Life (and everything else) is a movie…

From my first book, The Eighth Day, to my current release, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, many readers emailed me or commented that “they could see it as a movie.” Or that “it should be a movie,” or “it would make a great movie.” My favorite is, “Why didn’t you make it as a movie?

At some level, these well-intentioned comments bristle my literary soul. After all, a published book is the same achievement, relative to process, as a produced movie. They are both the end-product of creative inspiration. And each is the pinnacle of its art. (My card-playing Uncle Guido would say, “It’s da Pinochle a de art.” Uncle G always put his cards on the table.)

Last week I attended a very fancy dinner in a chic Manhattan restaurant. The check was more than my monthly rent when I was 35. Luckily, this time I was the guest. I’m no kid, but I was the youngest guy at the table. The purpose of the dinner meeting was to discuss a “big investment deal.” More money than the entire block I lived on back then costs. This was serious stuff. Four hours of exquisite apps, salmon, Delmonico steaks, wines, martinis, and “to the moon” desserts. All for three people!

But the amazing thing was we all had movie stories. It seems the movies were a common drug we were all addicted to. By mid-dinner, we were suddenly all teenagers, speaking of our hits and near misses in the movie biz, fueled by celluloid enthusiasm and cinematic verve, it was the most energetic part of the evening.

Orson Welles, in describing what it was like to be making his, (soon to be classic film), Citizen Kane, is quoted as saying, “It’s the biggest electric train set a boy ever had.” Well, the ‘little boys’ sitting around the table agreed.

The big, eight-figure deal may or may not happen, but that night, we all got to dabble in “the dream.”

P.S. Every time, and there are many, that some reader says my books should be a movie, I always ask, “You know anybody?

Character Building ala Citizen Kane

In a previous blog post, I spoke of empathetic love connectors to the reader and used the classic film Citizen Kane as a reference. Well, here’s another little gem for authors coming from the genius writing duo of H.J Mankowitz and Orson Welles. I believe they are teaching all writers by channeling this lesson through the words of their character, Rawlston.

I like the simple thing notion. Because simple means common, and usually common is not complicated because it is innate to us, simple. So, when building a Character follow what Rawlston (Mankowitz and Welles) instructs us. After all, they made a movie that many call the greatest movie of all time, all around a simple thing. Rosebud!

The reason I love and write thrillers…

North by Northwest Film Poster
North by Northwest aka The Best Film Ever!

Pitch perfect is a good way to describe the Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece. Known as the master of suspense, Hitchcock also mastered humor, sexual innuendo, and anti-cold war sentiments into this thriller that unfolds like a thousand-dollar grey flannel suit, without a wrinkle. Hitchcock had dabbled in the ‘wrong man accused’ plot many times before, but to me, this is his crowning achievement. The through-line is always the same, a person is going about their normal, everyday life, and they are suddenly thrust into a world and circumstances that threaten their everything and are forced to find a way out and clear their name.

Hitchcock’s ‘common touch’ is at full strength during the entire film. Most notably brought about by his ability to reveal character by having the plot attack the protagonist. Through this, he weaves an indelible empathetic connection to the character. In North by Northwest, he starts off, already halfway down the block on Empathy Street, by brilliantly casting the charismatic, Cary Grant in the role of Roger Thornhill. Thornhill is a New York ad exec, back in the late ’50s when that meant something, being ripped from his three-martini lunch, by a case of mistaken identity. His mistake? He merely stands up in the Plaza Hotel’s Oak Room at the exact wrong moment.

As the plot piles on, Thornhill must catch on – or be dead. Being innocent of everything the bad guys, the police, and the newspapers are accusing him of doesn’t matter, all that matters is survival. Hitchcock then ups the temperature by giving us a false glimmer of hope, some alphabet soup, three-letter agency, deep within the federal government knows Thornhill is innocent but in a chilling bureaucratic moment of callousness decide that he is expendable.

So, he’s toast. But then Thornhill, fighting to stay alive, starts to threaten the government’s interests, and they are reluctantly forced to ‘seemingly’ come to his aid.

A stroke of brilliance that keeps the wrong man theme ever-present is that for all but the last minutes of the film, Thornhill is in the same grey flannel suit he was abducted in. At one point escaping a death trap on the dusty plains of the Midwest in his Brook Brother’s only to have it “sponged and pressed” in 20 minutes so he could go on being so out of place in the wrong battle uniform against the forces of evil. Namely, the uniform of the corporate dweeb as he stumbles through and defeats by the skin of his teeth plot after plot to dispatch him with extreme prejudice.

What is drama after all, but life with the dull bits cut out. - Alfred Hitchcock

As I write this, I am beginning to see where the inspiration for my new book, Forgive Us Our Trespasses sprang from. In fact, the subtitle for this sequel to my #1 bestseller, Give Us This Day is; Innocent is not a Defense. Hmmm…

Okay, so imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.