ESSAYS, ARTICLES, & REVIEWS
MY HISTORY OF WRITING MACHINES
All went well for a couple of years, then the advent of the internet occurred. Bit by bit I spent $1000 updating that little Epson sub-notebook before it was web-ready -- a new hard drive, more RAM, a new modem -- and as soon as I got on the internet I immediately realized that the computer was just not good enough and I scrapped it.
It’s been over two years since I bought this Toshiba laptop with a Pentium 2 microprocessor, 2 gigabytes of hard-drive space, CD-ROM, a 56K modem, and it’s holding up reasonably well. Mechanically, it still works perfectly. It’s larger than my last computer, so I stepped back up to a full-size keyboard, which I feel is necessary. Therefore, any computer smaller than this doesn’t seem appealing to me anymore since I have reasonably large fingers. Smaller is no longer better. Sure, they make them a lot thinner now and therefore lighter, and that’s swell, but I can carry 6-7 pounds without straining too much. I’ve taken this laptop down to New Zealand with me 10 or 12 times without serious injury. Not like my 30-pound 286 in its black leather biker case.
Sure, I could get a Pentium 3 or a DSL line or a CD burner or DVD drive or whatever the hell comes next, and I probably will, too -- should I ever get out of debt, that is -- but at least I don’t feel like I have to do it at this moment.
Hell! I still find it somewhat amazing that I can get an entire screenplay in a single file, as opposed to, say, on twenty disks.
Dec. 5, 2000
I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was fourteen years old. I didn’t announce this decision to anyone, I simply went down the basement and brought up my older sister’s fairly new, abandoned, green, portable, manual typewriter and began writing. I think it was Olivetti, but I’m not certain. It was pretty small -- about the size of this Toshiba laptop I’m writing with presently -- and it worked perfectly well, although you had to hit the keys fairly hard (which is why my sister dumped it). It was made entirely of steel and didn’t have a plastic part in it, not even the keys. Mechanically, there was very little difference between that typewriter and the very first typewriter invented in 1876. It functioned fine and I guess I used it for about two years.
When I was sixteen I got an electric Smith-Corona typewriter for Hanukkah. It still had a manual return, but that’s what I was used to so it didn’t bother me. With the motor running it sounded like a garbage disposal. The letters hit the page really hard, with sharp little cracks. I bet it would have gone through ten carbon copies, although I never used carbon paper. It had quite a few plastic parts and vibrated so much that after writing for an hour it would have crawled eight inches across the desk. I wrote with this typewriter from 1974 until 1981, which is a hell of a lot of use, and then I finally gave it to my little sister.
When I opened Action Pictures (makers of quality motion pictures, like “Thou Shalt Not Kill . . . Except” and “Cleveland Smith: Bounty Hunter”), in Ferndale, Michigan, located in a cubicle in the offices of Renaissance Pictures, I had stationary made, then I went in search of a new typewriter. I scoured many used business supply places in the area and found a perfectly good, ten- or twelve-year old, IBM Selectric for $100. An IBM Selectric (it still tickles me thinking about it) was the top-of-the-line typewriter ever made. Instead of little hammers with the letters on them, it had a removable type ball that spun around to the proper letter and hit the paper with extreme accuracy. It was definitely a thrill to use.
I happily wrote with my IBM Selectric throughout the early 1980s. It was with this typewriter that I wrote my one, unpublished novel, which, in retrospect, I may have actually written because I enjoyed using my Selectric so much. I had by then moved Action Pictures to its own office down the hall from Renaissance Pictures. While Ren Pix was busy shooting “Crimewave,” I typed away on my Selectric all winter writing my unpublishable novel, “Mann’s Revenge.”
I believe it was in 1983 when Bruce Campbell purchased an IBM PC Junior, one of the very first home computers. Before the PC Junior was the Commodore 64, which a few people had, but it never really worked properly. After I had asked Bruce to input a few different documents for me into his PC Junior, he finally sat me down and showed me how to use the computer. It was just like a typewriter, only it remembered.
My good buddy Jim purchased an Apple 2C, the other original home computer-the Apple 2C, the IBM PC Junior, and, earlier, the Commodore 64 all had the original 8088 microprocessors. Jim very promptly decided that he hated the machine and gave it to me. As I goofed around with it trying to get it to work -- it had no hard-drive, just one five-inch disk-drive -- I realized that Jim had never gotten it up and running. The Apple 2C had a memory capacity of up to seven pages of script, or three or four pages of prose, which may not seem like much now, but it was revolutionary in comparison to the typewriter.
Let me illustrate this point with how scripts used to be rewritten. First you’d write a script, which is generally at least 100 pages long, trying very hard to do a good, clean typing job, using veritable gallons of White-out, as well as a variety of other correction products, like thin rolls of white tape and little square sheets of white stuff. Anyway, when the script was done and you began working on a rewrite, you then sat down with scissors, tape and glue sticks and literally cut-and-paste the script back together, adding new lines or paragraphs or pages like you were assembling a ransom note. You’d put it all back through a copier and it was perfectly readable, but before you could actually show it to anyone someone would have to sit down and retype it cleanly. “Cut-and paste” is now a computer term, like download, but it used to be an actual process.
But then, with the advent of computers and memory, one never had to literally cut-and-paste anything ever again.
I wrote quite a few scripts on the Apple 2C, including “Lunatics: A Love Story.” Since it had no hard-drive and only 32K of memory, you constantly had to keep switching disks. And all the disks had to go through a formatting process before you could save anything on them. One script would end up on nearly twenty 5¼” disks. This even seemed nutty at the time, but it was still better than a typewriter. The Apple 2C had its own weird version of DOS that didn’t have anything to do with any other software on the planet, including their own Apple MacIntosh. Once I got rid of the 2C I could never access those disks again. Due to this, I have never purchased another Apple computer product in my life.
During pre-production on “Lunatics” in 1989, my illustrious producer, Bruce Campbell, convinced me to use some of my hard-earned pay and buy a new computer. I purchased a Compaq, lunch-box model, with a 286 microprocessor, and 64 megabytes of hard-drive space. The keyboard folded down and disconnected, a curly phone cord connecting it to the computer. Since it had no case, nor did they make one for it, I had a person I found in the Detroit yellow pages, a biker that worked with leather out of his house, make me a case out of thick, black leather tied at the edges with black leather shoelaces. It was pretty cool, but it and the computer probably weighed 30 pounds and nearly broke my shoulder in airports on a number of occasions. It was a good, reliable computer that was significantly easier to use than the Apple 2C.
Bruce supplied me with the IBM word processing software he used and all went well for several years and a quite a few more scripts, including “Cycles,” which I ended up selling.
It was during this phase, 1990-1992, that Microsoft Windows appeared on the scene. Before you could say, “Not-enough-RAM,” I was outdated again because my computer wasn’t advanced enough to use Windows. I couldn’t interface with anyone else’s computer. Everybody else could exchange disks, at least PC Windows-users among themselves and Apple MacIntosh users among themselves, but not me. I was an outcast.
When I first went down to New Zealand in 1993 to work on “Hercules,” I didn’t even bother bringing my computer with me -- it was too heavy and too archaic. For the next eight months I skulked past the computer shops in Auckland, eyeing their wares, but too wary to actually buy something overseas.
When I returned to the U.S.A. in 1994 one of the very first things I did was buy the smallest, coolest sub-notebook I could find, which, at the time was an Epson sub-notebook that weighed about 3 pounds, had a 486 microprocessor and a monochrome screen. I wrote a lot of scripts with that computer, too, among them “Running Time.” The keyboard was just a tiny bit too small for my fingers, but I adapted. Either the ends of my fingers grew smaller or I became more careful, I’m not sure. Either way it worked out.