Recently, I produced coverage of An Evening with Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, co-creators and co-executive producers of the television comedy, “How I Met Your Mother” (CBS) at the Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles. The event was hosted by Michael Roth, President of Wesleyan University, and Jeremy Zimmer, Founding Partner and Managing Director of United Talent Agency. Here is a brief highlights video, edited by Ben Travers.
Look for the Conversation video, containing insights into the success of Carter's and Craig's television comedy series, soon to be released.
The attacks of 11 September 2001 changed the landscape of the American experience. We are scarred by the intensity of passions that swept genius into the fires, tested by the assaults on our faith in the dream, and diminished by lost opportunities. Despite these losses, we grow stronger in vision, purpose, and our hunger for a better future... together.
A short story evolves to become a short novel, and is published. The author achieves success with his modest yarns about life on Cape Cod. He publishes his tales in the Saturday Evening Post, enjoys a respectable living from his writing, summers on the northern Jersey shore, and dies in Winter Park, Florida. Through his stories, readers discover a Cape Cod populated by dreamers and doers, practical idealists who define success in terms of personal codes more than popular myths of the America's 20th century success machine. Readers travel from afar to experience his Cape Cod, and residents help them realize the dream. Soon, the Cape becomes a destination, an ideal of a better time in America, and a vacationer's mecca.
In 1911, Joseph Crosby Lincoln (1870-1944), 41, published his story The Woman-Haters: A Yarn of Eastboro Twin-lights (A.L. Burt Company, NYC). He was a third of the way through his career as a spinner of popular yarns set on Cape Cod, in a part of the country that was invisible to all but a few thousand residents and their occasional visitors from nearby Boston. It was a place apart from the nation's rambunctious urban centers, a throwback to an earlier, self-reliant America. Its people were taciturn, pragmatic, and passionate about life's possibilities. Lincoln distrusted modern progress and so he kept returning in his stories to the childhood home from which he had been taken after his father died and his mother moved him to the mainland. Lincoln's anti-modernist tendencies found expression in stories about this Yankee outpost on a narrow finger of sand so far out to sea that on especially clear days residents might fancy seeing their ancestors' old country to the east. Here adversity was vanquished, justice prevailed, and romance was eventually, ultimately requited.
In The Woman-Haters, once-married Seth Atkins and Emeline Bascom accidentally reunite on a beach at the extreme easternmost tip of the nation. In this fantasy realm between sand and sea, they see their past actions in new light, comprehend their lives afresh, and rediscover their former attraction.
In 2010, enter Daniel Adams, a veteran writer-producer-actor-director who likes the cut of Lincoln's literary jib. Adams is one of movie-making's working class heroes who keep the dream of movie magic alive by gathering friends, locals, and would-be filmmakers together to put on a show. He attracts popular stars to his troupe, works long hours, stretches a dollar to the breaking point, and captures moments on film that become movie memories for the rest of us. Previously, he had directed an adaptation of Lincoln's 1911 story, Cap'n Eri: A Story of the Coast into The Golden Boys (2009). Recently, he adapted Joe Lincoln's The Woman-Haters: A Yarn of Eastboro Twin-lights a full one hundred years after it was published into the small feature film, The Lightkeepers.
Whether The Lightkeepers is a commercial or artistic success is not at issue here. As of this writing, it has grossed an estimated 4.5 million dollars, which does not qualify it as a commercial success in 2010. The 1911 equivalent, by the way, would have been $193,500. Reviews are mixed. Some critics have faulted the language, the staging, and Richard Dreyfuss' interpretation of former sea captain Seth Atkins. Positive reviews have cited The Lightkeepers' grown-up love story, the palpable sense of place, and the distinctively Yankee knack for understatement.
What counts is that Joseph Lincoln lived life and wrote stories his way. He spun yarns that made readers feel good about themselves. And Daniel Adams is living his life and making movies his way. Hats off to both artists. Thanks for keeping the dream alive.
Recently, Bruce C. McKenna, co-executive producer and lead writer on the HBO television mini-series, "The Pacific," stopped by the Wesleyan University campus for an interview about his latest project. He provided valuable insights into the challenges of adapting history to television, the importance of persistence in getting any project to the screen, and the role of the writer in the process from research and design of story architecture to defending the vision during production and presenting the final product to audiences. Look here for a link soon.
On the same day, Bruce presented the fourth episode of "The Pacific" in the Powell Family Cinema in the Center for Film Studies at Wesleyan University. His answers to questions display the historian's deep knowledge of his material, the screenwriter's respect for storycraft, and openness to sharing his seven year experience. Here are his remarks.
AMY BLOOM (AWAY, Random House 2007) read her short story, Compassion and Mercy, at a Celebration of Writing seminar in Wesleyan University's Memorial Chapel on Saturday afternoon while 200 yards away on Andrus Field, her alma mater's football team hosted Williams College. The significant audience that turned out to hear her revealed two things: there is always a choice to be made at Wesleyan between mind and body, and Bloom is a writer with the kind of forceful presence that can compete with anything. And she competed well, eliciting several laughs throughout her extended remarks. Her reading also produced the operative metaphor for one's creative muse for the rest of the seminar: a raccoon.
On short story vs. novel writing
If I write forty pages and I'm not done... it's going to be a novel.
I tend to think extensively about a story before I work on it. I think about the characters. Eventually I ask, "who dies?" Because in fiction you have to have things that are compelling. Going to the grocery store is not compelling. People dying is. People going off to war is.
For Bloom, it's always about the character's story, finding ways to show who they are by how they react to events.
By the time you are an adult, events don't make you who you are; they show who you are.
On writing for television
First, no one has to write for television. It's not like they kidnap your children and hold them for ransom. They pay you.
And, if you have other things that you do, and you have the time and space in your life, then collaborating with very, very smart visual artists is positive and rewarding. And they pay you.
It's different for me. I'm an exotic. I'm older, I'm from the East, and I'm a novelist.
It's funny. I always go out to Los Angeles and the second sentence out of my mouth is, 'That's okay. I'll go back to Connecticut.' It's best [for a writer] if you can walk away.