Remembering Robert Lescher

Robert Lescher, of the Lescher & Lescher Literary Agency, recently passed away at the age of 83. his post is my heartfelt remembrance of a man I knew for almost three decades.

In 1985, I was an absolutely unknown author, trying to sell a true-crime manuscript called “Butcher, Baker,” the story of a serial killer in Alaska. Walter Gilmour (my co-author) and I knew we needed a literary agent to get there. That agent turned out to be Robert Lescher. He told us his was a small, boutique agency which carefully selected its authors. He was our man. We just weren’t sure whether we belonged there, given that he represented heavy hitters like Isaac Bashevis Singer and Alice B. Toklas. We needn’t have worried.

Bob immediately started working his magic. Soon we were getting rejections from   Norton, Grove Press, Harper & Row… all the majors. About 16 rejections in all — each from editors who could, on their own word alone, make publication a reality. Then came the letter from Bob, dated January 5, 1987. It read in part:

… I have only now been able to turn to the revision. It was read here by someone else as well, and I have to say that neither of us has the enthusiasm for the work that we had hoped to have…

I’m afraid now I’m going to have to return the material to you in the hope you can find an editor yourself, or another agent, who might give you the help you want. I’m sorry I can’t be the one, but I know that you wouldn’t want me to represent your work if my feelings are as ambivalent as they seem.

There is was. We’d been fired by our literary agent. He’d taken a chance on us, and we’d let him down.

My co-author and I were in a quandary. Walter wanted to go forward with the manuscript as-is. I felt we had about $1million worth of great advice (those pesky rejection letters). That advice said: “start over, start fresh, do a complete rewrite.” Walter balked. I got him to give me a year and a half to turn the whole thing around. Then came the next discussion. To whom do we send the new version?

Walter’s abiding frame of reference for all things business is real estate, which meant we needed to give Bob Lescher the right of first refusal. I didn’t expect much, because at the time I put little stock in second chances (hey, I’d just been through a divorce). We hadn’t really identified any alternatives, however, so… Back to Bob. His response came on May 24, 1990:

The manuscript just came in and I can see at once that a considerable amount of new work went into it. I’m going to share the manuscript with [editor], as I promised… and I’ll get back to you when his response reaches me.

Wow. Re-hired by our literary agent. And successfully published soon thereafter. Amazing.

There are several  lessons here, but I’ll always remember this one: Bob gave us a second chance when none seemed possible. It was at that moment I realized how deeply he cared about authors and how much he respected the writing process. Equally important, he had that essential but elusive ability to change his mind, based on additional evidence. I was blown away. I still am.

Postscript: A decade later, I wrote a book called “Huck Finn Is Dead.” Though a flawed work, Bob saw its potential — and encouraged me to take a second stab at it, even after a disappointing round of rejections. Only recently was I able to take him up on that proposition.

Here’s to you, Bob… After reworking the manuscript like crazy — and belatedly adding an entirely new beginning — I recently published “Huck Finn Is Dead.” And yes. I thoroughly believe in second chances…

Movie Update: Don’t Cry for Me “Frozen Ground”

In the latest Frozen Ground update, we note a few changes about its impending release. First, the release date has been moved from early December 2012, to March 2013. Second, the theatrical premiere is now scheduled for Argentina. No word on when, if ever, the film will be released in U.S. theaters.

Other tidbits.

  • Not sure how I missed it the first time, but E (Entertainment Online) has a snarky piece on Vanessa Hudgens playing a stripper in the Frozen Ground, the serial murder film inspired by Butcher, Baker.
  • Speaking of snarky, there’s the always dependable Chelsea Handler on Chelsea Lately. This time, she digs at Vanessa Hudgens (Cindy Paulson) and 50 Cent (50 plays Cindy’s pimp).
  • Or was that Vanessa Hudgens and Nicolas Cage?
  • At any rate, the whole Nicolas Cage dust-up over Vanessa Hudgens seems to have rated an apology, if not a denial.

You can still buy the original work on Amazon. Yes. “Butcher, Baker” is the real thing. No made up scenes. No gratuitous drama because, really, it isn’t necessary. This is true edge of your seat stuff. And you don’t have to go to Argentina to get it (although that sounds like a great idea).

Based on Actual Events

Ever wonder what it means when a movie claims it is “Based on Actual Events?” The new Nicolas Cage vehicle, the “The Frozen Ground,” makes that claim.

Frozen Ground publicity still

But what does that mean? For clues, let’s look at the Nicolas Cage character in the film.

According to IMDb, Cage plays “Jack Halcombe.” Allegedly, he’s the Alaska State Trooper who brought Hansen to justice. That’s strange, because if you look at the definitive account of the Hansen murders, “Butcher, Baker,” you will not find a character named Jack Halcombe.

That’s because there is no “Jack Halcombe,” at least in the context of the Alaska State Troopers and serial murderer Robert Hansen. Jack Halcombe is a fictional character. Nicolas Cage plays a fictional character.

The actual cop who brought Robert Hansen to justice is named Glenn Flothe. Early reports about the movie listed Flothe as the Nicolas Cage character. That changed. I’m guessing (educated guess) the reason that changed is because:

The filmmakers made up a lot of shit. Shit that Glenn Flothe was not comfortable signing off on. And to use Glenn’s name, he had to sign off on it. In the movie business, it’s called “Life Rights.” As in, I can say anything I want about you — true or false — if it helps the movie. You signed off on “Life Rights.” You can’t frickin’ sue me.

It turns out that Glenn Flothe wasn’t the only one who didn’t sign off on the made-up-shit. Here’s the complete list.

Fictional Characters in Frozen Ground

  • Jack Halcombe (Nicolas Cage) = Glenn Flothe
  • Allie Halcombe (Radha Mitchell) = Cherry Flothe (Glenn Flothe’s wife)
    This one should be obvious.
  • Fran Hansen (Katherine LaNasa) = Darla Hansen
    Hansen’s ex-wife, Darla, has no incentive to cooperate with the filmmakers.
  • D.A. Pat Clives (Kurt Fuller) = D.A. Pat Doogan
    Pat Doogan is a good friend of Glenn Flothe, who played a critical role in getting an arrest warrant for Hansen when the local D.A. wasn’t being entirely cooperative. I’m guessing you can’t get one (Doogan) without the other (Flothe).

Ok, so it’s a fairly short list. A short list of very important characters. And when the filmmakers couldn’t navigate a closer tack to the “truth,” they bailed. Call it creative convenience. Call it “based on actual events.” Call it made up shit.

Whatever you do, don’t call it true. For that, you have to read, “Butcher, Baker.”

Take Two: Frozen Ground Trailer

For the moment, there seems to be a site where the Frozen Ground trailer actually works. Thanks, Emmett/Furla Productions. Our collective breath is, um, not exactly being held… UPDATE: The PC-friendly version was Gone in 15 Seconds. Or should I say, Gone In 60 Seconds.

However: The trailer still works on my iPad. And my smartphone. So, we recommend mobile devices for viewing the trailer. It’s the only way. Go figure.

Frozen Ground Trailer

And if nothing else you can always read the original. Butcher, Baker, is available at Amazon. Highly recommended.

Frozen Ground: The Trailer

The trailer is out for Frozen Ground, the film inspired by [1] Butcher, Baker. Here’s a screen capture of Vanessa Hudgens as stripper and prostitute, Cindy Paulson. Not much left to the imagination, I’d say. So much for her Disney image.

Vanessa Hudgens in Frozen Ground

Well, let’s correct a few things. The trailer was available for a little while (week of August 19th). More than a few sites purport to have it; the trailer quickly went viral. But if you’re in the U.S., you’ll get a not-so-cryptic ERROR MESSAGE. Seems there are some problems about the rights. Both copyright and country rights.

Message on U.S. Trailer Sites
Frozen Ground: Copyright Warning

Interestingly enough, one gets a different error message when trying to view the trailer on the French site, Cinema Teaser. UPDATE: Cinema Teaser now reports that its trailer was also pulled for copyright issues. We’ll keep you posted.

Message on EU Trailer Site
Frozen Ground Trailer: Cinema Teaser (France)

ANSWER ME THIS
Here’s the question: if you’re going blockbuster, why play games with the trailer? Why NOT make it broadly available? I’m educated-guessing here, but I tend to agree with Brad Brevet on Rope of Silicon.

Lionsgate is distributing the pic with IMDb reporting a November 30 release date, but this feels like one of those limited release/VOD titles if you ask me with a DVD/Blu-ray release about a month later.

In fact, I’ll go one step further and posit that the limited release will initially focus on Europe. Hence, the Cinema Teaser video from France, among the first sites to feature the trailer.

The fact that there is a European trailer at all tells you where the money is; U.S. domestic sales are falling, international sales are not. There’s also this telling tidbit from The Numbers on box office statistics. The key columns to watch are 1) Weekly Gross, 2) Theaters and 3) Per Theater. Limited Release = Limited Butts in Seats = Limited per Theater Revenue.

Butts in seats still count. And realistically, Frozen Ground already made its money. Film subsidies. State of Alaska.

Global Boxoffice: MPAA

NOTE: Another explanation is here. It shares a similar assessment, expecting a lag in the U.S. theatrical release. Hmmmm…

[1] Maybe I should say “appropriated” because the arc of the movie is absolutely identical to Butcher, Baker. Opens with the escape of the teenage prostitute. Segues to the sensitive Trooper. Yeah. I’ve read the script. Oh, and I wrote the book. First published in 1991. Before the internet existed. Answer me that.

The Publicity Sales Bump

Butcher, Baker is in its fourth, and perhaps final, print publication cycle. I say perhaps because I’ve been wrong before. But the last year has provided me an eye-witness perspective on the difference publicity makes in book sales.

One of the “jobs” I’ve had over the last year and a half is to track Butcher, Baker sales. We wanted some independent accounting in our discussion with Todd Communications. As it turns out, Amazon has some amazing tools for tracking book sales, with data from Nielsen BookScan.

The numbers tell quite a tale. I’ll let them do most of the talking… In the first graph, you can clearly see three sales spikes:

  • First, when the film was announced (The Frozen Ground)
  • Second, when Todd Communications re-published Butcher, Baker
  • Third, when Christmas sales took over

Butcher, Baker Sales: 2010-2012
Butcher, Baker sales, 2010-2012

In the second graph, you see the magnitude of the Christmas spike. Book sales jumped to a recent high (highest sales were during the book’s first printing in 1991; we sold close to 100K). Of course, you can also see the steady decline in sales from that high-point onward. Indeed, Butcher, Baker, is headed back toward “normal” levels (note the pre-July 2011 line in the graph above).

Butcher, Baker Sales: September 2011-June 2012
Butcher, Baker sales, 10-2011 to 6-2012

Go See: The Frozen Ground, the movie inspired by Butcher, Baker. Opening in theaters December 2012.

Most Anticipated Movies 2012: The Frozen Ground?

IMDb, the movie database, has a social feature that encourages fans to put together lists of their most anticipated movies. It’s a fun feature, not to be taken too seriously, but a peek into the psyche of the devoted movie-goer nonetheless.

My question is this: where does The Frozen Ground, the movie inspired by Butcher, Baker, show up on these lists?

The answer is “pretty high up.” Here’s a sampling. Of course, this is a very selective sample. What did you expect? There’s more than a few lists where… um… The Frozen Ground is nowhere to be found. You can find those lists on your own!

Movies We HAVE to see in 2012 (lulie1810)IMDb - lists

30 Most Anticipated Movies of 2012 (simon-evgp) IMDb - lists

Movies That I Can’t Wait Till They’re Released (lbtrev) IMDb - lists

Most Waited to See in 2012 (cristianoumberto) IMDb - lists

The Most Anticipated Movies of 2012 (romtonkon) IMDb - lists

Stills From “The Frozen Ground”

IMDb is featuring still photos taken from the Butcher, Baker inspired movie, “The Frozen Ground.” Here’s the link to the IMDb slideshow. Some creepy stuff, for sure. My spine be tingling.

Nicolas Cage as Alaska State Trooper Detective
Nicolas Cage in The Frozen Ground 2012 Voltage Pictures

John Cusack as serial killer Robert Hansen
John Cusack in The Frozen Ground 2012 Voltage Pictures

Cereal Killers & All That

Nice to hear some buzz about “The Frozen Ground,” the movie inspired by “Butcher, Baker.” But then you come across a piece like the one below in Yahoo! Answers and you, ah, start to wonder. I’m quoting:

Is anyone looking forward to “The Frozen Ground”?

Its a movie about the 1980s Alaska hunt for the cereal killer Robert Hanson. Its got Nicholas Cage and John Cusack, it looks fantastic. Its in filming now and comes out in theaters on the 1st of December.

At least the Best Answer sets the record straight. Whew. Gotta love the image of Frosted Mini Wheats trying to run away from bad Bob Hansen…

The Frozen Ground Promo Poster

I recently came across a graphic that purports to be a promo poster for the Robert Hansen movie inspired by “Butcher, Baker,” The Frozen Ground. It allegedly comes from the American Film Market 2011, an industry confab where film buyers meet.

The Frozen Ground teaser art

Ok, I think it captures a mood. And with a link from IMDb, it seems authentic.

But is it?

I searched the American Film Market for signs of something — anything — about The Frozen Ground. Nada. Nothing. Zip.

UPDATE: Note the similarity between the Cusack photo shown here and the one from IMDb. Ok. Authentic.