Saturday, December 19, 2015

THE FORCE AWAKENS... for what it's worth...




I watched STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS more than once because I needed to observe the film from multiple perspectives. First, from the angle of the 10-year-old emotional fanboy inside of me; and then from the perspective of a grown man with an extensive background in screenwriting and film making.

Here's how to understand THE FORCE AWAKENS, and that's by answering these two questions:

1) Does it function adequately as the product of a four-billion-dollar deal between billion dollar corporations who've presented the movie as a tool to keep a highly lucrative IP in the dead center of pop culture awareness?

Yes. Beyond a shadow of a doubt.

2) Does it hit upon the emotional milestones that we've held dear for decades as old-school STAR WARS fans?

Yes... sort of.

If you were in the generation of the Original Trilogy (meaning you were born sometime between 1970 - 1980) and you were expecting to "feel like a kid again" then you've set yourself up to fail.

There's no way on earth you'll ever "feel like a kid again" because we've absorbed too much pop culture over the last thirty to forty years and the expectation to recapture certain levels of emotional connection (via nostalgia) will always fall flat. Our lives, mainstream media and the world itself is remarkably different than it was in late 1970s and early '80s. Even if the film had reached harder to elicit specific emotional reactions, it would have appeared to be far more manipulative and trite.

Of course, we're not totally to blame because Disney went out of their way to develop a marketing campaign that promised to deliver on the missing emotional core of the Prequel Trilogy. There's a great article from Kotaku about Disney's marketing push that clearly outlines the manner in which our emotional memories were toyed with in order to generate hype for The Force Awakens. I strongly suggest reading that essay when you get the chance, but here's the key idea from the piece:

"This is a Hollywood blockbuster that walks a perilous marketing tightrope between emotion and intellect. Disney have had to precisely target a finite reserve of emotion and nostalgia through marketing material that asks us to remember some Star Wars films, but not others. The way that this has been done has been nothing short of fascinating. It’s no coincidence, for example, that the major musical theme of the full length trailer is “Han Solo and the Princess” from The Empire Strikes Back, as it’s the only major musical theme from the whole original trilogy that didn’t return in the prequels. We haven’t heard that particular piece of music in Star Wars since Han, Leia, and Luke disappeared from the big screen in 1983.

But the key strategy for this targeted nostalgia, especially because so little dialogue has accompanied the trailers so far, has been visual. Every Force Awakens trailer has contained any number of carefully crafted callbacks to the original films, all designed to reassure us that it’s the spirit of 1977 (and not 1999) that’s being captured today."

Clearly, the goal of the marketing drive is to say: "Remember how you felt BEFORE the Prequel Trilogy? Well, prepare to feel that way again!" Some portion of the audience went in expecting a level of emotional fulfillment that would be impossible to achieve under any circumstance. Therefore many disgruntled STAR WARS fans are walking out feeling cheated and furious for wasting their time - yet AGAIN.

Does it hit upon the emotional milestones that we've held dear most of our lives as STAR WARS fans? Yes, I believe it does. For a specific generation of fandom.

One thing a lot of Original Trilogy fans refuse to consider is that there's a massive population of younger people who view the STAR WARS saga in chronological order as opposed to "Originals first, then Prequels."

My generation tends to view STAR WARS as IV, V, VI, then I, II, III, VII.

The younger generation tends to view STAR WARS as I, II, III, CLONE WARS, REBELS, IV, V, VI, VII.

That's a significant difference in viewpoint and expectation. Younger fans see this as a continuation of a fantastic saga.

Older fans went in expecting the experience of 1977's A NEW HOPE seemingly forgetting that the first STAR WARS movie came out of nowhere without any kind of direct pop culture predecessor. STAR WARS was a lightning bolt. There's no other way to describe it in 1977. The 21st century pop culture and cinema market landscape cannot mirror the market conditions or socio-historical background that allowed the first STAR WARS to flourish. The cinema and zeitgeist of the mid-1970s was dark, painful and packed with B-movie schlock or intense examinations of the human condition via crime, corruption and sacrifice in an increasingly grey moral spectrum . STAR WARS came along as a beacon of clearly-defined black and white morality with an otherworldly mis-en-scene that removed the audience from the doldrums of their lives.

That's the piece of the puzzle that can't be understated.

THE FORCE AWAKENS isn't constructed to placate the desire to recapture simpler times from the lives of the Original Trilogy generation. It's a massive entertainment machine with the bottom line of selling as many tickets, toys, video games and t-shirts as possible to justify the immense expenditures of the parent companies.

With all that out of the way, what about the product itself - the movie?

THE FORCE AWAKENS is a defacto remake/reboot of EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE. It thematically and structurally copies about 70% of the first STAR WARS movie from the desert planet opening with a droid carrying precious data in its memory banks to a giant laser cannon destroying planets to a fantastically-choreographed space battle/bombing run by X-Wing fighters to blow up the enemy base.

The story centers around three characters: Finn (John Boyega), Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Finn is a "reformed" First Order Stormtropper who saves Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac) from the clutches of the enemy before they both crash land on the planet Jakku where Rey lives a very meager existence as a scrap scavenger.

Through a series of improbable events - likely the ways of the Force - Finn is thrown together with the fun new (toy) droid BB-8 and Rey as the First Order wreaks havoc on Jakku to track down BB-8. They want the droid because he has the location of the self-exiled Luke Skywalker. It is not clear why the First Order and Kylo Ren want to find Skywalker, but we do know that Kylo was a former student of Luke's who turned to evil, and this caused Luke to lose faith in himself and the Force.

Kylo is soon revealed to be the son of Han Solo and General (Princess) Leia who is obsessed with fulfilling the legacy of his grandfather Darth Vader. It's an interesting twist on Luke's story from the Original Trilogy as Kylo struggles to avoid the Light Side of the Force despite being naturally pulled to being a Jedi.

Ren and Kylo's stories form the emotional core of the movie. Ren is reluctant to leave Jakku because she believes her family who abandoned her as a child will someday return to take her home whereas Kylo deliberately rejects a loving home for the sake of chasing darkness. On paper, it's a great juxtaposition, but in application, the script only touches on the surface of their respective journeys.

Through Finn's journey, we learn that the First Order (aka the new Empire) doesn't use clone troopers; instead they kidnap babies and mentally program them into child soldiers. For reasons still unknown, Finn overcomes his programming during a violent razing of a village on Jakku. There's even a moment when Kylo turns to Finn as if he's caused a disturbance in the Force. We're constantly teased about who will become the next Jedi although the revelation in the third act is telegraphed horribly.

And that's the biggest problem with the movie: there's no real shock moment. (Note: there is one "shock" moment, but you know what's going to happen five minutes before it occurs - a la the death of Han Solo).

Too much of the screenplay is spent clearly telegraphing the next sequence to the point where anyone who's taken a screenwriting course can tell you exactly what's about to happen. Thus, because of the utter predictability of the story, you'd hope the filmmakers would have taken a chance in the narrative but we're left with an extremely competent but emotionally distant experience when it really counts.

Don't get me wrong, there are some wonderful moments in the movie, especially during the space battles and escape sequences - not to mention the utter joy of seeing the STAR WARS world realized from the mind of JJ Abrams - but as a finished product the film feels incomplete. We know it's the first chapter of the new trilogy but as a movie, there needs to be a sense of completion as any film needs to stand on its own.

A good example of this would be THE LORD OF THE RINGS: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING which is the first movie in a trilogy but has a full emotional experience within its considerable running time. If more screen time in THE FORCE AWAKENS were spent on completely developing Finn and Poe as characters, there would have been a more satisfying experience. Instead, we're given the impression that there's "much more to come" in regards to Finn, Poe. General Hux, Supreme Commander Snoke, Captain Phasma and the rest of the new trilogy universe.

Again, there's a lot to love here. Daisy Ridley as Rey is a wonderful find. She has the ability to tell a story with her face and I can't wait to see what else she can do as an actress. John Boyega actually does great work with somewhat flat material and I know the guy has strong acting chops so we're going to get much more of Finn's story in the future. Seeing Han, Chewie, Leia, C-3PO, R2 and (eventually) Luke interacting with the new characters is really cool and - in my opinion - the true draw of THE FORCE AWAKENS.

So what's the final word on this?

On a scale of 1 - 10, I give STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS a solid 7 out of 10. It skirts the fringes of Original Trilogy nostalgia while setting up a future Trilogy in a manner that will satisfy younger fans but may ruffle the feathers of older, hardcore fandom who unfairly expect emotional resonance in a product moving in a new direction from a corporate machine interested in developing the long game of franchise sustainability.

If you can reconcile that reality, you'll have a great time. If you cannot, then you will be very unhappy.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015


Writing Frustration

Been a while. 

My fault. :) 

Too many writers appear to be waiting for something or someone to come along and give them a prize and/or award them with a contract to produce work. These writers sit around, do nothing but complain and whine about their misfortunes while the next generation of smarter, hotter, faster - better - people break into the scene and innovate the way we interact with stories and with media. Sometimes, you only get a small window to get your name out there before your concepts become obsolete. 

In the 21st century, there are countless avenues for a writer to distribute their work and build an audience. However, a writer must take that first step to self-sufficiency. 

Brandon gives hard advice about being a self-starter so please listen to the latest episode of Writing for Rookies



Saturday, June 27, 2015


San Diego Comic-Con International just put up their Wednesday through Saturday (so far) programming schedule and I now have info for all three of my panels for the con. If you want to say hello, get something signed (free of charge) or want to do business, you can easily track me down at the panels or sitting at the Lion Forge Comics booth or in the professional's lounge. 

Full info is below.

On Friday, July 10th:
If you are an unpublished writer with dreams of making it in the transmedia marketplace and you don't know how or where to begin, this is the panel for you. Hollywood screenwriters and graphic novel producers share insider information, publishing secrets, and the professional realities on how to develop your ideas into a viable comics proposal.
Moderated by 2015 Disney/ABC Writing Program winner and 2014 Eisner Award nominee Brandon Easton (Marvel's Agent Carter,ThunderCats, Watson & Holmes), the panel includes Geoffrey Thorne (Leverage, The Librarians), Marc Zicree (Star Trek: the Next Generation, Space Command), Erika Alexander (Concrete Park, Living Single), and Tony Puryear (Concrete Park, the Schwarzenegger film Eraser). Topics will include how to hire artists and build a strong contract, how to seek out a publisher, and how to navigate the tough new world of intellectual property management in the digital frontier.
Friday July 10, 2015 6:00pm - 7:00pm
Room 32AB

On Saturday, July 11th:
The beloved pro wrestler's daughter Robin Christensen joins the creative team of Lion Forge's authorized graphic novel biography including Brandon Easton (Andre the Giant: Closer to Heaven) and Shannon Eric Denton (senior editor, Lion Forge Comics) to discuss the real man known as the "Eighth Wonder of the World." Join this panel to reminisce about one of sports entertainment's most legendary figures. Surprise guests will be featured.
Saturday July 11, 2015 11:00am - 12:00pm
Room 29AB

For years people have reinvented themselves. Actors turned politicians; Luke Skywalker turned Jedi; Captain America turned first Avenger. Disney-ABC's Creative Talent Development and Inclusion team has successfully assisted many achieve their dreams by helping them reinvent their careers. Whether you're an actor who wants to direct, a director who wants to write, a feature writer who wants to write television, or a comedy writer who wants to write drama, you'll get helpful tips and insight on how to successfully make a career transition from Disney-ABC writers, directors, and executives.
Saturday July 11, 2015 5:30pm - 6:30pm
Room 24ABC

Hope to see you there!


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Baltimore: The Land of My Birth

People have never understood why I've always been incredibly proud to be from Baltimore. It made me very strong. 
It gave me the strength to put myself through college three times with no familial assistance, the strength to move to Boston and deal with the racial foolishness up there, the strength to move to NYC with little money and no connections and build a great life there, the strength to take the biggest chance of my life and go for my dreams of being of Hollywood screenwriter during the worst economic climate in recent history.

I watch the horrible images from my city and I also see a lot of honest, hard-working people confronting the looters and telling them that they're wrong for breaking the law. We know that there needs to be law enforcement reform, but destroying our hometown isn't the way to do it.

Baltimoreans are notoriously tough. We don't back down. We never give up. Our reputation can be muddy, but beneath the grit there's a heart of gold. There are millions of good people in the Baltimore region. They'll step up, and order will be restored.
Everything I am is because of being from Baltimore - both good and bad. It still is a great city with a unique culture with an amazing history. There's a lot of pain and suffering that's been compounded by years of systemic abuse and some of that frustration is bursting forth.

I sit in Los Angeles 3000 miles removed from the place of my birth. I wish I could be there for my brothers and sisters. One day, I shall return and do what I can to make it a better place. Until then, I will pray for Freddie Gray, the innocent men and women destroyed by the Drug War and the police officers hurt by the errant youth on the streets.
Be good Baltimore. Be better. My heart goes to you.
P.S. On a happier note: 


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

BRAVE NEW SOULS Free Online Screening for Black History Month!


From Sunday, February 1st at 12:00AM (EST) through Tuesday, February 3rd at 11:59PM (EST) you'll be able to watch the documentary free of charge! 

As the writer, director and producer of the film, I learned much about the process of documentary production as well as how many talented Black speculative fiction creators were out there who didn't get the attention they deserved. 

Brave New Souls premiered at Eagle Con LA on May 9th, 2014 to a packed house and has been screened at Stan Lee's Comikaze, Black Comic Book Day at the Schomburg and the Black Comix Arts Festival

Check out a few clips as well as the trailer for the film: 

Former DC Editor Joe Illidge talks his influences and gives advice to new writers.

Creators Joe Illidge, Nora Jemisin and John Jennings speak about the industry. 


Return here on February 1st for the movie link!


Friday, January 09, 2015

The New Black Pathology: Endless Whining and Complaining About Pop Culture...

In light of all the truly horrible things happening in the world, it rips me in half when I see Black folks complaining about things that aren't really that bad in the grand scheme.

What I'm talking about specifically is the never-ending cycle of whining and complaining about movies and TV series that have predominantly Black casts. In the last three years, there's been a slew of Black movies and TV shows that have served to do nothing but divide the Black audience for purely superficial reasons.

Let me jump right to the point by discussing the latest Lee Daniels (who I'm not a fan of) production EMPIRE which debuted to high ratings this past Wednesday (01/06/15) on FOX. In the midst of the news of the ratings success, some Black folks on Facebook and Twitter have been circulating this meme:

What's interesting about this meme is that it flies in the face of a major fact that flew over the heads of the general audience:

The strong “Empire” premiere means that three of the top four launches of the season in adults 18-49 — “How to Get Away With Murder,” “Empire” and “Black-ish” — are shows fronted by African-Americans.

That's pretty fucking huge. Three shows. Three different casts. Three different universes of storytelling all with significant African-American participation. Three shows debuting at the top of the charts.

As recently as mid-2014, there's been a lot of hand-wringing over the lack of Black representation on television. Going back to 2008 - 2013, there weren't many shows at all with Black leads or stories centralizing African-Americans. I don't count those ridiculous Tyler Perry sitcoms as "Black" because they exist in a parallel reality where all spoken lines have to be delivered by actors at the top of their voice - as if they were playing to a crowded playhouse.

We went from famine to an adequate dinner in the span of two years.

Now, before I continue, I must say that no one should be "satisfied" with just "any old Black show" nor should we be satisfied with "crumbs." I've heard the arguments for years. Actually, I've heard the arguments for decades.

Let me recount a few of these discussions:

1) When I was a kid, I remember The Cosby Show being criticized for not being "Black" enough because the parents were upper-middle-class professionals and their kids didn't act like street kids. Black folks complained because it wasn't representing the streets.

2) In the early 1990s - during the hood movie boom - movies like BOYZ IN THE HOOD, MENACE II SOCIETY, STRAIGHT OUTTA BROOKLYN, NEW JERSEY DRIVE, etc. were criticized because it presented the inner-city Black community as savage and ignored the overwhelmingly law-abiding African-American working class.

Not only that, but during this same period, we were treated to an array of films highlighting the Jewish Holocaust - the most notable of these films being the excellent SCHINDLER'S LIST from Steven Spielberg.

I can tell you as someone who was in college during the bulk of the 1990s, all you would hear from the pseudo-revolutionaries was: "Of course Hollywood gonna show the holocaust. Jews run Hollywood, they gonna show how their people were treated. They'd NEVER make no movies showing how horrible slavery was! They don't want nobody to know the truth!"

I heard this for about 15 years straight.

And then...

3) Fast forward to 2012: Quentin Tarantino's DJANGO, UNCHAINED is released. The film isn't perfect, but one of the central points to the narrative was showing how indescribably horrible slavery was in the U.S. The story didn't flinch from the torture, rape, dehumanization, hopelessness and overall demonic nature of America's greatest crime.

Then in 2013, Black British filmmaker Steve McQueen and African-American screenwriter John Ridley bring 12 YEARS A SLAVE to the screens. Here's yet another well-crafted film that does not flinch from the horror of the American slave trade. It's all on the screen for you to see. Uncompromising, relentless, painful, real, inhumane. Just like slavery.

And what's been the general reaction from the Black peanut gallery?

"Why does Hollywood always want to show us as slaves? We done more than that! They always want to see us as subservient! They like those old time movies showing us as their servants... etc."

Judging by the box office returns of 42 (the WONDERFUL Jackie Robinson biopic starring Chadwick Boseman) and SELMA (currently in theaters) and the astonishingly fun/brilliant satire DEAR WHITE PEOPLE all the complainers found a reason to ignore these more balanced representations of African-American life.

And with that said...

4) In 2014, a new Black family sitcom debuted called BLACK-ish. I don't like the title, but it grew on many of us pretty fast. Starring Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laurence Fishburne and a slew of other talented veteran and new faces; Black-ish started shaky, but quickly settled into a quirky examination of how "success" challenges personal ethnic identity and how the intersection of class and race alters the perception of life itself.

And it's damn funny.

But according to a lot of Black folks online... (mind you, I copied and pasted all of these quotes from message boards, Twitter and Facebook discussions):  "Black-ish is wack! It's coonery. I'm tired of coons and shuckin' and jivin'. Of course it's gonna be popular, it makes us look like clowns and fools!"

I've watched every episode of Black-ish twice and have yet to find "cooning."

However, I can recall a show that made Blacks look like animals:


I love Martin Lawrence. I love Tisha Campbell. Who doesn't love Cole/cockroach? But MARTIN - the show - managed to degrade Black people at every single turn. For whatever reason, Martin is held up as some paragon of Black progress from the Black peanut gallery. You can't go far without hearing someone say "I wish they made more Black shows like Martin!"

Martin was a show that traded in the light-skin vs dark-skin Black woman stereotype. Don't know what that is?

Light-skinned Black women = professional, intelligent, kind, warm, gentle, beautiful.

Dark-skinned Black women = mean, cruel, cold, callous, dirty, stupid, ghetto, wrong, ugly.

As the show went on, the majority of the jokes were based around how Pam was disgusting and unattractive. Her "nappy" hair was constantly derided (remember "bee-dee-bee on her neck").

The Sheneneh character was a parade of every single horrible stereotype of lower-class Black women that has existed. And yet, this show is still held up as some wonderful, transformative moment in Black pop culture.

5) Now we've got EMPIRE. The peanut gallery seems to be forgetting what a nighttime soap opera looks like. Apparently, they've never seen DYNASTY, MELROSE PLACE, FALCON CREST or anything soap opera ever.

Soap operas trade in drama. Without people in jail, or people sleeping around, or people scheming to get money/power, most soap operas don't work.

Here's some random quotes taken from Facebook regarding Empire (I swear I'm not making this up):

"The Folks who produced and are in the show, have ALL SOLD THEIR SOULS TO THE DEVIL FOR THE MONEY ! LET'S SHUT THIS GARBAGE DOWN NOW ! AMOS AND ANDY 2015 !" 

"They disrespect us. They have no regard for us. They want us stupid...just play some music for these niggers, they love that, lets just shove some drama down their throats, make them fight, have a son call his mother a bitch. Make the colors bright cause niggers love colors. NO THANK YOU. I'LL WATCH RERUNS OF WHATEVER..."


I don't like negative portrayals of Black people in any medium. I feel those Housewives/Basketball/Hip-hop/Love reality shows do more damage to Black images than any scripted drama currently on air.

So many folks have decided the totality of the series is problematic based on one episode. Just one episode.

These are the same kinds of folks who whine about the laws and political mistreatment but won't vote - they won't even register to vote.

These are the same kinds of folks that complain about the lack of positive Black imagery but don't support movies that show a hyper-noble Black community.

A trait of millennial culture is an overwhelming sense of entitlement. You see this in the genre world and you're seeing this regarding the proliferation of new Black TV shows and movies. Apparently, if a product doesn't appeal to every single possible whim - if it doesn't satisfy some imaginary goal of representation - then it is to be fully trashed and discarded under the pretense of protecting the legacy of African-American imagery.

This is an important thing to believe in, but it is completely misdirected. What's replaced real activism is keyboard activism. Re-tweeting important news of liberation and freedom struggles is considered just as legitimate as grass-roots political organizing.

Complaining about media is considered by some a worthy replacement for creating your own stories for distribution. Whining about "bad" imagery is a substitute for seeking out the images you feel "properly" reflect the realities of Black life. Calling something "coonery" or "clowning" is a replacement for in-depth analysis of story structure and behind-the-scenes production news.

Giving something the benefit of the doubt is considered "selling out" while simple-minded, reactionary reviews based on minimal information is now the standard-operating-procedure for critical understanding.

What terrifies me is that many Blacks fall right into the stereotype of being relentless complainers. No matter what the story is, no matter how well we're presented, no matter how fantastic a performance is, no matter how well the script is written, there's going to be a loud chunk of Black folks who equate internet access with the freedom to tender nonsense complaints. Nothing satisfies them.


I'm well-aware that the Black community is not a monolith. Things that I consider to be "normal" are completely weird to Blacks who've grown up under different circumstances. However, I do feel the proliferation of electronic media as well as the tidal wave of entertainment options has led to a compartmentalization of Black interests in media. This is a double-edged sword because it shows the incredible diversity of the Black marketplace, but it also creates an unrealistic expectation of satisfaction from every media product that cannot possibly be satiated.

What's worse, it removes the commonality of African experiences that shows/movies like The Cosby Show, Roots, The Best Man, Soul Food, Barbershop and even Black-ish centralize and celebrate.

I'm aware that many will disagree with my assessment, and that's cool. I don't mind differing opinions as long as they're informed opinions. People can have an opinion on anything, but some opinions have the benefit of deep consideration with real-world facts to back them up.

In the past 30 years, I've seen Black people get exactly what they want and then complain about something else in movies and TV. If some of you want a mainstream show where the Nation of Islam blows up a city block every week, that's not going to happen. While I don't EVER advocate that kind of stuff, there's nothing stopping any of the complainers from buying a digital camera system and creating a webseries showing all the revolutionary rhetoric they want.

But that would take time away from all the whining online.