Butcher, Baker; Frozen Ground; Fair Game

This too will pass… but indulge me for a moment while I eat sour grapes…

This should be a happy week. The movie version of the Robert Hansen serial murder case, called Frozen Ground, is enjoying a limited opening in theaters somewhere in America. But in the grand scheme of things, um… There’s not as much happiness as I would have liked…

My book, Butcher, Baker, is an afterthought in all of this. A coulda, woulda, shoulda. My gut sense is still that it shouldn’t have come to this, but life is complex and sometimes co-authors (and literary agents) don’t see eye-to-eye. I am trying to be diplomatic.

To add insult to injury, I just got a mail from Amazon, touting Fair Game, another book about Robert Hansen. Calling it “the Definitive Account of the Crimes of Alaska Serial Killer Robert Hansen.” For the record, I just want to say “bullshit.”

But you be the judge. Read both books. See the movie. Look at the arc of the story. Pay attention to how long it takes Cindy Paulson to appear in each version (and yes, it’s true, the publisher made us give her a pseudonym; think of her as the 17 year old who got away).

And Bernard, no hard feelings. Really. Congratulations. Fair Game, right?

Butcher, Baker: Hidden City, Pt. 3

Trooper Sgt. Glenn Flothe has described Cindy Paulson (Kitty Larson), the young woman who escaped Hansen and led to his downfall, as one of the best witnesses he’s ever worked with. Hidden City: Anchorage mentions, for example, that she’d memorized the tail number of Hansen’s plane. She also memorized the location of his house. And everything in his basement.

She did so because, in her own words, “this motherfucker wasn’t getting away with it… I knew I was in trouble… But if there was any chance of me getting away, he wasn’t getting away with it.”

As in any criminal investigation, details matter.

Consider what occurred when Cindy Paulson was at Merrill Field ID’ing Hansen’s plane with an officer from the Anchorage Police Department. While they were observing the plane, a private security guard at the air field approached and told them he had seen someone at 5:14 a.m. that same day.

[The security guard] observed a white male running from that Super Cub to a green vehicle and that he noted the vehicle to have Alaska license number BJZ775. [The guard] also stated that the man was wearing a green coat and cap and that he ran from a wooded area at the rear of the airplane toward the green vehicle. When the man saw [the guard], he slowed his pace to a walk, and entered the green vehicle and drove away.

That license number turned out to be registered to a green Buick, owned by Robert Hansen. There were several people being very observant that day. None better than Cindy Paulson. But she was not alone. Details matter.

Want to learn more about the Robert Hansen murders? Read “Butcher, Baker,” by Walter Gilmour and Leland E. Hale. More here…

So You Want to Make a Movie

My fascination with the movie business may fade, but for the past year or so it’s held more than a share of my attention. I’ve read (and discussed) Edward Jay Epstein’s landmark work, The Hollywood Economist. I’ve followed the money trail of State Film incentives. I’ve even spent a few words on Nicolas Cage and his unique approach to acting.

And then the esteemed Horace Dediu does it again. Shines light in places that, you know, might need some. In a chart-laden screed, Horace digs into the available movie data, reviewing statistics on around 12,000 titles released between 1975 and the present. Impressive in itself.

Most impressive to me are two very telling charts. One we’ll call “what gets made.” The other we’ll call “what makes money.” It is a tale of two cities (apologies to Charles Dickens).

What Gets Made
Drama, Comedy and Romance account for 60% of movies made.

Horace Dediu -- Hollywood by the Numbers (What Gets Made)

What Makes Money
Action and Adventure are the big money makers.

Horace Dediu - Hollywood by the Numbers - What Makes Money

Dediu attributes this differential to the so-called blockbuster audience. Adolescent males. If we didn’t know it already, Hollywood says a big hello to testosterone. And testosterone says, “hello” right back. Lest there be any doubt, check out the blockbuster release schedule.

Blockbuster Release Schedule (Titles Grossing over $200 M)
Note the emphasis on the U.S. school holiday schedule (summer and winter break).

Horace Dediu - Hollywood by the Numbers - Blockbuster Release Schedule

What do I make of this? Looking narrowly at the Robert Hansen movie, The Frozen Ground, there are several takeaways. As a “thriller,” the film overlaps the action genre. Put that in the plus column. As a film set for a December release, it fits into one of the two prime release slots. Another one for the plus column.

Additionally, two of its stars have teen-cred. Vanessa Hudgens (who plays prostitute Cindy Paulson) and 50 Cent (who plays her pimp). Two more in the plus column.

Having Nicolas Cage and John Cusack on board doesn’t hurt things, either. Hey, this Frozen Ground thing could be a success.

I was told early on that producer Randall Emmett knows his business. That becomes more obvious by the minute. Looking back, it perhaps explains (in part) why there was so much pressure to sign an Option Agreement for “Butcher, Baker” in November-December of 2010: for Frozen Ground to make a December 2012 release, things needed to line up on schedule. It is, after all, a high-stakes business. Ah, the joys of hindsight.

What Happened to Glenn Flothe?

When the movie the “Frozen Ground” was first announced, the filmmakers made a pretty big deal of the fact that it was going to focus on two real-life people, Sgt. Glenn Flothe and Cindy Paulson. Or did they?

Cindy Paulson was the teenage prostitute who got away from Hansen, leading to his arrest and conviction. Sources tell us that Cindy Paulson worked with the filmmakers in telling her story. A look at the full cast and crew on IMDb confirms that, indeed, Vanessa Hudgens stars as Cindy Paulson.

Glenn Flothe was the Alaska State Trooper whose belief in Cindy Paulson helped bring Hansen in. According to the Variety story announcing the film, “Cage would portray the Alaska State Trooper who cracked the case.” Sounds like Glenn Flothe to me. Sounds like Glenn Flothe to a lot of people. But the Wikipedia entry for The Frozen Ground tells us another story:

“The Frozen Ground” is based on the true story of Alaskan detective Glenn Flothe (called Sgt. Jack Halcombe in the movie). Halcombe (Nicolas Cage) sets out to end the murderous rampage of Robert Hansen (John Cusack), a serial killer who has silently stalked the streets of Anchorage for more than 13 years.

Ok, all of this is fine, really. Stuff happens on the way from script to screen. And we notice that, while most of the cops kept their real names, other characters have not. For example, Darla Hansen is now called Fran Hansen. Huh?

But there is still something nagging me. Maybe it’s this little piece by Sheila Toomey in the Anchorage Daily News, datelined November 5, 2011:

Earwigs have been wondering why the Nicolas Cage character isn’t called by the name of the actual trooper who led the task force that nailed Hansen, Glenn Flothe. Other cop characters have the names of the real people. Maybe we’ll find out when movie publicist David Linck interviews Flothe. Linck announced Thursday that Glenn had agreed to chat on tape.

Two months on and still no sign of a Glenn Flothe – David Linck interview. Just saying.

eBook Pricing

Dan Gillmor recently pinned a piece for The Guardian (UK), in which he describes the “great ebook price swindle.” The article struck a chord with me, because I am wondering about the best price for an ebook version of “Butcher, Baker.”

Gillmor’s argument is that (greedy) publishers have adopted the agency model and, in the process, driven up prices of ebooks to the point where they are equal to, and occasionally higher, than the hardcover version. I have written elsewhere that publishing is a three-legged stool — and that the author deals Amazon is offering are less than stellar. Most commentators (including Gillmor) conveniently ignore the author. Indeed, Gillmor makes an argument that I’ve rejected in the past, namely that the current ebook pricing model is solely anti-consumer. But he says one thing that gives me pause:

When new ebooks were $10, I was buying them all the time. In almost all cases, book purchases are impulse buys – something you want to have, right now. I was buying new best-sellers at a rapid rate, and happy to do so… No more. I still buy some e-books, but only at lower prices.

You know, as much as I hate ridiculous royalties, I have no interest in driving buyers away. So here’s what I’m looking at…

The paperback version of “Butcher, Baker” has been selling at anywhere from $8.99 to $25.00. The latter seems too high (and I think I know why that’s happening, BTW. Greedy publisher). The former seems like a bare minimum. And, of course, I know what I’m up against… According to a 2007 study, one in four Americans read no books in the previous year. The Trade Categories (hardcover, paperback and mass market) were down 34.4% from February 2010 from February 2011.

Dan Gillmor speaks to the “impulse buy” in ebook land. I think that’s where I’m headed. After all, “Butcher, Baker” is smack in his comfort zone.

The books I bought this way tended to be mysteries and thrillers – the kind of book purchases I treated like movie tickets, to be read or seen once and then put aside.