GUILTY TRUTH TV Pilot Named Quarter-Finalist in WeTV Writing Contest

My latest script, the pilot for the TV series GUILTY TRUTH, has been named a quarter-finalist in the WeTV television writing competition. GUILTY TRUTH is a dramatic TV series set in multiple time periods that reveals the ripple effect of a legendary cult director’s life and death.

The first episode (“One-Two-Three) begins with David Taylor’s murder in Hollywood in 1934. Multiple suspects and hidden motives abound, and everyone is guilty of something.

Semi-finalists will be announced in late September.

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Androids Dream Review — VR Nightime Tour of Futuristic City

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“Androids Dream is a VR experience, a ride over a cyberpunk city largely inspired by a famous SF movie (a tribute). You are in a flying car and you have just to enjoy the ride until you land on a futuristic tower.”

Androids Dream is a cool ride and one of my favorite Google Cardboard apps. It feels like a nightime city skyline tour in the future. As the pilot guides the craft, the architecture, advertising, and other craft in the sky will keep you entertained and interested.

One of the best features is the attention to detail. From the cabin’s futuristic interior to the grimy smears on the glass (not to mention the shattered exterior mirror), the creator (Dony Tamazone) went to a lot of trouble to make this app realistic.

According to Tamazone, “My goal is to design high end virtual reality experiences in which high frame rate and great graphics come together to provide the best product.”

 

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VR Cosmic Roller Coaster Review — Relaxing, Trippy But Not Much of a Roller Coaster Experience

Cosmic Roller Coaster

“A new different type of roller coaster that will take you along a wonderful cosmos.”

I admit I like trippy, druggy VR experiences. That’s my thing. It relaxes me and makes my brain happy.

Cosmic Roller Coaster is a colorful celestial trip that provides a nice visual buzz as you wander through space. My biggest complaint is that I was expecting a roller coaster and got more of a walk in space. Or maybe a cruise. The virtual reality app provides a floating feeling, not so much a breakneck roller coaster ride.

Even though I got bored, it meets the trippy, druggy criteria. The music, standard New Age stuff, is okay, but you might want to provide your own soundtrack.

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Black-Hearted Bitch Named Semi-Finalist in WeScreenplay Writing Contest

BLACK-HEARTED BITCH, a TV pilot I wrote based on one of my Kell Digby novels, has been named a semi-finalist in the WeScreenplay Diverse Voices Writing Contest.

Diverse Voices strives to provide a contest that is purely focused on promoting and encouraging diverse voices and stories. The contest encourages stories that are told from perspectives – through the author and/or characters – that are often underrepresented in Hollywood today. The contest accepts Features, TV Pilots, Web Series, and Shorts – we’re looking for underrepresented perspectives in any format.”

Finalists will be announced in June.

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Evolution of Verse Review — A Powerful VR Experience


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Chris Milk might be virtual reality’s first auteur. In fact, the quality of Evolution of Verse is close to the best film directors, and Milk is an interesting, nuanced storyteller who seems to be developing a grammar of VR.

Evolution of Verse includes a thrilling homage to the Lumiere brothers (and other directors), swarming birds, colorful streamers, and a moving sci-fi ending. However, the uplifting, inspiring experience most succeeds in its ability to make the viewer feel. Not in a manipulative Hollywood way but in a uniquely VR way that accentuates our humanity. I’ve watched this at least a dozen times, and each time I feel connected and overwhelmed. In a good way.

If you want to show someone the potential of VR, this is the one. Milk’s work is inspiring, not only to viewers but to those in this new industry. I suspect that some day Milk’s work will be as influential to future VRmakers as Auguste and Louis Lumiere were to filmmakers. Definitely check out Evolution of Verse and keep an eye on Chris Milk.

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Gravity Train Virtual Reality App Review — Cool and Trippy VR Experience

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“Welcome to the future where distances do not matter anymore!

Gravity trains traveling at implausible speed take you anywhere in the world within minutes… Go for an enthralling flight from Moscow to New York via the global underground that [sic] piercing the entire planet through!”

Gravity Train (Fibrum) reminds me of the old Mind’s Eye videos. It’s a cool visual experience that weirdly combines train travel, robots, roller coaster loops, underwater monster fish-like creatures, and more.

I wish they’d had a lot less footage of the craft interior and more trippy, psychedelic images that teased and pleased my brain. Still, Gravity Train is a drug-like experience that strangely thrills and calms. The eerie death-like tunnel visions were some of my favorite VR experiences to date.

The soundtrack isn’t great (except for the old school jazz at the beginning and end), so you might want to switch to your favorite songs as your soundtrack on later viewings.

By the way, I’m now using a VR box viewer that a vendor asked me to review in exchange for a product sample. These things are sooooo much better than the original cardboard viewers and relatively inexpensive.

In just a short time, virtual reality content and hardware are getting better and better. Can’t wait to see what comes next.

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Google Cardboard Camera App Review Or Arguing With My Brain…And Losing

Google Cardboard Camera

One of the best ways to get involved in virtual reality is to produce your own images. The Google Cardboard Camera App is free, and although it has limitations, it’s a fun app that gives a tantalizing hint of the future.

Getting Started

Download the app from the Google store onto your smartphone. Be aware that the app won’t work with all smartphones. My phone is a Samsung S5, and it loaded fine.

Taking a shot is easy. I stood in my family room, and the app guided me to slowly rotate the camera. A few times it told me to slow down.

That’s it. My very first try worked out great. Remember the app also records sound, so keep your yapper shut or choose an appropriate soundtrack.

Next, I went to a nearby park and recorded some beautiful natural landscapes. When viewed later, the ambient sounds of birds and water made the still photo come alive. It’s an exciting experience and provides an extra oomph to vacation and travel photos. The sound of water and the movement of your body around the space actually allows you to perceive “motion” in the 360 degree environment, even though it’s a still photo.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The app is great in terms of exposure. It required no adjustments from me, and both interior and exterior scenes were beautifully lit. Colors were rich and vibrant.

One small flaw is a blind area on the top and bottom of the visual field. Next time I’ll hold the camera tighter to my body to reduce this, but this is definitely one of the technological weaknesses at this time. You want to look up and down, but the areas are blurred.

The biggest weakness frankly perplexes me. Unfortunately, there is no way to share the photo. When you see how cool this is, the first thing you want to do is share. Obviously it’d be easy for Google to add this on a future update, and I certainly hope they do. I’m also hopeful that other developers are working on innovative camera apps with more features. Compared to what the future holds, this app is basic, but it amused me for hours.

Final Thoughts

The experience of viewing the VR image of my family room was strange. The first time I looked at the completed image I was in the master bathroom because my phone was charging. I knew I was in the bathroom, but I felt like I was in the family room. It was one of those weird instances of me arguing with my brain and losing.

Think of your favorite childhood home. Imagine you could view every room of that house with a VR viewer. It’s nostalgia squared.

Also, imagine how comforting it’d be for someone living in a nursing home to experience a tour of a former home, perhaps with a favorite song or two as the soundtrack.

Or imagine you’re working on your family tree, and you learn there is VR footage of an ancestor’s home. Wouldn’t you want to walk through it?

Although we have maps, photographs, and drawings, the VR experience makes every place more real. You feel a tangible connection with the actual space. As the technology evolves, people will ultimately create millions of VR images. The end result will be a bonanza for historians, designers, educators, filmmakers, and many other industries. It will change everything.

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Middle-Aged Women Experience VR

 Definitions don’t always give you the real picture. For example, VR is defined as “an artificial environment which is experienced through sensory stimuli (as sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one’s actions partially determine what happens in the environment.” That’s a flat and joyless way to explain VR. It’s a lot more fun than Merriam-Webster implies.

After reading about virtual reality (VR), my wife, Kimber, and I were eager to try it ourselves. I was given an opportunity to review an inexpensive Google cardboard viewer and jumped at the chance.

Google cardboard viewer

QPAU Virtual Reality 3D Glasses Google Cardboard

This is the one we have, but there are plenty of viewers out there. Just read the reviews and choose the one you think will work best for you.

It took very little time to set up the viewer. It arrives flat. Fold it up, attach the headstrap, and you’re good to go.

Also, remember sound is imperative to fool your mind–and trickery is an integral part of VR. This is true even with a 360 degree still image. For example, an image of rippling  water with sound seals the deal in convincing you that you’re there. Use earbuds (wired or Bluetooth).

Next, you’ll want to download some VR apps into your smartphone. (Mine is a Samsung S5–not every smartphone will work with the device). Carefully slide the phone into the viewer, making sure that the phone is secure. Then keep your hands around the viewer edge, so the phone won’t fall out. Trust us. Once the experience starts, you’ll be less aware of your movement, and you don’t want your $500 phone sliding out and crashing onto the floor.

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Google Cardboard Demo

The first app we tried was the free Google Cardboard Demo app. (NOTE: Go to the iTtunes store if you’re using an iPhone to get the app.)

We realized immediately that this was something we’ve never experienced. There were lots of exclamations of “Wow,” “Oh my,” etc.  (One thing I’ve realized is that it’s weirdly isolating to have someone in the same room with you viewing VR when you’re not.) “You sound like you’re having sex,” I remarked to Kimber when I first heard her reactions.

Tutorial is brief. Pretty much it tells you how to click and tilt to maneuver through an app.

Google Earth might be the coolest thing on this app. You can spend a lot of time here. Play around with it and enjoy the sensation of flying. We were thrilled to end up in Chicago. We honeymooned there and are familiar with the city, so it was a treat to fly down Lake Shore Drive and over to the Bean.

Tour Guide includes a short tour of Versailles with a historical narration. These are still 360 degree photos. Kimber has been to Versailles, and this was very similar to standing in the rooms. Can’t wait until they upload a garden tour.

Exhibit is a kind of silent slideshow where you can view masks from all angles.

My Videos provides a way for you to watch videos you’ve created.

Photo Sphere provides a way for you to view Google Photo Spheres, either your own or someone else’s.

Welcome Video is short but gives you a flavor of VR.

Sisters

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We will review other VR apps in the future, but I do want to mention a free app titled Sisters. It was a good intro into the emotional potential of VR. You feel it. Although I’m not a fan of horror films, I’d read good reviews. It’s an animated short that packs a punch. It really did scare me, and I’m positive my heart and pulse raced. I also laughed a lot. In fact, my involuntary reactions were so disturbing to the dog, he left me and went to his other mom to tell her I was having a conniption.

A Few Notes to Help Your Viewing Experience

It’s a good idea to remain seated when you first experience VR. It’s disorienting, and it’s conceivable you could fall or bump into something. You don’t want your first VR experience to result in anything broken, including you.

The viewer can be uncomfortable to wear–the cardboard dug into the bridge of my nose, leaving a little indentation. This can be alleviated by raising the viewer slightly as you hold the edges to prevent your phone from sliding out. Or you can retrofit with a cotton ball. It’ll make you look even cooler. Really.

If you wear glasses, you may need to experiment to find your best viewing experience. I have poor eyesight and find that wearing my glasses works best. However, my wife wears bifocals, and she prefers her reading glasses with the Cardboard viewer.

Turn off your phone’s notifications. They can ruin the immersive experience.

Make sure your phone is fully charged because viewing VR sucks up the juice. A lot.

Finally …

There were a few glitches with some of the apps we tried. Many times the time the images were somewhat blurry. Sometimes the apps stalled or wouldn’t start.

Still, the Google cardboard viewer provides an inexpensive introduction to VR. The technology will get better and more comfortable. This is new, people. Keep trying. You’ll be glad.

Next time …

We’ll write about our experience using the Google Cardboard Camera app to create our own VR images. Very, very cool.

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Five Thoughts On Virtual Reality

On January 6, 2016, Oculus tweeted: “We’re excited to announce that is available to pre-order on ! .” This is big news and will do much to make virtual reality (VR) part of our lives in the near future. We’ve  come a long way from Nintendo’s 1995 Virtual Boy, one of many VR failures.

Remember when the Internet and the smartphone industry became mainstream? The same thing will happen with VR, and some are predicting 2016 will be the year, especially with the long-awaited arrival of the Oculus Rift, a VR system for the masses.

VR has similarities to the Internet and other emerging new technologies, especially in terms of how quickly it will become a part of everyday life, but another industry provides better insights into how VR will evolve. As a former student and teacher of film history, I see clear similarities between VR and the early cinema industry.

 

  1. New technology proponents are often convinced (or pretend to be) that it’ll be a boon to education. For example, Thomas Edison thought film would change the educational system. “It is possible to teach every branch of human knowledge with the motion-picture,” he said in 1914. “Our school system will be completely changed inside of ten years.” He also thought films would make school more appealing to young people. “Sort o’ swing the education in on them so attractively that they’ll want to go to school. You’ll have to lick ’em to keep them away,” Edison said, even earlier, in 1911.
  2. New technology is often touted for educational purposes, but is almost immediately used for pornography. Early filmmakers quickly realized there was a market for risque content. Le Coucher de la Mariée featured a strip-tease by Louise Willy in 1896. Its success was followed by many other films with sexual content. The same thing will happen with VR, and the porn and sex industry will eagerly integrate VR into their products.
  3. New technology is scary. A new invention could be the end of civilization as we know it. Or at least create unforeseen individual and societal problems. Civilization is, of course, never static. Post-industrial society is dependent on change. Still, in the early days of cinema, some wanted to censor or regulate the film industry in an attempt to “protect” members of society from themselves. In the case of VR, it’s easy to see that it could become addictive. Some will prefer VR to life and become dependent on the experience. We all know people who spend too much time on Facebook and other social media and ignore family and work life. We’ve even heard of people who play video games and ignore, sleep, food, and other basic necessities. There’s no question VR has the potential to become like a drug, but, truly, just about anything that’s halfway enjoyable can turn into a drug for the right (or wrong) person.
  4. Tremendous technological innovation will be the hallmark of early VR. Like film, VR relies on illusion or tricking the brain, and equipment is key. Unfortunately, equipment in a new technology’s early days is often unrefined. This means innovators will be forced to invent new tools and techniques. This includes headsets (even the Rift is too big and unwieldy), controllers, and even cameras. I recently took a Udemy course on making virtual reality films, and many filmmakers are developing their own cameras and other equipment, so they can customize technology to fit their needs. It reminds me, again, of early cinema when pioneers like the Lumiere brothers tinkered with their own cameras because they were unhappy with what was available.
  5. It will be interesting to watch how VR content evolves. Early film theorists argued about the purpose of cinema and wondered such things as whether film should reflect reality or provide an experience that is outside reality. Thomas Edison and the Lumiere Brothers were interested in documenting reality. One of Edison’s early films was correctly titled Fred Ott’s Sneeze. The Lumiere Brothers first film was Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory. And that’s exactly what it was–a bunch of people walking out of a factory. Other filmmakers, most notably Georges Méliès took a different direction. Méliès, a magician and theatre director, successfully used illusions and special effects to depict worlds divorced from reality. By the way, as with film, we’ll also likely end up with college courses and majors on VR theory, history, etc., as VR becomes its own field of study.

 

In the last month or so, I’ve been talking a lot about virtual reality to friends and family. Most of them first respond by asking, “What is VR?” After the Rift ships in March, other VR systems are likely to follow. Next year at this time, in January 2017, few will be asking “What is VR?” Instead, they’ll be asking questions like “Which VR system should I buy?” or “Seen any good VR lately?”

It’s fascinating to contemplate the tipping point when VR becomes mainstream. Without a doubt, augmented reality (AR) in real life (IRL) is our future.

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Read My New Orley Farm (Anthony Trollope) Teleplay

Anthony Trollope is one of my favorite writers, and I wanted the challenge of adapting one of his novels. Especially in his bicentennial year.

For one thing, I’ve never written a period piece and wanted that experience. Also, since I’ve written crime novels in the past I specifically looked for one that featured crime. My first choice would have been The Eustace Diamonds because it not only involves crime but also has a great female character, Lizzie Greystock. If you haven’t read it, please do. It has one of the best opening lines ever: “It was admitted by all her friends, and also by her enemies,–who were in truth the more numerous and active body of the two,–that Lizzie Greystock had done very well with herself.” But it has already been adapted for television. Twice.

Orley Farm impressed me when I read it, and it definitely had a crime theme as well as another great female character in Lady Mason. I wanted a challenge, and I got it. Since the novel was originally serialized, there was much repetition. I write big and then go smaller, and I spent many drafts deleting and honing. However, perhaps the biggest problem I faced was continuity issues. Trollope’s timeline didn’t work for the adaptation, so I needed to play around with several scenes, moving them around until the story flowed.

Trollope didn’t make many mistakes, but I found a key plot point that was never explained. (Hint: it involves Lady Mason, Miriam Dockwrath, and her father, Mr. Usbech). Rather than leave it a loose end, I wrote a scene that provides an explanation.

Orley Farm was Trollope’s favorite work, though he considered it flawed. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the novel and hope you like the adaptation. I also hope that someone likes it enough to option or purchase it.

Michael Williamson, Chairman of London’s Trollope Society, graciously agreed to read the script and then offered the support of the Trollope Society. I am grateful to Mr. Williamson and the Society. I’m also grateful to the Goodreads book club who read Orley Farm with me and provided interesting insights. I learned a lot.

I envision the adaptation as a teleplay that will be divided into six to seven episodes. The attached PDF (424 pages) is the entire adaptation. It is registered with the WGA West Registry, and I reserve all rights.

Orley Farm Teleplay

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