti-woke. It was a pretty loud dog whistle for incels who feel like they’re so smart that no one else “gets” their jokes. Ugh. Just tell me a good story. Don’t produce a movie that has as the core of its marketing campaign the fear that some crazy incel is going to murder people because of the movie. I see The Joker as just as a bad as Booksmart. Why can’t I just get a well produced movie that may have an agenda, but is, like, actually good? I mean, Network, Deliverance, Taxi Driver, The Dear Hunter, all are very powerful movies with political messages that don’t overshadow basic things like plot and character.

Hustlers
This was probably one of the better movies I’ve seen recently and I still walked out of it about 2/3rds of the way through. When it dawned on me that J.Lo’s ass cheeks were simply a ruse to get my butt in a dark theatre and that there would be no positive male characters, I bounced. But the movie itself was very strong did a great job of telling its story. I didn’t see the whole movie, so maybe this is a dumb question, but, how come there wasn’t more lesbian action in the movie? It’s implied in a whisper, but this is 2019. I think audiences can handle the two main female characters having a dimly lit naked romp in bed.

Charlie’s Angels
This movie needed to be darker and have more sex in it. Since only old farts like me care about the franchise, I think Elizabeth Banks should have done a Buffy The Vampire Slayer and made her version of this otherwise campy movie far more adult. Put a lot more John Wick and Hustlers in it. Make it a gritty — if a bit campy — action packed movie with sex-positive portrayals of female sexual agency. This whole business of having an out-of-nowhere montage of young women running around with big smiles on their faces made no sense to me. It was a real, “What the what?” moment. If she’d done as I suggested, a lot of middle-aged couples would have really enjoyed the movie. It might not have been the hit everyone had hoped for, but it would not have been a flop. Needed far stronger actresses, however, to pull it off. Though I really did like Kristen Stewart.

Anyway, I am extremely brutal with movies I go to see and if I walk out of it, the producers shouldn’t take it too seriously or personally. I often have a drink before I go see a movie and I bounce because I just don’t feel like the movie has any more to give. Also, I sometimes have an ah-ha experience because of the movie and I leave because I’d rather be home developing my novel.

Alien’s ‘Ripley,’ & The Struggle To Tell A Universal Story In The Age Of Trump

Shelton Bumgarner

by Shelton Bumgarner
@bumgarls

I’m trying to distract myself so I can come up with a different take on specifics of the novel I’m developing, so I’m writing about whatever pops into my mind to that end.

So, Ripley. Ripley was originally written for a man. It’s a testament to how great an actress Sigourney Weaver is that her interpretation of that character is such a universally loved icon. I keep thinking of Ripley as a character build my heroine. I want a strong heroine that women like because she’s strong and complex and men like because she’s hot and they feel she would kick their ass if they crossed her.

Having said that, the issue of my heroine’s appearance has been the subject of much, much, much, much internal debate and struggle on my part. The issue is the market wants her to be a sexxy slutty assassin, while the audience — especially women — wants something far more complex. Things get even more complex when you factor in that while many vocal feminist actresses in Hollywood want strong, complex heroines, they at the same time seem to have very strict and narrow demands about what that means. The character can’t be too hot. She has to want to slay the patriarchy. She can not fit any trope that has ever been articulated by anyone at any point in the past. And, really, I sometimes think they don’t even want a man — especially a middle-aged white male like me — to write the damn story to begin with. They think only women can tell a female story and fuck you, you creepy old dude in a flyover state for wanting to try your hand at it.

My reaction to this problem is it sobers me up. I take what I’m doing far more seriously. I’m lower my expectations. I’m writing the story for myself. If it happens that someone else — anyone else — likes it, then that’s great. But there are some existential issues that I simply can’t avoid — one is I hate MAGA with a white hot rage and, well, I’m also a middle aged white man. So, in real terms, it’s unlikely that the more “woke” members of the intended audience will be all that thrilled with it given that they liked the movie Booksmart and the novel The Female Persuasion. Identity politics narrows who will be willing to give me a chance in the first place. The very people who I will need to generate buzz — blue check liberals — are the very people the most likely to scoff that someone like me could write the type of novel I want to write in the first place.

But we’ll see, I guess. The story is improving greatly right now. It will be interesting to see how embarrassing the product is when I finish the next draft and let Beta Readers look at it.

Why I Think The ‘Charlie’s Angels’ Reboot Flopped

Shelton Bumgarner

by Shelton Bumgarner
@bumgarls

Now, I went into Elizabeth Banks’ reboot of Charlie’s Angels pumped. I love the concept and thought it might be interesting. I lasted until just about the inciting incident then walked out. This says a lot more about me than it does the movie, however. But given how everyone is talking about what a flop the movie was and why, I thought I would put my 2 cents in.

The star of the movie was Kristen Stewart. But I found her extremely miscast. She tried to come off as a dumb-dumb, but it was off putting because we all know she’s not and she’s not that good an actress. I would cast her as a more dominate role. Lean into native strength as an actor and person. Don’t try to ignore that who she actually is. I am aware of the difficulties they had finding the other two actresses and it showed. The movie definitely needed better actresses. But given what it was meant to be — a feminist action-adventure romp — I’m willing to grade it on a curve.

But the moment when I knew I was outtie was the montage of young girls running around for no apparent reason. It made no sense. I guess it was meant to set the tone of the film, but it was at that moment that I realized this was NOT the movie for me. I felt the movie suffered from creeping Bookstmart-itis in the sense that it was so wrapped up in smelling the farts of its message that it was to the detriment of the overall story.

In passing, I would note that one problem with franchises like Charlie’s Angels is it has what I call the Scooby Doo Paradox. This is when your audience is adults who remember something fondly so you think what they want is an over-the-top comedy, when the story might actually be best served by playing it a bit more serious because the conceit is actually really strong and timeless. So, might have made this latest reboot of Charlie’s Angels a little bit more John Wick than it was. That would have been cool. And, remember, Hustlers is how you slip in a feminist message into your story in a way that gets people’s asses in the theatres. Hustlers was a well written movie with just enough T&A (especially J.Lo’s ass) that men went into it not realizing the movie is actually extremely girl-power in its message. Something similar could have been done with Charlie’s Angels.

Make the audience not bi-curious girls in high school, but maybe couples in their late 20s. Have a just enough sex in it to get the guys going — I really liked Kristen Stewart’s flirty butt cheek flash — but if you were more honest about what this story really was then I think you could have a much, much better movie on a number of different levels. If you poured Hustlers and John Wick into Charlie’s Angels, it would have been a hit.

‘Knives Out’ & Its Influence On The Novel I’m Developing & Writing

Shelton Bumgarner

by Shelton Bumgarner
@bumgarls

I walk out of movies a lot now that I have been seriously developing and writing a novel. But I saw Knives Out last night and loved it. In fact, the third act was a real “ah-ha” moment for me in regards to the novel I’m writing. I spent the entire drive home talking to myself about the “big black void” that you want to hide from the reader for as long as possible after it happens.

In other words, I now know the exact sequence of events that pretty much the basis of the whole novel’s plot. Now that I know that, I can spend a lot of time dropping clues to the reader leading up to that event and then spend the rest of the novel slowly explaining to them what happened. It’s a major step forward in the plot. Though I have to admit the novel is going to be a lot more Knives Out and a lot less Gone Girl for no other reason than I simply am not as twisted and dark as Gillian Flynn is. I’m just too nice. But I still have a time to make things darker than I am naturally inclined to do, I guess.

One thing is clear — this novel is going to fast paced and very easy to film if it ever became that popular. I’m a visual person and love movies and it’s just difficult for me not to essentially write a novel that’s very cinematic in nature from the ground up. In that sense, I am very much like Michael Crichton in the sense that I think he wrote his novel’s with the assumption they would be filmed.

On a side note, I really, really like Daniel Craig. He’s the gold standard for who I imagine my Hero being in my mind. But there are a lot of problems with that relative to who the character is. My Hero is too much like me in ( some respects) for there to be a 1-to-1 correlation. But I am trying to make my female romantic lead a lot like a combination of Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Alexa Chung. Sorta. She’s definitely sort of in that spectrum of brunette British woman.

But anyway, I still have a huge amount of work to do. But I am definitely pushing myself to my creative limits in development, if nothing else. This novel is becoming more and more a reflection of my own personal history and personality.

V-Log: A Gentle Creative Suggestion For Phoebe Waller-Bridge

by Shelton Bumgarner
@bumgarls

This is just a stray observation.

The Plan

Shelton Bumgarner

By Shelton Bumgarner
@bumgarls

Things are moving faster again with the novel. At the same time, however, I find lingering frustration. Something happened recently that left a bad taste in my mouth. I suddenly find myself interested in writing a screenplay. As such, I’m probably going to buy FinalDraft sometime in September. I also hope to buy a few screenwriting books as well.

In the past, my biggest problem has been thinking up plots. I have plenty — plenty — of great ideas for movies. But I’ve always struggled with plots. But using the skillset I’ve developed from working on the novel, I believe I have a better chance at writing a successful (relative to me) screenplay. Or two. Or three.

I’ve vowed to myself that whenever I finish a screenplay, I’ll give myself permission to head to LA for a few days to poke around. But I won’t do so without a least one screenplay I can show people. While I’m quite pleased writing a novel and that’s my main creative project right now, I want to at least attempt to write a screenplay as well.

The issue is I have numerous ideas for movies because they lend themselves to something visual, something seen on the big screen. Add to this that I natively have a very extroverted personality, I believe if I put in the hard work of writing a screenplay or two, I might have at least a slim chance of being able to find someone in LA willing to take a look at it.

But, of course, I realize this is being extremely naive. Given my age, where I’m from and pretty much everything else about me, the possibility I would actually manage to pull this dream of is, in real terms, slim to none. But, if nothing else, it gives me something productive to do with my spare time as I work on the novel.

‘Hobbs & Shaw,’ A Political Review

by Shelton Bumgarner
@bumgarls

When I was living in South Korea, I once found myself near the DMZ at a English Camp designed to give a young Korean the experience of living in an English speaking nation. While I was there, I saw in a waiting room a video of a kid’s show. What was notable about the cartoon was the name of the villain — Darwin.

This little bit of creatist propaganda has lingered with me over the years. That the show’s writer thought they could get young, impressionable minds to associate Darwin and by extension evolution with villany was both extremely annoying and impressive.

Before I begin, I would also like to note the “explanation” of Top Gun in the movie Sleep With Me.

Anyway, let’s get the point — the deeper political meaning in the otherwise summer popcorn movie Hobbs & Shaw. It has taken me a few days, but I feel as though there is a lot more going on with this movie than initially meets the eye. There’s a lot of sly politics in the movie that is so open to interpretation that it might leave one scratching their heads.

Let’s talk about the general plot. — spoilers ahead.

The plot, as much as there is one, is about a nebulous “deep state” type of company that wants to use its Snowflake programmable virus to kill off the weak and do a very Thanos-type restructuring of society. Two guys who ostensibly hate each other — The Rock (Hobbs) and Jason Statham (Shaw) join forces to defeat the bad guys and save the day. From what I saw of the movie, the only reason why I don’t think this movie’s politics is quite what you might this is comes from the people involved.

Given the fan service the movie does to The Rock’s WWE fandom, I’m led to believe the producers of this movie see its market as center-Right. At the same time, given how liberal-progressive Hollywood is, I am reluctant to believe that there aren’t air quotes around the movie’s superficial politics. I don’t know The Rock’s politics, but I struggle to believe he’s anything more than closer to center-Left than center-Right

Let’s break down some of the plot to see what’s going on.

The McGuffin is a woman — the sister of the Shaw character (22 years younger than he is, natch)– who has shot the virus into her bloodstream. If you REALLY wanted to get deep about the politics of this movie, you could say that it’s supposed to be, in a sense, about the “special relationship” between the United State in post-Brexit, post-Trump geopolitical world. I only say this because The Rock obviously represents America and Statham the UK. They are alone in the world and have to work together to save the day. (That a Russian helps save the day is an interesting twist to all of this.)

Anyway, there are some other things I noticed. That the programmable super virus is called “Snowflake” can be interpreted two ways. Either we’re meant to think of that obviously the Bad Guys are evil liberals (snowflakes) or we’re meant to laugh that the thing that could end the world is a bunch of snowflakes.

The reasoning that the villain gives for ending the world a very conservative-interpretation-of-the-liberal-worldview. Hollywood these days they find themselves having to square the circle. They want to appease a center-Right audience (to make money) but they also have to do so in a way that allows them not to hate themselves. That’s why, I feel, the politics of this movie are extremely muddled, but obviously there.

And, yet, I simply am not prepared to accept that this is Brad Bird Hollywood conservatism. For starters, Bird’s work is much more nuanced than this movie and has a stronger idology. This movie, meanwhile, seems to want it both ways. It wants to appease its center-Right audience, while at the same time looking slant eye at center-Left people in the audience in a way that suggests, “Can you believe what we have to do to appease the Right?”

I liked this movie because it did want it set out to do — entertain you in a cool theatre for a few hours on a hot summer day. I find it interesting, however, that the corrosive politics of the Trump Era has even seeped into what might otherwise be just a dumb summer movie.

Anyway, I probably will never know how close to the truth I am on this subject. I would like to believe I have dug up something interesting, however. There’s no way they would name the super virus “Snowflake” without there being an ulterior motive.

Shelton Bumgarner, a writer living in Virginia, is working on his first novel. He may be reached at migukin (at) gmail (dot) com.

I Have An Idea

by Shelton Bumgarner
@bumgarls

While I’m deep into working on a novel, I have an idea, a notion, a conceit for a screenplay that’s interesting.

I have the general universe — and twist ending — down pat. What I don’t have is much of a plot. But I do have another plot lying around and I may use it to flesh out the plot of this idea.

But it really doesn’t matter right now. I have a novel to work on.

V-Log: The State of My Novel & A Rant About The Perils Of Modern Storytelling

Some thoughts.