Monthly Archives: June 2018

I’m back: Florida Writers Conference 2018

I have once again been invited back to join the faculty of the Florida Writers Conference !

This year’s conference (the 17th annual conference) will be at the Hilton Orlando/Altamonte Springs, October 18-21, 2018. The theme is “Where does our muse live?” Other speakers will include former prosecutor and crime novelist Linda Fairstein as the National Guest of Honor; Florida Writer of the Year Heather Graham, (author of 200 novels and novellas!); and Peter Meinke will be heralded as Florida’s Poet Laureate. Continue reading

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War memorials use immersive design to create visceral stories

The Entrance to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

A few unexpected extra hours in Washington, D.C. recently allowed me to visit the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The experience left me with a powerful insight into how immersive physical design can create a visceral human connection to their subject.

All three memorials are incredible displays of physical art. They evoke solemn meditations about the conflicts and the sacrifices our citizens have made over the last seventy years. The World War II Memorial, in particular, was amazing in its ability to communicate the breadth of the conflict and America’s engagement. Its design makes it impossible to capture the entire memorial in one setting, surely an intentional design feature. Visitors are overwhelmed physically with a sense of scope of the conflict. Continue reading

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Hotel Artemis Struggles at Check In

Hotel Artemis seems to have everything it needs to be a successful film but manages to fall flat anyway. Why is a bit of a mystery. The movie has a strong cast, and the characters should have enough back story to create compelling arcs that drive the movie’s momentum.

The slapdash backstory doesn’t help. The movie is set in riot-torn Los Angeles in 2018. Water has been shut off by the private contractor in charge of the water supply, although the reason is never explained. Gangs seem to run unchecked. Riot police patrol the streets keeping the mobs at bay. The city has imposed a curfew to quell the violence.  The city utility cuts off electricity at seeming random points. This dystopian activity is supposed to provide a setting that creates tension and conflict. It doesn’t in part because the story’s internal logic is never quite explained. Continue reading

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What sailing ships tell us about storytelling

As a kid, I was fascinated by sailboats and sailing ships. I loved reading adventure novels such as C.S. Forester‘s classic Horatio Hornblower series. I also enjoyed building models. So, one birthday (or Christmas), my parents gave me a model sailing ship. The model was never built. I could never muster the enthusiasm to spend the hours working on the rigging, sails, masts, etc. to complete it. In retrospect, my reaction may have been my first practical lesson in visual storytelling.

One of the first lessons novelists (and screenwriters) learn is that conflict drives story. Conflict forces characters to act; they are forced to resolve the conflict by making a decision. A story where characters do not have to make choices isn’t very engaging. Readers (and audiences) invest in characters based on the choices they make and how they react to these choices. The various pivot points in those decisions determine the plot.

So, how does this apply to my model sailing ship? Continue reading

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Discount on Contemporary Film and Economics expires soon

Routledge has set the official publication date for my newest book, Contemporary Film and Economics, for July 19th. More information, including a table of contents, can be found here. Pre-orders using the 20% discount can still be purchased at the Routledge website:

https://www.routledge.com/Contemporary-Film-and-Economics-Lights-Camera-Econ/Staley/p/book/9780815367055

Just enter the coupon code: FLR40.

I attempt to bridge the worlds of economics and film in this book, showing how economic thinking can illuminate plots and conflicts that directors and producers may not even be aware of themselves. As a movie reviewer and author of a feature-length screenplay (registered but as of yet unproduced), I thought I could also show how economics could deepen stories.

I appear to have hit the mark:

“Translating economic theories into stories that anyone can relate to is one of the more formidable challenges I face as a teacher of economics.  Staley’s Contemporary Film and Economics accomplishes that feat in a way that is entertaining and subversively educational by showing us how some of our favorite films reflect the principles of economic theory, even if they don’t know it themselves.” — Jason Stephens, Associate Professor of Teaching at Columbia College of Chicago and Chair of the Board for Kartemquin Educational Films.

“Sam Staley brilliantly merges the lens of the director with the lens of economics to provide powerful insights to economic concepts and analysis. Contemporary Film and Economics starts in Hollywood and then digs deep into the world of economics.  Covering important topics such as growth, development, entrepreneurship, and political decision making, the author moves the reader from the silver screen to the everyday choices that produce wealth and prosperity.”  — Joseph Calhoun, Director, Stavros Center for Economic Education, Florida State University and co-author Common Sense Economics.

I am very excited to have this book out and in print!

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Movie Review: Fine acting can’t lift Ocean’s Eight above a predictable plot

Source: IMPawards.com

Ocean’s Eight is the newest addition to the Ocean’s “heist film” series rebooted by Ocean’s Eleven in 2001. Ocean’s Eight focuses on an all-female heist crew, so it represents a somewhat revisioning of the franchise. The film also includes a bevvy of good actors. Unfortunately fine acting can’t lift Ocean’s Eight over what is a very predictable plot.

This is unfortunate. The movie as a whole is tightly written, the dialogue well written, and the characters well drawn. Few holes are left unfilled, so the story ties together well. The cinematography is visually excellent, and the setting–The Met museum in New York City–is elegant and appropriate for a big heist. The problem with the movie is its lack of suspense. Audiences will enjoy the ride, but they won’t be on the edge of their seat.

In Ocean’s EightDebbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side, Gravity, Speed), the sister of series protagonist Danny Ocean, takes the lead and assembles an all female team with the help of biker girlfriend Lou (Cate Blanchett, Blue JasmineCarolLord of the Rings trilogy).  Their relationship hints at being romantic, but unfolds more as deep intimacy. The romance never quite makes it onto the screen. Debbie, for example, is directed to her own room by Lou’s in her sprawling renovated warehouse apartment. Continue reading

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Review: Solo entertains but doesn’t break ground in Star Wars Universe

Solo: A Star Wars Story opened to less than enthusiastic audiences, but the numbers are likely to improve the longer the movie spends in commercial theaters. Director Ron Howard really shows his craftsmanship in putting the film together, making Solo a fun ride as a sci-fi action adventure. My full review with complete links can be found over at the Independent Institute’s blog here.

The movie was billed as an “origin” story for the iconic space pirate Han Solo from the original trilogy. Solo, however, is best viewed in a more conventional light rather than an integrated part of the Star Wars canon. Viewers don’t really get a lot of new information about the real origins of the character, and Solo is just not bitter enough at the end of this one to believe he is the cold-stoned smuggler he plays in A New Hope (Episode IV). Moreover, Harrison Ford owns the character.

Nevertheless, Alden Ehrenreich settles into the role well. The plot, which is grounded in his star-crossed love for Qi’ra is believable thanks to great acting by Emilia Clark of Game of Thrones fame. Audiences will empathize with most of the characters because the story gives each a soul. They just can’t be true to themselves because of the dark world in which they are forced survive. Continue reading

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