Follow awfulagent on Twitter

About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

the royalty jar

Over the course of these royalty season posts, I have spoken a lot about the reserve against returns, and this entire post will deal with this.

The idea of the reserve is rooted in reality.  The books the publisher sends out can be returned for full credit by booksellers.  The publisher has to ave some protection against paying royalties on copies that might be returned.

But the reality of the reserve is that it is the publisher's cookie jar, a source of abuse, and like many things in the publishing industry a relic of a past age that doesn't want to come kicking and screaming into modernity.

Once upon a time, the fate of a book really was a mystery.  It isn't any more. With Bookscan and other direct ties between major retail accounts and major publishers, the big publishers know the fate of a book.  Maybe not by June 30 for a book that came out in May, and I can understand a bit if the reserve against returns on that first royalty report is high.  Yet, I will occasionally see publishers taking such large reserves that they pay royalties for fewer copies than Bookscan reports as sold through the end of the royalty period -- and way fewer than we know are sold by the time I am getting the royalty statement.  In those instances, on general principle, I complain to the publisher even about very small numbers of copies.  Paying my client a royalty for 2536 copies when we know the book sold 2682 -- that's not a reasonable reserve against returns.

I mentioned how DAW used to hand-write "too early to tell" for the rest report on every royalty statement.  Now, their default is to take a 100% reserve on print sales on the first royalty report, whether a book has been on sale for  six weeks or six months.  This used to matter less because the books would often not earn royalties on the very first statement even if the reserve was closer to 50% it becomes more likely that the client could get a small royalty check even from known activity on a short period of time.

25 years ago, retail distribution for books was hugely inefficient.  It could take months for information to flow from the corner drugstore to a small independent distributor to the publisher's warehouse.  Shipping fully returnable books into distribution channels that ranged from highly inefficient to somewhat inefficient with long lag time on information reporting -- you could understand why reserves had to be high in the early going.  Now, Amazon has a low return rate, and channels with higher returns like Costco and Walmart have pretty good IT and can provide Point of Sale information on copies sold to publishers very quickly.  But reserves are often still held as if average return rates are still what they were 40 years ago.

The purpose of a reserve against returns was to keep the publisher from being on the hook for paid royalties on copies subsequently returned.  But even though the typical novel is now published in multiple formats, including audio and ebook formats sold as digital downloads with few returns, reserves are held on each print edition as if the others don't exist. If you know a book is being published hard-soft, can't the reserve on the hardcover be moderated in anticipation of paperback royalties?  Many of our authors now sell over half their copies in ebook, so why take a print reserve at all when there will always be ebook royalties to make up the difference?

I don't expect publishers to do away with reserves entirely, but I sure think they should be held with a lighter touch in 2015 than in 1985.

We try in current contracts to specify that reserves not be held on digital products or after the first few royalty periods, or at least be justified upon request. But I feel like we need to get more aggressive in evaluating reserves held with a broader perspective with regard to the range of editions published.

But book by book, do you or your agent look at all your reserves against returns every period?  Do you check them against Bookscan?  Do you check the size of the reserve against actual returns? Do you peek inside the publisher's cookie jar to see if there are cookies?  In many instances, even if the reserve is reduced you may still have a negative royalty balance or be due so little money is isn't worth the fuss to complain rather than waiting for the reserve to be reduced on the next report. But sometimes you can get decent money in your hands months earlier if you just take the time to look in the cookie jar.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Spread 'Em Wide

One of the reasons I have spoken a lot this week about royalties:  well, information is the mother's milk of literary representation, and along with the quality of the book itself, the three most important pieces of information we can use to sell an author are (1) the author's bibliography and biography (2) reviews (3) sales history.  Furthermore, if you want to gauge how much the market might pay for an established author you have to have a handle on actual expenses for printing books vs. actual revenue from selling them rather than royalties paid. And how do we figure out what an author's sales history is or how much revenue and expense the publisher has in printing and selling books, in both print and electronic forms?  Well, we gather that information from royalty statements.

And I learned early in my career at Scott Meredith that sales information isn't well kept by stacking piles of paper in a filing cabinet.  Those Penguin statements I was telling you about, that told you only the quantity of books "sold" in any given six month period -- well, back then we had many Ellery Queen books available in Penguin doubles, and if someone wanted to figure out how many Ellery Queen novels were sold, it meant collecting years with if little sheets of paper and manually adding up columns and columns of figures.

Suffice to say when I finally had a computer at my desk in the early 1990s, things changed.  I could at least put the figures into a word processing document so they could be added without having to retrieve little pieces of paper from the filing cabinet.  Eventually that gave way to tables within the word processing program, and eventually to tables in a spreadsheet.

And for a variety of reasons, not just out of habit, we continue today to process every incoming royalty statement on to our computers, just like I started to do over 20 years ago when I first had a computer on my desk.

Some of those reasons:

Publishers make mistakes.  It doesn't hurt to check their math, and spreadsheets enable us to do this.  Assuming, of course, that we set up the spreadsheets correctly.  There is this tendency to trust that the computer generated very official looki royalty statements the publishers provide always have the correct royalty rates.

As discussed in my previous post on current royalty statements, most are still seriously lacking in cumulative information on copies shipped and copies returned, and it's still very 1989 in needing to track that information someplace other than on piles of paper hiding in a file drawer for years or decades.

A spreadsheet will take the information I enter for Dead Until Dark and Living Dead in Dallas and start to turn that into a series total for the Sookie Stackhouse novels and an overall total for Charlaine Harris, and this information can then be used in our marketing of translation rights and film rights, or be of use when the Wall Street Journal calls to do a major profile on the author.

In that sense, I get a lot more out of what I put in than when I started to do this over twenty years ago.  Spreadsheet, and the world if ours!

All that said, there are times when I and my employees who now have to do a lot of the actual spreadsheeting work probably wonder why we bother.

Each publisher's royalty statements are different, and the royalty scenarios can be different within a publisher for mass markets, trade paperbacks, hardcovers, audios and e-books, so we have to have lots of different spreadsheet formats.

The benefits are invisible.  The company that is doing the Mistborn video game needs to go to its bankers and needs information on Mistborn copies sold for Brandon Sanderson, or the screenwriter with an option on Elizabeth Moon's Remnant Population needs some information to present to producers with her screenplay, or we want to rough out a profit & loss statement to try and guess how much money DAW books can pay for the new Jim Hines, and we can do those things quickly and easily because we have impeccable spreadsheets.  But it is very easy to separate out those benefits from the time, heavily concentrated during the twelve weeks of royalty season, when it seems like we do nothing all day but spreadsheet royalty reports.

We can't predict.  It's our policy to do spreadsheeting for every piece of paper for everyone, because we don't know when Alan Ball will stumble across a novel in a B&N while waiting for a dentist appointment and be inspired to produce True Blood.  For more of our authors than not, the effort we do in spreadsheeting is ultimately futile. In that sense, even I must confess that I can't be sure that we wouldn't be better off doing time-consuming forensics to produce information when it's actually needed, rather than to have so much up-front investment to have good information for all of our clients.

It's just another variety of gibberish.  We can read our spreadsheets very well because we put them together.  For the many publishers that don't provide cumulative information on copies shipped and returned we like being able to give clients our spreadsheets as opposed to the underlying publisher reports.  But the fact is that our spreadsheets can still use some tutorials for people who don't know their way around Excel.

High maintenance.  The information doesn't flow up-hill on its own, so every time a publisher comes out with a new edition of a book we have to set up a new table and then plug the information from that table into at least one location in a summary table.  Dead Until Dark has had an e-book, a mass market with many different prices attached, a True Blood tie-in mass market, a hardcover, a trade paperback, another trade paperback, etc.  Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn a hardcover, a paperback, a promotional paperback, a YA trade paperback, an e-book, an audio.

But all that said, I like that we are able to get all this information to flow uphill to a nice single sheet of paper that gives the actual global sales totals for Brandon Sanderson or Peter V. Brett or Elizabeth Moon or Simon R. Green, based on actual publisher royalty reports, and that we can send that out to anyone who asks whenever they want it.  I doubt we'll stop spreadsheeting any time soon, certainly not for as long as the royalty statements we get are as generally unhelpful as they often still can be.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Apocalty Now

Yesterday I told you what royalty statements looked like at the start of my career in the mid-to-late 1980s.

As we progressed through the 1990s, publishers slowly started to provide "better" royalty statements.  As with the Random House portal, which has been around for two years now, I am always surprised when publishers make it easier for authors and agents to find information, though maybe I shouldn't always be because even publishers can sometimes recognize the cost of keeping secrets.  Unlike, let's say, the NSA

That said, the additional information is often provided in a "watch what you wish for, you might get it" kind of a way.  It's sometimes so hard to find the information and so difficult to interpret it that the improvements are less significant than I would wish.

Before continuing, this post's reminder that in major trade publishing that most of the books publishers send to bookstores can be returned to the publisher for full credit.  Hence, the publisher is entitled to take a reserve against returns to guard against paying royalties for books that are later returned. 

Furthermore, your profitability to the publisher is dependent in some ways upon the efficiency of your sale, i.e., how many print copies the publisher has to send out into the world in order to sell one copy.  This is a little less the case today than twenty years ago because of ebooks, but it is still important,  If it costs $2 to print a $25 hardcover, and if the publisher gets $12 of that $25, it is harder to make money if the publisher has to print three copies in order to sell one,  $6 of the $12 is already out the door to the printer, $2.50 or $3.75 to your royalty, and there could be $2 or $3 left from each copy sold for the publisher to pay for your cover, the copy-editor, the editor, etc.  If the publisher sells four of every five copies, then the printer gets $10 of every $48, your royalty is $10 or $15, and the publisher can have over twice as much money left per copy sold to pay overhead and direct expenses.

Because of this, it is very important if you want to judge how big an advance you should get from your publisher to know your "sell-thru" percentage,  Higher sell-thru equals more money for the publisher equals more money to pay you.

I am simplifying a little bit.  The publisher can make decisions that can artificially inflate or deflate your efficiency.  As an example, for Brandon Sanderson's debut YA novels in 2013, The Rithmatist and Steelheart, both Tor and Delacorte decided to invest in shipping more books into channels like Costco, Walmart and Target that generally have higher return rates.  However, each publisher still had expectations on what the size of the investment would look like after the final numbers came in, relative to their profit expectations and their overall marketing budgets for each book.

Since these things are important, I think any decent royalty statement today should clearly tell you how many copies were shipped, how many copies were returned, and what the reserve against returns is.

Penguin started to provide that information only as we got into the mid 2000s; even for Dead Until Dark which the Berkley Publishing Group published in 2001, the earliest royalty statement was the old-fashioned (your number) Berkley royalty statement.  I feel they provide the gold standard for royalty reporting.  Each print format or ISBN gets one or two clean concise pages that give the current information for copies shipped and sold, for the reserve against returns at the start and finish, and at the bottom, summarize that information cumulatively for prior, current and ending totals.  If you want to figure out your sell-thru percentage for the life of your book, you need to pull only that one most recent piece of paper.

Pretty much every other publisher falls short of this in one way or another.

Scholastic is surprisingly awful for a big US publisher in the 2010s, and their statements are relics of a last age, with the reserve against returns still hidden, and no information given on copies shipped and returned.

St. Martin's is slightly better, but only slightly.  They provide cumulative total copies sold by channel, while Scholastic provides only a grand total, which is a little better.  As an example, if you are a Canadian author, you might want to know how much of your business is coming from Canada, and St. Martin's is a little better for this.  And St. Martin's does give the reserve against returns, albeit only in dollars and not in units, which is something I will discuss in more detail in a later post that deals exclusively with reserves.

St. Martin's is owned by a big publishing conglomerate Macmillan, and strangely other Macmillan imprints like Tor provide information on copies shipped and returned that the St. Martin's statements do not.  We are told this is because St. Martin's purchased the new royalty system earlier and got the budget version.  But same conglomerate, same warehouse, same computers tracking everything, and they haven't had a chance to upgrade?

Even the better statements from other Macmillan imprints have a tragic flaw.  They only provide a cumulative total for net copies sold, and not for copies shipped and copies returned.  Hence, if you want to know what your vitally important sell-thru is you still have to collect information from many pieces of paper dating back many years, and there is no positive change there as against the royalty statements I saw in 1988.

Other publishers are unable to present information on one page.

Simon & Schuster was one of the first publishers to provide more "informative" royalty statements, but the statements could take three or five pages to tell you that three or five copies had sold.  If you are wondering why I have a "watch what you wish for, you might get it" approach to these newer royalty statements, look no further.

Other publishers have layering problems.  i.e., like airline security they took their old systems and loaded new stuff on top of it.

Historically William Morrow and Avon had provided slightly better detail on their royalty statements, and when HarperCollins purchased Morrow/Avon, they just added more pages without looking at the overall quality of their reporting.  It's a mess, spread over many pages.  Perseus, which had been distributed by Harper, has a similar-looking statement that looks a little prettier but isn't any easier to use.

Random House made a big fuss when they switched from putting "your number" on a computer-fold oversize piece of paper to putting it on an 8.5x11 sheet of paper, but it was the same information or lack thereof only more manageably presented.  When they finally got around to providing information on copies shipped, copies returned, and reserves against returns, they kept that same 8.5x11 sheet of paper around as the first page of the new royalty statement.  To put it less politely, the first page of your Random House statement is the same utter bullshit that we got 25 years ago.  They do provide more information but you have to go hunting for it.  And they don't automatically provide information on copies shipped and returned for the life of your book.  They automatically provide a sheet with that information for books that have reserves activity, but if they stop holding a reserve on your hardcover after two or three years that page suddenly disappears.  They provide that information by price point, so if your mass market price changed from $6.99 to $7.99, you may now only get the page for the $7.99 copies.  If you ask them by ISBN and price point to provide the missing pages, they will provide them to you, but only if you ask.  Or, you can ask them to provide you with all the "Print Summary" pages every time.  Since e-books can be sold at many different prices, this may result in you receiving a 40-page royalty statement.  Every time.  You can choose to drown in information, you can choose not to have information, or you can choose to add a semi-annual e-mail request for select additional information while also being sure to archive sheets of paper from several years ago.  The one good thing in these statements:  Random House is on of the only publishers that will tell you how many copies they print and when they print them.  On the other hand, the calculation of actual royalties earned is on a different page than the detail of how many copies were shipped and returned.  At its best and simplest, you'll still have three pages of information (summary, royalty calculation, ship/return/reserve detail) vs. the one page from Penguin.

Penguin has one layering issue of its own.  Early in the e-book era each e-book format had its own ISBN, and their system was designed to generate a page for each ISBN.  Suddenly, we would have six pages of royalty reports for e-books.  For less popular formats, those pages might list a handful of copies if any.  The pages didn't have a place to tell you which ISBN was the Amazon one and which was the B&N one, so there were no benefits to having the information spread over multiple pages.    Over time, ISBNs have been consolidated, but they do not have a way to purge the inactive ISBNs from the ongoing reports.

Especially now that the ebook ISBNs are consolidated, I clearly prefer the Penguin reports to the Random House reports and am curious to see which will prevail as the combined companies merge operations.

So on the one hand, we've come a long way, and on the other hand not.  After two or three years the old statements were reasonably accurate for what they were, and you had just one page that anyone could understand.   Now, we generally have much better visibility on reserves against returns, but there are still serious problems across the industry in giving basic cumulative information on copies shipped and returned, and the royalty statements are differently annoying with each publisher in their layers, pages, complexity and presentation.

We shall continue this series with a discussion of our internal processing of these pieces of paper,  Suffice to say just sticking these pieces of paper in the file isn't going to be very helpful when we actually need to make use of the information that is hiding within these reports....

Monday, March 24, 2014

Royalty Season, Spring

We are settling in after our move just in time for the arrival of royalty season.  In fact, some German royalties from Heyne, which were the first buds of the season or sprinkles of the monsoon or flakes of the blizzard arrived almost simultaneous with the move.

And I realize in six years of having Brillig, I've never spoken much about royalty season.

First, royalty season in the publishing industry doesn't arrive at the same time for everyone.  It isn't like spring or fall, but rather more like the last frost.

When I was at the Scott Meredith Literary Agency in the early years of my career, royalty season arrived on February 1 and August 1.  Random House was due to send out reports the last day of January and last day of August, and they were very nice about it.  They didn't entrust their big checks to the Post Office in order to get another day or two of float, but rather would messenger them over, though late in the day so the check couldn't make it to the bank for that day's deposit.  Carl Sagan -- Random House author.  Norman Mailer -- Random House author.  Margaret Truman -- Random House author.  All of the many Scott Meredith clients published by Del Rey -- Random House authors.  The Mists of Avalon -- Random House.  Blade Runner -- Random House.  2010 Odyssey 2 -- Random House.  So when Random House reported royalties, that was when we had royalty season.

At JABberwocky, the vast preponderance of our authors are published by the Berkley Publishing Group part of Penguin, which reports on/about March 31 and Sept. 30.  Charlaine Harris, Jack Campbell, Simon R. Green -- all NY Times bestselling authors with many many books, all Berkley Publishing Group.  Along with some of our Roc authors.  And DAW, with many of our other authors, usually sends statements along a few days after Penguin in April, and a few days before in September.

I think Scott Meredith had the better of it, because the Random House statements were a bit off from everyone else's.  It wasn't one super big season, but rather helped to spread it out a bit more.  For us, it's not just Penguin on March 31 and Tor on April 30 but most of our big German and UK statements that want to come in then along with lots of miscellaneous others.  Just about everything comes in between March 20 and May 10, and between September 15 and November 10.  Less than a third of the year with two-thirds of our royalty paperwork.

So that is royalty season.

This is going to be a series of posts, and if that's the introduction let's put up Chapter One now as well, which is to talk about what I saw when I looked at royalty statements at the start of my career.   It was a lot different, if also in some important ways not so different at all, from what I see now.

One very important thing to keep in mind in this entire discussion, so I will say here and repeat often in different keys:

Most of the books publishers send to bookstores can be returned to the publisher for credit.   So a book that is sold might not be.  To protect against paying royalties to authors for copies that bookstores might return, publishers are allowed to hold a reserve against returns.  We sent out 30 copies, we will reserve 10 or 20 that we feel have a reasonable chance of coming back.  So I am going to use "sold" in quotes here, because it was very much the case twenty years ago that the number of copies on a royalty statement was the "in quotes" version.

For Penguin or for Kensington, the number might be the number of copies "sold" in a given accounting period.  That number came on a little 5x7 (maybe, don't have any at hand) piece of paper that came off of a computer.  And there wasn't much more than that one number to look at.

Random House gave multiple numbers, the number of copies "sold" over the six months and the total number of copies "sold" to the end of the period.  Their number came on a big oversized piece of computer print-out paper which made it seem especially important and true.

Berkley gave their numbers on an 8.5x11 sheet of paper which made them easier to file.

DAW gave many numbers, since they did things by hand on a piece of paper that would be passed down from royalty statement to royalty statement like a revered scroll..  That paper would have rows, and the rows would have the date of the period, the number of copies sold to the end of the period, and then the next row either gave that number followed by the new number, or the number of copies "sold" over the six months which you would add to get the new number, kind of like one of those Scrabble score sheets that comes with the fancier sets.  The first number was always "too early to tell."

There wasn't a lot of mentoring or training at Scott Meredith, so it took me a long time to learn that all these numbers, from all these different publishers, no matter how official looking the sheet of paper was, were utter bullshit.


Well, the number was the result of an equation, and the equation itself was hidden.

The equation used to generate the number was:

(actual copies net after ship and return) (minus) (reserve against returns) (equals) (your number)

And all we got was (your number), either as a total at the end of the period or as the difference between (your number) in one period and the immediately prior period.

You'd walk into bookstores and see a book all over the place and wonder why (your number) was so small.  Well, (your number) was maybe a half or a quarter of the actual number of books the publisher had put into the marketplace.

A book would come out, not appear to sell, and when you got the second royalty statement (your number) went up.  Not because there were more copies, but because the hidden reserve against returns was reduced by more than the hidden copies shipped less copies returned.

It would take around four royalty periods, or around two years, before the magic number that appeared on the royalty statements was close enough to the actual performance that the statement could be considered reliable.

I got in the habit of calling my debut novelists when their first statements came out to tell them, very excitedly, that I had their first royalty statement, I would be sending it to them, and when they got it they could put it in the trash or use it for toilet paper or do pretty much anything except pay much attention to it because it was utter bullshit.

Now it's different, and we'll move on to that in the next post, tomorrow.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Unbearable Heaviness of Unpaid Content

For over 30 years, I have been a devout reader of Variety.

Now, I hate the actual printed magazine.  It doesn't take long to read, maybe fifteen or twenty minutes in a good week.  And this quick read comes in the form of an oversize magazine printed on heavy coated white paper.   Who wants to go around on the subway holding a heavy, oversized magazine that doesn't take very long to read and which requires lots and lots of page turns?  The magazine is as annoying as it is informative.

However, the printed magazine is now only a small portion of the total content Variety offers.  Every week there are dozens of articles and reviews and columnists to be found on the magazine's website that aren't to be found in the weekly magazine.

There is no paywall on the website.  The owner of Variety has made a business decision not to charge for its content.

I prefer content like this in print. There are week-long stretches when I have plenty of time to sit at my computer or use their iPad app and devour all the content the website has to offer, but there are other times when it would be so much nicer to have a printed publication with more of the content which I can read outside when it is too cold for the iPad, or when I am on cellular data.  I spend enough of my life at a computer and it keeps dragging me to spend more of it there.

It's a dilemma.

Maybe less of one, maybe easier to pay, if I just didn't like the magazine. But no. I actively dislike the magazine.  It is an annoyance.  I dread seeing it arrive in my mailbox each week.  There is no way to subscribe to the magazine without casting a vote in its favor, and that isn't a vote I wish to cast. I guess I could get an "online subscription" but why would anyone do that when all the content is there for free? As a result of a conscious business decision by the owner.

It feels kind of like putting money into a tip jar, only in this case it would be the tip jar of the wealthy owner of Penske Media who made a decision not to charge for content, and to develop a magazine I don't want to read.

So why does it still feel wrong not to pay?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Status - Quo!

So a quick report in on our move, a little less lavishly illustrated than it should be because I don't quite have the time...

After a day of packing on Monday, the movers started loading our Queens office into the truck at around 9:10 on Tuesday morning.

When that task was mostly complete, Eddie and I chaperoned the parade of the Eeyores, as they headed from our office to the new office over the 59th St. Bridge with stops along the way at places like the Magnolia Bakery, Serendipity 3, Bloomingdales, the site of the Scott Meredith Literary Agency offices in Joshua's early years in the business, etc.  I will gather many photos on this blog eventually, but for now if you go to or you can find.

Now, this was a little silly, but also a lot of fun, and ultimately, what else were Eddie and I going to do?  The computers were in boxes, the routers and the servers and the ethernet cables and the track pads and the keyboards were in boxes, and for all our leisure and silliness, the truck beat us to the new office by five or ten minutes.  It was a sheer delight, every minute of it, we hope you'll enjoy the pictures, and I expect we gave some lasting memories to people we encountered along the way.  Because it's not every day you see a guy holding four Eeyores walking across the 59th St. Bridge, or posing six Eeyores on the bridge, or bring Eeyore into the Magnolia Bakery.  I highly recommend that every move have a well-documented March of The Eeyores -- but buy your own, you're not borrowing ours.

I was happy as we started to direct the movers on where to put things.  The new office is a tad smaller than our old office, and even though the old office was bigger than we needed it to be, I'd walk around the new office and worry that it wasn't big enough.  I don't think we have to worry too much for a while.  We have nice nooks for Sam and Joshua, Eddie and Lisa, Krystyna and Christa, and for Brady, and room for more filing cabinets, more bookshelves, three or four more people.  Room enough for a while.  Not that we need to rush to fill every nook and cranny, but it's nice to know we have the room to in-fill as the space grows out.

By the end of the day on Wednesday, we'd pretty much unpacked everything and pretty much had everything in its place.

Which isn't to say everything is perfect.

Joshua decided to take keys to one of the filing cabinets home with him Tuesday night, because it seemed like a safer place when the office was in disarray.  So of course, Wednesday morning, the keys go into Joshua's pocket, and then aren't to be found when he gets to the office.  We see a locksmith in our future!

Joshua would feel worse about his stupidity if there weren't contributions from everyone else in the office.  In particular, there seem to be some people in the office who have trouble reading the boxes that phones come in.  One person goes to buy a base station for the phone system and buys a cordless base extension instead -- everything the base does except without an actual cord to plug in a phone line.  Then person #2 goes to buy a basic phone with answering machine and returns with phone without answering machine.  The locksmith will probably cost less than the phones.

The phone and internet worked wonderfully until we tried to use them.

But then we realize we need to restart the router because the internet is getting a bit slow within two or three hours of our first full day in the new space.  And then we need to restart the router again.  And again.  And again and again and again and again.  If we restart the router every hour, we can probably get fifteen or twenty minutes of functionality before the phone and the internet become theoretical constructs.  So Time Warner will be back on Friday afternoon.  No idea what we will do on Thursday. It would almost be better for the internet to just not work at all, rather than to have it work just often enough that you think you can use it without ever working long enough that you actually can.

We got food!  Elizabeth Moon, Peter V. Brett and Myke Cole have all helped to sustain us, as did John Berlyne at the Zeno Agency.

We got the first buds of the spring royalty season, some  Heyne royalties for the second half of 2013.  Over the next four weeks, we expect thousands of pages of royalty statements.  We like royalty season, and we hate royalty season.

We still need to find our way to the closest Post Office.  Which, according to, keeps very strange hours of 7am to 3pm.  We do have a mailbox at the corner.

We are starting to explore local lunch options.  Sadly, in LIC we would get delivery from the excellent Sunnyside Pizza.  At the new office, we can pretty much step outside our building and step into Little Italy Pizza, but that doesn't compare, not remotely, with the yumminess of Sunnyside Pizza.

If it weren't for the danged internet I'd be super happy at how well the move was going.  While we have some work we can do internally, it's distracting to try and do it.  It's hard to believe that my career started far enough back in the future that nobody know what an internet was, and now it's hard to run anything without it.  But where things were solely in our control, I'd give us an A- for doing things about as smoothly as you can hope for them to go.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Changing Times

Kind of hard to believe, but not even two years after decamping from my one-time apartment in Sunnyside Queens to an actual offer a mile-and-some away, we're packed up and ready to move tomorrow to a new office in Manhattan, a very different JABberwocky than we were when we moved the first time.

Scavenging parts of a year-in-review post that I worked on around the New Year and never got around to finishing and posting, let's look at how JABberwocky has changed...

At the start of 2013, we were like an iPhone app running on an iPad.  We had grown, but we were fuzzy at the edges.  At the end of the year, and heading into our 20th anniversary year in 2014, we are an actual iPad app with the staff and capabilities that are right and comfortable for our size, or at least enough so that I don't look at my business and think it's all fuzzy-ish and not quite going all the way to the edges of the screen.

A lot of that change and improvement is the result of having a much bigger staff.  First move:  me, Eddie Schneider, Jessie Cammack.  Now, it's me and six other people, and this whole "larger staff" thing wants to keep feeding on itself.  Hiring Brady McReynolds to head up foreign rights loosened a lot of time for other people in the office.  I hadn't even realized until he started having more time how much of Eddie's time was being spent on foreign rights, and then when I saw what could happen when we didn't have to do that, I decided we needed to go further down that path, taking other collateral duties from Eddie as I could so he could focus very strongly on the "agent" part of the literary agency.

And it just kept kind of spiraling out from there.  By the time I had Sam as my assistant, and Lisa was helping triple the size of our e-book program while also offering some help to Eddie, it became apparent that I was at risk of no longer being able to do "agent" part of the literary agency myself.  Since Brady was really good at managing tasks, we ended up asking him to segue from foreign rights to more of a COO role helping me run the agency, but that meant elevating his assistant Krystyna to broader oversight of the foreign rights desk, and getting Christa on board to help Krystyna.  And now we have Martin Cahill helping out a little as well on project and task work that needs to be done.  It's been a lot of growth in a very short time, and it's hard for me to comprehend it isn't even two years since Brady joined the time.

By and large, this has been a good thing, we've taken on a lot of new clients in the past two years, and we've been selling books for a lot of them.  It's highly unlikely a year or two ago that I'd have made the time to read an F&SF and find my way to Adam Rakunas.  I'm reading another ms from an author I found in Asimov's.  Took on Walter Jon Williams, Eric Moore.

Some things I haven't been as happy about.

We bit off a bit more than we could chew in late 2012 when we committed to a major expansion of the number of titles in our e-book program, and it's taken us 18 months to digest all those new titles.  It's a lot more work publishing e-books than a lot of people seem to appreciate, and I'd include myself in that "a lot of people.".  But we have pretty much digested all the added titles, which means Lisa can be a little more involved on the agent side, helping Eddie and looking for her own clients.

We keep finding more stuff we need to do with our IT.

For to me, information is the mother's milk of literary representation.  We have full bibliographies and review quotes for all of our clients on our website, as an example.  Most other literary agencies don't provide near the level of self-service for people who might want this information.  But it takes a lot of time to compile all of this information, and then every time you gather more information it becomes some project to do something with the information.  Figure out all the books in Germany that have expired licenses, you need to look at whether some of them should be renewed.  Figure out there are five countries of twelve where you don't have a royalty report for a foreign edition, you need to go asking for them.  Ignorance isn't bliss, but we'd have way fewer projects.  And we've been scanning our contracts after re-serializing them, we've been working on using a database to better untangle the spaghetti when we get money from foreign countries coming in from three publishers to go out to six authors.  And I think I'll do a separate post about the processing of royalty statements.

Even though our move coincides with a period of growth in the agency with many exciting things happening at the agency, I'm a lot less excited about the move than everyone else seems to be.  For me, personally, I've spent 15.5 years working from home, 2 years with a 1.2 mile easy walk, and 2 years with a too easy .3 miles.  I haven't had to deal with the commuting thing for a very long time, close to half my life and the biggest chunk of my working life.  I'm not all that thrilled that my "reward" for building a successful business is that I now get to spend most likely the rest of my working life commuting into Manhattan.  It seems a little "off" to say things like this, but can any of you reading this say that a commute is something you look forward to?  The number of people who can do the Peter V. Brett "write novel on smart phone on F train" thing is pretty small.  Perhaps once I get back into the routine of it, of the joys of starting each day with a nice three miles over the 59th St. Bridge, I'll feel better about it all.

Even though the office we are leaving is bigger than we need, I worry that the new office is a little smaller.  If the business keeps growing, how long with it be until we have the ten or twelve people working out of the new office that we can maximally have there?  The previous occupants of the space had over 20 people working in it, but there's no way we can do that.

But ultimately, whether I like it or not, it is what it is.  And I can't entirely ignore that the rest of the world seems excited that we're making the move.

I am looking forward to the parade tomorrow, when Eeyore will be heading into Manhattan, with Tigger and Rabbit and Christopher Robin in tow.  It will be fun times.

The original version of this post had laundry lists of great things that have happened for our clients, but I kind of hate things like that.  If you mention one thing do you have to mention everything?

But to ignore that end of things entirely doesn't sit right with me, either.  The big picture at JABberwocky is this, that a few years ago we were making a lot of money, but almost all of it from the success of the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris.  Now, it's more than that.  Peter Brett is our biggest author in Germany.  The Lost Fleet books by Jack Campbell are our top books in Japan and also among our top series in the UK.  And Brandon Sanderson has joined Charlaine as a #1 bestseller in the United States, in both YA and adult, with Steelheart and Words of Radiance.  With those two books, Charlaine's Dead Ever After, and Peter's Daylight War, we've had four books that have been top ten bestsellers in multiple territories.  It's much harder making money from multiple authors than to have only one, but it's much more secure having a stool with more than one leg to sit on. And maybe the person who built a business that represents so many major bestselling authors should be a little bit happier that as of tomorrow his new perch is going to be in the corner of a Manhattan office building.

The game is afoot.  Now, to fill out my bracket...

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Die Muppets en Die Raid

It's been an eclectic and unusually fertile week of preview screenings at The Museum of the Moving Image.  After showing Bad Words earlier in the week, there was an unusual double feature today of Muppet Most Wanted and The Raid 2, both quite enjoyable in their own different ways.

The best thing, and perhaps the only thing, that one needs to say about Muppet Most Wanted is that it's undoubtedly and undeniably a film Jim Henson could have made.

I'm not sure any Muppet movie will ever equal the consistent delight of the memorable tunes from the original Muppet movie, but there's no denying the quality of work that Bret McKenzie is doing for the current Muppet films.  This movie starts with a production number where the Muppets celebrate the fact that they are getting to do a sequel (yes, Bunsen Honeydew does quite scientifically interrupt the song to point out that this is in fact the 7th Muppet movie), which features lots and lots of Muppets, happily breaks the third wall, goes big in the style of The Magic Store from the original Muppet movie or even big in the style of a big number from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life or Mel Brooks' History of the World Part One.  There are other solid original numbers sprinkled throughout.  And the movie's plot lends itself to paying tribute to the use of music in the original Muppet Show, so we get little gems like Miss Piggy doing her best Celine Dion with a number from The Muppet Movie.  Of course, we later get Celine Dion herself.  And the movie ends with a rendition of the song "Together Again" that seems like an homage to the Monty Python film Life of Brian.  Yes, Jim Henson would have gotten this.

The movie is sprinkled with celebrity co-stars and celebrity cameos.  I don't like Ricky Gervais, but I liked him here.  He has a twinkle in his eye throughout and seems to clearly be enjoying playing second fiddle to The Muppets.  And then there's Ray Liotta, and Tina Fey, and Usher, and Frank Langella, and many many more.  I didn't recognize everyone; I'm getting to be an old man.  But the cameos here should resonate with a mix of thirteen year olds and 53-year-olds, because the sheer abundance of them allows the film to cover all bases.

And the jokes cover all age bases.  There's a lot of just plain silly for kids to enjoy.  Then there's a quick reference to David Lean. Or to David Niven, while we're at it.  Jim Henson would understand where the creators are coming from.

So three cheers to director James Bobin, who co-wrote with Nicholas Stoller.  Almost 35 years after the release of the original Muppet Movie, they have the Muppets feeling fresh and new again.

The strange thing to me:  Jason Segel, who did so much to help spearhead the return of the Muppets to movie theatres isn't here in any way, shape, or form, not even in the form of a no-show producer credit hiding somewhere.

A few years back there was a martial arts movie called The Raid which I didn't get around to seeing.  It got some nice reviews, kind of wanted to, but it just never happened, I think in part because I have an informal quota on the number of martial arts movies I want to see and that might have been released in proximity to another one.  But suffice to say when I saw that Moving Image was hosting a screening of The Raid 2, I wasn't going to miss out twice.

Glad I didn't.  The Raid 2 is excellent.

Martial arts movies don't need a plot, necessarily, but this one has one Shakespeare would recognize, which centers around a father/son struggle over the future of an Indonesian crime family.  The son thinks his dad has gone soft, and doesn't buy into the idea expressed to him at one point in the movie that the father now has enough respect that he doesn't still need to have fear going for him.  Into the midst of this father/son struggle is thrown an undercover cop, the actual lead of the movie, played by Iko Uwais.  He appeared at a Q&A afterwards along with writer/director/editor Gareth Evans, and Julie Estelle who is by default the female lead, because there aren't any females hanging around in this movie.

While it's nice to have a powerful primal central plot in the film, people don't go to martial arts movies for the plots.  They go for the martial arts.  And there are a number of incredible sequences using a variety or weapons and fighting styles.  What's your favorite?  The prison yard?  The subway car? The hotel ballroom?  The guy with the baseball bat?  Kinetic fighting inside a four-seater?

Nothing's predictable.  At the halfway point, after some great sequences in large rooms, I was thinking the director liked doing action on a big canvas.  But that was until he started doing great fights in halls and alleys.  By the time he gets to doing vibrant martial arts inside of a not-that-big moving car,  you realize he'll do his action anywhere he can.

If I were one of those reviewers or critics who reviews multiple things and feels that requires finding some way to link them all together in the hook to that week's review colum, I guess I'd be talking about the shared love of film history that one sees in both this and Muppet Most Wanted.  I saw lots of Kubrick in The Raid 2.  The classical tune "Sarabande," which plays for an entire reel in Barry Lyndon gets a decent workout here.  There's a hotel ballroom that could be considered the heir to the Gold Room at the Overlook Hotel in The Shining, complete with a bathroom attendant, a decent facsimile of the bar itself, and a resplendent color scheme that goes well with the color of the blood that will be nicely spilled before the movie's 2.5 hours are over.  Attached to the hotel ballroom is a nicely sized hotel kitchen that Dick Halloran would probably have enjoyed cooking in.  At one point a car stops in the middle of a group of burnt-out buildings that would have done nicely for the major urban battle set piece in Full Metal Jacket.  I was a little disappointed that we didn't get a full-on martial arts sequence in the space.

The movie's long at 2.5 hours, but it moves. If you see one martial arts movie in 2014, there's an excellent chance you'll wish it to be this one.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Bad Words

The Museum of the Moving Image hosted a preview screening of Bad Words, a film soon to open directed by and starring Jason Bateman, of Arrested Development and other such things.  Regrettably, the bad isn't good.

Bateman plays a 40-something man who decides to participate in a spelling bee for children.  He never finished 8th grade, so under the rules (can't have finished 8th grade before a certain date) he gets to play.

We're supposed to guess, I suppose, how a man who never finished 8th grade can spell so many obscure words so precisely.  According to the Q&A afterwards, cue cards were very important.  But that helps the actor, not the character.

Just like we're supposed to guess why a reporter for a magazine is following the guy around for a story.  Really?

No guessing on this:  Bateman's character isn't content to leave things to change.  While on stage, he'll talk to his fellow contestants and persuade one that he just slept with the kid's mother, or a young girl that she's just had her flowering with the evidence quite visible for all to see while she walks down a few steps to the microphone for her next word

Does this sound funny?  It is, as played out, but it's also kind of creepy.

We don't want a creepy character, so there is plentiful voiceover narration to explain the character's regret and remorse at allowing himself to be so childish in his actions.

But that's about the only internal life that the character shows.  All the voiceover narration in the world doesn't compensate for a script that gives its characters either no motivations or stock motivations.  A script that trots out old tropes like the "at first, I was just pretending to be your friend, but then it became real."  A script that has Philip Baker Hall as the head of the spelling bee announcing, a role that used to belong to Fred Willard in the other movies that had this character.  It's hard to believe a script like this was on the "Black List" of best unproduced screenplays.

And I don't go to the movies to look at people who look ugly.  Bateman has a haircut that reminded me of bad '70s haircuts in the small town New York I grew up in, like my little league coach the one year I "played," or every adult man who seemed to be around for a mid-'70s 4th of July fireworks on a summer camp outing to Dover Plains.  The reporter played by Kathryn Hahn looks ugly.  Allison Janney looks like she's wearing a wig she plucked from a dumpster.

The saving grace of the movie was Rohan Chand as one of the children in the spelling bee who brightens every scene he's in, plays off Bateman beautifully, acts with assurance, has a captivating smile.   If we're lucky, maybe this young man of real talent can be the Mathew McConaughey of the 2020s and 2030s, but may end up in a few years embarking on a life of spandex playing some new mutant in the 7th thru 12th X-Men movies because that's what Hollywood wants all the good young actors to do.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Omar and The Lunchbox go to Bethlehem

I did indeed manage to get to Omar in the week following the Oscars, if just barely, catching a 10:45 show on the Sunday morning a week following.

This was one of the nominees for Best Foreign Language movie.  It's a Palestinian film about the business relationship between a young man named Omar (would you believe!  in a movie called Omar!!) played quite fetchingly by Adam Bakri, and his Israeli handler, equally fetchingly played by Waleed F. Zuaiter.  It's tempting to look at every film that comes out of the Israeli conflict as a political statement of some or another sort, but this well made film by writer/director Hany Abu-Assad manages to make its points without every becoming polemical.  If we see the routine humiliations that Omar endures as a young Palestinian man, it's only what we do or don't bring from our other experiences that allows us to understand or not his involvement in a shooting of an Israeli soldier at a garrison, and the film can be enjoyed for how the story plays out thereafter or the quality of its performances no matter what justification you're willing to ascribe (or not) to the primary incident.  Taken in by Israeli security forces afterwards, Omar is forced to become collaborator.  It helps that saying "I will never confess" is, according to the film, considered a confession in and of itself by the Israeli military courts that govern. Torn between his Israeli handler, his love interest, his friend and competitor for his girlfriend's hand in marriage, and some of the internal politics in the occupied territories, Omar has some soul-searching and growing up to do.  It's quite a good film, and worth seeking out.

Interestingly, an Israeli film called Bethlehem opens almost simultaneously, and is playing along with Omar at the Angelika in New York, and takes a different but parallel path that reaches virtually the same place at the end.  Bethlehem starts a little slowly.  Adam Bakri's performance as Omar hits its target with the audience from pretty much the first close-up shot of the film, and carries us from there.  Bethlehem is a little broader in its approach.  The politics between different Palestinian factions that lurk in the background of Omar are in the foreground, which presents a broader canvas, and more jumping around from place to place and person to person, before ultimately settling on a similar relationship between a Palestinian and a handler in the Israeli intelligence forces.  Here, the Palestinian is the brother of a much-wanted terrorist who may be taking money and/or orders from both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.  Omar has a lot of little chase scenes, Bethlehem one extended set piece.  I liked both differently, and similarly.

These movies I'd heard some buzz on for some months ahead of their release.  Between the two of them on a kind of triple feature, I saw an Indian movie called The Lunchbox that came to my attention on the basis of some good reviews in the NY papers when it opened this weekend.  Really?  This is the story of an Indian woman who uses the famed lunch delivery system in Mumbai to send her husband a hot meal every day, but somehow or other her meals end up getting cross-shipped.  She and the "other man" start exchanging notes back-and-forth in the lunches.  There are an awful lot of shots of him, sitting at his desk, reading her notes.   Her, opening up the lunch-box at the end of the day to see if there is a return note hiding in an empty container.  Lots of shots of people riding the trains to work.  Subplots.  She yells upstairs to her auntie to share confidences, and auntie yells back with advice and gives recipe ideas.  He is asked to train his replacement, a particularly annoying person.  One dissenting review I read from Richard Brody in the New Yorker, sadly after I saw the movie, called it twenty minutes of story in a much longer film, and that's about the long -- and short! -- of it.  During Omar, when I was feeling bleary-eyed after losing the hour to the Daylight Savings switch the night before, I resisted sleep.  During The Lunchbox, there was plenty of time to sleep off the meal.

The Carl and I

So while the rest of the world is having this Carl Sagan moment with the debut of the new Cosmos TV series, inspired by Sagan's original series from 35 years ago, let me tell you what Carl taught me.  It's something different from what everyone else is saying...

When I started work at the Scott Meredith Literary Agency in February 1986, I got to be Carl's literary agent.  Well, not really, or not exactly, but each desk at the agency had certain clients assigned to it, and Carl was assigned to my desk.  For Carl, this didn't mean very much. It meant that I was the person in the office who got to type out a transmittal letter for each check.  Yes, this was the 1980s.  This was done by hand on a typewriter, that we had gotten $568.76 for French royalties to Cosmos, and after our commission and 2% to Alan Lomax and some percent to the ex, here is your check for $352.32.

This was a pain in the neck, but it was still a thrill to be even that close to someone like Carl Sagan.  Cosmos was still a big deal and still selling lots of copies along with Broca's Brain and The Dragons of Eden.  His novel Contact had come out the year before and was a very very big deal.

But there was just one thing.  Carl hardly published a word during the entire eight years I was at Scott Meredith.  One collaboration about nuclear winter, A Path Where No Man Thought, and one with his wife, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors.  But by and large, Carl spend those eight years allowing himself to become forgotten.

So here's the first group of lessons that Carl taught me.

Writers might write at their own pace.  And rather frustratingly, neither the writers nor their publishers may know exactly what that pace is until their careers are underway.  First novels are never written on deadline.  Second novels usually are.  And eventually we all find our way to realizing that this author can write two novels a year, that one three novels every two years, this one a book every 14 months.

Celebrity isn't good for writers.  Even the best-intentioned writers realize that you can't tour, be invited to be GoH at four conventions a year, do guest blog posts and interviews, to to WorldCon and World Fantasy, and keep up the writing pace you had before all of those things were part of your routine.

But tied in with that...

If, as Neil Gaiman put it memorably some five years ago, "George R. R. Martin is not your bitch," and George doesn't owe it to anyone to have his next Song of Ice and Fire sung, the reader isn't GRRM's bitch.  Some things we choose to wait for.  Others we choose to forget.  There are enough authors that we choose to forget that even publishers sometimes seem to be long on the uptake when they're publishing an author like GRRM or Patrick Rothfuss or Peter V. Brett whom the readers are willing to wait a little bit extra for.

And Carl Sagan ... well, he was one of the authors that the world was clearly willing to forget.  And I never saw any sign that Scott Meredith was willing to have that discussion with Carl, even though it seemed pretty evident to me kind of quietly observing in the background.

And the world was willing to forget other Scott Meredith clients.  Norman Mailer spent my several years at Scott Meredith making that transition, and getting monthly checks from Random House all the while.

Getting back to A Path Where No Man Thought, my name appears nowhere in the acknowledgments, but I had an important task for this book Carl wrote with Richard Turco.  I had to clear all of the permissions for his epigraphs and other extended quotations.

This annoyed me.

Maybe it was just that it was a pain in the neck to do all this work, and as someone still in his mid-20s, it's safe to say that I wasn't enamored of this sort of work.

But I also couldn't figure out why the Scott Meredith Agency was doing this work for Carl, and not getting paid a dime for doing it.  Carl had his office at Cornell.  He had secretaries, he probably had a team of work-study students at his disposal.

So agents do things for their clients sometimes.  But even today, I'd still argue pretty strongly that this shouldn't have been one of those things, that this was someplace where the agent needed to say "no."

I don't think Scott's hands-off and indulgent attitude toward authors who were falling out of the conversation was helpful to anyone.  Nobody reads Carl Sagan any more.  This might seem hard to believe for all the hosannas showing down on him as this new Cosmos series comes on the air, but it is true.  His Bookscan sales are essentially non-existent.  And Norman Mailer's most enduring works were all published by the time I started at Scott Meredith in 1986.  Maybe nothing Scott said would have changed any of this, or maybe not.   Going just by age, Sagan was in his fifties and Mailer his sixties during the time I was at Scott Meredith, and it's hardly pre-ordained that a writer's best work is by then in the past.  Nor do I think it entirely coincidence that Carl Sagan managed to deliver A Pale Blue Dot to fulfill a contract obligation to Random House after Scott's death in 1993, and not before.

Carl was also one of the only authors who tried to escape paying commission on existing contracts for existing books to the Scott Meredith Agency after Scott died.

So that's my Carl Sagan story.  It's different than most of the others going around this weekend, but I will say that he's certainly had a lasting influence on me.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Joshcars for 2013

So having completed the live blogging for the Oscars, this is my Baker's Dozen best of 2013, in no particular order:

World War Z:
This is grading on a curve.  But basically, there are so many really shitty special effects spectaculars around these days that I feel an urge to give some recognition to a movie that's just a little bit different.  Also, since I keep asking authors to revise their manuscripts, it's nice to see something in the popular culture where revision works.  In particular, the ending of this major CGI-ridden summer spectacular release is quiet.  One setting, one main character, a place where small little things count, where the tension is real.  A place where the violence is earned, justified by the movie being what the movie is, and now entirely thrown in just because someone thinks it's fun to plow a starship into a building, or to destroy Manhattan for the 18th time and pretend like it isn't, like Superman didn't save Manhattan in Superman 2 over 30 years ago.  This was a pleasant surprise, an over-achiever in a genre that keeps under-achieving.  So I want to give it some credit.

The Spectacular Now:
Rumor has it that Miles Teller, the star of this spectacularly good adaptation of a YA novel, is going to be in a new Fantastic Four movie.  What a shame.  An actor as talented as Miles Teller shouldn't be wasting time in shitty SFX/CGI/superhero movies, please see my comments above on World War Z.  See my comments on my live Oscar blog, and this is an example of where Roger Ebert can do something I can't, which is explain why a movie is good.  This was one of the very last movies Ebert reviewed, and maybe I should just let his review speak for me. But I don't really want to.  So let me try.

I always feel like one of the best achievements in the arts is to get me to like the kind of thing I don't ordinarily like.  The New Yorker story that I can read must be a truly great story, or the generic slasher movie that I love can't be just a generic slasher movie, or the literary science fiction novel that grabs the Joshua Bilmes whose roots are in the Analog end of sf/f.  And The Spectacular Now is a movie about a character I despise, a high school student really big into alcohol who is supposed to be lovable.  And alcoholics aren't lovable.  Behavior fueled by alcohol isn't lovable.  There's nothing redeeming about a movie like Don's Party.  Nothing pleasant about Leaving Las Vegas.  Yet this movie walks the tightrope.

It has to be a team effort, here.  Novel by Tim Tharp.  Adapted by screenwriter Michael H. Weber, whose previous credits include the similarly successful (500) Days of Summer.  Directed by James Ponsoldt, whose prior movie was Smashed, the kind of movie about alcoholism that I really don't need in my life, thank you.

But most importantly, a pitch-perfect performance by Miles Teller.

He's a likable alcoholic but never a lovable one.  When he's given the chance to have more hours at work if only he would show up on time, he's self-aware enough to tell the boss that he knows it just won't work, he won't put the job before alcohol, and he won't be showing up on time.  Capable of being the perfect boyfriend, except for all the times he's drunk and he isn't capable of being anyone's boyfriend.

You can understand a bit of why he likes his booze.  He's from a broken home.  Older sister he isn't on great terms.  Struggling mother, who won't tell him where his father is.  And when we finally meet the father, you know the apple didn't fall far from the tree, and you also see this glimmer of awareness that our lead character knows his father's a screw-up, that he's a screw-up, that one doesn't justify the other and he doesn't admire his father for being what he too often is, even though he can't stop himself from being it.

It's awfully damned good.

Short Term 12:
Another quiet little film that has probably gone under the radar for most of you.  Brie Larson, who also has a supporting role in Spectacular Now, plays a counselor at a group home for troubled children.  Jonathan Gallagher is another "veteran" at the home, which isn't saying much.  It's a hard place to stay, the kind of place you burn out on real quick.  But the two of them have somehow managed to keep at it for at least a little bit, and the film starts with a quiet scene of Gallagher giving some background on the place to a new employee.  These characters have a lot more going on than we see at first, and the film peels back their layers slowly, carefully, way more so than any of us will ever be with an actual onion in our kitchen.  While it's doing that, the film also slowly peels back some of the closely held secrets for the characters in the home, many of whom might want to be someplace else, all of whom are free to be someplace else if they can escape past the doors and the guards and get on to the street outside.  It's a strange kind of thing, how the employees at the home can do just about anything to keep the kids from leaving but have no power to order them back should they leave.

So I'm not describing this like any film anyone is going to rush out to see.  But the writing is really good.  The acting is really good.  The surprises along the way are never total surprises, yet we never quite see them coming way far ahead of time.   Powerful stuff.

Great performances.  Great soundtrack.  Great photography. Great racing sequences.

It's not like this film, one of Ron Howard's best, didn't get some good reviews.  It's not like it didn't get some recognition on the awards scene, with some acting awards especially.  But certainly, in the US, the film didn't do as well as hoped.  It's a shame, that.

12 Years a Slave:
It's a hard film to love, and I want to keep pushing it away, but it doesn't deserve that.

I first caught up with director Steve McQueen with Shame, an impressive feature about an IRA prisoner who went on hunger strike.  Searing visual images, excellent acting, powerful story.  Often hard to sit through.

I got to see McQueen in person when the Museum of the Moving Image screened his Shame.  Didn't impress me so much there.  The movie had the same stunning visuals, I can still see some scenes of the main character racing down deserted Manhattan streets that shimmer and gleam.  Like Shame, hard to sit through.  We don't really need visually stunning movies about sex addicts.  And to have to listen to the director talk about all of the wonderful artistic decisions in making a film that nobody should have bothered with.  It's the risk of these Q&A things.  This wasn't as bad as listening to Alan Parker spout on about his genius in making The Life of David Gale, but it was close.

Then we arrive at 12 Years a Slave.  And we're starting to see some patterns here.  There are stunning visuals, and the movie is hard to sit through.

But it's a worthy movie in better ways than a lot of other worthy movies.  It isn't a movie that uses white people to tell the story of the black struggle.  It isn't Richard Attenborough or Bernardo Bertolluci who choke on their own artifice half the time.  See Gandhi for worthy and dull, or The Last Emperor.  See Cry Freedom.  No, this is told with passion, with emotion, with an abundance of good acting.  

Captain Phillips:
Tom Hanks gives a great performance, and the film shows director Paul Greengrass at this best, with great photography and great editing in the service of some real-life drama.

Room 237:
A documentary about The Shining, kind of.

If you like The Shining -- and I like it very much -- it's hard to see it just once.  You want to keep seeing it, over and over and over again.  And when you see a movie over and over again, you notice things about it that you may not notice on the first viewing or the thirtieth.  And it's a movie directed by Stanley Kubrick, whom some consider to be technocratic and cold, so in control of every frame that he suffocates human emotion.  So when you see one of his movies over and over again, and you notice things, you know that everything has to be there for a reason.

So this movie introduces us to people, whom we hear in voiceover over clips from the film but don't actually see on-screen, who have very clear ideas of what The Shining is all about.  Notice how the carpet has things that look like little rockets, and this is a movie about the faking of the Apollo rocket launches.  Or notice the food in the pantry and realize it's a movie about the treatment of the American Indian.  Or realize that the window in the hotel GM's office couldn't really be there and go someplace else from there.  All of these theories can't be right, and likely none of them are.  According to Kubrick's right hand man on the film, even the control freak director sometimes has a particular thing appear on the screen because they happened to need something and that was at hand on the particular day they shot a particular scene where they needed this particular thing.

I have a confession to make.  I never realized the window in the office couldn't have been a window.  I have stared at the screen a gazillion times trying to figure out if the bathroom window that Danny has to climb out of can really be a window in that particular place. I've yearned to look at blueprints because I never quite believe the architecture of the hotel, and now I find out that I might be able to go on the internet and find the blueprints I'm looking for.  But do I want to?  I like my mysteries.  I like my The Shining.

It's funny, sometimes funny-scary, it's insightful about the creative process, about our interaction with creativity, about obsession. .

The funny version of the not so funny story of the Magdalene laundries in Ireland.  Excellently acted by Judi Dench and Steve Coogan.

Before Midnight:
I saw Before Sunrise when it came out 18 years ago, at the UA Lynbrook on a day when I rode out there to visit the accountants for the Scott Meredith Agency, whom I used for a couple years when I struck out on my own.  If memory serves, I've not seen the movie again, though the idea of it sticks around.  And then Before Sunset came around, 9 years after, and it sticks around.  You can't quite believe how much tension you can get out of wondering if a guy's going to leave to catch his flight or not, and this movie left me as rapt about that small little decision as if there were a red timer counting down for the bomb that might go off and destroy the world.  And now, Before Midnight.  Once again, Ethan Hawke, Juliet Delpy and director Richard Linklater collaborate on a little movie with a long aftertaste.  Ethan Hawke didn't make his flight.  Now, he's got a son from his prior marriage, the one that broke up in part because he didn't make that flight.  And he's spending some tense time in Greece with his girlfriend, Delpy.  And they ride around in a car after dropping their son off at the airport, and they talk while the beautiful Greek scenery glides by.  And they talk over lunch with friends, while chopping the vegetables and eating the result.  And they talk some more while they walk back to their hotel, an extended take tracking them through relics.  And it all comes to a head when they get to the hotel, 18 years of history and resentment and love and bitterness and shared experiences and things they should've done together but didn't.  Nominated for an Oscar in the screenplay categories.  The movies seem like they're being made up on the spot, but as I read in one interview, you can't go filming across the Greek countryside, closing roads, doing multiple takes, and make it all up as you go along.

One of the best sf films in a long time.  Winner of an Academy Award for Original Screenplay.

The Wolf of Wall Street:
Not quite up to the level of Goodfellas, but an amazingly good film by Martin Scorcese, with an exceptional lead performance by Leonardo DiCaprio and good supporting work by Jonah Hill, Kyle Chandler and others.  Leisurely, finding its own rhythms, and certain to be talked about for a very long time.

The Conjuring:
I realized as I was typing that I needed to add this to my list for reasons mentioned in what I say above about The Spectacular Now.  I'm nearing 50.  I don't do horror movies the way I used to.  I hardly do them at all.  But I went to see this one, I was on the edge of my seat the whole way, I was using my arms or my knees or my anything to keep myself from seeing what was happening on the screen because I was scared.  The movie's of a type, but it's among the very best of it's type that you'll find.

New-fangled technology and old-fashioned great acting from Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.  Visually stunning to look at, suspenseful to sit through, one of the few films I wish I'd paid more to see.

There are several hundred films released each year, and I see only a small percentage of them, somewhere between 90-110 in a typical year.  So ya know, my list isn't as valid as some critic who is paid to see movies and sees 400 of them, but it also isn't full of too many obscure films that only a critic would have or could have seen.  Room 237, Short Term 12, Spectacular Now are the more "obscure" of the movies on my list, but hey, I just round a Room 237 DVD lurking in Costco, so how obscure can it be!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Frozen by the Oscars?

12:02 am --   tight as the race might have been, the big awards ended up going pretty much as the consensus said they would.  Lots of tech to Gravity, as well as the Best Director prize.  The acting awards kind of as the buzz said.  And the biggest Oscar of all to 12 Years a Slave.

11:49 pm -- I don't comment as much on the women's fashions, but the Cate Blanchett dress is a stand-out.

11:41 pm -- Samsung should talk more about the multi-tasking screens and less about being connected to my heart.  The inability to multi-task on an iPad, having to go back and forth for doing a lot of things, is it's one biggest problem as a real office replacement device.

11:40 pm -- this year's biggest awards considered to be a tight race, hard to know if there's any significance to Cuaron winning the Director award, over Steve McQueen.  As with Life of Pi, there are some movies that clearly don't direct themselves.  Cuaron was clearly full of emotion and overtaken some by the honor of winning, but it would have been nice if he had found an acceptance speech to present more of that emotion and less just a long list of thank you thank you thank you to a lot of people the world doesn't know or care about.

11:35 pm -- belated recognition for Alfonso Cuaron, the director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the only good film on strictly cinematic terms out of the entire Harry Potter series.

11:32 pm - but should I be surprised? None of the other nominees for Original Screenplay had very good scripts.  American Hustle, not a character I cared about.  Blue Jasmine, half a good screenplay.  Nebraska, managed to find its way past a lot of implausibility to a nice ending, but not overall a great script.  Dallas Buyers Club not a good script.  Happy as I am that Her won, it won almost, perhaps, by default, in arguably the weakest category on the ballot.

11:30 pm -- Wow! Pleasant surprise!  Her wins for Best Original Screenplay.  I really liked this movie, which I saw with Myke Cole.  A few minutes too long, but very good.  And as a science fiction fan, I am just super-excited to see a subtle, clever, unflashy piece of good science fiction win an Oscar, when so much of the sf I get to see in the cinema is full of rayguns and spaceships ramming into big cities and rampant CGI.  Her was a very special movie.  Again, the people who read my blog are likely people who should be going to watch Her.

11:26 pm -- snazzy tux, snazzy acceptance speech.  Best Adapted Screenplay another category laden with worthy winners, but John Ridley as worthy as any of them.

11:24 pm -- I don't know if people in 2014 can properly appreciate what Ray Dolby did for moviegoers.  Pretty much any or every theatre we go to has a good Dolby (or Dolby-like) stereo sound system.  Back in the 1970s, stereo sound hardly existed.  You had to live in a big city, or travel for it, or seek out some special theatre that could show a 70mm print with a six-track stereo soundtrack.  I saw enough movies with plan old monaural "flat" sound growing up that I can't entirely say that I only became a movie buff because of stereo sound.  After all, a a good movie is a good movie.  I saw Gravity in a little theatre in West Hartford and not in Imax, and it was a a good movie.  But when I think of the experience of going to the movies growing up, the experiences I think of were experiences in stereo.  Going to the Loews Astor Plaza for the first time, when I saw Altered States.  Going to the RKO Stanley Warner Route 4 Paramus Quad and seeing The Empire Strikes Back or Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, with great stereo sound.  I remember how upset I was when the Cinemas Six opened in the Caldor Mall and didn't have the Dolby sound they had promised because they didn't think ultimately that it was worth the money it spent.  Dolby started to democratize good sound, and it made movie-going better.  And when Dolby Digital came out, it made that special road-show 6-track sound available to pretty much any theatre, everywhere.  It was special to me to go to a movie and have the hammer driving in the spikes of the railroad, first in one corner of the theatre and then in the other corner and then the train rumbling through the theatre.  Unlike a lot of you, I was around for a world before Dolby, and I don't want to go back to that world.  Thom "Coach" Ehle, Dolby consultant for Bull Durham.  How many Dolby consultants can you name...

11:14 pm -- it being said that I think the best score of the year was for Rush, I'd say Gravity was the best of the scores nominated.

11:10 pm -- surprises me, since two weeks ago wouldn't have said this.  But I'd rather see U2 win for Best Song, over Let It Go.  Probably not going to happen.  And I did like Frozen.  But I'm just thinking there's something a little more special about Ordinary Love.  Well, it's an unusually tight contest in this category, and nice to have at least two very worthy contenders in a category that sometimes has none.

11:07 pm -- can't say enough about Roger Ebert, really.  The Journal Inquirer in CT was one of many papers that syndicated his film reviews.  I didn't follow him on-line, maybe I should have, because reading his basic film reviews long after his illness had forced him off of Sneak Previews/At the Movies/Ebert & Roeper etc., you could see talent in every line.  He could express himself on films both good and bad.  I know how much trouble I have talking about what's good about a movie.  I can rip into the bad, but talking about the good is hard.  He talked without talking down, he educated without being snooty, he could make anyone appreciate film.

11:05 pm -- worth noting #1, Saul Zaentz.  Produced Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus, many other noted Oscar-winning/nominated movies.  Also screwed John Fogerty and Credence Clearwater Revival!  If you want to see how objective news isn't always so objective, read the NY Times and LA Times obits for Zaentz, and see how the two papers cover the controversy between Zaentz and Fogerty.

11:03 pm -- wonderful performance by Bette Midler.  Big fan of her The Rose, I am.

10:53 pm -- the ads are fading.  Red Bull Gives You Wings?  I'd rather have Paul McCartney's.  And a bad Mercedes ad.  But I think these were local advertisements that you might not have "enjoyed" in your local market.  If you're lucky.

10:50 pm -- having the Production Design award go to The Great Gatsby over Gravity is a teeny bit of a surprise, though maybe it shouldn't be.  A spaceship is a spaceship, as it were, so this is one technical category where other nominees had room for a little more imagination.  Though if this one wasn't going to Gravity, I'd have given a nod to Her.  Just to say, Her is a movie which more of you should see.  You like science fiction, this is real science fiction.  The production design, a subtle remaking of today, is easy to overlook, but it's part of the small jewels of conceptualization and visualization that make this movie an important work in the genre.  It was on my Hugo nominating ballot, and I strongly urge you all to go take a look at it.  I say that without any negativity intended toward Great Gatsby.  Whatever you can say about Baz Luhrman,and people can say many things about Baz, he's a visualist of a film director, someone who creates a world.  Oftentimes not a world I want to spend much time in, please no more Moulin Rouge, please, but the vision has to be appreciated.  Would never have anticipated this from my first encounter with Baz in the dance rehearsal hall of Strictly Ballroom; kind of like watching the arc of Kandinsky's career to see the transition from Strictly Ballroom to Great Gatsby.

10:39 pm -- the Wizard of Oz tribute number really hit it out of the park.  Wow!

10:31 pm -- In the editing category, I think Captain Phillips may be an actual more deserving recipient than Gravity.  Not that Gravity was badly edited, but the editing of Captain Phillips was just a little more special for me.

10:29 pm -- I thought Grandmaster was pretty awful, but it will always be special.  The Monday night after WorldCon, Eddie and Sam and I piled into the SUV Eddie had rented to have BBQ at Franklin's and headed down to an Alamo Drafthouse to see this.  Movie, bad.  Experience, special.

10:27 pm -- no surprise that Gravity won, and hard to say it's not a deserving winner, but whatever I could say good or bad about Prisoners, Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis, these were seriously beautiful films to look at, richly imagined and richly photographed.

10:26 pm -- cinematography is a tough category with multiple nominees that were especially beautiful to look at.

10:24 pm -- when in New York, the JABberwocky team highly recommends Sunnyside Pizza right off the 40th St/Lowery stop on the #7 train.  Very small, not much on the menu besides pizza, but it is to pizza what JABberwocky is to literary representation.

10:23 pm -- just saying, but could Seth McFarland have demeaned the dignity of the Oscars any more than having the ceremony interrupted for a pizza delivery?

10:15 pm --  no surprise for Supporting Actress.

10:12 pm -- Hollywood in a nutshell.  David Heyman's Heyday Productions, which produced all the Harry Potter movies and Gravity and other films, was seeing about getting a free option to a book by one of our clients last year.  Because, you know, it's not like the Harry Potter movies made any money, not like he could possibly afford a few thousand dollars for a year's option on something.

10:07 pm -- no surprise that Gravity won for Sound Mixing, but I would have given it to Lone Survivor.  The sound was one of the most important elements in making Lone Survivor work so powerfully.

10:06 pm -- Michael B. Jordan looked snazzy!  Also appeared in later seasons of Friday Night Lights, one of the best TV shows of recent years.

10:04 -- we would retweet this photo if Eeyore or Tigger appeared in it.  They've been in movies!!

10:02 -- Ellen changed, Harrison Ford can!  But this roaming the audience thing is just not working for me.

9:56 pm -- I think Ordinary Love is the best new U2 song in ages and ages.  Also enjoyed seeing it performed on Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show debut.  Good song while eating my shepherd's pie!

9:50 pm -- hard to assess Steve Martin's career, for which he received an honorary Oscar, as it has been so intriguingly diverse.  The stand-up comedy, which I saw a bit of in a screening of an old Muppet Show episode where he guest-starred, doesn't endure.  I wonder if I saw LA Story or Roxanne again in the new future how well those would hold up.

9:49 pm -- usually I've seen at least one foreign nominee by the time the Oscars roll around.

9:49 pm -- haven't seen any of this year's foreign language film nominees, but Omar is playing in NYC and I am going to see it this week, I think.

9:40 -- The Act of Killing was very well reviewed, and I kept thinking of going to see it.  But ultimately, I couldn't bring myself to spend over two hours in a theatre watching a movie about Indonesian death squads.  And it's safe to say the acceptance speech for that wouldn't have included a mini performance from Darlene Love.

9:37 pm -- 20 Feet From Stardom is the only one of the nominees that I saw, and was very good.

9:38 pm -- was a nice acceptance speech for the documentary short, hated to see it getting the go away and leave us alone music.

9:37 pm -- I am hungry!  15 minutes left on the timer.

9:33 pm -- and ABC can take advantage of the Oscars to promote Modern Family, but their best comedy on Wednesday nights is, has been for the past few years, and based on the excellence of the current season will continue to be The Middle.  If you haven't been watching The Middle, you need to start.  Joshua first watched on an airplane, and was a little embarrassed to be laughing out loud in the middle of the cabin.  The Middle.  The Middle.  The Middle.

9:32 pm -- another really good Cadillac ad.  For the avoidance of doubt, JABberwocky did not start in a garage, but when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

9:28 -- I don't like tea, but having the Muppets advertise it so nicely could get me to change.  Museum of the Moving Image is screening Muppet Most Wanted on the Ides of March1

9:25 pm -- back in time briefly, I liked the production values and performance of the number from Happy, but I didn't like the number itself very much.

9:21 -- Gravity!  Deservedly!!  Happily!!! I either purposely skipped or didn't like any of the other films nominated in this category.

9:19 -- probably my most bummed part of the Oscar nominations, that Rush came up empty.  If not a nomination in the tight acting categories, am pretty certain Hans Zimmer's score was better than at least one of the nominees in that category.

9:17 -- Sally Field!  Norma Rae was my 2013 movie at the HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival. Doesn't hold up as well as Network, which I just talked about on my blog.

9:16 -- Happily not.  Frozen is about as good as animated motion pictures get these days, if if isn't quite as good as the very best of 100 years of animated movie history.

9:15 pm -- Can this go to anything but Frozen?

9:13 pm -- And Matthew McConaughey doesn't do so well by a white tux either. If he wins for Best Actor, can he have found a new tux by then?  Has a good 90 minutes, probably.  If a tennis player can get a racket restrung in 90 minutes, he can find a nicer tux.

9:12 pm -- Kind of hungry.  After snacking through games day, I almost 90 minutes in the gym before the Oscars.  Nuked some butternut squash to tide me over until the shepherd's pie is done.

9:10 -- this Samsung ad was interesting until it revealed that their idea of a killer app was a heart rate monitor.  Really?  That's what we're all clamoring for on our phones?

9:06 -- I like Channing Tatum, but he looks kind of awful.  The stubble isn't fashionable, and the hair needed some quick attention from the Oscar winners, too bad they didn't do a quick touch-up while they crossed paths backstage.

9:04 -- during the presentation of the tech awards, I put my Kirkland Signature shepherd's pie into the oven.  Didn't need to bring it out for games day, the turkey wraps and other food were enough.  So some tonight, and maybe people in the office will help me out with it tomorrow to finish off.

9:02 -- two tech awards out of the way quickly.  Looking over the nominees for costumes, why not Great Gatsby.  The movie had style in abundance.  And speaking of style, Harrison Ford has still, not just style but gravitas.

8:57 -- what a great Samsung ad!  And I usually fast forward through car ads because I live in NYC and don't own a car or aspire to owning one, but the Cadillac ad wasn't bad, either.

8:52 -- Blue Jasmine.  So Cate Blanchett is widely expected to win Best Actress for her role in this movie, and why not.  Her performance is amazing.  She manages to keep audience sympathy as her character goes off the deep end.  She does things you really know she shouldn't, like going to seek out her estranged son, and you want her to succeed at them.  She anchors the movie.  But she's also much better than the movie as a whole.  Her sister played by Sally Hawkins gives a solid performance in a slightly underwritten role.  But the men Sally is dating are preposterously written, her reactions to them unconvincing, beyond any hope of redemption by any performer.  Woody Allen needed to call rewrite for this one.  Like Prisoners, I'd say Blue Jasmine is a movie worth seeing, but it's also flawed.  And on balance, I'd say Prisoners is slightly the more perfected of the two.

8:49 -- this blue tux, I really like.  I wonder where I can get one...

8:47 -- Ellen calls the speech beautiful, but it wasn't.  It might've worked if he had laid off on some of the thanking, or decided to do something about AIDS, or do something about the current geopolitical situation.  But he tries to do everything, without any organization.  Yeah, everyone's a critic, but I criticize people's writing for a living, so why not here.

8:44 -- I'm not a big fan of the white tux.  And I was liking the acceptance speech for the first half of it, but then he gets into politics,and then after the politics the laundry list of his team members, and then he gets to talking about AIDS.

8:43 -- everyone was predicting Jared Leto would win this, so there's not much point to dwell on the fact that I wish otherwise.  The movie, to me, was a bit of a snooze, repetitive and lacking in tension, even if it did abound in good acting, but not so much to me Jared Leto's.

8:40 -- after a decent monologue, our first award!

8:42 PM -- Prisoners was more complicated, one of the best movies I've ever seen from a bad script.  Best movies:  well, it's got some powerfully good performances by Jack Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman and Paul Dano and others.  The photography is sublimely gorgeous, and its nomination for an Oscar in this category is well-deserved.  There's some nice music.  It's a long movie, but never seems to drag.  There are some searingly powerful scenes that make some nice statements about the limits people can set when none seem justified, or the borders we'll pass when it seems like we should.  But the police detective played by Jake Gyllenhaal never once calls for back-up, constantly charges into dangerous locations without a thought for anything like standard police procedure.  I lost it at the end, when he's transporting someone to a hospital.  And I was willing just a little bit to say that maybe there wasn't a protocol for an ambulance to meet him halfway.  But not for him to get to the hospital, and he hasn't even called ahead so there's someone waiting outside for the injured person.  That's bad writing, someone should've said or done something to catch this, and for all that I admire about the film, I can't quite forgive this.

8:33 PM -- you won't see me talking about August Osage County.  I saw the play, thought it was way over-rated.  Maybe better reviews would have motivated me to try out the movie, but the reviews weren't all that good.  So even though the movie was chockablock with actors that I like, and garnered another Oscar nomination for Meryl Streep, I just couldn't' bring myself to the theatre for this one.

 8:30 PM -- Though I wasn't very good about doing movie reviews on my blog in 2013, I did have a couple weeks where I made concentrated efforts to cover the major contenders for this year's awards. There are a few pictures that I know I didn't get to in the blog which have nominations, most notably Blue Jasmine, Prisoners, and August Osage Country.

8:23 PM Just a few minutes until the Oscars begin.  And my live blogging is a tradition eagerly awaited by somewhat fewer people than actually live blog (let alone read a live blog of) an Apple product launch...