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Here is a list of general questions that I came up with that I thought I would ask if it was ME visiting a filmmaking web site.

How did you get started in the movie business?

I did what most other people I know... I volunteered. I worked for free for almost 6 months before I got my first paid gig. Even then, it wasn't a king's ransom. I'm constantly amazed at the fine professional skills that get hired for bottom dollar.

Do you believe in film unions?

YES! It's amazing what a low-budget crew is asked to do for less than minimum wage pay (hours versus rate). Low-budget producers tend to care very little for what happens to the crew as long as the shot ends up in the can -- hence runaway production where film production moves to Canada and pays no benefits, poor wages, etc. Film crew members struggle in Hollywood to make ends meet, so I can't imagine what it's like in Toronto where they pay slave wages and no benefits. When a production company says that filming in Canada shaves 10-15% from the total budget, do you think that extra $10 million dollars comes out of the star's salary?  

Are you a success in Hollywood?

No. As far as I can tell, there are only 4 career positions that have reasonable control of their financial and artistic futures: actors, directors, producers, and screenwriters. Everyone else can make a decent living, but only after 3-6 years of terrible pay and conditions. Since I'm not in those 4 career positions, I'm pretty much a Hollywood prole at the moment. I just wanted to make that clear at the outset. In my small way, I hope to provide you with some information to make YOU a success in the world of filmmaking.

Are you a member of a union?

No. Unfortunately, fortune and happenstance made me miss my chance twice. Darn! Hopefully, the third time is the charm.

 

How do you become a writer?

I've heard the quote 'A writer needs to write' many times and I would say it was true. My journal, published work, whatever -- I always find myself back at the keyboard. About getting published, though, I would say that family connections are very important. Many people I know are farther down the road of success than me because of relatives. I'm not bitter (wish I had an Uncle that ran a publishing firm or studio), just realistic. Be prepared to meet people with no track record and minimal ability to string a sentence together who have spectacular writing deals. Don't let it distract you. Less than 400 years ago you would have almost NO chance to succeed without the proper genealogy. Now your chances, based on merit, are probably better than 50%. That's progress!

After that, drive is very important. Although I majored in English Lit in college, it did little to prepare me for actual publishing. Now that I've written over a dozen books, the only advice I can give is persistence. I've been able to put 'Author' on my tax returns for about 6 years now and I can say that I still work very hard to pay the bills. But... my life's always interesting. What more could I ask?

What translators write your books in other languages?

The publishers handle that part, so you cross your fingers and hope for the best. One of the neatest things is when a publisher ships you a copy of your book in Chinese or Japanese. The pictograph transcription is thrilling and exotic, especially when you can't read a word of it. Seeing your book translated makes you proud to be a writer. Or when a friend calls from a different country and saw your book on the shelf. Could there be a better feeling of satisfaction?

Can I contact you... will you reply?

I'm sorry to say that I get a lot of email that is directly work related -- and a staggering amount of spam. I try to reply when I can, but I'm sorry to say I get overwhelmed. I wrote a letter to my favorite author when I was in high school and never received even a form letter response and that made me slightly bitter at that author.

What can I say? I'm guilty of the same crime. If I don't answer, I apologize in advance. I guarantee I've read it and appreciate it. Any time I spend responding to emails will take time away from my working and writing. So if you write and don't get a personal response, know that you contributed to my next work!

Where do you get your inspiration?

Visual art mostly. Michelangelo, Goya, and Picasso are my favorite artists. In literature, I read Kazantzakis, Turgenev, and Mailer. In poetry,  Auden, Wordsworth, and Byron. In general fiction, Cussler, McClean, and Weldon. Also, I couldn't live without Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series!

A word of warning though -- when I read interview with authors I like, I've found that the influences of my favorite authors are rarely artists I enjoy. Have you had this experience, too? Isn't that weird?

What made you choose to work in Hollywood?

I've had a wide variety of careers including Loan Officer, Mortgage Processor, Police Department Statistical Analyst, Mail Carrier, Graphic Artist, Video Store Manager, Paperboy, etc. 

I got the film bug a few years ago, saved up some money (since I knew I wouldn't make any the first year), and headed for Hollywood. 

Have you received rejections?

From almost every publisher of note ;-). Luckily, I had great publishers such as Focal Press that believed in me. My most successful book has shipped more than 60,000 copies, so while I'm no Stephen King, I believe a publisher's faith in me has been justified on more than one occasion.

How do you deal with the people that don't like your books, and tell you so?

Critics are not an endangered species. Sometimes it seems that everyone thinks they can do it better. The question is -- why don't they? It takes a lot of forethought, time, and energy to create any work of art. Sometimes it seems impossibly difficult and there are enemies on every side. You just have to rely on your instincts. 

Don't criticize your critics. It's very easy to say that they couldn't and wouldn't create what you have. I try to objectively see if what they have to say is valid. Seventy-five percent of the time it's either sour grapes or perfectionism that can't be obtained in the real world. But that 25%, ahhh, that is gold for you to harvest. That 25% is the forest you've missed for the trees. Take that constructive criticism, embrace it, and make your work of art truly exceptional.

Are you another wanna-be in Hollywood?

Isn't everyone until they're successful? I try to DO, however, before I talk.

How much time, per week, do you spend writing?

I'm from the old school that thinks that the most creative writing comes from potent beverages and not chemical enhancement. Witness the skill and longevity of Hemingway versus the flashpoint interest of Burroughs (can Junky really compare to The Sun Also Rises?). I write every single night, but my output varies based on my duration of focus.

 

How much directing has you done?

I've directed three short films and two commercials (both for cable TV). I think the director's greatest strength is working with actors. If you don't like that, you may be able to produce some terrific movies (i.e. Kubrick), but I don't know that you have very much fun.