Let’s make this book into a movie!

Since “Murder in Wauwatosa” was published, I’ve debated what direction to go. While still promoting that book with various speaking engagements and book signings, I started on another book … a fiction book aimed at kids ages 10-14 or so based on some experiences I had moving to a new town.

I’ve also started a narrative nonfiction version of “Murder in Wauwatosa.” That’s a book based on the facts, but with dialog and action added to make the book read like … well, a book instead of more like a documentary.

I’ve always thought “Murder in Wauwatosa” would make a great motion picture, albeit with some tweaking. Doing some of the narrative nonfiction gave me more of a taste for what a movie on Buddy Schumacher’s killing in 1925 could look like. I hadn’t had anyone bang down my door telling me they were interested in doing a screenplay – and I never asked anyone if they would – so I decided to do it myself.

The thought of doing something I’d never done before didn’t scare me. I know I can do this. Heck, I’d never had a book published until I did “Murder in Wauwatosa.” So, why not a screenplay? I also got a taste of being on the other side of the camera recently, when Bill Dever graciously allowed me to bang my head against a wall in the movie, “Resurrection,” a B horror flick due out in October.

Another step toward my decision to dive head first into writing a screenplay based on my book was being allowed to critique a forthcoming novel by my friend, Michael John Sullivan. Doing that forced me to look closely at someone else’s character development and someone else’s story line to see if it all made sense in the context of someone else’s work.

I highly suggest that anyone who wants to write a book or a screenplay or poetry or song lyrics, or whatever, critique other people’s work. You don’t have to send them the critique, and in fact you probably shouldn’t unless your opinion is explicitly requested. But by divorcing yourself from your own dreams, you can sometimes see what works and what doesn’t in someone else’s. You may not cling as tightly to something in your own story that maybe doesn’t work, but you thought it would be neat to put in a reference to your favorite aunt.

I’ve got the first page or two done on my screenplay so far. I’m calling it “Blackridge” for now. That’s the swimming hole Buddy and his friends were on their way to when the poor guy got abducted. It’ll be slow going for a while as I set things up, get used to formatting properly, etc. But after a while, the story will hopefully tell itself, at least to some degree.

I’ve been studying up on this screenplay business as much as I can online so far, but upon the advice of my brother, Andy Hoffman, have ordered  Syd Field‘s book: “Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting” and am going to purchase 4×5 index cards that he says you need.

I have a pretty good idea what I need to change story-wise to turn the book into a compelling screenplay. Whether I do it or not will come down to execution and keeping my focus on all the elements that need to be there.

I’m planning on including some information in the screenplay that was not available when the book was published in 2012. I’m always interested in hearing more about the case, what Wauwatosa and Milwaukee were like in the 1920s and 1930s, if anyone’s parents or grandparents were ever told anything about the circumstances surrounding Buddy’s murder, etc. Feel free to email me if you have any comments at phof63@sbcglobal.net

Hopefully, I’ll be able to churn out a screenplay before too long that doesn’t need to be totally rewritten.

Sneak preview of another author’s book

One of the benefits of having written a book is that I have been able to connect with other authors. No matter what genre we employ, we all share similar challenges. I imagine we all experience moments when we have difficulty trying to put a particular feeling into words. Or we debate with ourselves, our publicists or publishers over how a particular character should react to an event … or what the cover of the book should look like. We wonder if people will really be entertained, enlightened or spurred to action by what we write.

Hopefully, we share some of the same successes, too. For all of us, one of those successes was getting our first book in print and/or in e-book format, whether we self-published or we did it the so-called “conventional” way.

One of the biggest blessings for me has been becoming acquainted with New York author, Michael John Sullivan. I met Mike through a mutual acquaintance, Rick Braun. Rick worked with Mike at the Associated Press in New York City, while I worked with Rick at the Milwaukee Sentinel. When I told Rick that I was writing a book, he suggested that I contact Mike, who at the time had just one book out and now has upwards of Eleventy billion and 7. Well, OK, he’s got two novels published with another almost out, plus a series of kids books.Sullivan-Daughter Sullivan-Greatest Gift Sullivan-Second World Sullivan-sockkids-help-ben-franklin

When I contacted Mike, I was about halfway through my manuscript for “Murder in Wauwatosa: The Mysterious Death of Buddy Schumacher.” Mike told me what a publisher would be looking for from me, helped me through the process, introduced me to someone who helped me get through the contract negotiation process, and has generally been supportive ever since I met him.

I’ve read his two published novels: “Necessary Heartbreak,” and “Everybody’s Daughter,” two of a time travel trilogy. The final installment, “The Greatest Gift,” is due to be available in October. I can’t wait! He’s also got a series of children’s books called The SockKids, “Solving the Mystery of Your Missing Socks!”

It was a pleasure to be able to read his published works. But, now he has bestowed upon me the great honor of reading his as yet not even done fourth novel, “The Second World.” This is the first time an author has asked me to read an unpublished manuscript and make suggestions on character development and story line. And to have that author be someone whose work I respect as much as Mike Sullivan’s, I can only say that “honored” but scratches the surface of my feelings about this.

“The Second World” deals with a very difficult and emotional topic: abortion. Mike warned me ahead of time that this would be the topic. But I’ve learned that while Mike has tackled some gut-wrenching topics such as homelessness and abuse, he has done so with a gentle touch. Through his characters, he gets his readers to see various viewpoints of an issue without coming off as preachy.

I’m not quite halfway through Mike’s current draft of “The Second World,” but I can see that he has employed similar vehicles in this book. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that I am mesmerized by the story. It’s difficult for me to find fault in Mike’s writing, so coming up with constructive criticism and/or questions regarding characters and story lines isn’t easy. I have to force myself to think about these things.

One of Mike’s other authorly gifts is being able to tell enough of the details to keep the reader informed, yet not so many that he gives away the whole story. By doing this, he has made me not want to put the book down because I know something else central to the plot will be revealed in the next chapter. And something else in the following chapter. And so on. How will this get resolved? Will it get resolved?

I’m not sure how much help I’ll be to Mike. I like his writing so much, it’s hard to suggest anything.

It did warm my heart to hear that Mike chose to locate the sister of one of the main characters from “The Second World” in Wisconsin because he was thinking of Rick and me. I guess I better finish my next book and put a reference to New York in there somewhere.

Thanks, Mike!

P.S. I’m still going to buy one when it gets published.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have a Bacon number! But no Erdős number.

My brother, Doug Hoffman, informs me that, like every actor, I am now within Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Actually, he informs me that my Bacon number is a mere TWO!

Kevin Bacon in "Footloose"

Kevin Bacon in “Footloose”

“Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” is a parlor game based on the “six degrees of separation” concept, which suggests that any two people on Earth are six or fewer acquaintance links apart. Movie buffs challenge each other to find the shortest path between an arbitrary actor and prolific Hollywood character actor Kevin Bacon. It rests on the assumption that any individual involved in the Hollywood, California, film industry can be linked through his or her film roles to Kevin Bacon within six steps. Not everyone can, but most can.

The Bacon number of an actor or actress is the number of degrees of separation he or she has from Bacon,

  • Kevin Bacon has a Bacon number of 0.
  • Those actors who have worked directly with Kevin Bacon have a Bacon number of 1.
  • Actors who have worked on a movie with actors with a Bacon number of 1 but who have not acted directly with Kevin Bacon have a Bacon number of 2 (that’s me!)

Here is how I got my Bacon number of 2:

Lloyd Kaufman

Lloyd Kaufman

Paul Hoffman played the part of “Head Banger” in “Resurrection” with Lloyd Kaufman.
Lloyd Kaufman was in “Super” with … Kevin Bacon.

Now, here’s something interesting: There is a similar numbering system for people who worked with mathematician Paul Erdős, with those numbers called Erdős numbers. Because some people have both Bacon and Erdős numbers because of acting and publications, there are a rare few who have an Erdős–Bacon number, which is defined as the sum of a person’s independent Erdős and Bacon numbers.

Wait, that’s not the really interesting part.

"The Man Who Loved Only Numbers," by that other Paul Hoffman author

“The Man Who Loved Only Numbers,” by that other Paul Hoffman author

I read a book about Paul Erdős a while back called “The Man Who Loved Only Numbers,” which was written by another author named Paul Hoffman.

Whoa! Now that is interesting.

But wait, there’s more.

Someone who went to the same high school I did (Wauwatosa East in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin) and is now married to a woman who when in high school used to babysit me and my brothers, has an Erdős number of 3. Gene Hanson also used to have the world record for memorizing the most digits of pi. So, if I wrote a mathematical paper with Gene, I’d have an Erdős number of 4 and a Bacon-Erdős number of 6.

That would put me in some select company. There are not a lot of people known to have Erdős–Bacon numbers of 6 or lower. Astronomer Carl Sagan has a Bacon-Erdős number of 6.

The lowest known Erdős–Bacon number is 4, possessed by Steven Henry Strogatz an American mathematician. He has a Bacon number of 1 and an Erdős number of 3.

Hank Aaron's 1962 Topps baseball card.

Hank Aaron’s 1962 Topps baseball card.

Hank Aaron, my favorite baseball player of all-time, could sort of be considered to have an Erdős–Bacon number of 3, as he and Erdős both autographed the same baseball (for which he is jokingly referred to as having Erdős number of 1), and he also appeared in Summer Catch with Susan Gardner, who was in In The Cut, with Kevin Bacon.

Other celebrities who have low Erdős–Bacon numbers are

  • Danica McKellar, most famous for her role as Winnie Cooper in The Wonder Years, has an Erdős–Bacon number of 6, with an Erdős number of 4, and a Bacon number of 2.
  • US actress Natalie Portman has an Erdős–Bacon number of 7. She has a Bacon number of 2 and an Erdős number of 5.
  • British actor Colin Firth has an Erdős–Bacon number of 7.

So, I’m sure that’s more than you wanted to know about Erdős, Bacon and numbers. But, that Winnie Cooper thing was cool.

An evening with the Central Indiana Writers Association

Thanks to all the great folks at the Central Indiana Writers Association for inviting me to serve as a guest speaker Monday night, June 16. I’d especially like to thank Robin Waldron for suggesting to the group that I was worthy of their time and attention. And thanks to Mike Barrett for setting everything up and giving me good directions to the meeting room in Greenwood. Unfortunately, I forgot where I wrote down the directions, so my wife and I kind of winged it. Fortunately, we found the meeting spot in time for kickoff.

It’s always interesting getting together with fellow writers and finding out what interests them. We had a lot of poets the other night. But many other interests, too.

As I discussed my book, “Murder in Wauwatosa: The Mysterious Death of Buddy Schumacher,” we got into several different topics that the book touches on, as well as some that it doesn’t.

Near the end of the meeting, we somehow, we got onto the topic of family trees and I was a descendant of King John, the brother of Richard the Lionheart. You may have heard of King John from the movie, “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” I’ve also been told (by my dear sweet aunt who would never lie) that I’m a descendant of Lady Godiva.

Being a former sportswriter, I was keenly interested in talking to a man there who was a high school football coach for 40-plus years and had written a book full of stories of his time as a coach, “From the Beginning to the End Zone.”  I later found out that Ray Schultz has a much more storied football background than just being a longtime high school football coach. He was an all-state player at Indianapolis Manual, then played varsity football and basketball at Purdue. He was a scout for Butler University and for the Indianapolis Colts and was inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame in 2006.

It was great talking to him about people we both know and about football, He and his wife were very nice people. As were the rest of the folks I met that night.

Thanks, everybody!

Below are a few of the photos my wife took during the event.

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My motion picture acting debut

Twenty-four hours after performing in what promises to be first appearance in a real motion picture – unlike the Super 8 movies that Dad made of us during Christmas and birthdays in my youth – the headache has finally subsided, the mild nausea is gone and I’m applying heat to a stiff neck.

A re-enactment of my head banging scene from "Resurrection," taken by Kimberly Hoffman.

A re-enactment of my head banging scene from “Resurrection,” taken by Kimberly Hoffman.

I guess you could say that my acting debut (at least as far as the big screen is concerned) was a pain in the neck … and then some. But that would give perhaps the wrong impression of the entire experience. But for the aftereffects of pretending to slam my head against the wall of a downtown Franklin, Indiana, building on June 2, 2014, I thoroughly enjoyed the few hours I spent with cast and crew of Resurrection, a B horror movie that has been in the works for four years.

This was not exactly my first acting experience. I played the month of August in a play in fourth grade. I got to wear a softball glove and a baseball cap, which I thought was awesome. A year later, I was a man with big ears waiting at a bus stop in another school play. I also starred in two fantastically written, directed and acted Hoffman Christmas Movie series. I’m thinking HBO is going to pick that series up any year now. I also played Dr. Offenwrong in a church play once.

My experience in Resurrection was also not my first with a movie. I spent four days as a production assistant on “Road to Calgary,” which previewed the Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada, back in 1988. I think it was something that ended up being run as a series on TV. During a speed skating event in Milwaukee, I corralled some of the top female speed skaters in the world for interviews that the director conducted, among other minor duties. So, I got to see up close, the way a director worked with the talent, sound engineer, camera folks and the like.

But that was far behind the scenes. My head banging experience yesterday was right in front of the camera.

I got involved in Resurrection because I know the man directing things now, Bill Dever of Franklin. I’ve seen a couple of Bill’s recent movies: Gila! and Monster Cruise, which were shot in and near Franklin. Bill asked for people to help him out and I told him that if my schedule would cooperate, so would I. A couple of days later, I was emailed the script, along with a shooting schedule, listing which scenes would be shot on which days.

I also got a list of actors and their roles. Next to my name, it said “Crazy Man.” Oh, man, typecast in my very first film!

I looked through the script for the scenes that would be shot on the day I was there. Near the end of the schedule for June 2, I saw a part for a crazy man. He was to run up to Farm Girl all crazy and stuff. She was supposed to fire some shots toward him to scare him off. Then, he was to run off, crazily I assumed.

Seemed straightforward enough. And it seemed like something I could handle.

In the meantime, my mind raced with all sorts of questions. What should Crazy Man wear? Should Crazy Man have some sort of weird tic? Should Crazy Man be a hyper, just had five cups of coffee, crazy … or should he be more of a sullen, psychotic killer zombie-like crazy.

I asked Bill. He said “hyper, baby.”

Well, that settled that.

Then it was time to really dig deeply into this character. I really needed to know Crazy Man inside and out, his hopes, his dreams, his background. What was my motivation? How big of a trailer would I get and how much makeup would I have to wear. Oh, and would they make sure I only got the green M&Ms in my dressing room?

After reading a few bits of the script, I realized that Crazy Man would have about 10 seconds of screen time tops. So, I just decided to wing it … and/or do what Bill told me to do when I got there. Which worked out great, since by the time we got around to shooting my part, Bill had changed his mind regarding what he wanted me to do.

I got to Bill’s office about noon, since I didn’t have to be there in the morning. Later on, Mark Burchett, Bill’s assistant director, met me and took me to where the crew had been shooting. By the time we got there, it was time for lunch.

I got to meet four of the actors and two crew members during lunch, and everyone was very nice. I also got to ask Bill more about the movie since all I knew was the fact that I saw it on Internet Movie Data Base online and it said the movie was done in 2010. Bill told me that Resurrection had been shot with a different director, but that Bill wasn’t entirely happy with some of the scenes. So, he was reshooting some of it.

I still had to change clothes since I had gone to Bill’s office straight from work. I suggested a nice, plain white T-shirt and old jeans. That was perfect, Bill said. I changed in the restroom, and after lunch, our little troupe took off in a mini convoy looking for an appropriate spot to shoot a short scene. Bill said we’d shoot this one and then shoot me banging my head against a wall in downtown Franklin.

Here is a photo I took of the crew filming a scene from Resurrection:

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Bang my head against a wall? He wasn’t serious, right? That wasn’t part of the script that I read. Oh well, I thought, he must have changed his mind about something. Either that or he was kidding. I wasn’t really going to have to bang my head against a wall, would I?

Since I worked in Franklin for more than 10 years and know lots of people, I suppose I was bound to run into acquaintances when we got to the location. And sure enough, while waiting in a parking lot shortly after arriving downtown, a co-worker spotted our crew. He gave an inquisitive look before asking if this was some sort of gang activity.

As soon as Bill and the crew figured out where exactly we’d be shooting, Bill lined me up against the outside of a building and told me to practice banging my head against the wall. Having glanced at a few scenes in the script, I had come to the conclusion that something had happened to some of the townsfolk of Franklin and that I was one of the “infected.” Hence, the head banging episode.

It’s all for the sake of art, I reminded myself.

I asked him to hold my glasses, I stretched me arms out toward the building and flung my head dangerously close to the brick exterior. After a couple of practice tries, Bill asked if I could do it a little more violently, without of course actually coming into contact with the wall.

Having now gauged the distance required to make it look like I was hitting the wall, I pulled my head back and thrust it forward with more vigor. I did this a few times, wondering each time whether I would accidentally go too far and actually smack the wall. I didn’t, and the new, more enthusiastic head banging seemed to please the director.

At one point, in between head banging episodes, a man walked out of a door right next to where I was standing. He wore a tie and carried a briefcase. I said hello and he replied in kind. I couldn’t help but wonder what he was thinking as he passed through our “set.”

Here is a photo I took of the crew getting ready to shoot the scene I was in:

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This scene involved a young couple walking down the street talking about what was going on in town. They come across the head banging fellow and move away from him.

As I waited for the other actors to get ready for the scene, a red truck stopped on the street right in front of me. A familiar voice called to me. I couldn’t see him, but I knew it was my friend, another guy named Bill. I walked out to him and explained what was going on. He is eager to see the movie when it’s done.

Back to my wall, it wasn’t long before I heard “action.” Hoping to be the best head banger ever, I attacked the wall with much enthusiasm. When I heard “cut,” I stopped, hoping we had nailed it in one take since I was starting to feel just a tad dizzy.

I was not so lucky.

With each take, I got just a little dizzier. Not so bad that I had issues walking or anything like that. Just felt like I had had a couple beers on an empty stomach.

We only did about three or four takes. Once, we had a car drive by and a loud wind blow, causing us to get bad audio. I’m pretty sure the head banging was consistently awesome, though.

And then, just after we got the take with everybody, I was asked to smack my head one more time for a close-up shot. Just me. Only me.

When I got home later, I noticed Bill had slated himself to play Head Banger later in the week. So, I figure that for one reason or another, he switched those parts. So I guess my role was actually Head Banger.

I wish I’d asked one of the actors who wasn’t in the scene to take a couple photos while they shot the head banging scene. I didn’t think of that until it was too late.

You’ll just have to see the movie, if you’re not too squeamish. I think by the time it comes out, I’ll have my head back to normal.

Wauwatosa memories from a reader

Below are excerpts from an email I received from a reader of “Murder in Wauwatosa: The Mysterious Death of Buddy Schumacher.” Many of you native Wauwatosans may recall the Pig Farm.
 
Hi Paul,
 
I very much enjoyed reading your book, in part because it lent perspective to some of my childhood activities in Tosa. In the mid ’70s (a friend) and I used to go junking and exploring back in the Pig Farm area and along the river. We made a couple trips, then one day he came back and said we better be armed if we go again, and cited some incident his family had told him about. Next trip we made with knives in our pockets, and whatever they had told him seemed to have him half expecting we were gonna use them. I’ll bet it was the Schumacher incident. Something like that would leave an impression that would resonate in longtime villagers’ memories for years.
 
My “turf” was typically north of that area, on the north side of Capitol Drive, Webster School neighborhood. But I remember encountering active yunkles and hobos in the parkway near us back in the 1960s and 1970s. 
 
I look forward to anything else you might produce with a relevant local history.
 
Bill Laste

Sterling North official announcement

 

Here is the announcement on the Sterling North Book and Film Festival website announcing my appearance there on Sept. 27.

For more information on the festival, which will be conducted in Edgerton, Wisconsin, click here.

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Breaking News of a Big Author Event in Wisconsin

Just confirmed: I’m going to be one of the presenting authors at the Sterling North Book and Film Festival at Edgerton (Wis.) High School on Sat., Sept. 27. Time of my presentation to be announced. I’ll be giving a PowerPoint presentation, complete with sound, on “Murder in Wauwatosa: The Mysterious Death of Buddy Schumacher.”

This is a pretty cool event. Patch Adams (yes, THAT Patch Adams) spoke there last year. This is a FREE family event that promotes literacy and the city of Edgerton, in south central Wisconsin. It consists of a number of interactive literary events. These include featured speakers and authors who share their insight on their writing and the inspiration for their books. The authors include those who have written best-sellers as well as Wisconsin authors.

Sterling North was the professional name of an author born in Lake Koshkonong, Wisconsin, probably best known for the children’s novel Rascal, a bestseller in 1963. In the 1990s, North’s childhood home at 409 W. Rollin St., Edgerton, was restored to its 1917 appearance by the Sterling North Society and transformed into a museum.

I was one of the first authors contacted about presenting this year. All the authors will be listed in the area visitor guide that will go to print on Memorial Day.

Feel free to pass this information along to anyone and everyone.