Viewing: movies

So, here we are again. And it seems most of us, myself included, haven’t learned a damn thing.

My, but that purely does suck.

You know, initially I dismissed writing this. I really did. I read a number of tweets last night, many of them by folks I admire and respect quite a bit, who’ve stopped watching or never watched Game of Thrones. Upon hearing of the truly awful and unnecessary rape scene that ended last night’s new episode, the tone of these folks was casual, unsurprised, dismissive, even less rueful of the series and more rueful of the viewers.

The consensus among them is it’s not even worth talking about anymore.

While I don’t at all disagree with their decision to abandon and/or ignore the show, and I know those attitudes probably mask or are scabs over deep and severe pain over this kind of content, I think they’re very wrong about that last bit.

Very wrong.

It is worth talking about.

Game of Thrones is an immensely popular piece of media, and popular media is always worth talking about.

In fact, it’s kind of everything.

Movies, television series, novels, they matter. A lot. Popular forms of them matter even more, because it’s popular media that shapes our culture, our perceptions and perspectives, and shapes the stories and storytellers that come after.

What’s popular in fiction is dreadfully powerful, and dreadfully important.

About a year ago I wrote a post very similar to this one, to which I’m unable to link now because, like so many other posts from 2014, it was lost when we switched this website over. That post was written on the heels of the widespread outrage over the character of Jaime Lannister raping his sister Cersei beside their son’s funeral bed on an episode of Game of Thrones.

I wrote about a lot of things in that post. I wrote about how stunningly and dangerously out-of-whack our priorities and perceptions are. I wrote about how rape seemed to be fourth on the list of things people were outraged by in that scene, after the choice of location, the incest factor, and the fact it wasn’t in the books. I wrote about how there was nothing approaching that level of outrage or outcry when, in the very next episode, Burn Gorman’s character Karl Tanner delivered a monologue while around him literally a dozen women characters were being violently raped. I wrote about fanboys letting themselves and the book series off the hook because that particular rape wasn’t one of the many rapes in the canon, and how George RR Martin is in fact responsible for the world he created and that continues to be created by television writers.

I wrote about the quick and needed death I want to watch rape as a cheap device of narrative drama die.

I stand by all those points, and they all apply to last night’s grotesque rape of Sansa Stark.

Not only is it an increasingly repetitive use of gratuitous sexual assault in the series, it’s probably the most denigrating yet to actual survivors of rape and to women characters in the series itself. It almost immediately follows a scene in which Sansa stands up for herself, a scene of empowerment, of her owning her fear and position and circumstance. I’m not even sure that was a conscious decision on the writer’s part, which is even more disturbing when you think about it. Just as bad as that is the fact they focus on Theon’s face almost the entire time Sansa is being assaulted. Sansa’s character is divorced from her own scene of assault. It becomes about how her violation impacts him. It nullifies and reduces and erases her character, that assault, and its effect on the actual victim.

It was about as backwards as visual storytelling gets, and it is sadly, infuriatingly par for the course.

Yesterday was a day of interesting juxtaposition for me. With the love of my life, Nikki, I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road in the theater. I watched Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa utterly own the post-apocalyptic wasteland. I watched a plotline that had concerned me deeply in the trailers, that of the “Vestal Virgins,” executed with dignity and without victimization. I saw sexual assault referenced and its effects explored through character, but no rape or the threat of rape utilized or exploited for dramatic purposes. I watched old women kicking ass and taking names. And without a sign pointed at any of it. It all just played out.

It was inspiring, entertaining, compelling, and engaging.


Then we came home and watched the newest episode of Game of Thrones, which ended with a young woman having her power taken away as soon as she dared to own it. We watched as just as quickly that violation was dismissed and reduced to a cheap enhancement for a male character. We were repulsed instead of compelled, disgusted instead of engaged. It was a lazy, obvious, repetitive attempt to shock and manipulate base emotions that only reinforced the standard gender roles we see in movies and on TV all the time.

Women as helpless victims.

Men as dominators of women.

Rape as a normal, expected event.

Two very popular pieces of media and culture operating at the height of their respective mediums, both dealing with the same subject matter.

In my opinion, humble and novice though it may be, one of those works got it right and the other failed itself and us all.

The writers of Game of Thrones haven’t learned a damn thing. They’re still using rape as a cheap plot device, and reducing any woman who dares to exist in their world let alone attain power in that world to victims.

The audience hasn’t learned a damn thing. They’re still shocked by the circumstance of a rape rather than the act itself and how it’s used in this way.

And I haven’t learned anything either, because I’m still watching the show. I’m still enabling that brand of storytelling season after season because there are aspects and characters I like in the series.

So, what do I have to write now that I didn’t write a year ago?

I want to speak to the future creators out there. The “aspiring,” as you’re called. Because that’s largely who follows me on Twitter and whatnot. I don’t want to speak to the writers of Game of Thrones or similar series/scenes, because they are who they are and I hold little hope for them improving or changing. I don’t want to talk to the writers out there of both screen and prose who are doing great work and getting it right and changing and challenging gender roles, because those writers have got their shit figured out, or at least figured out enough.

I want to speak to you folks who are going to go on to write the novels that hit and sell the pilots that become the next big dramatic series. I want to speak to the folks who will staff the writers’ rooms of television shows and will develop a voice in the process. I want to talk to those among you who will sell a spec screenplay and/or be given the chance to script a mainstream movie.

Sadly, that won’t be most of you. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Most of you will never get to create work utilized by those mediums, at least on that level.

But maybe, just maybe, a few of you will make it through.

So, I want to speak to you and I want to tell you this: Try harder. Do better.

That’s all.

If you make it over the wall it’s going to get even more difficult than the climb. There are going to be deadlines and demands and entitled fans and pissed off editors and demanding producers and the more you win the more pressure there will be to keep winning and even if you aren’t being asked to compromise your standards your brain will simply just get tired, and you will be backed into a creative corner one way or another.

In that corner you can decide to have the bad guy rape the powerless girl and most of the audience won’t think about it too deeply and they’ll hate the bad guy and feel sympathy and pity for the girl and they’ll be shocked and outraged and tune in next week to watch the fall-out, hoping for some form of satisfaction.

You can decide to do that, or you can actually try.

George Miller didn’t have to invite Eve Ensler to consult on his movie. He didn’t have to cast Charlize Theron or write the part of Furiosa. He didn’t have to think any deeper than a six-pack of models in white midriffs for his captive women. He could’ve crashed cars into each other and blown shit up for ninety minutes and still gone home pretty happy and even done just as well at the box office.

George Miller, at age 70 and without a hit Mad Max film in almost 25 years, actually tried.

The writers of Game of Thrones didn’t have to end last night’s episode by violating Sansa Stark. They didn’t have to settle for shocking us rather than trying to compel and engage us.

The writers of Game of Thrones, in the fifth season of an impossibly popular television series that can literally do no wrong at this point, did not try.

They relied on the same repetitive, lazy device and damaging, problematic roles they always have. And there’s nothing to be done about that. It’s the juggernaut it is, they can get away with it, and the majority of creators being put on by Hollywood are who they are.

However, here’s the good news. The next generation of all of this belongs to you. Some of you will create the media that people talk about and discuss and dissect the way they do with Game of Thrones and are doing with Mad Max, and it will inspire and influence the generation of creators after you.

That’s how things actually change.

And hey, if what you want to create is a serious and genuine exploration of sexual assault and/or its survivors because that’s the story you have to tell or desperately want/need to tell, by all means.

But if rape is the device you choose to create drama because you’re too lazy and/or unoriginal to delve deeper with your story, we don’t need you anymore.

You’re done.

Among many other things, we need to see women in fiction the way women actually are, not the way mostly male writers have imagined them in popular culture for centuries and continue to regurgitate now.

We don’t need to keep seeing their helpless victimization and the minimization of sexual assault by its use as a cheap dramatic device.

Try harder.

Do better.

That’s all. That’s what I’m going to try to do. That’s what I encourage you to do. Outrage and “think” pieces (I love that we’ve finally cast thinking as a pejorative, by the way. Fuck everyone who complains about “think” pieces), while often entirely valid, don’t change anything.

Create the media you want to see.

Create the media we all need to see.

When it’s your turn, try harder and do better.

Also: Make damn sure you get a turn.


“Have you heard about Gravity?” the love of my life, Nikki, asked me.

I was barely paying attention. I think I was watching the red band trailer for HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 for the sixth time (that bit where Rob Corddry and Craig Robinson slowly start singing, “You’re a fuckin’ nerd” at Clark Duke slays me. I’m not a perfect person).

“The movie?” I asked in my distracted state.


“What about it?”

“This author is suing them.”


I was, and I admit this shamefully now, unmoved. Because authors and screenwriters sue the makers of successful movies and the publishers and authors of successful novels all the time.

All. The. Time.

And it sucks when it happens, when someone actually has his or her work stolen. And it does happen. A lot. People also make up shit. A lot.

I’d give it 50/50.

Like I said, it sucks.

But it happens all the time.

Then Nikki said this: “I guess she wrote the novel Gravity.”

That pulled my attention a little more. I had been unaware that such a novel existed. I remember the movie at its peak (I was as flattened as anyone by its visual power, but I felt what was severely lacking was the writing). I remember Alfonso Cuarón and his son credited as the writers of the original screenplay.

I didn’t remember it being based on a book.

It seems author Tess Gerritsen sold the rights to her novel GRAVITY to New Line in 1999. In exchange she would receive credit, a production bonus, and net profit points if the movie were made (not only is that never a given, it’s rare).

In 2008 New Line was “acquired” by Warner, who then went on to make the movie GRAVITY from Cuarón’s supposedly original screenplay concerning a medical doctor/astronaut left adrift in space after satellite debris kills the rest of her crew.

The novel GRAVITY is about a female medical doctor/astronaut trapped on the International Space Station after the crew is killed in a series of accidents. Later, as they developed the film, Ms. Gerritsen wrote scenes in which satellite debris broke apart the station and her protagonist was left adrift in her EVA suit.

Sound familiar?

The facts had at this point intrigued me on the level of juicy gossip.

Again, I admit this shamefully. I’ve lived and worked in Los Angeles for almost five years. It jades.

That’s when my lady (who, incidentally, is a brilliant attorney) dropped the ATOM BOMB OF HORROR RADIATING AT THE HEART OF THIS STORY.

Nikki went on to explain to me that author Tess Gerritsen was NOT suing Warner Bros. over copyright infringement or intellectual property theft.

Ms. Gerritsen admits openly and freely that Warner had every right to make the movie GRAVITY, utilizing her story as they saw fit.

She sued them because they brazenly screwed her out of the credit, payment, and profit she was guaranteed from the movie clearly (at least to me) drawn from her work.

The court doesn’t seem to dispute any of that.

This is the horror bomb part.

What both the court and Warner Bros. argue is Warner is under no obligation to honor the contract New Line made with her.

I mean all they did was buy the company and utilize the asset it had acquired via that contract to make a huge-ass hit movie.

So, yeah.



I reiterate: This is not another case of a writer saying, “Hollywood stole my story.” This isn’t a case of greed or fame chasing.

This is a case of an author making a deal to sell their work to a studio for a contractually agreed upon amount of credit and compensation, and then, when that studio was bought up by a larger company, the new owners keeping that author’s work and utilizing it to make a film while ignoring the deal that was made with her.

Tess Gerritsen is a professional writer who entered into a contract, and she wants that contract honored.

That’s all.

Yet now it appears a court of law has ratified the studio’s ability to toss out that contract and shaft the writer whose original work has helped them reap over seven hundred MILLION dollars in gross profits around the world.

The precedent that sets is horrifying.

And it will be a precedent, a complete win. This will be legally binding. This will be the case any company that buys out another company cites when denying creators credit or money for the work that company acquired in the sale.

Make no mistake.

It is, in my humble opinion (and that of my, again, brilliant attorney other half) a terrible decision.

A couple of things here. Forgive me if this seems obvious to you. The first is authors need option money. They need money from other mediums. Because the pay for authors usually sucks. The second thing is other studios and corporations buy out studios all the time.

All. The. Time.

Genetically splice those things together with the decision handed down to Tess Gerritsen concerning her story and you have an income-consuming, career-siphoning, author-killing mutation of atomic-age cinema proportion.

You can read Tess Gerritsen’s own account of all of this on her blog by clicking here.

Look, I don’t generally consider fiction writers what I’d label a “pro-active” bunch. In point of fact I consider the majority of those in my profession passive to just north of being involuntary gimps. Which is why writers for both page and screen barely rate the primordial sludge on the evolutionary scale of our respective industries.

But if you’re an author you really need to do three things right now.

Get scared.

Get pissed.

Take action.

Ms. Gerritsen’s lawsuit isn’t over. She and her team have twenty days to revise their complaint, addressing the relationship between New Line and Warner Bros., and re-present it to the court. Now, you probably can’t help her with that part of this whole thing, but the action you can take is to make noise about this. Get it on more radar, get more people in and out of the industry talking about it, and bring more attention to bear on a very real and potential cataclysmic problem for writers in Hollywood.

It can’t win court cases (in theory), but silence only makes it easier for everyone to dismiss this, rubberstamp it, and make it the law outright.

Writers have to make it more difficult to steal from writers.

Because right now, even after all this time and all those Harlan Ellison rants, it’s still way too fucking easy.

The second action you need to take is this: Cover you ass. You need to be aware this is a very real possibility when your work is optioned by any entity. And you want your work to be optioned. You want it to be made into television series and films. These things are good for your career, your family, and your future.

Oh hey, I know, who DOESN’T cover their ass? You’ve got agents, managers, and lawyers. You’re good, right? No. That’s the point. Even if you have an ironclad contract with the entity buying your work, this specific scenario is a very real possibility and needs to be addressed, and it can absolutely screw you.

I’m also personally disappointed in Alfonso Cuarón, a man whose work I respect and whom I feel has added significantly to mainstream SFF (and whether you want to admit and deal with it or not, how SFF is created and perceived in mainstream films affects you and the genre market massively).

You expect more from individual creators.

You shouldn’t, but you still do.

Also on a personal level I feel for Ms. Gerritsen. Because let me tell you, folks, it’s hard. It’s hard to ever, even once in your lifetime, let alone career, see a story you wrote make the long, perilous, spirit-and-psyche-crushing journey to become a film, let alone a major theatrical release.

And for that theatrical release to become massively successful, both critically and commercially?

And for all of that to happen after more than a decade for a book that wasn’t a Potter-like smash global phenomenon hit?

The odds are infinitesimal, folks.

Never happens.

This should have been such a triumph for Ms. Gerritsen. She should have enjoyed her brief mention among the credits, and reaped the profits from the success.

Instead she’s been shut out of the club.

Oh, and the gargantuan bulletproof padlock they put on that clubhouse door?

You could be staring at that lock too if her lawsuit ultimately fails.

It’s your call.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a gimp, unless you didn’t make the choice to put on the zippered leather hood.