Saturday, January 28, 2006

Genius; the Edgar nominees

Last night I finished Always Magic in The Air, the book about the famous Brill Building that produced so many of the important--even seminal--song writing teams of 1950s and 1960s rock and ryhthm and blues.

Don Kirshner, a key player in Brill Building successes, became the producer and overseer of the Monkees when Brill Building teams began working in LA as well as NYC. The Monkees, based on the material here, were a group of vainglorious no-talent morons who never did appreciate the name and money that other people earned for them. Kirshner was able to keep in them in check only so long. Screen Gems, who owned the Monkees, decided to send in one of their own to be Kirshner's co-producer. Kirshner couldn't deal with a co-producer. He was a lone gun who generally did things his way. He claims he quit; Screen Gems says he was fired.

The other day I watched a biography of Orson Welles. The point made about Welles was pretty much the same point made about Kirshner. Lone gun. Worked best when he had total control. And, in Welles' case, that he was a genius. A true genius.
It was the confluence with the Kirshner material that made me think about genius. (Kirshner went on to work in various systems not of his own making and has done right proud by himself.)

I don't think you can argue the last point when you're talking about Citizen Kane and probably the Magnificent Amerbersons and (close call) maybe even his own cut of Touch of Evil. Genius. From what I could gather the rest of his career was an attempt on his part to reach the level of Kane again.

A sidebar here. When I worked out of Chicago producing radio commercials and soundtracks for TV spots, it was common for recording studios at that time to put together gag reels for holiday parties. Catching stars in awkward moments usually provided the most fun. There was an abudance of such reels in NYC and LA because of the heavy concentration of well-known actors who did voice overs.

The late Herschell Bernardi wrote, acted in (along with others) and produced the best reel I've ever heard. He created a pretty standard recording session play in which the ad agency dude Milltown Jag directed the actor. (Milltown was the most prominent tranquilizer of the late 50s and early 60s; and Jag of course was for Jaguar, the kind of car Milltown drove.) Bernardi spoofed ad agency folks about as well as I've ever heard them skewered--Milltown was stupid, vain and insecure.. His first instruction to the actor was "Bloopers soap is real good. All we want is a simple throwaway reading. Bloopers soap is real good. Nothing dramatic." So the actor, who knows what he's doing, gives Milltown exactly what he asked for..

One hour later, take #73 or thereabouts, Milltown keeps saying 'You're not hitting the word `good' hard enough. The client tried t copywwrite that word last year." Bernardi: "Milltown, I don't think you can copyright words." The tape is about an hour long and believe it or not it manages to sustain itself as everbody in the studio (I believe it's Christmas Eve) just wants to get out of there--and they've 73 great takes to choose from. Everybody but Milltown just wants to get home.

The point of me retelling the story is that I've been in many many tense recording sessions. Everybody who works in the biz has been in them. The wrong actor was cast. The studio guys just can't give you the effects you want. The product song produced by some LA hotshot that sounded so good at first hearing sounds like hell now. Or you realize that you've written copy that not even Olivier could bring to life. And you're spending hundreds of dollars an hour (maybe thousands today).

So most pros--studio guys, actors, agency people--try to remain civil, focused and just get the job done. The job has probably been bid out and the client ain't gonna pay you five cents more if you run over. And then the agency is gonna be on your ass.

So. Come prepared. Spend 20 minutes or so off the clock with the studio effects guy listening to everything he's got for you. Be civil. Run through the copy with the actor three or four times before the clock starts ticking. And get ready for ten takes max.

In the 1970s Orson Welles was the spokesman for Gallo wines. He did a great job. The problem was getting that great job on film and on audio tape.

One of his recording sessions became the most listened-to private tape of the year. You know how geniuses are supposedly unable to work in any kind of "team" way? Well, he starts calling the advert guys various names because they made a few suggestions about his reding of a line. Then he tells them that the copy stinks. He refuses to read it. He wants to rewrite it himself. On and on freaking on in one of the most juvenile and nasty personal attacks I've ever heard in a studio.

I'm not here to defend ad people. I hated 98% of them I had to work with. My feeling is you go into advertising when you can't do anything else, the exception being the art department. That's the only place you find real talent. While I'm sure that some novelists didn't mind their tenure in advertsing, most of them I've talked to hated it and the people as much as I did.

However, Welles was broke. The ad agency agency was paying him tremendous bucks. He owed them a professional performance.

The tv biography I saw of Welles implies that geniuses just simply can't work with lessers. They implied that Weeles could never work in the movie studio system because only hacks survived.

That's the point that made me bristle about Welles. How many men and women working wth studios have turned out excellent pictures--importtant, true, powerful pictures? Hundreds if you include wroldwide. Hundreds. Few if ny even approach Citizen Kane. But I feel pretty sure that Welles' failure with the studios was largely his own doing. I'm sure there were scenes in the front office where Welles went after studio heads the same way he went after the Gallo advert Nobody in the bio ever mentioned that he was self-destructive but how else would you characterize that kind of behavior? I'm not defending the dopes who run Hwood but who's going to put up with that kind of abuse just so you can say you worked with Orson Welles?

The Edgar nominees

Dear MWA Member:

Image Mystery Writers of America is proud to announce its Nominees for the 2006 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction, television and film published or produced in 2005. The Edgar Awards will be presented to the winners at our 60th Gala Banquet, April 27, 2006 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City.


The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown)
Red Leaves by Thomas H. Cook (Harcourt)
Vanish by Tess Gerritsen (Ballantine Books)
Drama City by George Pelecanos (Little, Brown)
Citizen Vince by Jess Walter (Regan Books)


Die A Little by Megan Abbott (Simon & Schuster)
Immoral by Brian Freeman (St. Martin's Minotaur)
Run the Risk by Scott Frost (G.P. Putnam's Sons)
Hide Your Eyes by Alison Gaylin (Signet)
Officer Down by Theresa Schwegel (St. Martin's Minotaur)


Homicide My Own by Anne Argula (Pleasure Boat Studio)
The James Deans by Reed Farrel Coleman (Penguin - Plume)
Girl in the Glass by Jeffrey Ford (Dark Alley)
Kiss Her Goodbye by Allan Guthrie (Hard Case Crime)
Six Bad Things by Charlie Huston (Ballantine Books)


Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece by Edward Dolnick (HarperCollins)
The Elements of Murder: The History of Poison by John Emsley (Oxford University Press)
Written in Blood by Diane Fanning (St. Martin's True Crime)
True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa by Michael Finkel (HarperCollins)
Desire Street: A True Story of Death and Deliverance in New Orleans by Jed Horne (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)


Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: How to Knock 'em Dead with Style by Hallie Ephron (Writer's Digest Books)
Behind the Mystery: Top Mystery Writers Interviewed by Stuart Kaminsky, photos by Laurie Roberts (Hot House Press)
The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Novels edited by Leslie S. Klinger (W.W. Norton)
Discovering the Maltese Falcon and Sam Spade: The Evolution of Dashiell Hammett's Masterpiece, Including John Huston's Movie with Humphrey Bogart edited by Richard Layman (Vince Emery Productions)
Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak (Harcourt)


"Born Bad" – Dangerous Women by Jeffery Deaver (Mysterious Press)
"The Catch' – Greatest Hits by James W. Hall (Carroll & Graf)
"Her Lord and Master" – Dangerous Women by Andrew Klavan (Mysterious Press)
"Misdirection" – Greatest Hits by Barbara Seranella (Carroll & Graf)
"Welcome to Monroe" – A Kudzu Christmas by David Wallace (River City Publishing)


Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach (Henry Holt Books for Young Readers)
Wright & Wong: The Case of the Nana-Napper by Laura J. Burns and Melinda Metz (Penguin Young Readers – Sleuth/Razorbill)
The Missing Manatee by Cynthia DeFelice (Farrar, Straus & Giroux Books for Young Readers)
Flush by Carl Hiassen (Knopf Books for Young Readers)
The Boys of San Joaquin by D. James Smith (Simon & Schuster Children’s Books)


Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams (HarperCollins – Laura Geringer Books)
Last Shot by John Feinstein (Knopf Books for Young Readers)
Quid Pro Quo by Vicki Grant (Orca Book Publishers)
Young Bond, Book One: Silverfin by Charlie Higson (Hyperion/Miramax Books)
Spy Goddess, Book One: Live & Let Shop by Michael Spradlin (HarperCollins Children’s Books)

River's End by Cheryl Coons (Book and Lyrics), Chuck Larkin (Music) (Marin Theatre Company)
Safe House by Paul Leeper (Tennessee Stage Company)
Matter of Intent by Gary Earl Ross (Theater Loft)
Mating Dance of the Werewolf by Mark Stein (Rubicon Theatre)


CSI – "A Bullet Runs Through It, Parts 1 and 2", Teleplay by Richard Catalani & Carol Mendelsohn
CSI – "Grave Danger", Teleplay by Anthony Zuiker, Carol Mendelsohn, Naren Shankar. Story by Quentin Tarantino
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit – "911", Teleplay by Patrick Harbinson
Sea of Souls – "Amulet", Teleplay by Ed Whitmore
Wire in the Blood – "Redemption", Teleplay by Guy Burt


Crash - Story by Paul Haggis; Screenplay by Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco (Lions Gate Films)
A History of Violence - Screenplay by Josh Olson, based on the Graphic Novel by John Wagner & Vince Locke (New Line Productions)
The Ice Harvest - Screenplay by Richard Russo & Robert Benton, based on the Novel by Scott Phillips (Focus Features)
Match Point - Screenplay by Woody Allen (BBC)
Syriana – Screenplay by Stephen Gaghan, based on the book by Robert Baer (Warner Brothers)


Eddie Newton
"Home" – EQMM May 2005 (Dell Magazine)


Stuart Kaminsky


Brian Skupin and Kate Stine, Co-Publishers of Mystery Scene Magazine


Black Orchid Bookshop (Bonnie Claeson & Joe Gugliemelli, owners)
Men of Mystery Conference (Joan Hansen, creator)

Breaking Faith by Jo Bannister (Allison & Busby Ltd.)
Dark Angel by Karen Harper (MIRA Books)
Shadow Valley by Gwen Hunter (MIRA Books)

click here

This email was prepared by Steve Hamilton with the help of Margery Flax.

If you no longer wish to receive these emails, please reply to this message with "Unsubscribe" in the subject line or simply click on the following link: Unsubscribe

This message was sent by Mystery Writers Of America using VerticalResponse's iBuilder®
Mystery Writers Of America
17 E 47th St 6th Flr
New York, New York 10017

Read the VerticalResponse marketing policy.


Blogger Graham said...

I saw Bob Costas interview Charlton Heston a few years ago, and he asked point-blank if Welles was the best director Heston had ever worked with (in Touch Of Evil).

Heston said no, he was the most talented directory, but he tended to get bored and not really see things through to the end the way he should. So yeah, I think he had a big hand in his own undoing.

7:14 PM  
Blogger Hardluck Writer said...

No question, though, that Welles was a genius. Citzen Kane, Touch of Evil, Lady from Shanghai, Third Man (which I'd have to think he had a hand in directing) are all brilliant films. His one novel, Mr. Arkadin, is one of my favorite noir novels. Whatever the reasons for his undoing: temperment, boredom, or whatever, it's a shame when you think of what additional great movies he could've given us.

10:19 AM  
Blogger Gormania said...

Hi Dave--Welles was indeed a genius--Kane is proof of that--but he also, as Pauline Kael demonstrated, always took credit for other peoples' work. He always boasted about how much work he'd done on the Herman Mankewitz script for Kane--"saved it" he once said--but when you look at the original screenplay, he shot it 95% as it was. I believe he did the same with Carol Reed and the Third Man, talked about all his "contributions," which both Graham Greene (who was there every day) and Reed both denied, as did several other people. I'm not denying his accomplishments merely trying to speak up against his boasting. I felt very sorry for Herman M. in the way--for decades--the worshipping public bought Welles' "saved the script" bullshit until Kael proved otherwise years later. Ed Gorman

12:53 PM  
Blogger Juri said...

I haven't read Mankiewicz's screenplay, but other critics have tried to diminish Kael's claims by saying that Mankiewicz didn't really write anything else that mattered. If *he* was a genius, why doesn't it anywhere else?

Then again, Fitzgerald and Faulkner did also scripts for Hollywood, but they are not praised for those.

1:20 AM  
Blogger Juri said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:20 AM  
Blogger Juri said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:20 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home