Wednesday, April 26, 2023



One night, sitting in Residuals Bar in Studio City (where the DRAGONHEART script was conceived) and drinking a Guiness, I was telling one of the stories that usually end up on this blog - a story about some poor misguided person in the film biz, and one of my friends said: “Where do you find these people?” I replied, “I bet I know all the losers in Hollywood”.... and they said that should be the title of my autobiography (or this blog). But instead, this blog ened up being called SEX IN A SUBMARINE due to a crazy script note I got from HBO on CRASH DIVE, and ALL THE LOSERS IN HOLLYWOOD was a title without a story... until now.

When looking for regular features for the blog, I thought it would be fun to tell a bunch of those stories of the oddballs I’ve met in the almost 30 years I’ve been in this business. I’m changing all of the names to protect the very very guilty (and avoid meeting lawyers) but the stories you are about to read are true... well, mostly true.


There are a bunch of people in the business that I have dinner with once or twice a year. A business dinner, but also a “What have you been up to?” dinner. In every single business they say “This is a business of relationships” and in screenwriting that means maintaining relationships with people you don’t really know, but have dinner or lunch or maybe drinks with once or twice a year. Instead of dressing in your screenwriter uniform of black dress shirt and jeans, you put on slacks and whatever else the restaurant’s dress code requires and get a free meal. What you are hoping for is: they say they are looking for a screenplay about dancing donkeys... and you have just finished a screenplay about dancing donkeys. Score!

But that never happens, and instead you have dinner with someone you hardly know and are afraid to ask about their spouse or their kid for fear they’re in the middle of a painful divorce or their kid is in rehab or jail. One good thing if you are a screenwriter, due to some weird pecking order thing that puts screenwriters below the people who bring the donuts to set, usually they pick up the check. Be warned: if you order big, they will want to split the tab; if you order small, they will pick up the check. It’s the same rule as if you go to a movie premiere where they will have food and drinks afterwards. If you don’t eat first, there will be one plate of hors d’oeuvres for 300 people, if you *do* eat first, there will be a five course meal.

So when this director (who I’ll call Robert, even though his real name is...) set up our semi annual dinner - which he always pays for - I went to meet him. This director has a colorful backstory - right out of film school he accidentally got hired to direct a commercial. He was last choice and they called him instead of the other guys by mistake - the list was upside down. That lead to other commercials, and then the stuff between the commercials - TV shows. He directed a bunch of kids shows with kid actors that you may have heard of but probably didn’t watch. After that, Robert did some hour long syndicated work - but never more than one episode on any show. I have no idea why they never brought him back. But he learned how to shoot fast - some hour long syndicated shows do an hour in a week, and that means you can shoot a feature film in two weeks... and that means you get hired to make low budget films. So even though he moved up from syndicated shows to network shows (again only doing one episode on a show before moving on) he eventually ran out of shows to direct and did some low budget movies. Two week wonders.

After making several movies for other producers, Robert began producing his own films. He made deals with distributors and they would fund his two week wonder genre flicks, mostly horror, but he made some action flicks and erotic thrillers and a monster movie or two.

Over the years, even though he had dinner with me a couple of times a year, he never once bought a script from me or hired me to write something for him. He seemed to favor first time screenwriters, and at first I thought it was because he could pay them less than he would have to pay me... but later I began to believe it was a control issue. I talked to one of the writers after a concrete carpet premiere and Robert could have afforded me for what he paid the new writer. His budgets were high enough to afford mid range stars and a full union shoot for two weeks. He didn’t need to hire first time screenwriters.

Oh, and these new writer’s scripts weren’t very good. Not just my opinion, the reviews for the films tended to mention the poor screenplays - filled with awful dialogue and contrived stories and sometimes laugh outloud horror scenes. One film had a woman Epilady herself to death and another character tear their foot open and bleed to death using one of those foot callous sanders. If there was a late night infomercial about it, it was used as a murder weapon in one of his films! As the bad reviews kept coming in, I kept wondering why he paid for my dinner a couple of times a year but never asked me to write a screenplay.

So, here we are having dinner in one of those trendy restaurants that I’m too cheap to eat in unless someone else is paying, and it’s been a while between gigs for me and I wish he would hire me for the next two week wonder - my script would be much better than his first time writers screenplays - so I’m casually mentioning a couple of horror scripts I have sitting around, and...

A TV Star came up to the table. This guy was one of the stand outs in a hit ensemble show that ran for six or seven years, on the cover of TV Guide and a household name... and then just sort of vanished. He had done a bunch of pilots (as the star) and none of them got picked up and then people just stopped calling him, I guess. But this guy was a star, you would know his name. “Excuse me for interrupting, Robert, my wife and I were having dinner (he gestures to the other side of the restaurant) and I saw you over here and I thought I would stop by and say hello.”

Robert didn’t introduce me, I’m a writer - you don’t earn any points for having dinner with a writer. So I just watched the conversation unfold while using the time to eat instead of talk (the worst part about these business dinner things is that you don’t want to accidentally spit food at someone or talk with food between your teeth... so you tend not to eat very much. I have had business lunches where I went to get lunch afterwards). After the pleasantries, the TV Star gave one of his million dollar smiles and told Robert that everybody loved his latest pilot but he had a couple of months before it would go to series if the network picked it up and he was looking for something to kill time, like one of Robert’s movies.

Robert matched the TV Star’s smile, “Amazing! Another pilot? I guess I missed reading about it in the trades. What network?”

“One of the new cable channels. Hasn’t launched, yet. But I have a couple of months, and I loved working with you when you directed that episode of our show...”

“Are you starring in this show, or is it an ensemble?”

“The thing is, I only have these two months that are free. Every time my wife and I go into Blockbuster, there’s another one of your movies on the shelves...”

“What are you doing in Blockbuster? You don't have an assistant? An intern to do that stuff for you?” Robert was just needling him, and the TV Star was beginning to squirm.

“If you are making another one of your films in the next couple of months...”

“As a matter of fact, we’re about to go into pre-production on the next one. A werewolf movie set in an abandoned desert gas station. I found the gas station while driving around with the wife and kids and a werewolf just fit the location. Found this new kid to write the script, and it’s amazing. The kid had only written one script before - he came here to be an actor - and I found him in an acting workshop I was guest lecturing at. But this kid, second script and he just knocked it out of the park. There’s a scene where they spray the werewolf with that Nair depilatory stuff that is out of this world. Never seen anything like that in a werewolf movie before! Sure, it was my idea. I mean, the kid's green, couldn't come up with an idea like that if he tried. I'm guiding him on this. But this kid is an amazing writer. ”

“I have never played a werewolf before, that sounds interesting.”

“We’ve already cast the lead, Sorry.”

“Well, are there any interesting supporting roles? I could do a cameo, be one of the names on the box, helps the film’s sales...”

“You’d take a minor role like that? With this big pilot that may go to series?”

“Well, I need something in the next two months. If the role is something interesting...”

“Sounds like it has to be in these two months between pilot and series. And we are shooting in three months. So I don’t think it’s going to work out with your schedule.”

“Well, the pilot may not get picked up...”

“Like all of the others? It sounds like you really need a gig?”


“You aren’t here with your wife having dinner. I’ve been watching you go from table to table for the past half hour. What happens in two months? You lose your medical insurance? You miss a mortgage payment? The orthodontist repossess your kid’s braces? ”

The TV Star took a deep breath to calm himself, “I need the job, Robert. I still have some marque value. My show is playing in syndication all over the country. A hundred percent of the major markets. This can help both of us. Just give me four days. Enough to keep my SAG health & welfare benefits. I need the job.”

“Sorry, got nothing for you. But amazing to see you again.” Robert focused on his food as if the TV Star was no longer standing at the table.

The TV Star gave me that million dollar smile and said, “Sorry for interrupting your meal,” before walking away... he had exhausted every connection he had in Mantilini’s, Robert was his last chance. I felt terrible for him. I was between gigs and one of the reasons I was here was to maybe sell Robert a script for his next crappy horror film. And of course he was picking up the tab for the meal that I had actually gotten a chance to eat this time. This is a brutal business and you never know where your next job is coming from, and there are times when you think there may not be a next job. That it was all some sort of fluke and Hollywood (collectively) has realize that your career was a mistake and now it is over. I wasn’t even near that point, I had a film made the year before and did a couple of assignments that will probable never get made, but I had gotten paid. But this TV Star seemed on the edge of panic that his career was over and the next time we would see him he would be our waiter at Mantilini’s. You may think that sounds crazy, but one of the entertainment magazines used to have a blind item section filled with stars from previous decades who had been spotted waiting tables and working in upscale retail stores on Rodeo Drive because their careers abruptly ended. That sort of thing was a career ender for a star.

Robert looked up from his meal to watch him leave the restaurant, and smiled, “What a loser. You can smell it on him. Loser. Puts on his best clothes and comes here begging for work. Table to table and no one will hire him. No one. Why? Do you know how many pilots he did? All of them crap.”

“He’s still well known and a good actor, why not give him a role in the werewolf film?”

“Why would I want that guy in my movie? He’s a loser. In that downward spiral of all losers. You could smell it, right?”

“Only his cologne.”

“How much was he wearing? Amazing! If I gave him a role, even a small role, in one of my films he would bring down the rest of the cast. His negative energy would spread. That’s what happens, you put one loser in your film and everyone becomes losers. I can’t afford that to happen. That guy’s career is over, and he’s just starting to realize it. Before he was on that TV show, he was doing telemarketing... and that’s where he will be in two months. On the phone begging you to switch to this cable company instead of the one you have. That’s a commission job, so you have to beg if you want to pay the bills. I don’t need some beggar bringing down one of my films.”

“But four days? Why not give him some small role? Leave him off the video box if you think that’s a problem? You have to cast somebody, right?”

“Not a loser. Not a beggar. Not that guy.” Robert tossed his napkin onto his plate, which was at least half full of food. “You know who that guy reminds me of? Barbara Payton. You know that story?”

“She was in ‘Trapped’ with Lloyd Bridges and ‘Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye’ with Cagney.”

“One of those amazing great Hollywood stories. Fame and misfortune. You should write that story!”

“I leave the biopics to Karaszewski & Alexander. I just write genre stuff: action and thrillers and horror.”

“Payton was one of the hottest starlets in town. She was up for the Marilyn Monroe part in ‘Asphalt Jungle’. After ‘Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye’ Cagney got her signed at Warner Brothers for five thousand a week. A week. Amazing! Bam, she got the female lead opposite Gary Cooper in ‘Dallas’ and the female lead opposite Gregory Peck in ‘Only The Valiant’. This was all in the same year! 1950. Same year she got engaged to pretty boy movie star Franchot Tone, and began an affair with movie star Tom Neal. She was amazing. Everybody wanted her on screen and between the sheets. Tom Neal was a drinker and a bit of a hothead, and punched out Franchot, leaving the guy in a coma for a day. Really messing up the pretty boy. Neal and Payton both ended up with that loser smell and people stopped hiring both of them. Within a couple of years this beauty queen who was the hottest actress in Hollywood was a toothless hooker on Sunset Boulevard, being arrested again and again for prostitution. She had movies still playing in theaters while she was on her knees blowing guys!”

“And she was dead before she hit forty. Now, mostly forgotten... except as a cautionary example.”

Robert gave me his most serious look. “You see that guy as a TV Star who needs a break, and want to help him. I see that guy as a loser who is on his way down and may drag my werewolf movie with him. I can’t afford that. Screw him. Screw him.”

“He’s just trying to keep it going, like all of us.”

“People like him will drag you down. My advice, Bill, avoid the losers. This town is full of them. Full of them.”

We finished our dinner and walked out to the valet stand, waiting for our cars, and shook hands and... I decided never to have dinner with Robert again. I made that decision before I read that story about what happened to the TV Star in the papers a couple of weeks later. It was a big story, and kind of shocking. I always wonder what Robert thought when he read it. If he had any regrets about the way he had treated the TV Star that night in the restaurant.

Turns out I didn’t need to sell a script for Robert to make into a terrible horror film like that werewolf movie he made. I sold a script soon after that night and it actually got made. Not well made, but it was shot on 35mm film and had a couple of names in the cast bigger than the names in Robert’s werewolf at a gas station movie. But the TV Star, you ask, what happened to him? Did he end up blowing guys on Sunset Boulevard? No. Something even more shocking. You probably know what happened. It was in the trades.

That pilot that the TV Star was the lead in didn’t make it at the new cable network, in fact, the new cable network didn’t make it, either. But the pilot got shopped around and ended up getting picked up by a big broadcast network. Between that show and the one that followed, that TV Star has been the star of a hit TV show for the past dozen years. Just got signed to a production deal at NBC/Universal where he gets to make his own shows. And Robert? Still making crappy little horror movies with ever shrinking budgets and probably complaining about the smell of losers all around him...

And in Hollywood, no one can hear you scream.

Guess who the loser was in this story?

- Bill

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

ATLiH: Stunt Trouble


One night, sitting in Residuals Bar in Studio City (where the DRAGONHEART script was conceived) and drinking a Guiness, I was telling one of the stories that usually end up on this blog - a story about some poor misguided person in the film biz, and one of my friends said: “Where do you find these people?” I replied, “I bet I know all the losers in Hollywood”.... and they said that should be the title of my autobiography (or this blog). But instead, this blog ened up being called SEX IN A SUBMARINE due to a crazy script note I got from HBO on CRASH DIVE, and ALL THE LOSERS IN HOLLYWOOD was a title without a story... until now.

When looking for regular features for the blog, I thought it would be fun to tell a bunch of those stories of the oddballs I’ve met in the almost 30 years I’ve been in this business. I’m changing all of the names to protect the very very guilty (and avoid meeting lawyers) but the stories you are about to read are true... well, mostly true.


For some reason, I know a bunch of stuntmen and special effects guys. My friend Rick’s friend Chuck rolled down the stairs at the end of THE EXORCIST and then, the next day, fell off the top of the Space Needle in PARALLAX VIEW. He’s an interesting guy - he’s worked on almost every Clint Eastwood movie and is still working now... even though he is no longer a young man. I’ll bet I know at least one stuntman on every U.S. movie that hits the big screen... and DVD. For this little story. I’m going to either change the names or leave them out... since these stuntmen want to keep working.

There is this low budget company that began by making low-end direct to video horror films. The company began as a distributor - and that’s really what studios like Paramount and Warner Brothers and Universal are - they distribute films. This company is way way way down the list from those studios. They “buy” a completed low budget film from an indie filmmaker (usually horror), then take it to American Film Market and sell foreign territories for as much as they can get... then release the film on DVD in the USA. They probably began with a boiler room, with out of work actors on the phone selling the movies to mom & pop video stores. Doing a hard sell, because these films have no stars in the cast, and probably no one who can even act in the cast. Plus, they were made on a shoe string and probably look like crap.

The problem these companies have is that they are dependent on the indie producers to make a film they can sell. As you know from my Trilogy Of Terror blog entries, most indie producers don’t have a clue... and end up making horror movies without any horror. I have no idea why they do this. But these really low end distribs have to wade through all of those movies, trying to find a horror film with some horror in it... at least enough to cut together a trailer. Eventually they find some indie filmmakers that have a clue, and they work with those guys - often telling them what sort of horror movie they would buy, so that the indie filmmaker can make that film. But people who have a clue tend to move on to bigger and better distribs... so eventually these low end companies decide it would be much easier to just make the films themselves.

And they start doing “in house” - making their own films.

Now, the creative force behind these films... are salesmen. The guys who sell the films at AFM or have graduated from the boiler room to VP Sales. They are not writers. They are not directors. They are not even producers. They are SALESMEN. They know what sells (boobs, blood) but know absolutely nothing about story or making movies.

They do know that if they are going to make a lot of money on these films, they have to be made for pocket change. So this company makes movies for $100k maximum and pays $1k for the screenplay. They started out paying $2k, but discovered the writer who would take $2k would take $1k. So why not pay the writer less and pocket the difference?

Now, here’s where it gets really good. At the company in this story, after they pay the writer $1k for the script, one of the salesmen does a rewrite. They don’t hire a writer to do the rewrite, because writers don’t know *what sells* the way a salesman does. This company makes over a dozen films a year - and has a deal with Blockbuster video. I have no idea how much Blockbuster pays them per film, but they make them for $100k. SAG signatory (extreme low budget deal) so they can get some names in the cast.


So one of my stunman friends gets hired to work on a film from this company. The company has decided horror movies are oversaturated, so they’ve decided to make an action flick. Hey, and they are going to spend a little more (because they have to). My friend is a stuntman who wants to become a stunt coordinator (a step up) and they hire him in that position. He reads the script, and it’s not great, but it’s okay.

He goes to the first production meeting and discovers there is very little money in the stunt budget, but a whole lotta action in the script. My friend doesn’t want to be stunt coordinator on a film with very few stunts, how would that look on his resume? He wants to get a bunch of great clips for his reel out of this film, so that he never has to work for a company this low on the totem pole ever again. That means he’s going to have to pull favors.

He realizes the best way to get good clips on *his* reel is to find other stuntmen friends who want good clips on their reels. So he asks all of his buddies what stunts they have always wanted to do... stunts they would do just to have them on their reel (so that other companies will hire them at top dollar to do the same stunts in much better films). My friend goes back to the “producers” with a list of “stunts at cost” and they work them into the script. This is easier than you might think, since action films tend to have the same basic stunts. There are car chases and a high fall and fist fights and things like that.

Now, at this budget, the most impressive “stunt at cost” he can get is a car doing a multiple roll and exploding. My friend knows a stuntman who has always wanted a big car roll on his reel. If you’ve seen THE KINGDOM, you know that a good car roll can be really impressive. The SUV chase and explosion in that film is just amazing. There’s a behind the scenes on HBO that shows how they did it - and *that* is amazing. Back in the 70s when John Wayne was losing popularity, he made a film called McQ where he played a Dirty Harry type cop - and to sell the film, they did a record breaking car roll. The only reason why I own that film on DVD - the car roll.

Now, the car roll stuntman has never done one of these before, so he pulls all of *his* favors - and gets five top stunt guys in Hollywood to help him with his first car roll (and be there to watch... so they might hire him or recommend him later). They buy a car, build a roll cage, do all of the prep stuff. These expenses come out of pocket, now - the stuntguy will be paid for after the stunt. The stuntguy gets a pyrotech friend of his to explode a second car for cost. They will need an ambulance and a water truck on set for this... but the “producers” argue that they can do without both. The producers are thinking they can save money... and pocket it. What’s more, the ambulance and water truck and Fire Marshal don’t show up on film, so why pay for them? If it’s not on screen, it’s not important.

Well, the law says differently, so the producers are forced to comply. The producers will take care of the water truck and ambulance and Fire Marshal... because they are afraid if my friend the stunt coordinator does it, he won’t get the best price.

A week before the film goes into production, one of the two salesmen who own the company does his script rewrite... and now the script is much much worse than when my friend signed on. Now it’s crap. But the two salesmen turned “producers” who own the company think it’s brilliant. They think they know what they are doing, and what is good... and they are wrong.

But my friend thinks that maybe all of the cool stunts will make up for the (now) really bad screenplay....


The call time is 9am. The stunt guys show up at 9am with the vehicles.... and no one else is there.

No one.

They wait around, and people start trickling in.

The pyro guy wants to run a test - explode the second car with a quarter of the pyro stuff... but there is no fire marshal on set. He asks when the fire marshal is supposed to show, and the Assistant Director says call time was 9am (even though he didn't show until after 10am himself). But he assured the pyro guy that there was a permit to explode stuff.

Well, the pyro guy *knows* the fire marshal who would be assigned to this film, and calls him. Guess what? There was never a permit. No one ever applied for a permit. This makes the pyro guy angry, but he’s already out here and set up... so he talks to the fire marshal. Smooths things over. Finds a way to make it work. The fire marshal will come out on set and they can fill out the paperwork and get a permit when he arrives. He will allow them to do the explosions (if they have a water truck on site) as soon as he arrives. By the way - this is a huge favor the pyro guy is pulling - he's getting a fire marshal to show up and do a permit on site... and it was the guy's day off.

The fire marshal gives them even a bigger break - he allows the pyro guy to do a test before he arrives.

My friend the stunt coordinator realizes that the test may provide an additional angle of the explosion (this is a low budget film - they have *one* camera to film the explosion) and tells the camera crew he needs a camera set up in 30 minutes. The camera crew seems to be working at their own pace, but assures him that the camera will be ready in half an hour.

Fifteen minutes later, my friend checks in with the camera crew, and they don’t seem to be working very fast. Part of this may be that my friend is the stunt coordinator, not the director... but it’s not like the camera crew is doing anything else. Today is a stunt day - it’s all about the stunt. The director, who is somewhere at the location on his cell phone talking to someone about something that has nothing to do with the movie. Seems not to care. I have no idea what they pay the directors on these films, but if the writer’s fee is any indicator, the director is probably making minimum wage. Now. I have this belief that what you are getting paid should have nothing to do with the amount of energy and enthusiasm you give a project. If you decide to do a crappy job because you are being paid crap... you won’t ever be offered a better job. Anyway, neither the director nor the camera guys seemed to give a damn.

This stunt man is going to risk his life by the end of the day, doing a dangerous car roll for peanuts, and the camera guys and director don’t care.

Half an hour later, the car is ready to explode... the camera is not ready to shoot. Now, my friend thinks the test explosion is pretty important on a low budget film... so he begs the pryo guy to give them another half hour to get the camera set up. Then he tells the camera crew that they have a half hour to get the camera set up and pointed at the car that is going to explode. If they aren’t ready in half an hour, they will explode the car anyway.

A half hour later, the camera is still not ready, and the pyro guy says he's going to do his test. The test is cool... and not on film.

When the camera finally is ready, the stunt guy gets ready to do his car roll. All of his buddies - big time stunt guys - are there to see the big event... and maybe pull him from the wreckage if things go wrong. They give him last minute advice on how to do the car roll, things to watch out for, things to remember... Then they all shake his hand. He’s about to do something very dangerous... roll a car over several times *on purpose*. Stuntmen are crazy.

The stuntguy asks when the ambulance is going to show, the Assistant Director says, “I don't know, but we're behind time, so just do it.”

The stuntguy thinks that is a very bad idea - they are *miles* from the nearest town out in the middle of nowhere. He asks how far the nearest hospital is - and the AD doesn't know. Folks, in case you don't know - the rules say they need to know where the nearest hospital is, and have directions on how to get there, even if all they are shooting is a *dialogue scene*. Usually the map to the hospital, along with all of the emergency numbers, is on the back of the call sheet. If a film is shooting a dialogue scene and someone gets hurt, has a heart attack, whatever, they need to know where the nearest hospital is.

This is a day where they are doing dangerous stunts *and* explosions and the Assistant Director has no idea where the nearest hospital is... not even the phone number!

Well, the stuntguy blows his top. The AD gets on the phone to one of the two salesmen turned film producers who run this company and explains that the stuntguy refuses to do the stunt unless they have an ambulance. The “producer” asks if an ambulance is really required? Maybe he can talk the stuntguy into doing the car roll without it, put him on the phone.

The stuntguy controls his temper as he explains how dangerous this stunt is. They have the car with the roll-cage, they have all of the safety equipment, they have a stunt team... it would be a shame to lose the stunt because they don’t have an ambulance. The “producer” tells the AD it's up to him to get an ambulance out there - free or dirt cheap.

Well, while the AD is calling ambulance companies, the fire marshal shows up - so they can blow up the second car. The fire marshal sees the water truck, and, for some reason, decides to tap the tank with his knuckles... it's empty. See, filling it with water would cost extra - somewhere between $20 and $50 - so they didn't do that. Well, the fire marshal blows up - what kind of morons are these guys? He's not going to let them do *anything* - even bullet hits - unless they get the water truck filled with water. The first AD calls HQ again, and the “producer” decides it's too much trouble to send a PA to fill the water truck, plus pay for an ambulance, etc.

So, they change the scene. They just want the car to drive up and down the dirt road, and they'll do everything else in post. They’ll superimpose some fake looking fireball on the car, and instead of the car roll, well... it just comes to a stop.

The stunt guys are all pissed off. The pyro guy is pissed off. The fire marshal is threatening an investigation.

Everyone has wasted their time, wasted their efforts, wasted their credibility... they’ve pulled all kinds of favors... for nothing. For want of a single horse a mighty empire fell... All of the cool stunts they would have had in their low budget movie for *free*? Not there.

This is why so many low budget film makers remain low budget film makers. They think it’s more important to save $20 than to make a better film. Who the hell would even *rent* a water truck and then not put water in it? These guys are low budget losers... the kind of people you never want to work for. They don't care, and they don't want to improve their work. The most important thing - the basic requirement - you have to care. You have to love what you do. You need to constantly be trying to do something better - to improve yourself and your work. Even if you are making a low budget horror flick, you need to try to make the *best* low budget horror film possible. If you don't have the money, use your imagination.

My friend and all of his stuntmen friends are never going to work for these low budget loser again, and have spread the word. No one will ever do them a favor again... no more free stunts, they'll have to pay full price. But the crappy film without stunts? On the shelves at Blockbuster.

Only in Hollywood, baby!

- Bill

Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Book Report: The GREAT WAY Trilogy

From a few years ago... The Great Way Trilogy by Harry Connolly. The first book is on sale, so it's topical again!

May contain light spoilers... but I also may lie about who survives, so there!


Best Movie Ever Made

My friend Harry Connolly (20 PALACES novels) has a new epic trilogy and the last book was released yesterday... but I have already read it along with it’s brother and sister. Harry’s first 20 PALACES novel CHILD OF FIRE was one of Publisher’s Weekly’s 100 Best Books Of 2009 and got a starred review. The first novel in this new series also got a great starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, so you don’t have to take my word for it’s quality. It kicks ass.

My plan with the first book, THE WAY INTO CHAOS, was to read a chapter or two every night before going to sleep, except every danged chapter ends with a cliffhanger and you end up reading the next chapter and the next chapter and the next chapter and suddenly it is 4am and you realize you have to work the next day (well, that same day), and... There’s a chapter that ends with the hero falling off a flying boat into a city overrun with monsters! How are we expected to just set the book down and falll asleep? Impossible!

There are two protagonists, and if you pay attention to the art next to the chapter number you’ll know which this chapter is about.

“Tyr” Tejohn is a legendary warrior without a war, who ends up with a cushy palace job as weapons instructor and bodyguard to the slacker Prince. A good thing, because age has crept up on Tejohn and his knees and eyesight aren’t what they once were. But he still has his hands full, the Prince would rather get drunk and cause trouble. When the Empire suddenly falls to an unknown enemy (monsters they call “grunts” who hunt, kill & eat humans), Tejohn must get the Prince and his slacker friends to safety... but what if there is no safety?

Cazia is one of the Prince’s slacker friends, a spoiled teenaged sorcery student who may be the last survivor who knows how to cast spells. She and Tejohn don’t like each other, but both are sworn to protect the Prince. So we have our sword and our sorcery... in a world which has suddenly gone to hell. All of the characters are fully formed flesh and blood people and the world created is complex and fascinating. I particularly liked how before the fall of the empire, the ability to sing a song that tugs the heartstrings of the audience is more valuable than gold. The book also does a great job of giving both male and female characters equal time, so whether you’re looking for epic battle scenes with an aging warrior or a magical story about a teen sorceress learning how to use her powers with the fate of the world at stake, this book has you covered.

Publisher’s Weekly called it “immersive, thrilling, and elf-free epic fantasy”, and even though this is epic fantasy, the story is more like King Arthur and Merlin than Lord Of The Rings. The magic is logical and well grounded: one of the handful of spells turns air into water... which might even be possible through science. In other words: I had no trouble believing any of it even though I’m more into crime fiction these days. Oh, and though there is violence there is no sex of any kind. This is something I might have read as a teenager.


Best Movie Ever Made

The second book in the trilogy is my favorite, it’s the EMPIRE STRIKES BACK of the trilogy. That’s not to imply there are singing teddy bears who live in a tree house city in the third book (though there are talking alligators in a log city at the bottom of a lake, but they’re scary as hell!). Tejohn our warrior and Cazia our apprentice sorceress split up on two different missions to try to save whatever’s left of their world... and both face darkness within that they never knew existed.

Tejohn travels across the ravaged land to find the Prince’s wizard uncle who may know a spell that can save mankind from the grunts... before there isn’t any mankind left to save. Now that the empire has dissolved, his status is no longer currency and he finds himself struggling to survive as a commoner (and worse). In the past he could roll into a city and they would give him the best room and meals and anything else he wanted, he was a “Tyr”... now that his privilege is gone he must pay for everything in labor (which doesn’t get him much). Plus, all of the kingdoms which were in alliance as the Empire are now fighting among themselves, and Tejohn speaks the language of the enemy. No shortage of battles... and Tejohn comes to realize frightening truths about himself that he never wanted to know.

Cazia leads two other girls into the forbidden Valley Of Qorr, where monsters lurk... and perhaps the answers to where the grunts came from. Yes, girls. Not women. Cazia is only 15 years old, and with her is the preteen Princess Ivy who is betrothed to the Prince in an arranged marriage, plus a beautiful slave girl Kinz. The three go on an amazing adventure which could have been a full length novel in itself. When I was a kid MYSTERIOUS ISLAND was one of my favorite movies, and the Valley Of Qorr has all of the adventure and monsters of that film... or maybe of the Barsoom novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. It’s big fantasy adventure, and these three girls are challenged every step of the way. But just as Luke Skywalker learns about the darkside of The Force in EMPIRE, Cazia learns about the darkside of sorcery on this adventure... and it takes a toll that I will not spoil for you.

The great thing about these books is that *anyone* can die in them, and all of the characters are so well drawn that you care about even the minor characters. There’s an old woman traveling saleswoman who turns everything into a deal and has so much personality that she leaps off the page. Also, the world building continues in this book, and the details are amazing. The way an oxen herd is fed as it is on the move is impossible to forget. Oh, and note how fleshtone is part of the class system in this world... that’s kind of fun. One of the great things about all three books are the bits of mystery: in this book we discover that someone from the surprise attack on the castle in the first book has survived... but we don’t know who that is until it is revealed later in the book. Is it the King? The Queen? One of the other characters we grew to love who we thought died? Things like this help drive the story. The other great thing are the characters dealing with the dark sides... and throughout all three books the idea that everything they know is wrong. They see the world from their point of view, and when that world is destroyed they see things as they really are... which is often the opposite of what they believed it to be.

Though everything gets worse for our two heroes in this book, they get better for the reader!


Best Movie Ever Made

The final book continues to twist expectations. Tejohn and Cazia are reunited and find the Prince’s Master Sorcerer Uncle, who has extremely poor housekeeping skills. They develop the weapon that can kill the “grunts”, but now they need an army to go into battle and use that weapon. Problem is, soldiers are the first casualties in any war... and now they are left with farmers and children. Tejohn and Cazia try to round up an army: Tejohn at the Twofin Fortress where he knows there are a handful of good soldiers, and Cazia in the castle of her estranged father (which is far enough away from ground zero in the grunt attack that they may not have been attacked yet). Both find situations are not exactly as they seem, and must resolve these problems before they can put together any sort of army...

Once again, anyone can die in these books. There’s a character we come to love who doesn’t make it until the end of the book. That one shocked me, and I had to reread that scene because I just could not believe this person would die. Again, well drawn minor characters make the whole story seem real. There are a bunch of old women servants to the Master Sorcerer Uncle who both love and hate their jobs, and we completely understand each of them. Because the story pushes forward, there are also characters who kind of get left behind (like Kinz) who I really want to spend more time with. The side effect of well drawn characters is that you don’t want them to die or have their subplot stories end.

The other thing that drives this final chapter is the question: why? Why did the grunts attack now? Where did they come from? What do they want (other than to eat people)? And who is behind all of this? These answers are the real solution to the conflict, because if they can find out *why* they can prevent it from happening again. This requires Tejohn and Cazia to form some strange alliances in order to get information... like those scary as hell alligators in their log city. The alligators (Lakeboys) regularly feed on humans, so you are never sure if they are working with Tejohn and Cazia to save themselves from the grunts... or if they are just preparing dinner.

One of the interesting things about this book is a chapter that plays like a scene from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. I know that sounds crazy, but there is a scene in this book that has the same feel as that trippy light show end of the Kubrick film. This plays into the idea that everything we know is wrong... that we see the world around us through our eyes and we may not see the truth (which is more complicated). Sometimes we think it’s all about us, when really it has nothing to do with us... we’re just so vain we think that we are the center of the world when we don’t really matter that much. Though these are sword and sorcery fantasy novels filled with sword fights and intrigue, they also have characters who are forced to reevaluate their lives and a story that might make the reader stop and think about our world here on Earth (where we don’t have as many sword fights or giant birds).

I finished reading the third book a few days ago, and I already miss Tejohn and Cazia and Princess Ivy and Kinz. I felt as if I went of this epic adventure with them... and I want to go on another one!

(click on any of the covers above for more info on Amazon!)

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