Terence Winter and HBO Part Ways on Vinyl

On April 8th, fans of HBO’s series Vinyl were disappointed and shocked to learn that co-creator, showrunner, writer, and executive producer Terence Winter has been let go from his ongoing role in the series.  Terence Winter’s tenure on HBO goes all the way back to The Sopranos where he wrote 25 episodes and became an executive producer.  He then went on to create and write for Boardwalk Empire, HBO’s Prohibition era drama set in Atlantic City starring Steve Buscemi, serving as show runner and executive producer alongside Martin Scorsese, Mark Wahlberg, and Sopranos alum Tim Van Patten.

Set in 1973, Vinyl stars Bobby Cannavale as Richie Finestra, a struggling record company owner driven over the edge by the frantic music scene who must deal with personal andvinyl-interview-terence-winter-hbo-theliptv-media-mayhem professional challenges including a haunted past in the industry, a fractured relationship with his wife Devon, and an unfortunate series of events that has led him to take part in a homicide.  Adding to all this is the chaotic atmosphere of sex, drugs, and Rock n’ Roll in the early 70s music scene.  The ensemble also features a very talented group of supporting cast members including Ray Romano as Zak, Richie’s partner and confidant; Max Casella as Julian head of A&R; James Jagger (son of co-creator Mick Jagger) as the leader of a proto-punk band named The Nasty Bits; Juno Temple as one of Richie’s assistants driven to move up in the company who becomes a champion of The Nasty Bits; and Olivia Wilde as Devon Finestra who struggles with her past as a former aspiring model for Andy Warhol having settled down with Richie to become a housewife and stay at home mother for their children.

The series has garnered some critical praise but has thus far failed to come close to achieving the ratings success of Winter’s previous work with the Sopranos or even on Boardwalk Empire.  The timing of his termination from the series is somewhat curious.  The show has already been picked up for a 2nd season, a move that came soon after the series pilot premiered on February 14th, and the upcoming season finale is scheduled to air on April 17th. It just so happens that the season finale offers what most likely will turn out to be Winter’s final screenplay for the series, perhaps even with HBO at least for the foreseeable future.  If that seems a bit odd it might be because Winter’s tenure with HBO began 16 years ago during season 2 of The Sopranos when he wrote for the show and became co-producer.  Since then, it seems that Winter has had a consistently active role in multiple HBO projects either writing screenplays, developing new projects, or acting as an executive producer and showrunner.

tumblr_m3gqnitZJ51rtg414o2_1280Winter’s Sopranos season 3 episode “Pine Barrens” remains a favorite among the fans, and while David Chase deserves much of the praise for the success of the Sopranos overall, Terence Winter’s writing played a pivotal role and it can be argued that his “Pine Barrens” episode set the tone for the way the series ultimately ended.   When asked about the fate of the Russian mafia henchman who Paulie and Christopher spend most of the episode tracking in vain, Terrence Winter responded:

“That’s the question I get asked more than any other. It drives people crazy: “Where’s the Russian? What happened to the Russian?” We could say, “Well, he got out and there’s a big mob war with the Russians,” or “He crawled off and died.” But we wanted to keep it ambiguous. You know, not everything gets answered in life”

It shouldn’t strike anyone as coincidence that even as early as season 3 The Sopranos team were consciously thinking about open endings.  Indeed, The Sopranos changed television in ways that many might now take for granted.  As the series went on, more and more emphasis was placed on thematic elements rather than plot; we spent more time with the ensemble cast in multiple character arcs; and the show marked a stark contrast from the episodic television dramas that had come before.

When The Sopranos ended, Winter went on to collaborate with Martin Scorsese on Boardwalk Empire for HBO, an ambitious period crime drama starring Steve Buscemi set in Prohibition era Atlantic City.

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Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson in Boardwalk Empire

The show received high critical praise but lower ratings in the later seasons combined with the high costs of production forced HBO to ask Winter to bring the show to a premature conclusion.  Boardwalk Empire ultimately lasted 5 seasons, and even though it never reached the cultural iconic benchmark set by The Sopranos, it still stands as a highly remarkable creative accomplishment for Winter. It brought to the audience a world where fictional characters within the show’s universe were able to interact and engage with historical figures in meaningful and oftentimes very fascinating and unexpected ways.  Boardwalk Empire presented an even greater creative challenge for Winter because he had to figure out viable ways for notable historical characters such as Al Capone, Arnold Rothstein, and Lucky Luciano to interact within the universe of the show in a way that not only makes sense for the show creatively but also in a way that is representative of what the real person’s biographical history was for that time.  It’s for this reason that I believe that Winter along with the rest of Boardwalk’s creative team pulled off some magnificently brilliant work for this series.  Each season represented not only a year in the life of the fictional characters in the show but also a year in the life of the characters who had real life counterparts within that era of American history.  Unlike The Sopranos who were able to do whatever they liked to any of their characters, Boardwalk Empire had a responsibility to stay true to real life history only taking creative license when absolutely necessary.

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When it comes to Vinyl, there could be many reasons for the low ratings.   The show has yet to post a rating of over a million viewers for an episode, which Boardwalk Empire had been able to do even during the latter half of its run.  Some may say that the decline of Rock music in general may be indicative of the lack of interest in a show that is meant to summon nostalgia for this period for the audience. While it’s true that Rock has taken a bit of a back seat to Hip Hop and Country, I still think a show like this with its unique insight into the record industry should be of interest to younger viewers.  The question is whether or not younger viewers who have so many choices when it comes to scripted dramas will seek out a show like this.

The biggest disadvantage that Vinyl has for audiences who do actively seek it out is that it simply can’t do what Boardwalk Empire did when it cast real life historical figures as integral members of its ensemble. While the cameo appearances of iconic musical figures like David Bowie, John Lennon, and Elvis should be enough to make any serious music fan at least curious, this may also work against the show. None of these legendary characters could ever be integrated into the fabric of the show in any meaningful way for obvious logistical reasons, and even if they could integrate a musical icon or two into the show, the level of scrutiny would be enormous.

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Richie tries to get Elvis to come to his label

It wouldn’t have even been possible to include series co-creator and executive producer Mick Jagger into the show this season because the show is set mostly in New York and The Rolling Stones were touring Europe in 1973 supporting their Goats Head Soup album.   Besides, if you had Mick Jagger, Elvis, or John Lennon become a part of this show the way Al Capone became a part of Boardwalk Empire it would completely alter the entire nature of the show and divert attention and focus away from the fictional characters in the show.  Boardwalk Empire was able to achieve a balance between its fictional and nonfictional characters in a way that just wouldn’t be sustainable for a show like Vinyl.

It’s also possible that this new crop of fictional characters are either failing to resonate with audiences or perhaps taking too long for audiences to respond to.  Like any new series, Vinyl has had to contend with a few growing pains.  Bobby Cannavale is a brilliant actor who brings a very frantic charm to the role of Richie, but there are times when his self-destructive behavior becomes predictable.  Even though Cannavale is fascinating to watch, there are instances where you could tell where the show is taking him and when an audience is able to predict where the show is going it’s never a good thing.  The supporting cast has been equally impressive but earlier episodes failed to give Olivia Wilde enough to do.

Now that Winter will no longer be a part of Vinyl, HBO has called on Scott Z. Burns and Max Borenstein to run the show, which leaves serious doubts concerning the show’s viability.  There have been other shows that were able to succeed without a key showrunner or creator who developed them, but for an HBO series developed by Terence Winter to continue on without him seems a bit dubious.  Whether the new showrunners take the show in an entirely new direction than what Winter intended remains to be seen.  According to a previous interview with Winter, he had intended each season of the show to represent a year in the lives of the characters similar to how it had been done on Boardwalk Empire.

“The series will progress in time like Boardwalk did. So, we’ll probably move forward into 1974 when we come back; ’74 was the year that CBGB’s opened, it was the year that The Ramones kind of formed. The Vietnam War was officially over so you had a lot of guys coming back from that too.”

It should also be noted that for both Boardwalk Empire and Vinyl, Terence Winter hosted the “Inside the Episode” featurettes where he talks about each episode exploring the various themes he wanted to get across throughout the course of the show.  You can find them on HBO’s site or on youtube. They offer some insights into the creative team’s process for each individual episode regarding character arcs and various plot and thematic elements, which many will no doubt find interesting if you follow his shows.

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The season finale for Vinyl is set to air on Sunday, Aprl 17th. The screenplay was written by Terence Winter, and as it stands it may be the final screenplay by Winter we will get to see on HBO.  Given his longstanding creative output with HBO, let’s hope that won’t be the case.

 

Sources for ratings and quotes:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Boardwalk_Empire_episodes#Season_1_.282010.29

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vinyl_(TV_series)#cite_note-BiancoS1Review-31

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pine_Barrens_(The_Sopranos)

Source for Winter’s remarks regarding S2 of Vinyl

‘Vinyl’ Showrunner Terence Winter Exits HBO Series, New Showrunner Named

How Stephen King’s JFK Novel Echoes Fleming’s Least Known Bond Novel

Proof that Bond follows me everywhere: I decided to take a little break from reading all things Bond so a while ago I began reading Stephen King’s time travel novel 11/22/63 about a school teacher who ends up going through a portal that takes him to 1958. I wanted to read the book before watching the miniseries on Hulu which deviates a bit from the original novel (fans of King’s novel IT will find the return of few key characters). The owner of the diner where the portal resides implores Jake, the protagonist, to live in the past long enough to thwart the Kennedy assasination (hence the title). So, I’m  about 600+ pages along (the book is about 853pgs long) and I come across this paragraph:
“… at five that afternoon I was sitting across from the Greyhound terminal on South Polk Street, near the intersection of Highway 77 and the still-new fourlane I-20. I was reading (or pretending to read) the latest James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me.”
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Richard Chopping’s dust jacket for The Spy Who Loved Me

Jake then goes on to describe Lee Harvey Oswald’s arrival in Dallas in 1963. It just goes to show that Bond seems to pop up in places where I least expect it, in this case it turned out to be a direct reference to literary Bond. I was initially surprised that King didn’t go for From Russia with Love, which had been published a few years earlier but received a very considerable boost after endorsement from Kennedy. Spy was first published in the UK on April 16th 1962 with Viking Books publishing the US edition on April 11th 1962. In the timeframe of the novel King’s protagonist was actually just a few months shy of the US publication of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service which was published on April 1st in the UK by Jonathan Cape while the US edition was held up until August of 1963 once Fleming switched his US publisher to New American Library after leaving Viking Press who published the US editions of the previous Bond books.

Strangely enough, The Spy Who Loved Me is probably the least renown or regarded Bond book in the Fleming series.  I wrote about this over at my own blog some time ago.  It was written from the perspective of a 23 year old Canadian woman in the first person.   Vivienne Michel recounts the story of her life and her woeful relationships with men for about two thirds of the book before James Bond even shows up.  It’s a Bond novel where the focal point is not about espionage or even about Bond at all. It’s about the story of a young woman who had been treated horribly by men her whole life and how such a woman finds herself in the precarious circumstances to be in need of a heroic man like Bond.  Bond eventually arrives and through wit, cunning, and physicality saves her from being brutally raped and killed by gangsters at a secluded hotel.
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Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but I couldn’t help but see the parallels between Fleming’s novel and King’s novel.  For one thing, on a very basic level there’s this switching of narratives going on in both stories.  Both are told from the 1st person perspectives of their protagonists although King’s protagonist is a young male teacher.  Both books, however, set up expectations for the readers only to divert the reader away from what a reader thought he was getting when he picked up the book.  In 1962, most readers picked up the latest James Bond novel expecting yet another spy thriller.  SPECTRE and Ernst Stavro Blofeld had just been introduced in the previous book Thunderball, but that novel has its own sordid history.  The word “Spy” is even in the title so a reader who just picked up the

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alternate cover for The Spy Who Loved Me, Penguin Edition

book as a literary Bond fan would have undoubtedly expected a new spy thriller.  Instead, readers were treated to a personal narrative about a young woman struggling for independence and respect in her relationships with men in a time where most women were not afforded the same regard as men especially when it came to how they were expected to conduct their personal and professional lives.  Needless to say, this may have been a bit ahead of its time for mainstream readers in the early 1960s. In Stephen King’s book, you have a story about time travel with one of the most infamous days in United States history as the title.  Readers might expect an in depth analysis of the assassination and the historical figures involved.  Well, 600 pages in and the reader spends more time with Jake teaching in a suburban High School romancing the young librarian he was set up with rather than tracking Oswald or Kennedy or engaging in any activity that might alter the the timeline.   The book is more about the personal journey than the historical event that triggered the novel.  King does indeed deliver on some things that readers who began reading this book for the historical fiction involved, but it’s not nearly as much as I expected.  Strangely enough I actually find myself enjoying the parts of the story that are completely about the fictional characters more than the instances where the novel returns to the apparent business at hand preventing the assassination.

In one instance, Jake is supposed to be tracking Oswald’s movements when an emergency happens in a crucial moment.  As Jake often reiterates in this novel, “the past is obdurate.  It doesn’t want to be changed.”  Jake is supposed to see if Oswald either acted alone or if he was part of a larger conspiracy.  One way to determine this is by tracking Oswald’s movements during his previous unsuccessful assasination attempt on General Walker who had been widely criticized for supporting racist policies. Jake determines that if he follows Oswald and he attempts to assassinate Walk alone then he most certainly must have acted alone on the fateful day in question.  So, Jake is about to leave his apartment when he gets a phone call and it’s the deranged ex-husband of Jake’s love interest, Sadie.  Jake hadn’t expected to meet Sadie before going into the past so he had no idea that her ex-husband was going to try to kill her on the very pivotal day that would have set the stage for his mission to save JFK. Of course, Jake opts to abandon his plans to follow Oswald in order to save Sadie. If this sounds a bit familiar it’s probably because in a way it’s a little similar to how Bond encounters and saves Vivienne Michel in Fleming’s novel.  Of course, Bond wasn’t a time traveller but he was a man who came to the rescue of a woman in need, a woman at the mercy of dangerous men.  Rather than being of the mindset of having more important fish to fry (if you recall SPECTRE and Blofeld are active threats at this point in the literary Bond timeline), Bond decides that saving Vivienne is the most urgent thing to do at that moment in time.
Sadie’s own history with men even parallels Vivienne’s to some degree because while Vivienne’s life hadn’t been threatened by her former lovers we learn about in the first two thirds of the novel, she had certainly suffered through abusive relationships.  In King’s book, Sadie recounts her husband’s suppressive attitudes towards sex to the degreee that he put a broom in between them on the bed and only allowed her to sexually gratify him with her hand instead of engaging in any kind of affectionate behavior. Indeed, Sadie could have easily arrived in the Texas town of Jodie with the same mindset that Vivienne used to open the start of The Spy Who Loved Me. Reading Vivienne’s words after learning about King’s character in his book almost feels like the two characters are echoes of each other.
“I was running away.  I was running away from England, from my childhood, from the winter, from a sequence of untidy, unattractive love-affairs, from the few sticks of furniture and jumble of overworn clothes that my London life had collected around me; and I was running away from drabness, fustiness, snobbery, the claustrophobia of close horizons and from my inability, although I am quite an attractive rat, to make headway in the rat-race. In fact, I was running away from almost everything except the law.”
Although I haven’t had a chance to properly dive into the Fleming letters in The Man with Golden Typewriter just yet, for this occassion I decided to peruse what I could find regarding The Spy Who Loved Me.  Here’s what I found. In a letter dated April 18th, 1962, Fleming replies to a Mrs Florence Taylor from Ford’s Book Stores,Ltd who wrote back a rather negative review of the novel after reciving an advance copy.  In her letter she described the novel as “a great disappointment” and went on to say that “I do hope that this is not a new trend in your style of writing.
Ian Fleming replies with grace and decorum:
Ian-Fleming-in-his-Study-009
” It was really very kind of you to have taken the trouble to write to me and I was touched by your affection for James Bond.
The point is that if one is writing about a serial character one’s public comes to want more or less the same book over and over again, and it was really to stretch my writing muscles that I tried to write like a twenty-three year old girl and put forward a view of James Bond at the other end of the gun barrel so to speak.
But this is a unique experiment and I have just completed the next Bond book, I think the longest yet [he doesn’t say this but he’s referring to OHMSS], in which he appears from the first page to the last.
Again with many thanks for the kindly thought behind your letter.”
The very next letter to Michael Howard of Jonathan Cape further illustrates Fleming going into a rather defensive mode about The Spy Who Loved me to the point of declining a 2nd print run for the novel and for the book to be witheld from the Pan editions.  Clearly, Fleming felt that his experimental approach to this Bond book failed to resonate with readers the way he had hoped. Of course, the next novel would be On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which resulted in a resounding return to form, but I still wonder what other Fleming books might have been like if his experiment with The Spy Who Loved Me worked.  The possibilities would have been limitless at least for the few more Bond novels that remained to be written before Fleming’s life was cut short in August of 1964.
All those purist out there who think Bond stories must all conform to Fleming’s blueprint should also realized that even Fleming himself was open to experimentation with his books.  As for the similarities between Stephen King’s novel and Fleming’s disavowed Bond book, perhaps they are merely coincidental, but even if they are it’s impossible to deny that certain echoes exists within common story threads.  Whether we choose to see them or not, these echoes are out there for us to find if we want to, not just as they pertain to Bond but as they pertain to life in general.  Anyhow, I just found it rather strange that while I had embarked on a rather decisive non-Bond reading experience, it all came back to Bond in the end.
I initially published this piece on the James Bond Radio Podcast site but I have recreated the piece here for your convenience.
Sources:
1. King, Stephen 11/22/63. Scribner, 2011
2. Fleming, Ian The Spy Who Loved Me. Jonathan Cape, 1962
3. Fleming, Fergus The Man with the Golden Typewriter. Bloomsbury USA, 2015

The Next Threat for Bond 25

Aside from all the click bait articles surrounding Daniel Craig’s status as Bond, the one recent article containing an actual relevant quote pertaining to the future of the Bond films came from the Norwegian film / media site filmweb.no . (update: you can find a proper translated version here)

James Bond Spectre auksjon

Michael G. Wilson

Once you let Google Translate work its magic, you’ll find an article largely focused on the recent London auction of SPECTRE props and vehicles, most notably an Aston Martin DB10 which sold for £2,434,500 (or $3,375,896.81). The article goes on to mention that they had the opportunity to chat with Gregg Wilson, son of EON producer Michael G. Wilson.  Both Gregg and his brother David have done extensive work in the Bond films.  David went on to become the executive producer of the Bond video games while Gregg has worked as both assistant and associate producer since Quantum of Solace (2008). Gregg goes on to briefly describe his earliest experiences in the Bond universe.  He is quoted as saying:

The first memory I have of the Bond films is from set of “Octopussy” (1983). I remember that I visited the huge circus set. It was a very magical moment for a little boy. Later, I also remember that I visited the sets of the Timothy Dalton films “The Living Daylights” (1987) and “Licence to Kill” (1989). There is something very special about walking into a Bond set, you feel right away that you are in a different universe.

He recounts working with David Arnold on the soundtrack to The World is Not Enough (1999) and then working on every film since Die Another Day (2002).  He also describes script development as a real passion of his, and it sounds like SPECTRE (2015) marks the first time that he had the opportunity to get involved in this process.

Gregg Wilson and Michael G Wilson

Gregg Wilson and Michael G. Wilson

The most fascinating part of the article comes at the very end, however, which is something I can’t imagine any reasonably competent British or American editor allowing in this day in age.  The topic is none other than “The Future of Bond.”  Here Gregg gives us the first glimpse into what the thought process is right now at EON during the earliest stages of planning for Bond 25:

“We’ve just begun to doodle with ideas for the next movie. Each script process begins when we ask ourselves the question: ‘What is the world afraid [of] now?.’ In the case of “SPECTRE” was the theme global monitoring and utilization of information. So now we are trying to find out what will be relevant in the coming years.”

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Gregg Wilson

He further elaborates:

“We always want to do something new with the Bond character and see him in situations we have not seen him in the past. We must give the audience something new every time. After noon movies are not always easy. But often it helps to go back to Ian Fleming’s novels for inspiration, whether you’re talking about grades or mood, says Wilson who is pretty sure Daniel Craig reprising the role agent 007 in “Bond 25”.

Now of course this isn’t much to go on.  I suppose we have all figured that EON has always thought along these lines in order to make each new film relevant, viable, and interesting to modern audiences, but to actually hear someone from the inner circle talk about the process even in the vaguest terms … well, that’s enough to send most hardcore Bond fans into a bit of a frenzy.

So, let’s take a moment to consider real world threats that might somehow potentially play a role in Bond 25.  It’s safe to assume that if Craig returns, SPECTRE / Blofeld will be the main source behind the threat, but let’s set them aside for now and just look at what threats are out there assuming that SPECTRE is malleable enough that it can manipulate any number of disastrous occurrences within the Bond universe.  The threat that probably springs to everyone’s mind immediately is that of terrorism.   It’s a horrible reality of living in our times that the threat of terrorism has become something that we have to contend with and confront no matter where you live. In the Bond universe, we already know that SPECTRE were planning to blow up a stadium full of people in Mexico City before Bond intervened.  In the real world, there is state sponsored terrorism, rogue non state-sponsored terror cells, and lone wolf attacks, any of which can result in enormous tragedy.  There is also cyber terrorism, which Skyfall touched on to some extent before Silva’s motivations were revealed.

How could Bond 25’s theme explore a terrorism threat?  Well, that’s easy. Bond would have to thwart a potential terrorist attack James Bond runningsomewhere in the world hopefully outside of the UK.  I have no doubt that a decent movie could be constructed from such a basic plot, but doesn’t that sound like the plot of a lot of other typical action movies?  Surely, there would have to be more to it than that for it to work as Bond film.  There would have to be global consequences at stake, exotic locations, and a beautiful woman or three to either help or impede Bond’s progress.  Still, this is Bond and while I’m sure we all would want 007 on our side to protect the world from terrorists, I think it’s safe to say that EON might want to go with a more complicated threat.

Beyond terrorism, there has always been a threat of an attack from a rogue government.  Recent rocket testing in North Korea as well as the treaty brokered with Iran have made governments and citizens around the world extremely nervous about the threat of either of these countries achieving nuclear capabilities.  While I’m sure EON would like to avoid inserting real world global politics into Bond, the idea of Bond thwarting a potential rogue country’s nuclear strike is one that I think might have appealed greatly to Ian Fleming.  Of course, in Thunderball we witnessed Bond thwarting SPECTRE’s plan to hold the world to ransom by stealing nuclear warheads. In that case, it wasn’t an actual government Bond was up against because it was SPECTRE behind the threat, but what if Bond had to go up against a government.

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Ian Fleming, 1964

Was it not Fleming himself who said, “Spying has always been regarded as (a) very romantic one-man job, so-to-speak. A one man against a whole police force or an army.” It’s been a long while since we’ve seen Bond go up against the army of an enemy foreign government.  Craig’s Bond has gone up against Le Chiffre, Quantum, Silva, and now SPECTRE but never has he really butted heads with the armed forces of a sovereign power.  This could potentially also bring back the naval intrigue that has been missing from Craig’s Bond films.  Wouldn’t we all love to see Craig put on a British naval uniform aboard a naval vessel or submarine heading into enemy waters?  I know that’s something I’d like to see.

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Imagine Daniel Craig in a scene like this.

Of course SPECTRE could figure into it in some way by somehow lending aid to the rogue government in question, but I’d like to see Craig’s Bond topple the forces of an enemy despot even if it’s a fictional one.  This potential plot intrigues me a lot more than just having Bond thwart a terrorist threat alone.

One other plot that might hold some resonance for modern audiences has sprung to my mind very recently. It involves the recent terrorist lone wolf attack perpetrated in San Bernadino, California by a despicable married couple in December last year.  The reason why this has resurfaced in the news lately has to do with Apple’s refusal to allow the FBI access to hack into the phone owned by the murderers.  There’s a highly contentious debate being held both in the media and very soon in the court rooms about the liability of allowing the government a backdoor channel into privately owned encrypted technological devices.   Both sides to this debate have very legitimate concerns.  On one side, the government wants to have this access so it can potentially save lives while on the other side people are concerned with government surveillance of the private information and correspondence of its own citizens.

Ben-Whishaw-as-Q-and-Daniel-Craig-as-James-Bond-in-SpectreGetting back to the Bond universe, I believe that while SPECTRE touched on the issue of government surveillance it failed to really focus on it in any meaningful way.  The film doesn’t really delve into the actual implications of Denbigh’s and SPECTRE’s plot to obtain control over the intelligence networks of nine governments.  Bond 25 could potentially rectify this shortcoming by actually framing a fictional plot around a scenario similar to the one happening between Apple and the FBI.  They could go the conspiracy route. If you think about it, do we actually believe that the government lacks the means to hack into one iPhone?  Maybe the government (the fictional one in the film- that is) has already hacked into the phone, but now feels the need to use the situation as leverage to get legislation to have the means to do this on a broader basis.  I could imagine a scene between Q , M., and the Prime Minister like this one:

M: Were you able to hack into the device?

Q: Of course, Sir. . . I didn’t even have to get out of my pajamas.

Prime Minister: Very well, then. Carry on . . . oh and let’s go ahead and send a writ to (Fictional Company’s Headquarters) ordering them to help us construct a back channel to all their devices.

Q: But sir, I have everything we need.

Prime Minister (to M.): You heard me. Do as I ordered.

Please forgive my quickly and inadequately constructed dialogue, but you must get the gist of where a plot like this must be going.  In this case, it’s the Prime Minister and whoever he’s working with (DUN-DUN DUNNN!!-SPECTRE!!!) who is trying to subvert the political power of the government for their own potential gain or profit.  Perhaps SPECTRE is trying to acquire the technology company in question or maybe they just want to continue with their original plan for global surveillance only instead of nebulous platitudes about democracy and drones we have an actual plot with real characters who have a personal stake in the conflict.  There could even be a sympathetic Bond girl who is on the side of protecting the privacy of citizens or aBond Girl sil femme fatale who might lure Bond into doing her bidding as a counter measure to what M. decides is the right thing to do.

There is so much they can potentially do and I’m sure there are many fascinating ideas I may not have included here.  That’s where you come in.  Please, use the comments section below to discuss what you believe should be the next real world related threat for Bond 25?  More than just plot, what themes would you like Bond 25 to explore? What kind of scenarios would you like to see 007 thwart or infiltrate? After all, Fleming even had Bond work for the enemy temporarily in some stories such as in Moonraker and The Man with the Golden Gun and we haven’t seen that in the film franchise since Licence to Kill (1989).  Feel free to use this space to bandy about ideas. I know you could come up with good ones.

Editor’s Note:  I originally wrote this article for the James Bond Radio podcast website.  You can check it out on their  site

Update

I may not be able to post as frequently as i would like to, but I will post when I can.  In addition to work and family commitments, I’ve decided to do a couple of things.  I’m going to go back into “study mode” for the next couple of months to learn more about writing, more specifically screenwriting and storytelling.  I’m going to start by re-reading Stephen King’s brilliant memoir On Writing.  I read it way back in college and I feel like I can benefit from reading it again since like so many books of yesteryear I barely remember any of it. There are aspects of my writing that I feel can improve by reading more and learning more about the craft so that’s pretty much what I’d like to do.  I intend to keep writing during this process, but I don’t really know if I’ll write anything worth posting.  I’ll just have to wait and see.

My ultimate goal for this year, however, is to adapt my own story which propelled me to start writing again. About 2 years ago I started reading the Ian Fleming Bond books and thought (like so many others before me) “what would an American Bond be like?” Of course, this isn’t a wholly original idea.  Characters like Indiana Jones, Ethan Hunt, and Jason Bourne owe a great deal to Fleming.  The creators of many of these characters have all but admited to borrowing a great deal from Bond while “Americanizing” their respective characters. My idea, however, is to not only to introduce a contemporary “noir” element to this new character but also to make it so that the character is already retired. The Bond franchise itself has flirted with the idea of the Bond character getting older, most notably with the unofficial Connery film Never Say Never Again.  In Skyfall, you get the sense that Daniel Craig’s Bond has past his prime and it takes a good deal of the film’s running time for the character to regain both his confidence as well as his physical prowess.  Towards the end of the Fleming novels, we get a sense that Bond is certainly past his prime as an agent but he’s still very capable and far from retirement even if his body had been repeatedly driven past the breaking point.

My idea stems from the prospect of a Bond-like character already in retirement but still unwilling to resign himself to civillian life and therefore he’d find himself on cases even when he’s not supposed be.  I want the tone of it to be a present day noir, and I want it have some of the elements I enjoy from both Fleming and noir writers like Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane.  Of course, when I wrote the story 2 years ago, it was more about just getting the story down and I really didn’t think to refine the story all that much other than to work out the basic plot. Even with my own very limited abilities and low writing standards, it took me a few weeks to complete Detective Frank’s Daytime Dilemma .  It turned out to be the first of 3 stories I wrote for the character.  I subsequently wrote Detective Frank Takes a Swing and Detective Frank Strikes Back. Then, I started writing new stories with new characters and I kind of put the character on a shelf for a long while. I hope to write more stories for the character, but I feel like I have enough material to start with to begin writing a prospective screenplay for either a series pilot or a movie. The prospect of writing a screenplay is a bit daunting to me since I’ve never attempted to write one before and until the emergence of free formatting software designed specifically for this purpose, I didn’t think it would be possible. While I’m not under any delusion that any thing grand will come out of it, I think I would regret it if I didn’t at least try.

Even though the headache of properly formatting a screenplay has been somewhat subdued, there’s still a lot that I need to learn in order to put forth my best effort.  Not only do I still need to learn about screenwriting, I also have to learn more about writing and storytelling in general. Also, while I have 3 original stories for the character written and completed as short stories on this blog, the stories themselves are far from perfect.  I have to take time to once again dive deep into these stories and figure out what I got right about them and what I got wrong before I can even begin to take the plunge of starting to adapt them into screenplays.  I need to get a better grip of what the strengths and weaknesses of these stories are as well as the strengths and weaknesses in my writing overall.

There’s a lot to think about and a lot to do if I want to follow through on this and of course there’s also real life, work, and family to consider as my priorities. So, if this blog goes a bit quiet, this is the reason.  As always, I’m very grateful for any feedback, and I’d appreciate any advice anyone has regarding all this whether it’s criticism of my stories, my writing, or just ideas that might point me in the right direction (books, websites, screenplays to read, etc.)

Many thanks for coming over to the blog and checking out my writing.

Jack

Trump: Is It Racism or Political Strategy?

If you’ve been compelled react to the recent bigoted statements of Donald Trump via social media, congratulations you’ve just handed Trump the victory he’s seeking.  Trump is no more than a narcissistic billionaire with daddy issues desperate for publicity and attention. He wants us to all be talking about him and it doesn’t matter whether our opinions about his positions are positive or negative.  In fact, it can be argued that Trump ultimately benefits from those of us who express moral outrage at his pigheaded proclamations.  His most recent outrageous statement about banning all Muslims from entering the country is not only indicative of his own flawed and prejudiced ideology but also far more indicative of his megalomaniacal need to manipulate the media into letting him dictate the tone and content of our society’s political discourse on a national level.  Unfortunately, even journalists with the noblest intentions cannot help but to play into Trump’s hands because it’s impossible to cover Trump in the media without sensationalizing the coverage.  That is exactly how Trump wants it, and this is how he intends to win the Republican primary.

In reality, I don’t think Trump believes half the verbal manure that has been spouting from his mouth.  Sure, there may be a part of him that may agree with some of the racist, chauvinistic, xenophobic, and sexist statements inherent to the extreme right wing of the Republican Party, but I actually believe his sincerity when he denies being a racist. No racist ever believes he’s a racist.  What Trump is doing is very simple.  He’s pandering to racists by telling them what they want to hear. He’s doing what the Republican Party has been doing for decades.  They pander to their base because it’s the fundamentalist Christian lobbyist groups who fund their campaign and essentially bribe politicians and political candidates to say what the base of their constituents want to hear.   Republicans depend on the votes of poor, uneducated, white Christians to support their campaigns.

The Republican Party has been vastly co-opted by powerful lobbyist groups who want to dictate government policies based upon fundamentalist Christian beliefs.  As a result, we all lose because we have one political party controlled by extremists while the Democratic Party also suffers from its own internal shortcomings.  Rational fiscal conservatives cannot elect their candidates solely based upon their conservative economic vision.   They are forced to support candidates who must first pander to their base who dictate where the candidates must stand on broader social issues.  Hence, it’s difficult to find a Republican candidate who supports a woman’s right to choose. Even if they vaguely take a semi pro-choice position to appeal to female voters, they must emphatically stress their opposition to Planned Parenthood despite the fact that not one penny of federal funding to Planned Parenthood goes to fund abortions.  Instead, the organization performs cancer screenings, facilitates access to birth control, and helps to treat STIs (sexually transmitted infections).

What Trump is doing is in some ways politically ingenious from a strategic perspective.  He’s swooping in and clutching away the support of the more traditional candidates – candidates who would be sanctioned by the powerful Christian lobby groups – and appealing to the base of their constituents by pandering to them and dominating the tone and rhetoric of political discussion across all forms of media.  What this is doing is essentially stealing away thunder of the other Republican candidates and exposing the bigotry inherent to Republican Party politics.  Previously, the Republican Party preferred a brand of bigotry and chauvinism that was more covert.   When it comes to contending in general elections, it’s impossible to win without at least paying lip service to the notion of equality, liberty, and justice for all.  In the past it was enough for them to at least pretend as if Republican candidates cared about all its constituents even as they deployed deplorable practices such as disenfranchising minority voters with unfair voter ID laws while also gerrymandering district boarders to insure victory.  Now, Trump has forced (some might say bullied) the Republican Party into pressing forward with overt bigotry and chauvinism.  If you need to ask why, then you haven’t been paying attention to the media.   It all boils down to media coverage.  Trump must realize that what he’s saying is vile and wrong on every moral and ethical level, but he also knows that every racist, chauvinistic, bigoted statement garners massive attention and free coverage across every media platform.  That attention rallies his supporters who are the voters Republicans have traditionally depended upon due to their defiantly uneducated, uncultured, and prejudiced personal politics. Nevertheless, Trump knows that as long as he has their support, he can steal away enough votes to win himself the primary.

Republicans have a tough decision to make.  Do they defy their base constituents made up of poor uneducated white Christian voters by rejecting Trump or do they embrace the increasingly fascist ideology of the person currently dominating the polls?  In some ways, they are trapped in a conundrum of their own doing and I doubt traditional Republicans such as Dick Cheney and Paul Ryan, who both recently denounced Trump’s statement about Muslims, could do much to sway public opinion within the Republican Party away from Trump’s off the cuff reactionary sentiments.  This is a political party who had previously benefited from the poor essentially voting against their own self-interests based upon what was once covert prejudice and chauvinism.  Now that Trump has exposed the true underbelly of these attitudes is there a way for the Republican Party to go back?  Perhaps its time for the GOP to re-evaluate its stance on social issues and eschew the powerful fundamentalist Christian lobby groups who dictate their position on social issues.  Imagine how revolutionary it might be to see a Republican Party candidate who is progressive on social issues yet conservative when it comes to the economy. Wouldn’t that be something interesting? The American voters deserve to choose between candidates that they respect instead of casting their votes against a candidate with morally egregious social positions dictated by lobbyists.

The media will no doubt continue to relish in the frenzy of the Trump circus and it appears there is no return to the good ole days of the pre-Trump era of journalism when political scandals came and went in cycles.  Now it’s become all Trump all the time day in and day out.  This is exactly what Trump wants and this is exactly how he intends to win the Republican nomination.  Whether he does or not remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure.  Whenever Trump says something that riles you up and inspires you to denounce him, you’re probably feeding into the very frenzy he’s created.  The best thing to do is to keep in mind that Trump is only saying what the dregs of our society want to hear.  When we put it that way, maybe . . . just maybe . . . common sense will win out and the Republicans will get their act together and nominate a candidate that we might grudgingly respect even while tremendously disagreeing with the policy positions put forth by those Christian lobbyist groups, who are the true enemies of freedom by the way.