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The books of William Dickerson.

Why “Whiplash” Won an Oscar for Best Editing

whiplash (n):
1. the lash of a whip.
2. an abrupt snapping motion or change of direction resembling the lash of a whip.
3. a neck injury caused by a sudden jerking backward, forward, or both, of the head: Whiplash resulted when their car was struck from behind.

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“Whiplash,” written and directed by Damien Chazelle and edited by Tom Cross, was a hit at Sundance and most recently made a splash at the 87th Academy Awards with 5 nominations and 3 wins — one of those wins going to Tom Cross for editing the film. Filmmaking is an organic process: the film is a beast you’re trying to domesticate by taking it out of the page and placing it onto the screen. The idea dies many deaths: first when it is committed to paper; then when it is filmed; then once again when it is edited. I believe it was Bresson who used this metaphor. Each step is, in itself, a rewrite. The editing process, in many ways, is the final rewrite of the film. And it could make or break it before the light of the projector brings the idea back to life again.

If these are the three core parts of filmmaking, writing (pre-production), directing (production) and editing (post-production), one might argue that the role of the editor is equally important as the role of the writer and the role of the director. Editing isn’t just snipping the footage and glueing one shot together with the next; however, if done right, it should seem like the film wasn’t edited at all. The editing should seem invisible on the surface, but underneath each and every edit should affect our subconscious experience of the film. It should manipulate our emotions and deliver the theme of the movie into our brains without us knowing it — at least upon first viewing.

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The “theme” is the universal idea that threads its way through a movie. It’s often the lesson we learn at the end of the story. It is critical for the filmmaker to identify the theme before making the film; it’s perhaps the most important thing a filmmaker can do in pre-production. The theme of the film is not the plot (which is usually summarized in the logline), but rather the idea that drives the plot.

What is the theme of “Whiplash?” Let’s let the editing tell us.

The film opens with the sound of snare drum hits under a black screen. It’s a building “march” reminiscent of antiquated military drum corps keeping soldiers in time, except this beat gets faster, faster and faster. As the beat concludes, the first shot is revealed to us. It’s a long shot that dollies through a hallway toward our main character, Andrew Neimann, played by Miles Teller.

He’s playing alone; he’s on his time, no one else’s.

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Until, we are introduced to Dr. Terence Fletcher, played by J.K. Simmons in his Oscar-Winning performance. In a movie that’s filled with precise, and often rapid-fire, editing, the first shot is notable for its wholeness. It only cuts when Fletcher enters the room, and enters Andrew’s life — as far as we can tell, Andrew’s life on screen did not necessitate a single edit…until he met Fletcher. In the first half of the film, Fletcher is in control of Andrew; how do the filmmakers underscore this? Fletcher is also in control of the edit itself.

In the scene in the movie theater, where we are first introduced to Andrew’s passive-to-a-fault father, we listen to their following dialogue:

Father: When you get to be my age, you have perspective.
Son: I don’t want perspective.

Often, in a well-written script, a supporting character will either state, or hint at, the theme of the movie in the first 5 minutes of the film. In this scene, his father does just that. What does Andrew want? One who does not want perspective, wants to live — and see the world — in the moment, in the time he is in now, neither faster or slower, but in time that is his.

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The insert (or “detail shot”) of sheet music being opened and placed onto the music stand is faster than the actions Andrew performs in his medium close-up profile shot. By a hair. The action from one shot to the next doesn’t quite match –- the “music” is ahead of him. In the following scene, he places a picture of Buddy Rich on the wall in front of the drums, ahead of him –- he aspires to be as good as his idol, but is behind.

After Dr. Fletcher decides to give Andrew a shot, he wakes up at 6:03 on the day of the band’s rehearsal, 3 minutes after he was told to be there. He is behind; in fact, he is even filmed behind-the-time:

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However, after rushing to get to the studio, he realizes that he is early — by 3 hours. He was manipulated, leading him, and us, to question: should he trust Fletcher’s version of “time?”

Fletcher walks in at 9:00 am precisely as the second hand hits the number 12. His footsteps are noticeable, the clacks against the floor evenly timed. After Fletcher boosts Andrew’s morale, telling him that he’s “here for a reason,” Andrew re-enters the rehearsal space in slow-motion. He gets behind the drums, also shot in slow-motion, until Fletcher re-enters the room, which resets the film into normal motion. Fletcher has intentionally relaxed Andrew, setting his mind and body into slow-motion, before entering the room himself and bringing the student up to his speed…quickly.

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“Not my tempo,” Fletcher repeats.

In the scene that won J.K. Simmons his Oscar, Dr. Fletcher tests Andrew’s sense of timing. Is he rushing? Or is he dragging? Rushing, or dragging, or rushing, or dragging? Andrew jumps the cue, rushing it. What is he rushing or dragging?

Andrew promises to be on Fletcher’s time. Fletcher calls him a “rusher.” He is a rusher — his ambition seeks to rush him to greatness — however, his drumming ability is dragging.

Inside of his dorm room, the sound of drumming underscores the scene. As Andrew lets his father’s call go to voicemail, the playing of drums in the future seeps into his present, bringing us into the next scene of him copying the sheet music to “Whiplash” and practicing the drums. The editing says he’s trying to catch-up to himself, to his aspirations.

However, the drumming he performs himself is not in time with the drumming (the double-time swing of the ride cymbal) that plays under the scenes. There’s a perfect tempo in his head that he’s trying to attain; and he’ll shed blood to attain it. It’s interesting to note that while his drumming is off, the editor chooses to place cuts of Andrew placing band-aids on his hand that are in perfect rhythm with the timing of the ride cymbal –-

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Andrew’s desire to succeed is in the right time, along with his willingness to sacrifice his physical health, but his talent is not.

The Overbrook Competition: The Midpoint of the film (in screenwriting terms, the point-of-no-return for the main character):

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Andrew loses the core drummer’s sheet music (either by accident, or intentionally — the reality of how he lost it is ambiguous) and is forced to take over, since he has the song memorized. He helps his band win the competition and, as a result, becomes their core drummer.

After this moment of triumph for Andrew, this validation of his talent, he endures an awkward dinner with his extended family. Andrew’s announcement that he’s the new core drummer gets upstaged by his cousins, as their mother boasts of their achievements. No one seems to grasp the importance of Andrew’s achievement (at least, the achievement as he sees it in his own mind). As the conversation moves on, Andrew doesn’t: the camera remains on him, just as his mind remains on his accomplishment, an accomplishment no one seems to understand.

He interrupts his family’s conversation: “It’s Division 3,” belittling his cousin’s accomplishment. He finally gets everyone’s attention with his blunt and impolite manners. Once he does, every single line and physical reaction that Andrew delivers is cut to immediately before he delivers it. The timing is perfect — it’s his timing — and everyone else is following his tempo. The supporting characters deliver their lines back at him as though they’re hitting tennis balls back at him.

Andrew is controlling the conversation, and the editing emphasizes that.

After the Midpoint of the film, Fletcher is well aware of his student’s point-of-no-return, his commitment to this band, and he exploits it. He begins pushing him to the limit by bringing in a new player. With regard to the blocking, the scene starts with Fletcher sitting and Andrew standing — higher than Fletcher — and ends with Andrew sitting behind the drums — lower than Fletcher — which is emphasized in a high angle shot over Fletcher’s shoulder.

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Dr. Fletcher has reasserted his control over Andrew.

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Following this scene, is the second (and “last”) date with his girlfriend (it is important to note that this is the first time we’ve seen them together since their first date).

Andrew is breaking up with her, before it feels to us he’s even really gone out with her. He describes their future; how he must dedicate himself to his drumming, and he articulates how he’ll eventually come to resent her for wanting to spend more and more time with him. Therefore, his conclusion is that they should preemptively break it off before any of this terrible, and inevitable, stuff happens. He delivers his lines extremely quickly — he’s rushing it — warning her that they’ll end up hating each other when she eventually asks him to quit the drums.

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The entire B-Story (often the love story) of the film has been relegated to two scenes: the beginning of their relationship, and the end of their relationship. Both Andrew, and the filmmakers, have skipped over their entire courtship. Sometimes the moments left off the screen are just as, if not more important, than the scenes shown on the screen.

The couple’s time together is not in the same timeline as Andrew’s pursuit of drumming, his quest to become one of the greats.

Mirroring the montage sequence at the beginning of the film, music prelaps this scene between him and his girlfriend, leading us into the next scene of Andrew practicing. However, unlike before, the music consists only of bass and strings, no drums. Andrew is providing the only sounds of drumming —

He is starting to define his own rhythm.

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During the brutal rotation of drummers, Andrew finally gets his tempo, he finally nails it. Fletcher keeps yelling at him: “Faster, faster, faster…” as he destroys the drums and equipment around him, while Andrew destroys his hands. “Keep playing, keep playing…Don’t stop!”

Andrew earns the part; and after being wound up faster, faster, faster, he walks away from rehearsal in slow-motion.

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The Dunellen Competition: The bus that Andrew is riding on breaks down. While rushing to find an alternative form of transportation, he rents a car and inadvertently leaves his drumsticks behind. In an attempt to retrieve the sticks and get back in time for the competition, he recklessly speeds through an intersection and gets into a horrific accident. Why? Well, because he’s rushing. In this sequence, the cuts quicken — in rapid-fire succession — arriving at the images before Andrew does (they’re one step ahead of him).

HE IS LATE; he knows it, and we know it.

He is trying to catch-up with Fletcher’s time, with the time of potential greatness. When the accident occurs, time is literally turned upside-down — as conveyed by the clock being upside-down in the frame:

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The effect, of course, is that it looks as though time is counting backwards.

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Andrew’s progress has gone backwards, in one moment of hubris and thoughtless behavior.

[We are about to get into some major spoiler territory, so I caution reading forward if you haven’t seen the film.]

After fighting Fletcher, both physically and legally, which ultimately leads to his teacher’s dismissal from Shaffer Conservatory, Andrew attempts to live a normal life — which is a life without drumming. He works a job, he watches movies with his Dad again; however, when we see him walking in the street eating a slice of pizza, he still hears the siren call of the drums. He can’t escape it. The sounds of a street musician beating on buckets catches his, and our, attention, and operates as an act of The Fates — it leads him around the corner to the very nightclub where Terence Fletcher is playing.

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It’s as though Andrew’s life lacks music, lacks its “fix,” without Fletcher, the “pusher.”

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In the club, the two men share a conversation: Fletcher explains that he was teaching at Shaffer to “push people beyond what’s expected of them.” It’s an absolute necessity; otherwise, he’d be depriving the world of the next great musician. The two decide to leave the past to the past, which results in Andrew deciding to play in his band once again.

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At the climactic JVC Jazz Concert, the show starts with a new tune: “Upswinging.”

However, and this is the biggest “however” of the movie, Andrew soon realizes he’s been tricked by Fletcher: he doesn’t know the song, nor has he been provided with the sheet music for it. As the song kicks in, and the other musicians play their parts, he has to keep up…or not…and start his own beat.

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Andrew crumples at the challenge, unable to play anything; in fact, he plays his worst drumming in the entire film at this climactic moment — a moment that Fletcher cautions the musicians earlier can either make or break a career.

After Andrew is humiliated, bringing the rendition to a resounding halt and retreating from the stage, he decides to do a 180 and walk right back out there. He gets behind the drums, undermines Fletcher’s authority as conductor and begins his own rhythm. He establishes his own tempo, which the editor, Tom Cross, punctuates by jump-cutting 3 successive times, getting closer and closer to Andrew, closer and closer to the rhythm he has created for Fletcher, for the musicians, and for everyone watching and listening (in the concert hall and in the movie theater).

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Andrew is now in complete command of the camera and editing — just as he’s controlling Fletcher and every other musician on that stage, his performance is controlling the filmmakers.

In a movie crafted with such precise thought and motivation, this is the perfect ending:

All of Chazelle’s and Cross’s filmmaking tools have been usurped by Andrew behind the drums. We are all in his time, and the viewer must watch and listen according to his time from this point forward. The film does not cut before or after moments; it cuts ON THE TIME. ON ANDREW’S TIME. When the camera whips back and forth between Andrew and Fletcher, the movie fulfills the promise of its premise: Andrew and Fletcher become in sync; they find the same tempo; the camera moves suggest equilibrium and equality between these two characters. It’s notable, to say the least, that in a movie called “Whiplash,” Chazelle and Cross reserve use of the “whip pan” until the very end of the film.

When the song “Caravan” is finally over, Andrew keeps playing — he does not relinquish control of the stage back over to Fletcher. When Fletcher leans over Andrew and asks “What are you doing, man?” Andrew says, “I’ll cue you.”

Andrew is running the show; he has caught greatness; greatness is control of him and it’s best that both of them step out of the way and let it play out –-

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The music drops out, time slows down…or does it speed up?

Cross presents us with a mixture of slow-motion and fast-motion shots, mostly extreme close-ups of bits and pieces of movements, limbs, drum equipment — i.e. not the whole picture, pieces of the picture. Time and space do not matter anymore because Andrew is finally, and fully, existing in the moment. He has achieved what he has been chasing after this entire time, what Fletcher has been pushing him to become: he has become a vehicle for greatness and is letting what is destined to be play out in real time in front of the audience.

At the end of his solo, Andrew looks up at his teacher, and for the first time, when it cuts to Fletcher’s eyes, he is shot in slow-motion as he watches his student, nodding in approval of his apprentice’s performance. When it cuts back to Andrew, he is shot at a normal frame rate (or a rate that is not noticeably as slow), but when we cut back to Fletcher, his coverage is still in slow-motion —

Andrew has now defined Fletcher’s tempo.

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The world of the film, which was once Fletcher’s tempo, now exists within Andrew’s tempo.

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Andrew has finally caught up to himself — he’s found his time, he’s found his rhythm in this world, and it is entirely unique, entirely his own, and not determined by anyone else. In a sense, he’s back to the beginning, in that first shot before Fletcher stepped into his life: he’s playing alone; he’s on his time, no one else’s. But, now he is great. And to become great, he ultimately had to reach inside himself and find that greatness.

We all must aspire to find our own time, our own rhythm, inside of ourselves: that is the theme of “Whiplash.”

The effect that Fletcher (and the Fletchers in our own lives, should we be either cursed or blessed to have one in our lives) had on Andrew accomplishing his goal (and have on us accomplishing ours) is a question for the cinematic ages.

For more on the importance of “theme” in filmmaking, take a look at my book, DETOUR: Hollywood: How To Direct a Microbudget Film (or any film, for that matter):

www.amazon.com/DETOUR-Hollywood-Direct-Microbudget-matter/dp/0985188634

I SOLD MY JAG-STANG TO BUY A JAGUAR

But not any Jaguar, a scratch-specific replica of Kurt Cobain’s one-of-a-kind Fender Jaguar electric guitar he bought in a pawnshop in Los Angeles in 1991.

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Fender recently set about recreating Kurt’s guitar to the ding in their custom shop and rolling the product out on the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s seminal and billboard-busting album, “Nevermind.”  I admit, at first, I thought this idea was pretty lame and the antithesis of what Punk Rock preaches (if it indeed, as a movement, preaches anything at all).  Why would anyone pay a cool grand and a few hundred dollars in change for a guitar that looks like it’s been beat to hell and back?   Punk Rockers are supposed to beat their own guitars to hell and back; that’s the whole idea of DIY.  This manufactured good, this product, this exploitation – as some might view it – lead me to the subject of creativity.

I remember how much I fetishized this instrument when I was a teenager, around the time I first picked up a guitar, the catalyst for which was the music that was created on this specific instrument by the late Kurt Cobain.  It was such an unusual guitar that we couldn’t just buy the damn thing, so back then we had to figure out other ways to replicate it.  I bought a limited edition Fender Jazzmaster in 1995, which looks similar to the Jaguar, with its enormous floating tremelo and bizarre switches, and shared indie cred with bands like Sonic Youth and Hole.  My friend and lead guitarist in the grunge band I was in at the time bought a reissue Fender Jaguar and had it professionally altered to come as close to Cobain’s original as possible.

I dramatize this teenaged obsession of ours in my novel and upcoming film, “No Alternative,” as two of the characters scrutinize a Japanese reissue of the Fender Jaguar in their local Sam Ash Music store:

“Kurt had a ’65,” Connor says.  He then proceeds to describe the instrument in fetishistic detail and recite the history of Kurt Cobain’s relationship to it:

‘Same sunburst color and bowling-ball pickguard, but Kurt gutted the shit out of his.  Got rid of that bridge ‘cuz the strings popped out – it was supposed to be for surf music, like the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, and Dick Dale and The Deltones, designed to sound like waves crashing.  It couldn’t handle the thrashing he was giving it, so he replaced it with a Tune-O-Matic.  The strings stay put better, much better.  He disconnected the on/off and phase switches.  Biggest change was ripping out the single-coil pick-ups and replacing them with humbuckers: a DiMarzio PAF in the neck and a Super Distortion in the bridge, until the In Utero tour when he replaced it with a black Duncan JB.’”

About one to two years after Kurt Cobain’s death, Fender put the Jag-Stang on the market, which is a guitar based on a Jaguar/Mustang hybrid that Kurt Cobain himself designed.  He did not get a chance to perfect his design before he died, but Fender went ahead and put out the version they had work-shopped.  I, naturally, went ahead and bought it.  It was fine, but seemed cookie-cutter, and lacking the perceived soul that I was hoping would come along with guitar.  I removed the stock pickups and bridge and replaced them with what Kurt had initially intended to be featured in the guitar.  It sounded good, but still…something was missing.

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I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, perhaps I would never find it – perhaps no guitar could live up to a myth.  I ended up putting the guitar aside for a number of years and took up the drums (I was, frankly, sick of the lack of discipline and general mediocrity of the succession of drummers we employed in my band, so I decided to learn how to play the drums myself).  It was a great decision; I was a much better drummer than guitarist.  Kurt Cobain was known to say he was a frustrated drummer – he pined for the adoration of John Lennon, but wished for the anonymity of Ringo Starr.  However, the love of the guitar still had its hold on me.  As it turns out, once this instrument gets you in its grasp, it never lets go.   So, when the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s breakthrough album passed by, and the sounds of Nirvana and their distorted instrumentations came whooshing back into my brain, so did the image of this guitar: the image presented by Fender’s replication of it.

Why did it take them this long to catch on?  Or perhaps I was just stuck in the past and I hadn’t moved on.  Or, the converse, the world hadn’t quite caught up to me and my predilections.  Until now.  The beautiful thing about Kurt’s guitar is its timelessness.  First of all, it was a 60’s guitar that he used in the 90’s, and now it was being sold again, the way Kurt’s looked and sounded, in 2012.  This guitar was “steampunk” before the term became recognizable by the mainstream of pop culture (incidentally, the term was originated around the very same time Nirvana originated as a band – it just didn’t become fashionable until recent years).  It’s classic in its sunburst, surf-guitar sense, but sci-fi in its overwhelming use of shiny metal, moving parts and knurled knobs.  It even has a 50’s Fender “spaghetti” logo that Fender claims was never used on a Jaguar, that its use on this specific guitar is a complete mystery.  How did it get there?  And it was apparently there when Cobain bought it.  It had mods that seemed to incorporate genuine Fender hardware, but again, there’s no record of a guitar like this ever being officially produced.  Cobain’s guitar tech, Earnie Bailey, seems to imply that Kurt liked to use cheap pawnshop guitars to protest against the obsession with gear that the guitarists of 80’s hairbands preoccupied themselves with.  If they had an obsession with effects pedals, Floyd Rose Tremelos and glittering guitar straps, Kurt had obsession with breaking that obsession to pieces (literally by breaking his guitar, and sometimes his amplifiers, to pieces at the conclusion of his shows).  But, the exception was this particular Jaguar.  Perhaps when Kurt bought it for $300 at some podunk shop in LA, he had intended to destroy it right along with his other guitars.  But something happened – something must have indeed happened, because he never did break it.  He babied it, in fact.  Some kind of biological fail-safe had kicked in.  There was something special about this guitar.  He couldn’t kill it; it wouldn’t let him.  It no doubt had its hold on him.

Still, the first thing that popped in my head when I heard about Fender’s recent venture (particularly after I heard the price tag) was: lame.

It had the stink of buying a jacket in the department store that has safety pins integrated into the garment as a means of conveying a “punk rock” aesthetic; when, in all likelihood, the origins of safety pins in one’s clothes arose from the need to keep an article of clothing together while it was falling apart and the owner could not afford to replace it.  It had the stink of punk rock by JC Penney.  Same goes for brand new clothes with patches already affixed to the pre-ripped knees of jeans – the gall of some brands charging over $100 for such thing (and don’t get me started on paint-splattered dungarees).

There seemed no way around it: this guitar was lame.  But then I happened upon Guitar Center on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, walked inside and decided to take a look around.  And there it was.  And it was in my reach.  I knew it was in my reach because I could reach out and pick it up and place it on my lap and strum it.  The pictures I saw online did not do it justice: this thing looks amazing in person.  It had it.  It had what I had been looking for.  It had soul.  Every little crack Cobain had in the lacquer of his guitar was recreated on this guitar.  There were even holes in the headstock leftover from were Cobain removed his original tuners and replaced them with Gotoh versions.  They left the holes!  They’re selling a guitar with holes and cracks in it!  WTF?!  There was a ridiculous attention to detail.  The beauty of it is that it’s an exact replica; what Kurt’s guitar looked like the last time he played it, looked just like this.  And in addition to the aesthetics, you can play it, and not just ogle at it as though it’s some museum piece.  It’s functional, and pretty damn close to being art.  The aging on the instrument appears to be completely organic and not machine manufactured.  Each piece of metal has been oxidized and left in various stages of rust.  There even appears to be what looks like earwax in the crevices of the Super Distortion pickup in the bridge.  A whole lot of love, and apparently someone’s earwax, went into making this guitar, and honoring Cobain’s go-to musical apparatus.

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But, as I was being seduced, I still had to remind myself: this was a fake.

This was, and still is, the guitar of my dreams.  It is arguably the reason I picked up a guitar in the first place.  I had a Jag-Stang, which was also a knockoff of a presumed original, so the way I looked at it was that I might as well sell this one and procure the better knockoff.  There was something in me that still had to have this guitar.  Even after selling the Jag-Stang, which itself has become a rare piece of equipment, the Jaguar was unfortunately still a bit out of my price range.  However, it occurred to me, what better guitar to buy used?  No one in his or her right mind can tell if it’s been used or not: it was made to look like it’s been used since 1960.  So I bought a used one, which was apparently in “mint” condition, whatever that means with respect to this instrument.  What normally would turn off a guitar buyer, namely cracks, blemishes and earwax in its electronics, turned me on immensely.  There was part of me that wanted to pick up where Kurt left off back in 1994, when I held a guitar in my hands for the first time.  I had begun my music-playing career by learning Nirvana songs (technically, they’re some of the easiest songs to learn and make for great material for the beginner guitarist) and my musicianship evolved from there.  I had put the guitar down for a long time, replaced it with drums, and as I hold this guitar now I am back to square one, back to the place that got me interested in the limitless sky of the sonic world.  It is already marked, marked by the man who so indelibly marked me.  And just as I had once thought, delusionally so, that I might assume the mantle and run with the torch of grunge to the top of the charts, I’m now left with the guitar that started it all, alone in my living room, hooked up to my Orange practice amp and RAT distortion pedal, strumming the opening chords to “Lithium,” the first song I ever learned to play on guitar.  But this time I’m not concerned with form, with style, with copying others before me – I’m letting the pick scrape against the pickguard, I’m nicking the headstock against the wall, I’m making the established buckle rash worse with my own belt.  I’ve bought a used guitar, a guitar that was used by my idol, which I plan to use and play just as hard, so that I may at some point later in life pass it down to someone else who will then be able to subtract the wear and tear he receives it with from Kurt Cobain’s wear, and be able to see the face of me marked into it.

As one of the characters, Megan, says in my book, “Nothing’s ‘original’ anymore.  I mean, think about it.  Everything gets recycled.  But, I guess, really, it’s what you recycle it into that matters.”  It’s not about creating something new; it’s about using what resources are available to you and putting your stamp on it.  The idea, the lyric, the melody is always the same, but it’s the way you present it, write it, and sing or play it, that is what makes it unique.  We are all influenced by others, whether we admit to it or not, that’s human nature.  However, it’s only when you are able to acknowledge that influence as a tool, and not an end in itself, that you are able to climb to the next level of creativity.  Don’t ever forget your influences, because they are what we need to recognize our ability and take the next step – they are the ground upon which our creativity walks.  Just be sure not to stand too long in one place, because the ground is always changing, and we got to keep on moving.


The “idea” is always the same, but what is 100% unique is the way your eyes, and ears, see, and hear, it.  It’s your personal perspective, your angle, of the idea that you must strive to share with the world.  It doesn’t matter if you’re generating that idea via the replica of Kurt Cobain’s guitar, or via a guitar that you built yourself, it’s the sound waves you generate from it that matters.  If it’s the former, there will likely be some punk with safety pins in his jacket criticizing you for the lameness of your tool.  But the kind of person to make that the primary source of his criticism, and not the execution of the idea – in this case the music its producing – is probably the kind of person who stuck those safety pins in his jacket not because it was falling part.  The nature of creativity lies in the making of something old into something new by making it your own.

For more info on “No Alternative” click here: http://igg.me/at/noalternative

NO ALTERNATIVE: “The Clarity of Regret”

NoAlternative-TitleI just completed my book tour.  It was a great success, and also a heck of a lot of fun.  I’m grateful to those bloggers who hosted my book and to Kriss and Kai of The Finishing Fairies for organizing the endeavor.

NoAlternative-FrontCover-Web

On the tour, I released an exclusive clip from a reading I did at Stories Books and Cafe in Echo Park.  Here it is:

The promotional campaign for this book has been grassroots.  Perhaps in line with the spirit of the characters in the novel, the concept behind writing this book, and consequently marketing it, is the “DIY” mindset.  If there is a core ingredient to punk rock, if there is an ideal to aspire to in said art form, it is the collective embrace of the do-it-yourself spirit, culture and lifestyle.  Just like the indie bands of the early 90’s, before there were social networks and paid advertisements on facebook and twitter, it was all about word-of-mouth.  So, if you’ve heard of “No Alternative,” and you dig what it’s about, please spread the word.

Here is the excerpt from the novel that I read in the above clip:

This break-up was the bittersweet kind, as if there is any other kind, but a kind nonetheless, and this kind fell into a specific subset of the bittersweet break-up, one that is typical among teenagers who have professed their love for one another, exchanged sterling silver rings, broken heart pendants, leather jackets, punk rock mix tapes. It’s falling head-over-Converses in love at an age when we’re still growing, physically, mentally, and emotionally, but more than just growing, expanding at breakneck speed, finding ourselves at a pace that is downright alarming and which will never be duplicated for the rest of our lives. It’s guaranteed that no love will last, but this teenaged love feels like heroin in the brutal rush of its power, its ability to commandeer the body and the mind and its ability to make you feel like a steaming pile of shit when it comes to its crashing end. It’s not that teenaged love is more powerful than any of the other types of love we experience throughout our lives, it’s just that we will never feel that way again, never feel that rush of addiction, the certainty that we have found our proper place in the universe and we feel that way precisely because we haven’t completed our physical and mental maturation. That’s what makes it unique. That’s what makes it addicting. That’s what makes it so enervating when it starts and so heartbreaking when it ends. And it always ends. And when it does, what was once there, what was once perfect, becomes irretrievable –

It’s lost forever.

Jeremy and Leslie were on the beach, kissing tenderly and gently, the way a couple that is not brand new starts to do at some point before they stop kissing altogether, kissing for what was soon to be the last time. It was the fact that they knew it was going to be the last time that made the kissing even more tender, as though there were memories tied up in it, as though there were regrets, not of times gone by but of times that would never be. He could feel her face, their cheeks grazing against each other’s, their tears mixing together, and he remembered how he licked them off his lips, tasting them. He tasted the salt; it was like he dipped his tongue into the expanse of the Pacific Ocean. As Jeremy sat in his dank little holding cell in Bronxville, it was like the break-up was happening to him all over again, like he was replaying the events in his mind with Technicolor clarity, not the cheap rewinding and replaying of a VHS tape, but the hyper-clarity of a laserdisc, right down to the depiction of the blood dripping into the sand after she left. It was as High Definition as hi-def could get back then. Before there was Blu-ray and plasma televisions, there was the clarity of regret.

Thanks for reading.

You can find the book on Amazon, in Paperback and in Kindle: www.amazon.com/noalternative

“NO ALTERNATIVE” – VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR

“NO ALTERNATIVE” is going on TOUR and we need FANS, GROUPIES and BAND-AIDS!

No Alternative Tour by The Finishing Fairies

No Alternative Tour by The Finishing Fairies

It is perhaps fitting that a book about aspiring musicians is going on tour.

I have been tasked to write a succession of blogs that will appear daily on a variety of cool sites over the course of the next two weeks.  I’ve written blogs in the past, but this experience has pushed my blogging into high gear.  In an effort to spread the word about my book, “No Alternative,” and to continue spreading the word about my movie, DETOUR, my words and I will be hopping from one virtual stage to the next, and the result will, hopefully, blow your mind. I will be writing about the movie, the book, the music and musicians that inspire me, along with more esoteric things like cruise ships, tattoos, and a particular bridge in Aberdeen, Washington.

Like those explosive t-shirt cannons you find yourself in the line of fire of at music festivals, our tour will also be loaded with giveaways.  Sign up on “Rafflecopter” for a chance to win the following items:

  • 3 Signed Paperback Copies, and 3 eBook (Kindle) Versions, of “No Alternative”
  • 3 DETOUR Posters, signed by the Writer/Director, William Dickerson, and the film’s two stars, Neil Hopkins (LOST) and Brea Grant (HEROES)
  • 10 Rare DVD Copies of William Dickerson’s Award-Winning Short Film, SHADOWBOX, starring Neil Hopkins, Lance Guest (THE LAST STARFIGHTER) and Kelly Carlson (NIP/TUCK)
  • $25 Amazon Gift Card
  • 1 Year of FREE Premium Blog Hosting at “Hosting For Writers”

a Rafflecopter giveaway

4-15 Wholly Books Guest Post, Excerpt & Showcase
4-16 Beagle Book Space Showcase with Trailer
4-17 Now is Gone Guest Post
4-19 The FlipSide of Julianne Guest Post & Excerpt
4-20 Books are My Life Guest Post & Excerpt
4-22 Sapphyria’s Book Reviews Guest Post
4-23 Building My Dreams Excerpt & Review
4-24 Book in the Bag Interview – Writer Wednesday
4-25 Bookishly Me Guest Post & Excerpt
4-26 I Read a Book Once Review
4-27 Cabin Goddess Kurt Cobain’s Guitar – Tour Wrap-up

BOOK REVIEW: "Kingdom" by Anderson O’Donnell

The asterisk – three lines intersecting, its limbs equidistant, enclosed in a circle – is not only a recurring symbol in Anderson O’Donnell’s novel, KINGDOM, but it is also the perfect visual metaphor for the overall theme Mr. O’Donnell is driving at in this impressive debut.

On the surface, KINGDOM is a dystopian tale that channels near-future Philip K. Dick grit while gracefully dipping its toes into the deep end of some far-out sci-fi ideas.  It is a visual novel; it’s – dare I say – cinematic.  It’s LOGAN’S RUN, but steeped in our world, depicting an expectant future that’s right around the corner, and it is the novel’s merger of high-concept sci-fi and prescient realism that makes this work smart and, quite frankly, relevant.  O’Donnell expertly weaves his narrative between three main characters: Dylan Fitzgerald (the lost son of the late Senator Robert Fitzgerald and KINGDOM’s ostensible hero), Jonathan Campbell (the venerable scientist and brain behind the genetic experimentation in Tiber City) and Michael Morrison (the hardnosed entrepreneur, unscrupulous scientist and central protagonist/villain, who usurps Campbell’s work, and sets the narrative’s plot precariously toward the point-of-no-return).  While I’m sometimes skeptical of split narratives that will eventually tie themselves neatly together at the end – these narratives have been done to death, in both books and film – O’Donnell appropriately (and at times ingeniously) uses this storytelling device as a way to underscore his theme of disconnection.  And it is through this theme of disconnection that O’Donnell illustrates the book’s pursuit of finding the opposite – a connection – much in the way Dylan finally finds his connection, a connection his father was unable to find for himself.

O’Donnell’s “connection” is manifested throughout the work by enigmatic – but by no means unfamiliar – phenomena like: love, hate, belief in a God, friendship, and the like.  He employs a circular motif throughout the novel, which not only takes the form of the asterisk enclosed in a circle, but is also represented by the “Zero Movement” (a real time modern art movement, replete with requisite ones and zeroes) “coconut chairs,” the “Omega Gene,” and the physical eyes of characters, specifically the eyes a father passed down to hi son (and, unwittingly, passed down to the next crop of Tiber City’s political leaders).  It’s all about connection.  One end of the loop connecting to the other, forming a reciprocal bond, in a manner that’s both surprising and inevitable.  That is faith, or what is expected of faith.  Faith in something higher, something that is beyond our human comprehension; and while that “something” may be out of our reach in our common existence, it is that belief in its existence that imbues our lives with meaning.  O’Donnell treads carefully along this theme, however; his work is not a polemic on the virtues of religion – in fact, it’s quite the contrary.  I might argue that KINGDOM is a completely secular work, a work in which belief – specifically peoples’ religious beliefs – is misdirected.  I might argue that the novel implies that belief is often misdirected: that belief is better focused on the people around us.  However, I do not presume to think it is O’Donnell’s intention to marginalize religion.  I think it is his intention to suggest its cultural marginalization, and marginalization of community as a whole, in a dystopian society that values egoism over the connection to something outside of ourselves, whether that something is another human being or a divine entity belonging to any one of a variety of religions.  It is the idea of disconnection that thrives in much of modern dystopian fiction and sci-fi futurism, and O’Donnell takes the idea and runs with it, elevating it to a point where he seamlessly merges ethereal mysticism with the very tangible world of biotechnology.  It is our connection with something outside of the self – be it other people or simply a belief in something bigger than us – that drives our lives, that makes us human, that connects one end of the circle to the other.  In KINGDOM that adhesive glue that facilitates the connection we crave is called the soul.

KINGDOM is genre fiction of the highest order.  It’s a book about characters, but it’s so much more than that.  It’s a page-turner.  But it also makes you think, and in plainest terms, that’s the mark of good literature.  While the characters in KINGDOM struggle to search for their respective souls, Anderson O’Donnell has clearly found it himself; his writing is brimming with soul.  If O’Donnell’s book is the “circle” of the asterisk, his characters and readers are the lines within, connecting to each other at the center.

Check out KINGDOM on Amazon.com — it’s available in both Paperback and Kindle versions:

Publishers Weekly

I’m very excited to have “No Alternative” reviewed favorably by Publishers Weekly.

http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-9851886-1-0

Thanks PW…it’s an honor!

Viral Videos, Contagious Videos, HazMat Suit Required To Sit At Computer And Watch Videos

After the positive response I got from my blog on book trailers, I thought I’d go back and review some other straight-to-internet material I made in recent years.

I’m somewhat of an aficionado on “Viral Videos;” I’ve been hired to make them, as vehicles to diagonally promote books, movies, television, etcetera, and I’ve made many of them for myself, as a way to promote my own projects.  The one that put me on the map, if there is such a thing in this intangible world of cyberspace, was a video called WATERBOARDING INSTRUCTIONS.  It was a satire that shined a light on the aforementioned enhanced interrogation technique that was supported by the Bush administration and later condemned by the Obama administration, and other prominent republicans like John McCain.  I chose a subject that, for obvious reasons, was controversial — especially at the time — and that treaded in the same water as the film I was promoting: the film was a short called SHADOWBOX and the theme was torture.

When I posted the video on youtube, it immediately got a good response.  You can see it here currently on FunnyOrDie:

However, it wasn’t until I got a call from the actor who played the role of the interrogator (the actor, Chris Ashworth, is a wonderfully talented actor who played the Russian heavy “Sergei Malatov” in HBO’s THE WIRE) that I began to comprehend the reach.  Chris said: “Will, turn on CNN; Wolf Blitzer just featured our video on ‘The Situation Room!'”  Sure enough, Wolf featured a piece reported by the often tongue-in-cheek correspondent Jeanne Moos that explored waterboarding, in which she used my video as a visual example of the technique.  In the ensuing months, the video was featured on both left and right wing websites, was the subject of online political arguments, and eventually racked up 500,000 hits.  That’s half-a-freakin’-million.

But eventually it was taken down by youtube, citing that the video had violated its policies on “shocking and disgusting content,” whatever that means: it seemed to me that shocking and disgusting was a prerequisite for uploading material to youtube.  But what the heck do I know.

After it was taken down, I uploaded it FunnyOrDie.  They haven’t taken it down yet, so that’s a bonus.

Political subject matter is always a popular thing to skewer in a viral video; precisely because (mostly) everyone has an opinion and (most) people don’t hesitate to make those opinions known in the anonymous comment sections of websites.  People love to share their opinions, and if a video encapsulates their point-of-view (or they think that it does) they will often forward it on to others — that’s just human nature.

At the present, I’m hoping one good thing comes out of the Obamacare vs. Romneycare debate (the revised “federal” Romneycare, not his prior state version that was identical to Obamacare) and that is “Death Panels” back in the public conversation.  I made another political satire entitled “The Death Panel” not too long ago which made a decent splash:

Death Panels didn’t stay in the news, at least at the forefront of it, for very long (I can’t imagine why…they seemed like a completely rational solution to dealing with our nation’s elderly and their inability to pay their medical bills), but I’m hoping the video makes a resurgence.

It’s an election year, after all, and everything — absolutely everything — is back on the table.

Book Trailers

I’ve written & directed a few book trailers over the years, one of which was the successful preview for “The Four Fingers of Death” by Rick Moody.

So I figured, hell I got the filmic resources (and God knows the time…us filmmakers in Los Angeles often find ourselves with a surplus of time at our fingertips) I might as well shoot some stuff to promote my book.

I’ve shot three trailers for “No Alternative;” I guess you could say they’re trailers.  “Book Trailers” are a funny thing, and by funny I mean just plain odd.  A book trailer is a piece of filmed entertainment promoting something that is not filmed entertainment; something that, in many ways, is the antithesis of filmed entertainment.  An actual movie trailer is a montage of “moments” from the film used as an advertisement for that film.  Conversely, a book trailer is created from nothing but the imagination of the person creating it; in most cases, a vision that arises from his/her interpretation of the book.

That’s how I made “Four Fingers.”  If it ever gets made into a movie, I wonder if the director of the adaptation will look back upon this book trailer for inspiration — perhaps he might use it to guide his/her casting decisions for the film — perhaps he might cast the actors from it?

All of this is unlikely.

This is just to say, I didn’t bother casting any actors, rewriting and otherwise reinterpreting the story of “No Alternative” to facilitate the making of a trailer.  I just listed a bunch of shit that had to do with the 90’s, the era in which “No Alternative” takes place.

I also shot a rap video and edited some home-movie footage of the “Kurt Cobain Bridge” in Aberdeen, Washington, as other promos (or “trailers”) for the book.

I think they’re interesting, amusing, and maybe…thought-provoking?  Not sure about the latter, but I had fun making them; and besides, if I started shooting scenes from the book…well I should probably keep shooting them and make the whole darned movie!

William Dickerson is Stephen Fry proof thanks to caching by WP Super Cache