Sunday, December 11, 2005

Fun With Freelance: How Not to Break In to the Horror Magazine Market: Part Two -- Being a Chronology of Some Woe, Concerning That Which Was Not Deemed Fit to "Entertain" or "Enlighten," and That Which Was, But Was Not Paid For, Thus Published to the Loss of Only the Author, Sweetened as it were with Some Flights of Pique and Passages of Moribund Musings, and Ending As Promised Without Proper Resolution, Save for the Usual Niggardly Dissolution.

[PS: Read Part One, yesterday's post first, if you're just joining us. Thanks.]
___

So, after the long silence following the submission of my revised review of The Ghosts of Edendale (a wait I must admit I have inflicted on others, too, inadvertantly, especially as an editor), I finally received a reply when I prompted one at last with more than one increasingly aggressive, but unfailingly polite, email.

The email from Ye Editor of Note that I received almost two months after submission of the revised text was rather condenscending.

In short, it urged me to rewrite the review again -- not for word count, which was fine, but because, well, I had liked the film too much, you see. Ye Editor pressed me for negative comments in the revision. "Isn't there some flaw, something that doesn't work in the film?" the editor pressed.

Ye Editor also expressed some concern that this was a film that wasn't yet in general distribution, or on video or DVD. Why write about it?

I was also given a pointed sentence or two on the magazine's preferred writing style, which was amusing because it was, for all intents and purposes, a distillation of my amigo Chas Balun's writing style. Curse words were encouraged, critical barbs preferred. It was the matter-of-fact, no-shit, dick-in-the-dirt review style Chas had introduced and institutionalized for horror fandom with his seminal little self-published pamphlets The Connoisseur's Guide to the Contemporary Horror Film (1983) and The Gore Score back in '84, which Chas further indoctrinated as his own via Deep Red magazine a year or two later.

Now, I had written for Chas and Deep Red many times; as I've said before and will till the day I die, it was Chas who first opened the door for me as a published writer, and Deep Red was the initial vehicle. I knew the style, and I knew the source.

I bit my tongue, though, as I didn't want to respond angrily, noting that I had been writing in "the magazine's preferred style" while its publisher and Ye Editor I was hoping to curry favor with were most likely still in grade school or junior high.

I instead wrote a polite letter asserting that (a) I knew their magazine well, and its preferred writing style, which was one I'd indeed indulged myself in the pages of Deep Red; (b) while I was certainly willing to do another rewrite -- still on spec -- I was writing about a film I was enthusiastic about, and didn't care to waste any portion of my 345 word count citing flaws that didn't seem worthy of mention and would be in fact contrary to the spirit, intent and content of my review and my reason for writing it; (c) it was worth writing about because it was a new work from a filmmaker of some significance, and I was deliberately submitting th review early so as to provide their magazine with a 'scoop,' and (d) in the spirit of cooperation and making it clear my intentions were pure, I offered a further review of a film I'd seen no one else write about anywhere. In fact, I sent two drafts of the review, one long, one short, as I had with Ghosts of Edendale.

Furthermore, I carefully selected a film that offered the kind of gore quotient most gorehounds prefer, and that incorporated negative comments among the positive comments, which seemed somehow essential to this editor. I also chose a film and review that appropriately incorporated the tenor, tone and slang typical of my Deep Red work.

I was now offering the editor two drafts of two spec reviews, of two films no other genre magazine had covered to date. This would seem to be an exclusive of sorts, though I didn't assert that aggressively as yet -- I did, however, remind Ye Editor that I was able to contact both filmmakers, and would be happy to expand my reviews into full articles or interviews, if the magazine were at all interested.

Here's the reviews I offered in the spirit of freelancer peace, good will, and further cooperation, and in hopes of landing one or the other in the pages of their magazine. The second, shorter draft was also 'punched up' to fit Ye Editor's request for edgier writing:
____

THE CHAMPAGNE CLUB (2002; Dir/Scr: Joao Machado): Michael Naismith once sang about “running from the Grand Ennui,” but this handsomely mounted threnody plunges into the Grand Canyon of ennui. Direction, photography, art direction, music, and performances are fine and perfectly tuned with this upscale production’s nihilistic descent into a self-made hell. It’s a harrowing, graphic LEAVING LAS VEGAS for the elite urban gallery set.

Joao Machado’s debut feature bottles up a quartet of L.A.’s young art-scene nouveau rich in a remote tropical estate and lets them fester. Initially drawn together by their shared discomfort over the “pendulum swing between art and commerce” in which they owe their wealth & privilege to exploitation rather than creation, in due course (or, should I say, multiple courses, each more vile than the last) they destroy all the art in sight and willingly slide from boredom, narcissism, alienation and despair to self-degradation, self-mutilation, madness, coprophilia, cannibalism, and beyond.

When all is said and done (and eaten), this is arch and calculatedly gross fare, but there's no denying Machado chronicles ground-zero emotional auto-cannibalism with exquisite clarity. He also boasts impeccable credentials, both personal (the film is dedicated to his father, painter Juarez Machado, and mother, “consecrated grand culinary chef” Eliane Carvalho) and cinematic. Machado brazenly plunders thematics, dramaturgy, and specifics from a stellar pantheon of art-(charnel)house horrors: Luis Bunuel’s THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL, Marco Ferreri’s LA GRANDE BOUFFE, Pasolini’s SALO, and Peter Greenaway’s THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER, amid resonant imagery echoing Kubrick’s THE SHINING (Tim’s hallway visions of butchering his companions), Argento’s SUSPIRIA (the final closeup of Connie in a pool of blood spreading on a decoratively tiled floor), the anarchic Brazilian master work MACUNAIMA (the swimming pool ‘soup’), and key works by painters like Rene Magritte and others.

Machado orchestrates this tapestry without compromising the integrity of his own vision; indeed, though he borrows much and acknowledges all his debts along the way, the potent framing device -- opening and closing with perfect symmetry -- succinctly anchors his conceits and keeps the film from becoming merely derivative navel-gazing. That much of it is risible (nude Bruce eating and humping his man-sized portion of mashed potatoes) allows one to keep watching, even while the gorge rises. Machado intends to provoke, disgust, and outrage, but amid the current art house wave of explicit grue and sex (dominated by French imports like BAISE MOI, SEE THE SEA, FAT GIRL, and TROUBLE EVERY DAY peppered with more domestic fare like TITUS and AMERICAN PSYCHO), THE CHAMPAGNE CLUB seems tamer than it intends to be; casual viewers may consider this mannered wallow in ‘poor little rich kids’ degradation and despair much ado about nothing, while gorehounds and exploitation buffs won’t wade through the aristocratic angst to get to the grue. It’s nevertheless disturbing, an engaging first film; Machado is a filmmaker well worth following, a talent to watch.
___

THE CHAMPAGNE CLUB (2002; Dir/Scr: Joao Machado):

Joao Machado’s debut feature locks a quartet of L.A.’s young art-scene nouveau rich into a remote tropical estate and watches ‘em fester. Their snobby discomfort over the “pendulum swing between art and commerce” -- they owe their wealth & privilege to exploitation rather than creation -- prompts the slide from boredom, narcissism, alienation and despair dips into self-degradation, self-mutilation, madness, coprophilia, cannibalism, and beyond -- [the title of the magazine I was submitting to] turf, no doubt.

When all is said, done, and eaten, this is gross shit, but Machado chronicles ground-zero emotional auto-cannibalism with exquisite clarity. Direction, photography, art direction, music, and performances are perfectly attuned to this upscale production’s nihilistic descent into self-made hell. Machado boasts impeccable credentials (the film is dedicated to his father, painter Juarez Machado, and mother, “consecrated grand culinary chef” Eliane Carvalho), and he plunders from a stellar pantheon of art-(charnel)house horrors: Luis Bunuel’s THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL, Marco Ferreri’s LA GRANDE BOUFFE, Pasolini’s SALO, and Peter Greenaway’s arty horrors. Still, there are echoes of Kubrick’s THE SHINING (the hero’s hallway visions of butchering his companions), Argento’s SUSPIRIA (the blood of one female victim spreads across a decoratively tiled floor), the anarchic ‘lost’ Brazilian masterpiece MACUNAIMA (a swimming pool charnelhouse ‘soup’), and references to painters like Rene Magritte.

Machado orchestrates this tapestry without compromising his vision; he borrows much and acknowledges all his debts, but the potent framing device -- opening and closing with perfect symmetry -- anchors the film and keeps it from becoming pretentious navel-gazing. Much of it is hilarious (one nude yuppie scarfs and humps a man-sized portion of mashed potatoes); Machado intends to provoke, disgust, and outrage, but amid the current art house wave of explicit grue and sex (dominated by French imports like BAISE MOI and IRREVERSIBLE), THE CHAMPAGNE CLUB seems tamer than it intends to be. Many will consider this mannered wallow in ‘poor little rich kids’ degradation much ado about nothing, gorehounds and exploitation buffs will be hard-pressed to stomach the snotty angst to reach the grue. Still, an engaging first film; keep an eye out for future Machado mayhem.

______

OK, that's the pair. A rewrite of my Ghosts of Edendale review was also attached, though the changes were minor and inconsequential.

This garnered a response.

Ye Editor liked this new review of this new film, which no one at the zine had ever heard of, and if I'd be willing to indulge their making a few editorial revisions, they would like to run it.

Those changes were so minor, they weren't going to give me the chance to make them myself. And, in fact, they were thinking about assigning a writer to interview the director of The Champagne Club.

Got that? Assigning another writer to do an interview I'd proposed to do. And still, no response on the initial review of The Ghosts of Edendale, which I'd now rewritten three times.

Now, an odd bit of banter followed. Note the dates of the following email exchanges.

___

From: "--------"
To: "'Marge & Steve Bissette'"
Subject: RE: Steve Bissette w/Slight rewrite on GHOSTS OF EDENDALE review, here --
Date: Sat, 21 Feb 2004 20:38:43 -0500

Steve, just a quick note to let you know that the director of Champagne Club asked for the text from the review and he was really happy with it, he plans to use quotes in the marketing of the movie. Cool!

--------

Managing Editor, ---------------
__________

Dear ----,

Good news, that. I’ve already been an asset to [your magazine] and the director; what more can one ask in this lifetime?

Stay in touch,

Best,

Steve B

________

What more can one ask?

How about getting a clear response to my initial submission, or not having something I turned the zine onto result in some other writer getting the assignment, particularly since I offered to interview the filmmaker already?

Of course, being paid for the review the editor just accepted would be nice, too.

But I'm getting ahead of myself a bit -- the email exchanges continue, with a sudden right turn into Ye Editor encouraging me to get back into comics and indulging anew in fresh diversionary flattery:
_____

From: "--------"
To: "'Marge & Steve Bissette'"
Subject: RE: Steve Bissette w/Slight rewrite on GHOSTS OF EDENDALE review, here --
Date: Sun, 22 Feb 2004 17:54:44 -0500

That and you're a WICKEDLY talented artist. I loved your Swamp Thing
years and collected Taboo religiously. You're also an accomplished writer, it's an honour to have you on board. Keep at the comics though, Mignola was lucky, if Guillermo wasn't such a Hellboy fan, that film would never have been made (it took GDT 6 years to get it going), so it takes just one determined person to really like your stuff! And everyone likes your stuff...

-------, Managing Editor

_________

Dear ------,

Too late - I retired from comics in 1999. So it goes...

I’ve kept myself productive, though. Amid writing for VIDEO WATCHDOG now and again and the occasional review (such as those you now have in hand), I illustrate at least one novel/anthology a year to keep my hand in the ink. Also, working on a book-length study of Vermont and New England films, and just wrapping up the first issue of my own regional film zine, GREEN MOUNTAIN CINEMA. Also starting work-in-earnest this week on a planned feature-length video production adapting my good friend and folklorist Joe Citro’s VERMONT GHOST GUIDE for release the end of this coming Fall. We’re shooting in June, if all goes well. Wish us luck.

But comics? It’s history, for me. 24 years was a good career, but the industry just got too fucking sour by the end. After the direct sales market collapsed and my divorce nailed me, I decided I’d had a good run, and have moved on with nary a look back.

But thanks for the very kind words.

All the best,

Steve B
___________

From: "---------"
To: "'Marge & Steve Bissette'"
Subject: RE: Back to you, from Steve B...
Date: Mon, 23 Feb 2004 12:17:29 -0500

Understood. I am in the middle of a divorce myself, wouldn't wish it upon my worst enemy.

Oh, forgot to mention Gore Shriek, that was a blast too.

---------, Managing Editor

___________

At this point, I was beyond pissed. This was getting amusing.

I mean, how long could this go on? What would this process stretch out to? How unprofessional could this get, over a single submission?

I decided to find out.

Tired of these pleasantries I ventured the leap: since my review of The Champagne Club was accepted, what, please, were their payment rates? Copyright remains mine, yes? Is there a contract or letter of agreement Ye Editor could offer, detailing the terms of our arrangement?
___________

From: "----------"
To: "'Marge & Steve Bissette'"
Subject: RE: Hello from Steve B, re: GHOSTS OF EDENDALE, and review matters...
Date: Mon, 23 Feb 2004 13:01:51 -0500

As for our rates, they're low already because we are an independently published magazine, ...so don't expect to retire on submissions [to our zine]! ;) Please ask ----- [email address contact followed] for a final word count for your submission, then submit an invoice to her.

Thanks!

-------, Managing Editor

_______________________

Dear -----,

OK, good start. More details, please.

Let me wait for your decision on GHOSTS -- that is, after all, the film I really wanted to cover, if you’ll have me and it -- and then we’ll work out something.

Thanks, all the best,

Steve B

__________

I also pressed Ye Editor to provide me the final word count of their revised edit, which I was not privvy to; when I contacted the contact Ye Editor had steered me to, I was told to submit my word count and invoice.

I did so, using my own final word count, and -- nothing happened.

Come the month of April -- remember, this process started in October of the year before -- I wrote the following to Ye Editor, ccing it to Ye Publisher, too:
______

From: Marge & Steve Bissette
Sent: Tuesday, April 13, 2004 10:04 AM
To: ---------
Cc: ----------
Subject: Hello from Steve Bissette -- GHOSTS OF EDENDALE review??

Dear ----------,

Hope this finds you and yours well, and that you had a fine Easter.

A recent visit to the newsstand allowed me to purchase a copy of the new ----------- with my [CHAMPAGNE CLUB] review. Handsome cover, indeed!

Any decision at all on the rewrite I submitted of the GHOSTS OF EDENDALE review? Payment for the review you've now published? Please advise.

Best,

Steve Bissette

___________________________

From: "-------------"
To: "'Marge & Steve Bissette'"
Subject: RE: Hello from Steve Bissette -- GHOSTS OF EDENDALE review??
Date: Wed, 21 Apr 2004 16:00:37 -0400

Steve! Don't buy ---------! We would have sent you a copy, you contributed!

Sorry it took me so long to get back to you, I've been away a lot and changed our cover story last minute last issue so it's been crazy. Unfortunately I didn't run the GHOSTS review, (it's not the writing by the way!) [The publisher] just keeps cutting all the indie stuff from ---------, there is always the --------- section but I have a feeling it's too late by now...

Seen anything interesting lately? I really want to see Shaun of the
Dead! That looks hilarious. Where are you based out of by the way?

------------, Managing Editor
_____________

Dear --------,

Ah, just back from vacation.

I'd welcome copies of --------- with my review; still, did buy a couple. My mailing address:

Stephen R. Bissette
PO Box 47
Marlboro, VT 05344
USA

(Meaning, natch, I'm based in Vermont!)

In lieu of payment, how about a --------- subscription? Let me know -- even if it's only comp copies for four issues, that would be fine with me.

Just heard via the video grapevine (I work in video retail in part, remember) that GHOSTS OF EDENDALE is coming out from WARNER (!!!) in the fall. Great news, that, since it means a good little indy will enjoy wider distribution via a major label... though I doubt it'll add up to more money for the filmmakers, knowing how these studios operate.

I've stepped away from my day-job and am re-engaging with creative life, enjoying enough of a financial cushion (thanks to an unexpected legal job AND the windfall royalties on the JOHN CONSTANTINE film -- remember, I co-created that character in SWAMP THING).

...Should be a busy spring, summer and fall, so don't fret if I don't send more reviews your way. But do, please, wish me luck.

And do, please, run the GHOSTS review at SOME point. You've got a SCOOP, damn it!!!

All the best, stay in touch,

Steve B
______________

From: "------------"
To: "'Marge & Steve Bissette'"
Subject: RE: Hello from Steve Bissette -- GHOSTS OF EDENDALE review??
Date: Thu, 29 Apr 2004 10:02:13 -0400

Steve!

Wow this is all great news! And of course I know you co-created
Constantine, what do you think I am, an amateur??? ;) I've been a comic junkie my whole life and have been reading both Swamp Thing and Hellblazer for ages. You're hugely talented dude, your 80's run with Moore and Totleben on Swamp Thing was by far the best. Guess you don't happen to have any old pencils kicking around for sale after two decades do you? *wishful thinking* Love that fucking art!

Have you read Andy Diggle's new take on Swamp Thing it yet? Did you see the Constantine film yet? Keanu Reeves? *shudder* and why the hell does it take place in L.A.?? WTF?? Hollywood.

I also read Taboo by the way. Small world huh?

Yes we can do a swap, I'll put you on the comp list for a year. Sound good? (I'm not surprised you're in Vermont either)

Dude, keep me updated on... [projects]!

And I will run that review, especially if they've been picked up by
Warner. You are right, they'll likely get hosed by the studio but at
least people will see their movie!

Congrats on flexing your creative muscles again... You rock Steve!

------------, Managing Editor


_____________

My mid-May reply:
_____________

Hello, ---------,

Apologies for the slow reply, I’m JUST home from two weeks of travel. The second week was spent on a video industry seminar/conference/retreat; among the tidbits gleaned there was the news that GHOSTS OF EDENDALE is indeed on WARNER BROS. slate for Halloween release. Include THAT in the review, please! It’s now a fact, or at least a factoid.

...What’s your deadline for the OCTOBER issue of ---------? I’ll make sure you get all the info/contacts you need in time for that deadline...

No on seeing CONSTANTINE -- though it has to be better than VAN HELSING -- and I don’t imagine I’ll be invited to the NYC premiere, either, but you never know. Will keep you posted. Agreed on the casting... but, what the hell. It’s out of our hands!

And THANK YOU for accepting the barter agreement. I’d love a -------- sub, and happy to keep the occasional review or text piece coming your way to keep the subscription current and active.

More later, all the best,

Steve B

__________

Well, to cut to the chase, I never got my comp copies of the issue of the zine my review of The Champagne Club appeared in -- a movie that, to date, has never gained release theatrically or on video.

The film that did get wide DVD release, The Ghosts of Edendale, was ignored; to the best of my knowledge, my review never ran, though I'd submitted it to Ye Editor a full year before the film's Warner DVD release.

I'm not sure whether or not my review ever ran because I never got the promised subscription in payment for the review of mine they published.

Needless to say, I ceased submitting to this particular editor, and ceased buying their magazine with any regularity.

I wish I could say this was unusual, but it's pretty typical of the magazine publishing world. I've offered this particular case history because it is far, far more entertaining than most. Nobody got hurt, and however insulting it proved to be, its documentation is highly hilarious. In the end, my telling of it in some detail at least promotes two good films by two young filmmakers worthy of attention.

See, some good might come of it all.

The moral? I didn't say there was a moral, remember?

Well, OK, here ya go:

Flattery gets you nowhere, but magazine editors will get you nowhere a hell of a lot faster.

[All the events depicted herein are true, and the email excerpts are actual excerpts from material in the SpiderBaby Archives. All names and specific references to those involved have been deleted to protect the guilty, though damned if I know why.]

7 Comments:

Blogger HB3 said...

Having worked in the magazine industry for several years, I can't tell you how true this rings. Thanks for posting!

12/11/2005  
Blogger heath lail said...

Helluva ending, sir. The guy went from seeming legitimate to a total fanboy within the course of a few e-mails. Now there is nothing wrong with being a fanboy at times, but when dealing with business, it is best to conduct oneself in a proper manner, no?

Interesting tale, overall...keep those tales coming, I need the experience:)so I know the ropes when I get there one day.

Best to you and all yours Steve,

Heath

12/11/2005  
Blogger Shawn Richter said...

Totally amusing (for us, the readers anyway) anecdote, Steve. This is why I read your blog everyday (well, that and the political stuff...). Beautiful!

Shawn Richter
www.wonderealm.com

12/12/2005  
Blogger Marky Mark said...

Good God these things are getting longer and longer! I practically had to READ the whole thing just to find out where to comment! I'm too exhausted now to harrass you. Please calm down and post digestable chunks of blather, not these gut-busting dramas about some crappy old movie review!

I'm confused. Was this for a "legitimate" mag or for a "zine"? I think you referred to it both ways.

12/12/2005  
Blogger SRBissette said...

It was a major newsstand magazine, Mark, not a fanzine. Those stories, I'll spare you and everyone. The 'legit' zines, as you can see, can be just as loopy.

(PS: Thanks to you, "bdefer" -- I scanned and edited the copy four times, and I still missed that name! Thanks for catching it and letting me know ASAP -- edit has been made.)

12/12/2005  
Blogger Mike Dobbs said...

I didn't tell you this Steve, but when several weeks ago I received a phone call from someone from the magazine in questions (you had told me an abridged version of this tale).

It was a fairly gushing voice who said how he wanted to reprint part of a review I did in Animato! as part of some story in their magazine. He wanted me to call him back a.s.a.p. as they were on deadline.

Needless to say I din't call him back in the hopes that this would be a nice piece of sabotage.

I've never bought their lousy piece of crap magazine and I sure as hell won't now.

Blog brothers need to stick together.

12/12/2005  
Blogger SRBissette said...

Thanks, oh blog brothers and sisters!

12/13/2005  

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