Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Holiday Letter

Our holiday letter, for those of you whose addresses we do not have. Or who we just plain forgot.

~ Camille & Matt's 2008 Holiday Update ~

2008 was a year of minor triumphs and enduring frustrations. It was a year of pulling weeds and planting seeds. A year of too much travel, more separately than together, that left us craving our cat-infested apartment. A year we escaped as much as enjoyed. We celebrated cousin Leah’s wedding in Fairfield in the summer. In the autumn, we celebrated our seventh anniversary in Cambria on the central California coast. And more than once we snuck away to the Edna Valley to replenish our wine rack and leave the flashy noise machine that is Los Angeles in the rearview.

In June, Camille left Ajilon to work full-time for Northwest Art Glass. She oversees the creation of the product catalogs from the home office. In August, she entered her 4th decade by celebrating her 30th birthday at a Venice Beach barbeque. Her paternal grandfather sadly passed away in November. In December, following her father’s knee surgery, Camille flew to Seattle to play nurse and cook him two weeks worth of leftovers. As usual, she’s made many new friends this year and continues to ponder when she’ll return to the world of cmmunity theater.

Despite the WGA strike that began the year, Matt maintained steady if not glamorous work in Hollywood. In April, he traveled to Las Vegas to attend the GAMA Trade Show where he and a couple other Dead Gentlemen promoted the Demon Hunters Role-Playing Game, released by Margaret Weis Productions. In August, Matt’s feature debut as a writer/director, The Gamers: Dorkness Rising, was released on DVD by Anthem Pictures. Dorkness quickly became Anthem’s fastest and best-selling DVD. The film screened at several conventions, including the world-renowned Comic Con in San Diego.

With a team that included an Emmy-award winning producer and an agent from Paradigm, Matt pitched his sci-fi TV show Hopjockey at four networks: ABC Family, the Sci-Fi Channel, the CW, and the Cartoon Network (oddly enough). Matt’s zombie horror TV show ALIVE, which he co-created with Star Trek veterans Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, came within a meeting of being picked up by AMC. The producers on both teams are confident their shows will find a home, in some form.

In September, Matt joined the staff at Epic Level Entertainment in Studio City, where he works part-time. The end of the year finds him writing another animated sitcom pilot for Israeli producers. In December, under increasing pressure from Camille, Matt wrote this letter. He hopes nothing significant happens next year so he won’t have to write another. Camille just slapped him in the back of the head.

2009 promises more trips to the Pacific Northwest, a venture to Hawaii in May to celebrate Julia’s graduation, and a possible trek to visit family in Santa Rosa and San Francisco in the summer or fall (or whenever Matt wants a free meal).

We wish you many happy celebrations this holiday season, and good tidings in the New Year!

Much love,
Camille & Matt

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Unintentional L.A. Christmas

The plan was to fly to SeaTac on the 22nd and spend Christmas with our families in the northwest. That didn't quite happen. If you've been paying attention to the national weather, you'll know why. Seattle -- and pretty much all of the northwest -- disappeared behind a curtain of freezing weather and record snowfall. For a city that essentially shuts down when a half-inch of powder hits the pavement (built on hills as it is), over a foot of snow makes any form of travel impossible. Our flight was cancelled, as was every other flight from Burbank to Seattle before Christmas.

We looked for other ways to make it home, and found none. No busses were running. No trains, even. The only reliable route to Seattle was by car, and that would mean crossing the Siskiyous in teh dead of winter. Considering the heater in our Taurus hasn't been working, that route was out. A few intrepid and/or insane souls made it -- my sister drove up the 101 from San Francisco, proving in the process that we could have simply gon around the Siskiyous (Maginot Line, anyone?), but her heater was working. We resigned ourselves to being marooned in L.A.

BELOW: Bean scopes out another ornament to kill
Now, part of my holiday routine is doing the majority of my Christmas shopping online. I have the gifts shipped to my parents' house in Puyallup. That way, I don't have to worry about overloading my luggage or anything breaking -- I just do the wrapping once I'm up north. I did that again this year. And realized, at about the same time that I realized we'd be in Los Angeles on Christmas, that all my wife's gifts were in boxes at my folks'. Not good. Gotta have something for the wife to open the morning of. So I bought her an Italian leather jacket that she absolutely loves. I done good.

And the holiday itself, cut off from family as we were, was lovely. Much easier and more relaxing than we thought, without the constant stresses of bouncing between families and trying to cram every friend from college or high school into too few days. Several of our friends were similarly stranded here, either unable to book or afford travel back home. So we sought out our displaced friends, northwesterners or not, and made for a memorable holiday with our surrogate L.A. family. Much good food was consumed, mostly soup . Many terrible movies were viewed, mostly widescreen. We spent Christmas morning with our kitties and a soup-filled afternoon with Matt and Jessica from down the hall and Nathan Rice, the most recent northwest transplant. We spent a non soup-centered evening with Gayvin and Erik and their four-year-old living tornado, Jack, in Pasadena. Yesterday we went nowhere, which was wonderful, as was the soup. There are leftovers.

My Mommy made these =)

In the northwest, the snow has been melting, so tomorrow we theoretically board a plane for Seattle. That's assuming there's not another cold snap or freak winter storm. So we'll get our family Christmas a few days late. And we'll be able to make Stevie's wedding and Emily and Michael's New Year's party. So, in the end, it seems likely the holiday will work out. And, oddly enough, our unexpected L.A. Christmas was so unexpectedly pleasant, it has us thinking that maybe we'll take an expected L.A. Christmas next year.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Frigid Haiku

A thousand needles
Dance on my fingers and toes.
Fuh-fuh-fuh-reezing.

Teeth A-Chatter

I don't know what the deal is, but the heat has now failed in both our car and our apartment. Or rather, it's mostly failed. It works about a quarter of the time in the car, not nearly reliably enough, so when it does kick on we're only too happy to strip out of our layers of fleece. And then it shuts off again just as we're getting warm, and we get to dress while dodging LA traffic. In the apartment, the heat works well enough during the day that we leave it on when we go to bed. Then it shuts off sometime during the night. Not enjoying waking up and seeing my breath. And not fancying a visit to Washington with its current blanket of frosty on the ground.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

International Dorkness

So this cheered me up. Last week, a package arrived at the Epic Level office for Dead Gentlemen Productions. The postmark on the package said it was from Israel. Written on the back were "The Icon SF Festival" and "The Tel Aviv Cinematheque." The package was addressed to Don, so of course I opened it.

Inside was a program for the 12th annual Icon Science Fiction, Fantasy and Role-Playing Festival. The festival is held every year in Tel Aviv, this year from October 14-18. Also inside was a letter summing up the events. The Gamers had screened at Icon. I hadn't known about it, but that's not much of a surprise -- DG allows any festival to screen our movies as long as they don't charge admission, so there are X many screenigs per year that I'm mostly unaware of.
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According to the letter, The Gamers was received quite well by the Israeli crowd:

As you'll be able to see in our printed program, Icon has a major
role-playing section. Over recent years we've been complementing it with a few relevant films in the international film festival section.

THE GAMERS is the first film to have received such a vastly positive reaction from the role-playing community in Israel. The screening [was] followed by many excited reviews and conversations (off and on-line) circling the message "finally, a film that shows gamers and gaming for what it is, does it well and does it funny".

... We're quite eager on seeing the new installment, DORKNESS RISING, and possibly screening THE GAMERS again.

Concisely -- many thanks! Ir was a pleasure and I hope to have the chance to work together in the future.

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The director of the festival even went on to say that we have friends in Tel Aviv if we're ever there and need showing around. I may take him up on it -- much of the write-for-hire work I've had and continue to have comes from the Holy Land.
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I flipped through the Icon program and found the entry for The Gamers. There was the familiar shot of Nathan, Shimkus, Phil, and Justin looking out over the sea, but the summary underneath it was in Hebrew as well as English. What a kick that was. Looks like the next version of the DVD will need Hebrew subtitles. Why not? We've already done Latin.

On the subject of subtitles: This week, I received an email from fans in Estonia. For the geographically-impaired, the Republic of Estonia lies on the Baltic Sea, west of Russia and north of Latvia:
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ESTONIA

NOT ESTONIA

They'd seen Dorkness Rising and enjoyed it immensely. How they got a copy in Estonia, I don't know. But it turns out the guy who sent the email was one of the translators who did the Estonian subtitles for the Director's cut of The Gamers. He offered his services if we decided to put Estonian subtiltes on any future Dorkness Rising DVDs.

So how about that? Our silly little movies about RPGs have an international following. Feeling pretty good right about now.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Beach Haiku

Far strides the giant,
Yet waves erase his footprints.
Nothing in the sand.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Into the Doldrums

In Hollywood, we've entered the time of year when the city shuts down for the holidays. The lights go off after Thanksgiving, and sometimes don't come back on until February. Work dries up. Little gets produced. A year ago, the WGA strike had just started. The industry still hasn't recovered from that. Add the economic depression and the potential SAG strike, and I'm very glad to have the mini writing gigs I do.

A year ago, I was in an odd place. All of my projects had gone on hiatus when the town went into hibernation. We were talking to studios on Hopjockey and ALIVE; we'd hired a conceptual artist for Fred, Prince of Darkness; Dorkness Rising was finally out of editing and was poised to make its rounds to the distributors; and I had nearly completed Pwned and a feature-length Demon Hunters. Good things lay on the horizon. It promised to be a good year.

Hopjockey we retooled to pitch to four different networks, and received four different passes. I haven't heard from the Heavy or the Agent in months, and have no idea where the future of Hopjockey lies. Dave and Sean have spoken of doing it as a feature, of setting it in high school with a group of quirky rascals since teen adventure might be the best outlet for it. Not sure if I'm interested in that. Take enough away from Hopjockey, and it stops being Hopjockey.

ALIVE surged forward all spring and looked unstoppable, only to be brought down at the one-yard line. The team has stayed positive, though, and is still having meetings and showing project around. I understand that most shows take years to set up. And I understand that we got atypically far on the first try. But this one hurt. Really, really hurt. We shouldn't have done this, but we (Camille and I) kind of let ourselves count on this one, let ourselves plan like it was going to happen. And when it died so abruptly, we had nothing. The hardest part was seeing Camille break down when I told her the news. I've never seen one of my projects do that to her. That kicked off the months-long depression that I'm just now coming out of, that still grabs me from time to time and pins me to the floor. Hurt doesn't really describe it.

Fred remains where it was last year. Jonah and I have gone through three different artists, all who came on board excited to design the look of the show, and all who flaked out and bailed. It's been maddening, more so for Jonah because he's used to such a level of professionalism. The Demon Hunters script turned out well, and I'm pleased with it. Unfortunately, it's unlikely it will ever get made. Pwned I optioned to Epic Level, but the script fell apart when they sent it out to readers. The general consensus was that it's cute, but not hilarious. I'm in the middle of a rewrite now. And Grandmother Clock, the big new project I was going to finish this year, I've stopped and started so many times I have trouble remembering which version of the story I'm on.

So a year after things looked so promising, I haven't completed anything new -- which is death for a screenwriter, since your specs are what sell you -- and most of my projects lie broken at my feet. Not a great year. I haven't been myself these last couple months. Part of it is that I don't know who myself is, if this is the path I should be taking. But the economy's terrible across the board, and nobody is hiring -- I've checked -- so there's no jumping off the filmmaker ship, at least not now. I knew a life as an artist would be hard, but I never expected to be facing down a mid-life crisis at 31. Sounds preposterous, I know.

And things haven't been all bad. Dorkness Rising found a distributor who wants us to make more Gamers movies; I may be writing one this spring and directing it this summer. I still have my writing gig with the Israelis. This project makes my third Israeli-funded animated pilot so far. I have many friends in and out of the industry, people rooting for me and checking in every not and then to see how I'm doing. And I have a wife whose patience and dedication I simply cannot fathom.

I've unexpectedly learned a lot about myself this year, about what I love and what I don't, about where I need to be and what I need to be doing there. And that, I believe, has come out of this near-constant melancholy. In Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore writes about the gifts of depression. In Iron John, Robert Bly describes the benefits of ashes work. Both hold that depression is not something to be avoided, but something to be grasped and experienced, to be fought and wrestled with. I've certainly been wrestling with mine. Mine fights like a crocodile, drags you down and rolls you around, trying to drown you. And as hard as it's been, when it's let go, I've said "we're not fucking done yet" and pulled it back on top of me.

What I've wrestled out of it has been hard to learn, but important. I've learned that I'm rather lazy writer; I don't fill the day with work the way I should. I've learned that I'm not a particularly good screenwriter, at least not on paper. But I've also learned that I'm a very stubborn writer, a bullheaded writer, and that I can pound out more pages of revisions than most before I burn out. And somewhere in that flurry of redrafts and retakes, I can produce a genuinely entertaining piece of material. Given enough time. And enough pounding.

And that's been motivating, learning how I work, what I do well and what I don't. Recently, I rediscovered my AFI notes while searching some old journals. It surprised me how much of my training I've forgotten. So as I look back on what I've come to see as a wasted year, I've got a lot roiling in my brain. Shame. Anger. And an encouraging amount of determination. I'm not going to have next year feel wasted. I'm not going through another year with no new projects to show.

Last year, when December began, I had a platter of good projects ready to fly. When the town turned itself off, I took it easy and spent a month playing Warcraft. This year, my platter's empty. But this year, while the city is hibernating, I'm doing push-ups.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Project Update

Not a whole lot going on right now. Here's a quick rundown:

Hopjockey. The Cartoon Network passed. They're looking for more gritty, heavy-action shows, programs that eat suspense and crap cliffhangers. Hopjockey was deemed to light. Maybe I should add a talking car and an ever-ticking bomb timer ...

Pwned. I've added a rewrite of Pwned to my to-do list; Cindi's report from where Epic Level's pitched it is that it's funny, but not hilarious. She thinks they just don't get the MMORPG-gamer jokes. I think the project needs more clarity, and a more likeable protagonist.

Gamers. Had a meeting a couple weeks ago with Anthem Pictures, the distributor for The Gamers: Dorkness Rising. They're interested in us doing another lower-budget Gamers feature, possibly shooting as early as next summer. Which, if we pull the trigger on it, would mean I have about a month to write the script. Easy peasy.

That's about it. Carry on.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Renewal and Pain in Aberdeen

At the end of our anniversary trip, Camille surprised me with a flight up to Washington to visit my best friend and brother in all but blood, Jeff. He and Tina and their two girls met me at SeaTac, just outside the terminal. Natalie (4) spotted me first, and ran over to give me a big hug. Alanna (2), once she saw it was safe, decided to imitate big sister. Arms spread, she ran directly into my legs -- and headbutted me in the balls. Thankfully, there was zero force behind the collision, else Tina would have had to explain while Unca Matt was writhing on the airport floor.
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Jeff is an avid hiker. And if you lived as close as they do to the Olympic National Forest, with its miles and miles of crisscrossing trails through old growth rain forests and knife-edged peaks, you would be as well. He also lives a barefoot lifestyle, and does these hikes -- over dry streambeds and fields of gravel -- sans shoes. He's always arranged a progressively more difficult hike when I visit. This time, we'd be trekking up the most oddly-named mountain in the Olympics, Colonel Bob. The Colonel was a strenuous, five-star hike, an 8-mile round trip up switchbacks at a near 45-degree incline. Tina said the hike would kill me. It didn't, but the next day I was wishing it had.
. Captain Murder McCrazy-Hike
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We started up the trail late in the morning, and ascended slowly but steadily all afternoon. It was a perfect day for a hike, nice and cool and overcast. As we climbed, the maples went from gold to orange and crimson, in stark contrast to the deep gray-green of the douglas firs and hemlock. A couple of miles up, we ran into a few late-season mountain hucklberry bushes in full bloom. Haven't had wild huckleberries ever, far as I can remember. The pace was backbreaking and exhausting, but I managed to keep up with Jeff for most of it. Not gonna let the barefoot monk outpace me.
About a half-mile from the summit, with Colonel Bob's rocky back in sight. we had to stop. We were running out of daylight -- we still had a bout two hours worth, but the final push would put us on the summit right as the sun disappeared. And if we hadn't made it back to Moonshine Flats -- an open flat break in the climb, maybe a mile-wide -- we would lose the trail back down the mountain. So we turned around. And that's where the pain really began. On the way up, my legs hurt, but it was that good, "you're getting exercise" kind of hurt. On the way down, it was that bad, stabbing "your legs are broken, kill me now, there is no God" kind of pain.
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The view from about as high as we got
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We made it past Moonshine Flats before sundown. The sun finally disappeared after we'd crossed the scree field and plunged back into the forest. And then it got dark. We walked the final two miles in near-total darkness. Once we passed Pete's Creek, it was inky-dark, and we brought out the flashlights. We got back to the car at about a quarter to eight, having just spent the last nine hours working out. The next day, my legs were in so much pain that I couldn't walk a downward slope without bracing myself.

And the next day we went out with the family. To a creamery to get some cheese, a smokehouse to get some sausage, and a farm to get some preserves. I picked out jars of apple butter and pumpkin butter for Camille. Those didn't make it through security -- had to check the bag. And it's a good thing, too, because if the TSA hadn't stopped me, I might have had access to my Terrorist Apple Butter on the plane. Good on you, Homeland Security.

We finished the day on Washaway Beach, south of Aberdeen on the Washington 101. It's the most rapidly-eroding spot on the Pacific Coast. The currents circling out of Willapa Bay keep eating away the coast of Cape Shoalwater; the beach has lost about two miles of land since the 1920s. I'd been there with Jeff before, to a spot where the highway juts out and abruptly ends, pointing out towards the ocean. It was a surreal spot, the literal place where the sidewalk (highway) ends. That point was gone on this visit -- the beach lost another 150 feet or so in a bad winter storm last year. We parked next to the "Danger: Eroding Beach and Tumbling Boulders" sign and picked our way down to the beach.

Best warning sign ever

Out on the beach, we spotted foundations of old homes, plumbing sticking up from the surf in several places. Found a crushed van buried in sand. A whale's spine, with vertebrae as big as dinner plates. The cab of a truck, the only part of it above the water, looking out towards the sea. And that's where my camera died, running around snapping pics. Jeff and I finished the night around a campfire in his back yard. My clothes came away smelling of soot and pine needles.

Cab of an abandoned truck on Washaway Beach

Jeff drove me to my folks' the next day. They'd just finished a service with some members of the Bach Choir, and were having a little get-together. Mom knew I was coming; Dad didn't, and it was a delightful surprise. My last few hours in Washington we spent on the deck, laughing and telling stories, with Mount Rainier in full view (he hides most days). Dad dropped me at the airport later, after a hour of dedicated Vancil Man time. A better way to finish the trip, I can't think of.

This unexpected trip was exactly what I needed. Relaxing it wasn't, not exactly. I'd describe it as centering, focusing. By the time it was over, I was ready to come back, ready to start up work again. It felt more like a pilgrimage than a vacation, a visit to a site of renewal. And I came away feeling refreshed, crippled, and sooty.

Thank you Jeff, thank you Tina, thank you Natalie and Alanna. Thank you Camille for setting this up, and Mom and Dad. And most of all, thank you Richard for giving me time with my best friend, in my favorite place in the world. I love you all.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Anniversary in Cambria

Monday was our seventh anniversary. We celebrated by heading to our favorite spot on the central Californian coast, the seaside town of Cambria. Whenever we do a getaway along the 101, we inevitably stop in Summerland, a tiny town just south of Santa Barbara, to eat. I don't know what it is about the town, but we've never failed to superbly well there, regardless of restaurant. This time we ate Stacky's Seaside's killer halibut and chips, and tried not to think about how long it took the halibut to get to California. Then it was back on the 101 for the long haul to Cambria, some 240 miles from Los Angeles.

We rolled into Cambria in the afternoon. Our hotel was the White Water Inn on Moonstone Beach. Camille had found us a fabulous deal that included hefty gift certificates to a couple of our favorite restaurants in town. After checking in, we went for a stroll on the beach boardwalk, with the sun glaring powerfully off of the water. And after a few minutes of breathing salt-tinged air and listening to the ever-present roar of the surf, I felt the knot in my brows start to relax. Cambria's coast is rocky and sharp, new by geological standards. A few tiny sand-filled coves fill in gaps in an otherwise unbroken stone shelf above the water. On the few bits of actual beach, the sand -- if you can even call it that -- is coarse and rough and multicolored, more like a handful of seeds. Much rougher than the fine Oregon sand I'm used to. But still beautiful. The ground cover around the boardwalk was full of birds and ground squirrels. One even came out and mugged for us.
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"I'm cute. Give me a pretzel."
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We dined that night at Linn's, a restaurant connected to a family of apparent berry moguls. They've got all sorts of garden and farm stores all over the area. Their claim to fame is something called the Olallieberry, a hybrid described as 2/3 blackberry and 1/3 raspberry. It's tart and not overly sweet, which makes it ideal for pies and jams. And wine, apparently. We both had Olallieberry deserts, I a pie and Camille a bread pudding. It was quite good, and tasted just like it was described: part blackberry, part raspberry. When our check came, we realized the waitress hadn't charged us for our drinks. We pointed that out. Our waitress told us we'd have some good karma coming our way, which is always a good thing.

We spent the next morning antiquing in town. Not exactly how I expected to spend it, but we actually had quite a fun time. And we got a good deal of Christmas shopping done. We lunched at the Blue Moon Cafe, a shop with an astounding array of powerful cheeses. This was a place we'd always go when loading up for a picnic, but we'd never actually eaten there. It turns out their sandwiches are just as good as their deli selection. Lunch was delectable. Afterward, we were pretty exhausted (we hadn't slept much the night before), so we went back to the hotel and crashed for a couple of hours.

We awoke in the late afternoon, with the sun again glaring off of the ocean. It was hot, too, mid-80s most of the day. We drove to the edge of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve and hiked the bluff trail along the ocean. All along the trial, every quarter mile or so, was a giant driftwood chair, a bench really, sturdy and solid and bleached by the sun. After the hike, I convinced Camille to drive up to the old Cambria cemetery. We got there as the sun was setting. This was the first boneyard I'd been to with zero ground cover of any sort. The headstones themselves went back to the mid nineteenth century, severtal of them in family plots. The spookiest thing we saw in the graveyard was a broken set of wooden wind chimes, hanging silent and still above an unmarked grave. Creeeeepy.


Weird blossoms in the cemetery

Dinner that night was at The Sow's Ear, our favorite restaurant on the coast. Camille had their incomparable chicken and dumplings. I had a grilled chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese, kalamata olives, and roasted red peppers. Diagnosis: delicious. Dinner came with their delightful flowerpot bread. It's just like how it sounds: They jam a couple of dough balls together in a flower pot, bake it, and serve it in said pot. We were seated in a cozy corner of the restaurant, right next to two couples who were also celebrating their anniversaries. They dragged it out of us that we were there on our anniversary as well. The owner took our picture and gave us dessert for free. Rather quick return on that good karma.

The morning of our final day, we went for a hike along the boardwalk, and then drove about ten miles north towards San Simeon to see the elephant seals. This time of year, the juvenile seals have returned to the beach to rest. They just lay there under the sun, barking and rolling and pressing into clusters of blubber and fur. The ever-present (and often quite fat) ground squirrels were extra-cute, competing for the tourists' attention and snacks, but people stayed pretty focused on the seals. Then the midday sun came out, some 90 degrees, and put the bake on us. We bade the seals and the squirrels goodbye and started the sad trek back south.

We stopped in Los Osos to visit a friend and former co-worker of Camille's. She and Camille went off chatting while I got to sit and play Lego Star Wars with her three-year old, Brody. And I use "play" in the broadest sense of the word, since it mostly consisted of following Brody's orders. In the game, you can collect "money" in the form of Lego blocks; when you die, your Lego money fountains out and is up for grabs. Brody kept saying "I want money, I want money" over and over. Then he turned to me and said "I want your money" -- and killed me. And stole my money. He's effing three. Learned a valuable parenting lesson there: No video games for kids until they've learned not to crap their pants.

No trek to the Cali coast is complete for us until we've visited our favorite winery, Kelsey See Canyon, not far from San Luis Obispo. There was quite a party of people in the tasting room when we arrived, so we spread our blanket out back and picnicked in the shade while the winery's peacocks meandered about. We're wine club members, so we get to taste for free. We bought a bottle of their famous apple chardonnay. This is the first trip to/near wine country where we didn't need a box to haul back our purchases. Only two bottles this time. Good for us.

It was the late afternoon now, and the sun was starting to droop. On a whim, at the last moment, we decided to detour to Solvang for dinner. We arrived right as their farmers' market was closing down. Unfortunately -- or, more accurately, thankfully -- we were all out of cash, so we couldn't (over)spend anything on the organic honeys and giant strawberrys from the local farms.

We wandered into a high-end antique shop, a place I'd been before, with hundreds of grandfather clocks -- some over 150 years old -- everywhere. There wasn't a wall without a cluster of clocks. I asked the owner if I could take some pictures, and she said yes. So while Camille chatted with a sales clerk and tried on a variety of jewelry (including a $21,000 ring), I ran around snapping pics of amazing clocks until the camera's battery died. Ugh. But I got some wonderful pictures of some pretty machinery. The owner told me that they'd provided several pieces for the filming of The Time Machine. I believe her. If Grandmother Clock ever gets off the ground, I'm so bringing the production team to this place.

It does seem a bit odd to me that I've started to enjoy antiquing. Maybe I'm growing up. Don't tell Mom.


Some of those amazing clocks

We ate dinner at the Bit O' Denmark, and it was there that Camille sprung quite a surprise on me. No, she's not pregnant. But she and her father did arrange to send me to Washington for an extended weekend as a delayed birthday present. So today -- a day I thought I'd be resting and getting back to work -- I'm packing to fly out this afternoon. And Jeff and Tina are picking me up, which means (burn codes allowing) I'll be deep in conversation around a bonfire by midnight tonight. I can't wait.
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High on the news, the drive back to L.A. was easy. We rolled into town at 9pm and were asleep about an hour later. It's been a long time since I've felt so relaxed after a mini-vacation, since we never get away for more than a couple of days at a time. Cambria is a dream, a picturesque town on the edge of the water with no noise other than the ocean. I remember a walk I took the first night we were there. The sky was alive with light -- I haven't seen that many stars in years. And I felt a sense of ultimate peace and tranquility, a timelessness an a re-centering of self I usually only catch a glimpse of while meditating. It was a trip I will remember for the rest of my life, those few days by the sea with my wife and best friend. I love you, Sweetie. Here's to fifty more years.

And here's some more pics:



Cambria from the Fiscali Ranch Preserve trail

A juvenile elephant seal returns to the beach at Piedras Blancas


"Pay attention to me!"



Those creepy wind chimes in the graveyard


Hiking the hills above town

More clocks (I got a ton of pics)

My Lovely

Monday, October 20, 2008

Seven Year Itch

Today is our seventh anniversary. That's 2,557 days together as a married couple after you factor in the leap years.

We're off to beautiful Cambria on the central California coast. It reminds us very much of the Oregon coast, our favorite vacation destination for years and the place we honeymooned. The California coast is different -- rockier and warmer, with a sharper slope of beach into water -- yet still beautiful and relaxing. Expect many pictures.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Pitching Hopjockey: Part 2

So it's been a couple of months since I mentioned what's happening with Hopjockey. The last update -- which you can catch up on here -- had us waiting to hear back from the genre network. We finally heard back, and it was a pass. According to the Agent, the Exec we pitched thought there really was something special about the show ... but (and there's always a but) they already had a competing project in development that targets a similar audience. Ah, well.
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[Quick note: I still can't disclose who exactly is involved. But the major players on our team are the Heavy (Emmy-award-winning producer) and the Agent (the Heavy's representation). They're how we're getting the meetings.]

Still looking for a home.

So, yeah, that was a let down. But we shouldn't be discouraged, the Agent assured us. Because we had another pitch coming up, at the strangest of places: An animation network. A channel that specializes entirely in cartoons -- a "cartoon network," one might say. All right, another pitch! Though we weren't exactly sure how our show would fit in there. Our show is a live action one-hour. But a pitch is a pitch, and we wouldn't even be getting a meeting if the project wasn't a potential fit. And the show would work animated ...

Now, I'll be honest. I didn't expect anything to come of this. I've watched the network in question -- some of my favorite shows air on it -- and there's really nothing like Hopjockey in their lineup. I didn't see how it could fit, but maybe they would. Then, the day before we pitched, the Agent filled us in. The animation network is looking to produce some live-action shows, to bridge the gap between age demographics between their daytime and nighttime programming. And our show fits right into the niche they're looking to fill.

The pitch itself went pretty damn well. The humor was there, and the ease of interplay between us and the execs. Maybe it was that the guys we were pitching spoke sci-fi and instinctively understood what we were pitching -- I was able to use terms like dimensional rift and Cthulhuian without explaining them. Maybe it was that I still really didn't expect anything, so I was more relaxed than usual (the lack of an earthquake helped). But about halfway through the presentation, when they started asking us questions you don't ask unless you're interested, I started to think "hang on, this might just catch."

They asked what the toys were the hopjockeys got to play with, the equivalent of the Ghostbusters' proton packs. Potential merchandising? They asked whether the show could work in a high school setting instead of college. Yes, of course. It would fit perfectly into an Exeter-like private school. "I see," they said, "like a sci-fi Harry Potter?" "Of course," we answered, "what an astute and clever observation. You are by far the most knowledgable and -- dare I say it -- sexiest executives we've ever met."

So it went well. Better than the big network pitch, and definitely better than I expected. And so we sat back to play the Waiting Game, whish is played in two- to four-week intervals, the shortest measures of time Hollywood uses. Sure enough, two weeks after the pitch, we heard from the Agent. The Exec we'd pitched had read my sample piece -- the pilot for Fred, Prince of Darkness -- and wanted to read a longer one. So the agent sent him Pwned. As he put it, "Seems like [the network] is interested and still vetting the writing first."

So where is Hopjockey right now? Pretty much exactly where I left you last time -- waiting to hear back from the network, while said network considers my writing. It's the strangest feeling knowing you're being evaluated on something you completed months ago. Like being quizzed when you're not in the room. Or auditioning in a sensory deprivation chamber. I don't care for it much. I keep second-guessing myself, wondering if the samples are strong enough. And they were both strong enough to get optioned, so that bodes well. And at least they're reading them. And it's also been about two weeks since we last heard from the Agent, so maybe will be coming soon.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Older

So last Saturday, October 4th, I got older. Thirty-one this year. Now I'm firmly mired in the thirties. At 30, there's still some wiggle room, some deniability -- you can always think of it as the very end of the twenties (you know, 'cause when you count in tens, 10 is part of 1-10, and 20 is part of 11-20, that sort of thinking). Can't fudge 31, though. I don't mind. There's plenty of cool stuff about being 31. For instance, my age is a prime number. Haven't had one of those in eight years. I've also been 21 for ten years now. And that's worth celebrating ... *uncork*
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The birthday itself was nice and relaxing, in stark contrast to last year's birthday, which spanned an entire weekend. Camille flew my two best friends and their wives (who are also best friends) down to surprise me with a coronary. The BBQ party had something like forty people in attendance; I still haven't read all the books I received. I have read all the calendars, though. This year, I wanted something small and simple, quiet and predictable. Something respectfully lame. That's what I got, and it was perfect.
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My parents sent me a trippy-cool painting of an iguana. Don gave me a copy of Watchmen, which to my geek shame I had never read. Camille cooked an amazing dinner for my birthday: chicken marsala with mushrooms and capers on a bed of arugula, with pasta and pinot from Kelsey See Canyon, our favorite winery. I don't remember the exact type of mushrooms that were in the dish, as I'm not normally a mushroom guy, but these were amazilicious. And for breakfast the next morning, I got lazy man pancakes. The recipes for both are on the cooking blog Camille shares, Cooking Kama Sutras. Ah, good eating. A gift that will remain around my waist for years to come.

That amazing birthday dinner. I got to do the dishes.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Epic Job

I've taken a part-time job at Epic Level Entertainment in Studio City. If that name sounds familiar, it should -- it's the production company of John Frank Rosenblum and Cindi Rice, co-producers of The Gamers: Dorkness Rising and the same people who optioned Pwned. I'm manning phones and taking care of sundry office duties. It's easy enough. Most of the time, I'm alone -- I rarely see my boss-friends, who commute from much, much farther away. I'm reminded of my time at the PLU writing center, when half the time I had no appointments and nothing to do. I got a lot of extra writing done at the writing center. And I'm feeling the itch to fill said time productively. Like, say, by updating my blog. And on other things, like writing content for an eventual Vancil website. More on that later.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Swing through E-Wa

So recently, we took a swing through eastern Washington to visit Camille's relatives (Camille = Wifey). Her family originally hails from Spokane, the second largest city in the state and center of the great Inland Northwest. Mainly we were going to visit her grandfather, who's 87 and in the middle of his fourth bout with cancer. The out-of-region family has been gathering to pay their respects and say their goodbyes. But the old goat may surprise us all and live another few years. He survived World War II in the Pacific and whupped cancer three times already, so I wouldn't count him out just yet.

Spokane River Park

We saw Grandpa most every day we were there. He's been giving his things away to friends and family, doing what he can to unclutter the place before he departs. He showered Camille with jewelry that belonged to his late wife, a lovely lady who died about a year into our marriage. I wish I'd known her longer. The first time I came to Spokane was to meet Camille's family as the fiance. Grandma -- who was carrot-haired and about 4' 10" -- came out with her arms open, an unmistakable "hug me" gesture. I walked into her arms -- and she pulled me down in a hug that guillotined my throat against her shoulder. "Oh, it's so good to meet you!" she gushed. I said nothing, because I couldn't breathe with her shoulder in my throat. At our wedding a few months later, she goosed my dad, who she thought was her younger son (but to be fair, my dad and Camille's uncle are both Gregs). We miss her very much. So does Grampa. Which is why the family thinks this may be the last round for him -- he's ready to be with his wife again. And I can't fault that.

Camille's Grandpa is also quite the hobbyist. He has a basement full of fully functional model rockets and airplanes, which he's selling off to collectors. He made me sit at his computer and play the model airplane simulator -- which has a perfect reproduction controller, with the two mini-joysticks -- until I could perform a simple turn. After about twenty impressive crashes and over $100,000 of virtual damages to his virtual air fleet, he got disgusted and let me leave. I never did make that turn, but I did perform a rare inverted landing (i.e., the plane landed upside down and didn't explode).

He also has a bunch of old several video game systems. And that's what I pre-inherited. He gave me a Nintendo 64 and Super Nintendo, both with extra controllers and head cleaners. But the big prize, which I couldn't believe he gave me, was an old Atari 5200, first released in 1982. A game system as old as my sister. And with it came a stack of over twenty games, with plenty of old school 8-bit classics: Pole Position, Dig Dug, Pac Man, Jungle Hunt, Q-Bert, and more. Getting that through security was fun. I haven't set it up yet, because our home TV doesn't have the right hookups on the back. And because the Atari's adapter has a few exposed wires. And because we can't find the Atari controllers. We'll get it up and running eventually, I'm sure.

We stayed with Aunt Sharon and Uncle Terry on their farm outside the city. Far outside the city -- they own 80 acres of prairie on either side of a gravel road. It's been a long, long time since I've heard crickets. Or seen so many stars in a sky without light pollution. Time seems to move more slowly there, at a more relaxed pace. I actually had time to read for pleasure. I mowed through the latest by S.M. Stirling -- perhaps my favorite author -- before we left. Sharon and Terry have one of those basements that's quiet and dark as a tomb. You lose all sense of time and orientation slumbering down there. My grandparents, the late Vancil Grandparents, had a similar pair of beds in their basement bedroom. Until coming to Sharon and Terry's, I'd never slept as well anywhere as in my grandparents' basement.

The food on this trip was, as it always is with our family, amazing. Sharon cooked huckleberry pancakes twice for Camille. She left a tub of oatmeal cranberry cookies in the kitchen for me to raid, and pretended not to notice. For one lunch, she made me a tuna fish sandwich from a tuna Terry had caught himself and brought back to the farm. And at cousin Lisa's, we had fried chicken with garden-fresh corn on the cob.

We visited cousin Lisa -- who's really Camille's big sister -- and her two boys, Gunnar and Cannan, in the no-horse town of St. John. Last time I was with the bear cubs (what the family calls the boys), they tag-team wrestled me to a draw. They were six and eight at the time. Now they're eight and ten. I would have lost that match, so we played football instead. Eventually it got dark and we had to go back inside. I was the only one without grass stains, because they were more interested in tacking each other than me. And I'm quick on my feet. The boys kept asking if we could stay the night. Sadly, we had to fly out at midday the next day. But that didn't stop them from asking. And if we could have, we'd have stayed. The drive back was beautiul, taking us through the Palouse at night.

The entire town of St. John. I'm kidding. It's actually smaller.

It was hard for us to come back to LA. It always is, but doubly so this time. It didn't help that my bag never made the connecting flight -- Camille's did, but mine, not so much -- and didn't show up for another two days. There just wasn't enough time. There never is. Especially knowing that the next time we return to Spokane could be for a funeral. But at least we know that it's coming, so we could make the time to visit. And there's a blessing in that.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Love letter to DG

MWP's Jamie Chambers -- the award-winning game designer of the Cortex system and the man who created our very own Demon Hunters Role Playing Game -- apparently felt he hadn't done enough for Dead Gentlemen and wrote us this glowing love letter. It is the finest compliment I and my writing have ever been paid. I'm not used to receiving such praise, especially not from a man I admire so much. Jamie, thank you. You are a true friend and a karaoke god.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

PAX Dorkana

So last week, Don, Jeremy, and I flew up to attend Dead Gentlemen's first ever PAX -- the Penny Arcade Expo made famous by the geek culture vanguards at Penny Arcade. The con showcases computer games, console games, and role-playing games. In only its fifth year, PAX had outgrown its original home in the Meydenbauer Center, and had levelled up to the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle.
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For the DGs, it was coming home. We've filmed all our projects in Washington. The real Washington, not that fetid swamp between Maryland and Virginia. Most of our members, cast, and crew call the damp and drizzly northwest home. And to be honest, compared to the cloying, invasive heat of a Los Angeles summer, we didn't want to leave. Overcast skies, clean air, crisp wind -- I don't want to film anywhere else.
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So excitement trumped our fatigue. For a while. Because this was our fourth con in four months, and our third in six weeks. We were more than ready for the con season to be over. This one should be easy, though, we figured. We only have one screening, so we're only doing one day at the con. Plus, with the home stays and local friends around, it should be an easy and relaxing experience. Right? Right?
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We arrived Friday morning at 11:00. We thought we were arriving a bit late. In our experience, cons usually start at ten. So we got in line to enter the hall -- a rather massive, wrapping-around-itself line that reminded me of a derailed train -- and waited. And waited. Which was odd, because the hall should be open. That's when we bothered checking the schedule, and noted that the hall didn't open until 2:00. So we abandoned the line and groused around, scoping out the hall.
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On the fourth floor, at the top of the convention center, we found our screening room. Which was not so much a room as a corner of the hall floor -- a corner right at the top of the escalators, right at the exit to the main exhibit hall. We were going to screen in an open floor theater. Which, upon reflection, was a great location, really -- the cross traffic alone from the escalators and hall would be massive. Except there was a massive supporting pillar right near the screen that obscured the view from most angles. We'd have to see ...
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So we had a few hours to kill before the hall opened. We ambled around a bit more, and found the entrance to the exhibit hall. Figured we'd sneak a peak in, so we tiptoed up to security. Who, oddly enough, didn't stop us or send us away. So we kept walking -- past them, into the hall. Ninja skills for the win? Not so much. The badges the con had given us -- our special guest media badges, cha-ching! -- allowed us into the exhibit hall an hour before everyone else. So we got to walk the hall with a small crowd. At 2:00, the hall opened to the public, and some 50,000 gamers stampeded into the hall. By then, we'd safely navigated our way towards a lunching station, and had belunched ourselves.

So properly fooded and orientated, we set out to bother celebrities. We met Felicia Day and Sandeep Parikh of The Guild, the much loved webseries that has won all kinds of awards and much critical acclaim. They are lovely people, approachable and funny, with serious Geek cred and the glow of newly-minted celebrity. Sandeep recognized Jeremy from Comic Con, and Felicia recognized Don when he introduced himself -- we've volunteered to crew the second season of The Guild, which is slated to film as early as this fall. Which would be an awesome of undeniable magnitude.

After getting our Guild fix, we found the line to meet geek guru and web entity extraordinare Wil Wheaton. But we didn't actually get to meet him; there was a dude at the end of the line, a Security Guy, turned around with his back to the line. "I'm the end of the line," he told us. Wil would be leaving in a few minutes to attend a panel, so we'd have to come back in a few hours. "Oh," said Don, bummery clouding his face, "we wanted to give him this," and he held up a Dorkness Rising DVD. "Oh, you're Dead Gentlemen!" Said End-Of-The-Line-Guy. Then another Security Guy came over. "Dorkness Rising? Cool!" said New Security Guy. "This is for Wil?" We nodded, and New Security Guy took the DVD to the front of the line. He handed it to Wil ... and Wil warily took it, looked at it ... and then totally geeked out. Big clowny smily grin. "Oh, I've been waiting for this!" he said. "Thank you!" We strutted off, rather stoked. We'd comped Captain Awesome McKickass, and liked our movie.
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After dinner, we attended The Guild screening in a two hundred seat theater, which was packed to the gills; they had to turn people away. The audience -- some of whom hadn't seen it before -- absolutely loved it, as well they should have. At the panel afterward, Felicia said this was the first time they'd actually seen it with an audience. It was a huge thrill for them. There's nothing quite so rewarding as watching your work with an appreciative audience. There's also nothing quite as terrifying. Cinema is the the only art I can think of where you can be both performing and a member of the audience at the same time.

We snuck out of the Guild panel to prep the Dorkness screening, which started directly afterwars. Many of the northwest DGs turned out for the screening, even with Matt Shimkus' wedding looming only fourteen hours away. We saw some people we hadn't seen in years, others we hadn't seen since we filmed: fight choreographer Kevin Inouye; Tracy Ivory, one of our amazing costumers; and the omni-talented Ed Gibbs, who plays the Hierophant. My parents, who'd never seen the movie with a crowd, somehow talked the convention into giving them free passes so they could attend the screening. They stood out a bit, being as they were the only gray-haired attendees we'd seen.

The screening itself went as well as could be hoped. The chairs filled quickly, and it was sitting room only. Over 200 people crowded any spot with line-of-site to the screen. The tech folks had to jack the volume up to contend with the convention noise, which only attracted more people. I've seen the movie so many damn times that I'm interested in watching it is with an audience. And I don't so much watch the film as the audience. They gave us a standing ovation after the credits, and after our mini-panel after the credits. And after that, we completely legally sold about fifty DVDs to fans. Which is pretty good for not selling anything at the con.
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I got a nice chance to chat with Sandeep Parikh, who caught the end of the screening. Great guy, quick on his feet and very funny. He was showing the first three episodes of The Legend of Neil directly after us. If you haven't seen The Legend of Neil, and have ever played or heard of The Legend of Zelda, you must watch this series. It's absotively marvlarious. Really damn funny. Not for the kiddies, though, and not safe for work. But absolutely worth the viewing.
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With the end of the screening, so ended our convention season. And not a moment too soon. We bade farewell to family and fellow DGs, and trekked back to Magnolia to billet ourselves in Wifey's dad's house. The lid came off the hot tub, and it was Tub Time with Don, Matt, and Jeremy, boiling the brats with beer.
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So now we're back in L.A., with no more cons to attend this year. To all the fans, friends, and family of Dead Gentlemen: Thank you for your support and camraderie. We would never have gotten this far without you. And I solemly swear that the next project will not take five years to complete. If I break this promise, you may burn Don in effigy.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gen Con, Day 4

Gettin' all Guillermo at breakfast
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Gen Con. Day the Last. I promise, I'll try really hard to keep this post in non-mammoth territory.

For the first night of the con, we got a decent night's sleep. Which means we slept well past the hall opening, and didn't arrive until the day was half over. Sundays at cons are sad. Numbers are often down, and continue to go down as people leave during the day to fly back to wherever they hail from. The fact that the con is ending is on everyone's mind, the same feeling you get on the last day of your vacation, or pretty much any Sunday when it's back to work in a few hours. What made it worse was that I was just getting used to the con. Which is how it always happens. But it's still depressing.

Sunday's sales were good, just slightly less than Saturday. All in all, over 1,200 Dorkness Rising DVDs sold at Gen Con -- the first four days it was available. On top of that, Margaret Weis Productions sold somewhere between 80 and 100 copies of the Demon Hunters Role Playing Game. We've never had numbers like that a at a convention. Never. And that's not counting pre-orders on Paizo's website, or what Netflix ordered. By the way, if you add Dorkness to your Netflix queue, it will tell you there's a "very long wait" to get the movie. =)
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As the day wound down, I got my promo copies of the DVD to swag for con goodies. The haul wasn't bad -- a coupl'a boxes of D&D minis, a wonderful little board game called "Key Largo" ... and a TON of Legend of the Five Rings cards from John Zinser, president of AEG. L5R is my favorite collectible card game of all time, hands down. The interactive storyline and fan devotion to their particular factions are unmatched in the CCG world. I've been off the stuff for a few years, pretty much since we moved to Cali. But with Nathan moving down in a couple months, I may have to get back into the game. Can't let the Crane prance around the courts of the Empire while the Crab die on the Great Carpenter Wall.
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Wifey poses with Jen Page, who was banished from the con
after someone left a cold iron charm outside her room. BOOM! Elf joke!
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At four, the hall closed, and the convention hall staff started processing the corpse of the convention. The carpets between the booths were rolled up, the banners above them taken down. Quickly, efficiently, the cold concrete bones of the convention center poked through what moments before had been the center of the RPG universe. And will be again next year.
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The trip back to L.A. was blessedly uneventful. We said our goodbyes to the few DGs hanging around an extra day and vamoosed to the airport. Mercifully, Air Tran's computers were working for the return trip. From the L.A. park and ride, Don and Cindy gave us a lift back to our apartment -- our car still being dead -- and dropped us off shortly after midnight. We have yet to completely unpack.
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So ... yay for Gen Con! We can finally get back to regular life. Until next week, when Don and Jeremy and I head up to Seattle for PAX.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Gen Con, Day 3

One of the realities of convention life is that you're going to have to share your room. I've roomed with my fair share of snorers. Brian was neither the loudest nor most obnoxious of these. He was, however, the hardest to wake. The whispering didn't work. The yelling didn't work. The crossing-over-and-nudging didn't work. What did work was the violently-shaking-the-bed. The snoring stopped after that, but I only netted about four hours of sleep -- the bare minimum to function the next day.
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And sadly, the first thing I did the next day was miss Tracy Hickman's fan-favorite event, one of the hallmarks of the convention, the Killer Breakfast. Every year, Tracy runs a Dungeons & Dragons campaign from the front of a ballroom and mows through hundreds of player characters in about two hours. There are no survivors. It's not if you will die -- it's when, and how violently. If you can survive the Killer Breakfast for more than 30 seconds, that's commendable. I think Christian set a record with two minutes. I was looking forward to getting killed in front of hundreds of fellow gamers myself, but sadly, that wasn't in the cards.
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No, I was at the signing table -- the only Dead Gentleman at the table, I might ad -- nearly getting trampled by the new herd of gamers thundering towards the Wizards booth. Seems today's promo was an exclusive Hero Clix miniature. Watching the gamers galumph across the floor, I imagined a small tile-based board game called "Con Rush." In this game, players would compete to grab as many con promos as possible from different booths before their character died from a massive coronary.
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BELOW: Signing my future away. That's John Frank with the Joker grin.
Saturday is typically the biggest day at Gen Con, but sales-wise, it didn't take the crown away from Thursday. By the end of the day, Paizo had sold 250 Dorkness DVDs. They'd also completely sold out DVDs of the Director's Cut of The Gamers and Dead Camper Lake. Haven't had that happen for a while.
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The signings held steady througout the day. And in the middle of them, I signed the option agreement with Epic Level Entertainment for the next Gamers film, The Gamers: PWNed. I've been working on the script for the last couple years. It's set in an MMORPG, so the budget will be significantly higher than anything Dead Gentlemen's ever done -- hence Epic Level holding the reins on this one. We're pretty excited about it, expecially coming off the momentum of Dorkness. John Frank and Cindi already have meetings set up. If I have to miss Gen Con next year, I hope it's because we're knee-deep in PWNed.
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I left the hall at five to get a nap in before the Big Screening that night. This would be the sole evening screening of Dorkness Rising at Gen Con, at 10 pm. And for me, the film would not be complete until I'd seen it screen with a Gen Con audience. The first Gen Con screening was two years ago, in '06, but due to a family tragedy I had to leave before the premiere. So I had a lot emotionally tied up in this screening. I needed it. I needed to be there, to see it in front of an audience. The Comic Con screening was great, but it was no Gen Con crowd.
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Gen Con expected a massive turnout, so they gave us two ballrooms to screen in. It was the same setup as last year: seating for a thousand, with a large central screen and two smaller side screens at the halfway point where the halls met. We posed for pictures with fans as the line outside the hall grew, and grew, and grew -- we couldn't go in, because the live table reading of Knights of the Dinner Table was just wrapping up. The DGs trekked in when they finished, and then, predictably, things started to go wrong.
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Remember the big central screen? Apparently, the con decided we didn't need one. All we had were the two small side screens -- and half the chairs in the place were past those. So we had two ballrooms, but one we couldn't use because it didn't face the screens. Also, hundreds of people stayed over from the KoDT reading for our screening, so the back seats were already pretty much full before we'd opened the doors to the folks in line. This did not bode well.
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So the doors opened, and we explained to the attendees that the side screens were all they got. Folks filled in the back, and angled their chairs towards the screens, splitting right down the middle at oblique angles. That was weird -- watching a 600 member audience crammed into half the space, facing opposite directions.
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Screening to the left!
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Screening to the right!

Stand up, sit down, fight fight fight!

And so our screening began. We led with the trailer for Midnight Syndicate's The Dead Matter, directed by our buddy Ed Douglas. It's a truly original (and rather jump-inducing) horror movie. Don and Jeremy and I got to see it at GAMA back in April in Ed's hotel room, with Ed narrating the effects and scenes that weren't fully finished. We enjoyed the hell out of it, and that wasn't even the final version. So the trailer screened, and as we watched, we thought "Huh. They did the trailer in black and white. Odd choice for a movie in color."

But of course that wasn't the choice, as we discovered when we loaded the Dorkness screener -- the projector was stuck on black and white. So we abruptly stopped the screening to howls of protest. I pondered how quickly a friendly audience could turn into an effigy-burning mob. We powwowwed (it's a word) with the con's tech guys, and fixed the color in record time.

Then we noticed the aspect ratio was off -- the projector was projecting in 4:3 instead of 16:9 (fullscreen instead of widescreen for you non-dorks). The projector was chopping the sides off the image. The loading screen even read "ed Gentlemen presents," with the option to "Play Mov." We circled up to toy with the projector ... and that's when the chants of "Play mov! Play mov!" started. So we just took the aspect ratio hit and played the mov.

I sat down with Wifey in the dark, in the midpoint between the differently angled crowds. Here it was, my Gen Con screening. Please, dear God, let it not suck.

It didn't. I mean, sure, there were some problems. There was the aspect ratio, and the focus was a bit soft, and the audio wasn't as clear as it could be. The fans didn't care. What they cared about were gaming jokes and dead bards. Laughter filled the hall, loud and constant and appreciative. Wifey was so excited she screamed herself into laryngitis, the poor thing. The credits rolled a hundred minutes later to a standing ovation. Two, if you count the divided crowd.

So, completely high off the screening, we headed out to the most raucous party of the con: the White Wolf party. I'd been hearing about this one for two years, about the insane debauchery and the flashing bard junk in a go-go cage. So it was a bit surprising when the club we crammed into turned out to be nothing but three drab stairwells worth of suck. There was no balcony, no fresh air, no open windows -- and no air conditioning.

Now, my three great hates are crowds, heat, and noise. This party was nothing but. By the time I reached the somewhat cooler third floor -- which only felt like a sauna -- I was ready to leave. And oddly enough, so were the rest of the DGs. The party two years ago was in a different space, they assured me. This party wasn't happening. We had to get out or we'd melt.

So we headed over to the Embassy Suites with Jamie and Renae Chambers of MWP to carouse in their con pad. And that turned out to be the best party we could hope for -- friends, alcohol, and privacy. And flow the alcohol did. Tree drank Stevie under the table. Which, to be fair, isn't hard. I believe I texted "Balls 4EVER" to Cindi at one point -- Cindi, my producer. We ended the night in the loading dock outside the hotel, smoking Brian's "I'm a dad!/We made a movie!" cigars.

And it was there, in that atmosphere of effervescent camaraderie, that many of us had to part ways. Several of the guys had early morning flights to catch -- this was it for them. We hugged our goodbyes, bade our fellows safe passage back to the damp and drizzly northwest. We'd be at half-strength tomorrow on the last day of the con.

We got back to our hotel at 4 am. Brian, bless him, had felt so bad about the snoring that he'd bought us a pack of earplugs. We corked our hear-bits and collapsed under the weight of the day.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Gen Con, Day 2

Friday we rolled out of bed at 8:30 -- 5:30 our time -- and somehow managed to get back to the convention before the Exhibit Hall opened. From our table, we watched a herd of hefty gamers stampede towards the Wizards of the Coast booth. Seems the first couple hundred or so got a free convention-exclusive Magic: The Gathering card. We joked about giving away our own promos at the next Gen Con. We'd get a bunch of pine clippings, stick them in miniature bases, add little Lego hats and guns, and voila! Tree action figures! Ha ha! Trust me, it's a lot funnier if you're extremely sleep deprived.
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Jeremy procured several new Sharpies for the signings, since we'd pretty much bled our pens dry on the first day. The DVDs and RPGs kept selling in a steady stream. It was slightly less than Thursday, but we still didn't get much of a break from signing. I still hadn't had a real chance to walk the hall. And frankly, I wasn't too sore about that -- I was enjoying the hell out of myself at the signing table. Tough I pretty much ran my throat ragged yabbering with people at the booth. And despite the sucky chairs that put a vice clamp on your hips, tilted your ass back at a 45-degree angle, and would collapse if you slightly turned your body.
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At 2:30, a delegation of DGs hiked over to the Westin to give a Dead Gentlemen seminar. We had no idea what we were going to talk about. A few months back, when Don had set it up, we were pretty sure we'd have an exciting new project to talk about, to give the insider's scoop on. That project didn't so much fall apart as never came together, though, so we were without a topic as we waited to take over. But Nathan gave each of us a shot of something smooth and burny to limber us up. The seminar turned out easy and fun. We talked about where we'd come from, how we got involved in DG, what our current projects were ... and a bit of what was next, if we had our druthers. And apparently, we didn't reveal anything damning, because John Frank (perched at the back of the room) never piped up. We stuck around to snap pictures and sign some swag at the end of it.

Posing with Sophia's Sister from the DG forums. She has excellent taste.

Back in the hall, things were a-rockin'. Sales of Dorkness Rising DVDs hit 350. Paizo actually sold out of the Director's Cut of the original The Gamers. And over at the Margaret Weis Productions booth -- our friends foolish enough to produce an RPG with us -- the Demon Hunters Role Playing Game was the top seller. They even had to reorder, or so I'm told. Whatever the case, we saw many, many copies of the RPG. And Nathan somehow did not run out of the tree-related puns he kept scribbling on people's Cobbler's Crystals pages..

For dinner, we met with some of our favoritest people in gaming: Cindi Rice of Epic Level, our parner production company; Dave Williams and Ed Stark -- who still can't tell us about the awesome new MMORPG they're developing, on pain of death -- of Red 5 Studios; and Sean Reynolds of Paizo, who played the Inquisitor in Dorkness Rising and made it very clear he was going to steal my wife. We all ate way too much at Buca di Beppo and developed new and creative ways to tell each other to shut up.

We ended the night at Champions because we promised Jamie Chambers, the brain behind the Cortex RPG system, that we'd attend MWP's karaoke night. This was something they did every year at Dragon*Con -- where they'll be when we're up at PAX in a coupl'a weeks -- and it was time to inflict the tradition onto Gen Con. Now, karaoke isn't something I automatically put into the good times column. I've only done it a few times myself, and from what I remember of it, it's not what I would consider a raucous activity. I had to change that opinion rather quickly. It was, to put it mildly, the most fun I'd ever had at a Gen Con party.
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The MWP folks broke the ice, and the combination of being with friends and cheap alcohol loosened us up. Wifey and I performed "Barbie Girl," and switched the male/female parts on the last verse. I barely made it through "A-Ha" -- nailed the high notes, though. The people kept pouring in, packing the place, and as the space shrank and the collective body temperature rose, the spirits spirits kept a-rising. Things exploded when, up on the big screen, Michael Phelps won his seventh gold medal by .01 seconds.
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BELOW: The karaoke crowd busts a move.
It was the most animated I've ever seen a karaoke crowd. We were all laughing, dancing, singing backup, even acting out sketches -- like when Don, with about six Manhattans in him, climbed up and sang "Thunderball" from the fourth Bond film, and we improvved scenes from Bond films in front of him. My personal big diva moment was when I kicked it old school and did Young M.C.'s "Bust A Move." I was twelve again, but a much, much worse dancer. The night ended four hours later with the DGs doing Chumbawumba and me proving yet again the degree to which I cannot dance. Alcohol definitely played a part.

But by far the best (or worst) karaoke performance of the evening belonged to Cam Banks of MWP. Cam is a native New Zealander, an Aussie-hating Kiwi through and through. So when "Land Down Under" started up, we all looked on curiously -- and then couldn't look away as Cam murdered the song with cold blooded glee. It was hilariously terrible, wonderfully bad, ironically cringe-worthy ... a musical act of war. Good on you, Cam.

And so day two ended, and with it half the con, at about 1:00 am. Plenty of time to rest up for the big events of tomorrow: namely Killer Breakfast, and the big screening of Dorkness Rising.

Wifey poses with Jeremy and Nathan,
who's about to get his damn hand off my wife